1. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.

    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for contest #174 Theme: "Drums"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, May 2, 2015.

    Short Story Contest # 174
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Drums" courtesy of @Sethypoo98

    Submissions will be open for ~2 more weeks.

    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ, Thanks

    If you wish to enter the contest post the story here directly in the thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    This contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will link to this thread from the voting thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may also PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 17th of May, 2015 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets [xxx words] at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the voting ends, posting in the thread will re-open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Thanks, and good luck!

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text.
    If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Watch those extra line spaces. Delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.
     
  2. VirtuallyRealistic
    Offline

    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2015
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    77
    Location:
    Wisconsin, USA
    The Tribesmen (1658 words)

    I was fading in and out of consciousness. I'd wake up cold, then wake up hot, then wake up cold again. The cold sweats were worse than the hot, but I was never conscious long enough to suffer either one.

    In the short periods I was awake I'd try to remember where I was; what I was doing; who I was; how I'd got here. I couldn't keep myself awake long enough to gathermy memories or thoughts, and whenever I got close to remembrance my head began to throb. The throbbing with the sweating and fever was too much for my mind to bare, so it kept shutting itself down.

    During my longer bouts with unconsciousness I would have vivid dreams, always revolving around the same thing: being taken hostage by unknown entities. Someone was always with me. Somebody I felt I knew, a friend perhaps, but I couldn't put a name to him. We'd be walking through a jungle, watching something, but I don't know what. When I'd turn to my friend to say something, three men stood behind him blocking the sun, making their bodies nothing but black silhouettes. When I'd try to warn my friend, my lips would move but no words would come out. As I watched hopelessly, one of the tribesmen pulled out a wooden spear with a stone head, stabbing my friend through the back.

    I'd wake up hot and sweaty, hyperventilating. My vision was black, and with each breath a clothe wet with sweat would pull into my mouth, making it hard to breath. I'd only be awake for a few moments before sleep took me again, my mind plummeting back into that awful dream.

    I awoke again, feeling terrible as always, but this time something was different. I could hear something other than my own breathing. It sounded like someone talking, but muffled as if traveling through a wall. I tried with all my will to hear what was being said, but the sickness and the clothe trying to halt my breathing made it hard to focus.

    “The chief-” Someone said before the clothe blocked my nose, distracting me for a moment. I puffed to push it away, then listened in again, “not until tomorrow.”

    The chief? What's happening tomorrow? Then the same questions started rattling in my head: Where am I? What am I doing? Who am I? How did I get here?

    As the questions raced in my mind I began to fade again, losing consciousness. Soon I was back into that same dream.

    Next time I awoke it wasn't at my own bidding. Instead it was someone poking me in the ribs with something dull; the end of a stick was my guess. The sensation of being touched was odd after the days, weeks, or maybe even months I'd been in and out of fever dreams. It may have been soothing if not for the confusion and fear associated with it.

    “Up. Up now.” It sounded like a young man with a heavy African accent. A moment later the clothe sack was pulled off of my head, and my vision refocused, confirming my thoughts. A young African boy, maybe sixteen years old, stood before me holding a wooden spear. He wore nothing but leather rags to cover his privates.

    “Where am I?” I asked immediately. This was the first person I'd seen in however long, so I was going to ask the questions that nagged at me upon every awakening.

    “No questions. Up. Now.” The boy looked at me like I was little more than cattle; not a human being.

    I took in my surroundings as best I could. I was in some type of hut, tree trunks supporting it like pillars all throughout. The ground was nothing but hard dirt. I could hear the muffled sounds of drums and chanting outside.

    “I – I would, but the rope...” My arms and feet were bound by rope, making moving difficult. I tried to get them below me to lift onto my knees, but the small amount of movement made my head swim. I felt myself beginning to go unconscious again, and the boy must have noticed. Soon as my eyes closed he jabbed me with the butt end of the spear.

    “No sleep. I'll get you up.” The boy set his spear aside, bending down to grab me by the arm. He lifted me briskly to my feet, and I almost fainted right there. If not for him holding me up I'm sure I would have. My head was spinning, and I was still having trouble grasping what was happening.

    The boy tugged on my arm making me move forward. I had to hop because of the ropes which made the lightheadedness worse. I tripped over myself, but the boy was able to keep me up; he was strong for his age. I don't know how heavy I was, but looking down on myself I weighed almost twice what this boy did.

    “What are we doing?” I asked him. He glared over at me then stared forward again. I thought he was going to ignore me.

    “Ceremony. Chieftain has called for a giving to the gods.” He never made eye contact with me. He did continue to pull me along, though.

    Chieftan? My mind began to race, almost going too fast for me to keep track. His remarks caused memories to fade in. Africa, I'm in Africa, but why? Looking down I could see my skin was white, and my clothing matched western styles. I certainly wasn't from here.

    “Who – Who am I?” I asked sheepishly. I used all the strength in me, which wasn't much, trying to force the memories to awake, but they wouldn't. My identity was a blank canvas.

    The boy glared at me like I was stupid. This time I was sure he wasn't going to answer me, so I moved on.

    “How did I -” before I could finish the question we were stepping outside. It was night time, saving me from the headache a bright day would have caused.

    This didn't save me from the headache of noise, though. All around me were the rhythmic pounding of drums, the powerful chanting of tribesmen dancing around the fire. They wore colorful head dressing and skirts. The night sky glowed orange from the giant bonfire center in the camp. Huts small and large encircled the area. I noticed there were other people tied up like me, but they were all of African descent.

    Nobody took any notice of me entering. The boy dragged me along towards the bonfire. When I looked up I noticed a man standing atop what I assumed to be a wooden watchtower. From where I stood he seemed to grow from the fire itself. His head dressing and skirt were larger and more colored than anyone else. Large circlet earrings dangled from both ears, large bones hanging from them. The lower part of his ear was stretched allowing large, what we call in the western world, gauges to be placed.

    I assumed this to be the Chieftain.

