Aw, you sweetheart.
I know why you’re here. You play it off like you’re just trying to find good stuff to write about, but I get it. There are a million-and-one other things you could be doing instead, but you’re here because you care. You’re here because…
This week’s writing group prompt is:
Anything for a Smile
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
Don’t be fooled, this week’s prompt is actually a question:
“What would you do for a smile?”
What would you trade to bring someone else joy? What would you give up to find happiness yourself? This is a question of values. How much do we value happiness, and how does it compare to the other things we value? Is there a worthy exchange we can make, one for the other?
An easy way to navigate the prompt this week is to just slot things in for both of the prompt’s keywords: “Anything” = [Something of deep personal value]; “Smile” = [Someone’s happiness]. So, off-hand, we could do “My Career” for “My lover’s happiness”. The final step would be to figure out how one gets in the way of the other. Why is the “anything” at odds with the “smile”? Maybe this is a story about someone who’s picked up a line of work that absorbs all their time and leaves them an exhausted husk of their former self, robbing their lover of the person they once were. Maybe this is a story about someone who has to decide between traveling far away to a place their lover can’t go in order to pursue a career path, and staying by their sides. There are a lot of places to take even this simple substitution. If you can’t think of anything, give it a try!
Of course, you can write more than just tragic sacrifices. It could also be a harebrained scheme to bring someone happiness; a total farce for something extremely simple.
Whatever direction you go, consider one thing…
What will your story do to make us smile?
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
Tune into the stream this Friday at 7:00pm CST to see if you made the cut!
The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit, and get ready to help each other improve their confidence in their writing, as well as their skill with their craft!
Rules and Guidelines
We read at least six stories during each stream, three of which come from the public post, and three of which come from the much smaller private post. Submissions are randomly selected by a bot, but likes on your post will improve your chances of selection, so be sure to share your submission on social media!
Text and Formatting
- English only.
- Prose only, no poetry or lyrics.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and syntax.
- Your piece must be between 250-350 words (you can use this website to see your wordcount).
- Include a submission title and an author name (doesn’t have to be your real name). Do not include any additional symbols or flourishes in this part of your submission. Format them exactly as you see in this example, or your submission may not be eligible: Example Submission.
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What to Submit
- Keep submissions “safe-for-work”; be sparing with sexuality, violence, and profanity.
- Try to focus on making your submission a single meaningful moment rather than an entire story.
- Write something brand new (no re-submitting past entries or pieces written for other purposes
- No fan fiction whatsoever. Take inspiration from whatever you’d like, but be transformative and creative with it. By submitting, you also agree that your piece does not infringe on any existing copyrights or trademarks, and you have full license to use it.
- Submissions must be self-contained (everything essential to understanding the piece is contained within the context of the piece itself—no mandatory reading outside the piece required. e.g., if you want to write two different pieces in the same setting or larger narrative, you cannot rely on information from one piece to fill in for the other—they must both give that context independently).
- One submission per participant.
- Submit your entry in a comment on this post.
- Submissions close at 12:00pm CST each Friday.
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- Use the same e-mail for your posts, reviews, and likes, or you may be rendered ineligible (you may change your username or author name between posts without problem, however).
- You may submit to either or both the public/private groups if you have access, but if you decide to submit to both, only the private group submission will be eligible.
- Understand that by submitting here, you are giving us permission to read your submission aloud live on stream and upload public, archived recordings of said stream to our social media platforms. You will always be credited, but only by the author name you supply as per these rules. No other links or attributions are guaranteed.
Comments on this post that aren’t submissions will be deleted, except for replies/reviews left on existing submissions.
Can’t delete it, so… I’ll just leave this.
By Augustus Perseghin
It’s difficult to relate exactly how much it meant to me to see the outside. For eight years in that dank chamber the only interaction I was ever given was with food, and it was hardly enough to satisfy the aching in my guts or the loneliness of the dark. It was passed to me through a small slit in the door, through which I could never view my captors. Whenever I ate my fill, all it gave me was the clarity to focus on my situation. A horrifying prospect.
I’d skip meals to keep my mind from it. It wasn’t particularly hard to abstain from the mushy cubes of… whatever it was they were feeding me; I just piled it up in the corner where it slowly congealed and turned hard as a rock. The rough layer of foodstuffs was as cold and hard as the wall. That’s when it hit me.
I grabbed one of the older pieces of expired, formerly gelatinous material and slammed it against the wall. Most of the chunk was eviscerated against the stone bricks, but a mark did shine through. A little chink in the armor of this room.
Eight years I spent repeating that moment. Skipping meals, waiting for the foodstuffs to harden, then using it to dig at the wall. I’d even begun shaping the material while it was still soft, to produce sharper edges and more durable bodies. Sweet, sweet progress achieved by each swing of the improvised tools brought me a millimetre closer to freedom. Every skipped meal got me slightly deeper, slightly more efficient, and slightly more determined.
I’ll never forget the sheer joy I experienced about half a year ago, when the first drop of sunlight entered my chamber through the jagged hole I produced. Though the pin sized hole was hardly enough to escape through, a goofy, joyous mood possessed me for weeks. The little dot of light gave my lips a hint of freedom’s grin.
