What is Your Quest?

“He who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.”

Arthur and Lance examined the raggedly dressed fellow who reeked of stale booze and infrequent showers.

“What?”

“It’s required, you know?”

“Required by whom?”

“Er… Would you believe the State Highway Authority?”

“So this is a toll bridge then. It seems rather breezy, pestering folk at the end of a bridge. Shouldn’t you at least have a hut?”

“You noticed? They took it away.”

“So that’s five questions.”

Lance nudged Arthur and murmured quietly, “Three, sir.”

“Right, off you go.”

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100 words. Inspired by this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt (and by Monty Python, naturally). Better late than never:

PHOTO PROMPT © The Reclining Gentleman
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Demolished Men

I need some help over here with this big ol’ Chevy, Lew.

I’m on it. Turn hard right, and then brake. Let him tap your right quarter, just a kiss. Right, that’s good. Slow him down… Slow… Ok, now gun it!

Lew, now that there was purty.

Yep, classic T-bone, dancing around with him bought me the time to get up speed. Fish in a barrel, Bobby, like always.

Watch the Ford on your left, Lew. His partner’s on the other side of the arena right now, but he’ll come a’runnin’.

Got him. Taking him into the wall, just keep the vultures off me for a second. Ok, here comes the partner, reverse it. Good. Now brake and I got his ass.

Yeeeeeeeehaw!

Speaking of “Got His Ass,” you hicks want to surrender quietly.

Shit.

You knew it would happen someday. When you boys get enthusiastic, an E1 can pick up your thoughts miles away. I’m Special Agent Lewiston, and you’re both under arrest for using esper powers to dominate a mundane sporting event. That’s a class three felony, jailbirds.

This is Agent Harris driving the tow truck. He’s E2, so don’t try. We’re impounding these vehicles. Make that “wrecks.”

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200 words. Inspired by this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt:

And my apologies to the memory of Alfred Bester, author of The Demolished Man, winner of the first Hugo award in 1953.

Slimed

“Argghh! Grahggh!”

It’s Tuesday night at Thai on the Nosebag. We’re between curry courses when the Colonial Space Marine wigs out. That happens, since Jarheads’re often performance enhancer addicts with posttraumatic stress.

This specimen’s waving a pulse rifle around and cycling the trigger. No effect, the Nosebag is completely ray-shielded.

The bartender, Morty, is a Sirian Slime Slug. A stainless steel shot glass arcs over the bar and *tinks* from the Marine’s helmet.

The Marine slaps his rifle to “Kinetic,” whirls, and blasts Morty.

Sirian Slimes are enormously elastic. Morty stretches for several feet, slowing and stopping the bullet. When he snaps back, he propels it at Mach 3, ricochets the round from concrete floor and into the Marine’s space crotch armor.

Every male in the room takes an imaginary, sympathetic kick to the balls. Several groan audibly.

The Marine’s eyes roll up; he makes an expressive “meeeeep” very like a steam kettle whistle and face-plants the floor.

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158 words. Inspired by this week’s Flash! Friday prompt (Hitchhiker’s Guide, adventure, an odd restaurant).

Angel Of

“I practically died.”

“Don’t be so dramatic. The explosion was on the far side. Besides, your time won’t be up for ages yet.”

Ernie decided to spend the day playing hooky from work, because he was a firm believer in cultivated leisure. He believed it to be his one true calling, the mission of his lifetime, to spend the absolute minimum number of minutes working as necessary to generate the maximum time for seeking pleasure. Ernie viewed it as a sort of lifehacking min/max problem, to skip work exactly as often as possible without scoring the Big Exit Boot from his tight-assed boss.

He’d set out this morning for his local carnival in his very best Slob Friday Casual with Unwashed Holy T-shirt.

It wasn’t much of a carnival, just the “standard two day layover in a strip mall parking lot with six rides” affair. It was dilapidated and even the scruffy carnies looked bored. Still, Ernie grooved on the classic popcorn and cotton candy smells. He didn’t enjoy the tilt-a-whirl much, with that “Foghat should stay buried in the Seventies” music blaring from the over-amped and crackling speakers. Still, even that’s better than working, right?

