FLASH FICTION INDEX 2: Dec. 2011 - May 2017


Writing challenges, flash fiction, interesting anecdotes, amusements, and general miscellanea.

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Post April 29, 2016, 10:07:43 PM

Change That Tune: 1980's Pop Music Version

This challenge was run by Eddie Sullivan.

The challenge was to take the title of a 1980's pop song and write a story that the title inspired.


Example story:


Inspired by the title of the song "Send me an Angel" by Real Life, 1983.

Send Me An Angel

By:
Eddie Sullivan



I just wanted to fit in. I thought I would do anything to make the guys from Essex St. like me. I was brave so I took the dare. Now I am in this locked old steamer trunk with my hands and feet tied together. It is hot in here. I am not sure they are coming back for me.

I had trouble with these guys on and off again since I was six years old. I figured I had earned a little respect by putting myself in a few daring situations over the last few years. Now that I was ten I figured I had paid my dues and they would let me in their club. The older guys seemed cooler and had better bicycles. Most of them wore those cool gloves with the fingers cut off when they rode around town. I had told them there was nothing I was scared of and they could even test me

Jaime wasn’t the leader, he might have been the second most important of the crew because of his age, but he was the one with an idea. He was a smelly dirty kid, from a smelly dirty house, with smelly dirty biker parents. He felt it was his duty to spread the misery he received at home to anyone and everyone. He thought of the idea where I was locked in the trunk tied up. The trunk was in the clubhouse, which was in the woods, nowhere near any responsible adult. If I couldn’t escape on my own they didn’t want me to get help.

They tied me up, locked me up, and left me here. After they left I realized that maybe this was a bad idea. These guys really weren’t that nice. They also weren’t that smart. I might be in big trouble.

Time went by. It might have been fifteen minutes or it may have been an hour. My arms and legs were beginning to go numb. No one responded to my yells and screams. I cried. I cried a lot. The air was hot in the trunk.

It had been a long time. I hadn’t heard anyone and no one seemed to hear me. My arms and legs had “gone to sleep”. I started thinking perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea. Maybe I would just go to sleep and then someone would come find me eventually. I felt kind of, sort of tired. So I began drifting off to sleep.

Just before I dropped off entirely the top of the trunk opened. The light was awful bright coming in, must have been cause I was in the dark so long. Hands reached in and untied the ropes on my arms and legs. I was lifted out of the trunk and placed on the floor. I looked up and there was a naked lady standing over me, with wings. I don’t mean she had no arms, I mean she had them on her back. She had hair like Olivia Newton John has on that one album cover, you know the one I mean. I think she was an angel. My limbs were coming back to life, problem was something else was responding too. I was almost eleven and she was naked and beautiful.

I wanted to thank her for saving me and excuse myself for, well you know. She just smiled down at me, then bent over and kissed my forehead. My arms and legs were awake enough now so I turned over to push myself up, mostly so I didn’t have to look up at her naked as a captive audience anymore. I rolled over into a feeble push up position. By the time I struggled to my feet she was gone.

I left the clubhouse and found those rotten kids playing baseball in the park. I told them that they sucked at tying knots and they could go to hell. I never figured I would tell this story, mostly cause who would believe it. Well anyway that was what really happened, believe it or not, that’s on you friend.


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:08:47 PM

Change That Tune: 1980's Pop Music Version

Inspired by the title of the song "Mandela Day" by Simple Minds.

Mandela Day

By:
Sergio Palumbo



The South Africans (or Afrikaners as part of the people from that old land on Earth still called themselves) were one the last countries that embarked on space exploration and colonization after the new technology of QuantumSpeed was discovered and became available for traveling from star to star.

Many had thought, especially in sci-fi tales of a time gone by, that the day humans achieved interstellar travel it would be thanks to a worldwide organization that would unite all the countries of Earth in order to maximize energy, costs and resources. Everyone assumed that such an alliance would have built a starship that no superpower could build by itself, manned by an international crew that would boldly go together to find a new home, finally spreading Earthlings across the vastness of space.

But things had gone differently, as a matter of fact, and the most powerful countries had quickly taken steps to create their own national settlements on other newly-discovered worlds. So, when the South Africa government raised enough money to follow the others and eventually made its move, their huge vessel left Earth for the first interplanetary travel that country had ever attempted. The spaceship arrived on Biko I, the verdant planet orbiting Lacaille 8760, after only three months of travel. Though it was predictable, the first outpost they built there was named Mandela – after the most revered president in their history, of course.

As green and pleasing as a well-manicured summer meadow, that world was exactly what the colonists needed in order to forget about the deprivations they had undergone back on Earth - suffering that had been due to the continuous depletion of the soil and the desertification of the cultivable lands during the last years of the 22th century.

What they couldn’t have known, however, was that this planet was already of interest to another species, the GHIHHTH, who had positioned automated devices on the surface of the planet meant to survey and collect data. Perhaps they had done all that for a future colonization, although no alien from that species was present on the planet at that time.Anyway, the sudden appearance of the Earthlings made the GHIHHTH hurry up, and in just a matter of six months, the warlike GHIHHTH had showed up - which changed everything. The men and women who had reached the Mandela outpost didn’t want to start a war, for many reasons: they didn’t know exactly how powerful those aliens were; they were very far from Earth and with no reinforcements expected - no troops, technology or food; and they were tired after the long journey and only wanted a new home where they could start a comfortable life.

In a way, hostile events had happened before any negotiations could be attempted, with the Earthlings openly declaring that they were not leaving that world, although some agreements might have been reached to allow both species to live and peacefully prosper on the surface. Anyway, as soon as the delegates sent from Mandela got back to the small outpost, the entire settlement was sealed off by the GHIHHTH using an invisible and impenetrable dome that didn’t allow humans to go outside. Wild beasts, insects, air and water could come and go, but nothing else. The message was clear: if Earthlings wanted to stay on that world – a world that the strong GHIHHTH said was their property - they would have to live in the dome, separated from the rest of the planet. The only other option was for them to finally decide to leave – whether they went back to Earth or journeyed further out into space, to search for another home elsewhere.

To many of the human colonists, this terrible situation reminded them of heartbreaking events which had occurred in South Africa’s history, when their ancestors had suffered greatly because of racial segregation which had been enforced through legislation by the National Party government. Under that system, the rights, associations, and movements of the majority black inhabitants had been curtailed for decades. There was not much they could do, but the humans simply didn’t want to leave, and they refused to surrender!

Though no help came from the other countries of Earth, and although no way was found to escape that forced boundary, the poor colonists resisted and did their best during the following years. Many examples of virtue were displayed by the local population, given the scarcity of resources available, and what some of those humans accomplished using only the few instruments and devices they had at their fingertips was incredible.

It was one of those highly-skilled individuals, a black seventeen-year-old female researcher named Refilwe - a real whiz-kid – that finally changed it all. Her tests on new minerals that were under the site - which were abundant all over the planet - proved to be enough to allow her to succeed at weakening the transparent dome the GHIHHTH had positioned. But that wasn’t enough. She even happened to find out how to strengthen the force field at will, and, most of all, how to reverse its effects! Though it required time, the day came when the machinery she had built was activated and slowly the dome that had long kept the human colonists imprisoned disappeared. Then it began to enclose the rest of the planet – except Mandela- in its grip. So, it was the GHIHHTH who were imprisoned now, and none of their attempts to escape or destroy it had any effect.

The South Africans colonists certainly didn’t plan to cruelly leave the aliens segregated that way forever, of course - although they thought it wouldn’t hurt for those beings to have a taste of their own treatment for a while. As Refilwe had once said, and the population of the Mandela outpost still remembers her words clearly today, “We’ll finally free you, one day or another. But not so easily, not now, not yet…”


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:09:47 PM

Change That Tune: 1980's Pop Music Version

Inspired by the title of the song "I Melt With You" by Modern English, 1982.

I Melt With You

By:
JP Garner



“This is Kim Montgomery with the 8 O’clock News. This evening marks the incredible moment when humanity will, for the first time, attempt a long term departure from Earth. The largest rocket ever built will be launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the new specially constructed launch pad designed to withstand the tremendous force that this behemoth of a craft will create. Spectators and protestors have gathered around the launch site and have been warned to stay away from the upcoming blast. National Guard has also gathered to protect the citizens and potentially prevent the riot that many have predicted will occur. Public displeasure has been mounting since the final announcement of those to be included on the journey. What was said to be a lottery has seemed to most more like an elitist selection. While many say that they would have opted to stay at home, others feel that they have been abandoned by their governments, left behind to suffer the fate of a dying Earth. With only a few years left on the countdown until the end, problems will be exacerbated by tonight’s launch. Experts are now saying that with such massive inertial thrust, the revived and beefed up Orion craft will actually alter the Earth’s spin. Launch vehicles take advantage of the Earth’s spin to gain some extra speed towards escape velocity, and we’ve just received information that the enormous craft leaving us, with the one hundred thousand aboard, could possibly push the Earth so hard in the other direction that the planet may slow down and eventually become tidally locked. With the clock ticking for humanity no one is happy about more bad news, nor the possibility of our atmosphere melting away. Some supporters of the mission say that it is a small price to pay for humanity’s second chance, yet still dissidence is growing and it is feared that sabotage may be attempted.”

###

“Stand back I say, no one is to pass this line. It’s for your own safety people.” Thomas tried to shout over the din of the crowd.
“If they were really thinking about our safety then we’d be on that ship with them, and they wouldn’t be stopping the Earth in its tracks.” An angry protester within earshot of Thomas’ remarks shook a cardboard sign, yelling hysterically.
“I’m just doing my job, please stand back. The blast from this thing is going to be enormous, if you don’t back up then you won’t even be around to complain about the Earth stopping, now move.” It pained Thomas to be treating these people this way. He, like everyone else, wished that he had been chosen for the pilgrimage to another world. But he hadn’t, and as a National Guardsman his place was to keep people from interfering with the most important launch in history, the one that just might save the human race.
Thomas felt a shock like being hit with a brick. His vision blackened for a moment before he understood that he had been smacked across the face with a protester’s sign post. For a second he thought that the launch was underway, but the sound he heard was coming from the crowd and was soon joined by gun fire.

###

Clarence and Katy held sweaty hands, both squeezing tight with anxiety. The Captain announced that the countdown was about to start and that everyone should take one last look at their home planet before taking off.
“Oh my god Clarence, it’s horrible, there’s a riot going on out there.” squeaked Katy.
“Look away Katy. The future is wide open to us. Let’s not bring this vision with us as our last memory of Earth. Of course the people staying behind aren’t happy about us leaving, but they should be. We are the last hope, and we need to leave with hope. If we do, you’ll see the difference, it will get better, you’ll see.”


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:11:23 PM

Change That Tune: 1980's Pop Music Version

Inspired by the title of the song "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics, 1983.

Sweet Dreams

By:
Michele Dutcher



The square room was as stark as Jacquan True remembered it, his orange jumpsuit standing out in contrast against the white walls. The only furniture in the room was two chairs facing each other on either side of a metal table. One chair was filled by a fragile examiner named Forest Delgado, who motioned for Jacquan to take the other seat.

“Do you know why you’re back here?” asked Delgado.

“To play more video poker?” snorted Jacquan, crossing his heavy arms over his solid chest.

“I can see why you might think that…”

“Wait! Wait!” the prisoner interrupted. “It’s something of space, isn’t it? – outer space?”

Delgado looked surprised. “Why would you say that? Who told you that?”

“No one told me,” he said defiantly. “But I’m right, aren’t I?” He shifted in his chair, uneasily. “I dream things, you know. I dream the future.”

“Is that how you scored so well on the card games? – did you dream what would come up next?”

“No, no – when I’m playing poker it’s like the future whispers in my ear, so I can pick out which cards I want to keep.”

“And you win 93% of the time,” said Forest, checking a clipboard.

“That’s what placed me here. I was winning at cards and someone called me a cheater. No one calls Jacquan a cheater and lives! – Que sera, sera.”

“Logically, if you dream the future, why didn’t you change things so you wouldn’t end up here?”

“Well that’s the thing: you can’t change the future; you can only see what is going to happen beforehand…like a 30 second movie.”

“I may be able to get you out of here,” said Delgado.

“How?”

“We’ve sent two flights to Mars, but they both disappeared.”

“Qui, I know.”

“With your ability, you could dream the trip one day at a time, and tell us in advance what is going to happen – so we’ll know how to change things on trip four.”

“Why should Jacquan help?”

“You’re in here for life. If you do survive, you’ll be set-up in modules on Mars for the rest of your life with three other crewmen – all prisoners with unique abilities.”

The inmate picked at his jumpsuit. “Can I wear something besides this obscene orange jumpsuit?”

“Anything you want – just make a list and hand it to the warden.”

“I suppose that anyplace is better than this. You have yourself a physic spaceman.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed the recruiter. “In two weeks you’ll be on your way to Mars. Guards!”
****
May 23, 2023

The next five months proved uneventful as the crew of four convicts floated towards the Red Planet. 1 _ hours each day was spent on exercising, and there were 3 meals served automatically by the kitchen appliances. This close to Mars, the Earth and Luna appeared as two crescents – the larger one blue and the smaller one white.

Ten minutes a day was set aside for each crew member to report back to Earth. This took place within a soundproof room with glass windows. Jacquan’s dreams were peaceful now and he told this to the camera.

The man who called himself Simon was blind. Eddie was deaf and was teaching Jacquan sign language. The fourth man – Wilson – didn’t have any obvious distinctions, but Jacquan thought he might have a photographic memory because he had been trained to manually land the ship if systems failed.

The computer awoke the physic during REM sleep – and made sure he wrote down what he had been dreaming about each night.

October 5th 10:15

Jacquan sat in the sound proof booth, 20 minutes ahead of his scheduled time. He watched his crewmates walk past, trying to give his report as calmly as possible. “This may well be my final transmission – as an accident will happen in 20 minutes that will kill everyone on board.” Eddie walked past and nodded towards Jacquan, and they nodded to each other. “I saw my fellow crewmates, suited up, helmets on, dead. The alarms were blaring – their tongues hung out of their mouths. As I approached the bridge screen two words were flashing.” Jacquan got out his notebook. “Magnetic Whirlpool. I have no intention of telling my crewmates what I saw because nothing I do will change the future. In my mind, they’re all dead right now – they just don’t know it yet.”

Suddenly Eddie opened the door to the booth, pulling Jacquan out. “I read your lips and saw what you said about all of us being dead! When? When!”

“14 minutes,” replied Jacquan.

“Everyone to the bridge,” screamed Eddie. “Everyone suit up!”

As the others followed procedure, Jacquan went to the common area and got out a bottle of rum they had been saving for the landing. If you had to meet your maker, you might as well meet him hammered. The alarms went off and the lights went out.
****
December 14th

Jacquan slipped into the communications booth of his original ship.

“Jacquan True to Earth, reporting from the surface of Mars. It has taken me 6 weeks to get the booth fixed, and I’ll need to make this short. After a soft landing by the autopilot, I found the modules sent here earlier were in good condition. The three modules are now linked up. Everyone else is dead of course. Protocol says to jump into a suit as soon as the alarm goes off – but don’t do that! – You’ll suffocate because the whirlpool messes up the air inside the helmets. There’s enough air in the ship to last until everything goes back to normal, just wait it out.

“I have lots of food and the greenhouse is going strong. But I’d like someone to play cards with besides the computer –come on up. This is Jacquan True signing off, commander of the Martian base Baton Rouge. I’m off to take a nap now, so sweet dreams my Earth friends, and C’est la vie.”


