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apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


I am also in and will also post my photo later.

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apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Here's my pic.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In Lieu of Getting Out

869 words

Kelvin was the only person in the junkyard when the ball of light lowered. Kelvin was thoroughly drunk and singly focused in the way alcohol makes you. The light appeared as he drained his second bottle of wine.

“You fuckers,” Kelvin screamed. He hurled an empty bottle of red wine towards the light. He blinked rain from his eyes. It was hard to judge the size of the ball. If it was far away, it was massive; if it was close, it was tiny. “Take me!” Kelvin pleaded.

An aurora of blue haze waved in the air above the junkyard. Kelvin reeled, jaw dropping. He shouted something unintelligible. Mud squished beneath his slippers. The ball of light shrank. Without moving at all, it zipped upwards until the clouds swallowed it. Kelvin howled.

He woke the next day cold and wet on his couch. His hangover was the word ‘regret’ pummeling his brain and guts. His phone buzzed and he checked the screen: Therapist. He transferred his body into dry clothes and ran out the door.

“I, uh, drank last night.” Kelvin coughed and looked at everything in the room besides his therapist. He swept his hair back with a tentative hand.

“Can you forgive yourself?” his therapist asked. Her voice sent icy pain snaking through his head and down his spine. “We worked on that last time you relapsed.”

“It’s hard.”

A warm pause. “Of course.”

What he wanted to say, that he kept seeing a UFO, that he wanted it to take him, stuck in his throat. Instead: “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Drink?”

The lie was easier to manage by nodding. “I won’t do it anymore. I didn’t even like it, anyways.” A bit of humor. He laughed and moved onto a different topic.

Night. The junkyard. Kelvin, sober, sat on a tire and craned his head back. No sign of the UFO for a little over a week. The stars wheeled as Kelvin’s night passed. He went back to his apartment at dawn. Disappointment and defeat paralyzed him. An ache had settled in his chest over the night.

“How does one move on from an obsession?” he asked his therapist. He met her eyes. Her name was Anna. “I’ve given up drinking and I’ve worked on myself for almost three years now. But I still feel off. Listless, I guess.

“When I’m at work I imagine the years spooling out in front of me, each year the same as the last except I’m a little bit more achy, more tired. I’m obsessed with this idea that I need to change things up. But also that I’m unable to.” He went silent. He had said to much, but it had all been true.

“Maybe you will, Kelvin. But there’s also nothing wrong with desiring more. You might not be able to get it out of your current job but you could get it out of a relationship or a hobby. Some other way of bettering yourself.” Anna folded her legs under herself. “Let’s take a second to reflect on how far you’ve come, just in the past year.

“You got out of a toxic relationship. You quit drinking. You acquired some enriching hobbies. You have a concrete sense of self. You’ve done a lot more than you realize.”

He nodded. The session ended. He stopped at the hole in the fence that would lead him to the junkyard. He took the deepest breath of his day and then kept walking, all the way to the library.

The meeting had just begun when Kelvin slipped in through the door and sat. A pile of ufology books in the center of the table. The introductions went around: Bubba, abducted when he was three; Gretchen, whose brother was abducted and never returned; Fran, hospitalized for a time after claiming she saw UFOs all the time. Then Kelvin.

“I’m Kelvin. I saw a UFO, multiple times. But it’s stopped coming. I thought it was going to take me away, to something, anything. But I want to move on.” His introduction was met by cold stares.

Gretchen said, “Do you think any of us have moved on? Do you think we’d be here if we had?” She looks to Bubba. “You moved on, Bubba?”

Bubba shook his head. “Had another flashback yesterday,” he said.

Fran blinked behind her glasses. “I’m doing much better, actually. It’s taken a lot of work. Are you in therapy?” She tilted her head toward Kelvin in a manner Kelvin associated with curious children.

“Yes. But it’s stalled a bit.”

“My advice,” said Fran, “Cultivate patience.”

Kelvin thought back on Fran’s unhelpful advice from the perch of a bar stool. The bartender did not bother to replace his empty glass of water. He smiled to himself. Perhaps Fran's advice wasn’t useless at all. His therapist was right, anyways. Things were looking up.

He dragged a damp cardboard coaster towards himself. With a pen he drew the orb of light, the waves of blue energy. A little stick figure for himself. He chuckled. When he got home he stuck the coaster on his refrigerator.

It had happened. It might not happen again. Kelvin could accept that.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In.

And thanks for the crits, y'all.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Red, Blue, and Green
Prompt: Alerion
737 words

Vale touched talons down on the earth for the first time in years. She stretched her wings, let the carmine sunlight shine through their feathers. Before her yawned the opening to her brother’s foundry. She hopped inside, squinting her eyes against the heat of the forges and the sweat of the humans working them. A bird matching Vale in every regard hovered down from the rafters.

“Is it time, sister?” he asked. Around his neck was a green gemstone, gorgeous against the red-orange of his feathers.

“You have been busy, Jole. The humans’ weapons made it to the front lines at last.” With a talon she raked a divot in the dusty floor. “Do you still like it here?”

“If you’re asking me to follow you into the sea, the answer’s still no. I have so much more to accomplish.” Jole hopped towards his sister and puffed his chest out. “We could live much longer than sixty years, Vale. There’s no reason to go through with it.”

“The reason to go through with it is so our armies don't rout. So we can continue the fight through the generations. It is the pinnacle of hubris to think you can end the war now.”

“Sister, do you think this forge is all the humans are capable of? They’re much smarter than you acknowledge.” Jole pecked towards his pendant. “Fight with me, Vale. I can make you one of these and we can see this thing done. Together.”

Vale alighted to a windowsill. “I will lay my eggs tonight. They hatch in sixty days, Jole. Sixty days to change your mind. Or the bloodline dies with us.”



Vale had missed the eggs crack and break. A male and female, as foretold. Vale saw strength and potential in their every movement. They would be strong warriors, strong leaders. It was time. Vale whispered a prayer for the new alerion and made her way to the sea.

On the distant shore Vale saw the humans' catapults. They launched missiles in slow arcs to meet the dragons above. Even without her guidance, the war raged on. Despite their distance, the thrill of battle raised Vale's feathers. A red blur caught her attention.

“Jole! How long has it been since you saw it?” Vale regarded her brother. Jole beat his wings uneasily, unused to the height. The speck of green at his breast bounced up and down on its leather strap.

“Years. But my hummingbirds keep me apprised. Things have been going well since I recruited the humans.” Jole dipped down a few feet and cast an eye toward the sea. “So they’ve hatched?”

“Two beautiful hatchlings. If you saw them you couldn’t let them die.”

“They die anyway, sister. Sixty years of commanding good birds to their deaths. How is that to be our legacy?”

“Don’t you feel it in your heart? Or has that stone numbed you? I am tired. We must pass the torch.” Vale maintained her height. But Jole sank and sank, the rhythm of his wings slowing.

Jole laughed. “We’ve attracted an audience. Is this part of your plan, Vale? Guilt me into suicide?”

A susurrus of birdsong filled the air around the two alerion, a soprano to the distant ocean’s baritone. “I did not call them. They wish to see the ritual complete. We do this for them.”

“I choose not to, sister. I will end this war with my own beak and claw. You say you are tired. Our blood is tired. Let’s break the cycle.” Grimacing, Jole beat his wings to rise.

Vale let out a sharp cry and dived into her brother. Tangled into a ball of fiery feathers, the alerion tumbled toward the sea. A cloud of birds followed them.

They fought under the waves. Vale bled from scrapes and punctures. She tasted saltwater and her brother’s blood. As they sank, the water darkened. Jole’s pendant betrayed him. Vale lashed out at its green glow and gripped it in her beak, ripping it from its strap. It floated up, away. She wrapped her wings around Jole and felt his surrender. An icy regret lodged itself in her heart. Her young would survive, but at such a bitter cost.

Above the waves a new emptiness was felt. One by one the onlookers flew to be with the hatchlings. To raise them. To teach them to love and to hate and to wage war.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Hey, I wanna fight somebody, too. Anyone brave enough?

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Saucy_Rodent posted:

I'll fight you.

