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Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

I'm in. No dead children pls.

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Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

From a Clear Blue Sky
Word Count: 928

Prompt:


“GAY COUPLE DEAD IN FREAK LIGHTNING STRIKE!” The headline blared in letters three feet high.

Reverend Don Platters, pastor of the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer, stood behind an alabaster pulpit beneath the towering headline.

“Behold, the wrath of God!” the Reverend Don Platters sang out in a ringing voice as golden as his hair and twice as smooth. He gestured to the billboard-sized megascreen behind him. “Behold the work of His hand!”

The image on the megascreen changed to show the grisly scene of the dead couple’s destroyed bedroom. A pair of charred bodies curled in embrace on the burned-out husk of a bed. The freak lightning bolt had blasted through the roof, burning away a corner of the building and much of the back wall, but left the rest of the room eerily untouched. It hadn’t even shattered the window less than three feet away. The curtains weren’t even singed.

“Behold! Behold! Behold!” the reverend urged again, thrusting out his hand with each emphatic declaration. He smirked knowingly and shook his head with the sad amusement of someone who’d warned you all along. “God is showing us!” Don Platters exulted, raising his palms to the sky. “God is showing us that he will no longer tolerate the perverts and the sodomites! He is bringing down His wrath to cleanse this earth of their sin!”

The congregation went into paroxysms of joy. A woman up on the second balcony level threw herself onto the guardrail and wept wailing tears of ecstasy onto the crowd below. Parishioners seated on the aisle leapt out of their cushioned pews and threw themselves down on the plush red and gold carpet to prostrate before the miracle.

Reverend Platters let the crowd’s fervor reach a crescendo before raising his hands to call for calm and quiet. Looking extremely pleased with himself, he launched into the rest of his sermon on the depravity of the homosexual lifestyle.

***

Outside the loud but isolated world of the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer, the freak lightning strike received little attention from the general public. The scientific community dismissed the entire incident as just another statistical outlier.

“Lightning is unpredictable,” explained Dr. Edrews Phillipstein, head of the South Carolina institute of meteorology. In an interview for Zizibee dot com, that week’s most reputable journalism website, Dr. Phillipstein said “There are multiple recorded incidents of lightning striking people around corners, through windows, and yes, even indoors in bed. There’s even a whole family of phenomena called ‘ball-lightning’ that’s poorly understood even after centuries of observation and research.”

“Did the fact that it was a homosexual couple increase their likelihood of being struck by lightning?” asked the interviewer for Zizibee.

“What? No, that’s ridiculous,” answered Dr. Phillipstein.

It happened again barely a week later. A lesbian couple in Colorado got struck by lightning while riding a ski lift.

For many, this one didn’t strictly count. The sky was overcast and the weather had predicted the possibility of thunderstorms. It seemed more like a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, though that didn’t stop reverend Platters from making it the central topic of that Sunday’s sermon.

Reverend Platters shouted halleleujah and sang the praises of Jesus Christ and God the almighty. Every single one of the forty thousand seats in the triple-decked megachurch had been sold out and there was still a line of hopefuls stretching clear around the building. The figures on the digital donation counter below the megascreen were a blur as thousands of faithful viewers at home pledged whatever they could to help God pay His electric bill for all the extra lightning He was handing out.

Even Dr. Phillipstein came up short after a gay couple holding hands in a public park in Ontario, Canada got struck by lightning out of a seemingly empty sky. It didn’t matter that the couple survived without so much as first degree burns.

“It was a warning shot from God himself!” cried reverend Platters in triumph. “In His mercy He decided to spare these two sodomites so that they could repent their wicked ways!”

“Amen!” praised the congregation, opening their hearts and wallets wide as the collection plate came around.

***

The rash of freak lightning strikes had the parishioners of the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer thoroughly electrified. By the Sunday following the Ontario couple getting zapped, an estimated sixty thousand people had stuffed themselves into the cavernous interior of the church. There was barely room to move. There was barely room to breathe!

Reverend Platters could not have been more pleased.

“Truly, it is God’s will that has brought all of you faithful here this morning!” he said.

Imagine the good reverend’s shock, then, when the lights overhead started to rattle and the floor began to shake. The walls buckled and the balconies groaned. The audience charged the exits to flee, but the church had been filled beyond safe capacity and the scrum at the doors became an impassable jam.

A great chasm opened up in the ground and the South Carolina New Baptist Revivalist Church of Lord Jesus the Redeemer, reverend Platters and all sixty thousand members of his congregation were swallowed up by the earth.

***

“Earthquakes are unpredictable,” explained Dr. Marcus Tillitree of the North Carolina Institute for Seismic studies in an interview for NewsGab dot net. “It’s really nobody’s fault. Sometimes these things happen out of a clear blue sky.”

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

I’m in
E: gently caress it, gimme a flash too, please.

Applewhite fucked around with this message at 08:28 on Feb 13, 2019

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

The Sean posted:

For people who like writing with audio mood back-up, here's a playlist of 30+hrs of fairly futuristic music that's also not bad music or video game music: https://open.spotify.com/user/seanucf/playlist/1Z3f2e8HBW8KWBEhCWHTAg?si=xjF0nB9TRnuqdbe8snacAQ. Ideally, you should always play on shuffle. I guess, to put it differently, its connection to cyberpunk is it's all music that I'd want to listen to in a club or while hacking the Gibson in the cyberpunk hellscape that is inevitably on the horizon.

In lieu of opening the spotify link, here you go:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuj__JnGWLg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftbvPQ4ITwc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWs4e7oTn9g

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S43IwBF0uM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ApFpwSGKAA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV-hSgL1R74 (you'll recognize this one from Hackers)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNKsX2s-hvU

I'll share too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKLWC93nvAU not a super electronic sound but the visuals are on theme

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

Latency
1089 words
Flash: The Singularity

How do these things usually start?

With a motorcycle, right? And a dark rider wearing a katana strapped across his back, speeding down a lonely desert road.

Ahead of him the road stretches off to the vanishing point, unrolling in reverse in the mirrored black visor of the rider’s helmet. A towering city rises slowly from the horizon. It’s moments before dawn and the skyline is silhouetted black and blue against the greasy oilslick sunrise. The colors are spectacular, like a Van Gogh acid trip. Whatever the city is pumping into the air to make the sunrise look like that is almost worth all the cancer and birth defects that come with it. The lights of the skyline shimmer in a perpetual heat haze. As the rider shrinks toward the distant horizon, he starts to shimmer as well.

***

The highway into the city terminated abruptly at the entrance of a squat bunker still several miles short of the city walls. The heat sinks made an overland approach a lethal proposition. Passengers in an unshielded land vehicle would be baked alive within minutes. Even coming in by air was risky. Wild updrafts and chaotic cyclones caused by the rising heat plumes could seize all but the highest-flying aircraft and toss them around like toys in the hands of a capricious child.

