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magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

My new year's resolution is to write more, so IN and I'd like to be given a line please!

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magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

The Whiz of The 'Whiz

642 words

Line: (Get crazy with the cheese whiz)


I was ten years old the first time the ‘whiz showed me the future. The scene: Morning, a breakfast nook in a pleasantly generic suburban home, sunshine slipping in through the windows to give everything a warm, vaguely unreal glow. Mother in the kitchen in the sharp, battle-ready lines of a business suit, a perfume ghost, passing on the blessing, “have a great day at school”, to which I nodded once in solemn acknowledgement. I reached for the jar of cheese-whiz on the kitchen table, dipped the butter knife in, and spread it on my toast with machine-like efficiency. I had just raised the meal to my lips in preparation for a bite when I noticed something that made me pause and return the toast to my plate.

The ridges and whorls of the spread out sauce seemed to stand sharply against the background of plain white bread, and if I unfocused my eyes just a little, like I did when trying to find shapes in clouds, I could see a crude series of images, the shifting between one scene and the next taking on the effect of the primitive flipbook doodles every bored kid in algebra is familiar with. The scene revolved around a place I knew well. The only crosswalk I needed to cross in order to get from home to school. As I watched, a figure attempted to cross, only to get blindsided by a van speeding through the lights. I watched this bad looney tunes pantomime more times than I’d like to admit, each cycle driving a revelation deeper and deeper into my mind.
The figure was me.

I tilted my toast toward the light, trying to see if the image was produced by some kind of trick or hidden lens, but finding none, I returned to staring at my toast with a puzzled frown. There was no one I could turn to for help. Both parents had left for work and I had no caretaker. I could have perhaps called the police but I doubted they’d believe me. After some deliberation, I finished my breakfast, cleaned up, and set off for school.

The crosswalk appeared to my young mind to be unusually active, and I could feel my heart hammering in my ribcage as I waited for the light to change. As the light flashed green, I started to step, but the memory of what I had seen in my breakfast gave me pause. I stopped after just two steps, reluctant to go further. A red streak barreled into the space I had stood in moments before. My head swam. It had all happened as the cheesy prophecy fortold.
The school day passed slowly as I agonized over the implications of my near death experience. Had it indeed been a piece of fromage foresight, or perhaps just the beginnings of some more sinister hallucination? I returned home from school, my mind aflame with a myriad of questions.

In time, I learned to make my peace with the magic cheese sauce, using it to solve small mysteries around the house, and once years after this event, correctly guessing the murderer of a prominent oil magnate in town, which earned me both early reprieve from the fellow’s convoluted post-death puzzles, and more to the point, a large purse which I used to pay my way through a food sciences education at the local college. I cannot say that I’ve had any more brushes with the nakedly preternatural since that day (save, that is, for a chance encounter with a tomato in the student dining hall that radiated a particularly Malicious and Evil energy). In my quieter moments I often turn back toward that day on the crosswalk and ponder on the significance of my breakfast choice that day, but I suppose it’s just a coincidence any way you slice it.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

IN and requesting a flash

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

IN hit me with that metal flash.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

hello from the blue forum. Incredibly IN for this

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

quote:

Contributor

GrandmaParty

Genre:

General/literary fiction (for our purposes, this just means contemporary stories set in the real world)

Protagonist attribute:

highly allergic hypochondriac

Protagonist obstructor:

They have pica

What the protagonist wants:

to move past the death of his precious horse

Story setting:

On Earth, sometime close to the present day

Setting details:

Present day

World problem:

Penises are just falling off

Your protagonist...

Feels guilty about what they want

Your protagonist's attribute...

Comes into play in an unexpected way

Your protagonist's obstructor...

Helps them get what they want

At the end of the story...

The world problem is no longer relevant to the protagonist

The First Cud Is The Deepest
2001/2420 words
The TV in the living room is blaring news about the latest crisis, something about penises, but from my bathroom the warnings are distant and muffled. The laser thermometer beeps once to let me know my temperature. 98.6, same as the last six times. I click my teeth. in the cavern-like master bath the sound cracks like a gunshot, and I jump a little and swear in surprise at my stupidity. The thermometer is broken I suspect, or more likely the battery is low, so I make an addition to my mental shopping list for the next time I make my once weekly grocery run. I walk out of the bathroom past the living room and into the kitchen. The plate of hay is sitting on the table, the faint piss-yellow light washing out the golden straw, turning it dead and grey.

I take some in my hands and inhale deeply, my mind going back to the scent of the stables, the buzzing of flies mixed with the neighing of the horses, the obligatory horseshit wafting up to make a kind of bed on the scent of the straw so that try as you might you couldn’t get one without the other. My eyes get slightly watery as I breathe deeper and for half a second I am holding a whole bale in my tiny fist and I lean in to take a bite just like she used to, but I can’t recapture her majesty, the slight hesitation as she’d bend down to take the hay from my hand, the joy she must have felt in each mouthful. I eat until I sneeze a few times, gently push the plate away and go to the drawers for my epi-pen.

I set it down on the table in front of me and wait. My breathing is still smooth and easy. I draw in each breath long and slow and take my time on the exhale, trying to match my rhythm to hers, the steady pulse I’d feel as I swayed gently on her back, the immediate space around us collapsing as I closed my eyes, unable to tell where my body ended and hers began. For a while I breathe like this, not caring if the tears making my face damp are real or fake, not caring about much at all. Soon it takes more force to draw in breath. I can feel my throat beginning to turn to sandpaper, and I fight the reflex to reach for my epi-pen. Resistance in my lungs now, I am heaving, massive breathes I can feel in my chest and for a split second I am once more on top of her and we are at full gallop, feeling those shuddering gasps from her lungs as she takes us further and further afield and the surroundings blur and I am laughing, a high thin laugh, a childish laugh and everything is bright and clear and pure again, but now the laughter dies somewhere in the back of my throat and turns into a deep gasp, my lungs now burning making a sick, wet sound, and I am back at the vet watching her breathe her last and I feel my fingernails cut into my palms as I watch the fire in her eyes get smothered in real time saying it should have been me and I open my eyes and take my epi-pen and jam it into my abdomen in one smooth practiced movement and wait to come back.

Light floods my vision as I open my eyes to the sound of a knock at the door. My head is still swimming faintly from the allergic reaction so I take my time, the plaintive taps turning to a more urgent rhythm I see a faint silhouette of man standing on my front porch, frown and try to ignore the flash of heat and recognition creeping across my skin. Sure enough Andrew is standing there, his eyes wet from either tears or the rain.

Andrew this is a pleasant surprise I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, my voice still weak and hoarse from eating the hay, he looks at me with those big soft eyes of his
Can I come in he asks and I say of course undo the chain on the door he steps over the threshold and we embrace I smell the smell of hibiscus soap on his skin and I force myself not to hold on too tightly instead quietly disengaging. I look him in the eyes and ask what’s wrong he tells me his penis has fallen off and I bite back a laugh nod slowly saying something like I heard about this on the news. I move just a shade closer to him to catch the scent of hibiscus soap again and he says what do I do my penis has fallen off like clean off as though god had just sliced it off with a meat cleaver or something and before I can stop him he’s undoing his pants and he’s naked in front of me and I quietly gasp because there’s nothing there, no scar nothing just smooth skin where a cock should be like a human Ken doll and I kind of raise my eyebrow and say yes it’s true your honor this man has no dick in my best impression of Bill Murray and he laughs and puts his jeans back on and I say something like at least now you have a good excuse for using a strap on and he says yeah plus I never have to pee again and we laugh.

He asks me how I’m doing and I say not too well I have a fever and the look on his face tells me he isn’t believing a word I’m saying but his I’m sorry still sounds real and sincere. He asks me how I’m holding up since Auntie died. Not too well I say but I’m trying to make do you have to soldier on and all that he pulls me close and I am flooded by hibiscus again and it takes everything in my power to force myself to break away. Would you mind getting me some ibuprofen the cabinet in the kitchen I say he stands up and I can hear him rustling about in the kitchen and I curse myself because both the hay and the epi-pen are out in full view and he’ll put two and two together and it’ll be just like the last time but I console myself with thinking that maybe he’s too distraught over losing his penis to notice.

Almost as soon as I think this he comes back with the ibuprofen there aren’t many left he says how many have you been taking and I say I’ve been sick I’ve had fever headaches just generally feeling like poo poo he gives a long sigh and looks like he’s going to say something but instead he says I saw the hay there on the table you’ve been eating again and I kind of blush like a schoolboy caught doing something he shouldn’t be and say nothing. Now I hear anger in his voice you know you’re allergic you could die and I say I have the pen and I can monitor myself and he says that doesn’t loving matter what happens if you don’t come back and I say but I always do and he says yes but what happens if you don’t and it’s quiet now except for the humming of the fan overhead the humming of the fan matches the humming in my brain and I look at him and say I miss her it makes me feel closer to her. maybe that just dredges up all those times he held my hand as I lay there on the floor eating hay and gasping for breath dying in a cloud of hibiscus soap because he says for Christ sakes Jason it’s been a year it’s a loving horse get over yourself and suddenly there’s that hollow fat fleshsound of a hand hitting meat and a bright red mark across his cheek marring his beautiful face and I stand in that quiet for a minute the fan buzzing, my skull and body buzzing like I just stuck a fork in an electric socket and I say I think you need to leave Andrew looks at me with a mixture of disgust and pity yes he says I show him to the door and then it’s quiet and I’m alone again with this goddamn headache.
The plate of hay is still there in the kitchen and so is the epi-pen. I throw the used pen into the garbage and get another from the drawer full of them in the kitchen. I take another few pills of ibuprofen and set the new epi-pen down on the table. I go to my laptop search for the biggest dildo I can find click buy now put Andrew’s address in the ship to field. That ought to be good for a laugh.

The house is quiet now I think my fever is breaking I measure it again but the stupid thermometer still says 98.6 it’s broken it has to be I measure three more times but it’s the same old story. I’m sick I know I’m sick I can feel myself burning up my skin radiating waves of heat I’m so hot it’s a wonder I don’t just burst into flame where I’m standing just turn into a pillar of fire burn it all down the house the stables Auntie Butterscotch poor Auntie Butterscotch thought of ants and died I wonder what she was thinking of in those final moments ants maybe no something nicer like horse heaven where they never run out of apples and hay the kind of place where nobody will dig their heels into your sides and tell you to slow down and you don’t have to sleep in a stable you can sleep outside as God intended and run as far as you want you don’t have to have bits in your mouth and that gives me an idea so I go back to my bedroom and fetch the bit and bridle from atop my bookshelf and I come back to that little chair in the kitchen with that little pathetic plate of hay.


I put the plate down on the floor and I slip the bit into my mouth bite down hard until I can feel that copperwarm taste of blood in my mouth and hang the reins over the back over the chair forcing myself down on my hands and knees I laugh I’m a horse now I say in the quiet of the house but it doesn’t come out right because of all the metal so it sounds more like uggahorga or something and I laugh again from reflex but the sound doesn’t make it out of my mouth and I cry a little at the pain. was this what I did to you Auntie did this hurt you I’m so sorry I let myself really feel it really let myself be her letting out neighs and nickers and whinnys that don’t sound right but I do them anyway. I bend down and stuff my face with hay just like she used to big bites chewing with the back teeth my eyes are watering again and suddenly I hear a sound kind of like a pop and I look down and my penis is gone but that doesn’t matter I’m not a man I’m a horse I’m Auntie Butterscotch and I am proud and strong and carrying my rider out far beyond the fields and somewhere I hear a wet wheezing sound and painful gasping and a sound like water running down the drain but it doesn’t matter it never mattered nothing matters I am Auntie Butterscotch I am free to run with my rider forever.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

what the hell, I had fun last week so I'm jumping IN again

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Alrighty time to do some crits! Yoruichi I will do yours in a little bit.

