El Pip

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I've decided to believe that it is because I'm not a regular on this that no-one guessed me, as that is far more reassuring than the alternatives.

#2: Definitely not me. Makes me think TBC for some reason.
TBC has definitely nicked stylistic elements of me it is true.
DYAEiOu.gif


Author #2

This piece is exactly 1000 words (I checked, because it seemed more.) Excellent use of time and space allowed to get in the story. Not much of a story, but what can one do in 1000 words? Given the constraints and limit, it uses both humor and theme, to get across the notion of our topic at hand. That said, it very much uses a similar conceit from the first piece. Something has been lost in space (why didn’t anyone else think of that? Hmm.)

I very much like the descending order of reports, especially the rote “night is dark and stormy” motif. This is a writer that wants to move beyond that (and perhaps make fun of it.) Yet with the limited time allowed, there is little one can do other than that. It’s a joke, a bit of humor. A solid piece, to be sure. Solid, but may be improved by moving beyond the joke.

My guess is @Peter Ebbesen
I absolutely wanted to play with the dark and stormy night trope and I'm glad that came across. With more words you could do more, but as I hinted at in my 'guess' I think a solid joke piece is worthy on it's own terms. You can use humour to make points, push forward a plot and do all sort of things. But sometimes just writing something that is funny is enough.

So my belated commentary on entry #2:

This reads like terraforming meets bad management practices.

It works, at that, though I have my doubt anyone would be THIS repeatedly numb to the real requirements of the job. But who knows? And in any case the story wouldn't work if they 'only' dropped every comet at the exact same spot and broke the planet that way... which would be the kind of mess-up that is slightly believable.

I do, of course, wonder if a couple dozen comets can really destroy a planet. I doubt it. Earth, at least, has 10 orders of magnitude more mass than Halley's comet or Temple 1.

And the use of 'quantum modelling' sounds completely gratuitous. But well.

Overall it works as soft-core sci-fi. I don't believe it could ever really work in a complex organization setting up the terraforming of a whole planet, but as a light-hearted criticism of corporate culture, it does work.
It was very much not hard sci-fi, the 'gratuitous' quantum modelling was a tip of the hat to that. On the destruction, well if the planet was small enough (say Mercury sized) and the comets big enough then... it probably doesn't work either, but it wasn't that sort of story. I was aiming for the Star Trek end of the sci-fi spectrum, where you are using sci-fi elements to tell a story (or make a joke in this case), as opposed to the Clarke/Asimov end.

There probably are very good 1,000 word hard sci-fi story about a terraforming disaster, of the top of my head a Three Laws robot and Terraforming has potential, but it would be very different and certainly less fun.

My guesses (don't have time for analysis, so going purely what my guts tell me)
2 Wyvern

Also, I quite like all the entries :)
The Britishness clearly shone through. Also, glad you liked it.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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I've decided to believe that it is because I'm not a regular on this that no-one guessed me, as that is far more reassuring than the alternatives.
We should have known when you mysteriously popped up and stuck around for guesses...
TBC has definitely nicked stylistic elements of me it is true.
Perfected.
 

DensleyBlair

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I don’t think this will impact anyone’s plans too greatly, but just to say I’ve been called away from the forums for family reasons, so I’ll likely not have a new prompt for a week or so. Obviously still feel free to declare interest/chat about the round just gone/muse on possible future topics. I’ll check back in at the end of the week.
 

Avernite

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I don’t think this will impact anyone’s plans too greatly, but just to say I’ve been called away from the forums for family reasons, so I’ll likely not have a new prompt for a week or so. Obviously still feel free to declare interest/chat about the round just gone/muse on possible future topics. I’ll check back in at the end of the week.
I hope all is well, and I really should write more extensive comments :)
 
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DensleyBlair

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Apologies for the much longer than anticipated delay, everyone. Turns out May was quite the month! Anyway, back now – and with what I think could be quite a fun challenge of a prompt.

I've just spent my evening watching the original Alien film, and it got me thinking about what I suppose could be called fatal curiosity. Curiosity killing the cat is an extremely fertile trope in fiction, and for good reason: pushing fearlessly (or foolishly) into the unknown is the essence of any adventure, and adventure always makes for a good story.

But what about the inverse? What about all those times when people choose to err on the side of caution; to stick with what they know? Can these still make for interesting stories?

My challenge to you is to tell the story of someone declining to act on their curiosity. How you handle it – whether tragic, comic, ironic, horrific or something else entirely – I leave to you. Does a character end up wracked by regret for the adventure not taken? Does a missed opportunity lead to a dramatic change in fortunes, good or ill? Does someone inadvertently avoid their fate and spark the creation of a whole alternate dimension? It's up to you. You are totally free to interpret the challenge and explore its implications as you like, but what I am interested in is to see the old trope of curiosity=doom subverted.

I appreciate this is not the snappiest of prompts, but I'm intrigued by it so hopefully there will be those of you enthusiastic about taking it on. Like usual, I'm always on hand to answer questions here or by PM should you desire further clarification. As a guide, I would say entries should be 1,000–1,500 words in length, in any form. If you'd like to enter, let me know by PM over the next week or so. I'll give a provisional submission deadline of July 4th.

Happy writing!
 

DensleyBlair

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Ah hour in and we have three places filled! Get a message to me quick if you fancy being our fourth writer :)
 

Avernite

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Booh! Not even poetic licence justifies the use of "mices" as the plural of mouse. One mouse, two mice. That 's' is NOT where it should be. :p
So to start off my serious responses to criticism of last round's piece (I know, slow...): I needed two syllables, mice is 1. Meter>language.
#4: Poetry, done in a similar style to the last one, which was Peter's. I'm tempted to say that it is again, but I'm not super satisfied with that. I'm getting the gut feeling that someone's having a lot of fun leading us down a blind alley. But, in the absence of any better ideas, I'll guess Peter. For now.
Well Swuul already remarked on it - yeah of course it was a deliberate attempt to pin it on Peter ;)
Author #4:

Finally! Of the 4 pieces, this is my favorite. It attempted something different and not just the easy “lost in space” theme. It makes my guesses above less likely as I know them all to be great writers, but I really loved the prose here. (Note: please don’t all start to write in poetic form. Surest way not to please me unless you really know how to do it. Yet who gives a what about pleasing me?)