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:12:39 PM

Change That Tune: 1980's Pop Music Version

- Winner -


Inspired by the title of the song "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John, 1983.

I’m Still Standing

By:
Rick Tornello



A probe of some kind is jammed into me. A hand, a strong perfumed hand, grabs me. I cannot see. My sight has been cut off. This hand grabs my neck, lifts me up, yanks me back and then rams my face into a metal wall. Then slam-slam-slam –slam-slam.

I keep telling myself, I will not break, I will not break, I will not…slam-slam-slam. My god, that hurts. The shocks run all through me. I could just crack and die. NO!
I’m strong I will not crack, I will not break, no matter. What?

One of them just shoved some metal thing up my… my god what’s wrong with these people?

And again this same hand, I can smell it, grabs my neck, pull and push and slam-slam-slam-slam.

I have no idea where I am. Now it’s cold. I’m on the floor. I can tell it’s concrete, and it is cold. They leave me here, blind and with no protection. Why what have I done?

A different hand grabs me and throws me on a table; some greasy wet instrument is being shoved into me again and again. When will they stop?

I WILL NOT crack. I will not break! I am strong.

It’s so cold.

I must have passed out. It’s that perfumed hand again. She’s grabbing me and what now? I feel warm, no not warm, I feel hot. I want to scream but I can’t.

Someone else jams me up with that probe and rams me against that metal wall. Slam-slam. It’s only two times. What do they think I’ll break? Have they no mercy?

And it stops. They never talk; they just do, and do. I can hear their breathing and their laughter. And I hear the fingers hitting a keyboard.

And… what…wait, they’re gone. I’m expecting more of the same that I didn’t hear them leave. I heard no door open. I’m still blind. I hurt, I’m burned, and I’m dirty and greasy all over from that shit they put on me and into me.

The door opens and I hear her. “That session was a good one. Let’s see if this one will do the job.

Not a fucking chance. I will not break. I’d better never meet you. I’d better never see you or know your name, I’d better…another probe is shoved in me, I’m slammed against the metal wall and it feels like it explodes inside me. I’m going to die, my god. I will not break. I will not crack no matter what they do. I will not…

####

Well Dr. Wells. What do you think of our experiment?

“Mr. K,” says Dr. Wells, “I’m impressed. This metallurgy, the combination of the graphine and chrome moly in this new weapon is stronger and lighter than anything we’ve made or anyone as manufactured before. It won’t jam and it morphs to accept all ammunition including a mix of the NATO and Russian calibers. This should, no it will knock the AK 47 off the bestseller list once we get these out to market. The Board of Directors will be very pleased and more so once we get that export license.

“How long before we can start production?” ask Dr. Wells as she handles the weapon. You said you added some other things to the manufacturing process which makes it more adaptable in all combat situations.

Mr. K responds, “Dr. Wells, regarding production, we already have. The warehouse is full. And as far as your other question goes, all I’m allowed to disclose is that we developed a granular sub atomic artificial intelligence function that’s imbedded into the whole gun that allows the alloy to remember and learn from experience.

“We’re experimenting with the next generation. You’re holding one of the prototypes it in your hands right now. We think we’ve discovered something odd about the AI functions and we’re shipping them to Aberdeen and a DARPA lab for some classified testing tomorrow.

Mr. K adds, “Dr. Wells, if you want to play with it out a bit more we recommend five shots and running a cleaning rod and a few patches through it. This way you maintain the accuracy for testing purposes. In the field it’s not important. The gun will function in any environment. The patches, cleaning rods, jags, cleaning solvent and oil are on the table. Have fun.”

Dr. Wells nods, puts her ear protectors on, grabs the gun, checks the chamber to make sure it’s empty. For some reason there is a shell in the chamber. That’s odd and dangerous, she thinks. She ejects it, picks it off the floor and looks to see if it was a misfire. There is no firing pin hit on the primer. She puts the bullet into her pocket and then stashes a few magazines of different calibers in her shooting bag and heads back to the range. I’ll speak to Mr. K. about this later.


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:56:33 PM

Change That Tune: 2010+ Music Version

This challenge was run by Eddie Sullivan

The challenge was to take the title of a 2010 or newer pop song and write a story that the title inspired.


Example story:


Inspired by the title of the song "Come With Me Now" by The Kongos, 2011.

Come with Me Now

By:
Eddie Sullivan



Steven sat on the shore looking out at the surf breaking on the rocks under the moon light. The air smelled of salt and seaweed and the breeze felt cool on his face. He considered putting on his jacket, but thought better of it. The chill was keeping him grounded in the moment. The whisky was making him sleepy but he didn’t feel ill so he must have stopped in time.

The waves were crashing and focusing his thoughts. The rhythms were repetitive and meditative. Susie shouldn’t have blurted it out like that at the party. It wasn’t his fault. No one should find out they were going to be a father like that, drunk with the music blaring. She knew he wouldn’t have been hanging on Jenny if he had known. He was a good guy. She shouldn’t have egged him on like that, he shouldn’t have hit her.

He was sorry, but it was her fault too. Another thing, it probably wasn’t his kid they had broken up weeks ago. She had time to be anywhere with anyone in two weeks. She was weird anyway, some kind of exchange student vacationing here with her host family for the summer. It was a beach resort romance. He would just lay low the next three days and then go back to Westport with his folks. It would all die down then. He looked up at the waves as he thought he heard music just faintly.

“Huh...Hello?”

A bluish purple sparkle lingered by the surface a couple of feet out from shore. It was hard to focus on and see properly. The music increased with volume slightly and a head peeked up to the surface.

“Steven, my love, do you hear my song? It is a song of love and forgiveness. I know you love me and are sorry.”

It was her, Susie. She had come to forgive him. He got up and brushed the sand from his legs. He picked up the beer he brought with him from the house party and drained it. Going to her to explain was suddenly the right thing, she had swam all this way to forgive him. Something about that thought didn’t ring true for a moment but his doubt quickly faded. She was singing her song of forgiveness and love; it made everything all right and calm. He had to join her in the water and make it right.

She raised out of the more a little more and the song somehow increased again in volume but yet still seemed soft and calm. She was bare breasted and the purple blue hue seemed to be coming from her under the water. She was lovely. He had been wrong to hurt her, wrong to strike her. He would go to her now and make amends. He went down to the water and stripped off his shirt and shoes.

The water was cold, the Atlantic waters were always cold off all the New England states, it gave him a moment of shock. Why was he going in the water? What the hell was happening? He looked up to get his bearings and saw her again, and he heard the music. Somehow she sang, even when she seemed to stop to speak the song persisted. He again noticed her bosom, the young attractive bosom with the moon and sea water highlighting it. He had the natural reaction any young man would. She was here to forgive him. She was going to show her forgiveness in the most pleasurable way possible. Everything would be all right. He waded out about half way to her as she spoke.

“Come love. Be there for our baby. Do your duty. You are essential to us. We could not leave without you.”

Steven knew these words were true. They needed him, he needed her in a different way. Everyone would get what they needed. All he had to do was go a bit farther into her waiting embrace. He said nothing to her now as there was nothing to say, she wanted him. His child needed him. The last few feet of surf was all that separated him from where he should be.

She came just the slightest bit forward at the end and embraced him. He felt her chest press on his bare chest and warmth spread through his body. She kissed him deeply, yet the singing somehow continued. Her tongue went in his mouth and tasted of honey and cherries. He felt weak and realized she was supporting him in her arms. Steven looked down and saw her bottom was no longer legs and feet. It was tail and scales, they glimmered in the moonlight purple and blue.

Susie stared into his eyes. She lowered her mouth to kiss him again. She broke the kiss and smelled him.

“We need you Steven. The baby and I must eat before we return to the depths. I will take you into me and nourish our baby. You will die so he may live. You will be with us always.”

He felt her teeth break the flesh as she embraced him in a hug and pulled him under the surf. It was all no burden, he would be there for them. It would be just fine, the music said it was true.


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:57:35 PM

Change That Tune: 2010+ Music Version

Inspired by the title of the song "Just in Time" by Barbra Lica, 2014.

Just in Time

By:
Rod Taylor



I am watching him when he disappears. No camouflage, blending with the background, dropping flat. Just plain vanishes. The spotter camera is new, the image perfect. Remote streaming every second to my web drive. I pull the viewfinders away, rub my eyes, replace them. The path is still empty. I get to my feet, slowly, pushing up from the park bench, camera glued to the spot. Eighty meters, perhaps ninety, just where the meadow ends and the forest begins. Then suddenly, movement in the trees and I snap the lens up. Focus. Gasp. He’s there, walking the path. Out of the forest now, not in. Ten meters from where he winked out, going the other direction. Chestnut hair messed up, dark green jacket--torn? I can’t quite tell. Moving quickly now, over the open ground. Towards me. Looking at me.

I stash the camera and yank my smartphone from its pouch, swipe it open. Speed-dial, first entry as I turn, start towards the park gates. Nobody in sight. It’s just him, and me.

“Hello?”

“Janet. It’s me.” Trying to think of what to say. “I need backup.”

“What--Sam, what? You on one of your spying missions again?”

“Something like that.” Over my shoulder he’s gaining on me. Maybe thirty meters now, his face intent. A gash down the side, like he’s torn his cheek on something sharp. Blood oozing down to his chin. “Bird watching,” I say.

“I get it. So, call the ambulance?”

I start running, past the deserted playground. Birds scatter from the bushes along the path, among them two of the crossbills I’d been trying to watch. “I don’t know,” I say. My breathing labored, the words broken up. “Something fast.”

“Sam, I’ll call you back.” Silence. I stow the phone, fumbling with the magnetic catch. My poor condition is really starting to show. Breath coming in desperate gasps, chest burning. The gates don’t seem any closer. My pursuer, the vanishing man, nearly on me. A quick glance, all I get before he takes me down, a flying tackle below the knees. My head spins as I topple, arms flailing, trying to cushion the impact. Too slow. My head hits, ears singing as the world lurches, whirls down to darkness.

For a moment, I don’t remember where I am. Then it all comes back in a rush. On the bench, new camera cradled in my hands. Watching the grosbeaks in the big pine down by the path, near the edge of the forest. With the amazing zoom I can pick out every detail from a hundred meters, probably more. It’s the perfect time of day to catch birds in their habitat, not a soul here but me. A few strategically placed caches of birdseed along the tree-line and I’m getting the greatest footage I’ve ever strung together.

The birds suddenly scatter. I scan the trees nearby. Fox, perhaps? Raccoon? A shadow emerges from the dimness and I zoom the camera back to take it in. The man saunters casually out along the path, his hunter green jacket neatly buttoned, chestnut hair immaculately combed. I watch him through the lens as he strolls along the path towards me, turns to move out across the wider meadow and the swamp on the far side of the park. Something, somehow, familiar in that face…

My smartphone buzzes, yanking me out of it. I set the camera down and swipe the phone open. “Sam,” I say.

“It’s me.” There is an urgency in Janet’s voice. “Are you alright?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, I just had this feeling, like something wasn’t quite--Sam, where are you?”

“Sitting on a bench in Langmore Park. Streaming footage.”

“Nothing weird going on?”

“Peaceful and quiet. Up until a moment ago, I was the only--”

My head hurts and there’s a dizziness behind my eyes. Slowly I lift one arm, rub a hand across my aching jaw. Blood there, a thin gash down my left cheek. I sit up, wait for the world to stabilize around me. Mixed forest, maple and birch, pine, hemlock. Birdsong everywhere. Chickadee, finch, cardinal. And there, a junco. My bag is lying beside me, the contents spilled out across the ground. Water bottle, tuna salad sandwich, apple. My new camera, its lens damaged. Birdseed, the bag spilled and seeds scattered. I shake my head, moan at the ache there. Something is definitely not right. I need to get to a hospital. Heave myself to my feet and collect my belongings, shoulder the load, move off deliberately down the path. The meadow just ahead, yellow grasses swaying in the breezy sunlight. My eyes adjust slowly, finally focus on a figure standing across the edge of meadow, maybe a hundred meters. Beside a bench, his bag there on the seat. He turns, fumbles with the bag, does not see me wave. Begins to walk away, quickly. My shout is lost in the breeze. I start to jog, an awkward gait, but it galvanizes me.

“Wait,” I yell. The words come out unformed, garbled, as if I’m out of practice. The man ahead seems not to notice, stumbling unevenly forward away from me. I move faster, desperate now, catch him just past the playground. He is shaky, staggering, but my energy is nearly spent. I have to stop him. Lunge for his ankles, bring him down in a heap ahead of me. His foot bounces up and hits my temple, and all goes black.

“Sam?” Janet’s voice is anxious. “Sam?”

I open my eyes. Paramedics all around. Oxygen mask over my face. I blink at her.

“You had another attack,” she says. “Hit your head. You’ll be OK.”

I nod. Pull the mask away. “My footage?”

“Perfect,” she says. “Great nature shots.”

“Nothing else?”

She kneels beside me. “No. Now get some rest.”

As I’m closing my eyes, across the meadow I think I see a green shape move against the yellow grass. Probably nothing.


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Post April 29, 2016, 10:58:42 PM

Change That Tune: 2010+ Music Version

Inspired by the title of the song "World Peace is None of Your Business" by Morrissey, 2014

World Peace Is None Of Your Business

By:
JP Garner



Do you yearn for the good old days proper warfare? Do you miss a sense of right and wrong, and which side you're on? A time when it was acceptable to be different and people had pride in such things, when violence and national identity worked hand-in-hand. We all know that the changes the world has gone through are for the better, but it leaves no place for the inner workings and necessities of mankind's soul. Civilization began with organized violence and for the first time in human history, civilization is held up without such organization. While this is a tremendous benefit to us all, it leaves a hole and hunger in the human psyche. At World Peace Inc. our aim is to balance these factors.

Join us for a peaceful warfare retreat, in which everything happens with full consent and there are no losers. Should you choose victim, or conqueror, is all up to your discretion and taste. Armaments and battlefield, lodging and accommodations, are all provided in a discreet and private location. Not only is this an opportunity for you to live out your instincts, but you can also do mankind favor with the intentional trimming down of the population in a consensual way.

Conqueror Package:

Have you ever wanted to be on the winning side of a battle? To engage the enemy without fear of negative repercussion? To be on the side that is just, without involving civilian collateral damage? If so, the Conqueror Package is for you. We provide you with a weeklong authentic battle scenario against those who have signed up for inevitable defeat. The bloodshed is real. The tactics are real. The warfare is real. It is the stakes that have changed. For the first time in history you can go into war for the actual betterment of mankind. Two needs filled with one game. Human instinct and population control.

Victim Package:

Have you ever wanted to be immortalized in valorous defeat? To stand up and die in battle for a good cause? To see the enemy rise and face your fall without fear , courage expressed through action. The Victim Package allows for total defeat without shame. To die for the cause of the salvation of the world, to go up against an enemy which you know to be your friend. The Victim Package offers a unique perspective and civilized way to offer self-sacrifice as a means to benefit the world population.

If neither of these packages suit your taste, try our new auxiliary Battle Reenactment Program, with less certain odds but all of the gory details. Be a part of history in more ways than one, full regalia provided, but by all means the enthusiast may provide their own.

Leaving anyone behind? World Peace Inc. also offers full tax-deductible write offs for your family and loved ones.

Satiate your instinct and help the world maintain its immaculate balance, affordable, humane, and civilized, World Peace Inc. offers you the best of both worlds, for the betterment of the world.



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Post April 29, 2016, 10:59:28 PM

Re: FLASH FICTION INDEX 2: Dec. 2011 - ?

