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Haven
Dec 28, 2005

They might just as well've been closed.

In please, with this question:

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

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kurona_bright
Mar 21, 2013


In with a :toxx:

Gimme a question

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P



kurona_bright posted:

In with a :toxx:

Gimme a question

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Pththya-lyi
Nov 8, 2009

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2020

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

Azza Bamboo
Apr 7, 2018


Surely the best thing to remove from the house would be the fire?

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!







flerp posted:

astronaut rodent brawl

tell me a story from the perspective of a loser in a competition. up to your interpretation for what loser and competition means

1250 words
due fri 2/21, 1159pm pst

toxx if u wanna but im not gonna force it

due date is mon 2/24 same time

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




Azza Bamboo posted:

Surely the best thing to remove from the house would be the fire?

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk







yeah i'll judge this

for the sneaks/ckm brawl, owing to some lovely happenings and through mutual agreement we're gonna kick it forward two weeks and allow steeltoed sneakers to resubmit his entry.

New deadline is 4 March, 2359 pst, no more extensions tho. Carl, drop a toxx on that.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




sebmojo posted:

yeah i'll judge this I think Yoruichi is great and I am also in

Aww thanks that's nice of you to say and I'm pleased you recognise that we are entering not brawling around here this week

sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk







Yoruichi posted:

Aww thanks that's nice of you to say and I'm pleased you recognise that we are entering not brawling around here this week

I am no in bc im judge and your greatness is therefore OPEN TO QUESTION

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


In with “ 34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?”

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit


Fun Shoe

1. Givin the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish



In

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Carl Killer Miller
Apr 28, 2007

This is the way that it all falls.
This is how I feel,
This is what I need:




sebmojo posted:

yeah i'll judge this

for the sneaks/ckm brawl, owing to some lovely happenings and through mutual agreement we're gonna kick it forward two weeks and allow steeltoed sneakers to resubmit his entry.

New deadline is 4 March, 2359 pst, no more extensions tho. Carl, drop a toxx on that.

:toxx:

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P



Four hours until sign ups close!

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

A: the power to be in

flerp
Feb 25, 2014

I DON'T ALWAYS
HERDY DUR MUR FLERP FLERPITY
FLOOPIN
BUT WHEN I DO
I YER DER FLERPITY
THURN DER DERMIN
BORK! BORK! BORK!







4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

being in of course

derp
Jan 21, 2010

when i get up all i want to do is go to bed again



Lipstick Apathy

I hate all of you and every one of your garbage stories, except muffin

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







derp posted:

I hate all of you and every one of your garbage stories, except muffin

thx for the crit

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P



Sign-ups closed!

derp
Jan 21, 2010

when i get up all i want to do is go to bed again



Lipstick Apathy

sorry that was my fear of failure meeting an attempt at humor. yall are cool dudes

Doctor Eckhart
Dec 23, 2019

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2020

Prompt: 14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

And my World Tumblrs Down
1400 Words


“Yeah, I'll be there,” I said, stifling a yawn and pulling the curtain to block the afternoon sun.

“I've not even told you what day yet. Wait- you still not found a new job?”

“Not yet.”

“What have you been doing? It's been months!”

“Oh you know what it's like, you go online and start off on Indeed, then your internet friend messages and you end up talking for ten hours.”

My sister's outraged reaction was what first made me question my relationship with inigojones.

Up until then, I was just happy to have a new pal. Someone who really got me. It's not like I don't have any friends but no-one wants to hang out with a jobless loser, and inigojones didn't know that about me. It was nice to talk to a cool person who seemed to think I was kinda cool too.

But no-one does that. That's what she said. Was that true? Did they not?

Ten hours. Now I was aware of it, it did seem rather excessive. But talking to inigojones made me happy. Not much did any more, so what was wrong with that?

I noticed a missed call and voicemail on my phone. Must have called while I was talking to my sister. I flopped down on my bed and listened. It was a recruitment agency telling me about a potential opportunity. I yawned. Those calls often took ages. I pulled the curtain the rest of the way over and shut my eyes. I'd call back tomorrow. As I drifted off I could hear children outside laughing and playing.

I woke up at 1am and grabbed my laptop. The now familiar feeling of anticipation bubbled up inside me as I clicked the tab for Tumblr, the one I kidded myself that I sometimes closed.

My heart sank when I saw that I had no new messages. Some mindless scrolling would take my mind off it. Had I said something annoying yesterday? I liked a cat meme, then a watercolour landscape. Was he bored of me? I scrolled past some long posts I had read already. Then there was one by inigojones. It was a new piece of art. Full of fire. Just like him. I didn't have to like it, did I? No, I did. It was brilliant.

Fwip! My heart was in my mouth when I heard it. I hovered over the smiling speech bubble with its notification symbol and smiled right back at it.

good morning sunshine! you're up early

Sunshine. I paused for a moment and considered my reply.

yeah

gotta be like 3am there, am I right?

one. you're getting better at this

don't shoot me with your sarcasm, dude. I'm gay, i can't do math.

you can't say that, you're pan. and thats homophobic. i'm gay and good at maths!

alrighty mister smarty pants!


I started scrolling again. This was how it started. Scrolling through Tumblr at an hour I wasn't usually awake, I got a message out of the blue. I knew who inigojones was, we followed each other. I'd initially seen him reblog some LGBT+ positivity that particularly spoke to me. Then I discovered he did things with a Wacom I'd previously thought impossible. And he liked my writing. We progressed to conversations of escalating frequency and length, covering all the subjects under the sun, never running out of things to say. We had so much in common, and the new things he taught me were fascinating.

We stopped bickering and started playing Never Have I Ever. I'd never gone to summer camp. He'd never eaten a Jaffa Cake.

I've never been in love

I don't know what possessed me to type that. Sometimes my fingers had a mind of their own.

well ive never been on a date!

I inhaled. We were the perfect match. No shut up, I told myself. There was a whole ocean between us. And I had no idea what he looked like. I agonised over what to say next, but he beat me to it.

how d'ya make it to your age and never fall in love?

dunno been waiting for that spark I guess

maybe you're aromantic?


Maybe. But then what was this feeling in my chest? I held my breath.

so how come you've never been on a date?

A horrible pause.

i saw a flyer at the community center for speed dating

YOU SHOULD GO!

lol maybe. to be sure the other guys'll thank me, I'll make them look way better!


Something inside me twisted.

dont put yourself down! anyone would be lucky to have you!

ah thanks man


I wondered, did that make him smile?

My fears seemed unfounded as we moved on, and leaped from topic to topic, often having several discussions at once. Familiar warmth spread over my body.

so what am I wearing for speed dating?

I gasped. I was finally seeing him. In the two photos he looked ordinary. Noticeably American with his square jaw, and an awkward wide smile. I wouldn't have looked twice at him in the street. But this was inigojones. My inigojones. Seeing his face made my heart swell and my head light. I shifted in my seat. He messaged again before I had even considered his outfit options.

or this one?

The third image was him in a wetsuit. I laughed out loud.

Definitely the last one!

I was ashamed to realise it was almost afternoon when I tore my eyes away from my laptop. And that had only happened when inigojones bid me good night. I forgot to return the recruitment agency's call.

:love: :love: :love:

The next day I woke at the same time, but inigojones was not online. I scrolled until I got all the way to posts I'd seen before. I flipped over to Indeed and scrolled through a list of unsuitable jobs, but my mind was on inigojones. It was evening in his time zone, perhaps he was speed dating now? I told myself I hoped he'd find someone nice, but was secretly pleased when he messaged me:

speed dating was a bust!

sorry to hear that mate. you were probably too good for them

didn't give em a chance to find out. put my foot in my mouth any chance I got! maybe dating isn't for me.


I think you're great. I love you. No, couldn't say that. He'd think I'd gone properly mad.

oh yeah this girl told me about a new dating app. nice but way too young for me

which one?

idk lemme check. i've got a commission to procrastinate on!


We carried on chatting and he told me about setting up his profile. I downloaded the app and did mine at the same time. He went quiet and I assumed he must be working on the commission. I flipped idly through the singles in my area. Some of them were cute, maybe even cuter than inigojones. No, that wasn't possible. More good looking in theory. But before I'd ever seen his picture, I knew inigojones and loved him for who he was inside. Looking at pictures of people I had no history with felt so hollow.

I didn't hear from him the next day. Or the one after. He'd also not posted. I was getting worried. Maybe he'd had a car crash. Or been shot.

I held off messaging him as long as I could. Then wound up sending three at once. Then another to apologise for that.

His next message was far longer than usual.

Hey dude sorry for the radio silence. You know that app? I started talking to someone on there and totally lost track of everything else. We just clicked so well you know? That's never happened to me before, it was like magic! Maybe it was fate! We're gonna grab coffee later. SO EXCITE! Sorry can't chat today gotta shoot!

I stared at the screen in disbelief. Then shut my laptop and pushed it away. I thought back to our earlier conversation. Looked like he was going on that date he wanted.

My heart felt like a glass sculpture that had been hammered into pieces. I sighed and stared dejectedly at the wall. After a while I picked up my phone and went to dial the recruitment agency who had called last week. Then I realised it was 4am.

Communist Bear
Oct 7, 2008



33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

The Paths of Two Brothers
1400 words

It was the small things really, the tiniest mistakes, that would set him off. Despite his best efforts over the years, despite the medication and the counselling and the “decompartmentalizing” that were meant to ease his stress, he would still find himself falling into the same trap, the shadow of the memory always lingering there, waiting to strike.

This time it was spilling water at a restaurant, the roll of the glass and the water trickling down onto the floor. Apologies and embarrassment, and then the trip down memory lane.
“Are you alright, George?” His wife asked opposite him, her hand clasping his. He smiled and nodded, taking in her comfort. He patted down some of the wet cloth with his napkin, then continued to look at the menu before him.

Unbidden, the cold gloomy room entered his mind, a room that rejected the warmth of the sunlight outside the window. The teacups and pot on the table, lukewarm as always, powdered milk ruining the texture of the tea. The spilt water from the glass next to it, his mother tutting in an irritated tone as George mopped it up quickly. The question being asked of him, by his mother and father. An unfair question.

