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  1. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Past Contest November 2018 Short Story Contest

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest' started by Wreybies, Nov 4, 2018.

    November's prompt is brought to you by @Lifeline ;)

    Use it in whatever way you wish for your story. For those who've never seen tumbleweeds, those are tumbleweeds.

    31144098_1720793354648368_3417554405402610544_n.jpg

    Requirements
    • 1,200 - 5,000 words
    • Any genre
    • Any style
    • Polished to the best of your ability
    • One entry per person
    How to Enter

    Post your entry as a reply to this thread. It will be automatically anonymized. Please title the story and include the word count.

    You will be able to post entries until November 30th at midnight GMT-4.

    Voting

    Voting will run from December 1 to 15. There are no fixed voting criteria: voters will choose the story they think is the best.

    Winner

    The winner will be announced on December 16. He or she will get a shiny medal under their avatar, automatic entry into the annual Hall of Fame contest, and their winning story featured in the WritingForums annual ezine.

    Get writing!
     
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  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    test
     
  3. Norfolk nChance

    Norfolk nChance Banned

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    Words: 3,026

    An Unplanned Exit



    Chapter I
    Midnight, Mainstreet was deserted apart from the odd ball of wind driven tumbleweed. The downpour keeping everybody indoors, suppressing the normal high humidity to a more bearable level. The dirt through road had become a pungent water-logged sludge, sharpening the regular smell of hay and horse shit. The only sound was the rain bouncing off the shop overhangs muffling the rowdy crowd from the saloon at the top, far end of the street.

    The Jack & Danny Hardware corner store was closed like most at this hour apart from the whore house and said saloon. The shop, was the same construction as the rest of the street buildings all wood built two-story type with the odd flickering light seen coming from a first-floor room or two. The corner store’s upstairs window exploded suddenly, punctuating the dull hum of the rain with a loud shattering smash. This, due to the black slave girl’s unplanned exit from the rented room, thrown backwards headlong through the frame.

    Gravity took hold, and she fell face first hard onto the fixed wooden awning above the shop, splashing the collected pool of water, the roll continued. Its design was to keep rain off potential window-shopping customers not to catch falling slaves. Head over heels or ass over tit, unable to control the fall off the low angled overhang; the ten-foot drop came to a sudden end with a thud and splash of sludge, the sound dampened by the persistent deluge.

    The overpowering smell of horse shit began to revive her, face down, covered. A sharp stinging pain from the left lower ribs, the white flashing stars showing partial concussion present. Slowly she turned crouching onto all fours, blood pouring from a broken nose. Staggering back to life, she used the wooden railing to climb back to her full six feet, standing uneasily. Tears streaming down her face. Caused not by the physical pain from the three light fractures, broken nose, or dislocated jaw... no her heart and her soul had just been completely ripped out.

    She knew it would take too long to run around to the side door, climb the stairs and back to the room to help. Screaming as hard and as loud as her lungs could, no sound came. Air was completely missing from her body. Hyper ventilating, she gained back her primal control, slowly it came at last...

    “Argh No, Shia please no...” she cried

    She was still in mortal danger... “Come on girl you need to get your shit together and quick... focus...” the slave said to herself trying to motivate her broken body to work... “Get moving, come on...Move you bitch, he’ll be coming soon enough. Come on, move...”

    The girl’s white smock was wet through leaving little to the imagination, stained with patches of red and mud. The facial Vudo tattoos partially covered by dry blood from the broken nose, still able to smell the horse shit though. Filth in her messy afro drained down to cover half her face, tears still rolling. She cautiously hobbled, barefoot, dodging tumbleweed to the opposite side of the street, holding the pain threshold in check, not passing out.

    Tia closed in, leaning into the side of the building wall catching her breath. Breathing heavily with the mouth only. Ducked low, and with a small turn round the back of the structure she was gone, disappearing into the safety of darkness and the night.
    -0-


    Chapter II
    “Sir, we’re about one hour out from reaching port. The Sun will set before we get there and I forecast another cloudy wet night.”

    “Thank-you Captain Eldridge, I want to dock quickly and get off the harbour front then you my man, get the hell out of there understood...?”

    “Aye-aye Sir”

    The Cabin was tiny, dark, damp and smelt of sweat and other odours of a small working ship. It was perfectly functional though for his needs with speed, stealth and would go unnoticed in any port. He returned to his exercise, the Latin Bible in his right-hand with left leg in a forward stance. He punched the spine hard into the internal wooden structure, 47... 48... 49... 50...

    The plain-looking Brig was the notorious Fair American, that morning had left the rendezvous meeting in the middle of nowhere to then head due East. The wind North-West and moderate for September. The Fair American’s optimal sail profile is Broad-Reach which was unfortunate, but she still made good speed against the wind or Close-Hauled.

    With the only cargo a man or more correctly described a tall European looking Catholic Priest the light Brig could move fast with little in the hold apart from parts for an at sea repair and rum. This compared to other slower larger Frigates or the massive fleet line ships which simply would take an age to cover the same distance while close-hauled.

    The Captain ordered a 45-degree North turn to a North-East Heading. This would take the Fair American into Sale-Trou and with a good turn of pace to boot. The Sun fading fast now sinking over the Western horizon turning the cloudy sky orange. The Brig turned in a slow measured arch to track her new course, the crew busy as bees running around the tiny ship.

    The first noticeable difference was the sail shapes on both the fore and the mainmasts becoming visibly fuller catching more wind at Broad-Reach. Within moments the bow wave increased in length moving down the whole side of the hull. White wave water splashing over onto the PORT side quarter deck as the wind pushed her forward and a tad over-heeled. Captain Eldridge’s smile was an easy spot as the Fair American accelerated some four or five knots to something approaching a fast 15knots.

    The dog-leg route charted into the port is not normal. A small ship of this size would hug the coast line keeping land near and in sight of all shipping for support if Pirates prey. Instead she stayed far out at sea exposed to the elements, flaunting the pirate risk. The Fair American here at sea goes unnoticed by all traffic allowing for a deep infiltration into the enemy territory.

