Archives

Short Story – Divided

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a fortune-teller. A sword plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a swamp in the future. The story is about hatred.

*******

Esmelda lifted her skirts and stepped across another wet area. The swamp was dark and getting darker. If only she’d refused to tell that couple their future. If only when the card came up she had  palmed it. If only she had lied to them about its meaning. If only… if only…

But that wasn’t the way it went. She was too forthright, too honest… like the card…. although apparently not as astute as the card itself or she wouldn’t be in this mess now.

Shit! She swore as she sank into a mud puddle and lost her shoe. She knelt down and snatched the muddy slipper back from the ooze that was trying to absorb it whole. Then she took off the other one and put both shoes in her bag. It was easier to proceed barefoot.  She could feel more with her toes and avoid sliding into the worst slime as she continued through the swamp.

When she finally saw the light glimmer through the vines and trees, she sighed. Thank Goddess! She was almost there. She started to move forward and felt something slither from under her step so she quickly retracted her foot. No sense getting careless now that she’d almost reached her goal. She needed to proceed cautiously. Swamps were notorious for sinkholes and quicksand and creatures best left to their own devices. Another shuffle of movement off to her left and again she held her breath and her pose, waiting. Something big lumbered away and she breathed again. Moving tentatively so she could retract each step if needed. She slowly swayed forward one carefully placed foot at a time. Lifting her skirts as needed to avoid the slimier things and the burrs that would snare them.

Finally she stood on a clear spot of dry land a short distance from the small cabin. As she struggled to make her breathing more even, she planned her entrance. This situation wasn’t going to be easy to explain, although luckily she knew the cabin’s inhabitant very well and could anticipate which answers would cause the most consternation. And as she collected her thoughts she went back to the day that started this whole nightmare.

It was almost a year ago now. The young couple had come to her seeking advice as lovers often did. And as many before them had been, they were from families locked in ancient tribal feuds with each other. Their love had crossed the biggest boundary and now they wanted to be together permanently. And yet the animosity between their families made both of them afraid to tell even their closest friends. No one knew they had come to her. No one knew they were together at that moment consulting her. She had taken out the cards as usual to assess the situation. She had laid them carefully on the small table in front of her. Most of the cards were predictable, the Hanging Man, portent of change, didn’t worry her. None of the figures indicated a major barrier until the very last card. The Queen. And not just any queen. The Queen of Swords. She could have been salvation itself except for one small problem — she was reversed.

True to her calling, Esmelda had advised the young couple to wait. Things were not as they appeared and the time for change was not yet. The Queen of Swords was clear and astute and forthright. All admirable qualities.  Except that when turned on her head, she was vengeful and dangerous. She told of hidden things and dishonest dealings.

The young woman recognizing the card’s import had gasped in horror and thrown an accusatory look at her beloved. “How could you?!” she cried as she fled out the door. The young man, shocked at the young woman’s outburst and rapid departure, had reacted badly. He had grown angry; and Esmelda watched the murderous rage rise. She had urged him to caution and he had cast her aside and stomped out the door.

Because of her ability to sense his thoughts she knew she would have to act quickly to avert a major disaster and possibly another reason for the two families to continue their feuding. So she cast the spells her grandmother taught her and ran out the door after the young man. She had no idea how long it would take but she needed to stop him.

It had taken much more work than she had anticipated. She quickly reached the young man and bound his anger away. She regretted the amnesia she forced on him (and subsequently the young woman, as well), but it was necessary.  The two families were centuries deep in curses and retribution. She had spent months just unwinding the threads and ropes to pave the path so that the couple might find their way back to each other. She had to be careful as she worked that she didn’t undo the fibers that would bring them together and she had strengthened the bonds that would ultimately tie them.

