This is good, you are good
This was a pleasant surprise - thank you very much for the crit!
(And thanks to Jitzu for the earlier crit as well!)
|# ? Oct 19, 2016 22:07|
|# ? Dec 8, 2021 16:59|
in as employee
|# ? Oct 20, 2016 00:34|
In as a customer.
|# ? Oct 20, 2016 03:58|
in as employee
Your character works in Books, tomes, pamphlets, scrolls, and tablets (stone and other). Mostly, their job involves pointing people toward the romance or thriller sections, but in a store like Voidmart, there are sure to be more intriguing stories lurking between the shelves...
In as a customer.
Your character is attending a wedding for some dubious and perhaps dangerous people. What do you get the nefarious ne'er-do-well who has everything? Voidmart believes that all of us, even the most accomplished, still have a yawning, voracious hole in our souls. We're your one-stop-shop for gifts savory and decidedly not-savory.
|# ? Oct 20, 2016 06:16|
Mom says I need gainful employment or it's the streets. I'm in as an employee.
|# ? Oct 20, 2016 07:45|
in with a as an investigator
(USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST)
|# ? Oct 20, 2016 20:11|
Mom says I need gainful employment or it's the streets. I'm in as an employee.
You are one of our elite maintenance engineers (aka janitor). You keep mess, malfunction, and other things at bay...
in with a as an investigator
Your character believes Voidmart may stand on top of the ancient burial ground of a forgotten people. They would very much like to learn more. For safety reasons, Voidmart doesn't permit non-employees in the restricted areas beneath the sales floor.
|# ? Oct 20, 2016 22:15|
ok give me a customer, my week is packed af but i'll try
|# ? Oct 21, 2016 03:16|
ok give me a customer, my week is packed af but i'll try
Idea shamelessly stolen from Newt: Your customer wants to return a Voidmark product, claiming it is defective. Voidmart puts all of its retail items through rigorous quality assurance testing, so your character will have to prove the defectiveness in order to get their refund and/or exchange.
Alternatively: newt|work> "SaddestRhino, your customer is a demanding jerk who is trying to return a piece of faulty Voidmart™ branded clothing. He gets nothing"
|# ? Oct 21, 2016 04:06|
The Secret Edge
Employee, Blades and Cutlery, 1300 words
Hi, my name is Jeff. I have all my fingers and toes. It's quite a feat! My boss lost an arm a few years back when a new employee improperly handled an item in the One-of-a-Kind Aisle. It is a rare anniversary when we celebrate the service of a coworker with 100% of each ear lobe. Blades and Cutlery isn't the most dangerous place in Voidmart, I assume. Nevertheless, it pays to be alert.
"Jeff!" My supervisor's voice startled me a bit as I was in the midst of admiring a particularly shiny item. "Get out of the Throwing Aisle. You're assigned to the wedding registry today." By far our biggest seller: sets of 8-67 stainless steel blades accompanied by blocks of wood to store them, blades hidden. Unfortunately, this was a situation where popularity didn't equate to prestige. Mr. Smith really had it out for me despite my alertness; I found myself assigned to selling knife sets nearly every day.
"You got it Mr. Smith!" I said cheerfully. "Seeya later, Gaspar!"
"Who the... Don't name the merchandise and get to your station!" I smiled and nodded as I walked six aisles further away from Katanas.
"Howdy, Magnus," I whispered. "What's up, Sinbad?" Naturally, Sinbad said nothing; blades can’t talk. I loved the weapons, but they weren't people. Just unique and beautiful pieces of merchandise. I dodged into the Gladius and Dirk Aisle as a customer's handicapable cart rolled by at top speed. Julius sparkled as he reflected the light from her silver hair. "Good one Julius," I giggled. He was good for one of those a shift. No time for him now though.
A few more steps brought me to my destination. Home, sweet home I suppose. This mass produced merchandise honestly bored me half to tears, though a few pieces had potential. The aisles here shrank to waist high, affording me a view all the way from Golden Bean to The Back. This along with my relative lack of mutilation made me the de facto customer service guy for B&C.
"Excuse me, can you point me to the saw blades?" Wonderful things, to be sure, but for whatever reason they are secreted in the Tools quadrant. Sorry, sir.
"Hey guy! Jeff? Yeah where are your axes?" Blades do not chop in my opinion. They part matter like curtains and divide one into many as politely as possible. I kept my opinion to myself and offered a crooked finger pointed toward the Wood Accessories.
"Hey Jeff," said a shy voice. Martha from lingerie stood just outside my department in one of Voidmart's main arteries. As always she was as clean as Sinbad and twice as curvy. Not a single edge on the poor girl, unfortunately..
"What's up?" As I turned around she took a step back, glancing nervously at the large knife I was sharpening. The pretty thing had looked like a king next to the smaller copies in its wooden block, though I'd seen better edges on the axes.
"Uh, you want anything to eat? I'm headed over to Prepared Foods for some takeout."
I held out the knife at an arm's length to inspect it. When I looked up she was another pace further away. "No thanks! My lunch isn't til 3."
"It's past three."
"Oh... I guess i'll have whatever you're having."
"I'll get you something you'd like," she called over her shoulder. My attention had already turned to testing the knife with a few air slices.
"Jeff stop waving that goddamned butcher knife! Do you want to hurt someone!?"
Mr. Smith, stressed out as usual. "I'm careful, sir." His eyes bulged. As was his habit he preceded his next statement with a prolonged exhale. "How many couples have you signed up today?"
"None so far, sir. A few people wanted these blocks but they didn't want to get married."
"I don't care about that, you have to reach the monthly quota. Matrimony is breathing down my neck, and you're my ace for registries."
"One more thing. We have some new merchandise." We got new items nearly every day, and I always hoped for a new addition to the One-of-a-Kind Aisle. I might be banned from that aisle, but there was nothing more interesting in the Voidmart. I usually got to sneak a peek when Mr. Smith was showing a trainee how to sign people up for weddings. This time, he pulled out a new cutlery set display.
"This is the new Carvington Elite Collection Atomic Edition." Instead of a plain wood block with a crowd of desperately jutting handles, he presented a humming black cube with only three beckoning new friends. "It has three carbon nanoblades kept suspended in a magnetic field." He pulled out the largest of the set. It was so dark, except for the edge. When it caught the flourescents, it drew a thin crescent of light across my retina. I felt like it was telling me a secret. "You must never touch it!" My jaw dropped. When Mr. Smith resheathed the atomic edge, I finally was able to turn my gaping expression towards him. "Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?"
"Um, well surely it needs to be sharpened-"
"None of these knives need to be sharpened, Jeff. They're just display models."
"But a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one!" My words fell on deaf ears. Apparently the CECAE was crafted from a single chain of covalent bonded carbon atoms, and could cut anything with an atomic number higher than 14. It was the first thing I had ever encountered more beautiful than a hundred fold blade that thirsted for the blood of good men. Sorry, Musashi.
I paced around cutlery, neck hurting from keeping my gaze pointed directly at the atomic set. I could still see the brilliant afterimage of its secret. He had sliced my ocular nerve from three yards away! I hoped it was permanent. I jumped again as a tiny voice said my name from the artery.
It was Martha. She presented me a sandwich of thinly sliced meats, which I accepted graciously. That would be for later. Who could think of food at a time like this?
"Thanks Marth. When do you get off?"
"Ah, I was off at three. I'm just going head over to Sleep... are you okay?"
The secret of the atomic edge finally became clear. I knew Martha liked me as a man likes a blade; I could never put my finger on why until now, not that I would put a finger on that atomic edge. The afterimage gave Martha an edge of her own, and I fear my gaze may have lingered a bit hungrily. She was beautiful too!
I stepped forward and dropped to one knee. "Martha. Will you marry me?"
I looked her in the eye. The secret looked like a tear of joy gleaming down her cheek. Her mouth was agape, just like mine when Mr. Smith told me I couldn't touch the new Carvingtons.
Mr. Smith ran up, huffing and puffing. "You're not on break, Jeff! What the hell is this?"
"I asked Martha to marry me."
"What?" He looked her over. "You're not holding a blade named Martha are you?"
She looked at him wide eyed and shook her head.
"You want to legally marry a human woman?"
After clearing up the initial confusion and both Mr. Smith and Martha's supervisor speaking up on my behalf, she said yes! I rushed over to the wedding registry to add the Carvington Elite Collection Atomic Edition to our list. Martha herself insisted on adding twenty items of her choice.
"Congratulations, Jeff," Mr. Smith said later. "You've reached your quota."
"And I get the knives!"
"Not a chance in hell."
|# ? Oct 21, 2016 23:30|
In as a customer.
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 03:58|
Someday, this poo poo may be included in a volume of bad stories.
Chili fucked around with this message at 07:18 on Jan 1, 2017
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 05:58|
In, seeking employment.
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 06:38|
In as a customer.
Your character is looking for a second set of eyes. Whether they're in need of surveillance, reconnaissance, or simply a new pair of ocular orbs, Voidmart is happy to help them fulfil their vision.
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 06:40|
In, seeking employment.
Your character works in Jewelry, trinkets, baubles, and artifacts! Whether shoppers are looking for an engagement ring or a long-lost family heirloom, Voidmart's carefully curated collection of decorative and/or functional accessories has something for every occasion.
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 06:46|
This limited, one-time-only signup offer is now closed
Remember: Your stories are important to us.
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 07:07|
|# ? Oct 22, 2016 11:09|
A Completely Standard Furnace Repair Job
Before me stood the border that protects the well-lit, consumerist Eden of Voidmart's main floor from the filthy underbelly known only to the most elite and select of associates. That border took the form of an unassuming plywood door. A small black plaque was bolted onto it, and In golden caps it read “MAINTENANCE.”
I checked my flanks and, after finding the halls appropriately empty, gave myself a mental all-clear. My body tensed. I pushed against the door and it groaned in protest before coming ajar. As soon as it did I covered my nose. From the bowls of Voidmart rose a stank that was like the long forgotten fart of some blasphemous deity.
I pushed again. The door burst open.
Rays of light pierced into the dust-filled atmosphere that awaited me. I stepped onto the black granite that comprised the first step in the stairwell and began my journey towards the furnace. The door to the surface slammed shut, and the accompanied banging noise rang throughout the stairwell for a second or two before fading into oblivion. For a few moments I walked in a silence so complete I could faintly hear the blood running through my veins. However, they noticed me soon enough.
They were about the size of shooter marbles, and they were fast. Wings buzzed in agitated excitement as they darted past my head. A few would deliberately land on me and crawl upon any exposed flesh with tickling legs. I either ignored them or brushed them off.
The Voidbugs slowly grew more numerous before suddenly dispersing. After more than a minute of descent I'd reached the furnace room. Standing before me and my destination was one last door.
Most people wouldn't have opened that door if they knew what waited ahead.
Most people aren't promoted to the maintenance department.
The door silently slid open when I touched it, almost as if it were more of a formality than a proper barrier. The room beyond was drenched in an orange-red glow. Bands of gnarled metal that'd been twisted into non-Euclidean fractals snaked out from openings in the ceiling and converged into a glowing sphere at the center of the room.
It made a nice place to eat lunch.
The sphere served as Voidmart's furnace. Refuse and expired stock from every department of the store was to be melted down and piped into it. There'd been reports that some of the fractal pipes that fed the beast were leaking, and that's why I was down there.
A complex and sprawling catwalk hung high overhead. Bars of metal jutted out from every wall to serve as the catwalk's access ladders. I checked my utility belt to make sure it was strapped on tight.
The alternating sounds of laughter and crying erupted from some unseen corner of the room. I furrowed my brow and pulled my Voidmart exclusive 'David' Bowie knife (signed by the ghost of David Bowie himself!)
A dozen lanky, vaguely humanoid abominations shambled towards me. Their heads were like a drunken god's idea of a skull, and their ape-like jaws hung agape. Their eyes were bulging black disks, and their 'skin,' what little they had, was more akin to heavy burlap than anything you'd see on an earthly animal.
I back peddled towards the nearest wall. They were extremely slow, but their heavy and well-defined musculature told me they wouldn't be weak. I bumped into one of the many pieces of steel jutting from the wall. My brain hadn't even fully registered what was happening when I found myself racing towards the catwalk.
It's quite remarkable how quickly I climbed all the way up. The moment I reached semi-solid ground I flopped down onto it. My lungs screamed in burning agony while the rest of my body lay numb. After a minute or ten of wishing for death, I pulled myself into something resembling a standing position. There I was, trembling and terrified of these furnace-dwellers. The pride I'd gained from becoming a part of Voidmart's Elite Maintenance Team wilted.
A true maintenance man didn't fear anything.
I looked over the railing to see a small gathering of furnace-dwellers. I realized that, despite having visited the furnace several dozen times, I'd never once seen those things. What the hell were they?
The beasts turned their attention away from ladders I'd just climbed. They made their way towards the furnace itself. I counted thirteen of them, with each pretty similar in size. They encircled the furnace and began swaying around it. Their bodies jerked and grooved to some unheard music and I almost giggled. They were furnace worshipers.
I'd heard passing whispers concerning the furnace worshipers. They'd escaped from some other department, either pets or meats, and they'd formed a religion centering around the furnace. My nerves were still on edge, but I could function rationally now. The beings danced around their furnace while I looked for damage to the pipes.
I noticed one of the pipes had sustained pretty severe damage. It looked like someone or something had tried to break a piece of the fractal off. A black syrup that smelled like manure leaked from the opening. I grabbed a hand-held wielder from my belt and began sealing the damage. The metal softened and morphed into a swirling fractal cone.
Something shook the catwalk, hard. I turned around and saw that two furnace worshipers had scaled the wall and were now walking about the catwalk. I wasn't scared this time.
I was pissed.
I pulled my 'David' Bowie knife and made a death-run for the closest of the gruesome twosome. I sunk my Voidmart Satisfaction Guaranteed-steel into the creature's shoulder. It made a noise halfway between a cackle and a roar. I twisted the knife and ripped it back out. The creature gave me a stunned look. I dug the blade into it again, this time aiming for its forehead. There was a wet smack, and the furnace worshiper went limp.
The other furnace worshiper leaped from the catwalk. I struggled to catch my breath. I put my knife back in my belt and inspected the other pipes. There wasn't anymore damage. The other furnace worshipers had fled by the time I got back down. I smiled.
Don't gently caress with the Maintenance Department.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 00:42|
There are a lot of positives to working in the Costume Department. For one, you don't have to wear the normal employee uniform of t-shirt and shackles; you can sport one of the costumes on display. You have to pay for it yourself, but I've been working here so long that I own one of every costume that's ever hit the discount bin.
Tonight, as I trudge towards Aisle A-44- Hollywood Movie Monsters- I am dressed as a Sexy Spider Plant. Tiny plastic spider plants dangle from green-and-white-striped pasties, and more plants act as a combination belt and ra-ra skirt over a green thong. We only sold two of these last year and all employees were obligated to purchase the remainders, but I think it works for me. More interesting than an old t-shirt, anyways.
You cannot do a Sorting Shift with shoppers on the floor. By the time you reach the end of one of these cavernous aisles, at least a hundred people have blown by you and messed up all your neat arrangements. Sometimes they drag in things from other departments by accident- ghosts clinging mistily to shoppers' ankles and whispering "shhhh" at me, or poltergeists that zoop into the plastic vampire teeth and eventually cause some really weird injuries. Speaking of vampires, they tell me it's much more peaceful to sleep in this department- standing up, sandwiched between rubbery versions of their own faces and crappy copies of their luxurious capes. It doesn't sound too comfortable to me, but if someone's banging on your coffin and screaming "WAKE UP!" every few minutes, I could see how the relative quiet of the Costume Department might appeal. Vampires wake up with a good jab from a broom, but they get awfully huffy, and occasionally take a nibble at you. So rude.
That said, at least they're predictable. Last year, a bunch of vegetables somehow got mixed up with their mask counterparts in Aisle D-12 and rotted. We thought there had been another accidental zombie delivery, but it was kind of worse, because the forensic investigators we called got into a huge argument about whether you can call Belgian endive "just endive" and...well, the inspectors eventually came. I'll leave it at that.
I hate walking through Aisle A-44 alone. The masks and costumes range from cheap garbage to professional-quality, and while the expensive ones are spooky, the cheap ones are actually creepier. They almost look like they're screaming silently in pain- "I was built to be the perfect man! Why would I have bolts in my neck? Why would my face be made poorly-molded rubber that's covered in flammable paint? Help meeeeee."
Still, I have work to do, and I won't get done any faster if I procrastinate. I pick up my Official Sorting Stick and begin whacking a display of hanging Sexy Zombie Elsa costumes. I know nothing will pop out of there- the real Sexy Zombie Elsa works at the Hot Topic franchise three floors away and spends most of her time picking at scabs and pretending to still find Jack Sparrow culturally relevant- but if the cameras catch me skipping any costumes, I'll have to attend a retraining session, and those always leave unsightly red marks.
The hours limp by. I find an adorable real fairy in Aisle A-78 and send her back to her own department. I perform two quickie exorcisms on some plastic pumpkin masks and slap a "RECALL FOR DAMAGE" sticker on some cheesy "witch hand" gloves that had somehow been sculpted to be permanently flipping the bird. Other than that, it was weirdly quiet- except that I kept hearing footsteps. At first, I didn't think anything of it. Other employees occasionally walk by on their way to other departments, and sometimes Security sends a bot or a warlock down if there have been a lot of critters found during a Sorting, but I suddenly realized that I'd been hearing these whispery little footsteps for almost an hour. That was not normal at all.
I kept my training in mind, and pretended not to notice. I kept checking the costumes and rearranging messy shelves. Eventually, I started to notice a pattern- there was more than one set of footsteps. They'd pause just after I stopped walking, then pick up again exactly three seconds after I moved again. This remained consistent, no matter how quickly or slowly I moved.
