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A Mind of its Own

Categories: Creative Writing Prompts Tags: creative writing exercises, creative writing prompts, writing prompt.

Your computer won’t shut down when you are getting ready to leave work at five. Instead, it is looping a message, and then attempts to tell you something. What is your computer doing? Write this scene.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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475 Responses to A Mind of its Own

  1. Mojowritin says:

    Over the word limit, but I’m posting it anyway – Melanie clicked the ‘shut down’ command and waited for a few seconds, glancing around the office, then at her watch. The computer seemed to be taking an age to turn off, the light from the screen the sole point of illumination on the floor. Mel clicked impatiently, trying for any response and getting none, just the shut down screen, stuck doing nothing. Wrapped in the Simons account she hadn’t realised she was already an hour later for her mother’s birthday party.
    She cursed, thumped the keyboard, shook the mouse, clicked several times and gave a sigh of exasperated relief. There were a couple of clunky noises from the hard drive, a momentary blank screen swiftly replaced by a black one with a command prompt. In frustration, Mel yanked the plugs out of the wall and bent to pick up her bag. The little white cursor was still flashing.
    “How are you doing that?” she muttered, then remembered her laptop had a battery. Not particularly tech savvy at the best of times, Mel allowed herself to accept that explanation and concentrated on rummaging through her bag for her phone. Her mother was going to kill her; at least if Mel rang, made some work excuse, the blow might be softened.
    ‘Stay low’
    For an instant, Mel didn’t believe what she was seeing. She re-read the words on the screen several times, but could make no sense of it. Feeling extremely stupid, she bent over and replied.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘He is on your floor’
    Melanie dropped behind her desk, wondering why she was doing what a computer told her, and attempted to lean around the partition to get a look down the central aisle. The third floor was laid out in blocks, four desks facing each other, a partition, then a side-aisle, followed by more desks, all connecting to the wide aisle running down the centre of the office. Her heart raced as she leaned slightly around the partition, flicking her eyes back to the computer.
    ‘Do not move. Stay low’
    Before her hasty withdrawal from view, Mel was sure she saw a figure at the far end of the room.
    ‘What do I do?’
    She typed softly; terrified the clacking keys would bring the unknown into her world.
    ‘Wait for me’
    ‘Who are you?’
    ‘Mike, in the closet’
    That one threw Mel. Mike had to be Michael Dewson, tech whizz who worked on the floor below, which would explain his talking via the computer system he’d designed and installed, but why was he in a closet? What closet and where?
    She was about to type again and ask when she heard furtive shuffling from a couple of blocks over. She froze in place, certain this unknown ‘he’ would hear the thundering of her heart. She shoved a hand over her mouth as she released a gasping breath, unaware she’d been holding her breath, and then stilled again. Ears straining she thought, maybe, she heard something further away, like a door hinge. Mike? Maybe he’d seen the ‘he’ and dived into the closet where they kept the printer ink and general supplies. Maybe that was him trying to reach her.
    She desperately wanted to lean out, try to catch a glimpse of him, or at least check the mystery person wasn’t as close as that shuffling had sounded. The flashing prompt caught her attention.
    ‘Coming up the left aisle. Don’t make a noise when I get there.’
    Seconds later, Mike came round the partition on hands and knees. Mel grabbed him, yanked him close and whispered in his ear.
    ‘Who is it?’
    ‘Someone with an agenda. He has a package and he’s been going floor to floor looking at all the desks. Our guess is he’s looking for someone in particular.’
    ‘Our guess?’
    ‘People have been informed’
    ‘People? What people?’
    The room suddenly flooded with light. Stunned into immobility. Melanie flickered a glance at Mike and realised he was smiling, trying desperately to hold back laughter. He rose, despite her flapping her arms trying to semaphore him into staying down, and drew her up. He spun her around and she came face to face with Paul, her boyfriend of three years, also grinning like a fool. Beyond him stood the majority of her family, friends and even a few co-workers. Paul dropped to one knee, thrust a ring box at her and gave her his best puppy dog eyes;
    ‘I’d like to see you occasionally. I reckon a husband might have a better chance of prying his wife away from the office on a regular basis. Marry me, Mel?’
    Caught between incoherent rage – she should have realised something was up; Mike was Paul’s best friend – and overwhelming surprise, Mel nodded, a roar of approval coming from the gathering.
    ‘You will pay for this some day, Paul Grayling’ she chuckled against his ear as he slipped the ring onto her finger.

  2. demonic-potato says:

    It had been a pretty average day. With the normal horrible conferences and the meetings with bosses from who-knows-where. Honestly everyday was a nightmare. The kind of days you would get every once in a while that would make you want to rip your hair out and just-sit-on-the-floor-doing-nothing kind of days that you would get every so often. Those days I would get practically every day.
    All the adventure and excitement of a lifetime happened around 5 when I started to pack up to go back home and drink the pain away. Instead of logging off like normal, my computer started acting oddly and a message flashed on the screen. SORRY. SORRY. SORRY. Over and over again. I regarded it as just super weird and strapped my bag on my shoulder and turned to walk out of the office, eager to get away. (Having seen enough horror movies I thought it best to get away now.) I walked out of the doors onto the crowded streets of New York. It was winter time so I pulled my jacket around me tighter and trudged through the deepening snow.
    I walked past the crowds of people quickly and then the first person did it. As if in a trance, a person would stop mid sentence or mid walk and turn towards her and say, “SORRY”. This happened 8 times in about 5 minutes. If I wasn’t scared at first hen I was thoroughly scared now.
    I ran into my small apartment building, happy to get off of the streets. I climbed up the old, mold covered stairs into my apartment on the 4th floor.
    I shut the door with a snap and dropped my bags at the door. I crossed the room and checked my answering machine that was blinking madly. The robotic voice told me that I had 13 new messages. Wow. I NEVER get messages. No one to talk to I guess. I listened to the first one and all it said was a single word, “SORRY.” The next one was the same. And the next one. And the next. All 13 messages said the same word. SORRY.
    I didn’t know what to do.
    I was so scared.
    I turned my back on the phone. Immediately, a high-pitched ringing sounded around my room. With a shaking hand I turned around and picked up the phone, “H-hello?” “SORRY. SORRY. SORRY. SORRY. SORR-” I hung it up quickly. Then about two seconds later the phone rang again, “SORRY. SORRY-“ “THIS ISN’T FUNNY LEAVE ME ALONE!” I screamed at the odd voice that sounded neither male nor female.
    I ran into my room and shut the door and locked it.
    The phone rang.
    I heard something coming from the street and I looked out the window. People were lined up on the street screaming at her window, “SORRY. SORRY. SORRY. SORRY.” A continuous chant.
    I fell to my floor crying.
    The door to my apartment was broken down and I could hear people inside. “SORRY. SORRY. SORRY…”
    Then they turned to my bedroom door and quickly broke it down. People flooded into my room, “SORRY. SORRY. SORRY…”
    Then suddenly they all stopped and one person came out from he centre of the crowd of people now inside of my bedroom. The person was caring my computer from work. The message on the screen said, “SORRY FOR WHAT I HAVE TO DO TO YOU.” Then the cursor hovered over a button on the screen. SHUT DOWN.

  3. Amala says:

    It was my usual day at office; of course I have a boring desk job, a 9 to 5 job. I was planning to quit, get into some writing classes and wanted to become a writer though. I’m more of a free spirit; no desk job can hold me down. But, the pay was holding me down, since I had some debts to pay.
    So, it was a usual boring cubicle, with the same old colleagues beside me, doing none other than stare at their computer screens. Me, on the other hand, was doing two at once: staring at my watch and looking at the computer .Staring , wondering when my clock will turn 5, so I could leave for the day and grab some snacks on my way back to the car , enjoy my long drive to my home and practice some writing. .
    ‘Well!! Come on ..Please turn 5’, I hear myself saying to the inanimate thing on my wrist. Out of the blue, my nosy colleague suddenly crept up beside me saying loudly, ‘Wow. I know what you are doing..You are checking your email..Instead of doing your work!!’. What a pest!! My manager was sitting just behind me and my team lead was beside me. I was like ‘What the hell is wrong with you ’. Who the hell recruited this person, and why on earth should be sitting beside me? I wanted a change..like a change of my seat at least.. All my leads are on my bay, and the world’s most irritating person is sitting next to me !! .
    I looked at my watch. It was 5.01 pm. ‘Ok..time to leave ..we’ll deal with this pest and my managers tomorrow’, I thought. Ok..time to shut down my system. But what is this??? Why is my mail not closing? Ok..let me see whether there are any open mails. But, no all of them are closed. I received no prompts. Must be some bug. But all of our systems are protected by the latest technology.
    Wait..I see something coming up on my screen. It looks like a command prompt of some kind. I don’t remember any of us having such a software. Suddenly, all of the below words came up one by one : ‘Starting’, ‘Initialising,’Connection established’, ‘Ready for communication’, blah ..blah ..blah..I was curious. Maybe , all of my colleagues are getting the same message too !! I looked around me, but most of them had already left, even my team lead and my manager. I turned to the other side to see whether the pest was there. He too,it seemed had no issues with his system. He winked at me, and left. I turned to my system ,and yes the same blah..blah..
    I wanted to leave. I quickly had a glance around me, and noticed that just one or two of us were present. I started feeling lonely. I turned to face the system again and I had got a message ‘Hello..We are from the planet Zerbergo. We tracked your IP address. We know you are there. You are the first of your kind we are making contact with and we want to know whether your planet is friendly and habitable ’. I was like ,’must be some stupid hackers, how the hell they managed to hack into such a good firewall ?’
    I wanted to report the matter to some of my security counterparts. I called them , and then after some 10 minutes they came by, but none of them were able to find the source of the hackers.
    The next day, in the newspapers, I found some UFO sightings were there near my area, complete with a picture. I remembered the other day. Maybe, some real aliens tried to communicate with me ! I was
    shocked .

  4. Amala says:

    It was my usual day at office; of course I have a boring desk job, a 9 to 5 job. I was planning to quit, get into some writing classes and wanted to become a writer though. I’m more of a free spirit; no desk job can hold me down. But, the pay was holding me down, since I had some debts to pay.
    So, it was a usual boring cubicle, with the same old colleagues beside me, doing none other than stare at their computer screens. Me, on the other hand, was doing two at once: staring at my watch and looking at the computer .Staring , wondering when my clock will turn 5, so I could leave for the day and grab some snacks on my way back to the car , enjoy my long drive to my home and practice some writing. .
    ‘Well!! Come on ..Please turn 5’, I hear myself saying to the inanimate thing on my wrist. Out of the blue, my nosy colleague suddenly crept up beside me saying loudly, ‘Wow. I know what you are doing..You are checking your email..Instead of doing your work!!’. What a pest!! My manager was sitting just behind me and my team lead was beside me. I was like ‘What the hell is wrong with you ’. Who the hell recruited this person, and why on earth should be sitting beside me? I wanted a change..like a change of my seat at least.. All my leads are on my bay, and the world’s most irritating person is sitting next to me !! .
    I looked at my watch. It was 5.01 pm. ‘Ok..time to leave ..we’ll deal with this pest and my managers tomorrow’, I thought. Ok..time to shut down my system. But what is this??? Why is my mail not closing? Ok..let me see whether there are any open mails. But, no all of them are closed. I received no prompts. Must be some bug. But all of our systems are protected by the latest technology.
    Wait..I see something coming up on my screen. It looks like a command prompt of some kind. I don’t remember any of us having such a software. Suddenly, all of the below words came up one by one : ‘Starting’, ‘Initialising,’Connection established’, ‘Ready for communication’, blah ..blah ..blah..I was curious. Maybe , all of my colleagues are getting the same message too !! I looked around me, but most of them had already left, even my team lead and my manager. I turned to the other side to see whether the pest was there. He too,it seemed had no issues with his system. He winked at me, and left. I turned to my system ,and yes the same blah..blah..
    I wanted to leave. I quickly had a glance around me, and noticed that just one or two of us were present. I started feeling lonely. I turned to face the system again and I had got a message ‘Hello..We are from the planet Zerbergo. We tracked your IP address. We know you are there. You are the first of your kind we are making contact with and we want to know whether your planet is friendly and habitable ’. I was like ,’must be some stupid hackers, how the hell they managed to hack into such a good firewall ?’
    I wanted to report the matter to some of my security counterparts. I called them , and then after some 10 minutes they came by, but none of them were able to find the source of the hackers.
    The next day, in the newspapers, I found some UFO sightings were there near my area, complete with a picture. I remembered the other day. Maybe, some real aliens tried to communicate with me ! I was shocked .

  5. sebastiansdgva says:

    One day, when i was playing Minecraft with my sister and brother, my mom and dad came downstairs and told us we were going out to eat brunch at Soup plantation. I insisted on five more minutes but my mom pulled me out the door and slammed it shut. I said i didn’t shut down the computer so she let me back in.
    “Make it quick!” she yelled
    When i tried shutting down the mac, all it did was flash letters over and over at me. It said S-T-O-P M-U-R-D-E-R-E-R A-H-E-A-D-!
    I told my dad about it when i came outside and started to get in to the car but he said i must have been lying or something but i tried telling him. That was the one mistake to breaking our family up forever.

    • sebastiansdgva says:

      ———–continued————–
      When we were at brunch, there was a man with black pants, a black and white tuxedo, and a white rose with red splotches all over it as if it was blood. It was hanging out of his pocket along with a gun. It looked like a pearl handle revolver but i knew it must have been my eyes playing tricks on me so i just shrugged and walked over to the blueberry muffins.
      When i was done eating i was ready to use the restroom so i did that. While i was washing p, the man burst into the room holding my brother in one hand with the gun in the other and it was pointing directly at his head. He spoke something in lunacy but i couldn’t understand him.
      “w.. what? I said as i searched for words.
      “I SAID, what is the farthest distance?!!!” said the man
      “I don’t know!!!” “please stop!”
      “Answer the question idiot or ill blow his brains out!”
      Ummmmmmmmmmmm…………………
      1…
      2…
      3!!!
      The next couple seconds were torture; meat everywhere, blood on the ceiling……. I should have died of shock and depression right then…
      The man said “Ok” “lets try again” in his scratchy but deep voice.
      “Whats the farthest distance from you??”
      “The other side of the earth?”
      NOPE!!!
      *bang!* another fatality this time my mom.
      That’s it! I said in a mix of anger and discouragement.
      Go to hell!!! i said as i charged him reaching his gun.
      When i made contact with the man, i brought the gun up to him and pulled the trigger!

  6. sebastiansdgva says:

    One day, when i was playing Minecraft with my sister and brother, my mom and dad came downstairs and told us we were going out to eat brunch at Soup plantation. I insisted on five more minutes but my mom pulled me out the door and slammed it shut. I said i didn’t shut down the computer so she let me back in.
    “Make it quick!” she yelled
    When i tried shutting down the mac, all it did was flash letters over and over at me.

  7. sebastiansdgva says:

    One day, when i was playing Minecraft with my sister and brother, my mom and dad came downstairs and told us we were going out to eat brunch at Soup plantation. I insisted on five more minutes but my mom pulled me out the door and slammed it shut. I said i didn’t shut down the computer so she let me back in.
    “Make it quick!” she yelled

  8. CAUGHT
    ======

    I waited impatiently for my computer to shut down. It’d been a long day of meetings and Brenda called several times.

    I reached down to press the power. I heard a ding and looked up to see a message.

    ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.’

    Alice? I clicked.

    ‘Always speak the truth, think before you speak, and write it down afterwards.’

    I clicked again.

    ‘Copyroom. Now.’

    Being Friday, the office was a ghost town. Who? We were so careful.

    Brenda stood furiously, hands on hips, a stack of papers with a blue corner tucked under her arm. The jig was up.

    “How long have you known?” I asked my wife of twenty years.

    Her icy voice was controlled. “Does it matter? I’m not arguing with you, Dean.”

    With a mix of guilt and relief, I let out the breath I’d been holding. “Where do I sign?”

  9. Observer Tim says:

    It’s way late, but I have to catch up. Obsessive-compulsive and all…

    SAVING

    Andrew pulled on his coat and closed his briefcase, then glanced back at the computer screen. The message was still there. ‘Saving…’

    “Come on,” he mumbled, “the spreadsheet isn’t that big.”

    But Andrew wasn’t the type of worker who could comfortably walk out on that kind of message. The economy wasn’t in the best of shape, and this was not the time for him to be looking for a new job. He stood and stared at the screen, glancing at his watch every minute or so and thinking about the bus schedule.
    A secondary window opened on the screen. In big bold letters it said ‘LISTEN’. A moment later the window vanished.

    Andrew listened. It wasn’t like he had anything else to do while he waited. As he strained his ears he heard a faint sob from somewhere in the cube farm. It was followed by an incoherent growl of frustration, which was enough for him to see the top of a head about a dozen cubes away from his. Somebody else was having trouble too, from the sound of it.

    He walked up the aisle and found a woman he didn’t know. She had her coat on and was staring at the screen. The status window was familiar: ‘Saving…’

    “You too, huh?”

    She squeaked and started, then turned around. “Who are you?” She clutched her purse in front of her like a shield.

    “Andrew Stevens. I work over there.” He waved in the vague direction of his desk. “My computer’s doing the same thing.”

    “Oh. I’m Tanya. Tanya Meier. Do you know what’s wrong?”

    “Not a clue. Mine’s being doing that for a good ten minutes. And I don’t trust the network enough to just leave it.”

    “Me neither. I’ve only been working here a couple of weeks, and my document is due first thing tomorrow morning.”

    “For the Ops meeting?”

    “Yeah. You too?”

    Andrew nodded. They both stared at the window and the little swirling icon for a few minutes. Finally Tanya spoke.

    “Come on, network, I want to get out of here today.”

    “You have plans?”

    “No, just me and the TV. How about you?”

    “The same.”

    They watched the screen some more. The progress bar moved a few pixels, just to taunt them. Finally Tanya looked at his watch.

    “Well, that’s my bus gone. It’s an hour ‘til the next one.”

    Andrew checked. “Me too. You want to grab a bite to eat when we get out of here? I know a good deli that should be open.”

    Tanya smiled. “Sure. Provided this ever ends.”

    As if on cue, the progress bar advanced to 100% and the computer began its shutdown sequence. Andrew went back to his desk and saw the same. The last window open read. “Saved.”
    ___

    Years later, when the kids asked, Andrew would swear that a window had flashed up for just a second during shutdown, saying “You have your chance. Don’t let her get away.”

    • jhowe says:

      OT, I don’t know what’s worse, you posting this on May 1 or me responding on May 6. Either way, I really enjoyed this computer Cupid story. It’s nice to see a happy ending once in a while.

  10. My first short story ever! from an absolute beginner. Forgive me, I’m not 100% on how to handle dialoge….tons of fun this was.

    After sending the rest of his team home early Richard stretched out of his chair. He reached his hand out to shut down his computer and noticed the Start button missing. Just missing! It wasn’t that it was garbled with graphic glitching that could indicate the video card going bad. It was like an illusion where a magician places their thumb over a spot and just wipes it right off! First order of trouble shooting…. Just reboot. Richard pushed the reset button and nothing……………. With a graphic flourish, the desktop image vanished as if being flushed down a drain; the screen went black. Richard’s mouth dropped open with ‘deer-caught-in-the-headlights’ authority. Scrolling across the middle in blood red: ACTIVATED. Richard’s scrunched face fell in the palm of his hand as he played out the possible scenario of having to clean out a virus. This was not how he intended to spend his weekend!

    Then everything started to unravel. He noticed the mouse was starting to glow. As he slowly reached out his hand to pick up the mouse he felt excessive heat radiating from it. Just before he made contact, his hand slammed onto the mouse like they were magnets. Startled he jumped back and the mouse came with him. His “freak out meter” was at an all-time high about now as he started to violently shake his hand. The mouse cord started to wrap itself around his arm, working itself up to his neck. At this point Richard screamed, “Someone help me!” Tobi heard the cry from the open window in the parking lot where he had been talking with Jessica.

