Fortnightly Writing Competition: The Shopkeeper (END)

Started by EjectedStar, 08 Sep 2021, 03:05

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EjectedStar

Welcome to the Fortnightly Writing Competition where our local wordsmiths put together beautiful short (sometimes) stories for all to read and enjoy!

This week our theme will be:

The Shopkeeper



Oftentimes The Shopkeeper is an integral, yet overlooked individual in the world of fiction. Protagonists make their way through their shops, collecting the goods and baubles which will ultimately lead them to reaching their goals. But who is The Shopkeeper? Is there more to their existence than peddling goods? Do they have stories to tell?

In this FWC I challenge you to write a story with a shopkeeper integral to the plot. From the item shop selling magical swords to yet another hero, to the bored cashier who is just another cog in the corporate machine.

This fortnightly competition of writing shall end at midnight of September 22.

Thanks for playing and... can I offer you a candy bar to go along with your purchase?

Sinitrena


Baron

I'm vulnerable to -wait, what theme is this again?  :=

Sinitrena

That is completely up to your choice, sir. We would never question the tastes and preferences of our costumors. But we do have all kinds of topics for sell here, some a bit used, like these ones, some new and fresh and never seen. The best prices, just for you, sir, and the best wares, just from us.

What's the price you ask? Words, you pay in words here. Please arrange them in patterns that form sentences and than stories. Of course, our best topics cost great stories, but I'm sure you can afford it, sir.

;) (laugh) (nod) :P

Sinitrena

The Shopkeeper


The boy hushed through the narrow aisles, hiding from his attackers. Their heavy boots echoed past the open door of the shop, running, and disappeared in the distance. The boy listened. He listened and listened and then listened some more as the sound slowly faded in the chaos of the streets. Only then did he lean against the rickety shelf next to him and sank slowly to the ground. It was filthy but he didn't care. He breathed in and out a couple of times, the gasps ragged at first, then finally more open and better filling his burning lungs.

Scraped hands scraped over the chipped wood as his eyes drifted over the assortment of wares that lay there and hung on the walls next to the shelves. Knives lay next to ropes and pots and pans, most covered by a thick layer of dust, as if nobody had bothered to enter this part of the store in years or even decades.

His stomach rumbled and his eyes flitted over the random wares a second time in the desperate hope that there would be some food among the rubbish. He didn't even bother to look around for the shopkeeper, just thinking about the flight and his hunger. There wasn't any food there and the boy got back on his feet. He stumbled a few steps forward, exhausted. His bloody fingers brushed some of the dust from the housewares when something caught his eyes. It blinked in the corners, catching some of the sunlight that came through the dirty window and let dust bunnies dance in its beam. It glittered golden and shimmered brighter than the sun itself.

The boy leaned down to the object on one of the lower shelves and dragged it from the dust and broken shards that obscured it from view. It sang to him as he pulled it towards him. A sword. The hilt lay heavy in his hands and yet comfortable and the blade shimmered in a blue light he had never seen before. Carefully sliding his fingers along the blade, he felt it bite into his torn skin. It didn't hurt and the little drop of blood that trickled over the iron seemed to mix into the light and then disappear.

He stared at the sword for a moment, open-mouthed. What he could do with this! How he could get his kingdom back, his throne! How the world would change, how justice would return! Dreams that were just fantasies before suddenly became plans.

The boy dragged the scabbard from the shelf as well and put the singing sword back into it. He pressed the weapon close to his body, hid it as best as he could underneath the threadbare tunic that was his only possession and then he started to run again, not into the shop to escape the guards, but out of the store that saved his life.

Out of the door, he looked back, just this once, just to remember the store that gave him hope, just in case he did get his kingdom back, just in case the world changed for the better for him. He could apologize then, he could pay and...

The store was gone. There was no store. There was not even a door, not even the window through which the sun had send its beams directly towards the sword. Behind him, there was just a wall and to the left a bakery and to the right one of a thousand small alleys in the city.

The boy shook his head, stumbling away on shaking legs, while the clerk, Pete, crossed his arms in front of his chest with a smile and waited for him to disappear around the corner. He leaned against the door frame and let the sun shine on his leathery face. The deep scars on his cheeks and over his eyes stood out white against his tanned skin and changed his face into a grotesque mask with every smile.

When the boy was gone, he turned away and towards the shop, then he hesitated a moment. His fingers brushed over the invisible barrier separating the shop from the outside world, the barrier that only sometimes was a portal and never for him, before he closed the door with a sigh.

Pete wandered through the labyrinthine aisles of the shop, brushing dust away that wasn't supposed to be there, adding some were it was opportune. It was an aimless wandering, avoiding going into the back of the shop, going behind the curtain where his master lay in bed. He knew he couldn't delay his duties forever and alone the thought of attempting it made the welts on his back hurt again, no matter how old they were, no matter how long it had been since his master added new ones to the labyrinth of scars that so strangely seemed to mirror the labyrinth of the shelves.

Finally, the clerk returned to the till and the list he had hung there himself and he had written himself. It showed his duties, it showed the worlds and the tasks, the magical objects and futures they would influence.

A game that drags the player into a different world. Reason: Revenge.

He didn't like revenge tasks, didn't like to punish with the magic of the shop, but it wasn't his choice.

Closing sliding doors here and opening others there, the shop turned from the vaguely mediaeval setting it just was into a more modern toy store with aisles and aisles of boardgames and stuffed animals. This shop, this layout, was closer to his own world, to the one he had once left when he and his partner stumbled into the store to rob it, though he could never be sure if it really was his world. Maybe he passed through it a thousand times in the time of his servitude, maybe he never did. His master never bothered to tell him and he never dared to use the crystal ball himself to find an answer.

When the shop was set up for the next customer, the clerk moved the curtain behind the register aside and entered the part no client would ever see. In a gesture he must have repeated a million times by now, his hands brushed over the black motorcycle helmet he had sat down there just a few days after his imprisonment. By now, after years and years in the same spot and after being touched in the same spot again and again, it had lost most of its shine and the visor was dark with dust. The cheap synthetic leather on the inside had turned brittle and every morning he found flecks of it that had dripped down from the table the helmet sat on. In all the years he had been here, he had never put the helmet back on, he had never tried it, not even once. One gesture of his later master during the robbery had cracked the helmet in a million pieces and some had cut his face into shreds. While he pressed his hands over the bleeding wounds and screamed in pain, another flick of his master's hands had reformed the helmet on the floor. It was the first time he saw magic, real magic. And even though it was by far not the last time, he never dared to put it back on his head.

Through narrow corridors that were filled with just as much a jumbled mess of all kinds of things as the shop, the man went towards his master's bedroom. It was the only room that was somewhat tidy, though in a rather chaotic way. Knick-knacks stood on every surface, books lay in every corner, but there was a system to the madness and the whip next to the bed reminded Pete every time he entered the room that he should never, ever forget the order of things – not the order of his master's belongings and not the order of their relationship.

The master lay deep in the cushions of his four-poster bed that stood in the middle of the room. Thick curtains kept the light away from the old man and a gramophone played music from one of the countless worlds they had visited over the years. Pete could see just the pale hands of his master through a small gap in the curtains but he didn't need to see him to know what he looked like. Frail and weak, with thin stringy grey hair and protruding bones, he seemed to get lost in the lush cushions of silk and brocade.

When Pete entered the room, a flick of his masters fingers brought the music to a stop and the curtains opened. He sat up in bed and his cold, violet eyes looked at the other man with a mixture of compassion, pity and disgust he never managed to get rid of in all these years.

Pete stepped towards the bed and knelt down on the thick carpet. His head bowed deep, he waited for his master to speak to him first.

"The future king has his magical sword?" the shopkeeper asked with the tiniest amount of amusement in his croaking voice.

"Yes, Master Aethildbriaith." Even after all these years, Pete still stumbled over the name but that didn't change the fact that his master demanded that he use it whenever he spoke to him.

"And the next task, the boardgame?"

Pete bit his lip. "All is ready, Master Aethildbriaith."

"You hesitated, Slave." It was a simple statement and Pete wasn't even sure what it was based on but the accusation and warning was clear nonetheless.

"I'm sorry, Master Aethildbriaith. I obeyed, I did. It's just... I never liked it when we use the powers we have to punish. Giving others the power to right wrongs is one thing, but..."

"Revenge unsettles your stomach? Still? You were always a weird one, Slave. Which is probably why I never trained you to become one of the procurers. A murderer, and you still don't have the stomach to go out in the world and get the things back that need to be given to their rightful owners. Because it could hurt someone, because it could upset someone, because it is wrong. Of all my slaves, you are the strangest. From worlds without human life, from worlds with an upside-down view of right and wrong, from worlds that are pure chaos or pure oppression and still most of my slaves learn to do as they are told or die. But you, you obey and you even understand, better than most, and yet... And yet there's this blockage in you, this ... unwillingness to do what needs to be done..."

Pete would never dare stop listening to his master, no matter how often he had heard similar rants. Once, just once, he had not listened and Aethildbriaith had noticed it right away and ordered him to repeat his speech word for word or feel the whip. A master who could heal you with just a thought, with just a gesture, was worse than Pete could have ever imagined.

But as the rant continued on and on, Pete's hands still began to repeat the rhythm of the song his master had listened to before on his legs and he infused them with just enough magic to play the melody as well. Little dancing lights, like the reflections of a mirror ball, shot beams at the walls of the spacious room. Little dancing lights. It was the first spell his master had ever taught him, but by far not the last. Now, he knew them all, he knew of the scrying spell they used to locate missing artefacts, he knew of the illusions that hid the shop, he even knew how to break the bindings that kept him there and the barrier that only the slaves could feel.

A prolonged silence dragged Pete from his thoughts. Breaking protocol, he looked up at his master. The slap that burned on his cheek the next second was not unexpected and not worth a reaction, not even an apology.

Master Aethildbriaith continued speaking as if he had never interrupted his own speech, though his voice sounded slightly milder now. "I now you don't like revenge, Slave. I know you don't like it when we take commissions. But even revenge will better the world it is served in. And not all wares can be procured by our slaves and still we need them to change the worlds to the better. The revenge demon who hired us for this task, he offered the djinn bottle we need for the besieged city in the desert in... in..."

"Gavtovim, Master Aethildbriaith. I know. The mayor needs the djinn to save his city from the sandstorms and the attacking monsters. I know, Master. I did the scrying myself, it's just, it's just..." Pete shook his head.

