By Samantha McCalip
Last month, we linked a story challenge for the prefecture. Please read through the rules here! Unfortunately, I didn’t promote it well AT ALL, so I want to extend the deadline. Please get your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, May 13th! That gives you two weeks to write your story beginning!
In order to show you how it’s done, the head editor (Peter Underwood) and lowly column editor (me) have teamed up to mix’n’match our own stories for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
SAM BEGINNING/PETER ENDING
Vex cursed as a splat of ketchup landed on his keyboard. It was already barely functioning. He sopped up the red sauce with a corner of his bread, leaving some crumbs. Worse for the keys, in retrospect. Damn. If he weren’t starving, he’d have thrown the ketchup sandwich in frustration. However, he knew this was the last bread slice, the last tablespoon of ketchup. His stomach growled. It would do until payday.
He sighed, resuming his scouring. Maid? Easy. New tab. Dog walker? Less likely, but okay. New tab. Take out… hold up. Vex felt another glob of ketchup threaten to drip down. He brought his hand to his lips half-heartedly. The job was listed as “take out trash,” but it paid… a grand.
He clicked and read through, skimming, afraid it would disappear, its hefty reward claimed. “Blah blah blah, meet at Corbeau Estates, blah blah, discuss disposal, blah, half now, half when trash gone…”
Vex stuffed the rest of the “sandwich” into his mouth and typed out an immediate acceptance. He waited barely two seconds for a reply, and was so sure he’d been rejected that tomato-bile rose in his throat.
“Oh my god. You don’t know what this means to me. Thank you so much. Meet me in thirty minutes. — Benjamin,” Vex read. Huh. That’s… disconcerting, to say the least. But hey, five-hundred dollars!
“Alright, Benjamin. Must be some wicked garbage,” Vex mumbled, and was on his way out before his screensaver could even dim the laptop.
They met just as the sun dipped below the mountain, covering the Estates in shadow. Vex held out his hand.
“I’d… rather not shake hands, if that’s ok,” Benjamin stuttered.
“O-oh! Oh right. Okay sure.” Benjamin handed him a thick bundle of cash. Vex quickly flicked through it.
“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this,” Benjamin murmured, “but don’t look in the bag, right? Sorry, I mean, you’re a professional.”
Vex didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. He did however know that he had five hundred bucks in his hands. A good feeling. He put the cash in his pocket and picked up the heavy black sack.
The next day, Vex saw the missing persons report on local news. He turned the TV off and kept playing video games. Two days after that, they started a state-wide manhunt. Vex even joined in a couple of times, though it made his guts twist. The following week, police found Benjamin’s body crammed into a small dumpster on the other side of town. Vex heard the report on the radio, the theories about the message scrawled on the wall. Nobody knew what “He Tried To Throw Me Away” meant.
It was another two days before Vex heard a knock at the door. He bundled up the money in his weakened arms and flung it out the window. When the knocking turned into slow, deep scratching, he climbed over the sill and threw himself out too.
PETER BEGINNING/SAM ENDING
The first time, she had been fumbling, smashing ethereal waves and earth-bound compounds together, waiting for a sign that it was possible. It took a fortnight for that sign to appear–and another week for her to learn to sleep again.
The second time, she had been fumbling scientifically. She filled books with her coded scribbles, pushing against everything that told her to be afraid. She kept strange hours and stranger friends, but four years and a few secrets later, she saw it again. This time, it took her three days to return to sleep. She grinned the whole time. She was winning.
The third time came quickly, now she had an idea where to look. Once she had gathered the rarer, more questionable materials, she mixed everything on a hunch. Turned out four years of rigorous experimentation would turn you into an accomplished improviser. It was unstable, and it wasn’t at all right, but it was there. It was real.
This was the fourth time, and it was going to work.
She had an assistant this time. Someone with knowledge that they definitely shouldn’t have. Then again, she was building something she definitely shouldn’t be. The assistant would drop in the physical parts, while she managed the slow, undulating pulse of waves that assaulted the crystals around her. Occasionally the assistant would rotate a crystal an unknown fraction of a degree, and it made everything stronger, more interconnected, more like very thin wire poking through your skin.
As the dawn of the sixth month crept its rose-colored fingertips over her, she awoke knowing that this would be the day. It would finally work. Some innate version of herself, one she had kept locked away since this ordeal began, one that had ignored the tired crack of her brittle joints and the wearied sighs of her assistant–this part of her urged caution.
She fought it, forcing cheerfulness. Today was the day. Her assistant leaped forward, at her heels despite their obvious fatigue.
“It’s today,” she sighed, the strength in her voice tinged with a lack of faith that the assistant could feel, a void that caused them to stumble.
She walked to the machine, its facets and cogs whirring in anticipation. They moved as if in a trance, poking, prodding, twisting, until at last a desperate gasp escaped from the mechanical center. Light permeated her very core, touched her soul, as the experiment finally fell into place.
Residue, in a glass. It was dark honeyed brown, rich and thick. She walked forward, her assistant holding her breath. She tipped the glass to her lips, drinking deeply, and for a moment she thought she had accomplished her arcane task. But the taste on her tongue soured–filth–and she spat, sinking to her knees in a ragged retch.
“It shouldn’t be this hard,” she sobbed, smashing the half-filled cup against the cobbled floor. “It shouldn’t be this hard to make one freaking cup of coffee!”