Clay

Clay

By Aaron Safronoff

Copyright © 2017 Aaron Safronoff

All Rights Reserved.

 

Story by Aaron Safronoff

 

Edited by Someone Not Me

 

For information address:

aaron.safronoff@gmail.com

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

Chapter 01: Dust to Dust

“You are precious, young one.” Master Shaper Brindel submerged her hands in a bowl of tepid water, careful not to wet the sleeves of her robe where they’d been folded, neat, above her elbows. Her delicate fingers, long and nimble, danced with her thumbs in turn, testing the slick in the wet. The residue dissolved, small eddies swirling, milky around her wrists. She clamped her hands around opposite arms, one after the other, plowing the remaining water into the bowl in two soft splashes. Snatching the mud-caked dryskin from where it hung heavy against her left hip, she dunked it, and wrung it out a few times before folding it over a wooden dowel mounted horizontally at the front of her table.

Tremmel sat on the floor with his legs crossed beneath him. He wore the dark robes of a neophyte, a Shaper in training, a dramatic contrast to Brindel’s, Master White. His robes distinguished him from the instructor in many ways, including the proscription of unnecessary conversation; he didn’t understand her comment, but he kept quiet about it. The Master would continue in her own time, and not be rushed by a child, even the oldest in the class. The Caste of Shapers had discovered Tremmel’s gift late: beginning his studies at eleven when most began at six or seven, and he suffered for it. He was behind; everyone knew. He waited patiently for her to continue.

Master Shaper Brindel spoke with the same grace and ease with which she moved, “Practice is the only way.” She rinsed her hands a last time, and dried them on the clean dryskin that still hung from her right hip.

The right is clean. The right is always clean. Tremmel remembered.

“There is a vocabulary, a language that your hands must learn. Then, your hands will teach your mind. Over time, you will see the whole world in terms of the shapes you can create, and then,” she paused to finish blotting away the damp from her skin, and turned the dryskin down to the right of the first, “there will be no memory that you cannot cast in clay.”

Master Brindel faced her pupil.

It was important to maintain eye contact with the Master Shaper; Tremmel had been instructed many times. It was disrespectful to look away, a sign of either weakness or deceit, and neither trait would be tolerated in a Shaper. So, Tremmel held her eyes in his, her cold – dark brown, almost black – Master’s eyes. Old eyes, knowledgeable and perspicacious: Tremmel felt transparent beneath their scrutiny, no doors hiding his skeletons, only windows. As scared as he was looking into her eyes, he feared the lashings for looking away even more. Brindel’s power might be more his imagination than anything else; the lashings he knew to be real.

A slight smile softened the Master’s wrinkles as she regarded her student, “You may be raw, unformed by all comparisons, but you have promise. I will have shaped nothing in my life, if I cannot mold you into a prize.” In fact, she considered him her greatest challenge. His gift required her personal attention.

The Master was tall and thin with long black hair softened occasionally by lengths of grey. She stepped forward and knelt down in front of Tremmel, “Your hands?”

Not knowing that he was doing it, Tremmel was wringing his hands in his lap. Her tone and piercing gaze startled him into stopping. He waited, stone still, unblinking.

Brindel rolled her eyes, and she shook her head, “Your hands, please,” she said. Impatient, she riffled her fingers, deceptive, quick, “Here-here, give me your hands.”

Obliged, Tremmel held his hands out. He expected painful retribution. Bracing himself, backs of his hands exposed, he awaited his punishment; the sound of his last still ringing smart in his ears.

Brindel made a clucking sound with her tongue against the roof of her mouth, The boy is so slow. “You haven’t done anything wrong.” She sighed, and then continued, “Palms up, palms up! Let’s have a look.” She held each of his hands in each of hers, and inspected them with great interest. Her sinewy hands trapped his without the slightest hint of give, no chance of escape. They were also, however, exceptionally smooth.

“These hands—your hands—will be great one day. Great! If and only if, you are willing to dedicate yourself to the practice.” Her dark eyes piked him, and though he remained sitting, he felt his legs dangling as the ground went out from under him. She urged, “Will you dedicate yourself?”

