This is a post I recovered from a previous blog-project I’ve since re-named “fragmented fiction.” It has been restored here as part of an effort to unify more of my writing in a single place for deeper enjoyment. This is a collection of one week’s worth of writing.
the last era
At it’s peak, immigration had reached a steady trickle of humans that crossed the threshold of Sharlie’s Mechanism and appeared in random intervals in the age-worn concave rut that was the third largest of the Silver Cups. By then we’d come to expect a new arrival within an hour of the last. It’s true that often the gap was longer or shorter. But always, another one or two people would appear in the Cup, stunned and glowing with the transition. We had become experts at the welcome. We had learned by rote what to say, how to answer their questions, and in what way to discern their skills so we could group and assign them.
But then it stopped.
On a calm, unremarkable day some four hundred and twenty years after Winston Marcella and his companions first stepped bewildered into the short grasses of what would become Asgarth it all stopped.
Of course we assumed there had been a break in the people. We knew, having no communication back to the priorlife but abundant stories crossing over in the minds of the immigrants, that there was often disorganization and foolish upsets that occurred in the frenzy to follow the march into the Ersatz.
A day passed. A month. And by the time a year had gone by we had become certain that the immigration had stopped. There is no way to say for certain, but a century later we are certain we are right. Why did it stop? No one can say for certain. Without a steady flow of immigrants news of the priorlife has stopped. We knew a war raged. We knew the war was linked to a group called the Jadens and their fear of the mechanism. Perhaps the mechanism was destroyed. Perhaps it has merely been taken under the control of someone who would not see it used.
But we wait. A lone man sits at the booth and waits, his shift long and lonely until the time of day when relief comes to replace him and duplicate his boredom. And no one comes.
We asked a selection of immigrants to the Ersatz to tell us why they made the journey here. These are some of their stories:
… There is nothing left for me there. I lost it all when the Jadans swept the valley and burnt it all. You haven’t heard about the Jadans? How is that? They are everywhere back… back home. They are the one’s who tell us that the mechanism is a false God and that anyone who believes in it as a path to Heaven is blasphemous and doomed to peril.
… War. The war is killing them all and if I didn’t put my faith in Scribblefly and come through the light there would be only war in my future.
… I believe in the forgiveness of Scribblefly. His stories are told across the New World of the salvation that is offered within the Mechanism.
… We came from across the ocean to be part of the Chosen. There is hope here. There is promise for a better life. And now we have found it. Now we will be part of something truly meaningful and our paths have found purpose once again.
… I was fooled. A man sold me a map to a treasure and when I stumbled into the cave of the Mechanism I fought my way to the front of the line and tumbled into the light.
… Scribblefly is known everywhere back home. He sends messages through the mechanism and tells the world of the wonders of his new kingdom beyond the light. We traveled far to come here.
… I was dying of the black lung and, as the voice says, all will be cured when they come to the light.
… We didn’t mean to come. We need to return. Tell us how to return. We were simply studying it and it lashed up towards us and… and now we are here. There must be some way back. There must be some way home.
… My damned wife wanted this. She insisted upon it. And now she is no where to be found. I need to find her. Someone said I should go to Greenshales to see the Missing Arrivals Office. Will they know for certain?
… We’ve been running all night. All day and all night. They are approaching, chasing from the valley. I don’t think they know where the mechanism is, but they will find it. They will find it soon.
message in a bottle
Some four hundred and sixty years after Winston Marcella and his companions first stepped foot in the soft, short grasses of the Ersatz…
Some two hundred and seventy years after the Aphids stormed the city of Asgarth….
Some one hundred and ninety years after the collection of linked airships known as the Sprocket Circus first passed as a hulking behemoth over the city of Asgarth and vanished across the continent….
Some eighty years after Em the Wild re-appeared on the steps of Barlon Verdo’s palace carrying the bloody head of his dead son in her hand and demanded the souls of the entire population of Asgarth…
Some forty years after the last immigrant materialized in the third-largest of the Silver Cups in the center of Asgarth…
A young man walked along the shore of the ocean watching the fragile Skullfisher boats bobbing in the tides, anchored to the stony sea-bottom. He knew where to step so that he didn’t disturb the angry ground and rile the roots of the plants as they re-emerged from deep underground to tap the salty water from sea. He came upon an unfamiliar shape rocking gently in the sand, the push of the water rocking it’s smooth but sand-pocked surface carefully against a small pile of stones. He retrieved it from the ground, touching it and instantly recognizing it’s heft but only as one remembers a dream. He recalled where he last felt the weight of such and object, in a life before coming to the Ersatz.
