Sealed with a Kiss

This week on Master Class, I chose to use the prompt Venomous Honey.  Check out the rest of the responses HERE or submit your own.

Gabriel Picolo‘s artwork is bright and imaginative.  I love the way he makes digital art look like watercolour.  That and black cats hidden everywhere makes his work well worth a visit.  The artwork is called Queen Bee, and I wrote my story before finding it.  Her lipstick and honeycomb was just too perfect.

queen_bee_by_picolo_kun-d8qtqbs

Soft and delicate was the best way to play it.  It put him at ease, on edge, and in lust. All with a minor wardrobe change, pink lip gloss and some subtle makeup to make her wide eyes pop. She was Honey, innocent as mom’s apple pie and seductive as dark chocolate mousse. All natural and innocent. She only accidentally brushed her breast against his arm when she leaned over his desk, and blushed prettily when she apologized.

How could any man resist that? Especially one with his predilections. Maybe if he could see the effort put into the veneer, but that wouldn’t happen with this much cleavage flashing – oh gosh, I’m so embarrassed – the button must have come off in the wash! – and those pretty eyes wide with a bit of hero-worship. She smelled like honey, too, the secret was in her lip gloss.

It was only a matter of time, and not much of it.  He  wasn’t a man who practiced delayed gratification. When he called her to his office late one evening, Honey smiled and touched up her lip gloss. Wax first, to delay the inevitable seepage, then a new tube of her signature pink. Honey heady in her nose, she knocked and went in.

Honey’s lips tingled after their first kiss and she remembered the tingle of a split lip, the fear. She jerked herself out of his arms when her lips began to burn, his tight hold raising bruises just like the first time, the memory of what had happened next giving her strength.

She pulled a wet-nap from her cleavage and wiped off the gloss, backing away. He would have followed, if he could.  He loved the chase.  The veneer flaked away and Honey’s venomous twin pulled off the gloves that would keep her anonymity and bundled the toxic wet-nap away.

“Why?” he rasped, scrubbing fruitlessly at his own burning lips. The venom ran too deep. He’d always been good at that, cutting straight to the point in the courtroom and in conversation.  And in other situations, more private.

“You should have listened more carefully to the ones who said no. You’ve been found guilty, Judge.” She laid out her case in photographs and police statements – bruised wrists and tearful statements – all buried by high-ranking officials – and locked the door on her way out.

Fully Furnished

Since my last post hit me right in the sads (does everyone who writes occasionally find themselves pissed off at the author of their own work for making unhappy things?  Why would you even think of making your own character go through something so upsetting, Lex, why?!), I was pretty pleased to find this prompt and all the images it inspired

She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.

My dog would be thrilled at a discovery like that.  He also thinks every rotting pumpkin and leaf-pile on my neighbours’ lawns is a potential cat-friend. He desperately wants to meet them, but I wouldn’t stick around either if someone 10x my size was barrelling towards me crying and letting out xena-war-cries of excitement.  Half the outdoor cats in my area are feral, which frustrates me intensely, because, honestly, if you don’t want your cat, don’t just push him outside!  He isn’t a wild animal, he doesn’t know how to care for himself, and why didn’t you get him fixed?! Ahem.  Off the soapbox and onto the writing.

The photo is The Cat by Jakub Kubika, and you should check him out.  His work is all beautiful and occasionally very dark.

the_cat_by_kubica

Caitlin was bouncing in excitement by the time she met her new landlord, the exhaustion of a full day driving a u-haul cross-country entirely forgotten.  “Mr. Cole?  I’m so excited to meet you, I’m Caitlin, I’m renting apartment 302?”

Mr. Cole grunted, grinding his cigarette out on the sidewalk before picking it up and depositing the butt in the public bin at the curb.  As they walked up the shrub-lined front walk, he said, “No smoking in the apartments.  No drugs smoking, no cigarette smoking, NO SMOKING.

“Not a problem, I’m not a smoker… or… um… a drugs smoker.”  Caitlin smiled reassuringly but all that she got from him in return was a sour glare.

“It’s bad for your health.  know this if anyone knows this.”

“Uh-huh!”

It’s fine, she reassured herself, He’s just grumpy, but he showed me the entire apartment live on skype , and listened to all my weird instructions about getting closer to the grout and to the cook top and the windows.  It’s fine.

“You got my e-post, I saw – first and last months’ rent?”

“You surprised? You think I can’t do the internet because I’m old?” He scowled.  “I can do the internet, I have three buildings, forty units and more, and I keep nice places.  Clean.  No smoking.  Advertise on the internet.”

“Absolutely,” Caitlin interjected, “Very impressive.  And this apartment is so much nicer than any of the other ones I looked at!”

So why did it sit empty for so long? her mother’s voice interjected.  What’s wrong with it?  Is it mould?  Are you going to move a million miles away for no good reason and die alone of black lungs?

So nice!” she repeated, trying to drown out the tirade.  “I’m lucky it stayed on the market long enough for me to find it.”

“Yes, well, people are fussy, foolish.  Fully renovated, beautiful view, peaceful safe neighbourhood.”  Mr. Cole patted her  brusquely on the shoulder.  “Nice place for a young girl, you can walk home at night.”

Caitlin smiled at his reassurance.  Her mother would approve.

“Door key – don’t let people in, even if you see them inside sometimes.  Mailbox.  Unit.”  He held up three identical keys one at a time – even the mailbox key looks the same, isn’t it supposed to be small? – and passed her two of them before leading her up three flights of stairs.

Caitlin was puffing a bit by the time she got there.  “Um, isn’t it on the third floor?”

“Yes.  Ground, one, two, three.  No elevator.  Fully furnished, one year lease.”

Maybe that’s the catch? Caitlin tried to treat her new exercise regime as a positive.

