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Aug 23, 2003

Sign me up.


Aug 23, 2003

Just wanted to say that this contest is really cool and I'm happy I did this. I haven't tried to write any fiction in many years and I found this far harder than I expected. The first day I had no idea how I'd get all the way to 1200 words, by the end of the second day I had no idea how I'd keep the story shorter than 2,000 words! I don't think I fully succeeded because the story feels a little truncated but all the same this was a very helpful exercise. I just hope the end results aren't too embarrassing.


1262 words

Under a leaden sky three thousand corpses manured the earth, stinking like an abattoir and a latrine trench combined. Drifting on the wind were the moans of the wounded, but not so many as there had been a half hour before. Silence was falling even as the shadows lengthened. A little longer and the transition from battleground to graveyard would be complete.

The bodies lay in twisted heaps of flesh and metal. Here one could see where a few men had been drawn away from their line and slaughtered; there lay a few pin cushioned with arrows and javelins when they made their last stand. Near the centre of the battle where the fighting must have been fiercest the bodies piled three or four high.

Quintus pulled the wool cloak tighter to his body, but it was not the wind that chilled him. He had seen the bloody handiwork of the legions before, but that was ill preparation for the scene that confronted him. Here the enemy had been fellow Romans, and the fighting had been all the more terrible for it

He picked his steps carefully as he navigated amidst the dying light, eager not to step on any dead body or upturned blade. Twenty paces ahead Sextus leaned to inspect another body, and Quintus walked to his side.

“This one will have to do,” said Sextus. Beneath him lay the wreckage of a young man who would never grow old.

“It would be better,” said Quintus, “if we did not pick a citizen. Back there I saw some Nubians, they should serve just as well.”

“He will have to do” Sextus repeated. “Check for wounds. She said that he must still have his belly and throat intact.”

A cursory inspection revealed a deep wound above the knee. It had been a single brutally efficient stab – the kind that would have made any drill master proud. The blade had plunged into the thigh just above the protective metal of the man’s grieve but below the bottom lip of his shield. It was a killing blow, the mark of a well trained legionary. Quintus had seen such wounds before, but never on a fellow Roman.

Together they stripped the man of his armor and then carried him from the field. It was work fit for slaves but Sextus had insisted that they travel alone.

They reached the cave as the first rays of moonlight began to show through the ragged clouds. Amidst the rocky Thessalian countryside the entrance might have been mistaken for a mere fissure in the rock if not for the wisps of smoking drifting up from within.

“These hills are crawling with foraging teams. She tempts fate, keeping an open fire like this.” Quintus said.

“Tempts fate?” Sextus barked out a laugh that did not reach his eyes. “Remember who we are dealing with.”

The entrance of the cavern was narrow, but within a dozen paces it widened into a space as wide as the courtyard of Quintus’ villa. At the far edge of the room lay a vast unlit pyre built of sticks and timber. He could not fathom how a lone woman had assembled such a structure in only a few hours time, and he did not care to let his mind dwell upon the riddle.

A much smaller fire had been set in the centre of the room, and there, tending to a bubbling pot, hunched Erichto, the witch of Thessaly.

With her sallow, wrinkled skin, rotting teeth and half bald scalp she looked impossibly ancient, yet she balanced on her haunches with bended knees, a position that would have produced agony in Quintus’s aging joints.

She had been naked when they left her hours before, but now she was clothed in a mottled shroud. Amidst the remnants of her stringy white hair coiled a living snake, and Quintus saw another serpent was wrapped about her arm. Slowly her head raised up to meet his gaze, and the crone’s cracking lips drew back into a toothless grin as they placed the body before her.

“In the coming days my father shall be master of the world,” said Sextus with a voice that barely wavered “or else rightful heir to the greatest funeral rites Rome has ever known. I bid you do as we have agreed and remove doubt from my mind.”

“You have done well, son of Magnus” said the witch of Thessaly. Casually she dipped a hand into the bubbling pot and stirred its putrid contents with a bony finger. “Let us see what secrets we may learn.”

The witch was humming now, and passing her hands through the air above the cauldron. Then she gripped the cauldron with one hand while with the other cradled the corpse’s head as she began to pour the brew into its mouth.

“This is an ill business,” said Quintus.

The body twitched.

“Aye,” said Sextus, “perhaps-“

“I can show you the shores of the lake of fire,” laughed the witch, “the broken backs of conquered giants, or the snarl of Cerebus himself. Yet you tremble to speak with ghosts, who are themselves afraid?”

The full contents of the pot had bubbled down the corpse’s throat now. Some of the dark and viscous liquid overflowed the lips and dribbled down the chin, but most poured down its throat.
The corpse’s hand curled into a fist.

“Charon, Persephone, Hecate! Hear my call,” hissed the crone. “Remember the taste of the blood I’ve spilled for you! Savour again the infant flesh I’ve fed you! Nyarlathotep hear me!”

The corpse twitched again but did not move. Erichto snarled and gave the body a savage kick. When it remained inert she reached into her hair, pulled free the snake nesting there and violently lashed the corpse with it.

“Do not defy me!” Screamed the witch, her body shaking, spittle flecking her lips. “Shall I unchain the sun and dispatch its fire to your chthonic halls? Hecate, shall I rip free the masks that hide your ugliness from the sight other Gods? Shall I summon you to this earth and leave you to wander here for all eternity? Tremble before me and heed my call, you who would call yourselves immortal!”

Abruptly, stiffly, the corpse began to rise, a puppet held aloft on invisible strings.
Its sightless eyes twitched uncomprehendingly. Thickened blood oozed from the wound in its thigh. The pallid face opened and closed its slackjawed mouth. From the back of the cave came a wind that made the fires dance and flicker.

“Behold, spirit, the son of Pompey Magnus, your master during life,” said the witch. “Answer his questions and I shall restore you to your rest.”

“I am cold” moaned the corpse.

“Do as I bid and I shall warm you in a fire that will put you beyond the reach of further magicks,” said Erichto. “Defy me and I shall leave your shadow to wander these hills for the rest of time.”

“Soon my father shall face Caesar’s men in battle,” said Sextus. “Tell me what the outcome shall be.”

“Son of Pompey, know that soon your father shall dine with us in splendor. O’ scion of an ill fated house, Fortune divides your graves among the lands you have triumphed over and you shall find no place in all the world less dangerous than Pharsalia.”

“Then Caeser will win the war?” asked Sextus.

“Caesar too shall join us,” groaned the corpse. “And he shall bring many with him. Now do as you promised, witch, and release me to oblivion.”

Aug 23, 2003

All right, time for round two. Sign me up.

Aug 23, 2003

Keeping His Promise

1200 Words

“Rakesh? Christ, what time is it?”

Matteo kept the phone cradled between his ear and shoulder while he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Next to him Lianne grumbled and put a pillow over her face.

