I'll take 48) Jelly
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 16:04|
|# ? Dec 3, 2021 10:22|
For my second, I'll take
41) House of Cards by Zinaida Serebriakova
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 16:15|
For my second I'll take:
35) Grimdark Urban Fantasy
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 17:49|
my second is 117) Your magic ages you a bit more each time you use it, but you will never die
though i was tempted to somehow write magical realism historical fiction space western romantic comedy.
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 19:32|
taking a second prompt
89) The Lawyer and the Devil
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 21:48|
2nd flash rule:
92) They sliced the cake and found more Krugerrands with every slice. | Gold in Every Slice by Superb Owls - http://writocracy.com/thunderdome/?story=2671
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 22:07|
114) You're a real wizard in the kitchen. That's not hyperbole, you're a wizard and you use your magic in food. Your dishes are literally magical, like potions except with more shiitake mushrooms. The freshest ingredients cause the strongest effect.
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 22:48|
|# ? Feb 12, 2016 23:11|
In with a
I'm late in entering for a double prompt, but I'd still like to request one if possible. Mea culpa, I will allow both prompts to be judge-assigned. I will also take a flash rule, because I hate myself. If I won't be given a double-prompt, fair's fair, please just assign me a single prompt + the flash rule.
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 02:08|
98) Venice (The Books)
I'm in, gonna call in that linecrit from Ironic Twist
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 02:14|
In with 54) Learn Cryokinesis ( http://www.spellsofmagic.com/spells...19665/page.html )
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 03:51|
In with a
One or more of us might regret this, but...
9) A young boy unintentionally runs into a pizza deliver driver's car while he is running around in the street playing or a man says he asked his new girlfriend for money to enroll in truck-driving school and for living expenses after he lost at a casino
58) Love is Colder than Capital by Keith Haring
Flash Rule (Egg Rule): We bet on what's inside the egg, and it keeps making that weird ticking, but it just won't hatch no matter what.
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 06:55|
Signups are now closed.
Lots of cool prompts and combinations taken. You've had plenty of opportunity to decide just what level of constraint to apply and pick directions that hopefully match up with your strengths or your current interests. I have wildly unrealistic high expectations for your stories.
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 08:06|
Tiebreaker for my judging will be whoever posted earlier. This could translate into a tiny fraction of an advantage if you get those subs in well before deadline, lallygaggers!
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 09:44|
Crit for Crit
I'm interested in cleaning up a Thunderdome story to possibly shop it around or something. It can be found here on the archive.
You can either PM me or drop me a google doc on IRC or whatever. In return, I'll give you one crit for a story of your choosing.
|# ? Feb 13, 2016 17:50|
The Gates of Mercy
Word count: 1297
The body of my brother was laid out before me. He was stacked amongst the dead, their limbs jumbled together in a tattered mess. I was not moved by the sight of him, despite the strange mustard colored blisters that riddled his body, and the one blind eye peeking out from underneath a sticky eyelid. I neither thought of the awful pain my mother would experience upon hearing that her youngest son was dead, nor the injustice of the young being robbed of their lives. No, I thought about the pressure I would receive from my family, being a Confirmed Bachelor, and how tragic it was that I would forever picture him as he was right then; with scratch marks where he had clawed at his own throat and dressed in poo poo stained trousers.
I desperately I wanted to see Alexis. I felt it as a physical need, like a man in the desert thirsts for water. I wanted him there to whisper words to me, to feel his hand upon my chest, to reassure me that the world was worth fighting and dying for.
As I walked passed the men of my company I prayed for forgiveness, for my perversion. They received me with a grim “Captain” and a promise to kill a Fritz, or a Hun, in my brother’s honor. I informed them that they would be given their chance to fulfill their promise, as we would soon show Jerry the mettle of the English Army.
Few were enthused.
Alexis was in my tent, preparing tea. This was his answer to everything, he believed a cup of earl gray could solve all of the world’s problems. It was at once a source of continued frustration and one of endearment. I sat on my cot and watched as his lithe shadow danced on the canvas walls in the flickering candle light.
When he did not speak, I shifted on my cot. “Come out with it already.”
“You don’t have to pretend with me, Willem.” Alexis said.
“What would you have me say?”
He looked off into a far horizon I could not see. “‘For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead/Dost in these lines their artless tale relate/Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn/Brushing with hasty steps the dews away/To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.’”
“Thomas Gray,” I said.
Alexis smiled. It was a game we had, quoting lines to one another, to see which of us was the more learned. Alexis never had a proper education, unlike me, but he occasionally bested me. It was one of his way of drawing me out.
He sat next to me, the cup of tea in his hands. “‘To weep is to make less the depth of grief’, sir.”
“There is nothing to say.”
“You must feel something.”
I thought for a moment. “I do, but not for Shaun. I am afraid for myself.”
“‘Cowards die many times before their deaths-’”
“No,” I cut Alexis off, though I could listen to him quote lines from Shakespeare all day long, basking in the glow of his attention. “It is not my life I fear for, it is my soul. I am afraid because I do not feel grief at the death of my beloved brother. Neither do I feel anger. He is dead and that is the end of it. There is no sympathy in my heart.”
“There is more than sympathy in your heart, Willem. I know you, and I know you are hurting. Just tell me what you are thinking.”
“What if madness is a disease?” I asked, instead of telling him the truth. “Wouldn’t that make for a better world? That the dark and sinister desires of the human heart are something we are infected with, not born with.”
“We’re not talking about Shaun, are we?”
“No, were we ever?”
Alexis leaned in, he kissed me, but all I could see was my brother’s blistered lips. He pulled back when I did not reciprocate. “‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand, this holy shrine, the gentle fine is-’”
“‘To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss,’” I said, then blew out the candle.
“Sir, you cannot leave me behind,” Alexis said. “I can fight as well as anyone.”
We stood in the trenches, surrounded by soldiers, underneath a sliver of moon. I knew Alexis would object to my decision and waited to inform him. “Do I need to repeat my orders?”
“Sir, no sir.”
“We have wounded that need looking after, please see to it.”
“Of course, sir. Am I dismissed?”
I felt the point of his words and dismissed him. I had already submitted for Alexis to be promoted, and planned, should I survive the coming battle, to pull the necessary strings for him to be reassigned back to the home front.
I saw the spindly tree atop the craggy knoll, its branches reaching up to tear at the empty sky. It marked our objective. Between us and the German’s position was still a no man’s land, a labyrinth of trenches. We crawled on our bellies until we could hear the Huns talking. I signaled for my men to stop, prepare grenades, and launch ourselves into action.
When we took the trench it was void of any Huns. The troubling remains of a crystal radio and German coats wrapped around sandbags was all that we found. Most of my men felt as if they had narrowly missed being hit by a truck. I knew better and quickly began to scramble over the parapet when the explosion took me.
The earth raised up in a wave. The trench had been set with explosives. Men who stood nearest the blast were shredded into red mist, while the rest were swallowed up by the collapsing earth. I was ejected from the area, landing in a tangle of barbed wire. I watched as my surviving men tried to dig themselves free, then driven senseless by fear, they hobbled or ran in all directions. The Germans opened fire, and one by one my men fell.
An officer should die with his men, so I waited. But then I heard the artillery, I watched as they streaked an arc across the night sky, and knew immediately that they were aimed at our camp, at Alexis. I untangled myself and began to crawl.
Gray-green clouds swept through our camp. I could hardly breath, stopping every few yards due to a fit of coughing, the taste of bile and blood in my mouth. There was fighting all over, but the Germans wouldn’t dare walk into their own poison gas, and yet I knew that was where Alexis would be.
I found him with a shirt wrapped around his face, trying, and failing, to get another man onto the back of a wagon. He slipped in the mud, fell onto his hands and knees, and did not get back up. I hardly had the strength to stumble over to him, landing in the muck next to him.
Our eyes met. I took the mask off, I must have looked ghastly as when I smiled he winched. He grabbed me and ran his hands over my body, coming away with what I knew to be blood. He said something, but I could not hear him. I struggled to put my mask on him, and when he finally relented I fell to the earth.
“‘Death lies on her like an untimely frost,’” I croaked. “‘Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.’”
As I died I prayed to God for forgiveness, not for my perversion, but for never expressing my love as I ought to have. I hoped my final act would suffice.
|# ? Feb 14, 2016 20:46|
Feel free to jerk it to my story, nerds. You know that poo poo was hawt.
Writing this really made me want to call my ex. gently caress you, Valentine's Day!
|# ? Feb 14, 2016 20:50|
prompt: fable + wuxia
The Man Who Made Noodles
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 15:04 on Jan 2, 2017
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 00:49|
sparksbloom fucked around with this message at 23:33 on Jan 1, 2017
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 02:10|
Regarding Amelia's Hands (1700 words)
They assumed Amelia to be a klutz.
Even back in elementary school, whenever anyone met the beautiful girl with skin as flawless as bone china and hair as golden as honeycomb, they assumed the spills and scraps, the tumbles and troubles, all were a part of a flighty nature, but they were wrong. She knew they were wrong.
“You’re too pretty for your own good,” Amelia’s fourth grade teacher would say while trying to teach her cursive, “now grip the pencil in your lazy fingers and loop the letters together.”
“Can I write in print?” she asked. “I can make print letters.”
“Blocky letters are unbecoming for a young lady,” the teacher said.
Amelia put her pencil to the looseleaf. She was ready to loop her letters in the same, graceful ways as she’d seen on the blackboard. They were so pretty, the letters, like little flowers in a meadow; however, the moment Amelia’s hands began to make the motions she’d learned, her hands pressed down with an overabundance of force, and the pencil lead exploded like grenade shrapnel.
Things always happened like that. “Graceless,” they called her, the princess better suited for handling a baseball than a teacup. Crochet, baking, gardening, it didn’t matter; if the activity befit the fairer sex, Amelia’s fingers just gave up.
In the days before the start of her senior year of high school, her hands were full-on revolting; makeup wound up in the trashcan, camisoles, in shreds on the floor.
The problem was in her hands, so, on the first day of school, she decided to cut them off.
“I’m sorry,” Amelia said as she fired on the table saw.
She thought that she heard a voice amongst the noise. “It’s for the best,” it said.
When Mr. Overman, the shop teacher, discovered her passed out on the floor, her hands resting unceremoniously on the wrong side of a screaming table saw, he called for an ambulance and feared for his job security.
“It’s the damndest thing,” the doctor said after she came to, “the hands were in an incredible condition, as were your wrists, but the reattachment wouldn’t take. Every suture, every stitch, belched back from your skin.”
Her mother began to cry in her daughter’s bed sheets.
“What I am saying is, well, here’s a prosthetics catalog,” he said, setting the thing on the table.
“It’s all for the best, anyway,” the doctor said, “because the hands are missing.”
“Missing?” her mother asked.
“Afraid so. It seems like they just crawled off. Nurse Prinn found the two blood trails on the ground beside the medical freezer. The blood trail was faint, but it was present, led right towards the front door.” The doctor lingered in the doorway.
“I’m sure we’ll find them,” he said before leaving.
Amelia smiled as she read the cover of the catalog; she wasn’t listening to the doctor.
She asked her mother to turn the page.
She was back in school two weeks later with a sundress draped over her freckled shoulders and a handbag between her plastic fingers, and she was happy.
Her first class was English, with Mr. Downs.
At first the prosthetics were difficult to handle. Trying to take notes on the transcendentalists was a unruly process. Eventually though, with a bit of focus, Amelia found that she could control the things.
One month later, she was looping letters that would make her fourth grade teacher proud. Perhaps Amelia would write her a letter.
She thought about the possibility as Mr. Downs attended to the knock at the door; she could hear Mrs. Larkins, the guidance counselor, on the other side, speaking in hushed tones.
“Class,” Mr. Downs said in the open doorway, “I’d like to introduce a new student. This is Lefty.”
As Mr. Downs spoke, Amelia’s severed hand crawled up his shoulder, perching itself near the bend of his neck.
The hand was definitely Amelia’s. There was no doubt about it in her mind, although the fingers were meatier than she remembered her’s being. Had it been working out?
The thought of her hand, weight lifting or doing pushups made her giggle.
Right near the cap of the separation, the jagged edge where the sawblade cut through her flesh, someone had drawn a crude face in black marker: two dots, a smile, and a zig-zag beard.
“Lefty,” Mr. Downs said, “would you like to introduce yourself to the class?”
“Uh, sure.” it said, “My name’s Lefty, as the teach said, and I am a sentient hand. I have a twin brother, and we’re both adopted. I’m really happy to be here.” Amelia could see Lefty’s stump undulating as he spoke, the voice coming from somewhere within.
The normal desks were too big for Lefty, so instead Mr. Downs let him sit on the windowsill as he continued the lecture.
As the weeks slipped away, Amelia became accustomed to seeing the hands around the building-- Lefty, every other day in English class, and although she didn’t have any classes with Righty, it would have been hard to miss him in the hallways. Shortly after his arrival at Westminster High, Righty fell in with the basketball team; they even made him a custom uniform and everything. Averaged six points a game coming off the bench; that’s how Amelia met him, on the night after the big game against Fairfield.
