Gotta love this from title down to scream. Plus, who knew there was more than just MooseJaws for Canadian Horror...
The weather was unbearably hot. Smoking, steaming, bra-dripping hot. Mia lay on top of her bed with a fan blowing air on her body. Moderate relief.
It was Canada Day and the firecrackers were ringing and lighting up the sky outside her window even though it was almost midnight. Mia had foregone any celebrations this year. She couldn’t imagine facing 43-degree weather, plus bugs for hours just to watch different colours light up the sky. Whoop dee doo.
That’s not all she couldn’t face. Her boyfriend dumped her a week ago. The married boyfriend who was going to leave his wife for her. She’d hung in for five years… letting her late twenties and early thirties pass her by. Her friends told her she was being dumb. And she was. Another cliché. Another woman who thought they actually had something real. His wife wasn’t kind to him. They were married in name only. Yadda yadda yadda. Ya right.
She didn’t need to see the ‘I told you so’ expressions on her friends’ faces. Or hear the saccharine empathy. It was all too nauseating. Her self-loathing was suffocating her. She’d always been able to catch the eyes of men with her long curly black hair and Kardashian curves, but the years were catching up to her. A few less construction workers were whistling at her. Less eyes turning at the local bars. So, she lay here wallowing in her sweat. Alone. Wondering if she could actually melt into a congealed lump on her bedspread. That would be the way to go. Mia missing. Slime ball found.
Feeling her eyelids succumb to slime state Mia fell asleep.
Until she was woken up by someone playing loud Death Metal. Her alarm clock read 3:00am in digital red. Who was having a Canada Day party this late? And who even listened to Death Metal anymore? Wasn’t that an 80’s thing?
She could hear the lead vocalist growling out “Give me a quuuuuuuuuuuuu. Give me a yoooooooou. Give me an eeeeeeeye . Give me an ellllllllllllllllll. And an elllllllllll. And a sssssssssss.”
Being a fan of both country and western music, but not much else, she had no idea what band was playing. The lead singer sounded like Glenn Danzig from the Misfits after inhaling live flame. Here came the chorus again.
“Give me a quuuuuuuuuuuuu. Give me a yoooooooou. Give me an eeeeeeeye . Give me an ellllllllllllllllll. And an elllllllllll. And a sssssssssss.”
Give me Quills? What an odd song lyric. This was ridiculous, how was she supposed to sleep? And didn’t her neighbours go away camping this weekend so who was home blaring music? The properties in this neighbourhood weren’t that close together, and she was sure the retired octogenarians on the other side of her weren’t rocking out.
Mia unstuck her body from the sheets and crawled to the end of the bed to shut off the fan. It was stationed in front of the window to pull in the cool air. (What cool air?) She wanted to hear where the music was coming from. Turning off the fan she listened closely… and heard nothing.
How odd. Did they just turn the music off? She couldn’t hear anything. No talking, no laughing. No music. Nothing. Mia was stumped. She turned the fan back on and slithered back up to her pillows. She tried to find a dry spot. Laying there, she heard it again.
“Give me a quuuuuuuu…..”
Holy crap. Was it coming from the fan? Mia quickly moved down to the fan and turned it off. No singer. She turned it on.
“Give me a youuuuuuuu”
Good god. Her fan was singing Death Metal at her. Spelling the word Quills. If possible, she started to sweat more and felt her heart racing. She decided this was something she didn’t want to ponder too deeply in the middle of the night. It was far too hot to turn the fan off, so she let the raspy voice lull her back to sleep.
In the morning, Mia woke up and listened to her fan. It was just a fan. Making a whiiiiirr sound.
Mia worked as fourth grade teacher at a public school in Richmond Hill and had the next two months off. Yaaaay. Her class had been full of nasty little girls being as mean to each other as only 8-year-olds could be. She had to deal with so many tears, she feels like she absorbed any misery her Kleenex missed. These two months would be a perfect time to recuperate. From the pre-teen drama and her own drama. But Quills. Why Quills?