“I think you had better come down here Matteo. We’ve got a situation on our hands,” said Rakesh.

“Hold on, I’ll call you back from the conference room,” said Matteo.

“No, we need you down here right away.”

“No way. It’s my week off.”

“We need you here in person. No talking on the phone. When you arrive I’m supposed to escort you past reception so that you don’t have to sign in,” said Rakesh. “Officially you still are on vacation.”

Matteo said he’d come up and then hung up the phone.

“Do you remember what you told me a year ago?” asked Lianne.

“Not now Lianne. Please.”

“You promised you’d find another job.”

The ride to the Green-Grove/Star-Lake Administrative Control Facility took half an hour by surface travel. Matteo spent the time reviewing his notes but that was easier said than done with the cab’s built in television set at full volume.

The commercials were atrocious and the talk show wasn’t much better. Mostly the discussion was about the primary, with the majority of pundits agreeing that 2064 was looking like it would be a good year for Marquist after his upset loss four years earlier.

Rakesh was waiting for him on the steps of the G-G/S-L Administrative building. He shepherded Matteo past the main desk and up the service elevator without letting him sign in.

“What the hell is going on?” Matteo asked once they were past the front desk.

“You haven’t been following the news?”

“Not when I can help it,” said Matteo. “Does this have something to do with Marquist being the favourite for next month?”

“No, not exactly. There’s been another riot in Star-Lake West,” explained Rakesh. “It’s bad. Half the district’s administration buildings were being occupied before the Custodians showed up.”

“So call the police,” said Matteo. “It’s out of our hands.”

Rakesh chuckled and shook his head.

“You really are out of the loop, aren’t you? Marquist has been raising a stink about privatization. His entire campaign is that the Custodian system isn’t working. If we call the cops in to settle an Industrial Dispute in the heart of Old LA a month before the primary it will vindicate his entire campaign. Victor wants this settled through the proper channels.”

They found Victor pacing back and forth in the main conference room. Kavitha, Heather and Antoine were seated around the table.

“I’m telling you” said Heather “it’s the stipend. Every time Washington raises it we have another incident. The miners know they’re going to eat no matter what, so why should they care if we dock their wages? They’ll wait us out. You want this fixed, crack the whip.”

“We aren’t talking about some burbclave in Green-Grove, we’re talking about Star-Lake,” said Kavitha. “We may be an irrelevant backwater but Los Angeles is a name that still means something to a lot of people in this country. One video of the Custodians shooting protestors on Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll hand Marquist his victory faster than if you had called in the police.”

“She’s right,” said Antoine. “If half the district starved nobody would pay attention. You start shooting people and we’re gonna end up on national television. Guaranteed Marquist will be chanting ‘Remember Star-Lake’ at every campaign stop from here on out.”

Victor glared past them to look at Matteo.

“Enjoying your vacation?” he asked.

“Trying to,” said Matteo. “I’m Logistics, not Security. Why am I here?”

Victor gestured dismissively at those seated around the table in front of him.

“Get out,” he told them. “Not you Rakesh, I want to speak with you two alone.”

“What’s this about?” Matteo asked once the other had decamped.

Victor ignored his question. Instead he turned to Rakesh.

“What’s the current estimated stockpile in Star-Lake West’s holding facility?” asked Victor.

“Ten tons of Neodymium. Six tons Europium. Probably about—“

“I know the numbers for my department” interrupted Matteo.

“And you know that there are four hundred million people in this country depending on those resources being redistributed” said Victor.

“Not really,” said Matteo. “Star-Lake is hardly the only rare earths deposit. Last year Happy-Junction—“

“Let’s stay focused on Star-Lake” said Victor. “We can’t afford to lose a shipment, not now. We might not be America’s biggest or most glamorous district, but if everyone isn’t pulling their weight then this country is in trouble. I’m sure you can see that. If we can’t keep our own supply lines running what message does that send to the Brazilians?”

“I just make the trains run, I don’t see what this labour dispute has to do with me,” said Matteo.

“That’s exactly it. We don’t want the trains to run.”

“Wait, you what? That isn’t an option.” Matteo glanced nervously at Rakesh, who remained tight lipped.

“Not officially, of course. We just need you to delay a couple of grain shipments.”

“You do that and people will starve.”

“Hunger has a certain power to bring clarity” said Victor. “It reminds people of their place in the grander scheme of things. That’s all we’re looking for—a reminder of why it’s important to keep all the shipments running on time.”

“So this is how you’re going to end the occupation? Starving people?”

“Would you prefer we use force?”

Suddenly Matteo wasn’t looking at a man anymore. Standing in front of him was a six foot tall rat clad in an ill fitting suit. The rat smiled and ran its long, leathery tong over the row of sharply pointed teeth protruding from its mouth. Matteo threw a panicky glance at Rakesh but if he had seen the change he showed no indication of it.

“This is the most humane course of action,” explained the rat, speaking with Victor’s voice. “It’s also the most efficient.”

Matteo took a deep breath. It was a hallucination. He was seeing things. It wasn’t real.

“It violates every code of—“

“Officially it will be a computer error,” the rat explained, “a computer error with career enhancing prospects.”
Rakesh was nodding. Except it didn’t look much like Rakesh anymore. It was another rat.

“Star-Lake is a backwater,” said the rat-thing that had been Rakesh a moment before. “There are fifteen hundred districts in this country. In a year we’ll hold a disciplinary hearing for one of your subordinates and exonerate them of any wrong doing. None of this will touch you, and at the end of it you can move on to somewhere that actually matters.”

“The name of the game here is keeping out of the spotlight,” added Victor. “We don’t need Marquist raising a stink about the way we do business here. Let’s remain obscure.”

Later, after he had taken some deep breaths and splashed cold water from the bathroom sink into his face, he called Lianne at home.

“Listen sweetheart,” he said, trying to forget what he had seen. “I’ve been thinking. You remember that promise I made a year ago?”

Aug 23, 2003

Sign me up.

Aug 23, 2003

Good Times

982 Words

The first time that she asked, Claire said I’d be doing her a favour. Later, after I said yes, she seemed to think she was doing me a favour.

I was still living in Kensington Market, only taking out my school books when I needed to squash a roach. We never ate in and the fridge was always empty, but somehow there were still dishes piled up in the sink. Every time the toilet backed up our Chinese landlord forgot how to speak English.

“It’s free money and good food,” Claire said. “Don’t you at least want to try?”

“I don’t think I could do something like that,” I told her. “I’m not judging you; I just don’t think I’m that strong.”

“It isn’t about being strong. Mostly you just have to listen. These guys are really lonely. They want somebody to pretend that they’re still interesting.”

“I know that,” I said, “but what about afterwards?”

Claire just shrugged.