He knew the reasons of every single task they did, every object they delivered, every object they collected. And he agreed with them. The girl who was supposed to receive the boardgame that was laid out for her in the shop was a bully that needed to be taught a lesson. And maybe it would change her path and turn her into a better person. And he had looked more than once into the changed paths of the people their wares touched and how their interference changed their worlds to the better. But he just wished it could be done by helping, not hurting.

"I know, Slave, I know." Master Aethildbriaith said gently and brushed over Pete's burning cheek with his bony knuckles. The older man sank back into his cushions with a sigh. "We do good, Slave, never forget this." With an impatient gestured of his hand, he shooed Pete way. "Go and transport the shop, now. Don't you dare forget your duties."

Pete bowed down until his forehead touched the wooden frame of the bed and his unruly brown hair tickled the hand of his master. "Of course, Master Aethildbriaith." He stood up and left the room without looking back.

His steps led him into the shopkeeper's study, where the crystal ball sat on a rickety chair and a complicated astrolabe controlled the shop's place in time and space and dimension. The old bronze instrument was decorated in languages from all over the place, edged into the metal from one master of the shop after another. Underneath all of them, as the last language of them all, Latin letters formed English words.

Pete's fingers brushed over the cold instrument, setting its delicate rings and spheres in specific places with the tiniest movements. No world they visited ever had a name when they spoke about it. Places in the world had names, but the worlds themselves were just reality.

Slowly, the astrolabe started to move and with its motion the shop around Pete began to shudder and creak. Glasses clinked against each other, wares fell from the shelves, and Pete's ears rang with a screeching, high-pitched wail. A bright light engulfed the instrument, then Pete, then the shop. Turning around an axis in the middle of the astrolabe, the whole world spun around the shop. Except for the shaking, nothing moved for Pete. The store didn't rise into the air, nor did it shrink and expand. But the world outside the small window in the study began to spin and shift, until just flecks of colour wafted there in a confusing cloud. Just as quick as the cloud had formed, the colours drifted apart from each other again and formed rectangles and triangles and circles, then the more distinct shapes of houses and trees and cars in the streets.

As soon as the shaking stopped, Pete dragged a bucket his master had placed their just a week after their first meeting towards himself and threw up. In years, in decades, in centuries, in millions and billions of transitions, he had never gotten used to it.

But feeling sick to his stomach and with the taste of bile on his tongue was no reason to idle, because he knew he wasn't really sick, a point his master had made clear from the very beginning. And so Pete got back on his feet to make sure that the boardgames and other toys all had stayed on the shelves and that the exterior of the store would look appropriate in the environment it was placed in now.

It did, with little rearrangements of the magic, and Pete settled into the chair behind the register to wait for his next customer. He leaned back on the one shorter leg of the chair and fished his book out of the shelves under the till. Words made no sense at first, they never did, until his mind followed the intricate meaning of stories and histories and language stopped to be a barrier. This was just one of the magics he never quite managed to figure out.

A smile danced on his scarred lips as he read about the heroine walking into a little store that wasn't there the day before when the bell over his own door sounded and in came a clique of high-school girls.

Laughing, they walked through the wide aisles of the store and swept some of the games from their clean metal shelves, sometimes accidentality but more often with the pure intent of arrogance. Just as randomly and wilfully, they sometimes pushed the smallest of their group forward a few steps until she stumbled against one of the shelves. With a forced smile, she just kept walking.

As he knew would happen, one of the games that landed on the floor was the one he had chosen for the revenge demon. It landed with a clatter on the polished linoleum and the box opened at its seams.

Pete looked up and put the book away with a sigh. "You'll have to buy this," he said with a bored retail voice. "You broke it, you bought it."

"Yeah, sure..." one of the girls answered and giggled in his face.

But one of the other girls had spotted the little figurines that had fallen from the box and picked them up. She moved them between her fingers and scraped the golden paint with her nail. "Actually, she said, this is, like, exactly what we want!"

They hadn't planned on buying anything. Sure, they wanted to leave the store with a game for their party, but buying was not part of the equation. Still, with the clerk looking directly at her, she pulled a wallet out of the backpack of the smaller girl. "Daddy's paying," she said with a shrug and evil grin and put a credit card on Pete's desk. The younger girls shoulders cramped.

The credit card reader took its time to beep, as it always did. Pete could only assume that the electronic signal took its time to be send through time and space, but somehow even paid like that their little treasure room behind the slaves' quarters still added a bit of gold some moments later. Magic was weird, even after all these years.

Before they had even left the store with their prize, Pete had already turned back to the book on his lap. He didn't follow them with his eyes nor with his body as he had done for the dethroned prince just this morning. But when the bell over the door sounded again, he put the book away and stood up. Walking through the aisles and picking up what had fallen, he made his way to the door to lock it.

In the routine of long years, Pete automatically checked the list behind the register again and found it empty for the next days, which only meant that he was supposed to bring the store into the void and use his time to clean it and prepare it. Mentally, he crossed the daily tasks off another list. He still had to cook and do the washing, he still had to mend the wall where the Minotaur had rampaged in the backroom a few weeks ago and then there was the scrying for the next couple of weeks that still needed to be done.

His thoughts were preoccupied on his way back into the study. And even setting the spheres was done absent-mindedly and with the routine of a thousand years. When the astrolabe brought the shop through the veil, his ears rang as always. But the screeching didn't stop when the store settled in in the in-between. It didn't stop when he emptied his stomach for the third time that day or when he stood up to clean the bucket.

He didn't get far. A girl stood in the doorway, her hand pressed over her mouth but only slightly muffling her scream. "What the fuck!?" Pete shook his head. "Where the fuck did you come from?" Only after asking the question, he managed to really look at the girl. He had seen her before, just minutes before, being pushed by the older bully and having her wallet stolen by her.

She didn't look at him or answer. Instead, she was staring at the colourful cloud outside the window, where seconds before her city had been.

"Shit." Pete cursed as the situation became clear for him with all its force. She had travelled, she was bound. The store had taken her, had swallowed her with its magic and the only way for her to stay alive was to return to it again and again to taste its magic again. Without it, she would perish and die.

"Language, Slave." Master Aethildbriaith admonished him from behind the girl. Before she could even turn around, he had put his hands on her head and she slowly sank to the ground, asleep. He caught her in his arms and lowered her until she lay with her head in his lap.

"Dammit, she's not supposed to be here! She's not supposed to fucking serve as your slave! She's a victim! She's innocent!"

"Mostly," the shopkeeper said and brushed some stray hairs from her forehead "as most of us are either mostly innocent or mostly guilty, but never completely one or the other. You know the magic here, you know the rules. She cannot go back. Which is, by the way, your fault. You didn't pay attention."

"Fuck! No, I didn't, but... Master, you take criminals, murderers, demons, not..., not little girls that...that..."

"Just stumble behind the curtain? There's magic even I cannot break, not just like that..." Aethildbriaith watched the eyelids of the girl flutter. "When the veil opens without our choice and our action – that is how new slaves come into the shop. Those who break the barrier, those who are somehow attuned to the shop's magic. It's not always criminals, murderers, demons, traitors, necromancers..." Aethildbriaith sighed. "Not always. My master wasn't, but he was still bound. He could have freed himself, I could have freed myself but..."

Sensing that Aethildbriaith was on a fork in destiny's path and even agreeing with him, Pete knelt on the ground and waited for the old man to continue speaking. His own reaction had been spontaneous, the disagreement with the magic's decision more instinct than anything else, but taking a closer look at the girl he understood his own reaction. She looked like his daughter, like the girl he had left behind in his world all these years ago, when he had robbed a magical store and shot his partner in the process. It wasn't her, but that didn't change the fact that it felt like her.

"You are a murderer, Slave." Aethildbriaith was looking down at the girl but he wasn't speaking to her or even seeing her. "You can never repay this debt. Just like I can never repay mine. Just like she can never repay hers. Not if I do this, not if I... She wouldn't even know, but her choice... it would lead to my choice... And freedom... it has a price, and the price is a life."

Aethildbriaith suddenly looked up at Pete and his eyes glowed golden, reflecting the dancing lights outside of the window. "How many destinies did I change for the better? How many worlds did I save?" He sighed again, then, he continued with resolution. "Set the destination to her world, Slave."

"Yes, Master Aethildbriaith," Pete said and bowed down to the floor. He wanted to smile, but something in his master's voice stopped him and his hands moved slowly and his fingers felt cold and stiff as he adjusted the astrolabe. Not even his stomach dared to cramp when the shop settled back into position.

His master's words only sank in when he turned back towards him now. A life? He had known this, had learned it many years ago when the shopkeeper asked him if he was willing to kill to be freed and he had said no. Thoughts rushed through his mind, but before he could think them all through or speak even parts of them, Aethildbriaith pushed the girl slightly in his direction. "Put her outside. Next to the door."

"Yes, Master Aethildbriaith." The reaction was automatic after all these years and Pete picked up the girl and carried her through the shop. She was heavy in his arms, but her weight helped him clear his mind until only one thought was left. I'm ready.

"If you have to take a life for her freedom," he said as he knelt down in front of his master again, "then I am ready."

Aethildbriaith shook his head and his eyes burned with the sadness of wisdom. "I was a murderer once, a necromancer even, I will not become one again. Besides, it is too late."

"Master?"

A crooked smile turned the floppy skin around the master's mouth into a grotesque mask. "And not possible. Some magic..." His head sank onto his chest and he had to speak against the weight of his skull as he continued speaking. "Some magic belongs to the shop." He breathed in and out as if he needed to remind himself how breathing worked. "Some serves only the master. And some may be used by the slaves. You are a good person, Slave, a good person. Less ruthless than I am, more willing to... to sacrifice. But I am old, I am so old..."

"Master!" Pete cried out as the old man tipped forward, unable to catch his fall with stiffened arms. Gravity rolled him on his side, so that he faced the younger man. The smile was frozen on his face and his lips hardly moved.

"It's been so long, so, so long..." His eyelids fluttered, then stayed open, paralysed.

"I can save you, Master Aethildbriaith, I can -" Pete tried to jump to his feet.

"Stay, Slave!" The order stopped him in his tracks. Spoken with the same force and authority as Pete was used to, he didn't even think to disobey.

"Stay." Aethildbriaith said calmer and weaker, "Stay, please. And don't call me Master, Pete Not any-more. I bequeath this store to you. I offer you its magic, its possessions and its slaves. I pass to you its mission and its duty. I offer you myself, Master, for I am nothing but a slave, just as I was when I first entered this store."

"What, no, I cannot, I -"

"You can and you will. It is decided."

"Then..., then I order you to stay alive!"

Master Aethildbriaith laughed with the last bit of breath at the weak attempt at authority in Pete's voice. "I cannot, because I allowed her to leave. Be good to your slaves. They all deserve the punishment they receive, but none deserve eternal damnation."