    “Silence!” The Chieftain shouted, and eerie silence followed instantly. “You all know why we have gathered here in celebration. It has been too long, brothers and sisters, since we gave the gods what they ask for. They have grown angry with us, giving us drought and sorrow; hunger and sickness; death and despair. Today this changes. Today we give the gods a bountiful sacrifice, to show our humble worship. Today these slaves-” He paused. “And one white devil cameraman will be given. Let us embrace our love and worship for the many gods above!”

    Ear-piercing chanting quickly followed. Memories were coming back at a rapid pace. I'm a journalist, here to shed light on the culture and tradition of ancient Nigerian tribes. My name is Joshua Bernstand, and I come from America. But I wasn't the cameraman, that was Ron, he had been filming me for twenty years. Now a new question haunted my mind: Where is Ron?

    My eyes raced around the camp, looking for him. Maybe he's a hostage, too, maybe he's right here with me. As my eyes darted around I became painfully aware of the dream I'd had a hundred times. It was Ron in those dreams, being stabbed by that tribesmen. I couldn't warn him, I couldn't save him. The pain of remembering was unbareable.

    When I gave up the search, I saw him. His body was mangled, slid onto a stake next to the Chieftain's watchtower. His body had decayed and rotted. Arrows dangled from his chest where tribesmen used his body as a target.

    I threw up on myself at the sight, nothing but stomach bile.

    “It is time. Drop to your knees, slaves.” The Chieftain's voiced cracked over the loud chatter of the rest of camp. Everything fell silent again.

    I noticed the other hostages had gone to their knees, but I still stood. I didn't do it in defiance, I was just too sick and distraught to comprehend what was happening around me. A second later something stabbed me in the back of my leg, forcing me to fall to my knees. I looked down to see a stone spear head pierced through my leg. Blood flowed onto the ground puddling at my knees. I screamed in pain, cutting through the silence and echoing through the forest.

    The drums picked up again once we all were to our knees. A slow rhythmic pounding, sadder than the pounding I heard when first exiting the hut.

    I almost lost consciousness, and was silently wishing I would. It would be a mercy, but it appeared god was not merciful. I started to pray to myself one final time.

    “Now!” The Chieftain yelled.

    I felt the spear rip through my chest, and saw myself pushed into the fire. Less than a moment later was sweat, peaceful darkness.
     
  3. Sethypoo98
    Offline

    Sethypoo98 New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2014
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    3
    The Crusader (1,892 words)

    For Leigh

    Elvira was not mentally present. She had drifted off into the depths of her own mind, forsaking her current situation for the much brighter, much more lighthearted world of her own memories. She reminded herself, over and over, desperately trying to convince her own psyche, that there was perhaps still some good left in this world. This line of thinking brought one particular thing- or, rather, one particular person- into her mind.

    She remembered the drummer boy fondly; her memories of him were like a nostalgic dream, and by picturing him, she managed to disregard the extreme stress brought upon her by her current plight.

    The drummer boy had not lived in the castle, but he had visited frequently, soliciting the attention and financial support of the castle’s lord and lady. Although her masters had always loved the perfectly timed beat of the boy’s drum, Elvira herself had always found the persistent ratatata of the boy’s music undeniably obnoxious. Nevertheless, his form and his personality had always managed to catch her attention; he was very tall, around six feet, and his crystal blue eyes contrasted beautifully with his golden hair. He was well-muscled, or as well-muscled as an underfed peasant could be, and he always seemed to have a smile on his face.

    One day, those deep blue eyes met Elvira’s. A casual wink led to a conversation, and that conversation led to many more. Elvira learned that the boy was called Rolan. Eventually, Rolan confessed to her that he was madly in love with her; he had left her a drumstick as a symbol of his devotion to her, and even gone so far as to give her a kiss while the both of them were standing under the great oak tree just outside the castle’s main gate, basking in the silver moonlight.

    And then he had left.

    Elvira had not seen Rolan in nearly four years. Her heart had been jerked back and forth between various suitors, but none was as noble or truly kindhearted as the humble drummer boy that used to come by the castle. She had waited for him, and waited, and waited, but Rolan had never returned. She couldn’t tell if the boy had purposely abandoned her, but at this point she truly didn’t care- all she knew was that she bore a love for him that was pure, and that this love could not be sullied by any dark truth about Rolan’s character, even if that meant she had to live her whole life alone and, in the end, be buried in a solitary grave plot.

    Even though she had found Rolan’s drums impudent and annoying all those years ago, she now longed for the sharp ratatata of that tiny instrument. The drums that now filled her ears were deep and terrifying, beat upon by armored men to spread fear into the hearts of their enemies; war drums.

    An enemy army, whose motive had to do with some distant lords and ladies that Elvira knew nothing about, had been laying siege to the castle for weeks. Only an hour ago, they had begun their final assault on the fortress, violently laying waste to the castle’s remaining defenses and advancing in great hoards through holes that they had ripped in the castle’s great stone walls. Even now they pounded at the door of the tiny room where Elvira was hiding, shouting obscenities and threats that made her skin writhe in horrified anticipation.

    As she awaited her death, Elvira looked down at the one possession of personal value that she had left; the drumstick that Rolan had given her years ago. Remembering the drummer boy, Elvira made her final resolution.

    I will not be helpless she thought If I am to die, it will not be wailing in terror. It will be in a deep, scarlet pool of their filthy blood!

    With that she snapped the end off of the foot-long drumstick. In destroying her last physical memorabilia of the one she loved, Elvira fashioned herself a crude weapon, for the wood had broken off diagonally so that its end was now a wicked point.

    An instant after Elvira had finished these meager defensive preparations, the soldiers broke through the door and charged in like crazed animals. There were four of them, each fully coated in armor and armed to the teeth. Their shimmering steel swords dropped to their sides carelessly when they saw that the only inhabitant of the room was a helpless woman…and Elvira took advantage of their lack of cautiousness.

