Short Story Project #1: Jan-Feb 2008

The following story was published in four weekly installments written alternately by Matt and James. This marks the beginning of our experiences co-authoring together. Although the individual segments may still be read under their respective posts, the story has been compiled on this page for the reader’s convenience. To view the comments posted to each episode, click on the link embedded in the segment titles.

Interring the Subterfuge (Part I):

Originally posted by Matt on 16 Jan. 2008

Finally, he had buried it. As he stepped back another wave crashed down and shot a thin film of water out over the disturbed sand. Soon all signs of his being there would be erased. A stiff wind blew in from the ocean. A storm was coming. Josiah thought back to the day when it first began. He had been jogging along a path overlooking the coast when a flash of orange caught his eye. As he got close, he realized what it was, though his puzzlement only grew. It was a stuffed Elmo doll with its hands tied behind its back to a post. “How strange,” he thought to himself. Elmo was tattered and stained with dark patches of dirt as if he had been through a war; his mouth was agape as the mouths of Elmo dolls so often are. It was a strange beginning indeed. Fate weaves a weird and intricate cloth.

Now, standing on the beach with the wind whipping salty mist off of the waves, that sunny day seemed so remote. Another wave crashed, this one a little further up the beach than the last. The tide was coming in. Checking that no one was around he turned to face the cliffs; the fractured and wave-beaten rock was rumpled in a set of sharp folds. Down the center of one of these folds dropped a steep gully which broke the cliff face and allowed access to the top. Josiah set off toward the gully with a quick and purposeful gait. As he reached the base of the cliff he turned back to watch another wave finish the job of concealing his handiwork. With a start, he swiveled to face the cliff and began scrambling up the gully. The rock holds were polished by the many hands and feet that had passed there before.

A seagull cried as it glided above him, jerking up and down in the pulsating wind. Josiah topped the gully and looked out to the east. The cliffs were crowned by a vast sea of grass which propagated waves with each gust. The grass ran for miles in either direction, punctuated here and there by freshly plowed fields. A highway paralleling the coast bounded the grass. These, and a farmhouse that graced the distant horizon, were the only sign of man for miles around. As he parted the grass and reached the edge of the highway, Josiah dropped suddenly to the ground. He had left his VW Bug parked there, but now it was gone.

Exhumation (Part II):

Originally posted by James on 21 Jan. 2008

Josiah felt his heart pounding, and as the muscles in his chest and face tightened, the sound of the breeze blowing gently through the field and the waves breaking on the sandy beach were drowned out by the deafening silence in his mind. He lay lifeless on the ground for what seemed like hours, while the same thought gnawed at him relentlessly: did they see where he buried it? Although he did not want to chance being seen, uncertainty consumed his thoughts. On hands and knees he clambered away from the highway until he crested a small hillock, which would afford him the vantage point he desired. Slowly he raised himself onto his knees to risk a glance back toward the beach. Josiah noticed that the tide had come in considerably since he fled the seashore. He had no sense of how long it had been, but he hadn’t expected to see the waves crashing into the inhospitable bluffs to the north, at least not for another hour or two. Josiah turned his head the other way and let out a deep sigh. Every wave smoothed over another pair of his anxious footprints, which emerged from the place where he had buried it, now about six inches under water.
Suddenly sand shot up from part of the beach nearer the cliff that was obscured by the ground. Josiah collapsed on the ground once again as the sandy clumps sprayed into a frothy wave. When he heard the familiar sound, there was no longer any doubt. The door of his VW Bug slammed shut. In just a few moments, the tables had turned. “It must not be disinterred,” he thought to himself. With nothing to lose, Josiah sprang up to his feet and burst into a full sprint. As he neared the cliff’s edge, he could see the waves slapping the far side of his VW Bug and a spidery man wading out into the shallow brine. He halted precisely above the site of the inhumation. Extending almost seamlessly from the man’s black coat-sleeve was a short shovel. When Josiah reached the top of the ravine where he had previously scrambled up, he briefly shot a glance out to sea. What he saw both perplexed and unnerved him. There were thousands of them, if not millions. Small white speckles cloaked the surface of the sea like seagulls. What were they and where had they come from? As he crouched down to begin his descent, Josiah felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. The man in the dark suit, the mysterious spots on the ocean and the dark, stormy sky swam in front of his eyes as he flopped onto the ground for the third time, this time involuntarily.It was already 10:15 in the morning, and he was late. Josiah flew down the city-sidewalk. He knocked into a blond lady carrying a tray of flowers and didn’t even look back as she fought to regain her balance. He had to get there before the trial started. The court house came into view as he rounded the corner, but Josiah stopped dead in his tracks. A man wearing a black suit was standing directly in front of the large glass doors leading into the court house. He knew he recognized him, but from where. “You actually thought you could escape our notice, did you?” a mellow, but cynical voice inquired. Josiah’s mind was clouded, and he felt a throbbing headache coming on. The street had vanished, and he found himself lying on his back, strapped to a table. The man wasn’t across the street, but leaning over his face and eclipsing the bright light on the ceiling. A wry smile spread across the thin man’s face as he extended his hand into the light. In it he clutched the tattered Elmo.

