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!
So, my friends, my fans of the Beer and Bacon Babes site- guess what?!?! New stories coming!
And not just ANY new stories! Stories from my fellow author at my press, Tigearr Publishing! We’re looking at Romance, Fantasy, Paranormal, Thriller, we run the fun range on awesome genres!
These are all published, super-TALENTED authors. I know that this blog has an audience of devoted, truly engaged readers so I am excited to offer such fabulous writers. I think everyone is really in for a treat!
You’re welcome- gear up- the next four weeks? Super fun!!
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.’
Thanks to Erika for asking me along for another round of prompts! This time everything was based on music, with the following to select from:
1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- The Last in Line by Ronnie James Dio
2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Angel in Blue Jeans by Train
3.) Country/Singer Song Writer- I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- The Lonely Shepherd from Kill Bill Vol. 1
5.) Wild Card- The Original Theme from Sesame Street TV Series
I was very tempted by the wild card, but in the end it was ‘The Last in Line’ by Dio that really got to me. Probably because I have an unhealthy obsession with what happens to us after we die, but this story popped into my head and wouldn’t let go until it was written.
Just a warning, things to get a bit dark in the middle (and if you don’t like bombings, please be careful reading) but as always I try and get to the light at that end of the tunnel.
LAST IN LINE, ONE LAST TIME
They say time has no meaning to the dead. This is a lie. Time doesn’t vanish when you cross that line between living and not. It simply becomes less meaningful. There are no clocks to glance at. No ticking beating at your ears. Most of the dead simply ignore the passage of time.
I, however, did not.
I sat on a bench overlooking a sunken plaza. It was either sunset or sunrise, the light dim enough to be either, the air neither hot nor cold. A long line snaked through the plaza. It’s beginning disappeared through a set of double doors at the far end leaving the back end exposed.
The line moved constantly, people arriving singly, in pairs, sometimes even in larger groups, but never seeming to actually make the line longer by their presence. An old man appeared, followed by a woman wearing a pantsuit and one shoe. Over the man’s head bright letters flared declaring his name as John Schmidt and the cause of death ‘heart attack’. The woman’s name was Coleen Chen. She’d been hit by a train.
Both flinched when a smiling man with a clipboard appeared besides them. I couldn’t hear what Aiden told them from my seat, but I saw the man tense while the woman burst into a brief bout of tears that dried before I could do more than blow one bubble of my Very Cherry Bubble Yum.
The gum smacked against my teeth as I sucked it in. Aiden handed Coleen a slip of blue paper and John a slip of red. I fingered my own slip. It was as black as the bench I sat on, nothing to mark it except for the creases my fingers had worried in it over time.
It had said something once. I’d refused to read it. I wasn’t going through that line. Not yet.
From the way John’s face went as red as his slip I knew Aiden had gotten to the part about what the colors meant.
Red for the bad. The ones who’d died with something ugly on their conscious.
Blue for the good. The ones who’d died without doing anything too sinful if not having done anything particularly good.
No one’s slip was meant to be black. I blew another bubble and watched Coleen’s shoulders relax. Guess that made me special. I watched a few more appear. A boy who’d died of cancer. A girl who’d slit her wrists. Four victims of the same car accident. All got blue slips.
Bored, I stood and made my way down the stairs along the outside of the stone wall surrounding the sunken plaza. The stairs lost shape, lost their mindless sameness the further I went, until I had to go down backwards, hands gripping the steps above while my feet groped for the steps below.
No one besides me came this way. Not even Aiden. The sun didn’t brighten, the grey and blue of the sky never changed even though I was well past a count of 5,000 Mississippi by the time I reached the bottom.
Dusting my hands off I looked at the craggy wasteland stretched out in front of me. Aiden said I was insane to come down here. That I would never find who I was looking for.
The bugger could piss off.
I couldn’t exactly die trying. Not now. So why not continue the search?
The way I saw it, he had to be out here somewhere. There had to be a door back to him. I couldn’t find him that day, but I sure as hell would find him now. Hunching my shoulders, I put the earbuds back into my ears, the sounds of Easy Rider making my head bob as I started my trek.
This was my 75th journey down here. Each had ended with me back on that bench, watching Aiden, an unopened pack of Very Cherry Bubble Yum in my pocket and “I’m Gonna Walk 5,000 Miles” blasting from the iPod.
No matter how I tried, the memories of how I’d ended back up there stayed locked up tight, the only sign I’d been anywhere the extra creases in my black slip and the dust on my boots.
I kept plugging at it though. I had no desire to learn whether I’d died good or bad. All I wanted was OUT.
“One Mississippi,” I breathed as I walked. “Two Mississippi.”
Faulty memory of the end of each journey aside, I could say with absolute certainty that I’d been down here ten years, six months, five days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes. Counting kept me sane. Kept the fire burning in my gut.
By 4,000 Mississippi I had reached a giant lake. Various journeys said there was nothing in the lake but water, nothing to the east but forest, and nothing to the west but an endless plain of grass. No birds soared, no fish swam, no crickets creaked. The one sound was the music in my ears and swish of my jeans against the waving stems of grass I trampled.
Pulling my boots off I dove in. The water parted before me, feet and hands sliding as smoothly as tail and fins, propelling me forward. Barely a count of 500 Mississippi passed before I was at the northern most edge of the lake. Here countless pairs of boots (all my black, knee high Maddens) sat in messy lines.
To anyone else they’d have been a sign of futility. To me they were a sign that something in this godforsaken place changed. Even if it did it’s best to convince me otherwise. The sand around the lake faded into shale, then concrete. My breath began to quicken. This was new. I couldn’t remember encountering anything manmade before.
Pulling the last piece of gum clear I used a rock to anchor the packet right on the edge of the concrete lip. There was no other sign I’d been here yet. No human element but me and the concrete lane leading down a gradually steepening hill.