Inspired by the title of the song "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas, 2010

I Gotta Feeling

By:
Sergio Palumbo



Huvd was in the middle of a lush park, sitting on a bench, his senses unusually at ease (finally!) - the same as his huge eyes. Of course he was still tuned-in and still listening to the voices that came at him from all directions. His telepathic enhancements made it easy for him to keep an eye on the city that stretched into the distance surrounding the park, so there was no need to use any mechanical listening devices.

And then, they came, again: all those lamentations, curses, screams. They were yelling out, crying out, with sorrow and regret.

-A ship was approaching the seaport, two miles from the park, and it was clearly off-course. The captain had unexpectedly left the bridge before the time and the crew felt lost. The paying passengers were fighting each other, trying to take their baggage with them instead of assisting the elderly people in need. More than that, no officials on the shore were proficient enough to prevent the disaster from occurring in the few minutes remaining;

-A crowd was crying out because of a sudden strike that had stopped the subway. It had occurred in combination with a protest by all the city taxis whose drivers had parked their vehicles in the road and were walking home, preventing any private car from moving forward or turning around. It was an unbelievable hurly burly that wasn’t going to cease anytime soon;

-Meanwhile, in the City Council’s chambers, a politician with no experience at all about the specific matter before him was eagerly signing a document which required that people followed some unnecessary laws. He was thinking only of his friends who would benefit from the unscrupulous regulation instead of the good of all the citizens. The policemen outside, who were supposed to be guarding the entrance, were in a bar nearby airily sipping coffee, leaving no one to look out for thieves who were stealing computers and other devices in the main hall of the same building. None of the video-cameras were working correctly because no one had set them properly, nor had they activated the internal link due to a disruption in the secondary electrical system that had just occurred a month ago;

-An outdated hospital was turning away most of its ill patients given the scarcity of beds, so there was complete and utter confusion among sick who shoved and objected. Meanwhile the hospital’s three new buildings, that had been completed two years ago, were still closed due to the lack of the necessary inspections because the regulations changed every two months. Besides that, one of the new structures was obviously going to collapse soon because of the poor materials originally used to build it;

-An experienced judge was thinking about how he could set free a known assassin who was connected to the local mob, without appearing to be corrupt, though he clearly happened to be. He was trying to find an useful technicality he could use, which would ultimately save his personal career, too;

And many, many other calamities kept popping up, minute by minute: an unceasing series of boasts, false claims, unscrupulous actions, and unlawful decisions…

---------------------

“Are you back from your vacation?” the high-ranking officer asked Huvd as he entered the control room.

“Yes, I am,” the tall hairless bear-like alien replied. “That primitive planet, and especially the unorganized country I was in is the perfect place for ones like us to have some rest and relaxation. It’s wilder than a jungle!”

“But there are really no wild beasts there…” the other objected.

“Oh, there are, in other forms…In a way, being there just makes you feel alive, with no rules to follow, no laws to be respected and no consideration for anything or anyone. It’s so different from here, where we are always bound by our regulations and by our duties.”

“Yes, you’re right,” his colleague added with a knowing look. “So, you finally gotta feeling after so long. Are you planning to go back there when you have more free time?”

“There? Well, probably not. After all, the place where I stayed is a country named Italy, that is so unstable, so uncertain, how can I even be sure it will still exist on that distant planet when I go on vacation again in a couple of years? I don’t even understand how that country is still standing…”

“Do you mean you wouldn’t like just another day or two?” the other asked him.

“Exactly. I don’t mind visiting there but only for a very brief period. When I come back, I like to find functioning up-to-date mechanisms, modern elevators that are still running, superior services, and a society that fits my needs. I can easily resist going back to that planet.”

“I see. You’re not a romantic individual, nor an unruly one....”

“Typically, nobody among us usually is,” Huvd replied in a plain tone. “We are all members of the Space Technicians’ Congregation, and we were built this way, in accordance with the wishes of our masters who genetically conceived us and matched us to fit the jobs we do. We are renowned across all the known inhabited systems for our great ability to pilot the most massive starships in this galaxy, finding the best course possible to get where we are going. Moreover, we have almost no feelings, we always restrain our desires and we lead a life of unending training, improvement, and continuous upgrade. We are connected to the main computer’s navigation system so we always work together during the journeys. Our telepathic senses were enhanced to let us get to our destination quickly, and to protect our mind from external alien disturbances, if necessary, not for our fun or entertainment. Were we just romantic or unruly all the time, that could greatly harm us when we set out on our space flight, you know…”

The other smiled, but it was a perfectly self-restrained, short-term smile, as common politeness clearly required.


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:00:38 PM

Change That Tune: 2010+ Music Version

Inspired by the title of the song "Till the World Ends" by Femme Fatale.

Till the World Ends

By:
Michele Dutcher



By now, humanity was dispersed throughout their home star system, but most people lived on the third and fourth planets closest to the Sun, so people often wondered why the Sisters of Crystal were so far removed from the rest of humanity. The accepted response was that the time spent on the journey to see them was part of the price for their prayers. After years of suffering in silence, watching his mother anguishing over one particular incident in her long life, Dorvor decided he was willing to pay that price.

The middle-aged man had been told on Mars that seeing the nun’s floating pyramid on Europa was worth the price of the star-ship ticket on its own merit, but Dorvor was unconvinced until he saw it out the ship’s window for himself. The crystal pyramid was twenty stories tall and moved over the surface of the planet’s cracked ice like a glass over an Ouija board. It had been constructed this way to continually dodge the bursts of water that shot out through the ice, exploding from the moon’s sub-surface ocean.

The bottom floors of the pyramid were reserved for the pilgrims who visited the nunnery – pilgrims like Dorvor, who disembarked quickly from the spaceship, walking through the foyer. As he waited to be called in to his appointed audience with the Sisters, he looked over the informational plaques in the vestibule. He passed his hand over the metal plate and a reenactment could be seen. It showed the steamship Titanic hitting the iceberg in 1912, and people trying to escape the sinking vessel. The image then shifted to a woman in a church in Belfast who invited others to sing with her, “For those in peril on the Sea” while the ship was actually sinking.

“Fascinating beginning, wouldn’t you say?” a second pilgrim, also a man, asked the nervous Dorvor.

“Indeed. Praying for people during their greatest hour of need, using only spiritual insight centuries ago – it’s amazing.”

“As I understand it, the basic idea holds true. If there is a God, then that being is beyond time and space, and so the constraints of time and space do not bind him. Praying for those at peril in the past is as effective as praying for those at peril in the present or in the future.”

Dorvor was glad for a theological distraction while he waited. “From a scientific viewpoint, if the universe is holographic in nature, and each particle knows what every other particle is doing, then praying for anyone along any timeline is a viable option. Even Einstein believed that everything was happening all at once and it was all connected – our brains being instruments that allow us to separate time into individual rooms if you will.”

“Nicely put,” said the older man. “I’m Tewold from Mars. I’m here about my dead wife.”

“I’m Dorvor from Earth. I’m here about my mother. She went through a disaster in the Sea of Japan nearly 130 years ago – a tsunami. She’s dying now and has nightmares about the event whenever she sleeps – so I’m here to ask the Sisters to pray for her, so she can finally find peace.”

A portion of the wall disappeared and a nun, dressed head to toe in red velvet robes, stepped before the two men. Her face was covered with white lace beneath a red velvet hood. She waited for one of the men to follow her.

“Go ahead,” said Tewold. “Your mother is still alive while my wife can wait.”

Dorvor nodded with thanks and followed the woman into the next room. They entered into a small cubicle, one of dozens surrounding the bright floor of an arena where a hundred nuns sat, their heads bowed in prayer. Above them floated hundreds of digital bubbles, each one filled with a prayer request for a person in the past.

“We can’t change your mother’s past, only pray for her as she goes through the crisis - a tsunami I believe,” said the nun while focusing on the floor of the arena.

“Yes, yes! She was on a beach and there was a tsunami that washed away the hotels and buildings. She keeps having nightmares about the injured people calling to her from under the debris. Somehow, she managed to get to safety before the second wave hit, but she has always felt guilty about her survivial.”

The nun’s hood nodded slightly to show that she had heard and understood the man’s prayer request. A digital bubble appeared above their heads and, as the nun motioned towards the bright room, the bubble went out through the glass, joining the other prayers hovering over the nuns on the floor.

The white lace face-mask turned towards the man. “Is there something you want to ask me,” whispered the nun in a comforting tone.

“How far back have your prayers gone so far?”

“As far back as the Fall of Rome. Using ancestry rolls we slip in bubbles with names of the ancient ones.”

“And when does The Order see an end to the need for these prayers?”

“We’ll keep praying for those in past peril till the world ends,” the nun answered resolutely. At this she gestured and the door opened.

Dorvor stepped out into the hallway, to find the communicator implanted in behind his left ear was buzzing. “Rachel, what’s going on? I just finished talking with the Nuns.”

“Grandmother is sleeping peacefully! She woke up and said something about hearing a bluebird singing on the hillside, as if it was leading her upwards to safety. She had forgotten about the bird until now, but saw it as a sign, urging her to climb out of the valley and live.”

Dorvor smiled and looked back at the now blank wall. “I’ll be home soon,” he told his wife, breathing a sigh of relief.


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:01:31 PM

Change That Tune: 2010+ Music Version

- Winner -


Inspired by the title of the song "Clockwork Angels" by Rush, 2012.

Clockwork Angels

By:
Wesson



“Is it true you’ve never cried before, Elayne?”

Elayne looked out at the grand city of Moonlight Station, paying only half attention to her fairy-friend’s rather personal inquiry. She was hiding below the sill of an open window thirty stories in the air: the perfect spot for a marksman like her. The twilight breeze rushed over her face like a warm stream, shaking her bangs.

“Hey!” The tiny form of Nina the fairy zipped up and down in front of her, “Earth to Elayne – answer me.”

Elayne shooed the troublesome creature away. “Of course I’ve never cried. I’m fifteen years old, crying is for little girls.” She used the scope of her rifle to scan the distant floor of the city. Just as she suspected the goblins were getting uppity again, walking about like they owned the place. Moonlight Station was once a peaceful human town until the green hoard graced it with its presence. Now it was war every day.

The exception was nightfall. Surprisingly, the goblin warlord agreed to a civil compromise: No hostilities after dark. Elayne spared a glance at the clock tower nearby. It was an opulent work of art decorated with stone angels holding a bronze bell that chimed at dusk. This bell was the signal for both sides to holster arms until morning.

The sun receded quickly, the colors of the day rushed to the western horizon turning the sky pink and the clouds black. If Elayne wanted a kill, it was now or never.

“Nina, which one should I pick?” she asked.

Fairies, however small, had superior eyesight; humans often enlisted their help in battle as spotters. The fairies often obliged in exchange for what they thought to be mankind’s greatest gift to the world: pie.

Nina aimed a finger. “There, the one picking his nose by the water fountain. He’s totally exposed, you can’t miss.”

Elayne surreptitiously took aim at the foul green skin. She inhaled and started to squeeze the trigger.

The clock tower bell rang out. It was a dull, empty ring that echoed far into the distance and resonated throughout the town like a wild river. Nightfall had arrived.

Elayne withdrew her rifle. “Saved by the Clockwork Angels …” she murmured to her lucky prey.

“You know,” Nina began cautiously, “Ever since this war began the greenies have won every battle they’ve fought. Do they have a crystal ball or something or do you humans just stink at fighting?”

“Talkin’ to the wrong woman, I’m just a grunt. Elayne crawled out from under the blanket hiding her body and wrapped it up. “Gotta go now, meet me here again tomorrow.”

“Wait! Where’s my pie?”

“I’ll bring you one tomorrow.”

“Unacceptable!” Nina flapped her wings and flailed her limbs, “Pie now. That’s the deal.”

“I have to meet someone first.”

“Oh, you can’t be serious. That courier boy what’s-his-face? Markin?”

Elayne held a fist close to her heart and closed her eyes. “We’re talking about my first love. This is a very important part of a young human girl’s life; I have to tell him how I feel.”

“B-But,” Nina stammered, “You fall in love all the time. This is like your 12th 1st love isn’t it?”

Elayne scampered back to the barracks like a rock skipping over a pond. A courier’s job was very important; he ran confidential information between friendly regiments both day and night. Elayne was lucky to even catch sight of Markin let alone catch him, and when she did she told him everything.

The inevitable silence was filled by nothing but her own doubts. Would he laugh at her? Would he ignore her? Neither occurred. He patted her on the head and said: “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the same way.”

The next morning, Elayne returned to her thirtieth floor nest with a jubilant bounce in her step. Nina was already there, half-buried in a pie she managed to pilfer from an unsuspecting human. She popped her head up from the crust. “What’s with the dopey smile? You didn’t actually confess your love did you?”

“Of course I did, and he said he loves me too!”

“He said he lov – does he even know your name? Ugh, why do I even try?”

The sky was gray most of the day; sunlight struggled to shine through the muscular clouds. Dusk came upon them fast and even with Nina’s eyes, Elayne failed to spot a single target worth the risk of firing upon. Goblins weren’t the best marksmen but a single shot was all they needed to uncover her location.

“… Elayne,” Nina said weakly, like she never intended to speak. “Look: down by the church.”

Elayne used the scope of her rifle. What she saw stopped her heart. Goblins congregated around a single human: Markin. Far from attacking him, they seemed to be welcoming him. The girls watched with cold numbness as he revealed the hidden positions of human soldiers, including their own.

“It can’t be …” So many of Elayne’s innocent beliefs disintegrated in front of her, replaced by the heaviness of stupidity. How could he say he loved her when he was plotting against her this whole time?

The same look of sadness and betrayal overcame Nina’s features but it provided only a little comfort. “Guess it wasn’t a crystal ball after all. Nightfall will be here soon. Shoot him now.”

The words were icy but accurate. Elayne took aim and framed her face to the task. She inhaled and secretly hoped that the Clockwork Angels would save him.

Ka-bang!

They didn’t. She withdrew from the window and hid herself. The clock tower bell rang out as the last bit of daylight shriveled over the horizon. And in the still silence of night, Elayne cried for the first time in her life.


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:35:33 PM

I Am Invincible: Redux

This challenge was run by Eddie Sullivan.

The challenge was to write a superhero fiction flash story about a character who is omniscient or all powerful.


Example story:


Watching the Children of the Gods

By:
Eddie Sullivan



Surveillance notes: confirmed members of Ordo Papilionis
August 4th 2010
Perk It Up Coffee, 134 Main St Burlington VT
Subjects: Wainscot, Alistair/ Wainscot, Alexandra
Audio, Video, Close in agent monitoring


Alistair sat drumming the fingers of one hand, while picking his coffee up with the other. Immediately after each sip, he knocked twice on the table, looked left, then quickly right. The casual observer would think he seemed nervous or compulsive, although there was no tension in his face. His countenance was as serene as still water at dawn. He was joined by a young woman who bore a striking resemblance to him. They had the same golden blonde hair and light blue eyes. She seemed as if she was communicating to an unseen person in American Sign Language. The effect was not as organized as that language though, perhaps more as if she were playing at a ridiculous pantomime of spell casting.

“Alex, nice to see you.” He gestured with his wrist and fingers but not apparently in her direction. “Sorry, just negating a flood in Bali.”

“Allistair, you look well.” She jumped from foot to foot then sat quickly. “That was dirty bomb not going off in Kabul.”

The waitress saw an additional customer and came to take an order. He shook his head back and forth so she assumed he did not want a refill. Alexandra stopped fidgeting long enough to make eye contact with the girl.

