Hey everyone! Breaking format here for an update. I’ve been writing weekly shorts for the last few months and while it’s been really great, I need to focus on my main romance pen name for a few weeks while I make some changes. So in light of that, I’m going to put The Sprawl on hiatus and aim to come back the first week of September.
As a sort of going away bonus, here are a few Reddit comment/shorts that I’ve posted from my weird novelty account /u/speculative--fiction. Don’t worry about context! There is none! Have a good August.
I lived near the beach for a few years next to this old woman that woke up every morning at five to go surfing. Each day without fail, she’d be out there on her board, riding waves like she was born to do it. She must’ve been seventy or eighty, but when she was in the water it was like the years fell away from her body.
I walked my dog late one night after the street lights went out and saw this strange orange glow burning down near the beach. I was afraid something bad was happening, so we went to check it out. My dog started growling as we trudged past the dunes and refused to go any further once we saw the sand. I tied his leash to a fence post and kept going until I saw the bonfire and the candles, hundreds of them spread all around. That old woman stood with her hands upraised next to the flames, the firefight flickering off her body, covered in a damp, shimmering wetsuit. I got closer as she raised a shell to her lips and drank some dark liquid, gulping it down her throat, the excess spilling down her chin as the waves broke hard against the surf. The sound was concussive, and the old woman’s body twisted and broke, her shoulder blades elongating, her neck cracking and twisting as she shrank down, dropping to the sand. I ran to her, but there was only a seal in her place, and it disappeared into the water before I could stop it. The flames roared as I lifted the shell to my lips and it smelled like coral and ancient kelp and tasted like the dirt and sand and salt, and when the endless water began to sing, I walked toward it and answered.
I traveled through the desert once a long time ago as part of a massive caravan. We slept in circled wagons at night in the middle of an endless sand desert, and by the third day of the brutal sun I thought we'd never make it back home, at least until the caravan leader stopped and took us to the edge of the pit.
There was no bottom, only endless black. He threw down ropes with buckets attached, the longest ropes I'd ever seen. It took them five minutes to finally stretch tight, and another twenty minutes to pull them back up, but the buckets were filled with the crispest, coldest water I'd ever tasted before. We spent the late afternoon dropping and hauling, and that night we drank like kings, slathering ourselves in pitwater, pouring it down our throats and over our chests beneath the startling white moonlight, until the first people began to change. It was subtle at first, a twisting of limbs, a darkening of skin, until one man vomited black bile and dropped to the ground, his abdomen stretching, the skin around his spine turning black and hardening, until he skittered away on all fours, a massive, chitin-covered beetle. One by one the caravan transformed, bodies distorted, twisted, flattened, smashed, and hardened, their screams lost in clicking mandibles, until it was my turn. As my torso broke and reformed, it felt like coming home after being caught in a rainstorm, and the last thing I saw was the caravan leader pouring a bucket of water over his head with a smile.
In the caves back behind my dad's house, there are deep springs fed by the mountains looming in the distance. Sometimes I'd go back there with my older brother and we'd go swimming in the swallows at the mouth of the cave, before the water turned black and got so deep I didn't think there was a bottom. My parents hated it, but so long as we didn't drift too close to the entrance, we were safe.
Except one morning, my brother saw something shiny out in the deeper water. It glinted off the sunlight and he started swimming toward it. I told him to stop, to turn back, but he ignored me and kept pushing closer and closer. I chased after him, begging him to stop, until he dove under the water and didn't come back up. I waited for what felt like hours, and soon the bubbles disappeared the ripples spread out to nothing. I screamed for my parents then went swimming after him and dove under, not thinking clearly. The water was so cloudy down below and there was barely any sunlight in the shadows of the cave mouth, but I saw him at the very bottom, struggling as hard as he could against a fish the size of a large dog with shiny green scales and big round eyes and massive waving antennas. It had my brother's arm in its mouth and was tugging, tugging, as he struggled toward the surface. I swam at the fish and yanked on its antenna hard enough to make the thing open its mouth, and my brother swam away, breaking toward the air with big gasping breaths. I followed him and we splashed out of that pool as fast as we could. We never went in the water again after that.
I found something like this in my grandfather's basement a few years back. He had crates filled with sawdust and straw stacked against the back wall and water would leak through the cracks in the bricks during heavy rain. Mold bloomed all over that corner and the whole place smelled like musty bread and old rotten plants. One night I went down there during a storm to move those boxes away to try and keep them dry so they wouldn't keep rotting, but one of the stacks was completely stuck. I yanked hard, over and over again, but it wouldn't budge. My feet were damp from standing in puddles and I felt like my lungs were on fire from huffing spores, but I wanted to help my grandfather, so I kept trying.
Eventually it broke away in a sudden lurch and I fell backwards. Muddy water covered my back as I climbed to my feet and swung my lantern toward the wall. An enormous colony stared out at me, tiny blossoms of green and blue and black, some with strange eye-like formations that seemed to blink and shy away. I had the sudden urge to get closer, and I knelt down heedless of the filth, and thin, gossamer tendrils curled out toward me in small, twisting strands, and I reached out to touch them, mesmerized by how they moved in the lantern light, twirling like fireflies or sea creatures, so deeply black and swirled with impossible greens that it was almost beautiful, and I opened my mouth to welcome them.
My grandfather found me wrapped with the mold tendrils lovingly around my body, their spores leaking up my nose and into my throat and deep into the soft tissue of my lungs. He hacked away at them and spoke his words of power, burning them to ashes, and I screamed as the mold released me. I still have trouble breathing from the scarring and I miss the warm, gentle embrace of the colony, and maybe one day I'll go back to them and be welcomed like a brother.
I saw my first tesseract when I was just a boy standing in my father's workshop. He drew the summoning sigils in his exacting hand across the walls and spoke the words in a clipped accent I didn't recognize. The tesseract fizzled into the center of the room, warping the wooden floors beneath it, and ghostly emanations sliced along the walls in long shards of light and blackness. My skin prickled with electric excitement and all the small hairs of my body stood on end. I reached out for the twisting, green-gray impossibility, the null-space of non-shape, but my father held me back. "You won't like what's inside," he said, his eyes dark and hooded, his face lit up with a bleak resignation.
I learned the words and the sigils through years of effort and blood. On my father's death bed, his body emaciated beyond repair, his fingernails long and twisted, his hair gray and thin as silk, he begged for one last glimpse of the beyond. I drew the circles, marked the perimeter, and chanted until the tesseract appeared in a twisting miasma of bone-deep groans and twisting improbabilities. My father stood from his bed and lumbered toward the glow, his hands outstretched, and for one moment I thought he'd pull back, but he plunged himself forward to his elbows, his hands and forearms twisting and shattering into non-being. I caught his look of ecstasy and terror as he continued to plunge, body changing, unbecoming into before, until the tesseract was all that was left of him.
And that’s it! Those are just a sampling of the comments I posted over the last few months, you can read the rest of them on my Reddit profile at reddit.com/u/speculative--fiction. Hopefully they’re entertaining. See you in September! -DC