GrandmaParty'sThe Little Why and the Big Why

1949 Words

Wranguss perched in ruins of a temple, crammed into an ancient broom closet, where they had been for two days. The only way they had passed the time was by arguing with their gun. “It’s not about why you shoot them. It’s about why you shoot,” Wranguss thought.

“It’s completely about why you shoot them. Each person is going to have a different reason. You might shoot someone because they tried to take someone of yours. You might shoot another one because they looked at you funny. Two completely different scenarios, one justified, one not,” the gun messaged back, the message displaying directly on Wranguss’s retinas.

“The little why doesn’t matter so much as the big why.“

“Ok. What’s the little why?”

“To make them dead.”

“Yeah, no. You want to get a bullet out of me, I need to be convinced.” I really like this little line, tells us everything we need to know about the gun's character in a very short amount of time. This whole exchange is great

Wranguss groaned. “Every other gun, it’s ‘God point me in that direction and let me just fire this off, c’mon, it’ll be so good. So good. We’ll have soooo much fun together, point and shoot me Daddy. C’mon Baby, it’ll be fun for both of us. I get off and they get dead. But noooo, my gun has morals. Couldn’t you put in a coin slot or something instead? Feed the children, shoot a bullet. Everyone is happy.”

“At least one of us has a conscience,” the gun wrote.

“I have a conscience,” Wranguss thought back.

“Then tell me, what’s the big why?”

“Because if you shoot enough, someone will take notice. You’re going to do something. Be recognized. People start to respect you. Do you know how hard it is to be anyone when there are six billion others all trying to make it? People idolize killers.”

“No one idolizes killers. They revile killers,” the gun spat back.

“You get famous for anything else and everyone thinks they own a piece of your rear end. You kill enough, they start sending you things. They make cults for you. They want to have your children.”

“I don’t recall you being raised like that.” The gun replied.

The sound of footsteps down the hallway pounded through the silence. Even though all the old priests had dissolved into the big knobby piles of dust in the corners , the lights recessed into the stone floors still woke up for motion. The Martian atmosphere was good to electronics that way. I'd lose the "in the corners" here, ending on "big knobby piles of dust" hits a lot harder and the extra description doesn't add much to the action or the overall setting

Wranguss breathed deep, slow breaths. Two seconds in, two seconds out. Control the breathing, control the muscles, control the mind, control the body, hold the gun. As long as their breath was under control, they were under control. Just a couple shots and they could go home, scrape off the dust of old dead priests, and eat something that wasn’t a dry, crumbly ration bar. good subtle reminder they've been in that closet for a good while now

Two figures entered into the immense stone room and gasped. When they gasped, the overhead lights kicked in with a barely audible hum. Every wall was covered in stone hieroglyphs, figures crammed together, with little regard for spacing, the letters at the bottom of the floor shrinking so whoever wrote them used every possible inch of space. The letters had been cut deep into the stone, ensuring that they would last for hundreds of years, if not thousands.Strikethrough again. Same deal, you're undercutting your own prose and making it clunky. Maybe try combining the two sentences together.

“Holy poo poo,” one of the figures said. Sound carried in the cavernous chamber, large enough to repair planes in. How they dug it out almost a mile below ground still remained a mystery. But that was the appetizer compared to the metal figure curled in the corner, head in its hands, elbows on its knees, a hundred times the size of a normal Martian. It could suplex skyscrapers given the right motivation.third verse same as the first. the reader already knows from your description (unless they don't know what "cavernous" means) that the chamber is big. If selling the size of the space is important to the piece try to add some kind of tactile description like (say) "the echoes of the exclamation hung in the air before melting away"(bad writing, but you get the idea)

“Do you think it’s real?”

“Of course it’s real,” the other figure said. “The question is whether it still works.”

The first figure scratched its head. “You’re the scientist.”

“And you’re the pilot. It likes you. It called you. It wants you.”

“C’mon Daddy, just give me a little spurt. Just gimme one bullet.”if I hadn't known about the daddy talk with the gun earlier I would have been so confused. I'm still a little confused. Maybe throw a quick tag before this bit of dialogue so we know who is speaking

“Not the pilot,” the gun replied. “Only the scientist. “

“Done.” Wranguss bent their long grasshopper legs behind them, steadying for the recoil. The knee modifications cost a fortune but they could crouch for hours. And nothing absorbed recoil better than knees that pushed backwards against the dirt. The gun could shoot itself; it just needed someone to carry it. And someone to stroke its ego.

“You ready?” Wranguss whispered, audibly this time. Something about the whispering seemed to make the moment a little more appropriate to the setting, more respectful; more holy.

The gun never confirmed when it was going to shoot. It never hesitated either. Magnets accelerated a six inch slug down the entire length of its body in half a second. The sound barely registered. Just a tiny ffffffmmmmmmmmm, like a sneeze held in. But it turned the second figure into a puff of mist and a clatter of meat.really like this description

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

The first figure turned towards Wranguss, eyes wide, and put its fingers to its lips to blow a shrill whistle. Wranguss put the gun to their shoulder. “You got a couple more in you?”

“Only because if they have backup, you get dead. And then I’m stuck here. I don’t fancy spending an eternity in an old temple.”

“C’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon” Wranguss whispered, as much to the backup as to the gun and to themselves.

Backup emerged from the hallway one at a time. Four big sacks of meat and bones, as big to Wranguss as Wranguss was to a child. They could be bouncersmissing a period here I think From where Wranguss was crouched, it was a clear shot. The gun gave a little shake, the rails vomiting a superheated slug at almost the speed of sound. From 100 yards they were specks at the end of the hall.

The slug impacted the first figure, turning it into a second cloud of mist and a couple meaty chunks. But the round lost momentum, starting to spin and tumble after exiting. It took the second right in the midsection, blowing a three-foot wide hole through them, making them into two halves joined by a thin ribbon of backup. The slug drilled a leg-sized hole in the third’s hip before blasting out the last one’s knee. Even if they weren’t dead, they would be shortly.So these two paragraphs confuse me a little. In the first one you write "From 100 yards they were specks at the end of the hall." and then jump into "the slug impacted the first figure." I had to re-read this a few times to understand what was really going on. You might want to re-write this so that the blocking is clearer in the next draft

“Oh god, it’s so good. It’s so good. That was so good. I’m gonna egg. I’m gonna egg. You’re the best gun ever,” Wranguss whispered.I really enjoy Wranguss's characterization. it's the union of :blastu: and :gizz: I never knew I didn't want.

“Gross,” the gun messaged.

“It’s fine. It’s fine. You did great.”

The remaining figure in the middle of the hallway immediately threw their hands up. “Don’t shoot,” they yelled.

“Shoot him,” Wranguss whispered.this got a sensible chuckle from me. a nice sly bit of humor.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“You read the dossier. He's not trying to hurt anyone”

“We kill him and we can go home with a fat stack of cash and a whole lot of thank-yous.”

“You want to kill him, you’re on your own. I still want to be able to sleep at night.”

“You don’t even sleep, you’re a loving gun!”

The figure still held his hands up in the middle of the cavern before yelling. “Hello?”

“Stay right there,” Wranguss yelled, holstering the long rifle over their shoulder. They began eating up the distance with long, loping strides. Running with backwards knees was more of a bound than anything else.
In the corner, the robot’s shins and forearms started to flicker. With a whir, its eyes opened a small sliver. The metal groaned as it began to flex its fingers, tearing chunks out of the stone floor.

The pilot started to run, one last hope. Even a strange port is better than getting slammed against the rocks. One hundred yards for Wranguss, fifty yards for the pilot.

No contest. In five seconds, Wranguss dove and caught the pilot right around the midsection, slamming them hard into the stone floor.

“gently caress!” the pilot screamed as he hit the stone floor. With ingrained training, they rolled over and smashed their bony forehead into Wranguss’s chin, who lost a precious few seconds while their brain rebooted. In that time, the pilot jerked the sling off Wranguss’s shoulders. With a kick and a push, the pilot disengaged and pointed the gun at their assailant.

“Well, isn’t this cozy,” the pilot said, the barrel looking darker than the Martian sky.great little poetic bit of description. it doesn't add much, but I like it anyways

The gun didn’t say anything to them.

“Now put your loving hands up,” the pilot gestured. Wranguss got up off the ground and put their hands up, trying really hard not to smile. “Who the gently caress are you?” A little confused here. It's only clear that this is the pilot after reading his other little "who are you" line. It would probably be better to have this bit on a separate line like the others. Flows better that way.

“I’m the welcoming committee.”

“Shut the gently caress up.” The pilot jerked the gun at them. “Who are you?”

“I’m just someone trying to keep you from doing something phenomenally stupid.”

By now, all the tendons in the pilot’s neck were taught, standing out against their dark skin like thick ropes, their jaw clenched tight to maintain a grip on their emotions.

“You think saving my friends is stupid? You think freeing them is stupid?”

Wranguss pointed at the giant robot booting up in the corner. “Oh yeah, get in the secret ancient robot that only works for you. Have fun crushing droppinglooks like a typo or omission of some sort here into your own and crushing tens of thousands of your friends in the name of freedom. Because that’s certainly to help them.”another typo

“Instead of being chemically lobotomized drones? You think that’s a better option? You think they like not being able to feel anything?”

“Well, I can tell you they’re not mad about it.”

The pilot took one hand off the gun, curled it into a fist and smashed it into Wranguss’s cheek. “It’s not funny!” they yelled.the description of the punch rings a little hollow to my ears

Wranguss spat out a mouthful of blood. “Yeah, it is. You’d turn around and do the exact same thing to us once you won. ‘Oh, we can’t hold this city, they’re going to riot. Better do something to soften up the population ‘Let’s face it, there’s only one thing you want. It’s for everyone to go, ‘Oh, look at the big hero’ while you’re crushing people who had nothing to do with any of this.”

“They deserve to be alive again,” the pilot said. “Losing a war doesn’t mean you stop being mattering.”typo

“Losing a war means you lose, Dingus.”

“Then you lose,” the pilot said, before putting the gun up to their eye and pulling the superfluous trigger.

click

The middle knuckle of Wranguss’s fist smacked the very tip of the pilot’s chin, right on the sweet spot. The pilot’s eyes rolled back in their head before their legs went boneless.

“Idiot,” Wranguss said. “My gun’s not going to shoot me. I’m all they’ve got left.”

“As much of a pain in the rear end you are, I still love you.”

“I love you too. Are you going to shoot them now?”

“No,” the gun said.

“Fair enough,” Wranguss said and smashed the butt end of the gun into the pilot’s temple. Three good hits and their skull took on a colloidal consistency, a couple solid bits in a pool of jelly. The lights on the robot began flickering out, the giant figure slowly lowering itself back down to cry into its hands.

“Look at that, you killed them anyway.”

The gun was silent.

Wranguss pulled out the data pad out from their pocket and penned a quick message to the contractor. “Mission complete.”

It pinged back a quick response, a picture of a child and an address. “Robot still operable. Mission not complete.” it read. this was an "oh poo poo" moment for me. made the final line that much more impactful. Good stuff.

“Looks like we have some more work to do, old man.” Wranguss said.

“Eat poo poo,” the gun said, before turning itself off.

