Vote for the best Short Story!

Poll closed Jul 7, 2013.
  1. Lance Millenium - The Bear

    0 vote(s)
  2. DefinitelyMaybe - Given Sufficient Time

    1 vote(s)
  3. ChaosReigns - The Animal Inside

    0 vote(s)
  4. PlotDeviceManager - The Merry

    1 vote(s)
  5. GingerCoffee - Where the Wild Things Could Be

    4 vote(s)
  6. AVCortez - Bed Time

    0 vote(s)
  7. FakusNamus - The lion that lost his pride

    0 vote(s)
  8. mbinks89 - Fat and Sassy Hippo

    1 vote(s)
  9. matwoolf - Manquest

    2 vote(s)
  10. archerfenris - A Week Off

    0 vote(s)
  11. phils - The Return

    0 vote(s)
  12. Shandeh - Mustang

    1 vote(s)
  13. Mithrandir - The Mother Lode

    2 vote(s)
  1. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England

    Closed Voting Voting Short Story Contest (136) Theme: Animals

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Lemex, Jun 23, 2013.

    Voting Short Story Contest (136) Theme: Animals

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

    Voting will end Sunday 7th of July 2013 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

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

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

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

    Good luck to everyone!
  2. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    Lance Millenium
    The Bear [660 words]

    The pitter-patter of a spring shower sounds off outside of this lonely cave. Drops of water reverberate across the cold stone. Stalactites shimmer and glisten as water trickles down their spine. A flash of light illuminates the shadowy corners of this cave followed by a shuddering boom. The lifeless rock vibrates in place from the sudden roar of light and sound. A single grizzly bear hurries in to get out of the on pour of water. It shakes itself to reduce some of the water that seeped into its fur. Looking around its temporary shelter, it looks for a comfortable spot to lie down. The grizzly finds a small indent in a wall which is relatively dry. It slowly makes its way toward the indent. Another flash cause it to prick up its ears, and then recoil from the deafening boom afterwards. The storm seems to be getting closer. The bear lies down and yawns, exhausted from the day’s activities. The rain continues its onslaught on the cave entrance. The bear slowly drifts away to a land of slumber and dreams. A rushing torrent of water is displayed before it. The grizzly slowly makes its way toward the center of the stream. It can smell them, the salmon making their way to their breeding ground. The pleasing aroma excites the bear. Adrenaline courses through its body. It can already taste the fish’s flesh in its mouth, but it holds its excitement back. It does not want to frighten them away. Waiting patiently for them, it continues to sniff the air. The intoxicating aroma is getting more intense. Suddenly, white water flies into the air followed by the silvery sheen of a salmon. The bear holds its breath. The fish seems not to notice its presence yet and it continues its trek upstream. Another one jumps, then another. Soon the river is filled with salmon of all sizes jumping and flailing in the air. The grizzly can no longer hold back its excitement. It pounces on the closest fish it sees but with no luck. The sudden displacement in water alerts the others of the grizzly’s presence. They quicken their pace. The bear attacks another with the same result. After a few more failed attempts, it gets frustrated and it leaves. It can only imagine what the salmon are thinking of it now. It shuts off the thought and heads to another stream. It hears a flutter of wings, but sees nothing out of the ordinary. A sharp shrieking sound pierces its ear drums and it wakes up. Bats quickly fill up the cave ceiling. The bear lets out a disapproving growl and tries to go back to sleep. A thunder clap spooks the bats and they fly out of the cave. The bear seems relieved and falls asleep once more. A deep growling sound wakes it up. It pricks its ears unsure of what it is. It sounds off again. Fearing it will get attacked, the bear stands up on two legs. It sniffs the air for any foreign scent; there is nothing out of the ordinary. A third growl echoes off the walls. The bear relaxes; it knows what it is. The grizzly bear has not been able to catch anything to eat in about three days. It lies down again. Its stomach continues to protest and the bear continues to ignore it. It knows what it needs but it cannot do much with this storm howling at it. After a few more moments, the tempest begins to subside. The rain lightens up and sunlight begins to peak through the blanket of clouds. The bear yawns and stretches its cramped legs. It smells the air, the scent of fresh pine needles assail its nostrils. The rain stops and sun shimmers onto the forest ground. The bear leaves the cave and heads to a nearby river. It wants to give fishing another try, hopefully, with better luck this time.
  3. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    Given Sufficient Time (2007 Words)

    In a reflection on the viewscreen, Richard saw everyone stand as the Colony Prince entered the bridge. Richard's fingers continued to dance across the screen, adjusting parameters, solving differential equations of time and space, keeping a keen eye on the relative positions and orientations of the two vessels hanging in space in an orbit far outside that of the moon.

    Lost in his task as he was, Richard heard the polite greetings and explanations typical of a royal visit, 'Your eminence. In preparation for the disentanglement jump, our two vessels must be positioned exactly. During the jump, our ship moves in space, while the other ship moves backwards in time. We arrive immediately in the present, while the other ship arrives in the past, giving them time to prepare the planet for us'.

    Richard Godwin smiled inwardly at the simplistic explanation, which had not even mentioned custom transitory particles and the matter-antimatter flip. He was half tempted to make a sarcastic comment. Nobody, not even The Queen herself, would dare say boo to him while he was preparing the jump. But there would be plenty of time to lock him up, or at least make his post-jump retirement less opulent than it should be, after arrival. He had a cushy job compared to the cattle on the time ship, doomed to arrive years before the space ship on a desolate planet and start the back-breaking work of terraforming. The advantages of a Physics PhD from a top university.

    'How long before us will they arrive captain?' The Colony Prince spoke with the shallow informality of someone very much aware of his superior status.

    'On average, three to four years, your eminence.' The captain too had a life of easy luxury to look forward to, and clearly was being careful not to jeopardise it. 'Although it's random, and has been as short as fifteen minutes.'

    'What's the longest time it's ever been?'

    'Your eminence, when Oort IX was colonised, the time ship jumped back three hundred years. When the space ship arrived, technological society had broken down and a feudal society had formed. Knights, metal armour, swords. Their rulers claimed to be kings.'

    'Hmm.' It seemed that the Colony Prince liked the sound of that. Perhaps he imagined subjugating a mediaeval world using the modern military might the space ship carried.

    Richard's fingers stopped moving. It was time. All attention was on him. Even the Colony Prince paused his self-importance and focussed on Richard. Every number was correct, and a large button appeared on the touch screen labelled 'Jump'. Richard pressed it.

    The viewscreen cleared, and unfamiliar constellations appeared among the stars. A blue-green planet, superficially similar to Earth drifted in from the left. Richard heard approving murmurs building into hearty congratulations. But Richard had one minor and usually unimportant detail of his job to complete before engaging the auto-landing sequence.

    He tapped the side of the screen, and bought up the time signature, the energy pattern left by the departing time ship. To everyone else it looked like a jumble of random colours. The hubbub of voices behind him continued to grow, punctuated with frequent ingratiating royal addresses. Richard however had frozen, staring at the screen, his jaw hanging loose below his cavernous open mouth.

    Eventually the Colony Prince circulated past Richard. 'Pilot. Can you confirm that we're reached Czontal IV?' He grinned. 'Or have you taken us somewhere else?'

    'We've reached Czontal IV your eminence.'

    The Colony Prince turned to the fawning crowd. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we've arrived.' The crowd hurrahed in return.

    'Pilot, are we in position to land?'

    'We're in a position to land your eminence.' Again the crowd hurrahed.

    Finally the Colony Prince actually noticed that Richard was in deep shock.

    'Pilot, is there something wrong?'

    Richard was speechless.

    Crew members glanced nervously at each other. The captain took a step forward, noticing the time signature on the viewscreen. 'Pilot, how long ago did the time ship arrive?'

    'Five hundred and thirty seven-'

    'FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN YEARS?' interjected the captain, forgetting his airs and graces. A few jaws attached to the most educated heads in the room dropped.

    '-million years.'

    Even the Colony Prince's jaw dropped at that one.

    Richard numbly pressed a few buttons and commenced the landing procedure. It wasn't like they had anywhere else to go. Once his job was done, he glanced over at Sophie Mallory, the ship's biology and agriculture expert. She sat in a corner, deep in thought.

    Sitting on a rock, Richard breathed in the sweet, fresh, air. There was no sign of the expected town at the designated landing site. The planet had been a dead rock in the pictures sent back by the autodrones. Something must have happened five hundred and thirty seven million years ago to start all this off, but there was no sign of human life now.

    The planet was a natural paradise. The colours of life, greens, blues, browns, were all around him, accompanied by the gentle sounds of birds and other creatures. It was the animals that most interested him. Large, slowly moving herbivores moved in flocks through the valley. Smaller, agile, carnivores tracked them. The stream they took their water from was full of brightly coloured fish. Birds called to each other from the trees. He kicked at the soil, and a worm dragged the exposed half of its length back inside it's burrow.

    Further up the hill, The Captain supervised the erection of the Colony Prince's palace. It was actually a tent. The workers on the time ship were supposed to have built him a proper palace by the time we arrived. That wasn't what interested Richard. He looked over at Sophie, who had was still catching small animals. She took a sample from something that looked like a large flying beetle, and disappeared into her laboratory. It was also a tent. Sophie exited the tent, caught another animal, took another blood sample, and returned. Eventually she exited the tent empty handed, strolled over to Richard, and sat on the other end of his rock.

    'Hi Sophie, found anything interesting?'

    Richard looked at her. Sophie's expression looked like Richard must have looked like when he was failing to take in the enormity of the time signature on the viewscreen.

    'Uh, anything you'd like to share.'

    'All animal life is descended from Earth animals.'

    'Yes.' Richard was puzzled. What else apart from Earth animals transported on the time ship would have been the ancestors of the creatures all around them. 'Have you done DNA scans?'

    'Yes.' Sophie sat in silence, volunteering nothing.

    'So, what are the small, hopping, animals descended from?'

    'Rattus rattus. The black rat.'

