#AtoZChallenge: Walled In

Where’s my cellphone?

That’s the first question that pops into my mind when I wake up.

I fumble around in the darkness, feeling what seems to be smooth stone under my hands. It’s cold.

Where am I?

I figured that would come up sooner or later. The room doesn’t feel cramped. If it is a room, that is. The darkness makes it feel much smaller, though, as if I could reach out and find the walls closing in.

But how did I even get here? And where is here anyway?

Could be a jail cell, though I don’t think I was arrested. I feel like I’d remember if I were a felon.

Was I kidnapped?

That’s a possibility, though I can’t think of why. Maybe I’m famous, a celebrity or tycoon. Maybe someone I know wanted to ransom me. It’s honestly a bit hard to keep my thoughts straight. It’s so dark. Not even a sliver of light from a doorway. There must be a doorway. I couldn’t have just materialized in this room.

Just how big is this place anyway?

I extend my arms to the side as much as I can and feel nothing but air. I pick a direction and walk toward it until my hand bumps against a wall. Good, we’re making progress. Slowly but surely. The wall feels solid, but it has a little give to it. Like soft wood.

Is there a door around here?

I start walking parallel to the wall, keeping my hand on it. Let’s see how far this thing goes. After about 60 paces, I hit a corner. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. I turn 90 degrees and follow the next wall. This time, it’s about 40 paces till the corner. Okay, so it’s a rectangle. Another wall, and 100 paces this time. Seems I was pretty much in the middle of the room. I trace a path along the fourth wall, and then cover the length of the first one. Still no door.

How did I get in? And how the hell do I get out?

Weird. I push against the wall again, which has a rough, pebbly texture. But it’s not stone. I give it another push, stronger this time, and I hear a scraping sound.

What the hell?

I think I just moved the wall. I push it again. Another scrape. I give it one more push before my arms give out. I have no idea what I’m doing. There still isn’t any light or any other sound or anything. It’s just me and this bizarre room. I want to scream, but I have no idea if anyone will –

The hell was that?

I just heard a voice. I’m sure of it. I strain my ears. Nothing. I’m starting to hear things. That can’t be good. I – okay, that was definitely a voice. It gets louder. Really loud. It sounds like a woman. I start yelling to get her attention. I hope she can hear me. Then the floor starts to vibrate.

An earthquake?

I plant my feet firmly on the floor, bracing for the worst as the floor vibrations get more intense. Then the light almost blinds me.

Am I dead? Is this Heaven? Or..?

“Look, honey! We got one!”

I look around, my eyes adjusting to the light. There’s a small rectangular hole above me, in the ceiling of the room. It’s enough for me to get a sense of my surroundings. I’m in a house. A very big house. And I don’t mean a mansion. I mean just…big. There’s a woman standing over me. She might be thirty feet tall. Or forty. It doesn’t really matter.

“Ha!” she says. “And you thought they weren’t real! I told you there’s little people living in our house! See?”

She pointed down to my cell. A large man joined her.

“Well, what do you know, Wendy. Guess it’s true.”

He leaned forward and peered into my cell.

“Hey there, little guy. Now what are we gonna do with you?”

It’s coming back to me now. The bar last night where I met that strange man. His crazy story about magic beans, fairy tale nonsense. Getting near blackout drunk. I think we planted the beans somewhere. I climbed up into the clouds. There was the big house, with the huge kitchen. The mousetrap that had some food in it. I was hungry.

But the man. Where did he go? Did he just leave me here?

The man picks up my prison and carries me into a back room. There’s a faint buzzing sound from somewhere around me. There’s a small black object on the floor of the trap.

Well, I guess I found my cellphone.

 

 

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#AtoZChallenge: Untitled

Uther The Bold.

Unther The Dashing.

Ungular The Narcoleptic.

Urden looked at the plaques under her ancestors’ portraits and sighed. They all held great titles and were known throughout the kingdom for their mighty feats. At the end of the hall was a space for her portrait and an empty plaque. One day, it would read ‘Urden’. But what would follow her name? What would be her title and legacy? She had not achieved anything worthy of a title so far in her life, and she had no idea where to even begin.

Her father, Ulasfur The Firestarter, was legendary for his bomb making skills, which he used to defeat invaders and, well, anyone that upset him.