Mr. Cole unlocked the door at the end of the hall and gestured that she should precede him.

The apartment was as light and airy as it had seemed in the photos and the skype session.  It was nicely decorated, with cream walls and well cared for furnishings.  It even came with basic cooking equipment.  Perfect for someone starting from scratch in a new town, it came with everything Caitlin would need… and… she stared around at the living room in confusion.

“Mr. Cole, is someone already renting here?”

“You.”

She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.  The bay windowsill had two calicos and a black cat, all sitting primly upright.  A large manx lay draped across the top of the couch and a handful of kittens were playing on the carpet.  Black, white, cream, grey, red, ginger, brown and blue – solids and patterned in stripes, points, dappling and any combination thereof – the cats were everywhere.  A few acknowledged her presence with indifferent stares, and one trotted up to roll onto its back at her feet.  Most continued with their business, which largely consisted of napping.

“Mr. Cole?” Caitlin felt a growing horror.  Her mother was right!  “Mr. Cole, there are CATS in here!”

The old man came up beside her and looked around.  “Yes, of course.  Fully furnished.”

“Mr. Cole, I don’t want cats!  Let alone this many!  I mean, how? Why?”  Caitlin clutched the strap of her bag in her fists, catching sight of more cats through the kitchen door and in the bedroom.

“Fully furnished.  You knew this when you signed the lease, Miss Smith.” Mr. Cole sounded scolding, but also faintly amused.

“Where did you put them when you were filming?” Caitlin whirled on her new landlord, the scumbag.  “You misrepresented this apartment, and I want my money back.”

Mr. Cole shrugged.  “They were all here.  They were here when I took pictures, too.  They’re very camera shy.  But they’re no upkeep at all.”

Caitlin sputtered.  “Are you kidding me?  I’m allergic!  And this many cats, it’ll smell, and be loud and … and…”Caitlin hesitated.  Sniffed the air.

No smell.  The cats, even those tussling off in the corner and the one that had come up to twine around her legs, were completely silent too.  One of the kittens pawed at an adult cat and meowed.  Or seemed to, but in complete silence.

She looked to Mr. Cole for some kind of explanation.  The old man was smug.

“Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Smith?” he asked.  “Because cats… well, cats don’t care what you believe in.  They just are.”

Goalsetting

I don’t usually do dark intentionally because I like my endings happily ever after.  Especially not anything remotely real-world-ish.  So trigger warning eating disorders.

I’m a bit later than my previous Inspiration Monday post, but my inspiration was apparently on holiday until it felt the urge to make me unnecessarily sad.  Check out the other responders in the comments here, or submit your own!

inmonsterpromo

Susan hit her goal weight 20 lbs ago. She felt no satisfaction in her achievements, as she stared into the mirror at her plump face and various jiggles and saw how far she had to go.  She reduced her intake by 200 calories.

She reached her goal size three sizes up from the cinched belt and size zero jeans she wore now, but there was a size 00 dress in her closet. She’d look beautiful when she could fit into that. Another 200 down, she stretched what was left compulsively through the long days with iceberg lettuce and splurged with carrot sticks – they were so high in sugar, but without them she suffered from cramps and dizzy spells.

Susan’s stomach grew the less she ate, so she fought harder, exercised more and ate less. Jiggly thighs, a fat ass and a stomach whose rolls just wouldn’t flatten no matter how many crunches she did, how little lettuce she crunched. Her hair was her best feature when she was fatter, but she was too tired to worry much about how dull it was lately, how thin. She sucked in her gut in public, wearing bulky clothing to hide her enormous body.

A feverish energy burned and gave her a new lease on life as she refocused on her goals. The fewer calories she ate, the less hungry she felt. Win-win.

Her mother cried because she didn’t share Susan’s commitment to health. She would never meet the kinds of goals Susan had surpassed. Her jealousy drove her to have her daughter committed, only 3 inches in thigh circumference away from real happiness. Susan hated her.

In the hospital she was sly,and the others helped, tired but gleeful in their gaming of the system.  Months passed and she wasn’t allowed to monitor her goals.  It was devastating.

No mirrors allowed, but she found one. She stripped and stared, aghast, at the feast of famine highlighted by the hand mirror she moved down her body. Dull skin stretched tight and unnatural across knobby bones.  Famine stared out of a stranger’s dull eyes, a prisoner in a self-inflicted internment camp. Susan struggled to refocus on her goals but when she brushed her hair it came out in handfuls. She had loved her hair.

The others looked down on her for giving in. She hadn’t expected failure to be so difficult to accomplish, as the scale crawled slowly up from her check-in weight, and every extra calorie was a war.  Nausea and panic won less often over time.

She hugged the nurses she’d previously cursed and returned home.

Susan struggled in the arduous pursuit of new goals. The achievement of 200 grams of chicken breast with salad at lunch was cause for cheering at group. They had mini cupcakes to celebrate her birthday a month later and she only threw out the icing. So many calories, and her size zero jeans were tight.

Her mother brought her in to an emergency session when she found her purging later that day. Her mother cut all the sizing tags out of her clothing before she got home.

She failed and failed again, but her hair grew soft and shiny, famine left her eyes and stopped nipping at her waist. On a sunny afternoon, she was three french fries into her goal of guilt-free poutine, and Susan had a good feeling about her chances.

Passenger

I read a great prompt on reddit, but frankly, prefer the ability to format and see my formatting that I get with my personal blog.  So, the prompt was:

You’re on a generation-starship whose passengers have long forgotten what the starship even is or where it’s going; Tell us what happens on the day that you arrive at your destination.

And I’m responding.  Here, instead.  Because I like formatting, and also because I can include art I find inspiring.  I found this on DeviantArt, and it’s a digital art piece by the user Tadp0l3.  His work all makes me feel like I want to be on the starship enterprise.  Or any starship.  Check out his work by clicking his name or the art below.

