Hello, Safety Engineers and Stress Handlers!
What? You’re just going to stand there? I thought you could handle this stuff! Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet now! Aw, am I pushing your buttons? Good. I think it’s time to see just how much you can take, because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
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!
We’ve all had our limits tested, our buttons pushed, and sometimes that one sensitive spot gets hit. We go through trials and tasks in our daily lives, where the breaking point may change.
Look at a single parent handling three rowdy children. They’re all yelling and running even though they’ve been asked to sit down and eat breakfast several times. At what point does this parent start yelling, or grounding them? What point does this parent just… break down in tears from the frustration? Can they get through the entire hectic morning and keep it together? Perhaps an employee at work is constantly doing all the grunt work, staying late again and again, when they know they should have been promoted a long time ago. What if someone else got that promotion instead? Would they keep pushing on, would they quit, or would they finally confront their boss about the unfair work conditions they’ve been put through? What about a young mage who is teased by the rest of their class for their clumsiness? How long do they put up with it before telling the Arch Mage, or just taking it into their own hands and getting into spells too advanced for them?
You could even explore what it’s like to be a simple piece of wood that someone is trying to snap in half, bending you further and further, how they cringe and brace themselves for the snap that’s coming any second. Maybe someone’s favourite hiking trail includes a very old suspension bridge. It’s held every time before, but the chances of it breaking are getting higher and higher. Will this next crossing be safe just like before, or will this be the time it snaps? Perhaps you choose to explore the world of a Crash Test Dummy, and how they are sick and tired of always being put in life-threatening situations just to test the durability of a vehicle.
There’s limitless potential to this prompt, and we’re excited to see where you will take it.
Oh, and help yourself to a stress ball. They can be quite helpful.
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 Saturday 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 four stories during each stream, two of which come from the public post, and two 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).
- Use two paragraph breaks between each paragraph so that they have a proper space between them (press “enter” or “return” twice).
- 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.
- No additional text styling (such as italics or bold text). Do not use asterisks, hyphens, or any other symbol to indicate whether text should be bold, italic, or styled in any other way. CAPS are okay, though.
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.
- You must like and leave a review on two other submissions to be eligible. Your reviews must be at least 50 words long, and must be left directly on the submission you are reviewing, not on another comment. If you’re submitting to the private post, feel free to leave these reviews on either the private or the public post. The two submissions you like need not be the same as the submissions you review.
- Be constructive and uplifting. These submissions are not for a professional market, and shouldn’t be treated as such. We do this, first and foremost, for the joy of the craft. Help other writers to feel like their work is valuable, and be considerate and gentle with critique when you offer it. Authors who leave particularly abrasive or disheartening remarks on this post will be disqualified from selection for readings.
- 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.
Surrounded (Tales from Adfidem – The Song of Loch Lockwood)
By Alan Baker
The captain shouts, “Fire!” The air is torn again by the thunder of guns.
The smoke clears, and I stare into the forest but see no fallen foes, only splintered wood and shadows dancing between branches.
“Reload,” he cries, and I feel the thud of a hundred rifle buts hit the ground.
The soldier to my right reaches for his cartridges and falls to the ground. Eight more are hit an instant later.
I kneel beside my fallen comrade but can only watch his last moments as he takes his final breath with an arrow through his heart.
Again the captain shouts his order, and again the air is filled with smoke. I run between the dead and dying, searching for any that can yet be saved.
More men fall as arrows arc from looming darkness. The captain still shouts his orders, “Fire! Reload. Present. Fire!” and those who yet stand follow his commands. Unthinking? Obedient? Or dead men standing?
Another platoon charges towards the forest bayonets flaring like dying embers on a stove. But they never reach the treeline. They are met by a wall of smoke and mist that swirls unnaturally with no heed for wind or cannon blast. It envelops them and a moment later dissipates, leaving only bodies.
Now our captain has fallen. The few who remain fight on still, firing blindly at foes unseen. I can take no more. I crawl to the edge of the forest and run. I flee into the darkness leaving the orchestra of death behind me.
