Heartstone

4 – Blue Screen of Death

The old timer frowned, then caught on and burst out laughing. A moment later the others got it too.

“The naked fat guy!” 

“The one mooning us!”

Arwin nodded. “I’ll bet he has one. We’ve got to capture him and get a key from him.” He thought quickly. “We need a distraction. Something to keep the white collars off our backs long enough to tackle the fat man.”

“Why don’t we start a fire?” a very stupid man suggested.

Arwin kept his voice patient, like speaking to a baby. “Um, why don’t we think of something that won’t rapidly get out of control and burn up the forest we’re completely surrounded by, putting us all in mortal danger?”

“Oh.” The dullard nodded. “That’s smart. So, what should we do about the one I already started?”

“The one you—?” Arwin jumped to his feet.

The dullard pointed behind himself. A small fire burned in the grass and weeds just outside the dirt floor they all sat on. 

“Put it out! Put it out!” the man beside Arwin shouted, taking leadership. 

Frantically, the men rose and sought to put the fire out. They beat at it with clothes, tossed the meagre remains of their gruel at it, but nothing helped. The grass was dry and fire rapidly spread. Soon the white collars caught wind of the smoke and, shouting, they too went into panic mode.

Arwin caught the old timer’s arm. “Now’s our chance! Keep the white collars occupied! I’ll find the blue mooner!”

The old timer nodded and set off yelling, calling the white collars towards the fire.

Arwin found the man who had been sitting next to him earlier. He pulled him aside. “Hey. What’s your name?”

“Me? Jacque.”

“Jacque. Grab a couple of men. Let’s get the mooner and find that key!”

The man nodded. He turned and pulled two big, athletic men away from fire fighting. Together, the four raced to the edge of the forest, seeking the point where the mooner had last been seen. 

They found the nude man curled up, taking a nap. They cautiously surrounded him and moved in.

A twig snapped underfoot and the mooner woke. “Ah! Whaddya want, ya slaves!”

Arwin held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “You have a special key, don’t you? A dental key?”

The mooner shiftily looked back and forth. “Ain’t got no key.”

“So you do have it!” Arwin stated with a confident smile. 

The mooner looked at Arwin in surprise, eyes wide. “How’d you know that?”

“You used a double negative. Ain’t got none means that you do have one. Also, you just confirmed it.”

The mooner scowled. “Drat!”

“Please,” Arwin begged, “we need that key to free people from their collars.”

“Bah! And ruin my fun? Never.” The man crossed his arms with a smug grin. “Why don’t ya get back to your rock breakin’ and I’ll be along shortly to give you something special.” He chuckled evilly.

Arwin shared a glance with Jacque. The other man shrugged and Arwin nodded. Together they advanced on the mooner.

Realizing his predicament, he put up a fierce fight. It took all four of the men to subdue him. They pushed him to the ground and sat on him.

“You’ll never get it, you bastards!” the mooner spat at them, helpless and furious. 

“What now?” one of the blue collars asked.

Arwin interrogated the mooner. “We need that dental key. Lives are in danger! Where is it?”

The obese man replied with a fierce snarl, showing a mouth full of rotten teeth. Then he laughed. A cloud of revoltingly bad breath struck Arwin full in the face, making him reel backwards and gag. “Ha! Good luck getting anything out of me!”

“He’s not being very helpful,” the blue collar leader remarked.

They tried repeatedly, but the fat man refused to cooperate, saying nothing more, just grinning at them like he knew something that they didn’t.

Arwin glared at him. Then he had an idea. A very repulsive one. His face fell. “Oh-no. Once in a blue moon,” he muttered.

Jacque cocked his head, curious. “Yeah? Ok. So we got him.”

“No. Once in a blue moon,” Arwin said, emphasizing the word in.

They all looked down at the obese man’s bare buttocks, which had the texture of lumpy cottage cheese, kind of like the surface of the moon. 

“So who wants to do the honours?” Arwin asked.

They all looked at him.

“It was your idea,” Jacque stated.

Arwin felt sick. “Dammit.” But what needed to be done must be done. 

They maneuvered themselves so that Arwin sat atop the fat man’s legs and behind the two mountainous buttocks. The mooner’s crater faced Arwin squarely, er, roundly. Actually, it was kind of star shaped. And it was filthy. Perhaps the man lived in the woods and had neither paper nor soft furry creatures on hand with which to clean up after himself. Nor did he seem to bathe often. 

Arwin hesitantly reached forward, fervently wishing there was any other way to go about this. This was pretty much the last thing that he wanted to do with this overweight delinquent. “This is so disgusting,” Arwin complained.

