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Re: [Apr 2016] - The Last Contest - Submission Thread Finally wrote my dystopia story today! I've written plenty of dystopias, previously, so it was odd it took me so long to come up with a decent theme for this month's contest. Anyway, it all came together in the end.

Twitter @TEricBakutis

Everything in Frame (1,494 words)

Spoiler for Hiden:
As the two clean-suited enforcers marched me through from the exit pod into the magnificent bright, I considered my inevitable death. I'd never seen the sun before — none of us had, other than in videos the director showed on weekends — and I had never seen anything so bright or beautiful. I couldn't even look at it, not directly, and I longed to feel its heat on my skin. Assuming Gurney was right.

Stalks of grass greener than any green I'd ever seen swayed in the gentle wind, rising to my thighs. They brushed against the legs of my clean-suit as they brushed the round, rusted domes of the exit pod. That pod and the long elevator shaft inside it was the only link between Sanctuary Twelve and the surface world.

I took a long look at the world the Overseer had assured me would kill me, the world his oldest and most trusted servant, Gurney Maynard, had assured me would not. I had to act shocked, because this world did not match the dead plains the Overseer showed us so often below. I felt one enforcer push his staff into the small of my back.

"Move," the enforcer said.

"Or what?" The head part of my clean-suit wouldn't turn to look back at him, but I didn't need to look back to express my disdain. "You'll execute me twice?

A holo screen flashed in front of me. It was a recording of my son, now thirteen and wiry, as he worked beside the others dredging energy fragments out of the deep shafts. The enforcer made it disappear.

The threat was obvious, and I walked without another push from the enforcer's staff. I'd already taken steps to ensure the Overseer could never punish Matty for what I was about to do, but I couldn't let him know that. I had to act like another outspoken problem marching to my inevitable comeuppance.

The outside world was poison without a suit — the sun, the grass, the air — and questioning that was the only way one escaped the drudgery of the crystal mines. We were safe in the mines, the Overseer assured us. We lived by his grace, his generosity. Everyone outside Sanctuary Twelve was doomed.

Soon the enforcers marched me to a clearing, a down swept field of brown stalks crushed beneath dozens of robotic feet, likely less than a day ago. After they poisoned the grass. That streak of death sat in stark contrast to the simple beauty around us. It was a naked, pus-filled scar on a glistening grass plain, but that was the advantage of a narrow camera lens. You could focus on so little and block out so much.

The Overseer had constructed a fake exit pod at the top of the descending plain of dead grass, and I recognized that pod and the dead field from the videos I had seen of the others who dared question the Overseer. People who insisted the world above was alive and safe, like me. Murdered people.

The enforcers would force me inside that dome and strip me of my clean-suit, with dire warnings of what would happen if I went outside. When they were ready for me to make my entrance, they would pump the pod full of something noxious – tear gas? Toxic fumes? – until my heaving gut and shriveled lungs forced me to stumble out of the front door, into the camera frame.

Then I would die. Then my fellow miners would watch as I shrieked, and burst into flame, and melted. They would watch my seared bones pop, my body brutalized by the poisonous world above.

"The outside world is death," the Overseer would repeat, as those below averted their faces from my melting body. "The claims of Worker 542 are as false as all those before them. Only I protect you."

They marched me inside the dome, just like Gurney had said they would, and they stripped off my clean-suit, just like Gurney had said they would. All I wore now was my light gray mining jumpsuit, and the air inside the rusting pod was stagnant. I longed to feel the sun on my skin, a cool breeze on my face.

The sun wouldn't melt my skin, and the grass wouldn't melt my jumpsuit, and breathing this wonderful air would not shrink and ruin my lungs. Those horrors would instead be caused by the weapons of the Overseer, hidden out of frame. Microwaves. Heat rays. Infrared. I did not know what those words meant, what Gurney had envisioned when he said them, but I knew they offered invisible death.

I waited until the Overseer's voice echoed through the rusty pod. His voice was pumped up to the surface so the enforcers could hear it, so they could pump in the gas at the proper time. The Overseer was speaking, now, which meant the feed was "live", as Gurney had called it. Time for me to die.

I burst out of the front of the rusting pod.

That was the difference between me and the other victims, you see — Gurney's betrayal of the Overseer, the clarity provided by a cancer no Overseer medicine could cure, and the death of the Overseer's leverage. Gurney's daughter. Those events conspired to make my death different.

The enforcers had done this a dozen times before. Place the victim in the rusting pod, set up the weapons and the camera, check the camera angle, and then, and only then, pump in the gas. All happened only after the Overseer set the stage, said a few haunting words for this poor deluded fool.

No miner raised as I'd been would voluntarily burst from their safe haven, but I had, before anyone planning to murder me was ready. The outside world felt wonderful. For the first time I felt the gentle heat of the sun on my skin, a cool breeze rushing over my cheeks. Nothing melted. Nothing burned.

That was the other thing victims of the Overseer couldn't do — run — because when your lungs were full of tear gas you made a very slow, very easy target. I was no easy target. I zigzagged down that field of dead grass toward the small, round ball sitting at its end. Toward what I knew was the camera.