Count again established I walked. The concrete was warm under my bare feet, a strange contradiction to the temperature-less water and air. I stuck to the center where in the alive world a white or yellow line would break the expanse.
I had no expectation of anything, so the rumble took a long time to process. A nervous feeling, like the quiver against violin strings drawn by new violinists during their first warm up with the Metropolitan Orchestra, started in my belly and traveled upward.
I slowed and pulled an earbud free. Music muted, the rumble became more intense, a counter vibration up my legs to the nervous fluttering in my abdomen. Slowly, emerging around a curve I hadn’t noticed before, came a flame red Mustang. Headlights powered through the gloom and I stopped.
“No fucking way,” I whispered, then yelled it. “No fucking way!”
Nerves turned to joy, a swift BOOM BOOM POW in my heart. I ran, pelting towards the driver side door as the car’s throaty roar cut off and the door began creaking open.
“Jack!” I tripped, nothing catching at my toes. Palms slapped the hood as I tilted forward. I reveled in the pure HEAT pouring through dead skin and rebounded, using the hood to slide around the side.
The door slammed and there he was. Jack Parson. His smile lit up the sky. His figure huge and imposing in a world of gray.
“Hello, darling,” he said and caught me in his crushing embrace. Smells—whiskey and horses and Jack—slid themselves up my nose and I gasped drawing them deeper into my lungs.
Tears rose and I flung them away from me, fingers buried in the softness of his sweatshirt. “I found you. I found you. I found you.” Counts of Mississippi forgotten I repeated those words over and over until with a laugh, Jack tipped me back.
“How do you know I didn’t find you?” he asked.
That made me smile. “Because you’ve always been terrible at finding things. Don’t see why being dead would change that.”
I knew the words were the wrong thing to say when his always relaxed posture stiffened, the hands around my arms tightening. “What?” he asked.
Doesn’t he know? I knew. Even before Aiden told me.
“We’re dead.” I kept breathing in the scent of him; each hit a piece of home.
The word fell between us and I pulled away. Foreboding turned the oxygen to carbon dioxide before it could even reach my lungs. This felt familiar. Terribly familiar.
I stared into those dark eyes that I had always known better than my own and suddenly we weren’t standing on an empty highway, the Mustang besides us, but in the center of a busy city street.
A boom split the air and a building disintegrated, glass like terrible snowflakes caught in a blizzard howling down upon us. People screamed and ran, the smell of burning flesh and scorching metal realer than anything. A piece of glass bigger than my arm speared a girl through the back and she fell. I didn’t move. Couldn’t have. I watched the red seep from her, watched it stain the asphalt.
I’d seen this before. Been here before.
When I’d died.
That was me, lying there. My blood staining the ground. I’d landed on my stomach, earbuds knocked free, hands feebly attempting to roll myself over, eyes wide and frightened even as they dimmed.
“What is this?” I whispered. “Jack, what is this?”
I turned, but he was no longer besides me; the street empty of anything but panic and destruction.
“Jack!” I whirled in a circle doing my best to ignore the panic rising in the back of my own throat like sludge. Ignoring the movements of my old body ceasing. What had I even been doing down here that day? I didn’t work downtown. I never even left the suburbs if I could help it.
But I’d come. I’d been walking across this street for a reason.
Bundling the panic into a ball, I started to walk, then run. Jack. I’d come here because of Jack.
The ‘why’ of his being here remained stubbornly out of my reach as I hurried. Another building exploded. People veered every which way. Their mouths opened, but my ears were deadened to their screams, the only sound I could hear a giant roar. A piece of falling building crushed a car and I stopped. Just stopped.
I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t. Why were they making me see this? “I died good,” I whispered. “I died good!” I tore the slip out of my pocket, scrubbing at the black. It was blue. I knew it had been.
The black came off like soot now, coating my fingers. I stilled. Stared. Because the slip wasn’t blue. It wasn’t red. It was some strange mix of both. The colors seeped into one another without ever becoming purple; red lines and blue lines intermingling and tangling until it was hard to make out any color at all.
It didn’t make any sense. Pushing down a scream I shoved it back into my pocket. Somewhere a child sobbed, a man wailed, an alarm railed against the destruction.
Jack will fix this, I thought. He’ll know what’s happening.
The sound disappeared, everything stilling as those words rattled there way through my head. “Jack,” I spoke slow, testing the words, “will know what’s happening.”
A pause, the rest coming to me like the dawning of a blood-red sun.
“Because he caused this.”
The street disappeared. I stood in a grungy apartment. Our grungy apartment. He stood at the sink, speaking to someone on the phone. “It’s all set, man,” he said softly. “We just have to pull the trigger and those bastards pay. Pay big.”
Numbness spread through me as the words did. Turning, knowing what I would see, I saw myself sprawled on the couch, body stiff even though my eyes were closed in a mockery of sleep.
I’d heard him that day. Heard every word even though he’d been convinced I’d been sleeping. But instead of going to the police I’d followed him. Using the bus because we only had one car. Arriving at the address I’d seen scrawled in his messy handwriting along with a sheave of other notes, plans, pictures, shoved in the bottom of his desk drawer, seconds before it had blown sky-high. He hadn’t even attempted to hide them from me. They’d been there all that time if I’d only looked.
But I hadn’t. Not until it was too late.
“Oh, Jack,” I whispered. “Why did you do this?”
He didn’t answer; just kept talking, voice growing angrier and darker. “They destroyed us,” he said to the person on the other end. “They fucking deserve to die a bloody, bloody mess.”
A laugh left him and I watched my body twitch on the sofa, remembered the chills that laugh sent through me. I didn’t feel them now. Now rage grew, pulsing through my veins. I fingered the edges of the card in my pocket. There had to be a reason I was back here. Was seeing this.
I needed to make a decision. A better one. I walked over to my body, sinking onto the coffee table, making sure my knees didn’t brush my body’s arm.