Her mother, Undilien The Hammerer, inspired awe and fear with her feats of strength, most of which involved using her fists like hammers and the heads of her enemies like nails.

Her brother, Urdar The Knife Eater, built his reputation on a most bizarre appetite.

And then there was Urden. Just Urden. She was not extraordinarily strong or skilled with weapons. She certainly didn’t like the taste of knives.

All she had was her imagination, dreaming up impressive acts that she might one day perform, such as defeating the Five-Mouthed Narglebeast or conquering distant kingdoms.

As she pondered her future and the name that would one day be inscribed on her plaque, she put her imagined feats to parchment, penning fantastical chronicles of a mighty warrior. She didn’t want anyone to know she was writing about herself, so she made up a name for the heroine of her story: Ularda Toothsmasher. That sounded good.

She would sometimes read aloud from her stories, giving voice to Ularda’s many exploits. One day, her father’s cup bearer overheard part of the story, where Ularda was fighting the Narglebeast with her bare hands, and mistook it for truth. He then told the story to her mother’s armor polisher, who told some of her friends. Thus did the tales of Ularda spread, causing quite a stir throughout the kingdom as everyone pondered over this fearsome warrior they had only just heard of.

Urdar would talk about her at length, of how he would one day like to meet her and impress by devouring an entire battleaxe. Ulasfur wondered if she would be interested in adding some bombs to her arsenal, and Undilien vowed to fight alongside her to the death. Urden remained silent during these discussions. She neither praised nor condemned this mysterious new warrior.

Cults were built around Ularda, fanatics praising her name and trying to divine every minute aspect of her life. Where she was born, where she grew up, who her family was, if she had any suitors. Urden’s little tale had gotten out of control.

She could keep it a secret no longer. Urden confessed to creating Ularda and her stories. Her parent didn’t believe her at first, but she showed them the parchments and the little portraits she had made. Once the truth was out, she expected the worst.

Much to her astonishment, there was no punishment. Rather, people were amazed at her storytelling skill and asked that she tell them more tales about Ularda Toothsmasher. Urden was more than happy to oblige.

She wrote many more stories about the fearsome warrior and, over time, wrote about many others as well. Wizards and mages, proud orc chiefs and conniving goblin shamans. The kingdom was enraptured by her fanciful tales.

At last the time came to add Urden’s portrait to that of her ancestral line. There was only one title that seemed fitting:

Urden The Author.

#AtoZChallenge: Quantum Dislocation, or The Assassin Who Brought No Spare Pants

Quentin was stuck and couldn’t see any way out. When he had woken up that morning to the chiming melody of his holo-alarm, he couldn’t possibly have guessed that mere hours later, he’d be sinking in quicksand. Yet there he was. Life could be funny sometimes. Not funny like a good joke, but you get the point.

He was sinking fast and had not time for a flashback, but Quentin would be damned if he didn’t get some exposition in before dying.

Quentin Fiddleswitch was what they called a ‘ghost’. Not in the sense that he was dead, but more in the sense that he could phase between dimensions at will. He could, for example, exit the dimension of this story and enter the world where you’re sitting at your computer reading this. Or at least, he could if he still had his phase disruptor with him. Alas, he did not. All he had was a very sinking feeling and an aversion to bad puns.

I should also probably mention that he was an assassin. That’s important for the next part of the story.

Quentin had been hired by The Organization (a secret society so secretive that they didn’t even have a real name) to eliminate a high-ranking government official, because who would bother paying him for one of the low-ranking officials? Or an intern? Could you imagine a man such as Quentin Fiddleswitch being hired to kill an intern? Hardly.

The official was a member of the Council for Inter-Dimensional Regulation and Safety Against Interlopers From Other Dimensions, which, aside from being a terribly impractical name, also meant bad news for Quentin and his ilk. So he set out on his task, gathering intel on his target and working out the best way to kill him and make it look like an accident. When you’re a shadowy and ominous group like The Organization, it seems you would just kill people and not worry about your PR, but they were very finicky about hiding their involvement in these things. It didn’t really matter to Quentin as long as he got paid.