Pete brushed away an errant tear.

"Even for a few moments, it is an honour to serve you, Master Pete."

Taken out of time so long ago, Aethildbriaith was now taken out of life as well. His eyes didn't close, his chest just stopped to rise and fall. On the street outside, cars honked and tyres screeched, then the body's dust started to trickle down to the ground. It seemed like dandruff at first, dancing in the light that came through the window, then the dust became sand and then ash. It wafted in the air, slowly dissolving the body next to Pete's knees. The little kernels disintegrated into even smaller particles, then atoms, too small to see. In the end, Pete knelt next to the empty robe of his former master. With every breath, he knew he took some of him into himself, until all of him was gone.

Then, the new shopkeeper stood up and surveyed his store.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday must have a proprietor, right?

Fun-fact: My spell-check doesn't like the name Aethildbriaith (who would have thought) but sometimes the alternative suggestions are great. In this case: Childbearing. Now I have this necromancer called Childbearing running around in my head...  (laugh)

The pacing is all over the place. Oh, well...

Baron

I thought I saw an extension kicking around in the discount bin the last time I was here.  Is it still on sale?   (roll)

EjectedStar

I do have this 'Monkey Paw of Deadline Extension' somewhere on that dusty shelf right there behind you.

Yep, that shelf.  No, sir, that's a 'Ape Paw of Deadline Shortening', are you missing your glasses? Everyone knows the differences between a monkey paw and an ape paw.

Yes, that one right there, slighty used, don't mind the dust or the dried blood. It's used, what do you expect?

Alright, alright, just bring it here, let me take a gander at its price tag.

Hmm. Well, all but one of the fingers are curled in, so I think I can let it go for 16 Veldmars.

No, you heard me correctly, and Mr. Baron, sir, please don't use that kind of language in my establishment, it's rude and rather unbecoming of a dapper man of your esteem.

Tsk. Fine, I will take 12 Veldmars for it, but I will do so with much disdain.

9... 10... 11... 12... You hear the disdain dripping from my words? I usually only use that much when I say hello to my mother-in-law, so count yourself lucky.

Sure, sure, take a nice healthy look at it.

What do you mean "How do I use it?" It's a Monkey Paw, you hold it within your hands, close your eyes and make your wish. In this case you'd wish for your Deadline Extension.

Yep, you'd close your eyes just like that and...

...

Did you just make the wish here?

No, I know you did. Look! Look there, the last finger has curled upon itself. Gods, man! You can't just make that kind of wish in the presence of others!

There are so many different kinds of way your wish could go wrong, and that burden lies on you, but now you have involved me within your wicked scheme!

Sir! Are you even paying attention? Why are you scrolling through your phone at a time like this?

That wry smile... I see, you read a post on some small niche forum that your deadline has been extended until September  27th? Oh, congratulations to you, I am oh so very happy for you, so very happy.

...

What am I looking around this shop for? Why, I'm waiting for something horribly wicked to come after you, it is a Monkey's Paw after all. I'm just hoping your ill-gotten gains don't have an affect on me, since I was in such close proximity when you made your wish.

Hm. That's odd, you usually get your comeuppance by now-

Wait! That jingling at the door, someone is entering the shop. Perhaps it is your driver, here to tell you that your vehicle has been struck, or your attorney who wants to inform you that the deadline for your inheritance to come into effect has been extended indefinitely, ooh, wouldn't that be deliciously ironic.

Wait... That voice... No, it can't be.

It's... my mother-in-law.

This is your doing! Damn you and your Monkey Paw!

...

Please don't go, I'll refund all of your Veldmars! Please, stop! Don't...

*Sigh*

Hello, Gloris. No, that's not disdain in my voice, I've just got a slight stuffy nose.

...

I know I'm so pathetic I can't even keep one customer in my little trinket shop. Thank you for pointing it out.

Mandle

And here I was rushing for the register thinking it was almost closing time... But, then again, do I really wanna be in here after dark? The lights are out here and there and the bulbs that are still on have that weird orange color they get just before they... Bzzzzt-POP! OH NO!!!

Mandle

Daring The Devil(PART ONE)

The familiar wind tore at Daring's jumpsuit, rippling it, and his face, into fast waves as he fell the first thousand feet from the plane he had just jumped from without a parachute.

Daring was not his name by birth, but it was close. His real name was Darrel, last name Keel, and ever since he had been a child in front of the TV he had wanted to be a daredevil. And, after a legal first-name change, that is what he was.

And, after three trial-jumps with chutes, none of which he had had to use, here he was without one and as he passed the two-thousand-foot mark, his eyes locked on the target, and he was happy as a fucking clam.

He was even happier than the first time he saw Evel Knievel on TV when he was eight and watched his newfound hero clear the motorcycle jump at the L.A. Coliseum in '73. Darrel, sitting cross-legged right in front of the huge TV, back when they were still a piece of wooden furniture, had turned to his parents, both on the sofa bending to each side to try to see some of the spectacle around the sides of their red-haired little brat's head, and said "WOW!".

As he passed the thousand foot mark, his body planed out in a downward sharp angle with his legs crossed at the ankles and hands clasped behind his back and his eyes locked on the net, he knew that he had already made it.

Only one of his parents that had sat on the sofa in '73 was down there near the net to see him do this. He knew she was looking up at him, wringing her hands and praying to her God. To the same God that had refused to save her husband from cancer. And yet she still prayed, stupid, warm, wonderful woman that she was.

"Well, fuck God!", thought Daring, as he somersaulted forward in free-fall and then spread-eagled his arms and legs and felt the soft give of the massive suspended net against his back.

He had done it! He was down! He was world-famous!

The beers and whiskey and pussy that night at the bar and afterwards were the sweetest and most intoxicating things Daring had ever tasted. Losing himself as the center of attention of the admirers in the bar and the lovers in the bed later was so much better than the jump itself.

And then there were the talk-show appearances and the other parties and the blow and the much more sex and then...

One day his phone didn't ring.

But it was okay. He would just do another line of coke and take a rest from the fun-show of being a celebrity.

"Hmmm," Daring thought to himself "I smell really funky."

"When was the last time I took a shower?" he asked himself out loud as he sat with a thump on the sofa and opened his little leather kit.

After the preparations were done he snorted the line of coke from the glass-topped coffee table of his small but cool bachelor-pad and grabbed the remotes for the TV and DVD player. He pointed them and squinted down one eye and made "BAM! BAM!" noises as he switched on the TV and the DVD player in turn.

His interview with the reporter right after he had climbed out of the collapsed seventy-meter net started playing.

Daring Keen, previously known as "Darrel Keen", and now known to the world by his stage-name "Daring The Devil", leaned back on the sofa, closed his eyes, and let the cocaine drip hit the back of his throat with its wonderful bitter second kick.

"WOOO-EEE!!!" he shouted and jumped up and headed for the shower as the interview he knew by heart played on.

As he stepped into the shower cubicle in his bathroom just off the living room, his head turned sideways and his eyes fixed on the screen, the sexy little reporter chick he had fucked at least four times by his own recall was breathlessly asking "What were you thinking when you realized you were going to make it?" in her husky little voice and by the time the version of himself on the TV screen was replying "I only had one thought: Thank God!" the real Darrel Keen, now known to the world as "Daring The Devil", had already slipped on the slick floor of his algae-slimey shower stall floor, fallen backwards in an inelegant whirl of pin-wheeling arms, broken his neck against the porcelain sink behind him, and died.

*****************************************************************************************************

In his office he sat, his many, many, many fingers grasping many, many quills, each from the wings of fallen angels and filled with the blood of false prophets, flying over the scrolls of the mundane accounting of the dead and damned.

From the carbon-scorched black-box of Flight Germanwings Flight 9525 on the corner of his desk the screaming mouth of Andreas Lubitz embedded in the corner of it yelled "VISITATION REQUESTED!!! LET ME DIE!!!".

The Devil looked up from his "paper"-work, glad for the distraction and said, for the three-hundred-million four-hundred-thousand six-hundred and twenty-third time "Request denied. Let them in." in his one true voice.

The great doors of his office spread inwards, each grating squeal of their hinges the screams of a million liars, and in floated Beelzebub, his pulpy ever-morphing form popping the useless shredded wings of flies in and out through the folds of his squelching polyps at a rate that could approximate flight but did not need to, despite the continuous buzzing sound they produced.

The Devil, his grin growing wider and wider and wider asked "What is this most welcome interruption?".

Beelzebub answered  "Tzzzze Shzzopkzzzeeeper Izzzzz Rezzquirzzzed!".

"hA! It HaS bEeN a LoNg AgE sInCe I wOrE hIs SkIn," The Devil, in his Legion voice, replied, already beginning to change his appearance into that of a kindly-looking old man with many fewer fingers and many fewer teeth.

**********************************************************************************************************

The kindly-looking old shopkeeper glanced up from his newspaper, pulling his bifocal specticles up his long hooked nose, and said "Oh! You startled me!".

Daring Keen, previously known as "Darrel Keen", and now the world-renowned "Daring The Devil", looked down at the extended hand he did not remember opening the door of this dusty old shop with. He looked back over his shoulder, past his red middle-aged mullet to the street outside but saw nothing but glare and a few cars passing by, or were they cars? Every few moments at a time, instead of cars, they looked like thundering beastly things that wrapped their...

"Are you coming all the way in or are you on your way out?" chuckled the old shopkeeper, snapping Daring's gaze back to him.

"Sorry.. what?" Daring managed, still trying to remember why he was here. He did remember to let go of the doorknob though, and he was glad for it. It had felt warm and , somehow, slimy.

"aRe YoU... >HACK<... >COUGH< Sorry, excuse me. I asked if you were in or out?" said the shopkeeper, bringing up a rag stained with crusty ancient snot-trails only to spit a wad of yellow phlegm into before shoving it hastily back away into the waistcoat pocket of his three-piece-suit which, despite the decrepit and dusty interior of the shop, appeared to have been recently tailored at a rather upper-class establishme...

"Ahhh, yeah... I was on my way in," replied Daring "I guess... but...".

"But what?! But you were wondering what particular upper-class establishment my suit was tailored at?!"

"No, I didn't ask abou... I mean, I was wondering... but you don't just ask something like..."

"But why not?" butted in the shopkeeper and Daring had no idea how he had suddenly gotten from the threshold of the door of the shop to right up in front of the shopkeeper's dusty counter just like that. There was something not quite...

"Not quite proper? Is that what you were thinking?!" asked the shopkeeper, now right up in Daring's face somehow. When did he stand u...

