Yup. It's four years ago on August 29th that I started blogging at the old site. [Wow. You guys just can't get rid of me!] So, in honor of the occasion, such as it is, we are having yet another contest. [You may have noticed, given the intense manner in which I have flogged this puppy.]
She slumps in the clammy darkness, her mind as dark and empty as the cavern, her bones aching with chill. She is tired, not the ordinary kind, but pure exhaustion so that she wants to die. And, with it, her enemies are winning: she can no longer fight them off. When the needle accurately finds her vein with the unholy injectables, fire dives and weaves within her blood. Her power responds, rises within--the precursor to much, much worse than loss of control."
The entries follow the break, with links to the authors' blogs or websites if I have them. Some of you went over; I accepted the entries anyway. :)
Entrants, please email me if you find any errors in your entries and I'll fix them a.s.a.p. The vagueries of glitchy programs (and likely my own glitches) caused the italics and paragraphing to disappear (lord knows how that occurred) and I had to put it back manually.Votes go in the comments of this post, and will consist of the following categories:
- Best story
- Runner up
- Best use of the prompt in the story
- A Buddy Christ bobble head;
- A Nunzilla;
- The anthology Steampunk by editors Ann & Jeff Vandemeer;
- Or the possibly risky and very speculative option to have me come up with some semi-personalized art for you.
Everyone can vote, so, if you would, please link to this post and drum up the voters. After all, it can only help your cause if you entered!
VOTING CLOSES SUNDAY, AUGUST 29TH. One vote per voter for each category. However, you can bribe your friends and family to vote for the cause. :)
Entry 1: The End, by Sarah Laurenson (168 words)
She weaves with unholy thread. Clammy injectables of gut thrown through a foundation of ordinary silk. Warp and weft born of death. With exquisite control, the shuttle dives across as the shed yaws for another pass. The beater taps and snugs the intestine tight.
“Take that baby up.” Her gnarled fingers point at the red and grey scarf waiting to be released from the humidity of her cavern and blocked to dry in the sun. Customers ooh and aah over each piece as it’s brought into the light. She never sees nor hears them. She will not leave this stool, this loom, this place of death spun into new life.
The last of her kind. No apprentice has come forth to take on this task. Her shoulders slump as she contemplates the end of her own life. Closer than she wishes, farther than she fears. She will not be woven into a new existence. She will depart this mortal coil and be no more. The thought brings relief.
Entry 2: Unguarded by J. J. DeBenedictis (267 words)
The demon whispers in her mind, They will release me.
Fury gives her another moment's strength to resist the drugs. Are you gloating?
Merely saying goodbye. Its voice slithers across her struggling psyche. You might have said yes, back when your mother died and I came to you. This moment could be very different.
She clings to and fights her rage as if it is a drowning friend. Her veins are alight with chemicals and power, but her control is dissolving. Don't you taunt. Her bravado is habit. I've long practice ignoring you.
Therein, the problem.
She can barely concentrate to form the mind-words. Get thee back to your bolt-hole.
The demon's silence tricks her into thinking it gone, and surprise nearly undoes her when the thing hisses back, I don't want to be free. I only want you.
She must fight to keep from splitting wide--from spilling her power out for her captors to harvest, to subjugate, to drain. The demon quiets, sensing her struggle.
Only when she has fought back from the brink does it send a murmur up her spine like a caress. This moment could be different.
Hallucinations are threatening, edging into her mind with persuasive alternatives to the fight she must not abandon. She is so divorced from her body she barely registers the stink of her relaxing bowels.
Different... The demon's voice soothes, as familiar as a discarded lover.
Defeat is creeping toward her, and exhaustion flays her resolve. Her mind's voice jangles with hysteria and despair. How?
And in that moment, she feels the magnitude of her abrupt mistake.
Entry 3: With Eyes Like Fangs, by Charles Gramlich (248 words)
She slumps in the clammy darkness, her mind as dark and empty as the cavern, her bones aching with chill. She is tired, not the ordinary kind, but pure exhaustion so that she wants to die. And, with it, her enemies are winning: she can no longer fight them off. When the needle accurately finds her vein with the unholy injectables, fire dives and weaves within her blood. Her power responds, rises within--the precursor to much, much worse than loss of control.
