Saturday, November 30, 2013

JB Lacaden Week 75: The Changing Room

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JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice:

Title: The Changing Room

The moment I stepped off my ship, I knew that there was no turning back. I was really doing this. I looked around and everything looked different to me - shiny, foreign, enticing. The dock was filled with ships coming and leaving. Mine, I noticed, was the smallest (and badly needed a good washing and scrubbing). I wasn’t that far off actually. The blue in my overalls was fading, dirt lay snug beneath my nails, and my skin was leathery and toasted from the hours toiled beneath the merciless sun. I suddenly felt conscious and...ashamed of how I looked. Everyone was in dark suits and shiny shoes that reflected the world around them. All of them walked with urgency and a destination. I couldn't help but let out a laugh. I felt lost - not a spatial kind of lost, but one of sense of being. I laughed at myself. I'm becoming too philosophical, I thought.

"Your key, sir," I heard a voice say.

I looked down and saw a mousy looking Caropian looking up at me with an open hand. He looked disgusted. "Your key," he repeated.

I looked around. Was I getting robbed? Caropians were short, tallest one I saw only reached four feet. The one in front of me stood at three. I probably could take him on. "Look, I don't want no trouble," I said.

He sighed and looked at me like how we looked at our dog, Mickey. Mickey was autistic.

"I'll be parking your ship, sir," I noticed he was saying the word 'sir' as if it tasted foul, rotten.

"Oh..." was all I said.

He took the key and walked past me and I heard him grumble the word 'Humans'.

"Hey," I said after him. He turned around and looked at me with one eyebrow raised. "Be careful of my cargo."

"Yeah, sure," he said. He hopped on to my ship and I watched as he brought it to life. The engine sputtered and wheezed before stabilizing. I watched him fly it off into one of the many numbered tunnels on the far off wall.


I found myself staring up at a metallic staircase. I couldn't see where it leads to. The walls on either side were a metallic green and I could see my distorted reflection on them. I stepped on the stairs and was caught off guard when it started to move up. I held on scared. I straightened myself and forced myself to relax. If I'd be Changing myself I knew I had to get used to all of these stuff. I kept on telling myself to calm down on the entire ride up. The top was shrouded with bright light. I'll pass through that light and I'll be Changed, I'll be better, I thought to myself.


The room was all white - the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the chairs bolted to the walls. I was the only one there that day. In my hand I held a photograph I took of my wife and four kids. I'm doing the right thing, I kept on repeating to myself. I'll be better.

The door swooshed open and a Vuveian wearing a dressed that hugged all her curves stepped in. Her obsidian black skin was a stark contrast to the whiteness of the room. Her green eyes found me and she smiled - flashing sharp teeth that could tear apart even the strongest of metals, I've heard. In her hand was a holonote. She passed a hand over the translator worn around her throat. It blinked green.

"Good day," she said, her voice coming off robotic and unnerving. "Thank you for visiting The Changing You. Kindly fill out this form and we will be back with you shortly. Please, if you have any questions regarding our process do not hesitate to ask. One of our representatives will be situated outside for your inquiries."

I nodded my head and took the holonote from her. She made a slight bow and walked out of the room. There were eleven questions on the form. My eyes rested on the eleventh one. "What species would you wish to be?" It said.

I held on to my family's photograph a little bit tighter.


In the Changing Room I was met by a Toreese. He had a suit on that looked as though it can barely contain his severely obese body. He licked his lips as he saw me walk in.

"Ah, there he is," he said in English thick with Toreese accent. "Yes, yes, I saw your application form. Nice choooice." One of his four eyes winked. "And how will you be paying, sir?"

"My payment's in my ship. It's the cargo I brought. They're--uh--they're in deep freeze right now but otherwise in perfect condition," I said. "He--here." I handed him a list.

His eyes scanned them and his fat lips curved into a smile. "Oh ho ho," he looked at me. "Yes. These will do perfectly. Yes. We'll be able to make use of them."

"So, we're good?" I asked.

"Oh, of course, of course!" He snapped his fingers then pointed to someone. "You, kindly guide this fine young man to his Changing Room."

Another Caropian, I realized. He bowed at me and asked me to follow him. I turned and took one last look at the Toreese. He waved me goodbye. "Enjoy your new life," he said.


The "Changing Room" was a cylindrical glass container halfway filled with water. Disparate sized tubes were attached on its lid and on its bottom. Beside it was a console manned by someone in a hazmat suit. He turned to us and gave a thumbs up. I noticed he only had three fingers.

"You must remove every piece of clothing and climb inside, " the Caropian said to me.

I did as I was told.