Fog (Part III):

Originally posted by Matt on 28 Jan. 2008

The back of the Elmo doll was split open at the seam, and bits of stuffing dangled out of the gaping hole. The man in the dark suit reached his spindly fingers into the doll and removed a small metallic cube. Light glanced off of the cube and glinted in Josiah’s face. The man brought the cube near his face as he peered at it and slowly rolled it between his index finger and thumb. “Information…,” the man said, “is power.” After a long pause the man continued in a monotone drone,
“It’s hard to imagine…such a small object contains so many secrets – the details of so many lives. Not a man has lived in the past 100 years who does not have a record within this cube. With such information one could ravage lives…destroy families…topple governments. You thought you would bury it…do society a favor…very noble of you. But it couldn’t end that way. Mankind’s lust for power is too strong. You knew we would find it. You seem to have borrowed something else from us as well. Something we would like to have back. And you are going to tell us. Where…is the reader?”“I’ll never tell you,” Josiah muttered through clenched teeth. The man in the dark suit broke into a knowing chuckle. “Oh yes you will,” the man said. The man removed a small device from his pocket and flipped a switch on top. An orange glow lit up the face of the device and Josiah felt a warm buzzing sensation inside his head. Suddenly the man was engulfed in a white speckled mist which rose and swirled around his face like flames licking a log. “You will tell us indeed.”Josiah found himself standing in a dark wood. Giant trees stretched to the sky and penetrated a thick fog above. As he looked about himself to get his bearings, a dark cloaked figure whisked out from behind a tree and darted into the distance. Josiah took chase. The figure floated over the terrain silently from tree to tree. Josiah called out to the figure, who returned a maniacal cackle. Suddenly stiffness shot through Josiah’s body, and he toppled over into a pile of branches. He was completely paralyzed, but could still see out through the tangle of branches. The figure, faceless, peered from behind a tree and let forth another peel of laughter.

Josiah was sitting on a quilt in the middle of a field. He was surrounded by what appeared to be a picnic feast. Across the quilt sat a pudgy woman who glanced at him with a smile and said, “Aren’t you going to eat your lunch?” Josiah couldn’t have been prepared for what happened next. She lifted her hands from her lap. He had not noticed before, but her hands were twice normal size. With a start she began grabbing fistfuls of food and cramming them into her mouth. Food squeezed out around her hands and between her fingers and dropped onto her dress.

Josiah found himself swimming in a stormy sea. As each massive wave swept by he plunged into the next trough. He reached the apex of the next wave and saw a red light atop a tall metal-framed tower. The tower disappeared as he fell into another trough. He was lifted up and once again could see the tower. It stood defiantly on a small rocky island. The tower seemed strangely familiar. Josiah felt a tug on his feet and was suddenly pulled beneath the waves. The cold dark fury of the sea surrounded him as he drifted out of consciousness.

Josiah awoke. The room was dark, but he could feel the straps still holding him to the table. He pulled with all his strength and the strap around his shoulders slipped slightly higher. Again he pulled and this time met greater success as the strap slid off of his shoulders and onto his neck. In a moment he was free. In the palpable darkness he groped for the door handle. Leaning against the door, he turned the knob and stumbled into the stiff rain outside. The door was at the base of a lighthouse. The lamp slowly rotated above and beamed a sharp column of white into the rain and fog. “Did I tell them where it was?” he thought to himself. “I must get to the tower.”