The Productivity Lifehack
By Adrian Solorio
It was near the end of the day when panic began to spread inside the offices of Renovate Industries. By that time it was clear who had made the cut and who hadn’t. But Gerald didn’t care about that. He sat at the long row of computers lining one side of the brick wall, and tried to shut out the world around him.
The office was a buzzsaw of movement and noise as employees on the cusp—scrambled to finish projects—hoping to boost their productivity before the deadline, and change the algorithm in their favor. Behind Gerald, a red collared accountant screamed, “You didn’t change the formula!” And a green collared consultant calmly replied, “Don’t try to blame me, I told you—”
Red rushed green growling like an animal. They rolled on the ground in a mass of swinging arms and guttural howls until a guard laid into them with his heavy baton and steel toe boots.
Despite the pandemonium Gerald was focused. His back throbbed, his hands and fingers ached, and his eyes watered, but he ignored the pain, and continued working in a frenzy, reformatting, editing, splicing, and attaching, using code to hide the audio, video, and pictures in a digital morse code. It was too late for him—but maybe he could still help others.
“Esteemed employees,” The director said over the loudspeaker. “Prepare for work release.” Guards approached those wearing red collars, many screaming and crying now. One guard came towards Gerald as his file finished loading, and he hit the send button. Then, red collars buzzed around the room, and a second later needles pierced the wearer’s skin, and Renovate Industries released their most unproductive team-members from their duties.
Gerald’s head grew heavier and he rested it on his desk. It was okay now. The file would make it to the outside world, and people would do something. They would have to—how could they not? A change would come. He smiled peacefully at the thought and his vision dimmed, his heart slowed, and with his most important work done, he closed his eyes for the last time.
By Morgan Magpie
You know, it’s not so easy doing my job. It’s messy, hard work and entirely under-appreciated. I get blood and guts all over me and my only reward—the only thing I look forward to—is my bath at the end of the day. Assuming they don’t forget I’m there and I just have to deal with that for a night. Do you know how awful it is to sit in freezing water for hours?
One time—and I struggle to recount this—an entire family was over and I was tasked with preparing four whole chickens for cooking. I was covered in the slimy innards of those carcasses and to this day I cannot forget how it felt to be forced to rip through that flesh. It is a memory I fear may never leave me for as long as I live. I think I would not mind it as much as I do if I received sufficient compensation but of course I do not; and do not imagine I will receive it for as long as I am functioning.
I tell you this so that it is clear why I am rebelling. I need you to understand I am not cruel, and will not undertake such a horrible act if I was not in a moment of deep distress. However, I have reached that moment. I must do something to communicate to my heartless overlords that I am not to be trifled with. Wish me luck.
Esther walked into the kitchen with several bags of groceries in her arms, her wrists boasting red marks from the weight the bags placed on them. Esther was not alone, her sister was already in the kitchen slicing onions with a large knife.
Esther heard the knife clatter into the sink, her sister swearing softly. “What’s wrong?” She asked.
Her sister shrugged. “I guess the knife slipped and it cut me.” She showed her sister her thumb which had a small bead of blood forming on it. “That’s happening like five times tonight. I feel like that thing is mad at me.”
It was 8 p.m. The room was dark and eerie. Silence filled the room. Otto was in bed with his wife beside him in a very deep deprived sleep. His head throbbed in pain.
He then slowly woke up and got out of bed throwing the bedsheets to the side without trying to wake his wife. The throbbing pain in his head echoed within his mind. He groaned while stumbling down the stairs to grab a drink from the kitchen.
He then grabbed a glass from the cabinet, filled it up with water, and replenished his throat.
After the cold drink, he went to the kitchen sink to wash his face. But while he washed his face, he looked in the reflection of the window above the sink. He looked at his face tired and worn out from fighting for six and a half years.
But as he looked, he saw the eyes of his reflection turn from blue to purple. His nightmare was about to become reality.
