This week I'm sharing a short story that was collecting pixel dust in my digital dustbin. Originally drafted in 2003, it is one of my favorite tales to date, one that toyed with trademarks and the reality of not knowing exactly what is going on in anothers mind. Enjoy.
By Brian Bohmueller
Crossing his eyes slightly, Ken watched the last of his unfiltered Schlangenbisse™ Hefeweizen cascade down the translucent curve of his tall glass toward him. The cloudy, effervescent liquid disappeared beneath the blurred stub of his nose in a cool wash of spicy accents.
Happy hour at Ludwig’s Garten™ vibrated with the white noise of patron conversation. The Old European décor was being trimmed with luminous globes, glittery stars and gold and silver streamers by the waitstaff in preparation for a Ragin’ Robotic Regis™ New Year’s celebration. A frigid wave of air entered through the Samson St. entryway as a handful of Kobex™ wrapped townies exited to vape outside.
“Close that door!” shouted the militant barmaid from the chair she stood upon. She stepped down from her perch, leaving a Liquiffects™ countdown chronometer hanging from the oversized cuckoo clock. Its holoplasma display was counting down the last minutes of 2019 in colorful globular morphs.
Ken lowered his empty glass, glancing briefly at the medieval black wyvern emblazoned on its side. He mentally chided himself for drinking the three tall wheat beers, especially given the fact it was barely seven now. The sauerbraten and red cabbage he’d eaten earlier wasn’t helping even modestly in the intoxication department and the resulting buzz was beginning to slosh its way into his sentences. He most definitely did not want to stumble conversationally tonight.
Lifting his gaze in slow vertical pan, the apparition he thought must surely vanish sat before him smiling. Her Mediterranean features came into clear focus in spite of his misalcoholations. Black hair, long and straight, fanned like spun Hyprasilk™ across the xxx patterns of her air force gray on navy blue sweater—what had she called it, ah yes, a fair isle cardigan. Fair indeed! Her face was as pale as the sands of Mare Tranquilitis. Her sparkling eyes and smile scintillated, forming a constellation ensconced by that deep night-sky hair. And yet what had entranced him for the past ninety minutes were the eloquent words flowing from her lightly glossed lips.
“It’s a full moon tonight.” Ken opined. “A Blue Moon actually, and there hasn’t been one since June of oh-seven”
“That’s right,” Helen agreed. “I heard something about it on the Sirus™ newsfeeds. Second full moon in a single calendar month, right? And on average it happens about every two years.”
Ken thought it incredible that Helen enjoyed talking about so many esoteric topics. From pharmaceutical “one pill a day” conspiracy theories to the spiritual suffocation visited on society by organized religion, she continually had an interesting thought to share. It was a boon that her accent colored her words with gorgeous, lilting brush strokes.
“Yep, most people think Blue Moons occur once every two years, but that’s not always the case. It’s somewhat random, depending on the nuances of the human-created calendar and the elliptical moon cycle. In fact, about 10 years ago there were two Blue Moons within a three month period. Two thousand, I think it was.”
“It was ninety-nine,” Helen countered. Her eyes shifted left, then right.
Ken raised his eyebrows, involuntarily taken aback in mild shock. Feeling flushed, he thought to himself, come on man, don’t let a little spirited correction push your buttons.
Helen broke the awkward silence, “Oh, it’s just I remember that year all too well. I had a couple of tragic losses early in ninety-nine.”
“Would either of you like anything before happy hour specials end?” interrupted the waitress, having appeared tableside.
Ken turned to meet the gaze of the waitress, her frilly white and olive-green dirndl showing off her bodice. His eyes widened instinctively at her substantial breasts blooming from the traditional German costume, a dress designed explicitly to evoke that reaction.
C-cup for sure, his mind declared, maybe even a double C. Sucking in a breath, he hoped Helen hadn’t detected his inadvertent visual assessment.
“Um, I’m fine. Nothing for me,” he managed.
What was wrong with him? Why would he even contemplate the physical dimensions of someone he didn’t know, when a beautiful woman, in both mind and body sat front and center giving him her full attention. Helen might not be as well endowed as their server, but she was bountifully more interesting, not to mention captivating in her slender bodice.
“I’ll have another bottle of Mythos™,” replied Helen.
Surprising that Ludwig’s carried a Greek beer, thought Ken. Or maybe not, the Germans respectfully appreciated beer of many different varieties, even the prolific swill American marketing had spread plague-like across the world in their irritating, flashy Glowplas™ bottles.
“Where were we?” Ken queried while willing a cheery grin to surface. “Blue Moons. Funny they call it a Blue Moon, as the moon never actually turns blue, though it can sometimes turn red during a lunar eclipse.”
