The Way I Won (1188 words)
When I decided to play in the third grade checkers tournament my classmates made sounds like ostriches. Or terriers. Or bubbles popping. "Baby," Mrs. Miller squeaked - everyone else was honey or pumpkin, but I was always baby - "I don't want to discourage you, but I'm not -"
"He can do it," my sister sang, taking my arm (Hello.) "We play at home all the time." She percussed fingers along my shoulderblade (I'll take care of it.)
I knew Mrs. Miller was a solid, fleshy woman, but she'll always be a fluttery little thing in my imagination, with that voice like cotton candy and wooden whistles. "But how does he know what piece he's holding?" she chirped, and I think that I probably glared at her, and even if I didn't, I know my sister did.
Until that moment I had not thought about winning the tournament. Like most children I was an indifferent checkers player, showy and aggressive. At home I had to fight to beat my sister: she was low-voiced and steady. But like all children, I still thought I had somewhere a wellspring of superhuman might, and never moreso than when insulted. I decided to win.
My first opponent was John Retta, who smacked gum so violently that I used to think of him as soft and sticky, like a blob of Chiclets. "Wanna go first?" he schlomped.
I didn't. This was not last year's reading contest, where when I exhausted the library's five Braille books - even the babyish one about the ducklings - I was told: you can always read them again, can't you? It's okay, baby, we'll count them twice. I had stopped reading then, obstinate. Winning fairly is harder than you think.
"Fine," John champed horsily, and I tapped his fist and felt it open. A pause. "You got red, I go first, smoke before fire," he smacked. Knowing that my sister must be watching, I raised an eyebrow (Is someone trying to mess with me?). I heard her singsong tones: "He's right."
I loved her for helping me. I hated her for knowing that I needed it.
I beat John in a series of jumps that my sister would never have allowed, fingertips brushing the pieces, confirming the positions I'd memorized. John shook my hand: he was sweating, not quite as sticky as I'd guessed. This was summer's last surge, the second Friday of the school year.
I understand that today blind children are sent to summer camps, given musical instruments, subscribed to Braille lending-libraries. But my own childhood was one long rainy day. "Listen to the TV," my father recommended uselessly. Out by the garden shed in grass that sang with cicadas my sister pressed rocks into my hands, twelve sharp and twelve smooth for improvised checkers-pieces. "Just try," she begged. She won and gently won as I stumbled, mistaking her pieces for mine, distracted by the hiss of mosquito-fogging trucks. Then I won - and won again - and won perhaps fifty times that summer, grinning, not really wanting to beat my sister, but delighted that I could.
Opponent two was Susie May Henningham, who bleated an astonished "Gosh!" each time I captured a piece. For a moment I imagined pushing her on the swings at recess, her soft pigtails tickling my shoulders. Perhaps I would ask if I could, after I won. My third opponent was Solomon Kay, who reeked of the Camels his parents smoked, and made me chase his pieces around the board.
I heard a circle of students gather around us: snorty nose-breathing from the allergics and asthmatics; whistling mouth-breathing from Gene Washington, who'd deviated his septum in a seesaw accident. "Stay there," Mrs. Miller cheeped. "We'll just have the finals where you're sitting." I relaxed into my folding chair, the prince of the third grade. Hands thumped my back.
Who else had won their three games? I heard the scraping of a chair, and the clicking of pieces on the board. Then I heard my sister, whose voice was like a hymn. The twin soprano to my alto. "Good luck, Martin," she lilted, squeezing my hand (I love you).
I very much wanted to win.
"Good luck, Melissa," I whispered.
I drew her out more subtly than I had in our back-garden games. When we had played with smooth and pointed stones, I could reconstruct the board layout at a touch. I could afford to be wild, to forget huge chunks of the game to go haring after a king. But with the flat plastic chips we played with in school, I had only my memory to tell me: black or red.
When my sister concentrated she hummed tunelessly, little arpeggios that I recognized just as someone else might have recognized the set of her jaw. I shored up my frontlines, I blocked her forays, I was winning, I was making her work.
I wondered if somewhere there was a league of checkers-players I could join, people united by a common talent, traveling the country defeating outsiders. A club unlike all the clubs I wouldn't join: Little League, Quiz Bowl, the sighted world.
Then, in my reverie, I made a mistake.
I slid a piece forwards, thinking that I'd plant it behind another of my pieces, making it unjumpable. But as soon as my finger left it, my stomach turned to ice. I had mistaken black for red, unmistakably, and where I thought I'd built an impenetrable wall instead I'd opened a gorgeous chain of jumps. I had left my sister an opening: six of my pieces, a king, and, in three moves, the win.
I held my breath. I heard other breaths, for a long moment, being held. Then somebody yipped "What?" and somebody else shushed through pursed lips, and something clicked almost silently against the board, and then I heard my sister make her move: a single jump, elsewhere.
I had never seen my sister miss an opening. She was a thoughtful soul. "Melissa," I protested, "over here." I pulled her hand to the offending piece, and felt her shaking. I tapped her finger on it (Look at this).
After a beat Susie Henningham lowed at me: "That one's red. It's not her piece, Martin."
My sister made no sound at all.
"You won," the principal thrummed. "I'm not sure I understand why you're so upset."
I sat there, raw with sobbing. My twin sister, too kind to be cruel. I had taken her pieces brutally, trembling.
I had once imagined that her kindness meant that she knew my heart, that the great black wall between me and the world was just a warm nighttime darkness when my sister and I were alone. But no, she was only and simply kind, as most people were, and as far from me as anyone. And so I had won, because one cannot diabolize the kind people of this world.
"Good, good, just calm yourself down," the principal rumbled. "I can see you're a bit overwhelmed. Are you feeling better?" Somewhere, cicadas buzzed.
I wiped at my eyes.
"I'm okay," I lied.
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 21:17|
|# ? Sep 25, 2021 06:44|
Five Shots (731 Words)
Really? I won Jamie? Which Jamie did I win? Jamie Foxx, maybe, or Jamie Bell? I hope it's a good Jamie that I won.
(Commas are your friends, Mr. Oxide!)
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 22:14|
Nethilia fucked around with this message at 04:43 on Dec 30, 2014
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 22:32|
You Should Be Honored
“What the gently caress did you do?” I gasped, eyes bouncing between the shattered trophies and torn ribbons adorning my barely conscious, whiskey-soaked roommate.
“The gently caress do you care?” he gurgled from the floor, as a man drowning in his own saliva, before snapping a miniature bowler made of gold painted plastic towards my head.
Jerrod was in no position to aim. The statuette breezed past my head, disturbing the empty cans on his dresser, knocking one of them to the floor. Next to the cardboard box he brought home yesterday. His parents found it while cleaning out their basement. He explained it was just a box of old childhood heirlooms they had packed away since he graduated high school. Aside from the yearbooks that lined the bottom, it seemed most of its content had been shattered against each of his bedroom’s four walls.
“I haven’t done anything,” he wept, using his sock drawer to pull himself to his feet, like a wounded dog climbing Everest.
Jerrod was still dressed for work. The stains from his late afternoon bender were disguised well by his dark slacks. His light gray polo didn’t fare so well. He struggled to find his footing before an unfortunately placed “Pinewood Derby – First Place, Pack 34” ribbon took it from him. I dashed to help him to his feet. Or at least to drag him onto the bed. After my first attempt at lifting, dragging seemed like better option.
“What haven’t you done, Jerrod?” I panted, forcing my drooling mess of a roommate forward one shove at a time, working against his occasional drunken squirm.
“Anything,” Jerrod whimpered, burying his face into my shirt, letting it soak up his tears and mucus. “Anything that matters.”
“I don’t know,” I smirked, shooting a glance at the destruction around us. “Looks like you were pretty drat busy today.”
“None of it matters,” he grumbled, barely annunciating through drool and snot.
I leaned him against the bed, brushing off the engraved bases and red action-posed-statuettes broken off in the chaos. I hoisted his shoulders onto the bed before lifting his legs, rolling him into what I hoped was a comfortable position on his side. He fidgeted, but didn’t take long to settle in place. A few gassy stomach rumbles later, he was right at home.
I tried to pick up what I could from his apparent violent episode, gathering pieces of Jerrod’s childhood successes in a cardboard box caked in residual basement dust. The little league first place and the city league soccer participation were buried under the red holographic piping of regional debate regional. The second place science fair ribbon caught most of the shards of Class AA division track, but only the base of First Place – Quiz Bowl States Finals. But the one that was clearly flung the hardest was the National Spelling Bee - Second Place.
Green holographic shrapnel littered the floor around a gold base, and a tiny golden book that appears to have been at the top. I picked it up, wondering if it was the same National Spelling Bee they showed on late night ESPN.
“I didn’t know you could spell,” I chuckle, glancing up at the barely settling mess of a Jerrod groaning on his side, in some vain hope I could nudge him out of his state.
“Could have been… good enough…” Jerrod drooled out, seemingly separate ideas flowing together in a river of his saliva. “None of them… they don’t mean anything…”
Even in pieces, it was clearly the largest of his excessively ornate victims . Mostly to accommodate the names of several corporate sponsors engraved under Jerrod’s name. Sure enough, a familiar cable network logo was among them. Jerrod’s never mentioned anything about this before. If he was on nationalized television, I would have assumed it would have come up in conversation at least once.
“I don’t know what ESPN did to piss you off so bad,” I asserted, waving the fragments towards the grumbling mess on the bed. “but I think they got the point.”
“I got… another award today,” the mess belched back, weakly rolling a shoulder towards me, as if letting his words escape. “First one… in years… didn’t want it… but… but that son of bitch… he gloated… ‘you should be honored…’”
“What are you even talking about?” I flail, rising from the ground, trophy pieces still in hand.
“Kitchen…” he motions, a weak arm waving me to our kitchen’s general area.
Leaving the bedroom, I glanced at the shattered awards and shredded ribbons that still litter the floor. No idea where he found the time to do all of this poo poo, but I guess he got good at most of it. I went to the kitchen looking for whatever this other award was. His car keys sat on the counter top. Under them, cheap cardstock with a festive yellow and red border.
Spelled out under the Burger King logo, “Congratulations – Employee of the Month (March).”
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 22:46|
Word Count: Approx 1105
With a sickening squelch, Eolun’s sword carved into his opponent’s body with frightening ease. Time stopped in that moment as the man’s eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped open in silent horror. His weapon, still held out in front of him ready to strike, slowly fell to the dirt floor of the arena. Before Eolun could see the life leave his body he spun away with a flourish and pulled his sword free. The roar of the crowd quickly became a droning white noise in his ears which was soon overtaken by the sound of a lifeless body hitting the ground and falling still forever.
Before Eolun could react further, he was immediately set upon by a pair of the guards. One grabbed him by the wrist and forced him to relinquish his weapon while the other slammed him to the ground. He knew better than to struggle, but his body would often decide this was the best course of action anyway. His attempts to flail and break free of his captors only resulted in a mouthful of sand and old wounds opening once again.
The crowd suddenly grew quieter. As Eolun attempted to look around he was quickly yanked upright so hard that his feet lifted off the ground. His legs dangled limply beneath him, forcing the guards to support him while turning him back to the entrance of the arena. Raising his head once again he could see Emperor Regus slowly walking toward them. The crowd followed his every movement, eagerly awaiting his next address.
Regus placed a hand under Eolun’s chin and yanked his head up to lock eyes. A twisted smirk crossed Regus’ lips for only a brief moment before he released Eolun’s head and let his chin fall back to his chest. Regus cast a quick glance over the crowd before raising his hands with dramatic flair.
“My subjects!” he boomed, his voice racing toward the back of the stands and echoing off the stone walls. The crowd jumped to their feet and burst out in raucous cheers. “On this day you have seen the last of the savage uprising from the western tribes! Every man has fought, and the champion you see before you is all that remains.” He looked back down at Eolun with a narrowed gaze. With venom in his voice and ice in his eyes, he sneered, “Such is the fate of all who oppose us.”
Eolun lunged forward but was quickly jerked backwards and forced to his knees by his captors.
“Why?” he croaked hoarsely as blood seeped through the corners of his cracked lips. “How many of my kinsmen needed to die in order to prove your point?”
Regus laughed deeply and answered in the most condescending tone he could muster, “As many as you deigned to kill.” He slowly paced around the captive Eolun, his eyes never leaving the once proud man now relegated to submission. With every sentence he uttered his voice grew louder. “We gave you the opportunity to consider our fairest terms. We gave you the opportunity to serve us with dignity. And when you refused our every attempt at diplomacy, we even gave you the opportunity to die like warriors.” As he passed back in front of Eolun’s line of sight he leaned in close and roared, “But when finally given the choice, you chose to turn on each other like dogs!”
Eolun could feel tears of white hot rage starting to form in the corners of his eye. He bit down hard on his tongue, determined not to let his enemy take control of his own emotions.
“We had no choice,” he finally coughed out. “We did what we needed in order to survive!”
“And survive you did,” Regus chuckled sarcastically. He turned back and walked a few steps toward the arena entrance, sweeping his hand across the masses in front of him. “There is no land, no home, no tribe for you to return to. Are you yet ready to consider this one final opportunity to save your nation?”
Eolun swallowed hard in hopes of clearing room for an answer but his throat had closed up tight. Everything they had done up to this point was to ensure that they would survive, that there would be something left of their cities and leaders to carry on the fight. Some might survive, they reasoned. It only took a small seed of dissent to infiltrate their ranks. Soon more of the men were prepared to take up arms against each other in hopes of gaining their own personal freedom. It’s the right thing to do. We do what we have to. What good is it if all of us die?
The memories of the tribe’s conversations flooded back to him. In his weakened state Eolun could only hang his head in shame, remembering how he too had agreed to this debacle. “Maybe that is the good,” he whispered meekly, his voice drowning in the crowd’s revel, “if there is nothing left to save.”
As the guards yanked him back to his feet Eolun once again lurched forward and wrenched his arms free of their grasp. He stumbled forward. His hand reached down and managed to find his sword on the dirt. Even though his legs felt like they would give at any moment he found himself moving toward the Emperor with his weapon held at the ready. Regus had begun to turn toward him as Eolun lifted his sword above his head.
Just as he was ready to bring it down on the Emperor, Eolun felt a searing pain enter his chest right below his ribs, spreading up through his chest and into his lungs. His sword once again clattered uselessly to the ground. Looking down with dread he could see the Emperor’s dagger buried in his ribcage. Blood poured out of the injury and pooled in the dirt below, staining the ground a sickening reddish-black.
Regus forcefully pulled his dagger back, wrenching Eolun’s body with it. Eolun, unable to speak, could only gurgle in pain. Regus stood still with his gaze fixed solely on the terror flooding through Eolun’s eyes. Twisting the dagger very slightly, he hissed, “Then so be it!” and with a powerful kick flung Eolun away from him into the dirt.
As the dust settled and Eolun struggled to stay lucid for just one minute more he could see the body of his former opponent on the ground in front of him. He desperately reached out but his hand fell short. Soon he would join them.
What good is it…if there is nothing left to save?
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 23:07|
Ugh, I ran out of time.