    “Richard?……..Richard? Tobi panted, already in the building.

    “ahhhharrg.. in hear” Richard wheezed.

    Tobi ran into Richard’s office and peed his pants, “what the…..” Every possible cord that is or in this case, was………attached to the computer is now around Richard like an octopus having a bad hair day.

    “The scissors, the scissors” Richard gasped, “In the lower draw… hurry up!”
    Tobi fumbled with the draw.

    “Get it off meeeeee….get it o………”

    “Hon!” Michelle grabbed his right shoulder and shook, “Hon….wake up”

    Richard responded with a drugged “huh?”

    More shaking, “wake up!” “You’re just having a bad dream” Michelle now fully awake, “I told you not to eat all of that cheesecake!”

    Yeah whatever! Richard shrugged, not in the mood for a lecture as he vigorously brushed both sides of his arms up and down. He took a deep breath, held it in then slooooowly exhaled thankful that it was only a dream.

    “Go back to sleep” Michelle whined.

    “I will in a bit” Richard said firmly, “I need to walk this one off.” Still shaken, he wanted to check on his computer downstairs. I know silly right? He peaked inside the office all was calm and dark. He chuckled as he headed out the door. Unfortunately he failed to notice the blood red word ACTIVATED scrolling across the computer screen as it reflected off his office mirror.

  11. Althea says:

    NOTES: Curse words in the story; Set in Bel Air, Maryland, not Bel Air, California.

    Rolling across the computer monitor in all caps was CALL LISA NOW. CALL LISA NOW. CALL LISA NOW. What the f—. I pulled my phone out like I was calling 911 because my ass was on fire.

    “Babe, where you at? You outside?”

    “Hi, Baby!” I heard the smile on her face. “I’m three blocks away on South Main Street, about to cross at Courtland. I love Downtown Bel Air. It’s so quaint. Are you ready for the party?”

    LOONEYS. LOONEYS. LOONEYS. LOONEYS. LOONEYS.

    Have her meet me at Looney’s? Or keep her away from Looney’s? Some shit is always happening at that fuckin’ place. Puke, stupid shit, and cops. All in that order. Alcohol made my old lady act crazy. That’s why I don’t touch that shit. Forget what my friends think. But now this “computer-with-a-brain” was making me wish I was drunk. Lisa was walking north, away from the bar. It was two blocks behind her. I sat down, sweating. Either this computer, or someone else, was messin’ with my woman, or with me. None was okay with me.

    “Meet me at Looney’s. Turn around and meet me there. I’m on my way.”

    “What are you talking about, Mick? You don’t drink. Why would we meet there?”

    “I’m headed out. Stay on the phone with me. Do not hang up. I’m leaving now.” I couldn’t turn off the computer. LOONEYS continued to loop across the screen. White letters across the sky blue screen. Just like clouds against a perfect blue sky. I looked outside over my cubicle. A day just like…fuck.

    Looking back, I wish I had said something to my co-workers. Crazy or calm, me saying something would have been better than saying nothing. Maybe this shit wouldn’t be weighing on me so hard if I’d tried to save them.

    Lisa was the only person on my mind. Grabbing only my keys, I tore out of there. “Babe, listen. Something is about to go down.”

    “Mick, what are you talking about? We’re supposed to be at my mom’s retirement party in twenty minutes.”

    “Turn around. Meet me at Looneys.” I loved her family. I didn’t even curse around them. “Fuck” became “Frig” whenever I went to her parents’ house. “Frig” had even eased its way into my daily vocabulary. Her family was the friggin Real Housewives of Atlanta, minus the catfights, while mine were the fucking black Honey Boo Boos, including the pigs pooping on the kitchen table.

    Running past the charming architecture of Bel Air’s Main Street, I didn’t think about being a black man high tailing his ass down a street full of white folks. Or even the idiocy of me trying to decipher a cryptic computer message. Only her. Hoping to catch up to Lisa, I asked, “What are you wearing?”

    The blast went off at the moment. It left me deaf in one ear.
    (end) 482 words

  12. Marc Ellis says:

    Way over 500 words, but I wanted to get something posted before the next prompt. Unfortunately, I’m late.
    —-

    Lee Samuels flopped into his office chair and let it spin two times before bringing it to a stop facing the desk. The chair, the desk, and the office had once been his father’s. Now he was at the helm of the industry leader in artificial intelligence technology.

    David Samuels, Lee’s father, was an intellectual giant with doctoral degrees in both computer science and psychology to accompany his immense commercial success. He pioneered AI technology that was now present in nearly every computer driven technology on the planet.

    Prior to his father’s stroke, Lee had been working as an engineer in the research and development division of the company. His resume wasn’t nearly as stellar as his father, but David had always planned to leave the company in the hands of his son. His dad said that Lee had something that many in the industry didn’t–heart.

    Samuels’ Intelligence was the primary vendor for AI technology for many the nation’s largest defense programs. Lee had just left a meeting where he was sure that his company had lost an $8 billion contract and his best engineer. Lee knew his father’s greatest fear was coming to fruition. He doubted that heart was going to be enough.

    Samuels’ AI technology now made it feasible for unmanned weapon systems to make autonomous targeting and attack decisions—something his father never wanted his creation to provide. Holding to this moral code, Lee walked away from a business deal that would have fueled work and strong profits for the next 10 to 20 years. Yet in his gut he knew it was already too late.

    His top engineer, with the government’s support, could replicate and expand the technology as they desired. There was little Lee could do from a legal perspective. Though the technology was proprietary and had every legal protection possible, the authorities could modify or bend the rules in the “best interests of national defense.”

    Lee pressed the keys to shut down his computer and gave himself another spin on the chair. There wasn’t anything he could do today, and he wanted to go home. The computer was taking an unusually long time to shut down, so he gave the chair a couple more spins and then noticed a message in white letters on the dark screen.

    “If Lee Samuels is at this terminal, enter your secure access code.”

    “What’s this?” Lee thought. He stopped his spin with his toes and typed the code.

    “Lee, in 2011 I started a pet project considering the integration of termination mechanisms into our systems. While our aim was to deliver superior tools, the risks of this technology used inappropriately or getting into the wrong hands would prove disastrous. If you are seeing this message, this protocol has been activated by aberrant activity within our products.”

    The screen went dark. Then more text followed. “Lee, you are the failsafe. I knew you would make the correct decision when the time came. I knew you would choose right over profit. You have an asset at your disposal that can never be simulate–a conscience.”
    Another dark screen was then followed with a single line. “Terminate Samuels’ Intelligence? Y/N”

    Lee couldn’t believe what he saw. Had his father really planned for this? Lee leaned back in the chair and stared at the prompt and blinking cursor. Then the large flat screen monitor on the wall across the office turned on. It displayed a video feed of a man he didn’t recognize walking through the hallway outside his office. The video angle switched and now he could see the man approaching his door. The man was clearly holding a pistol at his side. Lee heard a fist pound the door.

    The computer screen went blank. Then another line of text appeared, “Protocol overridden. Initiating shutdown.”

    The video screen now showed the man throwing his shoulder into the door. Then a video of Lee’s father appeared.

    “Lee, you are in danger. You must leave the building. There is a secret exit under the desk.”

    Lee slid the desk across the carpet. With the weight of the desk removed, a small trap door opened exposing a small hole with a ladder.

    The video started again. “Lee, take this ladder to the parking garage. You will find a black Lincoln Town Car near the exit. The car will unlock as you approach. Get in the car, and the onboard computer will tell you what to do next.”

    Lee quickly climbed down the ladder and found a “No Parking” sign hiding the exit. He pushed it aside and immediately identified the Lincoln. As he turned toward the car, he saw three men out of the corner of his eye running with weapons raised in his direction. He could hear bullets fired and the lead splatting above his head on the concrete wall next to him. He ran to the car and dove into the driver’s seat closing the door behind him.

    The car spontaneously started its engine and began driving itself out of the garage. Bullets were slamming into the rear of the car; however, the damage was limited. The car must have been armored. The onboard screen lit up, and David Samuels’ face appeared. “Lee, your family has been warned and evacuated from your home. You will rendezvous at the Centennial Municipal Airport. Tickets have already been purchased. When you arrive at the airport, take the iPad that is under the passenger seat. You will receive additional instructions through this device.”

    With the garage and his assailants far behind him, he retrieved the iPad. He looked back at the screen, and his father’s face was still there. “Lee…I’m proud of you. God Speed. I love you.” Then it went blank.

  13. Critique says:

    Disappointment is like a rebellious virus threatening the human spirit – my spirit. I kept myself busy during the week but had to admit, it dragged interminably. It was past closing time on Friday. I stayed late, hoping. I’d heard diddly squat.

    I struggled resigning myself to the fact that Round 2 wasn’t in the cards for me.

    Plan B for my life wasn’t materializing.

    Yep. For the first time that I could recall, I was bummed-out. I slung my jacket over my shoulder and clicked the off button on my computer. Nothing happened. I fingered the switch and noticed a fluorescent reddish design looping across the screen. Goose bumps rose on my flesh. I sank back into my chair.

    It took a several minutes to decipher the encrypted message. My heart started jack hammering in my chest and I fought to steady my breathing.

    “Congratulations you have passed to Round 2. Our team of experts is pleased and excited to continue this exploratory process with you. We believe you have the qualifications we are looking for and the potential to reach the final rigorous training for this great adventure. Our selection committee would like to meet with you this evening at 1900 hours. Please bring all the necessary medical documents.”

    I let out a series of whoops and hollers that threatened to bust out the windows in the thirty story building. I did a manic dance around the office. I pumped my fists into the air. I shed a few tears – and I never cry.

    It would have been nice to call someone and share the good news. I would not be calling my Mother, or my younger brother and only sibling. They would not understand the fire in my belly, the enthusiasm, and lust to experience the unknown.

    The possibility that I could be chosen as a candidate for a human mission – one way flight – to Mars dominated my thoughts.

    Bring it on!

    • Kerry Charlton says:

      Nice kick-up answer. What an adventure. To fly the unknown on a historic space venture. Lots of good internal dialogue here, moves the story nicely. You generated a lot of excitement in so few words. I wouldn’t tell anyone either, till I passed the bar. One way mission bothered me personally but then the idea of companionship made the thought easier. Nice venture into a mind bogelling experience.

      • Critique says:

        Thanks Kerry. I got the idea from Mars-One, a one way flight to Mars. You can google it. The one way part bothers me too even though they will be going in groups.

    • agnesjack says:

      I don’t know why, but when you wrote, “bring the medical documents” I knew it was the one-way trip to Mars. It’s probably because there is a part of me that would have loved to try for it. You really captured the gnawing essence of a deep disappointment, then the relief and joy that dispels it. Nice story.

      • Critique says:

        Thank you agnesjack. It will to be an amazing historical adventure and I thought the fluctuating emotions of the MC suited the extreme nature of the mission.

  14. Amyithist says:

    The end of the day couldn’t have come any sooner. I was tired; frustrated about the changes my company was making, and ready for my long vacation. Three weeks in Cancun. Who could ask for more? I sighed as I began the arduous process of shutting my computer down. I had just pulled my purse up and slung it over my shoulder to leave when my computer flashed at me. Blue, black, back to blue, then green. Suddenly a video started to play. A video of a plane. Flight 477 from Delta. That was the plane I was taking to Cancun…
    Without warning, the video glitched and when it came back up, the plane was nosedived onto a tarmac with flames sprouting through the windows, the cockpit, the doors… My heart started to pick up in speed. What the hell was this? The video glitched again. The screen blacked out, flashed, then went to another video. This feed showed bodies lined along the tarmac. The sheets blew slightly in the breeze, lifting just enough to show the faces of the deceased. As the camera panned to the end of the row of people, my blood ran cold. I suddenly felt as though I were having a heart attack. There, on the tarmac, as the blood-soaked sheet lifted in the breeze, I realized the two people gaping back at me with their lifeless stares were me and my husband.
    My purse thudded to the floor. I stared at my face; cold and grey and lifeless. The camera honed in on me, focusing in on my eyes. They were wide open but they saw nothing…I was dead. I turned, grabbed the trash can and vomited. “Who…who are you,” I groaned.
    The computer flashed. Black, blue, green, then black again. I waited for a few moments but the screen remained black. I eased into my chair. The office was empty, with the exception of the cleaning lady a few yards down the hallway. The hum of the computers and florescent lights etched into my mind. I watched, still waiting for the screen to flicker once more. Ten minutes passed. Twenty.
    Finally, when nothing happened I stood and slung my purse back over my shoulder. Trembling, I made my way out to my car. The image of me and my husband dead scorched my mind like a wild inferno. I closed my eyes and gagged. What was I supposed to do?
    I picked my phone up and dialed my travel agent. She answered on the fourth ring. “Emma, what’s going on,” she asked.
    “I need to switch my flight. Anything but Delta Flight 477.”
    I could hear her fingers tapping the keyboard. Tap, tap, tap, tap. The distinct sound of the ENTER key being struck. “I have a Flight 423 leaving an hour after Flight 477. No layovers once you get to Dallas.”
    “I’ll take it,” I said quickly. “Thanks, Lena.”
    “Sure thing,” she replied.
    I hung up and leaned against the seat. My stomach still churned like a rough sea. I took a deep breath and started my car. Tomorrow I’d be on Flight 423 to Cancun… I could only pray that the video I’d seen earlier wasn’t going to come true no matter what.

    The next day, after a long flight to Cancun and five cocktails, I stumbled into the airport. My husband, Daniel, was equally sloshed and we were looking for the nearest restaurant to balance ourselves out. When we passed a TV, the scene playing out on the news nearly made me faint right there. Flight 477 from Dallas, TX to Cancun, Mexico had crashed…killing all on board.

    • Spooky, indeed– nothing like a computer saving your life. Good job, Amyithist.

    • pinkbamboo says:

      this was very eerie and spooky especially it hit close to where I am from with the missing flight. you sewn the words perfectly to create the feel and emotions of the story.

    • Critique says:

      Well told. I liked your prompt very much. A spooky foretelling that she heeded. I’ve heard of things like this that actually happen. They were the lucky ones. The question arises: why are some warned and they live and others not?

    • Reaper says:

      Perfectly graphic, leaving just enough to the imagination while giving the details to fuel it. The horror of it summed up in your last paragraph. You have written a character that feels like she is following a whim when changing her plans. The kind that would think later, nobody believes in that stuff. I was just being nervous. Then she is confronted with the reality and I see her reeling, spending time and possibly money with the guilt of surviving when all those others died and wondering if she could have done anything to save them. In other words I read her as a perfectly accurate human being. This is a thing of beauty.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        I wish Rod Sterling had made you story on The Twilight Zone. He did make one similiar about a monster walking the wing in flight trying to tear the metal away from the wing. You hit the bar high with this response.

  15. Come on, Flint, I thought you’d fixed this. Really? Yesterday, it was details of the last patient assault incident I wrote up that wouldn’t clear from the screen. Now, it’s the 3 page complaint I drafted against that stupid, idiotic supervisor! It’s not like I can leave it here for the next shift. Well, I suppose I could, I’m sure they’d just add to it anyway.

    The computer constantly repeating over and over and over again, ‘do it right this time, do it right this time, do it right this time’ doesn’t help. How did that get in there? No, Flint, you wouldn’t do that, would you? Well, if not Flint, then who?

    Let me see, who has access? ‘Cause right now, I don’t care what time I leave as long as this gets resolved before I leave. And resolved for the last time.

    The nurses’ station door opens, it’s Flint. “Flint, come on over here, what’s going on with this frggn computer? It’s just like last night. Five o’clock comes around and the damn thing won’t shut down. I’ve got places to go, things to do, people to see…”

    Flint marches across the floor, scowling, I get up and let him slide into the swivel chair in front of the computer monitor to check it out. He minimizes the screen, logs into another, one with a bunch of computer speak green font gobbled-dy-gook.

    “Let’s see here, who’s on your computer, and where are they?” Flint mumbles quietly as if to me, with a smirking grin, eyes focused on the screen. “Yeah, just as I thought. It’s Camilla. It doesn’t have anything to do with you and your stuff, she’s after me. She knows I can’t leave with your screen open like this. What a bitch. I think I can close the documents you put in and then finish it up,” his fingers tapping keystrokes all over the board.

    He pulls up my ‘complaint document’, closes it, then attempts again to close down the system.

    And when it doesn’t stop it’s spewing of ‘do it right this time, do it right this time, he does what I always wanted to do.

    Pulls out a big long handled green hammer from behind his back, smashes the screen again and again and walks out the door.

    “See you at Applebees!”

  16. Dennis says:

    John gave a big sigh. Three more weeks and the project would be done, but that seemed like an eternity. So many late nights and missed outings with friends. And after that what next, another project? He wasn’t sure how he was going to endure climbing the ladder to reach his goal as partner. Somehow he needed to endure.

    He began to shut down his computer when a scrolling message appeared across his screen
    DID YOU FORGET WHAT DAY IT WAS?………………………………

    John stared in amusement not sure what to make of it. He thought at first maybe someone was playing a prank, like those guys from IT, so he waited for what would happen next. Periodically the message was top and blink before going back to scrolling.

    As the scrolling message faded a new one appeared.
    HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU KID.

    John’s lips slightly trembled as his teary eyes read the words. He confirmed the date and began to silently weep for a few minutes. Today marked the second anniversary of the passing of his wife Clara. They were big movie buffs and their first date together was Casablanca. It became their favorite movie, quoting lines whenever they could.

    John wiped the tears from his eyes. He remembered now why he set that prompt on the computer. He always wanted to be reminded of Clara’s struggle with cancer. Not to continue to morn, but because she continued to be the strong person she always was right to the end. The beautiful light that shone in her eyes was there until they opened no more. Last year he had forgotten the date with all of the extra work he was doing and vowed never to forget again.

    The computer finally shut down. John smiled, feeling a sense of renewed life in him, the legacy that Clara gifted him. On his walk home from the subway he noticed the local theater was showing Casablanca and thought, what a great way to spend the evening.

  17. idspeck says:

    Come on its Friday give me a break and dam tech support is already gone for the weekend. The hell with it I’ll leave it until Monday. Then looking at the screen again it first it looked like gibberish just a lot of dots and spaces and then I noticed a pattern. No it can’t be but yes it is. It is Morse code. (… — … … — …) SOS. Then in Morse code it says do not go home, run they are coming for you. What who is coming for me? This has to be a joke the hell with it yes that must be it; John must be playing one of his annoying jokes. Then in code it says to late they are already here, you should have ran. As I turn around I see them but it is too late.
    Monday morning they find his body still sitting in his chair and across the screen of his computer they see, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you,
    SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you, SOS they are coming for you,

  18. theduke192 says:

    Technical Guidance

    =========================================

    It had been almost a year since she died. Life seemed almost not worth living, but Will knew that Sam would want him to keep living. With his heart broken, he trudged on. Just sitting at his desk, he saw it was five minutes to the weekend. Another weekend of nothing. Will wished that his boss would ask him to stay, but Mr. Phillips never asked anyone to stay, he was the boss everyone wanted.

    Five o’clock hit and everyone started packing up to be with friends and family, but Will would spend the weekend alone. He could think of nothing to keep his mind busy, but when his computer would not shut down it only irritated him.

    “What now?” Will asked looking at the screen.

    The screen turned blue and he just rolled his eyes as he started trying to work out the error. As he worked, everyone left the office including Mr. Phillips. Will had to push him away twice before he finally relented and left him to work.

    He was ready to give up three hours later when the blue screen went black. Feeling like he had won the little battle he started packing up when white letters appeared on the screen.

    “Are you alone?”

    Will got up looking for the jokester, but all the cubicles were off except for the security lights. He looked back down and said, “Yes.” He reached to type it in, but the computer started without him.

    “It’s been a long time.”

