Please vote for the piece you feel is most deserving:

Poll closed Feb 27, 2011.
  1. tristan.n - Utopia

    3 vote(s)
  2. Tessie91 - The Other Someone

    4 vote(s)
  3. Manav - Village Trip

    2 vote(s)
  4. -oz - Curiosity

    0 vote(s)
  5. WGarrett - The Lake

    1 vote(s)
  6. LoveQuille - Black Holes

    2 vote(s)
  7. Chudz - An Important Lesson

    1 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England

    Voting Short Story Contest 86: Beyond The Surface

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Feb 14, 2011.

    Voting Short Story Contest (86) Theme: Beyond The Surface

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned. No more entries are allowed in this contest.

    Voting will end Sunday 27th February 2011 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 or over 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 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
    tristan.n - Utopia

    I looked up at the black form looming over me, casting me into a dark shadow. At first my family and I thought the dark cloud was our friend. It fed us, even when food was scarce, and it was always an exotic, wriggling treat. One of my brothers was too eager and rushed toward the treat, and as soon as he ate it, he was yanked away, into the sky where the cloud gobbled him up.

    We were shocked at first. We were terrified when another treat hovered in front of us. Surely this cloud would not try the same trick again! We wondered if it was a coincidence, if it was something that would happen just once. It was a sister who boldly went for the treat this time, and as she disappeared into the sky, we made our judgment. This cloud was not our friend.

    Most of us steered away from the shadow when it appeared, refusing to be tempted by its seemingly innocent offer of food, but some of us were curious. I traveled with my thrill-seeking friends as we danced around the treat, some of us brushing past it, others pretending that they were going to eat it. Oftentimes the treat would fly into the air at our touch, but it would casually drift down again, and we would continue to dance with it.

    Sometimes the treat would come in different forms. For a while, there was nothing spectacular about it, but one day it appeared bright and colorful. It was beautiful and enticing, and another one of us fell victim to its temptation that day. Many days passed before it changed again, and when it finally did, to our horror, the treat resembled us. We didn’t play with it at all, appalled at the cannibalistic idea, and it quickly transformed into something much less frightening.

    The majority of my family warned me not to go near the food or the cloud, and though I knew it was dangerous, I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. The cloud always left around the same time, and some days it didn’t show up at all. I daydreamed about following it when it left, wondering where it could possibly have gone to, but it would be hazardous, far more so than playing with it here in the comfort of my home.

    Once, I was feeling adventurous, and I expressed the idea to my friends as we danced around the treat, but even they didn’t share my curiosity. This was the extent of their audacity, and they felt they were already taunting death. Why push their luck?

    I didn’t share my thoughts with them again, but I continued to watch the cloud leave and imagined all the fun it must be having in the sky. What if the cloud was not some evil entity, only looking to eat us? It could be trying to show us something, trying to take us to another world for all we knew. Maybe my brothers and sisters weren’t eaten. Perhaps they were living in a warm place with lots of food and nothing to worry about.

    The more I thought about it, the more I tried to justify my crazy idea. If I just follow the cloud far enough, perhaps it will lead me past all the dangers to that warm, bountiful place.

    I wondered at first if I should just eat the treat and ride up to the cloud, but I wanted to be able to come back to this place and tell my family what wonders I had experienced. None of my brothers or sisters had come back, and it was probably because they couldn’t find their way home. If I were to follow the cloud, however, I could just take the same path back.

    I thought I had everything figured out when I left home. There was nothing special about the day I had chosen, and none of my friends or family would be expecting me to leave so suddenly. Just wait, I thought. I’ll be back to tell you all about the new world soon enough.

    It was hard to keep up with the cloud, which I hadn’t anticipated. I struggled and pushed on, even when my body grew tired and weak. As I went along, the ground began to curve upward, leading me up towards the sky. It was getting warmer every second, and I knew I must be getting close. It was hazy here, and the land was filled with plants, some of which I had never seen before.

    Something black moved nearby, slowly and deliberately. It was a monster much larger than me, long and shiny and graceful as it waved back and forth between the plants.

    I panicked and darted through the plants. There were more plants in the sky now, and it was getting harder to see the cloud. The plants separated when the cloud moved by them, but they drifted back together soon after it had passed. I could barely see the cloud now, and I was starting to get tangled in the plants.

    The monster moved past me again, and I knew it had seen me. It was faster than me, but I couldn’t give up now. The cloud suddenly stopped and I could see the place where the ground met the sky.

    The monster darted out in front of me and I froze in fear. I had been warned of these creatures. Few in my family had faced these demons and lived, but all of them knew death’s glare, and for the first and possibly last time in my life, I understood what they had meant.