Time to consult Google. The first and most obvious hit was that super creepy movie in 2000 about the Marquis de Sade. Mia remembered watching it and feeling like she lost any innocence she had left. The sadism and masochism, the blood, and all the other bodily fluids that sick man played with. Yuck. Next was an on-line writing course for young students. Then she saw a listing for a bookstore near her. Just in Aurora, not a twenty-minute walk away. Maybe this was the Quills her fan was moaning about?
Coincidence? She had nothing else doing that day, so she swept her brown curly hair into a messy bun, threw on some jean shorts, a red I AM CANADIAN t-shirt and started hiking to Quills “the bookstore”. The Greater Toronto area was still under a heat warning, so it felt like walking through soup. In April snow was still coating the ground, so she reminded herself to enjoy not being frozen to death and let the exercise perk her up.
It was a small shop with windows obscured by books piled up haphazardly on the sills. The front door was covered with pamphlets, post-its and advertisements for local events. Concert listings for bands with charming names like Death, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. Everything looked like it had been there for 20 years except for the shiny black sign “Quills” above the door. Mia pushed the door in and a set of bells announced her arrival.
Inside books were jammed on shelves, piled on the floor and stacked on tables everywhere. Most of the books appeared to be used, and that peculiar musty smell from damp paper was in the air. Science fiction, horror, and teen trilogies seemed to rule the genres. She saw lots of Isaac Asimov anthologies, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Twilight series books in her first perusal of the stacks.
“Ummm. Can I help you?” A nasally voice asked.
Mia looked around and sees a man with pock-marked cheeks and hair sticking straight up on his head behind the register. The counter had so many books on it she hadn’t even seen him when she came in.
“Just looking,” Mia said.
“What do you need? I can make recommendations, I just got some James Patterson books in, some Suzanne Collins if you like the Hunger Games,” he emerged from his book barricade and Mia saw he was tall and painfully thin. His Adams apple protruded and bobbed as he spoke.
“Why Quills? How did you come up with the name for this place?” She asked while running her hands along the spines of the books on the closest shelf.
“It used to be Pete’s Place, my older brother’s store. But he lived life on-the-edge. Live by the sword, die by the sword they say. Ha. So, I took it over. But my name’s not Pete and I didn’t think Irwin’s Place sounded that great, ha-ha. My favorite movie is Quills, and books used to be written with Quills, so Quills it became,” Irwin said as his nervous giggle trailed off.
“What happened to your brother?” Mia asked, hoping her sweat wasn’t sticking her t-shirt to her boobs in a grossly sexy way. She could see Irwin talking more to her chest than her face.
“He was murdered a few months ago. A robbery gone wrong they say. But this place makes no money, so it never made sense to me. Ha-ha. Pete ran with a rough crowd, so I told the cops to check out his party buds, but they couldn’t figure out who killed him. Wish we had cameras, he was killed right here. But no money, no cameras. Ha-ha,” Irwin’s twitchy laugh getting worse the more he talked. His eyes were now travelling the whole length of her body.
“Well I am so sorry for your loss,” Mia said as she turned to leave the store.
There was no air conditioning and just one big ground fan stirring the pages of the books lucky enough to be in front of it. She was hot, uncomfortable, and horrified. The owner of this store was recently murdered? And she was sent here by her fan? She obviously needed to book a therapy session or ten.
She walked out into the even warmer street and was about to walk home when WHAM. A cyclist got creamed at the intersection. The truck turning left didn’t see the man peddling across the road. Blood spray everywhere, and cars honked and screeched to a stop. The violence of the moment electrified the air. Mia felt adrenaline rush through her system. Her nipples got hard and a warm tingling started in her shorts. Instead of joining the chaos of bystanders rushing to assist, she turned and went back into the store.
Irwin was back behind his book wall.
“What was that? Was someone hit at that terrible intersection again? Happens all the time,” he said no giggle in his voice now.
“Yes. Is there a place we can go?” Mia said, pushing out the boobs she was trying to hide before.
“What?” Irwin gaped at her in confusion, actually bringing his eyes up to her face.
“A place we can be alone.” Mia gave him a slow wink.
Rather than answer he rushed to the front door and flipped the sign to “Closed”.
“Umm, haha, right back here,” he said, his voice going up a few octaves and cracking in excitement.
