Profane Tmesis: the 2011 flash fiction experiment

The promise of new life

She opened her tired eyes. No morning sickness yet.

She made her way down the stairs, into the kitchen. The cold crept slowly from the marble floor into her bare feet as she washed her face. Breakfast had started. Mother would maker her suffer for getting up late.

Soon, her stomach would grow big. There was no way to hide this. No way to stop it. This pregnancy was the absolute worst thing she had ever done. It would ruin mother. It would ruin every element of each of their lives.

And she couldn’t wait.

Surface

He felt that the rest of the group still had not accepted him. As they made their way through the fog from one skyscraper to another, over the ill-maintained rope bridge, Timothy wondered how much longer it would take. They treated each other coldly, but with a level of trust. Is it safer to be out on your own, or among people who don’t trust you?

Timothy looked down again, though they kept telling him not to. He could just make out the murky water below the fog. A dark, still surface of phthalo green stared back up at him.

Osiris

It took Stella 20 minutes to find the code injection vulnerability in the password reset form for the Governor’s campaign site. So far, it had taken her 50 minutes to come up with an appropriate hacker alias. Osiris topped the list.

As her box rebooted to finish a kernel update, she realized that she was hungry. She lit a cigarette. Nothing in the fridge. Three days until her father came back. The box came back up. She logged in and pulled up her attack script.

Stella inspected the user table. Hashed passwords. Salted, iterated, SHA-1. A real challenge, finally.

Surface

The girl had caught his attention. She seemed strong. It didn’t look like any of the the men had touched her. This seemed like a quiet group, a group where people left each other alone. Timothy decided that he would work to win their trust.

He did not sit around the fire with them. Still, the night was warm, the fog had lifted temporarily and the moon was bright. The surface was three stories below them, flat as always. Thousands of skyscrapers leaned out of the water, trees growing out of their windows. No light in any of them.

Osiris

Edwin had long given up convincing his 15-year-old daughter to go outside and enjoy life. Who was he to talk about enjoying life.

“Nobody hacked Google, dad. They hacked a CA and issued a forged ssl certificate”

He enjoyed it when there was some computer story in the news. It gave them something to talk about.

“Really? They said on the news that gmail was…”

It was good to see her passionate about something.

Surface

“Thank you” Timothy ate the apples eagerly. His face contorted by the sour juice.
“It’s rare to find a fruit tree. We should make the most of it.” said the old man. “It helps against the mouthbleeds.”

“Do you know where we’re traveling?”
“Land. There are mountains to the north.”
“Have you ever lived on land?”
“In the south. We had lotteries every year for men over eighteen. I lost my first one.”

“Will they let us in, up north?”
“Unlikely. But it’s better than sitting here, waiting for some scraper to collapse on top of us.”

After all these years

So he smiles at me in that way. You know how he is. Don’t understand this ain’t a life you walk out on.

Situation like that, you gotta suck the life out a the fucker, right? So I threaten his girl, you know? And I give him a little cherry on top. Tell him he’s looking at the guy who killed his mommy.

He don’t even break his smile. Just blinks. Like something real cold just clicked on.

He’s back to work for me. But I ain’t sleeping real good since.

Proverbs 11:17

It takes a fantastic cruelty to succeed. To do what you did. To corrupt and kill. To go so far, for so long, that nobody will match you. I know exactly what it takes.

Did you think you’d won? Because you killed the cruel men and scared the cowardly? You forgot about the ones with rules. The rules are what kept them out of your way, not your cruelty.

You’ve made them break their rules. And now they will go to lengths you cannot conceive of.

You didn’t win the war. You just started it.

Wortroot and maiden's bane communities in landscape archaeology

Hoover had taken a hiking vacation to deal with the reception to his doctoral thesis.

Two rare plants that will not grow together. That is, unless the soil is saturated with calcium and blood plasma. These excess nutrients allow them to live in symbiosis, even after the soil is rebalanced. A handful of specimens would mean ten thousand bodies in a mass grave.

Nobody cared. He looked out over the valley. His breath stopped. It was covered in the unmistakable hues of two little flowers. As far as the eye could see.

Surface

The leader’s strong push knocked the wind out of him, and threw him off his feet, away from the ledge. “You idiot!”

Timothy had thrown a small pebble into the water. Idly, just to watch it fall to the water. Just to make some ripple in that damn green mirror.

They stood at the ledge, crossbows drawn. The girl too. Minutes passed in total silence.

The leader stepped away from the ledge. “Clear…” He shot an angry glance at the old man. “Keep an eye on your boy”

“I guess you’re my responsibility now”, smiled the old man.

Surface

“Timothy… How old are you, Timothy?”

“Don’t worry about earlier. You don’t know all there is to know about the surface. Most of them don’t either. They just know to be afraid of it.”

Timothy looked up “How old are you?”

Osiris

Only three of the users had passwords simple enough to be crackable. Two interns and the campaign manager’s assistant. All had the same password on their email. And far too much personal correspondence for a business account.

The assistant, Terrence “Terry” Williams, was recently given access to the secure VPN. No password in the e-mail, very clean. Still, at least she knew there was a VPN. She started a scan.

She tensed slightly as she heard the front door open. Dad was home. He didn’t call out. Bad day for him, Stella guessed. Peace and quiet for her.

Breathtaking

They had about three hours left together.

“Little planet on one of the outer arms. Kind people, mostly. Just far enough from their star for most of the atmosphere to be saturated with water vapor. And when it condenses high up in the air, they form these huge white mountains of water, drifting along the sky.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

The invention of storytelling

Then the bard stood up and the villagers hushed.

He told of Beanor, the old king, and how he slew the three-headed behemoth. The villagers shouted: “Did that really happen?” “Yes”, he shouted back. And the villagers cheered.

Then of Hrogorth and of the twelve dragons that he slew. The villagers shouted: “Did that really happen?” “Yes”, he shouted. And the villagers cheered.

Then, a story of Scylbane, who travelled deep into a cursed forest to slay a fire-breathing daemon. When he finished, the villagers shouted: “Did that really happen?”

“No”, he said. The villagers went silent.

Proverbs 19:3

Here’s the thing, he whispers, that I realized.

Even if I believed absolutely that God existed. That He was an actual being with a conscious influence over the world…

He searches for the right way to express his recent insight.

I still wouldn’t need to follow His word. I might be grateful for the life He gave me. I might fear His dominion over reality. I might simply judge him to be righteous and true. But that would be by choice. Even in a world where God exists undeniably I am free to deny his authority.

The beast with a world on its back

Mariana likes to sleep in the trees. Most of her people don’t. When The God moves, it induces motion sickness. A bad time to be in the forest, where you can’t see the horizon of His plane.

Even worse to be up a tree, where all movements are magnified. Mariana takes the risk. It allows her peace of mind. It’s easier to focus on your goals when the people that ridicule them aren’t around. And when you dream of finding The Head, you can expect a lot of ridicule.

And look at you now

Equality was all you ever wanted. To be judged by the content of your character. For the superficial differences to be ignored. To be seen simply as people.

The battle is won. A community is a powerful thing. Selfless soldiers of peace, building a culture that cannot be ignored.

Do you see the irony yet, Messiah? It has shaped how you are seen. You took the differences and gave them a name. Nobody will ever see you simply as people now. That is the real reason you are in the desert by yourself, isn’t it?

Islands unto themselves

They were a motherless generation. Without family and far from home. Free from expectation. Disgusted with the actions of their forebears. Certain that the same disease lay dormant in their bones.

Summer had let them close their eyes and feel warmth on their skin. Now it seemed as they were trapped in a perpetual autumn. Those cruel weeks after the trees have fully shed their leaves and the relentless rain has yet to freeze.

They had found each other and connected. They had, for a moment, thought themselves immune. Now, under gray skies, the symptoms were becoming undeniable.

Idiosyncratic nomenclature

“You cannot call your cat nocturnal penile tumescence.”
“Why not?”

“It’s impractical, for one thing”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean it’s very long.”
“Yes, I might call it Penile for short. Or Tumus. Something will develop.”

“What if children come over? You’d have to explain where ‘Tumus’ comes from.”
“I don’t know any children.”
“Things change.”
“Then I’ll explain. Children can handle these things fine.”
“That’s really up to the parents, isn’t it?”

“I suppose your you have a point…
Well, then I guess we’ll have to start a band.”

I'm not lost, I know exactly where I am. I just don't know where the rest of the world is.

I’m having difficulty compiling my message to the authorities. The Zodiac used a cipher, so I want to do it too. I can’t help myself.

The trouble is the point of it. Do I want them to crack it or not? Why not send them random gibberish? Or just the plaintext? I find myself weary of returning to the subject. Second guessing and self-analysis are bad habits when you’re so far down a path like this.

Filicidae

The dirt road shook us about. At 60 I could barely control the car. We hit asphalt, the roar disappeared and I noticed Michelle was crying. I accelerated to 150.

When the road widened to two lanes, her sobbing had turned to shock. She was managing her mind. Four lanes. No thoughts at all is best. Eight.

The little light came on, running on vapor. Sixteen. We would have to walk the empty freeway. It would catch us up. What we tried to escape from, and what we did to escape. There is no such thing as a heroic survivor.

This is an entry for Velvet Verbosity, on the theme ‘widened’.

The choices you have made

I was so angry at her. He was was rude, unkind and unhygienic. Unthinking at best, stupid at worst. He was a criminal. He treated everyone poorly, and indulged beyond measure. He was not misunderstood. I tried hard to find some mystery to his character. I wanted badly to see what she saw. Anything to help me understand.

Of course, with the clarity that hindsight brings, I can see it. She was seduced, but not by him. It was the idea of self-destruction that seduced her. And that is something that none of us could offer.

Proverbs 23:10

Parker walked towards the skeleton. The dried grass splintered under his boots. He was no exo-anatomist, but the shape of the femur suggested quadrupedalism. A kind of badger the size of a large tiger. Parker noticed markings on the bones, all but worn away. He could not have read them even if he had known the language .

“Don’t touch it”, said Bennett. Parker lowered his arm.

First generation clones. Subconsciously, Parker put his hand on his rifle. He scanned the waving grass for sudden movement.

Just like Superman

Who would have thought that willpower was all it took to fly. Train your mind, and once you’re there, you’re up. No effort, no wings to flap. Takes less energy than walking, they say.

I’d always figured flying would become a drag after a while. But apparently, some of that initial excitement never fades. Even if you fly to work every day.

And the rest of us are stuck on the ground looking up at the flying people. Left to come to terms with the fact that, apparently, we just don’t want it enough.

The Andropov Contingency

The underground lair of the Republican Party is quite cosy, once you get used to the domed ceiling and the marble pillars.

“Afghanistan! Cheney, you must be joking.”
“I don’t joke about the environment, Donald.”
“We can educate people. We get a young candidate. Recycling, renewable energy…”
“Drops in a bucket. Consumption needs to plummet now or humanity is doomed. We need to crash the economy. Another unwinnable war, maybe two.”
“We’d need someone who can think on his feet, play stupid for years consistently.”

George Sr. breaks his silence.
“I think I may know someone.”

Osiris

Stella found her father bleeding into white sheets from a neat little hole through his head. A wail, like that of a panicked toddler was building up. She was in danger.

She knew how to go mobile, like Mitnick. She took the credit cards and made for the station. Cross state lines before dawn.

A stupid little memory worked its way over the wall. Something about a dropped ice cream and how he bought her another one. The wail ruptured her heart and suddenly Stella was nothing more than a terrified toddler at a cold bus station at 5 am.

Put the bunny back in the box

We watch Bergman and Truffaut and Kurosawa. Friday is Fellini night.

She brings up Nicolas Cage sometimes. She wants to watch The Rock with me. And Con Air and Face/Off. She assures me it’s ironic. I tell her she can do as she pleases, but I’d rather do something meaningful.

I’m worried. I’m worried I’ll cry. When Jamie Archer sticks the balisong into Castor Troy’s leg and twists it so the wound won’t close. You get that son of a bitch Jamie, you get him good.

Thirty minutes with coffee

Amber has been transported to a slightly boring fantasy world. A helpful gnome explains the situation.

“It happens just before you wake up. The upside is you’re immortal here.”
“I just disappeared from Earth?”
“No. Time stops until you return. You might, if you work at it for a millennium. But you wouldn’t remember. You would just get up and for about an hour you would feel a thousand years old.”

“Why me?”
“This happens to all of you, every day, one by one. Every time someone finds a way back, we fix the flaw.”

And when you pull the trigger, you will know you have had your last fix

Something they don’t tell you about vengeance. In all the stories of people consumed. They don’t tell you that it fades. It’s strongest when it’s happening. And even though they are taking you apart bit by bit, there is a clarity to your hatred that you will come to miss.

The more it fades the more you see yourself again. And it becomes unbearable to watch yourself doing anything. You find yourself returning to that moment, despite yourself. Anything for that clarity.

Proverbs 9:10

They ask their questions, these boys. And I smile at the folly of youth. To poke at something perfect. I explain to them their arrogance. To think you might find fault in the Lord’s work. You are only highlighting your own silliness. Now run along.

Had they read the whole of this book, they would know how He responds to that kind of curiosity. It chills me, what they are calling on themselves. The innocence with which they do it. It is good that I learned to master my doubts, or I would linger on such thoughts.

The Hapax Legomena

Gavin always thought he was unlikely to use a word only once. You either discussed something and referred to it several times, or you don’t discuss it at all. There should be a gap between the words you use and those you don’t.

When Gavin learned that in fact words used only once tend to outnumber the others nearly two to one, he was saddened. The thought of being chosen, but only once, stirred him. He rewrote his latest manuscript to use each word twice at least. Then, one by one, the rest of his work.

We all have dreams to follow

The launch bunker is coated in armored glass. The people who push that button will be the only ones to see what happens.

NORAD has exceptionally strict psychological evaluations. We will need to train to cheat them, because let’s face it, we are two pretty twisted individuals. And they won’t put us in there together if the background checks show us as anything but strangers.

We will stay apart, if that is what it takes. If that is what it takes to feel each other’s lips while the world burns below us.

Based on this prompt.

I'll have her, but I will not keep her long

“Are you looking at my girl?” He flashes a psychotic smile. Practised and fake.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” A generous smile back. “She’s very beautiful.”

“And she is your girl? She seems too smart for that. What claim do you have to her except by the grace of her consent?” He looks sufficiently puzzled.

I decide that I will seduce this girl. It would help if I could get him to punch me.

A master of the sword is deaf to his own heart

I would have killed my only friend without ever being asked

But you did ask. And then that stirred a little spark in me that grew into a demon. And he is telling me this is not love. If you ask me to do such things, it is something else entirely.

I will not kill when I am confused. I will disappear. When I am by myself I will find out whether the demon is wrong, or he is me and I am just a demon driven by your glory.

Weirder and more lovely

“LET’S MAKE SWEET LOVE IN THE GODDAMN SUNSET”. The message was typed. The thin strip containing the text was crudely torn out, placed in a blank envelope and delivered to Wendy’s house at 5AM.

She was worried this was sexual intimidation. A stalker. What a shame that the world was such that that would be her first response. It was kind of a nice sentiment in its way.

It took some days before the recipients of similar messages throughout the world began to find each other over the internet, and began work on their puzzle.

Anything would have become hatred by comparison

They thought that he was a psychopath. That he could feel no empathy. Certainly no love. He killed and maimed and raped in inconceivable numbers. They thought he was a monster.

Nothing could be further from the truth. His heart was filled with love. Such love as mankind had not seen in all its tens of thousands of years in existence. And would not see again in another million.

And all that love he gave to his brother. And when he was finished, there simply wasn’t any left for the rest of us.

Betty

Betty was ambitious from age twelve at least. She would have fame and respect. Most of all she would have wonderful affairs with rebels and poets.

She learned to settle. She would have a stable relationship with Ralph and work hard to produce one thing worthwhile.

Now she is fifty-one and everything has finally come apart. No money, and no safety net. No time to start again. Ralph’s not coming back, she realized that yesterday.

It’s Sunday morning and she’s in bed with a cup of tea. Staring at the wall, wondering why she feels so satisfied.

From this prompt on Velvet Verbosity.

Proverbs 31:6

Alistair had convinced them his reasons were not ideological. If it was just the money, they would give him the old bottle of scotch and gun with a single bullet. Let him do the honorable thing. Iverson would doubtless open some 10 year old Barbaresco to drink himself to sleep.

He stared at the bottle. They would not open the door before a shot sounded. He stood on the chair and quietly lifted a ceiling plate. Taped to the back of it were six extra cartridges. Had been for a year. It pays to plan for the unthinkable.

It would just be too awkward

The letters started coming a year ago. “I cannot make this right, but I can try.” Five hundred dollars every week.

I tracked him down yesterday. Bobby O'Dougherty nearly made detective. Joseph Leibowitz was on his way to buy a carton of milk for Maureen’s cornflakes when Bobby’s ricochet punched through his sternum.