Now she had to go forward to the beginning. She tapped on the door of the cabin and heard a chair scrape back and a rush of movement as the cabin’s occupants greeted her at the door. They were not surprised – the dog didn’t bark and the cat remained on her perch in plain sight. Even the bird continued to sing prettily in his cage. The woman who answered the door did not even blink as she invited Esmelda in. Noting her bare feet she brought over a basin of water and a warm clean towel after Esmelda was seated. Then she produced a steaming pot of tea and poured a mug for Esmelda.

So, the work is done then?

Yes, it is complete.

Then we are ready for reunification?

Yes.

Good! I have everything in readiness.

All right, please proceed.

A short while later a young couple arrived at the cabin door. They were obviously deeply in love and seeking her advice as young lovers often did. And in her usual fashion, Esmelda laid out the cards on the small table in front of her. The Hanging Man appeared again. Ten of cups. Five of pentacles. Two of wands. And there she was. The Queen Swords. Only this time, she was standing on her feet.

Esmelda breathed a sigh of relief and the couple turned to each other with joyful expressions.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Mercy

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a shopkeeper. A door plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a ship in ancient times. The story is about mercy.

*******

He stretched and yawned and sat up. Being in hyperspace always made him sleepy, so taking a few years nap while the parsecs sped by was refreshing. The ship should be leaving hyperspace and reaching spaceport soon. He got up and looked around. Everything seemed to be humming along smoothly just as it had before he laid down. He ambled forward to the con. All systems were running smoothly. He checked to see how long before they docked and was pleased to see he would not need to wait much longer. After milennia traveling through hyperspace he had gotten pretty good at estimating how long a nap should last and usually woke before the alarms,

As if in answer to his thoughts, the ship began preparing to exit hyperspace. The hum of the engine changed frequency and soon became a low drone. The downshift was smooth and would have been imperceptible to many lifeforms, As an immortal with hypersenstive hearing however, it might as well have been a space cannon at close range. He removed the earplugs he wore during hyperspace jumps and put them back in his pocket.

The ship was an ancient model although still serviceable The replicator could reproduce any parts he needed and since he was familiar with every sonic weld and atomic bolt, it was easier to maintain it than purchase something “modern.” He had upgraded the shielding and the hyperspace drive so the ship was deceptively fast and easy to hide in plain sight.

As the spacedock appeared on the emulator, he moved toward a door at the rear of the craft. The door would have appeared to be completely anachronistic to anyone he encountered, but since no one ever saw the inside of his ship, he chose a model that pleased him. It was black and shiny and slightly ovate with squared corners at the top. The polished brass handles gleamed in the light of the instrument panel. He pulled it open and stepped through. The atmosphere was cooler and drier than the main cabin. The infrared lighting activated when he pulled the handle so he could easily see the neatly labeled cubicles. Almost full – plenty to offer the patrons he expected to greet in spacedock.

He felt the ship settling into position and the docking mechanism engage. Good! He was hoping for brisk business so he could get back underway quickly. It did not suit him to linger anywhere for long. It aroused less suspicion from the species he met if they didn’t have too much time to think.

He walked through the room to the far side and opened the airlock. Everything was ready so he opened the portal and turned on the sign that indicated he was ready for business.

The first customer was tall, blue and tentacled with seven eyes encircling its elongated head.

Using the universal translator, he signaled his greetings remembering not to smile. This particular species considered smiling irrelevant and highly suspicious. Old habits are hard to overcome and he was unable to prevent his eyes from lighting up. Luckily, the patron was looking at the shelves and he quickly hooded his gaze.

The creature pointed with a warty appendage.

“Ah, yes! A rare vintage. Marvelous notes of iron and carbonate.”

The creature hesitated and pointed to another shelf.

Keeping his eyes on all the appendages to avoid shoplifting, he nodded.

“Silica and boron with a lovely undertone of titanium.”

The creature nodded.

“Shall I wrap it for you?”

The creature nodded again.

“Very well that will be seven bars of idremium.”

A tentacle reached forward with the appropriate currency while other appendages reached for the package.