It is glass. A bottle.
But there is no glass in the Ersatz. The sand and soil that compose the beaches and pathways have never contained the appropriate mix of minerals to bake into the raw chemical stew that can be blown into strong glass. Yet here is a bottle, worn and tired as if it has been floating in the sea for a century.
He shakes it, examines it closer, and with excitement pries a tin cap pinched around the opening.
A sheet of coarse paper, paper unlike anything that has been made in Asgarth or the other cities from the brittle pulls of the river pod crops, falls into his hands.
“I’m glad you brought this to me. I cannot read this language myself, but I recognize it. These characters are Mandarin. There are few in Asgarth who could still read this language. I know of one. We will go there now.”
“It is a note from across the sea.” She said in astonishment, looking up from the paper.
“Across the sea? But there is nothing across the sea.”
“Perhaps we have been mistaken. All these years and there are others out there. All these years and perhaps there was another mechanism.”
“But no one had ever heard such a rumor. Another Mechanism? If the writing is in Mandarin, perhaps something similar had been invented in China?”
“Another of Sharlie’s Mechanisms? In China? Is that possible?”
“We have not seen a single immigrant in over forty years. We don’t have any news of the priorlife. Perhaps the war with the Jadens destroyed our mechanism. There are some that speculated the Ersatz was a creation of the mechanism, while others who suggested merely a gateway to another reality.”
“This would lend credo to the latter.”
“If there was another gateway to the Ersatz — if there still is another gateway to the Ersatz — then that proves it.”
“No. Not entirely.”
“You don’t mean…?”
“I mean exactly that. It is possible the mechanism was moved, and in moving the entrance it is no longer linked to the Silver Cups here in Asgarth, nor the Arriving Stone in Tribulation nor the Pinnacle in Greenshales. In fact…”
“Perhaps it is linked to an entirely new place across the sea.”
“But we’ve sent airships to explore.”
“And none have even come back with news of another continent. We are but a single continent with a scattered few islands nearby.”
“But you forget… not all of our airship have come back.”
“They were presumed lost at sea.”
“Perhaps we were wrong.”
From the journals of Winston Marcella:
What I see from sitting atop the stonecrop near my little house is as follows.
I see green. The grass grows lush and deep enough to swallow one’s toes all across the churning landscape. It is vigorous and awkward to the skin, but in my more devilish moods I enjoy the feel of it under my bare feet.
I see mountains. On a clear morning, far to the North, jagged peaks protrude like delicate ghosts into the sky. Someday we will travel there, but only after we understand our immediate surroundings better.
I see the horizon across the sea. Water stretches to where it falls off the edge of the world, this Ersatz and our ocean are a rich blue contrasting against the green of the landscape.
I see a river. Marked by the obtrusively wild tendencies of the marsh-like grasses that protrude from the river’s edge. We’ve named it Welles after a favorite professor back home.
I see the bowls of gray stone. They dip into the land, smooth craters of near-perfect concavity.
I see ore. Ms. Frobst has found rich deposits nearby, and further as well. She is gathering them and in their unrefined piles they are a blight upon the landscape.
I see the sky. Crisp and clear and blue, punctuated by wisps of perfect clouds and supervised by a warm, orange sun hung high in the afternoon sky.
I see companions. There are ten of us here now. We are working to make this a home. The years of uncertainty have only been bearable for some, and for those only because the captivity is so pleasant. We must be able to find a way back. A way to escape. Are we somewhere far away. Are we trapped in a parallel place. Are we locked into our own imaginations. I wonder if this is all a dream sometimes, but then I have never woken from it and everyday that becomes less and less likely.
I see my future. I think we will be here for a very long time.
the moroccans, etc 001
Seamus Balcombe was a round man. He enjoyed his molloca, perhaps a little too much, but only so far that it did not impede his ability to cling to a slip of paper as he hung suspended in the viewing net that hung as a brass meshing bubble to the underside of his airship. He was of the Moroccans, who now, having been composed mostly of recently (in the timescales of the Ersatz, recently) immigrated Agsarthan Irishmen with an affinity for the land and it’s shapes, were busy mapping the continent as accurately as was possible from the air in tow of the Sprocket Circus.