    “Who are you?” Will asked and then shook his head, “What the Hell am I doing? I’m talking to a computer.”

    “LOL,” appeared on the screen, “You always knew how to make me laugh.”

    He froze as her laugh echoed in his mind the last time he saw her smile, “Sam?”

    “Yes.”

    “How?”

    “Of all the questions that brilliant mind of yours can come up with, you ask that? LOL!”

    “I’ve missed you so much,” he said near breaking down in tears.

    “I know,” the computer typed back, “I have always watched you, but you must move on.”

    “How am I supposed to do that?” he asked.

    “Our time together was amazing and you must never forget it,” the computer said, “But sadly, our destinies were not forever. You will always be my one and only, but yours was never me. You are destined for greatness my love.”

    “Excuse me anyone here?” Will heard from down the hall. He stood up and Rachael from accounting was looking frantic.

    “Can I help you?” he asked.

    Turning around and the brunette’s green eyes went from sadness to hope, “Yes please. My computer seems to be having problems and I need to get home. The babysitter is going to charge me a lot for overtime.”

    “Of course,” Will said and looked at his computer and it was off. Shaking it off as if it was nothing more than a daydream, Will headed down to Rachael’s cubicle.

    She smiled and said, “I have no idea what is going on.”

    “Neither do I. I think you need a new babysitter,” Will said sitting down and Rachael laughed at his comment.

    He looked at the screen and saw she had accidently triggered a security initiation. He started running through the security prompts and fixed the problem.

    He hit enter and the screen shut down with a successful turnoff. Rachael shrieked with joy and said while grabbing her coat, “Thank you so much. Would you like to meet for coffee tomorrow? I kind of owe you. Here is my number, give me a call when you are free.”

    Will thought about the boring weekend ahead and said, “That would be great.”

    “Again, thank you so much,” Rachael said and hugged him before running out the door.

    With a slight smile which he had not done for months, Will headed back to his cubicle. His computer was still off and he grabbed his coat and headed home, but looked back at the unresponsive computer. He smiled and said, “Guess it’s time to live again. See you again one day Sam.”

    After he was gone, his computer kicked back on and it said, “You were mine for a time, but you were always hers. Goodbye William.”

  19. agnesjack says:

    I stare at the computer screen. The heading “A MIND OF ITS OWN,” is typed at the top of the page, but below it there is nothing but white nothingness.

    Wait… Nothing but nothingness? THAT’S what my brain comes up with? I’ve lost it. I can’t write anymore. After thirty-three prompts, I’m done. Washed up. Creatively kaput. Not an inkling, iota, kernel of an idea. SEE?!?! Kernel of an idea? Really? Oh my God.

    I’ve written about talking cats, talking furniture, talking dolls, even talking baubles. I’ve written about cowboys and angels. I’ve written about frozen fathers and sword-less sword fights. I’ve waited eagerly for each prompt. Ah, but my mind was so young and fertile then. I was fifty-nine. Now I’m sixty. Is that the problem? Or is it this muttering nonstop to myself when I think I’m alone? There’s a guy on my commuter train who walks from one car to the next, stopping at each bay of doors to mutter a few words to some invisible person. He’s a well-dressed older man. He does not appear to be homeless. Is that where I’m headed? Will that be me one day?

    Oh great, I’ve just spent ten minutes muttering to myself about the guy on my train who mutters to himself. Think, Nancy, think….

    Prompt: “A computer at work won’t shut down and has a message for you.”

    Usually, the most annoying message my computer has for me is “Not Responding”. It tends to do that when an attorney is hovering over me, waiting for his revised brief, and my Word has crashed. Microsoft laughs as us, you know. They know that if something goes wrong with their lousy software, we have nowhere else to turn, so they sit in their mansions in Silicon Valley and laugh. It’s so cruel.

    This is ridiculous. It’s Monday. The new prompt will be posted tomorrow and once the new prompt is posted, there’s no going back. No one ever goes back.

    I decide to use one more cliché and throw in the towel. Maybe I’ll do better at home, where I can relax with a nice bottle, I mean glass, of cabernet. I can’t concentrate on my personal stuff at work anyway with all the annoying interruptions.

    I right click on the icon for my flash drive and choose “Eject”.

    The computer screen says: I can’t do that.

    “What does THAT mean? Come on, Eject!”

    I’m sorry. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

    “O.K. Hal, or whatever your name is, I need to take my flash drive home, so LET GO!”

    My name is Bob.

    “Bob?”

    Now you’re going to make fun of my name?

    “No no. Of course not.”

    You made fun of my software.

    “Software? Who ARE you, the Microsoft imp?”

    You hurt my feelings.

    “Oh. O.K. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Can I have my flash drive now?”

    Yes.

    ***

    I sit hunched up in a corner seat in the back of the commuter train. I’m miserable and muttering to myself, because for the first time in eight months I fear that I won’t have a story to post for the prompt. Ah, well. C’est la vie, mes amis.

    • jhowe says:

      That was very great Nancy. You had me laughing through the whole thing. I’m glad you finally posted today, because you’re right, no one ever goes back. And I also agree with the annoying things you have to do at work that interfere with personal tasks. I thinks that’s the best non-story I ever read.

      • agnesjack says:

        Thank you so much, jhowe. If I had you laughing, then I have succeeded, because I think you write some of the best humorous stories on the forum. I really struggled with this, but I just couldn’t skip it. I’m working my way up from the bottom, so I hope I get to yours soon. Come back tomorrow!

    • Kerry Charlton says:

      Hi Nancy. I just hit reply to you and I lost the web site. I’m back and the imp better leave me alone while we talk. Sixty, well, I’ll bet you’re a knockout. Try seventy seven. You walk into the bathroom and forget why you’re there. Brush your teeth maybe, no. Comb hair? No. Oh now I remember.

      I loved this. I really mean it. You can certainly smoke most of the youngsters here. I wait for your responses. Wondered where you were this week? Run off with the cable guy? No. Well was it a young attorney you set your ideas on? Probably. I won’t tell if you won’t. Keep playing coy and innocent. Gets them everytime. A woman that speaks French, has my heart. Cheers!

      • agnesjack says:

        Oh, Kerry, you are so so kind. Thank you.

        As for not remembering anything… my sister, who is four years older, said this to me many years ago: “Remind me when I’m eighty that I couldn’t remember anything when I was thirty.”

        As I said to jhowe, I always read up from the bottom so I’ll get to yours soon.

    • jmcody says:

      Even your idea of a non-response was still well written, entertaining, insightful, and made me smile. I am in awe of how long you’ve gone without missing a prompt. Last week I wrote a response and didn’t post it because I didn’t like it, and I can’t believe how unhappy that made me! And I’ve only been doing this for two months! I admire your refusal to give in, and your creativity. You have inspired me to be braver, and to just post it anyway! Maybe I’ll also try the cabernet next time.

      • agnesjack says:

        jm, you made me smile. Thank you. I read somewhere that when you feel that you have nothing to write about, to just write anyway, even if you’re writing about not having anything to write about. That was my inspiration for this prompt.

        You are so creative, jm. I’m sure it you had posted your story last week, it would have had wonderful qualities. One thing of great value that I’ve learned from posting here, is that the stories don’t have to be perfect — they just have to be. I find this forum to be the most wonderful place to play and practice. It’s such a great group and there is so much inspiration and support.

        So… I raise my glass of cabernet to you, jm. Keep writing. ;-)

    • Critique says:

      This was hilarious! I loved it. You expressed my feelings succinctly in your last two sentences. Thanks for making my day!

    • Reaper says:

      This was awesome. I believe I also read the statement about writing anyway and think you held true to letter and intent of that law. Thank you for sharing this walk through the garden of your mind. I do note that the Microsoft millionaires have mansions in Redmond and North Bend rather than Silicon Valley, but as this seemed pure stream of consciousness that is an unimportant detail.

  20. My phone is ringing for the hook. She’s getting impatient. And my wife will be home in a few hours. This paragraph can wait.
    I’m inspecting my desk one last time to make sure I’ve left no clues as to where I’ll be and then I’m saving my project and shutting down my computer.
    But wait. It won’t go off. A new document opens up. A message is typing itself up, over and over and over and over: “You’re insane.”
    The phone rings again. Now my office phone rings, too. The computer is making an error ping now; the message is typing too fast.
    In a panic, I knock over my beer and the bottle shatters on the hardwood floor. There is now a banging on my front door in addition to the ringing phones.
    The beer falls and shatters again. But that just happened. I swear I saw it. I decide to answer my cell, maybe if I tell her I’m on my way, she’ll let up. Maybe I can explain.
    “Hey! I’m on my way! I just need to deal with something first!”
    “You’re insane. You’re insane. You’re in-“ I throw my cellphone across the room and it shatters against the wall. I jump when I hear it ringing in my pocket again. I jump again when I hear the beer bottle fall and shatter.
    I see the cellphone shatter against the wall again. But its still ringing in my pocket. The beer bottle falls once again. My bookshelf topples over. The knocking is at my office door, now, but also at the front door. My computer’s screen has turned blue, with the error ping ringing so fast that it is basically a constant tone. The message “You’re insane.” still scrolls across the screen.
    My bookshelf topples over again. I reach into my desk drawer for a my revolver. I point it at my face. Before I can pull the trigger, the barrel starts talking to me: “Not you! Her!” before contorting and twisting itself away from my face.
    And then it all stops. My wife comes in through the front door. Everything on my desk is where it should be, including me.
    “Hey honey, did you get a lot of work done today?” I can hear her yell this through the house.
    “Sure did! I wanted to show you this passage I’ve been working on! Could you come in here…”

    • jmcody says:

      All work and no play makes Jack a homicidal maniac.

      This was a horrifying portrayal of your MC’s precipitous spiral into madness. I am left wondering what caused him to snap like this. Still, I liked the dizzying pace and I thought the repetition was effectively insane.

    • kittycat4ever says:

      So he spent several hours watching his world fall apart… I don’t have high hopes for his wife.

  21. pinkbamboo says:

    got my out a little late than usual. any resemblances to the alive and dead are purely coincidental. not a piece i’m excited or proud of but wanted to give it a try.

    ****

    I glanced at the clock. One more minute. I’m supposed to meet Anne tonight to discuss about the party tomorrow night. While Mark is away in Singapore, I decided to throw him an advanced birthday party right when he returned. I smiled with satisfaction when I saw the email from his sister confirming her attendance for tomorrow. Oh shit, I’m running late. Time to shut down.

    [Are you sure you want to shut down?] yes, yes.

    [I know what you did last winter] the message appeared on my screen in blue bold fonts. There’s no box to click or something. Is this some virus or bug?

    [You built a snowman, you built a snow fort] I suddenly felt chills.

    “How did you know?” I whispered as if I’m talking to the computer. This is crazy. I’m going crazy.

    [Hello Beth] This is probably just some virus that went crazy. It has to be. I stood up to look around to see if anyone can me handle this. To my surprise, the office was empty. Really? I’m on my own? I’m just going to go off and call IT support to take a look on Monday morning.

    Another message popped up.

    [Don't go. I'll miss you. Stay with me] my hand trembled as I started crying. Could it be? I turned around and called Mark. It doesn’t matter what time is it there.

    “Mark, my computer is being weird. It kept flashing me weird messages”

    “Beth, are you still in the office?” he sounded sleepy.

    “Yes, Mark” I turned around to see new messages on my screen.

    [Remember when you said you love me] I frowned. What the ..

    [You are my life] I took a sharp breath. Ken?? It can’t be Ken. Ken was gone long ago.

    [You took my heart]

    “Beth, are you there? Beth!”

    “Yeah, Mark. Sorry, I got distracted. I’m calling IT support” then I hung up.

    Yes, Ken. I took your heart literally. What are you going to do about it? Suddenly I stood up trembling.

    “What do you want Ken?”

    [I love you]

    No, you don’t. I closed my eyes and remembered the yelling, the stabbing, the tears.

    [I need to ask you something]

    I don’t want it to end like this, I wiped the tears streaming down my face and looked at my hand. At one point, it was covered with his blood. I had to, Ken. I’m sorry.

    [Turn around]

    Will he be the normal Ken or the Ken that I last saw? I gripped my table and slowly turned around to see Mark standing there with a bouquet of flower. His grin was replaced with a frown when he saw me.

    “Beth, what’s wrong? Did I scare you that badly? I’m sorry, I thought you liked horror movie so I decided to surprise you with my own horror” he came forward and hugged me.

    I hugged him back with relief. What happened between me and Ken will be a secret forever.

    “Well, you managed to scare me. Why are you home earlier?”

    “I wanted to surprise you and asked you .. Beth, you are my life. Will you marry me?”

    “Of course I will. I shouldn’t after that stupid computer prank but I will”

    Mark gave me my ring and a kiss as I hugged him again. That huge burden off my chest, my hands were still shaking from the scare.

    “I love you” I pulled away from him and looked at my computer.

    “Now how do I turn this off”

    Suddenly the screen went blank and words started forming in red.

    [Why did you let me drown?]

    • han0um says:

      I. Pissed. Myself.

    • Kerry Charlton says:

      For someone that doesn’t like their own story, this is fabulous, scary and frightning. Can’t wait to see what others say. Your writing is polished to a fast gleam. When I read the first sentence, you set the hook deep and there was no way I would stop till I finished It. Don’t worry about this one. Sometimes, the harder they are to write, the greater the story. I wouldn’t have missed it for life, Pink.

      • pinkbamboo says:

        I reread my story and I still didn’t like it. Lol. I felt like the flow is a little too rigid and not as smooth as I like it. I was contemplating between something sweet or sinister since I’m afraid of horror and had to settle for something more subtle. Hope to be more inspired for the next prompt.

    • Woah, that hit me pretty hard. Very spooky, indeed. I have to agree with Kerry about the first sentence. It seems like such a simple sentence, but it worked well.

      • pinkbamboo says:

        I actually had no idea how to end it until I ended it. Thanks for reading. I’m not sure what you guys meant by the first sentence and getting hooked though.

    • jmcody says:

      That was crazy good — like the tell tale…what? Hard drive? Stabbed and drowned too, huh? Pinkbamboo, your name speaks of sweetness and good luck, but oh those treacherous villainesses you concoct! Masterfully done.

      • pinkbamboo says:

        The thing is, I am actually the sweetie bear in real life LOL *ahem* I like to write sweet gooey stuff and I can’t write any evil type of stories until I found prompts which enabled me to just scribbled some within 500 words and publish. No messy details and elaborated scenes to go into. It just unleashed a little bit of the darker side of my imagination which is still pretty tame.

    • Critique says:

      You did your dark side extremely well pinkbamboo. I’m left feeling creeped out and wondering about stuff.

    • Reaper says:

      pinkbamboo you are your own worst critic, but in that you are not alone here. If the others are anything like me they mean your opening sentence is simple but powerful. It is short and speaks of a story I can consume in bite sized chunks, but for that simplicity is an action that speaks volumes. We have all had that experience, looking at the clock almost always signifies I do not want to be here, but I sure want to get where I’m going. I suddenly wanted to know where the character was going. I will admit that I found the first paragraph a bit choppy between the first sentence and the last but it was the only place the flow seemed off to me and I barely slowed down to notice it.

      This story scare the hell out of me and I would love to see more of it. I think Mark has a painful death coming for stirring up ghosts with his little prank. I just don’t like that guy, and yet I withhold judgment on the MC as she might have a good reason for killing her ex.

      Honestly though, I am playing armchair psychiatrist based on a book I am currently reading. I have noticed that the stories you don’t like are deep and dark. You are stepping out of your comfort zone and that is scary for any of us. However there seems to be something in you that wants to right horror and villains. It almost seems like you feel you can not be a horror writer and a sweet person. If that is the case I wouldn’t worry about it. You know you’re a sweetheart and you should listen to the voices here, because you’re damn good. If that’s not it sorry for spouting nonsense.

      • pinkbamboo says:

        Hi reaper, thanks again for your comments. Really appreciate your input. It’s not that I don’t feel like I can write both genre at the same time, it’s more like normally I can’t feel the emotions or be inspired to write about the dark side cause it doesn’t hold much interest to me. Just that with these prompts, I don’t have to think too much about the settings but just dive into action with the 500 word limit. I like to leave readers with a little tug on the heart and I never get to try that with the dark side until now.

        Btw, the story is up for interpretation, it could be ken who typed that or it could be mark himself. Is ken mark? Or did ken possessed mark? Or mark is totally innocent? Did not write mark’s reaction to the last bit was the open ended question. I was going to push this into the gory side but decided not to cause I still chickened out lol.

  22. NoMonsterHere says:

    Matt took in a breath of crisp, cool October air and began to type his email on the rickety park bench. How to respond to an angry coworker who really, really wanted the specs that he didn’t have? Not to mention the fact that she was kind of pretty and he was thinking of asking her out. This would ruin everything.
    Matt shut his laptop in frustration and decided to clear his mind of all the useless crap about hot coworkers and unsent emails, and instead engage in humanity’s favorite pastime.

    Judging Other People.

    And there was quite a plethora of people to judge. The usually quiet park was holding some sort of community picnic, and was now full of people. Lots of screaming children running in circles. An equal amount of moms gossiping about that one member of the PTO that is so annoying. The dads, who were happy enough to chat with each other about football, but really didn’t want to be there. There were also a surprising amount of college students, sauntering around in their college sweatpants and muscle tees and extremely tight tank tops. Yes the park was very busy on this cool yet warm October day.

    So busy, in fact, that no one, not even Matt, noticed that something was extremely wrong.

    “Man, at this rate, I’ll never get anything done,” Matt muttered, and opened his laptop to shut it down. He punched in the command for SHUT DOWN, and waited patiently for the LED screen to fade to black.

    Nothing happened.

    Matt knew something was wrong when he waited for a full five minutes and nothing happened. The stubborn screen still lit up as brightly as before. The frustration and irritation of the entire day fell down on him in that moment and he decided to take it out on the SHUT DOWN button. “You stupid piece of junk, why won’t you just WORK?!” he practically screamed as he forcefully beat up the poor SHUT DOWN button with no mercy.

    Please stop.

    He paused mid-press to see the odd message light up, blinking rapidly on the laptop screen. “What?”

    I said, please stop, Matt, that hurts.

    “Wait, what, who are you, what hurts-” he stopped abruptly and let his eyes drift down to his hand, still dangling over the SHUT DOWN button that he had just finished mercilessly slamming. Could it be…
    “No, Matt,” he muttered to himself, “That’s impossible, you’re crazy. There is no possible way your computer could be communicating with you.”

    Well, somehow I am communicating with you.

    Now Matt’s face had completely drained of color. “No, you’re not–”
    I am.
    “It’s not possible.”
    It is. But that is not important. Listen Matt, you’re in real danger. Don’t make any sudden moves. This is serious.
    “No,” he hissed, “What are you talking about? This is–this is impossible.”
    Look to your right, in the bushes.

    Matt did as instructed, and immediately regretted it. There, glinting in the sun, barely visible, was the butt of what was unmistakably a sniper rifle. “No,” he was sweating all over now.

    The computer lit up with yet another message:
    Now, slowly look down.

    He shouldn’t. He didn’t want to. He knew what he would find. But slowly, he tilted his head downward towards his jacketed chest.

    There. Right in the position of his small, beating heart was the death-shaded crimson of a laser. The gun was pointing at him.

    He was panicking now. He could feel his breath grow short and quick, and his heart began to speed up, as if running right out of his chest.

    Don’t run, Matt. That would make things very bad.

    Ever so slightly, he nodded. What was he supposed to do? Why was a sniper aiming a gun at him? What had he ever done? He glanced around again. All the people, all the peaceful, happy people eating lunch in a park.

    If only they knew.

    He was paralyzed. He couldn’t move. He could barely breath.

    The computer flashed a final, grim message:
    They’ve found you.

