A Cutting Remarque

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write about someone who purposefully causes a power outage.... view prompt

93 comments

Funny

First the phone lines, then the power cable. I repeat the mantra as I slip over the back fence onto his property. It's not as easy as the video made it look. And I practiced. But this fence is a lot taller, over five feet, and I end up having to pry a couple of boards loose to squeeze through. It's OK because he doesn't have a clue I'm coming. The three bags of equipment are waiting for me where I shoved them over, though one is caught on a nail. Who leaves rusty things like that in a fence where somebody could get hurt?

My God, his back yard is overgrown. They ought to have a law against this sort of thing. You'd think he never heard of a lawn service. Partly because I don't want to step on something hidden in the grass, it takes a while to get everything set up. I hook the battery to a cell scrambler, so he can't get a call out. Pretty smart, right? Then I use epoxy to hang a heavy blanket outside his bedroom window, to muffle the sounds. Finally, still repeating the mantra, I cut the landline, then flip the switches on his power box. I didn't even need the big insulated clipper doodad. All electricity off and nobody the wiser.

Now comes the tricky part because I'm working off of an instruction manual. And it's hard copy. I mean, these guys should seriously get into the twenty-first century. I use a small blowtorch to melt a hole in the sliding glass window, right where the security circuit is located. Then I put a pair of these cute little leads onto the ends, so it thinks the wires are still attached. I mean, as much as a machine actually thinks. But I fool it. Probably. Now I have to open the door, which is easier than I expected because, while I'm working the lockpick, it just jiggles the latch free. I dunno, must be the foundation. My dad used to complain about his door doing the very same thing.

I am a natural at this. I take the rest of the bags inside, because sooner or later, I'll be in control and he'll know what it's like to be powerless. I close the door, just to keep it looking normal. Nobody will look over the fence in the middle of the night. Hopefully.

I am strong. I am in charge. I spent a lot of money on therapy to make this happen. The infrared scanner shows he's alone in the house. The outer walls might be too well insulated for this model to get a good read, but he posted online about his family taking a vacation to Martha's Vineyard while he finished some work at home. Probably just drinking and smoking and doesn't want his wife to know. Maybe an affair, but he's sort of old.

I take three battery units to just outside his bedroom door, to power the spotlight. I intend to make him sweat before I kill him. What? You thought I was doing all this to short-sheet his bed? No. He deserves to die for what he did. For how powerless he made me feel. And all those others too, I'm sure. What sort of man stops at just one, when he knows he can get away with it?

And once he's dead, he'll never hurt anyone again. I guarantee it. Unless vampires are real, which my friend Steve swears is true, but he smokes a lot of meth, so he's not really a reliable source. And it ruined his teeth too. I mean, blech. No, double blech. Would that be blech blech? I need to take notes, so I can write the book afterward.

Quiet as a vole, which is a fancy type of mouse, I slide his door open. He's sound asleep. I carry the light in, make sure its switch is off, then plug it into the wall. No wait, there's no power. I run out and plug it into the three batteries, which I then have to set up in series. Or is that parallel? I hope I have it right.

Then a light shines at me. His voice, the one I recall with so much terror, calls out, "What the devil is going on?"

I run over and flip the light on, then aim it at him. He holds up his hand to shield his eyes. Thank goodness he's wearing pajamas, I don't want to see an old guy naked or anything. He's trying to act tough. "I don't know who gave you a key, but the joke is done. Go back to your dorm."

He starts to get up, but I pull the pistol out of my pocket, then slide the sound suppressor on it. He laughs. "You can't silence a revolver. Even if you could, it's not anything like silent, so someone will hear. See the window?"

He probably got that part about the revolver from some mystery novel he reviewed. I laugh back. I have the gun. "See the drapes? I used epoxy to hang some more outside. It's all about layers. Oh, and this is a fancy Russian revolver-"

"A Nagant?" He's not scared. He thinks this is a joke. And of course he knows the name. Probably got that from some other career he ruined.

"I'm going to shoot you."

He stands up and starts walking for the door. "Where do you think you're going?"

