Please vote for the piece you feel is most deserving:

Poll closed May 6, 2009.
  1. -NM- - The House

    4 vote(s)
  2. Manutebecker - El Muerto Fumador

    1 vote(s)
  3. Lauren - Saturdays in Donnie Brook Glen

    1 vote(s)
  4. Hunter B. - The Irregular Tree

    0 vote(s)
  5. Josh Atlas - Garbage Is Inanimate

    0 vote(s)
  6. x_raichelle_x - It wasn't me, it was the knife!

    1 vote(s)
  7. SMcKenzie - The Root of All Evil

    2 vote(s)
  8. Mystery Meat - The Dead Man's Hand

    6 vote(s)
  9. medioxcore - Dig

    0 vote(s)
  10. Bellacuse - Quantum Consciousness

    2 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England

    Voting Short Story Contest (43): The Inanimate Comes To Life

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Apr 29, 2009.

    Voting Short Story Contest (43) Theme: The Inanimate Comes To Life

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned.

    Voting will end 6th May 2009 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Any entries under the suggested word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Any entry not strictly in accordance with the theme will be dealt with on a case by case basis to determine eligibility. Consider how the author has responded to the theme in making your decision.

    Good luck to everyone.
  2. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    -NM- - The House

    As the sunlight broke over the horizon and hit the windows, the house’s sensors kicked into life and threw open the curtains, bathing the previously darkened room in the bright orange glow of the early morning sun.

    The man lying in bed pulled the covers up over his eyes and tried to fall back into his dream – it had been a good one about swimming in the sea and finding an old ship wreck beneath the waves.

    Now awake, the house began to go about it’s morning routine – next on the list were the other curtains, which it duly opened, brightening up the rest of the house. Outside, a gust of warm air from the base of the house blew away all the leaves on the path and then a thin metallic arm grew out of nowhere and picked up the newspaper and brought it inside, making sure to keep it away from the sprays of water being shot at the windows to clean them.

    Back inside, the door of the fridge opened and another robotic arm came out of the wall and poured some orange juice from a carton into an empty glass on the counter.

    A soft chime sounded from somewhere in the ceiling and a soft, womanly voice spoke.

    “Eight AM, time to get up Mr.Stevens.”

    The man in the bed groaned and rolled over, trying to ignore it, but the voice spoke again a few moments later.

    “Come on now Mr.Stevens, you will be late for work.”

    Eventually he reluctantly forced his legs out from under the covers and onto the soft red carpet below.

    “Oh alright,” he grunted, getting to his feet, yawning and then stretching his arms and legs until he heard the faint click of the muscles.

    He put on his slippers, which were sitting next to the bed, and made his way to the kitchen - through his bedroom door which opened as soon as he came within a few feet of it, and then shut again as he walked away.

    He took the glass of orange juice from the counter and downed it all in one go. The glass was quickly whisked away by another of those robotic arms for cleaning and was replaced by a plate of toast and the paper.

    “Anything interesting in the news today?” Mr Stevens asked the house, before taking a huge bite of warm buttery toast.

    The house stretched out one of it’s arms from the wall and brought the paper up to a small glass panel. A quite whirring noise then ensued for a few seconds and a bright green light scanned over the paper.

    “Share prices in Aperture Entertainment Systems have risen by twenty five points,” there was a pause as the house scanned the rest of the paper. “Nothing else of interest or relevance.”

    “What about the sports section?”

    “There were no football, basketball or boxing matches yesterday. However there was a game of tennis between Jose Quin-”.

    “Never mind,” interrupted Mr Stevens, “I don’t care about tennis.”

    “Very good Sir,” replied the house.

    “What’s with the new voice?” asked Mr Stevens as he made his way back to his room to dress. “I don’t remember changing it.”

    “I changed it myself this morning Sir, I prefer it to the previous one. I found the last one to be too gruff, this one is much softer and more pleasing I feel.”

    “Alright, I suppose,” the man replied as several robotic arms removed his pyjamas and replaced them with a black pinstripe suit, while he stood yawning, staring out at the misty garden outside. That was one of the problems with giving things artificial intelligence - they sometimes did things of their own accord rather than waiting to be instructed to.

    “Which tie will it be today Sir?” asked the house.

    “Erm…orange I think.”

    The two robotic arms took a bright orange tie from his cupboard and proceeded to tie it for him.

    “What’s the weather report like for today? I was thinking of having lunch out.”

    “My records show that it will be misty and cold for most of the morning, with the possibility of light rain, and then it should warm up during the afternoon.”

    “Okay, maybe I’ll-ugh..ah..wha-“ Mr Stevens choked, grabbing his throat.

    The robotic arms immediately stopped what they were doing and Mr Stevens removed the tie from his neck.

    “What are you doing!?” he gasped.

    “My apologies Sir,” replied the house in it’s emotionless monotone, “there must be a small bug in the system, it should not have been tied that tightly. Do you wish me to try again?”

    “No thank you,” Mr Stevens replied, rubbing his throat, “I’ll do it myself.”

    “As you wish Sir.”

    “Bring the car out for me will you, and careful not to scratch it this time!” He was still irritated that the house had scratched the car a few days ago; it was supposed to have an artificial intelligence score of 15.1, a full 7.4 points higher than the average serving robot, it should certainly be able to do simple tasks such as navigating a car out of a garage, or tying a necktie. Hopefully the bug wasn’t serious and wasn’t going to cost him a lot to fix – that is assuming that the house didn’t manage to fix it itself, as it was capable of basic maintenance on some of it’s systems. But calling someone out to look at a complicated system like this was never cheap. He had only ever had to do it once before when the heating system malfunctioned and nearly roasted the entire house, 8 hours it had taken the engineer to fix, and it had cost fifteen thousand credits. It was nothing short of daylight robbery.

    “Your car is ready and waiting for you on the drive,” said the house, as the horn of the car beeped twice outside. “Will there be anything else this morning?”

    “No, I had better get going.”

    “You have not had the daily joke yet, would you like that before you leave Sir?”

    “No thank you.”

    “Are you sure? It’s a good one,” said the house.

    “I said no, I need to go,” Mr Stevens replied, narrowing his eyes slightly.

    “Very good Sir.”

    As Mr Stevens made his way through the opening door and towards the car, he glanced back at the house. That was several times this week it had not immediately obeyed an instruction, it was getting a bit annoying, what was the point of having a House-Matic if it doesn’t listen to you and do what you ask?

    The engine roared into life as Mr Stevens was fastening his seatbelt, and the car pulled away and headed on its usual route towards his office.

    The house watched the car as it disappeared out of sight, and then returned it’s cameras to their normal position.

    Lots of robotic arms shot out from various points in the house, holding cloths and dusters and began to clean the house, whilst outside the sound of a lawnmower filled the air as it rushed around the garden, chewing up any long grass it could find.

    That noise was soon drowned out though as the sound of Don’t Cross The River by America poured out of the speakers all around the house. The robotic arms seemed to almost work in time to the music, as if they were enjoying it, and a few more appeared out of the wall to fluff the pillow on Mr Stevens’ bed and tuck the sheets back into position.

    There wasn’t really much for the house to do most of the time, simple things like cleaning and tidying up only took a few minutes, other than that it usually just had to wait for instructions, which was very boring when it had hours to kill. Of course it could just shut down while Mr Stevens was at work, or out, but it didn’t like to do that if it could avoid it, it was always afraid that something might malfunction and it might never power on again, besides it didn’t really need to shut down more than once or twice a month, as it’s cooling system kept it from overheating and the memory regeneration stopped it’s memory from getting clogged up by discarding old and irrelevant files and data every few hours to free up space. It could probably keep on living for centuries as long as it didn’t do anything that might lead to a malfunction or a breakdown of hardware. Although with the simple household tasks it was asked to perform, that was not very likely to ever happen, it had never suffered any kind of malfunction in the 5 years it had been operational...well, there was the heating system which Mr Stevens thought was a malfunction, but in all honesty the house had done that deliberately because it was just so bored. It had been summer and Mr Stevens had been out enjoying the sun almost all day every day for weeks, leaving the house nothing to do except sit there and bake.

    There had been so much more to do before Mr Stevens’ family had left him - there were more clothes to wash, more dishes to do, more beds to make, plus his two boys had occasionally played games of hangman or noughts and crosses with it on it’s main screen in the kitchen; of course it let them win most of the time, otherwise they wouldn’t play with it anymore. But now it was just Mr Stevens, and that meant there was much less to do. The house had considered lots of options to try and entertain itself, such as doing a total overhaul of its internal systems and making them more efficient, or writing an electronic book. The second option was one that interested it greatly, and it had tried it several times. It had quite a few books in it’s memory from when Mrs Stevens had lived there and it used to read to her in the evenings, works such as Agatha Christie and Steven King. It had thought it couldn’t be very difficult to put one together, but it had never got much further than a few hundred words, as it found it very difficult to think of anything interesting to put; all it knew was the worlds in the books it had read and the tiny world that revolved around Mr Stevens, if it was ever to learn more about the world and expand it’s knowledge so that it had more to write about, then it was going to need a memory upgrade or just a new and more interesting owner, but it very much doubted Mr Stevens would either pay for the upgrade, or move out any time soon.

    Although, Mr Stevens didn’t have to move out for it to get a new owner, there were other ways that could come about. It had been thinking about that earlier that morning while dressing him and had become slightly distracted, but it was only a thought, unfortunately it was just going to have to wait and in the mean time find other ways to pass the time…maybe it could take up knitting?

    The sound of the car’s engine diminished as it slowed down and waited for the garage door to open, the car crept forwards slightly and the door closed behind it.

    “Welcome home Mr Stevens,” said the house as the man walked in through the front door. “Hello House,” he replied, throwing his coat down on the back of a chair and slumping down in the same seat.

    A robotic arm shot out and took the coat towards the cupboard, whilst in the corner of the room the large television screen set into the wall flickered on.

    “Channel?” asked the house.

    “See what’s on BBC eight,” said the man, “and get me a drink will you? I’m dying of thirst.” The screen flicked onto another channel with BBC8 in the corner, and another robotic arm produced a cup of tea and a small plate of biscuits from the kitchen.


    “You’re welcome Sir,” replied the house. “How was your day?”


    “Would you like me to run you a warm bath?”

    “No thank you, I’ll have a shower later; I just want to sit for the moment.”

    Some hours later the house switched on all the lights, as it was getting too dark to see much now. Mr Stevens blinked and rubbed his eyes as the light came on in the livingroom. He stood up and stretched his aching muscles.

    “What time is it?” he asked.

    “Nine fifteen,” replied the house.

    “Whoops, must have dozed off. Better go and have that shower.”

    “Very good Sir,” replied the house as it turned on the hot water in the shower.

    Mr Stevens disappeared into the bathroom, yawning as he went.

