Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Seven

Another beam shot out from the device, much thinner than the first and concentrated in a single line. They're going into my brain. It was a horror you don't get from bodily harm, to know your consciousness will be another's to open, to shape. I could only scrunch my eyes shut, and groan, as the beam sizzled its way through my skull. The feeling wasn't painful. I don't know how deep it went before I passed out.

If you've ever been unconscious, you'll know that the lapse of mind is instantaneous. The darkness comes and goes like a blink. But for me it crawled on forever, and flashes filled its duration, these like turbid dreams that couldn't have been a human's. The language, the paradigm of the Harrowers, filtered through those flashes till my mind was filled with their presence. I couldn't see their civilization with any real clarity, not their buildings nor their crowds on other worlds, but I could attune to their logic now. The genetic baseline of their ethics, worries, fears, and dreams entwined with my own. It was as if they were braiding our DNA together. Then the input stopped, the flashes gave to dark again, and I awoke to find my captors huddled around me.

The bonds of energy had disappeared, but the Harrowers didn't need them now. Whatever they had done to my brain, it had racked me of vigor, left me only capable of blinking and curling my toes. The cattle-skull Harrower peeled back my eyelids, then felt my throat and chest. After trilling to its fellow beings, each of whom trilled back, it started swabbing my forehead with a spongy green organism. My muscles loosened. I found the will to lift a hand and look at it. You might wonder how I felt at that moment, freshly woken from alien brain surgery. I can tell you I didn't feel horror, or disgust, or rage, though I'd be forgiven for feeling all three. No. I felt only an icy numbness, as if I'd just stepped out of a barracks shower.

I had understood the trilling.

It wasn't a complete understanding; the lower, idiomatic notes were lost on me. But the basic ideas came through: See how the eggling assimilated, the Harrower had said, in spite of its few cycles, to which the others responded, smart eggling and outer-brain. Eggling--meaning recently hatched, craving to feed on its thousand stillborn kin, and driven to grow in deep rivers. I couldn't see an image of their egglings in my mind, but I intuited the concept. So I was--eggling--yet also bright, an outer-brain. Was I a threat to them now? No, I knew, because their paradigm does not allow for eggling threats, in the same way we view infants as innocuous

When their words sank into my mind, I sought out my own to respond. In a sound I knew they'd find bizarre, as it came from human lips, I trilled: "Where do you come from and what do you want with me?"

They looked to each other in silence. "It knows the waters of our speech already," said the cattle-skull Harrower. "Its mind has soaked them in better than the corn-man's."

"Should we answer the eggling?" said another.

The third Harrower clicked its mandibles together, which I knew to be a yes.

They called themselves the Complete. "We are the outer-brain yield of a system called Blue Mantle, a thousand days from here. The Complete have watched your world for several cycles. I am Scoria, the one who gave you the waters by which to know us." It gestured to the others. The cattle-skull one was Arkose, and the last was Shale. "You ask what we want from you, eggling, yet you are the one who came to us."

They had a point. "I had heard of your visits," I said. "And so I came to see if they were true."

"The corn-man could not hold his waters," said Arkose. This meant he couldn't keep a secret, not that he was incontinent. "Thus he must be reworked."

"You'll tinker with his mind again, like you did mine? You have no right going in one's head against his will." As the numbness ebbed away, I found the strength to pull myself upright, a feat they didn't challenge.

"Will?" Shale asked. It looked to Scoria. "Do we have the drop of will?" In human terms: can we comprehend that word?

"It is only a word of this world's race," said Scoria to Shale. "It refers to an act without Direction." Direction--an authority caste relegated to its own world and by which the Complete are bound to obey; it is so entrenched in Complete psyches that the Complete can't conceive of existing without that caste. Think of a system of government orders of magnitude more potent than any human autocracy, so potent it's a part of their genetics. "I thought the word was purely conceptual. Lower beasts can have will. How can a human have will?"

"Not possible!" trilled Arkose. "Eggling, is your kind truly without Direction as the lower beasts? We have seen governance all around you, subsuming and completing you as it completes us. How can it fail to Direct you?"

"We have governments here," I told them, and slid my feet off the dais. "But they are not our only force of being. Many of us can behave within our own parameters, as free from those governments as we are capable. You are neurologically prostrate to your governing caste. You cannot exist without it."

