Shattered Bones

[WP] “Let’s just blow it up and call it a day.” [Link to post.]

Dread stepped out of the black portal and looked around. She felt glad to see signs of green life dotting the brown dirt plain. She looked up and smiled at the violet sky. Dirge ran out of the portal after Dread and took in the same sights.

“How come the sky isn’t red?” Dirge asked.

“Either you missed,” Dread said. She began to elaborate, but the girl with raven curls interrupted her.

“I did NOT miss!” Dirge said. She gave Dread a playful shove. Dread chuckled, then finished her thought.

OR this is still a recent conquest. Ballisea’s corruption hasn’t had time to set in yet.”

“What if she’s still here?” Dirge asked. Her orange eyes widened at the thought. Dread shrugged.

“We run,” she said.

“Booooo, fine.” Dirge kicked at the dirt. “Anyway, let’s get started. How do you find the orb?” Dread looked around.

“I need to find a skeleton first.” She picked a direction and started running. Dirge managed to keep up with her, singing to herself along the way. They ran for close to an hour before they came to a cliff’s edge. Dread stopped and stared down at a bustling city, teeming with life. She stepped back from the edge, then turned to Dirge.

“Let’s go to a different Earth.”

“What? Why? You said we were gonna have fun!” Dirge looked over the cliff. “People! They’re alive!” Dirge grabbed Dread by the hand and tugged her toward the ledge. “If we get rid of the orb they can have their Earth back, right?” Dread shook her head.

“This is an outpost, I’ve seen them before. All those people down there are loyal to Ballisea, they’ll die to protect her orb,” Dread said. Her voice took on a pleading edge. “Can we go somewhere else, please?” Dirge peered over the cliff again.

“C’mon, it’ll be easy. They’re just a bunch of Zeroes,” Dirge used her index and thumb on each hand to form a “zero” in front of her. “Let’s just blow it up and call it a day,” Dirge produced her own golden aura. Dread put a hand on her shoulder, then Dirge’s glow dissipated.

“I. Don’t. Want. To.” Dirge spoke through clenched teeth, she met Dirge’s orange eyes with her own dark eyes. “Like you said. They’re people.” Dirge looked confused for a second, then nodded causing her curls to bounce.

“Okay, no problem,” Dirge said. She reached a hand out to Dread. When they held each other’s hands Dread released a pulse of golden light into Dirge’s hand.

“Alright, here’s another orb,” Dread said. The golden light flowed into Dirge. The light vibrated within her, and she focused on the frequency. Dirge waved her hand at the air and another black hole opened up. Dread walked through and Dirge followed. They stepped out in the middle of another sprawling plain. The cloudy, dark red sky hid any signs of the sun. Dread began to glow the instant she realized they were surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds of walking skeletons. The undead retreated from her light, forming a wide circle around them. Dirge tapped Dread on the shoulder.

“Put your glow away. C’mon let’s fight them!” Dirge put up her fists like a boxer, then threw a straight jab for effect. Dread shrugged.

“It’s pointless. As long as Ballisea’s orb is powering them, they’ll just pull themselves back together,” Dread explained.

“Yeah. But that only means it’s pointless if we’re trying to kill them,” Dirge smiled, “I said let’s fight them. It’ll be fun!”

“Oh.” Dread nodded then let her glow vanish, though she still seemed unsure. Immediately the skeletons moved toward the two girls. “OH!” Dirge’s intent dawned on Dread and she smiled. She opened her mouth and screamed at the skeletons. Piercing soundwaves cut a swath through them in front of her. The skeletons not directly in the path of her scream fell backward in a cone shape, knocking over the skeletons behind them. They tumbled like dominoes.

“Nice! Check this out,” Dirge said. She inhaled sharply then sang a high note. She held her voice steady. It sounded beautiful to Dread, but her attention was drawn by the skeletons. At first, they shook; almost like they were dancing. Then one of the skeleton’s skulls popped off its spine. Dirge continued to sing like an opera singer, and more and more skeletons began to shatter. She stopped to catch her breath. The skeletons took the opportunity to begin moving towards them again. “Hey, you said you needed a skeleton to find the orb, right?” Dirge reminded the taller girl.

“Oh yeah, thanks.” Dread grabbed the nearest skeleton. She produced a quick pulse of golden light in her hand, then touched the skeleton’s head. A golden flower symbol engraved itself in the front of the skeleton’s forehead with the number 42 in its center. Dread let the skeleton go and it walked away from the crowd of skeletons around them. “Now we follow it,” Dread said.

Previous Chapter: Dirge & Dread
Next Chapter: Gearing Up

Dirge & Dread

April 20, 2018
[WP] “Tag you’re it!” She giggled. “See you in a hundred years!” [Link to post.]