“I don’t like you hanging out with those hands,” her mother said while sipping coffee one January morning. “Just because you’ll be off for college soon enough doesn’t mean that you aren’t still a child, or, at least, my child.”
Amelia didn’t wear the realistic prosthetics around the house; rather, she used simple silver hooks. In the last few weeks, she had taken to drinking coffee herself. She kept the handle of a large red mug clamped between its reflective prongs.
“Mom, it’s fine.” Amelia said. “R’s kind and sweet.”
“R?” her mother asked.
“That’s what he wants to be called,” Amelia said.
“The right one?”
“Yeah. Lefty is a douchebag, but R is okay.”
“Language!” her mother said. “Besides, I think he’s a lot like Lefty.”
Amelia took a sip from her mug.
“I’m putting my foot down on this one,” her mom said, “no seeing those hands. It’s not natural. Not at that winter dance tonight, not at all.” her mother said.
“To hell with your foot.”
“Excuse me?” her mother asked.
This time, Amelia didn’t say anything.
“Fine then,” her mother said, “you just won’t be seeing anyone then. For the next two weeks. Starting now.”
She was up in her room, painting the nails of her prostheses when she heard the tapping at the window. There, perched on the outer sill, was R, slipped into a white vinyl glove with a knitted black mitten pulled over it.
Amelia opened the window.
“Like my tux?” the disembodied hand asked.
“R, how did you-” Amelia started.
“Your mom turned me away when I rang the bell, but- well you know, it’s hard to keep me out. Come on, we have a dance to attend.”
“I can’t,” she said.
“Well, I can just hang out here then,” R said.
“If my mother catches you in here-”
“Well, then, we better go.” R scuttled from the bed back onto the windowsill before gesturing to Amelia to follow him with his pinkie.
“I really can’t,” Amelia said while lifting her plastic fingers. “These things aren’t made for climbing.”
“Oh,” R said as he slouched forward out of dejection.
Amelia opened her closet door and quickly scanned the contents.
“Meet me downstairs,” she said, before getting changed.
Mrs. Free had been listening at the door, as mothers are wont to do when their daughters are consorting with strange or unusual characters. When Amelia burst through it, she told Amelia that if her father were alive then he would be so disappointed with her behavior, and then Amelia told her mother to gently caress right off, as she stormed down the stairs in her glittery dress.
“Amelia,” she shouted from behind the closed front door, “if you go to that school I’ll call the cops and have them bring you right back here.”
The gym was decked to the rafters in streamers of blue and white and paper snowflakes, and when Amelia and R entered the glittering space, she felt a dream of her childhood finally being fulfilled.
They spent the evening together, laughing and talking amongst the crowds. When the popular songs began to play, they sang. When the romantic songs from the 90’s started playing, and the two didn’t know their words, they decided to dance instead. How it was, specifically, doesn’t matter. Dances look many different ways.
During one of the songs, Mr. Downs came by and made a joke that R should keep his hand where the chaperones could see, and even though both Amelia and R were offended by the offensive comment, neither allowed it to ruin their evening.
“And now,” the DJ announced, “it’s time to unveil the results of the winter king and queen election. Would Amelia Free and, R- this sheet just says R?” he asked someone offstage, but before he could finish the announcement, the couple had taken to the center of the dance floor.
“I’m sorry that we were so terrible, before,” R said, “Lefty is too, even if he doesn’t act like it.”
Amelia scanned the circle of friends and acquaintances surrounding her; down amongst the feet she saw Lefty looking inward, a smile on his face. Then, one of those 90’s songs that neither of them knew began to play.
“I know it’s hard being forced into becoming something that you aren’t,” Amelia said.
“I won’t run off again,” R said.
Amelia decided that she wouldn’t let him, so she wrapped her arms around R and clutched him tightly to her chest as they danced.
“Are you happy now?” she asked.
“I am,” R said, “are you?”
Amelia didn’t have the chance to answer, not that she needed to. The police had arrived at the front of the gym, and the DJ had killed the music.
“This is our chance,” Amelia said, “let’s run.”
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 02:52|
I stood in the centre of a derelict factory, looking up at a large steel hook. Blood dripped down from its rusty body into a puddle on the uneven ground. The blood rushed along cracks until its path was stopped by long-abandoned machines. The hook protruded from a disembodied leg, bursting through the calf muscle. The leg was short, about half the length of my own. Every hook was occupied with different body parts. I couldn't count all of the bloody hooks. I didn't know how many people had died, but I was fairly sure they were all children.
This wasn't the only time I had seen this sort of scene recently. But it was the worst. I scanned the hooks for more legs, so that I could get an estimation. I counted five. My cursed loudly, and it echoed throughout the factory. Of course, it was an odd number. Unsettling.
“There isn't much you can do here, detective,” a forensic said. “No need for you stay.”
He thought I had cursed because the body parts had got to me. He thought I was weak. I knew because I could see. I saw what he wanted to communicate. I saw it all. Flowing from mind to mind. I saw the moment before people spoke what they were going to say, even if they decided against it. It was this ability that made me a semi-successful detective. People told me things without uttering a word. I could see when people lied, the flow I saw contained the negatives. I would see, “Don't let him know I killed the kid. Pretend you don't even know who the kid is,” but I would only hear, “I don't even know who that is!” Knowing helps, even if I couldn't always prove it.
I shot a look at the forensic and then studied the area. No clues. No leads. We had nothing. And I'd have bet my pension that the forensic and his colleagues weren't going to find anything meaningful. This frustration made me hanker for something. Not booze or cigarettes. I didn't drink because I was always aware of being precariously balanced between functioning and shutting down. Seeing every intended communication and the failed words which skewed and corrupted those thoughts left me feeling a little less than jovial most of the time. So I didn't drink because I knew that I was an alcoholic in waiting without having ever consumed a drop. And smoking didn't do anything for me. Besides I hated big corporation and booze and smokes encapsulated that better than anything for me. But without a vice to turn to at times like these, I was often left with just my thoughts. They didn't console me much.
I left the crime scene, passing the caring forensic on my way out. I felt a pang of remorse as I stared unblinkingly at his smug face. Remorse that I couldn't conjure up enough emotion to want to boot his teeth in.
Outside it was bright. It felt wrong. A scene like that doesn't sit right positioned just beyond the reaches of a new dawn. Hope and despair side beside. I hated how well it all fitted together. I tried to think of a suitable combination of weather and time. There wasn't one. But I decided that this was the worst.
Two uniforms were consoling the kid who had made the call. At least he would have a reason to be depressed. That would be some comfort, knowing why waking up is such a blow. I suppose I knew why. I just forgot because there was no comfort. Jesus, I needed to get a grip. This kid had just found out horror stories can be very real, and I'm rehashing an existentialist crisis.
“He said anything yet?” I asked the uniforms.
“Nothing. We don't even know why he was here. There's nothing within a few miles of these factories.”
I bent down in front of the poor kid.
“Hey, your mum and dad are going to be worried about you,” I said. “Why don't you tell us where you live so we can take you home to them?”
“My parents are dead.” I saw the thought, and he opened his mouth just enough for me to notice. Most people wouldn't have caught it, but I had grown used to spotting these signs. But it didn't matter. This kid's tragic luck almost sunk me. And I felt sick that I could only comprehend his plight in terms of how it affected me. Truly sick.
“Who looks after you?”
“No one,” the boy wanted to say. But something stopped him. Was he worried he would cause us pain because of his situation? Surely no child had that level of consideration, not even one who had had his life. Ten? No older than twelve anyway. Today alone would have been enough to ruin any kid's life, but for some reason he was alone and with a life already decimated.
I had to get away. This scene, this kid. I could feel something dark and heavy encroaching on my mind. If I didn't leave soon, I wasn't sure what would happen. The uniforms were looking at me with clear anxiety on their faces as I stood up.
“I'm leaving,” I said.
They didn't say anything, they didn't even think of saying something. Against my better judgement, I looked down at the kid again. His eyes were wide, imploring. Over and over he thought just one word, but refused to say it each time. “Please.”
“Goddamn it! You hungry, kid?” I said, extending my hand for him to take.
“Yes,” his mind screamed. But he just nodded and ran to me, taking my hand.
The bright day didn't seem so abrasive now. And the weight that was threatening me seemed to flow out of me through the boys hand. He looked delighted. Who knows why, but at least this ability helped me do something good. Still just reacting to the bad, but it was good nonetheless.
Prompts:112) You see the flow of information between people and things like a series of intersecting roads or rivers. You aren't all-knowing; rather, you see information when it's in transit between informer and informee. Sometimes, if you're very careful, you can dam or change the flow.
35) Grimdark Urban Fantasy
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 03:05|
Thus Always to Tyrants
Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus, Imperator, had built his palace atop the Palatine Hill so that he could watch all the subjects of his eternal city. The huddled masses flocked to his temples. Shouts and cries echoed from the Forum, where the Senate had hidden itself like a wounded serpent. Ash was upon the air and, in the distance, vineyards burned. Crosses dotted the hills. Villas had been seized. Prostitutes were in chains. Actors were slaughtered in the streets. The adulterers had been marched out of the city with what little they could carry. The masses looked up at Domitian’s great palace with horror, not knowing what new victim the day would bring.
Stephanus clutched at the cool knife hidden beneath his toga. Today, the Emperor would die. Today, he would restore the city’s glory and begin his reign as the mighty Caesar Stephanus Augustus.
“Time?” Asked the Emperor, retreating from the pavilion into his chambers. He poured himself wine and drank it with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.
Stephanus gazed up at the sun. “Almost noon, my Lord,” he said, emotionless. An astrologer had once warned Domitian that he would be killed at noon. For the last fifteen years, Stephanus had served as an imperial sundial. His years of experience wasted on telling the time.
“Your Lord and God,” said the Emperor, with an exaggerated wink and smile, “You know, Stephanus, I’ve killed men for lesser impieties.” Another drink. Stephanus’s throat tightened at the hypocrisy. “We gods only have so much patience for mortal affairs.”
The Emperor gave a tremendous laugh that shook his whole body. Wine poured from his cup and a great purple stain erupted on the fabric of the Emperor’s toga. Stephanus waited, with stone-faced fury, for the episode to pass.
“Oh gods in heaven,” said Domitian, wiping tears from his eyes with one unclenched hand. He made a half-hearted effort to clean the stain from his chest, gave up, and poured himself another cup. The Emperor leered at his servant. “Would you like to hear about the visitation that your Lord and God received last night? It’s quite the story. One that you play a starring role in.”
Stephanus remained silent but felt his fury drain. His eyes flitted towards the soldiers. The guards would stop him if he rushed at the Emperor now, denying him his honorable death. Fleeing through the pavilion would only save him for a few precious seconds. He might try to jump out the window, a disgrace and disappointment. He had spent so much time trying to sneak the knife into the palace that he had neglected to think about how he would use it.
“The mighty goddess Minerva, my guardian and protector, told me that someone was coming to usurp me. For my indiscretions,” said the Emperor as Stephanus’s heart leapt into his throat.
The Emperor watched his servant and chuckled. “Do you think I am blind, Stephanus?”
Stephanus jumped, pushing himself from the seated Domitian. Stephanus stumbled towards the window, his only chance, ready to fling himself from the palace. He had survived the Republic. He had survived eight previous emperors. If he were to die, unsuccessful, it would not be at this Emperor’s hands. He would deny Domitian that glory.
“Oh, come now, Stephanus,” shouted the Emperor from his place. He had not bothered moving and the stained toga still clung to his chest. “If I was going to kill you, I would have at least made sure there was an audience. I am not a wasteful God.”
Stephanus stopped, one foot on the sill. The salty Mediterranean air stung his flesh. Domitian turned to his guards and shooed them away. After a moment of hesitation, they obeyed and disappeared into the pavilion.
Domitian crossed the room toward Stephanus, still halfway out the window.
“This city is steeped in blood.” Domitian muttered, his smile now cracked and hollow. “No one who sits in it is safe. The Augustus was killed by his wife, Livia.” Stephanus grimaced. “Tiberius killed by Caligula. Claudius by Nero. Galba by Otho. My brother…”
Domitian did not seem to see Stephanus anymore. He instead stared out at his city. Transfixed. Awed by the painted marble facades and the many ornate columns. Men peered up at them from the Forum. Dark togas for mourning. Stephanus’s eyes bulged.
“As you see, I’ve made all the preparations,” Domitian said. “Death begets death. Blood begets blood. I can’t stop it but, luckily, you’ve come late enough in the year that a rebellion will be impossible. For now. Any pretender will have to wait for the Spring.”
Domitian blinked and turned away from the window. Silence spread through the palace like a cancer. The servants and slaves had vanished. The guards fled. Only the Senate, far down below, stirred. Domitian gave Stephanus a crazed hangman’s smile. The servant’s mind raced, struggling to make sense of what was happening.
Domitian’s eyes were like fire. His putrid breath hung in the air. “I wondered how many would need to die before you came for me. What was it that pushed you over the edge? Did you miss the whores?”