Someone do the needful! More blood!

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


apophenium posted:

Someone do the needful! More blood!

Oh yeah forgot the :toxx:

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Also in for Lytton redux. Give me a good bad sentence, AV!

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


apophenium posted:

Oh yeah forgot the :toxx:


Me and the rat wanna fight. Someone judge it.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009



Thanks! What can I say, I wanna write this week!

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


You Can Lead a Bird to Water...
800 words

"It looks like this continent is out of water," I said in Antarctica, as a rookery of penguins waddled thirstily by.

My research partner Desdemona didn't really go for dry humor. She gave me the silent treatment, then asked, "Any of them eating the snow?"

"Not so far." The thirsty waddlers were Huron's penguins. Native to Antarctica and in danger of going extinct. Huron's got all their water from the fish they ate. But said fish migrated away in the winter, leaving the poor penguins quite parched.

Smart penguins ate snow to get water. Huron's were not smart.

"Can I come in yet? It's cold out here." I snuggled into my observation tent. The cold was seeping through my thermal gear.

Another long pause. "Yeah, come on back. I've an idea."

--

Our base of operations wasn't much larger than my apartment back home. Living quarters, kitchen, and the hub room, which held all our equipment.

That's where I sat to thaw out. Desi had gotten some black tarps out of storage and was ripping them up with a small knife.

"Have you ever seen Airplane?" I asked. Desi rarely told me her plans, hoping instead that I'd ask. It was a sort of game for us to ignore what the other was doing. Desi didn't bite. "There's a joke about a guy having a drinking problem."

Desi stood up and gauged her work then looked at me. "I hated Airplane."

I scoffed and opened my laptop. I had just finished updating my field notes when Desi came back, kitted out in her cold gear. She held up the tarps and said, "Put this on me."

"Making a fashion statement?" I draped the tarps over her. She cinched them to her waist. "Ah. Now you just need a beak."

The black tarps and her white outerwear gave the appearance of a Huron's. She held an orange highlighter up to her nose. "Pretty good for a hackjob, huh?"

"Are you going out right now? I have to film this." She nodded so I shuffled back into my cold gear.

--

After windproofing Desi’s penguin suit we set out towards the rookery. I got some good footage of Desi practicing her penguin waddle. "Try to look thirstier," I said, easing into my role as director. "I don't want you to just fool the penguins. I want you to fool me." Desi waddled toward me. "Perfect," I said. She shouted and pecked at me with her highlighter. I hit the ground, laughing like a kid.

We got to the rookery when the sun had begun to set. I popped up my tent and set up the camera. Desi made her way into the mass of penguins. The Huron's welcomed her like a wayward child.

She bent forward to get some snow, but her knees slipped out from under her. The penguins flapped their wings in a panic. I had to put a gloved fist in my mouth to keep from exploding with laughter.

Desi got back up, made a better job of it the second time. The penguins watched her curiously. She did it again. Still the Huron’s just watched. Eventually Desi waddled out of the fold and to my tent.

“You still looked thirsty on the way back,” I chided. “I don’t think they’ll get it.”

“You know what? I bet they will. If they do I take lead author when we publish.” Desi spun around and started back to the base. “And I edit me falling out of the video,” she added over her shoulder.

“No! You can’t do that.” But she was out of earshot. I packed up my stuff and hurried after her.

“Desi, that video is going to get more views than our article. You have to let me put it out there.”

“Nuh uh. If they don’t start eating the snow by the end of our stay, then you can upload it.” She grinned. “My first lead author. I’m excited, Earl!”

I stared. “I’m going to bed. I’m hitting the tent bright and early tomorrow.”



I was fidgeting in the tent when I saw it happen. A youngish Huron’s slid down a hill with its dumb beak open and scooped up some snow. It got to the bottom of the hill and stopped, looked down and started peeping.

“Oh you’ve gotta be kidding me,” I said. The penguin was now scooting around on its belly hoovering up snow.

“What?”

The penguin cajoled its friends into trying. Pretty soon the whole rookery were on their tummies. “Desi, get out here.”

Before she could gloat, I said, “This doesn’t count. It can’t. That penguin didn’t learn from you, it was pure accident.”

“A bet’s a bet, Earl! Aw, they look so cute.” She punched my shoulder. “Our beautiful dumb bird babies.”S

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Saucy_Rodent vs. apophenium

Who's to Say
791 words

Francis walked past Johnny Nusbaum’s house every morning on the way to the schoolhouse. Johnny'd be on the porch with an apple, smiling. His mom kept him home, taught him herself. Francis Ramsey would sneer and spit on Johnny’s lawn. Johnny might yell, “How’s your pa, Francis?”

Francis’s father was not well. Malcolm Ramsey, sole purveyor of three-fourths of the farming land in Burrow county, lay in bed sweating from fever. The whole of Burrow county waited for Gerald Ramsey to pass on, if only to see the cold war between families go hot. Having neglected a will, it was anyone’s guess how all the land would be divided among the various siblings and cousins.

But Johnny and Francis didn’t quite grasp that. All they knew was their daddies hated each other, so they had to hate each other too.

The power dynamic shifted when Francis came home from school. One hot Tuesday afternoon, Francis and Miriam walked past the Nusbaum house. Francis smiled to himself when he heard their screen door slam. Here came little Johnny with his hair pomaded back.

“Hi, Miriam,” said Johnny.

“Miriam doesn’t want to talk to you.” Francis narrowed his eyes, then winced when Miriam punched his shoulder.

“I can speak for myself, Francis Ramsey. But he’s right, Johnny. Run along back inside and work on your letters. Or else your mommy’ll be mad.” Miriam grabbed Francis’s hand and the pair walked away.

“Ow!” Francis rubbed the back of his head, felt slick blood between his fingers. He turned, saw Johnny bending down to pick up another rock. He screamed and rushed towards boy, tackled him to the ground. Johnny’s arms shot behind him to break his fall. A wet snap as Johnny’s forearm broke.

“Your pa’s not getting an inch of my pa’s land,” said Francis. He turned to Miriam, but she had ran away. “What?” he shouted after her. “He started it!”

-

That night, Francis went to his pa’s bed, having been beckoned. He stood, forehead crinkled as Gerald feverishly offered advice on buying and selling land and crops, when to fertilize, how many workers the land would need.

“It’s all going to you, Francis. All of it. Whatever you decide to do with it. Sell it to Nusbaum if you want. I know you’ll take care of yourself and your mother.”

Francis nodded. Then Gerald added, “And be civil. I didn’t get where I am through intimidation.”

A tension gripped Francis. Did his pa know about Johnny? Would it complicate things with the Nusbaums? Francis mumbled “Yes, pa,” and left.

Francis joined his ma on the porch. “You all right?” she asked.

“I think I did a bad thing, ma. I hurt Johnny Nusbaum.” When she turned to him, eyes wide, he added, “I didn’t mean to! He was bothering me and Miriam!”

“Well you’re going over there tomorrow after church to apologize and see if he needs anything. Did you tell your father?”

Francis stared out at the fields as his mother berated him. He accepted the blame then slunk to bed.

-

Church was boring. Francis didn’t care to grasp the deeper meaning of the Bible. Instead of listening to the sermon he stared at the bloody man on the cross. He daydreamed of going to Johnny Nusbaum’s, seeing the anger in his eyes. Johnny’s pa, Malcolm, would be particularly irate. Francis looked forward to it with masochistic pleasure.

-

Johnny’s ma opened the door a minute after Francis knocked. “Johnny can’t come play, he’s had a fall.”

“I know, I just wanted to check in on him.” Francis couldn’t believe it. Johnny hadn’t told on him? Mrs. Nusbaum invited him in.

Johnny seemed even smaller, as if shrunken by pain. He sweated and winced. The doctor hadn’t been able to settle the bone perfectly. That arm might never be strong.

Francis shuffled over. Johnny opened an eye and recoiled. At Johnny’s terror, Francis felt a rush of power. He suppressed a grin.

“I’m sorry about what happened to you,” he said. But Johnny just writhed, clutching the sheets with his good hand.

