Monthly Archives: March 2012

Storytime – The Aardvark Always Rings Twice

Another writing exercise – this time the keywords are yellow, aardvark, and simplify.  Target length approx 500 words.

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Leiningen was beginning to worry.  There was something out there in the jungle; something he couldn’t identify.  Whatever it was, it had his horses uneasy, also. He had set up some trip wires on the paths that went near to his bungalow and rigged them to small bells.  The wires were mostly set low, but there were a few at about knee height.

He sat in the darkness of his veranda, listening.  His gin and tonic made it somewhat more bearable, but the hours began to drag.  The moon was full and the mosquitoes were voracious.  He slapped at them as quietly as possible.  His Weatherby Express was in his lap, loaded with heavy rounds.  He intended to dispatch the intruder, no matter how large it was; elephant, jungle cat, whatever.

The moon was lower in the African night now, casting long shadows across the clearing.  A leopard screamed in the night, far away.  Some smaller animal was in the bushes at the edge of the clearing, its yellow eyes gleaming in the light of the brilliant moon.  The only activity so far had been a wandering aardvark that got tangled in the wires, causing the bells to jangle.  The horses whinnied nervously, either at the unaccustomed sound or just maybe it was something else.  The bells went off again; probably that damned clumsy aardvark was still stumbling around.  Tomorrow he’d have to simplify the trip wires, maybe allow smaller things to pass below.

He shifted position again, trying to find a comfortable spot in the rattan chair.  Just then, he heard a new sound, and whatever made it was close.  In all his years here in the jungle he’d never heard anything quite like it.  His heart raced, he was hardly breathing as he leaned forward, trying to see.  A cloud drifted across the moon, cloaking everything in inky blackness.  He hardly dared blink.

Suddenly several bells began ringing at once.  Something was running toward the back of the house, crashing through the undergrowth in its mad rush.  It was big, whatever it was, he could tell by the heavy footfalls and the noises of the brush as it was thrust aside.  He jumped to his feet, rifle at the ready, but the sounds had stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Sweat was running down into his eyes, and there was a small river of it going down his back.  He wiped his eyes, trying to clear his vision.

He stepped off the veranda and headed slowly toward the back of the house, listening, watching.  He stopped frequently to let his eyes adjust to the dim light, hoping to catch a glimpse of the intruder.

Just then he stopped, sensing that something was stalking him, moving up silently behind him.  His heart hammered, his palms were slimy with sweat as he slowly brought up the rifle and began his turn.  He could tell that whatever it was had stopped, perhaps waiting for him to complete his turn before pouncing.

He spun around, dropping to one side as he brought the heavy rifle up to his cheek.  He was starting to squeeze the trigger when realization set in, and he stopped.

“Fluffy, you silly kitty.”  He said, with irritation, “Where have you been?  I’ve been worried sick.  Was that you doing that screeching out there?  Come inside, I’ll get you a dish of milk.”

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Storytime – The Third-Floor Bedroom

This was a for a writing exercise.  We were given the title of the story and the first line, and we were shown a line drawing that had curtains blowing in the breeze and a bird-pattern wallpaper with one bird seeming to come to life.  So, here’s my take,  using the clues we were given.

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The Third Floor Bedroom

   It all began when someone left the window open.  Everyone knew to close the windows and lock the doors, but not everyone remembered to do it, not every time.  Clarice was nine years old and sometimes she just didn’t see the need.  After all, nothing had happened at their house, had it?  Sure, there were whisperings about strange noises on rooftops, skittering noises inside chimneys, that sort of thing, rumors of strange things when the wind blew from the Enchanted Forest.  But, these things happened at other people’s houses, not hers.

The house was quiet, all souls asleep, even their old cat, Pyewacket.  Mother and Father were snoring in their lovable way, brother Pip was curled up at the foot of his crib, sucking on his thumb while he dreamt and smiled.  Clarice was nestled in her four-poster, frilly and safe.

Her eyes suddenly opened; had she heard something?  Yes, there it came again – a soft tapping at her window.  Her bedroom was on the second floor, so it couldn’t be someone standing on the lawn.  There was a large tree with branches spreading near her window; maybe the wind was causing a small branch to scrape back and forth.

She sat up, tried to see through the gloom of the dark bedroom.  There was a half-moon casting its light into her window, but she couldn’t make out the source of the noise.  She crept out of bed and went fearfully to look out.

As she reached the window she realized that the sound was actually coming from outside her bedroom door, not the window at all.  She went to the closed door and listened.  Yes, something was making a tapping sound somewhere outside the door, maybe in the hall.  She carefully opened the door and listened again.  There it was again, this time it seemed to be coming down the stairs from the third floor.  There was one bedroom up there, but no one used it.  No one but Clarice, who often went there to play house or just to daydream.

She thought about waking her parents, but decided against it.  First, she’d find out what was going on.  She tip-toed up to the lone bedroom on the third floor and found the door closed.  She listened there, heard it again, somewhat louder.  She eased the door open and slipped inside the room.  She sat with her back against the wall near the door and let her eyes adjust; the moonlight was streaming in better here and things were somewhat easier to see.