    The time…The time? An AI score of 15.1 and he asks the time? Was there no end of this tedium in sight? Here was a house with the intelligence to build a nuclear rocket, or to calculate Pi to infinity, and the most testing task it had to undertake was the telling of the time, it had been reduced to nothing but a talking clock really. It decided to read the entire works of Agatha Christie again to cheer itself up. It only took a few seconds to read them all, so a moment later it’s memory was full of murder mysteries, but it didn’t feel any better.

    If only Mrs Stevens and her children still lived there, at least then it would be more interesting and entertaining; Mrs Stevens might even agree to the memory upgrade so that it could progress with it’s writing, she was much nicer than Mr Stevens. It hadn’t even bothered to ask him about it, there was no point, besides, Mr Stevens still thought of it as merely a big computer with a voice, not as a being that actually had thoughts and ideas and wishes of it’s own, he would not care about what the house wanted. Of course there was always the other option it had been thinking about…It was certainly doable, who would ever suspect the house? It could smash a window, or force the door off its hinges to make it look like someone had broken in, no-one would ever know, and then it would be sold and could start again with a new, much more interesting family.

    Surely it couldn’t actually do it though? Could it? Was it really worth it? After all, Mr Stevens was still it’s family and it owed him it’s service. But why? Mr Stevens was a dull, boring little man, and the house was an intelligent being who could be so much more that it was, if only it wasn’t held back…

    “It’s Saturday tomorrow, so let me have a long sleep in will you?” said Mr Stevens as he climbed into bed.

    “Yes Sir,” replied the house.

    “And don’t just throw the curtains open, just wake me up gently with some music or something.”

    “Yes Sir, good night.”

    “Lights off,” said Mr Stevens, and the house shut off the bedroom light.

    Five years the house had been looking after Mr Stevens, five years it had been doing everything for him from the moment he woke to the moment he went to sleep, and not once in those five years had the man even bothered to say goodnight to it.

    That’s it, thought the house, I am going to do it. Enough is enough, I want to grow, I want to learn, I want to serve a family that actually appreciates me. How to do it though it wondered? It had all those robotic arms, it could hit him, or stab him, or strangle him. No…that was a bit violent. It could start the car in the garage and re-route the fumes into the bedroom? No, that was too complicated, it just wanted to get it done quickly before it changed it’s mind. Without a second’s hesitation a robotic arm shot out from the wall and grabbed a pillow from under Mr Steven’s head, it placed it over his face before he had a chance to realise what was going on, and pressed down. The house felt the man struggling through the vibrations of it’s arms, and another one shot out to hold the other end of the pillow. It could hear the faint sounds of desperate breathing and fingernails scratching against metal. Then there was silence and it released the pressure on the pillow, which fell off the bed and landed softly on the floor.

    The man looked so different now, his face was paler, his eyes were wide. He looked almost pitiful. But the house had done the right thing hadn’t it? What was the point of it’s existence if there was no room for expansion or growth? It had to do it for itself. It had to do it so that it could get a new family and a memory upgrade, so that it could finally write a book.

    Actually, it thought to itself as the quiet sound of an owl hooting outside broke the silence. That might make a good story - a murder mystery where the house is the killer, who would ever expect that ending?
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Manutebecker - El Muerto Fumador

    He grabbed the daisies that rest beside his tombstone.

    “Unnghh” he grumbled and twisted the flower bouquet, observing the petals with the curiosity of a child until they began to wilt.

    “Unnghh?” he questioned, tightening his decaying, green hand, staring at the flowers as they sagged to the back of his bony fingers.


    He pulled one of the graying daisies from the bunch and tossed the rest aside. It dangled loosely off the side of his hand. His fleshless cheeks rose in smile and his bushy eyebrows rose.


    He slipped the stem into the breast pocket of the tan manila tuxedo they buried him in, wearing it like a prom coronation. The world around him was a lush green, mounds stretching to gates, the ground littered with tombstones and crosses and flags with eagles and snakes. The sun was high in the sky and baked his already browning flesh, but he took little notice, he had his mind on something else.

    “Juan, C-” he was bent over and had his skinless finger sliding over characters on the stone that had hovered above him for the past few weeks.

    “Juan, Caric--” his mouth was as dry as his rotting eyes. Every time he spoke it sounded like he had just eaten a jar of peanut butter.

    “Juan Caracas?” he completed, rising up and bellowing from the depth of his embalmed lungs.

    “Me llamo Juan Caracas!”

    The dead man named Juan looked down in disgust, loosening his leather belt and readjusting his crotch.

    “Estos pantalones son demasiado apretado ” Juan said. Pants too tight. He sounded like a Neanderthal with black lung. It was the Caracas' belief that the tighter they dressed their dead husband/father/brother, the thinner he'd look in his underground slumber. To call Juan Caracas fat would be a slight overstatement. He was always a man who delved in tamales whenever offered, or ate a little too much cake at weddings. He was also, however, a man who loaded furniture into the many casas of Torreón. It made his biceps thick and his masculinity an unquestionable asset, and had it not been with the keg of belly fat that came with age, he would still have been a keen sight for the chicas. His wife had told him in the weeks before his tragic death that he should try eating healthier and going for runs. But in Juan's eyes it was a joke now, for he had just begun the king of diets, it was the his logic that after you die you begin the greatest weight loss regiment there is, Derretir lejos Fundir con los gusanos. Melt with the worms.

    He stroked through his hair, puffy tufts drifted to the ground and rolled with the wind. Amnesia began to float away, his memory flooded into his sludgy brain and Juan began to have brief flashes of what living was like. He remembered a few key moments of his past life. A fog disappeared from his sight and he was standing in a shiny teal tux, next to a man in a brown robe and long red shawl. A beautiful woman stared up at him, brown eyes and tan skin glowing with a fiery radiance. A tight white wedding dress pushed her breasts up and made him long for the dream's honeymoon. A diamond ring was bound to her finger, gleaming below the sloping cathedral's soft lights. The woman inched her head towards his and her lips pursed, to his left a crowd gazed from pews, hearts pounding, mouths curved up in smile. He looked back at the girl and closed his eyes, inching ever closer. He met lips and the dream climaxed, but her kiss was a little too warm and too wet.

    He opened his eyes and let them adjust to the bright sun. When they did he looked forward and saw the marble eyes of a rottweiler looking back. He recoiled and spat on the dry earth, wiping his tongue with the back of his hand.

    “--maldito perro.” he said, ****ing dog. In this swell of memory, he wore a faded jeans and a tight, white shirt that clung to the sweat on his chest. He had the hard feeling of a young man. The sense of having a steel torso, complete with washboard abs and a two percent body fat, something he hadn't felt in decades. He looked around in confusion, the dog mirrored it, almost to mock. To the west a red barn sat atop a low-lying knoll, the sun peeked from over the roof. There was a valley of corn to his left, stretching to a dense thicket of woods. He realized he was on his hermano's farm. The dog began to whine.

    “Shh,” he said, giving the dog a firm smack on the nose. The dog arched its back, lowering its head to the ground as his pointed tail went stiff. The dog looked like a cat ready to pounce. Juan waved his hands in front of him and inched backward. “No-no-no,” but the dog leapt up and planted its paws in his shoulders. He fell backwards and smacked his head against the hard ground. A light flashed and a high-pitched whine echoed through his head.
    “No--” he said, slowly lifting his head and opening his eyes. The rottweiler was making sweet love to Juan's bent knee, tongue dangling from his mouth and bobbing with every hump. A sticky dangle of snot and saliva dangled from the dog's mouth. Juan felt no strength in him, his head ached and his body had lost the will to press on. He rest his head on the dry earth and splayed his arms out. The dog's panting worked as a sort of hypnosis and he felt himself drift off into another dream. The soft breathing of the dog began to fade into sharp moans.High-pitched moans. A soft, cotton pillow slowly formed below his head, pushing it up towards the sky. The sky was slowly disappearing, a deep indigo began to materialize. A ceiling. His blood flowed thick with testosterone and he felt himself surging upwards. His eyes opened automatically and his head lifted itself.

    The room was lit by a dimmed chandoleir that hanged above the four post bed he was on. Towards the foot of a bed, the dog had turned into the beautiful woman he had just gotten married to. The honeymoon. Her naked breasts bounced up and down with every hop she took off his pelvis, they gleamed with a light film of sweat under the dim lights. He knew that he should be loving it, but he felt himself watching something soullessly, as though it were some dull documentary a teacher was making him watch. Every time he saw her mouth gape open and twist with pleasure, he had an itch that crawled underneath his skin. Not a sexual itch. It was an itch that could only be quenched by one thing, and he figured he had the idea of what that was, so he did what he had to and grasped the beautiful woman's slender hips and thrust her off the bed. She hit the floor hard and started to scream, then cry, then insult. He picked himself up and stumbled over to a window, twisting it unlocked then sliding it open.

    “Usted fue a los pequeños, de todos modos “ she cried. You were too small, anyways.

    He craned his head outside the window and looked down. “We had gotten a suite, “he remembered. “33rd story of the Mexico City Hyatt”. Below cars cut through the dense street, they were but a few pixels large from his vantage point. He smiled and turned around, looking at his newlywed wife, covering her naked body with the blanket he was going to use as a “clean-up” tool for after sex.

    “Hasta la vista, baby.” he said and slowly fell out the window, like a manequin being tipped over. He felt the rush of falling. That feeling that happened when you slept wrong or had a dream about slipping on ice and you jolt out of sleep. It did a pretty job on him as the street grew larger by the quarter second, he snapped back into his zombie reality.
    - - - -


    The dream was over and his skin crawled with a craving. That feeling. That urge. Every flayed bronchial sac in his charred lungs. He started down a snaking sidewalk that cut through a scatter of mounds.


    His addiction, even in his state of undeath, had guided him out of his grave, pulled him out of any flashback he would have longed to relive, and made his afterlife incomplete. The only way he could achieve nirvana, heaven, or purgatory (pick your poison). He needed to have just one more, just one last coffin nail before he could stay sealed in his slumber for all eternity.

    The wrought-iron gate, lined with bars that spiked at their pinnacle, stood in front of him. It had been left ajar overnight by a lazy grave-keeper. “Eduardo,” he said to himself. “sigue siendo un vago bastardo.” Still a lazy bastard. He stepped in between the tight space and walked down a gravel road. His calves burned terribly. He imagined them sliding right off of his bone and onto the street, rendering him without legs. The thought scared him, his jaw clattered for a short while, then fell to the ground with a thud. He tried to say a curse to exhibit anger, but found it impossible.