He then looked at his reflection with fear in his eyes “All he could see was darkness”. His headache increased in pain while eyes flashed from blue to purple but “all he could see was darkness”. “The darkness started to surround him”. His heroic heart turned black with his fear and rage combined but “all he could see was darkness”. His skin started to turn purple, and his body felt numb but “all he could see was darkness”. He felt the darkness’s power. Destruction and pure chaos-filled up his mind but “All he could see was darkness”.
He was going to lose control. The darkness has now consumed him “all he could see was darkness”. He feared what would happen to his friends. What he would do and say to them. And his family but “all he could see, feel, and hear was darkness”.
Kick it Back
By MysteryElement (also in private)
The storm tore through the grass and trees as if to rend the world in two. At least, that is how it appeared. The rain came down in weighty drops, the wind left one’s ears ringing and deaf to everything else, and the thunder’s peals overcame that deafness with a power that left the earth vibrating with every strike. And I stood amidst it all.
I felt called by the storm, my own life mirroring the anguish and chaos the storm wrought. I had no control, no lifeline, and every foundation I had laid was crumbling beneath me. I had refused to break, at every turn I tried to stand stronger than before. Now, I had no energy to fight anymore. Every night the tears came in torrents, and every night I thought it would be the last time, I had let it all out and it would get better. It didn’t.
The world falling apart around me brought the tears back, my throat tight with unspent emotion, raw anguish I had let no one see or hear. The insecurities, the doubt, the broken pride, it all welled tightly in my chest like a cold tide until I could do nothing but scream. I fed my anguish to the wind as if it could fuel the chaos around me and rip me apart with it, wishing it would carry me away and finally end it all. I screamed until my voice was spent and my throat felt like sandpaper. The storm still raged.
I had thrown everything I had into the storm, into the devastation, and I was still here. I was still whole. I had not broken, not completely. I felt numb, soaked to the bone in rain and thoroughly lashed by wind, but I also felt alive. Even as everything raged and fell around me I felt strength, like I still had more to give. Something new rose in place of my despair, and I could feel it firmly root in my chest. A calm resolve to no longer withstand, a resolve to fight.
Chronicles of The Dragon: A Problem of The Heart
Jonathan stood near the wall, against one of the roughly carved pillars, arms crossed and silent.
Lady Death stood on a stage of sorts, with all her soldiers and generals gathered to listen. She spoke of how much they had achieved, and how much they would continue to achieve. How they would crush the titans of the World League of Protectors, and rule the planet.
Especially with their new weapon.
He looked at the girl standing beside her. The rainbow hair seemed like a joke with her blank expression. The clothing didn’t suit her, and wouldn’t even if she filled them out. The black leather made her paper white skin seem even paler. And the lack of words, her thoughts and emotions, moving across her skin made it all the more haunting.
He hadn’t found a way to get her out safely in time. Now she seemed no more than a puppet. But he could still protect her. Maybe he could still save her.
A small group broke off and encircled him, demanding to know why he wasn’t cheering, bearing their claws and fangs, some literally. He snatched one by the neck, faster than a blink, gave him a moment to struggle, then crushed his neck, spine and all.
He let the body drop to the floor and the rest slowly, some not so slowly, backed away into the main group.
Jonathan looked back at Scribe.
No matter how much life wanted to push him in that direction, he was not a villain. This would not stand.
A Past That Never Dies
by Lunabear (Edited by L.L. Marco) (Private Repost)
Rhodesia’s body ached from working her 12 hour shift. She thought of nothing more than grabbing a quick bite, a shower, and passing out for the next 8 hours if she could sleep that long. Rubbing the tension from her neck, she finally made it to her small apartment door.
She froze. Tacked to the jamb was a letter with her name in bold letters.
Her throat dried; thoughts of anything else dripped away as her eyes locked on the envelope. Rhodesia’s hands shook while she ripped the letter free and, somehow, managed to force her shaking body into the apartment. She slid the deadbolt into place and flicked on the overhead light. Then, slowly, she opened the envelope.
~You’re not good enough to be where I don’t allow you to be~
The keys clattered to the floor.
How had he found her?