I saw the now panicked overseers struggling to set their weapons up, to bring them to bear — they were mounted, I saw now, on complicated tripods which were still being arranged — and for a moment, I pondered grabbing a weapon. Yet I was not here to kill anyone, and any overseer was easily replaced. I reached the round black dome as the first overseer grounded his tripod and readied his weapon.

"Look at me!" I shouted into the camera. "I'm alive! The world above isn't killing me! They are!"

I struggled to rip the camera from its mount, but it remained stuck tight. I heard a loud hum and then I felt heat that seared my skin and bubbled my eyeballs. The air was so hot I couldn't even scream, yet I didn't die — not immediately — and my rage gave me the strength to turn the lens, not up and out of the ground, as I planned, but sideways. Toward the green fields and the enforcers with their weapons.

Even as invisible death set my skin afire I heard the Overseer shouting over the speakers, not to his enforcers, but to those below. His desperate explanations fell on deaf ears. Gurney had whispered to those below as well, and all they needed to start their riot was proof. My death was that proof.

The boiling heat ended at last, perhaps because the enforcer knew better than to waste power, or perhaps because he heard the masses rioting below and knew that running was better than facing those he'd help imprison. None of it made any difference to me. I drank in the feel of that cool breeze.

I wished I could see the sun and touch the grass, stroke my son's face one last time, but I was too busy dying. Had I succeeded? Gurney's crackly voice echoed over the Overseer's intercom

"We did it!" Gurney shouted, as my people cheered. "You gave us the truth! You gave us the whole world! We're free now, all of us!" The cacophony faded as Gurney faded, as he called for silence.

"Thank you," he said, voice trembling over the speakers. "We're coming up. We'll see you soon."

They wouldn't. No one would reach me in time to save me, but I didn't mind. Matty would grow up breathing this clean air, living beneath this warm sun, sleeping in this soft grass. After decades of slavery, it seemed absurd that our freedom required nothing more than a camera, twisted sideways, but that was the beauty of it.

All it took to free us was one traitor. One sacrifice. And one perfect camera angle, everything in frame.

April 18, 2016, 12:24:05 AM
Re: [Sep 2016] - Pirates! - Submission Thread Coming in at 1,499 words excluding the title, this was inspired partly by Disney's Treasure Planet, partly by the Sixth Sense, and partly by a couple characters from my WIP.

The Rule of the Curse

Spoiler for Hiden:
Stealth had always been Dawson’s forte until it didn't work anymore. The shipmate who'd found him twisted his ear as he hauled him on deck, and he squinted as a close dwarf star’s light pierced his eyes. The light temporarily stunted his focus. He wished it would stay that way, but his eyes soon cleared and he cringed at what he saw.

All around Dawson was death. Ol’ Patch Eye scrubbing the floors would get his throat slit. The pot-bellied chef talking to Patch Eye wouldn't have much of a gut left. One of the officers was going to be shoved off the side of the ship and drop into deep space until the dwarf star’s gravity sucked him in.

It's not that Dawson saw people’s futures. He just saw how they were going to die. It was his gift—or his curse—and he’d had it ever since he’d cheated death four years ago. He only knew one other person who’d had the same gift and that was only because Dawson hadn't been able to see his death. Dawson had killed him. He'd had to. That was the rule of the curse.

“Keep moving!” ordered the shipmate.

Dawson grunted, but complied. The shipmate pulled him into the captain’s cabin, leaving plenty of visions of death behind.

The captain stood at a desk, his first mate lieutenant by his side. Both looked up at the shipmate and Dawson when the door opened. Neither seemed pleased.

“Explain yourself, shipman,” the lieutenant ordered.

“Stowaway, sir. Found him hiding among the shipment.”

The lieutenant glared at Dawson. Dawson stared right back. Unfortunately, the first mate would live to see another day. Dawson had already plotted his escape, but it didn't involve sticking close to the lieutenant. There were others who wouldn't die on board that he'd planned to stay near. Dawson just hadn't expected to be caught before then.

“You know the law, shipman,” the lieutenant went on. “Chain him below until we can see to a proper execution.”

“Yes, sir.”

“He'll need to stand trial,” said the captain.

The lieutenant stiffened. “We can test him at the hanging.”

“Let's have him executed, then,” the captain resolved. He circled around the table to stand in front of the boy, studying him inquisitively.

“Now, captain?”

“I could use a change in mood. An execution would prove entertaining.”

Dawson thought quickly. “You're gonna die,” he said.

The captain grinned, then burst out laughing. “I think you've got it the wrong way around. You delusional kid?”

Dawson maintained his resolve. People always reacted that way. “You're gonna die. Your lieutenant’s gonna desert you in battle and you'll get a sword in the heart.”

The captain kept grinning. He turned to his lieutenant, who was looking at Dawson dumbfounded.

“Is this true, lieutenant? Would you desert me?”

“Of course not, captain.”

“It's true,” Dawson persisted.

“We could arrange an execution,” the lieutenant said, adjusting his collar. “It’d keep the crew entertained.”

“Then let's get on with it.”

Next thing Dawson knew, he was on deck again, tied to the main mast. The crew gathered round, ruffian creatures from various planets who'd seen more time out in space than on soil. The captain stood on the quarterdeck.

“Boy!” The lieutenant called down. “You have the right of one statement before your death. Have you anything to say?”

