The computer flexed Luna’s muscles for her, making sure she didn’t cramp. A frayed connection in the neural link came loose again, jarring her awake. She woke up watching her hands darting deftly, impossibly between needles of a sewing machine. It happened a lot now, management refused to fix the problem. She waited. Soon the wires would snap together again and she’d drop back into machine sleep, joining the thousand other workers around her.
Dex dumped the pile of overdue bills back into the drawer. It’d been impossible to turn a profit ever since Garmatech opened their megafactory and started paying in scrip. He pulled out a half empty bottle of whiskey and took a swig. He got up, stretched and realized he was shivering. It was cold, sure, hardly worth keeping the lights on in his store nevermind the heat, but he was sick with anxiety.
He walked downstairs into the warehouse. Cold winds blew through mismatched tin but even in the darkness he could see the gleam of his newest investment. It was a pre-ban sedan. Manual transmission and all eight cylinders modified to take in the most air and fuel as physics would allow. Not a single piece of electronic equipment anywhere under its stamped steel body.
He couldn’t resist. Pulling a key from his pocket he slid inside and started the motor. A low rumble filled the warehouse, climbing to a roar as he pressed the pedal. He’d make it to the valley and back before anyone knew he he’d left. He relaxed a little, counting the stacks of cash in his head.
Hours had passed and Luna was still awake. It was driving her nuts. She could feel every fibre of cloth, every ache in her body, the constant hum in the headset’s cheap amps. The computer still had control though, and all she could do is watch. She noticed a pattern. Every fifteen minutes the bolt of cloth would run out. Her hands would stop sewing and the computer would start to massage her muscles. There was a moment, maybe a second, where between two routines she thought she could move.
She waited. Yards of fabric slipped through her hands, the machine clattered away. The feeder stopped, dropped the empty roll into a tray and loaded a new one. There.
She threw herself off the stool, grabbing wildly for the wires to her headset. She snagged the bundle and pulled as hard as she could. It gave out. She fell to the floor, her left side spasming before the harness broke free completely.
She got up trailing sparking wires and walked to the nearest door. It was locked. She pulled the fire alarm and watched the door pop open as sirens blared and the entire factory snapped out of machine sleep at once. She ran.
She’d made it past the gates, trailing a delivery truck. The cold wind cut through her jumpsuit, shoes already soaked from the snow. She stopped running when she couldn’t ignore the cramping. Part of her wanted to go back and apologize. Maybe they’d let it go?
“Yeah right,” she muttered to herself, trying to fish the last smoke from her pocket.
She was already on the hook for two years salary. That’s how much it had cost the company to get her wired up. Plus they’d hit her with the cost of the headset and lost productivity from the stunt she’d pulled. If they didn’t put her in jail they’d make her work five years for free. She couldn’t decide which was worse.
She needed out of this place. Right now she needed out of the snow. The city was quiet, everything was closed save for a few seedy bars. She didn’t have any cash on her, so that was a bust. She remembered an old favor she could call in. She winced at the thought. It was going to be awkward.
Dex killed the motor when he realized his phone was ringing. He answered.
“Hey man, we’re not gonna make it. We’ve had issues,” a scrambled voice said.
Dex went pale. “What do you mean? Tomorrow okay then?”
“The whole thing’s off.” They hung up.
His payment on the car was due in three days, and the seller didn’t gently caress around. He’d bet everything he had on this case of smack. He took a long drag off the bottle. He needed a miracle.
Someone pounded at the door. It wasn’t the cops, they wouldn’t be so frantic. He closed the warehouse, walked through the darkened store and cracked the door open. Snow blew in and Luna pushed her way inside before he could stop her.
“Listen, I need your help. I hosed up,”
He could see that. A corporate jumpsuit and fresh electrode marks on her temples. None of this sounded cheap.
“Another one of your genius plans? Last time I listened to you I left behind a thriving business and moved here to get an edge.” He used air quotes to emphasize the last word.
“Not my fault you were too slow. Besides, you still owe me,” she answered, pushing her index finger into his chest.
He remembered this was exactly the reason they’d broken up. The way she managed to turn everything around on him. Maybe it was time to do turn the tables on her for once.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess you’re flat broke. I’ll front you the money for this gig I’ve got,” he said, leading her into the warehouse.
“Nuh-uh. You owe me,” she answered.
“Yeah. So cough up the dough for gas and I’ll let you use my car,” he said, flicking on the lights. It really was a more than generous offer. All she’d done for him was pull a few strings and get him this run down shack, hardly worth mentioning really.
Luna was quiet. This was next level even for her.
“As it stands, I’ll take the payment out of your cut. All you gotta do it drive this thing down to the valley and pick something up for me,” he said.
“Why don’t you do it yourself?” She asked.
“Listen, I need an alibi. I can’t just disappear for a few hours. This thing’s fast enough no one will even know. Besides, with how cold it is you’ve got an edge on anything electric.”
He couldn’t wait to pin the whole thing on her. No I.D, no cash, burning gasoline. Between the bounty he’d get for turning in an unregistered motor and the money Garmatech would pay for the whereabouts of some stolen company property he could pay off his debts and leave this poo poo hole.
He wrote an address on a scrap of paper, handed her a sawed-off, some shells and the keys.
“It can get a little strange out there,” he said. A weapons bounty wouldn’t hurt.
He opened the warehouse doors and watched the car edge slowly into the blowing snow. He gave her a thumbs up as the doors slammed shut and he called the cops.
The old highway was dark and straight and crumbling. She held the steering wheel with her knees in between snowdrifts, loading shells into the gun. Something up ahead reflected the weak glow of the headlights. Both hands on the wheel, she slowed down in time to see a low flying drone dart out of the way. Tiny rotors whining, it pulled up to the driver’s window. A gimbal bristling with sensors tried to get a read. She smiled. There was nothing to lock on to. The drone kept pace as she gunned it. The gimbal stopped, a compartment clicked open. She shot the drone out of the air before the camera’s lens had even opened, blowing out the driver’s window and her eardrum in the process. She watched the drone shatter as it hit pavement, flaming chunks sending up clouds of steam when they touched snow.
A few miles later her rearview lit up with lights. She punched the dash. Dex sold her out. There’s no way the cops could have known. Even if the drone had called home they couldn’t be this close already. Red & blue strobes flickered brighter, they were gaining on her. She pushed the pedal to the floor, fighting the car every time it burst through a snowbank. Eight cylinders screamed and she watched the gas gauge tick downwards.
She relaxed after putting some space between her and the cops. She could lose them when she reached the valley tenements, even if it meant ditching the car. She didn’t want to know what Dex had paid for it.
Something slammed into the passenger’s side sending the car sideways. She caught the spin, a flick of the wheel and a touch of gas sent the rear end swinging back on the road, the wheels kicking up dirt and snow.
In the mirror she saw a motorbike, only it was lower and there wasn’t a rider. A golden police emblem stood out against the thing’s jet black fairings. Dead quiet, it must have been electric. The car was topped out and the robot-bike was gaining on her. It was trying to drop a spike strip, she knew it.
Four wheels worked in her favor, tearing through loose snow and buying her time as the robot modulated braking and thrust, struggling to stay upright. It tried to pass. She cut it off and slammed the brakes, hoping it would crash into the trunk. It reacted too fast. She couldn’t play this game forever.
A sign all shot through with bullets read Exit: 300m. She slammed the brakes and heaved the car left, making the bot overcorrect and buying her a few seconds. She took the turn wide, knowing the bot would cut in.
She saw the bike hug in the curve, the inside lane was the logical choice after all. She grabbed the gun. The bot sped up. She pulled the trigger as it passed, hitting it right in the cells. Blue flames shot out as the bot careened off the highway and exploded in the ditch.
She drifted through two more turns, following exits until she was back where she started. She stopped the car and shot out the lights. Dex wasn’t going to get off clean.
The cops were a blur as she shot past them. Guns flashed but she was long gone. It would take them forever to turn around. She let off the gas, watching the cruisers do clumsy three point turns. She was practically coasting by the time they were up to speed. She slammed the pedal. The car fishtailed away leaving streaks of melted rubber. She kept the cops in the rearview all the way back.
The city was crawling with cops so there was no slowing down. She tore through the streets, almost losing control through the sharp, narrow turns. Flashing lights descended on her from all sides. She almost missed the alley to Dex’s place, sliding wide and knocking down a street lamp.
She slammed the car through the warehouse doors and hopped out. Dex almost fell running down from his office. She chucked the gun at him, passing him on the stairs. She snagged his coat from the chair and wrapped it around her hands. She smashed a window and jumped and onto the fire escape before pulling herself onto the roof. Sirens echoed off surrounding buildings, but no lights yet. She shook off the glass and put the coat on, finding his I.D and a stack of cash in the pockets.
