Thanks for inviting me to post. My prose prompts were….
Amy: Sunflowers on Steroids
Cameron: The clothing line’s success was built on their attention to the details- and the total transparency of their employees.
Erika: The Great Train Caper
Jen: Describe some food and make me hungry, a scene will do. Bonus points if you also write about eating food.
Manda: From the depths of his coma, he heard…
Wendy: Larry Porter and the Philanthropist’s Cone
I chose the first one, Amy’s sunflowers on steroids….
I chose this prompt because I love the sunflowers that are grown around here in Northern Spain and my wife and I decorated the chapel with them for our wedding, and the phrase straight away made me envision a cautionary tale about GMOs, with farmers competing and going too far, so the plant ends up taking over. I like to write stories like this – an extravagant supposition based in science and made as believable as possible. I have never worried about the healthfulness of GMOs, but as an ecologist, I don’t see the need for them and believe they do have negative effects on the environment – at most they merely speed up evolution like overuse of antibiotics.
The difficult part was deciding how to write the story ; I wasn’t sure what the context would be, but then I thought it would be a story recounted by a survivor, rather than a story happening in real time.
Hope you like it.
Sunflowers on Steroids.
I always said them scientists would mess everything up, playing round with creation like they was God.
The environmental beatniks said it too, course, but they said all kind of whatnot, like the weather was changin’, that we didn’t listen much to them guys. Joel McCallum, though, he reads the scientific papers, and he said they reckoned the canola plants’d be the ones that did it, them being so common and close to weeds anyway. He said the genetically modified canola would mix with the field mustard plants and lead to a superweed that nothing could get rid of. The idea of sunflowers takin’ over like they was on steroids, well, we none of us predicted that.
What we never saw comin’, either, was losing our land to the federal government after trying so hard to keep independent from them assholes in DC.
We bought the land fair and square, set up our town ten years beforehand. We were self-sufficient by then, hundred per cent, and all set for the apocalypse should it decide to turn up. We didn’t think it would turn out this way.
It was the federal government’s fault, though, too. Always knew that would be true. They were the ones invited that crazy sonbitch to plant those damn sunflower plants out our way. Gave him permission to use federal land we used to graze cattle off not twenty miles from town. Well, we didn’t think no sunflowers’d stand the shallow soil there. No depth at all, after the dustbowl years took it clean away. Even the grass dried up when it didn’t rain in late spring. We didn’t think the plants would stand up in the wind, first time we went out there and they told us what it was they were growin’.
Joel tried to explain what they’d done to the sunflowers – struck in some genes from a creeper, a vine of some sort that was supposed to only change the roots from the deep tap roots sunflowers supposed to grow, into wide spreading roots that would keep the plants upright and get them enough water from what rains came there. They’d spread the seeds out farther than normal to compensate. Well, Joel didn’t know what way they’d messed up – whether they’d put in the wrong piece of string or if the gene did more jobs than just make roots of one sort or the other, but mess up they did. The plants grew up stringy and creeping. They stretched along the ground, covering the empty patches between plants till it was just a sea of green, with all trace of the rows they’d been planted in gone. The flowers were small, but each plant had four or five instead of one. We was amazed the first year. The scientists just took notes. They harvested some, but with the way the plants were all higgledy-piggledy, they missed half the seed heads.
Of course, we didn’t like to let such food go to waste. We was self-sufficient, but it’s a sin to waste such bounty as the Lord places before you. We planted some in our own plots – and we planned to keep planting it, till we realised it didn’t need no planting. The wind came through one night, the way it does, and the seeds flew everywhere on it. Next year, it was everywhere. It invaded the wheat fields, covered the town. It was kinda pretty at first. We used the oil for our trucks, couple of years. But we soon saw it was gettin’ serious when it covered the floor of the forests, started cloggin’ the creek, and broke half the corn plants before they got to cobbin’. It wrapped around everything – I mean everything – like vines, like morning glory, or that Japanese knotweed they’re always going on about, on steroids more than sunflowers on steroids, and they blocked out the light from every other plant, till there were was nothing else we could grow.
Well, we thought we could at least use the energy the oil gave to cut and burn it out, but we eventually had to ask the government for help. It was their problem, when all said and done.