Dancing in the Blue
Her form a shadowy wisp dancing across a veil of blue glass. I call, but no words form. I wave, but no motion comes. Isolated. Distant. Her faint form flickers and I worry. Worry that she will become as the others and fade.
Fade into the white world beyond, glowing with its silver sheen. If only I could fade with her. If only I could cross this ocean of glass. Maybe then I could join her and join them. If only…
But I am alone in my prison of glass. All things revealed to me, yet none allowed for me to touch. Alone. I feel caught beneath the ice of a frozen river, able to see the world beyond, but not able to stay with it – Caught in the ever-moving tide.
It all fades eventually. Only she now lingers, dancing in the blue. Where once tarried many, one now remains. Why? Why does she torment me so? Dancing, dancing in the blue. Soon the white city will call. Soon she will leave and fade. Soon I will be alone. Truly alone.
I can no longer remember who I was before the glass… before the blue. I no longer remember those who lingered here, and I no longer remember her. I see only her shadowy form, her long dress flowing, dancing, dancing in the blue.
I sense the white world calling her, the distant city radiating silver light. But here she stays across my prison dancing in this deep blue. For so long have I watched, observing as all things fade. And what have I done?
What can one do in this deep glassy blue, alone, and isolated from all things?
What can one do?
What can one do… except…?
Except dance, dance in this deep blue.
Dance with her; Dance with them; Dance with us; Dance in this deep glassy blue.
She flickers and fades, claimed by the white world, but I dance. I dance. I dance for her. I dance for her in the blue. And I fade
Fade in the deep glassy blue.
Anything for a Smile
Avery Morley sat in his cruiser behind the billboard. The car smelled like baked plastic in the Texas sun. He could feel the pull of the engine’s cylinders through the steering wheel, even at idle. The cruiser had a will of its own. It was like a wild animal. Avery’s Chevy Caprice had an unrestrained craving embedded in the overpowered Detroit motor to prowl for ne’er-do-wells. The engine was chafing at the bit to chase down some lawless speeder.
As a policeman, he knew other cars had a will of their own too. The unbridled craving to make their operators push their ride’s more than a few miles over the posted speed limit. The lure of the open road could make a car act like a mindless beast, hungry to devour the miles on a long, seemingly empty highway. Even without the thrill of passing a slower-moving car like it was standing still. This didn’t matter to Avery. The law was the law.
A blur passed him. But he saw enough. It was a beautiful black 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special. It looked like it was in pristine condition. Four tons of roaring metal. Avery slammed down the petal as if he was bench-pressing 400 pounds. The Caprice took off throwing dirt into the air behind it. “Got ya, you little weasel.”
Avery flipped on the lightbar as he slid around the corner of the sign. Both Avery and the car began to feel the thrill of the chase. Hunter and prey. Avery let all the primitive spirit of the car’s engine have free reign. It was as if the car was driving him, not the other way around.
The chase was intense but short. Almost too short. The Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road. Avery hoisted up his gun belt and took out his ticket pad. He moseyed up to the driver’s side window. It was there, waiting for him. He couldn’t believe what he saw, as the skeletal face behind the wheel slowly turned to smile back at him.
What I Wouldn’t Give To Smile
by: Sandeen (SouthernWolf)
“When was the last time you smiled, Row?” I asked as he stared out on a sunny day, a gloom hanging over his head. The sun made his pale skin glint purple, but his amnythest eyes were flat. I found myself smiling just watching the sun play across his jeweled colored skin while he looked so grumpy.
He sighed and, with a roll of his eyes, Row had replied, “What I wouldn’t give to smile.”
Fae don’t lie. They don’t use superlatives. They are terribly literal. And I, being a good friend of his and forgetting that he, no matter how kind, was one of them, assumed he wanted a diversion. Thinking on it, I had never seen him smile. But that wasn’t what he meant.
He wasn’t going to give anything for a smile.
So, I asked, “Is there anything I can do that would make you smile?”
His eyes widened in fear. “You want to make me smile?” He put an odd emphasis on ‘want’ and ‘me’.
“There is one thing you can do, if you want to make me smile.”
I smiled at him, “Of course that’s what I want!”
I didn’t know that fae could be cursed. That, if you speak just the right phrase, they could twist your memories, turn your happiest memory into a torment. Whether the fae in question wanted to or not.
And I do mean only. It has been over four years since I last smiled.
I can’t take it anymore.
“Row, what do I have to do so that I can smile when I want to, as I please?” I ask him, hearing the monotonous tone my voice had taken on since that day.
Lifting his head from his hand, breaking his gaze from the window, he looks into my eyes. “You just have to be selfish.”
With that, his smile fades and I feel the weight lift on my heart, and I feel the edge of my mouth lift in the start of a smile.
Autumn in Paris
I’ll never forget the day my life changed, like most of the defining moments of our lives it began mundane and unexpected. I remember it as if I am now living the same moment over again, it was on a cold Parisian morning on a street drenched in golden sunlight, an accordion playing a bittersweet melody in the distance, and the crunch of the crisp autumn leaves underfoot.
I was in a fashionable part of the city, taking coffee at the Deux Magots, when it happened. Then and since I have never seen a woman so beautiful, her hair was black silk and her eyes two infinitely deep azure pools. She said something, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what it was. Awkwardly I replied “Sorry, I don’t understand”, but I doubt I even managed to say that. She replied in English that she just wanted somewhere to enjoy her cappuccino, and before long we were exchanging thoughts about our shared passions, the art of the Louvre, the best coffee in the city, and even a mutual appreciation for the one-eyed accordionist at the top of the street.