    Richard nodded, that was reasonable. All colony ships carried rats. A very adaptable species with a short lifespan and excellent for terraforming. 'The ... elephants' said Richard, observing a large animal harvesting leaves with its trunk.

    'Rattus rattus.'

    Richard's eyebrows raised slightly. 'The tiny pink birds.'

    'Rattus rattus.'

    This was a bit of a surprise. 'But they have feathers.'

    'A lot can happen in five hundred and thirty seven million years.'

    'The fish?'

    'Rattus rattus.'

    'They have scales.'

    'Didn't I just say that a lot can happen in five hundred and thirty seven million years?'

    Richard looked around him. 'The snails.'

    'Have you studied developmental biology? I examined their eggs. The backbone disappears as the embryo grows. By the time they hatch, they're fully invertebrate.'

    Richard paused to think. 'Is there anything not descended from rats?'

    'Bacteria, plants.' said Sophie. 'That's it. At some time within the last five hundred and thirty seven million years there's been some sort of catastrophe where only rats, bacteria, and a few plants survived. An evolutionary bottleneck.'

    Richard solemnly picked a mushroom, and started peeling it while he thought about that.

    'Asparagus, in case you were wondering. Edible, and doesn't taste half bad if you steam it.'

    Then there was a sound, and the whole camp looked to the south. The sound built into what sounded like a combination of a deep hum and a fifty metre blowtorch. A shape appeared in the sky, a dark wedge. It flew over the camp, circled back around, and returned the way it came.

    Sophie and Richard looked at each other, then turned to look uphill on hearing the enthusiastic bellow 'My subjects have come to greet me.' Sophie and Richard looked at the prince, back at each other, then back to the ship.

    Richard spoke first. 'They're unpacking the weapons.'

    Sophie was looking down the hill, into the valley. She pointed. 'Look.'

    On the far side of the valley a convoy of black vehicles was cresting a ridge, and heading this way. Before Richard even realised she was gone, Sophie was returning from her laboratory tent with two pairs of high powered binoculars.

    The figures in the valley were bipedal, were wearing clothes, uniforms, and they were carrying some sort of tools. Guns. Some of the vehicles were also carrying guns. Very large and very effective looking guns. Some larger vehicles crested the hill. Black, angular, but unmistakeably rocket launchers. Along with the vehicles, thousands of figures arrived, some on foot, some on trucks. Richard tried to focus in on their faces, but they all wore an articulated mask. This was a very large, and very organised, army. Another of the flying machines flew over the camp, and started circling.

    The captain walked past, carrying a laser weapon. 'Have you heard the good news? There is human life here after all.'

    Sophie eyed him seriously. 'So why the gun?'

    'Oh, it's been a time. Just in case anyone has any ideas. I heard that the so-called kings on Oort IX quite expected to continue ruling after the space ship arrived.' He marched into the trees.

    Sophie cut straight to the chase. 'You know, I get the impression that we should surrender and become their prisoners before any of this kicks off.'

    'I'm with you.'

    'Don't wear too many clothes, so that they can see we're not hiding anything. Don't smile, showing teeth is a threat gesture for most animals.'

    Richard and Sophie walked towards the valley. As they emerged onto a grassy plain, they calmly walked towards a small party of soldiers. In a flash Richard and Sophie were surrounded, every gun pointed straight at them. Orders were barked at them in an incomprehensible mishmash of low sounds and clicks.

    'Slowly sit down, hold your hands in front of you. Be quiet.'

    One soldier advanced and scanned them with an electronic device. He returned. The soldiers spoke to each other at a fast pace. One removed a device from his belt and spoke into it. A voice spoke from the device.

    Richard moved his head nearer Sophie's. 'Not human? The language doesn't sound human.'

    Sophie spoke slowly, low and quiet. ' I guess you don't speak Bushman, and don't forget that a lot can happen in five hundred and thirty seven million years.'

    A gloved hand was placed on Richard's shoulders, pressing him into the ground. Stay. Another figure approached. Mask, helmet, gloves like the soldiers. It's clothing wasn't a khaki uniform, but was a long white jacket. Sophie and Richard recognised a fellow scientist in its lab-coat.

    The scientist circled them a few times. It walked forward. Sophie and Richard stayed still and quiet. The scientist reached out, and took Richard's hand. Richard gently squeezed the hand, remembering not to smile. The scientist stood up, turned to the soldiers, and spoke to them. The soldiers seemed to argue, but backed off, their guns no longer pointed at Richard and Sophie .

    The scientist reached back, and removed his helmet, and then his mask. Richard was amazed at how much had changed, but how much had remained the same in five hundred and thirty-seven million years. The long pointed nose, the whiskers, the small black eyes.

    Sophie leaned forward, and gave the scientist a good sniff. The scientist twitched its whiskers, and then sniffed her back.
  4. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    The Animal Inside [921 words]

    Catherine looked at her watch, and the timepiece appeared to have stopped as she walked into battle against the samurai of the Kyrian family. She was one of the few Sakura in the whole country and much feared in every sense of the word. Everyone behind her respected her which is why they were there, following her into battle

    Her older brother Kanuri was standing next to her, it was he who raised her after their parents died. He was a well-respected man and a fearless leader which was her reason for making him the captain of the large military division that they had behind them. She trusted his instinct more than hers due to the fact that her element controlling could sometimes call out the inner daemon and the mask of death appear.

    “Nii-Sama, thank you for doing this, you will ever be in my debt” Kanuri looked at her with an evil grin on his face, his black hair spiking in all directions, her red hair being a definite contrast to his, she had her hair tied up in a tight bun on the back of her head apart from one piece floating around her face making her sneeze

    As soon as she had placed the strand of hair behind her ear she noticed the opposition ordering themselves, she looked at her brother and then at her protector, yelled a kiai and led everyone on a surprise attack toward the enemy. With her katana in front of her, Wakizashi in its sheath at her hip she tore down the people in front of her, who appeared mal – equipped in comparison to them, she found that the further back she got, the more difficult for her it got to dispatch the enemies.

    “Fade To Black” she chanted, her blade changing to pure black, a chain of the same colour came out of the hilt and connected to that of the wakizashi that unsheathed itself and landed in her other hand the people around her who were her foe backed off the people who knew her formed a semi-circular back to back group going outward from her back.

    She then used the fact that there was a chain linking the two blades as a way of attacking – she threw the Wakizashi and swung it by manipulating the hilt of the Katana. Many tried to avoid the blade but most didn’t and were on the floor, dead.

    “Growl, wolf” she said, the blade changed forms again, this time to what looks like a pair of claws on a loop of leather, strapped to her knuckles and with this a human transformation, a wolf mask appeared on the top of her head, she continued on killing people, each one becoming more empowering her internal resources, at the same time the eyes of the wolf mask filling up

    The final transformation for her was when she put the mask, after the eyes had filled and completely transformed into a wolf - many of her opponents backed away and she pounced upon each of them killing them instantly. Many of the opposition tried to flee but her use of shadow step in wolf form made her twice as deadly.

    She growled and looked around, making light work of those around her. The people nearby that were part of her close entourage kept as many at bay as possible, making it easy for her overdriven senses to make use of the melee. Many didn’t notice the transformation, but those who did, backed away with discontempt, why should a woman with such power have the aid of a beast.

    She soul-split to make for a hume counterpart to the large wolf overshadowing everyone, this was a relatively simple task. Being a Sakura of a extraordinarily high level, such a task was menial to the grand scheme of battle. As soon as the counterpart was there, the wolf pounced off in the direction that the hume was not heading. This hume, bared no resemblance to the sakura that he is part of, as a man standing tall like a giant, twisted blond hair lying over his shoulders in a rat-tail like fashion, the pride was undeniably seen. His face a picture of porcelain perfection with smooth unblemished features and the clearest of blue eyes that made most men stop.

    A man like this stood out, in a country where dark hair and dark eyes ruled, this appearance could see you in an early grave. But when you see a man like this, with an authoritarian like power, and build above those around him, to dare challenge him is like daring a mouse to fight a lion, just not a good idea. The hume who had no name walked through the crowd like he was in a field full of corn crushing people beneath his feet, those who were on his side kept well away from him, those foolhardy enough to want to face him stood in front to be admirably swiped down with a single handed, deft swoop of the blade he wielded in his hand.

    The ox like strength was not something that Catherine had expected, but the ploy worked enough for her, still in wolf form, to take out a lot of the generals and high levelled people in the opposing side, it took them quite a long while to realise this, only noticing when both her and the hume howled at the same instant. Freezing everyone in their tracks…
  5. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    The Merry (1,857 words)

    I run the Guess Your Weight booth.

    Madame Ruby (Ruby Darrens after hours) runs the Fortune Teller booth and good for her. She's one of those old women that can read human nature like printed word. A pie-eyed young man looks too pale, so of course Ruby tells them about the girl that broke their heart. Sometimes she can really rock 'em back on their heels; the old girl's really got it. But, she doesn't have it. Not like I do.

    That's why I run the Weight gig. See, people with it usually know better than to open their gabs about it. Or they spend half their lives frustrated and the other half at the funny farm.

    How to explain it without going into that Vaudeville gypsy talk? Let's just say it's a little like having a memory, only in reverse. It's like the information was there all along, but you don't remember it 'til it happens. You see, I don't see things, the way Ruby claims to. I don't hear voices, or have overwhelming feelings or some crock like that. It just . . . comes to me. Like an old memory I've never had before.

    Usually, it's mothers. They get separated from their sprouts pretty easy down by the blinking lights on the game side of the carny. Usually right around the balloon and darts rig. They come hustlin' past my booth, worry just beginning to settle into the crevices of their brow.

    "Miss? Hey, Miss? Did you lose your son? Fuzzy black hair? I think I just saw him headed down to the Dizzy Duck ride."

    They never ask how I knew, probably think I saw them on their first time 'round or something, and they always thank me. And I just go on with my pitch.

    "Hey, guess your weight! If I miss by five, you win a prize. Come on up and let me guess your weight, don't worry ladies, I'll keep it quiet. You big fella, come on over and let me guess your weight."