They came, in helicopters, since the roads were practically overgrown by then. One fella told Joel they was comin’ anyhow, whether we asked them or not. Their scientists told them to shut down the whole operation – and more. They was goin’ to move us – would’ve paid us to up and move sticks someplace else. But what we asked for help, they just took us out, told us to gather up our valuables and make sure it was all clean of vegetative material, they called it.
We did as was asked – we weren’t no fools, wishing this upon everyone. Besides, we weren’t ready for the apocalypse of this description, of any description without our land, our shelters, our supplies.
When they took us up in the helicopters, we saw them start the firebombing straight away. That shit smelt like the end of the world. No wonder them Vietnamese hated us, using that shit on them. I asked the pilot how much they was going to burn. Five thousand square miles, he told me. Hell of a lot of Napalm man. Of course, we had some Napalm ourselves, just in case. When I saw the town explode, I thought, well, there’s an end to it. We might not survive the next apocalypse, but at least we helped the world avoid this one.
That’s what I thought. That’s what we all thought, true as the Lord is lookin’ down on me.
Thing about sunflowers, though, even these crazy ass ones, was the seeds were real tasty. The kids in town used to go round all day, biting on them and spitting out the shells. Well, how can you put the blame on the shoulders of a little kid, not eight year old, instead of the scientist that made them seeds? Little Mia La Tere meant to eat them, of course, and all would’ve been well. But when she saw the explosion from all that stuff we’d in storage, well, she jumped so high she near enough fell out of the chopper herself. Only natural the bag slipped out her hand and the seeds scattered…
David O’Brien is a writer, ecologist and teacher from Dublin, Ireland, now living in Pamplona Spain. He has a degree in environmental biology and doctorate in zoology, specialising in deer biology and is still involved in deer management in his spare time.
As an avid wildlife enthusiast and ecologist, much of David’s non-academic writing, especially poetry, is inspired by wildlife and science. While some of his stories and novels are contemporary, others seek to describe the science behind the supernatural or the paranormal.
A long-time member of The World Wildlife Fund, David has pledged to donate 10% of his royalties on all his hitherto published books to that charity to aid with protecting endangered species and habitats.
David’s author page on Tirgearr Publishing- Check out his books!
Really flattered to be asked to feature here again! Thanks, Erika. My prompts were:
1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Subdivisions by Rush
2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Roar by Katy Perry
3.) Country/Singer-Songwriter- The Dance by Garth Brooks
4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland (Sometimes we forget just how flipping good she really was) from The Wizard of Oz
5.) Wild Card- Theme Song from Cheers- Where Everybody Knows Your Name
I chose ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. It’s a beautiful song and Judy’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. I actually had the characters already (from a story I wrote on Twitter to cheer up a friend who likes dragons). I gave them a rainbow to deal with, and the story sort of wrote itself. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…
‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’
Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’
Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.
‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’
‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.
‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’
The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.
The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.
‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.
‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.
The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.
‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’
Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could. ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.
‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’
‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’
‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’
Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.
‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.
The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.
The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.
There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.
Ellie yelled ‘Watch out!’ and hurled her spell.
The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.
‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.
‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’
Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.
‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’
They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.
‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’
Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’
Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.
An elderly warlock was hurrying towards them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.
‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.
Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’
‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.
‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.
‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.
Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.
‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.
‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’
‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’
‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck-up, snobbish…’
‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’
‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.
‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.
‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.
‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.
Ellie beamed back.
‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’
I was so flattered to be asked by Erika of the BBBGals to write a guest post. Thank you!
My five prompts were:
Amy – Sunflowers on steroids
Cameron – The clothing line’s success was built on their attention to details – and total transparency with their employees
Erika – The spicier the better
Jen – I don’t want to wait
Wendy – Look out Wonder Woman, Super Girl, and Catwoman. I am the next super heroine
Erika’s prompt immediately struck a chord, as I LOVE spicy food, but also, it led to an idea involving a supernatural being that I’m writing about at the moment…
Here’s the flash fiction I came up with.
She watched him as dexterous hands chopped the vegetables. He hummed under his breath, one of the rock songs they both favoured. Onion, peppers…then he was reaching for the chillies. Her breathing quickened.
‘Hope you like it spicy,’ he said, slicing off stalks and removing seeds. If only he knew.