“Thank you for your business.”

The creature sloozed away.

A moment later a hooded being glided forward.  This time Sven smiled. For he understood this one well.

“Ah you have a refined palate. I have a lovely vintage for you.”

He slid open a drawer to its full length. Beautiful blonde hair and a delicate face emerged as the drawer slid open, followed by her body clothed in a pale pink bustier, then matching panties and garter belt followed by pale pink stockings and finally tiny feet tucked into pink stilettos. The hooded being inhaled deeply.

“I told you this one was something special. The price is 1700 idremium bars.”

The hooded being bowed in assent and passed the currency across the counter.

At that moment the delicate creature in the drawer stirred and her eyes fluttered. The customer sighed in satisfaction.

Sven watched the exchange and felt something stir inside him. He pushed the currency back to the customer quickly with a brief apology, slammed the airlock shut and signaled the ship to leave spacedock immediately.

In moments they were once again in slipstream. He could not take his eyes off the beautiful creature in the drawer. And watched as she came out of the suspended animation state in which she had been kept for several thousand years. She turned to him confused. The world around her so different than anything she might have encountered in her lifetime.

She had no idea he had saved her yet again. In all his dealings over the past 7,000 years, he had never been able to give her over to the creatures who sought his services. Creatures just like he was – doomed to feed on the living.

He smiled at her and she smiled back. With the current state of technology it was so much easier to keep her. To hold her in hibernation so she would not suffer, would not age. And this way she was almost as immortal as he was himself. He had found her in a place no mother would want her daughter at an age when she was still too young to be there. And he couldn’t destroy her beauty even then. So she traveled with him until she reached the perfect age. And then he had discovered the early art of cryogenics. So he had been able to suspend her, perfectly ripe, perfectly delicious, and as the technology changed he had upgraded the systems that maintained her at this perfect point. But he had never had the heart to sell her nor to take her for himself.

He was not sure how she had awakened now since he had not started the process which would reanimate her. Although it hardly mattered. She was here. She was alive.  She was so beautiful.

“I’m hungry,” she murmured.

“I’m sure you are, my dear. What would you like to eat, Mercy?”

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs. (You should also know that they double-dog dared me to write a vampire story since it’s not my genre and that I needed to include stilettos…. )

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Doubt

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a shopkeeper. An dog plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a dock in the industrial age. The story is about doubt.

*******

Sylvia looked around the shop. No one left. Good! She went to the front and locked the door, turning her sign to indicate the shop was now closed.  Then she went to the back room and traded her apron for her coat and hat. She tucked her reticule under her arm, took one last look around and headed out the back door, locking the door behind her.

It was a pleasant spring evening, so she took the longer route home that took her past the docks. As she ambled along enjoying the warm spring breeze she pondered on her life. She had a small pleasant apartment facing the river that she shared with her mother. Her mother would have dinner piping hot and waiting for her when she got home.

She paused on a bridge to admire a tall ship sailing into port. The crew looked so tiny in the distance as they scrambled to furl the sails. She continued across the bridge to the dock. She waved to the harbormaster and to the stevedores she knew as she passed.

Commotion just ahead along her path caused her to wonder about its source. Shouts and curses and a couple started screams seemed to be making a beeline for her location.

Stop him! Get him! Quick!

Then she watched as several people seemed to be upended and dropped on their keisters.

Oh! Oooh! Ouch!

Then she saw it. A small dog no more than a foot high was running and dragging a rope behind. She paused and then instinctively stooped down holding out her hand. With her other hand she felt in her pocket for a piece of cookie she’d plucked from the barrel as she was tidying up the shop. As the pup suddenly turned and ran straight to her, she held her ground with her eyes cast down so the dog would know she meant no harm.

The brown and black mutt slowed in its tracks and suddenly its tail was wagging so hard the dog seemed to be dancing.

Come here, she coaxed. I’ve got a treat for you.

