Whose leader was a bit of a blighter*
He called us all wretches
And such words did fetch-us
To become some pixel-stained fighters!
Today is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, as proposed by papersky here. I'm SFWA-qualified but not a member, so evidently in the grand scheme of things I get extra points for doing this. :)
I have a variety of stuff already online, including IMMORTAL BELOVED, a Highlander novel, and a variety of first chapter teasers, but in honor of IPSTD, I'm posting the third and final bit of (eta: the first chapter of) CENTENARIAN, formerly known as 100 Years. :)
I rather fancy that I was something of a Venus rising from the half-shell to the eyes of the young Doctors. I had been bathed, so no mark of blood lay upon my skin, and through some Miracle my bones had knit and my body was Whole. I was twenty-seven and with a Mother's full figure, lush breasts and broad hips that lent themselves, even uncorseted, to the suggestive wasp-waisted shape that was so popular. It was, of course, Illusory, for I am not especially narrow through the waist, and at the time my belly was beginning to protrude with what would have been my Fifth Child. But illusion is often enough, and my Doctors' goggle-eyed stares suggested that I had Commanded an attention that did not much depend on deep intellectual thought.
"I demand clothing," I said with all the hauteur at my command. Remember, please, that I had been a child Spoilt beyond reason, and then imagine the tone I employed. Both the Doctors struggled out of their coats as I strode forward Imperiously, a hand extended to take what they offered me. The taller of the two provided me with his coat more rapidly than the other and I put it on as if I were a queen donning the finest silk. It was in fact tweed, and Smelt of tobacco and itched against my skin, but these minor discomforts were Vastly better than shameless nudity.
"I will require something more appropriate, but this will do for the moment. My deepest appreciation, Doctor...?"
"Woodrow," said the taller of the two, faintly. "Madame, you--I--what?"
"Doctor Woodrow." I drew upon my finishing school experiences and fully Ignored his questions, as a lady should when faced with a topic not suitable for her to discuss. "Doctor Woodrow, I am certain a place such as this must have discarded clothing. Most of it is no doubt in a wretched state, but if you would be so terribly kind as to fetch me even a simple skirt and shirtwaist, I would be greatly in your debt. Go to now, sir, I require it."
To his own obvious bewilderment, the poor young man turned to do as I ordered. He paused once, looking back at me, and I flitted my fingers at him in expectation. Chastened, he scurried off, leaving me with the shorter, and unfortunately older, of the doctors. I could not expect with quite such certainty that he would hop to doing what a matron set him to.
Indeed, I could see in his eyes that Thought was beginning to overtake Astonishment. This struck me as Disastrous, for I had no idea at all what had happened to me, and my only real thought was to escape the morgue and return as quickly as possible to my family.
"Madame," the remaining doctor began. Panic Seized me and I reached for something to say, determined that Propriety should somehow overtake Rationality.
"There has clearly been a dreadful mistake, sir," I said in what I am ashamed to report were strident tones. "I can see quite clearly where I am, and you can see quite clearly that I do not belong here. As soon as the young Doctor Woodrow returns with some clothing, I shall remove myself from these premises with my thanks to you."
"Madame," he repeated, with the soft firm tone one takes with a frightened child or animal, "I think you had better not."
From nearly anyone such words would sound a threat. Even now I wonder that I did not hear them as such, but instead found a sob clutching at my chest and throat, as if his very gentleness would undo me. I could not allow myself to speak for fear of letting that burst of terrified sound loose, and so for long moments we stood facing one another, both of us without words. My eyes and lungs burned with holding emotion in, and I focused so hard on the man before me that even now I can see him standing in front of me as clearly as though he were real. He was of little more than my Height and round both of head and body, the former of which had less hair on it than I imagine he wished. He looked extremely reassuring, in the way that good bankers and doctors do.
It was he who broke the agonizing Silence. "Woodrow can likely be made to think your presence here is some sort of fraternity prank. I'm nearly certain, Madame, that he was more distracted by your--" He took a deep breath, said, "Assets," delicately, and went on. "Than your face. It helps that he was not the doctor on duty when you were brought in this morning, and so had less opportunity or inclination to examine your features. I am, however, afraid that I saw you quite clearly, and while you're unquestionably correct in that you don't belong here, I'm equally correct in saying that five hours ago, Mrs. Walsh, you did."
"That is not possible." I had learnt, as a child, that insisting things were impossible did not necessarily make them so. I heard a child's offense in my protest. So, clearly, did the doctor, whose expression grew strained. Only in retrospect do I truly recognize the tension that radiated off the man; at the time he seemed so much more rational and calm than I that I could not imagine he felt the same turmoil I did.
"It is not," he agreed. His hand betrayed a twitch of stress, folding into a knot and relaxing again. "It is not possible, but it appears to be quite true regardless. An artist has put together a sketch of your--" Here he Fumbled, visibly at a Loss for how to continue. "Your extraordinary actions," he finally said, weakly. "Your photograph, along with the story, has been published in the evening paper. Mrs. Walsh, you're dead."
"I most certainly am not."
