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View Poll Results: Of the stories in this Anthology Thread, which are your favourites?
The Infinite Theater, post #2 3 20.00%
The glitch, post #3 4 26.67%
A Prince of Parys, post #4 3 20.00%
Tough Love, post #5 5 33.33%
Collisions, post #6 4 26.67%
The Wages of Sin, post #7 1 6.67%
Old business, post #8 1 6.67%
The Sliding Floor, post #9 3 20.00%
With All The Lights On, post #10 6 40.00%
Three Drops, post #11 2 13.33%
The End, post #12 9 60.00%
City of the Living, post #13 4 26.67%
Party at Billy's, post #14 4 26.67%
Last Night, post #15 2 13.33%
The Luck of the Draw, post #16 5 33.33%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 15. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 05-12-2012, 10:58 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Voting produces endorphins! - try the Anthology Thread, SDMB Short Fiction Contest, May 2012 edition

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Anthology Thread of the SDMB Short Fiction Contest, May 2012 edition. The poll will appear in about 58 hours.

A quick recap of the rules -

At 9 AM EDT, Friday, May 4th, 2012, I posted a link to a photo (found by random means) and also three words (again, obtained by random means) in an auto-reply message at sdmbpoetrysweatshop at gmail dot com. Writers still have until 10 PM EDT, Monday, May 14th, 2012 to write an original piece of short fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length, based in some way on that photo and those three words. All interested participants will be working from the same compulsory material.

As of the posting of this thread, there will still be ~58 hours left to any interested participants.

Writers - send your completed work to me, preferably in a .doc format, at sdmbpoetrysweatshop at gmail dot com before 10 PM EDT, Monday, May 14th, 2012. I will verify that it is 2,000 words or less, and I will post it in this Anthology Thread. Please include your SDMB username, and please let me know if your story incorporates any special text such as bold, italic or underline. (These codes do not always transfer directly, and I do want your stories to look right.) I will post the stories as a ~100 word teaser, followed by the rest of the story in a spoiler box, (Click the button labeled 'spoiler' to reveal the text, for those not familiar with the SDMB.) with the authors' names in separate spoiler boxes.

At 10 PM EDT, Monday, May 14th, 2012, a multiple choice poll will be established to determine the readers' favourite story. I would also ask voters to choose those stories that have incorporated the compulsory material in the most interesting manner. At the end of a week, the poll will close and we will declare a winner of the PoeHenryParkerSaki award.

The poll, once established, will be a secret ballot type poll. No one need ever know how you voted. I would, however, encourage everyone to please vote. You are providing an important source of feedback to the writers.

While we welcome readers' comments, may I please request that readers hold off until after the poll is established. That way, the first posts in the thread will all be the various stories. After the poll is established, your comments are enthusiastically encouraged.



The compulsory material is -

The Photograph

and the following three words -

Anonymity
Drift
Radar




And now, here are the stories that this contest has produced. I want to point out - the authors' user names are in spoiler boxes at the end of the stories. Please do not be fooled by the fact that they appear in 'replies' sent by me - only one of these stories is mine.

Enjoy!

Le Ministre de l'au-delà
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  #2  
Old 05-12-2012, 11:41 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Posts: 6,675
The Infinite Theater

Benjamin Green said, to no one in particular, “I need a change in perspective,” not suspecting his absent minded utterance would later be heeded.

He sat at his desk, hunched over his computer, with shoulders pulled taught towards his neck and stomach clenched, despite the fancy Swedish chair he had acquired to help with his posture. One hand draped lazily over the mouse, with his forearm perched painfully on the edge of the desk. The other hand digging into his thick black curls as though expecting to snag them on a loop, pull his skull open, and start tinkering with the clutter inside.

SPOILER:
He supposed, in some sense, he was being productive, as he tried to clear out his inbox. It was on his to do list. Maybe there were higher priorities, like dealing with his late father’s mess of an estate. But his to do list was so long by this point that it felt like nothing other than a dense series of thick iron tendrils weighing down his entire body.

Picking any particular task over any other seemed without merit. Yes, he definitely needed a sense of perspective. He tried to think of some sage advice to point him in a direction, any direction. Absurdly all that eventually entered into his mind was an old episode of a science fiction show. Some ancient alien had helped the protagonist orient himself with two basic questions.

“Who are you?” Was the first.

“Benjamin Green,” he answered in thought. “A random accident of chemistry in a long series of confusing and arbitrary events starting with the beginning of the universe, who will cease to exist long before he had any chance of getting a clue as to what it was all about.”

The second. “What are you doing?”

“Damned if I know!” This time out loud, again to no one in particular. But it didn’t quite feel right, the way that his thoughts about those answers never quite felt true or complete.

Ben decided his productivity in this particular context had long since plateaued, and if he couldn’t make sense of his whole life at the moment, he could at least get a change of scenery, and maybe work out some of the kinks in his neck.

His location was, at least, somewhat ideal for these purposes. The steep hills and Bohemian atmosphere of San Francisco afforded him the opportunity for decent exercise. There was a stunning viewpoint of an already beautiful city made even more divine seeming by the sweeping vista ending at a deep blue bay, and colorful architecture peeking out of enigmatic twirls of fog. And the neighborhood was colorful in the metaphorical sense as well, with offbeat venues and larger than life residents.

Not that ever experienced it personally, directly. The mystique of the city permeated the air, and touched his skin, but he had never taken the chance to actually breathe it in. With his car parked right outside and ever ready to take him to work and back, the most adventure he ever met up with was up and down the three story stairwell to his apartment.

But not today. Today everything else that had formerly seemed important, even urgent, had settled into an indistinguishable sludge in his mind. He was neck deep in his own mental sewage, and needed a change, any change really, to gain a sense of perspective.

He walked for about an hour, mostly randomly and without any sense of purpose. At first, his body was still taut with stresses, and tight with anxiety. His mind was still scattershot with ripples of noisy chatter. He resisted both, but this only seemed to magnify his physical and mental anguish.

Finally he gave up and accepted both. He stopped where he was, standing on the sidewalk facing downhill towards the bay. At first he felt self conscious, but there was no one else nearby so he dismissed the notion in his apparent anonimity.

The mind chatter subsided first, as he stopped giving it audience and paid attention to his surroundings instead. Nothing notable in particular. Just a typical neighborhood on a nearly sideways street. His attention drifted back inward, this time not into his mind but his body. Instead of fighting all the tension, he started to really feel it. He had been trying to counteract it, and force his muscles into some ideal posture. But now he just let his body do what it wanted to do.

For awhile he felt like what he imagined it’s like to be one of those old men with the severe hunchback, and limp serviced by cane. Eventually he realized some of the tension was accidentally self inflicted. He had been absent mindedly crossing his arms and putting pressure on his ribs. He dropped his arms and felt a release. He fully embraced the tension in his shoulders and mysteriously his arms dropped and his head swung backwards slightly. His chin lowered and his gazed was attracted to the right.

He swung his left foot around stood facing across the street. His first instinct was to arch his body against gravity, but he rejected that thought out of whimsy and stood at angle to gravity, but straight with respect to the sidewalk.

From this unnatural perspective, and ignoring the sensation of the pull of gravity, the street seemed flush with the earth, but the buildings looked as though they were at an absurd angle.

It was just a plain pink (no salmon, why do I know that?) structure without any apparent importance, but from this angle, the absurd appearance of the building in his view seemed to take on some kind of significance.

Curious, Ben crossed the street for a close look, and walked through the empty space between two vehicles until he got to the door. There was a tiny decal on the window to the door, which said “Satori. Come inside.”

Ben opened the door carefully. A tiny bell in the other side jingled at the motion. He peered inside but it was dark. He took a chance and walked in.

He was in a dark hallway. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all painted black, and softly illuminated with small sporadic inset bulbs. A few feet in, there seemed to be either a coat check or ticket booth, but it was unoccupied. On the counter was a small sign that said simply “help yourself,” and a business card holder. He took one of the cards, but his eyes hadn’t adjusted enough to read it yet.

He continued down the inclined hallway as it meandered back and forth a few times, finally letting out into a dark theater. There didn’t seem to be anyone else there, so he found a seat near the middle and waited for his eyes to adjust.

The screen eventually came into focus. What it seemed to be was a live view, from the rear, of the theater. But no, the theater being shown had three people randomly dispersed throughout the seating. He turned to look behind him. He was still the only one there, within his dim radar. So this was some other theater, or else this theater but at some other time.

His eyes continued to focus deeper. The audience on the screen was also watching a film. And that film was also the rear view of an audience, who was also watching a film of an audience. And so forth. It penetrated the film as far as he could make out.

Feeling confident in his vision, he took the card out of his pocket. “Satori” it said in bold letters. Below that in smaller letters, “The Infinite Theater.” Makes sense, he thought. Perhaps this was some kind of avant garde experimental art project.

He turned the card over. “Parodox.”

His mind started to flash. What’s the biggest paradox in my daily existence? Life at the ordinary day to day local level seems totally arbitrary and absent of wonder. But at the largest level, what happened before the big bang? Why do things exist at all? It seems like an unanswerable mystery.

Paradox after paradox, his mind led him naturally to answer after answer. He realized that the universe must be part of some infinite metaverse, which must be part of some kind of mathematical wave function fractal of everything that could ever be imagined. Insight after insight came to him, until he felt completely awake for the first time in this life.



Benjamin stepped back out into the light. He had gotten his wish. He had, really, gotten everything he had unknowingly asked for. Time to revisit those two questions, he supposed.

Who are you?

“Benjamin, an immortal fractal memetic holonic entity, the part that mirrors the whole,” he thought.

What are you doing?

“Everything I ever wanted. Being in a body. Living at a medium pace. Lover to the universe. In an infinite theater living the story of how I become one with the Tao.”

And finally, for the first time, it felt true, and complete.



SPOILER:
jackdavinci
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  #3  
Old 05-12-2012, 12:07 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Seaton Village
Posts: 6,675
The glitch

I called myself an artist, but in reality I was just drifting through life with no clear purpose. I was working on a little photo project, a little time lapse thing to sell tourists of various San Francisco landmarks. I set my cameras up around the city and programmed them to take a picture once every half hour. I decided to include one house on a steep street that had always intrigued me. I was looking through the proofs, trying to find the right mix of pictures to photoshop into the time lapse when I saw the picture. At exactly 1:05 pm the picture of the house was tilted.

SPOILER:
Then I looked again and saw it was not the picture that was tilted, it was the house itself. The pictures just after and just before were perfectly normal, but in this picture the house had a definite tilt. The next day I replaced the still camera with a web cam and set an alarm to tell me if the house moved at all. It was almost two years later when the alarm finally went off. I looked at the footage and could hardly believe my eyes when the house suddenly tilted like it was on a hinge. The next moment a man stepped out of the house and leisurely began walking down the street.

I instantly knew in my heart that the man had the explanation for what was happening, so I raced out of my apartment and jumped on my bike. I pedaled as fast as I could to the house, luckily it was downhill the whole way and I got there in about 15 minutes.

I began frantically looking in every store that was in the direction I saw him head. The fifth store was an upscale bakery cafe and as soon as I stepped in I recognized the man from the hat and jacket I saw before. I wanted to rush up to him, but I had no idea what I would say to him.

I took a seat at a table behind him so I could see what he was doing and think of what to say.

He sat alone at a table by the door eating two slices of pie and drinking a cup of coffee. He never looked up from his food and scarcely seemed aware of anyone else in the cafe.

When the waitress came over the first thing i did was to ask if she had ever seen him before. Yeah, she said, “That one is a strange kind of cat. He comes in here every day at the exact same time every day orders a couple of desserts, leaves a big tip and leaves.” For some reason I could sense there was something she wasn`t telling me, but I was so overcome with curiosity I could not wait one more moment and strode over to his table and sat down. He was momentarily stunned but regained his composure very quickly.

I said,” I saw what happened to the house, what is going on?”

He said “You did? How?”

I explained about the cameras and he shook his head and said” what a coincidence.”

I asked again,” what is going on with the house, how does it tilt like that?”

He was silent for a little bit and then said, “ I might as well tell you. First let me introduce myself my name is Mark Grant and I am a computer programmer. I am from what you would think of as the future. That house tilting is what happens when I enter this world, it is just a small glitch, I suppose I should fix it but I am having too much fun to worry about that now.”

At that last sentence I began to feel lightheaded, but he paid no attention.

“I'm not a time traveler or anything like that. What you think of as the future is actually the present. No, that is too confusing. Let me start at the beginning, I am sure you're familiar with Moore`s law about computers.”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Well, I found a way to speed it up. I used a program I built to try various chip designs until it found one that was faster than the current one. I then had the computer build a virtual chip and use that chip to keep testing. It went slow at first but after about 5 years of continuous small improvements it had a breakthrough and the processing speed starting doubling every few days. In a few months I had the most powerful computer in the world by an order of magnitude.”

He must have noticed the weird look in my eyes because he slowed down.

“The technical details are not important but what I realized is that if you have enough computers and enough data you can simulate the world. If you have a clever enough programmer. This means you can literally predict the future. You take various scenarios, plug them into the computer and whatever is the best result is the one you do. No more mistakes like the Edsel or New Coke. If a company makes a decision it is always the right one. This is what this is, a simulation I built. This one is to test new chicken sandwiches for Burger King.”

“You're crazy,” I said.

“It does sound crazy doesn`t it. It is going to make me a rich man.”

“If this is a computer simulation from the future, why run it now, what do you hope to accomplish by simulating the year 2012?” I asked

“Benchmarking, I need to show the client the simulation is working perfectly. I start the simulation at 2010 and run it for 10 years to show that everything that happened in real life from 2010 to 2020 also happened in the simulation. That way the client can have confidence the simulation he is buying is true to life. I enter the simulation to see if things are going right and then I go back to the real world.”

“That makes no sense,” I said. “If this really were a computer simulation you could monitor it from your desktop.”

“That is true, I don`t need to be here at all, I just told the client I needed to be here so they would pay for the interface that lets me come in. Remember, these are marketing people I am dealing with. They will believe anything someone technical tells them. It does not matter what you say as long as you drop in some technical jargon they nod their heads and write the checks to keep from looking stupid. And now that I can enter the simulation this is like my playground, I can do anything here and as long as it does not make any national news the simulations still works. And if I do make the papers and change history all I need to do is restart the simulation. I set the internal clock on the computer so however long I spend here can be just a couple of minutes or it can be in real time. I come here all the time for the desserts and I can eat as much as I like and never gain an ounce in the real world. See that waitress over there, I paid her ten grand to sleep with me. For the first six months I was here I would just walk around and any women I saw that I liked I offered her money to sleep with me, its amazing how many women will if you have enough money and I can program myself to have any amount of money. There are so many experiences I have had since I started this simulation. Like robbing a bank, it is one of the most fun things you can do. It feels like you are in a movie, it is just pure exhilaration. In real life I am afraid of heights but here I have jumped off the Golden Gate bridge a half dozen times. I am sure you remember the video game “Grand Theft Auto”. That is now my life playing a video game, except it is totally immersive.

Once I make enough money from these product launch simulations, I am just going to do this full time. Build a bunker for my computers with plenty of back up power and set the computer clocks so one real day is like ten thousand years in here. I won’t have to live in anonymity anymore then.I can just live like a god, no more trying to fly under the radar, I will be able to do whatever I want, and set any parameters I want. Maybe I will be a superhero or king of the world. I can’t wait. Of course I am trying to keep the ability to enter the simulation a secret because as soon as that gets out everyone will want to enter a simulation and the economy will grind to a halt as people stop going to work and live in simulations full time. I know it will happen eventually, but I am hoping for a few years before things start to break down.”

“This can’t be true, it just can’t be” I said.

“I know this is a lot to take in, but this information can be very helpful to you if you are willing to keep your mouth shut”

“What do you mean” I said.

“I don’t want to have to reset the simulation, so if you will not tell anyone what I told you I will write down the results of every Super Bowl for the next ten years, You make a wager on them and you can live off the money and as long as you don’t make national news you can live a life of luxury for the next ten years and when Burger Kings introduces new chicken sandwiches in 2020 you will know the simulation will be coming to an end. “

“I don’t believe you,” I sputtered.

“That’s fine, just don’t tell anyone or the simulation will have to be reset, and the world as you know it will cease to exist”

“I’ll go crazy, I can’t keep this to myself” I said, “This is too great a burden”

“You know I understand what you are saying, talking to you is the first time I told the whole story to anyone and it has been such a relief, but I can’t have you messing up my simulation. How is this for a compromise, you can write up what I told you, call it fiction and put it on the internet. That way you get it off your chest and no one will believe it since its on the internet.”



SPOILER:
Puddleglum
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  #4  
Old 05-12-2012, 12:15 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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A Prince of Parys

I’ve always loathed calls from family, as they usually mean one of two things: either said family member is in trouble, or said family member *is* trouble. Neither is preferable to the other as both usually mean a good deal of work…and I am nothing, if not lazy. So when I began to feel that distinctive tingle, that prickling in the back of my head that felt like a combination of pins and needles and dread, I have no doubt that the subconscious sneer that came to my lips transmitted perfectly across the connection that began to form in my mind.

SPOILER:
“Who?” I said through gritted teeth, carefully blocking my thoughts to keep the anonymity of my location secure. The only thing worse than family calling, after all, is family dropping by. In my mind, an image formed, hazy at first, then sharpening, gaining focus as I allowed bits of the transmission to break the veil of mental concentration while still carefully maintaining a block of my own surroundings. There was a shimmering, and then the face of a beautiful, porcelain skinned young woman solidified in my mind’s eye, her hair dark and lustrous, her eyes vivid green. My full sister, Alora. Trouble.

“By the Pattern, Bastian, do you have to make it so difficult to get through?” she opened. I grinned.

“Hello to you too, sis. Doing well, thanks for asking,” I returned. A look of consternation crossed her face, and my grin widened. The game was afoot.

“I don’t have time for pleasantries, Bastian,” Alora said with no small amount of irritation in her tone, “And I don’t want to have this conversation here, where others may be listening. Come through, and let me catch you up to speed.”

“Like hell,” I responded, “First, I never leap before I look. Second, I especially never leap because one of my beloved siblings asks me to. And third, I’m in the middle of a delightful afternoon ignoring your existence, and I’m not ready to give that up simply to catch up on our family’s machinations.”

“Corwin is dead,” she said softly, and in an instant my grin vanished, the game board wiped clean.

“What? How?”

“Not here,” she said, and she glanced about the darkness, “Come through.”

I thought for a moment.

“No,” I said, dreading what I was about to say, “You come through to me.”

She gave a pause for thought, then nodded. Focusing, her form began to take on a clearer shape, and I reached forward, my hand physically mimicking the image of my arm reaching out in my head. I felt her grasp it, and that same tingling ran up my arm, down my spine. I pulled gently, and a moment later, she stood before me, a mental image no more. She leaned suddenly, her arm shooting out to balance herself. I couldn’t help a sly smile. On her face, a look of confusion and concern was quickly exchanged for one of irritation.

“By the throne, Bastian, where are we?”

“Far enough from home to be unnoticed, close enough to the Entropy to make it very hard to scry,” I explained.

“That explains the headache. How can you stand it?”

“You get used to it. Now talk.”

She ruffled, I shrugged. She started the informality, so I felt no reason to present any airs on my end. Alora looked sick, but that suited me. She’s the type better kept off guard.

“Can we…is there someplace we can sit?” she asked. I nodded, and gestured across the lot where we were standing. A coral colored building drifted lazily on another plane of gravity. She followed as I lead the way. I stepped carefully into the angle of the drift, and the world seemed to shift as gravity conformed about me to its new orientation. Alora stumbled, and the near forgotten gentleman in me reached out and caught her in her fall. I steadied her until I was sure she had adapted, then let go.

“Why, in all of Shadow, would you choose to live somewhere like this?”

“I’m not fond of unwanted guests,” I replied, “And the physics here make trumping in difficult at best. Even the Pattern has a hard time locking in here.”

I opened the door, and behind it, found a nice little café of my desire. I picked a table near a bay window, that I might see the rest of my world floating by. Alora joined me, carefully not looking outside.