Some trial. Dawson opened his mouth to speak—


All eyes turned to the crow’s nest. An eight-eyed arachnid poked his head out from the top.

“Pirates, captain, off the starboard —!”


The ship rattled from impact. Some lost their footing. Jaws dropped as another ship rose up from below on the starboard side as if out of nowhere. Atop its mast, black and red colours flapped.

“It's Zeher!” the lieutenant yelled.

A jolt of fear paralyzed Dawson’s body. The notorious Captain Zeher, ruthless pirate of the galaxy, left no survivors. Only one person had ever escaped and by the time his body was found dead in Outer Quadrant 623 on one of the Wilderplanets, word of the pirate had spread like an exploding supernova.

“To arms, men!” the captain yelled.

Few were able to grab their weapons before pirates boarded the ship. A snake man slithered past Dawson’s feet and slit ol’ Patch Eye’s throat. A freaky alien Dawson couldn't describe gorged out the chef’s gut. An enormous ox man, four horns on his head, slammed three crew members over the railing, one being the shipmate who'd captured Dawson, another an officer.

The captain leapt to the main deck, fending off the attackers like he was a one man army.

“Lieutenant!” he called.

Dawson saw a skiff zipping away. He could barely make out the lieutenant’s head poking out along with three others.

“Curses!” the captain spat.

He jumped out of the way of the charging ox and barely evaded the quick stab of the snake. He rushed the snake man, thrust his sword into its chest.

“You knew this would happen, boy!” he yelled at Dawson.

“I told you you're going to die,” Dawson replied. He tried to mask his fear, but his insides churned. He knew the pirates wouldn't let anyone live, him included.

“This can't be happening!” the captain sneered.

Another pirate swung from the enemy ship to the main deck. The others backed away as the new foe strode toward the captain with slow, steady steps.

The captain faced the new threat. His face twisted into a grin.

“A woman? You’d let a woman challenge me?”

The woman didn't respond. She drew her sword, her aspect emotionless.

The captain’s grin faded. “Fine, I'll play. Watch me cheat death, boy!”

He thrust. She parried and counter struck. They went back and forth like a vicious dance on the main deck, each dualist a solid match for the other. Dawson watched, his mouth agape. He still saw the captain’s death, but he was most concerned with the woman. He couldn't see her dying. And that meant…

He shuddered. If she saw him and realized he had the curse, he'd be dead in seconds. He had to break free somehow.

Frantically, he searched the deck. Fallen swords and daggers lay next to dead bodies, most too far to reach. He twisted and squirmed, trying to loosen the ties. The tight ropes dug into his skin and he gritted his teeth. No matter how much he tried, the ropes kept him stuck to the main mast.

The sound of clanging metal rang as the captain and woman fought. Dawson kept an eye on them and anyone else who might notice him, but everyone seemed to be engrossed in the dual. Eventually, the captain cried out, clutched his chest and slumped to the ground.

Dawson panicked. They'd come for him next.

He spotted a knife not far from him and for a moment, he felt tinge of hope. If he could just reach that knife, he could cut himself free. He stretched out his leg. His foot tapped the hilt…

A boot kicked the knife out of the way and a hand grabbed a handful of his hair. Dawson winced as his head snapped back.

“Well, well, well. A boy who cheated death.”

He looked into the woman’s eyes. Cold, unsympathetic grey looked back.

“Just hurry up and kill me,” said Dawson.

The woman cocked her head to the side. “Kill you? Why?”

“Because that's the rule. The last kid told me.”

“Is that so?”

She let go and backed away. Now that the fighting was over, Dawson got a better view of the pirates. He gasped. For some, he couldn't see them dying.

“If we all killed each other, I wouldn't have much of a crew,” the woman said. “Of course, traitors are worth killing, but rules bore me.”

“Y-you're Zeher?”

“Who did you think I was?”

“What're you going to do with me?”

“Keep you alive.”

Keep him alive? Why would she keep him alive?

“But understand this, kid. If you double cross me, you won't have so much as a prayer left after I've dealt with you.”

“What if I don't want to be on your crew?”

“Then I kill you now.”

Dawson didn't want that. He nodded.


She cut the ropes. Dawson knew better than to run.

“Go help the others.”

She walked away. Dawson watched her go, then hurried over to help with the stolen goods. He glanced at the pirates who had the curse, shrinking under their glaring eyes. Any one of them could kill him. They seemed like they wanted to anyway.

But he was alive. He didn't know if any of them adhered to the rule of the curse or not. Yet if he stayed with them, he could learn how to fight. He could get stronger. And when he was strong enough, he could kill Captain Zeher before she killed him.

After all, that was the rule of the curse, whether she adhered to it or not.

September 28, 2016, 01:57:06 AM
Re: Special venting thread for people who hate their day job
October 05, 2016, 05:42:48 PM
Re: Special venting thread for people who hate their day job "We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning
to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later
in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing;
and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress
while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."

Found as a barrack room noticeboard comment on a British Army base in Occupied West Germany.

