Hello, Monkey’s Paws and White Elephants!
You sure you want that prize? I know it looks shiny, but you might want to think twice before going after it, because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
A Reward You Will Regret
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!
Rewards are almost always good things. It’s in the name, right? The trophy, the prize at the end of the race, or for doing a good deed. But what happens when it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be?
Maybe a mad sorcerer seeks immortality, only to find that they’ve lost the life they could have lived in the process. Maybe a pop star, after reaching the top, realizes they hate being famous. Maybe someone goes out partying, as a reward for getting a promotion…only to regret it when the hangover comes in the morning.
It could be more literal than that. Maybe a character wins a trophy, only to find it’s cheap plastic. Or maybe they learn that the trophy is cursed.
Genies are a perfect example of this prompt. Being able to wish for anything you could possibly want sounds like an incredible reward, but, the vast majority of the time, those wishes end up leading to immense regret.
Revenge is another good use of this prompt. While plotting in anger, the cold dish of revenge seems like a tasty reward, but more often than not it comes with a side of regret.
This prompt has a lot to do with cost—on both sides. Sometimes rewards come with sacrifices, or exchanges. You’re offered everything you want…but for a price. The cost may be mentioned first, or you may only realize it cost you once it’s too late to get your old life back. Is the reward really worth it?
Like when King Arthur chooses Guinevere. He is warned up front this is a bad choice, but the reward is too alluring for him to listen. Or like Oedipus, who gets the reward of marrying the queen…only to later realize it’s his own mother.
Sometimes a character can be so focused on a mission or goal that they lose sight of what they were originally fighting for. Like Anakin in the Star Wars Prequels, or Rumplestiltskin in Once Upon a Time. Anakin goes to the Dark Side in order to save Padme’s life, and Rumplestiltskin becomes the Dark One to save his son, but they both end up becoming monsters in their loved ones’ eyes, losing the reward in the process of pursuing it.
(Speaking of the Star Wars Prequels…) You could write about how one character saves another’s life, and the second character decides they owe a life debt. But…it turns out they’re really annoying, and the first character regrets saving them.
Perhaps, rather than the life debt of another human being, someone receives an animal as a prize. Perhaps a child, who has been asking for a puppy, gets one as a reward for good grades in school…only to realize that their parents are right; they can’t take good care of it.
Maybe you could write about a kid (or any character really) getting a cake, or a bunch of candy from trick-or-treating, or some other big food as a reward, but getting sick from eating it all at once.
You could write about a villain tricking a child into a terrible situation with a reward they don’t understand. Like someone in a nondescript, white van offering candy to children. It might look like a reward to the child…but they will ultimately regret trusting this person.
The quintessential “the real treasure was the friends we made along the way!” could play into this too. What happens to the person who didn’t learn that lesson? Who pursues the original goal, no matter the cost? Perhaps one character of the party realizes that their friends were more important than the treasure too late, and regrets leaving their friends to pursue the original treasure.
Remember, kids, read the smallprint, use protection, and don’t snort that fairy dust!
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 3:00pm 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! Get ready not just to share what you’ve got, but to give back to the other writers here as well.
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).
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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.
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- 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).
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- 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.
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Comments on this post that aren’t submissions will be deleted, except for replies/reviews left on existing submissions.
Take the Money and Run
The first thing I noticed as I awoke was that, while the ropes binding me had not been expertly tied, my captor had compensated by using a lot of them. I could likely wiggle out of most of the knots, that is, if I had been able to move much at all. It was inelegant but surprisingly effective.
My captor was sitting nearby, watching me. She was probably no older than fifteen, and while I was not thrilled to have been captured, I was certainly impressed that she had accomplished it.
“I know who you are.” Her voice was low but steady. I wondered how many times she had practiced saying that before I woke. “There’s a bounty on you.”
I shrugged as much as the glut of ropes would allow. “You lead one little uprising against a corrupt government and suddenly you’re a wanted man.”
She muttered something that sounded like, “You should have done better.”
Then she stood and frowned. “I’m sorry, but I’m turning you in, in exchange for my mother.”
A chill ran down my spine. “Your mother is a prisoner of the King?”
The girl looked away but nodded. “She’s been in Blackgate for three years.”
“Well then,” I said, as plainly as I could, “you’d be much better off asking for the money.”
“The charges against her were false!” Her eyes were back on me, anger bubbling up behind her tears.
“Oh, I’m sure they were. But if she’s been in Blackgate, then your mother is gone. They would, of course, release whatever abomination remains in her place, but if you were to bring a monster like that home, I fear you would regret it.”
