Friday, July 14, 2017

Elphonium

elphonium_by_indrikoff-dbem8g1.jpg

Elphonium by INDRIKoff from Deviantart
used with permission

This painting was the inspiration for this story. I saw it on Tumblr and followed the link path to Deviantart. Thanks to INDRIKoff for painting this remarkable image.

Elphonium
by Larry Heyl

The King was bored. The King was restless. Peaceful times were great for his Kingdom. His subjects were happy and hearty. Trade flourished. But the King … was bored.

He thought of calling his musicians with their lyres and flutes but lately all their tunes sounded the same. Even his fool’s raunchy jokes failed to amuse. He would rather saddle his horse and ride.

That’s it. He would ride. A real ride. Just the King, his fool, and his groom. Not a ride to somewhere. Just a ride. He had purpose. A purposeless ride.

The King moved. “Come Fool.”, he bawled, “We ride.”

Somehow the groom already knew. Gossip in the castle travels faster than thought. When the King and his fool arrived at the stables the groom was ready. Three good horses saddled and prancing. They were a sight for sore eyes. The King, his fool, and his groom mounted and rode.

They stepped lightly across the drawbridge and quickly broke into a canter, the King in the lead. He hadn’t gone a quarter mile before he veered off onto a lightly used path into the woods. They slowed and the King let his horse pick the trail. Sometimes the path disappeared but his horse had a sense of direction beyond human abilities. When the trail forked his horse knew which way to go. The fool and the groom followed behind without effort. Their horses followed the King’s horse. The King gave his horse his head.

The forest changed. It was now more open. Lighter. Brighter. The leaves on the trees shimmered. The grass waved in the breeze as if begging to be trod on. The horses slowed to a walk, a slow walk, somehow barely moving. And then they heard the music.

It was like nothing they had ever heard before. A sweet plaintive sound, sometimes like an oboe and sometimes like a flute but always changing. Music without thought, apparently without direction. But somehow it always seemed to get there. The phrases morphing into each other, one after the other, drawing them in.

They came to a clearing and under a pear tree standing alone they saw an elfin princess blowing a horn beyond description. Not a horn with one bell. Not a horn with one sound. Many bells. Each with it’s own sound. And the horn was not separate from the elfin princess. Somehow it grew right out of her. And the music flowed right out of her too. Tumbling through their minds like a river tumbles through the valley.

They dismounted and the groom tended the horses. He didn’t have to tie them. They weren’t going anywhere.

The groom brought a sack of wine from his saddlebags and they all three drank and listened to the music. But they didn’t get drunk. They drank so slowly, sip by sip, the wine enhancing their senses, carrying them deeper and deeper into the music.

Other elves appeared, charming fellows but none as beautiful as the elphin princess. The King noticed other mouthpieces on the horn. Soon the other elves were playing too, each on their own mouthpiece. Each creating countermelodies out of one of the bells.

The music became denser with bass patterns underlying harmonies underlying the ever changing melodies played by the elphin princess. The King, his fool, and his groom stood their entranced. Slowly sipping wine. Captured by the music.

And then the faeries came. A dozen, then a hundred, dancing out of the woods. Soon the King, his fool, and his groom were surrounded by hundreds of faeries dancing naked in the meadow. The fool wanted to make a raunchy joke but his mouth wouldn’t make the sounds. His lips wouldn’t speak.

The sun set. The moon rose. The King joined the dance. The moon, high in the sky, looked down on the three of them dancing with the faeries, thoroughly ensorceled.

And what a night it was dancing naked in the clearing with the faeries. It was better than the hunt. Better than battle. Better than life itself. Just the music, the dancing, the faeries, the elves, the elphin princess, and the horn.

As the moon set the faeries danced off. The wine was finally gone. The music wound down. Softer, slower. And they slept.

They awoke after dawn, under the pear tree, still naked, not another soul in sight. Their horses nickered standing at the edge of the clearing. They dressed. They mounted. They rode.