The Treasure of Sierra Hermano
The tires of the truck hit another stone, and the whole vehicle shook like it was Christmas Morning and Satan very much wanted to know what was inside the box. Benjamin drove with one hand, and waved his phone out the window with the other. No reception in this misbegotten corner of Texas.
One bar. Ben rammed the brakes. Things jangled, things squealed, things rattled and reeled. Piece by piece, the truck crawled to a stop. The weight in the trunk drat near rolled the thing into a ditch. He couldn’t forget the weight, oh no. The engine coughed. Ben turned it off, then sighed. He clambered out of the truck and onto the roof, then dialed Miguel.
“Yo, homes,” answered Miguel, “what up?”
“What is up,” hissed Ben, “there's an is you are missing, Miguel. Grammar is important.”
He paused, and chose his next words carefully. “There has been,” he intoned, each word piercing the phone’s speaker like a coffin nail being driven into wet earth, “an incident.”
“Incident, huh?” laughed Miguel, “did you try ask Katey out again? She doesn’t want your skinny rear end, pendejo. You follow her around the mall again and being dateless is gonna be the least of your worries.”
Cataplectic with rage and exhaustion, Ben held the phone at close to his mouth as he could without swallowing it. “James,” he spat, in much the same tones a lesser man would say motherfucker, “is dead.”
After about two seconds too long, the reply came: “You got a hosed up sense of humour, man. That’s not cool.”
“I am not joking,” whined Ben. The weight of his sin filled the back half of his truck. It glowed wan-yellow, and could buy a lot of cheeseburgers. “We- we-”
His voice broke. He felt his meagre vestige of strength flee. His hands shook. The words fell out of his mouth and hung in the air for a second too long. “We fought,” he sighed. The rest of the story bubbled up like blood from a wound. Money is an ugly, simple motive, but there was so very much of it. Enough to live like a king, or never work again. In his mind, he was taunted by gilded birds and iron cages, and an ocean of blood that flowed from his friend’s mouth and eyes and fingernails and rear end in a top hat until it drowned the world.
“Benny,” a voice moaned out of the wind behind him. There was something vile it, like an open sewer on a hot day. The speaker coughed and spat, then something hit the ground with a wet thump. Benjamin went ice-cold, despite the Texas summer. He dropped his phone. It bounced off the roof, then fell and shattered onto the dirt road. Miguel’s confused squawking was cut short, eaten by the endless tyranny of silence.
“Lungs go in,” muttered the voice, like a mother scolding her errant child. It could only be one man; James. The sound that followed was like vomiting, but in reverse. James cleared his throat. “Turn around,” he commanded, with the menace of somebody who knows what your insides look like, and exactly how to make them outsides. Benny obeyed.
The bullet had done a number on the left half of James’ face. It was all bone, and hair, and grey-pink brainmeat. Each breath passed over shattered teeth and out the cavern in his cheek. Three-quarters of a tongue hung out of the hole, dribbling a trail of spit and pus. The man was very dead, though apparently untroubled by it. He was holding a gun. Without looking, Benny knew it had six barrels but only five bullets.
“Death,” drawled James, “hurts like a motherfucker. I didn’t like it, so I chose this instead. We’ve got business, me and you.”
In the whirring machinery of Benny’s brain, something was already beginning. He saw his disapproving finger rise, felt his throat go taught, and the pitch of his voice rise with indignation. He felt like he was watching an old man fall onto the train tracks: horrified, but completely powerless to stop what happened next. How important was grammar, really?
“You,” he wheezed, trying to steal back the words before they became real, “and I.”
The bullet missed, though not by much. The hot devil-wind of it painted a trail of flame through the air. When the ringing in his ears had died down, Ben noticed that James was holstering the gun.
“I’ll give one thing to death,” eructated James, like a Roman Emperor giving the thumbs-up to his least-favourite gladiator, “it’s lonely. You win, rear end in a top hat. One life with you is more than enough. I hope you live forever. May you miss everything cool, because you’re too busy alphabetising it. Take your drat money. Maybe you can buy yourself some sense.”
He turned, and walked off into the boiling sun, back towards the cave. Benny got into the truck, and drove all the way home without stopping once. Once there, he locked his door, pulled the curtains closed, and did not go outside again for quite some time.
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 23:08|
A.J. woke up in a cold sweat. A single, naked light bulb hung overhead, not enough to illuminate a room that was too big for it.
A.J. rolled off the stiff cot and put his feet down onto his gloves, which slid and almost caused him to stumble. He kicked them aside. The room spun a bit, and he put his hand on the cinder block wall to steady himself. He wasn’t sure where exactly he was, but he knew it was somewhere in the bowels of the stadium. Above him, he could hear the last of the crowd murmuring and migrating out the door. He weakly called out for Patrick. His larynx felt like the well-worn path of a thousand razor blades. He cleared his throat, cleared it again, and repeated the call. His voice echoed down the hallway forever.
Patrick popped his head into the doorway. To A.J. he looked like a floating head, as if behind the pockmarked mug and well-chewed cigar one would find nothing, instead of a portly figure with a mustard stain somewhere.
“You rang?” he chuckled. He tossed the long-defeated cigar down the hallway and stepped into the room. A.J. nodded. He tried to swallow, but there was nothing there.
“You did good tonight, kid” Patrick assured him, lighting another cigar. He exhaled, filling the room with smoke. A.J. coughed like sandpaper. Patrick looked at him out of the side of his eyes, and puffed again.
“Carroll?” A.J. groaned, and then coughed again.
“Don’t worry about him. You won your match. That’s enough,” Patrick reprimanded.
“Enough for what?” A.J. inquired.
“You had a good night. That’s all you need to think about. You’re career just got off to a hell of a start,” he grinned.
“So, he’s-“ A.J. stopped.
“I said don’t worry about it,” Patrick reminded him. “You did good. That’s all you gotta care about.” A.J. looked at the ground. His lips tightened and a bead of sweat dripped from his forehead and hit the floor.
“If that’s what I gotta do to do good I don’t think I want to,” he muttered.
“Doesn’t that beat all,” Patrick laughed. “Kid, you know how much you won tonight? This is how the game’s played- keep it up. Now get dressed. There’s people waiting to talk to you.” He ashed his cigar and sauntered out of the room. As he stepped in the hallway he turned around and stared at A.J. for a very long time.
“Don’t take all night now,” he warned. Patrick stepped deliberately to the left and down the ramp that would take him to the reporters, fans, and officials. He took his time. A.J. closed his eyes.
The night played over in his mind. A crowd of thousands, silently staring with jaws dropped. The ringing bell. Sweat pouring into his eyes. Carroll’s body, motionless on the mat. The final sound of his glove kept echoing through his ears. A booming thud, muffled by flesh and the cracking of bone. Over and over.
His knees buckled and he almost fell. His eyes were barely open. He picked up his gloves slowly, mechanically. He stared at them, into their deep red color. He half threw, half dropped the gloves to the ground and steadied himself against the wall again. He took a few deep breaths and started shuffling his feet towards the door.
The closer he got, the more his feet picked up. By the time he reached the doorway they barely dragged the ground. As he turned to the right they were full steps, heavy and intentional. When he got to the staircase that headed outside the stadium, he was at a full run. The loud, flat sound of his steps echoed through the hallway. They kept going after he was gone.
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 23:24|
Shotgun - 650 words.
"Two Gin & Tonics please barman?" Mark begged. "And a tequila. I think I'll need it!"
"So, congratulations are in order Mark?" Elisabeth sipped her drink, smiling across the table. "I always said you was too good for this place."
"Yeah." Mark sighed, forcing a weak smile.
"What's wrong?" She inquired. "You fought hard for that scholarship. Don't tell me... Cold feet?"
"New York." Mark explained. "It's a long way away."
Mark took a large gulp of his drink, searching for courage. "I'll miss..." he hesitated. "Everyone."
"I'm sure you'll make a ton of new friends! And hey, we all know what a British accent does to those American chicks!" Elisabeth teased. "I'm sure you'll forget all about little old Stonybridge within a week!"
Mark shook his head, gulping down more of his drink. "It won't be the same. I.... I mean, I don't want some random American girl. I want... Another drink. Your round?"
Idiot! He thought. Just tell her, what have you got to lose?
"Another G&T?" Elisabeth asked.
Elisabeth returned, two drinks in hand. So, Mark has a crush on someone. Probably Emily. She thought sadly. And I get to hear him mope about how he has to leave her behind. Still, that's what friends do! She told herself.
"So, who is she?" Elisabeth goaded.
"There isn't anyone." Mark defended. "It's just..."
"Oh come on. "I'll miss... everyone!" she teased. Why don't I just drop it?
"Honest Liz. It's just so far. I doubt I'll get to see the gang more than once a year, living all the way over in the states.
Liz pushed the hair away from her face. "So, you wasn't about to declare your undying love for me?" Idiot. Idiot idiot idiot! She chided herself. Now his last memory of you will be a half drunk come-on, while he's pining for someone else!
"I... Kinda was?" Mark shrugged meekly.
Elisabeth froze, gaping. IF he's just teasing I'll loving kill him! She thought, trying to compose herself.
I've blown it! Mark thought. Look at her, she was only kidding, and I went and spoiled everything!
"So... All this... You being unsure about New York, it's all down to me?" Elisabeth doubted. "Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"I was worried you'd reply like this!" Mark snapped. Calm down, she's the one who should be cross! He told himself.
"I, uh, sorry." She meekly replied. "I've actually liked you for a while. I just didn't think you'd be interested!"
"So, where do we go from here?" Mark asked. Ask me to stay! his eyes pleaded. I'll do it for you.
"You don't leave until September?" Elisabeth offered. "We still have this summer? And then..."
"You won't ask me to stay?" He interrupted.
"No." she explained, a tear forming. "I couldn't do that. This is too big. You can't give it up, not just for me!"
"So we just pretend I'm not going anywhere?" He questioned.
"What else can we do?" She asked, touching his hand. "You have to go, and I have to stay."
Do I? Elisabeth asked herself. "Or maybe I don't?" She grinned. "We've been best friends for years now." And I've wanted you the entire time!
"As long as I can remember!" Mark answered. And I've always loved you!
"I'm sure there's some kind of visa I can apply for. I'll work in a coffee shop, or a bar, or something! It's New York! There must be work for a pretty young English girl!" She suggested. I can't believe I'm offering to move half way across the world for him... But I will!
"My scholarship comes with the offer of a Green Card... For me... And my family." Mark stammered. "I... uh... You could... If we... Will you marry me?"
"Yes." She gasped.
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 23:27|
Crap. I just "edited" my post to bold the title. Then I realized there was a no editing rule. Sorry.
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 23:29|
After days in the harsh desert, I was exhausted, thirsty and hungry. My sleeveless white undershirt and blue baggy pants were sticky with sweat and crusted with sand and grime. I used to wear a helmet, but it had gotten so hot in the sun I’d had to leave it behind. I had no idea where I was, or where I was going, and all I could do was crawl. Every now and then the ground rumbled, shivered in tiny earthquakes, threatening to rip open and swallow me.
Worst of all, the animals talked to me now.
It began with the amber fox. It appeared out of nowhere, howling at the moon with glowing eyes. I lay flat on the floor, head sideways. It gave me a casual nod. "Sup," it greeted me. Its small, pointy ears twitched. "Heard you got stranded in the desert."
“Help,” I croaked.
“Benny, please,” the fox wondered, regarding me with a tilted head, “please, how am I supposed to help you? This is the desert. Sorry esé. I can’t stop what’s about to happen to you. But for what it’s worth, I forgive you.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” I mumbled in protest, wriggling on the ground.
“Yeah sure, and I’m a talking fox,” it quipped, distorting its snout to an ironic smile, and the next time I blinked, it was gone.
There was nothing I could do but claw my way forward. My arms ached with each pull, but I made progress, dragging myself across hard, red rock until my shirt hung off me in tatters and the ground blistered my skin.
Behind me, the sun was rising. Warm light cast shadows across the barren soil, pointing towards the velvet twilight of the receding night. As the air got hotter, I noticed the stench of petrol.
“Hey kid,” a husky voice rasped. It came from a vulture that had landed next to me. Its wings shimmered golden in the glow of the rising sun.
I wanted to speak, but the words got caught in my throat. I coughed dust.
“Man, you look beaten. Let me cheer you up with a story,” the vulture suggested. “There once were two miners in Russelt, Virginia. Best friends, football-in-the-park kinda stuff, spoke at each other’s weddings, you know, the whole nine yards.”
“After a freak mineshaft implosion,” it continued, gesturing with its wings, “they found an uncharted gold deposit. But instead of reporting the find, like good upstanding citizens, they decided to pocket it. One of them, he had a good reason: his daughter was dying, you see. He needed the money.” The vulture waited, tasting the seconds before the punchline: “The other one was just a greedy gently caress.”
“No,” I protested weakly.
“Guess what the greedy little poo poo did then,” it spat. “He strung his friend along, had him come up with a plan and carry all the bags, do the hard work, and when their truck was stuffed with enough dosh for more than a bunch of lifetimes, the greedy gently caress took a gun out of his pocket and capped his friend in the back of the head. Bam! Just like that. Didn’t bury him. Didn’t leave a nugget for his poor family. Up and away, no fucks given.”
“That’s not how it happened,” I whispered.
The vulture tsk-tsk-tsked. “You’re just feeding yourself bullshit because it's easier,” it berated me, as it made a sweeping motion with its wing. "I mean what is this crap?"
I remained silent.
“Look, sorry,” the vulture placated, raising its wings, ”I know you’re busy dying here. I shouldn’t pressure you. Breakfast can wait.”
“Hold on,” I begged, and held out a hand. “Are you.. is it you, James?”
The vulture looked at me for a long time.
“She has cancer Benny. She has cancer and you murdered her father. Congratulations, you greedy gently caress!” it screeched.
And with that, the vulture too was gone.
Its words echoed through my head, cutting me harder than the pebbles I dragged myself over. I reached a cliff. The sight was breathtaking, and crushing: endless layers of red desert rock stacked over one another, forming mountains in the distance, empty basins and jagged hills stretching out before me for miles and miles with no end in sight. I could go forever in that direction.
I chuckled, then laughed, hoarsely. I rolled on my back and stared in the sky. The air sweltered in the distance. The stench of petrol had grown stronger. It made my head spin.
The ground shook. Fissures appeared in the rock, cracking earth and shifting soil until the giant head of a snake burst out of a crater. Its scales glittered golden in the sun as it rose, unearthing its enormous body around me and ripping the ground to shreds. I was surrounded by cliffs.
The snake, its behemoth body wrapped around the makeshift mountain I rested on, bowed its head to look at me.
"Getting ussssed to the heat?” it hissed, tongue slurping out and back in. “There will be much more of that where you are going.”
"What is happening to me?" I cried, as I shielded my eyes to better look at the glistening snake.
“Well, ssssee, the vulture didn’t tell you the ending of the story,” it teased with a smirk. “The greedy gently caress didn’t get as far with the gold as he had hoped. He tried to take the sssstraight way, through the mountain. He was impatient. It was a dangerousssss track, and he was going too fast. His truck slipped off a cliff.”
