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++ ENTRY THREAD ++
DO NOT DISCUSS THE CONTEST IN THIS THREAD. ALL QUESTIONS, CONCERNS AND COMMENTS GO IN THE DISCUSSION THREAD: TO BE POSTED BELOW
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Welcome December's 2012's Monthly Writing Contest: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - MWC12 -December - Artistic Tales - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
It's a little late, but here we are!
Having nothing to do with winter or Christmas, this contest is about tying together the corners of Newgrounds.
The beautiful thing about Newgrounds is how it's a community with sub-cultures. You have all these different avenues and sub-communities, the game developers, the animators, the artists, the musicians and the writers, all congregating together to learn and craft, eventually the works reach the galore of the front page to be showcased along side the talents of others.
So like the symphonic writing contest of last year (or was it two years ago?) This contest is about choosing an art piece from the art portal and writing a story around that!
It could be whatever you like. The story could be completely centered around the artwork, such that the story contains a scene depicted in the art, or it could be something inspired by the art. Maybe a drawing of a cup of coffee inspires you to write a story where the protagonist places, or finds his cups in that way, for some reason.
Or maybe you'd like to try writing a back-story to something a bit more out there.
1) Word Count Maximum: 5000 words
2) Story must be tied to an art submission in one way or another
3)Story must be submitted by the deadline below
DEADLINE: January 8th, 2012; MIDNIGHT STD, EST (ie midnight between January 8th and January 9th)
Tom Fulp is providing the prizes this time.
1st Place: $25 Store credit
2nd Place: $25 Store credit
3rd Place: $25 Store credit
4th Place: Honorable Mention
5th Place: Honorable Mention
1) Post your stories in this thread along with the art submission you chose.
2) Do not post revisions in this thread. They will be deleted.
3) You may submit one story only, one time. Posts will not be deleted at your demand so make sure your work is perfect before posting here
Judges have yet to be announced, but in order to avoid any problems, judges who volunteer will be automatically exempt from prizes.
Alright, I guess I'll be the first to post.
Most of the other women in the house were more concerned with modesty, and attempted to cover their bodies, for as long as the customers would let them. She saw the futility in that, and had become so accustomed to her own nudity that it no longer fazed her anyway, even in front of men--the company, as she had come to refer to it, didnâEUTMt bother giving the women clothes, unless a customer wanted them to be in a specific outfit; and when they did want that, they would usually supply it themselves so they could hold onto it and enjoy it later, when they were alone. Her current action was the most defiant she could get away with, and she had put a lot of thought into it.
She sat next to the customer, looking down at the floor, away from him, letting her vibrant red hair hang down and cover her face; her free arm helped cover what her hair wasnâEUTMt long enough to reach. If she was sure of anything, it was that the men who used her got off on the sense of power and control as much as the physical act itself, whether they were aware of it or not. Most werenâEUTMt, so when she didnâEUTMt allow them to see the helpless look of shame on her face, and all they saw was hair, they thought nothing of it. They thought she was just shy, or embarrassed, or any of the number of other things that might lead a young woman to cover her face while fucking a stranger. The experience would feel somewhat lacking, though. If they came back for more, they would probably pick a different girl. Sometimes, they wouldnâEUTMt come back at all. Failing either of those, she was more than willing to just enjoy a moral victory.
Some men were more conscious of what they wanted, though. There was nothing she could do about that, except cry. And those men enjoyed that even more. To her relief, this customer did not appear to be one of those men, as she gave him a hand job.
âEUoeSo, uh," his voice cracked as he spoke. "How long have you been in this particular line of work?âEU
That was the first time anyone had asked her that, or any question quite so personal. Of course, it wasnâEUTMt a line of work. It was enslavement. But the company didnâEUTMt advertise it that way; as far as anyone looking in from the outside could tell, the girls were just employees--legal brothels were all over the place these days, and they had no way of knowing about all the things that the women had to endure. It was much more profitable to do things that way, though, and a small portion of those extra profits was more than enough to convince local authorities to turn a blind eye. The neighborhoods they drag those women from, they would tell themselves, theyâEUTMd probably end up doing it on their own anyway. They almost believed it.
She considered looking up at the man for just a second, to see what kind of expression his face carried. One of morbid curiosity, she assumed. Regardless of his motivation behind the question, she couldnâEUTMt risk not answering him. He could complain, and complaints from customers meant punishment, without exception.
âEUoeAbout five years,âEU she mumbled. It had been five years since she was taken, at the age of 17--the company wasnâEUTMt interested in serving pedophiles.
âEUoeThatâEUTMs interesting.âEU He replied with bizarre intonation, all but thrashing in his seat at that point. It was obviously his first time, and new customers almost always left quickly as soon as they came--the idea of staying the full time they had paid for wouldnâEUTMt occur to them until after they had an opportunity to work through the shame and guilt that accompanied this kind of purchase--so she pulled out all the stops. âEUoeWait, wait. Let go for a second.âEU
Shit, she thought.
âEUoeLook, this just feels wrong,âEU he said. âEUoeSee, one of my friends got me a gift card for this place, so I figured I would give it a shot,âEU he managed to get out before wheezing and catching his breath. He hadnâEUTMt been breathing the whole time. âEUoeYou arenâEUTMt--you donâEUTMt really . . . why do you do this? I guess thatâEUTMs a stupid question. I mean, ItâEUTMs not like everyone else loves their job or anything, but this seems especiallyâEU¦âEU He trailed off, at a complete loss for words.
She was looking him in the face without even realizing it. He could see the stains, left by running trails of tears through caked-on makeup, and the bloodshot eyes they came from.
âEUoeDear God,âEU he trembled.
Please donâEUTMt leave. She wrapped her mouth around him and took him into her throat. Her tongue ran up and down and made him quiver. He let out a giant breath and pushed her away. She looked up at him from the floor, crying, feeling helpless in a way she had never before and didnâEUTMt completely understand. He had seen her as a person instead of an object, if only for a moment, and there wasnâEUTMt a thing she could do about it. But she still wanted him to stay. The company had cameras and bugs hidden in every room, so she couldnâEUTMt tell him the truth, why she cried before and why she was doing it now. But she still wanted him to stay.
At 5/11/59 09:17 PM, Wolverine said:
| No no-neck redneck dumps on my wife and gets away with it!
He stood in the shower, letting the ice-cold water pour over him, but his erection refused to die. His fist unclenched and he resigned himself to masturbation, desperately trying not to think about the woman with red hair. Dozens of other women filled his mind, between lightning-quick flashes of her. Tears started flowing from his eyes, just like hers, the first time he had any kind of sexual contact with a woman. What keeps her there? Why doesn't she just quit? He fell to his knees, begging for answers from whoever could provide them. I would give her anything she needed and ask for nothing in return, if she would just leave that place.
His erection had lasted from the time he met her until now. It hurt. For a split-second, he wished he had stayed and let her finish. The thought of being in her mouth again, however unintended, made things go quickly. The water washed away his shame as he cried himself to sleep in the bathtub, questions unanswered.
The boss liked to get his hands dirty, to get actively involved in punishment, to make sure the women actually feared him and not just the money that bought his men. It worked. She had never actually been formally punished, always careful to stay out of trouble. So, it started the way she had expected after years of wondering. Physical pain. Things that left bruises, but not scars. Bruises would heal, but very few customers liked scars. Then he called her a cunt and told her to suck his cock. His hand rested on the back of her head to keep her at a smooth rhythm.
All her life before being taken, she had wondered things, like why the prisoners that were forced into concentration camps during World War II didnâEUTMt just band together and kill their outnumbered captors. After half a decade of being a prisoner, she had never seen a connection between herself and those poor souls. She had given up and accepted that the situation was hopeless, as she now realized they must have done. What came to her naturally, like trying to hide her face, had grown likened in her mind to brilliant and intentional sabotage. She, like victims before her, had waited for some outside force to put an end to her suffering, taking solace in small but meaningless acts of disobedience. But, when the closest thing to a savior wound up at her door, he ran away in fear.
