Hello Scholars, Schemers, and Schmucks!
My dears, I have a proposition for you. I propose that we write good stories, about a great many things, 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!
All too often in fiction one character walks up to another with the simple words “I have a proposition for you” and either epicness or shenanigans ensue…or both. Propositions come in many forms, and can lead to both positive and negative results.
One area of life in which propositions are common is in business. Perhaps your character is a businessman who is offered a new opportunity to grow their business…but at the price of their soul. (Either by selling out, or by literally making a pact with a demon). Or perhaps they are an honest businessman, and refuse the proposal outright. Or maybe your group is a ragtag team of criminals, and are offered a proposition for a new and exciting crime.
Or maybe you want to write about a literal proposal. At dinner, one significant other says to the other “I propose we spend the rest of our lives together.” Or maybe it’s a proposal of marriage between kingdoms through a prince and princess.
Not all proposals have to be shady. Your character could propose that their family goes to the beach that day. Or they could be sitting with their crush and propose a kiss. Or they could be sitting on the couch with their significant other and propose that they get a cat.
This prompt is about a proposition, but the proposition doesn’t necessarily have to occur within the story itself. Perhaps your character is facing the consequences of accepting a certain proposal, and is reminiscing about that proposition within your story. Often characters (and real people) accept deals without knowing the full ramifications of the deal.
Speaking of which…it could be a trick. Villains often make proposals without explaining all the rules. Your character might accept a ticket to a new country, not realizing that they will be a servant, or worse, in that new country. Or maybe it’s a little more overt: the villain’s proposal could be, essentially, “do what I want, or die.” Villains aren’t the only ones who make false proposals. Maybe a princess offers to marry the villain to buy the hero time to rescue the captives. Sometimes heroes try to weasel out of agreements and get everything they want too.
Just because the prompt is about a proposition doesn’t mean your character has to accept the proposal either. One is made, that’s all we know. You could play around with how your character reacts, and whether or not they accept. Sometimes the most dramatic stories are those in which the hero vehemently rejects a certain proposal they know to be deceptive.
For your challenge this week I propose that you play with the unexpected. Propositions often don’t go the way we think they will. Whether that’s through a trick, or loophole, or because we THINK we’re going to be tricked…when everything is actually perfectly legitimate. Keeping the audience on their toes and subverting their expectations can be a difficult thing to do. And while shock value is something that can indeed create the unexpected, I’m referring to something more difficult; crafting the story in such a way that we aren’t expecting the ending…but not just because it comes out of nowhere, rather because the truth is there the whole time, but we can’t see it. This is far more challenging in my mind.
Remember, these challenges aren’t mandatory! They are meant to be a fun bonus if you’d like to have a little extra challenge. But, if you don’t want to use them, please don’t feel obligated to!
Now, tell me…do we have a deal?
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 five stories during each stream, two 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).
- 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.
“The Price of Tragedy” (Fyndveld) (CW: violence against women, implied industrial accident)
By Hemming Sebastian Bane
An elf in a custom three-piece suit propped up his feet as his servant dragged in a raven-haired troll woman. Her right eye was swollen shut and her breathing was heavy. Whether her clothes were disheveled from working in his smithy or from the beating his overseers had given her, the gentleman neither knew nor cared. The troll was in his office, and that’s all he really wanted at the moment.
The diminutive man with dusty skin the color of sandstone dragged the troll twice his size across the floor with ease. With one fluid motion, the kobold flung her in front of his boss’s desk.
The elf pushed back the delicious idea of his workers’ fear and put his feet down. “My, my, Miss Arlwitz. You’ve been a naughty girl.”
“Bite it, Mallaby,” Arlwitz retorted. “And it’s still MISSUS Arlwitz.”
“Sure,” Mallaby replied. “I understand that grief can be hard on a new widow, especially one with children.”
Arlwitz spat in Mallaby’s direction. “Spare me your lies, devil!”
“Devil?” Mallaby stood up. “My dear Miss Arlwitz, I understand your anger. I do. Accidents happen. The machinery malfunctioned. For that I am truly sorry.”
“If you think that you can write off my husband’s death as an accident, think again!”
