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Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


I'm in for this week.

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Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


A bit of saccharine and no one gets murdered for a poo poo recipe in this one. EDIT: Theme is Summer Air.

Summer loving 1197 words

James hated summer. The heat was pretty bad, but most of all it was the hot winds that ruined his hair and made an afternoon run a grueling chore. The air itself was ferocious, and today was the sort of day where the gale could rip a man's throat out with thirst.

James was inside, of course, in Zav's living room. It was the perfect place to write new songs. Firstly, it was up north, far away from anyone who knew him. Secondly, it was quiet, and the harmonics were surprisingly good for a pedestrian three-bedroom open plan house. Finally, it was Zav's place, and regardless of what he told himself, James thought of him as more than just a hookup.

James was watching music TV, occasionally singing along. A scrolling newsfeed was talking about fires up north. He switched the TV off. Watching it wasn't going to get a song written.

James was halfway through singing out the vocals for the new song - brutal drums, dark guitars and saccharine sweet lyrics about a man who can't think of anything except his girl - when the front door banged open and Zav arrived, sweating, in his running shorts. "Hey," James said weakly.

"Hey." Zav was six foot tall and a hundred kilos of lean muscle packed into a farmer's tan. Beyond a build that made James blush, his best feature was a cocky grin and his worst a near pathologically casual approach to life that left James uncertain about where he stood. James liked the uncertainty most of all.

Zav sat in the chair opposite James. "Nice voice. Gonna get your band to do that one next time?"

"Maybe. I'm not sure I can keep a straight face though. Summer love is such a cliché."

Zav chuckled. "Idiot." He walked into the kitchen and pulled open the fridge. "Beer?" James shook his head and Zav shrugged and fetched himself one, "Suit yourself. It's blowing a gale out there."

James grinned. "Getting hot in here, too."

Zav rolled his eyes at the terrible joke, but that didn't stop him. It never had.

**

Several hours later, it was just before sunset and still blisteringly hot. The wind hadn't let up and the windows were getting increasingly filthy with soot from the distant flames. Sitting in the kitchen under the airconditioner vent and smelling the smoke that made its way through the filters, James wasn't sure that he hadn't seen Zav's suburb on the newsfeed.

"Hey Zav," he called out.

"Yeah?" came the reply after a few seconds.

"Reckon that fire's coming near us?"

Zav came out of the bedroom in a towel, hair still wet from the shower. He leaned over James and looked out the window. "Nah, we'll be fine." He grinned at James. "Fence's not on fire yet."

James could almost hate Zav's grin. There were sirens in the distance, but James couldn't remember what fire trucks sounded like. "Ambos?"

Zav shrugged again. "Dunno. Look, let's see what the night brings. We can always deal with whatever comes in the morning."

James wanted to argue, but he followed Zav back to bed without a word.

**

James woke and it was still dark. The wind outside was furious now, and James was drenched in sweat. At some point the power must have died, because there wasn't even the slightest breeze from the vents above the bed and the air was stiflingly hot. Zav was snoring next to him, and it took a few hard elbows to wake him up. "Hey Zav, wake up. Listen!"

Zav waking was an experience. You could practically see the layers of self-awareness click into place in slow motion. First he stretched. Then he blinked and James saw blankness followed by a smile of recognition. Then the flickers of comprehension as Zav processed what James had said, and he realized what was happening. "Yeah. Power's out. It's loving hot in here."

James threw off the sheets and pulled on his boxers. "We need to get out. Can't you hear that?" he demanded. "That's the loving fire."

Zav yawned and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "Calm down. Someone would have come to the door if we were really in danger."

James rummaged through Zav's cupboard and threw him some jeans. "Just put those on. We're leaving."

Zav pulled them on without complaint and headed for the door. "Fine. Let's go outside first and have a look. Then we can do a runner if we need to."

Zav grabbed the doorhandle and pulled it, then screamed and yanked his hand away. The door opened inward and was followed by a flurry of cinders and a burst of smoke.

"gently caress!"