    ...The Brig play-ning (planing) nearly at her maximum possible speed saw the large Blue, White and Red flag unfurl aloft. The Tricolore looked a magnificent sight fluttering in the wind and could be seen by all far and wide as the Fair American sailed into the enemy French waters towards her port.
    -0-


    Chapter III
    Sale-Trou deserved its nickname of Filthy-Hole, it was the main landing station for slave ships to dock at the island. Here the ones that survived the long hazardous sea journey were assessed and packaged into cattle style holding pens. Then sold at the local auction to the plantation owners scattered throughout the island. These plantations for sugar and later coffee required 40,000 slaves per year be landed at this God forsaken filthy hole.

    It made Saint-Domingue or Haiti one of the richest colonies in the French Empire producing 40 percent of all sugar and 60 percent of all coffee consumed in Europe. The imported slave population for these plantations nearly totalled 800,000 or a third of all the total Atlantic slave trade.

    Revolts occurred often, needing French troops permanently garrisoned at strategic places throughout the island with support troops at hot spots. More and more frequent slave uprisings have continued to occur since the large revolts of ten years passed in Haiti. The plan by the Priest was coming to fruition causing chaos not just on Santo Domingo but wider islands like Puerto Rico or Martinique and finding the rich French owners running this trade. These plantations directly supported the Emperor Bonaparte’s war machine in Europe. Like all wars, this no different ran more on money than the cost of conscripted souls.

    Apart from support troops to quash these revolts, other means were used to very good effect. One was to infiltrate the slave rebels and execute them in a very horrific and public way. Voodoo was the perfect vehicle to scare the slaves into obedience. All the slaves would be forced to watch a ritual by witchdoctors or shaman and then the revolt ring leaders would be named and shamed in the ceremony. Brought out in Public and bled to death slowly. No magic involved, just sheer terror.

    The Priest had caused and influenced some local disruptions forcing action by one such merchant. The Merchant should find a surprise battle just starting about now springing the trap with the Royal Navy at Tiburon. He knew the French owner would’ve dropped off his execution team into Sale-Trou first leaving them to go do what they do best. He’d have a small window to intercept them. The background research took months of planning using all forms of people and organizations. It was a good thing he wasn’t religious in any way shape or form.
    -0-


    Chapter IV
    Hidden against the building, just showing the end of the spy glass he monitored the upstairs rooms of the Jack & Danny Hardware corner store. The shop already closed for the evening with the two targets returned to their lodgings. He watched them drinking away dancing in front of the window oblivious to the outside world. The rain driving most people indoors, midnight approached on this miserable evening not a soul about this end of Mainstreet. He was well insulated though with the Priest’s black cowling robe and hood pulled up over his head. Unfortunately, the heavy horse shit smell he couldn’t avoid.

    He knew they’d celebrate pre-mission with a red wine piss-up and cocaine. It was mandatory with the ritual dance peaking at midnight. He’d seen them do it twice before as a routine and this time looked no different. Checked his Hunter-Case pocket watch 30 minutes to go, good it’s time to get moving. Collapsed the spy glass, it disappearing into the cowling. The Latin Bible clutched in his right hand he walked slow, very calm with no sudden movement through the mud across the street not drawing any attention in the rain allowing the tumbleweed to just bounce off ‘round him.

    The Hardware Store’s side entrance led up to a fleet of see-through wooden stairs reaching the landing-floor or hallway above. On the left the two room doors stood ten feet apart. The entire area was very poorly lit indeed. He examined the stairs ahead looking for any breaks or weak points or recent repairs. Starting slow he worked his way up the left side of each step. Listening with care to the girls, if they suddenly stopped laughing or singing maybe alerted to the danger approaching them. Making sure each foot landed on each step with the underneath support joint below. Causing no flex or bow movement from the light wood no creek or noise would emerge.

    This was his only advantage, a surprise stealth strike. The two tall twin sisters could easily over power him in a straight fight. One used a deadly dagger the other all the charms of a viper. The staircase is a very effective early warning system that needed to be traversed with caution. By the eighth step his eye line was level with the hallway floor. A shaft of light protruded from under the front room entrance. He stopped, slowed the breathing calming the heart rate.

    The small gap allowed the Priest to see partially into the main living space inside. The light reflecting under the dark wood door casting shadows from the girl’s movements. Singing and laughing loudly as the Coca-ethylene worked its magic like nothing else could. The shadows and rhythm he could picture or visualize each girls position in the room. One left side of the door three feet away, no more the other on the right closer two feet maybe. If viewing a clock, it would be 8:20pm pointing to their positions.

    The circle they danced around anti-clockwise like the wind, as they sang put them in the optimal position 8:20 every fifteen or so seconds. Control the breathing, visualize them moving round in a dance. He started to sing in his head... ...visualizing, singing...

    ...three ...six ...nine ...the goose drank wine

    Motionless in front of the door. Right leg forward anchoring him to the spot he took a deep breath through his nose. ...visualizing, singing, deeper now...

    ... the monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line...

    ...The line broke, the monkey got choked... 8:20...!

    His left leg struck a full heeled booted front kick landing on the lock lift-hinge, mid-way up the door’s edge with a furious energy and forced momentum...
    -0-


    Chapter V
    The living room was a light wood pine twelve by twelve-foot box, bare apart from a small table pushed up under the window-sill on the left. With a solitary chair for a companion next to it the table had bottles of red wine and other assortments on it any God-fearing folk wouldn’t recognize. Tia Delma had drawn on the wooden floor with white chalk tied to a nail in the centre a five-foot perfect circle. Inside which Shia drew a white five-pointed pentagram. Symbols, letters and ideograms followed. The North Point Tia placed an old Goats skull, and at the other edges some rice, gold doubloons, soil, a cup of water and a lit candle.

    They both finished and walked barefoot to the small table. Tia poured the Saint-Joseph, a French red wine into two tankards full to the brim. While Shia Delma had made two three-inch-long perfect white powdered lines on the expensive small glass mirror. Both giggled laughing in unison, snorted the line and drained the tankard. Tai kissed Shia full on the lips as the mind accelerated to an unnatural speed once more. Both spoke to each other in a cheeky girlish creole accented pigeon only they understood...

    “My Baby Sister what are you going to ask Petro-Loas for tonight...?” Tai cheekily giggled as she re-filled the tankards.

    “I will ask our Dark Lord Petro-Loas first to protect my beautiful sister. Then I will tell him to rip the British Fleet Admiral’s heart out...” she viciously spat the words with venom then moved rolling her arms starting to dance round the outside of the chalked ring. Both girls with swaying arms, sang moving anti-clockwise with the wind, ‘round the circle... as the witching hour struck.