“Yes, Master Brindel.” Tremmel could not remember a time he’d ever been so close to the Master Shaper. He was terrified.

“Don’t placate me with an automatic response, child,” disgust obvious in her voice, “Tell me, Tremmel, are you willing to do this, to embrace our craft?”

He blinked. He looked away, over the Master Shaper’s shoulder, and his anxiety spiked knowing he couldn’t recover from the mistake. His eyes flitted about the room struggling to find an excuse.

Sharp. Black. Stinging.

The slap knocked Tremmel onto his side. His eyelids clenched against the tears, and as quickly as he could, he scrambled back up to the proper seated posture. Brindel stood over him, poised to strike again, but Tremmel forced himself to look. The left side of his face burned, and his hearing was muffled from the blow. His own voice seemed distant as he spoke, “I will dedicate myself, Master Brindel. I will practice. I will make you proud.”

The boy had shown her so little in the realm of emotional fortitude during her short time with him, that this momentary strength impressed her; she had begun to think he had none. “Good… very good.” She unrolled her sleeves, “Now, off with you. We’re done for today.”

The very second he realized he was being dismissed, Tremmel broke eye-contact, gathered himself up like his body was a sack full of apples, and then tumbled toward the entrance. He remembered to turn, bow slightly, and say farewell, “Good day, Master Brindel.”

“Good day, Tremmel.”

He ran from the Master’s igluu back to the orphan’s hovel without slowing.

His face remained tender to the touch that night when he went to bed, and so, he slept on his other side. It would heal. He’d learned that much in life for certain. He would always heal.

Chapter 02: On the Job

Veyla approached the iglu at a little past zenith, the sun-baked surfaces throwing off the heat in ribbons of distortion. The domed house smelled like mid-summer beach sand, except the underlying essence of decay was more forest floor than salted sea-life, unique to iglus in Cota. The walk-up consisted of two paths branching from the main, concave curves completing a triangle, converging on the entrance.

A Hand of the Magistrate sauntered down the main, heading opposed to Veyla. In typical form, the Hand wore the light blue tunic of his order, a thin but opaque fabric that fell to his ankles, sweeping after each step just above his sandals. Walking tall, hands hidden within loose sleeves behind his back, the Hand approached with the confidence of authority, the comfort of the righteous. Austere shadows underlined the carved sinews of his chest, exposed in the ‘V’ of his collar. His Eyes marched ahead of him, plying the many fingers of their star-nosed snouts to the main road in energetic fits, opposite the calm demeanor of their keeper. Each of the shaggy, dirty white quadrupeds stood as tall as the Hand’s knees. The Eyes checked in with their keeper as they walked, regularly brushing their long noses against his robes; deft snout fingers scrunching and releasing the material several times a second. Veyla knew they passed information in that way, that they shared their observations of the world, of her, with the Hand. She didn’t fear them. The Hand, on the other, could be a problem.

Veyla whistled to herself and kept the attitude of her direction, focused on some distant destination.

“Fine day,” the Hand greeted her, his eyes almost the blue of his robes, clear and unassuming. He stopped several feet before her. One of the Eyes sat back on her haunches, showing the dusty orange trim of her fur, stained from scraping the ground. She stuck her nose high into the air, star-nose fingers sampling aggressively; the stubby talons of her forepaws twitching unconsciously, endearing but clumsy imitators, cute under other circumstances.

“Fine day, to you,” Veyla said, lilting. “And to you,” she nodded to the Eyes, each in turn.

“What brings you to the outskirts?” he spoke the words without insinuation, but his gaze dropped briefly to her garb, implying that her reply should offer a lawful explanation for the extensive ties and folds in her clothes.