I waited until I reached the Sexy Gardening Supply costumes. Their real counterparts were located so far away that they hadn't infiltrated our department in over a decade, and I felt reasonably certain there wouldn't be anything hiding there tonight. I pretended to be closely examining a rack of Slutty Sunflower costumes and then, after I thought I'd heard a single stray footstep, I whirled around and shrieked, "HA!"
Before me stood ten or twelve fellow employees. All of them looked weirdly alike, with long single braids on the women and the men in high-collared shirts under their VOIDMART IS A BUSINESS! ASK US TODAY! uniform tees. In fact, they were dressed and coiffed exactly like the Voidmart employees in the official framed photo of the original department team. They looked at me with mild eyes, seemingly peaceful, and said nothing.
"What the hell are you people doing?" I readied the Sorting Stick, trying to look menacing.
A man in front with a blond bowl cut stepped forward nervously, placing his hand on his heart. "We found her," he murmured, and the others behind him erupted into excited gasps and even a couple of small, restrained squeals. Everyone's eyes seemed to glitter with unshed tears of joy.
Bowl Cut cleared his throat. "Please, this is going to sound strange, but...I am Steve, and we are the employees of Aisle L-8."
Aisle L-8? "I've never been in there," I said. Wait, had anyone?
"Most employees haven't." He smiled, relaxing a bit. "Ever since Opening Day, we have remained in L-8, watching. Waiting. Fending off the demoniac creatures that haunt this place."
"We were afraid to leave," one woman added. "We took the full-size Barney costumes and used them to block off the aisle, and we've been hiding ever since."
"Oh, god, those Barney costumes freak me out," I told her. "That's why I always just rush past that aisle."
"That's the idea," Bowl Cut agreed. "We've only had a few invasions in the past ten years."
"But how can you live in there? What do you eat? Where do you, um...go?"
"People drop food all the time," Bowl Cut assured me, "and Golden Bean delivers when we call." He indicated his walkie-talkie. "As for the other thing...well, we use a Barney head."
Well, that answered one of the long-standing departmental mysteries: why we occasionally find poo poo-filled Barney heads.
"Why are you telling me this?" I asked.
"We see your Voidmart Spirit," Bowl Cut said, gesturing to my costume. "You are one of the true employees. Also, you're quite skilled with your weapon."
"My Sorting Stick?"
Bowl Cut nodded. "We need someone with your strength, your ferocity, and your knowledge of the outside world. Our former leader left us for Automotive Repair and Time Travel, and none of us are as good at fighting off interlopers. If you agree to join our team and protect us, we'll accept you as our leader, and help you defend Aisle L-8. You can call the Golden Bean for food and sleep on a fine pile of Barney suits, and you'll be excused from corporate training and all of the team-building exercises. It will be a good life, a hard life, but I think you will be happy with us."
It was a strange offer, but an appealing one- no more trust falls? I drew myself up proudly and straightened my spider plant cap. "Show me to the Barney suits. I'm ready to transfer."
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 08:16|
Yeah, the Girls 1298 words
I don’t think they spoke to others the way they spoke to me. Well, not spoke, exactly.
I looked at the rows of cut-outs. Lara. Well, all right, that made some sense. She’d had some new games. Strange that it was the movie Lara that had to come out, though.
Next, Xena. Good. I liked Xena.
Third… Rey? Maybe Kylo. Made sense, Star Wars was always popular.
No. Not Kylo, definitely Rey, I decided. It would be a girls’ day.
Just the three, then? Not the most packed of days, but all right. Would have to space them well. I wanted to make sure that I could see them all and that they were all sort of facing each other, but also the entrance.
There was an art to it.
Rey would be closest to the entrance. She was flavour of the month, after all. I fitted the stand to the base of her cut-out, and positioned her just behind the door and to the right. She could be seen from outside, but also from my desk.
I placed Xena off to the left side of the room. Lara was to the right, and next to my desk. Her two pistols were pointed at the doorway, ready to shoot any dinosaurs or multinational criminals who tried to enter.
Also, it looked cool.
Having placed the ladies in their spots, I got back to the business of constructing Voidmart’s largest tower of sundry mannequin parts. Fortunately the store above ours hadn’t been reinhabited since the explosion, so I’d been able to knock a hole in our roof and extend the stack upwards. Bob, my boss, hadn’t been OK with my plan to knock a hole in our floor down to storage. He was such a baby; there hadn’t been screams from down there for at least a month.
It was a good thing I’d had the mirrors installed in the room above, so I could see when someone was about to enter while I was working on the tower. I’d become adept at quickly jumping down from above without breaking my legs, but the learning process had been a painful one.
I landed behind my counter just as they were about to enter. Perfect.
“Good morning,” I said, “Welcome to Bob’s Bargain Cut-Outs and High Explosives. I’m Margaret. How may I help you?”
It was a couple. “Hi,” he said, “we’re hosting a children’s party.” He glanced over at Rey. “That’s a Star Wars person, right? Do the kids like Star Wars, these days?”
“Sorry,” I said, “I can’t say with absolute certainty what the viewing habits of these specific children will be.”
“But some kids like it, right?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Some do.”
“Great,” he said. “Can we take one of this laser sword girl, and… maybe one other character? Isn’t there some guy in black with the cross shaped sword?”
I glanced over at Rey. I could feel her shaking her cardboard head at me.
“Well, there’s him, but there’s also Finn,” I said. Rey seemed much happier about that idea.
“Finn,” she said, “that’s the black one, right?”
“No,” he said, “you’re thinking of Lando.”
“Um,” I said. “Finn’s also black, yes. Here, let me show you what he looks like.” I grabbed a fresh Rey cut out, as well as a Finn.
“Oh,” he said. “So is he related to Lando or something?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think this vision of the future might have multiple unrelated black people in it, though.”
“Hmmmm,” he said.
“They’re both fantastic,” she said. “We’ll take them.”
I packaged them both up and rang it up, and they paid, took their cut-outs and left.
Just two left, I thought.
I went back to the tower. I pretty much already had the ‘tallest’ part sewn up, so now I was taking care of things like structural integrity, and ensuring the modesty of the mannequin parts being used in the stack by placing bits of clothing over them. I heard the next customer’s heavy footfalls before I saw him in the mirrors.
“Good morning,” I said. “My name…”
“Yes, her!” he said, pointing at Lara.
Lara’s aim had imperceptibly shifted towards him.
“Excellent, it’s the pre-double mastectomy version of her,” he said. “What a waste, know what I mean?”
“No sorry, too subtle for me.” Lara’s eyes seemed to have narrowed.
“I mean, she obviously just did it for the attention, right? But don’t worry, I’ll show her plenty of attention.”
Lara’s aim seemed to have shifted again, with both cardboard pistols trained on the crotch of his pants.
“Hmm,” I said, “you know what, I think we’re all out of that model.”
“But there’s one right there,” he said.
“Display model,” I said. “Sorry, we can’t part with that one. But perhaps I can interest you in one of our Indy models, he’s an archaeologist too.”
“Pffft,” he said. “What kind of guy do you think I am?”
I decided it was safest not to answer that question, and he stomped off, Laraless. Lara’s aim relaxed, and she seemed to smile at me.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
I went back upstairs and dusted the upper limbs of the tower.
I don’t know how she could’ve gotten in without me noticing, but I heard her from inside the store. “Hello?”
I quickly descended, almost turning my ankle. “Hello,” I said. “My name…” and my mouth stopped working.
“Margaret,” she said, reading off my nametag. “Pleased to meet you, my name…”
“I know who you are,” I said. “You’re amazing. Sorry, I’m sounding like a crazy person. I’m a big fan.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Lucy Lawless. “This may sound a bit weird, but I’m doing a convention here today, and I just realised I don’t have any props. I see you’ve got one of me here.”
I nodded. “We also have Gabriella.”
Lucy nodded. “Yeah, that’d work.”
I took out a fresh Xena and a Gabriella. “Hmmm, they’re a bit unwieldy,” she said. “I might have to get one of the guys to help me carry them to the hall.”
“I can do that for you,” I said. “I’m not expecting any more customers today, now that you’ve been here.”
“Great, thanks!” she said.
We got the cut outs to her booth, and I set them up for her. They were facing each other, but also getting ready to do battle with whatever creatures might appear. Like for example the creature who’d failed to purchase a Lara figure from me earlier that morning, who I now found myself face to face with in front of the Xena booth.
“Oh, you again,” he said. “Fat lot of help you were.”
“Sorry,” said Lucy, “this booth’s not open for half an hour.”
“That’s all right, I’ll wait.” He turned to me. “Scurry off now.”
Lucy frowned. “Actually, this booth’s not open to you at all. Bugger off.”
He shook his head in disgust, then walked off, knocking me over as he passed.
“Nope,” said Lucy, “not having that.” She picked him up his lapels and tossed him out of the hall. She picked me up off the ground and gave me a hug. “Are you all right?”
Oh wow. Lucy Lawless was hugging me. It was the greatest day of my life ever. Eventually it dawned on me that I’d been asked a question. “I’m fine, thanks,” I said.
“Oh, I haven’t paid yet,” she said.
I shook my head. “No charge. Having our cut-outs at your booth is good for business.”
And then I went back to the shop and lay down on the floor until closing time, because having anything else happen to me after that seemed pointless.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 14:08|
Chariots of the Wage Slave - 1282 words
Of all the possible positions at Voidmart, Shipping and Receiving had been nearer to the bottom on Geoff Thurman’s list. Not even the returns desk would have been above him. At least then he’d be able to talk to someone. But this department…well, he had a tablet computer, and all it did was chirp out work orders.
If Voidmart seemed dauntingly huge on the consumer end, the storage side was somehow even more so, sprawling out in a complex that, at first glance, could be mistaken for a metropolitan skyline. The ceiling was lit by thousands of fluorescent tubes, many of which were flickering close to death, if they hadn’t burnt out already. Someone would be out to replace them soon, management had said to complaining staff, but in the meantime, there they stood, like a sparkling constellation of cheapness.
As one might expect, no simple forklifts would satisfy the demands of this storeroom, not when the shelves were hundreds of feet in the air. Instead, the skies were abuzz with the rotors of hovercrafts, weaving through the dimly-lit steel corridors at the whims of their tablets.
“Dock GLC!” it chimed one day, in a mechanical approximation of cheeriness that grinds on the nerves after the fiftieth time hearing it. As per usual, a map of the complex lit up on his screen, showing the location of the shipment in question, but something was different this time.
“Floor 3?” he muttered to himself, rubbing his two-day fuzz. He’d never really questioned where the shipments came from. They just sort of appeared on one of many docks scattered throughout. But he’d heard that the lower floors were strictly off-limits after some sort of incident. Nobody really wanted to talk about it, but the short version his supervisor had told him was that somebody dropped a crate they shouldn’t have and the ground floor was full of zombies.
It was probably a joke though. Jerry was well-known for his tall tales.
He hoped it was a joke.
“Well, no point standing around,” he said, once again to nobody in particular, and began his descent. Whatever reservations he had about the walking dead paled in comparison to the threat of losing his job.
The hovercrafts weren’t really designed for speed so much as heavy loading, so Geoff had plenty of time to see his doom come into view. Suddenly everything made sense, inasmuch as a crate two stories high could make sense, that is. No way that something that big would fit in one of the docks above.
A portly man in shorts was standing by the crate, holding a clipboard and smirking like a man who’d just brought in something guaranteed to ruin some poor employee’s day.
“Hey!” Geoff protested as he brought his vehicle in to land, “You do realize this thing’s only rated for ten tons, right?”
“Relax,” the man replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s mostly hollow.” He banged the side of the wooden box to emphasize the point, and the instant he did so, a loud bellow sounded from within. “Oops!” he exclaimed disingenuously. “Must have made it upset.”
“What’s ‘it?’” Geoff asked, taking the clipboard. The shipping manifest only had one item on it, written in a manner far too formal for the subject matter. Geoff gave an incredulous smirk, and blankly said, “A T-Rex. Really.”
“Feel free to take a look. Poked some air holes in the side.” With a confident swagger, Geoff walked around and noticed a few holes about the size of a hand’s breadth. He was going to put the truth to the lie right here, right now.
A few seconds later, white as a sheet, he checked off the box on the manifest, signed the line at the bottom with a shaky hand, and handed one copy back to the pudgy delivery man. “Good luck, buddy!” the supplier chuckled, and walked to the end of the dock, disappearing in a flash of light and leaving Mr. Thurman with a crate that was shaking back and forth with the complaints of the creature within.
For his part, Geoff took the matter with a surprising degree of professionalism, digging through the employee manual for instructions. As one would expect with a department this huge, the manual in question would be stiff competition with War and Peace. You could quite literally kill someone with a book this size.
“Let’s see…exotic animals, exotic animals…Okay, Floor 28. Immediate delivery.” Depositing the weighty tome back in its compartment right above the pilot’s seat, he fired up the loading clamps. As long as he just stayed in the hovercraft and never, ever left, the big bad dinosaur couldn’t get him.
The crate was an unwieldy fit, to say the least. Normally he’d have had to slowly close the clamps on the article as he hovered overhead, but judging by the whine of the motor, he was pushing his luck at the maximum breadth. Guess he’d just have to take it slow.
The liftoff was sluggish, but still steady. So far so good. Just had to get around a few shelves…
Suddenly, the container shook again as the creature took another monster-sized tantrum. The hovercraft drifted to the side. A metal column came into view, and it took a hard jerk to the right on the flight stick to avoid crumbling the flying machine around it.
Almost there. He was on Floor 17 now…Just had to keep rising…
A burning rubber smell started to fill his nostrils. Something was straining on this machine. It didn’t matter. He just had to make it, and then he could go back to the employee area and get a new one. He’d probably get a dock in pay, but if one of the rotors suddenly blew out and he started plummeting to his doom, that would be far worse.
Especially if that had just happened.
As in, right just now.
Geoff might have been screaming at that point. He couldn’t rightly recall, as his mind was instead flashing through all the different ways he could save his skin. His mind flashed back to what he’d been told about the hovercrafts during orientation, that even if a rotor failed, the other one would be sufficient to keep it aloft. So why was he falling?
Oh, right, because he was dragging a giant crate underneath.
Desperately, he scanned his finger across the myriad buttons on the dash. The clamps were designed to stay locked while the hovercraft was in motion, but there had to be a…
There! The emergency release!
The sudden deceleration back upwards slammed Geoff into his seat as the crate went crashing down into the abyss. Guess the zombies would be eating well tonight, he thought to himself, relieved at his quick thinking.
But no sooner did Geoff realize that he was no longer falling than a new problem suddenly surfaced. He’d been flying straight upwards since dodging the shelving unit, so he was right alongside it, and with one of the rotors out, his craft was listing to one side…
Before he even understood what was happening, he’d knocked the broken rotor off entirely and was now grinding the shattered remains against boxes and boxes of assorted toys and trinkets before finally coming to one last sickening halt against a large crate of washing machines.
A minute or two later, Geoff flopped out of the open window of his wrecked vehicle. Something was broken, that much was certain, and he’d have to crawl all the way back to the lift leading off of this shelf, but he was alive. Almost definitely fired, but alive. Maybe he could apply for disability pay.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 15:54|
some crits for 219
Write a smaller story. You had a bunch of crazy ideas that were all interesting independently but when you crammed them all together it became bloated and inaccessible. Don’t be afraid to trim something if it’s well-written but doesn’t fit (pick and choose what I mean with this story, frankly). You can always recycle the idea for another story later. Write simply. Write cleanly.
You did your research this week, didn’t you? This very by the numbers gothic fiction. I would have read a much longer piece where you had the ability/time/words to delve deeper.
Did the video game poo poo at the beginning have anything to do with the rest of the story? No. Why is it there? Why didn’t you cut it? Find the place where the story actually starts and then START THE STORY THERE. Basic editing stuff, man.
I don’t know what made this particularly “Kansas.”
The “What else would we talk about” is a good bit but it’s not enough to be a spine for your story.
Just because you wrote something down doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping. Take for instance: “Quietly, he picked one copy up, and began to read.” What about this action was particularly quiet? Is grabbing a pamphlet usually a noisy experience? This is flash fiction. The name of the game is sleek, efficient writing. Cut the fat. The more you do this Thunderdome thing the better you’ll get avoiding bloated writing. But for now go ahead and accept that you haven’t figured it out yet and give yourself time before you submit to hack at your story with a cleaver. And that’s okay! That’s why we do this: to get better.
“A grumble passed his lips. While the idea of chucking the pamphlet away crossed his mind, he slid it into his back pocket.
“Could be useful to burn some charcoal with”, he mumbled as he left the building.” What does this add? Does it move the story along? Does it introduce conflict? Does it advance the plot? Does it give character? Ask yourself these questions as you edit. Edit a lot. Trim trim trim.
I haven’t read anything you’ve written in a while. You’ve gotten better. A lot better. It’s time to take the next step. I want to know your conflict within the first 150 words. Write your first draft and then cut or rearrange to make this happen. This conflict needs to be resolved by the last 150. Cut to make this happen. Craftwise, your writing is fine. Work on the art of the short story. Focus on making a simple story but making it really good.
Hey, you’re moving up. Next step is no mention. Then honorable mention. Then win.
You have some poetry to your prose. That’s nice. And I for one enjoyed the story within the story narrative. You need to edit more, though. Like, a lot more. Or hop into IRC and ask someone to look over your story before you submit if you don’t know how to edit. There are weird tense shifts and comma splices and all sorts of unnecessary poo poo. Keep writing. Proverbs 14:23
I think it’s difficult to write a story where the main character is having to experience everything for the first time. Especially in flash fiction. It feels like a lot of time and a hefty chunk of your word count is spent explaining the setting rather than advancing a plot or solving a conflict. Not saying it can’t be done. Just saying it’s tough. I wouldn’t mind you revisiting the ideas from the story but approaching them from a different angle.
Solid opener. I’m a sucker for good openers.
