[WP] Write a poem or short story about the last meal you had.
I wanted some wings with the sauce and bleu cheese
So I went to none other than b w threes
I could've gone Cajun or savory sweet
Or ordered some Szechuan tang on my meat
But NO, I felt daring and tried something new
"Mango habanero yes that's what I'll do!"
So I ordered the wings along with a drink
And when they came out I could smell the hot stink
It burned in my nostrils and watered my mouth
And that was when things, well they began to go south
The first bite was fine and the second delightful
Then the burn in my mouth had me feeling quite frightful
The water was useless my tongue was on fire
I'd say my mouth lit up but you'd call me a liar
But that wasn't the worst part I won't even play
The bad part didn't happen until the very next day
When I sat on the toilet routinely that morning
It came with a thunder, it came without warning
I felt a deep gurgling, gross twist in my gut
Then flames straight from Hell descended out of my butt
So take it from me when you choose your next piece of food
Go with a nice subtle sweet barbecue
oh that chex mix made me less pissed and that beef jerky made me less worky for it was quite yummy sat well in my tummy washed it down with a coke and i did not choke
You were cold, wet, and alone for so long. At midnight I found you, though the dark was so strong. I took you out, I warmed you up- who knew we’d hit it off, what luck! Your intoxicating aroma, your rich history- i was hypnotized as you called to me- I opened my mouth and brought you in, such a pleasing sensation to feel from within- Your balls were tight as I drank you. As I swallowed I thanked you. Oh, I was so wet- together, we made such a mess! Your balls smelled like chicken, and your brothy bath had me weakened- into my mouth I plopped one, two, five, ten- you had so many balls, I thought it’d never end- as I felt them come apart between my teeth, i was filled with such glee- Oh matzo ball soup, the things you do to me!
After serving drink and food all day,
My own dinner seems a world away,
Dropping off plates and bowls of Mac Cheese,
Burgers with bacon cooked any way you please,
Garlic Fries, sausages, and various soups,
Weaving through tables and jumping through hoops,
Smelling those splendid scents and aromas,
Counting the hours until my own food coma,
Steaks, chicken, pork chops and mashed pots,
Dear God I can’t wait to get off the clock,
Hours seemingly fly by like nothing once it got busy,
It’s finally midnight and I’m starting to feel dizzy,
Then those glorious words break through the haze,
SirTurkTurkelton, go home; you’re phased,
My apron flies off and I change my shoes,
Now what to eat...what do I choose?
I grab a spoon, take a wonderful seat,
My knees are thumping, my feet could scream,
But then comes my big bowl of ice cream.
[WP] This dictatorship doesn't even bother pretending it's not a dictatorship.
"The model is efficiency," the man smiled unstintingly, "in the great Democracies of the world you're forced to wedge some sort of consensus out of two groups of people who would sooner slit their own throats than compromise - and in the one party systems leaders are too often constrained by the will of the party, by infighting. Inaction or maintenance of the status quo can cripple a nation as surely as any external grievance," he raised a single finger of his hand, "Not so here, not anymore."
Secretary-General António Guterres followed his appointed escort through the streets of the city. They were cleaner than he expected, though certainly spartan. The great crowds he remembered from his previous visit weren't present, though there was a frantic energy. It had the feeling of walking through a critical care ward at a hospital - there were no crowds because they would simply slow the pace of transit. The buildings still rose as high here, and from what he remembered the prices he saw in the shops were more than fair. It was an interesting juxtaposition against his memories of this place, but not unpleasant.
His guide continued smoothly, "Of course, this isn't the first time this particular system of government has been tried, but it may well have been the first modern time it was intentional." He smiled up at the sky and laced his fingers behind his head, "What's the line from Star Wars? So this is how the Republic dies? To thundering applause. You've never seen a party like that day, from coast to coast a nation finally knew security, and relief."
The guide took a few steps in silence, but António was curious to hear the take of a common citizen, "It has been three years, do you not have any desire to go back? I'll grant that this man is a benevolent dictator, but what of the next? There's a reason dictatorships are often condemned to the darkest pages of the history books."
The guide dropped his arms and stopped in his tracks, "That's a question that certainly gets at the heart of it, but believe it or not for once I agree with the tour book answer on this one." He pursed his lips, as if trying to figure out exactly how he wanted to phrase it, "There was a Roman dictator in antiquity by the name of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, in a time of great need for the empire he ascended to take total control as a dictator for these same reasons - when you're on the brink, efficient decision making is a must, there is no time for dissent no matter how well intended. When that time of dire need ended, Cincinnatus stepped down, rescinded his special powers, and went back to his farm."
The guide began walking again, gesturing at the city which surrounded them, "It was the story of Cincinnatus that originally inspired a man who once fought to hold this very harbor, and to forge this very land. If we traveled but a few hours south to the old Capitol, you'd see his monument unchanged despite the change of leadership - his story still resonates, as it always will. That man inspired the tradition of exchange of power in our Republic. It took hundreds of years for that tradition to decay, but it did. So, we called our farmer back to the Forum. There was work to be done. I don't know that anyone has a plan for finding that next farmer, we just hope we won't need him. We hope we can go home alongside our farmer."
The guide looked back to him with that unsettling smile still in place, "Of course, I don't think Barack ever had a farm - and the United States opted for a Capitol rather than a Forum. Welcome to the new America, Secretary-General."
"I believe in loyalty" , the leader said "Loyalty to our flag , and the military it represents..." , the holdovers briefly looked at each other knowing it was futile to say something... however the stenographer decided she would anyway " I believe you misspoke sir, could you repeat what you were trying to say?".
The new staff looked annoyed but the Leaders outward mood remained the same, " Certainly , although it's much more likely you misheard : loyalty to the flag and the military it represents" .... "got that?". The timid woman nodded. "... And what does the military fight for?" , "THE PEOPLE!!" the staffers that had been with the leader troughout the campaign , or at least a portion of it, cheered.
The leader began to smile , knowing what was coming.
"And who represent the people?" .
The leader made a grimmas , gestures and sounds as if to say "close but not quite", this unintentionally made him look a lot like Mussolini, not that he would mind if he knew.
"Eh, yeah but who allows you to do that?"
The clique laughed , some playfully punched each other on the shoulder or pretended to hit their head. In one breath they then exclaimed "OUR LEADER!"
"So I am the flag".
As part of the table burst out in laughter one of the holdovers turned to the trusted colleague he had picked the seat next to and whispered in their ear.
"What's that Meyer ?" , the table went silent. The only member of the leaders campaign that had survised from the start looked at the experienced government worker as if he were a problem child. "Eh..' l'etat c'est moi' sir" ,
[WP] You are a super hero with the power to find missing pets. After years of finding peoples pets, you've become tired. Your about to give up when a little girl changes your mind.
It was different back then. Must be forty years now, maybe more. I used to check the posters along the street and give them peace. I found everything from parrots to cats. Even stuffed animals, as long as it's considered a pet by the person who holds it.
One time I helped a zoo find a missing bear.
It was a good life. People love the guy that can find their pets. When he can find them alive.
Thing is. A missing animal doesn't always turn up alive. More often than not they never show up again. You can watch the movies and read a story about a cat travelling thousands of miles to get home. You never get to read about the ones that made it barely a mile away from their house before they got an up close and personal look at a tire.
Or the ones that get scooped up by a sick son of a bitch.
It got to be exhausting. How many hundreds of kids cried themselves sick once they found out and how many parents were furious at the truth being revealed. I always thought it best to be honest. That didn't always work out.
So I gave it up. Faded into obscurity and a shitty job in the dark corner of an office building. Every now and then some new kid would come up and bug me about my past and I would just...drive them away.
The day that things changed was an average day. I got to work, settled in with a coffee and started plugging in numbers into the database. One finger at a time. Old school.
I felt eyes on me so I turned slowly and there was this little girl standing there, holding a stuffed dog. She tilted her head at me and then offered up the animal with both hands and a smile.
She said. Simple. Direct. I like it.
"Yep." I said, taking it and inspecting it.
"Does he have a name?"
She smiled wider.
"Car-go." I felt a smile tug at the corner of my mouth at her emphasis. Kids.
"Good name. You keep a good eye on him, OK?"
She nodded and I handed the dog back. She waved at me and toddled off towards some unknown objective. I turned back to my work.
The next day she was back. Again I felt those eyes on me. She held up Cargo and smiled at me, offering him.
I took him, inspected him again and handed him back to her. She smiled and waved at me before her dad scooped her up. He gave me an apologetic look and I shrugged it off.
He seemed confused and I suppose I had crafted the grumpy old man exterior so it would make sense. She wasn't going to do any harm though. I guess he had a problem with a nursery because she became a fixture around the office for a week.
The next morning she was there again. Watching me. This time she came right in and clambered up on the spare chair I had tucked in the corner. She watched me type and held Cargo close to her.
He came by and apologized, clearly flustered.
"I can watch her for a bit, if you want," I offered. I could almost see the weight off his shoulders as he apologized a dozen times but made his way to his office to get some work done. Her and I sat together as I punched in numbers one at a time.
As I stared at the screen, watching her just out of the corner of my eye, a dog appeared in front of my keyboard. A stuffed dog.
"Doggie!" she said. Then she curled up on the chair and went to sleep, leaving me and Cargo together. I looked at him and realized I was smiling. I coughed and drove the smile away before anyone could see.
Friday rolled around and I didn't feel her eyes on me. I kept turning to look for her but nothing. No "doggie", no big grin. I guess he sorted out the nursery situation. Or whatever it was. When do kids stop going to nursery and start going to school? I haven't a clue.
"Hey," his voice interrupted my thoughts and I turned, "have you seen her dog? She's been crying all morning, damn thing's gone missing."
I shook my head. Now I could hear it, she must be in his office. Nothing was sorted out yet.
"Ah, it was a long shot. Thanks anyway. And thanks for watching her."
I nodded and he was gone. I suppose...no.
No. I said I was done. But. That smile. She's crying and I could...just. No.
I stood up, grabbed the cane that I'd needed since that incident with the dog and the bus, and headed out of the office. No statement, no excuse. Just left. I knew where he was, had known as soon as he mentioned it. I knew where they all were. I walked to the bus stop and got on, taking it for about thirty minutes to the industrial area.
I found the guys by the dump entrance, wearing their green safety vests and chain smoking cigarettes in between sips of coffee. I explained and they didn't believe me at first. No one ever did. I suppose that curiosity always wins though because they led me into the fenced in area.