Veyla wore an oversized cream and brown robe meticulously folded and tied around her body with leather and twine. Any number of objects could be secured and hidden within the many ad hoc compartments. In addition, a wide satchel hung by a strap from her shoulder. She undid the tie that kept it in position, and swung the satchel around to rest it against her belly. Reaching inside, she removed a small pouch. “For Shaper Hargan,” she read, and then turned the fist-sized pouch toward the Hand, pointing to the name hastily sewn there.

The Hand, deliberate, slow, unclasped his hands from his back, and marked her reaction. She smiled her biggest, witless smile. He extended one hand forward, showing the deep scars in his palm; the raised tissue running the length of each finger from tip to palm where they intersected, forming a crude, angry-looking star. The rough tissue was cracked and stained chalky white from setting clay into the wounds, wounds that had to be re-opened and re-administered often. If he extended his hand to her, she’d have to take it: take it, or run. An intimate thing to shake the hand – he’d know she was lying at least, if not more. Luckily, decorum prevented a Hand of the Magistrate from reaching too often, or without reason.

The Hand didn’t reach out to her. Instead, he smiled and crouched. His sharp gaze remained levelled on her as he stroked the shag of the sitting Eye. “Shaper Harger? He lives off Center Circle, near the bazaar – pretty far if you intend to make it before sundown.”

“He?” Veyla thought the Hand was testing her. Harger was a common enough name, and in fact, exactly why she’d chosen it. Probably more than a few in Cota. If he really knew one at all, she wagered he wouldn’t claim to know them all. “Alizi Harger? Outskirts, second spoke?” She acted miffed, but only slightly. “That’s where I’m bound anyway. If she’s not there? That’s okay. I still get paid,” she shook the bag once, and the coins inside snapped against each other. A dangerous gambit, joking about breaking the law with a Hand, certainly not something a criminal would do.

The Hand stroked the Eye under the chin, and cupped the fingers of her snout with his palm, and rubbed gently. The silence begged for sound, pulled at Veyla’s tongue, demanded more explanation. She knew better than to fall into that trap. She waited.

Finally, the Hand stood. He placed his hands behind his back again, “I don’t know an Alizi Harger, but best be sure she gets her payment. I will remember you.” The last he spoke with a flirtatious smile, but Veyla knew the only thing a Hand loves is the law. “May the end of your day find you home, and well.”

“Thank you. And may yours,” Veyla nodded as she dropped the pouch into her bag and fastened the tie again.

As though the thought had only just occurred to him, the Hand said, “Who can afford a long distance messenger, but hires a Shaper from the Outskirts?” His tone was almost rhetorical, but not quite.

“Vendor Prau. In Relikesht. I don’t often work for her, but she pays well enough. I don’t ask questions,” she shrugged.

The Hand wrinkled his nose, sniffed once, and nodded. He appeared to dismiss his suspicions, but Veyla kept that happy thought buried. She would have gladly paid a hundred silvers or more to know what had made him think to question her.

He invited the Eyes to lead him away, “Ladies?” Their response came at once, the many fingers of their snouts grasping at the air, excited. As they shambled forward, they swept their heads left and right, their fingers running along the ground like the legs of headless dancing puppets. Drunk puppets, Veyla thought, as the Eyes split and passed to either side of her. The Hand nodded a last farewell, and moved on.

Veyla walked a bit before circling back to the iglu. She’d lost some time with the Hand, but not much, and she’d plenty of buffer; the owner wasn’t expected to return until the following afternoon. Still, there was nothing more suspicious than being out after sundown. Only thieves and killers played in the dark – and the Magistrate’s people of course, but Veyla didn’t think the distinction important.

The large, dirty orange iglu stood thirty bodies wide and four tall. The forests of Cota only grew three tall at their highest, so the domes of most iglus barely crowned through the low canopy, bald spots in an otherwise contiguous umbrella of glossy, batik blue leaves. Different leaves grew beneath the canopy, long tubular strands that brushed the ground.

Veyla picked her way through the curtain around the iglu, checked one more time for passersby, and seeing none, set to work.