The leaking wreckage burned a few feet away. A trail of blood led to my broken legs and the edge of the overhang I had landed on, overseeing mountains, basins and hills. Molten gold seeped from the burning truck, running down the platform to my sides. Black smoke shimmered golden in the air. James’s old amber mining helmet leaned against a rock and shone its front light into the night sky.
I heard another boom and the ground vibrated. Mineshaft implosion. Rubble rolled down the hang as the earth shifted beneath me.
“Who are you?” I begged of the snake with a hoarse voice.
“Who am I indeed,” it pondered. “Maybe I’m poor James, taunting his murderer from the afterlife. Or maybe I’m Benny, Benny the treacherous little snake. You choosssse.”
Cracks appeared on the overhang I’d been stranded on, tipping it downward. The burning truck with all its melting gold slid towards me.
“So tell me, Benny,” the snake hissed. “Who am I?” The ground shook as the snake rose back up again, ripping the hard earth to shreds along its golden scales. I yelled as the impact of the approaching destruction pushed me over the edge. The world turned upside down. I slammed into the steep hang and rolled down, across spiky pebbles and dirt and dead grass, until I finally stopped on level ground.
There was no air in my lungs. My wails fell silent. My head was bursting. I forced myself to open my eyes.
As my vision cleared, a steaming snake of gold came crashing down on me.
|# ? Mar 9, 2014 23:46|
Flash rule: Your story must take place in the aftermath of a drinking contest.
“That’s how you shotgun a beer,” Wade trumpeted. He spiked the empty punctured can. It bounced off the porch slats, striking his still-chugging opponent in the shin. After five chugged beer with five wins in under ten minutes, Wade still couldn’t anesthetize the hurt from seeing Brett leading Meredith into a room upstairs.
Wade’s popped-collared opponent dropped his unfinished beer. It hit the wood with a thud and watery froth seeped out. He puffed out his chest. “You got a problem, bro?” he fronted, taking a step forward.
“Go again? The secret is to chug, not sip,” Wade mocked. He fished another two cans out of the cooler and punctured one with his keys. He tossed the other beer to this latest stranger he’d goaded into chugging. “Chug, or get off my porch, fratty,” Wade challenged. “Who do you even know here?”
Popped Collar spit and then departed the crowded house party porch with his friends.
Wade watched them strut down University Avenue as he shotgunned the beer. The rush of near-freezing liquid burned his throat and made his eyes water. Still, the image of Brett hand in hand with Meredith, closing the door was as sharp as ever in his mind.
Bass thumped through the open door of the house Wade shared with five other guys. Drunk and getting-there students gyrated and dry humped to the music. Somewhere inside Wade’s ex-girlfriend Tina searched for him, or bided her time for a confrontation.
He crushed then tossed the empty can over the wooden railing. Alone amidst a deck full of acquaintances and strangers he grabbed a half full handle of Jim Beam sitting on the corner of the beer pong table and took a pull. The liquor warmed his stomach like the nervousness and excitement had the first few times he’d hung out with Meredith. He took another pull when he started recounting all the missed opportunities and fumbled moments with her the past few weeks.
Wade lowered the bottle long enough to notice Tina cross-armed and staring him down from the doorway.
“You’ve been avoiding me all night, Wade,” Tina sulked. “Are we going to hang out or are you just going to pick fights with douche bags and get wasted by yourself?”
Wade took another pull. He was tempted to retire to his room with Tina and use her like the alcohol. He was tempted to open up to her about the whole Meredith fiasco. He sucked in air to suppress his nausea.
She watched him expectantly.
“What’s the point?” he despaired. He started slurring an apology, an explanation of how he knew it wasn’t fair to her, but she was already gone. He tipped the bottle back again.
“Careful there, Wade,” someone scolded. “Beer before liquor . . .”
Wade slammed down the plastic bottle. Spaghetti-legged, he half fell, half slid down the porch steps. After half a dozen stumbles he face-planted into the lawn.
The grass was cool and crinkly. Wade shook his head, dragging his face back and forth across the blades taking in every tickle, scrape, scratch.
“You ok, Wade?” a familiar feminine voice encroached.
Wade’s mental rolodex, sodden with bourbon and beer, worked to find a face. A match: Sally Bradley, a friend from Freshman year, a distance in time that stretched out over countless classes and parties.
Wade groaned a greeting into the grass. He wanted to get away from all women and sink into a drunken oblivion.
“I haven’t seen you this drunk since you and Brett played Edward 40-hands in Freshman dorms last year,” Sally reminisced.
Wade rolled over onto his back. He smiled to show he remembered.
Sally sat down next to him. She was cute. She was fit. She was fun. Wade wondered if there was something romantic between them. He pictured himself with her, and then caught himself. He shoved the heels of his hands into his eyes.
“Are you ok, Wade? Do you need water? Something else? More booze?” Sally offered.
“No,” Wade lied. He needed to end the cycle of infatuation that had gripped him almost immediately upon starting school.
“Nice party,” Sally complimented. “You guys always know how to throw a rager.” She looked up to the sky.
Wade looked up to Brett’s window. The lights were off. Maybe they had left. Maybe Meredith was back downstairs looking for him. He let that naive hope float away up into the night.
The stars swirled and swam around. By opening and closing his eyes, Wade could control their dance and stave off vomiting. “If you could see what I see right now,” he mused. “I’ve never mixed the spins with astronomy. It’s pretty awesome.”
“You’re a goof ball,” Sally teased. “Why aren’t you in there dancing? You promised a rendition of the famous Wade Worm in the evite.”
Her friendly overtures were a salve. He grinned. “Too drunk,” he informed her.
“And why were you challenging everyone on the porch to chugging contests?” she delved. “You were never the belligerent type.”
“I wanted to win,” he admitted.
“What did you win?” she pressed.
“Quality time with a good friend,” he epiphanyzed.
Sally rolled her eyes.
Wade’s eyes rolled back into his head.
As she caught him up on what she’d been up to since last they hung out he evaluated her again as girlfriend material. Again, he caught himself. He forced himself to push any romantic notions out of his head. Instead, he focused on the now of hanging out with a friend and not on the hangover and heartache that tomorrow promised.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 00:21|
something like 980 words, phone don't right say
Banknotes blazed on the nighttime beach. Putrid smoke clung to Chester's hair. An ink bomb popped in the flames, sending sparks and debris flying. Chester had made sure to sit far enough away to avoid any of the dye marking him or his clothes, tying him to the crime. His skin was still sticky from prosthetics. If it was summer, he would dive into the waves, using the salt water to scrub clean. He still might. The cold water would serve to shock away some guilt.
Chester's dog scratched at her ear, quizzing him with a glance. "What do you do now?"
Chester explained the nuances of insurance to the dog. The bank would recover all the money; nobody would lose their job. He reminded the dog of the hours spent studying security protocols. He pointed out the mask he wore under his balaclava. The prosthetic muscles under his shirt. The stolen getaway car. He had even masked his voice.
"You thought of everything," wagged the dog's tail. She was his only confidant in crime; his only loose end. She held still, then barked "Good boy."
He hurled the vocoder box into the ocean. It blooped a small warning as it splashed through the water's surface. "Be careful."
Chester feigned shock when the higher ups at Wells-Fargo called with news of the bank robbery the next day. He promised to return from vacation early. They informed him the thief had trashed his office. Worse, whoever it was had tried to hack into the manager's computer and destroyed a lot of important records in the process. He asked if anybody had been hurt; amazingly, the night of the robbery only had one guard scheduled. He would recover from his concussion in hospital with no ill effects. Chester waited on the line as head office hung up.
"Seems like the embezzlement investigation just hit a snag," beeped the static morse of the receiver. "Somebody ruined the proof that you're a dirty thief."
Chester looked to his dog. She slept on a rug, unaware that the phone had made Chester feel guilty. He threw the phone into the trash. He could always buy another.
"Guess who's nervous," bled the cut on Chester's cheek. He hadn't cut himself shaving since he was sixteen. He wiped the red trickle from his cheek with a handkerchief and met the police officer's gaze.
"I bet it's you. I bet you're guilty," scratched the cop's pencil in response. "Do you have anybody who can corroborate your statement?"
"Only if you can speak dog." Chester shifted his weight, only to freeze in horror as the leather of his chair farted his secret "The dog's in on it."
The police officer chuckled, oblivious to the subtext Chester heard in every noise. "It's okay. My chair does the same thing."
Chester tried to look relaxed. "Any leads yet?"
"A couple of repeat offenders match the description your guard gave us."
Chester felt his face flush with misplaced pride. He hadn't meant for his disguise to look like anybody specific. He thanked the officer and walked him to the door. They exchanged business cards and parted ways. Chester turned as the door clicked shut. He'd have to do something about that rat chair.
The dog waited with a ball in her mouth as Chester got home from work. "You're going to need to be extra nice to me," she slobbered onto his polished tile floor. "Take me for walks or I learn to use the phone."
Chester put down his briefcase and sighed. He knew the threat was pointless, yet guilt agreed with the sentiment. He scratched behind her ear and changed into running shoes.
"Am I good, girl? I mean, am I safe? Am I going to get away with this?"
"Of course," she panted at the sign of the leash. "You're the smartest, most clever human in the whole world."
He attached the leash to her collar and opened the door. "Sometimes, I wish you could talk."
"Bank Bandit Caught," printed the headline on Chester's morning paper. The words sung out in triumph. Two weeks of reading every news publication he could find released in three words. He felt like whistling; he just got away with robbing a bank. He skimmed the rest of the article and patted his subconscious foresight on the back. The week before his robbery, he'd turned down a former felon's business loan application. A former felon with a history of robbing banks.
"He was probably going to go legit and start a cyber security business," accused the article, "and you ruined that. Twice, now."
An innocent man was going to go to prison. Worse, it was someone the newspaper claimed he'd met before. Chester pictured visiting prison and asking to see the man. The imagined guilt and recognition he felt, when faced with a familiar face, made him shudder. Could he really live with himself?
"Sure you can," reflected light from the windshield of his new lamborghini in the parking lot.
"You deserve this," creaked his new leather chair.
"You're worth even more," beeped the email reminder on his new phone. It was a message from upper management. The destruction of information during the robbery was irreparable. The investigation into the supposed embezzlement at his branch would be permanently closed.
Chester sipped at his coffee. He brushed the newspaper into the trash, its information consumed. His things were right. He spun the car keys on his finger, the jingle shaking loose the mental image of the victim of his white collar crime. He'd earned this life. He looked at the photo of his dog he kept on his desk and smiled. He was a good guy, at heart. He just wanted what was rightfully his. As time went on, Chester found the objects around him stopped declaring his guilt so much. After all, if they spoke up, he'd just buy a new one.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 00:25|
Follow the Lady
Word Count: 1200
Oscar crumpled the late payment notice and stuffed it into his pocket, wishing he could make it vanish like one of his playing cards. Back in high school, even as a budding magician, he has a knack for sleight of hand. That was before he discovered that making it as a crook was easier than making it as a performer. Even now, after years in and out of prison and with hands beaten and broken by working menial jobs, Oscar could make a card disappear, and, hopefully, make some money in the process. Was it the deftness of his fingers? The speed of his movements? The grace of his tired hands even after hours of performing the same routine over and over again? Bark, bag, shuffle, and scram, four surefire steps for crooking.
One, bark at the foot traffic filtering down from the Magnificent Mile until you find a suitable chump with a few bills and fewer braincells. Two, say any drat thing you can to put that chump in the bag; get him on the hook. Have him play the fiddle game, or get him to follow the lady. Three, let the sucker give chase, and ensure that he always loses. Four, once you have his money, make the fool take a hike, or, if he wises up, haul it to a back alley or safe-house before the cops show up.
A lifetime of scamming left Oscar tired. He was tired of grinding; tired of the spotlight; tired of his sweaty, balding landlord, Mr. Leen, riding his rear end about the back rent; but most of all, he was tired of running. After the nine he served in Marion for fraud and going on the lam, Oscar had enough of this drat city. He’d save up those rent pennies and catch a bus down south, maybe take up farming, take in some fresh air. After that he wouldn’t run anymore.
Running a comb through his bushy black hair, Oscar examined the growing crowd. “Okay ladies and gents,” he fired into the mass while shuffling his three playing cards, “the game is easy and the game is simple.” Oscar lifted the middle card, exposing it to the crowd, “Find the queen of hearts.” His hands moved faster as he finished his shuffle, “but the queen is a fickle woman, harsh and flighty like her telltale suit. If you try too hard to catch her, you’ll never succeed; you have to let her call to you.” The cards settled, each a perfect little tent, waiting to be flipped over. “So,” he teased with a smile and a wink, “who’s going to find her?”
Oscar stared into the blank faces looking at him. They watched him as one might a television show, with a sort of novel apathy. “Look,” their stares bleated like bored sheep, “an actual card shark.” While Oscar hoped that his bit caught the attention of of a gullible dope, he found that a woman in red caught his. She was inexplicably gorgeous. What was it about her? She didn’t have the conventional symmetry of any of the numbers of beautiful people in a city like Chicago, and yet he couldn’t look away. Perhaps it was her confidence? The way she stood, alert and completely uninterested in his silly show. Red snaked her hand into her boyfriend’s pocket with a lack of subtlety that screamed “lets get out of here.” One of those girls, Oscar thought; he liked those types of girls. That explained it.
“I’ll take a go,” braved a man in a black polo shirt with a mohawk.
Oscar assessed the challenger. He was tall and fit. His haircut said that he was adventurous, and his tattoos said that he was a dimwit. “Great!” Oscar steered, “What’s your name, sir?”
“I’m Tom,” he voiced with a cocky smile. “Let me guess, you’re Monte, and these are your three cards?” he shrugged.
Tom dropped a twenty on Oscar’s card table. Oscar lifted the leftmost card, revealing the queen of hearts, before starting his machinations. Oscar was giving him the slow shuffle, designed to give a small payout in hopes of getting the mark hooked on a larger payout immediately after. Tom watched absently until Oscar stopped.
“Okay, soldier,” Oscar smirked, “call it."
Tom pointed at the leftmost card, the king of clubs, and hummed in hesitation. His point shifted to the middle. “This one.”
Oscar flipped the queen of hearts. “You got her,” he confessed, dropping a twenty of his own in front of the player. “Care to go bigger?” he asked, “Of course, you could always just go home with your meager winnings.”
“I could go another round,” Tom smiled, dropping four hundred dollars onto the table. “Or is that too rich for you?”
Oscar eyed the cash. Normally he only carried five hundred dollars in cash, but this morning he didn’t even have that. Oscar mustered his confidence, and, reaching into his pocket, he plunked the remainder of his money down. Dipping his little finger into his sleeve, he primed the second king of clubs, used for covering the queen in his trademark trick. Oscar revealed the red queen and started his shuffle with a new haste. Using an ink pen, he mirrored Oscar exactly, over, under, over, across, across, over, under. Despite Oscar’s speed, Tom’s pen immediately followed. She was marked. “That one!” Tom gushed as Oscar finished.
The louse. Oscar needed doubt on his side if he was going to swap the second king over the queen.
“You sure?” Oscar questioned. “I think I saw you hitch once or twice with that pen of yours.”
