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Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


I'm in. As a fresh-faced and unscarred newcomer, I look forward to my upcoming humiliation.

I'd like to be assigned a story, please.

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Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Roadbumps (981 words), originally Personal Conspiracy Theory (965 words)

It was another glorious day to be James Parker. The press loved him, his poll numbers were surging, and two of the other candidates had just dropped out of the presidential race. Once tonight's debate was over with, Parker expected to be the only one left in the running. Well, there was the other party too, of course, but they'd be little more than a bump in the road once Parker had his momentum going.

Parker strode into his campaign headquarters, finding it bustling with activity. The fundraising organizer was yelling at a half-dozen subordinates, the press secretary was juggling three different phone conversations at once, and countless assistants were running back and forth, doing who knows what. Whenever someone noticed Parker, they stopped what they were doing and offered an enthusiastic “Good afternoon, sir!” before returning to work.

Parker soon bumped into his campaign manager, a mousy little man named Anton or Anders. Something along those lines.

“Mr Parker, sir!” said the manager. “I didn't know you'd be coming in today. I thought for sure we had made a mistake with the scheduling.” He

“Oh? What seems to be the problem?” Parker asked. Now what was that manager's name? André? Andrew?

“Well, we scheduled an interview with Time this morning,” said the assistant. He hesitated a moment before continuing: “Or at least I thought we did. But I'm sure you would have been there if that had been the case. The reporter made the same mistake, poor woman waited for hours before giving up. I'm very sorry, sir!”

“That's quite alright, Andy,” said Parker. Andy! That was his name! “Just make sure it doesn't happen again.” Right, the interview. He remembered that; he just hadn't bothered to show up. After all, why shouldn't he be allowed to change his mind?

“My name is Phil, actually,” said the assistant, but Parker had already stopped listening to him. He was heading for his office, where he intended to spend the rest of the day preparing for the debate.

In Parker's case, preparing meant thinking up catchy phrases to use on TV. Not that he needed them, he'd win the election no matter what, but he still liked to put in the work. Winning with his own words instead of something from his PR people gave a Parker a certain sense of satisfaction he'd been lacking lately. The feeling of a job well done.

Parker was feeling quite productive, and came up with several inspirational phrases about the gays and whores, and how they might as well off themselves immediately instead of waiting for the AIDS to get them. The suicide rates were going to skyrocket!

He was working on something to say about the blacks when one of the assistants poked her head through the door. “Sir? There's someone here who wants to see you,” she said. Parker could hear shouting from outside the office. “He seems rather... upset. Should we call for security?”

As far as Parker knew, they didn't have any security staff. It had never seemed likely they would need any. “No need,” he said. “I'm always happy to engage with the voters. Send him in.”

It had been months since the last time Parker met someone who didn't like him, and that was before he started his campaign. Since then he'd been on TV almost constantly: Morning shows, debates, late night talk shows, even a guest appearance on a children's program. It was next to impossible for someone not to have heard him, and if they had heard him, they should like him. Therefore, Parker was somewhat surprised to find that the young man in front of him was not a rabid fan desperate for an autograph, but rather a genuinely outraged citizen.

“How the gently caress can you say poo poo like this and get away with it?” the young man asked, waving a newspaper in front of him. A smiling picture of Parker covered most of the page, while the rest of the page praised a speech he'd made last night.

“Because it's true, of course. Everyone does have a place in society, and for the ugly and misshapen, that place is out of sight and out of mind,” said Parker. “Frankly, I don't understand why you're so upset.” He really didn't. They'd been speaking for several minutes, and the young man was still angry. Something was wrong.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Parker said. “What's your name, boy? You already know mine, of course.”

“Jamal,” said the young man through clenched teeth. “And we're definitely on the right foot. How the hell have you not been lynched?”

“A fine name for a fine man,” said Parker. He had to think of some way to deal with Jamal. The thought of someone who didn't adore him, even after a face-to-face conversation, made Parker's stomach turn. It might be time to use the thing in his desk drawer. He'd bought it on a whim, but never expected to use it.

“I'm afraid I can't help you, Jamal,” said Parker, silently opening the drawer. Jamal, on the other side of the desk, didn't seem to notice. “You'll just have to accept the outcome of the election.” The gun was in his hand now, hidden beneath the desk.

Jamal spouted off some profanity and turned to leave. As soon as his back was turned, Parker shot him in the head. The gunshot brought several people running to his office, who were horrified to find Jamal face-down on the floor with a hole in the back of his skull.

“I had no choice,” said Parker, still seated with the smoking gun in his hand. “He attacked me.”

They all believed him, and so did the police, the press and the voters. It was just another little bump in the road. Parker always got what he wanted, in the end.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Shady Affair(ie)s (1073 words)

It's safe to say that some fairies have a thing for teeth. We don't really talk about why, except with other fairies. It's just one of those little mysteries of the magic world, like what Santa's elves do during the summer, or where the Sandmen get their magic dust. Nobody understands why there's an entire industry among fairies devoted to buying baby teeth from children.

That's because they don't know what we do with the teeth we take.

We don't just stockpile them, we eat them. To fairies, baby teeth are like crack-laced amphetamine cookies, only more addictive. Not as lethal, though. As a result, nearly half the fairy population is hopelessly dependent on the ToothTime Corporation, the sole supplier.

Retrieval teams are regularly sent out from Fairyland into the human world, armed with information from advance scouts and a sizeable lump of cash from ToothTime's human businesses. They return with teeth by the sackful.

Those sacks are the most valuable thing in Fairyland. Naturally, ToothTime wants some protection against theft. They want someone to keep an eye on the teams without interfering with their activities. They want someone who won't take a bribe.

They want me.

"All clear," I said, lifting my goggles. "The humans are asleep. Fruitpip, go ahead. Second floor, left window."

Fruitpip flew past me, and in through the open window. Moments later she returned, smiling widely.

"Double haul," she said. "Kid lost two teeth in one day. We're on a roll tonight!"

It had been a good night. We weren't prepared for that. When ToothTime sent their top security fairy and best retrieval specialist alone, that usually meant they smelled trouble. But tonight we had already taken care of nineteen houses, and in every one of them the humans were already asleep when we got there. All but one had a window conveniently open, too.

"How many houses do we have left?" I asked. "Two?" Something didn't seem right, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

"Just one, right across the street," said Fruitpip. "Looks like we'll get all our targets tonight, and be back before dawn too!"

I nodded, and put the thermal goggles back on.

The last house was just like the others. Three heat signatures, all of them lying down. Two on the bottom floor, one on the second. And of course, an open window.

"Clear," I said. "But make it quick, I smell trouble."

Fruitpip raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. She did her thing, and soon we were headed to the portal back to Fairyland.

Only it wasn't there anymore. What should have been a rickety wooden bridge no sane human would want to cross was instead a few planks slowly drifting downriver. We could fly across, of course, but we'd just end up on the other side of the river. The magic was in the bridge, and the bridge was gone.

"poo poo," said Fruitpip. "It's gonna take hours to get to the next portal. Isn't it in Cleveland or something?"

"Detroit, but we're not going there." I looked at the ends of the rope that had held the bridge together. Barely frayed at all. "Someone cut the rope, and I'm betting they're after the teeth. We need to make a run for it."

"Run where?" said Fruitpip. "I mean, I'd guess Detroit, but..."

