A Writing Prompt Response: The Rope

View the io9 writing prompt here.

“Professor Jimbot! Robin!” Camilledron’s tinny voice shouted from the other room, “Come quickly!”

Robin looked up from the scrap of cloth she had found on the damp floor of the ancient abandoned warehouse. She hunched-rotated- her metal shoulder’s up to her auditory receptacles and vibrated against the damp chill that creeped along her sensors. Her digital emoter displayed a frown, and she glanced at the professor.

“Camilledron sounds excited,” he said, standing with a huff. His tone was casual, but his rusty joints creaked with haste. “Bring my things, will you, Robin?” Without waiting for an answer, he scooted off on his worn treads.

Camilledron’s call echoed about the place, and water dripped from the bare metal beams above Robin’s head. She shook her head and gathered up the delicate instruments the professor had strewn about the floor: the spindly carbon dating computer purred as she perched it on her shoulder, the digital visual memorizer and the organic unit hopped up and stood at attention, and the portable encyclopedia shuffled behind them.

Robin picked up the antique toolbox and toolbelt, its iron and wood implements gleaming in the light of her LED, with her most delicate interactors. She handled them carefully, knowing that the old professor would probably cry real-/- tears if harm came to them.

After she gathered the tools, she followed the professor into the other room. He and Camilledron were huddled beneath a strange thing which hung from the ceiling, illuminated by Camilledron’s LED. Their eyes glittered with curiosity.

Professor Jimbot reached absently towards Robin and she handed him the portable encyclopedia. With a sort of fearful respect, he pointed the device’s input sensors at the thing dangling from the ceiling.

“Organic fibers,” intoned the encylopedia, its voice bored. “Eighty-two percent hemp, eighteen percent various molds, bacteria, one beetle. It’s a rope.” The encyclopedia finished its analysis with a sigh.

“Fascinating,” breathed the professor. “Why on earth would it be done up like that?”

“This particular construction of rope, hanging down with a knot and a loose loop, was used by humans as a method to kill themselves,” said the encyclopedia, boredly. “The end of the rope would slide through the knot and constrict around a human’s throat, choking them to death, if not breaking the neck.”

“Oh my,” said the professor. His, Robin’s, and Camilladron’s digital emoters registered horror.

“The organic unit is picking up traces on the floor,” Robin whispered.

They all turned their sesnors to the floor. “Human?” asked the professor, dread in his voice.

“Yes,” said Robin.

The professor closed his eyes on his digital emoter. “It’s unfortunate, but this can’t go to the museum.”

A Writing Prompt Response: The Favorite

Read the io9 writing prompt here.

The thick smoke, smelling of dusty herbs, wafted in the orange light like the coils of snakes.

Valencia coughed and covered her mouth politely with a gloved hand, one hand remained cradling her swollen belly. Madame Pirocud looked up from the objects on the pocked wooden table, a glare on her wrinkled face. Valencia’s cough subsided.

“The smoke helps the Spirits. Loosens their vocal chords,” Madame Pirocud said, her voice cracking defensively.

Valencia nodded, acceptance and desperation in her eyes. “But the gold…” began the old woman, her voice strained kindness, “helps my Spirits.”

The younger woman, her once lovely face now tired and grim, reached out with a trembling hand and placed a small pouch on the table in front of the older woman. Madam Pirocud snatched it up as soon as it touched the wood.

“If you can’t tell the Lady what she needs to know,” Bartholomew threatened, placing his hands protectively on Valencia’s shoulders, “I shall take that gold back, and then some.”

“Yes, yes,” said the old woman. She reached into the pouch and counted the bright gold. It was warm, enchanted, just like she had demanded. She nodded, satisfied. “The payment is accepted,” she cackled. She bent her head to the objects on the table and the bangles around her neck and forehead jangled. “Now,” she wrapped two colorful, tasseled scarves around her hands, “you wanted to know about the little one?”