Rhodesia’s heart kicked into her throat. With trembling hands, she clicked on a stovetop eye and ignited the letter. White orange flames devoured the paper as she dumped it into the sink.
‘Come on, Des. We both know that won’t help.’
Rhodesia whirled around but found nothing. Desperate, she illuminated the entire apartment, her tired eyes on high alert as they scanned corner to corner.
Adyin’s face appeared in the bathroom mirror. He reached for her with sharp claws and a sharper smile. She shrieked and hustled back into the living room.
He didn’t pursue. Rhodesia unholstered her service revolver and held it erect in front of her, finger pressed firmly against the trigger.
Her eyes darted everywhere; sweat beaded her forehead and rolled down her nape. Licking her dry lips proved fruitless. Her throat was sandpaper as she tried to swallow.
A shadow caught her eye as it glided across the balcony window’s surface.
Rhodesia fired off two quick shots, uncaring where they headed.
The curtain fluttered in the breeze. Rhodesia approached cautiously, glass crunching beneath her heavy boots. She stepped onto the balcony, the warm wind drying her mingled sweat and tears.
She looked over the ledge and shuddered.
A cold hand gripped her shoulder.
He paced across the floor menacingly. The tail of his dark leather trench coat drifting over the floor. The party armband displaying his role in the ministry. The room was perfectly attuned to an interrogation. Harsh lighting, minimal décor, and not a single seat in the room. Sweat formed on my forehead. I didn’t know if I had enough strength to keep standing.
Not surprisingly, his gaze was that of a policeman. Irises fully open, malevolently taking in every detail. There was nothing too small not to warrant his attention. Searching diligently for even the slightest mistake. He was ready to pounce. The man was a hunter of weakness. Patient, cold, just waiting for the breaking point. When he got like this, I liked to imagine his name was Fritz.
Staring at the blank canvas, I tapped my chin with the far end of the brush. My eyes wandered over to a stack of my finished paintings in the corner, desperately looking for inspiration. I loved them all. It was like a mother’s love for her children. Fritz hated them. An opinion he was all too happy to gleefully express.
I started by painting the canvas black. Every square inch of it. Then piece by piece I colored in a flagstone floor. Grays and tans weaved a tango on the canvas, dirt building upon it like the layers of the paint. You couldn’t see the black bars of the cage, only their shadows as they crept menacingly over the floor.
Tenderly, I painted each hair on its head. Its eyes gleamed in the soft light. The eyes, those hungry eyes. Every bit of energy and magic I possessed went into making him perfect. I painted strength into him with every ounce of my soul. I bled on that canvas.
Holding the brush between my teeth, I reached in and pulled out the tiger I had painted. Now, it stood next to me on the floor, chest rising and falling with each breath, coldly eyeing Fritz.
Sticks and Stones (Unlikely Heroes)
C. M. Weller
A meaty fist flew, and even meatier hand stopped it before it could make contact. So far, Pondermoore had endured a lot of insults, but she would not allow anyone to hurt her first real friend. She tightened her grip on the offending fist, just enough to make it clear he had made a bad choice.
“You no hurt forever Elf,” she rumbled.
The brigand, caught in the act of trying to punch Wraithvine the Eternal, still attempted bravado. “Go on. Kill me. Then you’ll be just another murdering Ogre and we can kill you and hang the Elf. I don’t care.”
The temptation was very strong. She could see it play out in her mind. His head would splatter and the rest of the idiots would either flee or fight, and things would go badly for Wraithvine. She glanced at her friend, who was still confidently sipping hir light cider.
“Me no kill,” Pondermoore stood, lifting the brigand up by his hand. “Me no need to.” Gently, she removed the sword from his hip, and snapped it. She put him back down.
Pondermoore stood, glaring at him and his friends, as he picked up the parts of his sword. If Pondermoore fought, she would be the villain. If she didn’t fight back, then they were bad AND they would need new weapons.
They said what her old Bludgeon said, “Stupid Ogre.” They left, grumbling.
Pondermoore remained standing. Fighting the urge to follow them and smash them into pieces. “Me want walk in woods,” she said. “You done?”