I think you ended where you should have started. Right when I started to get really interested the story ended. Sad!
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 16:14|
Ethical Cannibalism - 620 words
“Does Voidmart carry free-range human flesh?” Mark asked.
As the butcher replied, he gestured to a Dutch door to Mark’s left with a sweeping motion of his arm and then pushed the top half open. When Mark looked through the door he pretended to be surprised to see a park, the sun shining in the sky, and a cottage in the distance. This wasn’t the first time Mark had seen the human ranch, but it was the first time this particular butcher had shown it to him. He liked to give each new Voidmart butcher the thrill of sharing a secret, even one as famous as Voidmart’s glass-roofed human ranch. Mark considered this a last gift to his victims.
“So what are you looking for today, sir?” the butcher asked.
Mark smiled at the butcher while secretly caressing the gun that was in his jacket pocket, and replied, “Juvenile Fingers.”
“Excellent choice, sir. Fried juvenile fingers are a personal favorite of mine.”
The butcher pressed a button on the phone behind the display counter, and through the door Mark saw an armed guard escorting a lanky teenager out of the cottage. The boy was shirtless, with multiple scars on his abdomen and bandages over both of his arms, probably where chunks had been removed to make sausage. A large portion of his left shoulder was missing. Around his neck was a strange collar that Mark knew marked the boy as Voidmart property. When the teenager passed through, Mark gave the boy a meaningful look and a nod. The boy looked confused for a second and then nodded back.
When the guard shackled the boy’s hands to the countertop, Mark was surprised to see that the boy still had all his fingers. To Mark this was a confirmation that he was missing organs. Nobody could grow up in the human ranch without losing something valuable.
When the butcher went to retrieve his cleaver, Mark pulled the gun out of his jacket. The boy gasped. The butcher looked at the boy, confused. That was when Mark shot him. The gunshot could not be mistaken for any other sound, but the Human Meats department was empty. Human Meats was almost always empty, and due to a miscalculation by Voidmart Corporate Offices, it was much larger than it needed to be.
Instead of pulling out his gun, the armed guard unshackled the boy and removed his collar. He was being well-compensated for his role in the breakout and would tell nobody what had happened. Due to the legal ambiguity of Voidmart’s Human Meats department, there were no cameras to record worker activities. For Inventory purposes, the guard would say that one of the residents of the ranch had attempted to escape Human Meats and had to be put down. After he used the butcher’s id badge to clock out, Voidmart would wait three days for him to come back to work before considering his post ‘abandoned’ and would temporarily close Human Meats until the position was filled.
After giving the boy a new shirt, they left Voidmart and returned to Mark’s apartment without incident. Human Meats was a department that Loss Prevention didn’t seem to care about. Would one juvenile even be considered felony shoplifting? Mark decided that it would depend on how much of it was left.
The boy had been quiet, probably because Mark had been quiet. A boy like that would know not to speak unless spoken to, but Mark didn’t have anything to say to him. After all, he was planning to kill the boy that night. Mark made it his mission to kill Voidmart’s human butchers, but that didn’t mean the meat had to go to waste.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 18:46|
Your character is a deeply pious person, but after a life of flawless adherence to their faith, they long to look into the face of their god/gods. They surmise that Voidmart could only offer such a wide range of products if their supply line went directly to the source of all creation. They're going to have to infiltrate the highest echelons of VoidCorp to find god.
Mirakills, or: How I Met the Maker (1999 words due to )
"Ask my secretary," was Alan Boss' response when I asked him for an appointment, and he cocked the hammer on his HK47 'Working Girl' (walnut stock, chromium steel body, $929.99 MSRP) and pointed the barrel at my head. "Speak up. She answers quick."
"On second thought, it might put a hole in my schedule."
"You're too young to meet the Maker, anyhow." He holstered his piece and went through the executive entrance, the one where they still go through a metal detector but Security ignores the results.
As I waited to check in for morning shift with the rest of the schlebs, I shoved my hands deep into my pockets, and fingered my prayer livers. I'd been asking Boss that question for years and he pulled his piece every time.
Not that I can blame him. When I got into management, the vice-stockmaster of pasta warned me that there were only so many titles to go around. Thanks to Voidmart's excellent benefits, there wasn't much voluntary churn. I'd have to wait for a vacancy. When I asked how often those opened up, she gave me a bemused smile. Then one of my direct reports tried to drill out my guts with fusilli and it all made sense.
Fortunately, the fiery hand of Prometheus had been provident. With His guidance, and the help of my friend Bud, I'd burnt away the obstacles between myself and the office of Alan Boss, Director of Procurement. Soon his chair would be mine. I thumbed each of the three-hundred sixty-five well-polished livers and gave thanks.
"Morning, flamen. Still bothering that vulture you call a god?" Bud offered me a cup of coffee.
"My Lord, at least, doesn't command me to sweep poo poo."
"I converted over the weekend. No more janitorials." Bud flashed his badge. It was freshly-laminated and proclaimed him assistant sub-inspector of prescriptions.
"You made Pharmacy!" I slapped him on the back, and I didn't use a knife to do it.
"Yeah, and I've got a hot tip. New product and possible promotion. How's your schedule?"
It was packed, meetings stacked up taller than a VoidMart holiday-themed product pyramid ("no slaves were harmed in the making of this structure"), but for Bud I would make time. Bud was my Epimetheus. My Lord teaches us to stick by our brothers, and coffee isn't half as stimulating as holy homicide. "Warehouse, as usual?"
Bud shook his head. "Busy today. We'll use the Dead Zone."
Most managerial murders were backoffice affairs; corporate policy prohibits manslaughter in front of clientele. The Dead Zone, however, was so deserted that even Loss Prevention ignored it. We crossed the show floor, cutting through cloyingly-scented aisles of Sweet Sprinkles® urinal cakes.
Once we were past security I whispered, "Armed?"
Bud flicked aside his coatfront. At his hip was his favorite weapon: a sinus disruptor. They'd been put on security's red list after two managers sneezed their brains out. I asked him how he'd smuggled it in and he winked. "3D printing can do some pretty cool stuff."
"Blasphemy." I crossed my liver. The only proper products were given to us by the Lord Prometheus himself, not vomited up by some soulless machine, for He alone could bring such modern marvels to us mortals. We'd had this argument before.
We passed blood-red Stop signs, biohazard crosses, yellow unsmiling faces denoting moral hazard, and then we were in the Zone, a clearing amidst the thicket of shelves, carpeted with open-topped chillers. Amidst the frost-fogged freezers stood a single man, shivering.
The reason for the Dead Zone's abandonment is also the reason it's ideal for murder. This is where VoidMart stocks the one thing no modern quinoa-crunching, smoothie-swilling consumer will touch: red meat. The coolers were packed with porterhouse, pterodactyl and the choicest cuts of long pig.
We fell into our usual routine. I ducked into a parallel aisle, flanking the mark while Bud strode openly towards him, hands spread wide to show the man that weapons weren't necessary.
The man's teeth chattered. "The hell did you call me out to this dump, Bud?"
Bud grinned. "Heard your boys got an interesting shipment today."
"I know your game, Bud. Last two guys you worked for went MIA here." The man pulled a gun. His hands trembled and sweat dripped down his cheek despite the cold. I hurried silently into position behind him.
"Whoa there, partner." Bud leaned into the last word. My signal.
The divine fire of Prometheus ignited in my veins, burning for a fight. I leapt out and grabbed his neck, and he dropped the gun. Bud sidled up, drew his sinus disruptor. "Ever seen one of these in action? It ain't pretty." There was a dial on the side that controlled the disruptor's strength. He clicked it up to 'fatal mucosal maelstrom'. One zap and our captive would be snot to death.
The man elbowed me in the ribs, stomped on my feet, but he was heretic and weak and I was righteous and strong and I held him tight as Bud pushed his gun between the man's eyes and pulled the trigger.
It broke off in his hand. Bud roared and smashed the gun against the man's head, but the weapon crumbled to powder and I laughed. My Epimetheus had forgotten to test his toy.
The man kicked Bud where it hurts and Bud fell back, holding his bruised balls and singing like a ballerina. Our target snatched a vial of pills from inside his coat, raised it towards his mouth and Bud shouted a warning. I grabbed for his hand, but a dozen pills toppled onto the man's tongue and he crushed them between his teeth as I tore the strange medicine from his grasp.
The man shrieked, gibbered, the sun shone from his eyes, and I jumped away as his skin sizzled.
"Run!" Bud squealed.
I dove into a freezer, burrowed beneath lamb shanks. The man intoned the name Sol Invictus and then a flash, a roiling wave of heat. The meat above me suppurated and sizzled.
Bud and the target were ashen stains on the floor. Numb, I looked at the pills in my hand. The label said 'Mira-Kill, consume not more than one per day.' Boots stomped in the aisles, and I tucked the pills into my pocket as a platoon of riot-clad Security men rushed in. I raised my hands and they dragged me from the Dead Zone.
Maintenance tape was already strung up, closure signs positioned on the major aisles. Pardon our mess! Making Voidmart better for you! The officers hauled me up to a star-collared man. He glared at me. "Where's your uniform?"
"Management team, sir," I flashed my badge.
"And why would Procurement be interested in the Zone?" The security chief flipped my badge to his subordinates. "Pharmacy suspected there'd be a murder here today. You're detained until I say otherwise." His men patted me down. They found the pills. "What're these?"
"Medical condition," I lied.
"loving health plan covers too much poo poo these days." He handed them back.
Detention was a strange place. Security shoved me into at an office decorated with cartoons and puzzle-piece carpeting. A pleasant young attendant took down my name and employee number and ushered me into a room with a ball pit and toys. A television played reruns of the hit kids' show VoidVillage.
"Is this detention or day care?" I asked.
The attendant sighed. "Cost-cutting."
My summons soon arrived, a disciplinary hearing run by Mr. Boss himself, in his own office: the kiss of death for my career. Most employees dread a one-on-one with executives. The long iron steps to Executive Reception are in open, shameful view of shoppers and colleagues. There's a hundred sightlines for snipers.
But no smart Executive gives their ambitious underlings a clear shot at promotion.
Back when I was working helpdesk between Constitutions and Used Doorjambs, I spent every tedious day talking to customers about what the framers intended, but I also learned there's one obscure doorway that opens into a discreet little elevator. Security frogmarched me to it, slid their keycards through its locks and I ascended to heaven.
Mr. Boss' office was a vast space with a tinted window overlooking on the shop floor, standard-issue pot plants and a ButtCupper 3000 chair (black leather, mesh back, fifteen degrees of ergonomic adjustment; $799.99) behind his desk. Dexter Digits, Mr. Boss' right-hand man, stood at the window. He was open-carrying half of our Personal Security catalogue. To the side was a door spray-stenciled 'Central Procurement'.
The door opened and in came Alan Boss. He locked it behind him, pocketed the key and glared at me. "Let's make this simple. You're fired. Dex, escort our friend out."
I plunged my hands into my pockets to find my prayer livers, but grabbed the bottle of Mira-Kill instead. I made a show of shuddering and let my voice crack. "Is the paperwork all done?"
"It will be." Alan reached for his pen. I raised the pills to my mouth.
"What're you doing?" Dexter drew his weapon. "Freeze!"
"Just medicine," I said as I shook Mira-Kill onto my tongue. Nothing happened. I gulped down a second dose, a third and grimaced. Flopsweat trickled down my spine. Alan uncapped his pen. Nib hovered over paper, and then my future was signed away.
Pain stabbed my stomach, fire blazed in my veins and radiant agony swelled in my guts. Dexter dove towards me. My organs churned. I bent over.
A miraculous flock of flaming eagles erupted from my rear end in a gout of godly flame. They swooped across the office, sunk blazing claws into Dexter's eyes, cawed with incandescent fury. I dropped to my knees, shouting praise as they scorched my enemies, tore out their livers.
Then the eagles vanished like a candle flame blown out. Oily smoke rose from two corpses. Alarms rang in the hall. I scrambled to the smoldering carcass of Alan Boss, Chief of Procurement, and tore the key from his pocket.
I unlocked the door to Central Procurement and sprinted downwards to the holy of holies, whence VoidMart's bounty flows. I mumbled a prayer and dove prostrate across the threshold into the Holy Presence. "Mighty Prometheus! Your humble flamen begs a moment of your patience."
As I groveled, face pressed against floorboards, my Lord spoke to me, His divine voice oddly nasal. "Is this about the turnip twaddlers? Did Alan send you?"
Turnip twaddlers! I trembled in wonder at the things my Lord could conceive. "Alan is dead, Glorious Prometheus. I, your faithful servant, will be the conduit for your holy gifts!"
"Well, uh, here. Take a sample."
Shuddering with awe, I rose and stretched out my arms to receive my Lord's blessing.
I was in a small room littered with gadgets. Tools hung from a pegboard over a cluttered workbench. Plastic and wood shavings carpeted the floor. A lathe, circular saw and drill press sat silent in the corner. Dirty coffee cups stained a blizzard of scribble-scratched paper.
A shortish man leaned against the workbench, wearing a flannel shirt, thick-framed glasses and a nervous smile. His hair was in dreadlocks. He gave me a turnip twaddler. "What do you think? Good craftsmanship on this one, huh?"
The thing I received was a cheap piece of plastic. I wavered. "Prometheus?"
"Name's Fred actually. Dunno this Prometheus dude you keep talking about. He sounds cool, though."
"But… the products. Where is the Maker?"
"Well, I don't know about the maker, but I'm a maker. I make things, and VoidMart sells 'em." He scratched his nose. "They let me go to faires, even. And they got me a new toy!" He gestured. On his desk was a 3D printer.
I took out my bottle of Mira-Kill and, laughing, I swallowed the bitter pills.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 19:47|
It's Easier Without Customers
“Hey, Bern. You seen this?” Larry said, brandishing a white envelope emblazoned with the Voidmart logo. His eyes were wide and a few strands of hair had slid from his comb-over and plastered themselves across his forehead. Bern snatched the envelope from his hand. His eyes slid over the Voidmart letterhead and lighted on a few phrases: “low sales volume”; “measures to be taken”; “additional staff have been allocated”. The letter finished with a looping, illegible signature and “CEO, Voidmart” printed underneath.
“The CEO’s decided we’re not selling enough, so he’s sending a salesman to this section to help us out. I can’t see any problem with… oh.” Bern stopped halfway through as the full enormity of the situation hit him. He looked around at the shelves around him. They were stacked with kitchen appliances in boxes, each shelf filled to the brim and all the boxes placed perfectly on top of one another and not a speck of dust to be found on any of them. It had taken years of painstaking work from Larry and him to get it to this point.
“You see, don’t you? If we start getting customers in here, then they’ll start looking at things – moving things – Bern, they’ll start buying things off the shelf. We have to stop them, Bern,” whined Larry, entirely failing to keep a note of hysteria out of his voice.
“It’s OK, Larry. We’ll figure something out.”
Three days later, Bern stepped out of the elevator and nearly walked into a tall, blond man in a suit and aviator sunglasses. There was a name badge on his chest, polished to a high sheen and reflecting so much light that his name couldn’t be seen. The only thing Bern could make out was the Voidmart logo.
“Hey man. Is this Appliances Q?” said the stranger. His voice was far more enthusiastic than Bern thought anyone had any right to be before noon. Bern had only just opened his mouth to give some sort of affirmation when the stranger interrupted him. “I’m Sam. Nice to meet you, Bern,” he said, looking directly at Bern’s nametag. He thrust out a hand which Bern shook warily. One second later they disengaged and Bern began to regain feeling in his hand as Sam carried on.
“I got transferred here from Appliances F yesterday. It took me nearly the whole time to find this section. All the signs to this section seem to point to the wrong places, did you know that? I’ve spoken to Maintenance about it, so they should be getting things fixed pretty soon.”
Bern did know that all the signs to Appliances Q pointed to the wrong place. He and Larry had done that themselves, coming into the store at the crack of dawn with buckets of paint and fixing the signs. They’d even got an award for dedication to their jobs as someone from Management had chalked their presence in the store to a couple of dedicated employees taking on unpaid overtime.
“Talking of getting things fixed, I hear this section’s been having some problems with sales volume. Appliances F is the best in the store for sales, so Management’s sent me over to try and pick things up a bit around here. When’s the last time you sold something around here, anyway?” said Sam.
“Over a month ago,” said Bern noncommittally. That was technically true – the last time something had been sold was over two years ago.
“Well, we can do better than that. I reckon we can turn this place right around. What do you say, Bernie?” Sam punctuated this by clapping a hand to Bern’s shoulder so hard it made Bern wince. “You ready to do this or what?”
“I guess.” Bern looked around for an escape route and found one in the shape of Larry standing at the end of the aisle. “Anyway, I gotta go – there’s some, uh, stuff I gotta go talk to Larry about.”
“Can you believe that guy?” Larry was pacing around the break room with a cup of something loosely resembling coffee in his hand. “Just because his section’s sold the most appliances in the last year he thinks he’s got the right to tell us how to run our section. Have you seen the state of Appliances F? Stuff just flies off the shelves there, there’s nothing QA can do to keep it neat for long. I used to work there, you know.” He’d stopped pacing around and stood, slightly hunched, staring at something in the middle distance that only he could see.
“I don’t want this section to end up like that. I don’t want to go back.”
After Bern finished his lunch break, he wandered back onto the shop floor and immediately stopped cold. The product displays, once perfectly aligned stacks of white boxes, were now riddled with gaps which stuck out like missing teeth. Sam was five feet away, talking to a young woman. The world seemed to slow down to almost a stop as Bern watched, helplessly, as Sam finished his sales pitch and the young woman picked up another box and made her way to the elevator. It was then that Bern noticed the signs, all over the displays – his displays! – with “20% off” painted on in the looping, ornate script favoured by Voidmart that season. Before he could say anything, Sam had spotted him, and pounced.