"AH!" uttered Daring, surprised by the shopkeeper's proximity and breath.

"So, what IS proper anyway?" leered the shopkeeper, all up close in Daring's face "Is it not proper to ask an honest question? HE wOuLdN't ThInK tO bE aS hOnEsT wOuLd HE?!" and pulled the blood-stained surgeon's mask out from his waistcoat pocket again and hacked phlegm into it that had a weird tinge of...

Daring snapped his head from side to side to clear it and was relieved to see that the cloth the old shopkeeper was tucking back into his waistcoat pocket was just a snotty old-man's rag and not what he had thought he had se...

"See anything you like?" snapped the shopkeeper in a harsh voice, suddenly back in his chair behind his dusty counter.

Daring said "Oh, shit! I just remembered! I might have a concussion from my fall. That might be why I'm acting all weird. Sorry if that is the case. I've been having some weird hallucinations ever since I came in here and I don't really remember how I got here and I might be in the wrong place..." but he trailed off when he saw that the shopkeeper was just leaning back in his old-timey wooden reclining chair with its four legs ending in (CLAWS, NO!) wheels under them and grinning up at him with a grin that got (WIDER AND WIDER, NO! STOP!) friendlier and friendlier and then the kindly-looking old shopkeeper said:

"You're dead."

"WHAT?!" yelled Daring, a bit louder and with more of a nervous breaking of his voice than he would normally like to hear.

"Yes, yes, yes... and indeed..." said the old kindly shopkeeper as his fingers drummed of the countertop and multiplied before Daring's eyes twice, then thrice and then...

"YES AGAIN!" said the old man but he wasn't a kindly-looking old shopkeeper anymore, well at least, not exactly. There were still layers that LOOKED LIKE a kindly-old shopkeeper pulsing around his face but they were fluxing here and there and, through the cracks, Daring saw a face that he knew would break his mind if he saw it in its entirity so he smooshed his eyes shut and screamed:

"OHHHH FUUUCK!"

"yEs InDeEd, A sAnE rEsPoNsE," gurgled forth from whatever now was in front of him, wherever he was, and Darling's mind told him that he wasn't in a good place and, in fact, he was in...

"Hell is such a crude word," said the old kindly shopkeeper from behind his dusty old counter.

Daring squinted his eyes open one at a time and everything was as it had been. The rows upon rows of grey boxes on shelves behind the counter were back again and the merchandise on either side of him in the customer area was still there, although he couldn't quite make out what this shop was selling. Everything looked grey and...

"The shop sells whatever you wanted to buy when you came in," said the kindly old man.

Daring looked into the old man's eyes and said "I'm really dead? I really slipped in the shower and died?"

"Now we drop all pretense and get to the deal we were brought here to make!" the old man said.

"NO! I can't die slipping in the shower! They would all laugh at me! I'm famous for risking my life doing amazi..."

"Are you sure you are all that famous anymore? When was the last time you got a call for a party or an interview?"

"Just last week!"

"You can't lie to me. I am the father of lies."

"Well, a few weeks ago... Oh, shit, it was months ago." muttered Daring as his head slumped down in despair.

"If you just come to us now and stop resisting we have a cell you can sit in without TOO much torment. Your only deadly sin is Pride. Every hour you will just see the news reports of your embarrassing demise from the news anchors with their chuckling eyes. You might even get out after a few tens of thousands of millennia. We DO have a parole board down here you know."

Daring ripped his head back up and stared deep into the eyes of the shopkeeper and said "NO! You said I could buy something here! I know what I want!"

"Make your choice and I will ring it up."

"I want to go back! I want to do the greatest stunt of all time! And, and... and then after I have done the stunt, and it's legit and all, I just die from something like an exploding fuel tank or somebody shoots me or whatever. As long as the stunt was successful... and then you can have me forever."

The kindly old man behind the dusty counter reached out and hit a key on the old-timey cash-register and a sign popped up in its top window.

It said "DEAL".

*************************************************************************************************************************

Daring Keel, previously known as "Darrel Keen" and now only known as a fading star under the name "Daring The Devil" woke up on his bathroom floor with a really fucking bad headache.

It was night now but the flickering of the TV set still played across the mildewed walls of the bathroom. He had set the DVD player to repeat-mode a long time ago.

Daring heard the words "...here with the brave daredevil who calls himself  'Daring The Devil" after his death-defying dive from the heavens and there is one question burning on my lips which is..." as he tried to jump up and fell back down again and then tried to crawl for the remote but she continued with "What were you thinking when you realized you were going to make it?".

He managed to fumble the remote into his hand from the coffee table in his crawling position and hit the pause button just as he replied "I only had one thought:" and then the screen froze on his shit-eating grin before he could say his lie.

Daring shook his head to try and clear it but the headache was still rattling around in there.

That was when he realized he was hungry as hell. He went out, got the biggest burger meal he could at the local joint, and then came back home and passed out from exhaustion of the sofa in front of the screensaver of his DVD player showing a multi-colored ball bouncing off the edges of the screen when it hit them.

He woke up at a bit after five in the morning with a stiff neck and switched off the DVD player while it was still on the screensaver.

Then he went and got a plastic container of bleach from under the kitchen sink and started to clean his bathroom with a plastic scrubbing brush he couldn't even remember buying.

And then he took a shower and called his agent.

********************************************************************************************************

"AND HERE WE ARE! At the much-anticipated daredevil stunt of Daring Keen or, as he is more widely known as: "Daring The Devil"!" squealed the newer, and even cuter, lady reporter into her microphone as the camera panned far up and zoomed in on the right to show Darrel climbing onto a wrecking ball swayed all the way back from its crane and held in place by a release cable.

The camera pans dizzyingly to the far left, bypassing the boring empty architecture of the dry-dock this stunt is taking place in, to another wrecking ball on the far left end, also held in place by a safety cable and ready to swing.

"Once the countdown ends the wrecking balls will both swing down and pass each other and Daring will make his... DARING jump from one to the other and ride it back to safety on its backwards swing. This kind of stunt has never ever been THOUGHT of, let alone attempted but here we are and..."

BLAAAAAAAT!!!

"Ah, there is the signal from the harbor warning horn! And the cameras are following him! He is holding onto the wrecking ball's cable like a champ! The ball is picking up momentum! AND... OH NO! It looks like his foot has slipped off the round surface of the... OH GOD! He has fallen around to the front of the ball, one hand on the cable.. but... OH GOD! THE BALLS ARE GONNA HIT EACH OTHER WITH HIM IN-BETWEEN!!!"

WHACKSPLAT!!!

********************************************************************************************************

He took one of his many, many, many fingers from the touchscreen tablet, each single LED pixel of it imprisoning the enslaved souls of a thousand sinners of Sloth building their towers to the sky over and over only to light the beacon on top of it for the tower to collapse and the whole process to start over, and turned his head to grin, with his many, many teeth, back and up at Beelzebub, watching, hovering and buzzing behind his left shoulder, and said in his true voice "I swiped left".

Beezlebub buzzed even louder in amusement.

********************************************************************************************************

Darrel opened his eyes and found that he couldn't move any part of his body *except* for his eyes.

He turned them downwards and saw that the entirety of his body was encased in a solid plaster cast from neck to toe.

And then the pain came. It came suddenly and everywhere, stabbing like knives thrust into his very bones, and the sweat broke on his brow and scalp. The beads of sweat formed into rivulets and, as they ran down both sides of his nose, he saw that they were milky white, stained from the plaster that also covered the entire top and back of his head, and then they ran into his eyes and he could not blink them away fast enough so he just smooshed his eyes shut and tried to call out for help.

But his jaw, broken in seven places, was wired and bolted in place and all that came out of his pain-pursed lips was a feeble "mmmmpphhh".

It took the hospital staff another five hours to notice that he was awake and ramp up his medication to put him back into the coma which he was supposed to ride out the next two months of his care blissfully unaware in.

Five hours of hell, but nothing compared to the pain that was waiting for him on the other side of the coma.

*******************************************************************************************************************

"AAAARRPPPHHHHH!" screamed Darrel Keen, previously known as Daring The Devil, as the big hairy male nurse called Billy hefted him into the waiting wheelchair.

"Oh, shush," said Billy, in no pain himself, and continued with "This is nothing. Wait until you meet Pete."

"Meet who?" gasped Darrel.

"Meet Pete" replied Billy through a tight grin as he went around behind the wheelchair and began to push it without care for the yelps and screams from its occupant at every sharp turn and sudden stop and start.

"Meat-Pete" was the unvocalized nickname that Darrel applied to his rehabilitation trainer and personal torturer Peter Jacobs.

Every day he was taken down to the hospital's torture chamber with its treadmills and parallel bars and, as he screamed and wept and asked to die, Peter Jacobs just kept saying "You are almost halfway there." even if he had taken only three steps out of the fifteen required or, later on, only seven out of the twenty-five sit-ups.

"Oh, shut up!" barked Meat-Pete, two months into the therapy. "What are you fuckin' crying about? Does baby have an ouchie? You are a living fuckin' miracle, you know that?! You had..."

Darrel brushed the tears of pain from his cheeks, the tears that ran clear now that his full-body cast was long gone and spat out "Yeah, yeah! I know! I had the whole of my abdomen pushed up into my chest cavity and... UGH! I CAN'T DO ONE FUCKING MORE PRESS SO FUCK THIS AND FUCK Y..."

"AND EVERY FUCKING BONE IN YOUR FUCKING BODY FRACTURED INTO FUCKING SAND!!!" yelled Peter at first from his huge fat hateable face but finished with a gentle "And look at you now, Darrel."

Darrel looked down at his legs and willed them to do just one more press on the pedals of the gym machine he was seated in and tears came to his eyes, but not from the pain this time, and he said "You say that a lot you know."

Peter's brow creased on his massive bald head into four rows of bulging ridges of fat and he said "Say what?"

"The f-f-f-uckin' UGH! The fuckin' F-word!" grunted Darrel at he completed the final leg-press and collapsed back into the hateful machine's bench seat.

Through his pudgy lips Peter began "Well if you are so fucking tired of me then you know what we have to..."

"Have to fuckin' DO!" finished Darrel for him and then they both grinned at each other and Peter stuck out his hand.

Darrel took it and let himself be helped up. There was no waiting wheelchair anymore. The long walk back to his hospital room lay before him but it was starting to seem shorter and shorter an inch at a time every day.

******************************************************************************************************************

"AND HERE WE ARE AGAIN! At the much-anticipated daredevil stunt of the fully-recovered Daring Keen or, as he is more widely known as: "Daring The Devil"!" squealed the newer, and not quite as cute the one six years before, lady reporter into her microphone.

