Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Penmanship - Flash Fiction
The man was lying asleep on his side, his hand tucked under his face for a pillow, when he was shaken awake. His whole bed was aquiver and he suffered that shooting vertigo as the block mattress was shot up vertically. The tethers bound him in place. He knew what was to follow.
The metal probe projected horizontally towards him. Its point was dulled so that there was no spangle reflection to blind his eyes. To help veil him from its unerring assignment. The stylus started cutting into his skin. His wounded flesh responded by filling in the cavities with blood, but the duct mounted beneath the stylus squirted some sort of anti-coagulant to sluice the blood away as soon as it tried to dock with the skin.
He shut his eyes and gave into to the lapping swish of the chemical reagent jets. He had endured the sensation so many times, his nerves had ceased to fire at the trespass of the spike. It was gouging out characters on his skin, some of which he could flick his eyes to read, others which remained beyond his purview. Because of the irregular contours of his body, the words spelt thereon were not arranged in sentences. He was not a flat plane like the leaves of a book. And that seemed to be the very object.
When the stylus had finished its calligraphic furrows, there was the customary pop as the liquid stream was shut off and replaced by a more viscous fluid. Here it comes, as a black ink was sprayed into the scores in his skin, until the trenches were full to the top. The probe performed its shuffling retreat as it was winched back. He leaned his head back against the metal block and turned to one side. He saw the arrayed ranks of others trussed and coloured exactly the same as him, though he could not make out the inscriptions on their flesh. A printing block army. A typeset textual host. And then it began.
In rapid fire, the typebars were launched forward headlong, pressing the composed human monotypes against a giant white canvas of indeterminate fabrication. The letters were intaglioed, incised against the blockish lumps of uninscribed flesh to create the impression of three-dimensional lettering. Not unlike that of graffiti taggers, though this was intended as far more of a formal imprint. For this was the justice system’s record-keeping of its proceedings, or at least the footnote annotations thereof. For this race it was important to have the sentences produced with differing depths and alignments and not just necessarily legible in a linear fashion. Their justice resonated with greater and more intricate profundity in that way.
The impact at rapid velocity against the canvas always knocked the human print stamps immediately spark out. They came to when a sprinkle of water washed over their face. An alert that the cleansing and maintenance procedures were upon them. Now their blocks were positioned to the horizontal and they passed through a vertical plane of some muslin like material ingrained with an astringent that served to flush out any vestiges of ink squatting in skin recesses. A blast of heat was quickly applied to evaporate any surface liquid and scour the flesh prior to silky spurts of an aqueous polymer coated the degraded flesh and quickly flowed to seal it smooth. The fusible skin would harden and set within an hour and the human composite stick would be good to go once again the following day to record the judgements handed down.