    The creature stared at me, daring me to make a move. It opened its mouth, stretching out its jaw to unfold two white, pointed teeth. It was piercing me with its focused eyes, and soon it would stab me with its long fangs.

    I had nearly surrendered when four objects came surging down through the sky and stomped firmly on the ground. They were long and strange, and they moved awkwardly, trudging along the ground. They seemed to move in pairs, alternating movements in each pair.

    The commotion was enough to scare the monster away, and at last I rushed toward the cloud, carefully avoiding the oblivious stomping objects. Surely they must see me here, I thought. I tried to brush past them to communicate, just like my friends and I had communicated with the treat, but this seemed to anger the objects as they stomped faster and quickly dashed away from me.

    The cloud and the tall objects were quickly disappearing into the sky, and I followed behind it, anxiety building up in me. Thoughts ran through my head wildly as I guessed what could be on the other side, and with all my might I leaped toward the sky.

    The world above the sky was not at all what I expected. The sun was shining brilliantly, but somehow I was cold. I was stuck to something hard and dry, and I felt incredibly heavy.

    Forced onto my side, I tried to wriggle around, but I made no progress. The air around me felt lighter than what I was used to. I tried to breathe it in, gasping desperately for it, but I couldn’t.

    No! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! I’m supposed to have warmth and safety and food! I flopped helplessly, dying on the bitter ground of the awful new world. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be….
    A noise I had never heard before shook my body, something shrill and fast and terrible.

    I saw the long stomping objects again, and soon I was lifted from the ground by something squishy and disgusting. It reminded me of the treat, the way its fleshy body curled. It grasped me tightly, and soon I was being carried through the sky, towards the largest thing I had ever seen.

    My captor took me into the huge hollow object, and a few seconds later, I could breathe again. I gasped and looked around. I was warm, upright and able to move, but I was still in the new world. I was able to see clearer, and there were many things around me that I didn’t recognize. There were no monsters here; in fact, there was nothing here at all, besides rocks and a few drifting plants. As I moved around, I hit something invisible. I moved the other way and hit something again. What is this?

    My kidnapper’s face appeared suddenly. She bared her strange square teeth at me and squinted her large eyes. I thought she would try to eat me, but instead she reached up with one of her odd long appendages and dropped something above me.

    I looked up and saw that it was a treat. I didn’t realize that I was hungry until I saw the food, and I instantly accepted it. Food, warmth, safety—was this the perfect world I had envisioned?

    I had sacrificed my family and friends for a life of luxury, and suddenly I realized that I was trapped.
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Tessie91 - The Other Someone

    It was always someone else. Always someone else. It didn’t matter what the situation or what the ridiculous happenstance, beyond the surface there dwelled an invisible, seventh person in my household. And this someone continually disregarded the rules Amy and I had set.

    I gasped at the sight that welcomed me as I opened the front door. The scene was too gory. Swiftly unzipping and throwing off my jacket, I stooped to pick up the colored shards of a Tiffany lamp. The stained glass shade was crushed and mangled, appearing as if it had been grabbed by two hands and crumbled like a flimsy ball of paper. I breathed gently, willing myself not to explode like a maniac. But then the growing tension rose up the back of my throat. I looked through the hallway to the kitchen.

    “Who broke Grandma’s lamp!” I blew, standing to my feet. “Someone better come out with it now! I’m not having this today!” Thudding down the hallway, I entered the kitchen, broken lamp in hand.

    At the table, three heads lifted in recognition of my voice. Their angelic faces would not deter me -- not this time. I raised the lamp, presenting the shattered remains of yet another sad demise of a highly-prized piece of furniture. “I’ve had it up to here with disrespect! Someone did this intentionally!” I barked.

    Last week it was the chair leg to an heirloom rocking chair. All three of them blamed it on the family bulldog, Bart. And yesterday it was a ordinary, but still decent soup bowl, the last of the set, which supposedly Kylie, the ten-month old baby, had dashed upon the floor. Amy purchased the bowls a month ago to replenish our dwindling supply of every-day dishes. Thank God company hadn’t been over that day. Our China would have been the victim.

    Carson, my youngest at six, squirmed in his seat. He wasn’t as experienced with fatherly confrontation as his older brother and sister were. He was the tag-along most of the time and harmless enough.

    Jillian, at least, was attempting to look innocent this time, but I could pull up the track record for each one. When Max was eleven, he smashed a baseball through the attic window and didn’t feel comfortable enough to inform us of the gaping hole of glass. It was months later that I discovered the pigeon colony in the rafters. And a year after that, he and Jillian watched on as Carson bounced a basketball in the house, resulting in a broken vase.