Name drops to Napoleon and Edison, clearly to the 20th century. And while never named, it is clear what did not (or may not) have belonged here. And in truth, what is no longer here (if I have negative critique, it is that – in such short space it is difficult to say WHY they would not be where they should be even though attempted in the prose. Not enough room.)

Plaudits to this excellent poem.

My guess is @HistoryDude
You may have to expand on WHAT does not belong, according to you. The poem is about Victoria 3 (and didn't that prove prescient? :eek: ) not being there, when it was 'supposed' to be somewhere in the line between CK2/EU4/HoI4 ;) And of course, see below on my own tricks.
#4. Not sure. Pinning it on you Coz1 :p
Victory at least :)
#4 In this, as in so many other things, I am the opposite of Coz. No idea what was was not where it was supposed to be, but the poetry fans seem keen so I'm prepared to believe it hit the brief despite the lack of evidence. My basic position is that if you are relying on the reader doing all the leg work to understand what is going on, then you probably should redraft your work properly. But apparently that sort of thing is encouraged in poetry, so by that standard this is indeed a wonderful poem.

I was going to say Coz1 but calling your own work excellent and your favourite is a bit much, so it is probably someone else. I could copy someone else's guess but that seems cheating, so I randomly selected @Cora Giantkiller . Apologies for accusing you of poetry if you are in fact innocent.
Well the explanation is later. Which is, I agree, very poetry-like: needing the author to explain ;)
Because I don't want to forget entirely, and this one's shorter, I skip 3 and do 4 first ;)

So first off: what isn't where it's supposed to be?
Well. Ode to victory seems to refer to an ode to Victoria. So ia isn't there, replaced by y. But that seems lame.
Victoria 3 isn't where it's supposed to be either, which is a bit better but still... (also I am getting paranoid from thinking Peter wrote this).

But... I think I found a deeper layer or two.

Deeper layer 1: I think? all the pieces are some kind of ancient writing. Nr. 4 gave me the clearest hint (Aeneid - starts with 'arma virumque cano - of the weapons and man/men speak), which makes 3 a shoe-in for the Odyssey so fuse is a rework of Muse (andra moi ennepe mousa polutropon - man me tell Muse many-strategems, i.e. Speak to me Muse of the many-tricksy man?). 2 then is prolly the Illiad, starting with wrath and all. So all of them are old stories reworked. 4 is tricky... maybe more-reworked Genesis? That's not too poetic in most translations so a need for more rework makes some sense. Stumped on 1 and 5. Some Greek tragedies maybe?

Deeper layer 2: so... initially I thought the ! at the start of the last paragraph was a typo. But if not... then it's probably 'a clue'. All the first signs read 'STASR!' which is weird. But ALL the other pieces are about something out among the stars. So I suspect Densley agreed on a secret extra theme with the authors, stars, and this author went 'I can combine that with something not being where it should be'. Stasr! to Stars!.

I think this last one is probably what the author (Peter, in my guess) intended to be the obvious answer in hindsight, but who knows, maybe there's yet another secret in there I haven't found...
So all of the above is true, of course.

The ancient stories abused were:
The epic of Gilgamesh
The Illiad
The Odyssey
The Aeneid
Genesis
and last Germania by Tacitus

Now this order is wonky - but sorted by time of writing (approximately), Genesis moves, and the whole poem's first letters do indeed spell STARS!
But I didn't know everyone else was gonna write a star-themed story when I chose that, it was a secret hint because Peter once accused me of always writing about stars ;)
 

DensleyBlair

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Now that we’re a few days away from the provisional July 4 deadline, it’s looking like an extension would be appreciated by a number of our writers. I’m going to push things back to Sunday July 18, with the aim to have things published on the Monday/Tuesday.

As ever, drop me a PM if you have any questions/thoughts :)
 
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DensleyBlair

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Alright then, entries coming up. Look out: we've got a bumper crop this time :D
 

DensleyBlair

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Author #1


The only thing he could think about...his only memory...was that she was beautiful. A slim figure in that dress she wore so very well. Her hair...the blonde of it sneaking past the darker shades underneath. And the sun that day was bright, which caused her to shield her face most of the time. Yet a slim shadow caused by a cloud offered him a brief glimpse of deep brown eyes that seemed to have something more behind them than other girls. An inner knowledge...as if she knew something everyone else did not. He could tell that she was feisty...fun. As she teased with her friends...laughed and played.

It was a baseball game and she sat in the grandstand as he stood in the on deck circle. He’d had a good day already. A hit that just got by the second baseman and then a walk in the fifth inning. He’d stolen third but just barely. Yet there he remained when Marty didn’t connect to a good looking fastball. The score was tied. And there it sat in the ninth inning while he could think of no thing other than this vision up in the stands. He’d do anything to just toss the bat aside and crawl into the stands so he could say hello. But he was up next. Had to try. Had to succeed.

When Phil struck out, he was made to step to the plate. He didn’t want to go. He just wanted to keep looking at her. But he did and tried to get his mind right. Ready. Think fast and smart. Keep a quick bat but have patience. This guy had a great curve ball and was likely to throw it on the first pitch. And he did. Dipped just below the strike zone and the umpire called it a strike. Stepping out of the batter’s box, he adjusted his grip on the bat and looked back to the stands. There she was. Still gorgeous.

Stepping back in, he looked to the pitcher and glared. A firm determination to succeed, and maybe impress her. The pitcher stared right back and shook off a pitch. Then another. Now doubt was in his mind. Another curve? No! Surely the fastball now. Try to sneak it over the top of the zone. He was ready when it came over the plate and swung hard. And right through it. The catcher pumped his fist and tossed it back quickly and the pitcher was ready with the next pitch immediately.

