Dating, by the Book

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“If you did that during a zombie apocalypse, we’d all die!  Dammit, Misty, get down!” I hissed, trying to tug the girl I’d been crushing on since third grade back into the trench.

“Ugh, calm down, Jesse!”  Misty took a step out of my reach and continued brushing futilely at the green paint spattered across her cleavage and the low collar of her tight cropped tee shirt.  She continued standing out in the open, unprotected and indifferent to her surroundings like the ultimate noob.  She’d ripped off her goggles and the top of her coveralls the instant one of the snipers had taken her out.  Of course, if she hadn’t insisted on leaving her coveralls unbuttoned to the waist… not that I’d really pressed the issue with her looking like G.I. Barbie.

“It’s a stupid game anyways,” her sharp voice brought me back to the moment.  “Is this paint washable?  Why the hell did one of your lame friends shoot me?  Why the hell did we have to come here?  Next time you take me out, make it something fun.

It occurred to me that the girl standing before me and still looking like my wildest fantasy, only greener, was proof that you couldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I should have known better.

“The Op is still live, Misty, get down before you get – ” well… we’ll call that a real… concrete learning experience… I winced in sympathy as pink paint bloomed on the side of her pigtailed head.  Head-shots hurt.  “You should put your goggles back on.”

Misty’s eyes went very wide, and her lips pressed tightly together.  She crouched down beside me, and slipped the goggles back on, smearing pink down her cheek in the process.

“Show me how to use the gun again,” she said, her voice strained.

“What?  Look, how about we just… go?”  I’d tried to give her a lesson about aiming the gun before we’d started the Op, and she’d shown no interest.  I really had thought she’d have fun.  That it’d be a good chance for me to impress her with my skills.  Instead, she’d grumbled and complained through the first half-hour, decided we should leave and gotten shot right in the boob while trying to drag me toward the exit.

Misty finished tying the top of her coveralls tightly around her waist, grabbed my collar and dragged me close.  “SHOW ME” she hissed, eyes full of rage.

I hastily demonstrated the basics and gave her a hushed explanation of aim.  She stared intently at me throughout, nodded, and rose into a crouch.  “Your stupid friends’ rule is 3 shots?”

“Um… yeah?”

I watched in astonishment as she performed a precision tumble across an open area, came up and shot twice.  Kyle yelped from a tree, and Jim cursed from behind a brick panel.  She shot him twice more and stole his cover.  While Jim stalked toward the exit, she sprang up the nearest wall, surprising Amber in her hidey-hole and nailing her with three shots, ran along the top of the wall and jumped down out of sight.

It was chaos.  I could only track her based on my friends’ curses and yelps.  She was ruthless and, based on the people stalking towards the dead-zone, not averse to shooting people in the face.  Not that I could blame her.

I shot Jim when I found him sneaking up behind her, and she shot him again when she turned around.  We exchanged a grin and finished the rest of the crew off as a team.

When I was sure we’d cleared the field, I cleared my throat.  “Misty, I was wrong.  You would totally save everyone if there was a zombie apocalypse.  That was amazing!”

I had plumbed Misty’s unplumbed depths, and they were Aweome.  The guys were going to be so jealous.

Misty grinned at me and replied, “You’re not too bad yourself,” and shot me three times at close range.  She smirked.  “You said last-man-standing, too, right?  Can we eat now?  Winner gets to choose, and I say Thai.”

As she walked off the field, gun raised in triumph, I knew I was in love.  You really can’t judge a book by its cover.

***

In case you didn’t guess… no, I have never paint-balled before.  Click the photo above to read more prompt submissions, or submit your own!

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The Other Side of the Glass

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Wesley stared intently down at the checker board, lips pursed in deep thought.  With great deliberation he moved a piece.  He pressed his heavy digit into the worn wood for a long moment, pondering his choice a moment longer before releasing it.  He sat back with a satisfied grunt and steepled his fingers.  Sunlight glinted off the rim of his spectacles, lighting up the dust motes hanging in the air.

The old clapboard farmhouse sat well back from the road, surrounded by fields now tended by their children.  The dry red dirt of their livelihood sifted through the cracks and coated everything, no matter how often they dusted.  With four kids grown and out of the house, the empty rooms were heavy with the silence and the red dust.

A draft stirred the thick dust on the windowsill, lighting sparks into a beam of light.

Wesley frowned across the board.  “What’ye laughin’ at, woman?” he growled.  “Caint fool me with your psychological games, and you ain’t won this one yet.”

