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Creative Production => Competitions & Activities => Topic started by: Baron on 28 Jun 2021, 02:39

Title: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: Baron on 28 Jun 2021, 02:39
Welcome to the Fortnightly Writing Competition (FWC for short), where writers match words and wits in a quasi-bi-weekly battle of phrases and fancy.  The cycle works like this: last fortnight's winner sets the theme, anyone is welcome to submit a previously unpublished story based on that theme, we all vote, and then the winner sets the theme for next time.  It's a whole lot of fun, and you learn from feedback: basically it makes you a better person by participating.   ;)

The theme this time around is....

Magic!

(https://comicvine.gamespot.com/a/uploads/scale_small/1/10812/2511411-magic_hand.jpg)

Isn't it crazy, but we've never really had a topic specifically devoted to magic.  So here's your chance to go nuts with the fantasy, and the carnival, and the hogwarts, and the mushroom-dwelling blue people, and the witchcraft, and the Pokemon, and the mummies, and the elves, and the sorcery, and the laser-mists, and the illusionists, and the smoke and the mirrors, and the unicorns, and the dragons, and the wands, and the staffs, and the impractical pointy hats with the wide-brims, and the transformative kisses, and the crystal balls, and the brooms, and the voodoo, and the curses, and the towers, and the cauldrons, and the bird intestines, and the weird living druid trees that strangle you with their tentacle roots - yes, those too!  There are two rules:

1) The element of magic must feature prominently in your story.
2) Your story must not exceed one post in length.

Voting will be by the new standard 10 Vote Dispersal-Allotment System  (XVDAS for short).  I'll explain that further at voting time.  ;-D

Deadline is Monday July 12, 2021.

Good luck to all participants!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Mandle on 30 Jun 2021, 10:09
Something in the works.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Baron on 01 Jul 2021, 18:25
Quote from: Mandle on 30 Jun 2021, 10:09
Something in the works.

Too industrial.  Could we go with something brewing, potion style?  ;)
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: WHAM on 02 Jul 2021, 10:40
I'll be writing something over the weekend. Hopefully I'll come out swingin'!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Stupot on 05 Jul 2021, 05:25
Slight content warning for those who might need one:
[spoiler]Suicide and implied sexual abuse, though they aren't described in detail.[/spoiler]

How Can I Help You Remember?

"Your phone's ringing," Natalie said. It wasn't actually ringing. It was vibrating. Gayle hadn't set her phone to actually ring in the whole three years she'd had it. She noted that she would have to change the setting now that, she hoped, she would be receiving more calls.

"Oh shit. My first customer."

"Client. It's better to use client."

"Shit shit shit."

"Just answer it."

Gayle pressed the green tick to answer the call. "Do people still call it 'picking up'?" she wondered before saying "Hello?"

Natalie smacked her palm into her own face and shook her head, cringing.

"I mean, er. Good afternoon. Gayle Ward speaking. How can I help you remember?"

Natalie peeled her hand away and mouthed "better".

The call lasted just two minutes and was businesslike. An appointment was arranged for Friday afternoon. Gayle was to visit the lady, Mrs Smith (pronounced Smiff), at her home on Roulade Street.

Friday came and Gayle was standing in Mrs Smith's hallway, admiring the decor. She didn't actually admire the decor — flowers upon flowers upon petals. Not a plain surface in sight — but she was admiring the decor.

The lady had gone to shut the dogs in a back room somewhere, so as not to disturb the reading. When she came back, she giggled with excitement and led Gayle into the living room.

"I've prepared the photos, just like you instructed."

"Thank you." They both sat down on the floral sofa, peppered with floral cushions, and the Gayle wasted no time in picking up one of the photos laid out on the coffee table. "Tell me about this one."

"Ahh, that's my husband Cliff."

Cliff Smiff, Gayle noted to herself. "And he's...".

"Deceased, yes." A solemn single nod. "Jumped off Beachy Head."

"I see," was all that Gayle felt was needed in response. "And what is it you'd like me to help you remember?"

"The honeymoon." The woman's face took on the cartoonish expression of someone who is certain that the crossword setter has surely made a mistake. "I just can't remember it any more. It was so long ago."

"Where was it?"

"Prague?"

"Nice?"

"Oh lovely, we stayed in a gorgeous little room in the old town. I could see Saint Vitus Cathedral from the window. We walked along the river and crossed the Charles Bridge, and found the John Lennon wall. Dined outside in the cool evening breeze. Found a couple of bars. And the absinthe—"

The blood drained from the woman's face, and Gayle felt the same happening to her own.

"H-how'd you do that?" Smith said, trying to put on a curious tone. "What's the t-trick?" But she was shaking. She was scared.

"Errm. Gayle started. But she was scared as well. She'd seen something in Mrs Smith's memory that had shaken her life out of her. Out of both of them. "I, err, I should go."

Smith looked panicked. "No. Please. Stay... I haven't paid you yet." She fussed around as if looking for her purse, but she looked like a scared horse ready to bolt.

"No, please. I can't take your money." Gayle couldn't get the images out of her mind.


Cliff and Julie Smith, newlyweds. Drinking in an underground bar. They're approached by a couple, Australians, Toni and Russ, who befriend them and invite them back to their hostel, a short walk away. A bottle of absinthe is introduced. Cliff is out cold after just a couple of drinks. Toni begins kissing Julie and Julie is enjoying it. Then Russ begins taking his clothes off and Julie looks over at her unconscious husband.

The rest is blurry. When she blinks herself awake she sees Cliff standing still with a kitchen knife in his hand. Toni and Russ are lifeless, covered in blood. Julie Smith loses consciousness again.



"He killed them." It was a moment before Gayle realised she had said these words, not Mrs Smith.

Mrs Smith began to sob.

"I'm sorry I came," said Gayle, gathering up her belongings, "I won't be asking for any money."

"What's gonna happen to me?"

"I'm not going to call the police."

"No, I mean... what's going to happen to ME?"

"I'm sorry. I just read memories. I'm not a fortune teller." It came out much colder than intended and she was genuinely sorry. "Look. Your mind worked hard to bury your honeymoon memories. I should never have undone that. It was wrong of me to come here."

She left. Mrs Smith screamed after her, "What about meeee?!"

Gayle would never know exactly what happened in Prague that night. But something told her Cliff and Julie were not murderers.  Whatever happened, Julie's mind had mercifully blocked out her limited memories of that night. Cliff had not had the same luxury, instead being consumed by the memories for ten years before he put a stop to them.

Three days after Gayle's visit, Julie Smith's car was found abandoned near Beachy Head, though her body has yet to be found.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: EjectedStar on 07 Jul 2021, 19:34
SNIP
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Baron on 10 Jul 2021, 17:47
Excellent rule-conforming entries so far!   (nod)

There are two more days left in which to make the magic happen - hopefully there are more word wizards who "wand" to win!  :=
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Sinitrena on 11 Jul 2021, 16:09
Note: There's upside-down mirrored text in this story for stylistic reasons. I can read this easily, but I know not everybody can. If you want to try, read each paragraph from the last word to the first; the paragraphs themselves are in the correct order. If you just want to read the story, jump to the next post, where you can find the text again in spoiler tags, the mirrored parts in normal italics. Please excuse the double post. (Text flipped with https://www.flipyourtext.com/ - thank you.)

Playdate!

Again, he circled the pentagram on the ground, again, he checked the chalk circle and the symbols, again, he focussed on himself and felt the magic in his pulse. Breathing in and out slowly to steady his thoughts, he ignited the candles and placed them at the five tips of the star.

This was just a test, a final exercise before his exam the next night, but that only made him check everything again and again and again.

For several minutes, he watched the wax melt and trickle down the side of the candles before he went around the protective circle one last time. Then, he could no longer delay the start of the ritual. The moon had reached its highest point, the stars had aligned in the correct constellation, the lightning flashed through he sky – it was time.

Slowly, he moved his hands in circles in front of his face, over his forehead, over his chest, he pressed the palms against each other, he started to knot his fingers in intricate gestures. Deep in his throat, he began the incantation. It rumbled through the large room like the thunder coming down from the sky and it sang like the rain pattering on the cobblestones in front of the window.

Cold wind started to swivel the dust from the cabinets and made the candles flicker. Spirals of smoke drifted up from them to the wooden ceiling and shadows danced on the panelled walls.

The magic vibrated through his flesh, goosebumps and bulges pulsed under and over his skin. It tried to escape from his body, it tried to fill the room with energy, to burn it and freeze it, but he held it back. Carefully, he lead it into his fingertips and his nails.

They clicked against each other, suddenly as strong and veined as shale, and a loud and shrill tone emanated from the contact, like chalk on a blackboard. It filled the room in a crescendo of notes, splitting his ears. Every instinct told him to shield his ears, but he knew better. The tone, painful as it was, was music to his magic, was just the cheering of the immense power.

When the tone became too shrill to hear, he released the magic from his fingers. In flashes and twitches, it jerked towards the circle and the pentagram and in waves the chalk of the symbols sizzled up and down. After just a moment, after the magic had circled the pentagram three times, the five flames became blasts. Fire shot into the middle of the spell, building a tent over the floor. In rain, it sailed down in its middle and underneath a door opened.

It opened into a world of fire and ash, into a world of demons and magic, into a world beyond his understanding.

·ǝๅᴉɯs ɐ ɥʇᴉʍ ɯǝɥʇ pǝɥɔʇɐʍ ɹǝɥʇɐɟ ǝɥʇ puɐ ɯooɹ ɓuᴉʌᴉๅ ǝɥʇ ɹoɟ suᴉɐʇɹnɔ ʍǝu ǝɯos uo pǝʞɹoʍ ɹǝɥʇoɯ ǝɥʇ ǝๅᴉɥʍ ʻʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ɹᴉǝɥʇ ɥʇᴉʍ ๅๅɐq pǝʎɐๅd uǝɹpๅᴉɥɔ ǝǝɹɥʇ ǝɥꓕ ·ǝɯɐɔ ๅๅɐɔ ǝɥʇ uǝɥʍ uǝpɹɐɓ ɹᴉǝɥʇ ɓuᴉʎoſuǝ ǝɹǝʍ ʎǝɥꓕ

·ʇsᴉɯ puɐ ɓoɟ ɟo ʇno pǝɯɹoɟ ʎๅʍoๅs puoʎǝq ɯooɹ pǝๅๅǝuɐd-pooʍ ǝɥʇ ɟo ʍǝᴉʌ ǝɥʇ ǝๅᴉɥʍ ʎɓɹǝuǝ ɓuᴉpuɐɯǝp ɐ ɥʇᴉʍ pǝsๅnd sǝɓpǝ sʇI ·ɹɐʇs pǝʇuᴉod-ǝʌᴉɟ ɐ ɟo ɯɹoɟ ǝɥʇ uᴉ punoɹɓ ǝɥʇ spɹɐʍoʇ uʍop ʞuɐs ʇɐɥʇ ๅɐʇɹod ǝɥʇ puɐ ʎʞs ǝɥʇ ʇɐ dn pǝɹɐʇs ǝH ·ʎๅdǝǝp pǝɥɓᴉs ɹǝɥʇɐɟ ǝɥʇ puɐ uɓᴉs ʇsɹᴉɟ ǝɥʇ sɐʍ ʇI ·sๅๅɐq ʞɔᴉɥʇ uᴉ spɐǝɥ ɹᴉǝɥʇ oʇuo uʍop pǝddᴉɹp ɥsɐ ʍǝu puɐ pǝๅzzᴉs spnoๅɔ ʇɥɓᴉๅ ʻspɐǝɥ ɹᴉǝɥʇ ǝʌoqⱯ

"·ๅๅǝɯs sᴉɥʇ ɟo ʞɔᴉs ɓuᴉʇʇǝɓ ʎๅๅɐǝɹ ɯ'I ʻǝuoʇsɯᴉɹq puɐ ǝɹᴉꓞ ·sɔᴉʇɐɯɐɹp ɥɔnS" ·pɐǝɥ sᴉɥ ʞooɥs ǝH "¿uᴉɐɓⱯ"

·ɹǝʇɥɓnɐp ɹᴉǝɥʇ pǝʇɐɔᴉpuᴉ ǝɥS "·ǝɹǝɥ ɐɥɔɥɔᴉꓘ uɐɥʇ ɹǝpๅo ǝq ʇ'uɐɔ ʇI ·ʎๅǝuoๅ ʇsnſ s'ʇI ·ʎɐๅd oʇ ǝuoǝɯos ɓuᴉʇuɐʍ qnɔ ɐ ʇsnſ s'ʇᴉ ʍouʞ noʎ ʻʞooꓶ" ʻɯᴉɥ pǝʇɐɔɐๅd ɹǝɥʇoɯ ǝɥʇ "ʻʍou ʻʍoN"

·ǝuo ǝɓɹɐๅ ʎๅǝuǝɔsqo sᴉɥ puɐ pɐǝɥ ๅๅɐɯs pǝuoᴉʇɹodoɹd ๅๅǝʍ ɹǝɥ ʻʞɐoๅɔ pǝɹǝpᴉoɹqɯǝ ʎๅssǝๅɓuᴉuɐǝɯ sᴉɥ ɟo ʇǝʌๅǝʌ ɓuᴉʍoๅɟ ǝɥʇ puɐ ʎǝɹɓ puɐ pǝɹ ʇʇɐɯ uᴉ sǝๅɐɔs ɹǝɥ ɟo ๅǝǝɟ ʎɹǝɥʇɐǝๅ ǝɥʇ ʻʎpoq ǝๅoɥʍ sᴉɥ ɟo ssǝuʎɹp ǝɥʇ puɐ sʇɐǝʇ ǝǝɹɥʇ ɹǝɥ ɯoɹɟ ɓuᴉɯoɔ ssnd puɐ ǝɯᴉๅs ʎɥʇๅɐǝɥ ǝɥʇ ʻsᴉɥ ɟo sๅᴉɐuɹǝɓuᴉɟ pǝɹnɔᴉuɐɯ ʎๅɓuᴉɹoq ǝɥʇ puɐ sǝɓɐpuǝddɐ xᴉs ɹǝɥ uo sʍɐๅɔ pๅᴉʍ puɐ dɹɐɥs ǝɥʇ ʻpɐǝɥǝɹoɟ s'pɹɐzᴉʍ ǝɥʇ uo uᴉʞs ɥʇooɯs snoǝpᴉɥ ǝɥʇ puɐ ǝๅdɯǝʇ s'ๅɹᴉɓ ǝɥʇ uo suɹoɥ ๅɐɹᴉds ๅnɟᴉʇnɐǝq ǝɥʇ uǝǝʍʇǝq ɹǝɓɹɐๅ uǝǝq ǝʌɐɥ ʇou pๅnoɔ ʇsɐɹʇuoɔ ǝɥꓕ

·ǝnɓuoʇ ʇᴉๅds sǝɯᴉʇ ǝǝɹɥʇ sʇᴉ ɥʇᴉʍ ǝɯᴉๅs s'ɹǝɥʇɐɟ ǝɥʇ puɐ ǝๅzznɯ sʇᴉ ɹǝʌo pǝʞɔᴉๅ puɐ sʍɐๅɔ ɹǝɥ oʇ ʇxǝu ʇɥɓᴉɹ sǝๅɔɐʇuǝʇ sʇᴉ ʇnd sๅǝǝɥ ɹǝɥ ʇɐ ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ɓuᴉʎɐq ǝɥꓕ "¿ǝsɐɐɐɐǝๅd ʻɥɓnouǝ pๅo ɯ'I ʻʎʎpɐꓷ ʻǝsɐǝๅꓒ" ·suoɯǝp ʇๅnpɐ oʍʇ ǝɥʇ uǝǝʍʇǝq uʍop puɐ dn ɓuᴉdɯnſ ʻpǝʇᴉɔxǝ pǝʞsɐ ǝɥs "¿oɓ I uɐꓛ" ·uɹoɥ ʇɟǝๅ sᴉɥ uo pǝʞɔnๅd puɐ ɹᴉɐɥɔ ɓuᴉʞɔoɹ sᴉɥ oʇ ʇxǝu pooʇs ɐɥɔɥɔᴉꓘ ʻǝɟᴉʍ sᴉɥ oʇ ʎๅdǝɹ ɐ ɯɹoɟ uǝʌǝ pๅnoɔ ɹǝɥʇɐɟ ǝɥʇ ǝɹoɟǝꓭ

"·ʇๅnɔᴉɟɟᴉp ǝq uɐɔ ʎǝuɹnoſ ǝɥꓕ ·ɓunoʎ ooʇ ǝɹ'no⅄" ·ǝʇnɯ ssǝuʇɔᴉɹʇs ɟo ʇᴉq ʎɹǝʌǝ ǝpɐɯ puɐ ʎๅᴉɯɐɟ sᴉɥ oʇ ǝๅᴉɯs ɐ ʇɥɓnoɹq sʎɐʍๅɐ ʇɐɥʇ ʎɐʍ sᴉɥʇ uᴉ uʍop puɐ dn ɓuᴉɔuɐp suɹoɥ oʍʇ sᴉɥ ʻʎๅuɹǝʇs pɐǝɥ sᴉɥ ʞooɥs ɹǝɥʇɐɟ ɹǝH

"¿sǝʎ ʻsǝɓɐnɓuɐๅ pǝzᴉๅᴉʌᴉɔ ʎuɐ puɐʇsɹǝpun ʇ'usǝop ʇᴉ ʇɐɥʇ ʇๅnɐɟ sʇᴉ ʇou s'ʇᴉ ʇɐɥʇ ɹǝqɯǝɯǝɹ puⱯ ¿ɹɐǝp ʻʇɥɓᴉɹๅɐ ʻǝɔᴉu ǝq ʇsnſ - ¡ʞɔuɐɥɔoɥꓛ ʻʎๅsnoᴉɹǝS ¿00Շ ʇɐ ɹǝɥ ʇǝๅ ʇ'uoʍ noʎ puɐ ʻsǝɯᴉʇ ʇsɹᴉɟ ɹᴉǝɥʇ ɹoɟ 0૬ ǝɹǝʍ sʎoq ǝɥꓕ ¡oɓ oʇ ɹǝɥ ɹoɟ ǝɯᴉʇ uɐɥʇ ǝɹoɯ s'ʇI" ʻpᴉɐs ɹǝɥʇoɯ ǝɥʇ "¡ʞɔoɔʎddoꓒ"

"¡ssᴉsssʎS ɓuᴉʞɐʇ ɯ'I" ·ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ɓuᴉʎɐq ๅๅᴉʇs puɐ pǝʇᴉxǝ ǝɥʇ ๅɐuɓᴉs oʇ sǝๅɐɔs ɹǝɥ ʇsuᴉɐɓɐ sʍɐๅɔ ɹǝɥ pǝʞɔᴉๅɔ puɐ ʇuǝɯoɯ ɐ ɹoɟ punoɹɐ pǝuɹnʇ ǝɥS ·ɐpuɐɹǝʌ pǝɔuǝɟ-pǝʞɔᴉd ɹᴉǝɥʇ ɟo ǝๅppᴉɯ ǝɥʇ uᴉ ǝʇɐɓ ɓuᴉʇɐsๅnd ɐ ǝๅᴉɥʍuɐǝɯ sɐʍ ʇɐɥʇ ɹɐʇs ǝɥʇ spɹɐʍoʇ puɐ uʍop puɐ dn pǝdɯnſ uoɯǝp ɓunoʎ ǝɥꓕ "¡ʎɯɯoW ʻnoʎ ʞuɐɥꓕ ¡ǝsɹnoɔ ɟO"

·ๅɐʇɹod ǝɥʇ ɥɓnoɹɥʇ pǝๅqɯnʇ ʎǝɥʇ ɹǝɥʇǝɓoʇ puɐ ๅɹᴉɓ uoɯǝp ǝɥʇ ɥʇᴉʍ pǝpᴉๅๅoɔ ๅɐɯᴉuɐ ɔᴉuoɯǝp ǝɥʇ ʻɹǝɥ doʇs pๅnoɔ sʇuǝɹɐd ǝɥʇ ǝɹoɟǝꓭ

Out of smoke and fire, the demon manifested. It roared instantly in anger and fear. No demon could withstand the power of a wizard and no demon wanted to obey them. But the wizard was strong, his magic kept the monster at bay in the protective circle.