Time out! He’d signaled and the umpire allowed it. He stepped back out and looked to the ground and his bat at first, but could not help but sneak one more glance at this angel seemingly over his shoulder. She was laughing still and her smile was possibly the most amazing thing he had ever seen. But work! To work! He stepped back into the box and gripped his bat with firm hands. Circling it over his shoulder in slow movement, he waited for the next pitch. Probably another fastball. Maybe low this time to confuse him. And there was where it landed.

When his bat connected, the ball traveled far. A mammoth shot that soared through the air over every glove that might hope to catch it. Maybe two or three rows back and a home run. The game was won and as he circled the bases, he looked back to the stands where she had been. But she was not there. Had she seen it?? Where did she go?!

Despite all of the backside slapping and cheers from his teammates when he returned to the dugout, he only had one thought. Where WAS she?? He never bothered to change his uniform or even remove his cleats. He jumped the railing and headed up in the stands. Looking to his left and right, he took the steps two at a time and finally entered the concourse. She wore a green dress! He remembered that. He looked for it. Green. It was green. And then he saw a green dress.

Pushing past several patrons, all of which wanted to glad hand him for his heroics that day, he ignored them all. The crowd was leaving the game and the fans crowded his path. But he finally reached her and…

Did not know what to say.

She smiled that pretty smile and said, “Congratulations.”

"You saw it?” he stuttered.

“You won the game!” she brushed a soft hand to his dirty uniform and was then called away by her friends.

He still didn’t know what to say but tried, “What...what is your name?”

“It’s Tracy!” she shouted over the din of the crowd as they pushed past her and her friends tried to rush her along.

“But how do I find you?” he replied trying to push two men away from him.

She shouted her name again and then a number. He thought he had heard it...couldn’t really, but thought so. He wanted to chase her and make certain but the crowd was too much. And for two weeks he tried every combination of that number. Not her. No Tracy to be found. And then the war started. From North Africa to Italy. Back to England and then to Normandy. A march across France and Germany and all he could think about was her. It pulled him through the war and now?

No idea who she was other than a name. The vision remained, but when he returned from Europe he’d found a perfectly nice woman. Not beautiful like that, but pleasant enough. She cooked for him, cleaned for him...raised their children. Three of them. A girl and two boys. The girl had married well. Given him grandchildren. The eldest boy had sadly suffered from mental illness and never got things straight. An overdose from drugs and was dead before his 40th birthday. The youngest boy had just started a family. A late one...a mixed one. But he was proud of that boy.

He was proud of his life. His family. His service and his ability. All he had done in this world. In this life. Yet as he rested in his bed, knowing that he did not have much time left to him, he could not shake the thought of that beautiful woman in a green dress. She that was a vision. She that was the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen. She that was the face he stared at in his mind every single night as he fought for three long years.

If only…

He would die the very next day. A long illness that he had suffered from for years. Funeral plans were made and they were Catholic so there was a wake. Friends and family shuffled through and all gave their best regards and their sorries but as the children watched them all pour through the house, one woman stood out. She was aged but had kept her looks. Wrinkles around her brow, her lips...they did nothing to take away from her beauty. And she wore a green dress. She lingered quite a long time around the coffin and finally it was the daughter that stepped to her side and asked her how she knew their father.

She turned with a smile, “He won the game.”

“You knew my father...when he played?” the daughter asked.

“No...not really,” she answered with some sadness, “I just wish that he had called.”
 

DensleyBlair

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Author #2


BEPPO AND NABULI


After a moment of silence Beppo cleared his throat with a soft cough.

"No Nabuli, we can not turn on Paoli. Not like this. You can't rush out there. It would be the end, we have already lost too much. We would have to flee, all of us. You, me, mother, the younger ones."
"Beppo, we have to take a stand! What Paoli is doing is wrong, it is against all we have fought for. The others, they will see, they will understand. Paoli has betrayed us all."

The two brothers looked at each other in the darkness, only the small flame of the stub of a candle giving some light.

"Things don't look promising, I give you that, Beppo, but we have to do this. I can not let this go. It is against all I believe."
"But we can still turn things to good. We can still talk with Paoli. We can, well, we can work from the inside. What you are suggesting is dangerous, it would lead to a path which will doom us."
"We can't play it safe now, Beppo. People will follow us, they will see Paoli is the traitor. He betrayed our best chance for independence, people will understand. And if we have to flee, we can always come back, stronger and better prepared."

The brothers did discuss for a long time. In the end, Nabuli agreed they should play it safe, work from the inside. If Beppo could talk smooth enough to alter Nabuli's thoughts, then certainly he would be able to change the thoughts of Paoli too. If Beppo hadn't been there that night, Nabuli would have rushed off against Paoli, not giving a thought of what might happen afterwards. Beppo was good at talking people to do the sensible thing, making them stop to think for a moment before acting rashly.

---

Years later, in Bordentown, New Jersey, two old men sat at the pavilion by the river in the evening.

"Beppo, I am dying. I have the same disease dad had. I can't eat anything, I am in pain. Or rather, I can not eat anything but soup and wine."
"I had figured it out, Nabuli. After you came from the privé, the floor was like in a slaughterhouse. Not exactly the sign of a healthy man when you excrete blood all over the place."
"Yeah. It is amazing how much I can still bleed. Would have thought I had bled out years ago, from all those wounds. Wine transforms to blood I suppose, wasn't that what uncle Joseph always told?"

The warm June wind softly made some flickery waves on the river. Both brothers seemed to be deep in their thoughts and memories.

"You remember that night back home? When we talked through the night of what we should do with Paoli. You remember that, Beppo?"
"Yes I do. How could I forget, you always bring it up."
"We should have stood up then. We should have shown the people what Paoli was all about."
"Paoli would have had us chased off of the island, or worse. You saw it later, he had people eating from his hand. They even elected him as their king."
"He had us chased off of the island anyway, after he was crowned. Ok, not directly chasing us out, but there was no place for us on the island anymore. Not for any of us in the family, even mother had to leave the family mansion behind. And you know just as well as I do, and just as well he did, he was elected king because of us. You led the nobility, I led the troops. Besides, he became a puppet instead of a real king, blindly following orders of some ambassador."