“I think,” George said, wrenching himself to the present. “I’ll have the duck. What about yourself?”

“The fish looks lovely,” Margaret replied. “But I’m not sure a bottle of white wine to myself will be a good idea!”

“Yes, of course,” he said, apologetically, flicking through the menu.

“Don’t worry though,” she smiled at him. “You have the duck; I can just have a glass.”

He smiled, rubbing his grey beard, his other hand subconsciously reaching down into his suit pocket, fumbling the medication bottle. Had he taken one today already? He felt foolish. A Professor of Psychology for thirty-odd years, only to be struck down with the very same depression he tried to remedy in other people. He moved in his chair a little and watched the restaurant busy itself, the gentle lighting slowly fading to the memory of the room again.

“It’s a prestigious University,” his father spoke in his rough voice. He was a well-built man with thick hands and thick lines through his face, creases from long, hard workdays. He was a tough man to love, George remembered, but he was fonder of his father than of his mother.

“It will be good for you and you will go far.” Her voice was ice, her stern face sitting upon a tall neck wrapped in cloth tighter than a noose. He felt guilty that his memories of her were never happy, but she had been a difficult woman right up to her death. He always wondered if his father and mother had married out of love, or prestige? She was from a better family and he was on his way up, working hard in the mills to get to responsibility and management, to the stable home and life he had eventually earned.

“And what about Arthur?” George had asked. “His grades are just as good. Doesn’t he deserve a chance too?”

“We can’t afford it,” his mother snapped, turning away from the table. His father sighed and slapped a meaty hand onto George’s shoulder.

“The cost is,” he paused. “Well…it’s very expensive, but he’ll be alright. He’s going to come work for me, down at the mill.”

“I can work there too though?” He protested. “Why isn’t Arthur here to discuss this?”

“You can’t work at the mill,” his mother turned back around to look at him, her voice and face stern. “Not with your condition.”

His condition – Tuberculosis. He’d survived it, but it had left him weakened, his lungs still healing, and he could get out of breath easily. Forty years later and the effects still lingered, returning in the form of a cough or taking the common cold harder than others.

The duck arrived and he ate, trying to enjoy the meal, ignoring the memory and the chest pain that had been bothering him all day. He chatted with his wife, enjoying her company and laughter, smiling when she did. The wine was a light red that worked well with the deep flavour of the meat. He finished the dish, but any hope of the food helping the chest pain subside seemed to be in vain.

“We can’t afford to send both of you to University,” the echo of his father spoke. “This isn’t an easy decision to make, but we feel you would do better there.” He sat down at the table in front of the papers from the University and looked up at his son.

“It’s a warmer climate,” he continued. “It will be good for you. And you’ve always been brighter than your brother.”

“That’s right, in Maths and English literature.,” George nodded his head, thinking about the exams.

“Aye, lad,” he whispered. “And your mother and I-“

He looked up at her and in the flicker of the aged memory George always thought there was a sudden anger in his fathers’ eyes.

“We talked about it long and hard and felt it was best you go. You’ll go far, son.”

George looked down at the table. The University was very prestigious, he knew it. That he had been accepted for such a place did excite him, but if Arthur had also been accepted, didn’t he deserve the same chance?

He nodded uncertainly, almost without realising what he was doing. His father moved the papers quickly, signing them, sealing them, then stood up, ruffled George’s hair and gave him a wink. George looked away.

“Not a word of this to your brother, alright?” He spoke calmly.

“Not a word,” his mother repeated more sternly.

A month later and he was attending the University, far away from home and from that room. Four years later he had graduated, then years more working towards Doctor, then Professor, never returning to that day. His brother went on to work at the mill, none the wiser of the choice made for him. He was upset that he had not been accepted, but he never grew angry or cold towards George.

Every year he would think about telling Arthur – think about phoning him, or writing a letter, or saying something, but he feared what it could do. To his relationship with his brother, the wrath it might inflict upon him from his mother and father. Years went by and he forgot about that day, until finally their parents passed away. In their grief they grew closer together, Arthur never knowing how successful he could have been, never reaching the same heights. A modest job and little wealth, whilst George a successful Professor.

Then ten years ago, Arthur was injured, a horrible accident in the mill that left him unable to work and retiring early, his small pension barely keeping him by. Shortly afterwards, George was diagnosed with depression, misery besetting his days until it got to the point he was no longer able to function. Therapy sessions uncovered the guilt, but the remedy was something he couldn’t do. How could he tell his brother his life could have been so much better? That he hadn’t stood up for him?

“You should speak to him.”

George emerged from his gloomy thoughts and shook his head slightly.

“I’m sorry?” He asked, unsure of what his wife had just said.

“I said you should speak to him. Arthur,” as though she somehow knew what George had been thinking.

“He mentioned needing money for his roof recently?” She continued. “He won’t be able to pay that himself. Maybe we can help him out? He’s always been there for us.”

He smiled slightly and nodded. “Yes,” he said. Maybe he should speak to Arthur. Maybe it was time to have a proper conversation. Perhaps his brother would forgive him.

They left the restaurant and made their way to the car. George shook his right arm slightly, his fingers feeling tingly. Probably from sleeping awkwardly, he thought.

“Everything okay?” Margaret asked, getting into the car.

“Yes,” George responded. “You’re right about Arthur. I’ll phone him tomorrow morning, about time we talked.”

He started the car, reversed and turned.

“I love you, Margaret,” George said, feeling a sense of relief he had not felt in a while.

“I love you too,” she smiled.

They drove out into the evening.

derp
Jan 21, 2010

when i get up all i want to do is go to bed again



Lipstick Apathy

derp posted:

... 17. What is your most treasured memory?

On the Lake
1380 words




When Sash was three years old her father would slide her across the frozen lake outside their home like a curling stone.

In her memory it is a clear, pale blue morning. Her ears are already red from the cold. Her father grips her ankles in one massive hand and her puffy, purple jacket collar in the other. Her stomach tightens with anticipation. He swings her back, and then whoosh, she’s flying. She zooms forward into frozen air that stings her cheeks and eyes, and the hard buttons on the front of her purple jacket scrape white curls that pile beneath her chin and follow her across the hard surface of the lake. She inches to a stop and her momentum turns her a few degrees, as if the scenery is parading across her vision, just for her. Black birds swirl on the pale horizon like specks of ash buoyed up from some out of sight furnace. Naked trees line the far side of the lake, and their thin arms zag here and there like cracks in the sky. Reactionary tears from the cold air drip onto Sash’s pink cheeks, and white puffs burst from her mouth. She laughs. She feels like one of those black spots in the sky, flying through the silent cold and landing anywhere, everywhere.

Sash often thinks of that morning on the ice with her father as a key influence on her success as a figure skater.

Sometimes she remembers other things from a pulled back perspective. She senses the silence and stillness of the morning, and she sees her tiny self shrinking to a purple dot out alone on the flat, white plane. Sometimes she feels her father’s hands as if they were her own hands gripping her own ankles and collar, and she feels the thrilling satisfaction of tensing, stretching muscles as he heaves her little body forward. She feels love, for him, and from him. Sometimes she senses another presence, standing behind her father, out of sight. She imagines it is her sister, watching, laughing.

It is ten years since Sash’s father and older sister, Val, died in a car accident. Sash’s morning on the ice is one of the few times she remembers being alone with her father. Every time Sash steps into an ice rink, the chilly air reminds her of it. The first scrape of her skates against the perfectly flat, frozen surface, the lurch in her stomach as she lifts off into a double Axel, the ice shavings she kicks up when doing a snowplow stop--all these things remind her of that morning. She is reminded most of all when she spreads her arms and leans forward, piercing the air like a bird.

Now, Sash is driving down a bumpy dirt road to her family home in Montana, where her mother still lives. A reunion of sorts is being held. Her mother’s ill health has drawn family from around the country like an unplugged drain.

Inside, the house is perfumed with the nostalgic smells of home cooking and cigarette smoke. Half recognized faces of uncles and cousins roam the rooms like ghosts. Sash has been absent for a long time, tied up in her career and the Olympic dream.

She finds her mother in the living room, sunk into the same tatted recliner, as if she’s been sitting there her whole life. Her hair hangs around her face in grey strings. A cigarette smolders between two withered fingers with a long column of ash preparing to fall into the waiting ashtray. Mother never flicks the ash herself.

“Oh, you came,” she says in a voice like tearing paper. She doesn’t look at Sash. “Well, have your look, get your fill of the old corpse.”

“Mother...”

“This is what it takes to see my family. This is what it takes.” She pulls a deep drag from the cigarette and the ash column falls into her lap.

Sash kneels on the ancient, matted carpet beside her mother. They are alone together, but mother looks at the TV. Sash puts a hand on her mother’s bony knee, as she used to in her childhood when asking forgiveness. “Mother, I’m here to say... I’m here to see you.” Sash can’t help but recall the many times she has wondered what her life would be like if she got to keep her father and sister instead of her mother.

Her mother looks down at her briefly, purses her lips, looks away. “I see you on TV sometimes. I watch you.”

“Thank you.” She doesn’t know what else to say.

“We gave up a lot, your father and I. We sacrificed so you can be where you are now.”

Sash forces her face to remain impassive. Her father was the one who gave everything, him and Val. They were at every practice, every competition, and spurred her on with endless encouragement. The most her mother did to encourage her success was to constantly remind her how expensive her coach and lessons were.

“I know,” she says. “And I appreciate it more than you know. I think about father every time I get on the ice. Every single time.”

“About father.” The pursed lips again.

“Yes, I remember when he played with me on the lake. That moment made me fall in love with the ice.”

“On the lake? You mean at the rink.”

“No, at the lake. He would slide me on my belly across the ice. The lake near our house.”

Her mother chuckles, then coughs, shaking her head. “No, no. Not there.”

“What do you mean, ‘no’? It was on the lake, the clearest morning, I remember it perfectly.”

“No, that would have been your sister. You were too young.”

Sash stands up and folds her arms. She should have known the conversation would go this way. Her mother could not go a single minute without disagreeing with something. “Mother. I remember it.”

