FLASHVERSARY: Round 2–Semifinalists!

Wheeeeeeeeeeeew, what a mad, fiery ride that was! Thank you, thank you, flash writers, for showing up in such huge force to party with us. Your stories amazed, frightened, and delighted our Round 1 judging team, sometimes all at once. It’s with great pleasure we present to you the 25 SEMIFINALISTS who will move on to Round 2. Congratulations to all of you for your marvelous stories and the massive talent that gave rise to them. 

How the semifinalists were chosen: At the heart of flash fiction lies story: character and conflict. We wanted more than vignettes, more than character sketches: we wanted the beginning, middle, and end of an adventure. In addition to story, we looked for structural and technical vibrancy: painstakingly chosen verbs and modifiers that breathed life into the piece without sounding painstaking. We watched for stories that ended as strongly as they began, with no literary broccoli stuck in their teeth.

Among your burning entries we read many of the same story told again and again (only natural, since we are all, as far as we know, human). So from those stories we looked for the ones told most sharply, most succinctly, most powerfully, most cleanly. At the same time we found ourselves drawn to tales whose fresh takes and original concepts distinguished them from the others and hooked themselves unabashedly in our (extremely tired now!) little brains.

Sounds like an impossible proposition, doesn’t it, for a single story to accomplish all those things? But ohhh, dearests, you did it time and again for this contest. So many dozens, in fact well over a hundred, gorgeous tales, each worthy of an award in its own right. You knocked our dragony socks off. (Don’t laugh; Rebekah’s pink dragony socks are stunning.)

For those of you not chosen as semifinalists: Take courage, dragonhearts. This decision reflects the opinions of one judge team on one day and is a judgment of a group of stories and NOT of a group of writers. Cling to that difference! Look instead to the words of your fellow writers, who have left such love all over your hard work. Remember that your voice matters; anyone saying differently is lying. And once you’ve reread the comments on your story, dust off your laptop and start fresh this Friday, when our Year 3 kicks off with an all-new format and brand new panel of talented judges. Lastly: please accept our thanks. We are so very indebted to you and are profoundly grateful for your array of writerly awesomeness that pushes all of us to be better writers every day. Thank you.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW: SEMIFINALISTS ONLY: If your name is listed here, your new prompt is below. You have 48 hours (until noon Tuesday, Washington DC time) to add your new story in the comments section of this post. Your Round 2 story AND your story from Round 1 will compete for a spot among the 10 finalists, which will be announced on Wednesday, Dec 10. The 10 finalists’ entries will then be submitted to the Flash Fiction Online team where the overall winners will be determined.

And now here are the 25 semifinalists, in alphabetical order by story title. Be sure to read their awesome tales. PLEASE ALSO leave comments on the semifinalists’ entries as they are posted these next two days. Cheer on your favorites!

THANK YOU, FLASH! FRIDAY COMMUNITY, and congratulations to the top 25!

♦♦♦♦

A Shadow in the Blackness, @chriswhitewrites

Born to Burn, @blukris Chris Milam

Burning Away Sin, Carin Marais

Burning Question, Eliza Archer

Cardinal Spark, Brady Koch

Enough, Emily June Street

Escalation, Alissa Leonard

Fire With Fire, Nancy Chenier

For He’s a Jolly Good Dragon, Bart van Goethem

Friendship, Sarah @FictionasLife

Fury, Marie McKay

Incendiary, DJ Chapman

It’s Life, and Life Only, @Lloydyes

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie, Matt Lashley

Maggie’s Left Hand, Betsy Streeter

Memories Ignite, Grace Black

Pyromaniac, Peg Stueber

The Fire This Time, Maggie Duncan

The Runner, MJ Kelley

To the Victors, MT Decker

Too Little, Too Late, Casey Rose Frank

Untitled. “Burn,” they cried…, Karen Ruhleder

Untitled. “Grandfather said…”, Katie Morford

Untitled. “Shame burns…”, Kim Perry

Whether I Will or No, Catherine Connolly

♦♦♦♦

Round Two Word Count: Anything between 150 and 500. Yes, you heard right. Minimum 150, max 500. Let your story dictate the length.

How to Enter: Post your entry (one per semifinalist) here in the comments. Include your word count (between 150 – 500, exclusive of title/byline) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one (if not, be sure to link your email address or some way for us to contact you). Be sure to proofread; once your entry is submitted, no changes/corrections are able to be made. Your stories are again being judged blind.

ROUND TWO SUBMISSION WINDOW: From 12:00pm (noon) Sunday, Dec 7, until 12:00pm (noon) Tuesday, Dec 9 Washington, DC time (48 hours). 

**And now for your Round Two prompt!** 

Where the Round 1 prompt spoke of destruction and chaos, our Round 2 prompt looks toward hope and possibility. What light shines at the end of the tunnel (besides an oncoming train, obv)? Now: (read the rules and) HAVE AT IT! (*Note* the prompt is the photo alone, not the intro. Maybe your light is an oncoming train!)

Didgeridoo. CC2.0 photo by Francois de Halleux.

Didgeridoo. CC2.0 photo by Francois de Halleux.

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201 thoughts on “FLASHVERSARY: Round 2–Semifinalists!

  1. Don’t admire the decisions you guys had to make. There were a few I thought for sure would make it! Then again, i can’t see any I’d replace. Shows how much I know. lol

    Congrats to all who went through!

  2. She Pled Insanity
    @CaseyCaseRose
    375 Words

    I don’t remember when we first came together, you and I.
    I understand the cycles of the days but I lose track of how to string them all together.
    Once I passed through the canal and left the light behind, I suppose that’s when I really lost track.
    Aren’t we cozy together? This little spiral that I’m resting in? A cochlear heaven, if such a thing might exist.
    Not that you’d know.
    I have tried to make you notice me. I admit that even I am prone to temper tantrums, though I rarely remember what causes them.
    I tipped you down the stairs.
    An adjustment here, a twinge there and suddenly your perception was off. Nine little steps became a mountain. You were the landslide.
    I laughed for the entire ride.
    I think we’ve enjoyed some beautiful moments together.
    I wish you’d attend the opera more often. My little room hums at such rich levels, with such a diverse palate of symphonic texture.
    Are you even aware of the unique sound of snow falling on power lines? The sizzle that captures the heat and the cold in one concise sound?
    It makes me sigh in relief.
    But for whatever reason you are rarely in a time and place where these two things come together.
    How utterly selfish you are.
    Instead, you have dinner with It. Him?
    Who knows. I’m not crawling back up that canal for a peek at the actual source of the sound. I have enough context to know It’s one of your kind.
    And that It cannot chew with its mouth shut.
    The wet wheeze of air dragged through half-masticated food. Is that meat? I can hear it dying all over again. It grates on me that I have to hear it so often.
    It’s a wonder you haven’t tipped It down a flight of stairs.
    But I have other ways of fixing this.
    Puppetry of nerve impulses that prompt you to hear more than is real. To find the mouth-breathing-eater to be unfaithful, terrifying, or dangerous.
    The whispers of doubt that only come from within, so they must be true.
    You must kill It.
    And we’ll be happy together once more.
    We can even go to the opera.

  3. Dreamtime

    In dreams on walkabout, my ancestors in the rock paintings come alive and descend to my meagre camp. They circle my puny fire and dance, shadows against the star-filled night. They speak to me in the ancient tongue, and my soul understands if my brain doesn’t.

    A dancer hands me his didgeridoo, and I press my lips to the mouthpiece, shaped by countless others, taste the beeswax, feel it soften and mold to my mouth. I breathe, the buzz-hum surrounds me, swirls into the night, and the unbroken arm of the Milky Way vibrates as it did when the first player breathed music into a virgin atmosphere.

