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Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

I told myself I was too busy this week, but I just can't pass up that prompt. Also, I'd hate to miss my chance to present a New Years offering to Her Royal Highness, the fair and honorable Blood Queen Kaishai. May her reign be mercifully short :smug:

In, :toxx:

Thread newbies, a quick note on word counts. They are entirely optional and you should probably ignore them. More like guidelines, really. You'd do well to note that most of the winning entries from previous threads were 5000+ words long, so you should definitely base your approach on quantity. The judges will love you.

Also, Phobia: my (sort of belated) brawl entry is in the other thread.

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Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

In Which I Do What Screaming Idiot Should Have Done
238 words

Mojo and SH are the worst threadparents ever. They gave babby a gun and like any curious toddler, babby turned it on himself. Props to Screaming Idiot for living up to his username and fulfilling the Dome’s “thread newbie does something loving stupid before the first entry deadline even passes” clause.

It is five o’ clock on New Year’s Eve. Sitting Here is just putting the finishing touches on her most enduring contribution to every Dome thread: the OP. Cackling with glee, she imagines the year’s worth of tyranny and subjugation she will put the Dome’s residents through (RIP Cache Cab). Days from now, she will peer into her folder full of pretty stories without endings, pick one at random, and hit submit. At least your OP had an ending, SH, so good job I guess.

Meanwhile, in Australia, New Zealand, or some other island full of rejects, scumbags, felons, and sheep fuckers, Mojo is preparing to become the very first cyborg. His doctor finally grew tired of his increasingly hysterical demands for a cybernetic penis pump, so now his little weenie will be permanently fixed and he’ll no longer have to rely on crushing skulls in the Dome for a sense of manliness and validation.

Also, I went over on the word count. If you have a problem with it, go gently caress yourself with a rusty trombone.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

Two Bullets
1300 words

Then

“FREEZE!” my partner yelled.

But the masked man didn’t. My eyes fixated on the matte black of the handgun as its cruel little eyehole gazed back. The shots sounded like firecrackers, and as I closed my eyes for what I was sure would be the final time, my mind flashed backed to a Fourth of July party from my childhood, the smell of freshly mowed grass lingering in my nostrils.

I opened my eyes, and Larry was already hunched over the suspect, who was bleeding all over the bank floor. I looked down past my outstretched gun at my body, and everything was still there.

“Call for backup, Rich!” Larry said as I ran up beside him.

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

Later that night, I started paying back my debt. Larry downed the beer in seconds, slammed the mug on the bar top, and let out an operatic burp that ended in the sound of squealing tires and earned a glare of consternation from the barmaid. Our cop buddies nearly fell in the floor laughing. Sandra looked embarrassed at first, but quickly found an appreciative giggle. She put her arm around Larry’s waist as he beamed at me and wobbled on his barstool.

“I owe you one, bud,” I said.

“Aww come on now,” he protested, “you fought off those dogs at that meth trailer a couple years back, saved my rear end. You’ve got a pretty nice ninja kick there, Miyagi.”

I cracked a grin at the memory of my own badassery. Then my mind whipped back to what happened a few hours earlier, and my smile evaporated.

“No, seriously, I owe you one,” I said.

“Cut that poo poo out,” Larry said. “You’d do the same for me in an instant.”

The other cops sipped their beers thoughtfully as silence swallowed up the room. Larry looked longingly at his empty beer mug, then his eyes snapped up to mine.

“I almost forgot,” he said.

He held out his hand, and in it gleamed two shell casings.

“A souvenir,” he said. “From the ones I popped that dumbfuck with.”


Now

The shell casings clinked together on the end of my necklace as I used my arthritic hands to show Ramirez the proper holding technique.

“Now, you’d think that you should just split them up, but you’d be wrong,” I said. “It’s best if two cops subdue the man, he’s almost always the one doing the hitting anyway.”

Ramirez nodded thoughtfully as he chewed up the last bite of his burger. The radio squealed.

“Unit 28, please respond to a reported domestic disturbance at 223 Sandy Lane,” the voice said.

“Lookie there,” I said, smiling at Ramirez. “You’ll get to practice.”


Then

He smelled like he’d bathed in gin.