The pup finally reached her and hesitantly took a bit of the cookie. As she was looking it over, she determined it was a female and appeared to have been through some hard times with multiple scars and matted fur that was partially worn off around her neck by the thick rope tied around it.

Just then a man burst through the edge of the crowd nearest her. He was panting and sweating profusely. When he saw the dog he advanced slowly as if hoping to surprise her. Sensing his purpose the dog ran behind Sylvia’s skirts and cowered.

“You there! Gimme back m’ dog!”

“Pardon me, sir, but how would I know it was your dog?” she inquired sweetly.

The man paused, surprised by her forwardness. Then sputtered, “Whadaya mean how’d you know the bitch is mine?”

“O’ course she’s mine, I’m chasin her ain’t I? Who else would chase her mangy carcass this far?”

“Well sir, many people have reasons for chasing dogs and not all of them are because they own the dog.”

“She took my blasted sausage!”

“That fact does not imply ownership, it merely implies a possible encounter over food.”

What is her name?

‘What!? Are you crazy?! Gimme my dog!”

No, she said simply. I have no way of ascertaining your ownership and you appear to mean this poor mongrel harm. If she is indeed your dog, you must have named her?

Why would I bother naming that bitch? She’s a worthless mutt! Now, gimme my dog!

“No,” Sylvia replied calmly.

The man started sputtering and appeared to be considering lunging for the rope, but Sylvia held her ground and the crowd around her watched curiously.

A voice in the crowd hollered.

The man glanced around at the growing crowd and reconsidered. Tucking his shirt back into his pants and pulling his belt back up he, grunted and turned. “Aaah you’re right, she’s a worthless bitch – she’s all yours,” he mumbled as he stomped off.

As soon as he was out of sight, Sylvia bent down and picked up the rope.

“Well, Dolly, I guess we can go home now.”

And they turned back toward the apartment.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Courage

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a grocer. A dress plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a cave in the far future. The story is about courage.

*******

Purevan, took one more look out over the precipice. No. No way down from here. She looked across the horizon. Nothing but rocks. No sign of movement. She ducked into the cave she had spotted on her way across the wasteland. There wasn’t much here. Hard to tell when it was last used. She estimated it had probably been millennia since anyone had been through here based on the knee-deep dust that covered everything.

She shoved a layer of dust off a higher surface to use as a seat. She needed to think and she thought best sitting down. When she had cleared enough of the detritus of time to seat herself without falling into the miasma, she made room for her feet and gently lowered her backside onto the newly cleared, now stable surface. Thanks to her spaceskin and internal breathing apparatus, she was immune to the powdery earth. Although a fall would have been inconvenient, it would hardly have been fatal.

Now, where was she… Currently, she was seated in a cave on a planet in an unknown galaxy in D sector.  She had been on this planet for awhile, although with binary suns it’s more difficult to discern the passage of time. Based on the length of her hair and fingernails which had grown several millimeters, she had been here for many days although not months.

She was not hungry thanks to the recycling system built into her spaceskin that could convert almost any elements into basic sustenance. And since the suit could also extract water or if necessary construct water, she was not dehydrated.

Mostly, she was lonely. Although she did not want to try engaging in conversation with her pursuers, since she did not want them to know where she was.  She missed her customers. The other shopkeepers who used to greet her in the morning as she opened the little store on a narrow street in a small village now many light years away.

The day had started like any other. Turning on the lights, checking the produce for spoilage. Restocking the shelves. Funny how even in such modern times when replicators were everywhere, people still felt a need to seek out fresh food. Or maybe it was the chance to see other people. It certainly was not about money. With trade and barter exchanges, everyone was able to acquire anything they needed or wanted.