“Don’t follow him,” I told my body. “Just call the fucking police.”
The sound of the phone slamming down made us both jerk. Footsteps thumped the floorboards and Jack appeared. He crouched down, brushed the hair from my body’s forehead with a gentleness that was at total odds to the explosive anger of the telephone Jack.
“Darling?” he whispered. “I’ve gotta go out.”
My body blinked her eyes, playing down the confused horror as sleepiness. “Go?” My body’s voice cracked. “Go where?”
Jack’s lips pulled into a smile. The bastard, I thought.
“I’ve got something to do. I should be home early though. I was thinking we could go to the lake that you like. Pack a picnic?” He nibbled at my body’s neck, not noticing the revulsion in my eyes.
“Sure,” my body squeaked, eyes darkening. “Sounds wonderful.”
It sounded horrible.
I watched Jack kiss my body, sure I’d have thrown up if I’d been physically capable. But I hadn’t so much as swallowed a piece of gum in over ten years. We both watched Jack leave and I watched, silent, as my body lurched upright and went straight to the second bedroom/closet we used as our office.
I’d known exactly where to find his notes. Known exactly where they’d be.
The knowledge sickened me.
“Call the police,” I instructed from the doorway as my body sank in a heap besides the desk. Tears ran down her face, but there was no pity left in me. “Call them right now, you stupid, stupid, bitch!”
Instead, I watched her pull on the black Madden boots, the denim jacket, iPod in one pocket, Very Cherry Bubble Yum in the other, folded bills and I.D. in the back pocket of my jeans.
“People are going to die,” I told her. “And it will be all your fault.”
Despair closed over me, cold and heavy. It couldn’t end like this. It couldn’t. I couldn’t die with this on me. I knew that as well as I knew that the card in my pocket wouldn’t allow me down either path. I couldn’t follow the reds or the blues.
Aiden’s voice came to me then, his sharp little face so clear it felt like he was in the room with me. “You can wait to be last in line,” he said. “Or you can find a way to make peace with where you are. It’s up to you.” He’d said that to me every time I’d gotten frustrated and bored and approached him. He’d never looked at me, always intent on the red and blue slips he passed out, eyes on every new person to enter the line.
Now his words took on extra meaning. I could wait. Or I could act. I’d been trying to act this entire time, but in the wrong direction. I stared at my back, watching my hands flip my hair out of the way.
And for the first time, I reached for my body. My arms slid around my back, my face burrowing into my hair. I drug the scent of me into my lungs (rose from my shampoo, Cheeto dust from lunch) and sank into my body. For a moment everything doubled: two views of the door from slightly different angles, the sensation of arms both on mine and wrapped within mine. And then I dragged in the first real breath I’d taken since I died. I smelled the mold, the slightly rotten smell of old food and dirty laundry and never cleaned carpets.
I staggered back from the door, heart stuttering in my chest, lungs and limbs shaking. The phone. I wobbled, unsteady, into the kitchen and grabbed the landline. It had been installed decades again, the plastic worn and sweaty. I mashed three buttons. Listened as a voice answered. Took another breath…
…and changed everything.
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.’
Hi All, I haven’t guest blogged here in a while, but what a fun bunch of prompts I was given to welcome me back! I had the following to choose from:
Amy- Mozart, Mice and Men
Cameron- I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted
Erika- Like a Rainbow in the Dark
Jen- Christmas in July
Wendy- When Oompa Loompas play Candyland
The short story that follows is just a bit of backstory to my new adult fantasy trilogy ‘The Blackness’ inspired by Wendy’s prompt: When Oompa Loompas play Candyland. It shows what my main characters life was like before the events in the first book, ‘Dying was the Easy Part’ and before she became known as Jocelyn Hardy. I hope you enjoy!
Never Play Candyland with Ooompa Loompas
The paint was the first thing the old jewelry maker and royal guard noticed, smeared across the edges of the glass display cases in his shop. Tiny fingerprints, smudged from their mistress’s quick movements. A smile tugged at his face under the long white beard and he followed the trail, the orange growing lighter with each print, until he cleared the edge of the case and found a little girl sitting on the floor. Three strange little creatures all with orange skin and green hair fanned out in a circle around her with a board game on the floor in the center.
“No, Oompa One,” said the little girl sternly, the fabric of her white dress crinkling as she leaned forward pointing at the board and the little green gingerbread man serving as a gaming piece. The little gingerbread man waved at her, but she ignored him. “You have to move it to the purple space because that’s the color on your card.”
The orange creature named Oompa One simply blinked at the jeweler’s charge, the young princess Penelope—or as she insisted she be called for the duration of this game: Princess Lolly.
“Oompa One want chocolate. Chocolate now please,” it said pointing to Gloppy, one of the many creatures printed on the faded Candyland board.
The Princess sighed, a sound the jeweler knew well. “Oh, Oompa One, no. Gloppy is made of molasses. There isn’t any chocolate in Candyland.”
At that the three Oompa-Loompas started to mutter, what sounded suspiciously like the beginnings of a song starting to form between the trio—a song about lying princesses and cacao beans.
The jeweler cleared his throat and Penelope’s head shot up, aqua colored eyes wide. The Oompa-Loompas dissolved into swirling particles of orange and green, the tiny gingerbread men board game markers returning to their plastic staticness.
“Smithy! You’re back!” Penelope scrambled to her feet, black patent leather shoes squeaking as she threw herself at him, tiny arms, fingers still dusted with orange paint fisting his pant legs.
“Och, my ghile,” Smithy said, scooping her up. “What would your mother be saying if she could see ye now? You know real Oompa’s are not that ghastly color.”
“Oh, but they are. They’re orange and green. Like in the movie.”
“Hmmph. I think someone’s been seeing too much of that Hollywood tripe. I’ve told ye before that that rot will rot yer brains.” He coughed awkwardly at the unintended pun.