“Actually I recall reading the moon has turned blue on rare occurrences. Like when the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa erupted in 1883 or during the Alberta fires of 1951.”
“Wow, you really know your stuff,” praised Ken with a raise of the eyebrows. “It’s my job to run the astro-imaging lab at UPENN, and I had never come across that factoid.”
Ken paused, grinning deliberately, then softened his delivery.
“Well we may not see a blue tinted moon tonight, but looking into your dark blue eyes will more than suffice.”
“Are you trying to seduce me, star-man?” Helen posed, punctuating her question with a smirk and a chuckle.
Someone backed suddenly into their table rattling the pedestal and sending Ken’s tall glass into a momentary wobble
The college student twisted around, a portion of his beer splashing to the ground. The Temple™ logo on his Refresh™ sweatshirt transformed into a basketball being slam-dunked, and then exploded in a burst of fireworks, finally reforming into a waving red and white banner with the brag-line “Owls World Champions 2019!”
“Excuse me! Love-nerds,” he slurred effecting a decent impression of a ninth round Rocky Balboa. Without pause, he laughed aloud at his own joke, and headed back through the crowd.
“Hey…,”called Ken, rising from his chair, feeling obligated to do something.
“Don’t worry about him. He’s gone.”
“What an idiot!” commented Ken.
“Nah, he’s just a kid.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Ken chuckled, “I shouldn’t get bent out of shape. I would have made a similar joke ten years ago.”
“Hold that thought. I need to find the ladies room. Powder my nose. That kind of thing. Do you know where it is?”
“Your nose?” he chuckled. Helen groaned with a smile and a shake of her head. Returning her smirk with one of his own, Ken continued, “The restrooms are back through the restaurant,” gesturing with a half salute, “and straight back to the right.”
Helen rose from her chair and wove through a couple empty bar stools which had found their way to the center of the barroom. Ken watched her go; her slender and subtle hourglass shape accentuated by her tight sweater. Damn would she look good in some lacy, black Lily Italia™ lingerie!
At the gingerbread trimmed entryway, Helen paused. Though twenty feet separated them, Ken could clearly see the sexy smile sent his way. It seemed to contain a poignancy he couldn’t quite put his finger on. With a passing wave, she spun around and headed into the restaurant. The electric warmth left radiating through Ken threatened to throw him off balance more than another three beers would have.
Ken inhaled a cool breath and slid his Wi-MAXX Elite™ from the gear pocket of his Khaki Organics™ and unfurled the touch screen. He did a quick Noogle™ for “Haiku rules,” and reviewed the general characteristics of the 5-7-5 verse in a swift scroll down. He launched the open source wordsmith applet included with his i-link™ and began typing away on the keyscreen. Helen had stirred his thoughts into dreamy creativity.
Maybe he was letting his feelings race a little too fast, but in spite of this being their first meeting offline, Helen Eluryah --what a pretty name -- was enchanting him.
He continued to juggle words onscreen, blending metaphor and double-entendre with curt finger drags. He lost himself in wordplay while the surrounding patrons, their numbers on the upswing, echoed within the bar like the chanting of Buddhist monks. Midnight hovered patiently four hours away.
Helen settled silently into the chair opposite him. Her complexion was radiant from her “nose powdering.”
Ken nodded to her with what he hoped was a flirtatious eye-twinkle and closed his Elite™.
“Hey I did an online search,” he commented, “and found out the term “Blue Moon” originally referred to something that was absurd or absolutely never would happen. It was only since 1986 when the Trivial Pursuit™ game popularized the notion of the Blue Moon being the second full moon in a calendar month, Too funny how culture stirs language with ever-changing idiomatic nuance, don’t you think?”
Ken waited for Helen’s snappy insightful response. And he waited. His grin waned slowly as he saw Helen's thoughts were far away.
“Hey is everything okay?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Ken. I’m feeling a little dizzy. I don’t think I’ll be able to drink that beer with you after all.”
She gestured at the Glowplas™ bottle serving as a centerpiece, its surface a swirl of shimmering emerald spirals. The MicroLED™ coating reacted dynamically as she pushed the bottle toward him, the patterns turning sinusoidal beneath the misty veneer of condensation.
“You can have it if you like,” she offered.
“No, I think I’ve had enough to drink tonight. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I think I just need a breath of fresh air, and it’s about time I headed home anyway”.
“Oh, okay. I have a party back in the burbs to get to myself.”
Ken shouldered his Englishtown™ wool long coat, and set a ten dollar bill on the table. He followed Helen toward the exit as she donned her quilted, pearl-white Sophist™ jacket. Ken thought silently, maybe she’s having second thoughts about my pseudo-intellectual demeanor.
The frigid air coasted down Samson Street beneath an overcast night sky lit dully from above.