At last he had the perfect plan. The official was going on a jungle expedition in a parallel universe. Some sort of inter-dimensional political maneuver, but basically a paid vacation and photo-op. Quentin knew exactly what he had to do. It involved an irate crocodile (though on further examination, he was certain it was an alligator), a poison dart, two cans of whipped cream and a pit of quicksand. It was inspired. A true work of art. A plan so ingenious that it would be pointless to explain it as you lot wouldn’t comprehend its sublime intricacies anyway.

No offense to you.

But it was a good plan.

However, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the introductory paragraph, things did not go to plan. Of course you did. I never doubted your intelligence for a second.

Through a series of rather improbable and frankly ludicrous events, Quentin ended up accidentally phasing into his own trap. The alligator ran off with his disruptor belt, the official escaped unharmed (and with several lovely pictures of his expedition to have as keepsakes or to share with strangers on the webbosphere) and all Quentin had left was a half empty can of whipped cream. It was of no use to him at all, so he threw it away.

He was struggling to escape and regretting the little detour into the past. Instead of narrating previous events, I could have been talking about how he got out of his perilous situation. But then how would you have caught up on what’s happened? It’s not like there’s a pamphlet accompanying this story or anything.

As he sank another inch, Quentin realized there was only one way out of this. He needed a deus ex machina. An author-devised solution that would save him from the most impossible odds. Fortunately, he had one. An improbable series of events that led to Quentin being pulled out of the quicksand by the very same alligator that had put him there. Call it irony, providence or contrived drivel, it did the trick. Quentin was out. Unfortunately, he was also naked and watched the collar of his shirt disappeared into the pit with a sorry gloop.

After a grueling gator-wrestling session, Quentin retrieved his phase disruptor belt. Since he had failed in his mission, he needed to get away and lay low for a while. The governments of several dimensions would be displeased about the attempted assassination and The Organization didn’t forgive failure. Though honestly, it wouldn’t be much of an evil society if it did.

So Quentin strapped on his belt and piloted a course for the one dimension where he could be safe for a while. I can’t really tell you where he went,of course, but it’s a place where The Organization’s influence doesn’t extend. Not yet, anyway, but that would be a story for another time.

So that’s it then, the tale of Quentin Fiddleswitch and his failed assassination attempt. You can move along and get back to your daily lives. Writing biographies or shopping for new hats or whatever it is people do in their spare time. And if you happen to see a naked little man wearing a strange belt run past, don’t be alarmed.

Just find him some pants.

#AtoZChallenge: Outsider

Olive Orkin never fit in with the other children. As she grew up, she never fit in with other adults much, either. She was forever the outsider, watching others huddle into close-knit groups while she hung around by herself. In her family, she was the odd duck, the one who stood out from the rest.

Even her uncle Bainbridge, the black sheep of the Orkin house who had tarnished the family name several times over through acts that none of her relatives dared discuss in the open, fit in better than she did. Such was her lot in life.

Most people worried that others would speak about them behind their backs, but that was never a problem for Olive. They spoke about her when she was right there, though to them she seemed invisible.

Olive was getting ready for her first day at a new job, and she was not looking forward to it. She knew the routine. People would remark on her newness and how she would soon be part of the group, yet within minutes, an unseen wall would crop up between them, cutting Olive off from the rest of her co-workers. She had been bumping into that wall her whole life with no hope of climbing over it.

After getting off the bus, which stopped a ten-minute walk away from her office, Olive trudged her way to the gleaming building and in past the sprightly receptionist who would likely forget about her within the week, if not sooner.

There the usual hellos and welcomes. She was given a quick tour by the office manager, Alice. She was shown the break room, the copy room and two meeting rooms. Finally, she was shown to her desk and assigned her tasks for the day. She buried herself in her work and tried not to worry about anything else.

People walked by her desk throughout the morning, often in pairs or small groups. Whenever she got up, she was alone. But she was used to it. She had been expecting it.

At lunchtime, a few people went to the break room. Some would head to the cafeteria on one of the lower floors, and one small group took over one of the conference room, bags of takeout in hand. Olive decided the break room would be the easiest option.

Alice was there, along with Delia, one of the accountants, and another new girl whose name Olive didn’t quite catch; she had started work the week before. The three of them had their backs to Olive, paying her no mind. It was just was well for her. She shrugged and started walking to the mini fridge, but never made it all the way to the fridge door.