In the forest they hunt their prey by its scent of weakness. They find the cavern with icicle eyes, prism eyes, with eyes like cicatrixes. Scaled hands and furred ones work spasmodically on weapons. Claws click on steel while in wet mouths fangs ache with hatred. In a darkling mist they gather for the kill.
She smiles, lifts her hands. A light burns inside her. Through the skin, she sees. First, she glories in her strength. Then her mind centers. She senses the forces arrayed against her outside. Her smile widens until the skin splits at the corners of her mouth.
“Let it begin,” she murmurs.
The watchers in the woods see the light flare within the cavern. They stir, restless in rage. And when the prey strides free of its hiding place into the rain, they fall upon her with taloned feet and leathery wings, their throats filled with howls and shrieks.
But the prey is no longer weak. They have been tricked. Strength meets their strengths. Their bodies shatter upon it. In moments, the clearing before the cavern writhes with the dead and dying.
“Mother!” the bloody ones cry. “Mother! Do not forsake us!”
She looks upon her dying children, and begins to feed. In the black forest, the males begin to call. She hears them even over the crunch of bones. In a moment she will release her own mating cry, will invite the males to join her.
Perhaps her next brood will be stronger.
Entry 4: I Am Ordained, by Anonymous (254 words)
Though she is used to the pain the eruption of her wings cause, she still emits a feral growl as they emerge behind her. She can hear the little bastard coming now. Her hunter.
‘There is no way he can stop me’ she mutters ‘I am ordained.’
Checking her weapon, she climbs up the ladder to the service doors in the sidewalk. Around her the street is crowded with the midday rush. She is not more than fifteen feet from the ground when the bullet hums past. She is not so lucky with the flame-thrower.
‘The little bastard has friends. Ok boys, playtime is over!’
She dives to the ground, grabbing one of the assailants.
He emerges from the darkness of the underground to see his friend being set ablaze. He fires his weapon indiscriminately, bullets cutting through the terrified crowd. The second assassin joins the fray, he too seemingly not to care who he kills in the process of exterminating her. She grabs the corpse lying at her feet, using it as a shield. Being better trained then those hunting her, she only needs two bullets to stop the destruction.
‘They have not left me much time.’
With haste she flies across the city to her destination. It is a large room, a bit ostentatious for her tastes. She selects a large chair just inside the French doors to wait. The Pope, finished with his speech turns back into the room.
‘Godspeed Your Holiness,’ she whispers as his blood pools at her feet.
Entry 5: Android, by Whirlochre (243 words)
We pumped the words over and over into the dumbass android's uploader, this way, that way, any way, till our stranded ship's power flickered on the brink of defunct.
Kozmizearpozinsky shook his head. "It's no good, it's no damn good..."
"This is no time for a diatribe about your hang-ups, Quentin" I said, "the bots named you Kozmizearpozinsky, so Kozmizearpozinsky it is. Now stop wasting precious time bleating about your unfortunate Pan-cosmic ID, motherfucker."
"Correction: I am not, on this occasion, having another flip-out about my goddamn name. And as for wasting precious time, whose diatribe was it just cost us another bunch of precious seconds? Precious seconds I could have been using to get over what was actually an uncharacteristic sigh of despair about my inability to unlock the only thing aboard this vessel that can save us both, namely this irritatingly untalkative fucking 'droid?"
"Point taken. Have we tried CLAMMY-INJECTABLES-CONTROL-PRECURSOR-CAVERN?"
Kozmizearpozinsky didn't pause to shake his head. His 52 fingers punched at the keys, and BINGO, the android fired up. I remember thinking — someday, you gotta tell K it's not his name folks find disturbingly weird. Thinking, then gulping. Hard.
When you’ve been around androids as long as the two of us, you know instantly when a doomsday scenario seemingly turned good is actually a doomsday scenario turned worse than the original scenario.
Kozmizearpozinsky gasped. “A Rescuedroid...misprogrammed...as a Kinkee Dinkee BumLuv Unit...?”
Anyways, doc — that’s when the lights finally went out.
Entry 6: Revenge, by Bill Nelson (298 words)
She slumps in the clammy darkness, her mind as dark and empty as the cavern, her bones aching with chill. She is tired, not the ordinary kind, but pure exhaustion so that she wants to die. And, with it, her enemies are winning: she can no longer fight them off. When the needle accurately finds her vein with the unholy injectables, fire dives and weaves within her blood. Her power responds, rises within - the precursor to much, much worse than loss of control.
