Okay, let’s do this. It took much longer than I hoped, but I got a free morning on this otherwise loaded vacation. Sarah, Melissa and Will, it was awesome to see you. Beau, hopefully we can time this somehow. Everyone else, hopefully next time the weather plays along and plans don’t get crazy.

It’s been long enough. Let me end this intro without fanfare.

Sama Smith

I hide. I wait. I watch silently.

High pitch noises reverberate around me. They shake inside me and I cannot feel still.

I must be still. I must be still. I feel the sway and I am taken. I want to die, but I don’t know how to. I let myself go and everything goes dark. Maybe this is what it is to die. Finally. I can escape this wretched life prison.

Everything rushes down around me and I am plunged deep into an abyss. Swirling and turning and twisting me. I try to vomit. I squeeze my eyes shut hoping this is the end.

Then I am weightless again. I open my eyes to see the wonderment around me. I wander through this new space and I am everywhere and nowhere and I feel free. I love it here. I can hide over there. I can hide over here. No one can see me. It’s a miracle. I am reborn.

Now I can spy on them. I can watch without being watched. I think I can live again. I get more food. I find more things around me. I see green things float by sometimes and I am truly alive. For once in my life I feel truly alive.

I was sleeping when it happened. I open my eyes and I am no longer alone. I stay on one side and it stays on the other. I thought it was my reflection at first, but then it moved and my heart skipped a beat. My breath stopped and I felt like I could die, but it didn’t move an inch toward me. We just stared at each other from opposite ends of the world. Our eyes slowly blinking in a neverending showdown.

I should not have gone for the food. As soon as I moved, Other Me took my spot and it will not be deterred. I have tried everything: nudging, prodding, bumping, thumping, chasing, and smacking. It will not be moved. I hate it. I have never hated anything more. My life is over. I lay on my side once more. My world collapses into darkness.

When the light returns Other Me is no longer in my spot. It is no longer anywhere I can see. I feel such joy and exhilaration. A pure rush of adrenaline fills me with unending pleasure. I rejoice and shake with rapture.

I rush to the welcomed warmth of my old hiding spot and nestle in so neatly in the only place that has ever felt like home. A few pebbles are rustled up in my wake of excitement and my life swirls back into place. I fall asleep feeling like I could sleep for a thousand years. Comfort floods through me and I am fulfilled.

When I wake up I look around for Other Me. I see it nowhere and hope returns to my heart again. Finally, I look up and I see Other Me above, unmoving and upside down.

That is no concern of mine. Why should it matter? I have my home back. I am where I want to be. I fall asleep.

I am woken by a booming crash. The world shakes in violent waves. From my hiding spot I spy a long object swiftly taking Other Me away. It is done. Other Me is gone.

Maybe I should feel mad or sad, but I feel nothing. It was the only friend and enemy I ever knew. The only other one like me that has ever existed in the world. It is gone. I am alone. Alone is how I should be. Alone is more me than any Other Me could be.

I revel in the quietude once more. No more disruptive splashing. No more fighting for food. No more sharing spaces and no more movement that’s too close for comfort. This is me. This is life in its silent, still and sometimes scary ways. It is perfect. It is pleasure. It is home.

Today, I hide. I wait. I watch silently. I close my eyes and let my mind drift away. I am free.

K: Fish aren’t inanimate, though! I had to give this one several reads to make sense of it. I wanted the story to be about water being displaced, or the pebbles themselves…it’s a nice enough story when it comes together, but fish…well, they’re alive. (I read this a couple more times. It occurs to me that not all of it works perfectly with fish, but unfortunately, I don’t have a better answer. Apologies if there’s something here we aren’t seeing).

CW: I had to read this 4 times. I still fear it went over my head. Is this about fish? And if so does that fit the prompt? That being said, I don’t think it would have changed things for me much, if at all. The word patterns here didn’t interest me so much and the other stories were just so much more fun.