“So, our beloved father, Corwin…”

She sighed slightly, though whether it was genuine remorse or a show for me, I couldn’t tell.

“We found him this morning,” she said, “Ah…well, morning in Parys at least.”

“We?”

“Bernard, Alexander, Tara, and myself.”

My brow furrowed against my will. I’ve never been a fan of family politics, but that didn’t mean I didn’t keep up with them. There were twelve of us total, we children of Corwin, seven brothers, five sisters. The boys, by order of birth were Lucian, Regnus, myself, Javert, Hugo, Bernard, and Alexander; the girls, Amsyn, Mina, Alora, Honor, and Tara. Bernard, Alexander, and Tara were a close-knit group. Bernard and Tara were both products of our father’s dalliance with a lesser lady of the court, but he had never married her. Alexander was the youngest of us – his mother had died in childbirth. I suppose that helped him feel a stronger kinship with the bastards of our line.

“Well, that bunch isn’t suspicious in the slightest, is it? I didn’t think you were in tight with them.”

She blushed in anger.

“I’m not,” she shot back, “Unless you consider my mere presence in the castle an alliance. I merely came when I heard the scream.”

“Tara?” I asked, dropping my unsubtle allegation of allegiance. Alora nodded.

“I was in the library, reading a tome on Pattern when I heard her scream. I came running, along with a host of palace guards. When I reached the throne room, Bernard was already there, holding Tara. Alexander arrived about the same time I did.”

“And father?”

“Dead, on the floor before the throne. Drenched, as if he’d been in a storm, though the day was clear and perfect, as always.”

“Bernard, Tara…”

“Dry,” she acknowledged, interrupting my thought, “First thing I checked.”

“Clever girl,” I said, and I allowed myself a slight smile. Alora was my only full blooded sibling, and though I found her tendency towards intrigue tiring, I admit, it pleased me how well she thought on her feet. She smiled softly at the compliment.

“What of the others? Lucien? Regnus?”

“Off in Shadow, as far as I know. Lucien was tending to the Silk Road treaty of late, so I suppose he was with the Nine. Regnus...is not in Parys, so far as I can tell.”

Her eyes narrowed, and I nodded acknowledgement, the same worry crossing my mind. It was very unusual for Regnus to be anywhere but Parys. Father had made him commander of the Musketeers, and thus he bore responsibility for all matters of state security.

“Did you try to reach either of them?” I asked.

“Of course,” she replied, “And could not reach them. Perhaps I was blocked…either by them or by someone else. I wasn’t sure that I’d even be able to get through to you, and at first…”

“You thought it was me.”

“Naturally. You always were Merlin’s best student. If anyone could disrupt the trumps, it’d be you. And with Lucien and Regnus out of touch…”

Her voice trailed off, her eyes hardening as she stared at me. I understood.

“No, dear sister, it wasn’t me. ”

“Still,” she lingered, “You are third in line. You have a talent for appearing and disappearing, and for transporting others…perhaps even during a storm. You must understand my line of thinking.”

“I do, Alora. But I’m curious…why contact me, then? If you thought me behind it, why not go to Javert, to Hugo, to any of our dear sisters?”

She shifted in her seat, and gazed out the window.

“Because,” she began, and after a slight pause, “Because if it had been you, I wanted you to know I support you.”

I turned my gaze from the world of my desire and focused again on my sister. Despite sharing full parentage, she and I had never really gotten along – too close in age, I think, and our mother played us off each other regularly in an attempt to teach us the game of courtly politics. It had played no small part in my voluntary exile from Parys for the majority of my life.

“You know I don’t play that game, Alora. The throne of Parys has never even crossed my radar. Besides, Lucien and Regnus…”

“May be dead. Perhaps they weren’t blocking,” she interrupted.

I reached into my pocket, and withdrew my trumps. Eyeing Alora, I shuffled through them, and withdrew Lucien’s card. I focused on it, weaving about it a pathway through my shadow, to lessen the interference of Entropy. The card was cold, as always…but it remained silent. The image it bore did not come to life before my mind’s eye. I shuffled again, pulled Regnus. The same. Alora watched solemnly.

“If something has happened to Lucien and Regnus,” she said softly, “and if you are not the one behind it, then you may be next.”

Damned. *Damned!* All I had wanted was one free afternoon. I sighed, rubbed my temples for a few moments, then came to a decision.

“I don’t trust Bernard and company alone in Parys. Get back there, and if you can, get Hugo there as well. I’ll reach Javert if I can, and Mina.”

“You have a plan?” Alora asked. I shrugged.

“I’m winging it,” I said, rising. I shuffled a card out of my private deck, and took her by the hand. I concentrated for a moment, till the trump gave way to a view of the castle kitchen in Parys. Alora raised an eyebrow, and I shrugged again.

“I don’t like to cook,” I admitted. She passed through, and as the trump gate closed, I took a seat.

Moments later, the air shimmered, and he appeared before me, despite all my Shadow tricks. He’d always been crafty that way.

“Hello, Father,” I said plainly.

He looked a lot less regal than I remembered – harder, leaner. Not as soft. It suited him better, I thought. He regarded me for a while in silence, as I did him.

“So…not dead?”

A feint, almost nonexistent smile crossed his face.

“Not yet,” he replied, “But the day is young. We have a long way to go, you and I, and a short time to get there. Are you ready?”

“I’ve been waiting since you first sent word. I still don’t understand what you’re trying to do here.”

“You will, in time. But now, we must hurry.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, grabbing my trumps.

“To the beginning, son, and the end. Where all places start, and all stories end,” Corwin, my father, stopped and looked at me, a strange glimmer in his eyes, “Come, son. There are other worlds than these.”

“Strange words for a king,” I said. He smiled, a portal opening before him.

“To Amber,” he said, stepping through the gate, and with a final glimpse back, I followed.

To Amber.



SPOILER:
Woeg
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  #5  
Old 05-12-2012, 02:08 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Tough Love

I drove up the hill, parked my truck where I saw an empty spot on the side of the street, and checked the address next to the angled door. This was the place. I could hardly that there was a free parking spot, right where I needed it to be. "Every job should be so easy."

That made me laugh. This job was not going to be easy, and the hard part hadn't been finding Felicia's address, or even the parking spot. It wasn't going to be a question of overpowering her physically either, or magically - so I guessed. Maybe I should just give up - go down to Fisherman's wharf and find something good to eat. Or maybe try the Mission...

SPOILER:
No. I had to go in and talk to her. If I decided not to bring her in to face the music - well, I'd worry about that when I got to it. I couldn't keep her free all by myself - not unless I went on the run with her...

So I got out of the cab, and braced myself so that I didn't fall over onto the SUV that I'd parked next to. Was that what Felicia was driving now? I braced myself on the incline, and walked to the doorway, which was perfectly straight, unlike the pavement. There was a tiny doorbell next to it. I considered breaking my way in, but what the hell? I rang.

I didn't recognize the little girl that I had last seen when she was fourteen in the red-haired woman who answered the door. I saw the ghost of her mother. She was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved blue sweater, and a large ring hung from a chain around her neck. She didn't place my face either. "Can I help you?"

This was the part where I was supposed to say 'Hi Fenny, it's your Dad,' but I didn't. Instead, the words that came out of my mouth were "Felicia Charles, by the orders of the Council of Magic, you are bound by law and will face trial for the crimes of fraud and aggravated magical assault."

Her eyes went wide, and seemed so green that they sparkled. "Dad! The first time I see you in twelve years, and you're arresting me?"

"I come to the door and you grace me with anonymity, but when I say those words you recognize me?" I muttered.

Felicia sighed. "Why don't you come in and I can fire up the cappuccino machine? We obviously have a lot to catch up on."

I stepped through the door, carefully adjusting to having a flat floor under my feet. "Yeah, why don't you?"

#

"I tried to avoid casting spells after I... left home, really I did," Felicia said, sipping at the foam on top of the gigantic brown mug and putting it down on her coffee table. "But I the temptation got too much for me. There was so much that you guys had taught me - who would know if I used just a little bit of magic?"

"I guess..." I broke off, trying to think carefully about the next thing I said. "Did you think about going into training as an enchantress again?"

"Now and then," she admitted. "Not very seriously. I didn't just choose to leave our family, Dad. All the other wizards and sorcerers that I grew up with were no different. I didn't want to be part of the magical community at all, and if I looked for a school and became a student, they'd pull me right back into it."

I sighed. That would make it harder for her. The attitude of the council towards apostate children of magical family is easy to summarize - don't use magic. If you're casting spells, they want some kind of teacher or peer in your life to keep an eye on your usage of the Art. And that sort of 'buddy system' mentality has stopped a few tragedies over the years - and given the right people early warning about many others, to make them less bad than they might have been. A 'rogue witch' like Felicia would be considered close to criminal no matter how much she kept herself to the rules of magic, and... "What about the charges?"

"I've used magic to take what I want from other people," Felicia said, her eyes downcast. "I kept them from telling me no. If you call that fraud..."

"The Council does," I muttered. "And have you hurt anybody with magic?"

"No! Of course not. Nobody ever got hurt. Can - can we use that? If they got their facts wrong on one charge, does that help us against the other?"

"Maybe... but it's not like the Council to slip up on something like that. Aggravated magical assault isn't always blood or broken bones. Did you harm somebody's mind? Have you injured relationships?"

Felicia's breath caught. "Back in Denver - there was a woman who I cast a sleep spell on. Something went wrong with the counter-spell, and she didn't wake up for - for a few days. As soon as I heard that she was awake again, I skipped town, so I don't know all the details."

"That might be it," I agreed. "Any other cases like that?"

"I don't know, Dad!" Felicia flared. "Why can't we talk about you and me?"

"You didn't want to have anything to do with me for twelve years too, Felicia!" I snapped. "Just because my blood and that of the woman I loved more than my own life runs through your veins, I'm not inclined to stick my neck out to save you from the trouble that you made for yourself."

She stared at me for a long time, and finished her mug of coffee. I drank the last mine off too.

Finally, in a little, high-pitched voice, she said, "I've been trying to turn my life around ever since I got to the Bay Area, Daddy. Denver scared me. I haven't been casting as much magic, and doing my best to honour the laws. The worst thing I did all month was... was cast a charm on the girl at the grocery store to get her to lend me some change. It was less than a dollar."

I didn't answer for over a minute. For one thing, I replayed everything that she'd said in a lower, calmer tone so that it wouldn't make me think of the little girl I had loved so much. Manipulative bitch... She's been a grifter for years, the voice in the back of my head said. What if she's just telling you what she thinks you want to hear?

"If that's true, then it could count in mitigation," I said. "Maybe you wouldn't have to go into the hidden tunnels under Alcatraz - you might be given probation and assigned a Watching Eye - if you think you could live with that. Don't worry - it won't be me."

"If that's what it takes to stay out of the council's dungeons, I'll learn to live with it," Felicia promised. "Thank you so much... James."

"I can't make any promises," I said. "But you're going to have to promise me one thing, to make this work. Stay here - right here. Don't skip town, don't go to a friend's house or anything..."

"What, do I have to stay under house arrest?" she said.

"No, it's not that strict. You can go to work - if you're holding down a job right now." I paused, and she nodded, blushing a little. Was that because I'd doubted she could find regular work - or because she was embarrassed of what she did to pay the bills? It didn't matter. "I wouldn't spend too much time out on the town, until you hear from me again. There will be other marshals on your trail, and if one of them gets the wrong idea, it could ruin the deal. Do you understand?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"Okay. Is there anything else you want to tell me before I go? About what your life's been like, since I saw you last?"

She shook her head. "I... I don't know where I would start. Maybe we can start over again, after the Council rules on my case. I feel like I've been drifting through anonymity for too many years in my life. I need roots again." She looked right into my eyes. "I'm glad that you found me, Dad - really I am."

I nodded and got up. "I guess I'll be seeing you again soon."

#

After I left Felicia's house, I got back into my truck, pulled out of the parking space, drove around the corner - and found another spot to park as quickly as I could. I sat in the truck and waited, trying to guess how long she would take about it. Fifteen minutes to get the essentials packed - or longer??

I let twenty tick by according to the dash clock, and then recited a sentence in Latin to send out a pulse of magical radar. There were a few pings that came back, but only the closest felt right. It was a few blocks to the north, now.

I drove around, keeping my distance but repeating the radar spell enough to get a sense of her heading. Felicia was on foot - as I'd guessed, and making her way toward the BART station. Once I knew that, I parked again, as close to the stairs as I could, and cast a few more spells before climbing out of the cab.

#

We both became visible as I clapped my hand on Felicia's wrist. That is, visible to her, and to the other pedestrians passing by, though most of them just shook their heads and assumed that they hadn't been looking in the right direction to see us until that moment. At least, any of them with magic would assume that, and those who knew about magic would pretend that they hadn't noticed anything at all.

I'd been able to see an outline as she approached. Forewarned is forearmed. I yanked the ring off her finger, the ring that her mother had given her, and tucked it into my inner jacket pocket.

"What?!" she shrieked. "Were you following me the whole time?"

"Nearly enough. If you'd just stayed home this evening, I'd have gone ahead with the deal. But the Felicia Desmond that I knew as a little girl - no matter what she said, there was a good chance that she'd run to escape punishment, and if she ran, she'd run quick. I HAD to know if you were running again this time."

"So what happens now?"

"You take your own chances with the Council."

"Dad!"

"Don't worry," I said, as I marched her towards where I parked the truck. "Wherever you end up, I'll visit... if you still want me back in your life."

Hell, tough love has to start somewhere, doesn't it?



SPOILER:
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  #6  
Old 05-12-2012, 08:15 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Collisions

We're like planets floating through space sometimes. Endless, graceful, sometimes lovely, but often so far apart we don't connect at all, our faces and names all wrapped in a cosmic anonymity. It takes a collision to make us notice. Those collisions are almost always random-seeming, usually painful, but every once in a great while lead to something breathtakingly beautiful.

It was colder than I'd expected it would be. I was walking through the streets of Sunrise Acres in Arizona in February. Somehow I'd always pictured Arizona as desert, and, by association, hot. As the bus had traveled there, however, it had actually snowed, and the desert had been, at least briefly, a blanket of white drift. It made the whole trip so far seem both serene and unreal.

SPOILER:
I was taking photographs and trying to keep out the chill. I'd not brought anything appropriate for cold weather, so the later consisted of me occasionally blowing on my hands and rubbing them together, and trying to keep moving to keep the blood flowing. I snapped a few pictures of the palm trees with snow at the base, and kept moving towards the monument.

The monument in question was to a gentleman who'd done a lot in the service of the technology of radar. Now, I know, it doesn't sound like great shakes, and I'm not a huge fan of military applications; it was more the fact that the monument was there that had piqued my interest. I was in Sunrise Acres anyway, and I had the camera, I figured I might as well take a shot of it.

My father had been interested in radar, and ham radio, and anything with radio waves. He'd put together all sorts of things in the basement when I was a kid. I'll be honest; I never had much use for them. Even after he and my mother had split and he moved out, the stuff in the basement mostly gathered dust. When mom had passed on, I had it all donated to a local boys club. I hadn't really thought about any of it until a couple of days previous.

ALS, they said. Lou Gherig's disease. Caught early, a person usually has three to five years of life left in them. With my father, his stubborn refusal to see doctors had cut that three-to-five down to an insane eight months. His refusal to tell anyone else about it 'lest he worry them' meant I didn't know until the light of his life had almost been snuffed out. I did what I could, I set up to take time off work to see him, and then, just like that, he was gone. Eight months, it seems, was too optimistic.

The funeral had been near his home in Sunrise Acres the day before, and I was feeling numb over the whole thing; numb and cold, hurtling blindly through space.

Collisions change things. I wasn't even really watching as I walked uphill towards the monument, and so I was literally knocked off my feet as a woman ran straight into me. She was a small thing, about five foot six, long blond hair so light as to be almost white. I didn't know it immediately, but her entering into my life like that would change, well, everything.

She muttered a quick apology, and rose to her feet, taking off running again, her hair flowing behind her like the tail of a comet. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Luckily, there were some other bystanders who gave me a hand up, one returning my fallen camera to me. The lens was cracked. I cursed quietly and sighed. Looking up the hill, I could see the monument. Looking back down, I could no longer see the white-blond woman; she'd turned a corner somewhere. An overwhelming feeling of regret and despair washed over me, and I started walking back to my hotel.

As I walked into the lobby, I fished out my key and paused. I checked all my pockets twice before cursing under my breath. My wallet was gone. I re-traced my route, going twice back up the hill and down again, each time hoping a little less, and realizing the sad inevitability of the victim.

With the help of the concierge, I contacted the police, and an hour later I was sitting at the precinct, giving a statement. They made it plain that white-blond girl had taken a few other wallets that day, in the exact same way she'd hit me. They also made it plain that whatever was taken in crimes such as those rarely, if ever, get returned. I should cancel my credit cards (I already had) and read a pamphlet they gave me on pickpocket safety (I threw it out as soon as I was outside).

It took the rest of the day of calling around to make sure everything was taken care of. A friend from back home wired me some money, and with the help of the concierge once again, I had a little cash in the pocket, enough to last me a day or two before I headed back home.

It was late, and I realized I hadn't eaten anything since the day before. There was a little hole-in-the-wall diner about a block away, and I found myself a table. I ordered a milkshake and sipped despondently, pausing only for a moment of brain freeze.

“You okay?”

I looked up at the tall, raven-haired woman who asked the question.“Hm?” It was all I could muster at the moment.

“You okay? You got hit pretty hard earlier. Sorry about your camera.”

I slowly connected it in my head. She'd been one of the people who'd helped me up when I'd been bowled over, and had no-doubt heard my words of scorn when I saw the damage.

“It's okay. I managed to salvage one shot, I think.”

“Oh yeah?”

Her smile made my heart jump, just a little. I motioned for her to sit down, “Yeah. I'm sorry I didn't say thanks before.”

She slid into the booth across from me, and flagged down a passing waitress for some coffee. The record on the jukebox changed, and I could hear Bowie talking about hazy cosmic jive.

“This was my dad's favorite song.” My voice cracked a little when I said it, and I realized the numbness was fading. Everything was catching up at once, and it might've overwhelmed me.

She reached out and touched my hand, “It'll be okay.”

It was a random collision, and years later, when she and I both look at the one picture I saved, the crazy off-angle photo of the houses across from the monument that got snapped as the camera impacted the ground, we both remember that collisions like that can seem random, and can be painful, but sometimes lead to something absolutely, wonderfully, breathtakingly beautiful.



SPOILER:
ArrMatey!
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Old 05-12-2012, 08:19 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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The Wages of Sin

Anonymity was his friend. The best friend he had to help him keep under the radar of anybody who might take an interest in him and his chosen career. After all, to make a successful living as a burglar, one has to be careful and keep as low a profile as humanly possible. Not even his own parents knew where he was or what he did: he had not had contact with them in years.

SPOILER:
And make no mistake -- he was a great burglar. Nothing left to chance! Carefully casing potential places to be hit (only the best places would do!), making sure nobody was home when he would get to work (although there had been a couple of close calls, but he managed to discreetly leave the place without confrontation), never taking more than what you can carry (he never went working with a car -- a good way to keep inconspicuous while on the job) … And always working alone: The fewer the people that knew about what you did, the lower the chances of inconvenient slips of the tongue.

Oh, of course, from time to time he had to go elsewhere. He would aimlessly drift for a while until finding a suitable new theater of operations. But that was all right to him. He was content with his life, especially because he had been working for years and nobody had ever caught him. And if he had any say into it, nobody ever would.