Mallaby clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Miss Arlwitz, I implore you to listen. Mister Arlwitz’s death voids our agreement. We’ll need to make a new one.”
Arlwitz looked into her employer’s face. It was as if a light had come on. “You snake! That’s what this was about?! Business?!”
“No! This about your funeral expenses. Your children!”
Arlwitz fell silent, her jaw tensing. She already knew what that would mean. Her husband would be put in a Mallaby Metalworks brand coffin and buried in Mallaby Metalworks Company Cemetery. The expenses would be taken out of her paycheck, but she’d still be able to buy bread from the Mallaby Metalworks Company Store. It wasn’t ideal, but what other choice did she have?
“Alright,” she said with a gulp. “I’m listening.”
Mallaby smirked. “Good. I was hoping you’d say that.”
A Clever Fool
By Norman Gray
Mayhew hardly recognized her, at first.
Victoria sat alone, swirling a glass of red wine in her hand… She was wearing an elegant black dress, her face adorned with makeup, her hair so perfectly coiffed it almost looked like a wig.
Mayhew approached her table.
“I ordered us lobster,” Vicky said, “I hope you’ll stay for dessert, they have lovely tiramisu here.”
He seated himself across from her. “You were expecting me?”
“Of course! After hearing about your little… Incident, I just knew you’d come looking for me.” She placed an elbow on the table, and rested her chin in her hand, staring at him. “Should I feel flattered by your brave display of affection?”
God, he felt like such an idiot.
What he’d done was nearly impossible; infiltrating the prisoner holding transport, breaking open her stasis chamber…
The only problem, was that she wasn’t in it. Somehow she’d disappeared without raising an alarm… Mayhew however, had left a trail of evidence behind. Now, everyone knew.
“None more foolish than a man who thinks he’s clever.” She smirked. “What were you expecting Mr. Mayhew, hmmm? That you’d free this helpless damsel, and we’d run away to some faraway corner of the cosmos together?”
He sighed in frustration… How naïve she made it all sound. “They’re not onto me, yet. But they’ll figure it out eventually.”
“Not if you sabotage the investigation,” she proposed.
“I won’t.” He told her.
“You must.” She replied. “You’ve compromised me… Covering up the mess you’ve made is the least you can do.”
“And if I don’t?” He asked.
“Then I’ll implicate you… You’ll be put in stasis, and no doubt they’ll be upgrading security, after what you did. No chance of escape.”
He was furious. At her. At himself. “You could’ve told me.”
“Told you what, exactly? That I had a plan?”
“You know you could’ve trusted me.”
“And you know, that I trust no one.”
Their food arrived, but Mayhew wasn’t hungry. His stomach felt sick. “I’m a fucking criminal now.”
Victoria cracked her lobster tail, dipping it in butter. “Exhilarating, isn’t it Detective?”
Here’s an Idea
by Carrie (Glaceon373)
Hey, here’s an idea.
It’s a good idea. Great idea. Wonderful, even. Just hear me out, okay?
Just keep working. Finish the projects. Crush the deadlines. Just get it all over with, right now. Who needs breaks, anyway? You’re almost done. Taking a break right now seems counterproductive, doesn’t it? This couch isn’t that comfy, is it?
I mean it, you’re ALMOST done. The finish line is right there! C’mon, just a few hours ago you were tackling everything the world was throwing at you, no problem! What’s stopping you now—
“Here’s an idea, inner monologue. Why don’t you just frick right off?”
… Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realize you were upset.
“Weren’t paying attention to my breathing or heart rate, were you?”
Your circulatory and respiratory systems are not my concern. I’m concerned with everything you are supposed to be doing, and why you aren’t doing it. Again, the finish line! Let’s reach it! Why stop now?
“Because I’m tired.”
Ridiculous, you’ve had regular sleep and caffeine today—
“I’m mentally tired. I can’t keep doing this.”
Why not? You’re almost done. Don’t you want to be done?
“Maybe I should just be done now.”
But you’re not done with—
“I know! I’m saying maybe I should quit. Just give up, if I’m not allowed—allowing myself, I mean—to take breaks. All or nothing.”