She turned to Camera Two, showing the rocket-sled behind her resting on the start of its four-kilometer-long track, and continued on with "After what would have been a life-ending injury for most, Daring is back at it. We have followed his miraculous recovery over the years as you can see from this footage..."

She paused and looked blankly into the camera for a few seconds and then heard "Jenny, the footage crashed! Shit! Just stall for a sec!" over her earpiece.

Jennifer Ashley Brown went on swiftly, without allowing her annoyance to show on her face, with "Well, it looks like we are having some technical issues over at the studio so... yeah, let's take a walk over here..." gesturing with a come-follow-me hand signal under the camera's field of view to the guy behind Camera Two.

As the cameraman followed her on this unrehearsed move, she walked up to the rocket-sled and patted it on its flame-painted side and said "This is the sled, named the Daring-Do, that Mr. Keen will crouch on as it accelerates up to over three-hundred kilometers-per-hour towards its eventual impact into THAT..." and she waited for the cameraman to pan down all the way to the end of the rails and continued "... solid concrete barrier at the end. The sled will impact the wall and both will be obliterated in a spectacular explosion of debris but, if all goes according to plan, Daring The Devil will jump upwards at the last instant and fly through the air over the lip of The Grand Canyon about five-hundred meters beyond and then spread his flight suit out and... AND, here is the man himself!!!"

Camera Two panned in a blur and Darrel came out off his trailer without even a trace of a limp. His body felt better than ever before, the four years of physical therapy and the other two of training and preparation for this stunt behind him. This would be the one The Shopkeeper had promised him as his glorious end. He had made sure of it this time.

He would glide into the driver's seat of the speeding convertible sports-car running autonomously along the road at the bottom of The Grand Canyon after a glide of three kilometers in the flight suit and releasing the chute on his back. He would then drive the car to a successful stop and then, after a wave for the cameras, and it would explode from the charge of C4 under it that only he knew about; A spectacular end to a spectacular life that nobody would ever forget.

Daring strutted over to the rocket-sled, impulsively kissed the lady reporter on the cheek, and climbed up onto it and grabbed hold of the bar he would depend on until it was time to jump just a split-second before the sled hit the concrete barrier at the end of the track.

Jenny Brown, despite being annoyed at the peck on the cheek, looked away from the camera and up at Darrel and asked...

*****************************************************************************************************************

"ARE YOU FUCKING STUPID OR SOMETHING?!"
"UGH! Fuck you, Meat-Pete!"
"NO! FUCK YOU! TEN MORE! NO, FUCK THAT! TWENTY MORE!"
"Can you please just turn that fucking TV off?!"
"NO! WATCH IT! RELIVE IT YOU FUCKING MORON!"

As Darrel strained and wept and tried to pull down the cross-bar on his fourteenth rep of lifting only ten kilograms of weight, the TV in front of him played out the scene for the millionth time as far as he was concerned.

He never wanted to see the cute-ish lady reporter smile into the camera ever again after he answered her final inane question and watched himself grasp hold of the rocket-sled's upside-down U-shaped bar.

Darrel looked away but Meat-Pete yelled "WATCH IT, ASSHOLE!" as he strained to pull down on the overhead workout-machine's bar and the "him" on the screen crouched down and the countdown began over the loudspeakers five years ago at the edge of The Grand Canyon.

"THREE.. TWO... WHOOOOSH!" the sled's rockets fired up, drowning out the final two numbers and the news camera panned sharply right as the sled raced away on its rails with their tinny high-pitched vibrations.

The shot cut to a second camera near the end of the track which followed the sled on its own panning arc until it was right alongside and, on the screen, Darrel saw himself jump from the sled and spread his arms and legs wide, the flight-suit snapping taught between them, and flew over the exploding wreckage of the sled and the concrete barrier below him.

This shot continued panning until he glided to the edge of the canyon five hundred meters away, dropping sharply, spread-eagled, out of view over the lip, and then cut to the coverage from a news helicopter for the anticipated sideways pan of him beginning his flight down towards the valley floor and the explosive-rigged robot-driven car below that was already accelerating into position.

For the millionth and one-th time Darrel watched the sudden strong gust of wind from the right hit his pitched-forward gliding body and catapult it into the side of a thin mesa rising up just next to the canyon wall.

SMACK! and then rattle-rattle-rattle went the falling sand and rocks around him on the screen as he tried to spread his flight-suit out for a last-moment recovery but then hit a ledge and BAM! and his warbling, echoing scream as he fell tumbling over and over, the helicopter news camera following, until the final tiny puff of dust at the bottom of the canyon.

*****************************************************************************************************************

Mandle

Daring The Devil(PART TWO)

Despite the loud amused buzzing behind him, The Devil used his Legion voice to be heard and say "i SwIpEd RiGhT." and the buzzing of the shredding fly-wings behind him reached a fever-pitch, broken bits of veiny cellulose raining down in showers of dentist-drill laughter.

Abadon, on one of his many, many, many work-breaks, squinting with at least a quarter of his half-closed eternally-lethargic eyes, leaned over The Devil's left shoulder and said "Uuuuuuummmm, waaaasn't thiiiis liiiike, yooouuu knoooow, yeeeaarrrs aaagggoo...".

The Devil grew a mouth out of the folds of the creased and schorched flesh on the left side of his neck which barked out "Yesitwasyearsagotimedoesntmatterherecatchupyoulazyfuckingcunt," right into Abadon's long droopy ear, and then the jutting strata of flesh above the reabsorbing mouth snapped shut over it with a SLAPsplat of annoyance.

*****************************************************************************************************************

Darrel's eyes snapped open.
"WHAT?!" he thought he had said but, spread flat as he was and all split and broken around the edges of his pancaked body, nothing came out of his mouth.
Above him, the glaring rays of the sun were blocked out by a descending white helicopter, risking its rotors between the rising orange walls of the crevice he lay at the bottom of, and the last thing he saw before he mercifully passed out was the big red cross on its side.

Darrel's eyes snapped open.
"OH NO!" he thought "I'm still on the helicopter!"
Flicking his eyes to the right-side window of the stretcher he was strapped to he saw something even worse:
They were still flying over the Grand Canyon.
He squeezed his eyes shut against the horrible pain and tried to shut his ears off from the medical babble of the three or four technicians working on him. Oh, fuck! Did one of them have a drooping pink rope of his intestines looped over her gloved hand?!
NO! He HADN'T seen that! He willed himself into unconciousness...

...but it didn't work.
Daring The Devil, previously known as Darrel... what was it... Darrel-something, opened his eyes and, through his bleeding split-edged mouth, managed to say "Moo-fin!"

A glasses-wearing surgical-mask-wearing face slid into view above his paralysed face and spat "No morphine for you! With your blood-pressure like this it would just kill you!"

"Nooo! Noood it.. coon't doo thoos woothooot oot!" 

"Sorry, you fucking idiot. We aren't allowed to help you kill yourself," the paramedic said, with a note of pleasure in his voice "You will have to do without the drugs and try again yourself in a year or six."

The helicopter banked north towards Las Vegas and Darrel felt some of what remained inside his left-abdomen slide out between the tear in his flesh there and still he couldn't pass out.

And then, at Las Vegas General Hospital, there were emergency operations over the next week. Five of them and he was allowed no anesthetic for any. They pushed in on the stuff coming out of him and pulled out on the stuff that needed to go back around to somewhere else and then pushed on it again. The pain built and built but Darrel couldn't escape it.

He was finally able to scream properly, instead of just gurgle, after they wired his jaw back together, but they left that for the final op for their own comfort.

And then he was back in a full-body cast and traction with no relief of drugs for another four months.

Then, one day:

"SO YOU ARE JUST THIS FUCKING STUPID!!!"

It was Meat-Pete. Of course, it had to be. That voice and that tone and that...

Except... it wasn't.

It was the shopkeeper, his suit as pristine and as recently-tailored as ever.

He stood in the doorway of the hospital room but then, as if a strobe-light in a nightclub had obscured the movement, was suddenly right up in Darrel's sideways-turned face, his milky yellowed eyes peering intensely just over the pristine white sheets of the bed, bare inches away and locked onto Darrel's eyes.

"You can just give up, you know," spoke the mouth of the shopkeeper, unseen below the edge of the hospital mattress.

"What?! You... you promised..." managed Darrel after his initial gasp of fright.

"What did I promise?!"

"You promised me one final stunt and when... when... I..."

"When you WHAT?!"

"When I make it then I... I die and... Then I am yours."

"WHEN you make it! WHEN YOU..." but the eyes of the shopkeeper started to fade into the flinty-grey ones of Peter Jacobs and Darrel found himself back on the leg-press bench after a year and a half of rehabilitation therapy "...CAN DO AT LEAST SIX MORE!!! Then you can go back and lay down in your self-hating misery and brood ALL YOU FUCKING LIKE!!!"

"FUCK YOU!!!"

"So you keep saying, but I am still yet to be fucked. You probably couldn't even fuck a supermodel anymore after all the stupid shit you have done to yourse..."

"Yeah-yeah-fuckin'-yeah. Your jokes don't get better on the thousandth time."

"Then do the last six of this set, asshole!"

"Then some dinner first and then I... ARRRGGGHHH," grunted out Darrel as he made his legs do the impossible once again, with only five more times to go and then, as he relaxed his legs back into their bent position, pressed with his feet on the metal plate of the machine again and continued "UUURRRGHH...get to fuck you all I like..."

Meat-Pete shook his head and said "You can't afford the places I eat at, you fucking bum."

Darrel laughed through gritted teeth, sweat pouring down his scarred Frankenstein face and said "Who... said I was... gonna be... the one paying... for the... date?"

"Damn! That was actually pretty fucking funny!" replied Peter, chuckling in earnest "Shit, a guy as fucking funny as you can do AT LEAST A DOZEN MORE!!!"

********************************************************************************************************************

"Tuck me in, honey, and then tell me a bedtime story," said Darrel.

Peter turned back to the man he was getting paid a LOT to work back into shape before he could go off and attempt suicide again and said "Look, Darrel, I'm tired of this whole thing. To be completely honest with you, I like you, man, but I also feel like you are some kind of weird thing I have been cursed with."

"Yeah, you've said similar shit before but you always come back for more," said Darrel through his crooked, stitch-scarred smile.

