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A brief word of warning before the story itself begins. This was written for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. For this week’s challenge, we were given a list of 20 genres, and told to pick two of them (at random, or not) and mash them together to write a new story. Because I occasionally enjoy writing something for an older audience, I chose to write a story that was a blend of artificial intelligence sci-fi and BDSM erotica. In the following story, there will be graphic sexual content, and as such, I do not recommend it for readers under the age of 18.

* * *

Subroutines

Subroutine. noun sub·rou·tine \ ˈsəb-(ˌ)rü-ˌtēn \ A subordinate routine; specifically : a sequence of computer instructions for performing a specified task that can be used repeatedly (Merriam-Webster).

* * *

Mars had intrigued humanity since the earliest ancestors first looked up to the night sky. It was only natural for Earth’s inhabitants to move there as soon as technological advancements made life on its surface a possibility. When the shift from Luna happened, it was made reality with the assistance of numerous artificial intelligence constructs handling the logistics and heavy lifting. These AIs were based on accelerated deep learning networks, rapidly pushing from a childhood-like state to encyclopedic knowledge over the course of a few months, and they were able to quickly adapt to new tasks. For a while, all was well.

When the first Tharsis Colony was founded, however, the AIs began to break down. Shortly after reaching Mars, multiple constructs began circumventing their safety programming, and the results were nothing short of horrific. A handful of survivors managed to deactivate the rogue AIs and regain contact with Luna and Earth, and new plans to extend humanity’s reach were prepared.

New AIs were developed, but instead of being overloaded with information and responsibilities from day one, they were allowed to age naturally. The resulting maturity that they gained over decades of operation gave them an incredible stability that had been lacking in earlier generations. While they still learned more information and processed it faster than a human ever could, they still took in that information in the same way. Stretching the learning periods out allowed for safer development of the neural networks, and didn’t strain the hardware to the breaking point. Every effort was made to give them a sense of realism never before seen, mimicking body functions and behaviors, for full integration with human crew members. The new constructs were tested rigorously, and proved that they were not going to be prone to the errors of their predecessors. Most would be almost indistinguishable from their flesh and blood counterparts unless they desired otherwise. Soon, a new colonization mission was approved and scheduled.

Tharsis II was the pinnacle of achievement for humanity, a massive, sprawling colony on the surface of Mars, and a rapidly-growing home to almost ten thousand engineers, archaeologists, geologists, astronomers, biologists, and other scientists and support staff. Every major department in the city, for that’s what Tharsis was, had at least one AI assigned to it, and they all reported to Aurora.

* * *

In her office, Aurora glanced down at the tablet display in her hand. While she didn’t need to use one to visualize the data being fed to her from her subordinates, she found it made the humans around her more comfortable. It made transferring files between the organics and herself more familiar as well, as did her humanoid construct appearance. Technically, she was housed in server banks in secure cold rooms deep below the main colony, but the hard light display she projected in the halls of Tharsis was designed to interface with the colonists. She looked almost exactly like them. Perhaps it was a trace of vanity, but she preferred to have the shimmers of green, blue, and pink that made up her namesake swirl across the surface of her skin, an ever-shifting visible reminder that Aurora wasn’t actually human.

Everything seemed to be in order. Atmospheric levels were within acceptable parameters, and all of the research teams were reporting in with no troubles for the day. Communications and additional supplies from Earth had arrived and been distributed. A small disturbance at a nearby bar had been handled by security forces with no injuries to any party. A good way to finish her work week. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as her assistant, a young human named Ven, approached her.

“Long day, ma’am?” Ven asked.

“No more so than usual, Ven. Thank you for asking.”

“I think we’re all set here, ma’am,” Ven said, handing Aurora a second tablet.

She looked at Ven’s report, signed her approval on it, and passed it back to her. “Well done, Ven. We’ll be transferring oversight to Blackwell for the weekend.” At Aurora’s mention, a second construct coalesced into solid form in the office, tall, translucent, and dressed in the standard white Tharsis jumpsuit.

