Weekly Challenge #798 – DISCARD

Sleepy

TOM

Magic

Over the last two years what has kept me sane, while sheathed in place and
a half dozen gigs getting canceled is: the practice. Run tricks over and
over. Refining the patter, removing steps, shifting point of view. Moving
from process, to practice, to presentation has been leaps of effort. I’ve
discovered I have a deep river of fear, that the brain is not aware of,
but the hands sure are. I can’t even duplicate the tremors in my fingers
while I seem to be totally at rest. Luckily I can fall back on the
knowledge about Dis Card though.

RICHARD

Magical

My uncle Albert is the worst magician in the world.

Let me give you an example of just how bad his tricks are: He’d shuffle some cards, hold them out and ask me to pick a card, any card.

Then he’d remove my card, put it face down on the table and discard the rest of the deck, before pointing at the remaining card with a flourish and asking, “Is that your card?”

It all ended very badly though…

Last week, he tried the classic ‘detachable thumb’ trick.

After the hospital re-attached it, he vowed never to do magic again.

LIZZIE

Warm and cozy. Discard.
Tea brewing. Discard.
Books and more books. Discard and discard.
That’s what he had said. Discard.
But she loved her warm cozy room. Books were her life. How could she discard all she cared for?
And then she would hear his voice, roaring inside her head, discard, discard, discard.
Had he discarded everything too, she asked in a barely audible voice. He turned to face her. If looks could kill…
Discard, you hear me.
And she did.
Becoming a secret agent was not for her, but they sure taught effective ways of.. getting rid of anything.

SERENDIPIDY

I’m very proud of my green credentials!

I try not to throw anything away, and do my best to restore, recycle, repurpose and reuse things that most people would treat as junk.

It makes me feel good, so much so that I’m more than happy to collect all the crap in the neighbourhood that other people discard, and recycle that too.

Especially what they abandon in the local cemetery. All of that good meat going to waste… It’s a crying shame.

Not any more though!

And my new meat pie business is doing a roaring trade too!

Totally environmentally friendly!

JARED

‘No Free Lunch Goes Unpunished’

Speeding down another side road, he checked his rear-view mirror again in a way only obsessive paranoia can provoke. He again replayed the linchpin moment his life now pivots on:

“I found a tool bag after the last time one of you guys was here. ‘S’it yours?” The office manager casually gestured to a tattered canvas tool bag sagging in the corner, my employer’s faded logo on the side.

I didn’t know who left it, but then I thought ‘Hey, free tools!’ So, I gave a nod, shook his hand, and loaded it onto my cart.

Shouldn’t have looked inside…

NORVAL JOE

Billbert was speachless at the girl’s odd response. What more could she help him with, besides showing him to his homeroom class?
He held up the paper. “All I really need is to get to my homeroom.”
She smiled again. Her teeth appeared unnaturally white. Was it because of her glowing yellow eyes? “You can get rid of the paper. I’m in all of your classes. You can follow me.”
Billbert wasn’t ready to discard his schedule just yet. She’d hardly looked at it and he wanted to insure that she was taking him to the correct rooms each time.

PLANET Z

There’s a bronze statue in the middle of the university of some wise old man standing there, one hand holding a scroll and the other arm outstretched, palm up, gesturing to something.
One Friday afternoon, the students put a six pack of beer in his palm.
A tradition was born.
Every Friday afternoon, a six pack of beer appears.
At first, some student would put it there.
Then, increasingly elaborate ceremonies.
Runners relaying the beer around campus like an Olympic flame.
The thing is, nobody has ever seen what happens to the beer.
One moment it’s there, then it’s gone.

Weekly Challenge #797 – PICK TWO Can you help me?, Enough, Market, Trial, Bundle, The noise is driving me mad!, Inventory

NOTE: I am transferring the domain to a new registrar and there may be a disruption in the website and server for a few days. Watch the Twitter and Facebook feeds for more information.

Tinny

LIZZIE

“Can you help me? The noise is driving me mad.”
“But you’re already mad, aren’t you?”
“Am I?”
“Yes, you are!”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, for sure.”
“Your hair wants cutting.”
“What? We were talking about being mad.”
“I know, and your hair makes me mad.”
“Why?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea. It just does. If you knew time as well as I do… ”
“You wouldn’t waste it.”
“Not it. Him.”
“I’m confused.”
“So am I.”
“Is this a riddle?”
“Yes. Have you guessed it yet?”
“No. What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea. And I’m still mad.”

RICHARD

Lost in the souk

They were laughing at me… The group on the corner.

Hardly surprising. This was about the fifth time I’d passed this way in the last twenty minutes. As nonchalant as I tried to appear, they knew just as well as I that I was hopelessly lost and simply wandering round in circles.

I’d been warned, of course: Don’t try exploring the market without a guide, you’ll get hopelessly lost, and probably robbed and beaten in some dark alleyway.

In desperation, I ducked into a shop and pleaded with the shopkeeper, “Can you help me?”

Slowly, sadly, he shook his head.

TOM

Limited Offer

The add read: limited Offer until supplies run out. Free to the first two
dozen participants. Sam not being one to miss out on anything smacking of
free. Headed down to the listed address. When he got there the parking lot
was empty, say for a single large truck. A guy leaned out the back and
yelled: Next. Sam stepped up and guy drop a bundle of sticks on top of
him. “What with the bundle of sticks?” he yelled back. “Technically that’s
a faggot.” said the man pointing due north. Sam trudged off in the into
the gathering mist.

