[WP] You are a time traveler who travels back to the year 1347 and inadvertently causes the bubonic plague
Due to the immunities accumulated over the generations since, you are immune to almost all diseases in the year 1347, but because of this, coming into contact with people has started the bubonic plague.
They called me Rat; weird name for a God. But it was weird times, and a Rat I was, the Rat that started it all. But I was also a God - a foot taller than even the tallest of them, speaking a strange language, possessing unseemly knowledge. Not to mention, immune to all diseases. Quickly, I rose to the King's court as a curiosity. Then, eventually, as a doctor. It took me a while to adjust to Old English, but soon I was able to communicate freely. Not that I knew much about medicine. I knew the basics, but these ideas were so contrary to popular belief that I was initially laughed at. I was able to inoculate the king's son against the Pox successfully- but not my own disease. He died before all the others. They dropped like flies, slowly at first, then more quickly, until everyone in the castle had caught the disease I didn't even know I had.
The plague spread, radiating out from me like a plume of fire. Noble Lords and Ladies believed that I had somehow conjured up the plague to spite those who laughed at me. And I let them believe it. Because when all the other kings die, who will they look to? Who else but the strange God on the throne, who cast the world into darkness? Who else but the Rat King?
It was the damned cat. She had insisted that the mongrel, an outcast from the litter of kittens born in the Lord's grain mill, be allowed to stay. It wasn't that the cat wasn't welcome. When it wasn't asleep in the sun of the sill, it was always seen with a mouse clamped firmly in its jaws. It also reminded me of my childhood home.
Home. The Kansas farm where the fields of grains slowly swayed, and the farm cat came with a mouse clenched in its jaws. Mother would never let the cat sleep in my bed.
The fields of Kansas and the fields of medieval France were different, yet the techniques from my childhood would endear me to the people and bring wealth to the Lord whose land I had stumbled upon. Money has always been the great motivator, and so the man who couldn't speak the language and brought stranger habits was allowed to stay.
Irrigation, crop rotations, and animal husbandry made the farms flourish. I was granted my own piece of land to demonstrate my practices. Each day, men and their families would come to see the strange man and his strange ways. They took the concept from me, and they brought me something spectacular.
She was beautiful by any standards. She shied away at my stare which I failed to adequately conceal. Our blushes matched the colors of the flowers which drew the bees to their pollen. Her father was ecstatic that the man who had caught the lord's eye would court his daughter.
We were wed in the fall. She never saw the spring.
She had insisted upon the cat. The cat who diligently prowled the fields and rested upon the sill in the sun. The cat who crawled upon the foot of the straw bed and slept as we slept. Mother never let the cat in the bed. She told me the cat had fleas.
The flea which rested in the sun-warmed fur of the cat nibbled on the feline before leaping to another host. It woke me with a bite as I involuntary slapped for the nighttime intruder. At some point, it leapt to my sleeping wife. And back to the cat, who stretched and yawned in the early morning hours and left to prowl the fields. The flea went with it.
The damned cat. The damned flea. The damned bubonic plague. The beloved cheeks flushed with rosy blush were blushed once more like the summer flowers in the field. The flowers spread across her to rupture her pale skin and agonize her death.
The damned cat. The damned flea. Like a fire they spread the damned disease. The people came from faraway to learn my ways, and they left with the seeds of flowers which would spread across the land and the flesh of those they loved.
Love it! Short but sweet!
The air was fresh here. That's what I think my favorite part of the past was so far. Sure, I missed the wonders of air conditioning, Wi-Fi and good food, but here I could breathe freely and not behind some breathalyzer or mask. I'd heard birds singing for the first time too. Real birds at least. I like to whistle to their tunes as I walk the paths around the forested outskirts of the small town in what would be present day Kyrgyzstan.
You see, it is the year of our lord 1347, and I will not be born for another 800 years or so. A mind bending topic, time travel. A month ago, for me at least, I'd been the Deputy Director of Infectious Diseases at the CDC. Quite the irrelevant position in 2147 considering most diseases had either been eradicated or cured some ten years prior. Imagine, if you will, working your whole life as a student of medicine and fighting and clawing your way up to one of the most prestigious positions in your field, only to get there just as it slipped away into irrelevancy. It was frustrating, obviously, at first. Now, however, it was just boring. So imagine my excitement when I was approached by a small group of researchers and government officials to be sent back in time to research the deadliest plague our species has ever encountered.