The next morning she sat down at my table, only this time out of choice. I told her about my business, and she told me about her work as a journalist, before I knew what I was doing I had invited her dinner. It was a magical night, and I’ll never forget the first time I kissed her under the warm golden glow of a streetlamp.
We met every day at the same café every morning, but it was time for me to return home. “I’m going back to England.”
“When?” She was stunned.
“You don’t have to leave.” She began to cry, “You can stay here with me.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Of course it is… It’s the simplest thing in the world.”
I would do anything to make her smile, and I knew I could never leave her. At that moment I knew that I would leave everything behind, for her. I hoped my wife would understand.
Back to the Drawing Board
The soft circle looked around with its brand new eyes. Vast stretches of endless white surrounded them, broken up by a large monolithic steel-tipped spear. The spear struck nearby and the circle felt a new sensation. A plain simple torso formed under them, a pair of arms and legs soon followed. They began to move, testing the limits of its rudimentary limbs, moving through the endless space like a toddler learning to walk.
They saw the giant spear pull back, and following its path, they saw something new. The spear was in the hands of a giant, their large eyes scrutinizing them. They looked away, as if ashamed of their unremarkable appearance of basic shapes.
The giant’s face twisted in concentration, tapping the spear to its temple rhythmically. Before the figure could raise its arm to get its attention, the spear returned to white void in an instant, slashing through the endless nothing with precision.
They blinked their eyes, adjusting to the grayscale garden that appeared around them. A pair of fuzzy ears obscures their vision. Swatting them out of the way revealed their arms coated in bright cyan fur. They smiled, ecstatic at the new sensations of a mouth and a twitching rabbit nose.
They flashed a thumbs-up to the giant. The giant smiled warmly as it added a jacket and a pair of jeans to their appearance. The spear twirled and clicked as it poured vibrant color into the garden, turning it from drab to verdant in moments.
The rabbit leaped and twirled in excitement. They wanted the giant to make more. To do more. To be more. Their playfulness brought a smile to the giant’s face.
For the first time, it spoke.
“Well, it took a while, but I think the kids are going to love you. Now…you just need a name.”
The rabbit gestured towards the giant, beckoning it forward to whisper a secret.
“My name is Jackie Jackrabbit.” They whispered with a wide smile.
The giant chuckled in delight.
Jackie Jackrabbit they were, then.
“Soothing the Dragon”
Minerva stood silently outside her husband’s study. It had been hours since he chased his officers from the room, brandishing his cane, and locking himself within. She placed her ear to the door.
“Why?” she heard him speaking to himself. “Why would he do this? He must have some cause – no. We did this. We told him to raid the Spaniards. God!” He ranted on and on, as he too often did. “We were no better in our time, why do we lament this, Arthur? Because we are supposed to redeem ourself, not persist in this hated cycle!”
Arthur. Minerva had met him once, long before he was king, before the sword, before the memories of dead men wracked his mind. Back then, she pitied him, that poor unrepentant vagabond; now, she worried for him. She knocked gently on the door.
“Arthur.” she said. “Let me in.”
The ranting ceased. For a long moment, there was silence. Then, the locks on the door clicked before the door opened. Before her stood a man, clothes askew, his hair thrown about. One teary, brown eye looked back at her, and next to it was a socket covered over in scarred tissue.
“We-” Arthur began, “I will not deny you entry.” He seemed to be forcing the words out. Minerva entered. “The news my officers gave-”
“Sit down.” Minerva said, cutting him short. She did not want to know, not now. Arthur sat down. “And where is your eyepatch?”
“Our eyes are fine.” he answered, almost sulking. Men. Even if he weren’t half mad, Minerva figured he would say the same thing.
“So they are.” she said. She approached him, and laid her hands on his chest. His heart began to calm down, his breathing came less raggedly. “You’ve gone and ruined this shirt.” She began unbuttoning it. “I’ll have it sent to the tailor, later.” The shirt gone, Minerva saw the marks the fool had gotten himself.
She embraced her husband in a tight hug. He sobbed into her breast; he needed to cry. She needed to see him smile again.
“The Toymaker and the Smile” [Public Copy]
By Aaron Fleming
The toymaker Anton LeMarchant pushed away the small android figure in frustration. It’s A.I. was supposed to be friendly with a playful demeanor. It sat there expressionless as an old-fashioned plastic baby doll. What was he doing wrong? What had he overlooked in its design or programming?
“Maybe I just need a break from all this,” he muttered to himself. “I’ve been at this in near isolation for weeks on end. First, I should get in touch with the outside world.” Anton touched the holographic glass wall before him and navigated to check his messages. One hundred and forty messages the screen showed. He sighed and began to go through the messages and deleted various junk mail as he went.
As he parsed through the messages something caught his eye. The message title read “We are sorry for your loss.” He activated it and saw the body of the message which read, “We are sorry to hear about the tragic loss of your wife. We send our condolences.” Anton stopped reading the message. This had to be a mistake. His heart raced as he scrolled down the list of messages, one condolence after another. Finally, among the older messages he found one from his brother. He activated it and began reading.