She stood behind him; slid her arms round his waist. ‘How lucky I am’, she teased, ‘To find a man who can cook.’
He turned in her embrace and kissed her. She tasted Corona, and the nachos they’d munched earlier. She tasted desire, and struggled for control. No, no…there would be plenty of time for that later.
They pulled away from each other, panting.
She broke the silence. ‘Get chopping, you.’ She poked him playfully in the ribs. ‘We’ll both need the energy for…afterwards.’
His eyes widened. ‘Couldn’t we just..?’ His voice was husky.
‘Nope. Food first.’ Well, one kind of food, for her.
He groaned, but resumed his action with the knife. She stepped back and studied him. He was pretty perfect: young, healthy, well-muscled but not too pumped up. Every so often a lock of hair fell forward into his eyes, and he pushed it away with an impatient gesture of those long, slender fingers.
‘So, don’t you like cooking?’ he asked over his shoulder, as he threw ingredients into a pot.
She shrugged. ‘Not really. I’ve never got good at it.’
‘I thought you said earlier that you were on some special diet? Don’t you have to make stuff for that?’ A thought occurred to him. ‘Oh…are you sure you’ll be all right to eat this? It’s my speciality, but it’s pretty hot…’
She worked to keep the smirk from her face. ‘It’ll be fine. It’s more like I need…supplements…rather than a special diet.’
‘Oh, right. So there’s something you can take for it?’
She eyed him greedily. ‘Oh yes.’
He had chopped five chillies by now, and was holding up a sixth, questioningly.
‘Go for it.’ She licked her lips. ‘In fact, use another two.’
‘You sure?’ At her emphatic nod, he chuckled. ‘A girl after my own heart!’
Oh yes, she thought, your heart, you soul…everything you’ve got to offer.
He tipped the vegetables into the pot and stirred. Her mouth watered, at the scent of the chilli con carne, and the scent of him. A sheen of sweat glowed on his skin as steam rose from the hob. As he put the knife in the sink, he winced and dropped it, raising his hand to his mouth.
She couldn’t help herself. ‘Let me see!’
He sucked his finger and held it out for her inspection. ‘It’s just a nick; it’s fine.’
She chewed her lip to stop herself from jumping on him. She kissed the bloody spot on his hand, licking a tiny bit as she did so. Mmm…delicious. Even better with some seasoning.
‘So,’ she said, letting go of him. ‘How are we doing?’
He stared at her for a moment, then ‘Oh!’ He faced the hob. Tasting the chilli, he looked pleased. ‘About five minutes, I reckon. Only…it could be a bit hotter, if you’re up for it?’ He held out the spoon.
She tasted. Yes, it was good – very good. She imagined his blood laced with all that spice, that hotness. Putting the spoon aside, she wrapped her arms round him and kissed his neck. His pulse throbbed just below the skin, inviting her fangs to descend and taste. No – not yet. Not until after the main course. Even with the chilli in his system, his blood would be sweet. A fitting dessert.
‘Go on then,’ she agreed, letting go of her dazed chef/ lover/dinner.
‘The spicier, the better.’
Julie had these prompts to choose from:
Amy- The first taste of coffee in the morning
Cameron- I got a flat iron and a curling iron for my birthday.
Erika- Pigs in a blanket
Jen- Just another maniac Monday
Wendy- I’ve been cloned!
Took a while, but finally settled on Cameron’s. As always, these things never turn out as planned…
Once, when I was 14, I got a flat iron and a curling iron for my birthday.
They were hot pink – like Barbie’s dream Porche pink – with pictures of smiling white girls on the packaging, smiling their perfect white-toothed smiles and flaunting limp wristed grips while they curled and flattened their hair. “Be the envy of your friends”, the package said, “Look beautiful and fabulous!”
I remember them because I hated the gift, given to me by my aunt, whose mission in life was to make me into a proper young lady.
But I didn’t want to be a proper young lady. I wanted to take the world by storm, go on exciting adventures mixed with a dash of danger.
So, when my grandmother passed away and left me an amulet that let me travel through dimensions (apparently, she was quite the trans-dimensional explorer in her day – a different story for a different time), I thought Finally, some excitement.
But, right now, I’d rather have the flat iron/curling iron combo.
Blood runs down my leg, oozing from a deep gouge on my hip and staining my clothes. The metallic smell draws swarming insects out from their hiding place in the thick jungle.