Stephanus shook with rage. He struggled with the knife beneath his toga.
Domitian pressed his whole body against Stephanus. He felt the wetness of the Emperor’s toga against his own. Domitian placed his hand upon Stephanus’s protruding knife.
“Do what you came here to do,” said the Emperor.
Stephanus tore the knife from its place, leaving a deep gash across his own forearm, and plunged it into the Emperor. Domitian laughed. Dark stains erupted over his vestments.
“Come on, you dog. Do it for the honor of Rome. Make a martyr of me.”
He tore at the Emperor again, driving his knife into his neck and groin. The Emperor’s laughs turned hoarse and ragged. Domitian tried to steady himself against the window but slipped, falling to the floor in a great writhing heap. The laughs echoed through the empty palace and spilled down to the city below.
Only when Domitian had stopped laughing did Stephanus stop. He looked at the Emperor’s mangled form and then to the window. He imagined himself as Emperor. He imagined the crowds. The temples built in his name. The treason trials. The countless dead, crushed beneath his boot. He imagined himself drunk with wine, plotting his own suicide.
The city loomed, unforgiving. Blood for blood.
“Sic semper tyrannis,” Stephanus said as he sheathed the knife into his chest.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 04:10|
The Ocean’s Sorry, He Really Is
flerp fucked around with this message at 00:14 on Feb 23, 2016
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 04:33|
How the Devil Got His Claws into Jack o'Kent (2340 words and you keep your mouth shut about 'em too - I'm using all of my remaining word bounty from winning week 100.)
You can't break a contract with the Devil. He always collects his due. That's how I got shot in the head, and that's how the Devil finally caught Jack o'Kent -- who was, as it turned out, a good man to the very end.
I'm looking out my office window, a minute before midnight. It's raining hard, and the only people on the street are lost dames and fools.
The door swings open. I'll admit, I jump a little. When you're in this line of work for long enough, you start seeing thugs with long cloaks and sharp teeth on every street corner. "That should've been locked," I growl.
"It was," says the stranger, grinning like a cat.
He slides into the room -- slides is the only word for it; this bloke walks like his feet aren't touching the ground. He's a little guy, dressed all in black from his fedora down to his loafers. He sidles up to my desk and drops a heavy black doctor's-bag on it, narrowly avoiding my ashtray.
"I've got a proposal for you, Mr. Baron."
"Unless it involves my heading home for a good night's sleep," I say, "I'm not interested." I look around at my shabby office. It's been a wet winter; the wallpaper is starting to peel off the walls in great floral swaths. "Not unless you'd like to double my salary."
The stranger reaches a black-gloved hand into his bag. He comes up with a fat envelope, which he drops in front of me with a satisfying thwap. "Consider it done."
Now he's got my attention.
He wants me to locate a particular chap. A magical type, apparently. Fair enough. After all, there's the placard on the door:
THEODORE C. BARON
"His name is Jack o'Kent," the stranger says, "and he's done an unfair thing to me."
"Unfair how, exactly?"
"We signed a contract. Ironclad. The details are... private, but all above board, that I can assure you. But when the time came, he welched on our deal. Wizards. Pissant little goblins, always thinking they're too terribly clever for rules."
I consider shutting his mouth for him. The nearest I've got to a friend these days -- aside from my work -- is a wizard himself, and a damned powerful one. Yet ever since the stranger walked into my office, I've found myself overcome with a funny sort of malaise. Like the temperature has risen a dozen degrees in here, and my dinner is coming back to life in my guts. "Okay," I say, wiping sweat from my forehead. "So long as you'll pay for the time." I'm already a month behind on the rent, and only the good faith of the lady who owns the building -- I once located her lost Yorkshire Terrier -- keeps it from being two.
"Sign on the line, then," he says. I consider, for a moment, reading the thing. But I get two sentences into the first paragraph, and realize that my eyes are just sliding off the edge of the page. I must be more exhausted than I thought, and I've never been a great reader of legalese. I pick up my pen, and I sign.
Jimmy Mulligan is the nearest thing to a partner I've got. We're both too solitary to share a shingle, but I'd trust him with my life. He's a redheaded little wizard of the most traditional type: a teetotaler, a softspoken fellow, and an idealist to the core. Yet somehow, despite my own surly nature, we get along like a house on fire. I've been feeling unsettled ever since meeting the odd little stranger, and if anybody can re-settle me, it'll be Jimmy.
We meet at a little tavern downstairs from his Midtown office. He keeps lighting and putting out the same match, over and over, apparently by winking at it. After the fifteenth time, I snap.
"Ah, give it a break, Jim."
"Did you know," he says, grinning, "that this was the very trick that got Thistle Wattlewand crucified?"
I laugh. "Sure, but did they kill him for being a wizard? Or for being so damned smug about it?" I take a sip of my absinthe. "Anyways, I've got to tell you about the night I just had."
Jimmy listens, leaning on the bar and fiddling with his water-glass. When I get to the part where the stranger describes the job, the glass quite suddenly cracks, then shatters, soaking the bartop and Jimmy's lap. "Jack o'Kent?" he says, as the red-faced gnome tending bar climbs up on his stepstool and mops up the water.
"You think a first-class private dick forgets a name?" I raise an eyebrow, but Jimmy doesn't smile.
"And you had to sign some papers? Right then and there?"
"Out with it, Jimmy. You met this guy before?"
After a pause, Jimmy shakes his head. Then he glares at the broken glass and it dutifully reassembles itself. "Knowing your reputation, it's not like it'd matter if I had," he says. He's grinning again. "I'm Theodore Baron, and I always find my man."
He might laugh, but he's not wrong. I've got an ear and an eye tucked away in every corner of this city.
Every night, I find myself a bit deeper down the rabbit-hole that's Jack o'Kent's reputation. Every contact I have has heard of the man, but not a single one admits to having met him. I feel a twinge of guilt each time another stuffed envelope plops through the mail slot, courtesy of the stranger, but apparently he doesn't mind the delay. The cash keeps coming. I've even bought myself a new pair of loafers, to replace the ragged and rain-spattered ones I've been wearing for a decade.
It takes a dozen called-in favors to even get a picture of Jack o'Kent, and even then, my contact insists on the cloak-and-dagger approach. I find myself pacing back and forth across my office carpet, closer to sunrise than sunset, waiting for a visit that'll come from who-knows-who. This time, I'm only a little surprised when the door swings open.
I am surprised to see Jimmy Mulligan.
"That was meant to be locked," I say, half-affectionately and half-peevishly. "Wizards. What's going on?"
"I've got to show you something," says Jimmy. He doesn't return my smile. He somehow looks even paler than usual, almost translucent, and I suddenly realize that I haven't seen him in a good few weeks. How have we not managed to even have a drink together?
He takes a few steps forwards, pulling an envelope from his coat pocket. I reach forward to take it. For a half second, I look down at the envelope, wondering what could be inside to have Jimmy so on-edge. Then I look up, and find myself eye-to-eye with Jimmy's Walther PPK.
I don't even hear the shot. My knees just buckle under me, and then the whole world is warm and black.
It takes me a week to get over the shock. I spend the first few days right there on my office carpet, half incredulous that I've somehow stuck around - albeit without any of the component parts I'm used to - and half furious at Jimmy. If I'm going to be a ghost, I'm going to haunt him for as long as it takes me to figure out what the hell he thought he was doing, and then probably until the end of his natural life, after that. And with that, I have a purpose and a plan, and I pick myself up off the floor and go.
It turns out that this city is packed with ghosts. I never knew. For everyone reading the morning paper on a street corner, there are half a dozen ghosts peering over his shoulder, trying to get a glance at the headlines. I hover outside of Jimmy's office for a solid minute, waiting for someone to let me in, until I notice another ghost float through the door. Right.
Jimmy's sitting at his desk with his coat and hat still on. As soon as I come through the door, I smell whiskey. That makes me take notice. Jimmy's been a teetotaler for as long as I've known him. While I watch, he pours another two fingers into his glass and slugs it back. Various magical gizmos buzz and spin on his desk, not used to being ignored.
Suddenly, I feel like a bit of an rear end in a top hat. But not half as much as Jimmy's about to. I muster my strength, and send half the books on his shelf flying across the room. Then I summon up a freezing wind, complete with a bit of hail.
Jimmy puts his head in his hands. "Baron, don't do this to me. Please go away."
There are two problems with that.
First, I've been a detective for drat near thirty years now. It takes a lot more than pleading to get me to give up a lead -- and I've got an obvious vested interest in solving the case of my own death. Second, I wouldn't know how to go away if I wanted to. And with time, I almost start wanting to. A ghost can't speak, can't sleep, can't smoke a cigarette, can't even sit down to a good breakfast after working all night.
It only takes three weeks to make Jimmy crack. He's sitting in his office, drunk and staring down at his own shoes, while I rattle the picture frames and make mysterious knocking sounds emanate from his desk drawers. Then he suddenly looks up, and a light comes into his eyes. He grabs his coat and his hat from the rack, and rushes out with his cigarette still smoldering in the ashtray. I give chase. And of all the places, we end up at my own office.
I've almost forgotten the o'Kent case. Jimmy, apparently, hasn't. He rifles through my desk - or rather, through the pile of tossed-aside papers that the police left behind. When he pulls out the stranger's contract, the one I hardly read, the thing looks strange. In the plain light of day, I can't imagine why I ever signed my name to it. The letters wiggle and shift, like they're trying to escape the edges of the page. Jimmy lets out a barrage of cursing that's creative even for a wizard.
He finally forces the thing to hold still, and I read it with growing trepidation. I've signed my soul over to the stranger in escrow, to be released when I give him Jack o'Kent. That would be why I've stuck around, then.
For the next few hours, I watch Jimmy do all manner of things to my contract. He sets a corner of it on fire, but the rest won't catch, although he does manage to scorch my blotter. He casts a spell that makes the edges of it wrinkle and curl, but the words stay clear. I stare out the window, pondering the notion that now I've got two cases to solve. On the one hand, I'm hunting a man for the Devil Himself; on the other, my former best friend shot me, but he's now trying to save my immortal soul.
"Mister o'Kent," the stranger says, and it all comes together at once.
For days, Jimmy's been trying to dissolve the contract in acid, shred it with scissors, and glower it into submission. Nothing's worked. Which is not to say I've made any progress myself: nothing is more frustrating than trying to interview a contact via mournful wailing and arcane knockings on the walls. "Baron, it looks like we're stuck," Jimmy finally said, looking at a corner totally opposite the one I was hovering in. Then, he had grabbed his coat and hat and was through the door.
The stranger never seems to stop smiling. "So, you couldn't break your own contract in the end, o'Kent?"
"You've got me," Jimmy says. He holds out his wrists in front of him. "My soul is yours, all official and everything. It's been a good couple of years, hasn't it?"
"A good couple of hundred years you've been playing hide-and-seek with me, o'Kent."
"Baron's fulfilled his contract with you. Let him stay or go, whatever he wants."
"Fair enough," says the stranger. I feel a tingling run from my head to my toes, like I've just taken a double shot of vodka and then walked outside into a blizzard.
"And as for you," the stranger says.
Jimmy is pulling an envelope out of his coat pocket. "I just need to show you something first," he says.
The stranger glances down at the envelope for half a second. Jimmy's pistol flies out of his coat pocket and lands neatly in his hand, which is already poised to aim at the stranger's forehead. The stranger looks up, and I catch a brief glimpse of his expression of bewilderment and betrayal: the same way I must've looked when that trick was played on me. This time, I hear the shot.
The stranger flops onto his desk. His mouth falls open and his limbs spasm slightly.
"Baron, I have no idea where you are, but you'd better be following me," Jimmy yells. "Run!"
And why did I tell you that Jack o'Kent got caught in the end? Well, wizard who's known to be dead - along with an ordinary fellow who actually is - can gain entrance to a surprising number of the hidden places of this world. That said, if you've read this far, you deserve to know the whole story: why you shouldn't sign a contract with the Devil, why you should always watch a wizard's hands, and why there's a placard on an out-of-the-way office door in Midtown, reading:
T. BARON & J. MULLIGAN
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 04:56|
Martin could bust a street lamp in two shots. One smooth rock for the plastic guard, and another to blast the white-blue LED into smithereens.
“drat, that’s crazy,” said Osmar, his cousin.
When it would rain, and there would still be water in the Los Angeles River, Martin and Osmar would skip rocks and try to ramp across the river on their bicycles. Martin had always been the better aim.
Martin tossed a rock in the air and grinned. “I can bust a whole street if I wanted to.”
And he did want to. He wanted to break them all. But he dared only to venture through the industrial park and warehouse districts of downtown, railroad tracks and the edges of factory lots. Someplace that allowed for a quick getaway if a rent-a-cop was around looking for vandals.
“Watch me smash this one,” Osmar called.
Martin turned to look where Osmar was aiming and his heart stopped. Osmar was in the middle of the street, aiming at an orange high-sodium pressure lamp on the other side of the street. Right as Osmar reeled back to sling a rock, Martin slapped his hand and the rock went clattering into a steel warehouse wall.
