1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for contest #181, theme: "UFO"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Oct 18, 2015.

    Short Story Contest # 181
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "UFO" courtesy of @Tenderiser

    Submissions will be open for 2 more weeks.

    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ, Thanks

    To enter the contest, post the story here in this thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    The 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 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 1st of Nov, 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.
    (**We tried one that had been posted for critique before entering but it defeated the anonymity so I've gone back to no stories perviously posted here in the forum.)

    PLEASE use this title format for all stories: Title bolded [word count in brackets]

    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.

    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. PLEASE delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.

    The point of consistent titles and line spacing is to avoid having those things influence votes, sometimes for worse.

    Thanks, and good luck!
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  2. bumble bee
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    bumble bee Member

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    The UFOs- 1537

    There is something about a child’s scream that lets you know when they mean it. It’s totally different to a cry for attention or frustration. It’s a sound that conveys pure pain and fear. I hear my daughter’s desperate scream and I don’t stop to think what the Matriarchs will say, I leave my workstation and run to her: across the farmstead, stamping over the seed beds, ignoring the shocked, angry faces of the Growers. I just know I have to get to Beth. I can see her by the shimmering wall of the dome, her body rigid with fear and I sprint faster, my lungs burning.


    The domes are meant to keep us safe from everything. Safe from the poisoned Wasteland outside; safe from the army of Eastlanders who would steal our crops, burn our homes and rape us in our beds; safe from our own soldiers who might do the same if their bloodlust was high after battle. They are powered by the sun and go deep below the earth, the tops curving above us in case of missile attack. Beth should be well protected whether she’s standing at the edge of the dome or by my side in the kitchens. Still some ancient maternal instinct kicks in- she is at the outer limits of our home.


    Women turn their heads as I pass- the Domestics who saw me leave my kitchen workstation; the Growers who are watering and planting the farmstead as I tear through it; the Matriarchs, who oversee us all. They are all women. Growing and preparing food is female work. We joke that it’s because we are used to bitter toil for no reward. The crops we plant wither and die unfertilised, long before harvest. We wear ourselves out trying to recreate what nature used to accomplish so easily. War, disease and drought have destroyed the eco system that sustained us and I no longer remember which came first. I only know whilst technology protects us from the ravages outside the dome, it can’t bring back the livestock that were killed by the plague; it can’t make the stunted plants thrive and bear fruit. Our stores from The Time Before are nearly empty and we are staring our extinction in the face. It takes something essential from you, grinding away day after day on a nearly empty stomach, knowing it will likely end in failure. The men have to do it too, but in their own way- long marches through the empty Wastelands, which end in vicious hand to hand fighting with the Eastlanders. We are a people who survive on starvation rations of hope as well as food. I don’t know what keeps everyone else putting one foot in front of the other. For me, it has been Beth.


    Her father found me when I was about to give up. Watching my sister die by inches on the long road to the domes destroyed me. Liza had been such a beautiful girl, the kind it was irksome to have as a constant comparison. She had fallen and grazed her foot running from a missile attack, the day the exodus was called. Such a simple thing, it would have been inconsequential in The Time Before. We had only minutes to pack when the city fell: flimsy shoes that fell apart under the strain, dried grains that had no nutrients to help grow new skin or fight infection. We had to march on day after day, through the barren landscape: stepping over dead bodies of people and animals, no shade from vegetation, no time to rest and heal. Liza kept walking as the skin rotted away and her flesh blackened and stank. She walked on through her agony and exhaustion and people called her brave but she died anyway.


    We were only a few miles from the domes when she fell for the last time. If we had been further away I would have died too. Laid down in the dirt at the end of the day and not bothered to rise in the morning. But in the immediate shock of her death I kept putting one foot in front of the other, automatically, and the Matriarchs welcomed me in and fed me before it had registered that I didn’t want to live any more.

