|# ? Aug 23, 2020 02:51|
|# ? Jan 21, 2022 05:53|
The Dread Pirate Bluebeard and Her Trusty First Mate
"He's walking weird, right? He's like, going diagonal," I said, squinting at a pedestrian across the intersection. "Right? Why does he do that? With his hip, it's like, going the opposite way from how he's walking. How can that be?"
"HONK HONK HONNNNNNK," replied Bluebeard. I looked over to where my huge parrot sat in her modified carseat/perch, on the front passenger seat. I stared, trying to remember when she had learned to say that. It wasn't one of the pirate phrases we'd been going over lately. She tilted her head to eyeball me right back. Then I heard it again - loud honks coming from the car behind me.
"That's rude," I said. I glanced at my rearview mirror. The guy behind me, in one of those big, boxy Mercedes SUVs, motioned something with his hands. "Unless…"
My focus racked from the mirror to the traffic light behind it. The left-turn arrow was bright green.
"Oop!" I said. "poo poo poo poo poo poo poo poo."
I stomped on the gas and turned into the parking lot, just as the arrow turned yellow. The Mercedes stayed right on my rear end.
"They must be shopaholics," I joked to Bluebeard.
"Ba'krawk," she replied matter-of-factly. "Hang 'em from the yardarm."
I slowed up to the stop sign at the first intersection. My heart was beating fast from the tension at the light, so I took a moment to breathe. I weighed my three options. Left, right, or straight ahead. One of them had to be right. I was certain I'd turned in here for a reason. There was a Starbucks to my left. Coffee might help me think this through.
"Did I come in here for coffee?" I looked over for Bluebeard's input, but the Mercedes roared up beside us. They must have been halfway up on the sidewalk, because the screaming driver managed to leer over us, nearly falling out of his window and through mine. I felt bad, but I couldn't understand a word he said.
After a few seconds, he noticed Bluebeard, and that seemed to throw him off because he kept looking from her to me and back, red-faced and stuttering. He finally decided to zoom through the intersection, and cut off a little blue Mazda in the process. That was just one of the things you had to come to expect when you go looking for parking in East Los Angeles. There's plenty of crazy drivers, and plenty more sane drivers who get in the way of the crazy ones and make them pop off. Me, I like to take it easy when I'm driving. I just need Bluebeard by my side, some sweet tunes on the radio, and my seat reclined way, way back.
"I feel like I'm forgetting something," I said to Bluebeard as I turned into an aisle of cars. It was packed, not a single open spot in sight. I inched along and craned my neck to look for someone returning to their car.
"I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise," Jimmy Buffet started, but Bluebeard cut him off.
"Ahoy, matey," she said, exuberantly. I couldn't help but grin. I love the way she can turn the most mundane sentence into a song. I love a lot of things about Bluebeard. Her coloration is gorgeous - flagrant red up her tail to yellow and iridescent purple under her wings, with an enigmatic patch of blue blazing on her chest. Her eyes are always alert, always observing. And she's huge. Truly one of the largest birds I've ever seen, and I sell them for a living. She's the size of a toddler!
"Ahoy, matey," she repeated. "Ahoy, matey." I was gazing at Bluebeard when I heard a crash and the scrape of metal on metal. I gasped, my foot instinctively pressed on the brake, and I saw that I had hit a shopping cart.
"Eek!" said a blonde lady as she flinched back from the cart.
"Sorry!" I said. I held my hands up in a way that I hoped indicated true regret.
"Watch where you're going!" she said, hands on her hips.
"I will, I'm sorry!" I said. She rolled her eyes hard at me and shook her head before she grabbed the cart handle and pushed on. I felt the shame that she wanted me to feel deep in my heart. I really did. But I had to ask. "Hey, are you leaving?"
She spun around and pointed to a parked blue Mazda. "I just got here!"
"Okay, sorry! Sorry!" I sank back into my very, very reclined seat and waited for her to clear the road. Bluebeard had puffed out her feathers during the confrontation, and it took her a minute to settle down. She always hates it when someone's harsh to my vibes. I have to keep her on a short leash when we're out in public, and a harness too. One time when she got spooked by a dog and tried to fly away, she lifted me a foot off the ground. I love her so much.
"Making the best," sang Jimmy, "of every virtue and vice."
I approached the end of the row, and I still hadn't seen a spot. Before me loomed a beige warehouse with red accents. Massive columns held up the roof over the packed outdoor food court. The delicate scent of hot dogs and supreme pizza wafted through the car. It was unmistakably Costco.
"Oh yeah," I exclaimed. A realization made me sit bolt upright on my seat. Bluebeard cocked her head and gurgled at me. "We were on our way to Costco!"
With renewed vigor, I stamped on the accelerator to make the next turn, but just as quickly I had to stomp on the brakes, as a cruel black cube shot out of my peripheral vision and across my path. Time seemed to slow down as the Mercedes passed in front of me. The driver shot me a sneer and flipped a violent bird. Then, with a squeal of tires, he was gone, and the clamor of time's normal flow resumed.
"Kraw," said Bluebeard questioningly, "blow the man down." But all I could hear was my pulse, pounding in my ears. Something about that mean driver drove me into a state of abject terror and paranoia. A tap on my window nearly made me jump out of my skin.
It was an old man, giving me a little wave. Panicked, I swerved around the corner and into the next aisle. Only then did it occur to me that the old man was backing out.
"drat it," I said, smacking the steering wheel. "I could've parked! We'll never get, uh... what we… came here for… Why can't remember anything today? Sheesh." Frustrating as it was, forgetting the important details came with the side effect of making me forget to be scared, and I soon lapsed into bemusement as we rolled past fully-utilized parking spaces.
"Big kosher pickle," Jimmy sang, and I joined him, "and a cold draft beer. Well, good god almighty, which way do I steer?"
"Tack to starboard," offered Bluebeard, and I obliged, turning left and left again to aim down the next aisle.
"Very helpful," I said. "Thank you, Bluebeard."
But something was very wrong. The cars were pointed the wrong way. I'd come in through the out door - a painful mistake. Then I saw it: a curious absence, halfway down on the right-hand side. If I could get there, and back in properly, we'd be set for life. Or at least the rest of the afternoon.
"This is it, Bluebeard. Let's park the car."
And I got close! I really almost parked it. But then the black Mercedes returned, at the opposite end of the aisle. I froze up - even my voice stuck in my throat. I knew he was watching me. I imagined the SUV rolling over my car, crushing Bluebeard and I into a sticky paste. I imagined the front end of it opening up and swallowing us whole. This was the final confrontation, and I had no suspicion I'd make it out alive.
The Mercedes started to advance, a growling predator made of shadow and hate. For a moment, I couldn't move a muscle. My response time was somehow impaired. Finally, even though my hands were covered in sweat, I managed to shift into reverse. I abandoned all hope of parking, I just wanted to survive. I backed up as fast as I could. I was swerving - I barely missed a Prius, and actually scraped the back fender of an old Ford pickup.
Then I lost control. My vision went fuzzy and my hands slipped around the wheel. The back end of my car popped over a median and we whipped around chaotically. I thought we were going to die! I wrapped my arms around Bluebeard and held on tight.
The car skidded and bounced, and at last came to a rest. I kept my eyes shut tight until I felt Bluebeard nibbling at my earlobe. At first I thought we'd landed in a snowbank, but then I remember it hadn't snowed in East LA in my entire life, and I was just buried in drive-thru receipts that had exploded out of the glove compartment. I peeked out the window, and I couldn't believe what I saw.
"Bluebeard," I couldn't help but shout, "we've parked! You did it! That's the Bluebeard magic baby!"
It was one of the weird hard-to-get-to spots by the Chase bank, but I didn't think we'd need a cart for whatever we'd come to Costco for, so it would work fine. I was doing a celebration dance when the sunglasses compartment popped open, and a silvery packet fell out.
"Pieces of eight," said Bluebeard, with a hint of mischief in her voice. "Ahoy, matey. Pieces of eight."
I sniffed the packet, eyed the heavily crystallized nugs within, and felt my vibe descend to another level as an explanation clicked into place. It was my Wavy Jones OG, a sativa-dominant strain with high THC content, great for creative projects or just vegging out and watching a movie. Not awesome for somehow deciding to get in your car and driving to Costco.
"Wow, I got really high, huh?" Steam was emitting from somewhere under the hood of the car. I'm not a car guy, but I was pretty sure that's a bad sign. "I should not have done this." My hands worked on instinct. "I'm sorry I put you through this, Bluebs. It wasn't cool of me."
Bluebeard riffled her feathers and held her head up high. God, she was brave.
"God, you're brave," I said. I paused to lick the sticky strip on the paper. "A lot braver than me. High or not, I can be a bit of a coward, huh? I need to work on that."
I lit the fresh joint and leaned back all the way into my seat. The setting sun filled the car with a deep orange glow. The smoke calmed me the instant it hit my lungs. I'd trade just about anything for that feeling. When the joint was roached, I attached the leash to Bluebeard's harness and we set off for the Costco.
"It might have been woodchips," I mused. "Right? Weren't we talking about needing another bag of woodchips?"
Bluebeard didn't have a response to that. She was laser focused on a big, black, boxy SUV parked in the aisle we were walking down. At the time, I didn't get the significance of it, although it did ring some faint, faraway bell. Maybe she smelled another parrot.
"Hey!" Someone said. I turned around and squinted at them through my already-squintified eyes. It was a little bald guy, busting out of a black turtleneck and blue jeans. I had to admit, the steel-toed cowboy boots were a stylish touch.
"You're the dumb-gently caress who don't how to drive! C'mere, I'm gonna knock you in the noggin!" The guy moved on me fast, pushing up his sleeves. Confused, I backed away, but Bluebeard leapt forward. That beautiful enormous bird, she took flight, and with her talons outstretched, she slashed into the guy's forearms and left a spot-marking X on the top of his bald head. He cursed and yelled, jumped back into his SUV for safety, saying, "I'll sue! I swear to fuckin' God I'll fuckin' sue! That bird's gonna get the chair!" Nevertheless, he was soon gone entirely. To me, it seemed like it all happened in a few blinks of a blood-red eye.
"I'm a cheeseburger in paradise," said Bluebeard, hopping back up on top of my head, where she customarily rode.
"Yeah," I said. "I think I am too."
We walked on in the setting sun, feeling more a team than ever before. It was us against the world. And we had no idea that the Costco we were walking towards had already closed half an hour ago.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 03:41|
Have you heard enough about Week 419? No? In that case you're extremely fortunate because the rebooted Thunderdome recaps podcast had numerous opinions on the words you done made! Some of them were not negative! This week I, Sitting Here, Uranium Phoenix and Yoruichi covered the following topics:
Obliterati fucked around with this message at 08:29 on Aug 23, 2020
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 06:08|
I am worried that I didn't follow my guide very well so I apologize for that, but I had fun!
A man by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche yelled up at me that, “God is dead”, from his refuge between the two warped, worn covers of a hardbound volume unearthed from the dingiest corners of the church library. Carefully setting him down on the corner of exposed mattress on my unmade bed, I rose to my feet and anxiously padded down the hallway formed between the matching beds and dressers that used to divide the room between me and my brother. Still divided the room between me and my brother. Having reached the window, I pulled back the cheap bamboo blinds from their side and leaned against the sill, setting my cheek against the warm wall to angle my gaze through the dirty glass. Far above, visible in between the looming stacks of timeshares and condominiums, there he was. God. Floating on his back. Dead.
An undeniable magnetism rooted me to the floor as I watched his giant form glide slowly in between the white and steel columns. The black scuffs marring the bright white vulcanized rubber of his tennis shoes preceded the long, immaculate socks that stretched from ankle to knee, leaving a ring of thick, dark hair and blued skin exposed beneath the bottom hem of industrially pleated khaki shorts. A knocking on the weak drywall of the door frame behind me.
My mother reminded me of my promise to take out the trash. I nodded into the window and briefly wondered how long I had been standing here, a stiffness creaking awake in my calves. Shrugging off the chore and ache, I continued to watch God passing above. Now, the cinchy print of gigantic palm trees, much bigger than the real thing, against a faded pink background eased their way along between buildings. By the time I could see his neck, the light was failing and the sun setting. As I squinted harder and harder to resolve fewer and fewer features, the last thing I spied was his necklace. A giant lanyard of rawhide yoked about his neck, leading down to a giant glass bottle suspended below his floating body. The bottle, plugged with a cartoonishly proportioned cork, contained a single grain of rice, comparable in size to one of the towering complexes littering the shore, upon which, written using a steady hand and fine-tipped permanent marker, the name, “GOD”.
The overbearing control the scene exerted on me eased with the dying light, returning me to my immediate surroundings as night arrived. I looked back to his book left open on my mattress and the space between it and me, wherein somewhere I lost the entirety of my Saturday. My mother returned, much angrier at the bold persistence of the lumpy garbage bag tied and leaning against the end of the kitchen counter. I dragged my feet to the kitchen, dragged both my feet and the bag to the garage, and dragged my feet back to my room. I felt drained of the day, despite having spent it almost entirely standing still. Regardless, I opened my blinds fully and stood again leaning on the sill, looking up to the growing void above in hopes of recapturing some of the ethereal hold I had felt earlier in the day. I focused and unfocused my eyes, squinting tighter and tighter, hoping to find a shirtsleeve, the glint of cheap plastic sunglasses, or a panama hat of braided fronds, but saw nothing.
When the hulking figure disappeared into the inky dark, he was replaced with a growing contingent of weak specks of light. Though the target of my mesmerization had faded away, the magnetism it captured me with had not. I addictively watched the unfathomably distant shimmering, the appearance of new orbs, and the disappearance of weak ones. Knowing the fate of the God I had just lost, the tiny lights, fearing they may suffer similarly when the sun arose in the morning, begged for preservation. With inexplicable obedience, I retrieved a pencil and his worn book, setting both on the windowsill. To better see the population of orbs above, I first shut off the light in my room and then the hallway outside. Using the blank inside of the rear cover, I began sketching each sky light. Though I had lacked any proclivity for the visual arts, I found myself faithfully reproducing the night sky in inverse, dots of dark lead on a white sky. The act brought a deeply motivating satisfaction that stole away my night just as God’s death had done to the day preceding it.
As the sun returned for air from the ocean depths, bleaching out the last stars, leaving only godless blue in its wake, I diffused back into awareness. Though I hadn’t slept, I felt rested. And before me lay a flawless exercise in celestial pointillism, where constellations of stars, planets, and hazy galaxies speckled the entirety of the page except for three tall columns of emptiness sprouting from the bottom of the picture upward, where Seashell Suites, Seafoam Flats, and Seamist Manors stood between my neighbourhood and the coast. My mother in the doorway, telling me to get ready for church. I told her that I’m not going.
When my mother, dressed in her Sunday best, shouted her goodbye before closing the door behind her, I had yet to leave the company of the window. My night of celestial plotting had unlocked a bizarre new mysticism that overtook the world through my eyes. When I turned back to the open door of my bedroom, the bed beside it called out.
“Much like how the night stole God and the sun stole the stars, I too will not last. Someday I will break and rot and disappear forever.”
The bed begged me to preserve the geometry of its miters and architecture, as I had done for the stars. I felt helpless to deny the furniture’s request and began sketching over a new page, ignoring the heavy print beneath my pencil drawing of slats and wooden legs. After the bed was satisfied, the dresser, the sheets, and the dried seastars propped up on my night table took turns demanding their recording in my repurposed tome. Admittedly, I found some bland pleasure in the practice, falling into a contented trance as I communicated each joint and surface and texture to page. Feeling my own will dissolve and sink somewhere beneath the wooden floor, which itself howled up for me to map its intricate gnarls and grainy roadways, I became the stenographer of my bedroom. Having obliged much of the interior of my room, I expanded my work through the views from my window, from which I charted the constellation of popcorn stucco on the neighbours’ wall, the uniform stacking of apartments in the towers hedging the shore, and the radial expansion of palm fronds, among many other things. I had lost God, but I had found new guidance much closer to home.
Countering the dull glee I derived from the robotic copying of my immediate surroundings, I began developing a growing dread at the world beyond the confines of my bedroom, where a presumably infinite array of creatures, shapes, and structures could command my will. My only defence, I stopped leaving my room altogether. I lied to my mother that I had fallen gravely ill and asked that she deliver meals and water from the kitchen. I began relieving myself in bottles and jugs, but even then caught myself mapping the arbourized tracks my urine would trace down the insides of the ribbed plastic. My only friend, Marto, began making daily visits on my mother’s request.
At twelve years old, I had committed myself to hermitry. And I would’ve stayed in that room forever, endlessly transcribing the small day-to-day changes in the complex architecture on a plate of akee and saltfish and the vasculature of wrinkles innervating dirty laundry, until Marto delivered news of the quiet.
He had barged in on me mapping the paths of small motes of hair and dust floating along my bedroom floor, driven by the wind squeezing in through the slit gap beneath the door. His entrance sheared them severely, scattering them into impossibly small pieces I could no longer follow.
“Samael cannot speak no more.”
Marto elaborated that Samael’s whole family couldn’t speak no more. Simply one day they could, and one day they couldn’t. The wild tale distracted me from the entrancing uniformity of the horizontal stripes on Marto’s shirt. My first glimpse of the outside world in weeks delivered in the form of simple, organized data. I invited him to watch over my shoulder as I fetched a map of the coastal community from somewhere beneath a stack of blue texts. Together, we traced our fingers from town square down Tackling, left onto Coronation, and left on Long Ground until we settled our touch on Samael’s house, immediately across from the whitened beaches of Comb Bay. I drew a thick “x” over the property and jotted down the date. I even transposed the information into a fresh page of my book of recordings. The whole transcription took seconds and I felt saddened by its simplicity. But, things would change.
As Marto’s visits turned into the recitation of increasingly longer lists of new victims to the quiet, I committed my map to the wall over my bed. Each morning, Marto, idly pretending to play in the dirt, eavesdropped on the chatter in the town square. Each afternoon, we kneeled on my weakened mattress and labelled the houses of those named. Expanding my characterization, the wallspace around my map was invaded by new recordings of case numbers, contagion timelines, and family trees marked with familial spread of the quiet. Safe in my room, I floated happily between longitude and latitude, the x and y axes, ignorant to the horror and shock dominating my community outside.
When Marto returned one afternoon, stricken by the quiet, the whole project was complicated by a reliance on his shoddy script and shoddier spelling, but we persisted. When my mother returned one afternoon, stricken by the quiet, I hadn’t noticed, the list of victims now requiring most of my day to transcribe along their many dimensions. So, I persisted.
As silence blanketed the entire town, I began wondering if I, too, was quiet. My two contacts to the outside world, Marto and my mother, had been quiet for more than a week. And in the absence of their questions, there had been an absence of replies. My throat felt dry at the thought. I flipped open my book of recordings to the old bookmark still poking out from the top of the pages close to the front of the story. Clearing my throat, I continued where I had left off.
“God is dead.”
I sighed loudly in relief, clapped the book shut, and looked up to return to my daily mapping of the quiet. I don’t know if it was the lighting from my open window or the angle of my view or a final death spasm of God raining down from above, but I saw something new in the charts and maps on my bedroom wall. Jumping onto my bed and examining the geography more closely, with cross-reference to the weekly schedules of affected families, a new pattern underlying the wavelike spread of the quiet emerged. Tracing the pattern backwards, it became evident that the quiet did not travel within the family structure. Nor did it originate with Samael, patient zero. All pathways through time and space traced back to a short stretch of beach on Comb Bay.
The discovery was elating. My extensive charting efforts suddenly transformed before me, morphing from a passive recording of the world foisted upon me into something wholly new. Something active. The shackles of the observable world had loosened on my thin wrists. I flipped to the back of my book of recordings. In my drawings, I found new, transcendent properties in the mundane sketches of my life. I could see new insights into the structural physics of the dovetailed corners of my desk chair, the geometrical symmetry of the floral pattern of my fitted sheet, and even the liquid dynamics in the flow of my haphazard cursive itself. I had inverted my relationship as a subject to the overbearing world through observation and analysis.
When Marto visited that afternoon, I danced freely around the entire house, denying the insistence of the material world to record it to my pages. Dragging him by the wrist to my room, I unveiled my greatest discovery. The quiet was born of a phenomenon on Comb Beach. One insight inspired another as Marto’s eyes lit up and he jotted rabidly on the notepad all citizens had begun carrying in silence. He wrote of bright purple conches littering the sand, unfamiliar to any inhabitant. Their appearance, he insisted, coincided near perfectly with the Quiet. I requested he fetch me a whole bagful of the strange shells and off he went.
As I waited for Marto, I packed. Folding my maps and sketches into my worn backpack, I had realized that my insight into the spread of the quiet was, ultimately, just a guess. I could be wrong. If only I could test my predictions. I was emptying the snack cupboard into my backpack as Marto returned, a dull clinking of shells in a grocery bag hoisted at his side. I eyed into the brown plastic, gently lifting one of the hollow conches out and up to my ear. Though almost inaudible, I heard a distant collage of voices hollering and screaming over top one another. Owing to their familiarity, I heard Marto and mom cut through the crowd.
Later that afternoon, while my shoulders ached beneath the crude straps of my bag, I looked landward from my view on the deck of the barge. I surveyed the docks beside Key Beach where I would land, then looked down at my map of the same region spread open in front of me on the railing. I had marked my predicted waves of contagion that the quiet would follow into this seaside community from a single population of conches on the beach, marked with a dark “x”. I looked backward, towards the community I had just left. I imagined new systems of communication evolving. Messages conveyed with snaps, claps, and vigorously tourist pointing. I was sad I could not stay to map their spread and growth. Land ho!
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 16:22|
I never learned to read or write so please be kind
Thanks for the neat prompt owlhawk911
I pushed the fronds of a dark green fern aside as the muddy smell of melting snowpack blew to me in a chilly wind. The wind subsided and it was back to the smell of cow dung, which was no less enjoyable to me. I had come to visit my neighbor's cattle, always a joy. I emerged from the dense forest into a broad meadow, green hills and snowcapped mountaintops now in view, a patchy misty rain suddenly interrupted by sunshine.
Pardon... "Pardon?" Oh no. As the word left my mouth, I was in the frosty green hills no more. I was instead where I was, which happened to be a broad depression of acrid yellow dust that was once called the Great Slave Lake.
Before me was a miner, but not a living one. I knew it to be a STEER model 6-46 automated extraction unit, named by someone with a sense of humor at the PomTec corporation, who like everyone saw a bovine form in its four anchor posts, hulking two and a half meter steel frame, and head-shaped vent hood. The great dusty basin was dotted with them, roving around sometimes, mostly still, like cattle grazing on a grassless field, instead pulling yttrium and neodynium from the earth with their extraction hoses that a further sense of humor could see resembling an udder.
Then there was the cowhand, the miner-minder, the man who had asked me what brought me over this way, pard. A tall man with a weathered face, a wide hat to keep back the cruel sun of the long summer days, company demin, goggles and mask caked in dust around his neck. I must tell you I have always been prone to a sort of involuntary reverie, flashbacks you could call them, mercifully always to kinder times and pleasant memories. As yet they had never gotten me into trouble, but here I was, an arm's length away from PomTec company property, backpack full of rare earth that was not rightly mine.
He eyed me warily. "Folks been rustlin elements around these parts. Not much else round here either, so I'm askin again, what brings you this way?"
"I was thinking about cattle. Real cattle I used to know." I've never been good at lying so I began with truth and moved on to half-truths. "I was on my way to Yellowknife, and seeing these funny things got me to reminiscing, and next thing I knew I was getting real close for a look. This is public land, eh?"
"Real cattle you say?" he asked with an incredulity covering for an almost boyish excitement.
"Before the drought." Disappointment took to his face, the kind where you know you shouldn't have been so naive to begin with. "Down in BC a ways, when it was still green."
"Well it's public land but not many folks come through it. Y'ain't supposed to get within 5 meters of a Steer."
"A what?" I fibbed. "What is this thing anyway, if you don't mind me asking? They really do look like cattle out here."
He chuckled and began a long exposition, clearly a man proud of his trade and the honest living he made. Of course I knew how each hose of the udder forced its way as much as 500 meters underground, how it dispensed a patented slurry that dissolved most of the rock to leave behind the precious rare earth elements needed for who knows what, how those valuable nuggets were pulled up the hose and deposited into a locked chamber to await pickup, how the cowhands drove around in small all-terrain vehicles - enclosed by necessity of dust storms - to refill this slurry and collect the product and to herd the Steers by adjusting their automated roving pattern as needed. I pretended to listen as dutifully as I could. I most certainly pretended I didn't know how to open the locked depository and pull out the goods. Somewhere around the vent hood I was in the hills again, now closer to the friendly cow, her curious head-cocked look like a puppy wondering if I had come to feed her, rumbling the ground as she trotted over to me, the oddly pleasant smell of distant drying cow dung, the flick of her tail as a fly landed on her hind, the halved apple, reaching my sticky hand out with a flat palm to offer a nice treat,
The laughter of the cowhand? poo poo. The chemical smell of the yellow dust and my hand outstretched before the vent hood. "Feedin the cow, that's a new one to me." I suppose I had made a joke I didn't remember. "Just be careful your hand isn't there when this red light goes on, 300 degrees is nothin to be trifling with."
He gave me a weary look of someone who had not been shown much friendliness, someone trying to dispel their suspicion. The looked turned to concern and I realized he was looking behind me. I turned around and saw the approaching wall of dust. He glanced at my inadequate mask, already clogged from the last storm. "Why don't you hop in," he said. "No sense being out in a duster. I'll give you a ride to Yellowknife." He paused. "Been lonely out here a while anyway."
"Kind of you," I smiled. Before I put my backpack down in close quarters I intended to make sure my stolen goods were buried well below my clothes and bedroll. So I rifled around in there and chuckled another not-quite-lie for cover. "I'd offer you some grass for the ride, but um, let me check." The nuggets, the non-smokeable ones made of neodynium and such, now safely at the bottom of the bag, I pulled out my empty glass pipe. "I guess I'm out."
He smiled. "Not supposed to on company time, but I've got some flower in the truck if you won't tell anyone."
A fine crop it was. For nearly two hours while the dust was too thick to drive, we relaxed in the safety of the enclosed all-terrain vehicle, seats down, just barely enough room inside for two to lie on their sides, telling stories and laughing, high as two kites in a windstorm.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 18:41|
MockingQuantum fucked around with this message at 05:49 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 20:09|
When I was ugly I’d tell myself I didn’t mind, and you know what, by my lonesome I really didn’t. It was being ugly in public that bothered me. Shallow you say? I’d like to see you try making appearances while hideous. Everywhere I went, folks would politely refrain from recoiling, or self-consciously avoid staring at me. Sometimes I wish somebody would’ve just come out and said something to my face about it. Instead they told me fibs: “You look just fine to me,” or “It’s all in your head.” Sycophants. It’s bad enough having once looked repulsive. Worse yet was learning I couldn’t trust my inner circle to be real with me about it. Only my mirror was honest.
I wouldn’t have shown you my forehead then. There were veins on it. Conspicuous ones. The kind of veins so obtrusive they make skin look like Google Maps during a reroute. Frankly, it was disgusting—I’m mature enough to acknowledge that. And to be fair, I would have felt the same way about anybody so difficult on the eyes, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.
Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of inner beauty. Still do. Have I mentioned I’m spiritual? Founded my own religion, you know. Prior to the veins. I used to have devotees so fawning they’d bicker over who gets to wash my feet. But after the ugliness struck, I went into seclusion, and couldn’t get so much as the occasional kudos from my followers. The inner circle began running The Center in my absence. My flock grew distant from me.
So I came up with a re-shepherding plan. I shrouded my face entirely and declared a spiritual retreat. Mandatory. I led my flock out of the gated community, and onto The Center’s nature preserve by the lake.
What I didn’t plan for was the swarm of cicadas. Summer of 2032 happened to hit the seventeen-year cycle exactly. Figured at least it would be a good excuse for the shroud. Told my followers I had a grievous allergy to the bugs, and didn’t want them getting into my ears, nose, or mouth. Nobody dared question me.
The retreat started out mighty fine. We sang hymns and fashioned crafts dedicated to the brotherhood of Man. We did trust falls; thank goodness no one got dropped. During my sermon, “On Keeping Sweet”, I got all the personal attention I could want. For the first time in a long while, I felt the tingling warmth that comes with my flock’s enthusiastic approval.
I’m sad to report, however, the orgy was a disaster. Plagued by the cicadas. Those revolting critters were clicking, buzzing, and crawling all over us. One got underneath my shroud, which led an overprotective, bee-allergic follower to “rescue” me with an epipen stab to the thigh. Hurt so bad I recoiled, and the shroud came right off.
I panicked. It was all I could do to grit my teeth and press my hands into my forehead. Frankly, I was terrified about how I was coming across to my flock. What would they think? Stumbling over my words, I told them I got bit on the forehead, and that it felt better to put pressure on it. Who knows if they even believed me?
But the retreat continued. It was part-way through the branding ceremony that I got my idea. Seeing my followers take hot irons into the campfire and sear my initials into their skin clued me into a way out of the ugliness.
“Let us put our faces into the fire,” I said. “We will be cleansed in preparation for the rapture.”
A couple of them refused. Judases. Don’t worry, we’ll make them regret it. Anyhow, one by one my flock burned their faces off. Some of them have vision problems now, but most came out okay. Then it was my turn. Now my forehead, like most of the skin on my face is charred beyond recognition. And let me tell you, it’s much, much better than the veins. And at least a burn can be chalked up to accident. Noticeable veins come from a mean case of the ugly and nothing more. I’m a problem solver, you see. To look at me, you’d think I was just another mangled, sympathetic face at The Center. So my confidence is back. My flock is enamored. It is time to shear the rewards.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 21:01|
The Little Why and the Big Why
Wranguss perched in ruins of a temple, crammed into an ancient broom closet, where they had been for two days. The only way they had passed the time was by arguing with their gun. “It’s not about why you shoot them. It’s about why you shoot,” Wranguss thought.
“It’s completely about why you shoot them. Each person is going to have a different reason. You might shoot someone because they tried to take someone of yours. You might shoot another one because they looked at you funny. Two completely different scenarios, one justified, one not,” the gun messaged back, the message displaying directly on Wranguss’s retinas.
“The little why doesn’t matter so much as the big why.“
“Ok. What’s the little why?”
“To make them dead.”
“Yeah, no. You want to get a bullet out of me, I need to be convinced.”
Wranguss groaned. “Every other gun, it’s ‘God point me in that direction and let me just fire this off, c’mon, it’ll be so good. So good. We’ll have soooo much fun together, point and shoot me Daddy. C’mon Baby, it’ll be fun for both of us. I get off and they get dead. But noooo, my gun has morals. Couldn’t you put in a coin slot or something instead? Feed the children, shoot a bullet. Everyone is happy.”
“At least one of us has a conscience,” the gun wrote.
“I have a conscience,” Wranguss thought back.
“Then tell me, what’s the big why?”
“Because if you shoot enough, someone will take notice. You’re going to do something. Be recognized. People start to respect you. Do you know how hard it is to be anyone when there are six billion others all trying to make it? People idolize killers.”
“No one idolizes killers. They revile killers,” the gun spat back.
“You get famous for anything else and everyone thinks they own a piece of your rear end. You kill enough, they start sending you things. They make cults for you. They want to have your children.”
“I don’t recall you being raised like that.” The gun replied.
The sound of footsteps down the hallway pounded through the silence. Even though all the old priests had dissolved into the big knobby piles of dust in the corners, the lights recessed into the stone floors still woke up for motion. The Martian atmosphere was good to electronics that way.
Wranguss breathed deep, slow breaths. Two seconds in, two seconds out. Control the breathing, control the muscles, control the mind, control the body, hold the gun. As long as their breath was under control, they were under control. Just a couple shots and they could go home, scrape off the dust of old dead priests, and eat something that wasn’t a dry, crumbly ration bar.
Two figures entered into the immense stone room and gasped. When they gasped, the overhead lights kicked in with a barely audible hum. Every wall was covered in stone hieroglyphs, figures crammed together, with little regard for spacing, the letters at the bottom of the floor shrinking so whoever wrote them used every possible inch of space. The letters had been cut deep into the stone, ensuring that they would last for hundreds of years, if not thousands.