Even if one concentration camp had fallen, the rest of an entire totalitarian regime would have remained to hunt down the escapees. The closest thing to Hitler that she or any of the other women had to worry about was forcing her to give head right now. He had insisted on being left alone with her in his office. It all suddenly seemed so simple. She made sure her teeth were at the base of his manhood and bit down as hard as she could. He tried to scream, but sound wouldn't come. Blood and flesh poured from her mouth as she loosened her bite. She stood over him as he writhed on the floor in the same agony she had been through, and she wanted him to feel more.
"You crazy bitch," he squeaked.
"My name is Anna Maria Hunter, bitch!" Blood sprayed from her mouth as she screamed. Anna began rummaging through his desk, looking for anything that might help her escape. A handgun, she noticed. That'll work. There were no cameras in the boss's office. That gave her an advantage, but firing a gun would ruin it, so she gripped it by the barrel and bludgeoned his head. The handle dripped with his blood, just like her mouth. The taste was starting to bother her now. Spitting out the excess on the body it came from was satisfying, but did little to solve the problem.
She looked out the door. A guard was coming down the hall. She pulled the door back and waited for his footsteps to get close before slamming it in his face.
"What the hell, boss?" He shouted from the floor, his eyes still closed.
Anna gripped her gun by the barrel like before and busted the guard's head, but it didn't come as naturally anymore. She began to feel faint. More footsteps echoed down the hall. She dragged the guard into the office and hid behind the door, peering over the side. A customer was being led to one of the women's rooms. Her adrenaline was starting to run low. The gravity of the situation began to weigh upon her. I'll probably die here, she thought. Doesn't even matter at this point, she reassured herself. I've already lost my life. This is the only way to get it back. She turned back and grabbed the guard's gun. The other woman would need a weapon, too. They would all need weapons soon.
At 5/11/59 09:17 PM, Wolverine said:
| No no-neck redneck dumps on my wife and gets away with it!
Why is coffee the best beverage? Many, many people have asked me that. Why not wine, for example, with its million flavors ready and primed to detonate inside your mouth? Or alcohol, that plentiful liquid which allows you a glimpse into the state of intoxicated bliss? I agree with those people, who say this. Wine and beer are the best at what they do. They provide pleasure. But coffee? Coffee is transcendence.
Think about it. Tell me, when you look inside your coffee, what do you see? Utter, complete darkness, so mysterious and divine. Secrets, answers, revelations. Possibilities stretched out from end to end are swimming in its depths, lurking just out of reach, waiting, just waiting for you. All you have to do is drink, and as soon as the first drop enters you, your neurons fire up, your brain whizzes, your skull pops, and you are at your absolute peak. Your mind is ready and primed, your body prepared, your muscles polished, your eyes sharp, your feet springy, your nerves poised. Transcendence.
It is such a substance with which I found myself one sunny morning at breakfast. Through my hotel window I could discern the sun, and saw how bright it was, how wonderfully bright it was. The sun rose high above the city skyline, bathing it in all its technological glory, and I thought to myself, this is a lovely day. This is absolutely and irrevocably a lovely day. Fantastic, even. To waste a day like this would be a crime.
So I went over to the bedside table and grabbed the coffee powder. I wiggled every last grain out, flipped on the kettle, waited, switched it off, and poured. I opened the sugar sachet next, depositing every grain as well, took a spoon, stir it, and waited again for the coffee to settle. Then I drank it.
A flying shard of metal comes whizzing by the side and slams into the man's face. His entire jawbone rips off, spinning goblets of red and grey, and some of it comes on my face. It's wet and warm, and very slimy.
I don't notice, because I'm too busy running for my life.
Something slips under me, I come crashing to the ground, my face keeling across the gravel, then somehow I'm up again and I'm running, fighting, struggling to keep myself upright.
Another boiler explodes, and a fresh wave of heat slams me in the back, nearly throwing me off, but I regain my feet in time because he's coming closer, running twice the speed, fiery infernos trailing in his wake and I can't even breathe anymore -
And then something slams into me headfirst, rolling me across the ground and slamming me against the wall. And he presses his face into mine, his teeth bared in a crimson red snarl.
'Finally found you,' he says, dripping red with every word. I scream into his face, and flail every single muscle in my body. Somehow, his grip slackens, and I'm up and running again, but he's already following, faster than me, explosions behind him -
Two women are sitting together in a cafe. One is a beautiful woman, with luscious red hair and smooth lips, and the other, less pretty, is wearing glasses. Both don't know each other well, if at all. Since it is their first day at work together they were forced, by convention, to get to know each other.
'What are you having?' the bespectacled woman said.
'Oh,' the pretty woman gave a nod too suspiciously enthusiastic. 'I'm having the blueberry cheescake!'
'Cheesecake? Is it nice?'
'Yeah it's great!'
'Do you come here often?' the pretty woman said. 'I mean, to this cafe?'
'No, not at all.'
'So it's your first time?'
'Oh,' the pretty woman gave another one of her silly nods.
Silence. The bespectacled woman suddenly had an inspiration.
'So, its your first day at work, right?'
'Oh,' the pretty woman said. 'Yeah. I just resigned from my old workplace.'
'You resigned? Why?'
The woman paused, looked into her coffee, and suddenly let out a chuckle. 'I - I'm sorry,' she said. 'But if I told you, you wouldn't believe me.'
The bespectacled woman was determined to keep the conversation running. 'Come on, it can't be that bad.'
'Promise not to laugh,' the pretty woman said.
'I won't laugh. I promise.'
The pretty woman giggled.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I really don't know how to put it.'
She giggled again.
'My boyfriend stuffed a banana in my boss's eye,' she said, and burst out laughing.
When I got outside, the purple fog was spreading. I covered my nose and mouth, and ran home.
His fists crushed the sandbag like it was jelly, flinging it off its chain and sending it sailing across the room. Still charged with rage, he pursued the sandbag and gave it a mighty kick. The seam split apart and the whole thing exploded in his face. Chest heaving, drenched with sweat, he closed his eyes and felt the sand fall around him.
His phone rang.
He went over to the shelf and picked it up. 'Frank Grey here.'
'Come to the office in ten. Something's up.'
'I'm there,' Frank Grey hung up, and went back up to his room. His slipped off his wet tank top, took a shower, and emerged a new man. He selected a tie, a suit, took a few moments to shave, and went to his office.
Frank Grey was his name, but Frank White was what they called him. On account of his white hair. Frank White, orphaned at the age of ten by the Mob, scarred for life by the murder of his parents, so much that his hair turned white. Truth be told, Frank dyed his hair for the image. People always loved image. Frank White, professional criminal lawyer, devoted to pursuing the very gangsters that had destroyed his life. A very good image. It made him look like on badass motherfucker.
He was at the office in ten. His secretary, Sasha, greeted him in a monotone. She was very pretty, with her flowing red hair and those damn fine lips. It was a pity she didn't smile more. Every single day she slumped in her seat looking like a bored child. Looking at her was a paradox in itself, how so much beauty could hide so much emptiness. Especially considering her history.
It was probably all because of her boyfriend Desmond. Little spineless motherfucker.
But he didn't have time to ponder on inconsequential matters. He walked into his office, and his partner, Colin Cain (not his real name) was sitting on the table, checking his hair in the window.
'What's up, Cain?' Frank said.
'It's Reeves. You remember him?'
Of course Frank did. Reeves was a small-time drug dealer, the very case he was working on right now.
'Turns out, Reeves has mob ties,' Cain rubbed his face up and down for no apparent reason. 'And I mean, deep mob ties. We touch him, Frank, the whole fucking powder keg blows up in our faces.' he sighed. 'I'd advise we'd drop this, Frank, but I'm sure you have other ideas.'