The morning sunlight beat through the window, dusty light flashing across the board. Maggie moved the pieces like she had all the time in the world, light and quick and without any uncertainty.  Wesley snorted, but stared for a long moment, trying to see what her end game was.

“Y’don’t need to give me that look, I know when  you’re laughing at me, with or without sayin’ a thing, sugar.”

He took his turn decisively, regretting his move almost immediately.  Maggie looked far too smug.  Wesley flexed his gnarled hands, rough fingertips scraping the stained wood of the kitchen table in a nervous drumbeat.  The sunlight was kind on his arthritic knuckles, soothing deep aches.

An engine rumbled in the distance.  Wesley peered through the dusty kitchen window, even though it faced out back toward the barn and fields.

“Must be Jerry with a couple a dinners for us.”  Hands gripped tightly on to the arms of his chair, Wesley hoisted himself upright with a low groan.  “Gettin’ old, Mags.  Cain’t let Jerry hear me talking like that, though,” he added with a chuckle.  “He’s already gettin’ ideas.”

Wesley pulled his walker closer and switched his grip to its arms.  His slow shuffle had him wheezing heavily at the front door just before the old Chevy made it to the end of the long rutted driveway.

Maggie twitched aside the living room curtains to watch her eldest son step down out of his truck, tipping a cowboy hat onto his head and walking around the back to pull a cooler out.  She smiled warmly at the man he had become, long and lean and weathered from the sun, just like his father.  The sunlight caught in the stained glass decorations in the window, casting beams of blue and green and red across the faded carpeting.

“He grew up good,” Wesley said with a smile.  “He’s a good boy.”

Their son had put the cooler down by his truck and was testing the hinges on the old gate.  it had come loose from the top hinge a while back, and Wesley felt ashamed he hadn’t gotten around to fixing it just yet.  With a glance up at the house, Jerry retrieved a can of WD40, a hammer and a few nails from his toolkit.  In short order the gate was swinging freely.

“He’s a real good boy,” Wesley repeated, voice sad.  He felt every one of his years like a weight around his neck.

He unlocked the door and shuffled slowly to his easy-chair, settling in with a sigh.

Jerry came in, cooler in his arms, and hip-checked the door closed.  “Pops?  It’s me, Jerry,” he called down the dim hallway.  “POPS?”

“I ain’t deaf, boy,” Wesley grumbled.  His son startled at finding him so close, and Wesley exchanged an amused glance with Maggie.

Jerry glanced uncertainly past his father into the living room.  “Don’t normally find you in here lately, Pops.  Amanda made up some extra chili and meatloaf and stuff for you – I’ll go put it in the fridge, eh?”

He disappeared down the hall and Wesley listened as he puttered in the kitchen. “Bin workin’ on your checkers skills, Pop?” Jerry called out.

“Your mother ain’t gonna beat me this time,” Wesley replied, glaring fiercely at his smiling wife.

The fridge door opened and there was some muffled movement and muttering in the kitchen.

Jerry returned to the living room and passed Wesley one of the beers he’d brought out.  He set his hat on the coffee table and sat down, expression serious.

“Pops, you ain’t et…” He paused and cleared his throat.  “You haven’t eaten hardly any of the meals we left you last week.”

Maggie leaned against the back of the recliner, pressing her hands into Wesley’s shoulders.  Wesley smiled gratefully up at her and patted her hand reassuringly.  “Ain’t been much hungry, son.”

“Amanda and I think it’s time, Pops.”  Jerry leaned forward on his elbows, face lined with concern.  “Time for you to come live with us.  Or at least let me hire a home help nurse.”

Wesley’s shoulders sagged briefly.  “Yeah, I recon you’re right.  It’s about time.  That’s why my suitcase is packed.  It’s in the main floor bedroom, mind helpin’ an old man out and takin’ it to the truck?”

Jerry, at a loss for words at his father’s sudden agreeableness, nodded and strode from the room.  He rushed out, suitcase banging down the porch stairs, as though sure his father would change his mind if he didn’t move fast enough.

“He’s a good boy,” Wesley said softly.  “They all are.  I hope one of them moves in here.  It’ll be nice to have some younguns runnin’ around the place again.  I know how much you’ve missed that.”  He patted his wife’s hand again and let out a deep sigh.

Long shadows stretched across the empty yard by the time Jerry left.  Wesley stood and offered his wife his arm, feeling a real bounce in his step for the first time in he didn’t know how long.  “How’s about we go finish that game, sugar?  And after that, maybe I’ll take you dancin’.”