The flashes and electric twitches had slightly subsided as the demon passed the gateway, but sparks still twitched from his fingers and around the pentagram. The candles were burned down to tiny stumps in just a few seconds, but they did not need to focus his magic for much longer. Three or four orders and he would be sure that he had trained enough and was ready for his exam the next day.

And how he had learned! Taking a closer look at the demon as the smoke slowly settled, he noticed the tentacles coming from its midsection and the second mouth the thing seemed to have there. Too much rows of teeth leered at him from this second mouth and the angry shouting roar it emanated seemed to split his skin and flesh just through the sound.

·ǝๅqɐʇɹoɟɯoɔ ʎɹǝʌ ʇou ʻʎๅpǝʇʇᴉɯpɐ ʻsɐʍ ʇɐɥʇ ʎǝuɹnoſ ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ pǝsnɟuoɔ ʻɓuᴉuᴉɥʍ puɐ ɓuᴉʞɐɥs sɐʍ ɓuᴉɥʇ ɹood ǝɥꓕ ·ǝๅɔɐʇuǝʇ pɹᴉɥʇ sʇᴉ ɹǝpun ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ǝɥʇ pǝssǝɹɐɔ puɐ pᴉɐs ɐɥɔɥɔᴉꓘ "¡ssᴉsssʎS ʻou ʻɥO"

·sɹɐǝ ɹǝɥ oʇ pɹᴉǝʍ os pǝpunos ʇnq ǝɓɐnɓuɐๅ ɟo puᴉʞ ǝɯos ʎๅqɐqoɹd sɐʍ ʇɐɥʇ ǝnɓuoʇ ɔᴉɹɐqɹɐq sᴉɥʇ uᴉ sɓuᴉɥʇ ǝɯos ɓuᴉʇnoɥs sɐʍ puɐ ǝɯɐɹɟ s'ʎɐʍǝʇɐɓ ǝɥʇ oʇ ǝsoๅɔ sʍɐd ssǝๅʍɐๅɔ ʇsoɯๅɐ ǝɓuɐɹʇs ǝsǝɥʇ ɓuᴉʌoɯ sɐʍ ʇI ·ɹǝɥ punoɹɐ ʞๅɐʍ oʇ pǝʇɹɐʇs ʇsnſ pɐɥ oɥʍ uɐɯnɥ ǝɥʇ spɹɐʍoʇ pǝuɹnʇ ǝɥs ʻɥɓnoɥʇ ʻspuoɔǝs ʍǝɟ ɐ ʇsnſ ɹǝʇɟⱯ

·pǝooɔ ǝɥs ʻ"¡ǝʇnɔ os ǝɹ'no⅄" ·ʇsǝɥɔ ɹǝɥ oʇ ʇᴉ ssǝɹd puɐ ɓuᴉǝq ǝɓuɐɹʇs sᴉɥʇ ssǝɹɐɔ oʇ ɯɹoɟ oʇ pǝʇɹɐʇs ǝɓɹn ๅɐnsnun-os-ʇou ɹǝɥ ɹoɟ ǝɥʇ os puɐ ʻʇᴉuᴉʇoɓ ǝɥʇ puɐ sʞɔᴉʌᴉʌ ǝɥʇ ǝʞᴉๅ ʻǝɯoɥ ʇɐ sǝɹnʇɐǝɹɔ ɹǝɓuɐɹʇs ǝɥʇ pǝʞᴉๅ sʎɐʍๅɐ pɐɥ ɐɥɔɥɔᴉꓘ ʻɓuᴉʇsnɓsᴉp ʎๅๅɐɯsʎqɐ ʞooๅ pᴉp ʇᴉ ǝๅᴉɥM

The demon hollered and jump towards him as he started the incantation for the first order he wanted to test today. It came towards him with the speed of a lightning spell, drenching the floor inside the pentagram in puss and spit.

But it could not reach him. His magic filled the circle. He ordered it into the chalk again, he ordered it to rise, he ordered it to built a wall. And it did. The magic, his magic, would never disobey him and it would give him control of this demon as well, no matter how much of a mental fight it would be.

·ๅnɟᴉʇnɐǝq os ǝɹǝʍ ʎǝɥʇ ʻsʞɔɐɹʇ ɹǝɥ uᴉ ɹǝɥ pǝddoʇs ʎǝɥꓕ ·sǝʎǝ ɹǝɥ ɟo ʇuoɹɟ uᴉ pǝɔuɐp sǝๅɐɔs ɹǝɥ ɟo ǝpɐɥs pǝɹ ǝɥʇ puɐ ʇǝๅoᴉʌ uᴉ sʞɔǝๅɟ ǝๅʇʇᴉꓶ ·dn pǝɹɐๅɟ ɐɥɔɥɔᴉꓘ punoɹɐ ǝๅɔɹᴉɔ ǝɥʇ ʻuɐɯnɥ ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ dǝʇs ɐ ʇsnſ

·pɐǝʇsuᴉ sʇɥɓᴉๅ ʎʇʇǝɹd ǝɥʇ ʇɐ pǝooɔ puɐ ǝpᴉs oʇ ǝpᴉs ɯoɹɟ pɐǝɥ ɹǝɥ pǝʌoɯ ǝɥs os puɐ ʻsๅɐɯᴉuɐ ǝɓuɐɹʇs ʎuɐ ɥɔnoʇ oʇ ʇou ɓuᴉuɹɐʍ s'ɹǝɥʇoɯ ɹǝɥ ɟo ɹǝɥ pǝpuᴉɯǝɹ ʎǝɥʇ ʻʎๅʇuɐʇɹodɯᴉ ǝɹoɯ ʇnꓭ

It roared in pain as it collided with the barrier. The sound was so loud, so demanding, so distracting, that he lost the spell he was just about to form for a moment in his mind. It whipped through his thoughts, flashing at his nerve endings with painful fire.

He flinched.

In milliseconds, a headache twitched through his whole brain. The magic, not allowed to leave his body, but charged up like a water-skin ready to burst, set fire to every drop of blood under his skin. It boiled him, it burned him. It whipped through him like a fiery belt.

He had to extinguish the fire, had to catch the spell, had to bring it back under his control. Calling to the rest of his magic, he build a wall against his own spell. Quickly, in just the blink of an eye, but so excruciatingly slow for his tortured nerves, the magic returned from its travel into the protective circle.

·ʎɐๅd oʇ ʇsnſ spๅɹoʍ ǝɥʇ uǝǝʍʇǝq ʎɐʍɹoop sᴉɥʇ pǝuǝdo pɐɥ puɐ ʎๅǝuoๅ sɐʍ ʇᴉ ʻๅๅɐ ɹǝʇɟⱯ ·ʇɔɐʇuoɔ ǝɹoɯ ɹoɟ ɥsᴉʍ ǝɥʇ sɐ ʇᴉ puɐʇsɹǝpun ʎๅuo pๅnoɔ puɐ ɓuᴉʇuɐɥɔ ๅɐɯɹou sʇᴉ uᴉ ʞɐǝɹq ǝɥʇ pǝɔᴉʇou ʇsnſ ǝɥS ·punos ǝɥʇ ʎɟᴉʇuǝpᴉ ʇ'upๅnoɔ ǝɥs ɥɓnoɥʇ ʻǝuᴉɥʍ ʇᴉ pɹɐǝɥ puɐ ɥɔuᴉๅɟ uɐɯnɥ ǝɥʇ ʍɐs ǝɥS

·uʍop pǝɯๅɐɔ ʎๅๅnɟ pɐɥ ʇᴉ ๅᴉʇun ɹǝɥ ʇsuᴉɐɓɐ pǝๅɓɓnus puɐ pǝɹɹnd ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ǝɥꓕ ·ǝʞoɯs ɥsᴉuǝǝɹɓ ɟo pnoๅɔ ɐ uᴉ dn pǝʇɟᴉɹp puɐ pǝๅzzᴉs ʇᴉ ǝɯᴉๅs ɹǝɥ pǝɥɔnoʇ ʇᴉ ǝɹǝɥʍ puɐ ʎpoq ɹǝɥ ɹǝʌo pǝddᴉɹp uᴉʞs ɟo sɹǝʎɐๅ oʍʇ ǝɥʇ uǝǝʍʇǝq ooɓ ǝnๅq ǝɥꓕ ·ɥʇᴉʍ ɹɐᴉๅᴉɯɐɟ sɐʍ ǝɥs sๅɐɯᴉuɐ ɹǝɥʇo ʇsoɯ ǝʞᴉๅ ʇsnſ ʻuᴉʞsɹǝpun sʇᴉ uo ɹᴉɐ pๅoɔ ǝɥʇ ɟo ɓuᴉๅǝǝɟ ǝɥʇ pǝʌoๅ ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ǝɥʇ sɐ ʇᴉq ɐ uᴉʞs ǝɥʇ pǝuǝdo puɐ sǝๅɔɐʇuǝʇ sʇᴉ ɓuoๅɐ sʍɐๅɔ ɹǝɥ pǝʌoɯ ǝɥs uǝɥʇ ʻʇnous sʇᴉ pǝʇʇǝd puɐ punoɹɓ ǝɥʇ uo ʇᴉ ʇǝs ǝɥS ·ʎpoq ɹǝɥ ɯoɹɟ ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ɓuᴉʞɐɥs ǝɥʇ ɟo dᴉɹɓ ɥʇɐǝp ǝɥʇ pǝuǝsooๅ puɐ uʍop ʇๅǝuʞ ɐɥɔɥɔᴉꓘ

·uɐɯnɥ ǝɥʇ oʇ ɹǝʌo pǝɹǝɥʇᴉๅs ɓuᴉǝq pǝๅɔɐʇuǝʇ ǝɥʇ ʻɓuᴉppoɹd ɟo ʇᴉq ɐ ɥʇᴉM ·ʇᴉq ɐ ɹoɟ ɹǝɥ ɯoɹɟ ʎɐʍɐ pǝuɹnʇ pɐɥ oɥʍ ʻuɐɯnɥ ǝɥʇ spɹɐʍoʇ ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ǝɥʇ pǝɓpnu ʎๅʇuǝɓ ǝɥs ʻǝๅdoǝd snoʌɹǝu ǝɥʇoos oʇ ʇɔǝɟɹǝd sɐʍ ๅɐɯᴉuɐ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʇ ɓuᴉʍouꓘ

He centred everything on himself, on the magic that was not supposed to feel like this. He called all magic to himself, the spell that held the circle, the spell that controlled the portal, the spell that was supposed to give the demon its order. It weakened the protection, the flashes and flames sank to the ground, they flickered in less vibrant colours.

It was too weak! The barrier, it was too weak!

The demons tentacles shot out from its body, they passed the barrier of the pentagram and the gooey and slimy appendage connected with his skin. It wrapped around him. Gluey puss slobbered over him and burned his skin. Abscesses wafted over his whole body, his wizard's cloak adorned with protective runes, melted around him like it never existed.

In a last, desperate attempt to save himself, he send all magic, every little drop of it, into the portal, hoping that it would suck the demon back to its realm.

"¡ʇǝʎ ʎɐๅd oʇ ǝɔuɐɥɔ ǝɥʇ pɐɥ uǝʌǝ ʇ'upɐɥ ǝM" ·ǝʇɐɯʎɐๅd ɹᴉǝɥʇ oʇuo pๅoɥ pๅnoʍ uoᴉuɐdɯoɔ pǝʇsnɹʇ ɹǝɥ pǝdoɥ puɐ sǝๅɔɐʇuǝʇ s'ʞɔoɥɔɐɔ ǝɥʇ ɟo ǝuo pǝqqɐɹɓ ǝɥS "¡ɹᴉɐɟ ʇou s'ʇɐɥꓕ" ·ɯɐɹɓɐʇuǝd ǝɥʇ ɟo ǝๅppᴉɯ ǝɥʇ spɹɐʍoʇ pǝɓɓɐɹp ǝɹǝʍ ssᴉsssʎS puɐ ǝɥs sɐ punoɹɓ ǝɥʇ pǝʍɐๅɔ ǝɥS "¡oN" ·uoᴉʇɐɹʇsnɹɟ uᴉ pǝɯɐǝɹɔs puɐ ɹǝɥ oʇ ɓuᴉๅๅɐɔ ๅɐʇɹod ǝɥʇ ʇๅǝɟ ǝɥS

·sʞɔɐɹʇ sʇᴉ uᴉ ʇᴉ pǝʍoๅๅoɟ ǝɹᴉɟ ɟo ǝnɓuoʇ ɐ puɐ ɹooๅɟ uǝpooʍ ǝɥʇ ɹǝʌo pǝɥsɐๅds xɐʍ ʇoH ·ɹǝʌo pǝๅddoʇ sǝๅpuɐɔ ǝɥʇ ɟo ǝuo puɐ punoɹɓ ǝɥʇ uo pǝɹɐǝɯs ʞๅɐɥɔ ǝɥꓕ

He screamed, screamed and fought and screamed, but the monster would not let go. It held him in a death grip and slowly he was dragged towards the circle.

"·unɟ ǝɯos ǝʌɐɥ oʇ ǝɔuɐɥɔ ǝɥʇ sn ǝʌᴉɓ uǝʌǝ ʇ'upᴉp ʻๅɐʇɹod pᴉdnʇS ¡sǝ⅄ ¡pๅɹoʍ ʎɯ uᴉ ʎɐๅd uɐɔ ǝM"

The last thing he heard before he fell through the gate were the cackling of the burning room and an ear-splitting demonic roar.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Sinitrena on 11 Jul 2021, 16:10
The following is the exact same text as above, just easier to read:

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Playdate!

Again, he circled the pentagram on the ground, again, he checked the chalk circle and the symbols, again, he focussed on himself and felt the magic in his pulse. Breathing in and out slowly to steady his thoughts, he ignited the candles and placed them at the five tips of the star.

This was just a test, a final exercise before his exam the next night, but that only made him check everything again and again and again.

For several minutes, he watched the wax melt and trickle down the side of the candles before he went around the protective circle one last time. Then, he could no longer delay the start of the ritual. The moon had reached its highest point, the stars had aligned in the correct constellation, the lightning flashed through he sky – it was time.

Slowly, he moved his hands in circles in front of his face, over his forehead, over his chest, he pressed the palms against each other, he started to knot his fingers in intricate gestures. Deep in his throat, he began the incantation. It rumbled through the large room like the thunder coming down from the sky and it sang like the rain pattering on the cobblestones in front of the window.

Cold wind started to swivel the dust from the cabinets and made the candles flicker. Spirals of smoke drifted up from them to the wooden ceiling and shadows danced on the panelled walls.

The magic vibrated through his flesh, goosebumps and bulges pulsed under and over his skin. It tried to escape from his body, it tried to fill the room with energy, to burn it and freeze it, but he held it back. Carefully, he lead it into his fingertips and his nails.

They clicked against each other, suddenly as strong and veined as shale, and a loud and shrill tone emanated from the contact, like chalk on a blackboard. It filled the room in a crescendo of notes, splitting his ears. Every instinct told him to shield his ears, but he knew better. The tone, painful as it was, was music to his magic, was just the cheering of the immense power.

When the tone became too shrill to hear, he released the magic from his fingers. In flashes and twitches, it jerked towards the circle and the pentagram and in waves the chalk of the symbols sizzled up and down. After just a moment, after the magic had circled the pentagram three times, the five flames became blasts. Fire shot into the middle of the spell, building a tent over the floor. In rain, it sailed down in its middle and underneath a door opened.

It opened into a world of fire and ash, into a world of demons and magic, into a world beyond his understanding.

They were enjoying their garden when the call came. The three children played ball with their cachock, while the mother worked on some new curtains for the living room and the father watched them with a smile.

Above their heads, light clouds sizzled and new ash dripped down onto their heads in thick balls. It was the first sign and the father sighed deeply. He stared up at the sky and the portal that sank down towards the ground in the form of a five-pointed star. Its edges pulsed with a demanding energy while the view of the wood-panelled room beyond slowly formed out of fog and mist.

"Again?" He shook his head. "Such dramatics. Fire and brimstone, I'm really getting sick of this smell."

"Now, now," the mother placated him, "Look, you know it's just a cub wanting someone to play. It's just lonely. It can't be older than Kichcha here." She indicated their daughter.

