Dead Heart

Follow the edge of the Swamp until you reach the twisted tree, the Three-Quarters Man had told me. He’d also told me I’d know it when I saw it.

Well, he was right about that.

“Right,” I murmured to myself, looking up at the gaunt, distorted mass that spiralled into the air for what seemed like hundreds of metres, casting its misshapen shadow out over the seething quagmire of the Swamp and the parched hardpan of the Wasteland alike, “from the tree, out into the sand until I reach the red paint.”

Giving my provisions a final check, and nodding to Yool, the oddly buff Christmas tree who has been here the whole time, I started out across the emptiness. It was a long and boring trudge, but there’s this to be said about boredom. It beats excitement hands down, especially the sort of excitement you’re likely to encounter in the Wasteland. Anyway, it was little more than a solid morning’s walk until I got to the first crumbly edge of the red-marked land. Oh yes, I’m quite capable of putting in the hard effort where it proves to be worthwhile. Although a vehicle of some kind wouldn’t have gone astray, such machines as work in the Wasteland don’t do so for a long or dependable amount of time, and often turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth. Something … gets into them. Gremlins in the sand, Creepy says. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’ll do for an explanation.

I don’t know what agency went around putting things in the middle of nowhere and then painting the ground red around them, but they must have had a brother-in-law who was a red paint salesman or something. The packed, parched soil, the scattered rocks, even the sand was painted. I scuffed a bit as I walked, leaving an uneven trail of clean ground behind me, but for the most part the red was uniform and untouched, as if even the wind and rain and desert critters didn’t make themselves known here. When I passed the first rank of signs – bold-but-battered biohazard and radiation signs on this occasion – I began to understand maybe why this was the case. Shrugging, I continued on.

The second rank of signs, visibly part of a large ring this time, curving in around whatever lay in the centre of this zone, were slightly more personal and spoke in several languages of the deadly, sticky consequences of continuing to trespass on ‘intra-military territory and testing grounds’. Fines were not mentioned. They were accompanied by the remains of a chain-link fence with twists of barbed wire, but where the elements had not touched the ground, they had torn up whole stretches of the fence and scattered it like ribbon across the red grit.

The third rank of signs was composed of totems, bones and skins and skulls, pierced through with great rusted iron pylons like star pickets as though to hold them in place and prevent them from escaping. The skulls were all upside-down, and had black stones in their eye sockets. I passed them by. There were no more signs, although a couple of times I saw mounds in the distance, dark against the red, desiccated bodies heaped in jumbled masses or staked to the ground in a final warning.

I stepped through into the dead heart, knowing the moment I crossed the threshold. It’s fairly common to feel like an intruder, be it socially, culturally, or in terms of species or gender. But to feel like an intruder by simple dint of being alive – that’s a feeling you experience seldom. If you’re lucky.

There are usually buildings, or at least constructions or apparatus, in the centre of the forbidden areas. This one contained only bleached, powdery nothing, Wasteland concentrated to its purest and most exotically entropic state. It was slightly sunken, a listless crater, and the red paint faded to a sort of powdery bubble gum pink before giving up entirely. There was no moisture, no bugs, no plants or seeds or bacteria. The entire area was hermetically cleansed of anything remotely organic.

What you find there will bring you closer to what you seek.

In the middle of the powdery dish, limp and stringy and coloured in three shades of faded blue, was a doll. I stood over it for a long moment, feeling deeply unsettled and remembering that, when I’d mentioned to the Three-Quarters Man that the red zones tended to be laid down around something nasty, dangerous or contagious, the Three-Quarters Man had said This one is no exception. I bent, and picked up the brittle, horribly weightless little thing.

Not a doll.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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6 Responses to Dead Heart

  1. dreameling says:

    So… What happens next?!? What’s the narrator seeking? Why the doll (or whatever it is)? What’s the deal with the dead hearts and the red paint? Who’s the Three-Quarters Man and which part is he missing and why? Who made the Wasteland? What’s Creepy?

    If this is some sort of experimental story fragment that intentionally suggests a whole story and a world while ironically leaving everything open and forever unresolved, I’m gonna punch you in the nuts, sir!

    I really like the measured prose and the imagery. And whatever’s going on here story-wise is intriguing.

    • stchucky says:

      The answers to at least some of your questions, sir, can be found by checking out the category under which I placed this entry: Creepy and Hatboy Save the World. There you will find a couple more snippets, as well as a bestiary.

      And yeah, that was a total rookie mistake on your part. For shame.

      But thanks, glad you liked it!

      Schizo enough for you?

      • dreameling says:

        Duh! on me, indeed. But, in my defense, I read this post from my mobile as well, so no categories! The mobile device layout of this site is actually damn good, but I guess WordPress had to drop some of the desktop bells and whistles to make it so. (Let’s just forget that I did actually know there were categories and that I’ve never actually bothered to use them even from a desktop browser, and that I’ve yet to read anything posted before the glorious day I found this blog.)

        How’s that for an explanation? Plus the story fragment worked quite nicely without any context. Dropping the reader in the middle of something unfamiliar that is nonetheless familiar to the POV character and therefore in need of no explaining is one the best ways to begin. Or I certainly get a kick out of it. To me the above actually read like the start of short story (or maybe even a novel).

        So, when do we get the full version?

        (Or maybe I should just go read the other Creepy and Hatboy Save the World posts before asking any more questions and possibly making myself look even more stupider.)

        Despite my little blunder there, I’m feeling quite epic right now. Like really epic. Hell, I AM EPIC. I DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES! LOOK AT ME! SILLY HAT! JUST REMEMBER WHO’S STANDING IN YOUR WAY!!! I–

        Sorry. Never even seen a single episode. But I do love me some epic scores. They always get to me. (Whenever I’m working on boring technical documentation, which is quite often, and need a boost of epicness, I usually hit play on Two Steps From Hell. Makes me want to invade a city.)

  2. stchucky says:

    Good explanation, really. Yeah, the mobile version is good for a quick read but I’ve found it imposible to use if I want to, you know, do anything (like post, for example, which I tried over the weekend and that’s why my Grammar Nazi post is slightly differently formatted which is annoying my inner nitpicker [aka. “me”] a bit…), so I use the full version.

    And yeah, that was the idea with this one, it was a snippet that I had started ages ago but only just got around to finishing, and I thought “oh well, might as well post that.” Seems to work OK as a blog entry, if not as a short story.

    The full novel is going to round out at a couple of hundred pages and will be ready when it’s ready. I have a lot of copyright issues to deal with first, since apparently Daleks and the Borg are already things that people have written about and made TV shows of.

    I just started re-watching with my daughter, but want to get some of the old classics first. Unbelievably, I have very few. I actually have some Dalek movies where the Doctor is played by Peter Cushing, but they’re not considered canon. Which is a shame, because come on, Peter Cushing! Like the Daleks stood a chance.

  3. dreameling says:

    Yeah, BBC and CBS/Paramount would probably have something to say about that…

    (The Bestiary was a good, fun read, though. I especially liked the Wasteland being “[a] huge expanse of flatness and sand and nothing that exists outside the narrative boundaries of the world.”)

    • stchucky says:

      Thanks! You remember that scene in “Beetlejuice”, where the ghosts step outside their hauntzone and find themselves in a scary desert with Burtonsnakes? Yeah, that.

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