Short Story Exercise: Escaping the Farm

(rolled a D12, took that number of random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top-to-bottom, wrote short story)

When Brandon came home from the bank, he walked straight past Daisy in the kitchen and entered his bedroom. There he emptied the envelope’s contents onto his old comforter and started counting. The teller had counted it, too, but he wanted to see it stacked, wanted to feel each piece of money in his hands. He formed a pile of twenties, a small pile of ones, then arranged the coins in descending stacks.

“So that’s what a summer of mowing lawns gets you,” Daisy said from the doorway, smiling and shaking her head in that sisterly condescending way.

Brandon crossed the room and shut the door in her face. She didn’t understand. Daisy had never had a problem taking money from their parents or their grandparents. But to Brandon, every cent he took hurt like a bruise, a mark of weakness and greed. He gazed at the money on his bed. He had earned every last cent himself, and no one could take that from him.

After a moment’s hesitation he toppled the neat stacks and swirled the money into a large pile. He pushed his fingers through it, squeezing an odd bunch of coins, crumpling a few bills together. He scooped it into his hands and rained it down onto the bed with a laugh. Satisfied, he gathered up his bounty and stashed it in the piggy bank hidden in his closet.

***

Brandon rose with the sun the next morning. There were chores to do before he left for school and the farm house was already humming with activity. Dancing around his siblings in the kitchen, Brandon managed to gulp down a mug of coffee and put a square of toast in his mouth before going outside. The older girls took care of the cow and the chickens and his little brother was on hog duty. Brandon was in charge of the sheep and horses. Their father was already in the fields riding the old John Deere and their mother, once breakfast was cleaned up, would tend to the dogs and the cats.

By the time his work was finished, Brandon barely had time to clean himself up and catch the bus. But he still rode to school with a smile on his face. This was the first day of his last year. One more school year, then he was free to leave.

After school he met up with two of his friends. They took turns riding a dirt bike until one of them managed to wreck it, dislocating his shoulder in the process. Brandon made it home in time for dinner, and then it was up to his room to count the money he’d been saving for years once again.

But when he pulled the giant plastic Coke bottle out of his closet, it was no longer full of money. In the poor light Brandon couldn’t tell exactly what was in the bank, but he knew his cash was gone…and he had an idea who took it. He hoisted the bottle over his shoulder and strode to Daisy’s room.

She was sitting on her bed painting her toenails with Katy Perry blasting from her stereo. 

“Give it back,” Brandon said, snapping the stereo off.

Daisy shrieked when she saw the Coke bottle. “No, don’t! I’m sorry, okay?! I thought it would be funny. Please don’t dump that in here!”

Still not knowing what was in the bottle, Brandon tipped it over her bed and said, “Give it back. Now. Or else.” He gave the bottle a little shake and a dead cockroach dropped onto her bedspread.

Daisy screamed and kicked, dumping nail polish onto the carpet. Brandon stared wide-eyed at the piggy bank. Now he could see the little legs, the brown masses, and he roared with laughter. Daisy tried to run out of the room, but Brandon blocked the exit, pointing the bank at her like a weapon. “Where’s my money?” he demanded.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!!!!” She yanked open her closet door and dug through piles of clothes, shoes, costume jewelry and old Barbies. Finally, she dragged out one of her tall boots and upended it. Coins and wads of cash fell onto the floor.

“Where did you even get this many dead cockroaches?” Brandon asked, curious.

“My boyfriend. He got them. And filled the bottle up,” she said, red faced.

“You have a…boyfriend?” Brandon’s voice dropped an octave. “What’s his name, and where is he right now?”

Daisy made an exasperated noise. “You’re so stupid! I can have a boyfriend if I want. I’m old enough.”

Brandon put the Coke bottle on her dresser and calmly picked up his money. What wouldn’t fit in his pockets he could carry in his hands. He stood and said, “I’ll give you one more chance. What’s his name, and where is he?”

Daisy stuck out her tongue.

Brandon shrugged, called out, “OOPS,” and hit the Coke bottle with his elbow. When it hit the ground, the lid broke off spilling hundreds of dead cockroaches onto the carpet. Daisy screamed louder than Brandon could laugh, but at least he had his money back.

***

The following spring, Brandon was ready to go. He’d graduated from high school and had packed the few things he wanted to keep in a single sturdy suitcase. He said goodbye to his sisters and spent an extra few minutes with his kid brother to give him a “you’re man of the house now” pep talk. His mother was crying and his dad, well, he gave him a gruff “See ya later, kid,” before passing him a sweaty twenty dollar bill. Brandon’s gut ached at the idea of taking the money from his father, but he swallowed his disgust and thanked him. With a final nod to his siblings, Brandon stepped onto the green and gray striped bus that would take him far from the farm, all the way to another planet.

***

Eight months later, Daisy got a package in the mail. When she realized it had shipped from New Venus, she squealed and ran to her mother who was in the backyard hanging laundry on the clothesline.

“Mama! It’s from Brandon!”

Mother gasped and hollered for the other kids to come and see what Brandon had sent. To date they had only received signed postcards and the occasional money order, always with a promise that he would send more when he could.

Once everyone was gathered around, Daisy opened the envelope taped to the box. Brandon wrote, “Daisy, here’s something I picked up for you that reminds me of home. Love, Brandon.” There was also a money order, made out to his mother, and another promise that more was on the way.

Daisy handed the papers to her mother then tore into the box. Inside she found chocolate brown tissue paper, folded and closed with a fancy foil sticker that read, “Dark Chocolate Confections.”