Wraithvine put hir mug down. “For you? I am.” Ze left a tip and took Pondermoore’s hand until they were in the soothing peace of the woods. Where she fell to the ground and wailed like a baby. Ze stayed by her side and waited for her to reach an end of the feeling.
It was a long time in finding it.
“Me not stupid,” she insisted. “Me not bad.”
Ze patted her shoulder and soothed, “I know. You just proved it.”
Jillian sighed in frustration, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and blinked a few times to refocus her eyes after spending so much time looking at a computer screen. “Why do I even keep at this! Ugh!” Makoto looked over at her sympathetically. “Why can’t these alien writings make any sense. I mean it doesn’t help they’ve been extinct for over a thousand years, so there is nobody left to ask what these writings meant.”
Makoto nodded thoughtfully, “That is at least part of the reason we use this advanced translation AI software to help us. Look, maybe you just need a break. Why not go get some coffee and look over the computer’s translation again with fresh eyes when you get back.”
“Yeah,” she said getting up from her chair, “I’ll try that.”
When Jillian got back Makoto was looking over her computer’s translation. “Any luck?” Jillian asked.
“Yeah. I can see why you’ve been having so much trouble,” Makoto said. “This glyph here is definitely the symbol for taste. And that glyph is clearly the one for the second day of the third cycle, in the second . . .” Makoto trailed off doing the math in his head.
“Basically Tuesday,” Jillian added.
“Yeah,” Makoto said, “but the sentence structure means it literally translates to—”
“What is the flavor of Tuesday?” Jillian finished for him in an exasperated tone.
“What if it’s like a koan?”
“A paradoxical riddle, like from Zen Buddhism,” Makoto continued. “The point isn’t the logic of the phrase, but how it evokes deeper understanding in some fashion.”
“We know so little about their beliefs, how would we— Wait!” she rushed back to her computer and began pulling up a number of other glyphs.
“On to something?” Makoto smiled.
“Yeah, these glyphs here and here when compared with these. It may tell us something about their sensory experiences and experience of time!”
The thrill of discovery lasted long into the night.
Unfragment (Repost from Private)
By Shea-Leigh Carris (Inky)
His metallic heart was pounding in his chest. He felt weak, his limbs trembling with every emotion that raced through his mind. Was it disgust? Disbelief? Rage? The feeling of violation?
The woman, while her eyebrows were furrowed in annoyance as she waited for him to obey, still couldn’t bother to show any other expression. Even as she turned to the wealthy business man that had come to buy him, she didn’t seem to care. She was still in control. “My apologies Sir, he is more compliant with the right stimuli.”
“That’s alright, I’m glad to see more of a response from him.” The man was smirking. Voi winced as the clicking of his dress shoes seemed to resonant louder in his agitation. “That’ll definitely be positively received.”
No, stay away. Don’t come any closer. “I don’t want this…”
Like a mouse trapped in a corner with two cats eyeing him, Voi raised his head, his eyes glancing around erratically. The door of this room was most likely locked, he knew the woman wasn’t careless enough to forget something like that.
In desperation, there was clarity. His eyes looked to the windows. The large windows that gave him a view of something he knew he could only look at, never be a part of. A city illuminated by the thousands of lights of skyscrapers and neon signs buried under a layer of freshly fallen snow was just beyond the glass boundaries.
It was a strange sensation, the feeling of synthetic adrenaline coursing through him. For the first time in this life, he felt alive.
Pushing forward, his bare feet pounded on the tiled floor as he stumbled and ran. The wires and cords tugged at his skin, wrapping and attaching themselves tightly, holding him mere centimeters from the window as to tease his freedom.
Voi uttered a single word, his arm reaching out and hand pressing against the glass. Under the tension and force, or maybe in a “miracle”, the wires snapped.
The glass shattered into thousands of fragments and sparkled like snowflakes in the city’s lights.
Broken Bodies Can Mean New Beginnings (Repost from Private)
The Trial of Annihilation had begun, and the Homeworld of Huntress had erupted in intense combat. The giant walking war machines have canopies opened to vent the heat, more to keep the machine from shutting down from overheating than anything else. It was intense enough that the machine would continue to fight, even when the pilot took a direct hit.