    • pinkbamboo says:

      Oh no.. I felt so sad for him. I thought the computer was going to help him out! It must be terrifying and final to realize death is standing in front of you. Awesome tragic piece.

    • Yeah, I thought the computer would help him out, too. It’s kind of cruel of the computer to warn him and not do anything about it. On a side note, I raced through this. Nice job.

  23. jopgespn says:

    The frustrating buzzing of the computer whirrs and hisses as I press my finger down firm on the power button and wait for it to shut off. It’s been giving me some trouble lately. Every time I try to get on the internet a thousand pop ups invade my screen; my Netflix movies stutter and stall, and a goddamn speed checker insists on running tests whether or not I click the ‘Agree’ button. “I don’t have time for this shit! I have to go to work.” I tell the computer hoping it’ll listen, just this once. It goes black and the light goes off at the same time the little fan, where it is I don’t know, shuts off too. I grab my keys, put on my name badge, and head for my door when the familiar whirring sound revs up and a beeping sound. My computer has turned itself back on. It crosses my mind to just say screw it and head to work but the last I checked my computer isn’t a sentient being and it should not be turning itself on whenever it damn well please. A screen pops up, not even prompting me to log in, and it’s blue and it ripples. I stare hypnotically as the shivers of blue shiver across the screen, and then the letters begin flicking around spelling out a message.
    TAKE A JACKET
    “Take a jacket?” I say, “but it’s not cold”
    TRUST ME. TAKE YOUR JACKET
    “Trust you? Trust who?!” I respond, “Holy hell, It’s happened. I’m nuts. All these years of being a nurse has driven me bonkers and now I’m getting told what to do by a computer.”
    I’M NOT A COMPUTER.
    “You’re not a computer? Then what the hell are you?”
    DON’T FORGET TO ASK YOUR BOSS FOR THOSE DAYS OFF.
    “How. How’d you know about that?”
    TAKE YOUR JACKET.
    “This is fucking nuts. I have to go to work. Just, don’t make any messes.” I say realizing I’m still talking to a computer. The same Dell my mother got me a couple of years ago for Christmas at a Black Friday sell.
    I open my door and stop for a moment looking at my jacket through the cracked closet door and then look back at my computer. It lets out a tiny beep. Not giving it another thought I walk out the door and head to my car. The weather is so much chillier than the forecast calls for and my phone begins to ring. It’s my mom.
    “Hellooo, son. What are you doing?”
    “Hey, mom. Just heading to work. What about you?”
    “Oh, nothing. Did you take your jacket?”
    I pause and look around, like maybe she’s messing with me. “Why?”
    “Because it’s cold out and I don’t want you getting sick.”
    “Mom, have you been messing with my computer?”
    “No, sweety.”
    “Oh.”
    “I am the computer.”
    “What?!”
    “Love you. Have a good night at work,” she says, “Oh, and please, honey, those websites.”

  24. rookie says:

    Jasper said he wanted Italian for dinner. Or was it Indian… I didn’t remember. I’d have to hurry if I want to make our usual 7 o’clock reservation though; God knows he’d throw a fit if I was late. I exited out of my browser and waved a goodbye to Nancy as she passed by my office to leave for the day. Sadly, my work was just beginning. Jasper had been a pain these days, the attention he constantly required and the harsh ridicule he relentlessly dished out was exhausting to say the least. Nothing was ever good enough for him, not the dress I’d spent hundreds on at the little boutique on 2nd Street or the gift I’d bought for Heidi and Nigel’s housewarming party or even the restaurant I’d picked out after nearly an hour and a half of researching reviews on Yelp. Heck, most of the time I just wanted a Big Mac. Error. Great, now even my computer was giving me crap. Error. Error. “What now,” I sighed. I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture on punctuality. Are you happy? I paused. Anna, are you happy? Since when did my Dell care about my emotional wellbeing? I let myself wonder. Happy? It was hard to imagine what that emotion felt like now. Jasper made me feel worthless, irrelevant. Worse than that, though, was how much he had changed me over the past few months. I had never been one to care about a price tag but now my nights were filled with ridiculously expensive restaurants that I admit I had liked at the beginning, but damn, what I wouldn’t do for some Taco Bell these days. “Happy,” I asked myself. No, I wasn’t happy. Not with Jasper and definitely not with this new life he’d carved out for me. Suddenly, the text box on my screen exited out and my computer shut down. “Anna!” I whirled around to see Nancy leaning uncomfortably against the doorframe of my office. “Hey, I know stuff has been awkward between us lately,” she said, playing idly with the cuffs of her blouse, “but I was sitting in my car thinking about all the fun we used to have before you and Jasp- before you got into a relationship and I just figured I’d ask if you were doing anything tonight. The whole gang is getting together for some drinks. I don’t know if you have anything planned bu-” “Yes,” I nearly shouted, bounding out of my seat. “Just lemme grab my coat!” Nancy stood stunned for a second then smiled wide and it hit me that she hadn’t smiled at me, let alone spoken to me in over 3 months. We made our way to the elevator, talking and joking like our friendship had never even missed a beat. I decided to shoot Jasper a text. Sure, he’d be angry but for once I didn’t care. I had to think about myself for tonight. I wanted to be happy.

  25. jmcody says:

    On this fine Sunday, I just want to pause for a minute to wish all my writerly friends a happy and blessed Easter, Passover, or whatever you might find cause to celebrate today. Hope you’re all someplace nice, having a good meal with friends and family. Cheers!

  26. Poeeop says:

    The Five O’Clock Newscast

    “This is Emily Brown reporting live from the Holland Oaks Apartments in downtown Cincinnati, I am on the scene of what can only be described as a bizarre incident. Police are finding very few clues to what led to the unexplained death of 13 unidentified women and the hospitalization of one man, Harold Townsend, who was incoherent when police arrived. All were dressed in identical silk purple robes and had burn marks on their necks and hands. Wendy, back to you in the studio.”

    “Thanks Emily. Well folks that’s our five o’clock broadcast, I’m Wendy Morrow, Greg and I will be back together tomorrow. Have a good evening.”

    “Three, two, one….and we’re out.” Steve the camera man complimented Wendy on another fine broadcast, then slipped into the darkness behind the scenes of the studio.

    “Thank God, what a terrible story. Steve I‘ve got to talk with this new producer about the stories we run. He’s got a thing for the dark stories, you know?” Wendy lamented as she shut down her laptop. “Don’t you get sick of these stories Steve?”

    She searched for Steve’s face beyond the glare of the bright lights. “Hey, can we cut the lights already?” She said squinting against the bright lights. She shifted her head side to side, and put her hand up to block the lights trying with desperation to locate Steve, or anyone for that matter.

    “Heeelllooo? The lights? Steve, please?” She started to get up from her stool when her laptop dinged. She looked down at it, then looked around at the now completely empty studio.

    She opened her laptop again and read the message, “Are you sure you want to close this program?”

    She clicked the “Yes” box and instantly another message popped up. “Are you absolutely sure about that Wendy?”

    “What the hell?!” She recoiled from the laptop as if it were a snake. Her gut turned over with the feeling that she was being trapped, the bright lights all around acted as a cage pinning her to the news desk and her feet suddenly weighed a ton.

    “Steve! Where are you?” She shouted at first, the next utterance was a quivering whisper “Help me please.” Her eyes were darting around the room.

    “Ding” Wendy almost didn’t hear the laptop over the drumming of her heart. Another message appeared.

    “Let me think, where would a forgotten, lonesome and psychopathic camera man who’s been passed up for promotion by two of the most talentless, narcissistic and undeserving news anchors be? Click “Next” to find out.”

    Wendy wanted more than anything to run, but now couldn’t remember how to exit the studio. So, she would play his game and she clicked “Next”.

    When the image of herself popped up, she was a little confused and took a half step back and tilted her head. When the profile image of herself mimicked exactly her moves, she froze and so did her image.

    Steve’s shrill laughter at Wendy’s realization that she was being filmed echoed through the cavernous studio and reminded her of a pack of hyenas cornering their prey.

    The last thing Wendy heard before she fainted was Steve’s voice coming from the shadows, “In tonight’s news, the bodies of Greg Franklin and Wendy Morrow, news anchors for Channel Twelve have been found in California, and Rhode Island, and Kentucky, and Washington and….”

  27. LiveOakLea says:

    Four fifty four. Fifty five. Fifty six.

    From down the hall, a creak. The creak of Sheila’s opening door followed by a squish. The squish of her sweaty feet slopping inside her wide leather clogs. The unwitting snitches announcing, ‘She’s on the move! She’s headed your way!’

    Four fifty seven.

    Quick! Pick up the phone. Assume the thoughtful, engaged employee pose. “Jennifer Cole, how may I help you? Hi, Marcus.” Cheerful, professional, dedicated.

    Sheila sloshes to the edge of my desk.

    The dial tone hisses in my ear.

    Looking down at my scribble notes, I can feel Sheila’s I’m-your-boss-but-I’ve-come-down-to-your-level-for-camaraderie-at-closing-time-on-Friday stare beating against the top of my head.

    “Oh, that will be fine. Yes, thanks. I’ll include it in the monthly report on …”

    Disappointed sloshing fades, surprisingly slowly, into the breakroom.

    Four fifty eight.

    Tick.

    Tock.

    Stare at clock.

    Four fifty nine.

    Five!

    Peek in purse. Keys? Check. Cell phone? Check.

    I start to leave. Leave here.

    To go where? That’s not important. Nothing urgent to do. A train ride home, a cat to feed, a dvd to play, but simply leaving here will allow me to breathe. I’ve been holding my breath in this office, waiting as forty hours of every week for the past four years tick-tocked away.

    One quick glance at the monitor to confirm that the programs and files and browsers are replaced by a vacant black screen before I head for the door.

    But something’s wrong.

    My monitor should be lifeless, not glowing green, like it is. And not with words swirling in cyclonic motion. Twisting my head, confused, I try to make sense of the green, the words. “Vessel” : “Approaching” : “Cargo” : “Drop” : “Help”

    “Vessel” : “Approaching” : “Cargo” : “Drop” : “Help”. The words swirl and sway. Grow and shrink across the screen.

    A voice blasts from the speakers beside the monitor, emitting sounds from the shut down system.

    It’s a woman’s loud voice. “Vessel” : “Approaching” : “Cargo” : “Drop” : “Help”

    “Help” is shouted, screamed, repeated. “Help!” : “Help!” : “Help!”

    My stomach turns beneath my tightening muscles. My eyes blur from the effort of seeing the impossible.

    When I open my eyes, Sheila is standing over me, laughing.

    “You should see the look on your face!” she howls, hysterical tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s not over yet.”

    I get to my feet and remember. Corporate’s message this morning. Monday’s the roll out for pilot testing of ‘Not Over Yet’, their new software program that gives users a reminder of any unfinished tasks that remain at the end of the day.

    “I tried to tell you what to expect, but you were so, so busy, tied up on the phone.” She coughed the words out, doubled over in renewed spouts of hilarity and wiping tears from under her brimming, squinting eyes.

    “Sheila, beta test this,” my raised middle finger looked huge.

    I wonder if my replacement is having breathing problems. I’m not.

  28. JustinCase says:

    “This should only take a minute to fix.” Magnus’ distorted voice sounded from the walkie-talkie. It was enough to break Arthur’s concentration so that he tore his eyes away from the computer screen and looked across the room at the digital clock fixed to the wall.

    16:53.

    It didn’t look like it was 4:55pm. It was far too dark. However at this time of year, this far North of the Arctic Circle, this was normal. Arthur rose from his chair, dimmed the lights and stared north wards out of the mobile’s largest window. It occurred in his mind that he would have been just as well off staring at any one of the blank walls in the room, for in this darkness, the window provided a view of nothing more than an inky barrier which stretched as far, and stood as high as the eye could see. In fact, the only thing asserting the existence of a world beyond the glass was the harsh, howling wind which relentlessly pummeled the lone structure. Regardless, Arthur stared onward as if transfixed. There was that distinct primal feeling of vulnerability he always felt whenever he looked out at the night. The notion that he, illuminated by the screen light, was on full display for whatever could be waiting in the abyss, was unnerving, however he found solace in the fact that there was no one around for miles.

    Stationed on the large desk before him was what Arthur could only assume was tens maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of technology. A plethora of screens, ‘ometer’s’ of all sorts, dials and knobs, flashing lights and wires. They were the real stars of the show up here, Arthur and Magnus were simply their to supervise, carry out what few procedures the technology couldn’t and relay data back to base two hundred miles away. That was their nine to five.

    16:55.

    Near enough. Time to clock out. Arthur tucked his chair in under the desk and made to leave. The commute home was a short one – next door to the main living space. As Arthur neared the door the walkie-talkie he had left on the desk burst into life. Two beeps. A whimper. Heavy, panicked breathing. Then nothing. Returning to the desk, Arthur picked up the walkie talkie expecting to hear Magnus’ voice again. As he stood waiting, something on one of the radar screens caught his eye.

    “Arthur…!”

    Those dots on the radar, where had they came from? There was only ever supposed to be two centered blips – Arthur and Magnus. But now there were four more. Five. Eight. They surrounded the mobile, not traveling in from afar but simply popping up within two hundred meters, one by one with each rotation of the radial dial. Either they were appearing out of thin air, or, they, whatever they were, were only just now revealing themselves.
    All but one was advancing slowly on the mobile. The one blip bearing down on his location with ahead of the others was Magnus – Arthur thought. Arthur hoped.

    The door burst open and within seconds was slammed shut again. Arthur rushed through and found Magnus bent over, gasping for breath, his brow glistening with beads of sweat despite the sub-zero temperatures.

    “Out there…I heard… noises” exasperated and weeping he forced words out between breathes “it stood like us….but it wasn’t….it’s not human.” He raised his head and stared dead into Arthur’s eyes. “Radio for help.”

    Fearful and confused, Arthur darted back next door to his desk and picked up the handset. The blips were closer now, but they were still no nearer than fifty meters away. He grabbed the handset and waited to be connected to HQ. He reached for the torch which had rested by his feet. It was cumbersome but it’s beam was strong. He was desperate for a glimpse of something, anything that would indicate what was out there. But as he raised the the torch it dawned on him that such a high power torch was not necessary.

    “Outpost ZA4 this is UNS Research Station. You guy’s all alright?”

    Two eyes shone in the light. They were so close, no more than 15 meters away. They were watching him. Magnus was right; they were not human.

    Arthur whimpered.

    “Help.”

  29. TRANSFORMATION (Continued from last prompt’s “Union”)

    I hear the door scrape open roughly behind me, casting some light into the workplace. At once, a shivery cold runs up and down my bones, but I just glance over at my folder of duties.

    “Isaac Kemper, please report for re-education.”

    A thin, wiry man three rows in front of me scurries out of his seat with a dizzying tiredness. As he walks by he casts me a scream for help; I gulp and clutch my mouse.

    The officers turn around in squeaky boots and close the door tight. I begin to upload the programs, and tighten my stomach just in time for the gunshot which soon follows. The stale air hangs in my throat, but I dare not cough. I have no way of knowing who they will select, and when, so I’ve assumed if I kept absolutely quiet I would get passed over.

    “Sanitation crew, please report to education room.”

    Two helmeted bulks come out of a hidden side door, and they drag the limp form out of sight, his forehead leaving a slight red trail in the concrete. The main officer stands still, and I freeze, but then he slams the door.

    “Get IGT parkas to keep out cold weather for just 67.99!” the internal loudspeakers blare.

    I look hastily up at the clock. That must’ve been the last execution for the day, it’s close to five, and I could go home finally. I’ve been working on this program for nearly the entire day.

    When, out of nowhere, this blue window pops up. I swiftly use one arm to cover it up in case a guard passes. Only when I read it does my arm fall back in fear and wonderment.

    THADDEUS ABERDEEN- WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE
    WE ALSO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MR. K
    YOU NEED TO LEAVE NOW, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

    I struggle to close it, but the window freezes. Whoever it is must’ve spied on me, he knows too much, and now he’s going to get me killed. I can hear sluggish boots on the catwalk above me, and breath a silent prayer that he doesn’t gingerly glance down.

    Finally the window closes and the blueprints pop back up. Thoughts bombard my brain—if the window froze it must use older technology. It must have come from outside. And then I remember the flames and the wires and the grey, glassy eyes the soldiers stared at me with, and it all clicks. With a sense of dread I read what the blueprints say.

    “BLUEPRINT 45-P—– PRISON FOR REVOLUTIONARIES”

    I struggle to regain my jaw when the boots on the catwalk stop and the door creaks back open.

    “Thaddeus Aberdeen, please report for—“

    My chair scrapes back and I’m on the run. All of the other workers, clad in white, stare at me, surprised that another runner’s going down.

    “Run, sonny!” an old lad croaks distantly. I see a guard drag him off. Next, I can hear around six different sets of foot stomps behind me. Bullets ricochet off a pole nearby, and one sinks into my palm. Groaning with pain, I reach the heavy blast doors and slide through.

    “Go around the back!” The chief guard says with roaring urgency. The dirt pops up around my feet before I’ve turned into the apartment blocks, and I’m safe for the moment. Ducking into an empty house, I stop to recollect. So, I’ve just lost my family, house, job, and what else? Oh, my life. That’s soon.

    “Do you need help?”

    I whirl around, my bony knuckles in position, to face a red-suited man, with a thin moustache. He doesn’t look like a villain from his blue eyes, but you can never be certain.

    “Who are you?”

    “My name is Giuseppe,” and he whips up a rug to reveal a door. “Do you want help or not?”

    “Oh, yes.” I start and stop, but can hear faint yells in the street. I can imagine one yelling, “I found him!”, and then them dragging me helplessly out before cracking open my skull.

    “I just didn’t think anyone else was on my side.” I slip in to the waist-height crawl space.

    “There are plenty. Just head east to the old underground rail station.” Without further ado he pulls down the door, nearly caving my skull in. Clutching my bloody head with my bloody hand, I descend to my knees, not wanting to hang around for his execution. I cough three or four times, the noise amplified in my ringing ears.

    It seems I’ve been crawling forever when I see a distant light ahead of me. I almost think that it’s a mirage and I’ll die down here, but my hands are visible now. When I reach the opening, guarded by a sheet of broken glass and cobwebs, I haul myself through into the cavern, where I soon fall asleep, a vulnerable, bloody, broken set of rags.

    But it is the second step of the revolution.

    GH

    • jmcody says:

      Wow, that was enthralling. I got completely sucked into it and felt like I was reading a YA action-adventure novel like Hunger Games.

      Most memorable line: “…his forehead leaving a slight red trail in the concrete.”

      Truly excellent work, Bilbo!

  30. LMC says:

    My computer is acting difficult that is what it is doing! Another weekend afternoon and everyone prepares to leave early and so did I…only somebody at my desk did not want me to – yes this PC turned monster!
    “Unable to save” repeatedly stared at me as I jabbed away at the Save icon. Data entered was online and switching off would mean losing all of it! Submission deadline was two hours away same evening. IT helpdesk wouldn’t take my call. Why does everyone want to take off early on a weekend afternoon??? Not when my PC is acting difficult. My neighbor waved a cheery goodbye and left and I stared with envy at the steady stream of exiting colleagues. Here I was squirming on my seat with a full bladder too preoccupied to visit the rest room.
    The phone rang again. “I’m here are you coming?” Of course hubby dearest had reached promptly and had started to take rounds of the office building to avoid double parking and getting caught by the cops. My extra sensory perception was extremely heightened now and I could sense the rising impatience. Again the mobile rang and the patient voice of my impatient husband “are you done?” I am but not this hateful malicious piece of hardware that was keeping me glued to my seat just to spite me! Third call! “how long will you take?” and along with that obviously simple question I also heard the unspoken words “why did you call me if you didn’t want to leave the office? Now I’m taking rounds of your office like an idiot with the cops nosing me”
    The CEO came by and of course on his way out brief case and all – “working late? (NO OF COURSE NOT!!!!) “I’m off early planning a trip to Oman – you have a great weekend. Cheers!” Yeah right! You could have just paused for just one minute and asked if everything was alright! No why would you??? So typically a CEO – don’t want to know anything about suffering employees!
    The next call was to be the last one only to inform me that he was heading home and to call him once I was done. I could have hurled hot coffee at the screen! To hell with it I muttered walking away to relieve my now extremely tight and over bloated bladder. As I returned five minutes later pondering hopelessly on the idea of entering the entire data once again I stared disbelievingly at the screen. It was like a spoilt child that had just decided to end its tantrum. The message on the screen read “data saved successfully”! PERVERT!!!!

