Flash! Friday # 46

CLOSED! Thank you, as ever, for writing. Results lateish Sunday night!

** Looking for a few good judges! You have made this community the astounding, supportive thing it is. So let’s turn judging on its head: apply now to take a turn as judge in Year 2! Details here. The application deadline for the first panel is October 31.

WELCOME TO FLASH! FRIDAY!  No doubt it’s the onset of cold autumn days that makes this photo feel particularly timely. Well, that or my recent hankering for a bowl of chili. I thought it’d be fun to go a little sci-fi this week. Or, obviously, mermaid/noir/mystery/dystopian/Downton Abbeyan, wherever your crazy Muse leads you.

(Find the ethereal contest rules here.)

This week’s moody festivities are judged by the Empress of Chameleonery, SVW member Maggie Duncan, whose own writings glow stunningly prismatically at times . Be sure to check out her judge page to find out what sorts of angles she hopes to see in a winning piece.

And now:

Word limit: 250 word story (10 words’ leeway; doesn’t it feel roomy??) based on the photo prompt. Yep, keeping it short ‘n’ sweet again. (PS. Don’t get comfy there.)

* How: Post your story here in the comments. Include your word count (240 – 260 words, exclusive of title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. 

* Deadline: 11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time and, thankfully, does not rely on government funding)

Winners: will post SUNDAY 

Prize: A multifaceted e-trophy e-dragon e-badge, a shockingly clear yet unsurprisingly ambiguous winner’s page here at FF, a multi-directional 60-second interview feature next Wednesday, and YOUR NAME shot in laser beams/rainbow scales/cynicism/smoking guns/desperation/snotty tea parties across the alien starships orbiting the world (so to speak). NOTE: Winning and non-winning stories alike remain eligible for selection for Monday’s Flash Points. 

* Follow @FlashFridayFic on Twitter for up-to-date news/announcements/Dragonlady Grantham quotes (No guest should be admitted without the date of their departure being known; Episode 3.2).  And now for your prompt:

Ice Cube Aurora. Photo by Carlos Pobes.

Ice Cube Aurora. Photo by Carlos Pobes.

102 thoughts on “Flash! Friday # 46

  1. The Mission – 258 words

    The landing was bumpy, his joints rattled from the impact. He was way off course, it could be days before anyone found him. He clambered out and surveyed the alien landscape. It was grey and desolate, the wind biting. His training took over. A quick glance upwards helped him get his bearings. The first priority was shelter. He spied a faint red flicker on the horizon, a splash of colour on an otherwise blank canvas. He set off towards it.

    The journey was slow, he was tired and his limbs were heavy. He struggled to catch his breath, the air felt thin and unsatisfying, like a weak soup. He fought the urge to rest, reminding himself of the importance of his mission. The thought propelled him onwards.

    He finally reached a structure. It would provide a place to recover. He pried open the flimsy door and stepped into a clean white space. There was writing on the wall but he did not recognize the language. His visors translation software informed him this was a science lab.

    A rustle from the next room caught his attention. He tensed himself, ready to attack. A strange creature appeared, staring back at him with primitive intelligence. It had four eyes and a flimsy white outer coat. He recognized it from his briefing. All the way out here and he’d stumbled upon a viable test subject. He reached into his suit for his widest probe. He would be the one to discover their weaknesses, he would win this war before it even began.


  2. Epiphany

    Weary, savaged by the bitter cold but full of hope, three astro-physicists huddled together in front of the small, forgotten sub-station and smiled. They nodded to each each other in recognition that their three-week mission was almost complete.

    The star shone brightly and the heavens were given to glory. This was the place where the future would be born. They entered silently, and found the station’s occupants huddled around a computer screen, their faces bathed in its eternal glow.

    Joe looked up from the screen, startled by their presence. ‘Who are you? What do you want here?’ His manner was defensive, suspicious.

    ‘We have brought you gifts.’

    They handed over three pieces of paper with writing scribbled on them; one to access a Swiss bank account, one with a pass code and one hand-written, the formulae and equations scattered over the page in tiny, angular script.

    Joe looked at them, pausing over the last page until he felt his knees weaken and his hand begin to tremble.

    ‘This isn’t…?’

    ‘What the world has been waiting for?’

    ‘But why us? We’re nobody, we’re just the mavericks, posted out here to keep us quiet.’

    ‘It is time for what is hidden to be revealed. Our gifts will facilitate, but you are the ones who have found the cure. Because of you thousands will be saved.’

    They left as swiftly as they had arrived and Joe took Maria in his arms.

    ‘I’m sorry I ever doubted you, love. This is it. Our dreams have come true.’

    257 words

    Sarah Miles


  3. The Prospector – 258 words
    Ian Martyn @IBMartyn

    Prospecting was a dangerous game. You were always the first, venturing onto new worlds and moons. This nameless piece of ice covered rock was orbiting a nameless gas giant, megakliks from anywhere. Its value was in what could be plundered from the surface. It would be gouged, blasted and scraped then left scarred for eternity.