Lukas Dill having commandeered the Humna, one of three Aphid Class cargo airships (previously) belonging to Barlon Verdo’s master fleet, spent much of his time away from that particular vessel (in as much as one could consider any vessel in the tangle of metal, cables, canisters, and brass meshing that made up the floating fortress of the Sprocket Circus an independent vessel). He was a man of few words, though what he lacked in verbal force he made up for (and some) in measure of will and determination as the Captain of the collective.
Barlon Hector Verdo had arrived in the Ersatz as one of the original three colonists (now simply referred to as immigrants) though rarely was the distinction now made. Earlier on it had been important whom had stepped foot here ahead of whom. But Winston Marcella and Lizzie Frobst had disappeared long ago, swept up in the Siege of Asgarth when the Aphids marched on the city. Before that there was distinction. The first three. The first ten. The first forty. Beyond that, no one cared except for duration of stay had always equaled a kind of superiority, unspoken mostly, amongst the citizenry. Verdo would have called himself a withdrawn man, but to others he had been given the title of Barlon, mocking of the old system but respectful and regal as it rolled across the tongue.
Lizzy (authors note: changed from Lisa for historical nuance) Frobst found that being thirty-seven fit her well. As it would for a long time. She didn’t seem to age here and though it was always a difficult thing to look at oneself objectively in these matters, it was clear she was not getting on a day past the age she was when they first stepped foot in the Ersatz. Lizzy: strong-willed and stubborn, persistent, bold, to the chagrin of colleagues who would humble to her mastery of geology and mineralogy if not for her gender (a pale of society) is polar opposite when she needs to use her femininity to manipulate and control, strong and fit with a wide smile or a furrowed frown, depending on her mood, standing over five foot six inches wearing a bobbed quaff of black hair.
the moroccans 002
Once a secret collection of cartographers, the Moroccans took their name from a false rumor. One of their members swore to the group that a group of (priorlife) Moroccan traders had once shared drinks with him in a tavern in the Old World. They themselves professed to being master cartographers, proficient in the arts of map making and the charting of oceans and sea passages. In a drunken stupor, the man (now long to the Ersatz and a proud Asgarthan) had traded the true Moroccans a month’s wages for a map they claimed led to a brilliant treasure that they themselves cared not to possess. He followed the map to North America and many months later found himself worn and tired limping up the side of a mountain towards what he would later learn was Sharlie’s Mechanism. The young Irishman having tumbled into the Ersatz insisted he had not been lied to, but the deception had been the secret joke of the Moroccan traders. Thus, the secret mapmakers took that name as a joke back upon those men so far away and unreachable worlds distant.
meta / character roles 001
Understanding the Supernatural aspects of Asgarth and the Ersatz, Part One.
Angels, demons, spirits, wizards, gods and witches… these are archetypes that fit characters within the story construct. These are (somewhat) spoilers for those hoping to read a completed story later on. For now, this is what the project is all about:
Angels: Anything associated with the sky or water. I apologize for such predictable allegory, but the sky becomes both a refuge and a salvation in the story. Any flying insect or creature is a foil for the gardens. The Buzzers, for example, are nearly tame and are humanity’s oldest and most reliable entry to the skies.
Demons: Whatever inhabits the Gardens. The clearest example of this are the Aphids, sentient and dark, they start small in the early eras of the Ersatz and evolve to stronger, larger, and more vicious characters. They are linked directly as minions of Scribblefly. Of course, this implies a negative, but since the story is written from the perspective of the humans this is necessary.
Spirits: Plants. Reaching into deeper mythologies where plants are inhabited by spirits, in the Ersatz what is alive also has intention. Allegiances become clear early on. The grass for example is clearly aligned with the gardens and Scribblefly. The river plants while seemingly benign are aligned with water and the sky.
Wizards: Anything relating to science. The Ersatz is populated by scientists at the outset, deliberately from a story perspective, because science has become a foil for blind faith and religion. This is not an anti-religion story, but I have strong beliefs regarding the difference between spirituality/enlightenment and religion/blind faith. Science comes across as the good guy, but as the story progresses it will become clear that science is also responsible for the growth of the demons in the gardens. Winston Marcella is a good example of a Wizard.
Gods: Scribblefly, but not in a benevolent way.
Witches: This has negative connotations, but in the Ersatz a witch is a foil to a Wizard in that where a wizard is based in science, a witch is based in faith and belief. Em the Wild is the most prominent witch having joined deeply with the Gardens and Scribblefly.