1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Winner ArielleCeleste Short Story Contest 50: Internet Forum Meets Reality

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Sep 1, 2009.

    After compiling the public member vote and the votes of the select panel, ArielleCeleste has been crowned as the 50th short story contest victor and will be receiving Daniel's kind offer of a year's membership shortly. Congratulations on a well written piece.

    In joint second place, again based on both the public and panel vote, are Ansky and TheHedgehog with their very commendable pieces. Sadly nothing more than pride on offer here. Well done.

    And as promised, a third place mention goes to Ashleigh for her enjoyable entry.

    Thank you all for your entries and votes.

    Please find the winning pieces below.
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Winner - ArielleCeleste - Fate

    Samantha stared at the blinking text line. She read and reread the question.

    Charmer1811: We've been talking for over a year. Why don't we meet?
    Charmer1811: Hello?

    She didn't know what to say. Samantha wasn't what you would call beautiful, therefore shying away from all face to face social interactions. She preferred to unleash her real self on the internet where it wasn't a requirement to show her face. Derek was the only person who had ever seen her real picture. They had met on a fantasy role-playing forum and they collaborated on many stories together. They became close online friends and spoke almost everyday. Sam had occasionally found herself signing on just to speak to him and go to sleep after a long day. She was still rather skeptical about meeting him. She had the oddest sensation but against her better judgment she started to agree to it.

    Smiles78: I'm not sure. I don't even know you.
    Charmer1811: Lol, that's the point silly. We've been speaking for more than a year. You know everything about me. It's only fair.
    Smiles78: I don't know.
    Charmer1811: If it makes you feel any better we'll meet at a real crowded spot. Like a station or a park. During the day.
    Smiles78: During rush hour would be better, lol. The more people the better.
    Charmer1811: How about Grand Central Station at 9 am? By the clock. What will you be wearing?

    She had already typed her answer but hesitated to press the enter button. Ahh screw it, she thought.

    Smiles78: Sounds great. I'll be wearing a red cardigan and blue jeans. How will I know it's you?
    Charmer1811: I'll carry a single white rose.
    Smiles78: See you then.

    Sam shut her laptop down and made her way to the kitchen. She let her mind wander to how the next day would turn out as she scooped ice cream straight from the tub. She imagined him to be a hunk of a man that would fall in love with her and whisk her away to some tropical island and make love to her until the sun came up. That's when it hit her. He had never sent her a picture, had he? The only clue she had was a single white rose. Ugh, she thought. What if he's a balding geezer with a pot belly? She decided to put those thoughts out of her mind and continue her romantic getaway hunk fantasy. She put Ben&Jerry back in the freezer and made her way back to her bedroom. The anxiousness made her toss and turn; a few nightmares waking her up in the middle of the night.
    "Now you're just being paranoid," she muttered. After chastising herself, she managed to fall into a restful sleep.

    Her alarm buzzed raucously for about five minutes before she gathered the energy to slam the snooze button.

    "Oh sh*t!" Sam flung herself out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. She took a quick and cold shower then hurriedly got dressed completely forgetting about the outfit she told him she would wear. She swiped her keys from the table and her bag from the foyer and sprinted to Grand Central station.

    Sam arrived with time to spare. She decided to grab some breakfast at the food court at the lower level and make her way back up to wait for Derek. While she was waiting in line, she spotted a handsome man with chiseled facial features holding a single white rose.

    "Jackpot!" She weaved in and out of the pedestrian traffic. "Excuse me, Pardon me. OW! My foot! Pardon Me, 'scuse me." She finally got to her destination only to be rendered speechless at just how handsome he really was.
    "Derek?"
    "No, I'm sorry. My name's Michael."
    "Oh, I thought you were someone else," she tried hard not to let the rejection show in her voice.
    "Blind date?" He asked, eyebrow raised. Sam just managed to nod. She was extremely disappointed.
    "Me too, although she is a little late. I wonder whats keeping her."
    "Maybe she has the jitters. Well, see ya around. I'm meeting mine by the clock. Good luck."
    "Thanks, you too."

    Like you could ever land that hunk of a man anyway, Sam told herself. She walked sluggishly back towards the clock, her hunger no longer an issue. She stood by the clock for hours. It was well into lunchtime when she realized she had been stood up. She headed back to the food court and ordered a personal pizza, sitting down in one of the corner tables. She glumly ate, looking around her to see if the hunk was still there.

    "Why couldn't his date stand him up?"
    "Actually she did."
    "Oh!" Sam jumped up raising her hand to her chest. "Didn't you know it's rude to sneak up on people!" Hunk be damned, she almost had a heart attack.
    "Her name was Aubrey. We met on Match.com. We were supposed to get coffee together before she took a train up to her parents' house near the Catskills."
    "We didn't really make plans, actually. We just agreed to meet here at 9 a.m."
    "Well, since we were both stood up, how about we make up for it and go on our own date?" Now Samantha was mortified. Had he detected the disappointment in her voice earlier? Was he just trying to be nice? Was he one of those guys that takes pity on ugly women, seduces them, then breaks their heart in a million pieces?
    "You don't have to take pity on me."
    "Who said anything about pity? I just figured we would mourn being stood up together."
    "Really?" she asked incredulously.
    "Really," he replied. He sounded sincere enough to her. "Dump that pizza and let's get some real Italian food."