When Francis left he bumped into Malcolm Nusbaum, returning from town. Mr. Nusbaum had something to ask Francis. “Your pa told you his plans for his land, son?”

Francis nodded.

“Is he signing it to you? Johnny’s won’t make it as a farmer. But you will. Why don’t we join up? End the bickering?”

Instead of going home, Francis walked down corridors of corn stalks on his father’s - no, his - land, grinning to himself. Pa was soft, like Johnny. Pa turned away from a lucrative deal with Mr. Nusbaum. He was letting a fever kill him.

Pa hadn’t gotten anywhere being mean, but that didn’t mean Francis couldn’t.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


I'm in

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Prompt: Opposites Attract Vigilante Romance

No Contact
1444 words

Verdigris stared through his sniper scope as snow collected on him. An hour more of and he'd be a convincing snowman.

The office he looked into was covered in gaudy Christmas decorations; the Rudolph figurine on his target's desk blinked gaily every three and a half seconds. Verdigris would have shot the drat thing hours ago of it wouldn't have given him away. Out of spite, more than annoyance. Since becoming a hitman, Verdigris had never gotten to spend a Christmas in front of a fire place with hot cocoa and a book.

But the pay was good, assuming he made the kill.

The office door swung open. Verdigris took in a sharp breath, held it. The target, Russ Bushman, loped drunkenly into his office. Behind him, like a shadow, was Hitter, another assassin.

No, no, no, thought Verdigris. He pulled the trigger twice. Both hits, both kill shots. But had Hitter stabbed the bastard first?

Verdigris swiveled his scope, centering it on Hitter's squat, burly form. The smug jerk! Hitter waved and smiled at Verdigris, held up a knife covered in blood.

With a sigh, Verdigris began packing up his rifle and its tripod. He was already dreading returning to KWaC. Disputing a kill on Christmas was already bad, but disputing with Hitter? Verdigris felt a migraine setting in.

.

Killers With a Conscious was a non-profit assassins organization. The corrupt government sent them sizable grants for "bettering life for the do-gooders of society." KWaC's leader and lifelong activist, Merc, researched and investigated and picked juicy targets. To maintain the grants, targets were usually gutsy journalists edging up on revealing the extensive corruption. But Merc also prioritized just plain lovely people.

Russ Bushman made a living exploiting his workers and creeping on his secretaries, none of whom stayed around longer than a month. Merc put Bushman's folder back on her desk and looked from Verdigris to Hitter and back.

"Ma'am, my knife was tickling Bushman's aorta before any bullets hit. It seems pretty cut and dry to me." Hitter crossed his arms. Verdigris couldn't help but notice the man's taut forearms. He quickly looked away, but saw a grin creep onto Hitter's face.

"And where did your shots land, Verdy?" Merc asked.

Verdigris rolled his eyes at the nickname before he could stop himself. He coughed. "Left eye and throat. Through the esophagus and spine."

"Definitely kill shots, then," Merc said, impressed. "Can you two split the pay?"

Verdigris said, "Hell no." Hitter said, "Sure."

Shocked, Verdigris turned to Hitter, was annoyed to see the man's grin now a charming toothy smile.

"Scratch that, you can have the whole reward, on one condition." Hitter's eyes gleamed with mirth. "Let me cook you a Christmas goose."

Verdigris scoffed. "As if I'd accept that. Besides," he continued. "I'm vegetarian."

Hitter chuckled and muttered, "Of course you are."

Merc cleared her throat, said, "Quit flirting and tell me who I'm sending the money to."

“Send it to Verdy, ma’am,” said Hitter. He winked. “Sorry for the bother.” To Verdigris he said, “Give me your number, I’ll text you my address.”

Verdigris was dumbfounded. He followed Hitter out of Merc’s office, then left KWaC headquarters. Before long he found himself at home. Why was that gruff little punk asking him to dinner? His phone buzzed.

H here, im at 476 west 4th. buzz 21. gimme an hour

I gave him my number? Verdigris thought. Another notification showing the funds from the kill. That son of a bitch.

.

Verdigris stood at Hitter’s door in a pressed black button-up, tucked into slate gray slacks. His hair was still damp from a shower and an errant strand kept slipping down to rest on his brow. He was slightly embarrassed for showing up, more embarrassed when Hitter opened the door. Hitter was dressed much more casually in a tank top and sweatpants.

Hitter looked Verdigris up and down and that annoying smirk came back. They walked into Hitter’s kitchen. Verdigris was affronted by the smell of the goose. Perhaps sensing Verdigris’ distaste, Hitter said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got salad and baked potatoes. Mind opening the wine?”

It was a decent Bordeaux, more Merlot than Cabernet, just as Verdigris preferred. He poured a glass for himself and his host. “So, did you invite me here to taunt me? Make fun of my methods?”

“Nah, nothin’ like that. I think you’re cute. And, to the contrary,” Hitter bent down to check a tray of rolls in the oven. “I’ve always been impressed by you. I don’t have the kind of patience to just sit there watching. I like sneaking right up on folks, and-” He brandished a carving knife, stabbing up between imaginary ribs.

“So gauche, knives. But you get the job done.” Verdigris sipped his wine. Nice and smooth, earthy with a touch of spice. He sauntered into Hitter’s small living room, which felt even smaller with a decorated spruce tree occupying one whole corner. He looked at Hitter's record collection. Nothing to his taste. His heart pounded in his ears. Cute? Hitter thought he was cute? He felt flush. Must just be the wine, he thought.

A few minutes of silence passed. When Hitter had the table set he invited his guest over. He held his glass up and said, “To Christmas, and to new friends.” They clinked glasses.

“Thank you, by the way,” said Verdigris, undressing his potato.

“For the food? Or for the kill?”

“For saying I’m cute.” Verdigris smiled his slow, patient smile. “I’m afraid you’re not my type, though.”

“Too much meat on my bones?” Hitter laughed at his pun.

Verdigris swallowed a bite of potato, shaking his head. “You’re a little rough around the edges.”

“I suppose I am. You’re not the first to say that.” Hitter offered a smile of his own, eyes twinkling.

Verdigris helped clear the table once they were finished, then he made an excuse and headed towards the door. Behind him, Hitter said, “I’m Abe.” Verdigris turned, eyes wide.

“You shouldn’t have told me that.”

“I know I can trust you,” Hitter replied, drying off a wine glass.

Verdigris faced the door, opened it. “Phillip.” He left.

Not my type? What was I thinking! Verdigris chastised himself the whole way home. Sure, Hitter was a little gruff, chewed his meat too loudly, too forthright. But he was a good looking man, nice and fit. Verdigris thought of Hitter’s muscled chest, with its forest of dark hair. He looked at his phone. A message from Hitter.

gimme one more date, eh phil? you pick the activity

.

A week later and he and Hitter were on a job together. He picked off guards from the top of a nearby building, clearing the way for Hitter.

“Hey, you’re taking away all my fun!” Through Verdigris' earpiece Hitter sounded anything but annoyed.

“Okay then. Next door on your right, one, five paces into the room. Pistol in a shoulder holster.” Through the scope, Verdigris watched Hitter kick the door in and slash the unsuspecting thug’s throat. Blood sprayed onto Hitter’s skin-tight getup, but rolled right off it. “Fancy jumpsuit there.”

Hitter barreled through the hallway and into a stairwell as more guards came up behind him. Verdigris took them down with three well placed bullets. “Thanks, V. Two for one at the bodega.”

“Target’s alone now. Poor sap.”

“Say no more.”

Hitter’s movements were a joy to watch. He liked how the knife-happy assassin scowled with every stab. He was a fierce little bugger.

The target didn’t notice the door open. Hitter padded right over to him and said, “This was too easy, V.” The man spun around in time to catch a knife in the heart.

“I’ve cleared an escape route for you, Hitter. Should be smooth sailing.” Verdigris scanned ahead to make sure no more guards had shown up. Then he heard Hitter grunt. He swung the scope back to the penthouse and saw Hitter on the ground, grappling with a bodyguard twice his size.

A pause to line up the shot, then a soft thud of his silenced rifle. The guard slumped onto Hitter. The small hitman pushed the guard aside. “God, that guy’s breath stank.”