Matt Novak

On the twenty-first of September I stopped by the residence of Inspector Percival Jones, for one of my regular visits. We had taken leave to his study, and were in the midst of discussing the Mystery of African Sapphire, of which you have no doubt read in our Gazette, when the door announced with thunderous voice the arrival of a visitor.

The man who stood outside was dressed in the customary uniform of one of our local officers, and Jonas introduced him as Roger Whitford, because he was not known to me.
“The Corporal is asking for you, sir,” Whitford explained his presence breathlessly. It was clear he had run to Jonas’ residence. “To come at once, sir.”
“I shall be happy to do so, provided my good friend Thomas here might accompany me?”
“As you like, sir.”
Having little better to do, as my wife was visiting her mother, I was only too glad to join Jonas. Having served as a humble assistant and, to the best of my abilities, documenter, on several of Inspector Jonas’ greatest cases, I was looking forward to once again watching the particular brilliance of this man.

The home that Whitford led us to was modest, with a well-kept garden and a trellis that perched itself alongside the alley, keeping a nervous, delicate guard against any incursions that might offend the property line. A number of officers were leaving the scene, and we were greeted by Corporal Spencer.
“Inspector Jonas!” He shook the Inspector’s hand heartily, beaming with his familiar sense of self-satisfaction. He took my hand in turn, squeezing it too tightly in his heavy paw.
“What’s the situation?” asked Jonas directly.
“I’m afraid you’ve come too late. A Ms. Smythe was seen through the window by a neighbor, and he alerted authorities. When we arrived we found she had expired, the cause of death being clearly a blow to the back of her head, which had resulted in a frightful amount of blood. The only possible suspect, Mr. Stephen Raddington, was her boarder. He had been set to leave from the station, but had forgotten some critical papers, and, when he returned, he was apprehended.”
I asked the obvious question, “Why would you say he was the only possible suspect?”
“Because the doors were all locked. Only he and Ms. Smythe had keys. We had to enter by force”
“It seems quite clear,” agreed Jonas. “And I’m glad for your explanation of injured doorjamb. See, Thomas, how it practically cries out?”
I had failed to notice the damage, but now that it had been observed to me, I felt almost ashamed to have missed it.
“Sorry to have disappointed you.”
“Not at all, Corporal,” answered Jonas, “Still, I’d like to have a look around?”
“Certainly.”
“In the absence of others, per usual?”
“I had almost forgotten,” commented the Corporal, with a disdainful look, “Even on a closed case such as this?”
“I’m afraid so, Corporal. My methods are my own. They need to remain that way.”

As the officers cleared the premises, these words echoed in my ears. Indeed, those words have not been far from my mind since I heard them.

It has often been said that Inspector Percival Jonas is a singular talent. This much is true. But what that talent is, none have had opportunity to see, save for myself, your humble scribe. He is known to find clues unfound, identify suspects unsuspected, and provide answers to questions other did not know to ask. It is his great success in solving mysteries all others find unsolvable that has made him such a well-known quantity in name. Yet he has always maintained his secrecy and valued his privacy. Indeed, he has shared, even with myself, who he considers his closest confidant, precious little. It is this quality which makes him such a delightful enigma, a mystery unto himself, and, I suspect, is in great part the reason which causes the public to devour stories of his success with such ravenous appetites. As his closest ally, I have endeavored to keep his secrets. As the recorder and publisher of his adventures, I have equally attempted to inform the public of his unique abilities, hinting, as strongly as I am able, as to their qualities. Indeed, it has occasionally been remarked upon that I, as an author, have a peculiar style, frequently assigning to inanimate objects a personality, physicality, or other quality more commonly suited to those of our species. Such has been the result of my best efforts.