    I think of the hours spent seeking the right tree, fingers thumping along its length to test the hollowness, hands smoothing the outside. Passed from father to son, only the sons until the mothers and sisters and daughters insisted they share the music. They made it richer.

    Am I the first to lift the didgeridoo toward the stars, place the mouthpiece before my eye, and peer down the termite-hewn length to see the universe shrunken to a bright ball of light?

    In daylight at work, I aim the radio telescope where I have looked with my didgeridoo and listen. The hiss-crack of static has a familiar sound, as if some alien with thinned aboriginal blood has sent its song into space toward this speck in the sky. We are kindred spirits, that alien dreamwalker and I, for am I not the alien here, my face the only dark one among the pale?

    “Where do you go on the weekends?” they ask, but I don’t tell them. They would never understand dreamtime, never understand how I feel more welcome among the spirits.

    When it is my time, I will go walkabout and not return, like my father and grandfathers all the way back to the ones painted on the rocks. I will play the didgeridoo one final time, sending its music skyward for some distant radio astronomer to chalk up as an anomaly.

    But another dreamwalker will hear and understand and mourn my passing. The earth will take me within its womb again, and I will hear countless didgeridoos playing my dirge. When our sun dies and blasts my atoms into the void, I will carry the song to the far ends of the universe where other suns will form and my atoms will make a new dreamwalker to be painted on the rocks.

    Then, in dreams on walkabout, I will descend and dance around a fire.

    Maggie Duncan
    @unspywriter
    427 words

  4. What a splendid symmetry you strike with this one. I loved that you made the title of the picture prompt come alive with Australian Aboriginal mythology, then linking it to the telescope of the day job. I also adored all the concrete imagery.

  5. Sarah Unsicker
    @FictionAsLife
    283 Words

    Quest for Sunlight

    The moment I finished school, I was plunged into darkness.

    Lit only by fluorescent lights and the green glow of the Computer Monster, three insubstantial walls contained my world. The world was silent, but for the soft click-clack of computer keys. I was not alone in my quest to find sunlight.

    While others sought comfort in their Monsters, I attended to mine only when necessary. Instead, I fled to books. The books told me how to feed and nurture my Monster. “Stroke it gently with the keys,” they said. “Give it plenty of code. Spaghetti is best.” And most importantly, they advised me to keep the Monster away from sunlight.

    Sunlight didn’t come from those books.

    Over time, other books wormed their way into my world. I hid these books from my Monster, lest it devour the books. The books transported me to other worlds, places of starry nights and wide seas. Places of magical schools and tesseracts.

    Sunlight came out of those books.

    I basked in the sunlight. The warm glow brought me out of the cardboard walls. I didn’t comprehend that the books were eating me. The books were dark holes of their own, sucking me in with the promise of their light. Their static light confined me, just as the fluorescents had.

    The books’ illusion of sunlight led me down another hole.

    From a distance, I heard the Computer Monster calling my name. It no longer ate spaghetti. It craved gentle keystrokes. I hesitantly answered the Monster’s call. The Monster transported me to other worlds. Places of starry nights and wide seas. Places of dragons and monsters. I was now glowing from within.

    With the Computer Monster, I created sunlight.

  6. Kim Perry
    @velzyswife

    Expecting

    “Hope does not disappoint. Hope does not disappoint.” I pronounce each syllable as I walk – one per step. Hope. Does. Not. Dis. Ap. Point.

    So many well-meaning advisors we have. Of course, I know they love us, but right now their words land like soft punches.

    “Just relax and don’t think about it so much.”

    “God’s timing is perfect. Just keep praying.”

    “Why not adopt? There are so many children who need a family.”

    I’m finding there are days when words are not helpful and answering back is a chore. Not acknowledging the words feels impolite (like not sending a Thank You note to Grandmother), but sometimes I just can’t bring myself to do it.

    Maybe these well-meaning friends and relations have not wanted something as badly as I want you. Or maybe they just don’t understand the way that I feel. Maybe I am just being oversensitive. After all, I can’t expect them to understand when I can’t even explain it myself.

    I feel like I’ve already met you. I know that it isn’t possible, but still, I feel it. You are real to me. I can see the curve of your cheek and the creases of your elbows and knees. I smell your sweet smell and feel the weight of you in my arms. Even more so, I feel the spirit of your presence. You are strong and kind. Tenderhearted. I know we will be good friends.

    There is a Word that is ever helpful. “Hope does not disappoint.”

    This hope I have – this very real, living hope – is what is holding me together. It is the reason I can be patient. It is the reason that it looks, to those on the outside, like I am refusing to accept reality.

    And so I wait, expectantly.

  7. 350 words
    @betsystreeter

    CLAIRE

    I saw you when you brought the baby home.

    You laid her in her crib, and if I peeked with one eye I could make out the rounded top of her tiny head. She had skin as alabaster white as the plaster under my fingernails.

    I felt the house hum with excitement over your new child. I bet your heart is soaring, the way mine did when I finally saw that first pin prick of light, beaming through the indifferent dark of the walls.

    Will she make you proud, your daughter? Will you be kind to her when she breaks your favorite dish?

    When she cries, will you quiet her with rocking or with boards and a coat of paint?

    I want to sit in a square of sunlight on the rug and play. I want to forget about myself until you call me sweetly to dinner. But I mustn’t be greedy.

    Some day, perhaps you will push open the door to her room. She will sit cross-legged, toy trains in her fists.

    My hair will be in pigtails and I’ll have my flowered dress pulled down over my knees. I’ll set the last piece of track in place to make a loop around the rug.

    Then we will go outside and run in the grass. I will push the swing for your girl.

    No, I mustn’t wish for that. Wishing is for weak children who don’t know how to be quiet and careful.

    But if I scrape away just a little bit more, maybe I can see her eyes. I wonder what color they are.

    I want to reach out and stroke her cheek.

    I can hold the dish towel for you, drying each plate and setting it atop the stack on the table. Like I once did for my mother.

    I hear you coming up the stairs with light, quick footsteps. You have no hammer and no nails, no plaster and no paint. Only your hands to lift your daughter.

    I close my eyes while you sing her to sleep, her breath and my breath rising and falling.

  8. Life

    I cradle hope in my hands, a weightless ball of energy.

    A lone finch dips and sips repeatedly from the rain filled basin, the view outside my window. Nature knows of its unseen energy. Everything we see and cannot see in the vastness of our universe before us, beyond us, is energy. 

    I cradled hope in my palms. 

    The day I held her bare body for the first time I was awestruck. Seven pounds six ounces of new life in my novice hands. Wide brown eyes of inquiry surveyed my face, as I hers. Ten tiny toes and rosebud lips that spoke not a word conveyed the honest miracle of life. 

    I cradled hope in my palms.

    “Bir. Bir fye.”

    “Yes, baby. The bird flies.” Each day was a discovery for her and myself as I viewed the world through her inquisitive eyes.  

    Toddling about in shoes much too big and removing her own soggy diaper, she grew to form opinions of her own. The preference for no clothing and a purse tucked in the crook of her arm foreshadowed her independence. Days of dress-up transitioned before my eyes into a blur of rehearsals and recitals. Borrowing my clothes became routine, but she’d outgrown my shoes. Her dancer feet were slender, longer than my own. 

    I cradled hope in my palms.

    We set foot on the first college campus, and the warmth in her chocolate eyes radiated excitement. Lips that once suckled my breast for sustenance babbled statistics, weighing the pros and cons of each college we explored. Lost in that moment watching her mouth move, I imagined all the ramen noodles she’d come to consume in future months.

    “Mom, are you listening? Oh, House Finch!”

    “Yes, baby, to every word. I believe that was a Purple Finch, though.”

    “Yeah, guess you’re right.”

    I cradled hope in my palms. 