    So many women arrived that day- and more groups cames in the weeks that followed, full of sick and dying. My grief was lost in the tumult of people being processed and it seemed simplest to do exactly as I was told- sleep where I was put, eat what I was given and answer questions numbly, with no thought to how they might affect my fate. So I ended up on cleansing duties, one of the most dangerous jobs, ferrying bloodsodden bandages and cadavers to be burnt outside the domes. I kept seeing Liza’s face on the bodies as they fell into the pits and often I would stop in my tracks, paralysed by the horror of it. I earned plenty of harsh words from the Matriarchs but really what could they do? Corporal punishment or imprisonment would only deplete their stock of able-bodied women further and they couldn’t deprive us of anything more, our community was already at breaking point. They docked the merits that earned you leisure time to mingle with soldiers in the communal hall and the tiny bedded rooms off it but I had no interest in that.

    Tom was on duty digging the pits, working hard, earning his merits. He saw me standing and sobbing over dead strangers and he decided that I was the last shred of human decency in a world gone mad. He would mutter words of encouragement as he walked past, “Keep at it. If you get enough merits, I can see you in the hall.” I didn’t know what he was talking about- had never agreed to meet him, but he was persistent. He kept saying it day after day with a smile or a wink and gradually the idea of it took hold.


    He was older than me and not a good looking man, but he was kind and I needed kindness more than anything. He would bring me extra food from his own meagre rations and work hard to make me smile. I would laugh along with him because it was pleasing that someone wanted to make me happy, rather than because of anything he said. It gave me hope to think he wanted me. It was rare for people to single each other out the way me and Tom did. Other men and women might form attachments to each other but they would take someone else to bed if their preference wasn’t available. Me and Tom only had eyes for each other. I guess I gave him hope too.

    We both knew there would be no happy ending. Soldiers were constantly being moved around, sent off on long treks in response to real or false information about the enemy’s movements. His battalion had a long stay, working to establish and secure the Domes but we knew the war would call sooner or later.

    I am so grateful I found out I was pregnant before he left. He was thrilled for the baby and because he knew they move me to the best duties- Domstic work, with its chance of extra scraps. He asked me to use his mother’s name- Anna- if it was a girl and I realised neither of us had ever spoken of our families or the Time Before. He was long gone and probably dead when my beautiful Elizabeth Anna was born. It’s strange how your perspective changes. I feel I have been so lucky. To have had Tom and then Beth, to be working in the kitchens now, instead of the mortuary: this is what counts as a good life in our times. The sense that I have had my share of fortune and it is about to run dry propels me towards my daughter even faster.

    I snatch Beth into my arms, looking around wildly for the threat that has reduced her to such terror. She grabs at me, pointing and wailing. She has no words to describe this strangely buzzing thing, so wholly outside of her existence. When I see it I sink to my knees, all my strength gone. I can’t explain how it has happened after all this time, the barrier the Dome provides, the formidable Wasteland outside; it seems impossible but then I see another one and yet another.

    Domeswomen run up to berate me for trampling over the dying crops or in response to Beth’s sobs and then join me in silent shock. A few children arrive too, equally as confused as my little girl but not so scared now they see adults standing near. We all watch - they are flying from flower to flower, nectar gathering on their furry legs, achieving pollination with an ease we have battled to emulate for years. It is our hope of salvation. The return of the bumble bees.
     
  3. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    The Little Flower’s Pursuit [2656]


    The numbers were lying still on the board. They were simple equations, but were still waiting to be answered. Catherine fiddled with her pen - sometimes she pressed the end cap with the outside of her lips, sometimes she drummed it in her wooden table, sometimes she passed them from finger to finger. Her 12-year-old mind was hovering over things way more complex than Mathematics. Catherine was trying to solve the mysteries of love.


    The name of the boy was Erick. Erick was athletic, intelligent, and kind – at least with her. He had been Catherine’s friend for more than two years. Catherine could see he was growing to like her. They had even kissed once. It had been only a childhood game, but he had chosen her over all the girls running like crazy on the school’s playground. Erick had cornered her under the large oak tree which marked the end of the playground and the beginning of the large walls encircling the school. “I’ve got you. You need to kiss me now” were his words.