The contrast could not have been larger between the beautiful spiral horns on the girl's temple and the hideous smooth skin on the wizard's forehead, the sharp and wild claws on her six appendages and the boringly manicured fingernails of his, the healthy slime and puss coming from her three teats and the dryness of his whole body, the leathery feel of her scales in matt red and grey and the flowing velvet of his meaninglessly embroidered cloak, her well proportioned small head and his obscenely large one.

Before the father could even form a reply to his wife, Kichcha stood next to his rocking chair and plucked on his left horn. "Can I go?" she asked excited, jumping up and down between the two adult demons. "Please, Dadyy, I'm old enough, pleaaaase?" The baying cachock at her heels put its tentacles right next to her claws and licked over its muzzle and the father's slime with its three times split tongue.

Her father shook his head sternly, his two horns dancing up and down in this way that always brought a smile to his family and made every bit of strictness mute. "You're too young. The journey can be difficult."

"Poppycock!" the mother said, "It's more than time for her to go! The boys were 50 for their first times, and you won't let her at 200? Seriously, Chochanck! - Just be nice, alright, dear? And remember that it's not its fault that it doesn't understand any civilized languages, yes?"

"Of course! Thank you, Mommy!" The young demon jumped up and down and towards the star that was meanwhile a pulsating gate in the middle of their picked-fenced veranda. She turned around for a moment and clicked her claws against her scales to signal the exited and still baying cachock. "I'm taking Sysssiss!"

Before the parents could stop her, the demonic animal collided with the demon girl and together they tumbled through the portal.


Out of smoke and fire, the demon manifested. It roared instantly in anger and fear. No demon could withstand the power of a wizard and no demon wanted to obey them. But the wizard was strong, his magic kept the monster at bay in the protective circle.

The flashes and electric twitches had slightly subsided as the demon passed the gateway, but sparks still twitched from his fingers and around the pentagram. The candles were burned down to tiny stumps in just a few seconds, but they did not need to focus his magic for much longer. Three or four orders and he would be sure that he had trained enough and was ready for his exam the next day.

And how he had learned! Taking a closer look at the demon as the smoke slowly settled, he noticed the tentacles coming from its midsection and the second mouth the thing seemed to have there. Too much rows of teeth leered at him from this second mouth and the angry shouting roar it emanated seemed to split his skin and flesh just through the sound.

"Oh, no, Sysssiss!" Kichcha said and caressed the cachock under its third tentacle. The poor thing was shaking and whining, confused from the journey that was, admittedly, not very comfortable.

After just a few seconds, though, she turned towards the human who had just started to walk around her. It was moving these strange almost clawless paws close to the gateway's frame and was shouting some things in this barbaric tongue that was probably some kind of language but sounded so weird to her ears.

While it did look abysmally disgusting, Kichcha had always liked the stranger creatures at home, like the vivicks and the gotinit, and so the for her not-so-unusual urge started to form to caress this strange being and press it to her chest. "You're so cute!", she cooed.


The demon hollered and jump towards him as he started the incantation for the first order he wanted to test today. It came towards him with the speed of a lightning spell, drenching the floor inside the pentagram in puss and spit.

But it could not reach him. His magic filled the circle. He ordered it into the chalk again, he ordered it to rise, he ordered it to built a wall. And it did. The magic, his magic, would never disobey him and it would give him control of this demon as well, no matter how much of a mental fight it would be.

Just a step from the human, the circle around Kichcha flared up. Little flecks in violet and the red shade of her scales danced in front of her eyes. They stopped her in her tracks, they were so beautiful.

But more importantly, they reminded her of her mother's warning not to touch any strange animals, and so she moved her head from side to side and cooed at the pretty lights instead.


It roared in pain as it collided with the barrier. The sound was so loud, so demanding, so distracting, that he lost the spell he was just about to form for a moment in his mind. It whipped through his thoughts, flashing at his nerve endings with painful fire.

He flinched.

In milliseconds, a headache twitched through his whole brain. The magic, not allowed to leave his body, but charged up like a water-skin ready to burst, set fire to every drop of blood under his skin. It boiled him, it burned him. It whipped through him like a fiery belt.

He had to extinguish the fire, had to catch the spell, had to bring it back under his control. Calling to the rest of his magic, he build a wall against his own spell. Quickly, in just the blink of an eye, but so excruciatingly slow for his tortured nerves, the magic returned from its travel into the protective circle.

She saw the human flinch and heard it whine, though she couldn't identify the sound. She just noticed the break in its normal chanting and could only understand it as the wish for more contact. After all, it was lonely and had opened this doorway between the worlds just to play.

Kichcha knelt down and loosened the death grip of the shaking cachock from her body. She set it on the ground and petted its snout, then she moved her claws along its tentacles and opened the skin a bit as the cachock loved the feeling of the cold air on its underskin, just like most other animals she was familiar with. The blue goo between the two layers of skin dripped over her body and where it touched her slime it sizzled and drifted up in a cloud of greenish smoke. The cachock purred and snuggled against her until it had fully calmed down.

Knowing that the animal was perfect to soothe nervous people, she gently nudged the cachock towards the human, who had turned away from her for a bit. With a bit of prodding, the tentacled being slithered over to the human.


He centred everything on himself, on the magic that was not supposed to feel like this. He called all magic to himself, the spell that held the circle, the spell that controlled the portal, the spell that was supposed to give the demon its order. It weakened the protection, the flashes and flames sank to the ground, they flickered in less vibrant colours.

It was too weak! The barrier, it was too weak!

The demons tentacles shot out from its body, they passed the barrier of the pentagram and the gooey and slimy appendage connected with his skin. It wrapped around him. Gluey puss slobbered over him and burned his skin. Abscesses wafted over his whole body, his wizard's cloak adorned with protective runes, melted around him like it never existed.

In a last, desperate attempt to save himself, he send all magic, every little drop of it, into the portal, hoping that it would suck the demon back to its realm.

She felt the portal calling to her and screamed in frustration. "No!" She clawed the ground as she and Sysssiss were dragged towards the middle of the pentagram. "That's not fair!" She grabbed one of the cachock's tentacles and hoped her trusted companion would hold onto their playmate. "We hadn't even had the chance to play yet!"

The chalk smeared on the ground and one of the candles toppled over. Hot wax splashed over the wooden floor and a tongue of fire followed it in its tracks.


He screamed, screamed and fought and screamed, but the monster would not let go. It held him in a death grip and slowly he was dragged towards the circle.

"We can play in my world! Yes! Stupid portal, didn't even give us the chance to have some fun."

The last thing he heard before he fell through the gate were the cackling of the burning room and an ear-splitting demonic roar.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Mandle on 12 Jul 2021, 10:58
Well, I have written a very long short story for this contest that does not fit within one post.
What I am going to do is just put the first part here which does fit, to be judged on its own merits, and then the other 3 parts below just in case anyone wants to keep reading to the end.

Edward's Talent (PART ONE)
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1997
****

Steve was running all over his house trying to find the last clue. Time was running out.
Jerry sat on the sofa behind Edward. Edward sat cross-legged on the floor, eyes wide and rapt, watching Steve dash to and fro.
Jerry had already guessed that the last clue would be on a glass, but he didn't feel TOO proud about it. Blue's Clues was a show for little kids after all, but he did feel a little bit proud when Eddy pointed at the screen and yelled "Behind you, Steve!", partly because his son had spotted the blue paw-print on the glass on the shelf behind Steve even before Steve had started to ask the viewers if they had seen a clue that he had missed, but also just a tad chuffed that the last clue was, indeed, a glass.

Edward followed the green-striped-shirt-wearing Steve's drawing instructions in his own official and trademarked Blue's Clues Notebook with his own green-striped crayon that had come as a part of the set from Walmart ($3.99).
Jerry peered around the hunched shoulders of his two-and-a-half-year-old and pursed his lips and nodded a little to himself in respect that the little guy had done a pretty decent job of following Steve's onscreen instructions of drawing a long oval up the top of the page and a smaller oval at the bottom and connecting the edges of both with two lines to form...

"A glass!", said Steve "Now what could Blue want to do with... A straw... Ice... and... a...".
Edward said "He wants a juice-break!", and looked back around and up at his dad and said "I got it right!", with a heart-achingly beautiful (to Jerry) expression of pride on his own face. Jerry supplied his own sought-after feigned look of surprise and genuine look of pleasure that Eddy wanted and then faked a spluttering, finger-pointing, "I think so too! But we'd better check!".

Edward gave his dad the "Pu-leeeze" look he had learnt so well from his mom, and turned back to the screen just as Blue, her cartoon doggy-ears flopping, nodded the confirmation that a juice-break was indeed in order in the little red-and-yellow house at the top of the hill.

That look though, the clone of Lisa's "Come-on-now-Jerry" look she could have put a patent out on...
Jerry didn't want Eddy to see his eyes tearing up so he said "I think we need one of those too, Eddy!" and, his wrinkled sixty-two-year-old hands planted on his knees for support, he grunted and stood up from the sofa and headed to the kitchen nook just off the living room.
He was pretty sure that Edward hadn't noticed his voice thickening on the last couple of words.

1993 (Memories)
**************

Edward had not been an accident but he HAD been a miracle.
All the way back in the mid-December of 1993, when Jerry had asked his lovely Lisa what she wanted for Christmas, she had taken his hand in both of hers and led him to the same sofa he had just got up from.

As he opened the fridge and took out the bottle of apple juice he remembered back to those times, what he now thought of as "The Before Times". She had gently forced him to sit next to her and he could tell that she wasn't going to ask for a new plant for the back garden like she had every other year of their thirty-four-year marriage.

"I don't want a plant.", she said, even though she had read in his eyes that he already knew this.

"There's no more space in that jungle anywa...", Jerry started but the gentle press of her lips on his stopped him.

"Shutupstupid", she said, drawing back from him with her serious face on.

So he did as a good stupid does and let her continue:

"I went back to Doctor Quincy last week.", but when she saw the flash of hope in her Jerry's eyes she rushed on "No, wait! Honey, sorry, it's not that! That's still... yeah...".

"Oh.", said Jerry, hope mercifully crushed before it could grow any further.

Lisa gripped Jerry's hand again tightly in both of hers and looking down, her brow creased she said "I went there to ask him about something else.".

Dr. Quincy had listened to Lisa's question and replied "Yes, it is... possible. But are you sure abou...".

"I can't leave him all alone, Jim!", she managed as her chest started to hitch with the coming sobs "I've been... r-reading the... m-medical journals and I w-want to...".

"Okay, here, drink your water and calm the fuck down.", said Jim Quincy, which elicited a chest-heaving bark of a laugh from Lisa.

"Now, here's how we move ahead.", he continued, dropping back into his calm professional mode.

The drug's name was "Entifal" she explained to Jerry on that unusually warm December night back in The Before Days.
It wasn't fully approved but trials were available and her status as an incurable terminal case might, with Dr. Quincy's
recommendation, land her near the top of the list.

It was a fertility drug, designed for the specific problem with her body that had left them childless these last three decades.
The cutoff ceiling for testing was fifty-year-olds. Lisa, almost a decade younger than Jerry, was forty-nine.
Well, she was for another two months anyway and then it was "time's up".
Jerry, skeptical at first, listened on into the early hours after midnight. He looked over the pamphlets she had handed him. He listened to her plan. He did not disagree but he also did not give any sign of acceptance.
Once Lisa had talked herself out she gripped his hand again in both of hers. He could feel the trembling strength in them as she asked "So?".
Jerry replied "Sounds like a plan." and then spent the next half hour kissing and stroking the back of her head after she collapsed, crying, in his lap.

1997
****

His hand holding the apple-juice bottle frozen over the ice-filled glass, Jerry, caught up in his remembrances, had been in danger of overfilling it when Eddy called out "Daaaaaddy! It's gonna spill!" from behind him.
His hand jerked in surprise and spilled a bit of the apple juice anyway, and he said "Shutupstupid." and leaped around as best he could, not like he could have done even ten years ago, arms outspread and growling.
Edward giggled, knowing this game well. He turned on his heels and dashed away only to be caught as he scaled the back of the sofa to be dragged down onto the thick shag carpet and tickled half to death.

Once his hiccups had run their course, Edward and his big funny daddy sat on the sofa together side by side, identical Rugrats plastic glasses in their hands. They both raised the glasses to their lips in sync and took sips of the cold apple juice and both said "Ahhhhh!" together. On the TV, the gross show Ed, Edd, and Eddy was starting. Edward didn't like this show, it was scary and gross, and he hated that his name was the same. He asked daddy to turn it off and daddy reached over to the coffee table and, with the remote, he turned it off.

Edward knew that daddy had been thinking about mommy in the kitchen but he didn't say so because that made daddy cry sometimes.
He missed mommy but daddy always kissed him and said mommy had to go to heaven because God had written her name down too early by mistake. Silly God. But daddy said they would both see her again but not for a long time. Edward thought that a long time probably wasn't all that long. He had waited for long times before and they had always come eventually.
He wasn't sure if it had been a long time yet since mommy's funeral. It felt like one but he could still remember her so maybe it wasn't one yet. He hoped he didn't forget about her even if a long time went by and...
"Hey, Eddy. Wanna see a magic trick?!", said daddy.

He looked up at daddy's big red face and saw the frown of concern releasing on daddy's forehead. He had read the emotion as it disappeared but had no words to ask about it so he just said "YEAH!".

*****

Jerry said "Ahhhhh!" in time with his son, as they always did, and swallowed the sweet cold apple juice. He picked up the remote when Eddy asked him to turn off the "gross show" and hit the button. The TV "plomped" off with a final hiss of static.

He smiled and looked down at Edward but saw something that had been bothering him more and more often over the last month-and-a-half since Lisa's funeral.
Eddy was still staring forward at the TV screen as if it was still on. His nose was wrinkled up and his lips were a pair of thin pale clenched lines.

He knew Eddy was still suffering. He had told his son all the beautiful lies he knew about Lisa's passing and they had offered brief respites but he felt he wasn't living up to Lisa's expectations.
Jerry had asked her, in those last few days in the hospital, "What do I say to him when he asks where you are?".
She had smiled and said "You'll know."
BUT HE DIDN'T KNOW!!!
Goddammit! He was letting everyone down!
"Suck it up, asshole.", he thought to himself and said out loud "Hey, Eddy. Wanna see a magic trick?!".
His son's face relaxed as he turned it up toward Jerry and the impossibly beautiful smile and the word "YEAH!" hit him like a baseball bat made out of pure cotton-candy happiness.
And then the next few minutes was when everything changed and Jerry knew that life for the two of them would never be as simple and happy again as that one perfect moment had been.

2002
****

The flashing lights of the wailing ambulance pulsing across the curtains of the motel room lit Jerry's clenched face in the final moments of his life.

Four years on the run had taken their toll on his already struggling sixty-seven-year-old heart, and now it was giving up on him way before Eddy was old enough to take care of himself.
He squinted up from where he lay on the orange carpet into the face of his little man. Eleven years old. Eddy was eleven years
old! He could see so much of his beloved Lisa in Eddy's face as the red strobing lights whipped the shadow of his son's nose from left cheek to right and then back again.

"Dad! Get up!", hissed Edward.

"NO! GO! Get out! I'm sorry! Don't let them take you! GO! Go out through the bathroom window!".

"I can't! DAD!".

"FUCKING GO! Do what I taught you! Blend in!".

"NO!".

"Take the Go-Bag and GO! I LOVE YOU!".

Edward gripped down on the hand he held clenched on his dad's trembling fist. Dad was right. But this was fucking WRONG!
There was no fucking heaven where the mom he couldn't remember or the dad who'd lovingly lied to him about that were going.
When you could do what he could do you KNEW everything was... WAIT! That's it!

"Dad, I'll fix everything!".

"NO! THAT WILL MAKE... UGH...!", said Jerry as his heart spasmed painfully, thumping into his sternum and causing his back to arch in a sudden jerk.

"Daddy! I'm gonna...".

"THAT WILL MAKE EVERYTHING WORSE! UGH!... GO!".

The paramedics outside started knocking on the door. Jerry threw his son's hand away from his own and said "GO!" for the last time.
Edward remembered his training. This was it. This wasn't one of the drills they had practiced over and over. This was not going to end in an icecream treat.

He forgot to kiss his dad one last time and instead dashed across the room to where the Go-Bag lay on the bedside table.
As he grabbed it on his way to the bathroom it brushed the lamp on the table which started to spin and teeter on its circular base.
By the time the lamp overreached its center of gravity and crashed to the floor Jerry was already dead and Edward's legs were sliding out through the bathroom window.

As Edward dashed away across the foggy Autumn fields behind the motel, slinging the strap of the heavy Go-Bag over one shoulder with an off-balance sidestep and a grunt, the paramedics were entering the room with the backup key the desk clerk had finally found and provided.
They rushed over to the motionless figure splayed on the floor and started unpacking the defibrillator from their kit.

Behind them, through the misty red-flashing doorway, a tall thin man stepped in. He looked around briefly and then sharply ducked his head and spoke into his sleeve.

Edward ran and ran, stumbling through the furrowed foggy Autumn fields. He tripped and fell quite often, but got up again and, with tears cutting channels through the dirt on his face, slung the heavy Go-Bag by its strap back over alternate shoulders each time as he headed off with no destination, no anchor, and, as far as he could imagine, no future.
Some time later he doubled over with a cramp and, Go-Bag falling from his bruised shoulder, held onto his knees and vomited onto the ground.

The chopping noise of a helicopter's blades grew louder as he wretched and his stomach clenched and heaved and then suddenly a glaringly white circle of light was on him.

In the harsh white light of the helicopter's searchlight, poking out from the mass of mashed-together bread and burger between his splayed feet, he saw the half-digested fries of the takeout meal he had eaten with his dad just an hour or two before. Back when his dad had been still al...

He was gonna cry. He was under the spotlight and caught by the men from "The Cave", but he was still gonna cry.
But then the searchlight passed over him and the helicopter buzzed away into the distance ahead.
Edward looked up, tears coursing from his eyes, and realized that the fog, even swirling as it was from the helicopter's down-wash, had been too heavy. The helicopter wasn't circling back. They hadn't seen him.
He wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt, spreading new tracks of tears and runny snot across his dirty cheeks, picked up and reshouldered the Go-Bag, and, stepping over his puddle of puke, lurched onward through the mist.