October 07, 2016, 09:32:15 PM
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread
Where there's a will

Spoiler for Hiden:
It was good to be home.  I drew in a pointless breath, dragging the soft perfume of mother’s flower garden through a nose that had lost its sense of smell long ago. I pulled the coat more tightly around my shoulders. I used to feel the cold more, but now the welcome embrace of fleece lined leather was more a comfort to the soul than to the body.

The thick gravel of the drive crunched and slipped beneath my feet, as treacherous to the balance as the softest sands of Biazi. Ah those happy childhood summers, mother, my siblings and me. I had been her favourite, always and now the prodigal son returned.

I found my way guided more by memory than sight. My distance vision was not what it used to be, turning the finely carved frontage of my parents’ mansion into a white blur. Only slowly did its features resolve into windows and doors and a shape standing sentinel duty beneath the portico.

To his credit Sejev didn’t bat an eyelid at my return, the consummate butler he stood ready to welcome even the most unwelcome of guests.

“It is good to have you home at last, Master Tomas.”

“Are the others here?”

“You are the last to arrive, sir.”  If there was an intended rebuke it didn’t show in his tone. He hurried on, “A sad day, sir, may I extend my own condolences.”

“I want to see her first, before I meet them.”

“Your mother is in the green room, sir.” Of course, her own private receiving room.  Even father would never have had the temerity to enter it without knocking.

I could hear a bubble of chatter from the drawing room, a tinkling laugh so inappropriate for the occasion. One of my sisters no doubt, or perhaps Ernest’s latest wife – whatever her name was.  They would all be there and I wasn’t ready to face them.

A footman emerged from the side passage bearing a tray of fizzing champagne flutes one handed. He stumbled when he saw me, the tray tipping sideways in his shock and then, as he attempted to arrest the toppling slide of the glasses with his other hand, he succeeded only in volleying the entire assembly up into the air. I ducked into the green room, pulling the door closed even as the shower of wine and glass crashed into the floor followed by the dissonant cymbal of the tray hitting the tiles.

There was silence for a moment, the kind that settles after every disaster be it great or small, and I took my chance to greet my mother once more.

They had laid her in an open coffin. Mahogany. She would have liked that. Ernest at least was not skimping on the expense. The undertaker had done a good job, though it helped that mother had always been a beautiful woman. She fell a decade short of the three score and ten that was her due, but she had always looked younger than her years. It was vanity in the end that killed her. The riding hat might have constrained her flowing mane of suspiciously blond hair, but the hat would also have saved her skull when Milady’s stumble threw her mistress from the saddle.

Life is cruel like that, death too. It separated us now just as much as it had ever joined us.

I could say that she looked like she was sleeping, but there was a waxy sheen to her skin that could not be stroked away by my soft grey fingers. Who knew what damage the undertaker’s art might have done.

“What are you doing here, freak?” Hanerila’s shrill shriek shattered my reverie.

Despite the intemperate urgency of my sister’s question I turned slowly, not wanting to try my rickety knee. It had a habit of popping out and popping it back in was – if not especially painful – something of an awkward contortion.  They stood in the doorway, doubtless told of my arrival by the glass juggling footman. Hanerila led, the others followed, Ernest hovering at the back.

As she narrowed the distance between us I saw that fifteen years apart had barely treated my eldest sister any better than it had treated me. The beauty of her youth had softened into lumpen middle-age, a pudding of a face in which two black eyes shone with hatred.

“Who said you could come?”

“She was my mother too.”

“You stopped being her son when you dealt with that devil.  Mother said you were dead to her.”

I smiled cautiously - never a truer word as they say – before launching into a defence of my employer. “Kirren has been a loyal friend to me, I owe him everything.”

“Still owe him, according to what I’ve heard,” the woman by Ernest’s side spoke. Even my faltering eyes could see well enough to tell she was a stranger to me.  The latest Mrs Ernest, I presumed.

“Petsin, how nice to finally meet you.” I plucked the name from my memory, a court announcement in some rag that Kirren had once passed on to me.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding.” None of us mentioned the fact that I hadn’t been invited.

“How much did the bastard charge you for his services?” Petsin brushed aside my pleasantries, evidently not a currency she dealt in. Poor Ernest, doomed always to seek out wives more strident than his sisters. “I hear Kirren’s wizardry does not come cheap.”

“He has been kind enough to let me work off my debt through indentured service. Another ten years should set me free.”

Hanerila snorted, hands on hips. “That’s what brought you crawling out of the dark isn’t it. Mother’s will. You want a share in the estate, to pay for freedom from your dark mage.”

They misjudged me, but then they always had, and that tragedy with the runaway cart had only hardened their prejudice. I tried an air of wounded innocence but I suspect it resembled more of a leer. I had not done much looking in mirrors lately so I was out of practice at facial expressions.

“My needs now are few and simple, sister dear. I want no more than what is my due.”  I knew mother had left me more than my fair share. She had never really liked my sisters, nobody did. And she thought Ernest’s staggeringly poor matrimonial choices proved him unfit to be trusted with a legacy of any significance. Half the estate was to be mine. “She told me about the will,” I said. “I know she never changed it.”

Hanerila’s lips spread in an ugly smile, like a duellist who knows that only their pistol is loaded. “I’ve read it too, you get half of everything.” The smile broadened as she pulled the trigger. “Unless, that is, you predeceased her!”