"The bathroom. Go out to the kitchen and start some coffee. This will probably take all night and I'm older. I have to pee."

"I have a gun!" My voice rises.

"If you intended to use it, you would have shot me already." He turns, disinterested. "Besides, you're the third aggrieved student this Christmas break. Probably get another before you're done."

I pull the trigger and nothing happens. Then I remember I have to flip the safety off. Or on- I never remember which means it can shoot. By that time, he's in the bathroom and I am not going to go watch him pee. Well, I suppose some coffee can't hurt. The three gallons of kerosene will burn any trace of me drinking as well as everything else I'm leaving behind.

"The coffee maker's not working." I call after fumbling with it for a while. "I already checked. It's plugged in."

"Did you flip the circuit breakers on?" He calls. He comes out in a robe and slippers, barely visible in the light from the bedroom. He presses a button on his end table and a soft glow lights from a wall sconce. Then he reaches for the gun. "Let me see it now I have the backup light on. She looks like a real beauty. I want to hold one of these before I die."

"Please." I shoo him back. "Like I'll fall for that one. Once you have the gun, I die."

"Did you pay absolutely no attention when you illuminated me so?" Now he sounds like my professor from all those years ago. "Yellow, jaundiced skin which hangs loose on the limbs. Dark circles under the eyes. Hair even thinner than it should be. Whether you shoot me or not, I remain doomed. Less than two weeks, during the holidays. I convinced my wife to take the grand-kids on vacation so they won't recall me as the sick old man whose death ruined Christmas. If you want to put me out of my misery, then fine. The pain is horrible and the medicine worse."

"How am I supposed to get revenge for you ruining my life?"

"Me?" he chuckles. "I had nothing to do with it. You were the one who refused to learn. Came into my class with a chip on your shoulder. Thinking you were as capable a writer as Hemingway."

"Rowling. I want money."

"Whatever." He waves his hand. "It's just like now. If you walk away, it's only another frat prank and my insurance will pay for it. Pull that trigger and you'll be on the run for the rest of your life. So who destroys your life if you give me surcease of sorrow? You have all the advantages. I'm powerless to stop you."

"The exact reverse of your class." I sneer with pleasure. I finally have him where I want him. All his pretty words and he's going to die screaming. In pain. And all I have to do is waltz out of here to watch it happen. That means no police and all my plans work beautifully.

"So, want to turn on the power and talk about your work in progress? The frat boys have a pizza delivery guy who keeps showing up at odd hours. Brings a small mountain of food. Then I have the nurse take it out."

Wow. He has it soooo damn tough. A private nurse. "Must be nice. All the expensive care. I can't even get my teeth fixed."

"Not really. One payer system is why the doctors failed to catch my pancreatic cancer in time." He scowls, just like when he used to grade papers. Especially mine. I watched. "But really-"

The doorbell interrupts.

"And that will be the aforementioned mountain of pizza. Stay here, you can help eat it."

I wait, then he comes back with two police officers. He acts apologetic. "They said someone called about you sneaking around the neighborhood. Said they saw you come in."

"Do you want to say anything?" An officer asks. They have their guns out and aimed at me, and I realize my revolver is still in my hand. I slowly release it, opening my fingers without moving anything more. One of them walks over and takes the gun.

"That's just a prop. She brought it to talk about a story. Very in character, sort of like method acting but for writing."

I can't believe they could fall for such a lame story. The one holding checks the chambers. "It's loaded."

"But the gun is off," the professor says. "We checked."

"The safety is off," the policeman answers. He looks at me. "Do you have a license for this?"

"That is my gun. Billy Summers came here at my invitation," the professor tells them. "If you could just help me unload it and put the safety to will not fire, I'll put it in the safe. Then we can get back to our expected pizza, "

Could this get any more surreal? Why is he doing this? He has all the power now. No. I've tricked him. I'll get the gun back after the police leave and any fingerprints are because I was here. They'll never suspect a thing. No, wait, I get off completely free. Maybe even steal his next manuscript because he suspects nothing. As nice as everything is, he must make a mint. Even one of his books will set me up for life.