Maybe we should take some time off.
“Yeah. Let’s do that.”
And we’re going to be okay.
“… Yeah. It just might take a while.”
… I’m sorry for not letting us take a break earlier.
To Serve Queen and Country
Cassidy was chained to the bench of the prison mess hall. As soon as she was secured, two men entered the otherwise empty room.
The older of the two nodded to Cassidy. “Corporal Cruikshank, I take it? Unless you want to give us your real name.”
Cassidy glared wordlessly.
“I’m Marcus Richard. My associate is Agent Doyle. We’re here to offer you a deal.”
“What sort of deal?” Cassidy asked.
Richard stroked his moustache. “Well, normally when a soldier is discovered to be a woman, they are summarily discharged from the service, and nothing is made of it. But your commanding officer has charged you with espionage. The fact that you refuse to give your actual name isn’t helping your case.”
“You haven’t answered my question. Sir.”
Richard nodded. “Quite right. I propose that we absolve you of the charges against you. In exchange, you come work for me.” He removed an identity card from his jacket and placed it on the table in front of her. “Doyle and I work for Her Majesty’s Home Office for a small but dedicated bureau in service to the crown. Doyle is in need of a new partner.”
Cassidy took a deep breath. “Why me?”
“Because you had built quite the reputation in your service career. For a member of the weaker sex, you were known as something of a man of action.” Richard smiled at the humour of his comment. “Furthermore, we have a question about why you joined the army. Most women in the service followed a family member. Usually a husband or brother. You’ve given no indication that you have any such connection.”
“And what would you need from me, sir?”
“First thing we’ll need is your real name. After that, we will need you to pass our agent training course. Followed by at least five years of service with my bureau. If I’m right, I suspect that you would be happy to legitimately serve Queen and country.”
Cassidy thought about the proposition for a few seconds. She nodded. “It’s Markham, sir. My name is Cassidy Markham.”
by Lee Strangely
Through the open window, the winds howled in and out of the room; past the flailing curtains and into the black night, they carried the echoes of his drumming heart. Only a small, beat-up desk lamp barely kept the darkness at bay. He stood hunched over the dresser, just barely within its flickering lamplight, staring down at the little black box.
In his mind an army or voices repeated themselves over and over again, “Will you. Will you. Will you. WILL YOU…”
“Right?” he kept muttered to himself, “is this right?” He looked up at the mirror, “Should I go through with this?”
His gaze danced around the reflection of the distressed man looking back at him; looking past himself, he gravitated towards a crumbled up post-it note that hung to the glass by a thread.
In red pen it said to him, “What do you want?”
He grumbled to himself as he ripped the thing off and threw it away. His hand drifted towards the box yet again.
They chanted to the heartbeat, “WIL-YU! WIL-YU! WIL-YU!” rising and quickening the closer he got to the box.
BUM BA-BABUM BA-BABUM BA-BABUM.
Centimeters from the box his hand recoiled; his head turned away as if to avert his eyes.
“MA-RE! MA-RE! MA-RE!”
From the outside, two blinding beams of light suddenly burst into the room. His wide eyes stared at the trembling silhouette they projected onto the wall. The lights only ceased upon the sound of a car door opening.
BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM.
“ME ME ME ME ME ME!”
Everything went quiet.
He looked back at the box one more time. The chant still whispered as he neared the box again; his hand was still hesitant…
Faster than light itself, the box went into his coat pocket, and swiftly the door was opened.
“You ready?” she asked.
“Yes. YES.” He rushed to respond, “I got the reservations and…” he couldn’t help but feel the box’s outline in his coat, “and everything. Everything’s set. Let’s go!”
When Consequences Come Knocking
by Gerrit (Rattus)
Evading the military had been easier than Marik had expected. All he’d had to do was retreat to a ‘backwater’ planet, as they so eloquently put it, and the rest was easy. The harsh weather and intricate underground tunnels had done most of the work for him.
That was before war came to his doorstep.
These creatures, human only in silhouette, arrived without warning and began destroying indiscriminately. None of the locals had any idea what they were. Twisted facsimiles of humans at best, each one seemed the work of a wrathful God with no regard for their own creations. Their skin was off colour, their jaws too large, their eyes devoid of any positive emotions.