The mooner burst out into fresh, mocking laughter. “Come on then. What are you waiting for? Dig in there. I dare ya!” The laughter jiggled his expansive buttocks. 

A blue collar man near the mooner’s head clubbed him twice with a ham fist. The mooner went limp. 

Arwin nodded to the man. “Thanks.” He reluctantly began the vile extraction process. 

“Hurry!” a blue collar man urged. “They’ll come for us soon.”

Arwin gritted his teeth and did his best. Then, almost up to the elbow, he felt something that didn’t belong inside a human body. “Got it!” he announced. Withdrawing his arm, he held up an old-fashioned dental key. Arwin wondered how something so dangerous and sharp had remained harmless inside the moon man. Magic? Or the most advanced bowel gymnastics of all time?

“Clean it off!” Jacque urged. “And for goodness sake, don’t touch anything with that arm.”

Arwin found a streamlet slithering around the roots of some nearby blue spruce. He washed his arm the best he could, pledging to himself that he’d cut his own limb off and burn it the moment that he no longer needed it. He tried to squelch the thought of ever handling food again.

When Arwin returned, the mooner had regained consciousness. He pouted as he noticed Arwin holding the key. 

“Now what?” asked one of the blue collars. 

“Now you get lost!” the mooner shouted. He bared his rotten, blue teeth and tried to bite the man closest to him.

“His teeth. Take his blue teeth!” Jacque exclaimed, jerking out of the mooner’s way.

The mooner’s head snapped around and his eyes focused on the key. “Hey now. Wait just a minute—“

“Look,” Arwin broke in, reasoning with him. “You obviously need dental surgery. I’ll bet those things cause you a lot of pain, don’t they?”

The mooner glowered at him but didn’t argue the point.

Arwin continued in a practical manner. “You know, rotten teeth contribute to infection and heart disease. Those things are dangerous. You really should have them taken out before things go even worse for you. You don’t want those foul things to kill you, do you?”

The mooner mumbled, “No, I suppose not.”

“A couple of minutes quick work and you’ll feel better and healthier. And likely live longer. I promise.”

The fat man frowned and glanced at the others, then at the key. “Fine,” he grumbled, “get on with it.”

The inside of the man’s mouth would probably terrify any real dentist. Arwin gave a sharp twist and the mooner howled in pain. But a rotted blue tooth emerged. Arwin, despite always taking good care of his own teeth, mentally promised himself to brush and floss twice as much in the future to avoid getting a mouth so black and revolting inside.

He hurriedly fit the freed tooth into his collar’s hole. The lock clicked and the collar dropped off. He immediately felt better, his positive emotions restored. Arwin grinned. He reached for the collar and tried to extract the tooth he’d used. “It won’t come out,” he said, puzzled.

The mooner’s face clouded with fear.

Arwin shrugged sympathetically. “Sorry. Looks like we’re going to need more. But that’s good for you. You’ve got a mouth full of bad teeth. Though you might need dentures after this.” 

The mooner howled and whined as Arwin extracted all his rotten teeth. He passed out from the pain more than once, only to reawaken with the next pulled tooth. It left the mooner with about six good ones. And a very bloody orifice. At his insistence, they left him alone and he sat in the dirt, thoroughly wallowing in a blue funk, tears streaming down his chubby face. 

The other three blue collars quickly freed themselves. All seemed to feel immediately lighter in mood as hope and independence returned. 

Arwin held the remaining teeth up. “Let’s free the others and then get out of here.”

They raced back to the work area. Even before arriving, smoke blurred their vision. They pulled up at the edge of the area in horror. The fire had grown exponentially. Bright orange flames now covered half the forest surrounding the work clearing. It was incredibly hot where blue trees had gone up in flames, worse than typical fire. The flames had even turned blue there. 

Arwin protected his face with one arm. Blue flame on wood burned at about fourteen hundred degrees celsius, if he remembered science class correctly. At that temperature, just about everything it touched would be destroyed. Even some metals would melt. He looked for what workers remained in the area. Blues and whites both were huddled together in the white gazebo. White collar workers were using some kind of water magic to hold the fire off, but they fought a losing battle.

“It’s too late,” a blue collar worker next to Arwin insisted.

“We have to help,” Arwin insisted back.

Jacque put a hand on Arwin’s shoulder to restrain him. “The fire will get us.”

“Gotta try anyway.” Arwin sprinted towards the gazebo. He was fast. He braved the edge of the flames and soon reached the men inside. “Here!” he told them, thrusting the blue teeth their way. “Put them in your collars! Unlock them!”