***

Visit Our Write Side to read more prompt responses by clicking on the photo above!

 

Doing Business

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The photo is from “The Darkroom” writing prompt… click it to check out other responses!

***

When the aliens first arrived on Earth, there were… misunderstandings.  Highly intelligent though they were, the beings were extraordinarily literal.

Martha did her best to accommodate them for her tours – she really did.  She arranged things to start an additional half-hour early so that they would have time to read – in excruciating detail – the entire waiver and ask questions.  So. Many. Questions.  She’d reviewed her spiel and removed euphemisms, word-play and jokes from the notes, because, frankly, a day-trip to Algonquin Park didn’t have time for a two hour debate on whether a bear did indeed do business in the woods, and what that business might be, and what customs might be involved.  She’d learned to switch between parent of impressionable child and tour-guide for Travellers speak, because they were slightly more likely to understand the expression “Does a bear do business in the woods?” if she used more adult language.  Slightly.

So her business of an ex informing her that actually he wouldn’t be taking their son fishing like he’d scheduled months ago was just SUPER.  She loved her son dearly, but he had the verbal filter of an 8 year old boy and the subtlety of a battering ram.  And she didn’t have time to find someone to look after him for the next two days of Traveller tours.

***

“As you can see, the Park is heavily forested with a wide variety of tree species, including Jack Pine, birch and Sugar Maple.  The booklet goes into further detail of all tree species found in the park, and methods of identifying them.”  Martha drove down the highway, chatting her way through her on-the-road information, knowing from past experience that the eight Travellers in her tour van were alternating between staring intently out the window, staring intently at their informational booklets and staring intently at the various parts of the interior of the van, all with equal intensity and interest.  Feedback on her tours didn’t give her a hint about what she could say that they would be more interested in, and she suspected that if she rattled off stats about the 1982 Superbowl or about the tour bus’s maintenance history they would be equally interested.  Since starting Traveller tours, she’d had to do research on the tour bus, in fact, to accommodate those who wanted to know about plastic used in the old bus instead of about birds that migrated through the park.  They were just plain interested.

Ben draped himself over the back of the passenger seat, grinning a gap-toothed grin, and crowed, “You don’t know JACK!”

OH business, Martha thought.

There was a discordant buzzing in the back, as the Travellers carefully dissected this statement.

One reedy voice after another arose, each politely waiting until the previous one had finished their sentence before adding their own rebuttal.

“I have met a Jack, but am understanding that this was not the only Jack, and am unsure if meeting is adequate to equate to knowing.”

“I have indeed, never met a Jack.  Is this a matter of concern?”

“I have met more than one Jack, and feel confident in the 81st percentile of knowing one of them, though his full name is Jack Perkins and lives at 43 Seventh Street in the town of Toronto.  Having worked closely with him for 257 working days between March 23, 2016 and today, I believe I know him well enough for that descriptor to apply.  If this is the Jack of which you speak, I feel confident in refuting your statement.”

And on, and on.  Most of them had, at some point, met a Jack.  Only two thought they could probably consider their relationship with the Jack in question as knowing.  

Martha then listened in astonishment to her son’s reply.  “The Jack I’m talking about is a Jack Pine tree, and the phrase, you don’t know Jack, is one way of recognizing them, because the phrase is usually paired with this gesture,” he paused for demonstration, and Martha winced and made a note to have another conversation with her son while the Travellers hummed.  “And if you look at a Jack Pine, that’s kind of what it looks like they’re doing.”

The buzzing hum rose again, and again, they spoke.

“It is an offensive expression meant to show disrespect towards another’s knowledge base.”

“But trees on this planet cannot be disrespectful due to their intelligence level, so they are not, in fact, being disrespectful.”

Another buzzing conference.

“It is funny because no disrespect is actually being shown.”

“It is funny and informative”

The vehicle filled with the sound of crickets chirping, the Traveller equivalent of applause.

Martha wished Travellers were more appreciative of 21st Century Earth humour, as she’d love to hear them at a comedy show.

***

Travellers noticed everything.  So, as happened at least once on every tour, they wanted to stop and see an animal crossing sign.  As Martha was about to go into her prepared explanation of the fact that the signs were representations, her son laughed.

“You’re funny – that’s just a picture of a moose.  It’s just to let you know that moose like to use this part of the road to cross.”

The normally highly sensitive Travellers took this in stride, apparently not concerned that a small human had come very close to calling them unintelligent (or an equivalent word, all of which were highly offensive in Traveller culture, a trait shared by most human cultures).