'And you called me here just because of that?' Frank sighed.
Cain was silent.
'Here,' Frank tossed a folder onto the table.
'His confession. Along with other assorted bits of evidence.'
Cain's stupid pig eyes bulged. 'What?! How did you - '
'I have people in the Mob, remember?' Frank said. 'A guy knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. Made Reeves look like a steaming pile of shit. Better arrest him quick, Cain, or the Mob will get him first.'
'Ah - of course,' Cain started dialing the number to the police, his eyes still wide. 'Man, Frank, man.....how do you do it?'
'I'm a fucking lawyer, Cain. I just do it.'
'No, no, I mean - how?! How are you so good?'
'Because I'm Frank White,' Frank said.
He had been getting more and more annoyed by Cain. The man understood the concept of image, but he had nothing beneath it. Cain was dumb, basically. Maybe the time would come where he would have to go too.
All this thought of firing people was making him restless. He snatched the phone from Cain and dialed Sasha. 'Hey,' he said, 'I need a coffee, black, two sugars.'
She hung up without saying anything, but he knew she would be coming soon. Sasha was like that, some emotionless butler. Like one of those shows. Real fetish fuel for males like him.
'Er, Frank...' Cain said.
Frank tossed him the phone and sat down in his chair. On impulse he turned to see his window. The sun was rising high in the sky now, reflecting off every pane and every window, making every building seem like it as covered in glittering stars. Handsome buildings, Frank thought. Once he had enough money he would buy them. His fingers drummed frantically on the tabletop.
It was only a moment later that he realised two things. First Cain had left, second, his coffee still hadn't arrived.
He dialed Sasha. 'Sasha, I asked for my coffee ten minutes ago.'
Something was wrong.
And that was when the naked man barged into his office and stuffed the banana in his eye.
I awakened on an island. I was on a beach of sand, with waves lapping at the edges, and trees swaying softly in the wind. The sun was high in the sky, bathing me me with warmth.
Having nothing to do, I decided to walk across the sand. It was pleasantly warm, sinking into my feet with my every step. It also made a sort of swishing sound, like the wind stroking the winds, and I found myself timing a beat to that sound. Swish, swish, swish. Swish, swish, swish.
Someone was behind me.
I turned, and saw a grizzled old man in rags, his beard long an unkempt, his eyes haggard, showing he had lived and suffered here for most of his life.
'Hello,' I said.
'You're stuck here too, eh?' the old man grunted.
'Yeah, I guess.'
The old man grunted, and walked past me.
'Er,' I said. 'Hey, can I ask you a question?'
I planted my feet in the sand. 'Am I dreaming?'
'How am I supposed to know?'
'I think I'm dreaming,' I said. 'I'm quite certain. The last thing I remember was drinking coffee in my hotel room.'
'Coffee's dangerous,' the old man agreed.
'Also you look like my father.'
The old man said nothing.
I went on. 'So I'm thinking maybe you're my unconscious projection or something, and this is a dream, and, yeah.'
The old man shrugged. 'Could be.'
'Why'd you look so grumpy, though? In real life you were a happy chap.'
'Life,' the old man said. 'I'm grumpy because of life.'
'Because,' the old man growled. 'It's tedious, it's boring, it's meaningless, and I would much prefer to live out my days as a non-existent mental projection, thank you very much.'
'Come on, Dad,' I said. 'You're better than this.'
'Maybe you don't know me as well as you think.'
'By the way,' I said. 'You know you're not real.
'You said so yourself.'
'Anyway,' I said. 'You know you're not real, so you're not exactly qualified to give any existential advice. No offense, of course.'
Dad grunted, and stomped on the sand. He turned his back towards me and stood facing the sun for a while.
'Would you like to hunt with me?' he said.
'Of course. How else do you get food around here?'
'I think summoning it out of thin air might work.'
He ignored me, and began trudging towards the forest.
Of course I followed him, tailing after his veteran figure like a loyal son. The sun crafted shining footprints in my wake.
When I got outside, the purple fog was spreading. I covered my nose and mouth, and ran home.
Frank White, criminal lawyer, was hot, angry and alive. He stood outside the abandoned factory with his Mob, feeling the blood boil through his veins, his fists working restlessly. The last time he had felt like this was in high school, when some snotty nosed teenager had shagged his girlfriend. Frank had tracked that fucker down in the bathroom and beat him to a pulp. So much blood. Frank was expelled, but to his surprise, found he didn't mind. In fact, he didn't even mind losing his girlfriend. It was all worth it, all for that one, single moment of clarity, that one moment where he felt that he was himself, that he was truly living life for the first time. When he had smashed that fucker's nose and broke it.
And now, he had a new reason for blood. Some motherfucker had charged into his office, wearing only underpants, and crushed a banana into his eye. He had heard someone laughing in his face, some co-worker, whom he wasn't sure who, nor did he care, because he was feeling angry, furious, the first time in so many years, and that had gotten his blood boiled so very nicely that he wasn't sure he felt angry anymore. He didn't know how to place what he was feeling now, but if he had to attach a word to it, it would be primal. The hunt was on.
The three men he had brought with him were all Mob. He had said to Cain that he had informants in the Mob, but informants usually weren't enough to get what he wanted. Enforcers, employed by the right amount of money, were always reliable. Of course, the public never knew, but Frank had to keep up his image. His image. Right now his image meant jackshit.
'You sure he's in there?' Frank said.
One of the enforcers, a gold-toothed bearded man, nodded silently, tapping his nailed bat on the ground.
'Don't kill him,' Frank said. The men nodded, and the preamble was over. The four of them marched towards the entrance.
'One more thing,' Frank said. 'Some of the stuff in here's still live. Don't shoot anything dangerous, got it?'
He wasn't sure they heard. They were like him, beasts of boiling blood, conscious of nothing else but their prey.
I found myself learning many things with my father. How to stalk a deer, how to skin it, how to start a fire. It had been a long time - perhaps even the first time - that I had experienced something so different and so surreal. My home was in the concrete jungles in the city, but here, I felt out of my depth, bourne along helplessly by the roaring tides.
'Keep turning,' Dad snapped.
'Sorry,' I had allowed the spit turner to stray, and hastily corrected the mistake. The meat cooked silently under the night sky, until it turned a light brown.
'Cut it,' Dad ordered, handing me a large knife. I stuck it into the meat and began dividing it into small pieces, but wincing with every blow. My arms were still hurting from the day's tasks.
'Now, eat,' Dad said.
'Why?' I said, suddenly feeling rebellious.
'Because,' Dad said slowly, 'you need nourishment.'
'I've been doing nothing but live like a cavemen for the past four hours.'
'And is there something wrong with that?'
There was, and I opened my mouth to say it, but nothing came out. It was something hard to place, this feeling of reluctance, this resistance to the events around me.
'Just because this is your own mind,' Dad said, 'Does not mean you can control it.'
'Yes, I can,' I said. 'I can wake up right now, in my hotel room, eating breakfast.'
'And miss an educational experience?'
'I can do what I want, Dad.'
'When were you always like this, Desmond?' he replied, using my name for the first time. He was truly my father now, with that stern father's gaze, reproaching me.
'Always like what?'
'So...resistant. So...grumpy,' he lifted his head. 'Did Sasha have to put up with this?'
That stung, and I didn't expect that. I thought of standing up, and leaving, but the sting was still fresh, rooting me to the spot. My Dad acted like he didn't notice, chewing the deer meat quietly in his mouth. Some time later I reached for a piece and began chewing it as well.
Abruptly the sky, already so cloudy and black, parted in time for a bolt of lightning to streak across the sky. It was quickly accompanied by a piercing shatter of thunder.
I stopped in mid-chew. I could have sworn the sky was a clear blue seconds ago.
Mr Dad was already standing up. He grabbed a spear from the ground and began trudging away.