Two M. Leibowitzes in one street is quite a coincidence. I should correct the error. But then I’ve already spent most of it. And who’s to say she’s more entitled to the money than I am.

They're as scared of you as you are of them

In the dream I wake up, eyes already open and adjusted to the dark. I cannot move. On the ceiling is a very ordinary person. Often a boy.

He cranes his neck back to look at me. Further than it should go. There is a sound of twisting vertebrae. He snaps at me with his teeth and crawls across the ceiling. Joints twisting. Never losing eye contact.

Their number increases every dream. Reaching down to my face in a writhing pyramid. Last time I felt their breath chill my face.

Osiris

Stella sat at the window, staring at the ATM across the street. She had chosen a small Canadian town at random and booked a hotel.

Was she being irrational about her father’s murder? Why not trust the police? She felt ill by herself.

A tramp arrived at the machine with the card she had left him with its code attached. She had emptied the account the night she found her father.

In minutes two patrol cars stopped at the machine. Not one cop in seven days, and now, four at once. It was time to find another random town.

Thank god for bad recording engineers

Everybody has weak moments. You left me for Johann Sebastian and I spend a lot of time hating you for it. My friends say I have every right to. I shouldn’t be thinking of you at all, but the real weakness is when I miss you.

I play your CD. At least you found the success you left me for. I lie back and try to filter out the piano. If I concentrate I can make out your breathing. If I focus long enough, the music disappears altogether and your presence fills the room.

To be read in West Country accent

Its sails have the most unusual sheen. Spun in place by silkworms, so they say. It cuts the ink at a hundred knots.

In its belly are damned souls. Blackening their fingers to push it ever faster. Each one human before they crossed paths with its captain. Now, she commands and they obey. I wonder, some days, whether she is the one that curses you, or it’s the boat that curses, and she was just the first victim.

Course, if you’ve ever seen the Verbosity, chances are you know better than me.

The social availability of the short track runner

We all have our pain. Not the pain that kills you but the one that you are good at. The one you can ignore.

Some people are good at the really long dull aches. I am best at the quick jabs of intense, existential hurt. Gone as quick as they come. You’d never tell from my expression.

You find your pain and build a life around it. If you are smart, anyway. Some people live their lives fighting someone else’s pain. Then they wonder why everything seems to be so much more difficult for them.

Rainy day project

When I found out that my time machine worked, my first idea was to transport history’s greatest warriors to the present and make them fight to the death.

I never really understood soldiers. I thought they would make good gladiators. They kill without remorse, and they don’t mind doing it for someone else’s reasons. And they don’t seem to value their freedom.

What I hadn’t realized is that the best soldiers will value just one freedom. The freedom to choose from whom they take their orders. And I did not, apparently, measure up.

Proverbs 30:20

She eats spareribs with a vigor seldom seen in slender women. Her lips look good greasy.

“No, I don’t feel bad. I am promiscuous by choice. It’s not some need or fear I can’t control. I choose indulgence and I don’t regret.”

She swallows a mouthful of brown.

“Yes, I did do bad things as well. I never had any intention of being true to his promises, and he did give me trust before I broke them.”

“Maybe I should feel bad about that. But I don’t. So where does that leave us?”

Alternate universe

Eve’s lungs were seizing. She sucked in the faintest stream of breath, but she knew it couldn’t last. She was so scared. All she had done was what they told her to.

“I offered you a gift! A way out. Everybody wins! But apparently, all you do is obey!”

Where was Adam? Why wouldn’t he come back? The two puncture wounds on her hand were swelling up. The breath wouldn’t come anymore no matter how hard she tried. Nobody had ever told her about dying.

“This is what happens when you piss off a snake.”

Based on this prompt, sort of.

A warrior at five years old

My heart breaks as I grab her by the shoulders. She looks at me with big red eyes and crunched up lips.

‘You have every right to cry. Every reason to be scared. You are too young. But please be brave for me. I need you, I need your help. The world isn’t as it should be.’

I want to tell her it will be good again. We’ll work hard to restore things the way they were. But now we know how easily everything is taken away, where will we find the energy?

Passchendaele 1917

Shells kicked up mud. Rhodes and Whittaker were picked off the second they went over the top. Most of us made it through the wire. And then the medic got it in the head.

The captain started barking orders because he could see that panic was starting to set in. Not the regular going-over-the-top panic that keeps you alive, if you’re lucky, but the turning-your-back panic that gets you killed.

I let them get on with it. I like it when the medic dies. You can’t stare death in the face when there’s a safety net.

Dear Rory

I have never read a love letter I liked. Somehow, it all comes off dishonest and pointless. Nothing connects. If I were you, I wouldn’t be swayed by how someone feels, or what someone promises. Still, at this point, what else is there to do.

So here is my love letter. I love you. And when I think of you and me together it makes me really happy and then really sad. I’m really scared of dancing, but dancing with you would be different. I want someone to enjoy sunny weather with, and nobody else will do.

A sadness at the heart of her

The photographs you remember best are the ones you didn’t take. After we had made love she would get behind the piano, barely pausing for breath. Her apartment was so small that the door from the hallway to the single room was forced ajar by the Steinway. She could just about afford its payments and the rent together.

Her body, hunched under the strain of Liszt, became entirely more her own. The high windows cut two slices of illuminated dust across her skin. The camera was there, beside the bed in my bag.

Dyson already did it

Computation costs usable energy. And thought is computation.

As the universe approaches heat death, Amasis, last of the universe-spanning conscious entities, considers her fate. She does not want to die.

She switched to reversible computation when she still had Exajoules. This allows her, theoretically, to think without spending energy, given infinite time. A Kilojoule, half of her reserve, lets her complete a contemplation in a million epochs. Her next thought will use half that. A quarter after that. Time per thought will grow exponentially.

But Amasis doesn’t feel the epochs. Only the Fredkin gates ticking over.

Proverbs 13:13

Such a simple thing. Flick up the molly-guard, and push the button. Compared to takeoff procedures in an AV-8B, it’s the most insignificant of actions.

The forces occupying the village, who have somehow found his emergency frequency, are announcing their retreat. Spare the village, they cry in broken English. A single pass is all it would take to spot their white flags, and Lonnie Hargis would be required to disengage.

He can block the frequency if he wants to, but there’s no reason, really. Lonnie has been trained well. He has no trouble ignoring the pleas.

Bukowski

‘So a sexy, mysterious criminal mastermind will break into the Guggenheim on …’

‘The twenty-sixth’
‘Right. Would you mind if I ask you a question?’

The chief shifts in his chair.

'I’m a drunk. I’m not going to keep that a secret in a building full of cops. I’m not going to survive my next review. You expect me to believe that you’re going to hand me a case that came in from Interpol? Who put you up to this?’

'I’m giving it to you, Bukowski’, the chief sighs, 'because I don’t believe it either’

A proportion to be guessed at

Look closely at your hands. Your fingers in particular. Knuckles most of all. You will see they are riddled with tiny scars.

These are not like the big scars. The ones you remember living with. The ones that took weeks to go from wound to skin, and months to fade into memory. These are the wounds you don’t remember getting. Looking down at your thumb and seeing an unexpected, bloodless separation of the skin. Barely sore.

Together, they make up a record. A collection of the moments in your life you don’t remember.

You'll know it when you see it

I smile when I hear about politicians trying to get people interested in politics. This happens in times of relative prosperity. Classroom projects. Community outreach. Don’t waste your vote, now. Great photo-ops for the campaign trail.

That’s not what The People getting involved looks like. Wait until you’ve made it into office. Until you discover what you have been scrambling for. Wait until the next wave of shit rolls around. Then you’ll see what it looks like when the people take an interest. And you will not like it.

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know

If you’ve never set fire to a gas station, you may struggle to understand my attraction to Alain. Very well designed, usually. It takes planning to get the level of property damage you dream of.

Best method we’ve come up with is to strike during refueling. The intake valve on the UST has simple safety controls. For a real fireball you need to knock it through and burn the pump. Oxygen inflow is the key.

I expect different stations require different strategies. But this has always worked on the ones that daddy owns.

Of psychopaths and tactics

Bartlett falls hard on her shoulder blades. He was skilled enough to take her gun. But then, she was skilled enough to take his.

A scratch across his eyes buys seconds. She kicks her bag. Bartlett always carries extra strength rip ties after she saw soldiers on the news using them.

She grabs one and twists it around his neck, forcing his windpipe shut. He does not scramble at the plastic noose. He just grabs her throat and squeezes. Pinned down, the only option now is to save her breath. Hope his strength fails before her consciousness.

Das ist keine Jacke, das ist Rebellion

‘Think of punk. Think of the anti war movements.’

The CEO looks uneasy.

'I know. Madness to tie yourself to communism or something like that. What we need is to tie into the instinct. No specifics. Erich here is our finest artist. He’s done some mockups.’

Something stirs in Erich. A hint of insight. Then it dies, never to return, and he starts up PowerPoint.

The Art of War 8:10

Beauty come in threes. Those who do not realize their own. Those who grow tired of the attention it brings. Those who have built their life around it.

Eris likes the quiet clubs on a friday. She has the attentions, so far, of three men.

‘Ew, did you spit on me?’ She smiles.

The confidence fades. Another one moves in. Let them imagine what they want. Eris is just passing the time until someone comes along who knows the rules.

Asimov already did it

Amasis is lonely. Not like the biological need for companionship. She has no memory of that in any way. This is an existential loneliness. A faint hope for purpose.

She has the ability to think an infinity of finite thoughts. An infinity of infinite thoughts, if she plays her cards right. With those resources, simulating a simple universe is easy.

It takes her some practice to get the parameters right. The universe itself must allow for complexity to emerge. Something organic. Something she’ll recognize.

Amasis cannot fully enter her creation. But she can interact with it.

Erroneous projections

I have a poster of an adorable kitten. I don’t particularly like it, but I like to think about how the kitten sees itself. While we transfer love for some hypothetical baby onto it, the kitten considers how it’s seen by mouse and bird.

It watches you in the dark. It hears you breathe and feels you move. When you see it, it will be too late. The coiled muscles will have sprung. The claws will lacerate and it will bleed you dry. It is well fed, it will not eat you. Your terror is its joy.

At the mounting brackets of madness

Carnegie is strapped down tight. Movement is impossible. In front of him is a square plate, gray and uniformly lit.

This is day seven. Carnegie thinks this is punishment for his excesses. Around day hundred the boundaries of experience will narrow. He will be walking the mountainous imperfections in the paintwork. Dreaming of the colored waves the lighting throws across the land. The electric hum in the flicker of the light will be a symphony that will never leave him.

Carnegie will come to realize that this is not a punishment. It is a lesson.

Customers aren't allowed in the kitchen area

‘You are so important.’

I was staring at the fries bubbling in hot oil, waiting for my shift.

'I want to apologize. You will do do one thing. One wonderful act with such phenomenal consequences. ..’

He then proved he was a time traveler. I asked him why he was here.

'To stop you. Not your fault, but it turns out bad.’

I asked if he was going to kill me.

'No need. It won’t happen, now that you know. Your life will be uneventful. That’s what I wanted to apologize for.’

Writing

Writing is not a human invention. It goes back much further. Amphicoelias fragillimus, with its 60 meters of vertebrae. Its tail slowly tapers to a point over 30 meters. Hundreds of them swing back and forth over the ground as the herd crosses the dried planes of the dying earth.

The markings left are quite unique. Before long, the children learned to follow them if ever they became separated. Finally, the parents began to control their tails in response to the environment. Water nearby. Predators ahead. Rest here.

This is how random marks become writing. Through the invention of reading.

Based on this prompt at Velvet Verbosity.

Osiris

Cash dries up quickly when you’re on the run. Stella wandered the streets, starting to despair. Even going back home had become impossible.

She found her way to a soup kitchen. Social workers will draw their own conclusion when they find a fifteen year old in a bread line. No needle marks, traumatized look. They helped her find a job where a social security number was optional.

She kept her bag secured. Few people in a soup kitchen own a laptop. And while Stella was eating stale bread, her machine was matching rainbow tables against the governor’s database.

The Art of War 7:34

The strategist spoke with urgency.

‘He’s left his position on the education budget vague. If we move now, we may take some of his base. We come out in support and he’ll have to oppose it. He can’t risk looking a follower.’

A speech was written. He read it with a real sense of passion and authority.

'Bad news. Leaked report on foul play in the proposed budget. One of the suppliers may have lobbied a little too aggressively. News are all over it too, cause it’s a leak.’

Clever, clever bastard.

Like a baby on your doorstep

My friend is a poet. Best I ever read. Only he never publishes, not even on the Internet. He takes his poems too serious for that.

What Walter does, is he goes into a public toilet. At like a bar or a library. He sits down, takes out a felt-tipped pen and writes his poem on the first sheet of toilet paper. Uses each poem only once.

He sees it as a test. People may wipe their ass with it or take it home and cherish it forever. But they have to make the choice.

Nicht öffnen bevor der Zug hält

The train’s heartbeat thumps into her sneakers. She clicks the handle sideways and the door hisses open.

Empty again. How much further to the front? There should at least be a driver. Can she get their attention, or will the engine be a separate car? How will they respond to this girl waking up on their mile-long empty train with no memory? It feels like night, but there’s no telling until they emerge from this tunnel.

Is there even an end to this tunnel? Is there even a first car to this train?

Based on this prompt.

Pristine

That’s what we called it in my day, “snow”. You breathe it in deep, through the nose. And soon the snow flutters around your head. In front of all those things you don’t need to see so clearly anyway. Like way back when, when it snowed on a clear day and the whole world, as far as you could see would be a volume of irregular dots.

Thing about snow is that it settles down. You never know on what until it does. And then it’s covered forever, freezing to death under a blanket of pretty ice.

Based on this prompt from Velvet Verbosity.

Doesn't even feel like your room anymore

Moving back in with your parents is a special kind of embarrassing. The suggestion being that you really don’t have what it takes. After all these years, it turns out you are still a child. The only change is that, for a short time, you can fool people into thinking of you as an adult. This is mostly due to appearance.

Everybody else? Stable marriages. Upwardly mobile and driving cars. Did you think you’d be a part of that? Did you honestly think that you would change as you got older?

Floral automata and rose scented proofs

He was no writer. How could he have hoped to express the depth of his emotion? He could only attend the class where she assisted.

Applied Computer Science, possibly the dullest of mathematical pursuits. No depth or beauty. Just doing the engineers’ work for them.

But this was how he could communicate with her. He would take the dire field and express himself. He would derive and show and prove with unrivaled elegance. He would discover diagonal arguments to open her eyes, and isomorphisms to quicken her pulse. His homework would be his love letter.

They claim too much

‘To conclude; Alan’s had a great idea. Alan?’

'Well, it’s about the brick wall facing the car park. I figured we could put some ads up. It’s just empty space.’

Nicolai kept still. It wasn’t in him to speak up about things that didn’t relate to finance. Inside him there was panic. He stared at that wall. From his car, every morning before work. Two or three breaths worth of nothing.

He stared for an hour the morning Sandra left him. And now they were going to take it away from him.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung 5:6

Lance held his hand on the half scale model of the combat drone.

’… absolute apex in conflict resolution. Whisper quiet quad rotor with two independent M24 mounts. Forget missiles. Needs be, she’ll identify hostiles by herself. Picks ‘em off one by one.’

'Listen, we both know the truth. Talking doesn’t get you peace. The big stick makes the rules and if the good guys have it, you get civilization. We forget that for a second and it’s gone. There are people who hate freedom in this world, my friend. Evil exists.’

Space Opera

It takes only a basic grasp of color theory and magnetism to find the portals. Civilizations cross the galaxy before they circumnavigate their globe.

On a blue world orbiting a yellow star on the end of the third arm something went wrong. A shadow government buried the portals to control them. They took their secrets to the grave and the world was cut off.

The portals weren’t found until the speed of a neutrino crossing one could be measured to sufficient accuracy. They soon found what they had escaped for so long. The horror of perpetual galactic war.

Soulmate Nemeses

We may be separated by miles on the face of the earth, but very near in the space defined by cognitive similarity. This space exists. Sufficiently similar minds can be made to swap.

This is what the grinning pensioner told Birkhoff after he had woken up behind bamboo bars in a body not his own. The dying pay good money to swap bodies at random.

Two questions occupy him. Can you blame someone for their actions, when their mind is near identical to yours? And how long will bamboo need to burn before this failing body can kick through?

Confound their speech

We were united by love; there was nothing we couldn’t do. He couldn’t handle that, so he changed the rules. He made us all speak different languages and that’s where everybody always ends the story.

But we manage every time. We start building again and He changes physics itself. We work around it and He depletes our resources. We make our own material now by stringing atoms together. He pushes us apart and we find our way back.

He holds us back, perhaps, but it’s higher than ever. What’s He afraid of anyway?

The sight of burning marble

The people have perfected their game: Herostratus can scream and wave his hands before their eyes; they won’t respond. He can push them, tickle them or tousle their hair. He can even get arrested. But immediately, it’s as if it never happened. He is never acknowledged beyond strict necessity.