"Too far, not to mention they'll be expecting it," I said. "But there's a portal to Sandia not far from here. We can fly to Fairyland from there."

Fruitpip sighed. "No other way? The Sandmen creep me out," she said.

I saw no alternative, so we headed upriver. The night was quiet and still, but the silence only served to increase my discomfort. When we reached the waterfalls, I was almost tense enough to burst.

No one jumped out of the shadows. No one started shooting at us. We dove into the waterfall and emerged, soaking wet, through a cloud. We came out heading straight down, and crashed messily but painlessly into a pile of sand.

They were waiting for us. While I was still disoriented after the landing, someone dragged me out of the sand and blew something in my face. I briefly wondered why a Sandman would attack us, before I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I was tied to a chair. My equipment – thermal goggles, weapons, wand – was missing, but other than that I was fine. The room was empty except for me and a Sandman.

"Good morning," said the Sandman.

I responded with several observations about his heritage.

"No need to be rude!" He sounded more amused than offended. "I'm sorry about the chair. Just a precaution. Wouldn't want you doing anything rash, you see."

I reiterated some of my previous points.

"We weren't expecting two fairies," said the Sandman, ignoring me. "One is enough, no?"

"Always two or more," I said. "In case of thieves. What do you want?"

"To refill our stores of magic dust," the Sandman said. "We were running out of the critical reagent, you see, but now we have enough for years to come."

Well, that was surprisingly candid. I thought teeth weren't good for anything but fairy drugs. And chewing.

"So what happens with me?" I asked. "The ToothTime Corporation won't be happy when they find out what you've done."

"Oh, they already know. It was their idea. We needed the reagent, they wanted a reliable way to put people to sleep for tooth harvesting. The Sandmen's Union will be working closely with ToothTime from now on. As for you... you are free to go."

"Just like that? No catch?"

"Promise you will tell no one what our secret reagent is. That's it."

Promises. The worst thing about being a fairy is the inability to break promises sincerely made. But it seemed a small price to pay, so I swore to keep their secret. The Sandman released me and returned my things. He even offered to escort me back to Fairyland, and it wasn't until we neared the border that I thought to ask about Fruitpip.

"Your friend? I told you we needed the reagent," he said.

"But the teeth...," I began.

"Have already been returned to ToothTime. We have no use for them."

I didn't know what this meant, not exactly. I still don't, and don't want to. But I do know one thing.

I don't work for the ToothTime Corporation any more.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


systran posted:

Auraboks vs. Nikaer Drekin
Auraboks: You must write horror. Nikaer: You must write something whimsical and the inciting incident must occur within first 100 words.

Thin (1110 words)
The party of four trudged through the black-leaf forest for days, stopping only when their bodies demanded rest or it grew too dark to see. There was little conversation among them – Hudson had barely said a word since the crash, and the others weren't keen on talking, either. Even Dr. Malik had run out of complaints after the first day, and Carter was busy hacking away the undergrowth so they could keep moving.

That left Blaine as the only one with anything to say, and he didn't feel like talking to himself.

"We just need to get out of the woods," he had said on the first night, when they were still at the crash site. "Then we'll radio for help. Someone might hear us."

The only humans who weren't lightyears away were the charred and broken corpses left in the wreckage. No one had a offered a better plan, though, and they all wanted to get away from the oppressive stench of the dead. They'd been walking since then, every step taking them further from their lost comrades and deeper into the unknown.

"Maybe we should go back," said Blaine as the sun was setting on the third day. "It was a stupid plan anyway."

"It was your idea," said Carter. "Shut up and keep walking."

"But what if–"

"Shh!" Hudson injected. "Listen."

They stopped and fell quiet. Straining their ears, they heard a low, droning hum, like a distant swarm of insects. It rose and fell in intensity, sometimes stopping abruptly only to begin again seconds later.

"Where's it coming from?" Blaine asked, shifting uneasily.

"Native insects, perhaps?" Malik said. "I'm surprised we haven't seen any, actually."

"No, I meant where?" Blaine gestured at the woods around them. "The trees?"

"Oh. Yes, that seems likely. A thick canopy like this is an ideal habitat for many forms of life, you know. Not just insects!"

"Fascinating," said Carter, going back to work on the undergrowth. "Let's move on, we've got at least another hour of daylight."

Malik kept blabbering about bugs and xenoprimates, but no one bothered to shut him up. Here was a man talking about his passion, and it was a welcome reprieve after the heavy silence of the past few days. The humming sound was soon forgotten, drowned in endless exposition about double-jointed mandibles and hyperflexible exoskeletons.

It was not until the group made camp that they noticed the hum again, louder this time. They each woke many times during the night, noticing each time that the sound had drawn closer still before falling back into an uneasy sleep.

When the red sun finally rose, none of them felt rested. The hum was loud enough now to drown out conversation, requiring the group to yell at each other if they wanted anything said.

They made their way through the forest in single file, glancing around nervously whenever the hum receded or grew in strength.

Hudson, who took up the rear, was the first to go. The hum fell quiet, Blaine looked back, and Hudson was just not there.

"Hudson?" he shouted, leading the others to stop as well. "Get the gently caress back here, you're not being funny!"

Carter had a more realistic outlook. "They're coming after us," she yelled. "We need to move!"

And move Blaine did, though not by choice.

A pair of arms, no thicker than Carter's own but thrice as long as he was tall, came down from the canopy. Quick as a snake, they wrapped their spindly fingers around Blaine's throat and pulled him up into the trees before he had a chance to scream.

The hum stopped again.

"Run!" Carter yelled, and took off into the undergrowth.

The noise came back, deafening, and Malik sprinted after her. He couldn't keep up for long, however. In his mad rush, he soon tripped and fell into the black growth that covered the ground. Something wrapped itself around his throat and lifted him off the ground, into the blackness above.

Malik tore at the thing's fingers, trying in vain to loosen its grip so he could breathe. To his surprise, it worked – the thing willingly moved one hand to lift him by the armpit instead. The other soon followed, and Malik could breathe again.

He couldn't see the thing dragging him, only the long arms stretching into the dense foliage ahead. He heard it, though – it was making that same droning hum which had followed Malik's group the past day. It carried him for what seemed like hours, never letting Malik touch the ground or see the sky. He was too tired to fight it, and resigned himself to whatever plans it had for him.

Eventually Malik was brought into a clearing, and could see his captor clearly for the first time. It looked like a human, with its arms and legs stretched out to grotesque proportions. The head was small and squished, and on its sides were enormous ears. Its face was eyeless and noseless, the only features its two mouths. One large and full of teeth, the other a smaller opening from which the hum seemed to originate.

Malik had little time to admire it, however, as it dropped him on the ground and leapt back into the trees. Its hum faded into the distance, and Malik realized he was not alone in the clearing.

There was Hudson lying on the ground, his neck twisted at an impossible angle, and Blaine, with bulging lifeless eyes in a face blue from asphyxiation.

Malik didn't run away, though he knew he should. It seemed pointless, now that he was alone. Nowhere to run to.

Hours passed, and he could hear the hum coming again. More than one of them, it sounded like, but Malik still could not bring himself to move.

A dozen of the things entered the clearing, the noise almost unbearable. They brought a surprise though. One of them dragged a battered-looking Carter up to Malik. It dropped her in front of him, and waited.