She sprinted across the roof, vaulting the gap between warehouses just as a cruiser pulled down the alley. Two more jumps and she ducked, pops of gunfire filling the night sky. It was best to lay low for a while.
|# ? Nov 18, 2018 15:06|
|# ? Jul 7, 2022 13:45|
In a dark warehouse a Helpless Woman limps away from a shadowy figure.
“Help! Help!” she cries, but no one is there to help her.
The figure holds a gleaming blade in a red-gloved hand.
“No!” cries the woman.
Blood splashes on the ground.
Detective Jack Richmond wakes to a phone call. He blearily grabs the receiver and knocks an empty whisky bottle to the floor.
It’s his partner, Karen Jillian. “There’s been a murder, Jack, get here, NOW.”
Jack slams the brakes on his blue 2018 Mustang and screeches into the parking lot. He gets out and straightens his duster. “Where’s the murder?”
Karen points at the warehouse. She’s wearing a short skirt that shows her sexy legs.
Inside the warehouse Jack kneels and touches the ground and rubs red liquid between his fingers. “Blood. There’s been a murder here.”
“Yes, but where’s the body?”
A red drop lands on Karen’s cleavage and she looks up. A mutilated body is hanging from chains.
In the cold, dark morgue Jack examines the body. “These wounds came from a knife, look, see how the skin is cut.”
Karen bends to look, and her blond hair falls against Jack’s hand. He twirls a lock in his fingers.
“Jack, don’t.” She pushes his hand away. “I’m still grieving the death of my blind, war-hero father.”
Karen sits sexily on Jack’s desk and holds out a plastic evidence bag full of ashes. “We found something in the ashes when we cremated the body.”
She pulls a metal square from the ash. There’s writing etched into it.
“Hieroglyphs,” says Jack, “A code.”
“Jack,” Karen says, and touches his shoulder. “I feel some connection to this woman. We have to solve this case!”
Jack and Karen sit in a dark library and flip through the yellowed pages of an ancient book. They wear glasses and cardigans.
“Look, this symbol,” Jack points, “It means... death.”
“And this one,” says Karen. Her hand grazes Jack’s. “It means... love...”
There’s a thump in the dark and they both leap to their feet. “Who’s there?”
An old man steps out of the shadows. His eyes are white orbs and he carries a cane. “The killer is not who you think,” he says.
Jack grabs him by the collar. “Who are you!?”
The old man wheezes laughter. “You know nothing, Jack! Find the red glove!”
“Jack!” Karen grabs his muscular bicep. “We have to go!” They rush out the door and the old man cackles in the shadows behind them.
They speed away in Jack’s Mustang. “What is it Karen? Why did we rush out of there?”
“Because.” Karen holds up the metal square. “I translated the message.”
Jack and Karen sit on a bed in a dim hotel room. Jack’s tie is loosened. Karen’s blouse is untucked. Karen lays some papers on the blankets.
“See? The hieroglyphs mean: love and death walk hand in hand, never trust a blind old man.”
Jack nods. “You translated that just in time. But what did he mean by ‘find the red glove?’”
Karen grabs Jack’s hand, her cheeks are flushed. “Oh Jack, let’s forget about that old man. Hold me.” She kisses him, and they fall across the papers.
Jack wakes screaming from a dream of being chained and bleeding. He reaches for his whisky, but only finds an empty pillow. Karen is gone.
In the morning they drive Jack’s Mustang through pouring rain. “Where were you last night?” he asks as he shifts gears.
“Bad dreams,” she says, “I had to go for a walk.”
A call comes in on the radio: “We’ve had another murder, get here quick!”
The two share a glance, and Jack steps on the gas.
They screech into another warehouse. A young officer approaches. “The victim’s in there. She’s chained up just like last time!”
Inside, a bloody corpse hangs from chains in the dark.
“We found a knife.” The officer holds up a gleaming blade in a plastic evidence bag.
“Are there any prints?” asks Jack.
“No, the killer must have worn a glove.”
“Could it have been... a red glove?”
“Yes, that’s definitely possible. And one more thing, Jack,” says the officer. “DNA tells us the victims were sisters.”
“We’ve got to find that old man,” says Jack.
He starts the engine and Karen puts a hand on his. “I don’t think we should trust just any old man, Jack.”
“But the glove! He knew about the glove!”
They return to the library and Jack searches up and down the dark aisles. Karen follows him.
But Jack doesn't wait. “Where are you, old man!”
A wheezing sound comes from the shadows.
The old man steps into the light and points his cane at Jack. “You read my glyphs, didn’t you?”
Jack gasps. “You wrote the message?”
The old man nods. “Did you find the red glove, Jack?”
“But your message said nothing about a glove.”
Karen steps between them. “Don’t listen to him, Jack! Let’s just go!”
“Go? Like last time?” snaps Jack, angrily. “Something is fishy here. No blind man would write a message that said ‘don’t trust a blind man.’ What does the message really say?”
“It says,” wheezes the old man, “love and death go hand in hand, find her glove and foil her plan!”
Jack gasps. “Her?” He snatches Karen’s purse and dumps it to the floor. A red glove falls out.
“Jack, no, it’s a lie!”
Jack picks up the glove. “Evidence doesn’t lie.”
“Arrest her!” says the old man. “She killed her sisters out of jealousy!”
“Sisters?” Jack gasps.
“It’s true, the victims were my sisters,” says Karen, “but I didn’t kill them!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jack demands.
“I didn’t want to get taken off the case! It’s important to me to catch the killer, who I know now is this old man!”
“You did kill them,” says the old man. “You killed them to get my inheritance for yourself!”
Jack gasps. “Inheritance? Then you... you must be Karen’s blind war-hero father?”
“Oh Jack!” Karen grabs Jack’s hand and kisses it. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t! Don’t you... love me?”
“Love and death go hand in hand,” says Jack. He pushes her away and pulls his gun. “Karen Jillian, you’re under arrest!”
“Yes!” says the old man. “Point your gun at her! She deserves it!”
Jack narrows his eyes. “How can you see what I’m doing?”
Jack spins around and throws the red glove at the old man, and he knocks it aside with his cane.
“You can see!” says Jack. “You could see this whole time!”
“drat you!” The old man drops his cane and stands up straight. “It’s true, I can see! I can see just fine and that’s how I killed my daughter!”
“But, but why?” cries Karen.
“Because you never visit me! You left me to rot in that retirement home, and you actually thought I was already dead!” The old man shakes his fist. “You, Karen, were the worst! The only one of my daughters to join the service, and you were the least understanding! That’s why I chose to frame you for your sister’s death!”
Jack points his gun at the old man. “Old man, you’re under arrest!”
The old man cackles. “You’ll never put me in a cell! I’ll spend the rest of my life tormenting you, Karen!” He turns and sprints into the dark.
Before Jack can chase after him, two shots are fired and the old man collapses in the aisle.
Karen holds a smoking gun, and tears run down her cheeks. “He was my father, but I couldn’t let him hurt anyone else.”
Jack puts his arm around her. “It’s over now, Karen. It’s over.” They embrace and kiss.
“I just have one question,” says Jack, as they gaze at each other. “Why did he say he killed his ‘daughter,’ when there were two murders?”
Karen caresses Jack’s cheek and kisses him. “He misspoke is all, he was a very old man, and crazy too.”
“He was crazy...” says Jack. Karen is very soft in his arms.
Karen kisses him. “Oh Jack, I’m so glad it’s over! And with my inheritance, I can make everything right for those who were hurt.”
Jack’s eyes widen. “You really do have an inheritance?”
“Yes,” says Karen, looking down. “That much was true. It’s a lot of money, and... Jack?”
“What is it Karen?”
Karen kneels in front of Jack and takes something from the pile that was dumped out of her purse. She holds up a silver ring. “I want to share it all with you, Jack. Will you marry me?”
Jack and Karen run out of the church as onlookers throw rice and flowers. They get into Jack’s Mustang and drive away as the crowd of smiling people chase after. The car’s back window is painted with ‘just married,’ and strings of cans clatter behind, tied to the bumper.
In the car, the couple hold hands over the gear shifter. Their rings glint in the sunlight.
The radio hisses. “Jack, are you there? There’s been a murder!”
Jack and Karen share a glance, and Jack steps on the gas. “On our way!”