    My cell phone nearby, I awaited the anticipated call. It came at dawn of a new spring day.

    “Mom, I can’t do this!”

    “You can, baby. Breathe. You’re doing fantastic.”

    “Do birds experience pain like this, laying eggs? Oh—”

    The clearest spring hour fell as she birthed her own seven pounds of new life into this world. My daughter’s husband, the boy that had introduced her to the offending ramen noodle, held their first miracle as I watched mine lie sleeping, exhausted and spent from labor.

    I cradled hope in my palms.

    The unmeasurable weight of my daughter’s struggles came later. Two teenagers and failing marriage before her, I listened. All I could do was listen. This required more than a bandage and a kiss, or a care package and some extra cash tucked in a pocket. Hope was all I had.

    I cradled hope in my arthritic hands in the end, weight unbearable.

    “Mom, Purple Finch. Do you see him?”

    I nodded.

    “It’s okay. You can let go now, Mom. I love you.

    “Always, baby—”

    I am the weightless ball of energy as I pass into the unknown, beyond.

    @blackinkpinkdsk
    500 words

     

  9. Katie Morford
    @KLMorford
    “Hope Rising”
    476 words

    Grandfather said the flicker at the end of the black tunnel was dragon fire.

    He would know. He gave 40 years of his life to the coal mines before lung fever claimed him in my eleventh year. Before they found Him, and everything changed.

    Grandfather said they found Him 400 feet down, a living flame deep in the heart of the mountain. Twenty black-smudged miners woke the sleeping beast with a mighty blast of C-4, their first warning of His ancient presence an orange spark in the dark. They never saw daylight again. Incinerated in a breath, dust returned to dust as the Good Book says.

    Ash floating in the dense, still air.

    Alarms blared, miners scurrying to the surface like fire ants in a maze, but precious few escaped burning heat and flame catching the coal dust alight and racing up the labyrinth in pursuit of fleeing mortals. Even fewer escaped the tunnels collapsing under His weight, rock shattering beneath His dagger-tipped claws as He forced a path upward toward the sky.

    Only five lived to see Him fly.

    Grandfather said he’d never forget the sight. He was a Margomoth, the phoenix of the dragon legends, though we didn’t know it at the time. There was a lot we didn’t know then.

    The twisted metal stairs melted at His breath like hot butter on Grandmama’s cornbread. He crawled straight up the shaft to the sky, perching like a king on the crown of the rock face. Towering pine trees swayed and whispered as His nostrils flared red in the crisp, cold air, scenting wood smoke.

    The sun disappearing behind the hills lit the membrane of His wings orange, glinting on scales as black, shiny and hard as the coal we dug from his mountain lair. Snow dissolved to steaming rivers beneath his feet and trickled down the cracked granite. The beast stretched His wings, stared straight at my Grandfather with one liquid orange eye, and with a swirl of auburn leaves disappeared into the dying sun.

    Grandfather said it was the beginning of the end; the start of a new way of life and the ending of another. We didn’t know the Margomoth would be the spark that’d set our world ablaze. In the darkness and terror of that day, we didn’t know He’d become a light not even the frozen night could extinguish.

    We didn’t know one day that fiery beast would be our last hope for survival. There was a lot we didn’t know back then.

    The bonfire snaps and throws sparks into the frosty air, the tangled music of the storyteller’s fiddle and dulcimer winding around the bits of fire. They rise slowly into the velvet night.

    Grandfather said real hope often comes disguised as loss. That hope always rises from the ashes of our old life. I guess, he would know.

      • Thank you! That sort of surprised me in a sense, actually…I originally wrote it with a different ending and then rethought it the second time around. One of the things I love about the writing process!

      • Thank you! “A good yarn…” I love it. That’s exactly the feeling I was looking for. That wonderful Appalachian storytelling tradition.

    • Brilliant! What a fabulous backstory for the Round 1 entry. I love how the miners stand in for dwarves, giving this the feel of folklore rather than straight fantasy. You make me wish I could sit down at Grandfathers feet and absorb all his story-teller wisdom.

      • Thanks! I actually wasn’t sure about using this entry because it was so similar to Round 1…but that first line popped into my head when I saw the prompt and wouldn’t go away…so I just went with it! The funny thing is I don’t actually write fantasy per se (I’ve written a sci-fi/space opera novel and an action-adventure thriller) but I love historical fiction and Appalachia…so it’s perhaps more surprising that I’m writing about a dragon (I credit Rebekah haha) than that folklore-ish feel. But I love the idea of grandparents passing down stories, in that oral tradition. We do the same thing now, except with books and movies and tv shows and even some games…I actually never even thought about the miners as standing in for dwarves. lol The idea came from an article I read as a child where miners discovered what were thought to be pterodactyls deep in a mining shaft. If they found dinosaurs…why not dragons?

      • Point of interest, I wrote this piece while listening to the musical brilliance of the Hunger Games soundtracks…especially “Hanging Tree” and “Rue’s Farewell.”

      • Thank you, Grace! I’m definitely a visual writer…can’t write it unless I can “see” it in my head!

    • It is amazing to me that we can (collectively as authors) look at a picture, see something completely different, write in completely different genres and styles… and still have the same messages/themes. Very well done!

      • Isn’t that fascinating?! I love it. God made us all so different and creative in different ways, it just astounds me. So much fun! Thanks for the encouragement and glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      • Thanks, Margaret! There ended up being more repetition of themes and phrases than I expected or intended…but I like it. Almost reminds me of the feel of gospel songs, which have one person telling a story through song and the rest of the people singing the same or a similar line in echo…if that makes sense. Glad it made you want to read more…It was terrible. Through the whole thing it kept giving me ideas for a novel, and I have too many books to write already!

      • Haha The whole time I was writing it, the larger story was taking shape in my mind and I kept thinking, “No, no, no! I have too many books to write as it is!” But it’s definitely there in the back of my mind…I’ll let it percolate there for awhile and see if my creative subconscious will come up with something brilliant for me at some point. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed!

  10. “Light”
    by Karen Ruhleder
    357 words

    The cold, steel grey within her matched the sky. Her body was heavy and slow, each breath an act of will. She stood at the edge of the cliff, looking down at the black water and at the eddy that had formed at its base. She felt its pull, swayed for a moment, then gave herself up to it, falling out of this life into the mysterious deep.

    Freefall. Time without time.

    Then the water rushed around her and filled her, drawing her down. It was alive, it called to her, it wanted to possess her, it wanted to wash her clean. Desire and despair alike released their hold. The whirling of the water diminished, the spiral ceased its spin. Gentle currents carried her forward, murmuring in soothing voices until a wave lifted her and set her down.

    She lay still, eyes closed, listening to the water’s conversations with the elements around it. She breathed deeply, returned to her body, and opened her eyes.

    An underground river flowed briskly at her feet. The ceiling of a cavern loomed above. The walls echoed back the splashing of the water while light flickered off wet rocks. Curious, she looked around to find its source. Ahead was a tunnel and through the tunnel came a golden glow. Standing up cautiously, she began to feel her way towards it, testing the ground for loose rocks with each step, her fingertips tracing a path along the rough wall. She parted ways with the water. The chill of the cavern began to recede and the glow became a warmth that entered her body.
    She rounded a corner and caught her breath. The room was small, but the light was magnificent. It had no substance and no source, yet filled the room with shafts of gold ricocheting off the walls, brilliant to behold.

    “What are you?” she whispered.

    “I am your essence,” the light replied. It flashed white-hot and engulfed her. She shook violently, sat up with a lurch, and blinked hard. Blue sky stretched out before her and the bright mid-day sun dazzled her, reflecting off the clear water of the river below.