    I held up the lamp again. Jillian’s eyes widened and her mouth parted.

    Max, however, had that twinkle in his face that I surmised was a mischievous hint of guilt. He looked down at his plate, sniggering, and spooned a bit of spaghetti into his mouth.

    Jillian began to speak, “I don’t know, Dad--”

    I slammed the lamp onto the table, making her jump. “This is an antique Grandma gave mommy many, many years ago. You all know how much it means to her. And you all know that no one, under any circumstance, is allowed in the front living room!”

    “Dad, I don’t know who did it.” Max swiftly defended. “Someone else did. Not me.”

    “Well, it simply didn’t fall on its own accord. Someone did this on purpose, and someone better admit it,” I shifted my eyes to each face with a formidable glance, “Immediately!”

    From her high chair Kylie broke with a giggle. She must have liked the hue of Daddy’s face. It was either that or the sound of my ragged breath which entertained her.

    “Who did this!” I roared amid Kylie’s continued laughter.

    She began rapping a plastic spoon onto a plate. “Dah-dah-daaadeee,” she cooed softly, eyeing me with all her adoration. Her little serenade was the only noise in the kitchen.

    I inspected each face meticulously, hoping that this time, perhaps, there would be no lying. Carson and Jillian were plastered with the same oblique dumbness. But, oh, Max’s face lighted with a smirk, and then quickly he stilled it.

    My wife appeared with a basket full of laundry, looking at me. “What on earth?” Then she noticed the mangled lamp on the table and stopped. Her painful gasp awakened still more emotions in me. “What happened?” She turned and glared at the children. “Who did this?”

    “Wasn’t me.” Max said, taking his plate from the table and dropping it in the sink. “I just got home a few minutes ago.”

    I watched him exit the kitchen. “Then why didn’t you see it by the doorway?”

    His shoulders flinched. He continued for the staircase. “I-I don’t know. It wasn’t me!” he replied.

    I sighed and glanced down as Bart came and nudged my boot. He lifted his face and smiled at me as his fleshy tongue lopped down and heaved with his characteristic panting. “You didn’t knock the lamp over, did you, Barty?”

    His wrinkled, bulldog face smiled again and his body shook with a sudden sneeze. He licked his nose then plodded away to his food bowl.

    I sat down to dinner as Amy agonized over the lamp. “This was worth thousands. Oh, Ron, this is irreplaceable!” she lamented.

    I nodded, glumly sticking my fork into the spaghetti. “It was a good thing we got it insured last year. Although, I never thought something like this would happen.”

    “I didn’t even hear it hit the floor. I’ve been in the basement doing laundry the past half hour. And it couldn’t have happened before that, because I had just finished preparing dinner.”

    Below on the floor, Bart was sniffing for leftovers that Jillian often sneaked him. At nine-years-old, she still hated all vegetables. But she believed I didn’t see her discard them onto the floor. Bart collided into the table leg with a surprising thump. He shook himself and continued unfazed, sniffing for more droppings on the floor. I threw him the rest of my roll. Poor boy. He was thirteen. Maybe he did do some damage today. He did like to roam about the front living room. I just never suspected him as much of a threat to the antiques before.

    He’s been doing that a lot lately,” Amy admitted, quietly sitting down. She began folding the clean laundry. “Do you think his good eye is failing also?”

    I shook my head. “He’s never broken something before--“ Then sneaking a glance at Jillian and Carson, “--That we know of.”

    Amy abruptly burst, glancing up from the laundry, “Oh, no! Who left a pack of bubble gum in their pocket?” She held up a wad of clothing, revealing a sticky, pink mess. “Ron, your best dress shirt! Oh, it’s a disaster.” She dumped the whole load onto the table, frantically picking through the jeans and shirts. “The whole batch is ruined!”

    “It wasn’t me,” interjected Carson, taking his plate from the table. He stole away to the sink, dumped his plate in, then disappeared through the hallway.

    Amy gave me an exhausted look. “Ron, what is wrong with our kids? I swear there is always something being broken, and it is always someone else. Nobody knows who did this or who dropped that. It’s so wearying.” She slumped into a chair.

    I reached over, caressing her cheek. “Nothing more than normal, honey. I’m sure they’ll grow out of it.” I reassured her with a feigned smile -- at least I hoped that was the case.