Her hands blurred as she exchanged and flipped various ties and fasteners all over her clothes. She looked suspicious before, but not unlike any other messenger who would have dressed for speed. Now, with every loose bit of cloth tied down, studs secured to the bottoms of her sandals, and gloves, she couldn’t pass for anything but a thief. She waded back into the forest’s weeping curtain to give herself some runway.

Just before making a dash for it, she noticed an odd hump in the otherwise uninterrupted curve of the iglu’s exterior. Curious, she moved to get a better look; a back door. Pretty uncommon, but Veyla should have guessed there’d be one, knowing the owner’s profession. She stowed the climbing studs from her hands and feet, and, picking the lock, let herself in.

Veyla found herself in a dark boudoir immediately on the other side of the door. She guessed its purpose and doubted the owner kept any valuable objects in the room. Interior doors almost as rare as back doors, Veyla picked one more and went deeper into the iglu. The wall of the central room was a continuous concavity becoming the ceiling and floor without hard edges or corners. Three breatheways cut through the roof, each hole only a couple bodies across; the sun came in, slanted and austere prisms of light burning bright trapezoids onto the floor.

A shelf ran shoulder-height halfway round the room, and Veyla marveled at the numerous invaluable objects displayed. The objects had been placed so that each stood a respectful distance from the next. No crowding. Hundreds of pieces — some, impressively detailed and ornate, others, primitives: pyramids, spheres, and rectangles — all arranged by the inscrutable whim of the owner. No discernible logic to their order existed, at least not one Veyla could intuit from the shapes.

Veyla basked in the quiet lonesomeness of so many memories not her own; a lifetime displayed without the owner present to define it and give it context – an opportunity to solve the puzzle of that person, untainted. Each object was a connection, but without the owner there to light it up, the connection was dull and difficult to see. She walked around the room admiring the silent nervous objects. She felt more like a thief in this moment than any other, even when she had no intention of pilfering anything material; she was stealing time with other people’s private lives. Veyla felt great: right at home in someone else’s.

Still, if she wanted to get paid…

Her employer hadn’t offered even a single clue to the shape that held the memory he wanted. Or maybe he knew exactly, but didn’t want to tip his purpose to the hired help. Probably the latter. That’s why he’d chosen Veyla: no questions. Gloves on, she pulled the pouch he’d supplied from one of her side pockets, and undid the twine that pursed it closed. Within was the dust of a destroyed curio, infused and set with her client’s version of the memory, a memory he and this woman had shared, a memory she’d also cast; a remembrance of something he’d prefer she didn’t, at least not with the incriminating clarity of clay.

Veyla went from object to object. She pinched bits of dust from the pouch and sprinkled miniscule amounts to the side of each salt-white statue. The shelf had a fine layer of innocuous dust, so she didn’t have to worry about cleaning as she went. Finally, the dust slanted as it fell through the still air of the room, drawn to a figure of a sleeping tiger. Veyla tested the result with another pinch right over the top, and sure enough, the dust clung to the statue, and held strong even when she blew on it.

Turning the tiger around, upside down, inspecting it closely, Veyla felt the shape through her gloved hands. Satisfied, she set the figure back down on the shelf. She pulled a thick square of clay from her tunic, and then another. The clay, though it gave off no smoke, little light, and was cold and damp to the touch if not for her gloves, seemed to smolder like molten metal. The weight didn’t need to be exact, but the closer the better. She pulled a fraction from one of the squares, and then made the larger portion disappear into her clothes. Veyla smashed the rest together, and with tiny carving tools appearing in her hands like magic, made a rough imitation of the tiger. The clay lost color with every adjustment, and soon, became as austere white as the original.

She placed the fake on the shelf and sized it up. Maybe it wouldn’t pass sharp scrutiny, but it didn’t have to. The owner only needed the confidence that her memory was safe; she wouldn’t touch it to test it and risk dulling the memory, whatever it was, not until she needed it, and only then would she find it empty.

Veyla swapped the objects, took one last look, and left the way she’d come in.

Time to get paid.

 

Chapter 03: Collecting

Veyla meets with her employer.