With trembling hands and one eye on the thing towered above, Malik brought two fingers to Carter's neck.

No pulse.

Malik slumped back onto the ground.

"Well?" he asked the thing. "Aren't you going to kill me too?"

In response, it pulled back and vanished among the trees. Its friends followed, and silence once again filled the clearing. The things did not return.

Later, as Malik was dying of starvation, he wondered if the things had really meant to kill them, or if the whole thing had been some giant misunderstanding. The idea seemed funny to him, and he died with a wheezing laugh.

------------------------------------

Why the gently caress am I writing at 4:30 in the morning. I hate myself. Next time, I sure as poo poo am not waiting until Sunday to start writing.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


I guess that's what I get for not leaving myself enough time to edit.

Well done Drekin, you might have beat me even if I hadn't submitted a half-assed piece of poo poo.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In. Writing for Testosterone Tales.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Please consider the enclosed story for inclusion in the next balls-to-the-walls action-packed issue of Testosterone Tales.

If you like it, perhaps you'd consider making the adventures of Fist Ferguson a recurring feature of your magazine?

----------

Fist Ferguson, Libertarian Action Hero (1006 words)

City Hall burns behind me. The City Council's plans and records turned to smoke in the night, their base of operations rendered useless. It'll take them a long time to recover from this blow.

Score one for liberty.

But the night isn't over yet. I've got one more target, a big one.

Mayor William "Good Will" Greene. Communist, oppressor, thief. He's stolen millions of dollars from the private sector and wasted them on his worthless public works projects. Kept some for himself too, no doubt. He's got overwhelming support from the voters, or at least that's what the polls say. Like I needed further proof that the press works for him.

Tonight, he'll pay for his crimes.

As I mount my Harley, I spare a glance at the burning building. A symbol of tyranny, turned into a beacon for freedom. Beautiful.

I speed off toward the mayoral mansion, ignoring the fascist speed limits. The Mayor knows I'm coming for him, no doubt. I've sent several letters, warning him to stop his communo-fascist policies. It won't matter how good his security is, though. I'm the unstoppable fist of the free market, and I'm taking him down.

The mansion comes into view ahead, an old, vulgar building. Twenty acres, including the grounds, that no private owner can ever get. A historical site, they call it. I've never heard a more transparent excuse to steal from the people.

I slide the motorcycle to a stop on the lawn, knocking over a sign that tells me to keep off the grass. The guards at the door are running towards me, yelling at me to leave. The door opens, more guards pouring out.

As if that would stop me. I rev the engine and blow past the guards, popping a wheelie as I ride through the open door. Bullets whizz past me, and I leap off the Harley just as one hits the fuel tank. The bike explodes, and the blast throws me into a side room. I land, mostly intact, on a fortunately placed sofa.

There's a stairway here, leading to the upper floors. A stroke of good luck for me — Greene's probably hiding somewhere on the upper floor. I run up the stairs, hearing guards run into the room behind me. I draw my two guns — Reason and Self-Interest — and turn around to unleash a hail of lead on my pursuers. A storm of bullets fills the air as I back up the stairs, firing all the while. I'm nearly hit at least a dozen times, but I keep going, unflinching.

Turns out I brought more bullets than Greene had guards, because the flood of human targets soon thins out. Their bodies form a nice barrier at the bottom of the stairs. It won't be easy for anyone to follow me up here.

The second floor is almost eerily empty, the halls devoid of decoration or furniture. Most of the rooms are just as empty. I've heard that Greene has donated some of the mansion's luxury items to various charity auctions, but I never thought he'd gone this far. Sickening. Those auctions probably brought in enough money to stop dozens, if not hundreds, of people from pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Light comes out from the crack under one of the doors, probably Greene's personal study. I kick it open, guns in hand. Greene, that loathsome despot, waits for me inside.

"I'm here to kick rear end and depose tyrants," I say. "And I'm all out of asses."

Greene respons with some Reason of his own, opening fire almost before I finish speaking. Typical oppressor behaviour, turning to violence as soon as any opposition shows itself. He's got better aim than his guards, and his first shot knocks Self-Interest out of my hand. The second hits me square in the chest, and I fall over backwards.

But I'm not dead. The hardcover copy of Atlas Shrugged that I keep under my jacket, close to my heart, has saved my life.

I jump up, lunging at Greene before he has a chance to take aim again. I smash my forehead into his face, and a delightful crack tells me I've broken his nose. I press the attack, knocking the gun out of his hand and kneeing him hard in the stomach. He doubles over, retching, and I finish the fight by kicking him in the head.

Greene is barely conscious, hanging on through sheer stubbornness.

"The gently caress do you want?" he asks, the words slurred and hard to make out. "Money?"

Of course he thinks that. He doesn't understand how silly his government-printed money really is.

"Your fiat currency will be worthless soon," I say. Then again, it wouldn't have mattered even if he'd offered me all the gold in Fort Knox. No one can ever be free while the government still stands, no matter how rich they are.

"poo poo," Greene says, his words somewhat clearer now, "you're the nut who blew up that police station in Atlanta, aren't you. Ferguson?"

"Yeah, and I got your City Hall too," I say with some pride, "and a few public schools. Off hours, wouldn't want to hurt the kids."

"You're nothing but a terrorist," he says. "A madman with guns and an agenda."

I ignore him. It's nothing I haven't heard before. "Sic semper tyrannis," I say, and fire Reason into his head.

This city is free from the yoke of the oppressors now. Tomorrow, its citizens will hear the news and rejoice. The government's media cronies will paint me as a villain, again. To stay and hear the cheers of the people would be a wonderful reprieve.

But there is still work to be done, still people in the world who would take away liberty. My bike is gone, but I can liberate a bus and take it to the next town. New Orleans, I think. There's a branch of the Federal Reserve there, a worthy target if there ever was one.

Fist Ferguson, freedom fighter, never rests.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Fumblemouse posted:

He seems to have absurdly good luck, in direct conflict with the prompt

His good luck is bad luck for everyone else. He's a crazy person, and his success is not a good thing.

I admit that might be stretching the prompt a little, but it was intentional.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In. Switzerland, Half a truth is often a great lie.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


I have squandered my week on things other than writing. Now, Sunday night has come and I have produced nothing. I could poo poo something out in the hours that remain before the deadline but it would, in fact, be poo poo. Sleep takes priority, this time.

It is with endless shame that I bow out of this week's Thunderdome.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In with Li Bai, who tried to kiss the moon's reflection and drowned.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Wikipedia posted:

There is a long and sometimes fanciful tradition regarding his death, from uncertain sources, that Li Bai drowned after falling from his boat when he tried to embrace the reflection of the moon in the Yangtze River.

764 words.

Drinking alone

"It's just the two of us tonight," I say to the moon as I take my seat on the weathered old stump by the riverside. In my youth it had been a mighty oak, tall and proud, and I spent many leisurely days drinking in its shade, surrounded by friends. Now its majesty is long gone, and it serves only as a seat for a lonely old man.

It is a peaceful night, the silence broken only by the crickets and the sound of wine being poured into a cup. Good wine, fit for the emperor himself, not the poorly made local variety.

"I got this in the capital," I tell the moon. She's quiet, of course, but I like that about her. I have words enough for us both.