Ah, she had me there, I had to admit.

Ernest’s friends all had an absurd fondness for life insurance which I had never understood – why worry about looking after those left behind once you were dead? Kirren by contrast did a remarkable line in death insurance, the business of helping people look after themselves after they were dead. His policies were expensive, too much for me to pay for all upfront. But I had not regretted it.  Knocked down by a runaway cart I should have been dead, in fact I was. But the joy of necromancy is that death really isn’t the end.  Thanks to Kirren I could walk and talk and function pretty much as well as I used to, though to be honest a dead body wasn’t so good at the mundane business of repairing all the knocks that life so irritatingly threw in one’s path.

“So, my zombified brother,” Hanerila crowed. “You can just shuffle out of here. We only want the one corpse in this house today. And try not to drop any fingers on your way.”

Ernest had the grace to look a little shame faced. “She is right, Tomas,” he said. “Petsin checked with the lawyers.” A helpless shrug, an apologetic grin and then an offer in compromise. “Maybe you could take a keepsake to remember mother by?”

I smiled. “Well there are a couple of things I had in mind.”


Kirren was bent over the counter when I got back to the shop, getting ready to re-animate a mouse that the cat had caught that morning. He looked up at the jangle of the bell; I stood in the doorway savouring the moment. Motes of dust danced in shafts of sunlight, beads of sweat gleamed on the necromancer’s bald head. “Ah, you’re back,” he said.  “Did it go well?”

I shrugged, careful not to test my suspect collarbone. “Well enough.” I waited. It didn’t take him long to notice. Kirren was always an observant fellow.

“Ah,” he said. “I see you have your mother’s eyes.”

October 10, 2016, 09:52:20 AM
If Hannibal Were A Bad Chef For those of you who follow the series Hannibal, and/or know of it.

It made me cry with laughter, but I guess you've got to be in a certain mindset to appreciate it.


October 15, 2016, 01:20:21 AM
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread WARNING:  Excessive Foul Language


Spoiler for Hiden:

“He bwoke my fucking nothe.”

“Jesus, you’re bubbling blood, snot, and teeth everywhere.”


“And you sound like a fucking idiot.”  Karla toed the body lying on the stained carpet in the apartment building hallway.  “Did you need to kill him?”

“Awe we thuwe he’th dead?”

“Are we sure? I suppose he might recover from your knife.  Buried to the hilt.  In his eye.”

Her partner, Dallas, leaned his head back against the wall and groaned, bloody fingers gently probing his nose and gums.  “Ow.  Didn’t have to ewbow my fathe.  Bathtawd thouwd have jutht come quietwy.”

“Shut up.  I can’t understand a goddamn thing you’re saying.  And stop getting blood on the fucking wall.”  Karla gestured to the dead man’s apartment door.  “Grab his arms and help me get him into the fucking room before every goddamn cop in Chicago shows up.”

She dug in the dead man’s pockets, found a set of keys, and within moments they were inside his apartment.

“Bathroom’s over there.  Go wash up.”  The place was small, but tidy.  “And don’t get your mess all over.  We’re already going to have to pay the Sorcs a small fortune to clean this up.  I don’t want to add any more than we have to.”

Muffled from the bathroom, “We couwd do ith ouwthewes.”

“And leave trace evidence for the Witchunters to follow?”  Hands on hips, she stared down at the corpse on the tile floor and shook her head.   “No, idiot, there’s a reason Boss Harl makes everyone use sorcerers.”

Dallas exited the bathroom, looking much cleaner, but like someone had taken a tire iron to his face.  “But, we dohn have the money.  Ethpethiawy now that thith fuckehw ith dead.”

“You think money matters to me?”  She flung her hands out to the side, incredulous.  “You and I are going to end up on store shelves everywhere after a visit to Harl’s dog food factory.  Our only chance is to figure out where this asshole hid the Tome of Archons.”

“Twue.  Maybe we can jutht athk him.”

“Sure.  Great idea.”  Karla shouted, “Hey, dead-douche!  Where’s that book our boss wants?  What?  You can’t talk?  That’s right, because you’re.  Fucking.  Dead.”

Dallas sighed.  “No, dumbath.  I know a guy.  On the thouth thide.  He can weanimathe the dead.  We can take the money we’d thpend on the Thowcth, and give it to him inthtead.”

She squinted and crossed her arms, “For reanimating this guy?  Why are his prices so cheap?”

“Becuth we dohn need fuw wethuwecthuhn.  We jutht need the body to wawk and tawk.  Kinda wike a thombie.”


“Yeah, theewiouthwy.”


Shortly after 10pm, their shiny SUV pulled up to the mouth of a dead-end alley on the South Side of Chicago.  Karla, from the passenger seat, peered into the darkness, barely able to make out the hard lines of dumpsters and the more organic piles of God-only-knows-what-else.  Even the curb-side buildings were covered in ominous graffiti spiraling like a warning sign, shooing away the curious.

“We’uh heuh.”  Dallas shifted into park and turned off the car.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Nope.  You wan’ed theap.  Get out and gwab hith feet.”

“I swear, if this goes south, I’m leaving your ass and getting on the next bus to Topeka.”