All in all she was a surprisingly good roommate. When Alice had first told me that she was going to be spending a semester in Europe and would need to sublet her room I had prepared myself for the worst. Two years later I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked with Alice but Claire and I were still living together. It isn’t easy to find somebody you can live with, and unlike Alice she never had any trouble coming up with her half of the rent.

“You’re young and beautiful,” Claire said. Sometimes when another girl tells you that it feels like she is hoping you will disagree with her. Claire wasn’t like that. She seemed genuine. Liberated, almost, like all that bullshit was already behind her even though she was only 22 years old. “Don’t you want to live a little?”

“I just don’t think it’s who I am.”

“You don’t know that until you’ve tried it,” she said. “Besides, how much money did you make at the bar last week?”

It was a loaded question. She knew my hours had been cut almost in half. She had been there two days earlier when I came home crying because one of my tables had skipped out on their hundred dollar tab, leaving me to pay their bill.

* * *

They took us to a restaurant with $50 entrees and a panorama view of the city skyline. I’d made the mistake of taking a couple rips on Claire’s bong before we left, and in my $60 H&M cocktail dress I felt unbelievably tacky and self conscious entering a room of people twice my age.

Somehow I had imagined that my date would look like Richard Gere or George Clooney, all rugged masculinity and salt and pepper hair. He didn’t. In comparison my Dad would have looked young and spry. Claire was right about the food though, it was the best I had ever eaten.

From the way they talked to each other I guess my date and Claire’s date were old friends. They talked louder than anyone else in the restaurant, slapped each other on the back and mostly ignored us. It made me wonder if maybe my guy was disappointed in how I looked. Then, while we were all laughing at one of his jokes, he reached under the table and squeezed my knee, and I felt a thrill run up the back of my spine like I was looking off the ledge of a tall building.

Later, in his hotel room, I found out he was born in Hamilton, just like me. He really liked hearing that, especially when I told him I was born at Hamilton General. He wanted to know what floor I had been born on, and seemed really disappointed when I didn’t know. He kept telling me that we could have been born in the same room.

During the cab ride I had kept mentally preparing myself for what was coming. I was sure he’d be all over me the second we were into his room. Instead he made two drinks at the minibar and slumped down into a chair. Claire had been right about that too. He seemed more interested in talking.

I don’t know if he would have made a move eventually, I got tired of waiting. Maybe I was afraid he wouldn’t give me as much if we didn’t do it. Or maybe I just felt like after coming that far it would be stupid not to go all the way.

I had never touched an older body like that before. I guess he had spent a lot of time on beaches because cause his skin was wrinkled everywhere. His balls seemed to hang halfway to his knees. His thing was the biggest I had ever seen up to that point, but it looked funny, like a dog had chewed on it or something.

Later, when I told Claire how much he had given me she seemed impressed. She told me he must have really liked me, and that I shouldn’t always expect that much. I told her there wouldn’t be a next time.

Collin called me a couple of days later. We hadn’t spoken in a few weeks, not since he blew me off on our last date. He told me how sorry he was, that he had been going through some hard times but felt really bad about ditching me.

Later, after our date, I lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling. Collin had seemed genuinely sorry when his credit card was declined. He promised he’d pay me back.

I tried to remember what it felt like eating good food, holding real money in my hand. I thought about the bar, and having to smile when someone pinched my rear end because I needed the tip money.

And I thought about Claire, who always paid her rent on time.

Aug 23, 2003

I'm in, Toronto here.

Aug 23, 2003

Past Tense


(Toronto, ON)

“… and that’s the last thing he ever said to me,” said Lauren.

“Very eloquent of him,” said Rob.

He threw a glance over his right shoulder, pretending to check the traffic, scoping out her reaction. The Allen Expressway was a two lane parking lot in both directions. Lauren’s mouth was pressed together so tightly that her lips were just a thin line etched across her face. Her eyes were wet.

“Hey,” he said. “He was my cousin; I can mourn him however I want.”

“Yeah, well you seem real upset.”

“I am upset,” objected Rob. “That isn’t fair.”

Of course he was upset. Had to be upset. The six days since he’d picked up the phone and found out that John had wrapped his car around a telephone poll had been awful.

But a couple hours ago, at the wake, when Rob offered to drive Lauren back to Toronto and she said yes, he’d started feeling a bit better. He knew he should feel guilty about that, but didn’t. Maybe in a recursive way he felt guilty about not feeling guilty, but mostly he felt a weird kind of relief that she had said yes. They’d been talking, more than they had talked in the last five years, – not like it was old times because it never could be like that again – but the conversation had flowed easily.

They inched forward a couple of car lengths. Rob leaned in his seat to get a view of the accident but all he could make out were the thousand or so pairs of tail lights lined up in front of them. Lauren blinked away a tear.

“I’m sorry,” said Rob. “That was uncalled for.”

“Yes it was.”

“It’s just, well, you told me you haven’t talked in three months and you guys weren’t exactly on the best of terms—“

“Stop it Rob,” she said, and then she started sobbing.

“Ah Christ Lauren, please don’t, not while I’m—hey come on, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll shut up now ok? Put one of your CDs on.”

“You have no idea how hard this is,” wailed Laura. There were long lines of black mascara tracing their way down her cheeks. “You don’t have to tell me he was an rear end in a top hat. I know who he was. But I’m all alone now.”

“Come on, that isn’t true. The whole family is here for you. There’s enough money to put Jeffrey through college.” He turned his eyes off the road to look right at her. “Lauren, I’m here for you.”

She was just sniffling now. The traffic had developed a sluggish forward momentum. The flashing emergency lights of the road crew were visible ahead of them now, and beyond that Eglington Avenue.

“Is that why you were so eager to drive me?” she asked.

“I didn’t want you taking the bus. Not after all this.”

“Your uncle could have driven me.” There was an accusing tone in her voice.

“You seemed pretty happy to take my offer.” Rob was speaking through gritted teeth now. gently caress, it was true, she had been happy. If this was wrong then she was just as guilty as he was.

“That was a mistake.”

“Not the first mistake we’ve made together,” said Rob. Before he was finished speaking he wanted those words back.

Lauren was staring straight out the window.

“I think you had better drop me off at the subway down there,” she said.

“Sure,” said Rob. “You’ve been running away from this for five years. Wouldn’t wanna break that perfect streak now.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“You know why.”

He thought she would cry again but she didn’t. Maybe she was out of tears.

“I love you Lauren. Sorry if that’s inconvenient.”

“It’s selfish.”


“It’s very selfish what you’re doing.”

“John doesn’t care. He’s dead. He wouldn’t even care if he was alive.”

The traffic was moving again now. Not fast, but the Allen was never fast in rush hour. They were approaching the site of the accident. The end of the Expressway was another fifty meters. Cars were still slowing down as they passed the site of the wreck, drivers craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the carnage, but there was nothing obstructing the road.