Tiny eyebrows, rose at that. “But why were the Oompa’s I called orange then?” She held out her hand, fingers splayed. “See? They got their color on me!”
Chuckling, Smithy used his handkerchief to clean the fingers waving at him. “You didn’a so much call them as create them, my ghile. I’ve told ye that your magic is a powerful thing.”
“Can I make anything then?”
The question was innocent, the eyes wide and guileless, and Smithy was struck again by the singular power of his little charge. If she wanted she could upend the Earth, create creatures of all shapes and descriptions that would be fully and totally loyal to her.
And she wouldn’t even need the usual magic paraphernalia. The pendants and the chants that ordinary witches relied on. That sort of power was staggering. Dangerous.
“Anything you wish, my ghile,” he said. “As long as it fits inside Cook’s breadbox that is.”
That got a giggle and a sloppy kiss on the cheek before she was demanding to be let down. Since Smithy was well aware of the girl’s ability to simply order his arms to release her, he was gratified to hear the words—even if they weren’t the most polite.
“Should ye be here, my ghile?” he asked, moving around the display case towards the back room that held his tools, the loose product that he would shape and twist into the jewelry lining the inside of his displays.
“No.” The little girl skipped after him, settling down on the end of his workbench where her own tiny pliers and length of coiled gold wire waited. “But Mummy said that Daddy wasn’t to be disturbed. She says that all the time now and I didn’t want to be quiet and play in my room like a good girl.”
The last part of her sentence was said in a near perfect imitation of the girl’s mother and Smithy ducked his head to hide a smile. “Aye,” he said, smile fading as he thought of the girls father. “Yer papa has a difficult job, dear one. Ye must give him time. He’ll be right as duck sauce by the Winter Solstice, just ye wait.”
The little girl didn’t ask the obvious question; one an older child would have asked immediately. Instead the worry lines wrinkling her forehead smoothed away and she began to tell Smithy about her day. About wanting to play Candyland which she’d found when visiting the city of Chicago months ago with her father—before her father had gotten too unstable to leave his lands.
These are dangerous time, the princess’s mother, told Smithy the last time he’d seen her. Soon it will be too dangerous for her to be near him. If it breaks free. If it sees…
She’d broken off then, but both knew the danger. Knew that if the thing inside her husband woke up when Penelope was in the room the consequences to them all would be horrific.
But for now, the man still held up to his sanity, his consciousness. The evil within did not yet realize the potential power source next to it. But it was just a matter of time. A waiting game that Smithy was growing tired of playing.
And unlike made up Oompa-Loompas playing Candyland, once this game ended (or started?) there’d be no going back.
It’d be war.
He gazed at the innocent child and knew in that moment that his days with her, like this were numbered. Soon she’d have to be sent away, hidden. But for now he listened to her babble on about Gramma Nut and the Ice Cream Sea, and thought of silver blades and golden arrows.
If war came, he’d be ready.
Just let it not be now.
He cleared his throat.
“How about another round of Candyland?”
Megan Wahl lives in San Jose, CA where she is currently busy editing her first novel ‘Dying is the Easy Part’ and starting on her second, ‘Caught Between’ both part of the planned trilogy, ‘The Blackness’. When she’s not buried nose deep in her own fantasy world she can be found at the local bookstore, nose first inside someone else’s fantasy. Or as she likes to justify it, ‘doing research’.
Pieter had the following prompts to choose from:
Amy – An art museum or an amusement park…which do you prefer and why?
Wendy – The Northern Lights and alien abductions.
Cameron – You had me at “Good-bye”.
Jen – A wine bottle, a can-opener, and a pack of matches.
Erika – Drivers wanted.
I picked Erika’s. I’ve always wanted to be a Driver (with the capital “D”). Here’s what I came up with, before it got away from me…
The sign was taped to the blacked out window of an old Lincoln. A beautiful car. The old, old one with the suicide doors, only this one was converted to a limo for the funeral home. It grinned at me from the front drive.
I remember thinking to myself, what sort of driver are they looking for? Someone to shuttle the grieving widows around? Or maybe they needed someone to ship the bodies? The latter would be a bit creepy. I could see why they might have a job opening. But if was the former, and the lucky employee got to drive that car, I definitely wanted in.
My interview was on a Friday. I wore my best khakis and a blue polo. Pretty much the nicest clothes I owned. I wasn’t exactly well-off. I was dreaming about what sort of uniform I might have to wear – pressed white shirt, jaunty cap, and leather gloves – when the undertaker (mortician, funeral director?) greeted me in the lobby.
He was a slight man, impeccably dressed in a dark suit. He walked with his hands clasped behind his back and greeted me in a smooth, soft voice: “Mister Hayden?”
I stood with a smile and shook his hand. It was limp and silky, like trying to shake a neck-tie.
“Please, call me Casper. It’s nice to meet you, Mister Hirsch.” He gave a thin smile and a nod.
I liked that, all business. Like an adult. Nobody ever called me Mister. Of course the only other jobs I’ve had were bussing tables at a diner and cleaning toilets at a gas station. I was kind of surprised I even landed an interview. Maybe they hadn’t checked my references.
I followed him to his office.
It was a sparse room, full of simple oak furniture. Nothing much on the walls except a painting of an old church and a couple of framed degrees and certificates. Under the painting was a little gold plaque that read: Ecc. 9:5-6.
I didn’t know the verse. Although I’d grown up religious, none of it had really stuck. I had been the kid at church who doodled in the hymnals and couldn’t keep his hands to himself. The one who explored the vestry after service, whose parents were always yelling for because the pot-luck was starting, or the sister had a soccer game we were late for. They would find me back behind the pulpit, behind the wall with the big wood cross, tapping away at organ pipes as big around as my fist, or trying to leave the perfect fingerprint on the perfectly polished hand-bells.