Dread sat cross-legged in the dry dirt of a dying Earth, in front of a pitch black portal. She stopped “waiting” an hour ago and meditated to pass the time instead. A brilliant golden glow emanated from her body; its light kept an army of skeletons at bay. They surrounded Dread but made no other moves as long as her light filled the darkness around her. A pale girl with raven curls and orange eyes popped her head out of the dark hole in front of Dread, but she did not notice because her eyes were closed.

“Hi! I’m Dirge!” the girl said. Dread’s eyes popped open, then she stared at the head while she stood up and dusted her well-worn blue jeans off. The girl walked out of the portal. She was shorter than Dread; Dirge looked up and smiled. Dread extended her hand.

“I’m Dread.” Dirge accepted the hand and shook it, then she walked around Dread to appraise her. Dread felt self-conscious for the first time in a while; she could not remember the last time she felt that feeling gnawing at her. She stood up straighter, and ran her hand through her bone-white, short spiky hair. The curly haired girl grabbed Dread’s red shirt and pulled down the hem to look at the logo of a tiger and shark in a yin-yang formation in the center of her chest.

“I love your shirt!” Dirge said.

“Thanks. It was my dad’s.” At the mention of her father, a quick flash of remorse shot across Dirge’s face.

“Oh yeah, Regal was telling my parents about what happened when I came through. 400 years, huh?” Dirge asked. Dread nodded.

“He said Conquerors age at a slower rate when they’re not in their universe. One year for every 100,” Dread said. She felt the need to explain why she looked so young. She wasn’t used to lowering her guard and feeling inadequate, but somehow it came easy with Dirge.

“Yup,” Dirge nodded, she already knew of course. “And Celestials like me don’t age at all when we’re in a different universe,” Dirge said. She looked around and noted the skeletons forming a large circle around them.

“You’re a Celestial? What number?” Dread asked. She stepped closer and looked into Dirge’s bright orange eyes. She’d met lots of Uniques during her travels, but she’d never run across a Celestial until she met Regal.

“14, La Muerte,” Dirge said and smiled.

“Can you do portals yet?” Dread asked. Dirge nodded causing her curls to bounce.

“Yep! Since I was two,” Dirge smiled. A deep male’s voice that each of them recognized shouted out from the black hole.

“Threnody! Dread! C’mon back.” Dirge stamped her foot on the ground then stomped through the portal. Dread followed her to a nice white tiled kitchen on the other side. Regal stood talking with a couple. The woman had bright red hair, the man’s black hair and orange eyes matched Dirge’s.

“Daddy! Didn’t you tell Regal my new name?” Dirge asked. The man with the orange eyes gave her an apologetic look.

“Sorry hon, but we were kind of busy discussing your new sister,” he said, then he looked at the blonde, bearded man. “Threnody decided her name is now Dirge.” Regal nodded.

“Well she is her father’s daughter,” Regal laughed. Dread stepped closer to Dirge and whispered in her ear.

“What does he mean?” She asked.

“My dad’s name is Poseidon, but it’s too long, so he just goes by Posie.” Dirge shrugged. “Threnody was too long so I picked Dirge. It’s pretty much the same thing,” Dirge whispered an answer.

“Cool,” Dread said.

“How do you feel about sharing your room, Threnny?” Dread watched Dirge’s orange eyes roll upward in her head.

“It’s fine, mom. But can we go play first? I can make portals and Dread has been through a ton of Earths. She said we can check some of them out.”

“I did?” Dread whispered, but her only answer was an elbow in her side.

“How long?” Dirge’s mother, Robin, asked. Dirge shrugged.

“Till Dread’s birthday?” Regal leaned closer to the redheaded woman and whispered something in her ear. Robin’s eyes grew wide with surprise, but Regal kept whispering. When he stopped, her face changed. She nodded.

“Okay. Regal thinks it’s a good idea for you two to do some bonding. You know you can come home if you get bored.” Regal pulled out two black and gold business cards and handed them one each.

“Hold on to these. If anything happens you can use them to open a portal home. The each took their card, then Dirge waved a hand at the air. An empty black portal opened up. Dread started to walk through, but Dirge walked up behind her and shoved the taller girl through the portal.

“Tag you’re it!” she giggled, then she turned to her parents and waved as she stepped through the portal herself. “See you in a hundred years!”

Previous Dirge Chapter: Party Music
Previous Dread Chapter: Dreaded Homecoming
Next Chapter: Shattered Bones

Time for Lunch (4-30-18)

[WP] You are able to see how long every person you come across has to live. As you walk through the city you come across someone with only one hour left. [Link to post.]

I glanced up from my phone as I reached the bus stop, to get a quick idea of the passengers. Even one dying on the bus ride would slow my day down, but all the times checked out fine. Most of them could look forward to several long years ahead of them. One of them, a beautiful young woman with light curly hair, had a week left to live. I decided the bus ride would be fine and focused on the game I played on my phone to wait for the bus. 