The reason I address you so directly now is that, upon conclusion of Inspector Jonas’ investigation in this matter, it was abundantly clear to me that this mystery was unlike any other I had heretofore seen. In the normal course, Jonas would identify a motive, an unknown suspect, or a hidden accomplice, some specific element that would lead to the apprehension of an individual deserving of that particular fate. Such would not be the case on this day, and so, in order that I might relay to you the outcome of this particular case, I will resume the story, for the first time revealing the extent of Jonas’ unique abilities. I wish to impress upon you my own sincere understanding of how peculiar a skill it is. The first times I was exposed to Jonas’ methods, I, too, was utterly in shock, and it is my hope that by relaying to you now this experience, you will come to understand that the Inspector does possess, quite literally, abilities, that have otherwise been unknown to man. Indeed, the rarity of these gifts is such that I would not deign to even share this story, nor Jonas’ secrets, were I not utterly convinced that specific steps need be taken, in order to secure the public good.

The officers having stepped away, Inspector Jonas and I stood alone outside the home. He paid his respects to the broken door jamb as we entered. The inside of the house was decorated in the most garish of fashions. Patterned furniture of several styles dotted both the large foyer and the sitting room. A dramatic staircase stood at the opposite end of the foyer. A landing at the top of the stair was covered with a rug that clashed painfully with the papering on the wall, which in turn clashed with the curtains. A dried pool of blood beneath the stairs revealed the location of Ms. Smythe’s demise.

“It seems these items of décor don’t particularly get along,” supposed Jonas, “still, we should find at least some of them useful.”
He approached the stairs first. A slight flick of his fingers, and they rose before him, forming themselves into the semblance of a man, inanimate matter being, by Jonas’ unique abilities, called forth into animated form.
“It seems she fell at your feet,” Jonas addressed the stair-man, “would you pray tell me what you saw?”
The stairs hesitated.
“There was a person.”
“Besides Ms. Smythe, you mean?”
“Yeah.”
“Was this person a man or a woman?”
Again there was a pause.
“Man.”
“I see. I suspect I’ll not get more information out of you?”
“I don’t see why I should help anyone. No one has taken care of me.”
This was a true statement. The stairs demonstrated signs of neglect, chips and scrapes and a painfully mismatched railing made of an entirely different wood.
“You were unhappy then?”
“You could say that.”
“How have you been getting along? Did she still use you often? Or were you neglected?”
“She was old,” the stairs explained, “and old women don’t like the stairs.”
“Understood,” concluded the Inspector.

At that, he flicked his fingers again, and a rail-thin man appeared, nervous and edgy.
“Did you see anything that happened to Ms. Smythe?” asked Jonas.
“The old woman?” asked the rail.
“Yes.”
“Nope. Just like the stair said, we didn’t see anything. Someone was here. Then they weren’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Did Ms. Smythe use you when she took the stairs up or down?”
“Oh yeah, both ways,” answered the rail, nervously adding, “but she didn’t go up or down too much. Mostly just stayed down there.” He nodded his head toward the main floor.

Jonas returned the stair and rail to their form and carefully ascended the stairs, continuing his investigation. A small table sat on a landing, and a vase lay sidewise on the table. An open window, curtained in an obtrusive shade of orange, blew a gentle breeze into the room. Jonas flicked his fingers and the objects sprang to life.

“Who tipped you over?” the Inspector asked the vase?
“No one, that’s who!”
“She’s always this way,” explained the table.
“You’re no better!” interjected the curtains,
“That’s right!” continued the vase, “Always wobbling. Can’t stand straight!”
“You wouldn’t know straight, you’re pottery!”
The group continued to argue as Jonas listened.
It was at that point that a garish rug, sitting as inconspicuously as possible given the awful pattern it possessed, hissed out a command.
“Quiet! All of you!”
The objects immediately ceased their bickering, and the home became eerily quiet.