The old man sits up in the dark, empty library, and tears off his bulletproof vest. “I’ll get you Karen, I’ll get you one day!”
|# ? Nov 18, 2018 17:02|
|# ? Nov 18, 2018 17:58|
Isobel lives in a little room under the stairs. She has a window, a bed, and a bucket. Sometimes, if she’s lucky, she has a TV or some books. The window looks out at a patch of scrubby grass and a bit of sidewalk, usually covered in broken glass. Sometimes it’s pretty.
Isobel can remember a little of the time before she lived under the stairs. She had a mom, with a wide white smile, which all Isobel can really remember. A mom, a fluffy white dog, the taste of an orange Popsicle on her tongue. Holding the mom’s hand- Isobel only has this one memory. She let go of the hand once, and now she’s here. She’s been here forever.
When she first came, there was a little girl named Marie, and a man named M. Just M. Marie was very quiet and cold, with very white skin, and one day she bit Isobel. Then she fell asleep, and didn’t wake up. After that, Isobel got very thirty, and slept for a long time. When she woke up, she felt different.
M used to come every day with food, toys, and to empty the bucket, but he hasn’t come for a very long time. Once he didn’t come for so long Isobel’s mouth had dried up, she was seeing stars. He came back, cleaned her up, gave her water. He cried for a long time. Isobel cried, too, although she didn’t know why. Then he left her alone in the little basement room, and he very rarely comes back.
Isobel hadn’t been hungry for a long time, hadn’t needed the bucket. She didn’t know why. Sometimes she felt very thirsty, and that’s when she would see M.
Lately, Isobel has felt restless. She knows she’s been inside a long time. Like a zoo animal who remembers just a sliver of jungle, Isobel knows something else exists, but isn’t quite sure how to find it. If it’s worth it? She doesn’t know, because she is not unhappy. Not exactly.
Lately, too, someone has been stopping.
Isobel doesn’t have a light in her room, but two years ago, the streetlight was replaced. It got so much brighter, and now she can see her shadow on the wall. Sometimes, she can see people, although usually just their feet. She never thought someone could see her, but last week, a pair of feet slowed, stopped. She could see the edges of a girl’s hair, a girl bending down. Isobel hid in the shadows, just looking. She couldn’t see the girl’s face, only her silhouette. The shadowy face peeked at her for a long moment, then disappeared.
The next night, Isobel saw the same pink sneakers. This time, she froze with her face in the light. She could see the soft outlines of a face, framed in wavy hair, but no more.
“Isobel! Went to hell!” The children had been chanting it for as long as she could remember. It made her angry. She was right there. Couldn’t they look down? For a long time, she remembered jumping up and down and yelling. Did nobody really see? Did they think she was just playing? Isobel had given up a long time ago, but this time could be different. Maybe. She waved a little.
The girl lifted a hand, as if to wave back, but seemed to think better of it. She left quickly.
Two nights later, the pink sneakers came back, accompanied by red ones. And a flashlight. They shone it right into Isobel’s face, and she heard a gasp.
“I’m here!” Isobel screamed, jumping up and down. “I’m here!” She didn’t care if M heard.
“Did you hear something?” a girl’s voice came from outside.
“No.” Red Sneakers was a boy, and his voice was much softer. “I didn’t see anything, it’s just an empty room.”
“I swear I just saw a little kid in there, jumping up and down.”
“Okay, so you saw a little kid playing in the basement? Big deal.” The flashlight came back into the room, and Isobel scrambled after it, putting her face directly into the beam. “I don’t see anything. That window’s way too dirty.”
“No kids live in this house,” Isobel heard the girl say. “The bus doesn’t stop here, and I saw a kid who must have been around six or seven. You have to send kids to school when they’re six, don’t you?”
“Maybe she’s homeschooled, Jess. I dunno. I gotta get home, it’s almost ten.” Isobel started crying as she heard their voices fade away.
Isobel was ready for Jess when she came back. This time, she put her face against the glass, and whispered, “Who are you?”
Her breath fogged up the glass. Isobel tried to write backwards: ISOBEL
Jess jerked away with a little scream and disappeared.
The next day, a piece of paper was taped to the window when Isobel opened her eyes. It looked like it was from a newspaper, but the paper was too white and too thick: LOCAL CHILD MISSING. Isobel saw her face: the gap tooth, the brown hair. She screamed. I’m here! You know I’m here!
She didn’t have anything. What could she do? Isobel bit her finger, drew blood. It hurt, and it scared her. She drew an arrow on the glass, pointing to her name. Then she cried.
When the rock came through the window, Isobel wasn’t even surprised. She stood up and screamed with all her might. Jess was pounding on the glass with another rock, trying to break off the sharp parts, using a newspaper to sweep broken pieces away with her hands. “Isobel! Grab my hand!”
Isobel stood on the table and reached dup. She was too little. She should be bigger by now., Isobel keened in distress, Jess trying even harder to reach for her, until their fingers barely touched.
“Jump! I’ll pull you up!”
Isobel bent her knees as far as she could, and launched herself up. She locked eyes with Jess for just a moment, long enough to see the girl’s expression change from fear to complete terror.
Isobel smiled hugely.
Then she grasped Jess’s hand with both of hers and yanked as hard as she could, using the gravity of her fall to drag the girl down.
There was a whump as Jess suddenly crashed onto Isobel, headfirst into the table. She leapt up immediately, scrabbling at the wall like a rabid dog and jumping as high as she could, but her fingers just didn’t reach the window. Trapped.
Isobel looked at the frantic Jess, who was screaming and crying, and knew what M would want her to do. She put her hand on Jess’s shoulder. Jess shuddered at the sudden shock of cold, then suddenly calmed, her screams fading to whimpers, her eyes closing. She fought it for as hard as she could, but finally, Jess succumbed to sleep, slumping face-first against the stone wall.
Isobel was pleased. Jess had lovely red hair and a pink hoodie. She looked like a very good friend. Isobel hoped she would stay there longer than her last few friends. They only stayed a little while before they went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Then M would take them away, and she wouldn’t see him until she got thirsty again.
Isobel snuggled up to Jess as she heard M walking, with cautious steps, towards the stairs. He must have heard the window break. He would cover up the hole so she wouldn’t get cold, even though Isobel never felt cold anymore. Still, it was nice to feel Jess’s warm body. Isobel wanted to wake her up, to talk to her before she went to sleep, but Jess already didn’t look like she was going to wake up. Isobel was thirsty.
Tucking her face against Jess’s neck, Isobel brushed her mouth hungrily against the skin. She found the best spot, the warmest spot, and bit down.
|# ? Nov 18, 2018 22:33|
The Paper Cutter
I’d just returned from my lunch break when I tripped over the CEO’s severed head. Someone had left it right in front of my office. Later, I’d wonder what the hell had been so absorbing that I’d missed the trickling blood trail. My head had been fuzzy all day, tumbling with the kind of half-formed thoughts and unsprouted notions that usually come with hangovers, though I hadn’t been drinking.
But once I tripped on the head, bruising my knee, I knew right away who it belonged to. You saw Parker Kemp’s head everywhere, from magazines to early morning talk shows, all beaming blue eyes and thick curls. The youngest self-made billionaire -- that was the tagline, though it always seemed like a couple of those qualifications were arguable. I’d met him a couple of times at company galas. He was big on hanging out with the Regular Joes, though you got a sense he wasn’t really listening. And now someone had gone all Robespierre on him, and left his head for me to deal with.
The whole thing felt surreal, dreamlike, which is why I wasn’t screaming or curled up into a ball. You’d think a decapitation would trigger a surging rush of bracing adrenaline -- that’s what always happens in the movies, regular guys made heroes by unspeakable violence. I just felt like I was swimming through some sort of viscous liquid. In that moment, as I met Kemp’s cold, dumb, blue eyes, I was just wondering where I might find the rest of him. And then I heard the scream from down the hallway, and it hit me deep in the gut, nausea blooming as I recognized the head again.
I followed the blood trail down to our copier room where -- Jesus Christ -- Kemp’s body was propped up on two stacks of chairs, arranged so his neck would be in perfect alignment with the paper cutter. Here, the blood was sticky and deep, spotted with pieces of gristle, and Tiana, the admin assistant, was throwing up into a broom closet.
“Hey,” I said. “It’s all right.”
“No,” she said, her voice watery and low, “there’s nothing-- nothing--”
“Yeah, that was a dumb thing to say,” I said, and cleared my throat. The stench, both the iron smell of blood and the putrid smell of bowels, was setting me off guard, fraying the dreamlike suspension that was keeping me going. “I need to know what happened.”
“Parker… he came down for his meeting with Shauna.”
Shauna was the VP of Public Relations -- my boss, and the only person I knew at the company over age thirty-five. Kemp met with her every Friday. People said they were hooking up, but people here were gross as hell, so I didn’t put much stock in that.