“If we kin just get out to tha car, I’ll sleep it off,” he slurred pitifully.

I looked into the eyes of the man who’d saved my life three years earlier. His skin was sallow and his eyes were bloodshot, but somehow his uniform looked perfect. Sandra’s doing, surely. I remembered the makeup around her right eye at the wedding two years back, and my mind reeled. I still hated myself for not piping up about that one.

“Look, man, you know I’ll do all I can for you, but somebody is going to find out eventually. This is the third day in a row. We can sneak out to the car today, but what about next week? You’ve got to cut this poo poo out,” I said.

“Yurright. I don’t know why I do this to myself,” he said, and his eyes grew wet.

“Listen, why don’t you and Sandra come have dinner with Ruthie and me tonight? All we’ve got is soda and milk, scout’s honor,” I said, and gave a goofy backwards salute.

Larry laughed.

“That sounds great, Rich,” he said.

Then his desk phone rang. It was the chief.

I had dinner with my friend that night, but not my partner.


Now

I knew the address sounded familiar. As we wheeled down Sandy Lane, a writhing ball of dread took up residence in my gut, its tentacles desperately trying to take the wheel and turn me back toward ignorance and safety.

We stopped in front of my old friend’s house. Ramirez waited expectantly.

“I’ll take the lead, kid,” I said, slamming the door.

We sidled up to the front door. I looked over at my partner. He flashed me a steely gaze, all action and muscle, but the bravado was proof that my comment had stung. I’d promised him I’d never call him that.

I knocked, and the only response was wind chimes.

“Police, open up!” Ramirez bellowed.

I knocked one more time, not expecting a response. Sandra or whoever he’d charmed lately had surely thrown some clothes in the car and left, and that meant Larry was passed out drunk.

“Not sure my knee can handle this one,” I said.

Ramirez’s kick almost knocked the drat door off its hinges. I stepped inside, and the living room looked nearly identical to the last and only time I’d seen it, fifteen years ago.


Then

My son’s graduation party was long over, and all the guests were gone save one. Ruthie knew what was coming and had thoughtfully put the tissues out on the kitchen table before she went to bed. Now Larry was using them to drunkenly paw at his wet cheeks and runny nose.

“I don’t think she’s coming back this time,” he said between sobs.

“What Sandra does or doesn’t do isn’t the main concern right now,” I replied. “This lady goes to my church. She’s the real deal and I promise she won’t make you lay down on a couch and talk about your childhood or any of that bullshit,” I said, pushing the therapist’s business card closer to Larry.

“OK,” he snuffled.

“Call her office number and leave a message, and then I’ll follow you to the house.”

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

He invited me inside the house on Sandy Lane, and together, we poured all of his alcohol down the kitchen sink.

“When will it get better?” he asked.

“It’s one step at a time, man,” I told him.

He shook my hand at the door, and I pulled him into a hug.

“Thanks for everything, Rich,” he said, tears welling up again. We both knew this was it, I’d done all I could.

“It’s nothing, man,” I said. “I owe you one.”


Now

The gin was out on the counter; a sickening moan was coming from the bedroom. I barked at Ramirez to stay put.

I threw open the bedroom door and had to force down the bile that rushed up through the dawning horror that enveloped me.

A pool of maroon spread out under Larry’s head, his face mercifully hidden against the carpet. His old service pistol was clutched in his right hand. Sandra, her hair gone gray since I’d last seen her, was on the bed, the covers a red mess and an angry hole clearly visible in her chest. She moaned again, and I forced myself to walk over to the bed.

Her eyes were hazy and wet, but as I got closer, they laboriously focused on me. The flash of fear and pain I saw there was quickly followed by a hard stare.

Oh God, I’m so sorry, I wanted to say. I tried as hard as I could, didn’t I? If it didn’t sound convincing to me, it’d be profane to her. But it was too late for any words. A final, ragged breath passed her lips, and then I was alone. I knew the tears would come later, the only question was whether or not I’d hide them from my wife.

I covered the bodies and had Ramirez call the coroner.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

Thanks for the crits, GP!

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

In, :toxx: me like a hurricane

Also, thanks for the crits, Chillock and Jitzu :)

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

Screaming Idiot posted:

I once wrote a story about a Latina cyborg named Rosa Flores Pepper Zesty who beat a monster truck robot with her bare hands.

