Author Archives: steve
I open my eyes and it feels different. It feels dreamy. When I try and concentrate, I realise that I don’t remember how it felt before. But I think it was sharper. I think it feels softer now. More relaxed. Slower.
I try to stand up, but I can’t.
I try to move my legs, but I can’t.
I look down at my hands, crossed on my lap, and see a tiny dial. Like a timer on an old rehydrator. The arrow points to red. Red what? It has two more notches: green and blue. Green and blue what? I turn the dial one notch to green.
I try to scream, but I can’t.
I taste metal. I feel suddenly cold. I can see the edges of the room now, but I wish I couldn’t. The walls glitch and distort. I feel like I’m going to vomit. I look down at my wrist to turn the dial, but it’s gone. It was right there.
I look up at the ceiling, hoping for a calmer sight than the walls, but it’s worse. It’s cracked and melted and shattered, and it oozes slowly towards me. I turn my head away and see the dial. My other hand. How did it move? I crank the dial to blue.
I feel at peace.
Everything starts to desaturate, to darken.
But I feel at peace, and I welcome it.
Colour to grey to black.
Chairs standing empty
Scratch marks on the wooden floor
A discarded broom
A narrative in objects:
Chairs, marks, broom and the oak chest.
The lock lays broken
Pieces of it scattered wide
The chest’s lid open
Within a velvet cushion,
A dent where something had lain.
The air inside glows.
A residue from the theft,
A trail to follow.
Three had kept vigil this night.
Which would dare such sacrilege.
Down the corridor:
Leathered soles against stone slabs.
Sounds follow the trail of light,
One fleeing, two pursuing.
The pursuers shout.
The thief wisely saves their breath,
gaining, inch by inch.
Heretic, thief, traitor, betrayer.
One who would defy the gods.
High up, the bells toll.
The thief curses, picks up speed.
Bells mean constables.
Outside all is confusion.
Narrow streets echo alarm.
They round the corner.
Arms and blades fly. The thief falls.
The new owner runs.
She takes her hands off her eyes,
And stands up, stand tall.
Her black silk shirt is weightless;
the floor, cold beneath bare feet
the stone is worn smooth and sleek,
but splinters stick to her sole
She walks with full confidence,
Hiding the consuming fear.
By the oak tree stump
An axe is being sharpened
Made for her light build,
Designed to be swung just once.
The sacrifice sits
Bound, gagged, blindfolded, waiting.
It stirs, tries to speak.
Horror consumes her
as she sees the victim’s face.
Inhuman. Strange. Wrong.
Features swim around its face,
Shimmer like sun on water
She must to kill it.
Something deep within call out:
Erase this wrongness.
Fingers wrap around the axe.
She swings it, testing its weight.
She feels it in her:
The human urge to murder,
To kill the unknown.
She takes short, quick, steps forward.
She raises the axe up high.
I prime the musket before I round the corner, just to be prudent. Caskets and bales of hay. As expected. But no guards. That is not as expected. I can hear the constables patrolling a few streets away, so I cross the cobbles at a fair clip, keeping myself low to the ground, and to the shadows.
The solid oak door leading into the tavern stands ajar. I glance around behind me before slipping through the gap and into the warm glow cast by the oil lamps.
In the middle of the room is a single table. A solitary pigskin purse sits on it, looking heavy with its fill. I pick it up, open the drawstrings, and peer inside. Some manner of dust, black in colour. I sniff it, trying to catch its smell, and immediately my eyes water and my head spins. Darkness closes in quickly from all sides.
* * *
I slide a fresh clip into the 9, clear the chamber. I eyeball around the corner. Couple of boxes and bin bags, but no security. Thought there would at least be a rent-a-cop doing rounds. Sirens bounce off the concrete and around a few corners towards me, so I sneak across the street away from them.
The edges of the security gate are bent and bashed. The lock sits in pieces of the ground. I shoot a glance behind me, then head into the room with the cold blue bulbs.
A green plastic box sits on a brushed steel table. I open the box. It’s filled with black dust. I lick a finger, dip it in, and try a taste. Wow. That’s… I feel a blackout coming on.
Bang, bang, bang on the door.
You ignore it. You have work to do. You grab a fresh bottle of disinfectant and pop the top off with one hand, in a fluid, practised motion. You pour a few centimetres of it into the tray and rinse your tools.