Marik had taken to fighting them the moment news reached his ears. He had a people to defend, and he was the only one around who stood a chance against these monsters. Unfortunately, this act of heroism had been his downfall.
“I commend your ability to evade us all these years, Marik.” General Olef’s voice was as rough as ever. “I’ll admit, another year or two and we may have given up.”
“With how often your men failed to even get close to me, I assumed you already had.” Marik saw the familiar ire in Olef’s eyes that he had so often been on the receiving end of back in training.
The circle of soldiers surrounding Marik tightened their grips on their rifles, each one trained directly at Marik’s head.
“I would advise against any attempts at wit.” General Olef took one step towards Marik. “You have a choice. In light of this new enemy, we are willing to suspend the charges against you on the condition that you re-enlist as a private. Either that, or we can execute you here and now for your crimes.”
“Damn, tough choice.” The rattling of guns pressed further in his direction reminded Marik of the situation’s gravity.
“Choose wisely,” Olef smirked.
Marik looked to his new company approaching quickly in the distance. “I believe you’ve forgotten about the third option.”
The desk the old man sat at. The small barred windows just below the ceiling. This room felt out of place, as if removed from today in every possible way. Like a prison from the past, suited especially for this one man.
He was a person of history and literature. A philosopher who carved his own paths and beliefs. With piles of books and paperwork effectively hiding the surface of almost everything. Including the old wooden floor. I could see him as only a silhouette from where I’d stood. A candlewicked antique oil lamp providing the only light source.
The man groaned and wheezed before letting out an extended fit of phlegm-filled coughs. His chair scratched the floor as he stood, grabbing a cane that hung off the chair’s back. He turned to me, holding a single paper.
“You’re James, correct?” His golden mane of hair made his large nose and small eyes much more noticeable. “I have a proposition for you. Please, come here. Let me see you.”
“Yeah, uh… Sure.” I crossed the small room in only a few strides, this was an impressive attic for an underground facility. Looking up at the windows, I could see the street’s foot traffic.
“I’m sure you are feeling a little lost as well?”
“Yeah actually. Why am I here? Why did you have Koalle stalk and recruit me? What importance was it to you to have that database?” My questions flowed like a river, my mind running wild with possibilities.
The old man’s all-knowing, kindly smile could have seduced an entire room. “You’ll have all the answers in due time. For now, know that we’re the ones who fight for everybody below the bottle’s neck.”
He held out the paper. “You may call me Aiza. That data you procured for me…” He cleared his throat. “It covers building projects, sectional securements and the uplifting redistribution of people’s lives.” With a nod he indicated the paper he held.
Taking it, I read three elegantly penned words. “What’s your cause?”
A Desire to Communicate (Space Squids)
By: The Missing Link
“The octopi have intercepted your transmission to God,” flashed across Orson’s display in bright, angry colors. Still reeling from the revelation that God was not a cephalopod, but one of those strange beings pictured in the glass and wood cases on the surface. God was a precursor.
This was the worst time to be thinking about the octopi now that the squids were set to learn all there was to learn from the distant past. “Handle it,” he flashed across the input. He would not give up this opportunity, and handle it is something he believed Sea Control could do. His more immediate problem was one of communication.
The image of God on the main screen kept moving what appeared to be its mouth, but it made no colors, had no tentacles to gesture with. Cephalopods had run into communication problems with intelligent life before. The octopi always seemed dim with two less tentacles to communicate with, and Orson himself found the nautilus sages’ language impossibly arcane, but this was different. It was communication, right?
Luna stared at the transmission in awe. Squids on the moon. Now unable to distinguish herself from her observation pod, she had given her transmission a human face without thought. It wasn’t really her, but the problem remained that she did not speak squid.
Back on old earth, she had a friend, Todd, insufferably hyper she thought, but maybe that was just his passion for his work. And for the first time in her millennia long… could she still call it life at this point, she was thankful that Todd was a marine biologist. She attempted to recall where his ramblings touched on mollusks and remembered that the colors and patterns they make were a primitive, maybe not so much at this point, form of communication. But how to use that? And so, she reviewed the first transmission and took a gamble.