    I never turn a lot of business, even in high summer, but that's alright. That's not why I'm in the business. I'm in it for the sprouts; I love 'em. Not the way that old fucker (pardon my French), Willy Gormat, "loves" 'em. I just love kids. Their so happy, even in their unhappiness, they are just . . . brilliant. Bright like fresh paint. And I think they've all got it, just a little, when their still too young to know the world doesn't really give a damn about 'em. I think most mothers have it too, just a little; maybe that's why they never ask me how I know.

    Usually it's mothers, but not always. Some times it's odd bits of things. I once saw a man, alone and bored-looking. It was terrible thing to know that he would fall down dead the next day of a heart attack and have no one to attend his funeral but the mortician. I once saw a little old lady with a very pretty young woman (her daughter) and I hated the young bitch (pardon my French). She was poisoning her mom; aiming for the family fortune. Which I just happened to know had dried up a good ten years ago.

    None of that compared to the night I saw the animals move, though. I said I don't see things, but I guess I fibbed a little. What I meant was I don't see things in a way that tells the future or nothing. There are just sometimes I see things I shouldn't. A Ford Taurus winked at me once. It was weird and nothing else came of it, but that thing winked, and no, I was not drunk. I saw the Prez on TV one time. He was making some speech about the seriousness of torture and its un-American-ness. And right in the middle, he stuck his thumbs in his ears, ran out his tongue, crossed his eyes, and wagged his fingers at the camera. The way sprouts do sometimes when their makin' fun of each other. I was pretty sure my wife didn't see it; she would have said so. And of course, I kept it under wraps.

    But, that night . . . Alright, I'm gettin' ahead of myself here. Hold on a minute.

    Let me start by telling you that I hate the merry-go-round. Has nothing to do with it. I just hate the damn thing ‘cause the poles are shoved through the animals like gold spears and the horses don’t look like jolly prancing ponies. They look like their screaming; in their death throes. And the tiger. Brrr, that sucker gives me the creeps. Looks like one of those cheap tattoos with its garish blue eyes and the big tongue lolling out and those big chunky plastic claws flashing in the neon. Looks like it sneaks a few puffs off the old glass pipe I know old Willy Gormat keeps hid in the leg of his folding chair.

    I can also tell you that I see the rides move all the time. Not like their regular, mechanical runnin’. Like the carny’s mini-coaster, The Caterpillar. It makes such a face when some sprout pukes in the car; half-disgust, half-embarrassment. The plushy toys in the games sometimes get bored and dance. Little bastards are nasty too, being the cheap knock offs they are. The Polly Bear dolls are particularly raunchy, smoking cigarettes and flashing their non-existent parts at pretty girls. The worst offender, though, is the Dizzy Ducks. If it weren’t for that fact that I know what I’m seeing ain’t real, I’d have pulled my hair out and died of a heart attack years ago. The Dizzy Ducks sit in about two inches of water and you ride them around the track once; the carny’s family friendly version of the Tunnel of Love. Those bastard ducks are always tryin’ to drown folks. Bittin’ at their fingers or noses. I once saw one fly right off the track and perch on the top of the Tilt, eyeing the crowds like a vulture eyes the half-dead man in the desert.

    But, I’ve never seen the merry-go-round animals so much as twitch. Not until that night.

    It was August, and thus a little slow. I was making my way back from the lunch tent with Ruby. She’s been sweet on me for a few years, and it’s been more years than that since Carol died. We’re too old to be in love, least ways that kind of love, but we talk after hours and walk together and sometimes, she cooks me dinner. At our age, that’s just a whirlwind kind of romance. We were headed back up the main drag, toward her booth. Mine was down for the night. The little secret scale buried in the ground right out front was on the fritz, telling me that everyone that stepped on it weighed exactly 390.1 pounds. Ruby was telling me about her grandson’s graduation. I was listening with half an ear, cause the other one was listening to the sound of the Caterpillar clattering down the first big hill.

    The merry-go-round sits right in the middle intersection between the concessions and the main drag. I wasn’t really looking at it; like I said, I hate that fucking thing (pardon my French).

    The only reason I looked was the scream. It wasn’t some rube in the Funhouse getting spooked by a ghost on a string. It was a sprout and she was in mortal peril. You didn’t need it to know that sound, least ways not if you’ve got sprouts of your own. It’s just a sound you know by experience. I looked toward the source, the merry-go-round, and my first thought was not a psychic one, not by a long shot.

    I thought,

    “Old Willy’s finally fell off the wagon; just played grab-ass with some poor sprout.”

    The horses were going crazy. They bucked so hard, their poles vibrated. The elephant had its nose wrapped around the edge of the dias, like it was trying to pull itself off the ride. All their eyes were rolling in their skulls, wild and panicked. I couldn’t see the tiger because it was on the other side of the dias; my view was blocked by the central pillar where the motors were hidden by glitz and mirrors and cheap plastic. And I did not want to see it. Because I knew it would be covered in blood, a little girl’s blood, and it would be smiling a mouth full of yellow and bloody teeth, licking its chops.

    The next thing I knew, Ruby was calling my name.

    “Ron. Ron! What’s the matter, hon?”

    “Nothin’,” I mumbled. Then cleared my throat, “Thought I heard a sprout holler.”

    I blinked and the merry-go-round was normal again. Its lights were dim and its speakers quiet. ‘Cause Willy was on vacation, a week off with pay.

    Ruby may not have it, but like I said, she has her own, special brand of it.

    “What’d you see, Ronny?”

    Her voice was gentle, but firm. Something most mothers also have, God bless ‘em.

    I looked at her. She knew about it, I’d told her one night when I had more beer in me than sense. Sweet, steadfast woman that she was, it didn’t even faze her. Now, she knew it was the problem.

    “What’d you see?” she asked again. Gentler, with her hand on my arm; firmer, her eyes bright and steady on mine.

    “The Merry. The animals were trying to get away from the tiger. I think . . . I think it killed someone.”

    Ruby looked at the merry-go-round and gave it that same hard stare she gave me when she wanted me to fess up to something. After a moment, she turned back to me.

    “Willy’s out, hon. His week off.”

    “I know, I just . . .,” and just like that, I shook it off. Something you just learn to do with you have it.

    I wish I hadn’t. I wish now that I’d gone around to look or at least that I’d try to make Ruby understand. But, I didn’t.

    That next week was my week off. That’s when they found the bodies. The little girls, their poor little limbs mangled and torn, buried under the merry-go-round’s dias. Of course, they blamed Willy. But, I knew better. I never said a word, though; I kept it under wraps. Because Willy was a pervert anyway, and because people with it learn to keep quiet. But, I knew. It was the tiger.

    The week the carny closed, I burned it to the ground. You should have heard the Dizzy Ducks honking while their feathers burned. The way the horses screamed. The tiger roaring. The Polly Bears begging for mercy, for the end. God help me, I hope I die before I have to spend another night hearing that park burn in my dreams.

    I think Ruby's gonna have me commited. Guess I didn't keep it under wraps as well as I thought.
  6. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    Where the Wild Things Could Be – [word count 1,620; nonfiction]

    The window display was unsettling: “Attack of the Killer Grizzly”. The book promised to tell the reader about a young couple's fight for survival during and after an attack by a grizzly in Glacier National Park, British Columbia. Except Glacier is in Montana. On the Canadian side of the border, the park’s name was Waterton Lakes.

    But no matter, the book was about a recent bear attack here in the park where Jim and I were setting out to hike into and camp. A dozen copies of the book were spread across the lodge gift shop window display. Said bear apparently killed 4 people before the couple in the story survived with their near death injuries.

    Jim pointed out bears are dangerous if you’re a woman and it was that time of the month. Great, thanks for telling me that. It wasn’t that time of the month for me, but what if it started when we were out on the trail? I hadn’t a clue when I was due.

    There was a notice board in the lodge explaining all the care we would need to be safe, don’t eat where you sleep, hang your food, never put anything edible in your tent. OK, so if it’s that time of the month, how do you keep that smell out of your sleeping bag? And did we seriously bring tuna to eat?

    At the trailhead stood an imposing bulletin board, warning us again about bears, little diagrams showing how to hang your food, admonishments to keep those smelly items away from where you sleep. And once again, no advice for what to do about my lady parts should they … , well enough obsessing about that.

    We locked up the car, shouldered the packs and set out. I lost myself in the beauty of the trail, the smell of pine seeping from baking needles, the peaceful drone of insects and the musical cacophony of a dozen bird species. A little too warm in places but mostly a perfectly shaded trail stretched on ahead. Glacier Park is absolutely incredible, the Rockies, the lakes, the wildlife, umm, most of the wildlife. One full day hike to the lake, we were the only ones there, and we didn’t see any bears, all was well.

    Of course, even here, park management felt the need to warn us yet again. There was another sign at the campground trailhead, smaller, but with same warnings, same diagrams, same absence of what to do if you are a woman.

    The night was uneventful. I made sure we put the tent a long way from the campfire and dinner. As we hung the food I wondered if tuna breath or toothpaste was more attractive to bears. And would the plastic trash bag be enough to mask the smell of an old tuna can when we hiked out day after tomorrow?

    “Stop worrying,” Jim assured me. “Bears are fine as long as you take precautions. Really.”

    Exploring in the morning, we found a one room unoccupied ranger cabin next to the lake. Locked of course, but what great luck, a canoe was leaning against the side wall. Hey, why not? There was no one around and who would care if we borrowed it anyway. We could only find one oar, too short, but it would do. Jim and I simply couldn’t resist.

    He rowed, I enjoyed. In no time we were in the middle of the lake soaking in the ever more incredible surroundings and reveling in the luck of finding the canoe. Not too far away I saw the water rippling. There was an animal swimming, enjoying the lake with us. We both stared, fascinated. What was it? We drifted closer. Two round brown ears, brown fur, … , whoa! It was a bear! Did bears go for recreational swims?