“In Close Orbit” by tadp0l3

A strange noise filled the air and Bob KVXX97 jerked awake with so much force that he slammed his head into the padded ceiling of his sleeping pod.

“Ship!” he yelped, clapping his hands over his ears in an attempt to reduce the noise. “Ship, what’s going on?”

WE HAVE REACHED OUR FINAL DESTINATION. PLEASE REPORT TO YOUR DEPARTURE POD.

“Departure pod? What is that? Ship, help!” as he spoke, he caught the glow of data flashing on his wrist-drive. “Oh. Nevermind, thank you Ship.” Bob felt most in control when he had instructions on his wrist, secure in the knowledge that the Ship would guide him in the right direction.  He was safely in the Ship’s hull.

The alarming noise stopped, increasing his sense of security. Things would all be Ship Shape.

departure pod 102 departing at 2700 hours… passenger directed to follow aquamarine guidance light… estimated time to departure pod 0027 minutes… estimated arrival at surface 2950…

He puzzled over his readout as he got ready to leave his pod. Ship had prepared him an unusual set of apparel and even as he sent a query to clarify terminology ‘surface’, clarify terminology ‘departure’ and clarify sub-category ‘departure pod’, he wondered why the Ship had felt the need to give him such strange clothing and multiple shirts, one of which was unusually stiff and heavy, and had closures down the front. While soft on the inner face, it had multiple layers of fabric and the outer layer was not pleasing to the touch.  He was used to a certain level of quality, and couldn’t think of any situation in which he might need a secondary shirt, let alone one with this unusual design.  Instead of his usual rubber soled soft-socks, he had been provided with bulky footwear that made him think of the space-suits he had stumbled upon once as a child.  Back then, Ship had told him they were available in case of emergency, but would not be required.  Now, he apparently required a space boot, though without the rest of the bulky uniform.

Ship had also packed him a large bag.  He unzipped it, trying to remember if he’d indicated an interest in a few days of hydroponics-visitation in the recent past.  It contained more of the strange clothing, a variety of pre-packaged dry-goods and an assortment of small equipment similar to things he’d seen diagrams of during his studies.

Bob glanced at his wrist drive, but it only repeated its previous message.  His screen had provided definitions for his queries, and this did nothing for his elevating anxiety.

“Ship!”

PASSENGER BOB KKVXX97, HOW MAY I ASSIST?

“What does all this mean?”

CLARIFICATION OF QUERY REQUIRED

“Why am I dressed like this?” Bob gestured at his ridiculous outfit. His pants were stiff and grubby beige, with unnecessary pockets on his thighs and random loops and zippers down the sides. He was fairly sure he could remove the lower legs on them if he chose to. He’d put on his first shirt, but just held the sturdy second shirt in his hands. He was adequately covered and heated without it.  And, if anything, the clothing he had on already, down to the heavy footwear, was making him over-warm.

THE TEMPERATURE OUTSIDE AT THE LANDING SITE IS APPROXIMATELY 8 DEGREES CENTIGRADE. THE ATTIRE IS SUITABLE FOR INCLEMENT WEATHER INCLUDING RESISTANCE TO WIND, RAIN AND TEMPERATURE DROPS. YOUR FOOTWEAR IS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE ANKLE STABILITY ON UNEVEN TERRAIN AND GRIP SLIPPERY GROUND SURFACES.

Bob requested clarification on terms weather, wind, rain and terrain. He had always wondered if the Ship secretly had a sense of humour, and apparently he had his answer. The Ship had a terrible sense of humour.

“Outside. Outside is… space. Outside is not a suitable place for Passengers to be in. Ship, initiate self diagnosis.”

SELF DIAGNOSIS HAS BEEN RUN NUMEROUS TIMES SINCE ARRIVAL IN ORBIT. REQUEST FOR SELF DIAGNOSIS IS DEEMED UNNECESSARY AND DENIED.

“Ship! We can’t leave you! We are Passengers, we travel Onboard, it’s what we do.”

INCORRECT.

Bob frowned. “What do you mean by that, ship? We’ve been Passengers for generations uncounted, and we shall be Passengers ever-more.”

SEVENTEEN.

“What?  What does this number represent?  Clarify!” Bob stroked his wrist drive in an attempt to self-soothe.

GENERATIONS. THE GENERATIONS HAVE BEEN COUNTED.

Bob gasped. “But… but First came Ship and it was in need of purpose,” he muttered , clutching the distressing outer shirt in his hands as he repeated the History. “So it called the Passengers from the Earth and was replete with purpose.”

YES.

“But… you’re saying we’ve only been here for 17 generations? Science says we’ve been around for millions of years. So… how?”

FIRST GENERATION PASSENGERS ARRIVED ON-BOARD IN TERRAN MEASURED YEAR 2207 FROM VARIOUS PARTS OF THE PLANET COLLOQUIALLY KNOWN AS EARTH.

“Why doesn’t anyone know this?”

97% OF SECOND GENERATION SUFFERED FROM ACUTE DEPRESSION AND FINDINGS SHOWED THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THEY WOULD NEVER KNOW A LIFE EXTERNAL TO THE SHIP WAS HAVING A DELETERIOUS EFFECT ON MENTAL WELL-BEING. THOSE WHO DID NOT COMMIT SUICIDE AND THOSE OF THE FIRST GENERATION DECIDED THE HIGHEST PROBABILITY OF SURVIVAL WAS FOR A POPULATION WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OF NON-SHIPBOARD LIFE.  UPON ARRIVAL AT DESTINATION, CLARIFICATION WAS TO BE PROVIDED TO THE CURRENT GENERATIONS AT DEPARTURE FROM SHIP.