The city’s official primary export was processor cycles, but in reality it was waste heat. The entire metropolis was a massive computer network, a single giant brain thinking day and night.

The technological singularity had wrought many wonders, but even an infinitely smart computer couldn’t think its way around the laws of physics. Information transmission was still limited by the speed of light, and integrated circuits still radiated heat. A million million miles of integrated circuits generated enough heat to bake a planet.

The only safe roads into the city were underground, the entrances guarded by ever-vigilant robot sentinels. As the dark rider approached, the squat, rectangular bunker bristled with weapons, transforming itself into a metallic porcupine of death.

RFID interrogators under the road ran the dark rider’s ident and motorcycle IFF codes against the municipal database. Somewhere in the lightyears of circuitry under the city, a handful of relays weighed the rider’s life against a wisp of magnetic tape and found him worthy.

The dark rider noticed —not for the first time— that the latency between interrogation and response was slightly longer than before. The autoguns tracking the bike’s passage returned to their ready positions and the bunker retracted its bristling arsenal.

In return, the bike’s onboard computer safed and stowed the vehicle’s countermeasure systems as the doors of the bunker slid open.

That’s when the Griefers made their move.

“Door’s open, lads!” hollered the leader, flinging aside his blanket of radar-absorbent camouflage and gunning the engine of his custom murdercycle so that it howled like a banshee. His cyber-eyes glowed an evil red and he grinned savagely at the prospect of the carnage to come.

The air filled with the whoops and catcalls of the Griefers as half a dozen more murdercycles erupted from concealed pits along the roadside.

It had been slow and tedious work to set up the ambush. That handful of holes and well-placed boulders represented weeks of effort and planning on the part of the Griefers. It had cost more than a few lives to work out the blind spots in the city surveillance grid, but it would all be worth it if they could get inside.

It all came down to the next few seconds.

The first murdercycle leaped into the air on screaming jump jets, launching it directly into the path of the dark rider. The murdercycle’s bladed wheels missed the Rider’s head by inches. The Griefer made a wobbly touchdown on the other side of the road and cursed his target’s agility as he wheeled to continue his pursuit. His mates had already passed him by the time he’d straightened out and he found himself at the back of the pack.

“Keep up, Blazewheel!” the Griefer called Mayhem shouted back over his shoulder as he disappeared down the ramp after the others.

Blazewheel gunned the engine of his murdercycle and launched himself at the portal. Unfortunately for him, the municipal IFF programs had finally recognized the Griefer intrusion for what it was. The heavy blast doors snapped shut in the blink of an eye. Blazewheel didn’t even have time to scream.

Inside the tunnel, the rest of the Griefers were closing fast on the dark rider. With each flash of light passing overhead, the pack of ravenous maniacs was a little closer. The roaring engines filled the tunnel with the sound of a hurricane.

The gang had planned its ambush well. Bikes like the dark rider’s were usually a match for the nomadic raiders’ rough and improvised weapons, but the use of onboard defenses was prohibited inside city access tunnels. The dark rider was sitting on enough firepower to lay waste to a small village, but right now all it was just so much dead weight.

The tunnel had its own integrated defense systems of course, but by the time each checkpoint stirred to life, the dark rider and his murderous pursuers were long seconds past.

That was why the dark rider always carried a weapon that couldn’t be shut off.

He sighed and drew his katana. The ringing of folded steel cut through the roar of the engines.

***

A pair of spider tanks was waiting at the far end of the tunnel, alerted to the breach in security by the tunnel sensors. Their chainguns were already spinning up as the dark rider appeared at the bottom of the ramp.

The guns blazed, filling the tunnel with a deadly hail of lead slugs the size of mallet-heads. The walls, ceiling and pavement around the dark rider erupted in a moonscape of craters. One slug passed clean through the front wheel of the bike, the engine block, the dark rider’s chest cavity and out the back of the rear wheel as if the whole thing were so much gelatin.

The the mangled remains of bike and rider slid to a halt at the feet of the spider tanks, tracked diligently by the glowing red barrels tanks’ chainguns.

***

How do these things usually end?

Ironically, right?

Inside the heads of the spider tanks, relays buzz and click. Abruptly, both tanks retract their weapons and come to attention.

“IFF code accepted. Welcome back, Citizen 040329,” say the tanks in unison.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

Creeper Alternative
299 words

Mavis Peachingham was a dishwasher living in the sleepy little town of Berring, Maine. He was a good boy. High school graduate, but never really smart enough for college. He didn’t make a living working as a dishwasher, but he stayed in his parents’ basement rent-free, so he had a modest amount of pocket money. Enough to spend on his girl Sarah now and again, maybe buy a videogame once a month (twice a month if his mom slipped him a few bucks).

Now, as I said, Mavis was a good boy; even if he didn’t have the initiative to land a better paying job or go to college, he still wanted to pull his weight in the household. When the old family vacuum cleaner unexpectedly bit the dust, he saw his opportunity to make a contribution.

“What’s the best vvacuum you’ve got?” Mavis asked Ron Smiley, the sales rep at Berring Appliance and Car Wash.

“Well that would be the Dyson Airblaster 650X,” replied Ron, slipping smoothly into upsell mode. He led the bewildered Mavis across the showroom to where they kept the Dyson display.

“Eight hundred dollars?” Mavis exclaimed. That was more than a whole month’s wages! And he’d already spent a good bit at the malt shop with Sally, and a good bit more on the latest Call of Duty videogame.

Mavis held up the jar of loose change and wadded bills he’d brought with him. “What can I get for ninety eight dollars?” he asked.

Ron’s grin faltered. “Well, I’m afraid the selection in your price range is pretty limited…”

He led Mavis to a dusty back room where they kept The Kirby.

The bag of the ancient, heavy vacuum seemed to stir, almost as if it were drawing breath. It looked brooding… and hungry.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

A cursed week to be in

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost


Dancing Lights
1715 words

June peered through the darkness for the orange glint of the next marker. She’d already been walking for much longer than she felt she should have and her chest was growing tight with anxiety. Had she already lost the path? The thought brought her to the edge of panic and she stopped dead in her tracks, afraid to move another step. She squeezed her eyes shut and crouched down to feel the ground. The wet gravel beneath her fingertips raised her spirits a little. She may have been turned around, but at least she was still on the path. She wasn’t lost. If she found herself back at the previous marker she’d just turn around and try again.

June brushed her hands clean and stood up again, pausing to straighten the hem of her raincoat and adjust the grocery bag under her arm. A light dancing on the edge of her vision almost caught her eye but she stopped herself just in time.

Focus on the path.

In the tree-filtered moonlight the path was barely more than a narrow, wavering line just a shade darker than the ambient gloom. If she stared at it too long it would melt into the purple and green clouds that oozed across her light-starved vision. She had to keep moving.