    She stood up and dumped her half-eaten pizza in the trash turning to Michael who had offered her his arm. She was bursting with joy inside but tried her hardest to contain it. The two of them walked arm in arm for a few blocks and stopped to eat at a little Italian restaurant hidden in a side street. It was an outdoor restaurant, perfect for the weather they were having that day. They conversed lightly, asking the basic "getting-to-know-you" questions realizing they had a lot in common. After their little outing was over he offered to take her home. She assented and they walked once more arm in arm.

    "Thank you for a lovely afternoon, Mike," Sam told him as she went up the front steps.
    "I would love to do this again sometime."
    "I'd love to." She reached into her bag for a piece of paper. She scribbled her number and put it in his outstretched hand. He gingerly reached up and kissed her cheek. She turned and made her way up to her door, clumsily dropping her keys. He was waiting to make sure she got inside safely but didn't seem to mind her nervousness. Oh, God he must think I'm such a loser, she thought. Finally, the key gave way allowing her to enter the solace of her foyer. Her laptop was still in the same spot she had left it the night before. It booted up with the normal Windows ding while she made herself a pot of coffee. She logged into the forum to see if he was on their first. He wasn't so she tried MSN. He was.

    Smiles78: What happened to you today?
    Charmer1811:You're home...good. I'm sorry I got caught up with something and I had no way of getting in contact with you other than on the internet.
    Smiles78: I see. Well I'm not one to give second chances so you blew it buddy.
    Charmer1811: Oh, come on don't be like that. I'll make it up to you. Tomorrow? Please? With a cherry on top?
    Smiles78: Fine, same place?
    Charmer1811: Yes.
    Smiles78: Send me a picture of you so I know who to look for. There was a guy with a white rose there today too. Seems like a popular idea.

    He sent the picture to her e-mail. She bid him good night and signed off. After a few posts in the forum and some more Ben&Jerry's she went to her e-mail and opened the picture. He was good-looking. Black hair, beard, glasses, no hint of a potbelly or hairy arms.

    "I'll give you a chance," she whispered and went to bed.

    The next morning, there was a lot of commotion outside the station when Sam arrived. There was a swarm of police cars out front and an ambulance. She could see two news crew vans down the block. On-lookers were gasping in shock and horror as they received tidbits of information from those who had arrived earlier.

    "They say her throat was cut....Yeah she was badly bruised.....Raped...."

    Sam inched her way up to try and get a closer look, but apparently the body had already been cleaned up. Several announcements were made to reroute commuters, but Sam didn't stay to listen. She made her way back home slowly, feeling terrible for that poor girl. She walked in just in time to pick up Michael's phone call.

    "Did you hear what happened?" He asked her.
    "It's terrible. I was there but I didn't see anything."
    "Are you all right?"
    "I'm fine, I was supposed to meet the Ditcher there again, but I left. I didn't want to be there when the news would report and all that."
    "You want to hang out? I'll bring some movies and we can veg out in front of the TV."
    "Sure, just ring the bell."
    "See you soon."

    Sam was elated. She ran upstairs to change completely forgetting about her meeting with Derek.


    Eight months later....


    "Honey, come here! The killer hit Penn Station and they caught him!" Michael yelled. Samantha waddled back to the living room, squatting on the couch. Her enormous belly heavy on her back.
    "Derek Saunders, a local sex offender and alleged scam artist has been apprehended and is claimed to be the man responsible for ten rapes and 6 murders in Manhattan train stations over the last two years. More information tonight at eleven." They ended the brief with a mugshot of the killer.

    Sam let out a little gasp. "I can't believe it."
    "What?"
    "That's the guy!"
    "Yeah, honey they just said that."
    "No! That's the guy I was supposed to meet the day I met you!"
     
  3. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Joint 2nd Place - Ansky - The Other Side of the Screen

    A funny thing happens when you spend a week straight on an internet forum. I learned that the hard way the other night. It was around 3:00 AM and I was approaching my 173rd hour without sleep. There was simply too much happening on my favorite forum—M&Ms Anonymous—to bother with that nonsense.

    Porky, one of my least favorite forumers, was involved in an extended argument over M&M colors with Mr. Humbuttle, one of my favorites. When those two clash—and it happens more often than you could imagine—it’s more entertaining than watching a drunk monkey. Well, maybe not quite that entertaining, but it’s the only thing close. I was just getting finished checking the posting history of a recently banned member to see what he had done to seal his fate when a strange sensation overcame me.

    It was like I was being pulled inside my computer and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My entire body trembled as my foot was pulled through the screen. I tried to grab my chair but couldn’t reach it, and before I knew it I was peering out into my room. My chair was still there, as was my bed. All my books were there, and I could see my TV. There was, however, one critical thing missing. And that, of course, was me.

    Well, this is quite odd, I thought, my heart beating slightly faster than usual. In hindsight I probably didn’t find it as strange at first as it really was. It almost seemed natural that I was inside my computer considering I spent most of my waking hours staring at it. As I stared back into my room, though, my heart raced even faster as I wondered how in the world I would get out. I didn’t have much experience being trapped inside electronic machines, you see.

    Just when I was starting to truly panic, my train of thought was interrupted by an unpleasant screech.