I think maybe I was too curious for Sunday school teaching. And maybe it was that same curiosity that had led me to try and get a job as an undertaker’s driver.
Mister Hirsch saw me looking at the plaque, but didn’t say anything, just sat behind his desk and made a steeple with his fingers.
“So the job is a bit odd, I’ll grant you, but the pay is good. You’ll be on call, but most of the work is done at night. I hope that’s not a problem?”
I shook my head. “Not at all. I’m a bit of a night-owl.”
He nodded again. “Good. Good. And you can start soon?”
I was a bit taken aback. He was talking like I already had the job. Maybe they didn’t have a lot of candidates.
“Yeah, definitely,” I replied. “But what exactly will I be doing?”
“It’s more of a courier job, to be honest. Not very interesting. Don’t worry, you won’t be driving any corpses or coffins or anything.” He twittered a little laugh like he’d made a joke, but I was actually relieved.
“You’ll have the same route every night, when we need you,” he continued. “Between here and our warehouse on the river. Many of our customers leave behind personal effects, and part of our service is storing such effects until the family comes to claim them. It’s fairly monotonous work but, as I said, we will compensate you well for your time.”
My heart sunk a bit, but I tried not to show it. They probably had some sort of cargo van in the back that I’d be driving, rather than the Lincoln. No tie, no hat, no gloves.
But at least it was a job.
“Does this sound like something you are interested in?” Hirsch asked.
“It does. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“Great!” he exclaimed. Literally. His whole face lit up, like he was surprised I wanted the job. “Let me get the spare keys to the Lincoln. You can’t take it home of course, but I’ll give you a set just in case.”
“The Lincoln?” I sputtered.
“Yes, the one out front. You do have a driver’s license, right?”
“Yeah, absolutely!” I exclaimed. Literally. My whole face lit up at the thought of driving that mobster car around all night.
It ended up being just as boring as Hirsch made it out to be, but I hardly noticed. The route between the funeral home and the warehouse was two hours round-trip, but I turned it into three. Not because I was milking the hours or anything (I got a flat rate per night), but because I just loved the damn car.
You know how they call all those old cars “boats”? Well I could see why. The car was wide and long and low and swayed with each turn, rocked with each bump, just sort of cradling me in its arms while it sang me a lullaby.
I took up smoking again just so I had an excuse to drive with the window down, so people could see me. I started listening to jazz stations. I bought the cap and the gloves with my own money because I wanted to do the car justice. It deserved a Driver (capital “D”).
I know I’m romanticizing it a bit, but please keep in mind that my regular car, my commuter, was a Chevy Cavalier. Not the smooth rounded ones of the late nineties, the ones that look like the Camaro’s sniveling little brother, but the jagged, blocky, snaggle-tooth earlier model.
I found myself waiting by my phone each night, hoping for a call from Hirsch or one of his many employees.
My work nights went like this: get a call (woo-hoo!), clanky, bouncy drive to the funeral home where I would park in the back, walk around to the Lincoln and wait for someone to bring out The Box.
The Box was like a miniature sea-chest, bulky and heavy and old. It was weathered from years of use, the brass clasp tarnished and gritty. Its edges were bound in iron strips, etched with all sorts of religious symbols; crosses and Star-of-Davids, and others that I barely recognized (maybe an Ankh?).
I peeked inside it once or twice (I think I mentioned that I was the curious sort?), but the only items I ever saw were an old, moth-eaten dress, and an old Elgin pocket-watch. Personal effects, just like Hirsch said. After that I didn’t bother, just hefted the box into the wide back seat, and drove my route.
The Lincoln had definitely been an actual limo at one point in its service. The bench seat in front was backed by a divider, complete with a blacked-out roll-up window. There was a little hex knob where a crank used to sit, so the driver could take directions from the passenger in back. But my only passenger was The Box, and I never had cause to ask it where it wanted to go.
Each night I drove The Box to the warehouse, where I would drive through a large loading door into a cavernous building. There were big orange light bulbs hanging high from the ceiling in wire cages, leaving most of the huge room in shadow. It was creepy, but I kind of liked creepy. I liked feeling like I was doing something mysterious.
I would stop the car, turn off the engine and give a quick honk. After a few minutes, sometimes as much as fifteen, a man would emerge from the darkness, dressed in coveralls. He would take The Box from the backseat and lug it off into the warehouse depths to be emptied and filed with all the other dead-people stuff. He never brought The Box back to me. I just left as soon as he took it, but every night at the beginning of my route the same Box would be carried out to me in the funeral home parking lot.
I never thought it was weird. Maybe I was enraptured by the car, maybe I just d didn’t care. Undertakers/morticians/funeral directors were supposed to be weird people with weird habits and a mysterious air. That’s why they’re drawn to the job, right?
But then one night, after my third or fourth month driving the route, The Box moved.
I was listening to a song off the album Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins, Impulse! Records, 1963. The song was Limbo Jazz (I was becoming something of an aficionado at this point). I tapped my gloved fingers on the edge of the huge steering wheel, one hand out the window, smoldering cigarette dangling between two fingers, when something thumped from the back seat.
I turned off the radio. As I said before, the car was smooth. Nothing ever bumped or jostled or jumped. So either the catalytic converter had fallen off, or The Box had slipped from its leather seat.
I pulled over, got out, and opened the back door. Sure enough, The Box had slipped into the gap between the seat and the dividing wall. Weird, seeing as how I didn’t remember hitting any bumps, but then again, who could tell? Again, the car was smooth.
I lifted the box back onto the seat and took off.
A few minutes later, thump again. This time, as I lifted the box back onto the seat I noticed the passenger doors had no interior handles. They’d been removed, as had the window cranks. Just hex bolts jutting from the doors.
What sort of limo has no interior door handles? I thought to myself. Were they afraid widows would throw themselves from the car in a fit of grief? Did that happen? Were all funeral limos similarly equipped? I’d have to look that up.