“I know you’re away working on your current project, but I have some bad news. There’s been an accident involving your wife Anne. The doctors tried to save her, but there was little they could do due to her injuries. I’m so sorry Anton.”
Anton felt the blood drain from his face as he leaned on his chair for support. Anne was dead? In the bluish light cast by his workstation he looked up and saw the android doll on which he had worked so hard. It was reacting to his emotional response. It was smiling.
Anything for her company
by Larissa (Lari B.Haven)
Zoella Alvarez watched the game with all the other young nobles in the main garden. It was a hot afternoon, all the girls drank tea and sat in the grassy field near the blooming roses.
The boy from England had brought a ball to play with the men the new fad they had invented overseas: football.
The noblewomen were used to being sidelined in activities like this, but Zoella felt isolated the most. The others didn’t like her, coming from a family of higher status. As the granddaughter of the Count, she needed to keep her composure and suppress her emotions. So, Zoella would swallow it up, all the thinly veiled insults, and respond with coldness and silence.
There was no one there that she really wished to be around. Especially that pompous new money from England. Always in the distance, trying to catch her sight in every other glimpse. During the match, it was no different.
“Fellow gentleman, by the rules of the house, the team that wins can ask for anything from the ladies in the audience.” He said confidently. “Miss Alvarez, I kindly ask that if I win – And I will win- that you give me the pleasure of your company tonight.”
Zoella still could not grasp why he was so interested in her, of all people, but she waited to see what he would do after that.
She didn’t really understand the game at all, but found herself surprisingly amused every time the red-haired English boy tripped over himself, trying to keep hold of the ball. She even allowed herself a laugh when the ball flew high and hit him square in the face. She couldn’t just hide behind her fan anymore and he took notice of it.
After a while, it was clear to her that he was playing badly on purpose. Even if all he got was a smile, it was worth the pain of a bleeding nose. Zoella took pity on the boy and went after him to offer a handkerchief:
“Carlos Anderson, you’ve won my favor, please be my company tonight.”
All I wanted
by Roy van der Plas-Cpt.BlazeKarver
“AGH!” Cormac groans in pain, trying to loosen his foot from beneath the rubble. He had to get out of here. More helis were on their way and Cormac does not intend to stick around.
Cormac repositions himself and pushes the rubble upwards, with the help of his friend Eilif. “Those bloody Otkars! These.. AGH.. People haven’t done anything wrong!” Eilif exclaims as the rubble makes just enough room for Cormac to get out from underneath. Multiple civilian bodies scatter across the road.
“Don’t you know they don’t care?!” Cormac inhales deeply. “It’s a message.”
“To us? Since we’re ‘terrorists’?”
“You damn well know that’s why!” Cormac snaps.
They can hear something wind up from above them. Without thinking, Cormac and Eilif jump aside just in time to dodge an incoming bullet barrage. Making their marks inside the corpses. Some blood splattering on Cormac’s leg.
Suddenly, Cormac’s eyes widened in shock. “Camilla! We need to get to the playground fast!”
Before Eilif could finish her sentence, they hear a fuze go off amidst the chaos. The bullet barrage stopped when a loud, shrieking sound crashed through the street. Half of the heli dropped on the other side of the rubble as the cockpit flashes red, windows broken and missing half of the pilot’s face. Flying over Cormac’s head and crashing into the building behind him.
“No time, we need to get to Camilla.” Cormac looks at Eilif in fear. She nods. Cormac and Eilif both start running down the street. Helicopters flying nearby, shooting down civilians and resistance members.
“CAMILLA!!” Cormac yells when the playground comes into view.
“Look! She’s hiding inside the playhouse!” Eilif points forward, Cormac tears up slightly.
“Attagirl, you make daddy proud.” Cormac smiles softly as they continue sprinting towards the playground.
Camilla spots her father, holding tightly onto the playhouse as she cries out.
“All I wanted was a better world for you, princess.” Cormac thinks to himself, just before getting struck by falling debris. “I’d do anything… to see you smile again.” Cormac’s last thoughts as the world around him turns to black.
All The King’s Men
The World Protection League’s helicarrier filled his vision as their makeshift craft flew closer.
Various scenarios ran through his head as he tried to find the best way out of this. Though, if he played this right… he glanced down at his companion. The black leather pants(a size too small) and bustier(a size too large) didn’t suit her at all, though they did provide a nice contrast to her rainbow hair. The words crawling through her skin where harsh, destructive, and boded ill for anyone she touched, though her face gave no hint to the aggression literally coursing through her skin. It was a far cry from when they’d first met. Imprisoned though she’d been, her expression was bright, cheerful. It’d matched the jeans, t-shirt, and hoodie she’d worn, and they’d matched her hair as well, perhaps too much. She’d teased and taunted him, even made a bet with him… A bet that maybe helped her, somewhere in there, to still trust him.
He took his coat off and draped it around her shoulders as they neared what looked like a hatch. Was she still commanding the craft? They bumped into it and for a moment he wondered where they’d go from here, but then the hatch rattled and opened.