He had been spying on the mansion for a couple of weeks already. Old money, obviously. Rich pickings, no doubt. Family jewels, silver and valuables, for sure. A bit out of the way -- that might mean difficulties when leaving the place, but nothing that could not be solved with ingenuity and resourcefulness, of which he had plenty. He knew that, apparently, there was only one inhabitant in the whole place: a sweet old lady; he had seen her leave the house on errands. Every two days a young woman would come, stay for a few hours, and leave. Evidently some kind of hired help. Old age is so unforgiving…

Judicious checking of the property when nobody was around led him to discover that there appeared to be no dogs, no security, no alarm systems whatsoever. That was a stroke of good luck. Clearly the old lady was supremely confident that no one would dare intrude upon her home, and possibly did not believe in new-fangled stuff like alarms directly linked to security agencies, anyway… Careful examination of the mailbox provided him with a very nice jackpot -- There was a postcard with an invitation for some apparently very important soirée three days later. It looked like he would have at least a solid 2 hours to do his job. Excellent! Three days to prepare for a fruitful endeavor. This was going to be an easy one!

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

The time had come. He hid not far from his target and prepared to wait for his chance. After a while a taxi stopped at the door of the mansion. The old lady went out and boarded her cab, which drove away. Everything was left silent and dark -- the moment he had been waiting for!

Quickly and stealthily he approached the old house. Carefully walking around it, looking for some point of entry, he found a window in the back that appeared to be ajar. Very good, very good! He opened it silently, and slipped into the house, no one the wiser.

He took a slow, deliberate look around. Definitely an old place. Somewhat dusty, a bit dilapidated, but still keeping an air of dignity and nobility. Very good! He made his way through the house methodically and professionally, quickly finding a bedroom that very likely belonged to the owner of the place. He began opening drawers, wardrobes, and any box that looked promising. In no time he had got his hands on a nice bunch of jewelry that his experience told him was authentic, as well as a money box with quite a bit of cash. Not a bad haul, indeed! He put everything in his backpack and prepared to go away. All in a day's work!

As he left the bedroom, he saw something he had not seen before -- There was something hanging on the wall, in front of the bedroom door, covered with a black cloth. Peculiar! Curiosity overtook him. He checked his watch -- still had some time. He pulled the cloth away, revealing a painting underneath.

And what a strange painting it was! Very well made, but rather surreal. A row of houses standing at an impossible angle along an empty street. A brown house, a red house, a beige house… The color were vibrant. If anything, they were more real than reality itself… It was an impressive painting, but it made him feel uneasy. And yet… It was fascinating. He could not stop looking. Staring. A wave of awe mixed with apprehension and queasiness went through his mind and body. He felt dizzy. Everything was spinning around him. The painting was glorious. It was amazing. It was the world. It was the

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

It was close to midnight. A taxi stopped at the door of the mansion. The old lady went out and entered her home. She hanged her coat at the entrance, warmed herself some milk in the kitchen, and cup in hand went to her bedroom. On the floor, in front of her bedroom door, was a pile of clothing, a backpack, and a black cloth. The painting was uncovered, and it looked almost as if it cast a feeble light around itself. The old lady smiled a bit to herself, and cast a fleeting glance at the painting. Just one second, but she could see that there was a naked human in front of the houses, an expression of surprise upon his face. Or perhaps it was just her imagination.

She picked up the black cloth and, eyes closed, draped it over the painting. She picked up the backpack and the clothes from the floor, slowly shuffling to her bedroom, the whole time a little smile upon her face and an impenetrable look on her eyes, hard as diamonds.



SPOILER:
JoseB
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  #8  
Old 05-12-2012, 08:25 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Old business

-Encrypted message-
“If my sources are correct, you need to leave the bay area.”

“That’s lovely”, said Maya but I told you before to never bother me in this channel unless it is for business purposes.”

Steve noticed that Maya was “typing” a reply on what it was likely a virtual keyboard on the carpet.

“Maya, Is that weasel bothering you again?”

“Yes, but he may be...”

“Steve interrupted, I showed you the evidence, he is likely the one that sabotaged your early projects, whatever feelings you have for him you have to cut any communications with him. He may be the best inventor since Tesla but he may be trading with the enemy.”

SPOILER:
Maya’s brain told her that Steve was right, but her heart was still not in agreement.

“Ok, I closed the channel, happy now?

“You should kill that channel completely, anyhow, where are those lazy sisters of yours? And why are we putting this display together?

“Calm down Steve, you already know that I always like to do the final steps on my own”

Even with overalls and old fashion glasses, her beautiful shape still came through, no way that anyone could confuse him for a guy; still, her bronze skin could get many to think that she was one of the helpers at the convention center, while going under a desk Maya blurted devilishly: “Are you still checking my ass?”

“Ahem”, Steve stopped looking at her rear and looked towards the great view of the bay and the Golden Gate, “still, your sisters should stop prancing around San Francisco, they are doing those simple minded snapshots of “righting” a road on a hill in San Francisco is just like those clueless tourists in Pisa pretending to hold the leaning tower in place.

“I know, they must had sent that silly picture to everybody.”

When everything was ready Steve left to the media room next to the showroom.

Maya continued working with the final touches, she was almost finished and had just time to get dressed properly when an early bird passed the double door of the presentation room..

“Why hello, Air Force I presume?” Maya said.

“Excuse me young lady, can you be a nice helper and bring me some coffee? I will get you a nice tip.”

Maya was stunned for a few moments, but she prepared a cup, and gave it to the colonel.

“Gracias senorita!”

Getting upset, Maya just replied: “Uh, y.. mmm ‘de nada!’”

An assistant to the colonel, Lieutenant Clair came in just as Maya was leaving the room; she already knew Maya Inclan from their old school days and waved to Maya on her way to sitting next to the colonel, but Maya did not wave back.

“Ah there you are Lieutenant, I hope all the signs out there were changed and our men are guiding any others back to the main lobby?”

“Yes... uh, Maya looked really pissed, how was your first meet with the CEO of Naclonyx?

“So far I have not seen her, only a hispanic maid...”

Looking warily to the Colonel the Lieutenant said, “Colonel, did you just told Maya Inclan to fetch you a cup of coffee?”

The colonel was not replying as he was busy in contact with an ongoing situation off the coast of Southern California.

“We are dead..” the Lieutenant said with worry.

“Uh? Has the torpedo been sighted?”

In a private room Maya began to change to her business suit, she suspected even before that warning that something was amiss. Her team had been invited with so many sweet offers that could not be refused that it was clear that something else was going on, and then there was the matter of the old flame contacting her and he could be involved in the crisis.

-Encrypted.-
“Well chocolate girl, I told you to flee from that place”

“We had this conversation before Mr. You already know how much I hate you since the incident, I only have this channel open to you for business purposes”

“Ah you can not fool me, you know that I still care about you, in any case this is business related: leave the area, you are in danger”

“Who told you that?”

“I can tell you that I found from my sources in anonymity that a supercavity craft was launched today towards the bay area and it will arrive in a few hours, and if the payload is nuclear....”

“Thank you for your warning, I will keep it into account, but as long as that is an “if” we will remain here, now scram, I have to contact someone important.”

Later, at the top of the hour, Maya entered the showroom to start the presentation, just then the colonel realized who the “maid” really was.

Steve sent a report to Maya.

-TEXT-
“The two that you see in the showroom are all the audience we are getting, I noticed other military members telling attendees that this presentation was canceled, I have to agree that your intuition was correct”

Instead of going to the podium, Maya did sit next to the huge desk set in the stage, looking at the colonel Maya then said: “Please colonel, you and the Lieutenant need to come and sit next to this desk, The colonel complied and shook hands with Maya, the colonel did a good job hiding the discomfort of the vise like pressure Maya applied to the handshake, he also did a good job to hide the pain afterwards.

“Now that you know that I’m not a maid colonel, you need to know that I’m also on your side.

My contact, General Warren, has just informed me of the situation, I was going to humor you and others attending, but thanks to you and the changing situation there is no need to keep this charade going on, the good news is that in a time like this the robot swarm that was going to be used in the demonstration here is now going to the crisis area.”

Steve reported to Maya:

-TEXT-
“The torpedo craft has been sighted, Navy and Airforce are confronting them right now”

“One second colonel, while we set up the displays”

The smaller monitors in the desk turned on and displayed the local news reporting on the amazing incidents just off the coast of southern California.

Military Helicopters and planes were swarming around a very fast moving point under water, but some ships were drifting after the encounter with the super fast submarine craft..

Suddenly a cigar shaped white and silver craft jumped of the water and made an arc of water in the air, right in the path of one of the helicopters shooting at it.

For the helicopter it was like hitting a concrete wall and the craft fell apart into the waters of the Pacific.

The Colonel and the Lieutenant were stunned, Maya just dryly said:

“Well, that is more than I expected, stopping that will drain our “dark materials” supplies and/or send us over budget. Do you have the authorization to compensate us for the effort?

After an awkward pause finally there was a reply: “Yes miss Inclan”, reported the Lieutenant and clearly going over the indecisive colonel.

“Your word is enough for me Lieutenant.” For some reason the instant text messaging to them was not available so Maya had to switch to voice “Itzel, Xoxi, there is a fire...

Get to the location of the container ship I sent to you and wait for the signal, the radar signal of the ones following that contraption shows that we have just 20 minutes before it gets here.

From the speaker on the desk the sisters replied, Itzel first with:

“What? You will pay me extra for this big sis, sorry big guy, duty calls!” An unknown male voice exclaimed: “Hey! you did not give me your number!”

Xoxi replied on the other line: “At least you got lucky Itzel, Max just wanted to look at the hardware at the convention, I’m going to the location!

Looking at the colonel and Lieutenant very sheepishly now, an embarrassed Maya just said:

“Heh Heh, excuse us, they are better than this, really..” -I’m gonna kill them later if this threat doesn’t- Maya thought. “Colonel, put the goggles next to you so you can follow the action.”

A virtual display of the bay appeared in front of them, the submarine craft passed under Golden Bridge, clearly that was not the target.

“Most likely the target is the tech industry south of the bay or the oil refineries north of it, I will not give it time to go either way.”

Close to Alcatraz the containers in the cargo ship were open and the massive amount of the new swarm of robots called by them the “dark materials” took flight and began to organize over the island.

In the virtual environment back at the center, Maya moved her hands over it and then “put” her hands under the water, at the same time the mass began to organize into structures similar to giant snakes forming a net of sorts, the submarine craft had no chance, it was scooped out of the water and the intakes that propelled the craft were clogged with elements of the swarm.

Unmanned, as Maya suspected, such maneuvers would had been impossible if there was a human inside.

The scan made by the sisters on the boat showed that there was no evidence of a nuclear device on board, no explosives also, but there was suspicious cargo that that required a quarantine of the craft, so the craft was put in the cargo hold of the ship the swarm came from and was taken to the nearest military base.

Xoxi, ever the show off, stood next to the cargo hold waving at the onlookers and media helicopters.

One of the big national news chains identified Xoxi as the hero that a few months ago rescued all that people that had to jump from a burning tower a few months ago, and it was clear that she used the same technology today.

“But you did all the work this time Maya!” Steve texted to her.

“Let her have her fun, besides, that leaves me out of the public view and allows me to do the serious business, like the one at hand...”

“Colonel, we have to build more and units, one drawback is that elements of the swarn do fail or are destroyed and replaced almost instantly until there are no more available, so we’ll need a few billion dollars to cover what we lost and yes, the US armed forces will get access to the new “toys” we are making, sign here colonel..

And with an added mocking accent:

“por favor!”...

Later, back in the ready room.

-Encrypted-
“Well done choco.”

“Ah, the snake channel, is still active I see.

It was not really my doing, to ensure a connection my sisters helped, but I suspected you all along. I take it that you just escaped the siege of your island after I pointed out the likely source of the signals controlling the submarine craft to the government. Now, can you tell me why I should not tell, let’s see, the navy seals about your current location?

“You will not dare as you still love me.”

“I see, that trick of yours may had worked before, but not today, you and your sponsors put my family in danger.”

Suddenly no words came from the channel, an encrypted note came in a different channel:

“Destroyed target, it was a fast boat that avoided the island siege, thank you for your help in locating him Ms. Inclan.

Steve came in the room after saying goodbye to the military people, “Hi, still having problems with that weasel?”

“Oh, he will not bother us anymore, I just killed that channel forever as you insisted, let’s go have some fun, dinner is on me.




SPOILER:
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  #9  
Old 05-12-2012, 08:29 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Seaton Village
Posts: 6,675
The Sliding Floor

At first, I thought it was an earthquake. The ground shook, yes, but the only house that was affected was the coral pink three storey house that I had been keeping an eye on. There had once been a creek that ran through this area; it had been buried sometime around 1830. Once the house started to tip into the sinkhole, there was no time to think about why.

I knew the house had a gas stove and furnace. There was no telling where the gas line would have been severed, but there was no question that there would be a leak. Someone was bound to be phoning this in, but I knew there would only be seconds to get the old woman out.

SPOILER:
So I ran from across the street, climbed up the hood of the jeep that was backed into its parking spot, and jumped. The third storey window was now at about street level, and I hoped that gravity plus momentum would take me through. It worked; I went through feet first and slid on the now tilted floor.

It was an incredible mess inside. There was the strange, funhouse aspect of all the walls, floors and ceilings being 45 degrees off centre. The back of the house had sunk lower than the front as well, so that there was not a single straight angle. There was no telling how long the structure would take to collapse, but it couldn't be long. Not long at all.

The piles of newspapers, magazines and books were all in strange drifts, like paper snow. If, by some mischance, the lady had been at this end of the house, or at this end of whatever room she was in, it was going to be very difficult to get her to safety before the gas line blew. I couldn't think about that; nothing short of radar would find her under the pile of rancid, yellowing paper. I started clawing my way to the other end of the house, where I knew her bedroom was.

The house was a cacophony of ominous sounds; I could hear water rushing from the lower level, probably the basement. Everything was creaking all at once as all the structural members sorted out their new positions. The rug in this room had slid all the way to the far wall, so I had bare hardwood to slither up. I took my pocket knife out, and drove it into the floorboards when I needed a better grip. This was going to be harder than I'd thought.

Once I had grabbed the door, I was able to pull myself into the hallway. Now, I could spread my legs and use the friction against the walls to prevent my slipping backwards. The room I wanted, the one I thought she would be in, was at the far end of this hall. Here's hoping that she had kept to her usual habits and was having a nap in the midst of her nest.

It could only have been a couple of minutes, but it felt like an hour passed before I reached her door. The door was closed, and it swung inward to the room. I gripped the knob, but there was nothing to brace myself with. I stabbed my pocket knife in the crack between two floorboards, as deep as it would go. I braced my left foot on the pocket knife, and my right foot on my left. I shoved, but could not budge the door. As I had feared, the piles of stuff in her room had also shifted and were now wedged against the door. With no leverage, and gravity fighting against me, I couldn't get in that way.

I slipped down the hall to the next door - I couldn't remember the layout of this room, but at least I got the door open. I could get across to the window; it was about fifteen feet away. As I ran through the tilted room, I heard an alarming crash from the floor below. It was a race between the structure giving way and something sparking the gas that I could now hear hissing from below.

The window wouldn't open; its frame was probably collapsing from the unaccustomed weight. I found a chair from a desk that had sat under this window; clinging to the frame with my fingers, I was able to hook my boot under one of the legs. I drew it slowly toward me, but as I did, the house settled some more toward the back. I was now hanging toward the centre of the room, and the chair was slipping off my foot, even as my fingertips were slipping from the window frame.

I kicked desperately, hoping to propel the chair close enough to the window to be able to catch it with one of my hands. I was lucky; it bounced off the window and stuck on my head. I spread my arms so as to grasp the window's trim on either side, then I drew my legs up to the oddly angled window ledge. Clinging precariously with all four limbs, I slammed the cheap wooden chair against the glass as hard as I could. On the third try, it shattered.

I pulled myself up our of the window; I was now able to cling to the rough stucco and pull myself along to the north-west corner of the house, which was now its highest point. I could hear sirens in the distance, but I knew the woman's best hope was still me. Onward and upward I went, the stucco quickly skinning my palms.

From the northwest corner of the house, I could see through the window into the old lady's bedroom. I slowly crawled down the 'side' of the house until I was just above that window. The giant old four-poster bed had slid on its rug all the way across the room to land against the door - no wonder I couldn't budge it. I couldn't see past the headboard of the bed; she might not be there, in which case I was risking my life for nothing. Still, I had to try.

I took the wooden chair off my head, and holding it by the back, swung it with all my force into the glass of the window. It shattered on the first try, and I jumped in, landing about ten feet further down. I had sliced my leg on a piece of glass on the way in. Once I got to the bed, I heaved a sigh of relief - the old woman was there. She was pinned by her leg to what had been the wall with the door in it. The leg was probably broken, but I had to shift the bed to get the door open. "Hold on!" I screamed at her, as I tried to wedge myself between the bed and the wall.

It was easier to tip the bed away from the door; the weight of the headboard got it moving and I was able to squeeze the door open a couple of feet. I went over to the woman and shouted "We're going to get out of here just fine!" She was shaking her head and whimpering, but she was light enough that I picked her up and took her through the door with me.

I could smell the gas, now - we didn't have much time at all. The stairs were useless because they went down from north to south, and they were now at an oblique angle, like something out of an Escher woodcut. Nothing for it but to slide down the hallway, aim for the door of the southwest room where I'd entered, and hope we could get out there before the gas blew.

We missed the door by about a foot - it had been impossible to steer because of the carpeting in the hallway. I took the fall with the same leg that had the gash in it; now it had something wrong with the ankle to match. We slithered over to the door and slid through.

The old hoarder was panicking now, and glancing frantically around the room. I got us over toward the window, and I could seen the fire trucks outside. This might be my last chance.

I grabbed her by the shoulders and shouted "Where is it? Where's the suitcase?" She shrieked, and tried to get away from me. "I know it's here, somewhere! Where is it? Tell me, and I'll let you out!!"

She sobbed "It's here! It's in this room! Please, please let me go! I want to live!"

So I brought her to the window and yelled toward the fire trucks "Over here! Send the ladder; you can get us out!" They pushed a ladder across the gaping hole where the foundation of the house used to sit, toward the broken window. When it touched against the window frame, I put the old lady on it, and yelled for them to pull her back. As they started pulling, I ran frantically through low half of the room. I knew exactly what I would be looking for, though I couldn't have any hope of finding it.

It was there, against all odds - a battered suitcase from the 1920s, sticking out in its anonymity from the piles of unsorted papers. I grabbed the handle and pulled - it came off in my hand and the papers around it fell and covered it. I howled like a wounded wolf, and desperately threw the yellow double-spaced typewritten sheets aside as I dug for the case. There it was - I grabbed it in both hands and heaved, just as the far wall started to fold and the ceiling came down toward me.

I leaped across the room in a bound, the precious suitcase in my arms, and scrabbled awkwardly through the window. I threw the suitcase and jumped across the gap, landing on my poor left leg again. I grabbed the suitcase and tried to stand, only to collapse in a heap. Two firemen grabbed me and ran with me across the street, shouting "There it goes!". We barely made it to the far side when the entire structure collapsed in on itself in a cloud of dust, only to spark the leaking gas, sending everything up in a colossal fireball.

All I could think of was that I had saved the suitcase. I had traced Mrs. Richardson back to her distant relative, Hadley Hemingway, and realized that she must have been who had ended up with the missing Hemingway manuscripts. I had been casing the house for a week, hoping to figure out how to break in and steal the suitcase, when this unforeseen disaster had struck. A few seconds later, or if the house hadn't collapsed when a would-be thief had been casing the place, and the woman would certainly be dead, and the manuscripts lost for all time.

So it was especially heart-breaking when the fireman opened the suitcase and discovered it was full of 1920s Parisian newspapers. The memory of those double-spaced typewritten pages flashed before my eyes...



SPOILER:
Le Ministre de l'au-delà
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  #10  
Old 05-13-2012, 10:54 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Seaton Village
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With All The Lights On

Everything can change in a moment when you finally see. When you look at it from a different angle. Maybe the right angle, at long last. Because maybe you’d been wrong almost your whole life, and never knew it.

Bryan was special; anyone could see it. He had curly brown hair and grey eyes like summer rain. He had a quick grin and proud cheekbones. His mouth was just right: not too full, not too thin. He was both smart and a talented musician. He was slim and graceful, and wore an earring. He took it out go home that first summer, saying his parents would never understand. Never understand? In a city where people studded not just their ears, but their faces and lips, and inked their bodies with wild, colourful tattoos, how could his parents object to a small, simple gold hoop? It looked like a tiny wedding ring, and I used to imagine one of my own on my finger. Bryan and Jessie. I was just waiting. Sooner or later, he’d turn to me, and see me at just the right angle. See that I was beautiful, and he would want me. As much as I wanted him.