    Catherine’s lips tingled as she remembered the kiss. The numbers were still waiting for her on the board. The teacher had announced a graded exercise, in which 566 had to be multiplied by 700. If Catherine was to spill her mind’s contents on the answer sheet, her paper would be filled with variegated hearts. She delivered a blank sheet however; as she refused to even attempt an answer to the futile exercise. She was not usually this light-headed though. There was a reason why she was so intent in thinking about Erick in that particular moment.



    “I have something to show you.” Erick had said just as he met Catherine before the first lesson of the day.

    “Well, show me then.” She had answered, blushing naively.

    “No. It’s not like that. Meet me on Sagent’s Park tonight at eleven.”

    “Eleven? Wait... I don’t know if...”

    “Just come. I have a nice surprise for you.”


    Sagent’s Park was a vast grass field with a couple of trees and some benches. It was located in the outskirts of the town, so it was frequented mostly by runners. Because the place lacked proper illumination, it was deserted during the night. However; that did not make it a drug dealing point. Erick had something special to share, a secret most certainly. If it were to be a suggestion for them to start a more serious relationship – and Catherine was pretty sure that would be the case – she would accept it without any second thought. That night would mark her departure from childhood days.


    The bell rang announcing the end of the school day. Catherine rushed through the gate, mindless of anything but her compromise. She devised a plan to escape home at such a late hour, and she put it into action as soon as she greeted her parents. She asked her mom to sleep over a friend’s house with the excuse of having a test on the following day. Catherine did not lie, she simply omitted the truth by letting out the fact that it was an Art test, and that it only involved drawing.


    ***

    Mariam was the kind of girl who always knew about what happened to people in school. Somehow she knew in details how some kid was bullied in the boy’s bathroom, how a girl in 8th grade had got drunk in a certain party, how the principal had adopted an Asian child, and etcetera. She had been Catherine’s friend since the two girls met in grade 4. Naturally, she was aware of Catherine and Erick. As soon as Catherine brought her stuff to Mariam’s house, the two girls began discussing Erick’s invitation.

    “This is so romantic!” Mariam said with a euphoric voice. “The two of you alone in the dark... it’s just like that movie... wait – what was it called?”

    “I forgot too. Anyway, what do you think I should take with me? Should I take some cupcakes so we make like a picnic at night?” Catherine replied in a similar ebullient tone.

    “Nah. Nothing like that. He’s the one supposed to give you the surprise right?”

    “Yeah. You’re right.”

    “As soon as you’re done, call me and I’ll tell my mom to pick you up.”

    “Won’t she be mad about the time?”

    “Don’t worry. I’ll make up an excuse.”


    ***

    It was ten-thirty when Catherine quietly opened the door, and left the house unnoticed by Mariam’s single mother. She walked with quick strides, intoxicated by the excitement of doing something so secretive. The busy streets scared her to some extent, as passersby posed the unspoken question of what a little girl like her would be doing outside of her house. As she approached Sagent’s Park however, she became more confident. She suddenly became aware of her heart, which was like a steaming machine about to overheat. Her feelings were a dark shade of excitement, with tinges of fear here and there. She spotted one of the few benches close to a lamppost, which gave sight to the whole park. Apparently, she was early, so she sat there and waited.



    The dark green grass gently rustled with the nightly breeze. The moon – unhindered by any cloud or star – illuminated heaven and earth alike. Sagent’s Park was still. A pool of tears welled up in Catherine’s eyes and started to streak her face with rivulets of salt and water. She was not wearing any watch, but she could tell she had been waiting for much more than one hour. Erick would not come.

    The tears kept on flowing; her eyes were living springs. In her mind, Catherine had pictured this event with so much beauty; why did reality have to be so cruel? What about Erick? Did he forget about his compromise? Did he love her at all?