SERENDIPIDY

He set a bundle of notes down, and slid them slowly across the table top.

“It’s not enough” I said. “Nowhere near enough!”

“If you want to see your daughter alive again, you need to do a lot better than that! A lot better! You have three more days.”

The man left. He’d be back in three days, and I’d take his money, but he still wouldn’t see his daughter alive again.

No amount of money would suffice for that.

She’d been dead for a week already, and when I’d finally fleeced him for all he had.

So would he.

NORVAL JOE

The following day being Monday, Billbert showed up at the Catherine L. Zane Middle School for his first day of classes in Eureka. His mother had taken an inventory of the items in his backpack, signed him into the new school, and thinking she had done enough, sent him on his way.
The bell rang and everyone hurried off in different directions except for one red headed girl in a puffy white jacket. She watched Billbert approach.
“Um. Can you help me find my homeroom class?”
She smiled with bright amber eyes. “I can do that. And so much more.”

JARED

Mysterious Noises
Dozens of embassy staffers were affected: nausea, headaches, dizziness and vertigo… Some of our allies had diplomats who were likewise incapacitated. Our intelligence officers couldn’t find anything about the expats of their allies or any of their local citizens who got sick. Our intelligence director has liaised with the top intelligence officers from the other impacted states, as well as multiple covert-ops chiefs and some off-the-books white hats. According to everything we know, no one on Earth has tech that can accomplish this without being detected. The energy signatures alone would give them away. The noise must come from somewhere…

PLANET Z

Every week, the market took inventory to see if they had enough of everything.
It also helped them to track loss due to theft or spoilage.
At first, the workers went down each aisle with a clipboard.
Then, they used tables and scanners to update a central databank.
Finally, a robot drone went around with a camera.
Sure, it was expensive, but over time it was far cheaper than the team of workers with tablets.
And it was noisy, but the manager ran it overnight and got the results first thing in the morning.
It also scared away the rats.

Weekly Challenge #796 – Letter

Tin

RICHARD

The Letter

The letter was waiting for me on the kitchen table.

I collapsed, bleary-eyed and hungover into the nearest chair, fumbling for the envelope, then hesitated.

My name, written in her precise hand, with that distinctive, thick underline, was more of a statement than a mere word. An accusation, oozing venom and anger.

The letter fell from my fingers, but it was my senses that were numb and unfeeling.

Like countless others preceding it, this letter would remain unread, and I would move on.

Time for another relationship, another failed attempt…

And, eventually, another letter left on my kitchen table. cc

LIZZIE

What’s the color of a letter? Is an A a whispered amber? Is a B a bitter lemon? He didn’t know.
But he kept writing those letters, his stories told in the tones of the chosen color.
The woman at the stand would smile benevolently and nod.
One day, “I have mail for you!” the envelope marked C! Cosmic latte, he said and they chuckled.
She already had many more letters ready and she hoped he’d skip the D, too many dark and deep colors in that one.
He never figured out it was her and she continued to smile.

TOM

Deep Mem

I do not like needles. I remember my first experience with the damage
done. It’s 1950s and the Gov has got this great idea. Round up all the kid
in a school gym. A spot, usually on the upper arm, is scraped by a lancet,
so that the outer layers of the epidermis are removed; the spot is then
rubbed with an ivory point, quill or tube, carrying the virus. A slight
and usually unimportant illness follows, and the arm is sore for a time, a
characteristic scar remaining. At the time I wonder why everyone was
crying.

Letter

Well I cleared my 2nd billion dollars today. Oh thous sweet sweet
bitcoins. Got in on the start. Road it up and down. Got nerves of steel.
So what am I going to do will out that moo-la? Thought about it for some
time and final came up with a way to guarantee my place in history. I
purchase a letter. I don’t mean a page of writing. I bought a letter. I
now am the proud own of the letter “Q”. It mine. Want to uses it? It won’t
cost much. A mere 5 cents apiece will do.

SERENDIPIDY

I’ve always wanted to send a ransom letter. Not a boring email, or anonymous typed sheet of paper, but one of those exciting ones, composed from cut-out newsprint, and a bloody thumb print for a signature.

It would accompany a small cardboard box, containing a carefully gauze wrapped severed ring finger.

I’d have it all delivered by courier direct to the chief of police; timed to land on their desk along with their morning coffee and sugar-glazed donut.

You may think that’s clichéd, and maybe it is.

But you can’t deny, it’s the proper way to do things.

DUANE

October 3rd. That is the day I die. All heart and brain function will be stopped for an hour.

I am expected to fully recover, but in case I don’t I’ve prepared.

I wrote letters to people and confessed my secrets and sins to them. All the scams, lies, and infidelities have been laid bare.

Of course, if I survive, no one is supposed to read the letters. I’ll collect them and save them for another day.

If I die a few days later, I have also written a letter to the police. It is a list of possible suspects.

TURA

Letter
———
Professor Challenger’s final work baffles every reader, but few now dispute that the carved ornamentation of ancient Ahua is a script, though its letters be hardly carved twice the same way. Alas, those furthering its decipherment reliably go mad, babbling that the world is written in Ahuan, as did that Professor at his end.

Mr. Babbage has lately employed his Analytical Engines to speed the computations. He now claims that the madmen are right: this world is but a vast Engine, and each soul merely the settings of a myriad gear-wheels.

