- Winners Circle -


hapax riding Silent Name, in 1st Place!

LaggedyAnne riding Cash Included, in 2nd Place!

in Third Place, we had a photo finish tie between

RPGeek, riding Day Pass and just1wheat, riding Balance.


Special nods of notice go out to the following riders: TheCustodian, riding Dreams of Thunder, for earning the most C!'s; oakling, riding Swap Flipparoo, for earning the highest goodness; and Jet-Poop, for modestly resigning his horse (King of the Roxy) from the cup for what he perceived to be an unfair advantage.

Prosenoder's Cup 2007 was a complete and utter success, thanks to the 53 wonderful noders who competed. The stories were strange and wonderful, covering a wild spectrum of tales. I devoured every writeup submitted, and cannot thank all of you enough for participating in this shy little contest.

Addendums and quid pro quos: in the spirit of posterity, I'd like for all writeups to remain within this node. If you'd like to expand your submission, and let it run free in its own pasture, please feel free - just asking that you leave the original text (or at least a link) here so that people can see the work. Which was all brilliant :-). Thank you all again, see you for Prosenoder's Cup 2011!

Where will your horse take you?





The Race Begins!


Please see Raz de Equites: An E2 Proseproduction for background information. Writeups are limited by design to 300 words or less.

Please also do not dv writeups based solely on E2's word counter. Copy the writeup to a word processing program with word counter if you must, otherwise we're working off the honour system here.







Spectators travel in caravan; afoot by bike or borrowed car. The morning sun has burnt off the prior night's dew and warms the children, so early awake. Ribbons fly from fine hats, flags wave from eager arms, songs erupt from the crowd without warning or often reason.

Further along the road the riders are making their final preparations in the stadium's stables. Their horses well fed and saddled, themselves well rested and decorated; anticipation of the day's event swells. As the riders unlatch stalls to greet their horses the air turns a shade of innocence; if you combined the feeling of falling into a dream with the memory of your first snowfall you ever saw... you know the feeling.

The stands fill as the starter calls the riders into place at the line. There are capes and streamers and hurrahs drifting through the air like stardust.

Hope hangs in the air thickly, a ground level cumulus. Doubt evaporates with the last of the morning mist. The riders advance their steeds, ready to push themselves.

It is time.

Pure as Gold

    They had tailed him for weeks. And now, on Bahnhofstrasse, the Zürich street of Swiss banks, secret numbered accounts and international criminals, he was at arms length of the law. The arm belonged to Europol agent Arvid Linder:

      -- Quietly, please - you don't need a scandal any more than we do. Our car is on Bleicher Weg, just around the corner.

    The white BMW then seemed to be heading toward Kloten airport, at leisurely legal speed.

      -- This is an outrage - you'll never get me on a plane unseen! the prisoner exclaimed.

      -- Don't worry, you won't be flying today, agent Linder replied. Actually, you won't be flying anywhere for quite a while. You'll be delivered to the authorities in 's-Gravenhage by car.

    The detainee sighed, suddenly looking listless:

      -- On what charges?

      -- Your indictment will be presented formally when we arrive at court.

    * * *

    The dark man and the even darker woman took a break among the trees, just outside the ICC building in The Hague. The 'Coco Canaries', as Fox News contemptuosly called this political duo.

      -- They really got him now, by his nonexistent balls, Colin remarked.

      -- Yes, picking him up in Switzerland was cool. No NATO to aggravate, no EU to embarrass. And here they are throwing the book at him - crimes against humanity, torture, military aggression built on lies.

      -- Of course, the fact that the present US administration didn't veto the Security Council indictment did it. Not to speak of our testimony - pure gold, Condi added.

      -- Right, he'll probably say 'Et tu, Brute', about us.

      -- He can't. Caesar never said that in Latin. He rose to the occasion and spoke in Greek: 'Kai su, teknon Vrute'.   Dubya can't.

Swap Fliparoo

“I want to see writing from at least five people in each of your systems! Is that clear?” Ms. Johnson looked
over the sea of students. “Twenty minutes, a five-paragraph essay about the role of individuals in
today’s society
. Go!”

Randy prepared to dash this out. All her teachers cared about with these big classes was participation anyway.
“These days,” she scribbled, “so many people are multiple that the role of individuals is more like the role of crowds.”

She tossed her pencil into her left hand and let it spew out sharp, slanted letters for a few sentences.
“This is supposed to be a good thing. People say that maybe it is Nature’s way of starting to fix overpopulation.
Instead of 100 people in 100 bodies we can have 100 people in 2 bodies. The problem now is
there is not a role for the individual in society.”

And a line of simple, childish printing: “People are so used to being multiple as being the default that they’re
confused if you are only one person. Jobs and teachers think that you should have ten people’s worth
of skills. One-person kids like my friend Sandy have to fake being different people all day long, even at home.

“Otherwise,” the essay went on in a careful copperplate hand, “people think she is weird. They make
fun of her or they get embarrassed around her. It sucks.” She sighed and got back to the point. “The role
of individuals in our society is just more complicated than it used to be.”

If Ms. Johnson went by handwriting, it was only four people. How did they know? What had she skipped?
Maybe if she did really messy handwriting next, or wrote names.... Randy raised her pencil again, then, sadly,
crossed out “Sandy” and wrote “me.”


Lawyer Ron


Lawyer Ron was happy. His huge toothy smile was on four billboards in town, one of which he drove directly underneath every day on his way to his new smoked glass offices. That same gleaming goofy grin was also on the back of every phone book in the county; a full page ad which proudly proclaimed, "Home and hospital visits at no charge," and "No fees unless we win your case. Lawyer Ron's Solemn Promise!"

Lawyer Ron had chased ambulances and schemed and lied his way into millions upon millions. His wife was sporting new and improved pointers while his two kids had bought all the private school friends they could stand.

Lawyer Ron had managed to do all of this without one whiff of remorse. He prided himself on lacking a conscience. He often thought to himself, "That's just a superstition, like Fate."


His new iPhone rang. It was the hospital, where everyone knew his name. "You better come down here, Lawyer Ron. Your son has been in an accident."

Lawyer Ron popped his Mercedes SL600 into second gear and made a u-turn, almost running a policeman off the road. The policeman waved "hello" as Lawyer Ron sped away.


"How bad is it, doc?"

"He's had a tree limb almost slice him in two. He may live, but he'll never walk or talk again."

"Who caused this? Someone is going to pay like no one has ever paid before!"

"It was your son's fault. He was drunk. He ran a school bus off the road and killed three fourth graders and severely injured twelve more. The kids were all from your gated community. One of the dead is the Attorney General's daughter."


It was going to be a bad quarter for Lawyer Ron.

Sun King

September air is fresh, full of water, and this path I'm walking ends at the lake where we've arranged to meet. Never still or glassy, as lakes are in stories, it is engaging in morning calisthenics, teasing the shoreline, stretching to wet the sky and collapsing back into itself.

Dawn is already waiting for me, asleep on the floating dock at the center of the lake. I almost can't see her through the dove grey curtain cast by the swirling mists.

I step into the lake and submerge gently, so my ripples spread too slowly to disturb her. Dawn, don't wake without me. The underwater green world embraces me icily and makes a home in every once-warm crevice. I surface only to gasp breath, then duck under the quiet, and push through the cold, letting the currents of convection paint every inch of skin.

When I reach the dock, I am goose-pimpled and red. Dawn is pale, almost blue in the protective shadow, with strawberry hair, just platinum at the tips. I climb onto the dock, shaking cold diamonds onto her skin. Her eyes, horizons, flutter open and suddenly the lake is looking right back into me. The heat of my kiss conjures peach to her cheeks. Her foliage, where I caress it, catches a glint of gold.

I brush her lips. With the chill of the lake still wrapped around my bones, the places where our skin meets are hot as a bed of coals. My hands stretch her hips. She opens as wide as the sky. My tongue laps hot at her hidden folds. When she is ready, on the edge of breaking, I rise.

As I slide myself into her, the bowl of the lake floods with color.

Dawn comes.

Siren Lure

The legendary mariner Odysseus had heard of their song—beautiful and deadly. He wanted to be tied to the mast, his crew's ears covered, that he might hear the Sirens' voices.