“Café Mocha extra light please.” The waitress turned away and she made extra frantic gestures as if she were catching up. “That was an avalanche in Kathmandu.”

“Wouldn’t you know that just as I need a refill I pick up a landslide in Mt Nebo, West Virginia!” He looked frustrated for the first time in the encounter. “Damn I needed another cup!”

“You can have some of mine when it comes.” His sister shook her head like she was starring in a shampoo commercial. “Whoa that one was close by. Seventeen car collision on Route 89 outside Lebanon, NH.”
The waitress brought the coffee. Alexandra transferred some of the contents to his cup. They continued talking and making seemingly random compulsive gestures for about forty five minutes. Agent Stan Harper was manning the camera across the street. His partner was monitoring the audio. They were in a crappy vacant apartment that had been commandeered for the occasion.

“Do you believe any of this Will? I never even saw stuff this odd working for 51.”

“I don’t know what to think, Stan. They seem to have some knowledge of remote events. The problem is they claim to be preventing things from happening. How do you prove they aren’t preventing something from happening?”

“Are they all from the same family?”

“Hell, they are all brothers and sisters!”

“How many are there?”

“We figure between two hundred fifty and three hundred. There are fifty one known family members outside the compound and one known in the compound. The rest are unknowns.”

“That is impossible. No one has that many kids.”
“Different mothers, same father. Augustus Wainscot should be about one hundred at least. Breeding and saving the world for seven and a half decades. The daddy of Ordo Papilionis. He dispatches his children to change the world. Each boy/girl pair is named with a different leading letter of the alphabet. They seem to exhibit different preternatural powers for each pair. These are the A’s. They claim that they make minute adjustments which prevent disasters all over the world. When one pair disappears another takes their place. There is always just the one pair for every letter.”

“That doesn’t add up. You said fifty one. Twenty six pairs would be fifty two. What gives?”

“Don’t concern yourself with the T’s. The T’s are no one’s problem but a guy named Finch.”

“What do the the T’s do?”

“Whatever they want! We have a T. The other T was KIA. You don’t want to talk about what killed a T, you need to trust me on that. The weird thing is, as long as we have the guy, Augustus won’t deploy anyother T’s. The one we have isn’t interested in going back, so the process is kind of in a holding pattern. You didn’t really read your files, did you?”

“Not really. I figured I was being put into a more mundane section when they asked me to leave Extraterrestrial branch. They threw me out here with you right after I arrived.”
“Yeah this department does that. We’re always on the move and attrition is high.”

“Why?”

“People die, sometimes they just see too much, or not enough, and walk away.”

“That seems odd.” Stan heard a strained buzzing out the window. He looked up and saw a small plane sputtering and losing altitude. It pitched from side to side painfully. The engine cut in and out. It was coming down for sure. It also seemed eerily likely that it was going to be coming straight in the window that he was standing at. He was going to die. There was no good explanation as to how he knew this, he just knew. There wasn’t even time to say anything to Will. The plane’s engine fired back to life strongly when it was about twenty feet from the window. The plane briefly occupied the space over the street just between the structures on either side. He looked into the pilot’s green eyes just as he jerked the stick and made the plane climb hard.

Stan turned to tell Will what had just happened. Will was looking at him laughing.

“I think she likes you.” Will pointed to the eye piece of the camera.

Stan looked into the aperture. The girl was looking right at him. She was smiling at him. Her brother was laughing. She waved and turned back to finish speaking with her brother. Will was chuckling behind him.

“Welcome to the Supernatural and Preternatural Section!”


(If you want more of this story and weren’t around last year- look for Eddie's entry in the archive for the story of the one of the T’s)
This story was previously edited by Iain Muir--Much thanks to him!



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Post April 29, 2016, 11:36:36 PM

I Am Invincible: Redux

It All Never Really Ends Here…

By:
Sergio Palumbo



Sitting on a couch that stretched all the way across the living room, the only thing the graying and almost bald man named Frank seemed to be capable of doing was staring blankly at the television. The room was almost totally dark, the only light coming from the widescreen TV itself. He gazed at something that no one else appeared to see, something that probably only lay inside his mind…

His wife, Alexandra, who was in her 70s, thought he was a desperate case by now, but in reality she was too. After all, her interests were somewhat foolish: like watching six different soap operas during the day and then watching TV crime dramas all night. But the woman had never worked outside the home and the pension her husband had started receiving, after retiring two years ago, had proven to be more than enough to let them have what they needed to live. The checks had started coming in each month following a strange accident that had happened to her man while he was on duty at his old job. Of course the couple never wanted to dine out, as they had almost never gone out when they were younger, nor did they go to the cinema. They seemed to be happy to just sit at home, as simple as that.

Actually, Frank had never been very talkative, and their discussions had commonly focused on matters like what to buy at the grocery store, what type of plants were best to have in the garden, and so on. Thus you didn’t need to delve very deeply into the status of their relationship to discover what was next for them, because eventually they simply would grow old together. Many marriages went that way, especially between two simple-minded partners, and that was exactly what they were – or at least that was what they were reputed to be among their neighbors nowadays. But they weren’t interested in what the others thought about them, as the couple didn’t feel the need to change themselves or to modify their lifestyle.

The truth was that Frank had become even less talkative than ever over the course of the last few months, after his retirement, but the woman wasn’t too worried: as people aged it was common to become more eccentric than before and more withdrawn, at least at times. What was really important was that the money kept coming in and they would never lack for food, water, beer, medications and the likes. Basically the only important thing was that they remain healthy as long as possible, of course. All the rest might simply go to hell, actually…

--------------------------

Sitting for most of the day on the couch in the middle of the living room, Frank didn’t care about what happened around him. After all, following that strange accident he had been involved in while working at the facility, life had taken on a completely different meaning. Because of the experimental energy that had unexpectedly hit him that day, everything had changed, and the people in charge of the institute had been very glad that he hadn’t sued them. Rather he had quietly accepted his early retirement, along with an extra-amount of money, which was given in exchange for him not raising questions about their poor safety procedures.

In a way, how could they even imagine what had really happened to him? Since that day, he had become an all-powerful and all-knowing individual who was able to make anyone die just by looking at them and wishing they were dead! Beyond that, his mind was capable of thinking at an incredible speed, evaluating and precisely calculating the probabilities that a death that he wished for- and that someone deserved…- might cause greater problems somewhere down the line. For example, right now he really wanted to strike dead the serial killer on TV - but his death, according to his calculations, would cause a missed opportunity for redemption of a friend of his in prison. Given the chance, that friend would be married one day and his son would save a school full of children thanks to his acts of courage…

It was all a matter of running different calculations in his head. Possessing both of those two great, unbelievable powers simply left him stuck for most of the day. As always new characters took the place of the previous ones on TV but when he thought about killing the new delinquents, new calculations of the bad things that might occur if he killed them would stop him cold!

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy at all, and he only ended up being deeply trapped in his thoughts, without doing anything in the end. Deciding not to kill a heartless villain required a lot of time, as you thought about the thousands of consequences worldwide, generation after generation, and so on…

For example, his elderly wife Alexandra didn’t deserve to die certainly, at least not yet. But the odds were that one day she would be affected by a mental illness that would force her to murder him: he could see all the signs, given his unending calculations. But what should he do? Kill Alexandra or not kill Alexandra? Should he kill her today or tomorrow, for his own good and for the good of all mankind? Or should he only be concerned about the present safety of his dear wife who would not be truly responsible for the actions she would perpetrate against him in the future?

And more than that, if he killed her today, who would fix him dinner afterwards, and who would clean their house while he sat on the couch and endlessly continued his long, important calculations all day long…?

Most of the time indecisiveness proved to be his best decision, although his inability to decide might cause other worse, unprecedented problems here and there, in the future, maybe…


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:37:50 PM

I Am Invincible: Redux

Balance

By:
Michele Dutcher



It took a week for people at the outpost to notice what someone had done to the sepd’s nest – but Pojo knew it instantly. Deep inside the caverns of Bernard 2, the empath felt the young man’s laser slice through the fiber eggs of the 4 sepd chicks, leaving only a tiny hole in the fabric of each of the shells. The sepd’s nest had been built on a ridge high enough to be protected from the planet’s indigenous predators, but it hadn’t been high enough to protect it from one of the new humans at the outpost.

The 3-foot-high furry sepds would never hatch out of their eggs now – because the young man had killed them while the mother was hunting for food nearby the nest. The saddest thing for the humans was knowing that the mother still faithfully attended the nest everyday – expecting her 4 nestlings to eventually break free of their shells to find her waiting there to teach them how to survive on the tiny planet. She leaned against her brood 22 hours a day, using her 7-foot body to warm the now decaying chicks, scurrying off only occasionally to get food for herself, using her talons and beak to hunt small animals. But as the futile weeks passed by, even she knew something must be terribly wrong.

Pojo could feel it all, seeing the crime and its result in her mind, the same way she could feel the essence of all life on Bernard 3. She was one of two all-powerful empaths from a once great civilization. The sisters survived now deeper in the caverns than any human would probably ever venture, having existed for millennia, living directly off the energy of the planet’s core. By now the two were almost pure energy themselves, each providing balances for each other.

“A life-crime has been committed against one of the planet’s creatures,” Pojo, the kind-hearted, told her sister Kikpe.

“I felt it too, dear sister – but I felt it first in the shallow hatred of the human who calls himself, Cary,” answered the luminous Kikpe. “I took over his warped mind, pushing him up the path on the cliff. I allowed the crime to happen because bad events must happen to all living things – it is the way of nature. We are both all-powerful sister, but without me you would make sure there was no death and creatures old and sick would suffer forever. Death has its value. Without the death of one creature, another creature would die.”

“Life has its value as well. So I am now free to balance the suffering of the sepd with an act of kindness. Since a violent act has been done by a human, perhaps a human should be used to heal the mother’s heartbreak. There is one human in particular at the outpost, David, who has a good spirit. I will put into his mind an obsession to ease the pain of the creature on the ridge, in spite of the danger of being hurt by the sepd mother.”

And so it was that David, his judgment overpowered by a force he could not explain, began to creep up the cliff, intent on cleaning out the nest by removing the decaying eggs. Others from the outpost watched him from below – even Cary, especially Cary. The voice inside David’s head told him which way to go, which path to take, and eventually he looked down and could see the sepd’s nest a few feet below him. The mother was away, so he quickly scurried down onto the perch.

He checked the eggs and could see with his own eyes the laser holes that had been drilled by Cary. One by one he lifted them, throwing the eggs off the ledge into a stream below. Now the creature could get on with her life, she could build another nest next year, and the humans from the outpost would be sure to value it and protect it. A kind deed had been done to balance the violent one.

Suddenly the sepd mother was flying in front of David, her talons slashing at his arms and legs, her beak pecking at his eyes. Not knowing why the human had done the unthinkable, she grabbed hold of his shoulders, throwing him from the nest. In front of all the spectators, David’s body bounced down the cliff, splashing into the stream at the base of the mountain, in front of the mouth of a large cave.

Some started running towards the corpse of the man, hoping he might still be breathing – although everyone knew he was dead. But before they could reach him, a luminous ball of light could be seen floating on the water in the cave, being bounced about by the current. The ball got closer and closer to the corpse in the stream, eventually crashing into it, splashing its luminescence over the body. David could be seen rising slowly from the water now, shaking his head as though to clear it, before the crowd rushed towards him happily.

Deep inside the cavern, it was Kikpe who spoke first. “You gave him back his life. Now things are out of balance again.”

“Do what you must,” answered Pojo softly. “He should not have died – he was doing my bidding, I forced him to face the sepd.”

Kikpe began to glow as she concentrated on the mind of a young man who had eagerly done her vicious bidding.

Outside the cave, Cary ran towards David with the others meaning to welcome him back to the living. However, something distracted him – no one would ever know what – causing him to lose his step on a patch of slippery moss, cracking his skull open on the rocks.

“Sister, this man could have changed his ways,” said Pojo, irritated at the turn of events.

“A tooth for a tooth,” was Kikpe’s reply. “A life for a life.”


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:38:34 PM

I Am Invincible: Redux

Do you see what I see?"

By:
TaoPhoenix



Sia sat in her meeting discussing how to make people achieve the crucial changes in their lives that they needed to move forward.

She had a long memory ... they were discussing the same thing in Ancient Egypt. She was frustrated because she had a different take on the whole matter than most. But in these computerized modern times, it all seemed to work so differently than the way she remembered!

Joe, the project manager was launching into one of his long speeches.

"The trouble, is that sometimes people know that they need to do something, but they can't get it done, because they can't find out how to do something they don't know in the first place. It's like the Chicken and the Egg problem".

Sandra added, "or like that game Jeopardy, run backwards. It's like asking that Trebeck guy, "I'll take $400 but I don't know either the question, or the answer."

Sia had some ideas. "Well, my hair stylist does wonders to hide my grey hair, but I've been around this a few times. Sometimes you don't change the person, you change everyone else around them."

Joe said, "Whoa! What does THAT mean?"

Sia said, "It's something a little like what you call a zeitgeist, a mood of the times. Ever notice that sometimes, "it all just seemed right" for ships to sail oceans? Or take to the skies? Often even before a pioneer, is a daydreamer, a precursor. But they often speak in nothing more than private notes, so even if you encountered them, you might not catch on to some of the bigt ideas they are up to."

Joe asked, "Well, okay, where do you want to go with this?"

Sia answered, "Fraud prevention. Not the insurance claim type - more like individual rumors, half truths, and outright lies and hustles don't work precisely the same way that they used to for the rest of history. Now, not counting the jokers and trolls, whenever you hear something, you can reach for your phone, or your computer at home, and check into it for yourself instantly. Sure, sometimes the information is blurred, but you can also get answers that often weren't available except for extensive research if at all."

Joe asked, "How does that affect us so strongly?"

"Because unfortunately many of the strongest mis-truths end up "grandmothered" into public consciousness."

Sandra asked, "Don't you mean "Grandfathered?"

Sia smiled. "See? That's because men made themselves into might-is-right regimes, and that worked its way into the language. It gets funnier. You have an entire town in Arizona named after a bird that doesn't exist. That whole flames thing? The Greeks got it wrong when they visited the temple of Benu. But it stuck because no one rememebers the Egyptian version."

Joe began to smile.

"So, who exactly are YOU?"

Sia sighed. "Ah, see, laziness. Because in the old days, you had to ask. Now you can just look me up. But perception and habits are different things. No one remembers the Egyptian Goddess of Perception either. Because I didn't have all the "cool kids" worshipping me. There were too many of us. I helped inspire the internet. But people won't even use it to change their perception."


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:40:35 PM

I Am Invincible: Redux

Dating Star Storm

By:
P.A. Hosler



Mike Paterson fidgeted nervously in his chair. His tongue felt dry and swollen in his mouth. He reached across the small table for the icy beverage sitting there. The ice sounded like little bells as he lifted the glass with shaky hands to his lips. He took a small sip and swished the cold liquid to moisten his mouth so he could speak.

“Are you sure she won’t be able to hear us?” Mike’s voice cracked a little as he spoke.

Charles Vorhees, reporter for the Daily Blab, continued to busily make preparations for the interview. He thought to himself, Of course she can hear us, she’s a freaking immortal being with supernatural powers. Aloud he said waving his hand in dismissal, “No. No, we’re safe here, the walls are lined withdihydrogen-monoxide. Military sources confided to me recently that it’s her only weakness.” Charles waited a beat to make sure Mike wasn’t going to object to his ruse.

Mike took another sip of water, his eyes darted around the room. “The floors too?” he asked.