"YOU KNOW WHY?!" exploded Peter suddenly, his boiler finally going past the emergency purge switch without tripping it "YOU FUCKING KNOW WHY?! I COME BACK BECAUSE YOU ASK FOR ME AND YOUR FUC..." and then he mushed his lips shut and held out a splay-fingered hand towards Darrel as a sign to shut up and let him take a couple of deep hissing breaths through his nose before he went on, in a clenched but lower voice, with "...your fucking agent pays me a shitload of money to do this. Like I said... I like you, but we are NOT friends. Got it?!"

Darrel let his head fall back on his hospital pillow and took the grin from his mouth and put up a frown in its place and lay in silence for so long that Peter started to turn back towards the door and then Darrel asked:

"Is it even possible?"

"You mean..."

"Yeah, could anyone have survived that fall?"

Peter felt compelled to turn back from the private hospital room door, so within escape reach between the door to the invalid toilet and the cabinet-set on which rested photos of a much younger and prettier Darrel right after his stunts, posing and smiling, and sighed and grabbed the back of the visitor's chair he rarely sat in and dragged it around to face the mechanical bed and sat down in it and just stared down at his feet and said nothing for a while and then said:

"I've been..."

But at almost the exact same time Darrel said "I mean..." and they both stopped talking from the mutual-interruption and then Darrel barked out a laugh and held his hand out to Peter in the "Go on" gesture.

"Heh... Well, I've been thinking about it a lot and... yes, somebody could have survived that fall because here you are." said Peter.

"But you saw the photos of my... injuries. How could they have put that much of me back inside me in just the right way and..."

Peter felt his gorge rising as the photos Darrel's agent had shown him fizzed red and then white hot where they were seared into his memory. He pushed them away by pouring a big mental bucket of iced-water over them as he was used to doing whenever they tried to burn their way back into his attention with their images of split skin and flesh and the other stuff spilling out from those V-shaped valleys... and then they were gone... until next time.

He gulped back the rising acidic up-flow, hoping that Darrel didn't notice, and said "Because the doctors are geniuses, Darrel. I dunno. They showed me the X-Rays after every operation and, still, I almost cannot fucking believe what they did. But they did it."

"So... it's possible..."

"Yeah, well obviously, Captain-fucking-Obvious. I mean, here we are," said Peter, but something started to tug at his conscience and he wanted to say more but he suddenly felt very tired. Very, very, very tired.

"Look, man. I'm wasted. Let's talk about this again tomorrow, okay?" he said.

Darrel nodded in agreement and Peter left, but they didn't end up speaking about this particular topic again for another seven years.

**********************************************************************************************************

The Fonz was cool, but Darrel was gonna be cooler.

Darrel Keel, now, for some years, able to remember his last name, also now known once again as Daring The Devil, revved the throttle on his dirt-bike and then thought "What the heck, give 'em a last good show!" and clenched the throttle all the way down and spun two complete donuts in clouds of rubber-stinking smoke on the entrance to the Caesar's Palace driveway in the town he had grown to love, and had lived in, since he had been able to walk again: Las Vegas.

It was fitting that it would all end here: The place that Evel took his big spill while trying to jump the fountains, breaking forty bones on the fall, only to be avenged by his own son Robbie, who completed the jump.

But Evel wasn't the only stunt jumper that Darrel had watched in his childhood, and that is why he had gotten his agent to convince the Caesar's Palace owners to fill the fountain pool to the brink with seawater and put ten hungry White Pointer sharks in it.

"These happy days are yours and my... hap-py days," he sang under his breath as he spun out of the second donut and faced the jump-ramp. The calculations had been done by Robbie Knievel's team all those years ago and Darrel's own team had taken that math and worked a better solution with the new bike technology. Darrel only understood about half of it but trusted his team as he squeezed down on the throttle and brakes again and the bike spun in place as the announcer, sadly some fat dude this time, boomed out:

"THE ONLY MAN TO SURVIVE A FALL INTO THE GRAND CANYON, DARING THE DEVIL, IS BACK, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AND HERE HE GOES ON THIS LEGENDARY STUNT BUT, THIS TIME THERE COULD BE A BITE AT THE END OF THE TALE!"

Darrel released the brakes and tore towards the jump ramp. He knew the takeoff speed and he knew the point in the jump when he should pull back on the bike's handlebars to put him in the correct landing angle and he knew that the guy with the gun he had paid a hundred-thousand-dollars to, ten up front and ninety to be received from a third-party afterwards, to pump him full of bullets just as he was waving to the crowd was right there by the doors of the casino, blending in, his escape car idling nearby.

BUUURRRRRRRRRRRRRR went the bike's engine under him as he accelerated up to the one-hundred-ninety miles-per-hour needed at the end of the ramp.

The front tire of the bike hit the leading edge of the ramp with barely a thump and Darrel took that as his cue to hunch down and prepare for the airborne portion of the stunt.

The crowd went wild as his bike left the end of the ramp over the gushing fountains of the casino and the light-show, projecting images of Evel and Robbie making the same jump, played upon the fountains' spray like holograms and then he bucked himself up to give the bike just that little bit more of air he would need for the landing.

And then the fountains shut off under him with a thud of the final falling water and then the alternate daytime show of the fountains began.

A fanning arched wall of high-pressure water jets came up right in front of Darrel. His eyes bugged out inside his helmet and the last thing he saw before hitting it was the distorted view of Evel Knievel's eventual crash projected sideways against the bars of water.

His motorbike spun backwards from the water jets hitting its front tire and Darrel fell off the back as it became inverted in its parabolic path over the pool below.

The crowd screamed in fear and delight as the bike spun through the air, almost keeping its initial trajectory but ending up a smashed and flaming ruin as it caught the edge of the landing ramp and cartwheeled down it spewing burning gasoline every-which-way as Darrel's hit-man ran towards his waiting getaway car and got the hell outta town.

Only a very few people, all of them fountain-side attendees at the live event, saw Darrel's flailing form splash down into the pool of sharks.

The news cameras had practiced to follow the bike's jump arc and so it took a while for them to focus back down on the pool where Darrel had landed and, by the time they did so, the images that came through their feeds of separated body parts being thrashed around and swallowed by the sharks in a frothing sea of pink caused all the studio producers to call for the live-feed to be cut, but the bloodier live-feeding went on and on before the blackout order on the studio broadcast went through. The viewing public still saw Darrel's still-screaming head, on what was left of his shoulders and the diagonal half of his ragged, blood-spewing upper torso, go into the chomping teeth of a Great White, to be obliterated into a spray of blood and bone going down the gullet of the shark's ferocious mashing maw, before screens across the nation went finally and mercifully black.

*********************************************************************************************************************

Now not just one or two of them, but all of the major demons were gathered behind the white-hot iron desk of The Devil as he raised one of his many, many, many pointer fingers, the one that had done the job of turning on the casino's jet fountains on the tablet screen, up into the foul air of his office.

He allowed that long many-jointed finger to remain upright before the gaping and cheering and buzzing and squelching crowd of demons watching from over his steaming shoulders before saying:

"I sWiPeD uP!" in his Legion voice, just for maximum comedic affect, and the watching crowd of his generals went insane with their various forms of laughter as The Devil grinned his ever-spreading grin. 

**********************************************************************************************************************

This time it was a lot weirder and many, many, many times more painful for Darrel.

As the hospital doctors picked little tiny pieces of his tissue and bone out from the mound of shark shit on the operating table he could very, very, very slowly start to remember what it was like to be chomped into chum by the mashing serrated teeth of the sharks.

The remembering process took years, even at the frantic pace of the surgical team, and he could only recall one specific chomp or tear whenever that particular section of his brain tissue that held a fragment of the memory had been found and reattached to its neighboring synapse.

He couldn't even scream until they had found enough of his mouth and larynx and lungs for him to do so with.

**********************************************************************************************************************

"HEY! My favorite suicider! Let's dance!" boomed Peter as he walked in the door of the familiar hospital room, back on call for this particular patient for the first time in seven years.

"SHLUT THE FLUCK ULP!" slurred Darrel, sometimes known as Darrel Keen, sometimes as Daring The Devil, through his spongy lips from his puffed-up-blowfish face.

"Awww, I expected a nicer greeting after all this time."

"THILS ILS NOLT POLSSIBLE!", drooled Darrel.

"Okay, look. I will admit that I thought you were dead for good when I heard how it happened."

"YEALH? Where'd you hear it from?!", said Darrel, getting his slippery foamy lips under some kind of control.

"Uhhhh, I guess on the TV..."

"Okay! What TV?! What station?!"

"I... ummm... Hey! Did you just say this is not possible for you to recover after so many times WE have made it possible?!"

"No, I said that it is not possible for me to have been digested by sharks and then put ba..."

"DUDE! I saw the X-Rays! It's a... a new technique... The shit they can do these days is ju..."

"BULLSHIT! There is no possible way to reconstruct someone from digeste..."

"STOP! Look at this!" replied Peter Jacobs, also known as and referred to as Meat-Pete to Darrel, and shoved a medical pamphlet in Darrel's face describing the technology that allowed the recombination of severed sections of human anatomy back into a complete functioning person.

Darrel snatched it from him and started to read. When he was halfway done he asked Meat-Pete "Okay, I'm halfway convinced but do YOU believe this?"

Peter Jacobs, pushing back any questions from his mind about what he had been doing for the last seven years after working with Darrel the last time, or even any questions he might have had about what he had even had for breakfast this morning, or why he had come home from a normal day at work massaging injured Hollywood stuntmen and stars back into workable health and took out a gun from the dresser drawer and shot dead his wife and children and then himself, said to Darrel "YES, I believe that you are still alive, you fucking idiot. How would we be talking now if you weren't?!" and he fell into his role and all thoughts of his previous life went back under the corner of the carpet his mind still managed to lift up at times like this and he screamed out "GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED, YOU USELESS PIECE OF SHIT!"

Over the next nine years of physical therapy Darrel, once well known as "Daring The Devil", described to Peter his next stunt idea: to ride up into space on a rocket and then strap himself to an Apollo-era heat-shield and surf it down through the atmosphere from orbital velocity to the moment he popped his chute over the best wave available and ride it into shore... only to collapse from a fatal jellyfish sting as his fans rushed up to help, but to no avail, and then he would be remembered as the greatest daredevil that had ever lived.

***********************************************************************************************************************

As the demons departed The Devil's office, heading back to their duties in whatever clicking or slurping or thudding manner of locomotion they used, hoping to be on break again to watch the next stunt attempt live again the next time, only Beelzabub remained behind, his shedding wings buzzing him to and fro from between their polyps of grey pulsating flesh and asked The Devil a question; The question about the one thing he didn't understand about this whole matter:

"But whyzz did you even letzz himzz get back upzz out of Hellzz in the firzzt place?!"

