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Archive for February, 2015

Card Challenge: Day 32

Card Day 32: A boy walks along rolling green hills at night, blowing bubbles into the sly. The bubbles take on the shape of planets, rings and all, as they float upwards.

Peter dreamed big, probably too big many times. His dreams had the nasty habit of shoving into the real world, pushing the daily necessities out of the way. Nevertheless, Peter was also resolved to never sacrifice his dreamer’s spirit, no matter what the costs. Right now, the costs were approximately $1976.15 in back rent and interest.

He had no idea where the money would come from, nor what he would do when his meager possessions—a ratty couch from the thrift store, a low-power microwave, and a collection of ratty t-shirts that he had collected in college—were kicked to the curb. His latest big plan had failed miserably, which would have been a devastating blow to many. But Peter’s terminal case of optimism painted everything with possibilities and new horizons. Who knows, he mused, perhaps the bout of homelessness would finally sate that hunger for adventure gnawing at him.

Hands in his pockets, Peter walked along the street, whistling with his hands in his pockets. Yes, there were massive problems looming, but he was utterly unable to do anything productive towards those at the moment, so it was best to focus on what he could do. Right now, he could whistle and trace the patterns in the clouds.


The next night found Peter under the stars. He had opted to leave the couch for some other passing vagabond to use, mainly because it would not fit into his hatchback. The t-shirts, microwave, and an old lamp he had nearly forgotten about rattled in the trunk as he puttered along the highway. The eviction had gone through, so he was now free to see the world. Wanderlust tugged at his heart, pulling him out of the city. He was not sure where he was travelling to—the signs on the highway pointed to Wichita—but he was eager for the next great adventure. Peter dreamed of the stories he would hear and live out. Perhaps this would be his chance to write a book. Or, he pondered, maybe he should pick up odd jobs and pay his way around the country. He could do restaurant work in Wichita, clean some windows in Austin, sell newspaper in New York, and catch lobster in Maine. The world was open to him, and he was beholden to no person or thing.

The limitless freedom was exhilarating, if not also terrifying.

However, Peter had been on the road since 8am and the sun had long since disappeared from the horizon. The gas station coffee did little to keep him awake, and so he turned left off the highway, turning into a lonely exit promising a truck stop and a campground. Peter opted for the campground which, he thought, would be quieter than the hustle and bustle of an active travel center.

He pulled into the dirt lot and, seeing no one around, drove along towards one of the many abandoned camping spots. It seemed like the highway signs had not been updated since the place had closed down. Nevertheless, it would do for a place to snag a few hours of sleep. The car was stuffy with the scent of fast food French fries and summer heat, so Peter rolled the window down. The wind sung through the car, carrying a hint of highway exhaust and diesel fumes. The muter roar of the highway droned in the distance as Peter pushed his seat back and flipped his baseball cap down over his eyes. A smile on his face and not a worry in his mind, Peter fell asleep almost instantly.

The restful sleep, however, was not to be. While he was able to gain a few hours of relaxing snooze despite the best attempt from horns on the highway, it was a peculiar silence and electricity that woke him just past midnight. The crickets were silent, as was the highway, and the air hung heavy and still. As he struggled towards wakefulness, Peter was reminded of the huge storm that had blasted through town a couple years ago, predicted by a similar stillness. The air felt alive and electric, as if it were humming all around him. Peter peered out the windows into the inky blackness, lit by the silver disc of the moon. No clouds obscured it, meaning it probably wasn’t a storm on the horizon. The stars sat twinkling as brightly as ever, immune to the aura of unease permeating his setting.

Suddenly, there was light in the air. It was bright, as if all the electricity in the air suddenly became visible in that moment. The hum of energy returned, redoubled, and seemed to pulse with the strange light. In the light, Peter saw…things.

At first, his mind could not make sense of what he was seeing. Where the world had been black just inches from his window, now it was lit in cold white light. Shadows danced along it, his eyes unable to see through the brilliant light to make out more than the shape. They were squat htings, with appendages flailing about. They seemed to walk upright, with four other things—arms, perhaps?—moving in an almost swimming motion through the air. Finally, one drew closer, and he was able to see a being with tiny, dark eyes and a long antenna-like nose. It walked up to the door of the car, placing its hands on the edge of the window. Its fingers were webbed, splaying across the door in an impossibly wide span. Peter felt lightheaded, the world spinning in a haze of light, shadow, and that enduring hum.

As if aware of his overwhelmed sense, the creature turned towards the others, emitting a sharp series of squeaks and rumbles. The light overhead disappeared, the sound ceased, and the creatures vanished. And then, Peter vanished. His car sat, lonely and mostly empty in the abandoned campground, a monument to isolation and adventure.