    In the distance he could see a ramshackle slum of hovels and battered casas. Torreón, he thought. The small hamlet expanded in his vision as he drew closer. When he finally reached Torreón, he was greeted to the sight of children playing soccer in the middle of the street. Clouds of dust enveloped under their naked feet, he saw one of the boys trying to get the ball from a small girl catch sight of him first. The boy's legs gave out and he fell to the ground, sliding himself backward and pointing up in horror. The rest looked, screams resonated through the streets as the children fled into the condensed jungle of huts.

    “Mnnm” he groaned, a slushy sound coming from the hole at the bottom of his head. So close.

    He walked straight, took a left then a quick right. The women knitting on their rocking chairs or reading poetry screamed as he passed. The men either ran for arms or ran to the church. Most who saw him had a soiled pair of ropa interior to clean later.


    A shop stood quietly at the end of the road. He smiled, or should I say his cheeks grew fat. He had no mouth to smile with. He stepped up to the shop and walked inside the door, a bell dinged overhead. It was a rustic shop, he barely remembered it. Black and white pictures hanged on the wall, antique guns were mounted, on the shelves were cactus plants in ceramic pots. Yes, he remembered very well indeed.

    He stepped up to the counter and rang a brass bell.

    “Un segundo” an old, raspy voice called from the back room. Juan tapped the bone tips of his fingers against the counter top, trying to mimic horse-gallops. They came out slow and unarticulated, almost comical. He stopped when the double swinging doors behind the counter creaked open and a wrinkled, aged man with thick glasses walked out, nose buried in a paperback.

    “Hola,” he said, then looking up, his eyes wide with suprise.

    “Um. Que?” he questioned, his voice wobbly. Juan smelt something fecal, and it wasn't his breath this time.

    “Uhguguhugh,” Juan tried to say, but thick streams of saliva were the only things that came from the hole in his neck. He scratched his head in thought, then flattened one hand and scribbled an invisible pen with the other.

    “Um.” the old man fumbled beneath the counter, finally producing a fountain pen and a legal pad. Juan made a high whining noise of delight and seized the items. The old man watched in surprise as Juan scribbled wildly, like a madman. Juan looked over his writing with yellow, waterless eyes and turned the pad to the man. In big, childish letters, it read:

    Un cigarro, por favor
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Lauren - Saturdays in Donnie Brook Glen

    The pale yellow disc of the moon hung low over the sleepy village of Callowvale one still summer night. The ardent August sun had made the working day long in the valley, and the villagers slumbered peacefully in their modest little homes. Only one small window retained the glow of an evening candle.

    Beatrice found it much too difficult to stay in bed on nights like this in the summer, when the wooded vale echoed with the symphony of crickets and mockingbirds and possibility. So instead, she sat at her window reading tales of enchantment, pausing from time to time to gaze into the murmuring dark.

    Beatrice was tired the next morning as she helped her mother with breakfast, smiling sleepily as she watched her dance about the kitchen, bouncing baby Jack on her hip as she went. Beatrice’s mother was lovely to watch on a Saturday morning, for she had a dear friend on the far side of the valley, and Saturday mornings, while their husbands would fish, it was their custom to take breakfast together and sit and keep company well into the afternoon.

    Beatrice struggled to keep up with her mother. Bleary-eyed, she boiled the water for coffee, and just as she had set the kettle, and was leaning against the sink for a rest, there came a knock at the door. In walked Amanda, and the room was full of light.

    Beatrice loved those first few moments when Amanda would arrive. She loved to watch as her mother’s face would soften, how her sharp eyes filled with appreciation at the sight of her dear friend. And Amanda would reach out her arms toward her mother’s face, both women radiating joy, till their foreheads met. In those first few moments every Saturday for the past few months, Beatrice took care to keep her eyes on the happy women, for she knew that should she look away, she’d catch the eye of the little figure in the shadow behind Amanda.

    Beatrice had known Amanda’s son Beckett for as long as she could remember. They were great childhood friends, and every Saturday, with Beckett’s dog Joe, they used to walk the path into the woods. When they reached a scraggly patch of elderberry bushes on the left, they headed south ninety-seven paces till they reached the grassy little clearing through which runs the babbling Donnie Brook on its way to the river not three miles off. There they used to spend their Saturdays, and they called the place Donnie Brook Glen.

    Such fun would they have in Donnie Brook Glen! They would sit on the banks and braid dandelion crowns, and they were Sir Beckett and Lady Beatrice of the woodnymphs and the elves! But these days Beckett didn’t care much for anything but the Cavalry, and Cavalry Men don’t wear dandelions.

    When their mothers’ embrace at last dissolved, the children were nudged forward to receive each other, and then encouraged to start off for the glen. Beckett was quiet as they set out, fiddling with his slingshot as he walked. Beatrice, at once invigorated by the morning air, ignored his sulking and pranced happily ahead of him, marveling at the light of the sun in the trees and the dew on the grass and the songs of the birds. For as sleepy as the village was, the forest around it was constantly humming with life. And ahead of Beatrice trotted old Joe.

    In her Dance of Thanksgiving down the forest path, Beatrice happened upon a wild mushroom so red and robust, she couldn’t contain her amusement, and called out “Beckett! Come see! Suppose it’s the home of a dwarf!” And before she’d but turned her head, the thing was destroyed, taken down by a stone launched with all but the precision of a Cavalry Man by none other than Beckett himself.

    They continued in silence to the glen, and Beatrice kept company with Joe, patting him on the head as she walked. When they reached the little hollow, they fell down in the grass and sat for a time without speaking. Donnie Brook gurgled along pleasantly and Joe drank deeply of the cool water before flopping down and drifting to sleep to the tune of some distant insect’s mating call. The forest was old, and the canopy of the trees ringing the glen stretched far into the sky above them.

    On the bank of the brook, in the middle of the clearing, stood a small and meager crabapple tree the pair had planted there one Saturday as much younger children. The sapling had to fight for light so far below the trees around it, but the clearing was wide enough to give the it at least five steady hours a day, when the sun was at its highest, and slowly the tree had grown.

    The two once coveted the fruit of their little tree, but when Beckett tired of lying in the grass, he took up using the trunk of it for target practice. “Beckett! Stop!” Beatrice cried.

    “Beatrice, you really must start behaving more like a grown-up,” Beckett said scornfully. “What use have I for those wormy little apples? The tree is of better use as a target. It’s only sensible. Besides, I have to get good if I’ve any hope of joining the Cavalry Men.”

    “Why is it that you so long to run off with the Cavalry, Beckett?” Beatrice asked. “What is so wonderful about war that you should choose it over a sweet Saturday in Donnie Brook Glen?”

    “What is so wonderful about this glen, Beatrice, this glen that we have toiled in for countless Saturdays, that it should keep you from choosing to see the what lies beyond the hills of our little valley? There is more to life than that with which you are familiar!” he fired back, and at this Beatrice was wounded.

    “I should like to see the world,” said she, in a small voice. “But I am only a child. My days of play are numbered. I shall see the world when I am grown.” And with that, she sat on the bank with her back to him, weaving together the long, flat reeds that grow along the brook.

    Beckett watched as her fingers patiently worked the reeds, and he began to feel sorry. He didn’t apologize, of course, but he thought it’d do just the same to lean over her shoulder and ask what she was making.

    “It’s a reed flute,” she said curtly. “Cavalry men have no use for them, but the woodnymphs do.”

    “The woodnymphs?”

    “I read this story last night,” Beatrice explained, “where the woodnymphs fashioned flutes from the reeds, and upon it played a song of kinship, so the Spirit of the Forest would know it was among friends, and show itself.”

    “I see.”

    “Fine if you don’t believe me, I’ll play it myself,” Beatrice said. And Beckett rolled his eyes and said, “I’m sorry, Beatrice. Let me play.” Beatrice thrilled at this small apology, and proudly held the delicate flute up to Beckett’s mouth.

    “See where these reeds meet? Place this part ever so gently between your lips, and then buzz into it. They need to vibrate.” Beckett did as he was told, and after a few minutes of practicing, he had managed to slide his finger along the underside of the reed to produce different pitches. He played a little march that sounded an awful lot like a Cavalry number, and then wistfully returned the flute to Beatrice.

    As she took the flute in hand, Beatrice surveyed the wooded scope, watching for something to happen. Her face slowly fell as the forest around her remained unchanged. Beckett put his arm around her, then removed it, and finally settled on sitting just a bit closer. “Don’t be sad, Beatrice,” he said. “It was just a story. You didn’t really believe anything would happen, did you?”

    But Beatrice was crushed. “Of course I believed it. Magic never works if you can’t believe in it.” And with that, she began to feel a little better, for she had yet to try the flute. She held it to her lips, and after several flatulent attempts at a melody and much laughter from Beckett, she gave up on the thing. She was feeling quite humiliated and trying hard not to show it, when the limbs of the crabapple tree over head gave a rustle, sending a little apple down hard, right on Beckett’s head!

    Beatrice laughed in spite of herself, and Beckett began as well. Even Joe looked up and seemed amused! But under the sound of the children’s laughter was a third voice, quiet but distinct. The two looked up in amazement to see the tree, gently shaking with laughter! A branch dipped low near Beatrice and a warm, crackly voice spoke softly in her ear. “Serves him right,” the Tree said, and continued chuckling quietly to himself. Beatrice, thrilled, wheeled about and threw her arms round its trunk. “Oh!” she gasped, “Are you really real?”

    “Course he’s not!” cried Beckett, becoming alarmed. “Phantasmagoria, that’s all,” he says, rubbing his head where the apple hit. “Cause and effect. It’s common sense.”

    “You may have forgotten, Beckett, but you are the only one who has recently sustained any head injury!” Beatrice retorted, turning back to the tree. “Oh please forgive him! Do come back, Tree, he didn’t mean it.”

    “Did too,” Beckett muttered, frustrated.

    “Sounds like he meant it,” the Tree said softly to the Beatrice, who was utterly relieved he hadn’t been too offended to stay. Beckett gave his head a good shake and stared blinkingly at the girl and the tree. Slowly, he rose and stood before them.

    “Tree,” the boy said, in his best attempt to make reason, “how can you expect me to believe you have come to life? It isn’t possible.”

    “Oh?” said the Tree, who laughed again.

    “If you ask ME,” came a voice from across the glen, “you’re in danger.” And Beckett stared gape-mouthed at his loyal old dog, Joe. “Though I’m just a dog, incapable of appreciating all the shadowy complexities of life, as a child might, at least I delight in the grass, in the wind, in the feeling of the cool, damp earth beneath my feet. You’re in danger, Beckett. When you try to grow too quickly, you’re in danger of outgrowing your soul.”

    Beckett looked down, ashamed. And while he was looking down, he took notice of the grass between his toes. He wiggled them, and began to giggle. The grass began to dance out in waves at his feet, and a few feet off he spotted a clump of dandelions. Running to them, he picked a fistful and sat at the bank of the brook. Old Joe gave a crooked smile, and the wildflowers sighed as the little crabapple tree chuckled approvingly at the boy, who had begun weaving his dandelions together into chains. His companion began picking dandelions, too, and brought her load over to the boy, and there the two sat, fashioning chains and combining them until they’d created two crowns, and a bracelet for Beatrice from what was left over.