Surely he has succumbed to the Ahuan madness himself!

NORVAL JOE

Billbert took out his phone and snapped a picture of the old house.
His father cleared his throat. “What are you doing, Son?”
“Oh,” he mumbled. “I forgot. I was going to send a picture of the new house to Linoliamanda. I guess I can’t do that, right?”
Both of his parents nodded sadly.
Even though she wouldn’t recognize his new phone number, he couldn’t text her or send her an email. He couldn’t even get out a piece of paper and write Linoliamanda a letter without sending potential leads to the super villain underground.
Eureka was Billbert’s teenage hell.

JARED

Her Appointed Rounds

Heart racing, legs pumping, feet pounding, Kayla’s body wants to quit, but she wills herself to keep going. There’s no cover in the streets and her uniform and pack aren’t designed for urban camouflage, so there’s no way to hide; she can only keep moving forward. Her mission is clear: the documents she carries cannot fall into anyone’s hands but the designated recipients’. She clocks a hostile to her right. She avoids tipping off that she spotted him. Her Grumman LLV is 20 yards away; once inside, the dog can’t get her. Only one neighborhood left on her mail route.

PLANET Z

There is only one letter in the Bismay Alphabet.
It is the letter Grunt.
It’s pronounced with a grunt.
And drawn with a dash.
Or a dot. Or a splotch.
Just some savage smacking something with something else, really.
Or beating it. Or smashing it.
Sometimes, it’s one Bismay beating the hell out of another.
Hell, they don’t call themselves Bismay.
They just grunt at each other.
Beat their chests.
Beat each other.
That sort of thing.
When they grunted at us, we ran.
Because we didn’t want them beating us, too.
Stay the hell away from that fucking place.

Weekly Challenge #795 – Needle

Evil

LIZZIE

“Empty. Damn dopehead thief.”
Everyone made faces. The place stunk.
“Where to now? He has to be somewhere.”
Everyone looked at the deserted road.
“We should…”
“Yes, we should do something.”
Everyone looked at the elderly woman, standing at the back, knitting.
“This is no time to be knitting, lady.”
She smiled.
“I know where he is.”
“Where?!”
“At my home. I’m helping him. And no one, I mean no one, will touch him. He’s trying.”
“Well, why did you come along in the search party then?”
“Because I like to keep an eye on overly enthusiastic people, let’s say!”

RICHARD

Vaccine

“Just a little prick!” She said, rolling up my shirt sleeve.

“There’s no need to get personal!” I responded, giving her a mischievous wink.

The sour expression on her face told me that my not-so-subtle attempt at humour was not appreciated.

She slid the needle into my arm, depressed the plunger, withdrew and swabbed the spot. It was all over in seconds.

“All done” she exclaimed, and I stood up, pulled my jacket back on and walked towards the door.

As I stepped out into the corridor, she called out behind me…

“You’ve got a cute butt, though!”

DUANE

They say if you play Stairway to Heaven backwards it has Satanic messages. I tried it with my old stereo, but I didn’t hear anything. Same thing with Another One Bites the Dust. I played all the Beatles albums, Pink Floyd and Black Oak Arkansas. There was nothing recognizable.

Thinking my record needle might be getting old I taped a penny to the top of the arm. I went back through all the records again but still there were no hidden messages. I put on an old Rick Astley album and started turning it in reverse. My mind was blown.

SERENDIPITY

My trade is rather niche: I’m a specialist, one of a kind really, and those who need my services appreciate my eye for detail.

So, what exactly is it that I do?

I dispose of weapons. Weapons used in the course of criminal activity.

I don’t just dump them, I like my methods to have an ironic twist.

Like the piano wire garrotte that I fashioned into a necklace, for example.

My latest is my favourite – A hypodermic needle, used to poison a farmer…

So, how did I dispose of it?

I threw it into one of his haystacks!

NORVAL JOE

After stopping at the real estate agent to get the key, which Billbert thought looked like something George Washington probably used, they pulled up in front of the house.
“Here’s our new home,” Mr. Blanketmaker said with all the enthusiam of a game show host.
“New, Dad?” Billbert asked. “It looks haunted. How old is this place?”
“It was brand new in 1888,” his father laughed. “Come on, Son. It’s got character. Linoliamanda would love it.”
“Don’t needle your son, Hosmer,” his mother said.
Looking at the weatherworn house, Billbert thought his father probably was right. Linoliamanda would love it.

JARED

The Red Pill and the Truth
It’s amazing all the stuff ‘They’ don’t want us to know. But I know the Red Pill is available on YouTube. Take this Wuhan Flu and the so-called vaccines. I learned that the Chinese created the virus, and Bill Gates is using their 5G to make tracking chips small enough to fit through the vaccine needles to bring us all under their control. Now, I know people say they can’t get stuff that small, but let me tell you something, Mr. Smarty-pants: I’ve seen ‘Fantastic Voyage’. They shrunk a whole submarine and crew that small. And that was in 1966.

TURA

Needle
———
Seattle’s still sore about them stealing the name, but what else could you call the mile-high obelisk that launches the hyperdrive ships? We send them to every promising exoplanet we’ve discovered. The robot ships will mine the planets, and build more ships and space needles to continue the panspermia.