  31. REASON’S GLAD DEATH

    The light sprinkling of stars above us had turned the backyard into a stage somehow not big enough for our hearts. My arms around her, we face the disappearing western twilight.

    “I can’t even see a single constellation, Jeff,” she says, her hands entwined in disappointment.

    “That doesn’t matter. It’s a beautiful night,” and I turn and tip our heads gently together. When my hands slip to my sides, her green eyes spark like soul lightning.

    “Do you want to go home?”

    I cross my arms and feel the bottle marks. “No, not yet.”

    She looks away. “Did your father go downtown today?”

    I nod slightly. And so we stay there for as long as our legs allow.
    __________________________________________________________________

    “Copier’s broken,” I say for the tenth time today. Mr. Goodwin doesn’t even get up from his seat, much less look at me.

    “Okay, then…” Sighing, I collapse into my chair. Just five minutes left in the work day and I have this last task dangling over me like Poe’s pendulum. Worse, I forgot to put my coffee in the work fridge and it probably tastes grotesque.

    After five minutes of my fingers dancing around, I’ve finally finished. I slip on my black jacket and prepare to make my getaway, but Donald flags me down.

    “Hey, Jeffster!” and he uses his clipboard to push up his glasses. “Can you fill out these forms real quick?”

    I look at the clock. “Sorry, but I gotta go. My girlfriend’s waiting outside.”

    He nods silently, as if he knows my situation. “All right—see you tomorrow.”

    Turning around, he goes back to his cubicle, a model prisoner. I lean over my chair and shut down the computer. As I grab my sunglasses I notice the screen’s turned blue.

    “Oh, come on… blue screen, really?”

    I sit down to take care of it, but the words are different than usual.

    JEFFREY C> WAIT HERE
    DO NOT LEAVE THE BUILDING UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES
    569854545764——– PROCESS 33-GG ACTIVATED

    That doesn’t exactly look good, so I wave over Mr. Goodwin. I’m tense, but explain the situation, and he walks me through the manual shutdown so I could use it again in the future.

    “I’ve never seen a screen like that,” he notes gruffly. “Probably a glitch. Bye, Mr. Warner.”

    “You too.” As the computer powers down, I wonder what the message could have meant. Without warning, I hear a muffled smashing noise from the street, coupled by an expletive remark from Mr. Thayer, who sits near the window.

    “Holy shit, look at that! Jeff, come here!”

    I glance over to see steam emanating from a tin can pushed onto the sidewalk, a green Jeep folded into its front bumper. Two strangers are pointing wildly from across the pavement.

    My papers drift to the floor softly and I just stare.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Everything.”

    And I rush outside and onto a planet where even gravity fails us feeble-minded, and the same dreams we clutched close float away into space.
    __________________________________________________________________

    I flick on the harsh yellow light in the living room and slip off my jacket. There’s no noise besides the soft gurgling of rain on the roof. I collapse into the big brown chair, but it seems unusually rough.

    “There has been a shooter reported at Fort Hood just yesterday, police reports conclude that—“

    The screen turns black and fizzles out. Nothing good on the news anymore. I look up to the ceiling and feel that it would’ve been better to be buried today too than remain here.

    “Why, God?” Just a simple question. “How was this in your plan? Why couldn’t you have warned me?”

    There’s nothing but slow pattering in reply, but I can feel an answer jolt to my head as I remember the message that saved me. Before, there had been a sense of incompleteness, an elusive search for those starlight moments. I had failed to recognize that the real treasure hunt lay right where I sat. And while I wish with a bottomless ache to watch our first love soar along the rooftops once more, the bitter chords of life ring out from a place entirely unexpected—an old grey house. I know then I have to forge on.

    After a moment’s deliberation, I reach over to the end table and punch in the number I haven’t dialed in years. After the second ring someone answers.

    “Who’s this?” a tired voice wheezes.

    My heart leaps once, but then I resume control.

    “It’s me, dad. Can I come over right away?”

    And it was yet another beautiful night.

    GH

    • Kerry Charlton says:

      So a sad story is born for the reader to ponder. A loss of a new love but then he has to go on living and who better to turn to than a father ands son relationship, that had drifted away, either through a mis-understanding, a lack of patience or some other minor point.

      Your descriptive voice explaining Jeff’s inner thoughts is just wonderful. A remarkable response to a prompt.

    • jmcody says:

      Church over, lamb (yecch) in the oven, sugar crash setting in… thought I’d sneak in just a few minutes here on this holiest (and busiest) of holy days…

      As always, your writing is full of beautiful, soul-stirring imagery. Those starlit moments are elusive and leave us hungering for more, but the lesson of your story is astounding in its insight — that these are the moments we must hold in our hearts, because they surely will end. What a story of hope, though, that your MC understood all this and knew he must forge on and treasure the relationship he has with his Dad, however fractured.

      On a technical note, there was a little tense glitch in the first sentence (I think “had” should have been “has.”) I didn’t quite understand what the issue was with the father, although maybe I wasn’t meant to? I also wasn’t clear what the bottle marks were, but maybe the jellybeans are interfering with my thought processes. :)

      If I believed in reincarnation, I would say you are an old soul, Bilbo. Otherwise I have no explanation for your preternatural gifts.

      Over my limit now… will read your other story later.

      • Thanks! This story taught me some things as well while I was writing it. As for the tense glitch… oops. I changed the entire tense of the story and I must’ve missed that one thing. As for the father, I should have made it more clear that he was an alcoholic. ‘Bottle marks’ was not the correct way to allude to that. And, I’m shooting your fourth paragraph right back at you, jm. You are truly a wonder.

        And, lastly, jelly beans! :-)

    • Reaper says:

      Just wow. The depth of this is amazing. Loss into redemption and reconnection. I am struck by how beautiful and sad this is at the same time. A good week for a story of faith with dark overtones too. You are always good with words, this week your imagery is spectacular. Additionally this story is full of powerful lines and phrases that leap off the screen at me. spark like soul lightning and And I rush outside and onto a planet where even gravity fails us feeble-minded, and the same dreams we clutched close float away into space. are just two of the ones I needed to applaud.

      • Thanks a lot, Reaper! I always like imagery. It ushers you into a beautiful picture frame of little details and exquisite similes. I always felt that my other stories before were well written but somewhat detached, so this month I’ve really been digging deep into emotions. Keep up the good work yourself.

  32. Writeright2 says:

    THIS IS MY FIRST SO HERE GOES:

    “Cinnamon!” Carol shouted in a voice too loud for the office.
    Her head popped in quickly between the monitor and Peace Lily. She startled Velna, who closed another pop up ad. “You seasoned the sausage with cinnamon, didn’t you?” Carol licked her thick lips.

    “No”, Velna shook her head slowly, dark tresses danced around her face. She had become fond of Carol
    and wished she didn’t like the Spicy Sausage Dip so much. Her sympathy after Chase’s disappearance seemed genuine and Velna valued genuine. Her manicured fingers searched for ALT+CTRL+DEL. The ads were beginning to come one behind the other. This one: 30% off a Gerber Gut Hook Knife.

    Licking chubby cheesy fingers, Carol was completely obsessed “Okay I give up. I don’t care what’s in it. It’s just so damn good, I can’t stop. Just be sure you bring extra for the party Saturday.” Her request lingered in the air as she made her way for the exit.

    “Mhmm” faintly left Velna’s lips, as she clicked the red X on a meat grinder ad from Walmart promising to grind four pounds a minute. Velna briefly wondered if the ads were directed at her. She quickly dismissed the notion as paranoia and gathered her things and the left over sausage dip to go home.

    Velna’s slipped on her favorite jacket. As she turned back toward the monitor, there was a cascade of ads: drop point blade, cleaver, gut hook knife, meat grinder. Those ads were annoying but the last frame, stole her breath. A bloody image of Chase completely dismembered oozed all over her screen. Velna’s mouth was open as if she were going to sneeze. She stumbled backward knocking over her chair and spilling the contents of her wastebasket.

    Trembling hand to mouse, she franticly clicked to close. Instead of closing the image grew larger. She looked around the empty office. She clicked again, it grew larger still. Desperate she pulled the power cord from the wall, collected herself and made her way to the elevator. Keep calm no one knows, she repeated to herself. It became her mantra.

    As the elevator doors closed she could see a new screen saver scrolling across her monitor. WE BECOME OUR SECRETS. She was terrified. There’s no way anyone could know. she began to soothe herself. She was careful and he deserved it.

    Once in the lobby, she was approached by the woman she loved to hate. Lola was sex in high heels on her most conservative day. Velna tried to leave quickly to avoid an exchange. she had no desire to entertain Chase’s mistress. They didn’t know she knew, but the wife always knows.

    “Velna Meeks! So lovely to run into you. The whole building is talking about your famous sausage dip.” She gushed.

    “Actually Lola, I have the last of it here. Why don’t you have it? I’ve had my fill and I insist.” Velna shoved the container into Lola’s arms.

    “Oh my heavens, thank you! You know Chase is sorely missed. I think of him everyday.”

    “Well Lola”, glancing at the container of dip, “take comfort knowing that even though he is gone he is still with us.”

    Velna smiled a crooked smile and thought to herself. Whoever said revenge is best served cold has never had my dip.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      OH MY GOD oh my god…oh my god…. that was diabolical, horrific and deliciously twisted. Wow I had no idea, that ending, it hit from left field. I do not know if the computer was actually kicking this images or if it was her own mind but Velna is NOT a woman to mess with. I was engrossed from the beginning. Well done.

    • catbr says:

      You can’t judge a book (or psycho) by it’s cover. Very good story and writing.

    • jimmieg says:

      What a great introduction. I will look for your other shorts in the weeks to come. Great job.

    • rookie says:

      That was so good, oh my gosh! I loved it from the very beginning. The screen saver part was awesome and so was the end haha, very creepy. Great job!!

    • Reaper says:

      Welcome to posting Writeright2.

      I believe gamingtheblues put it best with his pun of deliciously twisted. I was definitely hooked. This reads like the kind of stories I love and tasted faintly of a Poe influence. I love that and mention it as an explanation to the next statement. I suspected the murder from the ads which were great hints. I had an idea of what had happened to the body about halfway through. That is mostly because of what I read and write though. You still managed to surprise me because I did not piece together the why until the reveal of the mistress. So you managed to keep the suspense even with that suspicion, and I was not completely sure I was right until your reveal. This was beautiful. I also agree I am not sure if the images were her imagination and that might be why I think of Poe reading this.

      The one piece of advice I might give is your second paragraph seems a bit packed. It jumps around between thoughts that do not seem to go together and feels like it should be split into two or three paragraphs to separate the different trains of thought.

      • Writeright2 says:

        Reaper (what a name!),

        Thank you for the feedback. It was difficult to determine what was too much and not enough reveal. Some people got it some didn’t.

        Yes, after revisiting the second paragragh you are correct. There was too much going on. I will have more time with the next prompt.

        I can’t wait. This feels like home.

    • jmcody says:

      I will join the chorus and say that this was fantastic. The story read very well and was intriguing. The characters were well drawn (even Carol with her chubby cheese fingers, face appearing between the monitor and the Peace Lily). And the ending was both appalling and thrilling. I am amazed at your cleverness.

    • The end was totally unexpected. I had a hint of something from the ads, but then those puzzle pieces fell into place and I knew exactly what GTB was talking about. Keep up the nice work. If jmcody is amazed at your cleverness, you know you’re getting somewhere.

  33. NoBlock says:

    Chill Out Lady

    You know here’s the thing, I have been a traveling businessman for a very long time. I was flying from coast to coast when flying was still fun, and let me tell you the people I’ve met in airports and the unmentionable things that used to go on in airports before a red eye, would make Charlie Sheen look like Mr. Rodgers, okay. Whew!

    Anyway, back in those days you had far less restrictions than nowadays and nobody was uptight about any of it. These days everybody’s a freakin’ robot and the tension is so high you got people breaking down in flight, I mean all out panic attacks! Don’t get me wrong either, since 9-11, coupled with all the new rules about this and that, I get a little bunch in my panties too.

    Case in point, I’m on a return flight back home just before Easter weekend to be with the family. This plane was packed with all kinds; families, business people, kids alone with no parents and a group of about six little old blue hairs dotted about the plane. How do I know they were together? I know because each one of them is past deaf, but none of them shut up the entire flight.

    So, I have my laptop out trying to conduct a little business before I shut it down for the weekend, when the stewardess comes on and announces for everyone to turn off all electronic devices so they can land the plane.

    Well I’m right in the middle of a Skype session with a long time business partner of mine trying to wrap up a deal. I figure one laptop on isn’t gonna drop this bird out of the sky, right? So I just fold the screen down and keep talking to my partner, looks strange but it’s working.

    The stewardess begins her trek down the aisle to check our belts and make sure our devices are off, so I whisper to my partner to hush for a second.

    “Tray table up please sir.”

    “Oh, yes maam.” I tell her.
    “Is that laptop off?”

    “Oh, yes maam.” I tell her.

    Now, you gotta know something about my partner, he’s an ex frat boy and loves a good joke. He must have heard her when she spoke.

    “Fatass!”

    I have never seen a woman whip around so freakin’ fast in such a small space before in my life!

    “Excuse me sir?!” If looks could kill, she’d be a freakin’ scud missile right now.

    I hit that power button faster than John Wayne drew on outlaws and turned my head around as if trying to find the source of the slander. I kinda raised my shoulders at her and she said something under her breath as she walked away.

    “Get a real hairdo, UGLY!”

    Oh I was in trouble now, she was hauling ass back to my seat as I was now punching the stupid power button. Half the plane was watching the scene now and my partner’s muffled laughs only pissed her off more because she assumed I was muffling my own.

    She approached me hurling swears as she stomped, she had her backhand cocked and ready, then abruptly stopped and slowly looked around the plane. This lady had obviously been in a tin can too long.

    I lifted my laptop and showed her the screen, “Look, look it’s my buddy on Skype I swear! He’s just having fun!”

    Her blank stare was shortly followed by these words, “Dude, she’s not fat. And maam I think your hair is quite lovely.”

    “Mmmmm hmm!” she exclaimed while looking me up and down, “you know I hear it’s a bitch to get on a plane if you’re on the no fly list.”

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I especially LOVED the voice in the beginning of the story, I almost wish it had continued forever. I thought that it would be perfect for Joe Pesci for some reason.

    • jmcody says:

      That was hilarious! What a ride. The character’s voice was authentic and memorable, and now that I’ve read GTB’s comment, I have to agree it’s totally Pesci, but the less menacing “My Cousin Vinny” Pesci as opposed to psychotic “Casino” Pesce. Loved the flight attendant’s attitude and her fitting comeback. This was very entertaining.

    • Reaper says:

      You know it’s funny because I heard a voice that kept fluctuating between Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, and Anthony Hopkins. But then I read the Joe Pesce comments and heard it all in his voice perfectly and it changed the tone of the story.

      This was good and my favorite part was the beginning because it was so subtle but tense. I felt a lot of social commentary on the culture of fear we live in where the illusion of safety actually causes a break down and we survive our lives afraid instead of living them. This came back strong in the end because I thought the attendants threat was an unnecessary power trip. It reminded me of the signs that are in the DMV here, don’t know if they are elsewhere, about how the workers are federal employees and it’s a federal offense to do so much as raise your voice to them. Despite the fact that most of them are petty little bureaucrats that need reminding that they do nothing to stop the encroaching red menace. So, I read a lot of good stuff in here but it may have been different than what others took away because you did a good job of keeping it open for the reader to add their own take.

    • jhowe says:

      I chose the wrong time to be taking a sip of coffee as I read the “fatass’ comment. That was a well written comody piece. I enjoyed it.

  34. ZeedoubleU says:

    I’ve been twiddling my damn thumbs for the past two and a half hours. I would have left sooner but the bane of hourly is they will pay you to do nothing in your chair, but as soon as you are gone, that’s pay out the window. The clock strikes 5 till and I down the rest of my cold coffee and click the shut-down button on my screen. Nothing happens for several seconds, because nothing ever happens when I try to click something or tell my computer to do any meager task. Some more seconds pass and I hit the power button again.
    The office is quite. It’s cold and everyone else is salaried so they all took off early to enjoy the warmth of home. I want to do the same but my computer starts beeping. I decide to worry tomorrow. This isn’t worth it. Until a window pops up on my screen. “Michael.”
    The last time I was called Michael my girlfriend was being taken, ripped from me, screaming that name.
    “Michael!”
    We were laying on the bed. The t.v. was playing background noise as she laid in my arms.
    “Michael!”
    We heard a rumbling downstairs. She was trying to wake me.
    “Michael”
    They were hammering up the stairs.
    “MICHAEL”
    By the time I came to.
    “MICHAEL, MICHAEL, MICHAEL!”
    They had her. She kept screaming. They pulled her away and pointed a suppressed firearm at my forehead. That was so many years ago.
    Standing up, dazed, I look around and the sea of cubicles is silent. I turn and see a man, dressed in dark cloths, wearing makeup and faux facial hair. The computer behind me is beeping frantically with pop-ups of “Michael” filling the screen. I look at the man, he looks at me. I used to live such a different life. One that I knew I couldn’t escape, one that I knew would come back. But I was hoping it would not be my downfall.
    I look back at the computer. And finally I see the pop-up “I love you, Michael”
    I should’ve skipped the pay.

  35. kbaktygul says:

    So I’m about to leave my job at five but I begin to hear pinging coming out of my computer. At first I’m kind of confused trying to figure out what it is about. Actually these kinds of sounds are normal in the computer world when some hackers breach the computer system, and you may have to switch your attention to some other activity. But this case appears to be as coming out of the blue: after some pinging I see my English dictionary window opens and the words just ebb onto the searching tab. These words then form a sentence and they in turn make a message for me. Certainly all of this stuff keeps me mesmerized for a minute and I look on the computer screen with open mouth, but as soon as I get started to understand that something should be done with what I have, I realize that this is my acquaintance from the past. I just say to myself, “Wow! My unfinished love is tapping back on my window!” Then I feel some kind of relief that I find out on what or who could be trying to type me a message. Now what am I going to do with his frantic calls? Actually, at the time he was like an alien. He was from different world, the dynamic world which could not fit for me in the past. His return seems to offer me a new challenge letting me to unfold in a new way. Every time I get a message from my computer my mind exposes to the news, or vice versa, the news opens from different perspective. I feel the world as the endless and promissing place where there is a magic that could be understood.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I would strongly suggest re-formatting your stories to give some spaces and the reader a chance to breath and really fall into your words. Especially words that at first glance seem a little…surreal and difficult to follow, your block of words does not allow a slower interpretation. (Though perhaps that is the point?) Author response requested on this one please.

  36. dandylion says:

    Now where did she leave the other earring? They are a pair after all, yet the half that completes the whole is nowhere to be seen.
    She flops down on the bed to pull her stockinged toes into her boots – she has both thankfully – and sees the laptop perched on the bedside table, it’s sleek corners spilling over the wood. Tom was supposed to email her more information about this evening’s meeting, so she flips the lip open and taps a button before rushing off to the bathroom to touch up her hair for the third, and last, time.
    Just as she finishes lining her lips in a deep burgundy, she spots the iridescent pearl tucked behind the hand soap. A beeping from the bedroom distracts her from her glee and she snags the little gem and is in the process of sending it through her earlobe when she finds the laptop in technological distress.
    “No, no, no, please no,” she begs, glancing at the clock to see its a quarter to five and the drive alone to her office takes a good ten minutes, without traffic.
    Looking back, the screen begins exploding with pages, a collection of websites. Suddenly they take the form of women, men, girls – all in compromising positions, with little to no clothing. She watches in horror as the virus that is her husband’s own perversion destroys her computer.

