Hey, gang. Some nice worlds were built here tonight, and I think we both dug the week in general. I found something to like a lot in all the stories, and really dug a couple of them.
The prompt was to write about the aftermath of a popular or successful leader being dethroned in some way.
Donnelly was awake between the two raps, but didn’t open his eyes. He wasn’t quite ready to believe the sounds were real.
knock knock knock
Yup, they were real. Sleeping on his stomach, slid his head from one side to the other and rubbed his eyes open with grimy knuckles.
A frown slowly spread across his face. The sun hadn’t quite set yet. It was early. Whatever this was most likely wasn’t good news.
“Coming,” Donnelly managed in a raspy voice that turned into a cough. After a few moments he shuffled to the door dressed, though certainly not fastidiously. The army this wasn’t. He opened the door to find a young man standing there. Macpherson? Melendez? M-something. The look in the kid’s eyes confirmed his suspicion on the smell of the situation.
“It’s Hersh, sir. He’s—”
The kid stopped a moment to consider what to say next.
Few splotches of emotion showed Donnelly’s face. He only looked very, very tired. Whatever the situation was, he sensed it had already come to some kind of conclusion. The kid could fill him in on the way.
Donnelly gracefully extended an arm out in front of him, inviting McMurphy to lead the way.
Standing in Hersh’s quarters, Donnelly right hand was wrapped around his midsection as his left was rubbing the scruff between his lip and nose. He stood this way for a long time, silently. McMurphy was unsure of what to do or say, so he did neither, electing to stand stupidly behind Donnelly until the elder man said something.
Hersh’s eyes stared up from either side of giant rift dashed through his forehead. Each eye gazed at a different part of the ceiling, out of sync. Behind him, a fan of blood and muck splayed across the wall like a red headlight across pavement. While the blood had been congealing for some time, a particularly thick lump of brain finally succumbed and peeled off the wall, landing with a quiet, squishy plop.
Donnelly’s eyebrows raised wearily at this development, and he sighed, the most movement McMurphy had detected for some time. He straightened up in attention. Remembering the kid was back there, Donnelly tore his eyes from his friend and turned around.
“Sir,” McMurphy started, “I didn’t find any signs of an external entry, but I suppose if they—”
Donnelly cut him off. “No, no, he certainly pulled the trigger.” He motioned with his head to the large handgun Hersh’s hand; the one that he always kept strapped to his side. He hadn’t expected this, but it certainly didn’t surprise. Hersh had never spoken much of his old life, but Donnelly had always guessed that he had lost the most.
“What now, sir? I was doing my first morning patrol before sunset and was reporting back to Hersh. I came to you first.”
Donnelly wearily stared at him, unsure what he was getting at.
“The sun is almost set and everyone will be up soon. They’ll want to know what the commander has to say.”
Donnelly continued staring at him until it finally dawned on him a McMurphy was referring to him. He laughed a strange, quiet little titter (which unnerved McMurphy much more than his face showed). He remembered when Hersh had a similar moment after Spitz was killed while defending the community during the last big attack over the previous summer.
Donnelly was shocked at how well he had held them together. Always a thoughtful, quiet man, Donnelly did not think that Hersh had had it in him to lead them. He was pleasantly surprised, but was close enough to know what the cost to him was. These monsters, they’re… just so holy and unspeakable that it’s…
He didn’t have the words. He wondered if they would find him as the weight of this lost cause settled uncomfortably around his shoulders.
“Assemble the commanders,” he finally managed, his voice cracking on the first syllable. “Give me 15 minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” McMurphy said, and left quickly.
Donnelly spent a long time looking at his friend. And the large pistol clutched loosely in his palm.
K: It’s interesting that we really never learn who these soldiers are, where they are, and what they do; that could be irritatingly vague, but it also made it easy to get a feel for the characters without getting bogged down in backstory and world-building. This never really gets to be emotionally affecting, but by the end I really liked Donnelly and felt for him.
MN – I love the plot here and the world you’ve built. I don’t know if I’m in a bad mood, or what, but some of the language just doesn’t seem to work for me in the context of the story. It feels too casual maybe? Hard to put my finger on it. We’ve got a very compelling world, and I think we spent too much time on the tired, grizzled guy being vaguely tired and grizzled, and maybe we needed to be pulled into the world more directly, and earlier on? But I really liked it, so don’t read too much into whatever it is I’m trying to get at. SILVER.
Sergeant Rockheart slapped the hastily-drawn diagram, boldly pronouncing his plan for the raid.