They popped the back hatch and grabbed the body from where it lay, wrapped tight in a floral-patterned comforter.  Grappling with the upper half, Dallas led the way down the alley, Karla waddling along behind, the dead man’s knees cradled in her arms.

After splashing through puddles and dodging sleeping forms she only hoped were human, their little procession stopped at an unmarked, steel-barred door.

Pinning the corpse’s head in an unnatural position, wedged between the doorframe and his thigh, Dallas jabbed the buzzer on the wall with his thumb.

A crackly voice responded a few seconds later, “Yeah?”

“Hey Biwwy, ith Dawwas.  We need youw thewvitheth, man.”

“Man, I can’t understand a word you’re saying.  Get the hell away from my door, you bum-screwing hobo bitch.”

Dallas turned to Karla, eyes pleading.

“I can’t wait until that swelling goes down because you sound like an asshole.”  She shifted her part of the weight.  “He said, ‘Hey Billy, it’s Dallas.  We need your services.’  Or something like that anyway.”

“I don’t know no goddamn Dallas.”

Growling, Dallas said, “Ith Dawwas fwom that thit in the thixth gwade, bathtawd.”

“He says ‘It’s Dallas from that shit in the sixth grade.’  Or maybe, ‘shivving the six gays.’ Jesus, I don’t know, man.  His nose is broken and my arms are getting tired from holding this dead bastard out here.  Just open the fucking door and let us in.”

Moments later, there was a buzz and a click and the door swung open.

“Dallas!  C’mon in, man.”  A skinny black man in a stained wife-beater opened the door.  “Wow, you look like shit.”

“Thankth, Biwwy.”

The group pushed in through the door and dropped the body with a thump in the middle of the filthiest apartment Karla had ever seen.  She watched three rats haul away what she assumed was debris for their nests among the piles of refuse and rotting food.  A thin, cleared path, which led from the door, to the couch, to the kitchen, was under threat of being buried in a garbage avalanche.  And the smell.  Fuck me.

“Ew!  Don’t put it there, man.”  Billy was pointing to the body.  “This room is just for the cops and tourists.  Follow me.”

He walked into the kitchen, closed his eyes, and laid a palm on the refrigerator.  The entire thing slowly descended into the floor, revealing a stairway behind.  They trudged and stumbled down the brick steps, carrying their load, and looped back beneath the garbage parlor.

This area was more like what she had expected, a large room with a couple medical gurneys, and shelves with a mix of alchemical ingredients and high-tech gadgets lined the walls.  While maybe not sterile, it was certainly tidy.

“Put him right there.”  Billy pointed to one of the stretchers.

Karla and Dallas heaved the body onto the padded surface and stepped back, tired and breathing hard.  She was thankful to be done dragging the heavy bastard around.

“We need yohw hehwp.  We need to weanimathe thith thuckehw.”

After briefly inspecting the body, checking pupils and pulse, Billy folded his arms and glanced from Dallas, to Karla, and then back to Dallas.

Dallas motioned to Karla.

“We have money.”  She pulled out a fat roll of twenties and thumped it down on the corpse’s chest.

Billy’s eyes lit up, greedy.

“But we don’t need a full resurrection.  We want the cheap one.”  She looked to Dallas and he nodded back.  “We just need him to help find . . . a certain item for us.”

“Wight.  Weanimathun.”

“I see.”  Billy took a couple steps toward the cash, stretched out and snatched it up.  “I have just the thing, and it looks like you’ve brought just the right amount.”

Before Karla could protest, he had scurried over to the shelves and was pushing among the jars.  “This will be perfect.  Exactly what you need.”

After an age of digging and mumbling, he finally came away with a syringe and a fat vial of dark liquid.  “Best part?  This should only take about twenty minutes for potency.”

Billy worked the plunger on the needle, pulling the serum into the reservoir, then jabbed the tip viciously, straight through the comforter and into the dead man’s abdomen.  A strong push and the syringe was empty.

Satisfied with his work, Billy tossed the used needle into a nearby bedpan.  He glanced a the two of them, gesturing to some modest chairs, and said, “Can I get you guys a beer while you wait?”

After Billy strutted out into the adjoining room, Dallas leaned over and whispered into Karla’s ear, “We’hw hawe that tome by mohwning.  Bothe Hawhe by aftewnoon.”

“I hope you’re right.”  She wasn’t kidding.  She hoped for all three of their sakes.  Billy was part of this now.

The group was halfway through their beers, still chatting about sixth grade, when the covers shifted, the body beneath moaning and growling.

“Here we go, man.”  Billy grinned as he stood up out of his chair.  “Another satisfied customer.”

The covers flipped back and a head popped out.  Two big brown eyes stared at them, framed by long floppy ears and lolling tongue.

“What the fuck?”  Karla’s eyes widened, horrified.  “It’s a fucking dog!”

“Yeah.  I figured a bloodhound would be the most useful form to take in the reincarnation process.  Especially if you wanted to find something.”

“i thaid weanimathe, dipthith!  weanimathe!  Not weincawnathe!”

The dropped beer bottle rattled across the floor, splashing beer everywhere, but Karla didn’t see it.  She was already up the stairs and pounding down the alley with plans on catching the 11pm bus at 74th and Damen.