“Hell yeah; you thought you could pull one over on me.”
Oscar slapped his palm onto the chosen card like he wanted to slap Tom. He slid the pocket king under the queen in a quick fluid movement. Oscar lifted them both.
“Sorry,” Oscar excused.
“Bullshit!” Tom blurted, flipping the other two cards. He stared at the three black cards and drew a hidden pistol. “Give me the money I won,” he demanded. Oscar handed him the cash. “Be grateful I don’t plug you right now,” he fumed. “Get out of here,” he commanded the crowd, watching them disperse. Oscar thought about clocking him, grabbing the money, and running for it. He might have made it to the fence, maybe even over it, but he remembered his promise, and soon Tom was gone.
Only the woman in red remained. “Tough draw,” she sympathized.
“Shouldn’t you have left with your boyfriend?” Oscar scoffed.
“He’s at work.”
“What are you doing here then?” Oscar wondered.
“What’s your name, miss?”
“Ruby,” she replied with an outstretched hand.
Oscar shook it. She palmed him a hidden item. A credit card, the name read Tom Matthews.
“I think we should partner up,” Ruby dealed, “you take the cash; I take the credit.” She fanned herself with the stolen cards. “You’ll need to get some better cons though,” She added.
Oscar smiled. “And a new location,” he nodded.
“Agreed,” Ruby concurred, leading him down the alley. “You don’t want to be here when the cops show up.”
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 00:29|
Benny Ortiz washed down a tube of Dr. Victarion’s Nutrient Wonder Paste with a non-petroleum-plastic can of Red Bull ULTRA. He settled into his padded synthleather deckerchair.
“Time to fly,” he belched. Benny pulled the datacord from his cyberdeck’s spool. He plugged it into the jack behind his left ear. Both hands dropped to the chair arms. His body went slack. Data raced along his synapses like wildfire. The meat world fell away, replaced by the netreal. The shabby basement apartment supplanted by a hyperreal Gothic cathedral.
Ultradef stained-glass windows. Saints, demons, and sinners that changed every few minutes. Lossless organ music backed up by algorithm-based Gregorian chant. The RASS*gart Multi-User-Directory. Here, Benny was no longer just plain Benny Ortiz, semi-employed programmer living in his parents’ basement in Bayonne. He was The Snake. A hotshot decker with a nuclear rep. His avatar was a slender dude in a trenchcoat with the head of a snake. The snakehead changed from a diamondback to an anaconda to a gaboon viper to a hundred other serpents, cycling through according to an algorithm he wrote himself.
“Yo, bud,” a deep voice rumbled. “You ready for this?”
The Snake turned to see a squat, mole-like figure grinning up at him from a wooden pew. In meatspace, he was called James McSweeny. In the net, he was PheonixXGuru. “You know it, duder,” Snake smiled venomously. “Let’s go.”
It was an easy hack. Install a dataminer in, ironically, a Nessus Stellar Resources mainframe. In and out.
“That ICE sniffed us out yet?” Snake queried. His avatar squatted over an airlock, the cyber-representation of a security gate. The system was sculpted like a mining station. Nessus netmasters had never been accused of creativity.
“Nah,” Pheonix shrugged. “I sleazed the hell out of those things.”
Snake glanced up for a fraction of a second, which felt like thirty in cyberspace. He watched the crablike ICE avatar drift by, never swiveling a turreted eye in their direction. They were modeled on Nessus maintenance bots, but could kill a decker in ways the real bots never could. “Just keep an eye out and don’t let our access codes go static,” Snake worried sibilantly.
“I got it, I got it,” Pheonix rebounded. Snake continued to fiddle with the airlock’s controls, trying to slice his way through a complex security protocol. He almost had a handle on it when Pheonix gasped in surprise.
“What the gently caress?” he questioned.
Snake looked up, followed Pheonix’s pointing claw. A golden bird hovered a few feet away, huge wings flapping. “ICE?” Snake pondered.
“Not like any I’ve ever seen,” his friend pronounced. “Scanning now…nope, it’s an avatar.”
“Who are you?” Snake interrogated. He had a sinking feeling it was a Nessus security decker, toying with them before the kill.
The bird only blinked. Then it wheeled, turning sideways so its wingtips brushed floor and ceiling. It took off down another tunnel junction.
“Let’s follow it,” Snake decided. He pulled out of the airlock code and walked after the bird.
“Wait, we don’t even know who it is! Be careful,” Pheonix implored.
Snake didn’t respond. He hurried after the bird as they twisted and turned through tunnel after tunnel. They came up against an airlock, and the bird swiped it open like it didn’t exist. “Where are we?” Pheonix wondered. “This wasn’t on the system blueprint.”
“Backdoor, hidden files maybe,” Snake guessed. They followed the golden bird through one more airlock, and entered what looked like an EVA ready room. Right down to the vacsuits and mag-clamp boots velcro’d to the walls. But in the middle of the room was a sculpt of a huge mason jar full of thick black liquid. The black stuff pulsed and shifted inside the jar.
“Z-omg,” Pheonix breathed. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Black Gold,” Snake nodded emphatically. “Just a quick scan, but it looks legit. And unguarded. They probably figured nobody could get through the security protocols.”
Pheonix goggled at the bird. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded.
It blinked and flapped its wings. Snake picked up the Black Gold. No hidden ICE, no alarms, nothing. “You know what this poo poo is worth?” he inquired.
Pheonix squinted his moley eyes. “About half a mil for a hacked copy, last I checked,” he calculated. “For an original, with no corruption? Gotta be a mil and a half, easy.”
“Think about what we could do with that money,” Snake dreamed. “My mom’s cancer treatment…” he trailed off.
“I’m gonna build myself the sickest custom rig,” Pheonix smirked. “Probably move into a bigger apartment in Bronxville, too.
Snake looked Pheonix. They had been vest buddies since middle school. When they hung out in meatspace, he was always jealous of James’ family. They had plenty of money. His dad was a research manager for National Biotech, his mom a corporate lawyer for the same company. Pheonix sliced systems for kicks, not money. That mil and a half would be just about right to get Marsha Ortiz the cancer treatment she needed. It was just a question of the right gene therapy, these days. But that didn’t come cheap. National Biotech had the best treatment, so he’d heard. Ironic, considering what Snake was about to do.
Pheonix was still looking at the bird when Snake loaded his Russian program. It was superblack, ICE of the deadliest kind. It didn’t have the varied utility of Black Gold, but for geeking one individual decker it was unstoppable. Even Pheonix didn’t know about it. The program appeared in Snake’s palm, a red Matroshka devil. It opened up and successively smaller devils hopped out into infinity. Pheonix turned, his scanner detecting the Russian program. He screamed. The Matroshka devils swarmed him, chattering in high-pitched Russian. Pheonix’s avatar pixelized, flickered a few times, and disappeared. The devils vanished with him. Snake knew that in meatspace, James would be slouched on his genuine leather chair, mouth open and body limp as always. But instead of drool running from the corner of his mouth, it would be blood.
Snake didn’t wait for the bird to react, pulling out of the Nessus system with a single command. He could have jacked out straight from there, but leaving through RASS*gart MUD would lead any programs through multiple redirects. They’d stymie out in a system in Helsinki, or Mombasa, or Luna City, or anywhere but Bayonne, NJ.
Meatspace roiled back into Benny’s consciousness as he jacked out. He yanked the cord from behind his ear and sat up. He’d only been in for an hour, but it seemed like five.
Upstairs, his mother was making soup from a can.
“Benny!” she exclaimed. “You’re upstairs.”
“I had to take a break,” Benny admitted. “Mom, I have great news for you.”
“Really?” she brightened. “What is it?”
“First,” Benny sighed. “I need a hug.” He held his arms out, as tears welled in his eyes. He’d murdered his best friend, he finally had the money to cure his mother. And that golden bird haunted him. Who was it? Why did it help him? What would it want in return?
Momma Ortiz took Benny in her arms, and held him while he cried.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 00:56|
The sketch artists had their pencils poised in anticipation of the judges’ ruling, their eyes on the faces of Bill Edwards, and the Lumb family, Bill’s wife’s parents.
“The motion for emergency stay filed on February 14th, 2009 is denied. The guardian, William Edwards, shall cause the removal of nutrition and hydration from the ward, Jillian Edwards, on March 13th 2009,” the judge executed.
Pencils furiously toiled, trying to capture the moment when Bill Edwards buried his face in his hands, and when Doris Lumb stood screaming across the courtroom.
“You’re a monster,” Doris Lumb accused. “She’s still alive, she’s still alive!”
When the bailiff ushered the Lumbs out of the courtroom, his lawyer leaned in.
“Your wife would have wanted it this way,” the lawyer half-heartedly hearsaid.
The lawyer then patted him on the back with a degree of unfamiliarity and hesitancy. This had been the fourth lawyer he had been through, not through any fault of the young men, but because their firm just cycled them through like an internship program.
“You’re probably going to have to figure out what to do next, like work out funeral preparations,” the young lawyer predicted accurately.
There were two funerals, one for Bill alone and one for his wife’s family. After 15 years, Bill found himself friendless; they had moved away or fallen off the face of the Earth on purpose. The only people he knew were his various lawyers, and they did not attend the services.
Bill chose the first funeral, where they ceremonially sprinkled dirt on the coffin, and then ushered him away to clean the coffin off for the next one. He looked at his phone and realized there was no one to call. For the first time that he could recall, Bill Edwards had nowhere to be.
Still wearing his funeral attire, he stood on a street corner waiting for the light when a young man in a wheelchair was pushed next to him.
“Hello,” the boy introduced.
Bill nodded politely.
“My doctors aren’t sure what’s wrong with me, but it’s renal failure of some kind,” the boy admitted.
Bill glanced sidelong, pretending the boy staring at him was talking to someone else.
“Everything hurts and I think I’d rather just die,” the boy accepted.
The walk signal changed and Bill hustled across the street. Glancing back, the boy appeared to be asleep in his chair, and his caretaker pushed him along, oblivious to the previous conversation.
Bill shuddered, and turned down an avenue towards a familiar park. Sunny days like these when Jillian’s parents were visiting, he would come to the park and eat his lunch, watching the normalcy of life go on around him. No one would know what he was going through, and nor should they.
A ball rolled against his foot, and he smiled, bending to pick it up. When he rose, a young boy stood in front of him. Bill was startled at the boy’s visage; in front of him was a severe but recognizable birth defect, one commonly accompanied by mental retardation. Bill held the ball out for the child.
“I am a burden to my family, and it’s impossible for me to do any good for society, why am I even alive?” The boy interrogated.
Bill dropped the ball, and it bounced away, but the boy stood resolute.
“Would you kill me like you killed your wife?” The boy demanded. “Can you just stop taking care of me?”
Bill stood, aghast and stupefied. A man came running over to the two, a fit, young man who put his hand on Bill’s shoulder. Bill turned, his face loose and quivering like a dog’s jowls. A smiling face beamed back at him, re-assuring Bill that everything was going to be all right.
“I’m addicted to my son’s painkillers, and I’m going to steal his refills and overdose later tonight,” he averred.
Bill pushed his way past the pair in a stumble.
“I just can’t deal with it anymore,” the young man shouted at the entire world.
He removed his jacket and wrapped it around his head, covering his ears, and diverted his eyes away from anyone’s face. He yelped audibly when a cat darted out in front of him, and into the street.
A car brake screeched momentarily, and Bill heard the thump. Immediately after the initial impact, the car accelerated again hitting the cat a second time with the back tire. The car was gone, and in the middle of the road was the tabby, stunned and confused. Dragging itself across the street, the cat’s back half was a mangled mess of bone and innards. It cried pitifully, its eyes fixed firmly on the sanctuary of the curb.
Bill knew what would happen. That he knew the cat would reach the curb, but not be able to drag itself out of the road did not make the sight any easier when it came. What had once been a mere curb was now an insurmountable sepulcher wall, and the cat’s sounds went from panicked to resigned. Then Bill landed a leather sole to the back of the cat’s neck.
Another stomp landed squarely on the top of its head. Anyone walking by would have seen a madman, stomping on what sounded like dead leaves in the gutter. Even after all the little bones stopped breaking, Bill kept at it. It wasn’t until another car slowed, and passed by long enough for a child in the backseat to stare and lock eyes, that Bill stopped.
He ran. He ran as fast as his dress shoes and slacks would allow him. The only thing that stopped him from becoming an uncontrollable mess of shakes was charging forward, but every step to his apartment building was another step towards that fate.
Bill managed to get off half of his clothes before cowering under the covers, sobbing and wailing. He buried his face into the pillow to muffle his screams, and each minute that passed seemed like an hour. When he cried himself to sleep, he didn’t even realize it was happening.
The apartment was completely dark when he woke up. Peeling the rest of his clothes off, he went to the bathroom calmly to shower away his shame. In the mirror he saw the age of what he had become. There had never been any room for reflection when faced with the husk his wife left behind. His skin sagged and his hair was thin and had grayed ungracefully. He didn’t see himself staring back at him. He only saw a light, coming in from an apartment across the alleyway; a bright, yellow beacon of a lighthouse on a blackened cliff.
He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. Instead he just nodded. Turning his back to the mirror he went towards the light coming in through the window. The frame was tough to open, and the fire escape rickety, but he made his way to the roof unharmed. Bill stood on the edge of the building, spread eagle and embracing the wind as it wrapped around his naked body and pitched forward.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 01:57|
The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 02:23 on Jul 1, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:26|
Look them in the eye
Eunice was the only one seated in the classroom, while everyone else checked the exam results pasted on the blackboard. It was all beneath her notice; she was writing her history essay, which wasn't due until next week, confident of the bonus marks she would receive.
It was also a reason not to look up. At the distrustful, envious glances the other kids shot her. They wouldn't dare to speak against the top of their class (by a mile), but she might as well be telepathic. It wasn't hard to imagine faults in her--her curly hair was unruly despite her best efforts, and she never, ever looked above someone's waist when speaking to them, if ever. Cheater, the louder whispers accused.
It wasn't the reason for her shame.
I'll ignore them. I'll be above them soon enough that they'll never hurt me again, she reaffirmed. But when, when?
Eunice saw a familiar pair of scabby knees, hovering before her. "You aced them again," Philip confirmed.
"And?" she replied without lifting her eyes off her paper.
"They're talking again. Can I wait with you at the gate? Just in case, you know," Philip offered.
It's not like I can't defend myself, Eunice thought. But what if she had to? She didn't want to be moving again. She'd lose Philip, who offered "protection" in exchange for her ancestors' myths. Not help with schoolwork, a partnership she wouldn't bring herself into. Just stories.
"I'll ask Mom to come early. You won't have to wait long," she conceded.
* * *
They sat on the steps, huddled to one side. Amidst the din of school buses picking up students, Eunice continued her essay on her lap. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Philip square his shoulders, returning glares from their classmates who passed.
"Tim's coming. He might try something," he whispered. Not that Tim would, probably. Philip was proud of his black belt.
"I hate him. I hate how he hates me," Eunice hissed.
Philip shrugged. "You know why, though? When you transferred, he was the first to try talking to you. And you ignored him, like he was invisible," he recounted.
