Monday, August 11, 2014

Day Seven-Forty-One: Drags, you jerkbottom

The diary slept for too long. By the time it woke up, everyone was gone.

The diary was a strange little creature. Born of prose, personality, and a pilfered jacket of rat skin, it did not neatly fall into any class of creature. The diary lived, but it did not eat; it slept, but it did not tire; it sighed, but it did not breathe. The diary existed as a part of the regulator collective, yet it lived apart from its kin, sometimes as a servant, but never as part of the whole. The diary didn’t give much thought to any of this, instead enjoying its life as an outlet for one man’s pains and pleasures.

That man was missing when the diary awoke. That fact miffed the diary more than a little, as it had spent so much time waiting for things to get back to normal. And just as they had? Poof! Gone. What a pain in the ass.

Wobbling off of its table and onto the floor with a loud thunk, the diary peered around the bedroom. It looked much the same as when the diary had last closed its eyes: opulently appointed, covered in silks, generally tidy. A heap of smelly rags lay in one corner, the only betrayal of the room’s otherwise clean nature. The diary recognized them as the castoffs of desert travellers.

Stretching its tiny feet, the diary tottered out of the bedroom, fell down the stairs - it had never learned how to climb down stairs, and falling was so much easier anyway - and landed painlessly in the living room. It expected a grand welcome, or at least a great deal of surprise.

It received neither. No one was home. Ingrateful fan-peoples, thought the diary, and it scribbled a few swear words in itself.

The irritation quickly turned to shock. Far from clean, the downstairs was a ragged mess. Books, cooking utensils, cookware, pottery, even furniture, all and more lay strewn about the home’s main floor. It looked as though a tornado had broken down the front door, gotten angry about one thing or another, and thrown a tantrum to end all tantrums. 

The diary wondered if the tornado might be willing to give it a lift to its master, but it dispelled the thought after a moment’s hesitation. Tornadoes are too ill-tempered to grant favours.

Skittering around the remains of a fallen wall, the diary poked its cover outside to scout the desert. A hot wind swept across its face, but the diary barely flinched. It scanned the hazy horizon, checking the property for any signs of life beyond the occasional buzzard. It was, by and large, disappointed - 

- until someone tapped it from above. It whirled around, startled, and promptly fell into a heap of sand, unbalanced and lacking in arms.

“Whoa!” The voice was deep, aged, and amused. “Sorry, there, little fella. Let me help you up.”

Tiny legs wiggling even harder, the diary struggled to right itself without aid, blindly aiming its kicks to knock the man’s fingers away. The resigned ‘Okay, okay’ that followed assured the diary of its victory, and after a few minutes of crazed wiggles it stood face-to-cover with the voice’s owner.

“Hi,” said Iko. He coughed, clearing his throat. “ Ack. Ahem. Sorry. Feeling better?”

The diary glared furiously at the old man. Iko looked like a lopsided mess, his beard and hair abruptly sheered in several spots. He wore a shabby, flat cap, and his baggy clothes looked utterly undignified compared to his old robes. Yet he smiled down at the diary as he cracked his neck, and eventually he settled down, cross-legged, into the sand.

“I suppose you don’t like me very much,” he said, tightly tucking his hands into his capacious sleeves. “That’s to be expected. I jailed you for a year. Many apologies.”

The diary kicked sand at Iko. He laughed.

“Yes, I deserve it. I’m a bastard.” The old man winked, and for a brief second his eyes changed colour - one pure white, the other Non green. “You’re just so full of spoilers. I didn’t want to ruin his trip. You understand?”

The diary kicked more sand, though less forcefully. It popped open to a blank page, and the words “Your face is much stupid” appeared on the parchment.

Iko laughed again. “Yep. That’s me. I won’t mess with you anymore, though. My part in this story’s done for now. I suppose you want to be returned to Dragomir?”

The diary perked at the mention of its master’s name. It nodded so vigorously that it tipped forward and fell face-first onto Iko’s foot. He helped it up, earning a vicious scowl from the diary.

“Yes, yes, you’re the most independent book I’ve ever met. You don’t need nobody, no how.” Iko rolled his eyes. “I’m afraid Dragomir is gone. He contracted a bad case of the dragons. They raided my poor little house and plucked up everyone inside. Doubtless they’ve made for an Imperium outpost, what with the rats riding on their heads and all.”

The diary winced. It had a good idea of what that meant. Though initially friendly to its semi-kin, the diary had learned long ago not to trust regulators. Not only because Dragomir said so on a regular basis, but because rats tended to look out for rats first and foremost. Throw dragons in the equation…

The diary turned away from Iko, wandering out into the sand. Curious, Iko followed it a short distance, watching it totter away from his oasis and off to the east. It made poor progress, collapsing constantly as its oversized face and undersized legs battled gravity.

“You aren’t going to get far,” Iko commented. “I can call you a ride, if you like. You deserve at least that much for all I’ve put you through.”

The diary stuck a two-dimensional tongue out at him, then it turned away again. It did, however, stop walking, and for a moment Iko thought he had won. Reaching deep inside himself, searching for the power that would allow him to summon wild beasts, he prepared to call out into the desert for aid - 

- but he was cut short. The ground began to rumble before Iko completed his spell, and he realized that it had been rumbling for some time, the vibration growing stronger and stronger with each footstep. He hadn’t noticed because, after living in the desert for over a hundred years, Iko had grown quite accustomed to the comings and goings of sand worms, so much so that he barely noticed their presence unless he was calling for one.

The sand worm burst out of the desert and reared high into the sky, its dopey face awash with glee. Thick streams of sand cascaded from its back, creating massive hills around its exit point and nearly burying the diary. Even so, Iko could see enough of the little book to finally notice the faint tendrils of white-and-green energy pulsing around its leather-bound body.

“Son of a bitch,” he mumbled, awed. “The little bastard learned a few things from me, I guess.”

The sand worm dipped, massive head eclipsing the diary, and gently picked the wriggling tome up in its mouth. Then, blinking against the brightness of the sun, the sand worm moved in close to peer at Iko. He didn’t move, having long ago learned that sand worms are generally harmless.

The diary faced him, held firmly in the worm’s gums, drawn eyebrows furrowed and defiant. It popped open, and a new message appeared on its pages: “If you comes nearsome Drags again, I make wormy sits on you.”

“Fair enough,” Iko mumbled.

The sand worm’s mouth closed. Performing an expert loop with its coiled body, it dove expertly back into the sand and burrowed away, towards the east. A gentle line of gritty yellow bumps announced its passage to the aboveground world. Iko watched it go until the bumps disappeared behind a massive sand dune in the far distance.

Eventually, someone tapped Iko on the shoulder. He didn’t turn. “What?”

“I heard noises,” Celine replied. She peeked around him. “What was that, Crap?”

Iko pursed his lips. He wasn’t sure if he should grin or grimace. “To be perfectly honest, my dear, I have no idea.”

“Oh.” She clucked her tongue. “Doesn’t that make you a terrible teacher? Not knowing something?”

“Quiet, you. I’ve been teaching since before your entire family line was born.”

She considered that. “Wow. You’re really old, then. I suppose I should call you ‘Old Crap’ instead. Or ‘Aged Crap’. Or ‘Wrinkly Crap’. Or - “

Iko clasped Celine gently by the arm and led her back to his house as she continued the insults, though he peered over his shoulder, imagining that he could still see the bumps of the sand marking the worm’s progress in the far distance.

That diary, he thought, may prove more useful than I ever would’ve imagined.

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