“Yes,” said Valencia. She reached up and touched Bartholemew’s large hand, still resting on her shoulder, but her other hand remained gently on her stomach. “We must know if Le Strous touched it with his curse.”

The old woman’s eyes were unreadable in the smoke tinged orange by candle light, but they glittered darkly. She held out her wrinkled hands, covered by the scarves, over the objects and nodded to Valencia. Valencia removed her hand from Bartholemew’s and the other from her belly. She removed her gloves and placed her bare hands in Madame Pirocud’s.

The old woman closed her eyes for a moment, and mumbled words that seemed to blend with the smoke. Nothing in the room changed, but her mumbling ceased abruptly. She released Valencia’s hand, and the younger woman set them immediately upon her belly protectively.

Upon the table, a wooden carved cow figurine glowed in the candle light, its wood smooth and the edges of the detail rounded with wear. Madame Pirocud reached for it, her eyes still closed. Her fingers did not fumble as she drew the figurine up a few inches off the table, then let it fall. The heavy figurine landed upside-down with a loud wooden ‘thud’.

“Hmm…mmm.” The old woman’s throat thrummed. “A girl. It is a girl.”

“Fine,” said Bartholemew, his voice impatient, “but the curse?”

Valencia leaned forward slightly, her eyes feverish in her gaunt face. “Please,” she whispered. But Madame Pirocud was not done. Her eyes still closed, she reached for a small pile of nuts, stones, and sticks. She picked them up in one gnarled hand and threw them on the table with a force that should have sent them scattering across the room, but they remained on the table as if held by strings.

Madame Pirocud’s hand hovered over the nuts, stones, and sticks. She opened her eyes. “Power,” she murmured. Valencia sagged and closed her eyes. But the old woman smiled a snaggled grin. “Your offspring has power. You are right to fear for her. Those with power are to be pitied.”

“What kind of power?” demanded Bartholemew.

The old soothsayer swiped her arm across the wooden table. The cow figurine, nuts, stones, and sticks clattered to the dirt floor of the tiny room. Madame Pirocud pulled a deck of large cards from the folds of her dress.

With the practiced ease of a seasoned card shark, she cut the deck and shuffled the cards. The rectangles of paper purred in her hands, three times each for the riffle and bridge. She rotated one half of the deck each time she cut it.

After the third bridge, she gathered the cards in a neat pile and placed them in the palm of her left hand. “Draw five cards from the top of the deck with your right hand,” she said. “Place them on the table face down.” Her old eyes watched Valencia’s hands carefully as the pregnant woman drew one, two, three, four, five cards and placed them on the wooden table.

Madame Pirocud reached for the first card on her right, the last card that Valencia had placed on the table, and turned it over. Her wrinkled lips cracked a toothy smile. The small, beautifully detailed painting on the card depicted a skull on a field of roses. In the blackness of the skull’s mouth was a sickle moon entwined with a serpent.

“Death,” she hissed gleefully. Valencia paled and Bartholemew gripped her shoulders. “But it is the last card you drew, and the mouth of the skull faces away from you. The girl shall cause an end to some unlucky fool,” the old woman said, cackling.

Without a pause, the old woman turned the next card. It depicted a man, naked and anatomically correct down to the wrinkles on his knuckles. He held an apple, red as a setting sun, in his hand and his mouth was open in the act of taking a bite, revealing teeth that were daggers, their tiny hilts set with even tinier jewels.

“Oh ho,” said the woman. “A betrayal by the Nude Adam, a betrayal caused by lust.” The old woman’s eyes flickered to Bartholemew, and her lips quirked in a smile. “Isn’t that the way of all men?”

She flipped the next card over. The painting on the next card was dark, a black sky with small, pin prick dots of light. “Hmm…yes,” said Madame Pirocud. “A difficult card. Could be power, darkness, could be empty. It is your third card, and the third thing in anything is usually power. But this power is not your girl’s power. This is the power of someone else.”

“Le Strous?” breathed Valencia.