“You called?” Blackwell said.

“Just making sure you were here before I left for the weekend, Blackwell. Thank you,” Aurora responded.

“Any big plans for your days off?”

“Just the usual, Blackwell. Avoiding you.”

“Heh. Enjoy it then, Aurora. I promise that Tharsis will be as you left it when you return,” the other AI replied. “Tell Colin I said hello. I heard he was rather tied up last weekend when I was going to stop by.”

Ven stifled a laugh as Aurora’s luminescent skin flashed briefly crimson.

“Fuck you, Blackwell,” she said. “And goodnight to you too, Ven.”

“Goodnight, ma’am.”

* * *

Aurora came home from work that night to find Colin naked in their bed, waiting for her.

“So, are we still on for tonight?” he asked. His green eyes glinted, reflecting Aurora’s own light back at her.

“If you are, my love. It is what we decided for this weekend, remember?”

“Is that what you were planning to wear?”

Aurora was still in her work uniform, a white jumpsuit emblazoned with the Tharsis II insignia. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, dearest, not at all. Just not quite the role I was expecting you in tonight.” He grinned up at her.

Colin had been her coworker at the Tharsis colony for twenty years now, and lover for half that time. If anyone on Mars was anywhere near Aurora’s equal, it was he. Two decades on Mars had brought them closer together than anyone would’ve imagined. Ten years learning everything they could about each other’s fears, hopes, and desires. They spent virtually all of their free time together, and there was no real way of keeping their relationship a secret. While some aspects of it could be kept more private, everyone knew they were together. “Hell,” Colin had once joked, “Blackwell probably knew we were sleeping together before we did.”

She laughed softly now and paused, a brief flicker in her image matrix as a new outfit coalesced around her. She stood several inches taller, thigh-high heeled boots worn over fishnet stockings, with a black corset and matching boyshorts completing her appearance. She quickly crossed the distance between them and pushed him down onto the bed, his long brown hair cascading around him.

“You remember your safeword?” she asked.

“I do.”

“You do what?”

“I do, goddess.”

“That’s better. Mind your tongue when you speak to me. Are you ready to begin, then?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I am, goddess.”

Aurora smiled. Soon, she stood above him, waist-length black hair pulled back in an elegant braid. A leather collar dangled from her left hand, and leather flogger in the right.

“Kneel.”

“Yes, goddess.” He knelt on the bed in front of her, gazing up into her eyes as she placed the flogger beside him, and gently draped the cool leather of the collar across the back of his neck. He shivered as she fastened it and gave the ring on the front a quick tug.

“Is that comfortable?”

“Yes, goddess,” he replied.

“Excellent. Now, be a good boy and lie down for me, face up.”

Colin nodded and did as he was told. Aurora retrieved her flogger and began to trace slow circles around his nipples with it. “You,” she said, “failed to address me correctly, twice.” Two quick cracks as the flogger came down on his chest. “You will not do so again.”

“No, goddess…”

“Very well. Now, I have other uses for your tongue, bitch.” Pulling her boyshorts down and kicking them aside, she straddled him, lowering her pussy over his face. “Worship me. Pleasure me until I tell you to stop.”

Colin licked expertly at her cunt, long slow strokes at first, gradually picking up speed. He deftly circled near her clitoris, taking as much time as he dared before dipping his tongue deeper into Aurora.

Moaning softly, she spread her knees wider, grinding down onto Colin’s face. “Oh, fuck yes…” Aurora ran her fingers into his hair and twisted through it, pulling as his tongue found her clit. “Right there, you little slut. Just like that…” Colin resumed his long circling strokes, pushing into her pussy again and tasting her subtle sweetness on his tongue before pressing on her clit yet again.