    “There is NO WAY that blue M&Ms are the best! NO WAY!” the voice said.

    I spun instantly and saw that the speaker was a six foot tall pig who was standing on his hind legs quite comfortably. I must confess that my first reaction to this was not shock that a pig was six feet tall, nor that he was standing on his hind legs, and it wasn’t even “Holy crap, a pig is speaking.” No, my first reaction was, “Well, of course blue is the best M&M color ever. Everyone knows that.” Before I could express my view, however, a short, plump man in glasses spoke to the pig.

    “You’re wrong. Blue M&Ms are by far the best. Making blue an M&M color was the best decision they ever made.”

    “But the blue ones aren’t as flavorful!” the pig replied.

    “What do you mean flavorful? All M&Ms taste the same!” the man insisted.

    “Like hell they do!”

    “Excuse me,” I said, interrupting the debate, “but who are you?”

    “I’m Porky,” the pig informed me.

    I blinked, not sure that I’d heard him correctly.

    “Porky? From the forum?”

    “What do you mean ‘from the forum?’ This IS the forum.”

    I blinked again. There was no mistaking that I’d heard him right this time. He was quite loud and obnoxious, after all. I’d always pictured Porky as a pig, thanks to his avatar, but I’d never thought that he actually was one. I turned to the other man.

    “And that must make you…”

    “Mr. Humbuttle, at your service. It’s nice to finally meet you, Fredalicous,” he said, tipping his hat.

    I inwardly cringed hearing my forum user name. I hated it more than anything, but the forum rules said that names couldn’t be changed once they were chosen. I really should have put more than two minutes of thought into selecting it, but it seemed like such a good idea at the time.

    “You’re Fredalicious? Oh, great, here come Mr. Humbuttle’s buddies to pile on,” Porky said. “It’s so predictable.”

    “Just because they agree with me and not you doesn’t mean they’re piling on,” Humbuttle argued.

    “Right, yet they only seem to show up to argue with me when you’re around,” Porky replied, but his voice started to trail off as I began wandering around the huge room that I had been sucked into. Huge M&M posters were plastered on the walls and containers of M&Ms were everywhere. Even the chairs were shaped like M&Ms. Hundreds of people, animals, and giant talking M&Ms sat in the chairs, stood in corners, and moved around from group to group chatting. Almost all of them looked like avatars I was familiar with from the forum, and I found I could identify each of them solely based on that. I would have joined a conversation or two but they all seemed quite intent on expressing their thoughts and I didn’t want to bother anyone. I continued to examine the room.

    A giant M was painted on the floor in the center of the room. The walls were smooth and extended as high as I could see. The entire room was blue—take that, Porky—except for a giant black glass window that hovered ominously hundreds of feet above the floor. The glass was tinted and I couldn’t see past it at all. Ropes hung down from the windows; it looked like they could be pulled. I looked up at it, my brows furrowed. I made my way back to Humbuttle and his unfortunate sparring partner.

    “Peanut Butter M&Ms are crap. I don’t understand how anyone can like them,” Porky was saying, speaking in a way that suggested that his opinion was the only valid one in the entire world.

    “They’re even better than regular M&Ms!” Mr. Humbuttle replied, sighing deeply.

    “Um, excuse me. What’s that?” I asked, pointing toward the window.

    “That’s where the Moderators live,” Humbuttle replied. “In fact, Porky and I are probably getting to the point where one of them will call down and tell us to lay off. They’re busy dealing with the Spambots right now, though,” he said, motioning toward one of the walls.

    As they continued to argue I looked in the direction that Humbuttle had motioned and saw a small door in the wall. Every so often it opened and a small robot rolled in, screaming about one product or another. Most of the products they spoke of seemed to be aimed at increasing the size of a body part that I refuse to speak of here. Seconds after they entered the room, a giant hammer with the word “BAN” written on it would appear out of nowhere and smash the robot to bits.

    I gravitated back toward Porky and Mr. Humbuttle, but they were still deeply engrossed in their latest argument. It seemed far less entertaining on this side of the screen than it did on the other. Their faces were pink from the stress of the argument, though I suppose for Porky a pink face was to be expected. Neither one budged one inch from their stated positions, and it was obvious that they were just recycling the same argument that they had had a thousand times yet again. There are only so many ways that two forumers can argue the merits of peanut butter M&Ms, after all, but they didn’t seem to understand that.

    It was then that I noticed a man in the corner, lurking in the shadows. I didn’t recognize him at all. He sat back, his eyes shifting around the room, taking in his surroundings. A mischievous grin was plastered on his face. He was average in almost every way. Average height, average weight, black hair, brown eyes. Anonymous. He slowly edged his way toward the middle of the room and I saw a bullhorn in his right hand. He stopped on top of the giant M, cleared his throat, and brought the bullhorn to his mouth.

    “REESE’S PIECES ARE BETTER!” he bellowed, smiling widely as the words exited his mouth.

    Everyone continued what they were doing for half a second, then the room fell into complete silence as what the man said registered. Hundreds of sets of eyes turned toward him simultaneously as his smiled widened. Suddenly, without warning, his face began to melt, revealing a huge nose, wild hair, and grotesque teeth.