For his part, Peter was finally objectively terrified. He found himself in a corridor with steely walls. Light seemed to glow from the walls themselves, flooding the corridor with stark white light. It was too bright, pulsing behind his eyes. One of the creatures was at his side, taking his hand in its webbed fingers. It tugged at Peter, pulling him down the corridor to a large room where many others sat. He was directed to a chair, its dimensions clearly not made for his lanky human body, and dutifully sat. From behind him, someone fitted a small contraption to his ear, swatting at him harshly when he tried to remove it.

There was a flurry of voices in his mind, speaking languages he had heard and some he had never imagined. He was certain that he even tasted one of the languages, a gush of fresh strawberries filling his mouth. Then, the noise died down, giving way to stilted English.

“Inhabitant of Sphere 279. Welcome. We invite you hear to know you, to learn of you. We mean you no harm. You may return to your terrestrial location at any time you wish.”

All the eyes turned to him expectantly. Peter smiled, laughed with discomfort. He scratched at his head, his mouth flopping open and closed as he sought the words to speak. As soon as he took a breath to say something, one of the creatures thrust a pale blue sphere towards his face. Peter heard his voice in the sphere for a moment, then listened as it became the squeaks and growls of his hosts.

“Uh, think I can hitch a ride?” They laughed—at least, he heard them laugh in his head. In the room, it sounded like gears grinding to a sudden halt.

After a moment, the leader spoke. “Of course. Such is our quest. We will learn, you will learn.”

Peter smiled, finding his wanderlust growling hungrily in his mind. He could travel the galaxy, picking up odd jobs to pay his way. A bus boy on Neptune, interpreter on Pluto, landscaper in Alpha Centauri, a barista on……

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 31

I’m not too happy with today’s. I had a lot of trouble finding an idea I liked, and this is actually the third piece I started. It is paced all wrong, and I’m not super happy with the ending, but it does have its moments. Just a kind of mixed bag of feelings about this one. If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments. As always, happy reading!

Card Day 31: A boy walks along a field, throwing seeds. Behind him, Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants snake towards him.

Steven felt certain he was being followed. There was something about the way the shadows drifted across the walls that made him think of some predator slouching behind him, waiting to pounce once he turned down the wrong dark alley or side street. Yet every time he looked back, nothing was there. Just empty streets and foggy yellow pools of light.

“You’re paranoid, man,” he mumbled under his breath, the words spilling out into the night in a cloud of fog. Determined, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and strode on, trying not to look at the fun house mirror shadows parading alongside him. His fingers ran over the wad of cash in his pocket, feeling the smooth surface on unvalued bills, the harsh edges where they folded in on one another. He let his mind wander over how he would spend it, trying his best to ignore the feeling of unease creeping along his back. Just keep walking, just keep dreaming.

The city rested and he walked beneath the closed lids of so many houses. Occasionally, one light would be on, or a window would spill the pale blue illumination of television into the world, but for the most part, he hopped from one streetlight to the next, his head low. Up ahead, a car suddenly backfired, a sound that pierced through the night and froze Steven in his tracks. For a moment, he was reminded of the sound of a gunshot, someone yelling, spit frothing in his mouth. After the spell lifted, Steven began jogging along the sidewalk, trying to hurry home without drawing undue attention. The feeling of being watched, of being followed, intensified, raising the hair along his neck as his shoulders knotted in upon themselves.

Unable to shake the feeling of eyes on him, Steven turned again, spinning around quickly and hoping to catch the perpetrator ducking behind some trashcan or staircase. But there was nothing on the street, no movement besides a windswept chip bag crossing the road.

Seeing the bag, Steven laughed at himself. He had managed to work himself up over a single piece of litter tumbling down the street. “Almost wet yourself for some trash,” he chided, shaking his head. After pausing on the street long enough to convince himself he was no longer afraid, and that he was being silly for giving in to the paranoia, Steven walked on, a confident measure to his slowed steps. He held his head high, breathing deeply of the night air and blowing heavy clouds into the sky. No stars shone here; the light pollution burned them away years ago.  He had seen the stars before, in person, on a couple of family vacations, but tonight the streetlights were his stars. And he could see his fame written in them.

The feeling returned to him after a moment, but he did his best to ignore it. Ignorance was a skill that Steven had spent much of his life honing, and so the requirements came easy. He had practiced his ability to ignore feelings of sadness, fear, and guilt, and the same tools kept him moving down the empty streets toward home.