Nabuli paused for a moment, then did sharply look in the eyes of Beppo.

"It was you who should have been the king! You would have led us to true independence."
"Hah! Me as king, that would have been something. If I had become the king, you would have aimed to become the emperor. You wouldn't have had it any other way, and you know it."
"Laugh if you must. You were destined to become a king, and I was destined to become something too. We were destined for greatness."

Beppo did stare at Nabuli for a moment, not believing what he just heard.

"Nabuli, seriously. I have met the Pope, the Sultan, three kings, and the President of the USA. Two different Presidents of the USA, actually. I am a wealthy businessman, respected by all.
You, the war hero of FOUR different countries, terror of the pirates of the seven seas, who retired to become an author whose novels of romance and heroism have made you famous all over the world. What else could one want from life? We are the brothers who became something, and we both made it in our own ways."
"I know, but it doesn't feel right, does it? This is not what we were supposed to be. We were destined for something else, I know it."

Beppo sighed.

"So you are saying that one night changed it all? That we have lived a life of fraud ever since because I did talk you out from rushing out against Paoli? Nabuli, is that really what you are telling me?"
"Don't you ever think of that? Things have felt like they have been wrong after that. Sure, we made a name for ourselves, but it all just feels, I don't know, it feels wrong. Can't you feel it too?"

Beppo sighed again. Then laughed softly.

"Well. It sure would have been something to see. Mother would have busted from pride if she had a king and emperor as his sons! Hah!"

They both snickered a bit.

"I give you that, Nabuli. It does have a certain clang to it. Imagine if instead of Beppo and Nabuli we had here sitting King Joseph and Emperor Napoleon. That would have been something, I admit that."
"It would have been stuff for legends."
 

DensleyBlair

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Author #3


In the Mirror

The alarm had gone off as it always had, or at least I thought it had. After so many mornings, it was sometimes just easy to end up in front of the mirror, teeth half-brushed, hair half-combed, face half-shaved and wonder for a blinking second if you were even an active participant in your own life, or if one could just wake up, halfway through their morning routine.

I certainly could.

In the dim light of the half-lit bathroom, the sun having risen but not higher than the trees and garages that made up the neighborhood, the mirror was an empty void, filled with a star field of soapy dots that for ages I had tried to remember to wipe off and yet have constantly found myself unable to do so. Just another thing on an ever-expanding, never-touched list of things to do when I was competently put together, when my adult life really began, and I was more than I was now.

The dream.

To just get beyond this stupid cycle of half-lived mornings, from cup of coffee to glass of gin, rinse and repeat forever. The boring microwaved lunches, the two or three dishes I felt confident in making at night. The same chats with the same dismissive faces. The work, the play – it all blended together to a greyish mush, like the May skies, with no hope of a sunny June.

I spat my toothpaste out and ran the faucet for a minute, taking time to cup some of the cold water in my hands and splashed it up against my face. With a heavy sigh, water running down my nose, I looked back up to an mirror empty except for the soapy spots.

I blinked.

Rubbed my eyes, even.

But no, the mirror was empty. There was no me standing there. A silver plane, unburdened by my form. What caught me was that after a moment of utter fear, was that I was washed over, almost, by a sense of relief. A chuckle even escape my lips. A real, audible laugh.

Invisible.

Invisible?

Was I invisible? I looked down at my hands and found them as worn and tired as ever. Nicked and bruised from work. And if I could still see me, could others? Should I even test the matter? Contrive some reason to knock on my neighbor's door for the first time in six years of living here. See how they reacted?

The mirror darkened.

The tile walls and the other things in the distance began to fade out as the mirror became less of a reflection, and more of a window. I was there, if only ever so dimly, outlined like a shade, details lost to the starfield. It was the me I recognized the best – formless, a non-being. I couldn't tell you what I looked like. If my jaw was wide or sharp, if my brow was prominent or not, I wasn't even really sure what a "cheek bone" was.

I avoided thinking about anything like that.

A face leaned into view.

Like a lost sister, she looked like me, but just off center. More than anything, it was her smile that made me stop and wonder who she was. It was so effortless. She puckered her lips and put on her lipstick in a couple, careful strokes, evening out the bottom with another. She stood back, ran her hand through her hair and then tossed her head side to side to get a better view of the whole thing.

I caught myself mirroring her, and as I did, her smile faded a bit, brow furrowed down and she eventually twisted up her hair into a new style, clearly trying to shake something.

Had she seen me?

I opened my mouth as if I was going to ask her, but stopped myself.

What was all this? What was this mirror? Surely I was still asleep. Surely I'd wake up and it'd be over, the discomfort, the loathing, the grey skies of May. I'd wake up warm and sound in bed, the fan humming just loud enough to cover up the thoughts that kept me staring at the ceiling all night. I looked back to the bedroom.

But the world faded out just past the bathroom door.

Seeing the inky void, I stood frozen between the tub, the mirror, and the towels, seeing no escape. My mind began to race. Had the void always been there? Had I really just woken, standing and half-ready here in the bathroom, looking into...

The Mirror.

The woman sat on the edge of the tub, eyes half-opened, hands on her knees. She was crying. Maybe she had seen me.

She spoke to someone.

My wife walked into the bathroom on the other side of the mirror. She had clearly just gotten out of bed and rushed over. She crouched down, hand on the woman's shoulder, that soft smile she always gave me when things were bad, when the facade cracked a bit and I needed picked up. I felt the warmth of her hand on my own shoulder. Could just about hear the words from her lips.

The two women shared a hug, then a kiss.

A little lipstick had come off on my wife's lips, and the woman rubbed it off with her thumb and the two shared a laugh and another hug before my wife gestured out the door and walked away, leaving the woman there to recover a bit more on her own. She didn't move for a minute, head hanging in her hands. She took a deep, deep breath and then looked out the window into the sunny June skies. Then, little by little, she picked herself back up, and walked over to...