“And I thought it’d be fine… everyone was at lunch… if I just stepped out for a little, you know? And then, and then…” She gestured behind her, around her. “How does one person have so much blood?”
“Where is she?”
Tiana shrugged, a huge, expansive gesture. “Still in her office, I guess?” she said. “This isn’t a thing that happens.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, but I knew I didn’t want to keep hanging around in the copier room with Kemp’s torso. “Come on,” I said, as I turned and walked the hallway to Shauna’s office, my shoes tracking bloody footprints as I went.
But before I could make it to her office, the door to mine swung open, and Shauna stepped out, her hands up. The first thing I noticed were her immaculate clothes. I’d expected her to look like something out of a horror movie, but she was wearing a blue blouse and a pencil skirt, unruffled, certainly not soaked through with blood.
“Oh,” she said.
And yet -- one look at her, and I knew she’d chopped off Kemp’s head.
“What are you doing in my office?”
“Well, I’d like to know what you’ve been doing in your office,” she said, all put together again. Kemp’s head had rolled into a corner behind the open door; now it was facing up, looking at the fluorescent lights, eyes agog. I noticed now that there were three big gashes on his forehead. Maybe the blade had missed its mark the first time.
Shauna was studying me, her arms crossed. Clearly I wasn’t noticing the right thing. I peered into the office -- right in the middle of things, my spare suit lay covered in blood.
So that’s how it was going to be. “Not murdering Parker Kemp,” I said. “What about you?”
“I’ve been in meetings all morning,” she said, voice breezy.
“Tiana says you were in with Kemp for a lunch meeting. Tiana saw him go in with you. Come on, Shauna, what happened?”
Shauna clasped her hands together and didn’t look at me. I turned around to see Tiana lurking in the distance, probably afraid to get too close. “Come on,” Shauna said. “My office, before the others get back.”
“Why haven’t you called the police?” Shauna asked, when Tiana and I had crowded into her office. Shauna had taken her big red ergonomic chair; Tiana and I both got these wiry, boxy chairs that dug into my tailbone.
“Because this doesn’t seem real,” I said. Shauna raised her eyebrows at Tiana, who shrugged.
“Seems like it’s just a matter of time until everyone knows everything,” she said, still looking down.
“That’s what you’d think,” Shauna said, “but I appreciate your discretion. It’s very important that everyone here knows everything exactly as it happened.”
“What, that I killed Kemp?” I said. “During your meeting, I stormed in, dragged him under a paper cutter, and chopped his head off, then carried the head right in front of my office, dropped it, and changed clothes?”
“Slow down,” Shauna said. “I killed Parker.”
The fuzz in my head had grown to a roar. Tiana threw up her hands. “Then why did you lie about it in the hallway?”
“Well, I wanted to know how he’d respond,” she said, pointing to me. “Not great, I’m afraid. Too defensive. What were you doing in your office?”
“I… nothing. Work. Reports. Then I went to lunch. Why did you--”
“Parker came in at 11:55. You were already gone then, right?”
“I don’t remember. Why does this matter?”
“Because it’s pretty unusual that you didn’t hear anything. We were talking pretty loudly, which you probably would have overheard. You would have definitely overheard when I hit him in the head with a three hole punch. If not the first time, then definitely the second, third, and fourth times.”
“I didn’t hear any--”
“Then great, you’d already left for lunch at 11:55. So when the police ask you when you left for lunch, that’s what you’re going to say, right?”
“Are you laying some sort of trap? Because I’m really confused right now.”
“Jesus,” Tiana said. “Just say ‘right.’” Shauna smiled her best patronizing media smile.
“And then you would have had to come back after quarter past one. Oh, no judgement,” she said, “just want to make sure the story’s accurate.”
“Did you behead the CEO for PR purposes?”
“I’m glad you understand,” Shauna said, smiling, this time, with a little more humanity. “Did you know that Parker loves -- loved -- true crime?”
I did, actually. He brought it up in almost every interview, how he couldn’t get enough true crime podcasts, how, and this was a little weird, he was a little obsessed with murderers. I always thought this was eye-rollingly transparent, a way to pretend that he was a normal person, just like the kids today.
To Shauna, I nodded.
“Well, he knew however good his product was, it’d get eclipsed by competition and obsolescence. But a good true crime story? A billionaire murdered by his own employees? Parker thought that would be real immortality. We’d been planning it for months.”
“This is the dumbest poo poo I’ve ever heard in my life,” I said. “You’re telling me that a twenty year old CEO said ‘please murder me, it’ll be fun,’ and you said ‘why not?’”
“It’s what he wanted,” Shauna said. “I know it’s hard to believe. I told him he had so much left to achieve, but he said ‘that’s the brilliance of it -- that’s what everyone’s going to think.’”
“And you said ‘good point?’”
“No, I told him he needed help. I called the police on him once, tried to put him into protection. He denied everything. Said I was a crazy old lady. And he told me not to do it again. And then he started telling me to do it. Do it. Do it. He told me that I was too old to achieve any other kind of immortality -- why not become an inseparable part of his story? I started to dread the meetings. He would get up in my face. Start screaming at me: kill me, kill me, kill me, and if you tell anyone about this, they’ll think you’re crazy, so just kill me, it’s your only way out.”
“And so you cracked.”
Shauna held up her hands. “Yeah. I did. But he didn’t die, even after I hit him four times. He was still breathing. And I thought through my options. I could get him medical help, now that he was immobilized, but he was still there, in my mind’s eye, telling me do it do it do it, the bloodier the better, and then I thought--”
“The paper cutter,” I said.
“It’s what he’d like, right? And yes, I put on your clothes. I was trying to scare you off from calling the police, at least until we had a chance to chat, but I suppose that wasn’t necessary. But it’ll be a good part of the story. Probably they’ll arrest you first, until they find my DNA on the suit, find the meeting schedule -- which is why it’s very important that you be fluent with those times, because you don’t want to actually go down for this, right?”
“Do you?” Tiana asked. I’d forgotten she was still in the room.
Shauna cocked her head. “The story is already in motion. What I want…” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
From the other side of the door came a shriek -- it’d taken a while for anyone else to come by. We only had a little while longer to work out the details, as Shauna unraveled them thread by thread.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 03:47|
The Phoenix Ascends
Available on the archive
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 04:50 on Jan 1, 2019
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 04:08|
The School Shooter
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 04:09|
Week 328: Economy of Prompt: Thriller
My Dead Kid Brother
I close my eyes. I see the spot where it all happened. The forest peppered with honeysuckle and lilac couldn't sweeten the darkest of my deeds. I killed him.
The sun sweated humidity, and as it descended beyond the mountains, the cool relief of dusk enticed us to stay out just one more hour, maybe two. Far from home, our hearts swelled with the promise of adventure, and our minds feared two things: our mother's discipline, and the mythical creatures of the wood. We were sure to incur wrath from one of the two.
I carried the provisions in my pack, while Aeron carried our game. We hoped that returning with a bounty of freshly caught rabbit would soothe our mother's temper, and lessen our punishment. The pungent odor of the meat cut through the smell of the earth. We blazed through the forest in the hopes of finally seeing one of the creatures that Garreth, our eldest brother warned us of in his bedtime stories:
Dare you cross the snaggle, or the hornjump, or the flybeaus
You'll wander the wood insane, while they rest beneath the willows.
The danger of the forest called to Aeron more than me. The nippy air that prickled my skin with tension filled his lungs with a lust for higher risk. "A Wild Child," mother called him. While we both sought out the monsters in the wood, I worried, all the while, about what he would do should we come upon them.
I brought with my journal, keen on documenting their behaviors and likeness. Also, of course, my map, which I would surely update with the presence of any beasties in the wood. Aeron carried no such materials. In his ruck sat a fishing net, bolas, and a knife that our grandfather bestowed upon him.
"Where are we, Madlen?" He asked me.
"I'm not in charge of the compass. Why don't you ask yourself?"
He reached into his pocket for the compass. It was a present to me from our grandfather. In my attempt to educate my brother, however, I tasked him with the job of navigator for our expedition. All he had to do was keep us on a southwesterly heading. He looked at it for a moment, frowned, and handed it to me.
"I can tell it's pointing somewhere, but that doesn't mean anything to me." He pleaded.
"Aeron, if you're going to be so bold as to go monster hunting, you ought to know a thing or two about where you are and where you want to go. "
"Oh come on Maddie, can't you just tell me?"