“What about me?” she asked. “What the gently caress am I supposed to do with this information?”

“Say, ‘I love you too.’”

She laughed, or at least that was his best interpretation of her nervous bark. She reached into the glove compartment, removed some tissue, and started fixing her face in the passenger side mirror.

“It was a lovely road trip Rob. It was a lovely summer.” She sounded a lot older than her twenty-seven years. “But it was half a decade ago.”

Five years. It felt like a long time and it felt like nothing at all. What were a mere 1,826 days between friends?

“You said you’d marry me.”

“Christ Rob, we were on shrooms when that happened. We also said we were going to rob a bank and then flee to the Caymens.” She shook her head. “Would you have even wanted to get married?”

“Probably not,” he admitted. “But honestly Lauren, that was the best night of the best summer of my life.”

They pulled off the Allen and onto Eglinton. The traffic rapidly thinned as it was absorbed into the bloodstream of the city. They drove in silence. He turned south onto Bathurst Street.

“Does your mom still live in that apartment off College?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she said. She was silent for a minute, then: “I had feelings for you too, you know.”


“And it was stupid of me to get back with John again after the trip. I know that now. I’ve known it for a long time.”

“Yeah we’ve all known it. Even my Mom, and she actually liked John.”

“But Jeffrey was the best thing that ever happened to me. And if all my fuckups with John were the price of that, then so be it.”


“Jeffrey is my life now Rob. I don’t think you’ll understand that until you have a kid yourself.” She sighed. It made her sound old. “We really did have something special, I know that. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten pregnant we could have figured it out.”

“Well yeah, there’s that elephant in the room again.”

She frowned.

“You know what I’m talking about.” He said.

“We had sex one time after we got back. You wanna know how often me and John were loving back then?”

“But the dates match up. You told me that yourself right after you found out.”

“I wanted to hurt you. I was angry.”

“Yeah, but it was still true.”

“Does it even matter? I was with John before that trip. I was with John afterwards. He never even knew it happened, we said we’d keep it that way. I can’t base the rest of—Rob, are you crying?”

He was.

“What kind of a question is that? Does it matter? It loving matters to me!”

“Pull over, you can’t drive like this.”

He pulled over. The tears hit hard and fast. They left him feeling depleted.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said, after he was finished. “It’s been a weird week.”

“Rob, we’ll always share something. But you don’t love me, and Jeffrey isn’t your son. You just buried your cousin; you need to go home and sleep, OK?”

“Yeah,” he said mechanically. “Ok.”

Aug 23, 2003

In with The Secret in the Stars

Aug 23, 2003

I wish I had more time to try and actually make this concept work a bit better within the allotted word count but like a lot of people real life kinda kicked my rear end this week. Here's my barely edited entry:


The Secret in the Stars

1,299 words (the asterisks and the title push the word count up to 1,325)

Francis didn’t know why he refused to look. At first he thought it was a joke. Later it seemed like Simon had simply lost it. No one carries a joke that far.

Then Lisa killed herself.

Sitting alone on his porch after the funeral, drinking his father’s beer and wondering why he couldn’t summon any tears for his dead friend, Francis’ mind had wondered skyward. What the hell had Simon been talking about that evening? What had Lisa seen on the other end of that telescope?

“Have you seen it?” Simon asked him on the night of the party.

“Seen what?”

“The secret in the stars.”

At the time it had been easy to make a joke and ignore Simon. Only Lisa had been willing to humour him enough to actually go upstairs and look into the telescope. She’d fiddled with the dials, moved the scope form side to side while Simon egged her on. And then, just as she was ready to give up, she had seen something. Francis could not imagine what it had been, but the blood had drained from her face and her eyes got watery, and after she told them in a wavering voice that she had to go home they never saw her again.

Two days later her parents found her in the bathtub after she chased a bottle of painkillers into her gullet with a mickey of vodka.

* * *

The telescope had come along with an entire attic’s worth of junk when Uncle Phil died. Francis’ father, who never threw anything out unless it absolutely couldn’t be helped, had recruited Francis and Simon to clear out Phil’s stuff. It wasn’t a bad way to end High School and start their last summer together. They smoked joints in the backyard when Dad left to go into town, and he brought them beers for when the job was done.

It took them days to clear everything. Phil’s attic was a testament to his long career. Dozens of boxes of papers, old artefacts retrieved from digs around the world, and in one corner his framed diplomas from Harvard and Miskatonic.

What Phil was doing with a telescope was anyone’s guess. It was new and, according to a quick Google search, state of the art. A receipt that had been left in the box showed the telescope was purchased weeks before Phil’s death. The $5,000 price tag seemed excessive for a man who had never made more than $65,000 a year but Phil was known to be an eccentric.

Simon was better with those kinds of instruments. From the moment he first saw the telescope he had become obsessed with figuring out how it worked. Francis didn’t mind, it seemed appropriate that somebody was interested in learning how to use the drat thing given what it had cost. He’d even considered giving it to Simon as a gift, but the price tag had made him hesitate.

So instead he’d humoured his old friend, sitting on the porch with him, watching while he tried to get the god damned thing to work. Night after night they sat beneath a canopy of stars talking about girls, life, and the end of High School and bright future that was now barreling toward them at freight train speed. And all the while Simon had toiled away, adjusting the dials and interrogating the manual to learn the device’s arcane secret. But until the night of the party Simon never saw anything worth reporting on.

* * *

A week after Lisa’s funeral Simon called him. They hadn’t spoken since the night of the party.

“Have you seen it yet?” Simon asked.

“Simon? Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Where have you been man?” Francis asked. It was Simon’s voice on the other line, but it didn’t really sound like Simon. “You missed the funeral.”

“I need to know if you’ve seen it yet.”

“Seen what?”

“The secret,” said Simon, and his voice lowered to a conspiratorial pitch, “the secret in the stars.”

* * *

“When’s the last time you talked to Simon?” asked Francis, a couple of days later. He was sitting with Maya in the kitchen of her stepmother’s house watching the fireflies.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see him at Lisa’s funeral. The week before that is all a blur at this point,” she said.

“Yeah, he skipped the funeral. Then he called me the other night.”

“Is he ok?” she asked.

“I don’t think so. I was hoping maybe you’d heard from him.” Francis paused a moment, unsure of what else to say. “You know he was the last person to actually talk to Lisa? I’m think he’s feeling mixed up about what happened.”

“I’ll talk to him,” offered Maya.

Later that evening, after he got home, Francis realized that the telescope was missing from the balcony. It would have been easy enough for a burglar to climb up there but nothing else was missing from the house.

* * *

“He showed me,” said Maya. Francis rubbed his eyes and checked his alarm clock; it was 4AM. He hoped his father hadn’t been woken by the phone’s ring.

“Maya? Who showed you?”