“Oh my gosh, yum!” Daisy ripped apart the paper…then screamed at the sight of a dozen eight-inch Venusian cockroaches, dipped in chocolate and covered with sprinkles.

rory-escaping-the-farm

Short Story Exercise: The Bugs on New Venus

(using the original set of Rory’s Story Cubes, I shook ’em up and dropped them on the table, arranged them in the order they fell top to bottom, and wrote a short story)

If there was one thing New Venus was famous for, it was the bugs. The insects that thrived on the blisteringly hot jungle planet were large, colorful, aggressive, and surprisingly tasty. In fact, the first successful locally owned business was Cho’s Chewy Blatts! Six-ounce bags of the sweet and salty treats disappeared from store shelves and were even highly sought after back on Earth. Other food companies have since descended on the planet, and now every conceivable type of food is made using Venusian insects and sold at high prices throughout the galaxy.

This consumption of insects was borne from necessity. There are indigenous stock animals on New Venus, like sheep and goats and something that resembles a pig. But they are smaller and more intelligent than their Earthly counterparts which makes them tough to catch, let alone domesticate. And so the immigrants survive by eating indigenous plants, insects, and food stuffs delivered from other planets. No one is hungry, but very few are satisfied with their new diet.

Carrie had refused to eat bugs from day one. She would raise her chin and loudly insist that all the bugs should be exterminated.

“Technically, the bugs are being killed…to feed us,” Aidan replied calmly.

Carrie hated his relaxed attitude. She hated the way he would try every new thing that was offered to him. She hated that he had taken a job on New Venus without even asking her first. And when he, calmly, told her that she didn’t have to go with him, she had burst into tears. And now she was living in this ugly dormitory with only freeze dried beef stew and ramen noodles to eat.

When she complained about that, Aidan would remind her that she could eat the local vegetables. But plants on New Venus were chock full of waxy fats to withstand the planet’s heat and humidity. Vegetarians on New Venus notoriously gained twenty pounds within their first month. Carrie wasn’t about to let that happen to her figure.

Before Aidan left for work that night, he kissed Carrie on the forehead and said, “You know, if you hate it here so much, you should just go home. It’s not like we’re married.”

“You want me to leave?” she sniffed.

He shrugged. “I think you should be happy.”

All alone and miserable, Carrie paced the apartment. She longed to go home, but she couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing Aidan again, or worse, seeing pictures online of Aidan with another woman. By midnight she was out the door and headed for the square. In an effort to avoid slashing and burning a large area, the company had arranged for the dormitories to be situated around a square. In it were the shops, offices, and  entertainment venues for the residents. The square was always open and always crowded. Carrie, stomach growling and drenched in sweat, marched across the square to the small shack in the northwest corner. There was only one sign on the door, a drawing of an eye.

Madame Serena had no other customers and listened patiently while Carrie described the ridiculous predicament she’d gotten herself into. When the girl finally stopped talking, Madame Serena patted her hand and said, “The fates tell me that you belong to Manhattan. A large, wealthy man waits for you there.”

“No!” Carrie wailed.

Madame Serena considered the girl, shrugged, and then waved her hands dramatically over the crystal ball on the table between them.

“Oh, look!” Madame Serena whispered. “There is another path you must take first.”

“Tell me!” Carrie cried.

“You will go on a journey,” Madame Serena said mysteriously. “You will cross a river, but do not let your feet touch the water. Then you must run, quickly, south, along the river bank. And when you cannot take another step, your heart’s desire will appear before you.”

Carrie stared at the old woman in horror. Run? Outside?

“Ah, our time is up,” Madame Serena said with a smile when the overhead light blinked on. “Good luck to you, child.”

Carrie regretted the seventy credits she had given the fortune teller. She trudged into the humid square with slumped shoulders. She didn’t even know if there were any rivers on New Venus, but the last thing she wanted to do was try to cross one. She wandered through the square, shying away from the endless vendors selling fried insects on sticks and congealed insects in cones and blended insect smoothies. She paid little attention as the path rose and fell signaling that she had, in fact, just crossed a bridge over a stream without getting her feet wet.

A flying orange earwig buzzed in her face. Carrie shrieked and swatted it away. Then she saw a crazed black billy goat running towards her from the thicket of palms. Panicked, Carrie turned south and ran through the crowd. Her fashionable stiletto heels prevented her from getting very far before she had to drop onto a bench, panting and sobbing.

Suddenly people were running around, pointing to the sky and shouting. Carrie looked up to see a man frantically waving and kicking as he descended on a torn parachute directly above her. The last thing Carrie heard was a man shouting, “Watch out!”

Paramedics rushed Carrie to the army field hospital where Aidan was called. When the doctor explained to him that Carrie’s head injury was too severe to treat on New Venus, Aidan signed the release forms to have her frozen and sent home to Manhattan.

rory-bugs-new-venus

Short Story Exercise: The Search for Buried Treasure

(rolled a D12, pulled that number of assorted Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table and arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Sluuurnk!

Silas cursed under his breath as the magnet plunged deeper into the mud. He pushed his boots into the soggy ground on either side of the red horseshoe, laced his gloved hands around the bend, and pulled. He grunted and pushed with his legs, pulled with his hands. But the magnet would not let go.

“More water,” Silas muttered.

Shannon shook her head at her husband, but poured another bucket full of water over the magnet anyway. “Ask me, the mud’s just goin’ to make it worse.”

“Nobody asked you!” Silas stamped the water into the ground. “Give me that, what is it? A stick?”

Shannon handed him the piece of wood she’d been using in her boredom to draw circles in the dirt. Silas jabbed holes into the ground around the magnet. That just might work, Shannon thought to herself, knowing she’d never say such a thing out loud.

On his knees now, Silas forced the magnet back and forth in the mud, pulling upwards. With a satisfying thlock! the magnet popped out of the mud sending Silas toppling over onto his back. He howled with laughter and clutched the muddy thing to his chest. “Only took three hours!” he hollered. “How long did Seamus say he tried?”

“Couple a days,” Shannon said.