"Are you still with me Billy?" He asks. "The police are gone. They'll write it up as a mistaken call by a nosy neighbor, and we can get back to helping you get your Great American Novel written."

"I need my gun back at some point." I want to be nice. "Pity about the cancer."

"I have a root canal scheduled for tomorrow," He's smiling. The predator's smile he used to skewer students, particularly me. It was always me, not the others. "Can't sleep, but one payer medical means I get it done when they can fit me in. I've been waiting for months."

"Isn't that a waste when you're dying of cancer?"

"That was a story, just like those police." Then the professor has the gall to turn toward the audience. "Dear readers, what started as parody humor of a darkly sardonic tale has turned surreal with this fourth wall violation. If it was not obvious, and for full literary effect, we will now explain what actually happened. Within the scope of the tale and without any more fourth wall violation."

Does that not beat all. Here it is, my story, and he takes over like he has all the power. Just like when he taught classes in writing and wanted to tell us how to write our stories. This is my story, I get to decide how it will end. "The gun is still mine. I want it back."

"I hope you have a bill of sale." Then the lights come on. "Good. They found the fuse box."

"You are a thief. Give me my gun."

"Just holding onto it for safe keeping. By which I mean I keep it safe in my safe to keep me safe from you. And in case it gets rough, my safe word is safe. Because I like playing safe."

"Wait. What?" He always wants to twist me in his clever words.

"I never had cancer," he says. I think he's going through an elaborate explanation like in a mystery novel. "Just a bad tooth. It's kept me up for months, hence the bags under my eyes. And the pain has been stress which made my hair brittle and dry. Your lamp gives everything a yellowish tint, but my emergency lighting is worse. I said cancer and you hesitated. You never wanted to kill me, just humiliate."

"I wanted you dead. I bought the gun for just that reason."

"Which puts you in a tough spot for legal action."

"Explain how that works."

"I have two witnesses, the frat boys I summoned when you thought I was going to the bathroom." He's a menace. I'd shoot him if I still had my gun. "Then I told you the bit about the pizza and you fell for it too. Then they had prop guns pointed-"

"How did you plan all this out?" I feel my heart racing. "You did this to me. You set me up, just like all those times in class."

"I improvised," he says. "You had a pathetic gun. I have a keen mind. In the end, my weapon overpowered yours. You were helpless from the moment I woke up."

I am powerless. Just like always. I go make some coffee. When I get back, the two frat boys are there. With pizza and their, obviously fake, police uniforms. "Why didn't I see those were fakes earlier?"

"Duh! The power was out." The heavier of the frat boys.

"Boys, be nice. Miss Summers has problems."

"Yeah, she's mental." The other frat boy.

"What about you two? Just boyfriends of the prof or something?"

"Nah, he's our club sponsor. We TP'ed his house and he kept the cops off. So when he wanted a solid, we said sure."

"Returning to the subject at hand." He's always like this. "You failed tonight because you became enamored of your plot. You failed, just like in class, because you don't ever want to be told how to do anything."

"This was flawless. I got in and would have killed you except the safety was on. Then you were in the bathroom and then it was the cancer would finish you and then-"

"You never put a plot complication before your characters. So you don't expect them in life. This is why we study Shakespeare. To prepare ourselves to take arms against a sea of troubles."

"But it nearly worked," I say. "And I passed your class."

"You received a pity C," he says. "It was a pity university regulations prevented me failing most of your class."

"I got an A on the first assignment. The one you gave on the first day and forced us to hand in before class was over."

"When did this stop being funny?" heavy frat asks.

"Writing is a serious matter. Students want it to be easy. They're fed pap in school and given participation awards until they believe it's how the world works. You had all the power. Three students made an effort to improve. They received A's and an invitation to a special studies class. The rest of you received my pity. You failed to learn, and now you fail at life. Until you decide to use your power wisely, you won't go anywhere."

"I don't have any power. I never chose this!"

"You chose to come here tonight with deadly intent. You chose to ignore my pleas to improve your writing. You had such promise. Now I can only imagine what sort of dark, bitter ramblings you post online. Now go. In this, you are powerless. If you choose to resist, we will summon the actual police. Then you will spend years behind bars for a variety of state and federal crimes. I don't want to ruin your life, but I won't let you destroy mine."