I walked straight for it, pulling aside a few bags and a few pieces of trash that covered him. Then I dusted him off and pulled him from the mound of trash. He must have ended up in a garbage can or something. They are stunned and I thank them, making my way back to the bus stop.
I ride it to the office and head into the building. I don't say a word, just take him to the washroom and give him a quick wash. Just to get rid of the last bits of grime and gunk. I run him under the hand dryer for a minute and earn a few looks from the coming and going folks to the washroom.
I hear her sniffling in his office, she's given up on crying at least.
I knock gently and he looks up from his work. Poor guy is drowning in it. Least I can do I guess.
I kneel down in front of her and look her in the eye.
"He was with me for a bit, so I gave him a bath. Can you watch him again?"
Her eyes light up and she grabs him, then with astounding speed she is off the chair and has her arms wrapped around my neck. I cough to clear the lump in my throat and stand, give him a nod for the "thank you" he mouths at me.
Then I head back to my desk and start hitting those keys again, one at a time. I think about the old life and how hard it was. How much I hated seeing the pain on their faces when the truth wasn't easy.
Maybe it was worth it. For the ones that got something important back, something that mattered to them.
On my way home to a cramped and lonely apartment I stop on the sidewalk. I take a poster off a light post, a poster for a black and white cat that has gone missing. I know where she is.
I stare at the number and think how I could make someone's day, even for all that ones I might not. There's a garbage can nearby, I could easily just discard the poster. Not think about it again.
It's a long moment before I make my choice.
I remove an old cellphone from my pocket and begin to dial.
"Diviner? Mr. Diviner sir?"
You look down at the tiny girl standing next to your table. She was no more than 8, a waif thin girl with red hair, a thankfully light smattering of freckles, and wearing a plain green dress.
"Not anymore kid. I'm retired." You say and look back down to the tablet next to your plate of food. You were watching a news segment about Ms. Dynamo and her latest battle with Entro-P. Someone had filmed her with their cellphone and she could be seen diving, spinning, and twirling through the air followed by fans of flame and blinding lines of laser. In the world of super-strength, magma from hands, telekinesis superheros, you were small potatoes. An empath, of sorts, that could follow strings of emotional connection. But you had only ever been able to sense the connections that children form with pets. Not human to human. Not adult to pet. Just children to pets. It was as clear as day to you. Looking at a child, you could see the vivid blue tether just hovering in the air, reaching out from the child's head, across the floor, through the door, around the corner... Your work for the past twenty years was never glamorous, but you enjoyed it. No parades were ever held in your honor, but you'd seen countless crying, happy faces in your time.
"My name is Rebecca." You look at her again. Two threads coming from her head, stretching off in different directions. two pets you think to yourself.
"Hi Rebecca." You say.
"My mom says you help kids."
You sigh and power down the tablet. "I used to sweetheart. I don't do that anymore though. I retired some years ago when the hero act passed into law. I could get in a lot of trouble for practicing super powers without a DHHB endorsement."
"I need help finding my baby brother." She said in a tinny voice. She was on the verge of tears.
"Oh honey. I couldn't help you with that. I can only help people find their pet..."
"My mommy is dead." She interuppted. "Her mean boyfriend hit her and hit her and she didn't get back up. Then he took Isaac and left. The police are looking for him but he's a very bad man and he has lots of bad friends and I don't think they'll catch him. He....he has powers too." She whispered the last part.
Intrigued, you ask. "What kind of powers?"
"He makes people not see him. Not invisible like The Shade, but when he wants to he makes people ignore him and they don't even see him. He does bad things to people."
"Hmmm." You respond. You hadn't heard of a registered mind clouding supervillian before, other than Haze, but he was killed four or five years ago, and his power made people lose control of their limbs.
"I can call some old friends at the Bureau." You tell her. "Maybe...I don't know. What makes you think I can help?"
"My mom bought a puppy for Isaac when he started to crawl. Tango. It's Isaac's puppy but....I always feed him...and I always walk him. He's my dog too. I already have a Beta fish but...he took Tango and Isaac..."
You look at the two hazy blue lines coming from her head. One is fainter, the obvious sign of a weaker connection. less love there you think.
The other connection is bright. Strong. The thread disappears off into the distance around a corner.
A crazy idea starts to form in your head...
It surprised me to discover how much clutter had accumulated in my broom closet of an office over the years. After setting two cardboard boxes down on my desk, I chewed on my lip and looked around, wondering where to begin. The bookshelf, stuffed with moldy books on all kinds of animals one could realistically expect to encounter in a city? Or should I dismantle the old coffee machine that I'd stopped using after discovering a hive of roaches inside?
My gaze fell upon a row of dust-coated picture frames sitting on the trunk where I stored my gear. Absently, I strode over and picked one up, gently brushing away its gray veil. It showed a fat little boy with his arms around a glaring tabby cat. Neither belonged to me; their parents had sent me the photo. I still remembered the first time I'd met them; elderly, prim and proper folk escorting their crying son into my office. They'd sat in front of me, explaining the disappearance of their pet in grave tones, while the boy had thrown a tantrum and cleared my desk for me without my asking. I'd almost cuffed him on the ear.
Truth be told, he had been the perfect specimen—I liked the ones who cried. Children weren't all that good at faking emotions. Genuine affection and love for their furry, scaly, chitinous or feathered friends usually set me on the right path within the hour. Didn't work so well when it came to bored teenagers or harried adults, or the worst: shitstain animal abusers. Those left such a horrid mark on I usually showered for an additional half hour.
As I put down that picture and picked up another—a bald girl lying in a hospital bed, but positively glowing as she cuddled her bearded dragon—I wondered how many of their pets were still with them. The fat boy ought to be eighteen or nineteen now. So many years had gone, yet I remembered the pure joy radiating from their faces when I'd found and returned their pets to them.
Never figured out how I did it, personally. I asked researchers. I asked doctors. I met therapists—back when I could afford the trips. None could give me the answers I wanted. I suppose it didn't help that my tracking skills manifested in all kinds of odd phenomena. Take the bearded dragon. For some reason I kept seeing shining, glittering scales raining in front of me, which I'd followed until I found the thing holed up in a rotting trunk. The tabby cat case had involved a strong smell of pepper—went through more boxes of tissues in that one day than I'd had in my whole life.
In every one of those memories, I, too, had been beaming. The money hadn't been too bad, but heck, seeing those kids happy had been the best bit. That almost made me change my mind.
But I hadn't had a job for three months. Nobody needed a crazy pet detective when they had the latest in collar-embedded chip technology or pet locator apps. Rent—home and office—were burdensome. Plus I liked having hot food more than ketchup on crackers four nights a week. The new cafe opening around the corner of my home was perfect: it served food and needed a waiter.
A knock on the door jarred me from my worries. I set the photo frame down and went to open it, cursing myself for forgetting to remove the plaque outside.
She was probably no older than eight, clutching an honest-to-goodness pink piggy bank to her chest. Her brown eyes went wide at the sight of me, no doubt helped by the fact that I was wearing a paint-stained sleeveless vest and tattered jeans.
Hey, off day here, who was she to judge?
"Yes?" I said.
"Some kids at school said you find lost pets," she said, tugging on her dark hair with one hand. "Can you help find Bouncy?"
Great. Lost rabbit. Tricky little buggers. They liked to twitch their noses and sit around, those soft, wet eyes enticing you into their trap. And when you thought you'd got them ... hop, they were off! And so the game went on. Those kids and parents thought it was easy, like pulling them out of a magician's hat easy.
That was why I never allowed anyone to come along on rabbit hunts, so they wouldn't see me use catch poles. Or that they wouldn't see me get bitten and scratched. Sometimes.
"I'm sorry, but I'm no longer providing any services," I said as gently as I could. "You'll have to talk to the police. Or your neighbors."
The waterworks began in an instant, but she was quiet about it. One forearm held against her eyes, she tried to push her piggy bank into my hands. "P—P—Please," she said. "He's been gone three days and papa doesn't want to look for him. He's all alone and scared!"
I sighed and looked longingly at my boxes. One day wouldn't make a difference, I supposed. "Okay, but you go home first, you hear me? Your parents here with you?"
She shook her head, sniffling. Wonderful, I thought as I went to get my snares. I had to babysit her too, if her parents didn't show up with the cops to accuse me of kidnapping. As an added bonus, she would get to watch me snare her rabbit.
"Come on," I said.
Once we were out on the pavement, I shut my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to get a sense of her feelings toward her pet. It was ... hard. Not difficult, but the emotion felt hard, like sandpaper running all over my skin, or rocks in my shoes. The sensation told me nothing about how she felt; only the strength of it mattered. I spun in a circle, trying not to wince at the imagined coarseness. Those feelings heightened whenever I happened to face north.
"Okay, think I've got a start," I said. We got into my busted sedan, and I began to drive.
Our town wasn't a large one. It was surrounded in a two-mile radius by more trees than inhabitants. When my sense compass began changing wildly with every turn of the road I made, I knew it was time to start walking.
I parked outside a grocery store and trotted on. The midday sun glared at us, and I felt grateful to myself for not putting on my usual dress shirt. The girl—Becca—followed with no complain, though she kept eyeing my snare with trepidation.
My instincts led us right to a park, formerly a golf course, now abandoned when the rich folk took their club elsewhere. It was choked with weeds, its once-clear ponds mucked up by algae.
"Just perfect," I muttered. "Time to chase a bunny over hills."
"What's that?" she said.
"Quiet and let me think," I said. We continued forward for a while, until we came to the edge of a pond.
"Er, I think Bouncy drowned himself," I said, staring at the murky water.
She scoffed. "Don't be silly, Bouncy swims."
"Yeah, but not in this."
"Are you even sure this is the right place? Those kids said you smell animals. How do you smell Bouncy in this?"
"Listen here, this thing about smelling animals or eating their poop is a whole miscon—argh what the hell is that!"
I leaped back, yanking her along, as an alligator emerged from the pond, snapping its jaws. The creature was about three feet long, covered in dark-green hide that trailed clumps of algae. It glared at us—and snapped its jaws once more, making for my foot.
"Time to go," I said, but she slipped out of my grasp and dove onto the alligator.
"Bouncy!" she cried, hugging it around the middle.
I gaped as the animal visibly calmed, slowing its erratic movements to nudge against her arm.
"This is—are you serious?" I said.
