Science Fiction

The Brass Man and Other Stories

By

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Synopsis

"A Brass Man sat on the shore polishing himself to perfection." Thus begins the titular novella of an innocent people living on a small island surrounded by a world destroying itself through global war and religious fanaticism -- and the brass men created to help protect them.
"The Brass Man and Other Stories" is a collection of tales which include science fiction , classic fantasy, contemporary fantasy and a cozy mystery with a fantastical twist including;
"Elwin's House"- A very short classic fantasy tale of a human and non-human sharing a pipe over a war they fought as opposing soldiers. This story won an honorable mention in the 2005 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.
"The Long Dark Hallway of Desire"- Science Fiction Noir. We are given the final paragraphs of an implied larger story of a detective on Mars and his femme fatale. This story was the Editor's pick in Flashquake magazine.
"Backhoe Vultures" - Contemporary fantasy about age, deterioration, and destruction. Does one really ever lose one's past?
"Eggs Benedict" - Cozy mystery with a serendipitous twist. A modern “detective” who is the figurative descendant of the Three Princes of Serendib.

A Spot of Brass


A brass man sat on the shore polishing himself to perfection. Laid about him on the sand were his dearest possessions. The large flat piece of rough stone, a piece of fine metal wool, and finally his secret weapon against tarnish -- a nearly empty tube of polish and piece of soft white leather.

The brass man worked away at a particularly nasty scratch on his left thigh. He had a time-tested method for dealing with these types of scratches and he was well into his four-part procedure. The first part involved the use of the stone. He had spent all morning working the dark, rough stone over the scratched area, first up and down from ground to sky and then back and forth from hip to knee. All during part one, the sun had been steadily climbing behind him and now shone directly on the middle of his back.

Being a brass man, he had very little awareness of the sun's position or of its heat on his surface. But being a vain brass man, he was fully aware of the sun's light shining on 'the Spot'.

He could reach every part of his body with the four-part procedure except one. The Spot -- located in the small of his back -- was immune to his efforts. Although quite flexible for a brass man, neither his left arm nor his right arm could reach quite far enough behind him to apply the stone or his metal wool to that one place. The Spot defied all his best efforts.

Sometimes he imagined that the Spot had turned green from corrosion. He imagined it growing and eating its way inwards to eventually become a Hole. However, when he thought of Holes, he became light headed and had to go patrol the beach to clear his mind.

Picking up the roughest grade of metal wool, he applied himself to part two of his four-part procedure with intensity and concentration. He noted with satisfaction that the scratch on his leg was disappearing nicely. As with all scratches, ten percent of the effort eliminated the scratch and ninety percent of the effort eliminated the smaller scratches created from the polishing process. Rubbing lightly up and down from ground to sky, and then back and forth from hip to knee, he continued working as the sun zipped overhead, fell into the ocean and popped back up behind him again.

Laying the metal wool next to him on the sand, the brass man surveyed his work. Instead of the four-inch long disfigurement, he saw a smooth matte circle surrounded by the gleaming golden mirror of the rest of his leg.

"My, but it's hard being a brass man!" he thought.

Being a brass man, the pun was lost on him.

Then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed a movement off to the left, far down the beach towards a point of land. He'd never been to that point of land and didn't plan on ever going -- he wasn't assigned to that section of the beach. Using a quick continuous motion, he reached down to his right, picked up a laser rifle, aimed at the movement, and fired.

The movement turned into a puff of smoke.

Which is what he did. He turned movement into smoke. His original instructions had been very simple. Keep the beach clear of creatures. Since creatures move, things that move must be creatures. Over the course of his memory, which was as long as his patience, he had turned thousands of movements into puffs of smoke.

He set the long laser rifle down onto the sand intending to begin the third part of his four-part procedure. He hesitated and studied the rifle next to him. The long barrel reminded him of the long bones scattered around the beach. Thinking of these long bones gave him an idea how he might attend to the Spot.