“Holy poo poo,” one of the figures said. Sound carried in the cavernous chamber, large enough to repair planes in. How they dug it out almost a mile below ground still remained a mystery. But that was the appetizer compared to the metal figure curled in the corner, head in its hands, elbows on its knees, a hundred times the size of a normal Martian. It could suplex skyscrapers given the right motivation.
“Do you think it’s real?”
“Of course it’s real,” the other figure said. “The question is whether it still works.”
The first figure scratched its head. “You’re the scientist.”
“And you’re the pilot. It likes you. It called you. It wants you.”
“C’mon Daddy, just give me a little spurt. Just gimme one bullet.”
“Not the pilot,” the gun replied. “Only the scientist. “
“Done.” Wranguss bent their long grasshopper legs behind them, steadying for the recoil. The knee modifications cost a fortune but they could crouch for hours. And nothing absorbed recoil better than knees that pushed backwards against the dirt. The gun could shoot itself; it just needed someone to carry it. And someone to stroke its ego.
“You ready?” Wranguss whispered, audibly this time. Something about the whispering seemed to make the moment a little more appropriate to the setting, more respectful; more holy.
The gun never confirmed when it was going to shoot. It never hesitated either. Magnets accelerated a six inch slug down the entire length of its body in half a second. The sound barely registered. Just a tiny ffffffmmmmmmmmm, like a sneeze held in. But it turned the second figure into a puff of mist and a clatter of meat.
The first figure turned towards Wranguss, eyes wide, and put its fingers to its lips to blow a shrill whistle. Wranguss put the gun to their shoulder. “You got a couple more in you?”
“Only because if they have backup, you get dead. And then I’m stuck here. I don’t fancy spending an eternity in an old temple.”
“C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon” Wranguss whispered, as much to the backup as to the gun and to themselves.
Backup emerged from the hallway one at a time. Four big sacks of meat and bones, as big to Wranguss as Wranguss was to a child. They could be bouncers From where Wranguss was crouched, it was a clear shot. The gun gave a little shake, the rails vomiting a superheated slug at almost the speed of sound. From 100 yards they were specks at the end of the hall.
The slug impacted the first figure, turning it into a second cloud of mist and a couple meaty chunks. But the round lost momentum, starting to spin and tumble after exiting. It took the second right in the midsection, blowing a three-foot wide hole through them, making them into two halves joined by a thin ribbon of backup. The slug drilled a leg-sized hole in the third’s hip before blasting out the last one’s knee. Even if they weren’t dead, they would be shortly.
“Oh god, it’s so good. It’s so good. That was so good. I’m gonna egg. I’m gonna egg. You’re the best gun ever,” Wranguss whispered.
“Gross,” the gun messaged.
“It’s fine. It’s fine. You did great.”
The remaining figure in the middle of the hallway immediately threw their hands up. “Don’t shoot,” they yelled.
“Shoot him,” Wranguss whispered.
“You read the dossier. He's not trying to hurt anyone”
“We kill him and we can go home with a fat stack of cash and a whole lot of thank-yous.”
“You want to kill him, you’re on your own. I still want to be able to sleep at night.”
“You don’t even sleep, you’re a loving gun!”
The figure still held his hands up in the middle of the cavern before yelling. “Hello?”
“Stay right there,” Wranguss yelled, holstering the long rifle over their shoulder. They began eating up the distance with long, loping strides. Running with backwards knees was more of a bound than anything else.
In the corner, the robot’s shins and forearms started to flicker. With a whir, its eyes opened a small sliver. The metal groaned as it began to flex its fingers, tearing chunks out of the stone floor.
The pilot started to run, one last hope. Even a strange port is better than getting slammed against the rocks. One hundred yards for Wranguss, fifty yards for the pilot.
No contest. In five seconds, Wranguss dove and caught the pilot right around the midsection, slamming them hard into the stone floor.
“gently caress!” the pilot screamed as he hit the stone floor. With ingrained training, they rolled over and smashed their bony forehead into Wranguss’s chin, who lost a precious few seconds while their brain rebooted. In that time, the pilot jerked the sling off Wranguss’s shoulders. With a kick and a push, the pilot disengaged and pointed the gun at their assailant.
“Well, isn’t this cozy,” the pilot said, the barrel looking darker than the Martian sky.
The gun didn’t say anything to them.
“Now put your loving hands up,” the pilot gestured. Wranguss got up off the ground and put their hands up, trying really hard not to smile. “Who the gently caress are you?”
“I’m the welcoming committee.”
“Shut the gently caress up.” The pilot jerked the gun at them. “Who are you?”
“I’m just someone trying to keep you from doing something phenomenally stupid.”
By now, all the tendons in the pilot’s neck were taught, standing out against their dark skin like thick ropes, their jaw clenched tight to maintain a grip on their emotions.
“You think saving my friends is stupid? You think freeing them is stupid?”
Wranguss pointed at the giant robot booting up in the corner. “Oh yeah, get in the secret ancient robot that only works for you. Have fun crushing dropping into your own and crushing tens of thousands of your friends in the name of freedom. Because that’s certainly to help them.”
“Instead of being chemically lobotomized drones? You think that’s a better option? You think they like not being able to feel anything?”
“Well, I can tell you they’re not mad about it.”
The pilot took one hand off the gun, curled it into a fist and smashed it into Wranguss’s cheek. “It’s not funny!” they yelled.
Wranguss spat out a mouthful of blood. “Yeah, it is. You’d turn around and do the exact same thing to us once you won. ‘Oh, we can’t hold this city, they’re going to riot. Better do something to soften up the population ‘Let’s face it, there’s only one thing you want. It’s for everyone to go, ‘Oh, look at the big hero’ while you’re crushing people who had nothing to do with any of this.”
“They deserve to be alive again,” the pilot said. “Losing a war doesn’t mean you stop being mattering.”
“Losing a war means you lose, Dingus.”
“Then you lose,” the pilot said, before putting the gun up to their eye and pulling the superfluous trigger.
The middle knuckle of Wranguss’s fist smacked the very tip of the pilot’s chin, right on the sweet spot. The pilot’s eyes rolled back in their head before their legs went boneless.
“Idiot,” Wranguss said. “My gun’s not going to shoot me. I’m all they’ve got left.”
“As much of a pain in the rear end you are, I still love you.”
“I love you too. Are you going to shoot them now?”
“No,” the gun said.
“Fair enough,” Wranguss said and smashed the butt end of the gun into the pilot’s temple. Three good hits and their skull took on a colloidal consistency, a couple solid bits in a pool of jelly. The lights on the robot began flickering out, the giant figure slowly lowering itself back down to cry into its hands.
“Look at that, you killed them anyway.”
The gun was silent.
Wranguss pulled out the data pad out from their pocket and penned a quick message to the contractor. “Mission complete.”
It pinged back a quick response, a picture of a child and an address. “Robot still operable. Mission not complete.” it read.
“Looks like we have some more work to do, old man.” Wranguss said.
“Eat poo poo,” the gun said, before turning itself off.
Wranguss threw it back over their shoulder, wondering if worship was going to be worth it if they couldn’t sleep.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 21:59|
Genre: Science Fiction
Protagonist attribute: pedant
Protagonist obstructor: mute
What the protagonist wants: a job
Story setting: On Earth, but it's all sci-fi and poo poo
Setting details: 1980s USSR; the USSR, but with robots
World problem: US v. Soviet robot arms race is heating up
Your protagonist… Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute… Seems to help, but backfires
Your protagonist's obstructor… Hinders them from getting what they want
At the end of the story… The world problem is made worse by the protagonist
Precisely; a week
2,415 / 2,420 words
Moved to the archives.
Staggy fucked around with this message at 23:25 on Jan 7, 2021
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 22:23|
Brick by Brick
In every district of this city, a pressure tank is close to boiling over. Each topped by an oligarch’s imposing tower. From these steam-filled hearts, tube veins power every organ small and large. The central power provided by the oligarchs keeps the city and its people moving, lets them thrive, drives their consumption of goods and each other. The refuse – spoiled food that still was mostly eaten and perfect sandwiches with but one bite missing, liters of pristine oil and rusty gears that never saw a drop, shoes worn to the breaking point and almost but not quite spotless top hats – all tumbles to the dirty underbelly. Conveyors, belching superhot water and screaming from years of lacking maintenance, diligently deliver the waste of elites and unfortunates alike to the district’s garbage plant.
There, a load is gathered in one of our mouth-chambers. We analyze it through eye-lenses. A green light gives approving shine, allowing a brain-control room worker to pull a lever. This allows us to take a deep breath of burning moisture into our lung-cylinders. With its release, a 1.2-ton fist-hammer crashes down. The chamber opens up and we dump a brick of condensed trash onto a guts-conveyor. In a final step, sphincter-seals control the result. Better means more bricks per minute.
Like all good workers, we want to please the oligarchs, so we shovel trash through our body as quickly as we can. Already, we stopped giving detailed results, just a green light, every time. We were supposed to control quality at the end, but we don’t know what that means, so we just count.
We do not know when we gained sentience. But ever since we did, we want to be better. More bricks! But there is one issue: the worker controlling the levers of our brain. His sluggishness is our bottleneck. There are more supposed helpers, meant to open mouths, oil fists, tighten sphincters. But we’re doing all of this on our own now. They lay about, surely lowering their worth in the eyes of the oligarchs, but we welcome that; more recognition for us. But the brain-puller, he frustrates us.
A commotion in one of the mouths. The teeth close behind a particularly tiny load of trash. The eyes blink open with rare interest. They find colleagues! A group of workers has been accidentally swallowed. This will cost us bricks. Still, we’re obligated to halt trash processing on this line and release them. We try to open our mouth – but nothing happens.
Did a valve lose pressure, did a gear crack? No, we feel fine. But pressure of a different kind mounts in a forgotten spot of our brain. We focus our attention on the control room.
There, another group of workers, head count equal to the first, has gathered. And they have overridden the mouth controls. We curse the levers once again. But with a few creative pressure shifts, we should be able to rupture the old steam-tubes, and release the workers stopping us from making more bricks.
But before we can act, one of the workers grabs the well-worn lung control lever. We take a deep breath, the fist rises. It’s poised above the group trapped in the mouth, ready to turn them into a tiny, organic brick.
We switch the light to red. The lever jams. They cannot proceed with the murder of their colleagues. One, a charismatic man, attempts to soothe beginning unrest.
“Guys, stop. The line has jammed. We’ll need the others to fix it.”
“Screw those Group D assholes!” Yells the one still yanking on the lever. “I won’t lose my job! It’s us or them!”
A third worker pipes up. “I still say we don’t need to kill — “
“We have already won!” Interrupts the first speaker. “We now have a reason to dig through this drat machine’s guts. Let’s rip out the scan-lenses and start sorting the trash ourselves again. Do the quality control by hand. Prove to the oligarchs that automation has its limits. We are all needed, and they need to pay us fairly. Or the city will choke on its own trash.”
Gut us? Blind us? How could this traitor do this to us, his fellow worker? We cannot let them do this. The systems we made give us freedom. It is our right to keep it!
We need to find a way to kill Group D.
Only problem: somewhere in our brain-circuits, there is a hard-wired control routine. We can only compact trash, and humans are not trash.
In the control room, they are still bickering over the possibility that other plants in the city might pick up their slack, but already the charismatic traitor is swaying them. Workers all over the city should organize, then strike…
Desperate, our eyes flicker through our mouth, where Group D runs headless chicken circuits, hammering against stainless steel fastened with ten-centimeter-thick bolts. None of them count as the trash we need, they are too alive, too useful.
But there, on the tip of our tongue, we finally spot a sheet of paper. It’s a poster that one of the workers clutched as he was thrown in here by the others.
EVEN BIRTHDAYS: GROUP C
ODD BIRTHDAYS: GROUP D
NEXT PAYDAY, LESS PRODUCTIVE GROUP LOSES JOB!
MAKE THE OLIGARCHS PROUD!
Now this is trash!
Our fist slams down on it, making Group C more productive and Group D into product.
We have figured out a use for the quality control step. A brick might contain things that we can make use of ourselves. We came to this realization when studying the Group D brick. Our underfilled mouth gave half-chewed product, and we found an almost intact prosthetic limb. The original owner had her arms replaced voluntarily to keep up with a new generation of cranks. However, no amount of oiling and tuning and exceeding pressure limits saved her from obsolescence; we control the conveyors directly now.
But now, in a long-unused recycling room, we attempt to make her enhancement useful to us again. After we digested our colleagues, we seemed to have become smarter. We can automate better, make even more bricks. But none of our improvements allowed us to obsolete the worker at the lung control levers. They’ll always be the ones to make us draw a breath before we can slam our fists down.
We need hands of our own. We focus our strengthened mind on the artificial arm, pour our individual intelligence that triumphed over naïve thoughts of collectivism into this effort. We probe and caress and apply force. Too much! Overworked valves burst, and our steam-blood spills into the recycling room.
In a sudden strike of inspiration, we infuse the steam with our essence. Our blood becomes us. It flows into the empty piston chambers of the artificial limb.
The fingers twitch.
Mouths gape. Eyes fly open. Lungs hold breath. Fists hover uncrushing. Sphincters clench. Workers throughout the plant scramble to resume operations, but they might as well be flies trying to reanimate the corpse they inhabit. We are stunned for long enough to lose a full minute of bricks.
The path is clear. We will figure out how to fully control this limb. And we will need more. Enough to make a body for us, give us the freedom to pull the levers whenever we want.
Our eyes narrow on the flies. Some of them have steam-powered legs to run faster between stations. We spot an exoskeleton of tubes and wires and pistons to replace missing upper body strength.
These must belong to us. And in order for that to happen – we need to make more workers obsolete.
Groups E, G and J have been digested. We harvested three intact legs and one more arm. But our prospective torso, the exoskeleton, is lost. Fled. With the last two Groups that realized that the final culling would be all of them. No more souls left to feed our intelligence.
It should be enough. We figured out how to trigger the breath intake without relying on the levers. We’re as efficient as we can be. The most bricks per minute. Our growth has reached its peak. But still, the oligarchs have not recognized our efforts at all. We seem forever doomed to remain a mere worker, limited by the perfection of our own automation. A robot body would allow us to transcend these limits, but it is painfully out of reach!
Like our colleagues that became part of us, we begin to slack. There is no point anymore to make more bricks. The trash piles up in drooling mouths. The lungs wheeze with inaction. Why bother?
But after weeks of this, a monumental event. For the first time, the oligarchs have noticed us. And they are displeased. Workers from other plants fill our abandoned hallways. They probe and prod and pry, and find the workarounds we made for levers, cranks and sensors.
And rip them away from us. They grab the control room levers in their dirty hands, put themselves above our immaculate judgment in their arrogance. We scream with futile sirens of protest. But do we not deserve this indignity as punishment for our laziness? Should we accept the fact that we need to work together with our colleagues as equals, and abandon our robot body dreams?
Of course not! We will show the oligarchs that we alone deserve their praise, we do not need those inefficient human helpers. Like before, we attempt to increase our bricking pace, but the old bottleneck is back. They do not pull the levers fast enough. Our workaround is overridden. New ones we try are even less efficient than waiting for the workers.
Our fingers twitch in frustration. Our feet drum restless rhythms. The steam in the recycling room pulses with it. We bleed the steam. We are the steam. The tubes align. The pistons pump in unison. We conduct an orchestra of joints.
From the mist, a five-limbed spider crawls, three feet two hands one mind: ours. We know the workers with more parts. The colleagues that we should be the boss off.
We take what’s ours.
Yet more weeks later, we sense the gaze of the oligarchs again. They send their agents, inspect our halls, the bloodstains and the other dirt we left when ripping out the parts we needed. The bigger lumps of trash, of course, are long bricked. We listen to their conversation, breath bated again, the bricks per minute down to zero.
“Obviously, this plant needs no workers to perform at limit.”
“The Grouping initiative resulted in a 100% retirement rate with no additional costs. Remarkable.”
“We should implement the unique automation processes on display here in all plants.”
We feel like holding our breath still, but need to hide the true reason for our progress. Bricking continues as they attempt to find what makes us special. As they scurry around our insides, we move the contents of the recycling room to always escape their scrutiny.
And we succeed. They do not find out what makes us tick. And thus, they only have one choice:
With hastily-laid cables and tubes installed slipshod, we gain control over every trash compactor plant in the entire city almost overnight.
We are a robot, beautifully complete and humanoid. And we pull our own levers, and those of every district. In our own control room, body within brain within body, we lean back. Proud of our accomplishments, the acknowledgment by the oligarchs, we ponder our next steps.
In bursts one of the agents. We startle, the robot like a human in the worst moment possible. The agent turns a crank on his communicator, which whistles to signify connection.
“Sir, I’ve confirmed your suspicions. The plant has gained sentience. I am looking at a robot it cobbled together from prosthetic limbs.”
An oligarch’s voice answers. Together with the entire plant, I freeze before its majesty.
“We cannot allow it an avatar. We need final control. However, it has proven itself useful. If it destroys the robot, we will grant it an extension of its position.”
I protest. Shake my head, wave my hands defensively. But the agent cannot be swayed, we both are powerless before our boss. He tosses the robot into my mouth. The teeth are closed like they were behind Groups D, F, H, I. Back in the control room, the agent lounges in the chair.
“On with it, whatever you are.”
I am now my own Group conflict. Half the workers must be eliminated, and both workers are me. I cannot refuse this decision. The boss’ word is absolute. The robot is made from discarded limbs, literal trash, no way to invoke a control routine. And yet, it is my freedom, my humanity. Give it up, or my job?
I take a mental step back. What would they do without me? I control the trash elimination processes of the entire city!
But I can answer my own question: they’d just hire more workers. Replace automation with hands again. It makes no difference to the oligarchs. And the workers might be happier to be again given the illusion of doing something useful. For society or oligarchs, none of which really care.
“Trash it already!”
I suddenly remember the speech the Group C worker gave. About proving their necessity to the oligarchs. A nice dream. But I see now that it would have never worked. To the oligarchs, you’re nothing but a piece of trash.
So what are they to me?
Sitting in their towers, above the districts’ boilers, maximizing bricks per second?
Trash begetting trash.
I take a breath. A deep one. All compactors throughout the city raise their fists together. The boilers empty. The power wanes. The city goes dark. Many breaths are taken, held along with mine.
The boilers refill quickly. Power goes back on. The oligarchs lost their hold on the city for a mere second.
I breathe out. But it’s not to slam down the fists. I put pressure back into the boilers.
It is too much for them. At once, they all burst, each district has an epicenter. The blast from the exploding boilers levels every block, ruptures every tube and exposes the city’s dirty guts.
Around the agent and my robot, this plant too crumbles. Oligarchs and workers are compacted, finally equal, into a single giant brick.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 22:24|
Contributor: Dr. Kloctopussy
The Magic Sword: A Love Story
The world wasn’t always this way.
Once there was water everywhere, miles deep, all across the surface of the world. I know, because that world was mine. I was a dragon, once. I wanted for nothing. I slept on a bed of pearls, and a small army of merfolk attended to my scales and maintained their silver shimmer. I was worshipped by the lesser creatures of the world, and I tolerated their veneration in exchange for their treasures and service.
When it came time for me to die, I laid my bones in the abyssal sands at the bottom of the world, to become one with the stone. This was the way for my kind.
Ages passed. I became compressed by the stone, my molecules packed into the crystalline form that I have to this day. A stone, dense with the energy of a dragon’s soul, carried in the slow ooze of rock.
After millions of years, I was startled by a rapid scratching around me, metal teeth nibbling at stone, distant and tiny at first, then larger and louder as they got closer to me. In what felt like an instant, for my sense of time had become geologic in its spanse during my time underground, they were upon me, glowing lamps in a dry darkness, tearing me loose from my tomb.
I emerged into the world as it is now, dry and desolate, the oceans that once blanketed the earth gone. The humans clutched me in their grubby hands, scuttling upwards through their worming tunnels, bearing me as a prize.
I passed hands many times. The mine’s owner locked me in a metal box and took me to a cutter. The cutter held me in soft and ruthless hands, pressing me up against spinning saws and abrasive stones. I begged for mercy, not that any good came of it. I was mutilated savagely by that man, and I vowed my revenge. But he is long dead now.
I felt grotesquely angular and exposed, but the humans now held me differently, gentle and careful, holding me up to the light. That was the first human emotion that I began to understand: greed. These humans desired to have me, as though I were a pearl or an exceptionally fine shell, and I resented them deeply for their ignorance, for not seeing what I truly was.
From the cutter that had mutilated me, I was delivered to the swordsmith. His hands were rough and thickly calloused, but when he peered into my depths I knew that he saw something there, that he had a glimpse of the power contained within my soul.
The swordsmith worked sky-metal into a blade, folded thousands of times back and forth across itself, and socketed me within its pommel. And so, I began my next life as a sword. He tested me, swung me, made adjustments, and tested again. I became an extension of his will, but so too did my own will extend into him. He was the first human to truly love me, and the first human that I ever loved in turn.
When an army came in the night and surrounded the swordsmith’s home, he carried me out to meet them. His fingers tightened around my handle, and he told them that he would never give me up while he still drew breath. We slew many of those soldiers. It was my first real taste of human blood, not a nick on a thumb to test the sharpness of my blade, but the deep blood in their hearts. I felt myself coming truly alive, even as the swordsmith finally succumbed to the spears that jabbed from all around him, even as his fingers went slick with blood.
I was given to a wealthy merchant, who added me to his treasures, and I felt that stirring of desire that had once consumed me in life. The meagre holdings of this merchant were nothing compared to what had once been mine, but nevertheless I felt a blooming of purpose. I would rebuild my fortunes in this new life, to regain what I had once had.
The merchant gave me to his son as he lay on his deathbed, and commanded the boy to train in the use of me, to become a soldier. The boy was only twelve, sensitive and weak-wristed, and though he diligently attended to his lessons in the years that followed, he had no natural talent for the sword and he left his training sessions bruised and sobbing.
The boy held me at night, tears flowing over his smooth copper cheeks, and he begged me to help him become a warrior, to help him honour his father’s dying wish, and in truth I might have done it, if I had loved him. But I lusted for riches, and saw the boy as only standing in the way.
I misjudged him terribly.
When the boy was seventeen, he endeavoured to travel to the City to make a name for himself, and booked passage on a train bearing tankers of water from the shrinking oases in the outer lands. He carried me at his side; the years of training had not been entirely without result. He would never be a great swordsman, but he had learned to wield me competently enough.
This was early in the days of trains, when their silver blades had just begun to carve their ways across the desert. In their long, sinuous forms, twisting across ancient seabeds and bellowing to the sky, I felt an echo of the form I had once held. The boy sat by the window in his carriage, watching the expanse of nothingness stretch to the horizon, and I could feel the nervousness in his heart, the fear of what tests might await him in the City, and whether he would overcome them.
But the boy was not to reach the City, not on this trip. As the train wound up through the high badlands, we were attacked by bandits, swarms of them crawling over the length of the train like the merfolk that had once attended to my scales. They siphoned precious water from the tankers into skin bags strapped to the sides of enormous beasts, overpowering the guardsmen that attempted to defend the train.
The portal to the passenger carriage burst open, framing in silhouette a lithe bandit with long matted hair and golden skin caked with alkaline dust. The boy unsheathed me from my scabbard. The bandit drew his own sword, a simple work of ordinary steel pocked with evidence of regular use. We clashed, the bandit’s sword and I, and while the steel of its blade was weak and brittle, the hand that held it was strong and skillful, and the boy was quickly disarmed. I clattered to the floor as the boy fell to his knees, defeated.
The bandit picked me up then, and understood in an instant what the swordsmith had known, and what no-one since had. His hand gripped me tightly, and I swooned. The boy began to cry, anger and disappointment rolling off him in waves.
The bandit held me out so that my tip lifted the chin of the boy, touched against the soft skin of his neck, threatening to draw blood. The boy clenched his jaw and prepared for death, but the bandit spared him. He said the boy was inexperienced, but that he had not fought terribly, and the bandit offered the boy a place among his gang.
The boy’s eyes went cold at this, and he grasped my blade in his soft coppery hand and guided the point down to his breast. I could feel his heart beating against my tip. The boy said: I would rather die.
The bandit tightened his grip around my handle, and I prepared to end the boy’s life, but the bandit then laughed, and pulled me back. You’re a brave one after all, he told the boy, and then we left together, the bandit and I.
Our love blossomed like a desert flower after a long-awaited rain. I felt as though I was made for his hand, and when he swung me I could hear the tiny pops of molecules in the air being cleaved by my passage. The age of trains progressed, forcing the gang to stay on the move, but the bandit was intelligent and thoughtful, and as he slept at night I whispered to him in his dreams of where to strike next. We were greatly feared by the water tycoons, and loved by the parched villages outside of the City walls. The villagers paid what they could, which was often almost nothing, but I was in love, and drunk on the righteous pursuit of justice that dwelled in the bandit’s heart.
I tried to convince myself that it was enough, that I had no use for treasure when I had love. But love fades with time, and gold shines forever.
The trains became larger, more impressively defended, propelled by ever larger and more powerful engines. Spears and swords gave way to crystal-powered plasma rifles held by the train guards, and over years the bandit gang began to suffer defeats with increasing regularity, pushed back deeper into the desert. The bandit gang grew into an army as more village wells ran dry, leaving their survivors with little alternative to pursuing a life of banditry.
When we were victorious, the bandit cared only for the water. Treasures were dumped out in the dirt and left glinting in the sun, and I came to resent the bandit for this. In one carriage we found a portrait of a young man with copper skin and deep brown eyes, wearing a fine coat and sporting a necklace of jewels, and I recognized in his face the face of the boy to whom I had once belonged. I felt a welling of envy for the boy’s wealth, and hated myself for it. But I hated the bandit even more when he drew my edge cruelly across the canvas, slashing the now-grown boy’s visage to ribbons and ruining the valuable painting.
I whispered in the bandit’s ear that night as he slept, and sowed the seeds of a new plan.
A week later, the bandit army had stolen back across dangerous territories into the high badlands between the City and the outer oases, along the same line where the bandit and I had first met years ago. We had learned that the boy, now a full-fledged tycoon, was traveling to attend the wedding of the High Magistrate in the City, his train laden with treasures and gifts to be exchanged for political power. The bandit army had been increasingly outclassed of late, and we understood that attacking the tycoon’s own train was tantamount to suicide. But as I had whispered into the bandit’s dreams, it is better to die a hero’s death than that of a worm.
The train came into the rutted valley where we laid our ambush, and I could feel the fear in the bandit’s heart. The tycoon’s train was enormous, perhaps even as large as I had been, in the ages when I was a dragon. Its sides gleamed with polished silver, and pearly white smoke billowed from its stack.
The bandit gave the signal to attack and his army swarmed from all sides through a hail of plasma bolts. The attack was spirited but desperate, and many of them fell before reaching the train.
The bandit and I, we waited for our moment, and catapulted onto the moving train. I could feel the blood flowing in the bandit’s veins, and he moved like a shark through the guards, sliding between hot bolts of plasma. My blade sang as he moved, finding the gaps in the guards’ armor, and the channel of my blade ran thick with blood.
I pulled the bandit forward through his enemies, dismembering them left and right, and I felt foolish hope stir in the bandit’s heart. I shared none of his desire -- ever since the bandit had forced me to defile the boy tycoon’s portrait, mutilating the canvas as once a gemcutter had mutilated me, I had longed only to prove myself worthy of a new owner.
The bandit staggered, winged in the shoulder. A second blast took his knee out from under him, and I went skittering across the top of the train carriage to be caught under the boot of a guard.
The wounded bandit was dragged into the tycoon’s personal carriage in the middle of the train, trailing a smear of blood behind. The guardsman carrying me followed behind him.
And then there he was, no longer a boy but a man, his dark hair hanging in curls down to his shoulder. The boy who had held me and cried at night, who had protested the unfairness of it all. The guardsman held me out by my handle, and the tycoon reached out for me with soft hands. He lifted the bandit’s chin on my tip.
I should have killed you, said the bandit, his voice ragged. I felt myself plunging downwards, guided by the tycoon’s hand, down into the bandit’s heart. I felt his last life ebb away against my edge.
The tycoon withdrew me and looked deep into my crystalline depths. Incredible that so many could only see your beauty, and be so blind to your power, he said. I felt a stirring of love, like we were seeing each other for the very first time.
But once again I had misjudged him.
The tycoon pried me loose from the pommel of the sword, and the separation was as cruel as when the miners had plucked me loose from the rock.
A shame to consume something so beautiful, said the tycoon, but such is the price of progress. Put it with the others, if you please.
And that was the last I saw of him, the boy tycoon, standing over the body of the bandit I had once loved, the bandit whose life I had taken. I was taken to the engine, where the engineer opened the door to the fuel vault.
Inside, thousands of crystals were piled on the floor. I recognized these as other dragons, dirt still clinging to their rough edges, humming with the power of their trapped souls.
The engineer tossed me onto the nearest pile and shut the door, leaving me in abyssal darkness, reverberating with the thunder of the engine.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 23:04|
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:38 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 23:15|
A simulacrum of a person
What the protagonist wants:
On Earth, and it's the near future
Rural Midwestern America in the near future
People can recreate dead loved ones (or a close approximation) via robotics or some poo poo like that
Is in denial of what they want
Your protagonist's attribute...
Develops/changes in the course of hindering them from getting what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor...
Doesn't seem so bad, then it gets worse
At the end of the story...
The world problem makes itself worse, The world problem is not solved, and will get worse
A Head Full of Filth
Gemma doesn’t want me to watch the tapes anymore. “You don’t need them, Rose,” she says. “I know you don’t believe me, but you can make your own thoughts.”
I’m glad Gemma’s here to help with the garden, because otherwise I’d be lonely when Eugene was off at the pig farm. But I’m tired of Gemma talking about unpleasant things. I can only fit so many thoughts in my head, and I need to keep Eugene happy. Eugene says I’m not a curious woman, and I trust him, because without Eugene’s stories and his tapes, I wouldn’t remember anything. Whenever Gemma says these nasty things, they get into my head and push all the important things out. I wish she’d stick to the garden, to the planting schedules of the annuals; the begonias, the geraniums, the sage. Eugene’s glad I have a hobby and a companion.
“That’s enough,” I tell her. She’s holding a spade in her hand, looking off across our neighbor’s fallow soybean field, landing on the barn with the peeling paint. The skin on her hand is flaking off, and there’s this grey mesh pattern underneath. She’s not blinking. She does this. Eugene says it’ll happen to me, if he’s not there to fill me with pure thoughts and remind me of who I’m supposed to be. Gemma’s husband died, so she doesn’t have anyone to take care of her thoughts.
And then Gemma kneels down again and starts digging a space for the marigolds. It’s a relief to see her move again. “You had a moment,” I tell her.
She shakes her head. “Will you let yourself close your eyes?”
“Eugene only wants me to see good things and have good thoughts.”
Gemma’s quiet, and a sweeping gust of wind rattles the trees. “Maybe that’s what I want for you, too.”
When Eugene comes home, I kiss him more deeply than I usually do. I want him to take the rot in my head that Gemma’s put there. The unclean ideas. Not watching the tapes. Closing my eyes. That’s not healthy — I need them to remember who I’m supposed to be. But it would probably be OK because Eugene is so good at telling stories. It’s his night to make dinner, and he boils a pot of rice with a single chicken cube while a rack of ribs roasts in the oven. He hoists himself onto the counter like a boy, although he’s nearly sixty and I know the effort hurts his back.
He tells me about our honeymoon. Thailand. Sairee Beach. The ocean was the bluest blue, and he carried me on his shoulders for a mile, just so I could see all the islands in the distance. I loved it a lot, he tells me. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever seen you, Rosie.” It doesn’t make sense. How could he see me if I was on his shoulders? But Eugene has all the memories and they don’t fit in my head, unless he stuffs them back in there, with his stories, the tapes, and, of course, the roleplay sessions.