Those men who weren’t in blind panic grabbed the teeth and freed themselves. As soon as the magic ceased compelling them to stay, they turned and ran, selfishly abandoning their fellows for the hoped-for safety of the forest. 

Arwin noticed that some of the white collar supervisors had similar collars, though these were more subtle and stylish, as if that helped the whites prove themselves better than the blues. He realized that, while many of the white collar workers were obviously here voluntarily, some of these men were just as trapped in the system ruled by the blue bloods and their manipulative ways. He tried to use the mooner’s teeth on a white collar, but the white devices must have run on white tooth technology; blue teeth were ineffective. There was nothing he could do. 

“Get out of here!” he urged the white collar workers but they refused to flee. “Why do you stay?”

“We have to!” one shouted back, flinging a water bomb at the fire. The bomb exploded, clearing a patch of flames for one brief moment. Then the flames swamped back over the spot. “It’s our job! We can’t abandon our posts. We’re not paid by the hour. We’re on salaries!”

“Even if we did, the blue bloods would never forgive us!” another howled. “We’d never get promoted again! We might even get fired!”

Arwin shook his head. Those selfish nobles and their compulsion methods were about to condemn all these men to their deaths. He desperately tried to pull the collars off by hand, while simultaneously screaming at the remaining blue collar workers to use the blue teeth he’d brought them, but it was no use. The few remaining blue collar workers were beyond rational thought. They huddled in fear, incapable of even saving themselves.

A hand grabbed Arwin from behind and hauled him backwards. It was Jacque. “Let’s go!” he screamed in Arwin’s ear, barely heard over the roaring flames.

Arwin had no choice. It was run or doom themselves like the others. He and Jacque ran for the one side of the forest not yet burning. They caught up to the others, everyone in wild-eyed panic as they tried to escape.

They tried, anyway, but it was no use. The fire quickly circled around through the forest, cutting off their only route. The group came to a panting halt.

“What in the blue blazes?” one man asked, pointing ahead.

Arwin and the others looked. 

From within the flames, and entirely unscathed by them, probably protected by magic, rose a monstrous computer monitor, the CRT kind common in the nineteen eighties or early nineties: big, heavy and ugly. It was the size of a small movie screen with a shell of hard, beige plastic. The screen was uniformly blue in colour.

“No… No…!” a man screamed in denial, backing away. Others followed suit.

“It’s the blue screen of death!” cried Jacque. “Run away!”

Sure enough, the only thing written on the screen were the words ‘BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH’ in white letters above an icon of a window. Then those words faded away and were replaced with ‘A problem has been detected. You must be shut down. The problem seems to be caused by the following:’ followed by an incomprehensible string of characters and words and computer gobble-de-gook signalling a stop or exception error. The screen advanced.

Men howled with fear and ran. 

Arwin stood rooted, unable to believe what he was seeing. He watched the monitor float through the blue blaze towards the men. Blue death rays shot out from the screen. Each man screamed once when struck, then froze and toppled to the forest floor, dead. 

The fire surrounded him and there was nowhere to go. People were dying and he had no way to save them. Arwin felt helpless. 

The blue screen of death turned and oriented on him. 

Arwin needed to escape. But what could he do? Negativity crashed down him once more. He struggled to fight it off, battling the notion that he should just give up on his life. He wanted to live. He had to be stronger.

Blue death rays shot out from the monitor. 

Arwin moved aside at the last second, using every ounce of his athletic ability to prevent the rays from touching him. He scrambled around the edge of the forest, dodging blasts and trying to stay alive. Yet, what was the point? The fire was everywhere now. There was nowhere to run. He was trapped. 

Or was he?

Arwin dove for cover behind a thick spruce. Peering around the trunk, he studied the oncoming screen. It was massive and implacably hostile. He paused. The only course of action one could take with those old computers when they had a problem was to restart them. Could he do the same to this magically technological monster?

Arwin’s eyes searched the edge of the machine. A death ray flashed and he threw himself to the ground to avoid it. Then he saw it. There, on the bottom right of the screen: a button labeled RESTART! 

This was his chance. Arwin shot forward, feet plowing up dead needles and soft soil in his haste. 

The blue screen of death, not expecting prey to come at it, overshot its mark with its next shot. 

Arwin dodged and feinted. Blue rays flashed, but each just barely missed, only singeing his arms and legs. Ten meters. Five. He ran on. 

A blue ray caught Arwin in the chest. He screamed, hand outstretched, and felt a sizzling heat shoot through his body. But he’d stayed on his feet and his forward momentum kept him on course. His frozen hand hit the RESTART button. Arwin’s vision went black.

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