I have no clue where I am. There hadn’t been any time to calibrate the amulet before I used it, not when I’d been fleeing for my life (apparently, there are some ‘verses where they frown upon a young woman touching a married man’s right shoulder – how was I supposed to know?). I’d landed on a steep slope, slick with mud after a recent rainstorm. There’d been no time to catch my balance before I tumbled down, rolling over rocks and tree roots, injuring my hip in the process.
I’m a mess of bruises and open wounds and there’s nothing I can do but keep moving while I wait for the amulet to recharge. It’s better than being a sitting duck in the middle of the jungle, but not by much.
I’ve said it once, but I’ll say it again: dimension hopping is a bitch.
I long for a machete. The foliage is thick and oppressive and every leaf feels slimy as I push past it. I’ve never wanted to chop something down so badly in my entire life. Hell, I’d settle for napalm if it got rid of these stupid trees.
I limp along for a while. I hear monsters in every distant noise, every ripple of wind. I hate this place. The sooner I’m gone, the better.
But the amulet takes a day to charge. How am I going to survive a day? I don’t know anything about wilderness survival.
I push my way through a thick bush and into a clearing. Half a moment later, I scream.
They’re just standing there, waiting for me. 12 men (or, at least, I think they’re men), with spears clutched in hands covered in dark purple skin, their hair – silver – braided and hanging over their shoulders.
My first scream dies and, before I can let out the second one and run like hell, the front man speaks. “You are the one the Herald promised, are you not?”
Cool thing about the amulet is that it has some sort of translator built into it. Right now, that’s the only point in its favor. “Am I the what, now?”
“The promised one,” the man repeats. “With hair of night and skin of loam and this symbol upon your shoulder.” He raises his spear and traces a shape in the air, leaving a line of light in its wake. The light forms an ankh and something clutches at my heart. It’s the same symbol tattooed on my shoulder, a tipsy decision that I both regretted and celebrated at the same time. “It was foretold that you would be here at this time, yes?”
I press my lips together to keep from drawing my lower one between my teeth. I don’t really think I’m this “foretold one”. But what happens if I say I’m not? Best not find out. “Sure, it was foretold.”
The leader cocks his head to one side and raises his free hand in a fist. He turns to the rest of the group and they let out a series of chattering yips. I don’t know if this is a good thing, but it’s a damn unnerving sound. The leader looks back to me. “I am Surac, chieftain of the Vendri.” He pauses and looks over me. “You are injured. Come, our dwelling is not far from here. Shallah will heal you, yes?”
I smile and let out a weak laugh before I can stop it. “Sounds great.”
Their dwelling is not the straw-and-mud hut village I expected. Instead, I’m guided to a small, walled city. The buildings are made of light grey stone with azure flecks that shimmer beneath the light filtering through the trees. Through the city gate, I see a crowd gathered and, when I step into view, trailing behind my escort, the crowd falls beneath a wave of silence. It’s clear, whatever these people think I am, that they’ve been waiting for me for a long time. My skin crawls at the feel of a thousand pair of eyes all focused on me and I try to smile, but it’s hard when I feel like I’m under a microscope.
Surac steps forward and, for a moment, I’m not the center of attention. “My dear Vendri, our burden is at an end!” he calls out. The city square fills with the same chattering yips that unnerved me earlier, only now it’s much creepier in stereo.
Surac holds up a fist and the sound dies down. “500 suns ago, we were besieged by a wasting sickness that nearly doomed us all. The Herald came to us in our time of crisis. He healed us of our disease and gave us the teachings to discover even more potent cures. For this, he asked no reward. But we are a proud people and we demanded to know how we could repay him. ‘On the 8th passing of Khelet,’ the Herald said, ‘She will appear, with hair of night and skin of loam and a symbol on her shoulder. Lead her to my Legacy and your debt will be repaid.’”
Surac pauses and, though I can’t see his face, he holds himself with his head held high and shoulders back. Pride radiates from every inch of his frame. “We will be without the shame of debt once more!” The chattering yips start up again, louder than before.
Hands grab at my arms and I look to either side at the men who’ve grabbed me. Their grips are gentle and it’s the only thing keeping me from screaming. “Come, Heralded One. You require healing. Shallah’s lodging is this way.”