Redemption (Part IV):

Originally posted by James on 3 Feb. 2008

Without hesitating Josiah began to circle around the base of the lighthouse. He felt a calming relief on account of the dense cover that the rain afforded him, being unsure of where he was, or even when he was, and entirely unable to guess who might be watching. It was an unusually warm rain, and although he was getting soaked, Josiah appreciated how clean it made him feel. Although he hadn’t thought about it at the time, Josiah now realized that he had been drenched in sweat when he woke up and found himself still restrained in that dark room. A few moments later, he turned onto the path winding up to the door, now washed-out by the constant downpour, and he splashed mud and rain up onto his pants legs. When he reached the bottom of the steps, Josiah leaped up them in one bound.
Looking up, he saw that the red, wooden door was already opened, and had been for some time, judging from the amount of rainwater that had accumulated on the gray concrete floor. A golden key projected from the keyhole, obviously left behind in careless haste. Josiah stepped inside out of the warm rain into an even warmer, yellow light that splashed off of the walls and bounced down from above, reflecting off of the polished metal steps. A column of radiance dripped down through the hollow well girdled by the spiraling staircase. It wasn’t so much the intensity or color of the light that made an impression on Josiah, and neither was it the exceptional warmth. It was somehow denser and heavier than light, in substance more like water than that rarefied glow of photons, but even thicker: it was ever so much like honey.Josiah started up the steps, wading through the dewy incandescence. The inside of the lighthouse tower spun before his eyes as his feet clanked steadily against the steps. The sense of urgency that had been driving him just a few moments before now seemed distant and obscure, as if clouded over by rain and fog, and the higher Josiah got up the steps, the more he began to feel utterly content in where he was. The light was growing brighter and warmer and thicker. When he was just a few steps from the top of the staircase, both of his feet landed firmly on the same step, and the sound of footsteps echoed off of the gray walls until it finally dissolved in silence. The lighthouse beacon was no longer revolving, but pointed straight through the doorway leading into the tower.A carefree smile spread across Josiah’s face as he closed his eyes and basked in the warmth as if he were out tanning by the beach on a hot summer day. Then, just as clouds float in front of the sun and veil it for a while, so too the light dimmed, and with it the warmth fled. Josiah opened his eyes to see a spidery figure standing in the door frame, and as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, he was able to discern an icy grin on the man’s face. His left hand held the familiar electronic device, not much bigger than his palm, down at his side, while his right hand was pointing a gun straight at Josiah. “Don’t feel so bad. There wasn’t really any way that you could have kept from giving in” the man said reassuringly. Josiah lowered his head and glanced down at his feet. Although what happened next may seem foolish to the reader, one must realize that to Josiah, there never was another option. The path lay clearly before him. Even when questioned about it years later, Josiah still described his actions as the only reasonable thing to do. What happened was this:

Without any warning, Josiah leaped up the remaining few stairs and threw himself into the wirey man with all of his strength, who collapsed from the impact, and the two fell onto the tower floor. Josiah wrenched the gun out of his hand and sent it clanging down the metal steps. Now recoiling from the unanticipated shock of being pounced upon and knocked to the floor, the thin man was beginning to fight back. That so much strength resided in such a small frame was surprising to Josiah, and it was all he could do to keep his arms pinned to the ground. After several minutes of struggling, Josiah was beginning to be worn out from restraining the man and was now only clumsily dodging the sharp and violent flailing of his legs. Knowing that he could not hold him down much longer, Josiah quickly lowered his face to the spidery man’s left arm and sank his teeth deep into his skin. The man let out an awful shriek as he relaxed his hand, instinctively retracting it toward his face. Taking advantage of the few seconds he had gained, Josiah snatched the reader up off of the floor and lunged back through the doorway.

The room whirled around him as Josiah bounded down the stairs. A few seconds later, he heard frantic footsteps in pursuit. As his heart raced frantically against the pace of his steps, Josiah reminded himself how much would be at stake in just the next few moments. Flying down the steps, the red, wooden door once again came into sight. The water was now so high that it was spilling out over the threshold. Rainwater splattered the wall as Josiah’s left foot landed in the puddle on the concrete floor. Springing seamlessly through the door-frame, Josiah pulled the door closed behind him. Leaning back with all of his might, Josiah hastily turned the key, still dangling in the lock. The bolt reluctantly slid into place. Not a moment later, the pain-wracked face of the spidery man smashed up against the small window set near the top of the door. The door shook violently as he tried to get out, and Josiah jumped back in fear. The wicked face then disappeared and the rattling halted.

Josiah let out a sight of relief as he glanced down at the reader in his hand. It was really there. Then, startled by the renewed jolting behind him, Josiah realized that the small wooden door wouldn’t hold much longer, not against a man of such hidden strength. Leaping down the steps, he sprinted north through the warm rain. Although no one could have seen him from but a few feet away, Josiah sped on through the starless night. The sand gave way beneath his feet, while the warm rain washed away the sweat and blood from his face.

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