“Stop you dummy, we’ve been here too long, someone might see,” Martin hissed. Osmar looked hurt as he rubbed his hand in feigned vigor. They dashed across empty railroad tracks and past scrap yards and tow yards before they came to Martin’s house. It was an old work-live space from long ago, when you could have a one bedroom house and convert the other half of the yard into a metal shop. Martin’s father, Galdamez, was grandfathered in from his own father, back in the 50s. Galdamez had grown up in this one bedroom house with his parents, and now Martin.
“Mañana,” Osmar said. Martin nodded and ran through the screen door into the house, hoping to get to the workshop without being noticed.
He could tell from the sound of his father’s voice that he had been drinking already.
“Your school called again today,” Galdamez said. “Where have you been?”
“What does it matter?” Martin said. He did not stop on his way to the workshop out back. He stepped through the corrugated metal siding to the large wooden workbench. Stacked in boxes were glass globes, custom designed decades ago by the city of Los Angeles. In another corner he had the pressured gas canisters, next to the arc ray tube stock. The welding equipment sat right next to the work table.
Martin threw his backpack into the dust and sat the stool at the work table.
“What are you doing, I am talking to you,” Galdamez shouted. Martin knew if his father had been able to hear the school telephone him, then he hadn’t done any work in the shop today.
“If Mr. Gryer at the city calls and he says that everyone in the city hates these new lights and they have to replace all the broken ones, and what if you say you don’t have any lights ready?!” The words spilled out of his mouth like an unclogged sewer.
Galdamez was dumbfounded. “What are you talking about? Your mother’s soul, what have you been doing?”
Martin jumped off the stool, sending it clattering to the ground. He darted to the side of workshop, his father making a move to stop him. Martin was gone, slipping out a driveway where the trucks used to deliver supplies.
Martin wandered the mostly-empty streets. They were streets that he would walk with his father as a young boy. His father would point to a light and say “you see that light? I made that light. And I made that one, and that one, and that one.” He would keep on and on until Martin and his mother would plead him to stop, tears of laughter in their eyes.
The gold, yellow hues bathed everything in their light. Either it was gold, or it was black as shadow. Martin felt like he could blend into the concrete if he stood still, and he loved the sound the lamps made, the industrial cricket that lulled him to sleep. He must have walked the 6th Street Bridge a thousand times just to savor the light. A golden road entreating the city to shine.
Now, every street was rapidly filling up with the blue LED lights. Some days when he would skip school he would follow city trucks around, watching as the three-man crews would replace lamp after lamp. They were slow, and took many breaks, which angered Martin. The nonchalance of their work ethic, they had not the decency to put his father out of business professionally. They would let him suffer the slow death.
He came to a part of the warehouse district he had been before, but not for a long time. This was farther than he usually went, and after Martin’s mother’s barbershop closed, he got his hair cut at Osmar’s apartment.
In the place of the barbershop was a pie shop, with their food on chalkboard for outrageous prices. Their hours were open for only a few hours in the morning to afternoon, and they didn’t even open on Monday’s. Martin felt sweaty and itchy thinking of spending many late nights doing homework while he and Osmar waited for Martin’s mom to close up.
He scratched his head furiously, the itch not going away. He could see himself in the reflection the storefront window, he was filthy and angry and blue. He turned on his heel and whipped a stone from his pocket at the street lamp. A direct hit, and the plastic case swung open, revealing its fragile innards. The second rock struck true as well, and the familiar sound of shattering glass made Martin smile. He closed his eyes and let the darkness of the street engulf him.
Suddenly a blue light pierced through the skin of his eyelids. Blue and red. A siren startled him, and he jumped slightly, causing the officers to begin shouting.
They brought Martin into a shabby blue carpeted room. The popcorn ceilings were only a few feet from the head of the judge where he sat.
“How do you plead?”
“No contest, your honor,” Martin’s public defender said.
“Did you know that studies have shown crime is reduced by 20% in areas that have these new lights? The money this city saves can be spent on its citizens instead? Do you have no love for your own city?”
The judge’s questions were met with only nods and sullenness. Martin wanted to cry, but he felt completely empty. His stomach kept sinking with no end to the feeling.
“One year probation, and fines of $5,000,” the judge said.
Martin heard his father inhale sharply, and his forehead dropped to the wooden desk. He heard nothing else in the courtroom, and only moved from the ushering of the bailiff.
Outside the court house, Martin sank to ground and slumped against the stonework. His father sat next to him, still holding his hat in his hands, rotating it like he was stretching out misshapen dough.
“This is no end,” Galdamez said. He put his arm around his son and they sat there.
They drove east across the city. Martin hung his arm through the window and rested his head on his shoulder. In the side mirror he looked past his reflection at the sun not-quite-set and the golden rays it bathed the city in. He squinted from the cool wind and the light, and, finally, he closed his eyes. His father turned on the radio, and he heard an accordion over the wind, but that was all.
Prompt: Yearning for the yellow cities.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 05:13|
Prompt: "Don't Let's Start" (They Might Be Giants)
They Want What They’re Not (1,185 words)
As he boards the subway, he catches a glimpse of her on the crowded platform and sighs. Soon, the argument will begin again, just as so many times before. But there won’t be many after this, he’s just left the cardiologist’s office with the diagnosis. And sure enough, as he dangles limply from the handstrap, body swaying with the rattling train, his attention drifts for a moment. Suddenly she’s there, as if she’d been next to him all along. He’d never understood how she did it, but there was so much about her he didn’t understand. She looks up at him, her twelve-year-old’s eyes wet with care.
“What did he say?” she asks. As always, he knows it will be impossible to ignore her, but he’s tired and unready for the routine. Once the argument has achieved momentum, it will become easier. But this is the worst part, when he has to force himself to believe that it’s happening at all. Worse still is forcing himself to believe what he’s saying.
“Don’t…” He takes a breath. “Don’t let’s start.” Even after all this time, he has to fight the impulse to believe that it really is his daughter standing next to him. “Not now. He says my heart’s… that I don’t have much time left.” It occurs to him that it will be easier if he can’t see her, so closes his eyes and says “Please. Later, I promise.”
For once, she must have listened, because when he opens them again, she’s gone.
He’d been dreaming about her and her mother the night she first appeared, just as he had every night of the twenty years since they left. Somewhere between sleep and consciousness, he could tell she was there at the bedroom door, peering in. It was a habit she’d picked up, he remembered, from checking each morning to see if he’d made it home the night before. There was a ringing in his head as he tried to comprehend her presence in this tiny house she had never stepped foot in. When she spoke, he stopped trying. “Dad?”
Even if this was a dream, he had to respond. In an instant, he had launched himself from the bed and she was in his arms. Just as solid as the night her mother took her and left, and he’d never been able to touch her in dreams. Maybe all those years alone had been the dream, but seeing her his arms he was aware of their thinness, of how much looser his skin was than it had been the last time.
They spent the day reliving the past, he had so many stories to share from their first time together. It was always him, though, she had nothing to contribute. Somehow, he realized, she had no memories to share. Trying to think of what could jar her them, he remembered the photo albums he’d stashed away. They’d be difficult to get, he’d done it so that he’d have time to recover his senses should he be overcome with a mad desire to face his past.
When he returned, she was no longer there. For a moment he was frozen by this loss as sudden as her arrival, and was statled when he heard a hiss from the other side of the room. His cat, sole companion of these last years, was glaring at its exact double. He dropped the dusty album in surprise, his eyes instinctively follwing it to the floor. When he looked back up, one of the cats was gone and there she was, grinning as if she’d been there the entire time, waiting for him.
Over the following weeks, he worked out the rules of her presence. She was his daughter when she was around him, exactly as he’d remembered. But in his absence she’d become something, anything else. She would take different forms around the house, now the television, now the phone. When he asked, she said she liked being his little girl the best. That comforted him for a time.
Soon, though, something began to gnaw at him. The more time he spent with her, the harder it became to reconcile who he was now with the man his daughter, his real daughter, had known. At first, hat man seemed little more than a half-remembered acquaintance, characteristics broadly summarized in the stories he told her. But the longer she stayed, the clearer that man became, and it horrified him.
The first time he asked her to leave, he had to have the words written in shaky hand on an index card. It did not go well.
When he arrives at home, he seats himself at the kitchen table and waits. When he finds her suddenly in the chair next to him, he steels himself. This time, it has to be for real. It has to count.
“You need to go,” he says.
Just as every time before, she seems confused. “Why?”
He places his hand on her knee, hoping that it comes across more as a fatherly gesture than an attempt at steadying himself. “Because you’re a ghost, or a spirit, or a figment, or… something. Something from the past that shouldn’t be here.”
She frowns at him. “But we’ve had so little time together.”
He struggles to meet her gaze. “More than I ever thought I could get. More than I ever deserved.” He takes a deep breath. “You can go help someone else now.”
She jumps from her seat. “It wouldn’t be fair! It wouldn’t be fair to leave you!”
This time, though, he’s ready for this. “No. It wasn’t fair for you to come in the first place. When you... when she left, I made a choice to change my life. So maybe I could be something more than the man who drove his family away. If I really did make myself into a new person, that person deserves his own chance to live.”
He, too, stands up and takes her hand. “I never realized that before you came. But I know it now. You have to go.”
“But you told me you’re dying! That you don’t have much time left!You spent twenty years wanting your girl to come back, and here I am! You can actually have what you’ve wanted!”
Somehow, he feels ready for this. “It’s not right for me to be singled out. No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.”
He takes her hand up to his mouth, kisses it. “That’s how it needs to be, the same thing everybody else has. Everyone, except you. And you need to experience that. I don’t want you to fall into my past either. You’ve spent enough time being my girl. But I’ve become someone other than the father she despised, and you need to become someone else. I know you can.”
She nods and releases his hand. He gives her a soft, sad smile and looks down, knowing that, this time, when he looks up she’ll be gone.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 05:30|
Where The Devil Says Goodnight
Flash rules: Broadway Boogie-Woogie, Gold In Every Slice
Arlen took an extra-deep drag on his cigarette as his wife hit the high-note. The sound turned him into Pavlov’s stage manager, brought him right back to two nights ago.
He and Aviva loving in the back of the orchestra pit, right next to the third trombone. He remembered holding Aviva off until right before that high-note, then surging forward as Cathy’s mouth formed a perfect “O” onstage, heard Aviva’s moans of ecstasy tumbling out of it. He’d pulled his pants back up, plucked a few hundreds out of his wallet and dropped one into each of the waiting bells of the brass section. Not a bribe, just a courtesy. They knew enough not to cross him.
He dropped the cigarette butt, stamped it out, snapped his fingers. “Fran-swah. Wine. Now.”
A short and thin man in a red vest picked a bottle of Merlot off of the prop table and poured it into a glass, then strode over to Arlen’s outstretched hand. Arlen plucked the glass away, took a quick sip, then smiled. “Meet me after the show, Frenchy, I’ll slide you some foie gras, compliments of the house,” said Arlen, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together.
“Merci, Monsieur Bandel,” said the man as he turned around and left. Arlen chuckled to himself. There would be no “after the show”, just a long procession of people that could kiss his rear end as he and Aviva made their way out of the country. A quick escape out his theatre’s back door, and then he’d slam it shut on his old life.
Uciekać, diabeł mówi dobranoc. Run like where the Devil says goodnight. If it was going to be the last day before those boys uptown broke his legs for not paying them that protection money, he might as well run with them. Those hundreds he’d tipped the trombone players with were the last in his wallet, and he’d sooner wipe his rear end with the singles that were left. Now it was all up to Aviva, that bimbo, it was up to her to set everything up nice.
“Christ,” said Arlen to himself. He drank more of the red wine. The wine was like jazz—he’d never understood all the notes, he just knew how it made him feel. And in a way, that was his life—charmed, and always falling into place, even if he couldn’t understand it. He’d work it out.
They’d work it out. They’d make their way up to midtown where the ports were, pay their way onto a steamer bound across the Atlantic with the stash he’d told Aviva to bring over, and then—Paris? London?
He’d take one of them Norway cities at this point.
Arlen drained his glass, gripped the stage curtain with his free hand.
The lights dimmed, and the Bandel Theater’s stagehands went into motion, shuffling chairs and tables into place in a meticulous and hunched dance. The only one who stood still was Cathy, in her Marie Antoinette frippery and lace, staring into distance with a faint smile on her face, like she liked what she saw.
Aviva’s thick heels clomped against the stain-studded pavement, taxi lights shimmering against her sequined dress. She stopped, steadied herself against a lamppost. Everywhere was lights, blinding, flowing, flashing lights. It all burrowed into her eyes and blazed against the inside of her skull.
She put her head in her hands, grabbed at her temples. It wasn’t fair. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The directions Arlie’d given her swirled around her head in her panic, building names and right turns swimming out of her ears and hitching themselves to the headlights of passing cars. Chelsea Left. Astor Place Way. Right Turn Across Stuyvesant Square. Six blocks from his apartment to the theater, but what did a block mean to her? She was born in South Jersey, farm country. She didn’t live inside of a circuit board. Arlie had always been there with a hand on her shoulder, telling her where to go.