“Bernie! My man! Do you like the new décor? Stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. We can get the ball rolling with a quick sale – you know, word of mouth spreads, people start thinking this section’s the place to be, volume goes up…”
Bern was only dimly aware of what Sam was saying. A plan had just formed in his head. If he could somehow set up a sale in Appliances F… he ducked back into the break room.
“Hey, Larry. You remember when we did the signs a while back?” he whispered.
“Have you still got the paint?”
It was eleven o’clock the following morning, and Bern was pleased to note that not a single customer had turned up in Appliances Q all morning. Sam was prowling up and down the aisles, until his phone rang.
“Hello? Ah… I see. Yeah, OK. I’ll be right back there. Yeah, sure thing, man.” Sam hung up his phone, looking pale.
“Looks like I’ll have to leave you guys after all. There’s been an incident in Appliances F, bunch of angry customers everywhere. They need every hand in there to calm things down.”
“What happened?” asked Bern, fighting to keep his face straight.
“Well, looks like someone put up a load of sale signs around there, and then QA left them up this morning. We’re talking pretty big discounts all over the section, like 90% - it’s chaos now, customers are finding out it’s all a sham but they still want us to honor it. I reckon the QA guys are looking at a nasty performance review, if they even keep their jobs.”
Two days later, Bern found Larry clutching an envelope and looking pale. Larry handed the envelope to Bern wordlessly. Bern ripped the letter from inside it and began to read out loud.
The VoidMart Management Team would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the exemplary performance you have delivered over the years. We have recently received some negative feedback concerning other areas of the store, and in the interests of optimising the capabilities of our work force we have decided to transfer the existing Quality Assurance staff from this section to Appliances F, effective immediately.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 20:06|
“Let’s see now, little lady, how about this fully-automated self-teaching friendBOT? It clings to your arm when you acknowledge it!” declared the Voidmart sales assistant in an exceptionally well rehearsed voice which sounded equal parts spunky and peachy.
Alexandra giggled at the writhing nest of metal held out for her to consider. Her smile was as sweet as she was, now that she allowed it to show. The nervous teenager was quickly greeted at the door by a floor member who was trained to alleviate feelings of agoraphobia (some sufferers were not even aware they had it until they entered the Voidmart).
The sales assistant pursed her lips in a pantomime exaggeration of thinking hard. “I can see you have a discerning taste. I like that! But I spent four years studying psychology of persuasion at Voidmart Tech,” she said with honest pride, tapping a finger on the small badge on her chest. If a customer were inclined to lean in and read the tiny text on the badge they would see the words “Buy more” embossed in pretty letters. The other, larger badge read “Harmony”.
Alexandra tilted her head in genuine deliberation. She had come to the leviathan mega-store carrying her modest savings and shyly admitted that she wanted to buy a friend. But then, as now, she had nothing specific in mind. Only the vague notion that she would know it to be the right item when she saw it. “I… I’m not sure what I want.” she said. The nervousness seeping back into her voice.
Harmony donned a sympathetic expression which might even have been sincere. “Not a problem, sweetheart. We’ll find you a perfect buddy in no time at all. It’s my job after all; I’m trained for it.” As she spoke she carefully stepped to the side, revealing the Non-threatening Furry Mammal department in the distance. The Clandestine Engagements module syllabus came flooding back to her mind. She subtly bent her right arm at the elbow and was making small stroking motions down her forearm with her left hand. Straining to maintain friendly eye contact with the teenage girl she began to imitate a soft purring sound.
For reasons Alexandra could not explain her subconscious was flooding images into her mind and all of a sudden she knew exactly what she wanted. “I want a Furry Mammal,” she said, feeling almost compelled to say the words. “A non-threatening one, specifically.”
“Excellent choice!” said Harmony, beaming with satisfaction. She turned and held out a hand in the direction of the pet section in the distance. “As a matter of fact our fuzzy little delights are waiting for you just over there.” She appeared to give a small surveillance dronelet a slight nod before leading Alexandra along the broad aisle, leaving the plethora of electronic creatures in their wake.
Alexandra looked about at some of the other customers. A middle aged couple were wearing matching red blazers, accompanying a restless child and a chillingly still infant. The man was studying a note or shopping list while the woman was freestyle rapping.
As they walked the beeper at Harmony’s hip gave a softly audible tone. She tilted the device on her belt and gave a stifled cough and redoubled her effort of smiling as charmingly as she could muster. The message read “Company mandated audits of departments 7b,7d, 9a and 10q. Brace for TRUTH and immediate rectification - Assistant to CEO “ Harmony caught her breath and continued leading the way along the aisle.
From the distance came the sounds of a commotion. A crash of metal and breaking glass followed by desperate screaming. Harmony backed up to the shelving at the side and braced herself, clenching her fists and setting her jaw. Whatever was causing the awful distress was approaching; fresh shouts and wailing getting closer. The huge lights suspended above were dimming and beginning to sway back and forth. A deep rumble shook the girls and resonated within their chests and the ground beneath them was rising and falling as if they stood on the belly of some unsettled behemoth.
Within moments a wave of something enveloped the area, visible only by the swiftly moving barrier of a lensing effect passing through the store. The woman and girl stood in the reality field and they immediately buckled to the floor. Harmony’s joyful expression was now a twisted gurning of pain and terror. Alexandra fared no better for she rolled to her hands and knees and was pulling her hair out screaming “I'm so lonely! I need a friend. I need a friend. Take my money and make it stop. I can't live. Sedate me!”
There were red strands of organic material hanging from the lights and shelving and the floor was spongy and moist like compact scarlet moss, or meat. Strange figures moved in the distance crossing from corridor to corridor and they appeared to look this way and that as if in inspection. The sales assistant was the picture of despair. Her perfect cheekbones now wet with tears. She lay quivering at the bottom of a shelf which held hardcover tomes of “Comprehending Infinity - For the Strong Mind” and “The Honest Intentions of ‘Them’.”
One of the figures rounded the corner close to the pair and approached. Alexandra gazed up at the thing and found that she could not focus on its form. It appeared to her as a black void, absent of colour and diffuse in shape, only vaguely rectangular and upright. The inspector paused as it passed and seemed to regard them. It gave a slight tilt and bobbed down and then up again before drifting onward toward the array of sonic bidets.
Alexandra was now whispering an erratic stream of consciousness as she scratched at the bloody floor. “My dearest friend. I let you go, forgive me, I am sorry. You are dead and I am alive in this hell. I deserve it all. Forgive me.” Then her face took on an expression of disgust and her salivating lips spat out “You got what you deserved, you woeful bitch! Rot in your filthy box. Lay in the dank prison I prepared for you. Did you enjoy your slow poison? Ha!”
Curled up and crying, Harmony stared at the girl with wide eyes and her fingers pried at her own teeth. Her jaw flapped open and closed against her fingertips, her body in war with itself. All around there sounded a series of loud popping followed by a crackling, electric hissing. Then the beeper at Harmony’s belt pinged once more and this time it displayed the message “Exceptional work, Harmony. Model worker. Could do better - CEO”
All sound ceased. The strange figures glowed purple and pink and diffused into the air. In the next aisle somebody was gasping and the sound of hands slapping skin pattered in the otherwise soundless air. A hot mist formed and condensed into bubbling droplets which hung in the air. Moments passed with only the strained gasping noise of some desperate soul before a second pulse of the lensing permeated the vast building. And all returned to the way it was.
The heels on Harmony’s perfect shoes click-clicked as she walked briskly along. Alexandra’s purse lay on the floor a few paces back. She must have dropped it. She scooped it up and jogged after the sales assistant.
As they approached the selection of fluffy and playful critters a large horse walked across the path. On its back was a tall man wearing a wide-brimmed hat and dirty jeans. His lips were cracked and peeling and under shadow his dark face was mean. He halted the horse in the middle of the main aisle ahead of Alexandra and Harmony and turned his head to look down at them.
“Agua” he said.
Alexandra gazed at him. She thought he looked like a cattle driver might look after crossing a hard desert. Both he and his horse appeared exhausted; the beast's massive hooves chipped and dusty.
When Harmony addressed him she wore her familiar wide smile and her voice was as chirpy and sweet as ever. “Straight on, sir,” she said, motioning to her right. “Barely two miles along. A natural spring runs alongside the path there.”
He raised his head and looked into the distance. Then he looked at Alexandra and then at Harmony and paused as if in careful thought. “The girl yonder’s a witch,” he said. He gave Alex a glance then touched the brim of his hat and kicked his heels into the great horse's ribs and rode on raising small clouds of dust with each step on the impeccable floor.
“Is this true?” asked Harmony, this time with genuine curiosity.
“Yes it is,” replied Alexandra, looking at her feet. “I felt embarrassed to tell you. You might think I was peculiar.” she continued keeping her head bowed.
Harmony’s shoulders drooped and she tilted her head to one side in sincere sympathy. “Oh, my dear. You needn't feel bad about it. I don't think you're peculiar at all. I've encountered all kinds of people in this job.
At the immense entrance of the Voidmart there came the cheerful faces of the masses and some of them were personally greeted by floor staff while other, more experienced shoppers headed for various departments. With less mobility yet far more determination those who had purchased their goods hurried out under the ominous portcullis. The radiant sunlight shone in through the floor-to-ceiling front windows and was quickly extinguished before it had reached the floor. Business was booming.
Alexandra and Harmony stood in the centre of the maelstrom and said their goodbyes. The young witch was smiling as they hugged and a large beetle familiar at her side gently sucked on her toes. In fact it was trying to devour her but it's tiny mandibles were not yet fully formed.
“Thank you ever so much, Harmony. My little Caco-scarab will make the ideal friend for me.” said Alexandra.
“I was born to serve,” replied Harmony in honest literality.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 21:02|
Week 220: Enter The Voidmart
Employee, Maintenance Engineer
“So, you’re a janitor?” Miles asks for clarification, pointing a finger, rest of the hand holding a pepsi bottle.
“The proper term,” starts Jim, placing a hand on his chest, palm pressing his fresh violet smock, “is Maintenance Engineer.” He’s holding the mop handle in his hand to the side, at an angle, as if it were a microphone stand.
“Yeah but you can get us smokes, right?” Darla asks, throwing an arm around Mile’s shoulder, leaning on him. “You said you could get us smokes.”
“Probably. Maybe. Yeah,” Jim says, pushing the mop on the floor, leaving a mirrored finish behind its path. “Not just smokes and booze but drat, you wouldn’t loving believe the shirt here,” he says, both hands on the stick, pushing.
The smartphone on Jim’s hip beeps, saying “Temporal Cleanup – Aisle Null,” before clicking off.
“That’s for me,” Jim says, dipping the mop into the bucket, then pushing said bucket forward. Darla and Miles follow. They banter and bitch about biology homework, between Darla asking Miles and Jim about the sizes of their dicks.
Above shelves taller than buildings, suspended from girders crisscrossing underneath a domed ceiling, hangs a sign: AISLE NULL: TACHYON PRODUCTS, BOSE-EINSTEIN CREAM, QUANTUM CONDENSED GOODS.
Standing in front of the aisle is a man with a beard, dressed in a linen shirt and denim pants, wide brimmed hat – all covered in dust. His eyes are open as wide as his mouth, and he slowly cranes his head around.
Jim, Miles, and Darla pretty much say at the same time, “cosplayer.”
The man hears them, shifts his attention – eyes locking on the VOID MART smock Jim’s wearing. He points at the aisle behind him, saying “pardon me, but you seem to have a bit of a varmint problem in your establishment.”
Jim mouths, “motherfucker,” as he walks past the man, flipping out his mop and pushing forward the bucket into a slide. He turns the corner into the aisle and finds a giant, carapaced thing crawling over the shelves. It’s grabbing canisters, throwing them at some beautiful woman-man with purple skin, no hair, no clothes.
She-he says to the bug, “stop doing that, this facility is a contingent on a capitalist economy. You are minutely damaging their primitive quality of life.”
Jim stares at her-him and gets the strangest boner as the bug throws another container, which shatters on the ground spilling a liquid that dramatically increases in volume into a small flood, smells like acetone and menthol.
Jim, Darla and Miles behind him, all say “what the gently caress,” one word each.
Jim grits his teeth and tightens his grip on the mop, trudges forward through the foaming slurry, splashes freezing before collapsing. He flips the mop, hard end up, and swings it at the giant bug.
It chitters obscenities at him, throws a rubber bottle that bounces off of his head, sends him stumbling back.
The purple woman-man reaches a hand towards him, then looks back at the bug, saying “both of you cease your needless harm doing.”
Jim snaps back, “it’s throwing poo poo everywhere, just need to get it down,” he says, resuming the poking and jabbing with the mop stick.
The dust-covered man, Miles, and Darla watch on. Dusty remarks, taking off his hat, “s’like an angel and a demon, and man struggling tween the two.”
Then Jim remembers something from the biology book. He grabs the mop bucket, dumping in more soap as the bug whistles and snickers and steals more unpronounceable things.
After mixing the solution, Jim turns to the woman-man, and asking, desperately trying not to stutter or ask her-him for sex, “can you help me chuck this at the bug?”
She-he shrugs, and they both grasp the bucket and chuck it at once, launching a gallon of soap-water on the creature. The mixture splashed on the bug, coating it. It’s chittering and whistling changes to gurgles and spits. It shudders, then falls off the shelves, hitting the foam-covered floor softly.
“What did you do?” asks the woman-man as both she-he and Jim walk towards it.
“Soap water, clogs up the breathing hole things in its carapace,” he says.
“Mmm, that might kill it,” she-he says.
“Well I could rinse it with water or something but this isn’t the aisle, wait,” he stops, as the woman-man walks to a shelf and looks around. She-he grabs a canister with a dial on its side, turns it, and unscrews the top before pouring it over the bug. A surge of water rushes out of the canister as if it were a fire hydrant, dousing the bug. The woman-man closes the canister and it just… stops.
After, the woman-man grabs the bug, still struggling and gasping and rocking on its back. She-he lifts it’s whole bulk up over her-his head and shakes it vigorously, water flying off it. The bug’s breathing eases, but it continues to struggle, vainly, in her-his hold.
“We have subdued the vandal,” she-he says. “But there’s still the tachyon leak to deal with.”
Jim turns his head, puzzled. “The what?” he asks, reaching down into his smock pocket and pulling up the VOID MART Standard Issue Employee Smartphone.
“Hmm, to put it simply,” she-he starts, holding the bug as its trashing subdues, “something, somewhere, somewhen is dumping 4th dimensional particles into the timestream and causing an erratic temporal collapse. Parts and pieces of this stores futures and pasts are joined together in the now.”
Jim’s nodding his head, following along and trying to hide his erection. He scrolls down the text on the Phone’s screen before finding the HOW-TO guides. “Ok, ok I found it,” he says. “I just need to find the leaking Tachyon containment cell and put it in… an Other Bag.”
Jim pats himself down, reaching elbow deep into one of the smock’s pockets and pulling out a opaque black, plastic bag, with bright yellow letters reading “OTHER.”
He looks back at the screen, reads more. “But before I seal it up, I need to make sure everyone’s in their own time fragment,” Jim says. As he looks around, he notices that the bottles, canisters, and boxes lining the shelves have a subtle disuniformity – most are written in English, some with modern label designs, others with old-time slogans and held brown, green glass bottles.
Others still were in languages he didn’t recognize, half with elegant glyphs, others with crude but intricately arranged marks.
“Pretty sure we find that out by the labels on the stuff,” he says. “I take it that that’s your time-section thing?” he says to the woman-man, pointing at the more elegant labels and sophisticated containers. She-he nods, walking towards it.
She-he says, still hoisting the bug, “Tell me when you’re about to bag the tachyon container, I’ll throw our distant descendent into its section.”
Jim trudges through the foam, now all decaying into a fine pale powder, to Dusty.
“Sir, if you could stand by those green and brown bottles of.. liniments and.. stuff,” he says, Dusty nodding.
Darla and Miles are just watching him do the thing.
Jim scans the aisle, up and down, before finding a cracked Tachyon container on the floor. He picks it up out of the powder, walks near the woman-man.
“Uh,” he starts, face reddening. “I gotta say, before I do this,”
The woman-man smiles, interrupts, “I understand your attraction, and were you.. mature, we could have enjoyed ourselves. Perhaps some day in your future.”
“Uh, yeah,” he says, glancing away. “J-just toss the bug.”
Jim steps away from her-him, and she-he throws the bug into its section, and he drops the container into the Other Bag. Dusty, the Bug, and the woman-man vanish when he closes the bag.
Then, Jim refills his bucket and starts cleaning up.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 22:19|
Tracey and the Robust Vegetable
Customer, 1300 words
Tracey knew she’d gotten in over her head after moving out East to work in the big city, but she hadn’t figure she’d be getting lost even in the suburbs she now called home. Yet here she was, having spent at least a half-hour wandering the aisles of the local superstore, VoidMart. She’d been searching for some time for the Outdoor Garden department, the location of which she’d clearly seen as she pulled in towards the large, domed building across the street from the shopping center where she so often took her son in to GameStop. On a quest for a more robust vegetable than the tomatoes her garden squirrels had devoured, she must have gotten herself lost in the labyrinth of dingy aisles. From outside the ziggurat-like warehouse had seemed, while large, not quite so large, and the elevators she saw at intervals claimed to lead up more than twenty floors. She couldn’t quite grasp the building’s architecture. Chicago was big, she supposed. And full of local brands, as the Golden Bean Café she had stumbled upon, back at the main entrance, was just as unfamiliar to her as VoidMart itself.
“Morning, lady, what can I get you?” the barista asked, scowling over the golden, bean-shaped glasses that all the employees sported.
These city folk were as rude as Tracey expected. She glanced over the menu, disappointed at the lack of the fall beverages she went for this time of year. “Huh, I’ll try the Salted Chili Vanilla Latte, grande,” she said, recognizing several of the ingredients. “And I’m looking for the Garden Department. Can you tell me where that is, please?”