  11. Synergy
    239 words
    personalvapes@gmail.com

    Curious, this is.
    Reality is tubular, cylindrical, a lone passageway knifing sharply down through infinity, terminating in brilliant illumination. Nooks and crannies; pockmarks, protuberances and extrusions ruffle the world in an unstructured, random riot of texture. This crinkly chaos is populated by myself and my brethren.

    They breathe welcome to me even as I do the same.

    A moment ago, there was nothing – formless, shapeless, non-being oblivion. I was -we were- simply not. This wrinkled thoroughfare was empty and still. But now?
    I Am. We Are.
    The first taste of awareness, existence, self. It is sweet. Potent. Electric. We tremble with its resonance.

    The world breathes welcome to us even as we do the same.

    It’s exhalation whispers amongst the landscape, caressing the nodules and pleats -and us- in its journey downward. Exciting, the breath is, full of movement, direction, and intent. Wrapped in breath’s embrace, some brethren go swirling down, down, down toward the dazzling terminus.

    Curious, this is.
    There is only expectation, possibility, the assumption of completion from those who pirouette their way to infinity. We know without knowing how that this voyage is inevitable, absolute and final, but greater than us, the various parts.

    It is…the future. As formless and timeless as ourselves, yet gravid with potential and the promise of:

    NEXT.

    We wait, poised and ready, for the next breath…
    To emerge…reborn…

    A saucy little tune from the bell of the wooden flute.

  12. In D Minor
    (499 words)
    @Eliza Archer

    Cosmic winds off exploding gases blew through the wormhole, like breath into a flute. Thanks to the Gaudium’s conversion of electromagnetic waves into sounds, a moaning, plaintive note emerged from the silence of space.

    “E flat, bass scale. I’ll check the frequency,” said Shala.

    “It sounds like an enormous didgeridoo,” Max said. “And somehow, familiar.”

    “Are you going to log that? A didgeridoo?”

    Since earth began listening, planets sang and stars hummed. Gaudium’s mission was to listen to a wormhole discovered near Mars.

    “Wormholes sound so much different than planets,” Shala said, making notes as the vibrations shook the craft.

    “The question is, what creates wormholes? Max asked.

    “Hopefully when images start coming in from the probe, we will get some answers.”

    “What do you think is on the other end? Or who?”

    “I don’t think an enormous eye will peer down at us. Besides, there seems to be a massive explosion going on the other end nothing could survive. Not what we call life.”

    “Are we so sure? There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .”

    Low note filled the craft. Short blasts.

    “Nothing’s blowing this horn. It’s radiation.”

    “Not Angel Gabriel. But maybe Beethoven. Doesn’t this remind you of something?”

    “Seriously? Beethoven from a black hole?”

    Shala’s laughter sounded tinny, like the jangle of a drawer of knives.

    “This mission was supposed to expand our knowledge,” Max said, smiling. “But it’s overloaded my brain instead. I wish there had been room for a dozen impartial observers.”

    “Instead of the Gaudium Dream team?”

    Our Yin and Yang, NASA had called them. Two brilliant scientists with opposing views who worked well together.

    As the probe shot them its first images, the screen displayed a perfect circle of light.

    “That’s all there is?” Max asked.

    “Isn’t that enough? We’ll need to analyze the spectrum.”

    “Bright light at the end of a tunnel. Sounds like a description of death.”

    “When final synapses fire, our brains go dark electrically. It’s not like this.”

    The Gaudium careened as pulses hit it, this time shaking the hull. The walls warped around them.

    “Why aren’t the alarms on?” Shala shouted. “What’s happening?”

    Low notes repeated. White light blazed on the screen, instruments steady.

    “Are we really still receiving transmissions?”

    Max coughed as he realized that the air was thin.

    “Masks on,” Shala whispered, her lips blue. They struggled to connect their emergency oxygen.

    A black blob appeared, silhouetted against the light circle on the screen. Max shuddered.

    “Something’s coming, Shala.”

    Her hand reached out and clasped his. Their fingers intertwined.

    “What is it?”

    “Whatever’s blowing the pipe.

    The enormous darkness approached, enveloping the light.

    Sound shook their bodies, translated from the black hole. More notes.

    A melody began.

    “In D minor,” Max observed.

    “Why am I happier?” Shala asked. “Am I suffocating?”

    “I don’t know. Maybe they’re saving us. But don’t you recognize the song? This song isjoy, isn’t it?”

    He sang along as music filled the craft: “Freude, schöner Götterfunken. . .”

  13. The Woman Who Wanders Worlds Wide

    @FallIIntoFiction
    (366 words)

    She casts brightness beaming before her into shadow, where and will she can; seeking to see him slumber, deep down below, lit at its centre. Once woman wandering, foraging for food, she has travelled far from a life picked out amidst darkness, having lost her way completely. Now, Gnowee is sole sore in her search, having clambered skyward beyond her beginnings in an aim to see clearly – is watching closely the labours of the living below her, as they scratch the earth’s surface; an indistinguishable crawling community, seeking hard her heart in its midst. They are not him. They do not have him. She swears she hears him, still; somewhere. She had thought him safe where he slept, little limbed, left only for a moment.

    Made careful – now – by carelessness, she had peeked promptly beneath the ends of the earth, in case he was hidden there from her. He was not below its edges. Considering again, then, she passed over and under completely, to hang beneath its surface feet first – finding herself on the side belonging to Below. She searched through its contrasts carefully – backwards – slantwise – under and over, scanning the light from the darkness. She could not find him there, though she looked well and long in the searching, thinking him hid clearly in sight – where she might most scarcely think to check.

    She has scanned passed planets, circling through and round their rings. She has sifted through solar debris, casting the detritus behind her where she goes. In vain, she has questioned the star folk, who swear they know nothing of where he might be. She has trained her torch upon them – merciless mother, making sure their stellar scintillation hides no secrets beneath its surface cloaking or between the thick, twinkling layers. She has delved deep into the density of their atmospheric pockets. They held fast without flinching beneath her relentless rays, submissive to her searches – light displaying only their light.

    Cross examination so concluded, Gnowee casts her brightness before her while it lasts, into the shadows. She will wander worlds wide, where and will she can; seeking solely to see him slumber. She swears he hears him call her, still.

  14. Wingless
    499 words
    @rowdy_phantom

    At the threshold of the warren, where cold fingers of light pried open the brown darkness, the air-rider lay crumpled. Impulse demanded that Matta kill him, but she overrode it. Matta spent a lifetime overriding impulses.

    The outside light hurt her eyes, but she crept toward the winged man. The passage widened, casting her adrift beyond the comforting press of the burrows.

    He had the jutted jaw of his kind. Storm-cloud fuzz insulated his body, except where injuries had raked it off. Wings that should have been sharp wedges bent at sloppy angles. Lightning strike, she surmised. Fortunately for him, the spells that toughened her skin to tortoiseshell could fix broken wings. Plucking balm from her pouch, she crouched over him.

    A hand talon shot out, claws slipping across the shell-like callouses on her calf. “Don’t touch me, mud-grubber,” he hissed. A wrist-blade snapped into place on his other hand, point toward her face.

    Matta spat an air-rider curse, the words bitter as mold spores on her tongue.

    He shoved her away. “You’re not a grubber.” His shock and injuries fuddled his orientation, and he sagged back to the floor.

    She knelt, resuming the healing, humming the balm deeper into the scratches. When he awoke again, she asked, “What were you doing dancing with a thunder storm?”

    “Combat,” he said. No surprise, there. Air-riders never encountered a race they didn’t want to best in battle.

    The light was too dim for him to really see her, but enough for him to take in the shell-plates where fuzz should have been. “You’re one of us.”

    Her shoulder blades clenched. “Born wingless,” she said.

    He looked away from her, nose wrinkled in disgust. In his dialect, “wingless” was an obscenity.