Aviva walked to the curb, waved her hand back and forth in the air like a crazed metronome. “Taxi!” she screeched.
No one stopped, even after her arm dropped to her side, its strength gone. She tucked her chin to her chest and yelled through gritted teeth, stamped her heels on the sidewalk. She had to get to Arlie, tell him that his stash wasn’t there. The canvas bag was there, back behind his stack of empty Chesterfield boxes, but it was empty, upended in a crumpled heap. She knew by the glint in Arlie’s eyes as he gave her the directions that whatever had been there would’ve impressed her, but there was nothing there now.
Aviva had torn the closet apart, emptied shelves, coffee mugs full of gilded cufflinks and used shaving brushes, thrown polished black shoes against the wall like cannon fire in frustration. Nothing, nothing that would buy their way to Europe, hand-deliver her into a life of luxury. Just a pile of broken and scuffed things.
She took a breath. Don’t stress yourself, she told herself. Think. Think hard. What did he say?
Something about Broadway, the main street—
Aviva snapped her fingers. “Broadway runs right down the middle,” she said out loud. Of course, that was it. She’d stick to moving left and right, and once she found Broadway, she’d follow it down to where all the theaters were.
As she walked, the lights fluttered around her.
She pretended they were the flares of light from the sun, glinting off wrought iron and tin shingles as she made her way down the Champs-Elysees, a shopping bag strung over each arm—and with Arlie, of course! Arlie with his arm around her like the cameras were flashing, pointing up at the Eiffel Tower, French wine on his breath and stars in his eyes, saying they’d get married at the very top, where they could see everything and want it all for themselves, the streetlights sinking below her as she walked on top of the world, until a puff of exhaust wafted into her face.
“Friends,” said Cathy, her voice lilting under the spotlights, “I welcome you.”
This was the centerpiece scene, where they took audience members up onstage to dine with the “aristocracy,” then whisked them off the stage in time for the Revolution to start.
“We are at the center of a Golden Age,” said Cathy, addressing the guests at her table, made up nobility and giddy spectators alike. “Tonight, we dine in celebration of the everlasting pact that holds us together—“
She could feel Arlen’s eyes on her, watching from the wings. Fitting. He owned the entire place and didn’t have the decency to stay in his back office where he was supposed to be. Instead, he dragged his filthy little fingers over everything in front of him. Everything he thought he owned.
She’d seen a glimpse of him and his little tramp out of the corner of her eye, screwing in the orchestra pit like rats trapped under railroad ties. She’d finished the end of her number, looked down, and stared directly into his eyes, his hands resting on his girl’s bare hips. The way he’d looked at her was the way he looked at his shoes in the morning before he put them on—just another thing for him to step into, another void he only wanted to fill with himself.
“It is time,” said Cathy, smiling. She clapped her hands, and the two servants brought out the cake and set it down at the head of the table, pink frosting dappled with white streaks of piping. “Bless us, bless the Lord, and bless the revolution.”
She picked up a wide knife from the table and sank it into the pink skin of the cake with two tight slices, then lifted a wedge out and placed it onto the plate of the theatergoer next to her.
Something clinked against the china plate. The man picked it up, held it to the light.
To her right, Cathy heard Arlen’s wine glass shatter against the floor, followed by a single expletive in Polish, whispered out like a last breath.
The thick gold coin shone like a morning star under the stage lights. The man’s jaw dropped. “Holy hell—“
“Hey, there’s more!” said the younger man next to him, grabbing at the slice of cake.
“Hands off,” said the first man, grabbing the knife from the table and brandishing it, but a minor noblewoman plunged her manicured hands into the cake before anyone could stop her.
The table tipped over towards the audience, sending gobs of frosting and gold splattering against the hardwood before the actors and audience members fell onto it in a pile of grasping limbs. Someone screamed in pain.
As the front rows of the audience rushed the stage, Arlen let out a full-throated scream of rage. In the chaos, only Cathy heard it.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 05:30|
Flash Rule: 98) Venice (The Books)
More than ten million people watched Yacob Chen lean over his sink, look in the mirror, and stretch his mouth into an oblong ‘O’ so he could get a closer shave. His headset partially concealed his left eye behind a tinted lens, which reflected the mirror reflecting Yacob. The camera mounted over his left ear captured every bit of black hair that fell to the white porcelain. The microphones captured, with stereoscopic technology, the wet sandpaper sound of his straight razor scraping over stubble.
Dan Hufflaw from Idaho said, Commissioned a custom str8 razor just like @YaChen’s, never had a closer shave! and his comment was buoyed to the top of cross-platform newsfeed aggregators by an oceanic swell of ‘likes’ and favorable replies. Within hours, it was the featured comment beneath Yacob Chen’s live video feed.
But then a new faction appeared. Dan, @YaChen taught himself metalworking so he could make his own razor, but you non-brands just see something original and throw money around trying to copy it, said Gage Remo from Oregon. There was a small, fierce avalanche of agreement, and a volley of ‘dislikes’ rained down like arrows on Dan Hufflaw.
If you want to have on-brands, you have to have non-brands, Dan said. Creators need emulators and spectators or there’s no point. Somewhere in Idaho, his phone buzzed off the hook as the ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ poured in.
Yacob Chen finished shaving, washed his face, then moisturized with some homemade cream, which he scooped out of the stone mortar with two fingers and spread across his high, fine cheekbones like cake frosting. Sshh, his fingers whispered as they moved over his freshly shaved skin. Sshh. He was careful to not smear any on his eyepiece. And, for just a moment, his viewers hushed. This was @YaChen, after all. The simple novelty of his morning routine could at any moment unfold into spectacle. The steps in his shaving ritual were, as far as his audience was concerned, no different than plot beats in a film script.
Blue-balled, Gage Remo commented when Yacob Chen finished moisturizing without incident and proceeded to get dressed. Yacob’s walk-in closet was famously austere; rather than filling the racks with clothing, he arranged his handful of outfits like visual merchandising displays, a neo-normcore rainbow of greys and beiges and blue jeans.
After he was dressed, Yacob sat in his armchair and stared at his living room for twelve hours. Commenters inspected the video feed pixel by pixel. The image was divided into quadrants and @YaChen fans collaborated in poring over every last couch fiber, looking for some clue as to what Yacob was up to.
At exactly nine o’clock central time, the lights in Yacob’s house went out, and there was a collective international gasp. The stream was still live, but pitch black. There were shuffling fabric noises and heavy breathing. Within thirty seconds, Yacob’s steady viewership of ten million jumped up to twelve million as casual fans caught wind of the hubbub and tuned in.
At fifteen million viewers, the lights came back on. Yacob Chen was standing with his back to a full-length mirror, looking over his shoulder so the camera could capture his reflection. His stance was bowlegged and he was naked from the waist down.
Neither Dan Hufflaw of Idaho nor Gage Remo of Oregon could summon the words for a comment. Somewhere in the real world, Dan’s finger was pumping the PRTSCRN button like a piston.
Yacob crouched down, his backside still facing the mirror. He reached. His fingers dug around inside of his body until, with effort, he produced a small ball from his anus. It dangled there, swaying slightly. With a gesture from Yacob, the camera on his headset zoomed in on the reflection of the ball and the fleshy environs surrounding it. There were words on the ball, apparently hand-written and in Sharpie.
Here’s Why @YaChen’s Portland Performance Will Be the Most Important Show of This Century, proclaimed the front page of the Portland Mercury. The alternative newspaper’s website had become a sort of ad hoc outlet for Yacob Chen news and speculation.
Ticketmaster’s website slowed to a crawl. Dan from Idaho was in the digital queue, his whole body quivering with tachycardic excitement. In another browser tab, he compared ticket prices from Coeur d’alene to Portland. Gage Remo in Oregon actually went to the box office at the Keller Auditorium, physically, to stand in line and get his paper ticket, which was actually just a printed copy of the E-Ticket.
Yacob Chen arrived in Portland a few days before the show. Crowds gathered where he went, whether he was sampling the local food trucks or exploring the famous japanese gardens of Washington Park. Nearly one thousand people were waiting outside of the old Cinema 21 when Yacob emerged from an afternoon showing of Man on the Moon, Dan and Gage among them. Everyone had their phones, tablets and headsets out, watching Yacob watch them watch him.
I liked that movie before @YaChen made it cool, Gage Remo commented on the stream as the Portland drizzle fell lightly on his phone’s screen. He saw the top of his own head in the crowd on the video feed, his face angled down at his phone. He saw, from Yacob’s perspective, Yacob hold up two open pans of gold paint. Then, like a holy man giving darśana to his followers, he swung the cans by their handles and doused everyone within fifteen feet with liquid gold. Cries of protest and confusion went up as expensive electronics were ruined. Twenty million viewers watched Yacob Chen watch his fans watch themselves get covered in paint.
@YaChen Promotional Event Turns Into Panopticon of Chaos reported the Portland Mercury the following day, hours before Yacob was set to take the stage at the Keller Auditorium.
I haven’t washed the paint off my hand yet, Dan Hufflaw commented, and attached a picture of his gold-spattered hand as proof. So psyched for the show.
Dan replied with an eye-rolling emoticon and said, You’d eat up any spectacle they set in front of you if it got enough enough shares in your social network.
Both men were seated in the front row at the Keller Auditorium. The room was quiet except for quiet murmuring between those few who’d come with friends. White-blue screen light from nearly three thousand phones made everything look ghostly. All eyes were on Yacob’s feed. He was watching them from somewhere. The audience watched themselves through his camera, trying to suss out the angle from which Yacob was observing them.
At eight o’clock, the house lights went down, the stage lights went up, and the audience fell into an excited silence, like inverted applause.
Dan and Gage crained their necks, trying to see through the tiny gap in the red velvet stage curtains.
The curtains opened. The stage was sparse, empty of everything except a large, hanging screen, which was bathed in empty white light from a projector. There was a long beat, like the gap between songs on a randomized playlist, where anything was possible. All eyes in the auditorium were on the stage, their devices temporarily forgotten.
On the projected screen, credits began to roll:
Kaylee Buxton……………………………………….10,344 Comments
Pradeep Krishnan…………………………………...10,011 Comments
Dan Hufflaw………………………………………….9,804 Comments
Gage Remo…………………………………………..9,804 Comments
Mirna Smoot………………………………………….9,799 Comments
And on, and on, and on. The house lights went up. Ushers came down the aisles to escort the disabled and elderly to the exits.
The stream was over. Dan and Gage filed out of the auditorium in the gush of bewildered fans, viewers with nothing to view except their own gape-mouthed reflections against the black of a dead video feed.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 05:49|
High-Intensity Circuit Training
116) Young, orphaned animals and children come to you. They remain your tireless obedient companions until they can't anymore.
It was nearly lunch break when Noah Stanley came across the first child. He’d been sent to investigate the recent sporadic power surges. While checking the conduits from the main reactor to the south backup, he turned a corner to find a small boy mid-tunnel.
“How’d you get down here?”
The boy didn’t answer. He scratched at his head with a dirty hand.
“OK.” Noah continued down the line, verifying point integrity and recording wire condition. The boy followed, staring. At the end of the tunnel, Noah turned back. “I’m done here. I’m heading back.” The boy kept following.
Noah lived in a tiny crew quarter container, two levels higher. Despite his earlier lack of success, he tried more questions.
“Do your parents know you’re down here?” No one could bring children into the access tunnels.
“How did you find us?” The system wasn’t on any map.
The boy only stared.
The boy nodded.
Noah went to the cold storage and made sandwiches.
They ate in silence. The boy seemed small. Maybe four years old.
Afterwards, Noah stood up. “Let’s go find who you belong to.”
He opened the door to see another child standing outside. A girl, a bit taller than the boy, pouting at him.
“Where did you—”
“Give me back my brother!” She grabbed the boy from the doorway and stomped off.
“Hell of a thing,” Noah said. He went inside to gear back up for work.
Noah didn’t go long without more unusual companions. That afternoon, he found a wall swarming with bees.
Strange. He checked—carefully—the wire conditions. No damage, no gnawing on the lines. He marked it and moved on.
That evening, his doorstep was covered in slugs. He gingerly stepped over them to slink inside.
The next morning, Noah half expected to find a new array of animals outside the door.
Instead, the two children were there waiting.
“We talked about it.” The girl crossed her arms. “And we decided to help you.”
The boy still only stared at Noah.
“You... what?” Noah gave her a bemused look. She didn’t seem much older than her brother, maybe a couple of inches taller, wearing a pale yellow dress that seemed out of place and a blue bow in her hair. “I don’t understand.”
She rolled her eyes. “The electrics. Come on.” She grabbed his rough, calloused fingers in her hand and started pulling. “Show us the problem.”
“The surges?” He started walking. “Thing is, there’s no pattern to ‘em. There and gone in a second.”
The girl nodded sagely. “Let’s go find one, then.”
“I don’t think—”
The boy giggled and ran off ahead.
Noah stopped. “Shouldn’t we look after him?”
“No. He’s chasing something. Maybe what we’re looking for.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where’re you from?”
She gave him a strange look. “Where’re you?”