    ...Three ...Six ...Nine, ...the Goose drank wine...

    ...The monkey chew tobacco on the street car line...

    ...The line broke, the monkey got choked...

    ...And they all went to heaven in a little rowboat...

    ...Clap-Clap [Clap]... Clap yay hands [Clap-Clap] ... Clap-Clap [Clap]

    ... My Momma Told me, if I was goodie...

    The door crashed open splinters filling the air. The spine of the Latin Bible thrust into Shia’s throat crushing her larynx. Tia’s mouth open was too shocked and slow to react as the left jab connected with the tip of her chin. The head forced with speed one way, brain stationary is slammed against the skull. Suffering trauma from the overwhelming number of neurotransmitters firing at the same time causing an overload and systems crash. The brain needs to shut down and reboot. Her eyes roll back and she starts the slow fall like a tall cut down tree backwards...

    The Priest follows through with a low explosive side thrust kick hitting just above the hip and under the last rib. Tia is accelerated over the table through the window, glass and frame forced outward as she starts her precipitous decline outside...

    He turns and faces the other witch as the sound from the wind and rain fills the box room. She’s edged back against the wall using it for support. Crouching low in a defensive stance breathing hard through the nose, coughing. A cornered wounded animal he’d need caution here. Drops the left shoulder in a faint and returns... She follows with an involuntary movement revealing the dagger in her right hand. There it is... he thought to himself smiling. He throws the Bible directly at her face, she needs to duck, block or move but her attention is on the book.

    The left fist lands on the cheek eye and nose, she collapses back and slides down the wall unable to retain balance. The dagger flung outward clattering along the floor. The right fist connects with the nose and mouth breaking the bridge and several teeth.

    He crouches down on the right knee with the left covering guard his vegetables. The left hand grabs her throat hard choking, pinning her against the wall. She sat legs spread-eagled with both her hands clasped around his to little use. The right hand draws open the Ivory Handled switchblade cut throat razer. Her eyes widen in fear. Two swift slashes above his locked arm either side of the throat. Bright red blood spills over his left hand like a dam bursting its banks. Between her legs he slashes the inside of her left thigh. The white smock becoming stained red in an instant. One handed he folded the razer closed and returns it to the secret pocket in the back of his robe.

    Her struggling not as strong as before, the fight taking its toll. Bleeding to death she still tried in vain to break his hold on her neck. The Priest speaks in a deep low voice with clenched teeth.

    “Please don’t take this personally slave. It’s just a message I need to deliver to your master that his time is over in the Caribbean... His line broke, His monkey got choked... and they all went to...”

    Her eyes distant, mouth open, the struggling ceased, it was over. The Priest stood wiping his blood-stained hand on her dress and walked to the broken window. He watched the other struggling black girl limping barefoot across the street in the pouring rain avoiding the tumbleweed. She ducks down the side of the opposite building disappearing into the night.

    He’d get her later, Saint-Marc was calling first...
    -0-


    So, concludes the first in my short story collection A PuLp Fiction in Naval Action
     
  4. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Contributor Contributor

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    The Heretics of Salsola (1460 words)

    The 18 year old acolytes dressed in their ceremonial long white shirts (and nothing else) entered the cavern in torchlight. They saw the alter stone caked in blood of ancient sacrifice, nothing recent, but still it was blood, human blood. Here, they would make due diligence to the great god Salsola. Torches sputtered in yellow flame making the only sound in the otherwise silent cavern until at last one of them spoke. The bloody alter stone beckoned.

    “I am not screwing on that thing!” Evelyn said calmly.

    “Sush! He'll hear you!” Mark whispered, his knees shaking.

    “Who'll hear me? We're the only ones in this damp old cave.”

    “Salsola is everywhere. It moves on every breath of wind,” Mark's reverence in this most holy place was exceeded only by his horniness.

    “Yeah, I know, my mom made me read the book too. I don't mind a fix-up, and you're cute and all, but this arranged marriage thing... I don't know. This can't be right. Do you really believe that you were conceived on that rock? And that's real blood?” Evelyn was somewhat incredulous concerning their family faith.

    “You're blaspheming!” Mark was still horny but now somewhat indignant as well.

    “You really don't want to marry me. I'll be a disappointment to you. Like, what if I'm not knocked up already? What would the church or your parents say if the baby came out black or Asian? Two whites don't make a Wong. Someone would suspect.”

    “You're not a virgin?” Mark was now incredulous as well, and his horny was fading.

    “Not since I was fourteen, Bill Stanalouski did me under the bleachers after band practice.” Evelyn moved closer to the sacred alter stone. She illuminated it with the light on her smart phone and had a closer look. “What is hundred year old blood supposed to look like anyway?”

    “Stanalouski was one of my best friends in middle school. He would have told me!” Mark protested in a voice loud enough to bounce off the walls in an echo.

    “Bill Stanalouski... Senior.” Evelyn clarified. “He was the band bus driver.”

    “Oh....” Mark had all the air let out of his libido balloon. He moved over to the rock and inspected it for himself. There were reddish brown bits of something-something that could have been blood at one time. His mind shifted to the analytic studies that he enjoyed so much. “I didn't know that north American Indians practiced blood sacrifice, except for the Anasazi, and they didn't sacrifice their victims so much as eat them. ”

    “Indians?” Evelyn raised her very left-wing liberal eyebrows in surprise, “Native Americans please! Why would they sacrifice to the Great Salsola?”

    “They wouldn't,” Mark was in his more comfortable academic pose now. “Salsola worship was imported via Europe with my great grandfather's people from Poland after the American Civil War. You want some root tea? I spiked it.”

    “Oooooo, gimmie.” Evelyn took the light of her phone and shined it around the cave. There were paintings on the walls depicting... it was unidentifiable. She unscrewed the top of his thermos, poured herself a cup and drank. “Okay, that's strong.”

    “My mom said it would help with the transition.”

    “What kind of transition are we talking about?” Evelyn moved toward the back of the cave in exploration. The passage narrowed but it went back quite a way.

    “...Into womanhood.” Mark didn't know if he was supposed to follow her or not.

    “That ship, as my Dad would say, has sailed.” Echoed her increasingly more distant voice, “Have you ever been back here?”