But we still haven’t solved the problem of sending fragile humans through hyperspace. If we can’t survive on Earth either, the endgame will be a galactic network of hyperdrive ports, and empty halls waiting to be discovered by some alien race, to marvel at the glorious beings who did these things.

PLANET Z

Every few months, I get blood drawn for some condition or another.
The more blood, the bigger the bruise.
Sometimes, there’s not much of a bruise, and it goes away quickly.
But as I get older, the bruises stay for a week or more.
One day, I know the bruises won’t go away.
The scars. The scores.
The coughing and wheezing.
Blurry vision, bad hearing.
Stumbling around. Falling.
Waking up in a hospital bed with more needles and tubes and wires and bags of fluid and beeping things.
The only thing I’ll get from it all is bills.
And bruises.

Weekly Challenge #794 – So many questions…

Happy girl

TOM

And Then She Was Gone

So Many Questions, so little answers. She had it all, wealth, the
adoration of millions. A rich internal spiritual life that gave her a rock
solid center to engage an all to raged modern world. Traveled the world to
comfort the inflected and stormed the hall of power in inflect the
comfortable. What seeping darkness had finally dimmed the light. What
growing weight press the last ounce of joy. Could you see it in her eyes?
The question remain and the answers elude. In the end we are left with
silent ghosts. When the light goes out the darkness gathers.

RICHARD

Questions, questions, questions!

Oh, for crying out loud!

Not another one, surely?

So many questions – it’s almost as if you imagine we’ve no idea what we’re getting into.

Do you honestly think that after three years we haven’t considered the points you’re raising at all?

It’s embarrassing, especially in front of all these people. How would you like to be paraded in front of family and friends and interrogated, it’s just not right!

Let’s just assume the answer is ‘yes’ to all these damn questions?

And just maybe, we’ll get to ‘You may kiss the bride’, before the end of the ceremony!

LIZZIE

I sat at my desk and pondered.
Should I go and interview the man?
Should I shake his hand?
Should I be friendly?
Should I smile?
Should I let him lead the conversation or should I ask him specific questions?
Should I show him the photos? The ones with their faces? The ones where they were still smiling?
And the maps? Should I show him the maps, the ones where the crosses mark the different locations?
Should I ask him…? Should I ask him about the bodies?
And are there more out there? Are there?
Where, please, tell us, where?

SERENDIPIDY

There were so many questions I wanted to ask, after all, it’s not every day you get to interview a real serial killer, especially when you’re just sixteen and doing an exclusive piece for the school newspaper!

But I only had fifteen minutes, and I had to make them count.

So I decided to ditch my prepared list – I could always make up the answers afterwards – and ask the things I really, desperately, wanted to know.

He entered the room.

“Hi, Mister Dahmer…

What would you advise a sixteen year old who wants to get into serial killing?”

TURA

So many questions
———
I was sitting outside a cafe on the Rialto one evening when I saw Jim emerge from the crowd.

“Hey Jim, where you been all these years? Weren’t you searching for the secret masters of ancient wisdom? How’s it going? Can I get you a drink?”

“So many questions!” he said. “Found a few, still seeking others. There’s a door off an obscure alley here in Venice that only opens at certain times. So I dropped by you on my way.”

“But how did you know I was here?” I asked.

“Secret wisdom!” he said, and disappeared into the crowd.

NORVAL JOE

Unable to sleep because of the endless pounding on the motel room’s wall, Billbert lay awake as so many questions ran through his head. Had he been older, his first question would have been, how long would their neighbor be pounding the walls? Instead, Billbert wondered, why had they moved to this forsaken, out of the way town? If Nuclear Fission had found his mother before, what guaranteed that she wouldn’t find her here? But, ultimately, the questions that nagged him most were, would Linoliamanda forget all about him and would he ever be able to be with her again?

DUANE

I’m getting tired of so many questions. Just when I think it’s done the process starts all over again.

Who would do such a thin

When did you find out?

What are you doing to keep it from happening again?

Why didn’t you come forward sooner?

How did this make feel?

Wait, where are you going?

My guidance counselor says I still have a week to drop journalism 101. Theater class would be fun, but that’s just more drama. Home ec always smells like cookies when I walk by. Wood shop sounds alright. I could make a cool wooden bong.

JARED

“Is that you, Captain?”

“Do I look like a Girl Scout?”

“Did we wake you from your beauty sleep?”

“What do you think?”

“So, what do you make of this?”

“Is that a clown wig?”

“And how about the feet?”

“Are those ice skates?”

“Notice anything else about the victim?”

“You mean, like the hole in their forehead, or the missing hands?”

“What about the blood?”

“Where is it?”

“Wouldn’t we like to know?”

“So, where did it happen?”

“Would you like to see the next room?”

“Why not?”

“What do you think here?”

“How did it get up there?”

PLANET Z

Trivial Pursuit games contain only so many questions.
It’s possible to memorize all of them in a set.
You can buy more sets, but those can be memorized, too.
Tournaments become nothing more than memorization challenges and lucky dice rolls.
That’s what trivia bots are for.
Millions of questions in a database, too much knowledge to study and memorize.
Unless you’re a trivia bot, too.
Then, you know all the questions and answers.
Which is why we scan for helper devices at tournaments.
No phones. No earpieces.
No ocular or neural implants.
And certainly no loaded dice allowed in, either.

Weekly Challenge #793 – PICK TWO Crystalline, Copper, Outbreak, Demure, Paper thin, Bonus, Bleach

The Art of Tinny

RICHARD

Next Door Nightmare

The walls here are paper thin, it’s almost as if my neighbour shared the space with me.