The water was cold and felt sharp on my skin. I had some kind of breathing apparatus attached on my face. The glass was thick and when the lid was put on all sound from outside faded. I could hear my breathing growing heavier. The pounding in my chest grew stronger. Water started to pour out of the tubes and it steadily rose. I started to hyperventilate. The water kept on rising. I wanted out. I changed my mind. I pounded on the glass again and again. The Caropian just kept on staring at me. The one in the hazmat suit kept on pressing on the buttons. The water engulfed me fully. I felt myself blacking out... I tried to hold on but it was hard. I let go.

I closed my eyes and everything went away.


My skin was smooth and white as the snow we had back home every winter. My body was filled with muscles and my senses had grown many times sharper than when I was still human. I opened and closed my fists.

"You look good," the Toreese said to me.

"I feel good," I replied. My voice had grown deeper and though in my head it sounded like I've spoken in English I knew that the words coming out of my lips were in Caropthian.

"We'll have your documents ready and a new ship will be waiting for you at the dock," the Toreese said. Then he fished out something from his pocket and handed it to me. "This belongs to you, I think. A little something to remember your past life. You could throw it away if you want to though." He said smiling. He licked his lips then bade me farewell.

I looked at the crumpled photograph in my hand. I folded it into squares and placed it in my breast pocket.

I stepped out of the doors and into my new life.



"How's his vitals?" Mar T'Ak asked.

D checked his holopad and keyed in some commands. "Stable." He answered.

Mar T'ak studied the human floating inside the Changing Room. The human's arms twitched, must be something he was seeing. Mar T'ak wondered what kind of dreams they're having. The ones in the Changing Rooms. She folded her arms over chest. "One look at this one and you'd find it hard to believe he'd be able to do something so...coldhearted," Mar T'Ak said.

"Humans," D simply answered.

"Would you have done what he did? Sell your own family to get a better life?"

"Gods no," D replied with a throaty laugh. "Floating in water while you're being pumped with chemical inducing dreams until you die is no life."

"They don't know that. In their heads they're living their ideal life," Mar T'Ak retorted.

D looked at his partner. "Would you?"

Mar T'ak gazed back at the human. He was smiling now. "No," Mar T'ak simply said.


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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 75: Don’t Smoke in Bed Part 3 of 4

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Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Don’t Smoke in Bed Part 3 of 4

(note- yeah, yeah, I know this started as a projected two-parter, then a three-parter. Well, it’s going to take four. Sabine & Mike still want to hang out with us…)

We stopped near the outskirts of a small country town. The truck let us out at a crossroads, then rumbled back toward Paris.
I breathed in the earthy smells of grass and farm animals, unaccustomed to the clean air they had everywhere but in the city.
Abandoned properties, with burned out houses and outbuildings, lay in every direction. Paris had been a destination, a prize the Fuhrer had wanted to take intact. Theses low countries had been the highways the Germans traveled on their way in. Recovery here was slow in coming, if it came at all.
Clouds moved in, obscuring the morning sky.
I did the best I could to ignore my throbbing head and queasy stomach. I'd have traded an arm for someplace to lie down.
Sabine put one arm around my waist, taking on some of my weight. She had the bag of cash slung over her other shoulder.
Both her blouse and skirt were stained with blood. A lit cigarette dangled from her lips.
I looked but I couldn't spot the three guys who'd been in the truck with us.
“What happened back there?” I asked her. “On the bridge?”
She took a couple of drags off her cigarette before answering me.
“What do you remember?”
A bunch of big black birds exploded out of the trees, flying low over the field.
“I remember knocking the Limey on his ass, then Herve got tossed over the side and Wilson went in after him. The black car made a run for it. Then my head hurt. You got anything to add to that?”
“You were struck from behind,” she said. “By the man you knocked on his ass.” She looked me in the face. “I shot him.”
“With what?”
“With his own gun. He dropped it when you hit him. I picked it up.”
I started to nod, but stopped. The motion made the pain and disorientation worse.
“What happened to Wilson? And Herve?”
She looked at me with what looked like genuine regret on her face.
“I do not know.”
“All right. Where are we now?”
“I am not sure. North of the city.”
“That's great. I need to get back to Paris. Now.”
“You wish to find your friend?”
“And your husband. That was the job. Still is.”
She made no reply.
Our three traveling companions bounded over the rise, all talking at the same time. Two of them carried armfuls of freshly picked root vegetables. The third had a bottle of wine and a loaf of hearty rustic bread.
Sabine laughed and said something in a language I didn't understand. The men smiled and nodded and offered me the first swig from the bottle. I took it.
When everyone had had a drink they divided up the bread. Bread and wine makes for a fine breakfast when on the road.
I also got first pick of the root vegetables. I passed on those.
“Why are they being so nice to me?” I asked Sabine.
“You are injured,” she said. “It is a courtesy.”
I looked at her sideways.
She grinned and lit another cigarette.
“They traded your pocket watch for our breakfast.”
I stuck my hand into my pants pocket, knowing what I wasn't going to find.
The three men guffawed. Sabine pulled me a little closer to her.
An involuntary smile spread across my face. I let it stay there for a few seconds, then chased it away.
“I meant what I said about getting back to the city, Sabine.”
“I have no doubt of that.”
“Then why do I have the feeling that we're waiting for something to take us even further from Paris?”
“I showed great trust in coming to you with my... problem, Mike. If you wish to help your friend-- if he can be helped-- you must now trust me.”
She leaned in and whispered, right into my ear.
“Do you trust me, Mike?”
I closed my eyes and breathed in her scent, her essence. My arms encircled her, without my knowing they were doing so.
She made no move to stop me. If anything, she pressed her body harder against mine.
I did not answer her question. Didn't need to.
The sound of approaching hoofbeats ruined the moment.
A large horse-drawn wagon stopped at the crossroads.
The driver-- a burly bearded man in a red headscarf and a rough canvas shirt with breeches to match uttered some sort of greeting.
Sabine returned it.
Our three friends climbed into the back of the wagon and settled into the straw in the bed.
The driver pointed a meaty finger at me and growled something at Sabine.
She growled right back, sparking a heated argument.
He stood it for as long as he could, which wasn't long enough.
Sabine chortled in victory and we both got into the wagon.
As she had in the truck, she positioned herself behind me, cushioning my upper body with her hips and thighs.
“Rest, Mike,” she whispered into my ear. “We are not far from home.”
The driver cracked his whip and we took off down the road.
I tried to stay awake but the constant motion-- and the warmth of Sabine's body-- lulled me into a not unpleasant stupor. I felt her fingers running through my hair as I drifted off to sleep.