“Of course Mr. Paterson, we’ve taken every precaution so we can conduct this interview.”

Charles hovered a finger over his tape recorder. “May we begin Mr. Paterson?” he asked. Mike nodded slowly and Charles pressed record. “So how exactly, Mr. Paterson...”

“Mike. Please call me Mike.”

“Okay Mike. How exactly did you and Star Storm meet?”

“She rescued me, that’s how it started anyway.”

“She rescues lots of people Mike. Could you be a little more specific?”

“True, but I think it was because of my blog.”

“Alright Mike, just tell me what happened.”

Mike squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. He wasn’t used to talking about himself and Star Storm had warned him not to talk about their relationship. A bead of sweat formed a wet horizontal line across his forehead. He dabbed at it unconsciously and then began to tell Charles Vorhees his story.

“For the past two years I’ve been running the highest rated Star Storm blog on the internet from my mother’s basement. I have spiders that collect images and stories about her heroics from all over the world. I guess you might say I’m her biggest fan.

“Then three months ago, I was running some errands for my mother in town. I had to stop at the bank and I walked right into a robbery. Everyone looked right at me, including the bank robbers. That gave one of the tellers just enough time to press the alarm button. Things went bad fast after that. The robber closest to me was pissed off to put it mildly. He leveled his gun at me and fired! I’m pretty sure I wet myself. Please don’t print that. Everything slowed down, I could even see the flash exiting the muzzle of that guys weapon! I hit the ground hard and I was dazed for a few seconds. I can remember thinking that a gunshot wound should hurt. I felt moisture so I thought, I’m hit, I know I’m hit. How come I can’t feel it? To make sure I wasn’t paralyzed by the bullet I sat up. I looked myself over... nothing... not a scratch. I looked around and the robbers were gone.

“People came over to help me up. They told me that Star Storm had saved me, saved all of us. I’d never had an actual encounter with her before, and I missed it. I didn’t even get a glimpse of her. The bank manager decided to close the bank for the rest of the day and ushered everyone out the door. I just stood in front of the bank and stared at the sky. I actually started to worry about having to tell mother that I couldn’t finish my errands because the bank had closed. And then the world dropped away.

“I was floating high above the city and it felt like I had left my stomach back where I had been standing. Star Storm spun me around to face her. She looked into my eyes and smiled. She knew my name. She told me she had been following my site for over a year. She made sure that it received the less mundane heroics before any of the others. I guess you’d say my site had it’s own special fan. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why but, then she kissed me.

“Things got really strange after that. Every time I left the house I’d wind up in the middle of some life threatening event. Sometimes buildings would collapse, trains would derail, or meteors would suddenly enter Earth’s atmosphere and head directly for whatever part of the city I was in. Sometimes people around me died while I was whisked away to safety. She would smile and tell me that she couldn’t save everyone. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Star Storm was causing these random disasters. She did it to be close to me. I begged her to stop. Apparently it’s some sort of mating ritual on her home world. Somehow I’m the only genetically compatible human she has found since being abandoned here. She wants to mate. I’ve never mated with anyone in my life!”
Charles interrupted, “Wait, you’re saying you’re a virgin?”
“I’m telling you she’s killing people to be with me and that’s the first thing that you want to know!” Mike yelled.

Suddenly a far wall exploded inward. “Hello Sweetie!” Star Storm growled. “I told you not to speak to anyone about us.”

Headline, Daily Blabb:
Head Reporter Charles Vorhees and Star Storm blogger Mike Paterson missing for more than a week. Authorities continue to investigate.

Remote Island in the Pacific:
“Behave yourself boys. I’ll be back soon.” Star Storm disappeared over the horizon, another disaster needed to be averted.


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Post April 29, 2016, 11:41:18 PM

I Am Invincible: Redux

- Winner -


The Community Project

By:
Joey To



One of the two big men with black stockings over their heads leaned over the counter to grab the cash. The other pointed his pistol at Yuki. She was about to pay for the can of apple soft drink. She glanced at Eva, a classmate, who stood nearby with lips curled and wearing her stupid pink scarf.

"Give me your schoolbags and purses," the thug grunted.

Yuki got mad. To use perfectly good stockings this way was a waste. And she didn't like robberies either.

But Yuki couldn't to afford to get mad. She couldn't afford a bad report this semester. She breathed in deeply and—

Stuff it. She rifled the can at the thug's head. A bang followed. The bullet merely ricocheted off her right shoulder. She knitted her brow at the hole in her uniform and, when she looked up, the guy's head was no more. Crap, she was gonna lose marks for this.



"Good one, Butcher, killing my suspect," Eva called out, "thought your project was the mob." Yuki ignored her and the hallway of sneers as she entered the Principal's Office.

Mr Clarke was red-faced, his hands planted wide apart on his mahogany desk. "YOU KNOW HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS COVERING UP YESTERDAY'S MESS?!"

Yuki squinted as he swivelled his monitor around. It was replaying her body-cam footage in slow-motion: the thug's head exploding on impact with the can. Admittedly, her response was probably a bit excessive, her nickname "Butcher" not entirely unjustified.

Mr Clarke sighed. "Dammit Yuki. I know you mean well and you're one of our most gifted students but you can't go around executing Code Blacks. It's not just your secret powers at stake, nor even this school…"

Yuki knew the speech. They were all-powerful but not all-knowing and they had to be careful with who they saved or took out. Last semester, she sped at a casual Mach 4.1 to rescue an old lady in a wheelchair stuck at a railway crossing. Aside from the shattered car windows, the old cow turned out to be the mercenary "C-4 Granny". Somehow, Yuki had missed the email memo. No prizes for guessing who was responsible for sixty-five deaths and the destruction of her favorite hot dog stand two days later.

"…and are you even listening?" said Mr Clarke with a raised eyebrow.

Yuki's stomach growled.



Yuki mumbled a series of expletives as she strode down the street. Given her abilities, she mumbled a few in parallel as well. As she neared Burger Bomb at the mall, she perked up her ears at some distant screech: something over the police radio about a suspicious semi-trailer on Route-44.

Just as well. She had to make up for the ten deducted marks somehow. This was the "Community Project". She would graduate immediately with a "super" license if she got tops marks for this. No need for further units.

In a second, Yuki whizzed over to an intersection on Route-44. She squinted: two men in a red semi-trailer, a shiny company truck. And carrying her favorite apple soft drink.

How effing dare they.

Yuki blazed toward the moving vehicle, ripped open the passenger-side door—both men were in tactical gear—grabbed one by the vest, dragged him out in front, hurled him through the windscreen and zipped away before anyone could digest what the hell just happened.

She was barely down the road when she asked herself why such well-equipped people would be interested in a semi-trailer of carbonated beverages.

So she dashed all the way back to the now stationary truck.

Yuki leapt into the cabin. The eyes of the driver bulged. He was conscious enough whilst the other was busy bleeding. She grabbed the clipboard beside the seat and read.

She tore off the former's mask. "Who set you up for this job?"

"You… you… mean this?"

Yuki wrapped her hand around his neck. "No, I meant the threat you made against the city cemetery. This left Dalesville and was meant for the nearby Burger Bomb. I assume you wanted to carry out an attack so why the detour through here?"

He pointed at her. "Like… you. But pink… scarf."

Of course. Eva wanted the top spot. It was always her. That sabotaging bitch. But Yuki interrupted her self-imposed exposition with another realization.

"So what other jobs did you have? Hurry up, I'm hungry."

The man grinned. "Enjoy your lunch…"

Just as Yuki heard sirens, there was a flash of orange, a wall of heat and she hit the bitumen a hundred feet from the flaming wreckage. She got up, patted her seared uniform and sniffed. Definitely homemade C-4.

That's it. She'd had enough.



Yuki stomped towards the Principal's Office.

"I'm sorry, he's in with another student," said what's-her-secretary's-name.

"I know," grunted Yuki as she kicked the door open and marched inside.

Eva sprung from her chair whilst Mr Clarke merely frowned. "I'm glad I reinforced that door, given the nature of this institution."

Yuki pulled Eva's pink scarf and slammed her head into the desk. "Did you reinforce the desk?"—there was a dent—"Guess not."

She let Eva slid onto the floor before commencing her expositional rant on how Eva hacked into her email to delete vital memos and organized certain crimes to provoke her, including intercepting C-4 Granny's goons, making them take a detour.

Mr Clarke sighed. "Probable. But it's still conjecture."

Yuki frowned. "I'm not accusing Eva of working directly with C-4 Granny. The hag probably detonated remotely when she realized her people were off schedule. Still, Eva would have guessed that."

"Fine. I'll deal with her."

Yuki didn't budge.

Mr Clarke narrowed his gaze. "And I'll allow you the chance to regain more marks. You may track down C-4 Granny as well as the mob for the project. But no more mistakes."

Yuki nodded. "One more thing," she said, pointing at the unconscious lump on the floor, "that was a Code Red, she tries anything and it'll be a Code Black."


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:18:24 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

This challenge was run by Eddie Sullivan.

The challenge was to write a speculative flash piece where a crime has taken place and a jar and a calendar feature prominently in the story
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Post April 30, 2016, 05:19:08 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

The Beast, Within

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



Rednae looked at the blurry wall calendar through the interface. July 31st was circled in red--an infamous date, considering it was today, the day of burning.

The gooey, lifeless walls were thick. No one was getting through them, and the doors wouldn't dilate any more. The inmates were trapped. A lone light source sputtered over Rednae's head, above a nearly opaque patch of the ceiling, the dim flicker making this prison even more hellish.

He knew the Beast had to be getting close to the inferno that would turn them all to ash, but there was little he could do to take them to safety. If he could relight the great engine, the Beast's defenses would spring to life. It would be spared the flame yet again. He jabbed his key into the lock once more, but it would not respond. It couldn't.

It was dead, like everything else.

Some Keeper I turned out to be. Rednae feared his tenure would be the shortest on record, that was, if anyone still existed to keep records. Keepers tended the Beasthome since generations past, but he was stuck in a cell, and now everything was headed straight for perdition's flame. Because I trusted her.

I must have been addle-minded. What did I expect, trusting a prisoner? She had been so unique: a tantalizingly red, bristle-haired visitor from beyond, from a mostly-water world teeming with intelligent life. All intelligent, scheming life, apparently. He had never seen the like of Melissa. Such a strange name.[i/I] Her body was so different: so... swelled... in spots. Rednae had a hard time keeping the vision from his mind. Plus, everything she described was so different, like how she traveled across the vast space in a hard-metal tube--just to explore. [I]No one explored. Life just was, and you lived as you could. Every prisoner had a story--millions of them--but none like hers. Melissa said she just wanted to get back to her metal tube, to be free of the Beast, but the Beast was made for holding criminals just like her. It was its function, as was his, too.

What if her words were true? Even then, Rednae dared to think it. I could go with her. She promised.

***

He entered. "We will speak again, now."

She was pacing. "Why do you keep coming here?"

"Your story is unbelievable, yet I keep wanting to hear it."

"I tell you I am an explorer," Melissa insisted. "We'd never been inside 'The Beast', as you call it, before, so I volunteered to go through the conversion process. I needed to discover what it was really like, from inside here."

Rednae's vision blinked. "That is madness. The Beast is a prison."

"We didn’t know that."

Rednae paused. "What did you know?"

"Not enough." She sighed, something prisoners didn't do. "I... I know about freedom. The place I came from, everyone moves about, freely. You can't even go from one room to another here, but there... you can go anywhere, room to room, building to building, city to city, even country to country, anywhere in the world."

Rednae boggled. "Surely not. Chaos!"

She looked at him, tears in the corner of her eyes. "I know about love, too, and about missing someone you love."

He seemed unsure.

She paused. "Haven't you ever loved someone?"

He was silent for a long time. "There was one."

Her hand reached out to touch his side. No prisoner had ever dared--his body would consume them. Instead of bringing her death, her touch was soft, tantalizing. It was unlike anything he had experienced. His body burned from it and yearned for it at the same moment. In his own way, he gasped. The sensation was overwhelming.

"Haven't you been touched before?"

"I have not touched another except to lock prisoners into their cells since the one... That was whom I loved. The one I was created from."

Melissa continued to caress his side. "The one who created you, is she still alive?"

"No."

"Rednae," she asked, "if you could see her, touch her, one more time, would you not do it, even if your laws forbid it?"

He was uncomfortable in the silence. Eventually, he said, "Yes."

"That is how I feel about going back to my people, every moment I am here."

He watched her face. "Truly, you feel like this, all the time?"

She nodded.

What do I do? Slowly, he moved toward the door. Extending his key, it opened. "Then go. I cannot stand to know I'm causing you such pain, because then I feel it, too."

She jumped toward the door, but stopped. "Come with me."

He declined. "If this cell is not occupied, the Beast will react. The searchers will find you."

She looked through the interface at the calendar and set her jaw. "After I escape, I will get you out of here. I promise I will."

The door closed.

She was gone. Rednae could not weep the sorrow and loneliness that filled him. He was not built for it.

He sat alone in silence in the cell, waiting until she would be past the searchers, until she would certainly be free... waiting too long for the Beast.

***

"Where is it?" the scientist asked.

Her lab assistant extended a jar. "Nicked it off the cart, love, as requested. I know you know this one inside and out, but why did I have swipe it from the incinerator line? You know what horrible things we've put in there. It was a miracle it lasted through so many tests, but it's not living. The Director won't be happy you're doing this."

She ignored him and scanned the specimen trapped inside the container, then inserted a needle into the dead rabbit's eye. Extracting fluid into the same metal, tube syringe that carried her during her own experiment, she chuckled.

"I'll get you out of there, Rednae. I promised I would."


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:20:10 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

A Fairy Familiar Tale

By:
Eddie Sullivan



Alison Stranglelove checked her calendar again, then walked to the kitchen. Then she walked back and checked it again. She repeated several times. Her excitement creating obsession. Tonight was the summer solstice . She would be able to do that which she had prepared . She was going to sneak onto the Childhome estate and catch a fairy. It was trespassing, but if they didn’t want that to happen they shouldn’t have bought the forest ripe with ley lines and fairy rings and hogged it all.

She looked through the window and saw the sundown . Soon the box trap she had placed on the estate would need checking. The trap was baited with a honey cake, and sugarplums , according to her research fairies couldn’t resist that. She had found an obscure treatise on fairies that declared they loved human sweetmeats. Alison expected that she would be able to use her specially prepared jar this evening to collect a new little familiar.

The walk down to the estate was uneventful. She had found the perfect spot for entering the property and absconding with her new treasure. She placed the jar in her knapsack and climbed the fence. The trap was conveniently placed just a hundred feet inside the estate. As she drew close she observed with glee that it was sprung and moving as something bumped around. She kneeled next to it and put her hand on the box feeling the vibrations coming from the inside. She wanted to savor this moment, it was the culmination of such planning. The pinnacle of her career as a practitioner would be having a fairy as her familiar. She unscrewed the cap on her warded mason jar and held it up to the sliding door on the side of the box. She would waited for the fairy to fly into the jar in an attempt to escape through the opening and then close the lid behind it. Easy-peasy.

It took a moment after the jar was in place but then something shot out of the trap and into the jar like a bottle rocket. Alison slammed the lid on. She held it up to look at her prize. Inside was a perfect replica of a little nude woman with gossamer wings. She stared back at Alison through the glass curiously. A slight tinkling came from the little air holes in the cover of the jar.

“Well now my little miniature missus, it seems I have caught you and you will be spending some time with me.”

A glassy little voice came from the jar, “Why did you do this? I don’t know you. You should let me go.”

“No, I don’t think so little doll. You are coming home with me.”