    Catherine looked up at the moon, standing lonely on the clear sky. Her love had proven to be a lie. The heavenly body was the sole piece which reassured her of some truth. A truth derived from nature itself; a truth which reflected the existence of mankind.

    She noticed a shape of light, which momentarily shaded the moon. The shape slowly cruised the naked sky, expanding as it moved. Catherine did not remember the last time she had seen a shooting star; did it look anything like that?

    As if in answer, the shape continued expanding, taking the form sometimes of an oval, sometimes of a pentagon. It looked like a piece of the moon – with its brightness and all – which was coming down to earth. Catherine was not really a fan of science fiction. She detested the genre, in fact. However; when the bright shape flew over her head in the distance of a low airplane, she was certain she had seen an UFO.


    ***

    Her reality had been shattered to a thousand shards, in its place, an unimaginable truth was set. It was too vivid for her to question her own eyes; she had seen the flying spaceship. Catherine couldn’t stop thinking about it inside the car on the way back to Mariam’s house. She even ignored the commentary of Mariam’s mother about her own days of naivety and youth.

    “Hey. Do you think aliens exist?” She asked in a matter-of-fact fashion, disregarding whatever it was that Mariam’s mom was telling her.

    “Of course not, sweetie. Don’t worry; you are still excited because of your encounter with the boy. I remember when I went to my first date, I was starting to believe in all sorts of things too.” Was the mother’s reply.

    Catherine knew that Mariam’s mother could barely see her in the dark of the convertible’s inside mirror; if she could, she would realize Catherine’s outcome with Erick had been quite different.


    As soon as Catherine was alone with Mariam in the girl’s room, she spilled out the whole truth. She was surprised how when she recalled the fact that Erick never came, her eyes streamed with tears just as it had on Sagent’s Park. The tears continued to flow as she told her friend about the UFO. The flying mystery somehow, had brought even more annoyance to her already-difficult situation.

    “Wait. Are you serious about the flying spaceship?” Mariam questioned.

    “Yes. I saw it with my own eyes!” Catherine answered emphatically.

    “Let’s talk about this tomorrow...” She replied with a yawn.


    The image of the oval/pentagonal shape of light was still limpid in Catherine’s memory when she woke up. Her mind was on an infinite loop; taking her back countless times to the encounter with the unidentified shape which had shaded the moon. The memories, added with Catherine’s lack of sleep, gave her a headache on her way to school.



    The class was completely silent. Some students slept in their chairs, although most of them paid attention.

    “Trees and plants are important because they provide us with oxygen...” spoke the teacher, in the satisfaction of one who has the spotlight.

    Mr. Tombor was one of Catherine’s favourite teachers. He seemed to know a little about everything; there was no science book he had not read. Even in his class, Catherine’s mind recurred to unending images of the previous day’s events. It was the last lesson of the day, and Catherine could not remember a single thing she had been taught. She had not spoken to anybody either, neither about the UFO, nor about Erick. She had planned to deal with Erick on the end of the school day, so she would be away from the watchful eyes of teachers. About the flying spaceship though...

    “Mr. Tombor, do you believe there’s life outside of Earth?” Catherine asked when the alarming bell sent all students scurrying out of the classroom.

    “Hmmm.... I don’t. I don’t really believe...”

    It was useless. Catherine could not go around asking everyone if they believed in science fiction. She was just about to go, but the teacher continued.

    “Although I would not doubt it if I found it to be the truth.”

    Catherine was silent.

    “You know Catherine; there are lots of things people try to stick into your mind as being true. Don’t believe them right away. Be the one to seek the truth. Once you seek the truth Catherine, you will find it.”


    Mr. Tombor’s response had been puzzling but reassuring. It didn’t matter what people’s opinions were about flying spaceships, she had seen one with her own eyes. They were true! Flying spaceships existed! The world needed to know that.