    I wouldn’t say Jim and I panicked, we definitely got a little shaky, hearts racing, the single, too short oar, suddenly inadequate. We retreated as fast as we could. Fortunately for us, so did the bear, to the opposite side of the lake. It was as afraid of us as we it.

    “Told ya,” Jim said.

    I didn’t remind him just how quickly he paddled that short oar.

    We had a great laugh about the experience, enjoyed another night at the campground. I was a little less nervous, after all, we came, we saw and the bear was afraid of us. Not that I was now convinced bears weren’t dangerous. The book in the lodge store recounted a true story. But you can actually be in bear country and most of the time it’s exciting to see them. I was delighted.

    I could stop the story here. But it didn’t end there.

    Next we headed across the border to camp on the Canadian side of the Rockies. We stopped in a roadside picnic area for lunch. There on a very big bulletin board with lots of information in very big print was the teeniest tiniest little warning, “Take bear precautions in the park”. Seriously, that’s it? That was it. I don’t recall we saw a single other bear warning the whole time we were in Canada. We joked about the difference in culture since the bears were certainly the same on both sides of the border.

    This time we parked at a trailhead that was just off the main highway. But only a couple miles in and up, we were in alpine country, no remnants of traffic detectable. A short distance from the small alpine lake was a lean-to of sorts. It’s a fixed camping structure, compliments of the Canadian National Park Service, a three-sided shelter with a roof and built in sleeping benches to spread the sleeping bags off the ground.

    We had another luxurious hike through blissful wooded wilderness, and being only a short hike there were some daylight hours left over when we got to the lake’s campsite. A deer and her two fawns walked right into our camp. She came within a few feet of us. It was thrilling until the poor thing tried to take a sip from a pot of recently boiled water. All three ran off. “It’ll be OK,” Jim said and I knew he was right, but I was still sorry the doe burnt her tongue.

    While Jim hung the food and cooking gear in a tree, I collected lots of firewood. Bear warnings or no bear warnings, female odors or no odors, I was still nervous. Bears are scary no matter how cool to actually see them outside a zoo.

    Our campfire guarded the unprotected flank of the shelter, the flames eventually burning down to coals after I was done fighting sleep to keep them alive. The sounds of the night replaced the day, quiet. Except that new sound!

    Scratch scratch, clunk clunk, scratch scratch.

    “What the heck is that?” We both asked each other. It was loud, right next to the lean-to and didn’t stop. Jim got the flashlight and I followed. It didn’t take long before the light shown on a porcupine! I’d never seen a porcupine in the wild before. It had been digging up roots. When we disturbed it, it waddled off in no particular hurry. Whatever it was looking to eat, apparently it preferred more dimly lit dining.

    After a bit of laughing and wowing at each other, I fed the fire and Jim and I crawled back into the sleeping bags. Once again it got quieter, the fire died down, and this time I felt safe and tired, no urge to resist the dying fire. When you look under the bed and there’s no boogeyman there, you feel a little safer, for a while anyway.

    And then, thump! Thump! Thump! The ground shook. Whatever the heck it was this time, it was big. I wasn’t going out there. Jim wasn’t either. We discussed the fact that whatever it was that had stomped past the shelter, was passing through. Best not to get in it’s way. We didn’t even risk putting more wood on the fire.

    I don’t know how long it took to finally fall asleep but I eventually did. And in the morning we went out to solve the mystery. There were fresh elk tracks next to camp, leading down to the lake. We guessed the weight by comparing how deep our own boot prints sunk next to the Elk’s in the same ground, less than a quarter of the depth. An 800+ pound elk can be dangerous during the rut, but they don’t feel as scary as a bear when you’re close to them, unless of course, the elk is some unknown monster shaking the ground while passing next to your unprotected flank in the dark of night.

    We went home with some pretty great, “remember that time,” stories. I’ve since heard the whole ‘time of the month’ thing was probably a myth, but I’m keeping a calendar anyway. Oh yeah, and I carry a large can of bear spray now, anywhere bears and people share the wild places. Bought it in Yellowstone where the park rangers put up temporary folding, ‘bear - trail closed’, barricades like the ones that say no parking or road closed. Thousands of tourists on heavily populated trails and they simply close a 500 foot section for an hour if someone reports a bear. Really, a three foot by two foot, temporary folding barricade is apparently all we need separating people and dangerous grizzlies. Elk on the other hand, judging by the preponderance of warning signs, are evidently the most dangerous animals in Yellowstone.

    I wonder if the rangers in Glacier and Yellowstone ever get together?
  7. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    Bed Time (729 words)

    The unnamed protagonist, Tyler Durden's alter ego, described insomnia as never really asleep, and never really awake, nothing's real everything is a copy of a copy... I haven't found it to be that exactly.

    “I haven't slept in three days, I'd go to bed, lay there for an hour, sometimes three then just – ”

    “What time are you going to bed?” The doctor scratched at mottle stubble crudely cloaking ingrown hairs and infected pimples. Speckled, wrinkled skin told me he was sixty years old most likely, maybe a little more.

    “I dunno, sometimes eleven, sometimes later –”

    “What do you do before bed?”

    “Watch a movie, I usually read for an hour or so. I feel tired, then as soon as my head touches the pillow –”

    “You need to make some serious decisions about your life. You need to decide whether you value your health, or entertainment. Go to bed earlier, before nine.” He taps the the desk with gnarled fingers, before punching the keyboard as if he were jabbing ants.

    Go to sleep earlier. I'm not a physician but on the scale of stupid shit, telling a person who can't sleep to go to bed earlier rates pretty highly.

    Time slowed down, and sped up. An hour felt like fifteen minutes and a five minute wait I'd equate to an hour. I liken it to LSD, or Psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. But there are no visuals, no inane enlightenments just a crushing headache and the fear that your matress inspires.

    Four days and I don't think I've slept a wink. I remember when I was a little kid I'd wait up for Santa, hidden behind the couch I knew I hadn't slept but the presents where there none the less. This tiny childhood snippet makes me question whether or not I am actually awake right now.

    Reality has become a hazy mess. An unrelenting mess. I watched fight club again, and dreamt of starting a revolution.

    But I know it's not going to happen, that shit doesn't happen in real life. My uncle suffers from a trans-personality disorder, every so often he'll go missing for a couple of days before the police find him. Once he was at an airport yelling, “don't you know who I am,” another time he'd joined a cult. He didn't start any revolutions... But maybe if he had more time?

    The sad fact of the matter is that the mentally ill are not revolutionaries and they are not changing a damn thing.

    Entertainment gives us an escape from the rat race. We immerse ourselves in someone else's world and imagine what it would be like to be them. Fight club is James Bond for the invalid.

    I liked snow. The old CRT televisions, when the antenna shook the screen would fill with ghosts. Progress has silenced the immortal soul, an irritating scratching sound along with a frozen picture has replaced it the snow. The white noise is gone.

    Flames lap at a deepen sky, frozen in time. For hours, but most likely only seconds. The anchor man had been saying eighty thousand cans of spray paint had been laid out in the the basement of Erden Trade centre, the home of One Bank.

    A bizarre method of attack but I suppose they achieved their goal. 12 monkeys. That was their name; yet another film reference. The entertainment's grip on the armchair activists leaked into full blown terrorist scene. Even the revolutionaries remain bound by hero worship.

    What they don't seem to understand is that they are merely rats in a maze. They are given freedom enough that they serve the higher power's purpose. Government is the scientist, they have constructed the maze and only they know how it ends. The rat gets its cheese then goes back in the cage, the scientist gets his data, and gets his promotions; he has his freedom.

    Freedom is in control? Perhaps.

    I picked flecks of purple from my finger tips as I stare into a redbull; 10:18am. It's too late to go to bed. The only thing worse than not sleeping is sleeping during the day. It takes years off your life.

    Then there came a heavy knock at the door. A resonating thud that gave way to muffled barks, and yells.

    Bed time.
  8. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    The lion that lost his pride (673 words including title)

    The grey, heavy clouds that hung over the African savannah sky blocked out the final rays of the sun. The air was stiflingly hot and calm. In fact, it was dead. Death was all around. The once long and yellow grasses that covered the savannah were lank and rotting on the ground which was a dull grey color. The few scattered trees had all lost their leaves months ago and now were just a mass of dead branches. The whole savannah was just a dying silhouette of itself. The migrating herds had all moved on, in their search for the necessities of life: water and fodder. The old lion’s one good eye scanned the horizon for any sign of life. There were none. There had been none for the past two weeks. The lion licked the ground, maybe out of desperation, maybe for any sign that there had been a living being nearby. It tasted of dried mud. He was starved. His last kill had been a lame warthog that had been left behind by her herd. He felt no sorrow or remorse for taking the kill. It was the law of the savannah. He had to kill to survive, and that was the only instinct he had left, the only thing that kept him going, the only thing that kept his tired, weary limbs from collapsing. All other feelings had left him when he was abandoned by his pride. He still had memories of the day. He would see it every time he gave himself a few hours to close his eyes and rest his weary, starved and bony body. He was feasting on a kill made by the lionesses of the pride, when he heard a roar. It was a new male that had wandered into his territory. He had roared a warning to the male, but the male roared back defiantly. The new male wanted to challenge the old lion for the throne atop the pride. The once fierce old lion fought bravely, but at 17, he was way past his prime. The new male blinded one of his eyes with one swipe of his paw and made a large bloody gash on his leg with another. The old lion roared in pain. Badly wounded, he conceded the pride to the new lion. Losing his pride, he had naught to do but move on, far away from his pride. Now, today, a year later, near death, he understood the complete harshness of reality more than anyone. He stopped his crawl near a small puddle of muddy water. He looked at his reflection. It looked nothing like the proud lion of years past. His mane was falling apart in patches and he could see his ribs pressing hard against his skin. He lapped up some of the muddy water then moved on. He kept walking for hours, scouring for any sign of food, for any sign of hope, for any chance of survival. He walked one step at a time, then another, until he couldn’t bear take another step. His tired and wounded limbs finally gave way. He tried to get up, but he could not keep his balance. He fell down again. He looked up at the sky. The clouds finally parted, the sun was no more. There was a new moon tonight. Clusters of stars were perfectly visible here, far away from the dust and smoke of man-made cities. They glinted beautifully, some as blue as the rivers he had one known, some yellow as the one eye he had left, others red, like the blood he spilled everyday in his nightmarish flashbacks, tiny points of light against the blackness of nothing. He marveled at the absolute cruelty and the absolute beauty of reality one last time. Then, his body went limp and his last breath of air rushed out of his lungs. His head crashed against the dark dead earth he’d called home for a year. The lion that lost his pride was no more.
  9. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    Fat and Sassy Hippo (9o words)

    Hippo waddled, fat and sassy, across the grassland. And then he was shot by a poacher who mistook him for Elephant, because he was so fat, and so sassy.