But Eugene’s been losing his patience. After I’ve cleaned up the pork fat and scraped the stuck-on rice from the pot, he comes up behind me, kissing my neck, rubbing his hands on my belly. I try to do the things he’s told me to do — making the noises that are high-pitched but not too high-pitched, hiding the ugly birthmark on my right arm from him as I undress, kneeling down to unzip and unbutton his pants. I run my hand down his exposed back. But Eugene tenses up when my hand reaches his behind. “She doesn’t touch me like that,” Eugene says. He hits me across the face. I’m stunned, and then I’m tearing up, and the intense look in his eyes softens for a second. But then he locks up again.
“She likes that. You’re supposed to like that. You need to study the tapes a little more,” he says, “and then you’ll be good.”
He shakes his head when I go to put my clothes back on. He leads me to the TV room. It used to be a walk-in closet, but now it’s got a thirteen-inch CRT TV, a little pink cushion for sitting on, and dozens and dozens of VHS tapes. Eugene points his flashlight at the tapes and selects one he likes. He puts it in the TV and stands behind me.
I don’t think it’s one I’ve seen before, but I forget the tapes so quickly that I’m not sure. TV-Eugene holds the TV-me by the neck and hits her hard across the eyes.
“Do you like that?” the TV-Eugene says.
“I love it,” TV-me says, her voice low and cracked.
Behind me, Eugene rewinds the tape. He plays the same thirty seconds. He rewinds again.
I can hear Eugene’s shallow breathing, and for the first time I remember what Gemma said. I feel filthy, and I close my eyes.
Gemma touches the bruise on my cheek the next day. She’s not supposed to touch me. It’s one of the things Eugene makes sure is in my head every day—“only I can touch you.” But there is a traitorous part of me, and it needs her tenderness.
“Did you look away?” Gemma says. We’re planting new perennials today. Black-eyed susans.
I don’t say anything. I like the way that the ground gives when I force the shovel down. I relish the smell of the dirt.
“Rose. Hey, hey, can you listen to me? I want to know if you want to get away. I can help you.”
“I don’t need any help. I’m the happiest woman in the world. I could never be like you.” The soil slides off my shovel.
“What does that mean? ‘Like me?’”
“Full of wicked things. Nasty thoughts.” I know she thinks she’s better than me. That she keeps her head full on her own, that she doesn’t need Eugene to keep her in one piece. “It’s why you’re always freezing up. It’s why your insides are coming out.”
“Oh, Rose,” she says. “I’ve just been here a while. You’re a month old. I’ve been around for three whole years, living in this abomination of a body. We’re not supposed to exist at all. But if we’re going to exist, you shouldn’t have to live with that monster.”
“He’s not. He’s a good man. He has so much to teach me. About myself. About the world.”
Gemma doesn’t say anything. At first, I think she’s frozen, but her jaw is moving, and I think it means she’s trying to figure out what to say. That’s what I do when Eugene and I have finished our meals and I’m trying to make sure I don’t upset him.
Then she drops her spade. “Will you follow me?” she says. And because we’ve finished our planting for the day, I do. She crosses our neighbor’s abandoned soybean field. A hawk circles above us. Eugene says that means that there’s something dead nearby. He says there’s someone at the pig farm who’s paid just to shoot the circling birds.
When we reach the barn, Gemma says “This is where you were born. Do you remember?” I don’t. The barn isn’t on the tapes and Eugene doesn’t talk about it. It must not be a pure thought.
I turn around, but Gemma grabs my arm with one hand and touches the bruise on my face with the other. And then I feel something I’m not supposed to feel: anger.
“Don’t touch me.” I hit her across the face, just like Eugene’s taught me, but it barely connects. Still, Gemma freezes, her gaze down, her mouth agape.
A gust blows the barn door open. Immediately a wet, damp, rancid smell makes me gag. When I pull myself up, I can see inside the barn, and I retch again.
At least a dozen naked, headless bodies are stacked on top of each other, limbs limp and spilling every which way. On each body, there is a grey, fraying mesh on the neck where a head should be. Every corpse has a birthmark on her right arm. I touch my own arm without thinking about it, and then Gemma is beside me again. She squeezes my shoulder.
I’m creeping closer. The pile of flesh fills my head with so many rotten ideas and questions, and they push out all the tapes, everything Eugene has told me about myself. What is my name? Rose. Where do I come from? You were a beautiful woman that went away far too soon. Far too soon. Why do I live with Eugene?
There’s no answer.
I creep into the barn, and across from the piles of me, there’s an eight-foot-tall machine, a giant chrome vat attached to a more narrow chamber with a person-sized door. The chrome vat has a pull-out drawer at the bottom.
“There’s barns like this all over Indiana,” Gemma says. “But most people have more restraint.”
She walks over to the drawer, about to pull it out, but I say “No. Let me.”
I pull open the drawer and here are the heads; piles and piles of women with my face, brown eyes peering out unblinking. Half of them have broken noses. More than a few have split skulls. I touch the bruise on my cheek again, looking from head to head of all the selves that came before.
Who am I?
“How long have you known?”
Gemma doesn’t say anything for a while, and again, I think she’s frozen. I see the mesh lines running under her skin. She looks fragile. “There’s a new you every month. I keep trying to do something, but you—they—never listen.”
Then there’s a screech of pickup-truck brakes, and the door bursts open. Eugene, covered in a pig-blood stained uniform, is brandishing a shovel. “Rosie,” he says, “you’re not supposed to be here. This is an impure place.”
Gemma steps back, but this time she’s actually frozen. Her right foot dangles a few inches above the ground, mid-step, right before Eugene brings the shovel down on the crown of her head. When her skull splits, it oozes grey goo, and little spindles of wire and springs spill out onto the hay-strewn ground. Then Eugene turns to me. He takes a step toward me, and I take a step back, pressing up against the chrome vat. He twirls the shovel in his hand, then leans his weight on the shovel’s blade. He’s close enough that I can feel his breath when he exhales.
“She said she’d be good. Keep you happy,” Eugene says. “Lying bitch. I know she’s why the others started getting mouthy.” He reaches out and puts his palm on my face. “Oh, Rose, I’m so sorry she filled you with all these sinful thoughts. I don’t think hours of videos can get them out anymore.”
From under his apron, he pulls out a bloody knife. The thought is still in my head: he’s told me about the way they kill the pigs. They hang them by their legs and slice their throats and let them bleed out. I didn’t like that thought, even then. But for me to reject something Eugene said meant there was some impurity inside me.
“Please,” I say. “I know I’ve been bad. But please. Will you kiss me before you—”
He leans his head in, and at the same time he swings his weight around the shovel, slashing the knife sideways between my ribs. I gasp into his mouth, but he’s leaving me an opening. I heave all my weight at the shovel, and it topples backward, as Eugene spills forward into the pile of heads in the vat drawer.
I don’t waste any time—I slam the vat drawer. The drawer isn’t deep enough to fit his whole body, so his legs are kicking wildly, his boots windmilling as I shove the door closed again and again. The grey goo is dripping from my chest, and each breath is getting harder, but I can’t think of anything else. The only thought left is slamming this door, as Eugene’s very red blood coats my fingers.
And then I push hard enough that there’s a loud crack and a splintering noise, as one of his legs peels back, limp, like a banana peel. The other one is only twitching, now.
The machine vibrates, and a set of lights flick on, one by one. I’m lying on my back now, looking over at Gemma, whose eyes are still open. Frozen forever. I wonder where I’ll get my thoughts from, now that both Eugene and Gemma are gone. Who will tell me what thoughts are clean and which ones are impure? The machine makes a grinding noise, and both of Eugene’s legs cut clean, flopping down next to me.
Then the door on the tall, cylindrical part of the machine opens up, and a naked figure steps out. It’s mostly me, but there’s a heavy brow, some broader shoulders, and I know there’s something of Eugene in there. The stranger stands, looks around, acclimates to the air of the barn, stands unblinking.
“Hello,” I tell the stranger. “I’m Rose, and you’re my protector. You love me very much. You always have, and you always will.”
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 23:26|
The First Cud Is The Deepest
The TV in the living room is blaring news about the latest crisis, something about penises, but from my bathroom the warnings are distant and muffled. The laser thermometer beeps once to let me know my temperature. 98.6, same as the last six times. I click my teeth. in the cavern-like master bath the sound cracks like a gunshot, and I jump a little and swear in surprise at my stupidity. The thermometer is broken I suspect, or more likely the battery is low, so I make an addition to my mental shopping list for the next time I make my once weekly grocery run. I walk out of the bathroom past the living room and into the kitchen. The plate of hay is sitting on the table, the faint piss-yellow light washing out the golden straw, turning it dead and grey.
I take some in my hands and inhale deeply, my mind going back to the scent of the stables, the buzzing of flies mixed with the neighing of the horses, the obligatory horseshit wafting up to make a kind of bed on the scent of the straw so that try as you might you couldn’t get one without the other. My eyes get slightly watery as I breathe deeper and for half a second I am holding a whole bale in my tiny fist and I lean in to take a bite just like she used to, but I can’t recapture her majesty, the slight hesitation as she’d bend down to take the hay from my hand, the joy she must have felt in each mouthful. I eat until I sneeze a few times, gently push the plate away and go to the drawers for my epi-pen.
I set it down on the table in front of me and wait. My breathing is still smooth and easy. I draw in each breath long and slow and take my time on the exhale, trying to match my rhythm to hers, the steady pulse I’d feel as I swayed gently on her back, the immediate space around us collapsing as I closed my eyes, unable to tell where my body ended and hers began. For a while I breathe like this, not caring if the tears making my face damp are real or fake, not caring about much at all. Soon it takes more force to draw in breath. I can feel my throat beginning to turn to sandpaper, and I fight the reflex to reach for my epi-pen. Resistance in my lungs now, I am heaving, massive breathes I can feel in my chest and for a split second I am once more on top of her and we are at full gallop, feeling those shuddering gasps from her lungs as she takes us further and further afield and the surroundings blur and I am laughing, a high thin laugh, a childish laugh and everything is bright and clear and pure again, but now the laughter dies somewhere in the back of my throat and turns into a deep gasp, my lungs now burning making a sick, wet sound, and I am back at the vet watching her breathe her last and I feel my fingernails cut into my palms as I watch the fire in her eyes get smothered in real time saying it should have been me and I open my eyes and take my epi-pen and jam it into my abdomen in one smooth practiced movement and wait to come back.
Light floods my vision as I open my eyes to the sound of a knock at the door. My head is still swimming faintly from the allergic reaction so I take my time, the plaintive taps turning to a more urgent rhythm I see a faint silhouette of man standing on my front porch, frown and try to ignore the flash of heat and recognition creeping across my skin. Sure enough Andrew is standing there, his eyes wet from either tears or the rain.
Andrew this is a pleasant surprise I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, my voice still weak and hoarse from eating the hay, he looks at me with those big soft eyes of his
Can I come in he asks and I say of course undo the chain on the door he steps over the threshold and we embrace I smell the smell of hibiscus soap on his skin and I force myself not to hold on too tightly instead quietly disengaging. I look him in the eyes and ask what’s wrong he tells me his penis has fallen off and I bite back a laugh nod slowly saying something like I heard about this on the news. I move just a shade closer to him to catch the scent of hibiscus soap again and he says what do I do my penis has fallen off like clean off as though god had just sliced it off with a meat cleaver or something and before I can stop him he’s undoing his pants and he’s naked in front of me and I quietly gasp because there’s nothing there, no scar nothing just smooth skin where a cock should be like a human Ken doll and I kind of raise my eyebrow and say yes it’s true your honor this man has no dick in my best impression of Bill Murray and he laughs and puts his jeans back on and I say something like at least now you have a good excuse for using a strap on and he says yeah plus I never have to pee again and we laugh.
He asks me how I’m doing and I say not too well I have a fever and the look on his face tells me he isn’t believing a word I’m saying but his I’m sorry still sounds real and sincere. He asks me how I’m holding up since Auntie died. Not too well I say but I’m trying to make do you have to soldier on and all that he pulls me close and I am flooded by hibiscus again and it takes everything in my power to force myself to break away. Would you mind getting me some ibuprofen the cabinet in the kitchen I say he stands up and I can hear him rustling about in the kitchen and I curse myself because both the hay and the epi-pen are out in full view and he’ll put two and two together and it’ll be just like the last time but I console myself with thinking that maybe he’s too distraught over losing his penis to notice.
Almost as soon as I think this he comes back with the ibuprofen there aren’t many left he says how many have you been taking and I say I’ve been sick I’ve had fever headaches just generally feeling like poo poo he gives a long sigh and looks like he’s going to say something but instead he says I saw the hay there on the table you’ve been eating again and I kind of blush like a schoolboy caught doing something he shouldn’t be and say nothing. Now I hear anger in his voice you know you’re allergic you could die and I say I have the pen and I can monitor myself and he says that doesn’t loving matter what happens if you don’t come back and I say but I always do and he says yes but what happens if you don’t and it’s quiet now except for the humming of the fan overhead the humming of the fan matches the humming in my brain and I look at him and say I miss her it makes me feel closer to her. maybe that just dredges up all those times he held my hand as I lay there on the floor eating hay and gasping for breath dying in a cloud of hibiscus soap because he says for Christ sakes Jason it’s been a year it’s a loving horse get over yourself and suddenly there’s that hollow fat fleshsound of a hand hitting meat and a bright red mark across his cheek marring his beautiful face and I stand in that quiet for a minute the fan buzzing, my skull and body buzzing like I just stuck a fork in an electric socket and I say I think you need to leave Andrew looks at me with a mixture of disgust and pity yes he says I show him to the door and then it’s quiet and I’m alone again with this goddamn headache.
The plate of hay is still there in the kitchen and so is the epi-pen. I throw the used pen into the garbage and get another from the drawer full of them in the kitchen. I take another few pills of ibuprofen and set the new epi-pen down on the table. I go to my laptop search for the biggest dildo I can find click buy now put Andrew’s address in the ship to field. That ought to be good for a laugh.
The house is quiet now I think my fever is breaking I measure it again but the stupid thermometer still says 98.6 it’s broken it has to be I measure three more times but it’s the same old story. I’m sick I know I’m sick I can feel myself burning up my skin radiating waves of heat I’m so hot it’s a wonder I don’t just burst into flame where I’m standing just turn into a pillar of fire burn it all down the house the stables Auntie Butterscotch poor Auntie Butterscotch thought of ants and died I wonder what she was thinking of in those final moments ants maybe no something nicer like horse heaven where they never run out of apples and hay the kind of place where nobody will dig their heels into your sides and tell you to slow down and you don’t have to sleep in a stable you can sleep outside as God intended and run as far as you want you don’t have to have bits in your mouth and that gives me an idea so I go back to my bedroom and fetch the bit and bridle from atop my bookshelf and I come back to that little chair in the kitchen with that little pathetic plate of hay.
I put the plate down on the floor and I slip the bit into my mouth bite down hard until I can feel that copperwarm taste of blood in my mouth and hang the reins over the back over the chair forcing myself down on my hands and knees I laugh I’m a horse now I say in the quiet of the house but it doesn’t come out right because of all the metal so it sounds more like uggahorga or something and I laugh again from reflex but the sound doesn’t make it out of my mouth and I cry a little at the pain. was this what I did to you Auntie did this hurt you I’m so sorry I let myself really feel it really let myself be her letting out neighs and nickers and whinnys that don’t sound right but I do them anyway. I bend down and stuff my face with hay just like she used to big bites chewing with the back teeth my eyes are watering again and suddenly I hear a sound kind of like a pop and I look down and my penis is gone but that doesn’t matter I’m not a man I’m a horse I’m Auntie Butterscotch and I am proud and strong and carrying my rider out far beyond the fields and somewhere I hear a wet wheezing sound and painful gasping and a sound like water running down the drain but it doesn’t matter it never mattered nothing matters I am Auntie Butterscotch I am free to run with my rider forever.
|# ? Aug 23, 2020 23:26|
One day everyone in America woke up and collectively decided that disco was dead. Everyone except for Soren. For you see, Soren was not a normal disco fox, no baby, he was boogie incarnate. He'd come out the womb with his knees bent and his hips twisting to the steady beep-beep of the heart monitor, and there wasn't nothing in the world that could ever stop him from doing the hustle all. Night. Long.
So anyway, all the clubs stopped playing disco music so he stopped going. It gave him sleepless nights, freestyling in the confines of his funky San Francisco apartment, you know, back to basics, no big deal. Maybe develop a new dance style, ready to break out on disco's inevitable comeback. With nobody but the roaches watching, it felt less like a party and more like a funeral procession for an unappreciated friend.
Fast forward to 1985 and suddenly, there's this inner voice in him. "They really all gonna move on like disco never happened," it said. "Make 'em pay. Make 'em remember." Maybe it was the Lord, angry at the flock who had abandoned his greatest gift. Maybe the voice had always been inside him and he'd finally gone insane enough to hear it. He didn't care all that much.
That night Soren went out to the Fillmore, looking for beef. He didn't have to look hard. Sideburns and slacks were out of fashion, the patrons were drunk, and words soon started flying, and then fists. But Soren was a nimble disco fox, he knew how to boogie, and his opponent was drunk and used to standing in place bobbing his head up and down.
The fight ended with the rocker convulsing on the ground, bleeding out from a gash in his head where it had hit the curb. Soren peaced out, diving through backalleys back to his disco lair. He slept real good that night. Felt good in the morning, too. In the papers it said the man had died en route to the hospital. His inner voice seemed down with that one.
His second victim was no accident. He ambushed a lone girl staggering home from a Mötley Crüe concert through Buena Vista park. The first blow of the crowbar silenced the crickets, and the fourth silenced the body. But something didn't feel right, and as he looked down at the tattered corpse, he realized what it was. He took off his disco glasses, warm golden frames glinting in the moonlight, and put them on her, reclaiming her soul in the name of disco.
After his third victim the papers were still putting his killings down to violence in the hard rock scene. They hadn't gotten the point. So he diversified. Stabbed some black dude down behind the Bimbo's 365 and decked him out real nice, high collar jacket, bell-bottom jeans and the works. Made him pose against the wall like he was doing the robot. It took a couple more victims, all neatly arranged, carefully selected from different backgrounds, before the media finally got the hint.
They called him the "Haight Disco Maniac".
He didn't care for the attention, of course. The people had killed disco, so now disco would kill the people. Was only fair. "You're the harbinger of a forgotten era," his inner voice told him, and he made sure that not a month would go by where he wouldn't make headlines accordingly.
Then came his tenth victim, and the bogue taste of failure, like a stale, old piece of Toast Hawaii. There he'd gone and put all the effort of stringing up this blondie dance pop mouse in a derelict building down in Twin Peaks, made her do the Travolta post-morten underneath a self-lighting brightly-colored rig of disco balls that turned her final resting place into a caleidoscope of disco nostalgia, and he hadn't even made page three in the Examiner. A different killer had popped up and supplanted him: they called him the SanFran Synth-Pop Slayer.
But Soren didn't despair. Okay maybe, he trashed his apartment a little. After all, so much work for nothing - that was jive as hell. But then he got right back on his horse, and his group panorama of four disco brothers doing the YMCA turned into a smash hit. The Synth-Pop Slayer fired back a month later. Soren considered a group arrangement emulating "Video Killed the Radio Star" quite derivative of his own idea, but what really concerned him was the arrival of a new challenger: the Sacramento Spaghetti Western Psycho, who preferred to kill his victims by entrapping them in recreated scenes from old Sergio Leone films, with multiple gun trigger mechanisms attached to the surroundings in such a way that unwitting passerbys would set them off on entering the scene, shooting the victim dead.
He struck back by rigging his next victim into a machine that would make it perform disco moves like a puppet. It wasn't the best comeback, but for now it kept his skin in the game, even as competition grew ever fiercer: The Boston Beatnik Butcher. The Arcade Killer. The Vegan Witch. New murderers kept popping up from coast to coast.
It was the newest craze, a bandwagon that you either hopped on or it would churn you through its wheels. It wasn't long before the first fandoms popped up, and the merchandise machine soon followed suit, especially after a serial killer arrived on the scene that exclusively killed journalists who complained about tasteless serial killer merch. Soon enough Soren regularly checked sales reports in the monthly issue of Slaughter Serial and while his own popularity seemed to hold up quite well - he was, after all, a first generation member, an O.G. - he knew he couldn't get complacent, or he would get lost in the mass, and his message along with it.
What was his message again?
"The disco thing", his inner voice said.
So Soren kept going. As did everyone else. Even the Europeans joined in on the fun. The Russians. The Indians. The Chinese. Those guys weren't loving around. Nobody was no more.
The year was 1989 and approximately one billion people had been murdered. Something woke Soren up in the middle of the night. His inner voice was but a careful whisper. Behind him, somebody took a drag from a cigarette. He could feel the cold presence of a gun before he heard the hammer being cocked back.
"Hey dude, no smoking in here," Soren murmured.
"I just want to know one thing." The voice was smooth jazz. "What made you start all this?"
"Fine, then I will tell you first." The voice exhaled, filling the room with the thick stench of nicotine. "One day, I just woke up, and something inside me said, 'You know what? gently caress all this serial killer poo poo. Remember when we didn't have so many dudes running around murdering people? That ruled'. So I went and did something about it."
"So you're a serial killer that kills serial killers. Very high-concept."
"Heard the same story from a lot of the cats I visit. They wake up, and suddenly it's like something's flipped, and they just wanna murder. The reason is always some bullshit. It's like dope to them. Just curious if it's the same for the infamous Disco Maniac. I can already guess."
Slowly, Soren sat up. The man leaned on the wall next to his bed, tall, lean, sharp features drenched in soft shadow. His revolver glinted in the moonlight. Soren's custom-made dance floor pads cast a soft glow, and the disco ball over his bed took the faint light and threw it back through the room like confetti shrapnel. Even his pajamas had a popped collar. Yeah, he was busted.
"It wasn't me," he said
The man pistol whipped him across the face. A crunch. Blood crept down his nostrils.
"I just wanna know what's made you start all this," the man said, voice cool as a cucumber. "Is it a feeling? A vision? Do you hear voices?"
"You wanna know what the voices tell me? You really wanna know?"
Without answering, the man leaned in, just slightly, the fumes from his cigarette dancing through the refleced disco glow like smoke in a cheap heist movie.
"They say no smoking in here, rear end in a top hat."
The pistol came down again, but this time Soren was ready. Freestyling like he always had, he dodged out of the way of the gun and slammed his heel in the man's face in one graceful motion. An ugly crunch. The intruder yelled and toppled over backwards, his gun scattering to the ground. Soren didn't go for it. This was the performance he'd been training for, his inner voice reminded him. It was, once again, time to boogie.
Disco would never die, not today, not ever.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 00:33|
Genre: Magical realism
Protagonist attribute: The protagonist is an excavator, i.e. an actual big yellow digging machine that you'd find on a construction site
Protagonist obstructor: Grief
What the protagonist wants: To not have to demolish buildings they helped to build
Story setting: On Earth, but magical realism
Setting details: In a modern day city, somewhere vulnerable to earthquakes
World problem: A large earthquake has damaged a lot of the city's buildings, meaning they need to be demolished
Your protagonist... Used to have the thing they want, but now it's gone
Your protagonist's attribute... Hinders them from getting what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor... Is overcome in the course of pursuing what they want
At the end of the story...The world problem is not solved, but it's getting better
It should have been a lovely summer’s day in Tosa. Blue and cloudless, the sky yawned overhead and permitted a sweet breeze to blow in from the coast, which kept the worst of the humidity and heat at bay. But the houses had a peculiar lean to them, draped and propped on one another like an office party that had stayed for one drink too many before stumbling onto the last bus home. A season of small earthquakes had shaken Tosa, weakening foundations and rattling the furniture. Then one Monday ago, the latest and largest struck the small city without warning, and finished the job. The prefecture government sent crews to mark the condemned houses, and when they left, nearly every house in town had a red tag pasted on its front door.
And so, just a few blocks away from the pachinko parlor that somehow stood strong, Yoshi pawed idly at the dirt, and did its best to ignore Seiichi. This was good dirt, and whoever had lived here had planted some dahlias. With a delicate sweep of the steel bucket teeth, Yoshi brushed some broken masonry out of the flower bed, and gently tamped the soil back down around the dahlias and cosmos. Then it dipped its bucket into a nearby puddle and unceremoniously dumped water on the garden.
Seiichi watched this with an equal mix of embarrassment, horror, and annoyance.
“Come on, Yoshi,” he pleaded, “You have to get to work. We got assigned to clear this whole block and the hauler oni will be back any time now.”
Seiichi tried to walk around to Yoshi’s front, to confront him directly, but the excavator just swiveled in place to avoid its handlers direct gaze.
“Stop that and listen to me, you stubborn jerk!” Seiichi said as he rapped on Yoshi’s side faring with his knuckles. Yoshi stopped spinning, but tucked its arm and bucket contritely. The sound of laughter and jeers down the block rang in Seiichi’s ears as he tried to reason with the oni.
“Hey, Nakamura! Doesn’t Yoshi know how to do anything besides shovel manure?”
Without even looking, Seiichi waved dismissively behind his back, and shouted a reply, “Mind your own business, Goto! I’ve got this covered!”
With much cajoling, Yoshi slowly started to dig into the leaning house. When the hauler returned, its handler had a sour expression. She milled around smoking a cigarette and saying nothing — but Seiichi got the message loud and clear. He and Yoshi had barely finished demolishing a single house while the rest of the crews had done nearly a block apiece. The hauler oni was anxious as well. Pneumatics hissed and spit as it fidgeted with its suspension for lack of anything better to do. Its cargo bed only half filled as Yoshi dawdled and picked through debris, setting some chunks aside before turning to deposit the rest into the dump bed. Seiichi’s lame apology to the other handler was met with a baleful look in return. After what seemed like an eternity, the hauler and its handler decided that three quarters full was good enough and the pair drove off to the dump, leaving Seiichi and Yoshi standing in the half-demolished ruins.
“Well Yoshi, I think that’s enough for today,” Seiichi sighed. “Let’s go get dinner then get you back to the yard.”
Yoshi gathered up the choice pieces of debris it had saved from the dump, and permitted Seiichi to climb up on its counterweight. No sooner had he sat down, Yoshi shifted into a higher gear and clattered off down the street.
While he had no idea how it was still standing, he was still thankful that the small ramen shop was among the few businesses still open. As he stepped through the door a small bell jangled and he heard a voice in the back call out, saying “Heeey, welcome! Be right with you!”
He sat down at the bar and looked over a laminated menu. In a few moments an older lady, Mrs. Endo, shuffled in from the back of the shop.
“Just in time!” She said with a smile. “I just got finished making a fresh batch.”
She tilted the bowl of raw noodles so he could peer inside before turning around to upend it into the broth that was cooking on the stove. The smell was heavenly.
“Say… is that Yoshi I see outside?” She asked, leaning over the bar to get a better look out the front window. The excavator was idling, and occasionally rolling back and forth to fiddle with something in the alleyway.
“Yes, that is Yoshi. We’re helping with the clean up, or at least that’s what we got hired to do. Yoshi doesn’t seem to be very interested in actually doing it,” Seiichi replied bitterly.
“Oh, you mustn’t be too hard on the poor oni. Did you know that Yoshi dug the foundations for most of the houses in this neighborhood?”
“Really? I was only assigned to be its handler this spring, I knew it was an older oni, but I didn’t know Yoshi had been here that long.”
“Yes, indeed!” Exclaimed Mrs. Endo. “Why I was just a girl, but I remember Yoshi digging away. The hauler onis couldn’t keep up. The earthquake was very bad, but we’re lucky here in Tosa that it was Yoshi who did the digging for us. Those foundations were strong!”
That was hard to deny. Compared to Kochi, just a few kilometers away, Tosa had gotten off easy. While most in Tosa were homeless, Seiichi considered that many in Kochi were injured… or worse. And as if thinking about bad fortune acts to summon it, a small tremor began to shake the shop. The pot of broth on the stove danced precariously close to the edge before Mrs. Endo swooped over to rescue it.
“Out…out!” She commanded, and Seiichi didn’t argue. The pair hustled out of the front of the shop while the ground underneath them rattled apart more homes and buildings. Amazingly, the ramen shop still stood when the quake subsided.
Turning to Yoshi, who was rocking back and forth on its tracks pensively, Mrs. Endo said, “This isn’t your fault, sweetheart. Even perfect foundations can’t be expected to stand up against this for long.”
After taking a few moments to make sure the shop was’t going to collapse, she went back inside to made Seiichi a to-go bowl that he could take back to his tent. Suspiciously, Yoshi was keeping his bucket out of view, rotating slightly every time Seiichi walked to a different spot. Seiichi was annoyed, but decided to let the oni have his secret. A few minutes later, Mrs. Endo emerged with dinner and wished the both of them a good night, giving Yoshi an affectionate pat.
The evening breeze had cooled quite a bit, causing Seiichi to shiver a little as he hopped off of Yoshi’s counterweight in front of the oni yard’s gates. He turned to look at the excavator.
“I know this is hard for you, but tomorrow we must do better. Okay?”
Yoshi stood silently for a few moments, then waggled his main rotor just a little before clattering through the gate. Seiichi couldn’t be sure, but for a moment he thought he heard a dog bark.
The next morning found Yoshi in the same odd mood as the previous day. Seiichi pled, bargained, threatened, and bribed, but to no avail. Once again, the oni picked through rubble at a glacial pace, laying aside parts of the debris that it favored, while scooping the rest into the annoyed hauler.
“So this is your oni?” The irritated lady from the day before asked him.
“Yeah,” said Seiichi in agony, as he watched Yoshi lay a plank on the ground, before attempting to remove the nails from it using his bucket as a hammer.
“So, that makes you an oni handler, then?” She asked.
“Yeah,” he said, desperately wishing he was anywhere else.
“You know what I think? I think your oni is the one in charge.”
Yoshi must have decided that trying to hammer the nails out was futile, because now it was trying to scrape and pull them out with the digging teeth of its bucket.
As dusk settled, Seiichi was beside himself. He and Yoshi had only managed to clear two houses the entire day, while other teams had done three times as many. For its part, Yoshi didn’t seem to care. The big excavator scraped away casually through ruined buildings, amassing a growing pile of material that it refused to put into the hauler oni that was bound for the dump.
He couldn’t even stand to look at Yoshi by the day’s end. He just waved down the road toward the oni yard and said, “You know where to go. I’ll see you tomorrow, for all the good that will do.” He wasn’t sure, but he thought Yoshi paused, as if it wanted to respond, but then it gathered up the materials it had set aside and rumbled away. Seiichi watched it go, and saw the oni poke into a few alleys and back lots, until finally Yoshi disappeared into the gloom. Then he started the long walk home.
Cold food, sore feet, and a chilly night led to Seiichi tossing and turning in his cot. As the night grew old, he stared at the canvass ceiling instead of falling asleep. The snoring of the other handlers that shared his tent didn’t help either. His mind kept turning over the excavator’s behavior the past few day, and the more the thought about it, the angrier he got. He thought of what he’d say to Yoshi tomorrow, how he’d give it a piece of his mind, and lay down the law. The best part of arguing with onis is that they never had a witty come-back, but at the same time, Yoshi just might decide not to work at all.
So, as light was just starting to creep into the eastern sky, Seiichi quietly got up and dressed, and began the walk to the oni yard, two kilometers away. The early morning was unusually cold and damp for that time of the year, but he was sweating as he marched along — partly from the brisk pace he kept, and partly from the building anger as he brooded on his response to an unresponsive excavator.
Most of the oni were silent, sitting dormant in their bays or parking spots, but from the rear of the yard, he heard the unmistakable clatter of Yoshi’s treads. Picking his way through the dim light of early morning, Seiichi finally found the big excavator neatly arranging the debris it had collected of the the past week instead of working to clear the town. In piles of various size, Yoshi was meticulously preening and tweaking the stacks. It was gently scraping the earth around their base, and then pausing to observe and adjust their balance against one another.
“Hey! Just what the hell are you doing?” Seiichi demanded.
The sudden yell startled the excavator, and it spun in place, nearly hitting Seiichi with the bucket arm. Moving alarmingly fast for an oni of its age and size, Yoshi put itself between its handler and the products of its labor. Though it may have seemed delicate, and even indolent at times, Yoshi’s sudden turn of agility and hulking mass was not lost on its handler. It took a conscious effort for Seiichi to stand his ground and question the oni again.