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The Devil grinned his wide, wide, wide grin of many, many, many pointed teeth and replied in his own one true voice: "I didn't".

Baron

The Arcana Asylum

   The bells of the clock tower peeled six times through the darkness, signalling that curfew was over and the town was now open for business.  Ibor shuffled along the narrow alley a little less furtively now that it was legal to do so, wheezing more audibly and allowing his left leg to drag more lazily behind him.  His coat bulged grotesquely in places where it shouldn't, but being a hunchback with a predisposition towards strange cysts and tumours meant he was unlikely to be challenged or searched.  Indeed, on the very rare occasion that he crossed paths with the nightwatchmen the twisted hunchback was afforded quite a wide berth.

   Another twist through the half-timbered streets and he arrived at his little shop.  The store front was narrow, with only a small window three panes wide and two high (four still glazed, although Ibor noticed grimly that yet another was now cracked).  A low door with rusty hinges that squeaked ominously helped to deter shoplifters and Scandinavians, and a faded sign completed the façade: The Arcana Asylum.  Ibor stood a little straighter as he filled with pride at having at last become the proprietor of his own enterprise. 

   Some quiet jingling of keys to his right indicated the arrival of Mrs. Threadmare at her seamstress shop next door.  Ibor waved at her cheerily, although she squeaked quickly through the front door like a scared mouse at the sight of his claw-like fingernails scratching in her direction.  Oblivious to the social nuance of her flight, Ibor forced his own key through the rusty lock of his shop door, the sound of the rusty mechanisms reminding him of the dungeon he had worked in for so many years, scrimping and saving and dreaming of rising in life. 

   He entered the shop, carefully turning the window sign from "Bugger off, we're closed!" to "Bugger in, we're open!"  He hit the lights, literally smacking them to get the glow bugs to flicker on, before removing his latest inventory finds from his coat.  The first was a run-of-the-mill skull, 6 for a groat at any suburban outlet by the cemetery.  But Ibor had spent a lot of time digging for one of just the right proportions to complete his skull bowl set.  He set it on his workbench behind a curtain at the back to carve up if there was a quiet moment later in the day.

   His next new item was a parchment of some kind, which he had found clutched to a corpse during his skull digs.  It was in no language that he could understand (indeed, it may well have just been a stylized map), but he knew his business well enough to know cat skin when he found it.  A bit of oil and a bit of gentle work and it would make a great polishing rag or jar-opener.  He plopped it down on the workbench next to the skull.

   The last item he had found at the end of his supply chain, dangling from a gibbet on the town walls.  It was a small vial, sealed with wax, concealed in the foot rags of the poor wretch who was hung there.  Of course the foot rags were too comfortable to sell-on, but this...!  Ibor carefully inspected the pink fluid within before placing the vial on his shelf of mystery potions.

   And so the day began.  He carefully dusted his knuckle-knickknacks and restocked his bat-wing hand-fan display, harvested the cob webs to make little cotton-candy treats in case there were any children in tow of customers and marked down the goat scrotum teabags that just weren't moving.  He redid the front display window, cleverly spelling out the words "flash sale" in blinking newt eyes, and then restacked his jarred-organs to bring the more interestingly shaped hearts and brains to the fore.  Then of course there was the pet golem to feed and the rattling demon-box to sooth.  By mid-morning there were still no customers, so Ibor retired to his workbench.  He filed down a few more dog claws to make a smart-looking back-scratcher, and then carefully set the last of the mouse teeth into an organic bone-saw of his own invention.  He spent quite a bit of time adjusting the wind-up knob on the back of a live cockroach from the impulse-buy display.  Ibor had just settled in to rubbing whale sebum into the cat-skin parchment when there was a familiar clanking of the front door.

   "Good day to you, valued customer!" he said as he shuffled out from behind his workbench curtain before bowing obsequiously.  "Might I interest you in a free sample of squirrel-spleen surprise as it is nearing the luncheon hour?"

   "Nah, sod that Guv'nah!" the figure said in a cheerfully disgusted voice.  "And none of yer toe-jam pies, neither!"

   "Oh, Draxton, it's just you," Ibor harrumphed, pulling himself onto a stooling stool so that he could be level with the gaze of the tall urchin.  "Has your mother still got that fantastic skin disease?"

   "Right she does, Guv'nah!  But she ain't selling samples for less than 10 bob.  Anything less is highway robbery!"

   "Bah!  How do you think I built the rest of my collection?!?" Ibor bragged.  Still, he wanted that specimen.  Maybe he could trick the stubborn woman into a freak potato peeler accident....

   "Well, enough banter then," said the urchin.  "Time is money, and I've got fifteen other deliveries to make.  Sign here!"

   "Oh, is it my Twitch-That-Itch severed spider-leg massage chair?" Ibor perked up.

   "Not by the smell of it, Guv-nah!  If I had to guess it's 3 month-old dog intestines, but then I'm not any kind of expert in your line of business.  Shall I leave it here on your counter, or just toss it into the moat with all the other offal?"

   "On the counter will do just fine," Ibor said through gritted teeth.

   "Cheery-bye then, Guv'nah!"

   The urchin departed and Ibor rubbed his hands together with glee: his platypus cheese had finally arrived!  He quickly unboxed it and sliced a dramatic wedge for the display case by the counter, placing it artfully between the rare rabbit cheese and the even rarer porcupine cheese.  As he did so he couldn't resist sampling a tiny bit himself, allowing the muddy flavours to dance tantalizingly over his tongue.  Oh, the customers were going to love this!

   And at last the customers began to trickle in.  First was an old witch from the forest beyond town, with a nose as warty as the toad-skin throw-pillow Ibor tried to sell her.  She sniffed and poked about his bone wares and ear-wax candles, but what she was really after were fresh children's fingers for a special baking project.  Ibor tried to interest her in his pickled children's fingers, but apparently only fresh ones would do.  Reluctantly he shared that he had a supplier in the spinning mill just outside of town, but that fresh fingers were usually only in season at the beginning of the month when new orphans were hired on.  So instead of buying anything the old witch merely helped herself to free samples of sloth cheese and gerbil nuts before moving on.

   Next there was a tourist with a Daventrian accent.  He seemed vaguely bemused by the vintage land-squid pens and the millipede skateboards, but what really caught his eye was the hand-held anteater vacuum.  Apparently he was puzzling over how to retrieve a lost item visible just below a sealed sewer grate.  Unfortunately he had no local currency with which to complete the transaction, and Ibor was dubious as to the market exchange rate for the copper buttons the man tried to barter with in lieu.  Alas, he ended up directing the man to explore beneath the town docks at low tide to find a broken fishing line with a hook still attached.

   It was late in the afternoon when his third customer arrived.  He was a tall man sporting the fancy pantaloons and waxed moustaches of the nobility, and he pawed through the merchandise disdainfully with immaculate white gloves.  After a cursory circuit of the tiny shop, he came to stand by the haunted talisman counter and cleared his throat loudly.

   "Yes master," Ibor crooned sycophantically.  "How can I be of service?"

   "Are you the proprietor of this ...emporium?" the man asked, eyeing the diminutive hunchback leerily.

   "Aye, master," Ibor confirmed.  "Of course we are unused to catering to men of your, uh... stature," he said, noticing at this moment a red mark on the gentleman's forehead in the distinct shape of the shop's door mantle.

   The man frowned and dusted his white gloves against each other, subconsciously trying to remove some filth beyond Ibor's line of sight.  "I am John Forthright, Steward to the House of Featherby.  You are acquainted with the House of Featherby, I assume?"

   "Uh..." Ibor thought, vaguely recognizing the name from various cemetery monuments beneath which he had raided.  "No, master," he said, thinking it more prudent to play dumb.

   "Interesting," the steward said, stroking his moustaches pensively, "given that Lord Featherby is in fact the owner of this town plot and the structure built hereon.  It is normally my job to collect rents from the occupants of such premises, but I'm afraid I have no record of any lease agreement with your esteemed personage...."

   "Leasy whatnow?" Ibor asked, squinting skeptically at the finely dressed gentleman.

   "Besides the fine for squatting, which is considerable, I regret to inform you that Lord Featherby is also owed back rent.  And of course there are extra fees to be lumped in, including utilities, a window tax, an even steeper broken window tax, merchant guild dues, church tithes, and my personal favourite: eviction fees.  Thus, you are presently owing to his lordship 168 crowns and sixpence.  If I might trouble you to settle your account now before I have your, mmm, inventory tossed into the street, that would be lovely."

   "Guild dues?" Ibor blinked.  "You mean guild don'ts, right Master?  I've never even heard of guild dues...."

   "Quite," the steward sneered.  "Might I assume that an immediate payment will not be forthcoming?  How unfortunate.  Still, the law does allow me to seize your chattels in lieu of debts owed, which at least provides a measure of amusement."  The tall man stretched out his arms, carelessly knocking a blue bottle off the mystery potion shelf onto the floor.  "Oh my!" he exclaimed sarcastically.  "How clumsy of me!"

   "Uh, master?" Ibor asked, noting that the tendrils of a blue fog seeping from the broken bottle were now wrapping themselves around the steward's leg.

   "Oops!" the steward continued, knocking a cask of zombie scorpions from the thrift bin with his other hand.  Once freed they began a mechanical march towards his other leg, but in the full sweep of his arrogant performance the steward was oblivious to their approach.

   "Uh, master!" Ibor said again, pointing down.  "You should probably-"

   "Oh, so tiresome," the steward yawned, stretching his arms upwards to knock a pouch of heirloom wart-seeds off of its rafter hook, whereupon it fell and burst at his feet, to be picked up by the leg hairs of the zombie scorpions now beginning to climb up his pantaloons.  The tendrils of blue fog were now seeping up his other pant leg, and Ibor shuddered to think what would soon happen when the two met somewhere in the vicinity of the steward's ornamental codpiece. 

   Thinking quickly, Ibor grabbed a tin from the display counter and waved it at the steward.  "Before we continue this transaction, Master, can I interest you in some of Madame Hex's Sooth-All Ointment?  It is guaranteed to relieve all pains and rashes, no matter how magically induced.  It's on sale," he added.  "Only.... 169 crowns!"

   The steward scoffed, then frowned.  Then danced a little despite himself.  And then there were rainbow fireworks in his breeches, and he began bouncing in comical agony.  Then he started whooping, then wincing, and then there was the sound of popcorn popping ominously before his codpiece was blown clear off, leaving a charred hole in his pantaloons and another broken window pane in front of Ibor's shop.  Finally the steward doubled over, grasped tenderly at his still smoking crotch, and scuffled gingerly towards the door, jumping slightly with each step at some residual zombie scorpion stings.  He waddled about half the distance to the door before groaning inwardly and turning back towards the counter. 