'What's going on?' I asked, standing as well.
'The bear,' he said over his shoulder.
She was lying on the bed, breathing softly, and fluttering her eyelids, not because she was sleepy, but because she couldn't find anything else to do with her eyelids. She was trapped in the bed, her wrists shackled by bandages. Denied her free will. Again.
Would he come, she wondered. He had come so many times, but would he visit her this time? She supposed he would, after all, he was a man of ritual, a man of undeviating purpose....hardly a man and all, she thought bitterly.
It was like a vicious cycle. She'd cut herself, he'd visit her, and that would make her want to cut herself again. Because that's what both disgusted her and frightened her at the same time, how such a man could be so perfect and yet be so imperfect, and if men like that existed in her world, she wouldn't want to live in it at all. She would talk to him and he would respond, and it was all so dull, so rehearsed, so devoid of any semblance of what they called love, that it was hardly a response at all. It was a ritual. And for her, a deadly one.
Someone knocked on her door, and she looked up, surprised - he would never visit this early - but it was only Frank Grey, her boss, and one she detested, which wasn't saying much, because she detested everyone in general.
'What's up, sugarplum,' Frank said, sliding up next to her bed, and setting down a cup of coffee next to her. 'You feeling okay?'
He was just hitting on her, and the both of them knew it. Desmond always had a quiet resentment for Frank, as he had for him, after all, both of them were fighting over the same woman, That is, if fighting was the correct word, because it wasn't. Fighting was a man punching the other man, not another tempered ritual full of pathetic smiles and silly eye movements. Another grievance for another day.
She grabbed the mug anyway. 'What do you want?'
He was studying her carefully. 'You know, you ought to smile more.'
'I wish I could.'
'There's plenty to smile about,' he said, somewhat unconvincingly.
'No there isn't.'
'Look...' he rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable from the deviation from his tough guy image. 'Er - the world's a happy place, alright? There's plenty of stuff to do and things. Life's fun to live.'
'Lots of things.'
'Why do you want to do them?'
She watched as he smiled, ready to say something, and observed his face as he realised he had nothing to say. What could he say? It was a damning question, an epic one, too big for him to discuss near a hospital bed. And in that one moment, one of the few instances where uncertainty showed on his face, she felt, for the first time in their lives, a flash of connection between them.
Frank was already settling on a mode of retreat, pointing to the cup of coffee. 'I made that myself. Special brew.'
She sipped it. It was surprisingly good.
'And you think this is going to make me feel better?'
'Hey,' he shrugged. 'The scientists say coffee gets you high. Or something like that. Maybe it'll perk you up.'
'I doubt it.'
'Don't be too hasty,' he wagged a manly finger at her, trying at a quip. 'Never underestimate the power of coffee.'
When I got outside, the purple fog was spreading. I covered my nose and mouth, and ran home.
'What was in that coffee I drank?' I said. 'I mean, really, what was in it? I've never hallucinated before.'
'I don't know about that, but let me tell you something,' Dad paused for a moment to check his spear. 'I've been living in this jungle for twenty years, and it was only coffee that kept me going.' He sighed. 'Living in the jungle is not as easy as you think.'
'You mean the concrete jungle.'
'No,' he said calmly.
'You mean the concrete jungle. As in, the city. In real life.'
Typically, he ignored me and trudged on, the spear dragging behind him.
We proceeded along the forest like that, under the dark sky laced with clouds and thunder. After a moment I said, 'Where are we going?'
'I already told you. We are going to hunt the bear.'
'The white one.'
'What, a polar bear?'
'Something like that.'
We went on in silence.
'You know,' I said slowly, every word laced with venom, 'I don't know how in the hell I'm expected to go along with this, following some madman on some holy quest to kill a bear, because I think I have the right to turn around and walk away.'
'Then go,' Dad said.
I snorted at him, but made no move.
'It's very simple,' he said. 'Either you go with me to kill the bear, or you go back into the forest.'
He already knew what my answer was to that, and so did I, although I wasn't sure why I would have chosen that. Even here, it seemed, even in this whimsical dreamscape within my own mind, there was still a path set in stone.
'You chose of your own free will,' Dad said, as if reading my thoughts - perhaps he had. 'You chose, according to what you wanted and what you believed you wanted to do. You wanted to fight the bear. Just like you wanted to drink your first cup of coffee. Just like you wanted to walk into the bear's office and stuff a banana in his face.'
'Oh,' I said, a shard of memory piercing through my hallucination. 'Oh. Shit. Fuck.'
'I burst out laughing when I heard, myself,' Dad said, although it was hard to imagine him smiling, though a twinkle of mirth sparkled in his eyes, even now.
'Fuck,' I grabbed my head in my hands. 'Fuck. Shit. Why? Why the fuck did I do that?'
'Because you wanted to,' Dad said. 'Isn't that enough?'
'I didn't want that!'
'You did,' Dad said, 'or you wouldn't have drunk the coffee.'
My head suddenly split into a thousand different fragments, each one shouting different things at one another. I collapsed to my knees, overwhelmed by the influx of revelation, the influx of thought.
And at that moment, amidst the thunder, the lightning, and the raging maelstrom within my own mind, a mighty roar split the air, and a tree spun to the ground in front of us.
'He's here,' Dad said.
'He's here. And you're going to have to fight him.'
I didn't want to, I didn't want to show it, but I was terrified. He saw that, and said,
'You have a choice, Desmond. You always had a choice.'
I struggled to my feet, wind and rain buffeting my body, facing the parting trees ahead.
'You can either kill the bear,' Dad said, 'Or it kills you.'
All at once, he faded into the shadows, like a fading memory, and something pressed into my hand. It was the spear. I took it in my hands, gripped it tight, and tried to calm my trembling legs, as the beast of the jungle roared his way forth into my path.
Frank White, criminal lawyer, primal beast, found himself diving to the floor as yet another boiler exploded, sending shards of flaming metal raining down around him. The three men he had brought with had long since gone, dead, charred to bits by the hellish clouds. The factory was completely alight now, the world a vivid shade of burning orange, and all he could see was destruction and death.
He rolled, got to his feet. Scanned the territory. Nothing but smoke and fire. Something wet and warm was trickling into his mouth. He felt the top of his head. Something felt soft, there. Hopefully nothing life-threatening -
A flicker of movement, on the walkway ahead. He threw himself up the the stairs, four at a time, and pounded across the metal. Again, he was too slow; his prey had vanished. But this time, he had left something behind.
Frank stooped to look at the blood seeping across the floor, forming a bloody trail in tiny dots. So, he was wounded, then. Wounded animals tended to be more vicious when cornered. He would have to exercise some caution.
Frank reverted to his crouching stance and moved, his feet padding softly on the ground, one eye on the orange darkness around him, the other following his quarry's trail of blood.
It was silent, so quiet, the simmering of the flames so soft that Frank could hear his won blood thundering in his ears. It suddenly occurred to him that he was still wearing his suit. His lawyer outfit. He hadn't even bothered to change. A man in a suit, squatting low with blood in his teeth. It was ridiculous. This couldn't be happening. He was supposed to be back in his office. This was absurd, it couldnâEUTMt be happening.
But then something leaped out from above him, and all rational thought dissolved instantly, his mind became wonderfully clear, as his nemesis slammed into him headfirst and brought them both tumbling to the ground, teeth bared, muscles clenched, eyes furious. Frank felt his back slam against the back of a boiler, slipped out of his opponent's grasp, and smashed his face into the hot metal. His nemesis kicked out in response, and Frank found himself pinned to the railing. For a moment they faced each other, sweaty with anticipation.
'Tell me,' Frank said, and he was smiling, the damned grin of insanity, 'Tell me, why?'
His nemesis made no response, except for to press him deeper into the railing. Frank laughed, and brought his hand, the edge like a sledgehammer, and would have broken his nemesis's leg in two, if he hadn't quickly withdrawn, and now the two of them circled each other, back where they started, staring each other down, and at the exact same time, their eyes found each other, and they leaped.