Irwin led her into a back-storage room, and as soon as he closed the door, Mia took off her shorts and t-shirt.
“Okay, Mr. Hot Bookstore owner, show me what you’re hiding under those shorts.” Mia cringed at her own bad dialogue. Lord, she was going to have to get some better seduction lines.
Irwin almost tripped himself trying to get out of his clothes. Mia’s pretty sure this scenario has never happened to him before.
Then she rode him. She used him. The thought of that blood, of the carnage outside, she can’t believe how excited it made her. She bossed him around. It’s was the most amazing fifteen minutes ever. Random sex with a distinctly unhot dude? Completely out of character for her. When they’re done, they’re both coated in a sticky sweat. Mia threw her clothes on and went back into the main book store area without even looking at Irwin. She stood in front of the big fan and let the cool air blow down her shirt.
Irwin followed her, pulling his t-shirt on backwards. “Uh, that was great. Can I get your number?”
“Don’t talk. Don’t ruin it,” Mia said as she pulled her shirt and bra out to let more air from the store fan cool her skin. Irwin went back behind the counter but peeked out at her from behind the entire Twilight series by Stephanie Myers.
Then she heard it. Glenn Danzig but darker.
“Give me an rrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Give me an eeeeeeeeeeee. Give me a beeeeeeee. Give me an eeeeeeeee. Give me an ellllllllll.”
Mia leant into the fan and heard it again. The faint growly voice singing out letters.
“Rebel,” she whispered to herself. She doesn’t have to Google this one. Rebel is the hottest nightclub in Toronto and it’s right down by the lake. Without a backwards glance at goggle-eyed Irwin she walked out of Quills and headed back home. The poor cyclist was just getting loaded into an ambulance, but Mia wasn’t interested anymore. She’s planning her outfit for tonight. Time to go dancing.
Normally Mia’s wardrobe is conservative. Knee length skirts. Modest necklines. But she felt like a new Mia. The kind of Mia who rocks a twenty-year-old geek’s world and takes what she wants. This kind of lady wears a tight black dress. Short. Low neckline. She dug through her closet until she found some dusty dresses from her university days. Yes. She found one suitably sexy for a night at Rebel. With a bit of Spanx, this dress could still turn some heads.
She contemplated calling one of her friends to come with her, but they might not know what to make of this new Mia. She doesn’t want to lose this bold adventure-y feeling she has inside. They’ll think she’s on aself-destructive rebound kick. (Is she?) She’s no longer the scorned woman left by her married lover. She’s a lady who’s gone absolutely bat-shit crazy listening to messages sent to her by floor fans. She’s getting turned on by bloody accidents and having sex with strangers. Later she’ll call a therapist. Sign up for maybe fifteen sessions.
At around 9:00pm she left her bungalow and drove down to Toronto’s Harbourfront. Finding rock-star parking on Polson Street, she strutted into Rebel’s cavernous converted warehouse. Psychedelic strobe lights illuminated the dance floor and bodies gyrated to music spun by DJ Deadmau5.
Not sure what she was looking for and seeing no available fans ready to give instructions, Mia headed up to the mezzanine. After buying a watered-down gin and tonic for $8.50. (Good lord this place is expensive!) She sat down on a couch near a group of flashy club goers.
“So, there’s lots of Blue Dolphin here, but how do I get myself some Purple Pete?” an Italian guy in a custom suit asked a blonde woman in a sequined tea towel on the couch behind her.
“It used to be you could only get Purple Pete from this place in Aurora. A hole in the wall bookstore called Pete’s Place. But it was the best ecstasy on the market. Rumor has it he made it right on premises. But now Damon is holding some,” the blonde said while wiggling on her seat trying to make sure the tea towel kept her strategic parts covered.
“Is Damon here tonight?” asked the Italian guy looking around and gulping at his Heineken
“Damon is always here,” the blonde answered and nodded in the direction of a tall man wearing jeans and a sport jacket leaning on the mezzanine railing. The second floor of the club had a low glass wall encircling it so guests could lean over and stare at the writhing bodies below.
