Tag Archives: Finish that thought

Black and Poisonous

Wicked people never have time for writing. There are so many worlds and characters waiting to be born, but through lack of motivation or lack of inspiration, they wither and die unborn in pools of dark despair. The writer feels it too, the black and poisonous knowledge that he should be producing something, anything, instead of watching television or web surfing.

The habits we should be building, write something every single day, don’t sit and wait for motivation. Grab a club and go drag your story home.

The seeping poison is can’t or won’t. Too tired, too uninspired, I’ll write it later, I’ll write it tomorrow. I hate deadlines, just give me a week and I can crank out something. I don’t like giving away my opening hook, that first sentence is important. What a silly idea, I’ll wait for a better one. I’ve written something just like this before.

Worse yet are the stories bravely begun and then abandoned. What’s next? This is stalling out. Oh, this is terrible. I just need a character. What’s the plot, where is this going?

I ran into an entire website of demotivation, once upon a time. M.F.A.’s and poets; my work was never, ever good enough. Look at all of those grammar and punctuation errors, oh my. Your metaphors are not strong enough, your similes don’t sing. Why do the same people win this competition every week? Your let the judges enter your own competition? Something smells fishy.

Now they want to sell me a membership. Purely for my benefit, of course, there are several levels of helpful advice. I see the direct correlation to the most frequent winners. This “competition” is, blatantly, For Sale.

I went searching for less mercenary setups. There are sites with rotating judges, there are sites dominated by a single clannish writing group, there are “Everyone’s a Winner” sites, too.

Competition does help me improve, even on the sites where it doesn’t feel entirely honest. Those clannish writing groups tend to vote for each other, for instance. Comments from more “social” writing sites help me improve, too, particularly from writers whose work I respect.

I keep a working list of fiction/writing sites that I like for various reasons. I don’t always visit all of them each week. I don’t always contribute stories, nor do I write every day (as I should). Sometimes, the toxic inspiration despair or simple exhaustion after a full time job still wins.

Sometimes, wicked television and evil internet still defeat your white knight, and often without a struggle.

But the sites that Did Things Right keep disappearing, and I feel guilty for that; like one more story might have saved them.

RecDave Seal

For Alissa Leonard and Finish That Thought. I’ll miss you both.

Trapped

“Officer, I can explain.”

The county mounty leaned against the side of my car, tapping his pen on his ticket pad and giving me the standard “tough cop” act. The flashlight lingered on me and then passed along to my sister, Emily. She squinted, crossed her eyes, and stuck out her tongue when the beam lit her tangled hair.

“Ya’ll know how fast you were goin’, son?”

His cruiser’s headlights shined directly into the cab through our Chevy’s back window. Blue smoke from the exhaust crept over the asphalt of the state highway between the vehicles, adding a surrealistic B-movie vibe.

“Yessir officer, ah’m sorry sir.” I handed over my license. Honestly, I wasn’t going more than five miles over; business must be slow at the speed trap this week.

“Jackson. Ya’ll are Louise Jackson’s kids?”

“Yessir. Sam, and this here’s my sister Emily.”

“Had Miz Jackson for sixth grade. She’s a good teacher, always liked her. Well, ya’ll are locals, no booze or drugs or nothin. So I’m not gonna ring you up this time, just slow down and drive more careful, Sam, all right? An tell yo momma Billy Joe Ladeau said hey.”

“Surely will. Thank you.”

He waved one hand out the window as his cruiser passed us a few minutes later.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Emily?”

“I knew he weren’t gonna do nothin’. That one’s got a good vibe to him. A slap on the wrist wuz all you wuz ever gonna get.”

“But when those red and blue lights come on, I just about wet my britches every time that happens.”

Emily just grinned. She can be such a brat.

“Where to?”

“It’ll be comin’ up on the right in bout half mile. Gonna be a blue pickup pulled off to tha side, some guy fixin a flat, right before the turn.”

A few seconds of silence before the pickup came into view and I turned onto the dirt track.

“Ah been here before. Ain’t this the old Steadman farm?”

“Yep, couple miles up this way,” she said.