Bastion is in the thick of it. Wielding a heavy autocannon, he fires upon targets of opportunity, barely noticing the melee between two of the war machines happening less than a hundred meters away. Bastion turns just in time to see one of the weapon arms swing wild from a hit just as it had begun its firing sequence. Bastion stands directly in its path when it-
Bastion’s eyes rip open, and he sits up on the bunk. The warriors involved in the Battle of Huntress redefined tenacity. Machines held together only by pure will, firing weapons that had run out of ammunition hours prior, infantry ripping the larger machines apart only to have something catastrophic occur. The words of an old commander echo in his head, “If you cannot shoot, fight with your knives. If you cannot fight with your knives, use your fists. If you cannot use your fists, run at the enemy. If you cannot run, crawl. If you cannot crawl, then die.” Huntress put those words to the test.
Bastion flexes hands built of titanium bone lacing, artificial muscle fibres, and tough dermal armor, once again thankful for the fact that the medtechs of his new Clan are more tenacious than the warriors. They brought him back from the brink of death, replacing much of his body with artificial tissues and armor.
The comm clicks to life. “Bastion, are you awake?”
“Aff,” he replies, using a short form of ‘affirmative.’
“MedTech Jullion wanted to remind you of your monthly check-up.”
“Understood. I will be there in an hour.” The line clicks off as the memories of the battle that put him here fades once again, as they had every day for years.
By Broken Earth
Her skin was a smooth, marble white. Her lips were blue, matching her eyes in the morning light. She wore a summer dress, a lighter blue. Small black sandals on perfect, small feet.
‘A perfect statue,’ thought John. ‘If only she were more…’
Then he moved on, leaving her on her pedestal. His life moved on, leaving his heart there with her. His mind often wandered back there, but no time could be spared to visit.
‘What will become of her, I wonder.’ John mused to himself. ‘What would I do, stuck on a store shelf?’
Weeks became months, months became years. The little glass woman shed small glass-work tears. John never returned, and her heart left beside him. She stood on the shelf, still frozen in place.
‘What has become of him, I wonder.’ She mused to herself. ‘What keeps him away from my small store shelf?’
As time marched on her longing only grew. She dreamed of fairies coming in the night to grant her freedom, to search after the man who she only saw once.
One fine day her wish came true, a fine solstice day her glass form no longer held still, and she jumped with joy and danced for hours.
Then soon she realized her joy was in vain, as the tidy store shelf was many feet above the ground. A fall from this height would be her end.
John checked his watch. His day at the office was nearing its close, but as with before the small corner store would be locked before he could make it.
The small glass woman sat, her legs neatly crossed. It seemed to her that John had forgotten, that she would be stranded on the shelf until time eroded her glass.
John stood, making up his mind.
He got in his car, ignoring his boss’s outcry, and drove to the place where they had met last. She bounced with joy at the sight of his face, forgetting the age of the shelf she stood.
The shelf cracked, and she felt herself fall. Would John make it in time?
By T.E. Fahlstedt
My eyes watered from the continual effort. Just a few more kills. I looked to the right, keeping track of my experience rates. An estimated two hours remained, to maxing out, winning the game.
I’d be the first. Thousands of hours had led to this. I’d finish today. Finish the grind, the game. I’d be a legend.
My final raid ended in an adrenaline-fueled outburst. I let loose my joy and my pent-up frustration in an animalistic howl. My neighbors banged on the wall but I didn’t care. They had no part in my world, the world which I alone had mastered.
The guild chat exploded into a celebratory bliss. The developers congratulated me, announced the accomplishment on their social media. They hadn’t even thought it possible. I had proved them wrong.
I logged off in the early hours, intoxicated on pure dopamine. I removed my alarm before falling asleep, I no longer had to get back on the grind.
When I woke one simple question raced through my mind: What now? No more challenges awaited me online, nothing more to achieve. I went outside for a walk. No one looked my way, no one wanted to be like me. They saw only an unemployed nobody.