    In an effeminate lisp, Elephant, who had been slurping up water at the watering hole (if you know what I mean) said, “Nice try, boys, but I play hard to get,” and then he strutted into the jungle, wriggling his ass primly. The poacher threw his sunhat on the ground, and stepped on it, crying bitter tears of a shattered manhood.
  10. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    785 words (Contains scenes of animal cruelty)

    In hunting parlance we call them the big three: they are the European badger, the Midland boar and finally the lowland fox. What with the diversity of venomous insects, spiders and snakes scattered across the British Isles one never knows what literally lies around the next corner. We gathered at Ye Olde trip to Jerusalem the evening before and decided to hunt column style, Derick riding point with me covering the undergrowth for webs or other low lying indicators of prey. Outside, I was loading the feathers from the truck when Derick approached:

    ‘I got a bad feeling about this, Tim.’

    ‘One shot.’ I said.

    ‘It’s not that, Timothy. I forgot my boots. Lend me your spares.’

    ‘No,’ I said. ‘You came in flip-flops, you hunt in flip-flops, maybe that’ll learn you.’

    With the bowie knife, Derick slashed a groove down each sock and dressed head to ankle in military fatigues we entered Sherwood forest under cover of darkness. It was half past two GMT, adjusted to BST made it three thirty.

    ‘Nobody told the badgers about BST,’ said Derick.

    ‘Never you mind,’ I said. ‘Keep your bow dry and your arrows close to hand.’

    The rain was incessant, the undergrowth as thick as jungle with the blackberry thorns ripping vicious trails across our camoed cheeks. I saw it first.

    ‘Foxhole, ten o’clock.’ I breathed.

    ‘Looks fresh,’ said Derick.

    ‘I’m going in.’ I said and gripped the flashlight in my teeth. I stripped to my pants, the spike swinging on my lanyard. 'If I’m not back in twenty-four hours you contact the feds.’

    Derick just stared deep into the white of my handsome eyes. ‘Don’t you worry,’ he said. ‘I’ll guard your hole till you come out and we’ll have ourselves fox steaks at dawn around the camp fire. I trust you, man.’

    I stooped and smeared fox droppings across my chest - needing to disguise my powerful testosterone scent whilst deep in the animals’ lair.

    The squeeze was tight, but the earth felt cool and dry, rubbing along my exposed flesh as like a lace I wriggled my body into the eye of mother planet. I crawled a quarter mile underground, sniffing as I went and creeping over tree roots and vines along the way. The cold length of a worm slid across my neck and I shuddered. Nothing else filled my mind except the single pure thought of the warrior questing his prey. A man pitted in his most vital sense against the barbarous ginger cruelty of the fox.

    I rounded the corner and my flashlight illuminated the fox family gathered around the corpse of a starling and munching greedily at its innards. A cub rushed my face, his jaw wide and dripping. With a swift flick of the head I butted him away and he flew unconscious and lay limp by a clutch of dry leaves. Mother fox stalked toward me growling, her foxes cry a piercing shriek of vengeance. I shuffled my spike and with it held between my teeth slashed across her eyes as with her nuzzle she gripped my nose, ragging her head from side to side, tearing hunks of flesh until I felt the tip dissolve and globules of blood fill my mouth. I chewed and swallowed, dragging an arm free and throttled the fox and watched her eyes as the life force disappeared. Aroused, my vengeance was incomplete and I chased the survivors, shuffling with all my might. Suddenly everything became pitch dark. This was either through their counter-measures or my batteries had failed and I was blind, ensnared deep underground with a half dozen tiny little snouts chewing at my face. I seized the body of the mother fox and began my backward wriggle back toward safety and the sanctuary of the surface. All the time like a pack of wolves the baby foxes roared and bit, gouging my ears and ripping clumps of man fur from my chin. A masculine hand grabbed my boot and I was dragged free of the hole, taking huge gulps of fresh air as Derick stepped into the breech and poured pint after pint of gasoline down the hole . He struck a match and whoosh the hole became enflamed, the scent of fox hair filling the night sky. I stood and hugged Derick for all I was worth, smeared in mud and laughing with delight.

    We gathered firewood and roasted the prey over the sticks. Derick bandaged my nose and we entered the statistics in the notebook. Only one of the big three mastered, the other two would have to wait till later that same weekend and that my friends is a whole new kettle of fish. Thank you.
  11. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
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    Northeast England
    A Week Off (2,087 Words/ Contains Language)

    “Amy, do you know why I called you in today?” Her boss, Sean, stared at her from behind his mahogany desk. He sat in his typical boss stance¬- legs crossed, leaning back in his chair, hands folded in on each other with his index fingers forming a steeple which touched his lips. He wasn’t a bad boss, but he wasn’t a great one either. Amy could hardly care though, the past year of her life having been a lonely blur of sporadic crying, refused invitations, and late night desolation.

    “I do not,” Amy replied.

    “Don’s asked me to fire you.” There it was, out there, without as much as a warning. Amy swallowed.

    “Oh,” was all she could manage. Her life was slowly fracturing, collapsing in on her. Suffocating.

    “I’ve convinced him that would not be in the company’s best interest,” Sean stated. Breath. Amy simply nodded.

    “Instead I’m giving you a week of paid leave.”

    “Sir, that really-“ Amy started.

    “It’s not negotiable Amy,” Sean spat,” The only reason I’m not firing you is because you used to be my best marketer.” The words ‘used to be’ stung. Amy swallowed again and nodded.


    “Today will be your last day. I’ll see you next week.” Amy attempted a smile and then rose to leave.

    “Thank you….Sean,” Amy stated while making her way out. She nearly reached the door when she heard Sean speak up again.

    “Amy. I realize you’re having trouble moving on after what’s happened,” Amy turned back and met Sean’s gaze, “I’m sorry about all of this.” Amy nodded.

    “When you come back, though, I need you ready to work.”

    Amy returned to her cubical, where she fought back tears and attempted to bury herself in work. Her thoughts danced from her boss, to her friends, to maybe losing her job, to what she’d already lost. The tears did not come and Amy felt a small achievement. For the remainder of her work day, however, her mind was on shuffle.

    After work Amy endured the long ride home, full of thoughts other than driving. When she arrived back at her apartment she pulled off her clothes and spent an hour in the shower, alone with her thoughts. It had been a year, but it never seemed like it. Since the event everything seemed duller. Colors weren’t as bright, foods weren’t as tasty, jokes weren’t as funny. What her life had been was turned irretrievably upside down, in a matter of milliseconds, into the broken vase it now was. As Amy scrubbed the day’s work off herself, she ran the luffa over the scar on her side. It was small, but she hated it, a permanent physical reminder of the night which ruined her life. The Young Woman found herself unable to handle the emotions she’d fought off at work, and began sobbing.

    After her cry, Amy dried herself with a towel and pulled open her walk-in closet- choices, choices. She settled on a frilly blue dress with her favorite high heels. Samantha, her best friend, was moving to Europe with her husband. It was something she’d been dreading for months, though she rarely spent time with her friends anymore.

    “AMY!” Samantha screamed from across the room, as their mutual friend Claire opened the door. Claire’s house was meticulously clean, seeing as she was yet unmarried, and had no kids. The Young Woman caught a glimpse of Samantha over a room of immaculate carpets and furniture. Amy cut a rare smile. Before she was two steps into the house, Samantha was on her, giving her a large hug.

    “I’m so glad you came!” her friend exclaimed.

    “It’s my last chance to see you before you leave, why wouldn’t I come?” Amy inquired.

    Samantha shrugged, but the unspoken comment hung in the air; because you usually don’t come out with us anymore. Amy drank with her friends, a little at first, with full intent to drive back home, but by eleven it became evident that plan wasn’t going to work. Claire took her keys and proclaimed she was sleeping at her place tonight. There were jokes, and Amy laughed. There was singing and dancing, which Amy half-way participated in. It was, in general, the healthy release Amy had needed but avoided for so long. Sometime before midnight, an inebriated Samantha approached Amy, flopping down on the couch next to her.

    “Hey, you. I have something to ask.”

    “What’s up?” Amy asked, putting her arm around her.

    “As you may have been informed, Derrick and I are moving to England.” Amy laughed.

    “I think you may have mentioned it.”

    Samantha nodded, “Yes, indeed. Now, since we’re moving there it would be a hassle to take Pikkachu.” Amy nodded, unsure of where this was going. Pikkachu was Samantha’s dog. It looked like a pint sized chocolate lab. The name was purely Samantha, outrageous and silly with a side of nerd. It was named after the famous Pokémon from their childhood years.

    “And?” Amy asked.

    “I was wondering if you’d want to take him.”

    “Why would I want him? He’s your dog,” Amy stated.

    “Well, ‘cause he’s cute, of course, and because you need some company over there at that apartment of yours. You stay over there all by yourself.”

    “I really don’t need a dog,” Amy suggested with a raised eyebrow.

    “But he’s nice! And I can’t take him with me. Besides, they say dogs can help people…you know…feel better.” Samantha was phrasing it politely.

    “He’s going to make me forget?” Amy said sarcastically.