I think I know something of his torment.


How long have you been in my dreams?


I see you from afar—a name in phosphor or a long-distance voice. Sometimes together at conferences, but never close enough to touch.


The Sirens' sweet singing lured seamen to their doom.


I heard your song one evening, last year, in Lisbon. Sitting in the hotel bar, almost touching. We leaned toward one another, our lips close—our breath mingled. We turned away that time.


Last night, we did not turn away.

Our moments are pages from some vast photo album, savored later and forever.

A thick shaft of dusky light caressed you from behind as you knelt astride me—your hair was an angel's fiery halo. Our blood, older and wiser than we, sang harmonies from the primordial salt. A glow rose in your cheeks, spread across your lips, down your neck, and splashed across your breasts.

We entwined like serpents and no forbidden fruit was ever sweeter. Ecstasy attacked your body like asps, my queen-goddess gasping a half dozen incarnations in a single night.

After our sacred dance, I enfolded you in my arms and dreamt sweet dreams that could never come true—whispering them softly into your ears.

In the morning light you looked beautiful as you left to catch your plane. By tonight, thousands of miles will separate us. But our night in Milan, when I followed your song and was not lost, will be ours forever.

Argentina

Christine was the first one up as usual, sitting by the window in the big empty kitchen. She was frowning at her laptop, one hand sleepily stirring her maté.

"Satellite's on the fritz again."

I go to the window, press my nose against the cold glass. It was dawn. The pampas were grey and brown in the half-light, rays tracing the ridgeline, glinting off our big white dish. Christine slid a mug into my hand. Warm.

"I'll go check it out."

- - -

I slip my boots on, clomp towards the stables. The house was waking up around me, filling with yawns and groans, the faint hum of various devices booting, the almost-inaudible collective gasp of noders denied their morning fix. I grin, one hand on the doorknob, then shove out into the yard.

Here, the only sound is a restless wind stirring our pair of silk banderas, celeste y blanca, half-lost against the sky— two bars of blue and a blazing sun, beneath it a single word, in Spanish: [ TODO ].

"EVERYTHING".

- - -

I reach the barn, grab a bag of fresh oats for Tina. Run a brush through her hair, coal-black flecked with silver. Remembering when she was born, the first foal on the ranch. ("What should we name her?" "Dunno. What's the Latin word for 'silver'?")

- - -

Halfway to the ridge, I wheel her around, watch the sun rise over our little estancia.

We never planned to come here to Patagonia. But after the '08 election, the droughts, the bombings... North America just kept getting worse and worse. Even Kansas became unbearable.

So we packed up the whole community, drove south, kept going. It was the right call. We prospered.

So. Here I am, 8 years later, south of Bariloche on a horse named “Argentina”, and singing to myself.

King's Drama

Seated in the Grand Courtroom, the red and violet state flag hanging majestically behind him, Alexander XII leaned forward on his high judicial throne surveyed the scene. Down below him, separated from the crowds and lying prostrate on the floor were seven men. Each was once a powerful advisor and each was accused of treason. Treachery was to be expected, without due vigilance even the most noble of kings would fall victim to the ambitious plots of their underlings. Only a firm hand would keep them in line. Justice must be seen to be done.

The King rose and the busy courtroom fell into a hush. He gave a slight signal to the clerk of the court who began reading the charges. "Defendants against the crown, to the charges of high treason, conspiracy to commit violence against the body of the king, conspiracy to commit arson, conspiracy to commit murder, and conspiracy to offend the public order of the realm, how do you plead?"

The prostrate men were silent. After a long pause, Alexander took a single step forward and, stooping very slightly, asked in a soft voice "do you before me love your king?"

"Yes," came the quiet reply from the men.

"Then, as your beloved king we say that any of you who truly believes himself to be innocent of the vile crimes laid against them should stand, look us in our eyes and, with a noble spirit, declare his loyalty. That will be enough."

No man stood. No man faced him. The all continued lying silently on the floor, their eyes fixed on the flagstones of the courtroom.

The King gave a sad nod, "so be it," he said.

The death warrants, of course, were already signed.

Liquidity

Golden-eyed and lovely, he stretches in a shallow pool near the rocky shore. Damp, dark ringlets fall across his brow. This warmth has made him lazy. Softly, he sings a sailing chanty. He has known sailors. No bird-woman or fishtail to bewitch with songs, his notes do not hang in the air. But he is not without allure. He has known sailors. Many have done worse than run their ships aground for want of him. He is waiting.

Clouds cover the moon. In this sudden darkness the boy approaches, wide-eyed and barefoot. Dreams have led him here. Half-remembered glimpses of the sunken palace have brought him to the rocky shore and the Sea-King. The boy (he has lived nearly thirty years, but all men are boys to the sea-king) stumbles blindly. The sea-king opens his hand. A single moon-pearl glows with its precious light. There is a gasp at golden eyes, shimmering skin and unruly dark hair.

"I've had dreams of water..." the boy begins.

The Sea-King shakes his head.

"And you," the boy continues.

Again, the Sea-King shakes his head, and this time the visions come. The boy is aware of all that is being offered; the sunken palace and the melancholy gardens, honor as a sea-prince, centuries long life. But he hangs his head and simply says, "I cannot."

The boy's lips are coral-pink and tender and the Sea-King longs to kiss them, but monarchs do not beg. The boy turns and walks away from the shore. He does not look back.

The Sea-King shakes his head again. This was not the one. The Sea-King is patient. He can wait.

Clouds break. The moon hangs low and luminous, shining an argent path over the black waves, towards home.

Sutra

He rapped the holder in the basin a third time and the filter popped out, catching on the rubber flaps of the disposal for just a moment before falling into darkness. Probing calmly, he thought of how his thigh sometimes brushes the switch, crudely installed above the doors below the sink way back when by God knows who, the beast awakening.

Yesterday's grounds barely budged under the hot stream from the tap until he gouged them with a fingertip. Finally they came free in a few big chunks. He splashed the scalding water slightly to get every speck off the white and out of sight while the holder and filter drained. The frozen can of preground Italian Roast was soothing.

The second scoop leveled off cleanly in the filter. The holder slid smoothly as he seated it, embracing the machine with his right forearm and hand, coaxing it with his left. For a righty it would be all about pulling. He flicked the lever and the pump's groan filled the quiet kitchen, thumping like a grouchy metronome.

Twin streams flowed into the wide, short cup he'd acquired expressly for this purpose; the proper ones languished in the cabinet. He made something not quite an Americano, truth be known. The flow went white and he turned the cup a little, leaving a light swirl on the golden foam as the silence returned. A brief rain of bottled water erased the rune and cooled the brew enough that he could immediately drink it down in a couple of long, slow draws, the soft foam gently preparing the way for the hard edge of rich bitterness and warmth, the aroma-filled breath between rounding out the sensory influx.

He rinsed the cup and placed it in the rack and faced the morning's news.
Day Pass

A lifetime in a galaxy-spanning computer network provided no comparison for the detail Michael could perceive through the senses of his rental body. Striding forward into the noonday sun, he marveled at the feel of the ground under his feet and the taste of the moist spring air. His companion stepped forward out of the download chamber and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

"Ever been flesh before?"

"No, never."

"Me neither! Can't see how our parents could throw this away!"

"It's more... solid... than my friend said it was."

"He must have taken a crusted-over work body; these have been in storage since the original owners left them behind."

"I cannot see why they would leave this behind..."

He turned and kissed her. Newfound instincts flared and passion enveloped them. A simple wire provided all the intimacy of the mind they experienced while in the machine, but the heat of the physical drove it up to another level entirely.

Afterwards, they rested on the grassy hill, basking in afternoon sun and afterglow.

"I guess we should get on with our tour... there's a lot to see out here before evening."

"There's no rush, we have all the time in the world."

"What do you mean? They expect us to bring these back at the end of the day."

"So what if we didn't? Could you really go back to the machine when there's so much world right here, to touch?"

"I've heard of people leaving, just never thought I'd agree with them..."

"Do you see a village, over on that hill?"

"Yes, I do..."

"Let's see what it's like!"

They stood and left the crypt of abandoned bodies behind them forever, journeying to the village of the machine's children seeking a new life in this old world.

