Tuesday, May 17, 2011

30/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by So Easy by Röyksopp

Brother Umfrey sat in his carol nodding off. The wood was uncomfortable but warm from him sitting there all afternoon. His fingers were blotched with ink, and a quill rested precariously atop his thumb. His fingernails were caked with dirt from a morning spent pulling up onions in the garden. Brother Baldric in the carol behind him was snoring loudly. As he tried not to fall fully asleep, Brother Umfrey caught blurred glimpses of the book in front of him. There were pencil marks where the illustration was to be inked in, but he was currently supposed to just be doing the main text lettering.

At the back of the hall, a door gently opened. Brother Umfrey was finally attuned to the sound of that lock unlatching. Brother Nicholas had come into the room to check on the progress of the books. Brother Umfrey forced his eyes to open. He sat up a little straighter, grasped the quill, and refreshed it in the ink bottle. He started carefully scratching letters on the parchment as Brother Nicholas slowly walked up the aisle. Brother Nicholas paused next to Brother Baldric's carol (who was still sleeping), sighed, then passed. He looked over at Brother Umfrey who smiled and nodded reverently back. Brother Nicholas walked up the full length of the hall and back again, once more pausing a Brother Baldric's carol.

"Harumph!" uttered Brother Nicholas. Brother Baldric moaned, coughed, rustled, and resumed his snoring. "AHEM!" shouted Brother Nicholas. It was the most sound his vow of silence would permit.

"Ugh--um," said Brother Baldric, waking with a start. Brother Nicholas reached into the carol and grabbed Brother Baldric by the ear. "Ah! Ah! Ah!" Brother Nicholas then dragged Brother Baldric down the aisle and out the door. A few minutes later, Brother Ranulf shuffled in to replace Baldric in his carol. Ranulf was an older monk, with a palsy shake, so he did not often work on the books, but the monastery's endowment was dependent on supplying books for the library of the local nobleman, even though he could not read.

Soon Brother Ranulf was snoring, along with several of the other monks, but Umfrey now watched the light from the setting sun drift across the far wall of the writing room. About twenty minutes before vespers, the monks began waking up, through ingrained habit. Then there was a loud sound outside the monastery and the glass windows fractured and blew inward. Several of the monks screamed as glass hit their faces.

Except for ringing ears, Brother Umfrey was unharmed, and after blinking several times, he got up on his feet. He turned and looked at Brother Ranulf. He was slumped over his desk, and had a shard of glass poking out of his neck. Blood soaked the book he was working on, and mixed with the contents of the overturned ink bottle in dark swirls. Brother Umfrey quickly checked the other monks. None had more than cuts from the glass. One of the younger monks ran over to Brother Ranulf and started sobbing. The rest of the monks went to the door and opened it. Other monks were running past in the hallway outside. Brother Umfrey joined them. He ran out to the garden, and there in the onion patch, was a massive metal cylinder, engulfed in blue flames, half-buried in the ground.

Umfrey considered breaking his vow of silence to ask the other monks what had happened. Did it fall from the sky? Did it burrow up from hell? Why did it make a loud sound? But then a man-sized hatch opened up, a foot from the ground, and the flames suddenly extinguished themselves. The monks, who had formed a semi-circle around the garden, now pressed backwards. The hatch fell to the ground with a thud. The opening behind was dark. Then a white light as bright as the sun burst from the opening. The monks collectively gasped. Then the light was partially blocked with a figure, a man, who came to the edge of the opening, then crouched and hopped to the ground. The man was dressed in strange, form-fitting leggings and a short, unbelted white tunic. The man looked at the monks briefly, then walked around the cylinder, examining where the ground met it. He said something gruff and unintelligible. Umfrey assumed by his tone, that he was swearing.

Brother Umfrey, seeing that this was merely a man and not a demon, walked up next to the cylinder. The man noticed him, and stopped looking at the cylinder. Brother Umfrey smiled and bowed.

"Uh, hello," said the man.

Brother Umfrey bowed again, and then raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

"Uh, okay," said the man. He walked over to the ejected hatch, crouched down, and examined the hinge at the bottom.

Brother Umfrey followed him and crouched beside him.

"Uhmn," said the man, "I don't mean to be rude, but what do you want?"

Brother Umfrey looked pointedly at the cylinder, then up at the shattered windows of the monastery.

"Oh, yeah, sorry about that," said the man, "I really couldn't help it."

Brother Umfrey furrowed his brow, struggling to understand the words the man made.

"You don't understand what I'm saying, do you?" said the man.

Brother Umfrey looked quizzical.

"Fantastic," said the man. "I guess you won't be able to tell me what year it is then?"

Brother Umfrey furrowed his brow again, and stood up, looking again to the cylinder, then gesturing his hands to the ground, then to the windows. The man stood up and sighed, rubbing his forehead.