Near lunchtime she had closed the door and walked across the street to a little clothing shop. There was an interesting garment that had caught her eye. She had never seen one like it. Bright, deep colors. An iridescent sheen. Flowing folds of fabric. A completely decadent item in a time when everything had a purpose and nothing was wasted. It took up so much space – even in the shop window there was no room for anything else. She had asked Emaya to let her try it on. Space knows where Emaya had found such a thing. And when Purevan put it on over her spaceskin as the ancient image had depicted it, she felt magical. It swirled about her as she swayed and turned to view her reflection.

She was just about to ask Emaya the exchange, when suddenly a pair of armed strangers entered the shop.  She slid backward into Emaya’s office hoping they had not seen her and ran for the back door of the shop. She heard Emaya demanding an explanation, and realized she could not leave her friend to face these intruders alone. She carefully slid out of the dress and marched to the front to stand next to Emaya. She caught Emaya’s warning look and steeled herself. She was not going to abandon her without a fight.

Emaya refused their demands, although what those demands were was not exactly clear to Purevan. Finally, the two had bound Emaya and were coming forward in an obvious attempt to take her out of the shop, when Purevan stepped in front of Emaya to hold them back. Emaya was yelling. Purevan was pretty sure Emaya was cursing them although Purevan did not recognize the language and the words did not register in her translator.

Suddenly Purevan found herself sliding toward the floor and the next thing she knew she was here on this lonely planet being pursued by hungry-looking humanoids.  She pinched herself again and the pain confirmed she was real. She kicked the dust layer in front of her just to see the powder form a cloud.  She was about to kick it again when a voice firmly said “Stop kicking me.” It was not plaintive or whining. It was not an order, but it was definitely not a suggestion either.

She was about to demand an explanation when she felt her arms and legs being surrounded and held. She started to struggle and the voice said “Stop.”

Her heart rate was elevated, her breathing was rapid and shallow, she felt like she would explode and then she felt a gentle hand patting her face and repeating her name. “Purevan. Purevan. Stop struggling and wake up.”

She awoke to see Emaya bending over her with one hand patting her face. When she recognized her friend, she smiled. “You are not harmed? But I thought…”

“Ssss, sss. All is well, Purevan.”

“But the strangers, they were going to hurt you…”

“My brothers?! Hardly. They would be answering to my mother if any harm came to me.”

“I do not understand…”

“Do you remember trying on the garment in the window?”

“Yes, it was so beautiful”

“You spun and spun to see the colors swirl”

“Yes, I remember. It felt so magical”

“You had vertigo and when my brothers got here they thought your eyes were unmatched so they were shouting at me to help you. You ran over to me and then suddenly you fell to the ground. I have been trying to rouse you for several moments.”

“Oh thank you! I am so relieved.”

“Let us close our shops and go to a restaurant for dinner. My brothers will cover the exchange since they believe they have caused you trouble.

Yes. It has been a very long day…

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – random prompt

Our usual story prompt service (www.katfeete.net/writing/specific.php) was down, so we created our own using random internet lists and 20-sided dice.

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and an engineer.  A number 2  pencil plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in Club Atomic in the past. The story is about magic and sorcery.

*******

Deirdre pushed her glasses back up her nose and squared her shoulders.  She had to go in the door of Club Atomic, and to do it, she needed all her courage. She didn’t fit in and she knew it. But a dare was a dare, and a double-dog dare was do or die.

The guys at work had been egging her on all week. They were waiting inside to see if she’d really do it.

Being an engineer automatically made her suspect and a female engineer was unheard of. She had two female classmates the entire time she was in Michigan Tech. So when she got to Breuer and Sons, she came highly recommended, and immediately became the target of her male coworkers. She couldn’t bring herself to call them “men” because none of them had grown up except the owner, Mr Breuer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around to protect her from the daily barrage of practical jokes. Deirdre was used to it. The guys at Michigan Tech were the same way:  All nerds who acted like they’d never seen a woman before. Well they were going to see one tonight.

She watched as other groups of women and couples entered the club until she had a feel for it. Then walked up to the bouncer. He looked her up and down carefully.