Please post this, it sounds awesome. I mean that completely unironically.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

I'll take a line crit, Entenzahn. Thanks!

E:

Screaming Idiot posted:

lost the USB drive
sublimely ridiculous
autistic android obsessed with increasingly bizarre costumes
crazed redneck Mad Max-style robo-mutants
an S&M fetishist who talks like Foghorn Leghorn

And I didn't even mention anything about the disco-based security system.

Shame, I'd read the hell out of that.

Your Sledgehammer fucked around with this message at 23:20 on Jan 6, 2015

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

Entenzahn posted:

Line crit of pure awesome

Many thanks! Lots of great insights I can use to get better.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

The Newcomer
Mongolia
863 words

Bayarmaa turned her face away from the crowd and cringed at their steely silence. It doesn’t matter what happens, they won’t let me win, she thought to herself. She reflexively scanned the horizon as her mind churned, her eyes falling on a young gray wolf in the distance that was curiously watching the crowd of people who had gathered in the foothills.

A woman bürkitshi was unheard of, and the spectators had reacted accordingly. When she came riding up on her horse the day before, the gauntlet coming all the way up her short arm and a golden eagle perched on it that nearly dwarfed her, the crowd had laughed. When she announced her intention to enter the Eagle Festival contests, they laughed even harder. Then her gold-rimmed hunting coat and red fox fur cap produced a line of straight nines from the judges during the first contest, and the laughs turned to glares and angry whistles.

The next contest was to see how fast each eagle would return to its falconer when released from a hilltop, and the nines she earned there prompted a group of men to angrily petition the judges. They pointed their fingers and slapped their hands against the judges’ table, and the words and phrases Bayarmaa managed to catch – outrage, tradition, stunt – were more than enough. She hung her head. Her fellow bürkitshi didn’t protest. Some even flashed her taunting smiles. Her scores were upheld, though, and that put her in a dead heat with one other falconer going into the final contest the next day.

And now she found herself staring at the wolf out in the distance as the cool October air threatened to blow her cap away. The final game was a test of the eagle’s hunting prowess. The bürkitshi would ride across the plain dragging a fox skin, and the eagle would be released from the hilltop to swoop down and pin it. The other frontrunner’s score was just shy of perfect. Bayarmaa was the last contestant of the day, a decision she was sure was designed to reduce her eagle’s vision as the sun sank over the Altai Mountains.

She glanced up at her father on the hilltop. Her eagle perched on his arm. He nodded. Bayarmaa took a deep breath, the only sound the whipping of the wind. She pointed her chin out proudly and lowered her head.

She plunged the spurs into the horse’s side. As she bounced along, she hazarded a glance up at the sky.

Her eagle beat its powerful wings and settled into a glide. It blazed through the sky, the long leather straps bound to its ankles pointing straight out behind. As it closed in on the fox skin, it screeched. Bayarmaa smiled.

The eagle dove at the ground, its talons outstretched. The crowd gawked.

At the last possible second, it opened its wings and swooped hard to the right, leaving the fox skin untouched. Bayarmaa saw its shadow pass over her, and she slowed her horse to a trot.

Everyone in the crowd began talking at once, their relief palpable in the air. Bayarmaa forced herself to glance over at the judges’ table. In a show of sympathy, one of them had given her a three. She looked away and down, the heat of angry tears in her eyes.

She heard her eagle screech again in the distance. She couldn’t bear to look at the bird.

The crowd gasped.

Bayarmaa turned her head up towards the horizon and had to blink twice before she believed what she was seeing. Her eagle beat its wings furiously to hover over the ground as it tried to close its talons on the wolf. The wolf bared its teeth and snapped its jaws, trying to pull the eagle out of the sky.

The wolf turned to run, but it was too late. A talon closed around its neck. Hot blood spattered onto the ground.

The spectators stared in silence as Bayarmaa trotted out to her bird. When she rode up to it, it was using its beak to tear chunks of meat out of the wound in the wolf’s neck.

She slung the dead wolf over the back of her horse. Then she carefully gathered the eagle onto her gauntlet and rode back towards the crowd.