“Perhaps,” said Madame Pirocud. “But Night Sky is neutral, infinite, the place of the gods.”

The fourth card depicted a pocket watch, silver chain and silver case. Symbols replaced the numbers on the face of the watch and instead of twelve, there were twenty-three. “The Devil’s Timepiece,” said the old woman gravely. She did not explain, but turned over the last card with an almost heavy reluctance in her hand.

The last card, which was the first card Valencia had drawn, was the most powerful card. This was the card drawn to the top of the deck by the power of the Spirits.

It depicted a small girl in a rich dress. She held a demon, skin bubbled with scales and claws and teeth glinting, in her arms, pressed it close to her chest. Matching red poppies adorned the hair of the girl and the horns of the demon. “The Favorite,” said Madame Pirocud, her cracked voice quiet.

She looked up from the card and met Valencia’s eyes. “Your child is not cursed,” she said, forcing a kind smile.

After the pregnant woman and her protector left, old Madame Pirocud poured herself a strong drink from a flask and slumped back in her chair. She turned towards the fire in the hearth and stared into its burning, flickering depths. In her hand, she still held the final card, the girl and her demon. She let it fall from her wrinkled fingers to the dirty floor.

A Writing Prompt Response: Future Retro

View the io9 writing prompt here.

“You two don’t look like cops,” the Junkie with the star tattoo said. She eyed Halyn’s sheer top and cutoffs. She raised her eyebrows at my tube top and loin cloth, and the tattoos snaking up my arms. “You don’t have cop hair.”

“That’s ’cause we’re detectives,” Halyn said, but her attention was elsewhere. The turquoise holoscreen of the police blotter glowed in the dim light of the alley. The matching retina interface glittered as she selected more information.

“Is all of this junk yours?” I asked. I knelt down and picked up an ancient specimen, a pair of lime green and flamingo pink headphones.

“Bought and paid for,” said star face, her voice turned defensive. “You interested in Collecting?” Metal clinked, and what I had taken for more junk moved as her arm extended. The metal plates and well oiled joints composed fingers and a wrist, an elbow. The shield on her forearm probably came in handy.

The pace of my heart quickened. “Who is your mechanic?” I asked, forcing nochalance into my voice.

“Old Barton. He works full time as an articulator engineer,” she said. “Helps me because I help him. There’s lots of folks got the itch for Collecting, you know.”

I sighed, not bothering to hide my disappointment. “You know he was murdered, right?”

“Yeah.” The Junkie smiled sadly and pressed a button on the box the headphones were attached to. The beat of music pulsed in my hand and I placed them over my ears.

It was one of those songs that was so old, people didn’t remember who wrote it or sang it originally anymore. But you could still pass people on the street humming it. Like Happy Birthday or Yellow Submarine.

The tune made me think of warm sunny days. Carefree love. It transported me away from the refuse filled alley and the deaths that were slowly creeping up on this city like a plague of locusts.

The words and music came through the headphones accompanied by a misty crackle of static and age, and I could barely make out the actual words. It was as if they were crossing a gap of time just to play in my ears. I had to focus to hear them.

“Felicia!” Halyn shook my shoulder. I removed the headphones and looked up at her. “There’s been another one,” she said. She tilted the holoscreen of the police blotter.

“Where?” I said with a sigh, putting the headphones down.

“Just north of the Carnival. Let’s head out; we can’t get anymore information here.”

“You go ahead,” I said.

Halyn stared at me hard for a moment. “Just remember you have to share the flat with me,” she said. “Any junk gets in my way, I’ll toss it.”

I nodded distractedly, and turned back to the Junkie. I didn’t even notice Halyn leave. The Junkie smiled.

“How much?” I asked, touching a finger to the neon headphones.

A Writing Prompt Response: Deep Dinner

View the writing prompt from io9 here.

“Oh Horatio! How could you say such a thing?” Canzilla demanded around a mouthful of ghostly turkey leg. She leaned forward and pounded her elbow against the table in a very unlady-like manner.