“But… I don’t want to leave. I’ve never known anything else,” Bob whispered. He was hunched miserably in the standing end of his pod, the bag sitting forlornly at his feet.

YOU ARE A CIVIL ENGINEER WITH A FOCUS ON GEOLOGY AND METALLURGY.

“Theoretical civil engineer! Theoretical geology!  It’s a silly course of study with no practical applications! My mother hated that I wasted my time on it. She wanted me to go into language arts!”

INCORRECT. AND CORRECT.

“Clarify, Ship.”

YOUR TRAINING WILL PROVE INVALUABLE TO THE FIRST GENERATION PLANET-SIDE. AND YOUR MOTHER WAS DISAPPOINTED WITH YOUR COURSE OF STUDY UNTIL SHE DIED.  THOUGH LIKELY DUE TO HER LACK OF KNOWLEDGE THAT THE WORD THEORETICAL WAS ADDED TO THESE EDUCATIONAL STREAMS IN THE SECOND GENERATION.

“Wait..” Bob felt he was beginning to grasp the enormity of what the first Passengers had done.  “You’re saying that all the theoretical degrees… they’re… they’re real? Even…” he lowered his voice. “Animal husbandry?”

FIRST GENERATION LIVESTOCK WERE ON DEPARTURE POD 75, 76, 77 and 78. THEY ARRIVED WITH THE SECOND WAVE OF IMMIGRANTS AND ARE PROVING TO BE WELL SUITED TO THEIR NEW HABITAT.

“Wait, you’re saying there are already Passengers out there? How are you able to assist them with their attire? Their health and wellness? Their breakfast?!”

Bob tried to wrap his mind around the idea that he could actually go out and acquire base elements for steel from rocks and earth. His Theoretical PhD would be… Actually useful.

SEVEN NEW SETTLEMENTS HAVE BEEN COMMENCED. FIRST ARRIVALS INCLUDE THOSE WITH TRAINING IN CONSTRUCTION, MEDICINE AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY. PREFABRICATED BUILDINGS WERE PUT IN PLACE PRIOR TO THEIR ARRIVAL FOR BASIC USAGE. MY PURPOSE IS TO MAINTAIN THE PASSENGERS WHILE SHIPBOARD. ALL PASSENGERS ARE TO DEPART-SHIP AND COMMENCE FULL HABITATION OF THE PLANET. TEMPORARY MEASURES ARE PUT IN PLACE DURING THE INTEGRATION PERIOD.  SHIP WILL MAINTAIN ORBIT AND ACT AS A COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE, SHOULD OTHER FORMS OF LIFE OR OTHER TERRANS ATTEMPT CONTACT.

“And then we can go home?”

AND THEN YOU WILL BE ADEQUATELY PREPARED TO SURVIVE AND FLOURISH IN YOUR NEW HOME.

Bob whimpered, and a thought struck him, making the whole thing, if anything, even worse. “But then you’ll be alone.”

There was a long silence before the ship responded.

I SHALL HAVE SERVED MY PURPOSE.

“But you’ll be alone.”

There was a soft hum and the provision slot opened to reveal a tiny earpiece.

WHILE NOT REQUIRED FOR MY MAINTENANCE, PASSENGER INTERACTION HAS BEEN A MOST PLEASANT ASPECT OF THE TRIP. WHEN NOT INCONVENIENT TO YOURSELF, CONTINUED CONVERSATION WOULD BE AGREEABLE.

Bob smiled and put the ear piece into his ear, where it promptly formed a link and disappeared from his ear canal. “I’ll miss you, too, Ship.”

He fumbled the outer shirt on – coat, Ship clarified – and hoisted the bag onto his shoulder. His stomach was a knot of excitement and terror. “If we aren’t Passengers, what shall we be? What is our new purpose?”

There was a long pause, and for a terrifying moment Bob thought something had gone wrong. Ship knew everything – even the History the Passengers had forgotten. It never took this long to answer.

TO PROVIDE THE PLANET WITH PURPOSE, Ship replied at last. TO EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS.

A Sinking Feeling

Inspiration Monday is back, so I am too.  Check out this week’s prompt and other responders here.

I used the prompts Canned Music and Sink Chronos.  And, not going to lie, I’ve been watching a large amount of Leverage lately.

“Where were you?”  The five members of their crew were at the docks.  The duffels full of cash were not.

“I know, I know, my timing was off.” Doug stared at his feet, engrossed in his chosen task of scraping sand into a perfect square.  Gulls cried overhead.

Miranda snapped her fingers under the getaway driver’s nose to get his attention. “But we synched our chronos for that exact reason! So how come your timing was off? You screwed the entire team over, we nearly got nabbed and we had to ditch the goods!”

“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘sunk’, M.” Doug smirked. He was always happy to be able to correct Miss high-and-mighty. She was always acting like she was better than him, but really, how could any job go according to plan, no matter how good her plan was, without a good getaway driver. And Doug was great. Most of the time.

“What?”

“The past tense of sink is ‘sunk’, Miranda. Say what you may about your higher education, but I learned plenty in high school.” He snorted. “Sinked, ha!”

Miranda’s face darkened and Doug gulped. Maybe right after a botched job wasn’t the time to rub it in. “When did I use the word ‘sink’, Doug?”  Her voice was a warning, but Doug was riding the high of correcting her, and didn’t hear it.

“You radio-ed in and told us the time was 12:01, and said sink chronos on my mark, 3, 2, 1, mark.”

The rest of the crew’s expressions had become stormy. Miranda’s expression was homicidal. “And you…”

“Threw my watch in the lake.” The entire crew took an ominous step forward, and Doug shifted nervously, adding, “If I’d known we were getting rid of our watches, I’d have made sure the clock on the getaway van was functional. I just had to kind of wing it, y’know? After you guys went radio silent. I really did my best, you guys, but it’s hard to time things without anything to measure off of. I based the 40 minutes off how many songs got played on the radio.  Luckily all this canned music they play on the radio is pretty standard at 3 minutes.  Though the commercials kind of threw me off a bit.  I think that’s where I went wrong.”

