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Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


In

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Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


For the Right Reasons
Prompt: Donkey, rescue. Word count: 1170.

The irony was not lost on me.


Mitchell and I were at the bottom of long switchback, each pulling the handle of a large wooden cart. Carried on the cart, lying unconscious, was a large donkey.


We both worked for the National Park Service. I suppose, in a way, that the donkey also worked there. Ace was one of several animals we used for tours of the Grand Canyon, and he had spent virtually his entire life carrying overheated, generally ungrateful people down to the bottom of the Canyon and back. I was never sure on Ace’s exact age. He was clearly the oldest donkey there, but his service predated my own, as well as the time of every other person working there. He was so reliable, and so people-friendly, that I never second-guessed myself when I insisted to Mitchell that we have Ace carry our stuff when he and I went out on our customary start-of-season barbecue.


This was, strictly speaking, not allowed. Or, rather, it was very strictly not allowed, but never enforced. There was an understanding among the stable staff that the animals could be borrowed after hours. After months, sometimes years, of working with these donkeys, there was never a fear that someone would do something dangerous with them. We all loved them. I must have taken one out a hundred times before.


This time, though, passing along the rim of the switchback, the edge of the trail collapsed. It was one of the most surreal moments of my entire life. You never expect the ground to give out from under you, and in a moment like that, you don’t know what to do. My first instinct was to smile a little bit, as though I had stepped into a snowbank deeper than I thought. But, then, like a shock, the severity of the situation dawned on me. Oh poo poo, oh poo poo. I scrambled as far from the edge as I could get, falling flat on my face but avoiding the slide down the ledge.


A confused braying behind me, and then a grotesque crunch, made my skin go cold, even in the dry heat. Ace, weighed down with our stuff, wasn’t able to get away. Mitchell made sure I was okay, and then we both ran down to check on Ace.


When I saw the angle of his leg, I threw up. His eyes were shut, and at first I thought he was dead. The sight of shallow breathing made me release a breath I must have been holding for a solid minute.


“Mitchell, we need to get him back. Get the cart at the top of the switch.” Mitchell ran up to get it. When he brought it back, he seemed tentative.


“Carlos, dude, I don’t think we can get him in here without making that leg worse. He’s fully grown.”


“Shut the hell up and help me.” Painstakingly, we loaded Ace into the cart. Privately, I feared Mitchell was right, and every time Ace’s injured leg brushed up against something, I winced myself.


We took the cart and began to climb back up the switchback. Our progress was slow. Too slow.


This was all my fault, I thought, grunting from frustration and exertion. I wanted to go to where the lilies were growing. I wanted to bring Ace.


After summiting the switch, we got to the foot of a steep slope. We never let tourists climb it, having them instead ride an extra two miles out of the way. Being more experienced, we had carefully coaxed Ace down the slope on our way down. But now…


I looked at Mitchell. We were both sharing the same thought. Ace wouldn’t survive if we had to carry the cart around the long way. And there was a narrow point the cart couldn’t fit through. The only shot we had was to carry the cart up the slope. We picked up our handles, and started to climb.


Halfway up, the soil under my boot slipped a little bit, and I fell onto my elbows, just barely keeping a handle on the cart. With a donkey pulling us down, this was almost impossible. And the steepest part was yet to come. I stayed down, sucking at the air.


“Carlos.”


“Mitch, I don’t want to hear it.”


“Carlos, no matter what we do, he’s dead.”


Please,” I begged, not even sure what I was begging for.


“Carlos, we can’t get up this loving hill. And even if we could, you know what’s going to happen when we get back to the stable.”


“I can get up, let’s keep going.”


“No, you need to hear this. You were there when Roulette broke her leg. And that wasn’t half as bad as this. That wasn’t a tenth as bad as this. There is nothing we can do to save him.” I looked back, at the leg. From this angle, it looked worse than ever. The breathing looked shallower than ever, barely perceptible. Mitch continued.


“Best case scenario, we get back to the stable and they put him down there. Worst case scenario, we fall down and then all three of us die here. If you want to keep going, I will help you as best as I can. But you know what’s going to happen.
“And what the gently caress do you want me to do?”


“You have your gun. Hell, if you can’t, I have mine.”


“Are you asking me to sign off on killing Ace? I can’t do that. I can’t let you do it, either. Mitch, this is all my fault. I have to save him”


“Carlos, we cannot save him,” Mitchell yelled, full of anger and sorrow, “there is nothing that we can do! We can just carry him, in pain, for the next mile. Why do you need to get him to the stable? So someone else can make the decision?”


Yes!


“Do you hear yourself? You want to get him back so you don’t need to decide. So it’s not your fault. So we don’t get fired. You’re not doing this for Ace, you’re doing this for yourself.”


“Go to hell.” I was angry enough to take a swing at him, but I knew that would just cause the cart to fall.


“Carlos. You’re my best friend at this job. You know I care about you, and that I care about the animals too. I’ve spent five years now looking after them. I’m not saying this because I want to take the easy way out. I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that this is what’s best for Ace. I believe that there is absolutely nothing more that we can do.”