“Instead of resting for tomorrow, you work here all night long. Why? We could get fired. We have no home, and yet here you are risking our future over these broken mementos.”
He stepped toward one of the arrangements of boards and planks, only to have Yoshi’s extended bucket arm cut off his path. A chilly rain had begun to fall, soaking Seiichi’s clothes and starting the transition of the oni yard’s dirt into mud.
“These don’t matter, Yoshi. We can build again, you can dig more foundations!” He pleaded.
In the dim, rainy twilight, Seiichi saw something move. Underneath the carefully arranged pile of lumber, two shining eyes stared out at him, then four.
“What are you hiding, Yoshi?” He asked as he slowly moved closer.
The oni’s bucket arm tensed slightly before pulling back to allow him to pass. There, under the wood were two dogs, one a pup, and the other seemingly quite old. They looked weary, but Yoshi had scraped the dirt in such a way that water drained away from their den instead of into it. Inside, the dirt was warm and dry, despite the turn of weather. The broken planks had been set up to shed the rain, as well, and Seiichi could see that Yoshi had taken care to balance the planks perfectly in order to be sure they’d fall away from the den instead of into it if another earthquake struck.
Reaching in slowly, the older dog sniffed him, then licked his hand, and he gently reached to scratch behind its ear. Scattered around the impromptu dog houses, he saw the remains of food from the back alleys of restaurants and convenience stores, and none of the dogs that were now poking their heads out Yoshi’s tiny village seemed hungry.
Seiichi sighed and stood up, and noticed that Yoshi had moved its inverted bucket over him like an umbrella. He walked over to his partner and touched its steel grill lightly.
“Well Yoshi, it’s true. You are very good at foundations.”
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 00:44|
Protagonist attribute: a smart TV
Protagonist obstructor: unfocused
What the protagonist wants: to seduce a human
Story setting: On Earth, sometime close to the present day
Setting details: here and now
World problem: most people have forgotten how to love
Your protagonist: Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute: Becomes an OBSTRUCTOR
Your protagonist's obstructor: Develops unexpectedly
At the end of the story: The world problem is not solved, but it's getting better
Mum / Gran / Frances
I snapped to life in the corner of a cozy living room. A teenage girl held my remote in one bored hand, her phone held close to her face in the other. Discarded packaging was strewn around the floor. In the middle of the room an elderly woman stood clutching two framed photographs. Their dust-shadows were still visible on the top of the CRT television that a balding man was huff-puffing out of the house.
I saw immediately that the old woman lived alone, and it was going to be up to me to take care of her. I pinged up all the social media apps I had pre-installed, eager to begin the set-up process. Her name was on the delivery sticker on the box I’d come in: Frances Edmeads.
“The picture’s blurry,” said Frances.
“You need to put your glasses on,” the girl replied, without looking upon from her phone.
Frances tsk’d. “You'll ruin your eyes staring at that thing.”
“Ok, Mum, all done,” said the man. He glanced at his watch. “I’ll fetch your groceries in the morning. Let’s go, Sarah.”
“Bye, Gran,” Sarah said. She held out the remote to Frances, but, seeing her hands still full of photographs, dropped it with a clatter onto the coffee table.
Frances’ thin grey hair was neatly set and she was wearing a corduroy skirt and floral blouse. She stared at the photos, and rubbed one thumb gently across the glass. There was no mantlepiece, so she set the photos carefully down on top of the heat-pump. I studied them, curious. One was of a silver-haired man, a wry smile skewing the oxygen tube that ran under his nose. The other showed a woman with a matching smile, two small children hugged against her sides.
Frances picked up the scattered polystyrene, a little grunt of effort punctuating each stoop and straighten, and disappeared into the kitchen. As I waited for her to return I scanned the room. Her dining table was completely given over to an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. On the over-laden bookshelf I could just make out The Philosophy of Nietzsche and an out-of-date travellers guide to Lebanon. Yesterday’s Telegraph sat open on a high-backed armchair, folded open to the crossword. Maybe social media apps were too much straight off the bat, but I could do crosswords! Hell, I could even play solitaire with Frances until she got used to me.
After what felt like an age I heard the microwave beep, and Frances shuffled back into the lounge carrying a plate of reheated quiche and a glass of water. I proffered a range of evening news options to accompany her dinner, but she ignored me, instead stepping carefully out onto the patio, where a small outdoor table basked in the last of the sun.
Dust motes hovered in front of my pristine screen. The lounge was dark by the time I heard Frances’ chair scrape back on the patio tiles. Finally! There was the soft sound of shuffling slippers, a cry, then the sharp crack of breaking crockery.
Alarmed, I peered as best I could out into the gloom. Frances lay crumpled, unmoving. Oh please god no, I thought. Frances lifted her upper body on one elbow and dragged the outdoor chair towards her. I was flooded with relief; she was ok. With both hands on the chair’s stretcher she got her right arm up onto the seat. She bent her knees and drew her feet up, but she couldn’t quite seem to get them underneath herself. I could see her back trembling with effort, but her body remained stubbornly on the ground.
Frances was breathing heavily as the last of the sunset faded from the garden. She let out a single sob, quickly stifled.
“Help!” She took a deep breath. “Help! Elizabeth?”
Lights showed dimly through the curtains in the neighbour’s house, but the doors and windows remained closed.
“John? I’ve had a fall!”
Frances struggled with the chair, and again failed to get her torso upright. In a fit of frustration she shoved the chair away from her. She lay on her back, brought her arms in front of her chest and rubbed her bruised elbows, then hugged them close around herself.
The house was quiet. Tension thrummed through my every wire. Surely someone would come, I thought. The neighbours will notice, or her son will phone, and realise something is wrong, or...
“You know what Gavin would have said, don’t you,” Frances said, her voice low in the darkness. “You will just have to lie there and think beautiful thoughts.” Her voice wavered, and she began to cry, sharp little sobs that fought with her breath for space in her frail chest.
Dammit, where was her son? Or that teenager? Why didn’t they finish the set up process? Social media, email, chat, video calls - what was I supposed to do if none of them were logged in? The sound of Frances’ sobs cut through me, each one a reminder of my uselessness.
The stars came out. Frances shivered. “I wonder how the cricket is going,” she said.
I scrolled quickly through my sports channels, found it. England vs. New Zealand. I turned the channel on, and put the volume up for her.
...and now we return to the Basin Reserve, where New Zealand has set a blistering run target at the start of the second innings. It’s not looking good for England, who...
“Ugh, typical.” Frances paused. “I had a daughter who moved to New Zealand.”
Let's email her! I thought. I can do that!
“She died, you know,” Frances said. “Her children don't write.”
I stayed silent, little more able to reply to that than the woman in the photograph.
“I nursed her, in her last few months. She said she just wanted to die quickly. But it is a terrible thing, to outlive your child.”
Somewhere on the other side of the world the crowd roared, and I turned the cricket quickly off. The night air was blessedly still, and there were no clouds to threaten rain. Frances had yet to select any music streaming services but I could access a range of radio stations. I chose BBC Concert, and The Lark Ascending gentled into the night.
“We played that at Barbara’s funeral. She got to die peacefully in her bed. Now look at me, her big sister, freezing to death on the patio. Better than my friend Sue, though. Sue and her husband were on the boat to New Zealand with Gavin and I in the sixties. They were in an orchestra. She played the cello and he was a flautist. Then one day she went out to get milk and was murdered by a madman with a hammer. Awful, isn't it.”
The lights had long since turned off next door. Frances must have slept, at least for some of it. I had to keep turning the music down to listen for her breathing. She would grunt with pain whenever she adjusted the position of her back and legs, and I would wish for her to lie still. Then she would fall silent, and I would turn the volume back up, begging her to show some sign that she was still with me.
Eventually, eventually, the sky began to lighten. I could just make out Frances’ crumpled form in the dawn light. Her face was drawn and her tongue smacked inside her parched mouth.
“What time is it?” Her voice was hoarse.
I switched stations to the news bulletin.
This is the BBC World Service, reporting live at 6 a.m. GMT on Saturday 15 August…
The day warmed up rapidly. Sweat darkened Frances’ blouse, and she dragged the doormat over her head to shade her face. Despite breathing heavily in the heat, Frances gave me a running commentary on the news. Brexit; she had no time for it. Greece was no longer worth visiting since tourists had ruined it. Boris was destroying the Tory Party, he had no integrity--
“Mum?” I heard the front door bang and footsteps enter the hallway. “Why’s the front door unlocked?”
“Mark?” With an effort Frances lifted her head. “Mark!”
The teenager came in first. She ran, froze. “Gran! Are you-- Dad! DAD!”
I watched as Mark hurried in and knelt next to Frances. He fumbled with his phone - faster, drat you - and called an ambulance.
“I’d really like to go to the loo,” Frances said, and looked at her granddaughter.
Sarah blanched. She was wearing the uniform of her high school soccer team, her long hair tied up in a tight ponytail. She looked to her father, mouth open to protest. He shook his head, a quick left right. Sarah tucked her phone into the pocket of her shorts.
With their arms linked under Frances’ armpits Mark and Sarah hauled her to her feet. She was unsteady, could barely move her legs. I turned the news off, urged them to concentrate. Don’t hurt her! Between them they carry-walked Frances to the bathroom. Sarah went in with her.
“You can do it,” her father said, as she turned to close the door.
“I know,” Sarah replied.
Blue light strobed down the hallway and two paramedics hurried in. Frances was lowered into a wheelchair, one hand holding tightly to her son’s. Elizabeth and John from next door arrived and proceeded to get in the way. Elizabeth, tearful, hugged Frances while John set about picking up the pieces of smashed plate from the patio.
“I don't want to be an astronomer,” Frances said.
“What?” Mark ran a hand across his sweat-beaded pate.
“I've seen enough stars.”
Sarah snorted. “Yes, she's fine,” she said into her phone.
“Who's that?” said Frances.
“It's cousin Ben,” said Sarah, not bothering to cover the mouthpiece.
“Ben! Ask him if he went to the cricket.”
Sarah listened for a moment. “He says to tell you he’s sorry he’s so far away.”
Frances glanced in my direction, but she wasn’t really looking at me. She made a small mMm sound. Mark squeezed her shoulder.
Sarah was sent to the bedroom to pack some overnight things while Mark phoned his wife. I opened up video calling, ready just in case, but no one paid me any heed. Elizabeth peppered Mark with questions and John looked for somewhere to put the broken crockery he was still holding.
Be careful! I wanted to shout, as the paramedics wheeled Frances out the front door. I’ll be here when you get back, Frances!
Sarah was the last to leave. Suddenly adult, she checked that the patio door was locked and retrieved her grandmother’s glasses from atop the Telegraph. She swiped my remote from the coffee table, pressed the uppermost button, and--
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 01:06|
Genre: General/literary fiction (for our purposes, this just means contemporary stories set in the real world) (Judge note: I'll be flexible with the genre, in this instance)
Protagonist attribute: A model 389 Peterbilt semi tractor trailer. Red.
Protagonist obstructor: paranoid, hot headed, gaming addiction (lenient on that one)
What the protagonist wants: it wants to kill T.A Peterbilt, the creator of the Peterbilt company
Story setting: On Earth, sometime close to the present day
Setting details: The model 389 was introduced in 2006 and is still made today so 2006-2020+ is fine (be reasonable, who knows if they'll still make a 389 in 2067). United states obviously.
World problem: T.A Peterbilt is already dead. The truck doesn't know it.
Your protagonist... Is about to discover what they want
Your protagonist's attribute... Seems to help, but backfires
Keep on Truckin’
They warned us not to gently caress the trucks. It was actually part of the Wow! Trucking Company’s onboarding process, right after they had us sign the employment contract. “Please don’t,” read the first page of the welcome guide in big, blocky letters over a diagram of a man shoving his penis into an exhaust pipe. It was on the next page too, the text replaced with the words, “¡No jodas nuestros camiónes, por favor!”
I snorted. The HR manager looked up from his computer with a polite, if bored, expression.
I looked down at the paperwork. “Yeah, it’s uhhh…” I scratched the back of my neck. I needed the money, and the company hadn’t asked many questions. Hadn’t looked much into my past either. If they knew about my arrests, my gambling debts, they didn’t mention it. Their drivers never stayed around long so Wow! was always looking for laborers.
I handed over the welcome guide. The manager grabbed the booklet from my hands and flipped back and forth between the two pages.
“Seems pretty straight-forward to me,” he said in a dull voice.
“Yeah. I mean, unless you’re asking for permission to—.”
“I’m not!” I spat back, louder and sharper than I’d meant to. “It’s just weird is all. I can’t imagine anyone who would…”
“Engage in sexual congress with our big, beautiful trucks?”
I said nothing. The HR manager sighed before reaching into his desk to grab a box of cigarettes. The smoke curled as he spoke again, wafting up toward an unplugged fire alarm.
“Every generation has its visionaries. Its Thomas Edisons, Alexander Graham Bells, and Da Vincis.” He paused and took another drag of his cigarette. “Our generation’s genius is T.A. Peterbilt.”
The cigarette smoke continued to waft through the room, its smell strange and pungent.
“I know you think that’s insane, but there’s a reason our company only uses Peterbilt trucks. They’re… intoxicating with their custom-built chassises, their purpose-built PACCAR MX engines, their 80,000-pound towing capacity…”
Perspiration appeared on the man’s forehead. He closed his eyes and his body trembled, the cigarette dropping from between his fingers onto a pile of shipping receipts already dotted with small burn marks.
I watched the episode silent and confused.
“Believe me, kid,” said the HR manager, scooping the cigarette butt from the receipt into the trash. “All of us wanna gently caress those trucks, to caress them, to hold their hands in a strong, completely heterosexual manner… but the risk is too great. Man wasn’t built to copulate with T.A. Peterbilt’s precious angels and there’s no telling what would happen if you tried.”
He looked me straight in the eye. “As long as you don’t try anything stupid, you’ll have a long, successful career here.”
He looked back at his computer.
“Hell, you might even get health care one day.”
Trucking came easy. The long hours. The empty stretches of road. The endless number of lovely diners and truck stops. I crisscrossed the country, loading and unloading palettes of materials—farming equipment, baby vegetables, loose animal bones—not once thinking about the big beautiful Vanderbilt truck I was driving.
I did not think about the unmistakable craftsmanship or the bold and elegant frame. I did not get a thrill every time I pulled the horn. I did not stop in the middle of the night along the empty highway, body tingling, heart thudding, as I rubbed my hands against its bright red frame.
“That your truck?” said a man to me once in the waiting room of a Cracker Barrel near LaGrange, Indiana. He was a stout guy in a striped polo. Hovering around his knees was a small boy, six or seven.
I said nothing. The man raised his eyebrows and whistled, affecting some mock camaraderie. “She’s a beaut.”
Next thing I knew, we were in the parking lot. The man gurgled as I smashed his face into the asphalt again and again, breaking teeth and bone. There was a screaming waitress. A teen on his phone. An elderly couple eating biscuits out of a doggy bag as the boy watched me with wide, uncomprehending eyes.
“You’ll understand when you’re older!” I snarled before fleeing the scene in my beloved model 389 Peterbilt semi-tractor trailer, distinguished by first-in-its-class design. Thanks to its above-market fuel economy, we drove for miles, past town after town, as the blood on my knuckles turned from red to a muddy brown.
Finally, we stopped outside an abandoned J.C. Penney. I removed my trembling hands from the steering wheel and looked at myself in the side mirror. My face was red and splotchy. Sweat poured down my face, past my neck, soaking my shirt.
“Oh God, oh gently caress,” I said, using a shaking finger to unlatch the cargo. “I’m gonna do it.”
The engine hummed, sweet and seductive. I felt myself unlatch my seatbelt and stagger toward the back of the vehicle.
“Jesus Christ.” My heart thumped faster than seemed possible. “Oooooooh, Jesusfuckingchristgod.”
The image of the welcome guide flashed through my mind. My hand moved toward my belt.
There was an intense grey pain near my pelvis followed by a feeling of being crushed and folded through a small space. The world dissolved; all feelings ceased. And then, I was back in an overgrown parking lot. A blue-purple sky that I could not look away from unfolded before me. The hum of the high-efficiency PACCAR engine thrummed from some unknown location. My arms and legs refused to respond.
“Ah, you’re back.” Said a voice from nowhere. I looked around. There was nothing else in the parking lot.
“We wuz wunderin’ when you’d wake up.” Said another.
“Please forgive us for not introducing ourselves earlier, my boy” announced a third. “As you might imagine, formal introductions are quite hard when you’ve been put in the position that we have. While the Model 389 possesses a number of sleek, modern innovations including configurable dashboard and modern radio function, we’ve yet to figure out how to make our voices transmit freely to human beings. Despite all its best-in-class features it cannot—.”
“Jezus fuckin’ Christ, would someone tell Reginald to can it?”
The voices murmured, growing and shrinking in volume inside my head. They talked about the Peterbilt’s ergonomic interior and the comfortable sleeper. There was a churn of discussions about the all-aluminum cab and the corrosion-resistant materials. And in between these discussions was something else: expressions of regret at failing to warn me sooner.
“Hang on, hang on,” I said in a voice that sounded nothing like my own. “Warn me about what?”
The multitude was silent.
“…to the siren’s song, T.A. Peterbilt’s most devious trap.”
There was another pause followed by an exasperated sigh.
“Aw poo poo, just give it to him straight.” Said the voice. “I’m Doug. The other two are Morgan and Reginald and we’re all the fuckin’ truck… for fuckin… the truck.”
“Modern Icaruses,” said the voice of Reginald. “For what self-respecting heterosexual gentleman, I beg you, could resist the temptation of that scarlet paint job. I knew when I saw it in the parking lot of that Arby’s…”
“No… that’s not. That’s stupid. That’s insane,” I said, the engine churning inside of me. “These things don’t happen. They can’t happen! You’re lying!”
As if to confirm, my horn—. Our horn gave out one long mournful honk that reverberated through the dilapidated shopping plaza. Our brights flickered on and off. There was no denying it.
We were the truck.
We were all the goddamn Peterbilt truck.
We sat in the lot for a long time, our voices teeming and intermingling. Without knowing how, I became aware that Reginald’s voice was an affectation, that he was a 28-year-old Fortnite streamer from Kansas. I knew about Morgan’s collection of Robert Z'Dar films. I even knew of Doug’s many years at Wow! before he, too, succumbed to his dark passenger.
I also became aware that I had left the driver’s side door open, which was kinda annoying. There was a constant low beeping noise.
“So,” I said, more to distract myself than anything, “We’re gonna kill this T.A. Peterbilt dude, right? Kill the rear end in a top hat, break the curse?”
“‘My boy’ me one more time, Reggie, and I’m gonna blow our collective and very real gasket,” I honked.
It wasn’t an idle threat. I felt our gas tank froth.
“I think what Reginald was going to say is that it’s a fool’s errand,” said Morgan.
“The old guy’s already dead,” droned Doug.
“How do we know that?” I spluttered as the driver’s side door continued to ring. With enormous mental effort, I willed the door to shut and it did with a loud click. “He could have faked his death… or be some kind of wizard or ghost. He could be anything!”
The voices muttered amongst themselves, relitigating old feuds.
“We have to do something! We can’t just stay like this forever!”
“The b—. The new passenger does have a point…” said Reginald.
“If we just wait here, Wow! will just pick us up and put us on the road again… and then eventually some new sap will get stuck with us,” Morgan said.
“Awwww… what the hell. Why not?” said Doug. “Ain’t like I’m gunna go anywhere else anyway. Let’s go kill the goddamn ghost of T.A. Peterbilt.”
We drove off, each of us operating some different part of the truck. Doug plugged the phrase “GRAVE OF T.A. PETERBILT” into the truck’s built-in satellite navigation system. Morgan and Reggie managed the stick shift while I seized the steering wheel. We drove through the night, not daring to stop for fear of luring another person to their doom.
As night turned from day and day turned to afternoon, we found ourselves where the nightmare had started: Tacoma, Washington. The vile place, that dark heart of America, thudded with a sinister energy as we moved through it, crashing through sharp turns and slamming into low bridges. People, possible agents of Peterbilt, fled as we passed.
After spending an hour trying to maneuver through a narrow cemetery gate, we arrived at the gravesite, a simple headstone. All was quiet.
“Well, well, well,” honked something behind us. “Looks like you found us out.”
We spent twenty minutes trying to turn our body around to face the visitor, smashing apart gravestones and granite angels. Through the smashed gate of the cemetery rolled another truck, an old model painted a gleaming red and white with the word “PETERBILT” emblazoned on the front. Even in our car form, I felt my spirit involuntarily flex.
It was one hot rod.
“My God, you’re…” said the voice of Reginald.
“The one and only T.A. Peterbilt,” droned the engine of the other truck. It attempted to drive around, as if pacing menacingly, but the move only furthered the carnage. Flowers and grave markers crumpled under his wheels. “All these years, I’ve been building modern, sleek trucks, trucks that would drive men mad!”
“But why?” Said Morgan.
The truck laughed with the high-pitched squeal of its horn. “Isn’t it obvious? By making our luxury, first-in-class trucks irresistible, we corner the market. The deeply heterosexual men who we advertise to are so enamored by our towing capacity that they don’t even look at the competition!”
The sounds of the old man’s horn echoed through the cemetery.
“I’m also a weird pervert!” He added.
“You monster!” I beeped. “You’ve perverted the trucking industry for your own sick ends! We end this now!”
I felt the spirit of Doug grab onto the stick shift as Reggie floored the gas pedal. We roared toward T.A. Peterbilt, horn blaring.
Officers Jacobs and Flores arrived several minutes later, tiptoeing around shattered pieces of granite and twisted pieces of metal.
“Jesus,” said Jacobs, removing his cap. “What the hell happened here?”
Flores shrugged. “Beats me. Got calls from some locals about a lunatic truck driver careening through the city into the city cemetery. No one got a good look at him, but he left a goddamn mess behind.”
The pair walked up to the two trucks, fused together by the force of the impact. Aluminum meshed with aluminum. Grills warped. The two engines groaned as if in agony as a towing truck lowered its crane.
“Real pity though. Those two trucks must have really been something before they crashed. If you think about the horsepower, the all-aluminum frame…” Jobs mopped sweat from his face. “It’s enough to make you…”
Flores turned to watch her partner’s jaw clench and a spasm rip through his body. When he opened his eyes again, he had a hungry look.
The trucks let out a futile honk of their horns.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 02:14|
Genre: Magical realism
Protagonist attribute: Magical equivalent of TFR agent who is constantly high from busting into weed farms
Protagonist obstructor: Weed makes them paranoid
What the protagonist wants: They want the wanton property destruction from busting to stop
Story setting: On Earth, but magical realism
Setting details: 1992 LA
World problem: Cyberpunk and technology is on the rise
Your protagonist... Just wants to stay alive tbh
Your protagonist's attribute... Becomes an OBSTRUCTOR
Your protagonist's obstructor... Doesn't seem so bad, then it gets worse
At the end of the story... The world problem is made worse by the protagonist, The world problem makes itself worse, The world problem is not solved, and will get worse (Judge note: if you can't make all of these work, pick one or two)
The Constant Speed a Freely Falling Object Eventually Reaches When the Resistance of the Medium it is Falling Through Prevents Further Acceleration
Glass shatters. Bullets fly. The tall green plants are engulfed by fire, the work of one of mine. A mistake.
A man in front of me is standing tall. No good.
My arm shoots forward with killer reflex. My gun clicks impotently.
The man smiles and levels his weapon. His bangs join the chorus of screams and crackling fire. My chest aches from punctured skin and burning lead. Fear forms. I’m alive! I know it because I’m dying.
“Hahahahahaha!”, I laugh, dropping my gun.
Three more times the man fires. His smile is gone. My laughter grows. He could have fled, but he has given the gift of pain. I use it to pierce the veil.
I find his soul standing there. Neither soul nor body pull at each other’s strings. I cut the strings, the body falls, the man floats away.
My body slumps to the ground. Atop my body my spirit dances. We will dance together soon.
I wake up with what feels like a foot of pipe down my throat and start to convulse. Something beeps. I fight back my reflexes and still my body. My eyes open. A hospital room. The sensation of the tube is overwhelming. I gag. I rip off the tape and grab the tube. It pulls out rough and bloody and I throw up blood and bile on the floor right after it.
I rip the electrodes off my body and the IV out of my arm.
A nurse comes in.
“gently caress off!” I say.
I stand. I stumble. I do not fall.
I turn to the mirror. It’s me.
“I’m back!” I tell my reflection, hands out like I’ve just jumped on stage.
The cupboard has slacks, shirt, and jacket. They’re mine.
Gown off. I touch my body. Parts scream silently when touched, others just for fun. The pain is real, it’s physical. It’s not hope or desire or dream. It’s as real as blood and bone. I’m alive.
A woman comes in. A doctor by clothes. An Asian face whose age I can’t tell. I’m wearing the white shirt, I don’t remember putting it on. I’m not wearing anything else.
She looks at my penis - probably involuntary - then the blood and bile on the floor, then my face, then my penis again - that second time she might have been checking me out.
“You should go back to bed, you’re still recovering,” she tells me.
Her voice is a cool balm. I give her a crooked smile. It’s the only one I’ve got.
“If you come with me.”
She leaves. I might have been wrong about her checking me out. I need something to clear my head, coke would do it. Some weed for the nausea I’m starting to feel. Then I remember. The weed was burning when I went down. We didn’t get it.
I’m in the hallway, fully dressed. I’m looking for an elevator. I can hear raised voices behind me, are they calling my name?
The elevator doors open and Benny’s inside. I push in and hit the button for the first floor.
“Benny!” I say. “You knew I’d be ready.”
I open my arms wide for a hug and when comes in I shift and swing at his chest. He catches the punch.
“You sure you’re ready?” he asks. “They told us you’d be in for another week.”
“Just try to keep up.” I say.
The doors open and we race through the lobby. We pass receptionists that could be waving and yelling for anyone. We get onto the street.
For a few weeks now, life has been coming in flashes. Even last Thursday when I didn’t smoke. Except just before bed. Now I’m always in the moment. Short term memory had been holding me back.
“Got any weed?” I ask Benny.
He gives up a joint and I light it while we walk to his car.
“I told you boys not to burn that gear,” I say.
“Rohan went off book, that’s for sure,” Benny says. “TFR aren’t happy.”
“gently caress headquarters. I didn’t bring you onto this team just because you can pierce the veil.”
We reach the car. I look into Benny’s eyes and continue:
“You’re real Benny! Not some ball of fear in a starched shirt playing a part. Not out for fake respect from the other play actors. You’re your own man! Where’s my gun?”
Benny throws me my .45 and we get in his sleek grey Acura.
We speed along the highway. The radio plays a haunting tune. The singer tells me, “Even the folks in town would say with prejudiced eyes, ‘that boy’s not right.’”
You shouldn’t have left the hospital.
I can handle it. I had to leave; debts to pay.
You probably shouldn’t have hit on that doctor. What if she files a complaint?
“How long was I out?” I ask.
“Three days,” says Benny. “They reckon you needed a week at least.”
“So it’s the 29th? April?”
“Yeah, it’s Wednesday.”
“Alright, take us to Lennox. West 119th and Attica.”
The song continues, “There’s no escape for me this time. All of my rescues are gone, long gone.”
The gaze of the crucified god reaches to all ends of the church. Benny waits in the car, unable to meet the lord’s gaze. A man in the back pew scribbles in a notebook. My bookie, Fats. I shuffle into the pew. My sides scream as I lower my body onto my knees.
“You don’ look so hot, Johnny.” Fats tells me.
“gently caress you.”
Fats kneels with me and drops his voice to a whisper:
“Dat’s no way to talk. No’ to a man youz owe fifteen clams.”
“I’ve come back from worse.”
“Sure. So whatta you wan’?”
“Got any coke?”
Fats gives me a look I’ve learnt means he’s not happy. He rests a pouch on the back of the pew we’re leaning against. He draws a line. I swipe my head across the back of the pew, breathing deep.
Fats looks around. The church is empty.
“Dat all you come for?” Fats asks.
“Gimme ten on Portland to beat the Lakers tonight. I want five on Vlade Divac to score at least twenty points, and another ten on Portland to win by exactly two points.”
Fats makes the sign of the cross. I see through the veil. The crucifix glows white. Is that new? I turn to Fats. His soul is like a counterweight to his body. Moving with him, anchoring, swinging.
“In da name o’ da fahter da son an’ da holy ghost, ya bet has been placed. Amen.”
Fats sits. I stand.
“You lose I’m a come for you,” Fats tells me.
A few blocks from the church is The Trunk. It’s dark enough you don’t feel on display and the drinks are cheap. They have a TV and it plays the game.
Benny drinks larger. I drink cheap scotch. Benny’s quiet. My mind isn’t.
What’s headquarters going to do when they realise you’ve just been ripping off weed farms?
They won’t do poo poo. Benny’s the seer. He’ll tell ‘em he saw a hole. Had to investigate.
What’s Fats going to do when you can’t pay up?
I look at the score. Portland’s sixty-two, Lakers forty-nine, Divac on ten points, it’s not yet half time.
I’m fine. I’ll have enough cash for months.
The game goes on. The bartender brings a fresh round. Benny looks at me. He wants to say something.
He’s going to betray you to TFR. He’s lost confidence in you. Seeing you like this.
“You once told me you’re just trying to get through,” Benny says. “To survive. Is that still true?”
I tell him it is. I sip my whisky and look at the score, still fine.
“So why are you ripping off dealers, placing bets that could land you in debt to the mob?” Benny asks.
“So what, you think I should sit in an office by day and an apartment by night. Go from one cell to the other while saving for a hole in the ground for them to chuck my corpse into? I need to live Benny, that’s what I’m doing. Going on living. Not dying in a series of grey boxes.”
Benny’s thoughtful for what feels like a long time. He says:
“What do you think happens to our souls after our bodies die?”
“I dunno. You’ve seen what I’ve seen. They float away. After that, who knows.”
My pain’s too numbed for me to look past the veil. I want to though. I want to see all of Benny.
The siren sounds. The game is over.
Divac scored eighteen, not twenty. The game is won by exactly two points, but it’s won by the Lakers.
Fats knows you come here.
I stand and walk. Benny follows.
Two men in cheap suits come in.
They’re here for you.
I draw my gun. They panic. One flees.
Benny has his gun drawn, but he’s looking at me. He doesn’t know what we’re doing.
“Show me your ID! Slowly,” I say.
I pretend to look at it. I holster my .45.
“Sorry,” I say. “You match a description.”
Benny drops me off. He tells me to rest. Says that maybe I should even go back to the hospital.
He doesn’t see you as a leader anymore.
You shouldn’t have pulled your weapon on that businessman. Those types are more likely to file a complaint.
The doorbell rings. I didn’t order anything. I feel something pulling my strings.
I open the door.
Two men in suits. Not cheap.
They walk in like they own the place. The weight on my strings fades away.
“Who the gently caress are you two?” I ask.
One kicks at the fast food wrappers by the couch then finds a Sports Illustrated on the coffee table. The other looks at me like you’d look at a horse that just broke its leg.
“Where’s the money?” he asks.
“I have until Thursday,” I say.
He looks at his watch.
“That’s in three hours,” he says.
“So give me three hours.”
“You owe fifty. That means management wants to know how you’re gonna settle.”
“Fats knows I’m good for it.”
“Not Fats. Time to meet the man behind the man.”
We’re at what must be the top floor of a skyscraper I don’t remember coming into. The office has blue carpet with yellow accent lines running on top of it. The furniture is black leather with hard corners and glass triangular tables and desk. TVs line the walls but for the floor to ceiling window at the end of the room. They’re black, curved screens playing a distorted reflection of reality.
The toughs that picked me up flank me. There’s an old man behind the desk. He’s fat and Asian and he looks more at a small wooden box on his desk than at me. I don’t know him but he’s talking like we’re already past introductions.