I hefted the box back onto the seat and drove off.
I still wasn’t weirded out at this point although, in hindsight, maybe I should have been. I pulled into the warehouse, the Lincoln rocking up the little incline and sighing to a stop under the caged lights. I got out, walked to the back, opened the door, and found The Box on the floor again.
I lifted it back onto the seat, listening for the coverall man’s footsteps. I was never told not to open The Box, but was still afraid the man would be mad if he found me rummaging through it. So I waited with the passenger door open.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. I smoked and waited while The Box sat quietly on the Lincoln’s seat, not jumping or falling or throwing itself onto the floorboards.
After fifteen minutes I figured I could take a quick peek. The lid creaked and seemed to whisper as it opened. Inside, nestled in a corner was a tiny pair of shoes. A child’s shoes, with little gold buckles and scuffed soles.
The hairs on my neck stood up and the room felt cold all of a sudden. Cold and sad. I’d been picturing widows, grown-ups and old men dying and leaving their watches or their dresses, maybe their desk-sets or old photo albums. But I’d been driving around a pair of kid’s shoes all night. Some dead kid who only wore a size 4.
I smoked again while I waited, thinking about how terrible it was. How did these people do this job? How did Hirsch put some kid on his table, put a kid in a coffin and sit and listen while people cried and wailed.?
I wondered who it was who drove the Lincoln before me. What had they seen in The Box and what what had they felt?
All of a sudden the Lincoln felt strange. More ominous. A carriage for the dead and I was some half-assed psychopomp, shuttling these spirits to their final end. It wasn’t rocking me in its arms, it was rocking the dead, soothing them, cooing them into the afterlife.
The coverall man still hadn’t come. In the quiet of the warehouse I thought I heard voices. Shouting maybe, a voice in ebb and flow, like a preacher leading his congregants in their evening vespers.
Maybe it was my imagination. All I knew is that I wanted to leave. I wanted to drive back to the funeral home and get into my snaggle-tooth Cavalier and drive back to my studio and watch some Family Guy. Maybe drink a beer or eight. Try and sleep. Try not to think about the dead kid’s shoes.
I lifted The Box and carried it deeper into the warehouse, trying not to jostle it. I followed the sound of the voices. They were real, but I had no idea where they were coming from. Some dark back room?
I walked past shelves stacked with cardboard boxes and manila envelopes. Maybe leftover stock from the warehouse’s previous life, or maybe all the objects the funeral home had collected over the years.
At the end of the warehouse, where it was darkest, I found a door. I knocked, but nobody answered. I could hear the voices, coming from somewhere beyond. They echoed strangely, a cavernous sound.
I opened the door to see a staircase, leading to a basement. I followed it down. It wound and wound. The sheet-metal stairs became iron, became wood, became stone. The bulbs along the wall became gas-lamps, became torches, flickering and weaving and casting furtive shadows.
The Box grew heavy. It seemed to fidget in my hands, like the little shoes inside were pacing, tapping and kicking. I almost dropped it. I wondered what was happening. What was happening to my mind?
The deeper I delved the more reality seemed to thin. The air cooled, took on a moist feel, a wet smell, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
I swore I could smell water.
The voices grew louder and I followed them and then the staircase ended and I stepped through a stone archway onto a long platform. Water rushed to my left. Some underground canal. The torches led me on.
The Box slipped from my hands to clatter to the pressed stone floor, but the clasp held. The shoes didn’t spill out.
Ahead I could see vague moving shapes, little more than shadow. They were speaking in low tones. From the arched ceiling hung wind-chimes and as I passed they tinkled quietly. Hollow, throaty sounds.
I approached the figures. There were three men, dressed in black. They had a net stretched out between them, each holding a section so that it hung taut in the air.
One of the wind-chimes clattered and The Box jumped and this time, when it slipped from my hands, the lid opened and the shoes spilled out and when they did, all along the cavernous path, the chimes were answered by others, a chorus of wooden notes.
One of the men shouted something. I wondered if it was directed at me, but I didn’t think they had seen me yet. I was bent, trying to gather the shoes but they kept slipping from my fingers. I was trying not to look at the water, bubbling its way into the dark.
Every time I grasped the shoes and tried to shove them back into the box, they kicked out of my fingers again. This was wrong. This was unreal. This wasn’t happening.
I gave up and left the shoes and dropped the box. I turned to leave, to run back up the stairs, but a low moan made me freeze. I looked at the shoes, looked at the water and, for some reason, crept closer to the men with the net. I wanted to see what had made that moan.
Remember that curiosity? This was one of those times it was a curse, but I think maybe I felt like I was dreaming. Maybe I was still in the Lincoln and it had rocked me to sleep while I waited for someone to come retrieve the box.
I kept to the shadows along the water and approached the men. They stood on a dock and at the end of the dock there was a boat tied. An old boat, like a Venetian gondola, with lanterns swaying at bow and stern.
The men were standing, holding the net spread out over something on the floor of the dock. It was a chalk drawing, like one of those Tibetan mandalas, but all white and crude and full of arcane shapes.
Lined up around their feet were jars, some clay, some alabaster or wood or brass. A shelf was bolted to the wall under another torch and it too was filled with those jars. All of them had runes and sigils carved into their sides.
What were they catching? What was this? What would they do if they saw me?
The moan sounded again and from the shadows another man emerged. He was old, his thin skin covering an impossibly bony frame. His brow was wet with blood and across his chest hung rope and chains. His hands were bound behind his back and the only thing he wore was a faded red loin-cloth.
He staggered towards the wall, trying to pass the men, but one of them turned and shouted. After a moment’s hesitation the man dropped his portion of the net and rushed to the old man, clouting him in the side of the head and dragging him back into the shadows. But as he did the old man saw me, his gaze locked onto me and he stretched out his arm, in supplication maybe, or shock, or just plain confusion.