I was starting to feel the splinters dig into my hands, and my knees began to ache. I had been kneeling into the slope for too long. I looked back at Mitchell, and back at Ace, still breathing, in the cart.

Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


In, I would like the 11th century AD.

Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


I was sick this weekend and I couldn't finish. At least, that's what I'm telling myself is the reason. I'm still pretty proud of what I have so far, so I'm going to post it tomorrow when I do finish. I don't expect it to be judged, at least in terms of the competition.

Farchanter fucked around with this message at 05:24 on Nov 28, 2016

Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


In!

Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


To Capture the Clouds
Wordcount: 1305. Theme: Aurora borealis.

Ever since his fourteenth birthday a month ago, Stéfan had felt a worry gripping him. It weighed on him like a lead weight tied around his neck, creating an awful pressure at the very base of his skull. Mamma had asked him last week what was bothering him, and at the time he’d been unable to come up with an answer. But he’d continued to think about it, and he’d come to the realization that the problem, the source of the anxiety, was a fear that every door before him was slamming shut. And soon, much too soon for him to stop it, they would all be shut, and he would be forced to live the rest of his life in and as a disappointment.


Stéfan had wanted, since he could conceive the notion, to be an explorer. A scientist. He wanted to make some sort of discovery that would change the world, even in a small way. As a child, he’d told everyone that he was the descendent of Leifur Eiríksson. It was, of course, a lie. But, when he was little, he’d figured it was a small one, and it let everyone know what he was about. He wanted to be a modern-day Viking, an explorer for the nineteenth century.


The problem started a few days before his birthday, when his friend Þór’s father, a hobbyist scientist himself, had brought a hot air balloon from France. As a kind of early birthday present, he let Stéfan ride in it. The sight of so much of the land and sea beyond Akureyri had been incredible. When he landed, he ran home to tell his father about it.


“That’s amazing,” his father had said, genuinely impressed with the sight of the balloon from the fields outside of their home, “it makes me wonder: do you think we’ve discovered everything? I can’t imagine there’s much left.”


The thought had consumed Stéfan ever since. What if there was nothing left? What if he’d been born too late to fulfill his only dream? Realizing that Þór’s father may be able to help, he went to their farm in the dwindling light of the Icelandic autumn. But, to his disappointment, he wasn’t there. Þór explained that he had gone to Reykjavík on business, and wouldn’t be back for another few days. Seeing the disappointment on Stéfan’s face, Þór asked what was wrong, and so he had told him the whole story.


Where Stéfan liked to dream, and dream big, Þór was great with his hands and knew how to plan to the last detail. They made for excellent friends. Stéfan stayed for hours talking, and then through dinner. He laughed for what felt like the first time in weeks. By the time Þór showed him out the front door, night had long since fallen, a hallmark of the four hour autumn days. Despite the new moon, the path to Akureyri was well lit. Looking up, Stéfan saw the strange, glowing mists of the aurora. The precious times of year when the aurora visited were among his favorites. It lit and danced like fire, but the air was never warmer. And the colors… no one could ever make those colors. It was a perpetual, captivating mystery over their heads, seemingly tauntingly close. No one really understood what it was.


No one really understood what it was.


“Þór,” Stéfan asked, slowly, feeling a warmth in his chest he’d almost forgotten, “what do you think the aurora is?”


“I think it’s a bridge!” the other boy replied, laughing, “clouds, maybe?”


“Did your Pabbi say that he had taken his balloon above the clouds one time, when they were low?” With this, Þór’s eyes lit up, understanding.


They quickly put together a plan. By this point, Þór had taken the balloon up many times with his father, and was confident he could fly it, even at night. At this time of year, at the time of day they would be flying, the winds would have almost completely died down. They knew that the aurora was at least slightly higher than the normal clouds, but Þór said that was no matter. They could get the balloon high enough.The few clouds had been low the last few days, obscuring the mountains to the south. The same forces, Stéfan reasoned, could force the aurora low enough for what they wanted to do.


When Þór’s father had gone above the clouds, he used an empty bottle that was with him to capture some cloud. It had turned into a small amount of water, and the sealed bottle sat in Þór’s kitchen, a trophy of sorts. Þór had found a handful of similar bottles, and stowed them in the balloon. They would launch the balloon and get high enough to touch the aurora… touch the aurora! and capture some in their bottles to bring back for someone to study.


The whole next day, Stéfan couldn’t stop smiling.


At last, the time had come. Þór was surprised to find Stéfan already sitting in the basket of the balloon when he came outside.


“Have you been here long?”


“Not really, I just got here. A little anxious, you know.” In fact, it had been half an hour. He had rushed through his chores, secretly leaving some vegetables unpicked for tomorrow. He’d barely slept, thinking only about the journey they were about to undertake.


Just as soon as they finished preparing the balloon, quietly so as to not disturb Þór’s mother, the aurora began to fill the sky, as if invited. In no time, the balloon had started to lift. They went higher, and higher— it wasn’t until he spotted the tops of the foothills that Stéfan realized how much above his earlier birthday flight they were going. Under the glowing light, he could see the low clouds clinging to the tops of the lowest mountains. They were now above even those. He looked up, seeing the aurora cling determinedly to the sky, growing no closer.