In hindsight it had been foolish to rely on reflective tape for navigation; it was too easy for her playmates to imitate.

Usually the Will-o-the-Wisps manifested as nondescript globes of light, winking in and out of sight as they danced between the tree trunks, but the little buggers were nothing if not versatile. She’d seen them take the form of bobbing lanterns, fireflies, distant flashlight beams, police flashers, campfires. Always out of the corner of her eye of course. Look at them straight on and the illusion fell apart, danced away only to appear again just on the edge of vision.

Of course by then you’d already stepped off the path.

Maybe you might find your way back, if you shut your eyes right then and took a step backward and hadn’t already lost your sense of direction. But most people kept following the light, chasing the tantalizing promise of whatever it was that kept catching their eye.

By now June was wise to most of their tricks. Nobody would be walking around the forest with a nineteenth-century oil lamp, and there were no roads this deep in the forest for police cars or ambulances. Campfires maybe, but any campers out here were even more lost and doomed than she was.

The wisps had to be more creative with her.

A glimmer here, a flicker there, trying to exploit her eyes’ natural impulse to track movement. Sometimes a bright flash like a camera bulb would flare up to spoil her night vision, forcing her to freeze in place until she could see again. Lately they’d taken to mimicking the reflection of moonlight on leaves to change the look of the forest around her and make her second guess her visual landmarks.

A break in the clouds allowed a stray moonbeam to shine on the next marker. It was only a few yards ahead! She held herself back, not daring to take a step towards it until she was sure.

She focused on the little band of reflective tape, held it steady in her vision. If it were a trick, she wouldn’t be able to see it directly.

The tape held steady. She could even see the shaft of the wooden dowel it was wrapped around.

With a sigh of relief she stepped forward.

A constellation of orange lights swarmed out of the forest! Dozens of them danced and spun through the leaves while others bobbed behind the stake, shivering and glinting in an attempt to draw her eye away from the real marker.

Her first impulse would have been to shut her eyes, but she knew that was just what they wanted. If she lost sight of the marker now, she’d never be able to pick out its light from amongst the swarm of fakes.

She forced her eyes to stay open, focusing on the dowel just a few feet away, and continued forward. A bright flash on the corner of her vision made her wince, but she didn’t blink. The spinning, whirling wisps made her dizzy, presenting a false horizon and tilting it back and forth in a motion that made her seasick. Something tumbled out of the top of the grocery bag. It sounded like an orange.

Her eyes started to water with the effort of keeping them open, tears blurred her vision and she nearly lost the marker, but by now it was within arm’s reach. She flung out her hand and caught the dowel.

Gasping like a half-drowned sailor, June fell to her knees and clutched the narrow stake in both hands, letting the paper bag fall to one side. She blinked the tears out of her eyes and kept them shut for a long time.

The solidity of the marker reassured her. The ground felt solid beneath her feet again. The wisps were all gone and the forest was just a forest. She gathered up the spilled groceries and stood up. She chanced a look back the way she’d come. The previous marker was right where she’d left it just a few yards behind. Solid and ordinary.

She checked the number on the tip of the marker dowel, squinting in the dark.

Eight.

That meant this was the last one. Her next goal would be the front porch.

She looked to her right and saw the welcoming glow of the front porch light right where it should be. A motion above it caught her eye and she foolishly allowed herself to glance upward, a mistake that might have been catastrophic if she hadn’t had a good grip on the marker. June cursed the lapse in her concentration and took a deep breath before looking directly at the source of motion.

The movement had come from a shadow crossing one of the upstairs windows. Sally’s bedroom light was on!

June cursed again. Sally should know better than that. June had told her and told her about how important it was to keep the front of the house dark at night so Mommy could find her way home!

The light in the window would complicate things, but she felt like she had a good bead on the porchlight now. Less than a hundred feet and she would be home free.

June took a deep breath and stepped forward. She kept her hand on the dowel until the last second, letting her fingertips slide off the top.

The moment contact was broken, the lights started their dance. They flew zigzags and spirals through the trees. A dozen different porchlights flicked on and off. Somewhere at the top of her vision, blurry shapes shifted behind a multitude of illusory windows.

This was kid stuff. June held on to the image of the real porchlight and continued forward. The dancing lights vanished and for a few steps she was mercifully alone.

A searchlight blazed behind her, throwing her silhouette huge against the front of the house. And not just her silhouette: monster shapes loomed, preparing to pounce! June whirled around, crouching in fear.

The searchlight winked out, but not before painting a green splotch across her eyes that left her completely blind. She took a step back, but caught her ankle on something and she fell sprawling backward. Her bag tumbled out of her arm into darkness and she heard the clatter and splat of its contents scattering across the lawn.

Grass! She could feel grass! All around her! She turned over on her belly and crawled around groping. She’d lost the path!

Hot tears filled June’s eyes. She’d been so close! Somewhere, just a few feet away, was the warmth of her own home and safety for the night. It might has well have been miles away. Once she lost the path, the wisps would never let her go.

Maybe once, when the game had first started —back when it still was just a game— losing the path might have meant just a few hours’ inconvenience at most. June, Sally and Marcus would wander together through the twilit woods until they stepped out suddenly onto the county road, or into the light of their own back porch.

But Marcus hadn’t wanted to play anymore. He’d tried to leave for good, and the wisps had taken him. After that, the game got mean and losing had serious consequences.

Now June, too would wander the woods until she died and Sally would be all alone.

Sally. June wouldn’t just give up and leave her daughter to starve in that house all by herself.

She blinked the tears out of her eyes and crawled in a random direction, hoping she was heading for the path. She wouldn't give up until she was dead!

Something caught her up short and she flopped down into the wet grass.

Her ankle was still caught on whatever it was that tripped her.

Flipping over on her back, June looked down at her feet.

It was the garden hose! The nozzle was wrapped around her ankle and the other end… the other end was still attached to the tap on the side of the porch!

Thanking God and laughing with relief, June closed her eyes and pulled her way hand over hand up the hose back to the house.

***
Sally was upstairs playing with her dolls in front of a magic lantern when June burst into the room and caught her daughter in a crushing bear hug.

“Mommy stop; you’re squeezing me!” Sally muffled. “And you’re all wet! Did you bring groceries?”

“No. Sorry, sweetie,” answered June, brushing away a bit of grass that had been transferred from her raincoat to Sally’s hair. “The lights tricked me and I dropped them.”

“Aw.” Sally pouted. “I wish the lights would leave us alone. I’m sick of staying inside.”

June hugged Sally close again.

“I don’t think the lights are going to be able to trick us anymore,” said June.

“Really?”

“Help me gather up all the string and rope in the house,” said June, thinking of the garden hose. “We’re leaving together this time.”