“One chili vanilla, medium! Next!”
Tracey was taken aback. “Sir, please, the Garden Department?”
“Oh, yeah, sure. Hook a left leaving the café and you’ll find the exit. There should be some outdoors crew smoking. Ask them.”
Tracey wasn’t sure she liked Chicago.
Rude though he’d been, the spectacled barista’s advice was more-or-less true. A few crewmen who’d identified themselves as night stockers, all clad in deep black cowls and thick sunglasses, had directed her with amazing precision to the Garden Department’s exit and the iron-fenced courtyard beyond. At least there were a few kind souls around here. And to the barista’s credit, the latte sizzled pleasantly on her tongue, chili and sea salt flavors mingling with the bitter espresso and sweet vanilla.
The Garden Department’s outdoor entry was pleasantly lined with tall shrubbery that arched towards the top, so high and thick as to almost block out the sun. Her new found appreciation for VoidMart didn’t last long, however, as she came to encounter twists and turns and even some forks in the hedges. She realized she couldn’t find her way back after having come so far in, and so plodded forward, or left, or right, until she finished her latte. She was almost ready to give up when out of the darkness sauntered a pale figure in a purple-and-black vest. An employee.
“Sir, sir, excuse me, please! Can you help me? Kevin?” He picked up his pace and his name tag was visible in the dim light before she finished speaking.
“Yes-yes, hmm, we are Kevin. Quick-quick, we’ll help. Welcome to the Garden of Shadows!”
Of course, trust a place like this to hire some druggie. Well, he was better than nothing. “Thank you, yes, ah, is this the Garden Department? I seem to be lost.”
Kevin flashed a yellow smile, nodded, and began to pace away, moving in a way that made Tracey recall taking her son to see chimpanzees at the zoo. “Come-come, department, this way. Not garden! Hurry!”
Tracey jogged after him, a protest that yes, she did mean the Garden Department falling on deaf ears. She felt put-upon but didn’t fancy being lost anymore. After a few twists and turns the sun burst back into vision as the hedges gave way and made Tracey squint. All around were thick tangles of plants of every variety, and tables, racks, and shelves of plants, pots, soil, and equipment. In both cases, many were so tall as to obscure the view of what was beyond.
“Department! Kevin has shown the way, yes-yes?” Kevin held out his hand and gazed at her. Was he expecting a tip? No way, she thought, not for just doing the bare minimum.
No, it turned out, as he grabbed her hand and began to lead her further into the Garden Department. “Now, Kevin will show you our department. We have many growing things, many indeed. Yes!”
He dragged her along a short way before stopping to gaze around. There were purple flowers, a few wheelbarrows, shelves of fertilizer. Some grotesque, off-white bulbous plants Tracey took to be some sort of onion caught her eye. More vegetable plants stretched out further beyond them.
“I’m looking for some vegetables to plant in my garden at home. I’m new to it, is all, and the bugs and squirrels around here keep killing my tomatoes and peppers. I don’t have much time to fend them off, between my son and work,” Tracey said.
“Vegetables? Many!” Kevin nodded, dandruff and strands of long, black hair falling as he did. “What sorts? Look-look, here is bulbs of blood garlic, and beyond, angel hair squash, mandragora. Look-look, here see, a few pickle plants left.”
Tracey had hardly been gardening a few months, and the pickle was the only vegetable she recognized from Kevin’s list. Her son didn’t like pickles though, and no one she knew grew them. They must have been beyond her ability.“I’m looking for some more robust vegetables, you know? Something that’ll survive the pests and doesn’t need much looking after.”
“Ah, we know just what you seek-seek. Come!” Kevin took off again.
They arrived in another section of the garden center, this one just as far from the exterior fences. Kevin directed her to a collection of flower-like plants with large tops and blood-red tomatoes dangling from their sinewy stems.
“Carnivorous tomatoes. Yes-yes, good. Watch.” From one of his vest pockets Kevin drew a squealing mouse and hurled it into the tomato patch. From the central pistil of the nearest flower a fleshy appendage emerged and devoured the creature, catching it in mid-air with a toothed mouth on its end and swallowing with a sickening, wet sound.
Before Tracey had even processed the mouse’s end, another, closer stalk erupted from the larger plant Kevin had placed himself near. He howled as the mouth closed around his midsection. He was too large to swallow whole, and so his wriggling form was lifted from the ground as the teeth began to saw through muscle and bone. More mouth-stalks emerged and the gangrel man was ripped to pieces. Tracey retreated, sprayed blood congealing unpleasantly on her blouse and face, when a pleasant voice spoke from behind her.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that, ma’am. Sometimes the younger employees slack off and don’t fertilize the plants properly. They get hungry, you know? What was he helping you with?”
Tracey turned and saw a pretty blonde woman. “Marsha: Manager,” her name tag read. Thank God, some real help around here. “I was just looking for some low-maintenance vegetables, and maybe something to keep squirrels away?”
Marsha smiled and beckoned Tracey to follow. “Oh, right this way, I’ve got some lavender and perennials you might be interested in, no worry about animals for those. Perhaps scallions.”
“Oh, that sounds perfect! Tell me, what’s a perennial?” Tracey asked. She was a novice at gardening.
“What’s a perennial! You have so much to learn. Marsha lead Tracey further into courtyard. “I’ll learn you all about feeding them.”
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 22:35|
Prompt: Voidmart Customer - Voracious devourer of entertainment
The Finding of Happiness - 1992 words
"Extra batteries?" "Check."
"That little pen flashlight aunt Martha forgot a few years back?" " Check."
"The external hard drive with the Belarusian drama comedy series you haven't watched yet?"
Brian shrugged, glancing away from the small TV-screen next to his checklist, towards his wife. "I'm still pretty sure I've watched it. Remember, I had my Eastern European phase a few years back during the Big Hollywood Drought." He shivered. Those had been a baaad couple of months.
"Anyway, let's finish the list," his wife, Betsie, said.
"Oh, come on!" Brian exclaimed impatiently. "We've been over the list two times already, and I'm losing precious minutes of watching 'Umashikahito' doing this."
Things were not so good for Brian these days. To say he enjoyed watching shows on TV would be the understatement of all understatements. Brian did not 'just' enjoy it. Heck, he didn't even 'just' love it. He could not live without it! It was as important to him as breathing, or taking a poop, and he'd rather go a lifetime without either than miss the next episode of whatever shows he was binging at the moment. In fact, he'd many times gone weeks without doing the latter, until he had a screen installed in the bathroom.
This was not his problem. No, he was completely content with his life, and he did have an active lifestyle. He kept in shape by jogging on a treadmill, and biking on his exercise bike. He met his friends regularly. He was even able to make a good living off of his lifestyle by becoming a professional reviewer for a major online entertainment site. He just did all of these things with at least one eye, and 51% of his attention, on the screen. His problem was that, after spending years watching just about everything ever produced for the tv, he was familiar with every trope, every storyline, and every unexpected twist, that it had started to lose its appeal. It simply did not entertain anymore.
At the moment Brian was in his Anime phase again,but even running subtitles for the hearing-impaired to mix things up did little to stave off the perpetual state of boredom that he felt was looming. Something drastic needed to be done, and there was only one place he could do it.
"What about the map?"
Betsie's sudden question startled him. Does she know?, crossed his mind, before he realized she was talking about the map they had plotted his route on.
Relieved, he glanced back at the screen, where Koisuki had just fired off an earth-shattering attack. It'll miss, he thought with a sigh, before turning back to his wife.
"The map is in my pocket. I have all the points charted, I know what roads are the quickest, and I have even marked the battery recharge stations. And before you say it, yes, I know your uncle Frank, the 'cop', got eaten by the cannibals somewhere on the basement levels, and no, I will not go down there, even though it's the fastest route, even if it means being stuck in the elevator lines for a week or more." He took a deep breath, and continued before Betsie could get a word out. "I got enough snacks to keep me going for a month, and I can always get something at the Hot-Dogs-and-Alternatives stands if I run out."
He took her hand, and, after making sure that the Evil Demon Lord Rampushadu was stuck in one of his long monologs, looked her in the eyes. "Sweetie, don't worry. Nothing will go wrong. It shouldn't take me more than ten days, two weeks tops, to reach the entertainment department, and a week max to find the right section and get out with as many shows as I can carry. I might get stuck in the checkout line for a week or so, but all-in-all I should be back home in a month or so. No sweat."
His wife did not look relieved, so she went back to checking the big bag of supplies. Brian turned back to his show, where Koisuke and the well-endowed hamster-lady Waruimono were gathering their energies for a final attack to save the Papier-Mâché kingdom of the Future, and he started mulling over his real plan.
Soon, he would fulfill his destiny at Voidmart.
Just the very name filled men and women of all nations with wonder and excitement, and a little dread. It was the one place where all tour dreams could come true. Literally. I mean, if you dreamt of having your own spaceship, Voidmart had a few thousand off-the-shelf products. If you wanted to start your own colony on a deserted island, you could buy a startup-kit, and lease a suitable island at Voidmart. If you wanted a device that would freeze time around sexy women (or men, Voidmart's all about equality) then that's where you'd find it.
Brian was after something slightly different. His wife had had the, quite brilliant idea that, if the Multiverse theory is correct, then there would exist a literally infinite amount of TV-shows that he had not seen yet. And somewhere in Voidmart, there would be a section with all of these shows just waiting to be snatched up. With a large enough sack, Brian could buy enough of these TV-shows that he'd only need to do this once a year.
Brian had considered Betsie's plan carefully, and then had rejected it. It was good, but Brian's biggest problem was that he was able to see the pattern of the stories, sometimes just from knowing the titles. He was at the point where he could figure out what most characters would say, down to the last inflection. Maybe shows from a different dimension would keep him guessing for a while, but sooner or later he would figure out the pattern, and then he'd be back at square one.
No, his problem wasn't the lack of quantity, or even variety, the stories. His problem was his own analytical skill.
He now stood inside the gates of Voidmart, blinking from all the bright lights and slightly impossibly shaped sculptures on display in the atrium opening up in front of him. He gazed at the walkways and floors, filled with people searching for their dreams, disappearing into the distance far above his head. For what seemed like forever he could do nothing but stare as a new wonder replaced the last, but at last he regained his senses and started thinking of the task at hand.
He took out the map he had made with his wife, crumpled it in his hand, and threw it in the nearest Void-o-matic trash bin. He then proceeded to take out the real map, showing a slightly different route through the gigantic complex. His first stop was at the Hypnosis"R"Us, which meant taking the elevators to the 32nd floor and then proceed to the D-quadrant, a mere 3 days journey away.
Brian opened his big backpack, and took out a small screen, a specially designed stand, a big battery, a hard drive, as well as the necessary cables. He connected the screen to the stand, put the stand in the holster on his belt, and connected the cables to the batteriy and the hard drive. He then put the battery and hard drive back into the bag, pressed a few buttons on the screen, now suspended in front and slightly to the side of him at eye level. Once the screen came to life, he put the backpack back on, and went off to find the store.
At the store, the helpful-but-not-quite-there clerk informed him that while they technically had the item he was looking for, it was at the moment still in the warehouse over in O-quadrant, and had yet to go through inspections. If he was willing to wait, say, two to five months, the clerk kinda groggily informed him, he could have it five percent off. The waiting area, while a bit spartan, was quite nice-looking, Brian admitted, but the fat lady oozing in her own filth who may or may not actually be dead was a bit of a turn-off. Brian declined the offer, crossed out the store on his map, and headed out again.
His next stop, after spending an afternoon at one of the Dark-Energy recharge stations to recharge his setup, was the 438th floor of the F-quadrant. With the ever-popular Home Decor department store being in the same quadrant, the lines to the elevators were a few miles long, so Brian opted to take the escalators. This was the wisest choice, and Brian found himself, after only five days, in front of Vaccuums! a vaccuum store. He went through the display section, where customers were testing out all the newest brands and models of Vaccuums. He almost lost his backpack when one of the industrial strength vaccuums got loose and tore down the aisle. He managed to throw himself out of the way just in time, and after brushing off the dust, walked up to a group of clerks chatting in a corner.
His request was a bit of a long stretch, Brian had admitted to himself, and it turned out to be a dead end when one of the clerks guffawed out a "You want us to suck out what!?"
Not one to be discouraged, Brian decided he might as well go for his final, craziest idea.
Outside the store however he made a horrible discovery. The map was gone! Brian was completely distraught. What should he do now? He didn't even know the path to the exit!
He wandered through the hallways, and over endless walkways for what seemed an eternity. His snacks ran out. The battery for his entertainment system died. He discarded each piece of equipment as he walked with heavy steps, eyes dulled, and nk hope left. Brian was completely lost, and at last he sat down on a couch to die.
"Brian?" A voice woke him up. "Brian Bradbelly, is that really you?"
Brian opened his dried out eyes slowly. After blinking away the blurriness, a familiar face took shape. "Frank?" He sat up sharply. "Is that you Frank? How's it possible? Your brother Everett told us you got eaten by the cannibals!" Indeed, it was uncle Frank, the cop uncle Betsie liked to tell stories about whenever she had a chance.
"What are you doing here? And why are you wearing that?"
Brian looked at the suit Frank was wearing. It was the one Voidmart employees wore, and it had the Voidmart logo in gold and abysmal black and everything.
"Well," Frank began. "The whole cannibal thing is true, though I got lucky and they started on my left leg, you know, the one with the metal plates I got after I kicked the hand grenade. You've heard the story from Betsie, I know." He grimaced in apology, and then continued. "They seemed to think I was a god of some sort, made me their king, and gave me this suit to wear. Later, when an ispector came to check on the cannibals' living condition and found me she took me up here and put me to work. I'm quite happy here actually. No grenades thrown in my face for instance."
Frank looked at Brian. "So, why are you here?"
"Well," Brian said sheepishly. " I'm here looking for a way to get rid of my analytical skills."
"Oh, nothing more?" Frank answered. "That would be the 132nd floor, M-quadrant. The De-Analyzer should do the trick."
"Huh, look at that," Brian sighed.
"Well, I guess I'll try it out. Try to come over for dinner whenever you are off, OK?" Brian said over his shoulder as he walked into the throng of people to find his destiny.
"There's no 'off' at Voidmart," was the reply.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 23:30|
I might have to drop this week; I've taken on too much in the middle of Finals. Sorry.
|# ? Oct 23, 2016 23:39|
I really don’t care
flerp fucked around with this message at 21:23 on Dec 26, 2016
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 00:01|
Prompt:You've heard rumors that Voidmart is a front for some sort of alien takeover. We will neither confirm nor deny this accusation, and hopefully, neither will you, if you know what's good for you
The old man was right about one thing: the Voidmart® is lousy with aliens. “Men from Mars or Saturn or who knows where, moving in on our thing,” the Godfather of the Night had said. “You need to find out what they're up to, so we can put a stop to it before it gets out of hand.” That's what I do, these days. Find people for the Greek crew that runs everything crooked in Americatown. People who usually end up getting hurt, or worse. It wasn't always that way. There was a time when nice middle-aged ladies would come to Ambrose Bloom investigations looking to find a lost pedigree cat or learn who their husband was cheating on them with. Now, I'm stalking the aisles of the Voidmart®, trying to figure out what the aliens are up to.
They're pretty easy to spot. You see someone with pink or light green or light purple skin wearing a starfleet uniform that has three or four strange lumps around the legs and torso who says “Use the fourth fluke, yes?” when someone compliments the getup, it's an alien. I've been coming in for more than a week, watching them. They don't ever eat or drink or sleep as far as I can tell, so watching them is a full-time occupation. I've been racking up the VoidPoints on my Quinte¢ents Card. If I make five more qualifying purchases I'll get a free Hibachi. If I drink three more Golden Bean Espressos I'll get an ulcer.
What they do, apart from wander around the Voidmart® and smile at each other, is that every couple of days they'll go up to the front of the store and buy something. Usually it's four huge packs of diapers from Baby Supply. They'll take it out of the store, take the shopping cart as far as they can and then lug them another five blocks until they find an open dumpster, and they just toss their load right in. Then they walk to a bus stop and ride out to one of the bars or gyro joints where we're making book and place some bets. Numbers, local sports, national, whatever. And they always win. They're bleeding us dry.
Yesterday I watched that dumpster all night. It was right near a twenty-four hour Nulgreens, close enough that I could keep an eye through the glass while picking up canned iced coffee and stakeout snacks. It was a waste of time. Nobody went near the thing, nobody picked anything up but the garbage truck.
So I'm starting from scratch, watching a lavender-skinned Jon Snow tell three different flirty Domegrassi seniors that “Windows is running”, looking for some clue how they're doing it. If someone does have the fix in, not just in our local games but major league sports as well, this problem could be bigger than just our local gang. The third one bats her eyelashes at him like a pair of Venus flytraps and he flusters and bolts. I follow, at a brisk walk and accidentally slam right into a display of AutoNag Watches, the kind that monitor everything you're doing and make disapproving comments about it. Three of them fall into my coat pockets and start loudly telling me that shoplifting is a crime, which naturally draws the attention of a towering lunk of a goon from Loss Prevention. He starts lumbering my way as I try to empty the watches from my pocket. I'm getting ready to explain things to him when three Dalmatians speed right behind him and the poor sap holding their leash swings around the corner and knocks him right into my hand. My fist, since I have time to ball it up and avoid broken fingers. So he's got a bloody nose and a temperament to match, and I decide that it's time to get out of here, fast.
So I turn and run, straight into Round Objects. Whoever's supposed to be managing this part of the floor must be on a break, because a group of kids are going wild tossing oranges, cantaloupes, and old globes with countries that don't exist anymore into the top of the dodge ball tower. Just as I'm about to run by they lob a sack of ball bearings over the top and it bursts, the tiny metal spheres falling between the dodge balls, old worlds, and damaged fruit and out onto the floor in front of me.