Ken sighed aloud while looking skyward, “Well it doesn’t look like we’ll get a chance to see the Blue Moon tonight. Maybe we’ll get some snow. It certainly is cold enough.”
“Yeah,” Helen managed.
Mustering a tone of confidence, Ken asked, “Would you like to exchange numbers? Communicating through Blind-Mate™ e-mails can be so impersonal.”
“Sure,” Helen replied. The lilt in her voice was most definitely replaced by a cool monotone, Ken observed.
Each lifted their respective i-links™ enabled devices adroitly from their covert nooks and in a fluid motion effected a digital personal card exchange.
“Have a happy New Year, Ken. I enjoyed talking tonight,” Helen added, her smile beaming beneath tired eyes. Her face was definitely flushed.
Returning his i-link™ to his gear pocket, Ken cheerily added, “I also had fun. Happy New Year to you too! You better get someplace warm; you’ll catch the flu in that skirt,” said Ken.
“I will. Bye, Ken.”
Hopefully, he wasn’t setting himself up for a fall thinking warm thoughts about Helen? With uncertain energy, he walked briskly down a chilly 14th Street past several homeless people making their nests in toasty alcoves, and headed toward the brightly lit rumble of Market Street.
Descending the motionless escalator in the Gallery train station, Ken navigated over chipped flooring avoiding discarded newspapers and plastic Kuhl-cans™. The summer park mosaic lay expansive above the tracks in its impressionistic pastels.
Hard to believe in another six months, the regional rails would fully shut down. The combination of telecommuting and NeoSEPTA™ under-funding had finally collapsed suburban mass transit. Ken despaired that the city’s character would be completely destroyed because of it. Hopefully, the city’s projected profit margin converting dozens of empty corporate towers into parking garages would help sustain the Philadelphia inner-city culture enjoyed by sprawlites and townies alike.
Waiting for the Bank Green™ Lansdale line, Ken opened his Elite™ again and niggled with the word choice of the poem he had started earlier. Thoughts of Helen interwove cozily with his inspirations. Finally, the haiku felt finished to him, even if a bit overdone with alliteration. As a final touch, he changed the font of the haiku itself to a deep cobalt Lucida script.
The regional rail train glided smoothly down Track 2 in front of him. He looked at the glowing screen of his i-link™, remaining ambivalent as to whether to send Helen the poem or not. Would she be enamored by his poetic wordplay, a grin of joy spreading across her face as she read the ditty, remembering their conversation interspersed with coy flirtation? Or would the poem be seen as too forward romantically and prevent any possible friendship, spicy or otherwise, from blossoming?
With an exasperated mental sigh, Ken admitted to himself, he was over thinking the matter. In his heart a small joy was alive. Stepping onto the train, he highlighted the poem file, selected the number Helen had given him minutes ago, and pressed the send key setting it free.
Whisper-ed words, whet
Conversation’s cool cascade
Pools of Luna blue
Helen, you made my night!
…beneath a Sapphire Moon™.
(rewind twenty minutes)
“Hold that thought. I need to find the ladies room. Powder my nose. That kind of thing,” Helen declared, instantly regretting the nose-powdering reference. It was as dated as the Bavarian garments the waitresses were wearing in the kitchy German pub that was Ludwig’s Garten.
“Do you know where it is?”
“Your nose?” Ken chuckled. Helen half suppressed a giggle herself.
“The restrooms are back through the restaurant,” Ken gestured, “and straight back to the right.”
Helen rose from her chair, noting the slight, irregular pauses between his words. Ken was a bit tipsy, but it was endearing somehow. Well, he had known it was time to stop drinking, at least. She mentally commended him for that small stroke of will.
It has been impossibly long since a man’s smile had caused her heart to flutter. But Ken was her victim tonight, she reminded herself and breathed in deeply.
She glanced back at Ken across the bar, his silly, cheerfulness disarming her armor against her will. Tears nearly came to her eyes as she waved, and then regained her balance. She turned toward and headed toward the restrooms.
“Focus,” she uttered to herself; she absolutely could not let her mind wander along the dead-end alleys of romantic daydreams, especially not tonight. First priority was to get Ken to come back to her apartment ostensibly for some make-out time. She might even offer to show him some of Kepler’s original texts in her possession, that might be more tantalizing to him.
Moving adroitly through the aisles of the nearly empty restaurant, Helen proceeded down the dimly lit restroom corridor. She entered the women’s room, and was surprised to find the inebriated college student who had bumped into their table leaning over the washbasin, fine-tuning the wave of his pomaded, dark hair. The sanitized smell of ammonia and something sickly sweet hit her senses, and just as quickly she decided on an alternative albeit risky path for the night.
The student was a handsome, spry youth, and had a slightly asymmetrical smile which probably lured in more than the average share of coeds for naïve cavorting.