Verdigris said, “Meet ya at HQ.”

Outside KWaC headquarters, Verdigris eyed Hitter with an apparent hunger.

Puzzled, Hitter paused at the door. "What is it?"

"Can I kiss you?" Verdigris asked.

Hitter knitted his brows. “I thought I wasn’t your type.”

“I lied." He leaned down and kissed Hitter, relished the smell of him. "Now let's go get our money."

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Make Peace
1127 words



Lottie lived alone. Had since she was barely twelve. Too used to the cramped cabin she and her parents lived in, Lottie never sought more than what she knew. Various keepsakes of her mother’s: Commemorative spoons, porcelain figurines, hoops of cross-stitched farm animals. Tokens of her father’s literary side: Stacks and stacks of newspapers, every Reader’s Digest anthology from the 1950s, legal pads full of notes.

There was very little in her walls that was Lottie’s. Instead, her life manifested itself in her meanderings through the woods her cabin rested in. Having grown wary of civilization - especially since everyone in town had gotten automobiles - Lottie kept a vegetable garden. She set traps and checked them twice a day. In the summer she fished from the stream a mile into her woods. Outside was Lottie’s. But only during the day.

Night was on Lottie’s mind every hour from dawn until the sky died. Triumphant orange to bruised purple. Night didn’t let Lottie stay out to see the stars. It pressed her inside with a fetid smoke emanating from somewhere in the woods. Ten years ago when it started, Lottie looked for its source during the days. She found nothing.

So, every night Lottie stuffed shreds of her father’s newspapers into the door’s cracks and slept fitfully. Despite the years, Lottie had yet to grow habituated to the stench. By morning it dissipated, as if it had never been there at all.

Lottie merely added it to her list of burdens and moved on best she could.

Something changed on Lottie’s 76th birthday. Instead of checking her traps, Lottie walked into town and enjoyed a root beer float. She bought some nice stationary and a fountain pen and walked about the town, taking in the sights.

The townsfolk who recognized her couldn’t help but stare. Lottie was something of a legend; the inscrutable hermit of the woods. Lottie smiled her shy smile at the ones who met her eyes. The elderly residents traded stories about running into Lottie in the woods, being dared by an older brother to knock on her door. When their tales reached dead ends they moved on to imagined reasons for Lottie’s visit.

Back home, Lottie turned in early. Made a quick supper of a fresh tomato and yesterday’s cornbread. She sat out her stationary and pen. Slowly at first, then in rapid bursts she wrote a note, pausing every now and again to gaze at the late-day sun on her floor. Complete, she folded the note and weighted it down with an empty crystal vase.

Used to her self-inflicted prison, Lottie was quite accustomed to waiting. She watched the sky change from her chair near the window. Her hands itched to block up the door. Her nose burned in anticipation of the smoke. She fought herself, fought the years of passivity. It had turned night. Like reaching old age, it had been gradual, taken for granted, and then suddenly it was night and Lottie was old.

The gray-green smoke began to worm its way into Lottie’s cabin. It didn’t move like smoke; it seemed to have a substantial mass, as if it could be picked up and examined. It soon covered the floor.

Swallowing the desire to gag, Lottie got up, placed her hand on the door knob. It was death, surely. Death had been calling her these past ten years and she had kept it out with her dad’s old newspapers. But Lottie had grown tired of the long nights of fear. She opened the door.

The night was sticky with humidity. Her neck tingling, Lottie walked down into the forest, from which the smoke poured like a river in reverse. As she passed the pines and oaks she noticed a light much like the car headlights she detested, though this light was ran through with a cold blue. Despite the warmth of the night air, Lottie shivered.

Continuing on, Lottie had the sense that she had traveled much farther than possible; the forest was deep but it ran up to her nearest neighbor’s land. She should have reached his fence by now. She kept walking and soon saw a crouching figure silhouetted by the blue brightness. She stared at it awhile, hesitant to disturb it.

“Death?” she asked. The figure whipped its head towards her in surprise. Its face was reminiscent of a deer skull. Of flesh, not bone. Rising from its crouch, Lottie gasped to see the creature in full. It had the muscular torso of a man terminating in insectile legs.

“I’m surprised you finally came,” it said. It spoke in strange halting gasps. The words were phonetically correct but Lottie felt the creature did not know their meaning. “I thought the smell would bring you down. But it had the opposite effect.” It laughed. “You are alone. Like me. Will you stay and talk?”

Lottie stood her ground, did not back away at the creature’s looming form. “Why did you take my parents so young? I could have had more of a life.”

“I am not who you think.”

With no further explanation coming, Lottie asked, “Then who are you?”

“Just a passing shadow. Looking for companionship.” The beast motioned for Lottie to sit. She did, and it followed suit, kneeling on its perilously thin legs.

“Why-” Lottie started, but the thing interrupted her with a raised finger.

“My turn. Why did you stay? In the house?”

“It didn’t feel right. I loved my parents. I wanted to still feel them. And then I guess I got comfortable.”

The thing’s nightmarish head bobbed as if it understood. Lottie looked at it for permission to ask her own question: “Have you lost someone before?”

Slow, fat drops of rain began to fall, displacing the smoke around Lottie and the creature. In response to the question, it muttered a yes and passed its hand back and forth over the emanating light, causing fractional seconds of pitch darkness. For the first time, Lottie could see its eyes. Tiny and far away, glowing yellow in the blackness of its skull.

Time had passed. From seemingly miles away, Lottie heard her neighbor’s cocks begin to crow. Morning. Lottie and her companion stood. The former turned and began to walk home.

It called after her. “Will you come back. Tonight? No smoke.” The creature laughed.

“I think I will.”

Back at home, Lottie read over the note she had left. An account of her life, where she wanted to be buried, what could be done with her things and her house and her land. She shook her head and thought of her new companion. Exhaustion soon caught her up. As the sun rose, Lottie fell into a calm and deep sleep.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Highgate
962 words


Paz knew death and she knew pain. Her years as a hospice nurse taught her well. But those years were behind her now. Forced into early retirement by a back injury, Paz was more familiar with pain than she liked. Sleep came rarely and the leaden sleep her pain pills afforded her didn’t really count.

On top of the pain, Paz battled feelings of inadequacy. The gripping pain in her lower back made working impossible. She missed helping the dying into fresh clothes, their slow smiles and whispered thank yous. Missed the purely mental pain of losing a favorite patient.

Her nephew, Cesar, lived with her. He helped with groceries and other errands. Paz didn’t understand how he made money. He stayed in his room smoking pot and playing video games for people on the Internet. His YouTube checks were almost twice Paz’s monthly allowance.

Cesar always pestered Paz to try a joint. Just one. He said it would help not only with the pain but also with the depression. Paz always said she wasn’t a druggie. He would roll his eyes and ask her how many pain pills she was on.

But the thought of relief nagged at her and eventually she caved. Cesar gave her £60 and told her to meet a guy in the cemetery after sundown. Despite her reservations, Paz went.

The gate was closed and sliced the dying sunbeams into pale orange stripes. Her back wouldn’t allow her to climb the thing, so she circled the cemetery looking for a gap. Once inside, the sunset ended abruptly, leaving little light for her. She squinted, looking for her nephew’s dealer.

She paced down aisles of graves and wondered if any were her former patients. The names were hard to read; a roiling blue-gray fog had settled on the ground.

“Paz?” asked a voice behind her. She turned but saw no one. There was a cough, and then the voice said, “Over here.”

Fear took hold of her, almost enough to distract from her back. “You know Cesar?” she asked, eager to confirm the voice’s identity.

“Yeah, that’s me.” After the voice spoke there was a strange whirring sound. The fog at Paz’s feet bubbled and thickened.

Another cough and then Paz could see the dealer. He was a head taller than her and wearing a black hoodie. Paz couldn’t see his face in the hood’s shadow. The figure raised a boxy thing to his mouth. That same whirring. Then the figure exhaled a cloud of the supernatural fog. “You got the dosh?”

“Is that a vaporizer?”