Maybe ten minutes later, the helicopter passed him by again, doubling back, but it was at least half a mile to his right, its searchlight a cone probing through the mist. They were searching in rows and had already passed him by, but he knew they would be back after they hadn't found him elsewhere. And just then, a large and blurry yellow glow grew out of the fog in front of him. Stumbling on, the glow grew smaller and more distinct. It shrank from a haze the rough shape of a sideways-laying number eight into the distinct form of two windows, light streaming out through them in rays.

In front of one window the shadow of a person's head and shoulders passed, cutting a panning shadow through the yellow air.

A voice cried out saying "Bill! Over there!".

Then "What? Where?! Oh hell! It's a kid!".

"A what?!"

"It's a kid Margie! It's a boy!".

"Well, bring him the hell inside!".

"Yeah, yeah, I got 'im!"

Edward felt himself scooped up off his feet sideways by big arms and then he was carried through the spreading yellow rays of the little farmhouse's windows and up onto a porch and then through a door to the right of the windows that opened in front of him and then closed behind him.

And that was how Edward French met Bill and Marge Taylor.

2002 (In the Taylor Homestead)
************************

There was a scramble of getting the kid washed off and dressed and fed was the way Bill remembered it.
The kid kept hissing something about a cave or some nonsense, or so he had thought at the time.
Margie was fussing around this-a-way and that-a-way running her hands through her hair, already let down loose for the night, and heating up their leftover dinner stew again and running the bath water and yelling at Bill to talk to the kid and find out what the frick was goin' on.

The kid had the shocked wall-eyes of some of the wounded soldiers Bill had dragged outta the jungle in Nam as a medic.
He had slapped those guys back into the real world back then but he couldn't do that to a kid.
Margie dashed by on her third lap from kitchen to bathroom and threw a hot towel at him. He caught it and also just caught the tail end of her saying "...face cleaned up all good and then...".

He put his arms out in a gesture of "Whaddayamean?!" to her now vanished back and then grunted in frustration and turned to look at the kid.
God, the skinny thing was a mess. Bill guessed that the kid's stringy longish hair was blonde, but it was hard to tell with the clods of field-dirt caught up in it like meatballs in spaghetti. From the kid's dirty and crusty-snot-streaked face the thousand-yard-stare of his light-brown-going-on-shockingly-yellow eyes seemed fixed somewhere between the fridge and the front door where there was only wall.

"Um, yeah, I'ma gonna try an' wipe some of that shi...".

Another pass of the frantic Marge ended with the words "...cuss at him none, you hear, you..." with an almost detectable Doppler
Effect.

Bill muttered to himself "Well, I'll just shut the fuck up then, woman.", but so low that even he couldn't really hear it himself.
He started on Edward's face with cautious dabs here and there with the warm wet towel but, after Margie passed by with something like "...the hell up...", and the kid hadn't flinched, he just grabbed the back of Edward's head, mushed the towel onto his face, and made like a car-wash brush.

No reaction. The face was cleaner but no more responsive after he pulled the now-blackened towel away.
Marge came in again like a tornado of motherly care from the bathroom and said "Now, plomp him down over there and we'll get some stew in him.".
Bill replied "Alright, first thing I understood from your damn mouth since this whole kerfuffle started but I dunno if he's ready to eat.".

"Have you ever seen a boy NOT eat, you useless pile of man?!".

"Nope, I guess I ain't not ever seen such a thing.", replied Bill, spinning the kid's chair on one leg and then sliding it from behind up to the wooden table he had cut and built himself back when he had married this angel from hell of his.
Marge ladled out four big scoops of the left-over chicken stew into a cereal bowl with the face of The Hamburglar at its bottom and placed it in front of Edward.
She pushed a tablespoon into his hand and said "Eat!".
Edward's eyes refocused and he did as he was told.

And over the night ahead that's pretty much how it went, with Edward carried to and plunged into hot water and scrubbed raw and then dressed in huge pajamas his hands and feet didn't stick out of and laid down on a soft bed.
The next morning he ate cornflakes and the big man in the denim overalls, with the bald head, except above his ears in an orange strip going all the way round the back of his head, and scalp and face covered in a galaxy of freckles, sat next to him and wiped Edward's chin whenever he dribbled milk.
Edward felt like he was two-years-old again but it was kinda nice. He didn't have to think about anything that might hurt him.
The short fat lady in the purple Adidas sweatsuit with her bright green hair tied in four ponytails hanging from above her ears and just managing to bounce off her shoulders as she turned to-and-fro, spoke to Edward in a comforting throaty voice.

She had said "Tell us your name, honey.".

And then "It's okay. Maybe some home-killed hog bacon and scrambled eggs will get that pretty head workin'.".

Then, while he was chewing on his third strip of the delicious bacon, "So, about that name of yours... Does it start with a..."

BAM-BAM-BAM!!!

The front door next to the fridge shuddered with three no-nonsense knocks and a voice, in the calm and clear tones one would expect from somebody used to speaking through closed doors, called out "Federal agents. Open the door, please.".
The fat lady locked eyes with the big man and called out "NOT DECENT! WAIT!".
She turned her eyes floor-wards and then back up at the big man, without ever moving her head.

The big man snatched Edward up from his chair. He lifted the chair quietly aside and then reached down, Edward cupped in the crook of one massive bicep and forearm, and winced as he pulled up on a knothole in a floorboard.
His wince relaxed as the section of floorboards hinged upwards without a noise.
Edward was lowered into the space under the floor and barely had time to register his cramped surroundings before the big man carefully lowered the lid back down and all Edward could see was a beam of light dancing with dust motes stabbing through the knothole in the floorboard an inch or two above his nose.

"Okay, what's thi... Oh-my-goodness-you're-tall!", said Marge to the man standing on her doorstep's cute welcome mat. The one with "Come in and sit a spell" woven into it in pink-dyed straw. The mat that this tall thin man with his pallid face and round black sunglasses and sheer black suit was muddying-up with his black leather shoes, shiny enough on top of their tips to reflect the two of them face-to-face in a deep and dark fisheye view from the ankles up, and caked with enough wet field-soil around the edges to hide the sides of the soles completely.

"We are looking for an escaped lunatic. It is a child. It will deceive you if you meet it. It has blonde hai...".

"What kind of a man calls a child an "it"? Well? Is it a he or a she?!", butted in Marge, the full five-four of her upward-turned head level with the man's chest, looking much like a child herself in comparison.

Bill lumbered in from the side of his Marge and said, in the slow way that Edward would grow to love over the next few years "Ahhh, sorry, sir... She's all riled up an' sore at me for, ahhhh, well for not being that good with... the drink. If you catch my meaning... Ahhhh. You lookin' for someone?".

"Yes! A child lunatic escaped from a nearby lunatic compound and we have a need to secure it within a time-frame of...", started the tall man in his thin reedy voice, but then a man ducked his head in from the side and said, in a voice recognizable as the one who had called out at first, "Sorry.", and took a nervous, and slightly annoyed, glance up at the tall man, before continuing "We're looking for a boy. Long blonde hair. 'Bout shoulder length?".

"Ain't no, ahhhh, boy in here, sir. But you can come in and look around if you want.", drawled Bill.

Marge took a step back and said "Goshdarn, but where are my manners?! Come in! I'll put the kettle on and then everyone, you, you, and even YOU, all get a nice hot cup of hickory coffee in just a snap and a skedaddle.".

The tall man, his head bent almost ninety degrees down on his long pale neck, pursed his lips like he was about to speak but then the younger and shorter agent said "It's alright, ma'am. We'll take a rain-check on your hospitality.", and then he waggled his head at the other agent on the other side of the tall man in the universal sign of "Let's go.".

After Marge and Bill had watched the three figures walk off back to the black van on the dirt track leading up to the Taylor Homestead, the middle one's shoulders riding uncannily level alongside the bobbing heads of the two on either side, they eased the door shut with a quiet click.

"A snap and a skedaddle?!", asked Bill, one eyebrow arched in amusement.

"Oh, quiet, you! I was flustered.", replied Marge, starting to break.

"Seems like you was layin' on the hayseed act a bit thi...".

"They fell for it didn't th-the- heh heh ha ha HA HAAA!" said Marge as her hands went to her knees and she buckled over in laughter.

Bill's boots clomped around her as he poked the "tickle-bits" on her sides and chanted "Snap! Skedaddle! Snap AND skedaddle!".

Marge, wheezing now and about to collapse in one of her "gigglenadoes" that only Bill knew how to bring on, managed to slap his hands away and said "The kid! Bill! The kid, you foolish hunka burnin' shit!".

"Oh, dang... yeah!"

CLOMP-CLOMP-CLOMP.

Edward got a slew of dust in his face from under the floorboards of his hidy-hole on the last CLOMP but he squinched his eyes shut and avoided the worst of it.

The hatch opened and light streamed in and he rarely had to worry about anything for the next seven years.

2002-2009
*********

Of course they asked him the questions, but they waited a few days until he started to smile again in a way that looked like a normal kid does.
They got his name first, but when Marge called him "Eddy" he had flinched and his face had grown dark and frowning so they just stuck to "Edward" after that for a while.

Asking about his mom went smoother. He didn't remember much. They soon realized she was not in the picture, or anyone's picture, anymore and they moved on to the fathe...

"SHUSH! Oh, shhhussshhh... Oh, sorry, Edd... Edward-honey!!! Oh, damn! Damn my fool mouth!", panicked Marge as Edward spat up half his mouthful of oatmeal and then drew in a hitching breath and started choking on the rest.

"Slap his ba...", she began but Bill was already there thumping away on Edward's heaving back.
The rest of the sloppy morning cereal came back out after the third thump and landed with a splat on the edge of the rough wooden table and started dripping and plopping down onto the floor.

"Edward-sweetie.. You don't have to...".
(plop)
"Huuuurrrggghhh!!!".
(plop)
"No, sweetie! Don't! It doesn't matt...".
"Margie. Just let the boy catch a brea...".
(plop)
"Oh, fuck! I'm sorry, daddy! I'm so sor...".
"It's okay, honey, it's okay. We can talk about it anoth...".
"Better he spits it out sooner than lat...".
(plop)
"Dad! Ahhhh. I should have just... fucking... fi.. fix... fixed you!".
"Fixed what, Edward? Fixed your dad?".
"Y-y-yeah! But I called the a-ambulance. It's all muh-my fu-fucki-.".
"Shhhhh sweetie... shhhhhh."
(plop)
"Bill, you walkin' oil-spill! Wipe that slack look offa your dumb face and fetch a rag!"
"You always had a way with words, Margie", muttered Bill as he went to do just that.

Eventually the Taylors unraveled the rest of that night's events from Edward, in jitters and starts over days and over steaming hickory coffee and slices of pecan pie and with many hugs and much crying on both sides, and this was how it went:

Edward had just come out of the motel room's bathroom after a shower, still drying his hair with the rough motel towel.
He was used to sleeping in his new set of next-day clothes each night. He didn't remember pajamas.
Then, there was daddy, on his back gasping, his wide eyes turned to Edward trying to say something as Edward dialed 9-11 and said "Holiday Inn on Stellar Drive in... yes, that one! Hurry! My daddy is having a heart att... French. Jerry French... What? Wait, daddy's trying to say someth... Edward. My name is Edward. Edward French.".

The lady on the other end had said "Help is on the way. Unlock the motel door so they can get in to help when they ge...".
But daddy's eyes were gesturing for Edward to hang up the phone, so he did.

"He always told me what to do. He... always told me to just run. Take the Go-Bag and run if anything... if anything like that ever happened. But I called the ambulance. I CALLED TH-THEM... I killed m-my d-daddy when I could have just... F-f-fixed him."

Bill and Marge had heard hints of this term from Edward over the last week of probing the full story carefully from him.
The agents hadn't been back, but Bill had heard rumors at the barbershop from Henri, his accent full-blown as he had gaspingly said "Non, they did not come 'ere. But they 'ave been 'ere and there in the town. They asked at the market over there. Keep your 'ead still you 'opeless man or I'll cut off 'alf your ear by h'-acci-dent!".

The Taylors had sorted through Edward's "Go-Bag" while he had been asleep on the second night.
Under the several changes of clothes carefully sealed in zippered bags was a bunch of medication in a transparent plastic bag with handwritten notes written in thin black marker on the white bottles saying stuff like "NOT NEEDED BUT JUST IN CASE!" and "IF YOU CATCH A COLD!" and "IN CASE OF FEVER!". On one side of the medication's plastic bag, written with a larger black marker, was the warning "NEVER GO TO A DOCTOR!!!".

Under that there was money. Also sealed in plastic bags. A LOT of money.
Bill had whistled when Marge pulled out the three sealed bags with the square green stacks of bills inside them.
"Don't you even think of spending a single cent of this, you lumbering mass of...".
"Hey! For once just shut the hell up and stop assuming I'm some kind of... ahhhhhh. Some kind of whatever!".
"Hehehe! But there is a LOT, isn't there! How much do you think?".
"Forty-five thousand.".
"Ha! Fast! Based on what?!".
"One stack in each bag. Each stack marked fifteen-thousand on the band. Three times fifteen is...".
"Yeah, shut up! HEY! Stop your jabbin' you big lummo... NO! hahaha...HahahaHaHAHA! STOP IT!".

Gigglenado then sleep and then morning came again.

"Edward, sweetheart, we need to know what you meant when you said you should have fixed your daddy.".
It was hard for Marge to speak these words so directly to the little boy she had already fallen in love with, but Bill clenched his big strong, and always there, hand down on her shoulder and she went on "We need to know to keep you safe, honey.".
Edward looked up from his Sunday-morning pancakes, the second serving he had had here in the little house he was beginning to think of as "home", and said "Okay. I'll show you. But you have to trust me and do just what I say.".

1997 (Memories)
**************

"Hey, Eddy. Wanna see a magic trick?!", daddy had said.

He had looked up at daddy's big red face and had seen the frown of concern releasing on his forehead. He had read the expression as it had disappeared but had had no words to ask about it so he had just said "YEAH!".
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Mandle on 12 Jul 2021, 11:02
For the curious, I estimate that this story would run about 20 pages in a regular paper book if traditionally spaced instead of the device-friendly spacing I have done here.

Edward's Talent (PART TWO)
Hide: ShowHide

1997 (Memories)
**************

"Hey, Eddy. Wanna see a magic trick?!", daddy had said.

He had looked up at daddy's big red face and had seen the frown of concern releasing on his forehead. He had read the expression as it had disappeared but had had no words to ask about it so he had just said "YEAH!".

Daddy had put his hands together. His right-hand fingers had wrapped over his left-hand ones in a blur and then daddy had pulled back all but his right pointer-finger and Edward had seen the miracle of his daddy pulling his own thumb off at the halfway bendy part, sliding it up against his pointer-finger and then back down and then, with a flourish, rejoining it!

"WOAH! WOW!", Edward had said and then something tugging deep in his mind had made him say "I can do it, too! I know the trick, daddy! Let me try!".

Daddy had nodded and said "Let's see it then.".

"Close your eyes! Promise no peeking!".

"Okay, I double-swear!".

Edward was sure that daddy hadn't peeked while he ran to the kitchen nook and did what the tugging in his brain made him do.
Then he ran back and said "Okay, open your eyes!".

Jerry had watched in amazement as Eddy convincingly replicated the trick in front of where he sat of their sofa, Eddy's little butt planted on the coffee table's edge, Eddy's insanely beautiful brown-yellow eyes looking into his as he mimicked the hand movements perfectly and pulled off his thumb.

Then Edward had seen his daddy's proud grin start to collapse into a slack-jawed look of horror as the blood from the top part of his separated thumb started to drip down onto the edge of the coffee table and then pool there and spill over and down onto the carpet.
It hadn't hurt much when his tugging brain had made him cut it off with the big sharp kitchen knife and he had been careful to do it standing on the stool he stood on to help daddy wash the dishes over the sink.

"OH, GOD! EDDY! WHAT THE FUCK?! WHAT HAVE YOU...", daddy had screamed out.

"Don't freak out, daddy! Let me finish the trick!"

2002-2009
*********

Marge had to restrain Bill while Edward showed them the same trick he had done for his dad over half his lifetime ago.
When the kid had asked for the sharp butcher's knife from the kitchen wall-rack, they had both agreed and given it to him.

But then, when Edward placed his left hand splayed out on the wooden table and then positioned the knife with his right over his extended thumb at a cutting angle, Bill had said "WAIT! What?! No!", but Marge had been looking into Edward's yellow-brown eyes and read a confidence in them that made her thrust her arms out to block Bill and said to him "Bill! Trust the kid!".

Edward levered the knife down over the joint of his left thumb. His butt lifted from his chair as he pushed the weight of his whole body down into the stroke.

CRUNCH!

The top part of his severed thumb slid away across the table, spinning on its little slippery stream of blood.
Bill started to scream something but Marge slammed her elbow back into his balls to shut him up and her eyes grew larger and larger at what happened next.

With Bill doubled-over and wheezing behind her she watched in religious awe as Edward threw down the knife and reached out and grabbed the escaping thumb-tip, then stuffed it into his mouth and swallowed it with an audible gulp, and then held out the stump of his lower thumb and let her, and the crotch-grasping Bill, watch the entire magnificent process of it regrowing itself a bit at a time.

The whole thing, from severed bone to stitching muscle to perfectly manicured nail, only took about a minute-and-a-half but it was a minute-and-a-half that changed the lives of everyone in that room forever.

After the thumb, nothing would ever be the same for Bill, Marge, and Edward.

Edward told them everything he knew about how he came to being here and also about how he came into being in general.
It didn't take too long for the three of them to connect the reports on the news from years ago of a "recall" of the Entifal fertility drug and the hints here and there of a task-force sweeping the nation for survivors of the ditched program under the guise of "Contamination Recon".

Not much about this shadowy group ever appeared in the mainstream TV news anymore. After an initial rapid series of investigative delvings into the subject, the media had gone completely dark on the topic about six months later and nothing had changed since then.
Edward himself could offer two clues that he had learned from his father. The best of which being the name of said task-force:

His father had called them "The Cave".