Alice, who still hadn’t seen Olive come in, took the new girl’s hand in her own and pulled it toward her mouth. Olive’s cheeks reddened. She hadn’t expected to walk in on something so intimate, and certainly not in the middle of the day. Were public displays of affection a regular thing around the office? Just another awkward social wave that she’d have to surf? She thought it best to just enjoy her lunch in peace and worry about that later.

The new girl didn’t move or make a sound. She wasn’t even looking in Alice’s direction. She was staring at the wall. That seemed odd to Olive, but then, if her manager suddenly decided to get cozy at work, she might do the same. Delia just sat and smiled. Alice leaned in, as if she were about to kiss the girl’s hand. But that’s not what she did.

Alice bit down on the girl’s hand, just between the thumb and forefinger; Olive saw two little streams of blood flow out, then retreat under Alice’s lips. That’s not very romantic, Olive thought, her mind still catching up to the situation. As Alice was feeding off that hand, Delia took the other and did the same thing. Olive stood transfixed. Minutes later, both of them let go of the girl, who still hadn’t moved.

Delia’s head whipped around, followed by Alice; they both fixed Olive with a steady, calm gaze. Olive looked from one to the other. She wasn’t really sure how to react to this revelation so she gave them an awkward smile, her lips parting just enough for her fangs to catch the light. They smiled back and offered her a seat at the table.

Olive sat down, feeling in much better spirits than at the start of the day. Maybe she wouldn’t be an outsider after all. In fact, she thought, as she examined the twin bruises blossoming on the new girl’s hand, she would fit in just fine.

#AtoZChallenge: Nemesis

It was another quiet afternoon in the neighborhood and Neville Bartson was looking forward to a warm cup of tea while sitting out on his lawn. He was growing accustomed to retirement, to hours spent without worrying about tasks that needed to be completed, and naps that weren’t interrupted by crisis. It had been two years since he moved into the neighborhood looking for a change of pace, and he’d certainly found it. He had no family to speak of, though he had come to know his neighbors quite well. Neville was truly enjoying his golden years.

He went out to the little garden that he had started tending. A few buds were starting to sprout; it wouldn’t be long before the flower bed would be a bloom of colors. Satisfied, Neville was about to walk back inside when he saw someone standing on the sidewalk, watching him.

The figure was covered from head to toe in copper-colored armor, with little touches of black and steel gray to break up the color. A dark cloak was slung around one shoulder and he wore a helm on his head with two curving bull-like horns and a slot through which baleful eyes glared. A scabbard hung from his left hip with a sword that might have been half the length of his body.

“Hello there,” Neville said, with a small wave. “Are you looking for someone?”

The mysterious figure raised one gloved hand, each finger covered by several overlapping armored segments. He pointed right at Neville.

“It is you I seek, Neville Bartson!” His voice was like thunder booming in an auditorium. “I have traveled many leagues on a journey of many days to find you. Long have I awaited our meeting. ”

Neville’s forehead wrinkled. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know you.”

The figure thrust its armored chest out and loomed over him. “I am Glomdar the Misfortuner, Terror of the Saltlands and Scourge of Fenhall!”

“Glomdar…” Neville thought for a moment. “Hold on, are you the Gillings’ boy from across the street? I always thought your name was Kevin. You work in insurance, don’t you?”

“I know not of this Kevin! I am Glomdar of the Ravenspit! Despair is my helm and Devastation my cloak!”

“And that pays well, does it? Sounds more exciting than insurance.”

Glomdar gawked at him in disbelief. “Enough of this!” he roared, waving one hand in a loud, clanking gesture. “I have not come here to speak of insurance! I have come for you, Neville Bartson! I am your nemesis!”

“You are?” Neville scratched his nose. “Odd…I don’t remember hiring one. Very well then, you may be a nemesis if you like. I’m not reimbursing you for meals, though.”

Glomdar stiffened. “What?”

“Look, I don’t fully understand the terms of our contract, but if you’re going to be my nemesis you’ll have to cover your own expenses.”