    “I don't know that anyone comes here except for the consummation ceremony and they wouldn't go beyond the torch light.”

    “What did you spike this with?” Evelyn held up the thermos top that she was drinking out of.

    “My mom did it.” Mark was feeling completely out of his element and a little embarrassed. “I think she called it by a number.”

    “151?”

    “Yeah, sounds right. Can I have a sip.” Mark noted the change in her speech, a little rounding in the consonances.

    “Here,” she handed the cup back to him. “Should have put that aspartame shit in it, it's a little bitter. So, are you a cherry-boy?”

    “Ah, I don't know what that is.” Mark didn't get out much.

    “I thought so. That's a boy who hasn't.... done it yet. I still don't want to do it on that rock. People died there. Doesn't that bother you? Murdered, for real.” Evelyn was losing her tough-girl pose to the spiked tea.

    Marked gulped the liquid and experienced a change in perspective. It burned going down and he noticed for the first time the points sticking out high on Evelyn's thin white ceremonial gown. They were nice. They were really nice.

    “Oh boy,” She put a hand on the alter stone to steady herself. “I think I drank that a little too fast.”

    “A gift from the root of the Great Salsola.” Mark sipped some more.

    “It's not a gift from anyone. It's thistle root tea.” The girl noticed where her hand was resting and quickly pulled it away from the accursed stone. “I guess we should get down to business. I'm not going to screw on that filthy rock and that's that. How about I just blow you and we call it good?”

    “Huh...” Mark's horniness was returning. “Are you already pregnant?”

    “I don't know.” Evelyn said in a dismissive tone at her own inability to say no. She was losing interest in this boy. “I always use protection but accidents happen. What happens if we just don't go through with it?”

    “But they're waiting outside,” Mark whined. He didn't want to see the disappointed looks on his parent's faces.

    “I don't want to spend the rest of my life with someone just to please my parents. You seem to be a nice kid but, let's face it, I'd be screwing around on you constantly. You wouldn't want that, and I'm not convinced that Salsola is a god anyway. Yeah, so it's everywhere, so it's quiet when it moves, and a long time ago someone wrote a golden book about it that, oh surprise-surprise, no one has ever actually seen. Doesn't that make you suspicious... even a little bit?”

    “I guess I don't think about things like that. But, don't you see what a miracle it is? You can eat the plant when it's young, when it gets old you can burn it and, it makes just wonderful tea.” Mark was really starting to like the numbered tea additive.

    “But that doesn't make it a god, give me the tea back.” She was ready for another snort. “I mean, the book... Maybe some guy wrote it and made up the god story just so he could get his rocks off on that rock with a bunch of girls.”

    “But what about the heralds, Iberica, Kili, and Australis. Are they just made up too?” Mark's reality was tumbling to the ground. It was really, really good tea.

    “I don't know for sure.” Evelyn suppressed a hiccup. Once she started, she'd never stop. Now she found the words that expressed what she had always lacked the courage to say, “I guess I'm a bit of a heretic. I think our parents are nuts! It's not a god, Salsola Tragus is the botanical name for Russian Thistle, it's a tumbleweed. There is no point in praying to it. It's not even native to this continent for God sakes, I looked it up! Here, drink the rest of this.” She passed the cup back.

    Mark looked at her in wonder. Somewhere deep down inside he knew that she was right, even though his mind resisted. There is no point in praying to a bush, even a burning one, even one that burned as wonderfully as the Salsola Tragus. The pious life he knew was over. It was time to grow up and be a man. The strong drink and Evelyn's thin shirt made him want to be a man very badly at that instant.

    Evelyn looked at the bulge in his ceremonial gown, “And that's not happening either. Let your noodle go down and let's go talk to our folks outside.”

    Mark sighed and followed her in disappointment. His parents would never go along with this and, obviously the blow job was no longer on the table either.
     
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  5. Hammer

    Hammer Senior Member

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    (2673 words - contains some profanity)

    The wings of Pegasus

    Benton stared at the smouldering wreck flickering orange and fire-bucket red against the void of the night sky; a spent flare in an ashen landscape. He knew that in the morning, when the sun – ha, the sun; he still thought of it as the sun – rose, he would see the pale green haze of the newly formed savannah, but for now his entire world had the pallor of a late night drunk under fluorescent light.


    The heat coming off the burning shuttle was too intense to approach. From where he stood he could see that the fire had destroyed two of the three boosters. He couldn’t see the third, but at least it looked as if the accommodation capsule may have survived; the halon extinguishers must have worked, but the lingering gas would be another good reason to keep away for a while. An involuntary smile cracked Benton’s face as he remembered the briefing officer from all those years ago; ‘the halon will put the fire out, but if it’s a big ‘un there won’t be any gas left… so the fridge won’t work. If you want a drink by your fireside, open a bottle of red because there’ll be no cold beers!’


    Christ that was a long time ago. It had taken six years to get to “Little Earth”. Six years at near-light with his two shipmates. A crew of three, they’d been told, was the sweet spot. Two would argue and one could die or go mad. Four would have needed a bigger ship or offered less payload. Benton’s place had been guaranteed by his coming up with the design for the LPTU – the Low Power Terraforming Unit. Tilly and Elizabeth had been chosen from tens of thousands of applicants on their combined scores of scientific knowledge, practical ability, and, apparently, genial personalities. The logic of sending two females and a single male on a terraforming mission which may never return had remained unspoken, but, as Benton scanned the sky and saw the bright light of the parent ship, Safina, passing quickly overhead on its diurnal orbit, he yearned for the human warmth of either or both.


    The unmistakeable rustle of half a dozen LPTUs bouncing past, tirelessly spreading life, jerked Benton out of his muse. With an almost paternal fondness, he watched them curvet and twist like runaway beach-balls. He’d got the idea from seeing Russian Thistle – tumbleweed – on a childhood holiday to Vegas, and when the call went out for a simple design for a low energy seed-drill it had seemed very obvious to him. The lightweight filaments pushed the seeds into the dusty surface of Little Earth, and, despite the thin atmosphere, the units simply blew around with the wind, quickly covering the planet with grasses, nitrogen-fixing legumes, wheat, barley, vegetables, and fruit. In a single year, life had been sown. In another year the sterile Little Earth would be a fertile Eden.