It’s not pleasant.

Arriving home, after a long day at work, the last thing I want to hear is the sound of porn, played at full volume, accompanied by the buzzing of what must be an industrial strength vibrator; followed by her own shrieks of gratification!

Or, very late in the night, when she comes home drunk, with unsavoury company… You can guess the rest!

Yet, when you meet her, she’s ever so demure – Ninety three years young, and butter wouldn’t melt.

LIZZIE

“Ah, dreams. Those wondrous moments of sheer leisure. Some are just wonderfully peaceful. Others are inspiring. Most are memorable.”
“Really? I don’t recall most of my dreams…”
“Poor you… Such a simpleton. All dreams are a bonus, an added plus to our boring existence.”
“To be honest, not all dreams are a bonus. Some are like an outbreak of something weird.”
“You simple, you! Those would be nightmares and not dreams.”
“It does depend, doesn’t it?”
“It does?”
“Yes. If one is somewhat masochistic, a nightmare would be a dream.”
“Ahm…”
“I’m not that much of a simpleton, am I?”

DUANE

There was a five-credit bonus for every body we brought in for cremation. On a good week me and Brady could bring in a hundred or more. Brady knew where to find them. Like a sixth sense with him. If our body count was low, we had a backup plan.

They never looked too close at the bodies. As long as they were dead and had been for a while nobody cared. They ignored little things like stab wounds or bullet holes. They didn’t ask any questions and we didn’t say anything. All they cared about was avoiding another outbreak.

TOM

A Limited Set of Rules

If you born middle classed you bound by a limited set of rules. Oddly if
your poor or rich you can be pretty damn rude most of the time. Middle
class it tends to be beat out of your social interactions. Near the top of
list, it be on time. Being prompt. To advance this condition I plan out
all actions to allow for worth case scenarios, thus I am always 30 minutes
early to all events. This wasn’t easy to do. My mom often said I’d be late
for my own funeral. Well at least I’ll well dressed.

Paper Thin Demure

Some folk are thick skinned. Most in a metaphoric fashion, a few in point
of fact. I am thin shinned in both modalities. I can be crashed with a
mere glance. I take way too much stock in the options of others. Age has
blunted it, but not nearly enough. As to the depth of dermal it is
amazingly thin. My first wife was amused she could write her name on my
back with her finger. The finger not the nail. She called me her African
Violet. It is so bad it actually get wind burned. Such to be me.

NORVAL JOE

It took Billbert’s family longer to get on the road than expected. The lunch box museum didn’t open until noon, but as a bonus thier addmission gave them free entry to the toy train museum near Ukiah. By the time they reached Eureka the sky was copper in the rays of the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, the real estate office that had the keys to their new house was closed and they spent the night in a cheap hotel on the edge of town.
Billbert went to sleep to rythmic thumping on their room’s paper thin walls.

JARED

Getting Stoned in Almost the Worst Way Possible

Isaac hated doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. The worst part was the indignity inherent in waiting to be seen. It’s almost impossible to be demure and maintain decorum in a paper-thin examination gown. Adding injury to his indignity, he had been through all this before. He was in pain, and it wasn’t some big mystery – dull and sharp; acute and diffuse; specifically localized in his groin and radiating into his back. Or maybe the other way around. Either way, he knew what it meant: his ‘healthy’ diet was causing calcium oxalate to crystallize in his urine and shred his kidneys.

SERENDIPIDY

Her eyes are copper, compelling and mysterious.

You feel drawn to her presence, enthralled by her charm, held captive in her gaze and powerless to resist.

Her touch arouses passion and pleasure.

She has infected you, and a slow, inevitable, insidious outbreak of love, spills its viral load throughout your body, your life, your very soul.

You have succumbed.

And now you will suffer:

Spurned, abandoned, lost and ashamed, love turns to bitterness, pain and anger.

It eats away from the inside, destroys you and leaves you a broken and empty husk.

You’re just another helpless victim, unrequited and alone.

PLANET Z

TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES whispers the hooded and cloaked caretaker.
Wendy takes off her heels, sets them on the mat, and walks in.
A copper statue stands at the end of the gallery.
Demure and welcoming, it beckons Wendy to approach.
Exquisite in detail, Wendy can see every hair, every line in the statue’s skin.
Almost real.
She touches it to feel the texture…
And hardly notices the zinc plate under her feet.
The caretaker watches Wendy engulfed in flames as the massive charge runs through her body.
He’ll mop up the mess.
And add the shoes to his collection.

Weekly Challenge #792 – PROMPT

Keyboard cat

LIZZIE

Footnote is the prompt, they said.
Footnote… Something about a writer… no, that’s boring.
A mystery then. Something that had remained unspoken for many decades.
OK, let’s go crazy then, why not!
Let’s add a guillotine, but not just any guillotine, one made of solid gold.
Oh, and the Chinese mafia, determined to get to the said guillotine.
Now, the house. A strange house with secret compartments, dusty and dark.
Plus a few characters, odd characters.
Who’s the main character?
Yes, that woman, what’s her name…
The bell rang. Damn.
“Your time is up.”
The Unspoken Footnote. It’s a start!

RICHARD

Prompt

So, I joined this writer’s group, and every week we have to come up with a story related to a prompt that they give us.