Something inside of her, some secret resolve, seemed to crumble. It pained me to strip the last of her hope. When she spoke again, her voice was weak. “You’re just trying to trick me. To let you go.”
“I’d greatly prefer that, yes, but if you must turn me in, I beg you to take the money and get as far from this kingdom as you possibly can.”
The Wanderer’s Regrettable Choice
By RVMPLSTLTSKN (The Saga of Them Deep One’s Wake)
The Wanderer came to a town where no one had a shadow. These were the people who were welcome nowhere and hated by their fellow men for only one reason: they had no shadow.
The Wanderer, in keeping to himself, had never paid much attention to his own shadow. It was a thing which tailed him, dogged his heels, or vanished altogether in gloom. It was mundane in the extreme. A thing so commonplace, even its absence went unnoticed. Until he met a woman with no shadow.
The Wanderer came to call her ‘My Everlove,’ but her name was Squalor and Gnashing Teeth. He walked with her until they came to the place her people belonged, were sent.
They spoke of many things and of no one, niekas. She said he walked like one accustomed to it, admiring his legs. The Wanderer said she had hair dark as night, and she wept silently, but let him see. After that, they walked only in gloom.
The place with no shadows was cavernous and echoing. It was natural and not, built and never made. It existed only when observed, a parody of the one thing it lacked. It was a place of presence, of unchanging existence. A point in time immovable and yet wandered through.
It was a place the Wanderer was unwelcome, For the Wanderer had not one shadow, but two. At the border, they stood and knew they must part. Neither wanted to. The Wanderer offered her freedom to wander, the world and a place in it. She offered him love and a place to stay. No one offered them nothing, but whispered quietly his own words, a promise.
The Wanderer offered her a shadow and she rejected it and offered him her legs. In the end of that timeless moment, the Wanderer left behind his shadows and wandered no more. A little death, and his only legacy. The Wanderer is no longer the Wanderer and there are no more tales of him.
By Jesse Fisher
The light was blinding him in his unprotected eye. His other eye read out the message on the inside of his helmet.
He won…where was the joy, where was the thrill of it all. Where was the self gratification?
The hollowness of it all fell on him. How many people died at his hands? How many were in this contest or just civilians that wandered into this?
No he could just recall all the armor people he fought, then he recalled that some of the people came here to be selfless.
And he was the one that was the end cause for all their deaths, if not directly killing them. Then it was not killing those killers.
This was a journey that changed him from a careless punk to an empathic person. Something so cruel was done to him. His humanity led to this, this pain.
His heart was slowing down, and his lungs felt like they were just now filling with the foul air around him. There could not have been more than ten left. He counted his kills just to stay alive, but now it was just him and the bodies on the floor.
“Very good, very good.” A well dressed…would man be the right word for it.
This was the one who said it would give the winner their heart’s desire. Now what would it be for a broken man.
“You said I would get my reward after this is done. So give it to me.” The man yelled at the well dressed being.
“Of course, the reward.”
The Adventures of Ellettricia
John Perceval Cain (oneeye John)
Elle bent and placed the bouquet on the headstone. Her mother, Giovanna, had died 10 years ago. She had been in her seventies, but was still doing well, until the massive stroke took her.
“Momma G, I miss you so much.”
Elle had started out as an android. Gia, an out of work, electrical engineer, who was let go during the mass layoffs following earth’s First Contact War, had built her. Gia had never married and so wanted children. She built Elle as a companion.
“It’s been hard, so hard, without you these past years.”
Gia was better with robotics than AI programing, and as a result, Elle had been unruly and difficult to the point of mischievousness. Gia was so exasperated that she installed a secondary logic unit in Elle to function as a ghost conscience. While this helped, it didn’t prevent Elle from living through a series of transformative experiences.
“You treated me so good.”
One time, Elle had run away. She had joined a gang. Their boss had installed a restraining bolt and forced her to serve as a translator and protocol assistant. Net Security agents had raided the boss’s hideout and liberated Elle. It seemed she had learned her lesson.
“And all for what?”
On her way home to Gia, Elle was enticed to run off to the Pleasure Zone, where androids and AIs can exist without interference and there are no external restraints on their programming. But it turned out to be another trap. An artificial neural machine was capturing and incorporating tech to grow into an entity capable of becoming humankind’s overlord.
“My sacrifice, for existence, for human life?”
Gia had hunted Elle down and found her. Together, they had attempted to escape; the machine had attempted to end Gia. Elle had sacrificed herself to protect her, and a miracle had occurred to bring Elle to life.
Elle dropped to her knees on her mother’s grave. Holding her head in her hands, she sobbed. Tears streaming down her face.
“Without you, existence is useless.”