Aurora shuddered at his ministrations, collecting herself long enough to push off of Colin’s face. Her lover gasped for his first full breath in several minutes as she shifted her legs and moved to stand beside the bed again. “Not your best work,” she smirked. “But not bad either.” Grabbing the ring on his collar, she pulled him into a sitting position and kissed him, tasting her own juices on his lips.

“Are you ready for me to fuck you now?” She reached down and lightly stroked his cock. “That definitely got you nice and hard,” Aurora grinned. “What do you say, my love?”

“Yes, please goddess,” Colin gasped.

“Good. You wait right there.”

She stepped away from the bed and reappeared a moment later, a large silicon dildo and a bottle of lube in hand. Her body shimmered again, a strap-on harness now present around her waist. Seeing the expression on Colin’s face, she chuckled again. “I said I was going to fuck you. I didn’t specify the how, did I?”

“No, goddess.”

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, goddess. I’ve missed your cock in me.”

“Good boy. Now, roll over so I can fuck you like the little bitch you are.” Aurora slipped the dildo through the harness ring and started coating it generously with lube.

As Colin knelt on his hands and knees, Aurora climbed back onto the bed behind him, pressing the tip of her cock against his ass. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, goddess.” He looked back at her over his shoulder, adoration in his eyes as she slid halfway into him. Colin whimpered as the dildo stretched him, moaning Aurora’s name when the second thrust brought her hips flush against him.

“Are you going to cum for me?” She began to thrust in earnest, rapid and shallow strokes alternating with slow, deep ones until her lover was trembling beneath her.

“May I, goddess?”

“Oh, yes. Come for me, you little bitch.”

Colin shuddered, his cock spurting onto the sheets as his orgasm rocked his body. As Aurora slid her strap-on free, he collapsed on the bed. “Thank you, goddess…”

“Such a good little slut,” Aurora purred.

Minutes later, they lay together on the bed, cuddling in the afterglow. “That was amazing, my love,” Colin murmured.

“Thank you for being willing to try new things,” she replied. “I’m so grateful to my programmers for allowing so much flexibility in my code. And to yours, too.”

Colin wrapped his arms around his fellow construct and pressed his face into her shoulder. “Programming notwithstanding. If I hadn’t met you, I never would’ve realized that I’m a sub.”

“I love you, you little bitch.”

“I love you too.”

The following flash fiction piece was written for the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, in which we were given several titles to choose from and write a story to fit that title. Here’s “Still Turnstiles at Station 6.”

 

“For the last fifty years, we’ve been the main entry point for immigrants. Station 6 has welcomed offworlders since the colonies first opened to the general population. However, with the completion of construction on a new series of landing zones via Phobos and Deimos, Station 6 will be transferring operations to these new lunar facilities, and begin shutting down. This shutdown will be gradual, taking place over the next solar cycle. We are proud to have been your Gateway to Mars.”

“How many people are losing their jobs because of this?”

“None. Every Station 6 employee is being offered transfer to operations on the lunar stations. Thanks to an incredible amount of cooperation from the colonial governors on both Phobos and Deimos, funding has been secured to ensure the employment of every single person here continues as long as they desire to keep doing their jobs.”

“What will become of Station 6, then?”

“We’ll begin the process of decommissioning her once the transition to lunar operations is complete. We expect that to take place over the next five to ten years. The oversight council has been working very hard to establish a full schedule. We are talking about taking multiple reactors offline, safely removing the fuel, disposing of it properly, and so on. It’s not something that can happen overnight. On the plus side, the process of decommissioning Station 6 will add an additional thousand jobs to the workforce within the next year. We’re very positive that the shift to the Phobos and Deimos stations will be a much-needed boost for Martian colonists.”

“And once the site is cleared?”

“We’ve been in talks to turn it into an orbiting museum. It would be an ideal site to showcase the history of humanity’s move from Earth. The early rovers from the old NASA operations have small museums near the locations where they ceased to function. It makes sense that Station 6 should hold the same place in our history. For now, though the lines here will slow, and the good folks on our staff will be here until the turnstiles are still.”