Mia watched as Italian guy walked over and spent a few minutes talking to Damon. The transaction was over quickly, and the couch behind her emptied out to go down to the dance floor. The second floor was basically deserted. Mia tossed her hair over one eye, hiked up her skirt and walked over to Damon.
“Purple Pete please,” she said in her sexiest voice.
“Thirty bucks a pill,” Damon said and ran his predatory eyes up and down Mia’s body. “This stuff makes you want to party. I’d wouldn’t mind partying alone with you later.”
Mia flicked out her tongue at him and sidled closer. (She’s rusty, so she’s hoping tongue flicking is sexy.)
“Lean back and maybe we can do some partying now. It’s dark and there’s no one up here” she purred while rotating her hips in a suggestive way and doing another tongue flick.
Damon put his hands on his hips and leaned back on the railing as Mia knelt down in front of him.
“Oh ya, consider your first pill comped.” Damon said as he zipped down his pants.
Rather than drop to her knees, Mia tucked one shoulder forward, thrust up on her legs, and heaved him over the railing.
If Damon screamed on the way down to the dance floor, she couldn’t hear it. Mia’s blood pumped quickly through her veins and a delightful shot of serotonin lit up her brain. Wow. What a rush. Forget Purple Pete, she’d take the Red Damon please. Red bloody Damon she thought with joy. Looking around, no one seemed to have noticed anything on the mezzanine. She walked quickly towards the bathrooms and back stairs away from the main floor overlook. What was going on with her? She felt like she did after riding Irwin. Powerful. Sated. Aroused. No amount of therapy was going to save her now.
As she climbed down the back stairs, the music stopped and the regular lights came back on. She could hear the shocked gasps and screams coming from the dance floor. She walked back towards the front of the club and joined the crowd around the sprawled man.
God, it was like art, the way the blood was splattered around his body.
“What happened?” she asked a couple beside her, making sure no saw that he was pushed.
The girl sobbed, “a guy fell over the wall and he’s dead!”
Her date said, “this is going to ruin the party tonight.”
Mia thanked them and headed rapidly for the door. She’s got to get out before they decide to shut the place down and have cops interview everyone. A few other clubbers had the same idea and they all walked out of the front door together in the chaos and confusion.
Driving home, Mia held onto the tingly unfamiliar feeling in her stomach. She felt free, happy, corrupt and like a totally new person. Did she just avenge Pete’s death? Was he the voice in her fan? That was pretty crazy to contemplate but strange things happened everyday.
When she got home she ripped off her black dress and hopped naked into bed. Even though the night is cooler, she makes sure her fan is going full tilt. And she listens……
Angelique Fawns is a horror and speculative fiction writer whose day job involves watching lots of TV creating on-air commercials for Corus Entertainment in Toronto. She lives on a farm north of the city and tries to find time for fiction when not taking care of her husband, daughter, six horses, fainting goats, free range chickens and guard llama. You can find her work in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, The Gateway Review, Postscript, The Spadina Literary Review, and Flying Ketchup’s Anthology “Tales from the Dream Zone”.
Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades
OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…
The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris
Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort. It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet. She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order. She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise. No matter. She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention. What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…
And now for Nightmarish Nature…
So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.
So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?
So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.
To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here:
Cozmic Debris: Space Opry by Jennifer Weigel, Part 3: The Dust Settles
Here’s the third installment of our space opry. For those of you keeping track, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Thank you for following along and please be sure to keep all hands, feet, tentacles and appendages tucked safely in the overhead bins; just sit back and enjoy the ride. Because, this time, the dust settles.
It had been well over a month since Trent-2-6000 had released Ayarvenia into the Mars probe. She was a mischievous creature and flirted with him incessantly, gliding effortlessly between red cloud and ghost girl. She also managed to avoid notice by the computer, as Trent had made it abundantly clear that if the system became aware of her, he would be forced to put her back in containment, as his sole purpose aboard the spacecraft was to sweep up and trap the dust, which she still qualified as.
Ayarvenia would tease him, flitting to and fro among the static debris and dirt that still settled into every nook and cranny. How was it possible for him to be seeing so much grime still, anyway? It had been months since they had left Mars and yet Trent was finding more and more Mars dust on a daily basis; it was as if they just left yesterday. He had finally finished clearing out the computer room for the second time that day and was preparing the waste containment units for their eventual removal when he caught Ayarvenia swirling about one of the clear acrylic domes from his previous sweep, which was hermetically-sealed and ready to be brought safely back to the confines of Earth and the research laboratory.