Time travel, while still a relatively new concept, and not yet quite full proof, was hardly an opportunity I was going to pass up. Now imagine again for me being given new life and inspiration. Finally, after feeling useless for so long, I was being sent back in time to research, and possibly cure, the bubonic plague. By the time I returned to the present day there would be books written about me around the world. Hell, there might even be a holiday for me! So how disappointing it was, you can imagine, when there was no plague when I got here. No streets filled with the dying, no mass graves, no anything. I'd confirmed the year and the location and yet even after a years time, nothing. I was simply just bored again.
I brushed my hands through the leaves. I hadn't felt the prickly touch or smelled fresh pine until I'd been here and I can't lie, it is intoxicating. I raised my palm and watched the small black mass I'd been looking for scurry across my wrinkled palm. Another creature I'd only read about. It crawled to my wrist, the breeze gently rolling through the forest around me as it sank its minuscule fangs into my skin. It was the slightest of pinches, something you would never notice if you weren’t waiting for it. I sat down slowly and closed my eyes, not able to hold back my smile. I’d contemplated this moment for a long time, but now I knew it had to be done. I’d been so bored here and going home empty handed just wasn’t an option.
I sat in that forest for several hours until my new friend was finished. It was unfair, really, that my name would be remembered forever while he, the one who would start it all, would never be remembered. Oh well, I’m sure a tick won’t mind too much. I dumped him into a small cup and made my way back into town, whistling the tunes of the birds. Villagers smiled back at me as I skipped through town, whistling louder and louder as I entered the small wooden shack where the sickly were kept. I sat beside a young girl who was holding back a slight cough. She’d be fine in a day or two, back to running around and wresting with her friends. She’d be hugging her mother goodnight and her father good bye as he made his way to other villages to sell his crops. I lied her on her back, whistling softly, stroking her hair as she fell into a gentle sleep. When her breathing steadied, I pulled the cup up and caressed my friend out and placed him gently over her neck.
It moved slowly, fat with blood, across her smooth, tanned skin. He was still hungry though, I’d made sure he hadn’t quite gotten his fill. I smiled as it burrowed its way just behind her small ear and brushed her hair over it. I smiled and I whistled as I walked to my own bed across the room. I’d need the rest; I was finally going to be busy again.
[WP] There exists a fantasy world with magic, dragons and different races. They live in fear of The Horrors, beings that kill anything just by being nearby. A Horror whose powers don't work has just been caught. Meanwhile you, a schizophrenic who forgot his meds, are seeing some real weird shit.
[WP] You're a guard who just witnessed the princess sneaking out if the castle. You follow her and discover that she's meeting up with her secret lover, the dark king. You decide to help them.
[WP] Aliens said that most of our technology is some kind of magic. They built a radio using our blueprints, but it didn't work. When a human touched it, every light in the room exploded and the radio immediately started playing his favorite station live, despite being light years away from Earth.
The problem with aliens is that they don't think. They can read blue prints, but they don't understand them. The radio they built was fully functional. However they forgot a single detail. It's needs to be turned on.
With a sigh I corrected the problem, at the very instant I touched the radio something else happened. I don't know what, I was as confused as they were when the lights exploded. Aliens, being aliens were quick to assume that it was me, asking me to explain the magic. The only magic I know is a simple card trick!
I tried to explain the concepts of off and on, of electricity, they don't want to know. I explained long distance radio waves that go into space seemingly forever and the odds that we had picked up one. However, aliens being aliens, they have insisted that I show them the magic and explain it. How can I? I don't understand how their technology works or why their lights exploded, let alone why at that exact moment.
I have convinced aliens of nothing and they now seek to understand more. I don't know when if ever they will let me go. Perhaps I can come up with a plan, I don't know very much about physics but Earth is filled with libraries and Universities, perhaps the aliens could learn there. Perhaps. But I doubt it. They seem convinced that I should be the one to teach them.
