by Douglas J. Ogurek
Illustration by Daniela Attard
The sun shone. Atop a two hundred-foot white cube stood three figures.
One mile away, a three-person boat approached the cube. The heaviest passenger, wearing knee-high rain boots, grunted and rowed. There was no rain.
A cluster of strings floated by the boat. The female passenger spun a parasol and laughed. “Faster, Cloudbard, faster.”
The heavy man used his tongue to stretch a cold sore. “Clybard, flee it all. Cly Cly Cly.” A curving string instrument sat beside him.
The figures atop the cube had similar instruments.
The third passenger held a two-foot-wide leaf before his face. A wind instrument sat on his lap. “How does one acquire a name like Scoperang?”
The woman twisted one of the translucent cubes that sectioned her hair. “It’s what individuals like me are named.” She faced aft, toward an island from which rose twisted, blurred objects. On the shore, a four-legged creature with long, red and orange fur watched them.
Scoperang inserted two fingers into a slot in her throat. She roared, and frost streamed from her mouth. Frozen fish surfaced near the boat. The word she roared was “butterfly.” She removed her fingers, then spoke. “There’s a harsk.”
The harsk slipped into the water. Its head above the surface, the hairy creature swam toward the boat.
A deep buzz reached the boat. The buzz stopped. One of the figures on the white cube lowered his instrument, then backed out of sight. Two remained.
Scoperang’s fingers paused near the throat slot. “Do you slushheads know what a harsk does?”
Clybard rowed, stretched the cold sore. “Two left. I can make this.”
“I am fortunate that I do not play an instrument.”
The leaf remained in front of the third passenger’s face. He had a high voice. “These veins. I think these veins further reinforce Mentagnus’s teachings. They are vibrant veins.”
Scoperang touched Clybard’s reddened nose. “If it gets too close, the harsk destroys your musical dexterity.”
The other passenger lowered the leaf. Square glasses magnified his eyes.
Clybard stomped his rain boots. “Two left. Two.” He rowed harder.
The boat moved into the long shadow cast by the giant cube.
Scoperang put a hair cube in her mouth. “Play for me, Cloudbard.”
“Cly…I can’t. That thing’s coming. Harsh, or harsk.”
“Play for me, and I will freeze the harsk. It is close enough now.”
Clybard looked back at the creature. It had a blocky head. “No, I’ll make it before it gets too close.”
“Play for me.”
“There’s a talont player opening. For the upper level. It’s full of mist, and vegetation, and it smells ambrosial.”
“Play for me, sludgy.”
“And I will play there, high above all this.”
“I have a song, clog it. About a butterfly.”
Clybard kept rowing.
“It lands on your head, then explodes. Koom.” Scoperang knelt before the man with the leaf, then exhaled. Ice formed on his glasses. “Gloodry, play for me.”
Gloodry rubbed the leaf next to his ear. “Obviously your lyrics don’t fit with my repertoire.”
Scoperang mimicked his voice. “Obviously I only play for songs about the tablet leaf. Mentagnus said, ‘Keep vibrant the tablet leaf.’” She closed her parasol, then pointed it at the harsk. The creature was forty yards from the boat. “They say it smells like something burning. The chemical the harsk releases? It destroys your musical dexterity.”
Clybard looked back at the creature. It had floppy ears. “Misty up there.”
Gloodry rubbed the leaf against his own cheek. “Now bear with me. It is rather obvious that Clybard and I are veins of the same leaf.”
Scoperang thrust her parasol into the water. “I have another song. It’s about a butterfly that lands on Mentagnus’s talont. He begins to play then koom!”
Clybard compressed chapped lips. His rain boots squeaked.
Scoperang held the parasol before Clybard. From its tip hung a cluster of strings. She pointed at the cube. “There is a talont string maker on the first level. These are rejects.” She plucked Clybard’s instrument. “Are you a reject?”
“I’ll get there before those two play.”
“I want you to play for me.”
The harsk’s fur flared around it. It was thirty yards from the boat.
Scoperang touched her throat slot. “There are only five tundra throats in Obdon. How many parchelists? How many talont players?”
Gloodry placed the tablet leaf over his parchel’s opening.
Clybard sneezed. “Misty, and ambrosial.”
The buzz sounded, louder. One figure remained on the cube.
Clybard held out chapped hands and shouted a curse. Then he puffed and rowed harder.
Cracks covered the surface of the white cube.
The boat passed another cluster of talont strings. Clybard looked back at the harsk, now twenty yards away. The creature made a crackling sound.
Scoperang twisted a hair cube and sniffed. “Is that smoke?”
Clybard grunted. “I can make this.”
With the tablet leaf covering his head, Gloodry picked up his instrument. “You have convinced me; I will play if you agree to freeze that atrocious creature.”
Scoperang placed the tip of her parasol on Clybard’s lips. “But I want him to play as well.”
“Flee it all. Leave the creature be. I’ll make it.” Clybard thumbed his cold sore. “I have prepared for twenty years.”
“You’ve said that twenty times since you picked me up, slushhead.”
The cracks in the cube revealed many levels of verdant landscapes.
The harsk crackled.
“Play for me, sludgy. There are only five others like me.”
“…one more talont player opening.”
“…destroy your dexterity.”
“…misty up there, and ambrosial.”
Within every level of the cube, people sang and played instruments.
“Play for me, clog it. There are only five tundra throats in Obdon. Play for me.”
The cube’s surface glistened.
A shriek came from the harsk. The creature, ten yards from the boat, flailed.
Scoperang raised her fists and laughed. “Cloudbard, your pet is caught in some rejected talont strings.”
The creature struggled to stay afloat. Clybard watched it.
Gloodry held the leaf over his glasses and mumbled.
Clybard’s right hand slipped off the oar.
The harsk wailed.
Scoperang beat the water with her parasol. “I’ll write a song, clog it. Koom koom koom.”
Clybard stood, then looked at the sole figure atop the cube.
The harsk sank beneath the surface.
Clybard dove off the boat.
The water was warm, and as he swam toward the harsk, Clybard remembered a story about Mentagnus: during one of his performances, the talont virtuoso saw soldiers kicking a dog in the street. Mentagnus smashed his instrument on the ground then said, “I have destroyed a thing of beauty. Will you do the same?”
Douglas J. Ogurek’s fiction appears in the British Fantasy Society Journal, The Literary Review, Gone Lawn, Morpheus Tales, Schlock Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, and several anthologies. He is the communications manager of a Chicago-based architecture firm, where he has written over one hundred articles about facility planning and design. Ogurek also reviews films at Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. More at www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com.
Daniela ‘iella’ Attard is creature with an uncontrollable tendency to draw on things. Based in London, it dabbles in illustration, sequential art, doodling people on the tube and some traditional fine art. She currently works for Cartoon Network Europe.