“Well you can’t. The Minnesota house was the one on the lake, we moved out of there in January, 2000. You were five months old then. There’s no way your father would be sliding a baby around the lake. No, your sister must have told you that story. She was always telling stories.”

“Well we must have gone back there, to visit family, or... we must have!”

“No, we never went back there. Why would we? With some strangers living there? What would they have thought? No, that was your sister that he was sliding around like that, I’m sure of it.”

A coldness spreads across Sash’s skin like wet snow sticking to her body, and her stomach swells with anxiety. Suddenly the cigarette smoke is too disgusting to bear and she rushes outside. She swerves between trucks parked on the lawn to reach her own car and leans back against the trunk. She stares up into the cloudless sky.

How could it be so vivid if it wasn’t real? How could she feel it if it was imagined? A sense of being unanchored at sea grows until she is sure the memory is false. Her life seems cut loose, falling from a frayed and broken rope.

Then, bit by bit, like little birds dropping onto a tree to roost and slowly weighing down the branches, flickers of other times appear in her mind. At bedtime during a storm, hiding under her blankets with a flashlight and Val. Curly dark hair tickling her cheek, hot breath on her ear as a whispered child’s voice tells about the cool, pale, perfect morning on the ice. In the dead of night after screaming herself awake, her father’s strong hands petting her hair, his deep voice describing the frozen lake. How many times had she fallen asleep with that story in her ear?

That story hadn’t made her love the ice, she realizes. Father and Val told her about it, over and over again, because she loved the ice.

Peace fills her like a breath of crisp, clean air. The memory she has cherished is not hers, but is something better. It is a piece of her father and sister, a sliver from their lives. And she will carry it with her every time she jumps or spins or glides across the ice.

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


14560 Shannon Parkway, Rosemount, MN 55068

668 words

You can smell them now, the -acitates and -iliums, the things with names they made with too many Xs and Ys on purpose so you’d never confuse them for anything real, the things they put in the gym shorts and couch cushions to make them a little shinier, a little stiffer, a little human-er, torn from their colors and textures, hauled by heavy smoke everywhere around, and you’re breathing all of it in. Maybe fifteen minutes ago this was your apartment but now you’re trapped in the bowel of some colossal machine waiting to be ground up and spit out the smokestack, only there is no smokestack, no escape, no light, you’re trapped here with the smoke, and the smoke is trapped here with you. I can grab it, you had told yourself outside. I’ll be safe, you said, but there is no safely entering hell.

Isn’t fire supposed to be bright, a red glow cast by sunny yellow? Isn’t there supposed to crackling, that friendly campfire noise? Where are the sort of kind housefires from Simpsons episodes, toasty as a too-hot shower? Now you know the opposite of light isn’t darkness, but smoke. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but you can’t see the fire through the smoke. Maybe there is crackling somewhere, but it’s drowned out by the screaming that the wood and drywall make as they perish in the heat, the bursting of glass from lightbulbs and picture frames, the fire alarm’s shrill yell, and the roar of the fire itself, loud but muffled, the call of some terrible subterranean monster. It’s so so loud here, louder than it is hot, hotter than it is dark, darker than it is loud.

You feel your way to the closet, and each pat of the wall is like touching a hot stove. It’s still there, the unadorned box with the zip-lock bag that your mother made you keep because she couldn’t bear the thought of scattering his body and truly losing him forever. Your brother was in a fire too, but only after he’d won the game of rock-paper-scissors at some rural Minnesota dive bar which meant he didn’t have to drive and the bartender let his drunk friend take him out of the bar swinging keys around his finger and you heard a bang outside the house you grew up in and the driver went screaming down the culdesac I killed my best friend! That must have been a nice fire at the crematorium, cleansing the scars from the metal and glass away to nothing, until he was all a spirit, and you imagine even his smoke was lighter than this, more like the dust from a long-lonely attic.

There is so much ash all around, and it probably looks and feels the same as your brother but it isn’t him. He won’t be free if he is scattered here, and all he ever wanted was to be free. Sometimes you had to make yourself believe in the spiritual stuff because thinking of him as cosmically dead was not an option, but there’s no forcing it here, no question that you have to get him out of here. You grab the box and it stings in your hands as you turn around. The apartment is flat, but it feels like you’re climbing, like you’re at the bottom of some well as you make your way out.

How must you look as you’re screaming for help on the sidewalk, entirely black with soot? You won’t remember for long, it’ll be lost when the fentanyl and ketamine kick in. In the coming months, you will ask over and over again what happened, who found out when, how many days it was until they took the respirator out, who dealt with salvaging what remained.

People will ask why you would risk death for someone who had already died. The people who love you will know already know.

Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


Fro question 34

Haven
Dec 28, 2005

They might just as well've been closed.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Rehearsal
1000 words

“No, Dad, sorry, we can’t make it,” Beth recited into the mirror. “Alex has a field trip that week that he really can’t miss.”

No, he’ll want to know where to. Then he’ll ask for pictures, or worse, ask Alex about it. She couldn’t expect her 8 year old to keep up the lie.

“No, that week doesn’t work, Mike can’t get the time off work.” She shrugged her shoulders apologetically, trying to sound convincing.

Maybe, but then he’ll want to know why I don’t just come alone.

“I checked the prices, and well, it’s spring training season, flights are crazy. I just don’t think it’s in the budget,” she tried.

No, that’s worse. He’ll offer to pay, and then I’ll owe him.

Beth sighed and leaned against the bathroom wall. She looked down at the unanswered text from her father.

“Call when you can, I have a proposal.”

Thanks to a quick call from her brother, she already knew the “proposal” was everyone flying in for a family reunion in a few months. She wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the family, but neither side had put much effort into keeping in touch. Beth wished them all well and hoped they were leading happy, fulfilling lives, and that they thought the same of her. But the thought of traveling back “home,” seeing them all, dealing with her father, dredging up the past... It was enough to make her practice lies and excuses into the bathroom mirror.

Beth wondered for the twentieth time if she was being unreasonable. Now nearing his retirement years, her father was generally an upbeat, happy man, well-liked, who spent most of his free time hiking with church friends. He remembered Beth and her brother’s childhood fondly, through some very rose-colored glasses, although he did admit they sometimes had “disagreements.”

But… the “disagreements” were much more dramatic in Beth’s memory, and she had spent many years since in therapy, working to undo the damage they had caused. All the more reason why she felt so annoyed that a simple text from him could disrupt her day so fully, turn her right back into an anxious teenager. She had worked hard to process her memories of holes drunkenly punched in walls; of her father tossing their bedrooms as though they were prisoners, searching for drugs or booze but only ever finding Harry Potter books or wrestling magazines, which were swiftly confiscated and thrown out; of her brother kicked out of the house and homeless just three months before graduation. Their father wasn’t a man who thought critically, his Bible and his pastor guided his choices. Except for the time Beth had broken down and tearfully told the pastor’s wife about her home life. The pastor tried to meet with her father privately, which had ended with her father red-faced and shouting. They switched to a new church on the other side of town the very next week.

Throughout her childhood, she watched her brother fight back and stand up for himself. And she saw where his strength and resolve landed him: a black eyes, a bloodied lip, humiliated, eventually on the streets. Her own response was the opposite: do whatever is asked, never get upset, survive. Years later, she was still unlearning this. Hence, the reason her brother could so easily blow off the invitation, where Beth had to come up with something at least halfway convincing to get out of it.

She knew her situation wasn’t unique. Parents and children fight. All families have their own dysfunctions. Everyone has their own battle to fight, their own trauma to overcome. She didn’t begrudge her father his now seemingly perfect life or his all-smiles personality. What truly hurt was how he had never once apologized or owned up to any of his actions. If this were a 12 step program, he’d skipped straight to the spiritual awakening without any of the messy, ugly work of actually making amends with anyone.

Still unprepared but at least ready to get it over with, Beth squared her shoulders and dialed the phone. A nice combo of lies 2 and 3 might do the trick.

Five minutes into the pitch, she was already worn down with guilt.

“And your grandparents! They would be so surprised to see you. They won’t be around forever you know…”

“Mhmm,” Beth mumbled.

“I keep telling you it’s important to keep in touch with your family, I know you don’t want to hear it anymore…”

“Yeah, I know.” Maybe I should just go, at least then he’ll get off me about it.

She paced up and down the hallway, staring at the floor tiles while listening. A sharp bark brought her to the window. Out in the backyard, her son sprinted through the overgrown grass, their dog Henry close behind and nipping at his heels. Words still streamed from the phone, but Beth had stopped paying attention, instead watching Alex and Henry tumble and play. She smiled, thinking of all the things she could do instead of making the trip home. Camping. The water park. Hell, staying home and helping Alex with his homework -- any of it would be better than wasting time and money to be uncomfortable.

Will I always be a deer in headlights around him? I don’t owe him anything. Not time, not a lie, not even the truth. I don’t have room in my life for this poo poo.

The thought had always been there, in the back of her mind. But now, in a moment of clarity, she made the choice to listen to it.

I. Don't. Have. To.

A weight lifted, the muscles she had been holding tense relaxed. She broke in mid-sentence.

“You know what Dad? We can’t make it. Sorry, sounds great, but we just can’t. I’ve got to go, talk to you later.” Her voice never wavered.

She hung up and headed towards the backyard, somewhere she actually wanted to be.

Yoruichi
Sep 21, 2017


Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse




Prompt: When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

A Song in the Deep
619 words


The anglerfish saw a distant shoal of lights in the deep and his sacs stirred with long-forgotten hope. He could eat his sperm, he thought, if he jettisoned them here in the lonely blackness. It would buy his emaciated body a little more time. But the lights were still there; this time, he had not imagined them. The anglerfish flicked his fins in pursuit, burning the last of his body’s strength.

The lights hung in the velvet black like a lone constellation of stars, drifting around a bright, central orb. Sharp reflections from thin, glass-like teeth gave away the nature of its host. Her bulbous body was covered with long, bioluminescent tendrils, the skin of her belly soft and pale.

The anglerfish hesitated. She was old, much older than him, and likely already successfully mated. She would kill him if she did not need him. He tested his voice. Once he had sung to himself, to distract himself from his hunger, but he had long since given up on even that. His fins quivered and he let out a single, quavering note, like a mournfully blown conch.