    Matta had been cast from the sky pavilions as a child, left vulnerable as a nestless chick. The burrower clan adopted her, healed her, taught her to see with her skin and translate the whispers of worms. What his people dismissed as mud-grubbers showed more humanity than her birth family. She’d half a mind to obey her initial deadly impulse, but that wasn’t the burrower way.

    She lay his wings out along the ground—maybe not as gently as she could have—and chant-droned the spells to transform the broken into the whole. The sun slid low enough to glare directly down the tunnel with its cold, impersonal light.

    He lifted a wing, gave a tight flap. “It’s better.”

    “You’ll fly again,” she said. An old ache ran along her spine. Even wingless, flight sang in her bones.

    He eyed her bare shoulders. “You could’ve fixed yourself instead of becoming a—”

    Yes, she could have. The ache became a chill, icy as cirrus clouds, wintry as his arrogance. Although the chill wracked her bones, it couldn’t reach her core. In the dark mantle of her heart, tucked away from the sun’s critical eye, heat flowed.

    “I belong here,” Matta said, her words carved in agate, “with my people.”

  15. Three Minutes to Midnight
    @mishmhem
    497 Words

    Lock to Key
    Fitted and Furrowed
    Pins and groves
    Matched and Mated
    Fate to future
    Closed yet open
    Light in dark
    Past or present
    In time we shall see

    Evan wasn’t exactly sure what Emily had been working on, but as he read through her notes, he realized she’d taken a serious step off the deep end.

    He looked up as Inspector Marlin entered the room and looked at him expectantly. Marlin had shown up at his door three hours ago demanding that he explain his sister’s work.

    Evan sighed. “Maybe if you told me what this was about… I’d have a better chance of translating her notes.”

    “She’s your twin. You’re both scientists, if anyone can figure this out– you can.”

    “One: I haven’t seen her in over a year. Two: I’m the hard sciences: math– physics… she’s the more interpretive sciences: sociology… anthropology…”

    “What can you tell us?” Marlin asked, emphasizing the word ‘can.’

    Evan flipped through her notes and shook his head. “Something’s got her worried. It sounds like she’s expecting some sort of extinction level event.”

    Marlin’s eyes narrowed, “why do you say that?”

    Evan pointed to some of the doodles in the margins. “Look at these,” he said. “There’s a funnel, with a tornado inside… but instead of a flow from one side to the other, the forces are clashing… breaking the funnel apart… only the funnel, isn’t a funnel… it’s infinity… breaking.”

    Marlin nodded, but it was clear he didn’t understand.

    “And here…” Evan said as he pulled out another set of drawings. “Multi-cultural symbols of life and balance: Celtic spirals; Yin-Yang; the Ouroboros… all of them circles… cause and effect, things that loop back on themselves.”

    An hour later he was no closer to the answer. Evan picked up the didgeridoo his sister kept next to her desk. He started low, trying to clear his mind, then stopped when he realized he was using circular breathing.

    Circles…

    Suddenly he wasn’t reviewing her notes: he was facing Emily.

    “It’s the doomsday clock,” she told him her voice soft. “It’s all winding down… The swing of the pendulum from the left is the same as to the right… but each return is slightly less…“

    “Entropy… the clock is off? Is that what this is about?”

    “I’m saying it’s later than you think…”

    “Where are you?”

    “Down the rabbit hole… the key is the lock we need to rewind.”

    He looked at her, his eyes narrowing as he scattered her notes locating the sketch of the inside of a lock that was too organic to be a lock. The walls of the shaft looked like a rock garden.

    “The didge?”

    “Lock to key… my past, your future. Don’t let them get it wrong this time.”

    Then she was gone. He found her final message, carved into the didge:

    “They say it will all end in ashes, but those who remember know it began from ashes. We are the echo of the big bang.”

  16. Heavy With Child

    The cigarette smoke was like a cancerous pacifier. A vapor of irresponsible toxins that eased me into a tranquil sleep, a kind of nicotine-infused lullaby. I took naps often.

    The alcohol was a different scourge. The first drop brought disorientation. The ensuing ones induced an embryonic rage. I lashed out with my feet, an attempt to kick a hole in the walls of my distilled prison sac. But the drinks kept coming, accompanied by the background noise of a wailing melancholic guitar. Or a menacing baritone. Both of us were wobbly on many occasions. And we both needed to follow the 12 steps.

    When I first tasted the juice of a fruit, my tongue lolled around in ecstasy. It was exotic, uncontaminated, and holy, and I craved more. But I was usually served the sludge of her normal diet. A river of marbled goop that adhered itself to her lining and hung there like an abstract painting.

    I had an opportunity to free myself when she was properly dilated. I saw a radiant light and a man in a white coat. He tugged on my head. I resisted. He yanked harder, his face as red as an apple. I dug my fingers in and refused to exit. I was half-drunk, anyway. I was ready for a siesta.

    Next, they carved her open. This new tactic involved a brazen frontal assault. I demurred and burrowed deep into the womb like a startled prairie dog. We danced for a spell, me and the extractor, until mom told him to just leave me in there.

    Mom was bed-ridden most of the time but our relationship truly blossomed. She taught me a blue-collar version of Morse code and we communicated with a series of complex taps. She even tapped that she loved me once. Or maybe that she loathed me, but I prefer to believe the former.

    She brought me meals via a feeding tube. Birthday’s were my favorite. She would send me a liquified vanilla cake with strawberry icing. I absorbed it like a peckish wedge of chamois. And I always requested my beloved oranges.

    The bespectacled specialist said I was an abomination and a blight on motherhood. He didn’t understand. I was happy inside mom. I knew the life that had tormented her: the low wages, conniving men, the booze and the heartaches. I sought to avoid all of that.

    She made grievous mistakes in the past but I don’t condemn her. They were birthed from that pitiless assassin called poverty. She was my mom. I’ll never be as close to her as I was for those thirteen years. I was her baby boy.

    When she passed away due to the strain of my weight, I finally had to choose that illuminated portal. I flourished, became a man and eventually discovered love. My wife, Chantal, is currently pregnant with my three-year old son, but he’s not ready to meet daddy just yet. My boy is a womb dweller.

    @Blukris
    #FlashDog
    495 words

  17. When the Demons Came Knocking

    The day the knocking started dad said it was demons that wanted to attack us. He said the sky would break and fall. Gran said it’s the old people who stayed outside in the Otherworld when we came to the True World. She said they had realized their folly, but could not find their way to us. But we all knew grandma was crazy.

    Not far from our house is one of edge-mountains supporting the skydome. The white expanse, lit by the everlasting sun curved over the True World, locking us safely inside after fire burst from the ground in the Otherworld and covered everything in ash. But that was countless years ago – if it had happened at all.

    The knocking became louder and more frequent and soon many heard the sounds emanating from the edge-mountain and the skydome. Dad kept watch. Watching for cracks, waiting for the demons he would burn and send back through the mountain.

    But then I found the tunnel in the mountain. It was big enough for me to crawl into and I shivered at the thought of finding a demon lurking in the darkness. As I crept along its length it sloped upwards and a white light, like our skydome, flickered at the end. I rushed back to the safety of my home, but the call of the light would not let me rest. It was not long before I crept back into the darkness. Gran saw me, but she let me go.

    The darkness of the tunnel was suffocating. The knocking reverberating through the skydome now seemed far away. The white light turned blue as I neared it. I stepped from the tunnel into blinding light. Vertigo flung me to the ground as I looked up into an impossibly big blue skydome. It did not curve with the reassuring safety of rock, but stretched on and on and on. The world before me was not covered in ash and fire, but with bright grass, trees and flowers. A few houses stood to one side and there were people like me. Women. Children. Men covered in soot and carrying metal tools. Had they been knocking? I picked up a stone, slipped it into my pocket and fled back into the tunnel when a man saw me. I slid and slipped to the bottom where my father, gran, and others were waiting.