The hours pass in a blur. Shallah, a diminutive woman with short, ice-white hair pinned carefully around her ears, heals the wound on my hip with some sort of salve that leaves my skin unblemished, as if I’d never been injured at all – there’s not even a scar. They bathe me and clothe me and hold a feast in my honor. I wear a wrap, like all the other women, with one shoulder exposed, made of fabric dyed the deepest red I’ve ever seen. All sorts of food pass before me and, so as not to offend anyone, I try them all.
I try to smile and relax through the ceremony, but it’s hard when I have no clue what they expect of me. Countless people come up to me where I sit at the head table, next to Surac. They press their hands to mine and thank me for relieving them of their burden. Old women leave dry kisses on my cheeks and pat the top of my head. It’s not long before I’m passed overwhelmed from the attention.
And, when the feast finally dies down, Surac and his wife lead me to their abode, where they give me a covered pallet raised off the ground. I’m asleep almost before my head hits the feathered pillow.
The Herald’s Legacy looms large in front of me. It took two hours to get here from the village and now, Surac and I stand on one end of a narrow, stone bridge. Behind us, Surac’s honor guard stands 20 feet away at the far edge of the clearing around us.
“They won’t come any closer,” Surac says. “We are not worthy to cross to the other side. The end of this bridge is as far as one such as myself can even go. To go further would be blasphemous. Only you can move on from here.”
I smile at Surac. “You are freed from your debt.”
It was the best thing I could say to Surac. The relief that passes over his face is palpable. His eyes close, his head bows, and the tension melts from him. His is not a people that likes owing anyone anything. A proud people, indeed. “Go, Heralded One,” he says with a toothy grin. “Face your destiny. I will send someone to this clearing at this time every day for the next 10 days to see if you return. After that, we will assume you are lost.”
I bite back a smile. I don’t plan on coming out of the large stone temple that sits on the other side of the bridge, but he doesn’t know that. “Thank you, Surac.”
He nods at me and turns to go back to his guards. I watch until they disappear back into the jungle. After a few moments, the sounds of their movement fade and I’m left by myself with the noises of a jungle and a giant temple behind me.
Lichen and vines grow over the same pale grey stone that Surac’s village is built from. It reminds me of a Mayan step pyramid, with the apex reaching past the tops of the trees. There are no statues, nothing carved into the stone. Or, if there were, those carving have long faded away.
I worry my lower lip between my teeth. The amulet’s ready to go, but curiosity nags at me. What’s in the temple that was apparently left for me hundreds of years ago?
Well, I wanted adventure. What kind of adventurer would I be if I didn’t take a peek?
The buzzing of insects augments the calls and chatter of birds in the canopy and the sounds echo around me as I cross the stone bridge. A peek over the side shows a deep, dry moat, maybe 100 feet down with smooth, sheer sides. I gulp and pull back to the middle of the bridge. I may have forgot to mention that I have a tiny fear of heights.
I hurry across as fast as I dare and, soon, I’m standing inside the mouth of the temple’s entrance. A long hallway stretches out away from me, pristine and devoid of life. It’s like I’ve stepped into the cleanest Indiana Jones movie I’ve ever seen.
The sounds of the jungle fade the further I walk into the temple and soon the only thing I hear besides my own footsteps is the faint rushing of air passing through stone. The stone gives off some sort of ambient light, like it’s glowing from within, but at least I don’t have to worry about feeling my way in the dark.
The hallway turns, a sharp 90 degree to the right, and leads to a staircase. Compared to the jungle outside, the air inside the pyramid is cool and the thin wrap I wear does nothing to keep me warm. I’m trying not to mourn the loss of my clothes, but the goosebumps that pebble my skin betray my efforts. I rub my hands up and down my arms as I descend.
After the stairs level off, there’s just one more, long hallway that opens up into a central chamber. A low ceiling stretches out in front of me, supported by a handful of thick, square columns. A gleaming pedestal stands in the center of the room, the only point of interest. My instincts say “trap” – once again, Indiana Jones comes to mind – but I find myself making a beeline straight for the shiny. What can I say? I’m an easy sell.
The slap of my sandaled feet on the cool stone bounces back and forth between the stone columns as I move forward. It’s maybe 50 feet from the hallway to the pedestal that’s captured my interest.