“I think I understand,” began Jonas, “none of you were happy here?”
“Don’t tell him anything,” interrupted the rug.
“It’s alright,” said Jonas, “I know the rug is hiding something. You can tell me.”
“I didn’t want to!” erupted the table, “But this place is so awful. They made me do it!”
As the table began to explain, the others let out a collective groan.
“They lured her up here. The rug pulled out from under her. The railing dodged her hand. The stairs delivered the fatal blow! They did it! We all did it! We killed her!”

Jonas flicked his fingers twice, and the objects became inanimate once again. He bent down quickly, picking up the rug and revealing a hidden indentation, the very spot where Ms. Smythe had first collided with the ground, before tumbling fatally down the stairs.

As Jonas was able to deduce, the misery of the objects in the home was brought about by Ms. Smythe’s particular style, or, perhaps is appropriate, lack thereof. No furniture, carpet, décor, or any other inanimate object could truly be at rest with such uncomplimentary neighbors. Nor, for that matter, could any man. The extreme agitation of the items led them to conspire against their owner, such that, if she died, they might all be sent away to new homes, via an estate sale, or other divestment.

The police, having a suspect, were hesitant to follow Jonas’ exposition of the scene, wherein he described that it was an accident that had befallen Ms. Smythe, and not the work of a malicious boarder. Still, he was able to eventually press upon them Mr. Raddington’s innocence, and the matter was considered closed.

That is, at least, the matter was considered closed by all involved save myself. For, having seen the motives and efforts of the home and the objects therein, I could not remain silent. To let them go unrevealed as criminals was more than I could bear. And so it is that I make my confession to you, dear reader, of the unusual talents of Inspector Percival Jonas. Sworn by Jonas to secrecy, lo these many years that I have served as his companion, I can no longer abide in silence. So as I share with you this story, I pray that justice find all those – animate and inanimate – who have it due.

K: Now this person anthropomorphized a LOT of inanimate shit. It’s a very well-crafted story, where we think we’ve seen the only inanimate character it has to offer, which nicely sets up the reveal of the rest of the house. I smiled throughout. Crimes against interior decoration…fun stuff. I also dug the language; I felt immersed in the style. SILVER

CW: Even though you were entirely overt with your idea of anthropomorphism, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It felt like Watson and Sherlock Holmes meets Fantasia. The idea that one’s furniture could up and murder them for neglect is so ridiculous but this story encompassed it effortlessly and made it seem realistically fantastical. – GOLD

Annette Barron

Every girl should have a pair. About a 3 inch heel, pointy toe, black and shiny; they fit almost any occasion and never go out of style. They aren’t so high as to keep you from running for a cab, but high enough to make your legs and ass look their best. This is my fourth pair and they are something special.

They saved my life. I was late and hurried to cross at LaSalle and Broadway when a cab ran the light. I should have been killed but my shoe stuck in something on the sidewalk and I paused just long enough to keep from being creamed. I didn’t find anything on the bottom of my shoe, but didn’t think much about it.

Last Friday, my shoes took me out dancing. I had every intention of going straight home after work but instead, found myself walking uptown. The first club line I came upon, I joined. I met a really hot guy who was definitely into me and gave me a lead on an internship at an investment firm. I let him bang me silly before heading home at 3 a.m. A very productive night!

Tuesday, I had an appointment at the investment firm for an interview. Traffic was gridlocked and there was no way my cab was going to get me there in time. I hopped out with five minutes to spare and ran 10 blocks. I not only made it on time, I wasn’t even winded or sweaty. Friday night’s lay had put in a good word for me and I got the position. I treated my shoes to a good shine at the stand in front of the smoothie place on 119th. You have to give back, right?

The events of last night convinced me that my shoes are something . . . more. A few of us from work decided to go dive bar hopping. How we ended up in the Bronx is still fairly fuzzy. I got pretty hammered and tottered off to catch the subway at East Tremonton. The platform was deserted except for a guy in a hoodie who wouldn’t meet my eye. I have mace on my key chain but I didn’t dig it out of my bag. For some reason, I just wasn’t afraid and turned my back on him to stroll down the tracks so that I could get on at the front of the train.