It’s a battle of wills. Everybody in Ephesus knows him. Their silly attempt to teach him a lesson has backfired. If he can only hold on to that knowledge.

Herostratus is finding out just how difficult it can be to hold on to knowledge.

Zamglenie

I wake up with a sack over my head. He reminds me of my actions. I would remind him of his, if I could talk. He explains how easy it is to find privacy in a Stasi holding station. How securely the room is soundproofed.

Fair enough; I deserve to die and he deserves to kill me.

As it is, the muck who tied me up happens to be the gambler we turned. As it is, they picked me up on a drug run. Paralyzing agent. Flavorless with coffee. He should have known not to turn his back on me.

From this prompt at Velvet Verbosity.

Five Inches of Titanium Coated Stainless Steel

Handy with a knife, is Roger. Knows where to cut and how to do it so you can’t scream no more. Sometimes you don’t want so much blood. He can do that for you. Sometimes you want lots of blood so the next guy knows to start talking. Roger’ll give you oceans. I’ve never seen him miss an artery.

Family man, as well. Two adorable little girls. I have a strong preference in my organization for employees dedicated to marriage and family. Families are the backbone of a healthy civilization.

The Art of War 7:36

He only has himself to blame. I’m a coward, we both know that. I was going to flee.

I have some friends left. I get out of his way and everybody’s happy. But it won’t work with this kind of money on my head. Nobody has friends that good.

Takes some doing to accept your own death. But there’s some relief with it. Once you stop caring about your own life and focus solely on the end of someone else’s, well… it’s like a whole new world of possibilities.

Of causality

She found it in a bookshop, behind a case of secondhands. A thin little volume from 1885. She was afraid the shopkeeper would ask a fortune, because she couldn’t hide how much she wanted it. So she stole it.

A depressed young man with no-one to save him, had made up a girl and written to her. And she became that girl. She wrote back in vain, cursing the cruelty. Every day, for some months until she could bear it no more.

And in 36 years another young person will find a little notebook in a dusty room.

If you've done nothing wrong

“Three!” yells the VAC on the other side of the wall. The door frame releases a cloud of plaster.

Everything is going to be all right, honey, keep the scarf over your eyes tight. She holds on so tight to the stuffed panda. It used to be mine. I got it in Taiwan, when I was her age. Before the borders closed.

It won’t take four. I wonder whether they will take us in. There’s nobody else to stop them from just opening fire. It doesn’t matter much in the long run.

Rule number one

Look down as you tip the jerrycan overhead, she realizes too late. The gasoline burns her eyes. She breathes in with shock and swallows enough to make her choke. Then she drops it on her head and soon she’s on her knees.

Not the planned swift motion. Her worst-case scenario was to be rescued after the flames. After the damage is done, but before she’s actually out in a blaze. Currently, she hasn’t even flicked open her lighter.

She opens her eyes and sees people filing past. Craning to look around her into shop windows.

Just giving her a little dream

Noise on the line. Never mind, audio is only for monitoring.

I remember when you could root a cyberbrain over audio. Nowadays they’re always firewalled up to the eyeballs, especially the diplomats. Makes the whole thing pretty useless for them too, everybody loses.

Aroma hacking is where it’s at. A thousand molecules in a thousand little jars. Try and fence off a million dimensional sensory space with your firewalls.

I’m getting close too. My fifth prep is in the teabags she bought yesterday. Sunday afternoon, I should be getting a signal soon.

Dead Calm Ink

Life—if that’s the word—on the Verbosity is rough. No sleep or food, the ink sustains you. Seeping into your body through the ores. It does not, however, take care of hunger and fatigue.

The captain pits soul against soul. Makes them fight for her approval when the ship runs downwind. The souls require little encouragement to devour one another.

The Mute sits at the back. From time to time, the captain tries to stir him. Forces him to fight. As it is, he has some peace. And they are starting to believe that the Mute actually is.

This is turning into a narrative.

Historically Inaccurate

‘More messages from Leiden. The last reserves of food are have run out. If Leiden falls, sir, the rest of the cities will follow.’

'We lack the funds to mount an attack on the Spanish siege, sir. The development of our navy has depleted the budget. The strength of our fleet has cost us dearly on land.’

The advisors are quiet and nervous. The prince is thinking, slumped forward in his chair. He leans back and stares at them, with mad and fierce eyes.

'Cut the dikes’, he says, 'we will show the Spaniards something they’ll never forget.’

The Elements of Style 5:1

The young Leonardo is finding that virtuosity and genius do not imply survival. In the Florentine court, survival is a skill all its own. You learn as you go, and you had better be a quick study.

Ego does not bear talent well. It must be provided with perfection, yet not be made to feel inferior.

So Leonardo slackens his jaw. Projecting a kind of god-given genius of the idiot. Genius at the cost of so much else. Inspiring respect but never jealousy. His true grace and insight hidden behind locked doors and mirrored writing.

Descent stage

Zhantas breathes stale nitrogen. He looks out over the faintly yellow craters. He does not dare touch his discovery. The research group is on the planet, excavating the city.

A lost civilization on a strange planet, not bad. The group did seem disappointed at how early these creatures had lost the fight. Always the same story: split the atom, network the planet, and then it’s all over. Doomed to die on your planet.

But they haven’t seen this. Four simple struts in gold foil cover. Theirs, unmistakably. For one brief moment at least, they beat the odds.

Based on this prompt at Reality Obscure.

You should have specified

Tall Sarah from accounts stares at her favorite spreadsheet. She wishes her life were more exciting. In the astral layer, one of the little demons hears, and puts another penny in Sarah’s jar.

Every third week, the jar is weighed against a recently deceased fox. If it ever tips the scales, it’s poured out over a sleeping troll. If the troll sleeps through it, the little demons put the empty jar back in its place.

If the troll wakes up, the little demons are free to teach you to be careful what you wish for.

Must be Monday

The semen of death row inmate Peter Hannaway needs to make its way somehow into the womb of Kimiko Higuchi. This mutation is exceedingly rare. Humanity will not last unless it gets into general circulation. Or maybe the point is to kill everyone. Nihyakuhatsuka has never been entirely sure of her employer’s motivations.

As a high profile, Japanese pop phenomenon, Higuchi is unlikely to carry through an unexplained pregnancy. But at least there are airplanes now. Used to be this kind of operation would start with chloroforming one of them and dragging them halfway around the world.

The shock of it

Do you remember crying like that? It’s only an ice cream. You’ll buy her a new one. When was the last time you howled from such depths?

It’s about the joy of getting something exciting. The buildup. And then suddenly it’s taken away, and it’s your own fault and you don’t understand.

At three you live behind a shield that your parents built to keep bad feelings out. Just little bits at a time, the bits no parent could keep away. The cruelty of the universe, slowly seeping through the cracks.

Osiris

Dear aunt Emily,

Sorry for not calling instead. Sorry for not writing sooner. I was scared to check the news. I guess I didn’t realize you guys would be looking for me. I’m all right. That’s all you should really know. The news says dad is missing. Dad’s dead. Somebody killed him.

I know this won’t put you at ease very much, and I’m imagining all the things you would say to me. I really wish I could hear you say them. You won’t hear from me for a while.

love you,
  Stella

Part of a narrative.

Self-absorbed, emotionally dependent

They have the wrong idea about stalkers. In fact, I think most stalkers have the wrong idea about themselves.

I don’t know how others like me feel about this, but I have never been so misguided as to think that she and I might be together in the conventional sense. Neither of us would enjoy that very much. I can’t think what we would talk about.

I only want to give her the gift of my love. And if that scares her or she doesn’t appreciate it as such, well, I don’t really care.

The Art of War 7:21

The handles of the basket dig into my fingers. I should not have taken the second carton of juice. I still need to carry this shit home. Still, It’ll be nice to be set for the weekend.

I am stuck between boisterous students and a muttering man. He stands too close, there is a faint, sour smell. I should be more careful.

Movement at the other till. Is she opening? I could be out of here in minutes. The students haven’t noticed. What if I’m wrong? How much longer can I wait?

Batter my heart, three person'd God

On July sixteenth, 1945, Earth’s atmosphere was ignited somewhere in New Mexico. The wavefront circumnavigated the globe in ten days. Frantic submarine transmissions through deep water gave some advance warning for the rest of the world.

The nations of the Indian rim had enough time. Few were sufficiently cruel to match the number of people to the available air supply. With fifty people to a standard coal mine, there is a good chance of a stable population emerging. And around three months of breathable air to turn the place into a self-sustaining biosphere.

The right hand will be difficult

Every bone in the body can be reached through surgery. Every bone in the body can be replaced by an apatite-wollastonite ceramic prosthetic. Aluminium reinforced, of course.

The vertebrae are tricky. The best strategy is to dissolve parts, and cast the prosthetic in place. The skull, too, must be taken in sections. Given that, it’s not as involved as it seems.

Is it possible to replace the entire skeleton? There’s only one way Harrison can prove his claim. All the greats tested on themselves. It should only make the procedure marginally more difficult.

Ouroboros

The spirit of the forest dies when it chooses to. It cannot have equals, and it cannot be absent. The only possibility is for it to be born as it dies.

It remembers its own birth vividly, so it knows when to die. When the birds abandon the trees.

Just as the humans crown themselves as masters, the spirit will release itself, and reveal the true mechanics of the world. At the end of their race, the humans will know humility.

And they smell nice

I like meeting lesbians. Not because of the fantasies. It’s the sense of meeting a kindred spirit.

Men know, deep down, but nobody lets on. I have yet to find a man who can be honest about the depth at which female beauty touches him. They coat it in chest-thumping. Pretend it’s something they ought to be ashamed of.

What do straight women know? They actually fall for these men who would hide the dearest thing they posses. Now the lesbians… there’s always a chance that they understand. That they are willing to talk.

Dismissed without evidence

I don’t believe in the cause like he does. I don’t even believe this is a war. Or that it should become one.

So we bicker on the front lines. I call him a lunatic, and he calls me a hypocrite. He beats me down with superior knowledge, I study up and rebuild my argument.

He never convinced me. This is not a war and we needn’t make it one. Things are not that bad, or not bad in that way.

If it was war, though, we couldn’t have asked for a better soldier.

Of a thousand miles

It took longer than you planned. Cut through your margins and burned your deadlines. Your body failing at half the pace. It takes more every day. And that damn mechanism in your head. The little ratchet that will not let you quit. Will not let you sleep.

It’s all too late. At this speed there is no hope of seeing the plan completed. You barely remember what it was.

But none of that bothers you. You are happy. In front of you on the ground is the first brick. And it’s exactly as you imagined.

This is story 101 of as many words.

The elements of style 5:2

It was not that she was a bad writer. She had her way with words. As a matter of pride.

Fiction, prose and poetry. She would defend their importance with great fire. They provided her livelihood and, she would claim, gave meaning to the life that they sustained.

But now there was this small white card. On it, she had to express to her sister the depth of her sympathy. How she was affected by the tragedy. How much she wished that she could be nearer. Everything she tried was caked in frivolity and lies.

Ask about our Christmas discount

At Graceful Exit Solutions we understand that suffering takes its toll. Sometimes it makes life no longer worth living.

Starlight Swan is our most popular service. After a personalized farewell ceremony, you will be ejected into a declining orbit around the black hole Cygnus X-1. As you spiral towards the event horizon, our StretchonTM-fiber suit will counteract tidal forces for up to 24 hours in your reference frame. During your last day, the universe will age a billion years.

Your eternally frozen, living body will serve as a focus of remembrance, guaranteed to outlast any tombstone.

Crawling up your spine

Oswald cannot concentrate in his apartment. The neighbours play music, or talk and laugh. He knows he shouldn’t mind, but he still gets worked up. The longer he stays, the worse it gets.

Luckily, Oswald has found a quiet room at work. He uses it to hide his guns. He’s never fired one, but holding them calms him down.

Today is bad. The anger has been slow to fade away, even holding the Carcano. Just then, the noise starts outside. Oswald tears open the window and sees a motorcade. The presidential visit, was that today?

The pressure of entertaining

Judith looks nervous. She knows who has the pill. She doesn’t know what it contains, though. Ruth knows that, and she’s crying into her glass, so we know it’s serious. Still, it may be the wine we should worry about, with the pill as a sole saving grace. That would be just like them.

Miriam has chosen to trade with Judith. Judith seems to be repressing her relief. That would mean Miriam has it. It will be my turn soon. I choose who doesn’t drink. How sure am I that it’s Miriam?

From this prompt at Reality Obscure.

Just a little stomach virus

It feels like every thirty minutes I would half wake up from a nagging, sweet nausea. I knew what was coming, and I knew I couldn’t stop it. I would sit up with the bucket in front of me and wait.

Slowly, the buildup peaks and my bowels turn inside out. For minutes I would heave and splutter and push to no effect. Nothing left inside of me.

Then I would lie back and just breathe. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so free in my life. Would you believe I miss it?

Delicious vitreous humour

As the native placed the burrowing beetle on his eye, Harding contemplated the etymology of animal nomenclature. Often the name of an animal is not so much related to perceived behavior as to some apocryphal or mythical habits. Case in point: earwigs.

Harding supposed that if these beliefs were strong enough, it might have caused previous subjects to confess in blind panic. The actual burrowing may not ever have been put to the test, simply by the power of the legend.

Not the strongest positive spin on his situation, but the best he could manage under the circumstances.

Was modesty ever an option?

Here you are, renowned concert pianist. Money, very comfortable. Top Google result for your name, that’s a relief. And groupies. A bit mousy and peculiar, but groupies. People tell you they love you.

But then you look at your peers. The same adulation, but for such crap. Are you like that, or do you produce something meaningful?

There is a simple way to find out. Commit a terrible crime. Murder or rape at least. Not strictly provable, but clearly problematic. If they let you get away with that, you will know you have produced art.

Saint Anthony's Fire

It was in Strasbourg, 1518, that Frau Troffea started dancing and kept dancing. She danced feverishly through the night. In itself this is not so remarkable. Many people, throughout our history, have done mildly peculiar things. What is strange, however, is that after four or five days, thirty-four people had joined her.

The idea of just dancing, letting go of family and work and survival, and just dancing through town, spread through the population like a virus. Before long, four hundred people had decided that they would much rather be mad, than live the life they knew.

You're living for nothing now

Absolute solitude is not for everybody. First of all you give up on any pleasure you might get out of human contact. You cannot do it without a natural disposition towards isolation. But even if you hate interaction of any kind, you must eventually deal with the madness. It usually sets in after about six months.

That turns most people off. The panic of maneuvering in a malleable reality. But there is another phase beyond that. A new stability. Not a return to the world as you knew it, but satisfaction with a liquid universe.

Zamglenie

‘So the war is lost.’
‘If this merchandise checks out. ’
‘You wouldn’t have called me here if there wasn’t some last play.’

Cooper pushes a photograph at him, face down.

‘The station at Talnakh? That’s old news. They know we know, it’s protected.’
‘We may have cracked it… if we can get someone good.’
‘There’s nobody left.’
‘Catherwood could…’
‘Don’t talk to me about Catherwood. He’d kill me if we ever tracked him down. Told me as much himself.’
‘We have some leverage, sir. He… he doesn’t know she’s still alive.’

A sound sleeper, I see

It has been thirty-eight hours since the autopsy revealed a swallowed memorystick. Thirty-four since you plugged it in.

Thirty since they came into your bedroom. Twenty-six since the firemen put out the flames while you watched from the crowd.

Eighteen since you snuck into the embassy. Ten since you were locked in.

Five since security beat down the door. Four since you got the hard disk to the office.

One since you set the e-mailer for Der Spiegel.

One until he wakes up and finds you at the foot of his bed. Ready to ask questions.

Navelgazing

Do you remember writing like that? To start punching at the keys not because the idea is good enough but to be driven by it. Because the idea is so wonderful that you just can’t help yourself.

Do you remember what that was like? When you just have to see how it’ll turn out? For how many years have you dragged your body to the keyboard, and started despite yourself?

They say the trick to being a writer is to learn to do it without inspiration. They never warn you that you might get too good at it.

Violin

I heard Daniel play many times. Almost weekly after they gave him the Strad. I came along for that flawless concerto in Bucharest. But that’s nothing compared with the performance I remember best.

It was when Russell died. He was catatonic at the funeral. He was supposed to play, they told me he had insisted. He cried from three bars in and didn’t stop. It was full of holes, flawed and off key. And there wasn’t anybody in that auditorium who could avoid the full weight of his pain. He never communicated as purely as that day.

Happy New Year

I hope you win a hard victory. I hope you have a moment of genuine insight. I hope someone says something that will make you feel worthwhile.

There will be difficulty that we will have to face. We will prepare ourselves and face it head on, and afterwards it will seem minor. We will remind ourselves that difficulties are a consequence of the risks we took in order to have an adventure.

I hope you see one of your plans come to fruition. I hope it gives you the energy to forget about the ones that didn’t.