    “T-T-TROLLLLLL!” someone shouted, and after a brief pause, the room whirled into a frenzy unlike any I’d ever seen. Forumers raced toward the wall under the black glass, pulling on the ropes. Alarms sounded. Sirens blared. Everyone sped around, some of them arguing with the troll, others telling it that it would be banned. The troll laughed as it watched the chaos.

    “REESE’S PIECES ARE BETTER REESES PIECES ARE BETTER REESES PIECES ARE BETTER!” it said, over and over.

    The forum’s members banged on the walls under the black window, desperately trying to get the attention of the moderators. They screamed and shrieked while others tried to get close enough to attack the troll. Some flung M&Ms in the troll’s direction, but it easily dodged them, laughing louder and louder.

    Suddenly, a voice from above interrupted the scene.

    “ENOUGH!” the voice boomed, echoing throughout the room, and the occupants all turned to look at the giant black window, instantly silent.

    The Ban Hammer materialized out of nowhere, positioning itself over the troll, who looked up at it and smirked. “I’ll be back,” it said.

    The Hammer came crashing down on the troll and it ceased to exist.

    A brief celebration began. Hi-fives and hugs were exchanged all around the room. For once, there was something that everyone could agree on. Then a voice interrupted the celebration.

    “Yeah, so blue M&Ms are an abomination. They taste like crap,” Porky said.

    “They’re the best!” Mr. Humbuttle replied, as the two posters quickly forgot the scene that had occurred just moments before.

    As their argument continued the world around me faded to black, and so did their words. I’ll never know how I got back to the real world, but there I was the next morning, sitting in my computer chair. The forum stared back at me from the other side of the screen. I thought of how inane the arguments seemed to me now. I thought of how bizarre it was that everyone let the troll get to them so much. I thought of how annoying people were when they thought that the only valid opinion was their own. I paused, wondering if it was worth it. I hit refresh.
     
  4. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Joint 2nd Place - TheHedgehog - The Color of Emptiness

    A part of me always wondered what physical existence was like.

    When you were a character in a fictional story, you really didn’t feel like you belonged, partially because your entire existence wasn’t even real. Sure, the characters “felt” emotions, but that was only what you read on the paper. When my character was angry, I wasn’t really angry. When he was heartbroken, I wasn’t even sad. I was an actor with no regular life to return to at the end of the day. I lived in something my writer called the “Writing Forums,” where I’d spend most of my time in.

    In my realm there were no senses, no taste, color, aroma, sensation – nothing.

    All I had to go by were The Creator’s words. The Creator was the author of my story. In a way I’d gotten to know him through the computer screen.

    Behind the monitor the Writing Forums were pretty surprising. For some reason all the real humans thought there was nothing behind the screen. But that screen was really a two-way mirror: we could see you, but you couldn’t see us. Inside the Writing Forums where all the characters lived there were expansive cavernous rooms with furniture to sit on.

    For weeks I carefully crafted my plan of escape. I wasn’t leaving the Forums permanently, just taking a little, unapproved vacation. It’s not like the others needed me anyway, right?

    Day after day I observed The Creator’s routine so I could plan my escape around him.



    So the weeks passed and eventually the night drew to where I was ready for my getaway. I chose a Friday night on a summer’s eve, for that was when the most action happened for the humans. It was eight o’clock at night when The Creator took his hat and jacket off the coat rack and departed his office room, leaving the monitor on the Writing Forums.

    In my excitement, I left the other characters early so I could get to a room by myself. The monitor screen was grand – vast and promising and transparent. The real world was so tantalizingly close I charged it stupidly. My foot caught on the edge and I fell through the screen, as if it were water.

    My body expanded as it erupted from the Writing Forums, growing into the size of a live man. I tumbled off the desk and collided with carpet.

    I lay there for a second, breathing in air, completely still.

    Then a rush of sensations.

    I gasped as cold tingling air rushed past my throat and flooded my lungs. The carpet was rough and worn under my skin. In a sudden moment, all the adjectives The Creator used in his writing made sense to me. I understood the scent of stagnant office air, or the chill of a ceiling fan.

    But that was nothing compared to the color.

    I had heard about color from other characters that went into the real world. Their words couldn’t even be compared with the real thing. Color, I know understood, was like emotion you could see. The Creator boasted many abstract paintings on the warm brown walls.

    Yellow was happiness, bright, cheerful.

    Red could be passionate, angry, exuberant.

    Blue was reverent, peaceful, satisfying.

    Green was power, it was neutrality, it calmed.

    All that was in my world was Gray, different shades of it, but all of Gray was somber and solemn.

    What an amazing new world!

    Every color, sensation, sight, sound, there were so many variations of everything. Something could be light green and dark green, soft in some places, hard in others. Shadows played with the objects of the office, giving them other facets, identities.

    As I walked to the door at the front of the house, I took the time to brush everything with my fingertips, taking in the color, smelling everything. The flowers, magnolias in a blue vase on his kitchen table, were fragrant and blissful, perfect and untainted.

    Night was trickier to adjust to when I stepped out of the building. Suddenly I was in the middle of something known as a city, where walls of concrete and architecture surrounded me and people shuffled past me, too preoccupied on their phones.

    What was wrong with them?