"The world believes you are." The doctor's voice was so terribly gentle that a chill of horror rose on my skin. "Dozens of people saw you trampled to death, Madame. There is a vigil being held even now, thanks being given to God for your valiance in saving that child's life and honors being laid at your feet for giving up your own for her. Your husband and sons are in shock and in mourning. Mrs. Walsh," he repeated Inexorably, "you are dead."
My childish arrogance, which had held me til now, staggered beneath his polite, unrelenting words. "But that's not possible."
"That, Madame, we are in full agreement on." The doctor drew himself up and sighed so deeply as to seem to lose some of his very roundness. "Every part of me that is a man of medicine wishes to examine you--take you apart if necessary--in an attempt to discover how it is you're standing here before me. And the part of me that is a man of God thinks you must be a miracle, and that Man should not question God's miracles."
Fear seized my belly and I drew my rough tweed coat around myself as if it would provide protection from his Scientific Curiosity. I had always Prided myself on a quickness with words, but now they Deserted me and I stood barefoot and cold in an echoing morgue, awaiting a proclamation of my Fate.
In the end, though, it proved that Neither of us would ever Know whether Science or God ruled him, for at that moment Doctor Woodrow returned with my clothes.#
The door opening broke the fearful stupor that had settled on me. I shrieked like a woman possessed and flung Woodrow's coat into the other Doctor's face, following it with the hardest punch I knew how to throw. I had, after all, grown up with Innumerable Cousins, and even a Spoilt Girl must learn to defend herself. Poor Woodrow yelled, though not as loudly as the round doctor, who scrabbled at his face and Woodrow's coat as though a nest of Spiders had dropped on his head. In that brief instant I charged past both Doctors, snatching what I could from Woodrow's grasp.
He gathered his Wits slightly too late, reaching for me as I dashed through the door and ran mad-cap through the halls, hands and what clothing I had stolen clutched to my bosom. This was not out of Modesty--I had little sense of that left--but Practicality. A generously endowed woman does not make light of the bouncing Weight of her bosom when she runs, a discovery I made then (having never before run while not wearing a Corset or stays of some sort) and never forgot.
I rounded a corner, racing pell-mell with no sense of direction, and found myself in a narrow, damp-walled Hall littered with wardrobes. A door at the far end stood open, rain blowing in and Assuring me of my escape, though Woodrow and the round Doctor were not far behind me, both shouting obscenities that a woman shirks to hear.
I cannot say what it was that drove me into one of the Wardrobes, for surely it was not clear and rational thinking. A Survival Instinct, perhaps, or a profound awareness that if I wished to escape unnoticed from the Morgue, I must not run naked into the Streets. I closed the wardrobe door just before Woodrow and Doctor Round tore past it and down the hall toward the wet outdoors. Something rattled at my elbow and I turned to see a ghostly white Skull grinning at me in the darkness.
It is, I think, to my credit that I did not shriek. A terrible lurch seized me and nearly knocked me off my feet from shock, but a moment later it was all I could do to keep from Laughing. My life had, in a few short seconds, become such a thing of Chaos that it seemed facing a skeleton in a closet was only to be expected.
Gallows humor fled as quickly as it had come, leaving me to examine, with shaking hands, the clothing I had stolen. To my Dismay, it was nothing more than a skirt. In a fit of Temper, I stepped into it and hauled it up to my Armpits, where it did not fit, but at least it Covered me.
It was, I suppose, sheer madness that drove me to step out of the wardrobe and go back in to the Morgue in search of more sensible clothing. On the other hand, I simply could not be expected to make any sort of Escape while wearing only a skirt pulled up over my bosom, and a sort of clarity of Thought was settling over me. Properly dressed, even if bedraggled, I could be explained away as a mourner coming to see the beloved dead, at least so long as I did not again encounter Woodrow or Doctor Round. I could only hope they would search the dark and stormy night for me a while before returning. I went straightaway back to the room I had run from, finding--as I thought I would--the top and, indeed, a pair of shoes that Woodrow had brought me.
The shoes were my own.
The brief moments I spent staring at them felt an eternity, each one marked by the sick thud of my Heart. Somehow encountering my own shoes in this place made Doctor Round's impossible claim seem more real: that I had, indeed, been dead and my clothing stripped away, my body stored in this cold dank room while my family mourned.
If this were true, then my life was over. The dead did not rise and re-join their families, no matter how we might wish them to. I could not return to my beloved Joseph and darling Sons, not if I had been so Publicly Destroyed. Worms began to crawl in my belly, terror finding its way into my throat and choking me. It was a Modern Age, and people did not believe in Witchcraft, nor burn women at the stake. I knew this, and yet I also knew that Truth, as it lay proved in my hands by a pair of brown leather shoes, would not let me sleep another night in peace at my husband's side; that fear and shunning and rage would follow me all my days if I were lucky, and that if I were not, stoning and burning and quartering would be less far from the minds of my good, God-fearing neighbors than anyone might hope.
Clothing arranged, well-fitted shoes on my feet, dark hair in tangles around my shoulders, I slunk from the Morgue, determined to see with my own eyes if I had indeed entered a living Hell from which I could not return.
Or the entirety posted here. :)
*I have no actual personal opinion about Mr. Hendrix, and am aware he's the VP, not the actual President of the SFWA. It just fit the scan and rhymed. It's a limerick, for heaven's sake! :)