The man who dragged him looked back over his shoulder and also saw me. He shouted to his compatriots. They looked over at me and let go of the net. It fell to the dock in a heap.
Behind me there was the little pitter-patter of tiny feet. Tiny shoes. I heard a tiny splash.
“Son of a bitch!” One of the men shouted. “That was a little one! We should have had that one.” He turned his gaze to me. At this point I had my hands up. I wasn’t going anywhere, and besides I worked for them, right? I was a fellow employee, although this part of the job was obviously above my pay-grade.
“You!” the larger of the men said. He was pointing at me. I took a few steps forward, tried to give my best, most innocent grin.
“What the hell are you doing down here?” he asked.
“I…I’m sorry. Nobody was upstairs to meet me, so I thought I’d…” I trailed off, not sure what I had thought I was doing.
“Where’s The Box?” the man asked. He had his right hand deep into the pocket of his coverall. The man behind him, who hadn’t said a word, was holding something in his left hand, low and in front, hiding whatever it was with his right.
“It’s back there. I dropped it. I’m sorry. I’ll just go and get it.” I turned but the man spoke up again.
“Stay right there.” His voice had taken on a nasty edge. This wasn’t a co-worker. This was the shadowy man in the corner office that you never wanted to see because if you did you weren’t going to be coming in to work the next day, or ever. “Did the box open?”
I took a deep breath. “Yeah. It did. It fell. I’m sorry.” I was getting a bit shaky. My knees were doing their best to high-five each other.
“Do you know what you just cost us?” He asked with that same nasty edge. I got a glimmer from the other man. Whatever was in his hand glinted. I tried not to think about what might glint down here, where nobody else was around to see.
“No. Look….I’m sorry. I’ll just…”
“Too late for that, kid. You cost us a lot, and you’re going to have to pay up.” He slipped a long silver knife from his coverall pocket. The other man lifted his. Wicked, curved blades.
I turned and started running, calling back over my shoulder. “Please, I’m just the driver!”
That’s all folks. Hope you liked it. Now I just want to write more about the kid who becomes Charon, or something along those lines.
BTW, new band name: “Half-assed Psychopomps.” I called it. You know, for the record or whatever.
Anyway, my name is Pieter Van Tatenhove, but I write under Pieter Lars (because nobody besides my immediate family can spell my last name). I have a website where you can read some of my other stories and poems, some of them dating back almost eight years now. I’ve had a few things published here and there, am going to the Clarion workshop this summer, and am currently working on my second novel.
Oh, and I’m on twitter @pieterlars
Please welcome our first guest writer, Kimberly Emerson! In accepting her challenge, Kim had the option of choosing between the following writing prompts, one from each of the BBB’s:
Erika- mullets, yes, the hairstyle
Wendy- You are stranded on a deserted island. You have a book signing in NYC in 24 hours for your NYT Best Seller An Author’s Survival Guide. Aside from the same flora and fauna you could find on any tropical island, you have with you the following: A single playing card (ace of spades), a pack of red vine licorice, a copy of the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents, a swag bag from the last conference you went to, and bacon. How do you get off the island and to your book signing on time?
Jen- Elmer’s School glue stick – fireflies and Olympus SP-620UZ (yep, she wants them all covered)
Cameron- “commencement time” (note from Cam: The “C” can also be capitalized; I’ll leave the interpretation up to writer’s discretion!
Amy- The perfect summer afternoon
And here’s what she chose…
by Kimberly Emerson
The minute Shaun stuffed me in that duffel bag, I knew the date wasn’t going to end well.
It had such a promising start. He seemed instantly familiar, like we’d met in a previous life. He had a private plane, and we were going to fly from Honolulu to his favorite restaurant on Kauai. In retrospect, I should have known that it was too good to be true, but things had been going so well for me lately. My latest book had just hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. Well, you know, one of the lists. The non-fiction one. But still, I’d seen it myself – #1: The Author’s Guide to Survival, by Allie Oliver. It just seemed to be the time for exciting things to happen in my life.
As it turns out, being inside a duffel bag is not exciting. It’s cramped – your definition of a “roomy” duffel changes substantially once you’ve spent time on the other side of the zipper – and your entertainment options are limited. This one smelled like rotting meat. Sheesh. Shaun had locked me inside this canvas prison, and he hadn’t even had the decency to empty it first. I kept getting smacked by the objects floating around in it with me. The only good thing about this duffel was its flimsy construction. After what seemed like hours, when Shaun tossed me into the ocean, the seam around the zipper gave way, and I was able to swim to safety on a small island.
Well, you know – relative safety. I was on an island I didn’t know, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But I had reached a beach, and the warm sand felt better than a Sealy Posturepedic pillowtop. I told myself to get up and survey the island, to find out what new dangers I faced. My body, which after all had done the heavy lifting in the cramping, falling, and swimming departments, disobeyed me and fell asleep instantly.
Full sunlight streamed across my face when I finally awoke, some hours later. Surveying my surroundings, I could barely stomach the irony. How many times had I dreamed of lying on the beach of my own private island, with nothing to do but relax? And now, here I was, with the beach all to myself and all the time in the world, and I was miserable. I got up and wandered around. A complete turn around the island took all of twenty minutes. I found nothing and no one, aside of miles of maile vines, the occasional vicious-looking sea bird and the duffel bag that had washed up on the beach beside me. I prayed that somehow the bag would contain an emergency phone in a waterproof case, but no luck. Shaun must have come up with this idea on short notice, based on the junk he hadn’t removed from the bag before stuffing me into it. An unopened pack of red licorice, a playing card, a half empty pack of bacon – hence the smell: bacon? really? – and a plastic bag wrapped around what appeared to be a book.
I was going to die here.
Despondent, I sank down to the sand. Tears stung my eyes, but I couldn’t even have a proper cry because the metallic-colored plastic bag kept winking the sun into my face. I picked up the bag to toss it somewhere less annoying, but the sand coating it made me lose my grip. It fell, dumping the book out at my feet.