"Never let yourself get taken by The Cave. I mean even after I'm gone.", his father had said time after time and then always added "Even if that means... you know."
One of those times, Edward, grinning, had put two fingers to his temple with his thumb pointed up and then dropped it.
His father had winced at the mental image and said "Yes. But please don't ever do that again.".
And Edward hadn't.

Home-schooling at the Taylor homestead was a must of course.
But the Taylor's version of "school" for Edward was not even close to being on the spectrum of the American educational curriculum.
Guns was a required course.
Hanguns, starting with .22s, both automatic and revolver, working up to .38s and on into .45s.
Targets were "HAT" cutouts that Bill made with his power saw in the barn out back, sometimes cutting through ten layers of particle-board at a time around the black 10B pencil line on the top board.

"Why are they called "Hats"?", asked Edward.

BZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!

"WHY ARE THEY CALLED "HATS"?".

BBZZZzzzzzzzzz...

Bill, the power-saw spinning to a halt, pulled one side of his ear-protection off and said "What?".

"What do you call these "Hats"? They don't look like hats.", asked Edward up at Bill through the motes of sawdust floating in one of the many cracks of light piercing the barn's shoddy roof.

"Oh, that stands for "Head and Torso". It's an anagram. You know, when the first letters of stuff, uhhh, makes the word?".

"Bill, that's called an acronym.".

"Yeah, shoot, I always get them two mixed up.".

"Haha... you said "shoot". That's a dad-joke, right?".

"It is now.", replied Bill, putting his ear-protection back on, and blushing red and turning the saw back on.

First time the boy had come even close to referring to him as "dad".

Although Edward had not meant it that way at the time, over the next weeks, by the time they had progressed up to .45s, shooting at the HAT targets in the barn, Marge coming out with pitchers of ice-filled home-made refreshments every hour on the hour, Edward had slipped up and called Bill "dad" for real quite a few times.
At first Bill had ignored the slip-ups but on the third or forth one, Edward had said sorry and then cried. But Bill told him "Call me whatever you want but don't call me late for dinner.", and had then spread his arms wide with a big dopey grin on his face thinking "Don't leave me hangin' here, kid. Kinda puttin' myself right out there for ya.".

"DAD JOKE!!!", yelled Edward, and then had rushed into Bill's arms, tears pouring down his face.
Bill had hugged the boy tight and thought to himself "What the hell have I gotten my fool-ass into?", but said out loud instead "Well, seeing as the position is open, uhhhh, sadly I'm the only guy here to fill it.".
Edward had pulled his face away from Bill's sloping gut and winced up at him, wiping his eyes with his sleeve and, with a beautiful lopsided smirk that broke Bill's heart, said "You'll do.", nodding and laughing.
And then there had been ice-tea and lemon-cake and then more shooting.

The morning that Edward graduated up to shotgun training, as excited and nervous as a kid going up to middle-school, he had walked into the barn holding hands with Bill, only to find the .45 automatic he had already mastered sitting, what he now thought of as, "all on its lonesome", on the work bench that doubled as their firing-range table.
The clip lay next to it and downrange, where the HATs should be, was Bessie.

"Dad, what's...", he started, looking up into Bill's unusually solemn face.

"Ed... There ain't nothin' else for it. You'll never know if you can do it 'til you do it.".

"I don't get it.". But he did.

Bill said "Ready your gun and shoot the pig. She's past her breedin' prime an' only good for eatin' now.".

Edward said "Y-essir.", and stepped forward and picked up the automatic and the clip. He slammed the clip into the pistol-grip and heard the click that meant "gun is hot".

"Gun is hot!", he reported back to Bill.

"I hear you! Gun is hot, take the shot." replied Bill as he had many times but added gently "Try to get 'er in the head. If you don't then, uhhh, try again until she stops squealin'." 

There was no squealing in the barn that day and Edward remembered the taste of the pork-steak dinner that night for the rest of his life.

He graduated up through shotguns and then on into assault rifles as his legs grew lankier and his chest grew deeper.
Alongside the Guns course there was also Cooking, Finances, and Motorbikes, all taught by Marge.
Finances was boring as hell, but he saw how he would need it to fit in and stay off the radar of "The Cave".
Motorbikes was hella fun, following Marge on dirt-bikes over a gradually-growing motorcross course Bill built with their mini-dozer to match the new challenges of the "curriculum".
Edward liked Cooking the best though. Slicing cucumbers and carrots while Marge dashed around, green pigtails slapping her lovely puffy cheeks, setting boiling levels on the stove and regaling him with tales of all the dumb-ass screw-ups Bill had ever made, was fun, often side-splitting and, somehow, soul-cleansing work.

Slapping dough into shape, whether it be a loaf or a pizza base, reminded him of how it felt when he used his "talent" as they had come to call it since The Night Of The Thumb, which they now laughed about and joked how it should be a terrible horror movie poster title written in dripping blood-letters.

Every once in a while, Edward felt bad. He felt bad the most when he was cuddled up in the canyon between the mountain of Bill's body and the ridge of his arm watching some early two-thousands' movie on TV.
Bill and Marge liked silly comedies because "everyone has a laugh and there's nothin' to worry 'bout when you're fallin' asleep".

During "Dodgeball" Edward thought he had hid his tears pretty well.
Bill noticed something, a tensing of his Ed's body, for the first time during "Napoleon Dynamite".
"Ed, this movie not to your likin'?", Bill had asked, thinking that maybe a film about an outcast teen had been a bad choice in retrospect. He hadn't known the story but still, might be good to nip it in the bud if it was upsetti...
"Naw, it's funny. I like it well 'nough.", the boy had said so they kept watching and it was pretty good despite being outside their usual fare. Marge had fallen asleep halfway though and said later that she didn't hate it but didn't love it.
Finally Bill asked Edward, during "White Chicks", a movie Marge was howling laughter at, "I know this movie is crap, but why you cryin' ma-main-man?", attempting a black accent for what he hoped passed as comedic value.

"I'm not...".

"Hell-yeah-you-are!", whispered Bill, still in his version of Ebonics.

"Okay, sometimes I feel bad.".

Bill dropped the fake voice and said "Yeah, uhhhh, sometimes I do too. What flavor of it you tastin'?".

Edward looked up at Bill from the crook of his elbow and, goddammit, was it just a trick of the light in the darkened room by the light of the TV, or did Bill see another frightening glimpse of the man his Ed would one day become whether he was there to see it or not?

"I think I'm forgetting my dad... Oh! No, you're my dad but I meant my real da..."

Bill butted in with "No harm meant no harm taken, Ed.", despite a slight shameful sting in his heart and waited for Edward to go on.

Marge said "Who's up for more popcorn?!", and pulled herself up from her recliner and went out through the lit kitchen doorway barely registering the replies of "ME!" and "Who wouldn't be?!". She had known this day would come and just had to have faith that her clod-headed husband could deal with it. He'd done pretty well with everything else so far.

The hulking man and the small but filling-out pre-teen were up until the early hours of dawn talking through the issue.
Marge had gone to bed around half-twelve after letting her four green ponytails out and putting on her facial.
Around 5 AM she awoke from the sound of breaking glass downstairs. She fell out of bed in a practiced roll and reached under the mattress and pulled out the .357 Magnum they kept stashed under there. She ripped open the ziplock bag and shook the gun and the ammo out onto the carpet and quickly loaded the heavy pistol in the dark. Her fingers knew what to do.

Bill threw the empty bottle of Southern Comfort over his shoulder, which made the drunk Edward laugh and then put his hand over his mouth in a shocked eyes-wide rush as the bottle shattered loudly against the corner of the sink behind where Bill sat across from him at the kitchen table.

Bill said "Ohhhssh, noooeshh!!!", drunk off his ass. He had drank most of the half of the bottle that had been left.

Edward, who had had two or three shots mixed with RC Cola and ice, said "Ddaassshh! I meanssh... Dashd!!! I mean...".

"Shay shomething, mouthshmush!!! I mean mouthmushk. Oh fucshk, mushmoush.".

"HAHAHA!!! You're fushkin, drunk olds ma...".

"FREEZE!!!", screamed Marge, ducking low through the kitchen door from the living room and sliding onto her knees, the .357 Magnum in both hands out in front of her.
The drunk man and boy turned in surprise to see Marge kneeling there, mouth open in shock.
Her face was white and cracked from the dried facial mask and her green-dyed hair was frizzing out every-which-way from the unbound ponytails of the day before.

Bill stared cross-eyed down at the barrel of the hand-cannon pointed at him and said "ED! Clossh your eyesh or sshe'll turn you to shtone!".

For the next few weeks Bill and Edward called her Marge-dusa quite often at first, and then only now and then, until the joke finally ran its course.

Edward continued his education, at peace with the issue of his lost father, only sometimes getting drunk again with Bill, and eating his self-killed pork on each step up the ladder of his Guns course. There were other courses once the farm got cable internet. Courses Bill and Marge let Edward self-study on while he kept "up to dust" on guns, bikes, and money.

Money.

Every now and then, but never without good cause, some money was "loaned out" from the Go-Bag, now stashed in the bolthole under the floorboards Bill's granddaddy had hidden jugs of moonshine in back in the "Dry-Days". The same hole Edward had been stuffed into on The Day Of The Tall Man (red-red-drip-drip).

The next five years went by happily.

Well, except for The Night Of The Squealing, also printed across a horror movie poster in Edward's mind in dripping red text, but he preferred not to think about that too much.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Mandle on 12 Jul 2021, 11:03
Edward's Talent (PART THREE)
Hide: ShowHide


2007 (The Night Of The Squealing)
****************************

The tall thin man's eyes snapped open. He reached out and pushed the glowing green button pad by his side and the pod lid swung open with the usual hiss of the higher pressure air from the outside rushing in.
He sat bolt-upright from his stainless-steel coffin and grinned wider and wider... and then even wider, well beyond what was possible for a human being.
His black lips, the hateful pink lipstick he was forced to wear while out on missions gone, pressed together in a thin, cruel arc almost from earlobe to earlobe.
The boy had used his talent. He had felt it. It had been so long. The hunt was back on.

"Now listen up, Ed, and listen hard.", Bill said as the lanky blonde pre-teen that Edward had grown into picked up the AK-47 from the workbench, slapped in the magazine in a way that made Bill's Nam Vet heart skip a beat with pride, and prepared to put sights on Daisy downrange, tied up and snuffling around for food scraps in the mud with her snout.

"I'm listening.", replied Edward.

"Okay, uhhh, it's not a thing I do often nor lightly, but I been thinkin'.".

"Uh-oh.".

"Yeah, shutupkid.".

"So, what you been cognitatin' over?".

"You know, you always sound fool-stupid when you try to force a hayseed turn of speech. What movie that from again?".

"I dunno. Heh... One of 'em.".

"Anyways", continued Bill "I want you to put three in her midriff, in an equatorial triangle an inch a side.".

Too shocked to correct the word, Edward looked away from down the iron-sights already trained on Daisy's head and said "But...".

"No buts now or I'll be kickin' yours to hell'n'back... Heh, what's that from?"

"Dad, she'll suffer and sque...".

"Better her than you. Like I said to you already. I've been thinkin'. Gun hot?".

"Gun hot!"

"Take the shot.".

BLAM-BLAM-BLAM.

Prize-pig Daisy, yeah Bill thought naming pigs with cow names was funny, all 325 pounds of her, started to fall, the first squeal bursting out of her, on the initial two holes that appeared in her side. This meant that the third was slightly off the equilateral triangle Bill had requested for the final exam.

THUD!

"WEEEEEEEeeeeeee!!! WEEEEeeeeeeeeeeee!!!".

THRASH-THRASH.

"Now go fix 'er up.".

"What? But you said I should never...".

Bill, doing his best to ignore the heart-rending squeals of the pig, said "Son, do as I say. I got my reasons.".

Edward nodded, extruded the clip from the rifle and laid both on the workbench, and then ran downrange through the screams of the downed pig.

Bill, a pace or two behind said "We better make this as fast as possible. Fix her up!".

"I don't know how!", said Edward but tasted the lie the moment it passed between his teeth.

His teeth.

Edward knelt down next to the downed squealing pig. He ducked his head down sharply and bit into her fat shoulder.
With his teeth locked in place, he let his talent flow through him and into Daisy.

Bill, his eyes fixed on the three bullet-holes in the pig's side, crossed himself out of a long-abandoned religious habit, as the holes started to close up, fibrous strands growing and reaching over the craters like a time-lapse film of a bridge-building he had seen on TV, and then spreading and weaving together like nothing he had EVER seen before.

The squealing grew quieter and then stopped.
The pig's flank fell into a normal rhythm of breathing. Her kicking legs became still.
Edward looked up at his dad, his forehead beaded with sweat between the part of his drenched stringy blonde hair, and said "I fixed everything but the bullets are still in her. She won't live much lo...".

"I told you I'd been thinkin', son.".

"What do yo...".

"This was just the first bit. Wanted to see, uhhhh, iffa you could still do it. Now comes the next bit.".

"Okay, tell me what to do.".

Bill told the boy, hell, the young man, everything he had been thinking about over the past few years, every now and then, about Edward's "Talent". Bill's thoughts didn't come as fast and as thick as some other folks' did. But when they DID come they fell through a series of sieves in his mind and only the finest came out at the bottom.
And sometimes, only just sometimes, he could mash some of those together into something greater than the parts.
This was, he hoped, one of those rare times.
If Edward could grow back the useful parts of flesh and heal bodies, then maybe he could also grow... something else.

"Take the compassion you felt for Daisy an' throw it out the window. Put your teeth into her again and think bad thoughts, like you're bitin' into, uhhhh, one of those bastards from the cave. The ones that hunted you down and...", and Bill's heart broke but he forced himself to say it anyway "...made it so your real daddy had to die like a dog on that filthy motel floor.".

Edward, his chin dripping pig blood down his first fine strands of blonde facial hair, tore his hurt eyes away from Bill's. He ripped a primal scream up from his heart and sank his teeth back into Daisy's shoulder.

Bill started to perform his born-and-bred Catholic gesture again when he saw what was happening to Daisy, but then he paused halfway through the final right-to-left cross and his eyes grew wide in shock at what his boy was capable of.
The ever-increasing squeals from once had once been a pig grew into screams that sounded almost human at times and then grew into what sounded like the thumping wail of a submarine-diving "WHOOP-WHOOP" siren and then faded off down through registers of gurgles and squeaks until the whole twitching mass finally lay dead.

Edward detached his teeth from the side of the thing and looked around, wall-eyed in shock at what he had done, and up into Bill's face.

Bill hopefully stammered "I-ice c-c-ream time?".

No response. Just the thousand-yard-stare he had seen from guys he had pulled off the line with half a leg or more missing back in Nam...

"Fuck you, man. Are you really gonna make this about yourself?!", Bill thought to himself and said "Southern Comfort?" out loud instead.

"Hell yeah!", replied Edward, starting to grin the pale grim shock off of his face.

They drank into the night, Bill being careful to go three for one with his boy's RC-Cola-and-ice top-ups, and then, once the boy was passed out snoring in his bed, Bill staggered back out to the barn and looked at the thing that now took up most of the back end of the building.

"Thanshk God I'm thish drunk.", he muttered and then leaned to the side and threw up anyway in a gush of sweetly spiced liquor and sour bile.

It took two days for the three of them working together to get the mass of bloated splitting-apart-at-the-seams thing out of the barn. Once they had managed to roll it away from the back wall, Bill could get their mini-dozer in behind it to push. Things went smoother after that until the limbs growing out from it, the ones that now looked more crab-like than porcine, but still had pig-trotters on the ends, hooked up against the sides of the barn door and Bill had to chainsaw them off.
After a long shower and bath later, even though he could still taste some of the back-spray that had gotten in his mouth, Bill got back behind the wheel of the mini-dozer and rolled the thing out into the middle of their furrowed field.
Twenty-something gallons of gasoline and one huge day-long and stinky bonfire later, they could finally use hoes and rakes to smash the charred edifice apart and spread it around the field.
Bill joked "Well, at least we got like a ton of free fertilizer.", but they all knew that they would never eat anything grown in that field ever again.

By the time the ashes of what had used to be a pig called Daisy had been spread, the tall thin man was standing in front of an overhead-projector in a narrow dark room.
The smoke from the many glowing cigarette tips lined up down both sides of the long table solidified the cone of light from the projector's lens at the end of its overhead arm onto the screen, where the tall thin man drew a large red circle about three hundred miles in radius on the map around the area his senses had told him the last usage of Edward's talent had originated from.

2009
****

The whole of the pathetic little farmhouse below fit almost within the stretched-out oval of the helicopter's searchlight.
The bright oval became more and more of a circle as the lead chopper closed in. The tall thin man's long pale fingers clenched the safety handle next to the open door and he grinned his wide grin. His big black eyes grew slimmer and his expression of satisfaction grew almost human.
Something blocked his view.
"Your eye-wear, sir!", said the soldier to his left, his arm holding out the sunglasses the tall thin man was required to wear on exterior missions. Well... "required to".
He snatched the sunglasses from the man's hand and put them on.
The smaller lead chopper approached drop position. Behind it by about half a click, the big Chinook, its twin egg-beater rotors WHUP-WHUPPING at both ends of its long body, tore through the fresh spring night air.

Bill knew as soon as he heard the double-beat of the Chinook. He had ridden in and waited for enough of them in Nam to know.
The cave had found Edward.
He nodded at Marge's shocked and questioning face beside him. She nodded back and rolled out of her side of their bed as Bill rolled out of his.
They went to the bedroom windows first, confident that Edward would know what to do, and pulled down the iron shutters over the insides of the ones that faced out onto the farmhouse's front porch.

Edward, awoken by the helicopters' thumping, already sitting up in his bed, heard the shutters slam down and followed the training of the many drills they had done.

A soldier riding on the Chinook, his ass hanging out over the edge of the long side door, in a row with three other hanging asses, looked through his night-vision goggles and called out "FRONT WINDOWS SHUTTERED!".
The pilot relayed the information to the lead chopper.
"Sir, they are shuttering the windows!", called the lead pilot to the tall thin man.
"Yes, I am aware! I see it! I see it all!", called back the tall thin man he knew as "The Controller".
"Should we...".
"Put us over the roof!", buzzed The Controller's high reedy voice.
"Yessir!".