He verifies the memory is the one he’s looking for. The clay takes what really happened, not necessarily what you imagine happened?

NOTES:

Tremmel is made from Clay.

Veyla preferred working during the day. Everything out in the open, everything plain to see. There were advantages. Torchlights were cumbersome, never lasted long enough, and stained walls and ceilings with their signature scents like smoky palimpsests of her trespassing: worse than footprints in ways. She prided herself on stepping deftly, quiet as shadows, but a little extra light for the vision didn’t hurt if she had to run; the places to hide during the day are different than at night, but not necessarily fewer. Preferences aside, day or night, Veyla got the job done.

Since the very first time she’d gone thieving alone, Veyla had cherished the detachment she felt when she entered a vacant home. The room was hollow, and each possession was hollow too. There had to be a presence, an owner, to give the tableau life. Without the presence, no matter how many objects were displayed, the room was empty..

 

Letting herself into the hovel at a little past zenith, Veyla skipped her usual chores in the kitchen and bedrooms, and instead went straight to the gallery.

 

SHAPERS:

Head Shaper: name, Brindel, Keln,

Shapers are the real thieves. People have less and less time to make shapes with clay, and to learn the art of shaping a clear memory. Shapers are actually forming people’s memories for them and therefore stealing them.  They are an exclusive group, and new members are rarely picked.

Shapers strive to cast none of their own memories into clay, but it is difficult for them to succeed. All have learned to imprint a single identifying marker of their work and they focus only on that image while they shape for distribution.

Shapers provide clay that is already in one shape or another, and people pay for these shapes to store their memories. They go to a store and pick what most closely represents the memory they wish to keep, and then they impress that memory on the clay. Of course, the clay already has the shaper’s imprint on it, and the people are not taking any time to form their own shapes of memories. So, most people are just buying their memories and their perspectives from the shapers.

MEMORY CLAY

People shape their memories into the clay. Some are abstract and others concrete. Artists create images in their clay that no one else can understand. When the clay hardens it is less able to absorb new memories. Hardened it can still pick up traces, so contamination of a memory is an issue for those that want their memories to be pristine. But then they can never touch them again to experience them. Handling the clay too much after it has been set will deteriorate the memory, both by contamination and by fragmentation. In this world, clay is harvested from a magical lake. The clay looks like lava, but it is cool to the touch. As it is shaped and formed it heats up, dries, and then hardens white. There are techniques for keeping the clay moist and malleable. all objects (maybe too many) contain the spirit of the people who have touched them.  They retain the memories and feelings of the moment in which they are formed.

Who harvests the clay? Is clay still available for anyone to use?

Some crazy man carts around his memories, but they are made with un-imbued clay and people think of him as delusional.

The world is full of people who have forgotten their dreams. Nightmares too.

MONSTER/Forgotten Man/Nightmare, that which you wake up from screaming, but when asked to talk about it, you can’t because you forget what it was. It’s because we’ve lost the ability to use our own memories that we have lost the ability to remember our dreams. The scariest thing is to forget our dreams. Dream Thief. We are allowing our capacity to imagine and to remember to be stolen from us.

The important thing is that this creature is the physical representation of a faded memory, dreamlike in every respect. Faceless? Projects a fear of losing yourself, losing your life, forgetting who you are… “there is a nothing coming for all of us.”

The man in brown robes… forgetfulness. Monster steals people’s memories… disintegrates them… turns them to sand to dust to ashes? Hideous monster only the boy can see and the thief. Others feel the effects of the monster.

Man in black should be something else… monster of the clay. He moves through us right before our eyes and nobody knows we are giving all of our lives away to him because we use the clay instead of our own minds. He was created from the lack of our use of our own minds out of the clay.

Who can see this creature stealing our lives from us? We are all actively participating in giving our lives away to the clay to the monster (s).

Thief and the boy see it happening, see the monster… no one believes them. The Shapers can ALSO see the monster and have become worshippers of it, not really understanding it or why it exists. In fact, they create the idea that the monster is only eating memories stored incorrectly; malformed shapes and memories are the source of the monster when really it is individuality that the monster thrives on, and it is removing it from the world.