Eyes shut, they said. Shut! Why would you want them to be shut? Some people just don’t understand.
Your bearers bring the sacrifice in. Six of them, the boy resting on their shoulders. They walk slowly along the central aisle, steps perfectly in sync, as you have taught them. They complained about the hours of training, but now they must understand. The beauty of the ceremony would be diminished without this precision.
The family and friends watch as their loved one makes the final part of the journey to an everlasting life. The bearers position him as tradition demands. But with eyes open. So that the mourners can see into his soul. So that he, even in his paralysed state, can see them.
The father cries, of course. He argued most fervently for eyes closed. You won’t let a grieving father’s wishes get in the way of his son’s salvation, though.
Bang, bang, bang on the door.
What can you tell him? That you saved his son, when he could not? That you had the courage, when he did not? No. He is still a grieving father and he does not need to hear these things. You will do as you must. You will take his insults and his threats. You will sleep soundly knowing that you have helped another soul along their path.
Bang, bang, bang on the door.
You rise from your desk and go to the door.
I’ve managed to fashion a crude quill using a feather from one of the beasts. Its mane is spread and spiky, and its call sends chills down my spine. But when it sleeps, it sleeps deep. I broke its neck quickly, silently, and pulled it back to my cave before I was spotted. The meat did not agree with me.
Sectors 1, 2, and 4 report nothing unusual.
Sector 3 reports loss of another peacock. Three replacements ordered: two peacocks and one gameskeeper. Usual severance package supplied.
I try to sleep when the burning ball comes out, but it’s becoming dangerous. The monkeys prowl around, poking at things. Poking at my things.
I don’t like the way they move. All jittery and stuttery. I will take one down before the end of this cycle. I will kill it and post it as a warning for the others.
Sectors 1, 2, and 4 report nothing unusual.
Sector 3 reports loss of more wildlife. Fire broke out on Tuesday, contained by rapid response.
Oh, and three rangers found dead, skinned, and hung from trees.
Too many. I ate too many. Mushrooms and meat and leaves and flowers that sting. I seem to be leaking, and I can’t make it stop.
Sectors 1 and 4 report nothing unusual.
Sector 2 reports minor damage to some enclosures.
Sector 3 reports discovery of hollowed out tree. Dead body inside. Trunk covered with indecipherable scribble. Three tubs of prescription medication, unopened.
Construction has begun on Sector 5.
I take a last drag on my cigarette, then stub it out on the crumbling brick wall. A working guy across the street gives me a dirty look. Even in this crappy part of town smoking is frowned upon. At least here it’s not illegal like it is uptown. Can’t have people smoking outside banks and schools, apparently.
I shrug my knapsack up higher on my shoulder, start walking from shadow to shadow towards my destination. Don’t want to attract any unwanted attention. Especially not when I’m carrying this much.
Tonight’s the night. A game this big is usually too high stakes for me. But a friend got me in the door, as long as I could put up the currency. So I scraped it together.
I knock on the door. A peep hole slides open. I get a look, a squint, then a nod. The hole slides shut, and the door slides open. She thumbs at the corridor, points with her eyes. I take a few strides down and there’s another door. The floor’s kinda slimy.
I look back down the corridor at the bouncer. I point at the door, raise my eyebrows. She nods. I open the door.
The three others are already here, sitting around the poker table. They look at me like I don’t belong here. I don’t. I know it. But I’m not going to let that stop me. I pull my knapsack off my shoulder, put it down on the table. I reach in, pull out the currency, slam it down on the table.
“Three squid.” They start squirming. “Now how about we play some poker?”
This time they’ll let me in. This time I’ll cut the mustard.
I stride confidently up to the huge, heavy, wooden doors and thrust my hand out at the doorman.
“Jackson,” I say, smiling, but not beaming. “Ralph Jackson. I’m here for the event.”
The doorman looks at my hand like it’s something he’s scraped off his shoe.
“Yes. Well.” He taps at his data pad and flicks up and down the list. “I’m… sorry, Mr Jackson, but you don’t appear to be on the list.”
I give him my best scowl and stride off before he can strip any more of my dignity from me. Maybe I can try the back door.