Their expressionless gazes accentuated the silence as she approached. A few of them glanced in wonder at the bird perched on her right arm. The judges just looked at the ground.

The clapping started with one man, way in the back. It wasn’t a slow clap and he didn’t take time to wind it up, but instead clapped unapologetically and alone. His insistent clapping hung in the air as seconds ticked by.

Then a judge looked up at her and smiled. He put down the card he was holding and instead raised the one with a nine on it.

Then the other judges did the same.

More and more people started clapping. A cheer went up.

By the time the other bürkitshi gathered around their new Eagle Festival Champion to shake her hand and slap her on the back, Bayarmaa was beaming.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

In, :toxx:, prompt me up you wily bastard

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

Benny Profane posted:

Been lurking a while, making a play for the chalice.

Your bot is a miserable exercise in impoverished imitation. If it can cough up something that doesn't sound like a middle-school band of mouth-breathing virgins who just discovered Lovecraft, I'm in.

Benny Profane posted:

I take it back, apparently there's nothing wrong with the Grimbot and the shittiness of the original prompt set can be blamed on operator error.

I'm in, I'll take the flash rule, and for the further glory of Satan I'll slaughter this goat in 900 rather than 930 words.

Some pretty strong opinions for a first timer. Here's hoping you don't fall flat on your face. (Spoiler alert: You probably will. It's OK, though; you've got about 50 more tries in this thread to get it right.)

Also, you don't take flash rules, you are given them. Accept them with a smile on your face and/or a well-timed insult. This is Thunderdome, not the Unicorn Farts and Rainbows Hugbox for the Emotionally Challenged.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

My late entry to fulfill my toxx:

The Acolyte
987 words

I was standing in the trash can again with a sign around my neck. This time it said “Zoophile.” I looked out at the twenty or thirty people that I once thought were my friends, before we started living in The Hole.

“You hosed five different donkeys when you were a teenager, didn’t you?” someone said.

I shook my head.

John took a step towards me and clubbed me hard across the face with a sock filled with oranges. Less bruising that way.

“Speak up, rear end in a top hat!” John snapped.

“Yes!” I yelled, as loudly as I could.

“This miserable maggot of an SP would probably kill David if he had half the chance. Wouldn’t you, maggot?” someone else said.

“Yes!” I shouted.

“You want to murder me right now, don’t you?” John asked.

“You could hardly blame him considering you cheated on your wife and stole money from the church!” another voice called out.

As the crowd turned on John, I quietly stepped out of the trash can and took off the sign. A few minutes later, it was my turn to wield the sock full of oranges.

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

I looked at the items I’d gathered up over the last few months. A pen light to navigate through the darkness of the desert that lay beyond the fence line. A couple of beef bones to occupy the dogs. A thermos full of gruel and a handful of crackers to sustain me through the hours it’d take to get to Hemet. Some old towels to protect my hands from the blades that topped the security fence.

I’d been in the Hole so long that I’d moved from sleeping on the floor of the conference room with thirty other people to sleeping in one of the offices near the door. I practiced quietly walking out the front door in the middle of the night for the last two weeks. No one would wake up, I was sure of it.

I wrote out a quick note on a post-it – “LRH was a madman and so are all of you. Goodbye. Give my warmest regards to my wife.” Then I slapped it on the desk and quietly opened the office door.

The sound of snoring filled the hallway. I peeked down the hallway to make sure no one was up and about. All clear. Then I quietly opened the front door and stepped outside.

Gold Base’s security measures would rival that of a North Korean POW camp. The fence that ran around Scientology’s secret conclave in the California desert was topped with blades that pointed both ways – inside and outside. Motion-activated lights dotted the property. Rumors among Sea Org members told of a security watchtower on one of the nearby hills that had a view of the entire grounds. I would almost certainly be chased, even if I made it out.

I skirted around behind the building and then made a beeline for a thicket of trees that would conceal my movements all the way to the fence. I could hear voices and music in the distance, but they were far away. As I made it to the trees, I took a look back at the base where I’d lived for the last decade, and my eyes came to rest on the dorm building in the distance.