    The voice of Tilly burst out of Benton’s earpiece.


    ‘What the fuck have you done?’ she screamed.


    ‘What the fuck have I done?’


    ‘Well it wasn’t me or Betty.’


    Benton couldn’t deny this, but it was a little harsh to blame him.


    ‘It must have been a malfunction,’ he said.


    ‘Mal-fucking-function. You’re not fucking kidding. We saw it from up here. You never said you were related to Guy fucking Fawkes.’


    ‘We’ve got a fully fitted workshop. We can fix it.’


    ‘We’ve got a fully fitted workshop – up here.’


    The enormity of Tilly’s words hit Benton like a sock of wet sand. There was no way he could get the shuttle into orbit on a single booster, even if the control systems had survived the fire, and the only way to get Safina onto the surface of the planet would be to crash her out of orbit and belly-flop her down. Safina was a space-launch ship; built on the great space-deck in the skies above Mother Earth to avoid all the tedious business of escape velocity – an absolute necessity for a ship the size of Noah’s fucking Ark. The girls might be able to bring her down, but if she survived, it would be her last voyage ever. Of course he would then have everything he needed to fix the shuttle, but the shuttle wouldn’t take them home; the shuttle wouldn’t even take them to the next fucking planet.


    ‘I…er, hmm…’ he said. ‘Have you sent an SOS?’


    ‘Of course.’


    ‘And?’


    ‘And what? They won’t get it for four bloody years. The second ship is three years behind us, they’ll get it sooner, but they’re still two bloody light years away.’


    ‘I need to think about this.’


    A snort in his ear told him just what Tilly thought about his capacity for thinking about anything.


    ‘Why are you even down there?’ she asked. ‘We’re supposed to be getting ready for Boomerang, going home.’


    ‘Just… just checking.’ Benton didn’t want to admit that he’d come to say a proud goodbye to his beautiful, bouncing babies.


    He stared up at the abyss. He knew roughly in which quadrant Mother Earth lay. He knew that, if he could see that far, Mother Earth would be a blue-green dot in a galaxy of dust-brown dots; a blue green dot like the one they had created here on Little Earth. He’d even invented his own constellation where he thought Mother Earth would be. He hadn’t told his crewmates that he’d called it The Great Teat.


    Strangely, Benton knew that the voyage, and especially his playful, tumbling babies, would have made him an extremely wealthy man on that distant blue green dot, the imaginary nipple of The Great Teat, and he knew that, at that very second, all that wealth counted for precisely jack shit.


    ###


    That had been over a year ago – a Mother Earth year. Little Earth span round her “sun” in less than two weeks. Benton had learned to put up with the short, three day, summers. He could cope with that when winter only lasted three days too. He had decided to keep the three day spring and autumn otherwise he would never have known when to celebrate Thanksgiving which he had decided would fall on the second day of autumn. He always gave thanks despite having been marooned on Little Earth for so long. His radio mic and headphones had lasted about as long as the supplies on the shuttle, precisely three –Mother Earth– months. He had given thanks for that because “two would argue” and, sure enough, Tilly and Elizabeth had soon begun sparring like hungry siblings, but he was worried about food. As it turned out, the rapid annual cycle of Little Earth meant that the savannah was producing immature but edible fruits, vegetables, and berries, and he hadn’t “died or gone mad” – or at least he supposed he hadn’t, there was no-one to confirm either way. He gave thanks for his sanity anyway and prayed to a god whom he felt, by rights, he must have passed somewhere.


    Exactly five days – spring and half of summer – after his mic gave out, he’d stopped seeing Safina passing overhead. That had hurt. In his heart of hearts he knew that it was the correct decision for the girls to head home whilst they still could, but it still hurt as his colleagues of nearly ten years simply headed off without saying goodbye. Of course they couldn’t say goodbye; they had no means of communication, and they had explored all the possibilities for getting Benton back up to the ship or getting equipment down to him. They had even tried simply dropping a container full of tools. Little Earth’s gravity was the same as Mother Earth’s, but despite getting the co-ordinates spot-on for the drop, the container had burned up like a meteor as it hit the now flourishing atmosphere. The plant life had certainly made a difference there; the air had become quite, quite breathable and it was a long time since he’d needed the bottled air of his spacesuit. Benton had reflected on that at great length. Without the oxygen, that wonderful by-product of photosynthesis – photosynthesis that he had initiated with his LPTUs – that the terraforming plants had pumped into the atmosphere of Little Earth, the bottled supply would never have lasted. On the other hand, without that same oxygen, the fire that had stranded him there could never have taken hold. He avoided giving thanks for oxygen at his Little Earth Thanksgivings.


    A couple of LPTUs bounded happily past. Their function as spreaders of life had long since ended, but they were robust little creatures and it always gave Benton a thrill of pleasure to think how rich they had made him – albeit on a distant planet which, in all probability, he would never see again. He knew that he was an achiever, even if, in cold, hard reality, his reward consisted mainly of gazing wistfully at the sky.


    One autumn night, the third of Autumn, as the day grew shorter in readiness for winter, the isolation started to gnaw at Benton. He knew that a second ship was on its way, a ship which hadn’t needed to carry any terraforming equipment so would have a crew of at least forty. It had been scheduled to leave three years after Safina, but the nature of travelling at near light speed meant that the following ship had no way of contacting them. Anything could have happened in the eight years since he’d left Mother Earth; Mother Earth where he would have been one of the wealthiest of men whereas, here on little Earth, he was the loneliest. He stared up at the night sky, at constellations which only two other humans had ever seen, and wished against hope to see a bright dot manoeuvring into a stable orbit, but all he saw was stars – an estimated hundred billion of them with an inestimable number of planets, possibly in the region of ten billion trillion planets, out of which two were populated; this one with a population of just one. He had made a crude sign which he had attached to a stake in the ground which read “Little Earth. Population: 1”. It hadn’t helped his melancholy.


    Sport. That was what Benton needed. He decided that he would learn to ride the LPTUs. They were no longer spreading seed so he wouldn’t be doing any damage to the project, and it would be fun. He badly needed fun. When the thin winter “sun” came up the next day he set about looking for a suitable mount. Even though they had all been manufactured to the same design, the ravages of time had treated them all differently, and whilst some were spritely and erratic, others seemed ponderous and docile. Benton decided that starting with ponderous and docile would be best, perhaps he would work his way up to spritely and erratic.