    She lunged at the closest soldier and shoved the drumstick with all her might into the gap just below his helmet; she felt muscle tear away as she pushed, the crude weapon plunging ever deeper until it hit a hard object with a dull clang- the other side of the soldier’s helmet. Withdrawing her blood-soaked hand, Elvira leapt past the dying soldier, who fell to the floor gripping his throat and trying in vain to save himself by withdrawing the crude wooden shank from his neck.

    Elvira had hardly made it out of the room before she was dazed by the strike from a passing soldier’s heavy gauntlet. She fell to the ground, her vision fuzzy, and by the time she could see clearly again the soldier was standing above her, his sword raised above his head, ready to separate her head from her body.

    At that precise moment a new knight rode through the castle gates. His armor was in terrible condition- dented, battered, and scratched to no end- and his breastplate bore the red cross of a Crusader. His horse, as pale as a ghost, had obviously seen better days, and it looked as if it would fall over dead from exhaustion and dismay here in the middle of the castle. The knight slid gracefully from the back of his burdened steed, drawing a rather large sword that was, unlike his armor, in stunningly good condition.

    Any question about this lone knight’s allegiance was dispelled when he swung his sword diagonally across the chest of the man standing over Elvira. The Crusader’s sword, a massive hunk of steel that was much larger than any of the other knights’ weapons, sliced easily through the knight’s armor, like a hot knife through butter, and rested itself deep within the flesh beneath.

    By this time any of the confusion that had come upon the enemy knights when the Crusader had entered had been replaced by rage at the loss of their companion and resolve to destroy this devilish newcomer. The smaller of the two remaining soldiers let out a desperate cry and lunged at the Crusader, who parried the thrust and beheaded the unfortunate soul with what seemed to be a single motion; such was his speed with that massive greatsword. Without skipping a beat, the Crusader swung wildly towards the second enemy knight. His sword was so long and his reach so great that the swing, which originally seemed wild and uncontrolled, now seemed incredibly calculated and precise. The tip of the Crusader’s sword tore with incredible force through the knee of the soldier, who fell to the ground, crying out in pain. Apparently not one for mercy, the Crusader lunged forward decisively towards this final, newly disabled enemy, his sword separating a second head from its body.

    Elvira looked on, horrified. Here was this unknown man, this horrifyingly mysterious knight, standing before her covered in blood that he had just drawn from his enemies, right in front of her eyes. This was not a man. This was a demon. An agent of Lucifer himself falsely bearing a cross, the mark of a holy man.

    No man thought Elvira could possibly be so cruel and yet serve our living Christ.

    The Crusader, as if sensing Elvira’s analysis of him, turned slowly around to face her and gazed at her from the back of a dark helmet. It seemed to Elvira as if he only had a single eye- just one gaping, black, bottomless hole in his head from which he observed her, with intent so malicious that she didn’t dare imagine it. This wasn’t a man; this was the bane of men. This was terror. This was Death.

    But instead of arcing his sword downwards and allowing it to tear greedily into Elvira’s flesh as he had with the soldiers, the Crusader did something that Elvira wouldn’t have expected in a thousand years. Reaching calmly up to his head, seeming never to break eye contact with the woman sprawled, terrified, on the ground beneath him, the Crusader gently lifted his helmet off.

    The face that lay beneath was not the face of Death. Rather, it was a face that Elvira recognized. The face of a boy, now grown to a man. The face of a drummer who had once kissed her near the main castle gate, bathing in the heavenly glow of the moonlight.

    “Elvira.” Rolan choked, a single tear rolling down his grimy face. “Elvira, I’m so sorry. I’ve been gone so long. I’ve fought so long. You must understand, this wasn’t my choice.”

    Elvira’s heart was in her throat. She didn’t know what to think, what to feel. The man that stood before her now was not the drummer boy that she had loved all those years ago. The man that stood before her now wore the metal flesh of a demon bent on drawing blood.

    And then she saw his eyes. She could see everything in those two crystal blue orbs- she could see all the terror, all the affliction, all the death that the one she loved had faced in the years since she had seen him last. She could see that he’d built up this violent, impenetrable exterior for the sake of his own survival. She could see that although he had become a man, the drummer boy still lay deep within, terrified and laden with the burdens of the Holy War.

    As she observed him, Rolan reached into his belt and drew out a small, slender package. It was about a foot long, wrapped in a rag that was cleaner than any of his other belongings. Unwrapping it carefully, he held the package up to her gingerly; it was the other drumstick, the other half of the pair from which Elvira’s had come. He had kept it all this time. And like Elvira’s, it had broken in two- though Rolan’s had been broken long ago, in a land to which he hoped he would never return.

    He’s just like me thought Elvira. Lost, terrified, and alone.

    They had both been broken. The world of violence and turmoil that surrounded them had shattered their faith in humanity and their hopes for the future.

    But it won’t be this way forever. Elvira felt this deep within herself and knew it to be true. For now we are two, and two are far better than one. If one falls, the other can lift them up again. In our brokenness, we can build one another up.

    Elvira reached her hand out wearily towards the drummer boy.

    And when she looked into his eyes once more, everything around her ceased, and the only thing that she could hear was the sound of a distant drum rattling off its sharp, unforgettable rhythm…
     
  4. Spencer Rose
    Offline

    Spencer Rose Member

    Joined:
    May 6, 2015
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    52
    The Scout (2,450 words)

    The world was always burning.

    That morning, like every other before it, the sky was alive in writhing shades of orange and yellow. Tendrils of smoke rose from fires that had burned for hundreds of years. Buildings from the Old World protruded from the ground like charred old bones; the carcass of some great, ancient beast called civilization. They jabbed at the sky, their uneven silhouettes breaking apart the vibrant hues overhead.

    I couldn't tell you what it had once been. Sure, the old rhetoric was there, the same handed down stories from one generation to the next. I could recite, word for word, the description of places I'd never been--places that no longer were--with no understanding and even less connection. As for what it had been, I couldn't say. Wasn't my place to say, my job was to scout.