    Nathan chastised himself. Out from the base alone he was prone to what he called, poetic melancholy. Most of the operation was automated, mindless robots following standard protocols so his thoughts were apt to wander, and in a place like this down was their natural direction. The storm struck during this latest reverie. The first he knew, ice crystals were beating a desperate rhythm against the back of the rover. Within seconds the dark, desolate landscape became an impenetrable wall of white. The rover anchored and hunkered down, but still the storm did its best to rid the world of this alien parasite who only meant it harm. Nathan had weathered storms in the rover before, but this was a league above what he used to. It lasted for hours, the rover creaking and groaning as it resisted the malice being visited upon it. Nathan didn’t believe in a god, but still he prayed.

    Finally the air cleared and in the distance was an orange glow. He and the battle weary rover limped back to base. Climbing the steps he noticed the glow from the window was muted. He tried the door, it didn’t respond. The lights were on but no-one was home.


  4. The Captain’s Return

    Just as the movie got to the good bit, the first dull boom rang out. Barron stiffened in his chair. The hairs on his arms lifted right up, like they were listening; every muscle was taut.

    ‘What the…’ Barron put his steaming bowl of noodles down and hit the Pause button, trying to breathe quietly. Just as he swung his legs off the desk, the second boom shattered the stillness of the sleeping station.

    ‘Hell. Just my luck,’ he muttered, heaving himself to his feet. He’d been looking forward to the solo graveyard shift all week. Just him, the silent monitoring station, and the howling Antarctic outside, it had sounded like heaven on earth.


    He shrugged into his jacket and fumbled through the piles of documents and readouts for his flashlight. He dallied – just for a second – in front of the gun locker before swinging it open.


    The door was a long dark corridor away. He clicked the flashlight on. Its beam shook a little, but he stilled it.


    Something – something heavy – was pounding on the door.

    He unsealed it with numb fingers, his weapon a reassuring weight at his side. It hissed open to reveal a fur-clad figure, his eyes like lost stars in the bitter darkness.

    The stranger lowered his seal-skin glove, swaying on his feet. ‘I told my men I would be some time,’ he said, in a voice like the Aurora’s hiss. ‘But I’ve finally found my way back.’

    Barron dropped his flashlight as the long-lost explorer stumbled into his arms.

    260 words

    (The ‘booms’, and the word ‘heavy’, are supposed to be italicised. Goshdarnit if I can figure out how to do that! :))


  5. The Hot Rock
    by A J Walker (260 words)

    For Antarctica the room was warm but Boris’s breath still formed little white clouds – it was better for the finds they were told but it was just down to poor construction. Still, he loved this place, the window had the best view in the building for the aurora and it stored the tangible results of all his hard work – his meticulously catalogued meteorites covered the shelves and filled the drawers. His ex-wife had called it the “Universal Jigsaw Room” – she’d also said that he must have been mad to work there with so few pieces. Perhaps he was mad.

    He looked at the day’s finds and was drawn to the largest. It was massive – maybe 4 kilos – and there was certainly nothing like it in the archives. On first inspection it looked more like a volcanic bomb than a meteorite – with something of a drop shape – it was also an unusual brick red with some iridescence.

    Struggled to pick up the heavy piece he noticed the curtains of auroral light changed from green to red. Suddenly he felt the cold seep into his hands, but as he struggled to quickly put the meteorite back down he realised it was searing heat not cold. Heat! He stared at his scorched hands.

    Outside the aurora seemed to be pulsing reds with the rock seemingly mimicking it – though Boris sensed somehow it maybe the other way around – his ears began to fill with the pulsing rhythm. It was then he realised that the rock looked like an egg. Perhaps he was mad.



  6. Retirement
    259 words

    Ken sighed happily.
    “This is the life.” He thought. Laying out on the warm sand, the hot sun on his back, Ken smiled. “I love the beach. Great place to retire.”
    Stretching out his arm, he reached for his drink, but his arm didn’t seem to work quite right. “I must be drunker than I thought.” Ken laughed at himself. He didn’t bother opening his eyes. He’d get up in a few minutes anyway.
    “The tide must be coming in. I’m surprised the water’s cold enough to numb my feet, when the rest of me is so warm.”
    He really was going to have to move soon. The heat on his back and head was starting to get a little much, even though now his legs and even his hands were starting to go numb too.
    Then he realized the light was fading on the other side of his eyelids. “Is the sun going down already? I really should get up.”
    But he couldn’t feel his legs, and the numbness continued to spread as the darkness grew deeper. “Fine,” he thought “I’ll just lie here until the tide comes in and I drown. I’d rather die on the beach than anywhere else.”


    “Team 56 to Base 1, over.”

    “We’re at Outpost 7, but there’s nothing left. Nothing but ash.”

    “Yeah, we found Dr. Kendrac. He made it out, but didn’t even have a coat. Couldn’t have survived the cold more than a few minutes out here last night.”

    “Right. Team 56 heading back to Base 1. Over and out.”


  7. On Top of the World
    By Brian J. Hunt
    256 words

    When the light of the station appeared on the horizon, he felt like cheering but didn’t. He had to conserve energy. He had gambled that if he followed the star he’d have a chance of finding the Swedish station, gambled and won.