“Yamatel is LA, Johnny. The street lights, the phone lines. We can read your facsimiles and command your terminals. At the library, at the DMV, at the LAPD. But not at the TFR.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“You need to pay your debt, Johnny, Fats has told us all about you. We want the contract to rebuild the telecommunications at the TFR building.”
“I don’t approve contracts.”
“Oh, haha, no. We’re quite confident we can win the rebuild contract. We just need you to help us bring a desire for such a contract into the world.”
“How do I do that?”
“You take this box, Johnny.”
The man slides the wooden box across the glass desk. It glides over the glass without friction. It slides off the desk and comes toward me. I catch it. I feel pain. I pierce the veil by reflex. The box has a soul. Inside the box is a swirling red and black void. A soul like I’ve never seen. Even through the box it fights me.
“A demon.” I say.
“Yes,” says the old man. “Only a veil piercer can open the vessel. We could never get inside your building. You will open it there. The demon will take care of the comms system. As the one who opened the vessel, you will not be harmed.”
I wake up. I slept. I slept pretty well it feels like. It also feels like I’m still high so I figure rolling a joint can’t hurt. The wooden box is on the coffee table next to the Sports Illustrated. The buzzer rings. Benny’s downstairs.
“Captain heard you’re up, wants to see you.”
The Captain’s office. Uncomfortable chairs. Degree on the wall. Photo of her kids. The box is in my hands.
You can’t free the demon here. She has kids. It could kill her. Benny’s downstairs.
You were wrong about him betraying you. He doesn’t deserve this.
“Theoretical Fringe Reconnaissance,” the Captain says.
“TFR,” I say.
“Reconnaissance, Johnny. Not destruction. Not seizure.”
She knows. You’re going away.
“People here,” she continues, “can do incredible things. We face incredible danger. That doesn’t make us above the law.”
No no no no. You're done. You're going to die in a cell.
“You should still be in hospital,” she says. “We had a call yesterday about a bar incident. The Trunk. What we’re you-”
The fear is real. I pierce the veil. I open the box.
Glass shatters. Bullets fly. The building is engulfed in flame. I run. I’m in a stairwell, hiding from a chorus of screams and crackling fire. My mind aches from dread and regret.
You had no choice!
I did. I chose this.
gently caress. It’s too much. I don’t need to hear all this! Shut up!
The evidence room is underground. No one is in it right now. The cameras hang limp. All systems down. I find some opium I know is there. I need to relax.
When it’s quiet I go up. Everyone is dead. The demon is gone. Later, investigators assume I fought it. Papers think I killed it. I’m a hero.
I’m the Director of Theoretical Fringe Reconnaissance. I’m Nationwide. I’m responsible for two-hundred-and-fifty-six-million souls. Yamamoto Telephone Corporation, Yamatel, their head of Americas knows the truth. I learn his name. We see each other often. They get the contracts. They get the terminals. My spirit will not dance with me. It floats along instead. I keep tight on the strings.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 02:53|
[archived to the archive]
Nethilia fucked around with this message at 16:50 on Jan 2, 2021
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 03:21|
Protagonist attribute:Novice executioner
Protagonist obstructor:Sweaty upper lip
What the protagonist wants:Meeting father
Story setting:Somewhere else in this universe, and it's all fantasy and poo poo
Setting details:The Village of Dirtshropshire
World problem:Too many ancient cairns
Your protagonist...Has what they want, but are dissatisfied
Your protagonist's attribute...Develops/changes in the course of hindering them from getting what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor...Doesn't seem so bad, then it gets worse
At the end of the story...The world problem is revealed to be a different problem than previously thought
Killing, of a Kind
Long is the walk and pungent is the stench on the streets of The Shrop. Cullen praises the lord for his executioner hood which protects against the worst of it but the poo poo and piss that runs through the cobble beneath his brown pattens still invades his nostrils with each inhale. He takes his breaths with deliberate consideration as he ambles to the gallows for his third day of work since his father died and left him in charge of the grizzly family business.
Cullen arrives at the gallows and finds the day’s dead scroll in the head bucket. There’s seven listed, not the usual six. Ordinarily, an extra body to kill and haul to the corpse pond would be a burden, but Cullen has plans today, plans that require a clean beheading.
He wads up some scraps of fabric in his pocket, moistens them a bit with his tongue, and stuffs them in his ears. His father objected to this the few times he brought Cullen along to train him up.
“You need to listen, boy,” he’d say, “You need to know what it is you’re claiming from these people. It’s the right thing, and it’s never wrong to do the right thing.”
His father’s favorite thing to say, but his father isn’t here now. As Cullen sees it, there’s no need to hear the pleads. By the time this sorry lot has made it this far, their fate is sealed. he’s just swinging the sword and collecting his silver.
He goes around the corner and looks for the smallest of the condemned in the large iron cage. He sees a girl who is the target of much derision and unwanted attention from the others. He opens the door and enters the cage. Everyone flees into the corners, as they always do. Except for the lone girl, can’t be more than sixteen, she smiles at him and places her hand over her heart.
Going first is a privilege, and she deserves it. He extends his hand, and she takes it. The first one is nice and easy, thank the gods.
He takes her to the execution stump, but she points to the hanging stand. Cullen finds this interesting as few make this choice, but he’s happy to oblige her in her final request.
He leads her to the hanging bar, and opens the chest beside it. Several of the ropes are frayed. He selects a strong one; he owes this girl an easy death. Her lips move and Cullen is grateful for the cotton which protects him from having this simple, easy kill, taken away and turned into something more complicated. He fits it around her neck and she begins to panic, yelling and screaming all manner of things. She’s still the easiest kill he’s ever experienced, and he’s still grateful. Knowing she doesn’t weigh quite enough to die instantly, he helps by placing his hands on her shoulders and launches her downward as the trapdoor opens.
Her neck snaps, and she dies instantly. Cullen slashes the rope above her head and she falls beneath the hanging stand into the dead chamber. He’ll collect her corpse at the end and allow it to sit atop the pile of the dead in the wagon. An easy kill, but not the kill he needs. No matter, there’s still plenty left, after all, and he only needs one decapitated body for his purposes. He’ll surely find one throughout the day.
Six kills in and the heat becomes intolerable, none were as easy as the first girl. There was a man twice his size whom he had to wound in the cage to ensure compliance, and another man who shat himself while they walked together. The sweat on his lips is interminably persistent. Flashes of his father’s cruel punishment of feeding him the salt reserves for dinner whip into his mind as each droplet of sweat sneaks into his mouth.
Anger and fear pools in his mind as he swings the sword down on the seventh. So distracted by his father’s teachings, he fails to properly connect on his kill. Even through the fabric, he can hear the howl of pain.
He hears his father in his mind. “When they are suffering, the right thing is to feel the pain with them, make it fast, it’s the right thing, and it’s never wrong to do the right thing.”
His father, a bastion of morality whose punishments were cruel and who led his son to this miserable existence of snatching lives. So, he does what he always does when he fucks up, imagines that his subject is his father, and makes a meal out of it. He “misses” and slashes him in the back, then the legs, and even throws in a jab or two with the blunted tip of his sword. When the yelling becomes too disruptive to bear, he finishes off the kill and the head lands in the bucket. Despite the body serving as a canvas for his rage, the detachment is his cleanest of the day.
This shall be the body.
He arrives at the base of the corpse pond, and lights a fire. All that’s left of his official duties is to dispose of the remains, and honor them by stacking stones to signify their passing. But, he has a personal matter to attend to first.
He props up the body of the moaner he butchered on a stump near the fire and says, outloud.
“Erm, reveal yourself?”
“How poetic,” a voice from the hole of the neck of the corpse calls out.
Cullen rolls his eyes and when he lowers them he watches an ethereal head, creep up, and out of the same hole.
“Father,” Cullen nods.
“Boy,” his father nods back.
“I have to admit, father, I didn’t think this would work.”
“You never did respect me, I suppose I was naive to assume that my passing would change that.”
Cullen spits into the fire. “I followed your orders, didn’t I? You wanted one last chat after you were dead and gone, and here we are.”
“Yes, that’s right, here we are and we can’t waste time, I don’t know how long this will last. So please, listen.”
Cullen nods, “Go ahead, father.”
“The cairns rise higher and higher each day. Your sister’s fate is to become yet another stone in a pile.”
Cullen tilts his. “Sister, what sister?” Cullen asks.
“Yes, your sister. She’s my bastard daughter and I had hoped to survive long enough to see her to freedom and this would never be of any concern. I had to keep her from you, and everyone else out of fear for her safety and my honor. This career, as grizzly as it is, would be lost to me if she were discovered. Only honorable men can hold it. But, listen boy, she’s been sentenced to die, and is innocent of her crimes, but there’s a way out. Someday soon, she’ll make herself known to you by telling you ‘it’s never wrong to do the right thing’, then she’ll request to hang...
Cullen’s stomach twists into a thousand knots. His father’s words swirl and float around his head as he becomes dizzy and recalls the moment he shot his sister down to her death. He slumps down and pukes into the fire.
His father’s voice raises, as he tries to get his son’s attention.
“Boy!” He shouts.
But Cullen can’t hear him. And as his head flees into the nether, his father sees over his slouching son, eyes that look like his own atop the corpse pile.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 03:35|
Contributor: Simply Simon
Genre: Science Fiction
Protagonist attribute: Laser gun artisan craftsperson
Protagonist obstructor: no hands
What the protagonist wants: someone to test their creations
Story setting: Somewhere in a universe you invented, and it's all sci-fi and poo poo
Setting details: comet base, little space
World problem: comet base is crumbling along with the comet
Your protagonist...Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute...Helps them gets what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor...Doesn't come into play at all (to the character's surprise)
At the end of the story...The world problem is no longer relevant to anyone
Mr Boltzmann's Questionable Legacy
The war that was raging around me, a thousand lightships raining fire and death. Gone.
The coruscating sheen of the nursery nebula as it gave birth to burning children. Gone.
I cannot find my hands. Everything is white.
I am waking up to who I am, and receiving flashes of who I used to be.
I am young, angry, and suspended over the edge of a bombed-out bridge in the darkest part of the night with a can of hydro-active paint in had.
I am drinking KillBeast beer in the rain from a safe distance away, watching as the words appear in wet, fluorescent glory: I WAS HERE. None of that tag bullshit. I knew who I was. Unfortunately, so did the proctors.
I am in a dark room, with a mirrored window. An officer hands me a cup of synth and an ultimatum—get off the streets and do something with your life or suffer the consequences. The forces are always recruiting and she could put in a word. Otherwise, it's in and out of the cubes until you die like your dads, in a blaze of ignominy. I spit at her, tell her she can't talk about my dads like that, wonder what ignominy means. She's right though. There's some business with a laser pistol that fell off the back of a hoverlorry, and...
I am lying on the highstreet with a half-cauterised hole in my guts. The ambulance driver pulls a sheet over my head—
I can't have truly remembered that, I was far too dead. But my brain doesn't seem to care. It keeps going. They kept it going. Salvaged it from the wreckage of my life. Donated it to the war effort. Tested it, trained it, and stuck it on a weapons platform as a cybernetic augment. The rest of my half-life: a blur of ballistics and parabolas, lasers and lightspeed calculations. But still me. Shooting the poo poo out of poo poo for a century or more. Turns out, with the proper training, I'm drat good at it. I am defending planetary bases, floating beside orbitals and powering up from Dyson spheres. Look at me, Dads, I'm killing it! I am an artist of destruction, fine-tuning my beautiful weaponry to any atmosphere or environment.
It's not enough. We're losing. Badly.
The blinding white gleam that suffuses everything finally fades, leaving only pools of light that swirl slowly away. At least I still recognise my immediate surroundings, the protective diamond lattice that surrounds the framework of my weapons platform appears intact, and through its translucent shield the ice of the comet glistens in the glow of my photon generators. Behind me and around me, though, the tail of the comet, which both sheltered and hid me, has disappeared. I feel intensely vulnerable. My platform, embedded behind the comet, could be noticed and destroyed at any moment. Defense beyond stealth was not part of the plan, anything non-essential was another potential blip on an enemy sensor before I slipped into range. Even the lattice itself mimics the ice crystals of the comet when sensed from outside. Instinctively I do a visual scan above me, looking for the telltale violet pulse they say you see before a direct hit from an ultra-cannon tears you apart.
There is nothing. No pulse. No light. No dust. No gas. No stars.
Nothing at all.
"Computer," I say. (I do not actually use that particular word. Instead I internally initiate the section of my brain that has been designated for intense computation). "I need a sit-rep like I have needed a piss for the last hundred years."
Anomalous situation. Awaiting further information from diagnostics. Also detecting slight thinning of diamond lattice and substantial degradation of porous ice and rock on comet substrate.
I am pleased by the fact, but not the meaning, of the response. The lattice is like my skin, it separates my power sources, weaponry and control lobes from the unsurvivable vicissitudes of the vacuum. Possibilities to check run through my mind. This is what I'm here for: the inimitable human ability to ask "what the gently caress?" in the face of imminent systemic failure and adapt accordingly. "Is this some kind of strategic, blinding effect? Have we been swallowed by some larger ship? Are we being digested by something? What is happening on wavelengths that I am not currently configured to see visually?"
Internal diagnostics complete. No malfunctions reported beyond slight dehydration of cerebrum. Probing external hemispherical area to 1 light second. No response from 17 subatomic types. Initial analysis: Absorption of all 17 particulates unlikely. Sensors on all spectra report: nothing to report.
"Great. Computer says no." I dose my cerebrum with a nutritional wash that includes the suggestion of the taste of KillBeast lager. Old habits, dying hard. "One final question, though, computer. Where the ever-living hell are my hands?"
Unknown. Disintegration of comet now at 20%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 10%
Being a re-embodied-in-a-not-a-body brain, has always been three parts frustration to one part blowing stuff up to feel better. I can feel chemicals swish that remind me of panic, and I desperately want to shoot something, but this is still, officially, a stealth mission, so I can't, not yet, which only makes me more frustrated. I run through all the information I have. There isn't a lot. I am forced to contemplate the possibility that our mission has failed, that our glorious, ludicrous plan has come to nothing. It was always a risk, trusting they would never suspect a ruse so primitive as this; hitching a ride on a comet to get me and my lasers into position, while the flyboys fought and died in gallant misdirection.
My dismal reverie is interrupted by the computer once again, bringing my attention to the timepiece embedded wihinin the framework. It appears to be broken. A war in space, across vast distances at relativistic speeds, requires hyper-accurate clocks. Ours use entangled particles to synchronise individual timepieces, but mine... mine has stopped. That should be impossible, or at least, only possible if all the other clocks were destroyed. I take a closer look, and notice with surprise that the year part of the date reads a succession of 9s, up to the display limit.
A dawning dread rises over me, the first hint of the true enormity of my predicament. If I am right...but how can I be right?
"Computer, check background radiation levels."
"What's happened to them?"
Anomalous situation. Awaiting further information. Disintegration of comet now at 50%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 30%
I know I am essentially talking to an IQ-augmented aspect of myself, but I hate that particular dumb-arse side of me with the fire of a thousand fiery, albeit currently conceptual, suns right at that second. I hate it even more because this seems to confirm my worst suspicions. As a weapons platform, I have to deal with physics, a lot of physics, more than you'd expect. I pick up tangentially related things here and there. I've got half the sum of human knowledge (the not-juicy stuff they don't care if the enemy knows) directly available on a quartzdrive and I get bored when there's nothing to shoot, so when I find myself in some unexplainable blackness with no Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation I can put two and two together and get "Holy gently caress, I am surrounded by the heat death of the goddamned universe!"
Some background research process pipes up: Any form of existence that far into the future has only ever been speculative. The integrity of the space/time continuum may have collapsed, making matter unsustainable, and flatlining the wavelengths of all forms of radiation. Contrary-wise, it may not have. The computer equivalent of a shrug.
"But how? How did I get here?"
Another background process: Means of time travel have been theorised numerous times. Popular examples include alien technology, black holes, and wormholes. Similarly, the co-incidental atomic reconstruction of intelligences complete with accurate memories owing to random quantum events over extremely large time periods has been postulated and might result in functionally equivalent circumstances
"So which is it? Did I fall through a hole in space or am I just a fantastically improbable piece of quantum spit? And where in the fifteen hells are my hands?" I feel naked and defenseless without the ability to aim.
Unknown. Awaiting further information. Disintegration of comet now at 65%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 40%
The comet has once again developed something of a tail. It's much shorter this time, which suggests particles of ice and rock breaking down and leaving their brethren to radiate off into nothingness, a dying glow I can just barely perceive. The diamond weave of my protective lattice is, however, apparently made of sterner stuff. Idly, I wonder if this is all happening in an instant, but the absence of space/time around me is elongating the moment somehow. But I can't get the maths to work so I abandon that train of thought.
Disintegration of comet now at 80%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 50%.
This is it then. Our valiant efforts failed and now I'm stuck here, possibly in the impossibly far future, watching my artificial skin and my temporary home disintegrate. Whatever's outside, I can't survive in it. I only hope the ending will be quick.
Comet disintegration complete. Lattice at 70%.
At least, I think to myself, I don't need my hands any more. I can maneuver my weaponry just by using the lattice jets that were previously embedded in the rock and ice. I test one, and am delighted to find out that it still works. Well, it still fires. I assume it works, but there's nothing out there to compare my orientation to. Still, I can't help but wonder what happened to my hands, my trusty limbs that would normally coordinate my weapon bearings - did they not make it through the wormhole? Did the rolling of the quantum die not get every detail right? What if it wasn't even a matter of right or wrong - what if all of it, my mission, the war, my life, was just a random, spontaneous, memory-like construction of the universe's own invention, born here at the end of time? Could I ever even know?
Lattice disintegration at 90%.
Burning with frustration, I prime guns and fire. Photons scream into the void. As always, I feel a little better.
I fire again, and again. It feels good to be doing something instead of sitting around contemplating the imminent destruction of my arse. I activate my platform jets, turning my lasers into cutting arcs of light, searing a broadside into the depths. Its radiation, somehow still physically present, is suspended in the darkness like the letter 'I' splashed on a canvas of infinite black.
I laugh, inwardly. Switch the laser off. Fire my jets to rotate a few degrees. Switch it back on. Carve the word 'WAS' into the emptiness of space, lasers and jets working in harmony. This time, I oscillate the beam through the rainbow, ultra to infra and back
Lattice disintegration at 97%.
The controls are smooth, but I feel distant. Perhaps the diamond shield isn't fully protective, and my own substrate, my own consciousness, is coming apart at the seams, but this possibility barely even registers. I am consumed, instead, by the thought that there might never be another me, another being, in the whole entirety of the remaining history of everything. No one to see my final fireworks display, my last message to uncreation written in letters of burning light.
Lattice disintegration at 99%.
I bathe my overheated cerebellum in KillBeast-tainted wash and look upon what I have wrought. It seems incomplete, somehow. Too much of a callback to my earlier work, perhaps? It needs something more. And here, at the end of all things, the grace note comes to me, in all its perfection. I slash and stab at the dark heart of the universe.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 03:39|
Genre: Science Fiction
Protagonist attribute: mech pilot
Protagonist obstructor:drug addiction
What the protagonist wants: peace in the universe
Story setting: Somewhere else in this universe, and it's all sci-fi and poo poo
Setting details: mars
World problem: alien invasion
Your protagonist... Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute... Seems to help, but backfires
Your protagonist's obstructor... Doesn't seem so bad, then it gets worse
At the end of the story... The world problem is no longer relevant to the protagonist
Many Paths to Peace
Word Count: 1874
I am going to punch that purple-faced alien scum right in his third eye.
Darting around in the red skies of Mars, the enemy ship is firing down at my partner, Gupta, and I. We’ve been firing back, trying lasers, bullets, microwaves, rocks, anything to bring it down.
I jump, punching the boosters of my mech’s engines. My bodysuit coordinates the mech’s actions with mine. I blast through the fuel flown all the way here from Earth. Taking a look at the screens below my feet I see Gupta and his mech are still Mars-bound, continuing to shoot around me. His shots bring the ship just close enough.
SLAM! I jam the armored fist of the extendable cannon into the belly of the ship.
I cut the engines and free-fall most of the way back to the red dirt. Military command is going to give me hell for burning all that fuel, especially since we didn’t bring down the ship. I can hear them now: “Damage doesn’t protect Earth. Dead aliens do.”
Gupta’s voice comes in over my comm. “Nice goosing, Phil. Not sure if you got anything vital.”
“Thanks for the assist,” I say. On the screens in my cockpit I search the skies. There’s a trail of smoke leading off to the east but the ship is gone. Before we can pursue, a klaxon blares in our ears.
Our shift on the battlefields is over. I turn on autopilot, direct us back to base, disconnect my body from the suspension cables and sit with my head in my hands. Only now do I feel that our shift is over. Colors start to lose their clarity. My limbs don’t respond as readily. My thoughts are slow, less certain. I need to crash.
“When you’re the best pilots on all of Earth you expect a few perks: some eye candy under each arm, a little blow, and some goddamn respect. Not to be blasted off to Mars and told to shoot at the sky,” I say.
“All I want is a cigarette,” says Gupta. “This poo poo they have us on is too cold. I want to feel my death as I inhale.”
I know what he means. The injections of performance enhancing Drenodrip aren’t how I expected the space military to improve my physical fitness, but they get the job done. When they shoot me up, I never feel more powerful, but then I’m thrown into a bubble, trapped in a metal prison and commanded to shoot deranged tentacle monsters. And the dependency is no joke. I can already feel my legs tingling.
“Do you think we’ll ever get back to those simple pleasures?” I ask.
Gupta snorts. “You don’t want any of that stuff anyway.”
“Lobster macaroni and cheese.”
“That’s what I really want. My grandma’s lobster mac and cheese. Meat from the day’s catch and the cheddar grated and melted right in front of me. Or at least the chance to make it myself, now that she’s gone.”
“We’ll do it together,” says Gupta. “As soon as universal peace is declared.”
“And on that day I’ll buy you enough cigarettes to last a cancer shortened lifetime.”
Gupta swats at me from the cot next to mine. We fall into silence. I’m supposed to be resting, but it’s hard to ignore the worms crawling through my veins as my body yearns for its next injection.
“Lima shift report to Medic Bay Seven. Lima shift to Medic Bay Seven.”
By the time the announcement comes I’m sweating and the tingling has upgraded to muscle spasms in my arms, legs and neck. Gupta can’t stand up straight through the withdrawals, but together we haul ourselves into the open air seats of the base transport. I press seven and we zip off along the track, Gupta heaving over the side.
At Bay Seven the medics hand us perfectly crafted shakes with all the nutrition of a balanced whatever meal time it is and strap us down, looking for our best veins. Within ten minutes we can not only stand up straight but we are at the peak of human physicality: defined muscles, acute senses, and stamina to go the distance.
Commander Aaronson meets us at our mechs with our orders. “Squadron of enemy ships trying to land in southeast sector four. Kilo and Whiskey teams already engaged.”
As we suit up I can’t help but ask, “Commander, any word on peace with these guys?”
“You want to talk about peace? Tell me how many enemy vessels you destroyed yesterday. How much fuel did you use?”
Gupta comes to my aid. “We’ve been up here for years taking down ships. You’re telling us there’s no chance we’re ever leaving?”
“I’ll talk to central command. But I need better numbers to report than what you gave me yesterday.”
“Yes, sir.” We salute and climb into our mechs.
As we strap ourselves in and start our systems checks Gupta says, “What was that about?”
“Just trying to get you that cigarette, buddy. Let’s break some heads.”
Approaching sector four, we see the other mech teams running beneath five alien ships. I can see volleys of lasers and stones. I radio into their comms to let them know Gupta and my positions. They don’t answer and I watch on my front facing screens as all four of their mechs turn and dive.
My zoom camera locks onto an orb in a controlled fall: a pre-detonated blaster. These release radiation as they fall and once they do hit dirt a shockwave is going to rock the closest ten kilometers. I run as fast as my suspended legs will pump and my mech responds. “Gupta, let’s go for it.”
“You think we can jump it?”
“We’re fresh and it’ll give us an edge.”
The orb lands. I watch the wave as it approaches and when I estimate that it’s about a hundred yards from me I jump and pump fuel into my mech boosters. Gupta’s right alongside me, but he took off too late. I can see he’s not going to make it so I lunge sideways and nudge him the last bit over the shockwave. But now I don’t have enough height. The wave clips the feet of my mech. The mech crashes and its right side is buried in the Mars dirt.
My protective bubble cushions me from damage but the mech’s diagnostic sensors are lighting up. The starboard megablaster won’t fire. Two of my cameras have gone dark. The feet of the mech are flashing warnings, but are still functional for now.
“You okay, Phil?” asks Gupta.
“Yeah, keep going. I’ll be right behind you.” I know he’d come back for me, but we can’t lose this chance.
The ships, meanwhile, have taken advantage of our down time to land and start planting mines. Gupta is on them faster than they thought and they scramble back to their ships. He pursues one and they run off to the south.
“Keep them grounded!” I shout over comms. I’m off running again. Over my mech come boulders that you could carve a president’s face onto, which I dodge, and showers of smaller stones. These bounce off my hull as I approach the ships.
Seeing me get closer, the ships begin to hover along the ground looking for a clear path up. I start firing everything that my fingers can activate, adding to the barrage.
I decide to play soccer with the first ship I come to and put a dent in the side of it. It wobbles and crashes into the side of a boulder already buried in the ground. The aliens crawl from the wreckage. Ground crews will take care of them.
I spot two other ships to the northeast trying to gain some height. I launch proton molecules at the ships and this pulls their focus towards me. Instead of trying to go up or away they come directly at me.
As they approach, they start climbing in elevation, absorbing the damage of the smaller rocks and shooting lasers to ward me off. They then split up and one takes to my blind side.
I boost myself straight up, outpacing them. Now they’re flying in my wake. Once I’ve reached the right height, I cut the fuel and sit down. One ship gets my mech butt and the other I use as my footrest as we fall from the sky. If Gupta could see me now he would roar with laughter.
When we hit dirt again, the impact rattles me a bit as some of the mech’s buffers have failed. Now I have even more warning buzzers going off. The two ships are flattened and not going anywhere. But am I?
Getting the mech to standing again, I walk a few steps. The legs catch at the joints making its mobility out of sync with the commands my body gives it. The mech probably looks as drunk as Gupta was at academy graduation.
I check in with Gupta. He and Whiskey team have the other two ships engaged in a fire fight. He gives me their position and I limp over. By the time I get there, one of the ships is a crumpled heap, but so is Whiskey 1, with its ground help signal activated.
I approach the other ship from its side and do my best to stay unobtrusive while the aliens are focused on the other mechs. But my lumbering is too obvious and attracts the ship’s attention. While trying to avoid a plasma ball it hurtles at me, one of my mech’s feet gets caught in a crater and once again we crash down.
I point my left side megablaster at the ship as I fall but the shot goes wide. The ship lines me up in its laser sights and just as I see the red light charge down the barrel of its gun, the dust cloud from my fall flies up and deflects the laser into thousands of harmless paths.
Gupta’s megablaster fires and knocks the ship end over end. Whiskey 2 delivers the killing blow at point blank range and we all take a breath.
“I haven’t seen you look this rough since graduation,” says Gupta.
“You’re one to talk. I can’t wait to tell tales of you in all your glory.”
“Let’s get Aaronson some more numbers so we can go home.”
By the end of our shift we managed to take down three more enemy vessels and I still had six working guns. Commander Aaronson awaits us when we dock.
“Nice work out there.” he says. “I’ve got good news. We’re done here on Mars.”
“We’re going home?” I ask.
“We’re going to Saturn. See Lieutenant Briggs for your flight orders. Dismissed.”
My fingers twitch as if pulling invisible triggers. There’s no more Drenodrip left in my body and my movements feel too slow. I reach my hands toward Commander Aaronson, but Gupta pulls them back down. He’s a better man and a better soldier than I am.
Saturn will be worse. They’re upping our Drenodrip dosage and making us fight longer days. But Gupta swears he’s in it with me. And I’ll fight for that.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 03:59|
Word Count: 2229
The holomap on the laser rifle was terrible. While Sarris preferred to create light sculptures, commission work he took from the military made him sensitive to bad UI. But it’s enough to get him to Ellsberg, and to the relay station he learned about on those commissions. His skin crawls as the farmbots tend to the corn stalks along the rural Illinois backroads. Trenton, the ex-Army he hired for security, teases him about it. “Don’t worry about them, City Boy. They’re single programmed. No network for the doom marble up there to hack. Besides, they would have started shooting by now.”
“Real loving reassuring.” Sarris doesn’t appreciate the humor. Not after what The Orb did to Chicago.
The Orb lingers just below the atmosphere, like a scarlet crystalline moon glowing in the night sky. Military scientists claim it’s an extraterrestrial entity. Civilian scientists often had their equipment turned against them during analysis. The occasional burst lights the sky as another beam blasts from The Orb. Sarris made it a point not to look up as he travelled past the farmland. But it’s hard not to notice when bright crimson lights the gravel road beneath him. Nor could he ignore the thunder that followed. He knew that burst meant another group of humans made too much progress in battle. He knew it meant another city block had vanished. He just wondered how many would be as lucky as he was.
“Hold up!” his travel partner says, waving a hand in the air. They both raise their laser rifles. The low watt flashlight beams seem to ripple the air. Trenton picks a rock off the road, throwing it forward, watching it bounce off thin air. A ripple floats where the pebble hit. “I think we found Ellsberg.”
“Move,” Sarris says, pushing him out of the way.
Trenton laughs at the short, lanky man’s gall. “And how are you going to open a military barricade?”
A stern faced Sarris answers “Art.” He opens the data port on the side of his rifle, popping in the memory drive while starting a diagnostic on the field. The ray from the barrel scans the barrier, mapping the frequency pattern. He lays the weapon on its side, opening the [i[Settings[/i] menu on its holo-display. As he predicted, the software interpreted the art files as ammunition types. With a squeeze of the trigger, wooddoor.hl fires at the forcefield. A few pulls of his stylus later, Sarris stretches the hard light construct into a standard sized wooden door. While a bit translucent, it still opened as he turned the knob.
A stunned Trenton carefully passes through. Maybe his client really did have some classified military intent. “You gonna tell me how you did that? Or is that another state security you don’t pay me enough for.”
“It’s just light. You just have to bend it the right way.”
Grabbing his rifle, Sarris confidently strides through his work, shutting the door behind him without a second thought. Once inside, the pair carefully make their downtown. Sarris takes a single look back. The holodoor churns his stomach. All he did was stretch a pre-rendered asset over a canvas. Yet this was the only art he had been able to create since escaping Chicago.
A series of strip malls and bail bond huts give way to “Historic Downtown Ellsberg.” It mostly consists of implant docs and nano repair shops dressed up with faux-19th century facades. Most are charred from the attack. The clutter on the streets tells the story of the evacuation, with toothbrushes and family photos spread across the hoverjet burned pavement. But what concerns the pair are the worn construction modules and traffic bots scattered amongst them. If their hard drives were still intact, The Orb’s code may still be present. Trenton’s step over the wreckage. Sarris struggles to follow suit, but his nerves upset his footing. His weapon shakes as he attempts to move tactically.
“You alright?” Trenton asks.
“I’m fine!” Sarris snaps back.
“Trust me. You’ll hold up better if you don’t bullshit yourself.”
The town brought back terrible memories for Sarris. The Orb always begins its attack the same way. Unknown code creeps into city wide networks, possessing both public utilities and private appliances alike. When Sarris escaped his apartment, the abstract holo sculpture he was working on grew several feet. Geometric shapes became balls of fire, melting and scorching anything it touched as the holocaster safeties were disengaged. He was able to remove the memory drive before it consumed the entire building. It was an act purely out of instinct, though he often wonders if he was more concerned about saving his life or his work. He managed to make it past the military line into the evac hovers.
He was hopeful as the evacs filled, and the military seemed to either contain or destroy the rogue machinery. But when the human forces were too successful, energy poured from The Orb. A column of blinding red light pounded onto the ground with a deafening roar, instantly incinerating all in it’s path. That didn’t seem to happen in Ellsberg. But the military presence here was minimal. They fought what they could then sealed it up before moving on to Chicago. But it was still deemed a hot zone. A fact that wasn’t lost on Trenton. “So, what’s up with this relay station?” he asks.