The little figure put her hands on her hips and let her upper lip curl in a sneer. “I suppose I don’t have a choice then. Let’s get on with it.”

Alison was quite pleased with the fairy’s understanding that her service was a forgone conclusion. She expected a little more resistance to her servitude. She put the jar in her bag and scaled the fence. That damn Childhome family and their cockamamie claims that fairies were dangerous and that they needed to be contained to the estate. Those pompous witches and warlocks didn’t even bother using them as familiars themselves. It did briefly occur to her that the security seemed lax for something they proclaimed to the heavens was there divine mission on Earth.

When she arrived home she was brought to an abrupt halt in the doorway as her knapsack refused to go through the threshold with her. Backing out of the house she removed it and took out the jar.

“What is going on Sparkles?”

The little fey stretched and yawned. “Who is Sparkles?”

“You are. That is your new name.”

“I have a name, it is over three millennia I have used it. I don’t think I like to change now.”

Alison scowled at her new pet. “Tough you are mine and your name is Sparkles. Now why is it that I can’t get into the house?”

A twinkly little laugh came from the jar. “I can’t step foot in your home without being invited, those are the rules.”

“Isn’t that vampires?”

“Fey too I’m afraid.”

Alison’s breathed huffed. “Fine then you are invited into my home.” She picked up the jar and the bag and stormed through the door ; Sparkles shrieked with glee.
Alison put the jar on the table and stared at the fairy.

“Now it is late, and I am tired. So you behave yourself while I catch a little shut eye and I will feed you some cake when I wake up, ok?”

“Oh yes Mistress, that would be delightful!” Sparkles hopped up and down in her jar.

Alison Strangelove smile down at her new familiar and nodded. Then she turned to go to bed. She lay down and as she drifted off to sleep she thought ‘ Now who is a second rate witch?’ The stupid council declaring she wasn’t advanced enough for a familiar would be sorry now. She would show them all tomorrow.

Alison wasn’t a very good witch. Her worst trait was research by far. She brought a quite high member of the Unseelie Court into her home invited. Sparkles real name loosely translated was “Destroyer of Life, Crusher of Souls”. It was also evident she was unaware that a warded mason jar wasn’t sufficient to hold said entity, nor that her translation of fairy culinary practice was flawed. They didn’t like human sweetmeats (cakes and sugar pastries). They loved human sweetbreads though, which is for the most part is the thymus and pancreas. Once you were trapped in the woods or through unfortunate luck found one had somehow gotten into your home things usually became tragic. Those little devils would climb in any orifice they could and chew their way to the sweetbreads.


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:22:09 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

Twenty Questions

By:
Michele Dutcher



The program facilitator scanned the faces of the six people sitting in front of him. All six would now have the chance to unravel a real mystery from two centuries before – by going back in time to the location of the offense.

“Greetings to all of you,” began the facilitator. “As you know, crime has been eradicated from our world by the webnet that protects us. But in the far past, killers ran wild through the streets like uncontrolled predators, hiding in large cities.” He was pleased that most of the participants gasped at his statement. These time tourists had paid to be entertained afterall. “We’ve selected a crime from the year 1963 involving the deaths of 3 women. A suspect was arrested, but later released, due to lack of a motive and physical evidence.”

Magalie Stenger began to ask a question but was stopped. “Each of you will be supplied with an era appropriate C-241 robot, who will answer only 20 questions when you get to the time location. The tourist who solves the crime with the least number of questions wins bragging rights. Well, if there are no further questions, Pittsburg 1963 is awaiting your detection skills. The travel booths are in the next room. Happy hunting!”
*****
As Magalie looked around, she thought that stepping through the time portal into Old Earth 1963 was well worth the cost of the trip. She enjoyed seeing the sky and the city built on rolling hills. A robot followed her through the portal, having been modified to look like a girl of eight.

“I am here to assist you, mother,” said the C-241’s soft voice. “What would you like to know?”

“What happened to the three women, in general terms?”

“Helen B, Mary F, and Jane C were abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered – their remains were found floating in the Allegheny River. One of the bodies was discovered in those bushes over there.”

“What was the suspect’s name?” asked Magalie.

“Lowell Roppo,” came the answer.

“Is the suspect’s job location within walking distance?”

“Every location on Earth is within walking distance for me,” said the robot child, not understanding the question clearly.

“How about for me, C-241 – is it within walking distance for me?”

“Is that a countable question?” asked the C-241.

“How many have I asked so far?” asked Magalie.

“Five, including this one.”

“Could be worse,” she whispered to herself. “Yes, that is a countable question.”

“Yes!” said the small robot, leading the way into the heart of downtown Pittsburg on a lovely Autumn afternoon.
******
“Did Lowell work in this neighborhood?” asked Magalie, walking past the brick buildings.

“Yes,” said the girl. “All his life.”

This was harder than Magalie thought it was going to be. “Will you take me to the place where Lowell worked?” insisted Magalie.

“Yes,” said the C-241.

After several twists and turns through the streets, the pair came to a row of six buildings, all of which were in need of repair. “I’m going to assume that Lowell left town after being released and his shop is the one with the windows covered with brown paper.”

The C-241 did not respond, as the woman’s sentence was a statement, not a question.

“Silence gives consent,” said Magalie, walking up to the entrance to the closed store. “As she peeked through the cracks between the papers, she could see what appeared to be women’s heads. “Can you get me inside?” asked Magalie.

“Yes,” said the robot.

“Will you get me inside now?”

“Yes,” said the girl, tearing off the dead-bolt lock with one swipe of her hand.

Magalie looked around before going into the building.

The room was musty and opening the door had stirred up the dust, making the human wheeze. “Why are those heads there?”

“Those are ceramic heads used to hold wigs which were worn by women for fashion or because they had lost their hair due to age or disease.”

“How long had Mr. Roppo owned this store?”

“Both of their lives.”

“You mean there were two Mr. Roppos?” she asked.

“Yes, according to records, Lowell’s father owned the wig store before him.”

Magalie went further back, seeing a calendar hanging on the wall. She noticed 3 days which had circles drawn around them. “C-241, what did the three murdered women do on these 3 days that were similar?”

“They all had appointments at a cancer clinic nearby.”

“Cancer? – could that disease have caused their hair to fall out?

“Yes. The cure for cancer at this time was chemotherapy.”

Suddenly the woman saw her refection in a jar on a counter. As she looked inside, she saw a blonde wig. She took it out, turning it over in her hands.

“I’m ready to go back to tell Rodgers my findings,” she told the robot, and the pair disappeared.
*****
The other five travelers were also in the room.

“I’m ready to hear your theory, Ms. Stenger,” said the administrator.

Magalie Stenger smiled to herself. “I propose that as Lowell Roppo grew to become a man in his father’s wig store, he came to fantasize about the women in the display windows. But since all of those ceramic heads were hairless he looked for women who were hairless – women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, like the women who came and went from his father’s shop.”

From behind her back she held up the wig from the jar. “I believe that you’ll find the DNA of all three murdered women on this wig – the wig that Lowell Roppo put on each of the women after he had killed them, thus satisfying his fetish.”

“And she developed this provable theory in how many questions?” Mr. Rodgers asked the C-241.

“14 questions.”

“Can anyone beat it?” he asked looking around the room. The others shook their heads no. “Well then you win bragging rights and one free trip on another murder vacation. I hope everyone will travel with us again soon.”


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:23:01 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

The Case of the Calendar Jar Crimes...

By:
Sergio Palumbo



It was that time of year again, and Harry Hutchison was very worried. The 62-year-old detective already knew what would follow - or better what was probably going to happen… - and the events of the day didn’t disappoint him. At midnight, precisely, a holo-call announced that another body part would be found in an obscure alley in town. As the graying man looked at the calendar he regretfully told his younger colleague, “I knew this would happen: it’s the same day, the same hour, only one year after the last one…”

News websites and blogs had already let their fancy run wild, and they had named that strange sequence of unexplainable bloody events the ‘calendar jar crimes’. The reason was simple: at the beginning of the crime spree, on the given date, a transparent jar was left in an alley with a body part inside. Well, it was not from a human body, as it came from an alien species called Hujkn, one of the many alien groups that had been allowed to settle on Earth since the day the first Trade Agreements had been signed and the world had been admitted into the Great Union of Free Planets. This inclusion had proven to be very profitable for humans due to improvements in technology, science, industry and medicine, undoubtedly. So far, there were about 300 new intergalactic species that were living alongside Earthlings, and their numbers were steadily increasing every year.

The main mystery was that the body parts found weren’t all taken from the same alien body, as every single time the investigations revealed that they had come from different victims – whose complete remains had never been found so far. So, why was a damn killer cutting pieces of tissues from an alien’s body, putting them into a jar and leaving it somewhere? Of all the madmen the detective had ever encountered in his life, this murderer was obviously the most bloodthirsty!

For the first three years, though the policemen hadn’t discovered anything about the person responsible, a jar would be found in town on the same date, after the usual holo-call. Then, things worsened. Once the media found out that all these body parts came from the same alien species - the Hujkn - it became clear the act was a hate crime. They surmised it must have been done by some racist who detested the Hujkn and wanted to show the whole world that he had decided to deal with those new citizens of Earth in this bloody way. The question was: should they be looking for a human who hated the Hujkn - or an alien? In fact, that species had many enemies - including other alien groups who had been admitted to Earth. The same could be said about humans who hated all other alien peoples, anyway…

Even though the policemen involved, including Harry, had no clues about the real killer, someone new decided to send a clear response - and so another jar with a body part from a different alien species had shown up. The remains were from the Ltmra, who had always been at odds with the Hujkn over some commercial agreements which had been infringed upon in the past, almost causing a war in space. So, there were now two of them: a person who killed, or cut, parts off poor Hujkn bodies and left them in an alley, and another one who did the same on the aliens known as Ltmra…

But, it didn’t stop there, as things left to themselves, usually go from bad to worse. Probably because of the game of intertwined hatred among the different species with past scores to settle, new jars with new alien body parts were announced and picked up in several parts of town, each find having its significance. These actions were obviously meant to strike fear in their enemy’s species. The fact was that each year had only 365 days, and the policemen had been hoping that no other alien killer would perpetrate the same acts, as those insane individuals seemed to have already selected a different date to showcase their crimes.

And then it happened: another jar - but with human organs - was found in a park on February 29th. For the first time, some unknown killer had started practicing the same crime on Earthlings - and it had occurred on a day that only repeated every four years. Humans had finally become the target of that madness! But there was something else that made the detective upset this year: a message attached to the jar with human body part that said: “You stupid humans! Do something and stop this senseless chain of violence, or we’ll fill every day of the year with jars holding the remains of Earthlings. You have four years to solve this crime or else, starting with the next 29th February, we’ll put our threat into practice!”

Harry silently looked at the message again and smirked. The detective knew he would not be working four years from now, as next March he would finally be retired, and so he could simply walk away from all those terrible crimes that had made his job unbearable for a decade. Someone else would be forced to solve the problem after he was gone!/b]

We’ll never know for certain, but Harry was probably very surprised when he stumbled upon an alien from a species he didn’t even recognize one night while coming back from the pub, and unbearable was the former detective’s suffering as that stranger started cutting out his internal organs and putting them into another jar to be left somewhere in town. Attached to that new jar was a message: “We’re already tired of waiting, so we’re not holding off until leap year: hurry up and solve those damn’ crimes on your damn’ planet now – or else!”


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:23:56 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

Flash Supressor

By:
Rick Tornello



He states, “I’m an Adjudicator.”

“See the circle on the calendar. I have to go out and do it again. I can never complain. Let me explain, but first I must take some refreshment.”

He took a gumdrop out of the Everfilled Jar.

“This jar knows my thoughts, my wishes. I desired to throw the whole thing out the window but then it would be filled up again, just like that. And here they are, lemon gum drops, my favorite. And littering is a major ecological crime, as is farting. Methane, a major green-house gas, is strictly regulated. There are meters on everyone’s body from the day we’re born. Good credits are given to those who fart less. The truth of the matter is 40% of human populations are walking methane factories. It is a great form of taxation. Every body agreed those who polluted should pay.”

“I am not DNA prone to produce methane, but cows are. Large herds of cows were eliminated generations ago. Now only small numbers of the animals are allowed to breed and then again in especially environmentally controlled enclosed fields. Methane being a very potent gas is harvested for those activities that required natural methane for the sports population, specifically the indoor environmentally controlled go-kart racing crowd.

“I am one of the Hunters. All Hunters are licensed by the National Revenge Assembly, a bureaucratic subdivision within the Justice Department, an august group of citizens whose only desire is to see that the laws of the land are respected. Since all citizens are given all we desire and are free from want, and no one should have any want in our society. Want is The Capital Crime. Some of us desire to hunt. We don’t want to hunt. We simply desire to help maintain the balance in our Most Free From Want World.

“Every one has all they desire. Those who are found to want, and adjudicated as capital criminals, are allowed to go through a final form of trial. Our society gives every one what they desire. The final argument is conducted under the Human Hunting Laws. And the one found guilty could desire trial-by-combat.


In order to achieve a balance in the hunt revenge game that is required by our natural psychological make up, the NRA decrees hunting as the following, as I will explain, and we are given the opportunity to hunt, only the game is a condemned human. However, if he or she succeeds in break-freaking through the barrier of hunters or manages to kill one of us in the hunt, the criminal is deemed worthy and reformed of want by dint of God’s grace and set free. It’s a wonderful game. So far I’ve managed to adjudicate ten criminals. I’m called The Top Adjudicator.”

II
Today the hunt is in the break-freaking game preserve. The planets rotation is about to cut the natural light from the preserve. This is the best time. This is when the hunted ones get careless thinking they are about to cross the border. The Adjudicator studied her profile and figured she would try to use the river exit; so unoriginal.

I pop another gumdrop into my mouth. It is sour and my cheeks pucker. That was a good one and it brings a tight smile to my face. My rifle is resting on the sandbag as I chamber a .308. The specially made kill-bullet glides in silently. The bolt locks like jeweled clockwork. I turn on my infrared scope. The cross hairs align for 500 yards. There is no wind.
Number eleven.

She was condemned for expressing too much undesire and wanted too much to have diversity, to allow change. She had something to do with cyborg designs. Silly girl. She should have kept her mouth shut. She knew better. I don’t care too much about personal data for this game. Too much gets in the way and I over analyze. They all panic out here.

They said if she had her way, then we’d all be just a mess like the old days of total chaos and confusion. We are so free from want. Everyone is happy and those that aren’t, soon learn one way, or another.

Between the breaths: I see her face, I squeeze the trigger. All I hear is phhhht. The suppressor keeps the noise down to a respectable level. I don’t even need earplugs. That would allow her to possibly sneak up on me. Well not this one. That only occurred once and I was almost willing to let him escape. He was good. He could have been one of US.

He called me a stooge and tool for the National Revenge Assembly, corrupters of the old constitution. He should have just terminated me, no talk. I couldn’t let that slide. That’s what a side arm is for.

She’s down. My job is done, and such pleasure. My sensors are surely reporting my happiness to the National Revenge Assembly. I will be rewarded. Strange, there is no confirmation…but it happens.

I have a great desire for steak and potatoes tonight. And then, who knows.

I make the call again, nothing. I walk to where my RPV is just landing. I walk slowly. Before boarding I stop, turn, and look back at the killing field. I can’t believe I see her face in my memory. She was cute, too bad.

Something is burning inside me. I look down. I‘m bleeding, what the… My hand covers the blood. Then I hear her voice.