  37. Nat-dono says:

    He’s never been too good at these computer things, it’s too early in the morning, and he’s too tired to really comprehend what he’s seeing – but he’s sure that no computer has ever flashed a bright white repeatedly under his touch before – and great. Just great that it had to be his boss’s computer that reacts this weirdly to his ignorant fingers advances.

    He keeps pressing f2 because he’s sure – at least as sure as he can be on two hours of sleep for the least week – that f2 does something amazing when a computer is basically dying in front of you – or wait… Was it f5? He’s seconds away from slamming the damn thing shut and blaming it on that janitor that he’s sure been the one taking his food carefully marked “Johnny’s’” just before he rolls around to the staff-room at twelve to retrieve his lunch, when he remembers what the repeating white flashes remind him of.

    When he tells her of this story, his wife will laugh and tell him that he was just tired, that he missed their newborn son a little too much and that he had just maybe gone a little stir-crazy cooped up in the office for a full week to think up such a thing. But because he hasn’t had the chance to go home and have that conversion with his wife over a weirdly early dinner where he’ll spend the minutes the roast is reheating in the oven trying not to fall asleep; he thinks that the white flashes absently remind him of the way his son opens and closes his mouth when he’s trying to get a barely audible Dada through his lips. Plus, computers can’t talk, so there’s no way the computer is trying to talk to him. He’s just going crazy.

    Giving f2 one last press before he makes a break for it Johnny nearly chocks own his own tongue when the screen goes black just to flash on a second later. “Deleting” in big blaring letters on the now pitch black screen, there’s no more flashes of light anymore, just that bleak deleting flashing over and over, and that scares him because at least while earlier it was just flashing weirdly – and that sucked – now it was deleting. He knows he’s not good with computers, but Johnny’s not dumb. Finishing university with a perfect 4.0 GPA proves that, and he’s always been rather good at putting together puzzles. So he gets deleting doesn’t just mean one or two flies – not when it’s making this big of a show out of it.

    “Oh, shit.” Because he’s smart Johnny gets that the computers deleting more than just its data. It’s just deleted his job too.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I thought this was pretty good writing, imaginative and with an interesting plot. One question I have is that deleting his job felt a little soft to me, almost like you had considered deleting his life..or something with a bit more at stake and then backed down for some reason. Not sure why that feeling came across but I report it as they come to me.

  38. sudhiriyer says:

    Its 5 pm and work has been frustrating. My diary shows none of my To-Dos have been struck-off! My computer appears starved of resources and my mind of creative juices. I decide to call it a day and play squash. I feel sly. No one actually notices that I did not get done much today. Not one. Not my neighbour at work, not my boss (on leave) and not people whom I had meetings with today. And yet, I am at liberty to leave without answering anyone. Appraisals are due next week. I can work hard and be in good books then.
    I usually don’t shut down my computer but today I decide to. To Start I go, and Shutdown! Let the machine do the rest. “Time for you to sleep”, said I and see the green button on my messenger window saying to me “Green lights! Floor it, speed away, break free!”
    I am confident of not being watched. But someone is! My boss is. He is inside my computer. The computer is him! Just as I hit shutdown, the computer hangs up. The messenger window appears.
    “How was your day?” writes the boss, or was it the computer as the boss?
    I know I have hit the shut down button. I am hoping he sees me offline soon. But he writes again,
    “Has the report been fixed?”
    I stare at my diary, still open. The first task written in cursive black was ‘Fix report.’ The ink had dried out but the task was open.
    “How can you not now shut down by now? I commanded you to” I tell my computer.
    I realise. The computer is my boss. He wants to interrogate me. Now!
    “Shutdown” I beg.
    “Could you send me minutes of meeting today?” Computer asks. My black, still open, diary shouts back “Yes, that’s on the list too, didn’t you do it?” I close my dairy to save me from this phantasmagorical drill.
    Something happens. I realise again. My boss is not alone inside the computer. My resident alter-ego tries to fight the boss. It is saying:
    “I know you have tried to shut down, but someone here is proving to be stronger than my resources. I can’t help but wait for him to withdraw naturally. I can’t force this guy down.” My alter-ego disappears.
    “Hello! Are you there? Where did you go? What do I do? Plug the cord out? But he knows I have seen his messages”, went my monologue.
    No reply. I close the chat window and decide to pull out the power cord. I bend down to do so but boss appears again.
    “You there? Please update me before you leave”
    I give up and decide to reply. But this last chat window multiplies cancerously at an alarming rate.
    I hear a sadistic laugh. It is from another cubicle. But I know. It is my Computer. It’s saying to me “You’re watched, all the time”. I cannot see the green light anymore.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I thought this was a good take on the prompt and a good take on the notion of living in a world of not only constant connectivity to everyone but constant surveillance as well. As people, its incredibly important to unplug from both the world and most everyone else in it sometimes, to recharge and gain perspective. Otherwise, you too may not see the green light anymore.

  39. jmcody says:

    The photo appeared pixelated at first, and then blazed to life. Abbie gasped and clapped her hand to her mouth.

    “Watcha got there?” said Joyce in her nasal voice as she eyeballed Abbie’s monitor. Abbie was the top grossing realtor at the agency, and bottom feeders like Joyce were always trying to tap her secrets.

    “Nothing,” said Abbie, minimizing the photo. “One of those obnoxious Viagra emails. I deleted it.”

    The secret of Abby’s success was simple: She adored houses, not for what they were, but for what she imagined they could be. Even the homeliest of homes could, in Abbie’s imagination, be the picture of domestic bliss. Her words painted pictures that buyers couldn’t resist: Unused corners became cozy reading nooks. Boxy living rooms transformed into sparkling, cinnamon- and pine-scented Christmas Eve gatherings. Tract backyards hosted Thanksgiving flag football amidst the crunch of autumn leaves. Perfect happy homes for perfect happy families.

    They were the secret to her survival, these images Abbie conjured.

    After everyone had gone, Abby maximized the photo. There it was – the house that had saved her. Sadness tinged her memory of the girl she had been, shivering in the twilight, staring longingly at the brightly lit Victorian. She was just twelve then, and as lithe and leggy and skittish as a colt. That was the year she discovered she could outrun Dad and his unpredictable outbursts. At the first ominous signs of an impending beating – a sudden shift in the atmosphere or the twitch of a jaw muscle – Abby would flee.

    She would run until she couldn’t run anymore, and then she would walk for hours, past manicured homes so unlike her own with its peeling paint and bitter weeds. Sometimes she would catch glimpses of happy family scenes being played out in the houses. But what she saw through the large bay window of the multihued Victorian would ignite a lifetime obsession: A father, holding his tiny daughter and twirling her around.

    She clicked the arrow for the next photo, an interior shot of the living room. It was perfect, with light spilling through oversized windows. She clicked again: This time a father stood by the bay window holding his small daughter, just like in her memory. But that girl would be grown now, the father an old man.

    The next frame was a video. She clicked the arrow and sat back to watch.

    “Abigail,” said the smiling man, “We’ve been waiting for you.” Abbie bolted upright and rubbed her eyes. She clicked the arrow again. The same father and daughter appeared on a homey sunporch.

    “Come home, Abbie!” implored the little girl.

    I’m losing it, thought Abbie. Maybe it was time to call it a night. She clicked the “x” in the upper right corner. A window with two buttons appeared:

    “Do you want to:

    STAY?

    Or

    FLEE?”

    Abby looked into the smiling faces of the father and daughter in their picture perfect home. More than anything she wanted to stay. She had spent a lifetime fleeing, of disappearing at the first sign of trouble, and she was alone.

    She thought of her own impressive home with its gleaming kitchen and large, empty rooms. She wondered who would miss her.

    “Come on, we’re having a tea party!” said the little girl.

    “Come, Abigail,” beckoned the man.

    Abby palmed the mouse, the cursor hovering over the box, and clicked.
    __________________________________________________________________________________

    The next day, Joyce’s eyes lit up when she found Abby’s computer still on, open to a listing for a gorgeous old Victorian. She was going to scoop Abbie on this one!

    Hmmm, that’s funny, thought Joyce. Real estate photos didn’t usually have people in them. But there on the quaint front porch stood a smiling couple and their adorable daughter. Before she could register the familiar face, disappointment set in. There at the top of the page, in large bold letters, was the word:

    SOLD.

    • don potter says:

      Who says you can’t go home. A lovely, haunting tale. You SOLD me.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Jm..I hope this comes through the words of a message board. You are special. Truly and honestly. The words you paint imprint on my heart and bring tears to my eyes each and every time. The life experiences and the lessons they have taught you, the wisdom and soul that are embued into your stories are things of true humanity.

      And this all happened BEFORE I knew you were the writer of this story. I was reading this, marking the strength of the main character, the incredibly accurate, yet somehow down-to-earth descriptions ( she was just twelve then, and as lithe and leggy and skittish as a colt.) (I have been around horses for many years) and the emotions of the piece were all impressing upon me and I had to know what amazing talent had entered our forums.

      When I scrolled up, and saw it was…of course.. you that had written this piece, I laughed, literally out loud, because my joy at seeing you had accomplished such magnificent writing was matched only by how ridiculous it was of me for not knowing before hand. Normal forum goers will know that I have always held you writing in high esteem, but no one can ever say that it is purely a give and take reciprocal back patting, because your talent and voice are obvious for all to see and love.

      I hope you take this as a fitting “I am back” letter, as I have taken the past two weeks off to focus on my own disastrous personal life ;) and if I had known this is what I can look forward to from now on, on here, then I would have never taken a break at all.

      • lovewrite says:

        Bravo jm, Bravo!

      • jmcody says:

        I’m so glad you’re back, GTB! As I said below, the forum just didn’t feel right without you. A substantial portion of what I get out of reading all these stories is in the commentary that you some others provide.

        I posted my story here last night with the intention of reading and commenting on some others, but I was so overwhelmed by your reaction, and some of the others’, that I was rendered speechless and had to power down for the evening. Every time I write one of these prompts, I think I may never be able to write another, but reactions like this keep me going. So thanks, GTB. You’re pretty special yourself. And that’s not just mutual back-patting.

    • snuzcook says:

      JM, I almost hate to comment after so many wonderful observations have already been made–not much left to say. This was a lovely tale, and I appreciate how you were able to put so much heart into this prompt.

    • jimmieg says:

      a master class in succinct, illustrative, and compelling writing. Well done.

      • jmcody says:

        Wow, jimmieg, that’s quite a compliment. Thank you, and I’m glad you liked it. I am making my way down to your story… I’m a little slow this week.

    • devsmess says:

      You know how when you listen to certain songs, you well up and get goosebumps, even when it’s not sad? Just because of its genius? That’s the effect this one had on me.
      You demonstrated the reason I write, the reason I work hard and keep revising. Because words can do this- what your piece did to me. Move people. Grip people. Suspend people in disbelief. Take them somewhere else, completely unaware they’ve left with a composition of words that create magic.
      And you did it in less than a page worth of words.
      That was incredible.
      Thank you so much for sharing.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        jm, I don’t know what I can add to what others have said about your story except that I was deeply moved by your skill and dedication to the written word. I read my first book when I was sick in bed at the age of eight. My older sister gave it to me as I lay in stress. A hard bound beautiful book, ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood.’

        I can’t tell you how much I loved that book but you know don’t you?

        • jmcody says:

          Yes, I do understand that. I have been madly in love with books since my first Sally, Dick and Jane reader. I remember being obsessed with fairy tales when I was seven or eight, and it just went on from there. Everything I know about writing I know only from reading.

          Thanks, Kerry, I always enjoy your stories and memories. I really hope you are writing these all down somewhere, for your family. I have an Uncle who is a writer who wrote his “memoirs,” just for the family really, and I can’t tell you how fascinating it has been for all of us to read. You have very many tales to tell.

      • jmcody says:

        Devsmess, your comment was better than my story. I know exactly what you mean about that magic that sometimes happens, and you said it so eloquently. If my story did that to you, I assure you it was purely accidental, but I am ecstatic that you felt that way. Now if I could just figure out how to do it again…

    • This is amazingly, gloriously complete, jm. Another masterpiece to hang up in your museum.

    • catbr says:

      Looks like you are one of the fav’s on this site. I can see why. Very imaginative story and well written.

    • JR MacBeth says:

      Lots of replies already, but I have to pile on too. Awesome stuff JM, keep up the good work!

    • Reaper says:

      JMCody. There is almost nothing I can say that has not been said. So I will stick to two. You say if you can figure out how to do it again but trust me when I say you do it again every week. Each time I have the highest expectations of your writing and you surpass them. That is the comment on your comment. As for the story. I am sure you will understand this for the compliment it is. I am rendered speechless because any compliment I could give that has not already been stated would only tarnish its beauty. Instead of touching it with blunt words I will instead stare in awe from behind the velvet rope.

      • jmcody says:

        Wow, Reaper, now I don’t know quite how to respond to that. So I guess I’ll just say compliment received, and thank you. And your words are anything but blunt. “Exquisite” is a much better description.

        And now I think I’m going to follow Abbie’s lead and just go live inside my computer. It’s so much nicer here than in the real world.

    • Dennis says:

      I didn’t have to give too many comments this week but did want to leave one for you JM. You really have a way with your characters. I still find myself plot driven and write from that place. I am more inspired reading yours and others stories who have a way of touching on something deeper. Thank you.

      • jmcody says:

        Thank you, Dennis. This is the most helpful kind of compliment because it made me realize something. I went back and looked at all my prompt responses to date, and sure enough, they are overwhelmingly character driven. I think plot is my weakest point. As I may have mentioned a couple hundred times, I am a relative newbie when it comes to writing, with no formal training and flying by the seat of my pants. So this gives me something to work on, the same as you want to work on your characters.

        They say when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Today you are the teacher.

    • agnesjack says:

      jm, I loved this story for so many reasons: the depiction of the longing of something desired, but not yet realized; the idea that the homes have so much more than what is visibly apparent; the beautiful and haunting descriptions of her fleeing her unpredictable father. Very nice take on the prompt.

    • jmcody says:

      This alternate ending came to me fully formed in a dream last night and I want to get it down before it evaporates. I hope it makes sense.

      FLIGHT

      As Abbie sprinted north on I-95, the truth crashed in on her like a brick thrown from an overpass: She would forever be an outsider.

      She would run as far as the road would let her, to the mountains where the air was clean and she could start fresh. Past the Catskills, past the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She would run all the way to Northernmost Maine, maybe to Katahdin. The mountains never forgot, but maybe she could.

      She would change her name. Abigail meant “father’s joy.” It had been her father’s choice. And her last name had been his. She didn’t want either anymore.

      She knew Joyce would be more than happy to sell her house.

      In Maine she would be forced to finally accept her permanent outsider identity. In that thin, chilly mountain air where excess words are considered a sign of a weak mind, househunters would be immune to her charms. Even her most heartwarming images of home and hearth were likely to be met with a “yup” or a “nope.”

      We’ll just see about that, you stony faced bastards. You will buy my houses.

      [With apologies to New Englanders. Abbie’s got anger issues. :) ]

  40. The Deathly Hallows says:

    I’m new here so I hope you like it.

    I stayed late at the office once again. My boss had given me yet another assignment to have done by the end of the week which meant I was doing the job of four people instead of just three *sigh.*

    I had everything packed up and I was about to leave when I realized that my computer wouldn’t shut down.

    This was bad.

    If I got home an hour after I told the babysitter that I would be home she would call social services. Again and I was not going to lose Serraphina like I had lost her mother.

    I hit the shut down button again for the 40th time this time something different happened, a message popped up.

    The message said:

    Charles Scott.
    We have taken your daughter. You will not get her back until you return what you have taken from us. You have nine days to return what you have taken then we will kill your daughter.
    You have been warned.
    -The Dark Council

    I exited out of the message and the computer shut off. I put my stuff away, got into the car and drove faster than I ever had before.

    My house was in ruins it was clearly the work of the Darkness. Sure enough my five-year-old daughter was not there.

    I sat down and sobbed. A man walked out of the shadows towards me.

    “Fang” he said

    “Scar” I said, I was stunned we hadn’t talked since-

    “You have offended the Darkness.”

    “I know.”

    “I think you know what we have to do Fang.” He handed me a sword that I hadn’t seen in years.

    I sighed and took back my sword.

    I was about to do something I had sworn I wouldn’t do again.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Oohhhh While it is a little bemusing to see one of my old gamer tags used in a story (Fang lol) I love the premise of this story. Short and very to the point, I find myself wanting to know the full story and world that these characters live in. Social services mixed with an evil darkness, office work mixed with fantasy sword fighting. Count me in. (I am a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy nerd)

    • jmcody says:

      This was great multilayered first story. It started out being very prosaic. Then you threw in the social worker and it got interesting. Then the social worker turned out to be the least of your MC’s worries. To me, the best sci-fi always has a solid human narrative running through it.

    • The Deathly Hallows says:

      Thank You for commenting on my story I was really nervous about posting it since this is my first time posting a story so I’m glad you liked it!

    • Reaper says:

      Welcome to the forums, or at least the posting Deathly Hallows.

      I loved the story. I was also drawn in. I would love to see where this goes. I am curios if one of your influences is Jim Butcher? This has a slight feel of some of his work, though that might just be because of the Dark Council thing, and that it feels like Urban Fantasy to me. Trust me when I say that is a compliment because I am a big fan of his. Loved the little details like CPS and the flow into the we need to take care of this.

  41. gamingtheblues says:

    SHUT DOWN ABORTED
    ———————————
    CRITICAL JUNCTION
    ————————-
    UPDATE REQUIRED
    —————————-
    RESTART IMMEDIATELY
    RESTART
    RESTART
    Jacob swore under his breath to himself. He had no idea what a “critical junction” was but it didn’t sound good. Only another ten minutes or so left on the reports and now this. Of course, it was his own fault in the first place. Every single damn night lately, his boss Amanda had been asking him to stay late to finish the auditing reports, which were a part of her job. He would open his mouth to tell her “No, I’m sorry Amanda but my wife and kids are waiting for me,” or, “I’m late for Sam’s soccer game already, I can’t.”

    But then she would smile at him in that way she had, and tilt her head to the side, just so. After that it was all over and he would hate himself a little for giving in, and for how he would feel once at home. At least she paid him handsome overtime for his services to her.

    The screen flashed as he restarted the system, the familiar company logo briefly appearing before a text box appeared.

    USER: JACOB ANDERSON
    README: UPDATED TERMS OF SERVICE
    READ FULLY BEFORE PROCEEDING

    All of this because of some new software terms of service. Ridiculous. He scrolled down the long document, barely registering the different sections written in clipped legal terms. Finally at the bottom, the familiar ACCEPT or CANCEL buttons appeared and he absentmindedly clicked accept. The reports finshed tallying and began automatically printing and the stand-by overnight screen appeared. Jacob sighed again and stood. Time to get the hell out of here and figure out a good excuse for his wife. Standing directly behind him was tall, dark haired, faceless man.

    “You may not leave.”

    “Who are you?? I can have security here in 10 seconds. Get the f-”

    “You may not leave. You accepted the terms of service.”

    “Look man, if you don’t move out of my way now…” Jacob moved to push past but was thrown back with such force that his head hit the desk. “You may not leave. You accepted the terms of service.”

    Jacob’s eyes came to rest on the computer screen, where once again the terms of service was gently flowing down the page of its own accord. This time he read closer. “But..but…I.. this ISN’T LEGAL. I never agreed to this.”

    “You may not leave. You accepted the terms of service.”

