qntm's drafts

Warning! These drafts contain potentially limitless spoilers.

Another warning! Although these drafts contain potentially limitless spoilers, nothing is real until it's published on the main wiki.


CASE HATE RED

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If Adam Wheeler gave it some thought, if someone were to prompt him and ask him the right questions, he could put words around the fact that his existence doesn't bring him any satisfaction. He would discover, on introspection, that he's nowhere close, actually, to "happy", and that there is something vast and significant missing from his life.

But he doesn't give it any thought. There's a block between him and the questions. Objectively, academically, his life is great. A professional violinist, he does what he loves the most for a living. He has talent, recognition, challenge, variety, applause, a moderate wealth. What's to question? Why shouldn't he love it?

During his slower moments, there's a grey worry in the back of his mind. It's there in the minutes right after he wakes up in the morning and before he makes it to the shower, it's there in the dead times backstage when he can't use his phone and there's nothing to do but wait to go on. It perturbs him that he seems to exist in a kind of long shadow, cast by a vast class of thoughts which he is unable to think. But the rest of the time, on a day to day basis, his calendar is as busy as he and his manager can make it. He performs, solo and in orchestras, he records, he composes and teaches. Every week is a different challenge. He keeps busy. And the feeling goes away if he's busy.

On the morning of the day that వ arrives, while he is brushing his teeth, a tiny black slug falls out of the corner of his eye into the sink.

"Mpfghl?"

He scratches that eye, while drooling foam from his toothbrush. He takes a close look in the mirror. Yup: there's another, fatter one growing in there, its tail protruding from his tear duct.

"I can do without this," he mutters to himself. He spits, rinses, and then selects some tweezers. Carefully, he nips the tiny, waving end of the slug, and tugs it out. It's no more painful than extracting a nostril hair. He drops it in the sink with its friend and washes them both away, along with the froth of toothpaste.

He stares at the plug hole for a long moment. It's like he's forgetting something. He can't bring it to mind. He shakes his head, and goes to get dressed.

*

Wheeler has been on tour with the New England Symphony Orchestra for nearly a month. They're at their final venue, and Wheeler has mixed feelings; touring, for him, is a kind of liminal lifestyle where he can suspend a lot of worldly concerns and just exist as a being who wakes, travels, performs and sleeps. But it's draining, and the set list become stale and repetitious. It's past time for something else. Last night, his manager left messages about plans for upcoming weeks. Probably time he paid attention to those.

Morning rehearsal starts at eleven. He takes a taxi from the hotel to the venue. Even setting out after rush hour, the road is rammed. It's a slow, stop-start crawl all the way into the city. Every yard advanced feels like an event.

"Is this usual?" he eventually asks, fretting about the time. It's possible he's holding the whole rehearsal up.

"Burst flesh main," his driver explains.

Wheeler has never heard of a flesh main bursting.

After almost forty minutes of pressing onward, they reach the blockage and Wheeler is treated to a sight of the obstruction. From a fissure in the concrete beside the highway, a huge angled fountain has erupted, not of water or any other fluid but incredibly long, slender, bony arms in many skin tones. The arms have joints in, assumedly elbows, but here and there they also bifurcate and become multiple slenderer limbs of varying length. Each arm has a hand at the end of it, an ordinary human hand, dangling limp. There are also legs, equal in length but fatter and with feet, dangling pointed toes. And non-human appendages too, elongated red crab legs with multiple joints, and black, hairy legs from oversized spiders or ants.

Wheeler flashes back to an old scifi B-movie about an invasion of colossal ants. As a child it had upset him a great deal.

The arrangement shoots up out of the crack in the concrete. It might have originally been a drainage pipe. The eruption of flesh looks like a fat tree trunk which sprouted rapidly overnight and then stopped, or a bundle of improperly terminated cables. It reaches a peak of about twenty feet and then arcs back down, where the longer tendrils/arms are brushing the road surface, waving back and forth across the lane in the breeze, like weeping willow branches. Vehicles are pushing slowly through the limbs one at a time, bumping them aside.

When it's Wheeler's taxi's turn, the long hands become agitated and begin hammering on the hood and roof of the taxi. Some press against the window nearest him, thumping the glass. Others pull angrily at all four door handles and try to open the trunk — fruitlessly, as they are all locked while the vehicle is in motion. It's an alarming take on a car wash.

An unfamiliar voice cuts in to the taxi radio, a voice of indeterminate gender and perplexingly alien accent. It barks/chirrups, "COULD YOU BRING ME A HACKSAW?"

"Good Lord," Wheeler says.

The driver accelerates out of the mess. As Wheeler turns back, he notes a service vehicle parked beside the root of the outburst, and a figure in a heavy rubber containment suit. The figure is about to take a chainsaw to the structure's root.

Wheeler turns away from the impending gout of blood, shaking his head. "Infrastructure in this country is crumbling."

*