October 16, 2016, 08:14:51 AM
Re: [Oct 2016] - Corpses - Submission Thread Harry

Spoiler for Hiden:
She woke up and there he was. Scarlet smiled.

Not much had changed since he showed up three years ago slumped on top of her cheap, eight-drawer dresser like a bear rug, staring down at the floor with his eyeless sockets and toothy mouth. Not much except his hair. That particular remnant of humanity had somehow continued to grow out the dead man’s skull. She didn’t think hair was supposed to grow out of dead skulls, but what did she know? Scarlet was only ten.

“Morning, Harry!” she said, her bedsprings making the same old squeaky noise it always made. Mother told Scarlet she would get a new bed when she turned ten. But instead mother took her step-father, Trevor, to Mexico and left her here with grandma and grandpa. Scarlet hadn’t minded though. She hated Trevor and she’d been glad he wouldn’t be here for her big day.
No one else could see Harry, of course. He showed up when she was only seven years old, and when her mom took her to the doctor, he said that it was a “stage of grief” Scarlet was going through after her real daddy died in a plane crash.
Scarlet didn’t know what daddy had to do with a corpse on her dresser, and she took her mother to the room and pointed at the dead man’s grinning face as she cried and cried and begged her mother to look harder. But she couldn’t see it. No one but Scarlet could, and when she tried sneaking into her mother’s bed at night, Trevor picked her up, took her back to her room and locked the door.
Scarlet had spent the entire night crying, but when morning came and she saw that it was dead dead like the big spider she’d squished outside her bedroom door, she felt better. Scarlet tried talking to it and found it was just like anything else that didn’t have brains, or a heart, or all those other things the Wizard of Oz characters were missing. It was dead, and that was that.

Scarlet walked over to her dresser and winked up at Harry, who remained motionless and stiff as a gargoyle. Once she tried moving him to a place under her bed where he could be more comfortable, but no matter how hard she tried, he just wouldn’t move. Harry was a part of her black dresser like any drawer or handle. Scarlet liked him there.

But something was different this morning. “Harry, did you move?” Scarlet reached up and swept the hair away from his decayed, skeletal face. “You did move! Oh, look here!”

For three years his chin had rested on her top drawer, preventing her from opening it. It didn’t bother Scarlet much when she was younger. She was too small to reach up and inside the drawer anyway.

But this development intrigued her young and curious mind. Harry’s head was tilted up now, so that he was looking directly at her bed. Scarlet liked him better the way he’d been before, but now she could use her top drawer!
“That was nice of you, Harry. Now I have a place to put all my books!” she exclaimed, beaming up at him. She opened the drawer and heard something rolling around inside. What could it be?

Looking up at Harry, she slid her hand in the drawer and felt something round and squishy, like two tiny rubber balls. She clasped them both in her hand and when she opened it two dilated pupils looked up at her. Scarlet screamed and dropped the eyes on the ground before running into the hall and calling for her mother.

Oh no! she remembered, making it only halfway down the hall. Mother was out of town for the weekend! She turned to go back to her room when Trevor lumbered around the corner.

“I’m trying to sleep, Scarlet! Get the fuck back into your room and don’t come out until I tell you. I swear if I have to say it twice –.”

She bolted back into her room and slammed the door, cutting him off mid-sentence. She could hear him swearing on the other side, stomping over the empty beer cans he left all over the house the night before.
With her back pressed up against the door, Scarlet looked down at the two glossy eyes staring up at her, the irises sky blue with pupils so big they looked to swallow her up. The longer she stared at them the less menacing they seemed. They were just like Harry, she thought. Dead as dead, just a couple of eyeballs hiding in her dresser. Scarlet giggled.

“Harry, are these yours?” As always, there was no response. She crept over to the eyes, picked them up and held them in front of Harry’s face as if to taunt him. “Do you want these? I bet you do! You’re gonna have to come get them!” But before she could scamper back to her bed the eyes flew from her hands and slipped into the corpse’s sockets with a sickening squishing sound. “What? How . . . how did you do that?”
Scarlet went to call Trevor, but then stopped. The last time she disobeyed Trevor he’d taken his big, brown belt to her bottom and made Scarlet promise to never tell mom. Scarlet remembered the pain, how she couldn’t sit down in her chair at school unless she put her winter jacket underneath her bum. No, Trevor was tired and angry. He’d probably do something even worse!

Harry moved! Just a little tilt of the head, but he’d moved. Scarlet hurried to her bed and hid beneath the sheets. Breathing heavy, she could hear cracking, squishing and the scraping of bone on wood. There was a loud creak. It was her warped floorboards bending and resetting. Only Trevor made the floorboards do that, so Scarlet peered up from beneath her sheets, for once in her life praying it was her step-father.

She saw Harry’s back, a mixture of yellowed skeleton and gangrene flesh covered by a tattered layer of green and burgundy cloth. He was rooting through the top drawer, and when he found what he was looking for he held it in the air in triumph. It squirmed in his hand like an over-sized, pink slug, and when he turned around to face her, Harry put it in his mouth, rolled back his skull and shook his jaw side to side. After five seconds he let out a haunting sigh. Scarlet wailed louder than she thought she knew how and peed herself.