"They're launching again, sir. Do you want to watch?"
Morix swivelled towards the portalscreens, the crystals which made up his being tinkling with the sudden shift. His eyebrows, or the thickened clusters of diamonds near his orbital receptors, knitted in consternation.
"They never give up, do they?" he asked, rhetorically.
"You have to give it to them for trying," said Laprux, the junior between the two. He was a smaller cloud of sparkling stardust, at least a couple of millenia away from reaching Morix's seniority. He made up with diligence what he lacked in experience.
"Chances of success?" asked Morix. The images on the portalscreens were troubling - it had been years since the last serious expedition mounted by the humans to explore the galaxy they lived in, and the Berullians had expended no small effort to ensure that the humans stayed where they belonged. In fact, Morix had been promised that the humans had all but abandoned their fixation on exploring the inkiness beyond their puny planet. This was supposed to be a quiet shift, and the last thing Morix wanted was an escalation.
"High, sir," said Laprux, studying a small screen at the console before him. "Their governments have prioritized their efforts elsewhere, but it seems that some of the... private tribes have amassed sufficient resources to explore the universe on their own."
"That's not good," said Morix.
"No, sir, it isn't."
Morix pondered on the options before him. He could, of course, directly intervene in the small shuttle which was being prepped for launch. They had agents amongst the humans, ready to intervene at their behest. But that took effort, and important as the directive was to ensure that the humans never left earth, of even greater priority was the instruction never to let the humans learn of their presence. Every direct action he took was a risk he could not afford.
"Forgive me for asking, sir," said Laprux, ever the inquisitive mind. "What happens if the humans actually, you know, manage to make contact with the rest of us? Is that such a bad thing?"
"Well, it's hard to say for sure," said Morix. "The best simulations we've run indicate that the humans will balk at knowing we've been hampering their progress, interfering with their ability to explore the stars. Certainly, they would stop using any of the technology we've seeded amongst their civilization. Chaos, just chaos, after that. No, it's better that they stay where they are. This symbiotic relationship has been going pretty well, and I'm not going to have it all be upset on my watch, that's for sure."
Laprux tapped on the console, and the images zoomed in.
"They're even bringing our power generators with them, on the space shuttle," he said. "Amazing how we managed to integrate it into their lives so easily."
"Everyone's happy this way," said Morix. "We give them a device which helps them connect with one another, share their knowledge, capture their every moment. And in return, it helps power our planet, generates the resources we need to survive."
"They almost uncovered the truth, didn't they, sir?"
Morix nodded. It had been a close shave - the latest upgrade the Berullians had introduced necessitated the removal of a connection port the humans used to listen directly to their devices. A minor revolt surged, and it was only through their best efforts that they managed to quell the human dissatisfaction which threatened to blow their cover.
"Make it shiny, make it bigger, and they won't ask questions," said Morix. "The shuttle's getting too close. Cut off the probe, feed them the prepared footage, and hope they don't ask any more questions."
The aliens bowed to the human, who despite being much smaller in stature, suddenly seemed to tower over everyone.
Gary Wills was taken from his garage in Minneapolis, MN. The aliens filtered in silently, like large, grey ninjas, and bagged him like a hostage. When they removed the bag he found himself inside of a surprisingly unhostile, well-lit room, with comfortable places to sit.
The aliens had already taken the time to learn his language, and replicated it fairly well with their deep, wet sounding voices.
"You humans posess power you do not understand." One of the creatures said. "It is feared that you will branch out and do to the galaxy what you have done to your planet, and I have been sent to assess that likelihood."
"What? Uh... why me?" The human asked.
"We have attempted to replicate your technology, but we are not gifted with the powers that you are." The alien continued. "We need to be sure."
The alien placed a square, silver box in front of the man.
"Is that a radio?" He asked, confused.
The alien turned it on, but only the faint hum of the battery came through the speakers. Then he turned it off.
"You will operate the radio." The alien said as he slid the box closer to the human.