The reflection in the mirror was wrong.

I could feel it.

It was lying to me. Two reflections, so different, and yet one soul between the two. I did recognize her.

Me.

All the features we hated and ignored, reflected in the mirror.

She fixed up her lipstick, fiddled with her bra, and took another look into me. She scrunched up her face. Something was wrong. She pulled out an eye liner pen and she carefully added back her beauty mark.

Just like mine, minus a layer of foundation.

Satisfied, she bounded out of the bathroom and the room ceased to be. Floating in a void it was me and the mirror. Left behind. Unchanged for fear of the world on the other side of a thin sheet of polished metal, stained with soap, making it look as if I was lost among the stars, instead of just a bad dream.

I had chosen this.

To remain.

Behind

in the mirror
 

DensleyBlair

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Author #4


Paths Not Taken


She rises with the dawn to the singing of cicadas. As always. Opens the gate. Bathes. Dresses. Has breakfast, continental. Clears the table. Checks her email. Deletes spam. Puts on shoes and coat. Last minute mirror check: She's still got it. Gives her reflection a wave, and it waves back, cheerfully. Leaves through front door.

View is breathtaking. House by the sea. Her house. So many memories. Raised children here. All left nest long ago. Divorced afterwards. Incompatible personalities. Opposites attract seemed romantic when she was young and in love. Time ground down both. Now living all alone. House too big for one, but she loves it to bits.

Notices tile amongst roses. Dismisses nostalgia. Roof problem. Again. Always something to fix or paint. Feels like she's been maintaining house forever. Curse of the house owner. Starts walking.

She greets the sun and he bathes her in light. Always a fair exchange. On the beach the song of seagulls is interrupted by the squabbling of carrion birds. By the pricking of her thumbs, something wicked this way comes. She hears heavy breathing and flopping footsteps. She speeds up. Does not look back.

A gentle western breeze caresses her and speeds her feet. She is comforted.

She waits at the bus stop. Multitudes wait with her. The half-asleep and the half-dead; people aren't their best in the morning. The bus is delayed. A witness slithers from shadow and accosts her: It is time to immanentize the eschaton. Will she do her part? She ignores him.

The bus finally arrives. One side is staved in. Accident, probably. None of her business. So long as it works. Fights her way through the crowd. Enters. Finds seat. Driver plays “Age of Aquarius” by The 5th Dimension. No accounting for taste. She relaxes as bus screams and leaves.

Arrival. Greets compound perimeter guard. John, 38. Hard worker. Takes extra shifts to support family. Good family man. Incurable disease. He marches towards death one day at a time. Jokes about modern medicine scaring away disease demons, but rails against God inwardly. None of her business. Is told manager Astraeus is in the building. She thanks for warning. Turns her back on him.

Shadows waiting. Tower, tall as CEO's ego, blocks sun. Modern, functional, boring. Preferred old office. Impractical but vibrant. Corporate takeover changed all that. Clean sweep of the top. End of flexible working hours. Only low-level managers survived. Like herself and Astraeus. Too important to running of day-to-day business.

Biplane crosses the clear sky, trailing banner: “This Winter Kid Ctulhu Returns!”. Sequel. No originality. She'll pass on this one. Weather takes turn for the worse. Dark clouds incoming. She races to the tower ahead of the rain.

Hurries to her office on first floor. Hangs coat on hanger. Goes to kitchen. Deserted, people gone to watch the lightning show. Sacred coffee machine to provide salvation. Presses rosy button and offers benediction. No weak latte or espresso button for her.

Not quite deserted. Manager Astraeus arrives and accidentally blocks kitchen door. Laptop under arm. Real casual. Makes inappropriate suggestion. As always. Stupid fixed working hours. He is never at his best in the morning either, and only gets worse during the day. He does not like what it does to him, but he cannot help himself.

Handsy too, but has to put down laptop to get to grips. Tactical mistake. She is all business. She defenestrates laptop through open window. Plaintive Windows' log off jingle is heard for a moment before it terminates abruptly. He leaves in a huff.

Sacred coffee machine blesses her: the hot volcano special is ready for consumption.

Returns to office. Locks office door. Deletes all new email. Forwards incoming email to a sex hotline. Leaves phone on. There'll be a call. Grins at her reflection in the screen. It grins back, impish gleam in its eyes. Locks office door. Important work awaits: find soul-mate, sensitive romantic soul, good looks, no creep.

Tired of Grinder for matchmaking. Also Kinder. And Finder, Binder, and Minder. Algorithms lousy – only matches are creeps and huge men with big egos and no life. Tip from young Thalia in Human Resources: Pythagoras, service based on numerology.

Enters her name, interests, and old picture. Stern look. Golden arms crossed. Power suit. Strict businesswoman with looks to kill for. No easy lay. Is assigned infinity. A poor joke. Ready to swipe.

Brute. Dark hair, piercing eyes. Swipe left. Axe-murderer. Negative number? Swipe left. Poet, bad. Lazy eye, bad teeth. Swipe left. Sportsman. Young, vigorous, decent looks. No Cleitus he. Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. Golden. Heart of a lion, loves riding, romantic. Possibly sensitive. Infinity too. Service claims a perfect match. She hesitates.

Phone rings. Rival corporation hiring. Stuck in a rut? Ditch old firm. Promotion. Higher salary. Benefits. You too can be a saint. She refuses the offer.

Not a good day. She needs cheering up. Gets idea. Withdraws saffron-coloured robes from filing cabinet. Parts in front. Reveals more than it hints. If you've got it, flaunt it. She does. Simple cord around perfect waist to hold in place. Always looks good in robes.

Lunch. Canteen serving “authentic” Greek again. Moussaka almost criminal. Octopus beaten to death with shovel. Ambrosia? Yeah, right. Don't ask about the Dolmades. She shudders. Grabs a bottle of Retsina for therapeutic use.