But I was so very ordinary.

SPOILER:
I waited for Bryan to notice me for three years. I could be patient. We were part of the same group of friends. And much was going on while I waited. University days, heady with ideas, change, experiences. Never had so short a time in my life been so intense.

And in that time, I kissed other boys, slept with my high school boyfriend one Christmas, and lay with more boys back at school. But I didn’t love.

We were friends. I still have the pictures from those days in an album in the den. Every picture tells a story, and I know that some lie. My husband David used to say a picture is worth a thousand words; how that cliché grated on me. Disappearing into book pages, I disagreed. He never knew the subtleties he was missing, or the richness of imagination, of letting your mind see the words.

But I could forgive Bryan for not loving words. He loved film, story told on screen, making magic in the dark, and all the complexity that went into something you watched unfold effortlessly. English lit for me, and film studies for him. And we were friends. My love was silent, waiting.

Our group of friends have scattered—gone to Australia, gone to Vancouver, gone to marriage and children. One went to religion, one ran from it. I’m not good at keeping in touch. I don’t want to face their successes with my failures. No great career, no beautiful house, no marathons ran. And now, no husband.

One day I woke up, and didn’t want to try. I was tired of failing. Everything seemed to be closing in, narrowing, trapping me. Things I’d dreamed of and longed for just seemed to drift farther and farther away. It seemed to happen at a glacial pace, I’d never noticed for ten years. Everything slipped away, bit by bit. My husband was the last to go, and then I was alone.

Once I liked walking at night. I’d walk, making up poems, passing under Bryan’s windows, silent as a cat in the dark. That was before I got so afraid of everything. Of shadows, assault, teenagers, being thought odd. But with no one to wonder about my nocturnal wanderings—or care—after David left, I walked after dark. Me and Patsy Cline. Miles.

I didn’t care anymore, and so my fear was dead too. Waiting for the moon to rise, finding a kind of anonymity in the dark. I liked it. I felt invisible enough during the day, but at night, it felt powerful. I got to know the quirks of my little neighbourhood, its secrets and stories and stray cats. Sometimes I’d stop in at the store on the corner to buy the cigarettes I’d started smoking again, blinking at the brightness. Then I’d make my way home again. At night, too, you see things from a different angle, looking into rooms lit up and uncurtained, stage sets for the mundane drama of others’ lives.

It was a full moon the night I decided to die, and it seemed to be full of portent. Just wait. Always waiting. But I thought I’d found an answer. I was tired of waiting, and I knew there was a way to hurry to the finish line.

I counted my sins and my sorrows as I walked. My parents had died, one, then the other. I wasn’t close to my younger sister; she had her own life and family. We had no children. David had left the cat; he could have it back.

I always liked darkness; it was safer in the dark to be imperfect. Disappearing wasn’t guaranteed, but it was better than the light of day. After Bryan, I never lay down with a man in the light. I dreaded even candles. But when was the last time we’d made love by candlelight? David asked me. When was the last time we’d even made love? He said that, too, before he left. What was odd was how it didn’t hurt. Everything just lost its colour, the world turning sepia and grey, and I couldn’t seem to smell anything. I told everyone that I just had a bad head cold, but that wasn’t the truth.

What an odd reaction to losing a husband.

I didn’t blame him. Something had settled between us like a haze, and I knew it was my fault. Bryan’s ghost. My dissatisfaction with dreams that by then I knew weren’t going to come true. I could never forgive David for not being Bryan, and I could never tell him. It was my secret, and it was just as terrible a poison.

I told everyone at the office that I was fine. But I missed smelling things. If I tried really hard, I could still remember the green scent of newly cut grass. It was one of my favourites. Freshly cut grass in late June, that’s what I think of first. Then lilacs in April. Or roasting turkey in December. The smell of warm rain hitting the sidewalks in August. Baking bread in November. Cinnamon in February, those tiny candy hearts. Broken, now.

A different angle, or a different angel? You’d expect an angel to be a being of light and goodness, miracle and hope, the mother figure you’d always longed for. Radiant with forgiveness and safety. Or a warrior with a sword like dawn’s breaking. Not all angels are like that. Some just hand you a magazine.

Just like not all angles are correct at first glance. You’d been looking at it all wrong. Even when you think it’s one way, it only makes sense that way, you’re wrong.


It was a long time ago. My last year at university, in a big, rented house. It was a party for summer solstice, for full moons and high tides, and magic in the dark. There were lanterns and music, and the beer and wine flowed. We’d made food, and some of us would make love. There was dancing, and there was Bryan. Always. I drifted indoors and out, drinking wine, laughing, singing with the music, looking at the full moon as she rose and sailed. But I always watched for Bryan. And I felt pretty that night: wearing my hair down, flowers twined in it, and a long, flowing skirt of midnight blue. I wore mascara and gloss on my lips, and when I went to the bathroom I saw a flush on my cheeks and a fever in my eyes. Tonight’s the night. I will make him love me tonight.

I could feel destiny’s tug, and I was both powerless to it, and powerful with the blooming of summer. I thought it would be magical.

The music swirled, and he was there, standing a little apart from everyone else. I pulled him away from the group and into the darkness. Drunk on red wine, I stood on my toes and kissed him. Now or never. “Jessie,” he said, and sighed, sounding so sad. Why should he be sad? He was perfect.

“I’ll try,” he said, when I took him upstairs to my room. I didn’t stop to think what that meant.

“Maybe,” he said, and I didn’t care. I had destiny. And love.

Bryan kept his eyes closed as he kissed me. He tasted of wine and uncertainty. He was hesitant, I was not. I pulled his hands to my breasts, and I kept them there, afire to be touched, and touched by him at last. I clung to him, and wouldn’t let go. Music throbbed from outside. My top fell, baring my breasts, but he didn’t look at me. I slipped my skirt down my legs, shivering in anticipation. I’d taken my panties off hours ago. The lanterns were all different colours, and that was the light I undressed him by. He was so beautiful.

I lay down on my bed, and pulled him over me. I gave myself up to him, thighs apart, and reached for him. He was flaccid, still trying to kiss me. This was all wrong. I knew a man’s desire was hard. There was no desire there, and nothing I did coaxed that wanting in him. I bent, took him in my mouth, but there was no response. As if he was dead to me. It was all wrong.

Eventually, Bryan pushed me away, rough. I heard him make a sound. It wasn’t frustration, it was despair. I lay there in the dark, all naked want in the summer night, but he would not touch me. I heard him stumble from my room, and I heard him being sick in the bathroom down the hall, even over the music from outside. I heard laughter. I tasted ashes in my mouth, and I wanted to die.

He didn’t come back. I waited; maybe it was only a sensitive reaction. He’d return after the weekend.

I waited all summer. Without Bryan, there was a hole in our group of friends. Like a missing tooth in your mouth that your tongue couldn’t leave alone. And we worried and wondered, and even called his parents back in that small home town. Then we heard he went to Toronto. But I never heard why.

It must have been my fault.


When David said he wanted me, I didn’t believe him. When he said he loved me, I didn’t believe him. When he wanted to marry me, I went along. It was better than being alone, and who else would have me? There was something wrong with me, and if David loved me, then there was something wrong with him, too. We deserved each other.

Ten years went by. Until he got tired of me, and he left.

I was away from the office for lunch. Since I was going to die, going out for lunch was no great sin. I sat alone, for I’d lost my fear of that, too. I didn’t care what people thought. But I had nothing to read while I ate, and it didn’t seem right.

It was an angel that day, I’m sure of it. In the guise of humanity—and what an awful burden it must be to wear this suit of flesh, to be slave to air and water, sleep and food. I know.

I want to fall, the angel said. I want to know what it’s like.

I want to die, I replied. I don’t care what it’s like. Maybe pain, followed by a black nothingness, like my life, only amplified a thousand fold.

Or were those words even spoken aloud? Probably not.

You can read this, the angel said, rising, leaving the table next to mine. Not a Bible, not a parchment, no burning books ablaze with light. Just a magazine, the kind I usually scorned. I’m done with it. Just a gesture from another solo diner.

I scanned celebrity news as I ate. I’d be late back to the office, but what did I care? I was going to be giving my notice soon. And then I flipped the page, and saw him.

Bryan. Rising filmmaker, and his partner, Christopher. Partner. Partners in work, and in life.

Everything tilted and lurched. I felt sick. Was it an earthquake? No, only the Magazine of Revelations, all glossy, garish celebrity porn.

Flying under the radar, is how they put it on those fawning pages. Apparently, he’d grown tired of it. His first film explored the hidden lives of men… All those years. What a terrible secret.

Oh, Bryan.

He should have told me. I could have forgiven him. I wouldn’t have waited so many years.

I didn’t finish my lunch. I sat there, looking at nothing, until the waitress took away my plate, left the bill, and I was definitely going to be late back to the office. But I would never waste another day again.

I called in sick and walked home, feeling the wall beginning to crack, knowing the tears would surely follow. I dreaded it. They would hurt. They began before I reached my front door. Somewhere in the middle, I even laughed. “It’s not you,” I gasped. “It’s me.” And I laughed more, even as I cried. For all the waste and blame.

When my tears were done, I was going to phone David. It was probably too late, I’d probably waited too long. But I had to try. Come home, I would say. And let’s make love. With all the lights on.




SPOILER:
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  #11  
Old 05-13-2012, 11:05 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Location: Seaton Village
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Three Drops

Finn moaned his distress, pale blue eyes rolling and dark hair slathered against his forehead with sweat. More animal than boy, his demeanour sought escape while his body was rooted to the marble floor of the clinic reception area. Sunlight flooded through the open door, golden and thick as treacle.

“He shouldn’t have his routine shattered like this.” His lead therapist insisted. The money wasn’t the issue, payment had been generous and in advance. It was genuine concern for the boy. There had been too many meltdowns, too many hideous, screaming rages. In fact, the boy shouldn’t be out of his secure room at this ungodly hour of the morning. Family visits weren’t scheduled until the afternoon.

SPOILER:
“I am his mother.” Kerry replied coolly. She turned to the boy, not touching him. “I had to be away my love, a year and a day as I said. Now I am back and we shall leave this place.” Her voice contained the calm of eons.

Finn did not reply, didn’t so much as pause as he stared past her shoulder and moaned again.

“He doesn’t understand.” Internally, the therapist repeated the note he’d made in the boy’s file: Since Autism is a spectrum; this patient should be considered a double rainbow. He’d felt it was cleverly apt at the time, but the flavour of the quip soured under the withering look of Kerry de Wyn.

She stood up to face him. “I have read much and questioned the wisest people I know.” Her slow blink and pause reminded the therapist that she had not consulted him. “The time has come for me to take his welfare into my own hands.”

Another New Ager, concluded the therapist with an inner sigh. He could understand her frustration, the patient’s notes traced treatments and therapies going back almost his entire ten-year lifespan. But he hoped poor Finn wouldn’t be subjected to any of the more painful or harmful therapies out there in Woo-woo land.

Kerry snorted in disgust and muttered “Old ager, thank you.” Before turning on her immaculate lime green, stiletto heel and stalking out the door. It was only after she’d gone that the therapist looked around. The boy had gone. The therapist shook his head, he’d dealt with non-verbal patients long enough to have an instinctive radar of their location, no-one should have been able to drift out of the building without his notice. But there was Finn’s dark hair, just visible above the passenger seat headrest as Ms de Wyn pulled her expensive car out of the parking area and drove out onto the road without pausing to check for traffic.

The therapist shook his head. “He needs structure.”

“Who does?” Asked the receptionist.

“Hmm?” Had she been there a moment ago?

The receptionist shrugged. ”Sorry, I thought you said something.”

“I said I need coffee; please bring it through to my room.”

While Finn watched the traffic lights turning to green at their approach, his mother fumed. “He’d have been better use stirring the pot than caring for you, my love.” She slammed the car into a higher gear. A traffic officer noted her passing at twice the limit and did not react. The California sun held him pinned as securely as a pike on the battlefield. “Mind you, I no longer trust any fool to help me.” She smiled at Finn’s turned-away head, “Do you know what I did, my love? I heated the pot over a thermal pool in Lake Elsinore, wasn’t that clever? Saved us from another accident”

Finn did not reply. She hadn’t expected him to. He still moaned in distress periodically, especially when they went through tunnels or over bridges. Kerry spoke soothingly, calmness transferring from her voice to the boy.

They drove inland, northwards, only stopping when the boy needed food. No matter if they drove on interstates or city streets, Kerry kept a steady pace which still wasn’t enough to match the distance they travelled.

San Francisco appeared just after lunch. “Time for a little anonymity, dear one.” Kerry said. When the car dropped below the speed limit, both inside and out, Finn’s shoulders relaxed and he almost smiled. His mother’s mouth tightened. “Sorry, my love, time is relative, but not infinitely elastic. It has to begin and end today.”

Finn did not reply.

Kerry paused and programmed the GPS, then followed its directions through the sprawling suburbs. Finn didn’t like the hills, or rather he didn’t like the houses angled into the hills. Kerry had her own problems and couldn’t sooth him. Twice she found herself driving through the same intersection; three times traffic forced her to take the wrong turn. She stopped the car. “Technology has failed, my love, we shall travel in the oldest way, as is fitting.”

Any caregiver would have told her that Finn was so removed from the world that he couldn’t possibly have understood such words, but he unclipped his belt, left the car and stood waiting for her on the path as she unpacked several bags and a furred and stoppered wineskin. Last of all she took out an elegant little backpack and stowed the suitcases into it. Finn watched with growing horror and turned away, only to be equally appalled by a passing trolley car. A passing jogger plugged into an iPod made the boy cover his ears and crouch in terror.

“Hush now, my love, my dear one. Mother shall fix everything. No mistakes this time.” She waited until Finn stood up again, eyes focussed inward, or the warmth and comfort of her words. She took the string of the wineskin and drew it over her head, settling the now tiny pouch between the lapels of her expensive suit. Her shoes were a pair of sensible, though lime green, trainers.

“The thing about hiding in this age,” she said, striding forward with Finn following as though on a leash, “they think that if you stay off the records, off the net, out of touch – why then you can’t be found.” She smiled at her son. “But all that does is create a hole in the energy lines, a man shaped hole as clear as a dropped stitch warping the patterns in the fabric of the world.”

She talked to keep her voice in his ear, the calm in his mind, his feet following hers. “A thousand and a half thousand years before the stars have aligned again.” They passed landmarks without glancing at them. The hills and the gaps between hills gave them glimpses of views famous the world over, which they ignored. “I am your mother, my love; I shall not fail you again.” She could feel their destination, wriggling away, trying to hide itself from her. “I found him before I began brewing. I wrote down the address in in on paper. Bought a map of ink on paper. Might as well try to scrub off a tattoo.”

Finn did not reply. He didn’t quite drool as he followed her, but his mouth was slack, his eyes unfocussed. Then they were there, the columned entrance harking back to the roman great houses built to impress a conquered race. Finn stopped in his tracks, head to one side and stared at the building from across the road. Kerry had walked on three paces before she noticed and came back to him.

“What is it, my love?” And though he did not answer, she stood next to him, careful not to touch. She tilted her head to the same angle as his and saw what he saw; the road level, the cars and telephone wires parallel, and the terracotta painted house tilted at a crazy angle. “No dear, this way.” She straightened her head and saw the house level and the road angled past it, steps on the path to assist walkers.

Finn grunted and followed her reluctantly.

Of course, he had the lowest apartment. The weight of the building above him. Half burrowed into the earth like the animal he was. Returned to the mud of his birth.

Oh, he tried to pass himself off as the nobleman, drawing himself up when he answered the doorbell to find Kerry and Finn on his doorstep. Ushering them inside as though he hadn’t spent this lifetime hiding. “I hope I find you well, mother.”

Kerry snorted her derision. “You are no more a son of mine than any other meal I shat out the next day.” She looked around the dingy rooms. “This is not your usual standard, Gwion.”

“I still prefer Taliesin.” He replied. He smiled at her shrug and went on. “Poets are not honoured in this modern age.” He replied. “Musicians do better, but for all the knowledge in the world, I cannot hold a tune.” Taliesin watched the boy spin in slow circles in the centre of the room. “My sis- your daughter, she is well?” No answer. “This is Morfran? He’s not too bad this time round.”

“You should see him in a bad mood.”

“Ceridwyn? “ Gwion turned to her. “You think I can cure Autism?” A quick grin brightened his features, reminded her that she had taken him as a son for a while at least. Before the stars had turned and he had sought fame instead of redress to her firstborn son. “I am not a god”

“But he is.” Ceridwen said simply. “He sees the world in all its possibilities, all its potential and he has not the knowledge to understand. He is destroyed by what he cannot be, made hideous by the lack of what you stole from him.” She had slipped the backpack off, and now removed a large, ornate cauldron from its depths. She filled it from the wineskin and Gwion watched.

“I haven’t the power to give it back.”

“Then what use are you to us?” she asked. “Tell me Gwion.”

He hesitated, then bit his thumb and began to speak; shaking in despair at the words he spoke, unable to stop himself.

Morfran, the boy who did not answer, who did not react or respond, stopped spinning and watched the man until he finished talking. He walked to his mother and took the knife and cauldron she held out to him. Carefully, without touching flesh to flesh, he pricked the thumb of the man who had instructed him so, catching three drops and no more of the blood shed.

He stirred the potion, dipped the knife and held it above his mouth. One, two, three drops. No more. Then he gave the knife back to his mother and took the cauldron to the kitchen to empty it.

Gwion howled in protest, racing to gather the last dregs from the sink and lift them to his lips.

“Fool!” Ceridwen said sharply. “All but the first drops are deathly poison.”

Gwion smiled. “I know, but I wouldn’t for much longer.” He was falling as Ceridwen and her son left the room. He was dead before they reached the far side of the road and turned to look back at the building.

“You know,” Ceridwen said, smiling softly. “I think I preferred it the way you had it before. She tipped her head to one side.

Morfran mirrored her movement and there came the noise of furniture falling, china smashing and people screaming in surprise and pain. “So do I.” he replied, and hugged his mother.



SPOILER:
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  #12  
Old 05-14-2012, 09:08 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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The End

Mike felt the sun start to peek through the bedroom window and he rolled over on his side to wake Jeff, the love of his life and partner of 47 years. Unlike the touch of the warm sun on Mike’s back announcing the start of a new day, the touch of Jeff felt cold and final.

Jeff had died.

Mike lay still. He thought of last night’s final kiss goodnight and how they had fallen asleep together on their sides, like proper spoons in a drawer, neither of them knowing this would be their last night together in warm embrace. Both would drift off peacefully in sleep, but only one would wake from that slumber this early morn.

SPOILER:
As the realization of Jeff’s death sunk in, the memories came racing into Mike’s thoughts – the first day they met in college and how they were both attracted to each other - even before they discovered they were both “that way”. Yes, there really was such a thing as love at first sight.

That first kiss - so exciting and thrilling that Mike thought he would pass out from happiness. They had to spend those college years together under the radar - pretending they were just roommates. They had to be careful not to arouse suspicion, as that would have caused them both to be expelled back in those days.

Upon graduation, they continued their ruse as just college roommates and bought airline tickets to take a backpacking tour of Europe. They told friends and family it was for a couple of months, but both of them knew they were not coming back to the US anytime soon. They knew they could live a happier life in safe anonymity in any of the more tolerant and enlightened capitals of Europe than they could in the States at that time.

London, Paris, Rome, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and finally they settled in Berlin. Jeff found work doing interior designs for prominent clients throughout Europe. Mike had always been a techno-geek and helped design home entertainment systems for those homes and, in the process, stumbled into the cutting edge of computer science. That was why he had sent that check for $5,000, to some guy his cousin knew, to invest in a computer company. That check to fledgling Apple Computers had turned into a rather lucrative investment for their later years.