“Spooky old place, why we goin’ way out here?”

“You’ll see.”

She gave me one of her patented “I’ve got a secret” smarmy smirks. She has the smug superiority of any eight-year-old, only ten times worse because of what she can do.

There wasn’t much left of the Steadman farm, abandoned for at least eighty years. It’s just a collapsing barn and a couple of topless grain silos.

Emily led me by the hand into the rickety old barn.

“Is this ol barn safe?”

“Relax. It done stood for all this time. It’s good for a few more minutes.”

In the far corner she pulled away a dusty pile of straw, revealing six mewling kittens.

“Momma cat dun went and got herself et by a coyote. In my dream ah saw her kittens wuz left all alone and starvin. So here we come runnin.”

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490 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought (3-22) prompt. Say hello to Emily (and Sam) again

Back Off, Damned Sirens.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The man’s opinions are inconsequential, of course. What use are male opinions in social matters?

Target your avaricious intentions on his holdings, his estates, and the production of your grandchildren. The mothers pander and their daughters spin webs. Machiavellian intentions hidden behind gowns of silk and taffeta, diabolical snares constructed of garden promenades and high tea. Once attached, their lamprey teeth make them difficult to shake loose.

Exhausted by the epic struggle to maintain my freedom I resolved to flee at once. I abandoned my secure and lucrative career, only barely begun. I would find a more physical profession, and settle in a place where a man could earn his bread without the sustained shrieking of circling harpies.

Greece. The home of Zeus and Hercules, and surely the perfect spot for the ultimate consummation of confirmed bachelorhood, wasn’t it? I would get a little fishing boat and live in quiet solitude in a tiny shack. What harm if a few of the local bronzed specimens of godly manhood should stroll past on the beach? We could surely jest and contest while quaffing our wine and discussing platonic ideals. Belching, scratching, and defaming the female of the species, as real men should.

I settled on the isle Lefkada, a typical Greek island that was only unusual because of its land bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Setting sail on my tiny new boat, I learned quickly how little I knew of sailing and fishing. Fortunately, the island had several tanned and muscular youths available for hire, and I was smitten. I quite enjoyed my lessons, and soon learned both crafts. My Greek grew less insulting to the listener, as well. Adopted immigrant turned semi-native, the locals did not long fault me for my unfortunate English birth.

I was content at last.

My occasional fishing employee and local tanned god Dimitrios introduced me to his cousin, Leucosia, a dazzling Levantine beauty in uncomfortably brief swimwear. This was surely an innocent introduction, I was certain Dimitrios knew of my proclivities. How unhappy it would make me to have my peace ruined by a ‘hook-up’—at least, if the hook-up was with her.

We drank much wine and the three of us chatted. She seemed almost human, this one, smiling and interacting without immediately shifting to predatory mode. They needed a lift to the far side of the island, and Dimitrios’ boat was down for sail repair, could I take them?

Of course, I accepted—making it clear to Dimitrios that I intended collecting on the favor eventually.

Leucosia leaned against the mast in the moonlight and asked, “You have heard that sirens have always frequented Lefkada?”

“You mean classical, mythical sirens? How do you know if they’re there?”

From behind me Dimitrios answered, “By the screams,” and his serrated teeth ripped at my throat.

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495 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought prompt (the first line, from Pride and Prejudice).

What’s For Dinner?

He watched with anxiety as she took the first nibble. When nothing usual happened, he felt much of the tension draining away.

“Tastes better than I thought it would,” she eventually responded. “No unusual urges, no fangs or blood lust. Sorry Dave, don’t think your theory holds up.”

***

“The creature slumps on the hilltop, hunched over like it’s suffering a degenerative spinal condition. Maybe it is, given the condition of the rest of the body. It turns to sniff the breeze, and those yellow pulsing orbs lock with my eyes. Its upper lip curls and it growls aggressively at me through bared fangs dripping gore. Antlers tilt back, nose raised to the sky, it howls a hunter’s fury and gallops down the hill toward me.