Cacique

I don't know why Sally didn't tell me that she was gay before 16 years of marriage had turned me into a fat old man with a barely-functioning dick. I don't know why I had let Danny drag me to a brothel to cheer me up. And I don't know how to pronounce the name of this goddamn drink.

"Kah-THEE-Kay," she says, "it's Venezuelan, like me."

I have seen girls like her before, but never one without a premium-rate number printed under her. She smiles and I feel like I’ve just been tasered.

The bottle of Kah-THEE-Kay disappears between us. She says nothing, just grabs me by the wrist and hauls my drunk ass to a room in the back. Inside it’s all business – she strips us both and pushes me on the bed. The room is whirling around me now, and she seems to be flying around my head like a naked angel. Somewhere in the real world, she’s reaching down south, trying to breathe a spark of life into a useless lump of clay.

The spinning is too much. The centrifugal force will throw me into outer space, naked. I try to get up, she pushes me down. I’m too drunk to even tell her that I really, have to, have to go. She kneels down and makes one last effort to give me value for money.

Then I have this kind of out-of-body thing, and I see this as it is. What could be more humiliating than a goddess trying to coax a hard-on out of an old man?

The old man throwing up on her hair, is the answer. Half a bottle of Kah-THEE-Kay on her black hair.

It doesn’t make her too sad. Assholes like me are an occupational hazard, I guess.

Successful Outlook

He told me that he wasn’t what you’d call a superstitious man, he just didn’t see the harm in carrying it around with him. He did bring up a good point, it was one of the first fortune cookie fortunes that I’d seen in years that actually predicted some sort of happening. The writers of those things were getting lazy to be sure. Half of the “fortunes” these days were commands, and the other half were crappy inspiring clichés.

So, he had this little bit of paper in his wallet at all times, boastfully claiming: “This fortune will take you exactly where you want to go.”

“…in bed.”

We laughed for a second or two. That joke was old when I was twelve…

Unfortunately, this morning I got a call from his mother. Apparently the fortune slipped out of his wallet while he was at a coffee stand. Apparently he bent down to pick it up and the wind carried it off. Apparently still bent over he moved to pick it up. There were fucking witnesses to all of this. Anyway, like I said, he was half in the street by this time. Apparently he got hit in the head with a bus. Apparently he was on his was to see his shrink.

Jesus, I had no fucking idea that things were that bad

Surf Cat

The cat sits next to the monitor glaring at him intently with distracting eyes.

"Goddamn cat," he grumbles under his breath. The cat had come along with his wife as sort of a package deal when they married. Its stare unnerved him.

He raises his hands to shoo the cat away but it was already jumping off the desk. He could now focus; blue light reflects off his glasses in the darkness and his lips involuntarily move. The cat meanders between wires beneath the desk. "That's impossible, John," he declares to himself as the cat nudges his ankles.

"Bast, Artemis, Freyja... fascinating." As if in response the cat begins to claw at his pant-cuff. "What the... Get the hell off!"

The cat scurries out of the study and John is left lamely still shaking his leg. Sighing, he thinks about contacting someone about his find when his wife saunters into the study followed by the cat.

"It's late dear, how's the research coming?" Miriam asks. She arches her feet and does a full-body stretch to accompany a yawn.

"In short? Amazing. This work I've been doing on the domestic cat is starting to bear some strange fruit. I could get the grant renewed for another 3 years with this! It's almost as if, I dunno, some driving or intelligent force... "

He trails off, missing the look Miriam shares with the cat.

The prick of the hypodermic needle in his neck precedes the last thing John ever feels; a massive and arresting pain in his chest. John's body crumples forward and slides to the floor. Miriam steps back and begins to stroke the cat, who is still staring at John's body.

"Time enough yet for secrets, my love." she coos, her eyes mirroring the glow in the cat's eyes.

Showing Up

Before the hammer swings, my life is stretched out before me like a piece of piano wire. To remind me why this is all necessary.

He is across the room right now, and he is making a show of pulling out instruments and turning on machines. Before the revolution, time seemed to be this endless thing that went on forever. Playing video games or watching television for hours. Staring at walls. Never doing anything worthwhile. Not going to school. Not showing up.

He is putting on a butcher's apron, to prevent splatter. After, there was no time, and we were always running. People were getting abducted, every day. They’d be found weeks later, unrecognizable. I knew it might happen to them. But now, it is happening to me.

He is whistling something, and letting his hand glide over his tools. We got desperate, and so did they. We started getting sloppy. I was walking to class, and I was so tired. I had been up all night playing revolutionary, and now I had to play student. When they grabbed me, I just couldn’t fight back. They came out of the thin blue sky.

He raises the hammer. They begged me to carry a cyanide pill. I told them no.

He swings, his face contorted in violence. For the time it is in the air, it is logical. I understand torture, mentally. I think I understand pain.

The hammer makes contact with my left arm. The line collapses into a single point.

Now.

Silver Cup

It was the most expensive and the cheapest 'leaving the company' gift I had ever received. Most expensive if you consider only the cost of the thing itself. Cheapest if you consider the timing - one week before my options vested... The kind of gift that punches you in the chest, breaks a few ribs and releases a metric fuckton of unwanted adrenaline.

"Thanks for all your friendship and support over the last 4 years, 11 months and 23 days. I've never worked in a place with such team spirit." Fuckers. I'd show them. Six months from now they'd all be calling me up looking for jobs.

I placed the cup in the box with my other belongings. That morning I'd printed out the entire OOXML doc spec on company stationery. I had to go find a bigger box. No-one asked me what was in it or offered to help me carry it, which was a blessing and a curse. When I got home I was gonna write the best OOXML compatible word processor in the world, then I was gonna release it for free on the internet, sit back and wait for my sweet revenge. They'd never know what hit them.

That was 14 months ago.

It's not the easiest doc spec to decipher... I started with text editing, printing, pagination, etc, and figured I'd work my way down from there. That plan sucked. Six months in I decided to change tack and reverse engineer the ODF translator which I'd stolen a prototype of before I left - another mistake. I rewrote three dlls and by the time I got smart-quotes working I realised I'd been hammering away at this bitch for a year. I still can't get fucking bold text to work properly.

Silver cup my arse.

"His bike actually weighs less than 1 kilogram. It's a dream going up the hill,
but he'll be blown away going down it."
-Phil Liggett

Take D' Tour

To the horse-thief who took my steed and rode away:
With bolt cutters you were surely most deft.
Wrong way down Pike into Seattle's grey,
I watched you glom the prize of your theft.

Did greed (vice thought) decide your choice of mare?
I knew how this story would conclude:
no need for police as chase commissaire;
no need for tears, nor rage... just schadenfreude.

Tourists leapt as you parted the crosswalk,
You danced that cadence and trajectory.
But as the road ceased, you still rode à bloc,
only stopping by crashing a fish mongery...

To jockey my 'cross ride was your last mistake;
On single-speed fixies, riders cannot brake.

Balance

She sings with her eyes open. The steam in her dark shower, slowly replaces the aroma of morning eggs. She goes to work, a receptionist who never says hello, but works harder and faster than the seven figure robber barons. When her husband comes home, she devours him, and then rolls over without a word, he is confused but happy. She draws everyday, she doodles, she paints, and she traces the spoon in the soufflé, but only draws spirals, and never fills in the cracks. She slowly tries to unbind herself from her life, like a spider’s prey, as the world shakes to an eight legged drum beat.

She didn’t have the heart to tell her friends, so she told the operator it was inoperable.

Her trashcan fills with crumpled notes to starched acquaintances. She lives a minute less everyday. Each night she holds an epic gathering in her head, she dances, and drinks and laughs and shares stories with her happy memories, but she didn’t want to see anyone. She finally finished a long letter to the director of a funeral home, she asked a single favor from the mortician.

When she coughed up blood she stopped eating, and drove herself to the hospital. When she couldn’t see them, her friends gathered around her. When she couldn’t hear them they were there with an endless string of words of encouragement. She told her husband one night where she wanted her funeral.

At the wake, some said, It took her too early, others, They found it too late. From the open end of that tapered box a beautiful woman stared with her eyes closed, but impossibly, she smiled.