I could have, but I didn't. Though the sunlight dwindled, I educated my brother. I handed him my map and showed him, yet again, how to make good use of the compass and the map together. I delighted in teaching him the hidden maths within the pursuit of accurate navigation and cartography. The marriage of the two tools and how to use them in concert stirred me with excitement. Stirred me so much that I didn't realize that the color vanished from Aeron's face and his knuckles turned white around my forearm. I only noticed when he whispered... "Mad..."
The look of terror on his face only had but a few moments to shake me. The quaking of the soil beneath our shoes took over after that. Aeron slowly lifted a finger eastbound. I saw something, and nothing, all at once. The branches of a cluster of trees all bent in a manner I'd never seen before. It was as if an invisible mass was there.
"Run," I whispered. We turned on the spot and ran; my lungs swelled from the cold. The ground buckled beneath our feet. The awful sound of destruction, of trees being torn asunder by the beast's pathing, was utterly indiscriminate. Splinters from the ruined trees exploded in every direction, pelting our backs with shards of bark. I felt one tear into my calf the moment that Aeron howled out in pain and fell to the ground. As he did, the cacophony around us hushed. I felt the release of our status as prey. I turned down to Aeron.
"Aery," I pleaded. "You all right, brother?"
He said nothing. I shook him. Nothing. I shook again. Still nothing. I allowed him a minute's respite. Shook him again. I checked for a pulse and found one. Terror filled my heart as I realized how far from home we were. There remained some sunlight, but not much. I went to reach for my map and compass in my back pocket...
Gone. How? I always kept the pocket fastened tight. Along with my compass, my map was also a gift from my grandfather. It was charted, drawn, and labeled by him. It contained his personal notes on the topography and was my most prized possession.
I had no time to mourn the loss. The sun faded ever faster as was our chance of returning home safely. I hid Aeron under a pile of leaves and wandered around the clearing. I gathered up some large sticks and used twine from my satchel and crafted a makeshift gurney to carry him on.
When I returned to his hiding spot, something felt off. A change in the air. In a panic, I brushed away the leaves to reveal.... nothing, save Aeron's satchel. The beast. The beast returned and ran off with Aeron. So I, a small girl, armed with nothing except weapons I didn't understand and the waning sunlight serving as a constant reminder of the imminent dangers to come, had to make a decision: I had to go home.
I killed my brother.
By the time I gathered his supplies and armed myself with his weapons, there was scant light from the moon, and without Aeron's wild spirit to back me up, securing a shelter seemed like the smartest option. I hiked up a hill—recalling safety in higher ground—and did my best to recollect what I had learned from Aeron with regards to survival in the wood.
Define a perimeter. Secure said perimeter. Define what you value. Secure said valuables. Don't sleep. If you must, sleep with a weapon.
The first two guidelines were of relative difficulty to the last. I managed to rig a few snare traps after cutting portions of the fishing net. Then, surrounded by my traps, I sat with my back against a large oak tree. But sleep? I knew sleep wouldn't find me.
Because, when I close my eyes, I see the spot where it all happened.
I scrape my hands together, trying to conjure up some warmth in the air. I breathe close to them and find little relief. I wonder what time it is. Sunrise will come at 0500 as will the welcome of warmth on my face. My best guess means I'm stuck like this for another eight hours. I don't dare blink more than once or twice within a minute. Instead, I count.
After reaching 2,000, I begin feeling tired. It's a feeling I can't afford. I slap myself once on the cheek. The sensation arouses my senses a bit. I follow suit on the other, and as I do, I hear a howling off in the distance.
Wolves. Just as worrisome as whatever hunted us earlier. I quietly pray for the din to move away from me, but God isn't listening. The howling intensifies. It's drawing close but not coming from any one direction. They're encircling me. They're hunting me.
I clutch my brother's knife tighter and tighter until his voice echoes in my mind "...a nice loose grip, Maddie". He once showed me how, going against my intuition, and holding the blade comfortably, rather than tightly, afforded greater control over the weapon. I feel a sense of authority over the knife as if it were more an extension of myself than a foreign entity. It feels right.
What else did he say? I know I only have but a few moments to ready myself, and perhaps closing my eyes and envisioning my dead kid brother isn't the best choice, but it's working. I recall us outside of the house on a warmer evening than now. "Feet shoulder width apart. When you stand like you're standing now, I can do this." He pushed me over with barely any effort.
I widen my stance. I loosen up and bounce on the balls of my feet. I hear leaves crunching behind my tree. They're on me. A yelp from the south lets me know that my traps have thinned their numbers by one and another yelp from the north assures me that my odds of survival, however small, have just increased.
Adrenaline courses through my veins and I leave the protection of the tree. "Make yourself big" calls in my mind as I extend my arms outward "make yourself loud" as I let out a howl of my own, a howl to challenge theirs. They're not deterred.
A triad of wolves, the largest at the front, approaches me. They bare their fangs and regard me as I regard them. I can't take the alpha. She's too big. I know that I'd lose a fight against her. But, does she know that she'd win?
I turn my gaze and stare at the smallest of the three: a fight I may win. I don't give myself a chance to worry about what I need to do. I dive at her, swiping my knife at her side. She gnashes at my other arm, and I feel her teeth sink into flesh. My blade finds her too, and we both howl in pain together. She's whimpering on the ground, but I can't show such weakness. I grit my teeth and stand.
The alpha regards me differently. She's no longer looking through me, but studying me. I can tell she's calculating. Before, she could win, but now? She's not as sure. She turns her muzzle to the last remaining wolf and the two walk off.
That's it! Just ten seconds! My body and mind spill out all of their residual energy. The energy that they planned on needing for the most significant event of my life. I sprint. Not in fear, not in triumph, but because I need to. All the while yelling, daring the blight of the wood to come at me. I will handle whatever it can throw at me because I am the sister of my dead kid brother. To survive this night is to honor his memory.
I maintain my pace until finally, my muscles force me to slow down. A tree I recognize appears off in the distance, and I know... I'm home. With my safety comes the realization of what I've done. I left my kid brother for dead in the wood. How can I tell my mother what I've done?
My feet carry me the rest of the way; my body can take care of itself from here while my mind sorts out my feelings. I feel tears fall on my cheek before I realize I'm crying. The sun isn't peaking up over the eastward hills just yet. I'll have time to suffer the loss on my own before I have to share it.
I approach the back door to the house...
I jump up in the air and shout.
Aeron shushes me and wraps me up in a tight embrace.
"I thought you were dead!" He says.
"I thought you were dead! How did you..."
He reaches into his satchel and withdraws my map and compass. He hands them to me.
"Thank you." He says.
I reach into mine and hand him his knife. I thank him.
We hug once more. He reaches out for my hand, I take it, and we enter the threshold into our home.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 04:58|
He asked, and she answered.
After reading the message, Chaser met her contact in a sealed shack; it was an old convenience store, all its goods now long gone. He said it’d be her last job. He always said that. It never was. But even now, even in days like these, she wouldn’t turn down the cash.
“Hot out there,” she said. AC pumps whirred at the edge of the room, powered by the solar roof, already struggling to keep up so soon after sunrise.
He nodded. “You know what they say. Sun’s dying; it’s only going to get worse. Soon even these machines will fail, and then… Well, I guess we’ll all have to live underground.” The red view-glass he wore over one eye ticked as he appraised her.
Chaser hated small talk. “So, what’s the job, Mick?”
“Something small, low-impact. We don’t want an uprising on our hands. You prepared to do something for your country?”
Now, as she hung under the crenelation of a ramshackle wall assembled from scrap metal in the deep waste, Chaser wondered if she should have said no. Getting here had been the easy part; unfold the cricket walker and climb inside, cross the sands on the shadowed side of the dunes to stay cool, navigate around the crests to avoid sight of any patrols.
The Children of the Sun stomped around half naked, their heads shaven, their torsos oozing and red, raw with layers of peeling skin. The darker skinned had some protection, but these days they too would burn, just a little more slowly. None of the Children avoided the sun during the day; being consigned to darkness was their worst punishment. They considered the pain a trial to be withstood. They wore their blisters with pride, recorded and tracked the growth of their melanomas. Adherents were lucky to live a decade.
The shrine was an ugly misshapen thing, a pile of metal welded and bolted together in the middle of the Expanse. Chaser waited for the footsteps on the parapets above to clank away before pulling herself up and over the side. She stayed down, below the level of the wall, and quickly scanned around—no one in sight. She moved to the other side of the wall.
Footsteps approached. Chaser whirled, raised a hidden pressure gun from inside one sleeve and fired a dart. The guard fell to the rampart floor with a meaty thud. His chest would burn on the hot metal. He’d probably like that. She considered dragging him out of the way, but his skin was a disgusting mess, and the smell was awful. She’d just act fast, instead. She looked over the lip of the wall, then jumped.