    Only one guy had ever claimed to have living memory of the way things had been. Grayman. At nineteen he was the oldest member of our unit. He said he personally remember the trees. He said they were green, not the harsh green of military uniforms, but a warm green. Vibrant. More yellow and almost glowing. People would always laugh when Grayman talked about the trees, said he drank coolant and sucked batteries.

    "Slide." A static crackle, words against my solitude. "See anything?"

    The voice was in my head, transmitted through the receiver imbedded in my ear. A voice that spoke and made my whole body listen. "Nothing, Dizzy."

    "Report. Status?"

    "Thinking." I answered, not caring to explain myself. The monitors could see through my eyes, hear through my ears. At least my thoughts were my own. "Quiet morning." I said.

    "Too quiet." Came Dizzy's voice, softer now. "Eyes open. Mind sharp. Something's coming. I can feel it. Scout north."

    "North? The only thing north is fire. You know that."

    "North. Don't make me pull rank on you." There was laughter in her voice, I could feel it in my bones. Laughter and terror.

    "Why north?"

    "Dammit, Slide. Just do it." Her voice faded. Cut off.

    Scout north. A joke, at best. There was only ever one scout at a time, vital to the bunker's safety. First and only line of defense against the enemy, only reliable Intel. Eyes and ears in the ashes. The scout was always the one wearing the Inferno armor. My armor.

    The building I occupied was on the southern end of the city, where the ground was hot but easy to navigate and mostly intact. It provided an excellent view of what had once been a river, now a great gorge that divided to city. Like a scar, an open wound that refused to heal. Beyond? Fire.

    I hit the ground running, thermal rifle pressed to my chest, Inferno armor shuffling as I ran. The suit protected me from the worst of the heat, an armor of old world technology. Sometimes my mind wandered, dared to imagine what lay beneath the hellish synthetic metal that had enveloped me like glove most of my life. It suddenly felt tight, constricting, like I might start pouring out from the seams. I pushed the notion away; today I couldn't afford to entertain such thoughts.

    The streets only occupants were the rusted husks of cars, paused eternally in whatever direction they had headed before the world changed. I snaked between them with practiced ease, giving the rusted beasts a wide berth. Take no chances. In truth, these streets were more comfortable to me then the bunker I called home. Here was familiar, here was safe.

    I picked my way through ancient buildings, keeping low and moving. Edging ever close to the river.

    It took a lot to shake Dizzy. Though we'd never met, I knew the girl was forged in old world fires, made of tougher materials then Inferno armor. She didn't shake, didn't quake. My immovable center, my guardian, my commander. Her insecurity shook me to the core.

    An hour later I stood before the River, and the shaking in my heart had moved to my head, rattled my eardrums.

    No one crossed the River.

    Old bridges of iron gapped the distance, great reaching fingers that connected swathes of old world concrete.

    "Dizzy. Bridge side. No trouble. Orders?"

    "Cross."

    My heart beat harder, thermal rifle trembled in my hands. The Inferno armor hissed, releasing coolant and adrenaline in equal measures. My grip tightened, my mind eased. "Say again? Static." I lied.

    "Vitals just peaked. Slide, Report." Her voice was a whisper in the back of my skull.

    "It's nothing. Crossing."

    "Expect transmission lag. Reception gets choppy on other side. Happy hunting."

    Happy hunting. For the seven years I'd held the thermal rifle I'd never once fired it, never once encountered the fabled "enemy". Empty rounds into decoys, sure, but never something living.

    The bridge was massive, cluttered with cars packed so tight there was no going around or through them. They clambered atop one another in places, twisted metal erupting where they had collided. They'd been going the wrong way.

    Sensors chirped as I moved across the carnage. Rising temperatures. Heightened elevation. Hazardous conditions. Proceed with caution.

    Halfway across I paused, dare to glance down. The river snaked beneath the bridge, a terrifying serpent of sand and stone. Old stories told me that once it had been filled with water, would flood its banks and breech the city in heavy rains. I tried to picture it, but the deep chasm was as empty as my imagination.

    The cars kept going long after the bridge ran out, but I found myself unable to climb down. I stared at the unfamiliar ground, smoking gently two hundred years later, and tried to steel my resolve.

    The old stone had began a slow descent off its' metal frames, dripping down like wax from a burning candle onto the sidewalks. The streets buckled, thrusting up like angry black teeth with mouths that breathed smoke. The city was dying, had been dying forever. So why did it feel so alive?

    The rifle was in my hands again, lending courage. "Crossed." There was no answer. "Proceeding." I told the empty com channel. I'd never actually been alone. Dizzy had always been there.

    The Inferno armor howled warnings. I was outside of safe transmission range from the bunker. Readings flickered across my eyes in uneven waves of color. Warnings flashing in my peripherals and faded to black.

    I was running. Running with rifle in hand, ignoring how my heart beat against my ears. Ignoring how the armor felt like it would drag me down to be consumed by the city and its thousand angry mouths.

    There was nothing, nothing but death and fire--

    BANG!

    A single shot pierced the sky. It hit the ground hardly a foot ahead of me, ricocheted, and flew crazily off one opposite direction.

    Coolant flooded the suit.

    "That was a warning shot, boy. The next one won't miss." A voice, old and worn like rusted gears in machinery. It echoed off the streets and danced through the sky.

    Rifle at the ready, finger dancing over the trigger. Where? Where was the enemy? No cover. Move and I'm dead. Stay and I'm dead.

    "Didn't you hear me? Next one won't miss. Put the gun down. Now."

    Never lower your thermal in the event of an encounter. I knew the words, had sang them a thousand times. The rifle fell from my hands, clattered noisily on the ground.

    "Good. You're smart. I knew you were smart. Been watching you awhile." There. Hard left. A hundred feet ahead, maybe less. A figure.

    "Watching?" I asked, hoping that someone would hear me, that somehow the transmission got through. Hoping I wasn't alone.

    "Yeah. You. Just you. Seen you scouting south of the river. Long hours. You think, don't you? Outside of the training, inside of the suit. There's a mind inside that hunk of metal." A man. An... Old man. Older then Grayman. Tall. Wrinkles.