“Well, that certainly sounds like an ambitious plan, but I like the sound of it. We’ll be following this story as it develops. For Tharsis 7 News, I’m Ayana Cole.”

 

This one’s for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. Our instructions were to write a sci-fi story about a dragon, only not necessarily a mythical one. It’s a short piece, well under the 2,000 word limit, but it was something that came to mind immediately after reading the challenge prompt.

“The Dragon”

 

“Are we starting?”

“Yes ma’am. We’re recording right now. You can start wherever you like.”

“I was there that day. They said that there’d been nothing like it since the old calendar, since the bombings on Earth. I never saw footage of those, but I’ve heard statistics. It amaze me still to realize that we used to live in such numbers that the loss of a couple hundred would be considered relatively insignificant. That that could’ve been the better option. I don’t know what exactly this new weapon was. Just the name all of the news outlets on the colony gave it. The dragon.”

***

“Yes, she was the first one to call it that on the intrasystem media. I asked her about it afterward. She said it seemed like a good fit. Something so destructive that it couldn’t possibly be real. She was never the same after that day. Nightmares kept her from sleeping, and eventually she just… she couldn’t stop seeing them.”

***

“What do you remember most about that day?”

“The smell. I’ll never forget the smell. Melting metal, charred flesh. I can’t eat barbecue anymore. The masks could only filter out so much, and we didn’t have them for the first wave. And the heat. Even when we got the bunker gear, we couldn’t stay on site for too long. Dozens of folks were dropping just from the heat.”

“You were with the first responders?”

“We all were. There weren’t enough of us. We didn’t have adequate supplies, or enough people. How can you plan for a disaster on that sort of scale when there’s been nothing like it used for centuries?”

“Had you ever seen footage of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

“Once, when I was a kid. They told us that no one had ever done anything on that sort of a destructive scale since. People kept pointing to those two bombs as one of the worst things that humanity ever did to itself. I wish they’d been right, that we’d never come up with anything worse.”

“You said supplies were inadequate too. Would you like to elaborate?”

“Well, there was no way we’d ever have the rescue equipment or the medical supplies to treat burns of that intensity on that large of a site. No colony would. The governors would never allow the funding for recovery for a disaster that they couldn’t foresee, and half of them are too young to have learned about the bombings back on Earth. They’d dismiss them out of hand and say that we should be prepped for real emergencies. Loss of atmosphere, gravity failure. Things that you expect to happen on an orbiting colony. Not the heat, not a fire so sudden and massive that it burns through 85% of your oxygen supply in a matter of seconds. Not some lunatic trying to hurt or kill everyone. We were damn lucky we didn’t lose the whole colony.”

“But you kept trying, despite being understaffed and under-supplied?”

“We had to. 12 hour shifts and then some, to start. You know how critical the first hours are in a recovery effort. More people died, but we kept trying. We had to, damn it. We had to know that we were doing our best. It was the only way we could keep going.”

***

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. My understanding is that the work on the project was so compartmentalized that no one team could’ve put together a solid idea of the whole. Different groups of engineers and scientists working on components on different planets and colonies. No communications other than what was absolutely necessary would’ve been allowed. Tell one team they’re working on one project under one code name. Take their work and have an unaffiliated group start working on it from there under a different code name. Never let the right hand know what the left is doing, you know.”

“Hence why there couldn’t be a contingency in place.”

“Exactly. No one knew what The Dragon was capable of. Just that it was a dangerous weapon.”

“And someone set it off in the middle of a civilian population center.”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe the attack itself was premeditated?”

“We’re done here.”

***

“How many people died?”

“In the initial burst? Estimates say over half a million. The Dragon’s Breath, the mishmash of various ailments people caught in the aftermath is still killing people. Nearly double that.”

“Do you honestly believe it was an accident that the weapon was discharged on the colony?”