    “Did you see the demons?” one asked. I shook my head.

    “We must destroy it,” father said. “We must break the rock and close it forever.”

    Afterwards they acted as if the tunnel had never existed. But gran saw I’d changed. She asked me in front of my father what I had seen at the end of the tunnel. I read his face. Perhaps I am crazy too.

    “Nothing,” I lied.

    But now when I’m alone I stare at the stone I stole from the Otherworld and wonder how far their skydome stretch. I wonder if they even know we exist.

    Words: 498
    @CarinMarais
    http://www.hersenskim.blogspot.com

  18. Paper Skin
    (381 words)

    Snip. Snap. Your sleeve. Snip. Snap. Your gram. Snip. Snap. Mom and Dad. Snip. Snap. Your sister’s hand.

    Mom had fed the well for as long as l could remember. On good days, she’d fling down silver coins that might keep us safe for a week. She called it play, before we recognised it as ritual.

    Perhaps it was fear that made stronger our family bond: the well was the mouth that needed feeding so, united, our daily toil centred around appeasing that which scratched and scraped in the bowels of it. Father tried to drown out those mechanical tones with his mellifluous ones, but it still made my sister and me stand starch straight to hear them.

    No matter how concerted our efforts, in time, silver turned to copper and copper to dust: it was written that the monster would rise.

    Snip. Snap. Your sleeve. Snip. Snap. Your gram. Snip. Snap. Mom and Dad. Snip. Snap. Your sister’s hand.

    Linked, we took ourselves to the back of our little, white house and waited. The toll of loud metallic clangs announced the creature had burst from the earth.

    Hand in hand in a row, our crooked smiles belying fear, we witnessed its shadow spike across the paper-thin wall of our little hallway. Mom’s legs trembled beneath her A-line skirt, her frame appearing flimsier than before. Father was a pace forward from our rank, our splay footed sentinel.

    As the grinding sound grew nearer, Sister’s hand trembled in mine. I tried to steady it, but instead allowed my own to succumb to its panicked rhythm. When the creature came into view, its razor sharp features pierced through even Father’s resolve, and we became a shivering chain of reaction. Advancing with metronomic step, it sliced through the air, and in a burst of blaze and blade, I watched my family fall like confetti.

    Snip. Snap. My sleeve. Snip. Snap. My gram. Snip. Snap. Mom and Dad. Snip. Snap. My sister’s hand.

    Isolation cut deep, I felt the despair of having been spared – and as the creature turned to lower itself back into the earth’s wound from which it came, I swore, my paper-thin hands would be toughened by the weight of loss, and they would fill that well with rock.

  19. Flash

    ‘There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Because there is no tunnel. A tunnel presupposes an entrance and an exit. A beginning and an end. Have you ever seen them? When you were born, you experienced a beginning. But you don’t remember it. When you die, you’ll experience an end. Or at least, that’s what they say. You’ll only know when you can’t tell us anymore. There is no proof.’

    Dean and Jerry looked at each other, puzzled. The auditorium was silent.

    ‘So that light you see, it’s merely a flash. On your way you will encounter many of them. They too have no beginning or end. In fact, some say the whole so called tunnel is a flash on its own. But that will be discussed in chapter two.’

    Dean and Jerry looked at each other again and silently screamed the words ‘Chapter fucking two?’

    ‘For now we can say the flashes are transient phenomena, they pop up and disappear again, they are merely hints at what can be. And what that is, is entirely up to you. That is what makes them so appealing. You can read into them, imagine the beginning and the end yourself. They give you control in an otherwise uncontrollable universe. They offer you the opportunity to give meaning in a world without any.’

    ‘I could sure use one of those flashes right now,’ Dean chuckled.

    ‘That’s it for today. I’ll see you all next week.’

    ‘You know what?’ Jerry said. ‘Let’s skip the next class and go for a drink at The Nutty Professor.’

    ‘Or better yet, let’s take the rest of the afternoon off and get loaded.’

    ‘Deal.’

    They put the syllabus in their backpack and descended the stairs. When they walked out of the auditorium, they bumped into Marilyn. Dean had a sweet spot for her. Jerry too, but secretly.

    ‘Hey, baby,’ Dean said. ‘You want to get loaded with us at The Nutty Professor?’

    Marilyn assessed the two men. Dean was born horny, that much was clear. But she saw something in Jerry’s eyes, a sparkle she hadn’t noticed before.

    ‘Okay, boys,’ Marilyn said. ‘Who’s buying the first round?’

    362 words
    @bartvangoethem
    #flashdog

  20. TOCAR FERRO in CATALONIA

    Veering right. Always veering to the right. Surely, you must come around in a full circle?
    Yet here in the deep world of Tarragona tunnels we walk to the right and never meet ourselves coming back. Returning from where Roman spectators once stamped their feet reverberating first century funk, bouncing it along the walls. We can tumble and roll as well – feeling as mice in a giant rat-run. But rats and mice cannot co-exist.
    We know the Via Augusta and Rambla Nova are above. Cars and tourists, metal and skin heating and bubbling in the Spanish sun. We do not know what is below. More tunnels? Veering left to offset our clockwise rotation?
    The sound of a thousand washing machines at full speed, coupled with the rhythm of the driers, bring a clean domestic brightness to the underground. They talk to me of a praetorium – towers rising and falling – but still our tunnels remain.
    The gladness and glory of Spain with its orange and saffron colours flying. Anywhere else and the ice would be forming, sliding along the smooth floors, walls with no grip, we would hurtle. But here, now, we hustle, hustle to the open – the famous Balco del Mediterrani iron railings – two feet tall, protecting us from the one hundred foot drop to the glorious sea blue beaming over the yellow miracle beach.

    226 words
    @lloydyes
    Lloyd

  21. In the Rafah Tunnels
    @EmilyJuneStreet
    455 words

    Mahmoud went down the shaft first, disappearing beyond the ledge.

    Abu Zaid scowled. “You boys are too young for this. Why aren’t you out with the other children sifting rubble above ground?”

    “We’re older than we look,” sixteen-year-old Ahmed said.

    “What Gazan boy isn’t?” Abu Zaid reeled up the empty harness and gestured at Ahmed. “Your turn.”

    Ahmed closed his eyes against the nausea as he descended six stories into the earth. Mahmoud waited below, tapping his Adidas shoes in impatience. Dim lightbulbs revealed the tunnel’s earthen jaws, supported by scavenged beams and rotting plywood.

    A vague stench of gas chased the boys into the maw.

    “They say the Egyptian Army gasses the tunnels before they blow them,” Ahmed whispered.

    Mahmoud scoffed, “Rumors, little brother. The last load was cooking gas; that’s the smell. Hurry. Abu Zaid said if we move everything by midnight, he’ll pay us double.”

    “You’ll be able to buy your bees!” Ahmed cried. “We’ll only have to work the tunnels for a little while to get enough money for the honey shop.”

    “I told you, the tunnels are an opportunity,” Mahmoud said. “A way to rebuild our lives. Get moving. We have half a kilometer to walk.”

    “It looks unsafe.” Ahmed pointed at sagging makeshift buttresses.

    “We serve Allah’s cause in taking this path. He will protect us.”

    Ahmed held his tongue on his impious thoughts: But is it a path to paradise or a way to death? Or both?

    A spire of light pierced the darkness at the tunnel’s end, illuminating cargo stacked on plastic sleds: laundry detergent, sugar, soda pop in aluminum cans. The Israeli and Egyptian blockades made it impossible to get such goods except through the smuggling tunnels.