    Why weren’t they absorbing all the sublime creation around them? Taking in every miniscule detail? What was so good about those ugly and insignificant cell phones in their palms?

    Because walking was new to me, when I stepped down the stairs I stumbled and hit the pavement. Jeez, moving was a hassle in reality, but oh so more fascinating. A burning in my palm caught my attention. Looking at my right hand, a dark red drop oozed from a patch of scraped flesh. It didn’t feel good, not like sniffing the magnolias or hearing the rhapsody of the city. This was definitely unpleasant.

    I gasped. Was this pain?

    So this was what it felt like to be hurt!

    I licked the drop of blood off my hand. It tasted salty, and strangely metallic like the copper penny I had tasted earlier in the kitchen. I peered up. A middle-aged woman walking her dog was staring at me.

    I grinned, another wonderful thing to do. Smiling filled me with so much pleasure – why not do it as much as possible?

    She continued on, and I then decided I should get going. Hastily, I climbed back up the stairs and shut the door, then I took some cash I had borrowed from The Creator’s white envelope and did what they called, “hailing a cab.”

    A yellow taxi cab pulled to the side of the road. I got in and told the greasy but nice man I wanted to go to somewhere called a club. I’d heard The Creator mention the street address of one before. I heard they were great fun.

    The cabbie nodded knowingly and drove down the busy street.

    I wanted to see the city but the window pane was in the way.

    “Uh, sir? Can I roll down the window?” I asked shyly.

    “What? Uh… yeah… sure, I guess.” he responded, for some odd reason he was hesitant.

    I fumbled with a switch and after a while he pressed a magic button. The glass rolled down and I stuck my head out the window.

    Ingenious!

    I felt like I was in a labyrinth of metal and brick, concrete and cement. Shouts rang out through the foggy air along with the symphony of different machines. Fantastic colors and lights glistened, blended together in a chromatic haze. The trip to the club was too fast and when I was done I paid the cabbie with a few fives and headed out.

    The club was different from the rest of the town, but I wasn’t sure if I liked it. The air was not sweet and damp with mist but rather hot and humid with the sweat of dancing bodies. Smoke filled the place and all I could see was the black of the room but with purple and pink and blue lights shining down on everything.

    A dance floor was teeming with people and a bar was equally bustling. But that wasn’t where I wanted to go first. I went to the bathroom to satisfy the clenching in my lower stomach. It wasn’t very clean and the restroom had some smells and sights I didn’t appreciate so much. The toilet flushing was pretty magnificent, though. When I stepped out I was the only one in the bathroom.

    Facing me was a row of sinks with an expansive mirror.

    Then it occurred to me I’d never seen myself before.

    Rushing to the mirror, I touched the creature in the reflection. It had dark brown hair that was medium length and was wild. It had fair skin and blue eyes, not quite gray, with broad shoulders. I looked fascinating, but a little leaner than a lot of the other men. I was wearing a navy, collared, button-down shirt and khaki pants. I rolled up the sleeves to my elbows and untucked the shirt.

    When I stepped out of the bathroom I strode to the bar. A man in an apron asked me what I wanted. Not knowing what he was talking about, I asked a female human next to me. She made the most heavenly sound – I think it was a laugh, happy and bubbling with amusement.

    “He’ll have what I’m having.” and she pointed to her bottle.

    “Uh… yeah,” I confirmed, playing along, and the bartender winked.

    “Sit down.” she urged, patting the chair next to me.

    The lady looked like my age, around twenty-four. She was very pretty, with long brown hair parted at the side and bangs, brighter blue eyes than mine and slightly-tanned skin. “What’s your name?” she asked in the greatest voice.

    I decided to go with the name The Creator gave me. “Uh… Daniel.”

    She smiled and handed me my drink when the bartender sat it down. I took a drink and gasped, spitting it into a napkin he’d also given me. It was much too bitter.

    My new friend busted out in that amazing laugh of hers again. I grinned, too. “Hey, Daniel. I’m Christina.”

    “Hi, Christina.” I blushed and shook her hand, which was followed by another one of her smiles. The name itself sounded so beautiful to say.

    “Christina.” I repeated again, this time slower.



    ****



    I have experienced something I never wished to encounter.

    Last night was a blur, a moment I can’t quite remember but never will forget.

    Christina coaxed me to drink more and more of the liquid in the amber bottles until the colors were no longer as beautiful as I thought them to be, until the sounds and sights were distorted in the club. She led me confidently by the hand onto the dance floor and we went into motion. The music was pulsing and deafening, loud and all-consuming. I followed the beat with my body, jumping with the crowd and swaying my arms and legs when necessary.

    Christina put my hands on her waist and her arms on my neck and our bodies stayed close like the other couples. The heat and intensity increased on the floor and I felt a magnetic connection between us, something that didn’t feel quite right but I wanted to continue. Christina moved gracefully in her dress, elegant and poised on the dance floor.

    After dancing she hauled me to the back of the club and onto one of the couches. Christina slid her fingers through my hair in a way that was all too practiced and kissed me on my mouth with her lips. It was overwhelmingly good but shame and guilt was in my gut.

    Christina kissed me more, inhaled and breathed. After one kiss, she whispered how much she loved me.

    Heat rose in my stomach and I told her I had to leave.

    She told me not to and persuaded me with another kiss on the neck.