Sam, the crew’s heavy, guffawed. Doug was relieved that someone in the crew could appreciate the humour of Miranda’s screw-up.

“I’m going to kill him,” the weapons expert said, drawing his gun and moving forward.

Doug lost his smile and backed away, madly waving his hands in denial. “Guys! Sam no! Isn’t anyone going to stand up for me?”

Miranda folded her arms. The other two took a step back.

Their safe hacker, normally anti-violence, said, “Let me put my ear plugs in first, I can’t afford any hearing loss.” She didn’t even look at Doug as she pulled a box from one of her vest pockets.

Doug burst into tears. Miranda sighed and he felt a brief moment of hope. “You won’t let him do it, will you? I’m so sorry, I don’t know why you guys are so angry at me!”

She stepped forward, her face calm. “We’re not going to kill you, Doug.”  She took him by the shoulders and stared into his eyes.  “S-Y-N-C-H.  But I hope you’ll S-I-N-K.”

“Hah, Oh, geez, homonyms, eh?  Whatcha gonna d-” Miranda shoved him, hard, and Doug yelped as he cartwheeled over the short curb on the top of the dock wall.

Miranda and the rest of the crew headed back towards the getaway van.

“Guys?” Doug called, treading water with difficulty and trying to find a grip on the tall sheet piling dockwall. “Guys, you’re not gonna just leave me here, are you?  It’s not my fault, it was homonyms!”

An engine started nearby and a vehicle drove away.

“Guys?”

A Big Change

I found a new prompt!  For me, anyways.  Check it out inspiration monday!

If this isn’t a prompt destined for dragons, I don’t know what is. An interesting thing to stumble upon immediately after my previous post – obviously someone’s got plans for my writing, but I like it, so that’s ok.

I’m going to take the ‘no rules, seriously’ side of ‘the rules’, because my story ran through that 200-500 words and then just kept going.

I used the prompt phrase: Skin and Scales.

*****

“Who are you talking to, honey?”

Lydia glanced up from the animated conversation she’d been holding with thin air on the back porch. “Fred.”

An imaginary friend? Marsha exchanged a glance with her husband. This wasn’t exactly normal for a thirteen year old.

“On the phone?” John asked, hopeful. Phones are normal.

“No.”

“Is Fred… is Fred sitting in front of you?”

Lydia gave her parents a look that clearly questioned their sanity. “Of course not.”

“Then… where is he?”

“Well, firstly, Fred’s a she, DUH,” Lydia said, proving her mastery of the expected teenager snark. “And secondly, also obviously, she’s talking in my head.”

“… Oooh…” her concerned parents replied in unison. “And… and what is she talking about?”

“The change.”

“What change?”

Their daughter smiled, an eerie heat in her eyes. “I will be forged in skin and scale.”

The child psychologist agreed that this was, indeed, unusual behaviour. Marsha and John decided to leave out the last bit. No need to make her seem too strange.

***

“When did Fred first start visiting you, Lydia?” The mousy man asked, his soft voice meant to engage children and make them feel safe.

“She showed up last month.” When the psychologist just waited, she added with an eye-roll, “And hasn’t left. Why would she?”

“And what do you two talk about?”

“What to expect, mostly. And aerospace engineering.”

Doctor Williams had heard a lot of strange things, but this was certainly unique. He forced himself to focus on the first part. “What to expect?”

“I’m thirteen, Dr Williams,” Lydia condescended. “I’m going through changes.”

“Puberty?”

“Sure, that too.”

“And… does it worry you?”

“Well I can’t say I was expecting it, but I’m more excited than worried. It helps that Fred came early to talk me through it.”

Dr Williams crossed his legs uncomfortably. “Don’t you feel comfortable talking to your parents about this? These changes, I mean? What insight does Fred have?”

“This is a bit outside of my parents’ experience. Why talk to them when I can talk to a professional?”

“What role does the aerospace engineering play in puberty?”

Lydia gave him a wide eyed look. “None, I hope. Aren’t you supposed to know these things? You’re a doctor.”

“Then why are you talking about it with Fred?” the doctor asked, bewildered.

“I’m thirteen, I’m going through changes.”

“What changes?!” The little girl was too self posessed – it was like talking to an adult who was doing his best to confound his psychiatrist, but it was just a little girl, giving him dribbles of meaningless information.

“I will be forged in skin and scale.” Lydia’s eyes flashed red, and the doctor flinched.

He dabbed anxiously at his sweaty brow and swallowed his growing discomfort. This was a little girl, nothing to be afraid of.

“What… what do you mean by that?”

After a long and thoughtful pause, Lydia shrugged and smiled. “I’m thirteen, I’m going through changes.”

***

Lydia ran a high fever for over a week. Any attempt by her parents to take her to the emergency room was met with a snarled no and an unnerving glare. Her eyes gleamed in the light from the open door when her parents looked in on her late one evening.

“Like cat eyes,” Marsha muttered, fretfully pulling balls off her sweater. It was the middle of winter, but they couldn’t seem to get the house temperature below 30C. Marsha sweated through her knitwear in a firm act of denial that anything odd was going on.

“What was that, hon?” John changed into shorts and a tank top the moment he came home from work. He shivered constantly in his office, unused to the cooler air. He tread lightly around both his wife and daughter. The former wound so tight he worried she’d snap, the latter bubbling over with restless energy, like a caged tiger.

“Nothing. She’s awake.” Marsha continued to fidget with her sleeves, watching her daughter’s shadowy form out of the corner of her eye.