The canteen is full. The workers love the food. She swishes through the crowd. Turning heads where she goes. She's still got it. Greets Thalia. Trash-talks old lovers. Rates co-workers. Just like old times. Shows her the golden man. Thalia says swipe right before he is off the market. Thalia says, has she seen new reality show? “Call to Adventure: Only You Can Save Mankind”. She hasn't. She asks, does it deserve saving? They share a laugh.

Returns to office. Considers options.

Decides to work. Day's most important work done first thing in the morning. As always. Still work to do. Must show willing. She signs meaningless papers. Fines Chelone for being late, again. Make-work, really. It passes time.

Phone rings. Finally! Called to manager Astraeus's office. Private meeting. Issued warning. Again. Offered reconciliation on mutually beneficial terms. Takes two to tango. Horizontal implied. Just like old times. She sighs. It is too late in the day. He is too far gone. Goes to window. Turns around. Pulls cord, bosom spilling out. He grabs her honey melons. She grips his waist. Throws herself down and backward. Heaves. She defenestrates him through the closed window, shards of glass spraying outwards to scatter on the street below. Fifth floor office has downside. Stream of curses terminates abruptly.

Exits office. Tells secretary that the manager has left the building. Secretary nods in understanding.

Returns to her office. Opens Pythagoras. The golden man is still there. She hesitates.

Phone rings. CEO thunders, annoyed. As always. Docks her cost of cleaning up stain on pavement and new window. Says she should have opened window. Complains about bad publicity. She blames the stupid fixed working hours policy. Wasn't a problem under old management. Astraeus never the best during day. CEO complains about immaturity. Reminds her of anti-fraternization policy. He's one to talk.

It is an old argument.

Rummages through drawer. Finds tiara. Second-best, will do. Dons it. Considers position. Glancing aside as if to lover, parted robes casually revealing bosom. Background: Open sky and roses? A classic. Withdraws garland of roses from filing cabinet. Takes selfies. Satisfied. She's definitely still got it.

Sends picture to Thalia for evaluation. Thumbs up. But possibly not for first date. Few people as uninhibited as manager Astraeus, but bosom would tempt even a saint. Is this how she wants him to see her – forever? Demure equestrian picture better as he likes riding? Good point.

Withdraws horse from filing cabinet. Poor creature nervous and dumps on her desk. She regrets leaving it in dark so long. Horses seldom needed on first floor. Soothes the beast. Withdraws saddle from drawer. Takes selfie, side-saddle, restrained, mature but unspoiled. Background dawn rising over lake. Classic image if one ignores desk. Definitely equestrian!

Distracts horse with carrot. Shoves it back into the cabinet. Makes mental note to exercise it one of these days.

Sends picture to Thalia for evaluation. Thumbs up. Looks great. He will think obvious fake, lack of Photoshop-fu, but quirky personality willing to make effort. Could work.

Departure. Bids John a good night on the graveyard shift.

Crashed biplane lies in ruins near gate perimeter. Say what you will about CEO, but good shot.

Watches office building from outside. Glorious, towering into the sky. Last light of the sun. Astraeus's office easily identified by broken window. As dusk descends on building, she smiles. Impressive as always when he returns in glory. She gives Astraeus a wave. He waves back and blows her a kiss. Remembering early evenings, early mornings, the twilight zones of their youth, she blows one back. Fondness remains, even if no love lives forever.

She opens Pythagoras and swipes left. Perhaps she should take a lover instead, though that has its own complications.

The bus home is on time. And draped in blood. She does not ask. Driver plays “Rain and Tears” by Aphrodite's Child. No accounting for taste. The bus sobs and leaves.

Phone rings. Does she need insurance against wardrobe malfunction? A family in her neighbourhood did not buy insurance and their four children disappeared and all they found inside was a lamp post and a puddle of water. She hits the phone's exorcise button and hears a distant scream.

She gets off the bus.

She greets the moon and is embraced by her glow. Always a fair exchange.

There is chanting on the beach, and a giant wicker man. People aren't their best in the evening. Inside the wicker man something with too many arms squirms. Torch-wielding chanters plead with her to join. She speeds up. Does not look back.

A playful eastern breeze caresses her and brings the sound of Vangelis's Chariots of Fire. Little Eurus means well, but deplorable sense of humour.

She returns to her home by the sea. Enters by rear door. Greets her reflection in the mirror. It sneers at her. Irritable, she lashes out and the reflection cringes in fear. She is never at her best in the evening either, and only gets worse during the night. She does not like what it does to her, but she cannot help herself.

Has dinner. Clears the table.

Catches the news. Climate change. Seas rising. Coastal communities threatened. US abandons Paris treaty. President Trump insists change is man-made by foreigners pissing in the ocean, not caused by the legions of the deep preparing for war, heralding the return of the Old Ones. And what's so bad about the Old Ones anyway? Very reasonable people. Fthagn. In response, the EU increases their pledges under the treaty, dedicating another hundred nuclear warheads to the cause. Meanwhile, China... Politics as usual. Doesn't interfere with her work. Not her problem. She waves her hand to change the channel.

She watches “Call to Adventure”. Three hours of condensed mindless reality TV. Thirteen miners, a child, and a hippie, perform a daring heist in a dragon's lair. Planning the heist, mugging it for the cameras. Travelling to the lair, amusing misadventures. Arrival. Execution of scatter-brained plan. Fire and shadow on the mountain as the plan fails. Hippie says screw this and vanishes. Other contestants are hunted down and consumed, one after the other.

She laughs as they die.

She considers returning to the beach and teaching the cultists the true meaning of pain and pleasure.

It seems a reasonable proposition.

She sighs. It is too late in the night. She is too far gone. Should have stopped earlier. Soon the cravings will be irresistible.

Of old Astraeus would satisfy her desires at night, as she did his during day. A simple life, if repetitive. She broke that cycle.

She is her own woman. Has found her own solution.

She undresses. Lies down. Begs a favour of Hypnos. Sleep descends. When she wakes, she will be her best.