James jumped forward, shoved closed the doors and yanked the curtains off the window before throwing them down onto the cinders and stamping them into the ground. Zav stared at him gobsmacked, momentarily distracted from the pain. "poo poo man, when did you get strong?"

James ignored him, distracted by the window. Outside, the street was red and orange and black, with incongruous patches of unburnt trees and grass and houses. A wall of red was pouring down from the bushland to the north. "Zav! What do we do?"

James could see some firies out there, in among the houses. They were wearing their dayglo yellow uniforms and still had their hoses, but seemed to be packing up rather than settling in to take back the neighbourhood.

Zav pointed to the wardrobe and the floor. "Get my boots - they'll be tough enough to keep the coals out for a little while. You'll have to help me with mine though - my hand's hosed." James fetched the shoes, some long-sleeved shirts and pants. "We'll have to go out the window," Zav said.

Once they were dressed, James pulled the window open and immediately the dull roar of the fire became a wall of sound bigger than any James' band had ever pulled off. The heat followed on the back of the strong winds that were fuelling the flames. Zav got to his feet and slapped the side of the flyscreen with his good hand. It buckled and he shoved at it for a moment before throwing it outside and climbing through the window.

James quickly followed. Everywhere there were spotfires, and things seemed to be getting out of control. Behind them the house was burning, and the roasting hot wind was absolutely destroying his hair. He slapped at it and sparks went flying, but the wind carried so many embers that the only way to survive was going to be to run.

In the distance, shimmering in the haze, yellow-jacketed men were running away from them, and James could just about make out a red truck as their target. "Help!" James shouted desperately, but they couldn't hear over the fires. So instead, he took Zav's good hand, looked him in the eye, kissed him as the hot winds blew and the flames consumed Zav's home, and put to air what needed to be said. Only then did they run.

Because it was summer, James was in love, and nothing else mattered.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


I'm in and I'm up for a musical prompt too.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


The perfect life (721 words) (Drive You Home by Garbage)

When the machines took over, the market responded with great enthusiasm. The AIs promised prosperity and wealth for almost all. Under benevolent new leadership, the world became a better place overnight. But there were consequences, and for Trevor Jenkins, a sensible man with a crisp dayglo uniform and a formidable reputation as a mechanic in the Pilbara mines, the negatives took a while to hit. Nearly a decade had passed before a facilitator summoned him to its office to tell him he was no longer required.

Like her younger AI siblings, Imelda made perfect things. The facilitator called Trevor 'dear heart' just like his grandmother, and it had fired Trevor with all the warmth, compassion and expertise of a thing of glass and polished wood that understands everything there is to know about neurology, psychology and best-practice management. It told him about the repair-drones that would replace him. It told him he'd finally have the time to look after Jade properly. It told him that he would look back on this point as a turning point for the better.

But what it really told him, underneath the words and the smile and the voice, was that he was now useless, as the vast majority of other humans were. There was no room for responsible humans when machines knew only duty.

He sat next to his mate Dave on the bus back to town with all the other people who'd been fired that day. "What a poo poo day," he said.

Dave shook his bald head. "Look, trust me mate, this is good for us! We'll never have to work again. Stu was sacked a few weeks back. He sent me these pictures from Bali." Dave took out his phone and showed Trevor Stu's Facebook feed. Stu looked drunk, and so did his bitch of a wife. "Imelda keeps bumping up the dole. I reckon we're all going to be able to live like loving kings soon."

"Yeah I guess." Trevor couldn't help thinking of the day Imelda had taken over. It was hard to fault the AIs. They were perfect, and they treated humans so kindly.

Trevor tried to find the well of calm that had helped him solve so many crises far beneath the surface, where whirring digger blades threatened his life, but try as he might he couldn't relax his fists.

"Well, just you wait," Dave said, reaching into the orange pack beneath his seat for a beer. "This is gonna be our gravy train." He cracked the can open and it hissed perfectly. "Aaah. Imelda has done a lot for tinnies. Remember that poo poo we used to drink back in the day..."