Lucas sighed wistfully as he watched the merriment of the people in the kingdom.
Ten years now, the Demon King had been defeated. Defeated at Lucas’s own hands. Before that, twenty years of fighting the Demon King and his legions, of fighting to rid his evil from the lands.
But Lucas had prevailed. He struck the Demon King down, and drove his demonic horde to the Hell from which they came.
The mortal legions of the Demon King fought on, but eventually they too would surrender. Doomed by the lack of leadership, poor morale, and their own infighting, Lucas had no troubles leading the offense against the remaining threats. The Orcs were the first to capitulate. They came to the human kingdoms with offerings and articles of peace. A treaty was struck. Lucas remembered witnessing the ceremony, called upon by his king to mediate.
Slowly the other races followed suit. The dragons were last, but even they offered to return to the Burnt Lands, never to return to fight against humanity.
The kingdom had known nothing but peace for five years. Lives were rebuilt, the kingdom had prospered. Trade agreements with many of the races considered monsters a decade ago had built up everyone.
The people were happy.
But not Lucas.
He felt fat and old, even though he was certain he could defeat any of the king’s knights in combat, many of whom were half his age.
He had known nothing but fighting the forces of the Demon King for so long, he couldn’t remember his life before it.
It was Lucas who was responsible for this peace. It was through his actions that this festival was being celebrated.
But he didn’t feel like he was in a celebratory mood.
What to do when you have a single purpose in your life, and then fulfill it? What do you do with your life afterwards?
Open Letter to the Foundation for Heroic Pursuits
To Whom It May Concern:
I have spent many hours perched atop the apex of Mount Achtung contemplating the reality I have forged through the application of my own hubris, and I must confess that the swirling magma has revealed that I must alter the target of my longtime ambition. My past self strove to eliminate, with extreme impunity, all who challenged the maniacal devices I had set in place to threaten the citizens of your fair city. As you may remember, my unique talents have forged me into a paragon of villainy, resulting in the decimation of your organization.
Alas, since the final confrontation between the Silver Axeman and myself, I have found myself gripped with lethargy and apathy, roaming the depths of my underground base without even recognizing the depths of wonder that lie within. My genetically-enhanced piranhas grew emaciated and lazy. Apparently, consuming the Axeman’s faithful companion, the Brass Buffalo, ruined their appetite for more mundane flesh. The Amazer-Razer-Lazer sparked and spluttered at the entrance to the Magnetic Boulder Slalom. With no one to singe and slice, replacing the lenses seemed a pointless endeavor. Preventing the Electro-Moths from charging my cape collection with uncontrollable static cling in their boredom was the most I could achieve for months.
But the time has come for me to turn over a new leaf.
Starting today, I will change my ways. I will no longer play our little games of cat and mouse with the sole focus of extinguishing the competition. Instead, I have invented new, ingenious quagmires for heroes to traverse without fear of lethal evisceration, pulverization, or asphyxiation.
I beseech you, please accept my invitation to rekindle our rivalry, for the wellbeing of all. I realize that my request may seem a little selfish. To encourage your participation, I offer as a prize, the antidote to the poison I released into the cotton candy machine at the State Fair this morning. You have six hours until the effects become permanent.
The Tragedy of Success (Ashcairn of the Shaded Realm)
You can DM me for the details!
A Perfectly Fair Exchange (Nyx’s Story)
By Calliope Rannis
“Will you provide that for me?”
My mouth felt dry, as if simply making such an unnatural request had already cursed my tongue. I closed my mouth and swallowed hard, trying to maintain eye contact with the burning gaze above.
The Vampire Lord before me smiled his terrible smile. “Oh, what a woeful tale to hear,” Lectara said with a tone of pity laced with faint mockery. “A young woman’s life, unavoidably shortened by an impurity of blood.” His last word felt especially heavy on my ears.
With a quick gesture of a marble hand, he held out his golden jewel-encrusted chalice before him. “Yes, I do believe I have a satisfactory solution to your problem, Miss Murnor.” His other hand drew something from the depths of his fine clothing – an ornate dagger with a strangely wavy blade and an aura of seething magic. “We just need to make a simple exchange.”
I expected the blade to do nothing to his stony skin. So watching it cut through the back of his hand like warm butter was an unsettling surprise. As was the speed that his thick dark blood filled the goblet. It felt like only seconds before Lectara was offering the cup to me, almost full.
It was heavy, enough to require both my hands to hold. I looked into the cup. This close, that pool of blood looked less like something to drink, and more like a lake to drown myself in.
A thought crossed my mind. “My lord? What did you mean by an exch-”
My vision blurred white for a second.
I didn’t know what happened. I almost stumbled as a wave of dizziness washed over me.