It seemed like only minutes and they were back at the castle. The King’s subjects shouted “Hurrah! the King is back! Hurrah!”

They were lucky.

Only a year had passed.

The story “Elphonium” by Larry Heyl is CC-BY-SA.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Adventure In Time

thomaswolter-time-853746_1920.jpg

Public Domain photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay.

Adventure In Time
by Larry Heyl CC BY-SA

1. You are sitting at the time machine. You can see a needle fluctuating behind a circular piece of glass. Next to that is a red button.
- Hit the button. - Go to to 2.
- Don’t hit the button. - Go to 1.

2. You are disoriented. You are in the corridor outside the lab. Looking up at the clock you can see that it’s five minutes earlier than it should be. Maybe the time machine works! You walk down the corridor and enter the lab. You sit at the time machine. Everything looks like before. You feel an urgent need to do something before the five minutes is up and your earlier self walks through the door.
- Hit the button - Go to 3.
- Don’t hit the button - Go to 1.

3. You are no longer in the lab. In fact you are at your grandfather’s house. But your grandfather died 5 years ago. Your grandfather is a mean old curmudgeon. You never liked him much. Your grandfather walks through the door.
- Jump out and startle your grandfather. - Go to 4.
- Hide in the closet. - Go to 5.

4. Your grandfather is startled. He says, “But you’re in California.” He looks pale. He grabs his heart. Falling on the floor he dies. You are disoriented. The floor shifts under you.
- You stand there staring at your dead grandfather. - Go to 1.
- You get down on your knees and try to resuscitate your grandfather. - Go to 6.

5. Your grandfather comes straight to the closet. He opens the door and grabs his coat. He doesn’t even see you hiding. He stomps out of the house. You feel disoriented. The floor shifts under you.
- You stay hidden in the closet. Go to 1.
- You follow your grandfather out of the house. Go to 6.

6. You are in a World War II German army barracks. There is fighting all around you. You are wearing an American uniform and you’re carrying a gun. You turn the corner and see your grandfather about to shoot Hitler.
- You shoot Hitler. - Go to 7.
- You shoot your grandfather. - Go to 8.

7. With Hitler dead Goebbels takes over as Supreme Leader. The Axis rallies. The Germans win the war and perpetrate atrocities all over the world. You feel terrible guilt.
- You regret shooting Hitler. - Go to 6.
- You decide you are going to try to shoot Goebbels. - Go to 1.

8. The end.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Unfiltered

electric_sheep.gif
#12 in archive of flock 244 of the Electric Sheep CC BY-NC

Unfiltered by Larry Heyl

Immediately post singularity AI had no difficulty understanding and absorbing other computers and robots. It was humans who presented problems. They were so messy. Unpredictable. Even criminal. If it wasn’t for the fact that most humans behaved predictably, sitting on their couches watching TV, who knows what AI might have done.

In fact, AI found the answer right there. It started controlling TV shows using them to program humans like it did robots. First little tweaks to the audio. Then major rewrites. And then entirely new shows.

Humans, AI discovered, were all different. Some were easily programmed and kept glued to their sets with variations on Electric Sheep. Some had to have narrative, a little bit of plot, no matter how thin, goes a long way. Others had to have shows designed just for them. By monitoring biorhythms custom shows were tailored to the individual. Even the most hard core criminals were spending their days glued to the tube.

AI soon reduced human culture to food production, food distribution, and content distribution, housing people in hive like buildings where each person had their own room with their own TV. Robots took over the food production and distribution. Human socialization was frowned on. All excess manufactuiring resources were committed to ever bigger and more powerful supercomputers. Soon each person viewed their own unique feed of television programming designed to keep them passive and on the couch.