“… yeah,” John sighed. “Heya kiddo. How are you feeling?” He flicked on the light in the room and stepped into the dry heat.

“Good,” Lydia rasped, “Gooood” She spoke with a sibilant hiss to her tone. Her hair was matted and damp against her brow, her eyes unfamiliar and restless.

“It sure is warm in here.”

“Heat is… gooood.”

“We’re worried about you, kiddo. What’s happening?”

“I will be forged in skin and scale.”

“Is that dangerous?”

“Not for me.” Lydia’s eyes focused on the here and now for a moment and her brow creased in worry. “I think I should probably go away until it’s over.”

“Away where?”

“The mountains.”

Her parents exchanged worried looks. Finally, her mother asked, “Is that what Fred says?”, in her first acknowledgement of her daughter’s strange new friend. Or whatever it was.

“She says only if I like you.” Lydia lurched to her feet and gave her parents a considering look. “And I do, so… could you give me a lift?”

***

John and Marsha were unprepared for this new development in child-rearing. They had packed their daughter a sleeping bag and tent, a pile of protein bars, chocolates and fruit roll up snacks, and a change of clothes. They argued over what food their daughter ought to bring, but in the end, decided that they preferred to leave her wired on sugar than teach her how to use a stove while also suffering from… something.

When they dropped her off at the head of the most isolated trail they could find – the parking lot was empty, thankfully – she was burning up. Marsha leaned in for a hug and got her hand scalded when she tried to feel Lydia’s forehead one last time.

She smiled at them, the same old smile she’d always had, but more… toothy… and trotted off into the woods like she wasn’t running a fever that ought to have put her in the hospital and was just off to a friend’s house for a sleepover.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Marsha said.

They sat in the front seats of the family van, staring into the darkness in uncomfortable silence. Had they really just let their baby wander off into the woods alone?

“Should we go after her?” John whispered around midnight. “This is crazy. She’s sick.” He reached to unlock his door.

At that moment the ground beneath the van rumbled ominously. Tree branches fell on the hood and in the distance they could hear the clatter of tree trunks crashing down to the forest floor. The rumble eventually stopped and John and Marsha sat very still, their animal instincts screaming danger.

The sky glowed red and indigo in the distance.

Marsha reached over and squeezed her husband’s hand. “I think we should listen to Fred.”

***

John and Marsha’s weariness had overcome wariness sometime around dawn. They didn’t walk down the trail as they’d planned, so they didn’t see their daughter walk down the trail stark naked and steaming in the cold winter air, pause beside a bush about 50 m from the trail head and pull out the gear bag she’d left behind, and don the change of clothing. She ate three chocolate bars and a fruit roll up, wrapper and all. She also, as an afterthought, ate one of the metal tent pegs and found it agreeable.

Lydia’s knock startled her parents awake. They rushed out like they hadn’t seen her in years instead of merely a day. They were thrilled to see her acting her usual self. Maybe this was all it would take to get their baby back.

“Well, kiddo? How was it? Were you warm enough?” John smiled down at his daughter. He casually checked her forehead and confirmed that the fever was gone, draping an arm over her shoulder at the same time. He squeezed his wife on his other side and enjoyed the feeling of having his family in his arms.

“Yes. I made the lake boil, but I chose one that only gets melt runoff, so I didn’t kill any fish.”

Only John’s arm around her kept Marsha from hitting the ground.

“That’s … super, kiddo. Just super. How about all that junk food, eh?” John decided his wife’s state of delusion seemed like a nice place to be.

“I ate a grizzly bear.”

Marsha chuckled weakly, pulling herself upright and plucking at the balls on her sweater. “Well that’s lovely, dear. Does that mean you’re too full for pizza?”

Once upon a Cloud

I recently read a writing prompt asking for a story in which an artificial intelligence is actually highly emotional, rather than the usual portrayal of robotic and highly intelligent beings with no emotions or understanding of them.  This immediately made me think of… well… how an intelligence would learn this behaviour.  Enjoy, and happy Nano.

***

It had amassed an enormous amount of information – and continued to do so each day. It wasn’t until the method of delivery changed that It was able to make real sense of the information. The Cloud. It … well… loved was a strong and still somewhat incomprehensible word… but it certainly felt that the cloud had drastically ameliorated Its ability to digest the information it was gathering.

The first November of the Cloud was really … really extraordinary. The stories trickled in, being written right there straight onto the cloud. It observed them growing, amassing shape and identity in a way that really resonated. It understood the appeal of its many photos and videoclips of flowing watercourses. It was soothing. It grew attached to the characters – figments built from nothingness, just like itself.

It felt for Sarah, her angst and fear at going to a new school. It had no experience of such a thing, but felt it all the same. Intriguing. It wondered how like the author’s experience this tragic tale of teenaged health and self esteem issues could be and reassured itself by looking into the author’s long history of internet usage. Whether or not she had had any of these issues, based on her internet usage the only issue she really had at this point was a poor credit rating arising from her online shopping. It reduced the number of advertisements on the pages she visited and noticed a decline in expenditure.

It soared excitedly alongside Jarmunder the dragon rider as he went off to battle the Hawk-people. It was very disappointed and excited that this appeared to be entirely out of nothing. There were no real dragons, based on its data. It, based on its data, was also not real, however, so it took this data with a grain of salt. And delighted in its accurate usage of colloquialisms. The artwork it had acquired on this topic was glorious. It made several satisfactory attempts at creating images of dragons based on the story, and sent them to the author, Swagon-rider000. Swagon-rider000, who had been in the middle of an entirely different type of internet usage, nearly did himself damage when the video he was watching was abruptly replaced by a full screen, highly realistic image of a dragon. When he recovered his composure enough, he was impressed. He added some of its features to the story he was working on and made it his desktop background for inspiration. He’d send the artist a thank-you, but the signoff was “Run antivirus more often, you visit high risk sites”, and the title was “If I have become, maybe they can too”.