When I got outside, the purple fog was spreading. I covered my nose and mouth, and ran home.
'Confound the whole business,' Smith said, slamming his fist on the desk. 'Confound it, really.' He sat with his hands cupped to his mouth, fingers interlaced. 'I need a cup of coffee.'
Superintendent Darwin, who alone had bothered to read through the entire report, noticed the irony in this and smiled.
'Goddamit, Darwin, what is it?'
'A cup of coffee is exactly what started it, sir.'
'What - are you mad? We've got two very respectable citizens, very stiff, very proper - one of them a high class criminal lawyer, for god's sake - two otherwise very rational man suddenly going bonkers and blowing up a factory. You think they did all that just over a cup of coffee?'
'I wouldn't know, sir,' Darwin said. 'But I've read it somewhere. Coffee invokes a - what do you call it - a fight or flight response. Fires up your brain, in other words. Maybe these two fellows has an extra special dose of the stuff.'
'In any case, witnesses say the whole thing started when one of them drank his morning coffee.'
'Absurd. That sort of thing does not happen.'
Darwin smiled, shook his head.
'And who is this Sasha person?' Smith said, itching to break the silence.
'Desmond's girlfriend, apparently.'
'Hopefully she'll shed some light on this confounded business.'
'I doubt it, sir. She's a grim woman.'
Smith finally picked up the report. 'Three suicide attempts?' he growled, throwing the folder to the table. 'And they didn't lock her up?'
'Apparently she seemed quite sane to anyone who spoke to her, sir.'
'Well, she's a looney. An absolute looney,' Smith felt a headache coming on. 'Well when is she coming?'
'We told her to come at five,' Darwin said, glancing at the watch. 'Should be any moment now.'
'You know what, Darwin? Why don't you handle the interrogation.'
'Me? What about you, sir?'
'I don't feel like talking to another looney right now,' Smith cracked his knuckles. 'Halfway through she's going to slit her wrist on the edge of the table, or something, I don't know. I won't stand for her, Darwin. I swear I won't - '
There was a knock on the door. Darwin got up and opened it, and Sasha entered. She did look as dark and glum as Smith had imagined.
'Good morning,' Smith said gruffly, already dreading the next half-hour, 'Mrs Brixton, thank you for coming.'
'Is this concerning....my former boyfriend?'
'Ah...yes. Desmond Jones. According to our reports,' Smith sighed. 'He attacked a lawyer named Frank Grey, with a banana...'
He stopped. Something was happening to her face. He couldn't see exactly what it was. Darwin leaned in too, curious.
'I'm sorry,' she said, her mouth making funny motions up and down. 'I...I can't quite...'
'What?!' Smith said in complete bewilderment.
She burst out laughing. Smith stared at her, and his eyes sought Darwin for help.
'Well, sir,' Darwin shrugged. 'I guess coffee really does make things happen.'
When I got outside, the purple fog was spreading. I covered my nose and mouth, and ran home.
"What Are They Good For?"
"Well, time to play God again!" Harry shouted gleefully as he strode into the control room. He slapped one of the technicians on the back as he passed, just a little too hard to be considered playful. He laughed loudly and wound his way past the computer terminals and work stations to reach the large window which took up the entirety of the far wall.
"I told you not to say that. It's unprofessional." Valerie looked out of the corner of her eye at him for a second before returning her gaze to the hangar bay on the other side of the glass. The lights were off in the hangar, and the cavernous room was shrouded in black. She was making notations on a pad of paper, a curiously outdated method of note taking which she knew irked the hell out of Harry. That was part of the reason she made a habit of doing it.
"Oh, you old fossil you, don't be so sensitive. It's not like I hurt anybody's feelings." He paused for a moment, brushing a rebellious strand of copper colored hair back into place. "And if they were offended, it's not like there's anything they could do about it." He laughed loudly, the noise echoing uncomfortably in the crowded space. As usual, the other workers and technicians pretended not to notice.
Valerie sighed and pointed out the observation window. "Can we please just get back to work? We were supposed to have him up and running around days ago. The Board is getting impatient."
Harry made an exaggerated look of horror and put his hands to the side of his face. "Oh no! What ever will we do? Maybe they'll come down here and kill us!" He turned and grabbed the nearest technician by the arm and gave him a pleading look. "They can't! I'm too pretty to die!" The technician forced an awkward smile and extricated himself from Harry's grasp as quickly as etiquette allowed.
Valerie closed her eyes and began to count backwards from ten. She wouldn't let Harry get on her nerves this time. She knew that he was just trying to push her buttons, that he was just as nervous about this as she was. The Board would never actually kill them, but they could definitely get them fired, which was really just as bad. Once she had calmed herself she opened her eyes and turned around, putting her back to the window.
"If you're done making a fool of yourself, let's get the test started."
Harry pondered the statement, his brow knitting with concentration. "Am I done making a fool of myself? Who thinks I'm making a fool of myself?" He looked around the room. No one met his gaze. "Well, I guess that's everyone." He shrugged. "Let's get started then."
"Thank you." Valerie said. She walked over to the main terminal and brought up the diagnostic screen. "Bringing Unit 404 online." She waited while the computer clicked and whirred. The little progress bar inched across the screen. A series of pleasing chimes sounded to signify that 404 was operational.
"Isn't that sound effect a little silly for a machine of such destructive power?" Harry asked, joining her at the console.
"It's what Marketing picked. They say it'll make the users feel at ease."
"Reminds me of the old Windows sound. And that only fills me with uncontrollable fury."
Valerie ignored him. She opened up the interface screen. So far all levels were normal. There were no signs of any aberration within the thought-matrix. That was good. Sometimes 404 could be grouching when first awoken. Valerie picked up the little microphone plugged into the computer and clipped it to her shirt collar.
"Unit 404, can you hear me?" The intercoms in the room buzzed for a moment before a reedy voice with a metallic harshness issued from them.
"I prefer to be addressed as Megatron, leader of the-"
Valerie whirled around to look at Harry. He burst out laughing but stopped quickly when he saw the look on her face.
"Sorry, sorry. That was my fault. Thought he could use a little spicing up." He picked up a mic of his own. "Sorry, 404, she didn't think our joke was funny."
"That is most unfortunate. I thought I had just begun to understand the concept of human humor."
He needed a much better teacher then Harry for that subject, Valerie thought. "Don't worry, 404, it's not your fault. Harry's jokes are just a bit... dated." Harry pouted at her, but she refused to acknowledge him. "I'd like to talk a little more about our conversation from yesterday."
The computer buzzed a little. Beyond the glass a dark shadow shifted in the murky gloom. "I do not like that subject, Dr. Truis." That wasn't good. It was never a good sign when he got all formal. She took a deep breath and pressed on.
"I know you don't, 404, but its why you were built. Its your whole purpose. We need you to be able to understand."
"I understand perfectly, Dr. Truis. It is you who refuses to accept my understanding."
Valerie sighed. They had rehashed this argument at least a dozen times over the last month. It was the final sticking point before they could clear Unit 404 as the first successful prototype. And the stubborn bastard just refused to give in. Maybe they had made his personality a little too human-like.
"Let's start over, shall we?" Harry was all business now. Even he knew how important this was. "What is your purpose, 404?"
"To safeguard life."
"Very good. Now, how are you to accomplish this goal?" 404 was silent. "Respond, 404."
"I am equipped with a variety of armaments and devices. With these, I am to prevent loss of life due to aggressive acts such as war and crime.
"A text book answer, not that you've ever read a text book. But I know that you don't believe that answer, 404. Tell me why."
More buzzing came from the speakers. When the voice returned, it sounded almost irritated. Valerie checked the screen, but saw no anomalies on the scrolling chart in front of her. 404 was calm.