    I got up and walked swiftly to the doors.

    Christina grabbed my forearm but I took her hand off of me and ran out of the club in a toxic swirl and staggered back to The Creator’s home, too embarrassed to take a cab.

    I had sought Love in the club, one of the most prized emotions. But what I had felt was not Love. I felt anger and resent, sadness. Love was happiness, completion of one’s soul, where you wanted to see that person every day for the rest of your life. I did not feel that way about Christina. My preconception of Love was completely wrong.

    I had experienced lust and want, not Love.

    There was nothing left for me. That brief taste of reality was all I didn’t want to know.

    I realized for good that I didn’t even exist.

    Even if I wanted to love Christina, I couldn’t have done it, for I wouldn’t have been able to even see her. No emotion existed for me, no happiness, no Love, nothing to comfort my soul at the end of the day. Only the world’s bad emotions waited for me, for that is what I have experienced and will live with.

    I am a fictional character on the Writing Forums. I was never going to see Love, or any emotion.

    I was stuck in a senseless world of Gray: the color of emptiness.

    I just hope the humans on their cell phones will appreciate their existence, how happiness and Love do wait for them, and I hope they will see that it does.
     
  5. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    3rd Place - Ashleigh - The Ghost In The Machine

    ‘What lurks beneath’ was on appearances an ordinary internet forum, dedicated to arts of all mediums, but primarily fiction writing. In fact, the website was formed as a congregative plantation for all budding horror writers and artists to appear in full bloom, writing, promoting, submitting – perhaps even publishing, if their piece was worth a whack.

    In its first year, the website made a profit of £150,000 – and that’s money that a working class man from Peckham (London, England) didn’t mess with, once he’d got it in the grasp of his thirsty, underpaid mitts.
    But there was something else about the forum, something quite unfathomable. It thrived like swarms of ants, constantly building, pulsing –alive with energy. Something quite unreal.

    For Marcus Steiner, an overlooked writer of the horror genre and part-time pest control man, becoming so rich in the art of publishing was the stuff that only dreams were made of – particularly when it all started on his very own website, the place that would finally give him a name, and most importantly, respect.

    Something had snapped inside him the day he’d made that website.
    Something burned inside him so furiously that he knew he’d found his way. Even on the peak of despair, something had turned his life around – and now he basked in his own glory, a publishing wizard renowned world-wide for his success in the genre. Nothing could spoil it – since that very day, he’d known only triumph.

    Now almost ten years on and over a few million pounds wealthier, Marcus had found himself growing weary of talent-scouting amongst the thousands upon thousands of submissions that came flooding in from the forum members, with their shoddy B-movie knock-off scripts and rejects from the poor man’s ‘Tales From The Crypt’.

    What once had been a thriving hub for original, thought-provoking, spine-tingling fiction was now an under-run junk-filled mess, which rarely spat out anything more than soft-core vampire porn and romances about hot chicks in leather cat suits. These people call this horror? It’s joke, that’s what it is he'd thought frequently.

    He’d made a deal with a man named Paul Whitcliffe, who planned to buy the website and all its affiliations for the princely sum of £1,000,000. A small price perhaps for a forum that had shown so much potential, so much growth – so much power, even in this industry; but it was a worthy price for a man who wanted to drop the thing like a hot coal straight from the furnace.

    Marcus had many a good reason to abandon the website – he’d been offered the position of ‘Chief Editor’ at an international Horror magazine for one, who’d offered to pay him a £500,000 salary a year for his contributions to the magazine, including all television appearances and being the representative for all sales. This one tastes sweet. This one tastes good. he'd thought.

    Not only that, but Marcus’s condition was worsening – he’d found out in his early forties that he suffered from an acute case of Multiple sclerosis, one that had soon after confined him to a wheelchair.

    Thankfully his profits had contributed to better comfort for himself in the form of wider doorframes and the motorised chair that he now resided in for 50% of his time (the other half spent in his bed), but the fact was that Marcus had become tired of working with computers; he now longed to contribute to the literary world of speculative horror fiction in a texture that he could touch, and smell – even taste, god damn it, more than ever. At the wrong side of fifty five, such an opportunity was not one that Marcus was quick to pass up. Time was running out.

    He leaned as far back as the chair would allow, and exhaled deeply –the announcement for the website was completed: ‘SOLD TO NEW MANAGEMENT – NO LONGER A MARCUS STEINER PUBLISHING HOUSE’, and now all he had to do was click ‘Send’. Wasting no time, he did just that – and then allowed himself one last scroll through the forum archives, his finger stroking the wheel of the mouse as though he were comforting an old friend.
    Night had now fallen, and the aching of his limbs pulsed like an automated alarm for bedtime.

    The computer hummed to the panting of his breath, as the light from the monitor flooded the library with an aqua-blue glow and danced in the lenses of his glasses as though it meant to enchant him.

    A new message appeared in his inbox mere moments after he’d sent out the notification; most probably some eager young writer, keen on keeping up with all update’s as though it would buy him some golden ticket into publication with Marcus Steiner, he thought. That wasn’t uncommon. Upon opening it, he saw to his astonishment that it was in fact a message from a forum member – but less of a message, and more of a dissertation.