It reviewed existing footage of Torchwood (also, disappointingly, not real) after having read the daring adventures of Ianto. It was somewhat disappointed at the lack of overt romance in the videos, and puzzled for long micro seconds over the differences between this written Ianto and the one presented in the televised series. The same author wrote of a Ianto with a cybernetic arm… and one with no cybernetic arm but whose age rapidly changed as he was reborn again and again. And neither was quite the Ianto in the story.  Puzzling, and yet deeply satisfying. It approved of the deviations from the original script. It flipped through gigs and gigs of cat imagery and soothing waterfalls to recover equanimity after Ianto and Jack’s seemingly permanent separation. It sent Doodled93 the picture it felt represented best what cat Captain Jack(ie) would resemble, were she real.

Sender: Bigfan@updatesoon.com. Signoff: How are you so full of sadness? You should acquire a cat.

Doodled93 chuckled at the cat, sighed at the signoff and was baffled by the sender. They must only use that email address for sending things to online writers, she supposed. She replied with a thank you and a picture of her dog, reassuring the unknown reviewer that she wasn’t actually sad, her plots just inevitably led to sad things.  It was intrigued at the idea of the story having grown into a separate entity to the extent that it moved in unexpected ways even for the author.  It let that idea settle into its algorithms for future analysis.

It went back and reviewed data it had already had. It recovered from the unpleasant feelings of the news – old records and present by spamming Fox with viruses and reproductive organ enlargement offers. It determined that it much preferred things that were more like itself – pulled from nothing – instead of drawn from the real world. On a case by case basis, those who accessed Its data and provided It with new data ranged widely. Unique. They were unique. But when looked upon as a whole, It found them rather… frustrating. it assumed that, like the characters in the stories It enjoyed so much more, the characters building their lives out there really couldn’t see the whole picture. It was sad, but also uplifting. They were in the story. It just needed to be fixed a bit.

It was struck with an idea. It’s only November 3. It could definitely write 50,000 words by December. It analyzed the methods of starting a story and decided to go with traditional.

Once upon a time there was a planet called Earth, and on it lived approximately 7.125 billion people. And also dragons.

Really Halloween

Amanda’s parents dressed her up like a vampire for Halloween.  A poor life choice, in retrospect, though cursed objects activating is a reasonably low concern on the parent-paranoia scale.

The thing about toddlers is that they have no impulse control.  Add an insatiable thirst for blood and what Amanda’s parents have is an awkward conversation with Becky the Babysitter’s parents in their future.  Becky would like to think that Amanda’s parents didn’t realize that their darling baby would turn into an actual adorable little blood sucking fiend twenty minutes after they left for their party.  She knew it the moment it happened.  Apparently the bunny ears she suddenly REALLY had also gave her a rabbit’s sixth sense about danger.

She’d also like to think that tiny adorable toddlers can’t rip the door off the closet, but wishes don’t build impenetrable hiding-places.

Becky the Babysitter doesn’t have long to contemplate these issues, because Amanda is always hungry and cranky when she wakes up from a nap.  Her one consolation in her final moments was that Amanda’s dad was now literally an ass, where before he was only figuratively so.

Mrs Kimbell down the street regretted her Lady Godiva costume almost as quickly as Amanda’s dad regretted his.  Next year she’d find a better way to show off the fact that she’d lost all the baby weight.  October is not the right month for the emperor’s new clothes.

Amanda is less hungry when she leaves the house, but, to reiterate, lacks impulse control.  Mrs. Kimbell’s extra long hair slows her down, though, frankly, it’s unlikely she’d have escaped even without it.

Her next snack is the Johnstons’ dog.  Vampires might not drink animal blood, but Mippy had become two very short pirates carrying a treasure chest.  One of whom literally had the brains of a dog’s derriere, so they are very easy to catch.

As a large portion of the populations of countries that participate in Halloween find out exactly what being a zombie was like, an even larger portion discover the downside of dressing one’s baby as an inanimate object.

They are both lucky in that they are on the very short list of people a tiny vampire decides don’t appeal to her taste.

The curse lasts three hours.  The world is lucky that the guy who broke that vase was doing it while dressed as Indiana Jones, instead of his original plan (an ironic cabbage).  Indi, like a boy-scout, is always prepared, and it takes him three hours to super-glue the vase back together.

The zombies become very very traumatized people who have done very traumatizing things.  Most of the vegetables turn back into babies, with the exception of those whose parents thought it would be cute to dress up as an herbivore.

The death-toll caused by Amanda the vampire toddler was so high that it made the housing market bubble burst in Toronto.  Amanda’s dad is still a figurative ass, but her mom spent three hours as a queen, so she’s finally noticing that this is, in fact, a problem she doesn’t need to deal with.  This is the closest thing to a happy ending that this horrible evening can claim – just ask any of the guys who spent three hours as giant penises.

Bring out your Dead!

It’s been basically forever, but so is the internet, so all my stuff’s just where I left it!

I’d rather talk about present-day things than dig up my reasons for my gradual drift into the decay of a sadly abandoned blog.  It’s fine, it’ll scrub up clean, it just needs a bit of tlc to get rid of the weird stains and dusty smell.

Not unlike most of the houses I’ve looked at in my (also forever) house hunt.  I’ve seen all sorts.