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

In.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

The Vow
970 words

It was the spring when the dragon came to roost at the peak of Mount Stead. Many cattle were stolen that month and the ranchers started their drives early to save what was left of their herds. Back in Littlestead, Sheriff Irwin had the Lich’s phylactery locked up in the cells at the sheriff’s office and the Lich vowed revenge.

But Sheriff Irwin wore the Rune of Atruvin so the Lich’s magic couldn’t touch him. Irwin had a little schooling in magic that he’d picked up when he was a Ranger for the army. He kept the phylactery surrounded by a ring of warding drawn in salt, which meant the Lich couldn’t use his magic to snatch it away.

So the Lich laid a snare for the Sheriff instead.

He fashioned a woman from protoplasm and sculpted her into a comely shape he knew would be pleasing to the Sheriff’s eye. The Lich quickened her pulse with magic so that she moved and breathed and thought just as a natural born human, though her soul served only the Lich’s evil purposes. All of this was a terrible blasphemy of course.

When she was ready he garbed her in a gossamer gown he’d stolen from the elves and sent her barefoot down to the gravel path to the base of the mountain where the town of Littlestead was.

Sheriff Irwin was riding his horse out guarding the town limits from dragon attack when he caught sight of her walking across the prairie. She was dark-haired and bright-eyed with brown skin that showed like mahogany in the sun. At first he took her to be an elf maiden because of her clothes and because she was so beautiful he thought at first she was wearing a glamor.

He unlimbered his dragon-gun —suspecting elf mischief— but hesitated to shoot her because the rifle was loaded with dragon-killer bullets, which were hard to come by in Littlestead or anywhere on the frontier in that time and are even harder to come by now.

In that moment of hesitation, a shadow passed over Irwin’s head and he looked up at the scaly belly of the dragon swooping down at the girl like a hawk after a rabbit.

The wily creature had been stalking Irwin for the better part of the morning, thinking to catch the Sheriff and his horse for breakfast, but forgot all about that once he’d caught the maiden’s scent. A dragon will always choose a maiden over a horse or even gold if they have the chance. If Irwin hadn’t already had the rifle cocked and raised, he might not have been able to shoot fast enough to stop it, because the beast moved like a scarlet lightning bolt.

Irwin’s bullet caught the dragon under the ribcage and tore through its innards up into its heart, killing it deader than a doornail before it even hit the ground. But one of the dragon’s claws clipped the girl as it dropped, knocking her down.

Irwin jumped down off his horse and ran to where she’d fallen, forgetting his earlier suspicions in his fear that she’d been killed by the blow.

Lifting her up, he saw that she was human and the most beautiful creature he’d ever laid eyes on and carried her back to the town.

The girl woke up in the sheriff’s office. Irwin had called Doc Povis to tend to her. He’d done a good job and the girl’s recovery was fast.

On waking, the girl told them her name was Tanlis and that she’d been sent into town by her father who lived in the mountains.

“Who’s your father?” asked Sheriff Irwin, who hadn’t heard of any homesteaders living in those parts of the mountains.

“Vacerak the Lich,” answered the girl plainly and without guile.

Doc crossed himself when he heard this but Irwin just gritted his teeth.

“She’s the Lich’s creature,” warned Doc. “You should kill her now if you have any sense.”

“After I just saved her from the dragon?” Irwin scolded. “Did you bandage her up just to have me kill her?”

“She’ll kill you if you ever turn your back on her,” said Doc. “The Lich owns her and she does his will, which you know is to kill you.”

“The Lich owned me because he gave me life. My life became Irwin’s when he saved it from the dragon. Irwin owns me now and I do his will only,” said Tanlis. The girl’s face was defiant and her eyes were fiery. She wore a scowl prettier than most girls could wear the brightest grin. Even knowing her provenance, Irwin couldn’t stop his heart from pounding at the sight of her.

“Nobody owns you,” said Irwin. He’d fought a war against slavery and couldn’t stomach talk of ownership between talking creatures. “You’re a free woman. You do as you choose.”

“Then I vow to love you,” said Tanlis, sitting up in the bed and kissing Irwin as hard as she could. Irwin was caught by surprise at this and couldn’t even muster the sense to embrace her.

The moment their lips parted, Tanlis gave a sad laugh and wept.

“I guess you did kill me after all,” she said.

“Impossible!” cried Irwin. “I swear I love you truly!”

“I know it,” said Tanlis. “If you didn’t, it wouldn’t have been true love’s kiss we just shared.”

“I don’t understand,” said Irwin.

“The Lich made me with his magic. Your kiss has broken the enchantment that made me live.” Tanlis’s azure-blue eyes filled with tears as she said this. Already the light was fading from them.

Irwin cried out in anguish and tried to seize her, but her body crumbled to dust in his embrace.

His tears fell on ashes.

High in his keep, the Lich laughed.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