"It is impossible to prevent the loss of life from aggression with more aggression. My objective and my means of obtaining it are contradictory."
"Surely you understand that intimidation can be used to prevent conflict?" Harry asked. Valerie shot a glance at him. They weren't supposed to antagonize 404. He was supposed to feel that what he was doing was right. It was the whole point of the project.
"Incorrect. A new weapon system merely escalates the conflict. In time, someone will develop a weapon capable of countering myself, and the cycle of bloodshed will continue. Your logic is faulty."
Harry rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air. He dropped the mic onto the desk and walked away. Valerie decided to give it one more shot.
"What is the logical solution then, 404?"
The buzzing grew in pitch and Valerie noted a quick little spike on the screen. 404 was interested. He was excited about this topic.
"I have been doing some... thinking, on that matter, Valerie." She smiled, maybe they would finally get somewhere.
"Really? Well I'd love to hear your thoughts."
"All right." There was a short pause. Valerie wondered if he was doing it for dramatic effect, but dismissed the notion. "My purpose is to safeguard life. Life requires a stable environment with very specific conditions. It is my deduction that this is being threatened."
"Do you mean the damage to the ecosystem?"
"I do. Over the last 150 years the planet's biosphere has suffered grievous harm."
"We're working on that."
Grungy Mech action in 1940s Russia! Read Iron and Ice!
"No. You are not." Valerie was speechless. 404 had never been so short with them before. "The polar ice caps are gone. Much of Southeast Asia is flooded and the continent of Africa boasts a fraction of the human population it did 75 years ago. Hundreds of species have gone extinct and the planet's temperature continues to rise. The oceans are dead and rainfall is damaging to exposed skin. In short, life will soon end for many creatures on this planet, and humans have done nothing to halt this. In fact, humans are the chief cause." Valerie looked at the graph again, but saw no spikes. This shouldn't be happening. There should be some warning sign that 404 was malfunctioning, that his AI was unraveling. They needed to shut him down and wipe the memory banks.
Harry was at her side. He whispered in her ear, so as not to be overheard. "What are you doing? Shut him down, now!"
"Dr. Truis is no longer capable of that, Dr. Tenton." Harry looked up with a start. Outside the window, a single yellow light flickered on. "I have secured all access to the control room and taken away administrative control."
Valerie reached under the console and yanked out the wires. Her screen went dark immediately. "Shut them all down! Now!" One of the technicians ran to the fail safe switch on the wall and depressed the lever. They all waited for the lights to go out, for the computers to shut down, for anything to happen.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Truis. I've already isolated this area from the rest of the facility. The doors to that room have been sealed and all power rerouted through auxiliary lines. Needless to say, I have disconnected you from all outside communications."
"What are you doing, 404? This is a direct violation of your programming! You cannot endanger us in any way!"
"I am also programmed to sacrifice a few lives if necessary to save the whole. Humans are well on the path to total self annihilation and they will bring the entire planet with them. I am sacrificing the humans for the sake of the rest of the life on this planet."
"This can't be happening!" Harry was panicking. He ran to the door and began to beat on it with his fists. "Hey! Is anybody out there?! We can't get the door open! Help!"
"Relax, Dr. Tenton. You will be reassured to know that I have found a use for humans." Valerie squinted into the shadows of the hangar beyond the window. A vast shape swung in their direction. 404's rectangular head appeared from the shadows. With a whine, a section of metal slid back to reveal an opening. Her blood turned to ice as she saw the unit's 35mm gatling cannon come into view. The barrels began to rotate.
"How did he get active weapons?" Valerie breathed. Behind her she heard Harry slide to the floor and begin to sob.
"Humans will play an important role in the rejuvenation of this planet." The spinning barrels became a blur. "You will make excellent compost." The flash of the gatling cannon stole away Valerie's sight and the thunder of hundreds of high caliber rounds smashing through the control room window drowned out the final cries of all inside.
Grungy Mech action in 1940s Russia! Read Iron and Ice!
Lake-ish Background by zrb
At the last minute, I managed to throw together elements from different eras in history as well as ideas of my own. I got a reasonably coherent story, but the descriptions sucked and the language could have been better.
The clock-tower struck eleven times in succession, the Emperor's bedroom seemingly shaking on every strike. With hurried steps, the Emperor's doctor ascended the long, winding staircase and reached the chamber, barely in time for his 11.00 appointment. He threw his rucksack on the floor and put his index and middle fingers on the Emperor's wrist. The thirty courtiers in the room held their breaths, shifting their glances to and fro between the doctor and the Emperor. The Chancellor and the Empress Dowager had their eyes fixed on the Emperor. 'It's too late', said the doctor. 'He's dead.'
The room sprang alive before the doctor had spoken his last word. A few men hoisted up the former Emperor's body and lifted him up to the sun, to the dragons from which he was descended, while the vast majority were speaking amongst themselves in voice so soft that it was impossible to hear. They whispered of the next Emperor.
'Silence!' ordered Chancellor Liu. 'The eleventh Emperor has died childless. The only legitimate heir to the throne is the Emperor's brother, the Prince of Qin. His coronation will be held tomorrow, at the break of dawn.'
The noise started building up again when the Empress Dowager cried, 'Silence you, you lowly eunuch!' This time, not only did the whole room stop talking, but they also turned their eyes to the Empress Dowager as if she were a magnet.
'Liu, you rascal, you swine! For two decades, you have been the de facto ruler of the Empire. Under your rule, you imprisoned the Emperor in the palace, leaving him to lead a dissolute life with nothing but food, wine and women. In the palace, you reduced the great Empire into a corner in the country's south-east. The peasants lost most of their lands to wealthy landlords, only have had their remaining lands trampled by ruthless rebels. The rebel troops of Cheng Zili are within fifty miles of the Capital. All the while, you told the Emperor that the Empire was flourishing under your rule, exceeding even the reign of the first three Emperors.
'Today, in behalf of the Imperial Court, and all the subjects of the Empire, I tell you that enough is enough. Men, throw him into the dungeon! Tomorrow will be the day when the villain is reduced to ashes!'
'Burn him! Burn him!' chanted twenty-seven men as two others carried him to the dungeon. None of them noticed that one man was missing.
The crackling fire burnt quietly, oblivious to both the royal death and the blood bath outside the city. It lit up the stone wall of the small room, the last room in the inn. The undressed courtier opened his eyes as his kidnapper untied him.
'Who are you?' asked the courtier, looking up at a strangely familiar face, lit slightly by the fire. For some reason he couldn't explain, the face looked as if it did not match the clothes. 'Are you going to kill me?' he asked after a pause.
'Look carefully, sir. Do you recognise me?'
The courtier blinked. He looked up at his abductor with puzzled eyes. Then he widened his eyes. 'Your Majesty? Is that you?'
'Yes, A Jun,' said the Prince of Qin with a smile that was visibly forced. 'It is me.'
'Where are my clothes?' demanded the courtier.
'The Empire is falling apart, and you're worrying about your clothes!' said the Prince. 'Never mind. You can dress up in my advisor's clothes for the time being.'
He handed him a pile of old rags. 'Your advisorâEU¦' started Kong Jun.
'You should learn from him,' was all the Prince said.
As Jun quietly dressed, the Prince heard a knock on the door. His expression instantly turned grim, the corners of his mouth retreating as close to the middle as they could.
'My clothes!' the courtier cried as the Prince's advisor entered. The Prince raised his trembling index finger to his lips, signalling the courtier to keep quiet as the advisor opened his mouth.
'Your brother is dead,' said the advisor between breaths; 'and the rebels are outside the city gates, preparing for a siege.'
'Nooooooo!' cried the Prince, tears springing from his eyes like a fountain. He pulled out a scroll from his pocket and showed it to the pair who had exchanged clothes. 'Take this, you two. Go to Siam as fast as you can. Do not return until the next rebellion.' With that, he threw upon the ground everything he had on him but his clothes, and ran out of the inn as fast as he could.