She has no regrets.
 

DensleyBlair

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Author #5


The Original Prometheans

Do you not wonder, young one, of the first people who ‘discovered’ fire?

I do. What on earth must have run through the minds of the majority of their society, rational and mature, when some of their number ran into the burning fields or forests? When lightning struck death from the heavens, when volcanoes tore apart islands and when all life ran in terror…some must have looked back and been inspired.

What utter foolishness! And I’m sure people must have wondered what they were doing, the first time (for surely there must have been a first time, and indeed many different first times across the world) one of their number stopped running and instead picked up the burning branch.

They must have been very confused. Later on, perhaps, incredulity gave way to fear, and anger. Who were these idiots, these primary pyromaniacs, to bring what had hitherto been a great killer into the middle of their lives? God knows how long humanity must have hurt themselves handling wild fire before figuring out how to tame it. To claim it for their own. And eventually, how to use it properly.

We know now, as amazing as it sounds, that this was no smooth process of seeing a fire produced by nature, intuiting what it was, and recreating the process at home. There are tribes of people today, still, without the knowledge of fire creation. Instead, they keep the embers of ancient flames going forever, taking as great a care of the kindling as any other great inheritance we might receive from our ancestors.

Imagine then! When all the world knew only of fire the destroyer, fire the uncontrollable. Fire that a man could pick up, for sure, but could not wield. What men were these, that kept at the process, year after year, till finally one or more learnt the secret of creation itself, that rendered them as unto gods?

At that point, how must have the people around them reacted? We never expect such cults and obsessions to lead to much these days. Imagine that strange neighbour of yours actually showing up with the fountain of youth or a philosopher’s stone? So too must have these fellows appeared to their families. Covered in burns, yes, but holding fire in their hands safely.

I merely bring this all up because, clearly, fire was a great benefit to mankind. And yet, at the time, it must have seemed the height of madness to everyone, including no doubt many who pursued it. Even thousands of years later, we still didn’t quite believe their hubris, turning the creation of fire into a gift stolen from the gods or from some other supernatural entity.

I’m sure you see the analogy, young man. You must, you know your classics well. And you are clearly rather bright, if rather lacking in wisdom, as evidenced by…this. I will not ask what possessed you, for that is rather clear. Curiosity and hubris, the two great and terrible burdens all men carry. Though I admit, your own reaches hitherto unheard-of heights…

To make a creature – a man! Out of the corpses of other men, the diseased, the criminally dispatched and justly executed…it boggles the mind. I am quite astounded you were not discovered prior to tonight, at the very last stages of this most unholy of gestations. A great many crimes you have committed, but that last step would be a blasphemy against God, against science and against humanity.

And yet, it is already too late! We may not understand your demented genius thoroughly, but it is clear enough that the creature is yet to draw breath and yet will imminently do so. You are both God and Demon, it seems, for placing such an unusual and difficult decision before us. For this thing, once man, and now possibly man again, and yet perhaps also a new species, is yet alive and thus worthy of it. Your curiosity, defeated momentarily by fear, has dragged this poor wretch back into the blasted world from which it was ejected.

Even now, you offer words approaching your absolution. You are an evil fellow, and a poorer parent than even such as this deserves.

Victor Frankenstein, you disgust me utterly, and have brought shame upon your family and this good college. Begone from this city, and never blacken the purest of sciences with your presence ever again!

Now, my good fellows, we have quite the problem on our hands. For as much as I chided the young fool for his idiotic and destructive grasping at forbidden knowledge, I too am now gripped by the thought of such things! What a world of truth we could learn from this creature. Be it man or monster, not even the wisest amongst us can tell. Gigantic be its presence and gorgeous be its visage, yet what of the mind? Of whose brain did the would-be Prometheus steal and emplace within?

Hold! Hold! It stirs from eternal rest. Quickly, the braces and catches!

It is secure. No matter what happens, the world will be protected from the mistake, or should it be miracle, we witness tonight.

The eyes are open. They are yellowed, but clear. Bright. This thing holds the spark of life, and the intellect of a man. All good, and yet what terrible things I feel when I look upon it! Is this what the primitives felt, when they first perceived the fire of the gods?

It speaks with no words. The mind is empty and yet, yearning to be filled. My God. It understands us! Move the candles away, it does not understand…yes, good. We should have expected that. Clearly this being was wiser than many of our ancestors.

I wonder if it will learn to seek the flames, too?
 

DensleyBlair

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Author #6


The Choices We Make


It was not a dark and stormy night. The skies were filled with clouds, but there wasn't any rain. There was a full moon, so the night was decently bright. although the clouds did block some of the moonlight.

Jack worried about the clouds. He didn't need any large waves to steer his ship through. He especially didn't need any storms to brave. His ship could sink from that, here on the open sea. That could be fatal for both him and his crew. Death was the last thing he wanted on his consciousness.

Naturally, as he thought this, the skies began pouring rain. The waves around the ship began to get larger, and they seemed intent on battering the ship. If things persisted this way, his ship would sink.

This would be a good start to a tale, Jack idly thought. It was a bright and stormy night, and the moon shone... Everything appeared to indicate that an adventure was at hand. It seemed like the beginning of some old text, or a subversion of that at least.

Of course, if there was a tale worth telling here, he would need to survive to tell it.

His crew wasn't that helpful. What he got for taking on so many inexperienced sailors at once. His driver was somewhat experienced, but even he wasn't used to braving large waves. The waves currently outside of the New Liner had become as large as they came by now. Indeed, these waves could topple large cities. Jack figured that they could very well be trapped in the epicenter of a hurricane.

He thought that they should wait out the storm. If it was a hurricane, then it would have an eye. Assuming that the ship hadn't already sunk and her passengers hadn't already died in the depths of the ocean by the time that came, things should be fine. Both of those things were looking like very optimistic assumptions, though.