"Then we were wrong!" Arkose trilled much louder now, and started snapping its mandibles in rage. "A thousand days to come here, two thousand more to study--all for a lower beast that speaks as a higher!"

My muscles tensed up immediately. I didn't like what I was hearing.

"Perhaps we misunderstand," said Shale. "Are you sure of what you say, eggling? That you are without direction like the microbes on your flesh or the cells themselves that bind you? Speak. Speak truthfully, with pure waters, and tell us whether we can trust you, lest we must end you."

I had come upon the chasm between our paradigms too late. Harrowers, I now realized, and should have realized sooner, do not regard as sapient any creature without an autocratic head. To them, free beasts are low beasts. And to give a low beast their speech and logic meant something akin to blasphemy. Harrower treason at a genetic level--surely worth obliteration, of them, of me, perhaps even of Earth. That is, unless I did something fast.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Six

(Dispel any notion of aliens as they are often described. Greys, the popular example, persist in our culture not as representatives of a real alien race, but rather as subconscious memories from when we were newly born and, looking at our mother's face through a film of birth-stuff, saw pale forms in the hospital light and dark, almond eyes within them. Note the similarities between Cleetus's recollection of a white room and white beings with metal instruments to those natal stirrings of a maternity ward, also a white room with white beings and metal instruments. Cleetus, and a million others like him, wouldn't know an alien if it parked on his silo.)

When the Harrower had finished observing me from afar, the bottom of the craft slid open and the bubble of white-blue energy lifted me up and into the hull. It was pitch-black inside, and humid like an understory. There was a putrid stench like human viscera and I could hear the sloshing of water. A dark blue light awoke from a crystal in the ceiling, a light bright enough to fill the space of an arm's reach in front of me, but no further. I knew my captors stood nearby. And I wished, wished very hard, that I had seen the face of the first Harrower more clearly so as to give these beings some shape or character in my mind.

I realized they were wading through some kind of pool or bath, since the sloshing came from every direction. This must be their latrine, I thought. What decor. The light grew stronger. One of the Harrowers came near, not near enough to show its face, but such that I could see its general features. The legs alone rose twice my height and joined a terraced thorax, the sides of which were shelled in chitin; three arms curled out from this chitin, giving the creature the air of an isopod. A little terror grew inside me then, as I drew in its size and the marble-white of its body. I suppressed this terror. Suppressed it because I knew I would need a clear head for the rest of the night.

Two more Harrowers came forth from the dark, one pulling an instrument tethered to the ceiling.  The beings trilled to each other in their language. I realized then that they stood below me, that I was in fact on an elevated platform, like a dais, above their bath. As I didn't know what the fluids in that bath could do to human flesh, I thought it best to stay on the dais, resigning myself to capture till I could find some means of escape. The Harrower with the instrument aimed the end of it at my head. In a white-hot burst, cataracts of energy disgorged from within it and bound me to the dais. I struggled against the bonds, but they issued a jolt to still me--not like an electric discharge, but a force more subtle, more terrifying, one that doesn’t sting or fray, just starves the will to defy it.

I waited for the beings to cut me open like a can of tuna, to unbowel me for their knowledge and pleasure. What a death that would’ve been, to be the autopsy stock for a band of star-faring premeds, to be their test, their toy, an exemplar of terrene biology laid out in parts. What a terrible death. You know me; I wouldn’t have it. So I spit on the Harrower who’d bound me. It recoiled as if from acid, then trilled to the others, who then seemed to console it: No, no, I imagined them saying, this species can’t spit venom.  The stricken being lowered its head into the light to better see who dared provoke it. What I then saw, and now relay, nightly roots into my dreams.

It was a face as far from any human’s as most animals of the deep. Its three white eyes were arranged in a triangle below a horn-capped plate of bone. And below these, a set of mandibles folded down and out and crossed like half-sprung jackknives, each with teeth sharp enough to saw through pewter. The being’s plating shimmered. I was reminded of bugs, and especially of those I had killed.