“Sure is. Cesar told me to give you one. It’s easier on the lungs than a spliff.”

“Will mine make so much smoke?”

The figure chuckled and held out a gloved hand. Paz put the envelope of money in the hand. In return, Paz received a paper bag.

“If you need help just ask Cesar.”

A new voice yelled “Hey!” Paz and the dealer turned in its direction. A police officer, scrambling over the cemetery fence.

“Can you run?” asked the dealer, taking another puff.

“I’d rather not,” said Paz. In a panic, she said, “Sorry officer, we wanted to pay respects. Hadn’t noticed them locking up. We’ll be out of your way.”

The cop pointed to Paz. “What’s in the bag, ma’am?”

“Take-away. My husband was a chef. We like to share a meal at his grave.”

If the cop scowled any harder, Paz thought he might have an aneurysm. “Can you put your hood down, sir?”

Both the cop and Paz eyed the dealer, who made no move to reveal his face. Instead, the hooded person took a long drag from the vape, forcefully exhaled in the cop’s face and yelled, “Run, Paz!”

Ignoring the screaming pain in her back, Paz scurried back to where she entered the cemetery. The cop beat at his face, howling in pain. She had lost sight of the dealer.

Heart racing, Paz took a bus back to her street. Instead of going home, she walked to a nearby park and looked in her bag. A vape much like the dealer’s and a refill cartridge. Hesitantly, Paz took a puff. The vapor stung the back of her throat and burned her lungs. She coughed and thought back to her encounter in the graveyard.

“Feel anything yet?” It was the dealer, sitting beside her on the bench.

“What the hell, man. Don’t sneak up on people. And no, I don’t think I feel anything.” She took another hit. “Wait, okay. I think I get it.” Her feet tingled and her thoughts drifted.

“How’s the back?”

“Better. But this stuff is messing with my head.”

“You’ll get used to it. Hit me up when you need another cartridge.” The dealer stood up. For a second a streetlight revealed the dealer’s face. To Paz it looked bone-white. Sockets instead of eyes and a broad toothy grin.

Paz chuckled and shook her head. “See ya,” she said. The dealer left the park in a cloud of dense vapor.



“Thanks for watching, amigos. I’ll be back tomorrow night. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already. And check me out on Twitter.” Paz got through her usual sign-off speech. She had begun supplementing her disability stipend with streaming herself playing the latest video games. Turned out people enjoyed watching a stoned middle-aged lady playing games and swearing in Spanish.

Her dealer started giving her good deals, calling her “my best customer.” They still met in the cemetery, but were much more discreet. It did help her pain. Cesar had been right, after all. Paz felt well enough to help out with the groceries and chores.

But yes, Paz knew death. Death was her weed guy.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


I'm in. flash me up

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Really above and beyond critting there. Thanks much.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


The Notary
999 words
Your authoritarian wishes people were more like bees: organized and aware of their place.


John walked into the courthouse with an unearned swagger, messenger bag thumping his thigh. The people surrounding him were still in shock, still screaming and pointing at the senator’s corpse. Anyone who had been following the senator’s trial should have seen it coming. Though maybe not public suicide.

And now John held the power he deserved. The senator was dead and John was to anoint his successor. John barely knew Greg Hinds, but knew he was in the governor’s pocket. Biting down a grin, John approached the pale man.

“Are you the notary?” asked Hinds.

“Yes, John Munge. Nice you meet you.” John glanced around. “Come with me.” He escorted Hinds to the back of the courtroom. John noticed the blood still pouring from the dead senator’s mouth. He shook his head and led Hinds into the judge chambers.

The room felt close and hot in a way that enlivened John. He breathed in Hinds’s nervousness and took his time arranging things. The Bible and a laminated copy of the oath. John passed his eyes down the oath. The margins just so, the serif font beautiful and dark on the paper’s cream surface. Halfway down, a misplaced comma. John’s heart skipped a beat.

John cleared his throat, loud enough to startle Hinds. John offered towards Hinds with reverence. A wave of pleasure shook John when Hinds broke into tears. The power he felt holding that Bible, watching Hinds’s hands shake, reaffirmed John’s choice to become a notary.

Though his pulse obscured it, John’s voice boomed through each line of the oath. He allowed himself quiet giggle at Hinds’s pitiful echo. Careful pauses raised the tension between John’s words. Then it was over. John wished he could lean over and taste the sweat off of the new senator’s upper lip, taste the tears drying on his chin.

The late senator’s wife and daughter sat in the jury’s deliberation chamber. John, still puffed up from swearing in Hinds hummed as he approached. Too late he contorted his face into a mask of compassionate sadness.

The women were broken already, beyond tears. A police officer sat with them. John nodded to the officer, who handed him two written statements.

John looked at mother and daughter then scanned their statements. He furrowed his brow and asked, “Did you know he had gotten the gun?” They shook their heads no. “Can you write up a new statement including that fact?” He handed them new forms and smiled. Once done, the women were in tears again. “These statements will be very important going forward. Thank you so much.” John stamped them and handed them to the police officer.

Back at home, John watched TV. It showed senator Hinds issuing his first public statements. John watched the white-on-black closed captioning, taking masochistic pleasure in the numerous typos.

He typed away on his manuscript, a treatise on the importance of structure hierarchy in society. In such a society the senator would still be alive. The grieving women would have no cause to cry. The disparity between John’s ideal world and reality was his cilice, constantly chafing him, urging him to continue his work.

John sat across from a man he had loathed the moment he saw him. A spoiled real estate tycoon. Between the two were John’s carefully arranged forms. Signing them concluded a deal worth several millions of dollars. Despite that, the tycoon’s eyes were glued to his phone as he searched for another person to call. John’s head buzzed with rage.

The ungrateful prick hadn’t even noticed John’s attention to detail. The crispness of the paper, the neon yellow stickers denoting where to sign. No staples, all ready to be sealed in its envelope. The man was now bragging to a client or girlfriend. John’s hierarchy would have ensured such an awful person had no contact with anyone, no one to exert his ego upon.

“Okay, mmbye,” the man said. He pulled a pen out of his breast pocket. A cheap fountain pen. To cover a scoff, John cleared his throat. The man scratched his facile and artless signature onto each page. Without a thank you or even a glance, he left the room.

On the elevator ride to the parking deck, John imagined throwing the guy out a window. After stabbing him in the eye with that stupid pen, of course. When the doors opened on the gray of the parking deck something changed in John. He sent himself back up to the tycoon’s floor, unsure of how his revenge would manifest.

The tycoon spotted John immediately. “Forget something?”

“No. I never forget things. I came back to tell you what a loving worm you are.”

The man quirked his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“You were hugely disrespectful. Did you not realize that I facilitated your deal? You would have made nothing without me.”

“Hey, I know your job sucks, but don’t take it out on me. You should leave.”

“It’s only a matter of time before the harsh light of day reveals you for the wretch you are. Goodbye.” John dropped off the notarized documents and then headed to his boss, at her request.

“Hey, John, everything okay?”

“Yes Margie, why?”

“Well, I’ve received some complaints about your demeanor.”

“Ah, that. Yes.”

“I’m going to need your ID card and your stamp.”

“Sure, Margie. How long are you suspending me for?”

“Not suspending, John. Firing. I don’t know why you thought you could act like you did.”

Stupefied, John handed over his notary implements and went home in a daze. He furiously typed a vitriolic conclusion to his manifesto. It was dark when he finished. Packing the thick stack of papers into a sturdy envelope, John headed back to his boss’s house.

The nanny found John’s meticulously typed manuscript. On the front it said, “This is why.” Puzzled, the nanny dropped the package into the recycling.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Staggy, I would like to judge, if you do not object.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


scuz posted:

In and requesting a prompt, please and thank you.

You must act during meteor shower's peak, beginning at 1am.


animist posted:

in, flash, :toxx:

also, hi thunderdome

You thrive in the first moments of dawn, while others still sleep.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In with a flash pleas

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


A Stand of Trees
990 words

Outside the last green oasis in the spreading sands, I left my companion to bleed out. He did not want to split the Protector’s treasure evenly. I stabbed him while he slept, between the ribs.