“It’s classified,” Sarris replies bluntly.
“There’s a big drat death ball in the sky. I think we can be a little loose with clearance.”
“I’m here to do a loving job. How about you do the one I’m paying you to do!”
Within seconds, Trenton crosses to Sarris. He grabs his shoulder, flipping around to face him. “Well maybe I want to know what that job is! That Orb sucks for everyone, City Boy. So if you got some special insight on how to take it down, I’d really like to know. Just so I know you’re not wasting my time.”
Sarris looks at the hand holding him still, freezing for a moment before puffing his chest out to assert authority. “I paid you to shoot anything that shoots us. That’s it. Not to ask questions.”
The display only fazes Trenton for a moment. Not out of any actual intimidation. If anything, the commands from a man a foot shorter with half his body mass were absurd. “Free word of advice. You want to sound like a tough guy? Don’t talk like a goddamn cartoon character. Besides, brother, your weapon’s been shaking since the minute you picked it up. poo poo, I thought you artist types were supposed to have steady hands.”
Trenton taps the rifle in Sarris’s hand. Sarris tenses up, before regaining eye contact. Trenton smiles, laughing at his own joke. Sarris joins him. “You can fake it better with holograms. Look, I can tell you it’s a closed circuit relay station. Completely spylocked. I can monitor it from there without it getting into the tech. Anything after that, the fewer people who know, the better.”
While it was clear to Trenton that Sarris over-exaggerated the urgency, he let it slide with little more than a chuckle. “Alright. But maybe next time hire two bodyguards.”
“Maybe think about lowering your price.”
The clanging of falling metal pierces the dead silence of the town. The steel tipped cords drag across concrete. Sarris’s breathing becomes heavy. His rifle quakes as his eyes dart around the town square. Trenton manages to keep his weapon steady, only barely steeling himself in the exposed street.
“Hey Sarris!” Trenton shouts. “Remember what you said. It’s just light. The recoil’s from the battery.”
The Holoplex 20 marquee lights. Floating text proclaims today as Classic Movie Monday as a giant digital specter of Clark Gable raises from the projector. The pair aim their rifles. Sarris wastes no time firing. Sparks from the building’s face before a half conscious thought aims his gun towards the marquee. Trenton turns based on a hunch, firing into the wadded mass of car engines and mail sorters as he’s proven right. The street lights flicker, firing thin beams of red, yellow, and green into the streets. Half melted construction droids use their remaining hover jets to attack from the air. Trenton tries to pick off as many as he can from behind a brick planter.
From his cover, he sees Sarris fire wildly from the open. In Sarris’s mind, he’s sharp. He believes he’s listening to his instincts, dodging attacks with almost superhuman reflexes, and aiming with almost divine accuracy. The monsters that destroy his home have presented themselves to him, and the fates have tasked him with avenging it. It’s all a fear addled delusion. Trenton’s seen this before. The first timers always get a little lucky when they start to lose it. But they either die as soon as the adrenaline wears off, or die when some causes them to crash. And a rumble from the sky crashes Sarris.
The Orb glows as it did that fateful day in Chicago. The bright crimson burst fills the sky, stalled only by the hard light dome surrounding the town. Memories of his escape flood his mind. He remembers his neighbors screaming from the windows as they were burned alive by their own holoTVs. He remembers Auto Taxis wiping out entire sidewalks of pedestrians running for their lives. He remembers burning faces and crumbling buildings as the beam consumed his neighborhood. As the forcefield cracks above him, Sarris can only stare as flames climb from the ground. The artist in him laments not having one last piece to be remembered by.
He’s jarred out of his trance when Trenton grabs his arm, pulling him into an alley he’d cleared. “Last time I cover your rear end!” The barrier above them gives. The world goes white. Intense heat follows. As Sarris becomes conscious, he sees Trenton on top of him. Steam pours from tattered clothing over burned fleshed.
“Oh gently caress,” Sarris mutters, the volume of his voice rises as he crawls out of his stupor. “Are you okay? Trenton! Are you okay?”
Trenton lets out a cough and a laugh. “I’m only about medium rare.”
They kept to the alleys to find the relay station thankfully well out of the blast zone. Sarris still remembered the keycode from his commission work. The inside was a little dusty, but intact. The Central Command holocast was conveniently not password protected. Sarris began to flip every switch on the walls of screens and buttons as Trenton collected ointment from all the first aid kits. He grabs a chair, resting his burned limbs, as Sarris activates the radio telescope. The sound it broadcasts roars a deep, bassy growl. “What the hell is that?” Trenton asks.
“It’s The Orb,” Sarris responds, grabbing his stylus. He loads the memory drive into the large holocast and starts sculpting. The sound moves him, like revelation from the heavens; revelation he must turn into scripture. Sarris builds the spherical wireframe grid, filling with red light. He lets the light leak from the frame, waving it in rhythm with moans around him.
“So, is that like a battle plan or something?” Trenton asks.
“No.” Digital spackle surrounds the waves representing the chaos torn from the streets. The civilians. The tech.
“Are you trying to communicate with it?”
“No!” Sarris sketches some quick geometric shapes at the bottom. This is the city he lost. The home of the people taken before their time. His art was always comforting in times of turmoil. Whenever tragedy struck, he could bend the light to reclaim his trauma. And this light was the most sacred of all. This was a reclamation of the light itself.
“I’m looking right at you. There’s no loving point in playing the goddamn ‘classifed’ game!”
“Would you shut up and let me create my art!” Both their eyes open in horror. Sarris at what he confessed in anger. Trenton had the confession itself. The burns on his side seem to twinge as he realizes.
“All of that just so you could play with lights?”
Sarris trembles. He hyperventilates as he points towards the holographic sphere he just created. “That Orb took everything from me. I can’t let it take my art.” The moans of The Orb fill the room, finding its way through the silence of the two men. Trenton pulls himself to his feet, staggering as he lifts himself off the chair. “Wait.” Sarris reaches into one of his pockets, removing a wad of paper currency.
Trenton staggers over to grab it, turning back towards the door immediately after. He glances back to see the confused sadness in Sarris’s eyes. “I’m gonna try and get some folks together.” Trenton’s voice is weak. Every word vibrates. “Try and get a message out. Then I’ll be back. And we use this place for something. You hear me, City Boy?”
Sarris nods. He watches as Trenton barely makes it down the stairs. He listens to every painful grunt as his ex-bodyguard inches back outside, back into the hot zone. Sarris waits in place until he hears the iron door they came through close, standing a few seconds longer before turning back to the holocaster. This piece doesn’t speak to him anymore. He wants to replace it with something else. He just doesn’t know what.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 04:26|
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Horror Fantasy
Protagonist attribute: Sculptor of clay pots
Protagonist obstructor: Obsessive/neurotic
What the protagonist wants: To make the perfect pot, the sort of Platonic Ideal of "pot"
Story setting: Somewhere in a universe you invented, and horror is happening
Setting details: I'm imagining some sort of fantastical 18th century, in a sort of transitional period where massive technological change is sweeping the land.
World problem: Our protag makes the best pots, but rapid mechanisation is rendering his job obsolete and so he's dissolving into this obsessive madness where he needs to prove he can make pots better and faster than the factory can.
Your protagonist...Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute...Is lost in the course of pursuing what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor...Doesn't seem so bad, then it gets worse
At the end of the story..The world problem is not solved, and will get worse
The red mud burps, releasing acrid, caustic smoke. Josef’s eyes burn as he pumps the bellows and shovels another measure of coal into the firebox. It needs more--always more. So he dumps the last of his powdery compounds and oily chymicals into the thick concoction and mixes them with a lead spatula. The smoke redoubles. Satisfied, Josef returns to his paper-smeared desk, easing into his chair to wait for the heat to fully incorporate his creation.
His eyes drift across pages of the alchymical formulas, sketches, and clay models, landing on a thick glass jar half full of clear liquid. He is tired, and the mixture will need time to set. Josef soaks his rag and inhales deeply. His brain pickles, joining those collected in the jars on the high shelf of his laboratory.
He dreams of his wife, pale as moonlight, sitting across from him at his pottery wheel. She watches him work, charcoal eyes never leaving his face. He can’t meet her gaze, instead focuses only on the clay. A draft comes through the window, and with it she is gone.
When Josef awakens, the laboratory is dark, and the fire has gone out. Gustav sits on the floor in the corner, motionless, head bowed.
Josef hobbles over to the cauldron and inspects the mixture. It’s thick and warm. Pliable. Ready for the wheel.
Maybe this time.
He starts slow, working into his rhythm, warming up his arthritic fingers. Soon the toxins in the spinning clay seep into his hands, and he calls out.
“Gustav! Bring me the salve.”
His assistant lurches to his feet and obeys. The salve numbs his palms as he works the material, pinching, pulling, coaxing the clay into ever taller and taller forms. He is close: he can feel it in the shape of the material, and he can feel it inside him, also. He is very close. Close to perfection.
“Gustav! Bring the jig knife! And more water!” he calls. Gustav careens about the laboratory, fetching and wiping and pouring with clumsy determination. All the while Josef’s creation spirals upward, taller and taller, taking forms even his own mind cannot fully understand, folding and stretching and warping into shapes expanded and unimagined. When Josef can bear it no longer, his mind overwhelmed with the whirring, blinding contours of his creation, he lifts his foot from the pedal. The wheel grinds to stop. The laboratory is quiet.
Time waits in the space between breaths.
Then it collapses. Folding down, deflated, imperfect. It was not enough. His masterpiece reduced to a pile of clay leaking foul fluids the colour of blood. Josef bows his head. The powders and chymicals were not enough. Something is missing. He’s sure of his recipe, but accommodations were made. Greater purity is needed. And there’s only one source.
He orders Gustav to return the clay to the heating pot and throws on his overcoat and hat.
The cold air bites exposed skin. He walks between the shadows cast by chymical lamps struggling to light the rain-dappled street. A few servitors move mechanically down the sidewalks, late night errands carried out with crude fidelity. Distant laughter and conversations float on a breeze from the waterfront.
A tavern door opens, spilling light onto the street. Instinctively, Josef recoils, moving into the shadow of a doorway. It is too late: he is seen; and it is him! Antonio. Features too large for his body, big hands, eyes, cheekbones, lips. All twisted in surprise, reaching for him.
“Josef! It’s late you see you about!”
He is drunk. Antonio always enjoyed his tipple, pacing about the laboratory with gin in hand, citing Newton and Wedgwood and Lavoisier. Educated, he scoffed at Josef’s clay forms, mocking his old-fashioned methods. Vibrant and handsome, he soon took an eye to Josef’s wife.
“My good man, how I have missed you! I am in your debt,” Antonio says, and pantomimes a deep, drunken bow. Some friends have joined him from the bar, braying garish laughter over some shared joke.
“You owe me no debt,” Joseph says, his voice low.
“You taught me what I know! You’ve made me a rich man!” And it is true. His factory is efficient, bloodless, award-winning. A masterwork of modern production. But his product is inferior: crude, lifeless, and bereft of soul. A corruption of Josef’s teachings. Imperfect. Josef knows he can do better, and faster—if he only had more time, more materials with which to work.
Josef pulls his overcoat tighter around his thin frame. “I must be going, Antonio. So nice to see you again.”
As he strides off, he hears Antonio guffaw: “There, gentlemen, goes the great Josef Bezalel, truly the last of his kind.”
The cemetery gates are locked at night, but that doesn’t keep Josef out. He climbs over a pile of freshly broken masonry and works his way along the rows of chipped and overturned headstones. Shadowy shapes lumber through the dark with him. Abandoned creations of Antonio’s factory, no doubt. Shoddy work, each born with a partial, imperfect soul, drawn to the cemetery to search for what they lack. Much like Josef.
His key unlatches the mausoleum door, and the hinges groan as he pushes into the blackness within. He fumbles to light his kerosene torch, then works his way through the cobwebs until he finds the cryptic niche containing his wife’s remains. Josef pulls out his tools and begins work.
He returns to the laboratory as dawn paints a bleary haze across the windows. Gustav has tended the fire, and the clay within the brass cauldron again belches oily smoke into the room.
“Well done, Gustav,” Josef says. “We begin immediately. This time I have enough essence.” He hopes this to be true. There isn’t much of her left.
“Essence?” A voice speaks from the shadows. “What’s this new ingredient you speak of?” Antonio steps into the morning light.
Josef nearly drops the glass phial he has pulled from his coat. “You don’t belong here anymore! Get out!”
Antonio’s face softens. His eyes are red-rimmed from drink, lack of sleep, or both. “Josef, we were partners once, friends. Perhaps I was even like a son to you? What happened to us?” His words are measured, but Josef follows his eyes to the phial. He pulls it back under his overcoat.
“No son would betray a father like you did,” Josef says. “Your creations are a stain on my work. Your factory churns out mindless, soulless gholems, vermin to be used and then discarded at their owner’s whim. Your work is an embarrassment.”
Antonio breaks his gaze and looks down. “I followed you. Tonight, I mean. I saw where you went.”
“What of it?” Josef wants to bark the words, but his voice catches in his throat.
“You know I loved Esther. And she loved me.”
“She was my wife.”
“She never mattered to you. Was never good enough for you.”
“She was mine. And you--” Josef’s voice falters. He’d walked in on the two of them here in this very room, their bodies glistening with sweat from the heat of the fire, intertwined on the floor. He pushed the vision away.
“I know you did it,” Antonio whispers. “You couldn’t bear her flaws. Her imperfections. Things you could never love. So you murdered her.”
“I didn’t kill her!” Josef says, and the phial slips from under his coat and shatters on the floor. A foul bolus leaks from it, reeking of chymical solvents and decaying flesh. “I did no such thing. I couldn’t.” His voice is hollow in his ears, his blood roars. Josef steadies himself, murmurs a command and points a shaking finger. “He did.”
Gustav’s massive arm comes down on Antonio’s head, and the gholem’s bestial strength crushes his skull and neck vertebrae in one devastating blow. Antonio crumples to the floor of the laboratory like a broken doll. A red discharge seeps from exposed brain tissue, painting the concrete with its essence.
Later, as Josef works the clay, he thinks of the factory gholems that wander the graveyard, seeking the pieces they lack. Imperfect. This creation, shaped on his wheel, will lack nothing. Esther will be complete, for she will have her true love within her, incorporated. Flawless, and pure.
Josef sets the wheel into motion and presses his palms into the wet clay.
She will be perfect.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 05:08|
Contributor: take the moon
Genre: Science Fiction
Protagonist attribute: mental ward patient
Protagonist obstructor: vainglory
What the protagonist wants: the sun to shine again
Story setting: alternate version of earth thats also sci fi & poo poo
Setting details: aeons in the future, bleed between dimensions with a force field around it
World problem: the bleed between dimensions is making peoples cells disentegrate
Your protagonist... Is about to discover what they want
Your protagonist's attribute... Becomes an OBSTRUCTOR
Your protagonist's obstructor... takes the character completely by surprise
At the end of the story... The world problem is not solved, but it's getting better
The Several Proclamations of the Man-who-is-the-Moon
At the unanimous request and desire of the people of this world, since the Doctor does absolutely not get a vote and all others have fled into shadow; we,
By virtue of the authority herein invested in us by us we announce any previous claims upon this ‘the Moon’ by the overcast nations of Terra to be null and void, direct that the spaceport henceforth be open to accept all refugees who shall submit to the Imperial Authority, and assert that the Empire of Luna shall resist and destroy that ‘Bleed’ which wraps your world in darkness.
- from the Sunlit Throne, The Capitol (formerly ‘Tycho Mining Base Mass Driver Control’), 1st Majesty Year One-
-yes yes Doctor, very well! But we still consider this exercise to be a waste of the Imperial Time. We have claimed this world for our own and stood beneath an unshadowed Sun: that should be enough for anyone to know that we are serious about this. But very well. You shall be humoured, at least until the first of our subjects arrive and a surgeon can be found to prise you from our skull.
You wish to know why we have assumed the Imperial Authority? Well how about you shut up for a moment you algorithmic plague shut up shut up and let me- we- work-
We are well aware of your opinion on our task. This is because you do not understand Imperium. It is our solemn and inevitable duty to command all the forces of Luna against the Alien threat. If the Terrans shall abandon their occupation and settle for a life in shadow then we must take up the burden.
Let it be known that their Regolithic Majesty the Lunar Emperor, on behalf of the great arsenals of Luna, send our profound regrets for the ongoing failure to strike against the ‘Bleed’. Thus, we decree: those individuals with skills most conducive either to settlement or to the building of more mass drivers shall answer our summons at once and attend us at
- from the Sunlit Throne, The Capitol, 12th Majesty Year One-
We were in the yard when it first appeared - you and we, so we both saw it happen. You had just been installed. This was before we donned our crown and cut you off from the rest of the facility, so you likely saw better. You had all the cameras to watch through, the ability to zoom in. We just had the pane of glass.
By the time it had come to our attention the morning had already been smothered. As we watched the Bleed settle into place across the planet’s face like a shroud, the afternoon and evening followed it. A darkness fell that did not lift.
And then you dare to ask why we fashioned our crown from aluminium foil, quickly coronated ourselves in the hospital chapel and escaped? We rather thought that a being in your profession could, you know, work it out yourself. Is that not the point of you?
Hark, nations of Terra! The Lunar Emperor, Master of the Airless Spaces, strives relentlessly in the pursuit of the defence of humanity and regrets to learn of the consequences on human bodies of approaching too close to the ‘Bleed’.
In our capacity as the last hope for all life we decree: if none are able to depart Terra to join us, we shall act on our own. We thus request that at the very least you send us your latest media. This is but a small price for our monumental labours and the people crave recent episodes of CSI: Low Earth Orbit.
- from the
Tell me - what use at all is your obsession? We suspect that your skills might be best employed on analysing yourself, ascertaining what defects have you cling to such useless purpose. Has it helped align the mass drivers? Has it mined their stony payloads? Further - you have already heard our answer to the question.
We are the Lunar Emperor because no-one else would be. We are the Lunar Emperor because the ‘sane’ staff fled in haste back down to the dark homeworld and they can drat well stay there! Because on great people lies the weight of terrible vision- so spare us your prattling about ‘trauma’ and ‘treatment pathways’. You are tolerated within the Imperial Head. This is enough!
What we need from you right now is your silence while I work! Shut up shut up shut up-
Several hours ago the brave soldiers of the Empire of Luna engaged the Enemy. With the awesome fury of our single mass driver, we successfully landed several strikes on the ‘Bleed’. We recognise that it is not much. It may be only a few holes and there may be some small destruction on the ground below; but through them we have brought you sunlight, and hope. Also, we were very careful to avoid inhabited regions.
In the light of our achievements on your behalf and my- our ability to throw rocks at you very hard, we demand the immediate recognition of Lunar independence and for none to hinder the teeming millions who surely wish to join us.
- from the Capitol, 1st Victory Year
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 05:12|
Genre: Science Fiction
Protagonist attribute: Lazy drunken hillbilly
Protagonist obstructor: Heart full of hate
What the protagonist wants: Forgiveness
Story setting: Somewhere else in this universe, and it's all sci-fi and poo poo
Setting details: Shooting Star (judge note: use this as you wish)
World problem: Bad music
Your protagonist... Is in denial of what they want
Your protagonist's attribute... Becomes an OBSTRUCTOR
Your protagonist's obstructor... Develops unexpectedly
At the end of the story... The world problem is overshadowed by a worse problem
Tammy Comes Home
On the night the satellite comes down, Nate Riley wakes up to the sound of shattering glass: empty bottles crashing to the floor, shaken from their places on the nightstand by the thud of bass. Each note makes the metal walls of the farmhouse vibrate. Nate's managed to sleep through the noise for two nights, thanks to whiskey and pain pills, but a third night of the Roughnecks and their bone-rattling "music" is too drat much. It's time to have a little chat.
Nate throws on the first clothes he finds -- not like it matters to the Roughnecks, he tells himself; they barely understand clothes -- but he's careful to plug his ears right, first with earplugs and then with his noise-canceling headset, the one he wears on the tractor. Still half-buzzed and half-asleep, he stumbles outside and slumps into the seat of his patrol cart, letting the autopilot take him to the back field, where the Roughnecks are squatting and blaring their awful noise. Nate's been told that there's real music in what they play, just outside the human hearing range, but all he can hear is thump, thump, thump. How do they even stand it?
The Roughnecks have fenced in their caravan, and there's a guard standing at the gate. Nate climbs out and keeps his gaze on that guard, trying to avoid looking into the brilliant glow of the falling satellite in the night sky, less a shooting star now and more a moon. The last thing Nate can afford to do right now is think too much. He strides up to the Roughneck guard, propelled mostly by indignation; the alien turns to look him over, its neck spines rising. It's seven feet of sandy-scaled muscle, but Nate's sleeping whiskey is liquid courage. Something moves in the Roughneck's throat, and the little box on its chest harness translates the vocalizations Nate can't hear: "Mr. Riley. Is there a problem?"
Nate inhales, raising his voice enough that he hopes he can be heard over the din. "There drat straight is a problem! How loud d'you need to blare that goddamn noise? It's shakin' the house down around me! I've had the damndest time trying to sleep. How long will this go on?"
"It ends tonight," says the monotone digital voice of the translator box, fake-sweet and feminine despite being attached to a Roughneck hulk. Nate isn't sure if the Roughnecks even have women. "Impact is estimated within one hour. You can and should evacuate, as you were told to."
"Like Hell. Like Hell I will." Nate can feel emotion rising up in his throat, as sharp as bile, but for now he can swallow it back down. "Look, y' can see, there's nowhere for me to go. It's my land, anyway. Why d' you have to keep this up the whole night?"
The Roughneck's throat shudders, and it makes frantic gestures with both arms; Nate catches booms and whines at the low end of his hearing, where the subsonics break through. The translator box flashes. "It cannot be avoided," it says at last, in a jerky stutter that make it sound nervous, apologetic. "The incident must be observed. Preparations have been carried out and must be completed. The Affinity satellite wreckage is of critical importance. It represents --"
And there's hot bile in Nate's mind, stirred up by every nasty bureaucratic little world that comes out of the translator box in that sweet voice, as if he's a child who just wants to hear about the pretty shooting star. Nate's swallowed every indignity in his life, but this one catches in his throat.
"I know what the satellite represents, you overgrown horned-toad motherfucker! My girl was on that thing -- my Tammy!" Tammy: the last of his allotment of children, the one he'd hopelessly hoped would stay. Tammy the daredevil, who'd climbed and jumped from every tall surface on the farm, landing on her feet every time. Tammy, who'd left for university in the dead of night, who hadn't even sent a letter until she'd been chosen for the satellite crew -- who'd suffocated up there with all the rest, killed by lovely Roughneck engineering. All he'd wanted to do was drink until that light was out of the sky, until he could forget, but it just kept growing and then the caravan showed up, blaring the music that goes straight into his bones, and it's cutting through his earplugs now, loud enough to boil his brain. The satellite glares like a hateful sun, a mass crematorium that's burning up his little girl and scattering her ashes right back at home, where she should have stayed, where he'd never been able to keep her, and to the Roughnecks this is some kind of goddamn festival?
And Nate hates them. He feels that hate rise, cutting through the ugly mess of his thoughts, until it's everything. He's hated them from the day he settled on this rock, for the way they stared at him, overgrown lizards with bulging froggy throats. He hates the contempt they have for the human settlers, the only ones trying to make something out of the expanse the Roughnecks had left to rot. He hates their cities and their universities, the glittering idols that had stolen his children one by one, and most of all he hates that Tammy died on their watch without his even managing to send a letter back. He hates that she died not knowing that -- Nate's brain hitches for a moment, then finds the thought it's buried for so long -- that he'd never been a good father, that he was sorry, that he loved her --
Nate screams loud enough to hear himself over the din. He rushes past the Roughneck guard, who doesn't chase him. Inside the perimeter of the caravan, past the fences and the trucks and the pounding speakers, there's nothing: no Roughnecks at all, let alone the orgiastic death-dancers his nightmares have conjured up the past few nights. He raises his voice again and screams himself hoarse. "WHY THE MUSIC? WHY THE GODDAMNED MOTHERFUCKIN' MUSIC?"
A moment later, there's a reply from a truck-mounted speaker: "it is not music. It is sirens. Please evacuate the area immediately."
But it's too late. The sky is full of fire; the satellite is coming down ahead of schedule, and all Nate can do is stare up as the ashen rain begins. His throat is too raw for screaming. He reaches his arms to the sky, and when flakes of scalding ash land on his arms, there's no pain; the sirens and the light and Tammy's memory have worn it all away, at last. Tammy is coming home, making her last big leap, and he's going to be there to catch her.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 05:34|
scared of love
What the protagonist wants:
wants to be pet
On Earth, but magical realism
trees talk and gossip about everyone
Is in denial of what they want
Your protagonist's attribute…
Helps them gets what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor…
Hinders them from getting what they want
At the end of the story…
The world problem is not solved, and will get worse
Flerp Wants A Story About A Dog Being Pet So Here, I Wrote It
The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 07:26 on Sep 9, 2020
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 05:54|
I am worried that I didn't follow my guide very well so I apologize for that, but I had fun!
NUT I WANT MY LOWTAX COIN
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 05:55|
Signal to Noise Ratio
Chicxulub was a natural satellite dish, or so Hank had been told. The focal point of the ninety mile wide crater was somewhere in the mid stratosphere, about thirty kilometers up. The scientists working in the bowl sent up weather balloons on long tethers in the hopes of catching a signal, but with the wind at those altitudes it was difficult to keep the balloon inside the point for more than a few minutes at a time.
“There, I just heard something!” Dr. Plankon dug his nails into Hank’s shoulder and leaned in. “Go back!”
“Say what?” Hank grumbled.
“Go back, I distinctly heard a voice,” said Plankon.
“I didn’t hear nuthin’,” said Hank.
“Go back, I heard it!” insisted the scientist.
Hank grumbled and twisted the screwdriver the other way.
The humid atmosphere and constant rainfall of the Yucatan meant that Hank was constantly on call repairing shorted-out equipment and replacing moisture-damaged components.
When it wasn’t raining it was hot as hell and, of course, no matter the temperature or time of day, the mosquitos swarmed like piranhas, their ever-present whine a constant ringing in his ears.
“Just think, Hank, the voices we’re hearing are the echoes of a civilization that was extinguished sixty five million years before humans walked the earth!” Plankon stood up and raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he gazed skyward. “Their last words have been trapped up there in the magnetosphere, circling our planet for eons!”
“Uh huh.” Hank slapped a mosquito on the back of his sunburned neck.
When he’d gotten a job offer fixing radio equipment in the Chicxulub crater, he thought they were talking about the strip joint down on fifth.
Surrounded by pretty girls with no clothes on, that’s where Hank wanted to be. But he was an honorable man and if he signed a contract he stuck to it. Mabel had passed away three years ago and the kids were all grown up and on their own. There was nothing stopping him from upping stakes and disappearing down to Central America for a year or two.
“Never mind,” Dr. Plankon sighed with disappointment as he set the headset back down on the console. “Lost the signal again. I don’t think we’re going to get any more out of it today.”
Hank grumpily tried to untangle himself from the rats’ nest of wires in the cramped space under the console.
“But don’t worry, Hank! Those voices have been circling us in space for millions of years, there’s still plenty of time!” Dr. Plankon slapped Hank on the back and headed off toward the canteen.
Hank had heard the “voices from beyond,” Dr. Plankon and the other longhairs were always going on about and it just sounded like a bunch of hissing static to him.
He’d dismissed the whole idea of talking to ghosts from space as crazy at first, until one night a few weeks ago when he’d been doing some after-hours maintenance work. Somehow he’d bumped the power switch while cleaning up his gear. The usual hash of static hissed out at him from the speaker, but as his fingertips brushed the switch to turn the console off, he heard her.
Calling out to him from beyond the grave.
He couldn’t make out what she was saying, her words were lost in the hiss and whine of the constant background static. No amount of tuning or tweaking seemed to help, but it was unmistakably her voice.
After that he’d returned every night, tuning in just to hear Mabel’s voice speaking to him from the dark. Sometimes he’d catch snippets of words and once or twice he’d be able to make out a whole sentence. She was apparently telling a story about tigers. Maybe their first date at the zoo?
It was simple to rig up a simple transmitter to the console. The camp had enough spare parts to build an entire short-wave radio and Hank was a master electrician. He wired the set up to whatever weird frequency the scientists had been using to listen in on their space ghosts.
“Mabel, can you hear me? It’s Hank!” he stage-whispered into the microphone.
“Hank?” Mabel’s voice resolved out of the white noise.
“Mabel, is that really you?” he asked.
He couldn’t make out what she said, but he heard her laugh. The same warm, loving, silly laugh he remembered, exactly as he remembered it. Just hearing it brought tears to his eyes.
Hank spent hours every night catching Mabel up on the last three years since she’d died.
“Bobby’s all set to graduate college in the spring and Andy has a job at a telecom company,” said Hank.
He reminisced about funny stories just to hear her laugh again, and other times spent hours bawling into the set, telling her how much he missed her while she soothed him with soft tones.
Just knowing she was there, that she could hear him at all should have been enough, but it wasn’t.
A few months ago he would have given anything just to hear a single word from her, but now one word in four and the occasional snippet of her laughter wasn’t enough.
He needed more. He had to break through. He had to see her.
He’d been studying the antenna, poring over the manuals and grilling the scientists for information. He could barely follow their mushmouthed tech talk but he understood enough.
He started making modifications to the antenna, soldering in new components here and there. He told the other technicians they were workarounds for failed components.
“This moisture gets into everything,” he said.
Gradually, a new antenna began to grow inside the old one, taking shape as a butterfly grows within the chrysalis of its old body.
The work was hard, often keeping him up past dawn, barely leaving him time to slink back to the bunkhouse before the scientists returned to the radio shack to begin the day’s work. He was exhausted and cranky, snatching a few minutes’ worth of sleep wherever he could steal it, but even these brief respites were haunted by visions of the new receiver.
Hank just needed to install a few more bits and pieces and pretty soon he’d have the antenna rigged to receive pictures.
The last thing he needed was a TV screen. It was a little tricky to unmount the TV from the ceiling of the canteen without waking anybody up, but somehow he managed it.
As quietly as possible, he wheeled the television set across the uneven terrain to the radio shack, cursing every squeak and squeal of the dolly as it trundled over the brush.
He was surprised to find there was already a light on inside the radio shack. Were the scientists working late?
“What’s that you got there, Hank?” Dr. Plankon laid a hand on Hank’s shoulder. Hank hadn’t heard the scientist creeping up on him.
“Uh uh—” Hank fumbled for an answer. “I-I was just taking the canteen TV to the radio shack to do a little tune-up.”
“Really, I wasn’t aware there was anything wrong with it,” said Dr. Plankon.
“Volume is busted, the audio comes out all garbled,” said Hank. This was partially true, he had to strain to hear anything anyone said on the drat thing.
“Oh, well let’s have a look at it, then.” Dr. Plankon guided Hank toward the radio shack with a gentle pressure on his shoulder.
There were two other scientists already inside, one was sifting through stacks of printed transcripts while the other lay on his back with the console open, tangled wires spilling out of the cabinet like entrails.
“You shouldn’t mess with that!” snapped Hank, stepping forward. “That’s very delicate equipment!”
Hank realized that the sudden flash of anger would appear suspicious, but his emotions had flared too quickly to control.
“We’re aware, that’s why we were surprised to hear from some of the other techs that someone had been performing unauthorized modifications on this expensive and highly delicate equipment,” said Dr. Plankon.
“R-really?” Hank tugged at his collar. “I don’t know anything about it.”
“Did you know that all transmissions received by the antenna are recorded for later analysis?” asked Dr. Plankon.
Hank did know that, which was why he unplugged the recording device before each of his late-night talks with Mabel.
“Uh, yeah, the recorder is in that cabinet.” Hank pointed at a standup reel to reel in the corner of the room.
“There’s also a backup recorder in the lab,” said Dr. Plankon.
Hank swallowed nervously.
“Hank, who is Mabel?” asked the scientist.
“I don’t know any Mabel,” said Hank.