    Amy sighed, “You’re right, I guess. It’s just a phase.” She began to clear the silverware and plates. “Hopefully it will stop. Our dishes can’t survive anymore ‘accidents.’ “

    When dinner was through, and Amy had gone to tuck the kids into bed, I went to the fridge for a cold drink. After a brief survey, I discovered the usual spot on the inside of the door was empty. I then headed into the family room, hunkering down on the couch, before switching the TV on. Amy returned as I was flipping through the channels. She snuggled close, yawning aloud.

    Wrapping my arm around her, I casually inquired, “Amy, what happened to my last Coke that was in the fridge?”

    She couldn’t hold back a nervous laugh. She looked into my eyes and admitted, “Someone drank it.”
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Manav - Village Trip

    “Don’t Breathe! Don’t Breathe!” Mom cried out, one hand on her mouth, the other rolling up the passenger seat window.

    I rolled up the backseat windows to save myself from the dust conjured up by our SUV. The final stretch of road leading up to my grandmother’s house was a narrow strip of earth, sporadic shingle stones spread over it like pimples on a teenager’s face. The bullock cart tracks made it even more unruly, but Dad drove it slow, probably concerned that Mom would start complaining about her nagging back pain. Paddy fields, awash with the callous summer sun, lined up on either side of the slightly elevated road.

    “They are all brown and dusty,” Mom commented on the paddies just besides the road.

    “Put down your sun glasses and look a little farther away from the road, they are lusty greens.” Dad looked out of the window and smiled at the sight of some children emerging out of the fields and running towards us.

    “I prefer to stick to the road. It’ll at least take us back home, paddies will lead us nowhere.”

    “Memsahib, your expensive basmati rice comes from these fields, not to mention the organic vegetables that keep you thin and healthy.”

    “Exactly, they are useless if there are no people to buy them in cities and towns.”

    A dhoti wearing man on a bicycle, the only other traffic on the road, stopped and waited for us to pass as if acknowledging our visit to the village after five years. The children now stood in a row on the edge of the field, seven sets of white teeth, and seven pairs of bright eyes. The boys were shirtless and wore shorts, the smallest boy’s left hand permanently stuck on his waistband to prevent his oversized shorts from sliding down. The girls wore ponytails tightly secured with bright pink and red ribbons. They waved at us, and mostly at the SUV; an alien spaceship. Dad and I waved back, but Mom was busy adjusting her traditional phanek which she was wearing after a long time.

    Mom always told Dad that she didn’t mind wearing phaneks. “But they don’t come with a belt or a buckle to secure It,” she told him. She seemed genuinely baffled how women folks at the village just wrap it around their waist, shoved the loose end just below their navels, and walked around without it falling off. “Wearing it makes me really nervous,” she always said.

    “Look, a cow feeding a calf. It’s good luck. Quick, make a wish,” Dad told me.

    “What should I wish for?” I said excitedly.

    “I know what you shouldn’t wish for,” Mom said, “A husband from a village who--”

    “Or a life partner who will treat your parents like dirt,” Dad murmured and speeded up the vehicle.
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    -oz - Curiosity

    "Come on, baby, go! Go!"

    The machine Pax was driving surged up, striving to break the surface. The submarine had enough speed and exploded out of the water, sending a prismatic spray all around. As dictated by the laws of physics, the machine reached the apex of its arc and fell back into the water with an even larger splash.

    Pax's passenger and best friend Torb slowly released his death grip on the armrests of his seat and took a deep breath. "See, I told you, this small ship won't stay up there, even if it is the fastest ship I've ever built. Just give it up, Pax."

    "Oh, this ship isn't finished yet, we're just giving it a test spin."

    "Of course it's finished, I built it according to your specifications.
    Don't tell me I need to take it apart to adjust something again?"

    "No, no, nothing like that." Pax adjusted his course to point more directly at his apartment. "Once we get inside, I'll show you what
    I've been making."


    Pax grinned mischievously. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise now, would it?"

    Torb rolled his eyes. "Why must all you mad scientist types be so secretive? If you're going to destroy the world, you might as well just reveal it and get it out of the way!"

    Pax chuckled as he glided the submarine to a stop outside his door. The two exited the ship and swam into Pax's room.

    "Whoa! Pax, what did you do to your room?" Torb was staring in surprise at a huge air bubble floating at the ceiling.

    "Don't mind that, I'm just drying something out."

    "Drying?! Wait, is this even safe? What happens when your ceiling caves in? What's your neighbor going to do when a bubble the size of a barrier reef goes ripping through his room?"

    "It won't, quit being a worrywart. I double-checked the strength of the ceiling, and it's quite safe."