It was a long walk to his apartment. He knew that was the point, so that he did not have to worry about running into someone he knew, but his body was beginning to feel the delayed effects of adrenaline rushing out of him, leaving his muscles tired. His feet ached with each step, and his pace slowed to give his wearying body a break. It was only a few more blocks, but he felt suddenly very tired. His arms hung in his pockets like paperweights, dragging all of him toward the dirty pavement. Each step was like lifting a bag of sand, slinging it forward, and dropping it. Steven felt himself lurching along, leaving a trail of fatigue glazing the ground behind him. The exhaustion weakened his defenses, and all his attempts to avoid the eyes crawling up his back began to give way.

A gust of wind and he swore someone breathed down his neck, the wind growling in his ear. The air was warm and sticky, not the winter breeze he expected this time of the year. Despite its heat, chills danced up and down his spine, giving him an involuntary shiver. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren ripped through the still night. Steven felt his blood freeze solid in his veins. It was far away, but something whispered that it was not far enough. His fingers played over the sticky spots on the bills in his pocket, trying hard not to remember what that was.

Steven ripped his hands out of his pockets, brushing the sticky red remnants on the brick of a nearby building, half aghast and unbelieving at the sight of it. With renewed energy from an unknown source, he ran. The sound of his sneakers on the pavement snapped after him, a rapid, tapping echo that pursued him down the empty streets. He no longer cared who saw or thought about his trip home, but he simply wanted to arrive to his waiting apartment, collapse inside with the locks thrown, and hope to outsleep or outdrink his guilty conscience.

Beneath the sound of his pounding steps and thundering heart, Steven imagined he heard another sound. Someone breathing deeply, another set of footsteps mirroring his own. Just the echo between city buildings, he thought, just the breeze whispering through the balconies. From an open window spilled the sound of some couple fighting, voices rising to a fever pitch and fading as Steven rushed past the window. Nevertheless, the yells and anger were enough to snap him back to that moment.

The lights—cheap, dull, buzzing loudly—hurt his eyes as he stepped out of the night and into the store. Steven raised the pistol in his hand, pointing towards the lone cashier. “Just the money.” His voice was loud, demanding, spittle flecking his lips with the force of the command. But the man reacted, moved quickly, yelling something Steven did not have time to comprehend. Steven’s fear jumped, pulling the trigger with sudden decisiveness. The man froze, toppling like a child’s tower, his eyes wide and staring. The smell of gunpowder and blood filled the room as panic began to set in. Trying to salvage the plan, Steven rushed to the cash register and grabbed the cash he could. The cool air outside, the strange peace that was so different than the muted chaos he had just experience, made him feel as if he had entered another world. And so he set off towards home, pretending his life was not in shambles, letting the cold numb his raw nerves.

Now he was certain. There was another set of footsteps. And he could smell the blood again, suffocating him with the sweet, iron scent. Steven stopped, breathing in ragged gasps after his flight through the streets. He turned around, expecting nothing yet again, but instead found himself face to face with a man. He was dressed in shadows, and the light from the streetlamps seemed to recoil from him, leaving a heavy patch of darkness around his feet.

“I think you’ve got something that’s not yours,” said the man, his voice flat but drawling. “It ain’t right to take what isn’t yours.” Steven’s struggle was short, and soon the only evidence left was a roll of bloodied dollar bills and the scent of blood hanging in the air.

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Card Challenge: Day 30

Card Day 30: A compass resting on top of a piece of a map.

“We said no cell phones,” snapped Teresa from the driver’s seat, shooting a sharp, disapproving look his direction.

Brian dropped the phone into his lap, exasperation in his movements and voice. “Babe, I was just going to use the GPS to figure out where we are.”

“That’s why I brought the map,” she replied, nodding her head toward the backseat where the paper map sat ungainly and unfolded.

“I don’t know how to read one of those.”

“How do you not know how to read a map? You just look at it, find the road we’re on, and find the one we want to be on. Then tell me where to go.” He was unconvinced at her description of the “simple” process, but it was not worth the inevitable fight to continue angling for his phone.

“If it means that much to you, fine, I’ll use the map. But we’re going to get way more lost before we find our way.”

“Do you want to drive and I’ll navigate?” she offered, glancing his way as wave after wave of corn fields flashed past the window. She raised one eyebrow, suggesting she already knew what his answer would be.

“You know I hate driving, and I already drove three hours this morning.”

“And I did not get you lost once. Everyone has to pull their weight in this car,” she chided with a smile, turning her attention back to the road.

“Well, if you had not insisted on packing your entire apartment into the trunk, there wouldn’t be so much weight to disperse, now would there?” His mischievous grin vanished as she swatted at him, laughing.

“Shut up.”