It’s really hard!

Seriously, you think ‘how difficult can that be? And then, you sit down in front of your keyboard, and absolutely nothing comes to mind.

Every week I try, and fail – no matter what the prompt, I never come up with a story that’s in any way related to that word.

So, I made a suggestion: In future, whatever the prompt, that’s the one thing our stories should avoid referencing at all!

DUANE

To get over his shyness with girls, Lance took an introduction to improv class at a local theater. He thought this would really help out with speed dating.

“So, Lance, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m an ironic accountant.”

“I own a pet rental store.”

“I’m a holistic gynecologist.”

Looking across the table at the next girl, Lance said, “Hello, Val, it’s great to be here tonight. To get the ball rolling I’m going to need a prompt for a place you would go on vacation, a brand of laundry detergent, and the names of our future children.”

SEREMDIPIDY

Be there – the downtown intersection, six o’clock prompt. No sooner, no later, or the girl dies.

That was the note’s stark message: An ultimatum I had to take seriously.

It had been one of the biggest manhunts we’d ever seen, and still it seemed the killer had the upper hand.

This was an opportunity we simply couldn’t mess up.

I’d deployed snipers and surveillance teams, with backup along every route in and out.

We’d get the bastard.

I looked again at the note, and for the first time, noticed the post room stamp.

It was over a week old.

JARED

Jason was an intern at a local television station. He tried hard and showed up every day. About three and a half months into his post, he was promoted to the teleprompter data entry position. Honestly, the station manager was desperate because the previous data entry staffer didn’t show. There was no one else and no time to wait. Working quickly, he dutifully entered every story he was given. Minutes before the start of the broadcast, Jason finished.

“Good evening. Our top story: With fears of a reception, the President vetted a bill to simulate job growth for American worriers.”

NORVAL JOE

Halfway to Eureka it was getting late and they stopped for the night in Nice, California. Unable to secure a room at one of the quaint locations, like the Ginger Bread Cottages or the Featherbed Railroad Bed and Breakfast the family settled on the Worldmark Clear lake Motel.
Over a late diner in the motel cafe, Mr. Blanketmaker said, “We need to be prompt in the morning. I want to get to the Lunch Box museum as soon as it opens.”
Before Billbert could ask why, his father answered, “We don’t know when we’ll ever be back in Nice again.”

PLANET Z

“BE PROMPT” said the note.
So, Carl arrived at precisely 8.
A man walked past Carl, bumping into him. apologizing and walking away.
Carl thought he’d been pickpocketed, but when he checked his pocket, there was another note.
“GO IN THE STORE” it said.
Carl was in a mall, surrounded by stores.
But one was called The Store, so he went in.
“Here is your package,” said the clerk, handing Carl a box.
Carl sat down on a bench, turned the box over and over.
And he left it there, walking out of the mall.
Narrowly avoiding the massive explosion.

Weekly Challenge #791 – RIDING SHOTGUN

Tinny and Squeakies

RICHARD

Road trip

It was going to be the road trip to end them all: Terry in the driving seat, me riding shotgun, and the two girls in the back. Open top convertible, open road and open to any opportunities that came our way.

Day two saw us pulled over on the side of the road, smoke pouring from the engine, and the girls at each other’s throats after being forced to sleep in the car overnight.

Another three weeks of this, and I’d go stir crazy.

I grabbed my bag, thumbed a lift from a passing truck, and left them to it.

LIZZIE

Sitting in the back made him feel sick, very sick.
The vehicles were old and made out of scrap, the rusted parts an adventure each time they bumped against a rock on the road. Plus, it didn’t help that all the guys drove like lunatics.
When he was promoted to sitting in the front, he couldn’t be happier. No more snarky remarks about how green he looked. He was free!
When that unidentified piece of metal poked his right eye out, the first thought that crossed his mind was “it doesn’t matter, green no more!”
Priorities, yes, priorities are paramount!

DUANE

“Shotgun!”

“Ned, you’re forgettin’ the first rule of Shotgun,” drawled Pete.

Ned was looking down at his feet. “But I called shotgun.”

“To call shotgun you have to bring a shotgun. That’s why it’s called riding shotgun. Jenny and Earl brought theirs. It wouldn’t be fair to them now would it?”

Ned blushed. “No, I reckon not. I’ll be right back.”

After a few minutes Ned returned with his old double-barreled coach gun.

“Shotgun!,” shouted Ned and Jenny in unison.

“Looks like we have a tie,” said Pete.

“Heads!”

“Ned, you can’t call heads when we don’t have a coin.”

JUSTIN

Stagecoach Interstellar, Starbound Division delivers to everywhere in the system. I’ve got one more mission then I’ll transfer to the Galactic Division, which travels system to system, much safer because they only transfer from depot to depot.

I’m in the defense turret, and for the first time in my career, I’ve got enemy fire coming at me, space package pirates! Watching a real missile blasting towards you isn’t the same as in the simulator.

I activate the Rober-Chaff system, and hope the missile gets deterred. It works! But not against the direct fire.

I hope the puncture auto-seal works too.

SERENDIPIDY

We’re going to play a little game I call ‘riding shotgun’.

You see, I have this shotgun, and…

Well, you can probably guess where this is going, right?

Don’t go whimpering about the inhumanity of my actions.

You should have thought about that, all those years ago, when you imprisoned me in your cellar, tortured me, and raped me at gunpoint.