“We all agree, right?” he looked his two soldiers in their eyes, “that to destroy Dr. Mutoid, we’ll need to cross the rock bridge over the lava pit, beat the kalsairs, sneak past Mutoid Momma and corner him in the Skull Chamber, right?”
“Aye sir!” Private Pain and The Pulverizer spat back in unison.
“Go, then!” Rockheart cried, “Go, go, go!”
The Sergeant led his men out of their planning room and into the Smokeshot—she was an old bird, but still as fast as all get-out. Soon, they were sitting pretty at Mach 12 on their way to Devil’s Island.
“It’s dangerous, men,” Rockheart spoke up, “I don’t know if we’ll all make it back alive.”
“Anything for the Blaster Brigade, sir!” Pulverizer piped up, “we’re here to save the world.”
Minutes later they had engaged the invisibility cloak and had set down in an opening of the lush jungle. Departing, they turned on the A.A.R.O.N system to watch the ship.
The four heroes macheted their way through jungle vines and crawled under 200-foot tall fallen tree trunks. They gained access to a secret passageway they’d learned about after a daring raid that kidnapped Dr. Mutoid’s sister, Ms. Murder.
Inside the lair, they tiptoed over the rock bridge, watching wedged-free rocks melt in the lava below. The kalsairs were asleep, and Mutoid Momma was strangely absent. Before the Blaster Brigade knew it, only the door to the Skull Chamber separated them from Dr. Mutoid. Slowly, Sergeant Rockheart pushed it open. He silently entered, the other two followed behind.
“Ah, so I see you have spoken to Ms. Murder,” a voice echoed in the room.
A chair on the far end of the room slowly turned, and then he was there, Dr. Mutoid, in all his glory. Except, his moustache was crooked.
“Brian, come on,” Kyle sputtered, “you’re not even trying to be Dr. Mutoid.”
“Your moustache, dude,” Kyle shot back, “it’s not on right. And Dr. Mutoid would have set us up with Ms. Murder. She wouldn’t have talked unless he wanted her to talk.”
“Yeah,” Alex chimed in, “I was saying you guys should’a let me Dr. Mutoid, I’m tired of being Private Pain—I always die first.”
“Guys, guys, guys, “ Brian sputtered, “I just have to get the hang of it. C’mon, Danny’s only been gone a couple of days.”
“But where was your mom?” Alex argued, “Mrs. Tennison would’a heard us sneaking around for sure.”
“Sorry my parents’ floors aren’t all creaky,” Brian retorted, “you didn’t complain about that when we snuck out to TP Mr. Donaldson.”
“You guys are all jags,” Patrick “The Pulverizer” Peterson tossed his NERF gun on the couch, “I was gonna be super-crazy if I got to be Dr. Mutoid; I had face paint and everything!”
“Shut up, dude,” Alex pushed Pat’s shoulder, “you cried when we let you be the Doctor when Danny was on vacation. You said we were playin’ unfair, remember?”
“Did not!” Patrick looked at the ground, “And you were playing unfair anyway.”
“We should call Danny,” Brian suggested, “see what he thinks about all this.”
“Can’t,” Alex noted, “my mom says they won’t have telephone over there for another week or somethin’.”
“They don’t have telephones in Japan?” Patrick was confused.
“Sure they do, stupid,” Alex derided, “it’s just a special phone or somethin’, they don’t have one yet. His dad’s gotta get it set up at work or somethin’.”
Brian rose from the chair and walked past the trio.
“You guys leave Aaron guarding the bikes again?” he asked, “Mom says he keeps crying that you guys don’t let him play Blaster Brigade with us.”
K: I thought this was some kind of video game for a while, but this works too (except for “in all his glory,” which is slang for “naked,” so I thought this was going somewhere pretty strange until I realized that’s not how you were using it). This goes on a little long after the reveal and doesn’t really add all that much, and the dialogue comes off as more teenaged than anything, but I had fun.
MN – This is a funny take, and I believe a lot of the kids’ language. The point is made well enough that the length ends up working against it, because it feels like you’re milking it a bit too much. I like the way you give things the double meanings, especially Aaron.
Donner latched the airlock behind him. “Where’s Daniels?” he asked as he unclipped his helmet and unzipped his suit.
“Haven’t seen him yet today.” Friggs pulled a large bag of potatoes out of a cold locker and hoisted them onto the counter.
“Odd.” Donner stashed his suit in his personal locker and sat on a bench to remove his gravity boots. “Not even for coffee?”
Friggs paused. “No, now that you mention it. Not even for coffee.” He turned and leaned back against the counter. “You check his quarters?”