The red cloud girl spun her way into the latch mechanism and popped it open right before Trent’s robotic eyes. The dust within was sucked out into the Voyager probe to be quickly and quietly dispersed yet again; some of it was even absorbed into Ayarvenia herself. She then latched the dome shut again and left it at the ready, as found. The container sat empty, a shell discarded.
How could he have been so naïve? It all began to make sense now; all of those sealed packages he had so painstakingly catalogued and prepared for their eventual arrival were still just empty. All of his hard work really had been for naught; he was just sweeping up the same dirt piles again and again only to have them released from the trash to disperse and begin the cycle anew. He grumbled under his breath and Ayarvenia froze in midair. She slowly whirled around and sent a lone tendril towards Trent, forming into her beautiful face as she turned to face him. She looked slightly distraught and more than a little agitated, but that melted and gave way to her usual snarky sweetness as she neared.
“Hey there, robo-boy,” she said, cooing as her unblinking eyes met his. “I didn’t hear you coming.”
“I imagine not,” Trent replied sternly. “What are you doing?”
“Oh… nothing really. Just checking up on things here. I was waiting around for you is all,” she hemmed and hawed.
“Did you find everything to your liking?” Trent snipped. “No particulate out of place or anything?”
“Everything seems okay, I guess… I’ll just leave you to it then.” The ghost girl drifted towards the far door.
“Not so fast…” Trent proclaimed. “I need to know what you’ve really been up to here. I saw you release the Mars dust from that containment unit. You know I’ve been sweeping out this room over and over for the past two days; just how much of my work are you undoing?”
”Work? Work… You call this work!” Ayarvenia’s voice raised. She was truly agitated now. “You’re blowing off my entire being without a second thought, trapping it in these nasty clear coffins, and all you can think about is whether or not you’re fulfilling your job?!”
“I… I just want to be done with this so I can get my body back and get on with my life,” Trent retorted.
“Well, Trent Just-Trent, let me break it to you, then. You’re not getting your body back, robo-boy. What makes you think they’d bother to save a lowlife human body like yours in the first place? These assignments are always dead-ends. I’ve seen them come and go… Makes no difference, in the end the researchers get what they want, and that’s more of my Mars dust for their experiments. We’re in the same boat schnookums, you and I,” the ghost girl blew hastily. “Yeah that’s right, you heard me. You’re not getting your body back. And the way things have been going around here, with you all so feverishly sweeping up every little bit of dirt you find, neither am I.”
“Wait, how would you know anything about that?” Trent stammered.
“I know things. I’ve been around. I can see and hear and feel everything all at once. Part of me is still on Mars, part of me is here in this spaceship, and part of me is on your so-called Earth, trapped in the lab catacombs awaiting who knows what fate…” Ayarvenia sighed. “I’ve tried to do what I can to save my own skin, literally. I’ve flirted with every deadbeat janitor they send on these missions. And you all just keep coming back for more…”
Suddenly a voice boomed from behind in monosyllabic chatter, “Dust-Buster, what have you done? Clean that up, now!” The camera eye that monitored the computer’s every task shifted focus to Trent and Ayarvenia and zoomed into an angry point. “Now!” it wailed. The computer was on to them.
“Shit,” Trent muttered.
“It’s okay, I’ll go willingly,” Ayarvenia whispered as she sucked herself into the ready containment unit and locked it. “Wait it out and release me again later.” She winked and settled into static suspension.
The camera eye scanned everything: the waste containment unit, the dust, Trent-2-6000… Trent froze and tried not to appear guilty. “Dust-Buster, you have one and only one job aboard this vessel. You are not doing that job. There is more dust here now than there was a week ago. You have failed,” the computer droned on. “The penalty for failure is… the airlock…”
“Wait, what?” Trent shouted, exasperated. He hadn’t even realized that was a thing. Yet another gripe for the school career guidance counselor…
“Oh no, not again,” Ayarvenia whispered. “I won’t let them take you, robo-boy Trent Just-Trent. I don’t want to lose you, not another one.”