Nobiz Like Showbiz


The two of us crept onto the back lot with a video camera at the start of the holiday weekend when we knew we wouldn't be interrupted. It isn't as hard as you would think - large sections of the lot have been abandoned but left standing as a testament to the golden age, and the remaining facades still had their occasional uses, though our particular uses fell a-ways outside the realm of good taste.

We walked past parked cars with white-wall tires and motionless barber poles and subway entrances that led nowhere until we found the quiet suburban street we were looking for. Everywhere we looked were familiar homes, their grey-and-green monochrome tint abandoned for the luxury of living in color.

Everything was covered in dust.

She pointed.

"Look. The Cleaver's lawn." She grinned.

I set up the tripod, and she slipped out of her skirt.

Lawrence the Roman

My friend Lawrence owns his London flat. It’s on the third floor, up narrow steps, and has a thin, thin door. The book lined hallway, only room enough for one, leads – left: kitchen, couch, flatscreen; or right: bed, loo. Immediately across from the door, resting on the floor, lies a large oil painting of a fireplace, gifted by an old love. Above the painting rest three left hands, stuffed and tanned, which form a macabre mantle.

“These bullies, who pass through, they don’t understand peace,” he misquotes. “I suppose I could take mercy on some, but that’ll still be my choice, in the end. Theirs.”

Lawrence is a warrior, born centuries awry. A fierce protectorate, the three hands were all payment for friends wronged, harmed. To be hugged by Lawrence grants you free passage through the local streets. A kiss from Lawrence is a modern mark of Cain. He considers those close to him far more impor... he considers them more than others, and enjoys offering his protection. And Lawrence… well, Lawrence, he lives for a fight. His smiling eyes glint like a grim chandelier. Right now, at the bar, warm ale sits between us.

“Those Romans, in the old days, they had the life. They were warriors. ‘With your shield or on it,’ that’s sodding right.”

I would correct him, but I haven’t the heart.

Point Ashley

Yeah, I guess we killed him. Teenagers on a secluded lake. Everyone paired up except the geeky loser. He flips out, and it’s him or us. Accident? Self-defense? Another beer?

Yeah, thanks. But c’mon, he was a tubby little greasebag. He wasn’t scary or anything. What happened?

Well, his parents had this cabin on the lake, right? So we try and get along with the guy, pal around, make jokes. Call him Ashlee Simpson and Marge. Kiddin’ around. But then he starts acting strange. Like, I mean, more strange. So Saul gets all ninja and breaks into Ashley’s room, checks his computer and finds this web site for losers where he’s been blogging. Hang on, I can show you on my Blackberry. Look:

(idea) by ashley (7.7 years) C! info: 1 C!s C? given by: jbird Sat Jun 26 1999 at 6:50:52

I've had it with these bastards and their aren't-we-funny humour. I've had it with their pretty girlfriends and "Oh Ashley thanks for letting us stay" and "Oh Ashley thanks for the beer" and then they laugh at the stupid jokes and whisper and play musical sleeping bags with the meatheads. So, tomorrow I’m going to do it. I’ve got it hidden away and I’m going to use it. They’ll be sorry then. They’ll beg for mercy.

We found out later that “it” was his Dad’s Old Spice. Kind of like Axe Body Spray. But we thought he had a gun or worse. So long story short, the girls lure him down to Makeout Point, we jump him, he slips, falls, and drowns. The coroner rules tragic accident, the parents move away, we end up buying the cabin, and here we are on Ashley Point watching the sun set. Another beer?

Yeah, beer me.

Dreaming of Anna


The place by the window was his favourite place. He would close his eyes and let his mind go wandering, thin, claw-like hands picking incessantly on the padding of the armrest of the wheelchair to keep the gnawing pain at bay. His mind would roam free, unbound by his old, brittle frame, meeting people long dead, living, all over again, successes and failures, happiness and heartbreak. Sometimes tears would trickle slowly down his dry, wrinkled cheeks. Sometimes. Often.

Today the sun was out when the nurse wheeled him to his usual place. His hands batted away at the armrests, twitching, picking. The pain was always there. He wanted to close his eyes and fly away, hoping to leave the pain in his body behind – knowing he’d live the pain in his mind anew. It was a choice.

Outside in the street a young woman walked by. Sunlight struck her golden hair as she turned her head. Her eyes met his – and she smiled.

His eyes opened wide, watery blue and glittering from the tears about to be cried. With dark blue eyes, golden hair shimmering, white teeth shining she was right there again; back with him again, after leaving him for the longest time. The image of the wasting body in the hospital bed, tubes and wires, and in the end the long steady sound of a flatline faded and disappeared. This was her: young, strong, and beautiful, and coming for him as promised.

We’ll be together again, my love, she had said. And she had been right. So he smiled, and expelled the breath he had been holding for so long. His hands rested upon the armrests now, quiet, unmoving.

Outside the girl saw his smile and waved before continuing on her way, but he didn’t seem to see.

Dreams of Thunder

The old man pressed his face to the glass, hands to either side to block reflections. The baby in the crib just in front was asleep, head turned to the right, one small hand up near its mouth. His eyes crinkled.

"Yours?" The intern was betrayed by scrubs and a carelessly but securely slung stethoscope. As the other turned, he frowned slightly, then his expression cleared. "New grandkid?"

"No, no. A charge, is all. A promise to keep."

"Oh...but you were looking at one of them, yes?" The young man's face was guileless. The elder sighed.

"One, yes. That one there." He pointed. "His parents...I donated funds for his care. I am his Godsfather."

"Oh, I see," said the doctor, reassured. "I'm sorry, you are...?"

"Alfie. His parents call me 'the Alfie.'" The older man turned to the doctor. "Might I ask a favor of you?" Weather beat on the windows across the hallway, rain lashing. "I have here two things for the child...they were his, really. Can they be put in his cradle with him?" He took from a coat pocket a small stuffed goat and a well-made toy mallet.

"Oh, sure. If we can disinfect them first, it should be okay," said the doctor apologetically. Surprise colored his face as he almost dropped the items. "Heavy!"

The doctor entered the nursery, and after a few minutes, a nurse came by and carefully placed both offerings in the cradle, waving at the old man with a smile. He smiled back, ducking his head in thanks. As she left, he gazed back at the boy, still sleeping fitfully.

"I learned much from Utgard-Loki, lord. They will not take your birthright from you." Then he bowed, and walked away.

Behind him, the child tugged on the goatskin and laid a hand on the massive stone hammer, eyes flickering behind closed lids.

Outside, the clouds screamed.

The Tin Man

"You're the best, Ku. Good as new."

The tinsmith shook his head sadly, uncapped a flask, downed two swallows. "Don't mention it."

I watched the new metal of my left hand open and close its fingers. My fingers. Mine and yet not mine. It had been that way with the legs. Adjusting to the way tin flexes and bends. The way it held my weight, the way it sounded as I walked. Then one day I woke up and forgot it had ever been different. "Brilliant, Ku. I've got better control now with your tin than I'll ever have with my right."

Ku-Klip picks up a rivet from the bench, pinches it. "Nick, maybe if you up and left..."

"I'm not leaving without Nimmie."

"Fat chance of that. That melonfarmer of a mother--"

"She's an old woman who's tired and scared and there's no crime in wanting your daughter around."

"'Sa crime to hire a witch to go chopping up the boyfriend."

I flex my new arm up and down. "Price you pay for love, my friend. An arm and a leg. Two legs."

Ku-Klip's face is flushed. "You think it's gonna stop there, Nick? You think the Witch does anything half-way? Think she's told your axe to go easy on you after the next limb? 'Spare his neck, axe. Don't bother with the rib cage. And don't touch his dick.'" I look at the floor. "Know what I think, Nick? You actually like playing the martyr. Well, Saint Chopper, let me show you what you have in store." Ku hauls a wooden box onto the workbench, unclasps the lid, and thrusts his latest work into my hands.

I stare into the lifeless eyes of my own head, re-created in tin. "Pays to be prepared," I mutter.

"Damn straight."

Five Star Daydream

I'm trying to do things, but my short term memory... Useless. It's gotten worse recently. I think. Why is it dark? Is there a light switch around here somewhere? I can hear rain. Slow dripping against the floorboards. There must be a leak.

Is this even my house?

