Sunday, June 12, 2011

55/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "The Curse of Ka'Zar" by Lemon Jelly

Howard cut up the fish with practiced efficiency. The belly was slit, and the organs were separated out in to different bowls. The gills were sliced off and went into another bowl. The fins and tails went into a big bowl. The eyes were scooped out and went into a small bowl. The head was slit and the brain extracted to yet another bowl. The spine was pulled out and broken up. The spinal cord was put in the same bowl as the tiny brains. They usually curled and slithered to the bottom of the bowl. Finally he scraped all the scales off into yet another bowl.

The bowls then passed to Desdemona. She processed the contents in various ways. The fins and tails got a dollop of a goopy concoction similar to used engine oil. The eyes were dredged in coarse salt. Some sort of dried plant husks were added to the bowels, then they were throughly pierced so that the intestinal contents oozed out and rehydrated the husks. The kidneys and hearts were sliced thinly, then sprinkled with gypsum sand. To the livers were added salt water. The roe and milt were mixed. Half was then dumped back into the fish tank, and to the other half was added a form of strong alcohol. The gills were slathered with animal oil then dredged in a mix of spices that were very toxic to humans. Desdemona once touched the spices when she had a small cut on her finger, and her whole arm swelled up within minutes. She was given the rest of the day off. An acid was added to the spine bones and left to marinate for several days until all that was left was a gelatinous pudding. A fungus was then added and the mixture was left to mature until it was completely covered in blue fuzz. The bowl of brains was left untouched. The muscle meat was salted and left to dry outside. This was the food for humans. They left the bones in because they were edible and provided their only source of calcium.

Howard and Desdemona processed dozens of fish every day. The Kriv only ate one meal a day, but it lasted for hours, and they required a large quantity. They're bodies were massive by human comparison. Howard and Desdemona shared a living cell. They would wake at dawn, then would have to start work an hour or two later. For the first hour Howard tended to the fish tanks. He fed the fish a packaged meal, made of who knew what. The package had writing on it, but he did not know the native Kriv language. He hoped it was the Kriv equivalent of dried krill. Meanwhile, Desdemona readied the kitchen by cleaning all the surfaces and implements. Then they both rotated the drying fish, and took down the fillets that were finished. They took plates of it to the main hall and fed the humans there that were chained up. Then they had their breakfast, of salted fish and warm water. After that, they started on the first batch of fish, which they worked on for five hours straight. Then they had lunch, of salted fish and warm water. Then the worked on the second batch of fish for three hours.

They then stopped for their evening meal, and were joined by another servant, of a species different to both the Kriv and humans, tall, bipedal, and very hairy. It's job was to clean the bodies of the resident Kriv, any guests, and the chained humans in the main room. It ate the dried fish, as well as the fungus dish. It once tried to teach Howard and Desdemona what seemed like a gambling game, played with salted fish eyes, but they couldn't catch on so it eventually gave up. It did not speak English or any other human language, and didn't seem to speak Kriv very well either. Howard wondered if it ever felt lonely. It sat in the kitchen naked, though it had a thick coat of silky, pinkish hair, eating and making squawking noises at random intervals. It was very clean, and often brushed down Howard and Desdemona. It would put up a frantic fuss if they resisted, so they let it have it's way.

After the evening meal was over, they processed another batch of fish until they were summoned by the Kriv that was the head of the household. They brought up the bowls one by one. The main hall had a piece of furniture in one corner that was much like a massive lazy susan. They placed the bowls on this. The Kriv came and went from the lazy susan throughout the evening, slurping food directly from the bowls, or grasping clumps in their appendages, which they would put in various pouches about their body for later consumption. The cleaner servant would dart amongst the Kriv, licking their skin and brushing their quills.

Late into the night, the Kriv would have their fun with the chained up humans. They would insert a thin stinger-like appendage under the base of a human's skull, and wrap it around the anterior horn of the spinal cord. Each Kriv got a human, unless there were an excessive number of guests, and in that case, guest Kriv were expected to bring their own. The Kriv would then use the humans like actors, making them act out scenes under the Kriv's volition instead of their own, and spoke the parts for the humans. The humans themselves were usually mute and dazed during this, and sometimes they were completely asleep. They rarely struggled. It only took a few days for the freshly captured to become broken. The Kriv found their nightly plays immensely entertaining, and went about it for hours, walking the humans around like marionettes, and alternating with binges at the lazy susan. They squealed and screamed and heaved their lung sacs in what Howard hypothesized was their laughter. When the meal finally wound down, they would put their puppets down, and pull out the stingers, which deposited an antibiotic gel that hardened and plugged up the wound until the next night.

Howard and Desdemona were seldom present for any of these meals. They were allowed to go to their cell. In their cell there was a bathing area with running water, and they took turns having a bath and washing their tattered clothing. There was a hole in the floor where they could eliminate. There was no privacy, but they had gotten used to it. There was no furniture or bedding, just a cold stone floor. The noise of the Kriv meal drifted into their cell and prevented sleep, so Howard and Desdemona would often spend much of the night playing word games or recounting scenes and dialog from their favorite movies. Sometimes Howard worried out loud about their slow progression of scurvy, and sometimes Desdemona talked about her husband. She still held out hope that they would be reunited. Howard was much more pessimistic. He missed his boyfriend desperately, but had given up long ago on a rescue or escape. He refused to talk about loved ones back on Earth. At night they slept curled up next to each other in a corner, for warmth. They were completely platonic. Sometimes Desdemona sobbed for hours, and Howard would cradle her in his arms. Just before dawn, the cleaner servant would creep in and curl up in a ball in another corner. When it slept it made a gentle wheezing noise.