Jack probably should have known better than to go sailing in the Bermuda Triangle, but he couldn't resist the bragging rights such a thing might give him. He wasn't an inherently proud man, but it was nice to brag sometimes, and he did want to know if there was anything special about this place. He had chosen a period of time where all forecasts said that the area would be smooth sailing.

For the first three days, the forecast had proven correct, but this night was proving it wrong very quickly. Still, there was a small part of Jack - the part that wasn't focused on trying to survive or panicking - that thought this might prove something different about the Triangle. Jack had heard many theories. Aliens, time travelers (which was ridiculous), some sort of natural phenomenon, monsters, and many others. If he survived, he might be able to figure out the truth. Of course, he was currently about to drown, so... that was a big if.

Just as he fell into the waves, he felt a force pulling upon him. Suddenly, he was on dry land. He looked around, but there were no signs of either the ocean or his rescuer. There was a note, however.

Traveler,
We found you lying down on our territory. We have taking the liberty of escorting you out of there, as you didn't seem to be deliberately intruding. You are currently on the edge of our territory, as many others have been before. This area appears to be an interdimensional conduit (a portal between dimensions).

You may wish to return to your native dimension. If so, all you have to do is ask. However, there are many that have chosen to stay here, and that is an option for you, as well. In addition, there are many other dimensions that can be accessed from here. Some don't take kindly to travelers, but many others do.

Going to another dimension is also an option for you. You need only ask - for options or if a dimension you can imagine exists.


Briefly, he wondered if the letter was a prank. It was unsigned. Perhaps his crew was attempting revenge upon him for leading them into a harsh storm? No, he realized, after some thought. This explains too much for it to be a mere prank.

He considered his options. What kind of dimension has a dry Caribbean Sea? What other dimensions were there? He was very curious.

Then, he thought of his crew. What would they think if he abandoned them? Was the storm over? He was curious, yes, but he had a duty to his crew.

And, besides, curiosity killed the cat. Would he like the answers to his many questions? If he didn't, what might he do? He was curious, but there were too many unknowns for staying here or going somewhere else to be a viable option. He simply asked to go back to his ship, and he appeared there.

The storm was over, and it seemed as if all of his crew was saved in a similar manner to him. Almost all of them had made the same decision, but one man had chosen to stay.

After the voyage was over, Jack wondered what he had found. What other dimensions existed? He was haunted by a path he had refused. He went on many more voyages to the Bermuda Triangle in an attempt to take that path, but the opportunity never presented itself again.

Jack hadn't acted on his curiosity, and he would forever be haunted by the road he rejected. He visited again and again, and nothing happened.

Finally, he began to plead with the heavens for a second chance. The next time he visited the Bermuda Triangle, his prayers and pleas were answered, but not in anything close to the way that he had hoped they would be. Instead of a repeat of his experience - an experience that he had become so obsessed with that it had begun to seem mystical, even to him - he got a short message. A letter fell from the sky. It contained a simple truth.

We must learn to live with the choices we make. If you can't do this, then you should've made a different choice.

This wasn't a good enough answer for Jack. He continued his quest, and that caused him to drown in the Bermuda Triangle.
 

DensleyBlair

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As a reminder, this was the prompt:

I've just spent my evening watching the original Alien film, and it got me thinking about what I suppose could be called fatal curiosity. Curiosity killing the cat is an extremely fertile trope in fiction, and for good reason: pushing fearlessly (or foolishly) into the unknown is the essence of any adventure, and adventure always makes for a good story.

But what about the inverse? What about all those times when people choose to err on the side of caution; to stick with what they know? Can these still make for interesting stories?

My challenge to you is to tell the story of someone declining to act on their curiosity. How you handle it – whether tragic, comic, ironic, horrific or something else entirely – I leave to you. Does a character end up wracked by regret for the adventure not taken? Does a missed opportunity lead to a dramatic change in fortunes, good or ill? Does someone inadvertently avoid their fate and spark the creation of a whole alternate dimension? It's up to you. You are totally free to interpret the challenge and explore its implications as you like, but what I am interested in is to see the old trope of curiosity=doom subverted.

And, as ever, here is a list of possible authors:

@GangsterSynod
@Mr. Capiatlist
@Swuul
@El Pip
@Peter Ebbesen
@Macavity116
@Avernite
@TheButterflyComposer
@coz1
@HistoryDude


I'll keep guessing and discussion open for as long as necessary. We've got some great work here, so I think there should be plenty to chew over.

Enjoy!
 
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Swuul

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Interesting and good read, all of them! Have to check again later this week, but going by the gut feel now, I'd say #1 and #2 are written by americans, #3 I have no clue of, #4 is Mr. Capitalist, #5 is Peter, #6 is Avernite. I reserve the right to change my choices after I have given these a bit more thought :)
 

Peter Ebbesen

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Interesting and good read, all of them! Have to check again later this week, but going by the gut feel now, I'd say #1 and #2 are written by americans, #3 I have no clue of, #4 is Mr. Capitalist, #5 is Peter, #6 is Avernite. I reserve the right to change my choices after I have given these a bit more thought :)
Objection! #5 doesn't sound like me at all. Compare e.g. with my current ongoing AAR, Born to Breed: House of the Prophets.

Anyhow,
#1 is Swuul
#2 is Swuul
#3 is Swuul
#4 is Swuul
#5 is Swuul
#6 is Swuul

I reserve the right to change my choices after I have given these a bit more thought.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Interesting and good read, all of them! Have to check again later this week, but going by the gut feel now, I'd say #1 and #2 are written by americans, #3 I have no clue of, #4 is Mr. Capitalist, #5 is Peter, #6 is Avernite. I reserve the right to change my choices after I have given these a bit more thought :)

Objection! #5 doesn't sound like me at all. Compare e.g. with my current ongoing AAR, Born to Breed: House of the Prophets.

Anyhow,
#1 is Swuul
#2 is Swuul
#3 is Swuul
#4 is Swuul
#5 is Swuul
#6 is Swuul

I reserve the right to change my choices after I have given these a bit more thought.
Ah, we are off to a constructive start.
 

Mr. Capiatlist

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