Then I began to feel a rising dull ache, where my shoulder met my neck. And I began to understand.
He casually wiped his mouth with a napkin, unconcerned. “Well? Drink, if you please. It is what you wanted, is it not?”
It was. It really, really was.
No time for fear now, Nyx. Just drink, and you’ll be there.
So I swallowed my pride, and I drank.
A Mark of Honor (Students of the DiamondBridge Academy universe)
by Carrie (Glaceon373)
A knock hit the office door. Before Mr. Nicklescribe could invite his guests in, it flew open.
“What’s up, Nick?” Callisto folded her arms and leaned against the bookshelf, loudly chewing gum between her sharp teeth. Her werewolf ears flicked in a fidgeting pattern.
“Finally got the courage to expel me?” Meserix, with his ridiculous grin, grabbed the nearest open chair and sat down as incorrectly as possible.
Nicklescribe sighed. The two most problematic students of the junior class, maybe the entire school. Whatever. He’d make this work.
He cleared his throat. “Ms. Aphelion. Mr. Tignor. You’re not here for disciplinary action.”
“Then what’s with your desk?” Callisto asked.
Indeed, it looked very strange. Glassware, leather-bound books, and paintbrushes lay scattered where paperwork should have been.
“Again, you’re not here for disciplinary action.” Nicklescribe gently picked up a flask of thin maroon liquid. “In fact, I would like to honor your spirited natures with a reward.”
“Ha!” Meserix laughed. “As if—”
“It’s called a Principal’s Mark. A symbol of prestige. While you’re on school grounds, it will appear on your arm. I’m only giving this out to a select few, and I feel you two deserve it. Now, who would like to go first—”
“Hold on, buddy.” Callisto put an arm in front of Meserix. “This is more suspicious than the Peravaught incident. I don’t want a magic tattoo-thing. Just give us detention like a normal vice princi—”
“ACTING principal, please. And this is a high honor, Callisto.” Nickelscribe swirled the liquid in the flask. It smelt of burnt berries and nausea. “And I can only give it to the best.”
“Here’s an idea,” Meserix offered. “Don’t give the messed-up magic to anyone! Even people who might deserve it!”
“Is that what you believe?” The flask hit the desk. “Again, this is an honor. If you two don’t accept it, two freshmen will have to take it. I believe you both know… Bianca Aphelion and Mavthos Tignor?”
Callisto’s red eyes turned to daggers. Meserix readied two fists.
Nicklescribe smiled. “That’s what I thought. Now, please hold out your right arms…”
How did it come to this
“My lord Malgave Dodge, formerly of Isle Wyte, ah…now exiled… forgive my lord, I am but the messenger.”
How did it come to this? This morning he had the king’s ear. He was dining with drunk politicians in imperial halls. Foreign princes held their tongues in fear of losing his favour. Now he drank swill in the stonewalled home of a serf, with a halfling letter reader trying not to hurt his feelings.
“Ah, let’s see…Know that our sympathy and blah blah”. The Hobgoblin continued, ” we send you our condolences, especially since we appear to be at fault! Oh my lord, I swear I had no idea!”
Of course, his failings had begun with these wretched good fellows. Yes, funding the “expedition” of these vile creatures had angered the king. His blood boiled as he grasped the tiny shoulder of the messenger. He gestured for it to continue, bearing down with what lordly presence he could remember.
“Um ah oh here… as it appears, the king disapproved. In compensation, we bring glad tidings that the quest you sponsored has been a success! The great barrow dragon, Gland, your party has slain in the Brown Marshes!” the halfling exclaimed, believing the news was good.
Success?! Oh, unaware puck, he thought that vile drake’s death would not regain his honour or his position with the king! Oh, what he had earnt for his loyalty, cast aside after one mistake.
“Unfortunately, the adventurers…that…were hired…did not survive the battle. They fell to the hated serpent’s flame. Ah, there are silver linings to these deaths, my lord, as you are now the sole inheritor of the rewards!”
Relief washed over the lord; at last, some good news, he would still have wealth. His grasp lessened on the letter reader’s shoulder, imagining his retirement, disgraced but comfortable.
“The main part of these spoils is, of course, the dragon’s hoard. This hoard having melted into one clump in the battle that we cannot remove from the barrOOOOOW!” cried the halfling as the lord threw him against a wall in rage.
Yay! We’re doomed!
Yelena had known fear many times in her very long life, but it was nothing compared to what she felt now. She knew if she were rejected here, in the Garden, it would mean both the end of her and most likely her unborn child.