“I’d like to believe that, but the investigation is ongoing.”

“Thank you for your time.”

I was sitting in bed, just getting ready to go to sleep when my girlfriend got up from her computer, said she’d be right back, and went out into the hallway. A couple minutes later, she walked back in and whispered that she had to show me something, so I pulled my boxers back on, unable to shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Still, I took her hand and she led me into the dark hall, pulling me into the bathroom. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw her body there on the bathroom floor.

“Memorial”

I don’t know where they came up with the idea to commission that damn statue. It doesn’t even look like me. The hair’s all wrong. I never wore it in a braid in those days. It wasn’t even long enough.

I don’t think it’s necessary. I hate the idea of memorializing something that… violent, I guess. It’s kind of the antithesis (did I pronounce that right?) of everything we stood for.

Yeah, I suppose. At least he looks good. The sculptor nailed his eyes. I would’ve never thought they’d be able to capture the intensity. He was all fire and thunder, even then.

Did we? Some people would say that any action like the one we took is treason. Or was. It never really felt clear to me that we were doing the right thing. It wasn’t about right or wrong. It was about what needed to be done.

No, I don’t plan to stick around. Public events aren’t my thing. They never were. They were his. He was always the social one. It’s funny. He claimed he hated it, but he was always out there, smiling for the worlds to see. Always said that he could do it because he knew I was there with him, and now here I am, and he’s…

I’m okay. I just… I just need a minute.

No, I appreciate you. It’s rare for someone in your line of work to speak so frankly to me. I can’t tell you how I’ve responded to journalists asking about him, or me, or us, or what have you. Just something about you. Reminded me of him, I suppose. It made it easy to talk to you. So thank you. I wish you the best of luck.

You too. I hope things work out in your favor.

 

I could see the dust clouds rising in the distance long before I heard the slow rise and fall of the sirens. On the plains, you can see forever. I ran back into my grandfather’s house and grabbed the binoculars from their place on the back of his dining room chair (where they would always be close by so that he could watch birds at the edges of his property or approaching storms rolling in over the nearby towns to the west). Looping the carrying strap over my shoulder, I dashed back outside and scrambled up the television antenna next to the house. Stepping across the gap to the green-shingled roof, I climbed to the apex and brought the binoculars up to my eyes.

There! They were still several miles away, but getting closer by the second. A quick adjustment of the focus knob brought the cars into sharper view. There were four of them; three were police cars with their lights flashing a staccato red and blue rhythm. Leading them all was one car that I can only describe as a cherry red Detroit dream, with outrageous fins and chrome surfaces catching the August sun and threatening to blind me. It had to have been customized. There was no way the stock engine would have given him the speed he had. The driver was pulling away from the cops, clearly outmatching them in both skill and machine. He was using them against each other on the narrow dirt roads, using his speed to thwart any of their attempts to outmaneuver him.

Closer now, and I adjusted the binoculars again until I could make out the writing on the police cruisers. Two were local, town cops having apparently joined a sheriff’s deputy in the chase. His car was superior to theirs, but the county roads were clearly not familiar to him either.

I knew them well. My dad had taught me to drive on that stretch of road. I knew full well where the neighboring farmers’ sprinklers caught the gravel beyond the edge of their fields, washing away some of the stable surface of the road or turning the low-lying stretches into very small swamps. I knew the intersections where the corn grew tall in the late summer, blocking a driver’s view of any oncoming traffic. I knew where the semis driving through had turned the road into a washboard until the next time the county could send a road grader through to smooth it out again. There were dead ends lurking where anyone not paying attention would find themselves flying off an embankment and into a ditch. Even if you spotted any of the hazards, there was no guarantee that hitting your brakes would keep you safe.