It wasn’t easy to get used to at first, but I became numb to it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone turn a corner with less than five seconds left on their clock. Being constantly aware that everyone is temporary brings a sort of peace with it. I could check my own clock as easy as glancing at a mirror, but over the years I trained my mind to ignore it like I ignored my nose.

The bus arrived then the crowd piled on. I ended up at the back, across from the woman with a week left. As I swiped and tapped on a phone game, a faint, dainty cough became apparent. I turned to look across the aisle at the woman. She held a white handkerchief up to her mouth while she coughed, the clock above her changed halved from a week to a few days.

“Are you okay?” I asked, then scooted closer to the aisle edge of my seat. She nodded, then pulled the handkerchief away; I saw a moist red spot on it before she hid it in her hand.

“Yes, thank you.” She nodded. “Just a bit weak, headed to the doctor right now.” She smiled.

“Oh is someone meeting you there?” I asked. 

“No. I’m new in town, haven’t had a chance to make friends.” After the word ‘friends’ her timer lost time again. Now her time of death was scheduled for the next hour. I made a decision quickly and crossed the aisle to sit next to her. 

“If you don’t mind I’ll keep you company. My day’s open and I want to make sure you can get there safely, in your weakened condition.” 

“Really? You’d do that for a total stranger?” Light filled her pale green eyes and a smile tugged up at the corner of her mouth. I nodded.

“If you don’t mind of course.” She smiled and shook her head. 

“Not at all.” I offered her my hand. When she shook it, her timer changed to a month. “My name’s Sean,” I said. 

“I’m Amanda,” she said. We rode the rest of the way making small talk. Amanda moved to the city last week to start a new job, but the company went under. Her health problems were complicating her job search. I sympathized where I could and listened the rest of the time. I moved to stand as we approached the stop at the Medical Center, but she stopped me with a hand on my thigh. 

“How about we go to lunch first?” She asked with a broad smile. “It’ll be my treat!” I glanced upward at the timer above her head. The blue numbers still showed a month.

“Yeah, alright. Lunch with a new friend sounds good,” I said. 

“Let’s get off at the next stop, I know a great hole in the wall,” Amanda said. 
I agreed, and once the bus came to a stop again we rose together and stepped out of the rear exit. I looked around, unfamiliar with that part of town. I thanked myself for daylight as I got a good look at the area. The words “dangerous” and  “ghetto” came to mind, but then I reminded myself she’d only been in town a week and already lost her job. I followed her across a block then we took a left turn into a darkened alleyway lit only by a single light above a single door beyond the abyss. The darkness swallowed Amanda as she walked towards the door, and I followed her. She winked at me and knocked at the door. A well dressed man opened the door. He looked at me then at Amanda and nodded at her, then he reached into his coat. Out of habit I glanced above his head. Instead of a time of death a blue ‘infinity’ sign floated above his head. My eyes went wide and I took a step back in shock, I’d never seen that before. Amanda rushed to my side and helped steady me with surprising strength. 

“Careful,” she said. I looked up and saw a blue infinity symbol hovering over her head also. “I don’t like my meat bruised,” she said. She playfully slapped my cheek, “Don’t worry about that doctor’s visit though. I’ve got plenty of time left.” The infinity sign above her head changed to a month, down to an hour, then back up to five years. “Now you, on the other hand,” she pointed above my head. “You should really pay more attention to your own timer.” She smiled as the gentleman at the door pulled a gun out of his coat and pointed it at me. 

Mission Objective: Spider (4-29-18)

[WP] Sunday Free Write [Link to post.]

“Do you think she’s okay?” Dirge asked. The two girls did not wander far from where they landed before the girl with dark curls questioned Dread.

“Who?” Dread stopped walking and let her eyes roam over the empty green plain as she looked for someone in danger.

“La Sirena on that last Earth. What do you think she’ll do now that she’s free?” Dirge asked. Dread shrugged and gave a half smirk.

“Probably complain about her Paraguas being stolen,” she said. Dirge posed; the white lacy parasol appeared in her hand with a flash of golden light. She gave it a gentle smooch.

“Awww, she wasn’t using it.” Then the umbrella disappeared in another flash. “Anyway, haven’t you ever been curious about what happens after you leave?”

“Yeah, a few times I guess. I couldn’t go back, so it never mattered.” Dread said. Dirge hooked her arm in Dread’s and walked her around until she faced the way they came from.

“Well now you can!” Dirge waved a hand in the air to open a dark black vertical portal in front of them.