    He turned as he heard the familiar rustle from behind a rocky outcrop, but the LPTU leapt out a clear six feet in the air; definitely spritely and erratic, and if proof were needed, it suddenly changed direction and veered straight towards Benton before spinning, hitting a boulder, and leaping clear over his head.


    He wandered over to the rocky outcrop and down into a gully behind. Skulking in the bottom, as if sheltering from the wind, was a beautifully bushy but smaller LPTU. Despite knowing that it was made primarily of a nylon-like polymer, Benton found himself creeping slowly up on it and holding out a hand of friendship. He edged forward, and proffered the hand as if for sniffing. The unit didn’t move so slowly, gently, Benton stroked it. He fancied that he felt it squirm slightly but he carried on stroking it softly as he crept round into a position where he could swing a leg over and sit on the thing. The incredible design took his weight with ease. He sat for a moment, hardly daring to move, then plucked up the courage to try a little bounce. The nylon-like polymer was incredibly elastic and the LPTU leapt with a zeal that far surpassed the effort it took to initiate the bounce, even on this docile unit.


    Before long Benton found himself gambolling across the plain taking bigger and bigger jumps. He had no need for the spritely and erratic units. Pegasus – he had decided to call his mount Pegasus – was more than up to the job. He whooped with joy and almost came a cropper when he heard his whoop repeated. He shot a glance over a shoulder. The dark figure of a man was prancing along behind on another LPTU, and what’s more he was catching Benton up.


    Benton shrieked again as he spurred Pegasus forward, skimming across the planet’s surface, the leaps getting longer and longer until he was barely nudging the surface before rocketing back into the air, but all the while his opponent gained. They shot past the spritely and erratic LPTUs, they leapt ravines, they virtually flew across the boulder strewn Savannah. The burnt out remains of the shuttle lay about a mile to Benton’s right and he decided that would be the finishing post. He leaned Pegasus into a sweeping turn like a powerful dirt-bike kicking up great plumes of dust as he curved off towards the wreck, both he and the figure behind squealing with joy. The figure was gaining all the time but never quite caught Benton up.


    No more than two hundred yards to go and the other rider was breathing down Benton’s neck. Benton strained every muscle to put in a final surge and took the last two hundred yards at a sprint, kissing the ground just three times as he shot across the alien world.


    With a final scream of pleasure he reached his goal and slowed Pegasus to a halt. He slid off the bushy steed and lay laughing and panting on the ground, supressing a strong urge to go and find a carrot for the LPTU. A thought occurred to Benton, and he opened his eyes to see who his challenger was. He found himself staring at the unmistakeable, cowled figure of Death.


    ‘You’re…’ he said, after a long pause.


    ‘That was a blast,’ said Death. ‘And – yes. I am.’


    ‘Iummm… when? How…?’


    ‘Ages I’m afraid. Didn’t you notice that you’d run out of food?’


    ‘I thought… the fruit…’


    Inasmuch as a calciferous representation of an anthropomorphic concept can wink, Death winked.


    ‘Not ready for a couple of years I’m afraid,’ he said.


    ‘But… but… I can see it. Taste it.’


    ‘You think you can. It’s an afterlife thing. Sorry.’


    Benton sighed.


    ‘How come it took you nine months to show up?’


    Death, again inasmuch as an anthropomorphic concept can, looked hurt.


    ‘You are four light years into deep space,’ he said.


    ‘But… you’re Death.’


    ‘I’ve still gotta obey the laws of physics... loosely, anyway.’


    Benton stood up and patted Pegasus. He walked a few paces away, looked at his crude sign which he noticed actually read “Little Earth. Population: 0”, then he turned back to Death.


    ‘If this is an afterlife, why am I stuck here on this planet?’ he asked.


    ‘Your physical body is stuck here, but “you”? You’re not.’


    ‘I can go home?’


    ‘You can go wherever you want. Sorry, I would have told you that if I’d got here sooner. You won’t be able to talk to anyone, obviously, because… well, because you’re dead, but you can go there in an instant… well in about four years, but time shouldn’t currently be one of your worries.’


    Benton kicked disconsolately at a pebble. He stopped. He thought. He realised that he was no longer the loneliest man alive, and smiled broadly at Death. He had nothing to fear. He strode back, still grinning, and looked Death straight in the eye.


    ‘You see that mound of rocks over there,’ he said, ‘shaped a bit like a dog’s head?’


    ‘I see it.’


    ‘Race you to it.’





     
  6. davidm

    davidm Poodle of Guernica

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    Oasis (1,200 words)

    It was a bar and cafe in southern California, touristy, deliberately done up in the style of a Wild West saloon. It had the familiar paneled, swinging doors. A man pushed through them and entered.

    She was tending bar and saw him. He wore a white cowboy hat, and was tall and lank. He also wore a black vest and a plaid flannel shirt underneath, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. His skin was brown, leathery. He had on tight blue jeans and brown leather cowboy boots, and a belt with a big copper buckle. He doffed his hat and approached the bar. She was struck by his eyes, as blue as lapis lazuli.

    “Help you?”

    “Whiskey, please.”

    “Jameson OK? All we have.”

    “Sure.”

    She poured it. He downed it in one gulp and set the glass down and asked for another. She poured it and he paid.

    A menu was scrawled on a chalkboard affixed to the wall behind the bar, above the liquor bottles. He studied it.

    “Can I have a bacon cheeseburger?”

    “OK.” She wrote the order down on a pad of paper. “Like fries with that? Or onion rings?”

    “Onion rings.”

    “Anything else?”

    “A Coke.”

    “You can eat at the bar if you want or at a table.” She nodded at a table in the corner. The place was mostly empty. “If you want to eat at the table, I’ll bring your order over when it’s ready.”

    “Thanks. I’ll take the table.”

    She watched him go, heard his boots creaking on the floor’s wood planks, which were covered with sawdust. He took a seat at a table next to the bar’s big plate-glass window with the name painted on it, backward as seen from inside, in antique serif lettering: OASIS, it said. Beyond, past the highway, was the Mojave desert. The sun was beginning to set, and the dusk colors were spectacular, the land blood-red, the sky violet.