Glomdar was trying to assess the situation, his dark eyes darting around furiously behind his helmet. “I had not expected this. I was told that you were a formidable foe, Neville Bartson. But you are just…just…”

“Old?” Neville smiled. “You may mock me now, young man, but one day, you’ll have aching joints to worry about too. Rather soon, I expect, with all that heavy armor jangling about.”

The both of them stood where they were in silence. A car passed by, slowing momentarily as the driver did a double take. A bird chirped somewhere above them.

“Would you like some tea?” Neville said.

Glomdar was dumbstruck. He clenched and unclenched one fist, considering this unexpected proposal. He nodded.

“Come on in then.”

Neville got out his most elegant tea cups, white porcelain with a floral design along one side. They had always been reserved for guests, but Neville didn’t have too many people coming around of late. He filled them with boiling water, put tea leaves in two strainers (Neville never used tea bags) and let them steep for a few moments. Glomdar was sitting at the small round table in the kitchen, shifting and adjusting his armor.

Neville placed the cups on a tray and brought them to the table.

“I’m sorry, I should have asked if you wanted any sugar.”

Glomdar shook his head. “Sweetness does not suit me, Neville Bartson.”

“You can just call me Neville, you know. No need for such formality.”

“Very well. Neville.”

The little china teacup looked even more dainty in Glomdar’s giant hands, as if he were cradling a newly hatched bird. He took a sip, taking care not to scratch the cup against the sharp edges of his helmet.

“How do you like it?”

‘It pales in comparison to the nectar of the Dire Gods, but it is quite nice.”

“It’s chamomile.”

“Ah.”

Glomdar placed the cup gently back on its saucer with a soft clink.

“I am grateful that you invited me into your home, Neville. But I must fulfill my purpose. As your nemesis, I have come to challenge you to a duel from which only one of us can emerge victorious. Prepare yourself for battle. I will give you fifteen mi – ”

Glomdar paused then, and his eyes widened as he looked at Neville. Both hands clutched at his throat.

“You cheated!” he croaked, before toppling to the floor in a clanking heap.

Neville finished his tea, put the cups away and walked up to his attic. Soft cooing sounds greeted him. He smiled at the white pigeon that sat in a small coop by the window, its feathers tinged with silver. There was a desk near the coop with a sheaf of parchments. Neville took a parchment and scrawled a message on it, then went to the coop and tied it around one of the pigeon’s legs.

“Godspeed, Cloudpiercer.”

The pigeon fluttered out of his hands, circled around the neighborhood twice, then disappeared into the clear spring sky. Neville went back down and set about removing Glomdar’s armor. He had given up the old ways so long ago. He didn’t think anyone still remembered his name anymore. It was flattering to think that some young upstart should consider him worth of a challenge, but he was well past the age of dueling.

Neville preferred to kill his enemies with kindness. A little cobra venom didn’t hurt either.

#AtoZChallenge: Multitasking

Melissa woke up to the sound of her daughter crying. It was more powerful than any alarm clock. She checked the time: 5 AM. Her head thudded back against the pillow. Next to her, Mark was stirring. She forced herself out of bed and shuffled over to check on Lily. Her oldest daughter, Madison, bounded out of her room with more energy than anyone should have at that hour. The day had officially begun.

The morning was a flurry of breakfast preparation and lunch packing. Melissa zipped around the kitchen like a lightning bolt, organizing everything she needed and laying out three lunch bags with well-practiced efficiency. She kissed Mark goodbye and gave Madison a hug (though she was getting to the age where overt shows of affection made her squirm) and saw them out the door. Finally, she had a few moments to breathe.

Lily gurgled and tossed a spoonful of pureed carrots across the kitchen table. Breathing would have to wait.

Once the kitchen had been cleaned (again), Melissa consulted her list for the day. There were groceries to buy, she had to pick up some supplies for Madison’s science project, followed by a quick stop at the bank and then Madison needed to be picked up from soccer practice. It sounded simple enough. But first, she had to tidy up the place.

Melissa zoomed from room to room, dusting, vacuuming and mopping. In almost no time at all, the house was spotless. It was time for grocery shopping.

After hopping for a quick shower, she got dressed and packed Lily’s bottle and diapers in her Emergency Baby Kit. With Lily nestled in one arm, Melissa walked out the door. And promptly walked back in to pick up her car keys from the coffee table.