I donned an elaborate dress I had stolen and hiked into the enchanted forest.

The protector sat on a mossy stone at the glade’s heart. Twigs and bundles of berries poked from between gaps in his armor. He hummed to himself, enjoying the cool air.

“Protector,” I said. “You have waited long for this day, I imagine.” I gave a shallow curtsy and a smile.

He stood with the patience of a tree and grinned through his bushy beard. “Lady, you are descended from my Lord Hivec?”

“Yes. I am here to relieve you.” I looked around in awe of his work. “From a single blade of grass to this majesty. My great-grandfather would be proud.”

“Aye, he would be.” A wistful look crossed the protector’s features. “How fares the desert?”

“Yondul is overtook with sand. I’m afraid the desert expands its reach.”

“Much faster than my plot, here. Ah, well.” He moved closer, affording me a look at his stone hammer. It would fetch a good price from the right collector.

“And where is the heartseed now? Your success here is a testament to its importance. Has it germinated?”

I hid a wince when his eyebrows lifted and he gave a surprised chuckle. “None of this would be possible had it not, my lady.” He gestured to a stand of short trees, each carrying two or three golden berries. “Three have come up. I have four seeds incubating.”

“Ah, of course. My father never went into specifics.”

With a quirk of confusion on his face, the protector gestured to a stump. “Sit, and tell me of your journey. Tell me of your parents.”

“Gladly. I’m sure you’ve been bored.”

“Never that, my lady, though I haven’t heard a good tale in quite some time.”

I told him my thoroughly researched history. He laughed when I told him of my father’s bumbling and fruitless research. Shed silent tears when I brought up my grandfather’s funeral.

No skepticism. The protector’s wait had made him naive. Or perhaps he just wanted to believe me, wanted his well-earned rest. I would oblige him once the moon rose.



I pretended to sleep in a small tent. The protector lay under the swaying branches of his trees. I allowed him time to fall asleep, hoping the good fortune of my arrival set him at ease. But when I approached the small pond I heard two voices. My breath caught. My companion sat chatting with the protector.

The protector called to me. “Two visitors in the same day! What are the chances? Join us, if you can’t sleep.”

I approached, hiding my shock. “Hello, stranger. What brings you here?” My companion’s smirk told me nothing. Had he made a deal with the protector?

“Luck, my lady. This noble man found me bleeding in the sands. I’d be dead if not for his touch.” He shifted to show me where I stabbed him. No scar tissue, though still wet blood clotted on his tunic.

23 “Run upon by some bandits, he was.” The protector nodded, looking serious. “They’re a right problem, but usually too afraid to enter these woods.” He smiled broadly. “I wouldn’t have found him had I not been struck by insomnia.”

“That is quite some luck, friend. What brought you this deep into the desert?”

“Just passing through.” He cleared his throat but said no more.

“So you’re leaving soon?” I asked, a bit too eagerly. The protector glanced at me sidelong. He must know.

“After I rest. Nearly dying takes a lot out of you.” With that he met my gaze, a hardness in his eyes. drat the protector for saving him.

The silence among us turned prickly. The protector grunted and rose to his feet, twigs and leaves raining from his armor. “Healing takes a lot out of me. I’m glad you are well, sir, and I invite you to stay as long as you need.” He nodded to me. “Lady.” He padded off.

“Happy to see me?”

I stood and rushed him, put my dagger to his throat. Too late I felt the point of a crossbow bolt at my abdomen. “What did you tell him?” I asked. Blood ran from where my knife bit his flesh.

“I didn’t tell him anything. Back down. We can still pull this off.”

“At an even split.”

“As you say.”

I did not bring my knife away. Nor did he surrender his crossbow. Humor danced in his eyes, though his grimace told me of his fear.

A click and the crossbow bolt lodged itself in my gut, up to the feathers. I howled and fell backwards. He stood up and looked around for the protector, whose thudding footsteps seemed to be coming from all directions. Sheer terror glued him to the spot.

The protector trundled into view, a stone hammer held at the ready. My companion stuttered, “She came at me with the knife! I had no choice!”

“You are no innocent,” said the protector. He lifted the hammer towards me. “Nor are you.” Faster than I could track, he slammed the hammer into my companion’s skull. I tried to crawl on my back, away from the forest’s champion.

“Your friend told me of your deception. But I knew before then. Descendants of my lord would carry no knife.” He raised his voice to be heard over a wind that whipped through the leaves. “You have upset me. You have upset this sacred place. My oath requires your death.”

My legs felt cold and could no longer propel me. The protector loomed, looking as tall as the trees. “May flowers and trees grow from your corpse. May you be useful in death.”

I screamed as the hammer fell.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In, flash me

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Can I get a random capsule from genre and setting pleeeease? I'm :toxx:ing up as well. If random is too hard I'll take 1 and 3 from those flavors, respectively.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Setting is… ON A STAGE +64 Words and a…. DIAMOND CAPSULE
Genre is… COSMIC HORROR +68 Words

453 words

We feed on you, as you perform. Your eyes look on us and see whatever you can. Not much, perhaps a truthful fragment, but not our totality. We have kept track of you, all of you. You in the black robes; you nude; you bathed in flames; you in the mouth of the larger you; you made smaller by mirrors.

Each new you glances at us, and away, afraid to lose more than what has already been given. You dance across your stage, singing, uttering, looping sounds that mean little to us, but are laden with meaning.

You say you perform what the coin toss dictates. We do not know this to be true. But we know you believe it. And we want more of you to look out on us, your audience. You pause. We wait. Perhaps this current you is unnerved. You shake, and look. We lap up your attention. We gibber, you gasp.

You say With this dagger I lock you down, evil one. You thrust at yourself, and you dodge. You say My power cannot be contained by one blade alone. More of you arrive, creating a clamor. We pulsate. All of you look out on us. We made too much noise. One of you has seen too much and falls down. We reach out and pull this you into us. We are silent now.

One dagger became many in your other hands. You cower from the collective might of your opposition. We shrink. In a disgusting act, you turn away from us and we cannot see you. We rage. You fall. You say Please, audience, we mean no offense, it is only part of the performance. But we are not sated. We make you face us. We see your terror, once performed, now real. You do not understand our intentions. We do not understand yours.

You hear us announce the end. We move out of your physical presence.

We let time pass. We discuss you. What else is there? From the blankness we were summoned, to witness you. It pains us to leave; it pains us to stay. We come to a plurality, and return.

You rise when we enter, and resume the dance. You say Foul demon, you are trapped now. You hold the daggers over yourself and we wait.

When we think you won’t, you lower the daggers in unison and imprison yourself forevermore. You accept your fate and turn your eyes towards us. Is this penance? Apologia? We reward your pain and you become us.

The rest of you stand up, turn around, leave. We do not wait for more. It is done. We smile upon your offerings and evaporate. Your blue home is safe.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


I won a crit from the gachadome but am ceding it to someone, should someone else desire. I appreciate all the work that went into the prompt and all! Thanks judges and I hope someone gets a good crit for their poo poo

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Megaviscera
Prompt: INTJ
623 words


“She seemed nice,” the voice said.

“Ah, you’re back.” Frederick sat down to take off his shoes.

“Your mom would like her.”

“My mom doesn’t have it together enough to like or dislike someone.”

The voice hesitated. “I know.”

In his bedroom, Frederick knelt down to pray. “Dear God,” he started.

“Fred, come on, you still do this?”

“God please give me the willpower to do what’s best for my mom. Give me the strength for the coming day. Show me I can still believe in you. I need someone to believe in.”

“Why not me, Fred? Hey, Fred?”

“Amen.”



“She’ll be well taken care of here, Frederick.” The lady smiled as Frederick signed the documents.

“I’ll be back tomorrow to move her in.”

“Of course.”

“So soon, Fred?” The voice said. “Have you even sold the house yet?”

Frederick handed over the papers. “See you tomorrow.”

Once outside, Frederick let out a deep sigh. “Dear God let this voice leave me alone.”

“Do you really think there is a God? Or that God would want to listen to you? God might not even be paying attention anymore. But I’m here, Fred. I’m paying attention. Isn’t that enough?”