    Dragging his useless legs behind him, he pulled himself forward across the dry gritty snow using only his arms. “Strange that water frozen so hard seemed so dry,” he thought to himself. Shaking off the cold induced distraction, he returned to the task of pulling himself forward toward the station, his lower body constantly screamed with pain.

    As he got closer, hope drained from him. He saw the flags, markers to indicate the position of a body to find when the weather improved. Since the bodies rested under the snow, that meant they had been there since before the last storm, the storm that had flipped his CAT on the way back to the US base.

    He slumped forward in exhaustion and disappointment. He felt the pain of the ring box that dug into his chest. The ring box that had arrived at the mail drop, the ring box that he had been so eager to receive that he risked outrunning the storm for it, the ring box that the woman he loved would probably now never open.

    Then he heard her voice, yelling his name. She gathered his broken body to herself and he surrendered to the warmth of her arms.

    “So warm,” he thought as tears slowly froze on his cooling cheeks.


  8. “The Wizard of Ice”
    Margaret Locke (@Margaret_Locke)
    258 words

    He had waited a thousand years for this. A thousand years to return to his rightful position as King, to seek retribution from Mordred, to sit at his Round Table with his faithful knights at his side.

    “When the north star aligns exactly over Guinevere’s Tower, you shall return,” Merlin had promised on that fateful day so long ago, before sending him across the Lake to Avalon. “The Lady of the Lake shall greet you. Banners will wave in your honor. The whole of the land will rejoice in the coming again of the Once and Future King.”

    Arthur looked out across the barren landscape, illuminated now by a supernatural glow. He was surprised to realize it emanated from his own chainmail, chainmail that felt like ice against his skin. He clasped his beloved sword Excalibur firmly in his hand, ready to face any peril. But there was nothing. What was once a lake was now a frozen wasteland. Flags stood all around, as Merlin had foretold, but were planted haphazardly in no apparent order in the snow. And what had happened to his magnificent keep? Where were the grand stone archways, the turrets, the lists? What was this heap of metal more suitable for scrap than a King’s castle?

    Where were his men? He saw no Lancelot, no Gawain, no Percival. No Guinevere.

    A familiar, if rusty, voice spoke from his side. Arthur turned to look at his friend, surprised now by the wizened, ancient visage before him.

    “Arthur, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Camelot anymore.”


  9. Sole Survivor

    Communications were down so he set about burying the bodies in the first few days. He was weak and drained, but the flags ensured he could account for every last one of the station’s personnel.

    The task had been arduous in that first phase. He worked round the clock. Nothing was missed.He had always been a meticulous man. He ensured each body was buried around a feet under the ice. He would preserve as many as possible.This in itself was exhausting.

    It seemed ironic that the constancy of night made him unable to rest. His appetite raged, but he knew he needed to ration, supplies were low at this time of year given it was only a skeleton staff. There was no knowing how long he would have to remain here.

    It had happened in a heartbeat. They weren’t ready. They weren’t prepared. How could they have been? They did what they could. Some were brave. Some were strong. Some were cowards. He had hidden and watched, emerging in the moments he knew it was safe to do so. This was how he survived.

    He needed respite, now. He was pale and depleted. He lay deadly still on the small recreation room table. He was too tired to concern himself with bloodshed or revenge. He was too sapped to mull over the Slayer’s vow. He closed his eyes to the perpetual darkness that enveloped him – the one luxury this place could afford a vampire.

    246 words


  10. “Priorities”
    By Scott L Vannatter – 260 Words

    Donovan staggered a bit in the sub-zero, bone-chilling cold. His fingers hurt even through the insulated gloves and his breath labored with each step toward the icehouse. That was what they called their Antarctic home, their only safe house in this frozen hell.

    Donovan had been asked (Really? Asked?) to take telemetry readings and check out the meters at the far rim of their circle of a laboratory. He was low man on the pole and he knew he was being bitchy, but it seemed to him that his rotation for this task was to have been next week, not now, certainly not now. He did not want to be out here today.

    It had taken hours to prepare the recorders, put on the suit, and check all settings and connections. After all, a chink in the hyperborean armor could prove fatal in a place where skin froze in seconds and one good breath could turn your lungs into icy Reynolds’s Wrap.

    The pain began in his left thigh. At first, he thought it was a cramp, but realized with a bit of fear that it was likely some sort of tear in his muscle. It was nothing serious if you were near a doctor, but here in the maw of cold death it could be fatal. He moved slowly, tearfully, painfully toward the door of the station. He reached the entryway and wobbled inside. He was ready to scream.

    “Happy Birthday!” filled his ears as he looked up to see all eyes on him. He smiled then passed out.


  11. God’s Paintbrush (258 Words)

    “What d’ya think’s goin’ on up there?” Thelma scratched her head and stared up the road at the factory. One side glowed orange-red like the devil himself had come to brew some mischief. The other side loomed dark against the purple gloom of evening. Above a green streak splashed across the sky. God’s paintbrush, she thought. The bright pinpoint of a glowing light glowed about the house.

    “Dunno. Don’ wanna know. It’s scientific bisness.” Elmer shook his newspaper and hunched over it. “Just want me boiled beef and taters.”