“You think I was stupid enough to do like the others? I’m allowed a review of the Hunters just as you are of your intended victims. I know you like to lay and wait by the river. You shot my cyborg. I saw you look at your communicator. Of course you didn’t get a confirmation. I will take your machine and leave you here as you would have left me.
Oh, one last thing.”

My brain registered the muzzle flash.


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:24:58 PM

3 Random Things Challenge

- Winner -


Waste Management

By:
Joey To



Michelle gulped at the charred pulverizer with its casing splayed open and the mangled mess in blue overalls ten feet away. It was the first time in her twenty-three years of life that she had seen someone almost drained of it.

She glanced out the window where asteroids, rusting vessels and other junk drifted. "Shouldn't we… err… send him to the hospital? Isn't there one right outside the perimeter?"

No one answered. Just wide eyes.

"Not taking him to Orion's Mercy," a voice boomed, "too many sociopaths and losers."

All spun around to see a sixty-year-old hulk with a crewcut donning a black trench coat, flanked by younger muscle, and all shrunk back.

"Sorry sir, didn't know Orion's Mercy was a psychiatric facility," said Michelle.

Jerry the Boss knitted his brow. "It's not. Was referring to them orderlies and doctors."

He squinted at his injured employee, then glowered at his busted machinery and huffed. "Get him to St Jude's now. Any jars this time?"

Babyface Danny slowly put his hand up.

"Jars?" whispered Michelle to the one next to her.



Michelle placed a blackened control chip on the wide rosewood desk. Jerry grabbed the component, held it up and leaned back in his chair.

"Sir, it's M-type but it's supposed to be N-type for that particular pulveriser," said Michelle.

As the boss inspected the chip, her eyes wandered around the office: photos of a young Jerry in an exo-suit; holo-captures of adolescents with one quaint lady prominently displayed, presumably his grandchildren; bottles of moonshine and two empty jars.

Jerry put the chip down, picked up a black marker and put a cross in today's cell on his calendar. There were two red asterisks in the same cell.

"According to maintenance logs," said Michelle, "it was changed last week, before I started, but…"

"…no name was entered," mumbled Jerry as he poured moonshine into his tumbler.

The waft of engine cleaner opened Michelle's sinuses. "Sir, I know I'm so new that Sheila hasn't even put my name into payroll yet but I need to know what's going on. I am the Process Engineer. How are jars connected to this… sabotage?"

Jerry narrowed his gaze and sipped his drink. "Young lady, Orion's Mercy Hospital have regular supply runs. Now, listen carefully since pirates do operate in this sector."



Michelle pulled the joystick. The ship broke left around a rock and a derelict cruise liner. The blinking red dot continued streaking toward the green dot on the HUD. Damn pirate missile.

She stole a glance over her shoulder—"You okay back there?"—Babyface Danny clinging onto the cases of… stuff.

He nodded. "Deploy c-countermeasures."

Her thumb brushed the selector, then hit the button right next to it. There was a clank as something was released but it didn't buy them time.

Still, Orion's Mercy was close. Michelle floored both thrust pedals and headed straight for the hangar, the missile still closing. She activated the transponder and hoped Jerry's fabricated codes would pass.

"Medical Transport One-Niner-Two to Orion Conn: under attack, require assis—"

Two streams of tracers blazed. The red dot disappeared. The defences seemed a bit excessive compared to other deep-space hospitals, not that Michelle was ungrateful.



The medical transport gleamed. Michelle tried not to smile but she was proud of her work. Hard to believe that the thing was scheduled for recycling just yesterday.

As Babyface Danny rolled the cases down the ramp, Michelle noted the reinforced hangar doors… then smoothed her paramedic's uniform and headed for the lobby with data-pad in hand.

At the entrance, green rays swept her head to toe. Orderlies glared at her but she kept her eyes forward and kept walking.

The corridors bustled and, like all caring environments, everyone ignored her. Having an ex-military boss obviously helped with resources, her outfit and key-card working so far. She turned right, marched toward Archives and entered.

Michelle gawked. Archives was certainly archives. Banks of files on the left and rows of organs on the right. In cryo-jars. She strode up to a terminal and plugged in the data-pad.

She smirked. Security did check her but found only her academic transcripts and pilot's license.

Then she executed the hack and an encrypted transfer link. Records flashed onto the data-pad screen: personal files, financials, layouts… the sabotage and the heavy defences now made more sense. Damn mob must have taken over the hospital recently. Jerry's business was successful and the mob, who obviously also ran organ black markets, wanted their slice. No way Jerry would have agreed so—

Oh dear… a file of a familiar young lady. Michelle had assumed the jars were a general threat to Jerry and his staff in the form of a personal taunt since he was an ex-Marine, a so-called jarhead. Well, it was personal: his granddaughter was poisoned a month ago and, during her brief hospitalization, had a kidney stolen.

Babyface Danny appeared on screen. "I'm d-done here. If I s-stay longer—"

"Wait in the ship as planned."

Then Michelle initiated a call. Jerry appeared and his eyes glinted. "Good work, now I know specifically who these maggots are. Get to your rendezvous."



Michelle was walking up the ramp when the orderlies shouted and bolted towards her. She elbowed the red button as one of them hurled himself at the ship, clinging onto the raising ramp. She kicked him in the face. She felt good whilst he fell off.

The ramp sealed shut and then she tapped [EMP] on her data-pad. Blue waves rippled from their cases. Lights out.

Danny pattered the comms panel.

"Hang on," the boss grunted in response.

A boom followed as the hangar doors flared inward. Thankfully, the hospital didn't detect Michelle's "countermeasures" as modified mines.

"Not leaving till we waste everyone on the list!" roared Jerry through comms as fifty exo-suits with full-assault load-out poured in.

He was obviously an old-fashioned guy, the type who got satisfaction crossing off dates and people he really didn't like.


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:46:28 PM

The Rope a Dope Trope Challenge

This challenge was run by Eddie Sullivan.

The challenge was to write a flash story with a same old horror trope, but.... change an essential part that always ends up being a given.


Example story:


The Thing in the Closet

By:
Eddie Sullivan



“Mom, there is something in the closet, really.” Timmy had tried to tell her this for months ever since he himself noticed.

“Sweetheart, there are no such thing as monsters. Go to sleep. If you just close your eyes you will be out before you know it.”

She stood for a moment in the doorway framed by the light of the hall. She blew him a kiss and closed the door behind her.

It waited a moment so she wouldn’t be near. The sense of timing was perfect. There had never even been a close call.

“Psst.”

Timmy drew the sides of the pillow up in a “U” shape around his head blocking his ears.

“Psst.”

He stared up at the ceiling refusing to acknowledge it in any way.

“Psst. Kid I know you can hear me. Quit it. Over here, hey!”

Timmy turned over and buried his face in the mattress. He pressed the pillow down hard on the back of his head seemingly trying to suffocate himself. He could hear the floorboards creaking through the pillow. They stopped near the bed. The tiny sharp tip of a sharp grimy claw poked his behind through the blanket. No sooner than it poked him, feet scuffled across the floor back to the closet.

Timmy rolled over exasperated. He threw the pillow at the closet door. It bounced off the door and swung it closed until contact was made with something just inside the dark portal of the door jam.

Timmy sat up. “What...do..you..want? And if you say what I think you are going to say, I swear to God I will find a way to catch you and give you to the government.”

“Got any gum?”

“Arrrgg!” Timmy leaped out of bed and flew across the room, kicking Legos in an explosive pattern in front of him in a wave of destruction. He reached the light switch and flicked it on.

He heard his mother walking quickly down the hallway and ran back to his bed, jumping in. He had forgotten the light. Humph.

She opened the door.

“Sweetie. There are no monsters.”

“Yes there are. He is right in there.” Timmy waved his hand at the closet. She opened the door to reveal a closet full of clothes.

“Nothing kiddo. Besides what would a monster want here?”

“He wants gum.”

His mother got that disapproving look on her face. “Honey, it is okay to be scared of the dark. This stuff about monsters is ridiculous, so ridiculous you don’t even have a good reason fabricated for why one would be here.”

“But...”

“No “buts” young man. Go to sleep and stay in bed. Do you understand?”

“Yes Mom.” He scowled at her.

“And don’t give me that look or you will see what a real monster looks like. You’re eight years old, these bedtime shenanigans are getting old quick.”

He pointed to the pillow on the floor by the closet. She picked it up and threw it at him. He caught it and couldn’t help but smirk a little. Shoving it under his head he turned on his side and pulled up the covers. Mom blew another kiss and closed the door.

It waited the obligatory minute.

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“Hey Tim.”
“Hey Timmy”
“Timmy boy.”
“Psst.”
“Youhoo.”

Timmy ignored it for as long as he could.

“Please. For the love of God, please talk about anything but gum.”

“Tim.”

“What?”

“Got any gum?”

“I hate you so much.”


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Post April 30, 2016, 05:47:21 PM

The Rope a Dope Trope Challenge

City of Ghosts

By:
Sergio Palumbo



It was late afternoon and he hated to stop but he was on the road and knew that he had to. Graysen needed to find a store before venturing into the desert, as he wanted to buy something sweet before he got too far away from the city.

Of course, any place he went might give him problems and he always tried his best to stay away from crowded places so he could remain calm and relaxed.

As the 40-year-old bearded man entered the store, his eyes looked right, left and center, as he commonly did, because he didn’t want to run into any unexpected encounters. Such happenings were common, especially around here, which was the main reason he wanted to get as far away - as quickly as possible - taking his motorcycle and his meager belongings with him. He had always been very fond of his Britten V-1000 and his vintage leather jacket.

Outrageous in its day, his V-1000 was an old racing motorcycle that looked and performed like nothing else, offering blistering performance coupled with a visionary shape. From its 165-hp, sand-cast aluminum-alloy engine to its girder-style forks, each detail reflected its designer’s attitude and brilliant mechanical mind. Only ten of these bikes were ever built and he proudly owned one of them.

While he walked around inside, searching the shelves for Hostess cupcakes, his eyes never stopped roaming, in order to see if something else was close. After a few moments, he found the colorful packages he was looking for, and he immediately grabbed them. Now all he needed was a bottle of whiskey and he would be done with his shopping for today.

As he grabbed a Jack Daniels and turned towards the blonde-haired woman at the register, he saw what he feared might be here. A faint, pale presence appeared in the middle of the store and its hideous features told him that it was not much different from what he had previously stumbled into. The ghost was in its fifties and looked like a woman with burned skin, her slender body covered in ghastly wounds with parts of her bony structure being clearly visible.

As Graysen instinctively moved backwards and walked to the rear of the store to keep clear of the scary ghost, it approached him and started talking in a low, terrible voice that he alone could hear. “I’m Sylvie, I lived here, and I died here because of the disaster. I want you to listen to me, I need your help: please save me! Save us all!” And with that being said, the apparition immediately disappeared in a whiff of smoke and rotten meat.

“Hey mister, are you ready to pay?” asked the woman cashier who was eyeing him suspiciously. “Is there anything else I can help you find?”

Graysen raised his eyes and, as if he was still trying to come out of his present stupor, he simply replied, “No, thanks. This is all I need. How much?”

“It’ll be $17.25,” the cashier said.

His fingers bustled about his pockets and found the required cash. ‘Exact amount, no time to waste’ he told himself. The man almost started running out the door with the same troubled look on his pale face. Then, he headed for his beloved motorcycle and jumped on. He powered it up and rode it flat-out in order to distance himself from that small town and get into the empty desert. There he would be safe! There he would also be alone, away from all those presences that always appeared to him, asking for his help. He couldn’t help them anyway - he was not a superhero like in the comics. Moreover, he wouldn’t even know how to begin to save them…

*****
As soon as the man had exited the store, the curly 8-year-old daughter of the shop owner came out the back and found her mother, the cashier.

“Who was that?” the girl asked.

“Just a customer, he sure was in a hurry…”

“Nobody stops here for long, mother. Maybe our town is too small.”

“I don’t think so, sweetie…” the woman replied. “It’s just that most of the tourists are heading towards the desert. They just stop here, buy something and move on.”

“We’re going to become a city of ghosts, mother,” the child insisted.

“Don’t say that, Sylvie. Try reading something besides ghost stories once in a while!”

*****

When the disaster finally struck, the whole area was turned into a wasteland that nobody dared to enter for many years. Graysen had long since passed away. It was a shame that he had been given such an amazing psychic gift but no one understood it – not even the man himself, as a matter of fact.

Graysen had always been able to see dead people, especially in this area. After all these years he knew that he only had two options: either spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital or move away from everyone.

But things might have been very different, indeed, if only that man had known that he was not only endowed with the power of seeing dead people from the past – but he could see the ghosts of people who would die in the future. What he was seeing was their souls before they even grew up, exactly as he had just seen the ghost of the cashier’s daughter who was only 8-years-old. He saw her ghost as she would become when the child grew up and died. Sylvie’s future ghastly remains would come to the world of living humans from time to time, trying to warn the few that might see her of the impending disaster.

But there was no way to change the destruction that was coming, by any means. After all, people didn’t even take too seriously what they saw before their own eyes nowadays. How could anyone blame them if they didn’t believe in things that came out of the future?
"

The End
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Post April 30, 2016, 05:48:09 PM

The Rope a Dope Trope Challenge

The Tragedy of a Vampire Countess

By:
Wesson



Mortals have learned to fear my name, the name of Countess Reinhardt. I preside over a land of perpetual darkness, darkness so thick the human eye can’t see more than ten feet into the distance. It’s a forsaken land populated by monsters the likes of which humans have only seen in their nightmares. An inexplicable red sky hangs over their solitary houses both day and night.

The black outline of my castle dominates the horizon. Its archaic walls are stained with the filth of ages but it’s the only place a vampire countess like me can call home. The doors to my throne room open to a prize I’ve been waiting for, a beautiful young man from the village who has fallen under my spell.

His attempts to resist me made his gait uneven. I twirled a black lock of hair with my index finger. “… So thrilling,” I said to him, “You still think you can escape me, don’t you?”

500 years ago, I was just a commoner; the kind of girl all the men ignored. Mt first kiss was with a demon banished to a forest outside of town. It was a red kiss that placed upon me the curse of un-death. My rotten corpse moved as if it were still alive and my new hypnotic eyes granted me power of the same men who had dismissed me, I gathered them in my castle like trophies whose lives revolved around my twisted desires. And there in the darkness, I committed depraved acts that would offend the gods themselves.

The centuries marched on but no matter how many men I bewitched, I always found myself wanting more. Such irrational lust drove me to visit human villages in disguise to hunt for new victims. And one night I found the perfect one: Michael Harker, a young school teacher. He was under observation in an asylum; apparently his desire to explore his sexuality had caused the doctors to diagnose him with brain illness, something that affected so many young men across the land.

I experienced a thrill I hadn’t felt in decades when I snuck into his room. It was his innocence I longed for, an innocence I would strip away once I had him under my sheets. How surprised I was when he managed to resist my hypnotic gaze.

In that moment, memories more than 500 years old came back to me, memories of the girl I used to be: unpopular, unwanted, unattractive.

“I’m not ugly anymore, how dare you ignore me!” I foolishly shouted.

Alerted to my invasion, the famous vampire hunter Abigail Van Helsing burst into the room to confront me. Resorting to desperation, I took the unwilling boy under my arm and jumped out the window. My inhuman body allowed me to sprint miles across the monster-infested countryside and back to my castle.

Michael Harker never stopped resisting me. It was beyond vexing; I had amassed a harem of young men who fell to their knees at the mere sight of my mystical form. Day and night I seduced him only to be met with disappointment.