Frederick stood flummoxed by this outburst. “You know I left seminary because of you.”

“I did know that. But I never knew why. What did I do?”

“You were new information. I lost my faith and had to reckon with your existence.” Frederick pulled into his apartment’s assigned parking spot.

“I didn't like that home, Fred. I think you should move in with your mom, not put her in a care home.”

“I’m not interested in your opinion.”

Before eating dinner, Frederick prayed again. “Heavenly Father, protect me from evil influences. Be my guiding hand when I stray from Your path. And may this food nourish my body and my soul, amen.”

“Why do you still pray, Fred?”

Around a mouthful of black beans, Frederick said, “I didn’t for a while. But it’s comforting. It reminds me of when I was younger.”

“Of your mom?”

Frederick gave a slight nod. He finished his meal in silence.

“I’m sorry if I’ve made things harder for you, Fred. I just wanted someone to talk to. And it seemed like you wanted someone to talk to. But maybe you just wanted to know someone was listening.”



“Do you like the room, mom?” Frederick glanced around. The room looked just like her living room, with a small bed instead of a couch.

“Yes. Can we go home now?”

“No, mom. This is home. You are home.”

“Oh, okay. I’m ready for dinner.”

“We just had dinner.”

“Oh.”

“Do you want a snack?”

“Okay.”

“Cheese and crackers?”

“Okay.”

“You used to make cheese and crackers when I got home from school. Do you remember?”

“Yes. Can I have my cheese and crackers now?”

“I’m making them right now, mom, see?”

“Oh. I hope we can go to dinner soon.”

“Here’s your snack mom.”

“Thanks. Ready to go home?”

“I’ll be back tomorrow, mom. I love you.”

“Okay, love you. Bye.”

Outside, Frederick pulled his truck around to a shady spot and cried.



The mute TV showed an infomercial for some supplement. Frederick's phone beeped and a tinny voice came from it. “This is Raf, leave a message,”

“Can you call me when you get this? I'm not doing great. Maybe we can get drinks.”

Feeling heavy, Frederick prayed from his spot on the couch. “God please let my mom be safe. Please let her be loved. Please love her. Please.”

Staring at the ceiling, Frederick sobbed. “Are you still there?” he asked.

Later, on the cusp of sleep, Frederick heard the voice reply. “Yes, Fred. I’m here. Talk to me.”

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


I'm in

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Prompt: J. Edgar Hoover didn't investigate the mafia because he was being blackmailed

To Know
740~ words

It started long before Jerusalem. It started when I found photos of J. Edgar Hoover with various men in my father’s briefcase. But Jerusalem was when the kindling I had been nurturing burst alight.

“Look into his sister,” said Zir, staring into his coffee. A smug Mossad agent. “I never figured out how she died.”

“Sudden infant death syndrome. Trust me, I’ve explored more avenues than I care to recall.”

“You have all this doubt, yet you believe a death certificate?” He hadn’t looked at me once. I wanted to smack his coffee to the floor.

But he was right. Sudden infant death syndrome is a diagnosis of last resort; if nothing else can be proved, SIDS it is. I caught the next flight home.

Despite its clutter, being back at my desk was a comfort. I was proud of my work, though it had yet to bear fruit. Among all the Hoover materiel was a photo of the man responsible for my obsession. My father.

He had chuckled when I asked him about the photos of Hoover. “Why do you think he never looked into me and the boys?”

But his look betrayed him, eyes narrowing, challenging me to challenge him. Jaw tensed with worry. I didn’t press him, but I kept note of that look.

I had exhumed Capote and Dillinger. Normal stuff. Digging up a child, this felt like dark territory, even for me. I wasn’t prepared for how small, how strangely fragile her bones would be.

Nor was I prepared for the hole in the top of her skull, surrounded by shallow troughs and divots. My mind reeled with possibilities, none pleasant.

The Israeli picked up on the last ring. “What’d you find?” he asked.

“I get the feeling you already know.”

His chuckle made me want to hang up. “Maybe our pal J. Edgar ate her brains.”

“Maybe you’re an annoying prick.”

“There’s no need for that.”

“So, what, case closed? The Mafia knew Hoover ate his infant sister’s brains through a hole in the top of her head?”

“Don’t you think it’d be more fun to leave it unanswered? Anything is possible if you never find out the truth.”

“I don’t like to daydream.” I hung up. Bastard.

The photo of my dad still betrayed that worried look. I booked a flight back home for the next day.

-

“Ma, did you keep anything of dad’s when you moved outta the house?”

Ma tried and failed to see me around her cataracts. “Why, no. Threw away most of it. Donated what I could.” She waved to her caretaker. “Could you bring us some water, please?”

“I’ll get it, Ma.”

You’d guess my Ma was a spinster; the only photos up were of her and her siblings. Not a single trace of dad. I had an urge to rifle through her things looking for some evidence he'd existed. She erased him totally from her life. If she said his stuff wasn’t here, it wasn’t here.

“What’s this all about, anyway?” Ma asked, tracing the table with her fingers to find the glass of water.

“Nothing really, Ma. Just realized one day I was forgetting what he looked like.”

-

The family living in my childhood home were like an echo of my own family. Two distant parents and their one lonely boy. I imagined prying the basement window out of its frame, sneaking up the concrete stairs. I imagined padding through those hallways looking for my father’s briefcase. I imagined bumping into that kid, so much like my past self I knew he’d stay quiet.

It was time to move on.

I didn’t have the heart to throw out all my Hoover stuff. I packaged it up and mailed it to the FBI. Maybe they’d trash it. Maybe a young and curious agent would pick it up.

Zir was right, in a way. I could tell myself anything about Hoover and the mob. Believing any of it was the hard part. I rang him up, one last time.

“I’m done, Zir.”

“He was an alien, right?"

I couldn’t tell if he was joking. And I didn’t care. “No, Zir, he was a demon. From hell. I figured it all out,” I said.

There was a long silence. I had almost hung up when he said, “Ah that makes a lot more sense.”

When he started laughing I slammed down the phone.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


In with a line, please

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


His smoke is terrible to inhale and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in it for the time.

Debtor
1180 words

The plastic in my lungs is my own, and I create it with my breath, but the Middle takes it all. I go to the plastectomist once a month and they pluck the microfibers out from my alveoli like rice harvesters do their crop. When I was a kid I loved to watch them spool up the fibers to make the multi-hued clump that would be sent to the Middle. Now I do it myself.

I’ve not yet managed to die. My contributions of plastic have been missed, but nothing has made it through the bureaucracy yet, no alarms sounded.

After a week or so of laboring in the plant, I spend my alloted rest hours in my living room carefully wending flexible metal grabbers down my throat. I collect the fibers, keeping track of their colors and figuring out how best to use them in the statue I am creating. It sits on my table, a tree, stretching its limbs up in hope.

The next day at the plant I am taken aside by my supervisor. “Are you all right?”

“As far as I know.”

“Breathing okay?”

“More or less. Why?”

He repeats himself after a nearby mulcher quiets. “I said, you haven’t been to the plastectomist in a while.”

I look over his shoulder into the plant overseer’s office. The pale bald head of the overseer glints in the window like a tooth. He disappears from view after I notice him.

“You’re right. I suppose I’ve been forgetful.”

The red lights flash through the plant, indicating our shifts are complete. “Go now, okay? You can miss your night shift. The overseer is worried. It’s an anomaly. A concern. He doesn’t want anyone higher up getting curious. Okay? So go.” He offers a smile, to reassure me, maybe. “See you tomorrow.”

-

My work boots squelch in the plastic snow that has collected since morning. A few indigents crawl on their knees to inhale the stuff. One doubles over, coughing bloody phlegm.

Sunlight slithers its way down through layers of unnatural fug and I pause in the moment. I breathe in as deep as I can manage. It is the only air I have ever breathed. Anyone who remembers the smell and taste of air before the Middle opened up their plants risks imprisonment for describing it. I can’t imagine it.