“Quite easily,” Horatio said, lowering his teacup. “Vanessa’s ego is easily as large as her hair is tall.” Vanessa did not rise to the bait and remained prone in a fainted position on her chair, though she had put her feet up on the other chair. It was more restful that way.

“We must all get along,” Margarette said, managing to appear severe without looking at the three of them. She especially did not want to notice Vanessa’s dramatics. Instead she looked at Cavanaugh, hoping his even temperament would prevail.

She was disappointed.

Cavanaugh stood and stabbed at Horatio with his own piece of ghostly turkey to emphasize his words. “You should apologize at once, Horatio!”

“I don’t see the point,” Horatio said. The stiff shoulders of his coat moved up and down as he shrugged. The silver buttons on his lapel glinted eerily when he moved.

“The point,” Canzilla seethed, “is that if we are to be down here for the rest of eternity–”

“And who’s fault is that?” Horatio looked pointedly at Vanessa’s fainted form.

“–it’s best that we forget the past and move on!”

“I believe that is exactly our problem,” said Margaret. Her dark green dress blended in with the algea that covered the deck of the ship and the fallen mast behind her. Her ghostly form shifted, and she turned to focus her attention on their conversation, rolling her eyes in annoyance.

“What is?” Cavanuah asked. “I’d say we have a pretty good spread here.” He reached for a silvery tureen of ghostly gravy, grabbed it, and poured it over his phantasmal mashed potatoes.

“No, I think she means the fact that we are dead,” Horatio said, “and haven’t left this ship since it sank.”

“And where exactly are we going to go?” asked Canzilla. Her dining mates fell silent for a moment.

“Heaven?” Horatio asked.

“Oh, jeeze–”

“Not possible.”

“I’m sure you remember what happened, Horatio, since you were there,” said Margarette. “I know it was a couple hundred years ago, but it was the last thing we did. We are most likely not going to see the pearly gates any time soon.”

“Well…then,” Horatio shrugged, “how about the…other place.”

They all fell silent once again. Then Cavanaugh asked, “It really can’t be worse than this? Can it?”

“What, you mean eternally eating the same meal? Eternally attending the same dinner party with the same people? Eternally seeing nothing but the dullest fish and the occassional squid?” Canzilla shook her head. “Maybe we are already in Hell. I doubt it’s supposed to be entertaining.”

“Didn’t Father Marcus say that Hell was fire, not water?” Horatio asked.

“So you would rather burn than drown?” Canzilla asked.

“It would be something different, at least,” muttered Horatio.

“Oh my God!” said Cavanaugh.

“I doubt praying is going to change anything,” said Margarette.

Cavanaugh stood and pointed his turkey over the starboard bow of the ship. “No, um, there’s a–”

The other diners looked to see the strangest fish they had ever seen. It was large for a fish at this depth and had many spiny protrusions sticking from its body. It had a large bulbous head made of a clear material, which revealed the inner workings of its brain.

“Oh my,” said Margarette. “Is there a person inside of it’s head?”

“Why yes,” said Horatio. “Yes, I believe there is.”

“If I wasn’t seeing this as the spirit of a dead person, I would be extremely terrified,” said Canzilla.

Vannessa stirred and awakened. “What is it?” she muttered, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her faint had turned into a nap.

“A fish of some sort,” said Horatio.

“No,” said Vanessa, her voice becoming excited as she studied the strange fish. She sat up in her chair. “It’s like one of those sketches by that artist, oh whatsisname. You know, like the flying contraption, except under the sea.”

“Oh Vanessa,” said Margarette, “da Vinci was using his imagination. This is probably just another torture sent by the Devil. Something for us to get excited about, and then when it leaves, we will have to go back to our dull deaths which will be all the duller for it’s momentary visit.”

Vanessa smiled at all of them. “No, don’t you see?” She stood and looked at the strange creature. “This means that the world has continued. The horrible things we did in the past didn’t change anything. They didn’t matter at all. People kept on living and learning.”