She laughed. "Yeah! I thought he might be here actually, since we live nearby, but papa said I'm not allowed to come here on my own. Since they won't take me, I thought you might."
I watched the alligator warily, dreading the moment that it realized the girl was a walking steak. But that moment never came. She patted it on the nose, and it perked up.
"I'm going home now," she said. "I left the money in your car, you can keep it!"
"It's not about the money, Becca. Your parents probably threw it away when they realized it was getting too big."
She paused for a moment, and looked at Bouncy. Bouncy looked back, appearing to be bored. "Is that true?"
I tried to think rationally about the situation, but what made up my mind wasn't logic. Instead, I remembered how she felt about the animal; alligator or not, maybe it deserved a chance. "I'll go talk to your parents with you, and we'll decide what to do later. Maybe you and I can convince "
She punched the air victoriously. "Time to go home, Bouncy." Sobering, she said, "Mister, thank you. You're really good at this job."
I grinned. "Wouldn't you know it."
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it; check out my sub if you wish to see more of my work!
My sister was balled up on the couch. Her eyes were red, cheeks puffy. She hadn’t slept in at least a day. Cops bustled in and out, the lights of cop cars and news vans bled through the closed drapes. I handed her a cup of coffee.
“How are you holding up?” She looked up at me and gave me a meek smile. The type that was a greeting and an apology all at once.
“They don’t have any leads. It’s usually the dad in situations like these, now that Gerry’s turned himself in—they don’t know.” I sat down and put my arm around her, pulled her close. It’d been two days since my niece went missing. The bus driver never saw her on Tuesday afternoon. We’d all figured it was Tammy’s ex husband, but he seemed to be as surprised as the rest of us. Tammy’s house, my house, and Gerry’s had all been raided and came up clean. The next most likely scenario was a random pick up by a stranger, those had a significantly lower rate of positive outcomes.
“The cops will do their job, they’ll find her.” I leaned in and kissed her forehead, then went upstairs to look at Maddie’s room.
I walked into the room hoping to take in some last memory of my niece before it was forever ruined by a headline I knew was inevitable. A pink dollhouse, books on the bookshelf, a bed with frilly lace.
A head popped up from the bed to see who had entered his sacred domain. Wrinkles, Tammy’s twelve year old golden retriever, he was just a puppy when Tammy brought Maddie home from the hospital. He had taken to the little girl immediately. He hadn’t moved since Maddie had gone missing, hadn’t eaten. He’d just sat on her bed waiting for her to come home. I looked at the old dog and frowned.
I tried to avoid animals. I had a weird—a thing with them. People develop close bonds with their animal companions and those bonds are more than just affection. For some reason, I had been sensitive to that connection. I’d be able to talk to people, find out as much as I could about their relationship with their animals and help them find those lost loved ones. It was more than just detective work, it was like a faint light connecting two organisms brought together through unconditional love. It was unexplainable, but I could sit down with a person and immediately see their pet. More importantly, I could see where they were. I’d tried to make use of it in the past. I started a pet detective agency, but it led to too many questions, too many heartbreaks. More often than not, pets ran away for a reason. I couldn’t find them if they didn’t want to be found. I’d given it up years ago, forgotten about it. I sighed heavily and sat on the bed next to Wrinkles. If only he’d been lost, I’d be able to help Maddie find her best friend; but here he was and she was no where to be found. I plopped my hand on his furry head and looked into his sad eyes.
The images moved through my consciousness in a flash. A warehouse, a street name, an offramp. It was enough, more than enough. It had never worked this way before, or maybe I had never tried. Either way, I was flooded with the realization that the connection to our pets went both ways, they were just as attached to us as we were to them. I looked at Wrinkles again, he seemed to perk up.
“She’s yours as much as you’re hers, isn’t she?” I pulled Wrinkles in close, took a deep breath of his coat, thanking him.
I walked down the stairs and asked to speak to the detective. I knew that there wouldn’t be any reasonable explanation for why I knew what I knew. I knew that there would be suspicion, that my life might never be the same. I knew, that there’d be a chance Tammy would never let me see my niece again. I wanted my niece back, but more than that, I wanted my sister to have her daughter back. I was willing to take whatever risk necessary to make that happen.
[WP] You're trapped in IKEA after closing hours. There is a Killer following you through all the display rooms. You want to leave but can't find a way out because it's IKEA. Title: Chopping Mall
A monster stalked behind me, his feet soft and silent on the polished marble. It was almost impossible to see him, even with the obnoxious glare of industrial lights. He was using something to kill us, something nasty and sharp - the pale corpses littered about like broken toys.
Ikea used to be a little piece of magic. Almost living dioramas, housing the strange and wondrous beasts known only to little me as furniture always seemed to intriguing. Now, it was all stained red, carved up like a slab of meat. Blood, sticky, scarlet blood was splashed across the walls, scrawling various horrifying messages. Most threatened madness, but some were more concerning; that is, if gory suicide notes aren’t worrying enough.
Hiding under the cheap wooden table, I struggled to slowly crawl towards the exit doors. The shadows managed to hide me enough, but sooner rather than later I was going to run out of cover. Secondly, the killer could be anywhere, just as lost as I was in the maze of the fucking store.
Triple shitflakes with a side serving of shitty.
Then I heard it, whistling so eerily like that of a songbird. It was beautiful in a macabre way, somehow enrapturing and disturbing at the same time. Perverse curiosity filled me. I wanted to find that song. I wanted to find who sung it.
And I wanted to snap their neck. Slice open their guts and let the blood flow out, let the bones break and shatter far, far below on the floor. Let them suffer.
Frozen in placed, poised to run, I hear it, a kind of sound that parodied a laugh in sick way. Fucked up, demented, the mayor of nutville.
I bolted, my pulse a jagged line piercing up and down, spinning faster and faster. I knew that he was behind me, the sound of his footsteps an echo just behind. Or ahead. Or in the shadows. I still didn’t know. God, he was getting to me. Manipulating me.
A cat torturing a mouse until it tore it open with its claws.
Madness. That is the only way I could describe running. It was horrible, like watching someone you love pass away. Like being stuck outside on a rainy day, watching as your sunlight dreams get washed away.
God shit fuck no. It couldn’t end this way.
Swinging behind a particularly tall shelf, the killer sprinted past, yowling like a beaten god. Slinking sideways, I tucked myself back away into the shadows, the shelves becoming a forest within the maze that was this mall, the wood the only solid thing in the world.
Run. Hide. Sigh. Repeat.
Finally, the exit appeared, looming like a giant black gate in the distance. Safe, secure and cloaked in the shadow of night. I’d already broken cover once, the killer obviously pissed in his own fucked up way. If I ran, I could shatter the glass and run through the carpark, alerting him and maybe dying in the process. Meanwhile, I could hide here and wait until help eventually arrived.
Again, the world becomes a blur. The ground no longer holds my weight, the panting and giggling booming in my head. My skull feels as if a firework is going off, my body slowly tearing itself to pieces. The knife goes in and out, the grace and speed the killer uses almost erotic, gentle in a morbid sense. Not painful, but cold. So very, very cold.
Twisting, fingers slashed across its edge, I plunge the knife into him, searching those hollow eyes from the exact fucking moment when the monster dies. I want to see his last breath. I want to see him bleed.
He only smiles with that skeletal grimace as my blood pools with his, the knife buried deep within his black heart.
I had always hated Ikea.
Leah, was unfortunately infatuated with both their furniture and their meatballs, and the twisting, turning, dead-ending and seemingly never ending maze of furniture and home goods seemed to only stoke her passion for the place.
The things I do for love.
I’m not saying it’s her fault. Obviously that psychotic madman following (or leading?) me was to blame. But, I never would have been caught dead in the Chopping Mall if Leah hadn’t drug me here in the first place.
It was a pretty normal visit, up until she and I got separated from the main store crowd as the announcements that the store would soon be closing began playing over the intercom system. We had somehow turned into a corner of the store that looked distinctly different than the rest. There were signs saying “retreo” hanging here and there, and all of the furniture seemed to have come straight out of the 70’s, along with appropriately kitschy names like, the “Peenk Fleuudenband,” the “Lued Zeppeliner,” and the “Eebone Sebbeth.” Feeling exhausted, I sat down for a minute on the Peenk Fleuudenband, trying to see if it would work as combination couch/guest bed in our gaming room, while Leah forged ahead around the corner, presumably to see if she could find some retro piece of wall art that she would eventually tire of two years from now. I closed my eyes for a few minutes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much time before the next store closing announcement came over the intercom. I got up and began to look for Leah. I walked in the direction I had last seen her go, around a blind corner adorned with some of the ugliest floor and table lamps I’ve ever seen, only to find a short hallway that ended abruptly in an enclosed kiddie corner with nothing but a few decorative plants to fill the space. Confused, I had turned around and went back in the direction we entered the retro section from, thinking that she must have doubled back and thought not to disturb me. As I retraced our steps from earlier, I couldn’t for the life of me find the pathway through which we had entered the Retreo section. I could have sworn it was right near the Lued Zeppeliner but where I thought the doorway should have been there was just blank wall with some awful cosmic blanket hanging as decoration. I walked along that wall, hoping that I had just misremembered the exact location of the door. More tacky furniture passed by as I traced the exterior of what felt to be a rapidly shrinking enclosure. Couches, end tables, ottomans, and a seemingly never ending supply of everything in between cluttered the periphery of my vision as I focused on following the wall. I followed it around twists, back to the kiddie corner with the fake plants, back past the Peenk Fleuudenband, and eventually, impossibly, back to the awful cosmic blanket hanging next to the Lued Zeppeliner.
It couldn’t be.
But it was.
I was trapped.
My heartrate was already elevated out of anger and frustration, but now, it jumped another octave as fear began to wash over me.
Ikea was a heartless company for how they manipulated people during the in-store shopping experience, but however bad they might be, they weren’t in the business of TRAPPING customers.
I pulled out my phone, hoping to call Leah, still unwilling to fully believe that I was actually trapped and not just being an idiot with no sense of direction. The beautiful display of my brand new iphone X stared up at me, blank. It was supposed to turn on just by sensing I was looking at it. It was brand new and had a full charge when we left, but, after playing with all of its buttons and making all manner of faces at it to no avail, I figured it must have somehow lost its charge. It didn’t make sense.
I know I said I was frightened, upset, and frustrated before, but I don’t think I can accurately describe the panic that began rising within me after I realized my only connection to the outside world was lost. The intercom played again, saying that the store was now closing, and that everyone should take their purchases and make their way to the cashiers now.