“I talked to Simon,” said Maya in a distant voice. Francis was reminded of the way his mother used to speak to him when she was simultaneously trying to read the newspaper.

“Is everything ok?”

“Yes... No, maybe not. It just isn’t what I expected.”

“Maya, what are you talking about?” Simon asked.

“I’m getting sleepy,” Maya mumbled. “Just tell him I’m sorry. I can’t keep a secret like that.”


But the line was already dead.

* * *

Maya was luckier Lisa. Somebody found her in time to call an ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Francis tried to go and see her but at the hospital the nurse on duty was adamant: family only, no exceptions.

On a whim Francis took the long route home, the one that took him right past Simon’s house. Uncle Phil’s telescope was sitting prominently in his bedroom window.

* * *

Francis found his father rummaging through the basement, surrounded by opened cardboard boxes that were all overflowing with the content of Phil’s attic.

“Hey Francis. Do you remember seeing a clay disk when we were clearing out Phil’s attic?”

“No. Why?”

“The museum called. They think your uncle might have taken an artefact out of the storage locker. Some kind of astronomical tablet. They say it’s very valuable.”

“Dad, do you ever find yourself wondering about Phil’s stroke?”

His father looked puzzled.

“Not really. Why?”

“Phil didn’t have a history of medical problems did he?”

“Not that we know of. But most people don’t swerve into a highway overpass unless something goes wrong, and there wasn’t any alcohol in his blood.”

* * *

“Have you seen it yet?” Simon asked him.

“You’re scaring me Simon,” said Francis.

“I need you to look.” Simon said.

“I need you to tell me what the gently caress is going on. What did you do to Maya?”

Simon laughed. It was the most awful noise Francis had ever heard.

“Don’t you want to see it?” Simon asked.

“You mean the secret in the stars?”

Simon nodded.

“You stole my telescope.”

“You weren’t using it.”

Simon stepped out of the door frame and allowed Francis to walk inside. His house was empty.

“Where are you folks?”

“They didn’t like seeing it. The secret, I mean.”

They went to Simon’s room. The telescope was sitting by the window.

“Simon, please tell me what’s going on.”

“No one can tell you the secret,” Simon said. “You have to see it for yourself.”

“Talk to me.”

“First you have to look.”

Francis hesitated. What was the worst that could happen?


And there it was, in all its awful glory.

The Secret in the Stars.

Aug 23, 2003

Lots of helpful criticism, sad to say it but writing a really bad story probably taught me more about writing than producing a winning entry would have. The only thing I'll say in my defence is that I'm a bit dyslexic so the awful grammar mistakes were hard to avoid - often I literally don't see them - but of course that isn't really an excuse, just a reason that I need to spend more time editing my entries.

Also, sign me up for next week.

Aug 23, 2003

The Price of a Crown

1200 Words

Every nerve and sinew in Lavinia’s arms burned, and only the vast drop beneath her dangling feet kept her from relaxing her grip. With her right hand anchored on a dangling length of root she slowly raised her left and stretched up to reach for the ledge above her. Sweat pooled in her eyes and the sun’s rays seemed to beat even more fiercely upon her sunburned skin as she strained upward. She felt so weak she did not think she would reach the handhold, and for a moment her left arm dangled uselessly, refusing to rise.

Then the root she was gripping started to sag under her weight, and an avalanche of dirt and pebbles began cascaded down the crumbling rock. With a surge of pure will her left arm shot upward and her blood stained finger tips grasped the narrow ledge just as the root gave way. For a heart stopping moment she was sure she would fall. Instead she hung suspended from her left arm, and knowing that the end of her climb was close gave Lavinia a final surge of energy with which to grasp the ledge with both hands and haul herself up.

She lay there by the cliff’s edge, sucking air into her tortured lungs, trying to blink the sweat and tears out of her eyes. For just a moment she ignored the hot sun and the rocks poking her back, and marveled that she was still alive.

The plateau she had reached was covered in a riotous mass of brightly flowering bushes and rope sized vines, beautiful but too dense and tangled to be called a garden. Leading from the cliff’s edge deep into the interior of this overgrown thicket was a paved road of red brick that Lavinia now followed.

Balthazar was waiting for her around the first bend of the road, balancing himself on an ornate staff with an iron tip fashioned into the likeness of a snake. It was strange to see him without his crown and wearing only a robe rather than the gold and purple cloth of his office.

“You have made it.” He said simply.

“The others?” she asked.

Balthazar shook his head.

“Are you ready?” he asked her.

“I am.” She said. “Are you?”

“Oh yes,” answered Balthazar, and he smiled. “I do not fear death today.”

Perhaps in other circumstances the oddly conditional phrasing of that sentiment might have aroused her suspicion, but just then Lavinia was entirely focused on the task at hand.

At the end of the red brick path was an amphitheatre whose dimensions had been carved into the living rock. Here sat the entirety of the Atlantean Synod. Unlike Belthazar, the dozen men assembled there were decked out in elaborate robes and sashes that glistened with scintillate jewels and diamonds.

Lavinia watched as the faces before her melted into masks of bemusement, confusion or rage. Some of the seated men began to rise, others balled their hands into white knuckled fists or stamped their feet angrily. In an instant the atmosphere of pregnant anticipation became one of dissolute anger and rage.

“What is the meaning of this?” shouted one of the men who had leapt to his feat. Lavinia recognized him as Ahenobarbarus, Seneschal of the Northern Reach.

“Esteemed masters,” intoned Blathazar. “Only a single candidate has survived the trials, and she stands here before you—”

“Enough!” interjected Ahenobarbarus, “today you have over stepped your bounds Balthazar. In your pathetic quest to evade death you would make a mockery of our most sacred institution!”

Another of the seated men spoke up.

“Ahenobarbarus is right. It is improper to bring a woman before this Assembly.”

“As Hierophant I alone select who shall be an Acolyte,” replied Balthazar, speaking loudly enough to be heard over the frenzied mutterings of the Synod. “The tablets are unequivocal on this point. I selected them to be tried, just as you, My Lords, chose their trials. Here is the only Acolytes to survive those trials.”

“This is pathetic,” snarled Ahenobarbarus. “Are you so afraid of death that you must resort to cheap tricks?”

“I, for one, am impressed by his audacity,” said another of the men. “The Synod, tiring of his mismanagement, demanded that new Acolytes be tried so that a new Hierophant might be crowned. And our Balthazar, with his usual cunning, has found a loophole wide enough be a noose around all our necks.”

“I resent these implications,” said Balthazar. “But I shall not dwell upon them. The time for the final trial is at hand.”

“Beware girl,” said Ahenobarbarus. “This man has used you for his own ends.”

“My name is Lavinia,” she said, straining to hide any hint of doubt from her voice. “And I am no one’s pawn.”