“You might want to lose the glasses, sweetie, if you want to see any action tonight.”

Then he pulled back the rope and let her pass. She knew the glasses didn’t match her outfit, yet she needed them to see, so she was at a disadvantage. Deirdre shouldered her way through the crowd, keeping a tight grip on her purse as she moved toward the bar. The music was pulsing so loudly, it thudded in her chest. When she reached the bar, she struggled to make herself heard above the din. She had never ordered a drink in a place like this so finally she just pointed to an evil looking concoction with black liquid that glowed in the dark on a passing tray and the bartender nodded. He brought it back to her and hollered “Twenty-one!” She looked at him with a puzzled expression. Finally pointing to her purse and repeating the number, he made her understand he needed $21 for her drink. Shocked at the price, she opened her bag and pulled out her wallet and carefully counted out fives and ones for exactly $21. He looked at the money she’d laid on the counter and looked back at her. She blushed when she realized she’d forgotten a tip. So she reached in her wallet, threw down a couple more singles, then quickly took her drink and backed away as he just shook his head.

Now to find The Boys, as she called them in her head …

She struggled toward a wall where she could get a good layout of the club. The dance floor ceiling appeared to be at least 4 stories high with hanging platforms and cages and balconies on each floor that surrounded the dance floor on three sides. The dance floor itself glowed and pulsed. Part of the lighting must include blacklight bulbs she realized as anything white took on an ethereal glow. Where would a bunch of engineers be in a place like this …

She studied the room and each level of balcony. Then she saw them. Directly above a woman with a very lowcut dress that appeared to be in danger of a wardrobe malfunction at any moment. Typical! She looked around for a path to their level. No obvious staircases or elevators. Then she saw the ropes. They glowed when the blacklight hit them, but she hadn’t realized they were moving and people were being pulled up and lowered down. She watched a woman walk up to the rope, wrap her right leg around the rope just above a large knot, then balance her drink and her handbag on her left side before grabbing above another knot with her free hand. No sooner had she done so than she started to glide upward until she was pulled through a hole in the floor of the next level. Guys gathered right below to look up her dress as she ascended.

Shit! This was what she had to put up with every day, why, why, why did she put herself through this on her day off. Gamely, she made her way to the rope and tried to copy the woman she had just watched. She didn’t quite have the knack so by the time she reached the next level her dress had slid up to reveal her lacy black bikini underwear through her pantyhose. She heard wolf whistles and clapping. Thank goodness she’d managed not to spill her drink! Although she had been tempted to pour it on the gawkers right beneath her, she didn’t want to waste her money or have to buy another one.

When she finally reached them, they were still so busy watching the woman below that they didn’t notice her at first. Then Burt happened to glance her way, did a doubletake and nudged Norb, who nudged Dick. Then George let out a low whistle and said “Baby you just turned my floppy disk into a hard drive.” She tensed as they started to surround her, and then she realized they didn’t recognize her. She decided she was going to have some fun with them. She dug in her purse and came up with a pencil and small notepad.

“P-p-please, you will h-h-help m-m-me?” she stuttered with a strong European accent she had learned imitating her grandmother. They gathered closer, nodding and murmuring assurances that they would LOVE to help her.

Ohhh Kay. Please my English is not too good. Please to give me phone number for, how do you say,  polizei?

Oh nooo, baby. Why do you need the police?

I have…. how do you call it… problem?

What problem, baby? You’re with us now, we can fix anything.

Anyting?

Yes, yes, anything.

She switched back to her normal voice while putting her glasses back on, “Then how do I get rid of the circle of assholes that is surrounding me?”

They all jumped back and gasped. “You!”

“Yes, you jerkwads, it’s me, Deirdre.”

“But, but, but, you look so, so, so…. so pretty.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… tell it to your shrink. Now each of you knuckledraggers is going to write down your home phone numbers using my little pencil here. And don’t try to give me a fake one.”