    Erick was alone, messing with his phone under the playground’s large oak tree – the same one which he had cornered Catherine and given her a first kiss. His house was far, so he had to wait for his mother to pick him up. Catherine wished she could talk with him elsewhere, but it seemed she had no choice.

    “You jerk! Why did you do that to me?” She shouted. Her eyes already watering with the outburst of emotions.

    “It was just a joke.” He said, slightly looking up from his telephone’s screen. “Sagent’s Park is way the hell out of town. I’ve heard you were such a fool as to actually go there...” he paused as he started giggling. “And actually..., actually, you were not alone... you had aliens with you!”

    Catherine was speechless. Her anger had risen to its maximum degree. Her face was scarlet. Her cheeks, streaked with waters which did not cease to run from her eyes. The worse thing was that her fury was not directed at Erick alone; it was directed at everyone. There was only one person to whom Catherine had confided about the flying object. That person had been her best friend.


    ***

    The sky grumbled, like a gigantic, starving stomach. The clouds were coloured different shades of gray, and the wind flapped viciously in Catherine’s face. The girl sprinted with the top of her speed. The weight of her bag – still packed with her sleepover basics – was unbearable. She did not slow down however. To her, there was only one thing which mattered: to seek reality, to seek what was really true. Her friends were betrayers; the ones whom she thought loved her, had only cheated her and brought her to shame. There was only one thing which Catherine had seen, which she could testify to be true. She was going to prove to the whole world that it was real; spaceships existed.


    She was panting heavily by the time she reached Sagent’s Park. She sat on the grassy floor, dropping her school bag by her side to take a break. Catherine’s anger was swelling up inside of her, like the dark ceiling of clouds above her head. One by one the droplets started falling. The cold weather gave her energy. She stood up and started running again, headed to the extremities of the park – her school bag left behind.


    There was a line of trees which encompassed Sagent’s Park. Catherine thought it was a forest. She was surprised to find out that just after the trees there was another clearing. Her eyes flashed. As if sensing the glory of Catherine’s discover the skies brightened, letting out a roaring thunder. There was a massive shape engraved upon the muddy ground of the clearing; it contained an extended pentagon with multiple ovals inside. The shape was an exact imitation of the one she had spotted on the previous night. The flying spaceship had landed there.

    Water was pouring down from the skies. Catherine was already soaked; her golden hair was reduced to a sticky plaster of peanut-butter-locks. She was in ecstasy as she had found the exact evidence which she had needed. However, her joy did not last long. She soon noticed that the combined forces of the wind, the earth, and the rain were washing away the shape in the ground with a stream of muddy waters. She was horrified. In a desperate attempt, Catherine tried to keep the mud out of the markings on the floor. She caked her uniform as she tried to dig the mud, clear the twigs, and stop the waters which were ruining her precious evidence of truth. It was all in vain.

    Catherine found herself leaning on the closest tree she had seen. Her fatigue was so great, that her body would not respond to her mind. The rain was still pouring down, making her body even colder. The shape on the clearing floor had vanished. The world was enveloped in darkness, and Catherine saw no more.


    ***

    The girl woke up to the sound of an animal sniffing. She tried to make sense of her surroundings. At first she only felt the moist earth by her side, but then – oddly – she could feel hairy leaves and some branches all around her. She had been covered by a large shrub! A gift from nature, which kept her from suffering the fate of hypothermia. As she stood up, she noticed it was early morning, so she had to cover her dilated eyes from the piercing sunrays. A dog barked right beside her. Catherine saw alarmed policemen running towards her, followed by – to her relief – her own parents. Tears washed her dirty face, and for the first time in two days they were tears of joy.



    Catherine’s parents had searched for their daughter in every possible way. As night had approached, they left the search for the following day. During that morning, they’d contacted with the Police, which then tracked Catherine’s phone on her bag, and eventually found the girl.

    Catherine was exhausted, dirty, and sore, but she was happy. She decided to forget about the spaceship for the meantime. Seeking the truth had given her a feeling of freedom, and peace of mind. She would not cease to search for true friendship, true knowledge, and true love. This was a pursuit Catherine would never turn away from.
     