“Hellooo Scarrrlet,” Harry said, his voice like a strong gale blowing through a cracked window. He stared at her through his long and grey hair with his big, lidless eyes as he bobbed back and forth. He took two steps toward her. “I’ve come a loooong way to see youuu. Do you know whyyyy?”
Scarlet couldn’t scream any more. She was white with fright, arms extended helplessly as she tried to ward Harry off with her small hands. But he kept coming, slow and rhythmic as he dragged his feet along the floor. That was when Trevor burst through the door, red and sweating forty-percent alcohol and sixty percent rage.

“What did I fucking tell you?” he pulled his belt from his waist, studded with little metal beads. Scarlet began sobbing uncontrollably, unsure what to be afraid of more: The belt, or the grinning corpse standing before her.

“Look!” she said, pointing at Harry. “Look, he’s real!”

Harry pivoted toward Trevor and the blood left her step-father’s face. He froze, his body shaking as a wet streak of piss ran down his grey jeans and pooled at his bare feet. Trevor tried to scream, but his neck tensed up and the veins bulged in his neck. He shifted his hopeless gaze to Scarlet.

Scarlet liked it. For once Trevor had no power and he couldn’t hurt her. Harry was here, and Harry was going to protect her. She knew for sure when he stopped in front of Trevor, knocked the belt out of his hand and lifted him off the ground by his throat.

“Yeeess?” Harry asked in his spectral voice. Scarlet knew that if she let Trevor leave this room he would come back later and hurt her. She looked at Harry and said yes in her softest voice.

A cloud of swirling black ash surrounded them and before Scarlet could count to ten it was over. Nothing was left of Trevor but a limp skeleton in beer-stained clothes, and when Harry turned around Scarlet smiled.

Even though Harry looked exactly like her step-father she knew it wasn’t true. He was smiling at her. Trevor never smiled at her.


October 22, 2016, 07:52:30 PM
Re: Gandalf - let's duke it out Great discussion. As a writer obsessed with sorcery, kind of geeking out.

This will make me sound crazy, so I'll preface by saying this wasn't a logical action, it was just sympathetic desperation. I know I'm not a sorcerer ;)

Before I moved down here, I lived in the Washington DC area, notorious for traffic. Traffic on the highway slowed to 5 lanes of stop. I was daydreaming about magic on the highway (I had just started really moving on the book). Just ahead and one lane over there was a minivan full of little kids in the back. I saw someone coming, oblivious that the traffic stopped and heading right for that car full of children at about 60 miles an hour. There was nothing I could do. I raised my hand, clenched my fist and willed that car to stop. And it did. In the last 20 yards, he mashed the breaks and veered right where I was mentally pushing him. He stopped just a few feet from the minivan.

Now, I know very well that me freaking out in my car had nothing to do with events - how could it? But 500 years ago, without all the science between then and now - what would I have thought if I'd been faced with a chronologically appropriate crisis and done the exact same thing? If I had willed a falling tree to not squish my uncle or halted a wagon with a baby before it rolled off a cliff, I'd have believed. And if someone had seen me do it, I'd have been burned at the stake.

So I guess my point is that belief is powerful, whether the magic is real or not - so long as it appears plausible.

Then again, maybe I'll develop my powers and fight crime. Because ... powers.  ;D

October 26, 2016, 11:04:46 PM
Re: Gandalf - let's duke it out I was going to reply to this, but Gemcutter made a lot of my points better than I could have. So I'll wander off and talk about the magic and a bit of Tom Bombadil :)

The great pleasure of Gandalf, and Tom Bombadil, and almost everything else in Middle-earth is its haziness metaphysically. Gandalf is there to give hope, but he needs the hobbits to give him hope, to remind him of the good. He is a tool, a device of Eru's to maintain a balance? A bald instrument of fate? He has no weakness of will, his sense of doing the right thing is unbreakable and too pure to be human. He is a kindly old uncle or grandfather and alien all at once.

The nature of power, due to what I take to be the centrally important presence of Bombadil, is that of will. Gandalf tells the Balrog it cannot pass, he doesn't try to kill it, initially. There is no assault, just an assertion of will. It is one's will, and the failure of it, which the Ring affects powerfully. It almost embodies Sauron's will and in choosing to pour so much of that into it, it feels like there's a point here about Sauron choosing the ring to be a symbol, for symbols have great power, they align people and their own will to them, from regimental banners to royal crowns and so on.

I think Gandalf is consistent insofar as he is a tool, not a rounded protagonist, though the magic system, if you can call it that, is not consistent. Then again, would it be magic if it was? The delineation of rules, a framework or an order to magic that is explicit is not Tolkien's bag. Gandalf does not operate inconsistently, but the framework is not clear. Everyone is playing a game, and things work, have or don't have power, if you're in the game. But if you're not, these things don't affect you. It's a strange kind of magic system, a very thought provoking one that has given me much inspiration and delight over the years, where a more practical and detailed magic system might not have.

     "As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists);

    ... And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)."
    (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 174)

"The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless."
(The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 178).

The most powerful object, the most capable object in Middle-earth was the One Ring. And it meant nothing to Bombadil and therefore he could not wield it, nor could it influence him. There for me is what makes Tolkien's magic and his world so wonderful.

October 27, 2016, 11:01:22 AM