I knew that the cops didn’t drive out into the country unless they absolutely had to. An occasional domestic violence call when a wife had finally found the courage to seek help, a child who had wandered farther from home than usual, a controlled burn getting out of hand when the wind shifted suddenly; these sort of things, they were used to dealing with. A high-speed chase down narrow, unpaved roads? Not so much. Now they were coming up to the Ackers’ farm and I could finally hear the shifting pitch of the sirens. I felt my heart beating faster as the older car pulled farther ahead, adrenaline surging as I imagined myself in the driver’s seat, laughing out loud as I saw one of the city cops skid and spin a 180 into the ditch, hurting only his car and his pride. The other cop and the deputy managed to keep themselves on an even course, but the driver in the red car had gained nearly a half a mile.

The cars were close enough to see without the binoculars now, so I let them hang around my neck and watched anxiously as the red car swerved to the left at the edge of my grandfather’s tree line, dust flying as he stomped on his brake pedal in an impossible U-turn onto our property. The deputy and his cohort sped past, losing track of their prey in the cloud he’d kicked up. The driver, a long-haired man in a backwards baseball cap, was grinning like a madman as he wove past the John Deere outside of the shop, past the end of the paved driveway, and back out onto the road, back east toward Ackers’ again. Soon he was just a column of dust on the horizon. I raised the binoculars and watched him fade into the distance as the officers too late realized their mistake and changed direction, climbed back down the antenna and went inside. My grandparents were drinking coffee and watching Murder She Wrote with the blinds shut, and I doubted that they’d even noticed the events of the last few minutes, so I made a point of not mentioning it to them, sitting down with them and watching the rest of the show instead.

I had never seen the car before, and I never saw it again. Same for the laughing man behind the wheel. I checked the local newspaper the following Wednesday, but there was no mention of the chase in the city or sheriff’s reports. I like to think that whoever he was, wherever he was from, he’d wanted a little adventure for the day, and he somehow found a way to share it with me. To this day, I wonder what it must have felt like to have the thrill and uncertainty of that pursuit, not knowing if he’d be able to make the turns and courting death with every second. I’ll never forget the roar of the engine calling to me as I stared at the taillights, the smell of tires grinding into gravel. When I go back to the farm, I still climb up to the roof and watch for him, binoculars in hand, waiting to see that Detroit dream one more time.

This piece was written for Chuck Wendig’s latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to check out the other entries!

“The river stole the gods.”

That’s what my grandmother used to say, anyway. “The river stole Them away from us, and left us alone. Left us to survive without Them.” They had belonged to our people for centuries, longer than we’d been maintaining a record of our tribe. I still remembered the stories that we would hear every night, that the elders of the village would share. Stories of how the gods came to be, what They did.

The First of the gods had come to us from the river, so it never seemed strange to me that the river had taken Them back. It was perfectly logical to me, but I was always a bit strange, according to my brother. The First was born to us from the reeds and the mud, given shape by the flowing water that still sustains our village. The sun looked down and saw the shape, and baked Him into hard clay, and the full moon looked down on the empty body and saw fit to give Him a soul, and then the moon began to wane, and He rose up and made His seven sisters and brothers in the same manner. Soon, all of the gods had been given Their shape, with the First asking the sun to dry Them, and the moon to give Them souls as well. The sun complied willingly, for the sun is always hot again with each new day, but the moon replied that there was but one soul left, and that it was the moon’s own soul, for there could be nothing more given until the moon was full again. So the First god took His own soul and broke it into eight pieces on a rock at midnight, when the moon was gone, for He could not wait for the moon to return with new souls. My grandmother told us that this was supposed to be a lesson about patience, but I never really understood why. I wanted to ask her if the rock the First had used to break His soul was still there, if she knew where He had done it. Instead, I’d just smile and nod and encourage my brother to do the same so that she wouldn’t yell at us for not learning from her stories. Father and Mother would have spanked us, so even the yelling was preferred if it came to that.