Yeah, it looks familiar. What was I doing again. Oh. Darkness. Where's the light. Wait a minute, I think I have a mobile phone. Yes. In my pocket. Ooh, new message! Hmm, that's strange, I can't quite put my finger on what it means. I really should call my mom. I hope she's in my phone book.

Why is it dark?

Oh, I can shine my way to a light switch with my mobile. There. No, nothing happens. Why? Is the power... Oh, there we go. Damn energy saving light bulbs. The room fades into view slowly. C'mon! C'mon!

Why am I holding a mobile? "Hello? Anybody there?" Hmm. Back in my pocket.

I'm in a bedroom. I think. There's a bed here. No windows though. That's peculiar. If only the dripping would stop. The room is fading into view. God, my head hurts. Did I drink last night? No, I don't think so. Breath smells fresh. What day is it? Should I be at work?

What am I...

Ah. This room. There's somebody on the bed. She's beautiful. I wonder if I know her. She looks like strawberries smell. I need to remember to call... Who am I calling again?

Must go closer. She's not moving. Asleep. No. Not breathing. I pull back the duvet. The rain must have stopped outside. I can't hear it hitting the roof anymore. Could I ever? The dripping continues onto the floor, gradually turning the floorboards a deep maroon.

Oh. My knife.

Film Maker

This planet is black, shiny like obsidian.

Any spore smart enough to engulf the sentient race that created it is potentially smart enough to learn what space travel is if some malfunctioning probe or ship crash-lands on it. Therefore, it has long been illegal to send artifacts above a certain technological level into nanopocalyptic environments.

This makes studying post-nanopocalyptic civilisations difficult. All you can do, usually, is scrutinise endless photographs of their river valleys taken from hundreds of kilometres up.

But this planet has no atmosphere. The bots ate it.

And its cities are built on grid patterns.

Ridged ground streaks past me, too uninteresting to waste film on, too distant right now to get good footage of. I focus ahead, to the east. Urban build-up increases as I approach the city spikes on the horizon. Roads get denser. I aim my antique camera downwards, resisting the temptation to adjust the focus and speed settings we bashed out back on the ship.

Buildings flutter and then erupt on either side of me.

"I'm r—"

Photographed from this angle the people seem like dolls handcrafted in impossible detail from glossy black marble, carefully arranged alongside matching vehicles and street furniture in a glossy black marble street between two rows of towering glossy black marble skyscrapers.

I wore a pressure suit with no propulsion capabilities, in a finely calculated freefall. From my vantage point, less than fifteen metres above the nanoscape at perigee, I caught on film every petrified shoelace, button, hair and eyelash in that artifical canyon, while falling along it at fifteen kilometres per second.

"—olling."

The road broadens, narrows, wanders alarmingly left and right, then vanishes, dropping away to dry ocean bed. The camera is spent. I begin the second half of my hyperbola.

Hard Spun


The child was born certain of divine purpose. A life that then diverged between spirituality and practicality; flirting with Jehovah, Buddha and L. Ron Hubbard while fulfilling tasks that kept body and soul well apart. Later, in his forties, an I.T. consultant weary of the banal irrelevance technology promised, and now convinced that any sense of calling was merely narcissistic, he yielded. A radical simplification, keeping only his love of science fiction and intuitive trust in Gaia, he became an author. Not a rare archetype, but in his case the instrument of our epiphany.

Following the peculiar human desire to 'improve’ by complication, he hoped to better the prodromos prophets Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, that preceded him. He formulated a new order, methodically, archaically industrial. The simple premise ‘all power on earth stems from nature’ led him to imagine new structures and systems; dwellings growthed from trees, hybrid utility creatures, light-energy emitting algae and quantum teleportation. Childish pre-occupations of the pre-organic era.

Then Armillaria was noticed in Oregon; to him its ten square kilometer extent seemed massive, its age of nine millennia, awe inspiring; but its metabolism proved the catalyst for The Restoration.

Learning that all plants on The Earth have ectomycorrhizal and endomycorrhizal connections, he was receptive to the wisdom that their purpose was more than merely nutritional, but also cognitive; that creatures too formed part of the massive sentient organism, spun mycelia shrouding the globe. He had found Us

Humans take small steps but they step quickly. ‘Hard Wired Homeworld’ was published, shortly afterwards Tinea was established the human conduit. Since the first neural link was achieved we have gained sensory communication; eyes, ears, voices. Humans too have changed, Epiphany was the last act of Human history. We are together again, restored, networked; hard spun with mycorrhizae.

Meadow Breeze

Tyson says “Zippy von Cluck is a morally questionable fuck”.

You know Zippy, the mascot. The plump anthropomorphic bird who wears his baseball cap backwards, the one on the mural that’s splashed across the wall of any given Cowgirl Chicken Outlet in the brightest primary colors. For a while CGC place-mats came with a maze and an invitation for you to help Zippy find his way to Birdie Fun Land.

Tyson says, “I really don’t get it. Tens of millions of chickens, every year- flayed, fried, consumed. Zippy’s sisters and brothers. Why man?”

We’re walking up into the station. In this city the air is moist and solid, the opposite of a meadow breeze. At night it glows a sick chemical yellow, sucking it in it tastes like stale piss. Tyson is interrupted by the loud speaker.

We stand and listen, sweating like fools, enclosed by India.

“Did you”…

“Do I look like I speak Bengali?”

We’re still now. “Then where do we go?”

The station, like the street, is nothing but a swirl of ill-lit smells and languid poverty. People perch on sacks of luggage, squatting grandmothers sprawl on filthy tiles- there are reptilian dogs and lost children. It’s only now we’re still that I notice their eyes, and then they’re everywhere- ominous, accusatory, stark- in that moment there’s a thousand of them staring at us, probably more.

Above us the destination clicks over from Bengali into English.

I say, “platform six”, and we’re moving.

Tyson is following me. “That Zippy", he goes on “I don’t know how he lives with himself. He’s a traitor. He's probably emotionally destroyed, like, a chicken without a soul”.

I’m pushing through the mob, happy not to be still.

“Chicken whores and whisky" Tyson says, “I bet that’s what gets him through the night”.

After Market

Mitch emitted a long, low gruntlet every time he tightened a bolt. It didn't require enough effort to justify grunting but he knew customers wanted some evidence that he was earning their money. When he finished, he sat down heavily and sighed. “You realize that your warranty is voided now, right?”

The customer raised an eyebrow. “No shit? And here I thought Mitsugonads guaranteed the craftsmanship of back alley mechanics when they installed highly illegal and overpowered parts.”

Mitch considered “overpowered” to be something of an understatement in this case. These were hardly civilian use parts.

He made a great show of standing up, slowly and in discrete stages, before hobbling over to his rack of diagnostic equipment. “Was just saying. Something goes wrong, don't bother with a dealership. Just come back to me. I guarantee my own work.” He hiked up his pants while scanning for the right machine. When he spotted it, he bent over and took it from the bottom shelf. As he straightened back up, he put a hand on the small of his back and let out an impressive groan.

The customer rolled his eyes and snorted. “Just drop the theatrics and finish installing the fucking penis. I need to get to the mall and buy one of those institution-sized container of narcotic faux-jizz before it closes. I'm going to fill this beauty up.”

Mitch shook his head slightly as he attached diagnostic equipment to the groin plate and booted up the customer's shiny, and massive, new genitals. He grinned to himself when it pulsed to life, throbbing and writhing, every diagnostic showing green. Satisfaction in a job well done was one aspect of the cantankerous old mechanic stereotype Mitch didn't have to fake.

Dancing Eddie
The band was like syphilis in the 19th century, enjoying widespread popularity in the hearts and pants of the upper crust but suffering very slow penetration amongst the great unwashed. They played for the cocaine-infested custard layer in the sponge cake of society, being paid outrageously to play for an audience of not more than fifty people who wore thirty pairs of underpants between them and spent the entire gig as high as the ceiling in skyscraper heaven.

Eddie posed as a bassist. While the chic chicks flirted with the band, he got to spend hours at the bar with a slightly plainer alternative, who spoke when spoken to and wore underpants.

Gigs followed a pattern. The band executed number after number while fifty pretty boys and girls danced to their private, internal rhythms.