The rest of the day was peppered with her son’s saucy explanations of things, given in such a direct and simple manner that they cut through what could well have been hour-long debates about the various meanings of ‘bark’, or a seriously concerned Traveller anxiously explaining that it was not calling Fairy Lake a derogatory term for homosexuals, but that someone else may have intended that in naming the lake, or may not have.  Martha had never had such a smoothly run day with Travellers in the year she’d been touring them.

As they cruised out of the park and back to the Traveller’s hotel (Deerhurst, whose deer had not yet been noted, near the possibly-derogatory Fairy Lake) for the weekend in the waning light, one of them spoke up.  “Ben, son of Martha.  For one so young in years, you are rich in knowledge pertinent to the Algonquin Park, and accurate in your speech.  Do you spend a very large percentage of your time there?”

Ben grinned and glanced at his mother.  She saw the look and knew he was about to push his luck.

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

Riches is Riches

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The pirates spread through the lush undergrowth, sweating and swatting at flies, casting suspicious looks at their brothers in brigandry.  The map had led them here.  To this place.  X marks the spot, and no map was so convoluted, nor led through such terrors as they’d faced, without leading to the kind of treasure a man could retire on.

Maybe even the kind of treasure a ship full of men could retire on.  Though just in case, each was determined to get there first, and shove a semi-retired-and-owning-a-pub sized piece down his trousers before the others caught up.

A man could make good money with a pub, as long as only a few strangers a year disappeared in the night, leaving their horse and bags and that fine cloak they were wearing behind (how odd! but fair’s fair and he didn’t pay his fare).

And so they slogged, swatting and sweating and keeping their fellows in sight in case they tried anything funny.

Dim Jimmy found it, blast him.  Too daft to sweep up at the bar, let alone roll a toff out back of one.  Certainly too loud for any one man to silence him before the rest heard.  If anyone else aboard-ship had looked so damned pleased to find a secret cave entrance, it’d be sure and certain rubies’d shake loose when he got shaken down.  Nothing did though, so the pirates dropped him and waited for the Captain.

The whole crew was cutthroat, but the captain was the most cutthroat of them all.  The wicked grin sliced into his neck by a would-be usurper had scared off most other usurpers.  His use of the other man’s skull as a soup-bowl scared off the rest, so far.  The heavy man’s rolls had rolls, but he moved like a cat, appearing in the midst of the anxiously waiting crew members without even a rustling of tropical leaves.

He stepped over a dazed Jimmy and through into the dank corridor leading down into the cave without a word, not slightly worried at having a horde of backstabbing murderers at his back.

Down the dank tunnel, stumbling and sliding on the uneven steps, they lit their torches and added black smoke to the dank smells emanating from the cave below.

The dim and flickering light of their torches gleamed on the kind of treasure a whole crew of men could retire on.  With or without the bar.  Mounds of gems, piles of gold bullion, gem encrusted armor, jewelery, antique vases, priceless statues… the cave was so vast that the far corners couldn’t be seen.  It was as though the entire island had been

The entire crew – cutthroat, vicious murderers all – whooped and ran out into the field of treasure.  When Jimmy caught up – having slipped down the last several steps and hit his head again – he found the Captain staring thoughtfully at a small brass plaque, and his crewmates giggling and frolicking in the treasure like school children.

“Do you read, Jimmy?” the Captain asked.

“No sir.  Can spell m’name, though… fishhook… twig-wi’-floaty… bubbies…bubbies… twig-wi’-two-arms.”

“Hmm.  Well, what this plaque says is this:

The twisted trophy is yours for the taking,

if the jinxed treasure is worth your changing.

Take a man’s share and leave a man’s life behind.”

Jimmy stared at the plaque for a long moment.  “It says to take the treasure,” he offered.

The Captain sighed.  “Jimmy, what would you do with a sackfull of this treasure?”

“I would buy a Captain hat and as much beef stew as I could eat.”

“And if you were a woman?”

Jimmy hesitated.  “I… would… buy a Captain hat and as much beef stew as I could eat… and I would have bubbies.”  His thought process appeared almost painful.  “I like bubbies.”

The Captain nodded pensively.  “I suppose rich is rich, ain’t it?  Off with ye, grab yerself enough swag to buy a lifetime’s worth of beef stew.  I’ve my own to collect.”