Calliope music grabbed him by his earlobe and dragged him into the queue for the carousel. Then the ancient and poorly maintained steam tank blew up exactly four minutes later.

Ernie awoke gazing up into a pair of fascinating pale turquoise-gray eyes.

“Are you all right?”

The haunting eyes were surrounded a halo of auburn hair, mussed by the breeze and backlit by the noon sun. Her smile managed to express both “genuine” and “concerned.” She wore a tank top with bare shoulders, smallish girls, and mid-thigh white shorts. Nice legs, too. (If you’re like Ernie and keeping score, that all adds up to, “Humma Humma.”)

Ernie sat up. “That was an explosion? I practically died.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

The crowd was still milling around and screams rose from the other side of the carousel.

“It sounds like someone was hurt,” he said.

“The ride operator, I’m here to pick him up. Good thing the carousel caught most of the shrapnel, or this would be a multiple job. Lucky for you, too.”

“What do you mean, pick up?” Ernie climbed to his feet and tried to get a better view.

“Oh. His soul, you know. His essence or spirit or whatever you want to call it.”

“He’s dead?”

“A big old steam valve took off most of his head. You can’t cheat my boss.”

“What’s it got to do with your boss?”

“Death. You know, the Grim Reaper. I work for him, run some errands sometimes, make the odd pickup.”

“You work for a myth?”

“Please, it’s ‘Anthropomorphic Personification.’ He’s not a myth, or I wouldn’t be here.”

“Why not?”

“I died in 1927, Ernie.”

“Wait a minute, didn’t you just say…”

“Right, you can’t cheat Death. But when I do a good job, He does let me have encores.”

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497 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought (3-12) prompt.

 

Rosebud

Sometimes when you’re chasing love, it seems like the whole world is on your side. Spring is in the air, the birds sing, and life itself dances in its most glorious poetic forms. You’ll trade anything you own for one more touch, another taste, another chocolate-caramel moment frozen in time.

They fade as the morning blossom begins to wilt, the bright petal’s edges curl and brown. Of course, there can be nothing so sweet without its tiny stings. Should we complain because roses have thorns, or rejoice that thorns have roses?

“Sure honey, whatever you say. You still need cash.”

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100 words, inspired by this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt:

Cheap Painting

“Take a step back and have a good look,” Sandy suggested.

“What am I looking for?”

“This painting is from 1890, by a landscape artist named Schaeffer. Do you recognize the building?”

“I should. That’s my house.”

“Your home wasn’t built in the nineteenth century, Bob. It might look like your house, but it can’t be.”

By taking a much longer look at the old painting, Bob could identify the differences. The building in the old oil painting was much older and more dilapidated, with loose siding and missing shingles. The belfry canted at a shallow angle, not vertical—possibly due to a bad foundation, settling slightly at one corner.

“It’s uncanny. This could be my house, except how did this painter capture clear back it in the Mauve Decade?” The little hairs on Bob’s arms were racing, playing goose bump tag.

“And why is the Mauve House, or Bob’s House or whatever, clearly falling apart a hundred years or so before it’s even built?”

“Maybe my house is a time traveler. Maybe I’ve moved into a TARDIS?”

“So your house traveled back in time, say, 200 years and then aged and weathered, and then this Schaeffer guy painted it in 1890?”

Bob just rolled his eyes. “Clearly, we’re dealing with two different buildings. It’s just some kind of wild coincidence that they’re so similar. This whole thing is just skeeving me out.”

Sandy just eyed the painting thoughtfully. Something about that year was tugging at her subconscious, 1890…

“Bob. Is this painting for sale?”

“Yeah it is. This Shaeffer guy wasn’t famous or anything, it’s not expensive.”

“You’ve got to buy it Bob. Buy it for insurance.”

“Whaaaa-a-at?”