I try to keep balanced but fail, falling on my behind, but with enough forward momentum that when I reach the just-cleaned-and-polished area near the drain in the center of the store I keep sliding fast. I'm headed toward Nautical Supplies, which should be a clear path to the exit. I turn back and see the Loss Prevention goon still close behind, and with equally unfriendly-looking friends. I look forward again and gasp: somehow I've drifted way to the left, and am now headed straight into Cutlery. The polished section of floor is ending, and I try to get up before I slide to a complete stop. I lurch forward at the exact same time Voidmart® employee stops sharpening a knife to help someone find the saw blades. His arms juts out and meets my head, taking the left side of my hair off cleanly, leaving me millimeters away from being scalped. I keep running forward, into Sporting And Unsporting Goods.
I begin to think my luck has changed. I used to ride a mean skateboard, and that's not something you forget. I grab a display model from the Sporting side and a handful of caltrops from Unsporting and kick myself forward towards the door. Then something explodes inside my brain.
It's a year or so back, when I first started working for the Greek crew. The first bad debt where once I found him I had to keep my eyes on him until the muscle showed up. It wasn't a long wait. They pulled the guy out of the restaurant while his mistress wailed and batted at them. She quieted up with one dirty look and we all went back to the alley. I watched them go at him, bringing pain and damage with their fists and feet. It didn't seem right to set a guy up for something like that and then turn your back as it happened. It made me sick to my stomach. Later on, I figured out how to live with it, decided these guys were degenerates who deserved what they got. A man has to pay their debts, right? And if they don't, there have to be consequences. But I'm back before I worked out those rationalizations, and I'm nauseous and hating myself and wanting to scream. I don't. But three of the people next to me don't have my control and start crying out like the second victim in a slasher flick.
I'm half aware of the real world, mostly blinded with pain but I can hear the Loss Prevention guys coming behind. I kick forward hard and hope, then set my foot down right on top of a caltrop. I must have dropped them all when that vision hit me, and one landed right on the skateboard itself. The pain brings the world into focus, and I can see that I'm careening not toward the exit doors but toward Husbands And Husbandry. The skateboard hits a lump and I go flying, directly towards the manure heap at the center of that department. Then somebody grabs me by the shoulder and spares me from that fate at least. It's not Loss Prevention. It's someone smaller but just as strong-gripped. I'm taken to the basement for a discussion with the head of Strategic Assessments.
“Just how many times did you go into the Nulgreens?” asks Gabe. He's short and has a face that my eyes refuse to focus on.
“Let's see,” I say. “Two- no, three times.”
“Ah,” he says. “That would do it. Explains everything, in fact.”
“Not to me it doesn't,” I say.
“The Voidmart® Quinte¢ents Card is more than a savings program. It's a loyalty card. It incentivizes loyalty, through probability manipulation,” says Gabe.
“So that's how they were doing it,” I say.
“The Erebesians? Yes. There's supposed to be a mental block to stop people from consciously noticing their lucky streaks after spending. It's all supposed to work on the subliminal level, but of course it was all designed for human psychology. And in your case, when you trigger the disloyalty jinx three times in a row the effects can get too powerful to ignore.”
“So what happens now?” I say. Gabe hasn't said anything about letting me go at all, and I'm starting to get nervous.
“Now?” he says. “Now I send you back to your boss with an offer.”
“One he can't refuse?”
“One he'd be a fool to refuse, at least. He can get things back to where they were, or even better. It's just a matter of loyalty.” says Gabe, leaning back in his chair. “If your organization's bookmakers start buying their supplies at the Voidmart®, their operations will go back to profitability. The Erebesians will keep winning, but they'll more than make up for it on the other side. The same goes for the rest of the organization. Next time you go to the mattresses, if they get them in Sweet Dreams and Dank Memes, things are going to go well for them.”
“I'm sensing a catch,” I say, glancing towards the Loss Prevention goons. They're lurking just behind the table, the one with a big bandage on his nose. He's heard about how it was just dumb bad luck, but he looks like he still has hard feelings left.
“Yes, very astute. Excellent. The catch is you, Mr. Bloom.” I don't say anything, just keep eye contact. “Your leader tried to use you against Voidmart®, and CEO Aqui has a very strict rule about that sort of thing. Tools used against Voidmart®, well, one of two things happen to them. Either they go away, or they end up belonging to Voidmart®.”
“That's not much of a choice,” I say.
“I thought you'd see it that way. You'll have to sell this to the Godfather of the Night, but that shouldn't be a problem. Just make it clear that your contract is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”
“What will I be doing?” I ask. The rumors about the Meat Department spring to my mind unprompted. “Collections?”
“What? No, Mafia-I can use that word, right?”
“Sure,” I said. “It's the Italians that get up in a knot over that.”
“Right. Mafia practices in that area show far too much mercy and compassion for you to be at all suitable for our Collections department. I was thinking Store Detective. We've got three- well, four, but the other three haven't managed to find the fourth one since she went missing. But there's more than enough work to go around.”
I shake his hand and promise, both to him and myself, to be the most loyal employee the Voidmart® has ever seen.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 00:16|
Prompt: The investigation of an unknown, undisclosed power source within Voidmart.
All Paths Lead to the End 1,177 words
Daily Report Log
Agent Ralph Fitzsimmons, Department of Energy
Finished Voidmart new employee training with no issues. May take longer than expected to locate source of power supply. Backroom is a warren of shelving, unpacked pallets, and back-hallways. I’ve been set to counting inventory in the electronics cage. Hard to get away except for breaks, especially since my supervisor hovers over my shoulder. Never says much. Guy looks like he hasn’t slept in days. Always watching, though.
Lucky break. Assigned to clear some long-neglected pallets in a far corner. There’s a stairwell close by. Only seen three people go in or out, all assistant managers. Will wait for my chance to sneak in.
Missed a couple of opportunities, but made it in today. Two AMs were arguing about something while they headed down. Couldn’t make out what, aside from one raising his voice to say, “He should have been back by now.” They were so focused on each other, they never noticed me slip in behind them. Hoping the access card you provided works down here.
Day 6, cont.
I’m sure this is the right place. The atmosphere down here feels off. I haven’t seen anyone since I ducked into a room to avoid the AMs, but I’d swear there was someone watching me every second. I’m hunkered down in a janitorial closet for the night. Took a risk and barricaded the door. There’s dust on everything in here, so it’s not likely anyone will come in, but I’d rather have some warning.
Spent the whole day searching, and I don’t think I’ve covered a quarter of the hallways down here. It’d be hard to say for certain, though. They’re all the same cement walls with a single track of lighting running overhead. The doors are all evenly spaced, so each hall looks identical to the last. It’s going to be a bitch getting out.
**all data saved for later retrieval**
Spotted another AM and followed her. Never seen anyone move like that. I couldn’t stay too close or risk being spotted, but I had to hustle to keep up. Seemed like every time I reached a corner, all I saw was a flash of her shoe as she turned the next.
Followed her all the way to a second staircase, further down. The stairs were metal, so I crept down as quietly as I could. She was gone by the time I reached the bottom. Everything feels closer down here. The ceiling almost brushes my head when I stand upright. The track lighting is gone. Now there’s a bare bulb every dozen feet. The space between is dark.
Still feel the eyes on me. The worst is crossing the shadows between lights. I keep spinning around, expecting something to be on my six. Haven’t spotted anything yet.
Stopping for the day, even though my watch says it’s just after five. Tired.
Hope you fuckers are happy. Spent the last days wandering through hall after hall. Got lucky and found some old vending machine fillers, so at least I’m not running out of food. Stale chips are hardly my ideal meal, but I could only carry so much with me when I came down. I better get a drat raise for this whe...
Day 11, cont.
I want out.
I want out, you bastards!
There’s something down here. I haven’t seen it, but it’s been on my rear end all day. I started the last report in a small connecting hallway with a door on each side. All I heard at first was slithering, like a giant snake coming down the hall outside. Then the door pushed in on the latch, once, twice. I heard wet breathing on the other side. When the handle turned, I bolted for the other door. I was through and running before it got the door open. I stopped paying attention to the turns, stopped trying to be quiet. All I could hear was that breathing, the slithering, and my own gasps for air. I found a hatch in the floor, like the cap on a submarine. That part...I was sure that thing would round the last corner while I spun that drat wheel. Practically fell down the ladder. Didn’t even think about shutting the hatch behind me. I lay there at the bottom, staring up at a circle of light, trying to catch my breath. Sure I was hosed. The circle blacked out. I couldn’t even scream. My breath caught in my lungs. But it never came through.
It was too big.
I don’t know how long I lay there. Long enough to be sure I should be dead. When I rolled over, a postcard lay in the dirt floor beside me. A picture of two metal coils with a bolt of electricity was on the front. On the back, someone had wrote, “The future seems dim, but we’re sure you’ll power through somehow.”
Get me the gently caress out.
All the floors slope down. All the halls curve to the left. All paths lead to the end.
Holed up in a crack in the wall. Trying to get some sleep. The chips and candy bars are almost gone. I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep. Something shuffled by in the hall. Dragging something behind it. A tail? A person? Couldn’t see. Thank Christ.
According to my watch, it’s three in the afternoon. It occurs to me that I never punched out before heading down here. Think of all the overtime.
I found it. For all the good it’s going to do me, I found it. At the end of the hall. Huge room, reeked of sewage and rotting meat. The dirt floor turned to muck. At the far end, the wall...the wall shimmered. Like a heat mirage. Thick cables and pipes fed out and up into the ceiling. And then something came through. It looked something like a lizard, but about the size of a bear. It had too many legs. They jutted out at all sides. They cracked and shuddered as it moved. It hissed when it saw me.
I ran. Been running most of the day. Don’t know how much longer I can. Every time I stop to catch my breath, I hear that crackling behind me. Can’t tell how close. Sound carries funny around the curve. Even if I outrun it, the are still things ahead. There’s a voice in my head telling me to stop. To just wait. Let it be over.
My legs burn. Something popped in my knee an hour ago. I’m slowing down. My mouth tastes like copper. I keep trying to spit, but I can’t get any moisture. I keep telling myself, the crack is still ahead. If I can reach it, maybe I can hide. But I keep answering, you passed it. Passed it hours ago. There’s only one way this ends.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 01:05|
The Doppol (1247 words)
(Prompt:Your character works in Voidmart's menagerie, AKA the pet department. Strange, adorable, majestic, and terrifying things abound there, and it's your character's job to keep them fed, groomed, and safe from grabby customers (and vise-versa)
The highest possible starting wage is offered for a two hour a day position at the Menagerie Pet store. The job of sweeping the dung from the mirrored kennel of an unknowable creature known as the Doppol.
I was a bold middle aged man who could no longer afford to sky dive due to the price of my prescribed pain killers. The pet store was my ticket to easy cash, and maybe, a bit of thrill.
I was given blacked out goggles, a breathing mask, a broom with steel bristles, a shovel, and a rolling cart for the feces. These items were given to me by a member of the “Lemming Division” (the workers who dealt with high risk fauna for big money), an elderly woman named Colette. She was in a plastic sheet poncho and had a face conquered by scar tissue. She told me that wearing the “blinders” were essential for cleaning the Doppols cage and staying sane.
She explained the creature in a raspy, sea captain kind of way, that no one knew what the Doppol looked like. It was assumed that looking upon it was disastrous in some way to a person’s mental state or well-being. The previous cleaners had never quit or been fired but had stopped coming to work entirely. It was assumed the creature had a disorienting effect on people. An ad went out every week with a progressively higher pay rate and a medical plan. Those employees who risked it all didn’t collect enough checks to be considered a loss to revenue, so overhead worked itself out in that sense.
The Doppol existed as one of the “Not for Sale” creatures that were present in every pet store. Except instead of a soft-shelled ribbon-beaked hot spring turtle, it was an unknowable aberration. It was kept strictly for promotional purposes.
Newsletter subscribers for other businesses at the Voidmart would get a Menagerie advertisement in the form of a ticket in the mail adorned with question marks. Bored, or interested people would write on a ticket their guess for one prevailing feature of the Doppol. If they were right, the lucky subscriber would get a year’s supply of the pet food of their choice. When they dropped the ticket off, they’d be told:
“Sorry Sir/Mam, but none of those describe it a bit. Trust me!”
They looked through the rest of the store on the way out and couldn’t help but buy something or tell a friend about what exotic creatures they did see. Better yet if they asked for a Menagerie newsletter subscription.
The Doppol was the creature least written about in the store records. From digital libraries, to receipts and manuals, to scrolls of vellum dated across centuries until you had to stop unless you read Aramaic What little was mentioned was,
• its name in the store stock manifest
• a receipt for the cage arriving on a massive barge from France in 1952,
• and a kennel schematic in Mandarin detailing the placement of mirrors in an octagonal formation around a central raised platform with an iron cage around it. Collette thought it was from before communism rose to power in China.
Considering her raspy cadence, and her breathless jamming of all this information into the air while she pointed out where to sign on the insurance waiver, she gave me time for two questions,
“If the Doppol is such a mystery, how do you guys know what it’s features look like? No one has guessed correctly all this time?”
She smiled, or at least I thought she did, it could have easily been a grimace with her chunks of missing cheek.
“We don’t. None of the other employees or managers do either. I’m not sure about the owner… but I don’t think anyone knows at all. Since no one who works at or owns The Menagerie knows what the Doppol looks like we opt that all the guesses are wrong based on our own ignorance.”
That was shady, but I figured they had to get something for holding onto such a dangerous creature.
I also asked,
“Why the mirrors?”
” Someone translated a bit of the Mandarin back in the sixties. Per the notes left by the translator, the creature obsesses on its reflection and needs constant lighting.”
They had arrived in the stock room, it smelled like cat litter, dry meats, strange fruits and kibble until they came to the very back of the store. It smelled like meat rotting to the point of a chemical miasma.
The kennel resembled an adobe hut in shape, a small circular crater of raised wood sat on a black paneled dome. She pointed out that the lights were changed through little sliding holes built in the crater.
“So no one could sneak a peek. “
She handed me the face mask, I took it gratefully.
“You know the dangers involved and we need someone to do this, hopefully you can last through whatever’s in there. So be careful. You might think you're invincible but the last guy had the blinders too. Keep them on, no matter what."
She added on top of that,
“I’m getting tired of training people for this.”
I felt a bit queasy. I hadn’t expected such foreboding to go with a job like this. I thought I’d be dealing with something like a lion, or a giant insect. I didn’t bitch out though. There was a reason I always wore a YOLO T-shirt.
I put on the goggles and felt for the door latch. I heard my heartbeat get drowned out by the buzzing of bright lights.
Colette dropped some sea mice into an aquarium of Fiji mermaids. Behind her, people walked back and forth with buckets of kibble, a cashier argued with a customer out front about knocking down the price of a three-headed dog that only had two heads. She kept an eye out for the new guy, she was curious if the goggles worked. They didn't work for the last guy. The new guy came rolling through the aisles.
She studied his face. No cuts, no shifting of the eyes, no sweat. He seemed relaxed if not irritated,
"So you think you can do this?"
"Yeah. It’s good money. I can skydive every weekend now.”
"Yeah, you’ll be able to afford painkillers again."
The guy's face went blank, then he relaxed, more irritation in his voice,
"I’ll need to do something, this job’s a lot more boring than I thought it would be."
She sighed, he was a rude one. Surrounded by all these incredible creatures and complaining about a lack of action.
"Do you think it might help if we added ear plugs?"
He looked at her like she was stupid,
"The thing didn’t make a noise; all I could hear was those lights you got in there buzzing."
"Huh. “She continued her feeding.
It chided itself. It didn’t want to get filled up on the man’s front lobe, so the information about the painkillers was new to it. The skin was tight. It had checked to see what wounds it might leave on the skin in front of the mirrors. It left a slash on the belly but it didn’t help. It couldn’t stay in this skin long. It had to get back home to wait for another. If it could get chocolate from the candy store. It was worth it. Even with the terrible diarrhea it gave it.
Jay W. Friks fucked around with this message at 05:46 on Oct 24, 2016
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 01:12|
flash: A device that pierces the veil of time, space and dimensions.
A scream like rending metal wrenches me awake.
Hello? I don’t know if you can hear me. . . .
It must have been a squeal from the PA system. I must’ve dozed off waiting for a sales associate because this aisle goes on forever, and my half-sized shopping cart is empty.
I hope you can. If there was ever a way, it would be here.
Not the usual sales spiels, not the usual fake exuberance. But that doesn’t really matter. I need to get what I need and get out. At last, like a returning cowboy, a vested employee fades in from the haze of the aisle’s vanishing point, and makes his slow, steady approach.
“Excuse me,” I shout, “Can you help me?”
There’s so much I never showed you, so much we never got to do. The melancholy voice drones on over the intercom.
“Customer Service said this was it. I need to meet my son.” The associate pauses for a moment and then pulls something from a shelf. He’s too far away to see what it is, but I wait and he shuffles until he’s an arm’s length away..
As the jewel case lands it clatters in the wire basket of the cart. “Really? The Hamilton soundtrack?” He shrugs noncommittally, but the wry smirk betrays him. That face, too. It’s uncanny. Salt-and-pepper beard and the thinning hair—this guy could be my Dad.
“Please—” Then I realize that his nametag is blank. Normal Voidmart design, just no name. The corner of his mouth turns up a little farther until the apple of his cheek crinkles and he tosses a glance over his shoulder. The rest of him follows and he shuffles back down the aisle without a word.
The cart feels heavy, like pushing a full load uphill. I dig my toes into the faux-granite tile and it takes a couple steps before I’m at walking pace and the ock-ock-ock of the wobbly back wheel smooths into a squeak just on the edge of audible.
He doesn’t look back as I tell him to “Hold up a sec,” he presses forward with the same stolid determination as his arrival. I follow. He never looks back, never says a word, but the staticky voice on the PA continues as always until it too is just on the fringes of awareness. We walk for hours. Days, maybe. The canyon of shelves and product blurs together like I’m boxed in by bullet trains. Maybe it’s months, years. It doesn’t seem to matter because my associate walks with my purpose.