Through all this, Mike and Jeff grew even closer – sharing the same adventures (getting lost and stranded in Morocco with no money or passports, spending a week with Princess Diana while designing her apartment ), the same disappointments (that failed business venture in Spain, the loss of prized photos and personal effects in that apartment fire), the shared joys (their eventual success, the great friends and the dinner parties and the exotic travel destinations) and of course, the feeling that comes with knowing you are never alone.

They were together during the rough times – Mike’s cancer and treatment, Jeff’s horrible disease – and they helped support each other; defying and beating the odds. Mike was also there when Jeff’s mother died, and Jeff was there when Mike’s beloved sister lost her battle with own battle with cancer.

Mike leaned forward in bed and kissed Jeff on the shoulder, as he often did to wake him up.

Then Mike got out of bed and quietly walked into the living room of their final home together – an odd piece of real estate that they had both fallen in love with upon first sight. It was an optical illusion. From one angle, the house looked perfectly normal, but from another angle, the house looked anything but normal from the outside; it was queer looking, no one would give it a chance to weather a storm, and it looked totally out of place in this world.

How could they not love a home like that? It was their life in a single piece of architecture!

Mike wrote a short note to Alex, their housekeeper who came in twice a week to do some cleaning and pick up some groceries for them on the way. They had both grown too old and weak to carry some of the heavier supplies up the stairs. He would be arriving tomorrow afternoon, and Mike wanted to make sure the house would be perfect in the coming days.

Mike went to the kitchen, made some coffee and then went to their family room – the one with the state of the art home entertainment system Mike had designed and built. He turned on the DVR and found the show – it was the series finale of Mad Men. He and Jeff had planned on watching it tonight after dinner – it had been one of their favorite shows over the years and they were both looking forward to seeing how things would end.

Mike needed to watch this show - now.

Mike took a sip of coffee and took one of the pain pills he had taken from the kitchen cabinet. He never used any prescription pills and was surprised how quickly this one worked. He watched the show and thought how much Jeff would have liked this final episode, and yet how Jeff would have made snide comments about that outfit or that interior design. Mike took another sip of coffee and took another of those pain pills.

By the end of the two hour series finale, Mike had finished two cups of coffee and the entire bottle of pills. He barely had the strength to go back to the bedroom and crawl into bed, next to Jeff. Gradually Mike started to drift off into his own final slumber, and he could hardly wait to see Jeff again and tell him how everything ended. Soon he would be able to tell him – not just yet, but very soon now. Yes, he would tell Jeff how everything ended.



SPOILER:
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  #13  
Old 05-14-2012, 09:15 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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City of the Living

The demon was staring at me again. Out through the park with the wire cart, over to Market and back down through the tree streets, picking up the beautiful things the dead ones can't keep in their suitcoats and pocketbooks and gas burners, end up near the bayfront again 47 and a half minutes and there he is three times in a row waiting. He had on a ball hat and blue t-shirt with a pocket on the front, and he squinted as he stared.

I can take staring, even from vaguely malevolent hell denizens. I just think it's rude.

SPOILER:
There's an understanding in the city, sort of a pact of anonymity wherein we the Living are free to wander without the molestation of social intercourse. No polite nods, significant glances or raised hand salutations, and no malevolence without cause. This antisocial contract is honored by nearly all of the business corpses, shop shamblers and goggling ghouls making up the bulk of the city population, and even in most cases by the brass-button terriers who police the streets and alleys and dock districts.

Every now and again someone's not dead inside but not Living either, and they can't help but mess up and turn shitward whatever you got going. I call 'em demons but you could say anvil breakers or hell, soup sandwich upfuckers and be just as accurate.

My implicit invisibility privilege ignored by the demon, I reckoned I'd choices three: ignore the intrusion and hope the damned thing goes away, toddle off and find another gathering ground, or confront the fiend and see what's up, maybe get around the pending fubar. Spite, flight or slightly fight.

I edged the cart over the curb and drifted across the street, trying for an oblique approach. I started muttering as I came closer. "Jackie is a punk judy is a runt," real low, mono tonally. "Gabba gabba hey, S,L,A, ice ca-PADES!" with a BANG of the cart on the final syllable. If used correctly, I find random garbled Ramones lyrics create a nice protective "don't fuck with me" zone of incoherence on a first meet.

I segued into a bit of Weasel Face by way of Eat That Rat and slowed to inventory my findings half a block downhill from mister demono. I kept up a low patter of nonsense and kept my eye out. If anything was going to happen, now was the time for him to show me.

I didn't have to wait long. I'd barely got through the loose candy and gum wrappers and was organizing the metal and plastic into big/small, shiny/dull when I felt a bump on the cart. Demon dude grinned as I looked up and gave another little kick to the front wheel.

"Whatcha got there, friend? Lookin' to sell something?" He squinted just a little bit more, which I hadn't thought was likely, and gave an even less likely impersonation of amiability.

I didn't want to give any impression I was fooled by the queasy smile, but it wouldn't be productive not to nibble the hook a bit. "Why they walk and I'll walk they fish and I'll fish," I riposted. He looked a bit dubious, so I saved him with a quizzical followup. "I sin and they sin and they fly I fly?" Letting him know I wanted to know what he wanted me to know.

"Look," the demon said, glancing around like he was about to give up on me, "talk straight to me and I'll give you money for something."

Oh, uncool. This, I thought, isn't a place from where I find any comfort. I definitely wanted the thing to lose interest in me, but now he'd shown avarice toward my beautiful collections. If I know demons, this wouldn't do for long.

"NOT for sale," I snapped, regretting the clarity instantly, but, too late to choke the words back I lifted my chin and met the blue hatted devil's eyes.

"It's OK champ," he laughed, raising his hands to show me his palms. "I don't need any of your stuff. Let's just say I'll pay you to do something for me, take a message to someone."

I straightened my plastic bottles up while I thought. He'd offered me a way to get rid of him, and it was probably prudent to follow his lead for awhile. Watching for the untied other shoe all the way, of course.

"Don't need money," I told him square. I could see him starting up a pitch in defense of his ugly paper bills, so "Sandwiches," I counterproposed. "I like ham and cheese. One now and one after." I figured I'd never see the second one, but that was OK because I wouldn't see mister collection thief again too.

He looked a little disappointed for just a second, and then he held out his hand.

"Call me Randy."



He'd gone in to a deadhead foodie place and come out with two grilled items, one with swiss cheese and ham and one with something that looked like taco meat. I munched on the good one while Randy the demon told me the boon he wanted. He sat the curb while I put my elbows on the cart handles and ate.

"You ever hear of radar, Cap'n?" He'd taken to calling me Captain after I'd blank stared his hand and his name. "It's radio waves that let you see things that are way over the horizon or out of sight by hitting those things and bouncing back to a receiver. You can locate clouds, terrain, ships, planes. Missiles. Things that don't want to be found." He looke up at me and stood up, came close. "I work on radar, Cap'n, or did until recently. I didn't like my employer any more so I left without asking permission. I aint going back, but I'm on someone's radar screen who won't let me stay gone."

Demon Randy took his ball cap off and scratched short blond hair. "You see, I took some money when I left, money me and him got selling some things our employer didn't know we had. So he can't tell them I've got his money, but he won't let me go either, and I can't get close to him to... well, convince him differently. I want you to take my note to him that tells him where to come get what he's owed."

He gave me a nice blue eyed calm & steady, and the gaze might've got me liking Randy just a little bit if he hadn't been a demon. And if I hadn't seen the lump of a hand gun in the back of his trousers when he sat down on the curb.

"Where?" was the only thing I said.



I waited outside a white building that said FLEET on the outside of it. It didn't look so fast to me. Downright sedate, I thought. Randy had said the man would come out in the afternoon right after a whole crowd of women all dressed the same in black and white uniforms with caps.

I heard the girls before I saw them. None were anything you could call Living, but there were no demons among them either, so there was that. They made a lot of noise without saying anything.

I spotted the man and stopped listening to anything when he stepped into view. He had on all white cloth that looked like it had never been folded or even looked at less than gently, and he had gold all over his hat. Someone had put painted ball bearings where his eyes should have been.

I didn't even have to come up to him, he turned right toward me and marched up like he'd known I'd be there.

I silently handed him the folded paper Randy had written out in front of me, and watched while he opened, scanned and casually dropped it to the ground. He made a little wave as he turned, as if he was shooing me away.

I don't know why I did, but I heard myself say the whole thing before it clicked in my head that it was me speaking it. "Randy means to shoot you," and I saw him stop and stare straight ahead for a second before he turned back to me.

He grinned without it getting anywhere near those ball bearing eyes and just said "Of course."

As he walked off, I figured between the two of them there'd be one less demon in the city before tomorrow.

I walked back to the tree streets and then pushed on up past the park and up to where the houses are built into the side of the hills like rice paddies, and the parked cars look like they should slide down to the bottom and collect there like fallen leaves.

I lay my head down on the sidewalk and made the street into a level plain in my head, with the houses melting into the ground like sinking ships. Someday, I thought, they'll all sink into the ground and the dead will ride them under without noticing. And it'll be just the Living things left in a city of hills and of parks. And of beautiful treasures.



SPOILER:
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  #14  
Old 05-14-2012, 09:22 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Party at Billy's

As Marlon huffed up the hill in his new three piece suit, he wiped beads of sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. He stood across the street from a house whose address matched the one he was given on the phone. The incline of the street Marlon had just walked a half mile up was so intense he had begun to sweat considerably.

The house, like the others in this neighborhood, was quite large and expensive looking. The half-mile long mountain-side of a street was one of many like it that were famous in San Francisco.

SPOILER:
Marlon had responded to a job posting in the newspaper classifieds that required a well-dressed, young man for a short term job. There were no other details besides the accompanying phone number, but he hoped the opportunity might suit him while he was home during his summer break from college. In his efforts to Google the address, however, Marlon discovered the place and the occupants were completely off the radar. He could find no hint of information.

Marlon, anxious to find out about this job opportunity, knocked on the door of the house. After a few minutes of waiting outside in the evening heat, the door finally opened to reveal an old man, hunched over and propped up by the cane in his left hand. He was wearing a jacket, vest and neck tie, much like Marlon, although the old man looked much more comfortable.

“Would you be Marlon Bennington?” the old man s politely in his high pitched voice.

“Good evening. I am Marlon, sir. I spoke with you on the phone regarding the advertisement you placed in the Chronicle.”

“Of course, step inside. I’ve got coffee brewing.” Marlon followed the old man through a hallway and into the next room, unsure if he wanted coffee at this hour in the evening.

“Have a seat at the kitchen table here and we can begin the interview momentarily.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Marlon. He seated himself at the small kitchen table, unbuttoning his jacket as he did so. As he observed his surroundings it became clear that the old man was the only person in the house. The kitchen, while not dirty or unorganized, was plain as could be. There were no pictures, no accessories to speak of. There was a refrigerator in one corner, a stovetop oven with a tea kettle on it a few feet away from the fridge, a sink on the opposite wall and a table and four chairs, one of which Marlon occupied, in the middle of the room. Sparsely utilized wooden shelves hung where closed cabinetry would typically be found along the walls and the countertops were bare.

The old man poured coffee into two cups, placed them on saucers and brought them to the table. “Thank you for responding to my advertisement and meeting with me,” the old man said after he seated himself across from Marlon. “You can call me Billy and no, that is not my real name, but I’d like to maintain anonymity for now.” Marlon’s mind expressed suspicion. “So,” continued the old man, “The, ah, position I need filled is admittedly extraordinary so I will dive into the description if you don’t mind.”

“Please do, sir,” said Marlon.

“To be frank, I require assistance with an investigation. You needn’t have investigation experience, but I do require you to have some measure of intelligence. From our phone conversation, I understand you are a college student, correct?”

“Yes, sir –“

“Please, don’t call me sir,” interrupted the old man, “Billy, please.”

“I apologize, uh, Billy,” said Marlon, “but yes I will be a senior at Cal.”

“Just fine,” said Billy. “I suspect my investigation requires more common sense than education, for I hope the solution to my circumstance is quite simple.”

“And what would that circumstance be, um, Billy?”

“I asked you to arrive tonight, Saturday evening at 8:00PM because at 9:00PM guests will begin arriving.”

“Guests?”

“Indeed. The guests have been arriving every Saturday evening at 9:00 for the past several weekends. The nature of the investigation is to discover their identities.”

“Excuse me, Billy, you don’t know the guests?”

“I’m embarrassed to say I do not. When I ask their names they play my inquiries off like I’m joking. They imply that I must certainly know who they are, but I assure you, I do not. Furthermore, I am willing to pay you $5000 when we find out who these people are, when they stop coming, or when eight Saturday evenings have passed; whichever of these events occurs first. I require you to dress formally, as you have done today, because this is apparently the proper attire for my gatherings. Do you accept the terms?”

Marlon nodded and muttered, “Sure.” He sensibly concluded that Billy suffered some sort of dementia couldn’t recognize his own family members who had been congregating at his home. “Ok, Billy, so what exactly should I do when the guests arrive?”

“You shall introduce yourself and they will introduce themselves. I suspect this will be the quickest way to get names. But to discover their full identities, I would like more information, such as occupations and relationships to me.”

“Makes sense,” said Marlon, fully expecting to soon meet Billy’s family and friends.

“You probably think I’ve lost my mind. Don’t worry, you might be right. To be completely honest, I’m not trying to remain anonymous to you. I simply don’t remember my name for sure, but the guests have been calling me Billy. So we’ll go with that.”

Marlon certainly thought the entire exercise was odd, but was curious to see what would happen. The hour had apparently crept up rather quickly because Marlon was startled to hear a knock at the front door. He silently motioned to Billy that the older gentleman could remain seated and made his way to the door. Marlon opened the door and found a young man and woman outside it, both dressed in formal evening wear and both quite attractive.

“Good evening, I’m Marlon Bennington,” he said as he extended his hand to the gentleman.

“Very pleased, indeed, to meet you” said the man as he shook Marlon’s hand.

The woman handed him a purse from her gloved hand. “Could you put that in the coat room, please?”

Marlon accepted the purse and said, “And your names, sir and madam?”

“Oh, how precious!” exclaimed the woman. “I’ve often said I wish could go out unrecognized.” The couple swept right past Marlon and into the kitchen and began chatting up Billy. Marlon walked toward the opposite end of the house, hoping for a coat room. He found an empty room and left the woman’s purse on the floor there. Another knock came at the door.

“Good evening, folks,” said Marlon to the woman and two men outside. They were speaking loudly to each other, the men wearing suits and the woman wearing a glamorous evening gown, gloves and a hat.

“Well, here’s a new face!” exclaimed the larger of the two men, who looked vaguely familiar to Marlon. “I’m Goerge, where’s the booze?” he said while shaking Marlon’s hand and making his way into the house.

“That’s George for you,” said the woman, who now that Marlon looked at her, also looked familiar. And what do you know, so did her male companion, but Marlon could not place them. All three of them brushed past Marlon into the house and soon enough four more people were jamming into the door, all well dressed, although, like the others before them, somehow old-fashioned and somehow familiar.

By the time Marlon finished answering the door and running coats and purses back and forth from the door to the empty room, he realized there must be over a dozen people in the house. Someone had cranked up the music, drinks were being served from the kitchen and couples were dancing on the hardwood floor of the spacious living room.

Marlon made his way into the kitchen, where people were emerging with drinks in hand. He found George serving wine, beer and cocktails from the kitchen table.

“George,” he said timidly, “how are you acquainted with Billy?”

“Ha!” George shouted, “Ol’ Billy is such a prude I’m surprised he let a new kid anywhere near one of his parties. I’m sure he’ll deny fraternizing with most of us. He thinks he’s got better things to be doing. And how about you, kid, you a baseball fan?”

Suddenly something clicked in Marlon’s brain. “Excuse me a moment,” he said. It didn’t make any sense, but as he shuffled through the crowded house in search of Billy he could find no other explanation. The identities of most of the faces he thought he recognized seemed so obvious now. He found Billy sitting alone on a sofa in a room upstairs.

“Marlon, please tell me you’ve got something,” Billy said. “I just needed a break in here.”

“It’s obnoxiously ludicrous, Billy, but I think your friend George is George Herman Ruth. Babe freaking Ruth!”

“Well, yes, I’ve heard others call him Babe. I thought it was just a term of endearment.”

“And the others,” Marlon continued, “are dead ringers for old movie stars. The first couple that came to the door this evening, for example, was Mae West and Cary Grant! Billy, I looked up their pictures on my phone. They’re like clones!”

“Clones? Phones?”

“I’m telling you, there’re musicians, actors and a couple of the damn Marx brothers down there, Billy! I’m not 100% sure who all of them are supposed to be, but they’re famous people.”

“I still don’t know them. The Marx brothers?”

“Yeah,” said Marlon, “most of them seem to be from the early 1900’s, like 1920’s or 30’s maybe.”

“Marlon,” said Billy, visibly upset, “You are not helping me. How do they know me? And what do you mean they’re from the 1920’s or 30’s? Where the hell else would they be from?”

Marlon stood staring at Billy, totally perplexed. “Billy,” he said, “what year do you suppose it is?”

“Dammit, Marlon, I couldn’t nail it down exactly but it’s in that frame. The 20’s or 30’s, of course. My mind’s not what it once was.”

“Oh,” said Marlon. “You’re right Billy. I was way out of line just now. Please excuse me.” Marlon made for the bathroom. He was sweating profusely and shaking. This didn’t make sense. Who were those people? If not impersonators, what? And who was Billy? Was this house some kind of Field of Dreams for actors, baseball players and comedians? Some sort of time warp or dimensional drift? That was impossible and yet…

Marlon left the bathroom and continued inspecting the guests of Billy’s party. He discretely snapped photos when he could and tried to get some kind of facial recognition online. He was able to put names to just about all of them. Walt Disney, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Amelia Earhart were the hardest to pin down as he didn’t recognize them at all at first. Finally he began to investigate Billy. Eventually he found something.

“Billy!” Marlon shouted when found him in the living room.

“Yes, Marlon?”

“You’re the damn president of the United States! You’re William Howard Taft!”

Billy’s eyes opened wide and his ears perked up like a dog who has just heard a whistle. “By God, man. I believe you’re right!”

“Well,” said Cary Grant who had overheard, “you got a knack for stating the obvious kid.”

Marlon crashed in the sofa room upstairs and awoke in the morning to find an empty house. He returned to the top of the hill several times, even a few Saturday evenings wearing his three piece suit, but never again found Billy. Months later, before heading back to college, Marlon opened his wallet and pulled out the advertisement he’d clipped from the newspaper. He never even collected his $5000.



SPOILER:
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Old 05-14-2012, 09:28 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Last Night

December 21st, 2012
11:47 p.m.

When the wind howled outside, drowning out the Christmas music coming out of his hand-crank emergency radio, Elliot wrapped his dirty blanket more tightly around himself and stared out the window. Even by the light of his sputtering candles he could see that the snow that had been steadily falling all night had begun to creep up to the midpoint of his windows. If the windows he was looking out of hadn't belonged to the house's second story, this might not have seen so strange.

SPOILER:
Elliot had been forced to abandon the ground floor months earlier, around the time when his house's southward drift had caught the public eye and a popular photo of his abode made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, dispelling the soothing fog of anonymity that generally surrounded someone as mousey and boring as Elliot was. Now people passing by stared in, not only because a house slowly sinking into the earth was such an unusual sight, but because they were eager to see the man who stubbornly refused to abandon the property.

One blog he'd read, before the power and gas companies both dropped him as a customer on the grounds that leaving the power or gas on would be inviting fire, compared him to the Titanic's captain, a man who had gone down with his ship a full century earlier. Other people were not shy about speculating what reason Elliot might have to stay in his obviously doomed house, and those who did not suspect an undiagnosed mental illness tended towards pity: They thought of him as a victim of circumstance, as a man who literally had nowhere else to go.

Although Elliot preferred the pity to reticule, the way one might prefer moldy bread to moldy meat, he also felt an overwhelming reciprocal pity for both those who in their way supported him and his detractors too. None of them had any sense of the true reason he refused to leave his house no matter how low it sank into the ground, and tomorrow morning would find them all in a world of hurt and pain if indeed it found any of them at all.