“Omaha. I work here! This is my job!”
They walked in silence, through darkness interspersed with weak recessed lighting. A buzzing sound grew up ahead—mechanical buzzing. No sound he would expect in normal operations.
He turned on his light and kept moving. The beam slid over the culprits: two seagulls, nesting directly in the conduit.
“Not possible,” Noah muttered.
“Why not?” Lyssa hung back. “They have as much right to live here as you do.”
“No, but... we’re too far underground... not even near any water!”
“They must be so lost and afraid.”
Noah stepped forward. The birds gave a warning hiss. “It’s OK,” he said softly. “But you have to move.”
“Don’t!” Lyssa cried.
He turned to her. “They can’t stay here. They could disturb operations, or dig into the wires, electrocute themselves, shut down this whole quadrant. Do you want that?”
She looked away. “No...”
Noah laid his toolbag open on the floor. Then he carefully picked up the gulls, nest and all. One of the birds crouched down low in the nest. The other glared at him and hissed at every jostle.
He set them inside the bag, then picked it up. “Let’s get them somewhere safe.”
“...Maybe.” For some reason, he didn’t want to sneak the birds onto the surface elevator. He didn’t want to have to explain them to the guard or the inspector. Or to his boss, for that matter.
At home, Noah set up a space on top of the heater for the nest, and laid out some food scraps from earlier. Then he left the door cracked open, just in case.
“Now,” he said, “shouldn’t we find your brother?”
“I know where he might be,” Lyssa said.
They passed swarms of butterflies. A whole wall was covered in beetles. One tunnel was completely blocked by a particularly large, intransigent sheep.
“He must not be down there,” Lyssa said.
Noah shrugged. He followed her back to make a different turn.
The next tunnel was covered in spiders. “Careful,” Lyssa said. But they somehow always scattered away from his foot as he walked, only hitting hard-packed earth.
Every creature they passed was moving in the opposite direction.
“This is the way.” Lyssa nodded.
Noah considered reporting these unusual animals. But he didn’t move for his signaller.
The pulsating buzz grew louder, a palpable force reverberating in the walls. Noah turned the corner and gasped.
Draped across three conduits, lounging like a satisfied cat, was a giant lizard, dark as a moonless night. It stretched from the lines nearly to the ceiling, with great bulging yellow eyes that followed them as they approached. Every so often it bit the conduit and blinked, and a whining sound emanated from the walls. The air was thick with ozone.
“The surges.” Noah stared. “We’ll... have to stop that.”
Lyssa clutched his arm. “Don’t hurt him!”
“Do you... know this thing?”
She frowned and looked away.
“Right.” Noah rooted through his toolbag, then set a few things on the floor. “Not much spare wiring. Gotta be careful... If this goes bad, it could down the whole quadrant.”
He went to work, staying well away from the lizard. It followed him with one eye, keeping the other locked on Lyssa.
First, he had to clamp the main line. Then he sent a shunt to the ground to dissipate excess energy.
“Now, the other side.”
But the creature growled as he approached—even along the far wall—a low rumble that set the lights flickering.
“Lyssa, you’re small... Can you take this across, to the panel beyond that... thing?” He handed her a long metal tool. “I need it put on just like here, and clamp it tight.”
Lyssa looked at him, then at the lizard, and shivered... but she nodded. The lizard’s eyes followed her as she passed, but it remained silent.
Soon, she called, “OK!”
Noah switched on the inverter. The lines between him and Lyssa went dark.
The lizard shook its head, like a giant waking for the first time. It shudder-jumped to the floor, then stalked towards Lyssa on the far side.
But she didn’t.
Noah tried to make sense of it later. After he had gone back to his room to sleep, exhausted from searching the tunnels, and found the birds gone. They left some dishes in the sink and a note thanking him for a place to crash.
Lyssa never ran or yelled. The creature had advanced to her, until she was obscured behind its bulk. But when Noah turned on his light, he thought he saw two dark shapes moving down into the tunnel.
That didn’t go in his report. Or the insect swarms, or the strange children who seemed to know the tunnels better than he did. But after he replaced and reactivated the line, he kept the damaged section with the three-inch bite marks. He wanted to remember.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 06:21|
removed for publishing stuff
SurreptitiousMuffin fucked around with this message at 10:20 on Nov 26, 2016
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 06:43|
Every Gambling Man
Every gambling man knows the quote, “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” It’s an engine, one of hundreds, that keeps them running as their money runs out. Robert used the line every time he questioned his own desire, refusing to upgrade it to an addiction. He reasoned it’s not a problem if it’s everyone’s problem, which is why he drove six hundred and twenty miles to run out that month’s living expenses.
No place on earth better served the gambling man than the Free Game Casino, where just walking in earned every luxury-hopeful a single slot pull. It was enough to earn the casino a waiting line, stretching from the golden gates to halfway through the parking lot. A side entrance was the first of many comps for big spenders looking to lose their money faster. Robert entered through those doors and was cashed in by a too-happy cashier for a thousand dollars, the minimum. Robert thought she was prettier than his girlfriend, but a dull pressure on his morality kept him from flirting. He was annoyed when the next man in had no problem chatting with her, getting airy giggles in return.
That man followed Robert.
Robert kept swinging his head around, as though looking at all the games, just to catch glances are the guy. He was nowhere near as big as Robert, but had the right look of dangerous from a slight slouch and smug expression. Wondering if he had been transported into a spy movie, Robert hoped the bastard would try something, a great excuse to knock his face in. Robert was forced to let his fantasy go when he sat down for his free slot pull and the man sat beside him. Of course he was only there for that.
“Good luck,” Robert said, not wanting to be rude. He firmly gripped the old-fashioned slot lever.
“You too, Robert.”
Robert pulled his lever hard, but the machine was tough. “How do you know my name?”
“Hahaha, I heard you when you cashed in. My name’s Juan.” Juan pulled his own lever, then held out a hand to Robert.
Robert shook it and his slot went wild, whistles and alarms telling everyone around that Robert had just made big money. The hand was small in Robert’s, but he treated it as gently as he would a baby, as it was a rule of gamblers that you didn’t spite your good luck charm. Juan’s slot beeped once in negation.
Floor service and bouncers hustled to Robert. He half-listened and half-fantasized as he was told of his one hundred thousand dollars, trying to calculate how far he could upgrade his beater of a truck. Well, if he did a lease-
After Robert wandered away, his spot was flooded by people arguing over who was next. It was a blur, those hours that followed, full of booze and bragging and planning. A few more slots were played, but lost, as Juan had left long ago. A complementary room let Robert retire for the night.
Robert’s debate between overpriced room-service options was interrupted by three soft knocks. A plain envelope was slid under the door. No one was in the hallway. Robert tore the envelope open, also tearing the letter inside and giving himself a papercut. Sucking at his wound, he read, ‘Egg Gambling, Room 001.’
One bandage later, Robert stumbled through the hotel halls. Whatever ‘Egg Gambling’ was, it sounded more interesting than thinking of yet more ways to insult his boss before he quit his job. The strangling restrictions of a call center job was something no man should need to live through. Aha, thought Robert, he could make his boss a noose from the phone cables.
It was a smoky room, with two hotel security and three other men. One smoked a cigar. Another wore a hat. The third was Juan, who waved to Robert. “Yo.”
Robert nodded. If this was anything close to slots, he had a good feeling since Juan was there. “Egg betting?”
Juan pointed to the table. Robert finally noticed a gigantic egg sitting in the middle. It was grey flecked white, the size of a head, and emitted a soft ticking noise. “Any time you feel sure, you can bet what’s inside the egg. If you’re right, you get ten times.”
Robert clicked his dry tongue, forced into time with the monstrous egg’s ticking. The smoking man coughed after inhaling more cigar. A guard pulled out a seat for Robert. Judgement long-ago erased, he sat. “Egg betting?” He repeated.
Juan replied, “This is real gambling, for real men.”
Robert wasn’t sure about ‘real gambling’, but he liked the idea of being a real man. “What’s the minimum?”
“One hundred thousand.”
Robert’s judgement recovered as he shot from his seat fast enough to knock it over. The egg rocked a bit, with its ticking also thrown awry. A guard grabbed Robert and, despite his struggling, slammed him against the wall. “You do not disturb the egg,” the guard commanded.
“Can I leave?” Robert asked, feeling his drinks working their way back up his throat. The wallpaper was rough against his arm.
Juan didn’t look concerned. “Wait for someone to bet.”
Robert was guided back to his seat, which was helpfully ready again. He sat and grunted. drat guard, if Robert had a better chance, he’d have disturbed him right in the eggs. He vowed to never come to the Free Game Casino again.
“You have a wife, Robert?” Juan asked.
“Girlfriend.” Robert automatically responded.
“I bet she doesn’t understand what it’s like to gamble. I bet she yells at you every time you do, even if you win. I bet she spends the winnings anyway.”
Robert tried to respond, but could only nod. It was all true, but Robert didn’t mention that sometimes the money he gambled was hers. He heard the ticking skip a few beats.
“You love her?” Juan asked.
Every tick of the egg sabotaged Robert’s attempts to think, so instead he spoke, “We’ve been together almost two years. I think she’s expecting me to marry her.”
“Hahaha, do you want to?”
Robert was sure the ticking was now annoying on purpose. Every time it almost fell into a pattern, it changed. If it was torture, Robert could only wonder why him. “She doesn’t love me for my money like a new girl would, that’s a plus.”
Juan snapped his fingers, as though he’d just thought of the perfect idea. “Where do you work?”
“rear end in a top hat boss?”
“I bet when you won, you wondered a bunch of ways to stick it to him. I bet you want to use your money as freedom. I bet it makes you feel powerful.” Juan smiled.
“You reading my mind?” Robert asked, but was having trouble reading his own.
“A lot of guys like you come here. You think the difference between a winner and loser is luck. If you could do any job Robert, what would it be?”
Robert did his best to cover his ears and think, but the ticking had already reached inside of him. Instead he collected together scattered words and said, “Truck driver.”
Juan clapped. “The open road, that freedom you want, no one to lord over you. Yeah, good job. Your biggest dream is being a real man?”
Robert didn’t have time to be insulted. Tick. Tick. Tick. “I am a man.”
“You feel like one?”
“Yeah, just a cog in the machine,” Juan agreed. The cigar man finished one and lit another. The hat wearing man yawned.
The egg rocked. Robert called out, “Everything I have that the egg is full of mechanical bits.”
The rocking sped up. Cracks began to form on the surface of the egg as Robert watched with a nervous lust. Everyone else observed with a neutral expression. The smoke in the room seemed to grow thicker.
The egg hatched.
“You lose, Robert.”
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 06:47|
Gold mourning ring with a painted eye
The portrait appeared one morning in the second-floor gallery. The temporary placard read: Mariner with Gilded Brass Astrolabe, and below that: Artist Unknown.
I often visited the gallery to watch other people. Almost always I would stand near the top of the stairs or lean against the bannister—there was an obscene sort of thrill in seeing people down below, diminished. No one ever considered what they looked like from above. Never thought about bald spots or stains near their collars.
Sometimes I just sat on one of the benches and closed my eyes, straining to hear the whisper of the automatic doors or the chiming gift shop register above the thrum of mingled voices.
But the portrait bothered me. The subject was a young man, blue-eyed, with blonde hair cropped close along the sides of his skull. He was seated in front of a red velvet curtain with the astrolabe in his lap. It was the eyes that I didn’t like. Something about the eyes. I had always felt comfortable in the gallery, swallowed up in the crowd. Yet the painting’s gaze seemed to search me out.
I began to visit the gallery every afternoon. The woman at the turnstiles offered the same narcotized smile each time—I don’t believe she ever once recognized me. I would look at the painting for hours, standing there until my knees ached and my legs felt soft. Other people would float through the gallery in twos and threes, couples with children and couples without, very few alone. They passed around me like water. Rarely someone else would stop beside the portrait, regard it for a moment with a pinched, near-sighted grimace, and continue on.
After the third day, it struck me that no one else aside from the artist had spent so much time with the painting. I felt almost ashamed, standing there. But slowly, I had come to doubt myself. To be convinced, privately, in my soul, that the young man’s eyes had found me out, discovered some interior defect or fraudulence.
I realized, too, that I had been waiting for something to happen. Standing so close that I could make out each brushstroke, every pore in the canvas, in anticipation of some revelation, some revival. Roll away the stone.
Those painted eyes haunted me, even followed me home. I would collapse onto my bed at night, shake off my loafers, and the eyes would drift across my vision like motes. Even when I squeezed my own eyes shut, I could see them in a burst of red against the back of my eyelids, as if illuminated by lightning.
On the fifth day, I hid a boxcutter in my pocket. I climbed stiffly up the stairs, felt it cold against my thigh. I went into the bathroom and locked myself in a stall, extended and retracted the razor, weighed it in my palm. Scratched at week-old stubble.
The portrait’s installation had been completed overnight. Gone was the paper placard, replaced with handsome brass. Those painted eyes now stared from behind a quarter-inch sheet of clear acrylic.