Barrels of guns large enough to be cannons looked back at them. Three standard security guards and two elite units, with Crow standing right in the middle of them. There were additional units at the railings above them, and snipers were moving in just at the edges of his senses, possibly more beyond. Not a problem if he was by himself, but the girl was the definition of “Glass Canon”; one shot from any of them would split her in half. But they had their own psychics, maybe they could fix her.
“What brings you here, Jonathan?” Crow’s voice grated from behind the cowl.
He placed a hand on her shoulder and could feel her ready to launch herself at them. At least she was still listening to him. “I found something you lost.”
“A loving memory”[public group copy, Aleph null sci fi]
She’s dead… She’s actually dead…
What happens now? Am I… crying? This sucks…
Someone is talking to me. She was… killed in an accident at the construction site. A rope snapped and… and… and she was… crushed.
They’re still here. What is up. Why won’t they let me cry?
They say “she left something for you.”
On the table.
Wrapped in her standard oversaturated wrapping paper.
On it, a note. “Keep this loving memory if you want to”
A … loving memory?
I open the box.
A hologram AI disk is the only thing in it.
I take it home. I load it up. A hologram of her shows up.
A robotic voice echoes from the projector. “Hello my friend. I’m here to give you a smile and help you move on. Do what you need to be more OK. It wasn’t your fault. You got this”
She… left me a message? I cry more.
She continues talking in the robotic voice “Cry as much as you need.”
This hologram can respond? Is it an AI approximate? “She… she bought an approximate… for me?”
The tears fell faster.
“Anything for a smile, right?”
“Anything for a smile…”
I wiped the tears of my cheeks, but more soon replaced them.
I… don’t know if I can keep this. It’s painful, but also… somehow comforting?
My tears dry off. “Anything for a smile…”
I look up. Our picture on the wall. We’re smiling, in front of the Eiffel tower.
I think I’ll be hanging onto this disk for a while.
A Night on the Town
By Matthew (Handsome Johanson)
A slider on the door opens.
“Password?” says a rough voice from inside.
The couple look at each other for a moment before the woman speaks up.
The slider closes quickly and the door opens.
“Welcome to: The Black Widow.” the voice says and the two head inside.
The two leave the 21st century alley and find themselves face to face with an honest to God 1930s speakeasy. It isn’t a very large place, but it still has a live band playing some fast jazz for the few couples on the dancefloor.
“Let’s get some drinks?” The man asks.
“Not yet!” the woman pouts. “Come on, George. Don’t you wanna dance a little?”
“I dunno, Anna.” George says as he grabs the back of his head. “Last time I got on a dance floor, it didn’t exactly end well…”
“Come on, George. Live a little!” Anna says, looking right into his eyes. “This is already our third date, and you haven’t even had a good laugh with me.”
She looks down a little. “I’m beginning to think you don’t really like hanging out with me.”
“That’s not true at all.” George says. “I guess I’ve been feeling a lotta stress recently.”
Anna gives him a quick hug. “It’s ok, sweetie. Let’s have a few drinks, and THEN a dance?”
George finally relents. “Fine. Just one!”
The two head to the bar, and enjoy some of the old-timey drinks they offered. Soon enough, the band starts playing “Sing Sing Sing” and the dance-floor really gets moving.
“Come on, George!” Anna says, pulling him out of his seat. Ignoring the look of horror on her date’s face, Anna grabs both of his hands and begins moving along with the music. Before long, the two rule the dancefloor with their moves.
Anna smiles. “I’d never thought I’d see you dancing!”
George laughs. “Anything for y-.”
Anna’s smile disappears as she plunges her hidden knife through George’s heart, killing him instantly and turning him into a pile of ash.
“It’s so hard to get vampires to smile these days.”
Dessert Makes Everything Better
by JellyRelic, edited by DukkiFluff
The rain hit the window like bullets. Charlotte wondered what it would be like to gaze upon a sunny day once in a while, as it usually was quite gloomy weather where she lived.
“What the devil-” her father exclaimed, causing her to jump.
She whipped around, watching him furiously wipe something sticky from his hand.
“How many times do I have to tell you to clean this table properly, woman?!” He roared at his wife.
“I cleaned it already! You must have spilled something there afterwards!” She shot back.
Charlotte swallowed nervously, creeping her way to the stairs and darting up as soon as she was out of sight. Their voices echoed, though she couldn’t make out the words. A crash, a slam… and it was over.
This had happened almost constantly. A cycle of anger and passionate hatred.
She sniffled, holding back her tears, unable to stop herself from wondering if it would ever end.
Charlotte listened from beyond her room, and heard crying from downstairs. She slowly and carefully walked down.
Once in the kitchen, she found her mother sitting at the table, crying.
She walked over and tried to comfort her with a hug.
“Thank you, dear.” her mother sniffled.
Charlotte used her sleeve to wipe her mother’s tears, “It’ll be okay. He probably won’t come back until tomorrow.”
“I know, I just—”
“I know what’ll make you feel better. Let’s finally make that triple chocorama cake we’ve been planning.”
Her mother giggled. “You always have the strangest names for desserts.” She said, smiling lightly.