    "Why have you been watching me?" He's not wearing armor, and he's not burning. Sensors are offline, can't tell the temperature. Why isn't he burning?

    "The better question is why haven't you been looking? You scout. You're wearing the armor. But you're not seeing anything."

    The accusation pricks my pride, my hand curls into a fist against my will.

    "Easy now." A gun, something old and metal, raises to meet my face. "I'm a friend. That can change. Quickly."

    "You're not wearing armor. Why don't you burn?"

    The man's face softened. "The world stopped burning a long time ago."

    No. No no no no no. "It's burning right now." Words are empty. Throat is dry, ashes in my mouth.

    "You're right, but not how you think you are. That armor can stop you from feeling, but it can't stop you from thinking. Think! Think about your life, everything you do, everything you are. Every lie you've been told your whole life."

    "I scout. Just me. Alone. I scout for the good of humanity. To protect the remnants and preserve the future against the threat--"

    "What threat?" The man asked softly.

    What threat? The threat. The. The. The. No. Games with my head. I am a scout. The scout.

    "Inside that suit, you talk to a girl. Dizzy. Am I right?" The man did not pause for an answer. "You know why they call her Dizzy? Cause that's what she does. She keeps your busy, keeps you distracted. It's what she's programmed for."

    "Programmed--"

    "So you can't hear the drums."

    Drums.

    "I don't... I don't understand." My head hurt, pounded. Why wasn't the armor administering medication? Was it broken?

    "That armor you're wearing. It's the only one left, isn't it? You've probably been wearing it your whole life, they put it on you when you were five, maybe six?"

    "Seven. I was seven."

    "And I'm guessing it didn't fit right, not all all. It was loose and horrible, but you got used to it. Grew into it. Until it fit perfectly. Couldn't tell it from your own skin. But then it started to get tight, around the elbows at the knees. Began to pinch."

    No. It fits just fine.

    "And there's only one suit. Only one lifeline to let you roam outside the bunker, scan the outside world. Feed the information back to base. And you're wearing it. Worse, you're outgrowing it. They need it back, need someone to keep scouting. What do you think they'll do with you? You're useless to them. They won't send you north like they did in the old days, like they did to me. They'll kill you and scrape you out of that metal can so the next kid can wear it."

    My knees felt weak. I fell to them.

    "They need the suit. The need it to... Survive. To preserve the lie. To keep the drumming quiet." The man came closer, kneeled down, "But you can hear it, can't you? Even though they fill your mind with nonsense, they can't make it go away. Listen."

    I listened. I thought of marching in cadence when I was small, before the armor. I though of repetition, field stripping the thermal. Rat-a-tat-tat. The concussion of blank rounds into practice dummies. The clang of metal in the air ducts. Rat-a-tat-tat. The frantic beating in my chest, the blood in my veins. Rat-a-tat-tat.

    "What... What is it?"

    "It's what burned the world. It wasn't the Neo-Napalm, it wasn't the aero planes that dropped it. It wasn't the chemicals that created it, or the lab that produced it. It was that sound. The sound that every human being is born to hear, that's imbedded into our blood and bone no matter how we struggle. The drums." He whispered, "The drums of war."

    "Slide!" Static in my ear, my head. "Slide he's.... Don't listen... Enemy Slide..." Choppy transmission, bad reception. "Kill him!" The last words, crystal clear. "KILL HIM!"

    Adrenaline flooded my veins, Inferno armor finally responsive. But not to my commands. Dizzy. My heart ceased briefly before exploding in full gallop. My hand was around the thermal before I could think about it. Instinct was secondary, training kicked in.

    "Don't do it boy. You're so close. You can almost see."

    I raised the thermal.

    BANG.



    I felt cold. All over. I felt my legs twitching, someplace far away. My rifle. Where was my rifle?

    "I'm sorry boy. I thought I could save you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." The man. Standing over me. What's he doing? He reaches down... No! No don't take off my helmet! I'll---

    There's a hiss as the air pressure releases, a clicking of metal and the helmet slides off for the first time in ten years. I wait for smoke, I wait for burning--I'm so cold--but it doesn't come.

    It's too bright. Hard to see. Overhead the sky is blue. Blue like... I don't know what.
    I can see the buildings, old skeletons, but there's something on them. Something... green. And other colors. Bright. Pretty.

    "I thought you'd wanna see it." He says, setting the helmet down. "Those green things? Those are plants. And the colorful little things, those are flowers."

    "Flowers." The word tastes sweet.

    He sits down beside me; on my back I can see only the sky and the man's silhouette. "The drums. They take us all in the end. Humans have always struggled against them but... Dammit. I really thought I could save you."

    "Drums." I echo. "Drums and flowers. Did we really burn the world? Did... Did people do this?"

    "War is in our nature. Always has been. Yeah, we burned the world. Set it ablaze for a good, long time. But the fires went out, eventually. And nature came back." He stared at the helmet, "Dizzy was supposed to protect us, help us survive while we waited for the earth to cool. But she decided humans couldn't protect themselves. Decided to keep us locked up. Used the scouts to keep the lie convincing. What you saw in the visor, "he tapped the helmet, "old footage. The way things were. She never let you see what was real. Didn't want to fail. Didn't want us to die. Can't blame her, but she stopped ...caring a long time ago."

    I could feel myself slipping, falling out of the suit. Pooling out on the ground. "You know what?"

    "What?"

    "I used to like Dizzy. You know. Like like."

    "Me too boy. Me too."

    I didn't want to close my eyes, don't want to miss a moment of blue sky, or green plants, or flowers. But my eyes closed anyway. "I can hear them. I can hear the drums."

    "Can you now?"

    "Yeah."
     
  5. BookLover
    Offline

    BookLover Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2014
    Messages:
    291
    Likes Received:
    186
    It's All a Big Joke [1052 words]

    He paced and ran his fingers through his hair and paced some more. Back and forth. Back and forth. He mumbled to himself and slicked his dark hair back with the sweat from his palms.

