Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Word To Come - Friday Flash

She came round lying in the recovery position. Her mouth was dry and gritty, while her leaden tongue felt like a lump of rock. She wasn’t in her bed however, as her hand groped sightlessly under her. To judge by the impression reported by her fingers, she appeared to be prone on a ceramic floor. She granted herself five more minutes rest and turned on to her back. Something careened in her mouth, as she experienced the hard smack of an object against her teeth. Yet no pain signals lit up the nerves. Come to think of it, her roster of aches and pains that was habitually ushered in with the dawn, was also absent. 

She pincered two fingers together and delved into her mouth, as she finally batted open an eye. Instead of the expected fleshy grub of her tongue, her digits encountered something smooth and unyielding. She withdrew it carefully and inspected the mineral interloper. It was a red gemstone, garnet in all likelihood, cut into the shape of a heart, but not one she recalled from her personal trove. She was well acquainted with garnet, since it represented her birthstone. 

She sat upright and tried to take in her surroundings. There didn’t seem to be a door set into any of the walls. Looking down she saw that the floor was composed of tessellated tiles, each which had a letter of the alphabet inlaid into it, cast in differing precious stones. She rose up on to her bare feet. She was nervous about treading on the stones in case they had rough edges that might tear into the flesh of her soles. So she sank once again to her haunches and gingerly brushed her hand over the gems of the letter ‘E’. They seemed flush enough. 

She scuffed her way to the perimeter and proceeded to trace a circuit around the entire room, her hand breasting the walls searching for a depression or anything that might suggest a portal. There wasn’t one to be found, but she did note that the dully twinkling stones in the floor letters didn’t contain garnet. She deduced that she already held the key in her hand. Now to find the lock.

The letters must be telling her something. She studied them and discerned just twenty-six, one for each letter, with four blank tiles in the corners. Blanks weren’t worth points in Scrabble she ruefully recalled. The letters did not seem to be arranged in alphabetical order, nor as on a Qwerty keyboard. Stood in the middle to where she had returned, were an ‘E’, ‘A’, ‘S” and ‘T’. Craning her neck she saw that ‘J’, ‘Q’, ‘Z’ and ‘X’ abutted the blank tiles. Clearly they were arrayed according to frequency and that meant that she was probably expected to transcribe messages by walking on them to spell out words.

She traversed the word ‘Help’, except that in order to move from the ‘H’ through to the ‘P’ involved divagations through extraneous characters, so that she actually spelled out ‘Hearldvp’. Nothing doing. Then it struck her, she might employ the garnet like a marker in the game of Hopscotch. She gently lobbed it towards the ‘H’ but it bounced and settled on the neighbouring ‘Y’. While she was berating herself for lifelong inability at anything sporty, the gems fabricating the shape of the ‘Y’ lit up. That must be it then, how to eliminate  the effect of walking on intermediary letters. The letters she deliberately lit up would solely be the ones spelling out the words. Now all she had to ensure was the surety of her aim in targeting her chosen characters. Throwing involved too much uncontrollable caroming. She would have to slide the gemstone along like a shuffleboard if she wanted to escape her prison.

She transcribed a path to spell out the plea ‘Let me live’, but immediately wanted to edit it to ‘let me out’. She wondered how she could delete things. Perhaps the blanks held the key, that they represented an erase function. But why were they perched in the corners and the least accessible? An encouragement to getting it right first time she supposed. She decided to try and merely reverse the order of the word to be struck out, even though in this case she was transcribing the word ‘evil’. It seemed to work, as instead of the gems remaining illuminated, they were extinguished. She completed her plaintive ‘let me out’ but the room did not shift its architecture to accede to her request. 

She then re-rendered the message, this time using the blank tiles as spacers between the three words. It still yielded no ‘Open sesame’, even after she spelled out that very injunction. She sat back down forlornly to consider her options. She had been moving along a life-sized Ouija Board. The very thought sent a shiver down her spine. Yet she wasn’t cold, despite bare feet on cold-fired clay. Nor was she hungry or thirsty, or in need of relieving herself. She felt none of the physical sensations of a ravaged body. Including not one of her customary pains. Was she dead? Had she passed over into this atrium in limbo? Was the garnet, her personal birthstone, there to endow her rebirth? Presumably as this was March, or at least it was the last time she was aware, she would be reborn with a new birthstone to mark it.


Then the question became what she was supposed to write on this floor keypad. Was she supposed to petition for her life, one letter at a time? By doing what, begging for a new one, or accounting for her old one so that it merited a second spin of the wheel? It would take an eternity to account her whole past life just ended. Ended, but not concluded she reminded herself. Or maybe this was Eternity itself, an endless retelling of her story? To stave off the final surcease of extinction, she had to keep talking, or in this case spelling. She had to sustain the inlaid floor gems spangling like a low-rent disco Scheherazade. She slid the garnet over to the letter ‘I’...

10 comments:

Deanna Schrayer said...

What a nightmare! I love the imaginative originality of this Marc, and would love to know where, if anywhere, her next word takes her.

Larry Kollar said...

I've never run across a depiction of this kind of afterlife. Interesting concept. I wonder if she's going to write her autobiography?

kymm said...

This was fun, Marc! When in doubt, write!

Clara Zane said...

What an odd, but entirely neat, view of the afterlife. I enjoyed this one!

Stephen said...

The question of new life vs. do-over is a tuff one. Personally, I'm not sure I would want either one. A cool concept here. Well done.

Steve Green said...

Excellently written as always Marc.
If this is indeed her afterlife, it seems like a very cruel one.

Katherine Hajer said...

This came across like something from Beckett's later stories. Somehow I got the impression that getting out of the room might not necessarily be a good thing...

Icy Sedgwick said...

Ah, brilliant stuff! Your word usage always leaves me envious.

Hawksword said...

Ooh...quite coincidentally we have just been looking at versions of Heaven this afternoon at the Heugh Writers Group. Not that I would call this heaven! Interesting take on the afterlife.
And you get brownie points for the use of 'folornly' - a favourite word of mine!

Sonia Lal said...

Unlike a lot of the others I am not convinced she is in the afterlife. Not sure where she could be though. Interesting.