“Then let the trial begin!” shouted someone else.

The men surged from their seats and formed a ring with Lavinia and Balthazar at its centre. A sword flashed free and was thrust into Lavinia’s hand. Another was offered to Balthazar but he waved it away. There was no pause, no moment to catch her breath in the aftermath of the climb.

An icy calm settled over her. She had long prepared for this. There could be no new life without death, and no Hierophant would rule Atlantis except by stepping over the body of their predecessor. But of all her trials Balthazar had promised that this would be the easiest – a mere formality – for he was old and had no desire to continue ruling.

There was no warning. No further discussion. Balthazar’s first attack was swift and brutal. In an instant the staff in his hands went from being a crutch to a weapon as he thrust its iron tipped head toward her face. Reflexively she pulled backwards, the staff sweeping close enough that she could feel the air displaced by its passing.

He doesn’t want to lose she realized desperately. She shuffled backwards to create distance but felt the pressing wall bodies behind her blocking off further retreat as Balthazar lunged forward to attack again. The staff swung at her head.

Lavinia was in no state to survive an extended duel. This time she stepped forward to meet his strike. She threw up her left wrist to shield her face and felt the bones of that arm snap under the impact of the blow. But even as she did she was driving her sword into his belly.

Balthazar groaned and the staff fell from his dead hands as he pitched backwards. Lavinia collapsed, grasping at her splintered wrist as fresh tears sprung to her eyes. The ground rushed up to meet her.

“Water!” she gasped.

“It seems that Balthazar outsmarted himself” said someone. “What shall we do now?”

“We shall do as we are told,” said another. “Bring the Hierophant water!”

I shall not squander this, thought Lavinia as she examined her ruined arm. Unbidden an image of the beggar children she often passed in the marketplace came to her. One of the many unused Acolyte dormitories might house them, and Balthazar’s crown alone might buy them a year of bread.

“Help me up,” she commanded. “There is work to be done.”

Aug 23, 2003

Enough Fascist Fashion chat, give us the prompt!

Aug 23, 2003

I'm in.

Aug 23, 2003

So at this rate I guess it's pretty much guaranteed we'll have a 1,000 word maximum.

Aug 23, 2003

Oh crabrock, if that were true I'd be king of thunderdome instead of being one of the many anonymous corpses manuring its bloodstained killing floor.

Aug 23, 2003

Yeah I'm sorta holding off on starting because I have real problems staying under the word limit and don't want to end up cutting half of what I've written. Is there any kind of floor below which the word limit won't drop?

Currently I believe there have been 29 sign ups in which case our word count would be 690.

Aug 23, 2003


systran posted:

Noah can you please give me 150 words. I have done 666 words already but I want a buffer for if the word count gets lower. PLEASE, you're my gruncle!

In an act of enlightened despotism I believe Crabrock already declared that 666 shall be the limit.

Aug 23, 2003

Svetlana Vershinin

662 Words

A lifetime ago her name had been Svetlana and she had lived with her family in a suburb outside of Moscow. One day government men had walked into the house without wiping off their boots and shot her father through the heart. She hid the linen closet and listened through the wall as the soldiers raped her older sister on her parent’s bed.

After they found Svetlana they covered her face with a bag and threw her in the back of their truck. They drove for what seemed like days on bad roads, stopping from time to time when the men had to dig the truck’s tires out of the icy mud. At the end of the drive they took the bag off her head and dragged her through a grey concrete courtyard and into an elevator that descended for a very long time. That was the last time she could remember seeing sunlight.

That must have happened to her a long time ago. She’d been here so long that her breasts were starting to develop and she had begun to bleed every month, just like her big sister once had.

And ever since the monthly bleeding started, her third eye had opened.

She never knew she had another eye, her old family and friends, and all the guards and doctors at the facility, only had two eyes. When she looked at her reflection in the toilet bowl she saw that there wasn’t really a third eye poking out of her forehead, at least not one that anyone else could see.

But she knew it was there. It showed her things her regular eyes couldn’t see.

She could feel the eye getting stronger. If she lay perfectly still and controlled her breathing she could see and hear what was happening outside the walls of her cell. When she lay on her back and watched the dust motes swirling through the air over her head she could use her third eye to make them drift up and down or side to side. Once, waking from a nightmare, she found a fresh crack running down the length of her wall. Somehow she was sure the third eye had done that as well.

Tonight her regular eyes were closed, but her third eye was watching Dr. Andronikov. He only visited every forty or fifty meals, and his presence meant she was going to be given electric shocks or cold showers, or that a woman in a white coat was going to sit with her in a white room and force her to guess what symbols were on the back of cue cards.

Today Andronikov was just down the hall, speaking with a man who had a lot of ribbon and metal ornaments on his chest.

“I’m surprised you’ve never recognized her,” the ribbon man said.

“Why should I?”

“That’s Boris Vershinin’s daughter.”

Something stirred inside Svetlana. She would not have recognized her own name, not anymore. But she knew her father. Her pulse quickened and the anger crowding up inside of her threatened to break her concentration.

“Was that the President’s idea of a joke?” asked Andronikov.

“You know the story. Vladimir is fond of such jokes. He found this one particularly delicious.”

Svetlana’s third eye told her that beneath the graying hair and sagging skin, these two men were filled with veins and arteries and soft pulpy organs. She had moved motes of dust. Moving a few blood vessels wasn’t so different.

“Poor Boris,” said Andronikov. “Even worse, his daughter shows no aptitude. She’s going into puberty now and still there’s no sign of the change.”

“Perhaps you did not traumatize her sufficiently.”

“Nonsense. The only explanation is that her aptitude test was a false positive.”

Svetlana focused on the veins carrying blood into Andronikov’s skull. It was simple enough to hold back the flow of blood.

“Perhaps you don’t know where to look—are you feeling alright?”

“I’m...” Andronikov gasped and dropped dead.

Aug 23, 2003

I'm in.

Aug 23, 2003

Next Time Finish the Job

639 Words

Re: Next Time Finish the Job

You aren’t going to win this.

After the lunch bell everyone was talking about you and how hard your life must be. They wanted to send you flowers and write on your Wall and tell you everything was going to be OK. They almost fell for it, congratulations.

I’m telling the real story. Now everyone knows what you did. Nobody is going to come visit you. No one cares about your stupid cry-for-help look-at-me behaviour. The only way you could make us care is if you did the job properly. Cut VERTICAL next time.

Last year I thought that you were my best friend. I would have done anything for you. People used to talk about how gross you were with your weird hand-me-down dresses and that ugly mop of oily black hair. I would defend you. I always made sure you got invited to Sandy’s cabin even though she didn’t really want you there. I gave you my old dresses so people wouldn’t know your dad can’t keep a job for more than two weeks.

I can’t believe how stupid I was being. I let you get close to me and you tried to destroy me. But even worse, you attacked the person I love. I will never forgive you for that.