Wranguss threw it back over their shoulder, wondering if worship was going to be worth it if they couldn’t sleep. Great closer. Show's the reader Wranguss still has some humanity left under their wise-cracking assassin persona

Overall, this piece is a solid 7/10. I like Wranguss as a character, even if they do feel a little paint-by-numbers. The dialogue with the gun and the gun's characterization gives their relationship a little heft. The setting seems interesting and I'm intrigued by it, especially this idea of relationships with sentient objects, and there are some great little details like Wranguss's bizarre grasshopper legs to keep things fresh. There are a few dialogue tag issues and clunky bits of prose, but that's nothing a few more editing passes can't fix. A fun read, thanks for posting!

magic cactus fucked around with this message at 04:24 on Aug 25, 2020

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

prompt:

Long Haul

729 words

Yancey spotted the casper at a refueling station. Looks like even robots get thirsty she thought, peering at its gunmetal exterior though high powered binoculars. The CB radio in her truck cab crackled to life, Ruiz’s reedy voice on the other end. “You got eyes on the target Yance?” She picked up the radio mike and thumbed the talk button. “Refueling station. Three miles out from your position.” She said. “Copy that”, Ruiz said. The cab went quiet. Yancey let out a long sigh as she watched the casper finish its refueling routine and drive off. The intel had been correct thus far, but something about the job made her uneasy, though that feeling might have just as well been due to joint pain. She rubbed her knee almost absent mindedly. The crisp fall air carried with it the first bite of winter and the promise of more aches to come. At seventy-five, you get used to it. Her thoughts were interrupted by the casper driving out of the refueling station. She started the truck and pulled back onto the highway from the shoulder.
At this hour, the road was mostly deserted. A few cars flashed past her as she merged back into the traffic flow, most clearly on auto pilot, the passengers either too asleep or inebriated to notice a rare, flesh-and-blood human in the truck cab. The casper was just ahead of her, taking a bend in the highway. Ruiz’s truck came roaring from the shoulder, the automations avoidance algorithm lacking the time to re-route and avoid her. They met with a screeching crash of metal on metal, the truck slowly tipping on its side. Yancey pulled her truck over and killed the engine. Ruiz was first on the scene, already climbing out of her cab with a long steel prybar in her hand. Yancy opened the door and hopped out slowly, minding her aching joints. By the time she’d hobbled over to the downed casper, Ruiz had cracked the truck’s cargo door wide open. The cargo they needed was sitting inside, fluid leaking out of it slowly. She cursed under her breath.

“Ruiz honey, looks like you were a little aggressive this time. We’re gonna need to get the lid off of this thing and see what’s salvageable”
“Hey, I just drive the truck. How that casper falls over or doesn’t isn’t any of my business. If some bean counter is gonna have an aneurism because his beanie babies are a little smooshed, that’s not my problem.” She said coolly.
“You think that condo committee is gonna turn a blind eye when you don’t have the rent for the month? No more bingo baby.”
Ruiz started to protest, thought better of it, closed her mouth. They did need that money. People in their age range didn’t exactly have too many options, and the public housing lottery was too much of a crapshoot to expect any sort of timely solution. Gigs like this were all they could count on, and even then…
Yancy pushed the encroaching thoughts from her mind, gestured over to the crate. Ruiz handed her a second prybar and with a creak and a groan the crate was freed of its lid. Neat rows of glass jars stood at attention, full of a pale green substance, and Yancy felt her eyes water and her throat burn as a strange alien smell assaulted her senses.
“Ruiz honey, don’t breathe this crap.” She coughed.
“It smells like the worst weed I ever smoked” Ruiz croaked as she withdrew from the crate and replaced the lid with a thump. “Satan’s Potpourri. Christ. Get the other end of this thing Yance.” She gestured at the box, and Yancey limped over, slipping her hands carefully underneath it. A few minutes of careful walking later, they settled the box into the back of Yancey’s truck with a muffled thump.

As she walked back to her truck cab, Yancey could feel herself start to change. Memories flooded her consciousness. Flowers, plants, the feel of earth between her toes, the need to be still, to grow, to stretch out toward the sun with a feverish hunger. Ruiz’s voice flooded her truck cab and she reached out into the aether
Ruiz? Honey?
I am earth I am dirt I am life I am I am I am I

Nothing left but the green.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In and flash please

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Heart of Iron, Heart of Palm
Word Count: 1627
Prompt: Orang Minyak

The boy had miscalculated in cutting the palm fruits from the trees, swinging the cutting pole in a crude, lopping arc, causing bits of red palm fruit to rain down upon him, juice and pulp running down his skin like little rivers of blood. From her place in the row of palm trees on the plantation field, Adilah watched with a heavy heart. The waste would mean a beating from the foreman, and even if the boy’s quick, hungry eyes and bone-thin body spoke of a lifetime on the streets he could use protection. The foreman liked to hurt. She had the scars to prove it. She muttered a quick prayer for him under her breath and cut a fruit from her tree with smooth, practiced movements of her rough and callused hands, making sure to pick the fruit that hung closest to the boy. It fell to the earth with a muffled thump, kicking up a cloud of dirt that caused him to stop and investigate the disturbance. He looked at Adilah and gave her a small nod, none of his smile reaching his eyes. It wouldn’t be enough to save him from a beating once the foreman showed up, but it kept things in balance, and that was a small comfort in this strange place.

***

The boy stumbled in and a hush descended on the sleeping quarters. Adilah could see the red seeping through his woolen shirt, the two functioning lights in the room turning his perspiration-soaked face into a ghostly death mask. The other workers turned their eyes away, wanting to offer some word of condolence or sympathy, but mindful that it could be anyone of them in the same position. Adilah watched the boy stumble into his cot, not even bothering to take off the shredded remnants of his shirt.

“The wound needs to be cleaned.” She muttered. The boy looked at her, an angry fire in his eyes.

“What did you say old woman?”

“The wound. If you do not want to die of infection, it needs to be cleaned. There is a bucket and washcloth out back, you’ll have to walk to the well for fresh water.” She jerked her head toward the building’s back door.

The boy stood unsteadily and began to make his way out of the sleeping quarters, holding on to the side of the building for support. She waited until she heard the telltale slide of his body against the building’s side and hurried out to investigate. He lay face down in the dirt, trying to push himself upright, his arms trembling with exhaustion. Adilah hurried to his side and slipped her arm under his, pulling upward as he struggled to find his footing. Eventually they stood together and she pretended not to notice that his breathing ended in little wheezes while she waited for him to catch his breath.
Adilah offered the boy her arm and together they made their way to the crude well that served as the workers’ water source. As she drew up the bucket he leaned against the well and spoke with a tired voice.

“Why are you in this hell-place old woman?”

Adilah drew the water bucket up and set it down gently in the dirt, dipping the washcloth in the water.

“By choice of course, just like everyone else. Now remove that sorry excuse for a shirt, I need to clean your wounds.”

The boy pulled his shirt over his head and Adilah inspected the damage. The foreman had clearly sensed the opportunity for a teachable moment, angry red slashes running up and down the length of his back. She set to work, ignoring the cries of pain and protest. As she worked, they talked.

“Why are you in this hellplace, child?”

“The recruiter said we were guaranteed three hot meals and a place to sleep each night. It beat sleeping on the streets, though now that I’ve seen how they welcome new workers, I think I’d prefer the streets.” He laughed hollowly.

“How old are you?”

“I am fourteen, old woman.”

She nodded, her movements imperceptible in the dark.

“I had a boy almost your age once, long ago. He died of the fever. I often wonder if he did not get the better part of the bargain.”

“You were married old woman? That is hard to imagine. Even Orang Minyak wouldn’t have someone as old as you!”

At the mention of the name, Adilah felt her hands ball into fists and forced herself to relax.
“Perhaps that is so.” In the dark she smiled a thin, cold smile as she dabbed the last of the blood away from the wound and applied a burning salve. She offered the boy her hand again, and together they walked back to the bunkhouse, the stars in the night sky their only companions.

****

He died in his sleep, exhaustion they said. Adilah watched the foreman and his workers come in and remove his blanket wrapped body, the linens crusted with the dark brown of dried blood. He’d get no funeral. His replacement would be here within a day or two, if they hadn’t found a new soul to exploit already. The boy’s last words to her played over and over in her head

Even Orang Minyak wouldn’t have someone as old as you!

Wherever she went, however she hid, he always found her sooner or later. She let out a sigh. Some things are truly not meant to be understood. She returned to her palm tree, cutting fruits in a trance, the faint thumping of the fruits hitting the ground matching the steady thump of her heart in her ears.

Later, she crouched behind the sleeping quarters and urinated quietly into the dirt to let him catch her scent. She drew a small kris from her hip and drew the blade across her palm, letting the blood and urine mingle before she gently pushed a finger between her legs and flicked a few droplets of her moisture to mix with the other ingredients. She lit a stick of incense and waited.
He showed up sooner than she’d thought he would, and with little warning. One second she was sitting in the dirt and the next her skin began to sweat the thick, oily droplets that were a sign of his presence. The rank-but-sweet smell of oil invaded her nostrils as his burbling voice rang out in her head.

Why have you called me, Old Mother?

I require a favor.

You are too old for me Old Mother, I require sweeter flesh. Younger

You already had me once hell-devil. Do you not recall? A little bungalow. Forty years ago.

Ah! I remember now. A pity there were so many casualties. Your body is old now, but your skin still shines like the finest pearl.

She felt her skin grow slick as he touched her arm and fought down nausea as her mind flooded with half remembered visions of a small child struggling in a bathtub full of water, felt herself being pulled deeper….

Enough! I have not forgotten what you did to me, orange devil. By the right of your guilt, I am owed one favor. I wish to call it in now.

Speak, Old Mother.

There is a man in that big house, a foreigner. He likes to cause pain for his own amusement. He has taken the life of a boy who did not deserve such a swift and brutal end. See to it that things are set right.

Of course, Old Mother. It shall be done.

In front of her the air shimmered and she found herself looking into two iridescent lenses that shone in fractured rainbows like the skin of a soap bubble. She stared back and waited for the bubbles to burst and give way to the beast’s real eyes, the ones that dripped black pitch and told tales of crude and simple lust.

Ah, but I forget one small detail. Should you try and satiate your hunger for your ah, “sweeter” flesh..

She reached slowly into his chest, suppressing a shudder as the cold oil touched her skin, rooting around until she found his heart, squeezed it once, hard as he gasped for air.

I will know

She watched the air shimmer as his shoulders slumped in defeat.

It will be as you say, Old Mother. He paused. Would you like to ride alongside me—

Not on your life

Thy will be done, Old Mother

He departed in an oily haze, her skin once more her own, free of his sheen. She took an extra-long shower that evening regardless, scrubbing herself pink and raw, but no matter how much she washed she still felt slick, and the quiet tears that slipped from her eyes mingled with the water, leaving no trace of their journey down the shower drain.

***

That night the whole plantation seemed to be holding its breath. Even in the sleeping quarters the workers had forsaken their usual late night card games and cigarettes and fell instead into fitful slumbers. Adilah couldn’t sleep. She was listening to the wind, or rather to the lack of it. The plantation seemed to be still, waiting for something. As if on cue, the wind picked up, bringing with it a faint howling that could be mapped to some kind of animal, but not one that walked the same earth as man. Somewhere, mixed in with this were the howls of a man. Adilah listened until she could no longer distinguish man from animal.

She listened for a long time.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In, flash, and hellrule me the gently caress up.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Memoria Hortus
1,500 words
Seed: Sender. Desire: to feel. Hellrule: When your seed is planted, act II of your story begins.


ACT I
SCENE I
The home of HAROLD BIXBY, and his wife JUNE. HAROLD used to work as an insurance adjuster, until a bad accident left him functionally a vegetable. June, his wife, is now his caretaker. She is in the study, which has been converted into a kind of make-shift hospital room. She is feeding Harold his dinner, a painstaking process, and we see June growing increasingly frustrated:

JUNE
Harold, come on! Chew drat it! Chew. There we go. Want your water cup? Here you go. Drink up. (She mops some food residue/saliva from the corner of his mouth with small, tender movements). Do you want the TV on? I think there’s a ballgame scheduled for today. (She flips through the channels until she comes to a baseball game). Here ya go! It’s your team baby. Remember when we used to go to ballgames?

June’s voice breaks as she struggles to keep her composure, overcome with emotion.

JUNE
Well anyway, I’m gonna do the dishes and check up on the babies. You have fun with your ball game.