    Pax took a deep breath and stuck his head and arms into the air, tail working hard to keep him levitating in the bubble. He took an airtight container that was tied to the ceiling, and placed a dry bundle of tightly-knit seaweed inside. He sealed it shut and swam back down, taking deep gulps of water to refresh his salt.

    "There, that's what we need. You mind holding this while I grab the mirror?"

    "Sure," said Torb hesitantly, taking the case. "What exactly is your plan here?"

    "Let me show you." He grabbed a large, concave mirror and carefully maneuvered out the door towards his new ship. "Be careful, don't let go of that case. I don't want to have to go chasing after it on the surface again."

    Torb followed his friend mutely. Pax mounted the mirror on the top of the ship, securing it onto a swiveling platform in the center. The mirror almost automatically focused what little light there was into the base of a bowl carved into the middle of the platform.

    "Okay, we're going to install everything at the surface, we can't have it getting wet. –Oh, one more thing." Pax dashed into his room again, pulling a collapsible frame from a corner. "Okay, let's go!"

    The ride to the surface was much less of a rush this time. Once at the surface, Pax set the craft to float on the top of the water. He took a deep breath, inhaling all the saltwater he could, and stepped out through the hatch on the top, taking the collapsed frame with him.

    Torb watched through the open hatch. Through the water's distortion, he could see Pax carefully unfolding the frame. As he attached it to hard points on the vehicle, it made a sturdy geodesic dome on top of the craft. Once it was secure, he went back inside to catch his breath with big gulps of water, refreshing his salt content.

    "So what's all this for?" asked Torb.

    Pax tapped the air-tight case floating on the ceiling. "Inside this is a solid weave of dried seaweed that will completely cover the lattice."

    "Just how is that supposed to put you floating up there?"

    "Well, you know the bowl in the middle of the swiveling platform? I'm going to exhale my fresh water there. The mirrors are going to focus the sunlight on this water, heating it to boiling temperatures. With enough steam, I should be able to start floating above the surface. Once I'm there, I can drive around, observing the world from my new perspective."

    "How are you going to drive around? Propellers work underwater. There's no water beyond the surface!"

    "True, but I have this theory that it's like water up there, so I figure it never hurts to try."

    Torb shook his head. "You and your theories... Is it really worth your life's savings on this project?"

    Pax smiled, grabbing the case with the parachute. "You never know, Torb. Maybe this'll work!"

    Torb frowned as he watched Pax rig the parachute. As Pax finished and began to exhale his fresh water into the bowl, Torb slipped through the main hatch on the side of the submarine. After a few seconds, Pax stuck his head through, looking for him.

    "Don't you want to be the first guy to go beyond the surface, Torb?"

    Torb shook his head. "I'll leave that to you, Pax, this was all your idea."

    "Come on, man, you built this ship and put up with me, I think you deserve to be part of this team."

    "I'm sorry, but I'm going to sit this one out."

    Pax was silent for a few seconds, slowly comprehending his friend's fear over the unknown. "I understand. Don't worry, if this ever works, I'll come back. ...What?"

    Torb's expression of surprise was all that he could muster. The sight of the craft slowly rising higher in the water was too much of a shock to say anything.

    Pax registered what was going on moments before he cleared the surface. "Goodbye!" he blurted, slamming shut the hatch before the water could spill out from inside. He had done it. He was finally going to explore what was beyond the surface!
  6. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    WGarrett - The Lake

    I’m not sure I’ve led a normal mans life, but I think everyone has something they regret. For most people it’s something they did that they wish they could take back; a harsh word spoken to someone they had vowed to love, or a place they had promised to be, but couldn’t manage to make it in time.

    For me it was something that I didn’t do half a life time ago that drove me back to the lake near where I grew up.

    It was the kind of place that was so beautiful that people would come from all around
    the world to see it. They would make promises to each other to scatter the ashes of their companions across those waters if they were to die. The lake had seen hundreds if not thousands of those promises over the years and many of them already fulfilled; a funeral for a friend, and then a friend of a friend, and then a friend, of a friend, of a friend whose mother had once seen a picture of the lake in a magazine and wanted to be buried there. Needless to say, not many local fishermen cared much for the spot anymore.

    When I pulled up to it in my truck, the place was deserted despite it being mid day and the sun over head baking that part of the world at a dry eighty-five.

    After so many years away and most certainly so many more burials, I half expected the water to be brown, or red, or whatever color ash turns liquid when you take enough cremated bodies and put them in one place. But it was still blue, a kind blue that was so sure of itself. Deceptive shades of beauty shared by the most unforgiving waters in the world; waters that had swallowed Atlantis and broke the heart of every sailor who had ever prayed to her and died at sea regardless.