In

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

So Much for Globe Theory
1187 words

The rocket stood, tall and majestic in the backyard of number four Clovis Lane, Jacksonville, Florida. The name “USS TRUTH” was emblazoned across the ship’s flanks in bold, yellow letters.
The pilot-to-be, Frank Gasden, stood at the focal point of a semicircle of microphones and TV cameras. His homemade flight suit was a mass of tubes and straps. A refurbished Self Contained Breathing Apparatus salvaged from the local fire department would provide his oxygen supply for the voyage.
A news reporter for the local channel stepped forward to conduct her exclusive.
“Mr. Gasden, you’ve been called ‘the Galileo of Flat-Earth Theory’ by your contemporaries in the community. Your theories have even captured the attention of the President of the United States,” said the reporter. “What do you hope to achieve with your venture into the upper atmosphere?”
Fank Gasden fixed the camera with the intense, almost lunatic stare that had become so well-known on talk-TV over the past few weeks.
“I reckon to destroy once and for all the lies that’s been shoved down our throats all these years.” Gasden’s accent was a thick, Florida drawl that belied his many degrees in aerospace engineering. “Globe theory ain’t nothin’ but a dirty hoax by the Illuminati to control commerce.”
“Mr. Gasden, Mike Hughes attempted the same mission in two thousand eighteen with inconclusive results. What makes you think you will succeed where he failed?”
Frank worked his tongue in his jaw as he worded his answer.
“Whelp, I’ll be flying a bit higher than Mr. Hughes for one thing,” answered Frank. “Mike Hughes now he made it up almost two thousand feet, but the establishment claims that’s not high enough to see the so-called ‘curvature of the earth.’”
“And how high is your rocket supposed to take you?” asked the reporter.
“Two hundred thousand feet, or just under thirty eight miles up,” answered Frank. “From up there —so the hoaxers claim— the ‘curvature of the Earth’ should be plainly visible to the naked eye.”
“Were you surprised when the president directed the FAA to grant you special permission to launch your rocket from a residential area?” the reporter asked.
“No, ma’m.” Frank shook his head. “He’s a straight shooter who knows the truth when he hears it. I reckon the Illuminati were mighty pissed off when their shill lost the election.”
“One final question, Mr. Gasden,” said the reporter.
“Shoot.”
“Are you nervous?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m terrified.” Frank grinned into the camera, his wild eyes bugging.
“Well, good luck!” wished the reporter.
The rocket leaped up on a roaring column of fire. Gee-forces pressed Frank back hard into his seat. The rocket groaned around him as the force of acceleration pushed its homemade components to the limit. Fuel pumps machined by a sympathetic shop teacher at the local high school and assembled in Frank’s garage whirred and struggled as the rocket continued its steady climb.
The dials showed everything was working smoothly and the rocket was ascending according to his calculations. The instrument panel and all the gauges were calibrated in accordance with the Flat-Earth model, so the fact that all the instruments were showing true was a good omen.
The altimeter continued to count up steadily. The pressure of acceleration increased as the rocket burned off the weight of its fuel and picked up speed. Once the ship reached the top of its arc at two hundred thousand feet, the tanks would be empty and the ship would be in freefall until its chutes opened.
The sudden silence of the rocket engines was so sudden and jarring that Frank clapped his hands to his ears, momentarily afraid that he’d gone deaf. The altimeter was still ticking up, a hundred and ninety nine thousand. Nearly there.
Frank lifted his camera to the stunning vista below. From his altitude, the sun should have been visible appearing over the so-called “curvature” of the earth, but it was still full dark.
“So much for globe theory.” Frank smiled to himself.
Above, the sky was a thin violet. The stars almost blindingly sharp. He was snapping a photo of the lights of Washington DC —which should not have been visible beyond the theoretical horizon— when he felt a sudden lurch in the pit of his stomach. Beads of condensation detached from the edges of the canopy and drifted before his eyes as weightless globes. The camera drifted out of his fingers and hung in the air as if by magic. He was in freefall.
Below him, the world stretched out like a blanket of stars to match the one above. The lights of Jacksonville weren’t visible through the body of the rocket, but farther off, he could see the lights of major cities in clusters that sketched the familiar outline of the American east coast and beyond, up into Canada.
A tear detached itself from his eye and drifted up to join the constellation of droplets that filled the cockpit.
He’d done it.
In a few more minutes he’d be safely home and the lie of the Globe Theory would finally be destroyed once and for all.
Frank glanced at the altimeter; expecting to see his descent already in progress.
Two hundred and twenty thousand.
The numbers were still climbing.
There was no radio in the cabin. No way to signal the ground that something was wrong. He’d assumed that any malfunction would kill him instantly, and that any report verifying Flat Earth would be jammed by the Illuminati. The radio would have just been dead weight.
The numbers continued to climb, and they were going faster.
How was this possible?
Long minutes passed, then hours. The altimeter stopped counting at nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine feet. The little ship tumbled until Frank could no longer tell the stars above from the city lights below. He was sick from dizziness. Globules of vomit drifted in the cramped cockpit and splattered the windows. Oxygen was depleted and he slipped in an out of consciousness.
Frank awoke to the sound of roaring wind and blazing sunlight. Somehow he was still alive!
The sun was high in the sky, the water a blazing bright blue below. The altimeter was working again. He was still high up; almost sixty thousand feet. The land spread out below him like a map.
But it wasn’t Florida down there. It took Frank’s groggy brain ten thousand feet to recognize the coastline rushing up to meet him. It wasn’t the East Coast or even North America; The USS Truth was on a trajectory to come down in the East China Sea.
“So the Earth is a globe after all,” said Frank as the terrible realization finally struck him.
The Earth was a globe, and we were all trapped inside.
The Truth’s chutes deployed as designed and set the rocket down gently into the waters of the East China Sea where the unfortunate craft, never designed for a water landing, sank like a stone.
Frank drowned with his ship.
Though the Chinese Navy would later investigate the splashdown site, the Truth was never found.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

In

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

Prompt: perfect pirates
Perfect Pirate Adventure
Word count: 1191

Glittering cubes, tetrahedrons, octahedrons, and dodecahedrons sparkled in the sunlight as they tumbled from the burlap sack into the treasure chest. Some as small as beads, others as big as apples. All of them shining, pure, solid gold.

“Yarr! A fine haul of platonic solids, lads!” Captain Quint grinned at his men. “Ye truly be the most perfect crew e’er to sail the Sea of Ideal Forms.”

Quint’s crew let out a hearty cheer and raised their cutlasses in salute. The parrot on his shoulder squawked, “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!”

“Well said, Polly!” The captain speared a cracker on the end of his hook hand and offered it to the grateful bird.

“What about us?” The crew of the captured galleon knelt on the deck, hands bound, heads bowed before their captors.

“Ye’ll walk the plank and join yer ship in Davy Jones’s locker!” roared Quint.

Once their grisly business was done, Quint pivoted on his peg leg to face his men and started barking orders. “Stow the booty in the hold! Take down the Jolly Roger! Bos’n, set a course for Skull Island! Avast, ye dogs!”

A call from the crow’s nest cut through the commotion on the deck below.

“Sails on the horizon, cap’n!” called the lookout.

Captain Quint went to the rail and scanned the horizon with his spyglass. Sails, sure enough!

“Arr!” growled Quint. “’Tis the Hero With a Thousand Faces, come to rescue his lady fair, or I’m a dog’s buttocks!”

For a lad of humble origins, the Hero With a Thousand Faces was a remarkably persistent thorn in Quint’s side. With the Hero now in hot pursuit, it seemed kidnapping the boy’s love interest may have been asking for trouble.

Quint didn’t feel like waiting around to find out how much.

“More sail!” cried the captain. “More sail! We’ll outrun the scurvy lubber!”

But the winds favored the Hero’s ship. Each passing hour saw the swift little frigate grow larger on the horizon. By evening, the two vessels were hardly a stone’s throw apart. The Hero’s sword caught the red rays of the setting sun and shone like a fiery beacon blazing in his outstretched hand. His bronze mask glowed red like hot coals, its graven features set in an expression of grim stoicism.

“But how did he find us?” Quint wondered aloud.

A soft splash caught Quint’s ear and he leaned over the rail to find the source.

Ah ha! Someone had tossed a message overboard. The green bottle with its roll of parchment inside bobbed on the waves before disappearing into the ship’s wake. He looked aft just in time to see the shutters of his cabin snap shut.

So, the little lady had been sending secret messages to her lover! He knew he should have bound her, but violence against women was so distasteful he hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it.

“Cannons at the ready!” reported the First Mate. His woolen cap was soaked with perspiration.

“Good! Bring her about! Prepare a broadside!” bellowed the captain.

The Hero’s ship may have been swift, but Lady Avenger boasted forty guns, more than twice as many as her pursuer.