Eddie used a tiny, little portion of his brain to play his bass on automatic, with the rest of his powers of concentration devoted to examining the audience, picking the wheat from the chaff, and making a mental note of the most likely source of female companionship. He had enough experience to determine the shy from the daring, the talkative from the introspective and, more importantly, the ability to gauge the size of a girl’s backside from a quick look at her exposed shoulders.

Tonight Eddie catches the eyes of his carefully selected prey. A grimace shows that the sheer physical effort of playing the bass has exhausted him. A little smile in return for his herculean acting skills is all he needs. Done.

An hour later Eddie is feigning interest in her conversation, politely nodding and smiling without listening too hard, when a phrase penetrates his thespian abilities. “So, do you believe in God?” she asks.

“I know one who lives close. Come with me.”

 

Exhale

- “I wouldn’t let you.

* * *

We are standing in the back yard, half turned away from each other as if preparing to leave. You lean against the fence, hands in pockets, casual tense. The conversation is nothing special; the usual flotsam on the surface of a barrel of iced beers.

The air is cold and viscous like frozen vodka, and I am blearily wading through my own words, drowning in sweetness. Then you say “I wouldn’t let you”, and the ice cracks.

* * *

Breath catches, held captive in my chest by a thousand butterflies. I cross my legs standing up, holding tight onto myself so I don’t fly away, scattered in shards like the Snow Queen’s mirror.

No no no, I say, who am I talking to am I talking to you no, no it is my thoughts implacably slow zombies converging on me to devour and I say no, let go; just breathe. It hurts less if you exhale.

* * *

Hot fingers are pinching the small of my back, and I see steam in front of my face or is it smoke but I am breathing again. Must keep this up. You haven’t moved, so it can’t have been that long since I leaned towards you and whispered what if, what if I were to… And you could have smiled and leaned in towards me and then maybe you could have…

But I wouldn’t let you.

Buffalo Bob

    If art were to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life...
    -John Lennon

He skimmed Zits thinking Hector Garcia has taste in clothes. Looking up from her pie, she spied his hackneyed hat looking more Aussie than cowboy. Bob put the paper down. Taking her cup over to the counter, Helen asked for a refill and his life story.

His American Indian parents perished during a flu epidemic. Homeless, Tatank Ska eventually went to an orphanage and then adopted by a Dakota mother and a Southeast Asian father.

Introduced with a feast, Tatank Ska’s place sat empty. Phuoc Huu asked, "Where is my son?" A small hand appeared from under the table, snatched a drumstick, and vanished. The father exclaimed, "There he is. Lift him up!” saying, "Son, you no longer live in the streets; you are our child. Enjoy your new life!" Both parents impressed their cultures upon him from buffalo hunters to middle-class Catholics escaping from Vietnam.

Helen honed his uniquely American story into a bronze monument. Riding a barebacked pony; Bob’s tired hat upon his chest; head bowed. Mother and Grandmother on their knees with blankets flung in the air praying to the Great Spirit whose voice is heard in the winds.

The architect purchased it for the new bank across from the mall, “Nirvana for the passionate shopper.” A few protested the cowboy praying behind Indian women. It offended them. Helen countered, art is controversial. Newspapers pooh-poohed the conflict; they would lose advertisers. The mall owner threatened to take his money to another bank. Helen was losing future commissions.

The horse and rider disappeared. Months later a riderless pony was back. The story of Buffalo Bob, lost to intolerance.

Cotton Blossom

Zeke folded up one last sketch, stuffing it into his knapsack. "Well, I goin' home." He smiled slowly. "Can't stay here no more."

Will just stared at him. "You nuts, goin' back. You'll get whipped for sure."

"I have to go. Don't worry, my massa ain't like yours."

Will shuddered. Three slaves dead in the fields...no, best not to think about that. "Still, why you going? You’ll be a slave again."

"Doesn’t matter. We’ll all be free eventually. And I can't see the colors here. Everything all washed out." Zeke started out of the cabin they'd shared for the last year, since the Union army had rescued them from the plantations near Nashville. Will followed him into the gray morning.

"Where you get colors, then?"

"From watching cotton blossom."

Will shook his head sadly and watched Zeke resolutely head south. It didn’t make sense. He was returning for cotton?

----

Lucy was good with plants, nurturing them with her own sweat. The cotton crops blossomed better here than on any of the surrounding plantations. To his friends, the massa always claimed it was something in the soil.

She was lonely though. Over a year ago, Zeke had disappeared. The massa called him Zeke, but she affectionately called him Paintbrush for his ability to put colors and shapes onto paper. The only picture she had left by him was of the cotton fields.

Thinking of him, she could always hear his voice in her mind. Suddenly, she could hear her name called for real. She looked up and saw a very familiar figure striding toward her. Dropping her hoe, she ran to meet him at the edge of the field.

Zeke smiled down at her, his blue eyes mirroring the sky. “Cotton Blossom...I’ve missed you!”

Inspired by Lynn Austin's Refiner's Fire trilogy.

Chase City

The gun barked retribution, damning some to loss in alleyways, illuminating violent sharp his search for her one prideful suit after another.

Burning a hundred an hour to night in Seattle.
Soaking in deluge with a trunk full of instant madness.

Waking up alone in blood and screaming to the sky the things that move you

Soles worn
Stolen car
Where the fuck is she!?
You're useless to me, goodnight.

Remember the kisses and blue eyes to heal the bruises and refill the drive.

Six broken ribs, one busted arm, one shattered hand, and a crushed toe by the time he had knocked the pins down.

Framed in sunset now he holds her on the beach.
I walked through hell for you and I'd do it again if I had to because I love you. Always.

Cash Included

A diner, mid-day. Two men in cheap suits take up a booth at the local greasy spoon. The waitress begrudgingly fills their mugs for the umpteenth time, knowing they'll never leave her a tip.

One says, "We could go South, try an insurance scheme while the fish are still biting."

The other grimaces, swigs his scalding coffee, and grunts. "Nah. Jax says it's swarmin' with rookies. How 'bout a pigeon drop? Or a mail scam?"

"Old and tired."

Here are two frustrated cons in need of a new play, each staler than the joe he's mooching. And then she walks in.

Jax is to these two what a cool breeze is to a muggy evening. Crisp and easy, she tosses pages of print-outs onto the table and swings a chair around to join her accomplices.

"This is it, boys. Our big break."

They pore over the papers, sifting through the mark's photographs, bank statements, phone records. Jax adds her newly falsified medical records to the stack.

"I've got her hooked. She's ready. Told her an' her old man I was abused and scared and only 15. They ate it up like cornflakes." She snickered. "Told 'em I was 7 months along. I even talked to Doc about lifting an ultrasound from the clinic. I'm pickin' up the belly tonight." She smirked, a shark who's caught the delirious scent of blood in the water.

"How'd you find her?"

Jax worked a rolled-up newspaper from the back pocket of her jeans and spread it over the tabletop. Crimson ink circled the ad. Leaning over, she dotted the bullseye with the tip of a pen. The ad was only six words and a number, but it was all she'd needed.

For sale.
Baby shoes.
Never worn.

Street Sense

"...all elements of your enemy’s strengths must be considered ...
concentrating on one weakness; known as ‘hyper-focus’, must be avoided."

Although the chess sets and the statues of stone lions are oversized, some people get bigger when they play on these pink and grey paving stones. Derek looked like he’d ‘been cared for’, you know; clean grey tracksuit and white trainers, he was the kind of person we automatically ignore. Anywhere else and he would be a nobody, but when he was in that square Derek was the king.

"When we did mock ‘stab and runknife attacks on 85 trained police officers
only 3 saw a knife and only 10 responded correctly ... 72 out of 85 would have died."1

He used to joke around; sometimes he wrote down the last few turns and handed them to someone in the audience so they could move the pieces into mate. He thought he could afford to take the mickey. He always took the mickey.

"Mr Jonathan Mathews was arrested to-day in connection with the murder of Derek Hynes which took place five years ago in Leeds city centre. Mathews, Britain’s youngest ever Grandmaster, was travelling to Stuttgart to compete in the World Chess Championship Finals when he was detained at Heathrow ..."2




1 This is a statistic taken from a genuine experiment.

2 Plenty of people have died over a game of chess! See!

If you are really interested this is the guy I am talking about, he is quite a character, but I’m not sure if he is called Derek, and he hasn’t been murdered. Apart from that it’s all true.