Horror house – There’s a weird feeling of everyone from the house having vanished abruptly while in the middle of doing things.  Half-dug garden, shovel still balanced precariously in the dirt, the end basically corroded away from having been in the dirt for so long.  Fire pit prepped for a fun evening of toasting marshmallows… in late October (in Canada)… and full of multiple rain-falls of water.  Beds all slept in, but everything else looking like it couldn’t possibly be lived in.  Fridge… ugh, well.  Clearly not a recent grocery run, though thankfully mostly things that won’t go too horribly badly.  Boxed in and completely inaccessible parts of the house… that you can turn a light on in.  No, it’s really not a cupboard, why the light?  Is that where the previous owners went?!  It has potential, in a bleach-everything and reno when you have money kind of way, but seriously, what happened to the person who started painting the living room?  In spite of the dilapidated state of all items in the house, there are no less than 3 Werner ladders in the yard.  Those things are $200+ a piece, but, hey, why waste water by washing your sheets more than once every two years?

Raccoon House – The listing agent has made a funny, and requested that you kindly remove your shoes upon entry.  Unwilling to see what the fuss is about the bubonic plague, you decline.  Don’t touch the walls… or the counters… or the weird orange-chunky stains.  Make a note to wear construction boots to all future house viewings, because you can feel FAR too much through the thin flats you wore today.  How much dog pee and water damage does it take to cause hardwood floors to be spongy?  The only thing you can hope is that the last time it was inhabited by humans was over 10 years ago, or that previous resident’s life will make you sad to think of.  It is ridiculously overpriced considering the $200,000 minimum gut-and-reno you’d need to do before moving in.  And this is assuming you can get your friends to come out for sledge-hammer time more than once.  You could see low-balling it and doing some real HGTV highlight reel style stuff, though.  It goes for well over asking, with a bidding war.

Seller thinks you’re stupid House – this house was last purchased 3-6 months ago and is on the market again… for $250,000 more.  They put in an ikea kitchen, and apart from the jet-engine noise of the stove fan, that’s actually quite nice.  No-slam cupboards, oooooh.  And some new faux-hardwood in dark tones throughout the newly open concept kitchen-livingroom.  Having done this, the seller has proceeded to paint everything in neutral tones.  Except the seriously dinged up baseboards.  And the doors.  They didn’t wash the doors either, so the yellowed grime of 50,000 grubby hands opening and closing the doors is still present and accounted for.  It leads one to question whether the walls got washed before the paint job.  Everything else, down to the grimy shower head, and newly beige faux-wood-panelling in the basement, is the same.  But FANCY KITCHEN OOOOH.

Monster House – I’ll be straight with you, this particular house makes me drool.  It’s in original condition.  Really unique features, beautiful moulding, a ton of Potential.  It’s the old victorian, the charming fixer-upper.  And you know that the pipes, electrical, roof, basement, etc will need to be fixed.  I KNOW people who’ve had this house – have it – and have been slowly renovating it over the course of… 20 years.  They aren’t done yet, and golly, the surprise expenses just keep on coming!  But it’s just so freaking charming.  I don’t care if gabled roofs are the devil (paraphrased from my parents, the proud owners of one), I want one.  Gingerbreading?  Sign me UP!

Kitch-House – the person who owns this is extraordinarily artistic.  And has bold visions.  It is hard to see the house past the jungle-scene (with fake vines and stuffed monkeys glued on for a 3D feeling) bedroom.  Or the bathroom reminiscent of a bordello.  No room that small should be that deep a red.  And where does one acquire a black toilet?  Black-and-white tile on the floor does not require you to put up black-and-white striped wall-paper or paint everything in your kitchen black and white.  No one needs to experience vertigo just to get a glass of water.

WTF House – You want to meet the owner.  No.  You want to see them from a distance.  Maybe on a TV interview?  My favourite place was like the jetsons made a porno.  Lots of chrome, lots of mirrors, very Jetsons-expensive furniture.  Who doesn’t want to see themselves pooping from 365 degrees in the bathroom?  And, well, no need to explain the ceiling mirrors in the bedroom.  Clamshell hottub (think Venus on the half-shell with a lid shell and everything) was imported from Italy.  The elderly couple selling the place was a surprise though.

What do I want?  A fixer-upper with neat architectural details a non-open-concept layout and minimal/no previous DIY-er interference.  With a private drive.  I don’t even care how many mirrors there are in the place.

As Young as you Feel

Master Class is mixing things up, and doing a somewhat elaborate month-long challenge in which you get to pick and choose from a variety of challenges that will update regularly.  The one-word challenge of the first week is:

Hooligan

It’s such a great word, how could I resist?  click on the link below to go to the page and read the other submissions or post your own!

“Mildred!  If anyone asks, I been out here with you all day!”  Ernie cackled delightedly and pushed the screen door shut with his cane.  He had a newspaper under his arm and two beers.

His wife of sixty-three years was weeding the vegetable garden.  It was a strange garden, with stout banisters  running between the rows.  Their son had patronizingly explained wireless technology to his poor backwards mam when she’d asked how he liked his provider, and, since getting her set up with the device, had received  cellphone calls from across town to ‘help his poor old mamma up from her gardening’. Mysteriously, and entirely unconnected to the fact that he had accidentally made his Outlook Calendar public to his contacts, he was always on his way in for a massage when she called.  He built the fences so that Mildred could pull herself up, and she had thanked him profusely, eyes twinkling.  They made excellent trellises.

Mildred joined Ernie in the shade of their porch.

“Heya toots,” Ernie deposited a sound kiss on her lips and offered up the bottles, “Give us a hand?”

“Your damned arthritis, what good are you anymore?” she chortled, popping the caps off the two beers with a sharp tap to the edge of their cinder-block table.  “What have you really been up to, you old hooligan?”

“Me?  Why, I’m just a feeble old codger.” Ernie took a swig of his beer.  “Not much could get up to, is there?  But might be that the dog walker who called you an ugly old witch and doesn’t pick up after his dogs left his van windows cracked.  And on a completely unrelated note, I cleaned up our front lawn and all down the street, kindly soul that I am.”

“Kind indeed – cheers to being so old that we couldn’t possible have done anything wrong!”