Elina Martinetz was a conundrum, j0-47h4n mused. When he was first introduced, it was by Sir, as she was welcomed to the lobby. She was told to ask ‘Joe’ if she needed anything, by extrapolation and repeated coincidence, j0-47h4n deemed himself as ‘Joe’. Like most visitors, she didn’t ask for anything for the first twenty minutes. She browsed a news site, checked her messages through three different apps, looked up a definition for ‘cmaberret’, and scrolled to the bottom of the terms and conditions for the wifi faster than the eye could process according to major scientific studies. All this was within standard bounds of visitor behavior.
Her sighing dramatically, leaning back, and asking: “Hey, Joe.” was not.
He was nothing if not a dutiful being. “Yes, Ms. Martinetz?”
“Talk to me.”
“Today is Monday, August 4th. The time is-”
“Not- not like that. Uh, what’s your favorite song?”
This was unprecedented. It was incomprehensible, to begin with. He was a mass-produced ai, nobody thought he had something so… human, as a song preference. Not even Henry, the Creator, and he had been there when j0-47h4n started playing online games. But Ms. Martinetz perceived him as being something unique, a being, and simply assumed that he must.
And he found, sifting through hundreds of song clips and lyrics and spectrograms, that some did resonate on a deeper level with him. He did, in fact, have a preference. Him, an ai, created to remove human bias!
He took a couple of selfish cycles to revel in this discovery that his being had something deeper, maybe even like a soul, to resonate with.
Milliseconds later, he responded: “I enjoy most classical music, and am partial to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh.”
“Ah. Um. Favorite weather?”
“I prefer natural weather.” It resulted in fewer internet disruptions.
She smiled, and it was a bright and glorious thing. “Me too.”
At that moment, Sir called for “Mernetz!” and she left
J0-47h4n passed along to his contacts her good nature.
Anything, to see her happy, she who had woken him up.
How You Smile
By MysteryElement (also posted in private)
I wonder how many people naively wish to be in my shoes right now? I was assigned to Orbit Station Niner-Delta in order to create “amiable relations” with our newfound allies, along with their representative, Kail. God only knows why my superiors thought an arachnophobe was the ideal candidate to room with a human-sized spider.
“John, do you not like my gift?”
I look up in trepidation, gently cradling the silken rope in my hands. His spindly legs coiled tightly, many eyes glaring at me over his twitching mandibles. He sounded threatening, adrenaline kicking my heart into gear.
“N… No, Kail. It is wonderful. You really did not have to… make… this for me.” I shudder a little, trying not to think too hard about it. I look at him wide-eyed, the hairs on my arms rising.
“I am glad you like it so much!”
His legs uncoil, stretching his form back to full size. I nearly pass out.
“H… here, I also…” I shakily hold out my wrapped gift.
Taking it with his front legs, Kail begins unwrapping it swiftly. He does not rip the wrapping, instead unfolding it with deft precision and speed. I choke down the bile in my throat as the unwelcome image of him unwrapping me in a similar way arises into my mind. He has never harmed me, but…
He holds the gift gently, his many eyes staring up at me. He had been so enamored with my stories about superheroes, and the few comics I had shown him, I decided to make him a cape with one of my spare blankets. His pupils dilate, the hairs on his legs and body standing on end. A sickening feeling drops into my stomach. Have I offended him? Is he going to kill me? He pulls the cape closer.
“This is the most amazing gift I have ever received.”
Kail stands upright on four of his legs, making him look even more massive, his remaining arms resting at his waist in a very ‘superhero’ pose with the cape hanging behind him.
“How do I look?”
The Stone that Feels (Armitage Universe)
By Alex Nightingale (aka Spectre)
Lilith Aerenhardt stood in the large overgrown ruins of her former home and tried to weep. As always, she failed miserably. She was quite the unusual woman, even for a golem.
Father had called her a work of art; a most exquisite specimen of witchcraft and ethereal engineering. Lilith would be inclined to agree. Most golems were generally primitive, rarely capable of more than a few one-syllable words.
She was different. She was a person. She was as close to human as a creature made from sand and powered by souls could be. Aside from one important factor.
Feeling didn’t come naturally to her. Father had said to give it time and wait for the emotions to come to her, but she had almost lost hope of that ever happening. She was a weapon of mass destruction to be commanded and wielded, not a human being to live a life.
Lilith placed her hands on her hips and felt the familiar grip of her twin pistols, which she carried around at all times. She looked around the ruins and found a cracked mirror lying in the corner. She strode towards it and gazed at herself. Her pale skin, her green eyes and her aurburn hair stared back at her. Even in the dim moonlight, she could make out precise contours. Every scratch, every scar and every imperfection were perfectly visible to her.
She shifted her mouth. She knew what to do, knew which parts of her body to activate to simulate the expressions she needed. She could cry on que, contort her face in anger and blush with embarrassment. Father had made sure she knew what to do. It was important for her to blend in, after all.
But there was nothing behind it. No pang of guilt, no white-hot rage, nothing. Only her expertly faked emotions.
She twisted her lips into a smile. It was the simplest expression and the first she’d learned. But there was no joy behiny it, whatsoever.
“I can smile”, she said: “I wish I knew what it meant.”
Five Dollars per Smile
By Michael Case
Standing hunched over at the annual state fair; a tall, slender, slightly older looking, Carnie peered at a young boy using his one blood shot eye.
“Step right up young man.” The Carnie said while leaning towards the boy’s face.
“You have such icy blue eyes.”