    “Don’t be a smart-ass! He’ll make you feel better,” Samantha said. Amy sat in silent thought, the alcohol clouding her decision. When Samantha gave her a hopeful smile, she relented.

    “Fine”. Samantha hugged her.

    “Just give it a chance. You’re going to love him.” The party wrapped up around two in the morning and Amy collapsed on Claire’s couch, sometime around three. When she woke she had a concert of pain in her head and a dry mouth. Her first vision, as she awoke, was a dog sitting politely on the floor, watching her. It was Pikkachu. Amy guessed he was dropped off by Samantha this morning. She must have slept through it.

    The Young Woman rose from the couch with a groan, the small dog stepping out of her way. She made her way to the kitchen and crafted a glass of water. Amy chugged it, refilled it, and then emptied that one, before she checked on Claire to find her still asleep. Collapsing back on the couch, Amy attempted to return to her dreams, but found the headache wouldn’t let her. She picked up her belongings, threw them into her purse, and was about to sneak out when she remembered Pikkachu. The dog was lying on the ground quietly, chin between his paws, watching her.

    “I…guess you’re with me now, Pikkachu,” Amy said.

    The dog lifted its head up upon hearing its name and gazed at her further. Finding the small kennel next to the door, Amy coaxed him in and left Claire’s house. She placed Pikkachu’s kennel in the front seat next to her purse and made her way back to the apartment. When she arrived back she let Pikkachu out of his kennel and introduced him to his new home. He promptly cased the apartment, sniffing the rooms.

    The realization that the dog had nothing to eat hit Amy, and she back tracked to her car to buy the supplies. She returned with the dog’s water and food bowl, a large bag of dog food, which she stuck next to her washer, and a toy she’d purchased. Amy threw the squeaky toy down and Pikkachu promptly pounced on it, giving it a bite, and looking up at her.

    “What?” Amy asked, before walking into her room to surf the internet.

    This was largely how she spent her days; aimless internet surfing, movie watching, or book reading. Most invitations from friends were politely refused. As Amy’s day came to a close she snuggled into her bed, only to listen to the sounds of Pikkachu whining. When she got up to check on him she found him by the door.

    “Want Samantha back?” She asked. The dog looked back at her with a whine.

    “Me too,” she said, before returning to her bed.

    The dog continued to whine throughout the night. Despite the difficulty, sleep finally found Amy. Pikkachu whined for the next couple of nights, but eventually stopped. With a few days of freedom left before returning to work, Amy was no closer to her normal self than she had been before. Late one evening, returning from picking up a pizza, she passed by the site of an accident. It was just a fender-bender, but there was a familiar smell of stinking tires, and glass littered the road. Amy fought the tears off until she arrived back home.

    She burst into the apartment, threw the pizza on her table, and ran to her room. The sobbing was hard and forceful. It spilled out of her uncontrollably. Her cries choked with the sobs, making loud yelping sounds. The memories flooded into her mind. Tires screeching, glass crunching, and that smell of the tires filling her nose. She remembered a helicopter, her doctor’s said she shouldn’t remember it, but she did. She remembered the chopping sound of the blades and the sight of firefighters using a large tool to peel apart the driver-side door. She remembered the car looking like a sad accordion. She remembered the doctor telling her that Matt, her fiancé, had been crushed by the steering column.

    As her sobs got louder, Pikkachu leapt up onto the bed and licked her hand. Amy pushed him away, but he came back and licked her again. She pulled the sheets over her head, separating herself from the dog, and screamed into them. She wasn’t screaming for Matt, but herself. She screamed for her inability to move on, her love for Matt that would not fade, and for her life that was shattered into pieces that night, which she was still failing to glue back together.
    Drying her eyes, Amy pulled the sheet off of herself. Pikkachu was lying next to her, his chin by his paws again, in his familiar calming stance. Amy sat up against her head post. Pikkachu walked over to her, crawling into her lap. Without thinking, she began petting him. The tears began again, but not as bad as before.

    “This isn’t what my life was supposed to be like,” she cried at Pikkachu.

    “Matt is supposed to be here instead of you.” She said it without anger, but as a matter of fact. Pikkachu licked her hand. The dog was telling her it was okay, or so it seemed to Amy. Matt wasn’t coming back, but it’ll be okay. Amy sat in silence with Pikkachu, rubbing his fur. As she sat, she felt a feeling that hadn’t graced her body in a long time.

    The next morning, after breakfast, Amy sat in front of her television watching a cheap, made-for-TV sci-fi movie. As she watched, Pikkachu trotted up and gazed at her.

    “What?” She asked. Pikkachu kept staring.

    “What do you want, dog?” She asked again. Pikkachu didn’t move. Amy picked up one of the pillows on the couch and hit the dog with it, earning her a growl.

    “What’s the matter, tough guy? Don’t like that?” She hit him again, earning a louder growl. When she struck the dog with the pillow a third time he bit it, throwing his head side to side. Amy began tugging with him.

    “Come on, vicious. Show me your strength!” She pulled, and Pikkachu tugged back. Amy wrenched the pillow free before striking him with it again. She played with him for a few minutes, and by the end the pillow was torn to shreds. She lay down on the floor next to the dog and laughed while he licked her face.

    “Okay. I’ve decided you’re alright. You can stay.” Amy heard her cell phone ring and clambered across the floor to grab it from the coffee table. The call was from Claire.

    “Hey, Claire.”

    “Hey, Amy! I was wondering if you wanted to come out with me tonight? I’m going to go to this new sushi place in town.” Amy looked at Pikkachu and pushed him down, earning her another playful growl.

    “I do have work tomorrow…but, sure. Why not?”

    “Seriously?” Claire asked, with a tone of disbelief.

  12. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    The Return
    1700 Words / contains explicit language and probably disturbing images

    I woke up in the woods, flat on the cold ground, my face in a patch of smelly moss. As the last visions of my nightmare faded away and I realized where I was, I jumped to my feet and found myself in sheer terror at first. How on earth did I end up here?! I ran in circles like a fucking idiot until I hyperventilated, tripped over a root and bumped my head on a trunk which served like a sobering slap in the face. So I just sat there and some clarity crept back into my skull. Where was I? How did I get here? And why?

    The last thing I recalled was lying on the stiff mattress inside the cabin I had rented for the two days. I’ve never had troubles sleeping since I can remember and now this crazy sleepwalking shit was happening to me! I brushed off the leaves and realized that my hands and arms were covered in some kind of fresh red mud, my shirt and jeans violently torn and sogging wet. Still very uneasy I looked anxiously around, took a deep breath in an attempt to keep my panic in check and tried to get my bearings.

    The sun had just come up above thick rain clouds and fog hung like rags from the trees. It must have been around six in the morning but it was hard to tell without a watch. Sure, it must have seemed like a beautiful, tranquil morning, a camper’s dream if you cared for that kinda things but I didn’t. Never did. I always stayed clear from anything wilder than the freshly trimmed meadows of Central Park. As the city-boy I desperately sought to become after leaving Monkton, VT, when I turned seventeen, that wasn’t an issue anyway for me. I do love the concrete, the asphalt, the oily scent of the Big Apple brooding in the summer’s heat and I was living my dream as a rookie journalist until I got laid off a couple of weeks ago. I should have been happy and grateful about finding a new job as a freelancer for this travel-blog, loveliestplacesinamerica.com, but frankly, I cared more for the paycheck than for any of all those the scenic routes, Main Street farmer’s markets and dreamy townships combined. At least I could stay clear of all the hiking trails and national parks until recently. “It’ll be a nice change of scenery for you,” Sharon said, “to get some fresh air in your lungs and blow the dust off your brain,” she said. Instead I felt like I was snapping just like the twigs under my feet. I walked briskly until at one point I realized I was running again, fueled by adrenaline and panic, followed by something rustling in the undergrowth. Keep it together, John, you’re starting to lose it again. Don’t be paranoid. Think of something nice. Dad. Think about dad.

    Dad was an outdoorsy man. He and mom moved to the little red house at the outskirts of Monkton shortly before I was born. Dad never judged me for my … respect for the woods and forests, never said a word when I didn’t join them on camping trips or stayed with my aunt in Portland for much of the summer. Not a single word. When I protested his or mom’s cautious attempts to get me out again, he would just give me that look, pat me on the shoulder and the matter was settled. Well, until that day when I visited him in the hospital in Burlington. He looked so frail on the bed, tubes in his nose and wrinkled old-man hands at his sides. Without looking at me he started talking about how I loved to be out in the woods behind our house every day.

    “Oh Jonny… You jumped through the thicket like an animal, climbed on each tree and dug holes in the ground.” He smiled fondly, reminiscential. “Your mother and I regularly had to drag you back to the house to clean you up for dinner. Sometimes you even snuck out into the woods at night and left telltale marks on the rug. We didn’t know whether to be upset or worried.” He turned and looked at me and his smile had vanished. ”But what happened that day, Johnny, that day you came back with that cut in your face and never wanted to go there again. When you were four or five. You cried and shouted when we even brought you near the woods and for weeks you just wouldn’t leave the house anymore. Your mother was very worried but I told her that probably just some animal had spooked you or something and that it’ll pass if we give it enough time. But it never did. It never did. What was it you saw there, Johnny? What had scared you so much, Johnny?” Dad’s gray eyes watered but frankly I had no idea what he was talking about. I have no recollection of playing in the woods or, god forbid, going there at night. To give the old man an answer I mumbled “Just a deer” and he would pat my hand and drift off again in old stories of him and uncle Jonathan hunting deer.

    Thank god! In the distance I could finally make out some opening amidst all those trees, something red and I convinced myself that this must’ve been my rental. Yet I could not shake off the paranoia and something in the back of my head was ringing every alarm there was. And my gut insisted that being surrounded by tall trees was equally dangerous. So I just stopped in my tracks, heart pounding like crazy, sweat running from my brows and blind horror building up inside me, swallowing the better part of any rational thought I tried to grasp. My vision changed into a narrow tunnel and the stirring in the foliage close to me faded out. I just saw the red of the car and ran, ran like crazy, ran like the madman I felt I became.