***

When the cab pulled over out front of his house just before dusk, Trevor found it hard to get out. He had a headache from drinking on the bus and the plane, but it wasn't that filling his legs with lead. Surely he could get out of the loving car. "Journey complete," the cab's voice repeated calmly.

"For chrissake!" Trevor snarled. He hammered the door release and pulled himself out. He could remember when cabs were driven by immigrants. Hell, he could remember when there were immigrants. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

Trevor paused on the doorstep as the front door slid open. Jade would be home, and the kids were at school for the season. But he couldn't go in.

Imelda had thought of that, and Jade reeled out instead. "Hey babe," she said sympathetically, a glass of wine in both hands. "I heard. Why don't you have a drink with me? Tomorrow you can help me around the house while we figure out what to do next."

She smiled hopefully at Trevor before putting the glasses down on the porch table. Jade'd been a teacher, and a drat good one. Nowadays she told the autochef what to make, and did the gardens with the local fac's help, and drank a bottle of wine with every meal.

He started crying as he watched her and she watched him. After a little while he stopped and he took her inside. They left behind the glasses and the dregs of wine and the feelings left unsaid.

Imelda heard all, saw all, and was satisfied. Another life made perfect.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


I'm in.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


Prompt: May night continue to fall on the orchestra

No talent squandered (480 words)

Jacqui closed her eyes when Tony got up to have a shower. He always showered straight after. She didn’t mind so much anymore, not when it meant a few extra minutes lying there before she had to face the reality of her job and his happy failure to follow up his first album.

Her phone beeped and she ignored it for a moment, but then it beeped again. And again. She groaned and rolled over, grabbing it off the nightstand. Tony’s pants slid off the stand onto the floor and she smiled to herself for a moment.

Then she looked at the screen and recognized the number.

Jacqui looked quickly at the bathroom door, but the water was still running and he was singing. One of those cheery numbers from his last album. The one that filled dumps nationwide.

She sat on the edge of the bed facing the bathroom door and tapped in her passcode. She hovered a finger over the messages button for a moment. She’d never trusted him with her passcode for just this reason. He could never see these messages. He could never know. Then she stabbed the button. She had to know.

Dump him. $50,000.

She gasped and sobbed once, catching the rest in her throat, but it was okay – the shower was still running. She quickly deleted the message and threw the phone on the bed next to her.

She thought about how much she loved him, and how much he loved her. She thought about his eyes, and lingered on the image of him showering before shaking her head.

Then she thought about her bank account, and his last album, and their future together if she kept working retail and he didn’t make another good album.

And she thought about the message and her mysterious benefactors and about the last time, when a week later they’d messaged her with instructions to get back together with him.

She locked the phone and looked at the screen – a picture of the two of them from their anniversary only a month ago – and made up her mind.

***

Down on the street was a small dark van with the Consolidated Artistry logo printed on the side. In the back of the van, a small red-faced man was listening carefully to Jacqui and Tony fight. This was his least favourite part of his job. But it had to be done. Art died in the daylight, and clearly Tony worked better unhappy.

After an hour or so the apartment went quiet. The little man wondered if he’d gone too far, but after a time he heard what he was waiting for. He put his book away and took the headphones off, then hopped out of the back of the van and walked around into the driver’s seat. As he drove away, the sounds of Tony’s guitar-led heartbreak wafted from the apartment balcony.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


I'm in.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


I have some spare time in the next few days. I'll crit something in depth if anyone's interested.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


I'm in for cocktail-based storytelling.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


Amber (1000 words)

The sign said ‘A Better Future’ and I wondered for the first time if it was a lie. I was coming to Cape Canaveral as a passenger, and as I joined the milling horde inside I was nervous. But Jane was beside me, and that was a comfort.

“Relax, Craig.” She took and squeezed my hand. “We’re going to be fine.”

“I know,” I said and ran my other hand through my hair. “But there’s got to be a reason all those protesters are outside. Maybe they’re right.”

She laughed softly. “For gently caress’s sake Craig, you would have quit years ago if you ever really believed that.”