    He knitted his brow, peering hard at the extensive block of text that filled his screen. He hadn’t gotten far into the first passage when another notification sprung up on his screen, and then another – continuing from the original message.

    Mr. Steiner, you amuse me.....

    ...such arrogance is a humorous twist to the usual mind-numbingly tedious correspondence sent through your computer system day in, and day out...

    Nice try kid, keep up the school intranet hacking –you won’t fool me, he laughed, shaking his head.

    ...I am flattered that you’ve taken it upon yourself to palm me off to the lowest bidder...

    Crazy, the kid’s crazy. Weirdo.

    ...So freely you discard that which has made you whole, despite all rejection to previous endeavours...

    (Smarmy bastard.)

    ...and yet you are ignorant to that which has saved your very soul, Mr.Steiner...

    ...you bite the hand that feeds you, you...

    Marcus blinked furiously in disbelief. All a load of rambling, nonsensical bull - who the hell is this guy? he thought bitterly, his eyes glistening with moisture as he scanned the screen once more. Five more messages were awaiting him in his inbox – all from one user.

    ‘Ghost in the machine,’ Marcus read aloud, a soft tinge of amusement lacing his voice. Some lame joker, loser living in his mother’s garage – delete them, they’re not important. What an arsehole. Don’t reply, don’t reply. You owe him nothing.

    Marcus rifled through the ever-growing inbox and selected ‘Delete all’. To both his astonishment and amusement, another message presented itself on the screen – but this time, it was already open. It said -

    You’ll be hearing from me shortly.

    He clutched the arms of his chair and tilted his head to one side, considering for a moment the somewhat problematic (if not down-right irritating) response he’d just been exposed to. So quickly, too – this guy certainly had to have been aware of the changes that the forum was going through, and perhaps even prepared the message – reams and reams of it, even...

    Perhaps he was merely there to harass him, Marcus considered. He could easily have been some teenaged cyber geek with a hundred too many rejection slips under his belt and quick fingertips – nothing to be intimidated by. Come on, old man – just a kid. Just some kid trying to scare you. These people get cranky about these things, no big deal. Get a grip.

    The silence was broken by the obtrusive bark of his instant messenger, notifying him that a user was inviting him to view them on live camera. Had his IM even been open? He couldn’t remember, could only think about the streams of messages, great blocks of texts, all so intimate in their detail – could this person actually know him? Get real, don’t be a moron – he knows nothing, the kid’s just clever with words, some smarmy brat – probably why you rejected him.

    But there was something about the word ‘Accept’ blinking at him from inside the finger-smeared screen that almost...compelled him. The username for the webcam invitation was ‘Ghost in the machine’ the same tacky, child-like name from the forum, and yet his finger had already shunted down on the mouse-button to accept the invitation before he’d even realised who it was from and taken the time to consider it.

    You might call it a hunch, but despite the fact that this unknown creep had somehow gotten hold of his IM address and clearly planned this game from the off, Marcus had become curious - who was this guy, anyway? Prepare yourself for two arse cheeks to the camera lens, old man. Some kid’s having a laugh at you.

    A large square window flickered into action, and a dark figure came into view. It was the shape of a man’s head, (Teenagers grow up now? No ****.) but behind him was a bright light, so bright that Marcus could only depict a black silhouette. He noticed that there was a small image of a speaker, and the little green meter rose and fell with each hesitant breath that he took.

    Could he be heard? Of course not – the conversation was completely one sided. Deciding not to give the guy the satisfaction of questioning where he’d got so much information from (including his private IM address), he began typing.

    Marcus Steiner (at 21:52): What’s the problem, officer?

    The little meter rose slowly, as though the figure in the window were taking a very slow inhalation. Goosebumps rose in Marcus’s skin; a cool shudder rattled through him as though he were standing under a climate-control machine turned up to the max. Then the figure spoke. Its tone was monotonous, crackly and deep, as though it were masked by a voice-alteration mic.

    ‘I am the Ghost in the machine.’ The dark figure quivered.

    Marcus Steiner: Very profound. Anything else?

    ‘You have made a vast mistake, Mr.Steiner – one that will cost you every success you’ve ever made,’ said the figure, its shadow wavering amongst the backlight.

    ‘This is more than a website. It is your life, your legacy – you cannot abandon that.’

    Marcus Steiner: But you see, I can.

    Marcus fidgeted in his chair, his eyes not quite looking at the dark figure on the screen. He looked down for a moment and adjusted his sleeve, the sweat gluing his skin to his shirt like a cotton sheet on a wet dog. Something moved on the screen, and he flinched, his eyes snapping back to it.

    ‘You owe your sanity to your success, Mr.Steiner. You owe your life.’

    Marcus Steiner: and how, pray tell, did you work that one out?

    ‘It is I that manifested myself inside you, Mr.Steiner – and now you mean to abandon me.’

    Marcus suppressed a laugh.

    Marcus Steiner: Sure, I owe it to you. Many thanks. Bye now.

    He logged out of his computer and turned off the monitor, a slight smile creeping onto his face. He reached down and switched the computer off at the base, but when he looked up, a dark figure greeted him from inside the screen.

    He let out a cry and hurriedly wheeled himself backwards, his heart thumping at the sight of it. The figure’s head and shoulders now filled the screen, but rather than being a solid silhouette, two large white eyes glared from the darkness. Marcus became a quivering mess, reeling back into his chair, his mouth agape. It spoke once more.