“I can do things beyond your wildest dreams,” I said to him, “No one has to know.”

He responded confidently: “I don’t belong to you or anyone else.”

The depression that took root in my ethereal mind was debilitating, I couldn’t even find the energy to feed. Michael was all I could think about. It was a frivolous pursuit to say the least, I held hundreds of men under my spell but it was the one I couldn’t posses that enslaved my lust. How could anyone remain so chaste in my spectacular presence?

Then came the day Doctor Helsing made her daring rescue attempt. The sound of my castle doors being smashed in shook the empty wine bottles in my room. Inebriated and weak from hunger, I grabbed my sword and prepared for an onslaught that would most likely end my immortal existence.

“Michael,” I muttered to myself, “If you only knew how you brought this demon to her knees.”

Helsing was waiting for me in my throne room shepherding an army of mortals. Even in my emaciated state, I managed to slay over fifty of them, but the outcome was inevitable. As I lay on the ground with lethal wood protruding from my bloodied chest, I watched Michael happily re-unite with the doctor.

I felt a sick smile spread cross my pale lips. While he was in captivity, Michael acted so scared and demure. It was that kind of fake fragility that captivated me. If only Abigail knew how manipulative he was.

“Good luck to you,” I whispered as my slayer left the castle, “I hope that boy destroys you like he destroyed me.”


The End
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Post April 30, 2016, 05:48:59 PM

The Rope a Dope Trope Challenge

- Winner -


Death Trap

By:
Joey To



A signal chirped… then it repeated itself.

Glances were exchanged across the table, followed by the bowl of mashed potatoes. Paz shoved a spoonful of carrots into his mouth… then sighed. He turned and squinted at the screen: the words "Unidentified Automated Signal" were blinking with what appeared to be jumbled code flashing underneath. Then he returned to his meal and the faces of twelve downcast rangers.

"Lieutenant Paz, you answering that?" said the computer through the speakers. "Military Protocol Section 4, Paragraph 22 dictates that active personnel must investigate unidentified signals unless such action compromises the execution of—"

"Yes, I know," said Paz with his mouth half full. "I'm eating."

Sergeant Dwayne "Unstoppable Tight End" Mortimer scanned the men. "Sir, the words 'death' and 'trap' comes to mind but we couldn't kill anyone in our last op. We could really use some action."

Paz kept chewing. "Computer, where's the signal coming from?"

"MU-45 in Sector 310."

"Is anything out there?" asked Corporal Trumna as she marched to the drink dispenser.

"I've already changed course and, given Sergeant Mortimer's concern, updated all your wills," said the computer. "I recommend you all go over it again before sending."



Paz strode into the armory. "Good to go? Everything alright?"

Mortimer put down one assault rifle and picked up another. "Yes… and no. Nothing wrong with our weapons. I checked and rechecked when we got back and again now."

Paz grabbed a weapon for himself and shrugged. "Well, the equipment didn't exactly fail… just that no one died like we thought they should."

There was a beep. "We are in GSO directly above the signal source on MU-45," said the computer. "Preliminary scans indicate an operationally safe atmosphere. Dropship prep is complete. C'mon, chop-chop."



"Operationally safe atmosphere my butt," muttered Paz in his seat. The dropship quaked. The winds outside raged and it was conveniently dark. Apart from the flashes of lightning. Someone hurled their dinner against a window. Paz knitted his brow. So not cleaning that up.

"Sir, there's a… a structure," said Trumna in the pilot's seat. Mortimer was standing next to her.

Paz unbuckled his harness and staggered towards the front. On screen, the structure was basically a bunker with merely one level aboveground. Through the windshield, thunder and rain, he could vaguely make out its outline.

"Resembles United Earth's standard off-world designs," said Mortimer. "What's that doing out here? Secret facility?"

"I have no records of any sanctioned operations on this planet," said the computer. "The signal source is located in sub-level four and I cannot decipher its nature."

"Thanks," grunted Paz, "how pleasantly ominous and—"

The dropship rolled. Paz hit the floor. Then the dropship rolled some more.

"Damn this storm… we're going down," Trumna called out, pulling the joystick. "Hold on, we can still make it to the landing pad."

They didn't.



Steam rose from the mangled airframe, the rain having mostly extinguished the fire. Paz scanned: twelve of them including himself. Trumna was missing. He remembered the dropship cabin collapsing somewhat dramatically. Not sure how he survived that. Trumna obviously didn't. Either way, the computer needed to send down a dropship later.

Paz forced himself up. "You're all still wishing for action?!"

At least the crash had somehow busted the door wide open. Then something creaked. Everyone turned to see the wreck budge and raised their weapons… then Trumna popped out, covered with oil and soot.

"Sorry 'bout that," she said as she adjusted her helmet and brushed off some glass granules.

Paz squinted. No time for celebrations or questions. "Let's move it!"



The corridors were dark, of course. And the air was stale too. Paz saw no signs of struggle or any disturbance apart from the lack of main power.

"Definitely United Earth infrastructure," said Mortimer. "Stairs to sub-level four just up ahead."

The squad made their way down… their boots clanking on the grilled floors.

"Might as well encounter some parasitic monster while we're at it," whispered Mortimer.

Light rippled across the walls at the T-junction ahead. Paz made some fancy hand signals and the squad moved up. When they rounded the corner and turned left, they all gawked. The floor was littered with bodies in white coats. At the centre of the room was a large glowing ball, the periphery rippling and pulsing steadily.

"I don't think that's a parasitic monster," uttered Trumna as she checked a terminal. "Although there could be one inside assuming it's an energy barrier."

Paz looked around. The bodies all seemed intact. No blood, no signs of trauma.

"Maybe the signal is a secret distress code," said Mortimer. "This is obviously some secret facility."

The energy field warped momentarily, now pulsing erratically. Trumna pointed to a graph, the line flickering. "I recommend shutting it down."

Paz nodded. The squad aimed their assault rifles as Trumna hit a few keys. The field flashed off… revealing a black lanky form with a—

They unloaded.

Sparks erupted as rounds ricocheted. No effect.

The squad inched back when the tall figure glided toward them. Then Paz realized that it was actually a humanoid form donning a black hooded robe and in its calciferous grip was a gleaming scythe.

"Heeeello!" it boomed. "Thanks for releasing me. These bastards here tried to trap me, probably wanted to be immortal. Well, they partly succeeded but not before I organized their exit interviews and sent out a distress call."

Glances were exchanged.

"I messed that part up, did I? Sorry." Then it shrugged. "Anyway, as a reward, I can give you all a painless death if you want but decide quickly. I haven't worked for a week, must be so many who need taking."

Paz opened his mouth but closed it without saying a word and turned to go.

"Where're you going?" asked Death, stalking forward.

"Err… we have work too," answered Mortimer with a reluctant smile, looking up at the towering figure.

"You're gonna kill people, right? May I come along?"


The End
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Post April 30, 2016, 08:50:42 PM

The "It Just Keeps Getting Meta!" Challenge

This challenge was run by Eddie Sullivan.

The challenge was to write a speculative flash fiction story where the author is the protagonist and there are at least 2 elements which are true to his or her life right now recently.


Example story:


They Call It Puppy Love

By:
Eddie Sullivan



“Dogs don’t talk.”

The little golden mutt glanced up at me lovingly and wrinkled her nose. “You mean they never talk to you.”

I was still very much attributing everything going on to the fever which kept me home from work. In a string of unlikely events my wife who normally works third shift had switched with a friend and was out of the house. That left me, the new puppy, and the two cats alone for the day.

“Well then why now, Valentine?”

“Why not now, Ed? Is one time really better than another for this kind of thing?”

I adjusted my head on the pillow, the sinus pressure was killing me. “Well now certainly isn’t the most opportune time by far. Is there something you need, like a tummy rub or a treat?”

“Funny. Truly. I can get those things quite well without speaking to you. There are much more important matters at hand. Do you think we just talk to anyone for any silly reason?”

A good barometer of just how ill I was could have been the level of apathy I still held for this particular situation. The decision to turn over on the couch and ignore the talking puppy was much less difficult that you would have thought. So I bunched the blanket under my chin, fluffed the pillow a bit with my head and turned over. I would just close my eyes and whatever the hell was going on would stop happening. I felt at the time it was an entirely rational decision. Valentine the puppy felt differently. The little bitch started barking relentlessly. Little did I know the noise of the bark wasn’t the solution to my ignorance in and of itself. She was issuing orders to the cats. They promptly obeyed and pounced on me relentlessly. I relented and turned back toward her, casting the cats off me in the process.

“So now cats can speak dog?” She nodded her little golden head. “And they take orders from them?”

“Think of it more as an exchange of professional courtesy.” She gave a cute little bark, which I assumed was thanks, and the feline co-conspirators went somewhere to lick themselves.

“Fine what is it that is so important that not only do you have to talk to an human, but also enlist the help of cats?”

“First tell me I’m a good girl.”

“What?”

“You heard what I said. Tell me I’m a good girl. While you are at it stretch your lazy ass over here and rub my tummy.”

I spent several seconds looking at her in disbelief, until I realized disbelief over this request was made moot by the fact that it was in English, out loud, from a puppy. All bets were pretty much off at this point in our exchange. I relented just to get on with it and conclude whatever the hell was going on here.

I reached over and rubbed her tummy. “ Good girl. Good Girl. Who is a good girl?”

After a moment or two she flipped over, ran at me and hopped up onto the couch. She stood on my chest and looked me right in the face. “I am and don’t you ever forget it.”

“That’s it?”

“No, dope. You have cancer.”

“Wha…”

“Cancer. I can smell it. Not bad, it just started. You should go to the doctor and be looked at. They will treat it and you will live.”

I spent a minute or two just looking into her puppy dog eyes. “ Ok I will bite. Why are you telling me this? I am sure other dogs have smelled it and not told other humans.”

“I like you and want to keep you. I have grown fond of watching you write your stories in your office at night after work. You really are quite good, consider doing it full time once we get this health business cleared up.”

I cocked my head at her, she cocked hers back. I think she was teasing me. “You like my work…wait you read?”

“Yes. You really are quite good. Also yes I read, but you also dictate a lot of stuff remember. I like that better, then I can just sit there while you tell me stories. So just go to the doctor and get fixed so nothing changes, ok?”

“Ok. But…Don’t you think that maybe now that I know dogs talk it might come up in my stories?”

“Nope. I am never going to say a word again after today. That coupled with the fact that no one will ever believe a fiction writer will keep my secret safe. Also what are you going to do write about this exact exchange? We both know it is too meta. Who do you think you are Charlie Kaufman? Pfft.”

Have you ever seen a puppy go Pfft? It is terminally cute.

“We will see, Valentine. “

She barked at me rather than speak again. As for me I turned over and fell asleep. I didn’t wake up till I heard walking in the living room. My wife was looking down at me.

“Hey sleepy head. How you feel?”

“Better, but I think I might go see the doctor anyway.”

“Why?”

“I just have a feeling it is time to get checked out.”

That damn, cute little bitch, I saw her wink.


The End
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Post April 30, 2016, 08:52:09 PM

The "It Just Keeps Getting Meta!" Challenge

Dayton Ohio

By:
Michele Dutcher



I can never remember a time in my life when I didn’t want things to be tidy. So it peeved me a little when a webzine editor set up a meeting of authors and editors in Dayton Ohio, and then bowed out at the last minute.

I had already bought my tickets and made reservations weeks in advance, even going so far as to Google and print out the city bus routes I would be taking. The hard feelings were ironed out however, when the rest of us decided to meet up in Dayton anyway.

Events didn’t truly veer off course until I was on the 17 bus heading downtown and a mechanical female voice came over the intercom on the bus. “Remember, people need your blood. Your blood will be happily accepted at locations easily accessed from most bus routes.” I thought it was unseemly for advertisers to assume that all people who rode the bus needed money bad enough to sell their blood. I looked around at the other riders, and none of them seemed to have been bothered by the announcement – even when it was repeated every three minutes.

I looked around the bus again, closer this time. There was something missing…but what?

Fat people. There were no fat people, there were no skinny people, and no one appeared to be homeless. Each of the 45 passengers appeared to be height and weight proportional, with their ages between 25 and 50 years old. As the ride progressed no one moved, no one shifted, and no one said anything. I briefly caught the eye of one lady who immediately looked down and pulled the brim of her hat over her eyes.

I was disappointed when I got to the ‘Grand Dayton Hotel’ and saw that the words ‘Grand Dayton’ had been covered with white paint, leaving only the word Hotel. There was a small arrow pointing around back where the main entrance normally was, so I entered the hotel through the parking garage. The word ‘Hilton’ had been scratched out on several metal name plates. There were sheets of plastic hanging in the lobby.

The group wasn’t scheduled to meet up for a few hours, so after checking-in (noticing a 4-foot-wide brown stain on the hall carpet outside my room) I decided to walk about downtown to find someplace nice where our small, friendly group could eat supper. I walked through blocks of buildings that were boarded up, sheets of brown paper covering many of the windows.

After not even finding a fast-food joint, I noticed an 8x11 inch sign saying the name of my bank and went inside the building. I went up the escalator. At the top I saw a row of six teller windows but no people. I checked my cell phone for the time: 1:47 in the afternoon.

A man in a suit suddenly burst out from behind the row of cages.

“Hello,” I said cordially. “I’m not from here and was looking for someplace downtown to eat.”

He was flustered. “I just eat healthy food in my apartment…but I believe there is an Uno Pizza around.”

“I’ll check, thanks,” I told him. Then my eye fell upon six toy robots arranged in a circle on a nearby desk. They were black and white and looked like small dogs. “These are cute. Are they for sell?”

The teller threw himself between me and the circle of toys. “They don’t like to be touched!” he whispered frantically.

“THEY don’t like to be touch?” I laughed.

“I meant: please don’t touch them!”

Seeing that I wasn’t welcome I went down the escalator, but not before noticing that the dogs must have been turned on somehow, because their eyes were glowing. As I was halfway to the first floor I thought I heard a mechanical female voice huff out: ‘Cute indeed!’

*****
Our small group of cyber-friends ate and drank for hours inside the Uno Chicago Style Pizza Place. The company and conversation were great and group-selfies were taken. As we were paying for our checks, the editor of Alien Eyes saw a toy beside the cash register.

“I’ve only seen a few of these,” said Lawrence. “It’s an Aibo robot.”

“Aibo? I thought these quit being made in 2005,” answered Sterling, bending down to look at it.

“Careful!” I blurted out. “These toys don’t like to be touched!”

“You’re joking with us!” Lawrence said before we all broke into laughter.

Sterling looked at the cashier. “Would you mind turning it on? Years ago they begged and made a delightful peeing sound.”

“It’s just for display,” said the man flatly. He nodded towards the door.

As we left, I nudged Sterling to follow my lead. We both looked through the front window to see the robot dog’s eyes glowing as the cashier bent over, appearing to listen to whatever it was saying.

****
I was unnerved by the next morning. My dreams had been fitful and the lack of diversity of people I met was disturbing. Now I could see clearly that children had the toy dogs in their backpacks; women on the city buses carried them in their purses.

As I waited in the station for my bus, I noticed that none of the twenty people inside talked or got up to go to the bathroom or ate a snack. Fifty minutes passed and I finally had to get up to stretch my legs.

“Why did you stand up?” asked a woman nearby with blank eyes. “Is the bus here already?”

As I sat in the bus, anxiously waiting to leave the station, I noticed a man’s suitcase accidently crash open as it was being loaded under the bus. I was sure I saw a white hard-plastic toy hit the ground before it was hurriedly closed back up and shoved into the cargo hold.


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