“Just came from there. And he never showed up at the site. Cowley is supervising the rhodium dig.”
“Cowley? Since when does Daniels put Cowley in charge?”
“He doesn’t.” Ever since Cowley had been caught goading some of the miner/prisoners into fights for his own entertainment, he’d been on a short leash. Granted, all the miners were criminals sentenced to die for their crimes, but still, they were a valuable resource on Solar Wolfe 5. Donner imagined he would take life on a bleak planet breaking his back over getting his brain short circuited, too.
Donner went to the display panel near the airlock. “Display TZs,” he commanded. Green dots sprung into life on the dark screen. TZs (Tracker/Zappers) were implanted at the base of every prisoner’s skull before shipping them to Solar Wolfe 5. Donner studied the screen. “Everyone seems to be where they should be.”
“Maybe Daniels is at the dock,” Friggs suggested as he expertly whittled the peel off a potato, “The next transport should be here any day now. Can’t get here soon enough! We’re going to be eating beans every meal soon.”
“I’ll check.” Donner couldn’t ignore the growing pit of uneasy. He pressed his thumb to his locker and it sprung open again. His top shelf was empty. “My zapper is gone.”
“Leave it in your bunk?”
“No. It’s not there.”
Friggs cut the last potato into the pot and turned around. “You sound worried.”
“I got a bad feeling.”
Before Friggs could reply, a ping sounded and the computer announced the incoming transport shuttle.
“Speak of the devil,” Friggs exclaimed happily.
Donner raced back to the computer port. “Display TZs.” The display lit up with green lights, which were now swarming toward the station like fireflies on a mission. He tried the com line to the incoming shuttle, but there was only buzzing.
“Friggs, they’re coming for the shuttle!” Donner ran down the hall to the weapon’s locker. His thumbprint opened it but the hollow bang of the door told it all. “Jesus, Friggs, we’re fucked.”
Guards made life changing amounts of money for a 10 year stint. If you made it home, you never needed to work again. Donner intended to make it home.
He ran back to his locker and started to dress for outside.
“Where are you going?” Friggs finally seemed to realize that the day had gone downhill . . . sharply.
“The dock! We have to get to the shuttle before they do. If that shuttle doesn’t return to Luna with a hull full of money rocks, they won’t send another. You want to be stuck here?”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Friggs muttered as he shucked his apron and started for his gear. Donner didn’t wait. He was running down another corridor, clipping his helmet as he went. He wondered as he ran whether Martins and Healy were dead, but spared them only a glancing thought as he opened the airlock and burst outside.
The laser rock drill took his legs off before he even knew he was hit. Shock was instantaneous and he felt no pain. The breach of his suit, however, meant his lungs were immediately assailed by vacuum. As he flopped about gasping, Cowley leaned over him.
“Too bad, asshole. If you had stuck up for me, you maybe could’ve come with us. We’re gonna sell this rock to the highest bidder.” Giggling, he held the drill up for Friggs, who barrelled right into it. Cut almost in two, Friggs fell on Donner.
Helmet to helmet, they watched each other fade away.
K: That’s cold, dudes…cold. I really enjoyed this world and the idea of the politicking that would ensue, even among criminals. Again, this isn’t a real affecting story, but the plot was strong and it was legitimately exciting leading up to the conclusion. BRONZE
MN – Ooh, we’ve got some good evilness on display here. There’s too much telling in the story, and some of it really wasn’t needed, so that interrupted the flow. The action is quality, and the world is believable while being creative enough too. I very much wanted to see the protagonists succeed, so you made a real connection there. BRONZE
He was gone in a flash, there was that 4.4 speed. He ran through the trees like they were a nickel defense. That’s why he had that scholarship from State that he couldn’t risk.
Mind you, “run!” wasn’t the solution for his offensive linemen.
“Yo did James just ditch us?”
Of course he did. The knocking was getting louder. “Police! Open up!”
“Man, what the fuck are we going to do?”
I didn’t know. I’d never been drunk before. We all reeked of beer. Trevor started crying.
“I had a fucking scholarship too! How could he do that to us, man?”
His brother bought us a keg. He wanted to reward us for getting his brother the state record. Here we were, left in the lurch. Completely frozen.
“WE HAVE A WARRANT!” The sound of the door bursting open snapped them all back to the reality of the situation.
“You kids having a party tonight? Oh… wait a second, you all go to Carver High don’t you?”
I answered the questions just like I’d been told to. Yes, sir. No, sir.
“Yes, you’re going to jail tonight. Can you please stop crying, son?”