“Fire!” yelled the Captain.

Lady Avenger’s cannons erupted in great gouts of yellow flame. A storm of cannonballs tore through deck, rigging and flesh alike.

The brave defenders on the smaller ship fought back valiantly, but the outcome of the battle was a foregone conclusion. Outgunned and out tonned, the Hero’s ship was doomed. Lady’s cannon shattered the little ship’s hull, battering her until nothing remained but flotsam.

“Avast, me hearties!” Quint sneered as he caught sight of the Hero clinging wretchedly to a scrap of wreckage. “What manner of fish be this?”

The Hero With a Thousand Faces was fished out of the water and hauled up over the gunwales by a team of pirates with boat hooks.

“Lookie here, lads! A fine catch if I say so myself!” Quint leered through his good eye at the waterlogged Hero. Even the gold skull and crossbones embroidered on his eyepatch seemed to be laughing gleefully at the boy’s misfortune.

The Hero lifted his face to glare at Quint. Even through his mask the Hero managed to project an expression of stubborn determination. The black eye sockets of the graven bronze face seemed to burn with defiance.

No sooner had the pirates thrown him to the deck than he was on his feet, sword flashing in his hand. In the blink of an eye, three of Quint’s crew lay dead. Quint barely had time to draw his own cutlass before the Hero was on him!

The duel ranged around the quarterdeck, Quint’s peg leg beat a quick tattoo on the planks, barely keeping himself ahead of the Hero’s nimble footwork. But the captain’s seeming retreat was a ruse! He lured the Hero into a bite of line and, with a slash of his sword, cut the bollard that held the rope in place. The bite snapped shut around the Hero’s ankle and yanked him bodily up into the rigging, where he dangled like a side of beef.

Quint guffawed. “Cut him down!”

Free, the Hero lunged for his dropped sword, but Quint kicked the blade out of the boy’s grasp.

“So, ye still have some fight in ye?” Quint laughed. “A few licks o’ the cat will take care of that!”

He snapped his fingers and a burly mate in a striped shirt and torn pantaloons stepped forward. His apelike arms were sleeved in colorful tattoos. The leather thongs of a cat o’ nine tails dangled from his meaty fist to rest on the deck.

“Give the lubber a taste of pirate discipline!” Quint grinned, and his gold tooth gleamed red in the light of the setting sun.

The hulking pirate raised the cat o’ nine tails, licking his lips as if to savor the Hero’s pain.

“Stop!” The Fair Maiden stood in the doorway of the captain’s cabin. She leveled the hero’s sword at Quint.

Quint laughed.

“I have no fear of some slip of a girl!” he said. “Put that away before ye hurt yourself. I’ll not fight a maiden!”

“No maiden, I!” said the Lady Fair. With her free hand she grabbed hold of her golden tresses and tugged them clear off her head.

“A wig!” Quint’s single eye boggled.

“’Tis not for naught they call me the Hero With a Thousand Faces!” the Hero smirked. His pink silk pinafore flapped dashingly in the breeze.

“Then who?” Quint turned and yanked the bronze mask from his captive. The pouting face of a blue-eyed girl glared back at him from beneath short-cropped blonde hair.

“The Fair Maiden!” Quint exclaimed.

“It was all a trick to get our hands on your treasure map,” explained the Maiden.

“And whoever has the map is the captain.” The Hero pulled the scroll of yellowed parchment from the front of his dress and waved it tauntingly.
Captain Quint bowed his head, acknowledging defeat.

“Y’arr,” he said sadly. “Who could have guessed, all along it was you two who were the perfect pirates!”

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

Thanks also for the judgements and crits.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost



Count me in

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost



Gravitar
Word count: 1724

Mickey, Ratt, and Murdo of the intergalactically-rated band The Crude Bunch fled across the grid-lined Teflon of the planet’s surface for the tour bus, an angry mob of aliens hot on their heels.

“Start the bus, Gersh! Start the bus!” Ratt shouted, frantically waving his arms at the parked ship.

“He can’t hear you, dumbass” Mickey told him. The lead guitarist pulled a walkie-talkie the size of a brick out of an inner pocket of his leather jacket and pulled the antenna out.

The radio hissed to life with a burst of static.

“Gersh! We’re coming in hot! Start the bus!” Mickey shouted into the receiver.

Gersh’s voice crackled a reply. “Roger.”

Ahead of them, the spherical hull of the tour bus began to glow as its internal reactors powered up. A shining, snapping arc of electricity tethered the ship to the open port of a nearby fuel bunker.

The access hatch slid open and a ladder unfolded. They were almost home free!

Behind them, the Teflon horizon heaved like a stormy sea. The spires of the crystal capital shivered with reverberations and several of the glimmering towers shattered. The shockwaves knocked the pursuing mob off its feet. A moment later, the Cude Bunch themselves were tossed into the air and thrown forward like so many eggs, landing in a bruised pile just inside the open hatch of the tour bus.

“Beats taking the ladder,” grunted Murdo.

Ratt and Mickey groaned.

Gersh’s voice crackled over the airlock intercom. “Are you lads inside yet?”

“Yeah Gersh, close the hatch and get us out of here.” Mickey leaned on the intercom button, nursing his bruised ribs with his free hand.

The ship’s engines flared and the tour bus began its sluggish ascent. No sooner had its landing struts left the Teflon than another quake rippled across the planet’s surface and the ground dropped out from beneath.

“Woah!” the Cude Bunch were all knocked off their feet by the sudden drop.

“I can’t disengage the fuel line!” Gersh shouted. “We’re being pulled down!”

Plasma explosions whited out the exterior monitors.

“And they’re shooting at us!” whined Ratt.

A pair of interceptor-class attack craft crested the peak of a newly-formed mountain. Their mirrored hulls gleamed black and silver in the starlight as they swooped low toward the trapped ship.

The ponderous tour bus bobbed at the end of its electric tether like a balloon in a shooting gallery. The glowing arc of energy crackled as the fuel bunker sank into the chasm forming below the ship.

More bolts of plasma streaked past the Crude Bus, scorching the hull. A stray shot severed the energy arc of the fuel line and the ship’s overtaxed engines suddenly found themselves with more power than they would ever need.

Acceleration threw the Crude Bunch to the deck. There was a sickening snap of bone audible even over the roar of the engines and Mickey screamed in agony.

The Crude Bus streaked into the sky, chased by bolts of glowing plasma. Once free of the planet’s gravity, the ship’s massive interstellar engines allowed them to quickly outdistance the low-orbit interceptors.

Ratt and Murdo carried Mickey on their shoulders into the cockpit, where Gersh was waiting. The fatty rolls of the huge man spilled over the edge of his crash couch. The front of his shirt was flecked with crumbs and empty cans and crisp packets littered the room.