I went home, defeated. I threw the boxcutter in the trash. The next morning I woke from a nightmare that I couldn’t recall, and my sheets were soaked with sweat.
After work, I went to the auto shop down the street and bought a quart of battery acid. I poured some into a mason jar and screwed the lid down tight.
There was a gap between the portrait and the acrylic—perhaps a few centimeters. I stood at the top of the stairs and let people jostle past me with their elbows and shoulders. My head felt empty. The mason jar tugged at my coatpocket, and cold fear seeped into my belly, as if the mariner’s eyes would betray my intentions to the other visitors. I pictured men in a dark room, glowing CCTV monitors.
I watched the acid, the arc of it, glittering under the soft gallery lights. Splashing above the frame and dripping behind the acrylic. For a moment I felt pinned in place, mesmerized by the red curtain running down in bloody rivulets, the terrible eyes turned to jelly.
I ran. I heard shouting behind me, the squeal of rubber soles on linoleum. Someone gasping, shouting, Stop. Through the turnstiles.
I stayed an entire day in my apartment with the lights off and the blinds drawn. I didn’t go near the window or make any calls.
I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.
It was the mariner’s eyes that looked back at me, blue and depthless, gleaming like volcanic glass. They seemed to be swelling, growing larger as I looked on, as if they would swallow up the entire face.
The mason jar was a lump in my pocket. There was still a bit left. The eyes, spreading, like a shadow passing below calm waters. I tipped the jar toward my face, watched an oily yellow droplet tremble at its lip, fighting the almost unbearable urge to turn away. I told myself that it would all be over soon. One drop. Then another.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 07:11|
Yoko no Hijo (Fear) ( http://www.spellsofmagic.com/spells...12847/page.html )
Before he died my father told me that we must spread God’s word. These were always his whispers, I’m always listening to them, and I always will. For the rest of my life I’m lying in the crook of his arm, nuzzling against him, listening to him gasp them out in a pool of his sickness. These are always, these moments, and they don’t get better.
God came and took him away. I think God was sad. My father is chasing the tangled string in the sky, so deep and blue when I stare through the glass; it goes on forever, like time.
I have listened to God, tried to understand him. He makes sounds near me, maybe they are for me. After my father was gone, he came near me more often. Sometimes he would reach for me, but God is scary. I’d shy away, stumbling, looking for dark corners. I’d stay in those corners, closed off from everything. An eternity always, I am still in those corners.
I would emerge after centuries to find food waiting in a silver halo. I’d paw it to make sure it was safe, then I’d eat, and I’d feel myself growing stronger. But growth is an eternity too, and forever I am still weak.
Now I think God has died. The halo is empty, smeared with grime. It has been there, forever, I think, but I am not sure. I am cold and hungry and the halo is empty. I am empty and I think my stomach is a void. The void is everything around me and it is waiting forever, and I know I will be the void, in the void, forever, if I stay.
There is a path to heaven. It is real. I must go there.
ii. The Path
At Heaven’s threshold lurks the beast.
I walk. Paw over paw on tangled ground. I am moving, I have always been moving.
I have never walked this path before. It smells of dank fur and waste. It belongs to the beast now, like all things will, in time, and time is now, it is all now. The beast has everything, and I am going to him. I always have been going to him, will always be going and never be in his jaws. I will always be in his jaws.
The path to heaven is thin. I can only move one way, and I don’t have much space. The sides are streaked with dirt and decay.
The howl of the beast freezes me. My ears drain every last note out of the air. It is a long howl, and I can’t react to it because it’s the same, the same for centuries, even as my blood slows.
My paws are trembling, scuffing against the knotted ground. It rips against my claws. They are tender and chafe against the knots. My fur raises, making me bigger, but I know I am not nearly the size of the beast. The air that cuts through the path slips through my fur, which clings to it, draws it in. It meets my body and I am cold.
I can see the shadow moving in heaven, behind the threshold. Moving in the light that spills forth, like the halo around my food.
I raise my paw so I don’t have to look at it. I am forever, endlessly safe behind my paw and time. I am always here, never in the beast’s jaws. He will rip and tear me so I can never be torn. I am not torn now.
But I must face him, even if I am torn always.
Because the beast is with God, and God is a place. God doesn’t move, I’m not sure He ever has. He is there, in the light beyond the threshold. God is life, and the life has stopped, and I must face the beast or else the thing that can not be real will eat me, like I have eaten from the halo, like the beast will eat of me, like there is something eating of God, now and forever and always, but I do not understand.
I am before the threshold. I can hear the beast breathing on the other side. He breathes many breaths, he is big, he must consume more life than me. As I reach for the threshold, I hear him growl, a low sound, from the pit of him. Against the threshold I stop, for my fur is still bristled, and my skin is still cold. The growl is deep from the void, and I think he is a void. He is bottomless, like the thing that is maybe real, and the maybe thing will eat me.
I push open the threshold so I can fit in, and then I squeeze, into space, into God, into light, to be before the beast.
iii. The Beast
His teeth are flecked with spit and grime. He is drooling, shaking. His eyes shine from the light spilling through the half-shuttered window.
I am halfway through the threshold .
He moves towards me, haunches raised. He slowly builds up speed as he lumbers over.
I coil my forelegs. I can leap back, twist, and scamper back down. Back to earth, back to where there is the fear that is not this. I am not sure if it was worse.
Suddenly, I remember eternities. All eternities that are bad are worse than anything. That eternity is worse than this, even though this eternity is the worst. I think God is helping me know that somehow. God is a constant, like eternity, but better.
The beast is coming, but I can feel God in the room with me.
So I move through, fit my body in, and then I am slammed against the threshold, closed behind me. That world is gone now, and his jaws are searching for me. They are ripping at my fur, there is not much fur, and I can’t move, pinned, I feel them against my belly. The fur parts against them and they are touching my skin, dragging across, but they are not there yet, because I am thrashing, sliding against the threshold, and then I am falling.
We both fall together but the beast is on me. My belly, my throat. He is searching. I can’t breathe through his spit.
But my backlegs, my backlegs are curled, and there is fear, and fear makes them carve deep, deep into him, and I am tearing, terrible. I don’t want to play with the ball of string in the sky. I will. He is biting me, I am tearing him, I am crushed against the threshold, but I am also tearing. My claws are wet. The beast is crying. All my limbs are tearing.
I hurt him. Something he needs is hurt. He isn’t the beast anymore. He’s something that will sleep, that doesn’t want to sleep. He is starting to sleep now, though he is still awake.
iv. God’s Head
God is seated in front of his universe. He’s not moving.
It wasn’t the beast I smelled. It was Him. He is beginning to decay.
I hear sounds from his universe. I can see a flickering light, like a candle dancing. I can’t see God’s face. He has bent his body over so his head might be closer to his hands.
I move towards him. Somewhere nearby, the beast moans.
When God is dead, we must spread His word.
I tug at God’s leg. God doesn’t move. My claw catches in the folds of his skin. God has many skins, even in death. God’s skin will last forever.
I am climbing. I always will climb. I am not climbing yet.
I am ascending, ripping at cloth, bathed by the light of the universe. It blinds my corners, but I can still see up. I can still climb up, moving past the different levels of God. He is still not moving. I am not falling. My claws are pressing into God, into the space where the layers of God bleed into each other. I don’t understand God.
My father is in the sky. I am climbing towards the sky. My father is in God’s head. God is all tangled. The tangled string in the sky.
I am on God’s back, clutching to his forest. And I can see, on God’s universe, his word. The thing that he wants to say.
I don’t understand. I move onto God’s head, to be closer to his spirit. So I can understand.
My weight presses on him. I hear a noise. There’s something under God’s head.
Chimes. Lights. New shapes on His universe.
I wait forever. At the end of forever, they come. They take away God and they take me away, after. Soon, a long time from now, I am somewhere else.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 07:19|
96) Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance
He saw her, and then he didn’t.
It was like someone had turned off the only light in the room she was in, only she was outside and it was still just light out. She hadn’t moved at all. Mercy was running by the ally between Domino’s and the storefront law firm on Cicero, just as he had to every day, and for the first time in a long time, something was different. Today, he saw her.
Then, just like every other day, Hal’s van came careening over the curb on the corner and sent him back up.
Mercy only knew the guy’s name was Hal because the first day this happened, they met in the long, straight line into post-life. They died pretty much at the same time, after all, and it might have been a slow day, too. Getting to the line was like being a fade in on a new scene, which Mercy figured helped the shock a little bit.
Well, not so much for Hal.
Hal was pissed about being dead.
“God bless it. God bless it,” was the first thing Hal said, after a few minutes of betrayed panic and confusion. Then he saw Mercy.
“Well, if that don’t beat all.”
Mercy waved a little, trying to offset the sheepishness of his smile.
“You were the one? I hit you, right? You ran out in front of me?”
A small nod was all Mercy could manage at the moment.
“That little cream-cake son of a harlot. If the little troublemaker finds his way up here, I’m going to personally strangle him and find a way to send him back down.”
“Who?” Curiosity got the better of the knot in Mercy’s tongue.
“That feces-eating cat of mine. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
The line shuffled forward, and the two of them shuffled along with it.
“I’m Hal. I’m real sorry about running you over.”
“Mercy. It’s okay.” They shook hands. Hal was all dimples.
“Wouldn’t have happened if my cat Bandy hadn’t gone off in a tizzy.”
Mercy had never really liked cats all that much, and now he knew why.
Hal did most of the talking while they stood in line for a few days. He seemed like a lonely person who had a lot of practiced stories he didn’t get to tell often. When the registrar came up, he gave his personal information, and the person-like being behind the podium blinked a slow and powerful blink, and Hal was gone.
Mercy stepped where Hal had stood for a moment before.
“Where did he go?”
“Name, birth date, death date, and location of both.”
The being’s voice seemed to come from all sides at once, crisp and airy.
“Mercy Kevin Behrens, born October twelfth, nineteen ninety in Oakland, California, died October thirteenth, twenty fifteen, in San Fransisco.”
“Mercy.” His name had never sounded so sweet and ominous.
“Come back tomorrow, Mercy.”
And when Mercy blinked, he opened his eyes to his bedroom, and it was nighttime.
He had tried to find his body, but he didn’t know which morgue it was in. At some point he saw his mother put an urn on the mantel. He watched her for a little while, but it was awkward to watch people when they thought they were alone, so he stopped.
About ten til seven, Mercy found himself running to catch the bus on Cicero, just as he had been the day before. He ran past the Domino’s, past the empty alleyway, past the law firm, and was hit by a van.
This time, Hal wasn’t in line. When he got to the podium and listed his information, he heard, “Come back tomorrow, Mercy,” and he was in his room once again.
Mercy stopped hanging around his house. His mother was too sad, his brothers weren’t much help to her, and try as he might, there just wasn’t any way to communicate with them. While the world moved forward, Mercy just reappeared on that corner around dusk every day and got hit by a van.
He never saw Hal again. Sometime early on, Mercy tried to get a glimpse of the person behind the wheel, and he was shocked and actually a little amused to see a grey cat, paws at ten and two, very attentively running the van over the curb in Mercy’s direction.
Then, she showed up in that alley.
She was holding a talisman or something, a stonework shape that glowed a little from the center. Her eyes were fixed dead on his, and her mouth moved, though he couldn’t hear any words. There was something odd about the way her entire person looked, though he couldn’t quite place it. And then she was gone.
Mercy explored the city a little more each day. He looked for her, but the city was huge and there were so many places to be. The van was a time limit.
The line became routine. Early on, he tried just running to the front, but found the thought blew out of his head like a piece of paper. His name, dates, and locations became a memorized hell, and “Come back tomorrow, Mercy,” ran like a constant mantra in his head.
It was, by his attempt at a mental count, the six hundred and fifty-fifth day after his death that he saw her again.
It was the same as every other time. He had been following a man with an interesting-looking instrument case when the next instant Mercy was chasing his bus. The Domino’s on the left, the mouth of the alley, the law office, and there she was, standing on the corner facing him.
The front tires of the van bounced over the curb and she threw out the hand holding the talisman as though to catch it.
He heard her voice now, heard it shout with the motion and taper off into a mutter. The van was frozen in place, dirt flying off the tires stuck like dust motes in the air, the cat’s eyes wide and wild.
When she stopped muttering, the girl smiled.
“Hey?” Mercy ventured.
“Come here a second, will you?”
He shambled a little closer. He realized as he drew near that her sweatshirt was a faded red, and it was the most vibrant color he had seen since he died. He was just now figuring out the world had no color, it was just light and shadow. He vaguely wondered why this hadn’t been apparent.
She held out her hand. His crept up to it, then decided to take it.
She guided him up the sidewalk on Cicero a little bit and gave him the talisman. It was the stonework face of a crow, long and furious with a screeching beak. “This is the last time, okay? You won’t come back. You need to give this to the registrar.”
“I mean, to move on. To see me.”
“Who are you?”
She smiled, then pointed at the cat.
“Not my name, but that’s me. And that was like, seven reincarnations ago. But I’m done with that part now. And I guess it’s your turn.”