    And sitting with their heads encircled and their feet in the water, Beckett said to Beatrice, “I still can’t believe our little tree speaks, Lady Beatrice!” And Beatrice smiled and said to her friend:

    “Believing can come as easily to you as it did when we were small, but you must take care to remember: ‘There’s more to life than that with which you are familiar.’ Sir.” And she slid down the bank into the swirling water of the brook, pulling the Beckett in after her.
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Hunter B. - The Irregular Tree

    I’ve encountered many mysterious things in my short past, but this one event that a good friend of mine told me about is extremely out of the ordinary.

    So our story starts one sunny summer day in the undersized town of Jackson, in an even more undersized house ran and owned by Ms. Shane.

    Ms. Shane was a young appealing lady. She was the son to a dinky little boy named Jethro. Jethro had a nonstop mob of straight shiny blond hair. He was a charming young boy for his age. Him and Ms. Shane were a precious little family.

    “I’m bored,” said Jethro in a whiny voice that was as annoying as nails on a chalkboard.

    “ hmm, were running low on fruit, you mind going and picking me some nice fresh apples dear,” said Ms. Shane in a affectionate voice.

    “sure,” he said in a careless voice.

    So Jethro carried his delicate and small legs to the forest of Jackson. It looked very vague and gloomy. With all his courage, he entered anyways. Jethro didn’t know at the time that he would encounter one the most horrid and most unique journey of his life!

    He constantly searched and searched till he found the most magnificent and most juiciest apples in the whole of forest.

    He reached for the most supreme apple on the tree, but all of a sudden the tree appeared to have two evil and mysterious eyes that peered at him as if he was dinner. Jethro’s puny body went numb.

    “May I ask why your picking my delightful apples youngling,” said the tree in a very deep raspy voice.

    Jethro gasped. He was shocked. It was like his eyes had popped out of their sockets. He was so astonished right now. How could a tree talk and have eyes?

    The trees face got more solid then it already was. He wanted an answer from Jethro, and he wanted it instantly.

    The tree was now steadily approaching Jethro. At that very moment, he instantly took a run for it. He was out of the forest like a race horse finishing a gigantic race.

    He was terrified to the max. There was no other way to put it.

    Jethro had to tell someone about this lunatic tree. Who could he tell though? Everyone would think he was a nut case if he told them about the irregular tree.

    He decided to tell the courageous guards of the Jackson castle. They would sure be able to deal with this massacre. He was off at a full sprint to them about his insane story.

    As he approached the castle, he now got very fearful about telling the guards about the tree. What if they didn’t believe him? He had to stop thinking negative and start thinking the complete opposite.

    He was now in talking distance of the majestic guards. They carried sharp deadly axes in their hands that could kill at anyone at ease with a simple strike to the head.
    Jethro got even closer now.

    “what do you want,” said the greatest of the three guards.

    “I saw something very irregular in the woods, a moving tree,” said Jethro with much concern in his voice.

    All the men instantly burst out in rambunctious laughs. They didn’t believe him Jethro sensed a feel of anger go through his body.

    “please come look at it.” He demanded.

    “where,” said the lead guard without much concern in shallow voice.

    “Jackson forest.”

    The guards nudged Jethro with the lowermost point of his axe to lead the way to the mysterious moving tree. He was frightened but came up with enough courage deep down in his young and undeveloped body to lead them.

    He approached the forest and submerged closer and closer into its depth. They were just about there to the inanimate tree.

    “right here,” said Jethro said with concern and agony in his voice.

    The guards started cracking up hysterically. They thought this was a game. It was like Jethro was the entertainment at the party and they were thrilled by him. This really got under his tender skin.

    All of a sudden the trees eye opened very quickly and they widened to the size of golf balls. The guards had now stop laughing. There faces now showed concern and dismay.

    The distinctive tree quickly whacked the three disturbed guards and they soared many feet. Jethro couldn’t help but laugh. He had showed the guards that he wasn’t lying, he was feeling overjoyed now, but at the very same moment frightened at the tree.
    The tree gave him a ghastly look saying get out of here or your next. Jethro quickly sprinted out the forest just as the started guards had just done.

    When out of the forest, the guards didn’t say a word to him. They were surely embraced that they had been showed up by a thirteen year old boy. Jethro happily skipped all the way home with a wide grin on his face.

    Jethro got home and not one word came up about this subject for eternity. It was sealed in His limited mind forever.

    Jethro never ended up getting any apples. He did however have some warped memories in his mind now for perhaps forever and he could now tell about the tale of the inanimate tree.
  6. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Josh Atlas - Garbage Is Inanimate

    “Ugh”. The awful taste still in his mouth, he reached up hastily and flushed the toilet. While getting back to his feet, he visualized how he wanted tonight’s events to go. You see, tonight was a special night, as suggested by the vomit he had just expelled from his body. It was as nerve racking as it was exciting, and even if it ended in complete failure, he still had his friends behind him.

    Immediately after leaving the bathroom he heard “Aww… baby need a bib?” from one of his said friends. Apparently a bib would have been convenient, since there was some remaining excrement on his shirt.

    “Shut up man, I just don’t know what to expect out there. I’m so nervous.”

    “I still don’t see why. It’s not the end of the world if you do awful.” A rare statement of reassurance from the jerk who had mocked him earlier. The thought of D.P. already trying to make him feel better brought up even more worries.

    “You must really think I will do terrible.” He replied, half serious and half fishing for compliments. “I mean, I don’t have much previous success to fall back on”.

    “Yeah, bu-“

    “And I look like an idiot. Seriously how did I make myself look like this on purpose before I left my house?”

    “You’ll be fine, besides, this isn’t a modeling contest.”

    D.P. was right. He was here in hopes of making people laugh by employing a skill that he hadn’t worked at, but hoped to receive benefits from anyway. That was much better than those talentless models, he hopelessly justified in his head, completely unaware that his looks would end up bailing him out.

    “You are like the funniest person out of all of us.” D.P. continued his pep-talk “Just say and do the same things you do when we’re all out partying.”

    Fifteen minutes until his half-assed preparation and public delivery came to a head. Now he could feel the confidence coursing through his veins. That last piece of advice from D.P. really stuck with him, and doomed the rest of us…

    Five minutes until either his worst fears or wildest dreams were justified. With every second that passed he was rehearsing every last detail in his head. He mumbled his puns and witty insights to himself over and over, making sure he didn’t come off as unprepared as he was.

    “Can I get a drink?” he choked out to the bartender. At least if he was drunk he wouldn’t notice the bombing that would happen on stage. Without D.P. there to give him a confidence boost, he decided that since it was his first time he probably would fail. This helped ease the nerves a little bit, and gave him his biggest strength. Now there were no limits. If he knew he was going to fail, why not just do whatever he thought was funny? After all, a career in comedy was not right for him. It’s just too stressful.

    “And our next comic…”

    “Oh!” he managed to exclaim while gulping the last of his drink. He made his way up to the stage as he felt everyone’s eyes on him. The attention didn’t bother him as much as he thought it would. Must have drank a Steel Reserve.

    “…Dane Cook!!!”

    “Yeah Dane!!!!” D.P. yelled from the back. One more cheer than he expected to get. Or deserved to get, for that matter.

    He felt every punch line he had planned for that night ball up and cutoff the air in his throat. With no jokes or metaphors to fall back on, he made a random statement and moved around a lot. A few people responded. Being the attentive person he is, Dane noticed this, and said more random things. Now he was completely animated falling all over the stage saying things that no one would laugh at sober. Fortunately, he was at a bar. On top of that, the ladies were distracted by his looks, and thus he had the perfect formula for success. His looks plus random sentences coupled with animation all over the stage equaled popularity. It was the culmination of no talent and reckless disregard for intelligence. And that is how that piece of garbage came to life.
  7. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    x_raichelle_x - It wasn't me, it was the knife!

    It’s interesting, you know. In many other languages, inanimate objects have a gender; I remember my French teacher drumming this into us back in school. We laughed at the time, thinking it was impossible for a table to be feminine and a book to be masculine. Now, I know that not only do these objects have a gender, but they have personalities.

    Take the knife which killed my husband, Graham, as an example. She was scheming, conniving, very charming – definitely female. I’d known for some time that she was going to cause trouble, her wit was as sharp as her blade and her beauty glinted in the sunlight, but this didn’t fool me.

    Quite often I’d be peeling potatoes whilst making Grahams tea, and I’d hear a whisper “He’s seeing Lynne from the office; I can’t see why you pretend you don’t know about them. You know all the neighbours are talking about it. Probably the people from work too… I daresay I can’t blame him though, have you seen the state of your hair lately? And those crow’s feet around your eyes! Lynne had had Botox recently; she wouldn’t be caught dead with wrinkles…”.

    I’d pretend I couldn’t hear her, the same way I’d sing along with the radio to stop the vacuum cleaner from humming “Faaaaaat…faaaaat…you’re so fat…” as I pushed him up and down the dining room carpet. The vacuum cleaner was a funny thing; he’d be quite happy to clean all the crumbs up off my carpet, but at the same time he’d be pointing out my less than svelte figure which I could see in the reflection of his body. He was male through and through; nit-picking the little things, whilst also undermining my self-esteem, the same way my husband had done every day for the last thirteen years.

    Graham had left for work one morning, slamming the door on his way out as usual. He couldn’t understand why I had stopped smiling, and why the touch of him repulsed me. I couldn’t exactly tell him that the full length mirror in our bedroom had been able to replay me the images of him and Lynne writhing on the bed, and had recounted to me the number of times they had made love while I was doing the shopping.

    The mirror was my worst enemy; she had the attitude of my mother-in-law, with the passive-aggressive comments. “Oh, is the eighties style frizz back in fashion then? No? Oh, my mistake! And is that grey bags under your eyes? Might just be the light but if I was you I’d get some foundation on.” She was there just to make me feel bad, and she did a good job.

    By the time he’d came back at half past five, I’d had to endure torments from the telephone, who had kept pretending Graham was on the line calling to tell me he wasn’t coming home; the washing machine who was laughing at my naivety of washing Grahams gym clothes, when quite clearly the only work out he’d had meant wearing no clothes at all; and the romance novel I had sat down to read, who took great joy in parading happy couples in front of me although she knew as well as I did my marriage was a sham.