“Alright,” Dread said with a shrug. She stepped through. On the other side of the portal Dread stood in front of the Sirena’s pool. She looked around at the dozens of skeletons with glowing golden flowers on their foreheads, then looked up. Above them a brilliant golden orb glowed, held up by a large silver ring supported by five pillars, instead of Ballisea’s corrupt red orb.

“Neat!” Dirge said behind Dread.

“Dios Mio! You came back!” Dread heard a male voice behind her, she and Dirge turned around. They found a young man with unkempt, short, dark brown hair and a scraggly beard. He wore ratty sandals, dark black board shorts and green and gold t-shirt. A large tattoo of the Earth covered his left eye, with the number 37 drawn in gold numbers on his eyelid.

“A Mundo?” Dread asked. Dirge stepped forward and extended a hand.

“Hi Mundo, I’m Dirge and this is Dread. We totally just saved your world, you know?” Mundo did not take his eyes off of Dread.

“Yes, of course. I know you very well señorita Dread. All the Mundos that you’ve freed speak highly of you.” Mundo knelt with his right knee, and all the skeletons in the area knelt also.

“I thought Mundos couldn’t leave their universe?” Dirge said. She stood over Mundo’s form and peered down at him suspiciously.

“They can talk to each other if they find the same frequency. My dad knew a few different Mundos.” Dread said, then she gestured toward Mundo to get him to stand up. He stood then pointed to the golden orb above them. After he rose the skeletons also stood straight up.

“Like Ballisea, you leave behind a portion of your soul when you conquer an Earth. It lets us Mundos communicate from the Earths you’ve freed.” While the girls looked up at the orb Mundo stepped forward and grabbed Dread’s hand.

“Señorita Dread, I am very honored to have you on my Earth.” He bowed deeply, then rose and continued speaking. “However, it is because I have you here that I must request a favor of you. One of my friends, a Mundo, is in danger. I have no one else to ask, will you listen to my plea?” Mundo bowed again, and touched his forehead to Dread’s hand. Dread looked at Dirge for guidance, but the girl only smiled and nodded.

“It doesn’t hurt to listen,” Dread said.

“Thank you!” Mundo released her hand then guided the two girls towards the pool. Mundo’s hand glowed with green light then the pool waters began to recede, as if a drain was pulled from the bottom.

“Where’s the Sirena?” Dirge asked. She watched the waters leave a staircase behind as they sank deeper into the pool.

“Ballisea’s orb kept her bound here,” Mundo gestured at the sunken staircase. “Once you freed her she left, very grateful.” Dread walked down the stair case followed by Dirge and Mundo. They reached the bottom of the staircase and stood at the crossroads of a dark, damp cave. Mundo wiggled a green glowing hand upward and the space above their heads began to fill with water, like they the stood under an invisible bucket.  “It keeps snoops out,” Mundo said as the pool continued to refill above their heads. Then he walked to an exit to his right. Dirge and Dread followed, he spoke to them while he walked.

“How familiar are you girls with #33?” Mundo asked.

“La Araña? I’ve never met any, you?” Dread said, then asked Dirge. Dirge shook her head.

“Nope. Regal always told me to be careful around them, but he didn’t elaborate,” Dirge said. They crossed a threshold into a wide open cave. A scribbled on chalk board sat at one end of the cave surrounded by a plethora of cloth scraps; some hung on from the chalk board, most gathered on the floor beneath it. Once they entered the cave Mundo continued straight for the chalk board, then he turned around once he reached it.

“#33 La Araña is unique, even among Uniques. It’s an Animal soul that can grow as strong as a Celestial.”

“No way! That’s awesome!” Dirge said. Mundo shook his head.

“No. Like all Uniques, La Araña gets stronger, if it absorbs any other Unique soul. However, Spiders are cannibalistic. If it eats more Araña souls it can grow powerful enough to move up a tier, but it also corrupts the soul. My friend Mundo thinks a Spider near it is very close to becoming a Celestial.” Mundo said.

“So you want us to stop it?” Dread asked. Mundo nodded.

“We get to kill a giant dimension hopping spider? This is gonna so be awesome!” Dirge cheered.

Previous Spider Chapter: Delivery Method
Previous Dirge & Dread Chapter: Gearing Up
Next Dirge & Dread Chapter: AlterNet Entrance

AlterNet 2.0

[WP] The first fully immersive online VR game has released in which anything is possible. After months of saving you eagerly log in and hit ‘random server.’ [Link to post.]

Thomas Fincher smiled at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His dark brown eyes roamed up and down his mostly naked body, making sure he attached the electrodes in all the right places. He grabbed the instruction pamphlet and checked all the marked spots on the pamphlet and himself.