Still laying on the ground, Silas raised the magnet and handed it to his wife.  “Here, put it in the saddle bag. Don’t want it stickin’ itself back in the mud!”

Shannon took the thing and was surprised by its heavy weight. Skeptical as ever she lowered it into Silas’s saddle bag and fastened the clip. “Will amount to nothin’, ask me.”

“I’ll remind you a that when we dig up the gold and spend the rest a our days fartin’ through silk!”

“Yes, dear,” Shannon said. She gathered up the bucket and the shovel and packed everything back onto the sled. Silas went to the hand-crank water pump to rinse as much mud off himself as he could while Shannon pulled her leather gloves back on and retied the bonnet under her chin.

“Did you fill the canteens?” Silas asked as he mounted his horse.

“Aye.”

He gave a curt nod to his wife and said, “If you can keep up, we should reach the tree by supper time.”

“I’m right behind you,” Shannon said, stepping into the makeshift travois and tying the poles to the belt on her hips.

Silas mounted his horse and rode off at a gallop. Shannon adjusted the brim of her bonnet to shield her eyes from the sun, then stepped forward pulling the sled behind her. The further ahead Silas rode, the more relaxed Shannon became. Her strong back and solid thighs could, and had, pull the travois clear until the next morning without so much as a water break. She knew her young sister would have bawled at the thought of doing such work, but Shannon saw it as a refuge from the demands of her life. Alone with her burden, she was free to gaze at the passing wildflowers, sing her favorite hymns without Silas mocking her wretched voice, and occasionally she even dared to unhook the load so that she could roll in the prairie grass and pick wild berries.

Following Silas’s trail was easy. He was chasing the sun and never gave a moment’s thought to covering his tracks. Shannon came upon him just as the sun was beginning to set. He had lashed the horse to a nearby fallen log and laid out his blanket to take a nap beneath the enormous sycamore tree that was their destination.

Shannon settled the sled and watered the horse. She found an old fire pit and quickly got two small logs smoldering in order to cook their supper. By the time Silas awoke, she had laid out their camp and had a pot of beans with shredded pork ready for him to eat.

“Thank you, wife,” Silas said after a few bites. “I see you’ve had a productive day.”

“Was a nice walk,” she agreed. “When’s the big show?” she asked, gesturing towards the tree with her spoon.

“When the moon’s out, that’s when.”

They finished their meal. Shannon shared some of the raspberries she’d picked that afternoon with her husband, then she tidied up the dishes and checked that the horse was fed and clean. For his part, Silas circled their campsite with his rifle at the ready, scouting for any hostiles who might interfere with his search for the gold. Satisfied, he stowed his weapon and retrieved the magnet from his saddlebag.

They sat by the fire and waited for the moon. When the silver glint of the crescent moon satisfied Silas, he rose and walked towards the great tree with the magnet held in front of him like a divining rod.

“Map says it be two feet from the ground, but the tree ought’ve grown since then!” Silas called out.

“Being that it’s a mystical thing, surely it’d stay in the same spot,” Shannon countered.

He considered this, and began to raise and lower the magnet as he circled the smooth trunk.  On his fifth lap, Silas became impatient. The moon would not stay in its proper place much longer and he needed desperately to find the fated spot before the moon moved out of place for another month. He noticed then that Shannon was standing next to him, her face scrunched as though she’d eaten something sour.

“What is that?” she whispered, pointing to a pair of twisted gray knots at eye level in the patchy bark.

Silas tilted his head, then raised the magnet. It shot out of his hands and latched to the tree. Chips of bark fell to the ground as the magnet wiggled back and forth, digging its way deep into the trunk.

“You’ve found it, wife. This is it!”

They watched as the magnet wriggled further into the tree. Mulched wood belched out of the hole, engulfing the magnet fully into the tree. And then it stopped. No more sounds of crunching wood, no more wood dust. Silas looked up to see the moon covered by a wisp of a cloud.

“No!” he raged.

Shannon’s shoulders dropped. Silas ran for the travois, found his ax and hurried back to the tree. He swung it into the hole and chopped away, cursing the moon with every blow. But in the dark, Silas missed his mark again and again. The force of throwing the ax so high gnawed at his back and his hands cramped under the force of his grip. Shannon sat next to the fire and waited for his energy to run out. When it finally did, Silas dropped the ax and retreated to the fire, sinking to his knees in front of his wife.

When his breathing became even, Shannon asked, “Could we burn the tree down?”

He considered that for a moment and said, “No.” He pulled the tattered treasure map from his pocket and unfolded it for his wife to see. “Might not be gold in the tree. Could be another map. Could be…anything. Can’t risk destroying it.”

“I’m sorry, love,” Shannon said, gently rubbing his back. “Don’t think I’d a cared for the smell of farty silk anyhow.”

“You silly woman,” Silas said affectionately. He let her wash his face and his hands, and finally bundle him into his bed roll. He stared at the glowing embers in the fire as Shannon washed his old socks in the pot, and eventually he drifted off to sleep.

Shannon found that she couldn’t sleep that night. She finished all of the washing, brushed the horse, and even whittled a new spoon for herself. But there was still no hint of dawn, and Silas’s quiet snore assured her they would not be leaving anytime soon.

Finally she picked herself up and made her way to the creek she’d heard babbling away all night. She refilled their canteens and, on a whim, stripped down to her underthings and gave herself a bath. When she finished, she lay on a large rock upstream. The chill in the air made her shiver, but the rock itself was warm, as though it still held heat from the sun. Despite the cold and her undressed state, Shannon started to feel dozy. Her eyelids became heavy, and after a few minutes she fell asleep.

Shannon awoke at dawn. The birds were singing and a cold breeze reminded her she wasn’t dressed. She sat up with a start when she smelled frying bacon and warm honey. Scrambling off the rock, she gathered up her clothes and hurried back to their campsite.