“Um, I think you have the wrong bathroom,” vocalized the student.
“Actually, you do,” Helen replied. Without looking, she locked the restroom door latch behind her.
“Uh…,” he floundered.
“I want you.” she intoned with a firm commanding air. An electric charge was building within her. She could feel the warmth expanding in tendrils from her chest, her crotch, and then her head. The moment had come and this man would be her sustenance until the next blue moon.
The student froze as her victims always did, his mouth slightly open exhaling. His expression was rigid and full of desire; a little drool escaped from the left corner of his mouth. She had never been sure what did it to them; she did not feel she had a conscious psychic grip to exert during the taking, but nonetheless it was always there. Perhaps an instinctive fear suffused the victim. Certainly, in this moment, she must seem a minion of Hades himself sent to thieve away his soul.
She approached him, feeling her hair shift about, a raven lock falling of its own accord over her right eye. She raised her hand to his shoulder and smiled a smile of empathy and embraced him. She leaned against him, the washbasin giving support from behind, and she could feel his involuntary erection beneath his smooth workout pants, which she loosened and lowered to the floor.
“Shhhh,” she whispered, standing on tiptoe to kiss him lightly on his forehead.
Backing off a few inches she could see the reflection of his slicked hair in the mirror behind him. Her own indigo eyes were twin blue dwarf stars swirling with dark plasma, the pupils having contracted to a tiny, central sunspot. In the dimmed reflection, she could make out the sleek tentacles stirring half tangled in her now wild and unkempt hair. She felt the coolness of the air upon their surfaces, as they extruded their full length from the recesses in her scalp. Eight in all, each tentacle was mottled with fine violet capillaries and undulated in a synchronized rhythm like a sea anemone in the currents of tidal withdrawal. Her instincts kicked in guiding the blind, single-needled tentacles to their destinations
Eyes, mouth, neck and ears. Two tentacles each in their wicked redundancy penetrated the young man’s head in quest for the life giving humours. Eye fluid, salivary fluid, blood plasma, and neural fluid, each a critical component of the elixir that would sustain her timeless youth.
She felt the last two tentacles rustling beneath her skirt. With a volition of their own they snaked beneath the boxers of the youth. She sensed his penis against her lower abdomen as the final two tentacles weaved beneath his boxers and pierced the smooth area of skin at the rear of each testicle. In seconds they began withdrawing seminal fluid, the fifth necessary humour she required.
The student’s body was now shaking perceptibly.
“It’s okay baby,” she whispered in his ear softly. “It’s okay,”.
The task was over within two minutes. It took all the strength she could marshal to ease his body with care upon the toilet seat. As she leaned his weight against the back of the toilet, she felt his breath moist and weak against her cheek. She checked his pulse carefully, even though she needed to be quick about this. Her body sizzled with the warm biochemical infusion of his fluids. His breathing had reached a stable series of low gasps and all the needle-point wounds were slowly seeping to a stop. For all the trauma he had gone through, the youth looked as if he had simply passed out from too much alcohol.
Her tentacles having fully retracted, she brushed the tangles of her hair with her most cherished possession, a flat brush with a filigreed golden handle entwined with snakes, a reminder of the beast that was part of her, though it only showed its face once in a blue moon.
Blue Moons. Helen exhaled shirking off the continuous contemplation that plagued her. What kind of creature was she? How might she have come to be this way? In her centuries of research, the historic records were misleading at best. Was she indeed one of the three gorgons spawned, of which Medusa was the most famous? Not now, she chastised herself!
At the moment, her concerns had to be of the here and now. She hadn’t taken such a risk in several hundred years. The risk of discovery was just too great in a public place rather than in the apartment of a one night stand or a street urchin’s alley way.
She pulled the women’s room door behind her. The corridor was thankfully as empty as she left it. Her mind raced, even as her metabolism and physical strength waned. She turned into the bar, catching sight of Ken who was tapping away a tablet. She paused.
She needed to call 911 within the next fifteen minutes if there was any hope for the student’s survival. Medical technology over the last fifty years had rescued all of her victims, though most suffered a coma for several weeks before full recovery. In each case since 1967 her victims recovered with no recollection of their encounter; only two had lost their sight. As such, guilt still haunted her. Sight is so precious to these short-lived beings. To take their eyes from them is to send their lives into turmoil.
Eyes. Those chestnut brown eyes belonging to Ken. She hadn’t been certain if she could have brought herself to blind them, even temporarily. There was an innocent hope in them that she could not allow to be damaged. Should she attempt to forge a friendship with this man? Could there ever be a level of trust between them? Was she destined to hurt him? Or were the possibilities of joy worth the inevitable bouts of pain? Question after question continued to spin in her head.
Drawing a slow breath to settle her dizziness, Helen stepped forward.
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