Orson’s fellow astronauts gathered around God’s display as it flashed calming colors with little real meaning, but he figured it meant, “Talk to me, please.”
No Warm Welcome Here, Go Somewhere Else
By Taja DaLeen
“Please stop staring at me like that. It’s making me feel weird.”
“What? But we need to talk! Honestly, what’s -”
“Oh, I wasn’t -”
“Up with you lately?” The redhead crossed her arms, expecting an answer from her best friend.
For a few moments they just looked at each other in silence, waiting for the other to speak up first. It was the redhead who broke it eventually.
“We’re all worried about you, you know. Even Tom. Know what, how about a deal? You tell me what’s wrong with you lately, and I buy you that dress you wanted for a while.”
Some more silence, during which the brunette nervously glanced to the side.
“You think I should do this right now, no? That curious?”
“Of course I think so! I want to help you!”
“I’m not – nevermind.” Sighing she hid her face in her hands. She had always hated being watched, and this was even worse. It felt like she was on display, as if even her thoughts were an open book.
“So, do we have a deal? Yes or no? Just think about the dress, dark blue, silky to the touch, the bits of black lace hugging your shoulders…”
“Yea, yea, I get it. It’s just… difficult to talk about. Especially right now. I’m not sure… hey, you, don’t you even dare imagining me in that dress!”
“What?” The redhead looked as if her best friend just slapped her. “Why should I…?”
“Like I tried to say, I wasn’t talking to you, but to them! That weirdo has been watching me for a while now, always staring at me! Stop it! Go away!”
“Am I a protagonist in a story or what? Just leave me alone, this isn’t funny!”
“Oh, is it some creepy medium again? You seem to be a magnet for those. Any way I can help? From which direction are you being watched?”
“There.” Close to crying she pointed at you. Finally noticing you overstayed your welcome, you leave this place for another story.
Musings: Terpsichore’s Call
They were, at once, One, Three and Nine. It was always One that communicated (if I said merely spoke, I’d be diminishing their presence), and while doing so, they were always One of the Nine… and also, always All of the Three.
I can’t quite convey their effect. I don’t think they are meant to be understood.
The One (and Three, and Nine) that talked to me (and words were not her favored means of giving form to ideas) was at once graceful and violent. Her messages lacked definition, but they buried themselves deep in my heart.
“I don’t understand what you want from me.”
The pain in my heart made itself clearer, and sharper.
“What we want is the same as you want. Stories. That you take the thorn in your flesh and grow it into a forest, so that others can be pierced by it.”
“What kind of stories?”
“It is not for us to decide. It is not for you to decide. Stories have their own ways of growing. What kind of gardener are you?”
Each one of her arguments was a dance move. She was not only approaching, but also stepping with more force and intent. Not in a threatening way. It was an invitation, and I wasn’t stepping back. I held my ground, as her dance partner. The Nine smiled. The Three observed.
“Your inspiration is not easily conveyed through words, and I’m a writer.”
The movement of the One was a fierce one, cutting the air in front of her and opening a new venue through where our dance could continue.
“So make your words do more than write. You’ve done that in the past. You are doing it now. Are you only a writer?”
“I am tired.”
“You are. But do you want to stop?”
The song (the song I didn’t know was playing, but which is always playing) stopped. I stepped up.
She, they, took me in their arms, and we danced.
Her feet risked the floor, my pen dipped in ink, and my fingers drummed the keyboard.
Song and stories continued.
Yelena and Steven, Sitting in a Tree
As Yelena rested her back against the Old One’s hulking form, she reveled in how her hand looked in his.
His hand was so much larger than hers. She also enjoyed how her light complexion contrasted against the pitch blackness of his own. How his skin was reflective and hard to the touch like a stone, whereas hers was more human in nature.
The differences made her smile.
“So, how does this work?” Yelena asked, tracing her finger along each of his.
“My hand?” He asked with a smirk. “I’m pretty sure it works similar to yours.”