The female responded with waves of scent. She was a successful fisher; she had nutrition to spare. The anglerfish circled closer, his body vibrating with a soft resonance. The female was over-heavy with eggs.

The anglerfish felt his consciousness fracture. He became a yearning multitude, his starving body nothing but a vehicle for this rarest of meetings. The lights flooded his eyes and a tumult of voices inside his sacs drove him forward, now a helpless passenger. His tiny body wove between the glowing tendrils and he drove his pincer-like teeth into the female’s belly flesh.

The female spasmed with pain and darted forward. Cold water rushed over the anglerfish’s body. The female was wasting precious energy, and it was his fault. The anglerfish had lived a long time with the fear of starvation, and he felt the calories lost with every flap of her sharp-edged fins. He wanted to let go, but his teeth were deep in her flesh. Where his delicate skin contacted hers the surface was already abraded.

The anglerfish flared his fins to try and slow her, but this only made his teeth tear at her skin. The female bucked and her lights flicked out. She swam faster. The anglerfish felt a stab of fear at the sudden darkness. Having found them at last, he could not bear to lose those lights. His body thrummed with effort and he raised his voice over the current.

The female slowed. The anglerfish sang, and one by one the female’s tendrils rekindled. He hung from her belly, exhausted, and watched the luminous net fan out around them. Blood and serum from the wounds he had inflicted flowed into the raw skin of his mouth, coagulating and sealing him to her. He felt her blood enter his body, pulsing into his ruptured blood vessels. It spoke to him of her long life, alone in the abyss. He could feel the tips of her tendrils searching through the cold water, see the hopeful circle of light from her main lure through her ever-vigilant eyes. He could no longer pull himself free, but he no longer wanted to.

He felt the mounting pressure of her eggs, calling to him with a thousand voices, and from deep within himself a multitude responded. He rippled his body and released a cloud of milt, just as with a shudder the female loosed her eggs. They glistened in the light from the lures and the female gently fanned her fins to hasten their mixing.

The anglerfish sang in the deep, and drifted on together through the velvet black.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish



https://thunderdome.cc/?story=8052&title=Walk+Your+Own+Path

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 10:18 on Sep 3, 2020

Chili
Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit


Fun Shoe

Prompt: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?


Gotta Have You
1,375 Words

It occurs to me after the hostess at Denny’s greets me that only people who know where I am are the people who are here right now. I left my phone at home, per instructions, but I didn’t think to tell anybody about this. Not sure how I’d have gone about that anyway.

“Hey Mom, I’m meeting a stranger at Denny’s at 3AM tonight. Why? Oh, because they texted me, from a number I didn’t recognize and offered little to no explanation about why we should meet. What’s that? Am I crazy? Nah, you know me, I’m just a bored college guy, who pretty much says yes to anything.”

I guess one could call this an exercise in curiosity. I’m paying a price for indulging in that curiosity though. I had to come out. Going out in the wee hours as I tend to do minimizes the glances I get from strangers, but there's still glances. Glances that tell me:” You don’t really belong here, do you?”

My waitress’s name is Elizabeth. She seems nice and asks me if I want coffee before I sit down. She’s probably worried that I’m going to be an aggressive customer. I just look mean. But, I’m not. I even order a cup of coffee for my guest. May as well get started on the right foot.

You’d think a different caliber of person would be here at this hour, but not really. Just people who haven’t bothered to take off their coats and hats as they chow down on their slams. They only occasionally look around and see me, a weird guy eating all by himself at 3AM. Their gazes don’t linger, and even though it feels dismissive, a part of me appreciates the privacy.

My guest could be one of them, now that I think about it. I have no idea who they are. I’m hoping it’s a girl. I haven’t shared a meal with a girl in a really long time and it would also make this whole situation seem less odd to my fellow diners.

“You’re early. Why are you early?”

A familiar, yet off-putting voice accompanies a hand on my shoulder. I flinch but quickly realize this must be him.

I stand to meet the stranger but he keeps a light, unthreatening pressure on my shoulder.

“No need to draw more attention than we already might,” he says.

The stranger sits down in front of me. But he’s no stranger. He’s me. What is one’s first thought upon meeting an inexplicable double, at 3AM at a Denny’s? Well, my first thought is, I’m better looking than I thought I was.

“Huh, you’re actually kinda handsome,” he says to me.

He points at the coffee in front of me. “Live cup, right?” He asks.

“Of course. Decaf is a waste of time,” I say. “But you knew that, right?”

“I suppose I did.” He says.

My Cubs hat, loose hoodie, and baggy jeans are about the only thing that separates the two of us from looking identical. He sits across from me in a pressed pink button-down with a skinny black tie smarty tied in a knot I certainly don’t know how to tie.

“Who?” I ask, pointing to it.

“Youtube.” He says, “But seriously, why are you always early?”

No formalities it seems, he’s curious, but I guess I am too.

He picks the coffee up to his mouth and holds it there, breathing in the aroma and warming his lips on the rim of the mug.

I start into my early is on time speech that I’ve delivered hundreds of times before until I realize he’s probably given the same speech.

“Got nothing, do you?” he asks.

“Not really. You?”

He takes a deep breath, drinks a large mouthful of coffee, and sits his chin in his right hand.

“I was thinking about on my way over here. My best guess is: I ain’t got poo poo to offer most people, but at least I won’t keep them waiting.”

He says it and I feel the arrowhead of truth take a refreshing, honest plunge, into my psyche.

“I’m right, aren’t I? I wondered how it would feel as an epiphany.”

I nod. “Maybe, but if it's all the same, I think I’ll keep swinging the bullshit to anyone else who asks.”

He nods back. “Yeah, probably for the best. But hey, at least we won’t be lying to ourselves anymore, right?”

Elizabeth returns and we order veggie burgers and hash browns. She looks at him, then at me, makes a face, and heads back to the kitchen.

He waits for the door to close and then starts. “Any idea why you’re into…”

He’s about to ask the same question I had on my mind. Not wanting to get into my sexual perversions when Elizabeth is already finding this whole thing a little bit suspect, I stop him by raising my hand and shaking my head.

“Yeah man, I don’t know. That’s not something that ever made sense to me either.”

Suddenly my nakedness in front of button-down me washes over my body in a perplexing wave of terror and relief. There’s no obscuring my fears or insecurities from him. Mine are his.

But then, “Yours are mine?” He says.

I pick up my coffee and move it halfway across the table. He meets it for a clink and a nod.

“I don’t know what sort of wisdom I was hoping to glean from this.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Burgers will be good though.”

They come a minute later, and they are. A familiar frozen quantity that reminds us both of Saturday afternoons with grandpa.

We each get halfway through our burgers and place them down.

“Y’know?” He starts, and I realize that for the first time I don’t know where he’s going.

“Yeah?” I ask.

“This isn’t all that bad. I mean, it’s odd that you know that I had that weird sex dream about my aunt when I was sixteen and that…” he looks around “... you could very easily throw me in jail if you told anyone about what actually happened on Halloween five years ago.”

I nod my head and we both roll our eyes in unison as an insipid Black Eyed Peas track flows out of a speaker over our table. He nods too and I feel my shoulders fall lower than I can ever recall them being in public. I slouch back in the squeaky leather booth. He loosens the knot on his tie and lets out a sigh.

“Can we just?”

“Yeah, man. Let’s.”

We finish our burgers in silence, occasionally stealing opportune glances to regard ourselves in three full dimensions. I get the idea to go and borrow ketchup from a nearby table so he can see how I move. He then returns the favor by getting sugar from another table. His walk makes it clear just how lacking we are in grace. We’re big guys and we kind of lumber around like caribou. But, you know, it’s kind of cute and maybe we’re even a bit endearing.

Our minds run through everything. Every secret we’ve sworn to carry with us to the grave and every idea we’ve been too embarrassed to share floats between us like little fish swimming and flipping carefree through the air. We smile at the aquarium of our mutual creation.

The check comes and I pull a quarter out of my pocket. I spin it on the table and he calls heads. It lands heads and he picks up the check.

“Thanks,” I say.

“No problem. Same time next month?” He asks.

I smile, and he does too.

He stands up. “Alright,” he says. “I’m out first then. And how about you dress up next time, eh? I feel like I’m at work.”

“My pleasure,” I say. “And hey, I owe you an epiphany, so I’ll chew on some stuff and see what I come up with next time.”

He smiles and unbuttons the top button of his collar, and loosens his tie. He rises out of the booth, shakes my hand, and leaves. My shoulders rise back as the fish fall dead on the table. I sigh and head back to my apartment.

Pththya-lyi
Nov 8, 2009

THUNDERDOME LOSER 2020

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

The Sweater Curse
974 words

I still recall the day Raquel started on my sweater. I had just come home from my computer-toucher job to find her knitting at the kitchen table. I remember that moment: the way her auburn hair caught the light from the ceiling as she bent over her work; the subtle tick the needles made as the left-hand needle darted into the stitch, then out; the swish of the yarn being tugged through her long, clever fingers; the flame of excitement in her eyes. Raquel loved the process of knitting – she always seemed happiest when her hands were busy. Sometimes when she was forced to put the needles down, I would catch her fingers working against the air, desperate for activity. That’s one of the things I miss the most about her.

“Oh good! You’re home!” Raquel looked up from her work and smiled broadly at me, reminding me why I lost my heart to her. “I got back from the yarn store about an hour ago. Tracy had a great deal on superwash merino, so I decided to make you a sweater!” She thrust the canary-yellow ball she was working with towards me. “Feel how soft this is!”

I squeezed the ball gamely. “Wow,” trying to muster up excitement I didn’t feel. “It is soft.” That was true, at least, but it was all I could do to stop myself from wincing at the color. Pasty, shut-in white guys and bright yellow just don’t mix. But I would rather have let a truck drag me over broken glass than admit that to Raquel. “I like it.”

“I hope that’s true,” she grinned ruefully. “I hope we don’t get hit by the sweater curse! I’m still going to make it, though.” She turned back to her work, fingers in motion again. “If you really hate it, you can always give it away.”