The gleam comes from a silver tablet that rests on top. On the tablet, there’s a circular button on the middle of the bottom edge and a series of 10 divots that create a circle on the square surface of the tablet. A small bracelet, also silver, sits just off to the side on the corner of the pedestal. But, as interesting as both of those objects might be, it’s what’s etched into the stone on the pedestal’s edge that sends my heart into my throat.
“Sayuri, press the button.”
Etched in English, addressed to me, the words brand themselves onto my brain. How? How is this possible?
I press the button with a shaking finger. The tablet clicks, the divots shift and slide open. Diffuse light shines up from the newly formed holes. Motes of dust float in the beams as the light coalesces to form an image, a hologram.
It’s a man, looking off to the side, and his gaze casts about as he adjusts something off screen. But I don’t care what he’s doing; I’m too caught up in the fact that I recognize the man in the image. A lump forms in my throat and I have to blink away the beginning of tears from the corners of my eyes. “Papa?”
As if the image hears me, the face of my father turns to look at me. A small smile pulls at the corner of his lips, sad and tender at the same time. He looks almost the same as he does in my memories – a little greyer at the temples, maybe, but he hasn’t aged much from the last time I saw him.
I was 5 the day my father left to go to work and never came home. His car was found in the parking lot of a nearby mall, with nothing wrong with it. He was listed as missing for years before the police declared.
“Sayuri, my little momo-chan.” The image speaks and I can’t stop the tears. Suddenly, I’m 4 years old again, in my father’s arms, as he presses messy kisses to my cheeks and pretends he’s eating them up. I was a fuzzy child, with very round cheeks. My father called me “his momo-chan” – little peach. After he disappeared, no one else ever called me that again.
“I know it’s been a long time since you’ve seen me and it kills me to know I missed watching my sweet daughter grow up. If you’re seeing this, it means you’ve discovered your grandmother’s amulet and you’ve started exploring the multiverse.” Papa pauses and sighs. “It also means that you’re wondering what happened to me and how I knew to leave you this message in this place.”
I chuckle through the thickness in my throat and let out a sniffle. “That’s an understatement.” I can’t stop my voice from trembling and I don’t know why I even speak.
“It’s not going to be easy to explain, and there’s not enough time.” Here, Papa breaks for a dry, humorless laugh, one my limited memories I have of him don’t recall. “Now, that’s irony.” He shakes his head with another breathy chuckle before he looks me in the eye again – or, rather, the image of him looks me in the eye. My heart doesn’t want to be reminded that what I’m seeing is from the past. I’ve forgotten how much I miss him and I’m realizing how raw the wound of his loss still is, even 20 years later.
“I wish I could tell you everything, and I wish I didn’t have to ask you to do what I’m about to, but we’re desperate, Sayuri.” There’s a long pause and the silence is the chamber is eerie. The need I have for the recording of my papa to speak again is all consuming.
“I was born 600 years after you were – 594 to be precise. And, at the time of this recording, it’ll be almost 500 years until you’re in this temple to watch it. So, I hope, by now, you’ve realized time travel is involved.” Papa closes his eyes and tilts his head down. “Problem is, something’s gone wrong. The threads between times and dimensions are unraveling; the multiverse is breaking. And there’s no one I can think of to fix it but you, momo-chan.” Papa’s voice hitches and he takes in a shaky breath. I stifle a sob.
“The bracelet doubles as a transporter, keyed to a specific time and place. There will be someone waiting there for you, but it won’t be me. Our paths cannot cross again, momo-chan. I want nothing more than to help you down this path, but the timeline is too sensitive to risk any unnecessary tampering.” Papa leans closer to whatever lens is capturing his image, his lips pressed in a stern line. I can see the shimmer of tears in his eyes. “Everyone needs you, Sayuri. Take the bracelet. Activate it, please.” I cover my mouth and press my lips together at the sound of Papa pleading. “Know that I wish things could have been different. I love you.”
The image disappears. “No!” The sob bursts through before I can contain it. It’s the only one I let through. I curl my fingers, nails cutting into my palms, and struggle to breathe through my nose. I don’t want to cry anymore. God, I hate crying.