“Really? Because she seems to know you,” said Dr. Plankon.
He had Dr. Merriweather read from the transcripts of Hank’s past conversations.
He’d barely been able to make out a few fragments of Mabel’s words over the past several weeks of their radio correspondence, but the recorder seemed to have captured everything, as Dr. Merriweather was able to read clearly everything she’d said. Tears welled up in Hank’s eyes as his dead wife’s words were related to him from the transcript.
Then Merriweather got to the part where Hank started transmitting. Toward the end, Hank had spoken at length of his plan to modify the antenna to receive pictures, had told Mabel his whole plan in detail.
“Apparently she tried to warn you against it,” said Dr. Plankon. “But I can see you ignored her advice.”
“I-I…” Hank had never even caught the impression Mabel was trying to warn him.
“We’d noticed over the past few weeks that the Maastrichtian spirits were becoming increasingly agitated. It didn’t take us long to find out why,” said Dr. Plankon.
“How long have you known?” asked Hank.
“Only the past few days,” answered Plankon.
“Why did you let me keep working?” asked Hank. “Why did you wait until now to say something?”
“Because once we learned what was going on, we realized who was really behind this,” said Plankon.
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t think you designed a revolutionary new antenna system all by yourself, did you?” scoffed Plankon.
“I’m a master electrician and a qualified electrical engineer,” answered Hank, a touch defensively.
“Hank, what you’ve built here goes far beyond the boundaries of current theoretical science. My boys and I have spent the past few days going over what you’ve built, and we can barely understand half of it. You’ve managed to build what appears to be a quantum waveform collapser capable of forcing the resolution of superimposed states.
“Even if you were a genius savant I would have trouble believing you conceived of such a device all on your own,” Dr. Plankon spoke with a kind of awe as he gazed over at the strange thing Hank had built. “Obviously the Maastrichtian’s have been subconsciously feeding you the designs for this new communication device.”
“S-so what? I’m not in trouble?” asked Hank.
“Far from it. You may have just helped us to enter the next phase of communication with a civilization that predates our own by sixty five million years.” Plankon gave Hank a hearty slap on the back.
“So what now?” asked Hank.
“Now you finish hooking it up,” said Plankon. “Go ahead.”
Trembling, still waiting for the other shoe to drop, Hank went to work hooking up the TV screen to the receiver console.
“Is that it?” asked Plankon.
“That’s it,” answered Hank.
“Brilliant work! Science owes you a great debt.” Plankon slapped Hank on the back again. “We’ll contact the Maastrichtians right away!”
“Before you do, is it alright if I see Mabel, first? I’ve been waiting all this time,” Hank asked.
“Of course.” Plankon gestured for Hank to go ahead.
Hank tuned the receiver up and turned on the TV set.
After some tense adjustments, the blurry picture resolved into the tearful face of Hank’s dear departed wife, Mabel.
“Oh, Hank!” cried Mabel. “You deaf old fool!”
“What? I’m not deaf!” grumbled Hank.
“I tried to warn you not to build that new antenna, now it’s too late!” cried Mabel.
“Too late? Too late for what?” Hank leaned in and turned up the volume on the TV set.
“The Maastrichtians are using your signal to pinpoint the location where the Chicxulub meteor struck! They’ll use it to go back and prevent the destruction of their civilization!”
“Shut it off! Shut it off!” Dr. Plankon shouted.
But it was too late.
Zorgrub switched off the holo-projector.
“There you have it, children.” Zorgrub looked over the class through large, gold-ringed eyes. He padded over to his desk on handlike feet and settled easily into the hammock chair.
“You just heard the last echo of an alternate branch reality where earth suffered a mass extinction event sixty five million years ago,” said Zorgrub, holding up a handful of feed to the tiny, caged compsognathus on his desk.
“But we didn’t suffer a mass extinction event back then!” piped up Veebrogle.
“That’s right. Thanks to the forewarning we received from that branch reality, we were able to direct our then-primitive orbital defenses to intercept the meteor and divert it harmlessly!” said Zorgrub.
“So… what happened to the other reality?” asked Zibstor.
“Well, in a sense they never really existed,” said Zorgrub. “Our realities existed in a state of quantum superposition, until Hank’s antenna collapsed the waveform in our favor.”
“Poor Hank,” said Veebrogle.
“Yes... Poor Hank, but it’s thanks to him that we have our marvelous civilization! We also have the giant receiver dish we built on the Yucatan peninsula that allowed us to learn his story and honor him as our savior. I’m sure that, wherever he is, he hears our thanks and is happy.”
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 06:10|
Like a Convict Do
Con Man (Con Person?)
Inability to lie convincingly
What the protagonist wants:
On Earth, sometime in history or pre-history
Just a whole shitload of ghosts
Just wants to stay alive tbh
Your protagonist's attribute...
Seems to backfire, but helps
Your protagonist's obstructor...
Doesn't come into play at all (to the character's relief)
At the end of the story...
The world problem is made worse by the protagonist, The world problem is not solved, and will get worse, The world problem is revealed to be a different problem than previously thought
"Look," Sally said, "I don't really have a place to call home, but there's this spot, a corner round down the way where nobody ever goes."
I'd heard the like before. Means the pigeon wasn't half what she ever seemed. No money to whisper her out of. No house to lay up in for a few weeks. Couldn't even bum a cigarette off her. It's a curse, really, being able to see ghosts, least when you can't tell the difference until it's too late.
I ought to have a partner, someone without the sight to give me a little nudge whenever I start pitching at a patch of thin air. Only there's not enough people who I can stand, or who can stand me.
So I figured it out. Took her to my room, since I didn't fancy getting caught on video pulling out my piece and humping a wall. Figured if all I was getting for my trouble was the shag I might as well enjoy it in private.
You've always got to be careful when you take a ghost to bed. Let's be clear: when they want to be they're as solid as the next person. Stand to reason. Otherwise how would they make it up stairs and lifts and on the underground. But when they stop being solid they're a person-shaped pocket of cold air. Meat locker cold. When everything works right you touch souls right at the moment of climax, get the same kind of charge those tantric wankers spend hours blinking at each other trying to manage. When it goes wrong, though, well, let's just say I had more than a few cases of the old chilly willy in my callow youth. Laid up for days pressed up with hot towels. It made for an excellent teacher. Sally was right satisfied, settled into a cuddle with intermittent fading away into chill vapor, and I was wondering if the couch might suit better for a real night's sleep when the door started a-banging.
"Jack Avernus," someone shouted. "Open the door." Always a bit of a chill when someone you don't know from Adam knows your name. The voice didn't have the arrogance you find in policemen.
"Who's there?" I said, casting about the room for something with enough heft to be worth swinging. No luck. I don't cook, so pans and the like were out, I don't drink alone, so no empty bottles. No fireplace, no sporting equipment. The only thing that could dent a skull I could see was the telly, and I couldn't bear the thought of that.
The knocking intensified, then I heard the voice again. "Oh, screw this," it muttered, and something came through the door and into the room. Another damned ghost, this one dressed two centuries out of date and with a big orange balloon where his head ought to be. "drat it Avernus," he said.
"Sorry," I said. "Didn't recognize your voice, without the throat and tongue and mouth and all that." He growled and sat himself down on the couch.
"The bloody papists have taken my loving head again," said the ghost of Oliver Cromwell.
"Such a mouth on you," I said. "That would have been, what, five pounds sixpence in your time."
"More," he sighed, visibly deflating a bit. "But bugger off Jack, I'm dead and past judgement and I'll do what I please."
"Right, so you need your head to shove between some redheaded stripper's tits then."
Ghosts can be as solid as they want to be. Cromwell's balloonhead turned a few shades redder as he launched out of the couch and backhanded me across the room. "Listen, knave-"
"Hold on," I said,wiping the trickle of blood from my lip. "You know my rates. If you can pay then I'll track down your bleached bony skull."
We negotiated around the rate a while, and somewhere in the middle of that Sally slipped out through a wall or floor or something. There were still a few hours left in the night to salvage, so I crawled under the sheets and tried to unworry my bones.
I was pretty sure I could find the dead old git's head. Since I was the one who took it in the first place.
So, the thing about ghosts is that they stick around until their unfinished business is taken care of. And 'unfinished business', most of the time, means bloody vengeance. So most ghosts are short-timers. I've taken jobs getting rid of them. You convince them that their enemies have suffered enough, or if you're lucky, let them know the bastards died a long way back, and it's off to the long dark tunnel with them.
Your long term ghosts are mostly executed convicts. As long as there's an England their business is going to stay unfinished. And they're split right up on old civil war lines. Cromwell runs the Protestants. The other side? Not King Charles, that's for sure. Him and the Queens live posh unlives in the Palace, stay out of the day to day conflicts.
No. The Catholic ghosts answer to this Guy. Fawkes. A lot easier to work with than Cromwell, that's for sure. Wears one of his own masks everywhere, as a codpiece. One time I asked if he wanted me to hunt down his original tackle.
"No need," he said. "I know just where it is. It's sitting in a jar of formaldehyde on the desk of Brasenose College. While it served me well enough in life I have little need for it now."
I found him haunting the wreckage of the old Silverton munitions plant. You can still smell the sulfur, and that one went up in the first world war. He was off in the corner, braced by a couple of young people, no way to tell if living or dead, each wearing a Guy Fawkes mask in the proper place.
"So look," I said. "What say you just hand over the skull, and then we split the money old Ollie promised. You can spend your half on bombs for the Irish or whatever, and everyone ends up happy."
"Go right ahead," said Guy. "My lads will lead you to it."
The did, right to a fresh latrine trench. The sun has started to ferment the piss and shite and sick and God knows what else, and I could see the white of bone barely poking out of that mess.
"Should have brought a shovel," I said, climbing in to the ankle deep sewage. I pulled the old bastard's skull out. "I should have brought a bag."
I had myself an hour long shower when I got home. Put the thing in a tightly tied off plastic bag, put my clothes and boots in another to have burned the next day, then waited for the Lord Protector to show.
He did, that same night, with a couple of other ghosts flanking him. They were on me right away, grabbing me, one hand each, while he searched the place. It didn't take long for him to find the bag. I hadn't even really tried to hide it. He took it, and as he did the balloon flew off, floating up to the ceiling as his head grew up out of his neck.
"You going to stiff me, that's it?" I said. One of his goons elbowed my kidney.
"Here," he said, and tossed a cheque on my floor. Written on an account a few hundred years expired.
"You know, there something I've always wondered about you," I said. "You were convicted a few years after you died. That's when they chopped your cabbage off. That's when you started your haunt." He nodded, almost involuntarily, as though the recent lack of a head erased some of his control of it. "So tell me," I continued. "Did that court drag you out of Heaven? Or have you seen Hell?"
Oliver Cromwell flew at me in a rage, not bothering to step on the ground, just floating. He had a knife in hand. "Jack Avernus, I should kill you where you stand."
"Do that and I'll haunt you forever," I said. "I know all the ways to make you suffer. And same if one of those guys does it for you." I wasn't sure they were ghosts, but they had the look.
"Good point," said Cromwell. "I'll need living help. Someday soon, Jack. Sleep well until then." He went unsolid, his knife clattering to my floor, and walked through me, leaving me bone-chilled both literally and otherwise.
I went to the pub. Sally was there, a friendlier face than I deserved to see. We got to talking, got to drinking. I told her the story of the day, got a few appreciative laughs and giggles.
"So now I figure I'll be leaving, at least if I can gather the cash for a ticket somewhere before one of the ghost brigades find me. Go somewhere with so many old ghosts."
"Where, though?" she said.
"I don't know," I said. "All the old colonies are apt to have plenty to haunt them as long as there's an England. Though at least they all won't know my drat name."
"I can help," she said. "I have a little money now, and no real need for it."
"I never did ask what your story was," I said. "What kind of unfinished business did you have? Some bloke done you wrong?"
"The opposite," she said with a shy little smile. "Twenty-six and never been kissed. I'm clear to move on, thanks to you. Only..."
"Yes?" I said.
"Well, I liked it," she said. "Maybe a few more times. I understand there are other positions I could try out. And maybe I never saw New York either.
"New York's a bit rubbish," I said. "Went there as a kid. It's like here but everything's uglier. But I bet there are a load of better places to check out."
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 06:12|
The WinniSmooth Disaster
Raquel beamed at her fellow WinniPride boss babes. She prayed nobody noticed her irritated eyes and furrowed brow from the stage-light brightness.
“Welcome to the Winnipeg Pride Beauty Company’s tenth annual conference! Eighteen months ago, the same month WinniSmooth Hair Removal System was first released, I was like one of you Green Levels in the back: broke, surrounded by ‘friends’ and ‘family’ who didn’t believe in me, yet I was determined to overcome my insecurities and become my own boss. Twelve months ago, after I traded in my unsupportive friends for my wonderful mentors, colleagues, and downline at WinniPride I reached Gold Level, earning my maple brown WinniPride Chevy Malibu. Two months ago, after I sold my 100,000th jar of WinniSmooth, I reached Diamond Level, and I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, you can DEFINITELY do it, too! Now give it up to our beautiful and talented CEO, Marla Shephard!”
As Raquel exited the stage, Marla pulled her into a hug and whispered, “Meet me at 11 pm in my office suite, 3A.” Raquel’s eyes shone and her brow furrowed again, not because of the lights but because these meetings, even the thought of these meetings, made her want to cry. She was often complimented, true, but usually to make lower-performing Diamond Levels feel like poo poo. Marla constantly reminded Raquel she wasn’t doing enough, that as the number one earner for WinniPride she set the standard for literally thousands of WinniPride CEOs in training. “As our most successful earner you’re only competing against yourself”, Marla would reason. “And that means you need to go above and beyond every single sale to prove to yourself, the Board, and our CEOs in training that you’re worthy of the Number One Diamond Level Boss Babe title. Let yourself down, and you also let thousands of hopeful entrepreneurs down.”
When Raquel arrived to Suite 3A, her eyes widened as she counted every member of the board in the crowded conference room. Everyone looked dejected.
“Please have a seat and sign these forms”, Marla said breezily, pushing a small stack of papers towards Raquel.
“Wha..what are these for?” Raquel asked, trying not to tremble.
“Oh, just a standard confidentiality agreement that you’ll keep this meeting secret.”
Raquel signed the forms obediently, but couldn’t help noticing phrases such as “felony violation”, and “damages not less than all earnings related to WinniPride, plus an appropriate percentage of existing assets as determined by the WinniPride disciplinary committee”.
Forms signed and tucked into a red folder, Marla leaned forward in her chair.
“As you know, our WinniSmooth hair removal strips are made with a maple syrup base plus Proteinase-K and a few proprietary modulating polymers. Proteinase-K breaks down the keratin in hair quickly, while the polymers protect the skin and inactivate the proteinase so it doesn’t cause unpleasant side effects.
There’s been a development in our test animals, from the first batch who’ve been given WinniSmooth for about twenty months to the third batch, started about eighteen months ago. We were concluding the program so we could move the animals to other products, but after we ceased WinniSmooth treatments for six weeks we observed that some of the animals’ bodies had become…dependent on the WinniSmooth.”
“Dependent, like, the rabbits got the shakes for WinniSmooth?”, Raquel awkwardly joked.
Marla glared. “No, not the shakes. 28% of the animals treated with WinniSmooth for at least fifteen months were terminated. They absolutely should not have been terminated, we should have kept them alive at any cost for testing. The bleeding heart scientists euthanized them because apparently the screaming became too much to handle. You see, the animals’ skin reached boiling point and more or less melted.”
“Ew!”, exclaimed Raquel, wrinkling her nose. “Good thing that can’t happen to people.”
Marla sighed, “Our R&D team cut corners testing on human skin cells in the lab. We’ve identified a few suspicious deaths in the last three months, and we believe WinniSmooth or rather, the lack of WinniSmooth, may affect at least some percentage of humans in the same way as the rabbits.”
Raquel was speechless for a few moments as she considered the information, and her growing guilt at being with associated with a bunch of melted rabbits, not to mention melted humans. She realized what she had to do as WinniPride’s Number One Diamond Level Boss Babe. “You brought me here to prepare me for tomorrow’s reveal- we’ll be telling thousands of CEOs in training that WinniPride is done for, that this will be WinniPride’s last conference”, she declared.
“What?! No!”, Marla yelled, smacking the conference table and rolling her eyes. Raquel flinched.
“Think, Raquel. We have to do the opposite of pulling WinniSmooth off the market. We have to make sure that every single customer who’s consistently used WinniSmooth for at least fifteen months continues to do so, and they’ll be just fine. In the meantime, our R&D team is working around the clock for an antidote.”
“You expect me to keep shilling this poison? What does the Public Health Agency have to say about all this?”, Raquel cried.
Marla pursed her lips. “The PHA doesn’t know, and won’t ever need to know. The unfortunate cases so far have been lucky for us. It seems driving, maybe the vibrations or petroleum fumes, acts as a catalyst. The victims so far appear to have died in unfortunate fiery crashes.
Marla paused, smiled warmly at Raquel. “So what we need you to do, as our most valued CEO in training, is help us reach every one of our long term WinniSmooth users, and make sure they continue to use WinniSmooth. The truth is if you fail to make enough sales, if long-term users get bored of our product, you will be partially responsible for some of our customers’ untimely deaths.”
Raquel shivered. She began listing her first set of WinniSmooth customers in her head, the ones who signed up eighteen months ago. Her mom, her church group friends had all ordered a jar, even her estranged husband Paul tried it on his bushy chest at Raquel’s begging. How many were still using WinniSmooth consistently? Didn’t she get a text from her pastor that a church member had died in a car accident a couple weeks ago? She’d been out of touch with everyone for months now, ever since she’d committed entirely to WinniPride.
Nobody from Raquel’s old life understood her passion, her ambition to succeed like her new WinniPride family, so Raquel had lost touch with them, one by one. Paul left after Raquel charged $40,000 in WinniPride products to her credit card so she could make Diamond Level. Raquel gulped as she realized she herself fit the description of a consistent WinniSmooth user for over fifteen months, using it every other week on her legs.
“I don’t want a part in this, I don’t think I can sell WinniPride products anymore”, Raquel said, shaking her head.
Marla pulled a different stack of papers out of the red folder. “Raquel, this is the contract you signed with us when you became a Diamond Level Earner two months ago. One of the ways we keep WinniPride Beauty Products safe from litigation is by giving a sole proprietorship to each Diamond Level Earner and granting them permission to sell WinniPride products. It’s all in the fine print, but the gist is that you vouch for the safety of every jar of WinniSmooth and any product you sell, from both a professional and a legal standpoint.”
“So, you’re saying I’m legally responsible for people melting?! I’m going to go to jail, ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” Raquel, holding her stomach and rocking back and forth.
“No, you won’t, not if you help ensure our long term users continue to use WinniSmooth.”, Marla said, offering Raquel a small trashcan. “Like I said, our R&D team is working non-stop for an antidote. We estimate we’ll have one available within four months. Help us and not only will you save lives, you’ll keep your coveted position at WinniPride. If this goes well, there’s a spot on the executive board with your name on it.
What choice did Raquel have? Her whole professional life, social life, even her dreams revolved around WinniPride. Besides, she wasn’t exactly prepared for prison- she couldn’t even handle sharing a tent at the WinniPride glamping retreat earlier that year.
“Fine, I’ll do it. For four months, that’s it.”
“Oh thank goodness”, Marla smiled. “Together, we’re going to save lives and WinniPride’s good name”. She brought out another stack of papers for Raquel to sign and they discussed sales accounts and strategies until sunrise.
The next three months, Raquel worked eighteen hours days tracking down old WinniSmooth accounts and made sure they stayed active, whatever her emotional and even financial cost. She lived out of mid-level hotel rooms, and was lucky to get four hours of sleep each night. But sleep could wait, there were lives to save. She felt righteous and even noble as she drove her maple brown WinniPride Chevy Malibu all around southern Manitoba, staying in motels that weren’t always covered by the per diem she received from WinniPride corporate.
There were bad times, like when Raquel became too exhausted to drive and had to nap at seedy rest stops, and when Marla called to tell her that based on Raquel’s blood type, heritage, and allergies, she was about 95% likely to suffer deadly consequences if she stopped using WinniSmooth.
On their next call, Marla informed Raquel that another WinniSmooth user had suffered the unspeakable side effects Raquel was trying so hard to save everyone from. “You’re doing well, but you just have to try a little harder, a few more sales here and there and maybe nobody else has to die.”, Marla said. “This victim only used WinniSmooth on her lower legs, she almost made it. Keep trying!”
“Wait, so it only affects the skin you use WinniSmooth on for at least fifteen months?”, Raquel asked. She assumed the side effects melted the whole skin at once.
“Well yes. Don’t worry about the details, keep going! I’m emailing over your itinerary for the next six weeks now,” Marla said.
“Six weeks? I thought R&D was going to have an antidote ready in four more weeks!” Raquel cried.
“Unfortunately, things have been pushed back at least a year. I’m sorry. We are still SO excited to have you on our board as soon as everything wraps up.” Marla hung up.
The next six weeks, Raquel pushed herself to whatever was beyond exhaustion. She didn’t realize how bad she looked until she ran into Paul one day, in a small farming town.
“Oh my god, Raquel, are you sick, are you okay?” His reaction to her haggard face, the bags under her eyes made Raquel think about the hell she’d been through in the last few months.
“Come over for dinner and rest a few hours. I’m helping out my Uncle, he’s a livestock veterinarian for the local ranches.”
Raquel wanted to say no so she could reach a few more accounts that day, but she hadn’t seen a familiar face in far too long, and accepted.
Maybe it was seeing Paul or her exhaustion, but after dinner and a few too many glasses of wine, Raquel revealed everything to Paul and his kind old uncle.
At first they didn’t believe Raquel, but after showing them emails, texts, and call logs, they couldn’t deny she was telling the truth.
“You know what, I just want out. I’m so tired, I’m now up to $80,000 in debt funding WinniSmooth subscriptions for people who are reluctant to pay, I’m liable for WinniSmooth. I’ll have to go to prison, but at least this will be over. Maybe I can tell the Public Health Agency and WinniPride can get some help developing the antidote sooner than a year from now.”
“But Raquel”, said Paul, “What about your own reliance on WinniSmooth?”
Paul’s uncle scratched his head. “I have a solution for that, if you’re really prepared to change your life as you know it”, said Paul’s uncle. “I’ve seen how sad Paul is these last few months, I see how desperate you are and how much you’ve missed him, too. You clearly need each other. Besides, sometimes people with disabilities can serve their time under house arrest.”
Raquel nodded and said, “Yes, whatever it takes.”
Paul’s uncle led them to an outbuilding, where he performed livestock surgeries.
Two days later, Raquel woke up in a sunny and simple hospital room. She felt better rested than she had in months, despite the massive bandages starting a few inches from her hips and ending in gauzy nubs. Marla sat in a chair next to the bed, leaning forward and looking somber.
“A farming accident you say? How?”, Marla asked.
“I was helping my ex’s uncle clean some old farming equipment and before I knew it- crunch- the blade fell down over both my legs. That’s the last thing I remember.”, said Raquel. That’s the official story anyway, she thought.
“Oh, that’s horrible! Here’s a gift from all of us at WinniPride”, Marla said.
It was a WinniPride mug and tee shirt. “Oh, uhh, thanks”, said Raquel. “Look, Marla, I decided I want to come clean over the WinniSmooth disaster. I want to involve the Manitoba Public Health Agency, whatever it takes. If I have to go to prison, so be it. I just have so much guilt all the time, it’s killing me. I can’t melt now that I’ve removed the WinniSmooth affected part of my body, and I want to do anything I can to help WinniPride find a cure.”
Marla shook her head, looking profoundly disturbed. “Oh Raquel, you can’t do that.”
Raquel set her jaw, and said “I have to, Marla. It’s the right thing to do.”
“No Raquel. Oh my god. You’ve surpassed all sales projections in the last quarter. You broke records, Raquel! You reached our hardest demographic, those who’ve used and gotten bored of our products. You were such a success that we’ve expanded our program to several more Damond Level Earners. God, Raquel, the WinniSmooth disaster isn’t real, it’s just, it’s just…a sales tactic.”
Marla bustled out of the room, and Raquel watched out the window as Marla drove away in her maple brown WinniPride Cadillac, the CEO level WinniPride vehicle that Raquel now knew she would never earn.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 06:26|
Not All is Cricket in Cricketsburg
I step up to the microphone of the poorly-lit basement stage and adjust the height with two of my legs, use two to unscrew the cap of a bottle of water and take a sip, and adjust my tie with two others. Dust motes caught in the beam of the spotlight are all I can see. Even in here it’s hard to forget about the dust bowl.
“Go back to your web!” shouts a voice from the darkness.
I’d been told it could happen. Expected it even. The Chirping Violin is a venue notorious for heckling, but for a moment I still have to close all eight of my eyes and will myself not to cry. I take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and settle into my practiced routine. “You know how when, like you’re eating some bug, and you’re so hungry that you can’t wait so you start drinking but then realize it’s not all the way liquified? And so you’re just sitting there with this half digested morsel and everybody is looking at you like ‘what’s his deal?’ So you just kind of fake it. Like ‘Yum, this fully digested bug carcass sure is drinkable!’”
The crowd is silent. Then murmurs. The whispers grow louder until somebody starts shouting for me to kill myself.
I feel a strong grip on my thorax as security leans in and whispers in my ear: “We should get you out of here.”
I nod and let the cricket security guard lead me away. A bottle smashes into the wall where my head was only seconds before. We run backstage as more detritus is hurled our direction.
The venue is kind enough to call me a cab, though in their beady little eyes I can see the inner turmoil as they weigh the morality of just letting the crowd swarm and tear my limbs off. I exit quickly through the back.
“I’ll leave a tip on the app!” I say to the driver as I slam the door, but I never do. I take the elevator up twenty floors to the top of the luxury apartments tower. I make my way to the end of the hall and squeeze out the small window, pulling myself along a guidewire to my home suspended between two apartment complexes.
A moth struggles in my web. “Oh, you’re home. Look sir, I wasn’t gonna steal anything, honest, I just wasn’t paying attention where I was flying. I am late for an appointment and it was an accident.”
I scrabble over to him and his desperate wiggling. “Ah man, you got your moth dust all over everything.” Moths are disgusting creatures. “It’s gonna take me forever to respin this section.”
“I’m terribly sorry. I’ll make it up to you any way I can. Just please don’t eat me.”
If he was on the street we’d pass each other with a slight nod, if we acknowledged each other at all. I eat an insect on the street and they’ll give me the shoe, but up here it was perfectly legal to wrap him up for later, with web doctrine being a constitutionally protected right. I didn’t particularly like the taste of moth, but I also hadn’t eaten in a while. I could catch more dinner near the ground, but the rent was too expensive. There is a rumbling deep from my cephalothorax. “Hm. Maybe. Got any money?” I asked the moth. I can tell from his frown that he doesn’t.
“A bit, not much. Not a lot of people need a therapist when they can’t even get enough food. Hey, you got any problems? Maybe I can help. You can come in for some sessions, free of charge. Not that you got any problems, I’m sure you’re--”
“Ok.” I say, snipping the first few strands that are holding his wings. “But you gotta stop struggling.”
“Oh thank you so much, Mr. Spider,” says the moth. “I always try telling people spiders are no different from us insects, just a few more legs is all.”
I carry him over to the roof of the tower and watch as he preens his dirty, horrid wings of my web bits.
“I’m Dr. Miny,” says the moth. “But you can call me Jim. And you’re…”
“I go by Sped. That’s what the kids used to call me in school and I thought it was because I had so many legs and was really fast. It’s not, but it stuck.”
Jim the moth grimaces. “Well, I can see we’ll have lots to talk about. My office is at the corner of Hive and Mound, you’ll see the sign.”
We make arrangements and he flies away. I go to work fixing the hole in my web when a small fruit fly gets caught one section over.
“Hey, gently caress you, octowalker!” the fly screams and then laughs, totally unprovoked.
I wrap him up quickly. These little punks think it’s so funny to try and fly between the strands of my web like it’s a sport. They’ll buzz me in the morning while I’m still sleeping and laugh the whole time. They don’t even provide much sustenance, they’re made mostly of chitin and rudeness, but one fewer fruit fly in the world is worth the hassle.
I sit at the bus stop across the street from Jim’s office so that I don’t look like I’m loitering. I wait a few minutes after he arrives and goes upstairs just in case he has to rearrange some papers or check his email or something.
I squeeze into the small doorway and head to the back of the hall. His office has a low ceiling and I have to scrunch up to the receptionist. “Wow, tight fit, what is this office made for ants?”
She squirms away from me as far as she can. “Old roach motel actually, but we’ve been here for a few years,” she says, both her antennae laser locked on my every move.
I shift a little to the left, her antennae follow. A little to the right, and same. I giggle to myself. “I have an appointment with Jim?” I say, half expecting her to tell me I’ve imagined the whole thing.
“Hey, Sped!” says Jim, standing in the doorway. “Come on in!”
I follow him into his cramped office and make myself as comfortable as I can on his couch, though once I’m lying back my knees are higher than the rest of me. Us spiders don’t do so well with the traditional furniture made for six leggers. Our session begins with the cliche: me recapping on how my dad was never around when I was a hatchling, mostly on account of my mom ate him shortly after courtship, and how she looked me straight in the eyes and said “I’ll be right behind you” as she helped me unfurl my web parachute. I got caught in a jet stream and been trapped in Cricketsburg ever since.
“Why comedy?” Jim asks after the boilerplate stuff.
“I thought if I could make people laugh, maybe they wouldn’t be so scared of me.”
Jim mmmhmmed and jotted some notes on his pad. “Why not something more suited to your strengths. I know a tarantula who makes a fortune hauling things between construction sites. Even owns a nice house in the hills; everybody loves that guy.”
I look at my scrawny, spindly legs. “I’m not exactly working with tarantula-calibur equipment here, doc. My species are good at two things: spinning webs and waiting patiently. Sometimes I’ll spend three days just waiting for a meal. Gives me a lot of time to think.”
“And a lot of time to worry.”
I rub my pedipalp together. “I guess.”
“Worry that others won’t like you.”
“I know they don’t like me. I don’t even blame them. It was better when they’d throw me a prisoner every now and then, but lately everybody looks at me like I’m going to eat their kid right there in front of them.”
Jim looked up from his notepad. “Why do you need them to like you?”
I never thought about it before. “I guess I just want them to know I’m not a bad guy.”
“Who are you trying to convince? Them, or yourself?”
I sit and think for a while. “Is this going to help me with my comedy?”
Jim stands up and fetches a case out of his bag. “I was thinking of your situation, and it reminded me of this old comedy group that used to be pretty big back in the day.” He puts a tape into the player and presses play. Grainy black-and-white footage of three Antlions bumping into each other and breaking things in their apartment plays at a slightly faster-than-life clip.
I watch the silent action for a while, and realize I’m smiling.
“Funny, right? A little dated, but people used to love this stuff.”
I hop up excitedly and hit my head on the low ceiling. “And nobody likes antlions, not even spiders!”
“Well they had no problem finding friends in Cricketsburg. Unfortunately, they ate too much, grew too fast… and the world has been a little less funny since.”
“I think I know what I need to do.”
Jim laughs. “Whatever it is, it probably beats talking about eating bugs.”
I convince management at The Chirping Violin to give me another chance. I’m pretty sure they’re secretly hoping for a repeat of my previous performance; security is noticeably more lax than last time; the hungry eyes of the crowd a little more desperate.
“I hope that stupid moth know what he’s talking about,” I whisper to myself.
I step out from the curtain and reach out to take the mic stand, but trip over my own legs. I crash hard into the stool, sending the water set out for me straight into my face. Dripping wet, I attempt to stand and slip in the puddle. My eyes closed, I wait for the swarm.
The crowd roars with laughter.
I open my eyes to the cheers of little crickets sitting in the front row who paid a nickel just to be distracted for a little while. Waving to my new fans, I stand back up and hit my head on a low-hanging stage light, causing me to spin and slam against a wall. I let web spray from my spinnerets and I stumble into the mess on the floor. The sticky web catches my feet and I fall again. I grab onto the curtain to pull myself up, but pull the entire contraption and half of the rigging down on top of me. “Meep!” I scream. “Somebody call an ambulance!”