I started retracing the wall, hoping, praying, that I had missed a gap somewhere during my initial traverse that would lead me to freedom. The scene played out much as it did before. Me, paying barely any attention to the furniture around me as I searched desperately for a way out of this godawful prison. I must have retraced the wall four or five more times before I definitely, conclusively decided that I was trapped.
I yelled. I should preface this by saying that I’m not a loud person. I don’t like to be a burden on others and I like drawing attention to myself even less, especially when it might result in someone casually strolling around the corner only to ask, “What the fuck are you yelling for?” but in this situation, convinced I was trapped and would not be able to get out alone? I yelled and I screamed as loud as I could for anyone that might hear me.
Yelling didn’t help. I pulled out my phone again, hoping it would have somehow come back to life. That big beautiful screen just stared back at me, lifeless.
I sat back down on some couch I didn’t bother looking at the name of and tried to think. Tried to think of how this could have happened, tried to remember definitively how and where we came into this section. I could have SWORN it was right next to the Leud Zeppeliner, right where that shitty cosmic decorative blanket was hanging. Now that I thought it over, I was absolutely certain it was EXACTLY where that shitty blanket was hanging.
I got up, determined to find my way out. I walked over and ripped the hanging down…doing so was the first thing that had made me smile since I sat down to rest what must have been almost an hour ago at this point.
I looked at the wall closely. The blue paint looked like normal, blue wall paint. It was totally unremarkable. I continued looking…and then…there. Parallel lines, up and down the wall that looked just a bit fresher than the rest of the surface. There were stains and dirt and grime, not enough to be casually noticeable, but enough to see when your face was a foot away from the wall, that covered the rest of the area, but those two lines almost exactly a doors width apart, looked clean. I felt one of the lines. My finger came back with just the slightest amount of blue paint on it.
I knocked on the wall. It felt pretty solid, definitely not like a typical piece of sheetrock covering properly placed studs. I knocked around outside of the fresh lines, and there, the wall returned to the normal hollow sound one would expect. I thought about it for only a few moments before I grabbed one of the small end tables nearby, and put its foot through the wall next to where I was now certain a heavy door must have been placed since Leah and I walked into this section.
I opened a hole, tore out the insulation, and punched through the sheetrock on the other side and looked through.
Relief flooded through me as I saw the main section of the store, with all of its svelte Swedish designed modern furniture. I continued hacking away with the table until I had opened a space between the studs large enough to shimmy through.
I emerged into the main living room section, dusty, coughing, and looking utterly disheveled, but I was free.Or so I thought…
Hate to leave it half finished but gotta run to work. Will finish it up over lunch time if there's interest!
My dad calls life the Hero’s Journey. You see, he’s an author with a bad sense of humor and an even worse sense of writing. He makes ten grand a year off of the thing he spent his life doing and he calls it heroic. The adversity now is just to make his conquest all the sweeter. But the hero’s journey isn’t just contained to himself, it’s everyone.
First day of school, tears and snot dripping off my chin, clinging to his leg? “Son, this is your call to adventure, the first step of the hero’s journey.”
Go to college for a degree that I hate to work a job that I don’t want to do? “All part of the challenges that will lead to your death and rebirth.”
Marry a woman I don’t love because all my Facebook friends are posting five year anniversary pictures? “Son, do you really think I fucking know how to live a life?”
That one stuck. And so did my marriage.
Becca Holbert (Holt now) isn’t a bad person. She has these deep hazel eyes that always expand when looking at me. Her lips are curved up more than down and she has a way of viewing the world where things are guaranteed to work out. Kind of like the hero’s journey. I hate the hero’s journey.
So here we are, after the marriage, after the honeymoon, after two months’ worth of trying to fill silence with something. And that something has gone from TV, to a pet parrot, to finally buying a house together.
“Oh, don’t you think this looks cute?” she says, gliding her fingertips over a marble countertop in IKEA. We’re here shopping for furniture to shop for once we finally get the house.
I smile. I nod. Then, I check the price tag. “Seems a bit tacky, don’t you think?”
She frowns and curls her lips back before agreeing. Her disappointment only lasts until the next slab of redwood, linoleum, or reclaimed urban whatever. Every time she sees one of these tabletops, her first step toward it will be a little jump and her lips will curl into a small grin before sneaking a look at me, wondering if I’ll shoot this one down as well. But Becca’s not the type to believe in probability (since I’ve shot 100% of her tabletops down already), she believes in the Hero’s journey. So she keeps it up.
“Too big. Too small. Too tall. Too short. Too smelly.” I think I even used smelly in there once.
Eventually, we’re both exhausted. Becca’s hopped to a thousand tables and looked at me with those expanding hazel eyes. And I’ve been an asshole every one of those times. Now she returns me a different look. Her eyes go misty and her bottom lip wobble.
“Sorry,” she tells me. “I couldn’t find a good one.”
My heart sinks and I can feel the onset of some waterworks myself. It’s not the tabletops that aren’t working, I want to tell her, it’s us. Instead, I do my biggest asshole move of the night yet, I tell her, “There’s always next time.”
She wipes her tears in silent resignation to the lie I told.
I’m sure she knows it’s a lie. She has to. Maybe when we get divorced and she remarries, this day will all just be another part of her hero’s journey. I hope so. Becca’s a good person and she deserves more than this sham marriage.
The lights in the building click off. Becca yelps and runs to me, grabbing my hand. I look around, my eyes still adjusting to the new dark.
“Hello?” I call out, my voice echoing to its own sound. Nobody responds.
We must’ve been so caught up in our broken marriage that we missed even IKEA’s closing announcement!
“We stayed on accident,” I yell again. “Can someone show us the way out?”
The announcer whirs and screeches to life. “Hello,” it said, the voice in that pleasant grocery store tone. “If you’re still here, you are breaking the law. Now I’m not sure why you choose to break the law, but breaking the law is inexcusable. If you want to live in a world without law, where we’re just animals hunting each other down”—the voice turns sinister—“fine, just for tonight, but be careful what you wish for.”
And the announcement ends. Becca squeezes my hands tighter. “What did that mean?” she asks.
I curl my free hand into a fist. “Probably just a prank,” I tell her, my last lie of the night.
I hear his footsteps coming up the stairs and onto the second floor of the fucking huge furniture store as he hunts me. I tried forever ago with that goddamned pole to take advantage of him, but he was able to get to me first.
Now, I'm siting here, wounded from the gash in my right leg. I've created a circular blood trail that'll have him running around in circles for a long enough time for me to try and find an exit.
I see him. He's got the same axe he tried to chop my leg off with. I'm hiding in a cabinet, but I'm scared that the blood will started running down the side of the cabinet soon. There's no way he won't find me.
He just went around the corner and started tearing apart the children's corner trying to find me. I'm really scared.
He found me. This is it, I'm going to die. I'm leaving this world trapped in an IKEA cabinet. This literally couldn't be more humiliating.
He opened the door and said, "Thank god I got to you. I'm really sorry about the leg. It's almost here. It can smell your fear. I think there's an exit downstairs but we have to go now."
"HURRY! There's no time!!"
[wp] Chocolate has been illegal for the past 5 years and you're at the docks about to pick up your next shipment of Belgian gold when you start you hear sirens off in the distance...
"Shit, They're coming" I yelled to the other, they all start to scramble. Throwing boxes of our precious bounty into the vans. "Mr Big, Freddo, You head to the safe house on 5th Avenue and Bourneville. We'll meet you as soon as we can, some time after eight. There's a Pal-o-mine near by who can hide Carlos V, Reese and I until then. Go!" Mr Big and Freddo jumped into their van and sped off on my orders. A few seconds after they pass from sight, three cop cars round a different corner. Reaching us before we can even get the engine started. They burst out of their cars and we drop what we're doing. Several guns pointed at us. A cop in a long brown duster jacket climbs out of one of the cars and walks over to us. "Take 5, gentlemen." he says to his officers once we've been searched for weapons. "So, we have the Three Musketeers." he says as he takes a look in the back of our van. "Oh, Henry. Moving up to the big time are we? I'm disappointed in you. Must be 100 grand's worth in here." He says to me, pulling out a box and dropping it to the floor. "Oops, butter fingers" he smiled at us as we watched our haul become tainted on the floor. "You're all going down for a long time." None of us spoke, Carlos V and I turned and faced the van, putting our hands behind our backs as we're used to. Reece opened the van door and grabbed something from inside. He span, pointing to object towards the nearest cop. Reece was shot down before he could pull the trigger. Carlos V and I were thrown to the ground and cuffed. "Anymore guns I should know about?" asked the detective. "No, I swear. I didn't know he had that. It was Reece's piece, not ours." Carlos V said. "If there'll be no more surprises like that then it'll be smooth sailing for us all." said the detective as we were lifted to our feet and lead to the cop cars. I took one final look back at the haul of the decade. The thought of untold riches slowly being replaced by the thought of years of prison time. My heart sank. I just hoped that Freddo and Mr Big got away.
Awesome. I absolutely loved that and completely exceeded my expectations.
How long had it been now? Four, five years? It had all seemed a blur since the so called “fair trade act” of 2024. They had outlawed naturally produced chocolate, saying that it was being done to protect the rights of farmers and workers in the third world and the safety of the population back home. But really, it was only after years of intense lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry that anybody on the hill gave a damn about the stuff. As the strains of GMO cocoa seeds began popping up around the world, new compounds began working their way into the chocolate that was sold throughout the developed world. A few enterprising scientists had been looking into the health effects associated with mass consumption of the new chocolate when they discovered that, when taken in sufficient quantities, a specific compound found in the seeds used in the new chocolate had remarkable anti-cancerous properties. Granted, consuming enough chocolate to reach that level was unsafe for other reasons, but most garage chemists would be more than competent enough to refine the specifically beneficial compound, alleviating that concern. News of this hadn’t really gotten too far out of the scientific communities when the smear campaign started.