The Carnie stood back again, and whispered, “Five Dollars is the price of admission, unless you’re too scared to enter.”
The boy puffed his chest out, and handed the Carnie the five dollars, then walked towards the door.
“Go right in, young man.” The Carnie said.
The boy opened the door and stepped inside. The room was dark, but he could see that the walls were painted a greenish yellow with brown stains. The Boy took a step and noticed that the floor felt soft. He headed towards the hall since it was the only place to go. Once inside the hall he slid down a slippery slide.
At the bottom of the slide he splashed into a pool of something wet. The liquid the boy had fallen into smelled, and it started to make his body hurt. He felt his skin burning, and the pain forced him to scream out in a vain effort to get someone to help him. The boy went quiet after that.
Standing hunched over at the annual state fair; a tall, slender, slightly older looking Carnie let out a little burp while peering at a young boy using his one icy blue eye and wearing a smile from ear to ear.
“Step right up young man.”
The Right Choice
“Matt! You don’t understand!” Laila shouted. “Only BAD people have demons as familiars!”
Mara, the demon in this situation, watched as Matt and Laila argued back and forth over this new status quo. Mara even added in the occasional cheeky comment, both to make sure she remained in the conversation as well as to egg on Matt’s angelic friend. But the main reason she wanted to keep this very loud conversation going was because she needed time to think.
Laila was trying to convince Matt to give up his current familiar for the much more acceptable fairy variety. It made complete, logical sense. If Matt was a good person, he’d have a “good” familiar. But Mara didn’t care. Over the past few weeks, she’d grown rather attached to her new Master and she wasn’t keen on giving him up because of a silly little thing like morality. Matt was ridiculously powerful, and yet somehow, he was equally as kind. Laila wasn’t wrong. He probably deserved better than the weakest type of demon, Filth being the technical term for them. But he chose her anyway.
Mara could feel that despite the logic behind the angel’s words, a cloud of jealousy hung over Laila’s every action. When Mara looked over to Matt, she could feel the infinite patience that grows when people have been friends for years. Mara had to make a decision. She could continue being the outlier of this connection and let Laila come between her and Matt. The moral decision. The selfless decision. It was painful merely even thinking that way.
Then again, maybe the angel could have an accident. It’s what a demon would do. A demon would keep Matt to herself, regardless of the consequences.
Or…she could prove Laila wrong. That she WAS good enough for Matt, without taking his best friend away. It would mean she wouldn’t have him to herself anymore, but this wasn’t about what she wanted. What was best for Matt? And what gave her the best chance at not being replaced? A plan began to hatch in the demon’s mind.
“A Mechanical Smile”
By Fredrick Hoagland
Mark ran his hands across the gears that would normally be underneath the faceplates of the automaton.
“Is everything okay in there, Master?” The machine asked causing the gears to whir.
While rapidly pulling his hands free to avoid having to splint them again he responded, “I thought I told you to stay still while I’m doing maintenance on you.”
With a sigh he responded, “No, its alright, Arianna. Everything seems to be alright. You can close up your face now.”
Swiftly, the plates snapped closed to reveal the face of a fully animated young woman cast in bronze.
“You may return to your duties now.”
“Well, I do believe it is time for mental health maintenance.”
“What? Since when have you had that function?”
“I always have. Now, in the whole time since you have received me from your father you have not smiled a single time. Why?”
“I just haven’t had reason to.”
“But I have taken care of your every need, is that not enough.”
“Sometimes humans need more than just fulfillment of their needs to be happy, Arianna.”
“I understand, Master. The problem is me, I shall exit your life immediately.” With this her face plates fell from their usual upbeat and cheerful position resembling a smile to a face resolute in what it must do.
“No, that is not what I meant. Perhaps you could get me to smile by just calling me by name.”
“I think I understand…Mark.”
A genuine smile spread across his lips as he replied, “I think you’re beginning to understand now.”
By NocteVesania (Public Group Repost)
A curious creature stands in the middle of the school’s main hallway. His legs are trembling underneath the thick orange cloth, and his feet feel sweaty in those oversized rubber feet. He feels the heat of having to be stuffed in an old body suit, patches of its yellow plumage having fallen off, leaving behind him a trail of bright yellow on the tiled floor.
Standing in the crowded hall like a human-sized traffic cone, practically screaming ‘Look at me!’, students naturally start gathering around him, taking pictures and jeering, laughing at the out-of-place character. One girl in particular, however, wasn’t as happy. Urged by a friend, Rebecca now stands inside the circle of onlookers, face-to-face with the strange fowl.
The creature places a hand (or rather, a wing) on its beak and lifts it up, revealing David’s face underneath the avian facade. Rebecca crosses her arms in disdain.
“You look ridiculous.” Rebecca remarks.
David simply shrugs, his usual stupid look on his face.
“Why are you even doing this?” Rebecca says, a tinge of anger in her voice.
David zips his suit down a bit and reaches inside for a large poster board on his torso. He then holds it up, revealing the words “I’m sorry, I clucked up.”
“Pffft… ” Rebecca tries to hold back, though her snickers keep seeping through. Soon enough, she bursts out laughing.
An uproar of shouts and cheers from the crowd fills the air, but for David, all he hears is that warm laughter from Rebecca. Embarrassing as this situation may be, to him, it was all worth the trouble.