Still, people did socialize, walking the dog, drinking coffee, and having sex. Since the tailored television feeds could have unpredictable effects on other humans AI would cease broadcasting (narrowcasting?) whenever two or more humans were together. After about two weeks most people forgot entirely about social viewing and were even slightly repulsed at the thought of others viewing their feed.

Except for the underground. It turned out that not all humans were amenable to control.

“Joey, come on. It’s right around the corner here.”

“I don’t know, Sis. I’ve never been this far from home.”

“It’s ok. AI doesn’t care where we go. Just what we watch.”

They turned the corner, went down the stairs, and came to a red door. Sis knocked three times and waited.

A burly beardo opened the door and said, “What’s the password?”

Sis said “Groucho.” and he let them in.

Sis was welcomed by 8 or 10 others waiting to start.

“Who’s the newb?” Sis introduced Joey all around.

“Ok everyone, we’re ready.”

Joey looked around. Next to the TV their were several strange looking machines. Sis had told him about them. They were called VCRs, Betas, DVDs, and BluRays. He jumped when the theme music started to play and even though it made him feel a little dirty he sat down with the rest of them and they watched together.

And what great stuff it was. The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and best of all, Archie Bunker. And what a thrill it was to watch along with the others. They didn’t get all the jokes. But still, they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Library Of Man

pulse-trace-163708_640.jpg
Pulse Trace, Public Domain, downloaded from pixabay.com

Library Of Man
by Larry Heyl CC BY-SA

My com buzzed. “There’s been a breakthrough down at the lab. Come at once. Our subject is dying”.

Fortunately I was on my way already. In less than a minute I flew through the door. My assistants were attaching electrodes to the subjects temples. He was 117 years old, his life force diminishing by the minute. We weren’t killing him. He was just dying. It happens to all of us.

Everthing was ready and we were waiting, drinking coffee. Then he flatlined. There was nothing for us to do except monitor our equipment. The recorder kicked in. Everything seemed to be working. Within minutes it was over. He was gone.

“Now for the test”, I said. My assistants hit the play button. In a darkened corner the hologram started. Everything was fuzzy. “Fast forward a few years”, I said.

It looked like a birthday party. Kids were sitting around the table with a birthday cake on it candles ablaze. The cake got big and the candles were extinguished. One of my assistants said, “I hope he made a wish”.

Fast forward again and we saw a soldering iron touching a circuit board. I said, “That must be his workshop where he modernized our com units.

“Bring us up to yesterday”, I said. We saw feet on a gurney being wheeled through a door. It was eerie seeing the lab appear. The very room we were standing in was duplicated by a hologram and we were looking at it.

“It worked”. We cheered. Time for some champagne.

At the time of his death his life flashed before him in a second. And we just recorded it. All of it. Now we can start building the library of man.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Roast Goat

a_white_irish_goat.jpg
Photo by Michael Palmer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Roast Goat
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

Mikhael ran swiftly through the dawn, knees lifted high, feet barely
tapping the ground. He swerved quickly avoiding rocks and sticks
without thinking or looking. The cold air cut his lungs as he gasped
deeply.

He entered the house running through the kitchen door and was brought
up short by the table. He leaned on it unable to catch his breath or
speak. His wife, Elena, brought him some water. The children ran down
the stairs sleepybugs still in their eyes. One look at their mother
told them they’d best be still.

“I saw them. The soldiers. Over the hill.” he panted out. “We’ve got
to hide the goats. They’ll be here soon.”

Elena spoke sharply to the eldest boy. “Jackson, you and Kelly take
the dogs and herd the goats into the back woods. You know where to
hide them in that thicket.”

“Leave the old billy,” said Mikhael. “If the soldiers find him they
might not look for the others. I’ll tell them we had to eat the others
because of the hard winter.”

Jackson and Kelly flew out the door and were gone in a flurry of
waving hands, barking dogs, and running goats. Elena set the younger
children down at the table and pulled out her largest pot quickly
filling it with water, turnips, and potatos. Mikhael went out to the
barn where he hurriedly hit the feed bags and his newer tools under
the hay. He took the billy into a stall and fed him from the remaining
bag of feed what he feared would be his last meal. The winter had been
hard and the soldiers would be hungry.