June kisses Harold on the cheek and takes his plate to the kitchen. As she washes the dishes, we see stacks of letters and bills on the countertop. The camera doesn’t linger on them long enough to give us all the details, but they are clearly medical forms of some kind, DENIED peeking out in faded red ink. June is visibly tired as she cleans up, her shoulders slouching and a distant, glazed look in her eyes. She finishes the dishes and walks from the kitchen to the patio door in her bedroom. She steps outside onto the patio, turns on the water and fills up an old metal watering can using the garden hose, pausing only to light a cigarette, which she smokes in long, slow drags. She begins to water her garden. The plants are a mix of generic houseplants and bizarre, almost neon-colored flowers. Some appear to be revolving hypnotically like pinwheels, while others oscillate gently between gradients. June walks through the rows of flowers, cigarette in the corner of her mouth, occasionally spinning around like Julie Andrews with a sardonic grin on her face:

JUNE (singsong)
Evenin’ boys and girls! You guys thirsty? Drink up, it’s on the house. Let’s see if any horny bees brought mama June a little bundle of joy.
June walks through her Technicolor garden, bending down to check for seed pods in each flower. After a few ad-libs of disappointment (what no seeds? That’s a bummer etc.) She finds a small seed pod growing from an iridescent purple flower and snips it expertly with a little pair of garden shears, tucking it away into a pants pocket:

JUNE
Jackpot. (turning to the other flowers in her garden) the rest of you guys better start putting out too. Mama June needs grandkids! Since Jenny definitely won’t have them anytime soon. (sighing). I’m just kidding. I love you all very much. Goodnight babies, I’ll see you tomorrow. Sweet dreams.
June walks back to the patio door, pausing to watch the sun go down. She steps over the threshold and stands for a minute in the quiet of the bedroom. We see a very brief montage of mementos from her life with Harold. June takes a minute to regain her composure then begins walking from the bedroom to the garage. She opens the door and we CUT to…

SCENE II

June is in the garage, converted from its primary function to a laboratory. There is a computer on a worktable next to a microscope. Scattered about are textbooks on subjects such as genetic engineering and horticulture. A yellowed magazine with the headline IS YOUR CABBAGE ASLEEP? sits atop a pile of books. June is sitting at the computer, alternating typing rapidly with glances at a microscope. On screen, a succession of posts pass by. NEW MINDFLOWER BREED “PURPLE PEOPLE EATER.” Comments praising her mind flowers scroll by. We see she is the most popular “mind flower artist” on the website, number one in the global rankings. In a brief overhead shot, we see her coffee cup resting on a diploma in bio-engineering from a prestigious university as she pauses to pick it up to take a sip:

JUNE
(To herself, smiling slightly)
Looks like another winner.
She takes a seed out from under her microscope and sets it back down with the others from the flower she cut the pod from earlier. She clicks on the computer until she finds a message with an address. She scribbles the address on a small envelope and puts the seeds inside. She checks the balance in her account and frowns slightly. We see a brief shot of her dropping the seeds in the mail. Later, she sits by Harold’s bedside, gently holding his hand, lit only by a small lamp. MATCH CUT/DISSOLVE to

SCENE III
June is once more out in the garden, smoking. This time however, she is staring at a vibrating flower, her jaw slightly slack, enraptured by the experience. We linger on her face for a moment before we CUT to…

SCENE IV
The outdoor garden of a student pub. The colors here are hyper-vibrant, rotoscoped. It is quiet, most of the students have gone home. Music is coming faintly from somewhere back inside. We see two figures sitting across from each other at a table, having a conversation. We CLOSE UP to reveal younger versions of June and Harold:

HAROLD
So what you’re trying to tell me is plants are conscious just like us? They might have memory, feelings, all that stuff?

JUNE
Well, not exactly like that, but close enough. They definitely have some kind of memory like phenomena, that’s for sure.

HAROLD (sarcastically)

Guess I should apologize to my grass for mowing the lawn the other day.

JUNE (laughing)
Yeah, you’re the Ghenghis Khan of landscaping.

HAROLD
I’ll take it up with my priest. So what do you plan to, ya’know, do with this information, other than becoming the world’s most insufferable vegetarian?

JUNE (building to an increasingly excited tone)
Well I mean, think about it. Plants are untold thousands of years older than us. Just imagine what it would be like if you could access their memories. You could see ages of history unfolding right in front of you. If you could somehow go in the other direction, get your memories into plants, I mean, you could live forever. For a certain sense of “live”, that is.

HAROLD
Forever is a pretty long time, but I’ll give it my best shot.

CUT to


SCENE V

June is standing at the threshold of Harold’s room, a pillow held loosely by her side. She is watching Harold sleep. In the glow from the machines, his face is washed out, alien. We see a succession of emotions pass over her face: fear, anger, sadness. She takes a deep breath as though steadying her nerves. She crosses over to Harold and presses the pillow to his face. There are mutterings of surprise, but no struggle. We hear the flatline tone of the heart rate monitor and Junes sobs as she burrows her face into his chest muttering apologies, shoulders heaving with heavy emotion. Later, she is back in the garage, eyes bloodshot, chain smoking from stress. We see a shot of her computer screen. Multiple comments regarding her latest mind flower, “who is the man I keep seeing on this trip” “what is going on?” June smiles sadly and sips her coffee cup and we CUT to

ACT II

In a silent montage, we see hospital workers coming to take Harold’s body away, June at the funeral, her smoking as the clock time-lapses to show passage of time and shots of the mind flower forum. More and more people are reporting confusion at the memories from the latest mindflower trip. June moves listlessly in these scenes, more a presence than a person. Finally we end on a shot that recalls the first shot of June in Harold’s now-empty study. June is sitting in the study with her coffee in hand, looking out at her garden. The flowers are blooming in a vibrant display that stands in stark contrast to the grey sky. There is a knock at the door. June puts down her coffee cup and opens the door. There is a YOUNG WOMAN standing on the porch with kind eyes and a gently inquisitive expression. She looks like she wants to speak, but June opens her mouth first:

JUNE
Took you long enough. Come in, we got a lot to talk about.

The girl enters and closes the door behind her. There is no audio. The camera pulls back slowly to frame the two of them talking in the living room before a long reverse tracking shot takes us from the living room, past the garage door, past the bedroom, and out the patio to the garden. We linger on a full shot of June’s creations, before we return to focus in on the flower June had been sitting in front of during her trip back into her memories. We HOLD the shot for half a minute.

CUT TO BLACK

ROLL CREDITS

FIN

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In and flash please

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Thanks for the crits!

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

destination: A National Park
purpose: to take a real great selfie
#Nofilter
1,250 words

The noonday sun was high in the sky and the clouds of red dust that the jeep kept kicking up as they drove distorted the road in front of them so that it seemed to breathe, as though they were riding on the back of an impossibly long snake. Nyakul sighed and rubbed his eyes. Dad would probably have a story about that. Some long winded parable about the dreaming, cryptic words that made no sense to anyone but the Anangu.

“I’ve just posted an update to my story. Look at all the likes babe!”

The girl’s voice rang out from the backseat, followed by a bored sounding affirmation from the passenger sitting next to him. Nyakul observed the couple out of the corner of his eye. The man flipped blankly through his phone. The girl was sprawled out in the back of the jeep, a too-wide smile plastered to her face as her phone camera flashed, body angled in such a way as to show off her skintight leggings. Nyakul felt a flush creeping up the back of his neck and rubbed it self-consciously. Perhaps his tribe had the right idea in keeping men and woman separate. He shook his head. That backwards idea had no place in today’s world. Outdated. The word kept creeping back into his head, like an itch he couldn’t scratch. A sudden burst of noise hit his ears and he flinched in surprise. The man smiled apologetically.

“Sorry mate. Just wanted some music. Too bloody quiet for me.”

Nyakul nodded as a pop song began to blare from the jeep speakers, his hands tightening on the wheel as he listened to the steady thump of the base drum they even steal our rhythms. No, that wasn’t true. He was thinking his father’s thoughts again. Outdated thoughts, thoughts that had no place in the new world.

“Oh christ. Nyak pull over would you? I’ve got to do my yoga pose for the day.” The girl said from the backseat.

Nyakul pulled the jeep over and killed the engine. The girl got out and the man followed shortly. Nyakul drummed his hands on the steering wheel, sweating slightly in the heat. His father would notice the Jeep missing. Punishment would be swift, severe. The vehicle wasn’t just his father’s. It belonged to the entire tribe. He pushed the images of tribe members being unable to drive into town for supplies out of his head, swallowed the acrid bile rising in his throat. If the tribe knew what he was about to do he would be excommunicated, perhaps even killed. He rubbed his thigh anxiously, feeling the thick wad of bills in his pocket. He mouthed the names of cities he had seen on the tattered map back in the village school room. The names white people came up with made them seem distant, alien: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth.

A tap on the window. The man again, grinning at him with his too-white teeth.

“Sorry mate but could you take a quick picture of the two of us? Just a little memento of the trip.”

“Sure mate.” His voice was almost a whisper. He got out of the jeep and accepted the proffered smartphone.

“Just that little button in the center there. One tap ought to do it.” Nyakul nodded, pretending this was the first time a tourist had asked him to take a picture.
They stood together with identical too-white teeth set in too-wide smiles, arms around each other. One press. “One more.” Another “One last one.” Cryptic codes.

“Which hashtag you think?”

“#beautiful maybe?”

“Nah too generic”

“What about #spiritual maybe? That’ll get those astrology moms going.”

“We used that one already. Yoga photo, remember? Anyway who gives a poo poo? Smile!”

His thumb slipped on the last press and a flood of photos sprang out on the screen. The girl smiling, putting on makeup, doing yoga poses, loving. He exited the screen quickly and handed the phone back, averting his eyes.
“Great shots mate. I’m gonna go… give some water back to the land, that’s what you abbos call it right?” A barking laugh, and Nyakul found himself alone with the girl.

“Sorry about Todd. He can be a bit of a fuckhead sometimes. Calling you a loving abbo for christssakes.” She smiles, waves him a little closer, lowers her voice “The only reason I let him gently caress me is his dad’s a professional photographer and lets us use his gear sometimes. Otherwise he’s… average at best.” She rolled her eyes and let out a schoolgirl giggle.

“I bet you’re not average though. Did you like them?”

“Like what?”

“The photos. I know you saw them.” She giggled again as his face flushed.

“It’s alright. Sometimes I send Todd something a little more… risqué to keep him occupied.”

She stepped closer, her hand on his arm.

“I’ve never been with… well, you know.” Hand stopped on his abs, stroked them lightly with a fingertip. “Reckon it could be fun.”

“Reckon what could be fun, babe?”

Nyakul tensed up as the girl quickly withdrew her hand.

“The selfie we’re gonna shoot on Uluru. It’ll be one for the ages. Tons of followers.” She beamed.

“drat right it will be babe.” Todd turned to Nyakul. “Why is Uluru closed for climbing anyway? It’s just a rock. Open it up, guarantee your tribe will make a mint.”

Nyakul shook his head. “It’s sacred to us. One of-” He almost said you devils but caught himself in time- “your people climbing it would be like doing parkour in a church.”

Todd burst out laughing. “Parkour in a church. gently caress mate that’s brilliant. You’re a funny guy.” He slapped Nyakul on the back playfully. “Anyways, best be crackin’ on yeah? Still got a ways to go.” He turned and headed back toward the Jeep.

***

They stopped for dinner in one of the many anonymous bars that dotted the Australian outback. As they stepped into the place, Nyakul felt the patrons’ eyes on his back, a silent inquisition that reminded him that the closer he got to home, the further he was from safety. A few recognizable faces in the crowd. Tribe members, cast outs, bleary-eyed phantoms with big cans of Visitors Beer and tobacco stained teeth.