I try and stroll casually around the back of the building. I catch a whiff of garlic: kitchens must be this way. I find a door that’s ajar and creep up to it. I swing it open, and the doorman is standing there, waiting for me.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“How did you…? Never mind.” I run off around the corner, cursing under my breath. “Dammit!” I punch the wall. Hmm, soft.
Vines run up from the ground to the top of the building. I give them a firm pull: they seem pretty sturdy. I scramble my way up to the first floor. No doorman.
The curtains are drawn.
The door is unlocked, and opens smoothly.
I pull back the curtains and discover the secret they’ve been hiding from me for all these months. I scream and scream until I go hoarse and my eyes water. Then I turn and run and dive off the balcony.
Make us a list of statements that we can attach the classic Likert scale (Strongly disagree; Disagree; Neither agree nor disagree; Agree Strongly; Agree) to. The statements should be about a supernatural race such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, leprechauns, or possessed Ikea furniture.
The last meal before… the gas chamber? Leaving town? Breakfast?
Tell us a story in 250 words, over two weeks
An exclusive event.
A prestigious location.
A select audience.
Tell us about it in about 150 words, over 2 weeks.
[Original Photo: Cherry Blossom Wedding Invitation Suite]
The doctor tried to tell me I have kleptomania. That’s bullshit. I am perfectly in control of the things I steal. I mean, sure, I like to steal a lot of stuff, but it’s not like I’ll just pick up any old random piece of crap. It’s got to be right. It’s got to be the next one in the sequence.
It started when I was twelve. I found an old leather bookmark down the back of the couch. There was something about it. The shape, the smell, the feel of it. Minimal but functional.
Now I have 207. Reckon I can break 300 before the year’s out.
So very bookmarked.
That chiseled jaw. That perfectly coiffured hair.
I scritch and scratch about seven lines into my notebook. I’ve been working on my technique. Character sketches in as few lines as possible. Not to be too boastful, but I’m getting pretty good. Six months of sketching every day will do that.
“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?”
Chiseled jaw. Perfectly coiffured hair. He’s standing right here. In front of me. Talking to me.
My pen, my jaw, my defenses: dropped.
Oh. Em. Gee.
I pull out the chair and smile back with my best, broadest, grin.
Well, no sense in pussy-footing around: I might as well dive right in.
Any second now.
Another hotel guest bustles out past me, clipping my shoulder as they do so, forcing me out into the street.
Well, that did it I guess. I’m outside.
I breath deep to pull in the smells of the market. Some strong smell makes me cough and splutter, despite the filters on my nasal unit. Phew. Sort of spicy and cold and salty all at the same time. I tweak the settings, hoping not to embarrass myself.
Let’s see if this language module works as advertised.
Feeling a bit more brave, I stride up to the very first street food stall I see.
“Good morning!” I proclaim.
“Morning,” the vendor (he, she, ve? I can never remember what Graxians prefer.) replies, raising a spiky eyebrow. “What can I do for you, human?”
“Two of… those, please” I say, pointing at a puddle of something vaguely tasty-looking off to one side in a strangely decorated container.
“That,” the vendor says, picking up and sharpening his knife, “is my third-born brood. I’m going to have to take an arm from you for that insult.”
The colour drains from my face and my life flashes before my eyes. So young. I’m so young. I had so much to see.
“Oh, your face,” the vendor chuckles. “You lot are such easy targets.” He puts down the knife and picks up a plate. “What do they teach in your xenobiology classes these days?” He shakes his head, spoons a few tendrils on to the plate, and passes it to me. “That’s 35, please, buddy.”
I snap back from my frozen state and scan the credits over to him.
“Um,” gulp, “thanks.”
I pick up a piece and turn it around, inspecting it.
The Graxian makes an eating motion, suggesting I do it down-in-one. What is it they say: travel broadens the mind and loosens the bowels?
Any second now.
“Not in here, cupcake,” Jake chirped as he crushed the zombie’s head with the baseball bat. The corpse crumpled to the floor and he took another swift swing, knocking the head clean off its slimy shoulders. He turned and smiled at Jane.
“Nice work, pardner,” she nodded nonchalantly at him. “Uh oh.” She pointed at the undead interloper with her grimy golf club. “See the shakin’? We gots ourselves an asploder.” She rushed up and rolled the body over their flung-together fence and collapsed them both onto their cabooses just in time to hear it snack, crackle, and pop into a hundred pestilent pieces.