Multiple, big budget documentaries about how the rights of cocoa farmers were being violated around the world. Even more, about the dangers of heavy chocolate consumption and how it could contribute to a significantly decreased lifespan. There were commercials. Sad things, with sad songs overlaying still images of decrepit villages with emaciated farmers, juxtaposed against immobile individuals, their guts overflowing even their custom made sweat pants. And then there was the lobbying. The pharma industry had always been among the heaviest lobbyists on the hill, but their presence truly exploded during that time. Nobody really knew why the pharma lobby was, to a man, excoriating everything about chocolate, from the ills of its production to the associated moral and health related effects of its purchase and consumption. But a few years down the line, after the reality of its beneficial effects began to crystallize a bit more firmly within the scientific communities, folks began to understand. Cancer therapies were the pharma industry’s cash cow. Without them, they would be under in a matter of a few years. The simple, unavoidable fact was that a cure for cancer would spell the death of the pharmaceutical industry, and that they would do absolutely anything in their power to prevent a cure from being researched, produced, or talked about in any forum.
So, that’s where I come in. You see, researchers need materials. They need cancer cells, they need Petri dishes, Bunsen burners, all that sort of stuff, but what they really need, above and beyond the rest, is a source of chocolate. Ever since the ban, possessing even a small block, the type that used to be sold 16 to a bar, was considered a felonious offense. Scientists are, generally, not the most risk tolerant folks in the world, especially when 20 years to life is on the line should they be caught, so they need help getting their hands on the elixir of life that I provided them access to. It was back, about when chocolate had become more valuable, per ounce, than silver that I began to think it might be worth the potential risk associated with the special handling it required. While being caught with small amounts of chocolate was punishable by a minimum twenty-year sentence, possession with the intent to distribute carried a minimum life sentence. I rationalized that risk away by telling myself that I was a warrior for the people, promoting the interest of the greater good against the greedy, immoral ways of the rich and powerful, but really, it was the money. Oh. So. Much. Money.
So, that’s why, with no moon overhead, darkness and fog fully settled over the docks and streets, I began to smile and hum ever so slightly under my breath as I heard the telltale sound of a muffled engine and slow moving water. Though difficult to see, the fog parted, and a small, shielded red light came into view, bobbing ever so slightly as it moved over the bay and through the late-night mist.
I helped them dock, opened a few of the packages and tested the goods, and after being satisfied with its authenticity, helped the two guys running the boat unload the boxes into an airtight, negative pressure false compartment in the bed of my truck. I closed things up, kicked the small vacuum pump on briefly to bring the pressure in the compartment down, and happily paid the gentlemen from the boat.
It wasn’t a big order. Not by a long stretch, but it would be enough to supply a few months of research for a small lab that I wasn’t terribly familiar with. I don’t normally do business with anyone I haven’t personally verified, but this lab had come with glowing recommendations from a number of my existing customers. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea but had gone along with it at the urging of my customers, they had said the research this lab was performing was genuinely cutting edge and would facilitate everyone else’s work if they could get the chocolate, and results they needed.
I climbed into the cab of the truck, rolled down the windows, and felt the coolness of the night air wash over me, enjoying how the slight mist settled about things, bringing with it a muffled peace that the city usually doesn’t possess. And that was when, amidst the cool and the night, amidst the satisfaction of a job nearly done and a risk nearly rewarded, I turned the key in the drive and brought the engine to life.
That was also when I heard the sirens, and saw the sides of the buildings all around light up bright red and blue with the reflection of my greatest fear.
Thank you very much. Bit of a short one and a joy to put together. :)
[WP] In an alternate reality JK Rowling died writing The Deathly Hallows and requested George RR Martin finish the book. He accepted and takes over at the Battle of Hogwarts with no instruction on how it's supposed to end.
George got a call from Martha at Bloomsbury only two days after he turned in the final manuscript of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which Martin advised calling Harry Potter and the Dawn of Night, mostly due to how he had written it.
"Hullo, Martha," he said.
"Hi, George." Her tone was Splenda-sweet, and George knew instantly something was off.
"Oh, you don't like the book."
"It's not that--"
"Fantastic. I take all this valuable time off working on book six, only for you people to turn around and tell me it's garbage." He had been making some scrambled eggs. He slammed the bowl down on the counter. "I can't wrangle with you wardens of art at the moment. I understand I wrote something perhaps more complicated ethically than Jo would have, but I think she'd find the tone really matches how her characters have matured into adulthood."
"I agree with you in spirit," the editor said, carefully. "However, do you believe it was necessary to have a Slytherin student effectively addicted to killing?"
"No battle is fun without a blood-monger."
"Well, I don't think our book's fan base will be invigorated to learn that Hermione is gutted by a brand new character when she goes to find Ron and is left to die. Or that when Ron found her the new student--" she paused, apparently to find the right line "'spilled open Ron's jugular in a thick spray of arterial scarlet', nor that Ron then 'collapsed, reaching for Hermione's still fingers, but not quite able to reach. They lay that way until the staff began the grim job of rounding up bodies, in the morning.' I mean, these are two of the primary characters. They just... died."
"As people do," George said, sagely.
"Listen. Today I would really like you to review your draft and reconsider what points you could revise." George scoffed, offended, but the editor continued relentlessly, "These people aren't wanting to read a George R.R. Martin book, you know? They're hoping for a sweet and wholesome conclusion where Harry Potter's friends aren't murdered by a power-hungry sociopath. Additionally, since this is technically a children's book, I think we'll need to remove both sex scenes."
"Can I at least get a fade to black?" he asked, even though those were super lame and the domain of cop-out writers. No. George did not flinch when it came to life's many and varied fluids.
"Probably not." There was still a smile in her voice. "Okay, George? Does that all make sense?"
"I suppose." He stirred his scrambled eggs viciously. "I don't see why you would ask me to write it if you didn't want it to sound like me."
"Surely you can try a voice switch. Pretend you're an actor putting on a new accent."
George R.R. Martin hung up the phone and growled to his empty kitchen, "I don't use accents."
George skimmed a few pages of the draft edits he had received from Martha. He had cut out perhaps too much of the boring magic bits, except to give that Longbottom boy a flaming sword, but he needed a good redemption moment, George felt.
Neville stood on the edge of the wall, staring grimly at the roving army of the dead ten thousand strong (really?? there's no legion of the undead in HP, George! (well, technically there is the Inferi army, but I know you had NO idea they existed, so you can't pretend that's what you meant.)) below him, like a boiling sea of ants, just as relentless and hungry for war. He unsheathed his sword called Death Eaters' Bane, its pommel a snarling lion with red-jeweled eyes. It had been his father's sword. Perhaps if Frank Longbottom had been carrying Bane when the Lestrange fell upon him that bleak night, he would be alive to pass his sword onto his son himself.
I appreciate the tension but we said you can't write your own backstory. You get a little carried away.
The next passage was the only critique George agreed with.
Dumbledore turned his wand on one of the Slytherin students, who had just sent a first-year Hufflepuff, running for her life, into an early grave. The raw heat of his anger locked the child in place and he raised his wand, eyes red and mad with fury, like a bear who's just seen its cub murdered.
"That," Dumbledore murmured, "was a very poor choice indeed."
He performed a rending curse and the boy split open and scattered across in the dining hall, his bones clinking dully against the stone.
The headmaster hurried away to the rest of the battle.
This time Martha's note read simply: DUMBLEDORE DIED ALREADY. You can't bring him back just to kill him again. And he wouldn't murder a student like that...
"Wait," George said to himself. "Really?" He double checked his notes. That seemed to be from the part Jo wrote. He always told himself he'd get around to reading that, but why bother when his publisher gave him such a good summary already.
When he finished reading, most of the manuscript seemed solid. Martha, it seemed, was grossly overreacting. For example, Martha did not care for Harry removing Voldemort's head at the end. She explained that it would make more sense for his old age and the wrongness of his being to make him simply disappear.
George rolled his eyes. "What kids don't like a good bit of beheading?" And besides, it would be reckless to use a rule that so readily eschews physics. George was a man of realism, after all. He did not put things in books that weren't feasible.
And then, of course, he ended with the respective love interests finally bedding. Any story about bodies and fervor must acknowledge the softer side of if. Martha had struck out the whole scene of Ginny crying over her dead brothers and then leaping into Harry's bed shortly afterward.
Below it she wrote only the words, no no NO George. Not appropriate!
George called Martha up when he finished reading. When she answered, wearily, he said, "What if just Ron dies? Would that be okay?"
"And the sex scenes."
George was quiet for a long moment.
"George," she said, sternly. "You promised Jo you'd write her book, not your book."
He whined like a child, "Gods, you make everything so much worse," and hung up on her. When he calmed down, he would take all the good bits out of it.
For now, it was time to go to his file on The Winds of Winter and rewrite the same sentence over and over again for a few hours. Surely that would count as progress.
Thanks for reading. :)
I posted a brief satirical excerpt from George's version of the story. Thanks for reading!
ETA: The conversation that finally makes George quit the project
G: (angrily) Look, I'm never going to win a Hugo off this thing with Jo's underdeveloped ideas and predictable plots.
M: Well, Jo's ideas had no problem beating yours out for a Hugo before.
G: *rage quits*
An Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Dawn of Night by George R.R. Martin
Not for reprint or redistribution. This file does NOT leave this office. No one needs to know this ever happened. It wouldn't be fair to Jo's legacy.
Before Jo's untimely and unfortunate accident, this was the final line she left us with, a haunting and truly ageless monologue from the Dark Lord himself:
"I know that you are preparing to fight. Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood. Give me Harry Potter, and they shall not be harmed. Give me Harry Potter and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter and you will be rewarded. You have until midnight."
This is what George R. R. Martin did to the rest of it.
The Dark Lord's voice echoed through the silent halls. It rasped like basilisk scales on stone, promising blood and death. All eyes in the great hall turned to Harry Potter, full of hate and something like hope. A part of him remembered that people were merely animals, fueled by little more than blood, hunger, lust. He obscured his wand in the sleeve of his robe and raised his chin, daring any to speak out against him.
A Slytherian girl shifted to show the gleaming knife at her belt, the pale birch wand beside it. "Our choices seem rather self-evident." She stood from her bench and, speaking mostly to her green-cloaked bretheren, said, "We have no choice but to turn over Harry Potter."
"Stop," Hermione said, her voice magnified and swallowing all the din. Her classmates went quiet and stared at her like stunned wolves. Hermione stepped in front of Harry, her wand raised. She surveyed the room with suspicion which she masked as diplomatic urgency. "There are only two choices in this war, my friends: you are with the light or you are against us. If the dead breach the wall, there is no House Cup. There is no more teenage drama or whatever it is we do in high school. There is only death, eternal darkness and destruction." She pointed at Harry. "He is our only hope in all of this. He is the only one who can kill the Night King."