“Huh, well, okay,” I turned to the kitchen counter in embarrassment. I felt like a jerk, not wanting something Raquel was working hard on. At least she’d given me an out. “What do you want for dinner?”

“Can you make mac and cheese? I’ve been tired.”

“You’ve been tired a lot lately. You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine!” Raquel waved her hand, as if shooing away my concerns. “Just under the weather is all. It’ll go away soon. But I wouldn’t say no to you pampering me tonight.”

“Of course, milady. Mac and cheese it is.”


Raquel was wrong about her tiredness going away. When I finally convinced her to go to the doctor, she had to be hospitalized. I visited her as much as I could. Raquel was always cheerful during the visits, chattering away about the bad TV selection, the presents her yarn store friends had left her – after her hair fell out, I never saw her without a hat on – the progress she made on the sweater. Even as she talked, her hands were in motion, shaping the sweater before my eyes. Whatever fear or discomfort she felt, she always tried to hide it from me, changing the subject whenever her health came up. She always hated for me to worry.

There was one time, after what her doctor told me was a particularly hard round of treatment, when she confessed to me: “I’m working really hard on your sweater. I just hope I can finish it before – before I leave the hospital.”

But I knew what she really meant: “Before I die.”


One night – the last night – the doctor pulled me aside. Raquel had taken a sudden turn for the worse, she said. If I was going to say my goodbyes, it had to be tonight.

As I hurried into Raquel’s room, I saw her lying in bed, her hands still and folded against her stomach. “I did it,” she smiled with huge, heavy-bagged eyes that gleamed in triumph. “I finished the sweater.” She waved to the chair next to the bed, where the canary-yellow sweater lay folded on the seat.

“Oh, Raquel. Thank you, I –” I dashed to her side, took her hand in mine. How could that one hand, so full of movement and strength, be so frail now? “I –”

“I know. You don’t have to say anything.” She swallowed. “There’s a message in the sweater, from me to you.”

“Huh?”

“It was all Tracy’s idea. She told me you could knit in binary code – knits are just ones and purls are just zeros. I thought it would be good to do that with your sweater, because you’re a programmer. So I knit a message across the torso. You can translate it to ASCII yourself.”

I extracted my hand from hers and snatched up the sweater, squinting as I studied the front. I could see the pattern in the ribbing: one purl, one knit, two purls, two knits, two purls – 01001100 – an L!

I grabbed a pen and memo pad from the nightstand and started decoding. “How did you know how to do this?”

Raquel shrugged a single shoulder. “Internet.” She watched my face as I scribbled. “Did I ever tell you how your eyes light up when you’re dealing with code?”

“No,” I looked up from my work, surprised. Did she really think that?

“It’s one of the things I admire most about you, actually. I don’t really get it, but I love just watching you do it.”

“Wow, that’s … actually exactly how I feel about you and knitting.”

“Really? Huh.” She blushed and looked away. “Well, you better finish before visiting hours are over,” she smiled awkwardly.

A couple more minutes’ work was all I needed to decode the rest of the pattern:

LOVEYOUFOREVER

I slid on the sweater and crawled into the bed next to her. She didn’t say anything, just held me as I cried. What else needed to be said?

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh



Artbleed Week Redemption

After All
617 words

Hell is a very hard place to get out of. I don’t know if you knew that.

First of all, to actually leave hell, you can’t blink, not even once, while tearing your way through the barriers that separate you from the outside world. It’s not like in that one Greek myth, where you can’t turn around. It’s harder than that. We’ve passed through twelve of the thirteen barriers, the last one a mixture of chinchilla fur, writhing sardines, and disembodied moth wings. It’s the kind of disgusting that emboldens you once you’ve made it through it, like drinking a poison until it immunizes you to it.

Solovey’s had her hand in mine this whole time, and the outsides of our hands have been covered with salt and lye and animal poo poo, but the insides are still clean and unimpacted by the environment. Solovey is stronger than me, but I can’t let her know that.
One last bristle, wriggle, and twitch, and we’re through.

I blink seven times in a row and wipe my face with my free hand. Solovey is coughing up blood. This is poo poo.

“I almost wish we were back in our cells,” Solovey says, her hand going limp.

I give it a squeeze. “I like actually seeing your face, for real,” I say, "even if it’s covered in cigarette butts and cow spit.”

Solovey grins, then looks past me. “Is that it?” she says. I turn back towards the way out, and my face drains of blood.

“Yeah,” I breathe. There’s a translucent barrier in front of us, our wavy reflections dancing in silver light, warmth radiating from its surface.

This is it. The Wonderwall.

We lunge forward, headlong, and throw ourselves into it without a second thought.

Everything is calm. Everything is whiteness.

I don’t feel the urge to blink. I look over at Solovey. She looks over at me.

“Leiya,” she breathes. “Is this still hell?”

“It has to be,” I say. “This is a trick. This is a way to get us to let our guard down. We can’t fall for it.”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Purgatory? Is this purgatory? Did we make it there?”

“Come on,” I say. “Come on. You know about this place. This is how they get you. Don’t blink. Don’t you dare blink.”

But my words are being swallowed up by the white light all around us. It’s muffling our words.

“It’s better,” Solovey says, and her voice sounds like a handkerchief in a hurricane. “It’s better here. Everything is better here. I don’t want to go home again. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go forward. I want to stay right here where everything is nice and warm. It’s better this way--”

“drat it!” I shout. “Don’t do this, Solovey. I don’t want to leave without you. You’re the reason I’m here. You’re my Wonderwall.”

I grip her hand as tight as I can and I start dragging her forward. Only I can’t quite tell where forward is anymore.

I start running.

Solovey screams and the sound is cut off a half-second in.

My lungs are burning and so are my eyes.

I scream and my mouth fills with white light--



--and the light shatters around us--



There’s rocks, there’s a stream, there’s grass waving in the wind, there are things that are so calm that I haven’t seen in so long I can’t even tell if there’s a word for them still in my brain.

I’m breathing, heaving, my chest on fire.

Solovey is gone.

I curse, and tear at the ground, and the grass bleeds under my fingers, and I know I’m still in hell.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
1307 words

Mark pressed his face to the mirror. His hairline was higher than before.

“It’s going to grow back,” Mark told himself. “It’s just like this because work’s been so stressful.”

Work stress. That’s what was causing it. But now that he knew it was stress, it wouldn’t affect him.

Mark went to sleep and thought hairy thoughts. Maybe by fixing the image in his mind of where his hairline should be and concentrating hard, his body would remember the way things were and change back. Tomorrow he would wake up and his hair would be as thick and lush as it had been in his twenties.

It was even worse the next morning than it was the night before.

There wasn’t even hair on his pillow! Where was it going?

He could feel the baldness plucking away at his interpersonal relationships, follicle by follicle.

When he grabbed his morning coffee at the kiosk in the lobby, the pretty barista didn’t smile as brightly as she used to. Before, when she smiled, there was genuine warmth, her eyes lit up to see him. Now it seemed forced and artificial. He couldn’t say for sure what was different, but he caught a flicker of her eyes toward his hairline as he picked up his order and he knew what she was thinking.

He knew what they were all thinking. They were laughing at the bald stooge. He caught the same flicker from a dozen women around the office. He used to flirt with Mary on his way past her cubicle, but lately she’d always been in conversation with Kenneth whenever he walked by.

No coincidence Kenneth had a full head of hair. It was unnatural for a man in a management position to have a head of hair like that. Anybody who actually earned their paycheck would be going bald from stress like Mark was.

Or at least they’d have the decency to be prematurely gray.

It wasn’t just his relationships with the opposite sex that had suffered. Things had changed between him and the other men in the office as well.

He used to be in control. He used to run any meeting he was in even when it wasn’t his meeting.

The balance of power on the seventh floor was shifting. When Kenneth spoke, everyone in the meeting would quiet down and listen to what he had to say. Afterward, Kenneth would look over at Mark and do that lovely little half-smirk.

Mark knew what he was up to. He was waiting, biding his time, letting Mark do all the work so Mark would lose his hair and become a laughingstock. Then Kenneth, who hadn’t felt a day of stress in his life, would swoop in and steal all the glory.

Kenneth. That’s who was causing this. But now that he knew it was Kenneth, Mark had the advantage. He could take control of the situation. Mark went to bed that night feeling at ease, like a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Tomorrow he’d unravel the web of conspiracy Kenneth had spun around him and he’d be free and in charge again.

His hairline had retreated even further. This time he didn’t even have to brush it back to see the difference.

How was he losing his hair so quickly? He shouldn’t be losing his hair at all. His maternal grandfather kept a full head of hair right into his old age. There was no natural explanation!

Mark fumed all the way into work.

He skipped his morning coffee and went straight up to the seventh floor. He was going to catch Kenneth off guard by coming in early. The elevator doors slid open and Mark nearly fell backwards.

“Kenneth!”

“Hey, Mark! How’s tricks?” Kenneth sneered, his expression as oily as his lush, dark head of hair.

“Uhhh—” Mark stared blankly at Kenneth for an uncomfortable amount of time.

“Sorry, can’t stay to chat. Big things happening up on eight, but don’t worry, you’ll make it there someday. Right, big guy?” Kenneth eased his way around Mark into the elevator, gently guiding Mark out with a firm pat on the arm.

The sound of the elevator ding brought Mark back around just as the doors slid shut on Kenneth’s sneering face and shiny hair.

That hair…

That hair!

Mark couldn’t have imagined it. Kenneth had Mark’s hair! His Hair!

Numbers were starting to add up in Mark’s head. His suddenly receding hairline, the shift in office power, Kenneth’s fabulous hairdo…

Mark didn’t know how, but there could be no doubt: Kenneth was stealing his hair!

Well he wasn’t going to let Kenneth get away with it.

Mark stewed in his office all morning and left work at lunch. He’d spent the day trying to figure out how Kenneth was stealing his hair. Was it drugs? Something in his morning coffee? If that was it then Kenneth was in for some disappointment; he hadn’t had his coffee that morning.

Unless the barista was in cahoots (she would have to be) and warned Kenneth about the change in routine. They were all against him, plotting, conniving to steal his precious hair!