“Wrists.” He checked the golden stickers on each wrist, each had a golden AlterNet logo on it. “Temples.” He looked in the mirror, the stickers appeared to be affixed in the right places. “Back of the neck.” Thomas reached behind his neck and felt the textured sticker attached to where he guessed his spine connected to his head. He grabbed his phone from the grey marble counter top in his bathroom and padded out, in just his boxers, to his newly built ‘Game room’. It’d taken him a long time to save up enough money for the remodel, but his patience was rewarded with the release of AlterNet 2.0 just as he reached his financial goal. He smiled at the large pit of soil taking up the center of the room.  He placed his phone on a nearby table attached to a charger, then grabbed a small vial of thick, bright red liquid and walked to the pit.

He stepped a bare foot into the soil and enjoyed the cool sensation as he squeezed it with his toes. He giggled with excitement, then laid down in the center making sure he was completely on the soil. He lay on his back and stared up at the clock he placed in the ceiling to keep his bearings about him whenever he logged out. He sat up, opened the small vial then drank the liquid inside in one gulp. Thomas laid back down. He kept his hands to his sides, making sure to keep the golden electrodes in the soil. It wasn’t long before he felt a tingling in the back of his neck, then he felt nothing. He closed his eyes.

“Welcome to the AlterNet 2.0,” a bright female voice spoke in his ear. “You may be aware of a sense of paralysis, please understand that this an intentional safety feature. Your body will remained paralyzed until you choose to log out of the AlterNet.” The voice said. Thomas’ eyes remained closed, but images and light filled his vision. He stood outside in a large empty wheat field, the golden grains swaying in the wind. He felt the wind brush his skin. A dark black, featureless, female mannequin appeared in the middle of the field then walked towards Thomas.

“Please select a server,” the mannequin said though it had no mouth. Around her small windowed images appeared, each with a different name.

“Random server,” Thomas said. The figure nodded, then projected a single image in front of itself. “Server: Random chosen.”

“Wait, there’s a server named, ‘Random’?” Thomas asked. The mannequin nodded. “Alright, whatever. What’s next?”

“AlterNet 2.0 is an upgraded version of the AlterNet. There are several varieties of games played within the AlterNet. Though you do not need a character profile for each game, it is recommended. Would you like to go through the games?” Thomas shook his virtual head.

“No thanks, I’m just here for Derby,” he said.

“Okay. Let’s create your Roller Derby character,” the mannequin said. Again, Thomas shook his head, in a hurry to play.

“Just default everything,” he said.

“While Roller Derby allows you to customize your character as you progress, there are some choices that cannot be changed later. Due to the nature of the AlterNet, it is recommended you think about these choices carefully. You will be unable to create a new character later.”

“Default everything,” Thomas repeated. The mannequin nodded its blank head.

“Default character created. Switching to tutorial mode,” the mannequin said. Thomas’ vision went black and he lost all sense of feeling again. Instead of the wind and grains brushing his legs he felt nothing. When he regained vision the wheat field was gone. Instead he stood in the center of a stadium surrounded by winding Roller Derby track. He moved around, taking in the sights. The stadium was empty, but the track was impressive. Sharp turns and corkscrew ramps dotted sections of the track.

“*Totally worth the wait*,” Thomas thought to himself. He pumped his fist in the air happily, then realized his body felt wrong. He looked down and realized his character was a girl.

“Uh, help?” He squeaked out the word. The black mannequin appeared next to him.

“How may I help?” she asked.

“I don’t want to be a girl,” Thomas said.

“I’m sorry. Once your character is attuned, that is one of the choices that cannot be undone.”

Favored Sibling (4-27-18)

[WP] Whenever a baby is born, he or she is taken to The Armory, an ancient alien temple where each child has a unique weapon bestowed upon them, for use their whole lives. You were given a key. [Link to post.]

“Sit still!” Sam’s father grabbed him by the scuff of his collar, and straightened him standing up. “Your brother’s going to get his next, then we can leave.” Sam tried peering over the crowd to watch his little brother’s ceremony, but he was too short. 

“Is he gonna get a key like me?” Sam asked a five year old’s innocent question. His father shook his head. 

“No. I’m sure he’ll get something useful.” Sam’s father let the statement hang. If his wife was there she would have reprimanded him but she was busy taking their other son, Simon, to get his weapon.

“Keys are useful!” Sam said. He excitedly pulled out his ‘weapon’ from his pocket. He waved it around like one might fly a toy airplane. It was a silver and gold key with fine etchings in the metal. They looked like some sort of language, but no one had ever been able to translate it. People lost interest in trying over the years. 

“Yeah they are. Why don’t you go find somewhere to use it, hm?” His father said. Sam nodded brightly then disappeared into the crowd. His father smiled to himself then focused his attention on his wife and son. Sam’s mother held baby Simon and walked forward towards the single pillar of blue light that rose from the ground. The woman placed Simon in a basket in the center of the light, then she stepped back.