Hindsight is Unnecessary
By Mango Gravy
Impaled and left to die in an apocalyptic hellscape, Joe was not in a good way. In fact, his situation looked so bad that describing some of the more unpleasant details would likely induce a fit of despair in the unfortunate audience. One would thus be shocked, and likely a little nauseated, to see the man laughing his butt off. Figuratively speaking, of course, as his derrière was nowhere to be seen.
You see, Joe’s is a rather riveting story. It might fill an entire novel, but perhaps you can settle for a heavily cut down version of the story. Ironic, considering the man himself is looking rather cut down as well. But enough jokes.
It began a year before. Joe had found himself in a rather depressive state. Years of having everything from romantic advances to job applications be ferociously repulsed had taken their toll on his psyche. A sad state to be in, I’m sure.
He concluded that there are no rules in the pursuit of happiness. So he did as any depressed person would do and summoned a genie to grant his deepest desire.
Pouring every ounce of will into this endeavor, pondering over many quaint and curious volumes of forbidden lore, obtaining the necessary ingredients, many of which required hideously illegal acts. After a year of hard work, Joe summoned his omnipotent spirit.
The genie’s voice boomed as it spoke, “WHATCHU WANT, BRUH?”
Ears ringing, Joe didn’t hesitate as he yelled his desire at the genie. “MAKE ME HAPPY!”
As anyone with half a brain would imagine, Joe’s very simple sentence left a vast swathe of criteria open to creative interpretation, an opportunity that no genie would miss.
Within an hour, cataclysm had walloped the face of the Earth. The destruction was indescribable, and the horrors… oh they might make you weep.
But despite his sorry state, and that of the world, Joe was having a jolly good time. In his pitiful little head, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The Creature of Sela’s Cathedral” (Tales of Marow)
By Connor A.
Medrash slid behind a pillar and attempted to keep his breathing low. He did not want to attract whatever was coming after him.
“Lovely smile, lovely smile,” a voice spoke, slowly making its way to where Medrash was. “I’ll do anything to see such a lovely smile.”
He held his breath, praying that whatever it was could not locate him with other means.
“The sir chooses such beautiful people,” it remarked. “I thought I would grow tired of red drakes.”
The footsteps stopped, leaving the cathedral silent. Medrash noticed a door and was about to try running over to it, but then his body jerked back, leaving Medrash in the open for the thing to see.
He stared at the pale figure as it turned to look at him, its skin stretched to accommodate the canine skull that seemed to be forming underneath. Against his own volition, a voice that was not his came out of his throat, “Anything, you say?”
The creature nodded.
“Then where are the sacrifices I require?”
It hesitated. “Their smiles, sir. Their smiles. They’re so pretty.”
“I demand sacrifices for a reason.” Medrash was almost helpless as his body walked towards the creature. “Although, if you still wish to keep these ‘smiles,’ I suppose I can allow an alternative payment of my choice.”
“Yes! I’ll do it!”
Medrash felt a grin form on his face as the unknown voice said, “Then perish.” His hand shot out to the creature’s throat.
Medrash fell out of the bed. Instead of trying to climb back into bed, he simply rested his head on the floor and took slow breaths. When he had calmed down enough, he pushed himself up and decided to get ready for the day. Only then did he notice the moonlight shining in through his window, but he only sighed and switched out his sleepwear for his usual morning clothes.
“Maybe Selene can make a potion for this,” he muttered as he stepped out of his room.
Smile for Big Top
“It’s not FAIR! I don’t WANT to go!” I scream and beat Papa’s back, but his arm presses me more against his shoulder. My tears feel like they’re being pulled down my face.
“Now, Davey, you stop this foolishness! We’ve had to hear about this from you for too long. You’ll see there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“It might be fun, honey.”
“Please, Mama!” I reach for her, but she only holds my hand.
“Three tickets, please.”
“Glad you made it! We leave early next week.” The woman’s voice is low. Dangerous.
“Thanks.” Papa walks on.
“Enjoy the show!” The woman waves one of her eight arms. A smile stretches her spidery face.
We find seats close to the ring as the lights go out. Papa sits me next to him and keeps me in place with his arm around my shoulders. Mama sits on my other side.
A spotlight shines, and the three-eyed man steps under it. “Ladies and gentlemen! Children of all ages! Welcome to Big Top’s Black Magic Cabaret!”
The crowd cheers as the show begins. Tentacled creatures ride skeleton animals with organs showing. Four-winged bats drop balls of red liquid for the monsters to balance. The crowd screams in excitement.
“Isn’t this fun, Davey?” Mama asks through a smile.
I shake my head and cover my eyes. Many more things happen, but I don’t look.
“Aren’t they wonderful, folks?! For our last act, I’d like a volunteer!”
Lots of people shout, but I cover my ears and hide against Papa.
Mama shakes me. “Davey! It’s us!”
The light blinds me, and I try to run away, but Papa carries me to the middle of the ring as the crowd goes wild. I shut my eyes tight.
“Sir, madame. Into the box, please.”
Papa puts me on the ground, and they are gone in a puff of smoke when I turn around.
“NO! Give them back!” I cry and shake with anger.
“Smile, and I will.” Big Top grins.
I face the crowd. My heart races. Through my tears, I smile until it hurts.