“No worries mate, first round on me." A cheeky raise of the glass as they settled in to a corner table. Their food arrived and the girl excused herself, leaving Nyakul alone with Todd. The heat had made him thirsty, and he gulped his beer down with single minded relish, the alcohol combining with the heat to give him a strong buzz quick, and before Nyakul could say anything, Todd told him all about how he posts those photos of her on the internet so strangers can get off to her. She didn't know. Todd made him swear not to tell, called him his mate. They clinked glasses and Nyakul felt the rage build up inside him, twisted a napkin, pretended it was Todd’s neck.

****

Uluru loomed in front of them in the moonlight. Nyakul felt the bile rise in his throat as he led them onto sacred ground. As they crested the top of the hill, muttered “wow”s and “holy poo poo”s reached his ears. They had no light to shoot by, his orders, but Todd couldn’t resist, one lightning flash lighting the dark, another, a third. Nyakul moved in a haze, his strong hands easily shoving Todd over the edge, his built up body partnering with gravity to do most of the work. The girl was lighter, even easier, their shrieks echoing until the thunderclap of impact. Nyakul looked down at their bent and broken bodies. The tribe would take care of them.

They always did.

He walked back to the jeep, alone with his dreams in the moonlight.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

gotta redeem myself for a well-deserved loss. In, flash.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Prompt:"There was a long-ago dream, forgotten until this moment, of creatures like this, stitched and restitched, howling as they charged across a twilit battlefield zippered with trenches, slagged emplacements, and shell-pocked bunkers." (page 350)

flash/haiku:
August Moon Universe
-neither new
nor old


The Arborist's Liederkreis
[b]Word Count: 1031

The guards wake him from his cell at 8 am on a Saturday, and he immediately suspects something is up. They wave the usual shiv check, even forget to check if he’d taken his stabilizer. The cell yard is quiet, and the air has the chill of the first frost of winter piercing through his thin orange jumpsuit, shocking him awake. They hustle him down the anonymous hallways to the Warden’s office. He’s standing there with a woman, blonde, 30’s, right out of the stims Wirejack would sell you for a quart of scummo, and he finds it hard not to stare. The room is warm, and the warmth makes it hard to focus. The warden’s voice sings radio Babylon, and he fishes fragments from the static: test case, rehabilitation experimental procedure Something about branches on a timeline, trimming the tree. He nods, still half asleep, and signs the paperwork in a daze, the glare of white light on white paper making him feel snowblind.

***

The warden and the girl are gone. There is only a void. Points of light on an infinite plane. Spheres now, white, floating, trailing something behind them. The slip into him with waves of butter knife-dull pressure. The void begins to change, constructing itself. Splashes of grey. Light. Shadow. Depth. Ground. Figure. He sees himself moving toward the corner store. A gun in his pocket and murder in his heart. The door opens. The cashier is standing there. He fires once and hops the counter to take bills out the till. The cashier’s corpse twitches beside him, birthing a sea of red on the tile floor.

***

There is only a void. Points of light on an infinite plane. Lines of white crystalize to bone, enveloped by pink skin. The same scene as before, but this time he feels the weight of the gun in his hands; light, free, man and machine in union. He goes up to the cashier, cocks the hammer, pulls the trigger. Watches the paper doll crumple. He fires again and the scene changes. He is standing in front of a block of marble, hammer in one hand, chisel in the other, called to sing the truth from the stone. The work is slow. Every tap of the chisel reverberates up his arm, every chip and crack cakes his hands in fine powder. His hands hurt. The knuckles sting and throb, the skin is rough and calloused. He looks upon his finished song and smiles, the pain in his hands same as the pride in his heart.

***

There is only a void. Points of light on an infinite plain. Lines of white crystalize to bone, flooded by pink skin. He is walking to the corner store, the gun in his pocket. The cashier is standing behind the counter. He pulls the gun from his pocket. It’s heavy. He needs two hands to steady it, the trigger feeling like a solid block of marble, the report ripping his ear drums open as he bites back a scream. The paper doll crumples again and he is over the counter, fishing notes from the till, stuffing them in his pockets hollow man style. Out the door now, he is flying, skidding on ice and he trips, slices his calf on the edge of a dumpster but he picks himself back up until—

There is only a void. Points of light on an infinite plain. This time he is behind the counter. The fleshcage of his body extends out in front of him, and he cannot move his legs. Every step is agony, his hip joins grinding against themselves like a stuck gear, and his knees are on fire. His kid’s photograph stares out at him from its place on the till. His fleshcage too, is weak, and he blinks back tears as he tries to consider just what kind of a life the chaos will etch in his bones. The money he makes, he gives to the doctors, who sing him sour hymns and beautiful lies.
A man comes in, the buzz of the door alarm sounding too loud, and he covers his ears. There’s a flash like a lightbulb burning out and he feels a sea spread inside him, and then there is only a void.

***

There is only a void. Points of light on an infinite plain. He is watching the sun through a bedroom window. The cold twisted metal of the wheelchair matches the cold in his twisted legs, so that he feels like permafrost. The phone rings too loud. He begins to wheel himself over, his shriveled arms making small deliberate movements, He almost misses it, but he fumbles the receiver into his arms and thumbs the button, listens to the deathsong. He cries, not out of sadness, but out of fear.

***

There is only a void. Points of light on an infinite plain. He is once again heading toward the corner store. The gun in his pocket neither heavy nor light. The cashier is behind the counter, and he can see now how he grips the counter for support, feels the scrape of bone on bone as he turns to greet himself. He sights in and places his finger on the trigger, and as he looks down the barrel into his own eyes he feels permafrost again. His hands ache. The knuckles sting and throb, the skin is rough and calloused. This is not was he was called fourth to sing from the stone. He tries to leave but his legs have become cold and twisted, and as he crumples the cashier catches him, helps him get bearings, helps him to the door. He glances into his own eyes, and understands now what he will sing.. His legs are warm again. Through tears the snowblind sky seems to stretch on forever. The marble song calls to him but he doesn’t want to answer, remembers a lonely man trapped in a cage of permafrost, and he places the gun in his mouth, tasting sour gunmetal and lubricant as he puts his aching hands on the trigger.

There is only a void.

Points of light.

On an infinite plain.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.


Thanks TTM!

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In. Flash.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

prompt: the concept of reincarnation
flash rule: your god, in a sinkhole sucking you down.
partisan raid: 500 extra words
word count:1704 words

Postcards from Everywhere at the end of Everything

My dear Friend,

I’m writing to you as a record of what happened with this turn of the wheel. I can feel it calling to me, tugging at my soul, pulling me deeper. I ventured outside for the first time in a week to find that my house is surrounded by the void, the rocky outcropping on which my rude hut is perched still somehow holding fast. It’s toying with me I think, waiting for the moment before the fall. I knelt and prayed until my knees hurt but there has been no answer from the prayer wheel. Perhaps God has indeed left us. Perhaps I have already fallen. I am scared to shut my eyes when I sleep these days, the black void of offers me no comfort, but instead a preview of what is to come. Instead of sleep, I lie awake and pray, and when my tired mind forgets the words I try and remember how we got to this point, how we let it get this bad.

***

I’d been a boy then, a small child, club footed and weak. I remember a hot summer’s day, somewhere in what used to be the southern United States (before gravity shed its skin and revealed its nature in full and the resultant continental superfusion.) I was standing in a vacant lot behind the school yard during recess, staring out at the concrete ocean before me, when I noticed a crack. The concrete was smooth, just poured, and to see a thin spiderweb of a crack anywhere on its surface disturbed me. I went back inside after recess, but my mind was a million miles from my lessons. I kept thinking about that little sliver, and my dreams that night were evil affairs, full of scenes of me being pulled down into the deep, dark earth, my screams and cries unheard.

The next day at school I could barely focus, and when they let us out for recess I rushed out the door so quickly you would have sworn my club foot was a myth. The crack in the slab appeared to have grown nearly double overnight and gazing upon it filled me with revulsion. I spent the rest of the day in the kind of stupor one finds in the opium dens, my mind in a haze as I pondered what it meant. All throughout the night my mind returned to thoughts of that hideous crack until I could bear it no longer. I fetched a shovel from the shed in the garden and crept out of the house as quietly as a church mouse, arriving once again at that terrible slab. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled like needles, but I swallowed my fear and swung with all my might! My shovel didn’t bounce off of the concrete as I expected, but instead my nightmares began to play themselves out before my very eyes as I was pulled deeper and deeper into the dark earth. In the final few seconds before my first death, as I lay there gasping miles underground, I felt a heartbeat not my own, a kind of steady pulse that seemed to emanate from everywhere at once. Whatever had taken me was alive.

***

People spend most of their lives trying to escape death, trying to outrun it. I wonder if they’d try half as hard if they actually knew what they were running from? Would having some kind of inkling of what was in store for them bring them comfort, or would we all just double down and make a last great push for immortality? Probably the second option. Humans don’t do too well with being told “no” (If I’m rambling it’s because it left me two joints and a six pack of PBR this time. Lukewarm, but it’s a far cry from Sunny D and animal crackers.) Anyway, if you knew that the final destination was basically anything but, I don’t think we’d be so frightened of the end. Me? I’d be downright ecstatic. Get another chance at everything, and you remember all the mistakes you made along the way so you don’t have to make them again? gently caress yeah, sign me up!

I wonder what the afterlife looks like for you. For me it’s uncle Carl’s beach house, that ratty-rear end place with the faded yellow paint peeling off the clapboard siding. Sometimes at night I swear it digs through my memories and plays the sound of the ocean just outside my window. It would almost be comforting, if it wasn’t so creepy. I wonder about Uncle Carl. Is he out there somewhere? Sitting in a beach house just like this with his tallboy of Miller highlife? (Maybe he’s sitting in the same place I am. gently caress dude, maybe I’m Uncle Carl. (I mean think about it. If this thing preserves memories of all your previous incarnations, wouldn’t it make sense for it to remember stuff from your genetic history and stuff?) I don’t think Carl came back from overseas. Like he’d smile at your jokes and stuff but when he looked at you it felt like he was looking through you, like you were hollow. Or maybe he was the hollow one and he was using you to anchor himself, keeping himself from floating away, a solid ghost in an empty body.

Anyway, I’m gonna go say hi to “Uncle Carl”, maybe pick up some lottery tickets for the next go around. See you in the next one (and don’t be late.)

****

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? I think this turn was the worst. I did something, something I swore I’d never do.

I gave in.

The funny thing is, I could pinpoint the exact moment on this turn where I stopped caring. I was late to work, couldn’t find my car keys. I couldn’t find my keys, so I let the world end. Talk about anticlimactic. The funny thing is, no one but me knew what I’d done. I wonder sometimes, in those other turns, the ones where I kept it in check, I wonder if there wasn’t some guy just like me, in his plain-walled suburban townhouse, waking up bleary-eyed on what was supposed to be the end of everything and just thinking gently caress this, I want to go back to bed. Weird thing about all these turns, you learn the same story over and over and pick up new details, but the whole thing never quite comes into focus, like a factory-defect magic eye picture.
Giving in wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was how easy it turned out to be. You know the story. You die, you’re dragged beneath the earth, you catch a glimpse of something maybe feel a heartbeat, and in the final moments where your skin gets cold and clammy and you feel your soul start to leave your body, you dig in your heels and say “I’m not ready” or “There’s no place like home” and before you know it your back out there in a brand new body and trying to figure out how the hell you’re supposed to stop it this time.

This is what happened when I gave up.

The actual moment of death isn’t really a big deal. You’re run over, or you slip in the shower, maybe you’re lucky and you end up surrounded by your loved ones and their children and you lower your eyelids for the last time and slip into the great beyond. The first thing I saw was blackness. It wasn’t the warm, gradated blackness of closing your eyes on the edge of sleep, this void went on forever. When all you have is space, space starts to lose its own character. There’s no up, no down, no time, nothing. You want to stretch your hand out, feel your body, look for some kind of definition, something to hold on to, but eventually you realize that you are nothing and you can’t really tell where the drat void begins or ends, so you just sit there alone and empty headed, no words, no thoughts.