    This was it. The end. The final show. He tightened his skinny tie. Adjusted his suit jacket. It was all setup. He'd put on the best, most morbid show of his life, and then go home and prove it wasn't a joke. He already had the hair dryer plugged in and sitting next to the tub. The tub was full. It'd be cold by the time he walked back to his apartment, but did it matter? The last punchline was already scribbled on the bathroom mirror in bright red crayon.

    And the hairdryer says, “Yeah, but I'm tired of doing what everyone expects of me. It's time to be shocking.”

    It was all set up perfectly. He'd go out with a bang.

    The crowd was booing as the last comedian stomped off, flying right by Dan. “And now ladies and gentlemen,” said the host. “We have a new comedian at the Laughter Bar. He may be new to us, but he's not new on the scene. Give a big welcome to the hilarious Dan Lark.”

    The crowd clapped as Dan approached the microphone, smoothing his hair back some more. “Hi everybody. It's great to be here. I'm going to kill myself after the show.”

    Ba dum bum. Laughter.

    “No, really I am. I've always had an obsession with death. I was kind of late in finding out about this whole life-isn't-forever thing. It wasn't until I was about twelve that I found out we died.”

    Ba dum bum. Laughter.

    “I know, late bloomer right? I never had any early experience with death. No dead pets or dead family members. Although I have one early memory of going to a graveyard with my aunt, but I didn't know what it was. I thought it was a weird rock playground with the occasional six foot hole you could jump into.”

    Ba dum bum.

    “Heh, yeah, can we take it easy on the drums, invisible drummer guy? Thanks. So anyway, as soon as I found out people died, I was obsessed. I became this little goth kid who walked through graveyards reading off the names on old tombstones, the ones without flowers. I figured no one had said their names out loud for a long time, so it felt important that I do that.”

    Ba dum bum.

    “Okay, I didn't even get to the punchline. Can we stop with the drums please?” Dan loosened his tie. “Anyway, oh damn, what was I saying?” He slicked back his hair some more. “So moving on, um, I used to read the obituaries when I was a teenager, and I'd make up stories about those people. I'd try to figure out who they were from their little newspaper synopsis, and I'd make up stories about how they lived and how they died. And -”

    Ba dum bum. Boos.

    “Dammit! Who does stings anymore? I thought those died out along with recorded laughter. I don't need every joke punctuated with drums. So, I don't know where you are, invisible drum person, but stop.” Dan took off his jacket and loosened his tie some more. “Anyway, so, aw hell. What was I saying?”

    Boos.

    “So anyway, a hairdryer and a police officer walk into a bar.”

    Boos.

    Dan cleared his throat and talked louder. “They walk into a bar, and the bartender looks up and says, 'We don't need the heat in here.' The hairdryer says, 'Don't worry. We're just here for some water, and then we'll be out of your hair.'”

    Ba dum bum. Boos.

    “I was not done!” Dan screamed, twirling and looking at the air around him. “Let me finish. The officer turns to the hairdryer and says, 'Water? But everyone knows you hate water. You've dedicated your entire existence to getting rid of it.'”

    Ba dum bum. Boos.

    “I'm not – That's not the punchline. So the hairdryer- the hairdryer says- Forget it. The hairdryer doesn't say anything. I'm done.” Dan dropped the mic and walked off stage. More boos ensued.

    His hands were balled up into fists as he paced backstage, sweat soaking through his white dress shirt. The host went out and tried to calm down the still booing crowd. The next comedian was introduced.

    Dan paced. Dan paced. Dan screamed, “Where is that drummer?” He tore through the various backstage curtains, pulling a thick maroon one to the side to reveal a gold and white drum set. The set had in it's own little maroon curtained cubicle. A girl in mismatched striped stalkings sat on the stool behind the drums, twirling her sticks.

    She cocked her head to the side. “Hey there, funny stuff. So what did the hairdryer say?”

    “You! You ruined my set. The entire setup. Everything. It's ruined.”

    She laughed. “Chill man. Your set was ruined from the very beginning. I made it better.”

    Dan almost hit her, but instead slid to the floor. Sticking his head into his hands, he began to cry.

    The girl shifted uncomfortably on her stool. “Listen, guy, it's okay. Listen, when I was a little goth kid, I was obsessed with death too. I used to say the names on gravestones too, just like you. Only instead of just saying their names, I used to make up entire songs about them. 'Oh Madeline Bunn, how did you die? Was it by gun, or a knife through the eye?' At the time I thought I was being respectful.”

    Dan laughed, tears and sweat still streaking down his face.

    The stocking clad girl slid off her stool and crouched next to him. “But what I eventually figured out was that life's a joke, and I needed to stop taking it so seriously. I mean, what, we've got about eighty years here? Why am I spending it singing to dead people? I'd rather be out laughing and making music for me.” She pushed a lock of his sweaty hair behind his ear. “Hey, you want to get a drink?”

    Dan smiled. “Well, you ruined the set-up. I can't do the punchline now. Yeah, let's get a drink.”
     
  6. Megalith
    Offline

    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2015
    Messages:
    772
    Likes Received:
    309
    Location:
    New Mexico
    The Little Drummer Boy (2,590 words)



    It was abrupt. I woke up that morning slamming my alarm clock. The sound however, continued. What the hell? I got up and looked around my room, trying to distinguish a direction. It wasn’t as loud as I thought when it woke me up, but I clearly heard its rhythmic melody.

    Parrum, pa, pum, pum

    A band? Rubbing my eyes, I walked towards the window and peeked outside, only to find an empty street. Downstairs my mother was preparing breakfast, I asked her, “What’s that noise?”

    “Hey you’re up early! What noise?” She replied, sizzling eggs over the oven.

    “That pounding sound.” I yawned, sitting at the table. “It’s so loud… How can you not hear it?”

    “Sorry honey…” She turned around with a spatula in hand, “Are you okay? Your head hurting?”