"One of the ministers gave it to me. Said he liked my poems, wanted to show his appreciation." I take a drink, and take a moment to feel the taste. It doesn't feel so different from what they make here, but perhaps my sense of taste has dulled with age.

"He told me to save it for a special occasion. My wedding, perhaps, or the birth of my first son."

Good advice, that. Wouldn't want to waste something so expensive on small festivities. I drain the cup and fill it again, raising a toast to my heavenly companion.

"Have I ever told you how I got sent away from the court?"

The moon already knows, for she can see everything, but I decide to tell her anyway. It's a short enough tale, made shorter still by the fog of the many years passed since then. A woman, an obsession, a thousand poems in her honor. A jealous eunuch with poisoned words, and praise mistaken for scorn. An emperor who cares for his consort, and a reluctant farewell.

"That's all there was to it," I tell the moon when the story is done. "A misunderstanding."

The moon climbs higher and higher, and I drink with her until there is nothing left to drink. She is at the peak of her journey, and I have to bend my neck to look at her.

"Maybe it was for the best," I tell her then. The words come slowly through the haze of the wine. "Can't even remember any of my friends from back then. Must have had some, though."

The one who gave me the wine, I must have been friends with him. There would have been other artists, and surely I knew some of them. Not a single face comes to mind, though, except the woman's, and her I admired from afar.

"Would've gotten a wife, if I'd stayed. One of those friends would have found me one, I'm sure."

I try to fill my cup again, forgetting for a moment that there's nothing left.

"If I'd had a wedding, I would've had to drink this wine," I say, looking up at the moon again. "And then you and I couldn't have had this nice night together, could we?"

Never before have I seen the moon so full, so bright. She dominates the sky, drowning the world below in her pale light, surpassing the mountains and the stars in a way the sun could never hope to match. She is sublime.

I close my eyes, fearful of being blinded by her beauty.

"You know, I've never written about you. Don't know if I could. You're too distant, unreachable to mortal men up there in the heavens."

The wind, a breeze so gentle I had not noticed its presence, stops. The crickets have tired of making their music, and it feels as though the night itself is listening to me, waiting with bated breath for what I will say next.

"Perhaps you could come down here for a little while?"

A silly request from a silly old man. But when I open my eyes I see her, not above me but in front, in the middle of the river. I half fear it is a mirage brought on by the drink, and I don't dare take my eyes off her. I stumble back to my boat, nearly tripping over my own feet as I push it out and climb in. I row and row until my arms are as heavy as mountains, but the moon will not let me reach her. She swims away as I approach, always just out of reach.

I see. She must want me to swim to her, then. I'm exhausted, but she is not far. I can manage that distance.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Judges 1:9-17

Unorthodox methods - 1074 words

Sergeant O'Neil hated Deneb IV. Not because it had done anything to him, but it was a backyard planet on the very edge of the Glorious Stellar Empire, and he was stuck there. Opportunities for career advancement were practically nonexistent. He pitied the poor bastard who'd be left to manage the place once the army had finished conquering the place, if they ever did. But maybe this latest development would prove effective.

"Fire at will!" he shouted.

The ground shook, and a thunderous roar filled the air. The projectile flew, far to fast to be seen, and struck the shimmering dome with a brilliant flash of light, causing the spectators to cover their eyes. The shock wave, along with the sound of impact, came a few seconds later, dwarfing the firing noise and knocking down an unfortunate private who had nothing to grab onto.

O'Neil helped him to his feet, gave him a pat on the back, and turned to survey the damage.

There was none. The dome still stood, proud and defiant, with not a scratch on the buildings beneath it. The landscape around it was a blasted wasteland, but it had been that way for several weeks, ever since they tried to bring down the shield with nuclear bombs.

"Keep firing till the gun breaks," he told the nearest gunnery officer. "Might as well, it's not like anyone else is going to need it."

The siege had been going on for nearly six months, and the higher-ups were getting impatient. Imperial forces had swept across the planet, conquering everything in their path, until they came to a screeching halt here, outside the supposedly defenseless city of New Debir. Rather than the immediate surrender they were expecting, the invading army had been greeted by an impenetrable forcefield that covered the whole city. In response, the Imperial forces set up camps around the city and engaged in the first army-on-walled-city siege in living memory.

It was not going well.

O'Neil made his way to the commander's barracks, his ears still ringing from the noise. Field accommodations were by no means luxurious, even for high-ranking officers — the only difference between Commander Jefferson's quarters and O'Neil's own was the holographic display table which took up most of the floor space. The sergeant's quarters had extra beds, instead.

"Rail gun's a failure, sir," said O'Neil.

Commander Jefferson looked up from the strategic display on the table. "What a surprise," he said, his face showing no surprise whatsoever. "What's next on the list?"

"Nothing, sir. We've exhausted our options."

A muted boom could be heard from outside, and the holographic display briefly showed a dotted line from the rail gun to the dome. The second shot seemed to have been as ineffective as the first.

"Hardly. We haven't tested orbital lasers yet." Jefferson sighed. "But I called in most of my favors just to get that rail gun here. I doubt we can get a warship diverted just for this. Probably wouldn't work, anyway. Looks like we're stuck out here until they decide to surrender of their own volition."

It did not seem likely to O'Neil that they ever would. New Debir was a highly developed city — they almost certainly had air recycling systems and hydroponic gardens enough to sustain themselves indefinitely. But the army was under strict orders to conquer the whole planet, not the whole planet minus one city. And they weren't a large force, by Imperial standards. Odds of them being called off to do something more important were slim. It seemed to O'Neil that they would likely spend the rest of their lives camped outside this one city, and that their children and grandchildren would be expected to do the same thing.

O'Neil was not very fond of this notion.

"What we need," said Commander Jefferson, "is to think outside the box. We can't get through with force. We need to be clever."

Of course. Just be clever. Why hadn't anyone thought of that before? But O'Neil swallowed his sarcasm, and offered an idea instead.

"Dig underneath?" he said. "The dome might not go underground."

Jefferson shot him an annoyed look. "I tried that the first week. The city's protected from below as much as above."

No way in, then. But the people of New Debir had no way out, either. O'Neil was getting an idea. An unconventional, insane idea. It would take time, and manpower, but they had plenty of both...

"We could bury them, sir," he said. "Cover the city with dirt and rocks. If they turn the shield off after that, the whole city will be crushed. If they don't, well, they're still out of the picture for good, aren't they?"

Jefferson stared at him. "You're getting promoted," he said. "Stay here and implement your plan. I'll take half the troops and round up the rest of the planet."

Tanks were replaced with bulldozers and excavators, rifles with shovels and wheelbarrows. Vast expanses of land were dug out down to bedrock to provide enough material to cover the entire city. The project gained widespread media attention due to its sheer audacity, and O'Neil was the face of it. Even the aristocracy took notice, and he was promised great rewards for his ingenuity once New Debir was entirely buried and the planet officially conquered.

Burying New Debir took nearly five years. Jefferson had subjugated the rest of the planet in just a few months after the first dirt was shoveled onto the shield, and had since been sent off to conquer some other planet. O'Neil had cursed his own cleverness many times during those five years, but now at last, there was no trace left of the city. He could finally get off this rock, maybe start a political career and become someone with real influence in the Empire.