A thought paralyzes me and I turn around to watch the poor souls lapping up the plastic leavings of the city’s smoke. The plastectomist will expect to find plenty of fibers. Before I can think too long about it I run behind a building to its exhaust system. An older model, two or more behind the Middle’s latest innovation. It chugs and whines and belches out a kaleidoscopic smog, plastic glimmering within.

I hold my nose and suck in. It burns and then numbs my throat and I feel heavier. How much is enough? Will they see excess plastic in my throat? I cough. My tongue is now leathery and I want to spit it out. Once more I inhale the stuff before staggering to my preferred plastectomist.

-

“You’re overdue a visit, it seems.”

“Yes,” I say. The word burbles up through my unfeeling esophagus.

“And your reason for that?”

This nurse is new. Stricter, it seems. An attempt at a swallow sends a wave of acrid grit into my belly.

“Are you okay?” the nurse asks, his voice now a different pitch. I wheel backwards on the table, the fluorescent lights spinning and seeming for everything in the world to be dancing all across the ceiling.

I hear the nurse, voice distorted and ghastly, call for the doctor before I am ushered into unconscious.

-

I awake in the cleanest room I have ever seen. No dust obscures the many lights. Just planes of whiteness.

I am not breathing.

I seemingly do not need to.

A voice calls out, from the extreme edges of my perception. “Where do you think you are?”

My own voice sounds equally far away. “I am in the Middle.” I speak without exerting myself, no air is pressed up past my vocal cords.

“Yes. We are owed.”

“There’s no pollution here. How?”

“We must protect ourselves so that we can protect you.”

I feel something, a bitter anger in my chest, beating like rapid gusts of hot wind. “You let us suffer.”

“That is not the case, on the whole.” The voice sounds closer now. “And your suffering leads to great advancements. So that the next generation will suffer less. And the next after that.” Now the voice is in my ears, sending chills down limbs that cannot move.

“We are owed.”

My anger leaks out as hot tears down my cheeks. “It’s mine.”

A grayness has seeped into the room. The voice, emotionless until now, betrays a curiosity. “What do you do with it?”

“I am making a statue. Of a tree.”

“Why?”

“To remember. To help others remember. And to rebel against you.” The grayness darkens further. My eyes roll back and I feel two points of fiery pain pierce my chest.

-

I desperately want to breath again, they are breaking me, they watch me, concerned, but they do not act, I want to breathe, I want to scream, I want to fall into the blackness below me but I can’t sink any further I am too buoyant I am too still my body is turning blue but it doesn’t hurt it is only numb I want to work on my tree and smell the plastic getting hot and malleable and I want to form the green bits into little leaves and I want to add the other bits until they make the brown I like and then I want to scream and breathe and inhale inhale inhale, never exhale, exhaling is death inhaling is life and my chest is rising and falling but I am rising-

And a tortured gasp fills the room. I inhale and my lungs shatter like glass.

-

“Hello,” says the small dark woman. “I’m an adjutant to the Middle. How are you feeling?”

“Punished. Mistreated.”

“You’re wrong, there.” She stands and brings up a holoscreen in front of my bed. Two oval pumps grow and shrink methodically. She smiles at me. “These are your new lungs.

“The Middle has been experimenting with this technology for a long time now. You are the first success. Now, plastic is metabolized by your lungs and filtered through your blood. You’re effectively immune to pollution.” Her smile is even wider at the end of this speech.

“Let me go home.”

The smile evaporates. “Don’t you want to thank them?”

“No.”

She leaves. A minute later I am escorted out by faceless enforcers.

A long walk home does nothing for the ache in my chest. My lungs do not burn, as they used to. I used to take joy in that; it was the first step in my creative process.

My apartment door sits open. My equipment is gone. The tree is gone.

I take a long breath and hold it.

apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Preemptive in with :toxx:

How are you all

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apophenium
Apr 13, 2009


Rasp
Sinking pirates (no arms)
887 words

Elina’s first task as Imperial auditor was to bring a pirate captain to justice. An undercover mission, Elina got on as a quartermaster.

Two days into the voyage, the captain addressed the crew at dinner. “You all have joined me, though you knew it not, on my last journey.”

Elina felt the captain staring at her. His toothy smile betrayed nothing to her.

“Yes,” he continued, hugging his partner close. “It is time to retire. But not after one last mighty haul. Let’s make it a good one, yes?”

The cheers shook the ship’s aged boards. A chorus of hoorays and the drum of stomps nearly concealed the sound of the explosion.

-

Numbness and water waited for Elina when she came to. Her arms lay beneath her, bloodless and heavy. Her right shoulder throbbed. Dislocated, she thought. She was the first of the crew to wake up; water seeping in had tickled her feet, jolting her alert.

“Elina, you’re awake. Elina look at me.”

The captain stood with a flintlock pistol pointed to his breast. No sooner had she sussed his intentions did he pull the trigger, adding more distractions to an already chaotic mess.

Elina’s consciousness flickered in and out, blinking like a child. “Captain.”

“Yes, Elina. You were never going to catch me alive. Piss on your empire.”

The groans of the crew began to annoy Elina. Each one sent a pang of hot anger into her numb hands. What a waste to kill an entire ship’s complement just to spite a lowly auditor like Elina. She stumbled to a crouch, looked over the nearest crew member, a cook, she thought. Arms tied. She knelt on the cook’s chest until she woke up.

“Get off, fucker. Jesus.”

“I need your help.”

“Is that the captain? The captain’s dead?”

Elina nodded. “He barred the door to the main deck. And there’s nothing but water below.”

The cook’s breathing changed, her eyes spiraling around the room, failing to find anything sane to latch onto. Elina remembered when her father made her and her brother watch their pet dog die. The tongue coming out, the panicked breaths. “It’s okay,” she said.

Using her foot, Elina dragged a crew member out of the rising water. She looked around. Nub, second-in-command, now leaned over the captain’s corpse. He and Elina locked eyes.

“Why didn’t he kill me, too? I thought he loved me,” Nub said.

The ship rocked and leaned to one side. Elina righted herself unconsciously. “He did all this, Nub. Won’t be much longer now, if death’s your yen.”

“He said he was going to kill me first.” Nub lay down and rested his head on the captain’s still bleeding chest.

A gust of fear shook Elina. Adrenaline coiled in her heart and she stomped towards the door leading out of the hold. The large bosun, Meka, rammed into it, then looked back at Elina.

“Kick it,” she said, nodding to Meka’s swollen shoulder. They took turns. Water now leaked in from the ceiling; the gunwale was underwater. Meka kicked, stumbled, slid towards the side of the ship.

Elina called to him. “Any boards you’ve been neglecting to patch up?”

Meka struggled to his feet. He nodded to the side of the ship that had taken on the most water. “That side, rotted plank. Might be able to reach it with a boost.”

“Is that an offer?”

The bosun shrugged. “I like this ship. I like living. Maybe you can help me up.”

Elina nodded and the two waded into the rising water. Meka was tall enough for Elina to get on his shoulders without going under.

With a slight hop, Elina got her torso onto the main deck. She hooked her knee on a beam and rolled the rest of herself up.

“A rope, or anything?” Meka shouted from below. He seemed to be treading water, now.

“How will you climb it?”

“At least let me try.”

Elina scrambled around the main deck wanting to scream. The physical weight of the vast sea around her blotted out rational thought. So she did scream, and she cried. She heard Meka and the others yelling too.

She cursed the captain, for ignoring justice and throwing away so many lives. She cursed her handler for not explaining just how unhinged the captain was. She cursed herself for not being able to help Meka.

She cursed and cried and ranted until she was floating face down in an empty sea, wishing the ship had taken her down with it.

Elina kicked her legs and flipped over, to confront the other endless blue of the sky. Floating between these two unknown vastnesses left her alone and ashamed. She had survived, in an atavistic fury.

And though her task could not be completed with no pirates to bring before a court, she could at least tell their story, recount the humanity she found on the sea.

During her ruminations, she had ignored the fin of a hunter, circling her at a respectful distance. Elina cried out and kicked as the fin approached. A rush of water and scales and teeth swept her under for a brief moment. In a panic, Elina started flailing her arms. She shouted--her arms were free.

But the shark, her only companion now, did not resurface.

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