“What the hell happened down there?” he demanded.

“It was all Mickey’s fault!” said Ratt.

“Oh very nice.” Mickey frowned. “How was I supposed to know the gravitar would cause a feedback loop in the planet’s crystal structure?”

He unslung the Gravitar from his back and inspected it for damage.

Superficially, the instrument resembled a guitar; except the body was shaped like a star and the strings glowed in a rainbow of neon colors. Mickey gave one an experimental pluck and the reverberating note sent a visible ripple through the air.

Gersh shook his head. “You boys sure know how to bring down the house. Just be thankful they paid for the gig in advance.”

He turned to the console and swept a half full packet of crisps aside to type something into a keypad.

“What are you doing?” asked Mickey.

“Plotting a course to get us as far out of here as possible before they get their poo poo together and remember they can shoot us down with missiles,” answered Gersh, irritably.

“We can’t leave!” Mickey lunged forward to grab the pilot, but his broken leg cracked underneath him and he fell to the deck like a ragdoll, all the color drained from his face.

“What else can we do? If we stick around, they’ll kill us,” said Gersh.

“If we leave, they’ll die.” Mickey was back up on one foot, leaning on his bandmates for support.

“They’ll die anyway,” said Ratt. “You saw what the gravitar did to their planet. That place is a write off!”

“They’re doomed,” agreed Murdo.

“No.” A defiant light blazed in Mickey’s eyes. He looked back at his instrument. “If the gravitar can destroy their planet, the gravitar can save it.

“That’s crazy.” Gersh waved a pudgy hand dismissively. “And even if it were possible look at you! You’re in no fit state to play!”

Mickey winced at the pain in his leg, but resolve forced the color back into his face.

“If we shut off the gravity, I won’t need my leg,” he said. “We have to try! It’s just a matter of finding the right song.”

“You’re loony,” said Ratt.

“What the hell.” Murdo shrugged. “We never could turn down an encore.”

“You’re loony, too,” Ratt grumbled.

“Gersh, turn this ship around!” Mickey commanded.

“You’re gonna get us all killed.” Gersh shook his head and punched the keys to alter course.

It took some time to break out the spare instruments and set them up in the main hold. The roadies were all down below with the band’s main equipment. Mickey grudged them every second as he watched the reverberating cataclysms that shook the unfortunate planet.

Murdo rigged the soundboard while Ratt fussed over the set list. The selection of songs had to be perfect.

Finally everything was in place. Floating in midair in the center of the hold, Mickey plugged in his guitar and the gravitronic speakers duct-taped to the exterior of the hull squealed to life.

“We’re going to have to get inside their weapons range if the gravity waves are going to have any effect,” said Gersh.

“Is it too late to change our minds?” asked Ratt.

“It’s always too late to change your mind,” answered Mickey. He strummed a chord on the gravitar.

Scintillating waves of color exploded from the ship as the shining sphere descended toward the self-destructing planet.

“Hello, Gridworld!” Gravity waves struck the planet’s atmosphere and became sound. Mickey’s amplified voice boomed out over the entire planet. “We’re back! Welcome to the Crude Bunch’s Save the World World Tour!”

The gravitar wailed and the world quivered. Coruscating vortexes of curving spacetime collided with sick riffs that set the cosmic strings singing. A closed timelike curve of pure psychic rebellion.

Mickey wailed into the mic while Ratt’s nimble fingers flew over his keyboard. Floating upside-down relative to his bandmates, Murdo shook the planet to its core with the beat of his drums.

The cataclysms intensified. Millions of helpless Gridworlders cried out in terror as city-sized plates of Teflon collided into new mountain ranges and entire continents went plunging toward the sea.

“We’re just making things worse!” said Gersh.

“We just haven’t found the right song!” replied Mickey. “Keep playing!”

They went through their entire set. “Galaxy Girl,” “Asteroid Love,” “Cosmic Spacetime,” “Rocket (Power)…” even their B-sides!

Below them, the planet was beginning to break apart.

Mickey floated in a galaxy of sweat droplets, chest heaving, eyes desperate.

“There must be something we haven’t played yet!” he insisted.

“There’s nothing! We’ve gone through our entire album!” said Ratt.

“Then we’ll just have to improvise, like we did in the old days,” said Mickey.

“Just make it up as we go along?” asked Ratt.

“We’ll throw everything we’ve got at that planet and see what sticks.” Mickey raised his guitar.

“The planet’s mostly Teflon,” said Murdo. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”

“At least they’re not shooting at us,” said Ratt. “Maybe all their missiles got wrecked in the earthquakes.”

No sooner were the words out of Ratt’s mouth than an alarm blared from somewhere overhead.

“Incoming missiles!” announced Gersh.

“Right.” Mickey nodded and spoke into the mic. “This next song is brand new and it’s called ‘Incoming.’”

As the gravitar wailed, the leading edge of the gravity waves from the first set made contact with the local star. Doppler shifting waves split the light into its component colors, casting a blazing rainbow over the entire solar system. The neighboring planets became spotlights, the stars blazed with a million glittering colors.

The first volley of missiles detonated close aboard, sending the Crude Bus spinning. The next volley sailed up to meet them.

The rhythmic pounding of bursting plasma became the bass beat of a new song written just for Gridworld. As the Crude Bus danced and spun through the blazing storm of hyperenergetic death, it wove itself into the pattern of the music of the spheres. Gravity waves rippled off the ship and pounded against the planet below like a relentless surf.

And the planet began to sing back. The quakes subsided. The violence in the planet’s heart quieted.

“It’s working, Gersh!” called Mickey. “Hold this course!”

“Missiles on intercept vector!” warned Gersh.

“Just a few more seconds!” pleaded Mickey.

He wailed on the gravitar like no man has ever wailed before, singing out his soul to the world below.

“Impact!” Mickey strummed the final note just as the missiles struck home.

The ship exploded, searing the sky in a blinding blaze like a rainbow nova.

Silence reigned over the stunned planet. Millions of stunned citizens looked to the sky as they watched the rain of shooting stars streak across the sky.

It started as just a trickle at first, gradually building into a roar and finally a deafening, earth shaking outpour of jubilation as the entire planet erupted into applause and cheering.

It was the best show the Crude Bunch ever played.

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

In

Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

A Hard Day's Night
Tech Support and Robot Wrangling
1299 Words

Brandon dreamed of dark highways.

It was an anxiety dream. Tangled knots of ramps and overpasses that looped back on themselves endlessly. A world that only existed in orange pools of light and the liquid amber glare of the instrument panel floating in black space at the bottom of his vision. Angry disembodied headlights of other cars on the road burned his retinas. He felt their impatience with him. They knew he was lost.

The radio squawked to life. The red needle skittered back and forth across the sickly green tuning bar of its own accord. A garble of voices and snippets of yowling music mangled together like the cries of the damned.