She found a good spot open in the grocery store parking lot, but part of it was blocked by a bad parking job. Melissa sighed and got out of the car. She looked around to make sure the lot was empty, then nudged the offending car with her foot and slowly slid it out of her spot.

Grocery shopping was always a quick affair. She was done in just a few minutes, gliding around the store and around the other shoppers with ease. As Melissa raced over to the checkout lane, she came to a screeching stop. Self-checkout. An old woman with a befuddled expression and a cartful of groceries. A hapless store clerk. She was going nowhere fast. Unless…

Melissa zipped to and from the counter at lightning speed, checking out all of the items to the old woman’s delight and the cashier’s befuddlement. As the woman walked away, still excited about her speedy checkout, Melissa paid for her groceries and headed out to the parking lot. It was time to go to the hardware store. Lily laughed and spit up all over her shirt. The hardware store would have to wait.

With Lily all cleaned up, Melissa was back on track. She strode into the hardware store and consulted her list. A few basic supplies that were no trouble at all. Then came the plyboard. The exact boards she needed were stacked on the highest shelf and she couldn’t see any attendants around. Melissa jumped, grabbing onto the top of the shelf with one hand, and gathered the boards she needed with her free arm. She leapt down and deposited the boards in her cart. All supplies were bought, a clear checkout counter was found, and she was off to the bank.

Melissa found herself facing another long line. There was only one teller available, and it seemed half the city had business to conduct that day. She waited. And waited. And waited. The line shuffled along. Melissa almost pounced on the teller when it was her turn. Her transaction was interrupted by a loud bang.

“Everybody on the ground! Now!”

Banks robbers. Melissa rubbed her temples in frustration. The lead robber was striding around the lobby brandishing a shotgun while his cronies intimidated the tellers and other customers. A chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. Melissa grabbed the pen at the counter, snapping off the chain that tethered it. She waited until the leader was standing just under the chandelier. Timing was everything. Then, trying not to be noticed, she tossed the pen like a dart.

The pen hit one of the candelabras mounted on the chandelier, causing it to fall right on the leader’s head. He staggered around for a moment, then went down. The bank’s security guards took advantage of the ensuing confusion to overpower most of the thugs. One of them made a break for it. In the blink of an eye, Melissa overtook the gunman, tripped him, and was promptly back at the counter. Everyone applauded the security guards. Melissa turned back to the teller.

It was a quick transaction after that. She glanced at her watch as she walked way. There was still plenty of time for soccer practice. She was in no rush.

As she got to the car, a loud rumble shook the earth. The sound of screaming soon followed, and then a crowd of people went running past her. Up ahead she saw a giant robot, all metallic arms and legs with a glass bubble in the center. It stomped around, crushing cars under its clawed feet and firing lasers into the air. Lily clapped her hands and cooed at it. Melissa sighed and opened the trunk to fish out her work outfit.

Soccer practice would have to wait.

#AtoZChallenge: Irritation

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

The sound went on and on, boring itself into Ilomen’s skull. Would there be no end to his torment?

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

Ilomen gnashed his teeth. It didn’t help. He couldn’t believe he had to endure this torture. He was descended from the most fearsome archdemons in the Under Realms. He deserved better than this.

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

Nobody else was saying anything. Why weren’t they saying anything? Were they all such spineless fools that none of them would silence this monster? It was unacceptable.

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

The last strands of Ilomen’s patience snapped. He had to end it. At once.

Click. Clack. Click –

“Grrahh!”

Unleashing a mighty roar, Ilomen raised his hammerlike fist into the air and brought it down with stunning force. A splintering noise was followed by a loud howl. Bits of plastic and ink splattered in every direction.

“Ilomen! What have I told you about disrupting my classrom?” Ms. Grodsworth was livid. Some of the other students were giggling. Others stifled their laughter. Wozer, the subject of Ilomen’s wrath, rubbed his throbbing paw, his snout streaked with ink.

“Sorry, ma’am.” Ilomen slumped down in his seat. He was most likely going to get detention for this. Perhaps his father, the Dread Lord Ilmana, would be summoned for a talk with the principal again.

But at least he didn’t have to listen to that blasted clicking any longer.