“The forelimbs are twice as long as its hind legs and they end in massive rending claws. The rotting flesh of its barrel chest exposes internal organs. The hind legs are deer-like, knee bending backwards, ending not in hooves but in almost human feet covered in pitch-dark fur.

“This twisted, distorted zombie-elk-thing is galloping down the hill at enormous speed. It leaps in the air, I cover my eyes, and I wake up screaming in terror. Worst of all, I awaken with an unnatural hunger, an insatiable desire that must be fulfilled.”

Rebecca leaned back, letting Dave’s breathing calm and return to normal before flipping on the desk lamp.

“What sort of hunger, Dave?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“It seems to be at the center of this dream that’s haunting you.”

“It’s taboo. And it’s illegal.”

“What is?”

Dave said nothing, and just clenched his jaw. Rebecca tried another angle.

“You say this thing in your dream has a name, Dave? What’s it called?”

Dave murmured something, too low to hear.

“What?”

“It’s a Wendigo damn it!”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that is.”

Dave talked to the carpet. “Wendigo. It’s an Algonquin curse, a half-beast creature. A malevolent spirit possesses a specific type of person and causes a physical transformation. It’s always a guilty person, the very worst sort of criminal.”

Rebecca scrawled a note on her pad, giving Dave time to work up to it.

“Wendigoes only possess cannibals”

***

“Here we are, Dave. I’ve shared dinner with you, and you can see no one is transforming into a malevolent creature. No insatiable hunger, no desire to run Mr. Simon upstairs through a wood chipper, right?”

“Guess not.”

“The Wendigo psychosis is a myth. There aren’t any cannibalistic nightmares roaming the back woods, and you don’t need to feel guilty about whatever you had for dinner last week. Human flesh was just what you were expecting, not any part of the actual dishes. You aren’t a cannibal or any mythic demon-monster. You’re just Dave.”

After seeing Dave off for the evening, Rebecca looked in the mirror, and saw the shadow of antlers.

“Maybe you were onto something,” she growled. “Now, about tasty Mr. Simon…”

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498 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought prompt (#3-5).

Cynthia the Sailor

Know then, oh mighty one, that once in the fabled land of Yoosa lived a woman named Cynthia who was unhappy. She lived in a washed-out world, devoid of light or life or color, and she toiled at her labors by day and night yet found no solace or joy in anything, not even in the many blessings of Allah which all men freely receive. On this day, she despaired. The sad woman stood staring at the sea before kicking off her joyless existence and running to her destiny.

She sold her every possession and invested the profits in a sturdy boat, the Chariot of the Wind, and outfitted it with the sundries and provisions necessary for a journey. Impatient to be at sea, she embarked and they sailed together for many days and many nights wherever the wind would take them.

One bright summer morning, she scented trees on the morning breeze. She spied an auk flying with a fish and turned Chariot to follow—for as all experienced sailors know, an auk carrying food will fly to shore. The prettiest isle spread out before their prow. A delicate stream snaked down to the shore, and sea birds of all kinds flew overhead. It looked to be in all ways a most satisfactory island, and Cynthia eagerly sought harhorage.

She first went for a swim in a pool formed by the stream. Fresh water is so rare at sea, having so much in one spot seems a luxurious decadence. Then she hunted and gathered fruits. In the afternoon, she fished and gathered the clams, crabs, and other such bounties as Allah provides for all men blessed to live by the shore.

When she was confident that Chariot’s larder was sufficiently re-stocked, she built a fire and relaxed against a palm tree, watching the golden-purple colors of the sun setting.

Then the ground shook suddenly, causing thousands of sea birds to take flight. The ocean rolled out, away from the island, and then rushed in again with horrific force, far higher than the original shoreline. Cynthia tried to make a run for Chariot but an enormous wave of water cut her off.

She spied one gargantuan, scaled flipper rising out of the sea, and wave after wave crashed over the island. Just as she began to swim in the tide, the island and her beautiful boat vanished beneath the waves.

The enormous sea turtle on whose back the forests, sands, birds, rocks, and streams all rested vanished into the abysses of the deep. Cynthia was left spinning, coughing, and choking in a massive tidal vortex of seawater. Spying some flotsam in the water, she stroked strongly for it, swimming for her life.