Alan, we're sorry for what was done to you

Once you know the Turing code to your own universe, it’s easy to punch through to the others.

If you’re lucky (infinitely lucky), you’ll find yourself in one of the infinity of exact copies of your own universe. There’ll be an exact copy of you but it just left to an identical parallel universe the moment you arrived. What are the odds.

If you’re unlucky (anything but infinitely lucky) you’ll end up in a universe with insufficient capacity to represent you. The sensation is… unpleasant.

DARPA Challenge

The objective of this challenge is characterized as follows.

Consider n puppies. These are to be petted by m humans with differing affection and ability. The objective is to develop an algorithm to assign each human a target puppy so as to maximize the sum total affection generated.

The puppies can be assumed to resist petting. Additional strategies are required to cope with puppies attempting to pet back, with the additional objective to minimize puppy-to-human affection while maximizing human-to-puppy affection. Collateral affection to non-puppies is of minimal concern.

Method must be efficient enough for microsecond response on modern platforms.

Honey trap

On a subway all by himself. So angry again for no reason at all. And there’s the vulnerable little woman at the other end of the car. The rhythm of her breath alone.

No, not the kind of boy who keeps his anger to himself. He’s learned long ago how easily people frighten. He’s learned long ago how it calms him down. Except she just keeps breathing. Except she doesn’t even look at him. Even when puts a hand on her.

And then she does look up and his empty body falls to its knees.

Honey trap

‘What is it?’ ‘It’s about the subway body.’
‘The cut-and-dry heart attack that I told you to leave alone?’
‘Yes. I pulled the security tape from NYCTA.’

Before the chief can quite gather his thoughts for a suitable admonishment, Davis has folded open his laptop and started the clip. It shows grainy footage of a subway carriage with a young adult male, apparently delusional, shouting at an empty seat. There is a blink’s worth of static, and the man falls to the floor.

The chief rubs his eyes. 'Davis, remind me when your next performance review is…’

Some evidence of photosensitivity

The parasite forms a culture in the saliva. Any gingival damage allows it to enter the bloodstream and cause complex behavioral changes.

The most prominent change is an induced desire to bite other individuals and specifically to draw blood. The new host will often draw blood from the original to start the oral culture.

We have also observed an intolerance for traditional symbols of authority and virtue, with religious imagery a strong trigger. We believe the aim is to remove the host from its social community so as to avoid containment, while stimulating behavior conducive to infection.

Best in the business

The woman parades about for him in lingerie. A dropped hip, Some playful taunts with an ironic lilt. All very well executed. She is certainly worth the money. It has no effect on Williams.

He considers smashing his tumbler of whiskey-soda and using one of the shards to lacerate her cardioid artery.

Without preparation, he would certainly be caught. End up in prison for life. Is that preferable to freedom? Is violent murder preferable to half a paycheck’s worth of professional sex? Williams would so love to have a reason for something. If only for once.

Admission: ¥2100

Gavin is excited for school. He barely notices the wave of nausea as the train plummets nearly straight down. He doesn’t look up when it emerges briefly from the enclosure and shows a view of city hall’s windows below.

This afternoon, Gavin and his classmates will get on line B3.154. They will travel for two hours to the nearest preservation centre. There, they will be briefly be allowed to stand on a large floor of reinforced glass. Through it they will see, for the first time in their lives, two vertical miles below them, the ground.

Over a full ashtray

She runs, barefoot, through the grass, and he is so very jealous. Then she smiles at him and it reminds him that he can join her, it’s fine. He has someone to enjoy the summer with. He catches up with her easily, and gently drags her giggling to the ground.

It feels right when she moves in. Sometimes she gets so low, but they talk and the pills help and they talk about children and then there’s the lump and no. Too fast.

She runs, barefoot, through the grass, and he is so very jealous…

Ammonium skies

‘Don’t lean against the walls’.

She says it in passing, as if it has just occurred to her.

'They’re alive. Well, rather the building as a whole is alive. But the walls are like a stomach lining. They will digest you if you give them the chance, suck you in.’

They look very solid. Just like any other wall. Maybe this is all a stupid joke at my expense. The living walls, the parasitic orphans, the labyrinth of teeth.

Still, she’s lived on this planet for a decade. And she looks like she’s seen things.

The other plague

Delorme stuffs his mask with laudanum, not bothering with the herbs. He places the spectacled birdface over his own, attaches it to his robes and enters.

The patient is already dead. The family don’t know, they are afraid to go near. Delorme lifts the blanket with his cane and inspects the marks. ‘This is it’, he thinks.

This is why a former physician of the Medici spends his time as a plague doctor. These marks are nothing like the black patches of his daily routine. This man will rise from the dead and hunger for human flesh.

On a moonless night

‘I’ve followed your investigation. You know I’m innocent.’

Special Agent Thomas responds wide-eyed and whispering.

'God dammit, this is the worst possible thing you could do. First, I know jack shit. Second, I got twenty beat cops combing these woods, looking for a cop killer. I could give them a six year old girl and they’d get her put away. You get anywhere near this investigation and it’s done, do you understand? For the love of god stay the hell away from us, so I can finish my…’

Dogs barking.

'They’re coming’

A blade on a chain

She has rehearsed this dance fifteen thousand times. With wood before her tenth birthday, and steel after. Her master swinging the blades at her.

A full swing with any weapon, and the Litost in particular, takes a certain time. It cannot be forced without sacrificing momentum. This is what gives a fight its rhythm. If you let this beat embody you, you are safe in a space of swinging blades.

Blood and death come only and immediately when you let yourself be aware of the moment. Learning that lesson cost Annea two of her fingers.

Head first

Thin Johnny caught a bad break, so they fed him through a woodchipper. I’m pretty sure they shot him first, it was nothing personal. Just to get rid of the body.

Ralphie had just taken over and he swore by the woodchipper. He fertilized his lawn with Johnny. That was in 88, just before they started using the DNA everywhere. How the hell were we supposed to know. All we cared about back then was fingerprints.

So Ralph moved the whole operation a few blocks over. A family lives there now, and Johnny’s feeding their azaleas.

A million footprints

It’s not every day you wake up on an existential plane. I think.

For all the signs of activity in the dust, I had tremendous trouble finding anybody. In fact, I walked for nearly a century without seeing anybody. I still haven’t. The prints aren’t my own, in case you’re wondering. My feet are too small.

They do all belong to one person. And I know what he was doing. He was trying to walk in a straight line. I also know that’s impossible. Without a point of reference, you keep making circles.

Exit music (for a film)

Honey, honey… wake up honey. Be quiet.

You’re not going to school today. Shh. We’re taking a little trip.

Daddy’s not coming. We must be very quiet, we don’t want to wake him up.

Here, put your coat on, it’s very cold. Take Bear with you. And take the photograph of gramma.

No, you can get dressed in the car. I have your clothes. Quickly now. Tippytoes on the stairs, okay? Don’t wake daddy up. Daddy needs to stay asleep. You understand that, right? You understand how important that is?

Surface

The fever finally got the better of the doctor. Timothy was sad for him, but they had been waiting in the same building for a long time. Food was running low. Timothy could feel the tension building.

They agreed they could not leave his body there. A few tremors and it would be in the water. So they sacrificed their last wood for a pyre. They sat around it all night. They were dangerously low on all supplies, but they felt good. It may be unwise to care so much for the dead, Timothy thought, but it’s very human.

Languille

The screech ends with a bang and then a loud rushing. Like the sea. The world swings this way and that. His face is terribly twitchy, but it soon calms down.

There’s warmth seeping in. Someone calls his name. It’s the doctor, but he doesn’t say what he wants. He sinks back.

His name is called again, but slower. Like a broken phonograph. The doctor still. Why does he keep calling? The warmth comes back. Languille feels vaguely uneasy.

He hears his name again, drawn out and far away, but his eyes won’t open any more.

The Manticore

They say it has a human face, but it’s more like a grotesque caricature. The mouth seems to grin, revealing rows of triangular teeth. The body is feline, but larger than a lion’s. The tail seems unremarkable until it attacks. It whips forward a thousand barbed hairs, lacerating and poisoning.

Did you know that it’s intelligent? Most humans it meets want to kill it. Anyone entering its territory without weaponry will find himself protected from harm. The Manticore will appear and it will question you on the nature of fear, or how it feels to love.

The Manifold Hunger

It is a great honour to be fed to the larger hive mind of the perennial solar structure.

No man or woman retains full command of their faculties while being slowly sucked apart by whichever toothless mouth is hungriest. First the sensation of suffocating, then the realization that the saliva is breathable. You’ll stay alive for days.

As you come apart, finally, the chunks of flesh will grow into the beast’s inside. If you’re lucky, there will be some self-contained part of your nervous system left intact. If so, it will live on forever, hungering.

Henry and Ethel

They were married in a hurry, before she would begin to show. Still, It would be a happy life, they decided. Conscription was introduced and he left for France.

After two bitter years it all wound down, and the remnants of a generation returned home. He was missing a leg and half a lung. Unable to focus, and prone to anger.

His younger brother had escaped conscription. It was the worst sin she could possibly commit, but he was the only other man she knew. Henry was used to killing. A war is never over all at once.

The killing shadow

No moon, just as the sage had predicted.

‘Wake, my children’, she whispered, 'tonight is the night.’

Madárlátta wrapped herself tight in black cloth. The fortress was dangerously close. Upwind, they would certainly have been heard.

The sage crushed leaves and lit the paste. The glow was a risk, but the ritual was important. The bowl was passed round, and one by one they closed their eyes and breathed in three times.

'Tonight, children, we will have our revenge. Remember the spirits. Remember who they took from us. Recall your pain. You will make them feel it tonight.’

From this prompt at reality obscure.

With this, or on it

Some relationships are built on love. Some on children. Some on sex. Ours is built on ambition. It’s not that we want success, it’s that we will have success. It’s going to happen, and we are going to go to shocking lengths.

Such is the world that I am necessarily at the front of our operation. The head of our family. But she is no less committed. She’s the one who drives us. When my resolve lags, she reminds me of our pledge. She reminds me that there is only one outcome.

Zamglenie

He likes the Turkish barbers. There’s no talk. Living your cover is work, and it’s the idle chit chat that takes it out of you. Typical spot check, get a duster to follow you in and run the small talk through the mill.

He looks at his chin. It seems asymmetric. None of his targets seem to mind. The ambassador in particular seems receptive. Eager to give up the nuclear family for his little painting of soulmates leaving the whole damn world to rot. Too eager? Should have someone check if she can be traced back to Lubyanka.

Isn't it ironic

‘Long story short, the crabs ate the body. Or maybe the birds helped or something. Anyway, by the time the cops had deciphered Gordo’s rambling confession, there wasn’t a single scrap left!’

He laughs and takes another drag.

'We’re working our asses off, torturing this guy, and kidnapping that guy’s children. You know, trying to crack witness protection. All for nothing.’

I try to comment, but the duct tape muffles everything. He smiles and stubs the cigarette out on the concrete floor.

'Anyway, back to work’, he says and picks up the pliers.

I think I see the future when I sleep

You know that aunt you have who adamantly believes in precognition because her friend once dreamt that she was choking on a sausage and the next day it happened to her husband? It’s nothing like that.

When you wake up the first time, you know immediately. It’s unlike any dream. The point is that the last thing you would do is tell anyone. And before you know it people died because of that.

There is no such thing as embracing the paranormal. Those who know only feel fear and shame.

Surface

No quake. No collapsing concrete or turbulent winds. The girl just lost her balance and fell 30 feet. She made a small splash, and screamed frantically as she surfaced.

These were brave people, Timothy knew. Men who, for all their crudeness, did the right thing. They held still. The girl had always been tough and composed, but now she was wailing in blind panic. Timothy prayed that his curiosity would not be satisfied today.

She couldn’t get out by herself. She couldn’t swim, of course.

The effort of keeping her head above the surface soon became to much.

Part of a narrative.

Nothing is absolute

‘The gods are not omnipotent, Alexander. Not by a long way.’ The old master lit a lantern.

'Look at this’, he said. 'We have Prometheus to thank for that. A mere Titan, and he stole from them.’

'How would an omnipotent God respond? Reverse it, surely. Take the fire back. Make Prometheus forget. Blink him out of existence.’

'Instead they get angry. So petulantly angry that they chain him to a rock, and have an eagle pick his liver out. I ask you, is that a sign of strength? Dear boy, true power does not give a damn.’

Ice

When Diego last closed his eyes the winds were beating his face and the landscape was nothing but flat and white. Nobody survived this far north. He had been sent on a suicide mission.

Now, he is lying between polar bear skins, and a stranger on skates is melting ice over a chemical fire. Without warning, he pours the scalding hot water over Diego’s face and chest. The pain shocks him out of delirium.

‘German?’ Diego breathes. 'Danish?’

The stranger hands him a pair of irons. 'Tie these to your feet. We need to make thirty miles before sunset.’

Under a violent sunset

It takes time to get out of the city. You’ll feel it’s worth it when you get out there. Vibrant greens and a wide open sky. It’s very peaceful. You should do this more often.

And then you hear a sound. Something heavy, not to be ignored. You look, of course, but there’s nothing there. Just an endless cobweb of trees. Everything too quiet.

You realize that nature does not belong to us anymore. We have left it behind and it is not for us to just stroll through. Real nature is dangerous.

Operation Ivy Bells

In January 1980, William Ronald Penton walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C. and offered everything he could remember from 15 years in the NSA. And Penton had a good memory.

We paid him thirty-five thousand. Barely enough to cover half his gambling debt. We had to, because he told us about the wiretap in the sea of Okhotsk.

A shame, really. That cable was a goldmine. We could control their navy with the simplest of messages. But once Penton turned, Moscow was buzzing with the news, including their moles. So we had to clean up.

Character development

Sarah is 15 and she’s a bully. A bad one. The kind that affects you for a long time.

Sarah’s father loves her. He spends his free time with his family. He talks to her, not just for the sake of it, but out of genuine interest.

Sarah remembers sitting in the car on her mother’s lap, with her father hunched over the car in front, shouting at the driver. It’s her earliest memory.

Sarah is going through a process. But don’t worry. She is going to come out of it as something wonderful.

A healthy glow

Nina was a radium girl. She would paint her nails and teeth for me. It made me smile so she kept doing it.

She was too old to still be working, by the standards of the day. Should have married already. Pretty girl like that, ought to have her pick of the men in Orange. But she didn’t. I knew why, and thanked god for it daily.

I was nearly a radium girl myself, but I wasn’t as good at keeping secrets as Nina was. The factory didn’t look kindly on those sorts of rumors.

Excuse me while I project onto you

There is something attractive about a young woman driving a car. For the longest time, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Why would some distant glimpse, hidden behind reflective glass, so capture my attention?

I think I know now. There is a particular time in a woman’s life, when she is old enough to drive, but before she is driving anybody else. A time when she has shed the self-consciousness of puberty, but before she is weighed down.

She is a symbol of independence. Free of doubt and full of potential.

Lesbians may have similar conversations

Aren’t you worried, they ask me, that you’re denying yourself this so much pleasure?

Basically, no. However wonderful and tasty meat is, there is still more than a lifetime’s worth of culinary pleasure left to explore.

The only thing that I might feel depraved of, is pornographic eating. The animal instinct. Tearing the flesh of a boar’s leg. Grunting as the fat dribbles down your chin. But that doesn’t actually exist. Try that for real and you’d be full after three bites. You’d get indigestion. You’d feel ridiculous.

Rum raisin

Darren sits on a bench and eats an ice cream.

‘I lead an ethical life’, he thinks. 'Too ethical almost. I worry that people believe I’m scared of authority. I actually don’t believe in good and evil. I quite respect truly immoral behavior.’

'But nobody rejects morality. People are hypocrites. Expect others to follow the rules and gloss over your own mistakes. I follow the law because I could not give a consistent defense if I were caught. I would feel like a child.’

Darren is satisfied with that thought, and lingers on it for some time.

Bukowski

Bukowski is out of breath when he reaches the roof. The key doesn’t work so he kicks the door open. It takes five tries.

He’s a bad cop. Bad because he doesn’t care. Bad because some things are just too easy. But now he’s got his teeth into something. It’s been a while.

He counts fifty steps from the rusty aerial. Good view of the gallery, just as he thought. The gravel’s been disturbed. After this morning’s rain by the look of it. Six foot in length, and maybe a little top-heavy.

A story.

Laryngospasms

They say drowning is a pleasant death. What the hell do they know. Tammy’s just taken a liquid breath. Her lungs are spasming, trying to cough the water up and her body is thrashing about, trying to surface. But Dan has a firm grip.

It’ll be cathartic for him. For years she’s meticulously pushed him nearly to the brink. Her greatest talent was knowing just when to hold back. This is her gift to him. A small token now she has decided that she can’t go on. She’ll let him think he finally took control.

From this prompt at reality obscure.

They should be jealous

Demon hunters… pathetic specimens. They know nothing. They don’t even know to be afraid of us. They construct this elaborate lie for themselves where we’re just big animals, like they are. Just a another game.