The curtains blew in and out as the wind rose and fell; the night breeze made the room feel cool and pleasant.  Clarice noticed a small movement against the wall.  One of the birds in the patterned wallpaper was flapping one of its wings as if to come unstuck from the paper.  At the same time, there was movement on the bedspread – was that a teddy bear coming to its feet?  In the corner, her hobbyhorse started rocking slowly, all of its own accord.

Clarice thought, “It’s the night breeze, it’s the cause of this.”  She ran to the window, closed it sharply and ran out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her.  She stopped just outside the door and listened; all was quiet again.

She exhaled slowly with relief, then started for the stairs.  After about two steps, the door behind her was suddenly jerked open and something grabbed her from behind and dragged her back into the room.

The curtains blew slowly in and out with the night breeze.

 

Storytime – It’s About the Steam, Punk!

(This is my first foray into the Steampunk genre – stories about fantastic steam-powered times, civilizations, worlds.  Pardon the brevity) Keywords: skillet, skin, intense

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I had been dreading this mission for some time, but it had to be done, and I was the fool to do it.  Our commander was now a captive and there turned out to be only one way to gain entrance to his place of captivity. It would be necessary to go in through the city power plant, right in the heart of the massive machines that gave the city life and breath.  My briefing had been very vague, and the whole thing was a nervous session of averted eyes and shuffling of feet by the officers in charge.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t expect me to make it back.  I didn’t expect me to make it back, either.

I found the loose panel right where they described it and managed to wrestle it open so I could slide through.  I drew my force pistol and went through the cocking procedure – it wouldn’t be smart to need it and not have it ready to go.  It was a complex mechanism of springs and gears that could drive a silent projectile 50 yards and slice up the innards of an unlucky target. It was somewhat heavy, but it was the right weapon for the job.

I kept low and sprinted over to the main line of machinery, marveling at the huge gear wheels and monster flywheels, whirring and roaring.  I rested for a moment, my back against a generator pod. I could feel the thrusts of the gigantic pistons as they slithered along their greased tracks and clanged at the end of each cycle, reversing with a great whooshing sound and a floor-shaking shudder. Fantastic amounts of intense heat were radiating from the boilers that towered over me and my skin shone with sweat. Even the floor was superheated – my special boots protected me from the heat of this skillet.

The whooshing and clanging, all the cacophony of sounds made it difficult to think.  I managed to scale the first line of machines and could see the central office cubicle where they were holding my commander.  Now, could I make it – time would tell.  I shinnied down a greasy support pole and prepared to make my run.  I had to time it just right to dodge the deadly pistons that would be coming from both directions.  Whoosh, clang, whoosh, clang, never ending.

I felt like a schoolchild trying to time the run into the jump rope and I was unconsciously leaning forward and back.  Then I gritted my teeth and ran the full distance to the office, counting on surprise as I burst through the door.  The surprise was complete, but it was I who was surprised.  As I entered, I was confronted by my commander and two other men, all aiming their force pistols my way.  “We’ve been waiting for you,” they said.  I dropped my weapon and sagged to the floor.

 

Storytime – The Attic

Here’s a little something I wrote as a writing exercise, utilizing keywords within the story:

The Attic

Keywords: skillet, skin, intense

Ed was a packrat, and he knew it.  He was getting better, though.  After all these years of trying to keep everything he was beginning to work down the piles of stuff; donating some, selling off some.

Now he was in the attic, moving boxes around, shuffling his tangible past. Over there was a box with a Super 8 camera and projector with lots of home movies; he would not consider getting rid of any of those things.  He barked his shin on another box labeled “Skates”.  Those could probably go; his skating days were long past.

After moving a few more things, he came across his old footlocker from his Boy Scout days.  He dragged it to the center of the aisle and found a small chair so he could get comfortable while going through the footlocker.  The lighting was not great but there was a beam of sunlight coming in at a good angle; it was just enough.

Ed lifted the lid on the footlocker and a very slight fragrance of old wood smoke drifted out of the box into the attic.  He smiled as the memories flooded back; some faded over time, some intense.  Here was his old skillet with the folding handle; here was his hunting knife, full of its own memories.  How many Indians had he dispatched, how many bears had he held at bay?  He began to lay the items out on the dusty floor.  Here was the faithful canteen; there was his folding drinking cup. His first aid kit; had to have that calamine lotion for those numerous sunburns and some antiseptic salve for all those skin abrasions suffered while exploring the wilds.  There was his scouting uniform; he picked it up and held the shirt to his nose, eyes closed, inhaling the special smells hidden in it.

He began to remember his friends from long ago; Jimmy, Johnny, Smiley, Turk.  His eyes moistened as the faces came back, as the voices spoke to him over the years.  He recalled all those special adventures, heightened by their boyish imaginations; holding the fort against a Sioux raising party, launching their ship into the great void of space, riding shotgun on the stagecoach.

After a short while, he placed almost everything back into the footlocker, keeping back only one memento.  For a time the footlocker project took his mind off his problems, but now it was time to go back downstairs, back to reality.  He pushed the heavy box back into the shadows and rose with difficulty to his feet.  He was short of breath again, damned weak ticker.  He had to sit back down in the little chair, and found himself gasping a bit.  Even that little exertion was too much.

They came looking for him after a few days and found him there, still in the little chair, wearing a feathered Indian headdress.