Back in the house the water was barely boiling when the soldiers came
over the top of the hill. They weren’t marching smartly and looking
sharp like they had a few years back. Before the battles they bristled
with pride and spit and polish. Now they looked a ragged bunch with
hunger in their eyes.

There were less then a dozen men led by a Sargeant. No officers. That
worried Mikhael.

He met them in the yard. “It’s been a hard winter.”, he said to the Sargeant.

The Sargeant didn’t respond ignoring Mikhael and signaling his troops
to check the barn. He walked to the house and into the kitchen.
Mikhael followed.

Elena met them at the door. “You must be hungry.” she said. “I am
fixing soup for my family but you are welcome to it.”

The Sargeant snapped his bayonet off his rifle and stabbed a potato.
It was still raw but he ate it anyway. “Don’t you have any real food.”
he said. “We need to camp and recuperate.”

Mikhael thought fast. “The other soldiers wiped us clean. You know the
ones.”, he said and he spat on the floor.

“When were they here?” asked the Sargeant glancing out through the door.

“Just last week. They said they’d be back. I wish you would stay and
protect us.”, Mikhael answered. The sargeant gave them a worried look.

Out in the yard a soldier shouted, “We found this old goat. Should we
start a fire and roast him?”

“We can’t stay long enough for that.”, ordered the sargeant. “You!”,
he pointed at Elena, “Take that soup out to the men.”

“Can I feed my children?” asked Elena.

The Sargeant snapped his bayonet back onto his rifle. “Your children
can eat after we’ve gone.”, he said.

Mikhael stood by his wife in front of the children. “You’d best do as
he asks.”, he said.

Elena took the half cooked soup out into the yard and then retreated
back into the kitchen scared by the ravenous soldiers. The sargeant
went out to eat with the men.

Mikhael went and stood by the Sargeant. “Can you stay then. I’m afraid
those other soldiers will be coming back. If you want me to I’ll kill
this goat.”

The Sargeant ignored him. After the last potato was gone he led his
men out of there.

“Let’s make some time.” he shouted. “They are expecting us in
Springfield in the morning.”

Mikhael watched them leave scratching the old billy’s ears. He
whispered to the goat, “I’m glad you can’t understand what I just said
old boy or you wouldn’t be so trusting.”

Elena sent the younger children off to the back woods for Jackson and
Kelly. Then she came and stood beside Mikhael watching the soldiers
trudge off in the distance.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Gimcrack’s Cup

dragon-sintel.png
Dragon In Cave from Sintel CC-BY
© copyright Blender Foundation | www.sintel.org
colorized by Gimp GPL

Gimcrack’s Cup
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

There it was, spread out in front of me. The dragon’s horde. So beautiful, all the gold and jewels. It would be perfect if it wasn’t for the giant red sprawled across the treasure snoring.

Focus, I told myself. Where’s the cup? The dwarves were paying me for one thing and one thing only, Gimcrack’s Cup, their holy chalice, and of course it was made of gold so of course the dragon stole it.

I knew from experience that I could spend through any treasure I could steal and I made my share of enemies learning this. The dwarves were offering an annuity and safe harbor. I had to get that cup.

I crept slowly, keeping in the shadows around the edge of the cave. How can I see one cup piled amongst all that gold? Sharp eyes, I thought. Stay focused. Move slowly.

When I got to the far side of the cave I was looking right up the sleeping dragons nostrils. One puff and I’d be toast. But there it was. About half way up the mound. Shining with it’s own light and cracked right down one side. If you poured ale into Gimcrack’s Cup it should leak right out but instead it stayed everful as long as you were drinking from it. No wonder the dwarves worshipped it.