Yelena playfully scowled up at him but otherwise let his puckishness slide. “You know what I mean. Me giving you a name. Is there a ceremony to it? Do I simply say ‘Hi Steven,’ and that’s that? Steven isn’t your name, by the way.”
The Old One chuckled. “I will find any name you honor me with as beautiful as I find you. But to answer your question, just as one’s soulmate chooses a name for their other half, they also choose the ceremony. It may be as casual or extravagant as you wish. Do you have something in mind?”
Yelena focused even more on his hand as her face turned a steady crimson. “It is silly…”
The Old One used his free hand to embrace his soulmate even more and smiled warmly down at her. “I have no issue with silly.”
“I… find human courting rituals to be… fascinating. When they tie themselves to each other, they do so with a kiss.”
“And what is this kiss? Where would we find one?”
Yelena’s eyes bulged, her body freezing where it was. A myriad of thoughts passed her mind before she finally opened her lips to answer.
“I’m just teasing you.” The Old One chuckled. “I know what a kiss is.”
Yelena slowly turned her head up to him with a glare. “Steven is sounding very tempting right now.”
“Would I still get to kiss you?”
“That depends… Is that something you’d want to do?”
“With you?” The Old One grinned. “Gladly.”
By Adrian Solorio
When news of the suicide breaks it shocks everyone but you. The secretary is the first to know and, as usual, she wastes no time spreading the story, even texting people at home. Did you hear about Kenny? Word spreads like an oil spill. Why? How? They cluster in a group around your desk. Such a waste, they say, shaking their heads, acting the part. Weren’t you his friend?
You don’t know how to answer, so you don’t.
At lunch, while everyone goes to the pavilion, you stay at your desk. Everyone understands. Your boss even comes by and squeezes your shoulder, scrunching his face the way men do when they want to say, I feel your pain.
You look out the office window, at the pavilion, at the lunch table, where the secretary and the boss sit. The place where it all started. She was always the most vicious, you remember, and now look at her. Shuddering and sobbing like she cared. Such a fake, pretending she ever felt anything for him besides disgust.
Were you any better?
No. Not when it mattered.
When it mattered, you were just as bad as them. You recall the day that led to today. It was lunchtime, and everyone: the secretary, the boss, the sales team–the in crowd–packed one table, while you and Kenny, still a few months new, sat together alone.
That day, the secretary invited you over to sit with them. And you did. You apologized to Kenny and went over. He smells, and he’s awkward, she said. Why does every IT guy have to be awkward, she asked, and stared, blank-faced, gauging you.
He’s a little weird, you admitted. She laughed. Everyone laughed, but Kenny and you. You never sat with him again after that. After that you avoided him around others. And behind his back you even joined in the laughter.
I’ve never fit in, Kenny said, when you first met. I’m a bit of a weirdo. Never had many friends.
We’re all a little weird, you said, and smiled. Don’t worry. I’ll be your friend.
Several, Actually (Chronicles of The Dragon)
Thomas sat at his workbench, in the near silence of his workshop, only the quiet hum of machinery and scraping of metal on metal. The damaged part of his power armor set aside as he worked on a coffeemaker. A simple but time consuming task, and one that would distract him from actual problems for a bit.
Jostica opened the door and walked in. It’d been almost a year since she last knocked. Thomas had taken to just locking the door if there was anything unsafe for anyone to walk into.
She came over and sat on the table, the spot he always kept clear for her. “I’ve been thinking,” she said.
Thomas reflexively tensed. Then relaxed as he told himself this was Jostica; unofficial co-leader of their team and wizard prodigy, she could have been thinking about dozens of things.
“This thing we’ve been doing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our relationship.” Now Thomas froze completely. “I’m sick of it. It’s stupid. I don’t want to do it anymore.”
“I…” he said, his mind racing, thinking over the time they’d spent together, all the times he knew it was too good to last, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah? Well things are gonna change. No more of this holding hands behinds everyone’s back. No sneaking around just to steal a kiss. No more pretending we aren’t head over heels for each other.”
Thomas felt like his brain was short circuiting. He didn’t understand what she was saying.