“You’re just trying to make yourself feel better,” said Horatio. “People never learn.”

Shaking her head, Vanessa took a step towards the submersible. “You’re wrong,” she said simply. And then she was gone. Her ghostly form had twinkled out in the blink of an eye.

“There goes another one,” said Canzilla, shaking her head.

“Don’t you ever wonder where they go?” Horatio asked his fellow diners.

“All I know,” said Cavanaugh, “is more food for us.”

A Writing Prompt Response: Carnival of Puppets

Carnival of Puppets

Megan knew she was naked. She felt the cool, scratcy canvas against her skin first. Then she felt the blood dried in her hair, stiff and smelling too strongly of iron. There must be a lot of blood. She tested moving her arms, but they were numb. Her own body’s weight had pressed them against the unyeilding canvas.

The act of opening her eyes revealed exactly what she already knew. Dark canvas surrounded her, close, her feet drawing the fabric near. She and it hung, gravity tugging and making it impossible to keep her balance or keep still.

Her head ached where he had struck her. It was a pain that originated at the wound above her left ear and echoed behind her eyes, making her feel sick.

For a suffocating moment she panicked, a greater darkness flitting behind her eyes. She needed to breath, but the canvas was everywhere, over her mouth. Her heart pounded. He would hear, she knew it.

Frantically shifting the canvas away from her mouth, she took a few good, solid breaths, though the thick air stunk. She knew she only had a few minutes before he came for her. She only had a few minutes to save her own life. If she failed, there would not be another volunteer.

The rest would be chosen, forced to be his food. The police didn’t care if she succeeded, they had plenty of Scraps they could choose from. They would keep sending the girls from the Heap until one of them survived and managed to escape and lead them back to him.

With trembling, numbed fingers, Megan reached inside her mouth. She caught her fingernail under the edge of the razor she had glued to the roof of her mouth. The glue tore at her skin, and she winced but managed to pull the razor out without causing too much damage.

Her numb fingers slipped on the wet metal, and she fumbled the razor. It fell, cutting her finger and falling towards her feet in the canvas prison. Megan breathed past a cry of terror and frustration.

She tried bending over to reach the razor, but her own weight pulled the canvas taught. Frantically, Megan reached up, grabbed a handful of canvas, and pulled herself up with one hand, loosening the slack on the canvas. Her muscles trembling, Megan used her her bare toes to feel for the razor.

Feeling the cool metal, cutting her skin on it, was a relief. Megan reached down with her hand, pulling the razor up with her toe at the same time. Her muscles shook with the effort and she clenched her teeth. The razor got closer and closer to her hand, until she pushed with a last effort and grabbed it with her fingers.

Megan let out a breath of relief. But she knew she still had a long way to go. She took the razor and stabbed it into the canvas. She dragged it down, the sound of the fabric ripping and bleeding light into her canvas womb.

The canvas was old. She had only intended to tear it a little and then stick her head out and find out how far off the floor she was, but the old fabric tore quickly after she started it. Before she could prevent herself from falling, Megan tumbled out of the canvas prison.

Stomach swooped. Scream tore from her throat.

She struck the cement. She felt a bone in her wrist crack, but she was too shocked to scream. Something in her hip throbbed, and her breath seemed stuck in her lungs.

After a few moments she became aware, through the pain, of her surroundings. Hundreds of canvas-encased bodies hung from the ceiling on wires and ropes. Below them, metal basins caught the blood as it dripped, dripped. It dripped and pooled in the long rectangular basins. It was not red, it was a brownish black. The heavy iron smell was stronger near the floor.

Megan retched, the muscles in her stomach and throat straining. After she was done, she struggled to her feet, spittle dripping from her mouth and tears leaking from her eyes. Her naked legs shook beneath her as she stumbled towards daylight, but her hands clutched the razor steadily. If she met him, she would slit his throat. Just like he had slit her sister’s throat. Except Megan would enjoy it much, much more.