As the boys start walking me away, I wonder when this comedy turned tragic. Then I understand. I was always a pawn of the sadistic writer. Nobody understands powerless until they are a character in someone's writing.

And I don't understand enough German to know why he chose his title.


September 10, 2020 06:29

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93 comments

Gopika Ashokan
08:34 Sep 10, 2020

Wow this is so brilliantly written! This piece deals, as I believe, with the textuality of human existence. How our experiences, knowledge and everything influences the way we construct our life's narrative,how we fictionalize our lives(The way the professor did in your story, when he created a narrative about the cancer and the police and everything).Which in a way blurs the difference between reality and fiction. The way you created the professor, who is an astute reader of people's psychology and who create his own reality and in a way ...

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Charles Stucker
16:49 Sep 10, 2020

Thanks for the comments- especially the timely bits on typos.

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02:53 Sep 14, 2020

This story was very well written, but more than anything, it was was exceedingly clever. The characterization of your protagonist stayed strong throughout without forcing the narration to carry the story. The opening was a great way to begin, and it was refreshing to see a story in which the first half leads so effectively into the second without making the ending at all predictable. Sorry I don’t have more of a critique for you, but this was great!

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Jason Parker
02:45 Sep 13, 2020

Genius! I started out simply enjoying the premise and being inside the main character's head. Lines like: 'I am strong. I am in charge. I spent a lot of money on therapy to make this happen', made me so happy. The twists that you then began to expertly infuse into the narrative sucked me in ever deeper and when things turned meta--I felt like I was front row center in the audience of a brilliant stage play. The ending was a profound treatise on the craft of writing writ large and extremely satisfying, though-provoking, and proof of your skil...

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This is amazing! A really intriguing story and that TWIST! Gah, I really thought Billy was gonna shoot the proffered. The plot was amazing, with the twist and turns and great ending, and, of course, your writing is excellent. A piece well done; great job. Keep writing, Charles! ~Aerin P. S. Would you mind checking out my story “Dear Mimi”? If so, thanks!!

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B. W.
00:48 Sep 11, 2020

I really liked this story ^^ i don't think i'll point out the typo's since some of the others already have a few times but i think that was the only thing that was really wrong with it or needed some work. i still think i've only seen a few of your stories like maybe two others or three others so maybe after this one i'll go and check out them. though i bet theyll be just as great as the other stories i've read from you :) and guess what? this gets a 10/10

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Regina Perry
17:07 Sep 10, 2020

Wow. I love this story. It's brilliantly written. I've only read a few of your stories so far, but I've noticed that you're incredibly good at giving every character a distinct voice. Somehow you managed to write a well-written story in first person about a narrator with a clumsy writing style. I love the professor in this story; I love the way he set everything up. When he broke the fourth wall, it was a bit jarring, but in a good way that fits with the story. When he referenced Poe in conversation it worked very well to further his charact...

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Regina Perry
17:08 Sep 10, 2020

I started this comment this morning but didn't have time to finish it and post it until now. If you've already fixed the typos, disregard that part.

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Charles Stucker
17:15 Sep 10, 2020

I always appreciate people catching my typos. I just did a sweep and you still got some I missed. And looking up Remarque makes me really happy, because you wanted to see behind the curtain.

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Regina Perry
19:42 Sep 10, 2020

I just looked at the end again. Now you've got "resit" instead of "resist". Also, the last line says "his title." Did you mean to say "this title?" it probably works either way, but "this" feels a little more natural to me.

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Charles Stucker
01:57 Sep 11, 2020

"his title" was deliberate- but now I'm leaning toward this.

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10:45 Sep 10, 2020

I like this story more because it's funny and it touches complex themes. I like the student and the audacious way she felt about getting revenge on failed classes. The language is one used when someone is talking about a distant experience to a friend and I did enjoy it. It's hilarious when I see how reasonable the professor sounded while explaining the complexity of writing and life. A few typos such as what Gopika stated. And towards the end also when the professor starts talking about how she came to his home, you put 'her' instead of...