“Think 1890’s. Oscar Wilde. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ This painting might be keeping your house from ever aging.”

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298 words. Inspired by this week’s Cracked Flash (1-13) prompt:

That is not happy for somebody’s house.

 

From Hell’s Heart, I Stab at Thee.

“Once there was a time when I believed you all white devils,” explained the old sagomas. “Your people came and took all of the young men, and dragged them in chains to slave in your mines. Then came the years of sickness, entire generations of my people wiped out by the evil poxes you brought.”

The ancient man paced around the tiny marker at the base of the massive, dead Marula tree in the village center.

“Where once a village thrived is now just a destitute ruin, hopeless. Without our youth and their grandchildren, what future could there be?”

The sagomas peeled away the cloth turban covering his eyes with great care.

“Now I see that you aren’t devils at all, you are only the most evil of men. Men, who can be cursed, and made to pay for the injustice their sick culture has brought on this land.”

When the turban fell away, his single malevolent eye blazed forth, spearing each of the urbanized white corporate henchmen with baleful malice.

“You don’t believe in the Evil Eye. Your kind never has. So go back to your families, and take no care to guard against what comes for you now.”

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200 words, inspired by this week’s Flash! Friday prompt (3-41).

 

Emerald City

“Look, you have the talent. You carried the shows in Wicked and Venus in Fur. All you need is your big break and dinner theater productions aren’t going to get you there. That’s all I’m saying, you need a little edge.”

Alicia had been Sarah’s roomie in college and was still her biggest fan.

“Diva is going to help get the spot in a big show you need to push your career,” she said.

The little green pill in her palm winked at Sarah, catching the light with its preternatural promise. Diva was the newest designer drug, the Magic Key to Unlocking Creativity that artists sought for centuries, without the harmful effects of alcohol or the reality distortion of psychedelics.

“This is your crossroads. The plane is your yellow brick road,” Alicia urged. “Here’s your ticket, the Quantas flight is in two hours. Go meet Hector Quezada in Sydney, I promise you he’ll offer to audition you.”

***

Sarah did land her audition, but so did sixty others at the same cattle call. Nearly all of them were on Diva.

For Sarah, Oz was a land where people went chasing dreams, only to crash on cheap imitations and empty promises.

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200 words. Inspired by this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction prompt:

Expensive Lesson

Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a humble tailor in his humble village. He often struggled to earn enough coppers for his dinner, or silvers for his fabrics. His perseverance slowly gained him a reputation for good, honest workmanship and he thereby earned a few more coins to buy a few more rolls, and was content.

One fine day in May, an attractive Lady entered Konrad’s tailor shop. She asked, “Are you Konrad, he who is known everywhere for his magnificent needlework?”

“Well, I’m Konrad, at any rate. How might I help milady?”

“It’s only a trifle. The tiniest rip in my bodice, right here.” Her manicured nails trailed along the bodice’s edge and lingered in her décolletage.

Konrad experienced sudden difficulties speaking properly. Yet the repair was indeed trivial, and soon completed.

“You do magnificent work,” the Lady cooed. “At the briefest word from me, fine ladies from all over the kingdom will travel to have all their sewing done here. I can easily arrange a surge in your fortunes, Konrad.”

“It will be fine,” Konrad agreed.

~~~

“She didn’t pay you anything, lackwit.”

Konrad’s mother was incensed when he recounted the tale. “How many times do I have to tell you, no free rides?”

“But she’ll make me rich. She’s nice, mother.”

~~~

Over the coming weeks, the Lady returned frequently for more tailoring. Konrad’s Mother continued berating Konrad for an idiot, and Konrad continued insisting Milady was extremely nice. Somehow, the promised surge in business never materialized, and Milady’s repair work grew ever more expensive. The poor house would soon be Konrad’s fate.

“I can’t take her money, mother. She’s much too nice.”

“Fool.” Mother slapped the back of his head, hard. “There’s your problem, you need to learn. Nice is different from Good.”

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300 words. Inspired by this week’s Flash! Friday prompt (3-40).