Back before his life had begun to mostly consist of reading and trying to find new ways of jazzing up foods that came out of boxes cold, Elliot had been a scholar. No one peering in the windows and catching sight of a pale stubbled face or shoulders wrapped in a plaid blanket would believe that the body parts they could barely make out in the house's scant light belonged to a man who held a PhD In world history.

He had never been the life of a party, not even amongst his equally bookish peers, but Elliot had been respectable once, if not well-liked. His colleagues occasionally came to him with questions, and his students always gave end of the semester reviews that indicated that he was an apt if not exciting educator. His life had been normal if a little predictable and more than a little lonely.

All that had changed the December before when a website that tried to pass itself off as a news source rather than the entertainment gig it was ran an article about the end of the Mayan calendar. Reading it, Elliot had first laughingly dismissed it, but it got under his skin. Late that same night he'd found himself getting out of bed and pawing through his books, looking for references to the ancient civilization that had been wiped out of existence long before their calendar predicted they'd meet their end.

He'd stayed up all night, then, and at six had been so red-eyed that he'd barely been able to make out the numbers on his phone when he dialed to call in for what was at that moment an almost unheard of sick day. But other days soon followed as he became obsessed with studying the Mayans and became more convinced that the popular conceit that another calendar would have followed had they not been the victims of genocide was a candy coating dipped onto the truth by academics too scared to admit that a population of people they considered charmingly primitive had had the right idea.

Eventually Elliot's obsession had predictable results, and the university included his position amongst those that they axed in the name of cost saving methods. If he'd secured tenure they wouldn't have been able to be so easily rid of him, but he'd only been teaching for a handful of years, so the union claimed that their hands were tied. Not that he'd demanded an explanation or assistance: Elliot hadn't been bothered by his dismissal because he wanted the extra time to study, anyway.

As soon as he'd been released from his duties at the end of the spring semester, Elliot began to devote most of his waking hours to trying to figure out how the Mayans had made their prediction so many centuries earlier. By then he was no longer remotely skeptical about the veracity of their prediction. Instead he just wanted to know how they had figured out that the world was coming to an end in 2012.

Because the end of everything was a forgone conclusion as far as he was concerned, Elliot was not dismayed in late May when a mailman dropping of a new book he'd ordered pointed out that the house seemed to have shifted. He'd merely agreed with the man that it did seem to be a few inches shorter than it ought to be, and had taken his new book inside to peruse.

As the months passed, two things happened: Elliot found himself increasingly obsessive about what he considered his "work" and the house continued its downward drift, much like a quicksand victim panicking in the old black and white adventure films Elliot's father had been obsessed with before lung cancer carried him, and Elliot's mother too, away.

Elliot had always been rather shy, so he had faced a moral quandary when it had become clear to him that the world was coming to an end: was it his moral duty to inform others that some event (even in December he was still undecided as to what he thought it would be) would destroy the world? Being a harbinger of doom and dismay was hardly the sort of thing a man like him took on willingly, after all. A nagging sense of duty propelled him to at least try, so whenever some concerned soul came to talk to him about the sad state of his ever-sinking house, he earnestly explained that a house slowly being swallowed by the Earth's gapping maw was the least of his problems, and theirs too.

To say that people were not receptive of his warning would be a gigantic understatement and after a couple of worried people tried to suggest he get therapy, he decided that he better try to avoid being on the radar of the mental health network and keep the knowledge to himself. In the end warning people didn't seem to serve much of a purpose anyway. What could people do with the information? It wasn't as though we'd gotten around to colonizing mars, so there was no option but to stay and die.

In what felt like a tacit agreement, people decided they were quit of him too when he gave up on them. If he'd been more of a social being the cutting of all ties would have hurt more, but as it was it remained a manageable if dull and nagging ache. There was really nothing left for him to offer people, so he allowed them their illusions, let them plan for Christmas, for New Years, for next summer with just a sad knowing smile. It might have been a comfort to reach out to someone, but he couldn't. Not any more. Not knowing what he did.

Despite his acceptance of this self-imposed isolation, realizing that telling people about the coming danger would change nothing left Elliot in a permanent state of despair. Despite using a considerable amount of his savings, none of the books he devoured had a solid idea of what would end it all, so it wasn't like he could warn the government and encourage someone, anyone, to take action against whatever was going to kill them all. By Halloween he was swathed in a sense of nihilism that was so thorough Niche would have been envious. The people who pitied him didn't realize that he could have left at any time but simply failed to see what the point of leaving would have been. He might have been more comfortable elsewhere, but no safer.

Truly, the only thing that kept him from climbing through a window and heading to a gun store was the perverse need to see it through to the end. He wanted to see that he was right. It was wrong and terrible to feel that way, but he couldn't help it any more than a James Bond villain could help being evil.

As the days slide towards the inevitable, Elliot found himself increasingly inert. He endured the lights going out, the water stopping when the house's movement ruptured and severed its connection to the well in the backyard. His brain learned to become indifferent to his belly's insistent cries and he lost fifty pounds that hadn't been extra weight on his fame. Nothing really mattered except bearing witness to the inevitable because he'd come to realize that that was his role. Maybe he ought to have taken fiddle lessons back when he still bothered interacting with others.

Hours wore on during the night of December 21st and Elliot found himself becoming annoyed about the snow. It reduced visibility and was piling too high in the windows to let him continue his vigil with a clear line of sight. Eventually he decided that he would need to go down to the basement and find a snow shovel even if the thought of going so far underground made him break out into a cold sweat.

The trek to the basement had been scary and difficult with a feeling of suffocation as he went down into the parts of the house already entombed, and he'd been overwhelmed with relief when held returned to what was still higher ground. His next move was to pull on a coat that seldom left his sight lately before opening a window and squirming through it.

Despite the coat cold gnawed as his bones and he found himself repeating a bit of doggerel about the world ending in ice or fire as he worked to clear the snow from in front of the windows. It took a long time before he was satisfied and pushed his aching body back through the window, dragging snow in with him. At least he wouldn't have to worry about a mess he thought, because the end would be coming any time now.

Out of habit his eyes sought out his clock. The face read 12:43 a.m. in its bright red font. His watch agreed that the battery-operated clock told the truth.

Elliot looked around his floundering house and began to sob in utter despair.




SPOILER:
Elfkin477
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  #16  
Old 05-14-2012, 09:33 AM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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The Luck of the Draw

It’s been thirty years now since The Big One. When I think back to my life before that, it’s as if I’m remembering someone else, a completely different person. I can live with that, not that I have much choice, ha ha. But still, sometimes, I hear this little voice asking me if I’d make the same choice a second time. And I’ll wish, just for a moment, that I could have a “do over”. The mood never lasts for long, but when it hits I’ll mix up a pitcher of Margaritas, take a big book I’ve been saving for the occasion, (I’ve got a big stack) , turn on the little reading light by the big recliner in my home library, and try to immerse myself in a new world. If the book is good enough, sometimes it works. My dachshund Limo likes these times, he gets a lot of personal lap time and cuddling. Old ladies who have been drinking Margaritas don’t move around much, It’s read, doze, slurp, pet the dog, rinse and repeat.

SPOILER:
Everybody who’s old enough has a list of events that mark their days, the kind for which they remember every detail of where they were and what they were doing when they heard “the news” The Challenger explosion, the bombing in Oklahoma City, 9/11, or that pony nuke that went off and smeared Wichita. But for everyone old enough to really recall, the one at the head of the list will always be San Francisco, April 1st, 2015.

I was visiting San Francisco for a science-fiction convention called Unicon. At the time I was sixty years old, and some people made jokes about aging geeks like me, but hey, I was raised on Star Trek. The first season of the original series came out when I was in sixth grade. Even though I later converted to Babylon 5, and again, more recently, to The Length of Years, I’ll always have a place in my heart for the spark that started it all.

Six of us had traveled to Unicon together. I was the oldest, but not by much. We all had middle class backgrounds. I worked in a library café as a baker. Jack was an electrician, Janice was a “sales associate” in a carpet warehouse, and Flo, Jenny, and Andy were co-workers in a funeral home. We’d chipped in for the room in the convention hotel, a suite with four beds. With a couple of sleeping bags we could all fit in nicely, although sometimes the sleeping bags didn’t see much use. I know what you are thinking, and get your mind out of the gutter

April 1st was the last day of Unicon, and things were winding down. The costume contest from the night before had been amazing. A guy in a home-made costume, dressed as Gozer the Destroyer had won Best in Show by acclamation. The movie rooms already had schedules posted for the day AFTER the convention was over, with fakes like Ewoking Tall, or Star Wars Episode #26 , the Empire Goes Hawaiian. Dealers were considering discounts for the usual stuff they didn’t feel like hauling to the next set-up.

For the first time since the con began, I think, we were all in the hotel room together, getting packed up and griping about all the money we’d spent on souvenirs. It was still early, just past dawn, and I couldn’t face another breakfast in the hotel café, so I suggested we find somewhere else to go.

“There’s got to be a ton of places in a city like this! For crying out loud, we haven’t even been outside the hotel to see the Golden Gate Bridge!” I whined.

Flo and Jenny were worried that their cash wouldn’t hold out until the trip home was over but I insisted and said I’d treat them. “And on top of that, I’ll buy us each a lottery ticket, and if I win I’ll bring us back next year in style!”

So off we go and we find a little joint serving, of all things, Cajun food. And they were open for breakfast. It was in a building that looked like it was once what I’d call row houses. Painted a reddish bronze color on the outside, on the inside there was a series of private and public rooms for eating. Let me tell you, I highly recommend Bananas Foster for breakfast, with chicory laced coffee.

“Hey fellow nerds, I hate to mention this , but we need to be getting back to check out.” Andy always could dampen a food induced euphoria, so I just sighed deeply and said “I haven’t got our tickets yet!” Jack said there was a convenience store a block further over so I gave in.

The group as a whole walked to the Quik Stop and I made a production over asking if anyone wanted to play their own numbers or do a Fast Pik. Everyone else wanted the computer to hurl their numbers, but I played the same ones I always do, my parents’ birthdays. With no siblings, and since the death of my folks in a car crash years ago, that’s about all I had left of them. I was about to pass out the tickets when it began.

I felt light-headed then, or thought I did, because I swayed on my feet. But then people started screaming and heard a series of crashes, kind of a snap, crackle and pop, but with a volume so loud you can’t hear it unless you’ve been there yourself. The sound seemed to go on forever. To this day the one detail I don’t recall is what I or the rest of the group did to protect ourselves. But we must have done something because nne of the group I had come with was really hurt, although Janice had fallen and slightly twisted her ankle. At the time I remember thinking we were lucky, because we could at least walk, The streets were chaotic, and paving broken and cracked, so cars were making little headway. As carefully as we could we began to retrace our steps to the hotel. I saw the Cajun place where we’d eaten so recently, tilted up on it’s side but not crushed oar pancaked in collapse.

Across from the hotel a fire hydrant had begun to spout water, flooding the street. I wanted to go into the building to trudge up the three flights of steps to our room, and get my stuff. I positioned myself by the main door, not sure if I wanted to go inside or not. It was a surprise to see that it didn’t look all that bad, but who knows what kind of structural damage there had been that couldn’t be seen?

So being up out of the street saved my life. I heard a loud sizzling noise, when, with a loud snap, a live electric cable snapped from an overhead pole and fell into the street.. I think someone later said eighty six people were electrocuted, and among them were my con friends.

There was nothing anyone could do and at least they died quickly. The raging fires that ate a quarter of the city afterwards probably roasted survivors that had been trapped in the rubble of their homes. A Hell of a way to go, and I mean that literally.

I drifted around for a while, afterwards, when I could get out of the city. By the time I got back to Kansas(no Oz jokes please) I’d lost fifteen pounds, due to dehydration mostly. Finding safe water in a city that’s just been trashed is not easy, and it was a couple of days before I could hoof it out to a place where the roads were good enough that commandeered busses could begin ferrying passengers further away from the devastation.

All I had were the clothes I stood up in, and by the time I made the door to my apartment I was smelling rather ripe. But that stink had a use. Nobody would want to get close to me until I cleaned up. And I wanted privacy, because I needed to make plans.

For, to tell the truth, I didn’t have just clothes. I had six lottery tickets as well, and with the anonymity allowed to me by Kansas law, I didn’t have to tell anyone else that I had the winning ticket. I’ll never know who in the group it would have ended up with, but it was one of the Fast Pik tickets, not my own with it’s selected choices.

Nor would I have to tell the families of my fellow travelers. The tickets hadn’t been signed yet, after all. But for a while I dreamed I was a pilot, with enemies that had heat-seaking missiles, radar, and who knows what, to try and track me.

I quit my job, moved, and built a house. I have security in my old age, and plenty of room on the rare occasions I have guests. I have regular in-home health when I need it, and a maid service that spruces the place up once a week.

But I wonder, if I could have a do-over, would I have chosen differently? Would I have shared the money with the families of my group? It’s not like it was a requirement!



SPOILER:
Baker
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  #17  
Old 05-14-2012, 02:23 PM
puddleglum puddleglum is offline
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When does the poll start?
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Old 05-14-2012, 04:16 PM
Baker Baker is offline
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This evening after the contest entries are closed. I think it's in the OP.
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  #19  
Old 05-14-2012, 07:37 PM
maggenpye maggenpye is offline
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Subscribing.

Wow, there's some fine talent in here.
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  #20  
Old 05-14-2012, 10:07 PM
Baker Baker is offline
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I'll check back a little later to see if the poll is up yet.
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  #21  
Old 05-14-2012, 11:22 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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There - the poll is established and the voting may begin. My apologies for the lateness of the poll - I just got back from a fantastic closing night performance of 'Les Contes d'Hoffmann' at the Canadian Opera Company.

I'd also like to encourage readers and authors to comment on any or all of the stories. Please, try not to mention the authors' names until the poll is closed. Authors - I'll leave it up to you to whether or not to mention your own name while the poll is still open.

I'd also like to congratulate the group of writers once again - what an interesting diversity! I'm always amazed to see how the writers take the compulsory material in very different directions. And once again, I'm quite impressed at how well the authors have written within time constraints that don't allow much time for editing.

Now, I get to read more deeply, and savour everyone's work.
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  #22  
Old 05-15-2012, 11:06 AM
Baker Baker is offline
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It says to vote for your favorites. Is that one, three, five? I know three I'd like to check off.
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  #23  
Old 05-15-2012, 11:09 AM
DMark DMark is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baker View Post
It says to vote for your favorites. Is that one, three, five? I know three I'd like to check off.
You could vote for all of them if you so wished.

I generally vote for every one that I really like, which can sometimes be almost half of them if not more.
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  #24  
Old 05-15-2012, 11:12 AM
Baker Baker is offline
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I'd like to say that "The End" put some tears in my eyes. That was a sweet story, but so sad.

I envy those two guys, they know how "Mad Men" turns out! And to have found someone you could grow old with.
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  #25  
Old 05-15-2012, 12:33 PM
Barkis is Willin' Barkis is Willin' is offline
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Wow, some people got through all these stories pretty quickly. I've only read the first five. Some great stuff in here so far. I'll comment on each one later.
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  #26  
Old 05-15-2012, 05:21 PM
Baker Baker is offline
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Le Ministre, please ignore the PM I just sent. The one selection I though wasn't showing does show now. Sorry about that.
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  #27  
Old 05-16-2012, 07:37 AM
Woeg Woeg is offline
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Wow - some really great entries here...my own feels rather pedestrian comparatively. :P Of the lot, two struck me as particularly tight stories: With All the Lights On and The End. I know that I struggled with the 2000 word limit, and felt my story was just getting started when I reached it and had to tie things up. I've also noticed that a number of these stories feel brief, abbreviated, which I feel is likely because of this as well. How odd that 2000 words seems so few to tell a story in!

With All the Lights On runs a bit over the limit, but it doesn't feel like there is anything that can be shortened. It is a really good, really sad story of dreams destroying reality and likewise being destroyed by reality.

The End is just sweet, sad, and touching...and I think my favorite of the lot.
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  #28  
Old 05-16-2012, 10:49 AM
xenophon41 xenophon41 is offline
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These contests seem to get better and better. Of the stories that really clicked with me, here's my arbitrary impressions, in reverse alphabetical order by story title.


With All The Lights On (Post #10)
Likes: The author took the idea of perspective as the theme and gave us a story about the shifting of an important personal paradigm. I appreciated the verisimilitude achieved in detailing the narrator's alienation and self loathing, and the disintegration of her marriage due to her growing apathy. The description is both painful and numbing, but the author's use of language is inventive and crisp, full of sensual imagery and evocative allusion which pulled me into the story and made me feel the main character's turmoil. You can't write a story like this and not care deeply about people, I think.
Comments: I wish the final release of self blame and re-embrace of life / intended rapprochement with David had been portrayed as a bit more progressive over a period of time, to show a more natural course of Epiphany -> Internal Processing -> Behavior & Attitude Change.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 40


The Wages of Sin (Post #7)
Likes: The story is well structured and the pacing is well done. The author dealt with the description and effect of the painting quite cleverly, and I liked this way of using the photograph in the challenge.
Comments: This isn't, actually, the first guy-gets-trapped-in-a-painting story I've run into, but it's a good tight take on the idea. I wish there had been a bit more "value added" in the last scene -not to explicate the painting or the old lady's possession of it, but to deepen the mystery a bit. As it was, because of her muted reaction, it seemed a sort of pro forma ending to me.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 35


Tough Love (Post #5)
Likes: The author chose wisely I think to concentrate more on the family drama than on the use of magic, which I think is used well in this story as a device to set up the conflict rather than as a central aspect. So the fantastical element seems to provide a solid background to the narrator's ethical struggle as a parent and officer of the [magical] court, rather than to get in the way of the telling. Good use of the arbitrary words, and I thought this story was written quite professionally. It felt like it could be a chapter within a larger story (where the ethics of magic could be explored a bit more deeply).
Comments: I wanted the choice of the planarally challenged dwelling by Felicia to be a bit more meaningful to the character or the story. (By the way, did the author have actress Felicia Day in mind when naming the daughter?)
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 38


Three Drops (Post #11)
Likes: In this one, the magic is both central to the story & characters and the source of conflict between Ceridwen and Taliesin. Although preexisting knowledge of the characters isn't necessary to enjoy this story, I had never read the Tale of Taliesin, so I researched a synopsis - I like stories which prompt me to other, older works. I liked the playful use of the tilted houses photo.
Comments: Some of the actions and dialogue are a bit confusing, but I can't tell if this is deliberate on the author's part.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 39


The Sliding Floor (Post #9)
Likes: Nice urgency to the story that pulled me into the immediate dillema of the rescue and set me up nicely for the reveal of the narrator's true purpose in watching the house. Yet another interesting take on the contest image.
Comments: Why did the firemen open the suitcase?
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 39


A Prince of Parys (Post #4)
Likes: Always glad to revisit Zelazny's Amber universe. I thought the tone and the intra family intrigue stayed true to the source material, and made me want to read the books again.
Comments: This story would be good as an intro to a novella or as a teaser for same, but isn't actually very compelling as a stand alone story.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 35


Last Night (Post #15)
Likes: Nice payoff here. [Clarke reference]Overhead, without any fuss, the stars kept twinkling just as they had been.[/Clarke]
Comments: Points off for mispelling "Nietzsche" just a bit too egregiously.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 35


The End (Post #12)
Likes:I'm a sucker for well delivered maudlin 'enduring love' stories. This one is well delivered and quite maudlin, so it pulled me in and choked me up.
Comments: If the author knows how Mad Men ends, there's a certain ethical obligation to the rest of us that hasn't yet been fulfilled... Ahem.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 38


City of the Living (Post #13)
Likes: I enjoyed the process of writing this one a lot, starting with considering the photo, and the ways one might accidentally or purposefully achieve the perspective chosen by the photographer. It led me to think about laying down on the sidewalk as a pov and what kind of person or situation would lead to that action, which set me up with the homeless man who became my unreliable narrator.
Comments: This is a story I might go back to as a reclamation project. It could use a better paint job, perhaps an expansion and a new roof.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: z
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  #29  
Old 05-16-2012, 03:13 PM
puddleglum puddleglum is offline
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The Infinite Theater I found this overwritten the change came too fast, and the epiphany is not profound enough to justify the story.
A prince of Parys This was very well written, but I got lost quick and never really found my way back in. I felt like I was overhearing the last half of a conversation and never understood it.
Tough Love Well written, the magic stuff was incorporated very naturally and the plot was done well. I never felt the characters were actually related though, there was nothing emotionally going on between them.
Collisions This seemed to take forever to get started. Once it did it got really good though. Really liked the short scene at the diner.
Wages of sin I really liked the bit at the end with the old woman. However, it felt rushed and I never felt anything about the burglar.
Old businessI found this confusing. There was alot going on with the old lover, the rascist army guy, the beautiful genius inventor, the missile. I am still not sure what happened to incapacitate the sub or exactly what the setting was.
The Sliding Floor Well written, but the part about him knowing there were only seconds to get the woman out and then he spends several minutes in the house, really bumped me. How many gas explosions has the protagonist been in that he knows exactly how much time he has at every stage? I like the ending but felt the papers idea should have been introduced earlier.
With All The Lights OnGreat story, really well done. The character was very real and very relatable. Covered alot of time quickly but never felt rushed. I thought the ending would have been much more powerful written sardonically instead of hopefully. Definetly the best story.
Three DropsInteresting story, but I am not sure what is going on. This felt like a small part of something bigger not a short story.
The End Maudlin subject matter that felt more like an obituary than a short story. The main character seems entirely non-plussed to wake up next to his boyfriend's corpse. Taking an entire bottle of pills one at a time does not seem possible.