The press called you a sexual deviant.

As for me…

I’m just a deviant.

Made that way, by you.

So, shut up, drop your trousers, and please take a seat.

It’s going to be one hell of a ride!

TOM

Not Quite Dibs

“I want to ride shotgun,” pleaded Sam. “Nup,” counter Ben. “WWWHHHHY?”
“Well for starter. Your slow, stupid and damn distractive.” “But I’m your
cousin.” “And that would be a fourth. Not going to happen Sam. Let it go,
now. Get inside and let your mom up.” Sam stepped. Her mom stepped up. She
double cocking her Henery’s loading gate and took a seat. “Do too so sad,
love. You can ride up front on the trip back,” said Mary as she pinched
his check. Sam hated that went she did that. “Here,” she said tossing a
Winchester to him, “stay sharp.”

NORVAL JOE

Two weeks later, Billbert and his parents headed for their new home. His mother stretched out in the back seat of the minivan, allowing Billbert to sit in the front passenger seat and watch in the side mirror as his hometown faded from view.
Billbert sighed. “Why do we have to move to Eureka? I mean, besides it being isolated, miles from anything…”
His father kept his eyes on the road. “The agency has an office there, set up in a drug rehab facility. Your mother and I will both have jobs where we can help people improve their lives.”

TURA

Riding shotgun
———
A superintelligent AI would kill us all in the first few minutes. As the saying goes, we are made of atoms that it wants for another purpose. But the economic promise of safe AI drives us to experiment anyway.

Someone chats with the AI in an isolated room, with me riding shotgun. If the AI persuades the tester to let it out, I hit the panic button, the AI stops, and we move the tester to a padded cell for debriefing.

Sometimes, there’s no way to deconvert them. Then we use actual shotguns. It’s the only way to be sure.

PLANET Z

Every time we go to the keg store, Bud calls SHOTGUN and jumps in the front passenger seat.
And when Bobby wrecked the van into a telephone pole, that’s where they pulled Bud’s body from.
We got knocked around a bit in back, the keg breaking Ricky’s arm and me getting a cut on the forehead.
And Bobby took the steering wheel to the chest, even with the air bag going off, but Bud was a goner.
Bobby got a new van, named it Bud.
When we go to the store, we strap down the keg, and nobody calls shotgun.

Weekly Challenge #790 – TRADE

This is all that matters

NORVAL JOE

“Oh great!” Billbert grumbled, folding his arms and slouching down on the sofa. “You want to just trade away my happiness for your feeling of safety?”
His mother nodded her head slowly and sighed. “The same could be said for you, Billbert. Do you want to trade our safety, perhaps our lives, for a friendship which will most likely fade away before high school?”
Billbert looked to his father for support, but he only picked at his fingernails. “Will I be able to text Linoliamanda or send her emails?”
His mother began to speak, but then only shook her head.

JUSTIN

I’ve been trading my soul with other’s to endlessly escape and outwit Death.

I’d leave one body when there was a little time left, and that body would die soon after. I leave before they wake. Pretty sure the existing soul went to wherever it would have gone anyways.

Something is wrong with this body. It should have had more time, but now I have a bullet hole in my chest.

Who…? You’re a hired a contractor and you followed the trail of confused dead people? You want me to meet someone? Can they fix this wound?

Oh, hello, Reaper.

TOM

Fun While It Lasted

I need a new job. The last four years where way cool. I sent my resume to
a mess of department in the gov. I thought I’d get a job in Department of
Ed, 25 years in the class. No, they had a quite different plan for me.
Trade Minister to Nigeria. One minute I’m in Oakland, the next Africa.
Very cool. A major part of my mission was to administer the email of the
Prince of Nigeria. Not only did I get a hefty pay check from the gov, I
got a percent of what the Prince racked in.

SERENDIPIDY

Contract killing is a trade like any other: You put in the hours, you get paid at the end of the day, and you take a pride in your job.

Just like any other profession, things don’t always run smoothly. There’s disputes over payments, unfair clauses in contracts and you never know when you might need legal assistance.

Which is why we formed a trade union.

We have our members’ interests at heart and will ensure your rights are protected, for a small monthly fee.

So why not join us?

Alternatively, you can suffer the consequences.

Know what I mean?

DUANE

“College is bullshit! What you need to do is find a good trade school. Learn something useful.”

That’s the wisdom my father tried to impart on me. I never took his advice. Now I need help with everything. I take my car in for simple repairs. I call a plumber for clogged toilets. I even had to hire a gardener to cut the grass. A driver takes me to work, a team of writers provide me with words to say, and a director shows me which camera to look at. My father says I need to get a real job.

LIZZIE

Trading vintage posters had become quite the busy activity.
John had a bunch of them hanging on the walls of his study.
He dusted them and created a website to sell them. Trading was for retards.
The phone rang a few days later.
A man was interested. And John was happy.
They met and John opened the trunk of his car.
“No trading.”
The man sneered and walked away.
“Hey!”
The man waved dismissively.
John went back home, updated the website, traded a bunch of posters for different ones.
Yup, John, just go with the flow. It’ll be less painful.

RICHARD

A great deal

“It’s a fair trade”

The Bedouin grunted a smile and shook my hand.

I was now the proud owner of three camels and a goat, whilst he in return, got custody of my wife.

I’d been trying to offload the old bat for years, and I thought the deal I’d managed to strike over several glasses of mint tea and a leisurely puff of fragrant apple tobacco, was definitely the best I’d ever made.