Her jaw expands painfully; she screams, falls to her knees, doubles over. She can’t see; her vision no longer human, no resolution. The smells overwhelm her, vision is now secondary. Her clothes are shredded and no longer cover her body and she is hairy. Drool rolls down her chin onto the cavern floor and her thirst requires her to taste it, more than once. She raises her muscular arms and roars!
This was a desperate choice, but no longer remembered. This mind has not the capacity to comprehend such logic and it is easily forgotten. She is primal and looks for revenge. The cavern smells become resolute – yes, the pack is behind her now, moving closer, the smell of them generating her rage. She squats in a hollow in the damp wall, waiting. They will feel her revenge, and she will be king!
The sounds are clearer; she can hear their growls and yet hear the rhythmic pounding of what once was her heart. She is ready. The first one passes and she doesn’t move, frozen in wait, waiting for the moment. The last one pauses, sure of a scent. She springs onto its back, slicing with her claws across the thick neck, instantly rendering it useless as it slumps to the moldy floor.
The pack smells blood, feels the spray and turns, but she is ready. She drops underneath the closest one, and slams it into the stalactite above. She pulls it in front of her as she moves towards the others. A thud lands on her ear, her rage fueled. She is crazed. Within minutes, they are all dead, and she is king. Of what, she cannot comprehend now, but this feels right and just, instinctively correct. Her choice to become one was a good one.
Entry 7: Blood of the Daemonium, by Simon Kewin (285 words)
Tia ran through the cold London night, clutching the vials of blood. She strained to sense another surviving Faer. Nothing. Were they all dead? She could feel only the Shades: thousands of them, thronging the streets.
‘The Blood! The Blood!’
Their cries bounced off the great buildings, impossible to work out from where. She stopped, disorientated, exhausted. Rain lashed her face. The human cities were too large, too full of twists and dark corners. No wonder the Shades and their masters in the Daemonium had taken to them. Ahead the street opened out into a square. The towering column of some enormous statue stood there, surrounded by four massive stone animals. Lions. She knew this place. It was one of the Openings. She still had a chance to escape.
‘The blood, Faer. Return what you have stolen.’
Across the square, at the head of a seething army of Shades, stood one of the Daemonium. His voice boomed. He held the leashes of a pack of red-eyed hellhounds that scrabbled to attack her. Her only hope was to get close enough to the statue before he loosed them. They were mortal dogs, of course, but terrible: transformed with a drop of the ancient Daemonium blood.
It was the hounds that gave her the idea. It would be the end of her, of course, but what did that matter now? Their plans had failed. She knew what she would become if she injected all of the vile blood into her veins. She would be a match for them, then. For a time at least.
With a cry she raced for the statue that would take her from the city to the cool of the caverns.
Entry 8: The Hell of Dying, by Avery DeBow (280 words)
Agony twitched Julia’s limbs in time to the rhythm the fire beat out inside her body.
Life. Death. Life. Death. Life. Death.
The Pilferers fretted their lancinating fingers so the needles sang like chimes, adding their restless anticipation to the tune searing through her. Soon, they would have one more body to toss onto the putrefying mass at her side. So many in that pile had once been her anchors to life. Their absence burned her mind to pitch.
Julia pushed to her knees, screaming with the effort. The Pilferers stabbed their fingers into the pulses of their throats and extracted more bilious blood. Amber beads hissed from the tips.
The Hell of dying. That was what the Pilferers delivered—the fear of the unknown, the grief of parting. Their liquid dread incapacitated the most gifted Magi, turned their power to fire in their veins, rolled it through their wasted flesh to puddle on the dirt where the parasitic demons lapped it up like dogs.
Julia’s lips split in a mirthless grimace. Everything she would have regretted lay piled in that stinking corner. No loose ends. No fears. The needles plunged into her arms once again. This time, her mounting power met the invasive liquid, and drove it back into the Pilferers’ hands.
The cave overflowed with agonized screams as the Pilferers fought to banish the dull apathy she had gifted them. They writhed on the floor, incapacitated and denied their crucial sustenance.
They couldn’t hurt her, not now. There was nothing left to do but see how well she could make them match the remains of her family and friends.
Julia retrieved her sawed-off shotgun, and went to work.