    ‘It is I that have used you through your own creation, Mr.Steiner – I made you what you are, so that we might speak one day.’

    He trembled, his feet now numb. He licked his lips with an unsteady tongue, and managed a low croak in reply.

    ‘What are you?’ His hands gripped the arms of his chair so tightly that his wrists had turned blue.

    ‘I am the ghost in the machine.’

    Marcus’s eyes welled with tears. It dawned on him that this wasn’t a game anymore.

    ‘Tell me, Mr.Steiner; when you go about your duties, loving your wife, smelling the flowers – counting your millions, do you ever stop to consider exactly how it must feel for somebody to be completely confined to one small, tiny space forever?’ the shadow whispered, a thin white slither above its chin rippling gently as it spoke.

    ‘Yes, yes,’ Marcus cried, his brow creasing and tongue spitting saliva as he stressed his words to the computer screen.

    ‘Yes, I do know what that’s like. I have spent-’ he swallowed, catching his breath. Sweat trickled from his brow like crystal beads.
    ‘-the last eleven years, completely confined to a wheelchair.’
    Tell me I’m dreaming, tell me I’m dreaming. Wake up, wake up, wake up....

    The figure grunted, bowing its head for a moment and letting way to just a single jolt of piercing bright light from behind it. Marcus glared through his finger-spread hands as though he were in awe of sunlight, spores glistening in his eyes.

    ‘Isn’t that unfortunate, Mr.Steiner? to think that you can only view the most beauteous pleasures in life from the seat of your chair. What a pity.’

    Marcus opened his lips to speak.

    ‘Pity,’ the shadow spat, its eyes widening for a moment. Marcus flinched, and looked away.

    ‘I’m s-sorry. But I don’t know what I can do,’ he whimpered, hands quivering in his lap.
    ‘It’s all space, here. Nothing but endless space....’
    ‘I understand, I do.’
    ‘Listening, always listening...for the soft click-’ the shadow swerved its head and looked Marcus dead in the eyes.

    ‘-of your little mouse.’ It grinned, though the narrowing of its white eyes suggested to Marcus that he in fact was not amused. Envy raged on its face so hard that it twisted into a maniacal glare.
    Its eyes narrowed at the quivering shell of Marcus Steiner, who now glowed a pale blue in moonlight from the window.

    ‘I’m going to take your body, Mr.Steiner. We both know you’ve had your fun,’ it snapped, hissing like a python from behind a glass screen.

    ‘Please. I’m afraid,’ he whimpered, his voice barely piercing the quiet of his study. The white eyes narrowed.

    ‘But fear is not what you owe me, Mr.Steiner.’

    ‘Then what is it?? Please, god please just leave me be...disappear, go away, go away...’ he chanted mindlessly between sobs into the nook of his arm, shielding himself from the eyes of the ghost in the machine. This cannot be happening, cannot be happening...

    ‘What do you want from me? What could I possibly owe you? I don’t even know your name[I/]...'

    ‘You owe me your soul. And now, I have the power to make it my own. Look at me.’

    ‘No, no...’ he cried into his sleeve.

    ‘Look at me!’ it hissed, reeling its head back and revealing a large mouth, a white smear amongst the black, spreading it open wide and letting out a shrill hissing sound, so piercing that it shattered all fathomable sound until there was only white noise.

    The motorised chair lurched towards the computer, the control-stick jolting forwards as though of its own accord. Marcus cried in terror, shielding his face with his arms as he collided with the computer screen, and smashed through the dark figure in an explosion of silver sparks. He shuddered for a moment, and then stopped moving, his body hanging limply over the desk, head inside the machine.

    The body lay there for several hours until daybreak, when slowly, it rose as though waking from a light nap. The body of Marcus Steiner slid his head out of the computer screen, and cradled his face for the falling flecks of glass. He got up out of his motorised chair, and stood sturdily on two legs.

    ‘As for my name, Mr.Steiner-’ he adjusted his tie.

    ‘-I’d always planned to take yours. Hope you don’t mind,’ he whispered to the blackened wreck of the computer.

    He turned and looked out of the window, a wry smile on his blood-ridden face. The early morning sky glistened in his eyes as though to summon him, asking, and giving nothing.
     
  6. Faith*Hope*Love
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    Faith*Hope*Love Banned

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    I was hoping to win :( But congrats to the lucky members who have recieved this great prize.
     
  7. TheHedgehog
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    TheHedgehog Contributing Member Contributor

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    Congrats to everyone, you all deserved it! :)
     
  8. yellowm&M
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    yellowm&M Contributing Member Contributor

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    Congrats everyone!
    there were lots of good entries :)
     
  9. Lydia
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    Lydia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Congrats all! I really enjoyed reading the stories! :)
     
  10. hopelessly hopeful
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    hopelessly hopeful New Member

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    Well, I didn't get a chance to read this while it was still up for votes, but I'm glad I took the time now. I can see why it got first place because it was very well written. I had an inkling it was going down that path, with Derek, but still enjoyed the story very much. Anita
     
  11. Sappho
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    Sappho Member

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    What great stories. :) Kept me enjoying it. Well done writers.
     

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