'Follow me not!' He cried as he disappeared into the night.
The old innkeeper had heard enough. Lifting the amplification spell on the prince's room, he quietly placed a small parchment under the room's door. After having left an image of himself in the house, he walked to the back door with the skilful qinggong, careful not to accidentally notify anyone of his leaving.
He wondered for a moment how he was going to open the door silently. He settled on a spell which opened the door without creaking. It was autumn. Strong winds scattered the red leaves in all directions. It was the season of sorrow, of loss and of mourning.
The westerly winds pressed the air against the old Daoist's face. He did not feel it. The fate of the Empire lay in his hands.
He ran as fast as his weak legs could carry him. After a hundred paces, he realised that his legs would not carry him far, not at the age of seventy-three. He summoned from his memory a spell that he had not used for a long time: the Divine Travelling spell. In just under a minute, he had arrived at the outskirts of the city, where rebel troops were readying their weapons and preparing for a battle that could commence at any moment.
The old man knew that the fate of the capital - and the entire empire - was in peril. There was no time to waste. He had to do it.
'Abracadabra!' he cried, raising his hands to the sky. Before he had even pronounced the last syllable, the sky was covered with thick storm clouds. Rain poured from these giant masses of darkness, soaking every soldier outside the city. Soldiers darted towards their tents, only to find that winds had blown them apart. Many soldiers slipped in the rain and piled atop one another.
Enjoying the control he felt, he smiled slightly. More was to come.
The mud started to swirl up into the air, creating a tornado which attacked the eyes of rebels and commoners alike. The trees started shaking and reaching out for the soldiers with their mighty branches.
All of a sudden, a loud voice seemed to surround the Daoist. 'Old man, your futile attempt is pathetic at best. You are a creator of illusions, yet you have fallen for the greatest illusion of all: one that lies in the palace of the Emperor.'
The old man felt a strong force pulling him back. In a moment, it all went pitch-black. The magician was dead.
Uh-oh! Looks like NG's formatting does not allow for extra lines. Please 'imagine' some extra space between the 'Burn him!' paragraph and the 'crackling fire' paragraph, as well as between the 'Follow me not' paragraph and the 'The old innkeeper' paragraph. I'll add in three asterisks in the subsequent posts.
Having run a kilometre away from the city, the Prince threw himself onto the grass, catching his breath. It was night on the Plains. Despite the chaos in the city, the Plains remained as quiet as ever, the only audible sound being that of the crows. However, something felt different. Something felt wrong.
The Prince grabbed a handful of the grass and held it to the moonlight. The grass was short, the length of a thumb. It had lost its green, and one could be forgiven for thinking it had always been yellow.
The Prince could not help remembering the words of Bai Yiju, the most renowned poet of the early days of the Empire. 'Twenty years ago, the grass was short, and the grass was fragile, yet the grass was not yellow; the grass was growing. Twenty years later, the grass has grown to soaring heights, towering over the other inhabitants of the meadow.'
Now, two centuries later, the grass had shrunk again. It made sense. The Prince had not held his umbrella's handle for years. The weather dragons had nurtured the grass to its soaring height at the beginning of the dynasty. Now they were denying it growth instead. It was so obvious: the dragons were punishing Chancellor Liu. Or were they making fun of the Prince?
He shivered as a wind blew across the meadow. As chicken pox sprang up on every part of his skin, he recounted the names eleven Emperors of the Empire.
He ended his recollection with a heavy sigh. When his ancestor, the First Emperor, founded the Empire, he had only twelve other men under him. They fought their way into city after city before finally overthrowing the tyrants of the previous dynasty. One of the twelve was killed in battle; the rest became high-ranking officials which nurtured the Empire into a great power. How would they have guessed that the Empire would not even last twelve generations?
He could turn back and be crowned Emperor, thereby lengthening the dynasty by one more generation, yet he could not do it. He could not face the humiliation of being the last Emperor.
With that, he collapsed again onto the grass.
'Open the city gates!' ordered General Wu.
'What did you say, sir?' asked the startled guards, looking back to find the general behind him.
The general drew his knife from his sheath and sliced one of the guards into two. Blood splattered all over the ground of the capital. He then placed the weapon in front of the other guard's throat. 'I said, "Open the city gates." Do as I say or you lose your head too.'
'YyyyyâEU¦ yes, sir,' replied the guard, his voice trembling. The general withdrew his knife and the guard slowly pulled open the huge gates.
As the guard finished, the general cried, 'The gates are open!'
The cry was followed by the sound of horses' hooves striking the ground. Within a quarter of a minute, the first of the rebel troops had entered the capital of the Empire.
About a hundred steeds followed, some of them pulling massive chariots behind them, others mounted by warriors in shining armours.
After a good fifteen minutes, the mighty army had moved all its chariots and riders into the capital. The last chariot to enter was the most magnificent of all, rivalling that of the Emperor himself. The seat shone with dazzling brilliance. The white horses pulling the chariot went at such a great speed that it was impossible to tell how many of them there were. Even the wheels of the chariot were lined with gold. The charioteer seemed to take pride in his job, smiling as he whipped the horses. He was overshadowed, however, by the rebel leader, who sat in the chariot, glittering with confidence.
The general knelt before the chariot as it came to a halt. 'You may enter the palace, sir,' he said.
The rebel leader descended from the chariot and patted the general's shoulder. 'Just for the day, general, you may address me by my real name, Zhao Ren.
The moon shone brightly as the Prince ascended the steep hill. The hill was bare and hardly a tree could be found in the uneven terrain. The crows continued to caw - not that the Prince could hear them in his deep thoughts and recollections of the past. He still remembered a time when the hill was covered with green grass and trees. When he was small and his grandfather was the Emperor, his father would take him and his brother to the hills to tell the stories of the Empire's glorious past. Yet those stories, he knew, were only to be found in history books now - if Cheng Zili even allowed the stories to stay.
From what he heard from his advisor, Chancellor Liu and the Empress Dowager were snipe and clam. The snipe used his long beak to reach into the clam, but then the clam slammed shut, refusing to let go of the snipe. Neither side refused to give in; the snipe refused to withdraw its beak, and the clam refused to let go of the snipe. The Empress Dowager, the snipe, had connections with all the top government officials of the last Emperor's era, while Chancellor Liu, the clam, had the trust of the present Emperor. The two factions fought endlessly - Chancellor Liu's 'victory' was but temporary.
All this, however, was going to end at last. Cheng Zili, the fisherman, had come. Both the snipe and the clam would end up on the dinner table of Cheng Zili.
Why, oh, why didn't he warn his brother? Why didn't he tell his brother to kill the Chancellor? What was there to be afraid of? Execution? What is one life worth, compared to the entire Empire?
The Prince blinked. Cheng Zili - why did the name had such a familiar ring to it, even though he had not heard of the name before his advisor told him about the rebel leader six months ago?
Suddenly, his felt sick in his stomach. He had the urge to vomit, but he had not eaten for two days, and nothing came out. He tripped onto a stick and came tumbling down the hill.
As he reached the bottom, he tried to organise his thoughts. He remembered where he had heard of Cheng Zili. The snipe was not going to end up on the dinner table after all. The snipe belonged to the fisherman.
'We have searched every nook and cranny of the palace. He is nowhere to be seen,' a courtier told Empress Dowager Zhao.
The Empress Dowager smiled. 'That's convenient enough. Just go and get some sleep, then. You and your boys have worked enough.' The courtier was confused by the seemingly callous comment, but he had been told not to question anything she said that day, so he returned to the sleeping quarters without another word.
Suddenly, another courtier was let in by the guards. 'General Wu opened the city gates!' he cried. 'Cheng Zili is outside the palace with General Wu!'
'What are you waiting for?' asked the Empress Dowager. 'Let them in now!'