    When I arrived the true horror just started. Instead of my car I could make out just fragments; blood, a broken ribcage, the putrid yet sweet stench of decay. As I emptied my stomach violently next to the gruesome scene, I knew that it was over. A sobering moment of grim certainty and, yes, almost relief ensued my frenzy and I knew I had lost everything I had to lose. I had lost my mind a while ago, I lost the contents of my stomach and I lost hope of ever returning. Bit by bit I forced my eyes to take in what was before me. And I remembered. Remembered everything I saw as a kid.

    I recall a very dark red sky and the voices of two men shouting, screaming in the young night, hunters or poachers probably. I was intrigued and I could make out two cones of flashlights frantically bouncing off the canopy as I closed in and heard one blood-curling plea for help and two gunshots. As I arrived on a sheltered vantage point one man was already dead. In the trembling flashlight of the survivor’s torch there was a trophy stag on top of the dead man. Red snout, red teeth, red antlers casting nightmarish shadows on the red foliage. It feasted on the innards of the fresh corpse. The flashlight suddenly turned into my direction, clumsy footsteps and gasps of the other man on the run closed in. The beam hit me directly. “Run, boy! Run!” More leaves stirred in the darkness behind the bobbing torch and there was a raspy cry of pain, a thud as the torch tumbled to the ground and its light died. In utter darkness I didn’t dare to move or breathe as I heard the strange animal devouring its prey mere feet in front of me. And then I it was in my mind, I clearly felt its presence right behind my eyes. It communicated with me in emotions it triggered. At first I felt relieved because I knew it wouldn’t hurt me, then a wave of sadness followed by a notion of foreboding. Even as a young kid I knew: This was no ordinary deer. I sensed hot wet breath on my arm and climbed to my feet. The deer violently pressed its head against me, rubbed it and its antlers scratched my arms and cheek. It hurt and I was silently crying in pain and terror until it retreated. Before it took off into the night again, I was given a warning never to return ever again. And I never did until that terrible day.

    With the eyes of an adult I saw now in broad daylight what I was spared by the night when I had been a kid. What once had been some poor young fuck was splayed out on the ground as if turned from the inside out, guts and organs were splattered around as if from a violent combustion within the man’s body and contrasted the cheerful green of the leaves with a deep red and brown. Something was moving in the pile of gore and broken bones, right in the middle of it. Could he be still alive? Impossible! No, I could make out the shape of an animal, a delicate snout, thin legs and an arch of fur entirely covered in human remains. A newborn fawn, silently licking on a torn trachea as if nothing in the world could disturb it. I gasped and tumbled backwards. The little thing looked up to me and it trapped my gaze instantly with its eyes. Those were not the eyes of an animal you’d see on Discovery, they were black holes that sucked everything into a relentless void. It was impossible to turn away. Not only my gaze was trapped, it was my soul, my existence that was subject to this unassuming animal’s eyes. Now there was only silence. No birds, no wind, no rustling leaves behind me anymore. Just a hot damp breath on my arm.
  13. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England

    “Best not git that’n, gal. He’ll kill ya soonuz lookitcha.”

    “Whatever, Texas. I want him.”

    The horse stared at the two people who stood watching him through the fence. The old Texan stood quietly. That human felt safe. The other one terrified him. All youthful exuberance and energy and predatory smells and--

    Thought abandoned him. He snorted and backed up, pressing his rump against the far side of the yard. The thing around his neck wasn’t choking, but he wanted it off. The little tag on it flapped. It was annoying. And humans used it to grab hold of him long enough to put straps on his head attached to a rope that they held.

    The humans made more strange noises. It seemed to be their way of communicating. They didn’t speak with their bodies like horses did.

    Something MOVED over by the place all the cooking meat smells were coming from. He reacted before he could think, skittering to the other side of the yard, head high. Breath came in quick snorts.

    “Poor thing, he’s so scared.”

    He whipped his head towards the human noises. They were right there. Almost TOUCHING him! Power flowed through his massive hindquarters as he reared up, turned, and then bolted for the other side of the yard, kicking out at the fence as he went. His hooves pushed it onto a precarious lean with a deafening clang. Panic flooded his mind. It was so loud. How was he supposed to hear the great cat, if it came in search of prey?

    The fence was lower. Escape! He bolted across the yard again. Humans made that awful screeching noise they liked to make when they were afraid. He pushed off. For one blessed moment, he was sure he was free, but then he realized one knee was hanging. He jerked it up, but too late, for it was already beneath the rail.

    No! He had come this far. He had to make it over! Curse this fence that thought it could--

    He toppled over. He was free. It was horrible. There was pain, so much pain, and he couldn’t get up. He stopped trying and laid his head on the ground and sighed.

    A human came into his line of sight with a long stick. He knew what those long hollow metal sticks were for. They went bang and there was blood and death.

    He welcomed death when it came.
  14. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    [Story removed from contest as per author's request]
  15. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Oct 2, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Northeast England
    The Mother Lode (2,968)

    Heavy, cobalt blue vapors drifted through the room, swirled around harmonic rods, shivering children, and one man. With twigs for arms and sunken eyes, Ira’s husband lay limp, like soggy cereal, on a bed in the corner. Mounds of books, papers, and disks spilled from the other corners, like snowdrifts. Above the bed, through drawn curtains, diffuse yellow light cast fuzzy shadows onto the paper-blanketed floor. Paper crinkled with every step or shuffle. Perhaps for this reason, her children were still.

    No, they sensed the mood. Ira wiped a tear from her face as her husband groaned faintly. He was ice at the approach of summer — doomed to melt away. And as if to stop the process, the room was cold, too cold. Doctors.

    Harmonic rods broke the silence with an abrupt, eerie ringing, startling Ira. The ringing always caught her off guard. It was one of many experimental therapies the doctors had tried. She could almost picture them sitting in some lounge, throwing darts at a board plastered with expensive bullshit.

    Her little Ryan, hugging himself to stay warm, had another runny nose — the vapors always gave him a runny nose. She retrieved tissues from the nightstand and knelt to clean him up. His brow furrowed with confusion as he stared at Len; toddlers didn’t understand death, right? She hoped not. Carrie was seven, and she just cried.

    A hoarse whisper came from the bed: “Ira.”

    Ira turned to her husband. He was finally awake. Those deep brown eyes were all that remained of the original Len — they were her anchor, her last dwindling hope.

    “Len?” she said. “Are you thirsty?”

    “No I—” He coughed weakly. “I need you to promise me something.”

    “Of course.” Ira leaned over the bed, papers crinkling under her knees, and put on a smile.

    “You remember that I found it, right? I found it for sure.” He tried to sit up, failed with a wheeze, and slumped back into egg-yolk colored sheets, eyes closed now.

    “Yes, I remember.” Ira stroked his thinning hair. “You found the deposit even through all the interference. You did it.”

    Continuing with closed eyes, he said, “I don’t want it all to be… to be wasted.” His face scrunched up, and a tear flowed from a closed eye. “Promise me you’ll bring it back.”

    He paused for a long moment, his face brightening. “Then you can live in that house on Fern Hill, and you’ll all be happy there when I’m… when I’m gone. Promise me.”

    “Daddy!” Carrie squealed, grief turning suddenly into anger. “Don’t go away. We’ll never be happy if you go away.” She cried and held onto his fragile arm with all her might, as if to stop him from leaving. “Don’t go!”

    Ira’ lips trembled as she spoke. “Len, I promise.”

    He smiled for the last time.


    The smell of coffee permeated everything. All the how-to-guides and loose-leaf notes reeked of roasted beans. Ira had never been a big fan before, but now she understood -- Len’s insatiable desire for the stuff had been a natural result of his work. Finishing the lukewarm remains of the current cup, Ira refocused on the navigational equations before her.

    It wasn’t working. The numbers and symbols blurred on the page. Shoving them to the side, she activated the surface-workstation. In the upper corner of the desk: 7:01 AM. Ira sighed — another night spent with Len’s books in this cramped study of burnished steel, drinking coffee.

    With her coffee-cup in hand, she left the study, out into the ship’s main hallway. It was furnished in the same fashion: polished metal, glass, and the occasional minimalist art. Classic Len. She couldn’t bring herself to redecorate; this had been his dream, his life. Killing the dream would be like killing him. As long as it was alive, he was alive.

    Cartoon sounds and laughter wafted from up the hall, where Carry, Ryan, and Lenny were already awake. Even after four months, their soft sounds seemed out of place in this cold steel ship barreling through cold space. Ira glanced at the control-room behind her. No, she’d finish the Kohl-drift models later.

    The children’s room was also the kitchen and living room. The style was a bit softer here, with sheep-skin instead of leather and carpet instead of unpolished stone (Len hated slippery floors). The kitchen was a small closet set in an alcove at the back the room. To the right of the kitchen and opposite the children’s bunk beds, a bay window looked out into space.

    Ryan played with baby Lenny on the carpet while Carrie watched cartoons. Ryan made a face as Ira came in. “Mommy, Carrie ate the last yogurt cup.”

    Carrie rolled her eyes. “Somebody had to. It’s not like you owned it.”

    “Uhhh!” Ryan groaned. “She’s so bossy!”

    “I have more yogurt-cups in storage.” Ira started on breakfast. “Carrie, stop bossing your brother around.”

    They were restless, but she hoped their destination would be hospitable enough for a field trip of sorts. That might calm them a bit for the return journey. To take them at all had been a hard decision; Len had no family, and Ira’s mother was too old to take care of them for eight months. Everyone had told her not to go, that she couldn’t chase a phantom while caring for the kids, that taking out more loans for a ship was insane, and that Len had been insane. But all that didn’t matter — she had made a promise. Len was counting on her.