    “No, I feel fine…” I said meekly. Am I going insane?

    She startled me when she pressed her hand on my forehead. Then she said, “You’re not getting out of going to school today, Stan.”

    I rolled my eyes, “Never mind.”

    Parrum, pa, pum, pum

    I finished breakfast and got ready for school without mentioning it again. The moment I stepped outside my house, it got louder. Each time the sound resounded in my ears, I would look around myself. Of course the empty neighborhood betrayed my expectations. Maybe it will go away by the time I get to school. I walked to the bus stop, where my friend Ben was waiting. He was a short, stout kid with unkempt hair he liked to keep long. The concerned look on his face prompted me to ask, “What’s wrong, man?”

    “Nothing really.” He answered quickly. He continued to stay silent without saying anything else until the bus arrived. But when we got on the bus, the look of fear was clearly written all over him.

    I asked him again, “You sure there is nothing wrong?”

    “I don’t want to talk about it.” He said without hesitation.

    I sighed, “You don’t have to hide anything from me; we’re friends.”

    “Hey,” Ben was irritated, “Friends don’t have to tell each other everything.”

    The curiosity was killing me, anything to distract me from that noise, “Cm’on… I’ll tell you a new secret of mine.”

    He didn’t say anything else on the way to school. We stepped off the bus, and as though it was queued, the sound got louder again; this time it was terrifying.

    PARRUM, PA, PUM, PUM

    “I can’t!” Ben cried, he quickly began running away from the school. I chased after him, finally guessing what was bothering him.

    “Wait!” I yelled after him, “I hear it too!”

    He stopped to look back, a horrified look on his face, “You don’t get it.”

    He was unbelievably quick on his feet. Even with his chunkier frame he easily escaped. I wandered around a few blocks from the school, but ended up missing my first period class without any luck finding him. I decided I should report what happened, obviously worried for my friend. The school was a generic middle school. It had a couple of double-door entrances in the front. It also had a gate, usually open during school hours, leading directly into the courtyard of the one story building. I walked through the gate and headed straight for the office. Inside a perky young woman greeted me behind a large desk. I replied with concern “Excuse me, my friend needs some help.”

    “Your friend?” The lady at the front desk looked at me curiously, “Can I see your pass from class?”

    “Umm… I came with my friend on the bus, but he ran away before we came in. I’ve been looking for him all morning, but since first period ended without me finding him, I thought you should know.” I explained.

    “Well! You should have come sooner!” The lady looked upset, “What is his name? I will contact his parents right away.”

    ‘Ben…” I told her, “Ben Carman.”

    She typed away furiously, “Carman?”

    “Yes, C-A-R-M-A-N”

    “Do you mean Ben Carter?” She asked, “In the seventh grade?”

    “No… in the eighth grade.” I told her, “He’s a good friend. I know that’s right.”

    “Hmm… Alright.” She gets up from her chair, “I’ll be right back.”

    I watched her walk to the back, pulling out a wide cabinet, revealing folders stuffed in a line. She picked through the tops, scanning the names of each file. She stood up, stretching her back, “Okay kid.” She calls to me from across the room, “what’s your name?”

    “Stan Barker.” I told her. She twisted her hips and bent back down, opening a different cabinet this time. Not a minute later she walked back to the front desk with a folder in her hands.

    “Alright. Look here Stan. I looked everywhere for your friend, but I can’t find anything in the system, digitally or otherwise, regarding a Ben Carman. The good news is I found you! You definitely attend here… Okay? How about telling me why you are really not in class right now Stan.”

    “That’s impossible.” An incredible fear festered within me, “His number is 525-348-4079!

    “Call their parents right now! They will tell you he attends here. Their names are Betty and Fred Carman.” I demanded.

    My exasperated frustration caught her off guard. As surprised as she was, she obliged by picking up the phone, “…4079 you said?”

    “Yes…” I waited while the phone rang.

    “Hello?” She finally said, “Betty Carman? …Yes I was calling you today from Brooklyn Middle School. This may be an odd question, but… does your son attend this school? …I see… Well thank you very much Betty Carman, I’m sorry for disturbing you.”

    She hung up the phone, her eyes narrowed over me, and I felt chills down my spine. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

    “Okay Stan. I’ve been playing with you for long enough, you should get to class before you are late for your second period too.”

    “Playing? But Ben, he’s missing!” I’d never been so scared, “What did she say? What did Betty say?”

    Parrum, pa, pum, pum

    The worried look on her face told me everything I needed to know. I ran out of the office. The sound exploded again. Her voice trailed behind, “No! Wait Stan! Come back!”

    I didn’t stop. I didn’t know where I was going, but staying around her anymore was somehow very dangerous. I made it to the back of the school. It was a large field sectioned by the types of sports played over it. No fences, besides around the school’s perimeter, and in the very back a small cluster of trees made their home in small corner of the large field. I ran all the way to the trees and hid behind a large oak tree to catch my breath, “What the hell is going on? Jesus, Ben…”

    Tears fell as I wept. My friend’s impossible disappearance was all I was thinking about. I remembered something he told me yesterday. Such an odd thing, how did I only remember it now? We were in art class during fifth period, and I thought Ben was drawing the night sky with a large moon taking up most of the canvas. When I asked him about it he said, “It’s a soul reaper… but one for the living.”

    “The moon?” I replied.

    “No, he already has his mother’s permission. And he does it for his sake.”

    “Are you writing a story or something?”

    He trembled slightly, but still he smiled and said, “I wish.”


    It wasn’t the moon. It was a drum. Did Ben hear the pounding yesterday? But then, what the hell was Ben talking about? Whose mother was he talking about? And for whose sake? Is the drum a person? Maybe we aren’t the only ones experiencing this. If others can confirm the same phenomenon, maybe we can get someone to believe us. I had to go back to the school to find out. I headed inside, carefully walking through hallways, making sure no teachers or hall monitors saw me. I peeked around a corner, the hallway was filled with colorful bulletin boards covered in the classes’ projects. Equally spaced wooden doors lined the hallway. A short kid sat outside one of the classrooms, arms wrapped around his knees, hiding his face. He was shaking. I walked up to him and asked, “Hey, you alright? You don’t look too well.”