Allah preserved her by providing a great wooden mast to which she clung, and in the morning, her friend the auk once again pointed the way to the nearest safe shore. By mighty Allah’s grace and mercy thus ended the first voyage of Cynthia the Sailor.

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498 words. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought prompt (I missed the deadline though. Oh well, I’ll get into next week’s, or the next…whatever.)

And yes, I borrowed rather heavily from Richard Francis Burton. All the Special Challenge’s fault (“Include a deadly creature of the deep that DOESN’T arrive to the sound of ta-dump, ta-dump, tadumptadumptadump. :-)”–somehow I just had to do a Aspidochelone tale for that).

Don’t Forget Your Schoolwork

Stumbling out of the gymnasium, she noticed blearily that she was missing her backpack. Talk about a disaster—her homework, cell phone, schoolbooks, and worst of all her theme were in the backpack. Mrs. Marten’s theme, five hundred words on “what historical figure would you invite to dinner.” It counted for thirty percent of her final grade for Composition. Sara was positive her choice of subject and her research for this paper would be sure to score at least an A minus, and her GPA could certainly use the help.

No choice, she’d have to trudge back through the darkened and stinky gym for her stuff.

In Sara’s opinion, the gym was the dreariest building in Madison High. It didn’t help that she was the last to leave. The championship banners, celebrating Cougar victories clear back to the seventies, drooped like forgotten and abandoned shrouds in the dark. Absence of light sucked the color and joy right out of them.

All that remained was the sweaty-boy locker smell that always wrinkled her nose and clung to the gym’s interior no matter how diligently Mr. Saunders scrubbed the floors after games.

When cheerleader practice ran late, and it often did, Sara was responsible for cleaning up the girls’ locker room. At least it didn’t smell as bad as the boys’ did. All that entailed was picking up the wet towels, closing the lockers, and double-checking that the water in the showers was off.

Jenny’s locker was still open. Photos of Perfect Jenny, her Perfect Boyfriend, Miss Perfect Butt and Perfect Legs enjoying her Perfect Life plastered over the inside of the locker and its tiny door. How did I miss that on the way out? Sara pushed it shut and shook her head. I must have been daydreaming or something.

She missed the dark streaks that her fingertips left on the painted metal, turning to check the showers again.

Sara stepped carefully over the feet in the doorway and wiggled each of the shower taps to check they were off. No time for that, I need to grab my theme and get home. Never mind that crumpled shape in the corner or the pool of red slowly expanding over the tiled floor.

She hefted the backpack over her shoulder. This was such a good theme. Choose a Historical figure, avoid the obvious presidents and royalty, who would it be educational to meet, who would earn her the best grade? Who could help me most?

That’s why this theme was so perfect. It was still an unsolved crime, still a mystery, still a topic rife with lots of footnote material. Researchers still earned doctorates studying this dude.

Now Sara loved him. Looking over in that corner, I do believe Jenny loves him too. Throat slashed, twice. Ovaries removed with surgical precision. Jenny was the final bit of research for Sara’s theme about the Ripper. How would it feel to gank a whore and move up to head cheerleader?

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496 works. Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought prompt.

Made for Television

Sam flinched when he first laid eyes on the actor with the physique of Apollo for the lead role of Jesus. Nature built Mario for middle linebacker parts, he would be perfect for any football movie. He cast a vast shadow like a skycraper—at least six foot four, three fifty—and those weren’t his only issues as Jesus.

Sam turned helplessly to his producer, “Come on Morty, you cannot be serious.”

“What wrong with him? Mario’s experienced, and he’d make a great lead for the film. The camera loves him and the ladies will love him, too, know what I mean?”

“What’s wrong with him? Look at him! He’s got a blonde buzz-cut and he’s whiter than sour cream, some kind of Nordic ideal. The Nazis would quickly breed as many Aryan babies as they could get out of him, and name them all ‘Fritz’.”

“So?”

“We want an actor that’s Levantine, Lebanese, Turkish, Jewish, Palestinian, Syrian, maybe Jordanian. You could even make a case for an Egyptian or East African. Has Mario ever stepped into the sunlight without an umbrella at all?”