Even your cousin says you’re just a slut looking for attention. Your family wishes you would go away forever and stop making their lives hard with your selfish behaviour. You think you have this whole town wrapped around your finger but you’re wrong. Tessa and I are going to make sure everyone knows about you. You will pay for what you have done to me. You’ll pay for the rest of your life.

No one is going to believe your disgusting lies about Chris. If you try it you’ll be in real trouble. They all know you and your deadbeat dad and how your mother got so sick of your bullshit that she abandoned you. Just because your life is hosed up doesn’t give you a license to hurt people who are better than you. We won’t let you destroy someone from a good home just because yours was rotten.

Oh, and by the way, lying to the police is a crime. If you try to make them hurt Chris then everyone in town will unite against you. Don’t forget that my uncle is on the force.

I still can’t believe you would come to me with that disgusting story. Did you really think you could get between me and Chris? You’re so deluded that it’s almost funny.

He never even liked you. He always told me I shouldn’t trust you. And I’ve seen the way you look at him when you think I won’t notice. Why would he want anything to do with a dirty little skank like you in the first place? Even if he was going to betray me, which he never would, why would he waste his time on an ugly freak like you?

I cried for days when I found out the awful things you were saying. For a second you made me doubt the person who loves me the most. I hate you more for that than anything else. You’ve never had someone love you so you lash out at the people who are luckier than you could ever hope to be. If you were a dog they would put you down for behaving that way.

Stop calling me. Stop sending me messages. As soon as you tried to get in-between me and Chris you were dead to me. A couple shallow scratches on your wrist won’t change my mind. If you really want my forgiveness then instead of screwing around next time finish the job.

Your “Best Friend”

Aug 23, 2003


sebmojo posted:

How many words am I down to?

Edit: I've critted most of the stories above - anyone who I haven't done and wants a crit speak up.

I'd like one when you have the chance.

Aug 23, 2003


Aug 23, 2003

When we submit are we supposed to only provide a google drive link?

Aug 23, 2003

More Than You Can Chew

960 words

Aug 23, 2003

So when do we find out about the second part of the conflict, and should we be ready to set aside further time in the next day or two for some additional writing, editing or other activity?

Aug 23, 2003

Just submitted my story to Kazka. That was a really awesome prompt idea and even if all I get is a rejection letter I'm extremely happy that I actually submitted a story to a real venue for writers. Seriously, that was really cool!

Oh, and sign me up for this week as well.

Aug 23, 2003

So I had to help clean out an office this weekend and then ended up looking after my nephew. I think I'm going to be screwed.

So since I've got nothing I guess I'll multiply my failure by grabbing the remaining flash bounty:

Bad Seafood posted:

WANTED: A story inspired by this song.

I have no idea where this is going to take me but I don't think it'll be pretty.

Aug 23, 2003

Let's just say that as I was polishing off this turd I had to remind myself that I already have a losetar. Sorry for mangling a cool prompt:

it's a bitch convincing people to like you

too many words

Every time another wave washed over her face Cynthia’s legs and arms felt heavier and the agony in her lungs got worse. The sucking embrace of the undertow pulled her down like an anchor tied to her thrashing legs. Saltwater burned as it flooded her mouth and nostrils.

The ship was almost below the waves, but enough of its flaming prow remained above the water line to cast flickering illumination on the undulating ocean tide and the broken bodies and debris floating in it. Had she not been fighting for her life Cynthia might have recognized the scene – it was a close reproduction of her second Album’s cover.

Help me! She thought desperately as her lungs began to fill with water.

Why should I?


Cynthia met Laurisa in a police station when they were both seventeen. Laurisa’s parents had recently died in a house fire that, in later years, would no longer seem mysterious. Cynthia was between her first and second bids in juvenile hall. They fit together like jigsaw pieces – each filling in something the other lacked.

They had only one fight, right after Laurisa first told Cynthia where her seemingly endless supply of money and good luck came from. It was hard to accept that Laurisa’s answer was serious and not some kind of exceptionally dry humour. Eventually it became clear just how deadly serious her friend was being.

“I don’t believe in God,” Cynthia said.

“Who said anything about God?”

“Can the Devil exist without God?” she’d asked.

“Christians have faith. We Satanists have proof.”

So they’d waited till Aunt Sarah was out of town, and then they’d locked the door and closed the blinds. Hand in hand they’d lit the candles and said the words.

That was how Cynthia learned that proof to Laurisa was more than just the fact that bad things happened to good people. It turned out proof meant a voice answering their candlelight invocation, and much more besides. Proof was a credit card that was accepted everywhere and never hit its limit. Proof was easy sexual access to every rockstar and celebrity who had ever died and gone to Hell – most of them, as it turned out. Proof was a fire that burned your parents alive and left you, their underage daughter, in control of the estate, no questions asked.

Maybe none of that was as unexpected as Cynthia pretended it was. Somehow hearing the voice of Satan speaking felt right, like it confirmed something she’d already suspected. Satan’s price was not what she expected though.

“I figured people would sell their souls to make it in the music business, not the other way around.”

The Devil’s amusement was palpable, even though his voice was speaking through Laurisa’s mouth.

“What makes you think I need to barter for your soul?”

“I thought that was how this worked,” she said.

“Look sweetcheeks, from now on I’m going to do the thinking for both of us.”


Despite having an infinite budget for studios, equipment, cocaine and other niceties Cynthia and Laurisa’s first album took a long time to get off the ground. They shared a lot of things, but their taste in music diverged wildly. Their first attempt at a compromise leaned heavily toward Laurisa’s preferences with a lot of drums and electric guitars and lyrics rife with semibiographical tales of murder and sincere invocations of Satanic power.

Cynthia could have left it there. Music was something to listen to, not something she’d ever imagined building her career and life around. If Laurisa wanted to push their album into a Death Metal direction then it hardly seemed inappropriate given their infernal benefactor.

The Devil was less impressed.

“Can’t you make it more accessible?” He asked, speaking through their pet cat.

“Accessible?” asked Laurisa incredulously.

“You know, lighter, more upbeat, maybe try something with a 4-4 structure and a catchy hook. Something you could dance to.”

Laurisa, who had sat dry eyed as they buried her family, had never looked so horrified.

“Cynthia has a lovely contralto voice, I’d like to see you make more use of that as well.” Satan continued. “And the lyrics need to be toned down. Remember the point here is to get this stuff into the right hands. If Mom and Dad see a warning label that gets a lot harder.”


Their success only tormented Laurisa. Every time one of their singles inevitably topped the charts it enraged her further. Even worse, none of her antics seemed to make it into the tabloids or even onto the internet. A conspiracy of silence amongst the media strangled each of her futile attempts at notoriety in the crib.