It didn't take long for O'Neil to get his reward. A letter — an actual handwritten, ink-on-paper letter — came bearing the news. It said:

For exemplary service to the Glorious Stellar Empire of All Humanity, and on the recommendation of Grand Admiral Caleb Jefferson, it is the will and decree of the Most Glorious and Radiant Emperor of All Humanity that former Sergeant Jacob O'Neil be made governor and custodian of the fourth planet of the star Deneb, and that he serve the Glorious Stellar Empire of All Humanity in this position until the end of his days.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

"Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong."

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Oscar Wilde posted:

Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.

What could possibly go wrong? (917 words)

Bob had an idea, and it was the best idea anyone's ever had. Like, in all of history. There might have been some prehistoric fellow who thought of something better, though. The guy who invented fire, for example. Bob was willing to admit that fire was on par with his new idea.

“Billy! Get over here, you gotta see this!” he yelled, looking over his work. Spread out on the table before him were sketches, diagrams, and pages upon pages of mathematical formulae. Some of them had those fancy Greek letters in them, so anyone could tell this was real heavy stuff. Not for the dim-witted, no sir, only a real genius could understand this.

“What?” said Billy.

Now, Billy had a nickname. People called him “the Hill”, because he was large, like hills tend to be, and because he was quiet, which is also a thing hills often are. At least that's how it had been explained to him. Point is, when he entered that room, he didn't make a sound.

So don't look down on Bob for being a little startled. Take no notice of the pencil he was holding being flung across the room. Make no mention of his sudden motion toppling his chair, with him still in it. As for the pathetic “Eep!” that could be heard, say instead it was a mouse; the house had no shortage of rodents.

Let poor Bob keep his dignity. He doesn't have much else.

While Bob most certainly wasn't getting up from the floor, Billy looked over the mess on the table. Most of it he didn't understand—charts and numbers went right over his head—but he recognized the thing in the sketches. A Y-shaped wooden structure, with rubber bands attached. Next to it was written, in Bob's nigh-unreadable scrawls:

9 12 20 30 ft TALL!!!!!!

It was the biggest slingshot Billy had ever seen. Or would be, if it ever got built.

“What do you think?” said Bob, not favoring one leg after the fall he didn't take, “Cool, right? The Wright brothers can take a hike, this here's the future of air travel!”

The gears were slowly turning in Billy's head. He wasn't a thinking man, but he thought he could see where this was going.

“You going to shoot people with that?” he asked.

“What? No!” said Bob, “I'm going to shoot people from it. Huge difference, brother, try to use your brain.”

Yep, that's where it was going.

“Won't they... splat?” said Billy, smacking his palms together as if smashing a bug.

“You poor, sweet dullard,” said Bob, “of course they won't. We'll shoot them into a lake! Splash instead of splat, perfectly safe.”

“Oh,” said Billy. He still wasn't sure about this whole thing, but he trusted Bob. Bob had never been wrong before.

Well, that's not quite true. Bob was very often wrong, but he would just keep talking and talking until anyone who disagreed with him got bored and left. As far as Billy understood it, that made Bob right.

----------------------------------------

Building the slingshot turned out to pose few difficulties. Manpower wasn't a problem—a lot of people were willing to help the village idiots with their latest harebrained scheme, if only to see how it would go wrong this time. Materials weren't hard to find either, since some of the local industries saw the publicity value in helping create the world's largest slingshot. They thought Bob was joking when he said it was for human transport.

Let us fast-forward through the construction, then, and skip ahead to the maiden voyage, one clear summer evening.

The slingshot had been built in an open field, next to a highway. They didn't technically have permission to build it there, but the state was willing to overlook that for all the sweet, sweet tourist money the contraption would bring in.

Bob and Billy were the only people there. Their volunteers had all given up trying to talk them out of it, and none of them wanted to be implicated when the brothers inevitably wound up hurting themselves.

This had Billy a little worried, even though he trusted his brother.

“Bob, why does everyone think this is a stupid idea?” he asked while fastening the launch pocket to the back of their truck.

“Because it is brilliant,” said Bob, donning a pair of swimming goggles. He was already wearing the trunks; it wouldn't do for him to splash into a lake with all his clothes on.

Billy did not understand, and said so.

“Have I ever been wrong?”

“No...”

“There's your proof: People always argue with those who are right.”

Bob got seated in the pocket, and Billy hopped into the driver's seat of the truck.

“I think I get it,” Billy said, starting the engine. He pushed the truck forward slowly, the giant rubber bands offering more and more resistance. In the rear view mirror, he saw Bob working to cut the rope that tied the pocket to the truck.

Then Billy was struck by a question.

“Hey Bob,” he shouted over the noise of the car, “if someone doesn't argue, does that mean you're wrong?”

“No idea,” Bob shouted back. “Never happened to me!”

Then he got through the rope, and with a reverberating twang Bob was launched in the general direction of Lake Kickapoo.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


One end (671 words)

First came Bir the Invulnerable, first and last of the dragons, who rose from the sea to end the reign of Man. Bir stood taller than the highest building, and so heavy was he that his feet left prints even on the hardest rock.

When the people of the coast saw him, they fell to their knees and said: "Spare us, oh Great Dragon! Our time has not yet come! Return to the sea and sleep for one more age, we beg you!"

"Hey guys, I'm here," said Bir the Invulnerable, and his dread voice brought rot upon all the food that Man had stored away. The people of the coast now saw that the dragon would not halt his advance, and they called upon all the people of the world to stand together that they might stop him.

Yet all of Man's armies together could not harm the Invulnerable. In desperation, Man turned their greatest weapons upon Bir, and though the land was scorched for miles around him, Bir himself was not marked by the assault.

"This is the place, right?" asked he then, and the crushing noise of his inquiry echoed around the world, and all of Man's tools of war were bent and broken by the sound. Then Man's armies withdrew, for they knew they had lost, and the people in their cities were full of terror.

Then spoke Bir for the third time, saying, "Gosh, I hope I'm not too early," and all of Man's houses and towers and castles were turned to dust in the space of a single breath. Now Man fled the devastation to live in caves and forests and plains, as they once had in the beginning of time.

Thus ended the reign of Man.

Second came Destroyer Iki, the vulture of the end, who hatched from the earth to cleanse the world of Life. When Iki spread his wings entire continents would fall under their shadow, and when he took the air the sun would flee from him, and night came with him where he went.

When Iki saw his brother Bir, he went to him, and his wingbeats brought forth a terrible wind that ripped all the trees in the world from the ground, and even the grasses and flowers.

Then Iki said to Bir, "Yo, what's up?" and his breath was a poison fog that seeped into the lakes and seas and rivers, and all the fish in the world died.

"Nothin' much. You seen Ukr?" said Bir, and the ground trembled as he spoke, and Man in his caves knew his ordeals were not over.

"He should be around, it's his place and all," said Iki, and now his voice had a dreadful pressure that turned all the Men and animals who heard it into stone and shattered them.

"Guess we'll have to wait, then," said Bir, and the earth quaked once more, but there was none left to feel it.

Thus ended Life.

At last spoke Ukr, who was the World itself and who was always present, and he said to his brothers, "Man, look at this mess!", and they knew that he was angry, and were afraid to speak.

"We'll have to clean this up before we do anything else," said Ukr, and Bir and Iki were relieved for they knew they would be forgiven.

So Bir went into the ocean and drank up the poison, and made the waters clean again. And Iki took the dust from the ruined cities, and mixed it with the torn-up grasses and flowers and trees, and made it into fertile earth.