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Fplldg Wakdwwdg
01:15 Sep 30, 2020

Marvelous! Genius writings! Very very well written. It has humor and surprise. I really liked it. I know a professional like you don't need advice from an amateur like me😆 But phone scrambler was on, did he used the Internet or something to contact those frat boys? This point isn't clear, but it makes perfect sense as your professor was too smart. He can pull off any tricks outta his sleeve.😋

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Charles Stucker
05:03 Sep 30, 2020

Yes internet. I didn't specify because word count limits and it felt like too much exposition infodump. However, I always listen to advice. Everyone here has something they could add.

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Fplldg Wakdwwdg
05:37 Sep 30, 2020

I guessed so. Hey, can you, I guess, check out some of my stories, it's great to have help from a professional. Thanks 😆

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Charles Stucker
05:39 Sep 30, 2020

I'm working through my backlog. I was out a couple of days, and have to catch up. I'll get to you in a couple of hours (best guess).

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B. W.
15:45 Sep 18, 2020

Heya Charles :) i made a new story a bit ago, could you check out "Crossover: the plan"

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Vanessa Marczan
07:23 Sep 18, 2020

Hey Charles, I have a rare opportunity to indulge in your lovely words and return the favour of some feedback- Firstly, marvellous. As always. Unexpected twists and reversals made me feel like I was in a pinball machine. Enjoyable read, relatable main character voice and a charismatic villain. Love breaking the fourth wall, and the way you do it very convincingly. A suggestion, the word 'denouement' may be what you are looking for in terms of 'going through an elaborate explanation of a mystery'. Thank you for your work, always looking f...

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Charles Stucker
08:22 Sep 18, 2020

Thanks for the kind words. I used the phrase deliberately as the prof is also mocking the poor protagonist. But I do know denouement- it's the part at the end after the climax. One of the five parts of a short story cycle- as I learned it. Every time I revisit, the methodology and terminology changes.

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Vanessa Marczan
22:09 Sep 18, 2020

Admittedly it has been a while since I encountered 'denouement' as part of high school crime fiction studies, but my teacher (bless him, lovely man) loved calling it out in film and book studies so it has stuck with me! But yes! I also fell for this little trap! Poor me and poor protagonist 🤣

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B. W.
19:49 Sep 16, 2020

no. i don't think i'm gonna be able to do any of it.

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B. W.
00:04 Sep 16, 2020

Okay- so i think i did what you said to do but i'm not entirely sure, its my first time doing that on anything with Reedsy. i went onto the thing "Invite a friend" and then i put your thing in but it kept saying "Invite invalid" or something like that i forgot what it said, am i doing something wrong?

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Charles Stucker
01:43 Sep 16, 2020

Invite a friend is supposed to get people who are not on Reedsy to join Reedsy. As for exporting your work to a file. Open your word processor to a new document. Then open your book files on Reedsy. Go to what you have written and select all. Then use "copy" on the selected portion. Now go to the open word processor file and hit "paste" which should put everything you copied into the file. Save the word processor file in a folder just for your novel. I use libre office, so I can read most extensions so don't worry, unless you use apple- the...

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B. W.
01:49 Sep 16, 2020

oh. I probably sound stupid or something while i'm doing this until now i've never wrote a novel or gone on the Reedsy Book editor thing, i don't know what you even mean by the word Word Processor or i might have already seen it but i'm not sure, and then when you mean the book files on reedsy do you mean on HERE or on the Book editor thing? i really don't understand anything in that and i feel stupid for not being able to, sorry. could you explain a bit more or something?

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Charles Stucker
02:28 Sep 16, 2020

Word processor - the program you use to write. Besides writing directly on Reedsy. Like Microsoft Word or Microsoft Works, or Libre office, or Office Suite for MacOS. Do you have a button on your computer you use to open up a writing app? That's what I mean by Word Processor. They all have save functions. When they save, you name the file. I've been doing this so long, it's a habit, so I might leave out bits I know too well. Just ask- or get someone IRL to give you a hand.