“I think we still have a little more to give it,” Þór shouted. The burner roared. By the landmarks below them, Stéfan could tell they were climbing. But still the aurora came no closer. He continued to look at the dancing light, praying, not daring to look down, as though that might ruin their chance. After a while, Þór spoke as softly as he could while still being heard.


“Stéfan, I’m so sorry. That’s all we have. I guess they’re not clouds after all.”


Stéfan sank to the floor of the basket, defeated. This was supposed to work, he thought. He covered his face with his gloved hands so as not to be seen crying. The burner grew quieter as Þór began to bring the balloon down.


“Stéfan,” Þór said, “look. I think you should see this.”


Stéfan stood, and begrudgingly walked to the edge of the basket. He looked down, and he saw what Þór was trying to show him. He had been so focused on the aurora that he hadn’t really thought about what was beneath them. Akureyri sat, a small light. The rocks of Iceland stretched to the south, seemingly infinitely into the dark. To the north, the fjord flowed and widened, the ocean visible beyond.


And, for the first time since his birthday, Stéfan was at peace. With so much to see, even just from their little balloon, he knew that there was so much more to be discovered and understood. His story was just beginning, and no one would write it before he got there. He watched for a long time, as the balloon slowly descended, before speaking.


“So,” Stéfan said, “I think we’re closer to the aurora than anyone else has ever been. That’s pretty remarkable, right?”


“Yeah, I think it is.”

Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


Oh man that's an awesome prompt. I am in.

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Farchanter
Jun 15, 2008


We've All Been There
Word count: 689

Tranquility was the pinnacle of human achievement. It travelled one hundred times the speed of light and carried eight thousand crew members. It didn’t explore new planets as much as deign them with its presence.

And, so, it was with an air of circumstance that Tranquility entered the Brontes system and set itself into orbit around the largest habitable-zone planet. It hovered above the world like a majestic eagle, motionless in the sky and yet lord of all it passed over.

Approximately five minutes later, with the press of a single button, Tranquility’s systems shut down, and the most expensive spaceship ever built was dead.

***

“Ah, Lieutenant Hereen?” Gary asked into his communicator, “I just dumped the reactor waste liked you asked, are all of the lights supposed to switch off?”

“For Christ’s sake, Steerage, channel eleven is main engineering. Ee-leh-ven,”

“Eleven?” Gary asked, looking down at the channel indicator. Twelve

“Yes, the one with two vertical lines, next to the one with the circle and—” Gary switched his communicator off as he fumbled with the channel selector, glad that he was the only one down in this part of engineering .

Gary had thought getting assigned to Tranquility was a huge honor. He had told all of his friends— bragged, a little, maybe— that he would be working on the best ship in the fleet.

But everything had been so much simpler in astroengineering college. Since joining the crew, Gary felt like he had been making one mistake after another, and falling further and further behind with each one, and no one in engineering was shy about reminding him.

Gary switched to the one with two vertical lines, and was greeted immediately by a cacophony. Main engineering was never quiet, but this was something else. This was panic, the first time Gary had ever heard the icy cool comic book characters of main engineering do so much as worry.

Gary had a growing suspicion that the lights were not supposed to turn off when he dumped the reactor waste. Hands shaking, he turned off the mute.

“Ah, Lieutenant Hereen? I dumped the waste.”

“Steerage, can you not do this right now? Since you apparently hadn’t noticed, we have an emergency up here,” a voice he didn’t recognize answered.

“Oh, great, I’ll call back later then… ah, I mean, that’s awful? Let me know if there’s something I can do to help. Always ready to help.”

“Wait, Officer Sterling,” the coolest voice in the galaxy said. Lieutenant Hereen. “I want you to tell me exactly what you just did.”

“I dumped the waste, like my orders said. Big button here that says ‘DMP,’” Gary said. All of the voices that had been shouting fell silent. Gary had not been previously aware that you could hear the sound of mouths hanging open.

“Sterling,” Hereen said, “the button to release the waste is large, green, and reads ‘open nozzle.’” Gary looked to his left, at the large button that said “ON.” Hereen continued.

“‘DMP’ stands for ‘disable magnetic protection.’ Would you care to tell me why, exactly, you have disabled the magnetic field around the reactor?”

“Ah,” Gary said, “well, I thought it meant—”

“No, it doesn’t matter. The manual restoration is on the outside of the ship. The airlock is around the corner from you. You have ten minutes before the reactor automatically jettisons. I am sure that you have been trained in walking on the hull?”

“Oh, I did do that, once,” Gary said, hoping he conveyed both confidence in himself and his abject terror at the concept of going out into space

“Good. Go. Now.” Gary hurried to the airlock. It was extraordinarily difficult to get the spacesuit on with his palms as sweaty as they were.

“Okay, Lieutenant, I’m at the airlock.”

“Excellent. Please let me know when you have reached the reactor console.”

“Yes, sir, I will,” Gary said, preparing to attach the atmosphere hose on his suit. Looking down at his chest, he saw two identical nozzles, one reading “O2” and the other reading “Oxygen.”

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