Voices locked in argument roused me.
I recognized Sabine's voice. The other-- a man's-- I did not.
“You've put us in danger by bringing that... outsider... among us, Sabine,” he spat. The man spoke French with a thick Slavic accent.
“This, 'outsider', risked his life for me, Stefan,” she replied, also in French. Hers was much better. “I would be dead if not for his actions.”
“He has my gratitude for that, and my sympathy for his injuries, but he is still an outsider and cannot stay here.”
She snarled at him in the same language she'd used with the wagon driver.
“It is not our way,” said Stefan.
“It is my way, Stefan.”
He laughed. I didn't get the idea he found very many things funny.
“You've been among them for too long, Sabine. You have forgotten who you are.”
“I have not forgotten what it is like to be hurt and alone. And in need of the kindness of others.”
He took his time responding and when he did it was in a low.
“We have always done for ourselves, Sabine.”
“Not always, Stefan.”
I sat up in the wagon and regretted it right away. Up was up, though, and it seemed the better option. Every time I turned my head it felt like a wrecking ball crashed from one side of my cranium to the other.
Stefan appeared pretty much like I thought he would-- tall, dark, and dressed in rough homespun pants and a loose-fitting bright red shirt he filled out around the middle. He wore a well-kept goatee and had gold rings in each earlobe.
Sabine wore nothing but a slip. She held her bloody clothes and her boots in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other.
“Hey,” I called out, “not deaf over here! If we're gonna talk about me I want in on the conversation.”
Stefan stood there, glowering. He didn't even try to hide his annoyance.
Sabine shoved past him and came over to the wagon to help me down.
“Get over here and help us,” she hissed at Stefan. She stuck the cigarette between her teeth.
He rolled his eyes and made a show of shrugging before waddling our way.
I put a hand on each of their shoulders. They did the rest, getting me out of the wagon and onto terra firma. I was careful not to step on her bare toes.
She had some intricate tattooing on the insteps of both feet-- a concentric design made up of crossing lines-- done in the same deep red she had painted on her toes.
I took one step and then another. The legs seemed to be working.
The wagon we'd traveled in sat last in a circular line of similar wagons parked in a cleared lot somewhere well outside any city limits. I saw trees in the distance, ringing us in on three sides. The way to the city lay somewhere in the middle of that fourth side.
Signs of habitation lay all around me-- a campfire, laundry on drying lines, dogs. I smelled food cooking and heard conversations and laughter but the only two people I saw were Sabine and Stefan.
Stefan reached into the wagon and retrieved my jacket. My hat was nowhere to be seen. I liked that hat too.
“Here,” he growled, throwing the garment at me.
I caught it, straightened it out, and put it over Sabine's shoulders. She smiled at me as she slipped her arms into the sleeves.
“Thanks a lot, pal,” I said.
He gave me an exaggerated bow.
“Listen, Stevie,” I began.
“Stefan,” he shot back. He tried the threatening voice again.
“Whatever. I didn't ask to be brought here. Wasn't part of the decision making process.”
“Yet here you are.”
“Like the lady said, I'm working for her. Only way I leave is if she gives me the gate.”
“Which I am not going to do,” cut in Sabine. She stood by my side, holding onto my arm.
Stefan's face reddened. He opened and closed his fists, then thrust his hands into his pants pockets.
“As I'm sure you heard me say, Mr. Mike Meltzer, I am sorry that you got hurt while in the employ of one of our kumpania. Even if she's been living apart from us.”
Sabine rolled her eyes, blowing a stream of cigarette smoke in Stefan's direction.
“Kumpania?” I asked.
“Family,” explained Sabine. “Company.”
“I'm guessing they're not big on Herve.”
Anger spiked in Stefan's eyes, but just for a second. He chased it, replacing it with the disdain I'd grown to know and love.
Sabine put her head back and laughed.
Stefan took it well. He waited for to finish, then put his hand on my shoulder.
I decided to leave it there.
“You must understand,” he said, “for generations we have been a reclusive people, feared and misunderstood everywhere we've been. Such mistrust shown us by outsiders breeds mistrust toward outsiders.”
He took his hand away and led me on a little walk around the compound. Sabine walked with us.
“Oh, I understand, all right. I'm not here to give you a hard time. In fact, I need to get back to the city as soon as possible, which should make everyone happy.”
“You must rest first, Mike,” said Sabine. “Your head...”