“Good morning, love!” Silas called out.

Shannon nearly fainted at the sight of her husband cooking breakfast. She carefully walked back into camp, wondering what trickery this was. Silas rose to his feet and met her halfway. “I’ll take these,” he said, pulling the bundle of full canteens from her hands. “Get dressed, my dear. You’ll catch cold!”

He carried the canteens back to the sled and left Shannon to dress herself in the field. When she finished lacing her boots, she moved to the fire and found a pan filled with crispy bacon and a pot loaded with honey-sweetened porridge. Silas returned and filled a plate with food, and Shannon nearly fainted again when he passed the plate to her along with her new spoon.

“That’s nice work, that,” Silas said of the spoon before filling his own plate with food.

“What’s happened to you?” Shannon whispered.

Silas smiled at his wife, then gestured to the piece of ancient linen Shannon hadn’t even realized she was sitting next to.

“What is that?”

“Found it by the tree this morning.”

Shannon looked to the tree. She stared at the enormous, gaping hole, and the splintered bark surrounding it. Her eyes lowered to the bottom of the tree where the red horseshoe magnet sat on a pile of wood dust.

“Open it,” Silas whispered.

Shannon carefully set her plate on the ground and lifted the cloth to reveal an iron casket with rusty edges and a newly broken lock. Truly curious now, Shannon lifted the lid.

“Oh Silas!” she gasped, her eyes brimmed with tears. She looked across the fire at her husband. He was holding the old treasure map, a flame licking at the corner.

“Won’t be needin’ it anymore, you see,” Silas said with a wink.

rory-search-for-buried-treasure

Short Story Exercise: Who Needs Peer Review?

(pulled six random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Bobbie rotated the brown hulk in her gloved hands, searching for the optimal place to extract her sample. If her theory was correct, it wouldn’t matter which part of the fossilized dinosaur bone she took, but she didn’t want to destroy too much of the university’s sample.

She was also keenly aware of Peter standing behind her chair. He remained silent as she ground off bits of bone with the drill and swept the powder into a yellow liquid. Bobbie had spent the last eight months perfecting the formula and it was time to see if her hard work would pay off. Trace amounts of smoke hissed from the liquid as Bobbie gently mixed in the powder.

“Here you are,” Peter said with a flourish as he placed a teflon coated glass tray in front of her.

“Oh,” Bobbie smiled at him quickly, “thank you.”

Peter leaned casually against the table, arms folded. “You don’t really think this is going to work, do you?”

She shrugged and carefully poured the yellow goo onto the tray. “Either it will, or I will have proven that it won’t.” When the last bit fell onto the tray Bobbie’s eyes widened as the mixture spread itself evenly across the smooth surface. She felt heat rising from it immediately. Tingling with excitement she stood to prep the oven. Once her back was turned the terrible noise of breaking glass stopped her in her tracks.

A large piece of coprolite had miraculously appeared in the middle of the newly smashed tray. Yellow gel splattered the walls and still more was actively flowing onto the floor. Bobbie glared at Peter.

He smirked. “Shit, as they say, happens, sweetheart.”

“Why did you do that?!” she roared. “It was working! It was already reacting, and now I have to start all over–“

“Listen, Babs, what do you think you’re doing? You think you can remake a movie or something? You think that little rich guy with his frozen amber mosquito cane is going to come sweep you off your feet?”

“As it happens,” Bobbie replied coldly, “I’ve already had offers for patents and licensing rights. Not from Richard Attenborough’s ghost, but real people who could actually afford their own island stocked with extinct animals.”

Peter shoved the rest of the tray to the ground and jabbed his finger on Bobbie’s shoulder. “Don’t you do it. Dinosaurs are extinct for a reason. They can’t survive here. Their climate was as inhospitable as they were. I’m talking awful, smelly swamps.”

Bobbie took a moment to consider that. Then she said, “But what if they tasted super good? A T-rex would feed a lot of people.”

“Excuse me,” a timid voice called from the doorway.

The grad students turned to see their professor’s wife standing in the doorway of the lab. It was obvious she had been crying. She was clutching a baseball bat.

“Hey, Mrs. Torrance,” Peter said easily. “What’cha got there?”

She looked at the wooden bat in her hand and whispered, “I was just looking for my husband.” Her bloodshot eyes fixed on Bobbie. “He works too hard, you know. I was just thinking,” she sniffed, “he could play baseball with me.”

rory-peer-review

Short Story Exercise: What Goes Down

(pulled 3 random Rory’s Story Cubes [finally got two of the Batman ones!], shook ’em up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Mark pushed the goggles tight against his face and started to climb the rocky slope next to the waterfall. There was no moon and he couldn’t risk a flashlight, so he moved with his arms thrust forward and clumsily navigated his way across the moss covered rocks.

By the time he reached the top of the waterfall, Mark had sprained both ankles, cracked a few ribs, and had a bleeding gash on his chin.

“But there ain’t no water in my eyes,” he said to no one in particular and tapped on the plastic lenses.

Moving under the waterfall, Mark climbed, or rather, slipped a few feet back down the hillside with water hammering against his back. The cold water numbed his fingers and caused him to shiver so violently he nearly bounced off the rocks, straight down into the river. He clung to the boulder closest to him, teeth chattering, his joints frozen stiff. Carefully he extended his right arm. He bounced his fist on this rock, then that one. Nothing happened. So he slithered further down the slimy rocks. Mark couldn’t see the river, but he could sure hear it roaring mere feet below him.

If this is just a gag Nygma made up… Mark didn’t have time to finish the thought.

The gushing water caught the vinyl strap of his goggles, tearing them from his head. Mark recoiled against the rocks, slamming his hip against the exact hidden button he had been searching for.