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B. W.
02:34 Sep 16, 2020

I don't even think i'm gonna be able to do this thing and it seems simple but i don't even know what program i use or i at least forget, which i probably shouldn't but here i am. i at least think that there's something like a file that saves it but i probably have no idea how to even get to it if i have to because i'm terrible. the people who i live with probably won't know how to do it or they probably won't help at all tbh, there's another thing though that i'm worried about with my story, you know how you could get a Cover Artist to do yo...

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Charles Stucker
05:15 Sep 16, 2020

You need a story, the cover art can WAIT until the tale is good. Not just finished, but good. If you get an agent or publishing house, they will assign a cover artist. You only need to hire an artist if you self publish. So wait on it. Story is YOUR product. So concentrate on what you need to do. Do you work on a computer? If yes, is it a Mac or does it use Windows? I have little clue about different phone apps. If it is Windows, there should be a little image of four small squares forming a larger square in the bottom left corner. Click...

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B. W.
18:36 Sep 15, 2020

^^ go check out "Universe" and tell me what ya think Charles :D its kinda like a preview thing for the actual thing whenever that'll come out, though its a bit different from how the original will be

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B. W.
19:25 Sep 14, 2020

hey, i was wondering if you could help me? its something with a novel

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Charles Stucker
20:58 Sep 14, 2020

What do you need?

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B. W.
21:01 Sep 14, 2020

Well i'm trying to work on a novel and i just need some help with a few things for it, like advice because its my first one, i already at least know the plot and all that because i'm working on the first chapter

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Charles Stucker
22:28 Sep 14, 2020

So, you have a list of characters? This means you understand all the main ones, with roughly a short story each to provide them background which might never appear but makes them more consistent throughout? good. Then you decide if you are writing piecemeal- you write a bunch of scenes scattered through the novel- or linearly- you write each scene in order. This is independent of whether you are a plotter or pantser. Plotter lays out the entire plot in outline form. An unusual, but often effective, plotter method is fractal in nature, where...

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B. W.
22:46 Sep 14, 2020

Alright, thank's for all of that ^^ i dunno i guess i might be a plotter or maybe just half and half with the two of them. I have a lot of ideas for the thing but maybe i could tell you the plot for the story so it could maybe be a bit easier to help or something?

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Charles Stucker
23:16 Sep 14, 2020

Sure. Plots are overpriced at a dime a dozen. A fantasy example is teh fallen paladin seeking redemption. I knew someone once who said, "This book copied my plot" and it was the paladin plot. The plot needs only be complex enough to warrant a book, not original. It's the writing which makes or breaks a book. so sure, hit me.

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John Del Rio
19:38 Sep 13, 2020

well written. i like the silenced Nagant revolver; because unlike other revolvers, it is sealed and so can actually take advantage of a suppressor. i like that i didn't know who the "bad guy" was throughout the story. the protagonist or the professor. the 4th wall break was great and the casual way the professor almost demands that his intruder go out and make coffee was awesome. i also like the intruder/writers' comment that they want to be more like Rowling than Hemingway because they want to make money. i will continue to read your w...

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Jamela Faye
09:11 Sep 13, 2020

I love how this story flows, like, thank you for letting us read the protagonist's mind ( I should try this sometime) This reminded me of one of my favorite anime. Like how the plot twists and mind games between two characters. (I've been trying to write a story similar and this is a very good example on how to start) And thank you for correcting my mistakes in my stories, too. I've been too aware of the things you taught me... Please continue writing!

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Rose C G
06:40 Sep 13, 2020

Interesting storyline. The twists of the plot caught me by surprise. I felt like I was reading about a game of chess between a master player and a novice. I wonder how many times this professor has played this game before. Nice job~

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Anshika Goyal
17:47 Sep 12, 2020

I really liked this story, it is well-written, and you take the definition of show don't tell seriously. It is a perfect combination of actions, descriptions, and dialogues. Keep Writing!! P.s. Would you mind checking out two of the recent stories?

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Michele Duess
13:12 Sep 12, 2020

I like the ending. "nobody understands powerless." It probably should be powerlessness but it's a minor thing. Good story.

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Some really shining moments of alliteration and fun turns of phrase in here. My favorite was the one about fancy mice.

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