The blue light switched to purple, while the alien technology scanned Simon. After several moments the light shifted back to blue. A platform descended from the ceiling riding the blue beam of light to deliver Simon’s weapon. An armored figure on the platform, referred to as “mannequins” by the people, held the weapon chosen for Simon. The mannequin wore a black metal suit of armor. It held a long white laser rifle. Simon’s dad cheered to himself in the crowd. Anyone assigned the laser rifle was headed for military service as soon as they could walk, and it meant a great financial boost for the family.

“Hey that’s a neat gun!” Sam said. He appeared next to his mom eyeing Simon’s weapon. Sam’s mom turned toward the crowd, and somehow knew exactly where to stare daggers at her husband. He melted into the crowd somewhat.

“Get down, Sammy,” His mother said.

“Okay, let me just get Simon’s gun.” Before she could argue Sam hopped on the platform and climbed up the mannequin’s armor. He climbed up its back trying to loosen it’s grip from behind. His foot caught something in the back of the mannequin.

“Hey, there’s a hole here!” Sam said. A chuckle ran through the crowd, his mother flushed red with embarrassment.

“Get down HERE. NOW.” Sam’s mother said.

“Hey I think it’s a keyhole!” Thinking quickly, Sam inserted his key and twisted. The mannequin dropped Simon’s laser rifle, then took a single step forward. It knelt on the grown, then its back opened wide revealing an empty interior full of flashing lights and screens. 

“Please step inside, your Majesty,” the suit said in a feminine robotic voice.

Chosen Path (4-26-18)

[WP] You wake up alone in a motel room with no idea who you are, where you are, or how you got there. On the bedside table is a map and a choose your own adventure book. [Link to post.]

I opened my eyes, soft yellow sunlight filled my vision. A quick inventory told me I was laying down on a bed, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I sat up and looked around. The place was instantly recognizable as a crappy motel room, one I wasn’t familiar with. I looked down at myself.

Still got my pants on,” I thought. I didn’t see any clothes in the room other than the blue jeans and black t-shirt that I wore. “Guess I’m here alone.” I decided to wash my face, but I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw my reflection. I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. His beard was grey and scraggly, his head was mostly bald. I tried remembering a better self image, but that grey bearded kook kept staring at me. He shook his head when I shook my head and we both gave up. I spramped water on my face several times, hoping the reflection would change. It didn’t. 

I sat on the bed to consider my next step when I saw a book on the bedside table. It was a brand new Choose Your Own Adventure book, the glossy cover caught the sunlight on the title. Choice of a Lifetime. Under the book I found a map with three locations circled on it. The biggest circle was around a handwritten note that said, “You are here. Page 27.”  Two lines extended from that circle to the others. One ran north and ended at a circled river that said “Page 138.” The other line ran east and ended at a railroad track that said, “Page 225.”

I looked up page 27 in the book, it turned out to be the start of a new chapter called “Destiny Motel.” I flipped through the chapter, and it didn’t seem to be too long. I didn’t have anything else to do so I made myself comfortable on the bed and read it. The character woke up in a strange motel room like I did, except he had someone there to explain the situation. The similarities were too strong to ignore, this book needed to be here to explain the situation to me. According to the book I  needed to make a decision. The character in the book seemed to think there was a settlement of people near the river to the north. Heading east to the railroad track was a good way to catch a ride to somewhere else.

I flipped through the pages to look ahead and maybe get some clue. I tried page 138 first. It was a new chapter, but it had no text, just the chapter heading: River of Souls. 

That doesn’t sound encouraging,” I chuckled to myself. I searched the book for my other option. Another blank chapter on page 225 named: Unknown Adventure. Well, at least I had titles for a hint. I made made my decision, grabbed the map and headed to the door. A keyring with a single car key on it hung on the lock. I took the key and opened the door. I wasn’t surprised to see the parking lot empty, except for a black Camaro that sparkled in the sunlight. I tried the key on the car door and it worked. I hopped in the Camaro, started it up and drove east. Toward the railroad track, toward unknown adventure. 

I opened my eyes, soft yellow sunlight filled my vision. A quick inventory told me I was laying down on a bed, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I sat up and looked around. The place was instantly recognizable as a crappy motel room, one I wasn’t familiar with. I looked down at myself.

Still got my pants on,” I thought. I didn’t see any clothes in the room other than the black slacks and white dress shirt that I wore. “Guess I’m here alone.” While I my shirt I noticed a brand new Choose Your Own Adventure book sitting on top of a map. The circles were drawn on the map in different locations. The biggest one said, “You are here. Page 27.”  Two lines extended from that circle to the others. One ran north and ended at a circled river that said “Page 138.” The other line ran east and ended at a railroad track that said, “Page 225.”