Bill and Marge split up at the bottom of the stairs, Marge heading to the living room to close the shutters there, Bill thumping his somehow clumsy yet fast way up the stairs to the second floor they didn't use anymore since the "renovations".
They did not know that this would be the last time they would ever see each other in this lifetime.
Marge started to pass by Edward almost without a glance. She knew he had his own part of this to take care of.
"Oh, fuck it!", she said and grabbed his shoulders, spinning them both a half-step to a halt.
She kissed him roughly on the cheek, spreading much of her Marge-dusa facepack on it, and said "I love you. GO!".
Her wild green hair-spirals flying, she dashed away as Edward called back "ME TOO, MOM!" and then ran to the moonshine hatch in the kitchen and, the muscle-memory of his fingers finding the knot-hole, tore it open.

WHUP-WHUP-WHUP!
As the green-tiled roof of the farmhouse directly below the lead chopper started of collapse in on itself, The Controller thought at first that it was because of the down-wash of the helicopter's blades hammering on the decrepit little hovel.
Then he saw the truth of the matter and screamed out "PULL BACK!", in his shrill buzzing voice but it was already too late.

Bill clomped into the upstairs "Fire Ant Nest", as they had dubbed it. His shoulder bounced hard off the frame of the door and he muttered "That's gonna hurt in the mornin'.", and then said "What morning, you doom'd old ijit?!" as he yanked the lever that pulled the first roof support out of place.
As the rest of the chained-together supports fell like dominoes, Bill strode to the middle of the room where the "Ant Queen" stood.
The roof caved in behind and around him but, perfectly to plan, it all folded down outwards towards the walls and he only had to
step over a few sliding shattered roof tiles before he could sit down on the office chair of the home-built swivel-mount of his Queen.
Bill punched the wide red mushroom-shaped button he had rigged between the Queen and the wires from the racks of car batteries around the walls that would power her for at least half an hour by his calculations.
He grabbed the handles of the "Ant Queen", the GE M134 Minigun he had driven two states over to acquire from a skittish Craigslist dealer he had only silently handed the seven-grand from Edward's Go-Bag to and never spoke a word with. His left hand felt awkward on the grip but he was getting used to that feeling.
Squinting through the glare of the searchlight from the chopper hovering over the house he spun in his seat the way his ears told him the Chinook was closing in from.

Long beads of yellow fire erupted from the collapsed second floor of the farmhouse, raced over the dark furrowed fields, and lit up the Chinook.
The pilot died instantly, spraying from the waist up backwards into the troop deck.
The four soldiers on either side, waiting on their droplines, were splattered with what was left of him.
As the Chinook started to tip and spin, the leader of C.A.V.E. Team Stalactite 62 yelled out "DROP! DROP! DROP!".

BURURRURURURRRRRRRR!!!
As the length of ammo belt fed through the minigun, Bill screamed out "FUUUUUUUCK YOOOOUUU!!!" and kicked with his heel to swivel the aim of the gun along the left side of the Chinook.

The Controller barked a harsh word(?) sound(?) which the soldier and the pilot in the lead chopper couldn't understand and which also hurt their eardrums even through their headphones.
And then he jumped out from the chopper.

Three of the soldiers attempting to drop on their lines from their side of the incoming Chinook were lucky, in that they never knew that they had been torn to pieces. The forth had managed to drop as he had been commanded to and stayed conscious long enough for his hands to lose strength on the dropline as his upper torso fell into the fields, followed by his legs, one by one, and then the rain, far behind him, of his comrades.

The three soldiers on the other side, along with their leader, made it all the way to the ground on their droplines and even got a few running steps in before the rapidly spinning Chinook crashed down on them.

The Controller landed on the edge of the rigged roof's hole. His long thin legs took the impact of the fifty-foot-fall with a fluid flex.

His big, completely black and exposed eyes looked down upon the balding human below, sunglasses lost to the wind during his jump.
The man's pale scalp was a horrible galaxy of freckles and the strip of orange-going-to-grey hair around the sides made The Controller feel revulsion. That this pathetic example of a human had outwitted him was...

Then the blast-wave from the exploding Chinook lit up the furrowed fields with a rippling orange glow across the dirt, spreading quickly up the wall of the farmhouse, across the remaining green tiles, over the wide rectangular hole, and blowing The Controller backwards off from the roof, just as he saw the horrible human fall into a crouch off his chair, point the minigun up and start firing at the remaining helicopter above.

Marge slammed down the last iron shutter over the kitchen window just as the buzz of the minigun Bill insisted on calling the Queen of his "Fire Ant Nest" started up the floor above.
In the back of her mind the thought that maybe she would never see her big lovely man ever again started to try to fuck with her but she pushed it away.

"Stupid fucking Queen Ant bullshit", she muttered as she ran for the final switch, wiping the running white face-mask sweating down into her eye away with one sleeve of her pajamas printed all over with Adam Sandler's face from Happy Gilmore.
The final switch was only to ever to have its plastic cover unlocked, snapped open, and used in the event that Edward was already in the tunnel and at least two hundred yards down it.
Muttering "Get 'em, Bill, you beautiful bald bastard.", as the buzzsaw vibrations of the minigun bolted to the floor above thrummed through the ceiling, Marge took the key from the hook next to the final switch and unlocked the padlock holding the plastic cover in place.

Edward hoisted the Go-Bag up from the moonshine hatch and threw it over his shoulder with barely a grunt of effort.
It had been seven years ago, and almost double that in inches of height, since he had needed to go on the run with the damn thing.
They had argued over this plan a few times, him and his mom and dad, but he had always come up at a loss of what to continue with at the end when one of them had asked "And then what?".
So, he was going.
He threw the swinging second strap of the Go-Bag over his other shoulder and hoisted it up like a backpack as he ran for the tunnel entrance, the ceiling above him vibrating with his father's gunfire.
He lost footing briefly when the floor under his feet shifted and a muffled "boooooom" reached his ears but recovered fast and made it into the kitchen.
He wrenched the dishwasher aside on the hinges hidden down one side. He looked back and saw nobody there to stop him at the last moment and tell him that everything would be alright.
Edward went through the hole under the dishwasher, sliding down the slope with the Go-Bag between him and the dirt just like they had practiced.
He fell into a crouch at the bottom of the slope and then got onto the particle-board trolley on his stomach.
He started to pull the rope that led to the pulley at the other end of the tunnel he and Bill had dug out as a trench with the mini-dozer over four years ago.
The rope grew taught around the pulley at the other end, over four hundred yards away, and then took up the slack on its way back through plastic tubing along the side of the wooden ceiling of the tunnel that had taken another six months to brace up with wooden struts every five yards, and then another couple of months to bulldoze over again with dirt.
Edward felt the rope's slack grow solid in his grip after a few arm-over-arm pulls and then pulled again.
The flat trolley started forward on the wooden rails its wheels ran on.
As before, during their drills, there were small bumps and slight sideways junts along the way, but nothing like the suddenly halting and nose-bloodying glitches they had had before back at the start of the test-runs.

Marge crouched behind the living room sofa with her finger ready under the final switch on its bracket mounted on the wall there.
Outside the farmhouse, on the other side from the barn, she felt and heard a thud-BOOM of something heavy falling to the ground and exploding. It was much closer than the first such sound she had heard since Bill opened up with his Queen.
"Fuck you, Bill. I'M your Queen!", she whispered to herself as the big black numbers marked on the rope running by fast under the plexiglass window in the floor between her knees hit 200.
She closed her eyes, her last tears brimming over and running down the channels cut through her white night-mask, and flipped the final switch up.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Mandle on 12 Jul 2021, 11:17
Edward's Talent (PART FOUR)
Hide: ShowHide


2009-2023
*********

Edward ran.
He ran from the camouflaged trapdoor at the end of the escape tunnel as the remains of his home, and the remains of his beloved parents, both burned up in the flaming debris-filled air and on the concrete foundations of the farmhouse after mom had set off all the C4 they had had stacked up under the stairs.
He ran through the back-roads of America, managing a hitchhiked lift here and there, and a wash less often.
Bill and Marge were gone, but not completely. Edward told himself that they still lived on through him in a way, and he often used that thought for self-condolence while trying to sleep in circular concrete pipes under freeways while the cars and trucks of the normal people rattled cobwebs down on him.
He ran on and on and, as a few years went by and he grew taller and grew a blonde scruff of beard, he started to notice that less and less people were glancing at him sideways anymore.

The night he rented his first motel room with some of the $30,000 plus money left in his Go-Bag without the desk clerk looking twitchy was one of the happiest of Edward's life. The hot shower and soft bed were a revelation:
He was just another teen runaway or backpacker on the road now. He was invisible.
He stopped running in Escondido, California, where the latest hitched truck ride had dropped him off.

In the early summer of 2014, at the age of nineteen, Edward rented his first apartment.
It was in a filthy flophouse called "Dream Hill Units" where the landlord didn't ask questions as long as the rent was paid.
The Go-Bag's money was down to under ten grand by now so it was time to stop living off it.
But everywhere he looked for a job wanted ID and that was too risky.
Walking into a pawn-shop, hoping they wouldn't care as much about the ID, Edward ducked his head back outside and saw what he thought he had seen in the dusty display window.
Instead of walking out with a job, he walked out with The Amazing Randi's Magic Kit (TM) and a folding chair and card-table.

And he practiced and practiced in his little room, and then he took his act out into the public.
At first he got pity-change by passers-by but then, as he got better and better at the tricks he got individuals stopping by to watch for a bit, and then small groups. By the time he had graduated from slow-claps, up through a scattering of applause, and on into actual praise and notes in his magic hat instead of coins, Edward had adapted and even combined several of the tricks in the kit into much more sophisticated and even completely new versions.
The irony of him busking on the street with a magic kit from the world's most famous debunker of psychic powers was not lost on Edward.
But he never used his power. That's the only explanation for how they found him the last time and he was not interested in risks. Not yet at least. That wasn't the plan.

Every now and then a black helicopter buzzed by far overhead or a van drove by slowly with a too-generic-looking business name on its side, or he saw the same person just once too often on the same day when they should have been busy at whatever job their off-the-rack new-looking suit demanded.
Those were the days that Edward packed up his kit and headed home early, never to return to that particular street corner again.
Eventually he was making enough by busking to reverse the downward trend of his finances.
And now he had the time to think about what comes next.
He tested the first step of the plan that Bill and Marge and he had come up with almost a decade before.
Edward waited until midnight on October 29th of 2022 and opened the Go-Bag. He had wanted to wait until Halloween just for the laughs if it worked, but he had seen a lot of "Mormons" canvassing the neighborhood lately and we fairly sure one of them had had a spirally cord running from his ear down the back of his collar.
It could have just been a hearing aid, or it could have been something an agent had forgotten to take out of his ear before knocking on the house's door.

Better safe than sorry.

So, Edward did the test two days early and, five hours later, his sides, neck, and jaw still aching like a son-of-a-bitch, he left his shitty apartment for the last time. He had paid some advance rent upfront, the landlord taking it with some surprise but zero hesitation. The guy wouldn't take notice again until the rent was due again six months from now so the state Edward left the room in, furniture tipped over, some smashed, and along with the walls and floor, splattered with blood and other bodily fluids, should not be a problem by then.
And even if "The Cave" tracked the use of his power and located the exact room he had lived in all these years, by the time they got here, they would be long gone.

2023
****

Edward reached the front of the long line outside the warehouse studio around 2PM on the day he was scheduled for his audition.

The early spring Los Angeles sun of March 3rd, 2023, burned down like a hot brand from the sky. This is what mid-summer had used to feel like only a decade ago. The smoke from the wild-fires burning around the city made the air much hazier than was normal even for this city. Forget about being able to see the Hollywood sign from Burbank, Edward couldn't even see three blocks down the seedy road lined with its container storage lots and razor-wire-topped chain-link fences.

The security guard at the front of the line took and scanned the QR on Edward's ticket while his beefy partner kept his eye on the tall reedy man with the long stringy blonde hair and bushy blonde beard that Edward had grown into.
The guards were thinking that Edward looked like your typical homeless junkie, but the code checked out, so they passed him on to the security escort who led him inside.

Edward checked in at the admittance desk, the armed escorts hanging back out of view of the multiple drone cameras which hovered and darted here and there silently on their next-gen lift systems, live-streaming his banter with the celebrity desk clerk out to however many viewers were virtually floating around in their VR simulations of the check-in room from the comfort of their sofas or Full-Immersion-Rigs at home.

Then he was ushered on through the backstage area to stand in another line. The line that led to the stage where, if all went to plan, Edward's nightmare might finally come to an end.

*****

Alarms went off in every corridor and room of the Contaminant And Vector Elimination base deep underground the baking hardpack of the Nevada desert.

The A.I. had identified Edward's face the moment he had entered the check-in room. Despite the fact that it was watching every major live-feed in the country simultaneously, and was applying over ten thousand possible simulated age-progressed versions of Edward's face, as well as doing the same for one hundred and twelve other Contaminants still on the loose, the A.I. had returned the 95% certainty level required to trip the highest tier of alert status in less than thirteen nanoseconds. If an A.I. could feel pride, a topic still under discussion and debate by its creators, then it most certainly did.

Within minutes Stalactite Teams 4, 16, and 92 were airborne in their Inertia-Cancelling-Environment capsules eating up the miles between Nevada and California at speeds invisible to the human eye.
One set of eyes that *could* track the speed of the ground rushing by underneath, from brown hardpack desert over the Rocky Mountains to green Californian farmlands, was the big black set belonging to The Controller.
The tall thin man looked out through the virtua-trans walls of the Cave Ice capsule.
Despite having felt disturbed about his need (urge. obsession) to settle the debt between himself and Contaminant 145, he clenched the long fingers of his hands into pale angular fists in anticipation.
"Screw it.", he thought in human language and then went on in his own internal voice to blame his feelings on too much time absorbing human culture, mostly in the form of movies.
He muttered something, low and growling, his teeth-implants grinding together.
The soldier to The Controller's right looked up at their team-leader's face and asked "Sir, sorry what was that, sir?".
"Shit has become a matter personal to me.", buzzed the tall thin man's voice loudly and, in his mind alone, he sounded just like Clint Eastwood.
The soldiers in the Cave Ice all looked around to each other nervously until one barked out a fake laugh and the rest joined in one by one, their worried eyes all fixed as one on their leader.
"HAAARK-HAAARK-HAAAAAARK!!!", joined in the tall thin man, experiencing what the bond of human laughter meant for the first time.

The last seven auditions had been buzzed off the stage by the time Edward walked out onto it with his folding card table under one armpit and his Amazing Randi magic kit tucked in the crook of his free elbow.
He looked to his left and there they were, just like on TV.
Well, just like they had *been* on TV until two years ago.
"America's Got Talent" had gone off the air in late 2021, as had many shows, in the tsunami-sized shockwave that followed after Sony unveiled their new tech that would become the current live-streaming VR-simulated environment that consumers couldn't get enough of.

But, unlike many shows, they had only fallen back to regroup, quickly realizing that viewers being able to "fly around" within the performance area, even up the judge's noses or down the front of their cleavage (as many still did), in a fully virtual environment only boosted the audience's attraction to their kind of media.
So, here they were, back after the much-hyped tech refitting of their new studio: Howie, Heidi, Sophia, and Simon.

Simon, through his desk microphone, asked "So, Gerald, what have you got for us?", in his impeccable accent.
Edward, without missing a beat at his fake name, replied "Ummm, it's a... Oh Shi...", as his fumbled the setup of his card table on purpose and it clattered to the stage loudly.

The swarm of drone cameras gathered in a cloud around Edward and he knew that, around the world, the majority of viewers had just ducked back into the stage area and were flying around him in ghostly clouds waiting for his next fuck-up.

"Are you nervous, Gerald?", asked Simon in a kind voice.

"Yes. Can I start over?", faux-pleaded Edward.

"Take all the time you need.", said Howie, glancing over at Simon with a look that they both knew meant "GOLD!".

As Edward picked up the collapsed card table from the stage, pretending to almost spill his box of magic tricks, from around the back entrances to the theater, behind the backs of the watching live audience, the agents of the Stalactite teams slipped in in pairs, the faces of the side-lined security guards peering in powerlessly from behind them.

The Controller crouched in through the entrance closest to the stage, just as Edward had hoped he would. There was a backup plan in place for Marge in case that hadn't happened but they got lucky. The tall thin man, still crouched to avoid attention, barely registered the flutter of the curtains beside the door before Marge's arm came around his throat and the cold barrel of her Desert Eagle pressed into the deep valley of his temple.

"If you got any brains, and if they're in the same place ours are, you REALLY don't wanna do shit right now.", she hissed into his prosthetic ear.

Edward went into his act.
He fumbled the first two tricks so badly and comically that he knew all eyes around the world were now on him just as he saw Heidi reaching out for the buzzer button in front of her on the judge's desk.
He called out "WAIT! I HAVE ONE GOOD ONE!".
Heidi looked over at Simon, who nodded. It was a bit of a risk to let this debacle continue live, but Simon's instincts told him that this could be worth it. This could spike the ratings higher after the boring last few acts.
And he was not wrong.

Edward walked out around his card table with a white handkerchief in his left hand. The spotlight followed him. Around him billions of VR ghost swirled, watching and invisible from their homes around the planet.
With a flourish, he reached under the white cloth and pulled out the pickled thumb Bill had cut off for him all those years ago and popped it into his mouth before anyone could react and swallowed it.
This was it.

The Stalactite agents, now all aware that their leader was being held at gunpoint, started to move forward from the theater entrances but The Controller, his brains, very much in his head, and quite unwilling to lose his millennia-long life for this one pathetic job, made him wave them back.

Marge whispered in his ear "That's right, tall-boy. Be still and enjoy the fuckin' show.".

The live-audience reacted with a ripple of murmurs as Edward clutched his abdomen and buckled halfway over in pain.
Then he suddenly straightened back up and popped the thumb back out from between his pursed lips, which created a ripple of nervous laughter through the crowd.

A ripple of laughter that would soon end as the thumb pushed out of Edwards mouth, blood pouring down and through his rich blonde beard, to be followed by an uncurling forefinger and then the ball of a left hand. The remaining three fingers of the hand popped out through Edward's stretched-sideways mouth as his throat started to expand in a manner that made a cry of revulsion here and a scream of horror there begin to ping out from the audience.