    Ahmed grabbed a sled of detergent; Mahmoud took the soda. Crouching, they pushed back toward Gaza.

    A loud whoosh heaved through the tunnel like a subterranean beast. Dirt poured down. Rising dust obscured everything.

    Ahmed brushed debris from his eyes. “Mahmoud!” He searched the fallen heap for motion, waiting for his brother’s reply.

    It did not come.

    Ahmed shredded his fingers as he clawed raw earth. His hand curled around something metallic and cool: a soda can, leaking syrupy contents from its cracked shell.

    Ahmed threw it away, a lump growing in his throat.

    Dig, dig.

    He pushed away kilos of dirt. This dirt—this troublesome dirt that inspired boys to strap bombs to their chests and grown men to raze schools—this dirt’s malevolent life reached even below the ground.

    Ahmed fought, clearing until he revealed a dingy shoe with three Adidas stripes, topped by a motionless brown ankle. His brother lay buried under the weight of Gaza’s dirt.

    Mahmoud, who had only wanted to make honey with his bees.

    • What a poignant setting and important POV. You captured thier voices and the real tragedy behind political posturing. The honey–trying to pull something sweet from the malevolent dirt–makes this really hurt.

    • Powerful. The characterisation is excellent. I love the comment on dirt that inspires. I love how poetic then blunt this story is in turn. Well done.

    • What a unique and sad take on the prompt. Mesmerizing and poignant. I particularly loved this exchange: “We’re older than we look,” sixteen-year-old Ahmed said. “What Gazan boy isn’t?”

      Well done.

  22. A Foothold in the Orchard
    495 words
    @BradyTheWriter

    The clay walls were wet. Somehow it was more hot and humid down here than the tangerine orchard twenty feet above him. Jake’s sweaty hands weren’t helping and he slipped again. He wasn’t afraid of falling, just screaming on the way down.

    “You still down there, boy?” Jake looked up upon hearing the farmer’s slow drawl. The old man’s head looked down the hole eclipsing the better part of the opening’s light. Jake remained silent.

    “Don’t worry. Police ‘er gone. ‘Bout twenty minutes ago,” the farmer said casually, seemingly without any hurry to salvage the man in his dried out well.

    “Good. Thanks. Get me out of here.” Now that his escape from this narrow pit was upon him, he found it harder to keep his grip.

    “Now you wait a minute. Policeman says you robbed the credit union. The one on Jefferson Davis and Lee.” He could hear the old man spit something substantial into the weeds on the edge of the hole. Thankfully not into it.

    “Don’t worry that bank is insured.”

    “It’s a matter of principle young man. You have to live by principles for crissake. I know I do.”

    Jake bit his tongue and slipped down another foot. “Let me out and we’ll talk more.”

    Jake considered the other hiding places he’d considered: his buddy’s attic, the burned out warehouse, under the overpass. All of them seemed like quaint vacation destinations compared to his location dozens of feet under the ground. In hindsight he should have been more suspect about the easy bargaining with a dotty old man he’d met at the convenience store. The one that was now blocking his way back out.

    “Listen, sir!” Jake yelled. “Are you a man of God?” It was a last ditch ploy, but one that had always worked on Jake’s too-sympathetic grandmother.

    “Don’t know. What do you think Officer? Am I a man of God?”

    Another man’s silhouette joined the farmer’s at the top of the well. “You chose a poor partner in crime son.” The policeman’s voice carried authority even this far down the well.

    Jake’s stomach dropped. For an instant he thought of letting go and ending his life at the bottom of the well. He didn’t want to go back to the prison, but looking down, he noted that there were worse places to end up.

    “Let me up. Get me out of here.” Jake yelled. “I’ll take you to the money. I’m turning myself in.”

    “Oh we already found your money, son.” The officer held up a small stack of bills. “I got some spending money and looks like ol’ Deke here can finally pay off that outhouse he’s been digging this hole for.”

    “Best wishes young man.” The farmer said, somehow sincerely. “If you see my wife down there, let her know I said hi.”

    Jake screamed as the two silhouettes disappeared only to be replaced by a wooden square with a small hole cut in its center.

  23. CONNECTION
    DJ Chapman, 12-9-14
    WC = 203

    Evade the brilliance! Dive, dive, dive! Plunge deeper into the element!

    My survival depends upon tactics of speed and camouflage. I utilize the openness, creating the space-time jumps from previously traveled tubes. Each use grants me increasing speed from plasma extrusion.

    Survival repels me from star light, seen often through long distance jump tubes. Avoiding bright intensity of starlight at tube ends, yet gravitating toward worlds of decaying matter, maintains my equilibrium. Fueled by this matter, I travel unfettered and alone in my plasma cocoon.

    My success in camouflage rests in the sensors of other expanse travelers. The streamline of my vessel; the blending of my shape; the very plasma of my surface serve to either dissuade detection or cause repellent action from danger in this universe.

    Sentient though I am, there are others who would question my worth, my connection to valuable matter. Let them wonder. But remove me from this space and death to all will ensue.

    As I ponder my existence, I detect an increasing gravitational pull. Light splits the length of my plasma tube!

    How can this be?

    Brilliance and heat sear my vessel as an omnipotent voice replaces my surround tube:

    “Good soil, great worm, lots of castings!”

  24. At street level, the noisy cars and jabbering people gave him a migraine. But thirty stories up, the strands of blaring car horns, booming radios and incessant chattering bounced off the surrounding buildings, then tangled and weaved into a cocoon of comforting, isolating white noise. Janks reveled the elevated solitude, but couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that he, the watcher, was being watched.

    There was movement in the street below. Janks looked through his rifle scope and slow panned from left to right. Two men in tailored suits exited a black suv with tinted windows and headed up the concrete stairs. The hired guns? He assumed they’d take textbook defensive positions but they didn’t. Strange.

    Sixteen years ago, Wilfred P. Jankins was a skinny kid from nowhere, Oklahoma. When he turned eighteen, his father said, Got two options boy — pig farmin’ or soldierin’. Wilfred couldn’t stand pigs or his father so he joined the Marines.

    Military training and chow packed muscle onto his frame and transformed him from scrawny Wilfred to wiry Janks. He was the type of wiry that could be useful if you needed to break into a car or strangle someone.

    After three tours in Iraq and a covert op in an Iranian consulate that “never happened”, he was honorably ejected back into society like spent brass: hard, hollowed out and purposeless. Then, after a stint in jail and a failed relationship, Janks felt lost. The Colonel, another spent round, found him and reloaded him with new purpose.

    Janks pulled out his phone and smiled at the photo of the girl, caught mid-giggle, on its locked screen. The no contact order prevented him from seeing his daughter in person, but he’d managed to copy a few pictures of her by using a fake Facebook account. This one was his favorite.

    Thanks to the Colonel, Janks had saved enough money to anonymously pay for his daughter’s education and keep her comfortable the rest of her life. But he wanted out. So when the Colonel assigned him this job, Janks refused it. The Colonel insisted. Janks relented, but was adamant this would be the last time.

    It wasn’t the work, Janks never had a problem with the work. He enjoyed delivering justice. The targets were always rich and powerful and the rich and powerful were always guilty of something. Janks was just tired. And his migraines were getting worse.

    He swiped away the locked screen and opened the target’s bookmarked profile page. All the details of a life splattered on some web site with an attractive headshot. Recon training had taught him the value of a low profile. Notoriety was overrated.

    Then he heard the cocking of a pistol behind him. Only one person knew he was up here.

    Without turning, he said, “Colonel.”

    “Can’t let you leave, Janks.”

    “Yeah, I know.

    For a moment, the two men shared the silence of the elevated cocoon.

    “Colonel?”

    “Yeah, Janks?”

    “Make sure she gets the money.”