Rising smoothly to his feet, the brass man turned and walked away from the ocean toward the wall of trees growing a hundred paces from the water.

At the base of one of the overhanging trees he leaned over and began to brush away at the sand. After few moments he uncovered a large, long, white bone. 

Walking carefully back across the sand (since he was also very mindful of the condition of the bottom of his feet) he sat back down.

At this point the brass man moved into new intellectual territory -- in all the time he had been here, he had never thought of trying to deal with the Spot in this manner.

Picking up a piece of metal wool, he carefully wrapped it around the end of the bone. Holding the bone out in front of him, he studied the wool and confirmed that it was secure. Pointing his new tool, with its abrasive passenger over his shoulder toward the sun, he raised his elbow in an arc, thus bringing the wool down to touch the Spot. He moved his arm up and down causing the wool to scrape up and down in the small of his back. For a brass man it felt very good.

As he worked on the Spot, the sun continued its travel, up over his head and descending back down toward the ocean. Watching the setting sun while he scrubbed the Spot, the brass man observed the dark blue waves as they danced and jumped in the evening light. At this time of day, waves on the surface of the water were an equal mixture of sunlit peaks and dark valleys. To the brass man's mind this was when the ocean was at its worst.

Although he had very little imagination, he often sat here and wished he could swim out into the salty ocean water and use the four-part procedure to polish the waves -- which for a brass man would be very foolish.

After the sun set in front of him and rose behind him two or three times, he decided that he probably was doing no good with the Spot. Pulling his arm back up over his shoulder, he retrieved the wool from the end of the bone.

It was then that he noticed a white flag moving toward him from very far off.

Normally he would have spent about two milliseconds musing over the motion, considering its implications, and judging its range and about one second reaching down beside him, grabbing his laser rifle, and making the object disappear in a puff of smoke. That was what the brass man did, of course. He kept everything off his section of the beach by turning movement into smoke.

But for some reason he hesitated. The two milliseconds stretched interminably into hundredths of seconds. He had never seen a white flag creature before and didn't realize that there were any around. He had made puffs of smoke out of many things -- but never a white flag. It reminded him of the soft white leather that he used in the fourth part of his procedure against tarnish. So, he waited.

Which for a brass man with a penchant for polishing was very easy.

The white flag approached, and his vision resolved it into a creature holding a stick which held the white cloth. At first, the creature looked familiar. But as it approached, he realized that it was just a rude caricature of a brass man. It had two arms and two legs, but they were small and spindly. It had a head, but it was an ugly non-golden color and was covered with what seemed to be black grass. Its large torso was covered in a material that appeared to be the same as the white flag, only brown.

Eventually the creature moved to within a few steps of the brass man, stuck the flag into the sand and stopped moving. The brass man mentally wrestled with his instructions. As a compromise he picked up his laser rifle, pointed it at the middle of the creature's torso. He stopped moving, too.

After what seemed to the brass man to be no time at all -- for the sun had only risen once since the creature arrived -- it moved again. The brass man had to go through another analysis period since movement usually resulted in a puff of smoke, but he decided to see it out.

The creature raised its hands to a bag tied at the lower portion of its torso. It pulled out a piece of fine cotton and a jar of polishing compound. The brass man's vanity underwent a fierce struggle with his desire to turn movement into smoke. The approximation of a brass man moved away from the setting sun and around toward his brass back. Opening the jar, it reached down and began to polish The Spot.

The brass man could almost feel layers and layers of tarnish flaking away. He watched the sun drop dramatically into the sea and decided he was glad he had not turned this particular movement into smoke.

Then the human pushed its finger into a hole in the middle of the Spot and flipped a switch.


About the author

John Borneman writes poetry and short fiction that covers an eclectic range of topics from "home town" to "science fiction and fantasy". He has been published in several genre magazines. John's work has been honorably mentioned in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. view profile

Published on June 04, 2020

50000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

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