***

Several months later…

Two gentlemen recently arrived from England stood at the punch-bowl eyeing the crowd.  A rather boisterous crowd of ladies stood around a small table  A rather rotund woman with a scar across her throat and a rather spectacularly feathered tricorn hat was leading them in a rousting and highly inappropriate song about barmaids.  The combined glitter of jewelery from the ladies was enough to make one squint, and one of them appeared to have a golden, jewel-encrusted hook in place of a hand.  Empty punch cups littered the ground around them, and two were arm-wrestling.

“These wealthy caribbean ladies are… terrifying,” one said, taking a swig of punch and choking.  “And this punch is… well, I think it’s actually just rum with some bits of fruit in it.”

“Extraordinarily rich, though…” the other replied, eyeing the ladies in question with caution and surreptitiously draining his punch into a potted plant.  “The upper-crust here is… well it’s certainly not like in England, is it?”

“Beef stew for everyone!” a rather impressively endowed lass bellowed out in glee.  She, too, wore a tricorn, though this one was covered in fake fruit and birds, as though she’d attempted to turn it into a lady’s hat.  The others raised their glasses and joined in bellowing for beef stew.

“No, it is very different.  They seem rather uninterested in match-making, at least,” the first gentleman replied, sounding relieved.  He then jerked up with a yelp and grasped his bottom in a most un-gentlemanly manner.

“Wouldn’ be too sure of that, luv,” a lady with a gold front tooth grinned up at the surprised gentleman whose bottom she had just pinched.  “At least a few of us are enjoying the full extent of our changed fortunes.”  She waggled her eyebrows.  “Care for a dance?”

***

For more stories in response to this prompt, click the image at the top of the page!

A World Apart

Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing.  EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE!  The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust.  On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read.  For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful.  And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.

Click the image below to read the rest of the responses or to submit your own!

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Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries.  The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring.  It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories.  Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.

Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit.  The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.

So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books.  Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own.  A complete set of the Narnia books.  Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV.  Geography, History and Art by the desk.  Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.

None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to.  Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from.  Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.

When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up.  Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.

Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings.  The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic.  Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.

The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood.  A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium.  More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.

And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book.  The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.

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“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.

Quilt of Fate

What? Participating.  I feel like I keep having to start-up again, but at least I’ve always got some great prompts to start the gears turning.  Check out the rest of the responses at the link below, and add your own:

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Also check out the artist AquaSixio, otherwise known as Cyril Rolando.  His work is below, one of many works of art painting a picture of a story I want to know more of.  What I love about this particular piece is the eerie colour of the scene, and the way it makes me wonder if this person is running away from something or towards something.  Either way, sometimes making a choice, right or wrong, can feel like leaping from a moving train.  The artist also includes a piece of writing that perfectly describes that stagnation of routine, the reward of jumping from the train.  Read it at Train Train Quoditien.

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My mother spent her life on scraps, collecting the discarded leftovers of other peoples’ lives and putting them together in new ways.  I spent my childhood desperate for the things that others took for granted.  Patches disguised the holes in my jeans from everyone but me, and the hand-made cardigan wasn’t at all like the GAP sweatshirts of my peers.

Just once, I begged, just once might I have a blanket all in one tone?  Monochrome, I pled, to the bafflement of my family.  New.

I rejected the colours, the patterns, recycling and making do.  I ran away to the real world,  and relished my drab wardrobe, cookie cutter condo and processed foods.  I became the happiest of cogs in the machine.

I met a perfectly ordinary girl and fell in love with her family’s staid ways, the generations of suburbanites and shiny new IKEA furniture.

My fiancée forced a strained smile and gave me a sidelong glance when I introduced my mother in her draped shawls and bangles, and I felt embarrassment.  My mother’s eyes sparkled with pride and love.

My bright-coloured family capered and laughed and drank, young and old dancing late into the night in celebration of my wedding to this woman they’d never met, in celebration of my future happiness.  A reminder of my fond memories of home on the open road, each wedding, funeral or crossing of paths a reason for joyous revelry.  My family brought us gifts handcrafted and brimming with love and pride.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my new wife suggested that their gifts would fit best in our storage locker.  I was surprised I hadn’t suggested it myself.

But not the quilt, I said, stroking the colourful tree my mother had hand-sewn for us, a symbol of good fortune and happiness in marriage.  Every leaf stitched with a member of my family and hers, with room for new additions.  My wife gave me a strange look out of the corner of her eye and pressed her lips together.