    • What a terrific opening. Really drew me in. Loved ‘Wilfred couldn’t stand pigs or his father so he joined the Marines.’ Great voice.

    • What an interesting snapshot of a life – love the feel of the story. Delighted in this line: “Wilfred couldn’t stand pigs or his father so he joined the Marines.” Felt saddened by this one: “he was honorably ejected back into society like spent brass: hard, hollowed out and purposeless.” Well done.

  25. Not Today
    by Alissa Leonard
    @lissajean7
    482 words

    I’m going to die. My fingers trail listlessly along the wall of the cave, snagging on pointy rocks and tiny, hairy roots. Dirt and pebbles tumble at my touch. I’m so tired. And so thirsty.

    There was no telling how long I’d been here. Hours? Days? Not too long – I hadn’t died yet. And without water that wouldn’t take long.

    Stupid hole in the ground! I never even saw it! One moment I was hiking, the next falling. Into blackness. I gingerly touch the lump on my head and wince. Yup. Still there. And feverish.

    I want to sit. To rest. My heart beats furiously and I pant like I’m running a marathon, but I shuffle my feet one more step. One more.

    A noise. Slight. I hesitate, hanging engulfed in blackness and silence so deep I’d wonder if I hadn’t already died but for my fingertips still touching the wall. I squint, trying to peer through the shroud of darkness to no avail. Perhaps I’m hallucinating? Perhaps…?

    No. A little scrabbling noise comes from up ahead. Some little creature is moving. Or big creature. That can see. And I can’t. It’s going to crawl on me and eat me. It’s creeping toward me right now…

    No. Deep breath. It’s just a little mole or mouse…or rat. I’m terrified of rats. No. It’s not here for me. Just keep going.

    Another step. Trip. Stumble. Fall face-first into the dirt and rocks. A sob escapes before I can control it, and I wish for tears. I can’t get up, so I drag myself forward a few times before even that seems impossible.

    My head is heavy. I might just sleep for a bit.

    Moments or hours later, I hear it again. No. You can’t eat me. I’m not dead yet.

    I consider moving.

    I’m big. It’ll leave me alone.

    Tiny feet scratch my hand and my body moves without me, flinging my hand one direction and rolling the other.

    It keeps rolling. Tumbling. Bouncing. Down.

    Something cracks. My ribs, I think?

    I land on my back and slide to a stop.

    This is it. I’m going to die here. I let my arm fall to the side. The splash catches me off-guard. Cool.
    And wet. I lift my hand to my mouth. Water.

    I roll, realizing that the rushing I hear isn’t just the blood pounding in my ears. Dragging myself to the underground river, I drink. And sob. And drink some more.

    After a time, I push myself up and look around… And realize I can see. Not a lot. But enough.

    Light. From a hole in the ceiling. I crawl over and look up the shaft to see a circle of sunlight at the top. “Help!” I cry.

    A shadow blocks out the sun, “Hello?”

    “Yes! Help! Please!” My throat closes with tears of relief. I’m not going to die today.

  26. Aaron and Michelle
    By M. J. Kelley (@themjkelley)
    459 words

    1

    The bird call resembled the mouthpiece of a wind instrument. Wooden and small, Aaron placed his eye to the end meant for the mouth.

    The light streamed through the opposite opening like the entrance to a cave.

    When he went to bed each night, he wore it around his neck on a thin red string. He never wanted to lose it. He only had this one.

    2

    “It’s just the two of us. Eat all the crumbs and I promise to give it back,” Michelle said.

    Michelle left bread crumbs, one after the other in the hall, for her little brother Aaron. The trail led out into the open backyard and the forest beyond.

    “Mother! She has my bird call!”

    “I told you. They’re not here.”

    “Give it back!”

    “You heard the rules. It’s a game. Now wait here and count to three once I’m out the door.”

    Michelle danced and skipped away over the bread crumbs, careful to not to disturb them.

    She slammed the screen door.

    3

    “One, two, three.” Aaron scrambled out the back door. He scanned the yard. Michelle was gone.

    He followed the bread crumbs into the tall thicket of trees. The light filtered through the leaves and imprinted the ground in splotches that made the crumbs hard to see.

    Then he heard the sweet voice of his bird call. He frowned and ran toward the sound, stopping every few feet to listen for leaves crunching or sticks breaking.

    4

    He found Michelle in the center of four large trees.

    “Give it back!”

    “Did you eat all the crumbs, Birdy?”

    “Don’t call me that!”

    “Did you? That was the deal.”

    Sticks snapped somewhere in the forest. Aaron and Michelle crouched down behind one of the trees.

    Men moved quietly through the forest. They wore camouflage and carried large guns.

    Aaron began to shake. Michelle held him.

    5

    When the last of the men passed into the far bushes, Michelle took the bird call and put it around Aaron’s neck.

    “We’ll run home, OK?”

    Aaron nodded.

    They burst from their hiding place and sprinted on top of the dried leaves, through the brush, and back to the thicket by their house.

    Mother stood in the door frame. “Where have you two been? I’ve been back for over an hour. You have five minutes to wash up for lunch.”

    6

    Aaron lay in bed, gripping the bird call around his neck.

    Michelle lay in the bed across from him. He wanted to ask her about the soldiers, but she seemed asleep.

    He put the bird call to his eye, but saw nothing in the darkness.

    He put it to his lips and blew softly, one, two, three, four… he lost track and then fell asleep.

  27. I was sure I already posted this, on Monday…
    A Feeble Touch of Sunlight
    @chriswhitewrite
    404 words

    She staggered through the darkness, the chanting, echoing drone of the wind and the feel of the rough-sided walls her only companions. Well, the wind and the walls and the feeling of black, black eternity. The walls seemed to close in around her, claustrophobic.

    She kept turning left – that’s what you’re ‘supposed to do’ in a maze, keep turning left, and eventually you’ll find the exit. She kept finding dead ends. Still, she followed the walls, followed the walls. Down an alleyway, to dead end after dead end. She kept her left hand scraping against the rough stone. Eventually she would find her way out. She lost track of time – darkness has a way of perpetuating itself, of folding time around itself.

    She walked until sleep overcame her, and, when she awoke, she walked again. Always in darkness. She drank the water that dribbled down the walls and pooled in the depressions in the tunnel’s floor. She ate fluttering insects and bundles of fur, invisible but fighting back. She shat in the dead ends, so she wouldn’t tread in it on her return journey – if there was a return journey.

    She could see herself, bedraggled, gaunt, stumbling, left hand still on the stone wall. She imagined herself passing by in the darkness. She didn’t call out. What could she say to herself, passing in the eternal blackness? Don’t eat me. Please, I know you’re hungry. Please don’t eat me. When she heard footsteps she pressed herself against the wall, silent, and waited for them to pass. They never passed. It always took so long – even though time was uncountable here – so long for her to realise it was her heartbeat.

    Or maybe she just convinced herself it was her heart. She always pressed on, sticking to the left.

    Until today – this morning? this afternoon? – there was light ahead, weak and yellow, but light, light, up ahead. She took her hand from the wall. She ran. She ran. Tripping and spitting out curses, scraping raw her right knee when she fell. Her voice sounded strange in the blackness. She passed into the light.

    A cavern opened up around her, the walls soft brick, unclimbable, opening onto the grey sky.

    A feeble touch of sunlight.

    It kissed her skin.

    A tunnel open on the far side, a black mouth.

    She stuck to the left wall, and worked her way around to it.

    Back into the dark.

    • Terrifying. The descriptions are excellent. I love how she stops at her own heartbeat.I also love S’he didn’t call out. What could she say to herself, passing in the eternal blackness? Don’t eat me. Please, I know you’re hungry. Please don’t eat me’ clever, truncation of ideas. Well done.

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