The courtyard was largely empty, rough cracked yellow earth hammered flat by many bare feet, with some piles of rubble near the walls. Shards of broken mirrors and polished scrap metal hung at all levels of the inner walls. And in the center, under a plastic gazebo that probably came from a long-dead garden store, the roof panels between the slats replaced with clear Plexiglas, sat the prize. The Children’s sacred pool.
The pool shone brilliantly, sending blinding light in every direction. It was a hole cut rough and jagged into the plastic floor of the gazebo. Quicksilver. God knows where the itchy freaks found the stuff—maybe looting some ancient factory—but they stored it here in the desert and seemed to worship in as a shrine.
Chaser snapped a too-tight glove over one hand. They’d had to raid an old medical supply warehouse because this stuff was toxic, penetrated normal latex. She dipped a giant canister in the pool, let it drip from the sides, then screwed the top back on.
She turned and peered around the fort. No one was visible in the courtyard. It felt wrong.
It felt like a trap.
Chaser ran for an overhanging ledge to grab onto and pull herself up, but she never got there. A hand, thick and stinking with burst pustules, burst from the pile of rubble beside the wall and grabbed her leg.
“Hello there, little one,” cooed a head covered in scabs, leering at her from under the rubble. “A new sacrifice for the glory, yes?” Chaser was dimly aware of more figures approaching from the sides.
“Not today—” Chaser tried to kick, mostly hit the scrap metal. The angle was too awkward to use her darts. She grabbed a large chunk of something that might have been a stove, once, and slammed it down on the head partly obscured under the metal, and again, and again, and the hand relaxed, and she kicked it away. She jumped for the overhanging lip of the wall.
She made it, scrambled up the wall and over the side, and lay on the battlement, panting. More footsteps approached. She quickly dispatched the two guards and dropped down to the sand outside, where her carrier beetle had burrowed out of sight. Now it emerged, dust sifting from the joints of its six silver-gray legs. She climbed into the torso and it dashed out among the dunes.
“You got it.” Mick turned the canister over in his hands.
“Don’t sound so shocked.”
He rotated the frame on his red viewing glass. “Not at all, Chaser. I knew if anyone could, you would be able to do this.”
“What’s it for, anyway?”
“Hmm? Oh, it has some industrial uses. Makes some important compounds.”
“And it’s a deadly poison.”
“Yes. That’s why we’re being careful in the handling, hmm?” He handed the canister off to an underling who scurried away. “And maybe it will be used against the enemy, take the fight to them, hmm? That’s what you signed up for, isn’t it?”
“You’ve been paid. I’ll send for you again, if I need you.”
Maybe he would. And maybe she wouldn’t answer.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 08:02|
And that's the deadline, submissions closed.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 08:02|
BeefSupreme brawl entry
Several Days Later, Henry Finally Got Back From His Lunch Break
Henry was abducted by aliens just as he sat down in the park to eat his ham sandwich for lunch. He knew a general alert had been issued but he’d ignored it because it was such a nice day.
The alien ship was like a floating paragon of brutalist Soviet architecture. Henry marvelled at the way the interconnected cubes rotated around each other. Amazing what you could do with concrete.
His sandwich was under a bell jar on the other side of a room filled with unpleasantly pointy-looking instruments. It was a good sandwich; the bread was nice and fresh, and it had just the right amount of butter and mustard. Some might say the ham was actually spam, but Henry hated it when people worried about such pointless distinctions.
He had just finished wriggling free of his restraints when an explosion rocked the ship.
“How the hell did you get in here?” yelled the sergeant major of the United Earth Space Corps who burst through the doorway. His fatigues were smeared with blueish goo.
Henry paused, sandwich halfway to his mouth.
“Doesn’t matter,” the sergeant said, breathing hard. “We gotta go. Bastards’ll be here any second.” And indeed Henry realised he could hear an ominous clicking of sharp, chitinous feet on concrete floors. So he pocketed his sandwich and loped after the sergeant.
Other blue-goo covered soldiers joined them outside an airlock. They were ramming on their space helmets; one each, no spares. The sergeant major shouted, “I’m sorry, son,” and Henry tried to reply, “it’s ok,” but his voice was drowned out by another explosion. Then the airlock opened and Henry was whisked into the blackness of space.
Henry thought about how beautiful the stars looked. Then he thought about how he couldn’t breath, and how he wished he’d been able to finish his sandwich. Then with a whoosh a sleek fighter-ship swallowed him up like a whale eating a fish.
Stooped over, Henry clambered through the cramped, porcelain-white corridors towards the cockpit. The pilot was slumped in his seat. His face was as white as the interior of his ship and his midriff was soaked with blood.
“Oh wow, you’re real,” the pilot said. “I thought I might be hallucinating, you know, at the end…” The man’s body went limp and he slumped onto the floor.
Henry leant close to the man’s face. He was still breathing. Henry thought he looked a bit like a boy called Rajesh who he’d been friends with at school, so he decided to call him Rajesh.
“Rajesh! Oi, Rajesh, wake up!” Henry patted his cheeks, but Rajesh didn’t respond. Henry pulled off his cardigan and fashioned it into a pillow for his new friend. He tried to look at the wound on Rajesh’s side, but he felt faint and had to look away; he’d always been terrible with blood.
Then an alarm went off and lights started flashing on the control panel. A calm, female voice, said, “Warning. You are approaching a black hole. Warning.”
Henry climbed into the pilot’s seat. For the umpteenth time in his life he rued being built like an underweight NBA star. His stilt-like legs barely fit under the control panel and he had to hold his elbows out like wings because the arm rests were in the way. With the yoke between his knees he peered out of the cockpit window. There was nothing in front of the ship, not even any stars.
“Warning. Immediate evasive action required. Warning,” the woman said. The ship was shuddering in time to the blaring alarm.
There was a button labelled “autopilot,” so Henry pressed it. He had complete faith in electronic systems; they were made by very smart people, after all. The shuddering stopped and the ship hummed smoothly forward. Pleased, Henry pulled out his ham sandwich. His fingers left little smears of Rajesh’s blood on the pale wholemeal surface as they flew directly into the black hole.
Butter and mustard melted onto his tongue and then his legs melted into the control panel. Henry’s consciousness was sucked out of the soles of his feet and his hair fanned out of the rear jets in long blond flames.
“How the hell did you get in here?” said the sergeant major. Little ripples spread out from his feet as if he were stepping across the surface of a black pond.
Henry paused, sandwich halfway to his mouth.
“Would you like some tea?” said a calm, female voice. A whale with the emblem of the United Earth Space Corps stamped on its side dove through the sky with a wave of its majestic tail.
Henry thought a cup of tea sounded like an excellent idea, but he wasn’t sure how a whale was going to make one, even if it was a member of the Space Corps. The whale swooped towards him, mouth open as if it were about to scoop him up.
Then Henry noticed a huge red nebula, billions of stars wide. At the centre rotated Rajesh, his midriff orbited by rings of blood. Henry jammed his sandwich back in his pocket.
“Wait!” he said. “You’ve got to save Rajesh!”
“No, you’ve got to save Rajesh!” the sergeant said, and began to laugh; a booming wave of sound that rattled Henry’s molecules apart so that he turned into a fine mist and couldn’t even hold onto his sandwich.
Then his consciousness slammed back into the soles of his feet and his legs separated themselves from the control panel. Henry’s arms were briefly the wings of the ship and then they were back on his body and his elbows were sticking out sideways over the awkward armrests.
“Approaching United Earth Space Corps Station 1-A-5. Prepare for docking,” said the woman’s voice.
On the floor Rajesh moaned. Henry wriggled out of his shirt and vest. Gently he lifted Rajesh’s arms away from the ugly gash in his side and pressed the vest against the ruptured blood vessels. He wrapped the shirt around Rajesh’s torso and tied the extra-long sleeves tightly together.
“You’re going to be ok, Rajesh,” he said.
“My name’s Frank,” Rajesh said, his voice faint.
Henry patted Rajesh’s shoulder and considered offering him some of his sandwich, but then he remembered he’d already taken a bite out of it and they really didn’t know each other that well.
“That was a nice bit of piloting you did there, son. You ever considered joining the United Earth Space Corps?” said the sergeant major, clapping Henry on the back as they walked across the space station’s docking bay towards the next transporter bound for earth.
Henry paused. He pulled his sandwich from his pocket. It was covered in bloody finger marks and the squashed bread hung limp, leaving the ham at serious risk of falling out onto the floor.
“I really just want to eat my ham sandwich, sir,” Henry said.
“I think you’ll find that’s spam, son,” said the sergeant major.