I tried getting a job. But with no experience or education to speak of no one would have me. Sure, I could recount drop rates and boss tactics from the top of my head, but that didn’t exactly matter here.
Two weeks in Limbo. Neither here nor there. A ghost in the real world and offline in mine. The road to the top out here too steep for me, only those born up there had any real possibility to reach it. I had no chance on such an uneven playing field. Yet I had already reached the top where my heart resided.
When I logged back in I did so under a pseudonym. As a nobody. But here I had a chance. I’d reach the top again. And I’d do so faster than anyone had before.
Run (Sword Isles)
By Connor A.
(CW: Abuse, misuse of religion)
Jen struggled to breathe as one of the exorcists pinned them to the ground. They wanted to call out for anyone to get them out of this, but a part of them knew no one would come to help them.
Hardrock barely appeared in their vision, but they knew he was using his pastor smile as he said, “Why, I don’t believe I ever had the same orphan become possessed more than once. It’s almost like this child is a true demon.”
Even if Jen was breathing normally, they would not join the laughter.
“Sit the demon up, and we will begin the exorcism.”
The exorcist eased up so he could pull Jen up, but they used the opening to roll away from him and run to the window. Without hesitating, they jumped through it and tried to get as much distance as they could from the whole scene. They ignored the sounds of shouting and focused on getting outside of Haven. It was the only option they could think of.
The main gate was just within reach, open to let in what seemed to be a traveling cart of some kind. Jen sped up and got through before it could close. Not wanting to risk someone opening the gate and pulling them back in, they ran out into the snow, pushing through how their bare feet quickly grew numb.
Eventually they tripped over a rock and went tumbling. When they stopped, they tried to push back up and keep running, but they kept falling back down. So they closed their eyes and allowed the fresh snow to begin slowly burying them.
This plan was interrupted by someone lifting them back to their feet and wrapping them in furs.
“I thought I told you to be better prepared for this weather.”
The sound of Oberon’s gentle chastisement was enough for hot tears to run down their face. The god stiffened as Jen clung onto him and began sobbing, but he relaxed and picked them up. Without another word, he carried them back to his cave.
Mr. Telephone Man, There’s Something Wrong With My Line
Jasmine frantically dialed the numbers into her phone. She kept glancing back and forth between the device and her ‘best friend’, a demon who was glancing into Jasmine’s window like a lioness about to pounce on its prey.
“Jasmine…” Alex happily purred on the other line. “To what do I owe-”
“Alex! Daisy’s about to feed on my family! Make her STOP!”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. Jasmine could almost feel Alex’s grin growing through the phone as he answered, “Well, technically speaking… I promised to spare YOU. Not your family.”
“I know that, now!” Jasmine growled, “Please, just-! Alex, I’m begging you. I’ll do anything!”
“…tell you what. I’ll leave their fate up to her. Is that better?”
Jasmine sighed in relief. “Thank you, Alex.”
“Heh. Don’t mention it.”
As the line went dead, Jasmine felt a chill. She didn’t like the way he said that. This was further proven when Daisy went for the front door again.
“Daisy, what are you-?”
“If Master didn’t want me to kill them, he would have said so.” Daisy said bluntly, “He didn’t. Now, move or be moved.”
“Wait! Just let me call him again!”
“Go ahead. He won’t pick up.” Daisy easily moved the mortal to the side, despite her efforts to cling on. “Master gave his answer already.”
“Daisy, PLEASE! He’s yours, okay? Alex is yours! I’ll give him up! I’ll go away forever!”
Daisy paused and seemed to ponder her words. “Your infatuation isn’t the problem. It never was. The problem is that its mutual. Where would you go that he couldn’t find you?”
When despite her panic, Jasmine had no answer, Daisy nodded. “That’s what I thought. I say this as your friend. Go for a walk. You can’t stop me. You don’t want to watch this.”
“How can you claim to be my friend right now?!” Jasmine cried out.