Her mother had gotten the burnt umber bedspread on our registry.  Had no one in my family thought to look on the registry?  She clucked her displeasure at their selfishness in denying us a KitchenAid stand mixer in taupe, and I looked at this stranger and questioned myself.

I tucked it away in my closet and brooded.  I wondered if I’d actually intentionally bought 4 pairs of near-identical navy slacks.  Why I ate so many beige foods.  She, meanwhile, cut her eyes in disapproval of the introduction of brightly coloured dress-shirts into my wardrobe.

We scheduled date night in the same way as we scheduled dental work and with as much enthusiasm.  Every moment of my parents’ lives was a breathless run through the deluge of their affection for each other and for life.

When she left me, my first thought was for my mother’s quilt.  I took it down, spread it out and smiled.  My family spread out in beautiful chaos, with blank spaces for my future wife, her family and room to grow.  My mother spent her life taking up the discarded pieces and putting them together anew.

I left with only the necessities, including a vibrant purple shirt in need of mending.

InMon – A Slide Turn

Last week on Inspiration Monday, they gave us the following prompts:

NETHERDOOR

CANIS EX MACHINA

BLINDSIGHT IS 20/20

PIONEER SPECIES

OPENING EPILOGUE

Check out the other responses here, or post your own!

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The artwork is by Cyril Rolando, otherwise known as AquaSixio, and is called The Magic Path.  If you’re ever looking for some inspiration for stories, I highly recommend visiting his work.  It’s whimsical and eerie and a little bit Alice in Wonderland.

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“You’ll never find it that way!” the slender little man giggled, juggling a quartet of oranges from the crate in front of the grocery store.  He was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

“Find what?”

“Shush!” Maggie hissed, grabbing her little brother by the hand.  She was 9, and had been assigned the important task of walking her brother home safely.  She took the responsibility to heart.

“Find what?”Jeremy repeated, throwing his weight back to resist the insistent tug on his hand.  He was 6, less inclined to avoid a potential adventure than his older sister and entertained by the juggling.

“Not what, it.” The man giggled again and added an apple to his trick.

“What’s ‘it’?”

“No it isn’t!” another cackle, another apple.  Mr. Ventura wouldn’t be happy if the man dropped and bruised all that fruit.  Maggie wondered why he hadn’t come out of the store to yell at them yet.

Jeremy glowered.  He didn’t like this game.  Maggie, on the other hand, was intrigued.  If she looked at the man out of the corner of her eye, he was dressed in ordinary clothing, and was carefully inspecting an orange.  Looking at him dead-on, though, he was a jester, oranges and apples flying through the air and weaving patterns.  Her class had been going over the five W’s in writing.

“Where is ‘it’?” she asked.

“What a silly child!” he laughed, “How grand!  The Netherdoor is anywhere and everywhere, but only at the end and the beginning.”

“If it’s anywhere, then when is it…” Maggie cast about for a good location for a door.  She pointed at the slide in the playground across the street. “There?”

“In a moment.  I’d hurry if I were you, and take my advice, it’s best to go back as much as is possible.”  He had a cantaloup in the whir of fruit now, though his alternate version was deeply engrossed in rapping his knuckles on the fruit.

“Why are your teeth so sharp?” Jeremy asked.

“Only as sharp as my wit, darling boy!”

“Ok.  Let’s go to the Netherdoor,” Jeremy accepted the logic and dismissed it.

“We’re not going anywhere, we’re going home,” Maggie replied, grabbing for her brother’s hand.  “Mom said no stopping, go straight home.”

The little boy sprawled on the ground, yanking at her arm.  “Noooooooooo,” he moaned.  “I want to go through the Netherdooooooooor!”

Jeremy’s method of getting what he wanted in public largely involved making it as difficult as possible for those around him to get things done until they’d agreed with him.  He was lying across the full width of the sidewalk, and, from past experience, Maggie knew he’d stay there, even with the threat of being stepped on.

Maggie glared accusingly at the man.  He was now juggling a half-dozen oranges and apples, a melon and three pomegranates.  Out of the corner of her eye Maggie could see that he was also bagging up a few persimmons, a bag of pomegranates already hung on his arm.

“How are you doing that?” she asked.

“Blindsight is 20/20 in the young, but what would you see out of the other corner?”  The man grinned, and Maggie wondered why Jeremy had said his teeth were sharp.

Maggie sighed.  “You’re ridiculous.”

“Thank you!”  The juggling man grinned in delight; his alter ego checked his watch.

“Get up, Jeremy, we’ll go climb the slide backwards but after that we have to go home.”