“Shee-it! When did they start doing that?” he said, brushing bone and blood off his jeans.
“Just afore you got arrived. You ain’t see ‘em blow up before? Are you new here?”
Stereo speakers up in the corner of the room fizzled and futzed: “Level 3.”
I come thundering around the corner, dripping sweat. My car wouldn’t start: I ran all the way here. I pluck off my fedora and fan my face. It’s too damn hot today. I pray I’m not too late, that I haven’t missed my chance. I tune to the right frequency and hear spotty banter, chit chat. Everyone’s in a holding pattern. No-one’s spotted her yet: I still have my chance.
I put my hat back on and try to act casual as I make my way across the bus station tarmac to the ticket office. To my spot. Where I would be best positioned to keep watch.
My heart is finally slowing down as I scope out my surroundings in more detail. The ad screen behind me is too loud, so I pay the few bucks to mute it. I can claim back on expenses later, anyway. Probably. Maybe.
A quick visual and I spot two, three, maybe four familiar faces. The guy outside the diner. Newspaper, briefcase. So obvious. The ticket inspector waiting at lane 5. He’s good, real subtle. Something about the way his eyes are moving, though. Enhancements, maybe? Looks a little more sophisticated than anyone in his job should be. And the cleaner, far end. Uniform’s all wrong. Looks like he should be bell-hopping at the hotel down the road, not sweeping the floors here.
Intel says she’ll be coming here tonight. I check my scanner: due now. Due right now. Due in thirty seconds, according to predictions by our best analysts. I ping my recorder to make sure it’s on and rolling and initiate a scan. I start filtering out unwanted targets. Not her. Not her. Not her. Not even close.
I get that feeling that I sometimes do. Call it a hunch. Call it instinct. I leave my post and walk around behind the diner. And there she is. Beautiful. Incredible. Intel warned us that she would be pretty. They didn’t say she’d take my breath away.
10 wheeler. Diesel and electric hybrid. Two decks, bar on both. Solar panels on every surface that isn’t a window. My god. She’s a monster. A beautiful, amazing, monster.
I send out the call over the network: I’ve spotted her. She’s mine. The responses come in. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. Curse, spit, curse. Acknowledge. Acknowledge. I pull out my pad and key in the sequence that Intel gave me. The pad connects, checks, changes, and I now have a ticket for her. The Luxuron Plus. “The most advanced, sophisticated, luxury road travel vehicle in the world.”
Now it’s down to me. Get aboard, take notes. See what else she has that we don’t. Find ways of taking her ideas, making them better. There’s no way that we’re settling for second place this year. We will be best in class.
She pulls to a stop and I board, settle into my seat. I’m welcomed to her inaugural journey with a glass of champagne. It is delicious. Industrial espionage can be hard work. Today? Not so much.
You shout abuse at the man in the sharp suit as he practically spins you around, bouncing off you as your paths collide. He waves an apology, continuing on his way.
You step to the curb and hail a cab. One pulls up immediately. You are surprised at your luck (a cab, at this time of day, downtown?), but choose not to look the gift horse in the mouth, and dive into the back seat. You cough at the musty air. The driver asks you “where to?” in a heavy Eastern European accent, and you give him the head office address.
You shuffle through your meeting notes. The stakeholders will not be pleased. The letters seem to swim around on the page. You rub your eyes to try and focus. It doesn’t help. You sigh deeply and sit back.
You glance through the glass partition at the driver’s identity card. The picture shows red eyes and short, stubby, horns on her head. How absurd, you think. You catch the driver’s eye in the mirror. You jump up, startled, hitting the roof. Her eyes: red. She turns her head around, grins menacingly at you, and you notice the horns. How did you not see them before? She growls something at you, but you are too paralysed with fear to understand.
You notice that the cab has stopped moving, so you throw yourself out the door and onto the street. You breath deep the fresh air. The cab pulls aways at speed. You notice a small pin on your lapel. You didn’t put that on yourself. That man, before you got into the cab: he put it on you. But why? As you reach gingerly for it, it puffs to ash.
You think you’re in shock. You reach for your hipflask.
Tell us a story of the people at the bus station: a ticket inspector; someone waiting for an arrival; someone leaving town with just the shirt on their back.
Make it a big(ish) one: three weeks, 500 words.