Lemon of a Drink (4-25-18)

[CW] Flash Fiction Challenge! Location: A Museum | Object: Lemonade [Link to post.]

“I don’t see why I couldn’t stay home,” Oren complained to Eva. They stood in Grapefruit section of the Citrus Museum, surrounded by grapefruit themed sculptures and paintings. Everyone that walked by seemed to have either a smile or a refreshing drink, often both. Eva returned every smile that came her way.  

“Because it’s his birthday,” Eva reminded the 9 year old boy. Oren wore dark black jeans and a black t-shirt. His hair met in a widow’s peak on his forehead, but the rest of it was brushed back. “Quit complaining, here he comes,” Eva said. Jake walked towards them holding a drink carrier with three plastic cups in it.

“Everyone I’ve talked to on this Earth says this is the best lemonade around,” Jake presented the drink carrier to allow Eva and Oren to grab a cup, then he grabbed the third one. They all took giant sips from their straw, and they all made sour, disgusting faces. Oren could not fight the impulse to spit it out. 

“Bleaeeeeeeeeeeeaaaach,” Oren said loudly. Some of the patrons turned towards the noise, then made an effort to walk around him, or in the other direction. 

“They forgot the sugar,” Jake said. He collected the drinks back in the drink holder and carried them back to the stand. This time Eva and Oren followed him. Jake waited patiently in line until his turn came up again. 

“Something wrong, sir?” the clerk asked when he realized Jake’s intent to return the drinks. 

“Yeah, I think you forgot the sugar in this batch,” Jake said. He placed the carrier on the table in front of him. The clerk looked from Jake to his coworker. The two workers shrugged at each other, then one of them turned back to Jake. 

“What’s sugar?” 

Jail Time (4-24-18)

[WP] “The jailer is the key, kill him and you’ll be free…” [Link to post.]

“So that’s it? We just gotta kill the jailer?” Mickey hovered around Fig, the tall blue skinned troll that gave him the hint. It was Mickey’s first day in the prison and he took to exploring the exercise yard when he ran into the aged troll. Fig shook his head, almost swinging one of his tusks into Mickey’s fluttering form. 

“You’re new. You’ve still got hope, that’s understandable. But let me tell you, ain’t no way you’re killing the jailer,” Fig laughed heartily and gestured at Mickey, “you’re not even a fighting class, you’re a merchant. Maybe you can save up enough to bribe him, eh?” 

“Bribe him? But isn’t he one of the Forest guards?” Mickey asked. The Forest was the virtual prison they were sentenced to, destined to live out the rest of their days as player characters. A sly smile came over Fig.

“Nope. Everything thinks that, but he’s just an overpowered NPC. I’ve tried talking to him a few times, it’s all scripted. Anyway, good luck. Let me know if you need any help getting situated.” Fig gave Mickey a dismissive wave and walked away towards a group of of assorted trolls and ogres. Mickey hovered in place while he debated about his options. Fig was right, he didn’t stand a fighting chance as a merchant, but he had other skills. The jailer being an NPC meant he had a chance. Before he entered the Forest, Michael Anderson chose to be a merchant in the hopes that they wouldn’t think much of his skills. He brought up a skill menu, translucent blue text formed in front of him, then scrolled through it. He smiled widely when he realized his skills were still intact, he was after one skill in particular. Charming Gift – Once a day give a gift to someone to increase their favor of you by 5 points. Rewards 10XP

“That’ll do it,” Mickey said to himself. He flapped his wings and scoured the prison yard looking for anything suitable. He found a small red flower blooming in one corner. He plucked the flower and flew it to the Jailer’s tent. He kept a presence in the yard whenever the prisoners were outdoors. The jailer was a tall naga. The bottom half of his body looked like a diamondback rattler, complete with rattle at the tip of his tail. The rattle came to life the second Mickey flew into the tent.

“Sorry sir! I don’t mean any trouble, I just wanted to give you a gift,” Mickey said. He held the flower, fluttering just inside the tent’s entrance. The jailer stared at Mickey, but the rattling stopped. Mickey flew forward slowly, holding the flower in front of him, stem out, to make his offering clear. He smiled when the Jailer reached out and accepted the flower. A green +5 appeared over his head for a second, then disappeared. Mickey used another of his merchant skills, Appraisal, to gauge his favor with the Jailer. He needed to give him 999 more gifts to get to the next level of favor.

“Well, I’ve got nothing else to do,” Mickey sighed and flew out of the tent. His mind began to fill with ideas about how he would kill the jailer once his favor got high enough. While scrolling through his menu he also noticed he earned experience points for using the skill. He flew to Fig in a hurry, the troll seemed surprised to see him.

“Accepted it already?” Fig asked. 

“Can’t we take him if we level up?” Mickey asked. Fig shook his head.