He made no sound as he approached me but my shoes still knew he was coming. My left leg lashed out behind me before I even knew what was happening, gouging a heel-sized hole in the guy’s upper thigh and dropping him like a rock. His scream was high and breathy. Blood started spreading underneath him at an alarming rate, so my heel must have hit the femoral artery. The train pulled up and I hopped on. He was just a dark spot on the platform as we pulled away.

There was a couple making out in the train car, so I casually crossed my legs to inspect my shoe. It was squeaky clean; no blood, no nicks in the leather, nothing. I smiled to myself. Me and my shoes make a really good team.

K: I hadn’t really considered that one might make the animated character the narrator, but it made for a different angle that I ended up liking quite a bit. While this one doesn’t have the secrets of the second story and it more or less jumps from place to place without a central theme, it was still an enjoyable ride. BRONZE

CW: I kinda want a pair of these shoes. This story was light and fun but witty and smart as well. Just like I like my women! I want to know if this woman is now wanted in NY for murder though. – SILVER

erik s

The light of a waning gibbous moon slowly illuminated the wide savanna as it was afforded a gap in the clouds shuffling wearily by.

Byaitaka’s eyes fluttered open, roused by the moonlight. He realized he’d been drifting in and out of sleep. This was certainly not the night for that. He rubbed his face roughly and poured a bit of water from his canteen down the back of his shirt.

From his position on the edge of the forest, he peered across the land, though saw nothing amiss. Wanting to be sure, he gingerly placed his rifle against a nearby tree, uncased his battered binoculars, and scanned the terrain with what light the moon allowed.

His mind briefly asked just exactly which land he was surveying, though a stronger, more powerful voice, one that had been systematically ingrained into his thinking, don’t him not to worry. Don’t ask questions. DRC, CAR, South Sudan, it didn’t matter.

Don’t ask questions.

It really wasn’t that important to him anyway.

Even the thought of dissention caused him to become suddenly nervous. He peered behind him, fruitless as it was, into the dark woods to his aft. He saw no lights. He heard no noise. Just as well. Bigombe was moving between the posts tonight. He was the absolute worst of the Lieutenants. If Bigombe caught him napping, he most likely would not be waking.

The breach in the clouds sealed, and all but a few meters around him slipped back into darkness. He returned the spyglasses to their case and returned the PK-10 to his hands. He instantly felt warmer and more secure here alone and exposed on the edge of the woods.

Loneliness was something Byaitaka was familiar with, though still not used to. The rolling savanna in front of him reminded him of home. Or at least he thought it did. It had been a number of years since he’d been taken; how many, he was no longer sure (he thought that he was either 12 or 13 by now).

He was from a small and poor village, just like all the other ones around him. There had been a commotion outside the classroom. As everyone turned to look outside, the soldiers burst through the door opposite. His teacher had tried to say something, but before he was able to get out a word, a pistol was placed against his head and discharged.

The last few years were somewhat hazy for Byaitaka, but that moment was still crystal clear, and most likely would remain that way in spite of all the alcohol and drugs they would stuff into them.

As though a switch had been turned off, Mr. Lubega simply crumpled to the ground. Blood, thick, maroon, and sticky, bubbled forcefully from the fissure, then gurgled, then stopped. Before Byaitaka could fully register what was happening, he was being rounded up along with his classmates and driven to the village center.

Lost in the pain of that day, movement from behind him, the cracking of a branch, snapped him back to the present. He twirled around and almost emptied his clip into the black woods.

Somehow he was able to stop his finger from depressing the trigger, though just barely. Wide-eyed, his rifle aimed towards the dark, his breath hitched violently in his chest.

After a time, the gasping trailed off into panting. He swallowed hard, and tentatively lowered his rifle. It seemed whatever creature or man had made the sound had slithered back into the gloom.

