She asked, what is it with you and 100 words?
The challenge, really. Most stories are about the words you use. These are about the ones you don’t.
And NaNoWriMo? 50,000 words in a month? That’s hardly not using words.
Still a challenge. People do it for the same reason.
Force themselves to actually write. The story in your head is never the one that appears on paper. Writing means making imperfect copies, taking your golden idea and turning it into lead. It’s hard.
So why do it?
I shrug. This isn’t about writing. It’s about having written.
These days, noone bought the puppet-maker’s toys. But still his shelves were lined with wooden marionettes.
“Why do you do it?” I asked.
“Because once upon a time, an old man made a wish,” he said. “Y’know, when you’re young, you don’t understand age. You think your body’s tough as varnished wood. But flesh decays.”
“So many things I still want to do. But, old men have had wishes granted before.”
I looked at the marionettes. Their smooth, oiled joints. “You’d wish for a son?”
“Hah, no! I’d wish I’d never wanted to be a real boy.”
Nothing kills people like a war, and the war with the Irish had been long.
But now, it was almost done.
“It feels dirty,” Arfa said, leaning on the Tintagel battlements.
Merlyn nodded. “But you did well.”
“So many people dead. And suddenly it all stops because of a stupid marriage. At least it’ll be over once Tristan gets back.”
Merlyn arched an eyebrow. “You sent Tristan?”
“You sent a compulsive womaniser to spend weeks travelling with the renowned beauty who’s meant to marry his uncle.” Merlyn sighed. “No, can’t see anything going wrong with that at all.”
They called it the Money Pit, and there was rumour of great treasure at the bottom.
All other excavations ended in tragedy. The locals muttered that money was the root of all evil.
Whoever built it didn’t want us getting in, but we had better technology.
Explosives dealt with the giant granite plug. We found and sealed the flood tunnels before the water could reach our machines.
Finally, we broke into a great chamber. Around us, the air filled with sulphur. The walls began to echo with demonic laughter.
I’m starting to think us getting in wasn’t really their concern.
He switched off the hyperluminal drive and powered up the EarthScope.
“OK,” he said. “This is it.”
She looked out at the flat, endless nothing. They’d been travelling for days, left behind the whole galaxy, the whole cluster… for this.
“Daaaaaaad,” she said. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re 85 million light years from Earth,” he said. “And there’s some things you can only see when you’re this far away.”
“Emily’s dad took her to Saturn,” she grumbled.
He finished tweaking the dials, and beckoned her over. She looked through the EarthScope, and gasped. “Is that…?”
“Yep,” he said. “Dinosaurs.”
Searching for food, Magpie saw the fisherman pulling his haul onto Mousehole beach.
“Nice catch!” Magpie said. “How many you leaving for Bucca?”
“What you talking about, bird?”
“Bucca. God of storms. Got to leave him some fish, or he gets upset.”
At this, the fisherman got quite upset. “But… I’ve never left anything for Bucca!”
The fisherman shook his head.
“OK. How about, this time leave two fish.”
“Will that be enough?”
“Sure. Bucca can’t eat that much.”
“Should I do anything else?”
“Nah, just leave them there. And don’t turn around. Bucca don’t like to be watched.”
I was having trouble thinking up a story for today, until I realised I’d been given the prompt ‘feeling meta’.
“What do you think?” I asked. “Writing about writing. Too pretentious?”
Magpie perched on the monitor. “That stopped you before?”
“I want to know when you’re going to tell the story about me and the fisherman.”
“It’s a brilliant story.”
“Sure it is.”
“Better than this one.”
I tapped out another few words, then broke the paragraph.
“Best get on,” Magpie said. “You’re 90 words in already.”
“Really? Guess I’d better stop there, then.”
I’m woken up by a cold splash of water across my face. There’s a bitter taste in my mouth and a bright light shining in my eyes.
“We’ve got some questions for you.”
My head thumps. The last thing I remember was that girl. Skin so deliciously pale. Her neck so smooth and inviting.
A bloodstream so full of laudanum I’m still having trouble moving.
I’ve been hunting for 3000 years. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Who set the trap? Police? Slayers?
Some pottery fragments are pushed toward me.
“What can you tell us about these?”
Oh, hells. It’s even worse.
You’ve got to start small.
We never had big ambitions. We just thought we could do a better job of running the place.
So we seceded. Just our street. Oh, we wanted Thicket Road too. Maybe Fishponds. Definitely no more.
But it turned out the idea was pretty popular. Soon enough, we had all of Bristol. Barely any peer pressure needed.
The Midlands followed, then Yorkshire. Finally the Prime Minister gave up the keys to Downing Street.
Now we’ve got colonies in Paris and Berlin. World domination is gradual, but it’s going well. After all, you’ve got to start small.
Walking the rooftops, I found a hummingbird painted on a chimneystack.
It was a beautiful thing, delicate as rose blossom, bright as rainbows. Drawn so precisely it could be alive, up here where no-one could see it. I came back every day, to prove I hadn’t imagined it.
One day, someone else was there, sitting on the roof. “Did you make that?” I asked.
“No. I just found it.”
“Who’d do something like that, all the way up here?”