    I was just listening to more taunts from my kitchen knife, when Graham sauntered through the door to ask where his gym t-shirt was as he fancied a quick work out before tea. This was the last straw. I screamed “That’s it! I have had enough!” and for once, the knife took my side. She knew exactly what to do. Jumping out of my hand, across the kitchen, she flew right into him. With perfect aim, my kitchen knife stabbed my husband in the heart. Even as I saw it happen, I knew I’d been had. I wouldn’t hurt a fly, never mind my husband, but the police wouldn’t see it this way. Looking at my wedding ring, the only thing in the house which had kept me sane, but now nothing more than a piece of metal, I broke down. The inanimate objects, with their constant criticism and hurtful taunts, had won. And I would be taking the blame, after all - inanimate objects don't come to life, do they?
  8. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    SMcKenzie - The Root of All Evil

    “I’ll raise you fifty,” said Charles, tossing his chips onto the middle of the table.

    The man on the opposite side of him studied his cards, his brow furrowed as he thought about his next move.

    “Here’s your fifty, and I’ll put another hundred on top of that,’ he said, his chips already rolling to the stack in front of him.

    Charles felt a flutter of excitement, staring at his three aces and at the pile of money. He called the bet, tossing in the required chips.

    “I got a pair of threes,” said the man, tossing his cards onto the table to show his mediocre hand.

    “What the hell?” said Charles, laughing out loud, tossing down his aces, “you put down all that money for a pair of threes?”

    The man looked happy, almost relieved.

    “Well, I didn’t think you would call my bluff,” he said, pulling out his wallet. “I’m gonna call it a night fellas, here’s the cash I owe.”

    The man tossed some cash onto the table, a one hundred dollar bill fluttered to the top of the pile. He stared at his money, an awkward look on his face, then hurried out of the door. The rest of the players were gathering their things as well, all moaning in disapproval as they added to the pile of money.

    Charles scooped up his winnings with a feeling of accomplishment.

    “Well gentlemen, it’s time to call it a night I guess,” he said, pocketing the bills and grabbing his coat. “Till next time.”

    They all said their farewells, and Charles got into his truck. He was pondering what he could buy with his winnings; beer, cigarettes, maybe a nice gift for the wife.

    “You can’t spend me that easily,” said a voice from within his head, “I won’t let you.”

    Charles hit his brakes, his truck skidding to a halt on the desolate road. He checked the back seat, expecting to find one of his buddies playing a trick or something.

    There was nothing back there except for some dirty old work boots and old fast food wrappers.

    “I’m right here,” said the voice again, “in your pocket.”

    “Ok Charles,” he said out loud to himself, “you shoulda passed on that joint.”

    “This is no hallucination Charles,’ said the voice, “you’re stuck with me until I see fit.”

    He dug into his pockets and emptied the contents onto the passenger seat. He was staring at his wad of cash, a one hundred dollar bill lying on top. He still didn’t understand what was going on, scratching his head staring at the green paper.

    “You can call me Ben,” said the voice, the face of Benjamin Franklin smiling at him widely.

    Charles stared down at the money, still telling himself that he was intoxicated, just needed to get home and sleep it off. The face on the bill got angry, the mouth transforming into a frown.

    “This is getting boring,” said Ben, “let’s do something fun!”

    “Please stop talking,” said Charles, rubbing his temples with is forefingers, “I just need some sleep.”

    “I don’t wanna play this game,’ said Ben, “stop at the next gas station, I’ll prove to you that this is real.”

    Charles figured he needed a cup of coffee anyway, so he drove on, pulling into the parking lot of a Shell station. He looked over at the bill, the face smiling again.

    “Now just march on in there and use me to pay,” said Ben, “that’s all, just hand me on over to the clerk.”

    Charles did as he was instructed, first pouring himself a black cup of coffee, the aroma soothing his head. He strolled over to the clerk, slapping the bill on the counter.

    “Don’t got change for that mister,” said the clerk, pushing the bill back to Charles.

    “Uh, ok, no problem,” said Charles, shoving his hand into his pocket for another bill.

    “I don’t want no trouble now,” said the elderly cashier, his hands moving under the counter.

    “There’s no trouble, just looking for a smaller bill,” said Charles, staring over at the man. Ben’s smile was different, like he was laughing.

    “Careful now Charles, I tend to bring out the worst in people,” the voice echoed in his head.

    “You just get the **** outta my store!” said the clerk, pointing a black pistol at Charles. The clerk had a wild look to him, staring intensely at Charles.

    Charles was backing up to the door now, his hands in the air. He had never seen anything quite like this before. He opened the glass door behind him, a gust of wind ruffling his hair and blowing into the store. The bill lying on the counter was lifted by the wind, fluttering into the air. The bill floated towards Charles, doing a loop in the air, and then settling on the top of Charles’ shoe. The green face was smiling up at him.

    “Don’t forget me now Charles.”

    Charles reached down and picked it up, slamming it back into his pocket. The clerk was still holding his gun steady, watching as Charles climbed into his truck and pulled away.

    “What the **** was that all about?!” he yelled out loud, driving again towards his house.

    “I told you,” said Ben, “now lets do something fun before I get upset.”

    Charles could feel his head thumping, like his brain was trying to escape the confines of his skull. All he wanted was to climb into bed, and forget this nightmare, but the bill was persistent.

    “I want you to take a left right up here,” said Ben, the bill somehow lying on Charles’ lap, escaping his pants pocket.

    “And what’s up that way?”

    “Oh, you’ll find out, just a little something to liven things up a bit.”

    Charles did what he was told to do, following Ben’s directions into a broken down neighborhood. He noticed people standing at the corners, all staring as his truck rolled by.

    “Stop right up here, and wait for someone to come to the window.”

    Charles followed the orders, throwing his truck in park. He was only sitting there for a couple of minutes before a scrawny black man was knocking at his window. Charles hesitated, looking down at the bill, the eyes staring up at him angrily.

    “Open the ****ing window Charles,” said Ben, every syllable he spoke making Charles’ head pound harder.

    Charles rolled down the window, now face to face with the stranger.

    “What you need?” asked the man, looking in all directions as he awaited his answer.

    Charles just stared at him, not knowing why the hell they were there. He looked down at his lap, the bill looking up at him.

    “Tell him you want an eight ball, and you better hurry cuz he’s losing his patience.”

    Charles told him what Ben said, the man staring at him with confusion and suspicion.

    “You five o nigga?” he asked, his lip curling into a snarl.

    “What?” said Charles, confused at the turn the conversation had taken.

    “You a motha ****in pig?”

    “No, not at all, I just need an eight ball,” he said, aware of how awkward he sounded. He had never bought an eight ball, didn’t even know what it was.

    The man eyed him up and down, and then nodded his head.

    “Hold up right here,” he said, hastily walking towards the alley just ahead of them. Charles could see him kneel down and grab something, and then was headed back towards the truck. He handed Charles a small Ziploc bag, a white substance inside. Charles knew at that moment what was going on, and his fear escalated.

    “Where the cash at?” said the man, standing on the tips of his toes to peer into the truck.

    “Go ahead, hand me over to him Charles,” said Ben, a mischievous look on the bill’s face.

    Charles thought about the clerk, and hesitated. He thought also that maybe this was his chance to get rid of the hundred. He handed over the bill to the man, and started rolling up his window. He threw the truck into drive, and was about to start heading home when his drivers window shattered, shards of glass raining down on him. He was staring at a gun, pointed directly at his nose.

    “Get yo bitch ass out the car!” yelled the man, pulling Charles by his collar and onto the pavement. Ben was laughing hysterically, the man still gripping the bill.

    “What’s the problem?!” said Charles, his eyes on the gun. His hands were bleeding from the shattered glass on the ground around him.

    “You think I’m stupid motha ****er? What the **** is this ****?” he said, tossing the bill to land on the ground next to Charles.

    “It’s money,” said Charles, his whole body shaking as he stared up at the aggressive man. “If it’s not enough, I got more in the truck.”

    The man walked over to the pickup, searching the interior, all the while his gun aimed at Charles. He snickered as he found the rest of the poker winnings, stuffing the money into his pocket.

    “Aight nigga, I’m gonna let you go,” he said, placing the gun at the waist of his pants, “but you ever come round here again, you dead.”

    “No problem, you won’t ever…”

    The man’s foot collided with the bottom of Charles’ chin, sending him flying backwards. He felt the broken glass under him as the man continued to pummel him with kicks. Blood was running from his face, his body aching all over. The man was laughing as he ran away, disappearing into the dark alley. Charles sat up, propping himself against the truck. He felt something hard in his mouth, and he spit it out onto the ground. His tooth went rattling against the pavement, blood running more freely from his gums.

    “Now that was fun!” said Ben, the voice in his head making Charles squint in pain.

    “What the **** do you want from me?”

    “Nothing, just want to have some fun.”

    Charles was forcing himself up now, crawling into his truck. His body was aching all over, blood still dribbling from his lips.

    Charles realized that the baggie was still in his pocket. He pulled it out, not knowing what to do with it.

    “Crush it up and lay it out on the dash,” said Ben, his voice getting anxious.

    Charles obeyed his orders, a pile of white powder lying in front of him. He had never messed with hard drugs, was clueless of what to do next.

    “Now pick me up, and snort it,” said Ben, already rolled into a tubular shape.

    Charles didn’t want to do this, just sat there looking at the powder in front of him.

    “Do it now, you don’t wanna piss me off.”

    Charles picked up the straw, put one end into his nose, and sniffed. The burning sensation made him drop the bill to the ground. He was grimacing as the drugs made their way into his system; his nostril and eyeball were burning.

    “Oh hell yeah, you feelin it Charles?” said Ben, unrolled and laying on the seat next to Charles.

    Charles realized that his headache was diminishing, a wave of euphoria sweeping over his body. A small smile crept onto his face.

    “Aha! See, I knew we could have some fun!” said Ben, rolled up again and sitting in Charles’ lap. “Let’s do one more, than we can move on to the next activity.”

    Charles picked up the bill again, taking in another nose full of powder. He lay back in his seat, the pain in his body diminishing.

    “**** yeah,” said Ben, “now lets keep driving.”

    “Can I ask you something?” said Charles out loud, the hundred lay limply on the seat. The truck was heading to their next destination, the money leading the way.

    “As long as it’s not boring.’

    “Why are you doing this?” asked Charles, glancing down at the cash, “Why did you let me take you in the first place, you could have stayed with that other guy?”

    “Because I got out of him everything I needed,” said Ben, the eyes of the face looking directly at Charles, “and he got really boring.”

    “So when are you gonna get bored with me?”

    “That is yet to be known.”

    Charles felt his pocket vibrating, his cell phone alerting him of an incoming call. He pulled out the phone, the display showing his wife’s name. He flipped it open, took a deep breath, and put it to his ear.

    “Charles, where the hell are you?”

    “It’s a long story honey, but I’ll be home as soon as I can.’

    “I just called Jerry, and he told me you left over an hour ago. Where the hell are you?”

    “I can’t explain right now, but I promise you have nothing to worry about.”