Mark drummed his fingers on the dashboard of his car. He’d been sitting in the parking garage for hours, chasing his thoughts in circles and periodically checking his hairline in the rearview mirror.

A sudden motion in the corner of his vision snapped him out of his reverie.

Kenneth! What was that slimeball up to now? Leaving work early?

The light outside was orange. The sun was going down. Holy poo poo, was it already past five?

Kenneth was getting into his car.

Mark waited for Kenneth to pull out of his space and around the corner before following him.

Keeping a safe distance, Mark followed Kenneth all the way back to his house and peeked in the window.

Kenneth was lighting candles. Getting ready for a romantic evening, Kenneth? With Mary, perhaps? Gonna have a good laugh at old Mark?

Kenneth arranged the candles in a circle and started pouring salt around them. What the hell was he doing? Some kind of voodoo?

“Son of a bitch!” Mark clapped his hands over his mouth. Kenneth had a lock of Mark’s hair. His hair! He was doing some kind of weird black magic spell on it!

This was going to stop right now!

“Open up, Kenneth!” Mark pounded on the door.

“Mark? Buddy, what’re you doing here? Woah!” Kenneth stumbled aside as Mark barged his way into the house.

“What the hell is this?” Mark shoved the lock of hair under Kenneth’s nose. “You think I don’t know what’s going on?”

“Woah, chill out, buddy! You’re gonna go bald if you can’t mellow out a little,” Kenneth smirked.

“I’ll mellow you out you son of a—” Mark dove at him.

Then they were on the ground, rolling across the floor. Candles went flying. The curtains went up in flames. Kenneth grabbed something heavy and caught Mark good in the shoulder with it, but Mark got him back with a punch right to the kisser. Kenneth fell back, right into the flaming drapes. He screamed as the flaming curtains cocooned his body in melting polyester.

Mark stumbled out the front door, choking on rancid smoke as the house went up in flames behind him.

“Freeze!”

Blue and red lights dazzled him and he dropped to his knees.

“It was the hair, he was stealing my hair!” was all he could think of to say.

***

After the trial, Mark’s coworkers all talked about him in hushed tones.

“Poor guy.”

“Worked too hard.”

“Must have just snapped.”

“Poor Kenneth, he had a bright future ahead of him.”

One thing they all said though was that during the news coverage of the trial, Mark’s hair looked phenomenal.

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!




The Oracle of Northgate Mall

1685 words

Uncle Dylan used to drive us to the mall on Saturdays: me and Franklin and Sara, most weekends. He worked security. They let him in before opening time and we waited outside the big glass automatic doors until he pressed the big red button that turned them on.

"What's your plan today?" Dylan would ask each time.

"Try and beat my score on Pin*Bot," I'd say. Or find a new book by a favorite author, or look for a backpack that didn't look crap over my new jacket. Whatever.

"Bet you a dime you do," he'd say. That was his thing. When he lost, he'd always have a shiny new dime. When he won he'd usually give me a dollar, sometimes a five, to be sure I could pay. Always a dime. Some of the bets were long term, and I had them written down on a stack of lined paper, one to a line with both of our signatures. If I ever had a million dollars. If I moved to the coast after school. If I'd live to be a hundred and one years old.

So we'd all go to the mall and hang. Normal teenage stuff. Shopping without buying much and getting stink-eyed by the clerks. Dumping tokens into the arcades. Eating bland chicken slathered in sweet and incandescent sauces at the food court. Girl-watching, after that day in seventh grade when Sara doused Franklin and my half-baked crushes by coming out to us.

There was a secret, at Northgate Mall. We didn't know what it was, just that there was one. There was a pottery store, and it did a ridiculous amount of business. People of all ages but ours went in there, spent about a half hour inside, and came out. Only very rarely with a bag, but everyone seemed happy working there. It was weird. For a while we thought it was just someone selling drugs or making book, some kind of crime thing. But eventually Sara started dating Claire, who knew all the places to buy pot or bet on ballgames on account of her skeevy older brother and she said that neither one of them knew what was going on in Ceramic Dreams.

We sort of drifted apart around tenth grade. Sara was in a series of breathtakingly serious relationships that took up all of her time, Franklin got into D&D and LARPing while I joined the drama club and had a run of two or three line parts in poorly attended school productions. But then in the summer after Junior year we all were in the same position, all needed more money than our parents were willing to give, and we all ended up getting minimum wage retail jobs at good old Northgate.

Northgate had fallen on hard times by then. Two of the anchor department stores had gone out of business. All of the surviving businesses moved into a single corridor, between the movie theater and the food court, with the other wing of the old mall walled off in huge plywood slabs. A sign said the area was closed for renovation, but that had been there long enough for the paint to fade and there weren't any trucks or workers around that side, just an empty parking lot lit intermittently at night by police cruiser headlights.

So there were fewer crowds, and not as many supervisors either. When we all realized we were working similar shifts, we were able to manage long lunch breaks, to catch up. Sara ran the popcorn machine at the theater. Franklin stir-fried meat and handed pieces out on toothpicks in the food court. And I was between the two of them, ringing up video game sales.

There's a back place, a sort of hidden place in the mall. Each store has its own employees only area, mostly for inventory, and they're all connected by a set of spartan concrete corridors. One way to the loading bay, the other to the restrooms. Mall employees are supposed to use that back way, all the time. A person in a uniform roaming free disturbs the customers, apparently. We all grew very familiar with those back passages.

The plywood barrier didn't go across that part of the mall. Instead, there was a yellow 'no trespass' sign, not even blocking the way, and the lights turned off, the hallway fading into pure darkness beyond.

Naturally we started making plans to go exploring almost instantly, as soon as we had exhausted the topics of our recent exes and college plans.

"After work, after closing time, of course," said Sara. "The theater-side exits don't lock up after dark. They don't even have alarms, just a one-way lock. Ashley says it's from when they used to do midnight Rocky Horror, somebody got locked in and had to be talked out of suing the chain."

"What should we bring?" I asked. "Flashlights, obviously. A crowbar?"

"Alex," said Franklin, "Don't be an idiot. If we bring anything like that and get caught they'll go straight to robbery charges. No crowbar, no knives."

We planned it out for weeks, always finding some excuse to put it off. Then I remembered about the pottery store, Ceramic Dreams. It didn't make the move to the slimmed-down mall. It was still back there, in whatever gutted state. And we had to try and check it out.

So it was on, the very next Friday. Franklin traded for a later shift on cleanup, and I watched some dumb ninety minute slapstick between the time the game store closed and the mall closed. We met up in the theater lobby. Sara wave at her shift supervisor and we walked towards the back exit, then doubled back to the unmarked door, and we were backstage.

We waited half an hour, to be sure, whispering at each other, trying not to get too excited. Then we started walking. It was quiet without the constant air conditioning hum, and a bit oppressive to breathe for the same reason. The lights were harsh and dim in the way only fluorescents can be, and their ballasts cut the silence with syncopated buzzing. We walked up to the yellow sign and stepped around it, shining flashlight beams into the darkness.

We found Ceramic Dreams. It was easy to find. It was the only store whose back door wasn't locked and chained. It was not chained. It was ajar, and a pale green light slipped out under the door. We stood there, not sure what to do, silently signing charades at each other. Then a voice came from the door. "Come in."

I opened the door. 

There are things that defy easy explanation. What was on the other side is one of those. It was two things at the same time, and both at once. The room was a bare storeroom with sleeping bags against two corners. It was also a temple lined with marble columns, lit by torches that burned with green fire. There were two people there, a man and a woman. He was, you know, that kid, the one who wears an army surplus jacket and can't speak without a violent brag, who carries and has taught himself tricks with a butterfly knife. And she was the sneering danger girl, the kind who might sleep with you or steal your pants and drive off laughing but certainly either way isn't interested in anything you say.

And, also, they were both giant, talking snakes. Writhing around one another like an irregular caduceus.

The head was constant, in both versions. Central. Black as jet or opal, just barely translucent. A classical Greek face, but with spiked hair rather than laurels or curled tresses. And it always spoke, with moving lips and tracking jade-green eyes.

"There are rules," said the woman.

"There are laws," said the man.

"There are compacts and contracts that loosen and bind, said the snakes together.

"One question, for each," said one.

"Nothing on which a wager rides shall answer. No lottery numbers or sports bets." said the other.

"Now, ask," said both.

Sara went first. "Will I find true love?"

"You will," said the head. She smiled mildly. Then it kept speaking. "She will break your heart, tear it to shreds. But you will regret nothing."

Franklin followed. "Will I be a successful filmmaker?" That had started to be his thing, as of about a year.

"You might tell stories that reach across generations and profoundly change lives. Or you might achieve fame and recognition in your lifetime. But not both."

Then it was my turn, and I couldn't think of a single drat thing I could ask, not that wasn't ruled out by an outstanding dime bet with Dylan. I just stood there until the snakes got impatient enough to shoo us out of there.

I called Dylan that night. "You knew," I said. Long pause.

"I hope you realize it was all for your benefit," he said.

"Goodbye," I said, and hung up.

They came true, too. Sara married Christina right out of college, had a daughter with her and a sperm donor, and woke up one morning to find her gone, leaving a terse note and a three-year old child behind. I flew out, helped her deal with the change.

And Franklin. They said it was stress, when he downed two bottles, one of sleeping pills and the other vodka, the night after he won the Golden Globes for directing Serpentine, but I knew better. I was there, too, in the hospital as he recovered.

I dug those lined sheets out of the box in the attic where they had wound up, pored over each line, trying to find something I had forgotten. I spent hours, and finally thought of something.

But I didn't go back to the Oracle of Northgate Mall.

I called Dylan again.

"You know, I think I'm going to keep in touch with Franklin and Sera for the rest of my life."

I swear, I could hear him grin over the phone. "Bet you a dime you will."

Thranguy
Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!




Thranguy posted:

In,

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

My prompt

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?



The Clarity
950 words

Claudia awoke with an acute clarity of vision, like her whole world had been given a thorough once-over by an omnipotent window washer. Everything in her bedroom was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, down to the individual golden dustmotes drifting languidly in front of the window.