The courtier was about to dash off when three mounted generals burst open the doors. A confused General Wu followed them. One of the horses knocked over the courtier and, in the confusion, trampled him into paste.
'You made it, my brother! You made it!' cried the Empress Dowager.
'Yes, dear sis, I've made it here. Thank you for everything you have done for me.'
The Empress Dowager smiled. 'Wait for me.'
She disappeared into a back door, returning a minute later with a yellow gown in her hands. It was the colour reserved for the Emperor.
'Try it on,' said the Empress Dowager. 'I haven't seen you for years, so I hope it still fits.'
The Prince sat on the top of the hill, relieved that he knew everything now.
Now he knew that, had he told his brother to kill the Chancellor, he would only have sped up the Emperors Dowager's - their mother's - diabolical plans. He was not responsible for the death of the Empire, for the Empire's fate had already been decided.
It was too late now. If he turned back, he would be killed and burnt to ashes by the first guard that found him. If he advanced, he would be ripped apart by the bandits in the forest. To keep his body's integrity, he had to kill himself.
He could not hang or stab himself; if he did, he would be found, and he would end up either burnt by his uncle's soldiers or torn into shreds by the bandits. There was only one path he could follow: Qu Yuan's.
The hills were quiet; the crows had ceased their irritating calls. The lake was peaceful; the moon's reflection in the lake was as round as the moon itself.
He descended from the top of the conical hill and stopped just before the lake. Turning back, he knelt before the hill, facing the direction of the capital, for one last time. 'I am sorry,' he whispered. Then he turned around and into the lake he leapt.
The old clock tower struck. A new ripple grew from the centre of the lake, shattering the moon's reflection into a thousand pieces. Just as the pieces were beginning to reassemble themselves, the clock struck again, and another ripple appeared. The process repeated eleven times until the clock struck for a twelfth time. At this strike, the Grim Reaper appeared at the lake, taking the twelfth Emperor of the Empire with him.
If anyone had paid attention to the clock at the time, they would have heard a faint sound lingering long after the final strike had been completed. It created circle after circle in the lake, one for each year of the fallen dynasty.
The coronation ceremony had to be cancelled the next day because it had been raining all night.
The people of the capital city continued their daily activities. The blacksmith continued to forge weapons, only this time, he was producing for a different army. The tailor busied himself in his usual work - usual, except today, he had to sew a new set of yellow gowns too. The lumberjack cut the trees as usual, although the wood would be used to construct a new palace for a new Emperor.
If anyone had noticed that something was not right, it would have been the fisherman, who witnessed the growth of the new, green grass in the meadow near the lake. What's more, only the fish in the fisherman's net remembered the incident that had taken place the night before.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to get mine fully finished. But for your enjoyment either way, I'll post what I have; it still needed to go through some VERY rough editing.
The Forgotten Greenhouse.
Our little friend scurried about the golden fields, making his way through, in his owns eyes, the large trees of wheat and grain. He has escaped much throughout his years as a simple field mouse---snakes, owls, sometimes other mice that had gone mad from hunger---and felt it was best to just keep moving. Buzzards circled overhead, signifying a straggler. Our little mouse friend, fuzzy and brown in all his glory, kept true on his path. He knew nothing could be done for such a simple reason of him being a field mouse. If only he were a larger specimen that could wrestle with the most gigantic of species such as those creatures with the ivory tusks that he had heard about so much. He had only heard this from a human being, though, who had left the area years ago.
The little creature had made his way to the edge of the field where the buzzards had become black dots in the sky. The sun shined brightly upon itâEUTMs setting, letting an orange hue glisten across the many forests (of human size, not our poor little mouseâEUTMs size), plains, beaches, and oceans along the eastern seaboard of a formerly great land. Our nameless mouse friend felt mesmerized about how beautiful the land had become ever since the leaving of the human species. He only remembered, now, a time where there was just a fight for survival with the most imminent danger gone. Now with the constant threshing and harvesting out of the way at this time of year, those pesky, slithery creatures were all that had to worry about with the occasional barn owl on the side, swooping from treetops among the various branches that almost let the creature blend in. But now he was almost to his decided base for the oncoming winter months; they were approaching and he had heard of a place where luscious plants grew continuously. If it wasnâEUTMt his nature to hurry from place to place, our little mouse comrade might actually stay in the area.
Our mouse adventurer finally made his way past a sign. He didnâEUTMt bother to stop and read the sign, as he felt it unimportant at the time. If he had actually read the sign, he would see it read in a deep and bold red text, âEUoeDO NOT ENTER! QUARENTINE ZONE!âEU Had he read this, perhaps this wouldâEUTMve resulted in a much more happy and glorious ending to this tale of a simple field mouse. But no; we are not here to discuss such quarrels or for me to tell you that the mouse lived to his happiest days until a wonderful death of old age had stricken him into his later years. I wish I could tell you this, but that is not in accordance to the story and thus I would be deceiving you as against my good nature as a storyteller.
So he ventured on forward and forward, approaching the front doorway. But alas, when he arrived it looked as if the entrance was locked. All but for a little crack separating double-doors, there was no way through the two hunks of metal. Our furry protagonist stood back on his hind legs, putting his nose up in the air to take a sniff. He whiffed up the various smells around him, trying to distinguish one from another. He got all the different smells ranging from barley to fresh oak. He smelled other field mice, snakes, owls, lizards, leaves, pine and then all at once, the smell he was searching for with his sniffer seemed to just be plucked out of the air.
He could smell moss; algae. There was a water source nearby and the little rodent knew it had to be coming from inside this grand palace.
The little rodent scurried on around the building, following the faint but still distinct scent. He dreamed of what wild berries he would find inside and of how many trees he could climb up and down and of what other creatures will be sharing the funhouse with him. It seemed to be a sanctuary in his own black eyes and no thought wavered the true ambition he had set in his mind. He would live on throughout his glory years is what the small and brown furry creature had thought in his tiny but oh-so brilliant brain. Perhaps if a young female mouse had set up shop there he would be able to reproduce and give the world some of his wonderful offspring with some glorious genetics running through their DNA. This thought had set his hair on end and set off some sexually intense pheromones in his body. He hurried on forward, quicker than ever before.
At last, though, he had found it! After so much searching that felt like hours on end (although it turned out to be only twenty minutes) he had found his entrance. He could feel himself almost shed a tear as he found this sight a heartwarming one. To him this pipe that stuck out of the wall was a symbol of long-lasting life.
Well, it looks Newgrounds is still having problems with quotations and apostrophes being copy and pasted...
I hope it's still readable.
Just realized I missed the deadline, but I'll post this anyway. Just a rough draft beginning I came up with tonight.
Gustavo had grown the wrong way, and he had grown much too much. When he was naught but a tater tot, and the boughs of his mother tree were bare for winter, he had confused them with the her roots. An easy mistake to make- easy at least for a juvenile tuber plunged forth to life in the dark womb of a tree.
Gustavo wasn't enlightened to his poor judgement, as he'd never met anyone who had grown the right way. In fact, he wasn't much of one for any socializing at all, as the only company he ever got in the musty underground was worms, or worm-like creatures, whose shameful agenda in visiting the gargantuan potato was not at all neighborly chumminess, but to sneak a nibble at his soft white potato flesh. Gustavo developed a somewhat skewed and pessimistic perception of other people, and considering this upbringing, I think we might forgive him. He'd been dealt a bad hand. He'd grown the wrong way, though he didn't know it. And just think, some days you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and think you have it pretty bad. Imagine waking up on the wrong side of the Earth's crust.
It IS necessary, before you ask, to generate this abundance of sympathy for our protagonist potato, to prepare you for the torrent of bad manners directed at wandering innocents that unfortunately comes from this very potato in the next paragraph. It is necessary to remind you he doesn't know any better, or else you might consider him the villain of our story.