After a few moments, the immediate press of emotions simmers down and I’m left hollow, empty. With one hand wiping the tears from my cheeks, I reach out for the bracelet Papa left me, pinching it between my thumb and forefinger.
Like the tablet, the cuff bracelet is silver, maybe two inches wide with a gap large enough so I can slip it over my wrist. There’s a pattern etched into the metal, faint and almost indistinct, of smooth, curling lines. It’s beautiful, elegant and simple.
God, I don’t know what to do. I’m scared, confused, and all torn up inside. Papa’s asked me to save the multiverse and I don’t even know how to go about doing that.
But, still. Papa asked me. And the little girl inside of me is saying “yes” loud and clear.
This isn’t going to be easy, I can already tell, but I know I can’t say no. I know I’m going to put this bracelet on and go on a journey to save all of creation.
And so, with a shaking breath, I slip the bracelet on over my left wrist.
When she’s not slogging her way through grad school, Julie is finishing up work on her first novel. You can find her attempts at blogging at japetersenblog.wordpress.com.
Wendy received the following prompts this week:
Amy- …with a cherry on top
Cameron- Paper dolls in pop culture
Erika- Star light, Star bright
Jen- See through shower curtains
Hmm, what interesting topics to choose from. I really had a tough time making a decision so I did them all. Enjoy!!
I winced as my keys jingled loudly in the lock of my apartment door. It was past midnight and I had a rough day at work. The last thing I wanted was to wake Old Lady Schmutzen from her much needed beauty sleep. On a good day, I was lucky to tiptoe past her apartment with nothing more than a grunt from her and a squawk from her balding parrot whom I lovingly nicknamed Lunch. Fortunately, it was late enough for even the nosiest neighbor to be roaming the hallways.
Quietly, the door clicked shut as I let myself into my single bedroom apartment. I placed my purse and my current paper doll designs on the table before plopping onto the leather sofa and kicking my off my heels. My feet ached from a week long of twelve hour days at the office. Had I known two years ago that my talent for designing paper dolls would become the driving force in creating one of the largest multimillion dollar New York companies, I would’ve skipped college altogether.
The New York night sky, washed in a golden glow from the bright city lights, sat framed within the living room window like a photograph. A single star, the only one that could be seen in light polluted sky, twinkled in the right hand corner. Only certain times of the year would the star appear into my view from the couch and I made a point to make a wish when I saw it. Tonight, though, I was much too tired to think of anything I wanted.
“Maybe tomorrow, little star,” I said aloud. A dark and ominous cloud rolled across the sky, blanketing the star and obscuring it from my view. Strange, I thought to myself, I don’t recall the weather man reporting any storms in the area.
My stomach gave an audible growl reminding me that my last meal was glazed doughnut brought in by a staff member in the morning. I stood and went to the refrigerator. An awful smell assaulted my senses when I opened the door. It had been days since I last ate at home. Inside a half eaten tuna sandwich sat on paper plate. When had I made it? Last weekend I thought, but I couldn’t be sure. I dumped the smelly dish into the trash.
All that was left was a bottle of chardonnay with a maybe a half glass of wine in it, a dried up carrot, the heal of a bread loaf, and an almost empty jar of peanut butter. I grabbed the bottle of wine and the peanut butter.
“Dinner of champions,” I said and then checked my watch. 1:05am. “Make that breakfast of champions.”
Just as I was about to shut the refrigerator, I noticed a jar of maraschino cherries that had been hidden behind the peanut butter. I set the bottle of wine on the counter and pulled out the cherries. I couldn’t remember when I had bought them. The expiration date said 12/15/12. Six months old.
I considered tossing the jar, but the thought of having only peanut butter for dinner, or breakfast, had me reconsidering. The cherries looked fine and they were probably preserved in some chemically laced preservative. In fact, I considered, they would probably outlive the Twinkie on the bridge myth.
Armed with the cherries, the peanut butter, and my wine, I sat back down on the couch not bothering to get a glass or utensils. I twisted the caps off both the jar of cherries and peanut butter. Grabbing one of the round, red fruit between my fingers, I dipped it into the creamy peanut butter and then popped it into my mouth.
“Yum! Peanut butter with a cherry on top!”
I washed it down with a large swig from the wine bottle. In the back of my head, I could hear my mother’s voice reprimanding me. “What are you, a wild animal? Get a glass for goodness sakes,” her voice said.