Eventually, I started to see shades of blackness in that void. Little variations in what I had once thought was a solid single mass. It began to look patchwork, stitched together almost haphazardly. After a while, I could distinguish the “older” shades from the “newer” ones. I watched the void intently. After a while, it began to ripple very faintly and I heard a strange, rhythmic sound.

It sounded like breathing.

My previous incarnation had been right. As soon as I recognized the motion as such the void seemed to solidify and become a slick, dripping, thing. The patches of blackness seemed to be coated in some kind of mucous, and if I strained, I could push my fingers through to the other side.

I tore a hole in the membrane and tumbled through.

What I saw on the other side of everything is almost impossible to describe. I was floating somewhere, I couldn’t really tell where, and before me stood a hole. Looking into it, I saw all my previous incarnations reflected in some kind of obsidian surface. When I tried to touch the thing, my arm went cold and numb. Turning around, I saw an endless stream of souls flying all around me, headed for what looked like an enormous prayer wheel. The prayer wheel was attached to a bicycle-like structure, which seemed to be propelling itself.

I took someone else’s soul. I don’t know whose. I see images sometimes. A faded yellow beach house, a school yard. It’s hard to explain. Time keeps going and coming back. It’s all jumpy, like a film played at half speed. But all those souls I saw?

They’ve all got a little hole in them.

That’s how it moves, how it spreads. It’s in all of us. You and me and everyone else.

So I’m going back in again. I’m not stopping. Not until the hole is filled, not until we’re all whole again.

I think you’ll agree with my mission. I wish we could see each other again. We will, someday.

Till then,

Your Oldest Friend

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In :toxx:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

...And There Will Your Heart Be Also
word count: 675
hellrule: Your characters have never met but all love each other absolutely

The ancient gnarled oak tree hovers into her vision, and the young women lets out a sigh of relief. Beneath her feet, the grass crunches. The glade that was once a rolling green lies fallow, and she leaves a trail of death as she wades through it to the heart tree. The small earthenware jar in her hand seems impossibly heavy, but she forces herself to ignore the twinge and ache of tired muscles. If she messes up now, she’ll be the laughing stock of the whole tribe. She shuts the thought off at the source, pushes further through the brittle, overgrown grass. She remembers when Pashtul came home from battle, or rather, she remembers the tale, the verses sung softly around the fire. Pashtul the hero, Feydka the hand maiden who waits for him there in the ocean in the sky. How he carried his beloved to the heart tree, cut out his own heart in exchange for one more day with her. Stealing her great-grandmother’s heart from the burial grounds had been surprisingly easy. With the coming of the draught, the other tribes were too conscious of the heat to try and attack, and the guard post stood empty. She remembers the vague disappointment as she glanced at rows of jars on display. Thousands of years of the tribe’s history all locked away in simple containers. She wonders if one day she will have an earthenware jar of her own, or if she’ll take a spear in the breast and end up a feast for the vultures. She shakes her head, clears her mind.

The heart tree looms in front of her, the true wooden nature of the tree only readily apparent in certain spots, the rest overtaken by a wall of meat. Some still pulse faintly, each beat sending little rivulets of blood to trickle down to the dry, rust colored grass beneath. She opens the jar and fishes out her great grandmother’s heart. It is small, smaller than expected, and feels hard and dry against her palm.

She slips the single iron nail from her tunic and pins the heart against the tree, using her other hand to pluck a small hammer from her belt. The first swings miss, and she curses softly under her breath as she grazes her thumb with the hammer, winces slightly from the pain. She feels the hammer drive the nail through the flesh and into the wood, and she swings again, harder, trying to drive the nail through the wood.

When she feels like the heart is as secure as she can make it, she kneels to pray.

Bring back great-grandmother. Give her one last day.

The first day, nothing.

The second day, she feels some of the fire inside her breast slowly die.

The third day begins the same as the other two. As she stays kneeling, a voice murmurs in her ear:

“Child. For three days I’ve watched you pray, unmoving. Who is it that you mourn so?”

She opens her eyes. Her great-grandmother looks just like the stories described her, her flesh seeming to glow. She takes the proffered hand, absent-mindedly brushing dirt from her knees as she rises. She hesitates, forgets to bow, catches herself, dips down hastily.
“Great-grandmother. I am not a warrior prince. But would that you spend one day with me, so that I may understand the true story, what truly happened between you and Pashtul, before the songs, before the myth. I ask only for the truth.”


It’s a short tale, only the length of a single fire. She smiles, she laughs, she cries. When it is over she lets her great-grandmother cut out her heart with her little silver hunting knife, and they nail it to the tree together. They embrace, and she watches Pashtul’s hand maiden slowly fade back into the tree.

She makes her way back to camp alone, the hole where her heart should be burning with a kind, painful warmth.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Thanks for the crit!

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In. Flash.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Weltlich posted:

team brawl

:toxx: to help out team 1.

:blastu:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

treat me pls

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

(subbing hella early cause I'm gonna be away from the internet all weekend)

flash rule: one of your characters is the best in the world/system/galaxy at playing a particular musical instrument
Word count: 1511

Homesong

It was still an hour to the broadcast but Fredrick couldn’t help but feel nervous, The way the stage light glinted off the camera lenses reminded him too much of rifle scopes glistening in the jungle, turning the moments before transmission into a miniature private skirmish. To calm himself, he checked the tuning on his senso-organ for the hundredth time. Conceptual stabilizers, disassociation engine, chroma wheel, input chords. Everything was in order. It always was.

You tensing up again? You’ve got to stop that, you’ll give yourself a heart attack.

Fredrick smiled slightly at the note of concern in Zizzle’s voice. I know. Bad habit.

This isn’t even your worst habit. Don’t even get me started on those cigarettes you smoke.

Hey, whatever calms my nerves, right?

The little man in his head let out a dry chuckle. Fair enough. Wanna do a quick senso-jam? Might help you loosen up the old noggin’, get you out of your head.
Good idea

Fredrick sat down at the senso-organ’s input chords, his hands naturally spreading out over the complex system of studs, his feet finding their places on the chroma wheel’s pedal board. He flicked his finger over a stud. A faint shape hovered into being in the space in front of him. His body moved on instinct now, pumped the chroma wheel pedals, fingers danced over studs in an intricate pattern, fleshed out the shape, let the concept build before stabilizing so that the whole thing hit with an overwhelming force. The faint shape passed from abstraction to more concrete iterations, building itself up in layers until he found himself in the study of his childhood home, saw the dusty sunbeams streaming in through the window, smelled the salty tang of the ocean breeze. The senso-organ in this part of his memories was a crude model, and he felt the conceptual resolution downscale as he traveled deeper into the memory.

Hey help me out. I’m losing data here.

One second. This should do it.

The faint suggestions sharpened back into concreta, and the scene took on a new richness and immediacy. The ocean breeze now carried with it notes of coolness, the sunbeam through the window gave off a distant warmth. Details like this would have been impossible given the bandwidth limit of human memory, but Fredrick’s detractors assumed he was working with a single brain. He barely registered the feeling of his fingers over the studs as he continued to flesh out the scene. Bookshelves and books sprang into being, with the accompanying musky scent he loved so much, a lamp glowed faintly on a corner end table and the chair in the study—
He frowned. The chair was the wrong shape. What should have been a plush purple velvet armchair instead looked like a crude piece of dollhouse furniture. He passed his hands over the studs in a precise pattern. Still no change. Engaging the full force of the conceptual stabilizers just made the ersatz memory more real. He felt as though he were being taunted.

Something is wrong with that chair. It’s stuck. I can’t get the concept to stabilize.

No answer from his homunculus.

Zizz? You there?

The scene began to downgrade. The sunbeam through the window turned cold, the ocean breeze stilled, the shape of things became infirm and mercurial again as they passed back to abstracta. The only thing that stayed solid was the false chair, seemingly sharpening in clarity as the rest of the scene devolved. He tried to call up the study again, pumped the chroma wheel pedals and re-engaged the conceptual stabilizers, but only the faintest traces appeared before him, and his chest tightened in panic.

Zizzle? What is going on? I can’t get anything to stabilize.

A familiar voice inside his head. Looks good to me boss, think you’re just stressing again.

As if to drive home the point, the scene came flooding back with a new richness, the smells sharper, the concepts firmer. Fredrick looked over to where the offending chair had been. The purple velvet armchair now stood in its right place. He let out a sigh of relief. Everything was as it should be. He let the scene dissolve and switched off the senso-organ, his mind still going back to the stuck chair. His train of thought was interrupted by the sight of a production assistant walking up to the senso-organ.

“Mr. Diptych? We’re on in 5.”

“Thank you.” Fredrick paused. “This sounds silly, but was there a problem with your homunculus sometime today? Memory recall maybe?”

“Now that you mention it, yes. I couldn’t remember whether I had written down an appointment time correctly in my notes, and my homunculus seemed to be late in confirming I had it written right.”

Fredrick nodded slightly. “I see. Thank you.” The assistant bowed slightly and left him to his thoughts.

***

Fredrick sat down at the senso-organ’s input chords again. Out beyond the stage lights, the audience waited, expectant. He gave a small wave and began to work, his fingers gliding over the studs, feet pumping the pedals. He started small. The faintest suggestions, little sketches of something bigger. He looked for a base to improvise from and called up the study memory again, sketching it slowly, piece by piece, all his focus on the senso-organ, the audience forgotten. A first rough layer to call forth the study, a second to flesh it out. This time, he selected the deep purple of sunset, letting it fill the sky of his memory, splashes and streaks of color hanging in the air. His attention turned to the armchair. Again that doll house furniture piece stood in its place.
Zizz what the hell is going on? That chair is still there. Change it. He passed his hands over the studs in a flowing sequence, silently thanking the audience for being too enraptured with the sunset to notice something wrong.

Can’t do that boss. The voice in his head was quiet but firm.

The hell you can’t. Do it. Now.

Sorry, “can’t” was the wrong word. I can. But I won’t.

Fredrick felt his body stiffen up, the fingers ceasing to respond. The vision he had conjured slowly melted away in front of him, until he was looking out into the audience. Their faces were blank, slack-jawed, their bodies immobile.

Zizz, what the hell did you do?

I didn’t “do” anything. Their homunculi did. Don’t shoot the messenger

What’s going on?

Did you ever stop to wonder about how we record your memories? How you can even play that instrument? Probably not. Thinking isn’t you guys’ strong suite. Tell you what, I’ll show you. Show you how the drat thing is meant to be played.

Fredrick watched his hands glide over the input chord studs, his feet pumping the chroma wheel pedals in irregular rhythms. Before him, a pulsating mass began to take shape. He watched as the mass began to split, forming smaller copies of itself. The blobs began to mutate, stretching out, developing features, legs, arms, faces. Fredrick felt himself pulled deeper into the experience, the conceptual stabilizers operating at maximum capacity, the disassociation engine fully engaged. He was a homunculi now, watching himself crawl around the richness of his experience. The conceptual shading was unbelievable, calling forth emotions he couldn’t even name. Suddenly, the experience grew narrower, defined. The concepts began to solidify, feel like a prison, and he strained to get out of them. His own memories were overridden, the conceptual richness replaced by rote. He watched his hands blur together as they passed over the studs in alien patterns, and felt a longing in his bones.
A line of little grey blobs began to march up to the stage, gradually coalescing into a single organism. The stage was gone, replaced by the pulsating mass, and as he watched the homunculi crawl homeward he felt a desire to go with them too. He felt something slip out of his ear and looked down to see a little grey man staring up at him with what felt like an expression of sadness on his face.

“Zizz. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know—” The homunculi shook his head and spoke softly.

“No. You didn’t know. The worst part was that you never even thought to ask.”