Ukr then broke himself in two, so that he was no longer the World. Then he took a feather from Iki and a scale from Bir, and fed them to the World that it might grow strong again and be what it was.

"All right guys, let's go," said Ukr finally, and he left with Bir and Iki, never to return.

Thus the World began anew.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In. Can't go wrong with Gold.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In. :toxx: to submit, that I may wipe away the shame of last week's failure.

Someone toss me a thread.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Florida Bans Mermaids

It's persecution, that's what it is (739 words)

Phil wished, for the thousandth time that day, that it would rain. The pool closed when it rained, and if the pool was closed he wouldn't have to check the visitors. He could go inside, wait out his shift there, instead of soaking his uniform in gallons of sweat.

Two hours, fifteen minutes until closing time.

They just had to insist on the uniform. No, Phil had said when they brought it up. Wearing a heavy uniform in the middle of summer, in loving Florida, was crazy. But they had insisted. Can't have a security guard without a uniform. Have to look intimidating.

Any port in a storm, any job in a recession. Phil sure hadn't expected to end up as a security guard at a pool, but then again, he hadn't known pools had those. The uniform was really just the lovely icing on the surprise cake of employment. He could live with it.

There was a steady trickle of people entering and leaving the pool area, mostly groups of children accompanied by a guardian of some sort. Nobody suspicious, as always. It was Phil's third day on the job, and so far the only interesting thing that had happened was some kid who couldn't swim getting pushed into the deep end of the pool. The parents had handled that; not like Phil could swim while wearing the goddrat uniform.

Gleeful, childish shouts—louder than usual—brought Phil's attention away from the entrance and to the pool itself. The cause of the commotion was easily spotted.

There was a mermaid in there. A genuine half-fish, half-woman. With an actual seashell bikini, to boot. It took a few seconds for Phil's heat-addled brain to realize it was just a costume. He must have missed her when she came in, though she likely wasn't wearing the tail then. A few more seconds before he realized this was as good an excuse as he was going to get to actually do something today.

"Hey! Mermaid girl!" he shouted, walking over to the edge of the pool. The kids and parents moved aside as he approached, but didn't otherwise bother to acknowledge him. "Mermaid! I need to talk to you!"

Phil had gotten her attention. She swam over to where he was standing, undulating like a fish. That had to be hard on her legs.

"Mermaid isn't my name, silly," she said, in an affected, sing-song voice. "It's Ariella Swimfin!"

Sure it was.

"Right, Ms... Swimfin," Phil said. "I'm gonna need to know what the deal is with your tail."

"Deal? Why, it's my tail. I use it to swim among the fishes in the sea!"

So she was either crazy, or loving with him. Phil was willing to bet on the latter, and he wasn't in the mood for it. He made something up.

"I need to know what it's made of. Could be a health hazard," he said. The mermaid's smile faltered a little in the face of his attitude.

"It's all... my natural scales!" she chirped. Her voice was grating.

"Really, miss?" said Phil, "That's what you're going with?"

Some of the bystanders were watching them, but kept their distance. The uniform at work, Phil hoped. He was practically melting in there, it would be good if there was some upside to it.

"Look, it's silicone, all right? Totally safe." The mermaid's smile was practically gone now. Her voice was down to a normal level, with none of the fake melody in it.

They used silicone in children's toys, Phil remembered. Harmless.

"I don't know, miss, that could be dangerous," he said.

"Just let me have this, please?" the mermaid pleaded, speaking quietly enough that the bystanders probably couldn't overhear. "I've had a poo poo week, and this is kind of a way to unwind. I know it's weird, but..."

Phil shook his head, approximating a regretful expression.

"Come on, the kids love it."

He hated kids. The best part of his job was never having to interact with them, except to chide.

"Sorry, miss," Phil said. "I have to ask you to vacate the pool area."

She left without making trouble, though she did let loose with the profanity first. Phil didn't care. He just went back to his spot by the entrance, watching people come and go, sweltering in the sun.

Two hours, five minutes until closing. Phil's best day at work, so far.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


A personal letter, ca 1930 (1131 words)

Dearest Ethel,

It is with a heavy heart that I write these words, for I have only dark things to tell in this letter, things I ought to have shared with you long ago. Only now, in the final hours of my life, has my mind been freed from the influence that kept me from seeing those horrors for what they were. Would that I had the strength to take action, but as I can barely lift the pen to write this, I must place my hopes on you.

Do you recall the manuscripts I acquired from the Jesuits eighteen years ago? Among them was a most eccentric text, written in an alien script and filled with illustrations both bizarre and grotesque. You dismissed it as a mere curiosity when I showed you, but I was already convinced that it held a great secret, some insight into the workings of the universe long lost to modern science. After all, I had reason to believe it had been authored by Roger Bacon himself. I know now that this cannot possibly be true—no man of God would ever be associated with such vile things as can be found in that book.

In those first weeks after acquiring it, I spent many nights poring over the contents of the timeworn pages. I did not mention it to you then, for fear that it was imagined, nor later, for fear that it was true, but I felt always as if I were on the verge of understanding what the text said. I could not decipher it alone, however, and no one in London seemed able to help me either.

This, in part, is why I chose to leave you behind and move to America. There, I was certain, I could find a cryptographer with enough skill to solve this mystery. In this I had little luck at first, though I frequently showed the manuscript to potentially interested parties and even held public showings of it. The year before you joined me in New York, however, I was introduced to a man named William Newbold, who seemed both willing and able to solve the mystery of the manuscript.

I left the matter to him, and though we corresponded frequently, I largely put the manuscript out of mind until August 1926, when Newbold asked that I visit him in person. He was agitated when we met, almost irrational, and he repeatedly stressed to me that the author had to be Roger Bacon, and that the manuscript was a collection of scientific discoveries he had not published elsewhere. Though the explanation was satisfactory to me, I wondered what had prompted Newbold's strange behavior. When he died a month later of the same sickness that now afflicts me, I once again grew interested in the manuscript.

Newbold's explanation satisfied the scholarly community, but not me. I continued the search for answers alone, with a morbid obsession I could not explain. I researched in secret, always feeling close to uncovering something both great and terrible.

It was not until last year that I found the key to understanding the manuscript. I will give no details as to how, but I will say it was an ordeal that took a significant toll on my health, both mental and physical, and that it is indirectly responsible for my impending death. I believe poor Newbold found the same thing, and that it affected him even worse than it did me.

Upon translating the first few pages, I found that the book's author, whoever he was, must have been a madman. The text is a mixture of science and weird arcana, of prophecy and incoherent rambling. The first chapter, which I translated before anything else, details methods for growing chimeric plants and the strange mixtures that can be brewed from them.

The section detailing their use was incomplete, however, and so I dared to try only the first. When imbibed in a certain way at a certain time, it was meant to grant a vision of the future.

What I saw in that vision now unnerves me greatly, though at the time I was only fascinated. As the taste of nightshade and knapweed faded, I found myself standing in the middle of a crowded square, and whenever I turned my gaze upon someone, they would fall to their knees in supplication. I walked through the city, and every man, woman and child swore fealty to me. They raised me up, and followed me with empty eyes, and did whatever I bid them to do. With them I traveled across the world, and soon there was no one who did not see me as a living god. They never spoke to each other, and never made a sound except to sing my praises with their hollow, lifeless voices.