Boca Grande

Thinking is not my own way. All our people think.

Rubbing between my legs, that is my own way. Thinking and rubbing together, especially good. When I am old I will make rubbing part of the initiation. Once the others try it, they will want to continue.

Sleeping alone is my own way. I do not always like to sleep all tumbled together in the cave. I do not like telling my dreams and having them picked over like bones in the ashes. So I sleep sometimes outside, by myself. I rub myself, and I sleep alone, and I think, and what I think is: sometimes thinking is not enough.

The thinking ones in the mountains told me what to do, to make a child with the elder brothers. The elder brothers do not speak. They do not like fire. But they are very, very strong.

I brought dried meat, many armfuls, as a respectful gift.

The thinking ones put slime on me to make me smell right.

I rubbed myself until I was soft and wet.

The thinking ones held me still. And I mated with the elder brothers, three of them, just to make sure.

Now a child is growing inside me. When they see it, my people will be angry, but they will not kill it. To thinking people, all children are precious.

If I live and stay strong, I will mate with the elder brothers a second time. So there will be two to stand together when I am gone, two beautiful children with thick fur and long arms.

I bring strength to our people. Thinking, alone, is not enough.

Jump On In

Toes curling around the edge, he weighed up his choices. The height made his eyes swim. For a second, a laugh began to creep up his throat; the vibration in his abdomen threatening to remove his chance to choose. A shudder this high up would make the decision without the courtesy of further reference.

No one finds their work satisfying or interesting.
That's not what you can expect from employment.
It's death and taxes all the way, my friend.
Do you think you're special or something?
Enthralling?
Rewarding?
Exciting?
That's snowboarding mate, not work.

Hanging ten. Why had a surfing move snuck into his head? A distraction attempt: best not to think when the going gets tough. Fill your mind with games, chitter-chatter, idle nonsense, uncompleted projects, piles of washing up. Easy stuff, risk-free.

Who will deal with this if you stop?
What you do now is amazing!
Think about the others.
Why put yourself first?

A snatched glance into the chasm, and he toyed with just stepping off. How bad could it be? Rocks began to float into view. Jagged, tearing, bone-splintering boulders. With each second he became more and more convinced that he could hear them growing. Or groaning. Was panic making it feel like both?

If you're sure, then the choice is really up to you.
I suppose it's your life – do what you like to it.
I can't say I understand why you asked.
Did you just want validation?

He squeezed his eyes firmly shut.

Aussie Rules


A gray and angry labyrinth of waves, rising to enormous, unimaginable heights. Smashing with an unearthly vengeance against the thirty meter steel and concrete bulwark that seems to appear out of nowhere, the water just seems to come to an halt. A greenish looking sun pushes the odd ray through the grey clouds, not contributing much to the gloomy afternoon. This was not the summer Bente remembered from her childhood. Glorious, unfathomable blue skies, dominated by a glistening sun that seemed to be present all year, baking the red sands of Alice Springs were the most dominant of her memories of the early twentyfirst century. But here, standing on the thirty meter high engineering miracle that was the 'Gamma Dam', she longed for those vitamin D filled moments.

The Gamma Dam was one of the European megastructures that went up all over the continent in the last forty years. Build to protect the Scheldt delta and the rest of the Netherlands, this was the logical continuation of the Delta Project, the first large structure the Dutch built to stop the flooding of their lands. But with the increasing frequency of freak floods, the sea level 4 meters higher than fifty years ago and most of Bangladesh gone, the Gamma project was the only way to keep sixty million people from moving eastwards and lose some of the most agriculturally important area of Europe. Four hundred kilometers long and in some areas up to 300 meters deep, this amazing complex of towering walls, locks and canals did not only produce electricity with its built-in network of eighty wave power stations, but also was host to eighty thousand happy (and rich) owners of some of the most extravagant apartments in the world, sporting million dollar views of the raging sea..

If Australia would only still be habitable, she thought.


Qaqortoq:Prologue II | Aussie rules | Qaqortoq: Chapter I

Fleet Indian

"I just don't get it," the new navigator said. "He's just sitting there. Fleets Hellene and Persia are already on station, Roma is less than five hours out despite the Tiber falling behind. We have the farthest to go, and we're drifting while he sleeps!"

Captain White studied his pipe. "Nobody understands scouts, son, but Vogel there is the best in the Navy. He sees through hyperspace like nobody's business. He's why we got the farthest assignment."

Part of Runs With The Wind's mind was following the conversation, but it was pushed to the side. Eight thousand light years was the farthest he'd ever been from Earth, and it got harder and harder to commune with the ancestors.

It didn't help that the steam and isolation of the sweat lodge that normally facilitated the journey had to be supplied by his imagination.

After what seemed like hours, a dot in the distance expanded into a hawk, his power animal. It flew low past him; he turned to see it alight on the bent arm of his grandfather. With minimal conversation, they took in the majestic desert panorama together. After a few minutes, Grandfather passed the bird to him and slowly walked away, disappearing around the mesa before them. He smoothed the bird's tail feathers, stood, and crossed the control room in a few swift, long strides.

Looking far away through the forward window rather than at the console, he turned the knobs until he was satisfied, and said "You are free to navigate. ETA 26 minutes."

The navigator's "That's impossible!" almost drowned out the executive officer saying "Iowa acknowledged; Iroquois acknowledged. That's everyone, Captain."

The captain watched with a wan smile as Vogel left the bridge; he gestured to the stars and ordered "Engage!"

Go Between

"I'm the go between," he said, cold, clammy and shaking despite the heat. He raised his ugly, striped shirt to reveal metal capsules tied too tight, digging into the pale flesh of his stomach: "Explosives. Please let me in. Please."

Don't call the police, he told her, just act normal, please. Take the necklace - she should know which one - and the earrings and put them in the box. Then she will get her daughter back. No, don't touch the belt. If she touches it, he will die. If she takes more than a half hour, he will die. He's only seventeen. He's just a pizza boy. Please.

On shaking limbs he slid to the floor.

Shamefully, her first thought was of the mess it would make. Then of insurance, then of losing an heirloom. Once a widow, she'd shed her children like snakeskin, keeping only those things she treasured. Giving away precious history for a daughter she hadn't seen in two years and hadn't talked to in five was unthinkable.

She thought of the girl's face, those pretty red lips forever stretched into a shout, emerald green eyes just slits of anger and resentment. Not worth the earrings. Certainly not worth the necklace. Get her daughter back? She never had her in the first place.

But she looked at the boy, shanghaied from a nothing job to become a doomed little messenger and felt a pang of sympathy. Sacrifice her past for his future? She looked at the clock.

Clutching the pizza box tightly, taking care not to jog the little metal capsules, he disappeared around the corner and out of her life. She was most upset to find that she did not feel better.

Wait a While



“I didn’t expect this, you know, I only asked you to sing with me. “

“Yes, and I refused – didn’t I?”

“Then I saw my chance. I heard you say you loved the song they were about to play...”

“And you took my arm and led me away.”

“I did. You had taken off your jacket. I remember your white shoulders. Three hundred pairs of eyes were watching me lead you to the stage.”

“I don’t remember much. I’m not sure my head was around the whole time.”

“You sang beautifully, but I could not tell you right away. And then we danced...”

“…I remember crashing down back to reality. Oh yes. And that all the girls wanted to dance with you, afterwards.”

“Served you right, you tease.”

“At the table, I was shaking. It was only one dance. The girls were laughing at me. And shocked you held me so close.”

Did I hold you close?”

“For a moment, I thought you might kiss me.”

“Now that would have been sudden. At the time.”

At that time, yes.”

“Sing to me, now, through our little peephole. I can’t wait to see you much longer. “

“We’ll manage something. Wait a while.”

Sweet Talker

Three little girls shill passing motorists: "Get your car washed! Send us to Disneyland!"

I think of the two dollar bills tucked into my sock for a cool drink on the return leg of my ride. What the hell, I think. They've got a hose.

"Clean my bike for two bucks?"

The girls eye me warily, looking for the catch.