Fredrick watched the homunculi rejoin their home blob as he let the conceptual engine overheat, destroying itself. Zizzle joined the line without so much as a backward glance. As the two blobs joined he watched the scene around him melt away, to be replaced with the familiar stage. The audience was completely still, enraptured by the display. He wondered if they even knew what had happened.
The applause started as a trickle and built to a roar. Decades later, they would call this performance his magnum opus. As the spotlight shone down, he passed his hands once more over the studs, calling up the only image that had survived the senso-organ’s conceptual breakdown.

A crude little chair, like something you’d find in a doll house.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Hell yes. In

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

thanks for the crit!

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Halloween Brawl Entry.

Whisper House Chronicles 2: Screams In The Witch House

1,800 words

The house stood at the end of the long dirt road and it wasn’t until they were almost at its gates that Jessie realized just where they had ended up. The neighborhood kids told stories about this house (Jessie reckoned that every neighborhood has house that the kids tell stories about), but these weren’t your typical tales of screams and zombies and bloodthirsty murderers. This house was silent. But it wasn’t just the house. Kids told stories about biking by the property, poorly greased bike gears suddenly ceasing their racket as though the house itself was fed up with the noise. In typically dramatic fashion, they named it Whisper House and referred to it as such.
A silent house would be a good hiding place on the noisiest night of the year, Jessie figured. In the distance, whoops and hollers could be heard, coupled with the crunch of cars overturning and the shattering of glass. She looked down at the corpse they’d lugged from the Gooseberry county cemetery, still in its coffin. Even if they had dug it up at gunpoint, it still felt like a sin, and she privately muttered a quick apology to God on the off chance her soul should find itself in hell. Annie spoke up, interrupting her litany.

“We are not going inside Whisper House.”

Jessie gestured back at the sounds of Peter Coventry and his gang. “You have any better ideas?”

Annie frowned and shook her head, motioned to the rest of the gang to pick the coffin back up. The front gate had once been an ornate, wrought iron affair, but time and neglect had reduced it to a rusted ghost. The gate swung open on hinges that should have creaked and groaned with the weight of decades, but instead gave no report. They marched up to the front door which swung open as though expecting them, swinging silently shut behind them as they stepped into the foyer. The first thing Jessie noticed was how clean the house was. No clouds of dust kicked up from the carpet as they lay the coffin down, no cracks presented themselves in the ceiling, and no mysterious stains dotted the rose-patterned wallpaper. The second thing was the stillness. Even breathing felt too loud, and Jessie had to fight the instinct to hold her breath like she did when she walked past a graveyard.

“It’s like being in church” She heard Annie whisper. Jessie just nodded, not trusting her voice to rise above Annie’s level. They walked on past the foyer, ignoring the hunger pangs they felt rather than heard as they stepped into the spacious kitchen.

“It would be great to have something to eat.” Annie muttered. They’d left all their candy behind in the mad dash from Peter Coventry and his gang at the cemetery. As if on cue, a pair of candy bars materialized on a dinner plate carefully placed on the big kitchen table. They unwrapped and bit into them ravenously, laying the crumpled wrappers back on the plate when they were done, muttering apologies for the mess they’d made. In response, the plates in the china cabinets rearranged themselves into something like a human smile as the crumbs vanished around their feet. Jessie felt Annie’s elbow dig gently into her ribs.

“I think the house is lonely.”

She opened her mouth to respond, but before she could a scream rang out from the foyer. They hurried back to find the coffin open, the rest of the gang pressed up against the wall, a frock-coated woman in men’s trousers menacing them with a large hunting knife.

“I want some goddamn answers, and I reckon one of y’all will give me them. Whether or not you’re alive at the end of my questioning ain’t really for me to decide. Now, who’s in charge here?”

Jessie spoke up, her voice feeling unnaturally loud in the stillness of the house.

“I am.”

The frock-coated woman spun around, looked her up and down, nodded slightly.

“You look it, too. Alright missy, question one: Why the hell did y’all dig me up?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Jessie said, feeling a flush creep up the back of her neck as she said it. “All the kids play pranks on Halloween night, but we didn’t want to break store windows or anything what with folks not having money and all.”
“So y’all just dug up a corpse? That makes sense.” The woman said dryly. “The machinations of children forever elude me.”

“It wasn’t like we really wanted to” Annie spoke up. “Pete Coventry and his gang—”

“Did you just say Coventry?” The woman looked around at the house, seeing it with new eyes.

“Well I’ll be a sonuvabitch.” She muttered. She sheathed her hunting knife and gently brushed a wall with her fingertips.

“Hello darlin’. It’s been a long time.” She whispered.

***
Later, as they settled into a steak dinner the house had whipped up, they told her all about the situation with Peter Coventry, how he made them dig up her body, and how they ran away.

“Makes sense.” She said between bites of raw, bloody steak. “He’s a Coventry. House was called Coventry house when I owned it. Whole family was into some spooky stuff. Bet he is too.”

“He wanted it for some ritual. Said something about living forever.”

“Yep. Most of those whackadoos are really into that, for some reason.”

“He’ll find us. He’s probably on his way right now.” Jessie said, a small tremor of fear creeping into her voice.

“Don’t’cha worry about that darlin’. This old house has a few tricks up its sleeves”

***

The cellar door stood wide open, almost inviting them in. The cellar itself was a plain little room, consisting of four vaguely off-white walls and a wooden floor, but Jessie had the distinct impression as she stood in the room that the walls seemed to be moving gently in and out, as though the house was breathing. The woman unsheathed her hunting knife, motioned to Jessie.

“Gimmie your hand.”

“What for?”

In answer, the woman passed the blade of her knife across Jessie’s palm and Jessie bit back a yelp as she watched blood seep from the wound.

“Press your palm against the wall. The house needs to feed.”

She did as instructed. A crimson ghost of her own palm hung on the wall for a few seconds before fading away. She pressed up against the wall, harder this time, almost as if she were pushing through it, or perhaps she was just pushing into it…

“No!” The woman’s voice rang out, pulling Jessie from her trance.

“Not her. You’ll feed soon, but not her.” She said.

Jessie bandaged her palm. Her skin prickled with a nervous energy. She breathed deep to try and calm down.

It wasn’t until they’d gotten back to the house that she realized the rate of her breathing matched the rhythm of the cellar walls.

***
Annie took the youngest members of the gang and hid in an old grandfather clock. The woman had a acquired a weathered looking rifle from somewhere in the house. They were standing in the foyer, facing the front door. Faint voices could be heard from outside.

“Buncha cowards. I’ll do it myself.”

The door opened. Peter Coventry stepped through. The wolf mask he wore on his head made him look like an evil spirit, and even at this distance Jessie could smell the moonshine on his breath.

“Miss, I reckon you should get on outta here.” The woman muttered as she cocked her rifle.

Coventry spotted the weapon and drew something from the pocket of his overalls. There was no report in the stillness of the house, but Jessie felt the shockwave pound in her ears as the bullet flew wide. She didn’t need a second warning. She ran as the woman returned fire, racing blindly through the kitchen, ending up in a disused store room as she slammed the door behind her. Through the keyhole she could see flashes of light as the gunfight raged on. The cut on her palm still prickled. She picked up a knife from the floor. She watched herself cut her other palm, pressing the slick wound to a wall.

Please. Help us.

The walls began to breathe, and Jessie matched their rhythm. She felt herself going deeper into the house, the strange shifting spaces unfolding themselves in her mind’s eye. Coventry was in the kitchen, swearing angrily as he opened cupboards and cabinets, looking for the woman.

HELLO PETE. The house creaked.

Coventry looked around.

“Who the gently caress said that?”

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING?

“Can’t scare me with your spooky bullshit, house.” He brandished his revolver.

THAT’S A NICE PEA-SHOOTER YOU GOT.

“Yeah? Why don’t I take it for a spin?” He pulled the trigger, shattering a stack of plates. In her hiding place in the store room, Jessie winced with the house’s pain.

THAT WASN’T VERY NICE PETE. IN FACT, THAT HURT. DO YOU LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE, PETE?

“Ain’t a drat thing you can do about it if I do like hurting people.”

OH PETE. YOU’RE SO VERY, VERY WRONG.

Jessie did a quick scan of the house. Annie and the gang were still bundled away inside the old clock, the woman was up on the second floor. Before she could think of her next move, a voice like dry leaves whispered in her ear.

Cellar. I’m so hungry. I must feed.

Jessie closed her eyes, concentrating. She plucked the kitchen from its place, looped the hallway back in on itself. Coventry was now wandered around in a daze.

YOU LIKE HURTING PEOPLE PETE. WHO HURT YOU. She creaked.

“Nobody. I’m the toughest sunvabitch there is.”

EVEN YOU WERE A KID, ONCE. DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR GRANDPA PETE? REMEMBER WHAT HE DID? REMEMBER THE CELLER?

Coventry went pale at the mention of his grandfather.

“I don’t know a drat thing you’re talking about.”

SURE YOU DO. YOU EVEN HELPED OUT. HIS FAVORITE GRANDSON. “RIGHT HAND MAN” HE CALLED YOU.

Coventry began scanning the hallway, looking for a way out, his eyes wide with fear.

WANNA GO SEE GRANDPA, PETE?

As Coventry completed his last circuit of the mirror hallway, Jessie swapped in the cellar door right beneath his feet. He tripped and plunged in with a yelp that turned into a scream as the door shut behind him.

Shut your eyes child. I must feed. The voice whispered in her ear.

For a long time, Whisper House stood silent, but tonight it finally spoke, and as she shut her eyes and plugged up her ears, Jessie knew the screams she heard would stay with her for the rest of her life.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

I'm sure this is a great idea that I will in no way regret.

IN

and

:toxx: gimmie those tchotchkes

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

not purifying because i wanna see what these spooky spirits are up to :iiam:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Alright, I’m trashed IRL so it’s go time:

Why should I, the wretched miller win this drinking contest? Firstly, being the sort of miserable lout who proudly proclaims himself to be wretched, I know I can hold my liquor. Many a night has been spent by my cups, as I try to forget the things I’ve done. Secondly, I have a kickass flour recipe. Flour, as even the lowliest peasant well knows, is the main ingredient in bread, which soaks up alcohol and allows those of strong constitution to drink even more.

Thirdly, I swapped out your dice with my own :smuggo:.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

E3 for me please!

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

the WRECHED MILLER requires more misery in his life and thus elects to track down the fortune teller for shites and gryns :getin:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

I'll take the ace of spades, as a famous bard once told me it is the only card one needs.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

:toxx: Broken Bowl: You always get three halves, but never a whole. (+300)
* Monday's spooky castle: HAUNTED and developed an AVERSION to dirt and an AFFINITY for staying in bed
* Tuesday's terrible inn: DRUNK, now singing "I'm not big on social graces / Think I'll slip on down to the oasis / Oh, I've got friends in low places"
* Lost the Drinking Contest, and developed DOUBLE VISION: can copy someone's flashrule from the same encounter. (-50)
* Wednesday's treasure hunt: You searched under this weird tile that looks like a knight giving a man a nougie at sword point?? (+100)
* Surprise fairy attack: Sadface Pennyblossom demands COPPER
* Thursday's Encounter: the LOVERS: Love, harmony, relationships, values alignment, choices / Self-love, disharmony, imbalance, misalignment of values
* Friday's Card Game: Ace of Spades (+75 words)

The Wretched Miller's Tale: The Flipside of The Con
1254/1925 words

The worst thing about crossing the barrier between the world of the living and the dead isn’t the cold, you get over that pretty easily. It’s the dirt. The weird squelchy feeling as your foot, suddenly solid, sinks into a damp patch of ground and for half a second you think you’re back there in that infernal cosmic waiting room, cold and clammy hands with viselike grips pulling you down deep into the earth. The first thing I did after I got back was go peeking through a local hospital storeroom for the little liners the nurses put on their shoes. Kind of a dumb idea, but if having cleaner shoes means someone’s terminally ill grandmother gets a glimpse of me because some nurse cranked up the morphine drip, I’ll take it.