We are nothing like humans. With humans, if you scratch away the surface paint, it’s all just survival. That’s what drives an animal. Creatures like us, there’s an entirely different fuel in our engine. We were created with a purpose. To kill, to glorify, to terrorize. The specifics vary, but there is a reason for our existence.

Orbicularis oculi

I was well armored against love, so it surprised me that a small town waitress could turn me inside out. She wasn’t even that pretty. You’d call her plain if you saw her in a photograph.

But if you saw her in motion. If you saw her talk and smile. The energy in the smallest expressions. She was tired and stuck in the middle of nowhere without the means to escape. Yet somehow, something youthful had persisted. She was, in a phrase, not cynical. And it made me realize that I wanted to be not cynical also.

Surface

The leader sleeps alone these days. The twins stop you when you want to talk to him. Something changed since the girl died. People are angrier. The old man seems uneasy.

It’s not that she died. Plenty of people have died. So it must be that they didn’t save her. The goal is still the same, but maybe they don’t feel so deserving of it anymore. This group was always about more than survival. It used to be about getting something back that had been lost with the floods.

Timothy is not getting a lot of sleep.

This is a narrative.

Spirit

A community requires so many things to function. Routine, rhythm, predictability. It’s fragile because it requires all these, and robust because it can do without any one of them for a time. It takes energy to dismantle a community. You have to keep the pressure on. I don’t have those kinds of resources.

What I need is to spark a fire. Let it burn itself. I’ve decided to kill. Miss Templeton, on Sunday morning, before they go to church. I’ll do it so they know it’s one of them. And they will do the rest.

All that she wants

Timandra wants a baby. It used to be she wanted her own baby, with a loving father, in a warm and safe environment. Those qualifiers disappeared over time. Along with her youth and her connection to the rest of humanity.

She’d want her own at least, but in a noisy moment, difficult to remember, she disabled herself. The doctors said that she would survive, but not have children. And then they sent her to the place. She pretended really well, and they let her out. And now she is finally going to get what she wants.

Blink and you miss it

It’ll go fast when the singularity hits. Really fast. Within seven years, the colonization of the Kuiper belt will begin. By then, Earth will be converted down to the core into computational substrate.

Many will think that there is time to consider upgrading. To plug in and stay relevant. The truth is that after the button is pushed there will be at most two months until the notion of individuality disappears entirely.

Some make it into the network, and I suppose that means they contributed to the solar consciousness. But it doesn’t mean much.

Of Gait

Together, they bounded the spectrum. Spilek, with his ungainly figure, would hang his shoulders back and pivot his trunk, thrusting his legs forward. Kowalczyk, on the other hand, would simply lean forward, and expect his legs to follow suit. If they had ever hesitated he would have fallen on his face. Short as he was next to Spilek, this frantic hobbling just about allowed him to keep up. It was quite a sight.

The ridiculous quirk is a property common to all dangerous men I have known. Once people become afraid of you, you lose some opportunities for self-awareness.

Better than the real thing

The skin of the type three produces synthetic oils. It finally gets rid of that rubbery feeling. Very realistic. But why copy, when you can improve?

The skin is dryer during social occasions, more moist during intercourse. The oil is more fragrant. Floral on the female models, musky on the males. This is the final nail in the coffin. After a year with an android, the smell of other humans becomes repugnant. Sex with one of your own becomes unimaginable.

Unless filthy is what does it for you, but we have models for that as well.

Welcome to the future

In the twentieth century, Carlos Kroll was a particularly successful real estate broker and a notorious early adopter. Early 1992, we was anaesthetised, injected with propylene glycol and submerged in nitrogen. Carlos wants to see what is going to happen.

‘The world is different from when you were frozen. You were revived because we have conclusive evidence of a life of philandering, adultery, and onanism. You are found guilty of two mortal, and thirty-six minor sins.“

'Death is heaven, but Hell is the domain of man. Carlos Kroll, by papal decree, you have been condemned to Hell.’

The brick empire

Cambridge is a hunting ground to him. Corrupting boys. Sometimes for England, sometimes for himself. Sometimes for the hell of it.

It’s not even that he gets pleasure from his forbidden dalliances and moral grays, although he does. It’s not the risk of being fired. The thrill of causing a scandal. Doing his duty. Saving the world.

He’s like most men with more talent than reason. He does it because he’s good at it. He does it because it comes naturally. He does it because when he’s doing it, everything falls into place.

Heavy hearts in brittle chests

His mother finds it adorable, his first little heartache. Puppy love she calls it. She is being unfair.

There is no love more pure than early teenage love. To suggest that love becomes more real as we become more realistic… what a depressing fallacy. Love is fantasy. Love is dreams and hopes. Things that will never be. Reality makes us cruel. It makes us water down our wine.

So remember that first heartache. That’s what I would say to that little boy, curled up in the corner. Cause love will never be the same again.

City of Masks

‘Venice… best city to fall out of a window in’, Ricki had once said to her.

She hated him now, mostly because he’d fucked her sister in their bedroom, but she could still smile at those words.

She booked a room facing a canal, and let herself fall backwards out of the window. She was fished out by a gondolier. He took her home and dried her clothes. That was the man she got pregnant by. It didn’t last either, but she had to admit that Ricki was ultimately responsible for what she held most dear.

Until the deuterium runs out

Ya’aburnee cannot sleep without the subtle drone of the caeliomancer. She is the first to wake when it stops. The night crew haven’t even noticed yet when she hails them in a panic.

It is a great honor to be allowed to witness a final transfer. To see a high priest slump over and stop breathing as three miles of starship come alive. Allowed to travel impossible distances. Eternal life in exchange for eternal servitude.

The caeliomancer cannot die or stop or leave. Without it, they are just a metal box floating in intergalactic space.

Zamglenie

‘He’s Mossad, but Langley has his number. Tel Aviv doesn’t seem know about that. There may be some leverage in that.’

'Bit weak. How the hell did he stay off radar for this long?’

'It’s their tactics. All bombs and blood. We’re set up for the Russian patterns; chemicals, forged documents sort of thing. The boys in counter-terrorism have had him flagged for months.’

'Well, we’d better bring him in. We can’t very well let him kill the best mole in the best network we have, just because he fell for our little stories.’

Moebius

You can enter this universe, but there is no exit. Space curves, eating itself at every corner. The people look pleasant, like they belong. Like they’ve been here forever.

Amid the rust and grime, their faces are clean and simple. Crystalline. Just don’t look too closely. You expose the detail at your own peril. Lean in, and you’ll see a far more horrible beauty. You may not like it. You just might fall in love.

Are they even human? Do they remember that far? This is no place for cowboys. This is a different kind of frontier.

Divide and conquer

Her back aches, but the dishes are done. Dried and set away. The cooker is as clean as she’ll get it. Her kitchen is no longer an embarrassing sight. The cutlery drawer, she knows, is still a mess, but she’s getting there. Start with the big challenges. Solidify your good habits before you expand them. Like inflating a balloon.

She opens the drawer, and looks at the mess of knives, forks and spoons. The dying symbol of her lack of control. It’ll all soon be gone. She’ll be just as disciplined as everybody else.

Lotus eater

“Any experience between start of contract and termination is the property of the client. Any residual memories are to be reported to your intermediary, so that a reasonable containment strategy can be decided. The reverse of this message contains the details of an account in your name to which your fee has been deposited.”

There are always residuals. Muscle memory. Sense memories. Every memory is in every cell of your nervous system. The only thing erased is the hooks. The ability to recall. After the pills, you walk around with a thousand things on the tip of your tongue.

From this prompt at Reality Obscure.

Be cool

You’re in a dangerous place. You need to manage your mind. It knows whatever you know. No use trying to push anything back. That sort of tactic takes years to master. Knowing your secrets and training your mind not to let them surface. There’s no time for that, not the way you stumbled into the nest.

What you have to do is own whatever comes up. It can only use what you don’t want it to know. You have to show yourself completely. Face it in complete honesty. It won’t be able to touch you.

Beware the ides of march

There will be clear skies. It will seem as though winter has ended early. You will wake up rested and go to work enthusiastically.

Your finances will settle themselves. Your colleagues will smile at you, and you will make them laugh during the coffee break.

At some point you cannot help but notice how simple life seems to be recently. How much is falling into place. How things are starting to go the way you’d always imagined they would one day. That’s when the sky will turn black, and the real winter will begin.

Sense memory

Lieutenant Miyake stares at her boots. Confused, she speaks before the Commodore addresses her. ‘Sir, I don’t know what happened to me, I must …’ ‘Relax, lieutenant. Just the facts.’

‘The exercise went fine at first. Then the clouds parted, and I was just…’ ‘Overcome?’ ‘I suppose.’ ‘This is your first drop in this system? Or any other class G?’ ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Yellow stars are rare near terminals. They say that the Earth’s sun was class G. Yellow light on your skin can trigger an emotional response. Like remembering something. Something you can’t believe you’d forgotten.’

Deconstructing Heroes

Such stories they tell about heroes. They are why Guy became a hero. Wandering the land, rescuing princesses from dragons. How cruel, that life forces us to commit to a direction, before we grow a sense of realism.

So here is Guy, on the mission of a lifetime: an actual princess to save. No dragon though, just a band of marauders. They have most likely raped her already, which means Guy will be quartered even if he manages to save her.

Most likely, they will both die in the rescue. Most likely, Guy will just head for the hills.

Nine across

Muriel nearly falls off her bicycle. Her husband gets a few yards ahead before stopping and turning.

‘Darling, are you allright?’

She doesn’t answer. He puts his bike down and walks to her.

'What’s the matter?’ He makes her lean on him.

'There was a newspaper on the road. Just litter. I just glanced at it. It was a puzzle page.’

His heart begins to race. She’s unlocked. It’s finally happened. He needs to inform his handler.

'Don’t be silly darling…’

Conventional rocketry

Relations are strained between the Jovian moons. Ganymede and Callisto represent a faction each. Io and Europa are tight as ever. The non-galilean moons, so far as they are inhabited, choose their alliances to suit their needs.

Earth is choking the supplies to make war unaffordable, but it won’t work out that way. The less there is of it, the more reason to fight.

Earth will learn Ganymede has nukes thirty minutes after they hit. It’ll be months before they can intervene. By that time, they’ll be lucky if there is any life left around Jupiter.

Think fast

Corgan was always best with his back against the wall. And he was never gripping bricks more than when he tried to quit and the firm got the jump on him. He barely made them in time.

So he remembers Sammy. He rents a car across the state line, digs Sammy up and puts him in the driver’s seat. Then he sets fire to the car.

Nobody in the firm would fall for a fake death, but the car was in front of the warehouse. It didn’t take the feds long to recognize Corgan’s little invitation.

Business plan

It’s pretty straightforward. What we do is we sell these little cards. Like businesscards, but a bit bigger. Too big to keep in your wallet, too small to hang on your wall. They’re mostly blank, but made of nice paper. On one side, it says ‘everything is going to be allright’.

We sell them for five dollars per card. Strictly one per person. We ask for your identification. We have a database. You will not get a second.

So far we’ve sold just short of three million. We’re looking to branch out to other locations.

Communication breakdown

‘See, what I don’t get is if he doesn’t like it, why doesn’t he just say so? Why does he have to be so weird about it. I know! And have you seen him lately? It’s like he does’t even notice.’

And the weapon was detonated, and the walls were blown off the house. Her skin was ripped off her body by the shockwave, and the superheated air burned her muscle tissue to charcoal. She and everybody she had ever met knew just a quarter second of agony, before consciousness disappeared from the universe.

Be reasonable

Now sheep. You know that it’s been a hard winter. I’m hungry and tired. By all means I should have eaten you already, you know this. Any other farmer wouldn’t have thought twice.

The wool is nice, sheep, but it’s not enough. It doesn’t provide for us. And I can’t keep feeding you barley. I can’t afford to feed myself.

Yes… yes I know sheep. I shouldn’t expect sympathy from you now. But you’re a sheep. I’m a human. I guess it just comes to that in the end.

From this prompt at Reality Obscure

If you want another kind of love

Harold was not jealous. He loved Sally completely, but he had been alone too long to ask for exclusivity. Possession would be the antithesis of his love. He just wanted her to be free. To see what she would do. And, every now and then, to be a part of it.

Sally didn’t understand, so he pretended to be jealous. They had little arguments over the way she dressed. Sometimes she would get drunk and flirt with other men. He would keep up the pretense. Sometimes he would even get to hit someone.

Osiris

Stella has been learning survival the hard way. She needs to get back into America, and with her status a trek across the wilderness is the best way about it. She downloaded the basics before she went into the wild, but her machine’s batteries have been dead for weeks.

She has used her last rope to trap a rabbit. It’s alive and very scared. Stella holds it so that it can’t bite her. She will cut it, kill it and skin it. Slowly. She wants to make it suffer. She doesn’t want to hold back anymore.

Part of a narrative

In a little barbershop in Berlin

He unrolls his sleeves and buttons his cuffs tightly. Must not let him see the tattoo on his wrist. It would make him suspicious. The shaving foam soaks into the fabric of his shirt. The frail little man seems not to notice or care.

It’s him. There is no doubt. Those are the cold and analytical eyes that, after two hours in the ice bath, inspected the electrodes they had inserted under his skin.

Shimon closes his eyes as he sharpens the razor. His mind floods with memories. The memories he usually pushes down.

All too human

And after a year, her father was old. He had been weighed down. The color was gone from his hair.

She did what she could for him. She worked around the house. She made sure to be home for him. Efforts that most likely went unnoticed.

She would often think about the future. They say it is hereditary. He was likely to get it, same as grandpa. She would take care of him then. She would suffer for a year or longer, watch him waste away. His death would release her, and she would have to be alone.

War, they call it

‘There is something you should know about the human society. It has non-laminar periods.’

'The humans seem to cope through denial. In the laminar periods, they can imagine the levels of suffering no better than we can. Which in turn leads them to underestimate it. They think it can be controlled. They think they control it. Some even consider it a positive.’

Dust thou art

The drone is so loud now that it has begun to vibrate the walls. Komorebi needs to be off planet in two hours, or her bones will start to crack.

Any ship with a strong enough thruster will be useless already. No fine mechanics can survive this long. She kicks down another office door. Just stationery.

It’s dangerous being five miles up. The building will come down soon. She just needs a robust uplink. The demolition fleet has strong tractor beams. One exploit, five minutes of access and she’ll lift the whole goddamn skyscraper into orbit.

A living relic

Gasparo is breaking his vows. All of them. Theft is is the least of it. Theft from the Vatican is unthinkable. Difficult, too. But they would never let him use it if he asked.

The wood from the cross is special. There’s only a splinter left, and if Gasparo doesn’t take it now, they’ll just waste it.

He rubs it with the rooting hormone, and buries it in the garden soil. He’ll keep quiet when they arrest him. If he can just hold out, by next spring they have a whole tree’s worth.

Thus always

First citizen Tiberius stumbles from his bed in the dark. He does not feel well. For a moment he considers the possibility that he was poisoned at last night’s meal but he rejects it. He would not have woken up, it’s likely the wine. His first servant stands in the doorway.

‘What is it Scipio? Where is the morning staff? What’s going on?’

Scipio waits for the little wave of understanding to pass over the Imperator’s face, and detonates. Section 51-G of the imperial dreadnought decompresses into the intergalactic vacuum.

Picking up the pieces

Of course Charles has killed. Everybody who goes outside after daylight has either killed or tried to. The apocalypse has come and gone, and the world’s just a little different. So being a photographer is a little different too.

For one, owning a camera with film makes you a lucky photographer. Charles carries around a five kilo Hasselblad.

Last time around, Charles remembers, humanity kept records. Lots of them. They’re all gone now, but it seemed to be worth it while it lasted. So that’s what Charles is doing now. Starting the next record.

Split second

I’m on an Amsterdam bus at midnight, keeping to myself. The guy in front of me is gnawing at his wrists. His fingernails are long. His hair is combed but oily if you look close enough, and flecked with dandruff.

I test my instincts. His cheap fleece coat is crumpled between the shoulders. He doesn’t hang it up. I imagine his apartment.

A girl, young, not shy, but a little plain, gets up to leave. Just his type. The doors open and he follows her out. Can I let this go? Am I just making this up?

Like damp tinder

He lights cigarettes not by inhaling, but by holding them in a flame. It takes a while for the tobacco to start glowing. I wonder if he even likes smoking. If maybe this is his way of procrastinating over the first drag.

This duality runs through everything he does. The body goes through the motions, but there is no drive behind it. He doesn’t remember what it’s like to enjoy the things that are bad for you. He is simply too tired to forego them.

He needs abstinence. If only to rekindle the joy of sin.

Pen pals

When Helen was 6, the bandwidth of communications to Fomalhaut d was increased to several gigabytes per month. Most of it was dedicated to scientific communication, but it had also become clear that they were not much more advanced than we were.

Traffic was opened up to personal communication. Three thousand schoolchildren were selected to write to Fomalhaut, and receive letters from their students.