"It's not like I'll see him after a year, anyway," Eunice said. She could see and hear Tim stomping his feet on the steps as he passed. When the boy turned his head, Eunice ducked.
Minutes later, a car screeched into a halt right in front of the gate, its window rolling down to reveal a regal face framed in auburn ringlets. For the first time in the day, Eunice smiled. "See you tomorrow," she told Philip, taking the steps two at a time.
* * *
Eunice reclined in her seat, having finished her meal. "Mom? Do you like it here? Living here, I mean," she blurted out the words.
Her mother put her glass of wine down. "Why yes, I do, is there a problem, my dear?" she replied.
"I want to move up grades. You know I can do it. Why, well..."
Her mother blew out the candles one by one, until the center one remained. "Tell me everything," she encouraged. The flames painted a picture of calm on her olive face.
Eunice told her mother about her situation in class. The shunning and all.
"Have you tried talking to your classmates?" her mother probed.
"What? No, of course not. You know what could happen..." Eunice reasoned.
Her mother twirled a lock of hair around her finger. Eunice envied her mother's hair, how it obeyed her completely. "You do know we can control it," her mother stated kindly, but firmly.
"But what if I get mad and lose it?" Eunice fidgeted. It had almost happened before. An incident in a playground. A child, lying bent on the sandbox, stiff and crying. A yelling mother. Her own mother, furiously apologizing, holding her hand so tight it bruised. The one time she tried making friends, and look where that got her.
Her mother shook her head. "You're older now, my dear. It won't be like that anymore. But you need to try before you can say you've done everything you could. Giving up is no way to live, even for us. Look them in the eye. It'll be fine," she assured.
Eunice smiled. "Thanks, Mom. Um, can I have some of your wine? Please?" Eunice requested.
"Only for tonight," her mother consented.
* * *
Coming from the bathroom, Eunice returned to her seat only to discover her bag's gaping zipper. Fearing the worst, she dug her folder out and looked for her essay. Gone. And to think she had been ready to face the class with her mother's advice. The devils.
"Looking for something?" Tim jeered, walking towards her. He dangled the pages right at her face. Eunice made a grab for it, but Tim pulled her essay away.
Eunice brought herself to full height, lifting her head. Philip was already out of his seat, and she waved for him to stop. There are two ways to do this, she thought. An easy way, and a hard way. Only she couldn't tell which was which. She thought about her mother. They've moved so many times, and this was the happiest Eunice ever saw of her. If not for herself, then...
"Tim," Eunice proclaimed, wielding her tormentor's name like a shield. Green spots danced in her eyes. She willed them away, steadying her breathing. "I know you don't like me at all. You think I'm some stuck-up girl who's too up in her head to talk to her classmates." The words came pouring out of her. But it could still go either way. Her hair swirled, the monster in her wresting against the yoke of her will.
"I'm sorry," she apologized. She whirled around, addressing her classmates in the eye. "I just don't know how to talk to people. I've been hurt before, so I stopped bothering. So, yeah. I kind of pushed you away. I don't actually want you to hate me. So if you please, can we start over?"
Everyone stared at her, perfectly still. A wave of panic rolled over her, and Eunice hung her head right at the very moment Tim burst out laughing. Rip, rip, he tore the paper into bits, scattering it on the floor. He took his seat and acted like nothing happened.
Philip made for Tim. "No!" Eunice commanded, shaking her head. "No," she repeated, dropping to her knees to pick up the pieces. Their next teacher would come any time now. Philip helped her instead, his face red with suppressed anger.
"Why didn't you let me?" he pleaded.
"It doesn't matter. I could write it again," Eunice mumbled.
Anna walked over to her spot. "We'll help," she announced. Anna, who had made fun of her hair. "Sorry," she added.
Tim watched the entire class on their knees, picking up and disposing his handiwork. Eunice met his eyes; they were clouded in defeat.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:30|
“What can I do to convince you?” Albert insisted.
“Nothing,” the voice in the telephone answered.
“Listen, Mr. Johansen,” Al persisted, “I'm offering you an excellent piece of hardware, at a very advantageous ...”
“We appreciate the offer, but we're simply not interested,” Mr. Johansen interrupted, calmly.
“Well,” Al sighed, “I guess there's no convincing you. Thank you for your time, Mr. Johansen.”
He hung up the phone and walked to the window. His office was on the 21st floor, so he had an excellent view. He scanned the horizon and stalled on the smoke rising like pillars of black clouds from the industrial area to the West. A knot formed in his chest as he thought about the steel foundry that used to be there. He shivered and shrug his head to as if to dismiss a bad thought.
He sat back down at his desk and crossed out Johansen Steel Co. from the list. This had been his seventh attempt. The other assets he'd been tasked with had been easy to get rid of, but he was running out of options on this last one.
He'd made good progress since starting at the firm. At first he wasn't even able to sell most basic assets. It made him feel uncomfortable. “You have to convince yourself that everyone is better off after the trade,” his boss had solicited, “when you've done that, the rest should be a piece of cake.” He'd found that advice easy to employ in most cases, and before long he'd been able to sell raw materials and tools without second thought. He never did crack the furnaces, though.
It was getting late, and he decided he wasn't going to make the sale today. He packed his things.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he realised he had his letter opener in his inner pocket. It was a straight, golden blade with an ornate handle. His boss had given it to him when he had gotten his first promotion. He must've left it in his pocket when he had been opening his mail earlier. He put it in his bag to bring it back on Monday.
Al started walking down the pavement. The weather was warm and still, and Al removed his tie and jacket and rested them over his shoulder. The pavement was busy with people on their way home from work, and all the streets were gridlocked with rush hour traffic. He lived 30 minutes from his office, but at this time it'd take him at least an hour. It was Friday, so he decided to go for a drink. Maybe the alcohol would help him think of something so he could sell that damned furnace. He walked a couple of blocks to where he knew there was a small bar where you could smoke. He used to drink there before he got his job.
The bar was nowhere near as full as he'd expected. There were a couple of groups of workers having beers in the booths along the wall. At the far end, two guys sat on stools by the bar. Al walked there and sat down on one of the unoccupied stools.
“What'll you have?” the bartender rasped.
“Scotch,” Al replied.
“Ice or water?” the bartender inquired.
“Clean,” Al asserted.
The bartender poured him a scotch and a group of workers sat down at a table behind Al.
“You look like you've had a rough day,” the bartender observed.
“Not really, I just have a lot on my mind,” Al mumbled.
Al stayed at the bar for a couple of hours. He lost count, but had sipped his way through a significant amount of whiskey.
“Say,” he inquired the bartender, “I don't suppose you have any need for a steel furnace do you?”
The bartender laughed, “No, I have no such need. Why, are you trying to get rid of one?”
“Desperately,” Al exhausted, “The company I work for recently acquired a steel foundry, and I can't get the damned thing off my hands.”
Al was startled by one of the men from the table behind him suddenly sitting next to him. The man looked at Al disapprovingly.
“Yes?” Al demanded.
“You work for the company that bought the steel foundry?” the man inquired.
“Indeed” Al answered.
“I used to work at that foundry,” the man started, “we were 150 workers who got fired when you bought it”
“The business wasn't making a profit,” Al recited, “We live in a capitalist economy.” A knot had started forming in his chest.
“And how does that make it ok?” the man questioned him.
Al's hands had started shaking. “We were the highest bidder,” He argued.
“But others were willing to keep the operation going.” The man insisted.
“We cannot make such considerations. We have to maintain a competitive economy or we're all worse off” Al tried to convince the man as well as himself.
“You laid off myself and 150 other good workers for profit, and you defend yourselves with the economy. Does none of this bother you?” the man persisted.
“No,” Al lied. The knot in his chest had grown significantly. He wished it would go away.
“My family is supported by a single … ” the man began.
“No more of this” Al boomed, his voice raising with each word, “leave me alone.”
Al remained at the bar for a couple of minutes to finish his Whiskey. Every time he glanced at the man at the table behind him the knot in his chest returned. His thoughts had become unruly.
He put on his jacket and tie and left the bar. As he started down the street, he noticed the shadow of a man walking behind him. When he turned around he saw the man he'd argued with in the bar.
“What do you want from me?” Al yelled, as he fumbled through his bag.
“You can't just deny my presence,” the man declared as he walked closer to Al.
In a rush of panic Al's hand rushed from his bag to the man's chest. The man looked at Al in disbelief.
“What ha-, why?” the man mouthed as he slumped to the ground.
It took a second for Al to snap out of the adrenaline rush. When he did, he noticed the letter opener in his hand; its golden blade spotted with blood. When he saw the man he knelt down beside him. As the reality of the situation dawned on him, a sharp pain arose in his chest and he started crying. He cried for the man he had just murdered and his family. He cried for the 150 people at the steel foundry. And most of all he cried because he knew what he had lost, and that it would be lost forever. When he was done, a cold, numb feeling spread in his chest. He would have no problem selling the furnace now.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:36|
Note flashrule: must use the following randomly-chose dialogue tags: ruptured, nagged, publicized, bemoaned and barked.
Atlanta's Deathrace (944 words)
Atlanta wove up beside the last competitor, dodging his hubcap spikes. His roof minigun aimed at her tires, whining as it spun up. Behind the rusty roll cage, his pinched face leered.
“I am gonna remove you, win this, and pound your rear end so haaarghhllb!” he ruptured, eyes crossed as gore fountained from his mouth.
Atlanta smiled and retracted the micromissile launcher. She screamed down the straight to the finish line. Locking the wheel she drifted across in a cloud of burning rubber. She leaped out and waved to the roaring crowd.
Amid the furor, her father walked up from the announcer’s tower.
“We need to get you married,” he nagged, as he did after every race. “It just isn’t fitting.”
“By the edicts of Unsaint Ayn, no man may marry the Autark’s daughter unless she is bested in a race,” she recited liltingly.
“Yes, the edicts, and you are the sickest driver in Randian Bootia. But aren’t you lonely?” he probed with mock concern.
“There just aren’t any men worthy enough of me,” she bemoaned. Falsely. What did she need men for, anyway?
Their conversation was halted as a distant bassline rumbled closer. The crowds parted for a massive black Whacktruck. Heads turned to admire the sheen of its armor, the wickedness of its weapons. The driver climbed onto the roof, muscles rippling, shoulder pads glinting. He struck a pose and spoke into a microphone, words booming from his stereo.
“I am Mel of the Arcade, trained by Chiron, maddest motherfucker in the land. You, Atlanta, must be the finest to be had. I will race, and I will win both your heart and your hand,” he publicized.
Atlanta checked out the squareness of his jaw and the curve of his rear end under tight leather. His eyes glittered with a kind earnestness. The warmth in his gaze bored through her, setting her heart on fire.
Later, as she checked her Chaoswaggon’s weapons for the race, her father marched up.
“Win this one,” he commanded. “Any boy you like, but not some wanksta from the Arcade.”
The color rose in her cheeks, but she nodded. Satisfied, His Selfishness turned and stomped back to the tower.
As the race began, Atlanta gave Mel a head start. It would be easier to get a bead on him. At the first hairpin, she gauged his speed. The instant he slowed, she launched her rocket. Mel wove and it detonated in the wooden stands behind. He winked before he disappearing into the straight beyond. Atlanta flushed, admiring his skill. This one was different.
She closed the gap through the next curves. As she neared, his autocannons spun and spat flame. She dodged as the ground ahead churned. None of the rounds struck and she frowned. There should at least have been ricochets. What was Mel playing at?
On the right of his truck, a chute opened. Atlanta veered left, bracing for a bomb. What emerged instead was round, and yellow, and glinted in the sun. Atlanta gaped and swerved back. With her Viscerator claw she scooped it from the air. It was a golden apple. The thunk as she caught it suggested it was solid. Nobody had given her bling like this before. Her face tingled.
But Mel had drawn far ahead, and the race called. The engine whined as she flattened pedal to floor. She slipped through the next three curves, closing as he wallowed. She opened up with her chaingun and he dodged, shots angling from the Whacktruck’s armor.
As she closed again, another golden apple tumbled towards her. She swerved to catch it, slowing and falling behind. The urge to race -- to kill, to obey the edicts -- warred with the fluttering of her heart.
Mel eased through the last hairpin, barely losing ground. Atlanta’s smiled in admiration. She knew she could beat him, but no man had driven like this against her. And no man in all of Randian Bootia had ever thought to give her gifts. Still, the edicts dictated that she must win.
She pushed the engine to the limit in the final straight straight. Soon she closed on Mel, ready to overtake. He skidded left, releasing a last apple. It flew away from the track. Atlanta pulled around in a squealing donut. She caught the apple, sacrificing all of her speed, and the race.
Mel sped across the line and spun to face her, leaping from the cab. The crowd’s roar was deafening. She rolled up beside him and sprung into his arms, wrapping her legs tightly round him.
“Disqualified! The winner is Atlanta!” boomed her father’s voice, cutting through the cacophony.
Enforcers rushed out and tore Mel away, dragging him off to the pits. His eyes widened with loss as he receded.
“NNNNNo!” she began, swallowing her scream. The edicts forbade weakness. She raised her hand obediently to wave in unwanted victory for the crowd. For her father. Her jaw clenched in a rictus grin. The crowd began to boo.
“No,” she breathed, and the false grin faded.
Her hand moved to the Skullcrusher on her back. Fighting the gravity of her defiance, she shouldered the cannon and squeezed out two Devastator rounds. The enforcers’ heads evaporated.
She tossed Mel a pistol.
“Go,” she barked, diving into the driver’s seat, bullets pinging off armor plate. The rattle of gunfire was punctuated by cheers as she and Mel sped off. The track’s entrance was blocked by enforcers, so she aimed for the hairpin. Another rocket blasted the earlier hole in the stands into a clear path. Side by side they roared through, out from the death track, away into the wasteland beyond.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:39|
A Knock-Out Blow - Word Count: 1188
Sickening feedback, solid and meaty, like punching a lifeless carcass. There’s no more ducking and weaving, no more rolling with the punches. No signs of resistance whatsoever. Seventh round and he’s still standing but it’s been over since the third. The crowd isn’t cheering, not anymore. The whole arena practically hisses from the absence. The man’s counter-jabs are soft, even pathetic. Sergei brushes them aside like a child’s. The referee is leaning in, just waiting for a sign, desperate for any reason at all to call a No Contest because the ref knows, like Sergei knows, that Andrey’s corner won’t ever throw in the towel. Any resemblance to the boxer he’d once been had evaporated since the second down. All that was holding him up now was his pride. And to throw in the towel would rob him of even that forever after - he’d surely never forgive them. Andrey’s grotesquely swollen features couldn’t hide his determination to go the distance.
A telegraphed uppercut slams hard into Andrey’s lower abdomen and he bends double. The mouthguard hangs loose from his mouth, saliva dripping onto the mat. His guard, up for so long, against all the odds, drops.
It’s an opportunity and Sergei takes it. Has to take it. He just wants it to be over.
Another full-swing uppercut, this time to the chin. It sends the older man reeling backwards, in a daze.