Great. I couldn’t even throw a plastic bag correctly. I was useless, and I was stuck here in this sandy, deserted, irritatingly beautiful hell.
Even in my wallowing, the title of the book caught my eye – The 2013 Guide to Literary Agents. Shaun must be a writer, too.
My book! It struck me with the force of a thunderclap that I had a book-signing in New York in two days. No – it couldn’t be more than twenty-fours now. A big, important book signing for my #1-on-the-NYT-Best-Seller-List (well, one of them) book. I was not going to miss that. There had to be a way off this island, and I was going to find it.
Think, Allie, I told myself. Cracking open the licorice for breakfast, I surveyed the remaining items.
A playing card. The Ace of Spades. The back had the emblem of the hotel in Honolulu where Shaun and I had met. Useful if I were playing Spades with my mom, but it didn’t seem helpful now. I slipped it into my jacket pocket to get it out of the way.
Bacon that had gone rancid. Gross and stinky, but even with the wind picking up as it was, the smell probably wouldn’t carry over the water to a passing cruise ship.
The book had stayed mostly dry in the plastic bag, and I thought about writing on the pages, “EARN $10,000 FROM YOUR HOME!” and posting it on a tree, because that always attracted someone’s attention. Alas, no pen.
The metallic bag bore the emblem of the Great Western Literary Conference – by coincidence the last one I’d attended. It was still in the sun, and I couldn’t’ look directly at it. The thing was almost insanely shiny.
An idea began to form. I pounced on it before rational thought could interfere.
I ran to the heart of the island and grabbed as many vines as I could carry. Fortunately, there seemed to be an endless supply, and the roots were shallow.
Dumping them on the sand, I ripped some of the dryer pages out of the agent guide and crumpled them up, stuffing them into the plastic bag to puff it out. I tied it with a vine at the bottom, and then tied that vine to another, and another, and another, making as long a rope as I could, hoping that the wind would last.
Finally, I ran out of vines. Praying that the knots would hold, I ran along the beach, tossing my plastic approximation of a balloon into the wind.
After fifteen minutes of running around like a dim-witted chicken, I got the bag into the air. The wind whipped it around, and I fed more vine length.
I continued this until my whole body ached with the effort and I had lost all track of time. At last, I heard a motor. Looking around, I saw a helicopter closing in on my island. Yes! It came nearer with unbearable caution until at last I could read some numbers and the word NAVY on the side. The pilot was making hand motions down, and a rope ladder appeared from the side.
At the last second, a flock of sea birds with five-foot wingspans and nasty long beaks flew in to investigate me and the helicopter. Praying that they weren’t kosher, I threw the bacon at them and ran for it.
It worked. As one, they dove on the smelly meat. I grabbed for the rope ladder and climbed into the helicopter to safety.
The pilot yelled to me, “Welcome aboard, ma’am.”
I choked back a sob. “Please, call me Allie.”
He smiled. “Allie. I’m John. An Air Toyko pilot saw a weird shiny thing and called it in, so they sent me to check it out. What the hell were you doing out here?”
I shouted back, “Going on a date.”
He turned back to stare at me for a second, his clear blue eyes so wide I thought they might fall out. “Seriously?”
I shoved my hands in my pockets to stop shaking, and pulled out the playing card from the hotel where I’d first laid eyes on Shaun. The bastard. “If he calls, tell him I’m not dying to see him again.”
Fortunately, the island turned out to be only an hour’s flight from Honolulu. After a long chat with the Honolulu authorities, they allowed me to get on a plane for New York. The Navy pilot insisted on accompanying me, to make sure I made it to the signing event safely.
Several hours later, in a change of clothes provided by my agent and my former garments in a bag awaiting the dry cleaner or the garbage, I slid into my seat alongside the authors of books #2, #3, and #4 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller List, for the Grand Slam Book Signing. Three and Four were busy setting up their stations, but Two got up and headed for the exit.
It was my kidnapper, trying to slink away. No wonder he’d seemed familiar. He was the author of the #2 Non-Fiction Best Seller, Write the Perfect Crime, and he’d attended the same literary conference that I had! “Thought you’d never see me again, didn’t you?” I screamed.
He coughed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I grabbed the bag of sandy, salted clothing and pulled the Ace of Spades out of my jacket pocket and gave it to the Navy pilot. “You found me with this on that island. I think you’ll find it has his finger prints on it.”
After everything that card had been through, he’d probably find no such thing, but Shaun stared at it like it was a death warrant. “No!” he yelled. “My plan was perfect! You were going to die out there, and my book would be the #1 New York Times Best Seller!”
Non-fiction List Best Seller, I wanted to tell him, but he lunged for the card before I got the chance. Fortunately, the Navy pilot deftly slipped the card in his back pocket and wrenched Shaun’s arm behind him, forcing him to the ground. With his free hand, he gave the card to my agent, who slipped it into a plastic bag (just in case) while I called the police.
Talk about a trump card.
My book remained #1 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller List for thirty weeks. Shaun got sentenced to twenty years in prison. John, the Navy pilot, gave me the ten digits to his phone number.
I was happy about the first two, but a little scared about the third. He was cute, and I wanted to go out with him, but only if he promised we’d stay on the ground.
Kimberly Emerson lives in Los Angeles in space allotted to her by her cat, Zoë. She began writing in elementary school and kept it up throughout the years to amuse her friends. Attempting to evade suffering for her art, she majored in Political Science and worked for several years as an administrative assistant. Finally realizing that suffering came in many forms, she returned to writing. Kimberly is currently seeking publication for her novel, Perfectly Acceptable Woman. Another novel, No Accounting for Destiny, is in the works. You can find more of her writings and ponderings at http://www.kimberlyemerson.com. Stop by, there’s always room for one more opinion.