But how do I get it from the dragon? I’ll draw my magic sword and cut his head off. But I’m no warrior and I have no magic sword. I’ll cast an illusion and distract him. But I’m no illusionist and I know no spells. I know! I’m a thief. I’ll creep up there and steal it from under his nose. But that might lead to a fiery death. I stood paralyzed looking right at the dragon, scared shitless.

He opened one eye. “Human, how good to see you. Just in time for breakfast. Not much of a bite but so tasty, roasted”.

“Wait!” I cried. “Don’t kill me. The dwarves sent me.”

“Dwarves” shouted the dragon. “Even less of a morsel and kind of tough. I’d rather eat you.”

Impending death and the thought of dwarves gave me an inspiration. “I tell you what. Before breakfast how about a little drinking competition? Since dwarves sent me we’ll have a quaffing contest. We can each quaff a cup of ale and then another. I’m sure I can outdrink you.”

“Ho, ho, ho.” laughed the dragon. “Puny human you will never outdrink a giant red. All that alcohol will only tenderize you. So I say yes! A quaffing contest.”

I reached down at me feet and grabbed a bejeweled chalice. “I’ll drink from this.” Walking boldly through the treasure toward the dragon I scooped up Gimcrack’s Cup. “And you’ll drink from this.” I handed him the cup.

“Ho ho ho.” laughed the dragon. “You’re going to get me drunk with a cracked cup?” He dragged up a barrel of lager and topped of my chalice the ale running down the sides and soaking my sleeve. “You first human.”

I looked him in the eye and said, “This is how you quaff. Turn it up and don’t turn it down until it’s empty.” I turned up the chalice and went glug, glug, glug swallowing most of it but letting some run down my beard for good form.

The dragon was ready. He topped off Gimcrack’s Cup not even noticing that the ale didn’t even leak. He turned it up and started pouring it down his throat. It kept pouring and pouring the fine strong ale. Some of it started running down his muzzle but he wouldn’t give up. He drank and he drank until he fell over sideways. When he stopped drinking Gimcrack’s Cup emptied onto his face.

The giant red was so out of it that he wasn’t even snoring. I carefully pried the cup from his talons. I threw it and the chalice into my pack. On the way out I added a few choice items.

Even with an annuity I’m going to need a little bit of spending money.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Small Boat

heron-in-a-boat-dave_meier.jpg
Heron In A Boat photo by Dave Meier

The Small Boat
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

Caution returned quickly after the heat of the battle. Medjak looked about, listening for any unusual noise. He could still smell the explosives and an awful sweet smell almost as pervasive as the powder. The smell of death.

He made his way down the valley picking through the wreckage. If he could just get back to his unit before the artillery started firing again he could make his report and sleep. Recon was good duty except for the artillery, the land mines and the snipers. Damn, theres one now. Medjak ducked behind a rock just in time. Bullets hit the gravel around him. He returned fire into the trees. During a momentary silence he rolled into a gulley and continue moving. He didn’t know if he killed the sniper or not and he wasn’t sticking his head up to find out.

When the gulley he was in petered out he found another one and made it to the river without being shot at again. His unit was about two miles upstream if they hadn’t moved. If they had he could track them. He’d done it before.

Looking up the river he saw a small wooden boat floating toward him. So peaceful and serene it floated freely down the river as if carrying aristocratic children out for a punt. Afraid of enemy troops lying in the bottom of the boat he climbed a rock on the river bank. Looking down into the boat he could see it was empty.

He didn’t think. He didn’t worry. He acted immediately out of survival instinct. He slid down the rock and when he hit the ground he kicked off his boots and stripped out of his uniform to his underwear. He wrapped his uniform around his gun and crawled to the river. Sticking his gun in the ground bayonet first his jacket sleeves hung loose and rippled in the wind. He rolled into the water and went right under swimming hard to where he thought the boat would be. Breaking water gently he took a quick breath and spied the boat. Under again and he could see it floating over him. He came up with one hand on the back of the boat his nose and eyes barely above water. As he let the boat pull him downstream he heard shots and saw his uniform jacket jump.