My wife lived in that building. I married her shortly after entering Sea Org, but nine years in the Hole meant I’d only see her from afar and barely spoken to her. Leaving the base and the church meant I’d be labeled a Suppressive Person. She’d divorce me and permanently disconnect from me, and I’d likely never see her again.

I often thought of her gentle teasing and the way she’d tug on my beard when she wanted a kiss. She introduced me to the church, and my punishment in the Hole had nearly convinced me that I didn’t deserve her. She thought she was pregnant when I got reassigned, though I’d never seen a child with her over the years. The thought of seeing my son or daughter is the only thing that made the humiliation and beatings bearable.

I could feel the sting of tears in my eyes. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I could find a new family and a new church, but I couldn’t find a new soul. I’d do everything I had to in order to protect this one.

I moved through the woods quickly without the fear of prying eyes. And then, the bladed fence loomed in front of me. There was no telling how long it’d take for someone to miss me, but at the very least, I’d have a head start.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

I looked over at the man, and I could feel my entire body go numb. David Miscavige. The last and only time I’d ever seen the man was at the Freedom Medal of Valor ceremony, where Tom Cruise received an award for his contributions to the church. David had met Sherry and I at the after party, and that’s when we’d been asked to come live on Gold Base as a reward for our service.

David glared at me as he puffed on a cigar.

“You know what? I don’t give a poo poo. Go on, I won’t stop you,” he said.

I saluted. “Deepest apologies, sir,” I said.

He just laughed. “Are you loving deaf? I really don’t give a poo poo. Here, let me help,” he said.

He took the towels out of my hands and threw them up over the blades on the fence. Then he handed me a cigar. “Good luck,” he said.

When I got on the other side of the fence, I started off into the night. As the lights of Gold Base began to fade, I took a glance back. David still stood there, puffing at his cigar. He waved.

Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

In, :toxx:

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Your Sledgehammer
May 10, 2010

Don`t fall asleep, you gotta write for THUNDERDOME

The Magic Screen
1390 words

According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, denial is the first stage of grief.

I watched through the front viewport in silence as the asteroid I’d spotted minutes too late ripped through the solar sail as if it were a piece of aluminum foil. Shreds of it danced with the light of nearby stars, like some sort of vile take on Christmas garland.

I felt numb and distant as the spectacle unfurled; I couldn’t even muster a few words to myself. It was like watching a movie. I just sat there, soaking it all in.

The change in speed was imperceptible at first, but within ten minutes, it was obvious that the ship had experienced a massive slowdown. I mashed buttons on the touchscreen in front of me until it pulled up the readout I was looking for.

APPROX. TIME LEFT TO DYSON-A: 1,062 Years

It was supposed to say nineteen.

I chewed my thumbnail and stared at the touchscreen in disbelief.

The rapid advancement of NASA’s solar sail technology had begun after astronomers spotted the wispy beginnings of what they believed to be a Dyson sphere around a star ten light years from Earth. The day after the discovery, the President made an appearance on TV and opened her speech with an understatement for the ages: “We have neighbors, it seems.”

Two years later, I was looking at images of the giant Fresnel lens constructed near the sun that would propel the solar sail attached to my spacecraft. Radiation pressure would push the sail along at a significant fraction of the speed of light. The media had dubbed the sail “the Magic Screen.”

“It’s thirty years to Dyson-A,” the scientists told me. “When you get there and make contact, have our new friends send us a signal with starlight.”

My parents were long dead and I never married, just like all the other candidates. One thing had netted me the job, the NASA psychologist told me.

“You have a monomaniacal focus on the mission. If you weren’t the pilot, I’d consider it a pathology,” she said.

And now, my carelessness had ruined it all.

One flick of the reverse thrusters, and I would’ve dodged the asteroid. One flick.

I didn’t believe in God, but I did believe in fate. All my life lead up to this one job. Being forced into the Academy after my parents were killed in the wreck. Graduating with top honors at West Point. Walking away from woman after woman so that I could focus my energy on serving my country. All of it.

And I hosed it up in the blink of an eye because I was too busy playing chess against the ship’s computer to notice a giant asteroid bearing down on me. I looked down at my hands. They were shaking. I realized then that I was desperately holding back tears.