“YAY!” Jeremy was on his feet in an instant.  Maggie caught him and made him wait for the pedestrian light and all the cars to stop before they crossed to the park.

Maggie let Jeremy climb up on the slide first, and carefully pushed him up with his feet resting on the heels of her shoes and his arms around her legs.  The cars rushing past didn’t slow, there was nothing to see – just two children playing some incomprehensible game.

She had to bend forward and push off with her hands as well so that she could keep her balance.  All she could see was the scratched up shiny surface of the slide, chipped paint and sprayed tagging.  All she could hear was the squeak of the rubber of her shoes as she shuffled backwards, the traffic-sounds having gone quiet.  The sudden shift in gravity sent Maggie and Jeremy tumbling backwards, landing in a heap at the bottom of a shiny slide, mirror bright under the bright blue sky.

Jeremy and Maggie exchanged a look of shocked delight, taking in the candy-apple red slide, the skittle-bright gravel under their feet.  An elephant wandering past tipped its bowler hat solemnly at them.  Above the treeline, a licorice ferris wheel made a slow circle.  Without conscious thought, Maggie took her brother’s hand and headed towards the forest.

Faceless cars rushed past the empty park, and the man paid for his groceries and started home.  Out of the corner of her eye, a weary woman cutting through the park could have sworn she saw the man capering and juggling.  She chalked it up to a long work day and hoped she’d run into her children on the way home.  She’d been feeling anxious all day about their walk home alone, and had jumped at the chance to leave work early.  It would be nice to reassure herself that everything was fine.

Status Quo

Brace yourselves, it’s another long one.  Sci-fi sometimes requires a bit of world-building on the page so as not to leave those readers not present inside my head with questions and confusions.  Like what the hell is it with all the colours? (because it’s less blatant than labeling them ‘crap lives’ and ‘happy lives’, and they haven’t quite gone morlock vs eloi)  And why do insurgents seem to always be wearing eyeliner in movies? (so they can give the hero a really penetrating stare?  To make their eyes pop?  because men wearing eyeliner = bad men in a bit of Hollywood transphobia? I don’t know, it’s late.)

I used the following prompts from Inspiration Monday – check it out for other responses and to submit your own!

Armoured Ambulance

Bitter Half

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The massive buildings made deep narrow canyons of the streets. Heavy concrete, the structures’ lower floors had no windows, the light-access increasing as one rose through the building until the top floors were nothing but steel girders and plate glass. The rapport of gunfire echoed, disorienting, as squads of soldiers ran the maze; engaging pockets of the enemy. All civilians were placed on lockdown until further notice.

Dr. Timothy Marrick of block 719, Green level 8, recently honorably discharged from his time in the army, was not yet on a civilian card. He was absent-minded, one of the reasons he’d been discharged, and so had forgotten the need for a new card. This one still opened his home and business doors, still let him pay for his morning chai and order the occasional vid.

He wasn’t very good at following directions, easily distracted and, for such an intellect as he was, sorely lacking in the ability to interact with people. He was surprisingly fit for someone who lacked the basic coordination to reload a gun while running in a straight line. They’d said something about all this during his discharge interview, but he’d been thinking on a new bypass technique he’d studied in a before-time medical text, and hadn’t really been paying attention. Army service was randomly assigned through the Green levels, and always 18 months or longer.

He was aware that his discharge was in many ways a failure on his part, and had since been attempting to remedy it. His hour-long walk home from his government-allocated block 699 green level 2 medical practice was good for listening to self-improvement talks. He slipped out the door at grey-level one, already muttering repetitions of the enthusiastic man instructing him that Eye Contact is step one to social interaction. Smiling is step two.

It made sense, though he’d listened to this one three times and attempts to enact the steps to social interaction left his patients and staff uncomfortable. One woman on the elevator had burst into tears, and he’d gotten a reprimand in the mail citing him for inappropriate public socializing. This time he planned to enact only one of the social interaction steps at a time. Build up was key; first he’d master one, and then move onto the next.

“-tor?!” The doctor turned at the sound and found himself face to face with the Enemy.  The woman looked just like the pictures he’d seen in basic training. Tan clothing and weapon straps and… heavy black eyeliner. He couldn’t seem to recall the reason for that bit, but the eye-liner had stuck in his mind as in some way critical to the whole.

He gaped, tugging his ear-buds out. “Um?”

“Doctor?” she barked again, irritation across her face.

He nodded, taking a step back when he saw that the Enemy was surrounded by more Enemy.