A few days before their third album dropped Laurisa asked Cynthia to meet her at a church downtown. It seemed like a strange place for them to meet but, as Laurisa explained later, it was probably one of the few places where they could speak without fear of being overheard by you-know-who.


Cynthia wasn’t struggling against the tide anymore. She was dimly aware of the salt water filling her stomach and making her gag, and even with her head below the water she could see the orange fireball that was rising over the ocean as the flames jumped from the prow of the sinking ship to the oil slick floating on the water.

Aren't you going to help me? Cynthia pleaded.

I’m thinking about it. How much of this plan was your idea?

What could she say? She had known about the bomb. Corralling some of their hated fans onto a ship and sinking it was something Laurisa had been fantasizing about for months. She’d had similar schemes in the past and all of them had been foiled by faulty bomb wiring or defective firing pins. This time Laurisa had been sure it would work though: she said the hidden lyrics she’d inserted into the chorus of their latest single would see to that.

I just can’t decide what to do with you. Murmured the voice in her head. I feel as though our bond of trust is broken.

I didn’t know! Please!

That part was true. Of all the stunts Laurisa might pull, inserting the words of the Lord’s Prayer into the chorus line of their song wasn’t one of them. That bit of Truth had apparently been enough to set Laurisa free from her hated fans, and it had tricked the devil himself.

One of her hands grasped something floating on the surface of the water above her. Her oxygen starved brain barely comprehended what she was grasping between her fingers, only raw instinct caused her to haul herself out of the water.

Thank you! Oh thank you!

I already lost one soul tonight. You’d probably go to heaven, and I’d never be able to forgive myself for that.

Aug 23, 2003


sebmojo posted:

Hillock needs to be wearing his :toxx: jammies if he wants to show his face round here again I am thinking.

I always kind of assumed that if you failed to submit one week then you were obligated to Toxx your next entry. Is that not the case?

Aug 23, 2003


Jeza posted:

Sounds like a nice challenge.

Flash Rule: Your story must be about something being "broken into pieces".

I'd buy that for a dollar.

Flash Rule Your story must begin with the protagonist dying.

Aug 23, 2003

In with Scottish English.

Aug 23, 2003

The Lord of Skyguard

995 Words

Sam didn’t like Arthur Meghan, but in the six hours that he’d been watching him through the scope of his rifle he had started to admire him. He wasn’t like the other men that Sam had killed over the years. Just from the way he walked you could tell that the self styled Lord Meghan of Skyguard wasn’t going to put up with your bullshit.

You could see it in the behaviour of his underlings too. Watching men through a scope let’s you focus on the important things like body language. Sam had learned a long time ago that, when you were observing men having a conversation, you learned more when you couldn’t hear them. If you want to know who is in charge, who commands respect and who is secretly held in contempt, it’s best to cut the volume and let your eyes do the listening.

By this standard, Meghan was in a class of his own. Sam guessed that his men had learned that Meghan was on his way at about the same time that he’d gotten a message on the comms telling him that his target would be arriving shortly. You could read it in the men’s faces and in the way that their backs stiffened. Just knowing the man was on his way had exercised a visible effect on their behaviour.

He showed up acting like he owned the place. That point of contention was, of course, why Sam currently had the Lord of Skyguard centered in his crosshairs. But watching him stride back and forth across the compound barking orders, Sam saw that in some primal way this was the truth. He owned it in the way that the Alpha dog owns it’s bone, or the way that the top cock owns its hens. A twitch of Sam’s finger and the Lord would pass beyond the realm of earthly possessions; but, until that moment, there was no question who was the real master in Skyguard. Meghan owned it by primal right, his men controlled the land and he controlled his men with an unquestioned loyalty that money couldn’t buy.

“Eureka Six, this is Eureka Actual,” hissed the comm in his ear, “prep your shot and sound off when ready.”

“Do ya ken that the chopper is still flyin roond the sky, lad?” asked Sam. There was a moment of annoyed silence while Eureka Actual, miserable Yank that he was, struggled to process Sam’s thick accent.

“Eureka Six, it is imperative that you line up your shot.”

“I dinae wish to pit ya oot, lad, but I dinae plan ta shoot till the chopper is doon.”

There was another silence. Sam imagined that Eureka Actual was conveying his concerns up the chain of command.

“Eureka Six, that Cobra is sixty years old; if it had a working detector on it you already would have been spotted.”

“Ah kin see the dish with me oon lyin eyes, auld son. If the chopper kens which direction the shot came from, it’ll catch me signature right quick, invisibility clook or no.”

There was another long silence as the Yank relayed this to his superiors.

“Eureka Six, we can have a drone in the sky in ten minutes. The Cobra will be down before it sees you.”

“Do ya think I was barn yesterday lad? If yeh could place a droon in the sky yah would not need me at all. Do ya ken why they named this place Skyguard?”

Meghan had exited the command pavilion again and was crossing the parade ground. Sam tracked his progress. He wondered if his Lordship had any idea that the Yanks had given up on their negotiation with him. Probably not, or else he wouldn’t be walking about in the open. Then again, it was Sam’s experience that in an age of machine warfare men sometimes failed to appreciate that the oldest ways of killing were still the most effective. Skyguard’s aerial defenses might keep half the continent impervious to assault from the air, but the false sense of security those defenses conveyed was a danger in and of itself.

He found himself, for the first time in his career, wondering what his target’s voice sounded like. He had assumed it would have a typical posh sound, the kind of accent you’d expect from somebody calling themselves a Lord. Sam wasn’t so sure now. Unlike the men who had hired him for this mission, Meghan wasn’t wearing a radiation suit. He was walking amongst his men just as exposed to the elements as they were.

Shite, he thought. I am starting to like the bastard.

“Eureka Six, there is a drone en route. If you plan on ever working again, we suggest you line up your shot.”

Meghan was speaking into a radio now. Through his scope Sam could see the way the laugh lines around his eyes expanded and contracted as he talked.

“Ah dinae have the shot yet,” he said. He was starting to think that the way this yank was speaking to him sounded quite a lot like the way his father’s foreman had sounded the day he’d come round the house to tell his ma that there’d been an accident down in the mines. We’ve prepared a compensation package for you, ma’am, and if you plan on taking it we suggest you sign our confidentiality agreement.

“Eureka Six—“ Sam reached up and pulled the comm out of his ear.

I’m getting soft. He thought.

The Cobra was circling the landing pad. Its power cells would be recharged in twenty minutes. Sam wasn’t thinking about that though. He was thinking about the deer he’d seen in the woods last week. Nature had started recovering, these last few years. There were plenty of ways a man with a gun could earn his living these days.

“Best of luck ta ya, yer Lairdship. Ye’ll surely need it,” said Sam, and he lowered his scope.


Aug 23, 2003

How did somebody rise to the position of Doge when they were only 18 months old?

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