"Okay..." The human reluctantly played along, mystified by the circumstance he found himself in. He turned the radio on, and to his surprise, Tax Man by The Beatles began echoing through the room.
The aliens all made gasping sounds. Some backed away. Some stepped closer.
The leader picked up the radio and examined it.
"It's just a radio... that's probably Kool 108, the oldies." The man said.
"We have read about your radio technology." The alien gurgled. "Tell me, human, could your radio work if it were several light years away from your planet?"
"Uh, I don't know how far radio waves go, but, I'm guessing it wouldn't come in so... clearly." The human said. "Where are we?"
"We are no longer in your galaxy." The alien said.
"What?" The human asked. At that exact moment the music stopped playing on the radio.
"As I said." The alien said. "Power you do not understand."
Apple is literally milking their customers? Jesus, that's amazing.
[OT] Thanks to r/Writingprompts, I spent the last 2.5 years working on a series about an Earth with forests instead of oceans. Today, that series is a published pair of novels (in paperback and ebook formats)!
In February 2015, somebody posted a prompt on this subreddit describing a world with forests instead of oceans:[WP] Instead of oceans, there are forests that get taller and darker instead of deeper, with more...
I wrote a brief response to that prompt, and a couple of you wonderful people encouraged me to continue the story. Your support, at that moment and over the years that followed, changed my life.
The story I started in that /sub/writingprompts thread grew into a 40,000-word novel called The Forest. When I self-published that novel in November 2015, this subreddit gave it an incredibly warm reception; I immediately began working on the sequel.
By the time I’d finished a draft of a 60,000-word sequel, Pale Green Dot, in June 2016, I realized that I’d learned so much along the way that The Forest no longer reflected my writing abilities. In addition to revising Pale Green Dot, I decided to revisit The Forest and bring it up to my current level.
Well, it took me another year and a half, but I’m proud to say that revised versions of both The Forest and Pale Green Dot are now published and available on Amazon. It’s been a long journey, and I can’t thank you enough for your support. If you’re interested in checking out the books, see the links below – they’re available separately or at a slight discount in a combined edition.Amazon Links The Forest (2nd Ed.) | Paperback | Kindle Pale Green Dot | Paperback | Kindle Combined Edition | Paperback | Kindle
The full revised version of The Forest is also available to read for free online.If you like the series, please consider leaving a positive review! An Amazon rating close to 5 stars is the best marketing tool at my disposal. ABOUT THE BOOK
The Forest is a sci-fi adventure novel. Set in the present day on a world very similar to ours (except, of course, for the gigantic-forests-instead-of-oceans bit), it follows a group of rangers whose job is to explore the Pacific Forest and bring back footage of fantastic landscapes and ferocious creatures.
Pale Green Dot picks up where The Forest left off, as the world grapples with some crazy revelations that resulted from the first book.SIGN UP FOR UPDATES
If you’re interested in receiving updates, I have an email list I use for major announcements! I won’t spam you – in fact, I’ve only ever used the list one time, to announce these two books. Here’s a link.
And of course, there’s always my Twitter, @JustinGroot3, where my writing life intersects with my personal life.THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
Look, you guys are amazing. I can’t believe the amount of support you provide to aspiring authors on this subreddit. I am not exaggerating when I say you are changing people’s lives. After the success of The Forest, I started to believe in myself in a totally new and crazy way, and pursued writing with even more energy. Through freelance journalism, I was ultimately able to find a job writing full time for a really cool company. I’m happier today than I’ve ever been before, and a lot of the credit lies with you guys encouraging me to work on this project.
I would never have been able to do something this ambitious and crazy without you amazing supportive people egging me on. Thank you so much.Never stop working! Don’t give up!
Congratulations, mate, and I hope your books are just the first two of many.
Thanks man ahhhhh!!!!!
Yeah yeah, a dude named Groot writes a book about a forest... it's my real name, I swear! ^__^
I used Amazon's CreateSpace platform, which is quite user-friendly. You simply upload cover and interior files, and then there's a review phase where they check for major formatting issues. The hard part isn't publishing - it's writing something people like enough to share with their friends. Don't think I've figured that part out yet :)
[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. :)