The handcuffs dug into my meaty wrists. He told us we didn’t have anything to worry about. He told us he’d protect us. This was a celebration for us.
“Watch your head, kid.”
Fuck you, James.
K: Well, that was quick. The ending hit me out of nowhere; I think there was some drama to be had. This is a potentially strong backdrop, where you can really deal with some heavy matter like the ridiculous overlove of football that causes us to protect kids who would otherwise be raked over the coals. We only just scratch the surface here, though.
MN – Some of the pronouns get a bit confused – lots of “he’s” and despite the fact that the story is told in first person we don’t get that until well into it. It’s a nice slice of life story, but getting us a stronger emotional connection to the narrator would have helped it work a bit better.
Gilroy’s instructions had been very clear. It had to be public, and it had to be messy. The grand opening of the Glorious People’s Meat Packing Plant would suffice.
King Evrard waved to the adoring masses as he prepared to throw the lever and bring the machines to life. Gilroy waited for the perfect moment. Evrard threw the switch, and the gears began to crush and grind and snarl.
Gilroy gave the king the slightest shove.
Down fell the king, into the processing machine below.
The next day, there was civil unrest and widespread panic. How had this happened? Who would be the new king? What, exactly, was so important about the plant, anyway? Why were there no guards or guardrails? For the love of god, why was the king standing right by the extrusion machine?
Shares of the Rollensteiner Meat Processing Facility went up $50.
Easiest twenty dollars Gilroy ever made.
K: This ending line is so goddamned stupid (charmingly and beautifully so) that I couldn’t stop giggling for quite a while. This is the right length for this story, and the lunacy was so over-the-top but committed that it reminded me of an Alexa Kocinski story, for anyone who remembers her (so this must be Pete?). God. Funny stuff here. SILVER
MN – Oh man, I was definitely taken by that last line. A high-quality gag. Probably not enough to stand out among some of the very creative worlds that were built this time, but it’s effective. Another gag or two earlier might have made the difference here.
I stepped through the coffee shop doors and my glasses fogged over. I didn’t bother to clear them off; I just scraped the remnants of the snow onto the place mat and wandered past through the tables.
The condensation lifted quickly as I moved, and I could now see the chessboards sitting on top of the tables in front of me. There was a large group tonight, and I hovered for a moment next to a particularly tense game. The players were hunched over, focusing sharply on the pieces; neither of them seemed to notice me. Finally, one of them looked up, blinked his tired eyes and smiled.
I smiled as best I could. “Good to see you, Murray.”
Murray studied my face for a moment and then stood slowly, holding onto the top of the chair.
“Chuck isn’t coming. . .” Murray said, more a statement than a question. I nodded my head.
“No, he isn’t.” I pulled out an envelope from one of the deep pockets of my winter coat. “I. . .I brought a card. For us to sign.”
Murray waved his hand and stepped around me, the lines on his face seeming to grow deeper as he smacked his lips. He headed for the door. Luanne, the woman who had been playing against Murray, stood and rubbed my shoulder. Others started to notice that my cheeks were wet and walked over.
The card was passed around. Stories were told and games were played and soon people started smiling again.
* * *
I sat at the table, thumbing through the pages of an exercise book; simple mate-in-two problems. I waited for a while, but soon it was almost closing time. The snow drifted lazily past the windows of the shop, coating the streets in a pristine white blanket.
Luanne had been the only that had shown up for the last few weeks. After our last game together she hugged for a long time and thanked me for being such a good friend. I knew she wouldn’t be back.
I looked over the top of the book at the pieces set on the board, and I thought of the day that I first met him. I had been sitting alone next to the chess board, and someone pulled the book away from my face.
We were both a lot younger then. He smiled wide, that infectious smile that had cheered up so many others.
“Well, this must be the chess club,” he said.
K: This is surprisingly emotional for a story that doesn’t actually have the leader in it, outside of a quick memory. I’m glad this story didn’t try to cram in a lot of ham-fisted emotion; the characters told the story well enough, and the demise of the chess club was hugely effective, quick as it was. Plus, you had two correctly used semicolons. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOLD
MN – After the rest of our stories this week, with jokes and sci-fi, I did not expect something to hit this strong an emotional connection. A great approach with the world, and my only complaint is that this is a little too short, and I’ve had liked a bit more dialogue. GOLD
Brian, who often goes supernatural and techy, also proves he can do the human thing and gets a double-gold to bring himself to the final five.
Everyone vote for someone who isn’t named Brian by tomorrow night at 9pm Central.
…and yes, this prompt idea was in response to Brooks getting eliminated.