    He was startled. He looked up for a moment, before becoming absorbed in his thoughts again, totally ignoring me. I noticed him tapping his finger on his knee, it was synced.

    Parrum, pa, pum, pum

    “You can hear it too can’t you?” I asked him. “The thumping.”

    He grabbed his head with both hands, his eyes contorted into shock and fear. He screamed, “No! I’m in the class, please. Please… Don’t take me!”

    “Calm down.” I grabbed his shoulders, trying to shake him to his senses, “You have to tell me! What the hell is going on?”

    His voice choked, red eyes streaming with tears, “The king… It’s for the king. Mother gave her permission… We can’t refuse anymore.”

    “Who told you this?” His words struck me. Ben, were exactly did you go? I shook him again, this time in desperation, “Tell me! How do you know what’s happening?”

    “Hey!” A teacher opened the door to the classroom, looking into the hallway, “What is going out here? Why are you yelling?”

    “Uh…” my mind went totally blank for a moment, the thumping however reminded me, “That sound! I told her, It’s that sound!”

    “Excuse me?” One of her eyes opened wide, “Your Stan right? Why aren’t you in class?”

    “This person…” My hands trembled in the air, the person I was speaking with, gone. “He was right here just a second ago. He told me…”

    “Told you? …I don’t see anyone.” After looking up and down the hallway, she pulled herself out from behind the door, “Tell me. Why were you yelling?”

    My hands continued to shake uncontrollably. The strange behavior obviously worried her. I had a sudden urge to escape, a fight or flight response which gave me only one real option…. run. I sprinted back outside the school. It was as though I had tripped on the edge of a mile high cliff side.. She called out, chasing after me, “Hold up! Stan!”

    PARRUM, PA, PUM, PUM

    I found myself behind the big oak tree in the field again. I was catching my breath and gathering my thoughts. That boy made the same reference as Ben. But now I know… for the king… did he order it? Does my mom know a king? I’m just going to have to ask her.

    I stood up and noticed another kid skipping class. He sat on a bench across the football field taking up a quarter of the field. He noticed me, and without so much as a smirk or a wave, he got off the bench and walked in my direction. There is a chance he doesn’t know what’s going on, and talking to anyone could risk my life. Or so I felt. Yet, he might have something else for me; it’s a chance I’m going to have to take. We walked towards each other, each of us as hesitant as the other. We both stopped at the same time, I opened my mouth to speak but he put his hand up to stop me. Then said, “Our mother has approved. We don’t have the option to turn around. Not anymore.”

    “Whe--“

    “Save your strength.” He said, “There is still something you must do.”

    “What?” I asked, “Who are you?”

    PARRUM, PA, PUM, PUM

    “I am like you.” He replied, “You’ll know when the time comes.”

    He turned and ran. I chased after him, but like Ben, he was too fast. I scanned the edge of the school building, hoping I could get a glimpse of him. The sound’s strength continued to creep up on me, subtly getting louder and louder. It leapt in strength if someone was nearby. I tried to make as little contact with anybody, knowing it meant I would survive a little longer. Physically I was fine, but mentally I was very tired. I couldn’t think straight anymore, and my body knew that there wasn’t much time left for me. The strange ever compounding fear was the confirmation. That night my dreams were filled with drums slamming throughout, an unrelenting nightmare. I avoided my family and decided to walk to school that day. Once in front of the building, I had a strong feeling attending class was suicidal. Isn’t it strange I came? Wouldn’t my room be safer? Instead I headed to the field in the back and went to that little quiet place of mine, behind that big oak tree.

    PARRUM, PA, PUM, PUM

    Somebody was already there. She was huddled behind the tree, sleeping. It was surreal. I thought it could have as easily been me sleeping there. I felt a longing I couldn’t explain from just witnessing somebody’s presence. Quietly I sat next to them. A peace settled my wary soul. It stifled the fear and uncertainty overwhelming me and easily put me to sleep.

    PARRUM, PA, PUM, PUM

    They woke me up. They were shaking me, hard. I was surprised how little I felt it. I was groggy, but their lips finally began making sounds, they were yelling, “You can hear it too, can’t you? I saw your fingers tapping to the rhythm, you are avoiding people too right? That’s why you’re here.”

    I didn’t have very much time left. I chose my words carefully. “Our Mother has given him permission. He’s the one making the sound… for our King’s sake.”

    “Who is? Who told you this?” She pleaded, “You have to tell me! Is it the King?”

    PARRUM, PA, PUM, PUM

    I was scared. I felt the life being siphoned from my body. I stood up and ran. I had to survive. For as long as possible, I needed to exist. To do that I had to be alone. It was rudimentary, obvious, there was no helping it. Her pleas to wait faded behind me. I let my legs carry me as hard as I could. Somehow, I knew it wouldn’t be enough. In those last few moments, I thought to yell, “No! Yes! It’s for the Kings sake! Our sake!”

    I don’t know if she heard me. An eye opening moment of clarity had come over me. 55 years ago. The year was 1942. Back then a dire decision was made. In 1942 it became known that Earth and its people would collapse. Luckily, even failures fulfilled a role in the universe. The greatest souls, the ones pure and curious, would become Messiah for sentient life across the universe. That was my fate. I knew that what would happen to me would be incredible and frightening. It would be the greatest sacrifice. To teach and guide other intelligent lifeforms to find prosperity and opportunity. To give them a chance, I would give up mine. I’m not sure how I knew these things. And of course, my life was now ending; I wouldn’t remember any of this. Then I saw him. He was ushering me into my next life. It was a little boy. He concentrated on his perfect performance, pounding away on his beautiful drum.

    Pum pum pum PUM PUM PUM
    PA-RRUM PA PUM PUM
    Pum…pum…
    Parrum pa pum pum
    Pum… pum…
     

Share This Page