“I’m fucking sick of waiting for everybody else to be gone just so we can cuddle on the fucking couch!”
“So,” he said, his super genius brain suddenly feeling like a hamster wheel without a hamster, “What do you want to do about it?”
“We’re giving it up. Tomorrow I’m going to go get a new dress, and you’re going to pick out your favorite restaurant, and we’re going to go out on a date. Then we’re coming back here and having sex.”
“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”
“Good.” She leaned over and kissed his head, then hopped off the table and walked out.
The Tempest’s Accord
The voice of Aorym shattered the sky, breaking through the roll of thunder. “Reikos!”
The clouds above churned with fury, rain pelting the giant king. Bolts of lightning pierced the earth like spears.
Within the flashes of tempestuous light, Aorym could see the winged visage lurking in the thunderhead.
“I seek audience with you!” The rain would have concealed Aorym’s tears if he could make any. The giants were the pure antithesis to the dragons. Logic was in their blood, and yet here stood their king in desperation.
The dragon descended from the storm, his eyes crackling with lightning. “Do you, Oaken King?”
“I am… tired of this fighting.”
Reikos tilted his head. “Are you tired? Or are you weeping for those you have lost?”
Aorym dropped his tree-sized blade, its clattering joining in the storm’s symphony. “Whatever this feeling I bear within my chest truly is, it has told me to cease this war.”
Reikos’ judgment was far from dull. It was a passionate carnal mind tempered by eons of wisdom. He knew a disheartened soul when he saw one. “You yield? Then call your children home. They surely miss you.”
Aorym lowered his head. He failed to recall what he was fighting over anymore. For the first time, he pondered not on the mere consequences of his actions, but on what he lost. It was no mere measure of pros and cons.
It was loss. Pure, irreversible loss. Many of his children bled for his name, for a cause lost even to his mind. “I will pay any price, give anything. Make this pain stop.”
“That is nothing I can do,” Reikos bemoaned.
Beams of light punched through the storm, shining over Aorym like the gaze of a radiant titan. The dragon’s tempest subsided to the harmony of a song. A voice so unearthly that it could melt the outer realms.
The great goddess stood atop the clouds. All she wanted Aorym to do was meet her eyes. Just as she had met Reikos’ and given him wisdom, now she waited to give the giant what he needed.
Spider, The Mind-Hacker
I’d been caught red-handed as a spy. This is how I ended up sitting across a metal table from him. The mind-hacker- codenamed Spider, a Machiavellian terror clad in red and black, with an icy stare that could pierce a diamond. He’d made a proposition.
“You know Russian Roulette?”
I glanced at the 5 revolvers on the table, with a sinking feeling of pure dread.
“Of course you do, except these bullets hack the other person’s consciousness. I know which guns are loaded. We’ll take turns firing them at each other. Beat me, earn your freedom”. He smiled with contempt and sadistic pleasure.
“If I refuse?”
He placed a real gun onto the table.
Spider aimed the first revolver at my head and fired, with a smile. A thunderbolt zapped my mind.
“Ahh, so that was your mission. Ambitious. Nice family you have”.
He was worming his way into my consciousness, an abominable violation.
Brain heavy from the pain, I discharged the second gun at him. Empty.
“Oh haha, the fear you feel”, said the Spider, stringing me up in his web.
“I have a proposition, fire gun 4 or 5”, I said, gambling my life.
“Oh? We have a betting man, fine”.
With a flourish, he picked up Revolver number 5 and pulled the trigger. I doubled over in pain, clutching my head. Spider was laughing- his mocking tone only grew more arrogant. Exactly what I wanted. I’d filled my own head with misinformation, and just now was faking.
I picked up Revolver number 3 and fired.
Spider screeched, mind-hacked and full of doubts, like me. We both shared part of each other’s consciousness; the playing-field was even and there was only one gun left on the table. I doused my brain with images of me shooting myself with the real gun.
“A proposition”, I said. “Let me fire Revolver 4 at myself”.
“Hah, if you’re suicidal go ahead”, he said- with his one weakness, arrogance.
The moment I pulled the trigger, Spider fired the real one at himself.
Never delve into a man full of doubts.
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