    Thelma thought he was beginning to look like an old goat every day. Hair sprouted from his ears, and his shoulders slumped, and his voice had started to take on an annoying whine. She banged his plate on the small tin table in front of him.

    She returned to the window. She had to see what was happening. She opened the door and started to run across the flat, featureless land.

    “So pretty. So pretty,” she gasped before a white light seemed to shoot straight through her and pin her to the ground.

    When she opened her eyes again, Thelma couldn’t speak. She opened her mouth but only a “Maaa, Maaa” came out.

    A man in a black hazmat suit waited in the field as Elmer came panting up.

    “I warned you, Elmer. I warned you to keep your wife inside.”

    Elmer nodded meekly. “Will the effects wear off?”

    “We don’t know. Probably not. Will you sell now?”

    ‘I’ll sell, but who’s gonna fix me boiled beef and taters?”


  12. “The coldness of Ragnar”
    by Dieter Rogiers
    260 words

    Svea had gotten used to the cold, though not to the coldness of Ragnar, the scientist she’d spent the past seven months with in the most extreme region of the Arctic.

    Ragnar hardly spoke to her and when he did he was gruff and hostile. She had often tried to melt his sub-zero demeanour but to no avail. He remained a heartless brute who carried out experiments, ate the food she cooked but ignored her in every other way.

    On Christmas eve she made a final attempt to thaw the ice. While Ragnar collect data from the instruments, Svea constructed a primitive Christmas tree, made from green plastic cuttings and decorated with the fluorescent goo they used in their experiments. She prepared a three course dinner with the finest ingredients available to her. She made a list of the most Christmassy songs on her iPod and put them on shuffle. This would surely break his resistance against joy and happiness.

    Only it didn’t. When Ragnar entered from the cold, icicles dangling from his thick brown beard, he shrugged at the warmth Svea had created in the sterile building. He just sat down, gobbled down his food and on his way to the bedroom shoved to the floor the plastic tree.

    Svea was ready to throw in the towel once and for all when Ragnar re-emerged, took her into his arms and gave her the most passionate kiss she had ever received.

    “Was it worth the wait?” Ragnar asked.

    The magical glow of aurora borealis in her eyes said it all.


  13. The Last Flag

    “Come on, Dave. Let’s get you inside Fella. What the hell were you thinking? You know how this works. You trained me. Trained us all. Jeez, you wrote the book on this. Pepe woulda laughed, seeing me dragging your sorry ass. Poor Pepe. ‘Don’t go out alone – ever’ That’s what you said, and then you get tagged planting Pepe’s flag. And where’s your gun? ‘Eat with your gun, sleep with your gun’ you even told the scientists, am I right? ‘That’s how we make it through this’ you said. I was at the meeting. You were great that night, after the first attack. Picked us all up, slapped us in the chops, gave us purpose. You really inspired us, I ever tell you that? Come on Man. That’s the twenty yard flag, Jimmy’s flag, not far now. Tell me, were the flags your idea? Sure, they’re useful, range markers, helps preserve ammo, but is that all? Know what Jimmy said? Right before they… anyhow, he said you planted flags to intimidate them, marking where they fell, but that’s crazy. And why have two colours? Black flags for them, red flags for us. I look across this God forsaken ice and I can name every damned red flag. They can’t be scared, only killed. They don’t know nothing, just follow a scent, like wolves. I mean, if intimidation worked, they wouldn’t just keep coming. Dave? Dave? Shit! Guess I plant yours here by the steps. No flag for me. I’ll just torch the place when they break the door down.

    259 words



    The eerie green light of the aurora danced in the sky above the station. The stars and planets burned bright, as pitiless as the barren, frigid landscape. A bitterly cold wind snapped the dozens of black flags that stood sentinel over the dead entombed in the ice. Flakes of snow whirled in the gelid air. The yellow light of the incandescent bulb swiftly faded to a dim beacon of red at the station door, a promise of safety and hope.

    Captain Frank stared at the map in despair. He was grey with fatigue and stood hunched over. A single white pin marked their location. The rest of the world was a sea of black with a few small spots dotted in red. “Sir, sir!” An excited Private burst through the door.
    “Calm down and report soldier!” He snapped.
    “Sir, yes sir!


  15. It should continue:

    “Sir, yes sir! We just got a signal from the shortwave radio sir. It’s from a cruise boat sir. They report that they have 600 men, women, and children free from infection headed our way sir!”
    “Excellent news son, excellent! Prepare quarters for them.”
    “Yes sir, right away sir!” The Private saluted and rushed out.
    The Captain straightened up and squared his shoulders. A determined gleam lit his eyes. “You won’t win, you bastard! We’ll beat you yet! We’ll survive here, where it’s too cold for you to thrive and someday we’ll destroy you1 wE ARE THE lAST bASTION OF hUMANITY AND WE SHALL NOT FALL!” tHE cOMMANDER OF THE aNTARCTIC sTATION SNARLED HIS DEFIANCE AT THE zOMBIE vIRUS.