"Dark Lord," said Ron.
"Are you sure? Let me check my notes." A shuffling of paper. "Damn, you're right. I'll have to change this later." Hermione shook her head and regarded the four houses of wizards eyeing each other tensely, waiting for betrayal to bring doom upon them as inevitably as nightfall. "Without Harry, we're all lost."
Neville Longbottom rested his hand on the helm of his father's sword. The lion's eyes seemed to gleam in the flickering light of the candles. "I swore an oath to you, Harry Potter. I mean to honor it. I'll serve you until the end of my days."
Draco Malfoy (who I am fairly sure is in this scene - if not you guys fix it so he is - GRRM) folded his arms over his chest. His cloak was made of black leather, with the mark of the Death Eaters as its clasp. His gloves were the color of fresh bovine blood. "How can you be so sure of that?"
"Prophecies are ancient garbage. Words lost to the wind." He pretended to watch them flitter away. When he shifted his cloak back Hermione saw a long and thick sheath hanging from his waist. She could not remember the last time she had seen Draco carry a sword. She blushed, astonished by its girth, and dreaded what evils Draco came here to wrought with it. "What do you say to those of us who serve the winning side?"
"It shall soon become the losing side."
Draco turned in time to see the rush of wind explode from McGonagall's wand. It seized him by his hair and chin simultaneously. McGonagall turned her wrist sharply, and Draco's neck snapped like a wet branch. He collapsed, bonelessly.
The other Slytherians looked on, drooping in horror.
"I was tired of listening to that arrogant little bastard." McGonagall sheathed her wand and turned to address the children. "Ms. Granger is absolutely correct. There are two ways out of this room, students." She gestured to the armored House of Gryffindor, as bold and bloody as their house sigil, ready to stain Hogwarts red if that was what it took to save it. "You join our house--" she pointed to Draco, limp and blank-eyed on the stone floor "--or you join his. You may choose your own fate."
Harry looked around, shocked, as the entire great room began to take the knee. And he hadn't even done a thing but stand there, being protected. He felt as useless as nipples on a breastplate.
When he realized that everyone was looking at him, he raised his wand and cried, "We will crush the dead. We will end the Dark Lord and his reign of night. Tonight, Hogwarts will be slick with blood. I won't lie; many of us will die. But in the morning, we shall be free. In the morning, we will have saved the world."
Edited to add an extremely useful allusion that /u/jasonandhiswords pointed out I definitely needed.
I mean, these are two of the primary characters. They just... died."
"As people do," George said, sagely.
This part had me in stitches. The whole thing was great. Cheers mate :)
"She could not remember the last time she had seen Draco carry a sword. She blushed, astonished by its girth,"
[WP] When you die, you wake up in an alien world holding a bong, with other aliens saying how was the trip.
“I love you, grandpa,” my youngest grand-daughter, Sherry, said as she squeezed my hand.
I looked up at those emerald green eyes she had gotten from me, at my entire family’s as the heart machine’s slow beats gently faded. Eighty years had passed by in a blink of an eye. When I had been Sherry’s age, I had thought myself invincible. Then, at forty, I had worried constantly about death, thinking through sleepless nights about it. But now, I realized that it wasn’t so bad. Because if there was ever a scene to immortalize, to be my last, it would be this. Sherry, her bright green eyes glistening with tears, my children and grandchildren all around me as the heart beat monitor lulled me to a gentle and permanent sleep.
“I love you too,” I told them all and I closed my eyes.
My eyes opened.
“How was the trip?” a familiar voice asked from beside me.
I looked around at the purple moss smothering the rolling hills and the campfire burning in front of me. On my lap was a bong. At last, I remembered. My name had never been Terry, it was Zor’oah.
“Yo, dude, you back with us?” Galmroh said, snapping purple fingers in front of my face.
I coughed and nodded. Seventeen eyes looked at me from the six people sitting around the campfire. Just as I had wished as fifty-year old Terry, I had gotten my time back. Zor’oah was a freshman in high school who finally got invited by the popular kids into a drug-fueled camping adventure. Three boys, three girls, and a lot of “you can’t blame me for that, I was high”.
Galmroh and Sardak had already paired up, leaving me with Sierrah, the reason I had agreed to come. She now looked at me with sharp blue eyes, a small grin on her lips. Her purple hair had pink streaks across it that dangled off her head and curved into her chest like directions on where to direct your eyes.
“So Zor’oah, how was it? Tell us all the things you did,” she asked.
“Bet you can’t beat me,” Galmroh said, his chest inflating with pride. “My first trip, I enslaved an entire race and forced them to build these stupid triangles.”
“At least he can’t do as bad as Sardak’s first trip. He was just a slave. At least he killed someone before his trip ended.” Sierrah said.
They turned to me again, waiting to hear of all my misdeeds. “I was a man named Terry,” I muttered. “And um… I met this girl named Sarah.”
Sierrah’s smile grew. “Sarah, eh? Tell us, what nasty things did you do to this Sarah?”
Blood rushed to my face, burning it a deep violet. “I married her,” I said.
Galmroh choked on a breath. Sardak burst out laughing. The rest of the girls only furrowed their brows.
“Yeah.” I knew I should stop. I had spent an entire semester trying to join this circle and continuing the Life of Terry was social suicide. But someone had to know of that first kiss with Sarah, the look in her eye staring at our first child together, and the tears in Sherry’s eyes when she told me her final goodbye.
So I told them, my voice tinged with pride. At the end of my story, I was the only one smiling and my smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
“Dude,” Galmroh said, awe in his voice. “That was… super lame.”
Everybody burst into collective laughter.
“You did even worse than me on my first trip!” Sardak howled. “You’re such a wimp! Why are you even here?”
I nodded to that one. “Yeah,” I said, talking to myself. “Why am I here?” I pushed myself up and walked back toward my spaceship.
Laughter followed me the entire way, but I didn’t care. I opened the hatch of my spaceship and was just about to get in when I heard, “Zor’oah!”
I turned to find Sierrah. She hunched over, panting, one of the buttons on her blouse undone. “Hey,” she said, “you don’t have to run. I mean, your trip was totally lame, but your next one’ll be better. Plus”—she bit her bottom lip and her eyes grew big—“you don’t want to be the only virgin in school, do you?”
Beneath the starry sky, the silver luminescence of our twin moons, I recognized the glint in her eyes and for a single second, they were a brighter green than any emerald in the world.
“Sorry,” I told the most beautiful girl in my high school and slipped into my spaceship. “By the way, the trip wasn’t lame.”
My engines roared to life and I flew off into the twilight. There were a trillion stars above me and I knew that around one of them, on one planet, was a girl with wild grassy eyes still clutching her grandpa’s hand. There had to be. Tears filled my eyes as I flew back home.
Fiction or not, it was the most real thing I had ever done.
/sub/jraywang for 5+ stories weekly and ~200 stories already written!
That made me real emotional for a monent
"You beat cancer and went back to work at the carpet store? Boooo!"
Thank you! I've been dealing with a lot of writer's block lately, so I'm really happy you liked it :)
[WP] Your ability to see people's age in years as an invisible number above their heads has made you the perfect bouncer. One day you see a four digit number.
It was, more often than not, the smiley ones I watched out for. While I checked their IDs, their gazes would frequently flicker over to their friends for support. The more jittery among them would chatter away with quotes plucked directly from the latest Fortune magazine or how "buying their own place was the best thing to happen to them". If only they knew they weren't the only ones saying those things ...
Inevitably, after about fifteen seconds of my careful, silent scrutiny of their spotless plastic cards, the first tracks of sweat would begin to appear on their foreheads. Their conversations would die down, and the fidgeting multiply. The desperate ones would say, with frequent glances over my shoulder at doorway through which pulsing lights and throbbing music emerged, "Could we, uh, hurry up? Our friends are waiting for us inside."
"I'm sorry, but you're underage. This ID isn't valid," I said.
Sometimes, I wished I could just tell them the truth—that I could identify crap-all about them from the card. The printed numbers meant little against the large , glimmering digits floating above their heads. It'd taken me several childhood years and the help of a mirror to figure them out, but they made me damned good at my job.
"This can't be right," the young man said, jaws tightening even as a visible, nervous shudder coursed through his body.
"I'm guessing, seventeen?" I almost laughed at his shocked expression. Jerking my thumb toward his older male companion, I said, "Your brother'll just have to take you elsewhere."
"C'mon, let's go," the other man said, pulling him out and shooting me one last dirty look.
Such was the life of a street-level NYC bouncer. As I was writing down the ID's details on a register, I heard the clicking of heels approach. Next moment, a slim, small hand slid an ID card onto my podium.
I looked up and did a double-take—literally jumping back a step. She was pretty, more girl-next-door than supermodel, with loose auburn hair hanging to her shoulders framing a lean face. About five feet tall, she wore a tight-fitting black dress that terminated at mid-thigh, though her figure wasn't anything more spectacular than I'd been seeing for the past hour or so.
So, your typical college girl lookalike ... but for the number above her head.
Three thousand and nine.
What. The. Hell.
"There might be an issue with your age," I blurted before I could stop myself.
"Excuse me?" she said in a faintly European accent. Other than her mouth, the rest of her hadn't moved at all—even the fingers clutching the purse in front of her were like cold marble. I could feel goosebumps popping up on my arms as I reached for her ID.
"Sorry, just give me a moment to check," I said, darting furtive looks at the age number above her head as though I expected it to change at any time. I'd never been wrong before; perhaps this was the first time?
Her name was Helena Ricci. Born here in the US twenty-two years ago. I ran the scanner over it. Clean. Shit.
"Er, I'll need just a moment to register you into our system," I said.
"Take your time. I've got plenty," she said. Her eyes remained cold above her smile.
Once the process was complete, I handed the card back to her. "Have a pleasant evening."
She took the card and stalked off into the club. I felt tempted to go after her—so many questions were in my head—but that would mean revealing my gift. And one didn't go around spouting such nonsense so easily, so my dad had warned me.
So I threw my attention back to the impatient and growing line of patrons waiting for me.
The hours flew by. I kept an eye out for Helena among the clubbers trickling out. Once, I thought I saw her in the midst of a small group of men, who went and lounged by a Levante parked not far away. They smoked for a while before returning to the club.
At about four in the morning, when activity was visibly slowing down, she left the club, flashing me a grin on the way. That, more than anything, helped make up my mind.