   "Prithee, good shopkeeper..." he rasped, wincing and twitching at yet more unseen stings as he reached for his purse.  "I'll take two."

EjectedStar

And so endseth our Fortnightly(ish) short story writing competition!

Voting shall now commence until the end of September 3rd!

Each voter has 10 votes to spread out how they see fit.Click here to vote!

The voting process will be secret, but votes will be revealed after the deadline has passed.

Thanks to all our wonderful contestants!

Sinitrena

Quote from: EjectedStar on 27 Sep 2021, 22:41

Voting shall now commence until the end of September 3rd!


I like time travel! But my machine broke down, so...  (roll)
Anyone sell one? New or used, I'm not particular.

Haven't read your stories yet, but will do so soon.

Mandle

Voted!

Below is my feedback on all the stories. Please DO NOT read any until you have already finished reading the story in question as there are massive SPOILERS within!!!

Sinitrena:
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I was so drawn in by your story that I was sad knowing that it was only one post long. I wanted to go to so many other worlds once I saw that the focus of the story was the shop and not those who entered it. I think the ultimate compliment I can pay is that your story felt like a very, very good episode of The Twilight Zone. Pete's backstory was quite nicely done to avoid an exposition dump. A few of those sentences stood out to me as a bit of an obvious dodge around needing an exposition dump, or that these were points you were just coming up with as you wrote, but, smoothed out a little, they would be perfect. Just a matter of a second/third draft.


Mandle:
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I mostly enjoyed the story but, towards the end I felt like it had started to wear out its welcome and tried to do something over-the-top to grab the audience's attention back. What's the term I'm looking for? Dammit! It was right on the tip of my tongue!


Baron:
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 The writing in your story was masterful, every sentence a delight to read, and every massively creative item in the shop was described just enough to put an image in the reader's head, but not enough to solidify that image, making everything seem dreamlike... and hilarious! While I did like the idea of a Protection Racket thug making a move on the shop and having his comeuppance delivered to him by his own actions, I didn't think it was strong enough of a narrative to carry the story plot-wise. But I suspect that you probably feel the same way and were having more fun with the shop itself. An awesome read that felt like it belongs as a part of a longer story; Some Discworld vibes!

Sinitrena

Mandle:
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I like the idea and the twist (though foreshadowed strongly) at the end, but unfortunately, this story is too long. Not in the sense that it has too many words, but in the repetition of the same structure over and over again. We get: Stunt/Accident/Deal/Stunt/Rehab/Stunt/Rehab/Stunt/Rehab - that's at least one repetition of Stunt/Rehab too many. The reader already knows what will happen; it feels a bit tedious. Add to that that stunts are, generally speaking, more a visual thing and we have a story that overstayed its welcome a bit. That said, it's not badly written or repetetive in the word choice or descriptions. But due to the formulaic nature of this tale, any suspense the reader might feel for the first stunt and that is probably there for the second, is long gone by the forth. The little interludes with the devil are fun (and funny) and add a bit of levity I quite like.
While technically having a shopkeeper that's kinda important to the story, in a way integral as the description demands, it doesn't have to be a shopkeeper. The devil could take any role and look, he could just walk up to Darel in his bathroom in his devil persona and it would nothing change about the story.
I noticed a surprising number of editing hiccups (...looked down at the extended hand he did not remember opening the door of this dusty old shop open with. - for example) that should have been easy to spot by just reading through the story once.
Overall, the writing is good, the idea works and the foreshadowing was well done. But this story needs some editing and tightening


Baron:
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Did you snatch your daughter's purple crayon to write this? Especially the beginning is filled with a whole lot of purple prose. It sets the atmosphere nicely though and makes for some great descriptions of the shop that paint a fairly vivid picture. All in all, the story is set up very well and the reader expects something great and magical to happen.
What does happen is - not as magical as I wanted it to be. Boiled down to the bare bones it's just a racketeering operation gone wrong - or a legitimate landlord having problems with a tenant and going about it the wrong way. Honestly, I couldn't tell. A bit more foreshdowing would have been nice, like hinting at what the poitions would do before it actually happens, but that's a minor detail. This story's focus is clearly more on the descriptions than the plot, which is fine here.
But I like Ibor and the whole set-up, and the amount of backstory that seems to have so much more in store. Like how Ibor got his store and does he really not know that he has to pay rent (again, can't tell if the Lord is legitemate). I think Ibor is a character that might warrant some more exploration in the future. I think he has some more stories to tell.


I like very different elements of each story, which makes it difficult to decide on votes. But in the end I give
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Baron

a slight edge.

Sending votes now.

Baron

For the record, I assume I have until next September 3 to get my votes in....  ;)

Mandle

Sinitrena:
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Thanks for pointing out the error in that sentence. I actually did three passes on the story and that error was caused by a re-edit. Your own story has one or two errors though, so I think you will agree that they can always slip through no matter how careful you are. It is hard to spot your own mistakes as you knew what you wanted to say and sometimes that is what the brain sees.That is why they get other people to edit a writer's work. As for the repetition, did you read my own comment on my own story above?

By the way, here is one your errors just from the beginning scene of the story. If I remember correctly there are a few more scattered here and there:

"There was not even a door, not even the window through which the sun had send its beams directly towards the sword."

It should be "sent" and I'm sure your brain read it that way when you proofread your story. But the little buggers just slip through anyway.  :-D

Sinitrena

Too true, that. One never sees ones one errors - and especially those that are very easily spotted by someone else. And I'd never say there are none in my own writing. :-[

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I did read your comment. I'm not sure there was something over-the-top happening towards the end, though. Everything follows a logical progression (an outlandish one, but still logical in the context of the story). I think it would feel stronger in a visual medium, and probably less repetetive.

Mandle

Quote from: Sinitrena on 30 Sep 2021, 01:09
Too true, that. One never sees ones one errors - and especially those that are very easily spotted by someone else. And I'd never say there are none in my own writing. :-[

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I did read your comment. I'm not sure there was something over-the-top happening towards the end, though. Everything follows a logical progression (an outlandish one, but still logical in the context of the story). I think it would feel stronger in a visual medium, and probably less repetetive.


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The story, and the repetition, were written with the meta-joke in mind. But I am getting too close to just explaining it outright and that's a no-no.

EjectedStar

Haha, well, that's a whoospie on my part.  Voting is open until September 3rd of 2022, but a winner will be voted in on October 3rd of 2021.

Don't post on little sleep, y'all.


Baron

Well, sorry it took so long to vote.  What can I say?  I work to deadlines.   (nod)

@ Sinitrena:

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Yours was a brilliant story concept.  The hook at the beginning (the future king's story) was engrossing, your descriptions just thorough enough with well-chosen words, and the revelation of what the shop is and how it works from Pete's perspective was both intriguing and well-paced.  The relationship between Pete and Aethildbriaith was... complicated.  Firstly, as the dynamic between them makes up the crux of the story, it is an ambitious attempt at a coming-of-age moment where a younger person gets a taste of what it's like to walk in an older person's shoes.  On another level, Pete seems to be suffering from a degree of Stockholm syndrome, abused and captive as he is (to say nothing of disagreeing with the revenge methodology employed at times), and yet he is emotionally invested in the health and well-being of his Master.  I understand that Pete understands that he is being punished for his sins, but to like the agent of his punishment seems depressing, especially at the final moment when he learns that Aethildbriaith was no better than him (and very possibly a great deal worse).  It's a little depressing that Pete seems perfectly content to perpetuate the cycle....


@ Mandle:

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Another good outing, Mandle my man.  This story has everything, from imaginative scenarios to great humour, and from intricate diabolical details to great plot turns (I way did not see Darren/Daring dying the first time).  One thing it kinda is missing is the whole Shopkeeper element, which was a bit important due to the theme.  I mean, yeah, the Devil poses briefly as a shopkeeper, but that's kind of incidental to the rest of the story.  I've read other critiques about the length of your story, but it didn't feel long to me.  I think it was important to have the last accident, as the medical miracle of stitching Darren/Daring back together from shark poo surpasses absurdity (and it affords Meat-Pete a chance to become increasingly more doubtful about the reality they are sharing, and to share his own backstory that implicates him as an agent of hell), thus foreshadowing the final plot twist.  My only critical recommendation would be to make subsequent accidents more succinct, once the pattern is established (i.e. edit out the fluff so that each repeat gets quite a bit shorter).


@ Baron:

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I think critical reception of my story is accurate, and has helped me to discern a bit of a writing rut that I've fallen into.  Certain readers have noticed over the years that my stories often start out quite a bit differently than they end.  I usually write my stories over two evenings, often quite close to the deadline.  The first evening I do my "set-up", describing the setting and building characters and worlds.  It is a time of imagination and dreaming, which is my favourite part about the writing process.  The second evening (which is usually the night of the deadline) I think, "oh shit!  We gotta wrap this up!" and then things get silly.  Now don't get me wrong, silly is fun to write too, but it appears to often be an incongruous appendage to the first part of the story.  (Of course sometimes I don't start until the very last minute, and then write a silly story all in one go.....  (roll)).  I think, moving forward, I should A) plan out my story at the beginning more thoroughly so that there actually is a story from the start, and B) leave myself more time to actually do the idea justice. 


Both of my competitors wrote fantastic stories which deserve to win.  I gave only a very slight edge in terms of voting to Sinitrena because her story was more on topic, but judged on the merits of the stories themselves I would call it a draw.  Great writing everyone!  ;-D

Stupot

I'm just catching up on the stories now and will send my votes in due course, if it's okay.

EjectedStar

And so'eth ends the FWC of The Shopkeeper!

These stories were lovely, I laughed, I cringed, I raised an eyebrow or three! It was fun to see that everyone skewed a bit towards the darker side, what with us now descending deep into the month of Spooktober

Here are how the votes ended up:

Sinitrena: 7 + 6 + 4 = 17

Baron: 3 + 6 + 3 = 12

Mandle: 4 + 3 + 4 = 11

That makes Sinitrena the winner of our little competition and now must take up the role of Dungeon Master-, er, FWC Host for the next fortnight (plus extensions)!

As an aside to any readers out there, voting is still open until September 3rd of 2022. It won't influence the final vote tally, but a shopkeeper never goes back on his word!

Thank you to all our participants, I'll see ya in the next one!

Sinitrena

QuoteIt's a little depressing that Pete seems perfectly content to perpetuate the cycle....

Maybe he changes a couple of things, who knows? The story's pretty open-ended, after all.


Thanks for your votes, guys!

See you in the next -halloweeny- FWC!

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