The creature extended an arm to my forehead. It traced a path down toward my nose, then back up, then made a third stroke horizontally. The skin was moist and cold. After a pause, the creature drew back and another Harrower looked over me, this one with a blancher head, like a cattle's skull in the sun. It too traced a path, seemed to ponder, and like the one before it made a full three strokes as of a calligraphic symbol. I couldn’t figure out what the ritual meant until a Harrower craned their tethered instrument over me, then aimed it at the cross-strokes of my forehead.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Five

I awoke to a fresh fall of snow. It powdered the farm and the countryside. I hopped off the tire-swing, disappointed by the lack of excitement that evening, but eager to feel the truck's heater again. It didn't occur to me right away that the landscape had changed since I'd first seen it. I was on my way back when a circuit went off in my holy-shit cortex, and I stood letting the snow prick my forehead while summoning the will to turn around. When I finally managed it, I took a few more seconds to assemble the image beyond the darkness and snowfall, and a few more thereafter to assure myself that I wasn't sleep-drunk and hallucinating. The image wouldn't reason itself away, so I kept on staring, awestruck. 

A spindly, many-legged edifice loomed out from within the cornfield, half a kilometer away and maybe ten meters high. No, not an edifice. A craft. The silhouette of it looked like a giant spider shouldering a lighthouse, with a bulbous base tapering up into a faintly luminous rod, the end of which glowed blue. It wasn't moving and it wasn't making noise and I didn't have the faintest fucking clue how it got there, or why I hadn't heard it land. Now your average eight-year-old would've probably left upon seeing such a thing; hell, any average person with a mote of self-preservation and a working pair of legs would've booked it, curiosity be damned. I wasn't any such person. I'd read enough Welles to know better, yes, but I also knew that this would be my only chance at sating my curiosity. So I took it. 

I went to the edge of the cornfield and peered inside. The notion hit me that I might get lost in such a field, it being nighttime, and cold, and with a source of terror therein to strain my sanity; understand, though, that none of these mattered, and that any reasons not to take a risk merely assemble in my mind as reasons to take that risk. I'm akin to the obstinate pawn who sees the board-end closer when bishops block his way. Thus I took a long, deep gulp of air, and went in. 
To explain my journey, let me note that half a mile on an open path equals ten miles in a cornfield. This is due to the drag of stalks on one's clothing as well as the tricks of the scenery that null one's sensibilities, the last of which may be likened to a scuba-diver in the ocean who, being too far from the surface, loses all hope of direction but that which his bubbles provide. Only here I didn't have such an analogue, and could only press on through fold after fold of snapping cornstalks, merely hoping my direction hadn't changed. An itch of panic set in once I'd gotten deep enough. The stalks started looking like arms and legs; the snapping sounded like speech. I wondered how far I was from the farm and whether it could get any colder. 

When the craft became visible again, I steadied my breathing, then ducked down in the naive attempt to not be seen. Ice had already glazed over the metal, but several gaps in the structure emitted a faint blue glow similar to the glow of its apex. After circling the craft to scope it out, I went up to inspect its legs. These bore into the soil, crushing stalks in the process. I counted seven legs in all, each double-jointed and spaced evenly around.

When I got to the base of the craft, I expected to see an aperture open, maybe a cowbeam shoot down to pick me up. Instead, to my greater horror, a nest of wires unfurled from its center and surrounded me. Like silkworms, they sealed me in a bubble of latticed, white-blue energy, then retracted into the alcove while a door in the outer base slid open. I couldn't see beyond the door, as I was trapped below it, but the light within that spilled across the field betrayed a shadow of the Visitor, an eldritch, three-legged thing that trundled out to see who'd come knocking. I was now a prisoner of the Harrowers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Four

I found my grandmother's Browning handgun on the dining room table when I went downstairs that night. She had long since gone to bed, as had her husband and my parents, so now the house was dark and quiet save the blue bars of moonlight spilling over furniture and the creak of wood settling. After checking to see that the gun was loaded, I went outside to Calhoun's pick-up truck; his keys hadn't been hard to snag, just a few sticky fingers on my end and a few loose ones on his. He and my mother were too fast asleep, having drunken their fair share of wine, to hear the truck start with its usual sputter.