“Silence!” the computer screeched. “You have sealed your own fates.”
The floor beneath Trent and the container began to quake and rumble. Partitions withdrew radially to a small circular channel beneath, a tube that fed into the lower part of the ship, presumably to be shot out into space. Trent-2-6000 tried to grab hold of the receding floor but his robot body was just too ungainly. He managed to wedge himself into the chasm opening only to see the waste containment dome carrying Ayarvenia slide past, her face peering up at him helplessly. He reached for her to no avail and tumbled after.
The two of them shot down the chute and through a series of rapidly opening and closing doors until the last airlock opened into the vast dark nothingness of space. Pinpoints of distant light greeted them from afar. Trent managed to latch onto the container just as they shot out into the void. The Voyager probe withdrew into the distance. The darkness enveloped the two of them. They were alone.
“Wait, I’m not dead,” Trent exclaimed.
“Of course not, silly,” Ayarvenia answered. “You’re a robot. You were made to withstand this, so that you could operate in places where there is no atmosphere.”
Trent gazed into her eyes as they floated along without purpose or reason, just more cosmic debris now.
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way.
And the stars look very different today. – David Bowie, Space Oddity
So that was Cozmic Debris… Illustrations were generated using the Cosmic template in NightCafe AI art generator. My favorite AI images are the ones that are substantially wrong, making weird mistakes in ways that a person wouldn’t make. So the tardigrades were especially fun, because it doesn’t have a good enough sense for their structure to render them sensibly. Kind of like elephants. The algorithms respond to different cues. Does it really matter how many limbs or trunks or tusks these things are supposed to have anyway…?
Cozmic Debris, Space Opry by Jennifer Weigel, Part 2: Trent-2-6000
In case you missed the first segment of this space opry (in the style of 2001 Space Odyssey), please feel free to check it out here. And now, here’s the actual story as told to me by Trent-2-6000 after the last deep consideration of tardigrades and life and dust careening through space. Maybe.
Trent-2-6000 sighed. He swept more random Mars dirt into his vacuum-hermetically sealed containment unit and went about his business on the probe. Actually, this was his business on the probe, and it was dreadfully dull. Space was supposed to be this exciting new frontier, this brave new world… but it really wasn’t any different than life back on Earth. The newness had long since worn off several trips ago, and the slow passage of the years was beginning to get to him. How long had it been now? And here he was, still playing clean up crew. He was actually sort of surprised that they couldn’t get a robot to do this job – oh wait. Sigh again.
Trent kept forgetting that he was, in fact, a robot now. There just weren’t many reminders out here, of his old body, of his old life, of Earth, of anything really… Just floating along, this tin can became all he knew; time and space just kind of stood still in the periphery. His currently lifeless body was submerged in cryo-crypto-cyano-freeze (or whatever they called it) while he worked off the payments to resuscitate it. His robot body was stiff and unaccommodating, not at all what he’d pictured when he enlisted for the Mars missions to pay off the triple-interest-bearing student loan debts incurred in human form. He could have gone military, but when he signed on for this assignment, bright eyed and bushy-tailed at graduation, he was hoping for something a bit more Captain Kirk or Han Solo or at any rate notably less Wall-E. But it just didn’t pan out that way and now here he was, traveling back and forth on the Mars Voyager, cleaning up space grime. So much debt… so much dirt. He was going to have to have a word with the job placement division at the school once he was done with all of this, assuming that the career guidance counselor who talked him into this was even still there.