She reveled in the ecstasy of this for several hours, then went to work at her job behind the till of a gas station food mart. Every moment away from her room was repulsive and miserable.

The glass doors swung open and the canned sound of a recorded chime announced the first customer of her shift, an everyman in belted jeans and a short-sleeved button down shirt who wafted around the small store like a beige-elemental.

In one sense Claudia perceived him as a human being with a face and arms and legs, but seen through this new-found clarity, he was like a spiral-arm galaxy being pulled apart by a thousand competing gravities: the beer cabinet, the candy aisle, the ATM, the lottery ticket display, the Audi parked outside, the husband at home, the other man across town, his mother in Nebraska, an office in a nearby business park, a patch of riverbank verdant with roach butts, beer cans, and the heavy imprint of bodies on a blanket…

This unraveling galaxy approached the register with a protein bar and a bottle of water, stretching toward Claudia like taffy, oozing forward with his purchases against the taut drag of sausage sticks and malt liquor.

The galaxy slid his items across the counter. One of his tendril arms taffeyed toward the cigarette display behind Claudia’s head.

“How’s it going?” His words came out in a wide, bored west coast drawl.

Claudia snatched up the items and ran them under the scanner, shoved them back across the counter.

“Four dollars, nine cents,” she said, her voice thick with revulsion. She had to get this stretched, seething thing out of her sight as soon as possible.

“Um,” said the galaxy.

“Cash or card?” Claudia asked. The galaxy was splayed open before her like an obscene starfish.

“Credit,” he said, then pointedly added: “How’s your night going?”

A small tendril extended toward Claudia, probing for the validation of idle chitchat. She wanted to bat the horrible thing away, or send the man into the night with his purchases—nevermind payment—but in that moment she was struck by a nauseating realization: it was going to be like this with everyone who walked through the door. Send this galaxy away, another one would replace it five minutes later.

The tendril brushed her cheek, the tip of it puckered and suckling. Hungry.

“Sorry, I am feeling sick in the stomach,” she said, exaggerating the Romanian flavor of her accent. The suburbanites always gave her a little more leeway when they thought her english was poor.

The suckling galaxy arm retracted back into the sea anemone mass of tendrils. “Yeah, I thought you didn’t look so good. Are you alone here? Can anyone cover you for a break?”

“It’s okay,” she said, waving him off. “Please, run the card in the chip machine.”

“It should be illegal to make someone work alone overnight,” he said as he opened his wallet and produced his credit card, which dragged heavily at his spiral-arm tendrils.

They waited for the transaction to complete on the aging gas station POS system as musical white noise streamed in through tinny speakers. Claudia couldn’t have guessed the song; it was the nameless sound of M&Ms wrappers and travel-sized packs of tissue paper, condoms and cigarellos. The sort of music designed to be half-heard in passing snippets, neither novel or familiar.

“I could complain to your manager,” the galaxy said as the POS system labored through an involved discussion with his bank. “Call them up, give them an ear-full for leaving you here like this.”

A different sort of tendril extended toward her from the morass of conflicting gravities, this one bright gold like dust motes caught in the morning sun. With her clarity of vision Claudia perceived a difference in the polarity of this galaxy arm: this tendril had something to give. Somehow, in spite of the hundreds of things stretching this man like a tanned hide, something in him defied gravity, offering itself to her without reservation.

She lifted a hand, brought it close to the scintillating tendril. It coiled loosely around her wrist like a snake, exuding a playful eagerness, simple joy in the act of connection.

“What are you—why do I feel—” the galaxy stammered. The POS system chimed completion, but neither of them reacted.

Claudia yanked hard at the golden tendril wrapped around her wrist, uprooting the galaxy, wrenching all its various spiral arms away from the beer cabinet, the men, the river bank, the bills, the office. That which had been distended and sprawled out snapped back on itself, coalescing into a singular point of infinite density.

A human being stood before her, reconstituted from the tormented shape of a fracturing galaxy.

“It’s okay,” said the man. Then, grinning like a child: “It’s all okay!

“Yes,” Claudia agreed. “My stomach is feeling better now. Thank you.”

The man looked confused, opened his mouth, closed it, peered into Claudia’s eyes as though a message were hidden in her pupils. Finally, he scooped up his purchases, handling them as though he wasn’t precisely sure of their purpose.

“Well,” he grunted. “You take care. Thank you. Thanks.”

The canned door chime heralded his exit. Claudia collapsed down onto her little stool and rested among the cigarettes and lottery tickets.

kurona_bright
Mar 21, 2013


Hidden Moon (1236 words)

Donna rolled her eyes, and took the mirror Nina was shoving in her face.

“I am positive you did a good job, Nina. How many times have you done this?”

“It’s been years,” her childhood friend insisted. “I’m not one of the professionals you’ve gotten used to, and this has to look natural. Without, you know, being natural.”

The anxiety on Nina’s features was a far cry from the confident girl Donna remembered. She suppressed a sigh, and looked at herself in the mirror.

Long black bangs had replaced her customary brown ponytail. That, with the black lipstick and thick horn-rimmed glasses, made Donna feel like she was looking at some goth grad student instead of Donna Rivers, platinum-certified pop star.

She smiled at Nina. “It looks great. Thank you.”

Nina gave a tight, small smile back, and watched as Donna pulled out the frumpy cardigan and sweatpants from the bag she’d snuck past Mark. By the time Donna finished putting them on, it had slipped off.

Donna knew exactly what she was going to say before a word came out of her mouth.

“Are you… sure about this?”

“Yes,” Donna said, and judging by Nina’s flinch, she’d failed to keep her tone even. “I know this is an unnecessary risk. I know Mark has my best interests at heart, and I know this isn’t going to be fair to him. But last time, he might as well have been a neon sign, and if I have to deal with the paparazzi for one more day, I am going to lose it.”

Nina looked away for several long moments. Then she stuck her chin out and said, “Fine. But I’m coming with you.”

Donna blinked. “But --”

“They don’t know me,” Nina said, cutting her off. “It’s not like we’ve hung out… recently.”

A brief, awkward silence followed. Donna watched as tension set into Nina’s shoulders, but she didn’t seem to be budging.

It was blessedly familiar. She smiled and said, “Let’s go, then.”

* * *

Donna’s not exactly sure how they ended up like this. They seemed to be having a good time in the coffee shop Nina had picked out for them. It had been a nice, rustic place, and the smile on her friend’s face had been much easier compared to earlier.

She’d settled down in a comfortable armchair, while Nina had struck up conversation with the barista.

The coffee had been quite good.

But then there had been rapid footsteps, an aborted shout from the counter, and Donna had looked up to see Nina running out the door.

So here they were -- in the alley right behind the shop, with Nina looking more like a trapped animal than anything else.

“What’s wrong, Nina?” Donna asked.

Nina didn’t meet her eyes and didn’t answer. Donna felt a sudden surge of irritation.

“Nina, I swear to--”

“Anne thought that you were my girlfriend,” Nina blurted out, then clapped her hands over her mouth as if she could take the words back that way.

The irritation came back, harder this time. Donna crossed her arms. “She has good instincts then.”

“We were never --”

“We were, even if it was for, like, a week!” Donna snapped. “And we could’ve been for longer, if you had --”

If you had tried, she thought, and instead of being bitter, the thought just hurt.

She did her best to breathe through the tightness in her chest, and asked, “Nina, you were the one who said -- who confessed first. And that was the happiest I’d been in high school, even though we didn’t last long before your father found out.”

“I remember the night before I moved,” Nina whispered. “You managed to sneak me your dad’s old cell phone so we could keep in touch.”

“But you never texted back,” Donna said. “I thought at first your father had confiscated it, but -- there were so many ways to reach me, even then. We didn’t move. You could have sent a letter. You could have called

Nina looked down. “I was scared.”

“Scared?” Donna echoed. “But you were always the one arguing with the assholes at school. Hell, you were the one who got sent to the principal’s office after Mr. Stevens decided to start spouting his bigoted mouth off!”

Nina flinched. Donna softened her tone, and asked, “What changed?”

“Dad told me that if it ever got out, it would spread like wildfire.You were just taking off -- the media would’ve pounced upon the tale of the American darling’s descent into sin, and --”

“So you were worried about me?” Donna demanded. “Why not just ask--”

“It wasn’t about you!” Nina shouted. She started to tremble. “It was me!”

Donna stared at Nina as tears began to run down her cheeks.

“When he said that, I just imagined -- walking to school one day. And everybody would know, and, and, I can take Mr. Stevens. I can take Mr. Stevens, by himself, when everybody else in the room thinks he’s an idiot, because he is. I can’t take the world.” Nina swallowed. “So when you texted, I couldn’t answer. And then it was a week, and you were asking if I was there, and then it was a month, and…”

Nina ran her fingers through her hair, and continued, in a very small voice, “I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw the phone into the river.”

Donna stood there, trying to think of anything to say. Finally, Nina turned to leave.

Donna’s legs moved, her hands reached out, and suddenly -- the two of them were staring at each other, with their noses separated by a hair’s breadth.

“Why, then?” Donna asked. “You didn’t have to respond to my message. Why help me sneak out, if you’re terrified of making the front pages?”

Nina’s red-rimmed eyes remained focused on her, as she sniffed once, twice, and said, “I wanted to see you again. I --”

Donna kissed her. Nina froze, and for a long, terrible moment, they stayed like that -- until she melted into Donna’s arms.

It was Mark’s shout that finally brought them back to reality. They looked over to see him stepping out of his car.

“Donna, what the hell were you --” His rant cut off as soon as he took in the situation. Then he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “-- thinking.”

Nina turned to face him, but didn’t pull away. She grinned sheepishly and said, “Sorry, Mr. Curtis.”

“I think you might as well call me Mark,” he said, and sighed. To Donna, he said, “Be back at the hotel room by four, or I will call The Sun Reporter myself and not even feel guilty.”

“Got it,” Donna said, and then linked arms with Nina. As they began making their way out of the alley, she took a calming breath, and then another, trying to put her buzzing thoughts to words.

Nina looked over. “What is it?”