    When it was ready she brought over the food. She set it down and he picked up the bacon cheeseburger and navigated it toward his mouth, but then noticed that she was still standing there, looking expectantly down at him. He set the burger back down on the plate without taking a bite and said, “Anything else? Do you need me to pay now, or …”

    “Yes. No. I mean, I don’t know.” She tugged nervously at a strand of hair.

    “You don’t know whether I need to pay now or later?”

    “No. I mean … I don’t know what I want. Listen, my shift is just about over. Do you mind if I sit with you, and have a cup of coffee, while you eat?”

    She noticed that he hesitated. But then he said, “I don’t mind.”

    She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down across from him at the table. They were two silhouettes against the plate-glass window and the reddening sky.

    He took a bite of his bacon cheeseburger and watched her speculatively with his blue eyes — Paul Newman eyes, she thought.

    She was crying.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, and dabbed at her eyes with a napkin.

    “You don’t need to apologize. Crying isn’t a crime.”

    “Do you ever cry?”

    “Men don’t cry.” He took another bite of his burger and then set it down. He had poured ketchup on the plate, and now he dipped an onion ring into it and ate it in two bites.

    “The desert,” she said, nodding out at the wasteland, the sun dipping, the street lights coming on. “When I leave here after work, every night, there’s only the desert.”

    He looked out the window. “And tumbleweeds,” he said. A few rolled pass, just beyond the road.

    “Yeah. Tumbleweeds, too.”

    She had dried her eyes and was composed and sipped her coffee. He ate.

    “Never seen you around here before,” she said. “Passing through?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Where to?”

    “The coast.”

    “Where? L.A.?”

    “Yeah.”

    “What’s there? Friends? Family? A job? Or am I being nosy?”

    “Nothing. Nothing’s there.”

    “Pretty,” she said, looking out the window. A few more tumbleweeds drifted past. The sun, as red as a stoplight, was touching the horizon. A thin line of bright green spread out from it across the flat land. Above, in an indigo sky, the stars were winking on.

    “Like a painting,” he said.

    She faced him. Then, involuntarily, she thought, and tentatively, she slowly stretched out a hand toward him. He saw that it was heavily veined, and tattooed with a small crucifix.

    He kept his arms folded in front of him, and she quickly drew back her hand. His white cowboy hat was on the table.

    “This is a Old West-themed bar,” she said, almost apologetically it seemed. “With the swinging doors, the whole nine yards. Was set up to be kind of a tourist trap, but we don’t get many tourists. … We don’t even have many regulars, as you can see.”

    He waited. She nodded at his white hat.

    “In the Old West, the good guys always wore the white hats.”

    “The lawmen,” he said.

    “Yeah, the lawmen.”

    He finished his burger and onion rings and Coke, and patted his lips with the napkin.

    “Can I have the check now?”

    “Sure,” she said, rising to her feet. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

    “It was no bother. No bother at all.”

    He watched her go. Behind the counter she wrote up the check and ripped it from a pad of paper and brought it to him. She did not sit down again, but stood over him. He set down the check and reached into his jeans for his wallet. He pulled out a twenty and told her, “Keep the change.” He picked up his cowboy hat, and set it aslant on his head. They were standing and looking at each other.

    She smiled self-consciously, and shrugged. Her fingers were twined just below her waist, as if each hand were trying to restrain the other.

    “Funny,” she said. “I don’t even know your name.”

    “Maybe It’s better that way.”

    He lifted his white hat and — gallantly, it seemed to her — tipped it at her, and then bowed slightly. Then he replaced the hat on his head and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you.”

    “Same here.” After a pause she added, “I guess you’re just going to drive off now … on your way to the coast. In your car.”

    “I don’t have a car.”

    She looked at him blankly. He moved toward the swinging saloon doors. “Goodbye,” he said. He pushed through the doors into the warm Mojave night.

    Outside was a boardwalk, just like in the Old West. He stamped his boots on it to rid his heels of the sawdust. The planks thumped. Then he looked out at the night. A full moon was rising, a mask of bone.

    He looked at the highway. Nothing was out there, not a single car. A light, warm wind was moving from east to west, good for traveling by.

    He left the boardwalk and crossed the road and walked out into the desert. He crouched down, and then curled himself into a ball and drifted away.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2018
  7. talltale

    talltale Member

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    THE PALADIN (1,677 words)



    The late-afternoon sun scorched the Flagstaff, Arizona elementary school bus with its solar rays, causing its eighth grade student inhabitants to sweat on the vinyl seats and rust to creep along its wheel covers.

    Alex Dabil awoke from his half-asleep daze as the school bus shook from driving over a pothole. He looked out the window and noticed tumbleweeds crossing the highway and disappearing into the desert. One tumbleweed got stuck on the needles of a saguaro cactus.

    Alex grew anxious as he starting thinking about getting home and turning on his computer. Last night he finished leveling his Paladin character in the Massively Multiplayer Online game 'World Of Wonder', thereby attaining the magic spells "Holy Shield", "Holy Shout", and "Holy Attack". No longer would his guild mates tell him to sit out the raids because his character was too low level. Alex remembered the guild leader Mack Haveli telling him that one day he would lead a raid, causing a wide smile to creep on Alex's face.

    Sitting next to Alex was Mike Saren, Alex's best friend. He gave Alex a quizzical look and said, "What's with the goofy smile?"

    Alex furrowed his brow and responded, "Nothing. Just glad this shitty day is done."

    Mike responded with a smirk, "You're thinking about that game again aren't you? 'World of Weaners', or whatever you call it."

    Alex replied, "What do you know about MMO's? Your 'Call of Duty' game takes like two brain cells to play!"

    They approached the first stop when a violent thump shook Alex from his seat. He turned to see what happened and froze.

    It was J.J. Pearson.

    J.J. had greased, brown hair and sunken brown eyes. He wore a beat up red hoodie with the arms cut out and the words 'Slipknot' on the front. J.J. was tall for an eighth grader, which made sense since he was a year older having been held back. J.J. was also a vicious bully who tormented Alex on many occasions. J.J. would randomly shove Alex in the hallways, make him drop his books, and throw spit balls at him. One day J.J. threw a piece of gum which got stuck in Alex's hair. The resulting humiliation and anger was so great that Alex finally snapped and went to the principle. Tears filled his eyes as he let it all spill out about his grade school tormentor.