Henry sighed, then shoved the sandwich into his mouth.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 18:57|
Loss: Saucy_Rodent's School Shooting
Dm: Fleta McGurn's Isobel's Room
Hm: derp's a thriller/Red Handed
Win: Antivehicular's The Phoenix Ascends
Crits later. Welcome back to the blood throne Antivehicular.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 22:01|
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 22:03|
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 22:21|
Week 328 Crits
The School Shooter by Saucy_Rodent
This is very short, and you spend far too many of the words in the first half talking about how to get a locker open. It’s a confusing read; you say he wants to reach the lockers so he can hide, but then start talking about how he won’t have time to enter the combination, and I’m wondering, if he just wants to hide why does he need to get his locker open?
The big reveal - that he’s got his own gun in his locker - is an unsatisfying experience as a reader because you’ve just made me feel like I missed something. It would have been better to have had this up front, and then built up the tension about whether or not he was going to make it to his gun.
The second half basically just says, “oh my gosh he was going to be the shooter all along! Gosh!” There’s some satire in here but it’s not particularly clever nor is the point well made.
“But the shooter's dashing footsteps are irritating my intuition,” is a terrible sentence. Sometimes it’s better to just to describe actions simply rather than trying to sound all fancy. That is all.
Dum dum DUUUUM!
Road Trip by autism ZX spectrum
Luna escapes factory. Dex loses out on high stakes deal. Luna goes to Dex for help. He realises he can frame her, and then does that. Car chase. Our girl escapes. Dex gets what he deserves (probably).
This is pretty slick. I enjoyed the smooth descriptions of the cyberpunk factory and the chase along the snowy highway.
But, for such a long story (by TD standards) this felt a bit insubstantial. There’s not a whole lot to these characters so there wasn’t much of a sense of relief or triumph when Luna escapes. What there is is a lot of car chase. Too much car chase.
a thriller by derp
Oh the twists, the thrills, the intrigue!
This was a fun, light read, and while I didn’t think it was the winning-y-est, this was my favourite read of the week.
As a joke story I think it achieves what it set out to do. Nice cover.
Isobel’s Room by Fleta Mcgurn
I think this would have been a better story if it hadn’t ended with oh snap she’s a vampire!
The creepy horror vibe at the start is well done, but there are some jarring moments. For example, you describe how she can’t tell how much time has passed and then state that it’s been 2 years.
The mounting tension about whether she was going to escape was good, I think you should have just run with this rather than going for a twist ending.
The Paper Cutter by Sparksbloom
This is like reading a conversation about a story, rather than the story itself. It’s well written, and I found it pretty entertaining, but I felt like I was waiting for the actual story to start.
The Phoenix Ascends by Antivehicular
Nicely done. Cool setting, interesting characters, if a little lightly sketched for the length. The tension rises steadily through the story.
I didn’t totally get the ending; is it the wizards who aren’t reincarnating or her? Either way it’s a cool story.
My Dead Kid Brother by Chili
The fable-y tone and the fact the two characters makes this feel like a kids story, but still, it’s a pretty good kids story. I found it entertaining-ish, if perhaps slightly slow.
This feels like a bit of a theme this week - the longer word count has led to people writing more words, but not necessarily more story.
Good job; not amazing, but that might just be because this style isn’t really my thing.
Last Shot by Fuschia tude
This is a pretty cool little heist story, set in a lightly but convincingly drawn post-apocalyptic-y desert world. It needed some more characterisation though to make it compelling.
I’d recommend having a look at The Word by autism ZX spectrum. These are pretty similar, but The Word works better because it gives the reader more reasons to care about the protag and thus the outcome.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 22:29|
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 22:55|
Yes, thank you!
Prompt will be up shortly, but first: to catch up on unposted judge crits before the submission deadline for TD 329.
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 23:22|
Thunderdome CCCXXIX: Fun-Sized Thunderdome
It's NaNoWriMo season, and everyone's got big writing on their mind. For a change of pace, I'd like you to think small.
There are two rules for this week:
1. Your maximum word count is 400 words. If you toxx, your max word count increases to 500.
2. Everyone who signs up can submit up to three stories, so long as the stories aren't connected in any way. (In other words, no posting a 1200-worder in three 400-word parts.)
All genres are fair game aside from the usual banned ones, so write what you feel. If you want prompts, I'll give out up to three flash rules per person. These will probably be song lyrics because I'm kind of lazy.
Standard Thunderdome rules apply. No erotica, fanfiction, poetry, topical politics, Google Docs, or formatting that breaks the archive.
Word Count: 400 (500 with toxx), 1-3 entries permitted
Signups Close: 11:59 PM Pacific time, Friday, November 23rd
Submissions Close: 11:59 PM Pacific time, Sunday, November 25th
two other rad people TBA
2. autism ZX spectrum / Oh, with love comes strange currencies, and here is my appeal
4. Thranguy / It's summertime, and I can understand if you still feel sad
7. Sitting Here
8. Erainor / The red tide is over; the mollusks, they have won
9. Chairchucker / The hole I dig is bottomless but nothing else can set me free
10. Yoruichi / I'm gonna load my rifle, gonna aim it at the dying star
11. steeltoedsneakers / it's such a simple machine, she doesn't have to use force
12. BabyRyoga / I've got a hand, so I've got a fist, so I've got a plan
13. apophenium / In her white glory, all her backstory has been wiped clean / It's only an avalanche away; you're safe
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 00:49 on Nov 23, 2018
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 23:33|
In, toxxed, hit me with a
e: i'm dumb
autism ZX spectrum fucked around with this message at 00:05 on Nov 20, 2018
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 23:40|
okay sounds fun
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 23:42|
In and flash
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 23:46|
|# ? Nov 19, 2018 23:50|
In, and I would like one flash rule please
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 00:03|
In, toxxed, hit me with a prompt.
Oh, with love comes strange currencies, and here is my appeal
In and flash
It's summertime, and I can understand if you still feel sad
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 00:11|
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 00:39|
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 02:04|
Thriller week crits
So. Thrillers. Let's start with what I was looking for here, the key elements of the category: Action, Stakes, and Character. Things should happen in a thriller, exciting things. There should be visible consequences for failure, which should feel like a possibility. And we need a character who is interesting enough for a reader to root for. Next let's talk pacing. The story should always be in a state of either motion or tension, and of those favor motion. If there's a mystery element, the best place for the reader to be is just barely ahead of the protagonist, with just barely enough time to realize what is about to go wrong.
On to the individual stories:
The School Shooter
Out of the gate with a high degree of difficulty topic, something very hard to handle with an appropriate amount of sensitivity.
I think it pulls it off. A touch too absurd to really hit home, though; (this kid would be in serious legal jeopardy, probably get treated as an accomplice with no witnesses,be more likely a jailed martyr than instant celeb.) But I liked this quite a bit more than my cojudges, finding the absurdism effective and the narrator's sociopathic tics enough character to keep me as a reader engaged.
This is not so good. The point of view switches, especially the last one, hurt. The slow pace doesn't help, the confusion of the reader's rooting interest, and the lack of resolution in the ending also do harm.
Well. That was certainly a thing that was written. A fun thing, but fun because of its self-aware badness. Underneath that, though, you really did hit the pacing elements better than any of the other stories.
Some serious typos/proofing issues here, combined with a nearly complete miss of the prompt. There is hardly any action and not too much tension either. For me parts of the ending twist were telegraphed a bit too strongly, others not set up enough: I knew she was a vampire, but her being aware of that and having struck many times before came out of nowhere. It does make a reasonably strong horror/character study, though.
The Paper Cutter
You have an okay opener and premise going. But then you belabor it for three long paragraphs before getting on with the story.
And ultimately all you have is talking heads, having started after the interesting parts. So we don't get the action, and whenever a bit of tension starts to appear you undermine it almost immediately.
The Phoenix Ascends
This I like. Action, stakes, a character developed enough to identify with, and, above all, playing the genre straight and well. There are probably too many characters for a piece this short, but that doesn't slow it down much.
My Dead Kid Brother
Another vaguely fantasy (but with military time?) straightforward thriller, but not quite as well executed as the positive mentions, and the point of view cheats to get to the happy ending. (When is she doing this narration? Not every first person narration has to be a digetic journal, but a piece that can't answer that question, if not at the level of the whole piece then at least on a chapter or section basis, is cheating.) And I think the simple happy ending wasn't the best way to go in the first place. A confrontation with Aery where it's uncertain which if not both or neither of them has been driven mad by seeing a supernatural beast is something you've set up and could pay off interestingly.)
This one is sort of empty. There's a lot of world building going on, in service of an interesting setting, but at the expense of establishing character and stakes. The protagonist is too competent and unchallenged to be all that interesting to watch doing things that are almost routine for them.