He goes in for the kill, bringing his best right cross round and into the man’s temple. It’s the kind of perfect, brain jarring blow that ends careers and dreams. There’s no grace in it. Just the cold intent to sever consciousness. It’s a trademark blow, usually sends a crowd into a frenzy of excitement. But right now, it looks gruesome. Sick. Cruel.
Andrey doesn’t slump dramatically, or fall to his knees like in the movies. His body is slammed into the mat from the force, connecting with an echo that seems interminable in the pindrop silence of the auditorium. There’s no movement from Andrey on the mat, not a twitch. He just lies there like a dead man.
The bell is ringing and the referee is crossing his arms. Sergei watches from outside his own head. He recognises absently that he’s won, finally won the belt. The referee raises his arm, and then his corner deliver his belt, because that’s what they’re expected to do. His trainer’s face is a mask. And now he’s expected to gloat. Raise it above his head. Look happy about it. There’s a smattering of applause from the audience that dies away quickly.
A stretcher comes from the floor. Andrey isn’t moving at all. They roll him on top of it and hurry him away. Sergei’s meant to give a speech, but he’s not going to. Not this time. A girl with a mic is smiling, bravely, perhaps the only person there. She tries to approach, but Sergei gently moves her aside, slips between the ropes and starts the walk to his ready room. Nobody stops him. Nobody dares.
Three days later in Tartu University Hospital, Sergei waits. He looks ridiculous with his ill-fitting suit and bouquet of daffodils. The attendant at the front desk had eyed him with suspicion before begrudgingly giving him the right room. He keeps wiping his palms on his trousers, leaving an embarrassing wet marks.
Finally, there’s a crack of door latch. From the room, a young boy, perhaps seven or eight, slips through holding hands with a little girl, younger, more like four. They scamper, like only kids that age can, past Sergei to a thickset man down the corridor. The man receives them both into his arms. The man - a relation? a family friend? - looks up from the hug, and catches Sergei’s eyes only for a moment, full of hatred. His look seems to shout: See what you’ve done?
The man turns away, shepherding the children off somewhere, somewhere away from this miserable place.
The door is still ajar, but Sergei knocks anyway.
A woman’s voice, a schoolteacher’s, gentle but firm.
“Ah. It’s you.” The woman’s voice is unreadable.
A single bead of perspiration runs down from Sergei’s temple. He’s never felt so nervous, not in his entire life. This is a confrontation he’s dreaded more than any fight in the ring.
“I-I brought some flowers…” he stammers wildly.
“That’s very kind of you,” the woman intones.
Her features are taut, the kind of face a strong person makes, a person with self-control makes when they’ve shed all the tears they can spare. She is beautiful, in that transient Eastern European way that time is undoing as quickly as possible. Her impeccably made up, lacrimose blue eyes communicate a depth of feeling that leaves Sergei feeling at sea.
She sits, palms atop one another, on the single chair beside the hospital bed where Andrey is lying. Tubes slip beneath his crisp white sheets, unsettling by implication. He looks pale, his breathing rhythmic and shallow. Machines murmur, and emit gentle, reassuring beeps.
Sergei proffers the limp daffodils, too long out of water, like a peace-offering. She takes them, feeling the sweat-slick plastic wrapping around the stems.
“I’ll find a vase for them in a minute,” she reassures him, placing them down on cabinet.
Silence hangs in the air. Nothing that Sergei can think to say seems right, every question beckons like an abyss, dark and endless.
“Have you come here to ask for my forgiveness?” she asks, coldly curious. “Because I’m not ready to forgive you.”
“I- He-” Sergei flails. He fights with his fists, not with words.
She purses her lips at him.
And that’s all it takes. His mask of cultivated composure slips from his face and the tears begin to spill out from his eyes, first a stream, then a river. They course down his great, puffy red cheeks and gather in drips at the bottom of his chiseled jaw.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he bawls.
She’s taken aback. She expected contrition, or defensiveness. But not this. She almost laughs at the sight of the colossal boxer weeping, not out of spite, but from sheer surprise. She gently puts one pale hand on his, a motherly instinct despite herself.
He wipes one suit-sleeve across his face like a schoolkid, leaving a snotty wet smear.
He sniffs, and looks at the serene, motionless figure of Andrey. He reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out a photograph and hands it to her. It’s an old film picture of a boxing match, sun-bleached and crumpled. She recognises it. It’s a picture of her husband, from years and years ago, winning his first title belt. She turns it over. On the back is a message written in black marker:
To Sergei. Thank you for your letter. You don’t know how happy it makes me to hear that you want to be a boxer like me when you’re older. I wish you the very best of luck. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be holding this very belt yourself!
Yours sincerely, Andrey.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:50|
Silver and Gold
"You have nothing to worry about," the leader of the U.S. skating team averred. His grin dug into his cheeks.
Jason Albright tracked his rivals as they practiced on the ice. That Korean boy--could he really be fifteen when he looked nine?--put three feet of air between himself and the rink on his triple axel. Anthony Dufresne of Canada whirled in a violent blur of blond hair. But he wobbled coming out of his spin. No cause for concern there.
And there was Mark Tomlin, his own teammate and his senior by a decade. Despite his age, Mark skimmed past with such easy speed that Jason frowned. Mark raised his right leg up behind his head for his Biellmann spiral. It wasn't a position Jason could reach; few men could. Only Tomlin, of all the Olympians this year.
It looked good, dammit.
The team leader thumped Jason on the shoulder. He dropped into the skater's ear, "You'll be on top. You're young but proven and a star for the podium. You are just what the judges want."
Out on the rink, Mark launched himself into a quadruple toe loop, turned four times with perfect speed--and crashed. He sprawled on the ice, legs akimbo.
Relief put a small smile on Jason's mouth. "I'm the best," he swore to his leader, to God, and to himself.
"Oh, yes," the team leader supposed, "that too."
In black velvet spangled with copper and gold, Jason coasted across the Olympic arena as the loudspeakers called his name. He'd come in first with his short program, as expected. Sung-min Hwa, the Korean, had come in second by a hair, Tomlin third by two, and the rest he didn't think about. At worst, they'd threaten Tomlin for the bronze.
As long as Jason skated clean.
His music began, and he leapt out of his starting pose. A brief, flashy footwork sequence built up the energy of the program, then he was cutting a wide oval, fast, faster, toward the judges and his first quad jump. He drove his toe pick into the ice. He rotated four times in the air. He landed on his right blade--but his left scraped the rink.
It happened again on his triple flip, but the audience didn't care; their shouts were louder than the music. "Jaaaasooon I love yooooou!" a woman ululated, her cry wobbling across the arena and into his mind. He grinned, and he entered his sit spin a second too late.
He finished a beat behind his music. But he'd landed everything, he'd shown his style, and the people adored him. He scooped up a teddy bear someone had thrown and held it in his lap while he waited for his scores.
The loudspeaker blazoned on the air, "The marks for Jason Albright of the United States of America--"
He couldn't hear the number over the screaming crowd, but he saw it, and that was more than sufficient. He'd scored higher than even he had anticipated.
They didn't deduct enough for the flaws, his pride nagged at him.
Jason shrugged on a jacket and moved to the stands to do what few dared: watch his competition.
Hwa fell on his third jump, botched the fifth, and didn't complete his final combination. So much for his closest challenger. Tomlin skated last of all the men. He was a living spirit in unrelieved white, sober and slim. He stood poised in the center until the noise of the arena died, long seconds before his music began. Pachelbel's Canon.
Tomlin showed his trademark flexibility. As he swirled on his skates, he swayed so low that he caught a handful of shavings from the rink. He scattered them behind him in a trail as he swept along the ice; with the audience so still, Jason heard the hiss of his blades.
His opening quadruple lutz was perfection. His left foot stayed high. He kicked into a triple jump without a pause.
I am still strong, he cut into the ice, I have practiced, and the result is beautiful.
Jason watched Tomlin's feet as he glided through his jumping passes, ignoring his arms, skillful though their gestures were; the feet told the story. Tomlin's skates flashed as he turned, two revolutions, three. The left blade took his weight on its outer edge as he held onto the right in the Biellmann spiral that turned his body into a teardrop. Spirals were worthless for men, they counted for nothing, and yet Tomlin did it. Because he could.
He sliced across the rink, There is more than strength in this sport, even for us--there is grace.
He inscribed in the tight circles of a spin, Speed and power are part of my art.
He lutzed, he salchowed, he split, he danced, This is the performance of my life.
Tomlin embraced the unseen sky as his last note died. He held the pose as long as he could before bowing under the weight of all he had done.
And Jason tasted silver. Bitter silver, the more bitter for being deserved. But how could he blame Tomlin?
With the rest of the arena, he listened for the score.
"The marks for Mark Tomlin..." the loudspeaker blared.
Again a roar drowned out the number, and the roar was for him, because that score was far lower than his despite everything--their programs had been equally difficult, yet his faults and Tomlin's lack of them had somehow added up to this. Jason Albright, Olympic champion.
"I'm the best," he lied in a whisper to himself alone.
The officials hung the hollow gold around his neck and raised the stars and stripes. Mark sang along with their national anthem. Jason stood silent on the top of the podium, young and brilliant, a shining star. The commentators for the broadcast misunderstood his tears.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:54|
Sink or Swim
"And the Nobel Prize in medicine is awarded to Dr. Eric Van der Stol, for his groundbreaking discovery and synthesis of the world's first viable artificial human sperm."
I walked over to the podium and shook the presenter's hand. "Thank you for this honor," I spat. I found my way to the microphone, and began my rehearsed acceptance speech.
"Family, friends, colleagues," I enunciated with a clenched jaw, "thank you for joining me here to celebrate this great achievement. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my mentor Dr. Janelle Restmith. Without her guidance, I can honestly say I wouldn't be here in front of you all today. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to take a moment to tell you all how I came upon this discovery. It all started two years ago..."
I'd been working with Macaca fascicularis, or cynomolgus macaques, for the past decade. My research was primarily in prostate health, particularly prostate cancer. My father was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer when I was young, and his death had inspired my research. Now that my son had recently been diagnosed with the same aggressive strain that had killed his grandfather, I was even more pressed to find a breakthrough.
My research with the macaques had been getting better day by day. Janelle, my mentor, was impressed.
“I can’t believe how quickly you’re working towards a viable human model.” she said, her eyes wild around the edges, like the wild and untamed jungles that my subjects, the macaques, had, until recently, called home.
“I know, I think I’m ready to begin early human trials.” I said, my palms sweaty as they pressed together to hide their excited trembling.
Janelle smiled a rare smile. “If this works, you realize you’d be a shoo in for the Nobel.”
“Do you really… no, no. There’s no way…” I trailed off.
“I really do. Hell, if this works, we could get rid of men altogether.” Janelle laughed.
“Oh, haha, yeah. Then who would open all the jars for you womenfolk?” I raised one eyebrow and smiled sarcastically.
Janelle grew deadly serious. “We’d find a way.” Instead of the wild playfulness from just moments ago, her eyes were dark and stony.
The human trials went better than anyone could have expected or hoped for. The artificial sperm combined seamlessly with the ovum in testing, and several viable embryos developed. Due to the manmade nature of the sperm, the zygotes were all healthy, and we were able to select for whatever traits we desired. Height, musculature, sex, all switches at the tips of our fingers. I was at a loss. Janelle couldn’t believe the success, either.
“Have you written up what you’re going to submit to the journals yet, Eric?”
“I’ve got it about halfway finished. I can’t believe everything went so well.”
“The Nobel committee is going to be hard-pressed to find something better than this to honor next year. You’ve changed reproductive medicine. They can’t ignore that.”
“I don’t know if I really want the honor though. I didn’t do this to impress people.”
“Too late.” Her eyes were still dark, as they now always were when they looked at me.
Writing up my findings, I knew this wasn’t right. I shouldn’t be honored for this discovery. I didn’t want it. All I wanted was for my other trials to be going as well as this misguided venture.
I had a few different treatments for prostate cancer in testing. The mice we had tested on had shown mild improvement, but the side effects were disastrous and just as bad as the cancer. A second revision was going in for testing tomorrow, and I wished I could trade my success with the sperm for success on the cancer treatments.
Talking to Janelle the next day, I confided my misgivings.
“Don’t you wish we had had better luck with these cancer protocols?”
“I mean sure, but you’ve got some great achievements under your belt already. If this one doesn’t pan out, you’ve got the others to fall back on.”
“Yeah, but there’s already plenty of reproductive therapies out there. But this, this could actually help someone…” My eyes misted, and I bit my tongue in a futile effort to keep what came out next back.
“It could help my son.”
I hadn’t told Janelle, or anyone, about my son’s diagnosis. Her eyes lit up, and her whole body leaned towards me, determined to learn more.
“What about your son, now?”
I hesitated. “He, uh, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year.” The words fell from my mouth like ice cream from a forgetful child’s cone on a hot summer day.
“Really? That’s terrible. I’m so sorry to hear that.” Her eyes grew manic.
“Yes, thank you. So that’s why I wish that my prostate treatments were more successful. I’d just like to be able to help make him better.”
“Yes, yes, I understand. Good luck with that…” She wandered away, in a calculating daze.
I kept revising my treatments for the mice. One seemed to have promise. There were minimal side effects, and the cancer seemed to have stopped metastasizing. I was confident that I could successfully bring this iteration to human trials, but that would mean focusing all my time on this, and stepping back from the sperm trials. I shared my decision with Janelle.
“So you see, I think with work, we could bring this to human testing fairly soon.”
Janelle stiffened. “With my approval, you mean.”
“Yes, with… wait, why would you not approve it?”
“If you put your efforts into this, then you’ll effectively be halting the artificial sperm trials.”
“Yeah, but this-”
“But nothing.” She cut me off with a curt shake of her head. “The artificial sperm trials are your top priority. We need to finish the trials so we can bring it to market.”
“The cancer treatment has promise though. The meta-”
“You will finish the artificial sperm testing. You will accept your Nobel prize when it is offered so we can bill the product as ‘Nobel prize winning’. You will put the cancer treatment on the back burner. Is that understood?”
I was floored. There was no way I was going to stop my cancer research for her marketing plans.
“What’s to stop me from just taking my formulas and leaving?”
“The fact that, as your supervisor, I own your formulas. You can’t take them, unless you’d like to be arrested for grand larceny. And I don’t think your son would do well with a father in jail. His cancer can’t wait for your trial, now, can it?”
I was at a loss for words. She had me. Either I do as she told me, or she would just take my cancer research and destroy it, or let it rot in animal trials.
Janelle leaned in. “Who’s going to open my jars for me when all the big, brave men are gone?” she whispered with triumph. “Looks like I’ll get to find out soon.”
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:54|
1 hour remains to submit.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 02:57|
Welp. Some poo poo came up, so this is all I've got.
Fortune and Greed
“James died fighting the bird,” I lied, sitting across a pile of gold from his widow. We'd set out to steal the great bird Fortune's treasure from her nest. “I don't think he suffered. I don't think he had time to suffer.” Lying on the ground, the steady flow of blood from his head slowing as his heart stopped. He hadn't suffered then, after I'd struck that final blow. All the suffering had been before, in the long cold night when Greed had spoken to him with a serpent's tongue. When he'd decided to betray me for the gold.