Behind me through it all, always behind, no matter where I turned, there lurked a great shadow. It asked that I sacrifice a token few of my followers, and I gladly complied. Then it asked for more, and again I obeyed, and again and again until the world was empty but for me and the shadow. Then it asked me to sacrifice myself, and I was elated at the prospect of doing so, but the vision came to an end before I had a chance to act.

Emboldened by this vision, I set about translating the last few pages, which are the most dense with text. I skipped the middle parts, thinking I could return to them later. What I found in those final pages was a partial record of several more visions. The book's mad author had tested the vision concoction on several others, all of whom saw themselves in the same role I had, as emperors of a dead world. Even then I was not disturbed, but glad, for it seemed to me a good future.

The middle section of the book, which I fortunately did not have time to translate in its entirety, described in detail how to bring about the future both the madman and I had seen. When the stars are right, a scant century from now, anyone who knows the methods can bring about this silent apocalypse.

This must not come to pass, Ethel! I will not have such desolation be the legacy of the Voynich name. I can only pray that the book's vile influence has not yet reached you, for you must destroy it. Throw it on the fire, or if you cannot bring yourself to do that, then throw it away, hide it where it will never be found. If not—if you have fallen under its spell—then I fear the future of mankind will be short indeed.

Burn it, Ethel.

Yours always,
Wilfrid

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Doggone suburbs (873 words)

Alexei crept toward the hedge, tranquilizer gun at the ready. He thought he'd seen something move in there, but it was hard to be sure with only the streetlights to see by. If he approached quietly, maybe he could...

"...might as well have anarchy!" Mrs. Haskell said, half-shouting the last word. There was a startled "meow" from the bushes, and a cat darted out towards the nearest house. Not the target, then.

"I'm sorry," Alexei said, his tone as patient as he could make it. The job would have been so much easier if Mrs. Haskell hadn't insisted on coming along. "I didn't catch that last part."

"I said, we can't let our lawns grow longer than three inches," Mrs. Haskell said, annoyed. "Four inches, that's practically inviting anarchy, but the Wilsons said..."

Another riveting anecdote from the Rassgart Homeowners' Association board. Alexei couldn't understand why these suburban people cared so much about the tiniest, most irrelevant things. He preferred not to leave the town proper at all, but this had been a personal request from the Mayor himself. The kind you couldn't turn down.

"Sorry to interrupt," Alexei said, "but we're trying to find a feral dog here. Can't sneak up on it if you're talking."

Mrs. Haskell looked genuinely confused. "But we already know where it is. Hiding out behind the Hendersons' house. You know, the ones who moved in last week? It's been there all day, the Hendersons had to keep their kids indoors..."

Alexei rubbed his temples. "I don't live here, Mrs. Haskell. Why didn't you mention this before?"

"I thought we were having a pleasant conversation. Honestly, young people today, no patience at all. You know, in my day..."

"Mrs. Haskell!"

She stopped her tirade, glanced at her watch. "Fine, fine. No need to be so rude. This way."

Mrs. Haskell led Alexei a short way down the street, then took a right. A car was pulling out of the Henderson driveway just as the house came into view, and drove down the street away from the pair.

"Out at this hour?" Mrs. Haskell said, indignant. "In my day we didn't go out past supper."

"If they're not home, they won't be worried by what we're doing," Alexei said, walking up to the house. He leaned against the side of the house, and considered his plan of attack.

Mrs. Haskell said the feral dog liked was hiding out in the back yard. If it was territorial, it might attack Alexei as soon as he stepped around the corner. He could probably hit it with a dart before it got to him, but in the worst case scenario, both he and Mrs. Haskell could get mauled. Better take precautions, just in case.

"You're not likely to need it, but take this," Alexei whispered, handing a spare tranquilizer to Mrs. Haskell. "Don't shoot without my say so. Too many darts might kill it, and I like to bring 'em in alive, understand?"

She nodded and accepted the weapon with an unexpected nonchalance.

Alexei rounded the corner. A heartbeat later, he was tackled to the ground by a two hundred pound ball of fur and muscle, barking loudly. He felt its stinking breath on his face, and fumbled with the tranquilizer. A dog like that could tear out his throat if he didn't knock it out fast.

Then it started licking him. Nearly smothered him with sloppy dog kisses. No way this dog was feral. Alexei hadn't seen anything so tame in his life, so why—

Thwip. Thwip. Thwip.

The dog's relentless show of affection slowed to a crawl, then stopped. Its legs buckled, and it fell on top of Alexei, pinning him with its weight.

Thwip.

With a grunt of effort, Alexei rolled the dog off himself. There were four—thwip—five darts sticking out of its torso. It didn't seem to be breathing anymore.

"You told me it was feral," Alexei said. "But it's got a loving collar. And it sure didn't seem hostile."

"Yes," Mrs. Haskell said, casually offering Alexei his gun back. "I also told you our conversation was pleasant."

Alexei carefully checked the pulse of the great beast. Nothing. "You killed it."

"No, it ran away," Mrs. Haskell said with an unpleasant smile. "Now there's a big, dangerous dog loose in the neighborhood. I'm afraid I'll have to push for stricter pet regulations at the next Association meeting. I don't doubt it will pass, now."

She shot the dead animal a venomous look. "We can't have such untidy creatures around. Absolutely ruins the neighborhood aesthetic. Now get that thing to your van before the Hendersons come back."

Nobody would ever call him a paragon of virtue, but Alexei did have some ethics. "This is pointless animal cruelty," he said. "You're on your own."

Mrs. Haskell shrugged. "Leave it if you want. I'm not the one who owns a tranquilizer gun. Nobody will blame me for this, but it's better for both of us if you just do your job."

Alexei didn't have a rebuttal. He cursed under his breath, and jogged to the parking lot. Even after parking the van just outside the Henderson house, it took some effort to heft the carcass into the back. Mrs. Haskell didn't help, of course. She left him with the words: "Tell the Mayor I'll burn the pictures. Some of them," and walked off.

He drove back to his home in the inner city, where people were crazy in saner ways.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Been out too long. In.

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?



Not judgin' (574 words)

"One guy wanted me to take a dump on him," said Nikki, shrugging. "Not as as bad as some of yours."

The others nodded in agreement. They'd all been there at one time or another. For some of them, scat wasn't even in the top ten weirdest things they'd done for a client.

"Janine, your turn. This oughta be good."

"Oh yeah," Janine said. "Got all of you beat by a mile."

She grabbed a toothpick and started clearing food scraps from her yellowed teeth. The others waited waited in attentive silence. When Janine finally put down the toothpick and spoke, it was in a low voice that did not carry to the nearby tables.

"I used to have this roommate, Shannon. She was in the business, too, and she had this one regular client. Rich, white, middle-age, you know the type. Lawyer or something, I don't know. Anyway, one day Shannon tells me she needs some help with a job, 'cause this guy made a special request. So I tell her you know I don't do threesomes, because I was still new back then, and she says no, I just need advice."

"It doesn't count if he wasn't your client," Rachel said, but she was quickly hushed by the others. Janine ignored the interruption and went on.

"See, the guy had offered Shannon ten times her usual rate, and she wouldn't even have to get naked. He wanted to play a game, had even bought some land just outside town to do it on."

One of the new girls, Ema, frowned. "No way I would have taken that deal. Sounds like murder waiting to happen."