"Helena," I called, jogging from my post to catch up to her. "I've got something I want to ask you."
She paused in her step, but maintained her distance out of my arm's reach. "Yes?"
I tore my eyes away from her numbers and met her searching gaze. "How old are you?"
She snorted. "Really? We're still not over this?"
"I can see people's ages, above their heads," I said in a rush. "I've always been able to—since I was a child. And I see that you're—"
"Quiet!" she snapped, looking around almost fearfully. "You must be dreaming, or imagining things. I'm only twenty-two, recently graduated—"
"That's bullshit," I said. "I've never been wrong. I know what I see. And I'm most definitely not high or anything."
She scoffed. "Stay away from me, mister. I've got Mace here in my purse." With that, she hurried away.
"I told you my secret. Don't I deserve a little truth from you?" I said.
She stopped in her tracks and turned her head halfway. "I never agreed to a trade."
"I won't say anything to anyone, I promise," I said. "I just—seeing you is almost the same as NASA revealing that alien life exists on the Moon or something. Can't you imagine what it's like for me?"
For a long time, she remained quiet. I could almost see the gears turning in her head. At last, she said softly, "Fine. Come, I'll show you."
Elated, I followed. She didn't speak to me as we traversed the silent, shadowy streets, but I held my tongue as well. If I asked one question too many, she could turn me away.
About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at an unmarked red door in a back alley, sandwiched between two dumpsters. I frowned at our surroundings, suddenly realizing that if she wanted to rob me—or worse—I wouldn't be discovered until the next week probably.
She knocked on the door, but instead of a rapping sound, musical notes floated from somewhere inside. Then, it swung open to reveal a heavily bearded giant of a man. His fierce gaze took one look at Helena before his expression melted with warmth, and he wrapped his arms around her.
"Who is this?" he said.
"With luck, someone smart enough to keep his life," she said.
I tried not to gulp as the man held out a brick-like hand for me to shake. "I'm Olander," he said.
"I'm Jeff, pleased to—holy crap, you're over a thousand years old," I said.
He blinked in astonishment. "How did you know? Oh, Helena, what have you brought us?"
"He might be useful. Shall we go in?" she said.
Olander led us into a long, stone tunnel with an arched ceiling. It looked extremely cramped for the big man, but he hunched his shoulders in a manner that indicated familiarity. The two of them spoke in a language I didn't know. Somewhere in the distance, there was a constant gush of water—perhaps we were near one of the city's waterways?
Moments later, we reached another door, this one made entirely of solid, carved wood. I had only begun to marvel at its surface when Olander pushed it in and revealed the chamber within.
I gaped, open-mouthed, at the twelve Roman columns supporting a ceiling of painted frescoes, spaced around the cavernous place lit by huge chandeliers and colorful wall-mounted lanterns. In the center of the room was a fountain almost ten feet tall, crystalline water spilling from the top into three descending circular pools and sparkling with light.
People of various races and attire filled the room, mingling in small groups; eating from the buffet tables, drinking, admiring paintings hanging on a section of wall, or listening to an orchestral quartet on a small stage.
And above all, I was stunned at the numbers everywhere. Two thousand and eighty-two. One thousand five hundred. One thousand and six. Three—freaking three—thousand, seven hundred and forty-four.
"How?" I stammered. "What is this?"
Helena didn't answer except to point at the fountain. And then it dawned one me. Before I could inquire further, she pulled me back out of the chamber into the tunnel.
"Would you be interested in a new job here at our club?" she said.
"I, er ... what job?"
"Doorman." She sighed. "You see, we can't have too many of ... us ... running around the world. Defeats the purpose of actively staying out of the history books, if you know what I mean. Anyone below a thousand must not be allowed in—sometimes, it's really hard to tell. But you already know that with your current job."
"I'll have to think about it," I said. My head felt like it was about to split apart. Those people ... some of their clothes looked like they predated writing. "Are there ... younger people ... trying to get in, too?"
"More than you know," she said in a grave tone. "Olander takes care of them, usually, but it's really insulting if you turn away the wrong patrons. And grudges can last for a long time with us."
"Well, you already know we have a great healthcare package, networking opportunities, insurance and investment returns. I won't pressure you to give me an answer tonight," she said, going to stand in the doorway. "Take your time. I'm in no hurry."
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. Check out my sub if you'd like more stories.
Edit: Floored and extremely humbled by the reception. Again, thanks to all of you who read it and for the aurums. Now for news some might find disappointing ... I don't have plans to expand this for now, mostly because of time constraints, working on some ongoing projects. This story was intended to be a one-off—with a sense of unresolved mystery at the end that could allow readers to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. That said, I really appreciate your comments, feedback, critique, and most of all, support, which is why I'll give the plot some thought and work on it soon as I can. Also you won't have to buy it—I'll post the story for free on my sub :)
This could be the start of a book, if you fleshed it out some more. Well done.
Edit: Apparently it's fleshed, not flashed.
unzips pants time to flash it out
Hey... if you write this into a book, I'll buy it.
[WP] When you save someone's life, it becomes forfeit, and they're forever in your debt. Effectively, this means super heroes are some of the largest slave owners on the planet.
Charles looked up into the purple sky, before creeping down the subway stairwell. He carried his shoes in his hands, and pressed his bare feet slowly against the concrete steps. Even the slightest sound might be too much.
When he reached the bottom, he switched on his flash-light, wincing at the click. The beam spilled out over a subway wall, revealing streaks of green and red graffiti:
Death to the Iron Maiden. Justice. Justice. Justice.
He moved the light lower and lit a depiction of the winged superhero with a noose around her neck. Her eyes were two lifeless crosses and her arms and legs had been severed at the joints.
Charles took a deep breath as he manoeuvred the beam away from the wall and shone it down the tunnel. The arched walls around him made him feel like he'd been swallowed by an ancient demon.
As he pressed on, he passed abandoned blankets and crumpled cardboard boxes that stunk of urine and vodka. They had belonged to people like him not so long ago - people that had sought refuge. They had been people like him. Now, they were the dust that danced around his feet.
He came to a second set of stairs and paused a moment, before descending. He thought he could hear a distant murmur rising from below.
It took him another ten minutes to find the door that was marked with a vertical slosh of red paint. Charles knocked four times, paused and then knocked once more.
The door creaked open. Charles could see eyes peering out of the darkness.
"You got an invite?" the darkness whispered.
Charles rummaged in his jeans until he found the card. He held it out; a hand shot through the gap and snatched it.
"Hmm. Okay. Final chance. Once you're in here, you're in here. You certain about it?"
Charles thought of his wife. Of how she collapsed, overworked. Of how the Iron Maiden had forced him to dig her grave whilst she was still breathing. He raised his left hand and looked at the - suddenly painful - scar, that ran down it. An unshakeable souvenir of the final day his wife had been alive.
The door opened wide. Charles stepped through.
"Welcome, friend," said the man who had taken his card. "I'm Calvin. And these are," he gestured behind him, at the large open space filled with twenty or so men and women, "a few, uh, like minded individuals." He quietly closed the door behind Charles. Dim candlelight lit the room, sending reams of shadows dancing on the walls and darkening the faces of the people within.
A lady with long hair walked over to him. "Say, I remember you," she said. "Yeah, yeah - you're that cute guy I met at O'Reilly's. You're the chemist, right?"
It was the woman who had given him the card. Whom he had explained everything to, his heartache and - by accident - his hatred of the superhero. She had not only listened to him, but she truly seemed to understand.
"Sure," she replied, frowning. "Listen, I'm glad you came." She bit her lower lip and leaned in conspiratorially, lowering her voice to a whisper. "We needed you here."
"Me? For what?"
"We think we've found a way to kill the Iron Maiden."
Charles laughed. "You can't be serious."
"I am absolutely serious," she replied, her face deadpan.
"But..." Charles began, his smile dropping "so many have..."
"Tried? Died?" She sighed. "They were the real heroes, you know. The unsung heroes, with no church to worship them, or grave for them to rest. But their efforts were not in vain." She paused for a moment. "There was a man, a few years ago. His name was Carlos Stamost and he, like many before him, had suffered greatly under the Maiden. He rather stupidly attempted to take her out by himself. Needless to say, he failed. But... he was in a way, more successful than any other who had tried before."
"That doesn't really say much," Charles retorted. He noticed that a crowd of shadowy faces had gathering around the two of them.
"Carlos was a sniper," Margaret continued, ignoring Charles. "He shot a dart - that we later recovered - tipped with a particular chemical mixture, into her neck. Now, whilst he wasn't successful in injuring her, the dart did have some interesting effects."
"What effects?" Charles asked, curiosity slowly rising.
"We believe that it weakened her, very briefly. It was an almost imperceptible drop, but nevertheless, we are almost certain that it lessened the force of her powers."
"Almost certain," Charles said, shaking his head. "So... you need me to recreate the mixture? Is that why you invited me?"
"No. We can do that on our own. We need you for something much more important, Charles."
"We need you to get close to her. To apply the poison to her on a regular basis, without her knowledge. To weaken her to the point where we can harm her. Where we can kill her."
"You want me to... infiltrate her circle? Is that it?" He laughed again. "You've got the wrong guy! How would I even get close to her? I'm not a spy or... or even an actor! I'm a chemist."
"Charles. You didn't choose to be a chemist. You were made to be. Forced. What you were... that doesn't define you. What you do, your actions, that's what makes you you."
Charles felt dizzy. The candles were becoming a smoky blur. He dragged a hand down his face as he thought again of his wife; of the spade as it bit into the frozen dirt. His scar seemed to burn his hand like it was a fresh branding.
"She murders children, Charles," Margaret said, her voice pleading. "Babies. If they're born with defects - weaknesses."
"I'll be killed if they find out. No," he corrected himself, "they'll do much worse than just kill me."
Margaret said nothing.
"Why me?" he asked eventually.
"We all have our own roles to play in this."
Charles took a deep breath. "What do you need me to do?"
I asked one of my favourite writers here if she'd like to write this as a colab, taking it in turns. She very kindly agreed. So: Part 2
Thanks for reading. I thought part thriller, part superhero story would make for a fun mix. Hope you enjoyed it.
The war had been terrible.
Millions lost, heroes slain, cities, whole continents laid waste.
Men, women, children, all "saved", all marched out to settle personal scores of these supposed Super Heroes, their saviours.
It went like that for decades.