“Are we -- are you okay with ...this?” Donna asked, and gestured to herself. “Because nothing stays a secret forever, and…”

“I’m not thrilled at that prospect,” Nina admitted, and but gave a reassuring squeeze before Donna could pull away,. “But I’m willing to try.”

They shared a smile, and Donna thought, I can live with that.

Chairchucker
Nov 14, 2006

The man was stunningly well dressed. He had a smart looking jacket, and a really neat looking cape, the lining of which was shimmering and sparkling in more than Oriental splendour, which is a great deal of splendour indeed, just ask Kipling.



QuoProQuid posted:

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

The Heart Wants to Eat Your Face 1203 words

Simone was having a good day, but she was pretty sure it was about to turn bad. She just had a feeling.

It had been a good day because no one had tried to kill her yet, but it was probably going to get worse on account of the lizard people. Not content with infiltrating all levels of world government and plunging the world into a dystopian nightmare, they were now intent on catching her and eating her face.

She just had a feeling.

On the TV, 2nd President of Earth Selena Gomez was talking about the need to unite and… I mean who cares really what she was talking about, because it was all lies. Simone wasn’t sure when Madame President had become one of Them, or if she’d always been cold blooded. No, Simone thought, it had to have been some time after Wizards of Waverly Place. There was just no way. Simone thought about it some more. But probably some time before Dolittle.

Out of the corner of her eye, Simone spotted some serpentine movement. She turned and looked straight at the lizard, which resumed its human form. I’m onto you, she thought. She thought it hard, really focused that psychic energy its way.

The shop assistant didn’t look up. This one was tricky. Slippery. Simone slipped out the door while its attention was still with the customer it was trying to sell a TV to. Sell a TV. More like sell a lifetime of enslavement.

Simone got out the door and broke into a run, putting as much distance as possible between her and the lizard before it noticed.

After seven changes of direction, three blocks and at least one double back, she was pretty sure she’d done enough to evade detection. But then, there at the other end of the street, was another lizard. It looked up and locked eyes with her. Oh no you don’t. She turned and ran the other way, turned right and suddenly Legoland was in front of her. Of course. She must’ve subconsciously run where she knew the lizards couldn’t follow. She picked up her speed, not slowing down as she ran through the front door of Legoland, only stopping when she reached the ticket booth.

“Hello, I need to get in here,” she said to the young man in the booth.

“Um, hello,” he said. “We’re not really open. The doors are only unlocked for cleaning. I’m just here because they want an employee here while there are contractors here.”

“You don’t understand,” said Simone, then paused. What if he really did understand? What if he was… “Are you hot blooded?”

“Uh,” he said. “I don’t really, uh. What?”

She looked at his face. It was flushed and red. No need to worry. He was probably too young to have become a lizard anyway. “I really need to get in there,” she said. “They’re after me.”

“Who?”

She frowned. She couldn’t tell the truth here, she knew that from experience. “Bikies,” she said. “Lots of them.”

“Right,” he said. “That seems really…” he straightened up. “No bikies are going to get one of our customers on my watch!” He disappeared inside the booth.

“Customer?” she said. “I’m not really… you know what, we can discuss that later.” There was the sound of keys from behind the inner door, and they swung open.

“Quick, get in,” he said, and she did. He closed and locked the door behind them. “Follow me, if they’re still following, we’ll lose them.”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “They won’t follow us in here.” They wouldn’t dare. They wouldn’t brave this den of creativity.

He shrugged. “So why were bikies after you, anyway?”

She took a deep breath. Sure, she’d only just met him, but something about him… she felt like she could trust him. “It wasn’t bikies,” she said. “I didn’t think you’d believe me if I told you the truth.”

He smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Who, then?”

“Not who,” said Simone. “What.” She thought about it for a moment. “But also who, I guess. Or whom. I’m never sure which is which.”

“Uh, all right,” he said.

“Lizards,” she said. “Lizards who have been replacing our politicians and entertainers and high profile athletes and weather presenters in order to take over the world.” The smile fell from his face. “You don’t believe me. I can’t believe I was so foolish.”

“Oh,” he said, “I believe you.” He reached up to the top of his head and pulled it off. Underneath, he was all lizard.

“But how?” she asked. “Lizards can’t stand the creative energy of LEGO!”

“Look clossssser,” it hissed.

She peered at the nearby LEGO structures. “They’re glued together!”

It smiled. “The perfect cover. No one who’sssss onto usssss would ever think to look for ussss in here.”

“What’s with the drawn out ‘s’ sounds all of a sudden?” she asked. “You weren’t doing it when you were wearing the mask.”

“Fair point,” it said. “It kind of just helps with our image, you know.”

She nodded. “Makes sense.”

“Now, where were we?” it asked.

“The perfect cover?” she suggested.

“Right!” It thought for a moment. “Yeah, I think that’s about all I needed to say. Guess I’ll just silence you forever, now.”

“Now, let’s be reasonable,” she said, but she knew it was a futile thought. To a lizard, eating her face was entirely reasonable.

Fortunately, it was at this time that a reinforced LEGO fist crashed through the roof, followed by the legs and body of a gigantic LEGO mech. The hand reached down to Simone. “Get on,” said a familiar voice. Simone didn’t see many other options that didn’t involve having her face eaten by lizards, so she climbed onto the mech’s giant LEGO hand, which picked her up to face the pilot of the mech. “Hello Simone,” said Madame President. “We have been watching you.”

“I knew it!” said Simone.

The LEGO mech stepped on the lizard on the ground and squished it. “Well, not quite,” said Earth President Selena Gomez. “We’re not all lizards.” The hand opened the cockpit of the mech and gently dropped Simone inside. The President turned to Simone and smiled. “Some of us are lizardslayers. Come, let me show you our secret hideout. Now, buckle up.”

Simone buckled herself into the copilot’s seat and held on as the mech ran away with the two of them inside. “But what about Dolittle?” asked Simone.

“Hmm?”

“It just doesn’t make sense that non-lizards would make that.”

Selena looked sad. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She reached her hand up to the top of her head. “I really wish this could’ve gone differently.”

As the lizard pulled its mask off, Simone unbelted and jumped for the controls. “Wait!” it said, but it was too late for that. The two giant LEGO hands swung towards the cockpit of the mech, meeting each other with force. The second last thing that went through Simone’s head was, you know what, all things considered, this day could’ve gone worse. I took two with me. The last thing that went through her head were the walls of the mech.

QuoProQuid
Jan 12, 2012

Tr*ckin' and F*ckin' all the way to tha
T O P



And that’s it! Submissions closed.

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Saucy_Rodent
Oct 24, 2018

by Pragmatica


Losers brawl

through the world

820 words

Chamra hears her own requiem sung by the birds hiding in the dark wood, and the drops of rain are their drum-beat. She had felt cold on her skin before but only now does she feel it in her bones, not as just a thing her mother says but as something real. There is dark everywhere, around her and upon her and within her. Her body, until now, has been hers, but now it belongs to the cold and dark as much as the forest around her. Her quiet sobbing joins the night-bird’s chorus.

Two months ago, she was hiding behind her mother’s bookshelf from a caravan of nuns collecting girls to train to become the Women Who See Through the World. The nuns ignored all the girls lining the streets begging to be chosen and went straight to Chamra. They shoved her mother aside and dragged her, screaming, to their caravan. They left the village just a minute after they arrived, their task completed.

Chamra is darkness. The distinction between her body and the night is less than meaningless, it’s fake. Her skin is no wall or boundary, and she forgets that it’s there. She wanders the wood, feeling the cold everywhere. She looks down at the little girl lying against a tree and watches the rain slide through and off her earthy rags. She follows the water as it seeps into the dirt.

The nuns brought her to the base of the Before Peoples’ tower of metal and crystal and glass where the Women Who See Through the World explore the sacred secrets. In the city of makeshift tents, the nuns told the dozens of collected girls that only one among them would prove worthy of joining the prophetesses above the tower. The rest would be banished, driven into the Hungry Wood.

Chamra is water. She swims into the crevices in the dirt, going down down down. The roots of the grass and the trees are trying to swallow her, but as water, Chamra does not fear being devoured. Water does not die in monsters’ mouths. Chamra wants to do the hungry trees the kindness of giving herself to them, but she knows what she seeks is down, so she continues to seep until she can reach no further.

The girls who immediately said they were having visions were thrown out first, chased by the nuns’ dogs into the wood. After the first few, no one dared to have a vision, so the nuns started casting girls out for not seeing through the world. There were no classes or instruction; the girls were expected to find the visions themselves. They would wander between the tents trading meager rations while the nuns weren’t looking. At night, they would beg for meaningful dreams, and find none. Chamra tried not to be noticed for anything, and always made sure to be the most usual of everyone.

Chamra is air. She had thought of air as the sky above, rising, but air falls too. She falls through the tiniest tunnels, too small for the littlest worms and water-droplets. She stretches her endless body through every crack until she is like the empty roots of the world’s greatest tree, but even now she needs to stretch further.

Two nuns grabbed Chamra as she was trading a handful of foraged maroonberries for a scrap of stolen chocolate. They brought her to the head tent. There, she was told that her usual-ness had been noticed, that not a single girl in the whole camp seemed so unnoticeable, that her ordinariness was extraordinarily. Thus, she would be banished from the camp. Chamra did not beg, as she had seen so many other girls so fruitlessly attempt.

Chamra is earth. She had thought of earth as firm, still, unmoving, but now she is trembling, shaking, dancing. She feels down through herself, and she is released from all pain, for the stones and soil deep beneath the Earth do not ache. She feels a small, faint warmth and follows it deeper.

So Chamra ran, like so many girls before her, away from the dogs and into the wood. It was the end she had feared since she was a little girl, when the dreams started.

Chamra is fire! There is fire beneath the darkness, beneath the air, beneath the water, beneath the earth, always there, always burning, consuming almost nothing. The heart of the world is this golden shining warmth.

Chamra is Chamra. She pulls the fire up through the earth, through the air, through the water, through the darkness, into her body, and her bones stop shaking.

Should she return to the nuns, tell them she has seen through the world, join the mystic priestesshood atop the ancient spire?

She stands and walks, hoping she will have decided by the time she rediscovers the path.

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