I spent the next ten minutes screaming and telling myself how much of a fuckup I was. I considered banging my head against the bulkhead, but finally decided it would hurt too much. I forced all the rage out until I felt like a deflated balloon. I caught a glimpse of my haggard face in the mirror as I went for the years’ worth of whiskey stockpiled under the medical storage cabinets.

*******************

I could fix it.

The spacewalk would be long and risky, but there was more than enough oxygen on board. I could rig up a tether, but it’d never be long enough to match the length of the high-strength metal wires that attached my ship to the tattered sail. Untethered it would be. The mere thought of it made me nauseous.

I’d have to scrounge up a lot of metal, but there were plenty of metal things on the ship that weren’t absolutely necessary. I could make it work.

My mind raced through the mental checklist of things I’d need, flitting around haphazardly and lighting on anything that pointed to a positive outcome, like a moth in the darkness.

Reality eventually caught up to me, like it always did.

I would need to melt down the metal and flatten it into a thin, reflective surface. I didn’t have any of the machines I’d need to work the metal properly. It was impossible.

I went to bed early that night.

*******************

Four days crawled by. I spent most of my hours plugged into the giant hard drive the scientists had dubbed the Athenaeum. They’d worried that the boredom would eventually crack me up, so they rigged up a quantum hard drive that could store pretty much everything written and recorded throughout human history, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Saved by the Bell reruns. A nigh endless fount of entertainment, or so they thought. To be honest, I really only used it for reading material, but as the immutability of my predicament set in, I found myself binging on movies and TV in the same way I used to do Netflix back in college.

I’d run out of food in nineteen years, and it would be another ten before the people back home realized I hadn’t made it. I’d go down in the history books as a failure or the United States’ very own version of Laika, the dog the Soviets had mercilessly sent into space to die during the Sputnik missions. I’d get a few minutes mention on CNN, the scientists would shake their heads and tell each other I was a good man, and nobody would give a poo poo. There wasn’t a person out there up to it. Not even me.

I thought about putting on the suit and going for a permanent spacewalk. It’d be nice, floating out there, surrounded by a beautiful and unobstructed view of the universe. The oxygen would run out and I’d just go to sleep. I mulled over it and finally decided it was too noble an end, considering what I’d done.

I remembered a tweaked-out NASA engineer showing me a special storage locker near the airlock. Inside were a couple of cyanide capsules and a pistol loaded with a single bullet. “Just in case,” he’d told me.

It was too easy, and the thought of putting a gun to my head made me jittery. Besides, I didn’t want to make a mess.

I took a deep breath and sullenly loaded up another movie.

*******************

On the fifth day, I remembered the morphine. More than enough to get the job done.

It would be comfortable, pleasant even. I was tired of beating myself up. I made a mistake, just like every human being ever. It didn’t mean that I didn’t deserve a little comfort and love as the curtain fell.

I wanted to go out with memories of happier times, when I was a kid and Mom and Dad were still alive. Thoughts alone wouldn’t be enough, I wanted something I could see and hear. I didn’t know how I’d do it.

Then it dawned on me.

I gathered up the needle and the vials and took them into the media room. I plugged into the Athenaeum and did a quick search. It was there, as expected. I hit play.

Cartoony music laden with goofy sound effects filled the room. A voice started singing familiar lyrics, and I found myself singing along.

“Come in, and pull yourself up a chair!”

“Like Chairy!”

I watched as Pee-wee Herman slid backwards up a slide. Happiness settled onto my shoulders like a warm blanket as I filled up the needle.

Magic Screen, a pink tablet looking character on wheels, rolled up to Pee-wee, who gleefully jumped inside and appeared on the screen. He flicked his wrist and multicolored dots flew everywhere.

“Connect the dots, la-la la-la la!” he sang. A line traced out a shape.

Connect the dots was my favorite recurring gag as a kid. Looking back on my life, I’d never been very good at it.

The shape was a spaceship. I smiled.

Pee-wee blasted off through the stars as I carefully found a vein.

“I’m lost in space!” Pee-wee whined. He cried mock tears and then quickly pivoted to a childlike smirk.

“I’d better ask directions!” he said, as his spaceship rocketed towards a planet.

I laughed out loud for the first time in eleven years. The needle felt pleasingly warm.

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