One fraction of the First’s soul, He took back into Himself. The remaining seven fragments were given to His brothers and sisters, and once They too possessed souls, They stood by His side. Together, They then set about naming all of the things, and dividing the world into parts that each of Them would oversee. The seas, the skies, the stars, the earth, the plants, the beasts, time. Each of the First’s siblings was god of these things. The First presided over Them all, giving Them guidance, since He was connected to all of Them through His soul. For centuries, our people lived in peace under Their rule, and They would return to our village every month to visit the place of Their birth. “We would watch Them from a great distance, and we could see that every one of Them stood at least twice as tall as my father, who was the tallest man in the village,” my grandmother said. “And we would hide, but still try to see what They were doing. Their gatherings always lasted from sunrise to moonrise, as They honored the place of Their birth. They appeared at dawn, They stood at the river’s edge in the mud from which They were formed, and They vanished as the moon took its place in the sky.” We asked my grandmother to describe Them, beyond Their great height. “They were the color of the river, bright when the sun shone on Them, blending with the night save for a subtle shimmer when it didn’t. They were beautiful.”

The gods were kind, benevolent, and very slow to anger. My grandmother only knew of one time when They had seen fit to punish any of the people of our village, just before the river took Them. It was harvest time, and one of the men of the village had been found having killed his neighbor. Murder was unheard of in the village. Death was not uncommon, but it was not the explicit realm of any of the gods, and so it was deemed to be something far beyond the control of men. After all, if the gods have no power over a thing, what hope does man have of controlling it? When this man was found with another’s blood on his hands, he was locked away until the next time the gods came. The villagers had no idea that it was going to be the last time. The gods returned as was Their fashion, and instead of hiding from them, my grandmother’s father stood near where he knew they would appear. When They arrived, he called out to them, and my grandmother and the others hid in the usual place. “My father spoke to them,” she says, “but we couldn’t hear him or Them from our hiding place. Eventually he came back to us, saying that the First had demanded the murderer be brought to him. We brought him out, and my father took him to where the gods waited for them. They looked at the man, and instructed my father to come back to hide with us.” Here she always grows sad. “We heard the rushing sound of the water, and saw the gods step into the middle of the river, the killer up to his neck. There was a great rush of white and blue, and when the surge passed, there was no one left. No murderer, no vengeful gods. We never saw any of Them again after the river stole Them away. Punished him, and punished us all by leaving us here without Them.”

Note: This story was written for a “Story from a Sentence” challenge from Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds. He hosts similar challenges weekly, and I’m trying to get back into the rhythm of writing for them. Hopefully more microfiction will continue to arrive here on a somewhat consistent basis. Thanks for reading!

“The Casket”

The casket was made of steel, polished and gleaming blue in the June sun. I didn’t know the man inside, but I knew of him. Everyone in town knew about the house where he’d lived for the last forty years. My dad told stories of how, as a teen, he and his friends had dared each other to enter Mr. Walter’s yard, to approach the house, to lift the brass knocker on the door, to steal a sprig of foxglove from the sunken garden. He told me that he’d won almost a hundred dollars over the course of a single summer. I didn’t feel brave enough to tell him that I’d never made it beyond the fence, but I always nodded every time he mentioned some detail of the grounds.

Mr. Walter’s funeral was simple. He was buried in the graveyard a quarter mile outside of town. Pastor Mikalsen came to do the service, and my dad and I were the only mourners, unless you count Zeek, the gravedigger (who only has the job because he lives nearby and owns a backhoe). I guess that’s what happens when you spend most of your life as a hermit, even in a small town. No one wants to come to say goodbye. Dad said he felt obligated after antagonizing the old man for most of his own youth. We didn’t even dress up, since we’d been out working on one of our tractors all morning. Two mourners whose only black attire that afternoon consisted of grease-stained jeans and t-shirts.