I will comment on the rest later.

Last edited by puddleglum; 05-16-2012 at 03:15 PM..
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  #30  
Old 05-17-2012, 08:29 AM
Barkis is Willin' Barkis is Willin' is offline
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I finally got through all the stories. Here are just a few comments.

The Infinite Theater: This story kicked off what was kind of a theme for this go-round of short fiction literature. It was very descriptive, but focused on a single character, which means no character interaction or dialogue to speak of. The prose was very nice, it was well-written. Maybe a bit slow for me.

The Glitch: I liked this story quite a bit. It was a neat concept. There was great dialogue. I especially liked that the release of a new chicken sandwich at BK would be the identifier of the end of the simulation. Pretty clever stuff.

A Prince of Parys: Awesome character names. I don't know if they are original or not, but they are sure more interesting than the John Smiths of the literature world. The writer used nice prose and was able to do a pretty good job of building suspense. However, I expected more payoff at the ened.

Tough Love: This was a nice, easy read. There was some nice dialogue between characters. Good use of magic. I think someone else said it well, the magic was a very minor plot device so it didn't distract from the main point of the story. Very well done.

Collisions: Great story. A well-written, easy read that gives a reader a nice warm feeling. Everything comes together very well by the end of the story so there are no loose ends.

The Wages of Sin: Very cool idea. This story seemed quite short, which is perfectly fine, by the way. It wrapped up nicely. It did focus pretty much on one guy. It was somewhat unclear if we are supposed to think the old lady has trapped more than one person in that painting. She seemed to know what had happened. It would have been cooler if our burglar was just one of many in a crowd in the painting or something.

Old Business: This was a quick read, maybe a bit confusing with people's relationships to each other. But I like that there were at least multiple characters interacting that really drove the story.

The Sliding Floor: I liked this one a lot. It was mostly a descriptive narrative, but it was far from boring. The writer did a great job building some suspense and mystery throughout the story. The final payoff was not what I was expecting, exactly, but it worked great.

With All the Lights On: This is a very well-written story by what I would assume is someone with a bit of experience writing fiction. I could see this story being published somewhere. It's hot and steamy in parts, but keeps it very real. I felt like it could easily be someone's real life narrative. All that said, the pace was a bit slow and the introspective reflections don't really hold my attention as well as other things.

Three Drops: More interesting character names! And some great interaction between them, too. Nice use of dialogue, althought I felt like some characters were speaking in a very old-fashioned way. I had a bit of a hard time following the story, not quite sure what was going on all the time.

The End: Similar to "With All the Lights On," this one was very descriptive, featured very nice prose, but lacked dialogue. It certainly aims to strike an emotional chord and it does a pretty good job of it. It's well-written, I could also see this one published.

City of the Living: Very well-written, clever story. Cool idea. There was dialogue and interaction and a decent pace to this story that managed to keep my attention. I actually kind of liked some of the unusual sentence structures like "...I reckoned I'd choices three..."

Party at Billy's My own story, I can comment on it later.

Last Night: This one pretty much amounts to a very well-written character study to me. The examination of Elliot is very thoughtful and features nice styling, but I don't know if the pace works for me, personally. But again, nice prose and nice structure.

The Luck of the Draw: I liked this one a lot. It was a lot of fun to read with quite a bit going, what with the Big One and then the kind of nanchalance the character manages to pull off while being slightly (maybe very) selfish. Great story telling.

That's about it. There were quite a few slow paced character study type stories going on here. I think almost everybody set their story in San Francisco, which is obviously because of the picture, and despite that there were still a wide variety of interesting uses of the picture in the story. As usual, great job by all the writers and thanks again Le Ministre de l'au-delà for putting it together.
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  #31  
Old 05-17-2012, 11:51 AM
puddleglum puddleglum is offline
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City of the Living I had to read this twice before I understood what was going on. It was very well done as far as character but nothing really happened. Could have used more plot.
Party at Billy's Lots of interesting stuff but it never really explained anything that happened or if it happened at all.
Last Night Really well done, the character was done in a real way and the crisis was introduced in a very realistic way. The ambiguousness of whether the protagonist was correct or crazy or both gave the story dramatic tension. I did not understand why he stayed in the house, when he would have been more comfortable elsewhere.
The Luck of the Draw This felt cold and distant to me. There is no sense of the emotion, the fear, the sorrow, the guilt. This felt like the outline of a story and not the story itself.
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Old 05-17-2012, 03:00 PM
Woeg Woeg is offline
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Ok, now that I have put out a few work fires, I can give more detailed thoughts on each story. I will check each for length, use of the words anonymity, drift, and radar, incorporation of the theme picture, and then my overall impression.

The Infinite Theater
Length: 1,511 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: Integral to the story
Opinion: I like the concept here, of a person gaining introspective from the zen of staring into an "infinite theater", but I think that story suffers a bit by being heavy in prose and light in action. There is some great, if sometimes overwhelming description here, but by the time we get to the "meat" of the tale, where the character begins his introspection, the descriptiveness is dropped, the journey hand-waved, and it feels as if we are shorted because of it. So much time is spent describing what leads up to the theater that not having an equally rich description of what happens within robs the story, and the prior descriptiveness, of its power. This was no doubt an artifact of the length limitation - I'd be curious as to what paradoxes the author would have lead us down if this were a lengthier piece.

The Glitch
Length: 1,805 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: Integral to the story
Opinion: I like the idea of the narrator as a "glitch" in the program. I like how the whole setup is for something as mundane as a Burger King Chicken Sandwich. I like the acknowledgement that such an artificial reality would lead to the downfall of civilization. The story feels a bit stunted, however, and just kind of ends. There is no character growth that doesn't come from exposition - you don't know that the glitch ever believes or disbelieves. It just kind of ends. Otherwise, fun story!

A Prince of Parys
Length: 1,894 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: A background element within the story
Opinion: This was my entry, and I admit, I'm not super thrilled with it. I was struggling with where to go with the picture, wanting to do something sci-fi/fantasy like with the story, and so I decided to turn it into a writing experience, attempting to imitate the style and intonation of Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, but set in a "side" universe therein. I've always been intrigued by Zelazny's mastery of dialogue and intrigue, and was trying to capture that here. Unfortunately, I really feel that the length limit killed me - I wasn't able to weave the Machiavellian machinations tightly enough while still establishing character and plot. As xenophon41 observed, my objective reading of it makes it feel more like an introduction than a story - I should have focused a bit more on getting somewhere with it. I still think I could weave a pretty fun tale with it, but I don't quite have the chops to do it in so few words. And like puddleglum's observation, I think the story is hurt by using an existing universe that the reader may not be familiar with and doing so with no exposition, so it feels like "half a conversation." Barkis is Willin', the name Corwin is from the original series, the rest are names I chose. Sorry there wasn't more payoff in the end - I found myself hitting 1,800 words and panicked about getting *somewhere* with the story! LOL!

Tough Love
Length: 1,846 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: A background element within the story
Opinion: So very Dresden-esque - I take this was intentional? This could have come right out of the Dresden universe, and the use of language reads very much like something Butcher would write. As a huge fan of said 'verse, I very much enjoyed this piece. Like others have observed, however, I think the characters would have benefited from a bit more emotional development - the dad should have perhaps had more anguish over catching his daughter trying to escape the justice he was bound to enforce. Still, loved it!

Collisions
Length: 1,149 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: The result of an action withing the story
Opinion: On my second rereading of the piece, I wish I had voted for this one. It's an amazingly concise piece of fiction, telling a neat little story in very few words, a skill I obviously have yet to master. The repeated allusions to metaphorical objects in space (the girl with white/blonde hair as a comet, drifting through the cold) helped tie it all together nicely, and I appreciate the idea that seemingly random events can have wonderful consequences, and that pain can also lead to healing. Only one thing, one tiny thing, struck me as off - who would drink a milkshake during a cold snap, when they are already unprepared for the chill? Other than that, very impressive!

The Wages of Sin
Length: 1,046 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: Integral to the story
Opinion: This reads like an episode of the Twilight Zone, or Night Gallery, or something else Serling-esque - as a fan of such shows, I definitely appreciated the nod towards that style of fiction. I did feel this story was a little too short, however; it felt almost more like an episode synopsis than a short story. I would have loved to have had more tension built in, as the burgler perhaps felt irresistably drawn to the painting, and maybe some sort of nod that the old woman was also a practicioner of some dark magic...maybe have the burgler run across a strange set of books that seemed unlikely for the old woman to have. Just something to set up the existence of the painting and its power, and the lady's calmness regarding it.

Old Business
Length: 1,997 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: Incidental background element of the story
Opinion: I had a really hard time following this. The dialogue was very stilted and leapt about without much indication of who was speaking, the action within it seemed disjointed and confusing, and I just couldn't get in to it. I like the idea of a spy/agent/military themed story, but it just didn't connect with me.

The Sliding Floor
Length: 1,868 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: Integral to the story
Opinion: Another fun story - I love a good heist tale, and the idea of a would be thief risking life and limb to save the lady he was going to rob and than losing his target because of it is a fun one, even if it makes for a strange moral - Screw the old lady, next time, look for the loot! It took my second read through to realize that the old double spaced papers that surrounded the suitcase were the lost manuscripts - on my first read, I was wondering how he could have a memory of something he hand never seen, but a more careful reading revealed what I had missed. I do think it could have done with a better understanding of the narrator's motives - why was he willing to save her before going after his treasure? He didn't seem terribly concerned with her once they got to the room with the manuscript, even threatening to leave her if she didn't give him the location of the suitcase. Just a bit more insight into the mindset of the would-be thief would have been great.

With All The Lights On
Length: 2,292 words
Use of words: All three used within the story
Use of image: Sort of - the idea of angles and perspective, definitely, the actual image, no (unless I missed it)
Opinion: Ok, so this one broke the rules a bit. Too long, no clear use of the image within the story, and yet...I think it's my favorite of the bunch. There is such a sense of reality to this piece, of honest, true emotion, of heavy regret and a broken heart. Strangely, though I pity the narrator, I don't care for her - probably because I have known too many who have wasted their lives languishing over what they never had rather than enjoying what they do have - and yet by the end of the story I feel such empathy for her. It is easy to imagine losing oneself in the fantasy of another, of being so desperately deep in unrequited love that the rejection of it casts a pallor over one's whole life. This may sound crazy, but in a way, the character her reminds me very much of my ex-wife, who in the end said she never loved me, and whom I long suspected had only married me because I was the only one who asked. That this story could elicit sympathy from me while at the same time reminding me of a very hurtful relationship is a definite achievement. Bravo.

That's all for now - I'll finish up the rest tomorrow!
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  #33  
Old 05-18-2012, 10:43 AM
Barkis is Willin' Barkis is Willin' is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Woeg View Post
Barkis is Willin', the name Corwin is from the original series, the rest are names I chose. Sorry there wasn't more payoff in the end - I found myself hitting 1,800 words and panicked about getting *somewhere* with the story! LOL!
Yes, I know the feeling. My own story was starting to get rather lengthy, so I tried to wrap it up faster than I would have if I had another thousand words or so. And even when I finished the first draft I was about 50 words over, so it needed a little editing. Don't get me wrong, 2000 words is a perfect limit. I don't know how I'd read all those other stories if they were much longer.
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  #34  
Old 05-18-2012, 11:36 AM
xenophon41 xenophon41 is offline
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Earlier, I gave random impressions of the stories that most "clicked" with me, but I don't want to imply that the others didn't work for me on other levels. So here's my comments on the rest of the entries. No offense to anyone is intended; I'm truly proud to be among this group of writers and have enjoyed reading all of these stories.

The Infinite Theater (Post #2)
Likes: The titular concept is a neat variation on infinite recursion, and the house of the photo seems like a good venue for such a project.
Comments: I never got a feel for the background of the character's angst and didn't have any sense that the theater experience had helped him complete a path toward enlightenment or that he'd even been on such a path. The insights described in the story might have needed some more development of their significance. I think the author intended to render the zap! of an epiphany but it felt more like the whoa of Bill & Ted's Pop Physics Experience.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 32


The glitch (Post #3)
Likes: The banal use of the technological advances in processing power and virtual world building is pretty funny, and probably the realest seeming aspect of the story.
Comments: From a personal perspective, I find these 'universe is just a computer simulation' stories interesting mostly insofar as they show the high opinion programmers have of themselves, but they can be pretty fun. On a technical level, I found the exposition a little abrupt and contrived. Maybe it's the dropped punctuation and lack of contractions in most of the dialogue.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 30


Collisions (Post #6)
Likes: The setup -the trip to Sunrise Acres without adequate clothing, the photo excursion to the monument, the cold and numbness and inattention leading to the collision- was all extremely believable and well rendered. I liked the consistent use of the metaphor, and the fact that the real lasting consequences to the narrator are due to the [gravitational] attraction of another sympathetic character into whose orbit the narrator has been jolted from the high energy 'collision' of the title.
Comments: This is pretty much a "meet cute" story isn't it? The grandkids'll like it.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 38


Old business (Post #8)
Likes: The situation and characters are imaginative.
Comments: I tried my best to follow just the basic storyline, but the presentation is too disjointed for me. There's a lot going on and the storytelling doesn't give the reader a lot of help in figuring it out.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 26


Party at Billy's (Post #14)
Likes: It's an intriguing puzzle for the young applicant and I looked forward to the solving of it.
Comments: I never got the connection between any of the celebrities and Pres. Taft, other than that they all were alive during the 20's. I'd have liked some commentary from the guests, or some other discovery by the sleuth which developed this connection further.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 37


The Luck of the Draw (Post #16)
Likes: I thought the pacing and construction of the story were good, and the convention experience was believable.
Comments: Even though I knew the tone was intended to be more wistful than anguished, this story seemed like it should have been more emotionally involving, but it felt to me like a dry recitation of an old story. I wondered if that's what the author was going for, since the narrator is an octagenarian or better by the time of the telling.
Arbitrary Rating on a xenophon scale of 0 - 41: 37

Last edited by xenophon41; 05-18-2012 at 11:39 AM.. Reason: spelling
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  #35  
Old 05-20-2012, 06:29 PM
Savannah Savannah is offline
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Some reactions as I read--

The Infinite Theatre
Took the picture in a straightforward (heh) way and incorporated it into the story. Lovely paragraphs about San Francisco--made me long to visit the city again. I like the idea of working with the actual picture, and imagining what the building holds. The story wasn't at all what I was expecting.

The Glitch
Another writer who recognised San Fransisco immediately.
"No more mistakes like the Edsel or New Coke..." made me laugh.
Great ending!

A Prince of Parys
No fair! No resolution. I did like this, the sci-fi/fantasy theme.

Tough Love
I really liked this one. I liked the combination of magic and reality, and I liked the dynamic of the father-daughter encounter. Daddy's little girl isn't perfect. I liked the ending, as well. Yep, I enjoyed this story. I thought the writer did a great job of a beginning, middle, and an end, a climax, a resolution, and yet still left part of the story untold.

Collisions
Back to reality, and the magic of ordinary lives and coincidence. This one had a twist for me--I wasn't expecting the way it wrapped up. It felt a bit short; I could have done with a bit more detail at the end about the woman who would be so important. A nice tale!

The Wages of Sin
Interesting! Nice lead up, and I wasn't expecting the twist at all. A few typos near the end, but they didn't mar my enjoyment of the story. No wonder little security was needed. I felt this was tight and well-plotted, the author craftily leading us along. Very interesting usage of the prompt imagery, as well.

Old Business
I had a bit of an issue with the punctuation, as it sometimes made it unclear what was narrative and what was dialogue. But it was a fast-paced story, with a bit of danger, romance, humour, and tech all mixed in. It kept my attention. With a bit of editing for punctuation, this would be even better. I suspect that the writer's first language isn't English, if so, kudos all the more for writing a good story.

The Sliding Floor
Well done. Despite the chaotic setting, I could follow along, and the tension carried me through to the ending. Great twist, too.

With All the Lights On
Yeah, the narrator in this one was pretty grim. I wanted to slap her. Story was confusing, and too full of its own enjoyment of language. Needs a good editing. And word-trimming.

Three Drops
A little trouble with the punctuation; full stops in the middle of a sentence with dialogue. This chopped up the story in my head as I read it. I liked the usage of fantasy and reality mixed in together. I thought it was quite imaginative.

The End
This one really got to me. I thought it was very well written, and while I suspected what would happen as I read, it just felt natural. It was nicely paced, it seemed to be just the perfect length. The writing style is very good--no obvious errors that took me out of the story, and the feeling of something done by someone deft and talented.
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  #36  
Old 05-20-2012, 07:15 PM
Savannah Savannah is offline
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City of the Living
I liked this one. I really liked the point of view it's written from, and the narrator. I thought it was really well done. Now when I see someone with a shopping cart, dirty clothes, and a distant look in their eye, I will think of this story, and wonder who pities who.

Party at Billy's
Not at all what I was expecting from the title! What an interesting idea. Dang, why can't I come with cool ideas like this?

Last Night
I liked this one, even if at first read I didn't know what made the house shift. Nicely told slide into obsession and despair at the end.

The Luck of the Draw
As someone who enjoys a thick book, an adult beverage and time with a little dog, this certainly appealed to me from the start. Really well written, and satisfied me as a reader. I liked the elements of luck and chance, and the narrator's admittance of what she'd done as well as the doubts about it, and the justification.
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  #37  
Old 05-20-2012, 11:09 PM
Spoons Spoons is offline
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My votes are in. I wish I had the time to participate, but after reading these, I know I would have been up against some tough competition. Excellent work, all!
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  #38  
Old 05-20-2012, 11:28 PM
maggenpye maggenpye is offline
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I voted ages ago. The hamsters ate my comments and I haven't had the time to go through the stories again.

From memory, The End was my favourite (it seems a winner for others, too). You made me cry, you bastard.

Close second, City of the Living. Loved the narrator seeing these 'superior beings' and being wholly unimpressed.

Both of these were excellent examples of 'showing, not telling'. Their narratives were clear and right on point without having to spell out the action. It's something I tried to do in mine and fell short.

Other votes: Party at Billy's. A couple of plot holes but too much fun to miss my vote. The money seems excessive for the 30's and how did Billy place the ad? He didn't seem to notice anything off about that experience.

Collisions
. Sweet little story. Loved the twist ending, seemed to commpletely invert expectations.

And the others. There were no bad stories in here. I just voted for those that either hit me very strongly on the first read, or stayed with me so I looked forward to reading them again.