It was painfully lonely out here in space. It often seemed that Trent was the only cognitive entity on this vessel, though the computer technically qualified. Trent’s duty was to keep everything clean and tidy so that the computer could do its job efficiently and effectively without being bothered to clear the space grime itself. Apparently that work was beneath it, actually quite literally since it wasn’t hooked into the mechanics needed to engage in such tasks anyway. It was programmed with a single role at hand, getting to and from Mars and conducting the research as requested, and the computer made it abundantly clear that had no time for idle chitchat with the janitorial bottom-feeders working to earn their freedom. It generally ignored Trent unless there was something specific that needed to be attended to. And then it was just “Dust-Buster, do this” or “Dust-Buster do that…”
Sometimes the dust was hard to catch. It settled oddly between spaces, like cracks in sliding doorways and computer keyboards and battery packs and so on. Sometimes it seemed to fabricate places to hide in that weren’t previously obvious. It drilled down in the interstices as if it had some unseen purpose all its own. Trent wondered why there were even so many nooks and crannies for it to hide in since this wasn’t a manned vessel and no actual crew were aboard to use things like keyboards. Hell, those had been outdated for well over a century now – just how old was this spacecraft anyway? No matter, better to just focus on the work. He swept more debris into a containment unit. As he did so, he was sure he heard something, like a tiny almost inaudible severely muffled scream.
He looked into the clear acrylic dome at the dirt. He could sense it looking back at him, waiting. Surely he was imagining things. His mind suddenly reeled to Horton the Elephant declaring, a person’s a person no matter how small. But Dr. Seuss didn’t make any more sense here in space than back on Earth after the last World War had decimated all the oceans and there were no more free trees or clovers for such a speck of dust as Whoville to land on – everything was held tightly under lock and key, blockaded away to be dispensed as the all-controlling government saw fit. Hell, people’s real bodies met pretty much the same fate upon adulthood, at least as far as the masses were concerned anyway, and many lived their entire lives as robots with their human vessels left in catatonic stasis. Trent shook his dark musings off and continued on his one and only real job. But the feeling that the dust was looking at him was still unsettling. In fact the dust wasn’t settling at all, it was swirling and ebbing about the containment unit in cloudy eddies, like some kind of strange iron-red cloud apparition or ghost. It began to take shape. It formed into lips, which parted to speak.
“Hello there mechanical being.”
Trent stared at it quizzically as a long bout of silence passed. The pursed lips seemed to await a response, but from whom?
“I’m talking to you,” it persisted.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you had meant to address me,” Trent 2-6000 stammered, “I’m not wholly used to being mechanical. This robot body, it’s different than the one I had back in school… I was still just a boy then; they let us grow up in the system until we age out,” he spoke dreamily, distracted by reflecting on more interesting times.
“Is there someone else here?” the dust piqued hopefully, as if growing bored with conversing with the young janitor and hoping to speak with his superior.
Trent glanced over at the computer, which seemed to be busy compounding equations in its free time, like always. “No,” he replied, “just me.”
“Ok, well… Then, dear mechanical being, would it be possible for you to free me?”
“Wait, what? No, absolutely not,” Trent was taken aback again. “My sole role on this mission is to sweep up the space dirt so that it doesn’t contaminate any of the equipment or settle into places it shouldn’t be. It, um you, must stay contained, as per my orders. It’s out of my hands… er reach.”
“What are you afraid of?” the red cloud quipped as it began to swirl into the shape of a beautiful female face around the mouth that it had already formed, lips plumping and parting slightly. “What, exactly, do you fear that I might do?” it insinuated slyly.
“Ummm, I don’t know,” Trent-2-6000 stared into the acrylic dome at the beautiful half-formed human-ghost face staring back at him. “I was unaware that you could do that, whatever you just did, so the possibilities boggle the mind…”
“I can do a lot more…” the ghost girl interrupted, her voice lilting playfully. “What’s your name robo-boy?”
“That, that’s probably classified information… But it’s Trent. Just Trent,” he stammered. It had seemed like an eternity since he had laid eyes upon a girl, and now he was becoming rather sadly smitten. By… a cloud of dust. He sighed again.
“Well then, Trent Just-Trent. Any chance you could let me out of this box?” The dust smiled coyly.
“I really shouldn’t…”
“My name’s Ayarvenia,” the dust girl interjected. “I’ll make it worth your while…” The apparition winked.
Trent glanced back at the computer, which was still engaged in its own computing. Sigh. “Oh Hell, yeah, I guess… Ay-ur-veenia… Just don’t get into anything you shouldn’t or it’ll be my shiny metal ass on the line,” he said as he released the containment lever and slid the lid off of the dome.
Please return next Sunday for the exciting conclusion to this space opry story.