  4. Jones
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    Jones My body is ready

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    Springtime in a Small Midwestern Town [1031]

    Darren Cole was at the kitchen table staring over the rim of his glasses into the sapphire glow of his laptop, finishing up his income tax filing, when his little nine year-old girl accosted him, placing her hands on his leg and jumping with excitement. “Can I go outside and catch fireflies?” Karen asked, a hint of pleading already in her voice.

    “I don’t know, can you?” Darren replied evenly, casting only a cursory glance her way. She was little more than a stick of a girl, all knobby elbows and pointy knees.

    Karen sighed and asked, “May I?” then quickly added, “Please?”

    “It’s a little late, isn’t it?” Darren looked up at the circular black wall clock they kept in the kitchen where it read a little past seven o’clock. Not so late after all. The man wrinkled his forehead, behind which a headache was just beginning to blossom, and looked to the glass door over his shoulder, where it was already dark outside. A little early in the year for fireflies, he thought, but sure enough, pale green spots ambled aimlessly in the night. “All right,” he conceded, “just for a little while. But stay in the yard.”

    Karen rushed to the door and slid it open with a loud rushing sound as it slid along its track, then closed it behind her with a clunk. The night air was colder than she thought it would be, her short sleeves providing scant protection. I won’t stay out long. She ran to a cluster of the luminescent insects and reached for one, but it darted away from her grasp. The girl let out a giggle and reached again, and the firefly nimbly avoided her again. Although she didn’t have an extensive store of experience from which to judge, Karen didn’t remember fireflies to be so difficult to catch.

    As she looked around her, she noticed that several had begun to form clusters, like gnats, and they didn’t blink the way fireflies normally did, instead keeping their blue-green luminescence at a steady torch. How curious. The girl placed her hands on her hips in mock exasperation. More coalesced into the swarm and they spun and swirled together like a flock of swallows. Karen squealed with delight, her breath misting in the cold air. She moved toward them and they moved away in perfect conjunction, then she moved back, and they swirled toward her as if the two forms were in some mystical dance.

    She reached up with her hand, her pale, bared arm bathed in the glow like tallow. One section of the swarm reached slowly toward her as if forming an arm. The girl’s mouth swayed open in a foolish grin as if on a loose hinge as she stared in awe. As they drew closer, Karen noticed the fireflies didn’t look like insects. The greenish light reflected off their tiny bodies like gunmetal.

    Above her, a shooting star blazed across the sky, it too a fiery green color. Karen smiled at the magic of it all and made a silent wish. I wish that me and mom and dad would be safe and happy forever.

    As the meteor reached a point only a few miles distant, it stopped dead, hovering there like Damocles’ Sword. Karen put her arm down and watched the light, but it just sat, no distinctive shape or characteristic that she could discern beyond its glowing color. The only sound she could hear was her breathing; there was no wind to rustle the trees. Finally, the now-stationary shooting star began to blink in a rapid, not-repeating pattern. Karen noticed then that the fireflies too had all stopped, as if the rest of the world had frozen in time. She took one instinctive step back.

    A flash of white light lanced out from one of the bugs, striking her arm. The pain was so severe she swallowed a scream and gasped instead. The skin on her arm bubbled and smoked where the firefly had stung her with its needle of energy. She took in a raspy breath as another flicker of white boiled her shoulder and this time she did scream. “Dad! Help me! Help me, please!” The words tumbled out of their own accord, high pitched and panicked. Karen tried to run, but the pain of the stings was so intense, she collapsed instead. Another time, the cool caress of the grass as it met her cheek would have been pleasant, comforting, but now it went unnoticed as agony rained down on her and her mind unglued itself from reality in a final effort of self-preservation.