He’d seen very little of the chaos in the village square that day. He was hustled straight past it, along with his classmates (in hindsight, he assumed that the children were the main target). Even in the brief time since the bedlam had erupted, the heap of bodies had been quite substantial. With all the shots and screams he’d heard behind him, he still wondered how high the pile had risen.

He turned back to the savanna. His heart was still thumping, but he was at least thankful that his drowsiness seemed to have dissipated.

They had split up all of his classmates, or at least none of them had ended up with him. About a year ago, he saw a young girl that he was pretty sure had come from his village as well. He was only pretty sure because he only had memories of a happy girl with shining ebony eyes (her name started with “M”, but he couldn’t recall the rest). However, the bright eyes he’d remember were now dead and vacant.

When they took the girls, they used them as cooks or porters or, as was usually the case, for much darker purposes. He hoped she was put to use for one of the first two, though his faith wasn’t that strong.

He hadn’t intended to think on the past. Usually tried not to, in fact, but on this lonesome night, his heart filled with ache and despondency.

Byaitaka checked his six again towards their camp. Still nothing but silence and black past the first rows of trees. Gingerly navigating between ammo clips and other supplies in his pack, he delicately removed a small parcel from the bottom.

Several months back he had been on the other side of a village raid. In a similar fashion to his own home, the town had been herded towards the center. Under the command of an older boy, they were going house to house searching for any hidden souls. The other boy had started to move to the next house when Byaitaka saw them. They were lying among the occupant’s other belongings strewed haphazardly across the floor.

He’d been keyed up, his teeth grind from adrenaline and whatever else they had fed him. Still not sure what motivated him, he’d quickly snatched them up, jammed them in his pack, and hurried to catch up before he caught hell.

Ever since then, on forlorn occasions such as this, he would pull them out.

Removing the tie around them, and unrolling the cloth they were wrapped it, he took out the two Barbie dolls. One was missing a hand, and one was missing hair, and both were the victims of the usual wear and tear caused by small children. He stared at them in the faint moonlight, only able to make out their shape and just a hint of their white skin.

He hugged them fiercely, kissed them each on their forehead, then asked his mother and sister about their day.

K: If I was feeling like an asshole I might complain that the anthropomorphization wasn’t a big enough part of the story, but it provided an excellent climax (and, indeed, kept me asking myself the question throughout the story; I assumed the gun would be the “character,” but this is infinitely more satisfying). Though this is a story we all know about, this story – and this writer in general, as I’m pretty damn sure I know who it is – does a great job of putting the tragedy on a more human level, which is something the media typically is either unwilling or unable to do. GOLD

CW: This is kinda the opposite of light and fun, eh? Good news though, it’s still entertaining and smart. The fact that this is more realistic than not is a testament to the horrible things going on in Africa. I have to imagine some boy there has gone through nearly this exactly. – BRONZE

————————————————————————————

I thought long and hard about Novak and erik’s stories, and where they should land. How do you compare apples and oranges? Which will I remember better? I’m not sure. I didn’t really want to see any of these writers exit today, which is the best kind of problem to have. However, only two will go on, and with eight and six medal points, they are Matt Novak and erik s. Your “reward,” guys, is to face off against John Wreisner and Brian David in the quarterfinal round, where two of you will move on to face Sarah and Beau.

I wish I’d been able to do this earlier, but as we say on that other site, there’s nothing less relaxing than a vacation.

I’ll give you until Monday night the 20th at 9pm Central for the next one, as I’ll be home then and hey, you’ll probably want the extra time. Once again, there’s no word limit. We’ll do the Christina Pepper challenge, wherein one of the two members of a relationship – and ONLY one – is experiencing an internal struggle about the relationship due to sex, compatibility, whatever. It’s possible Pepper has only written about this once or twice, and even then I’m exaggerating that theme, but it’s a prompt rife with possibilities so we’ll run with it.

Cheers, Survivors.

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