Mark screamed as he dropped through the trapdoor into darkness. A cloud of water vapor descended with him. He flailed his arms, trying to slow his fall, and his hand struck a solid rock making an awful crunch sound. Mark howled in pain. The sound echoed all around him.

“Ooof!” he grunted as he hit bottom face down. Whatever he landed on was squishy and stank of rubber. In the soft glow of the cave, Mark looked to see what he was laying on. His stomach seized and he pushed his fist into his mouth to stop the vomit.

But then he got a closer look.

“What in the…” Mark picked up the piece right under his face. It was just one of the Bat-creep’s gloves. It had a blood-stained tear across the palm and one finger looked like it had melted. He surveyed the pile. All around him were discarded bits of Bat-suit, and every single one of them had some carnage splattered on it. Mark was particularly satisfied by the cape he found covered in brownish, smelly gunk. He dug through the torn pieces of suits, his head rocking back and forth with hysterical laughter.

There were gray pieces and blue pieces and yellow pieces and black pieces. And some pieces looked like they had nipples on them. Mark twisted those bits and rubbed them on any cowls he could find. He completely forgot why he was there and instead scavenged through the pile looking for one of the legendary belts.

“Belty-belts, where’s the belts, gonna get a belt…the belts got the toys, and the belts got the joys, and the belts got the boom-boom…” He sat back on his haunches. “Oh yeah. Boom-booms.”

Mark grabbed a blue-gray pair of shorts from the pile and pulled them on over his clothes. Then he limped off towards light. Security cameras were mounted strategically through the caves. Mark waved his broken hand at the first one. To the second he blew a raspberry. And finally he shoved his good hand down the front of his new shorts and honked at every other camera he saw.

All the way to the right, Eddie had said. Mark longed to mess with the car parked up on that plinth, and he really, really wanted to rearrange all of the cables that ran between the massive computers. Alas, it was never meant to be.

He went to the right. All the way to the right. And there it was. Shelf after shelf of diffused bombs, confiscated weapons, spray paint cans, cattle prods, chemistry sets. Mark noted sourly the huge pile of stolen cash the Bat-creep had managed to keep. His shoulders dropped. If only I could take some of it with me.

Mark grabbed a bundle of dynamite with a basic fuse from the shelf and wandered back towards the car and the computer. He hummed Peter and the Wolf as he worked, expertly fixing the wiring on the dynamite and resetting the timer. He arranged the contraption precisely on the support beam Nygma had recommended.

Job done, Mark limped back towards the pile of discarded Bat-suits, honking his junk as he passed the Bat-car for good measure. He snaked his way underneath the suits, pulling on a cowl and wrapping himself in one of the kevlar capes just in case. In less than a minute the bomb would go off, and then…

Mark’s eyes opened. Nygma never said how he was supposed to get out of the cave.

img_1384

Short Story Exercise: The Absence of Choice

(had Jason draw 3 random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Alex and Marta waited together in the lobby, each too nervous to peruse the pamphlets and magazines carefully arranged on tables around them. Marta twisted her hands in her lap while Alex, foot anxiously tapping on the floor, chewed his fingernails. They both jumped when the nurse called out, “Adamson!”

They stood and slowly walked past the other anxious couples waiting in the lobby. The nurse eyed them coolly over her clipboard, making note of the way Alex trailed behind his wife. The nurse gestured to the fingerprint reader and, having confirmed their identities, pushed open the heavy door and led them into the hallway. Walking briskly she said over her shoulder, “Stay to the right, please.”

Instrumental music looped in the speakers above them. The Adamson’s did not speak as they followed the nurse deeper into the building. The hallway was windowless and every door they passed was closed. Propaganda posters decorated the stained walls. The first one filled Alex with such dread he decided not to read any of the others. Finally, the nurse stopped outside an open door and motioned the couple inside. The doctor was seated behind a metal desk, scribbling on a yellow legal pad. Folders were piled on either side of the desk and metal boxes stacked four feet high crowded the floor. Marta took a seat in one of the rickety chairs, but Alex chose to stand.

“Doctor,” the nurse said quietly. The man waved his hand at her without looking up. She nodded, deposited her paperwork in front of him, and exited the room, closing the door behind her.

Alex wondered vaguely if the nurse had locked them inside. Marta was focused on the small red safe sitting on the desk in front of her. She had been dreading this moment ever since…well, ever since they had arrived.

The doctor dropped his pen and glanced over his glasses at the couple in front of him. “Exciting day for you two,” he mumbled, dragging the red safe across the desk so that it was facing him. Without looking up, the doctor quickly examined their file. “Hmmph.”

The Adamson’s said nothing. The doctor hummed a tuneless melody as he spun the dial on the safe. He pulled the numbers from their file and twisted the knob this way then that way. “Moment of truth, folks.” He turned the safe so that it was again facing the Adamson’s. “Let’s see if you can open it.”

Marta folded her arms tightly across her chest and shook her head. Alex leaned forward, grasped the handle, and turned it. With an ominous click, the door swung open. Marta whimpered and Alex leaned back against the wall. While the couple stared at the squirming pink bundle of blankets inside, the doctor began making notes on their paperwork.

“Let’s see,” the doctor said. “Marta, if you would?” He pressed his lips together and waited.

“I can’t,” she whispered, tears brimming her eyes. 

“You can,” he said, not unkindly. “As it said in the instructional pamphlet delivered to your home, once you hold the…child…and maintain eye contact for the count of five, the oxytocin will flow and you will feel love for your new…let’s see…daughter.” He pushed his glasses up his nose and looked at the couple. “You understand there is only one alternative?”

Alex met the man’s eyes, then turned to his wife. “Marta. We’ve been chosen. Everything will be okay.” He put his hand on her back and nudged her forward.

“Not like this,” she whispered.

“Marta. Please. We either die…or we,” Alex gestured to the safe. “They said we can raise her however we like. She’ll love us. She’ll be ours.”