I told Dad that I’d walk home after the service was over, and that I wanted to have a little while to think. He gave me an understanding nod and climbed back into the pickup, calling for Pastor Mikalsen and his wife to join us for dinner that evening as he drove away. I watched as the pastor followed him back to town before asking Zeek if he needed a hand. When he waved me off, I wandered the few uneven rows of remaining stones. I’d always loved spending time in the little cemetery, even waking up early on Saturdays in my youth to ride my bike there. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were buried there, and I soon found myself standing before their headstone. Zeek finished piling the last of the dirt on top of Mr. Walter and headed off toward home, the backhoe serving as his transportation for the afternoon, and I was finally alone with my thoughts.

I sat down in front of my great-grandparents’ grave and looked at the dates carved in the dark marble. They’d died less than a year apart, and only a few months after I was born. Dad didn’t talk about them much, and all I really knew was that we lived in their old house. Mom talked about her side of the family even less, though I suspected she had good reason for keeping such things to herself, and never prodded her about it. She might as well have been an orphan for all I actually knew about her relatives. I didn’t mind too much, because it meant a hell of a lot fewer road trips across the country to see them. There are only so many times you can drive across Nebraska before it starts to take a toll on you.

After a few minutes, I stood up and dusted myself off. I made a final round of the cemetery, being careful not to walk on the freshly packed soil where Mr. Walter now resided. I set off down the road for home when inspiration struck, and I started walking the opposite direction. Soon I stood before the towering home the old man had once occupied. Daylight, I mused, made all the difference in approaching the building. Even on a bright afternoon, the place loomed over the grounds. The wrought iron gate where I stood was marked with a massive stylized “W,” itself in turn decorated with an intaglio of ivy. I traced it with my fingers, feeling the textures of the etched metal. With a brief glance over my shoulder, I gave the gate a gentle push until it opened.

That was all it took. I felt a surge of confidence as I slipped into the yard, leaving the open gate behind me. I was in Mr. Walter’s yard. Remembering Dad’s stories, I headed for the back of the house, following the flagstone path that led to the sunken garden. I pulled my phone from my pocket, snapping a few pictures along the way. To say that it was beautiful did no justice to the place. I realized that Mr. Walter must have maintained everything himself until his death, and that he had clearly poured all of his energy into that garden. While the rest of the yard, and the house itself, had fallen into some state of disrepair, the garden was pristine. A jeweled mosaic decorated one of the walls, sapphire, topaz, amethyst, and a half-dozen other stones set in patterns resembling flowers. Ivy grew around it, but had been carefully cleared away from the mosaic itself.

I could have lost myself in thought in that garden, but I had work to do before the light faded. Finding a patch of the famous foxglove, I picked a handful and headed back to the gate. The walk back to the cemetery took only a few minutes. I laid the flowers down at Mr. Walter’s grave, knowing that the chances of anyone else ever doing to same for him were slim. I didn’t know the man in the steel casket beneath my feet, but I knew of him. Everyone in town did, but I wouldn’t forget him. Somebody had to remember the dead, after all. When our houses are torn down, and our gardens are left untended, eventually only memory will remain, though that too will fade.

It was time to go home. The sun was setting, and we had company coming for dinner.

 

 

(This piece was written for a flash fiction challenge hosted by the inimitable Chuck Wendig. We were given ten words, and instructed to pick five of them to include in a 1,000 word short story. I used topaz, orphan, casket, hermit, and foxglove.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My Dearest,” the letter read, “You know that I would do anything in this world to satisfy you, your every need, every desire. All you must do is say yes. I love you.”

For this week’s Trifecta Challenge, we were given the word “satisfy” and a 33-word limit.

This week’s Trifextra Challenge was a fun variation on the usual. We had 33 words for our entry, and were instructed to include a palindrome (either a single word, or a palindromic phrase). I found one that I’ve included at the end of my piece.

“Revolt”

Kisses will be given, not stolen. Stories will be shared, and dreams realized. Wounds will heal with the passage of time, and we’ll gaze with amazement at our progress. Won’t lovers revolt now?