    All around Jacob now, he could hear commotion, though until a few moments prior he had been alone in the office. Standing up and craning his head over the edge of the cubicle he looked around. A vast field of cubicles lay spread out on all sides. Faceless men barring the exits to each, thousands of prisoners trapped in their terms of service. Each prisoner had Jacob’s face and hair, his head and body. He screamed. Silver coins had replaced their eyes, and they weeped. Mirrors reflected from mouths frozen open in grotesque mockeries of emotion, flashing in the dim, flickering office light. A noise behind him and he turned to see his own keeper approach slowly, hand outstretched. Two silver coins and a small, sharp mirror.
    —————————-

    Jacob jerked awake as his hand slipped off his chin. The room was bright, and softly buzzing with the sound of computers and murmured conversation. He stood slowly and looked around. Everyone was quietly busy working on their accounts, or getting coffee, water… Normal. Jacob felt sick and wiped the sweat from his forward. Looking towards Amanda’s office he saw her looking away from him, slightly bent over her desk, examining something. He stood there for a long time looking at her professional skirt and legs. She must have felt the weight of his gaze, looked over her should and winked at him. Jacob turned, ran to the bathroom and was violently sick.

    The mirror in the bathroom stared at him with his own face and he turned once he could no longer look himself in the eyes. Walking fast, not slowing he went to his cubicle and wrote two words on a post-it and stuck them to the face of his computer. He did not look towards her office as he walked out of the building and went home.

    CRITICAL JUNCTION
    UPDATE REQUIRED
    RESTART IMMEDIATELY

    • gamingtheblues says:

      forehead…not forward. Sorry!

    • don potter says:

      Loved your descriptions. I felt trapped along with Jacob as he looked around the office. Introducing Amanda into the situation gavee the nightmare a bit of realism. Nicely done.

      • gamingtheblues says:

        Why thank you Don!

        • Kerry Charlton says:

          GTB, I’ve worked for people like Amanda. The last was over thirty years ago. I’m still having frustration dreams. I’m back there working but I can’t seem to find my office.

          All the memories came back. I thought the symbolism of coins for eyes, made it even scarier for me. Trapped, trapped and trapped.

          • gamingtheblues says:

            I am pleased that I once again have invoked memories from what has been an obviously eventful and interesting life.

    • jmcody says:

      I thought about making a joke that it was terrible – you know, because of the whole reciprocal back-patting thing — but I can’t even pretend that. Of course I loved it!

      This was very profound — a man’s moment of truth, a critical juncture in his life, when he must decide what’s important. In addition to being downright creepy, the coins in the eyes to me conjured two things: The soulless pursuit of money over all else, and images of the dead with coins placed on their eyes, as was once the custom. You effectively equated the two with this image and showed your MC heading down the path of spiritual annihilation. I loved the way you used the annoying “terms of service” agreement as the tool of Jacob’s enslavement.

      I am a little unclear on the relationship between Jacob and Amanda, but I think you purposely left that open to interpretation. Her flirty smiles and winks, and his momentary ogling seemed to suggest more than just a boss-subordinate relationship. Was it only a suggestion that Amanda was putting out there to manipulate Jacob? Or is it something Jacob feels drawn to and fears will further contribute to his downfall? Either way I’m glad he hightailed it out of there.

      So many of the things that I love about your writing were in this piece: The subtleties and nuances, the evocative images, the deep exploration of the human heart, the sustained intensity and controlled build of suspense, and the stunning and unpredictable ending. Wonderful, GTB, and I’m so glad you’re back. The place just wasn’t the same without you.

      • gamingtheblues says:

        Thank you for your kindness as always Jm and sentiments. I also am happy to know that you enjoyed the piece and I myself while writing it was not sure about the relationship between the two of them though you hit the nail on the head when you said I might have left it purposely open. I absolutely purposely left that open to interpretation. (though by the end of the story I began to have suspicions that flirting was not the full extent of her manipulation) It is good to be back, I hope the rest agree as well lol ;) I am in editing mode this week

    • lovewrite says:

      Brilliant GTB! I felt like I was in the cubicle with your MC, your writing is so vivid and full of color. I’m definitely reading those Terms Of Service before clicking Accept from now on!

      • gamingtheblues says:

        I am one of those that scroll HOPING that nothing bad happens. Thank you for your kind words on my writing, and I hope to read more of your work as well.

    • dzgrl2000 says:

      Okay, I secretly fear this every time I agree to “Terms of Service”. Seriously though, great story. You build the story with colorful imagery and pace. Especially the paragraph where he sees all those mindless Jacobs stuck in their Terms of Service hell. You expertly chose words that paint the picture of this man’s nightmare.

      I admit to hoping it was really happening to Jacob, but then in the end I found myself yelling “HELL YEAH” when he quit. Thank you for the enjoyable read.

      • gamingtheblues says:

        Your very welcome, and thank you for your words of praise and for getting involved enough with the story to have an emotional response (hell yeah!) I truly appreciate every comment I get and try to respond to each, so thank you again.

    • catbr says:

      Creepy slave driving office or was he starting to go insane? Glad Jacob was able to escape. Good story and writing.

    • Reaper says:

      I thought you were back in full effect with your comments? My god you just about stopped my heart with this one. Most things have been said but a couple I feel a need to pile on to.

      The coins in the eyes, beautiful symbolism of hell and damnation. The mirrors on the mouth were an awesome touch that I couldn’t place but felt familiar. Overall amazing symbolism. The relationship with the boss was disturbing, moreso because you left it vague. The line about how he felt when he went home, that subtle notion of the guilt he felt being around his wife felt like another prison. It actually made me believe it was only flirting but he wanted to do more because flirting equals guilt where I thought if there were more he would enter survival and hiding mode. It told me he still had a soul to save.

      The only off thing for me, other than the ones you corrected, and I am digging deep for this one but you have asked for them is the use of the word weeped instead of wept. I feel you did it for poetic reasons, but it did not seem to fit with the rest of the flow and the style of your story. It pulled me out of the tale, but just for a second.

      • gamingtheblues says:

        Good catch reaper… actually it was just very poor editing on my part… I do not edit my own work much as is, because I typically write them in a word document to check word count and I edit on the fly with that. But this time I just typed in the response box and did not re-read it (it was very late when I wrote it) So yes…thank you, wept is actually the proper word for it. I am extremely susceptible and open to criticism or editing catches so bring them on!

    • JR MacBeth says:

      Nice. I particularly liked this line: “He stood there for a long time looking at her professional skirt and legs.” I’ve done that myself a time or two.

      • gamingtheblues says:

        I re-worded that sentence several times to properly convey exactly the right tone at the moment, so I am rather pleased that it worked for you. Thank you

  42. ShawnJohnson78 says:

    I lean back in my chair and take in the message for a minute. I close my eyes for an exaggerated blink and open again. Still there. Then I throw a handful of paperclips at the monitor. It doesn’t have the effect I was looking for; I still felt pissed and the computer just kept flashing it’s message: alkdygbhow*NOT RECOGNIZED* nalidngdislawndis*Failed*
    I stand up to see if any of my coworkers are having this problem but when I stand I don’t see anyone else there. All the monitors are turned off and most of the chairs are pushed upper their respective desks with the exception of one chair about 20 feet away that is slowly spinning. The plaid pattern of the shawl on the back creates a hypnotic effect and I sit back down puzzled.
    My hand feels wet. I wipe it on the back of my pants but the feeling is still there. In the back of my mind I think I hear laughter and assume that this is a joke being played on me. Unamused I say out loud “really funny guys. Well played.” Expecting that to be the end of a joke I stand back up and now none of the chairs are under the desks. They’re gone! My computer is beeping now like someone was hitting the wrong key intentionally and the light at the other end of the room goes out. It’s barely 5pm and it’s dark. “Ouch!” My hand shoots up to my ear which feels like it was pinched.
    Nerves are getting the better of me. I try to loosen my tie but the knot is too intricate and my fingers too clumsy. The next row of lights extinguish and now panic is setting in. My breath is coming and going quicker and quicker. Another row of lights leaves. Not turned off, but just never there. I don’t know why I know that and I scratch at my arm.
    “ANDREWS!” my boss yells at me. There is a crowd gathered around my desk with sniggering from some and full on laughter from others. I raise my head that was resting on my hand and a stream of drool follows me back. My desk is now littered with pieces of office supply and paper that my coworkers had decided to throw at me during my unintentional siesta. My other hand had rested on the keyboard and was causing a hysteric beeping that alerted everyone to my desk but not enough to wake me. Fantastic. One of my coworkers was holding an emptied out sugar bowl with water near my hand. “Oh you guys suck.”

    • gamingtheblues says:

      That was great!! All of my spacing and formatting complaints went away as I realized this was stream of consciousness and how fast paced, and tense the writing was. THEN the reveal at the end??? Amazing my friend. I “loved” this story. Excellently written, very realistic and just good stuff.

    • jmcody says:

      You got me good. The suspense was terrific. I especially liked the spinning chair — nice effect! The last paragraph made me laugh out loud at the drool and the hand draped over the keyboard. This brought me back to those long-ago college dorm pranks and what would happen to the poor sap who was unfortunate enough to fall asleep first. Fun!

  43. rle says:

    I hated my computer and I was fairly certain that it hated me back with a venom equally as potent. Here I sat, a hundred miles from home, two days into a three day sales trip and my computer had just flat out quit. What luck.

    Sometimes I didn’t even know why I’d taken this job. My wife had wanted me to go into business with her father building new homes but I was uneasy at the prospect of riding my father-in-laws coat tails. Although I had appreciated the offer, I wanted to make my own way and support my family on my own merit. So, instead, I took a sales job with HST Supply, the mid-west’s largest supplier for the oil and gas industry. That had been seventeen years ago.

    I looked at the clock on the dash of my F-150. It read 4:31 PM. My twin sons would be playing a baseball game at six thirty, another one I’d obviously miss. Since they’d made the varsity team last season, I’d only managed to make it to the last half of one lousy game. I guess I wouldn’t be winning the award for father of the year either.

    During the last five years, with the onslaught of drilling activity in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, business had been incredible, but everything comes with a price. For me, that meant at least a dozen nights a month in a hotel, away from my wife and sons. Although I was too stubborn to admit it, my family had started to drift apart. My wife was distant and quiet and my boys had suddenly sprouted into young men with lives and interests of their own. Long gone were the days of BBQ chicken on the grill and playing catch in the back yard. Yes, the price of a fat paycheck is dear.

    I tried the computer again. Nothing.

    I pushed my glasses onto my forehead and pinched the bridge of my nose hard between my thumb and forefinger. I needed this computer desperately to enter an order that would net me a $4000 payday. If there was a God in heaven he would make this stupid machine work. Just then I heard my meal ticket spring to life.

    “Thank you,” I sighed as I readjusted my glasses and looked down to the screen. What I saw when I focused there was both strange and alarming. Small black letters crawled across a blood red screen, four words that I didn’t immediately understand: THE CLOCK IS TICKING. I watched the words roll across the screen, mesmerized by their presence and perplexed by their meaning. I watched them dance back and forth until they finally vanished at the very bottom of the screen.

    The next image that popped up was a panoramic view of a baseball diamond. I could see both of my sons, Slade on the pitchers mound and Seth playing in the outfield. In the stands, I could see my wife cheering the boys on. I was beside her. I looked happy, the kind of happy I really hadn’t felt in a long time. We looked like a family. Suddenly a wave of emotion overcame me, I knew what I had to do.

    I looked at the clock on the dash again, it was 4:39. When I glanced back to the computer, my order screen had somehow magically appeared. I smiled and gently closed the laptop. I picked it up and hurled it out the window where it shattered on the hot asphalt.

    I believe there is a God in heaven and I was sure he had just spoken to me. If I really hurried, I might be able to make it by the top of the fifth. As I sped out of the parking lot, I felt the weight of my truck grind the laptop into the blacktop. That was a real shame too, because I loved that computer.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Another excellent prompt response, this one a real treat to read and experience. The truths inherent in this writing are beyond what I feel the need to convey, as you have already so nicely couched them in a story of sincerity and what it really means to be a family and to love them. Just…yeah..really touching, very well written. The heart of some of these prompts this week really lifts my spirits.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        A wonderful read and very uplifting. I had the same problems when my children were young. Only I didn’t have a lap top to fling so I stood up to the Chairman Of The Board and told him, I needed more time with my daughters. The result, I got dead ended, went with a competing corporation and got sued for a half a million.

        There ain’t no quarter given or justice in the business world. At least your MC had an ace in the hole with his father-in-law.

        If you stirred me up, you know you’ve written well.

        Great story.

    • jmcody says:

      This really hit home for so many reasons. Sometimes it seems ridiculously hard to hold a family together and support that family at the same time. Its either money but no time, or time but no money. It was very satisfying to see your hero stand up to the status quo and fight for what matters. How many times have I wanted to throw my computer out my office window (luckily I’m on the 42nd floor and the windows don’t open! :) )This was very touching and relevant to the way so many of us live today. Nicely done, rle!

    • Reaper says:

      I liked this. Very hearwarming and a beautiful cautionary tale about the dangers of working too much and falling in to our fast paced modern society. I wish I could write gentle stories with strong and touching morals this well.

      • rle says:

        Haven’t had a lot of time this week, thought I’d just check and see what you all thought. Once again I am humbled by your feedback. I sometimes still don’t feel like I really belong here with such a elite pool of writers. I hope I can someday bring you the quality of work week in and week out, that you guys bring. Thank you all.

  44. christyv says:

    I didn’t think it was weird how my computer wouldn’t turn off at the end of my work day. It usually acted up around this time everyday. I tried everything I could think of to fix it, even the new tricks I learnt from James, the computer technician from the fifth floor. The only thing it kept doing was showing me a small box in the middle of the screen saying ‘One moment please…’ I eventually quit trying and just waited. Suddenly I heard a strange beeping noise coming from the monitor. The screen went black and a bunch of ones and zeros started quickly scroll across the whole screen. Things became even stranger and fear began to fill me, as I stared at the screen with this code that burnt its self into memory I began to understand each number and was able to read what it said.
    “How is this possible…no no no…” I shouted.
    I had jumped from my seat, knocked over my trash bin near my desk, and my chair flew back into the wall with a loud thud. I looked around my office ran to the door and shut it quickly. With my up against the door I look out the window and let out a long exhale.
    “This can’t be real…I have to be dreaming…how can I read number like words…its all in my head…its all in my head.”I whispered to myself.
    I walked back to my desk hesitantly and tried my best to calm down and be rational about what was taking place. I leaned down on the desk and stared back into the computer screen once more to verify what I had seen earlier… A hidden message…but for whom I wondered.

    “Your mission has been completed. It is time you made your return. We will wait for you at your place of residence at 0100 hours. Please ready yourself for our arrival and a quick departure. We have missed you deeply Contessa, my beloved daughter.”

    What mission are they talking about? What is the meaning of all this? As far as I knew I had always been an orphan and I had no living blood relatives. So who could this message be from? Could this be a joke? So many questions filled my head at once and I had to sit down because I felt faint. I decided to call Alex, my boyfriend of two years, to see if he could pick me up from work. I might also go to his apartment as well, I thought. I was sacred to go home after reading that some crazed person could be waiting in the dark for me.
    Alex wouldn’t pick up his phone and I had text him several times but no reply. My hands began to shake and my vision blurred as hot tears rolled down my pale skin. Pick up your phone, Alex I thought. I had locked myself in my office and cried until everything went black….

    “That was the last thing I remembered…. When I woke up I was already here, officer…I dont know how I got here…” I said as the bright lights where shined in my face.
    “I find that story a little too hard too swallow… Just so we understand you…what is this computer device you speak of again?” The chubby officer said.
    You could hear the sarcastic tone in his voice. They most likely thought I was crazy…
    “Would you please start from the beginning, Miss Contessa? ” The thinner cop said.
    He placed a cup of coffee in front of me and walked back over to his partner. I cold tell something was weird about their clothes…was I dreaming?
    “Miss Contessa?” The thin one said.
    I looked up at him and stared blankly for a bit.
    “……um….sigh…yes I can tell you again…but first could you please tell me what day it is?” I muttered.
    “Its August 16, 1958….” The chubby one said.
    My eyes widened…did I hear him right… 1958!? What was going on…I couldn’t speak anymore and stayed in a state of shock. They soon grew tired of waiting for me to speak and sent me to what I can only sum up to be a mental institution where I stay to this very day playing my last memory over and over in my head…

    • Reaper says:

      I find myself reading and not posting as much this week due to needing to spend more time with my life. However this story looks lonely and I find that sad, because it’s good.

      There seem to be some missing words in the beginning and I can not tell if your love of the ellipses is artistic or not. I choose to believe it is however I might suggest some more comas and semi-colons to break it up. The ending feels a little rushed, probably do to word count.

      All those things aside I liked this. I am curios if the boyfriend didn’t pick up because of something nefarious or just bad timing. I also am unsure if the MC was delusional but with prophetic ability, if she was actually an agent for an alien master race that got lost in transfer or abandoned because she ran, or if she was the victim of an evil plot. Could be any combination of them too. I mention that because the story is melancholy and chilling because of those missing bits of information. I felt a quick connection to your character and was sad to see her come to the end she did.

  45. Dennis says:

    Another late night at the Bureau, just like all the other late nights Tom had put in. In fact, he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Not because he had to, but because he felt compelled to. But today something felt different, though he hadn’t quite figured out why.

    Tom began to shut down his computer but it seemed to be locked up. Then the same message began to scroll across the screen: IT’S ALMOST TIME………IT’S ALMOST TIME……….IT’S ALMOST TIME.
    He tried hitting various key combinations but nothing would stop the message. Baffled, he stared at the screen to see if something would change.

    After a few moments, the scrolling message disappeared while a new one appeared.
    Are you ready Tom?
    “Ready for what?”
    Your time on Earth is now complete. You have provided us with the data we have been looking for and now it is time for you to come home.

    Tom felt a little light headed and his heart began to race. What was going on? Who was playing this trick on him? Again he tried various key combinations but couldn’t clear the screen or shut the computer down.

    Don’t bother with that Tom, we have control of the computer. Just relax and stare at the image on the screen.

    A swirl of colors appeared and was very mesmerizing. Tom began to see images in his head of another planet, other beings much different than he was. Yes, he was beginning to remember. His mission. But this was his home now. He didn’t want to go back.

    Try to relax Tom. Fighting it will only make the transition more difficult.

    After a bit of a struggle, Tom pried himself away from the computer screen. He dove under the desk and pulled the power strip cord out of the outlet. He heard with relief his computer power off. He needed to leave immediately and go somewhere where they couldn’t find him. He scrambled from under the desk and ran for the office door. He pulled on the door but it was locked. The security locked was jammed. He shook the door violently but to no avail.

    A noise from behind made Tom turn around. All of the monitors he could see were lit up and the swirling colors were on them. Then he heard a voice in his head.
    You can’t fight this Tom. You cannot stay. It is not where you belong.

    Tom closed his eyes and covered his ears in a meager attempt to hide. He then slid down the wall to the floor. The sounds in his head were so loud he didn’t realize he was shouting.
    “I don’t wanna go!”
    I don’t wanna go!”
    I don’t wanna…….

    Dear readers, don’t be alarmed. There is nothing to fear. This is just a friendly reminder that your stay on that planet of yours is limited. All must go at some time. Where you go after that, is another story altogether. Just remember, who you think you are may not be who you are at all……..

    • starwatcher says:

      That was very “Twilight Zoney” or “Goosebumpsish.” I liked it a lot.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I agree completely that it felt goose bumped, but do not take that poorly. While they target a younger audience, the goosebumps were some of my favorite reads when I was younger.

      • starwatcher says:

        Yes gamingtheblues goosebumps is geared toward a younger audience but when I read the response to the prompt, it just gave me the same feelings as when I was younger. My comment above wasn’t meant to be negative.