“IT’S NOT EVEN HUMAN! IT’S A MONSTER! IT DOESN’T BELONG HERE!” Marta screamed and jumped up, overturning the ancient chair. The door was locked. There were no windows. Alex held out his hands and made soothing sounds, but Marta dropped to the floor and scrambled to a corner. She curled into a ball, covered her face and cried, shrinking away from the hand gently patting her back.

Alex wrestled a hand from her face. The doctor stood behind him, holding the open red safe. Alex pushed Marta’s hand inside, underneath the cotton blanket. Her body racked with sobs, but Alex persisted. Keeping the child atop Marta’s hand, he pulled the bundle out of the safe and moved it to Marta’s chest.

“No,” she moaned.

“Open your eyes, sweetie.”rory-absence-of-choice

Short Story Exercise: The Perils of Desert Photography

(pulled three random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table and arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Ward McPheeters adjusted the filters on his camera and snapped two more photographs of the majestic saguaro cacti as the sun slowly set behind them. Ward captured photos of each color changing phase, mostly using digital photography but sometimes he used the film camera he had mounted to another tripod. People paid more for film photos these days. He whispered sweet nothings to the clouds that passed lazily through the frame, spiking the value of each lovely picture.

click “That’s my car payment.”

click “Hm, that might cover the power bill.”

click “One step closer to retirement, yessiree.”

You see, pictures of this valley fetched a good price because no one else was willing to shoot these particular cacti. The beauty of this saguaro-filled valley, especially at sunset, was legendary. But getting there required a level of fearlessness and determination that was becoming more and more uncommon. From the nearest town, you drive eighty miles on a lonely highway. Keep your eyes peeled or you’ll miss the wide spot where a roadside marker informs passersby of the area’s violent history. Southern Arizona has been through its share of conquerors, but this particular battlefield was one of the bloodiest.

There you’ll leave your car and head out on foot for a ten mile hike. Be mindful of the sinkholes, cliffs, and loose rock, not to mention the snakes and the lizards and the spiders. And if you do manage to trip and fall, odds are you’ll land in a prickly bed of cactus. There are enough rocks and cacti in this valley to keep motorized vehicles out, and only the most experienced horsemen dare ride through this part of the desert.

Ward was no horseman, and he didn’t own a motorcycle or a four-wheeler. No, he’d abandoned his Prius at the wide spot that morning, then carried a framed backpack loaded with cameras, film, data cards, batteries, filters, lenses, tripods, a collapsible chair, and what he imagined to be plenty of food and water, to this quintessential spot. And as the sun finally sank beneath the horizon, Ward believed his hike had been worth it.

He continued to snap pictures until the sky reached full dark, then Ward sat back in his chair and took a long drink of water. He tipped his head back to gaze at the stars peaking through the clouds. If it had been a clear night he could take shots of the Milky Way, but clouds were no good for night shots. Ward closed his eyes and stretched his torso from side to side. The desert inhabitants sang their nighttime noises all around him as the temperature plummeted.

Strapping on his head lamp, Ward stowed his gear while humming an old Marty Robbins tune. With a sigh he hoisted the pack onto his back, checked the compass to get his bearings, and then set out for the road.

Even though the pack was lighter than it had been that morning, now that the food and water was all but consumed, the pack weighed heavily on his shoulders. Fatigue set in and Ward had to focus on step after treacherous step. Lizards darted away from his light, insects screeched and buzzed in his ears, and the jagged rocks seemed to roll right into his path, daring him to look away from his feet.

When he nearly tripped over a bit of dead sage brush, Ward slapped himself in the face and started to sing the Beverly Hillbillies theme song. If he couldn’t remember a word, he made up a new one and sang louder. Eventually he added six new verses with a chorus in between. He chuckled to himself and thought, “I’m on a real adventure! I hope I remember these lyrics later so I can write ’em down…”

He inhaled the crisp night air and was just about to start a new verse when he realized that he was the only thing making noise. The desert surrounding him was suddenly silent. Ward froze in place and quickly snapped off his light.

There were no sounds. No screeches. No skitters. No buzzes. His own breathing now seemed to thunder in his ears. Ward covered his mouth with one hand and held his breath, listening.

Behind him, on his right side, he thought he heard a soft thunp.

Sweat spread across his forehead and he felt a deep tremble in his stomach.

thunp!

He had no weapons, not even pepper spray. People always told him that just making noise will keep any night predators away. Night predators… Ward straightened as the idea formed in his head. Again he heard the creature, whatever it was, take another step towards him. As quietly as possible, Ward pulled the small, backup digital camera from its pouch on the side of his pack. The camera didn’t take the richest pictures, but it had a very bright flash. Night predators wouldn’t like a bright light.

thunp!

Ward swiveled carefully on one foot until he was facing the thing’s general direction. He took a deep breath and raised the camera, one finger on the capture button and his other hand poised above the switch on his head lamp. Deep breath.

*FLASH*

Ward screamed and shouted, “Chupacabra!!”

He whirled and ran, flinging the digital camera to the weeds. Screaming with hysteria, Ward leapt over cacti and rocks, fumbling for the cell phone in his pocket. He pressed the home button and brought the thing to his face. “No service!” he wailed.

Ward stumbled but somehow managed to keep his feet beneath him. He unclipped his pack and let it fall from his shoulders. The ground vibrated with sickening thuds as the beast pursued him. A loose rock rolled underneath his boot and Ward’s face rushed towards the sandy dirt. His light went out. And the rest…is simply too gruesome to tell.rory-perils-of-desert-photography

Short Story Exercise: The Forbidden Forest

(had Jason roll a D12, took that number of random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table and arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

A cold winter breeze shook the quaking aspens causing their leaves to tremble. Sherilyn yanked the zipper of her jacket to the top. “How much longer do we have to be out here?”