"Gee, how do I explain this," he said. "I came from the future. By accident. I was actually trying to go into my future from your future. Do you understand?" He looked at Umfrey's blank expression. "Yeah, didn't think so." The man hopped up into the opening again and disappeared into the light. Brother Umfrey walked to the opening and peered inside. When his eyes adjusted to the light he could see that the inside was painted white and there were strange luxuriously padded chairs covered in what looked like white leather. He suddenly wished he could sit on one of those all day instead of the hard wooden chair in the carols, or the hard wooden benches in the dining hall, or the hard wooden pews in the chapel, or his hard wooden pallet in the cell he shared with Brother Baldric. Inside there were also blinking lights of every color, and dark black rectangles with text and drawings enscribed on them, but somehow they moved. The men rustled around in some white cabinets that lined the walls inside.

Brother Nicholas broke from the circle of monks and ran up to Umfrey. He tried to pull Umfrey away from the cylinder, but Umfrey motioned to Nicholas that he was fine. He wanted to say that he thought the man was safe, even though he was a strange intruder. Then the light went out. The man re-emerged from the opening, carrying a glass jar that looked thinner and lighter and clearer than any glass Brother Umfrey had ever seen before. The man hopped down again.

"Don't go inside!" said the man. He turned and waved his hands at the opening, then turned to Umfrey and Nicholas and shook his head from side to side slowly, gravely, and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

Brother Umfrey bowed and then nodded 'yes'.

"Finally, wow, okay," said the man. "Do you have water? Water?" he said slowly and deliberately.

Brother Umfrey cupped his hands and held them up to his mouth, then tilted his head and hands back slightly.

"Yes! Yes, water! Do you have it?"

Brother Umfrey nodded yes, as Brother Nicholas looked on nervously.

"Can I have some?" The man pointed at the jar.

Brother Umfrey nodded yes again, then held out his hand and motioned towards the monastery. Then he walked towards the monks and the mand followed. The monks parted cautiously, eyes wide and staring at the stranger. Brother Umfrey walked towards one of the rain barrels and uncovered it's lid. The man peered in. The barrel was half-filled and there was a scum of green. He looked at Umfrey with a disgusted face.

"You drink this?" he asked. Brother Umfrey furrowed his brow again. "Nevermind," said the man. He turned and dunked the jar into the barrel. He brought it up and looked at the contents through the waning sunlight. It cast a green light on his face. "Man, if you only knew what's swimming around in here," he said to Umfrey, "it would make you're skin crawl. Thanks!"

Brother Umfrey bowed and nodded in acknowledgement.

"Oh, you understand that word? Cool, cool." The man quickly walked back to the cylinder, and climbed back in, turning on the bright light again. Umfrey looked in again as the man went to a portal on a horizontal surface and poured the water carefully into it. The man put the jar back into one of the cabinets, and then hovered over one of the black screens, touching and swiping at it, making more images and text appear and disappear. Brother Umfrey wondered how he was turning the pages behind the glass. Suddenly the man seemed satisfied and came back to the opening and looked at Umfrey.

"Uh, do you have any rope?" he asked. He put his hands together, fists closed, then pulled them apart, and pushed them slowly together, then quickly apart again. "Rope?"

Brother Umfrey nodded yes, and then undid his hemp belt. He handed it to the man, smiling.

"Oh, no, I couldn't take you're belt," said the man, "I'm not borrowing it, I need to use it on the door so I can leave."

Brother Umfrey pushed the belt towards the man.

"Well, okay. I guess this is faster," he said. He took the belt, "thanks." He climbed out of the opening, and bent down and tied the belt around the hatch handle. He pulled the hatch upright, and walked it on it's edge towards the opening, then leaned it against the cylinder. He climbed back in and started to pull up on the belt. Brother Umfrey helped get the hatch in place, but pulled down on the hatch when the man tried to pull up on the belt.

"Hey! Stop it," said the man, "I've got to go!"

Brother Umfrey suddenly looked frantic. He pointed to himself, then pointed to the interior of the cylinder. The man stared at him. Brother Umfrey pointed at himself and then at the interior again, more forcefully. Then he pointed to the monastery, balled up his fists, then gently hit his forehead with them. he pointed again at himself then the interior.

"Okay, I see what you're saying," said the man, " and I can see how your life probably seems very dull, but you don't know what you're asking."

Brother Umfrey knelt down on the dirt and clasped his hands, and looked up pleadingly at the man.

"This really isn't the best idea," said the man, rubbing his forehead nervously.

Brother Umfrey raised and furrowed his brows, and shook his clasped hands once towards the man.

"Oh, alright," said the man. "I'll probably regret this, but it doesn't look like you're going to father any of my ancestors. Get in." He motioned to the interior.

Brother Umfrey stood up and clap his hands together. He looked ecstatic. He opened his mouth to speak, then "Moste excellent!" he shouted, then clasped his hands to his mouth, looking shocked. The monks behind him all gasped in horror.

"Really? You have those words in Middle English? That's just hilarious," said the man, chuckling.

"Thank ye," said Umfrey quietly.

"Well, get in," said the man. "This will really blow your mind."

Umfrey and the man worked at length to set the hatch right in the opening. A few minutes later, the cylinder errupted in blue flames, then disappeared in an instant. The other monks all fell forward from the pull of the temporary vacuum. Brother Nicholas got up, and brushed the dirt from his face. He walked to the edge of the hole left by the cylinder, and scratched his shaved head.

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