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 03:06|
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 03:49|
In and Flash
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 04:14|
In and Flash
The red tide is over; the mollusks, they have won
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 04:21|
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 04:27|
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 05:28|
Thank you Yoruichi and Thranguy!
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 06:54|
The hole I dig is bottomless but nothing else can set me free
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 18:16|
In, and flash pls.
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 18:23|
In, and I would like one flash rule please
Antivehicular don’t forget meeeeee
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 18:53|
In with a flash please
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 20:06|
I would like to enter and I would love two flash rules thank you so much
GBV lyrics are cool
|# ? Nov 20, 2018 20:15|
Yoruichi Brawl Entry
The Giant Turkey in the Room
Chris stands in the doorway of the kitchen, straightening his collar while he inspects the neatly stacked and sorted piles of food arrayed across every countertop. He runs through his itinerary for the day in his mind, and is satisfied with his progress thus far: up at 5:30 for a brief run, then a light breakfast before heading out to the yard--a task he’d completed with efficiency, and, truly, anyone who sees his yard will only be able to marvel at it’s pristine condition, especially in this late fall state, the leaves of the maple tree like big red rubies in the crisp morning sunlight and the grass even and smooth like the 18th green at Bethpage Black--then back into the house to finish straightening up, and to select his outfit for tonight. It is 9:30 now, he’s just showered, and now before him lay his last and most important task: dinner.
On the counter to his left sits 10 pounds of russet potatoes, ready to be peeled, quartered, boiled and mashed. Next to them, the sweet potatoes, spices, and brown sugar, all waiting to be turned into a lovely casserole. On the right side, the bread and vegetables for the stuffing, an assortment of salad greens and vegetables ready for dicing, green beans, pie crusts, pie fillings, and several bottles of red wine. In the center, two large turkeys, already in their roasting dishes.
This is going to be a magnificent Thanksgiving dinner, he thought to himself. Chris had spent weeks researching recipes and selecting ingredients. Normally, for their friends and family, everyone brought something. This year, he was taking care of everything. He couldn’t, after all, leave such a dinner to chance. Everything had to be perfect. Everything will perfect.
He pulls out his phone and thumbs over to his messages. He hadn’t seen any notifications, but it didn’t hurt to check. He clicks on her name: Laura Dearest. She’d texted a few days ago (“yes ill be there”, it read, in her casual grammatical style that often drove him nuts), but nothing new. He hesitates for a minute, then taps out a short message, then deletes it. He sets his phone down and places his hands on the counter. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
He picks up his phone, types the message again--“I’m excited to see you tonight. I know things have been rough, but I think tonight will be really good for us. See you later!”--and before he can change his mind again, he hits send.
For about two minutes, he stands there expectantly, waiting for the three little dots to appear. They do not, and his anxiety level begins to rise--he is starting to run behind his schedule--so he sets the phone aside and sets himself to work.
“Speaking of Greason, he and I were at the HOA meeting the other day, and Warren is going on and on, and Greason leans over to me,” said Jordan, Chris’ next door neighbor. They were sitting on Chris’ front porch, each a beer in hand; it was late on Halloween, and all the neighborhood kids were gone at this point. “We’re sitting next to each other, kind of in that corner, sort of--you’ve been in there--and he gives me this look, like, that ‘watch this’ look. And at first I don’t know what he’s talking about, and nothing happens… But then, I smell it.”
A quizzical look crossed Chris’ face, then a smile and a soft chuckle. “He farted?”
“drat right he farted. I smell it, and about ten seconds later, Warren smells it. I can tell, because, well, it’s Warren. This look of disgust twists his face everywhich way, and then, anger, as he looks around the room, like, who would dare…” For about 5 seconds, Jordan was overcome with laughter and couldn’t speak, while Chris sat chuckling reservedly. Jordan settled himself and finished his story. “But then, because it’s Warren and he can’t help himself, he launches right back into whatever point he was making about trim paint colors. God, it made going to that friggin meeting worthwhile.”
Chris smiled and looked over at his neighbor. The conversation lapsed into comfortable silence, and for a few minutes, they sat looking out at their quiet little street, houses lit up in orange and purple, the stray sounds of a few lively Halloween decorations still carrying through the cold fall air.
“Laura’s coming to Thanksgiving.”
His words hung between them for a few seconds, after which Jordan turned to Chris as if it had taken him that whole time to process what he’d said.
“No poo poo. Really?”
“You excited about that? Is that a good thing?”
“I’m not sure. I think so.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“Three months ago, when she…” Chris finished that sentence with a swig of his beer.
“Yeah.” Jordan sat there, nursing his beer, looking out at the moonbeams pouring softly through the canopy of manicured trees. “You nervous about that?”
Chris didn’t respond, at first. He just sat there with his face scrunched up and his shoulders bunched, as if he no longer wanted to discuss this issue. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Chris stands over the pan on the front right burner of his stove, grease popping in the heat as he fries the bacon. Two other pans sit simmering on the back burners (the gravy and the cheese sauce), ready to go when called upon. An oven timer dings, and Chris strides over and checks the temperature on his two birds. Both are approaching readiness.
Chris strides back to the bacon and turns the last few pieces. While they sit, he turns around and grabs the knife on the island behind him and starts dicing the vegatables for the salad.
After he pulls the bacon off, he finishes the salad, then grabs the potatoes from the strainer where they’ve been draining. He mixes them in with the cream and butter which have been simmering on the back burner, and starts mashing.
He feels a tap on his shoulder. “Dad!”
He turns to to his son, Christian, standing behind him, already dressed. “Hey, bud. What’s up?”
Christian looks around at the kitchen, currently in a state of equal parts chaos and perfect organization, then looks back at his dad. “Are you… okay? Nevermind,” he quickly adds, with the most disaffected eyeroll he can muster. “People are starting to show up. Do you… want me to entertain them?”
“Yes, please. You can tell them I’m almost done. You and your sister can get them drinks.” He turns back to his potatoes, but then quickly looks back at his son. “Who’s here?”
“Not mom, Dad.” Christian’s chest heaves, and he looks at his father with pity. He opens his mouth, as if to say something, then turns and walks back to the front of the house. Chris returns to his cooking.
Several minutes later, the sound of smalltalk filtering into the kitchen, Chris is still a flurry of activity as he works in overtime to finish his dishes. The couple of minutes he’d lost in the schedule were catching up with him.
“Chris.” A woman’s voice, a familiar voice, pierces both the chatter in the background and his laser focus, and Chris turns immediately to the door. His breath catches in his throat, his hand clenches the spoon he’d been using to stir the gravy, and he freezes still.
Suzanne, Laura’s sister. Her voice sounds so like Laura’s, her face so similar. But not his Laura. “Hey, Suzanne.” He smiles nervously.
Suzanne fidgets with her hands and her face flinches between a smile and a frown. Her mouth opens as if to say something, but nothing comes. Then: “She’s not coming.”
His entire body unclenches, and every inch of him droops toward the floor, and for a moment it appears he might just slide right to the ground. But then, he straightens, smiles, and responds. “Totally get it. It’s too soon.” And in a moment, he is back to his work.
Chris sits on the front porch of his house, a beer in his hand. He sips slowly. He can’t tell if the pit in his stomach is food, or otherwise. He guesses otherwise, since he only had one plate.
The dinner goes without a hitch. The food is perfect, the conversation polite, the company delightful. Nothing was out of place--but for one empty place setting.
The front door opens and his daughter, Zoe, walks out, wine glass in hand. A flicker of anger passes over his face. She’s only 17, but tonight, he doesn’t say anything. She sets her glass down, sits next to him.
“How you feelin?”
Chris sits for a moment. He looks out at the street, half decorated for Christmas already. “I thought…” His words trail off.
“I know.” Zoe snuggles into his shoulder. “It’s okay, dad. We’re not perfect anymore.”
Soft tears begin to stream down Chris’ face. Zoe hugs her dad tightly.
“It’s okay, dad.”
|# ? Nov 21, 2018 02:42|
|# ? Jul 7, 2022 13:45|
Antivehicular don’t forget meeeeee
I'm sorry Yoru I still love you
I'm gonna load my rifle, gonna aim it at the dying star
In with a flash please
I've got a hand, so I've got a fist, so I've got a plan
I would like to enter and I would love two flash rules thank you so much
In her white glory, all her backstory has been wiped clean
It's only an avalanche away; you're safe
In, and flash pls.
it's such a simple machine, she doesn't have to use force
Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 06:01 on Nov 21, 2018
|# ? Nov 21, 2018 05:58|