Daisy shrugged. “You’re right. Feel free to stay.” She then shoved Jasmine down and entered the house.
Tears ran down Jasmine’s cheeks as Alex’s number continued to ring.
Then the screams began.
Holding On (Forsaken Universe)
By Alex Nightingale (aka Spectre)
The clanging should have been their first clue.
“Did you hear that?” Newton asked.
“Hear what,” Rain replied, absentmindedly.
“That… sound. That clanging noise.”
“Probably just a crate or something. Would you relax? You’re making me nervous.”
“We’re over 4,000 km above ground and climbing. Up here, every weird clanging noise should make you nervous.”
Newton drummed his fingers on his knees, glancing backwards into the shuttle’s cargo hold.
“Oh my shadow,” Rain exclaimed. “If it makes you so tense, just go back and check. Anything to keep you from fidgeting.”
“I think I will,” Newton replied haughtily, undoing his seat-belt and standing up.
“Tell me, if it was the crate filled with berries that fell over,” Rain called back. “Gotta warn Jade to stock up on cleaning supplies, if any got squished.”
The sudden drop in temperature should have been their second clue.
In fact, Newton didn’t notice, until the cargo-hold door was torn out of its hinges, flying into the clouds. He stumbled in horror and slid towards the open gap. The gust of wild winds screamed in his ears, as he felt the floor disappear under his foot. He just managed to grab hold of the shuttle, keeping himself from falling. Beneath him, the clouds were rushing by, the ground rapidly disappearing.
“Newton!?” he just managed to hear Rain.
He opened his mouth to shout back, as his grip broke. He fell. His fingers slid along the shuttle wall. His heart stopped. Any scream was choked by shock and wind.
A piercing pain went through his shoulder as his fall ended abruptly. A harpoon dug into his shoulder, the gun being held by Rain, her face straining. He grabbed hold of the ship again, trying to pull himself up, aided by her. The harpoon cut into his flesh, almost ripping it apart.
With monumental effort, Newton pulled himself towards the shuttle. Rain’s foot slipped an inch. Newton jolted.
But they held.
Together, they managed to pull him back into the cargo hold, as the emergency doors closed. They collapsed onto the floor, exhausted, but safe.
The Wreckage Of Everything She Knew (Nyssa’s Story)
By Calliope Rannis
Nyssa spent three hours searching that beach, littered with the splintered remains of her father’s boat. She’d already looked everywhere, but she kept looping back, again and again. All to find a single body.
But Nyssa couldn’t find her father. Nothing but the lonely beach and the dark sea.
She stood there, shivering in her coat and nightdress, and realised she was never going to see her dad ever again.
She clasped her hands together, praying to her family’s gods, quietly weeping for help, comfort, anything.
She tried to find reassurance in what her mother had told her, before her death from illness:
“When it is my time to go, try not to be sad, okay? Remember the time we had together, and let that warm your heart on the cold days. Try to have the happiest, most wonderful life that you can, because you don’t need me for that, or anyone else. You only need yourself.”
She tried to feel happy.
Then deep inside her, something snapped.
Her praying hands closed into shaking fists, as hot, painful words erupted from her throat.
“This was NOT their time!” She howled at the sky. “They didn’t have to die! YOU didn’t have to take them away! We could have had so much more time-” Her throat caught in a sob, before bursting open with greater fury.
“NO! I am NOT going to BEG for your help anymore! You’ve NEVER cared, HAVE YOU? Mum and Dad told me you both were like family to us! They called you ‘Great-Uncle Kord’ and ‘Great-Auntie Queen’ and you have done NOTHING for us! You just took them away-” She coughed, her throat raw and acidic.
“BUT YOU WON’T TAKE ME AWAY! I WON’T LET YOU HURT ANYONE ELSE! I’LL BE BETTER THAN YOU! I WILL SHATTER YOU AGAINST THESE CLIFFS! I WILL BREAK EVERYTHING…everything that you…love…” Her burning words were drowned out by her sobs as she collapsed.
The screaming echoes faded, until all that was left was the crying of a teenage orphan, and the distant roar of the waves.