“Look, Sam, he’s a fine actor, and we can get him for scale because the public hasn’t discovered him yet. This’ll be a career-maker for him, right Mario?”

Mario wisely kept his trap shut.

“It’s not about the money,” Sam pointed out. “There’s just got to be a better option.”

Morty shook his head. “Trust me on this one. We can darken him up in makeup, you know that.”

The life of a director is an endless series of compromises. Art demands attention to detail, but sometimes the Money disagrees.

Against his better judgement, Sam thumbed through Mario’s resume and face shots. Some good work here. No big awards, but a Mario had generous handful of supporting role credits in solid movies. He’d miraculously avoided typecasting in the empty-headed hunk parts. Just maybe this wouldn’t be such an awful choice after all. The beefcake angle could even bring in some box office.

Sam sighed and crossed his fingers. “All right Mario, we’ll give this a shot. But you owe me, Morty. Who’s up next?”

“Casting for Mary Magdalene,” Morty responded. “You’re gonna love this one. Fresh face out of UCLA film school, she has terrific range and some good chops. Tits and ass aren’t bad, either, you’ll see.”

Sam glanced up at the pink Mohawk, the low-cut top straining to contain 44D’s, and the copious body jewelry and ink. He made a strangled noise and pounded the desk with his face.

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425 words, for this week’s Finish That Thought (#2-50).

Army of Ineffective Badness

“I’ll tell you what we need, and that’s a sweet young hostage.” The Dark Lord scowled at his skeleton troops. “The Hero has a Love Interest, they always do. Send a batwing patrol immediately and bring her to me.”

“Yes sir.” Captain Fodder set the plan into motion.

Dark Lord began to pace. This was obviously the Training Sequence, when both armies made their final preparations before the Big Climactic Battle. It bought time to raise and arm more skeletons, but it also gave the hero more time to train his peasant army with the use of basic spear and archery techniques. At least this sequence didn’t particularly favor either side.

“Fodder, we need to get the troops marching on the castle well before dawn. If we can arrive before their Clever Traps are set up, it will save a lot of pain in my arse.”

“Of course sir, I’ll start them marching by two. It’s not like skeletons need sleep anyway.”

“We’ve got to get over the wall and retrieve that Nercronomicon before the Hero ever takes the field.”

“Why don’t you just send the air force in, Sir? Snatch the thing and run?”

“I’m not sure. Whenever Dark Lords have superior air power, they never seem to use it sensibly. I suspect it would shorten the plot buildup too much. No, we’re contractually required to move in by land.”

Fodder sighed, “Of course, your Badness.”

At that moment, the batwings returned with the Sheila.

“Give me some sugar, baby,” the Dark Lord delivered the standard misogynistic magic words, and negotiated the evil kiss despite her ridiculously ineffective struggles. In a few moments, she was bound to Darkness as his new Evil Queen.

Black magic rocks that way.

“That’s the last thing we need, get the army moving, Fodder.”

Well before sunrise, the undead army quietly surrounded the tiny, sleeping castle. Neatly avoiding several Standard Pitfalls, Fodder moved his army in quietly while hidden in the darkness, unseen by the sleepy wall guards. No reason to get the Hero out of bed before Evil is set up.

The scaling ladders went up on all four sides of the castle and armed skeletons poured onto the battlements. The screwhead human forces were quickly butchered, the gates opened, and the Dark Couple strode triumphantly inside.

“Still no Hero?” the Dark Lord paced the courtyard, perplexed.

“Not a sign of him, sir.”

“I just don’t understand. No Necronomicon either?”

“No sir.”

Bad Ash had considered every contingency, covered every plot twist, and prepared for every trap. There just wasn’t any way he could lose this time. He hadn’t even Monologued to inform the enemy of all his plans. What power of good hadn’t he guarded against?

“Sir…” Fodder spoke with great reluctance.

“What?”

“Are we… Is this the right castle, sir?”

Nooooo! Overcome by the greatest and most ridiculous of all Good Guy powers, Unrestricted Serendipity!