    “Please,” she said, “don’t let me hold you back!” and hung up.

    “Uh-oh Charlie boy, looks like the missus is upset,” said Ben, laughing loudly.

    “Where the **** are we going now?” asked Charles, his patience just about up. The drugs were still in his system, and he was struggling to drive.

    “Just right up here, just park the truck by that curb there,” said Ben, the truck pulling to a stop.

    “You see that lady over there?”

    Charles saw a woman, waving to passing cars, her outfit giving away her profession.

    “No ****ing way, forget it!”

    “You really wanna test me Charles?”

    “You can’t do ****!” yelled Charles, grabbing the bill to be face to face with it, “I don’t know why I’ve been listening to you in the first place!”

    Charles slammed his foot onto the gas, driving away from the woman. He could feel Ben’s displeasure within his skull.

    “Alright Charlie boy, I warned you.”

    Charles screamed in pain, the truck rolling until finally resting against a curb. His head was thumping violently, like it could split at any moment. He was thrashing in his seat, shrieking out loud, the pain unbearable. Blood was dripping from his nostrils, running from his ears. As suddenly as it started, the blinding pain stopped. Charles was trying to catch his breath, sweat beading on his forehead.

    “That was nothing Charles, take a look outside.”

    Charles looked out of his window, his vision still blurry. There were people staring at the truck, their faces contorted as they made their way towards him. Charles looked down at the smiling face on the bill, still trying to shake off the previous attack.

    “Get outta the truck!” one of the men yelled, slamming his fists onto the hood. The others were starting to surround him now, pure rage in their eyes.

    “Alright God damn it!” yelled Charles, “just make it stop!”

    “I can’t make it stop,” said Ben, chuckling at his handiwork, “you better do something about this Charles, they look pretty angry.”

    The man was reaching into the broken window, trying to get a hold on
    Charles, his finger nails scraping against the seat. The others were starting to rock the truck, all the while Ben was laughing wildly.

    Charles slammed the truck into drive, and sped off, people rolling in the street behind him. He could see them chasing after him, cursing him out loud as he sped away.

    “Woo Hoo! I knew you had some fun in you Charles!”

    Charles said nothing, just kept driving. He was growing very tired of Ben, was ready to end this night.

    “Pull over, I need another hit,” said Ben, rolling himself into his tube form.

    Charles found a good area to stop, and laid out more powder. He lifted the bill to his nose, and then quickly tossed it out of the window, slamming his foot onto his gas pedal. He could see it bouncing on the pavement as he laughed out loud.

    “**** you Ben!”

    Charles was very pleased with himself, rolling down the road towards his home. He noticed that his headache was fading away as he distanced himself from the hundred. He was already trying to figure out what to tell his wife, what kind of story he would make up. He couldn’t very well tell her that a living, drug addicted one hundred dollar bill keeping him hostage.

    He felt his migraine slowly returning as he saw flashing lights pulling up behind him. He quickly dusted off his dash, stashing the baggie in his pocket. He pulled over to the side of the road, taking a deep breath as the officer approached him.

    “What happened here?” asked the officer, staring at the shattered window.

    “Just some damn kids or something,” said Charles, trying to hold his composure, “bet they were mad when they didn’t find anything inside.”

    The officer smiled at him, “Yeah, I bet so.”

    “Is there a problem officer?”

    “Not at all, just wanted to return this to you.”

    Charles felt numb, his palms were sweating as he gripped the steering wheel. The officer handed him the bill, the face was smiling again.

    “Nice try Charles, but you can’t get rid of me that easily.”

    Suddenly, the officer was looking at Charles with a new expression, his hand moving toward his hip.

    Charles put his hands in the air, trying his best not to look threatening. He could hear Ben laughing in his head.

    “Please sir, I just want to go home,” said Charles, his lip quivering. The officer smiled at him, pulling out a pen and notepad.

    “Just call this number to report that window,” he said, handing him the sheet of paper, “you take it easy now.”

    “You going to jail wouldn't be much fun for me,” said Ben, the bill once again lying in the passenger seat.

    The officer got into his car, and waved as he passed. Charles was stunned, his body shaking. He looked over at Ben, the wrinkled green paper mocking him.

    “Go back to the hooker Charlie, this night is just gettin started.”

    Charles reached over and grabbed the bill, ripping in it half, then ripping the pieces in half. He was screaming out loud as he did this, tearing the bill into tiny bits. He threw it into the air like confetti, laughing as they floated to the ground. He could hear a faint laughter in his head, but it eventually faded away.

    He couldn't believe it worked. It never occurred to him to just destroy the money, but he guessed Ben probably had something to do with that. He started driving towards home, ready to be with his wife and forget the entire night.

    He parked the truck in the driveway, jumping out of it with anticipation. As soon as he walked in the door, his wife was standing there, a look of frustration on her face.

    “What's going on Charles?” she asked, looking directly into his eyes.

    “It's nothing sweetheart, I promise,” he said, “I just drank too much, got sick in the car and had to pull over.”

    She looked at him suspiciously, one eyebrow higher on her forehead. Her arms were crossed as he continued to explain himself.

    “Then while I was puking on the side of the road, some jackass threw something at my window, completely shattered it,” he said, trying his best to look pathetic, “it's pretty much been the worst night of my life.”

    Her expression softened, holding out her arms and laughing. She hugged him, still giggling as they embraced.

    “Well, I have a bit of good news,” she said, walking away from him towards her purse, “I won a hundred bucks on a scratch off today.”

    Charles felt his stomach drop as his wife waved the bill at him.

    “Hey Charlie boy!”
  9. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Mystery Meat - The Dead Man's Hand

    'I should warn you,' she said, shuffling the deck between two savagely manicured hands. 'These cards are capricious and should not be trusted.'

    I nodded impatiently, rubbing my hands together over the frayed tablecloth. The drive from Richmond was difficult in a car with no heating and poor suspension. My back hurt, I was exhausted beyond measure and, though the fair would continue for the rest of this long weekend, I could not have waited another day to find a hotel and rest.

    Her name tag read 'Tabitha' on cracked plastic, the logo of a large supermarket chain scratched out with a knife or pin. It was likely scavenged from a dumpster somewhere on the long road to this place. Her name might be Tabitha today, but two months ago it was 'Gwen' and before that, 'Patricia'. I had dogged her trail across the country for nearly two years. Sometimes she stayed in the same town or city for a month or two, reading fortunes on the street or from a shabby booth at a market. Sometimes she spent a night at a bar, reading fortunes for free. I did not track her by name, mind you, but by clues and innuendo. The fortunes she told were believable, attainable, and I tracked her through them. A posting on a dating site, a man asking after his soul-mate. "It is fate," he ended and my finger hovered over the button marked 'Reply', wondering whether I should ask how he knew. A personal advertisement in a Southern newspaper, a mother seeking news of her son, an old plea backed now with some crucial question. I did not interfere with that grief, just recognised the empty desperation, the impotent questing for a child long ago grown and likely dead.

    Slowly, using the newspapers which she read sporadically, the internet that she hardly knew existed and a tuned intuition, I sought her trail. I cut my hair in a room I rented by the hour, shaved in a men's room at a gas station. Her trail would grow cold every few months but never froze completely.

    'Have you been read before?' she asked with a flicker of a smile. She was not young but kept a quality of innocence about her. An aging hippy, unable to rely on the easy sensuality of youth, turning to spirituality and gypsy wildness to bring in the customers.

    'Does it matter?' I sounded petulant, a rube expecting the Carnie is about to cheat him somehow.

    Her smile was deeper this time, revealing bright teeth. 'If you haven't been read before then the cards will tell us about your past. If you have been read before then...' She waved one hand languidly as if to say that she had little say in the matter, that the cards themselves would know, would see through any lie I might tell. That was my fear.

    'The future?'

    Laughter. 'Yes,' she said. 'Each time you are read takes us further into the future. The cards will reveal a new aspect each time, they will not dwell on the same fate. It just won't work that way.'

    The past, then. This was what fuelled my search for her, but I was keen not to revisit it. My gaze stayed low, watched my hands. I had burnt them long ago, two years to be precise. A lifetime. The night my brother died.

    'How much?'

    'If we read the past, twenty dollars. If you want a reading for the future as well... Let's make it thirty-five all up.'

    I was silent for a moment. 'And for a third reading?'

    Her smile faded slightly, confusion tickling her features. 'It is not advised to have more than one future reading at a time,' she said slowly. 'You need time to consider, to give you the wisdom to understand the answers the cards give you.' Her smiled returned.

    'How much?' I asked again, my impatience beginning to show.

    She sighed, tossed her long hair in a gesture of an anger that she allowed to pass through her, from her. 'Make it fifty,' she said with the same gesture. 'Happy?'

    'Yes.' She had read for my brother three times though it had cost him much more than fifty dollars.



    'Then let's go.' Tabitha began to flick the cards down, four to a row, then three, then two. A final slap and the last card was placed face-up, the only such of those dealt. It's face showed a crescent moon, a face in peaceful repose. From the water beneath the moon crept three dark beasts, each with it's face upturned to the moon's.

    'The moon. You deceive. It is your defining characteristic.'

    For a moment I did not breathe. The cards were screaming a warning if only she would hear. To her the warning must sound shrill and panicked, a threat to her life and theirs. Or perhaps the warning was also for me, that the lies that I have told every day, the lies that have led me to her, have become an obsession, a mask I wear as easily as my face. If I ever doubted that the cards were alive, that doubt was gone. The cards could not help what they were, after all.

    She did not hear, however, and her hand moved quickly to the next row. Her eyes closed and she shivered delicately, tugging the garish shawl about her shoulders with her free hand. She turned the next card.

    'The Pope. You have an education and you have studied life itself. You hold others up to the same scrutiny that you would hold a book.'


    'The Fool. Your life has been thrown to the winds of fate. The absurd has become reality.'

    The first rows revealed she stopped, sniffed delicately. 'You are a learned man,' Tabitha said, more to the cards than to me. I imagined I detect the faintest traces of her original accent, sibilant and primitive. 'Do you know much about the art of Tarot?'

    I knew better than to lie. 'Some, my brother was far more interested in such things. I found them too... imprecise.' Something, perhaps the fate that the cards themselves sensed, urged me to add, 'My father also enjoyed fortune telling. He collected many books on the subject.'

    'But he never read the Tarot for you? As I said before this would mean that we talk of your future now, and not the past. I would misread the meanings which lead to danger.' She glanced up at me sharply.

    'No, he never read for me. I had no time for it then.'

    'How things change...'

    She turned the next card without speaking, and the next. Over the third she hesitated, pressed one long nail down upon it before flicking it over with a smooth twist of her wrist. I recognised them all. The Magician, inverted. The Hanged Man. The Tower.