    I have no idea what I was doing there or what I was looking for. Maybe some imaginative part of me hoped to find the boy twenty years after what had happened, still a child and still waiting for me to save his life.

    I wanted to hear it from his lips. “I forgive you. I don’t blame you. It wasn’t your fault. You can move on.” But I’m not sure any of that would have been enough to convince me. I had more than one opportunity to tell the boy that he mattered to me, that he shouldn’t do what he was thinking about doing, that I was there for him if he needed someone to talk to, and I did not say a single word of it.

    I’ve known a lot of people over the years who martyr themselves by saying things like, “Not a day goes by that I don’t regret what I have done”, but I haven’t met one who wasn’t lying. We all have days when we can forget and nights that we don’t have to drug ourselves to sleep. It’s the day after that hurts the most, when you remember what you had forgotten and wonder, in the eyes of what ignorant creature am I beautifully and wonderfully made? What human part of me has gone missing, having been beaten and raped by the world so severely that it hadn’t the courage to return? How can I forget what I have done? How can I live on when the person I let down has no life left to live?

    They found his parents car down by the lake with the driver’s side door open, twenty feet from the water. The speculation by the police was that he could have gone into the woods, ran away. The investigators searched the lake regardless and found a knife that belonged to the boy’s father, but they never found a body.

    Twenty years later and you could still view the file listing him as “Missing Person”, complete with a blown up sized picture of the boy wearing a little league hat and sporting a toothy grin that was too big for his face.

    He had buried himself out in that water, and I knew it. It was his way of saying, “I am ready to die and to be with the ashes of everyone who has gone before me. I have lived a life that is short and is rooted in hollow ground without friends or loving family to sustain me.”

    As soon as I saw the lake I knew what I had to do but not to what end the day’s events would bring me.

    Stripping off all my clothes, I waded out into the water, as naked and vulnerable as a
    child, feeling the sediment of so many ashen burials stirring beneath my toes; The stories, and the lives, as well as the sins of hundreds if not thousands of people rising in clouds of dirt that I have forced to be remembered once again.

    As I stand there, chest deep in the water, I’d like to imagine the lake made of some thick gelatin that was buoyant enough to bring up all of the hidden things underneath its surface so that I might vomit and appear justified in doing so. Because I can feel all the forgotten truths lurking in these waters, like the ghosts of misdeeds so vile that even a man without empathy could not help but see them, take a second look at the world, and quiver at the sight of what we have become.

    I am a man who has sinned by not doing something that should have been done and fell short of the glory of all but the damned.

    With a deep breath I submerged my whole body, remembering that in these waters there are mothers who would discard their infant sons and daughters into waste receptacles or let them burn to death if, God willing, there was a big enough fire. There are men who forfeited their lives to a threadless needle and a bottle of some kind of brew. I am the only one of these fools in this lake that has not died even though he deserved worse.

    And as I emerged from beneath the surface of the water I saw God and the Devil, and every failure that man kind has ever endured. I saw a brother abusing his sister, and a father loosing his youngest child to a cold winter night. I saw gas chambers built to kill people who would die on their knees, pleading for the lives of the ones that they loved. I saw civil wars, bunkers filled with bombs that would one day drop, an infant crying in the middle of the road, holding it’s blanket in two clenched fists while it watched it’s mother die in some glorious act of upheaval. And I saw the face of the boy who I did not save, did not bother to beg with for the sake of his life, along with the knowledge that I am human. God save me, I am human, and I have knowledge but not the power and, some days, not the will to overcome myself.

    Dripping with the baptismal ashes of the all the burnt memories of all the world, I rose from that place, ready to press on.
  7. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    LoveQuille - Black Holes

    Dr. Von Brerinnger wasn't the type of man anyone would have suspected.

    He always payed his bills on time, bought donuts for everyone in the lab, and was the first guy you'd see with a smile on his face. What you might call a humanitarian.He'd been transferred from another lab somewhere in Germany, a small remote town, nothing too fancy. But the man was a genuis, and he wasn't afraid to let everyone know it.

    The others admired him. And as for myself, I scrutinized him.

    I would not deny his seemingly ubiquitous perfection. Brerinnger had a way about him, that was a bit otherworldly. His mathematics were pristine, but his social skills were awe-inspiring. What type of a man can solve the equations of the universe and then chat up a breathtaking blonde AND receive her ACTUAL phone number?