“…Father… I… know I shouldn’t be here, but… I had nowhere else to turn…”
A chuckle echoed from all around her throughout the Garden. “Ah, Yelena… The last time the child of an angel and an old one was born she took the form of Death. The end of all things, including me. Come child, do you honestly think I would allow such a being to be born again unless it was my will?”
Yelena paused, her eyes widening as she unconsciously touched the bulge on her belly. “You already knew?”
“Of course I did.” He replied, appearing before her. “You are exactly where I want you to be. And the two of you are under my protection. You have nothing to fear.”
Yelena sighed contentedly as that weight was lifted from her shoulders. It only left one other. “My child’s… father… he-”
“Served his purpose.” He finished for her, affectionately touching her belly. “Just as you will have served yours after he’s born.”
Yelena tried to fight against the tears as the reality of those words sunk in. “Can’t… can’t I be allowed to live? To raise my child?”
“That’s not how this works.” He chuckled back. “This child is going to need both his parents’ essences if he’s going to be all he can be.”
“But… Father, you write those rules.”
“And it would do you well to remember why, child.”
Yelena immediately looked away. “I meant no disrespect. I just-… I love him… so much…”
“Of course you do, child. I wrote it that way.” He said dismissively, turning His attention once more to the unborn baby. “Death has been waiting for you for quite some time.”
Yelena’s eyes widened again. “He’s… Death’s horseman?”
“Death made the end to everything possible. And this little guy is going to bring it all home.”
Credited Certification (The Will)
By Skeleton (Edited by MelodyLuna7)
Remianna placed the strange, ancient device into the beggar’s coin-pan. “I’ve done as you asked,” she relayed to the old, blind woman dressed in white, sacred garbs. “I stole it—costing me over twenty years of labour and rank, my reputation among all the scholars of the world, and my life—now that I’m wanted.”
The Woman in White gave an amused laugh, reaching forth and grasping the strange device. Her thin, ebony fingers caressed every edge of it with melancholic care. “You do not sound that torn up about it,” she teased with a victorious smirk. “The White Witch… a fitting name that suits one of my most reluctant followers—criminal or not.”
“If you think that I take any pleasure in fetching your fancies, then I’ll shatter that thing right here,” Remianna threatened, unconsciously glancing towards the white scales on her claw. “I’m running out of time—Eymir will lose his mind completely soon, and I think the Void Queen is plotting something to speed up the process. Quit stalling and tell me where this… “Memento” is.”
The Woman in White hummed with amusement as the device finally came to rest in her lap. “Are you sure that is the question you wish to ask? I am already certain you know the answer.”
Remianna bit her lip and looked away. “How do I reach the moon, then?”
“Perhaps you have heard the tale of the city that lingers in the heavens?” the Woman in White suggested.
The dragoness’ eyes widened at the mention of her childhood dream: a metal city suspended in the clouds that levitated with a strange energy. Buildings were connected by rails that you could ride on with strange technologies—simulated flight.
“It is invisible to the naked eye,” the Woman in White continued, “and its altitude is too great for any of your kind to breathe. Not even the avonis can fly up there.”
“Then how do I reach it?!” Remianna demanded.
The entity’s mischievous smile widened to near malice.
“You do not.”
A Warrior’s Heart (When Dead Gods Rise)
By Gerrit (Rattus)
Akhellien had only been the beginning. The Great Ones were all waking now, leaving ruins where there had once been cities.
The scar on Ral’s back burned, a reminder of his last good day. Back when he had a home, and family, and things to look forward to when he woke in the morning.
He sat on a stone bench in the agora, hardly noticing the myriad of wandering townspeople around him. He may as well have been alone. It was hard to focus on anything besides the steady thrumming in his head.
Another Great One would awaken soon.
Since finding The Heart, he had become acutely aware of any Great Ones nearby. The closer he was, the more intensely he felt them. It had allowed him to follow them, warning cities to shore up defences and prepare to fight back.
They almost never listened to him, and this city was no exception. The people roamed freely and happily, unaware of the imminent danger stirring beneath them. Ral wondered how many cities would be reduced to dust before his message started being heard.
For now he hoped he would at least be able to stop the Great One before too much damage was done. He couldn’t save the city, he wasn’t fool enough to believe that. But maybe he could save the land around it, if he was lucky.
Ral sighed, steeling himself for another fight. He had tried running, at first. Tried hiding in every crevice and cave he could find.
But The Heart worked both ways.
His existence was a marker of some kind for the Great Ones. They knew where he was at all times, and each one sought to kill him. It had only taken so much running to realise he only had one choice.
As the ground below began to rumble, Ral thought back to his childhood days in the temple. What a strange twist of fate, for him to end up here. He had never been a warrior.
But he had become one.