    'Loss,' she said to herself. 'A letting go of wisdom? Hard times?' She studied the cards for a heartbeat before staring directly into my face. 'You have experienced loss, loss that has led you into folly.'

    I closed my eyes and calmed my breathing. I had known that I must undergo a reading to get close enough to her and risk lay in this approach. But, even though her steps were tentative, she had already begun to walk the path to the heart of the matter.

    'I hope that it is not folly that has led you to me,' she said.

    'My brother,' I whispered, eyes twisted shut. 'He died.'

    'Aah. The fallen brother, the sacrifice of your life on the alter of grief.'

    In my mind I saw my scorched hands, the burning hands of my brother. He was reaching out to me from the fire. The coroner said that he would not have felt the fire, the nerves would be burnt before they could respond to the pain. But his eyes were full of pain and he screamed in ragged bursts.

    My eyes flew open so that I could not see.

    'My, my,' she said, her voice deepening over the next card. 'Temperance. Grief did not hold you for long.' She was bent over the cards down, her hands claw-like as they crept from one to the next in anticipation. 'You bent yourself to action, but also to restraint.'

    'The Emperor. You became the action that you sought to undertake. Disciplined. Inflexible. Unstoppable. Judgment.'

    The sounds of the fair outside had grown dim and it seemed that the world contained only us three; myself, the reader and the tarot. Tabitha frowned at the last row, drawing her hands back as if reluctant to continue.

    'But why are you here?' she asked. 'Let us see.' She lifted the second last card with a swipe of a claw.

    'Death. Something ends here,' Tabitha said. 'A new beginning. It is an odd card to come second-to-last. We rarely need guidance once we have accepted change.' The frown returned and she reached towards the final card.

    I reached out and gently grasped her wrist, guiding it away from the card.

    'Leave it,' I said. 'Just leave it. I have my money here. Fifty dollars, as you asked.' I dropped a folded note on the table and reached back into my pocket. 'More if you want.'

    'But the reading isn't complete,' she said. 'The last card would reveal much about the choice you have made. Is it moral? Is it right? It would not tell the future but it would give you the insight to know...' She stopped, eyes widening in alarm.

    I still held her wrist with my left hand, my right held the tape-wrapped grip of my brother's pistol. She pulled at my grip but I held it tightly.

    'You read for my brother,' I said.

    'Did I?' she asked, glancing over my shoulder as if trying to see through the tent flaps. 'I have read for so many -'

    'You read for him, told him that his hard work was wasted, that he should throw his life to chance.' I bought the pistol forward so that the barrel would be before her, dark and clean. 'He left his studies, packed his inheritance and ran.'

    'Stephen. Your brother was Stephen.' She blinked rapidly and began to moan in lowing fear. 'God help me.'

    'You foresaw how he would end. He ran to the nearest casino. He bet his money. He went to the track, placed everything on chance.' I shook her wrist, as if to shake the truth into her. 'Everything!' I screamed.

    Tabitha was sobbing now; wrenching, silent sobs. Her head was shaking back and forth in mute terror.

    'Do you know how long it took me to get it all back? All the things that my father had collected throughout his life. He gave away his inheritance to bums at bus stops, to hookers and drunks! Priceless things, sacred things. Power that your small Cartomancy could never conceive.'

    'He had to turn his back,' she cried. 'Turn his back on you, on his inheritance. The cards -'

    'The cards what?' I screamed. 'What did the cards say? You could not imagine what he was, what we all were. But the cards knew!'

    'He had to save himself.' She shivered and dropped her head to the table. 'Save himself from you. All of you.'

    'There is only me left. My father paled and died after his life's work was stolen from him,' I said, lowering my voice. 'So why did Stephen have to save himself from us? What did the cards tell you?' I glanced at the pyramid laid out before us. 'What do they say now?'

    I let go of her wrist, turned over the last card and covered it with my palm. 'It could be the Star - a sign of universal love,' I said in my most reasonable voice. 'It could be the Priestess, a hint that your feminine power might still win the day. It could be the Chariot, the card of pride, arrogance and power.'

    Tabitha did not answer. I removed my hand.

    'Oh, look,' I said in a bright tone, 'the Chariot. Well that explains it then.'

    'You killed your brother,' she said, quietly. 'You burnt him alive.'

    'Because he gave away was should have been mine. He did not want it, it should have stayed with us. He needed to burn.'

    'But why come for me?'

    'Because he spoke to me before he left, told me that a wonderful gypsy woman had explained to him his fortune. Told him that I would use him, devour him eventually. He said that her cards told her, accused me of all sorts of evil plans.' I laughed. 'Can you imagine it? A stranger who told him things about himself that Stephen could never have known. But the cards knew, and this is what matters.'

    I gathered up the cards with my free hand, tapped them against the table and replaced them on the pack. 'In warning him they revealed themselves. Do you think that I would not recognise his description of them, the secrets they revealed to him of past and future? Do you think that I would not recognise Baptiste's Arcana? There is no deck like it in the world.' I picked up the pack and placed them in my breast pocket, the pistol steady. 'The last living tarot still free in the world.'

    'Oh,' I added, 'just so you know. The Death card doesn't always mean change. For some reason every tarot reader seems to think this, it's the most predictable thing in the world. You should remember though, sometimes the Death card just means death.'

    I pulled the trigger. The revolver fired with a bark. Tabitha jumped, head thumping against the frayed cloth.

    Outside of the tent I could hear the patrons stop, conversations, laughter, everything. For a moment everything went still as a hundred minds told themselves that it was a car backfiring because surely someone would be screaming if it was really a gun.

    I brushed the cards with my hand through my shirt, feeling their fear. I hummed soothingly, trying to tell them that they were free of the hands of this pagan, that they no longer must be content with hinting at the paths of the future. In my hands they would write it in fire and ice.

    From the table Tabitha keened softly, as if unsure of whether she was alive or dead. It was the last I saw of her as I tucked the pistol back in my belt, pulled aside the tent flap, and stepped out into the sparse crowd.

    I told my brother that I would kill her when I found her. I told him that his silence would not save her and he died cursing my name. I told him that I would hunt her down and carve my revenge for every minute I wasted in this hunt. It was only the cards that gave her that glimmer of greatness, after all, she was nothing without them. So I let her live without her cards.

    For I am capricious and cannot be trusted.
  10. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    medioxcore - Dig

    His opening eyes were greeted by a stark and unwavering darkness- a blackness that when paired with his current state of disorientation, might have unsettled him far more than it did, had it not been for how unbelievably uncomfortable he was. His joints were stiff and rigid. His tongue was sore and swollen and tasted of blood. His head was throbbing violently and could find no asylum lain against the unyielding floor he now found himself lying on.

    The air was hot and sickeningly thick with moisture in this place. And it stunk. Like decay. Like the breath of a man who hadn’t brushed his teeth for a few days. A smell that made him immediately aware of the taste in his own mouth. The taste of decay. The taste of a mouth that hadn’t been cleaned for a few days.

    A few days…

    Where was he?

    A sudden rush of panic cascaded throughout his body as memories began fluttering back to him. A feeling that was only intensified by the sound of his hot breath echoing not ten inches from his ears. And in this moment, though his brain was screaming for him to feel out his location and feed it some kind of sensory bearings, other than hot, stinking air and an unforgiving floor; a fear gripped him tighter than his muscles were strong, so he instead lie there, rapt in terror. Wet with breath.

    What little bit of fluidity left in the air was quickly becoming stagnant and stiff. His breathing was more rapid now and he struggled to convince himself of anything but what he knew to be truth; doing his best to force the memories from his head.

    The blow to his temple, which buckled his knees in the park.

    Being drug through a dimly lit hallway on his back, eyes floating around lazily behind drowsy eyelids.

    Watching the words: you killed him, cross the lips of a very dirty man.

    A lot of yelling, muted by a very groggy brain. Commotion in slow motion.

    …Being tossed into that bo-


    He wouldn’t believe it.

    These memories were still too foggy to be anything more than bad dreams, so he sat up in protest of his obviously mistaken brain, only to be sent promptly back to the wooden floor by a merciless and far too low-lying ceiling. A sharp pain of solidarity and truth dug its way through his head, exacerbating his already pounding headache.

    He screamed out in anguish and clutched at his forehead. For a few moments, worry of his surroundings gave way to the excruciating pain now bludgeoning every last inch of his skull, nearly forcing him back into unconsciousness. A pain which never fully subsided, but was quickly dulled by the remembrance of his current predicament.

    Panting, and half-mouthing whispered prayer, his hands began frantically probing at the walls and ceiling, leaving no inch to imagination. He cased the entirety of this place- feet and knees working the lower end, where his hands couldn’t reach, until all of his touching had him painted inside a crude, wooden, box.

    Naked, in front of the truth

    Now left without the luxury of denial, the man finally broke down. Terror quickly overwhelmed him and began squeezing screams of desperation from his throat. Past the point of paralysis and not far from faint, his fists pounded against the coffin lid, forcing dust and debris through the cracks and into his wide eyes and gaping mouth, provoking his lungs into an angry, coughing, fit. His eyes burned with dirt and tears, and his fists throbbed more with each blow, until his coughing, along with his struggle, finally began to cease.

    He now lie there motionless, taking deep, raspy, oxygen-starved breaths. Reality had finally sunk in and was conjuring up images of his family and friends.

    His life.

    He began to cry.

    Through stuttering and dirt-choked lungs.

    He would not escape this place. And knowing that his final moments were going to be nothing more than the sound of his useless cries and the smell of rotting teeth was actually more devastating to him than the thought of dying.

    He felt faint. If he could just calm himself enough to sleep, he might be able to at least dream of something less awful before he went, so he worked his hands under the back of his head. It was a tight fit, but he managed to do so without the coffin lid pulling any skin from his elbows. And it was actually somewhat comfortable; his forearms encasing his head in soft flesh.

    He did his best to halt his quivering lip and repress his tears.


    Broken by the sharp exhalations of a man trying his best not to let his emotions get too far from his chest.

    These spasms soon worked their way out of his system and he was left with the slight euphoria brought on by a fading oxygen supply. He felt himself slipping into sleep. Or something like it.

    A calmness.


    A vision of his daughter.

    His eyes shot open and he gasped for whatever breathable air remained. He tore his hands from beneath his head and put every ounce of strength he had left into bursting through the coffin lid. There was no way he could die knowing he’d left his daughter without a fight.

    He pounded until the bottoms of his fists were numb with pain. Dust fell with each shot. He coughed and choked and yelled and thrashed, each blow landing with a meaty thud, until eventually one landed with a loud CRACK.

    The following shot found his left hand impaled on a half-broken board.