    My fellow geeks looked up to him, as though he were some kind of god.
    And I'll admit I, ''Archie the Fish''; ''Archie the Brain''; was a little jealous.

    But there was one thing about him that didn't set well with me.

    He has these incredibly hypnotic sea blue eyes. They were like black holes. The kind of eyes that are filled with the magnetic power to pull human beings into alternate modes of behavior.

    For a week I could not bring myself to face the fact that I disliked one of my coworkers without reason. This was a great guy, and illogically; I strongly reviled him. I told no one how I felt, because I never talked about these kinds of things. I became obsessed with the idea that he was off. His smile was a little too neat, his grammar a little too dazzling, and his accuracy uncanny.

    Then one day I made a mistake. I decided to follow him late after work, see what the good Dr. was doing after hours.

    My intuition was infallible. I followed him in a rental, two car lengths back, all the way to the woods that bordered the city. I wasn't completely floored when I saw him drag a woman's corpse out of the trunk of his Mercedes. (I felt a little guilty that somewhere deep inside of me, I was satisfied that he wasn't so perfect after all.)

    I pulled out my digital camera, snapped a few shots.


    But when I watched him pull out a scapel, and then, oh horrors; cut out her liver and begin to devour it in the light of the full moon at 19:51, that was when I lost my foundation.

    And you know, when I looked at his eyes, they weren't blue anymore. They were completely black.

    This was about the time when the good Dr. noticed that he'd been followed. Shaking, I tried to turn my key in the ignition, but confound it!, my engine refused to ignite. He walked towards me, a strange smile on his blood smeared face. Retching, shivering, partially sobbing, I flung myself out of my car, reason deserting me as instinct drove to place as much distance between myself and that fiend as humanly possible.

    ''Hey Archie!'' He called at me as I disappeared up a bike path, ''I'll see you tomorrow at the lab!''

    Shuddering, I rocked myself in my apartment, ablaze with sinister thoughts. He could pull the employee files at the office, find out where I lived.

    Or maybe he already knew where I lived. Perhaps Mr. Von Brerinnger wasn't actually human.

    A thousand inane and horrible ideas began to fight within me, tearing at my stronghold of logic. My whole world was brought crashing down on the back of one little hunch.

    Everyone calls me nuts now. A Physicist, on the six o'clock news for murder, go figure huh?

    But I stick to my story. I always tell them the facts, over and over. How I saw him eating that woman's liver, how he threatened me the next day at the office. They never did find my camera. The police found my car though, with the woman's body inside. My prints all over her. Damn him.

    They give me alot of pills now. Some days I take them. Some days I don't. I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, a half forgotten name dying on my lips.

    Something a little like Rothua . . . .

    Sometimes I have visitors, mainly reporters, psychiatrists itching for something to put in their newest book. You see, somehow now I'm connected to the murders of a few dozen people.

    But whenever they ask me about Dr. Von Brerinnger, one of my victims, I always keep my story straight.

    '' You didn't see his eyes.''
  8. Gannon

    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Chudz - An Important Lesson

    “What lies beyond the surface?” my master asked, his sonorous tone making the light in the room dim briefly as he spoke.

    Based on that effect, I surmised he was in teaching-mode again. He always adds a little flair when he's serious about getting something through my thick skull. Of course, that meant I was now stuck in this cramped study until I could give an acceptable answer.

    My stomach grumbled in response, letting me know what it thought about the situation. And I found myself in complete agreement with its protest, seeing as I was hoping to meet Alena later at the inn. So I redoubled my concentration on the globe of crystal before me.

    The globe itself was propped on a nondescript, purple cushion, centered on the scarred surface of the oaken table. And as far as I could tell, the crystal ball had not done a darn thing, remaining as clear as it had been when Master plunked it down not too long ago.

    My master, the Grand Sorcerer Adontis, began pacing around the room, his robes swishing softly with each step. I grimaced; because I knew that for every ten circuits he made, he would reduce my living allowance of two gold coins by a single silver.

    Compulsively, I put the task before me on hold in order to calculate how much I would be getting this time. And judging by my calculations, if I came up with the right answer before he deducted anything, I was only going to owe him a little over five gold coins at the end of the month. I was definitely improving because last month I owed him eight.

    Master must have noticed my whispering and counting on my fingers because he cuffed me on the head during his next pass. “Pay attention to the task at hand,” he ordered.

    “Ow! How do you expect me to do that when you smack me in the back of the head like that?”

    He harrumphed. “As if an ogre war-club could damage that thick head of yours. Now concentrate.”

    An illusion popped into existence, hovering above the crystal. It displayed an ogre's club shattering against my head a number of times without any apparent damage. That's my master, a true comedian at heart.