One morning, when Howard and Desdemona had started into the first batch of fish, the head of household Kriv came into the kitchen, holding something in it's appendages. They stopped their work and looked at the Kriv expectantly. It dropped the bundle on the table. It was a stillborn human baby, gray and cold, with the afterbirth still attached. It did not look completely full-term. One of the chained humans must have been pregnant.

"You...cut," said the Kriv, in it's rasping, deep voice.

Desdemona gasped, and put her hands over her mouth and nose. Howard goggled. He touched the baby's hand with his index finger. It was definitely dead. The Kriv looked at him expectantly.

"No," said Howard.

"," said the Kriv.

"No," said Howard.

The Kriv took in deep lungfuls of air and expelled them.

"You...cut...or...else," said the Kriv.

Howard looked at the Kriv impassively.

"Might as well," said Desdemona. "It's dead anyway."

"It's wrong," said Howard. "I won't do it."

"," said the Kriv. ""

"Hell no! I'm not a cannibal!" said Howard.

"," said the Kriv, sucking in air and expelling it rapidly.

"Would you eat one of your own kind?" asked Howard. The Kriv stared at him for a moment.

"," said the Kriv, "want...taste."

"NO!" shouted Howard. He threw his knife into the corner of the kitchen, where it clattered against a large jar of alcohol. The Kriv grunted, and grabbed Howard. It shoved it's stinger into his skull. Desdemona screamed and ran from the room. Howard vomited on the floor as he felt the stinger move inside him. His body went prickly and numb. The Kriv made him pick up the knife, then slice open the belly of the baby. Howard closed his eyes tightly, and kept them closed, through sounds of slurping, until the Kriv retracted the stinger.

Howard fell to the floor, shivering. He was still in the kitchen. The Kriv was gone. He lay there for several minutes, crying. Then the cleaner servant came in and hovered over him, fussing over the fresh wound, and eventually picked him up and carrying him to the cell. He still had the knife in his hand. Desdemona was rocking in the corner where they slept. The cleaner servant indicated that he wanted Howard to bath, but instead he got to his feet and walked slowly to the main hall. The chained humans were all resting on the stone floor, silent. There were no Kriv present.

Howard approached the humans. He knelt down and stroked the head of one of them. It was a young man, thin and gaunt. Vacant eyes looked back at him. He took the knife and slit the man's throat. Blood poured out onto the floor, and the man gurgled briefly. Howard looked down at the knife, stained with dark red blood. The other chained humans sat up, looking at the man bleeding out, and looking at Howard. No one made any sound. Howard went another, an elderly woman, and slit her throat. She slumped to the floor. Still no one made a sound. Only eyes followed Howard's moves. One by one he slit each of their throats, and they each died quietly. The actors in this house at least would be forever still.

When he was done, he walked over to the lazy susan and leaned next to it. He waited. It was only a matter of time before one of the Kriv came into the room. Finally one did, a juvenile. It saw the vast pool of blood in the center of the hall. Howard didn't think it realized what exactly had happened, because it moved around the bodies, touching and poking them, but it did not make any noise. It did not notice Howard in the room. When it's eyes were turned away, he quietly approached it. He aimed for one of the lung sacs, and plunged the knife into the thin leathery skin. The Kriv wheeled about and shouted something in it's own language. Howard removed the knife and found the other lung sac, tearing it open too. The young Kriv tried to gasp. It waved it's appendages wildly. Howard stabbed at its eyes and it toppled to the floor, writhing in the pool of human blood. He stuck the knife into its ample belly and ripped upward, splitting the Kriv open. Howard marveled for a moment at its unusual anatomy, there was a lot of empty space inside its body, which was not what he expected at all. It was still writhing and alive. He plunged the knife into its head, which cracked on the impact. Out oozed a stringy sort of brain.

Howard retreated back to the lazy susan, shaking with adrenaline. He watched the still body of the Kriv. He listened for sounds of other Kriv approaching. The house seemed silent. He wondered if they had all left on an outing. He was losing his appetite for murder. He left the hall. He went to the fish tanks. Part of the tanks extended to the outside, so that the water could get cleansed in the natural UV light. He climbed into one of the tanks and splashed down amongst a thick throng of fish. They bumped and jostled against him. He swam to the other side, glad for the coolness of the water, glad that it washed off the blood. He climbed over the other side, and dropped down several feet. He hurt a knee, but got up quickly. This part of the house back out onto a scrubland next to white gypsum dunes as far as the eye could see. The settlement the house was in was sparsely populated and the house was isolated. It was unlikely any Kriv witnessed his escape. He walked several yards away then stopped. He knew there was an underground electronic 'fence'. Humans back on Earth used something similar to keep dogs in the yard, and the Kriv used it to keep their slaves and servants near. He backed up, and then started to run. A jolt of electricity racked through him, and his body went rigid, but his momentum carried him past the fence. He fell and rolled. All the muscles in his body were having a charlie horse. A minute later he regained control and got up. He started walking towards the dunes.

Hours later, lost in the dunes, Howard sat down in the sand. The wind was blowing grains from the edge of the dune, moving the whole thing incrementally. He started to dig. The sand below was damp and cool. he dug down a foot or so, and placed the knife in the hole. He looked at it briefly, then covered it with sand. He sighed, then stood, then walked on. Minutes later, his footsteps were erased by the wind.

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