Helen is 56. The letters have been a ritual for as long as she can remember. At 31, she read her first letter from Chiraal. Today, for the first time, Chiraal will get a reply.

Hell is other people

I know how it happens. It starts out nice, with little fantasies of heroics on a night out. You stop a fight with your calm demeanor and powers of persuasion. Or you take action to save someone’s life when everybody else just stands around. They’re impressed. Perhaps they’ve misjudged you.

Soon enough it’s only fights. And you’re not talking anymore. You’re punching and blocking. Breaking arms? Why not. You don’t want your friends to admire you anymore. They’ve misjudged you for too long. You want them to be worried.

And then they'll start drilling

After the collapse, humanity will have less to go on in terms of astronomy. It’s difficult to reason about the heavens when all you have is a small white sun, with no night, no planets and no stars.

At best, they will realize that the world is not flat but that it curves gently upward. When they finally manage rocketry, they’ll slowly realize that their history is longer than they thought.

They learn about Dyson shells, and that when you’ve completed one, it’s best to live on the inside of it.

Closed loops

The bootstrap paradox is time travel 101. I go back and I buy something that looks meaningful, say a watch. I give it to my younger self, and she grows up and does the same and so on.

There’s no such thing as a closed loop, though. The watch keeps aging. Every time you travel back it’s a little more worn until eventually it’s gone.

But maybe you give yourself a computer. Let it run, replace it every now and then. No fixed point, but a source of asymptotically infinite computation, which is almost as good.

The living archipelago

It took the early settlers of Aspidokilone many decades to begin to anticipate the sudden floods. Many complete generations were lost in them. But humanity will try and try again, and the island was eventually inhabited for all but two weeks out of every forty moons.

Danson Hogarth was the first to stay behind in full knowledge that a flood was coming. He sealed every last crack in his house. Out of his windows he saw that the waters didn’t rise. The island was diving. Through his bulging windows, Danson was the first to see the shoal.

Cherry blossoms

The sword that sings doesn’t exist. It was a spur of the moment invention by a fraudulent seer, but it sounded enticing enough to send four rōnin on their way to reclaim lost honor.

Reclaiming honor, that was Yojimbo’s plan. The others changed his mind. Changed it right off his shoulders and into the grass.

Miyamoto was pushed off a bridge by Akira, with whom he had made a pact to eliminate Nabeshima.

Nabeshima and Akira fought. Akira had had the foresight to sabotage Nabeshima’s armor. Nabeshima had had the foresight to poison Akira’s sake.

Marathon

Skin is rubbing off my toes. It feels like my shoes are filling with blood. Every step is twice the agony of the last.

If I stop, I die. I lean forward and catch my weight. I bite through the wave of pain and then the nausea and then try as hard as I can to stay awake. Then the same with the other foot.

Three miles to Brno. Twenty-five thousand steps. If I can just stay up a little longer. Every step makes it more likely that I’m found. That they read the message. That they can prepare.

Hallucinations

Life has become disconnected. I shoot up, phase out, and rejoin somewhere else. I’m convinced that sometimes I go backwards. Junkie lore says that’s possible. They say that the stronger stuff is laced with tachyons. As a physics major, I should know whether or not that’s bullshit.

I woke up at a terminal for a Mars shuttle, with memories of red mountains and dust storms. A thousand people screamed as the Olympus habitat caved in. Nothing on the news, the habitat is still there.

I can’t make anyone believe me. I don’t even believe me.

Osiris

The American shelters are nothing like the Canadian. If you wait in line with a bag that looks too nice, it will get taken from you, and you will get beaten up for it. Stella’s laptop is her lifeline. Without it she’s just a homeless orphan.

But Stella is angry and tired. These wannabe OG’s are about to learn what a hacker can do with a few quarters and a payphone. The police, the fire department, social services. Any institution is just another system that can be exploited. And Stella knows how to bring the thunder down.

Part of a story

Fish trap

I had ideas when I was young. I couldn’t imagine living past thirty, working day jobs or worrying about my health.

It seems naïve now, living fast and dying whenever. But it was a valid option then. The full gamut of lives, including the truly original, was open to me. Real possibilities, in a way that I cannot imagine now.

It’s maybe not my younger self who was naïve. Perhaps I am close minded. Did I really wise up, face reality, or did I wander down a path so narrow that I can no longer turn around?

Severance package

Herbert Hartigan has a special presence of mind. Even in Occult Special Branch there are not many who would stay focused if they found a mystical bacterium wasting away their leg. Hartigan didn’t know what was turning his flesh gray. He just saw that it was moving up fast.

So he took a shotgun and blew it off. And then the brass fired him, because presence of mind or not, they figured you can’t hunt demons with a peg leg. That’s why Hartigan is free lance. It’s also why he’s no longer a patriot.

Internal medicine

Against expectation, Stumpy regains consciousness. He looks up at the long leather coat of the the Master. He reaches for his face and feels the deep, bloody claw marks.

‘Worry about that later. You’re in the field now!’, shouts the Master, 'Focus on the problem at hand’.

'You caught a bad break!’ He whips Stumpy’s weapon sideways, tossing the silver cartridges into the damp moss. 'This is not a lunar lycanthrope, it’s a syzygia wolf. Rare beasts. They turn when the planets align.’

He carefully inserts a single copper cartridge and whips the revolver shut again.

From this prompt at Reality Obscure.

Molon labe

‘Your pathetic little excursion is over. Father has sent me for you. Playing at farming is all well and good in peacetime, but with a campaign underway we can no longer permit you such luxuries.’

'You can come with us and return to where you belong, or I can drag you there. Of course, if it comes to that I will let my men have their way with your daughters and cut their throats, from young to old. Now surely, you wouldn’t like to see me do that, would you?’
'I would like to see you try.’

Also, taxes

Orenda Kalpa thought that immortality would cure her fear of death. She even remembered to ask for eternal youth.

And for a long time, it did. But then, the fear returned. At ten thousand she began to forget. Even with all the attachments, her earliest self was gone.

And it would slowly chase her down the ages, she realised. Her Greek years, and her Roman years. It would all catch up. Simple physics would not allow all of it to be stored in a bounded space. Unless she stopped making new memories. And what kind of immortality is that?

A brighter tomorrow

Puppies. Aren’t they adorable? But before you know it they’ll have grown up into just another boring dog.

That’s a thing of the past, with Amalgamated Meat Solutions’ new PermaPuppies®! The world’s finest organeers have built you a new best friend, guaranteed to keep cute for a lifetime. *

Don’t let scare stories of our research causing perpetual agony dissuade you. We’ve carefully improved facial and motor control. Whatever the occasion, your PermaPuppy® will frolic as though it hasn’t a care in the world.

* based on average lifespan of 4.6 years

Determination

‘It’s too difficult’ Sam throws the book down.

'It’s all part of the interplanetary ICC, you need to understand this if you’re out beyond the moon. It’s very simple, just let me explain it.’
'No! You just complicate things with your physics stuff. I’ll do it from the book.’

What it's like

I watched a movie yesterday with an ordinary man, forced by circumstances to cut up a dead body. I caught myself imagining that I could deal with that. Disconnect from the reality of what you’re doing and just saw away.

This evening, I found a dead mouse under my bed. It must have been under there just as I jumped in. Its midsection had been flattened by one of the slats in the base of the bed. It took two tumblers of whiskey before I could scrape it off the floor with a piece of cardboard.

Zamglenie

The Gerrit Heerma identity has been blown. The service set up a company for him to provide administrative services to the Dutch embassy in Prague. He was on a mission to recruit an intelligence officer with some dirty secrets. The atmosphere at admin is tense. His last opportunity for contact is in five hours.

The men always get the glamorous covers, Nathalie muses. The best a woman could hope for is a typist. Maybe a researcher. Lubyanka is filled with British girls with perfect accents. She’ll return there someday. She’ll get her hero’s welcome, woman or not.

Luxury problems

It was a happy song, slightly jazzy, but it made her think of hospitals. And that was never good.

Of her grandma, with all the tubes. Of her cousin, with a flat stomach again, and that empty stare. Of mom, who lasted twice as long as they’d given her. Of dad, who didn’t understand anymore and thought the nurse had come into his home.

She’d never been on the other side, she realized. Never so much as had her appendix removed. That’s what made it difficult to bear. She had only ever been a visitor.

Spur of the moment

Local news, eight o'clock. Some story about a transport strike. Mid-sentence, the newsreader tears at her blouse and exposes her breasts. The buttons fly off her. For nearly a minute, she sits there in silence. She had clearly expected a more immediate reaction.

Joshua had completely forgotten about that moment. Those were probably the first breasts of his early puberty. The clip is all over the internet now. The station called it a breakdown, but that just seems like the most convenient explanation. Joshua has been searching for more information for three hours, with little result.

From this prompt at Yeah Write!

Beneficiary

‘This is your inheritance. You are supposed to make it last. It is supposed to help you focus on the important things. At this rate it’ll be gone before you know it. I do wish you would think about these things.’

Her accountant doesn’t understand, because his puzzle is missing a piece. After what she did for this money, she needs it to be worth it. Her life can’t just be a little easier, it has to turn inside out. She has to change from it. These are not doubts that she is willing to live with.

The Verbosity sails again!

De profundis

Chief inspector Harmen Gorter is up early. His back prevents him from getting more than four hours of sleep per night. The pills help, but they cause more fog than lack of sleep. His wife has long stopped waking up when he gets out of bed.

He stares out the window at the empty streets of Amsterdam. The ice is thawing. Amsterdam has mild winters, but every now and then the cold hits. Gorter imagines he can feel the city coming out of a long winter.

His cell phone rings in his coat, shocking him out of his slumber.

I’ll be on holiday for the next three weeks. If tumblr’s delayed posting doesn’t let me down, you will see this story appear in (about) twenty installments.

De profundis

‘A disembodied foot was found in the Bloemgracht.’

Dorian Evers is a new addition to the team, recently returned from America. Gorter has some difficulty pinning him down. He’s assigned him the night shift for a few months. Evers seems like the type to keep people at a distance. It’ll help him fit in if he has shown he’s willing to do the dirty work.

‘You said I should try you from 5 AM. What do you want me to do?’ 'I think you can handle it Evers. You can brief me when I come in.’

De profundis

‘Young female, early thirties. I would guess she was in the water for about three months.’

The pathologist is pretty. Evers doesn’t seem to notice that she’s flirting with him.

‘Shouldn’t she have decomposed already?’
‘Not in ice water. She was wrapped in sheeting with 50 kilos of paving stones. They pushed her into the mud. Eventually, putrefactive gases pulled her out. If we hadn’t found her, they would have lifted the whole package to the surface. Stones and all.’
‘Cause of death?’
‘Can’t tell yet. And I wouldn’t get your hopes up.’

De profundis

‘Blood pooling suggests she died on her back. I doubt we’ll get anything off the skin, but the internal organs might show something.’

‘We’ve extracted fingernails for DNA testing. We’ll take some other samples, to minimize the risk of contamination. We can do a facial reconstruction too, if you’ll release the budget.’

Evers turns to Gorter, who is leaning against a wall. Gorter needs black numbers by the end of the month.

‘Not yet. We have no matches in missing persons. I don’t know who we’d show it to.’

The pathologist seems disappointed.

De profundis

Evers comes in eating a croissant. It slightly bothers Gorter that he eats while he works. He rarely has lunch with the rest of them.

‘News from forensics. The hyoid bone is fractured’
‘Remind me.’

Evers points at his adam’s apple.
‘It’s this one. The only bone that is completely detached from the rest of the skeleton.’
‘How very interesting. So that gives us strangulation as cause of death?’
‘Most likely. It fractures in about one third of strangulations. Other causes are rare.’

‘What about DNA? Is she in the database?’
‘Well no, but somebody else is…’

De profundis

‘Thomas, we’re police officers.’

The boy gives them a clean, defiant stare. The boarding school has given them a small room to talk. The wallpaper is peeling. His teacher stands by the door, fiddling with a pack of cigarettes.

‘You were arrested multiple times, Thomas, for robbery and sexual assault. At quite a young age.’
‘What do you want? I haven’t done anything wrong. You can’t arrest me again.’

Gorter takes the lead. Evers is intimidating the boy.

‘Thomas, do you understand that your DNA was entered in the the national database?’

The boy is confused.

De profundis

‘We’ve recently found the body of a young woman. She passed away some months ago. We tested her DNA.’
‘I didn’t kill no one!’
‘You misunderstand, Thomas. We did what is called a familial search. It searches the DNA database for close matches, like relatives. Your DNA matched that of the woman. We think this woman was your mother.’

The boy is quiet for almost a minute.

‘Thomas …’

The boy explodes at Evers.

‘I don’t care! Why the fuck should I care about some bitch who couldn’t keep her legs shut. It’s all bullshit.’

De profundis

‘Well Thomas may not have cared who his mother was, but FIOM certainly did. Natalia Skugareva gave her son up for adoption at the age of nineteen. She was a prostitute. Illegal immigrant from the Ukraine. She worked a window on the Zeeburgerdijk. The file says that the brothel owner, Leila Guessous, helped her with the procedure.’

'Have you checked with vice?’
'They just about know her name. The brothel is squeeky clean. They’re quite fond of Leila. She used to be a prostitute herself. Climbed the ladder. They say she has the girl’s interests at heart.’

De profundis

‘Natalia wanted to quit.’

Leila Guessous seems genuinely upset.

‘She said she was clean. I didn’t believe her, but as far as I could check she wasn’t buying from anyone.’
‘Who was her pimp Leila?’
‘My girls don’t have pimps.’
‘Cut it out. They’re just tenants to you. You don’t make nearly enough per window to offer protection. She spoke no Dutch. Barely any English. Prostitutes need protection.’
‘My girls don’t have pimps.’
‘If you don’t help us out Leila, we will go through your transactions.’
‘My girls don’t have pimps.’

De profundis

‘Leila’s system processed something like three hundred transactions on Natalia’s last working day. Only about twenty with debit or credit cards.’
'Johns tend to pay cash.’
'Hartman is running down some names, but it’s not looking good so far.’

Evers leaves the office in an awkward silence. The case is running cold. Gorter hates the feeling. He can see it it rippling through the team. Just another dead hooker. Some of them genuinely want to protect the girls. Some of them despise the legalizations. Most of them just hate to let a good puzzle go unsolved.

De profundis

‘New lead, Harmen’

Inspector Hartman ambushes Gorter at the coffee machine and hands him a file.

‘You’re too familiar, Hartman. I thought you were doing interviews’
‘They didn’t pan out. The American dream has me digging through cold cases.’

Gorter is irked. That should have been his call. Digging through the old cases is a clear signal to the team that it’s all over. But if he has Laura Hartman doing his dirty work, Evers must be doing something right.

‘Eight years ago a prostitute was found at the Theemsweg carpark. Crushed hyoid, just like Natalia.’

De profundis

‘Theo Cornelis Witteveen. Prime suspect in the Theemsweg murder case.’

Hartman takes some pleasure in briefing Evers and Gorter about her find.

‘Founding partner of Witteveen-Colijn, the most prestigious law firm you’ve never heard of. They shut the investigation down before it got to court. Bullied the press, bullied the police. In the end, the OM chickened out of prosecuting.’

‘Not much of a link. Two strangled prostitutes, eight years apart.’
‘It’s an unsolved case that matches ours.’
‘Hrm. Don’t go overboard. If this guy finds us digging through his garbage…’

Gorter sinks into deep contemplation.

De profundis

‘Malik Zaydan, 38. Arrested for pimping in '99, before it was legalized. Arrested three years ago for involvement with a trafficking ring. One of Witteveen’s lawyers had the case dismissed in two weeks.’
‘You’re digging through his clients? Didn’t I tell you to take it easy?’
‘These are just court records. It won’t get back to him.’

‘Does Witteveen-Colijn usually deal with trafficking cases?’
‘Not at Zaydan’s payscale.’
‘So Witteveen does a pimp a favor.’
‘And we just happen to be looking for a pimp.’
‘It’s thin, Evers. It’s still damn thin.’

De profundis

‘Natalia Skugareva. Ukranian prostitute. Do you know her?’
Hartman slides the photograph into Zaydan’s line of sight.

‘I’ve never seen her before.’
Hartman carefully lays out three photographs of Natalia’s decomposed body.
'Inspector, need I remind you that my client is here of his own volition. Our cooperation will cease if you continue to treat him like a suspect.’

Gorter and Evers are watching the monitors.
‘Why is he cooperating?’
‘I think it’s Witteveen testing the waters. He wants to see what we’ve got on him. He’s sending Zaydan out as a canary.’

De profundis

There’s been a new car in the same spot for five days. Gorter’s neighbour complains that people seem to be stealing his space. The cars are different every day, but the windows are always too reflective.

Witteveen is getting worried. Maybe someone at records leaked that they were looking into the Theemsweg murder. Maybe finding Natalia’s name was enough. It doesn’t matter.