I stuck the Browning on the dashboard, then peered out into the blue-black countryside for the way we'd come. Once I'd found it, I flicked on the headlights, switched the rig into gear, and followed the gravel road out as best I could. Upon reaching the main road, I drove down it as far as Marylou had described. Not a single car save my own lit up the darkness. This was typical on country roads, but all too disquieting given the ample population of Morningbird.

When the odometer clocked in a mile, I slowed down to read the landscape. It wasn't long before I caught the porch-light of a farm. Not wanting to awaken the owner of this farm or his family, I pulled off the road into a forested patch, then cut the engine. It ticked idly while I sat there, re-checking the handgun once more and wondering, again, whether this was the best course of action. But by now, you now how quickly my self-doubt rivets back to certainty, even if that certainty's unwarranted. That's what happened here. I stuffed the gun in my pocket, then went outside into the cool and formless night.

The Spinster house looked like it had been built by half-blind cripples. I could tell this from the one porch-light illuminating its front: the paint was a sickly death-white, the boards were split open in several places, and the whole house leaned out like an old man in a grocery store, to say nothing of the tilting weather vane or unrolled hose.

I made my way to the cornfield at the back of this house. A light breeze touched the stalks, and they leaned into each other in a low, rolling hush. Even with the moon as bright as it was that night, I couldn't see far across the field, and crop circles or not, the field itself only looked like a solitary and gently stirring mass. This made me consider that perhaps the whole effort really was a waste of time, since any visitors who came down would be nigh indiscernible--assuming, of course, they came down at all.

All the same, I was determined to wait out the night, knowing it would be my only chance since our family would leave in the morning. Figuring it was already one or two A.M., not long till the sighting-times my grandma mentioned, I decided to sit in a tire-swing nearby and overlook the field. As often happens to children who try to stay up late, despite the errant will of some of them, and despite their resistance to a thousand greater forces, the touch of sleep eventually took me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Three

My relatives stumbled out of the house in groups of twos and threes, all of them gorged on wine and turkey. By the time the last few were leaving, Ernie was already piling up dishes and taking them back to wash, while his wife chucked her throwing knife into a moose head on the far wall. Each time it struck, the antlers rattled against the wooden paneling, and fur and giblets fell from ruined flesh. She went over and dislodged the knife. Bullwinkle was looking like a Lizzy Borden victim.

“Marylou,” I said. “About your story tonight--”

“You mean the Harrowers?” She cleaned the knife with her dress.

“Yes, that one. Where did these sightings take place, anyways?”

Chuckling, she walked back to her throwing spot. “Everyone says you take after me. There can be no doubt about that if we're talking pure curiosity. You and I always ask the dangerous questions.” As she leveled her aim, I took my own knife from the table and went to join her. “On three,” she said. “One, two--”

I flung mine hard and early, and it hit the moose head with a jelly-squirt sound. “Got it's eye,” I said.

“Just for that, I'll tell you.” She thunked her knife into the pate and looked down at me with a grim smile. “But you've got to promise me you won't go looking for any answers like I think you will.”

“I won't lie to you,” I told her. “That's exactly what will happen.”

She straightened out the table cloth, then sat in a chair and looked me over, as if reckoning just how many volumes of trouble I could author. Then she merely sighed and gave in. “The Harrowers have been visiting Mr. Spinster's cornfield lately, according to the grapes on this vine. He lives in a white one-story house about a mile south of here; you can tell it's his 'cause his weather vane’s leaning at forty-five degrees and his hose is always rolled out. Weird coot; he washes his truck every day.”

“Cornfield, mile south, hose and weather-vane--got it.”

“Are you really gonna go there tonight like I think you are?” For once, she creased her forehead in consternation. The look didn't suit her. Was I going too far with this? I wondered. Did I really need to know? Oh, for fuck's sake, you're Tornado Fucking Jackson; of course you need to know.

“Just promise me this,” she said. “If you do go, go armed.”

Those were the last words she imparted to me before I went to “sleep."

Now before I continue, we must come to an understanding, you and I. You must give me the benefit of the doubt that my experiences on the 25th of November, 1965, are conveyed to you with as much accuracy as I can muster. Not the Thanksgiving feast, mind you, but the events to come. I must also let you know that this evening was among the most important evenings in my young development—it was certainly the most disillusioning. You'll find out why soon enough.