  16. Sorry again, my cat is “Helping” me type today.

    “and someday we’ll destroy you! We are the Last Bastion of Humanity and we shall not fall!” The Commander of the Antarctic Station snarled his defiance at the Zombie Virus.
    257 words @EmilyKarn1


  17. Arctic Murder
    259 words

    The snow-covered body of Angus McDougal was discovered by Tim O’Neill next to the heated bathhouse that services our Arctic research center. It was Tim’s turn in the shower, and as Dr. McDougal’s body was stiff as a concrete slab, he figured the good doc would stay put until he finished. He was right.

    Tim brought Angus into the lab and placed him in the freezer along with our other specimens. We gathered around to diagnose the cause of death. It wasn’t hard. A single bullet hole in his forehead denied Mac the verdict of “death from natural causes”.

    Angus McDougal was our chief scientist; brilliant, reclusive, non-confrontational; with top security clearance and no known enemies.

    He and I had been working together on a temporary hush-hush project which, given Angus’s impressive list of degrees and research accomplishments, was assumed to be scientific in nature. Actually, we’d been tasked with ferreting out an embedded foreign agent.

    Angus had been following a strong lead which, for reasons, unfortunately, obvious to me, he refused to share. I had no choice. It came down to him or me, so I shot him and planted evidence that Sam Rostropovich was the spy.

    It turned out Sam was, indeed, a secret agent. For the United States. He’d been following me and emailed pictures of McDougal’s assassination to his superiors. It never occurred to anyone to question why he was taking photos when he could’ve been saving the doctor’s life, but I figured it out. Rostropovich was a double agent and Angus had identified him.


  18. Skylight
    250 words
    (Sorry, not on Twitter)

    Most people think that Santa’s Grotto is just a cave at the North Pole, where small elves with smaller hammers toil all year making Christmas gifts such as Barbies, Harry Potter Box-sets, and socks. In fact Santa’s Grotto is actually a huge compound with many buildings, each with its own fun-filled function.

    There is Ice Cream Parlour, where the elves make a wide range of creams, from whipped to shaving to anti-wrinkle, all of them because you’re worth it. There is Ice Station Zebra, where they paint stripes on horses, foxes and squirrels to make zebras, raccoons and Pepe LePew.

    And then there is Ice Cube Aurora. It is the rocket-gantry for a huge firework, and every November the elves light the fuse and then run like blazes, with one of them shouting “fire in the hole”, because, well, that’s what you do. The rocket ignites and arcs across the night-sky, like a comet, and then, when it reaches a height of two miles, the firework explodes.

    The resulting beautiful, magical, haunting display is known to everyone as the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis.

    As soon as the rocket has taken off elven builders move in to begin repairing the Ice Cube, and eleven engineers (elven ones, too) start work on constructing the following year’s rocket. Meanwhile the ignition team, the Red Adairs of the elf world, fall exhaustedly into bed and hibernate for the winter.

    They are the origin of the phrase “light the blue touch-paper, then retire”.


  19. The Red Light
    260 words

    Sarah perched at the edge of the dark lands and stared at the red light that seemed to flow from the lone construct. Above the building the spirits danced across the skies, leaving smears of blue and green as they bled their grief into the night. A gentle breeze swept the across the ground, sending the flags twisting and Sarah barely managed to control the tremor that shook her frame.

    The people of her village didn’t know what lived in the old building but they knew enough to give it a wide berth. The only time that anyone ventured near was to bury the bodies of the travellers that had strayed inside searching for shelter….the only thing they’d found there was death.

    Some nights the screams of the lost would rise on the still air, morphing into a broken plea for mercy…for an end. On those nights Sarah gripped her mother’s crucifix tightly, letting the pain ground her as the cries died away.

    Her mother had been one of those who had been lured to her death by the creature and sometimes Sarah thought she could see the woman’s spirit dancing in the lights above the old building. It was a foolish thought; all that was left of her mother was a dark flag and a fading memory.

    Exhaling Sarah rose to her feet, one day she would find the courage to face the thing that had taken her mother from her but as the red light flickered, as if beckoning to her, Sarah knew that day wouldn’t be today.


  20. The Price of Seltinium
    260 words

    Tucker took the scope away from his eye to check his watch. 21:50. Orders were to attack on the captain’s mark or at 22:00, whichever came first.

    How did he get here?

    He’d had something to prove. He wanted people to see how strong he was. Laying in the snow, he didn’t feel strong.

    The base ahead of him had been covertly set up and was extracting seltenium from the planet’s core. When this material was removed the climate got colder. They had to be stopped or everyone on this colonial planet would die.

    Others would have been honored to be on this mission. Tucker just felt scared.

    If the captain did not send the order, something was wrong and Tucker was on his own.

    He didn’t want 3 billion lives resting on his marksmanship.

    He felt his wristwatch vibrate. Duty called. He resisted the urge to vomit.

    First shot neatly severed the line from the generator to the station.

    Second shot dropped the man who came to check on it.

    Third shot killed the man who came to check on the first man.

    They were suspicious now. A figure on the top observation deck tried to stay low.

    Fourth shot proved he was not low enough.

    Now they knew. Eventually two men burst out the door, shooting into the snow hoping to get lucky.

    Fifth shot killed the closest one. The last man ran off to embrace hypothermia.

    He avoided looking at the men when he reconnected power. Tucker hoped his training would allow him to re-inject the seltinium.