    The morning went by quick enough. Fed, the kids started their studies, and Ira continued hers, which was trying to understand all the papers Len had left behind.
    He had been a long-range spectroscopist, which meant analyzing sensor data and recommending certain star-systems to mining companies. But one of those recommendations didn't pan out. He had been so confused at first. Ira remembered him going over the calculations like a mad man, never sleeping, hardly eating. When he finally emerged from his study, he had found it. No one would believe him though — too good to be true.

    Ira sat down at the control room’s main console, activated the navigation computer, and spread her notes and calculations face down on the console surface. A progress bar appeared next to each piece of paper. She watched patiently as the computer collated the information, integrated it into the current Kohl-drift models, and plotted a new course based on the changes. Good. It hadn’t found any errors.

    Though that wasn’t any guarantee that they’d make it to the deposit safely. She had to constantly update Len’s original course based on more accurate sensor data all while tracing that tinge of iridium through gravitational, solar, and contaminative interference. Or so Len’s notes explained.

    She tapped a few buttons to look at the adjusted ETA — only three days. After three years of struggle, Ira could wait three days.


    Waves battered the eggshell white sea-cliffs. Dark blue, almost purple, water stretched to the horizon. It looked like wine under the blazing red dawn. Ira had never seen anything like it. The salt air filled her lungs with every breath, and saltwater caressed her cheek with every thunderous crash down below. A clap echoed out across the swells, but it wasn’t the waves hitting the shore. Ira scanned the horizon for a moment; then, she saw a white column in the distance, a geyser. Strange. It must be some kind of sea creature. Perhaps a whale.

    She turned from the sea. Far up the boulder-blanketed slope, her grey ship rested among the bony rocks, its surface gleaming in the morning light. The children rested a ways back from the cliffs. Ira hiked towards them.

    If the ship’s computer was to be believed, the entire island was one huge chunk of iridium. But there had been an odd destabilizing force during the descent, and the sensors had taken damaged. Ira needed a few good samples to be sure.

    As she neared the children, Ira spotted an inlet along the shore’s curve. There were hints of green in rocky piles around it; biological samples could be very useful for determining iridium levels.

    With Lenny in her arms and the other two playing among the rocks, she set out towards the inlet. There didn’t seem to be much fauna on the island, but there were thick vines snaking around the rocks. They had strange red veins just under the surface -- the children avoided them.

    Just then, a pair of geysers erupted from the sea. Ira could only see the creatures as white shadows, or clouds, drifting through hazy purple water. It had to be some sort of whale. But who could have transplanted them this far out?

    “Mom!” Ryan yelled. “Look!”

    Ira spun away from the sea, to see Ryan pointing at something inland. Some ways away, a black billy goat meandered downhill, stark against the white rocks. Ira let out a long breath. “You scared me.”

    “Sorry.” Ryan didn’t look penitent. “It’s weird, ‘cause the science vids say that most planets don’t have any animals.”

    “This one does.” Ira frowned. There was too much familiar fauna for the planet to be unexplored. Initial data hadn’t indicated significant bio-matter, and yet, here were goats, whales, and vines. And there had been no claim-buoys or permanent signals in the area. If someone had been here before, they hadn’t followed protocol.

    The goat seemed to be heading towards the same inlet. Maybe it’d be tagged (they always tagged transplants). Lenny squirmed on Ira’s shoulder. He probably wanted to walk around a little.

    In a cooing tone, Ira said, “Sorry Lenny, you’re not getting down. Just enjoy the view.” They went on for a while, with the black goat eyeing them from above.
    Out in front, Carrie had already started climbing up the jumble of white rocks and pale-green bramble around the inlet.

    Ira took Ryan by the hand to speed him up. “Carrie, wait up!” she yelled, but Carry soon vanished into the underbrush. She hadn’t heard or didn’t deign to obey. Shaking her head, Ira went down the rocky slope just a tad bit faster.

    A minute passed without a sound from Carrie. Ira couldn’t see her at all, and she couldn’t run with all these boulders in the way. With every moment, she grew angrier and more nervous. That girl had been impossible ever since—

    A scream cut through the air.

    Ira’s heart skipped a beat. She gave Lenny to Ryan, told him to stay put, and bolted towards the inlet. Cold sweat poured down her cheeks; the world seemed suddenly off-kilter. Ira couldn’t think of anything but Carrie — nothing but what might have happened. She scrambled up the piled rocks in front of the inlet, tearing through the brambles and ignoring their thorns.

    “Mom! Slow down!” Carry yelled through the underbrush.

    Ira did. Exhaling, she collapsed on a nearby boulder. “What’s wrong?”

    “There's a cliff.” Carrie didn’t sound the least bit distressed.

    After a meter or two, Ira emerged from the bush-infested boulders. Salty spray met her immediately. A step further and she’d be over a ledge.

    Carrie sat on a rock to her right, smiling. “It’s cool.”

    Frowning, Ira got closer to the edge to inspect the inlet. The shore was just as steep as the rest of the island, but the water was calmer; the vines had grown thickly on the opposite ledge. But there was something off about the inlet’s walls: there were veins of something, something glimmering. The veins wound all over the cliffs, ending only as they neared the narrow exit.

    Things finally sunk in. Iridium. It was all iridium. The readings had been accurate. Ira shook her head slowly; this was too incredible. There was enough iridium visible here to pay off the loans.

    “What is it, Mom?” Carrie stood up.

    “Your father was right.” Ira could only stare at the masses of silvery iridium. “He was so right.”

    Carrie shrugged, though she didn’t seem indifferent.

    As Ira turned back to the inlet, she saw rustling in the bushes on the opposite ledge. The goat emerged from the bushes, bleating as it saw them.

    “It looks cute,” Carrie said.

    He looked nervous and shifted oddly on the blanket of vines on the opposite edge. Ira figured he was afraid of them. He’d have to get used to it; she would need a couple weeks to get enough iridium to pay everything off.

    The black goat kept bleating. The vines at its feet shifted. Just a trick of the light.

    The vines struck like lightning, or someone having a seizure. Thick green cords flailed around the goat and enveloped it in a second flat. The bleating went on for a moment or two, as the vines squeezed, then he fell silent. Blood seeped from between the coiling vines as juice flows from crushed grapes. And the vines drank deep.

    Carrie screamed again. Ira thought of Ryan and Lenny and of the vines all around them. God help me.


    White lights shone on burnished steel. Ryan, Lenny, and Carry huddled around some sandwiches Ira had made. They were too quiet — spooked. Carry more so.

    Ira had gotten them all back safely, but that didn’t make her feel much better. What had compelled her to let them out of the ship? She didn’t know; she had just been so happy.

    Why hadn’t the vines done to them what they did to the goat? Ira nibbled on her sandwich. Stale vegetables. It would be too dangerous to collect the iridium now, not with hand-tools anyway.

    But no, she had promised. How could she pay off the loans any other way? No one would believe her if she came back empty handed. No one.

    She mulled the problem over, her hand shaking as she considered leaving empty-handed. Then it came to her. Not with hand-tools! The ship was equipped to mine asteroids, and she didn’t need all that much iridium for proof. There would be problems of course: she would have to use a lot of thruster fuel and leaving the planet might be difficult if she stayed too long.

    Smiling, she raced to the control room. A quick tap, and the control-surface lit up. A second later, she had adjusted the opaqueness of the control room’s windows. The sea looked like frothy red-wine even in the yellower noon light. But it seemed to reflect the clouds — white shadows were drifting all over the place. One surfaced and sprouted white water from its bleached skin. All of them whales?

    She only worried about them for a second. There was still some math to do before she tried her plan. After checking the thruster-fuel reserve status, Ira did a few simple calculations — twenty minutes worth of surplus thruster fuel in all. That would have to do.

    The ship lurched across the island, blasting the surface with heat and fire. Through the undercarriage cameras, Ira could see the vines squirm and white rocks turn black. In two minutes, the ship was right over the inlet; steam blocked the camera.
    Ira switched the thruster mode, all according to her calculations, and output dropped. While the camera systems compensated for the steam, Ira prepped the manipulator arms for extension.

    She gasped. The camera showed the cliff walls alright, but there was something else: one of the whales was inside the inlet. And it was huge, especially the stomach — the stomach didn’t seem right at all. It looked pregnant.

    Only fourteen minutes left. Behind schedule — the whale would probably survive the heat. She eased the ship down while extending the mining-laser arm toward the inlet walls. More steam obscured her view for a second. As the system compensated again, Ira activated the laser. Her incisions destabilized the face, and large boulders fell into the water.

    Tapping furiously, Ira positioned the grasping arm right under the lasing arm. A second more. The chunk came loose, hitting the grasping arm, but she didn’t activate it in time, and the ore went careening into the inlet, hitting the whale square on the head. The water turned red.

    Wiping sweat off her brow, Ira rotated the ship to try again. Only eight minutes left.
    The whale flailed around; it looked hurt. And the water swelled and rose. Ira started cutting again, this time using a second grasping arm to help catch the ore.

    A splitting wail overwhelmed her. For a moment, she couldn’t concentrate. God. How could she hear something from outside the ship?

    The water continued to rise, quickly approaching the rock she was cutting. Only six minutes left. Another wail hit her, as if from inside her head. It was excruciating. How?

    The boiling purple water surged up, covering her cutting site and almost reaching the thrusters. As it receded, steam erupted from where the laser struck.

    Ira could barely concentrate; her head hurt. With seven minutes left, the next chunk came loose. She caught it.

    As another shivering wail assailed her, foaming sea blasted upward, sweeping the solid iridium away with thunderous force. Another try? She didn’t understand what was happening, but the iridium was so close.

    A third wail filled her head; the water rose further and faster. This time, the water flooded the thrusters. No choice. Tasting bile, Ira slammed the takeoff button.

    A flood of steam covered the camera. She could feel the ship lurch up; they were free. As she tried to catch her breath and the ship rocketed higher, the camera system compensated again. Hundreds of great white whales orbited around the island, like a parade of white elephants.

    And as the island faded into blue seas and white clouds, Len died again.
  16. cazann34

    cazann34 Active Member

    Sep 18, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Scotland, UK
    missed the deadline

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