He shrugged. “Someone who wants people to keep exploring. Best way to do that is leave behind some buried treasure.”
When planning his new restaurant, my uncle travelled all over the world.
“And you know what they had everywhere?” he said, whisking the batter. “Pancakes.”
“Pancakes. There’s so many culinary traditions, but everyone has pancakes. In Eritrea, it’s savoury and used as a plate. In Indonesia, they have serabi. In France, crepes.”
“Pancakes are hard times food. The cheapest ingredients. A culture’s food shows its history, and everyone’s had hard times, too.”
“Hard times food?” I asked. “You charge £60 for your pancakes.”
He shrugged. “That’s because when people are rich, they can afford to be stupid.”
I discovered my father was a liar while sitting with my cousin under a large oak tree.
“That way’s north,” I said, pointing to the mossy side of the trunk.
“Ain’t.” He brutally disabused me of the notion, not with facts I could argue but with a compass I could not.
I didn’t forgive my father for days. I felt betrayed, unsure of anything he told me.
Later, as the world became complicated, I understood why.
Now I have kids, I could explain magnetism, weather systems and prevailing wind. Instead, I point at the moss, and say “That way’s north.”
My twin sister and I were born with a rare genetic defect, which means I can only tell the truth and she can only lie.
She says I’m making it up, of course.
The funny thing is, because we never have perfect information, I often speak a truth that turns out to be false, and she lies in a way that’s actually true.
“That’s not funny,” she says. As she would.
“I was just explaining…”
“Stop it,” she growls. “I’m the one who tells the truth. You’re the one who lies.”
Maybe she’s right. Honestly, it’s quite hard to tell.
The amount she stares at her coffee, you’d think she could tell the future in those swirls of cream.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, when I mentioned as much. “The future’s 3D. It moves in a hundred directions.” And she moved her hand through the steam, caressing it into new shapes.
“So what do you see?”
“The usual. Some pain, some joy. Hope, death, winter and spring.”
“This week’s lottery numbers?”
She hands me a card. “I got those this morning.” I raise an eyebrow, and she sips the coffee. “Last night’s hot chocolate told me you’d ask.”
The plague was thorough. I was the only survivor.
I never went out much. Maybe that’s why. We never worked out what it was or how it spread.
Not through pizza takeout, at least.
Surprisingly, things still mostly run. I wouldn’t say they’re better, but they’re not noticeably worse.
Of course, the void led to a new order. New faces at the top. And while my freedom is now more limited, they’ve not been unkind. I guess I should be grateful to our... my... new overlords.
I am the last man on Earth.
The women keep me in a museum.
I can’t remember how long it’s been since they locked me in the emptiness.
I don’t even know if that question makes sense. This place is empty of everything, including time and space.
I am all there is.
I could go mad here. Of course, that’s the intention.
They’ve left me nothing but my mind.
And if that’s the only weapon I’ve got, I intend to use it.
This place is empty but my imagination is infinite. I can be worlds and futures and civilisations, until finally I am free.
I open my eyes.
“Let there be light.”
Johnny was a wanderer
Johnny was a priest
And on the nights the moon came out
Johnny was a beast
He never told his doting flock
But still they found out
And on that night the Midnight Mass
Became a Midnight Rout
They chased him from his pulpit
In a charging mass of white
Forced into the woodland
Hidden from their sight
His flock returned to grazing
The clover and the grass
And Johnny still a-wanders
Welcome as broken glass
His sermons go unanswered
Noone listens, noone can
Johnny always was a wolf
Who dreamed of being a man
The NeuroCinemaDrive, powered by the brainwaves of 100 telekinetics, was a great success, until someone put a copy of Big Brother 57 in a case marked Blackadder Season 1.
What should have been a speed of ‘something more interesting’s happening over there’ became ‘anywhere but here’, and now the starship was off the map.
“So where are we?” the Captain asked.
“I don’t know,” the Navigation Officer said. “The whole point of ‘anywhere but here’ being that ‘here’ is very small and ‘anywhere’ is very large.”
“Fine.” The Captain tapped the console. “Computer, display Netflix. We have work to do.”
Victor Frankenstein was unusually distracted at Bridge Night.
“Come on, old chap,” von Stranglehoff said, eventually. “Vhat’s up?”
And so Frankenstein told the whole story. The Creature. How his elation turned to disgust when he saw the yellow eyes, the skin stretched tight over muscle and blood.
Von Stranglehoff paused.
“So… you make life. You reanimate ze dead. You succeed vhere everyone but ze Almighty has failed… and you are complaining because it does not look like Scarlett Johannson?”
Frankenstein threw down his cards and stormed out. Professor Vortechs looked at the vacant seat. “Do you think it knows Acol?”
I first saw the yacht with red sails heading west, the day my father drowned.
He always was a keen boatman, though he’d been stolen by a riptide while trying to save Jess. The collie had swum too far out.
In his memory, I took up boating, and found why he loved it. Solitude, in a world of seven billion.
But solitude has a price. And now I pay it, dehydrated, sunburnt, my boat impaled on hidden rocks.
Coming from the east, I see the yacht with red sails. And I already know its captain, Jess sitting at his feet.