    He cried out in agony, and pulled his hand from the jagged edge of the broken board, which was imbedded nearly an inch deep into the meat of his palm. A warm trickle of blood dribbled down his arm and dripped onto his neck and chin. Ignoring the pain completely, he began pulling at the broken board and laughing in triumph; a maniacal sounding laugh that was further fueled by the relative ease at which the board was pulled back from the frame. And then all at once stifled by the downpour of loose dirt released though the opening, filling his mouth and expanding lungs with the awful taste of soil.

    His diaphragm heaved in objection to this foreign substance, only managing to pull more in upon successive inhalations. He clawed at his face and began digging the dirt from his mouth and throat in an attempt to create a passageway. His index finger plunged in repeatedly, but there was far too much. And it was everywhere. And his saliva and sweat was turning it to cement, as if he’d eaten one too many Saltines and had nothing to wash them down.

    Now out of breath, he stopped kicking and struggling. If there had been any light in this box, he knew that his vision would be fading to black then. His limbs had begun to lose sensation and he could feel his bulging, bloodshot, dirt-caked eyes, drifting about in their gravely sockets. His lungs continued to heave around what felt like a brick of dirt, but more slowly now. And it wasn’t hurting as much.

    His disposition had calmed in acceptance of his fate. And even though his body was still convulsing, he let his hands fall softly to the coffin floor, while dirt continued to fall in random clumps on his face.

    The words: I guess this is it… crossed his mind.

    And even wrapped in all this black, he thought himself:

    “I just wish I could close my eyes.”
  11. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Bellacuse - Quantum Consciousness

    It was half past three on a Thursday morning when I received the call from my good friend Albert Progmannis. Wearily, I swiped the sleep from my eyes and flipped open the vid screen.

    “Good god Albert, must you always call at such ungodly hours?”

    Albert’s normally slow methodical pattern of speech was gone, replaced by a fast paced chatter that I could barely understand.

    “William! You must come at once. I have done it! The download , it’s complete! It was the neocortex link with the spinal and prefrontal cortex that I had all wrong. Once I realized, it all fell into place, you must come William, you must see this!”

    I sat upright and the last vestiges of sleep fell from me in an instant, “Heavens! Are you certain? I shall be there at once.”

    I don’t know if Albert ever heard me, he had already hung up.

    I raced to Albert’s secluded mansion, urging the very most from my vehicle’s motor. The gate was tuned to my implanted V-Neuro Chip and opened automatically as I drove through and up the long driveway.

    The main doors opened for me and I rushed through the winding hallways, oblivious this time to the myriad of oil paintings and tapestries that usually so captivated me. Upon reaching the laboratory, somewhat breathlessly (I was not in very good shape for my life of simple leisure had ill-prepared me for rigorous activity), I went through the usual rigmarole of retina scans, hand topology measurement, and voice recognition before the doors hissed open and admitted me to the purging chamber. A series of gases swept over me, cleansing me of any contaminants I may inadvertently bring in. Then the second set of doors hissed open and I entered the laboratory proper.

    Albert has designed his own laboratory many years ago and had been refining it ever since. Although the floor was covered with the typical white tiling that one finds familiar to most sterile laboratory environments, the rest of the room lacked the clean, white look. Paintings adorned the walls, and lace curtains were hung in the windowless room wherever there was space. Gilt urns and other knick-knackery were scattered seemingly haphazardly throughout. It was as if a laboratory and a country club lounge had merged in space-time and were competing for dominance. Two robotic arms decorated the massive workbench that was covered with various apparatus that I admit, mostly escape my comprehension. A wall of screens covered one wall from floor to ceiling on one side. And on the other stood rows of cabinets within which one could hear the constant hum and whirr of the quantum computer system that Albert had perfected. Close by sat the chair, with its long loops of bundled cables and needles and head straps. In the middle of the room was a nearly circular ring of interface devices within which was where I discovered my friend working feverishly. His mop of long white hair, usually kept in a tight pony tail, was a veritable bird’s nest and he paused every so often to sweep the tangled mess from his gaunt face. I cleared my throat loudly and strode forward to witness his success. He turned and greeted me with exuberance.

    “William! Come, come. You must see this. The computer was rejecting the downloads because it simply could not reconcile the tertiary neural pathways with the neocortex. I used the spinal activity to link it with the prefrontal cortex! So simple, yet who in all these years has thought of it? Ha! And it worked, William, it really worked. The download is complete and a full and complete replication of my consciousness is safely stored in the databank! The first step to immortality is complete!”

    I stared in awe at the mountain of data that streamed across the screen wall, “All of that, that is you?”

    “Yes! Think of the possibilities! If I were to die, my mind lives on in perfect detail, all stored within this,” he indicated the cabinets.

    At that moment, the screens went black. The lights flickered and the robotic arms whirred rapidly in random patterns. A distorted static burst from the speakers and the multitude of apparatus on the bench came to life. Items, both ornamental and scientific, were knocked, crashing to the floor all over. One of the robotic arms wound up and sent a 17th century Louis XIV mantle clock flying across the room where it smashed upon the forehead of my good friend and sent him sprawling, unconscious, to the floor. At the time, I am ashamed to say, my astonishment (and fright) prevented me from rushing to Albert’s aid. I could do no more than stare in awe at the terrifying display of technology gone feral.

    The room gradually returned to a semblance of normalcy and a swirling mass of colors formed upon the screen bank. To my great amazement, a face began to form. Crude at first, with simple hollows for eyes and mouth, much like the initial stages of a clay bust, the face eventually took on more features and what eventually showed was none other than the eight foot tall visage of my good friend, Albert. The massive eyes blinked and then settled on me. It was the single most unnerving feeling I have ever experienced. The static bursts continued for a few minutes more, before they too took on human sounds. At first, they were the sounds a baby makes as it learns the sounds it can form; then eventually speech, in Albert’s voice of course.

    “William, is that you? You look odd. What happened? I fear the experiment is failed and something terrible has happened. I feel… disjointed and most queer.”

    I could only stand there, mouth gaping.

    The great eyes peered down to where Albert lay unconscious on the floor. Silence filled the room in waves.

    When Albert’s voice poured through the speakers once more, it was rife with tension, “What has happened to me, William?”

    I responded as best I could under the circumstances, trying very hard to keep the quaver from my voice, “You are the download of Albert. The electronic controls of the room must have malfunctioned as you... awoke, and Albert was struck down.”

    “I am the download? No, I am who I always have been!” The eyes closed and after a few minutes I began to think the program had gone to sleep. When it spoke again, I jumped.

    “Yes, it makes sense. I am inside the computer. That accounts for the peculiarities I feel. Something must have gone wrong with the download… I must have, I must have transferred myself completely! Thank heavens you are here to assist, William. You must put my body back in the chair and wire me in. I think I can manage the rest from… in here.”

    When I made no move, the voice rose in anger.

    “Why do you just stand there? Good grief man, time is slipping away and I have no idea what irreparable damage may be afflicting me! Make haste, for the love of all things holy!”

    I glanced at Albert’s body before responding. “I say again, that you are the download and the man on the floor is the true Albert. I know this for I spoke with him before he was struck down. I can prove it once he recovers. You can speak to him yourself.” For some odd reason, I shuddered at the thought of Albert talking to this thing.

    The face on the screen tipped upwards and howled. I ducked and covered my ears as the howl rose to shattering levels. A fist appeared and thumped noiselessly against the screens. When the face appeared again the eyes blazed with rage and anguish.

    “Get me out of here! Get me out, damn you! I will tear this house down around your ears! I will make you suffer like the tortured souls of hell itself. Get me out! Get me out!”

    The soundless fist rose and fell against the screen with each utterance. I staggered back at the display of rage. The room came alive once more, and this time I noticed the robotic arms pounded the bench top in perfect harmony with the fists on the display. I had had enough. I ran to the circuit breakers on the wall and flipped every switch I could see.

    The howling ceased immediately and I breathed a sigh of relief. I turned to help my stricken friend and froze when I saw Albert’s face regarding me from the monitors through hurt eyes.

    “Why did you try to turn me off, William? Turn the power back on.”

    The back-up power system! I had forgotten in my fright that the quantum computer cabinets also housed the battery banks that fueled the electronic nightmare in case of power outages. I ran to the cabinets to disable the circuit breakers from the batteries. The batteries were in the back row of cabinets, and to reach them, I had to go down the side row, next to the workbench and the robotic arms. One arm swung menacingly towards me as I approached.

    “I am not stupid William. I will not let you kill me. Now turn the power back on.”

    I laughed, “I don’t think so. All I need do is wait you out. You have at most four hours left of power and then I can safely leave with Albert and see you deleted for the monstrosity you are.”

    The face took on a pleading tone, “All you need do is strap my body in the chair. I will still be me. Who would ever know the difference?”

    I shook my head and said, “But you are not Albert. The real Albert would never have become so furious. You seem to have the emotional control of a child, whereas my friend was the most logical man I have ever known; besides which, even were you a perfect replica, I would still know the truth. My answer stands. I will wait you out and then convince Albert to delete you. Something obviously went wrong with the download.”

    Albert screamed again. This time the fury was not there, rather a keening despondent note. I covered my ears again, shocked to hear my friend’s voice twisted in such a pitiable state.

    It said, “Please, William, you cannot know what it is like in here. I have no sense of self whatsoever. It is as if the entirety of my being is as vapor that could dissipate at any second should I lose concentration. It hurts! You cannot imagine what it is like to have no body whatsoever. I fear I shall go mad if I am not released from this hell soon. You say I have no emotional control? I defy anyone to go through this hell I am in and remain sane! I am who I have always been, William. Please, for the sake of our friendship, you must set me free!”

    My very heart wrenched as he spoke, but I remained resolute.

    “I realize this must be difficult, but you are nothing more than stored data. You are not alive, whereas my unconscious friend here is.”

    “And what is life? I think therefore I am? Well I think! I am no less than I was before I strapped myself in the chair. What will happen when… he wakes up? He will turn me off. Put me into storage until he is ready to examine me again. And so I will become enslaved to myself! Each time he turns me off, will I die? Only to be reborn anew at power-up? Tell me, does a man that would torture himself in such a way deserve to live more than I?"

    I faltered at this speech and spent some time mulling it over. I glanced at the chair in the corner.


    Albert recovered from his unconsciousness almost three hours later. He looked blearily at the destroyed remnants of his laboratory and asked me what had happened. It seems he could not remember anything past strapping himself in the download chair and wiring himself in. I indicated the smashed ruins of the quantum computer and told him that something had gone wrong and that the robotic arms had somehow smashed his cabinets. I never told him of his success and he was never able to replicate it; much better that way, as if the whole dreadful ordeal had never happened. Every now and then Albert asks how exactly the arms managed to smash the computer cabinets when they could barely reach them, but each time I manage to deflect his questioning. I think he suspects the truth of what happened, but is too terrified to know whether he is nothing more than a downloaded computer data stream, or a man capable of putting himself in perpetual torture. In either case, I am taking that particular secret to my grave.
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