“They nerfed all our XP skills, and they won’t let us out to kill in the world anyway. No one’s leveling up in here.” Mickey nodded. He would tell Fig some day, maybe after he already had a couple of levels under his belt. But it did not need to be today. It was only the first day, and he had plenty of time to plan his escape. 

Delivery Method (4-23-18)

[WP] Your job as a researcher in the facility isn’t too bad. The hours are shit and the coffee maker is broken, but at least the people are nice. And the job is easy: talk to the telepathic spider, run some tests on the witch, give the eldritch god his daily newspaper, basic stuff. Describe your day. [Link to post.]

Stephen Miller sighed as he clocked in. He felt a flash of disappointment when he saw the duty roster above the time clock; his name had all the worst boxes checked off. Supply run, Feed Spider, and Hide Spider. He chuckled to himself. “Might as well be my damn pet,” he thought. He bumped into Johnny, a youngish guy with dark hair, on his way out of the break room.

“Hey Johnny. We got any Spider food left?” Johnny nodded. 

“Yeah, I think there’s one left. Don’t slack on the supply run, or there’ll be trouble tomorrow.” Stephen nodded.

“Yeah I’ll take care of it. Hey, how bout a hand with the feeding before your break?” Johnny broke into a grin.

“Really? Man, I’d love it. I never get to help, and it looks so fun,” Johnny said. Stephen nodded at the weapon rank on the wall.

“Grab the shotgun,” The shotgun was the least exotic weapon, most of the others looked like futuristic laser rifles. Johnny grabbed the gun, then proceeded to eagerly point it at everything else in the room. 

“Alright, settle down. Gimme a couple minutes, then come help me move the food to Spider’s room. Got it?” Stephen asked. Johnny nodded, still fawning over his gun. Stephen left the break room. He navigated the labyrinthine halls by memory. He’d worked at the lab for years and knew the place like the back of his hand. 

He stopped walking when he heard crying. The sound came through a door to his right. He looked in and saw a young woman, about 20 or so, sitting on a bunk and crying into her knees. Stringy black hair covered her face, her knees were wet with tears. He tapped the glass.

“Hello? Hey. Who are you and what are you doing in there?” Stephen pulled a red keycard from his belt and swiped the lock to open the door. The girl looked up, but remained on the bed. She wore a black collar with the number 33 displayed on the tag. “Why are you here?”

“Because I’m a prisoner?” she asked. Stephen shook his head, then shrugged.

“I dunno it’s my first day today. If they’re keeping prisoners this gig ain’t for me. C’mon I’ll show you the way out. Stephen stretched his hand out, and she stood from the bed to clasp it.

“I’m Georgia Glass,” she said. Stephen nodded.

“I’m Steve. C’mon let’s hurry up before someone catches me letting you escape.” Stephen led Georgia through the halls, occasionally stopping to ‘get his bearings’. At one intersection Johnny walked by and raised his shotgun at them.

“HEY! Get back in your cell!” Johnny yelled at Georgia. 

“Damnit! This way!” Stephen grabbed Georgia’s hand and they ran down a corridor to their left. The shotgun went off, but neither of them got injured. He stopped in front of a large, grey metal door with the number 33 painted on its front. He looked both ways up and down the hall, both of them were breathing hard. 

“I think we lost him.” Stephen looked at the door then at Georgia’s collar. “Must be your lucky number,” he pointed at the 33 on the door. Georgia nodded. 

“It’s my favorite number,” she smiled.

“Okay, this is where you get off. As you can see, this is exit 33. There’s tons of them throughout the lab. Just go in there and climb the ladder up to the surface. I’ll head towards a different exit to throw that guy off your trail.” Stephen reached down and swiped his red key card through the digital lock. The light turned green. 

“Thank you so much! You saved my life,” Georgia hugged Stephen from the side as he moved to twist the heavy duty door handle. 

“No problem, miss. It’s all part of the job.” He opened the door wide enough to allow Georgia to slide in. Once she was half in the room he reached down to grab a device from his belt. “Oh, one more thing.” Stephen reached his closed hand outward, and held it as if he offered Georgia something. She held her open palm out waiting to receive whatever Stephen was going to give her. Stephen moved quickly. In one motion he grabbed her wrist with one hand and jammed a burning hot brand of the number 33 in her palm with his other hand. The burning tissue on her hand began to glow with golden light while she screamed at him. She fought to get away, and when he let her go she stumbled backwards into the room. A giant black and gold spider, bigger than Stephen’s proud 6′ frame, slid down from the dark space obscuring the ceiling, and Stephen closed the door to keep Georgia in the room. She reached the small porthole and frantically banged on the door. 

Johnny walked up next to Stephen and tapped on the glass to wave at Georgia. Her eyes registered betrayal and filled with despair during the last second of her life. Then, the spider bit her head off.