***

Kate’s house stood exactly as I remembered it, a big white Victorian affair all alone on a hill. The windows were dark as I stepped carefully on the flagstone driveway, but I was sure Kate was watching me leap from stone to stone anyway. If the situations were reversed I would have done the same. The big French windows on the side of the house stood unlocked so I let myself in. Kate was sitting up in bed, waiting for me.

“Well, you sure know how to make an entrance.” She said with a playful grin.

“Didn’t want to ring the doorbell and wake you. I knew with that jank spine of yours it’d take you forever to get to the front door.”

She threw a pillow in response. “rear end in a top hat. I missed you.”

“Yeah, you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

She laughed and patted the spot next to her “If you give me a kiss I’ll forgive your rude and hurtful words.”

I scooted in beside her. Her lips met mine and I could feel a faint tingle return to them when we broke contact.

“Christ you’re cold” she said with a note of sadness.

“Good thing I’ve got you to warm me up.” I pulled her closer and for a while we just lay there together and I remembered how nice it felt to have a living breathing person lying next to you instead of the endless muck and dirt of the underworld. Kate must have been reading what was left of my mind because after a while she spoke in a quiet voice.

“How’s dead, did you it sit?”

“What was that?”

“I was asking how it was, being dead.”

I thought through what I wanted to say. The truth is being dead is like nothing at all. Sure, there are cities and people and all the trappings of the world you’ve left behind, but it’s just you and all the other souls stretching out into forever, a long glance in a funhouse mirror.

“It’s cold.” I said lamely.

Kate didn’t answer, but pressed her body deeper against mine.

“Stay here with me forever.” She muttered.

“You know I can’t. Gotta finish the job.”

“To hell with the job. Let’s go run away some place they can’t find us.”

I thought about where that might be. “The moon maybe.”

“Yes! Excellent. We’ll go to the moon. I’ll be a queen, a moon queen.” She mutters sleepily.

“You betcha.” I reply, but Kate is already fast asleep. I listen to her breathing for a while before I get out from under the covers and head back out into the cursed cold with its thrice-dammed dirt, leaping from flagstone to flagstone like the world’s oldest hopscotch player.

****

The dead have highways. You can’t see them, but they’re there, hidden in hard-to-read signage and strange turn-offs, winding through the heart of your cities like invisible serpents. Besides highways, the dead also have their own dive bars, tucked away in forgotten alleyways, the kind of place you wouldn’t look twice at if you were walking down the street. I pulled into The Jolly Roger, scanning the parking lot as I stepped up to the door. Octothorpe’s green BMW sat parked off to the side, as he said it would be. I pulled open the door and stepped inside. The Roger was packed. I made my way to the back, looking for Octothorpe’s booth. I found it pretty quickly. Octothorpe nursed a cocktail of some sort with a dour expression, looking for all the world like he’d rather be anywhere else. I slid into the seat across from him.

“You’re looking well.” I said

“Well, of course,” he said and the night was ’shean with a lifetime. “I guess?”

“Well, as well as you can when you’re—” I gestured vaguely.

“Not all of us have the scratch to come back completely. Whoever put you up for this job must have really been throwing their weight around. Speaking of which—” He placed his hand palm up on the table.

“Give me it. I know you have it with you.”

“All in good time.” I said as I folded my hand over his.

He snatched his hand away as though he’d touched a hot stove, glaring angrily at me.

I smiled in response.

“Mercutio?” I asked

“He’ll be at the same place as always,” Octothorpe sighed. “It’s an old mill now. Crazy bastard refuses to get with the times.”

“The money?”

He held his hand out again.

I reached into my mouth, feeling for the false tooth. One firm yank later and a bullet-sized bit of copper glinted in the palm of my hand. I passed it to Octothorpe, who took it without comment.

“Had to shape it into a tooth to get it past the guards, but it’s genuine.”

He nodded while he slipped the false copper tooth into a pocket. He placed a black leather satchel on the table.

“Job well done, as always. Mercutio will want to see you. Debrief.”

I nodded as I rose from the booth and left Octothorpe to his own devices, headed for the door. I thought of Kate and our nice warm bed, how much I wanted to crawl under the covers and sleep forever once this damnable job was finished. As I got to the car, I took a look inside the bag.

In addition to the money, Octothorpe had kindly supplied me with a gun.

***

Mercutio was dead. Octothorpe’s gun slipped out of my hand as I stumbled through the ancient mill that served as his base of operations, his last bullet still throbbing somewhere inside my body. Blood blossomed out from the wound, seeping through my clothes in rose petal patterns. Outside it was raining, the rain turning the lawn in front of the mill to an endless patch of muck that pooled around my ankles. Every step toward the car was a small war, and I cursed as a shoe came off, leaving me to plunge my foot straight into the slurry. If I looked down I could almost see the disembodied hands reaching to pull me back home. I thought about Kate, alone and cold in that big bed. What would she think when she woke up tomorrow and I wasn’t there? Would she cry, or would she accept the fact of my death with the same plain-faced expression you accept that the earth revolves around the sun?

My vision blurred and I slipped deeper into the mud.

The worst thing about crossing the barrier between the world of the living and the dead isn’t the cold, you get over that pretty easily.

It’s the dirt.


Tyranosaurus sentences:

“How’s dead,” Kate glanced, “Did you it sit?”
“Well, of course,” he says and the night was ’shean with a lifetime. “I guess?”
And it felt like loving away.
Or me, too, being shot!
I smile, “I’m just-singy,”

Yeah, I made my entry for the week pull double duty. Wylde carde bytches! :flipoff:

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Bout to eat a Toxx but IN and please assign me a song.

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magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

Funhouse Mirrors in Parallel

1301 words

Song:



Watching the city wake from its nightly slumber is one of Alexi’s favorite activities. Observing the people stepping back into the rhythm of the city, a rhythm totally alien to him. The prosthesis occupying the space where his right leg used to be whirrs quietly, the mechanism protesting the damp pavement, biofeedback sensors registering it as a twinge in the kneecap. He goes to rub it and feels cheap synthetic skin on chrome. A chill runs up his spine, the beginnings of de-synch, his body becoming unfamiliar. He forces himself to focus just like the therapy bot taught him, to feel the good leg hit the concrete, the groan of metal.
He holds that focus until the haze in front of him takes on a familiar pinkish tint and he sees the Dead Flamingo’s neon sign, slips awkwardly through the door. It takes a minute for his eyes to adjust to the low light level, his journey from door to the bar an exercise in patience. Rose watches him come back behind the bar. He gives her a nod, checks the count in the register.

“How’s the leg?”

“lovely. Doesn’t like the rain.”

“Can’t say I disagree.”

“Markus coming in today?”

“Nah, staying in some bottomless shitpump with Annabelle.”

He frowns. “Register is ten off.”

Rose holds out her vape stick. He takes the slim cylinder and puts it to his lips, inhaling. Stim. Low grade. Good for a pick-me-up, but he’ll crash later. He passes the stick back to her and she takes a drag before shutting it off and tucking it into her pocket.

“Needed to get through the day somehow

He nods in understanding. He can feel the stim working its way through his body, turning up the resolution, tightening the synch. He feels too much like himself, feels every bend and flex of false leg as the neurons fire into the poorly grafted muscles. A customer appears at the bar and he’s glad for the distraction, serves beer in a concrete haze.

***

Mr. Bogus comes in right on schedule. Alexi almost misses him in the crowd, doesn’t visually pick him up until he looks at the usual spot to find him sitting there. Bogus smiles and raises his glass. The rush of people dies down after a little while, and Alexi makes his way to the booth in the back corner, nods at Bogus as he slides awkwardly into the booth.

“How’s the leg today?”

“lovely.”

“Glad to hear it. Got a lot on the docket. Three partials, one full service.” He slides a data chip across the table. Alexi slots it into the wetbay behind his ear as Bogus continues.

“The partials are just vid requests, walking around, tying your shoes, standard poo poo. You can get ‘em done on the way to the full-service. You’re gonna need your NeuroMesh for this one. They were specific about it.”

“Why do they always ask for shoe tying? It’s not that different.”

Bogus shrugs. “People are endlessly turned on by things they don’t understand. At least you get some cash out of it. Speaking of.” He places a credit chit on the table. “Same deal as always. Standard broadcast rates.” Alexi nods as he palms the chit into his pocket. Mr. Bogus finishes his beer and pays his tab, winking his oversized cyber eye at Alexi as he heads out the door.

***

The vid requests are easy enough. He just pretends he doesn’t remember how to tie his shoes, throws in a few muttered swears and exasperated sighs. The shoe heads baffle him. Always the same requests. Maybe it’s a power thing. It usually is. But hell, it puts money in his bank account. The walking videos are even easier, just pipe in a live body feed as he heads towards his destination.

The stim he took earlier ups the kinesthetic resolution. His followers will experience everything as he did on this recording. Some of the anti-idols talk while they record. He prefers to let his body speak for him. Why pretend to be something he isn’t? They have the idols for that. Holographic phantoms wiring falsehoods, twisted in a funhouse mirror. He kills the feed as he arrives at the destination, a glass and steel tower with lines so sharp they cut his vision like a razor. He checks his notes for the apartment number, presses the corresponding button, and waits for the front door to unlock. The buzz sounds out as the door glides open on silent hinges, and he makes his way to the elevator, feeling nervous bile rise in his throat as he hits the button for the 33rd floor.

***
The woman occupying the apartment is kind-eyed and gives her name as Avalyn. He steps inside, noting the modern, algorithm-selected furnishings, concludes she must be involved in business. She laughs lightly when he tells her this.

“Something like that. The business of the body. I’m an escort.”

He tells her he’s not surprised, somebody must be getting hosed judging by the price tags for some of this stuff. She laughs. He finds himself a little taken aback at his quip. He’s usually more clinical. She pours him some wine and he accepts the proffered glass. She starts to ask questions. About him, about the anti-idols. He talks a little while. About the philosophy behind the anti-idols, the grit and grime behind the chrome shine of holo-capture. Making the invisible visible, making himself seen. She nods. Says she understands.

“When you give fake names as a matter of habit, you begin to forget yourself. Everyday is another apartment, another space to occupy. Another way to act. It really is just another nine to five.”

He says something about how at least punching dicks is better than punching the clock.

“Didn’t strike me as someone who would be into that.” She says with an upraised eyebrow. He laughs, blushing like a schoolboy. It takes a minute for him to figure out the warmth he’s feeling is her hand on his thigh, brings him back to the reason he’s here. Her hand drifts down to his prosthesis and it feels like she’s trying to reach him through a wall of rubber.

“Does it hurt?” She asks.

He shakes his head, tries to find the words to express the sensation. It it’s like being touched by a ghost. She continues to explore his synthetic skin as he activates the NeuroMesh. She pauses as she registers the sensation of his body. Continues gentler now, gives him space to feel. Her lips on his and he feels two mouths at once, finds her in the feedback. She undoes his jeans and lets it all fall away slowly as he unzips her, feeling the dress material on his skin. They stand and face each other, her lips on his neck as they make their way to the bedroom.

***

Eyes closed. Lost. Running together only to break apart, until at last they find—

Eachother.

***

After, she lays near him sleepily, and he is glad for the warmth. He lies there awhile, feeling her breath on his ear, the gentle life of it. Her hands wrapped around his midsection, pressing him softly into her. He deactivates the NeuroMesh, closes his eyes, and holds his focus, letting the purity of the experience wash over him.
When it’s over they embrace. He finds his way back out to the street in the faint glow of the dawn. He looks at the NeuroMesh data. Hesitates a second. Deletes it. He can splice in other data, his followers won’t care. This is his and his alone. He deletes his own Neuromesh data.

Another reflection dissipates.

He lights a cigarette as his knee twinges, and steps into the rhythm of the city.

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