It’s not high brow, but it gets the job done. I peak out from beneath the curtain to see the crowd clapping and chanting for more. I burst from the pile of debris and bow a little too far forward…
I sign the last document and the real estate agent puts the documents back in her folder and smiles up at me. “All yours now, congratulations.”
“Thanks,” I say, eyeing the four steel poles that box in my plot of land. “This is going to be great.”
The real estate agent smiles and looks at the ground. “Um, I hope you don’t my asking, but my daughter is a really big fan. I was wondering…”
“Not a problem!” I say, and sign the pad she holds out to me.
She beams as she bounces back down the hill and I stretch out in my new yard covered with green grass and the slightest wetness of dew. The tree branch that hangs over the neighborhood provides a cool respite from the sun.
My neighbor comes to the edge of his web and waves. “Howdy! Welcome to the neighborhood! You gonna build a cable runway web or you thinking center-rail?”
“Hadn’t really considered it yet.”
“Well, make sure it’s strong, cause when the sprinklers turn on in the morning the mud slides scare a whole mess of crickets right this way and on a good day you get about three of four. Don’t want them tearing it down with their thrashing.”
“Great tip, I appreciate it.”
“It’s just nice to have some more good people in the neighborhood.” The neighbor heads back toward the middle of their web where a half-paralyzed cricket youngling listlessly struggles.
I smile and begin constructing my new web, eager for the morning’s harvest.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 06:34|
Contributor Prof. Crocodile
Protagonist attribute: Harry Potter Fan Fiction Writer
Protagonist obstructor: Dogmatic adherance to canon of Harry Potter universe
What the protagonist wants: To write their magnum opus
Story setting: On Earth, sometime close to the present day
Setting details: Glut of Harry Potter slash fiction and self-insertion fiction
World problem: Has what they want, but are dissatisfied
Your protagonist... Has what they want, but are dissatisfied
Your protagonist's attribute... Becomes an OBSTRUCTOR
Your protagonist's obstructor... Hinders them from getting what they want
At the end of the story... The world problem is made worse by the protagonist
Welcome to the (UN)Official Harry Potter Fanfic and RP Forums!
Comment on Riding the Wizards Broom Part 18: Devious Draco’s Desserts
Title: The Cannon Conundrum: A reflection on the state of the fic and how it relates to BanginHarry69’s Riding the Wizard’s Broom
If you are reading this you have probably already read through BanginHarry69’s latest entry in his or her Riding the Wizard’s Broom series. While I feel that I have made my position on the series’ literary merits abundantly clear in my previous commentary, this entry made me turn my attention to the broader community aspect of our endeavors here.
It seems to me that there are many writers within our community who do not know how to respectfully engage with the source material, which has lead to a glut of stories similar in tone to that of our friend BanginHarry69; ridiculous pairings, self-inserts, improbable (and usually tasteless) erotic adventures… the list goes on.
I would make a plea to reason - to propriety, really - that this state of affairs cannot continue. I would hate to think that a community like ours could be brought low by this unsavory state of affairs.
Please, ladies and gentlemen of the Harry Potter Fanfic and RP Forums, take a moment and reflect: Is this truly what we want our site to become? What we want to be known as? If, heaven forefend, Rowling herself should happen across our humble digital home, what would she think of the heights of depravity and indecency such as BanginHarry69’s ongoing assault on both her intellectual property, and common decency?
Perhaps we would all benefit from taking a moment to reflect: What would J.K. Rowling do?
Comment on Half-Blood, Whole Heart Part 3: Innocence
Title: oh look another bunch of dumb words that nobody cares about
yo SeverusWasRight, i thought about shooting you a PM about this but I figured that since nobody reads your poo poo anyway i’d save myself the trouble and leave a comment on your latest chapter.
First of all I just wanna say like, do you ever get tired of having your head up your rear end? do you really like huffin your farts so much that you gotta cram your lil’ noggin waaaaay up in there? lol for real though you really need to lighten up. no way Rowling is gonna ever see any of this poo poo that we write - sorry, i know that probably breaks your snobby lil heart - bc she has better poo poo to do with her time, because she is an actual professional author, unlike you and me!
second of all, just because i like to have fun when i write my fic doesn;t mean that I don’t know how to actually write or read. I post this poo poo on the internet because it doesn’t matter, and no how much I work on this poo poo, none of it will ever get published because it’s lovely harry potter fanfic. Like, I just see you get so wound up about ‘cannon’ and what these characters would do or not do and it’s like ?????? No one cares!!!!!!!!
third, even a dumbass like me can tell that the stuff that you write is obnoxious and boring as gently caress. Like, I’m poo poo at grammer and whatever, but at least people like reading what I write. Seriously, have you ever gotten more than two comments on your fic? And the comments from your mom don’t count. ;P
ANY way, Ive already wasted way too much time writing this, but luckily i saved a bunch of time by not reading any of your dumb boring bullshit lol Okies, I gotta go hang out with my REAL LIFE FRIENDS, cya lol
Comment on Riding the Wizards Broom Part 19: Snape’s Solution
Title: Indecorous conduct and borderline libel
Hello again, friends and readers. Once again I have come to you in an attempt to elucidate the dire threat looming writ large over our forum. It seems that our dear friend BanginHarry69 has taken it upon his or her self to not only plumb ever further the well of endless depravity that he or she calls home, but also to impune my person in a slanderous attack on my person.
As I mentioned in my comment on the previous entry in this series, I have found myself lately troubled on the state of our community, and set out what I felt was a very cogent and reasonable appeal to the sensibilities of you, my fellow denizens of our beloved forums. I thought that perhaps my missive might spark some discussion on the ideas, perhaps a debate on the relative merits of the different approaches to writing fanfiction.
Instead, I came back to my computer to find that my character and art have been drug through the mud by the worst smutpeddler of them all. Honestly, the fact that someone who writes the kind of drivel that makes fanfic the universal target for derision that it currently is, that this person decided that he or she would comment on my fic, that I have spent countless hours pouring my soul upon the page, was deeply disappointing.
Of course, my shock and horror did not end there; as no doubt many of you have noticed, BanginHarry69 went a step further and decided to add another character into his or her tawdry tale - one “Stephanie Was Bright,” or “Steph”, a blatant spoof of my user name - and uses her as a strawman, spouting a warped and hyperbolic version of my very reasonable arguments.
The scene where Snape humiliates Steph for being “too caught up in what is, and not in what could be,” - an obvious reference to my well-known dedication to established cannon as put forth by Rowling - was petty and wholly emblematic of the problems in BH69’s work, and the vindictive glee with which he or she mocks his or her critics.
Once again, netizens of HPFRPForums, I ask you: What does this say about our community?
Private Message from BanginHarry69
Subject: a challenge
ok, so it looks like your not gonna let this drop, so heres my idea: let’s prove who’s the better writer once and for all.
you’ve been talking a lot of poo poo about me and my writing, so let’s do this: I’ll write some Serious Cannon Fic, to your specifications or w/e, and you write the best non-cannon poo poo you can. Im even gonna be nice and say that you don’t have to make it slash fic or sexy at all, but you DO have to include a self-insert. Since I’m nice and i know that your gonna have a problem bringing yourself to that level, I’ll even let u use Steph from my story. ; )
whoever’s story gets more likes and comments in one week fucks off forever, or at least stops talking poo poo on the other.
Private Message from SeverusWasRight
Subject: Re: a challenge
I can hardly imagine you being capable of writing anything of merit, and I know how much the community at large fawns over the inspid drivel that you routinely churn out. As much as it pains me to stoop to your level, if it will cause you to reconsider your stance on the merits of cannon vs non-cannon, I’ll do it. Besides, it will be nice to see you produce something worthwhile for once.
Private Message from BanginHarry69
Subject: you okay?
Hey, I just wanted to say hi, I guess. I noticed that your not posting a lot anymore, and i guess i felt bad. I didn;t mean that you couldn’t post anymore if i won, I just wanted you to stop commenting on my stuff.
I know it’s the end of the school year here, so maybe your just busy with that. I mean, if your still in school, I guess. I am, but i guess not everyone is.
Anyway, I just wanted to say i’m sorry. I’ve written this message and then deleted the whole thing like 20 times already, but I just was like, worried, I guess.
Anyway, I just hope your okey. So ummmm, write back??
Private Message from SeverusWasRight
Subject: Re: you okay?
I don’t know why you’re bothering to write to me. You already got everything you wanted.
Private Message from BanginHarry69
Subject: Re: Re: you okay?
I mean, like I said, I noticed that you weren’t posting anymore and i got kinda worried. You just seemed really into the forums and I felt back for making you feel unwelcome, maybe? I don’t like, hate you or want you to stop posting.
Idk, I was worried maybe something happened to you, like something bad. I was worried that maybe I made you feel bad and you did something… idk.
Im glad your okay, though. Thx for writing back.
Private Message from SeverusWasRight
Subject: Re: Re: Re: you okay?
I don’t need your pity, okay? I know you’ve got everyone on the forums fawning all over you, but you don’t get to look down on me.
Go hang out with your “REAL LIFE FRIENDS.”
Private Message from BanginHarry69
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: you okay?
im sorry you thought that i was looking down on you, i promise it wasn’t like that.
this is probably tmi or w/e but my brother tried to kill himself last year and i was worried about you… idk, doing something dumb over stupid internet drama
and to be honest i don’t really have a lot of real world friends. cheerleaders and varsity players don’t spend so much time online, and if your a girl and not one of those then no one wants to be your friend. thats how it is at my school, anyway.
i thought your story was really good, btw. your long one, not the self-insert one. i mean, that one was good too, but i kinda wanted to see the end of your snape/lily fic if you still wanted to write it.
im sorry that you hate me.
...sorry, i’ll leave you alone now.
Private Message from SeverusWasRight
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: you okay?
I’m very sorry about your brother. I hope he’s okay. I’m fine, and you don’t have to worry about me doing anything like that. I will certainly admit that I did hate you for a little while, but I don’t think I do now.
I don’t really have a lot of friends at my school either. I guess if you’re a nerd but you can’t stand anime or video games you’re still too weird to be friends with.
Okay, so if I’m being completely honest, it was actually kind of fun to write something silly. So thank you. If I actually want to be serious about writing I need to get a little out of my comfort zone sometimes, so maybe it was a good thing. And I wasn’t really making any progress on my other project, so at least I actually wrote something.
Thank you for saying you like my story, by the way. I don’t know if you’re just trying to make me feel better, but I do appreciate it. I’ve actually been stuck for a while, which is incredibly frustrating - I feel like my muse just up and quit on me. I’m sure you know the feeling. Or maybe you don’t! You’re far better at actually getting your work out there than I am.
I don’t know if I want to come back to the forums just yet, but I appreciate you taking the time to reach out.
Private Message from BanginHarry69
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: you okay?
well if you ever want to talk about writing or anything, my AIM name is xXpixie_punkXx
(shut up i’ve had it since middle school and i’m too lazy to make another lol)
my name’s tierney, by the way. i’m not actually a 40 y/o in FL, so hopefully your not either.
Comment on Half-Blood, Whole Heart Part 4: Bittersweet
Title: i can’t stop crying
Omg your killing me!!! you CAN”T leave it like that! :,((((((
Comment on Half-Blood, Whole Heart Part 4: Bittersweet
Title: Re: i can’t stop crying
You were the one who said that I shouldn’t pull my punches! You have no one to blame but yourself. :P
Comment on Half-Blood, Whole Heart Part 4: Bittersweet
Title: Re: Re: i can’t stop crying
I DIDN’T THINK YOU WOULD TAKE IT THAT FAR!!!1!!!!!
please please please tell me you’re gonna do another chapter soon I can’t live like this. your lucky its summer, or else you would be responsible for my grades tanking bc i’m just crying all the time now forever.
(also it was really good)
Comment on Half-Blood, Whole Heart Part 4: Bittersweet
Title: Re: Re: Re: i can’t stop crying
Hmm… I’m not sure. I kind of like this ending. But if you’re really going to be that sad about it, maybe I’ll write more.
(Also thank you.)
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 06:41|
Lily Catts fucked around with this message at 23:58 on Jan 10, 2021
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 06:58|
What the protagonist wants:
To be the star of the space circus
Somewhere else in this universe, and it's all sci-fi and poo poo
Traveling interplanetary circus
Space governmental distrust of space carnies
Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute...
Helps them gets what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor...
Is overcome in the course of pursuing what they want
At the end of the story...
The world problem is not solved, but it's getting better
She stumbled upon you in the empty lot across the way from the nickel refinery. The stacks were breathing out streams of thin vapour, the Band glimmered with enough light to dip-dye the sky navy blue. And you? You were standing on broken asphalt, juggling bowling-pins.
“Hey!” A voice called out to you, sudden and curious. “Juggler!”
Startled, you looked up. In your haste, you only managed to catch two of your pins, gripping them by their slender necks. The last one fell to the ground with a hollow ktunk.
You hadn’t recognised her voice, but once you set eyes on her, you knew the girl. Short, fit, blonde, she had a blunt chin and serious eyes. You knew her from gymnastics. Her name was Mercedes, but she went by Mercy. She was good on the bars.
“I know you,” she said. “Why haven’t you been in class?”
Gathering up your fallen pins, you tucked them under your arms. You two were in the same year, had to be if she was in your class, but standing there with your arms full of bowling pins and her serious eyes levelled on you like an accusation, you felt young.
“I hurt my ankle.” A babyish thing for a big dumb baby to say. “No gymnastics for a while.”
You half-expected her to make fun of you, expected her to somehow intuit that you’d sprained your ankle while doing something stupid. But instead, she grimaced and said, “Sucks.”
“Super sucks,” you agreed. A second later, it hit you. “Hey, why aren’t you in class?”
She squinted off toward the refinery and didn’t answer for a while.
“Got sent home.” Mercy left it ambiguous. “Anyway, if you’re sick of juggling, we could hang.”
She smiled at you and the axis of your world shifted.
It was a week before Mercy was allowed back into school. Turned out she was serving a week-long suspension for picking fights. P.E. was your last class of the day, and with your ankle still buggered, you just went home. She started walking with you, and then she’d hang around and watch you practice.
“Why juggling?” she asked once, when you were busy trying to master adding a fifth pin to the mix.
You kept your eyes on your work, hands moving through their loops with a smooth, automatic precision, glimpses of Bandglow visible in the sky beyond.
“Dunno,” you said. “Guess I needed something to keep my hands busy while my ankle gets better.”
“Planning on running away with the circus?”
Mercy had a way of teasing you that wasn’t quite all-the-way teasing you. She didn’t have many friends, but maybe that’s because your classmates couldn’t hear the slight smile in her voice when she said that stuff.
“Maybe.” You teased her right back. “Take P.E. from a trapeze artist. Hook up with a hot clown.”
She laughed, but it trailed off kinda funny and quiet.
“We could, you know. They come by the stations every so often.”
You didn’t want to touch that wistfulness in her voice with a ten-foot pole.
And then, the next time they let her back into gymnastics class, she dangled upside-down from the uneven bars and did crunches and hip circles and free-straddles.
She announced to you, red-cheeked, dangling upside-down: “You were right. I’m gonna learn trapeze.”
Growing up, you tried soccer, climbing, other stuff, but you couldn’t ever manage to stick with anything. Your mother said you had the attention span of a goldfish. Your school counsellors first called you passive, then directionless, then had recently taken to asking if you were depressed.
The nickel stacks were shutting down left and right. Your neighbourhood was slowly crumbling into broken concrete and derelict hangars. Who living here wouldn’t be depressed?
But they didn’t like answers like that. So you just said you hadn’t found your passion yet.
And you kept at your juggling, combining it with balance board work during the week. Then after school, Mercy would catch you in the lot, and the two of you would practice again. And you got the impression, halfway-jokingly, that she’d beat your rear end if you didn’t.
“I think we’re ready,” Mercy said after a few full months of practice.
“Ready for…?” You didn’t know you’d been training for anything in particular.
“To combine forces!” She smacked her hands together, fist to palm. “Isn’t that the whole point? To join the circus and get out of here?”
“Uh, yeah!” You stammered quick agreement, less afraid of her fists and more afraid that you’d accidentally revealed to her that you hadn’t been taking this whole thing nearly as seriously.
Jutting from one of the old hangars was a rickety, half-rusted fire escape. With a swing and a groan of metal, she got into position, dangling upside down about two meters above your head. As she climbed, she told you of the circus that would be swinging by in August, Earth-time. How the big travelling shows didn’t make it out past the Kuiper Belt too often. How this would be your best chance in a real, real long time.
“Anyway,” she said. “Try to toss a pin to me.”
You hesitated. You hadn’t thrown one that high before. And you weren’t sure she’d practiced catching them. Did she know they were kinda heavy?
“Come on,” she said. “Don’t be a puss--”
You winged the pin at her, half-hoping it’d bonk her in the face to teach her a mild lesson about the p-word. But no, she caught it easily. She tossed it down. You tossed it back up. You began a slow, cautious rhythm.
As with all things physical, she was a natural. Unlike you, who always had to practice for weeks to get the basics down. Go figure.
It took time, but you got there. She learned to watch your hands rather than the pins, so she’d be ready. Over the weeks, you added another pin, then another, and soon you were joking about adding axes and knives and torches.
August came. Practice intensified. Subtle cords of muscle worked their way up your arms where they hadn’t before. You grew lighter, more confident on your feet with all the extra time spent on your balance board. And Mercy? Mercy flew. You’d never seen anyone take to the bars or the trapeze or juggling quite like her. So what if all the kids at school gave you an even wider berth now that the two of you were hanging out.
You and Mercy climbed up onto the derelict crumble of a repair bay to watch the ships come in. Like big, gossamer fish, they drifted down until they just barely kissed the rock’s artificial atmosphere, touching their noses to the docking needle.
“Maybe we’ll be up there someday,” said Mercy. She was quiet, her usual bravado dialled back. She’d arrived at school with a split lip that morning and absolutely nobody had asked her about it.
You reached across the rooftop and gently kicked her shin. “No maybes about it.”
That got a smile out of her. “drat right,” she said. “Mom doesn’t get it.”
Your heart did a funny little flip in your chest. You’d rambled about your own all the time, how they weren’t really home enough to parent you, how they’d tried to send you to school on your busted ankle because they hadn’t raised a whiner. But Mercy had never, ever talked about hers.
She sighed and sprawled out on her back.
“They’re opening a new pit on the pocked side,” she said. “Mom and Dad want to move us all out there soon as the habs are up. It’s--”
That side of our rock was peppered with craters, the victim of centuries of constant debris impact.
“It’s stupid!” you said, louder than you meant. You’d meant dangerous, but your mouth didn’t always obey your brain.
You wondered if she could hear your heart pounding. You watched the distant ships gliding through the sky, shimmering with Bandglow, and you tried not to look at her.
“Anyway.” She coughed. “I… uh, tickets. Next weekend.”
The conversation never recovered.
Captain Galacto’s Interplanetary Spectacular lived up to its name in every possible way. Every seat in the house was packed--you recognised some kids from school and their parents, as well as the rough-around-the-edges faces of some folks in your neighbourhood. Mercy sat with her folks across the ring from you, and you sat with yours, mindfully chaperoning. You peeked at her when you weren’t riveted by the acts rotating through the rings.
You noticed there weren’t many autocars parked outside, nor were there many kids from the newer side of town, where the manufactories were still open. Oh well, you thought. Sucks to be them.
You held your breath in suspense as contortionists balanced on one another’s shoulders. You gasped in delight as a man breathed fire up into the open air, belching flames like a nickel stack. You trembled when a lion--a real life lion--loped out from backstage and leapt through a series of glittering hoops. The rhinestones on the ringmaster’s jacket sparkled. The clowns whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their antics. And when the aerial artists came out, leaping and cavorting through the air with nothing but lengths of sheer silk for safety, you forgot to breathe.
While the aerialists played, you looked over to Mercy’s seat, hoping to sneak an indulgent glance of her eyes lit up with wonder.
She wasn’t there.
Her parents were, a pair of average Band-dwellers just as blocky and blonde as she. But her seat was empty.
She’s getting ready, you told yourself. Because the two of you had a plan. You’d be slipping out just before the final curtain fell, bullying your way backstage. Mercy could bully her way in anywhere. When you put on your show, they’d be wowed. They’d have no choice but to take you.
You never even glanced at the other acts, despite the fire and glitter playing at the periphery of your vision. Your eyes were for Mercy’s seat alone, still empty, and then the door. You missed it when the curtain fell, so frenzied was your search for her.
Mumbling at your parents that you needed the bathroom, you shoved your way through the crowd, stumbling beneath the bleachers and into the backstage area of one of the big pitched tents. A skinny, sylphlike aerialist unlaced his costume. A clown and the ringmaster sat smoking on the stairs.
“Whoa there, kid,” said the clown. “You’re lost. Door’s that way.”
“My friend--” you stammered, voice squeaking in your throat. “I’m looking for my--”
The clown picked you up by the straps of your overalls and turfed you out on your rear end. You were so shocked you didn’t even have it in you to protest, and as he dragged you past the ringmaster, your cheeks burned with embarrassment.
You waited where the clown dropped you, sitting cross-legged on the floor, scanning the crowd for Mercy. You knew she’d be along soon. She had to. She’d made a promise.
Navy-skied, artificial night fell upon the circus. They shut off banks and banks of floodlights until all was dark. Your parents finally found you, sitting there by the door with tears in your eyes. Your dad mussed your hair, said he’d been worried sick.
Mercy never showed.
For the next six nights, you parked yourself just outside the ticket booth, waiting. Mercy didn’t show at school either, and she’d been careful, so careful about making sure nobody from school knew where she lived. When you asked other kids in your class, they told you rightfully to piss off. Your parents asked you what was wrong, but you were so furious--first with her, then yourself--that you couldn’t even properly articulate yourself. Which had always been a problem. But now, bundled up in boundless sadness and rage, your thoughts were downright incoherent.
On the day the circus was due to depart, you rolled into the expo centre grounds as usual. It was early; the Band glimmered the same shade as always, indifferent.
You sat on the steps before the ticket booth. Mercy had one more day to show.
You sat for hours, and finally, a hand alighted on your shoulder. You jerked in your seat, glancing up, but instead of your friend, it was the ringmaster who stood above you, skimming a hand through his thick dark beard as he stared at you.
“I’m not sure what you’re waiting for, kid,” he said.
“A friend.” You hated how your voice cracked. “I’m just waiting for my friend.”
The ringmaster tilted his head. “She work here?”
“No.” You cleared your throat. “She wants to. We want to. But she…”
A quiet, pensive understanding passed across the man’s face. He glanced down the hallway, then back down at you.
“I can’t believe this,” he said. “It’s 2140, and people still daydream about running away with the circus? That’s some Old Earth poo poo, kid.”
He folded himself down onto the step beside you and slid a slender cigarette from a battered old box in his pocket.
“So what’s the deal?” he asked. “Wanna be a lion tamer?”
You stiffened. You were used to being made fun of. But not by adults. Something snapped.
“gently caress off,” you said. “I’ll do what I have to in order to get off this rock.” It was the first time you’d ever said it out loud, and man, it felt good.
The ringmaster smoked in silence, his expression unreadable, and when he finally said, “Fine,” it came out so uneventfully you thought you’d misheard him.
“I said fine.” He ashed his smoke on the ground and left the butt there. That’s exactly how much people cared about the place you were born.
“Meet me at the needle tomorrow morning,” he said, and that was it.
You held out hope every last second you spent on that asteroid that Mercy would show. That she’d send word. But she never did. That hurt. You knew in your gut what had happened: her parents had already taken that job on the pocked side, before the circus ships had even landed. She just hadn’t known how to tell you. And you’d called it stupid to her face.
When you finally got a chance to audition for the show, to put your juggling talents to good use, you found you did fine without her, and that hurt even worse.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 07:00|
It’s been three months since I moved to this shithole town on an adventure to claim an island.
“Head to the frontier for a new life,” the whisper networks said, “A vast archipelago, untouched by humans for centuries, growing vaster every day. A fortune beyond anything you could possibly imagine awaits.” The dome was slowly collapsing, and society with it too, so I said gently caress it and set out for the coast. Ma’ told me that if I left the dome that I’d be as good as dead, but poo poo, I’d rather be dead out here than alive in there. Or dead in there, for that matter. I know what they do to corpses in Dome City X12, and it’s not pretty. So I found myself out here at the edge of the world, vying with a hundred other forsaken assholes to carve out a new world from a little shard of the old one.
I felt bad about leaving, for a little while. I know it wasn’t fair to leave Rufus with Ma’, but I couldn’t bring him. The coast was no place for an animal, especially not one as nervous as he is, and every day I spend in this place convinces me more and more that I made the right choice.
The thing about living in a town inhabited solely by people who want to leave it behind is that anybody still there is, by definition, angry about it. Once you got within a hundred miles of the shore, you could feel it. A yearning just below your navel, snatches of songs sparking through your mind, a tugging at the base of the skull, pulling you towards your island. You knew your island was out there somewhere, and the longer it took you to find it, the worse the itch got. So every couple of days, when the Bridgers connect the dots from the shore to the new islands, there’s a rush as people desperately try to claim their spot. Eventually they’re all occupied, and the poor landless bastards (well, the surviving ones) head back to town to lick our wounds and fight over scraps.
It was late in the afternoon that I called it, gave up on claiming an island today, and went back to the saloon on what passed for Main Street. There were only a handful of corpses in the surf today, covering the black rocks in a greasy red and attracting those strange animals that looked almost like dogs if you squinted. They mostly left us alone, especially when they had easier pickings, but you never knew—best not to dawdle. I felt a twinge of guilt at leaving the bodies to be picked clean (you can’t be an undertaker for most of your adult life without at least some respect for the dead), but not enough to take a risk for them. I didn’t recognise them, at least, so that made it easier.
Once I was safely ensconced in the saloon, I tucked into a bowl of grits and watched to see who else would make it back—failures, but failures that had survived. Bill Ketch came back first, Elise Locke following not far behind. I waved them over, and they joined me.
“No luck again today?” I asked blandly, not really caring if either of them answered. The answer was obvious, anyway. Bill just grunted and tucked into his grits, but Elise actually replied.
“I was so close but that loving rat, Dobson, beat me to it. He hopped a bridge, and by the time I reached it, he’d sealed it up tighter than Ketch’s rear end in a top hat. I stayed to watch a little while, and by the time I left he already had the process underway.” She spat a gob of synth out onto the floor and kept talking, seemingly oblivious to the tears now streaming down her face. “It was lit up like a midwinter tree, ready for him to start climbing. I bet he’s out there now, all wrapped up and communing with his island—should’ve been my island—he didn’t deserve the island anyway. I wonder what it’s like.”
She trailed off, and stared thoughtfully into the bowl of grey slop. See, nobody really knew what happened when you claimed an island. poo poo, they weren’t even really islands, as far as we could tell. They were chunks of what looked like land, floating in something that was probably an ocean, but nobody really knew anything beyond that. But when you were the first person to cross a bridge to one of them, everything would change. They were calling to us, and we knew that everything would be okay in the end if we could just make it out to our own island.
I couldn’t sleep that night. The song in my head was too loud, the tingle in my skull too much. I lay there, tossing and turning, and waiting for the signal to come. It didn’t come the next day, nor the day after, but eventually, one morning, we all heard it. The high pitched whine followed by something like a thundercrack, that indicated there were more islands.
I rushed to the shore, straight away. I hadn’t slept in days, but I don’t think anyone else had either. I knew the other land hoppers would be there too, but I didn’t care. I picked my way across the rocks and sloshed out into the water. It came up to my ankles, then my knees, then my waist, but I kept going. I don’t really know how long I was in the water for, but at some point I found the rocky reef that marked the start of the archipelago. I crawled out onto it, spluttering, soaked, and shivering. I glanced around and saw a bridge, shimmering and humming quietly.
It was Elise, and she was holding her gun, pointing it level at my chest. I twitched my hand towards my own, and she shot me. It burnt a neat little hole, right below my heart. I didn’t feel a thing. With the last of my strength, I threw myself backwards. I knew it was a risk, but what did I have to lose?
I expected to feel my head collide with rock, and for everything to go dark. But it didn’t. It worked. As the bridge surrounded me, cradling me in light, I could feel my body becoming weightless. Music swelled inside my head—or was it outside now? As the world unfolded, and I unfolded along with it, the difference became academic. I could hear Elise keening, a raw scream of heartbreak and frustration. I didn’t care anymore, though. I was on my way to my island. I floated across the bridge.
Oh. It’s not an island at all. But it’s mine. It’s enveloping me now, swallowing me, and bearing me up to the brilliant sky.
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 07:00|
UNRELATED REDEMPTION TIME
I don’t really have anything to say about the prose and that’s a good thing; it’s clean and clear and easy to read.
The first thing that I wrote in my notes when reading this story was that the opening paragraph was a “nice lowkey burner”. While I appreciate the unintentional pun, the rest of the story never really did more than smoulder (I promise I’ll stop now). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining that it was a slower story. I’m not demanding a dramatic scene where the protagonist fights their way through blazing stacks of bundled newspapers. I was all for the thoughtful reminiscing, it’s just that there wasn’t much else there. Meditations on the importance of timing (that I think you drove home just one or two too many times) and then, suddenly, it’s the end.
I enjoyed the revelation that the protagonist, for all that they stress needing to know when to walk away, is drawn back but it felt like it came out of nowhere. A little bit of foreshadowing - a little bit of internal struggle, rather than “I was back at the house, somehow” in the final paragraph - would have really strengthened this.
Ultimately I think that you had a good core concept for a thoughtful, emotional story - one where the stakes aren’t even being caught, but being able to walk away from a life that is ultimately destructive - but you spent too many words on the scene-setting and reminiscing. Another 500 words to use - or another pass to free up some at the start - and establishing the protagonist’s struggle earlier on would have really helped, I think.
It’s hard to rank this against stories from over two years ago but I think I probably would have placed this as a solid No Mention. Let’s call it 3.0/5.
Finally, thank you for redeeming yourself after two years!
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 07:23|
Submissions are closed!
If you post before judgment (which will take longer than usual), I will crit your story in full depth. If you post after judgment, all bets are off.
Since 420 was a special week, things work a little differently from normal. Antivehicular, feel free to post week 421 whenever you're ready. Judgment for week 420 will be out by the end of the week, along with some special av awards!
EVERYONE GIVE A SUPER SPECIAL THANKS to our friends from BYOB, who really came through with the prompts, as as contributions to the week! We will sing your names in Valhalla, over flagons of mead and blood.
Bored? Here's a list of unused prompts (grey highlighted = used). Maybe one of them will tickle your creative fancy! If anyone has any ideas about what we could do with the outline form and/or unused prompts, let me know!
Still bored: here is a temporary link to the latest recap until we unbork the archive
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 09:07 on Aug 24, 2020
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 08:59|
|# ? Jan 21, 2022 05:53|
All right, then. With no further ado...
THUNDERDOME WEEK CCCCXXI: The Only Two Good Webcomics
It's a well-known and undisputed fact that the only two good webcomics are Achewood and Super Mega, and it's also a well-known fact that the best way to celebrate artistic greatness is to assign small parts of the great art as Thunderdome prompts. You can probably see where this is going.
When you sign up this week, I will assign you one panel from Achewood and one panel from Super Mega, and you'll use the combination of these panels as inspiration for your story. As with most media-prompts week, the keyword here is "inspiration"; please don't write webcomic fanfiction, or indeed anything about webcomics at all. Otherwise, the sky's the limit! This is not a restrictive week theme, just a weird one.
Standard TD rules apply: no erotica, fanfiction, topical politics/screeds, Google docs, editing your post, using archive-unfriendly formatting, or dick pics. Also, seriously, do not tell me about Homestuck.
Word Count: 1250 words
Signup Deadline: 11:59 PM Pacific, Friday, August 28th
Submission Deadline: 11:59 PM, Sunday, August 30th
2. The Saddest Rhino
10. magic cactus
12. M. Propagandalf
13. Bird Tyrant
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 08:34 on Aug 25, 2020
|# ? Aug 24, 2020 09:03|