This thread reads like any anthology I've picked up over the years. My favourites are only preference, not judgement.

And xenophon41, a very belated thanks for your insight and score. I'm honoured. I'll be re-writing this one and will take everyone's comments on board, but I'm glad there's someone else who enjoys looking up the references.
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  #39  
Old 05-21-2012, 08:32 AM
Barkis is Willin' Barkis is Willin' is offline
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This poll closes in roughly 38 hours and so far only it has only gathered 11 voters. I've appreciated the commentary so far and would love to hear from the authors and innocent bystanders who haven't weighed in yet.
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  #40  
Old 05-21-2012, 08:56 AM
xenophon41 xenophon41 is offline
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^^What Barkis is Willin' said.^^

I look forward to the analyses and interactions with the other writers, and it would be wonderful to have some criticism from non-entrants as well. If you haven't participated in a group like this, you may not know how valuable your insights are! Particularly the comments which point out techniques or voices or aspects of style that didn't work for you.

Thanks to everyone who's participated, and thanks in advance to those who will.
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  #41  
Old 05-21-2012, 10:45 AM
DMark DMark is offline
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I am usually pretty good at getting my comments posted about the other stories, but I am running woefully behind this time. My only excuse is that it has been a rough two weeks at work - 11 hour days - and today I am the only one in the office (with a boss who pops in regularly to see how things are going).

Part of the reason it is taking so long is there are so many good stories and I don't want to short-change anyone with feedback. I know I always look forward to hearing what others have to say, so I feel it is only fair to take the time to reciprocate in kind.

I have a start on the comments and, with any luck, should have some posted later this afternoon.

Last edited by DMark; 05-21-2012 at 10:46 AM.. Reason: Stupid typo...
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  #42  
Old 05-21-2012, 11:07 AM
Woeg Woeg is offline
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I still have to finish up my commentary, but had a huge stack of work plopped on my desk Friday, and had no time over the weekend to visit them. I will try to do so today or tomorrow!
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  #43  
Old 05-21-2012, 11:32 AM
chrisk chrisk is offline
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Okay, my vote is in. Thanks to Le Min for organizing this once again!

Some very rough thoughts on the other stories:

The Infinite Theater - the concept of the paradox movie was interesting, but otherwise this didn't really get a big reaction out of me.

The Glitch - very fun, and a little spooky. I love the characterization of the programmer.

A Prince of Parys - interesting, but I feel like I'm missing something because I've never really read Amber.

Collisions - another really good one, I loved the subverted expectations in terms of the 'meet cute.'

The Wages of Sin - interesting, and I liked the ending, but actually felt it was too short, that I'd have liked a bit more development.

Old Business - This didn't quite come together for me.

The Sliding Floor - very exciting, but I wasn't quite clear on the details of the ending -
SPOILER:
why somebody else opened the suitcase, and where the misapprehension was - did the old lady value those newspapers for some reason unknown to us? Did she have the papers elsewhere in her home, but the MC grabbed the wrong suitcase?
The sense of tragedy came through nicely at least.

With all the lights on - not an immediate wow, but I liked it. I was wondering about the twist before it showed up, but it was handled nicely.

Three drops - I didn't understand enough of this.

The end - very bittersweet, I wasn't wild about the ending, but I understood how that
choice made sense for the protagonist.

City of the Living - compelling stuff. I'm not sure if this is what the author meant, but I had a sense that the narrator was struggling with what most people would call a mental illness - and yet, it was easy to identify with his perspective. THAT'S not easy to pull off at all.

Party at Billy's - fun story, but I did wish that Marlon had gotten a little something to make up for the pay that Billy hadn't been able to provide.

Last Night - this had an interesting concept, but I felt that the buildup and the ending were weak.
SPOILER:
Since at the end the MC was wrong, and regretted the choices he made based on assuming that the world was ending, I need to understand exactly what he found in his research that led him down that path. As the story stand, he just looks foolish. And I found it hard to follow just what was happening at the end.


The Luck of the Draw - a great character piece. The one thing I'd suggest to improve is putting a name on the disaster,
SPOILER:
because from the description, I thought it was a 'mother' Earthquake, but it could have been some massive terrorist attack I suppose.
The moral dilemma and the protagonist's choice was fairly well handled I think.
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  #44  
Old 05-21-2012, 02:19 PM
jackdavinci jackdavinci is offline
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Maybe next time I'll come up with some objective rating metrics, but this time I'm just going to offer some random comments.

The Infinite Theater, post #2
Well I can't imagine a better story in this history of the universe. OK you got me, I wrote it. Strangely, I seem to end up as the first post very often in these threads, no matter when I submit my story. This time it seemed apt, as I saw a few other stories with a similar location or theme. I think my premise was pretty cool, but I did run into time and word limit restraints. I did have a more elaborate explication of the character's journey to enlightenment - the abruptness was entirely due to the limits. The limits were not responsible for the other common complaint - that this story was rather insular, with no interaction with other characters. That was intentional - it was supposed to be an exploration of a character that experiences growth purely as the result of introspection. However, the abrupt sequence where he experiences this growth might have been more interesting as he "interacts" with his own mind.

The glitch, post #3
Continuing the theme somewhat, with a bit of 13th Floor thrown in. Only ten years, even ten years of riches, is a bit bittersweet, but I like it. I'm curious what happens when the simulation runs out...

A Prince of Parys, post #4
I recognized this as an Amber fan fiction right away. I had trouble remembering the use of the picture after reading it. Interesting that we have another reality bending story. Not sure what to say about it since it seems like the first chapter of a later book in a series.

Tough Love, post #5
More reality bending narrative! Interesting premise and execution. Although Felicia is set up as the antagonist, there are some things about the Father that make me wonder.

Collisions, post #6
I liked the titular concept, which was poetic, but I'm not sure the stuff about the father integrated into the rest of the story. It seemed odd to be taking a picture for someone who was already gone. It might have worked better if the father was still alive but near death.

The Wages of Sin, post #7
Clever burglar trap!

Old business, post #8
Something wonky seemed to be happening to the quotation marks and gender pronouns and grammar, so I'm guessing it's our ESL writer. With all the action and choice of proper nouns it kind of felt like an episode of a Mesoamerican anime. I'd like to see this in graphic format, perhaps with some mecha.

The Sliding Floor, post #9
I guess this was well written, because I winced several times. I liked the first twist but didn't quite get the second one.

With All The Lights On, post #10
So very very bittersweet!

Three Drops, post #11
The set up was very interesting, but I never quite understood the premise. I guess the family are some sort of divine beings, and the son's autism has caused him to put things at an angle? It wasn't clear how the brother had caused his autism or why he needed to die.

The End, post #12
Another bittersweet tale.I found it amusing because I sometimes think about sticking around as a ghost after I die to see how my favorite comic book or TV series turn out.

City of the Living, post #13
Another radar story! This was a fantastic story. I love the way it played with the way the world looks from a different point of view. I wasn't quite sure whether to take it literally or metaphorically, but it worked either way - perhaps that was intentional. I'd love to read more from this world. Perhaps a few shopping cart detective stories.

Party at Billy's, post #14
Definitely an intriguing mystery, but either a better an explanation or a denouement would have helped the ending.

Last Night, post #15
Because this was a story, the last thing I expected to happen was what would actually happen if this wasn't a story. Nice use of a non twist as twist!

The Luck of the Draw, post #16
I liked the set up and characters. Given the date, I was expecting some kind of mass prank, not a mass disaster. The resolution seemed to be a little dark compared to the tone at the beginning, and the quandary about the tickets seemed a little beside the point.

I especially liked mine, The Glitch, Tough Love, Three Drops, The End, City of the Living. City of the Living was my favorite, and I'd like to see it expanded.

Good work everyone! See you next time.
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  #45  
Old 05-22-2012, 11:02 AM
DMark DMark is offline
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Short Story Evaluation Rubric
25 pts Intro – was it a dynamic intro that grabbed attention and made you want to read more?
25 pts Body – did the story move along, coherently, and keep interest?
25 pts Conclusion – did the story have an ending that felt complete and fit with story?
25 pts Overall – personal opinion and like/dislike of style, subject, feel.
Total: 100 pts

Disclaimer: Please take my suggestions for changes with a grain of salt – a huge grain of salt. I am basically just thinking aloud how I would have written it, just to show you how someone else would have changed/ruined your story.

Title: The Infinite Theater
25 pts Intro – Nice job! A clear statement and a hint of what is to come. Got my attention.
20 pts Body – nice, deep, philosophical tale with some great insight. You might have added some more examples of the paradox to show how his life is both insignificant, yet also wildly significant, in the grand scheme of things.
23 pts Conclusion – a bit rushed, but you did indeed wrap it up nicely.
20 pts Overall – this was a cool story and concept – some good food for thought, but I think there could have been just a tad more food for the thought.
Total: 88 pts

Title: The Glitch
23 pts Intro – Nice job, but would have piqued my interest more if you had said something more mysterious - along the lines of “At 1:05 the picture of the house was tilted, but the picture of the same house at 1:35 wasn’t. Houses don’t normally right themselves, do they?”
22 pts Body – I would have preferred to meet the time traveler sooner than later, and let him have some more fun making off-the-wall comments about the future; “When Burger King starts to market Ostrich burgers…” and let him make some wild predictions, “Make friends with Arnold Pinkers from Butte, Montana – he is about to create the first great flying car….”
22 pts Conclusion – the story seemed to end abruptly – and why would anyone turn down the results of the next ten Super Bowl games?!
21 pts Overall – really great idea, but missed out on some of the fun.
Total: 88 pts

Title: A Prince of Parys
25 pts Intro – Excellent opening statement! Made me want to read more!
20 pts Body – I got a little lost – was there a coup or not a coup? Is the king dead or not dead? What is amber and should I be on alert?
20 pts Conclusion – The story did end, but it sort of escaped me exactly what happened. Perhaps a final phrase, “The King took his son to the land of the….” with a bit more explanation for people like me who got a tad lost.
20 pts Overall – I liked the style and majesty of the story, but felt like I was missing Book 1 and 2 and was coming in at the wrong time and not knowing who was who or what was what.
Total: 85 pts

Title: Tough Love
21 pts Intro – OK, but it would have been more interesting to punch right in there with “Good news, I found a parking spot – bad news, I was about to arrest my daughter.” or something equally shocking – especially since this wasn’t a big “reveal” later in the story.
20 pts Body – to be honest, not a lot happened. It was a pleasant enough diversion and a nice read, but more along the lines of 5 minutes in a magical Law & Order episode. Nothing wrong with that, but could have used a kick of some kind – perhaps a more magical slight of hand.
24 pts Conclusion – the ending was good – nice to see dad be supportive and certainly brought home the “tough love” aspect, so you wrapped it up nicely.
20 pts Overall – could have used more of the magic, or description of the magic, to make this story more magical.
Total: 85 pts

Title: Collisions
24 pts Intro – Very nice opening – almost poetic.
22 pts Body – I liked the simplicity of the story, but was hoping for more of a payoff/twist somewhere along the line. Maybe the woman in the diner was the blonde thief but now with black hair? Maybe instead of stealing the wallet, she put a different wallet into his pocket? Not sure what other twists could have come, but I kept expecting one to show up.
22 pts Conclusion – wrapped up story quickly, and would have been fun to have that extra kick or twist as mentioned – but you let us know what happened and left no loose ends.
20 pts Overall – nice breezy style and good flow of words, but still feel there was a missed opportunity for a good “gotcha” somewhere in there.
Total: 88 pts

Title: Wages of Sin
24 pts Intro – nice start, and good intro to the career choice and set up that he would not be missed.
20 pts Body – good presentation of his tricks of the trade and his stealth and cunning. The evil variation of a Dorian Gray painting was interesting, but it was a bit unclear what happened to him. He was uneasy and then…disappeared? Passed out? Eaten by wolves? Body gone or not gone?
20 pts Conclusion – liked very much that the poor old woman was hardly a poor old woman, but am still a bit foggy on what exactly happened.
20 pts Overall – I like crime and mystery stories, but felt ripped off by this burglar and his tale.
Total: 84 pts

Title: Old Business
24 pts Intro – Nice. You did get our attention right off the bat.
20 pts Body – I was getting lost quickly – and I am still not 100% sure I understood everything. I think it needed to be clarified a bit more, as I see elements of a good story in there, but it did seem to be a bit confusing.
20 pts Conclusion – OK, now I was really lost – did the bad guy get blown up, or did he blow up the other or was he the good guy. Needs to be a bit better explained – perhaps in a short synopsis like “….and Steve never knew that Maya’s secret contact was….and that is how she….because they…..” or something like that.
20 pts Overall – I think my GPS wasn’t working as I got really lost with this story.
Total: 84 pts

Title: The Sliding Floor
25 pts Intro – got my attention and nice use of a sinkhole to explain the house situation, and hint at what is to come!
22 pts Body – I think it would have been more interesting to hear how he came about the info of the manuscript, and what might have been written, and why it was hidden, and all the grit and gore that went into saving it and hiding it all those years. The fire and the escape could have been zipped into a short paragraph, panic ending to the tale.
22 pts Conclusion – Nice ending, wrapped it up, but then made me realize there was more to the story that I wish I had known earlier.
22 pts Overall – I liked this story but wish it had been a bit more of a “lost treasure hunt”, with clues and hints and the culmination of years of searching than a simple, frantic grab and run.
Total: 91 pts

Title: With All The Lights On
25 pts Intro – Excellent statement, nice set up, we know something is going to happen – not exactly sure what, but something is going to happen. Yes, I want to read more.
23 pts Body – we got to know Jesse well – the innocence of youth and the despair of lost opportunity and unfulfilled dreams. It is too bad one of the words required for this story was “radar” and not “gaydar” – it could have saved Jesse a world of grief. I will admit this story could have been the prequel to my own story, and perhaps because it was so obvious to me, there was little surprise when Jesse read the magazine article. But yes, I knew many a Jesse who didn’t quite put the pieces together until much, much later.
25 pts Conclusion – perfect ending, with hope for one last grasp at happiness and this time, on solid footing without feeling like you were “settling” for second best. This wrapped up the intro in a perfectly tight bow. Nicely done.
25 pts Overall – even though I could see this ending coming a mile away, it was still a very well-written, melancholy journey to get there. You could have chopped a few words off here and there with another edit, but I haven’t a clue exactly where, so I will just leave that point.
Total: 97 pts

Title: Three Drops
24 pts Intro – This story started off great. We knew immediately we were dealing with a special kind of boy.
20 pts Body – as the journey progressed, I sort of got lost along the way. Lots of traveling but unsure where and for what purpose? This would have been time for the mother to reflect aloud and maybe clarify some of the mystery of the story.
20 pts Conclusion – the story was certainly wrapped up, but I think it left more questions than answers.
20 pts Overall – great beginning, but the story sort of lost its way on the journey to the end and I felt I missed some element that would have explained a bit more about the back story and the purpose for doing what was done.
Total: 84 pts

Title: City Of The Living
24 pts Intro – You got my attention and set the scene quickly and nicely.
24 pts Body – Too often, stories about street people are just using them as a backdrop. I really liked this approach of using that person as the center of focus. You touched the right note between crazy person, but maybe not all that crazy as we might think.
22 pts Conclusion – the mission was accomplished, but I think I personally would have liked to have heard exactly what happened – in a short statement – after the messages were given and received.
21 pts Overall – I liked this approach to the story and using an oddball character as the narrator. I think the story could have been fleshed out more with a bit more info on why the money and what was about to happen after the deed was done.
Total: 91 pts

Title: Party At Billy’s
22 pts Intro – Direct and to the point and set the scene, but it might have been good to include the thoughts of mystery and foreshadowing of this odd request. Something like “Marlon was sweating and worried about ruining his suit, although he had no idea why some stranger would pay him $5000 to wear it.”
21 pts Body – I liked the idea a lot! I think there were some missed opportunities for a few snippets of wisdom, a few clever observations and maybe an offhand prediction of things to come that actually did indeed become true.
25 pts Conclusion – the story wrapped up nicely. It was all a blur, but a great memory despite being cheated out of his wage.
22 pts Overall – as mentioned, some missed opportunities to play with the characters and give some insight on history and the future. Plus, there should have been a clever way for him to take something from the party to make up for the lost fee – valuable info or a souvenir?
Total: 90 pts

Title: Last Night
22 pts Intro – descriptive and set the scene, it seemed to lack a bit of focus for what was about to happen. I think this need more of a sense of urgency and a perceived sense of impending doom.
22 pts Body – I always wondered what went on in the mind of people who bought into these doomsday theories and it was cool to see how this all evolved and then dissolved. Although tricky to do, this would have been a great chance to show the panic and urgency that comes as the time nears. After all this time, when you are counting down to the end of time, there has to be a multitude of feelings pouring out.
25 pts Conclusion – kudos for just letting it be “another day”. I probably would have screwed this ending up and tried to be clever, and this ending did not need clever.
21 pts Overall – liked this idea and concept a lot. I just think the main character would have been a bit more frantic and would like to have seen the adrenaline start to rush in and the thrill and fear and doom and exhilaration all come to a crescendo before the loud silence of nothing.
Total: 90 pts

Title: The Luck Of The Draw
23 pts Intro – Nice set up. J might have tried to be more blunt with something like “They say the chance of winning a lottery is less than being hit by lightning. Well, those are good odds compared to what I went through.”
25 pts Body – you zipped right along and kept my attention the entire way. Things were happening right and left and I had no idea where this story was going – a good thing!
23 pts Conclusion – wrapped up nicely, but not quite sure why the guilt as there was no mention of sharing the prize, was there? And she didn’t know who would have won – and after all those years, I would think she would be over it.
24 pts Overall – this story moved along quickly and kept my interest. A few quibbles about the guilt factor but it was still a fun story and a good read.
Total: 95 pts

Sorry this took so long for me to finish and post. Busy time at work and just took longer than i thought it would to finish.
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  #46  
Old 05-22-2012, 07:48 PM
chrisk chrisk is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Southern ontario
Posts: 5,905
Is it really less than 4 hours until the end of voting?
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  #47  
Old 05-22-2012, 10:45 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Seaton Village
Posts: 6,675
Yes - the poll ends at 12 minutes past midnight my time. Just around 26 minutes left...
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  #48  
Old 05-22-2012, 11:30 PM
Le Ministre de l'au-delà Le Ministre de l'au-delà is offline
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Location: Seaton Village
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And the winner is...

With the close of the poll, the SDMB Short Fiction Contest, May 2012 edition, has come to an end. First of all, a warm round of applause and my heartiest congratulations to our writers -

jackdavinci
Puddleglum
Woeg
chrisk
ArrMatey!
JoseB
GIGObuster
Le Ministre de l'au-delà
Savannah
maggenpye
DMark
xenophon41
Barkis is Willin'
Elfkin477
and
Baker. Take a well deserved bow, everyone!

And it's my special privilege to congratulate the writer of the favourite story, DMark, whose touching story The End earned the most votes. Well done! A warm round of applause, everybody!

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Mods for their ongoing support. Their help was most welcome, and I am once again grateful.

I also want to express a very special thanks to chrisk and xenophon41 for their help when the photo was temporarily unavailable due to 'exceeded bandwidth'. I really appreciate your generous assistance.

I would also like to thank all those who took the time to read, vote and comment on the stories - on behalf of all the writers, we really appreciate your respectful and thoughtful advice.

I hope to run another of the Short Fiction Contests around the end of July, 2012. In the meantime, if anyone is interested, I want to do another Poetry Sweatshop around the beginning of June, 2012.

Meanwhile, please continue to discuss the stories and comment on them - it is very helpful for all of the writers to see how people reacted to their writing.
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  #49  
Old 05-23-2012, 07:15 AM
Woeg Woeg is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2002
I am in both for the poetry and the next fiction contest!

I *will* be getting to the rest of my comments as soon as possible...just been crazy busy at work!
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  #50  
Old 05-23-2012, 08:14 AM
xenophon41 xenophon41 is offline
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Join Date: May 2000
Congrats and well done, DMark! That story has choked me up every time I've re-read it so far.

And great job with the stories and comments, everybody!
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