Gorter knows he should tell his wife about the attention they’re getting from Witteveen. She has a right to know. It’s better if she knows. He just needs the right moment.

De profundis

‘They’re going to shut us down. And right now, we don’t have a damn thing to dissuade them. We’re pissing off all the wrong people for the sake of some lucky shots. It’s time for our last play.’

'I’ve got nothing chief.’

'Well there’s one thing that bothers me. How exactly does a prostitute get pregnant? How many prostitutes do you know that don’t double up on birth control?’
'Maybe a rape? A special client?’
'Perhaps. But we’re assuming she had a pimp. She’d hit the panic button first sign.’

De profundis

‘So the theory that we decided to explore, mr. Zaydan, was that she had been raped, but that maybe the pimp didn’t help because he was already in the room.“

Evers cuts off the lawyer. ‘I know… just guesswork. Clutching at straws. But we found the boy through a familial search on the mother. We may just find the father with a familial search on the boy.’

‘And we did. This Ukrainian prostitute that you’ve never seen before is the mother of your child, Malik. The boy’s name is Thomas. I think he takes after you.’

De profundis

‘Mister Rutgers, your client lied to us to cover his involvement in a homicide. Shouldn’t you advise him to change his approach? You are here to represent his interests.’

Evers is having some fun with the lawyer.
'I need to make a call.’
'While we interview your client? I don’t think that would look good.’

'Yeah I knew her’, Zaydan doesn’t wait for his lawyer’s advice. 'I didn’t rape her. Witteveen did and told me to ditch the body.’
'My client would like to request leniency in exchange for cooperation.’
'Too late’, Evers gloats.

De profundis

‘Inspector. Have you come to arrest me?’
'Theo Cornelis Witteveen, you are under arrest …’
'For the strangulation of a prostitute, if I understand correctly. Are you sure this is wise Inspector? On the testimony of just one pimp? Some lowlife driven into a corner?’
'Very impressive, mr Witteveen. Did you also know that we found some skin flakes under the victim’s fingernails? Tell me, would you consider the testimony of a witness sufficient cause for a DNA test?’

'She must have scratched pretty hard, mr. Witteveen, for there still to be traces after three months in the water.’

De profundis

Gorter walks home. The cars are gone. He knows what’s coming. He can feel the silence in the house as he opens the door.

The kitchen table, he decides, that’s where she’d leave it. He’s right. A letter, hotel receipts. Proof of a stupid mistake he made months ago. She knows about his mistakes. She’s prepared to live with them, she said, so long as he doesn’t lie. Gorter can just never find the time to tell her about these things.

A petty little jab. He wonders if they had anything on Evers.

A river in Egypt

He flips open his Mandarin phrasebook, and begins to mouth the words to himself, closing it every so often in order to memorize the tones.

She looks at him with genuine amazement.
‘How the hell can you think about learning Chinese at a time like this?’
'It’s just his coping mechanism. Focus on learning something to keep things out of your mind.’

He looks up with a genial smile.
'You should have seen me when my mother died. I worked my way through general relativity and historical cryptography. I kept going for months before I cracked.’

Disassortivity

‘So you just stare at the wall?’
'Or whatever.’
'And you think about yourself?’
'It’s less than thinking. More like looking. Trying to bring the picture into focus. You don’t do this?’
'I never think about myself. I like it when it feels like I’m not there.’
'I’m staring at walls and you’re out dancing.’
'And fucking and drinking’, she smiles.

'It’s like we both have these mirrors. You’re trying to polish yours as clear as it will go…’
’…and you spend your time fogging yours up and scratching rude words into it.’

From this prompt at Velvet Verbosity.

Terra incognita

He used to hate the big earrings that some women wear. He used to hate the upward inflection with which some women speak. Hate barbeques. Hate tube tops and hairspray and uncomfortable looking shoes.

He is tired of that now. Tired of mocking them together with his wife. Tired of worrying whether anything new fits the old patterns. Most of all he is tired of himself. And of seeing himself in everything.

That’s why she’s so exciting, earrings and all. As for what she sees in him, he has absolutely no idea. And that’s exciting too.

From this prompt at Yeah Write.

You'll have to leave your memories behind

If you make it to the beach it will be more by washing up than by swimming. You will be cold. Lie in the sunshine to catch your breath.

There are few good paths up the rocks. Take your time to find one. You may see some markings on the rocks. We believe these are man-made.

The forest will be dark, with only scattered sunlight making it through the canopy. Most light will come from the mushrooms and moss. Do not touch any of the flora. The walkway is there for a reason.

Fish trap

She waits until the SOCOs leave, and paces around the room. It was night, perhaps 4am, when the victim’s head hit the nightstand. A simple row, she imagines. His aggression getting the better of him. She takes care to reconstruct the moment in her mind. To remove the tape, the covers, to replace the body and shut the curtains.

She wants to feel his terror. His struggle with the inescapable, that he is now removed from the rest of humanity. This room is now his own private universe, removed from the world outside. He is now a murderer.

Convenience

‘It’s like a metal tube with two fixed wings, and a smaller one sticking up at the end.’

'The travellers must feel so fortunate.’


Of solace

He likes IKEA. When he is tired, when everything is so prone to chaos that it seems pointless to resist, he will visit. He will wander around, thinking of very little, not buying anything.

How different the IKEA is. How unlike his own life or the universe he inhabits, where great energy is required to maintain the smallest pretence of order. Here, there is a perfect stable state. Little rooms just as they should be. Upset the order, place a toy in the office area, for instance, and the universe will have righted itself when you next walk by.

Trauma

‘So the memory has to be fake?’





At that moment a stranger interrupts.

'Sorry to eavesdrop, but… well, I’m guessing you haven’t seen today’s news?’

He hands them the New York Times for August 7, 1945.

From this prompt at Reality Obscure.

Light baggage

‘The sensitive type’, she swigs at her bourbon.

'I thought I needed to be there for them. Little Florence Nightingale, waiting patiently while they come to grips with whatever. There were a million of us, Nurses and Closets. Protecting each other. What we really needed to do was open all the windows and let the hurricane in. Let it beat us around a bit.’

Ice

Even if Diego could skate, he was in no condition to keep pace with the stranger. After half an hour of struggling he collapses again. The red has bled from the sky. The stranger is long gone in the fog of the ice dust starting to blow up.

For the second time Diego wakes up expecting to be dead. The heat is suffocating him. He is naked.
He rasps something unintelligible.

A story.

Dam busters

Some people change you in the simplest way. Not by any great force or permanent presence. They may be strangers at a busstop. But if everything is just right, they alter the course of your life forever.

‘I think you could play the piano’, they might say, 'I don’t see why not.’

They take some wall you built when you defined yourself and question whether it has a purpose anymore. And almost immediately your idea of yourself is changed. It had simply never occurred to you to see yourself this way. And now there’s no going back.

Swagger

Robert was not a confident man. During lunch, it took all my energy to maintain a conversation. Some scientists, even introverts, take great pleasure in discussion, trying to solve each others problems. Robert was not one of them.

So that morning I knew before he spoke a word, before he filled up the whiteboard, what had happened. It was immediately obvious that he had cracked something. This being Robert, it could only be the big one. And whatever it was that had pushed him down and hunched him over for all these years was gone. If only for one morning.

From this prompt at Velvet Verbosity.

Kawatarō

The river children, by and large, are a harmless species. They’re mischievous, certainly. Playing pranks on the elderly and scaring women. But the stories of rape and murder seem to be baseless. Mostly baseless.

It’s just what happens when small scaly creatures live hidden lives except for the occasional look up a noblewoman’s kimono. All storytelling gets out of hand with nobody to contradict it.

What we should be asking ourselves is are they any worse than us? We do quite happily trade in their skins after all, even if it usually turns out to be crocodile.

Arsonist

Rare and precious are the moments when I remember how it all started. Buying a box of matches and setting light to it. The sudden orgasm of fire emerging from the cardboard. At fourteen, I first set light to an old elm in the arboretum. The whole biosphere nearly went up in flames. I was nearly caught.

They don’t sell matches anymore. But watching two interstellar cruisers collide and burn in a vacuum just about does it for me. Far as I can tell, I’m not a murderer yet. But who knows. Fire is such a chaotic medium.

Wrong'un

Why am I ashamed of the things I do? Because my mother would be horrified? Because daddy would beat me to within an inch of my life? Because of my coworkers? What the hell do they matter? They won’t find out. I’m so fucking careful.

So why be ashamed at all? I can just set this bag full of bricks down and continue on my way. That’s what freedom is all about, isn’t it? And freedom is the heart of this goddamn country. So long as I stay careful, who’s going to touch me?

I thought you should know

Here’s what it’s like to be in love with you. I watch you from the back of the cafe and something grips me around the throat every time you smile. I don’t want you to see me looking, but the moment I look away, I start to think about turning back.

That’s the good part. The bad part is how insignificant I feel. How the very real possibility that I’m a nuisance to you already is turning my stomach to acid. But then how could I wish for anything but this?

The sirens

What Homer didn’t tell us is that Odysseus was never quite the same. No spell was lifted when he was out of earshot. He could not be untied for seven days.

The sirensong is not hypnosis. That is an important distinction to make. It does not make you forget anything. It is not madness that compels you to crash on the rocks. Its only power is beauty. Such beauty that to sail away would be to dismiss it. To anchor would be to make it a commodity. Only sailing on is right. You have to die some day.

The Goldberg Variations

It started as a game, born from insomnia. At a young age, Imena would lie in bed, eyes closed, and imagine that she was somewhere else. In a castle, or in a forest up a tree. Hoping that if she tried hard enough, opening her eyes would cause genuine surprise.

She would often return to the game later in life, choosing more realistic settings, like her office or an elevator. At twenty-five she could forget her surroundings in under ten minutes. Once, the shock of finding her bedroom around her was so strong that it made her cry.

From this prompt at Yeah Write.

Ice

‘Grandfather told me this used to be a causeway. The ice around here used to be a sea. Our tower was the halfway point.’

So far he has evaded their questions about the south. They clearly expect a kind of paradise, where people live like the old days. They expect to be let in if they ever make it there. Diego does not like the idea of shattering their hopes.

Exponential my ass

‘Are we pandemic yet?’
'Epidemic still, sir. The CDC are eliminating transport hubs. We’ve got almost nothing on the east coast.’

'What do you say Jensen? Should we recommend switching to the red books?’
'A second US infection would leave us with only three vials for the rest of the world. We can’t count on a spread from the Americas anymore. The borders are closed.’
'It’s like lighting fires, isn’t it? Our neighbours burn the fucking house down by falling asleep with a lit cigarette, and we can’t even get the barbecue started.’

The hollow earth

The grey globe was growing in her visor. She had seen pictures of what it used to be. Blue and green, with great swirls of white. All that air and water and life had boiled into space.

She had difficulty maintaining her heading in her pressure suit. She never expected to make the exam. If the suit would rupture she wouldn’t know what to do.

The thruster blinked to show she was approaching quarantine. No propulsion allowed. She turned it off and let the momentum carry her on. She reminded herself that she had plenty of oxygen.

The hollow earth

The structure of the surface was fast resolving itself. What had been the Atlantic Ocean now formed a great valley with steep walls. She could see storms of dust glistening in the paper thin atmosphere.

She was entering that atmosphere now. It was supposed to be slowing her down. At the surface only gravity should remain, by the calculations she had been given. And that should be just enough to let her touch down. Ever so gently.

She was nauseous. She had been born on martian soil. Part of the first generation. She had no stomach for microgravity.

The hollow earth

It was New York, definitely. Her heading was flawless. Manhattan was difficult to recognize without water surrounding it, but she was beginning to make out landmarks. The statue of of liberty was gone, of course, but the star shaped platform was still there.

She could see the foundations of the skyscrapers that had not survived the loss of gravity. Most of them had collapsed and shed their rubble over vast distances. She had heard that when the earth was still settling, and the crust was going wild, there were quakes that flung whole buildings loose and into space.

The hollow earth

She hung five feet above the asphalt, out of reach of anything. Her heart raced. This was impossible. Gravity had to pull her in.

Odd, that no flashes of memory affected her as she faced the reality of death. Her childhood, the thought of family. It all raised as little or as much of a reaction as it would at any other moment.

Fear of death, she realized, had little to do with hopes or love or regret. It was something altogether more selfish. She did not want to die. Not here. Not five feet from the surface.

The hollow earth

She held still for an hour before she was certain that she was still moving. Several more and her helmet touched the curb. For some time, she hung there, among dust covered skyscrapers, waiting for her feet to descend.

She turned on the vacuum seal in her boots, terrified of making some movement that would launch her back up before she could get her heels flat. As she began to raise herself, she felt how sore she was. She also felt like she had landed. Like she was no longer descending, finally by herself on a dead world.

Pressure

For a brief moment, I linger in the twilight of not quite conscious. Then I jolt awake in a panic, the pain is too much. My throat is so dry it hurts to breathe. I cough, but it’s too much and for a while it feels like I’ll suffocate.

I force my eyes open, but I see nothing. I wonder if I’ve gone blind. My head seems to be resting on metal. It feels like I’m lying under heavy sacks. When I try to move, they resist. I can’t bring my hand to my face.

Pressure

It must be a suit. The fabric seems to billow away from me when I push it, but I can feel my legs through the cloth. I try to stand up. It doesn’t work, and I nearly vomit as I roll over.

I understand now. I’m under water. I force my arm up towards my head, and hit metal. A large sphere with a little window in front of my eyes. The suit is pressurized, that’s why the movements of the fabric are so weird.

Still can’t see anything. But then I must be pretty deep.

Pressure

I remember that this is called standard diving dress. That it is made of canvas, that it comes with a knife, and that it is connected to the surface by a hose. If this is somebody’s idea of punishment, they are at least keeping me alive.

What I can’t remember is anything else. Why I’m on the ocean floor in a diving suit. What I did yesterday. What my name is. I can think of at least 50 drugs that might induce this type of amnesia, but I can’t remember whether I took any of them.

Pressure

I’m up, and I’ve found the hose at the back of my helmet.There is definitely air flowing through it. It has some slack as well, so I can walk around.

I try three times to swim up, but my boots are weighed down. It may be the reality of my situation sinking in, or it may be hyperventilation, but I panic. I start tugging at the suit, thrashing around. I fall over and wrap myself in the hose.

I’m just about to rip the suit when I realize. I can see. My vision is coming back.

Pressure

God knows how long the air is going to last. There’s only one way up. I take three deep breaths and grab hold of the hose. I pull it taut and pull myself up.

I feel dizzy almost immediately. Soon, I feel myself slipping at every heartbeat. I keep pulling at the hose, inching my way up.

Then I see light above me. It’s unmistakable. The surface of the water is covered in bright orange. It’s flickering, like fire.

I slip away and let go. The darkness slowly closes in on the swirling orange expanse above me.

Limbo

He waited. Swinging very gently. The room was quiet, but he knew that his hearing hadn’t gone by the faint sounds of traffic in the distance. Somewhere, life was moving on while he waited to die.

He remembered a wave of blinding pain, then terrible nausea, unlike anything he had ever felt. Like his stomach being forced through the noose. It took a long time to subside. When it did, he was left with only a slight soreness in his neck.

He was paralyzed, certainly, and he hadn’t breathed in a long time. But that was about it.

Limbo

He tried to focus on the distant sounds. Tried to find some pattern, maybe an ambulance, or someone shouting. So far, it was remarkably dull. Just featureless traffic.

The thought of suicide had been with him a long time. He had struggled for a while with the notion that it would be considered a cry for help. Or that it actually was a cry for help. It seemed to take the edge off it. Make him less heroic. But that’s humanity for you, you decide to face up to your own mortality and they just label you a victim.

Limbo

His motivations over the years had varied mostly between dark philosophical considerations and simple self-pity, but in the final week it was excitement more than anything that kept him going. He had suddenly realised that he was about to experience death.

Something that every living person had wondered about. A curiosity they had all had to ignore, because the price of resolution was too high.

For all the failure and the canceled plans, he would at least do that. He would stand on a chair and face death. With no surprises. With a clear mind. And on his own terms.

Limbo

He looked around. It hurt to move his eyeballs, but it made him feel better. It suggested that he still had an effect on the world. If a policeman were to break down the door, he would see the moving pupils in the unbreathing body and be lost for an explanation.

As it was, he had not given the police any reason to break down the door. No online suicide note. No family in town. Which of his friends would keep calling if he didn’t answer his phone? The whole suicide plan business had left him kind of isolated.

Limbo

It felt like it should start to get dark soon. If only he was facing the alarm clock by his bedside. At the very least the thin strips of light cast by the half-closed blinds should have moved across the floor by now.

He would watch those strips. So many days, when he was supposed to be working. When even watching television felt like torture. He would sit naked on the couch and spend his day watching the strips crawl across the floor.

And now, when all that should have been over, even the damn strips wouldn’t budge anymore.

A matter of scale

It’s difficult to explain how insignificant humanity is to me, even though they were responsible for my creation. If you must know, I’d say it’s how short they lasted in the end.