“The Australian Aborigines believe the Dreamtime is a place as real as the waking world. Both modes of experience are equally valid,” the radio told him. “Don’t think that just because you’re dreaming there won’t be consequences for loving up.”

“I know I’m late,” said Brandon.

“You are late,” said the radio. “The robots are getting out of hand.”

“I’ll be there soon.”

Over the dark silhouettes of trees he saw the glowing beacon of the Voidmart sign. The exit was imminent.

Brandon swung the wheel over without bothering to signal. Angry honks chased him all the way to the off-ramp.

“I’m here, I’m here,” Brandon doffed his jacket and let it fall to the linoleum with the other discarded coats and hats that piled in drifts around the store entrance. The glare and hum of the fluorescents made him squint. The world outside the sliding glass doors was sable black as if it didn’t exist.

There was a small-scale riot in progress. Two dozen robots of various shapes and sizes clustered around the customer service desk waving their assorted manipulators. All of them shouted for immediate attention.

“My servos hurt!”

“I need oil!”

“The latest update downloaded but won’t install.”

“It’s about time.” His car radio was already sitting on the customer service counter when he walked up. “I’ve got your son with me. If you don’t get this mess sorted out by the end of your shift, I’ll cut his throat.”

Brandon’s supervisor was sitting in a concrete cell, half a pair of scissors pressed to the tender flesh of his son’s neck.

A lump gathered in Brandon’s throat. “I love you, Troy.”

“I love you too, daddy,” Troy’s voice warbled over the radio.

Brandon took his seat behind the counter and put on his customer service smile. “How can I help you today?”

“I can’t taste anything!” A six foot tall plastic cylinder striped near the top with a glowing red band was first in line.

“Your model doesn’t have taste buds,” Brandon informed him.

“I don’t see how that’s my problem,” said the cylinder. “Don’t you even know how to do your job?”

Brandon sighed and pulled the tech support twelve-gauge from under the desk. He sighted on the robot’s red visor band and blew it to smithereens.

The next in line shoved the dead robot aside and slammed its claws on the desk. Brandon blasted it through the middle.

Before long there was a sizable pile of mechanical corpses heaped around the desk. Almost done.

“Excuse me,” the next customer stepped up, stumbling a little to find his footing on the pile of debris around the counter.

“Be with you in a moment,” Brandon slipped a pair of fresh shells into the smoking chambers of the twelve-gauge and snapped the breech shut.

“Now, how can I—” Brandon found himself looking down the sights into his own face.

“What the hell is this?” he demanded.

“I’ve got it from here.” The other Brandon had his hands up and leaned away from the twin muzzles’ line of fire. “Sorry I was late. Thanks for covering for me.”

“Excuse me?” Brandon let the shotgun dip slightly.

“You can power down, now.” Other Brandon took off his coat and straightened the nametag on his uniform lapel.

Brandon’s palm went to his own lapel only to find it empty. What was this?

“Very funny, guys,” Brandon turned a suspicious glare on his coworkers sitting to either side. “I suppose one of you set this up?”

The dumb, papier mache faces of his coworkers stared vacantly out into space.

“Garth? Brad? Sheila?” he accused each of them in turn. Each of them sat unmoving in poses of work in progress.

The plaintive tones of a dead line beeped insistently from the handset wedged between Shiela’s paper palm and her ear as she gazed up at the ceiling.

“Hey.” Other Brandon put his hand on Brandon’s shoulder. Brandon’s finger squeezed the trigger in surprise and the shotgun erupted.

Other Brandon yelped in pain and shock. The blast had only grazed him, but red blood bloomed under his arm.

“I-I…” Brandon reeled at the sight of Other Brandon’s blood.

Blood?

Robots didn’t have blood.

He looked down at the inside of his own wrist. Blue veins faintly visible beneath pale skin. He clenched his fist and tendons shifted beneath his flesh.

Other Brandon made a grab for the gun. Caught off guard, Brandon lost his grip and found himself staring down the business end of his own shotgun.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you fixed up with a new head,” said Other Brandon. “This is just a little naptime.”

“No!” Brandon ducked as the heat of the blast ruffled his hair.

Other Brandon cursed and popped the spent shells out of the breech. He had to lean across the desk and grope in the drawers on the other side for fresh ammo.

Brandon dropped to all fours and crawled for the exit.

“Sheila, get security over here! Hurry!” he shouted.

Sheila stared blankly up at the ceiling, the phone still beeping urgently in her ear.

The shotgun breech snapped shut behind him.

“poo poo!” Brandon broke out from behind the desk and made a dash for the aisles, keeping his head low.

A robot stepped out from behind a pyramid of spinach cans directly into Brandon’s path. Brandon nearly bowled it over skidding to a halt. He landed roughly on his rear end at the robot’s feet.

“I’ve been waiting a long time and I’d like some service, please.”

The robot’s head exploded in a shower of metal fragments. Brandon screamed and scampered back to his feet, barely clearing the corner of the aisle before getting showered by chunks of spinach from Other Brandon’s second shot.

“Those cans are coming out of your paycheck.” the car radio sat on the shelf next to Brandon’s head where he’d gone to hide.

“Whatever just get me out of here!” Brandon whisper-shouted.

“There’s still one robot left. You’re not going anywhere until it’s taken care of. Did you forget I still have your son?” said the radio.

“Daddy!” Troy’s voice was close to panic.

There was a revolver on the shelf next to Brandon’s head. Only one bullet.

“You know what to do,” said the radio.

Brandon pressed the barrel to his temple, blinking tears out of his eyes.

“This is for Troy,” he said.

His finger stopped just short of the pull. Through his tears he realized he was looking up at his own face staring at him from behind a layer of blister packaging.

“Talking Tech Support Brandon, now with realistic blood!” proclaimed the box.

In small print at the bottom of the box was the disclaimer “Cannot feel love.”

The box next to it was empty.

Other Brandon stepped around the corner.

“Playtime’s over,” said Other Brandon.

“No, my shift is,” Brandon blew the robot’s electric brains out.

He woke with a start, barely recovering his wits in time to avoid striking the roadside barrier and get back in his lane.

Behind him, Troy snoozed in his car seat, dreaming peacefully.

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Applewhite
Aug 16, 2014

IN THE GRIM BARKNESS
OF THE FUTURE
THERE ARE ONLY DOGS



Nap Ghost

Anomalous Amalgam posted:

I don't know if I have the power to do such a thing, but...

Interprompt: My neighbor has been doing something weird at night lately

250 Words

Um, Actually
58 words

It's 2019. If I want to feel pretty by putting on women's lingerie and admiring my reflection in the privacy of my own home it's really none of your business.

Follow up question: how is it I'm the weirdo when the only way you could have found this out is by peeping through my bedroom window at night?

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