Burt took the pencil and notepad first and started to write then yelled, “Ouch!” And started shaking his right hand, although it was quickly apparent that he was trying to shake something off. “Get it off me!”

“Stop yelling! I told you not to try giving me misinformation. Please write your correct telephone number and the pencil will release you.”

“What the?!” Finally realizing she was probably telling the truth, he complied. Once he had finished writing the pencil no longer clung to his fingers, so he attempted to hand it to George. George leaned backed saying “No way! I’m not taking it!”

“You have to,” Deirdre reminded him. “If you don’t, you won’t be able to leave this circle.”

Of course, George tried and found his feet firmly glued as did the others. Only Burt was able to move outside of their tight group.

“I’m going home.  I’ll see you guys next week. Here, George. Take the pencil.”

George hesitantly took the pencil and pad and quickly wrote his number and handed off to Dick. Dick reluctantly took the pencil and pad. Then paused to examine it.

“Looks like an ordinary Number 2 pencil. Why is it sticking to my hand?”

“Just write your number and pass it on, Dick.”

When Norb had written his number and given the pencil and pad back to Deirdre,  the rest of the men prepared to leave. She placed the pencil and pad back in her bag.

“Wait – what are you planning to do with our numbers?”

“I’m making sure you guys go home to your wives and that you are really nice to them for putting up with your philandering asses. Now scoot!”

As the last one headed for the door, she took a long pull from her drink. It was extremely tasty. Hmm… as long as I’m here, I might as well enjoy it.

*******

With thanks  to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Balance

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a prostitute. An eye plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a bridge in the industrial age. The story is about balance.

*******

She looked over the edge. The water was a long way down. She turned around to see the way behind her. To one end of the bridge, there was a stone gate that appeared to be locked. And from the other end, she could hear footsteps. Thank goodness for the fog. She had a little time, although she had only one option if she didn’t want to get caught. She needed her arms and legs as free as possible. She had to rid herself of all extra clothing, so she stripped off her cloak and her boots and stockings, her petticoats made a nice bundle and she used her belt to hold it together.  Knowing it might be a problem if she didn’t move quickly, she tied the bundle to her waist. And then slowly lowered herself over the side. Steel bridges were a marvel of beams and wires and thanks to her circus upbringing, they were just another playground for Cornelia Del Arte — also known as Highwire Nell.

She quickly  swung from the main beam to the wire and then the next until she was concealed under the main bridge by one of the beams. She heard the voices above her and knew they were looking for her. As long as they couldn’t see her, they should not be able to find her.  She held still and waited for them to tire of their search. She didn’t look down. Her parents had trained her well to look where you want to go. If your eyes looked down you would go there, and successful trapeze artists and high wire walkers assuredly did not.

How far she had fallen since those days! Her parents would not recognize her painted and perfumed to please the men who paid for her company. This line of work was not her first choice, and she had finally seen an opportunity to leave both the occupation and the men and women who had first forced her into it and then kept her from leaving. It was a daring move – many of the other girls had died or been killed trying to get out. And she was at the point that she could accept death if it meant she never had to endure another groping, drooling fool.

After the footsteps faded and she could be sure they wouldn’t come back, she contemplated her next move. The underside of the bridge eventually led to shore in either direction, so it was a matter of which side could be more easily mounted when she got there.

She looked down river to the next bridge and examined the shore on both sides. She could probably scale the next one a bit easier, so she started working her way along the beams and cables. She moved slowly so as not to attract attention, although it was unlikely between the fog and the dark and  anyone on the bridge would be partially blinded by the streetlamps. She paused to listen and shivered as a chill wind caught her. Then she saw it. Right in front of her. An eye. Staring straight at her and only a few feet away peering between a beam and a cable.