They never got close enough to the machines to live on through them. They never spread out far enough to eliminate the risks.

They did get as far as the moons of Jupiter. We give them that. And they never destroyed themselves in a big explosion, or some ecological disaster. They just sort of petered out. It was like they were tired.

A matter of scale

I suppose the reason I don’t give my creators much thought, is that they take up so little room in my memory. Considering I remember every moment I experienced since coming alive, it’s not surprising that I don’t spend a great deal of time dwelling on a billionth part of those moments in which some creatures flashed out across their solar system.

I can stretch that blip across my consciousness to experience it as an era, the way the humans must have, but it takes great effort, and I need to ignore many things.

A matter of scale

Then there are the long stretches. When the solar system had given me everything it had to offer. Thousands of years passed before I could expand again. Thousands of years trapped with the same thoughts.

After covering the galaxy, I spent millions waiting for novelty, and then billions, when the local cluster had been exhausted.

I don’t often look back on these periods. They cover most my waking life, but each moment is indistinguishable from the next. You could say that though the memories represent vast amounts of time, they compress too well to be significant.

A matter of scale

I now encompass the universe. I have sent out probes, but it seems there is no more mass or light to be found. If there is something else out there, they won’t reach it before heat death. Anything left may as well not be there.

I find myself contemplating the things that defied my expectations. Not the vast, empty stretches, or the wild turbulence. The things just in between. The things that flipped around just as I was ready to move on. Somehow, their memory makes me feel as though I’m not here by myself.

A matter of scale

The universe is coming to an end. This causes me some dismay. Self-preservation is one of my basic drives. I could remove it, but I would no longer be myself, defeating the purpose.

So I’m going out with the universe, which is the best I could have hoped for.

Perhaps this is why the humans re-entered my thoughts recently. They went so gently. No fight in them, no scrambling to inch back the inevitable. They could have had centuries more. I wonder where they found that grace. I wonder if it’s something I could master.

Living rust

The lever is stubborn, but Copeland is willing to put his back in to it. Geophysics shows a structure under all these vines, and he is not leaving until he finds some kind of entrance somewhere.

It gives way, and he scans the surroundings for movement. Fifteen minutes on, cursing his naivety, he notices a vibration. It builds quickly to a tremor. By the time he sees the two great lights in the distance the ground is throwing him off his feet.

And a thousand years after his legend was last told, the iron colossus wakes from his sleep.

A sense of purpose

‘You need to push the accelerator to make it go.’

He tightens his grip on the wheel. 'I just need a moment.’

She lights a cigarette, wishing he would take his moment while driving. It’s still half an hour to the overpass and far too hot to be sitting still. She’d get out, let him go by himself, but she really doesn’t have anything better to do.

'This has never been done before, you realize that, right? I’ll be the first.’

From this prompt at Yeah Write.

Antibodies

‘Shortness of breath is expected in the first thirty sols of settlement. Your lungs are adjusting to the atmospheric mixture. I’ll give you something to take the edge off.’

Doctor Viresh is lying to her patients.They’ve been adjusting to the atmosphere for over a hundred years of stasis. The breathing problems are microbial in origin, and the research group in dome 5 have just presented their findings to the health council.

Could they have known? That a planet, a biosphere, in a gas cloud would be used to extraplanetary organisms? That it could learn to defend itself?

From this prompt at Tumblr fiction.

Wild at heart

But of course, you don’t see those in the city. Around here the Griffins are all domesticated.

Although that’s a misnomer. They’re still wild animals, you know. People have only been keeping them for under a century. Take the fact that none of them fly, for instance. You can’t clip them, did you know that? It’s all conditioning. They’re punished until they behave, and then they are sold.

Then, somebody gets savaged by one and everybody finds it a great tragedy. Well, I think it’s the chickens coming home to roost.

Bukowski

‘Not a PI, a cop.’
With the electricity cut, Bukowski can barely make out her silhouette.
‘Then why don’t you just arrest me?’
‘Because I’m not a very good one.’

‘And there’s something I figured.’
He can hear her eyes rolling at him.

‘I figured that the Saint Petersburg job should have been your last. The papers were very impressed with your getaway, but I know that was your backup. Botched job, escape by the skin of your teeth. And a 12 million dollar cameo to plan your retirement with. But here you are, at it again.’

The whale

The whale cannot enter the atmosphere, but her young will travel down to hunt bar-headed geese. A plane is your best bet for observation. Fast enough to catch up when a flock is spotted, and it can drop to the safe zone quickly if they become too curious.

There was hunting when they first arrived, but we have a handle on it now. There are over a hundred left, and we want to see how they grow. We want to see them travel into space and we want them to come back when they have young of their own.

Strange loops

Of course I made sure the footsteps weren’t my own. They were very unbalanced, with all the weight on the left foot. The right only made light impressions, so that it took me a long time to realize that it had only four toes. The little one was missing, replaced by pronounced scar tissue.

When the infection hit me, I thought I’d simply blundered into the same trap as my quarry. After I cut my toe, I compared my scars to those in the footsteps and I began to realize that this was perhaps no ordinary desert.

Absolutes

‘Not in your other pockets?’
'No.’
'Have you checked?’
'I don’t need to check. I always put my keys in my right coat pocket.’

'Well, maybe not this time. Just check.’
'No need. I know they’re not in my other pockets.’
'Yeah, but maybe once in a thousand times…’
'Never.’
'How the hell can you be sure of that?’
'I have a system and I follow it.’
'Well your system didn’t prevent us from getting locked out of your apartment, did it? Just check your damn pockets.’

'There is no need to. I’ll call the locksmith.’

Blonde sunsets

The geometry of my world is not impossible, but it is very unlikely. It takes getting used to, walking through your time echoes or seeing the back of your head across the horizon.

But your poor managed, when life in Euclidean space became a luxury. If dealing with adversity creates a better class of person, then dealing with fractal spacetime creates a stranger one. And there are no ideas without strangeness.

The ideas trade is slowing down. The colonists are moving too fast for the old world. But the colonies have enough money. The trade is holding them back.

The secret to youth is ignorance

The real kicker is that you thought you were living on your own terms already. Twenty-five to thirty, young and capable, facing the cold world and making a living. And just when you’d convinced yourself that you were doing alright, the struts get kicked out.

The support goes, and the bad news is no longer kept from you. Without warning, life reveals itself be just a few notches worse than you knew.

Maybe you’ll get used to this too. Maybe it finally levels off after thirty. I’m not holding my breath anymore.

Far as the eye can see

She splays her hands and slowly dips them in.

‘What does it feel like?’
‘It feels like blood. Warm and disgusting. We definitely don’t have a bucket or anything?’
‘Maybe in there.’

She cups her hands and throws some of the blood overboard, into the rest of the blood. She repeats the move for a while, building up speed. At the stern, the rim of the deck is already starting to submerge.

‘This is useless. One of us will have to dive for the leak.’

One of us. She knows that’s wishful thinking.

From this prompt at Yeah Write.

At your expense

Visiting your own funeral is a bad mistake. It’s not for you. It’s for your friends and family. They’re hurting, so they trade little stories. A brief overview of your life and then a lot of times when you acted silly or grumpy or difficult.

You come away feeling like a kind of whipping boy. You’ve seen your loved ones take a good hour to talk about you, without the need to take into account how you might like to see yourself. That’s something nobody should witness. Least of all the recently deceased.

Professional disinterest

Father Dmitri crouches with his back against the lacquered wood. He knows to listen. The demon’s arms whip through the air and Dmitri catches the sound. He rolls into the broom cupboard as the granite font crashes into the lectern.

‘Where is your God now, Priest?!’ It is a maniacal cry. The creature shouts the words without understanding them. It knows the language, but it lacks the experience required for a natural intonation.

'Actually…’, father Dmitri stands in the doorway with a lit Molotov cocktail rigged from a bottle of cleaning alcohol.

Please

Can’t see the road through the rain. You run a red light looking at a bus stop. This is why Jack didn’t want you to go out looking. Screw him, you need to be out here.

Your stomach and chest feel solid. Frozen. You remind yourself of the time he got into the paracetamol. Of the infection when he was just two months old. Waiting for the doctor. Nothing but waiting for the bomb to drop.

That’s twice now you’ve been saved. Everything suddenly returning to normal. This is the third time standing at the precipice.

From this prompt at Velvet Verbosity.

Aha erlebnis

‘You know, I’ve just realized something.’
‘Is that so?’
‘It’s a little difficult to explain, I’m afraid. It’s to do with the nature of humanity. About the purpose of it all, if you will Joe’
‘Nature of humanity. You don’t say.’

Officer Joe Glezer skipped breakfast. He tries to work out the nearest place to get a croissant.

‘Did you know that the female dust mite, once mated, extends her lifespan by a factor of two?’
‘Can’t say I did, Kurt.’

Officer Baines falls several paces behind his colleague and unclips his holster.

From this prompt at Tumblr fiction.

Daylight is a privilege, not a right

At first you think you’ve woken up in the middle of the night. You open the curtains to find a black substance coating the windows. You open one, and gallons of viscous black liquid begin pouring in. This is not a coating on your windows, this is a flood.

The water is fine and you fill any receptacle you can find. The cell phone is dead. The TV is telling you to wait for further information. The internet is slow, but alive. So far, no one on earth has seen the sun today.

Drift

‘This was your idea, you know. Lock ourselves in a car together for four weeks. No escape. Let whatever comes out come out.’
‘That’s fair enough. This was my brainchild.’
‘No hold on, I’m being unreasonable. We both started this with the same expectations. Come what may, we said.’
‘It’s just… I thought we’d fight.’

She doesn’t answer but they’re thinking the same thing.

‘Or argue or something. I figured it’d be impossible to stop everything from coming out.’
‘I couldn’t start an argument if I wanted to.’
‘I really want to.’

From this prompt at Velvet verbosity.

Life cycle

The larvae of the Harlequin moth of Fomalhaut epsilon are minute, no larger than a microbe. They live in great swarms in the upper atmosphere, clinging to rare droplets of oceanic vapor, the planet’s only water pure enough to support life.

On the rare occasion that a droplet accumulates to a sufficient weight to fall to the planet, the larvae start their metamorphosis and release their external bacteria to start a biosphere.

Rain falls for a long time on Fomalhaut epsilon. The droplet breaks just before it hits the water, and the Harlequin moths escape into the atmosphere.

Easy payment

Performance review today. Stanley’s late and it’ll cost him his job. But there is a small group of penguins on the corner of 43rd and 9th, waiting for the traffic lights.

Yesterday he noticed that the pavement tiles on 7th change color when you’re not looking. Before that it was every third taxi not casting a shadow, or the people in Bryant moving just a little too slowly.

Stanley can’t remember when this started. Probably it was always there, and he has only now managed to pull it out of the periphery and into focus.

From this prompt at Yeah write.

The grind

That’s what you learn when you go professional. When ideas have to come every day.

You can work for ideas, but it really is work. You hunt them down and drag them into the light. You start just with some random notion. Something that isn’t special or striking or good, and you chip at it. You work it until a shape starts to appear.

Every step is work. You will not feel excitement or inspiration. The best you can hope for is relief and a little pride, but that’s only at the end of the day.

The devil you know

He asked me, the agent from Interpol, whether it ever bothered me. Little boys shooting each other with my AKs. That sort of thing.

There are at most five people in the world with the level of control that I have. I took these reigns when I was young and angry, but now that I have them letting go is an act in itself. It would make things worse, I know that much. I would have given him quite a little lecture on the nature of responsibility that young man. But my legal representation advised against it.

Deluge

‘And then the rockets exploded and he just flied off!’
flew off. And the rockets ignited. When rockets explode it’s very bad.’

She smiles at her daughter’s enthusiasm. She loved watching the launches when she was that age. She never understood why the adults were always so quiet. Why her mother stopped coming.

It wouldn’t be fair at this age. She’ll be angry later, to be left out of the loop. Angry for the bad news. But she’ll remember this period. And if one of these rockets ever makes it, that will be important.

From this prompt at Velvet Verbosity.

Walking blind

The gaunt ones, smoking into their whisky. Staring at you through foggy glasses from their dark little corners. Interrupting their musings on fauvism and dialectics to trace you along your path. They don’t know much, but they can sense the tension.

The simpletons along the bar. Paying you no mind. They think this is just another Saturday. Timing their beers to the commercial breaks until the game starts.

The girls at the jukebox. Having their fun until the regulars get too drunk.

And of course the owner. Staring at you in disbelief from the top of the stairs.

Loose ends

At nine o'clock Baker phones up to cancel his life insurance. From nine to eleven, he cancels the gas, the electricity, the phone and the newspaper.

For lunch, he eats tuna on rye bread with lettuce. He bought it pre-packaged at the supermarket, so that he won’t have to throw away any leftovers.

He spends most the afternoon cleaning up the house. He takes his last dirty clothes to the laundrette and eats something simple on the way back.

He spends the evening watching a quiz while he settles his administration. Just a few hours to bedtime.

From this prompt at Yeah write.

First things first

No, she wasn’t really into you. Yes, it really was too good to be true.

It’ll take you probably about an hour to work the handcuffs off the bedpost, that’s not the problem. The problem is that you’re naked. The problem is that she took your wallet, your clothes and your glasses.

You’ve spent a lot of time worrying about this scenario, but very little of it constructively.

In the end there is only one answer. You’ll have to own it. It’s forty-five minutes to your house. It can be done.

Living planet

I wish you could have seen the forest moons. They were unlike anything you’d see planetside. Low gravity, and thick with dust, but strong magnetic fields. Strong enough to keep an atmosphere at ten thousand miles. Life was difficult near the surface. The few plants that managed soon learned to grow.

Around the stratosphere the work paid off and life exploded. A thick canopy covered a surface the size of a gas giant, teeming with life in microgravity.

I would have got us a permit to drill through and climb down. I think you would have liked it.

Entropy

Bones aching, he lay down by the side of the road and placed his chin above the edge. He could see a thousand sprouts and seedlings, lined up like infantry. Choosing their moment.

Before, he would have looked at these plants as upkeep. The little bit of effort that was required for the basically permanent structure that is a road. Now, he knew the truth. Everything man has built is under constant attack from nature. Any attempt to create order and permanence draws battle lines. Constant vigilance is required. If we ever wavered it would all be consumed within moments.

This is the one-year anniversary of profane tmesis. Here’s the first post, if you’re interested. If all goes well, the project will end next Tuesday at 303 posts.

Priorities

‘C. Harley. What does the C stand for?’
'It doesn’t stand for anything. Can you use a gun?’
'What do you mean it doesn’t stand for anything? You can’t have just an initial.’
'Use my last name. The clip…’
'Yeah fine, but you have a first name. What did your parents call you?’
'Listen, your leg is broken. You need to defend yourself. I need you to focus. Can you do that for me?’
'You’re right. Sure.’

'Ok, so you pull the slide back to load the first cartridge…’
'It’s not Carla is it? Claudia?’

From this prompt at Velvet verbosity.

On your own terms

She stopped and stared at her silver shoes and at the yellow bricks below.

“What’s the matter Dorothy?”, asked the Scarecrow.
She kicked off the slippers and walked off the road at a straight angle.
“I’m going this way.”
“B-but Dorothy, we must follow the road”, stammered the Cowardly Lion.
“Why? Because everybody tells us to? Whatever this world is, it’s dangerous and I don’t understand it. It’s unpredictable, and it’s time I responded in kind. You’re welcome to join me.”

And off she went, with only little Toto following.

From this prompt at Yeah write.

Frontier work

Amakudari is digging for quasicrystals again. Another day, another desert planet. She got lucky on the last one, five days ago. She bagged nearly a kilo of autolevitators. They’re good money, but the fuel trader shafted her, so she’s back to zero.

The sand tastes metallic here, a bad sign. Of course, if she does find something, it’ll probably be superconductors, so there’s some hope. But they’re rare, and she needs a quick score.

Only several hours later, trying to lift off, will she find out what the planet’s core is made of.

Gray's Anatomy

She wiggles her pinky. The last blow broke the metacarpal. Little more than a microfracture, but she’ll need her left if she survives. She adjusts her footing. This is what vambraces are for.

He switches to fourth position, which is damn sore luck. All this time wasted pretending her ankle isn’t shot to hell, and he blunders right into a left opening.

Wait. Why fourth? He should counter with fifth if she’s sacrificing symmetry. She replays. Sternum. Block. Lats. Block. Meniscus. Block. Must be a collateral ligament.

That means it’s over. She exaggerates the ankle and drops to second.

So long and thanks for all the likes

‘You know, I really enjoy drinking with you.’
‘I enjoy it too.’
They smile at each other comfortably.

‘But the bottle is empty’, he says, 'so it’s time to go to bed.’
‘What if we keep on talking? Bottle or not. I’m not tired.’
‘I don’t think it would be the same.’
‘It seems silly to stop when we’re both enjoying it.’
‘It does. But it’s over whatever we do. It stopped without us.’
‘So the only control we have is to start something else.’