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499 words, inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought #2-49 prompt.

Halo of Flies

Flames curled round the letter’s edge, its message vanishing in the fire. I felt like skipping through the rain, but that would be breaking character. There will surely be time for celebration later. I need to be over the horizon before sunrise.

***

“Vladimir, your orders are to pick up Doctor Furnier at the docks and escort him to the Ambassador’s office. He’s the American V.I.P. we’ve been expecting, the strategic submarine expert. Make sure you verify his papers, provide any refreshment he might need. Take an umbrella, looks like inclement weather is blowing in tonight.”

***

I motored along the keel of the massive submarine, towed by a noiseless electric bladefish motor. Finding the intake ports, I planted the time bomb on the keel exactly between them. A sizable explosion, under pressure conditions, and the sub would fold up and sink almost instantly. I set the timer for twelve hours and headed up the dock.

***

While packing for Monaco, I thumb through “Dr. Furnier’s” passport and travel documents. They are superb, some of my best work. Entirely counterfeit, like the schematics and MHD engine blueprints I sold to the Ambassador. I heft the heavy briefcase containing my payment in gold and toss the good doctor’s papers into the fireplace.

Mei Ling’s corpse is lying in a pool of blood by the bar, dagger on the carpet near her petite hand. She was a clever agent, especially with concealing weapons, but not clever enough.

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Inspired by this week’s Finish That Thought prompt. And by the song, (thank you Mr. Furnier).

St. Christopher’s Movable Feast

I hadn’t marched like this for a long time, but then again it had been a while since I ventured so far from the nest. I rechecked the straps on my backpack, again. The desperately needed supplies were still secure. Not much further to travel, but that last step is a doozy.

Where the Market Street Bridge ends, the destruction begins. Wreckage fills the city streets, rusting cars moldering in the summer heat. Many of the cars still have their former owners inside. Skulls lean on steering wheels and empty sockets stare blindly through passenger windows. All of that hot steel is steaming to ruin in the sun. The ripples of rising thermal heat distort my optics.

As I march north, I catch a skittering noise from an alley. My lamp illuminates about a hundred beady red eyes at two feet above ground level.

Sprinting now, I’m shifting up and still accelerating. The morats pour out of the alley behind me, a living tidal wave breaking around and over the abandoned autos. Their claws tear at the heated asphalt and they bound after me. Each is easily as large as a border collie. Their kangaroo-like hind legs make for awesome leaps, from the ground to a car’s roof, sometimes clearing smaller vehicles entirely.

The genetically modified little bastards appeared out of the sewers at rush hour and took the city’s gridlocked commuter population down in hours. For all of their vicious nature, they’re remarkably quiet on the hunt and bloody fast. My feet bang away at the sidewalk like a machine-gun, and my best speed is just a hair better than the swarm bounding after me.

I bounce hard off a mailbox with a clang, and use the momentum to vault over an empty Hyundai with a parkour turn to the east. My weight leaves a handprint in the Korean-made hood.

The spire of St. Christopher’s is only a quarter mile down the street. I risk a head check. The tsunami of morat flesh is growing steadily larger, new hungry teeth and red eyes join the hunt with every alley and sewer grating I pass.

That gap between the crashed semis is just too narrow. Desperate, I plant my feet with a clang and make the sheer eight foot vertical leap to the roof of the cab on the right, and scramble over.

In the church, I slam the steel shutters closed and ignore the sound of thousands of hungry morats banging against them. I have faith that my extensive modifications will keep the bastards out.

Climbing the stairs to the bell tower, I shake out of the backpack. Close, but my cargo is secure. My mainspring will definitely need a good, long winding after that pursuit.

“Puss puss puss.” While I pour the milk, a dozen furballs climb over my titanium feet, mewling. Big Mama climbs out of her nest and laps at her bowl with a seismic purr.

Mokittens are just too adorable.

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495 words. In response to Finish That Thought prompt 2-45.

Whoo hoo! Grand Champion winner, thanks lyssa!

This tale now has a prequel, “Careful What You Select For.”