Karen laughed and grabbed her hand. “Isn’t this fun?  Aren’t you having the best time? I told you to dress warmly!” She tugged on her kid sister’s hand and ran faster down the trail.

“You’re going too fast! And my feet hurt.”

“Hey, do you remember that time when we were kids and Leslie tricked us into eating those dragon flies? Remember, she said they would make our boobs bigger?”

Sherilyn stumbled and jerked her hand away. “Yes. All of my sisters are comedians.”

“But do you remember what they tasted like? I know mine wiggled around a ton.”

“Mine tasted burnt.”

Karen howled at that and skipped ahead on the trail. Sherilyn shoved her hands deep into her pockets and followed slowly. The trail dipped and rose, and the wind didn’t let up. It twisted her hair into knots and blew strands into her eyes. She wished for the hundredth time that she’d worn a hat, or better yet, refused to go hiking. When Sherilyn finally caught up to Karen, she found her taking selfies next to a fallen tree.

“Can we go home now? It’s getting dark.”

“Wha–” She dropped the phone onto her face. “Ouch!”

Sherilyn smirked and turned back. After a few minutes her sister caught up, her eyes glued to the screen on her phone. Karen was carefully adjusting the filter on her selfie to better accentuate her cheekbones. As they trudged up a particularly steep hill, a glint of white off to the left caught Sherilyn’s eye.

She elbowed her sister and asked, “What do you think that is?”

Karen frowned at the object and marched towards it, shoving her phone into her pocket. There were dead leaves and fallen branches barricaded around the thing, and as Sherilyn got closer she could see a rusted white fender peeking out. Karen yanked at the leaves and sticks, uncovering the car.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Sherilyn warned.

“Why not?”

Sherilyn circled the mound while Karen continued to dig. It looked like the car had been deliberately buried, but what she couldn’t figure out was how it had gotten this far into the forest through all of these trees. The aspen grew so close together there was no way the car had been driven back here.

“The windshield is broken!” Karen said. “And…gross…looks like somebody’s in here.”

“Stop touching it! We need to call the police. Your fingerprints will contaminate the crime scene.”

Karen groaned. “Seriously, you need to stop watching those CSI shows. This car is old. They won’t even be able to get fingerprints off the dead driver.”

“Still, you should to stop messing with it.”

“Fine.” Karen pulled her phone out of her pocket, opened the camera, and then raised it high above her head to take another selfie. But when she looked up, her eyes widened and she let out a blood curdling scream.

“What? What?”

Karen continued shriek, backing away from the car, her eyes fixed on the branches above their heads. Sherilyn looked up, and her jaw dropped to her chest.

A fully clothed skeleton dangled from broken branches, its mouth hanging open.

rory-forbidden-forest

Short Story Exercise: Zadie Phones Home

(rolled a D12, took that number of Rory’s story cubes, shook ’em up, lined them out in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Zadie giggled and shook her golden locks out of her face. Tor remained on his cot, stoic as ever.

“This is good news,” Zadie insisted, reaching through the bars of the cell towards him.

“No touch!” the guard yelled.

“I’m not,” Zadie replied sweetly, then turned back to her man. “Tor!  Look at me.”

The beaten warrior shook his head, his gaze trained on the cracks in the stone floor. He would be staring at this floor for the rest of his days, no matter what Zadie said. She could no more remove him from this dungeon than he could fly through the wall.

“You will see,” she whispered, then she blew him a kiss goodbye.

***

Clipping one of her golden curls and delivering it to the witch had been no trouble at all. Finding the hunchback had been easy. And now Zadie waited patiently with her bucket for the goat to give her the last thing she needed. Ten minutes later, her bucket filled with steaming scat, Zadie hurried back to the witch’s cottage. 

Having delivered all the goods, the witch gave her a map, a shovel, and a key. The full moon led Zadie through the trees near the creek, as detailed on the map. In the still night air, the sounds of the forest echoed in her ears. Rustling leaves, snapping twigs, and the overwhelming silence of all life informed Zadie she was being followed. She maintained her pace and resolutely balanced the shovel on her shoulder. And then she whistled a popular tune in the wrong key. Before long, the beast gave up its pursuit and Zadie was left alone once more.

She rounded the dome-shaped hill and found the stunted tree. Zadie plunged her shovel into the muddy ground and began to dig. Thankfully, the pirate who buried the treasure had been in a hurry. Zadie was yet to break a sweat when her shovel struck the wooden chest. 

Using her hands now, she freed the top of the chest from the earth and then used a hairpin to remove mud from the lock. But the key didn’t fit. Zadie didn’t even hesitate and began striking the box with the pointy tip of her shovel. As she splintered the wood, light erupted from inside.

***

When Zadie returned home, she carefully cleansed her body and set her hair in curls. Feeling content, she laid down to sleep. The sun awoke her promptly at dawn, and she completed her preparations. 

She arrived at the castle an hour later, and as before was immediately granted access to the dungeon to visit her beloved. The guards did not look in her basket, nor did they notice the pleased look in Zadie’s eyes. She wound her way through the tunnels, offering a smile to every guard she passed. When she finally reached Tor’s cell, she found his guard dozing slightly. She tapped on his chest and he awoke with a snort.

“Good morning,” Zadie said.

He glared back at her. “I was having a nice dream.”

“Oh I am sorry,” Zadie said, setting her basket on the floor. “Let me make amends.”

She cupped her hands around the large man’s ears and began to sing, loudly and off-key. The guard, bewildered and annoyed, couldn’t bring himself to strike the pretty woman or even to remove her hands from his ears. She moved closer to him, her voice rising in volume and in pitch until finally the guard screamed in agony and collapsed to the ground.

Satisfied, Zadie removed the treasure from her basket and carefully turned it over in her hands. The witch’s instructions had been vague. Zadie pushed on the red spot, but nothing happened. She tried to move the silver lever but only succeeded in bending her thumb backwards. 