Entry 9: Burning Alive, by Amy Gettinger (285 words)
Serena slumps in the clammy darkness, her mind as dark and empty as the cavern, her bones aching with chill. She s tired, not the ordinary kind, but pure exhaustion so that she wants to die. And, with it, her enemies are winning: she can no longer fight them off. When the needle accurately finds her vein with the unholy injectibles, fire dives and weaves within her blood. Her power responds, rises within--the precursor to much, much worse than loss of control.
Drenched in sweat, Serena screams, lurches up, bolts for the bathroom. Heart pounding, head roiling, she vomits.
Shoving wild hair back, she races back to bed and grabs her notebook and pen to record the whole sordid dream before it slips away. It's worse than last time. Her veins are scorching, her eyes searing, her chest nearly bursting. Surely someone will believe her now. This is no illusion.
Someone is drugging her in her sleep.
Hey, Beth was here, cleaned out her cabinets. No more street drugs. And no puncture mark on her arm. Serena calls her sister. Damned message machine. She dials Beth's cell phone, but drops her phone as the evil slime in her system contorts her hand.
She panics. Last time, seizures nearly shook her to death. On wobbly legs, she takes off toward the nearby church where Beth volunteers on Wednesdays. A sidewalk crack snags her bare toe. Her calf grabs up. She limps on, trying to escape the chemicals blasting through her before they kill her.
The big church looms. She tries the office door. Closed.
Her back muscles start to tighten.
No! Serena lunges toward the contemplation garden behind the building, determined to keep control, to run this stuff off this time, not to endure the pain, the torture of endless seizures.
Just inside the garden gate, her guts seize up. Agony.
Thirty feet away, around the garden fountain, a group of women are murmuring prayers. Beth is in their midst, holding something up: a doll with wild hair like Serena's.
Two steps more, then Serena's chest clenches vise-tight and she slumps to the damp ground as the women's soft chants reach her:
"Burn her, seize her alive."
Entry 10: World War III, by Amy Gettinger (289 words)
She slumps in the clammy darkness, her mind as dark and empty as the cavern, her bones aching with chill. She's tired, not the ordinary kind, but pure exhaustion so that she wants to die. And, with it, her enemies are winning: she can no longer fight them off. When the needle accurately finds her vein with the unholy injectables, fire dives and weaves within her blood. Her power responds, rises within--the precursor to much, much worse than loss of control.
Her posture straightens, lengthens. Her shoulder blades begin the familiar burn of flesh and muscle ripping apart. The skin across her biceps aches with the predictable stretch. Just a few more minutes.
But the battle is raging closer. Gunshots and cries of agony sound just overhead on the street. Damned hotheads, fighting over building a mosque. Right on the heels of that exhausting oil pipe disaster. She doesn't have time for her complete transformation. She's never tried to fight incomplete before, without weapons. But this time, the whole world could shatter.
And her life.
Still shaky, she reels to a stand and lurches out of the shadows, her clothes falling off in shreds. Sacrilege.
But she must reach him—and, them—in time. She runs upstairs to the detritus-strewn street, emptied of life by deafening automatic weapons. Crouching behind an army tank, she sees huge cranes swinging concrete payloads toward Manhattan skyscrapers.
Idiots. She stands tall, steps into the street, holds her hands out. And stares 360.
Tanks and guns quiet.
She pushes off tentative feet. Her wings, still half furled, falter, then catch the wind. She rushes to her place in the gathering circle of angels over Ground Zero.
"Leave something at home?" Ali snarks over his wing. Palm out, he's radiating beams of peace light at three cranes, which all freeze mid-swing.
"Only my sword," naked Faizah says, swooping to stop another crane's payload cold. "Fuck the burqa."
Another angel, Diana, flies low over the scrabbling chaos below, leaving only stillness in her wide-winged wake. She then breezes by Faizah, tossing her a bundle. "Put him in school somewhere else, Faizah."
Faizah catches the laughing baby in relief, slings him over her shoulder and continues her quest.
Entry 11: Garuda, by Anonymous II (376 words)
[Author's note: The mythology referred to is here if you want the background.]
She slumps in the clammy darkness, her mind as dark and empty as the cavern, her bones aching with chill. She is tired, an exhaustion so pure she wants to die. And, with it, her enemies are winning: she can no longer fight them off. When the needle finds her vein, fire weaves within her blood. Her power responds, rises within--the precursor to much, much worse than loss of control.