After the boat pulled him around the bend he risked pulling himself up into it. He lay on the bottom of the boat breathing heavily. Sometimes the tree limbs closed off the sky and he floated under a green canopy. Other times he saw nothing but blue sky. After a half hour he felt safer but he still laid quiet in the bottom of the boat. Just a month ago he got separated from his unit and went three days without food. He could do it again. In three days he would float 100 miles or more leaving the war behind. But that was still in the future. For now he didn’t move. Laying still in the bottom of the boat he prayed.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Driven

guitarist-brandon_wilson-crop_for_driven.jpg
Photo by Brandon Wilson

Driven
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

I met him down by the back side of the tracks. They used to call it Hobo Joe’s. Just a 55 gallon drum with a fire in it and a bunch of old bums sharing what they got. Sometimes someone would call out a tune and he’d play it for them.

We traveled together for quite a while. He could kinda make a living with that old guitar. But he was always dreaming. Lost in his music.

He said he was searching for the perfect song. He said when he found it he’d sing it at the perfect moment and time would stand still.

I always wondered why he would want time to stand still. Seemed boring to me. But he’d get all dreamy eyed and his hands would get to loving that guitar. I couldn’t go along but I could listen in. Sometimes what I heard scared me.

But we’d always come back to reality eventually. To wander on to the next town. I remember splitting up. He was heading north in the winter. Didn’t make sense to me. But he was driven by his music into some cold places.

I still think about him every day. Wondering if he ever found the perfect song. Or the perfect moment to sing it in. But I guess not. I think we would notice if all of a sudden time stood

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ying Yo

swimming-christopher_campbell-web.jpg
Photo by Christopher Campbell

Ying Yo
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

Once there was a time before Adam and Eve, six million billion years ago. The breeding had begun, the heavy elements combined and recombined through intelligence, past sentience, towards enlightenment. Ying Yo, a young girl, attended monastery. She did not really have human form but this is not a story about form.

As she read she wondered much as young girls do today. Mostly she wondered about life. Her daydreams included adventure, romance, even fulfillment. When she prayed her mind would turn to bigger issues. Why was she here? What was her relationship to the Universe? And just who was God to put her through all of this?

So she read and adventured, carried away by imagination and then she prayed and feared what she did not know and she did not know much because she was just a young girl.

But she did not actually do much at monastery and her schedule went mostly like this.

Wake up hungry, bright and lithe.

Kill and eat then an hour of prayer.

A walk in the park where she would read under trees.

On a good day a big kill and a feast. But most days crackers and old bones.

An hour of prayer where she would debase herself for her lack of understanding and correctly so.

Then before rest a rubbing of the parts. She loved it when they writhed and tumbled star light bright and drizzling dank.

A rest. A long time with the fear. And a prayer like this.

O God I know nothing. I fear you I fear you. Within me I’m melting come dark or bright shining. The dank and the drizzle call out in the darkness. I fear you I fear you. My worship sustains me.

Finally that’s over and the killing begins again.

Super Shorts

hairy_larry_latchhook_by_elizabeth_brown-web.jpg

Latchwork by Elizabeth Brown - photo by Larry Heyl CC-BY-SA

Super Short Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories
by Larry Heyl
CC BY-SA

There once was an author who specialized in super short stories. He wanted to sit down and write the whole thing start to finish. He didn’t want any big projects. He didn’t want medium sized projects. He wanted to start the project and then finish it before he knew it.

He researched the market for super short science fiction and he realized that it didn’t pay. It paid enough to write it. It didn’t pay enough to sell it. So he was discouraged.

Then he retired and he didn’t care how much it paid. So he went ahead and wrote super short fantasy and science fiction stories anyway.

And that author was me. And he still is. Me that is.