Saviours are in the eye of the beheld not the beholders so often. And it turned out, liberating slaves, was saving a life, even if that just left you indentured to another master. We would change hands, but nothing would change. We would fight for a demi god, against another demi god, in the hopes they would kill each other before our time ran out.
I remember Baghdad. It was raining. The sand cloying like mud, us trudging to the collapsed city walls, the storm covering our approach, Thunder Boy dancing between the clouds above us. He had a silver cape, it would catch the lightning's light as he summoned bolts to throw. That was back when they wore costumes, capes. No capes any more, probably because of Baghdad, the glimmering definitely made it easier for the AA cannons to pick him out.
Its an odd feeling, the compulsion to save the life of someone you despise. We all felt it though, all together. Not just because he wanted us too, though he did, we could feel that as he fell from the sky, but because if we could have stopped them, if we had found him first, laid out against that fountain in Abu Nair square, the debt would have been settled, we, would have been freed. We ran through the storm, dragging ourselves through the rubbled streets. Desperate to save our captor, our master. We all felt him die. None of us saw it.
By the time we reached the square the feeling of debt had settled on us squarely again. We didn't need to see Setekh stood over Thunder Boy, we didn't need to see the spear though his chest. We knew. But he'd staged it all for us anyway. The storms clearing overhead, the rays of sun as we trudged again, we thanked him, thanked him for our freedom. Because that's what he wanted.
Baghdad was a long time ago.
Now they don't fight. They don't fight and they don't wear costumes. Most of them don't call themselves Heroes anymore.
Bat Guy does. My current master.
He isn't the worst. He uses us for games. Today we are human chess pieces. Winner takes all.
This ruin was Yankee stadium once. I hope we win. I don't want to belong to Grunt. His women have to drop their newborns from the roof of Altam Tower, just so Grunt can save them. He hunts his slaves like animals when he's bored.
I don't want to go with Grunt.
I pray to Bat Guy, please win.
I love it, I need more! (Please?)
Also, congrats on becoming mod!
The shackles and chains were invisible bindings, though Aldrich knew full well that they were there. An eye for an eye, a life for a life. The world operated on proportionality, a fact Aldrich had come to resent. His life was saved, but at what cost? It was as if he'd been saved from the clutches of death, only for his saviour to methodically drop him back again. No matter how rich, no matter how strong, the soul of a human remained as a mere soul. Never had anyone ever paid back their debt in full, and never would it ever happen. A truth Aldrich was past denying. It'd been so long, anyhow.
Sometimes Aldrich cringed when he saw the hypocrites on television, proclaiming their love for the human race. They had no regard at all for human life. Mercilessly, they saved souls only to torture and use them. How was it allowed? How was it permissible? Aldrich could not fathom an answer. He only knew work, and service. It was all he had to know. Onward he tread, onward to serve his master.
Who were the bad guys in his narrative? Was it truly the 'villains', those trying to free the slaves from their heroic masters? Or was it someone else? Aldrich longed for freedom again, a chance at life he thought he'd regained. But to live on, day by day, the beck and call of the overlord was all he listened to. The same voice blared in his head, forcing him to do his master's bidding. Yet his mind was let loose in idleness, to contemplate his life's true meaning. If there was even a meaning left.
Onward, then. Aldrich sighed, as his chained feet shuffled across the grimy floor. To outsiders, it seemed like the natural repayment of the hero's generosity through volunteer service. But to those who knew...the gleaming marble floor was a jarring contradiction of their vision. Aldrich coughed, a throaty, infectious one. He was not alone in the stride for justice, for freedom, for mercy. This wasn't the life he should live.
But it was better than working for the true villains. Himself. For what was free will, anyhow?
[WP] A photographer and a sniper meet in a bar. Neither is aware of the other's occupation. They talk about "how to take the perfect shot".
Ramsey took a seat on the scuffed wooden barstool and signaled the bartender.
"House whiskey, dry." he muttered and scratched through his thick beard to his cheek. His eyes were bloodshot, his lips dry.
Ramsey hated the fucking desert. But he was used to blindly following orders. In his line of work, you went where they told you to go and you didn't ask questions.
A smallish, rodent-looking man with a round face took the stool next to him. He was going bald on top, and had beady little eyes. He reminded Ramsey of a neighbor he had as a boy, an accountant.
As the bartender sat down Ramsey's shot of Jack, the small man said timidly:
"Cock suckin' cowboy."
"Come again?" Ramsey demanded, growing red in the face.
"2 parts butterscotch, 1 part Bailey's."
"Oh." the bartender said, frowning. "Right."
"Name's Jonas." the smaller man said, thrusting a hand towards the burly man, causing him to spill the whiskey he was attempting to drink down the front of his shirt.
Ramsey closed his eyes, sat the shot glass down, and turned to face Jonas.
"You gonna pay for that?" he asked, barely containing his contempt.
"Depends." Jonas said calmly as the bartender returned with his CSC. He sipped at it, then continued. "Where are you stationed?"
Ramsey considered the little man. "Pushkapoor. Just shot my target this last night, headed back West tonight."
"I just shot a guy this morning. Group of guys, actually. Great start to the day." Jonas signaled the bartender for another round.
"Funny, I wouldn't have taken you for the type." Ramsey said. "Would have thought you were an accountant."
"Oh yeah, I get that a lot. But I've shot lots of people over the years." Jonas said, and made a clicking noise with his tongue.
"What's you're record?" Ramsey asked. "I bet mine is higher."
"In one day?" Jonas paused, and considered. "Well, back in '09 I had twenty separate head shots. But I was much younger then."
"Twenty?!" Ramsey shouted. "No! I can barely get more than a dozen before the screaming starts and everyone's running around haphazardly."
"Here's the trick: you have to get as many shots off as you can before they realize what's happening. Catch them in a natural state."
The bartender slid them their shots. In unison, the men clinked their shot glasses together and downed them.
"What's your best shot?" Jonas asked, licking the remnants of his cock sucking cowboy from his lips. "The one you're most proud of?"
Ramsey chewed his lip, and sorted through a catalog of memories.
"Fallujah, '04. Shot a man and his wife outside of the U.S military base. They couldn't have been more than twenty yards away, but the shot was perfect. Crisp, clean. And the best part was, it sent a message."
"You... you're proud of that?" Jonas asked, bewildered.
"Well, yeah. It was a big deal. Everyone was talking about it for weeks. It really impacted Iraqi-American relations." Ramsey said defensively. "What's yours, Mr. Hot Shot?"
"It was actually a series of shots-"
"Oh, Panoramic?" Ramsey asked and knocked on the bar for more shots. "C'mon that doesn't count."
"Fine. The best shot was the very first one. I got a head shot on this Al Queda leader while he was taking a bite of an apple. No wind, lighting was perfect. It was the perfect shot. Got the apple, and the terrorist leader in the shot."
"That... that is quite impressive" Ramsey mused. "How far away were you?"
"About a mile and a half away. My longest shot to date. Oh, but you know with the improvements in technology it looks like they're standing right in front of you."
"I'd really like to see that. Do you have it on you?" Ramsey asked eagerly.
"Have what? The apple?" Jonas asked, startled.
"No," Ramsey laughed. "The picture!"
"Picture of what?" Jonas asked.
"The terrorist, with the apple." Ramsey explained slowly, like a teacher talking to a student.
"Well there wasn't much left of either of them after I took the shot." Jonas said, perplexed. "I damn sure didn't stop to take a picture."
"Wait, what? So you didn't take a picture?"
"What are you talking about? Do you take a picture of every terrorist you kill? I'm not scrap-booking, I'm killing bad guys."
"Wait, this whole time you were talking about actually shooting people?" Ramsey squeaked, his voice betraying him.
"What the fuck were you talking about?" Jonas asked. "You're not a sniper?"
"No." Ramsey shook his head in horror. "I'm a photographer."
"I use a tripod a lot."
"Bipod works, too."
"Huh, never thought of that. Steady is important. Don't want to ruin a good shot."
"Yeah, that's the worst. When your subject moves unexpectedly just before you take it."
"Sometimes, but mostly people."
"Yeah, me too."
"There's a lot of similarities though. Blending in, so they are not even aware that you are there."
"Yes, that's a whole skill in itself. And you know it when it happens, when you get that perfectly executed shot. You know it in that instant."
"Yes. So satisfying."
"I love what I do. It's like you capture a life in that one moment. Freeze it. That light of a person, caught in a bottle, their essence frozen irrevocably. Whatever look they had on their face, whatever thought was going through their mind, stopped in that one instant for all eternity."
"I feel you. I know that not everyone thinks much of my job. Maybe it's not world-changing. But day after day, subject by subject, I think eventually I must be making a difference. Someday it will be noticed. "
"You're right. I think we're both right. So many people need our work."
"I've taken so many..."
"OK, gotta get to a gig. Beer's on me this time!"
"Aw, thank you, man!"
"No worries, had a couple big jobs lately, doing well. Heading over to do a wedding right now."
"What a coincidence, me too!"
"Ha, wouldn't that be a riot if we were booked for the same one!"
"Yes, it sure would..."
She'd told me she'd shot a few people.
I shouldn't have laughed. But... but there's 14 trillion photos due to be taken this year, on average little Jimmy, little average Jimmy, will take 3 and a half thousand shots this year... on his own.
Everyone thinks they're a fucking photographer and it's killing the industry.
I shouldn't have laughed. Especially as I'd asked. But I did, and I told her that it didn't sound like that rough a day.
A couple of shots didn't sound too bad.
She didn't really react. I mean that was weird. That should have been enough for me to figure something was up. It wasn't.
She ordered me a drink, shared me some professional-courtesy-world-weary-look that just pissed me off more.
She'd ordered us drinks though, that was kind of hot. I started on the full force struggles of the artform diatribe I'd used on and off since college with different photochicks. The whole chasing that "perfect shot" tale of woe.
She just nodded. Staring balefully into her drink.
We talked about life through a lense. I really thought I'd got her, maybe even she'd got me. There was a connection, she had an angle on things I'd never considered. What is the cost of the shots we take?
I really should have figured something was up then; smart, hot, artistically intriguing, working in the same field in the same city and giving me the time of day, I don't know why I didn't see it until she left, telling me she had some Ukrainian Drug lord to get a headshot of before midnight. We laughed over lighting jokes, she had a nightvision "scope".
She wouldn't give me her number, that's when it clicked. Gay.
Bloody lesbian photographers. Ruining the industry.
Well done! I totally thought it was the other way around until close to the end!