Thump and clang. I didn’t notice when the older man stopped and the wire cage of the cart bumps into his back. The voice over the PA jumps into sharp focus.
. . . overturned pile of a jigsaw puzzle. We put together the edge and I’ve invented what the final picture will be, but I’m left trying to sort out blank pieces. There will always be empty spots I can’t fill in, I just don’t have the imagination. Nothing like yours.
The sales associate faces the shelves and there is less pepper in his beard. Less hair up top. The little smile is gone. I see what he’s looking at. Lego.
I hear the scream again, like shearing of steel.
“Daddy—Daddy, look. Hey.”
“Uh-huh, that’s nice buddy,” I say without a glance.
“Look.” And in my peripheral I see Lego Batman hovering over the gearshift. Then he bounces a little closer to the radio and Batman’s foot is attached to Hermione’s head-peg and she’s on Captain America’s head-peg, and so on. The pillar of Lego figures stretches onward and reaches up towards the rear view mirror.
“Daddy, look.” And in my peripheral I see Richie’s piercing blue eyes.
“poo poo. Buddy, get back in your seat and buckle up.”
The car bounces on a pothole, and the stack crumbles. Batman flips into the front passenger footwell. Richie grunts a little kid grunt as he stretches for it, and before I know it, his entire torso is up over the armrest between the seats. “Richie!”
But my shout freezes him in place. I slide him back off the armrest. “Richie, get in your seat.” He listens, for once.
And the last time I see Richie’s eyes, they’re red. He’s half-crying half-scared but he’s in his booster seat as I turn to buckle him in. Then there’s a flash of white. Airbags. Then the scream of rending, shearing metal. It’s the last thing I remember. Only it’s not a dream, not imagination. I didn’t stop. I didn’t pull over. There’s no reason in the moment. No explanation later. Ever.
Except I screwed up. And buddy, I’d step on a thousand Legos a day. They’re just Lego, Dad, no ‘s,’ I imagine you’d say. And it’s not—you’re not—a jigsaw puzzle anymore. You’re right, buddy. Lego tower is where it’s at. If we plan ahead and do it just right, we can build it to the ceiling so you’ll never fall over.
Then I see the associate in my peripheral, patient, as I realize the Lego sets are strewn about the aisle and I have to extract my fist from Lego Batman’s cardboard-standee face.
“Uh, sorry.” All I receive in return is another sly shrug. He turns and continues down the aisle. And again, I follow. This time I don’t fade out. Everything fades around me. And again, we walk for days. years. That intercom voice statics into nothingness.
Then the horizon ends. Sterile concrete block wall. I see the end of the aisle. I let out one of those laughs where I don’t open my mouth. The associate looks over his shoulder at me and I know for a fact he’s older and a couple inches shorter. Age has caught up with him. If I could find a mirror, I’m sure it’s caught up with me, too.
The intersection of aisles. A solitary concrete pillar with a phone on it. This aged man leans against it, and his grin is more youthful than I’ve yet seen. That’s enough. I snatch that phone receiver. Slide against the cool cement and start talking.
“Hello? I don’t know if you can hear me. . . .“
I’m a crossroads. I can see to the right the exit sign, a blank hallway. To the left, good god. An infinity of me. I recurse through infinity, mirror bouncing off mirror.. But more importantly, in those refractions and reflections I see Richie. There are realities where he survived and all I have to do it reach him.
The exit is blank. Above me: A noose. It’s empty. I realize I’ve never taken those routes. The blinking me flashing through all these parallel universes never took the easy way out. And then, that’s that.
The old man smiles. It feels sincere this time. He drops a vest and nametag into my lap. The nametag is blank. I write with my finger on his chest: “Me” and I finger out a question mark. He laughs out loud for the first time since I’ve known him and it’s scritching sandpaper. He writes with his finger on my chest: S-O-O-N?
This decrepit old man walks into the recursive realities where Richie seems vibrant and alive, and I actually see me. He is me. And in this moment I realize:: I can follow him, find a reality where we’re just patrons in a store. If I head back, then I choose to make myself meet myself and we’ll alway meet up with Richie.
It’s concise, for once. I put on the vest, the nametag. It’s worth it. Then the scratchy aether of the telephone intercom peels me open after a lifetime of laments, I make my final statement:
Maybe someday we’ll meet again.
We will. I head down the aisle, towards me.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 01:22|
Prompt: There's a terrifying new drug on the rise, and your character believes it's being synthesized from ingredients specific to Voidmart's line of generic medications. One way or another, they want to blow the whistle on Voidmart's poorly-regulated manufacturing process.
Cut Pills, Bargain Thrills 1973 words (due to )
Grace Heartly, queen of the techno scene, sex on legs, and supplier of the finest MDMA the scene had ever known, was furious. First, her profits had taken a nosedive this month. Second, half her regular customers had vanished,. Third, she’d been having such a great time a this warehouse rave — and now it lousy with cops and paramedics while three punters lay dead on the dance-floor. Sirens wailed outside and policemen struggled to control the crowd.
She watched the paramedics cluster around a lifeless young man. Oh, his pupils would never dilate again, that mouth will never chew three packets of gum in a night, and, most importantly — he’d never buy from her again. In fact, he’d not bought from Grace for a month — so where did he score tonight?
Someone was selling dodgy poo poo on her turf, getting her customers killed. This would not stand.
She lifted a carefully-manicure fingers to her Nokia 3310 and dialled her right-hand man and boyfriend, Lance Strongwood. Lance had a six-pack, a day-job working for the FDA, and flexible morals.
Lance caught the rival dealer out in the back alley. The dealer’s face was a study in red and purple. His rucksack lay open on the ground, sandwich bags full of pressed pills littering the asphalt like vomit.
Grace began her interrogations.
“I just sell the poo poo!” the dealer pleaded. “I don’t know what’s in it!”
Grace intensified her interrogations.
“When I was at the safehouse,” the dealer stuttered though missing teeth, “I saw the boys were using a new mixer for the pills. Gives a hell of a kick. Cheap as gently caress. Only one source for it, too, and it’s legal.”
Grace furrowed her long black brows. The dealer motioned to his bag. Lance turned it inside-out and out they tumbled: packets of Voidmart™ Generic Multivitamin / Cold-and-Flu / Perk-U-Up / Sleepytime All-Puprose pills.
“Now, Gracie, you know that even though I work for the FDA, it will take some time to build a case, here. We’re gathering evidence at a supermarket, not storming a safe-house. Think The Wire, not Lethal Weapon.”
Who did Lance think Grace was? Her plan was very sensible, thank you: break in to Voidmart’s pharmacy department and blow the whistle on their manufacturing process, before their drugs killed the techno scene, and all of her customers to boot. They sat behind a cheap plastic table inside the Golden Bean, Voidmart’s in-house coffee shop. Lance, into his second piece of cake, had already managed to stain his nice white shirt with chocolate. Grace took one sip of her coffee, stood up, slowly walked over to a trashcan, and emptied the contents inside. The poor teenage girl working behind the counter watched, horrified.
“Ma’am,” she said, “if you are dissatisfied with our product…”
Grace lay a finger on her mouth and the girl fell silent. She turned to walk back to her seat, but the girl grabbed at the sleeve of Grace’s garish leopard-print coat.
“Ma’am, please!” she hissed. Her name-badge was covered in smiley-faces and she didn't look a day older than eighteen. “If my supervisor finds out that I let a customer have a bad experience…”
Grace gave her a death-stare and the poor girl gulped and let go. She dragged Lance out of the chair by his tie, and he staggered after her into the store.
It felt like they’d been in Voidmart for hours. Grace’s handgun, tucked into her long flare jeans, chafed uncomfortably against her hip. The isles stretched on endlessly, buttered beige by fluorescent lights. Occasionally, a voice would sound over the intercom, sweet like honey, comfortable like a grandfather reading a storybook:
“Tired of washing lipstick stains from your collar before girlfriend spots them? Try our new Voidmart™ Dirty-Little-Secret washing powder!”
Lance sheepishly tugged at his collar.
The pharmacy must be this way, surely. These isles were so long! Bored, Grace whipped out her phone as they walked, bringing up her favourite game.
“That is a lovely phone, ma’am. The 3310 is one of Nokia’s finest models,” a Voidmart employee said, appearing from nowhere. Grace almost ran into the girl, stopped herself with a yelp. She turned to ask Lance for help, but he was busy examining a fluffy pillow.
“This one’s got a minion on it, Gracie! Isn’t it cute?”
Lance’s hand-basket was full of things nobody could possibly need.
“Did you know we have a 3315 model? We can even pre-load your snake high score, for the low price of one dollar per one hundred points!”
Wait, this Voidmart girl looked familiar! Oh, no.
“Please, ma’am, I’ll give you a discount” the girl hissed, grabbing her sleeve again. “If I don’t satisfy you as a customer, they’re going to…”
“Gracie!” Lance called. “They’ve got tea cosies with Moomintrolls on them!”
They finally found the pharmacy, but not before Grace threw a tantrums and emptied Lance’s shopping basket into the mixed lettuce in the vegetable isle.
“OK. So, they ought to manufacture the medicines on-site.” Grace hissed. “Ready to gather some evidence?”
“Gracie. There’s a hidden camera in my tie. There’s a microphone in each shoe so I can record everything in stereo. I am gathering evidence by virtue of my existance by your heavenly side. I’ve got you, baby.”
Grace rolled her eyes dramatically. Inwardly, she blushed.
The pharmacy counter was unattended. A sign announced that pharmacy opening hours where eight am to midnight. Grace’s Mickey Mouse watch informed her it was ten pm.
“We wait until midnight. Then we go in.”
“Two more hours of shopping? Hey, do you think they sell…”
Grace cut him off. “We conceal ourselves. We wait. Then we strike.”
Nearby, a pile of printers in large cardboard boxes stood like a tower at the end of an isle. They fashioned a hollow space inside the stack of boxes, crawled inside, curled up in the darkness.
Lance read a Harlequin romance novel. Grace played Snake on her phone as time passed. New high score: 2239.
The honeyed voice came over the intercom again. “Getting tired on a stake-out? Our Voidmart™ travel pillows are a steal for only eight dollars!” A chill ran down Grace’s spine. She looked over at Lance, but he was too engrossed in his book to notice. Sighing, she drew out a pair of headphones, queued up the latest Solomun mix, lay her head on his lap and closed her eyes.
When midnight struck, they climbed out to a deserted store. Behind the pharmacy counter, there was a half-open door that proclaimed STAFF ONLY. Carefully, on tip-topes, they crept inside.
Perhaps they did. The door opened to a long corridor, bathed in eerie half-light. There we more doors, all had keyholes but no doorknobs, except for one at the very end. MANUFACTURING, a neat plaque proclaimed.
That sweet grandfather voice came over the intercom. “Looking to blow the whistle on dark corporate secrets?”
Lance and Grace shared a nervous look. “Are you getting all this?” she whispered. Lance nodded, tapped his tie. They opened the door, and gasped.
A gigantic steel pit lay at the bottom of a shaft, surrounded by spikes, looking like a gaping mouth of some mechanical beast. A steel walkway jutted out from the door, above the pit, leading to a platform situated directly over the gaping mouth . In the middle of the platform there was a strange control panel, some metal chairs, and a table with a pile of generic Voidmart medicines. Payload.
They crept closer to the control panel, trying not to look down at the gaping mouth below.
“Getting caught breaking into a store?” that sweet Voidmart voice said, and it didn’t come over an intercom. “Voidmart™ recommends you put your hands up before you get shot!”
A chubby man in a well-tailored suit appeared at the door behind them, smiling an alligator smile, blocking their way out. Two burly men, the size of refrigerators, with VoidMart Security name-badges, stood by his side, guns at the ready.
“You’ve done us a wonderful favour, Miss Heartly,” the voice said. “One of the vital ingeridents of Voidmart™’s medicine is broken dreams. We will feed the Mouth of Sorrow with your pain. Voidmart™ thanks you for you your contribution. Your next-of-kin will receive store credit.”
Lance and Grace struggled, gagged and tied to the metal chairs.
“Let’s start with young Lance’s hair. Lance spends a lot of money to keep his hair so beautiful. We will break his dreams, and his anguish will make a delightful appetiser for the Mouth.”
A goon produced a hair clipper machine from his jacket. Lance screamed and thrashed, while the other goon held him down. The machine buzzed. Clumps of hair fell through the grating and into the mouth of the machine below.
Grace turned away, closed her eyes, fought against oncoming tears.
She felt a tug on her sleeve.
“Ma’am,” a teenage girl’s voice whispered in her ear. “I’m sorry to bother you but the Golden Bean takes customer satisfaction very seriously and I was wondering if there was something I could do to make up for your experience.”
The teenage girl from the Golden Bean was kneeling by her chair. The sweet-voiced man was busy pressing some dials on a panel, the goons were busy shaving Lance’s hair, and nobody had noticed the intruder. Grace nodded empathically.
“Oh, thank god!” the girl said. “Mister Walters was going to have my head.”
Grace moaned through her gag. The girl removed it.
“Untie me,” she whispered. “And I’ll fill in a loving employee feedback form with so many stars and smiley faces I’ll go through three Voidmart pens.”
“Really?” The girl whispered back. “You will?”
The goons didn’t see her coming. She drew her gun and fired twice. One of the goons fell dead, and the other staggered and toppled over the railing with a scream. The mechanical mouth below closed with a sickening screech, and opened again.
And then the sweet-voiced man tackled Grace onto the ground. Her gun went flying, out of each. Grace flailed with all her might, he was bigger and stronger. She was beneath him, she was pinned, she desperately clawed at his face while his hands constructed around her throat. She felt the air go out of her, felt herself going faint.
He fell to the side with a thud. Lance’s hands were still tied to a chair, attached to his back, but he could stand just fine. His alligator-skin shoes struck the man in the head, again and again. He tried to crawl away, but Grace staggered up, Grace pulled the sweet-voiced man to his feet, and pressed him to the edge of the railing.
“Dunno what your dreams are,” Grace said, “but consider them broken.”
Even the man’s scream sounded sweet and honeyed as he plunged into the mouth. Lance sat back down on the chair, to which he was still tied to. They looked at each other for a long time and did not move or say anything.
“Lance,” Grace eventually said. “Can you edit the murder bits out of the footage?”
“Theres’ a sale on video-editing software in isle 18." His head was almost completely shaved, with only a solitary tuft of hair remaining at the very top.
At the coffee bean, Grace filled out the most glowing employee feedback form she’d ever written, and added both hearts and stars. Lance stood at the edge of the store, grasping a newly-purchased minion pillow, watching her with a far-away look in his eyes.
A sweet, grandmotherly woman’s voice came over the intercom.
“Thinking of proposing to your sweetheart? Voidmart™ engagement rings are sure to dazzle even the most discerning woman!”
Lance grabbed Grace’s hand and they hurried out the Voidmart door and into the night.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 01:43|
Distractions - 1198 words.
The spokes of the rusting bingo carousel creaked with each turn, white and red and black balls surfing up and vanishing down into the churning masses, until finally one clicked into place and slipped through the chute, a garish pink answer the fish-faced young man silently proffered.
'Customer satisfaction is very important to us!'
"NO." Ken hissed, through a smile that was starting to hurt. "I want to speak to the manager." The wheel started to turn again before he'd finished speaking, the clerk's face a desert of meaning, and Ken broke. It was more than he could stand. Before another sickly platitude could come down the drain, he'd turned to run. His legs were pulling him forward, through the rubbery clouds of the perfume aisles and past great monuments to cookware.
He broke into the main throughway as a horn blared, a roar of light turning his glasses blank, and a red blur whipped by, the exhaust-choked tailwind pulling at his hair. The madness only resolved into a golf cart as the brakes screeched into a turn, and then it was gone again, vanishing between the shelves. Defeated beyond complaint, he slicked his hair back in his own cold sweat and trekked on.
On, through glimmering rows of razor sharp cookware. Past the empty diving skins of swimwear, where Ken found himself digging a finger under his collar, trying to fuss away the familiar choking sensation he felt when he thought of an angry Maurice, thoughts that bled into wide-open waters, rickety boats, concrete boots. Fear always brought out the cliches of his scant imagination. On, past the Matrimony section, with scalloped white dresses and the in-store chapel, spilling into Hygenics in an arguing rabble of soap-box preachers. Nothing but cheap sentiments, prebundled flowers with pre-written notes. Ken had tallied the accounts himself. The whole aisle could be bought on what the blushing bride spent for a dress. It was promising to be an extravaganza of obligation with standing room only for a whoe host of drunken, violent idiots. His collar was only getting tighter.
Not that Maurice hadn't come by that money honestly. Not that Ken had ever worn the clerk's fish-mouthed, deliberate blankness before a jury.
'Guns and Alcohol' had him picking his way over an errant beartrap, scanning hopelessly through rows of springloaded teeth, snubnose revolvers with faux-ivory handles, bottles of important liquor. Now these, these were perfect gifts. Precisely the kind Ken couldn't give, not without breaking the unspoken contract to see nothing but numbers. He needed something thoughtfully clueless. The gift of a well-intentioned moron. The kind of dork every warped reflection in gunmetal blue reminded him he was.
On, past a towering pyramid display slowly taking shape from rows and rows of beer crates, palid ecologies of pimply-faced workers scuttling to and fro across a teetering sprawl of scaffolding. And then, back, nearly tripping up a passing clerk as a row of little red booklets finally made the journey between eye and brain and finally pulled him to a stop. HOW TO FLEE THE COUNTRY, the cover promised, IN TEN THOUSAND EASY STEPS OR ONE PLANE RIDE. Awkwardly dancing between the workers, Ken found himself licking his lips. Folding himself into a line of workers lugging crates, he clambered up the ramparts towards the high shelves where those beautiful little paperbacks waited. Towards the long-delayed promise that maybe, maybe, this would be the year he stopped taking grief and money from a parade of people he wasn't allowed to know well enough to hate.