Sophia, her eyes bugging wide with the religious dread exploding inside her, reached for the buzzer that would end the act and close the curtain but Simon snatched her hand back and said "No. I want to see this." to her with his hand over his mic.

The hand was followed by a wrist in a fountain of blood spraying out around the seal between it and Edward's growing mouth.
His shoulders stretched sideways a foot each with a wet ripping sound as his throat grew in a rush to the diameter of a telegraph pole, the bulge of his Adam's apple seeming to stretch his skin almost transparent over it.

A surge of people in the audience bolted. The ones that could get out on the aisles started to dash away from what was rapidly unfolding on stage into the sight of a man somehow still standing on his scrawny legs while his torso grows every outwards and then the loud CRACK as his jaw unhinges and drops a foot-and-a-half as another hand and arm appear from his mouth in a new spray of blood and yellow pus, followed by the top of a freckled bald head from between the two limbs' reaching, grasping hands.

The ones that went over the backs of their chairs to escape were not so lucky. People from rows in front of them cascaded down, and then people from rows further down the theater poured in, crushing them between the seats. Thankfully, most of the live viewers were still frozen in shock in their chairs and the death toll of audience members did not exceed more than a dozen by the time everything was over.

Edward felt Bill's head squeeze out through his extruded lips, lubricated by blood, pus, and bile before losing almost all sense of himself.
But he did not panic. He had done this once before. Just not on this scale.
His neck was now the width of a surfboard and his mouth stretched more and more, splitting open around the edges as Bill's naked shoulders pushed through.
Edward buckled forwards in a spasm as the extruding torso sliding from his mouth tipped his center of gravity off balance but still had enough natural instinct left to brace his hands on his knees until Bill's sloping gut popped out with a backwash of mingled bodily fluids splashing back onto Edward's stretched face and over his massive head.

Marge watched Edward then collapse to his hands and knees, as he must have the night he birthed her, herself, in this same way, her Bill's thighs, knees, and then calves and feet spilling out from Edward's mouth.
As Bill's limp reborn body was pushed a few feet to the edge of the stage by the last massive gush of thick fluids from Edward's ever-shrinking mouth she hissed into the ear of the tall thin man "Now you try to get 'im! Just try an' kill or kidnap the most famous man on Earth. I dare ya! I fuckin' double dare ya!".

Bill, just shy of falling off the stage, started to thrash his limbs around in the spreading pool of slimy red and yellow muck and a solid column of the same stuff erupted from his mouth, splattering out in a fan on the floor in front of the stunned judges' desk.

Simon, running on instinct, reached out and slammed the Golden Buzzer button down with a cry of "YEEEEESSSSSARRRGHHH!!!".
The air of the theater was filled with a torrential rain of fluttering golden foil strips.

Marge glanced up at the unexpected glittery shower. The tall thin man sensed his chance.
With one flex of his shoulder, he threw her backwards into the wall. She left out an "OOMF!" and pulled the Desert Eagle's trigger from reflex before slumping into unconsciousness. The bullet hit nothing but the ceiling.

The Controller surged forward over the rows of seats between himself and the stage, hands and feet gripping and bouncing off the backs of them and, in a wolf-like lope, zeroed in on the still shrinking, recovering, and vulnerable form of Edward.

As the twinkling foil rain fell, the red laser sights from their sub-machine guns reflecting in zigzag patterns off of the spinning foil strips, the other Stalactite agents received the universal message of "DISENGAGE! Pull back to extraction points NOW!" from C.A.V.E. HQ over their earpieces.

The Controller ripped his own earpiece out with a buzzing growl as he pounced onto Edward's back and they both slid through the blood and slime on the stage, rippling it out in sloppy spreading fans.

Bill, the last thing he remembered being the moment he sliced off his now regenerated left thumb, bare seconds ago from his point of view, managed to cough up the last of the fluids blocking his throat and roll over naked to see the tall thin man on top of his son.

Pinned face-down under the tall thin man, still dazed and hurting from the birth of the man he thought of as his father, Edward glanced around, looking for a weak point. Anything.

The Controller grabbed the long red-soaked hair at the back of the pesky man's head and jerked Edward's head up right next to his own face and buzzed out "This time, it is a personal vendetta!", with his other hand poised to twist the man's head and break his neck.

Edward heard Bill's voice scream out "DO 'IM JUST LIKE YA DID WITH DAISY, ED!!!"

Edward hissed "Hey, assshhole, wanna shee a magic trick?!", through his healing mouth and darted his head sideways, the slimy strands of his hair slipping through the long pale fingers of the tall thin man, and bit savagely into The Controller's angular cheek with the sharp stubs of the new teeth already regrowing through his gums.
He clamped down, lopsided but as hard as he could, with his half-hinged jaw.

Edward ignored the rising buzzing screams drilling into his ears and let his talent flow through him.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: WHAM on 12 Jul 2021, 14:15
Red Velvet Lounge


The Lounge was in a quiet mood again that night. Only a few patrons sat at the counter nursing their drinks, while the sullen bartender polished a glass in an absent-minded manner, his bald head nodding slowly to the tune of the band on stage. In the round tables, parted from one another by seemingly impenetrable chasms of shadow, sat the scattered patrons, numbering barely two dozen. Moody illumination provided by candles and small lanterns situated on each of the round tables turned said tables into crimson islands of flickering light, with the faces of the few patrons seated around them drawn as shimmering silhouettes. In the outermost tables, off to the sides, the patrons were silent, but closer to the center of the room there was tension as a heated discussion of loud whispers spilled forth.

"We can't afford it no more! It's a bad deal and we should've seen it from the start!"

"I feel ya on this, Johnny, but we signs the damn deal, remember? Ours names is on the paper!"

The two voices sounded irate. A third one, calmer and slower in tone, joined in:

"The offer was good. Nothing more to it. We had to open the business up somehow, and boss was having none of it. But now I see them up there, I got to admit: I don't like it."

"Yeah, good deal if you don't read the fine-frickin'-print. Sure, we got rid of the boss and all, that's fine, but now it's... it's like we got a new boss, complete with a goddamn crew!"

"An' nowhere near 'nuff business! And we all knows why!"

A hand was raised, pale in the faint light, and pointed rudely at the band on stage. Ten men of dark ivory skin, in pristine black suits and pressed white collars, sat and stood on the stage. Brass and drums and a grand piano, the equipment better suited for fast swing music, were now playing a mellow ambient to suit the mood of the bar. There was an undertone of tension to the music, something out of place, but easily missed by the untrained ear.

One of the three men shook his head and spat on the floor, visibly disgusted.

"I says we jus' shoot 'im."

The suggestion was made as casually as one might suggest a walk in the park, or ordering a sandwich at the corner shop. The hand from before reached deep into a pocket, but the calmest of the three voices intervened.

"Let me have a word first. I don't think we really want a shootout in the Lounge, hm? Too much fuss, and bad for business." There was a murmur of agreement. "

Maybe we can come to an agreement with him, you know: like gentlemen?"

The conversation carried on for a moment longer, covering various ifs ands and buts. Eventually, however, all three men stood up in unison and turned towards the rearmost corner of the Red Velvet Lounge, where a single table sat apart from all others. In that table sat a single man, the manager of the band playing that night, and most nights. He wore a tidy pinstripe suit, his finger toying with his hat which had been placed on the table before him, next to a glass of water and a pack of imported cigarettes. Not many knew the manager by name, but all did by reputation. A businessman of some notoriety, with the ability to somehow reach into the deepest, darkest depths of the city and to pull out whatever grimy secret he happened to need. Eyes and ears everywhere, and business partners and crew as loyal as can be. It was his band up on that stage, and while the audience was sullen and quiet that night, the music was performed to perfection. He smiled. He always smiled.

The three men crossed the room, causing a few heads to rise and look, then quickly look away again. Many of the patrons slowly nodded their heads, tilting side to side, as if the music around them formed waves to which they might sway between drinks. The men reached the table of the band manager and stepped close enough for the light of the candles to illuminate them. Two of the men were tall, thought one was girthier than the other, while the third man stood only to the shoulders of his companions, and had a twitchy look to him, like a rat sniffing the air as he turned and glanced about. It was the tall and slim one, with a pencil moustache on his upper lip, who stepped forward. There was a stiff smile on his lips as he leaned over the table.

"Evening, mister."

The band manager nodded his head slowly to recognize the arrival of guests to his table.

"Good evening, gentlemen."

The three exchanged brief looks, as if to verify they still wanted to go through with this, though none could say what made them quite so nervous. The manager lifted his glass and sipped the water. He always drank water. The tall man cleared his throat, looked over his shoulder one more time, registering the band on the stage, before returning his focus to the manager before him.

"Look, uh... me and the boys, we've been talking, and, uh..." He wasn't usually this uncertain, but the words were difficult now. An errant thought fluttered through his mind, wondering what really had happened to the old boss, who hadn't been seen in weeks now. "
We're not ungrateful or anything, but, well... it's gotten awful quiet in the Lounge since we started our little arrangement."

The Red Velvet Lounge had been a busier place before, that much was true. It still got that way sometimes, with an influx of new guests, but somehow things died down and quieted over time. People, the regulars, kept coming back, sure. They sat and kept ordering their usuals while listening to the music, but it wasn't exactly cheerful most nights.

"So, uh... we were hoping to negotiate a change. A new deal."

The manager set his glass down on the table again and steepled his fingers beneath his cleanly shaven jaw. He had a smooth, light skin that seemed to reflect the flickering light from the candle, and a pair of piercing green eyes that looked right through you.

"You don't like the music?"

The music stopped. Silence washed over the lounge, as if the air had turned solid. The three men stood at the managers table jolted and turned their heads only to find the band had taken an unexpected break. The only sound in the lounge was now the faint clatter from the glasses the bartender was stacking behind the counter.

"No... Well, I mean, there are complaints. Not everyone likes this stuff." -the tall one explained again, sounding stiff and uncertain.

"Oh? I've not heard these complaints. In fact the clientele seem quite content to listen."

The short, ratty man rolled his eyes.

"Yes, well..."

"And the agreement was that my band gets to play here three nights a week until we move on to another town, was it not?"

"...yes."

"And I fulfilled my side of the agreement in a timely manner and without flaw, did I not?"

The tall man simply nodded now. The three hadn't liked their old boss, but the money was good. Now the money was still good, and they shouldn't have had much to worry about, but something felt off. The air felt heavy in the lungs of the tall man, and his tongue felt dry and stiff behind his teeth. The manager seemed to contemplate the matter for a moment, examining each of the three men who came to challenge him in turn. In the end he simply shook his head.

"No. I'd rather not deal with the hassle of finding a new place for my boys to perform. A deal is a deal."

It was flat rejection, but well reasoned and calmly delivered. Not something that should stir drama or cause outrage, but the simple verbal blow seemingly knocked the air out of the collective lungs of the three men.

A thump of a footstep stirred them from their stunned state, with the short, ratty one turning instantly to face the source of the sound: a tall black man in a pristine black suit standing uncomfortably close, his polished leather shoes having made the sound announcing his arrival. The gunshot rang out half a second later, muffled by the stomach of the band trombonist, as the short man had just unloaded the barrel of his '38 without warning. Chairs screeched as people all around the Red Velvet Lounge stood and stared, mouths agape and eyes wide, as the black man toppled backwards and fell to the carpeted floor, lifeless.

For a few seconds there was a stillness in the air again, a sense of shock and surprise, of disbelief.

The rest of the band began to play again, this time a mournful slow piece of music that seemed to distinctly lack something. One of the patrons, a regular, sat down at his table and looked down. Another soon followed. One by one they all did.

"What the...?"

The ratty man, his revolver still smoking in his hand, turned to the band manager with a shocked expression on his face, his teeth gritted tightly.

"He... he was... they...!?"

It seemed he could not form the words he wanted, couldn't sort out his thoughts enough to speak his mind. The revolver, wisps of smoke rising from the barrel, was now aimed at the band manager. The two other men stood like statues, motionless.

"I want 'em out! Th' music! Stopped! Y-ya hear!?"

His hand shook as it gripped the revolver, knuckles white. Another hand emerged from behind him, then another. Two hands, black as night with pale palms wrapped around the ratty man's throat and squeezed until his eyes bulged out. The music swelled in volume and drowned out his last, gargling breath as it hissed out of his constrained throat. The saxophones covered up the brutal crack that followed.

The small, ratty man fell to the floor now, collapsing at the feet of the black man in a pristine suit, with a clearly visible bullet hole in his gut, circled by powder burn.

"Gentlemen..." -the band manager spoke softly, but clearly enough to be heard over the music.

"...I believe you have some cleaning up to do. And you owe my boy here a new shirt and jacket as well. See to it."

The smile on the manager's face flickered, briefly wider, unnatural.

"And have a fine evening."


EDIT 17.7.2021: Fixed some of the worst typos and mistakes. Thanks to Sinitrena for pointing out there was so much work to do!

Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Deadline July 12
Post by: Baron on 14 Jul 2021, 01:16
...and that's all the time we've got for submissions.  Congratulations to everyone who was able to meet the deadline and contort their entries into compliance with the rules!  :=

Our entrants are, in order of awkwardness in their teenage years:

Mandle with Edward's Talent (PART ONE)
WHAM with Red Velvet Lounge
EjectedStar with Life and D.K.
Sinitrena with Playdate!
Stupot with How Can I Help You Remember?

Voting will be by blind PM to yours truly (https://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/forums/index.php?action=pm;sa=send;u=1930), in the XVDAS format (10 Vote Dispersal-Allotment System).  This means you get 10 votes to divvy up as you see fit (in whole number increments) based on the overall merits of each story.  What you perceive as meritorious is entirely at your own discretion, but it would be nice if you could write some short impressions back here in the thread to help our starving writers with some constructive feedback.  Any unspent votes will be distributed evenly between all competitors, so do make sure your totals add up to ten. 

Here's a spoiler of what might happen if you are a lazy voter:
Hide: ShowHide

Saying "I vote WHAM!" would give one of your votes to WHAM, with the other nine being allotted evenly to everyone who is not you (if you are an entrant) in whole-number increments (in this case 2 + 2 + 2 + 2).  So your favourite entry will get 3 votes (1 that you indicated + 2 that were evenly distributed), while all the rest got 2.  The lesson is specify who gets what, or the vote fairy will have a field day!  ;-D


Deadline for voting is midnight Friday July 16 Hawaii time.  If you want to read Mandle's entry in its entirety you may feel free to ask for an extension, but I will require details from PART THREE to verify that you are using your time wisely.   :P

Good luck to all participants!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: WHAM on 14 Jul 2021, 10:04
What if I cast 9 votes and leave 1 uncast? WIll that one be fractioned out to all participants? Or will Baron choose who gets it? Randomize? It's a mystery!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Baron on 14 Jul 2021, 13:28
Alas, if you don't leave at least four votes on the table to be distributed fairly as whole numbers then the rest will be vaporised.   :~(

So, if you're gonna mess up, try to mess up big.  :=
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Sinitrena on 16 Jul 2021, 11:48
What a well written bunch of stories! From a technical point, they are all great. Why oh why does this competition make me decide who gets how many votes?
Anyway, they should be in Baron's in-box and here are some comments for you:

Stupot: I love the idea and the concept of the story, so much so that it ended up as my favorite. Nevertheless, there are some things I think could be a bit better, first and foremost that the story leaves too many questions unanswered: What did actually happen, being the main one. Also, is this new job of Gayle something that is normal in this world, or is she the only person doing it? Again, the consept of a different kind of psychic is great and has a whole lot of potential and I'd kinda like to meet this character again.

EjectedStar: Strange title. I mean, I get it, but it still feels off, kinda humurous while the story certainly is not. There are some great descriptions here, some boredering on purple, but I didn't mind. When I came across how the spellbook was acquired I wondered if there's a connection to your last story? It's not very strong, but I wondered if it's intetional. I really liked the first two parts here, I'm not so sure about the third. Suddenly, the story requires a whole lot more background information, which is either not there or was shoehorned in in the last part, which disrupts the flow a bit. For example, we didn't learn who our protagonist is until about the middle of the third part and then we need to re-adjust our view of him pretty quickly. Until then, he was just a villain, but then he gets a legitamite treason for his actions (though not a defensible one, of course). I liked the story, but the pacing had some issues.

Mandle: At the time of this writing, I have only read the first post of this story and therefore only judged that. (If I have time, I'll read the rest later and comment on it). Just looking at this first part, it feels very incomplete. It is clear that there is more and it doesn't even feel like it stops at a natural cut-off place. I honestly can't even fit it in the topic of "magic", I'm more inclined to think this is a kind of sci-fi, dystopia story. I can only assume, but I think these are reasonable guesses, that the fertility drug did something that changed Edward/ made him different, that that was an intentional experiment and that this is the real reason the government wants him (reminds me of Dark Angel or Hanna, if you're familiar with these shows). The main part just seems missing, though. We never even learn when Edward was taken or what it is he can do (what does "fix him" mean - we never get an answer) or how he ended up back with his father. Too many holes that I'm sure are answered (at least in part) in the rest of the story, but that I haven't read yet.

WHAM: This story needs a bit of proofreading ("tree man", when it's supposed to be "three men" - just as an example). The story left me a bit confused. I'm pretty sure we have a deal with the devil kind of scenario here, but normally the person making the deal does get something out of it, and it doesn't feel like it here. As a matter of fact, it doesn't even feel like the devil offered anything and went back on the deal. The advantages seem enterierly on the devil's side here. The way it is written, it's difficult to diffrentiate the different characters. There are some descriptors used (like "A third one, calmer and slower in tone") that are never really connected with other descriptors at other points in the story, so that the characters kind of all mesh together. I think there's a pretty good story in there, and the descriptions are also pretty good overall, so much so that I really enjoyed reading it, but it is still the weakest entry this round for me.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Stupot on 16 Jul 2021, 13:56
Quote from: Sinitrena

Stupot: I love the idea and the concept of the story, so much so that it ended up as my favorite. Nevertheless, there are some things I think could be a bit better, first and foremost that the story leaves too many questions unanswered: What did actually happen, being the main one. Also, is this new job of Gayle something that is normal in this world, or is she the only person doing it? Again, the consept of a different kind of psychic is great and has a whole lot of potential and I'd kinda like to meet this character again.