The rest of the trip was passed in companionable banter and inside jokes, with a reasonable break for scanning the radio waves. Teresa had the magic touch for finding just the right driving music, which was today a mix of late 80s and early 90s hits that both could sing along with. Eventually, under Brain’s careful guidance, they pulled into the turn off for the state park. Her eyes lit up with excitement as they descended beneath the heavy canopy, winding along the narrow pavement towards the camp grounds. Teresa rolled down her window, cranking it diligently, and let the wind whip through her long, wavy hair. It filled the car with the scent of soil, leaves, and fresh air. Brain smiled, watching the sunlight play across her face from the branches overhead, and rolled down his window in turn. The early spring breeze rippled through the car, the only sound the crunch of the tires over the pavement and the whistling of distant birds.

“I reserved number four,” he said after the brief drive, pointing to a small turn off. The campground was empty, probably because it was the middle of the week and early yet in the season.

Brian gave an exaggerated stretch as he exited the car, breathing deep and then yawning animatedly. “Glad we made here in one piece. You gave me some scares.”

“Ha-ha,” she deadpanned, tossing one of the duffle bags towards him. “Quit whining and help me set up so we can get some exploring in before dinner.”

“Yes ma’am,” he responded with a salute, pushing past her to grab the tent out. “I found a geocache not too far from here, thought we could look it up?” he offered as he began unpacking the tent.

“Uh, sure, but we don’t have a GPS, so that might be hard.”

“Seriously?” he asked, freezing in the task and giving her an incredulous stare.

“What? I’m serious, no phone—“

“No, you, the geo-expert, and you don’t even know how to do it without your fancy GPS. Psh.” He reached into his back pocket. “I printed off the map, and brushed up on how to do this sort of thing old school. It’s just reading a map, right? Can’t be too hard.”

She laughed, her eyes beaming with appreciation. “Ok, Mr. Wilderness, sounds like a plan. After we have a place to sleep tonight,” she finished, pointing at the assorted pieces of the tent.

“I’ll have it done in a flash,” Brain replied with a smile and a wink. Teresa busied herself with sorting through the remainder of their baggage, dragging the heavy cooler near the front of the trunk and sliding the clothes towards the back. She tugged the battered red sleeping bag from the bag, where it had been crushed in their haste.

“When you get that thing ready, I’ve got the bed.”

“Almost there,” called Brian from behind the now open tent. “Did you find the fire starter?” he asked, brushing his hands against his pants and leaving dirty brown streaks.

Without a word, she tossed him the bundle of wood and lighter fluid from the trunk.

“Sweet! Hotdogs tonight!” He dropped the log into the ashen fire pit, and turned towards her excitedly. “Now, on to the main event.” He again produced the folded map from his back pocket, thrusting it out towards Teresa. “Lead the way, captain.”

“I thought you were the one who knew how to do all this? She responded, shoving it back towards him, but he was persistent.

“Come on, it’s just a map. Any idiot can use a map. Just find where we are, find where we want to be, and lead the way,” he echoed, a sly glimmer in his eye. Rising to the bait, Teresa snatched the paper from his hand.

“You’re terrible, you know that?”

“But you love me,” he replied, giving her a quick peck on the cheek as she studied the map.

“Okay, towards the lake.”

The two set off with the late afternoon sun falling behind them, casting long shadows under the limbs of the trees. Teresa pointed out directions, examining the map carefully, always moving closer to Brain’s hastily marked ‘X.’

“Did the poster say anything? Any clues about if it’s underground, in a tree, anything?”

“Nope, nothing special. I’m guessing we’ll know it when we see it.”

“I hope we aren’t on a wild goose chase,” she said, laughing and smiling over the map at him.

He smiled back. “I’ve got a good feeling about it. And I’m guessing we’re pretty close?”

She turned the map towards him, pointing to a spot just southeast of the penciled ‘X.’ “Should be closing in.”

“Good, cause I’m getting hungry, and those hotdogs won’t cook themselves.”

It was only one or two more landmarks and consultations of the map before Teresa led them into a clearing, a grey metal box patiently waiting beneath the roots of a gnarled oak. The two rushed over, the air heavy with the anticipation of discovery.

“Do you want to do the honors?” suggested Teresa, nudging the box towards him. “You did choose it, after all.”

“Hey, you were the fearless leader. You take first look.”

Teresa’s smile widened, grinning like a kid unwrapping the last—and biggest—birthday present. Carefully she lifted the lid to reveal another small, black box.

“Geo-ception,” she chuckled, lifting out the box.

She eagerly opened this, awaiting her final prize. Inside, sat a ring, glistening with diamond and gold, accompanied by a crumpled piece of paper and familiar handwriting.

“I found the one. Say yes?” it asked. She looked at Brian, his face smug and pleased with the plan. Her head bobbed a quick and decisive yes, one of the few times he had successfully left her speechless.

“Told you I had a good feeling about this one.”

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.