He grabbed for one, clambering atop a stack of boxes to reach, and reach, and feel something wobble beneath him. One panicked kick for counterbalance, mind and heart both frozen with instinctive panic, and the boxes tumbled out from under him, the shelves lurching as Ken crashed against them. Halogen stars lurched into a blur overhead and the floor swept the breath from his lungs as they reunited, pages fluttering up into the air. Going one way, steady clonk echoed as shelves dominoed down, and from the other direction, a wail of sirens was screaming closer. Ken did what the book clutched to his chest advised.
He picked himself up and bolted on bruised, tired legs.
Past the butchers aisle, past the smell of coffee, through dark and unlit shelving, gloomy corridors of softly humming fridges. When the shelves were low enough, he could see the boxy tops of the little mallcarts chasing behind him, the flashing police lights. He spun at the direction of hanging signs, hooked a hard right at a familiar crossroads.
For the millionth time today, someone else was coming the other way, and Ken dug his heels down until he flopped clear over onto his rear end in a sprawl of limbs. "Well." The lights overhead bloomed in a halo round blondish hair, and a hand with pink painted nails descended to help him up. She spelled out strained patience in pearly white teeth. "I do believe you were looking for a manager?"
"Yeeessss?" He ventured, fumbling, peeling at the sweaty cling of his collar as he strained to hear the sirens. Nothing.
"I think I, uh..."
"You want a gift that's blandly personal, largely unassuming, and universally desired, yes?" She cut him off.
"Yes?" He echoed, down to the sharp way she trilled off the last s.
"You'll want Distractions then. This way!" And she was pulling him along by a fingernail crooked into the cuff of his sleeve. Dimly, Ken saw the automatic motion of doors behind her, the darkness of the parking lot outside, the rows of cashiers waiting to grudgingy usher him onto freedom.
Then he went with her. The displays and shelves twisted by, the distant wail returning and fading as they slipped down a crosswise, labyrinth course, rounded one more corner and were there.
The land of clean solid-colored simple shapes and the smell of fresh cardboard. Slickly manufactured banners advertising faster and better and smaller without ever implying function. Ken grabbed for one, only to have his hand slapped, an imperceptibly different model plucked from the shelves by his guide.
"This is the one you want." She explained, smiling out on an insult in painful, beautiful clarity. "And this one for the bride, and this one for yourself." One by one she piled them into his arms.
"I'm not sure I want these. I mean, I was really thinking -" The sirens cut out in a rubbery screech, a stomping of boots. Ken turned, but security had already come to a frozen stop in the mouth of the isle, staring up in slackjawed wonder.
"See? You're a trendsetter." Somehow, in the moment his back was turned, she'd gone from smiling to smiling at him. For the first time since setting foot through the automatic doors, Ken felt less like a fidgetting, terrified little schlub with his arms piled full of useless plastics, and he refused to let the reflection in the shiny tile floor remind him otherwise.
"I, um, I happen to need a plus one? If you're free tomorrow?" He tried.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 02:00|
The song. Your character heard it in their dreams, a haunting cascade of unearthly arpeggios. They long to recreate the preternatural beauty of that ephemeral melody. Voidmart has something for even the most discerning audiophile, and features the latest in blessed and cursed instruments.
Chasing the Dragon
Removed. You can still read these crappy words right here in the archives!
BeefSupreme fucked around with this message at 08:20 on Jan 3, 2017
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 02:17|
“You said it came from the vents?”
Lucia looked down at the broken steel, fiberglass and blood spread out on the tile floor, the sound of soft music warbling through the air as she knelt to look closer. A tape divider, brought over from one of the customer service desks, kept the scene blocked off from the rest of the shoppers milling about.
The young man standing off to the side shook his head, looking back down at his tablet. “That’s what the report states, ma’am. ‘Voidmart and its advisers believe that a third party is responsible for the vandalism against the store and its customers.’”
“Of course,” She said, standing back up to look at the large vent above the rows of pumpkins and sweet potatoes, one small part of a wall display that stretched off into the horizon, an automatic walkway behind her bringing customers to and fro, passing by with alarming speed. Every now and again someone would walk past the scene, eying the claims adjuster with a dirty look for blocking access to the produce.
These situations were all too common. Aging equipment, lack of maintenance, or simple bad luck could lead to lawsuits in the six or seven figures. And even as large, as all-encompassing a place Voidmart could be, even they had some sort of limit to how much they could or would pay out in damages. Usually, nothing at all.
“Do you think it could be one of those things?” The clerk said, looking up at the hatch. “I’ve heard stories about it from the night shifts. How there’s things living in the vents. Where they’d grab you up and try to drag you in…”
Rumors. Great. As if she didn’t have enough to contend with.
“Get me a ladder,” She said, looking up at the wide opening. “I’m going to take a look.”
A light shone from the corner of Lucia’s glasses, beam lighting up the vent ahead of her. The first thing she noticed was the track of disturbed dust, swept away in a slinking trail that curled out of sight. That ruled out mechanical failure at least. But that just led to more questions, foremost among them being what being could push down on a grate with enough force to bust it loose? Perhaps one of the assistant’s ‘things’ in the vents?
She shook her head, almost ashamed that she was letting such rubbish get to her. “I think I see something,” She called down to the assistant at the bottom of the ladder. “I’m going to check it out.”
She thought she heard something sounding like ‘eaten’, but couldn’t quite make it out. With a grunt she crawled forward through the vents, looking at the trails in the dust. Every move of her hand brought up more dust, covering her glasses, her blouse, her pants, her long brown hair.
Something scratched in the vents ahead, barely audible over the sound of her breathing. Was it her imagination?
Was he right?
She continued forward, the light showing her a junction ahead, the vents branching out three ways. She approached, suddenly coming face to face with something pale and wide-eyed staring back at her. Lucia jumping back instinctively, head catching the lip of the vent. Pain seared through her skull, hand rubbing her scalp as she cursed.
“You’re here about the hatch, right?” The creature spoke in perfect common, head tilted.
“What?” She said, wincing as she rubbed the growing welt.
“Dad said you were coming,” it said, pulling out of her cone of light as it headed down one of the vents. “Hurry up.”
Lucia blinked, hearing the scuttling ahead, following behind it as the creature moved through the vents. It’s hands and arms were long and spindly, bending in ways that made her sick as it grasped whatever hold it could to pull itself forward. Thankfully, it was dressed in some sort of loose fitting fabric, white paper tag flapping from his belt loop. From time to time it stopped, looking back at her to sigh and roll its eyes before continuing forward, Lucia scrambling to follow it as it turned through the passageway. She saw light up ahead, over what she suspected was its shoulder, and felt a cool burst of air flowing past it. The creature smelled like cheap shower gel, making her nose wrinkle.
The vent opened up into a massive circular passage, a mesh grate below them leading down into a massive fan. “Watch your step,” It said, crawling up one of the walls with spindly arms, leaving her standing a few scant inches above the fan. She could feel it sucking her down and her stomach turned end over end.
“Over here,” An older voice spoke, Lucia thankfully looking up to see another of the creatures, long limbs and pale skin, sitting inside a recess. “You don’t want to stand there too long.”
Lucia crossed the grated floor, relieved at the fan’s pull subsiding as the creature waved to an old appliance box. She took the seat, breathing in and out slowly to calm her stomach. “And you are?”
“The people who broke your hatch, I figure,” The old creature said with a faint drawl, it’s pale skin wrinkled, showing from under the polo tee it wore. “One of the young’uns was going for some food and tried to rush opening up the grate. He’s might sorry for the trouble.”
“Well, sorry doesn’t pay hospital bills,” Lucia replied, taking the time to dust off her clothing.
“Ah, that,” The creature said, reaching down behind the box it was perched upon, pulling out an envelope. “This oughta do it.” It held the envelope out to her in its long fingers, Lucia plucking it gently before opening it up.
Inside was a check, addressed from the Voidmart Maintenance Colony, Ventilation Section P31, Voidmart. The word ‘Settlement for damages’ was scratched onto the ‘To’ line, the only bit of handwriting on the otherwise form-perfect check. The figures in the ‘Amount’ line more than enough to cover hospital bills and lost work. ‘Overly Generous’ failed to describe it.
Lucia barely held back her laughter. “So, you’re the ferals in the vents?”
“Ferals?” It replied. “Sure, the kids don’t like talking to folks. And some of them tend to play pranks on the outsiders, but we’re not eating people or anything.”
Lucia’s head swam as she tried to think of it all, putting it out of her thoughts as she felt for the envelope in her pocket. “Well, I should be getting back. Poor grocery clerk probably thinks I’ve been eaten.”
“Before you go,” The creature said, raising a hand. “Care for some pumpkin soup?”
Lucia felt her fingers grip the edge of the busted grate, head poking out from over the edge, looking down at the attendant still holding the ladder. “You’ve been there this whole time?”
“No one told me otherwise,” He said, holding the legs steady as Lucia turned around and came down the ladder, brushing the dust out of her hair. “Did you find the cause? Was it the mutants?”
Lucia laughed in his face. “You really shouldn’t believe stuff like that,” She said, heading back towards the automated walkway. “Thank you for the help. I can find my own way back.”
“Than you for working with Voidmart, where nothing is out of reach,” The young man called out with glassy-eyed practice. She shook her head and stepped on the walkway, produce passing her by in a colorful haze.
And, though it might have been a trick of the light, she saw a long gray arm reaching down from an opened vent hatch, somewhere back near the tomatoes.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 02:25|
|# ? Dec 8, 2021 16:59|
Lifting the Veil
dIt had been two hours, and the ringing in Errold’s ears drove him crazy. Like an acoustic predator, it had stalked him around since he’d entered VoidMart, dug its fangs into him and not let go. And VoidMart was a big place to be stalked through. It was the nation’s largest supermarket, perhaps even the world’s. A megalomaniac 350,000 square feet of shopping convenience, everything you could ever need, and more, all under one roof. And there was already the problem: with their kind of sortiment, they must have been at least triple the size of what they actually were from the outside.
Which would mean they were only paying a third of their property taxes.
Errold would find their secret. He was the IRS’s top investigator. But the problem, admittedly, had him in kind of a loop.
“I noticed there are no interior plans of your establishment.” He pulled an IRS-labeled binder out of his worn-out leather case and pulled out a sheet, the top of which read ‘FAILURE TO DELIVER’. He handed it across the table, where Mr. Binsby, an old and ragged man in a jumpsuit, rubbed his stubbly beard and took the paper to examine it with great care. Very great care. Eventually, more care than the small amount of words on that paper should have required. But then, Errold was surprised one could even attempt to read in this dimly lit room.
An old grandfather clock ticked away in the corner. It was covered in dust and webbing, as if it hadn’t been opened and wound up in ages, and consequently its hands seemed to be stuck at eight minutes to midnight. And yet, here it was, somberly accentuating the ringing in his ears, constantly reminding him of an auditory itch he desperately tried to ignore. He had to focus. Keep a clear head. VoidMart couldn’t get away with their scheme.
Finally, Binsby laid the sheet back down in front of him, folded his hands, and said, “I got nothing.”
Errold opened the binder again, flipped through the pages inside, pulling out more sheets and notices as he spoke: “Surely you are aware that in accordance with Subtitle D of the Property Tax Code, specifically Chapter 23 Sec. 01 of General Appraisals you are required to present--”
“I have no idea what any of this mumbo jumbo means.”
“Listen sport, I’m just the janitor.”
Slowly, Errold put everything back into the binder and closed it. “I was told I’d be speaking to VoidMart’s legal representation.”
Binsby shrugged. “Probably called in sick or something.”
“Then I will speak to your manager.”
For the first time, some kind of emotion seemed to play out in Binsby’s face: apprehension. He looked the way people usually did when they talked about haunted houses or other superstitions. “You really don’t want to talk to them.” He almost whispered the words, looking around as if he feared being watched. His right hand shook, just a bit. He took hold of it with his left, and it stopped.
So this was the game they were playing. Stall. Intimidate. He’d seen this stuff before. Of course, sending the unkempt janitor was a special kind of courtesy.
Problem was, Errold didn’t have much to work with as it was. It seemed impossible to even get estimate figures about the market’s interior.
Before he’d talked to Binsby, he’d tried to take some measurements himself, covertly, walk from the entrance to the other end of the store just to see how far it would go. Just to get a rough ballpark figure, see if this whole thing was even worth pursuing. Well, he hadn’t gotten to the other end. Ever. And he must have seen pretty much everything this store had to offer, from groceries to gardening supplies to the goddamn pet rock department. Yes, they had a pet rock department. They had everything, except for another end to the store. He’d been so deep into this goddamn maze of aisles and consumer products that he’d feared he’d gotten lost, until he’d turned a corner and suddenly found himself back at the entrance.
It was like the store somehow looped around itself.
“That is because our interior design is up to the highest standards. The next exit is always just around the corner.” Binsby’s voice had come out wrong, a bit too deep and without any hint of life in it, like a recording. Memorized. The janitor stared through him with glassy eyes.
“What?” Errold said.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“...neither did I.”
He realized the grandfather clock had stopped ticking. The silence made the ringing seem even louder, like something had broken away and let the noise flood his mind. It was driving him goddamn nuts, and he had about enough of Binsby’s nonsense.
“Our legal representative is currently unavailable,” Binsby said, again staring into the distance. “Please leave your summons and we will contact you--”
“I will not say it again.”
“You don’t want--”
“You’re talking to the goddamn IRS. We brought down Capone, buddy. Show me to your manager and stop loving with me.”
Binsby’s hands trembled. His whole body was tense, leaning into the table as if he was desperately pressing his arms against it. Then, slowly, he raised one hand, brought it up to his neck, and wrapped his fingers around it. His whole body shook. He seemed just short of strangling himself, his hand resting around his throat, fingers flexing, adam’s apple twitching under his ragged breath like a trapped cockroach.
The clock struck. It still showed eight minutes to midnight, but the bell rung nonetheless, and the sound bounced off the inside of Errold’s head, shattering his temples, once, twice, three times, all the way up to twelve, and once more for good measure, and as it rang, Binsby seemed to come back to his senses and remember that Errold was in the room with him.
“I will show you the way,” he croaked. He heaved himself up from his chair, and Errold, more than ready to get this nonsense over with, followed him out of the room, down the sterile employee hallway, past Shipping and Receiving, Marketing, and Human Resources. He could have sworn he’d heard screams at some point, but that was most likely the noise and Binsby’s dumb act screwing with him.
Much like the market itself, the hallway seemed to go on forever.
They turned a corner and stopped in front of a plain, wooden door. There was a gold plaque on it that read ‘Management’. Binsby clearly didn’t want to be here, and he sure as hell wouldn’t hold the door open. The janitor nodded at Errold, fumbled for words, found none, and then walked off as quickly as he could without running.
Errold knocked as he opened the door. The room inside was pitch black. There was no response. It was empty.
He’d had gotten this far, he might as well have waited for the manager.
There was no switch next to the door, and whatever meager light fell into the room from the outside cut off a few feet in. He felt his way along the wall. Before he could find anything, the door slammed shut.
Darkness. Something in his gut turned.
He was not alone.
Like a warning signal, the ringing in his head picked up. Something was in the room with him. There was no sound, no nothing, but he knew it was there, and it made him afraid, like being thrown inside a tiger cage and having the lights turned off. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Slowly, making as little noise as possible, he went along the wall back to the door. It was gone.
“Hello,” a voice said. He’d barely noticed it until it was already done talking, and then he only remembered the word, and not the voice itself, or where it had come from. The presence seemed to grow, like an imprint on his mind, a phantom reaching out to him from another plane and leaving goosebumps on whatever part of his soul it touched. He shivered.
A faint light faded in, slowly setting the room to twilight, and like a reflex, Errold closed his eyes.
Something was in here with him. Something he didn’t want to see.
“Open your eyes,” the voice said. It came from everywhere, all at once, surrounding him like waves crashing against an island in an ocean storm. The ringing in his ears swelled up, forced itself into his awareness, growing and pushing everything else out until he realised: this was not some kind of residual noise.
They were screams.
Louder and louder, they hammered against his consciousness, wanting to be let in, crying, begging, demanding for him to LET THEM IN.
“Open. Your. Eyes,” the voice repeated. There was a force behind it, a power that was used to being obeyed. But Errold couldn’t. He wanted to back out, but he couldn’t do that either. He was lost. Noise all around him, he was lost. The presence seemed to grow, like a dark cloud engulfing him, the phantom touch an icy grip that numbed his mind and paralyzed his flesh. He had to leave. He had to get out.
“OPEN YOUR EYES.”
The light in the room grew brighter, a sinister red shining through his closed eyelids. Real goosebumps covered him, neck to toe. The cries in his head became chants, clawing at his mind, shrieking to LET THEM IN! LET THEM IN! He wanted to back off, walk away, but he didn’t know where away was, or there was no away, there was just the here and now and forever, and then a breath went into him, and with the finality of a command that allowed no alternative, the voice said, one last time: “Open your eyes.”
He openedIt had been two hours, and the ringing in Errold’s ears drove him crazy. Like an acoustic predator, it had stalked him around since he’d entered VoidMart, dug its fangs into him and not let go. And VoidMart was a big place to be stalked through. It was the nation’s largest supermarket, perhaps even the world’s. A megalomaniac 350,000 square feet of shopping convenience, everything you could ever need, and more, all under one roof. And there was already the problem: with their kind of sortiment, they must have been at least triple the size of what they actually were from the outside. Which would mean they were only paying a third of their property taxes.
Errold would find their secret. He was the IRS’s top investigator. But the problem, admittedly, had him in kind of a loop.
|# ? Oct 24, 2016 03:23|