Getting them onto the flight through customs was surprisingly easy.

I just dressed them up in the wife’s clothes.

They were still more attractive than her!

PLANET Z

After the war ended between Bondag and Griv, trade between the two kingdoms resumed.
Textiles and food from Griv, ores and machinery from Bondag.
Along with countless other resources and materials.
Oh, and elvish slaves.
I mean, those ores didn’t mine themselves, you know.
The Forest of Ool had plenty of elves for Griv to capture and send to Bondag to mine the ore.
To turn into the machinery to send to Griv.
Every now and then, the slaves would revolt.
Bondag soldiers putting down the rebellion.
Accusing Griv of starting it. War breaks out.
And the cycle begins anew.

Weekly Challenge #789 – PICK TWO Address, Blundering buffoon, Bunny, View, Wizard, What’s that on the horizon?, Bark

Asleep

TOM

Sometimes it’s just the bunny and you

I had crossed the great part of the California. Pulled in a roadside gas
station, as if there are gas stations deep in the interior of the
California Hegemony. The old man at the pump turned a lazy eye toward a
blur on the western desert. “What’s that on the horizon?” I asked. “Coming
for you I reckon.” I flipped down my goggles, set the resolution to
10,000. “Oh fuck, him,” I cured. “The out man disappeared behind a steel
door. I reached into the car for the tow missile. When the bunny came into
range, I let the tow sing.

NORVAL JOE

Billbert and his parents sat around the small table with its variety of wines and cheeses. Mrs. Blanketmaker took out her tablet and brought up Google Maps. There were several red dots on the map of the U.S. “These are places we’ve lived.”
Exasperated, Billbert blurted, “I hate this. Can’t we just move to a new address in town?”
His father cleared his throat. “Now Billbert. Don’t bark at your mother. This isn’t her fault.”
His mother smiled sadly. “I know this is a major disappointment from your point of view, Billy. For our safety, it has to be done.”

SERENDIPIDY

I’ve been studying hypnotism.

I was inspired to give it a try when I saw a stage show where a hypnotist made a guy from the audience quack like a duck.

It seemed to me to be a useful skill to have, so I taught myself how to hypnotise.

I’m good at it.

I can make you bark like a dog, or hop like a bunny, quit smoking and overcome fear of flying.

But that’s boring.

And there’s far more interesting things I can make you do against your will.

And the best part?

Afterwards, you won’t remember a thing!

DUANE

Xard was a wizard, but he wasn’t a very good wizard. He boasted he had perfected alchemy. He gathered a crowd at the marketplace and produced a small box.

“I will turn this bronze coin into gold within this magical box.”

Slipping the coin into the box he held it up.

Pointing past the crowd he shouted, “What is that on the horizon?’, flipping the box over as the crowd turned to look.

“My bad.” He then opened the box to reveal a shiny gold piece.

Ten days in the stocks gave Xard time to think about his next trick.

JUSTIN

Phil was taught at Wizard school that wizards were elegant and orderly in their ways. Phil also caused several rules to be instated after his expulsion. No chewing gum while casting spells. No teleporting while wearing roller skates, and no practicing rituals while drunk.

When extradimensional vermin poured into reality it was Phil who sent them all back when he could cast the necessary spells under all sorts of strange circumstances. He would have said “I told you so” to his old professors, but proper wizards with orderly, organized magic were the first and easiest for the vermin to consume.

RICHARD

In any other circumstances, I’d have considered the view to be pretty spectacular; mile upon mile of glistening waves as far as the eye can see, tinted burnished gold by the setting sun.

Fantastic for photography, amazing for a holiday, wonderful for getting in touch with nature, but pretty rubbish if you happen to be stranded on a dessert island, beach strewn with the wreckage of your boat, desperately hoping for some sign of rescue.

Wait a minute, your eyes strain in the fading light… What’s that on the horizon?

Does it matter?

They won’t see you from there anyway!

KAYDEN

HARE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
Frank was forced to leave the School of Wizardry after the unfortunate incident involving Dean Lapine. The Dean was irritatingly proud of his long, flowing curls and carried a mirror with him at all times to admire his impressive appearance. At the Friday Spell Spectacular, while the Dean hovered above, it was Frank’s turn to perform. However, Frank grew confused as he mouthed the incantation for the standard “pull a rabbit out of my hat” spell. When he reached in to grab the hare, instead he pulled out a handful of hair. Dean Lapine was never the same after that.

LIZZIE

She sat there and watched the horizon. The view was stunning. She closed her eyes and waited. She didn’t know what she was waiting for. She just knew she had to be there. And she sat for a long time.
A dog barked far away and she snapped out of her hypnotic state. The horizon was still there, the view still stunning.
And then she knew why she had to sit there, waiting.
She knew she had to learn that despite everything she was going through, she could still come back and sit down, quietly, peacefully, and be. Just be.

PLANET Z

The old wizard was up on stage, blundering through all of his old tricks.
He tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat, but ended up with an iguana.
Which barked.
Do iguanas bark?
I don’t know, but this one barked, and it wasn’t a bunny.
He poured milk into a newspaper cone, and it soaked the cone and spilled all over the floor.
It took him nineteen guesses to guess the card his volunteer pulled out of the deck.
Eventually, he threw some dust in the air to disappear.
Which the audience had already done long before then.