    Darren ran out of his house and into a nightmare. In the distance, the tornado alarms were issuing their caustic wail. Some houses down the street seemed to be catching fire. High in the sky, a greenish-blue light was blinking only a few miles away, but on the horizon, there were others tapping out the same beat. Screams filtered in from across town, only to be quickly extinguished. His eyes finally landed on the unmoving heap across the yard, tiny green fireflies hovering all around and snapping bursts of white hell. Karen.

    One of the fireflies buzzed near him and he swatted at it, too quick for it to dodge. It went spinning into the ground, its light extinguished, but left his hand hurt in a way that a normal firefly wouldn’t. He was halfway to Karen when he took his first sting, just behind his ear, and immediately the explosion of pain stopped him cold. Another flash hit him in the temple, and all thought of saving his daughter left him as only the most basic instinct of survival remained. Wet flesh closed his left eye forever, driving the man to his knees, as he took a few futile crawls backwards before listing over and thudding into the grass.

    The blood filling his ears spared him the sound of his wife, Jennifer, screaming from within the house or the gurgling sound made by his little girl just a few paces away. His last thought before his mind left him was, Please, God, just deliver us quickly.

    The invasion of Earth had begun.
     
  5. edamame
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    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Miasma [1,448]

    Nattie and I were picking blueberries on the edge of the property, gorging on the fruit that had matured late in the summer. The sky was a blue, clear expanse that reminded me of the ceiling of a great cathedral behind which God was peeking, and made me feel safe. Half my pickings were going into the pockets of my pinafore and half into the basket I had weaved last week. I was thinking of telling Nattie I was almost full when a flock of catbirds startled from the brush. I couldn’t hear the flutter of their wings.

    I dropped my basket.

    “Nattie!” I yelled but I couldn’t hear my own voice. I clutched at my throat as it spasmed. I didn’t know if it was because I was afraid or if the Miasma had already come and done irreversible damage. “Nattie!” I yelled again feeling myself choke on my words. I scrambled on top of a boulder, skinning one of my knees. The stone was one of many jagged rocks littered in the undergrowth, making this small section of the land unusable for farming. I strained my eyes to where Nattie should be. I couldn’t see her yellow bonnet and the red hair continually escaping from it, but maybe she could see me. I ripped my pinafore from my dress and turned the pockets inside-out, dropping the blueberries so it would be light enough to wave as a flag. I stood there shaking my apron until I began to reel with the first signs of dizziness.

    I slid, half ran down the side of the rock, my eyes tearing, my lungs working like bellows trying to contain the grief within me. Alone, I hurried through the brush, crawling beneath bushes, shortcuts Nattie and I had discovered as children, until I could see our cottage. Mama was milking one of our goats. Papa was chopping firewood. I signaled the danger with my hands, pushing motions against the sky, feeling like I was Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Mama knocked over her pail and ran to our warning bell, a large bronze alarm she rang with all her might.

    A thunderous peal shook our community. Our neighbors’ small children darted inside from the porch where they had been lounging in the midday sun, mothers fled with their weaving, and men dropped their hoes and water buckets to follow their family into shelter.

    I did the same, trailing my mother into our house while my father bolted our front door shut. She lit a taper and ushered me through the trap in our floor and into the damp darkness of the stone cellar. I blinked against the gloom, using the flickering flame of the candle to focus. Slowly, my panicked pants returned to normal breathing.

    My mother brushed my lanky, drab tresses away from my face.

    “Where’s Natalie, Joanna?”

    “I didn’t see her,” I confessed, glad my voice was back, but my stomach dropped, feeling guilty for it. I hadn’t been exposed long enough for the Miasma to cause lasting damage. I had outrun most of it, but Nattie could still be in the valley, choking, dizzy, fallen into the brook, head dashed against the rocks. She could be dead and her body mysteriously stolen away. The village had lost twenty to the Miasma during the last month alone and had never recovered anyone missing.

    “Didn’t you check in with each other?”