The woman grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled. Doctor Marrick found himself in the middle of a cramped surgery, rumbling along at high speed on the smooth City roads.

“What?! No!” he yelped belatedly about his abduction. “Wait! Stop, that’s not right! Just let me,” he added, taking in the shaking scalpel, the vast quantities of blood and pained man on the table clutching at his abdomen. Doctor Marrick shoved the scalpel-wielder aside and took control of the surgery.

The features that made him a terrible soldier helped to make him an excellent doctor.  Immersed in his craft he barely noticed that the patient changed, what with them all having similar wounds.

What he did notice was that they were all young. And when he was between patients, he noticed the ricochet of bullets off the van. The enemy woman was quick to reassure him. “Armored Ambulance – can withstand a rocket-launcher or a gyre attack. What are you called?”

“Timothy Marrick, M.D., Green. Why are they all so young? What’s a gyre?”

“Because we die young. And it’s a very very big avian.”

“Then why do you even fight? Wait, what?”

“Because the government is corrupt, Doc.  And not everyone wants to stay in their caged and miserable lives.”

Timothy knew that the people living in the Grey levels – the levels without light – were crammed in like sardines while half the Green sat empty. They labored in the darkness of the sewers, moving the waste and never seeing sunlight, as they had been banned some years ago from traveling street-side. He knew the menial laborers of the Brown worked 14 hour shifts, to the 8 he and his fellow Green worked. And, though he didn’t think on them often, he knew that the Blue, way up high in their glass houses, were the only ones ever assigned to Government duties by the Government.

But the caste system was necessary. Every task required a hand, and after the blasts had wiped out so much of the human population, it was no longer reasonable to just hope that every role would be filled naturally. The world had become more dangerous, the Government handled the building of the first tower to host the small remaining nearby population. 20 storeys of blank concrete walls, 20 with arrow-slit windows, 20 with  square meter sized windows spaced 2 meters apart, and 20 with enough light to host plant-life for hydroponics, and, eventually, the Blues. Even though it was the Browns who maintained the hydroponics. It was a massive endeavor, and costly. The only safe place to be in these dangerous times. They were lucky the Government from before the bombs started dropping had arranged the beginnings of this project, really, ready to start this post-end-of-the-world off on the right foot.

The Government had invited in the dregs of humanity, so long as they were willing to put their shoulder to their government assigned grindstone. Better inside and committing the future generations of your family to shoveling waste than out there, with them. Everyone understood this. The population grew, and the next tower was built. And the next, and the next. None had been built for a long time, though, now that he thought of it, and with the Grey population outgrowing its floors, wasn’t that something the Government ought to be doing something about?

“They built the towers. The wall.  They protect us from the creatures in the Waste,” he said uncertainly. “Without a hand for every task the work won’t get done.”

“The Waste has been free of the big dangers for years now, doc. More than a hundred, in fact. Radiation made them unstable enough to get big and bad, and made them sterile, mostly. They failed to breed true, if at all. Mostly.  And the land out there is good enough for people to expand beyond the walls, survive without Government handouts.”

Really?” the doctor looked up from his careful suturing, eyes going wide. He’d dreamed of climbing the City walls as a child, of going on an adventure like Huck Finn or finding magic like Harry Potter. Become a knight like Alannah, fight alongside the enormous intelligent rodents of Redwall. See a tree, maybe even put his feet in naturally flowing water. “You’ve been there? What’s it like? Do trees really grow as tall as a tower?  The government says it isn’t safe out there. Why would they lie? What about the mutants?”

The enemy woman regarded him for a long moment. “I’m glad to see you’re interested,” she replied as they rumbled onto a bumpier surface than the cobbled pavement of the City. “Because you’ll get a chance to see it. And treat some of those poor unfortunates you call mutants,” she added mockingly, wiggling her fingers on her left hand so that he noticed that there were six.

“What? No, I’m not… I’m not good at things, I’m just a medical. I flunked army training,” he added morosely.

Just a medical,” she snorted. “Did you know there hasn’t been a Brown or Grey in medical training in more than 30 years?”

“… No?” Timothy had flown through medical school, and, honestly, couldn’t think of the name of a single person he’d known during that time. They were all just… fellow students. Though he supposed, now that he thought of it, that they were all greens. Probably.

“Do you treat Browns or Greys often?”

“Of course not, you only treat those within your… band…OhI see.”

“You’ve lived with the better half, Doc, now it’s time to tend to the bitter half.”

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.

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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.

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?”