  21. Ice
    By Laura Carroll Butler
    258 words

    Sadie picked up the card on the flowers. “Welcome to your new home.” She tossed it back on the table, bare but for the silver roses. The room was as austere as the table, all steel and sharp edges. She checked the thermostat. It was set at 80 and she could feel the air moving through the vents, but the room was as cold as the frigid outside. She couldn’t remember the last time she was warm.

    Outside in the glow of the orange light, she saw an image of her daughter, Caroline, her biggest disappointment. She insisted on following her own path straight into a low paying job, working with juvenile delinquents. The twit, Sadie thought, believing she could save the world one child at a time. Well, she hoped those losers could help keep Caroline’s heat on. From the corner of her eye, Sadie noted Caroline’s husband, whatshisname, as he gently brushed a strand of hair from Caroline and put his arm around her.

    Further off, where the light was swallowed by the icy darkness, she saw Jared, the man she left her husband for, the man who had once been married to her best friend. She’d suspected there was a mistress. He didn’t even have the good sense to wait until Sadie was buried before he took her out in public. The mistress was wrapped in a blue fox fur. Her blue fox fur.

    Sadie checked the thermostat again and rubbed her chapped hands briskly. Nobody had ever suggested that Hell could be so cold.


  22. Aurora Borealis

    I really don’t know what it is, that green flashing across the sky.

    I did know, before. I held Sarah’s hand, and I told her. “It’s God, experimenting with watercolours in his private study!” I had said.

    Sarah had smiled, bravely. “Very nice,” she said, “although I prefer to think of the aurora borealis as energy charged particles colliding with atoms in the thermosphere.”

    “That’s what I said!” I laughed. And we gazed through the window at the coloured sky, still believing that maybe, the medics would make it out here in time, after all.

    But now, I stare at that flashing green, and I do not understand it.

    I begin walking back. The station’s glow lures redly like a light in a seedy brothel; Eve’s beckoning finger to fragments as tiny as a one in a million chance, as silent as infection, and as invisible as hope.

    Or maybe it’s just a subatomic particle observatory in a remote environment. I just don’t know.

    I enter the station and seal the door closed, trying to shake my head clear. I check on the status readouts of the particle detectors which lie buried deep in the snow, their resting places marked with flags.

    “Is that what it is, Sarah?” I shout to my research partner, suddenly. “An irreverent disco in a graveyard?”

    It makes sense, of course, to hear only silence in reply. It’s the only particle of sense I am able to find.

    I look out coldly at the aurora borealis. And I wait for God to paint the sky.

    260 words


  23. To Find a Hero
    260 words

    Davidson stamped his feet and flapped his arms around, trying vainly to encourage some blood flow to his extremities. The cold was absolute. His breath hung in ice-sodden crystals before him and his lungs felt like they were being systematically shredded by a thousand frozen knives.

    He’d been a field agent for almost a year now and his job never failed to throw up things which utterly amazed him. In the course of his work he’d seen things most people would never even dream about and been to places the like of which rarely featured on Joe Public’s ‘to-visit’ list. The job he loved had now dragged him to a frozen wasteland which reverberated with a spiteful wind howling down off the icecaps.

    Being the junior agent on a case of this magnitude was both incredible and annoying. He was involved in something so big even the CIA wasn’t allowed near it, yet he still had to wait for his superiors to allow him full access to the scene.

    After what seemed an ice-laden eternity, Barclay walked toward him. Barclay’s already rotund figure was emphasized by the arctic gear, he waddled slightly. His graying beard accentuated his Santa-like appearance. But a jolly old elf he was not.

    “Davidson,” he snapped. “What are you doing? Make yourself useful for once!”

    “Yes, sir,” Davidson replied, the cold wasn’t the only thing making him breathless. “Sir, can I ask…is it…well, the rumors are…is it him?”

    Barclay smiled thinly. “Oh yes, it’s him. We’ve got Captain America.”


  24. The Worst Destination Ever!
    256 words

    This really is the last time I ever let you book the holiday, some of the others you picked were pretty extreme but this one is an absolute dilly!

    Didn’t the alarm bells start to ring when in the holiday description they mentioned that a knowledge of dog sled handling may be an advantage?

    Didn’t you think it strange that they advised bringing a few extra supplies in case of not being able to reach the nearest shop for a few days? It even says if we cannot return on the specified date, we will not be charged for the extended stay. Now, I ask you, what normal travel company offers this?

    I know it stressed the advantages of injections not being needed for prevention of malaria and tropical diseases, but really I do think you could have checked it out a little bit more thoroughly.

    This building is not even detached, we have to share with that very odd gentleman next door.

    When I spoke to him this morning, he just sort of grunted in reply. Very rude, if you ask me! And as for his skin tight hairy suit, I really do have concerns about that. It is quite indecent and I don’t think he has washed it for some time. He never seems to put the light on at night and there are some very funny noises at times.

    All in all, I am not going to give this holiday a good review when we get back home and it’s all your fault!