    My father’s face was stern, the upset in it held down like a cold blaze. Nattie had always been his favorite, adventurous and bold, with a fiery temperament to match her hair. She had devoured his stories of travel, while I sat by the hearth knitting, trying not to hear and hope for a safer time that was already gone.

    “I was the last to whistle.”

    My father and mother shared a glance. We had been told to communicate with each other often using a piercing sound that cut through the air. It would stop us from losing each other and more importantly, warn us. I tried to remember if Nattie had been silent for more than a short interval when we gathered berries. We hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning – the bread was moldy and the milk we had left overnight had soured. Hunger could have made her forgetful. It could have made me forget to take notice.

    “I’m sorry.” I didn’t dare meet my father’s eyes.

    “Oh, Jo.” My mother pulled me into her arms, but my father pulled away.

    By dawn the Miasma, what the learned men said was an eerie invisible gas that rolled in and out like the tides, had passed. A persistent wind was banging the wind chime into the front door of our house. When we stepped up into the living room, I could hear a mockingbird singing near our window. Crows were fighting over the produce in our garden and our next door neighbors were talking loudly on their porch.

    We went out to greet them. Thomas, a boy near my age, smiled when he saw me, and looked around for Nattie when he realized she wasn’t with us. His parents came to the same delayed realization; their comfortable expressions turned stricken. The Callahans offered their condolences while both my parents bore up stoically. Only Thomas’s two siblings, toddlers and too young to remember peril once it had departed, sensed nothing amiss and babbled and played.

    Our community, a village of around 200 people, took turns combing the valley for Nattie’s body in small groups. I described where I had last seen her but couldn’t bring myself to go with them. The patrols didn’t find her near the stream like I thought she would be.

    On the fifth day of the search, I sat by a large oak watching our goats, guarding them from coyotes with a rifle. The predators rarely approached during the daytime and my parents had given me the task mostly as busy work and to stop me from thinking. I was having nightmares, reliving the event and breaking into a waking sweat every evening. While I watched the goats, Thomas was repairing the pen for one of the Callahans’ pigs.

    “A bear might have dragged her off,” he said when he decided to take a break from his work and join me at the tree, “or the stream could have carried her away.”

    “That doesn’t make sense. Animals would have left tracks, a scrap of cloth, or bones. And the stream isn’t full enough during August to carry someone far.”

    Thomas touched the tip of his nose, thinking. “Unless she was taken up to heaven, we’ll find her, Jo.” He reached for my right hand furtively. He was seventeen this summer, had filled out and become tall and broad shouldered. I was two years behind, still growing out of what my mother termed my stubborn countenance. Next year, I might be pretty. Either way, I’d be old enough to wed and join the two richest tracts of land in the valley. “When we have our first girl,” Thomas continued, “we’ll name her Natalie.”

    I yanked my hand away from his. I wasn’t ready to replace my sister and although I had had more than a few years to think about it, I still hadn’t resigned myself to marrying Thomas. I loved him as a childhood friend, a sibling even, but I couldn’t see myself as his wife.

    “It hasn’t even been a week yet,” I said coldly.

    “Sorry.” Thomas stood, putting his hands in his trouser pockets. He frowned and kicked at a pebble. “But you know I’m trying, Jo. And I wish you would, too.”

    “I am.”

    “Not hard enough,” he said bitterly.

    “I think you need some time alone,” I snapped. I rose from the oak and began herding the goats away while Thomas stood exasperated with his hands on his hips. He called my name and it was only when I was a good distance away that I turned around to yell at him to go away.

    Nothing came out.

    Oh God. I clutched at my throat and could see Thomas shading his eyes against the sun, squinting at me confusedly as I panicked. I signaled danger but he came running towards me. No! Get back! Warn the village! I fell on my knees, my vision swimming as Thomas halted and stared stupefied at the sky. I dropped and lay prone and prayed with all my might that he had enough sense and time to get away.

    Natalie. I thought, even as my awareness faded.

    Against the sky, a silver disc swayed like the great halo of an angel.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2015
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