Thanks for your nice comments. I'm glad you say that because Gayle is actually the protagonist of a book project I'm working on. I wrote this as a bit of world-building for the longer project dealing with memory. This scene might not even be in the book but it really helped me work out a bit about the rules of this world. Those unanswered questions you have will be answered in the book. Except the question of what actually happened in Prague. That was a deliberate decision to show the rules of Gayle's ability (she can't read Smith's memory of certain parts because Smith wasn't conscious to form those memories).

I think I'm going to keep entering FWC with stories set within this world, if I can make it fit the theme.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Mandle on 17 Jul 2021, 00:59
Quote from: Sinitrena on 16 Jul 2021, 11:48
The main part just seems missing, though. We never even learn when Edward was taken or what it is he can do (what does "fix him" mean - we never get an answer) or how he ended up back with his father.

Cheers for the comment! I'm not sure what you mean here, however. I would be interested to hear why you thought Edward had been separated from his real father at some point before the fateful night in the motel room. It could be a flaw in my writing that misleads people to think that. One which I would like to correct as I plan to revisit this story for a third draft at a later time and submit for potential real publication somewhere. The answers to your other questions are indeed answered in the rest of the story. If you do go on to read the rest please let me know either in here or in PM as I would really like to hear your thoughts, especially about the finale. The only person I know of so far who has read the whole thing is Stupot, who had some wonderful words to describe the ending which really made me feel great as they were exactly what I was going for.

I have also voted just now.  I have been a bit sick the last three days (probably mild food poisoning and then dehydration and mild heat-stroke) and concentrating on anything other than zoning out in front of youtube and netflix was impossible, but I think I scraped through in time for the voting. Feeling quite a bit better today but still staying home from my Saturday jobs as it is gonna be like 33-36 degrees outside today and humid as hell. Not gonna risk it.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Sinitrena on 17 Jul 2021, 01:40
Quote from: Mandle on 17 Jul 2021, 00:59
Quote from: Sinitrena on 16 Jul 2021, 11:48
The main part just seems missing, though. We never even learn when Edward was taken or what it is he can do (what does "fix him" mean - we never get an answer) or how he ended up back with his father.

Cheers for the comment! I'm not sure what you mean here, however. I would be interested to hear why you thought Edward had been separated from his real father at some point before the fateful night in the motel room. It could be a flaw in my writing that misleads people to think that.

To avoid spoilers for everyone:
Hide: ShowHide
It was mostly small things, but my first thought in the heart-attack scene was that they were criminals on the run, even though that didn't match the characteristics of Jerry up to this point. Then, this line "He was gonna cry. He was under the spotlight and caught by the men from "The Cave", but he was still gonna cry." is probably what made my thoughts go in a different direction, albeit subconsciously. Thinking about it, "the cave" just seems like a name for a place you know, you are familiar with, you have been before. And this seemed to fit with everything else; and it seemed confirmed wheb the secret agent (or whatever) said that Edward had escaped from an insane asylum. Granted, this guy pretty much screams villan and therefore what he says is not trutworthy, but it didn't contradict anything either, in the sense that it's close to what I thought was going on (but judging by your post was mistaken about) and therefore a good lie for an antagonist in this situation, if you know what I mean. Add to that that he can actually describe Edward, even though he didn't see him in the motel room, and the pretty large time jump between the beginning and the scene in the motel - everything seemed to fit.
I don't think one has to come to the conclusion I did, but I don't think it's very far fetched either. I assume it gets clearer in the rest of the story? Having it a bit unclear at that point is not necessarily bad.

I haven't read any further yet, will probably do so tomorrow.

And get well soon!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Mandle on 17 Jul 2021, 02:09
Ahhhh, cheers for the info. I will make a note to check for that when I do the next draft in a month or more.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Stupot on 17 Jul 2021, 02:39
I've voted. It's really hard assigning points but what's done is done. I'll try to give a couple of comments if I have a moment. But for now just to say that Mandle's story is worth seeing through to finale, it is absolutely bonkers.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: WHAM on 17 Jul 2021, 09:25
Votes are cast, and just in time, I think. Damn near missed both deadlines this fortnight!

Stupot

Short, sweet and very effective. I feel there is room to tidy up the writing a little bit, smooth out things here and there for better flow, but the concept is very good!


EjectedStar

I feel the deadline of the contest gnawed at this tale toward the end. Just a little bit, though, giving it a rushed quality that sets it apart from the earlier parts. From a sickening start to an equally sickening finish, I found this tale a good read that seems to draw from a whole host of classic inspirations.


Sinitrena

Wholesome daemons? What slimy, sickening adorableness is this!? It reminds me of a Lovecraft themed webcomic callsed the Unspeakable Vault of Doom, with how the two worldviews are depicted and mixed. I like it!
I see we both could use a proof reader, though: 'Too much rows of teeth..' and '..hollered and jump towards him..' :) These only seem to come up toward the end of the story, so perhaps a looming deadline struck here as well?


Mandle

I'd need that extension to read all of this, but here is what I can say: I want pecan pie...
Beyond that I can't say much. I'm a little bothered by the frequency of F-bombs for some reason, possibly because of the way the story involves kids, but other than that it's an impressive effort for a fortnight.


As for my own little story
Hide: ShowHide
I was too lazy, left writing too late, and had no time for my usual routine of begging a friend of mine to read my work and point out issues before I put it up here. I should have fleshed out the tale more, possibly with a small flashback into the past of the Red Velvet Lounge to show how the three mobsters came to strike a deal with the band manager, believing that nothing could be worse than their 'boss' from back then. But, as the tale shows: a magical big band of the undead controlled by a wizard CAN be worse, after all!

This story was actually heavily inspired by a song I came across a while ago: Mr Pinstripe Suit by The Big Bad Voodoo Band.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Sinitrena on 17 Jul 2021, 14:02
Quote from: WHAM on 17 Jul 2021, 09:25

Sinitrena

Wholesome daemons? What slimy, sickening adorableness is this!? It reminds me of a Lovecraft themed webcomic callsed the Unspeakable Vault of Doom, with how the two worldviews are depicted and mixed. I like it!
I see we both could use a proof reader, though: 'Too much rows of teeth..' and '..hollered and jump towards him..' :) These only seem to come up toward the end of the story, so perhaps a looming deadline struck here as well?

It did, indeed. (Especially because I wrote a different story in the first week, got about halfway done, then switched to this one. My muse is annoying.  >:()

Mandle: I've read the whole story now. Great, just great.
Hide: ShowHide
It went in some unexpected directions and I loved it for it, the ending is amazing. I'd have my doubts people would actualy be on Edward's side after this display of... let's call it, ...gore. Yes, he's famous now, but liked? Wouldn't people (at least most) be more on board with getting this "thing", this "monster" off the street?
There are some questions that remain (or were added) with the whole story, though I don't think they take away any of the enjoment this story brings and are mainly background things: How come this drug was used in the first place? What kind of being is The Controller? (I guessed vampire or alien) Why does the government work with this being? And on a different topic: Could Edward create clones with his talent, as in create a new person while the original still exists? I would assume so.
Overall, the story as a whole is much better than just the first part, from a storytelling point-of-view. From a technical one, it was always good, of course.
I do wonder, though, how close to the word limit were you with the first part? Because I think actually adding the explanation of what "fix it" means  into this part (as in, the whole thing with the magic trick) would have made it better for the contest here, it would have made it feel more complete and not ending on a kind of cliffhanger.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Voting until July 16
Post by: Baron on 18 Jul 2021, 05:50
And that's that, folks!  I'm sure glad I didn't have to choose a winner this time around -Sheesh, that was a hecka good writing!  In the end, three stories were virtually tied for first place, and a fourth one probably could have made its way up there if the voters could consider it in its entirety instead of just the first (and in my opinion, weakest) part.  Great job everyone!

@ Stupot - The writing was solid (I especially liked the admiring but not admiring the decor bit), but it's the concept that really carries this story.  Both the idea of a psychic/magician who helps people retrieve their lost memories, but also the plot of the reasons for the the Smiths' fates.

@ EjectedStar - Beautiful descriptions of vomiting make for a great story hook!  ;-D  I loved reading about the necromancy learning curve, but as other readers have pointed out the last part of the story felt too rushed.

@ Sinitrena - The way my kids play with our cats, you'd think they were demons from the other side, complete with the claw marks on the floor as they are dragged into cuddle hell  (roll).  A fun concept, and well executed!

@ WHAM - I think the story has potential, but like other readers I was confused as to who was who.  I was also a bit confused at the band manager's motivation: what does he get out of lesser attendance at the lounge?  Or is he trying to bankrupt the joint so he can take over entirely?  Voodoo jazz zombies aside, something just doesn't fit....

@ Mandle - Full disclosure: I was just going to read the first part of your story, but the writing kept dragging me deeper in, and I'm glad I went along for the ride.  I'm a little confused at what Edward gets out of going public, especially as his main motivation seems to be to kill the Tall Man (whom, as far as I can read, he never meets or has any knowledge of).  Also the Rocky Mountains are EAST of Nevada (I think you mean the Sierra Nevada Mountains between the desert and California, although I don't remember a lot of farm fields between southern Nevada and LA....).  But otherwise it was really a top notch story, with the farm couple's personalities being my favourite part.  My only real disappointment is that you don't weave this kind of magical story spell every competition....  (wrong)

So, on to the votes.  Here's how it played out in the end:

WHAM got 5 votes.

Mandle got 8 votes.

Sinitrina and Stupot each got 12 votes.

...and EjectedStar got 13 votes, an oft-hexed number replete with ill-omens and darker tidings!  8-0  I hope this doesn't bode ill for the next exciting instalment of the Fortnightly Writing Competition, which EjectedStar must now conjure out of the ether.  :=  Congratulations on a hard-fought and well-deserved victory, EjectedStar!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: EjectedStar on 18 Jul 2021, 07:00
There was some great competition this time around, and I was surprised I eeked out a win. Thanks everyone, I really enjoyed the other entries and their creativity. I can't believe we didn't get a Harry Potter-lite in there!

Here are some of my quick thoughts:

Stu - This was some great writing, all the dialogue flowed really nicely and felt distinct.  Honestly not much to complain about here.  I didn't like parenthesis within a narrative fiction piece, but that's just nitpicking at this point.

Sini - My favorite of the bunch.  I love the dark magic and concept, the differing viewpoints, the depth at which you described the ritual. *kisses finger tips* Magnifico! I think the only issue I had with it was the insertion of the differing viewpoint *within* the story, which deflated the experience of the Magician somewhat. My personal preference would have the demon bits after the story and getting that whole "Ohhhh!" moment.

Mand - This was long and had no magic!  Well, at least the first piece that I've read so far, and apparently with such glowing reviews, I'll have to make some time to read through! I really enjoyed the Kid and Dad parts, but was less endeared toward the yelling redneck couple, but then again, I've only just grazed the surface. I did just read the part about the 'magic trick' and all the blood, and now I'm intrigued.

Wha - Oozed atmosphere. I could smell the smoke wisps in the air, the clinking of whiskey glasses, and all I could imagine were the 'weasels henchmen' from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Unfortunately a lot of the 'deal/magic' was implied and we didn't get enough meat to the story.

Life and D.K. was my first attempt at first person storytelling in something like... a decade? So, hope it turned out alright. Definitely tried to get a little deeper into descriptions than I usually get.  I guess the tonal shift from necromancy to court intrigue was a little too sudden and I should have continued on with more of the singular musings of D.K. rather than going off into another direction. Sinitrena, the nod toward the kiddos from the previous story was definitely intentional, I wrote an entire novel about those two and their magical plights, so I might as well slip them in occasionally. Haha, the ol' 'EjectedStar cinematic universe'.

We shall commence with the next FWC on Monday, once I wrack my brain for a fun premise. I am a bit sad that Baron was the host this week and we didn't get to see him write about some weird magic system!

ALAKAZAM!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: Sinitrena on 18 Jul 2021, 14:13
Congratulations, EjectedStar!

Out of curiousity, did anyone bother to read the upside-down text or did you all jump right to the easier to read version?

See you next round.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: Stupot on 18 Jul 2021, 15:48
Quote from: Sinitrena on 18 Jul 2021, 14:13
Out of curiousity, did anyone bother to read the upside-down text or did you all jump right to the easier to read version?
Congrats EjectedStar. I look forward to your next theme.

@Sinitrena. I read the upside down text with little difficulty. There were only a few times I got hung up and had to look more carefully to work out a word. And occasionally my eyes saw an entirely different word than was actually written. Very cool idea but I'm glad it was just a short story. A whole book like that would drive me loopy.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: WHAM on 18 Jul 2021, 23:25
Quote from: Sinitrena on 18 Jul 2021, 14:13
Out of curiousity, did anyone bother to read the upside-down text or did you all jump right to the easier to read version?

I gave up on the upside down text after the first line of it. Would have worked much better if I had the text in a physical medium and could easily turn the page, but on screen it was a royal pain in the arse.

Quote from: Baron on 18 Jul 2021, 05:50
@ WHAM - I think the story has potential, but like other readers I was confused as to who was who.  I was also a bit confused at the band manager's motivation: what does he get out of lesser attendance at the lounge?  Or is he trying to bankrupt the joint so he can take over entirely?  Voodoo jazz zombies aside, something just doesn't fit....

A clumsy attempt at 'show, don't tell'. Did you notice that aside from the undead band, the patrons were changing as well? I wanted to imply that the manager was using them, enchanting their minds with the music so that they return to be bled of energy, their minds made pliable for him to control and manipulate. Such was his reputation, and his effect. I didn't want to just give that explanation out in the story, since it felt like explaining it too much would break immersion, as we were viewing the story more from the viewpoint of the three unnamed mobsters, not the band manager. I wanted him to stay something of a mystery.

Quote from: EjectedStar on 18 Jul 2021, 07:00
Wha - Oozed atmosphere. I could smell the smoke wisps in the air, the clinking of whiskey glasses, and all I could imagine were the 'weasels henchmen' from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Unfortunately a lot of the 'deal/magic' was implied and we didn't get enough meat to the story.

Considering how much I love that movie, the weasels may well have been a subconscious influence, but I think I mostly drew my mental image of them from an episode of the 90's tv show Millennium. They could really have done with more character, though, and in hindsight I regret not giving them proper names in the story. Not sharing their names was intended to show how well the three knew each other, how they were reconizable as individual parts of an organization by their traits rather than names, but again: this fell short due to crude storytellin on my part.

Live and learn.

Congrats on the win, EjectedStar, and I look forward to the next contest! I'll have more time now that I'm on my summer vacation, so hopefully I can do better!
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: Stupot on 19 Jul 2021, 03:54
So here are a few thoughts I had about each story. Not much that hasn't been said already but anyways...

EjectedStar I loved the idea and you managed to create some vivid images in my mind with your descriptions. What you have here though is an epic fantasy saga summarized in few paragraphs. I would read the hell out of this exact story if it was given the page count required to tell it fully.

Sinitrena Maybe I was sucked in by the novelty of the rotated text but I chose this as my favourite. I loved the idea of the misunderstood demons who just want to play. I thought that would make a great concept for a manga and/or anime.

Mandle Part 1 had some solid world-building and set-up for the rest of the story. On it's own I couldn't choose it as my favourite, but I was glad I read all four parts because it really paid off, and then some. I'm very much looking forward to the next draft.

Wham The writing style was very cool and you managed to paint a vivid picture of the bar.  You also managed to create good tension between the three wiseguys and the band manager. But I didn't really understand exactly what was going on. I also feel that the three men could have been condensed into one, maybe two if you really needed the dialogue to drive the first part.

Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: Baron on 19 Jul 2021, 04:47
Quote from: Sinitrena on 18 Jul 2021, 14:13
Out of curiousity, did anyone bother to read the upside-down text or did you all jump right to the easier to read version?

I read the text in the upside-down version, but I did struggle with the names/named-things in that format.
Title: Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition "MAGIC" Results
Post by: Mandle on 20 Jul 2021, 07:53
EjectedStar I loved this story and picked it as my number one. Stupot already said pretty much everything I was gonna so screw him. I really felt like I was along on an epic journey of years with the main character. The twist at the end that he was a member of the royal court was very unexpected and very welcome. The incestuous feelings he has towards his sister was a great device to make the anti-hero even more unlikable, but it also makes sense in the setting of a royal family. Loved this piece from start to finish and it also doesn't hurt that Bruce Campbell vs. Army Of Darkness is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Sinitrena I didn't read the story with the upsidedown text but I DO agree that this device would work well in a physically printed book. Especially because it would just be really funny to watch someone reading a book and turning it upsidedown every now and then. That would get me intrigued about what they were reading. I had a thought today that the upsidedown bits could start at the back of the book and the right-ways-up bits start at the front, with "Turn to page 89" comments sometimes to go back and forth and then the texts meet up in the middle and go... I dunno... Sideways for the finale?!
This was my number two pick as I loved the misconceptions on both sides of the situation. Works quite well as an analogy for many relationships in the real world. Also beautiful writing.

Stupot This was the first story I read and it left a huge impact. If the characters had been given a bit more time to develop then this would have been my number one pick. But, seeing as this is kind of an outline for your book, you are very much sniffing up the right crack, mate.

Wham This piece felt to me like one of those scenes from a David Lynch movie that draws you in but leaves most of the questions unanswered. And this is in no way a bad thing! I LOVE that shit! I did find it a bit confusing at the end as to what was happening so maybe don't be nervous to throw the reader a bone now and then with what might feel like hackneyed "stage directions" from the writer. Just a mention here and there in the traditional style of where people are and who they are can work magic even when the piece is minimalistic in style.

I LOVED all the stories on this outing. Thanks for the feedback on my own, everyone! It was my intention, once I knew the story was exploding out of the constraints of one post, to just post it in parts (despite some excellent advice from Baron via PM) and test to see if anyone would want to keep reading just out of curiosity and not out of obligation.
Baron himself, probably made me smile the most by saying that the writing drew him in and made him keep reading to the end even though he hadn't intended to.
Could any writer ever need a better compliment than that?
Thanks also to Sinitrena and Stupot so far for reading through to the end. Your feedback was appreciated and valuable and you will all get a mention in the "Dedicated to" page if I can ever get it published for real.