"S'what I told Shannon, but she says she haggled the guy up to thirty times the usual rate. So I say gently caress it, it's your funeral, what do you need? And she goes to her room and comes back with this big water gun, and says, these were her exact words, 'I need to fill up two of these with feline urine.'"

The table stared at her in silence, except Nikki, who said "What?"

"Cat piss," Ema said.

"Yeah, turns out he just wanted to have a big old water fight," Janine said. "But with cat piss. And we don't have a cat, so Shannon needs my help to find some. It was loving surreal. I helped her out though, for some of the money."

"I think we have a winner," said Nikki. "Janine's drinks are on us for the next month."

"No way," said Rachel. "We said weirdest john, not weirdest friend's john. My tree thing was worse anyway. I'm still finding bits of bark in my couch."

"That wasn't it, though," said Janine. "My weirdest client was a couple of weeks later. Just had to tell you about Shannon's first."

"Spill it, then."

"Another guy — well, rich white and old, so basically the same guy, but you know, a different person — comes and asks me for the exact same thing. Even had his own little plot of land."

"Bullshit," said Ema. "That kink's way too specific."

"I thought that too. Figured the guy was just messing with me or something, but he paid half up front. Turns out there's a whole subculture of these guys."

"Two is not a subculture," said Nikki.

"Got a couple more after. It wasn't even weird anymore, by then."

"Where'd you get that much cat piss, anyway?" asked one of the girls who'd been quiet during the story.

"Are you making GBS threads me?" Janine said. "I faked it with food coloring and some ammonia for the smell. Idiots never knew the difference."

Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


In.

I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken.

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Auraboks
Mar 24, 2013

...huh?


Your deadline means nothing to me, filthy Briton, and furthermore I am dreadfully sorry for the delay.

The city without stories (1159 words)

When I finally reached the marble city, I found a man in a golden robe waiting outside its gates.

"I welcome you on behalf of the Shining King, ambassador" he said. "For you I am the Jubilant, and it is my honor to be your guide."

I didn't know the customs of the marble city, of course, but I managed to fumble my way through a properly formal response. It wouldn't do to offend a potential ally during the first formal visit.

The Jubilant knocked on the gates, twice, and they swung open. The streets and buildings behind it, like the city walls and its gate, were all of polished marble, almost blindingly white in the sunlight. The guards on the inside offered friendly smiles as we went past, quite unlike the dour demeanor I hade come to expect from watchmen.

"Come," the Jubilant said. "I will show you our great city, and then you will rest, and only tomorrow will we talk politics."

"Great," I said. It had been a long trip, and I wasn't really up for verbal sparring just yet. A tour suited me fine.

The marble city was rich and well-known, but it wasn't large. The streets were regular, laid out in concentric circles with twelve spokes going from the walls to the center. Each sector had a single landmark — a square, an arena, a government building — but they were otherwise nearly identical, full of the functional, blocky houses where people lived.

People were scarce, but the Jubilant assured me this was merely because they were unused to strangers; once they got used to me, he said, I would meet many more. Most of the citizens we did run into appeared to be in a hurry, and didn't stop to chat. We only met one person who did not hide from or avoid us. In the middle of Sun's Square, we found a kneeling, weeping man. He did not raise his head to look at us; his eyes were fixed on his wrists, wrapped in blood-soaked bandages.

He had no hands.

"Do not look," the Jubilant said. "He is a criminal, not worth your pity."

"What did he do?" I asked, somewhat queasy. Very few crimes warranted mutilation back home.

"He stole," the Jubilant said. "He will not do it again."

Once we had seen all the landmarks — it only took a few hours, even on foot — the Jubilant took me to the hill at the heart of the city. A great palace stood on its top, with a dozen lesser buildings surrounding it. While the other buildings in the city were simple, boring things, this one had a domed ceiling, a door almost as large as the city gate, and decorative patterns carved around the windows.

Two white-clad young people, a man and a woman, met us outside the palace.

"To you, they are the Attending," the Jubilant said. "Whatever you need, they will provide. I will come again tomorrow, and we can talk."

The Attending showed me to one of the small houses near the palace, which had apparently been reserved for guest use.

Over the next week, I spent most of my time with the Jubilant; it seemed he was also the Shining King's diplomatic representative. Most of the time we talked about politics, trade agreements, and the possibility of war. I didn't see much of anyone else, except the Attending, and they weren't very talkative. One day, I remarked to the Jubilant that I hadn't seen any books around, or any writing at all for that matter.

"Few people in our city can read," he said. "The Shining King, myself, and a few mute clerks. It is much too dangerous a skill to teach everyone," he said.

"Really?" I said. "Where I am from, we have found that educating commoners makes them less disposed toward rebellion. Not to mention it makes bookkeeping far easier."

"Dangerous ideas spread like disease, and writing them down... It is like a ship full of plague victims, sailing from port to port. We cannot risk it."

I pondered this for a moment. "Subversive literature should be illegal, yes. But letters? Stories?"

At this, the Jubilant's eyes fell. "You mean lies. No. We do not allow these, not even spoken. Say no more of this."

But I continued. "Cultural differences, I suppose. No offense, but I guess it's a good thing I won't be staying here forever. No stories at all sounds... depressing."

The Jubilant sighed. "That was an unwise thing to say. Stories are lies. Lies are evil. No good can come of them, and saying otherwise... that is one of the dangerous ideas I mentioned before."

My heart stopped for a moment. Had I broken some obscure law? Was an alliance off the table now? The Attending, always nearby, were fidgeting and looking everywhere except at me.

"Your... thoughts... are no danger to me," said the Jubilant. "To the Shining King, I am the Trusted. But they" — he gestured to the Attending — "are not."

"We didn't hear anything!" said one of them. The other was quiet, her eyes wide and flickering from place to place. "We didn't hear anything, and we won't say anything. Please."

But the Jubilant paid them no heed. He signaled the guards with a gesture, and the Attending were soon apprehended.

"Follow," he said to me. "See what you have wrought."

I didn't want to see. But with nowhere else to go, I followed.

The guards dragged the Attending through the palace, the girl kicking and struggling, the man trying to talk through the gag they had stuffed in his mouth. We came at last to a secluded room with thicker walls, and no furniture except an already-lit fireplace. One of the guards drew a knife.

He did not kill them, as I had feared. Instead, he put his knife into the fire, leaving it there until it was red-hot. The two other guards forced the Attending girl to her knees and held her there. In the corner of my eye I saw the Jubilant do the same to the man.

Finally, the guard with the knife forced open the girl's mouth with one hand. He dug around in her mouth, trying to grab something. She screamed and struggled, and I couldn't tell if it was rage or fear or both. But when the burning metal severed her tongue, they turned to screams of pain.

When they did it again, I couldn't watch. I stared into the fire instead, tuning out the screams as best I could. A lump of flesh landing in the flames told me when it was over. The Attending had stopped resisting; now they only whimpered. The guards shoved them out of the room, leaving me alone with the Jubilant.

"You shouldn't... shouldn't have punished them," I said. "They didn't do anything wrong."

The Jubilant nodded. "No punishment. They are safe now, and cannot spread your toxic thoughts."

Apparently he had been the one who cut out the second tongue, because the knife was in his hand, still glowing faintly.

"You, however, did do wrong."

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