I hoped he'd suffered. I hoped the decision to kill me hadn't been easy for him. Even with his hands around my throat, squeezing the life from me, it had been hard to kill him. He'd been a friend. A brother. “He died trying to get the gold for Sue's treatment,” I choked out around the tears. “He never wanted anything but for her to get well.”
He hadn't trusted me, in the end. Hadn't trusted that I'd do anything, give anything to get his little girl the chemo she needed. Fool.
“The gold is yours,” I whispered. “Please. Take it. It's what he would have wanted.” I'd never be able to spend it with his blood on my hands.
“Thank you,” she sobbed, walking around the gold and drawing me into a hug. I turned towards her, looking for absolution, looking for comfort.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 03:03|
Flash Rule: There is a doctor and there is a beard. Neither title nor face-bush belongs to a man.
docbeard fucked around with this message at 15:31 on Dec 25, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 03:11|
Djeser fucked around with this message at 19:49 on Dec 31, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 03:12|
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 22:12 on Jan 1, 2015
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 03:47|
After the Sinking of the Queen Anne
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 02:51 on Dec 11, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 03:48|
Benny heaved against the hundred dollar bills being shoved down his throat. The money tasted gritty and dirty. It scraped against his cheeks, obstructing airways, preventing oxygen from reaching his lungs. He twisted in his chair, trying to escape, but the remaining members of the Scott Jones Financial Group held him firm in the chair. Benny hovered on the edge of unconsciousness before a hand forced its way through his teeth and removed the bills. The financial planner shook his hand in disgust as Benny sputtered. Across the room, he heard clapping.
“Congrats, Benjamin, on making it to Claremont. I hope you are enjoying your prize as much as my associates are. We at the Scott Jones Financial Group do pride ourselves on customer satisfaction,” CEO Scott Jones smiled like a cat with its canary.
Benny’s captor waved his hand. The mob of investors stepped back, but not far enough away for Benny to be outside their reach.
“I think I’m supposed to do now is ask if you are comfortable now. Are you comfortable, Benny? Can I get you anything? Anything at all? I’d like to get started with business as quickly as possible,” he continued.
Benny looked around. The room was matted in old stock charts and financial reports. Tattered newspapers sat in a mound near the door. Against the wall was a map of North America, covered in pushpins. Benny recognized the locations. He had been at these places only a few weeks prior to trade.
“Please,” his captor insisted, “I want to make sure that you’re alright. That you aren’t seriously hurt. I want you to be as comfortable as possible before we begin the questioning.”
An investor tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up at a woman in a tattered pantsuit and a face covered in war paint. It looked like it had been applied with lipstick.
“The thing with the money was just a joke, a stress reliever,” laughed the woman, “Benjamins for Benny. Isn’t that funny? It’s been a stressful few weeks.”
Scott nodded, “Yes, of course. That was just our little way of paying you. Cash for gold.”
Eight weeks ago, Benny left his friend to die in a mine near Michoacán. He had loaded the gold that they had found into his truck with the intent of starting a new life. Benny made his way to California, using regular trips to pawn shops to pay for gas, food, lodging and eventually smuggling.
Meanwhile, the world suffered a calamity that he did not understand. Banks closed shop. Stocks vanished. There were riots in the streets and revolutions abroad. Wall Street firms became gangs and khanates overnight, raiding small towns and suburbia in search of gold, the only thing worth trading on after the dollar disappeared.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I- I’m sorry but-,” whined Benny.
The woman leaned into him, her dirty matted hair rubbing against his neck. The smell of sweat and dirt filled his nostrils.
“Don’t gently caress around, Benny. We’ve been following your trail for a while now. A long while. Nobody trades that much without getting noticed, especially not now,” the woman hissed, spittle spraying flying from her mouth.
“Where’s the gold, Benny?” Scott Jones added, looming over the desk now. His eyes were wide and teeth bared. He looked more like a vicious dog than an accountant.
Benny looked around the room and spluttered. “I’m sorry… I can’t. I just-.”
Scott Jones raised his gun and screamed, “I’m not loving ‘round this time, Benny. You have any idea how god drat hard it is to build equity these days? I’ve got half of California paying me tribute and that still isn’t enough to cover all the weapons, caravan, and periodical expenses.”
“Please,” implored Benny, his voice cracking like a child going through puberty, “You don’t understand! I don’t have it anymore!”
The woman leered, “Bull-loving-poo poo. Your last purchase was three days ago and-.”
“No, that’s the issue! I got robbed in Rassgart. The money’s gone! Jesus Christ, don’t kill me.”
The room was silent.
“Excuse me? Did you say Rassgart?” Scott Jones murmured, in a voice barely distinguishable from the wind outside. Benny had landed a blow.
“Yeah,” he persisted, gaining confidence, “I was trying to trade for a boat in Rassgart to get to Pyongyang or Havana or something and had the whole load in the back of the pick-up truck.”
The financial advisors watched him, awestruck.
“Anyway, I was going through town and got stopped by these guys who, uh, stole the truck.”
Scott Jones stood up from his chair at the head of the table and walked toward Benny before kneeling down to eye-level. He seemed mesmerized.
“Benjamin, listen to me. This is very important,” he muttered, “Can you describe the people who took the truck. Name? Age? Appearance? Anything at all?”
Benny scoffed, “Of course. The one guy’s name was Holmes and he was driving a dog catcher truck or something? His name was definitely Holmes, though.”
“Motherfucker,” the female accountant sighed, “It’s the Dogs of Rassgart. It’ll take weeks to track down the gold again.”
Scott Jones cradled his head in his hands. “We spent so much time trying to track this guy down. Oh my God. I was so confident that-.”
The woman knelt beside her employer and patted him on the back.
“I mean, you guys aren’t the only gang in California. There are other groups who would want the gold,” Benny interrupted, having forgotten that he was still a captive.
The Scott Jones Financial Group looked at each other, disgusted. It was obvious that they would get no value out of this hostage.
“Let’s use kill him.”
QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 04:04 on Mar 10, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 03:58|
SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW CLOSED
I don't know how many of you failed to submit and I don't care. I have spent the last three hours evaluating these, I am barely half done, and I have to be up for work in six. I only say this so that, should any of you awake one night to find your home on fire, you will know why.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 04:02|
I disgracefully tried to fix the last line of my story before it could be registered in the Archive. I restored it back to its original wording, even though it shows that an edit was made.
QuoProQuid fucked around with this message at 04:19 on Mar 10, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 04:07|
Word Count: 989
Bookisms: Exclaimed, Jeered, Interrupted, Directed, Vowed
The man sat on the throne, listening to the muted sounds of a castle preparing for war. The rumble of oak casks full of oil, the sharp hiss of whetstones drawn along blades, the muted conversation of men staring into the black pit of their own mortality. He growled. This was not how a war was supposed to be, cowering behind stone walls--
"You can't win this by force, you know."
The man turned his head, glaring at the woman who dared to address him. "And what do you know of war," he grated, "tucked away in your soft halls, hiding behind the strength of others--"
"I know enough," she brusquely interrupted. "I know there are many kinds of war, and I know you are skilled at one of them. I also know you," she directed his gaze towards a window, "will lose this battle if you take to the field." She looked out across the courtyard to the hills surrounding the castle, darkened by men and siege weapons. "Diplomacy will be your sole recourse this day, my… lord. And I can be that diplomat for you, for a price."
"Soft words!" the man spat, grinding his hands into the arms of the throne as if he could throttle the life out of the idea. "Men will meet on the field of battle, and the strong will survive. That is the way of war, the only way of war, and I will crush all who oppose me, just as I crushed your king! By the strength of my own arms!"
"By the strength of you own--" the woman choked out, before bursting into laughter. "You think you wrought this by yourself?"
"Since the day your king killed my father, I have plotted!" he raged. "Since the day I was chained into slavery! I throttled the taskmaster with his own whip, I survived when they beat me and left me to die! I have freed and trained men, I have fought and killed soldiers, I have survived betrayal on the field of battle, and by my own hand have I killed the king of this place and taken back what is mine by right of blood!" He slapped a goblet off the throne, sending it clattering against a wall as punctuation. "I have done these things, and I will have no soft woman deny them!"
"And who," she jeered, "supplied you with the weapons? With the food to keep your men fighting fit when the rest of the kingdom would gladly turn you over for a morsel of bread? And did you really think that an entrance into the castle interior would be left unlocked and unbarred accidentally when a bloodthirsty horde was marching to war?" She smiled wickedly at the man. "You've been played, barbarian, and you have played your role well. All that's left is to share the throne, and you can tell yourself you won by," she gave him a disdainful look, "the ‘strength of your own arms’ until the day you die."
He sat back heavily in the throne, stunned. "But how-- nobody said where--"
"Of course they didn't," she purred. "The king-- my father-- would have gone incandescent with rage if he had known his daughter was plotting to be rid of him."
"But then why--" he exclaimed, gesturing at the window.
"You think you were the only horse I would bet on? I'm not so foolish as to assume only one man would succeed. They may have come stronger in arms, I'll grant, but you completed with some amount of stealth and guile what would have required more men to take by force. I ask you again: submit to my...recommendations, tell your men to accept my authority, and we will talk our way out of this. And that," she clapped her hands, "will be the end of that."
The man slumped in his chair, dark hair covering his eyes, his posture that of utter despair. The only outward sign of life was the trembling of his hands, fingers digging into the arms of the throne as if they were his sole connection to life.
The woman waited, patient. He had proven his skill in combat long before today. The only question remaining was one of flexibility, of being able to cope with change. And if not...
Slowly, the man sat up. He pulled the crown off his head, grasping it so tightly that blood started to run out from between clenched fingers. With a low growl, growing steadily louder, he straightened his back. "NO GODS, NO KINGS! BY MY OWN STRENGTH, I WILL NOT DIE BEHIND THESE WALLS!" he vowed, throwing the gold crown into the ground, deforming it beyond recognition. Tearing out of the room, the man did not stop to spare a glance at the woman, his mind filled with the promise of blood and vengeance.
The woman glared at his retreating back. "Foolish, foolish man," she snorted. But, she reflected, should she have expected differently? When given the opportunity to take what one wanted by force, what chance was there of sharing that power? She looked down at one hand, delicate and petite, and so very soft. She clenched it into a fist, and decided. "By my own strength, then."
While he roused his men, she stole a drab brown outfit from the scullery maid's closet.
While he rallied those around him with words of strength and battle and the crushing of foes, she slipped what jewelry she could into a beat-up rawhide pouch.
And while a man formed up his army in the courtyard, surrounded by other men willing to throw themselves on their own spears to prove their worth, a woman slipped out an unlocked, unbarred side gate leading a horse.
She rode hard, and by nightfall, the flaming ruins were only a glowing smudge on the horizon.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 04:07|
gently caress, closed submissions. I thought it was midnight PST :/
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 04:08|
Oxxi you have full permission to eviserate me.
They found Miriam Lakaemper still straddled on top of Louis Koffman, her fingers still wrapped tightly around the knife handle.
It had been an hour since she had killed her best friend and she had not moved a single inch from the body. That alone was disconcerting alone, without the gore. Rookie coughed as he saw how completely splattered she was.
He and Walker finally reached her. Rookie could her speaking, faint, just barely audible. When Walker pulled her up to her feet and Rookie saw the blood, the tears, and the look on her face, he realized that she was saying the same thing repeatedly. He read her lips. And his blood went cold.
“Rookie,” Walker smacked. He jerked his pistol towards the direction they just came from. “Come on, boat’s waiting.”
It took less than ten minutes to reach the docks. Bossman was waiting there, readjusting the hood over her head. She nodded as she saw them, gesturing with the rifle in her hands.
“Congratulations.” Bossman droned, first to Miriam, then Walker. “You searched her?”
“’Course we did.” Walker snorted. “What do you take me for, a Rookie?”
Rookie could have chosen to respond to that. Instead, he followed Walker.
The girl didn’t put up a fight as they shoved her onto the dock. Everything about her was lame and quiet, and that made the hollowness in Rookie’s chest rumble. She waddled onto the inner elevator with Walker and Rookie right behind her. Walker hit the button with the barrel of his pistol and the rusted doors closed behind them.
It was silent, other than the whirling of the elevator. It must have been suffocating to Walker because he gently nudged the girl’s shoulder.
“Hey, say something, will you?” Walker demanded. “You’ll be going home. Aren’t you at least happy about that?”
Miriam kept up the constant patter, head downcast. Rookie wondered if Walker even noticed her lips moving.
“Potato. Great.” Walker grunted. “Wish she were last year’s winner. What’s his name, Zhang Wei? Now that guy was a winner. He was still cracking jokes even after he slit his girlfriend’s throat. loving shame, too, should have got more credit.”
Rookie did not respond, keeping his head turned from both Walker and the girl in front of them.
“Alright, alright, sorry.” Walker mumbled. “poo poo, I know Grab’n’Bag ain’t your thing but I didn’t want to take a loving chance. Okay? Now stop with the silent treatment.”
Rookie shook his head.
Walker looked at him, then at Miriam. He sniffed. “Really? Christ, stop being a pussy.”
Rookie didn’t dignify that with a response.
The doors to the elevator opened soon after, cutting the tension. They walked down to the jail room and threw her into the first open cage. Walker said nothing as they closed the cell door and walked off, handing the keys back off to Cage (like Nicolas, har har). He said something to Rookie, then walked out the door.
Rookie did not follow. He stared into the moldy cell, watching Miriam sputter on to herself in a dialect he could not recognize. Nothing could will him to leave.
That was, until the girl stopped talking and stared straight back.
He followed Walker to the rec room, where everyone was gathered. When he got there, Face was standing on one of the tables, adjusting his tie.
“Everyone here” He deduced, then shot back. “Alright, alright. Before we begin! Nielsen called in. Don't have the numbers, but e killed it!“ He cackled, threw his hands in the air. “The big wigs wants to sign us for more! We did it people!”
The room erupted into applause, laughter filled the room. Face motioned with his hands for silence, smirk all the more palpable.
“I would like to thank each and every last one of you.” Face bellowed. He threw his hands over his head. “While people may call me the Face of this show, you are the gears making this clock tick.”
The room started buzzing soon after Face got down, the air strangely light like cinnamon. Station nerds chatting up Guerillas, stories swapped as quickly as booze.
Rookie stuck to the booze, petals spread against the walls, RC Cola in hand. He watched the activity in the room for a while before he noticed Bossman.
“Hey,” she sloshed. “What’s going on? You should come dance with me!”
Rookie wanted to ask her how, exactly, they were supposed to dance to Depeche Mode. He didn’t. Bossman broke his bubble, the word ‘consent’ apparently not in her dictionary.
“I heard something. Y’wanna hear?” She giggled, hand covering her cheek like a child keeping a secret.
She hushed, “They’re throwing her back in.”
Rookie felt cold. She must have seen something in his eyes, because she bleated, “She’s popular! Girl’s trending worldwide. The execs said to keep her on a leash, spin some yarn on how she chose to come back…”
He made a face. She smirked, finger twirling around a blonde lock.