I loved the way she swore. It surprised me every time, despite all the years. And she was right. I wouldn’t have worked here for so many years if I’d known that it was wrong. But knowing isn’t the same as thinking, or suspecting.

I wasn’t sure, and I looked around rather than responding. The place was teeming with people from everywhere in the world. It looked like an airport, one of the really big pre-war ones. Shuttles left every few minutes, but it took months to fill the ships we ancients were sent away on.

We were moving at a steady clip though, and in no time we’d reached the front. My colleague and best friend Marty was at the gate, wearing the ridiculous orange tie I’d bought him a century ago when ties were in fashion. He smiled at me, but it was a strained smile. “You should have run, buddy. You know we would have helped you hide. It seems like only yesterday you were showing me the ropes.”

“Marty, if you think we would run then I’m still showing you the ropes.” Jane and I held out our phones for Marty and the last of our earthly lives was deleted with a tap on his console. I felt hollow, but Jane let out a sob and I held her until she was done. Marty gave us the time. He was a good man.

“It’s okay, Jane.“ I said. “This isn’t the end. We’ll have contact with home for a few months yet.” She said nothing, just held me tighter.

Marty nodded at me, tears in his eyes. “See you out there one day, Craig.” I forced a grin and hugged him over the counter. I remembered when he joined as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, and now his great-grandkids were having babies. It wouldn’t be too long before he headed out himself.

“See you soon buddy,” I muttered.

We went through the security gate, never to return.

***
The shuttles we rode in were sturdy things that seated 50 or so in neat rows of racing chairs, an ancient strapped into each one. Jane was to my left and that’s all that mattered. After a few hours a nurse came round and put us all into hibernation. As the slidedeck had explained, the shuttles couldn’t carry enough food and water and air to keep us all awake the whole time. So we would sleep long enough to reach the ship, and then stay awake until we left the system.

Turned out that was a lie.

***

I woke up and I couldn’t move. I felt the hungriest I’ve ever felt, and as thirsty as a desert. Everything had an orange tinge, from the orange bulkheads to the orange steel floors, and I looked around for Jane, straining my eyes as my head was held in place. I caught a glimpse of her to my left and my heart slowed. She opened her eyes as I watched and went through the same panic. Her mouth was wide open and she too was tinged with orange. “Hey tiger,” I said.

Or tried to. My mouth, my throat, everything was full of stuff, and I panicked again.

She held me in her eyes and watched me unblinkingly, and somehow that calmed me. But something must have gone wrong. Why didn’t they wake us up? We were supposed to be fed in hibernation, not just shoved in orange goop and left to rot.

At that moment the pressure around us began to lessen, and I could hear a sucking noise. Excruciating, terrifying minutes later, I could move, and I clambered forward to Jane. We held each other there and coughed up our guts – a sticky orange slime mixed with bile and blood. We’d been reengineered to be tough, but was this the reason?

After a while we could talk, but it turned out we had very little to say to each other. We’d survived and we had each other. We were alone in the room, and we sat there awaiting our fate. We’d both lived long enough to not bother speculating. It felt like hours sitting there, but there was no escape. The walls were smooth and uniform, and the floor and ceiling were the same steel plates.

That is, until a section of the room slid away, and Marty stepped in. He had a bizarre-looking phone in his hands and one of his eyes was missing, a ragged scar covering the socket. He was still wearing that stupid tie, but it was cased in plastic now, frayed and torn and with scorch marks at the base.

“Finally!” He grinned. “You have no idea what I’ve been through to find you guys. You were on the last ship sent, you know. They tried to scramble your destination, but we tracked you down. We’ve been looking for all of you for ages now. God knows what they intended, but they sent the ships to all the nearby systems and just landed them on the nearest rocky planet. Didn’t wake anyone, or do anything. You’ve been encased in that poo poo for centuries.” He paused. “But you probably don’t care about that. Come with me. Let’s get some food into you.”

We followed him out into the daylight of a new world, our time in amber finally over.

Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


That's a confusingly worded prompt. Are you asking us to write a story where a key character once knew somebody and that's relevant?

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Cacto
Jan 29, 2009


Alright, I'm in.

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