The naga demons hiss and slither around her in the dark. The potion melts her bones, braiding with the power that is her birthright, eroding the seeming she's worn so long. Quills push through human skin, their sheathes pop with the sound of snapping bone. Her back bows, muscles knotted flails of pain against reshaping limbs, against erupting claws, the pressure that would be her beak—
Vishnu, help me! She bites back a scream.
She remembers the human term: Kundalini rising. So wrong a description for the actual effect, the twisting limbs and raking pain. Not sexual, not at all. Humans, as usual, partly understand the thing and misunderstand entirely.
Not so her captors. Human their leader might be, but his black sorcery has taught him much-- enough to capture her, exploit her weakness.
"The gods forbade I kill your caste, Avinash," she gasps out to the presence hiding in the darkness behind his demons. "But that doesn't mean I cannot take revenge."
"Thus speaks pride, little birdie." The white of his clothes fades ghostlike into view. Gloat, damn you. Gloat and come closer...
"You should've drunk your minions' immortal blood." Her voice now a croak. The feathers along spine and half-formed wings rattle fury like an army of swords. She blinks back tears of pain, anchors what's left of humanity by will alone.
Her tormentor laughs, a scornful bark. "Of course I did. It didn't work."
Secretly, she smiles. You fool. "You cannot force me to steal the amrita again. And even if I could manage it a second time, not even my mother's life would be reason enough to give immortality to such as you."
"When the change is complete, you'll fly me to where it waits. You'll have no choice." The potion, then. She'd guessed as much.
She spits. It sizzles against his cheek.
Livid now, Avinash strides forward, arm cocked to strike.
Come closer...closer... She bares her teeth and opens her herself fully, willingly, to her nature—the power of the sun lord's steed.
Light scalds the darkness, blasting outward like solar flare, the screams of her foes the chimes of temple bells, the smell of burning meat a righteous sacrifice.
"You won't die, Avinash," she tells the feebly moving husk moments later. "Not quite."
Entry 12: Bug Hunter, by Robert Babiak (529 words)
Major Susan Micavich’s eyes snapped open and looked at her heads-up display. Blinking away the “Stimulant injection complete” messages, she began a quick status check. The stimulants and sleep replacements had kept her going for what felt like months, even though it was only the 5th day of this campaign. The armor reported 84.3% integrity and 97% combat readiness.
A quick check of the 3D local scanner indicated hostiles on the way, so with a bounce that lacked the weariness she felt, she sprang to her feet in the alleyway. She popped her armor’s jump kit and bounded between the walls up to the roof.
She landed near a cooling unit, and without conscious thought her plasma rifle snapped to her shoulder. With a muted hiss-crack, she fired at the bug before it noticed her.
The fusion powered rifle was the standard weapon for the 184th Royal Drop commandos. At full power it could fire three hundred spheres of plasma per minute, each capable of melting a meter-sized crater in rock. But to do so left a large and rather loud thermal trail. She used low power, to increase the rate of fire since each glowing ball was more than capable of killing a bug.
A green splatter pattern now covered the door frame, looking like those psych test patterns, kinda like a butterfly. An impact from the left tossed her into the air as a meter-and-a-half tall bug jumped the cooling unit and clamped its mandibles to her shoulder armor. The computer dutifully displayed the integrity counter ticking down.
With a powerful kick, she ripped her armor free, then hit the roof and rolled upright, flowing into a round-house kick that caught the bug in its thorax. The molecular muscles of her armor lent her kick power; her jump kit lent her the stability to apply that force.
The bug went sideways off the roof. Its hissing scream ended in a green splat near where she'd been a few seconds ago. More hisses, carried on the wind, indicated other bugs closing in. She raced across the roof tops and hopped between buildings.
Several hops later she heard the distinct warble of the bug she needed to find.
Skidding to a stop, her armor urgently pinged, indicating an incoming air attack. Glancing at the local sensors, she saw 30 plus targets. With the blink menus, she selected auto air defense mode and relaxed. It took practice to go from full control to limp rag doll in order to avoid hurting yourself while the armor moved under computer control.
Her armor snapped the rifle up and began moving and firing faster than she could have aimed. Air targets where easy for the computer to kill and the flying bugs started falling like a chunky purple rain. The computer was not creative; just efficient. In seconds, the last bugs fell to earth. As control returned to her, she moved to acquire the bug she had detected.
“Susan, wake up! You can't debug software in your sleep!”
Startling upright, she grabbed her purse and extra grandee coffee, then headed to join her coworkers at the door of Java Express.