“She won’t amount to anything else.” She needled. “Her parents don’t want her. So she’s got no one else, except the game and maybe a padded cell. Who cares what happens to her?”
Bossman kept yapping but all Rookie heard was white noise. Soon, he walked away and she did not stop him.
It was easy, almost too easy. Cage was already flat out drunk, so grabbing him and dragging him out wasn’t simple. There was a key to the broom closet. He thumbed the pistol as he snuck over to the jail, peeking before walking in.
The girl did not speak as he opened the cell. She looked up, hands balled into her hoodie.
Rookie watched as she rose from her cot.
They met eyes. And they stood there for ages, everything before he turned his back.
She was on him in a second. Guy had no chance.
As Rookie laid there, slumped, watching the girl grinning as she loaded a round with almost practiced easy, he wanted to feel happy for her. Rookie knew what she was going to do. That was why he did it. But, he could not believe how loving stupid he had been. Would have slapped himself, if the bowie knife had not hit his spinal cord.
It did not take long for him to die, small favors. They would find his corpse in the wake, chuck him overboard with more than a dozen others. Rookie’s death would cause no waves; no family, no life goals, no friends save for the ones rotting in a cell. He didn’t have a name anymore,just some stupid initiation rite.
In Rookie’s final moments, he seemed to realize all of this. Between bile and blood and spit, Rookie managed to vomit laughter. It came pouring, his mouth tasting of disgusting metal.
As his vision went blurry and then dark, Rookie stopped laughing.
“Shoulda loving searched her,” he said.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 04:22|
Sorry about ur judging Oxx.
Just throwing this up here to keep my name off the failure list.
Benny and James were chipping stone with picks deep in a Rassgartian iron mine.
"Doc says my insurance isn't good enough to pay for Maria's chemo," James lamented out loud for what seemed to Benny like the thousandth time.
"Mm," Benny grunted. Everyone in the mines had a sad story like that: A sick little girl at home, a pregnant wife, and aged mother. People who ran their mouths faster than they swung their picks didn't last long, which was a shame for those who were relying on the meager Rassos to send back home.
Benny was one of those with an aged mother at home. She lived with him in his one room shack in the makeshift encampment-cum-mining town just outside of the mines. Sometimes, he liked to pretend that the rock was her face, and he would swing so hard his pick made sparks.
"Some of the boys from my home town say I got better prospects with the cartels," James continued when Benny offered no further sympathy. "They could look after my little girl. Make sure no rear end in a top hat insurance company gets to choose when my Maria...whether she makes it or not."
"That's no fucken' joke to talk about," Benny scolded. "You want to live long enough to be there for Maria. And what the cartels give, they can take away. She gets that chemo but she will owe the cartels for the rest of her life. Not worth the price, friend."
James was cut off by the muted rumble of shifting earth below them. The floor of their narrow passage shifted and both men had to hold onto each other for balance. The collapse must have happened right under them, Benny realized. Shouts echoed from other branches of the labyrinthine network of mineshafts, calls to evacuate.
Benny shoved James off of him, peered into the rising curtain of dust in the tunnel. The collapse must have been significant. "Lets go," he commanded, then gave James a thump on the shoulder to get him moving.
"Look, friend," James gasped, pointing into the hazy tunnel ahead of them. Some half of the utility lanterns strung haphazardly down the shaft had gone out. Benny squinted. There was something...something that glinted and fluttered.
"Ah!" James cried as a golden bird darted out of the cloud of dust. It zipped past them, further down the shaft, feathers catching the meager lantern light like jewelry in the sun.
"James! Wait!" Benny implored loudly with naked dismay, but his friend was already pelting down the tunnel after the bird. Benny swore and bolted after James.
The passage, which had angled gradually downward, dropped off sharply into a contained dust storm. Benny could hear James below him, puffing and scrambling and slipping down into the murk of the collapsed tunnel.
Just as he thought he was going to lose himself in the dark and dust and rubble, his feet hit level ground. Directly ahead of him was another tunnel, and at the end of that tunnel, daylight.
"James!" He called, then started down the passage. It must have been opened in the cave in, Benny thought.
An excited shout from outside the cave urged him into a run.
When Benny burst out of the mouth of the tunnel, he thought he'd been blinded by the sudden exposure to daylight. He recoiled back under the overhang of rock, shielding his eyes from searing, blinding light.
"I've never seen anything like it," James marveled. "Open your eyes, friend, and tell me you've seen anything like this."
Benny pulled his hands away from his face and blinked. They had emerged into a tiny meadow sheltered on all sides by high walls of sheer grey stone. In the middle of the meadow, resting amid mountain wildflowers and waving grass, was the most massive pile of raw gold nuggets Benny had ever seen.
The golden bird preened itself atop the pile, no less brilliant than the precious metal it perched upon.
"poo poo," he intoned.
"This...My little Maria....you, Benny, you could finally get that old bag of a mother her own place!" James sputtered in his excitement.
"James," Benny frowned, "how are we even going to move this poo poo? The foreman gets one whiff of this, you and I aren't touching so much as gold dust."
"Don't you see? This was meant for us. God sent one of his angels. I've told you Benny, I've told you how I prayed every night to find a way to save Maria."
Benny had never been much of a religious man, but even a handful of the gold would buy him a ticket out of Rassgart, give him the capital to start a new life there, his old ma be dammed.
"You don't believe," James accused. "I gotta know I can trust you, Benny. I gotta know that this is going to be just between you and me."
"Man, you still aint said how we're getting all this by the foreman. And there's other guys who work the mines who got little girls just like you. None of this is right, friend."
"You gonna rat on me?" James growled. He turned on Benny, drawing himself up tall.
"Just saying we should think things through, is all," Benny soothed, holding his hands up in a placating gesture.
But there was a fire in James' eyes, a madness that was the reflection of the gold reflecting the fire of the sun. Benny had abandoned his pick to make the climb down; James hadn't.
Benny lunged to the side. The pick missed him by inches, thudded angrily into the dirt where he'd been standing. James was in between him and the entrance to the mine. Benny scrambled up the mountain of gold, nuggets biting into his hands and shifting dangerously underneath his feet. The bird had stopped its preening and was looking down at the scuffle with avian disinterest.
"You stay away from my angel! This is for Maria! It's for--" James had started up the side of the hill of gold after Benny, but a terrible grating noise cut off his rant.
Once again, Benny's world tilted and collapsed, and a landslide of gold toppled down onto his friend, silencing his raving, and all hope for Maria's chemo therapy. Benny threw his arms and legs out wide and prayed to James's angel that he wouldn't be crushed as he tumbled down in a roar of grinding precious metal.
When the gold dust settled, he was alive and alone, bruised on top of a miracle.
He groped around for purchase and pulled himself out of the pile. James was well covered, crushed somewhere beneath his granted prayer.
And suddenly the sun shining on gold burned Benny's eyes and skin. This wasn't how it was supposed to be at all. What had gone so wrong that friend would turn on friend?
Benny was so distraught and in need of consolation that he neglected to not be eaten by the myth-sized python that had been resting at the heart of the mountain of gold.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 04:58|
INTERPROMPT INTERPROMPT GOGOGO
200 words on 'what i did on my holidays'. Theme it to one of the songs from the Austin 100.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 08:22|
INTERPROMPT INTERPROMPT GOGOGO
Hey look at this I'm about to interrupt an interprompt again, I'm such a rascal.
Judgement coming shortly, more detailed evaluations (from me at least) will follow later tonight.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 17:58|
Hello, saidists. Meet the sadists.
I'll level with you all, I suspected this would be a trainwreck ever since I first thought up the prompt. In that respect, at least, you exceeded expectations, and I'm pretty certain both Beef and crabrock hate me for it slightly more than they hate all of you.
Judging was contentious. I think Beef tried to car-bomb me but that might've been for something unrelated, I'll catch up with him later after I've got some Kevlar on. Here's what we could agree on:
In a week fraught with entries whose dialogue clanged like a funeral bell filled with clowns, Kaishai gets special acclaim for following the prompt and doing it so well that you'd scarcely notice the said-bookisms at all. Throw in some nice imagery and excellent blocking, easily sufficient to clearly portray the complex movement of the sport in question, and you've got a winner.
There was absolutely no argument on this, at least. I don't even give a poo poo about the story, which was terrible; this was such a rank, unformatted, typo-ridden, caps-plagued piece of fanfic.net slough-off refuse that I flat-out refused to read it. What the gently caress made you think that this was in any condition to submit? This is so far from a final draft that final drafts store their bank accounts in it. Everyone else this week should thank you for being so sloppy that you totally wrecked the curve, and then point and laugh at you for the same reason.
"Special" Mention: Every Single Mother loving Benny the Snake Entry
None of them were funny, all of them were bad in their own special ways, and since they technically qualify as fanfic Beef and crabrock moved to have them DQ'd anyway.
Kaishai, prompt at your leisure.
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 18:18|
You’d like to think your mom is right, that a world without violence is possible. You curl up into a ball and shout: “I don’t want to fight!”
Gus stops punching you. “Then why did you rat me out?”
“I don’t know! I thought it would make people like me.”
“Well it didn’t work.” He stands up and kicks you. “If you get in my way again, I’ll smash your face in. Also, I’m borrowing your bike because I can’t be late to class.”
You watch Gus ride away on your bike and kick at a clod of dirt. “Dangit!”
Molly’s bus drives past you as you walk to school, and you see her through the window, absorbed in a book. You won’t get a chance to ask her to the dance before school, so it’ll have to be at lunch.
You get to school fifteen minutes late, and have to explain to the secretary why you have a black eye. You tell her you ran into a doorknob, but can tell she doesn’t believe you. She gives you a late pass and you go to class.
You try to sneak into the room quietly, but Mrs. Bennet sees all. “Jake, you’re late.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Here’s my pass.”
You walk in and take a seat. The fresh air of a clean hamster cage is of little comfort knowing you just got beat up, and now have a black eye.
You lay your head on your desk and wish the pounding in your head would stop.
The bell rings for lunch, and you stagger outside. You espy Molly sitting on the lawn alone, reading a book. You limp over to her.
“Hi, I’m Jake.”
“Jeeze Jake, what happened to your face?”
“Gus beat me up.”
“Oh no, here, sit down.”
Molly starts to talk about something. Kindergarten. Crushes. You have trouble paying attention, and your vision goes blurry.
“Are you okay?” Molly asks.
“I don’t feel good. In my head.”
You hear somebody yell “heads!” but it’s foggy and distant. You make no attempt to find out what it’s about. A large object slams into you and you sprawl out on the grass. Somebody slaps your face.
“It’s you again.” Gus’ voice. “I told you if you ever got in my way again I’d smash your face in.”
You feel pressure on your chest, and a blow to your head. In the distance, Molly is screaming, but it’s so far away. You are sleepy, and your head is being mashed by a boy with a pituitary problem and hairy knuckles. You commend your skull on its ability to stay whole under such a pounding, and smile to yourself. You feel blood covering your teeth and spilling out of your mouth, and you realize your mom was wrong. Pacifism is not the answer. You sit up and open your eyes. Gus stares back at you.
You smile, and lunge for his throat, letting your teeth sink into his leathery flesh.
crabrock fucked around with this message at 07:11 on Aug 4, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 18:41|
|# ? Sep 25, 2021 06:44|
Thunderdome Week LXXXIV: Who You Gonna Call?
Judges: Kaishai, The Saddest Rhino, and Fumblemouse.
In tribute to the late Harold Ramis, who delighted many a nerd with his portrayal of Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters, I want to see your most haunting ghost stories. Tell us tales of the recently deceased or of persons long passed, but never gone--but with a caveat: your surviving characters cannot have known the ghost while it was alive. Chill our spines or touch our hearts, if you can. Horror is more than welcome, but it's not a requirement; you can call your spirits from the realms of sorrow or sentiment or even humor if you think you can pull it off. Not from the realm of porn, though: no erotica. And NO FANFICTION. Your ghosts can be historical figures, but the stress is on historical. Hitler's ghost is fine. The ghost of Benny the Snake is not.
For this round an additional rule is in effect: Do not ask anyone who has posted in this thread to look at your story before you submit. You must stand or fall alone.
Realistically, this is a difficult rule to enforce, and I'm counting somewhat on an honor system, but if I do find out you've asked for help it's an instant DQ for you. On the flip side, while I'll critique your writing mechanics, judging will be lenient on that score as long as there's some sign you gave a drat. This does mean the likes of '18teen' will still be viewed with extreme prejudice.
Sign-up deadline: Friday, March 14, 11:59 pm USA Eastern
Submission deadline: Sunday, March 16, 11:59 pm USA Eastern
Maximum word count: 1,000
Speakers for the Dead:
Tyrannosaurus: "Night Lights in Louisiana"
QuoProQuid (Flash rule: Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse dead children): "Ghost Stories for Children"
Cpt. Mahatma Gandhi (Flash rule: The story must take place in India): "Blessed By Yama"
Starter Wiggin (Flash rule: The story must be set on the 19th-century American frontier): "Cattle Sam"
The News at 5 (Flash rule: At least one ghost was a journalist in life): "Final"
Noah: "The Fire in the Night"
docbeard (Flash rule: In the teeth of Things forbid / And Reason overthrown): "Spirits Cannot Harm the Living"
Whalley: "No Sleep 'Til Richmond"
Masonity: "Bonfire Night"
Lake Jucas (Flash rule: The tygers of wrath are wiser than nightmares): "Ghost Stories of the Old World"
God Over Djinn: "Ghosts of the Modern World"
WeLandedOnTheMoon! (Flash rule: A dead body suffers not injuries): "Silver Necklace"
RunningIntoWalls: "Dancing and Drinking"
Paladinus (Flash rule: Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of your victims): "A Ghost of Many"
Sitting Here: "The Lost Hour"
Entenzahn: "Why Rules Are Important"
systran: "Empyrean Son"
curlingiron (Flash rule: The cut worm forgives the wicked knife): "Finding"
Lead out in cuffs: "Sacrifice"
Barracuda Bang! (Flash rule: A hideous throng rush out forever / And laugh--but smile no more): "The Throng Song"
Nethilia: "Katy's Doll"
Bad Seafood: "Captured Memories"
SurreptitiousMuffin (Flash rule: Your story must feature or be influenced by a ram's head snuff mull): "Freezing Floor Bolt Gun Blues"
Jay O (Flash rule: And the shadow of thy perfect bliss / Is the sunshine of ours.)
Chairchucker: "Undying Love"
elfdude (Flash rule: Write a story inspired by "The Bonnie Ship the Diamond"): "The call of the Banshee"
That Old Ganon: "Rose Tea"
CommissarMega (Flash rules: Write a story about the hantu tetek; eternity is in love with the secretions of time): "A Doctor For Mama"
toanoradian: "A Thesis on Ghost"
Benny the Snake (Flash rules: Your story must promote reading, listening to instructions, and honesty as great virtues): "Untitled"
Echo Cian: "Fallen Grace"
Some Guy TT: "That Which Is Seen"
Cache Cab: "The Baptist"
crabrock: "Things That Die"
The Sean: "The Tour"
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 06:34 on Mar 18, 2014
|# ? Mar 10, 2014 19:16|