He looked back to the corner. He knew exactly where to stand, how to position his scrawny body.
“Did you kill me on purpose?”
Her laugh was kind of shocking in context. “Nothing happens for a reason, Mercy. But I can tell you, I make it up to you.”
And the next instant, he was in front of the van as it pounced, his heart pounding and feeling the warmest it had ever felt for someone.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 07:52|
The Train to Charlotte
The Charlotte Express was 250 tons of American Iron, replete with satin curtains, mahogany arches, and defeated traitors. If my glare could have killed, there would have been two more dead rebels under the crystal chandeliers. Though I was headed into the Hornet’s Nest for business, I always relished the chance to travel in first class.
It was a shame my trip had to be spoiled by the presence of personified treason. I muttered something about the French, my admiration of their liberal use of the guillotine to rid their country of the profligate, and struck a match.
While I lit my cigarette, one of the dirtier graybacks stood. His dirty, cracked fingernails dug into the back of the rococo seat cushion.
“If you have something to say, speak it to my face, carpetbagger.” He pulled his jacket aside to show me his Derringer.
“Cute toy,” I said. “Though I still don’t think they should allow unwashed children on a train this fancy.” I let my mouth hang open, and cigarette smoke wafted out at its leisure.
The dirty bastard tucked his smile behind his lips and reached for his gun. His friend grabbed his arm. “Not now, Ambrose.” He nodded in the direction of the marshall, who had temporarily suspended his focus on his plate of potatoes
Ambrose huffed but restrained his rage.
The marshall stood, set his napkin on the table, and tipped his hat. “Don’t let me stop you fine gentleman from protecting your honor,” he said. “Always thus to the usurpers.” He squeezed Ambrose’s shoulder and exited the dining car. On the other side of the door, he made a show of drawing the blind so that none of the fine folks in coach would have to witness my unplanned retirement.
I carefully tapped the ash from my cigarette into the tray on the table. “It amazes me,” I said, “that the Southern Pacific Railroad is concerned with such a trifle as cigarette ash, yet they have not provided me with a large box labeled ‘whoreson confederates’ in which dispose of the lot of you.”
The other man released Ambrose’s arm, and his smile crawled back out from his lips as he aimed the gun at my head. “And to think, Henry, here I was thinkin’ I’d never get another chance to kill a yankee queer,” he said. His friend laughed.
He pulled the trigger, and the bullet buried itself in the window frame over my shoulder. Ambrose turned to Henry and shrugged.
I set my cigarette down in the ashtray, still lit. “Now Ambrose, you’ll never get ahead in the world with poor language like that,” I said.
He fired again, shattering the window behind me. The frigid air blew in from High Rock Lake and rustled my grizzled whiskers.
I continued: “Luckily for you, I am a man of medicine.” I drew back my coat in a similar fashion as Ambrose had done earlier, but instead of crude weapons I revealed my collection of snake oils in small, glass vials.
The other erstwhile rebel grabbed the gun from Ambrose. “You drunken fool, you wouldn’t be able to pull on your own britches if there weren’t your name sewed in the back,” said Henry. He too took his turn projecting lead in my general vicinity, tarnishing the elegance of the carriage.
I stepped up to the men and removed an empty vial. “Now this one, which I paid a handsome wage for the steward to slip into your soup earlier, relaxes the muscles and makes them suggestable to even the most subtle influences. Say, a wary glance or a disapproving tone.”
The gun weighed down the rebel’s arm as I drew closer, as if it was afraid to point at me. If he pulled the trigger again, he would have shot off his own toes.
I tossed the vial onto the marshal’s empty table and drew another from my waistcoat. “This one, Ambrose, is harvested from the most erudite rattlers in California, and should help with that nasty tongue of yours.”
Ambrose trembled as I removed the dropper from the vial. I brought it near his face and he leaned his head back, mouth agape. Two drops of cottonmouth snake oil slid down his throat, and he crumpled to the ground, retching on exquisite carpeting.
I tucked the vial back into my coat and produced another.
A large, dark spot grew on the front of Henry’s trousers as he found himself unable to move.
“Isn’t it nice to relax?” I said, pouring a drop of oil onto my hands. I rubbed it into my palms and put my hand on Henry’s forehead. “The Carolina Corn Snake is unique to a small swamp just outside Charlotte,” I said as Henry’s eyes rolled into the back of his head. “It produces an oil that can reverse the effects of aging.”
Ambrose looked up from his spot on the ground and hissed at me. His forked tongue flicked from between his lips.
“Now doesn’t that feel better in your mouth than those nasty words?”
Ambrose clasped his hands over his mouth and did his best to slither underneath a bench. Henry sunk back into his seat, his eyes completely white. He murmured in a language forgotten by adults.
Memories of my youth flooded back as the wrinkles of time faded from my cheeks; Henry didn’t have the luxury of a millennium buffer, and he let out a piercing scream as his mind was consumed by the horrors of childhood.
The marshall ran through the door with his revolver drawn. He took one look at Ambrose stuck half under the bench, his rear in the air, and Henry folded over on the table, and he aimed his firearm at me.
“Not another inch,” he shouted over the howl of the night air whistling past the broken window.
I put my hands up in the air.
“What the hell happened here?” he yelled. Several rubberneckers craned to look past the marshall. Some of the women let out little yelps at the site of the two indisposed men.
“Well, they seem to have fallen ill,” I said.
The train entered a turn, and I reached for the handle to steady myself. The crack of a .357 pierced my eardrums, and I felt the familiar sting of hot lead in my lung. I staggered back a few steps and the marshal pulled the trigger again.
I guess he hadn’t eaten the soup.
I stumbled back until I leaned against the window frame. The landscape rushed past like a revolution. There was no use riding the rest of the way to Charlotte, I thought. I’d have to kill a hell of a lot more people just to sit for a few more hours.
I pitched myself out into the dark as the marshal emptied the last of his bullets into my chest.
I lay for a few moments in the dew-covered grass, watching the Charlotte Express race away from me. The sky was beginning to lighten in the East, and the birds were just waking up. I stood and surveyed my jacket of broken vials and sighed. I’d have to track down a lot more snakes to replace the lost oil, but I had the time.
I got up and walked the tracks toward Charlotte, my hair returning to its familiar gray color. I whistled as I walked.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 08:00|
An Envelope of Bills(1300 words)
A mere week ago, we'd gathered for our usual meeting - but from the moment I saw him, I knew something was wrong. When I asked what the matter was, he blurted out that he hadn't seen my sister for two full days - not since she'd stayed behind at the office they both worked at, determined to finish the last bits of paperwork for her client. He sounded strained then - even more so when I asked if they'd argued.
"What exactly would we have fought about?" he'd demanded. I didn't reply.
Finally, he broke the silence, talking about going to the constables tomorrow - and my response was immediate, vehement. He grabbed my hand then, pleading, and I relented - but only after he promised not to mention me.
We parted soon after that - he slipped the envelope to me, and I slipped it into my coat. I'd count out the bills back at my apartment.
Three days later, I opened my door to find my landlady and a constable waiting outside.
"There you go, officer." My landlady's words were respectful, but the glare she shot me was anything but. It promised a lengthy 'discussion' of about bringing the law to her front door.
"Much appreciated, madam." The officer stepped through the doorway, and I stepped back to make room for her. A haughty sniff, and the landlady left the two of us alone.
"I'm here to talk to you about your sister, Mrs.-"
"I know." Fortunately, she didn't seem offended about being cut off. I waved her over to the chair by my desk.
She asked about our relationship. I told her the truth. She'd gone to college while I stayed behind, and after our mother died nearly a year ago, I moved here, to be a little closer. No, we didn't talk much.
"We live in very different circles," I said. My interviewer looked at me, waiting. I refused to say anything more. She didn't need to know about the way my sister looked at me the first time we'd met since she left for university, or anything more about the stranger who had replaced the girl I'd pretended to be whales with, when we'd dreamed of traveling the world together.
She finally scribbled something down and moved on. "Could you tell me about her fiance?"
"He works at the same office she does, and was assigned to be her workplace mentor. They were already together when I moved here, and he proposed about four months ago."
Her firm had thrown a dinner party that day, and she'd managed to get me in. I'd loitered in the corners that night, conscious of my shabbiness - but after her superiors had announced her promotion to senior manager, I'd dashed up and hugged her. She'd laughed, somewhat awkwardly, but she squeezed me back before ending the embrace.
He'd been the next one to give a congratulatory embrace. Then he'd bent down on one knee. Everybody had cheered.
"No. We don't talk much."
She nods, and moved on to the next question. "He claimed to be on sick leave from work the last day he saw her. Is this true?"
I froze. He'd mentioned leaving the office early during our meeting, hadn't he? I hedged, "What does the office say?"
"They've lost the records."
I looked down at my hands. They were red and rough from last night's work. "I'm sorry, I don't know."
That'd been four days ago. Now, I'm drumming my fingers on a table, taking another sip of water.
Just a couple hours before, I'd had another visit from the same constable - this time, to inform me that my sister's body had been found, and that the department suspected foul play.
She'd asked me if I suspected anyone.
I remembered how he'd said my sister had stayed behind at the office that last day he'd saw her.
And I remembered how he'd looked after her promotion was announced. He'd covered it up soon enough, but there had been something dark in that handsome face.
I opened my mouth - and doubt swept me. He hadn't been happy, yes, but murder?
Finally, I'd said, "I don't know. Like I said, we move in very different circles".
"Hey." His voice brings me back to the present. I look up as he slides into the opposite seat. I open my mouth, but he holds up a hand.
We sit there in silence for a while. Right before I work up the nerve to ask him about the last time he'd saw her, he says, "I need you to do something for me."
I ask, "What is it?"
Five minutes later, I manage to get out, "You want me to what?"
"Look. When people get in trouble, it's not always their fault, right?" He stares straight at me.
I stare at him as he continues, "And when that's the case, sometimes they need some outside help to get out of it, right?"
At my silence, his eyes narrows, and he repeats - a little more loudly, a little more insistently - "Right".
Finally, he sighs and begins getting up. I remember that only half of Mother's debt has been paid off, and visions of jail flash through my mind. I'm already working ten hours a day, and I barely make rent, and - I grab his hand.
He looks down at my hand, then up at me. When he speaks again, his voice is toneless. "Well?"
I don't know what I say, only that it's good enough. He hands me the envelope, and we part ways.
Back in the apartment, I pry it open, and start counting bills. It only contains half of what I need, and when I turn the envelope upside down, a slip of paper falls out.
It reads, *You'll get the rest after my trial*.
The next day, I swallow and meet firm brown eyes. "Officer."
"Here's your subpoena." A little more gently, she adds, "The trial's next week at -"
"I can read." This time, her face tightens. I mumble an apology.
A couple more seconds pass, and she sighs.
"I didn't come here just to serve you papers. There was something else I thought you might like."
She pulls out a small, waxed envelope from her pocket, and holds it out. "These are technically evidence, but the prosecution doesn't believes they'll be of any use. You might want them."
I upend the contents into my hand. At first glance, it's a glimmering jumble. But at second glance, I gasp.
Heart pounding, I slowly lift up one of the two necklaces. It's a simple design - a silver charm dangling from a delicate chain.
I raise the necklace higher, so the gleaming whale tail swings right before my eyes.
"Why didn't you give these to him?"
"Your name's on the back. I figured it was for you."
A short pause as I examine the finely engraved letters, and she asks, "Is it a birthday present?"
"I turn twenty-five in a week." I swallow, and say, "Thank you."
"No problem." She smiles, and turns to leave.
She looks back, and I stammer, "I-I think you should look at this."
A part of my brain is shrieking obscenities at me, but I pull out the envelope from yesterday - I'd been just about to visit Mother's lenders when she'd come in - and I thrust it at her.
She looks up at me, down at the envelope, then finally takes it. Her eyes widen at its contents, and soon enough, she's reading the note.
I flush with shame, but when she speaks, there's no hint of censure. "I think you should come down to the station."
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 08:01|
Submissions Now Closed
I understand that there's one toxx out. They have until tomorrow morning, 9 AM pacific time to submit something and avoid the axe. I'll crit any other DQs submitted in that timeframe as well.
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 08:09|
Interprompt: WikiHow Did This Happen?
Everyone loves wikihow, you know, that site where you can learn how to take a courtesy pee, but what I like to thing about is how the gently caress did somebody think this was a good idea? Write me a story in 300 words that hopefully explains why someone wrote a Wikihow article. You can take a real one or you can make up your own like "How to Fall in Love With Bees" or something.
"How to Give Passive Aggressive Gifts for Christmas"
"How to Be Okay with Having a Communist Friend"
"How to Take a Shower"
"How to Convince Your Parents to Let You Buy a Nice Looking Diary, Instead of a Spiral Notebook"
"How to Live It up Before You're Twelve"
and many more!
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 08:11|
How to Judge the Quality of a Katana Sword
1) do so as swiftly as possible: this will ensure quality judging
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 09:18|
|# ? Dec 3, 2021 10:22|
How to Get Fast Quick
1) don't be slow
2) be good
|# ? Feb 15, 2016 09:20|