    “Now, what lies beyond the surface?” he reiterated, the illusion fading from sight.

    “More crystal?” I offered.

    Master let out a deep sigh that was echoed by other things in the room. By that, I mean the leather-bound tomes in the bookcase sighed in harmony. The two oil lamps on opposite walls followed suit, adding their fluttering-sighs. Heck, even the purple cushion made a half-hearted attempt that sounded more like it was losing air.

    “Okay, I get the point!”

    I began racking my brain for an answer. And I was still trying several minutes later when the unbidden image of an ancient me sitting in the same spot played through my imagination. Wonderful, I thought.

    “What was that?” Adontis asked, stroking gnarled fingers through his long beard.

    “Um,” I muttered, realizing I'd just thought out loud. Trying to cover my gaffe, I blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Light lies beyond the surface.”

    Master paused his pacing. “Light?”

    “Yes, light,” I said, feeling more confident.

    “Faugh,” he uttered a few moments later, crushing my hopes.

    As if summoned by his disappointment, a number of shadowy creatures slunk forth from the darker recesses of the room. They fixed their beady, red eyes upon me, and I broke out in a cold sweat. Meanwhile, Master had resumed his pacing, ignoring our new guests entirely.

    An hour later, I was still at the table, glaring at that stupid crystal. Most of my lower body had fallen asleep, courtesy of the wooden chair I was propped upon. And the shadow creatures, who had long since given up their attempts at intimidation, were now following Master around like wispy, little ducklings trailing their mother.

    Another hour passed. By now, hovering where the earlier illusion had been, the images chronicling the rise and fall of the Numerian Empire had played through three complete cycles. Each cycle represented fifteen centuries. I was never getting out of here. . . .

    A short time later, Adontis asked once again, “What lies beyond the surface?”

    Frustration washed over me. “I don't know!”

    Master's sudden halt caused the train of shadow creatures to pile up behind him. I could hear their faint hisses and growls as they began sorting themselves out. And when I looked at Master's face, he was smiling.

    I'm sure there was a stupid expression on my face as I asked, “Um, what?”

    “That's the answer, my boy.”

    A whirlwind of emotions played through me and were close to bursting forth when I managed to reign them in. So instead of acting like a complete lunatic and screaming at the top of my lungs, I simply said, “I don't understand.”

    Adontis seemed to take notice of the shadow creatures for the first time and shooed them off. They scampered away with an excited twittering, no doubt happy to be released from the stale confines of this room. The image of the Numerian empire, which was about to greet its fourth downfall at the hands of a blood-thirsty throng of barbarians, faded next. That left just Master and I.

    “The reason that 'I don't know' is the correct answer, is because you couldn't know.” Obviously, my perplexed expression held fast because Master continued. “I placed the crystal orb before you and then asked the question. Did I not?”

    “Yes,” I said.

    “Did I state what the question was directed at, or did you just assume it was about the orb?”

    Understanding was beginning to solidify. “No, you didn't state it directly. And yes, I assumed it was about the orb.” I began mentally hitting myself over the head with an imaginary ogre war-club.

    “Well, if you tell me what you learned, then I suppose there is still time for your rendezvous with Alena,” he said with a knowing expression.

    The frustration drained from my body, replaced by a flicker of hope. “Well, since you didn't specify what the question pertained to, there was no way I could know what you were talking about. Thus, 'I don't know,' is the only correct answer.”

    “However,” he began, “if you were able to look into a person's thoughts, then you'd be able to catch such deceptions. Wouldn't you?”

    I rolled it over in my mind for a few heartbeats. “Yes, I suppose.”

    “Good, then your next lessons will be in that area, and you will have no doubt as to why they are important. Now go and enjoy some time with Alena.”

    I grinned at the dismissal, thanked him for the lesson, and bolted from the room. Actually, I intended to bolt from the room. Unfortunately, though, I had forgotten about my legs being asleep. So my bolt turned into more of a flop, with me ending up sprawled on the cool, wooden floor. Snickers emanated from the darkened corner that was nearest me, and I caught a glimpse of beady, red eyes. Well, at least I made someone's day, I thought.

    A soft pressure settled over my body and raised me gently into an upright position. It supported me there until the worst of the pins and needles sensation had left my legs.

    “Thanks, Master,” I said as the support vanished.

    “You're welcome, Apprentice.”

    I headed out of the room a happy man. Not only was I going to get to see Alena that night, but I would eventually be learning how to look beyond the surface of a person and read their mind. How could things be any better?
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