“Ow!” she cried, putting her thumb in her mouth.

“Pass it to me,” Tor said, his hand extended through the bars.

Zadie shoved the object into his hand and backed away, her eyes on the guard who was still sobbing and clutching his ears. Tor expertly manipulated the device and a brilliant blue glow filled the dungeon. The guard on the floor felt immediate relief from the pain in his head, but in the same instant found that he could not move. Every guard in the castle had been paralyzed, while Tor’s fellow inmates simply fell asleep.

Suddenly a strange being appeared next to Zadie. It had large, dark eyes, pale gray skin, and wore a blood red cloak. The blue light glinted off the being’s hairless head as it turned to focus on Zadie.

“She’s with me,” Tor said gruffly.

The being closed its eyes and vanished. The blue light remained…and Zadie realized that her surroundings were now transparent. The bars that separated her from Tor remained, yet she could see through them. In fact, she could see straight through the walls of his cell, and looking up she could see through the ground, to the sky…and beyond to the nighttime sky.

“Take my hand,” Tor said.

Zadie stepped forward and placed her hand in his. Tor leaned back and, pulling Zadie along with him, flew through the dungeon wall, up through the earth, and into the sky. Zadie watched the village shrink beneath them and laughed.

***

Later, Zadie and Tor were enjoying a stroll on Tor’s home planet. They stopped on a bridge and Tor asked, “Would you like to get a magnifying glass and burn some ants?”

rory-zadie-posted

Short Story Exercise: Melanie and Mitch

(wrote a short story using these Rory’s Story Cubes)

Melanie felt the cruel jerk on her shoulder and before she knew what was happening the strap of her purse was yanked down her arm. Quickly she bent her elbow and grabbed for the bag with her other hand.

“Help!” Melanie yelled.

The purse snatcher was strong. He tugged at the bag again, wrenching Melanie’s shoulder and forcing her elbow to straighten. She kicked at the man and continued crying out for help. But it was too late. With a kick to her hip the man knocked Melanie off her feet and into the fountain, then disappeared with her purse into the uncaring crowd.

She sat up in the water, gasping for air. Every part of her body sang out in pain. Using the sleeve of her wool sweater Melanie wiped at her face. The chlorine stung her eyes and there was water in her right ear. Carefully she made her way to the edge where an elderly gentleman with kind eyes offered her his cane.

“Thank you,” she said, putting one hand on the cane while the other gripped the tiled edge. She couldn’t refuse the man, but if she actually pulled on his cane he was sure to topple into the water with her, frail as he looked.

“I’m sorry, miss,” he said.

“It wasn’t your fault.” She stepped out of the fountain, water cascading from her. “Thanks for your help.” Melanie gingerly sat on a nearby bench. She managed to smile at the man and began squeezing out her hair. He tapped his cap and walked away, leaning heavily on his cane. Once his back was turned Melanie checked herself for injuries. Her forehead and hands were scraped, and her knees were badly bruised but they didn’t appear to be bleeding. Not yet anyway. Melanie stood carefully, did her best to straighten her soggy clothes, then she hobbled towards the nearest building in search of a restroom and a free telephone.

The building turned out to be a hotel, and the front desk clerk was quick to point Melanie towards the lobby bathroom. Moments later the clerk delivered a first aid kit and some towels. She must think I’m a guest, Melanie thought to herself, grateful for small favors. Looking in the mirror she cleaned her wounds and silently mourned her torn sweater, and her missing purse with its cellphone and credit cards, of course.

The clerk was more than happy to let Melanie place a phone call from the front desk. She was on hold with the police department when a handsome man entered the lobby, her purse in his hands. Before she could speak the man spotted her and, smiling wide, moved in her direction.

“There you are!” he said. “You know I looked everywhere for you. Oh, that’s quite a gash on your forehead.” He set her purse on the counter and peered at her injury. “We need to clean that.”

“I already did,” Melanie said, her mind swimming with relief at seeing her purse, and embarrassment at looking like a wet rat in this man’s presence.

“Glad to hear it.” He cocked his head to the side. “Are you okay? Is that a stupid question?”

Melanie hung up the phone. “Stupid question,” she whispered.

“Everything should be there. Please check it, though. You’ll be happy to know the bastard who did this to you is in custody.” He smiled proudly. “I managed to drag his ass to one of the constables on a horse. We took your name from your driver’s license. He said they’ll call you later for a statement. It’s Melanie right?” He extended his hand.

She put her shaking hand in his and he squeezed it gently.

“My name is Mitch.”

“Thank you.”

“Melanie, would you let me buy you a slice? You look like you could use some food.”

With a flush of pleasure she nodded and collected her bag. A quick glance inside proved that her wallet, her phone, her various feminine products and her baggie filled with almonds, all were accounted for. Replacing the bag on her shoulder Melanie hooked her arm through Mitch’s without a second thought. They were halfway to the pizza place before she realized what she’d done. She looked up at his face. He had a strong profile and faint laugh lines around his eyes. Feeling her gaze he turned towards her and winked.

Half Moon Pie was bustling. Melanie ordered a slice of pepperoni and Mitch ordered a mushroom slice and two beers. He picked up the check and ushered her outside to a small table. They ate in silence, sharing the occasional smile. When she finished eating, Mitch asked, “Can I call you sometime?”

Melanie happily gave him her phone number and thanked him again for his help. They said their good-byes, Mitch promised that she’d hear from him again soon, and then Melanie headed home. She barely noticed the dampness of her clothes and was no longer concerned about her messy hair. Getting her purse snatched had been an awful experience, but at least the afternoon had turned out pretty good.

That is, until she returned to her apartment and found that her keys were no longer in her bag.

Rory Melanie and Mitch POSTED