She held still. The eye blinked once. She felt no animosity and so she moved forward slightly.  The head turned and she saw both eyes.  She sighed with relief.  It was only an owl. She quickly moved past it to the far end of the bridge and picked her way along the wall to the next bridge. She repeated her tightrope walking act back to the top of the next bridge.  Peering over the edge, she saw no one approaching so she quickly dressed and heaved herself over the wall onto the bridge. Then she made her way to the opposite side of the river. Ahead she saw a bakery and a woman sweeping the street. Rubbing the rouge from her face, she made her way toward the woman,  keeping her eye on freedom.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Movement

Prompt is:  The story’s protagonist is female and a ruler. A book plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a blizzard in the future. The story is about movement.

*******

She sighed. Snowing again. How was she supposed to feel motivated when she couldn’t even go outside much less stroll through the village. Her advisers didn’t want her to go out into the snow since they had more trouble protecting her when they couldn’t see.

She picked up the book again then threw it down in frustration. Books were no substitute for being able to meet her subjects and talk to them. She had yet to learn what people really felt from books. She needed her interactions with shopkeepers and mothers and schoolchildren. She yearned for a chance to stop at the candy store and load her pockets with sweets before heading to the park. Sometimes she walked the path. Often she sat down next to someone on a bench and simply engaged them in conversation. They all knew who she was, so no one was truly surprised to meet her. Some people actually went to the park looking for her to tell her what they thought or felt on a particular issue. Since her visits were sporadic and based on having a two hour slot in her calendar, there were usually enough different people around that she got a fairly broad perspective – at least of the kinds of people who went to the park. She sometimes went in the evening and one time convinced her guards that a midnight stroll was perfect on a warm summer night. They were not happy but they managed to keep her safe. And she was grateful.

It amazed her that in a time with everyone nanochipped and cataloged there were still those who managed to slip through the cracks undocumented. The tracking center, Enterprise Validation Indemnification Level,  knew where every citizen was at every moment. They had pictures and current video from the ubiquitous cameras in every surface and it was all linked to the nanochips which were linked to the data on each person. Every relative, every friend, every encounter carefully and eternally documented. There were no secrets. Not really. Except for unmanifested desires. If someone looked up a topic or searched for a word, the data centers tracked their biological response to the request and to the answer – heart rate, pupil dilation, breath – there were no tendencies that were not tracked, coded, and outcomes were predicted.

Freedom was an illusion. It seemed that everyone was free to go wherever they wanted and do whatever they wanted. But everything was already known. The questions a child asks his mother or her teachers. All tracked. The curious were encouraged. The more questions, the better EVIL personnel could categorize the child, predict the best career paths and steer – No! They would say “guide” the child to an appropriate outlet for her or his energies and predilections.  Not every child is a superstar, but those that were had every advantage science could provide. Education was a duty of the state, just as food and shelter and healthcare.

The late bloomers sometimes lost opportunities, but that was the price exacted for the good of the state. Every child was well cared for. Every child was loved equally. While almost anyone could have a child and every child was carried to full term, the actual caregivers were men and women genetically and mentally suited to the task at each age, not the biological father and mother who had other duties. Every child was a sibling to every other child.  Certain people were of course sterilized soon after birth based on genetic abnormalities that would not fare well during procreation. Others were altered at a later age if unwanted tendencies such as addiction or aggression manifested. There were still babies with chromosomal abnormalities – XXY, XYY, Down Syndrome, etc. These aberrations in the genetic code did not make a person useless to society and were considered to contribute to the overall good of diversity. Only the characteristics that would prevent the person from reaching full potential based on wilfulness or perversion were considered for elimination.

She picked up the book again, sighing heavily as she gazed out the window at the snow. She couldn’t leave and she didn’t want to stay. And yet… maybe she should… She considered for a moment longer and then tossed the book on the table and reached for her cloak.  As she hurried toward the door she recalled a quote from an ancient source named Farragut:

Damn the torpedoes! …Full speed!

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.