  25. Family Flags
    248 words

    After suffering subzero temperatures for a month, Jessica realized how wrong totally wrong her art project was. Her research before heading to Antarctica hadn’t uncovered anything about the deep loneliness that set in after just a few days of being on a frozen landscape with a bunch of strangers. In proposing her installation to the Antarctica Arts Residency Program, she’d intended for “Family Flags” as a commentary on how everyone on the planet was ultimately united by the mere existence of Antarctica. Like space exploration, researchers and scientists around the world agreed that this fascinating bit of geography could provide answers for humankind. But as the weeks wore on and Jessica saw how little any of the researchers tried to get along with each other, she doubted the integrity of her project.

    But the hand sewn Gore-Tex flags with “family crests” from each country had all been installed. Jessica dreaded the small opening reception that night and as she tromped over to the central research station, she expected to see just a few of the scientists gathered. Instead, bunches of research teams dotted the landscape. They shivered as they sipped hot beverages from thermoses and nodded at each other then toward the flags. The sky overhead was clear and seeded with bright stars. As Jessica drew near, a brilliant line of green light pulsed above the horizon line. The researchers exhaled a collective, “Ohhhhhh.” Jessica smiled as she watched the lights play upon her wind-whipped flags.


  26. Dark Matter (246)

    Two lines of flags hung limply in the still air, standing silent sentry, marking the pathway between the small outpost and the larger main station located a kilometer away.

    At the South Pole, where the ice was particularly transparent and dark, Project Ice Cube had buried a special telescope that allowed scientists to study dark matter and dark energy. Special optical modules, monitored by a two-man team, sent the information gathered to be studied. Four years of detecting neutrinos, four years of those neutrinos interacting with the ice, four years of that interaction producing muon particles that radiate a blue light. Four years culmination of whatever that blue light transformed into once that brief flare decayed. All trapped within the ice.

    Who knew that a small earthquake half a world away would have such devastating results.

    The eerie glow of the external light from the installation spread out across the snow, staining it crimson; its light in sharp contrast to the cool blue-white of pristine powder. The color nearly masked the blood that hung in macabre icicles off the metal staircase.

    Despite the sound echoing for miles, the horrified screams and shouts for help had gone unanswered and now the night hung heavily while the aurora australis lit the sky, the stars gleaming like gems on velvet.

    Slowly, the light shifted through the spectrum to a dark navy blue, spreading to envelope the installation, before fading away.

    The pennants shifted briefly as something passed them by.


  27. Unbearable Solitude
    259 words

    “Hey Jamie, we’re closing down the outter grid,” Davis called out as he surveyed the horizon. The sun would set set in twenty minutes.


    When his call remained unanswered, Davis began to worry. Jamie wasn’t the brightest of companions, having signed up for this mission in the hopes of seeing a polar bear. He remembered the disappointment on the younger man’s face when he learned that there were no polar bears at the south pole.

    Davis chuckled to himself as he remembered Jamie brightening up as he confided, “doesn’t mean one couldn’t have escaped from a zoo.”

    Davis didn’t have the heart to tell him there were no zoos here.

    That had been four months ago, and while the man wasn’t all that bright, he did keep things entertaining. That was why NOAA always assigned two people to man the station, just to make the solitude bearable.

    As he turned off the last perimeter light, he saw something lumbering towards him in the snow, something he knew simply could not be, but there it was: a polar bear.

    “Jamie!?” he called in a combination of excitement and fear, knowing Jamie would want to see the creature.

    When his companion didn’t answer and the bear drew even closer, Davis had no choice. He aimed his rifle and reluctantly fired.

    The bear fell two feet from him, and Davis was surprised by how scrawny the thing actually was, but at least they were safe and Jamie would have the rug he’d always wanted.

    It was then Davis noticed the zipper.


  28. Aurora’s Refusal

    “Irresponsible little—“

    “I said I’m sorry. How did I know she was going to say no?”

    “Well, for starters, you’re both only seventeen. You have no idea what real love is! You don’t understand—“

    “I understand more than you want to admit, Dad. And I know what real love is.”

    Murdock didn’t even try to respond to his son’s idiocy. He should have known better than to give his only child his late mother’s wedding ring.

    It was getting colder with every mile. “It’s cold,” the teenager said. Murdock glared.

    “I don’t know how you even got up there in the first place. And why did she have to throw the ring?

    “I wanted to ask her under the northern lights. With a name like Aurora, I thought it would make a great story to tell our kids someday.”

    Murdock didn’t argue. It was romantic. Just premature.

    They came to the tunnel in the ice that led to the surface.

    “Is this where you brought your girlfriend? And she came willingly?”

    As an answer, his son swam up, wriggling the last few meters to get out onto the glacier. Murdock followed, and sat for a moment in awe of the spectacle above him. The lecture he’d prepared seemed insignificant as he realized the depth of his son’s heartache.

    “Found it,” the boy said, wriggling across the ice as well as his scaly tail would let him.

    Murdock attached the ring to the chain around his neck. He put one arm around his son and said “Let’s go home.”

    Exactly 260 words! @USNessie


  29. In Isolation
    (257 words)

    Isolation seemed easier. She wanted to slip away before things got bad. She looked at me with darting eyes, wanting me to save her from the approaching avalanche. I acquiesced. But I missed everyone. We had friends and travel and golf. Retirement – our endless summer – was on the horizon. Soon, I said, we’ll fly from one sunny beach to another. We’ll never feel the cold ceramic tiles under our feet on winter mornings.