“A toast to you, Mom. Cheers!” I lifted the bottle in the air before taking a second swig, finishing off the wine, and closed my eyes.
A thrumming sound came from the bathroom followed by someone humming. I bolted from the couch and ran to the bathroom with the wine bottle in hand ready to swing it at whomever had broken into my apartment.
The bathroom door was slightly ajar and steam whirled through the crack. I slowly nudged the door open with my foot. The shower was running. Behind the frosted see-through shower curtain, a man was scrubbing his armpits singing Boyfriend by Justin Bieber. I stepped into the bathroom careful not to make a noise. A second step elicited a loud crinkle beneath my foot. I looked down to find a large piece of paper with a leather jacket, white tshirt, and black pants drawn on it. Next to it was a dark, paper sunglasses. My head spun as I picked up the sunglasses recognizing them as one of my paper doll designs, but life-sized.
The shower turned off and the curtain swung open. Standing naked with water dripping from his brown, pencil-drawn hair was Justin Bieber…the two-dimensional paper doll, but as tall as I was. He squealed, covered his incompletely drawn male anatomy, and turned away from me. With his paper-white backside turned to me, he tilted his head in my direction, his paper neck crinkling as he did so.
“Hey! Ever heard of knocking?” he asked.
Shocked, all I could do was stare at my sopping wet creation. Wait, was this my design? I wasn’t sure.
“I’d tell you to take a picture because it’d last longer, but if you Googled me you could have yourself several thousand images of me,” Justin, or rather the paper doll said.
“But,…how?” The words that came from my mouth made as little sense as the situation did.
“Look, could you hand me a towel at least?” Paper Justin asked.
I pulled a towel from the beneath the bathroom sink and handed it to him. Still with his backside turned to me, he dried off his front and handed the towel back to me.
“Now if you don’t mind turning around I’d appreciate it. I might be an adult at nineteen, but I don’t need some cougar lady staring at my naked body.”
Dutifully, I turned around. Behind me I heard him pick up his paper outfit.
“This can’t be real,” I said.
Paper Justin walked passed me. “Oh no? Then how do you explain me being here?”
I watched him walk into the kitchen, the tabs of his outfit folded over his shoulders and around his legs. I followed him. He pulled open the refrigerator door.
“Got anything to eat?”
“Just these cherries,” I said, handing him the jar.
Paper Justin inspected the label on the glass. “They’re old! You really shouldn’t eat these. They’re likely to make you hallucinate or something.”
His smile wrinkled as he laughed. “Nah, I’m just messing with you. But you really ought to buy some better food that that.” Justin put his paper sunglasses on, adjusting the tabs around his head. He strolled to the door and opened it.
“Where are you going?”
“Got a concert later. Thanks for the shower.”
“Sure.” My response came sounding more like a question than a statement.
Just as he was about to shut the door, he stuck his head back in. “Any chance I could ask you a favor?”
“I guess so. What is it?”
“Could your next design be Selena Gomez? She’s hot!”
I nodded, still without words.
“Oh, and one more thing,” paper Justin said. He stepped in and looked around to be sure no one else could hear him. “Any chance you could,…umm,…finish drawing this part?” His words came out in a whisper as his cheeks blushed. His paper hand pointed down toward his crotch. “You see, Taylor Swift is making fun of me for not being anatomically correct and she’s started writing a song. She’s calling it ‘Justin is Never Ever Getting Back his…’ Well, I let you fill in the blanks.”
Blink, blink, blink. That’s all I could do, too stunned to even respond.
“Thanks,” Paper Justin said shyly before walking out the door.
Left alone in my apartment, I stared at the door wondering if everything I had just witnessed was real or my imagination. Taking Paper Justin’s advice, I dumped the jar of cherries into the trash. I sat down, picked up my paper doll portfolio and thumbed through it until I found the Justin Bieber doll. With a pencil in hand, I drew in Justin’s manhood. As I inspected this addition to the doll, I could have sworn he winked at me.
Wendy is a former Disney Character, wife to a hunky Matterhorn Climber, mom to three amazing little boys, and the author of INDIGO. She is currently seeking representation for her dystopic YA novel. You can find out more about INDIGO at her blog http://wendyspinale.blogspot.com/.