    J. J. gave a cold and angry stare as walked down the aisle. He was holding something in the front pocket of his hoodie. Was it a knife?, Alex wondered.

    Mike leaned over and whispered in Alex's ear, "J.J. ain't ever going to forgive you for telling on him. Might be better just to take a beating and get it over with already."

    "You think?"

    Alex looked down at his worn Converse sneakers and continued, "Our guild leader says, "Discipline in war counts more than fury."

    Mike laughed, "Uh huh. Whatever that means."

    Mike added, "You know, It took serious balls to tell Principle Ryan."

    Alex looked away and did not respond. The thought of what J.J. might do to him if he catches him alone sent a shiver up his spine.

    "My stop is coming up, hit me up later on Whatsapp if you're bored." Mike waived good bye as he headed toward the school bus' exit.

    Alex got off two stops later.

    He wanted to clear his head from the altercation with J.J. so he decided to walk the local trail leading to Coconino National Forest.

    The crisp forest air started to revitalize Alex. The fear curling in his stomach started to dissipate as he remembered something his guild leader once said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

    He continued down the trail when he noticed a large pile of trash leftover from some inconsiderate campers. Oddly, some of the trash looked like it was moving.

    Alex moved closer.

    A clump of dirt leapt from the debris, landing near Alex's feet. Two shiny eyes and a waving tongue looked up at him. It was a dog. Female.

    "Hey little lady." Alex reached into his pocket for the half eaten bag of peanuts. He put a few peanuts in his hand and slowly reached for the mutt. "Here you go."

    They stray sniffed at his hand and quickly snatched the bag of peanuts dangling from Alex's jean pocket.

    Alex laughed and said, "Wow."

    He watched the dog devour the leftover peanuts. Alex gave her a pet. The stray gave him a warm lick.

    "Let's see. You blend in with your surroundings and you're sneaky as Hell'. I think I'll call you Rogue."

    Alex proceeded to clean Rogue as best he could. Wiping away the huge dirt clumps to reveal gold streaks in Rogue's fur. Rogue was so grateful that she started following Alex.

    Rogue didn't feel comfortable walking in front of Alex so she quietly followed behind him. In the distance they could hear blasts coming from the mountain mining. Each thunderous boom causing the ground to shake as if the Devil himself was clawing his way from beneath the earth.

    It was getting dark when Alex heard a whimper coming from behind him.

    "Rogue..?" Alex asked as he turned.

    A feeling of déjà vu struck Alex as standing behind him was J.J. and some boy Alex had never seen before. J.J. had Rogue in his hands.

    The boy was younger looking. Alex guessed at around twelve. He was short with curly blond hair and he had on a white shirt with the words 'The Devil's Apostles' written on it.

    J.J. said to his friend, "See Corey, this is the pussy rat boy I was talkin' about."

    J.J. stared at Alex. "Ain't that right, rat boy?"

    Alex tried to think. What would his guild leader Mach do in a situation like this? Alex remembers him saying, "Change your actions when you become aware that the enemy has foreseen it."

    Alex tried to look as intimidating and said, "Put the dog down, or else!"

    J.J. looked at his friend and laughed. He then replied, "What are you going to do about it?

    J.J. gave the dog to Corey and said, "Ok let's go bitch!"

    He quickly moved towards Alex with one hand cocking back to punch.

    Alex bent over to expose his back and cover his head with his arms. J.J.'s punches came raining down but Alex was able to successfully turtle his back and protect his face. Alex noticed J.J.'s punches barely hurt and grew weaker with each punch.

    He tried moving backwards for what seemed like forever until a loud noise startled them. The two boys had fought into the local highway and a large mining truck was forced to slam the breaks and honk its horn when they spilled in front of it.

    The driver stepped out and yelled, "Get out of the fucking way!"

    The two bullies sprinted back towards the forest, taking Rogue with them.

    Alex was ready to run after them when he remembered something from his guild leader, "Whoever pursues a routed enemy in a disorganized manner, does nothing but become vanquished from having been a victor." Alex decided he would follow them from a distance and wait for an opportune moment.

    The Arizona sky grew dark. The night stars seemingly pointing Alex towards his destination. The thunderous blast sounds from the mining matching Alex's level of determination.

    Alex noticed smoke pillowing up close towards the mountain side. He thought to himself, Did these idiots really start a fire? Good, they'll be easy to find.

    A short sprint later and Alex had found them. The two were laughing around a small camp fire. Burnt

    Methamphetamine pipes laid visible on the ground near.

    J.J. was poking some bushes with a stick in one hand and dangling Rogue with the other. Alex peered closer.

    A black head poked out from the underbrush. A massive black, hairy body followed. They had found a bear den.

    J.J. cackled and yelled, "Hungry there buddy?"

    The bear stood up on its hind legs and growled. The horrifying sound sent Corey falling backwards into the fire. He tried rolling around the ground to smother the flames engulfing his shirt. Sparks from the fire were shooting onto the grass. The fire quickly spread.

    J.J. threw Rogue at the bear and took off. Corey running but in the opposite direction.

    Rogue bounced off the bear's chest and landed at the its feet. The Bear looked down at Rogue. Rogue urinated in fear and stood frozen in place.

    Alex knew there was a chance he could scare the confused bear away. He stood as tall as he could and with all his lung capacity shouted, "LEEEERRRROOOY JEEEENNNNKKKIIINNSS!"

    The bear turned and ran. Alex could hardly believe it. He bent over to pick up the shaking dog and said, "It's ok."

    The fire had spread to a create a ring around them. The one opening was now being blocked by J.J. He must have heard the scream.

    J.J. yelled, "We're not done rat boy." A loud boom from the blast mining was heard in the distance.

    Alex put the dog down. Adrenaline was coursing in his veins. He ran towards J.J. and with all his might, punched the bully straight in the face. J.J. grabbed his nose. Blood started gushing out.

    Alex yelled, "Get out, now!" The bully ran. Alex then picked Rogue up and ran towards the opening.

    Later that night, the resulting forest fire would grow massive. Alex and Rogue barely made it out of the forest safely. Many nearby homes had to be evacuated.

    None of his guild mates believed Alex's story, none except guild leader Mach. Mach proudly told all guild members in the Ventrillo chat, "I think we'll have a new raid leader tonight."
     
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