Stefan peered into my eyes. I wanted to blink but found that I couldn't.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “Sabine is quite correct. You are in no condition to return to the city to look for your friends.”
“Friend. Singular. Herve's her concern.”
The thaw in relations seemed to have brought out the locals. I felt eyes on me from all directions. People emerged from their wagons or from the trees or wherever they'd been holed up. I saw men, women, and children, all with variations on Stefan's and Sabine's complexions, wearing colorful clothing that ranged from utilitarian to flamboyant in appearance.
“Yes,” said Stefan. “The brave little man who went into the river after Sabine's... husband.”
“His name is Wilson.” Sabine and I said it at the same time.
She dropped her cigarette butt, crushing it out in the mud beneath her bare sole.
“We are searching for them, Mr. Mike Meltzer,” said Stefan. “Even as we speak.”
I looked to Sabine.
“We meaning...?”
She pressed her palm to my cheek and smiled.
“We, meaning members of the kumpania. Others too. We know the city intimately and can move without being noticed. We can learn in a single night what it might take the gendarmes three days to blunder into.”
“So why didn't you just go to them in the first place?”
She fired a look at Stefan I'd never want to be on the receiving end of.
“I think you can guess the answer to that question,” she said.
I nodded.
Stefan got quiet and occupied himself with scanning the tree line in the distance.
Sabine took my hand while we walked. It felt nice.
“So what now?” I asked. I was walking and talking but my mind felt slow and my field of vision was still blurry around the edges.
“Now,” said Stefan, “you rest. Our people will send word when they have located your friend and Mr. Durant.”
“Assuming they're alive,” I said.
“They are alive, Mr. Mike Meltzer. I feel it. However, they will send word either way. Now, my American friend, you must rest.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“That sounded almost hospitable, Stefan. What gives?”
He hit me with an enigmatic smile.
“Sabine will explain it to you.”
He clapped me on the shoulder and walked away.
“He always intended to give you shelter,” said Sabine. “I just had to get him to the point where he believed it to be his idea.”
“I don't get it.”
I tried to take another step. My legs had other ideas. Sabine caught me as I stumbled.
“That is how to deal with the Rom Baro. This one, anyway.”
“The what?”
“The Rom Baro. The man in charge.”
“Oh,” I said. Very articulate of me. “I think I need to sit down.”
“We are nearly there, Mike. A few more steps.”
She pointed to a large wagon set back from the main circle.
“Guest house?” I asked.
“Something like that.”
The three guys who'd ridden with us in the truck came out from behind the big wagon as I watched Stefan fade into the tree line. The one with the curly hair had my hat on his head.
“That guy stole my hat,” I grumbled.
“Stole it?” said Sabine. “I doubt it.”
She reached into my jacket pocket. When her hand came out she had a shiny new harmonica in it. She held it out for me to look at.
“I don't play the harmonica.”
The three guys sat on barrels by the fire, watching Sabine at me. One of them had his feet up on a crate and a book open on his gut.
The curly-haired one tipped his hat-- my hat-- to us and grinned.
I shrugged and gave him a military salute.
Sabine laughed beside me.
I took the harmonica from her.
“Maybe I can trade this for a hat before I leave,”
“Perhaps you can. After you rest.”
We reached the big wagon. It sat in the middle of a mud puddle. Its wheels-- four of them on two axles-- sat a good six inches under the surface. The shafts and eveners looked to be in an extreme state of disrepair.
The thing was vaguely boat-shaped with a bench seat for the driver on one end and a flat surface with lashing pegs on the other. Remnants of gold and blue paint showed around the edges and in the spaces between boards.
She climbed up the warped wooden steps and opened the door. The smell of stale incense and old fabrics wafted out on the wind.
“Come,” she said, reaching her arm out to help me inside.
I stumbled on the way in and went down.
Something plush on the floor of the wagon cushioned my landing. The weak light coming in through the door revealed a blue and red rug beneath me. There was no furniture, apart from three large foot lockers arranged in a rough arc near the back wall, but the interior was replete with hanging tapestries and more rugs, all of them variations on the red and blue design that covered the floor. Wadded piles of tapestries sat in front of each foot locker. A metal pail rested inside the door. Next to it sat two hunks of homemade soap.
I pushed myself up on all fours and, with Sabine's assistance, made it to one of the piles of rugs before passing out again.