Tremmel – Diffused Character: He has amnesia… incapable of sharing his life with others the way they are used to having it shared. He remembers everything for himself, but because he cannot cast it in clay, he has amnesia.

Names: Hargan, Gril, Ecko, Jacob, Keln, Listler, Muri, Natty, Orion, Prau, Ren, Samma, Tremmel, Val, Wattle

Tremmel suffers from an ailment of diffusion, unable to cast his memories into the clay—usually a trait of a shaper, but he hasn’t been found yet. Tremmel doesn’t understand what the clay does.

Gathering weapons and protecting himself from the coming darkness, the name of the empty memory brown-shrouded evil sickness…

THE THIEF:

Names: Veyla, Prin, Deval, Fen,

Thief steals for ransom. Memories of everything she ever stole. Always wears gloves. Doesn’t want to leave an impression on any of the clay she steals.

CRAZY ARTIST:

Names:

“I don’t worry about my memories, I’m always making new ones.” Happy character seeking only to master himself and to understand himself and recognizes the foolishness of holding on to memories too tightly.

AUTHORITIES

HANDS: Human portion of the police force. These people keep the peace, but also keep the animals that make up the rest of the force. Mutilation marks the hands of these men and women as the roles they have taken for life, cuts into the palms of their hands, preventing them from casting memories, allowing them to read them more clearly. They have to re-open the wounds regularly and fill them with Clay.

EYES: “Stars”: Star nosed moles, stars are numbered rays…

Or more molelike? Maybe they are used in packs/clutches/LABOR? A mother and her Labor are brought in, and the children relay pieces back to the momma. These animals go frequently with the police and in particular, they can hold and identify smells over years, and find sources for things like torchlights, which use different amounts of ingredients per batch, per craftsman because they are always working on improving them.

LEGS: “Shackles” of the Magistrate. Black Mamba is the fastest snake in the world at 10-12 miles per hour.

VOICES: Monk/Priest-like? Eat Clay, ingest clay. These guys are judge and jury, and they are only called in to determine the fate of those accused of Irredeemable Offenses. Ingest the Clay. (Drink the Kool-aid). They can learn everything about you by shaking your hand.

This entire section is about a thief in room of the iglu she’s stealing from.  The owners are not at home and she is talking about what it feels like to be there.

She steals more from them than their objects; she steals their memories from them.

Sound and light connecting objects in a room to the person that lives there. Starts out as a basic description of an empty room. How it comes to life when the owner arrives… how quiet and empty the objects feel in the absence of the owner.

The transition is important… the reader should feel like the thief is getting caught, but the thief has actually been waiting for the people to come home, because he takes the objects from them in front of them, and takes their memories at the same time.

The world is the literal analogy of what people do to accumulate goods.  Should show examples of hoarding, talk about the nature of letting go.  Or maybe everyone holds onto everything and that’s how the story goes.  That’s the landscape.  Objects are everywhere, cared for and managed, people keep getting more and more stuff.  But they are all living in the past.

There is the thief, but there is a character who keeps nothing.  The thief keeps nothing too, but for different reasons… and she has one thing that is always with her, it’s a memory of love, something she has never had.  She learns from the other to let go of the memory of love so that she can have the reality of love.

There are people who hide their memories, people who seal them up and keep them distant, and people who put them on display for everyone to see… and even some who just scatter them around everywhere in total disarray.

Taboo to touch steal, so very few people worry about it. If you hold a memory too long you distort it with what is currently happening… you reimagine it differently than the way it actually was.

“Do the objects hold the memories? Or do you?”  “Hold the feelings?”

Take gloves off to shake? But the thief doesn’t.

Perversions… memories hidden away of infidelities… lies and cheating, and killer’s memories, pedophiles… sex offenders

People begin relying on these objects to hold their memories for them, and lose the ability to keep memories for themselves, but the thief remembers how to remember.

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