    Then it started. First, she’d tell and retell the same stories. Then, she went to the store that time and didn’t return for hours. One day, she didn’t remember me. Then she did. Then she didn’t again. She threw a glass plate; it’s shards hitting the wall like shrapnel. I went to my tool shed and sobbed, my face in my hands, behind bags of potting soil and old radio parts.

    Summer lingered that first year. She seemed better, but she still wouldn’t answer the phone. When someone came to the door, I’d say, “She’s sleeping.”

    Then the leaves exploded in yellow, orange, red. They fell. She sat in a chair.

    Winter came. I sat her in front of the fire. The words of her favorite books drifted before her eyes; she looked at me again. She was buried, and she thought I could dig her out. I got up and made her tea, wrapped her feet in a blanket.

    In isolation, I watch her forget, remember, then forget. But mostly she forgets. The phone has stopped ringing. No one comes to the door.


  30. Halcyon Skies

    His skin was a blaze of frigid fire; it glowed fierce orange in the light of a slowly strobing emergency beacon as it bore temporary holes through the gauzy darkness. Ray stood naked and shivering, face upturned to the midnight sky.

    The aurorae had poisoned his team, afflicting each member with a tranquility so profound they wasted away from self-neglect. Day and night they stood on the ice like a field of frosted sunflowers. With faces upturned they traced the celestial phenomenon across the sky, refusing food, water, even sleep. No amount of protest or beseeching, not even the threat of violence could penetrate their anesthetized states. Suffering from achromatopsia—a complete inability to perceive color—Ray himself could not appreciate the hypnotic miasma as it swirled seductively in the atmosphere; his undiscerning eyes conveyed a natural immunity to its apathy-inducing influence. He activated the emergency beacon and radioed for help.

    Over the course of six days, forty-four men and women succumbed to dehydration and exposure. During those same six days, Ray received a number of radio transmissions, each more foreboding than the last. There were reports of low latitude atmospheric anomalies—brilliant serpentine ribbons pulsing on every horizon, day and night—and a pandemic of inexplicable waking coma spreading like wildfire. On the seventh day there was only static.

    Abandoned and alone, Ray burned the bodies, stripped to his skin and, with eyes searching the sky for a glimpse of heavenly hellfire to deliver him into the hands of malignant indifference, waited for death.

    258 words


  31. Equinox
    (260 words)

    When New Aries was colonized, its landmasses were divvied amongst the financiers of the venture. The venture proved fruitless; the pieces of land became heirlooms.

    Brian Saxton wasted his life with his – so a lost love had said.

    He was a travel agent. He advertised a defunct blockhouse on a pole of New Aries as a bed and breakfast. He was a romantic, and like romantics, was lonely and miserable.

    When he received an inquiry into his New Aries property from a newlywed couple, he listened to their message repeatedly, baffled. He invited them to his office.

    “Autumn is coming on Aries,” the wife said, smiling. “The auroras will be beautiful. Won’t they?”

    Her husband took too long to answer. “I’m sure they will.”

    Brian looked at the couple, seeing what he so often wished for himself. “My brochure calls it a ‘Wintry paradise.’ That’s not untrue, but…have you considered more hospitable locations here on Earth?”

    The wife waved a hand. “Money’s no issue.” (Leaving the Milky Way cost a fortune; Brian should’ve salivated.) “You must’ve had fun on your honeymoon,” she insisted, gesturing to a photo of a laughing bridal party in a dome before stars.

    “It came with the frame. My mother sends me frames…in hopes…”

    The husband broke the awkwardness. “We want to go. It’ll be autumn, and the sky-glows will be nice, pretty, and nice.” His wife was squeezing his hand. When he finished speaking, she nodded.

    The next morning Brian contacted the wife. He offered relationship advice, which the lonely possess in abundance, recommending she compromise.


  32. Treasure Hunt

    It should have been beautiful. A hazy green cushioned the uneven dusting of stars that coated the indigo sky. From where I stood, the brightest star hung over the single shelter in sight, a beacon. The red of their light glowed like an ember, reaching through the sky and sweeping over the snow.

    Behind the light, flags marked space that would have otherwise looked endless. One dipped to brush the powder, bending under the weight of its secrets.

    They stood untouched by the light. I stood in the shadows.

    It should have been beautiful, but I knew what lay below, concealed by the snow and marked by flags that chilled my heart more than the temperature ever could.

    “We’ll be frozen in time,” Jared had whispered our last night together. “Promise you’ll wait for me.”

    I’d promised, and we’d burned together in a night to remember, but then he’d left, for the opportunity of a lifetime.

    Now the gleaming red exposed their furnace. It couldn’t touch the heat of our love, but out in the cold, it had burned him up. They’d dropped promises like breadcrumbs, then buried the lies. I didn’t bother counting the markers littering an expanse too sinister for its splendor. There was only one body that mattered under this blanket of snow.

    I’d promised to wait, but I knew better than to waste both our lifetimes. They’d stolen him from me.

    And I was here to get him back.

    (243 words; @AriaGlazki)


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