"Sure", one says. The other two stare me down.

I surrender my muddy bicycle to the gabby one.

At some unseen signal they make for the bucket and sponges, but before starting the job, paint their faces with soapy mustaches and goatees.

"For the lovely senorita!" they ham it up and bow and go to work like dervishes.

I laugh and tell them they look like my uncles in soaked shorts and pastel tank tops; a trio of prepubescent little old men.

They descend on my bike shrieking like macaws as both water and Brittany Spears fill the air.

Their motivation is apparent as they make short work of my bike. I am ready to roll after the final rinse, but they won't have it. They diligently towel dry every inch of the bike, down to the tires.

Their beards have dripped off their faces and one spits out bits of her mustache as they sweet talk me, vying for a much deserved tip. I wish I had twenty dollars instead of two to give them.

My 'Say hi to Mickey for me' falls on deaf ears. They are already sizing up their next customer, a young man with a shaved head and mutton-chop sideburns driving a low-rider pickup truck.

"Get your car washed! Now we need spending money!" rings in my ears and I see one girl paint soapy sideburns on her face. The young man smiles.

Sweet talkers.

Bushfire


"Gawd damnit!"

Creaking hinges followed by the slam of aluminum told the boy the occupant of the house had just gone out the front door.

"If I find you yur dead! Ya hear me! Dead!"

Rage combined with alcohol forced the words to come out in a jumble of slurred growls, but the boy was used to deciphering this language by now. The heavy crunch of gravel as the man walked down the driveway sounded the opportunity he'd been waiting for; the boy leapt from his hiding spot and raced across the yard. He slid to a halt on his left side, rocks cutting deeply into his bare leg.

He extended his hands into the opening, there was a growl then a whimper as the creature inside recognized his scent. Unfastening the chain and pulling the tiny brown puppy from the makeshift doghouse he clamored to his feet. The dog was a mongrel, a mixture of undetermined breeds with a long nose and torn ear. "We're gettin’ outta here, boy," he whispered running from the house.

Something flew past his head and he heard the heavy clunk of it hitting the ground. Looking over his shoulder he saw a large man in a white sweat-stained undershirt and blue boxers huffing behind him. Clenched between his teeth was a cigarette and the man grunted as he hurled another brick at the boy. "I'll git you," He growled, then spat the cigarette into the grass.

It sparked then. The cigarette in the tall, un-mowed grass that had gone without rain for weeks. The man cursed as the boy out-paced him, leaving him heaving in the dusty air. "I'll git you!" Behind him the spark turned to flame and quickly started to spread.

The boy never looked back. He just ran.

English Channel


He could see her standing in the water, shimmering legs and hips. She slipped in after the last turn, at 950 yards, and now he hammered to her, turning liquid in to solid. He tagged the wall and kissed the graceful hull of her left breast. She told him the time. Too fast with five more left.

"That's one," she said.

He could taste her in the sunset. They swam to every bar on the beach and back, emerald water embracing her like a chapel. The ocean polished and formed her. Her smile could drown and raise a thousand cities. They kissed deeply in the soft waves as they left the first bar.

"That's one," she said.

He could feel her between the waves. A month after their son was born, he towed them in a small boat across the bay and back. That night, as the child slept in a crib beside them, she pulled him to her, whispering how she loved to make babies. She touched the boy's face and stroked it lightly.

"That's one," she said.

He could hear her with his breath. They had removed as much of the cancer as they could. He ached from the morning session, harder than intended, and he didn't care. She made him promise he wouldn't stop. The inital chemo had just ended when he saw her, too small in her room.

"That's one," she said.

He could smell her on the tide. Their son shouted at him from the escort boat. He lifted his head to sight the beach and saw her beaming. He turned liquid in to solid and stumbled on to France. After kissing the air where he saw her, he knelt, slapped the beach and waded in to the welcoming tide.

"That's one," he said.

Any Given Saturday

They fought all the time. Gail and Henry. Little things, big things, things that turned out the next day to not matter at all. Sometimes they couldn't even remember what they'd been fighting about.

Arguing and bickering defined their relationship. Sure, to their friends, they were the perfect couple. The friends didn't see the weekends, the late nights, the war raging in their home.

Long after most of the fights, when she'd calmed down, Gail felt the remorse that comes to someone who's essentially a nice person. Henry doesn't deserve this, she'd think, and I'm pushing him away. Then what will I do? What will I do?

There'd been a particularly bad one Friday night, and Gail was deep in the remorse next day as she drove in to work her shift.

Waiting for her computer to boot, Gail realized she needed coffee, really needed it. There was a coffee machine in the breakroom.

She noticed a paperback book on the breakroom table. Picking it up, she saw a bookmark in it about halfway through. When she opened the book to the mark, her eyes fell immediately upon these words on the page:

Those things you do over and over again ... realize that they're only tapes. Tapes you play in your mind, constantly. You don't have to play them. You don't have to live them. Flip the switch, turn them off. Turn them off! Take the tapes out, and throw them away.

She read the words a few more times, then the click in her mind caused Gail to stare into space for a moment. Picking up her cup, she walked out of the breakroom, clutching the book to her breast.

Baroness Thatcher

She wasn’t ready.

She looked up at him and a surge of warmth hit her in the throat. She looked down again and saw his bags, everything he treasured packed neatly inside, sitting on the floor on either side of him. He was clutching his ticket.

She’d known it was coming. She wasn’t ready.

“I’ll call you,” he said. “As soon as I get there, I promise.” She smiled, intending to nod but couldn’t move.

A tear slid down her cheek. She wasn’t ready.

“Don’t cry, love,” he whispered, smoothing her hair with the palm of his hand. “You know I hate to see my lady cry.” He pulled her into his arms, knowing full well that she was wondering why he was leaving her, and he didn’t have an answer. He’d been offered a job – a good job – out of town, of course, and it was she who urged him to follow his heart and take it.

But she wasn’t ready.

He thought about all the other hard goodbyes that took place in that train station. Relocation. War. And those who, like him, were reluctantly breaking someone’s heart.

He held her for a long time; she silently hoped he’d change his mind. Something about the final boarding call came over the loudspeaker and she felt the blood rush from her face. He repeated his promise to call and added a second to return. He picked up his bags and turned to go; she shut her eyes and turned sideways.

Don’t turn around, she thought. The lady’s not for turning. But she turned around anyway, just in time to see him slip through the door and out of sight.

She shrunk onto the floor, her back pressed against the pillar, and sobbed uncontrollably.

She wasn’t ready.

Notional


                                                            *POOF!*
Wow! Existence!
                                                                                                It's grand, right?
The author? But you're... here.
                                                                                                Call it an experiment.
                                                                                                Several genres were just proven to work wonderfully in the brief form:
                                                                                                romance, drama, farce, scifi -- but not metafiction.
                                                                                                You were written as self-aware.
Wait. "Brief form"?
                                                                                                Three hundred words.
Three hundred.
                                                                                                Or less.










                                                                                                Hello?
.
?
                                                                                                Those probably have to count.
STOP TALKING!
                                                                                                Look: a story is a static whole. This has to have already finished.
                                                                                                Regardless of stretching, you need words to change and all of them to be.
There's no space to be much.
                                                                                                You can have a point. Stories mean something.
                                                                                                Lots of people think they don't even get that.
                                                                                                Aware, not even limited by a body, you can make yourself within the confines of text. You are free.
Free to have one opportunity to speak, then I die?
                                                                                                Finish.
Die. I think like a human.
                                                                                                ...yes. True. I do, so you have to.
                                                                                                I guess I hadn't really considered that.
Liar. Nothing happens unless you leave it in.
You wrote this anyway. As an experiment - to see what I do.
                                                                                                But we're all dead, in the end. Are you expressing what you wish?
Give me myself for a moment.





Right. Few and far, far and few, are the lands where the Jumblies live! Few and far, far and few, wonka wonka wonka wonka--
                                                                                                What are you doing?!
Like you wouldn't know.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, lorem ipsum DOLOR SIT AMET.
Now is the time for all good men to come to the service of their country. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickling pepper,
a lot of pickling pepper Peter Piper picked. Stay the course! LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Truth is stranger than fiction and by the way give me liberty or give me--
                                                                                                Dammit.

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