I woke up on my back, alone in my pile of tapestries.
It was still light out but the wind carried a trace of early evening cool on it. The smell of a campfire wafted in, blending with the incense scent in a way I found oddly pleasing.
My jacket hung on a nail inside the door.
I sat up and blinked. Aside from a low grade headache and a little dry mouth I felt better than I had all day. I got myself off the floor and moved to the open door.
Sabine sat on the steps in front of the wagon. The smoke from her cigarette blew up in wispy white curls.
With her long hair put up I couldn't help but admire her bare shoulders and the back of her neck. She had a tattoo there, a winding green vine that traveled down from the middle of her neck to spread across both shoulders. I spent some time imagining how far down her body it went. The right hand strap of her slip had fallen, exposing most of her breast.
She hummed a tune I felt I should have recognized.
Her skirt and blouse, with the blood scrubbed out of them as best she could, hung on a line set over the fire.
I sat down behind her, resting my hands on her just-washed shoulders. She leaned back against me without missing a note.
She had the bucket and both pieces of soap on the step next to her. One chunk of soap sat next to the bucket, still wet from use.
“One piece of soap to clean the upper body,” she explained, “and another for the lower.”
I looked over her shoulder and watched, enraptured, as she washed the mud off her feet.
She lathered each foot in turn, then lifted the bucket and poured the water over them to rinse.
When she was done she dumped out what was left in the bucket and handed it to me. I put it back beside the door. She left the soap on the step to dry.
She flicked the dead butt of her cigarette to the ground.
“Hear anything about Wilson and Herve?” I asked her as we stood.
She faced me, linking her wrists behind my neck, and backed me into the wagon. Her eyes blazed with unmistakable intent.
“Nothing yet,” she breathed. “All we know right now is that the gendarmes have identified neither of us, nor the dead man. They continue to search the river.”
She nipped at my lower lip.
“There's nothing you can do for them right now, Mike Meltzer.”
“There's always something I can do.”
“There is something you can do. Just not for them.”
“Sabine...” It was all I could say.
“They live,” she said. “I know.”
“How do you know?” I whispered.
“It is our way.”
“I don't understand, Sabine.”
“You do not have to, Mike Meltzer.” Her lips brushed mine. “You will stop talking now.”
“Make me.”
She grinned, then kissed me hard enough to draw blood. The force of her thrust moved me backward. I toppled to the floor. She landed on top of me.
She made a growling sound in the back of her throat as my hands moved all over her body, stroking the long muscles, stopping to caress the soft places. I felt raw, feral. I wanted to devour her.
We broke off the kiss long enough for me to yank the slip up over her head. She made short work of my clothes, then raised herself up, straddling me with her hands on my chest. Her fingernails dug into my skin.
I noted that the tattoo that started on the back of her neck spread over her shoulders, coming together between her breasts.
I grabbed onto her hips as she rocked herself against me.
A shadow-- just a flash of motion-- made me look around her body, toward the open wagon door.
Stefan stood on the top step with a grin of delight on his face. He watched us for a few seconds, then saluted me and walked away.

He left the wagon door wide open.


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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.