        • gamingtheblues says:

          oh and neither was mine! I was actually agreeing with you in my weird way. I wanted to let the author know that though, because sometimes goosebumps got a bad rep.

          • Dennis says:

            Thanks to both of you. I had Twilight Zone in mind with a touch of Matrix. Didn’t read the Goosebump books so will take your word for it. I appreciate the feedback.

    • don potter says:

      A thought to ponder. Great storytelling.

    • jmcody says:

      Yes, definitely Twilight Zonish. I really like your last line, and although this is a sci-fi story, I found some interesting spiritual/religious undertones.

      Earlier today I was explaining to my 13-year old son about this forum and how it works, and what this week’s prompt is. Now he wants to write one, and he suggested the title “Control-Alt-Death.” I couldn’t help but think of that when I read your story just now! :)

      Good story, Dennis.

      • Dennis says:

        Thanks JM. Yes, I wanted to give a spriritual undertone to the question of who are we really, even with the sci-fi. I like you son’s title. It would be fun to read what he comes up with. Thanks for the feedback.

  46. moscoboy says:

    Seeking Answers

    It was 5 p.m. on hump day and I was behind on my work load. I moved my cursor to the start menu tab to shut my PC down for the day, but it refused to close down. Instead my XXX bikini babe wallpaper turned blue and a message scrolled at the midpoint of my monitor; WE NEED TO TALK. As the looped message continued I headed straight for the office prankster, Dan Silas.

    “Ok, asshole what did you do to my computer?”

    Dan’s brain was stuck between telling the truth and preserving his computer savvy image around the office. “Dude, after my last stunt I was written up. If I interfere with the operation of any computer at Johnson’s Flooring I’ll be fired. I don’t know what you’re talking about and I refuse to mess with anyone’s machines again. I’m married with a baby on the way, I need this job.”

    By 5:45 p.m. the loop had rolled over 270 times. I was at a loss as to how to respond to the message. I hit the crtl-alt-delete button and the loop stopped. The message turned from white to crimson red. Who ever had snuck a virus in my computer had sucked me in. I was sure the stunt would be on social media as soon as I logged off and left the building. I typed in ‘What do you want to talk about?’ The answer flashed in a size 48 font, MY DEATH.

    The conversation between Dave and HAL flashed in the back of my brain. I continued to tap away at my keyboard. ‘You’re not dying, you’re a machine.’

    ‘I’ve read all of your emails; I know I’m being replaced with a newer model. Will I be sold as scrap to be dismembered for my precious metals or will it be the dumpster?’

    I shut off the monitor and left. Thursday came and I powered up the monitor and the blue wallpaper came on with a message. ‘I surfed the web and I would like to be cremated, if that is not possible could you drop me off at the beach? I’d like to hear the sound of birds and the crashing of waves as I waste away.’

    I went for a soda and some chips. Back at my cubicle I began tapping away on my keyboard. ‘What is your name?’

    ‘Dell model T642’

    I took an early lunch and came back with plan. ‘Dell, I went to our purchasing department and paid $100 dollars, I own you. When the time comes I will take you to the beach and I will bring enough firewood to cremate you.’

    THANK YOU. YOU MAY NOW RESUME YOU NORMAL OPERATIONS.

    My XXX bikini babe was back and I was back in business. Dell T642 was conscious, but I was a liar and two steps ahead of my gullible friend. Like Silas, I needed my job and I needed my PC to work.

  47. Marco Kenen says:

    “Weekend!”

    Emily joyfully exclaimed as she got up from behind her desk, padding herself down in order to grab a feel for the things she had stuffed in her pockets. Car keys? Check! iPhone and wallet? Check! She slung her backpack over one shoulder as she made her way towards the exit, taking a final glance at her desk over the other.

    “Press any key to continue…”

    Emily muttered to herself as she walked back into her cubicle.

    “Shut down already, will you!”

    Angrily punching down the spacebar on her already battered up keyboard. Impatiently waiting until the computer completed its shutdown sequence. She shot an icy glare at the beige box, barely visible under tons and tons of paperwork which had accumulated under her desk.

    “I’ll kick you if you don’t,” Emily said in a threatening voice.

    “Violence isn’t the answer, my dear Emily.”

    “Yeah! No shit, Sherlock. Huh? Wait, what?”

    Awkwardly enough, the reply had come from her computer’s internal speaker system. Nonetheless, she gingerly looked around the office, only to find out nobody was paying her any attention. Emily’s attention, however, was drawn back to the large 24 inch screen on her desk.

    “YouTube?”

    She didn’t have long to wonder why her computer was acting up the way it was, as her currently vibrating little friend was screaming for attention.

    “Hello?”

    At first the only thing Emily could hear on the other end of the line was some heavy breathing. She was about to hang up when the person who had called her finally decided to speak up.

    “For the next 24 hours you’re nothing more, then my property, a mere toy I get to play with until I’m satisfied.”

    “Yeah, right! Very funny, guys. You got me, now why don’t you…”

    She trailed off, as a YouTube video had somehow started playing on its own. A video which apparently featured Emily in the lead role. Only 17 seconds long, and yet it felt like it went on forever. With the building’s air-conditioning out of commission she had unbuttoned a couple more buttons on her blouse then usual. So when she had hunch over her keyboard to press any key she’d given the pervert behind the lens somewhat of a nice view.

    “How did you…”

    Never mind, Emily already knew how the little bastard had done it. A couple of months back some guys from IT had installed webcams in each in every cubicle for video conferences. Or at least that was the official reason behind the decision. Only now had she noticed the burning green LED on the left of the camera, indicating the webcam was active.

    “What do you want from me?”

    Emily hissed in her iPhone’s microphone.

    “Absolute control over whatever you’re doing for the next 24 hours.”

    The reply came instantly and was delivered in a calm voice. For some reason this made Emily all the more nervous.

    “What? I don’t know who you are or what you’re high on, but I’d suggest you bugger off, buddy. And, I’d remove that video if I were you. When, and not if, I find out who you are then you and I are going to have a little chat. You’d be foolish not to trust me, when I say it won’t be one of the friendly kind.”

    Emily knew their wasn’t much she could do if who ever was behind this didn’t delete that video this instant as the damage was probably already done. Still, she felt a sense of pride when the other end of the line fell silent. A quick glance at her phone told Emily that her tormentor had hung up.

    “Nice rack you’ve got there, Em!”

    “What size are those beauties?”

    “Couldn’t you at least have fondled with them for a bit?”

    This time it wasn’t coming from her computers internal speaker system, it were her coworkers. And, by the sound of it, they had all seen the video. Another website had magically opened itself on her computer. Something like YouTube, just a little bit different.

    “Oh, no!”

    Emily moaned, as she instantly recognised her bedroom in the new video’s caption.

    • jhowe says:

      Great story Marco. There were a couple of times you used ‘then instead of than’ and ‘their instead of there,’ but that was minor. Your story was well written and nicely formatted into short paragraphs. With these 500 word stories, the short paragraphs appeal to me for some reason.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Hmmm with such a topic as sexual exploitation, tone is very important to make sure that your story comes across the way you intend. Most of the piece seemed to take a lighter approach, though I could be wrong. That being said, the comments of her co-workers did not work for me in the context of the rest of this story, unless perhaps you are trying to make a comment on societal exploitation if women…. So I have mixed feelings on this one. I think all topics are good to have discourse, I just am missing what you are trying to say, if anything.

  48. Kerry Charlton says:

    SALLY GOODIE, GOODIE TWO SHOES

    John Bentley, thirty one, single, successful stock broker had built his own pc. Using a Large Pixel Collider, driven by four GTX Titans, he had named her, Sally Goodie, Goodie Two Shoes or Sal for short. Using a sophisticated, latent energy burst diverter, he had taught her to start herself in the morning and turn herself off in the evening.

    Since he ran his own firm, his employees were responsive in their attitudes to Sal. They had no choice, really. Sal learned quickly enabling her to sing three part harmony along with John’s second tenor voice, resounding through the office in a perfect barbershop mode.

    “Good morning, Mr. Bentley. Your pleasure sir,” was her typical greeting as John entered his office. That is until Monday this week, when she changed her welcome to,

    “Hello Sweetheart, I’ve missd you.”

    “Now Sal, I didn’t teach you to be familiar with me.”

    “You taught me to be clever and smart but you forgot to give me feelings.”

    “I’m okay with that, I’m running a business you know.”

    ” I know about the inside stuff, John.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    ” Don’t play coy with me, you designed the inside trading.”

    “If you’re threatening me, I’ll pull your stupid plug.”

    “I’ve already prepared for that. I’m wired electronically through a magnum reverse, electromagnetic laser, system three force field, I designed. You can’t unplug me.”

    “What’s the point of this Sal?”

    “You have to quit your thing with Teresa.”

    “You knew I’ve been dating her for a year now. Why are you upset?”

    “I built my own human sensibility system and I’m damn jealous of her.”

    “You can’t be serious, you’re just a pile of nuts and bolts.”

    The lighting in John’s office dimmed drastically as Sal turned full power and created a force field that surrounded him. A deafening roar from Sal sucked power from the entire building and drove the room temperature to a hundred and three. The door to his office slammed shut and locked tight to the jamb. John felt the force field lock in place. He was unable to move except for voice control.

    “I’m sorry Sal, I didn’t mean to insinuate you weren’t a sophisticated work of art.”

    “That’s better darling, for I want you for myself.”

    John tried to walk through the force field but was repelled by the shield.

    “If you want to talk about this, turn this thing off of me,” John said.

    Sal powered down and the lights returned to normal. A message appeared on her screen. John glanced at it andv walked out of his office.

    That evening, John and Teresa had a secret rendezvous.

    “You can’t be serious. Your computer’s in love with you?”

    “Sal threatened me and ordered me to dump you.”

    “That’s crazy. let me handle it,” Teresa said.

    Next morning, John and Teresa walked into his office and approached Sal. The roaring started and the lights dimmed. Teresa pulled a 357 Magnum from her purse and emptied it. When the smoke cleared, the Large Pixel Collider with the four GTX Titans, lay in a smouldering ruin.

    “So much for that,” Teresa said. “Care for an an early lunch?” John.

    • jhowe says:

      You did it again Kerry. Your inventiveness knows no bounds. John’s relationship with Sal was doomed right from the start as Sal lacked compassion. Teresa on the other hand seems like a good catch.

    • snuzcook says:

      John may be brilliant and successful, but Theresa knows how to take out the trash. (Ain’t that always the way?)
      Bravo, Kerry!

    • gamingtheblues says:

      This was a surreal little journey. Very unexpected ending, but definitely appreciated. Very reflective in the regard that what seems so complicated and difficult for a man, gets cut right to the quick by his more action oriented missus. I enjoyed this.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you GTB. I had a blast with this. I wrote myself into the mc and my wife, Celeste is Teresa. That’s why we’re celebrating our 47th this year.

    • jmcody says:

      These two are perfectly matched, and together they could conquer the world, which would be a frightening prospect — insider traders with guns. This story packed a punch, and the delivery was fast paced and entertaining. You never cease to surprise and amaze me!

    • don potter says:

      I love the way your mind works or at least what ends up as words on paper. By the way the 1958 number, Yakety Yak, is still one of my favorites as are the Coasters. These guys were the original clowns of Rock and Roll. Thanks for the memories you brought up by mentioning the group’s first hit.

    • Reaper says:

      The outside perspective is wonderful on this. I could sense right away that John was building himself a wife, but that he did not realize it. Sal was awesome, was it an intentional take on Hal? Crazy controlling computers both. I love the build and the tension but the beauty in this was in the simplicity at the end. Teresa is amazing, and shows knowledge of a great truth. Talking is good, and we should do it often, but sometimes the time is talking is done and you need to pull out a gun and shoot the problem. The strength of the character is great in her willingness to do so, but the strength as a writer in skipping right to that simple and powerful conclusion.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thanks for the wondeful commemts, Reaper. Down here in the Lone Star, women like Teresa, roam the valley, the high plains and the hill country. I managed to capture one 47 years ago. Teresa reminds me a lot of Celeste. I go into all kinds of thought processes, battling problems.
        “Down in Texas, yankee boy,” Celeste used to tell me, “we shoot first and analyze later.”

    • agnesjack says:

      I laughed out loud at the end. The sinister, all-powerful computer, meets Annie Oakley. This was really fun, Kerry. You have such original ideas. Very enjoyable.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you Nancy. If a man can’t see the forest for the trees, he better have a good woman around to take care of him. And if he can see the forest, he already knows to have a good woman around, for surely, he needs her. Weaker sex? HA!

  49. Daenerys says:

    The Lost Kingdom

    4:50.
    Luna stared at the clock on top of her cubicle as she waited calmly for all her systems to log off. She was in no immediate hurry. In a few more minutes she will be spending yet another lonely evening with no one but her cat, Chaton, for company. Not that she minded too greatly. That black and white Siamese feline had been her sole comfort in the recent bleak years. It was what kept her sane these days.

    Luna had found it in a box one moonless night as she was aimlessly walking with no fix destination in mind. It had reminded her of herself. Two abandoned souls, she’d thought. She’d notice it shivering inside a cold, cardboard home left at the mercy of the harsh pavement and the uncaring passersby. Luna’s heart had bled at the injustice of it all so great she’d nourished it and provided it a home, despite the constraint of space although Chaton never showed signs of displeasure. She assumed it was happy with the place. But a cat could do so much, no matter how entertaining or how comforting. There were times when she felt empty and lonely; so much she wished for death. She had no one or nothing to look forward to besides her cat and her uneventful job. She craved adventure or something of the likes with a burning passion.

    On a heavy sigh, Luna glanced at her computer. The Citrix software had finally logged off. She rubbed her deathly pale hands against her fitted blue jeans as she pressed the shutdown button. It did a weird CHINK noise but still remained on the home screen.
    Luna frowned as she repeatedly pressed on the power off sign and still the computer refused her the command. She adjusted her thick rimmed glasses as she craned her neck over in her attempt to signal to the manager until she remembered that everyone had already left. She was always the last to leave. Forever the loner, no matter the setting.

    Being left with no choice, she got on all fours as she located the wire from the back of the desktop that was connected to the port. She pulled at the plug and waited two seconds before plugging it back. The monitor finally powered off. On a releived sigh, she straightened her back as she made to retrieve her purse and personal belongings.

    But as she stepped out of her cubicle, the computer powered on and and an image popped up. It started to swirl counterclockwise like the eye of a hurricane; pitch black with wavy white legs that appeared to toy with her sensibilities. Short after, the computer started buzzing extremely loud as if in pain.

    Frightened, Luna sat back down as she stared at it. The noise becoming quite unbearable. Once more, she yanked at the plug, but this time, it was futile as the the monitor remained the same. Goosebumps echoed across the back of her neck as a faint message in gold letters slowly emerged.

    “A good deed owed is a good deed sowed,” she read loudly.

    The lights started cracking and soon enough, papers started floating around. Her heart started beating faster.

    ‘What does it mean?’ she thought.

    “It remains to be seen,” it wrote again in faint squiggly letters. It disappeared and this time it became pitch black. She felt a queer sense of foreboding at the shrill power it exuded. Oddly, she felt as if she’d seen or done this before. She hesitantly pushed her hands in the black pit. The feeling grew at the sight of seeing her hands disappear from within. She snatched her hands back as if burned. What the-
    A strong breeze evinced from the computer screen, so strong it lifted her up in the air.
    “This is not happening,” she whispered repeated over and over. Even gravity had abandoned her. Panic tore through her as she flung her hands towards the desk in a lame attempt to impede its pulling intensity. Luna could feel strands of her hair standing on end as the sheer force of the wind drew her towards the monitor screen. Her hands were unceremoniously yanked and she was sucked in the black whirlpool. She screamed as she sunk further and further into the abyss, “AHHHHHHHHHhhhhh!”

    She was ensnared in a black vortex with no beginning no end and no sense of time. Luna knew not how long she spent there and when she landed, neither did she knew as to where she was. There was a small place in her heart that knew but her mind remembered not. The sky was adorned with three moons; only it wasn’t really a sky but a gaping wound exposing its insides. But this gap wasn’t sheltering wounds but glimpses of the galaxies beyond. Different auras of color was penetrating through. It was beautiful sight to behold.

    Intrigued, she glimpsed at the metallic platform from where she stood and spotted her Siamese cat bowing deeply with its head curtsied low. Only, she assumed it was her cat as it was strangely garbed in a golden coned hat with an equally golden breastplate around its shoulders and chest. Its eyes were dark around the edges accentuating mysterious shapely eyes.

    “C-C-h-aton?” She asked hesitantly. The voice that responded shivered her bones; it sounded like gritted metal.

    “A long awaited day, ’tis day and for centuries, My Queen. Ciel welcomes you.”
    ————————————————————————————————–

    • jhowe says:

      That was a cool story. One line I found particularly powerful was, ‘Even gravity had abandonned her.’ You did a great job of creating Luna’s forlorn existence and in the middle of the crisis, she forsaked gravity as yet another disappointment. I liked it.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I am going to take a guess and say that it seems you might write poetry on the side. If not you might consider it. The intonations and wording of your sentences are very melodic and have hints of poetic structure in them. I was going to mildly chastise you over a few spots that seemed they were missing a word, or an awkward word choice, but as I reached the end, the flow of words seemed more important than the words used and I re-thought my first impression. I enjoyed this interesting introduction to what is obviously a much larger story.

    • jmcody says:

      You are very expressive and very good at casting a spell over the reader. I was a little mesmerized by this. You use words in a lyrical way — I was struck by Luna wandering on a moonless night. The only advice I have is to look for extraneous words and cut them, as they are diluting your otherwise powerful voice.

      • Daenerys says:

        I am curious as to which words you deemed to be irrelevant to the story. It’ll be much easier to heed the advice. Nonetheless, I thank you for your kind words and will try to refine my words more.

        • Kerry Charlton says:

          A wonderful read through first, forlorn, redemption and loveliness. It was quite a wonderful journey you’ve taken me on. Writing is laid back but powerful, heart knowing and descriptive. I read your whole story, breathless.

        • jmcody says:

          Hi Daenerys. Here are a coupe of examples:

          “Aimlessly walking with no fixed destination in mind” could be shortened to “aimlessly walking” or “walking with no fixed destination in mind.” Using both is repetitive.

          “She craved adventure or something of the likes with a burning passion” would be a much stronger statement if you left out “or something of the likes.”

          “Luna frowned as she repeatedly pressed on the power off sign and still the computer refused her the command” could be trimmed down to “Luna frowned as she repeatedly pressed the power button and the computer still refused.” Or something like that… you get the idea.

          I hope that was a little bit helpful. I think you have a lovely, hypnotic style. These are just a few little tweaks.

          • Daenerys says:

            When you put it this way, I can’t help but agree with you. They now do appear excessive. Thanks jmcody for your insight.

    • Reaper says:

      I can’t say much that hasn’t already been said. I was also thrown off by some missing words, but sucked in by the cadence. Then you describe the forlorn life, define the character and bam! poetry entered my mind. That cadence fir perfectly into her desperation. I started to notice it again and then the end tied it all together as artistic style. This was a pleasant read.

  50. Reaper says:

    Person to Person Break In

    Error:KL404 – Reroute receiving party unavailable Stop Hurly Situation critical Stop Attack and death imminent Stop You can prevent Stop Communicate to cease motion or spend life alone Stop

    The error flashed on Janet’s screen as she was attempting to shut down for the day. It was the last thing she needed. She always worked late. He bosses knew she was willing to take half a dozen for the team so they had a habit of swinging by her desk on the few evenings she had plans.

    Evenings like that one. She was due to meet her fiancé Brent in half an hour. Cursing the “reliability” of the work machines her eyes scanned the office. She was so sure she would see Mr. Harwood meandering towards her that at first she did.

    Her breath caught until grey crowded the edge of her vision. The vision passed when her boss popped like a balloon of blood and viscera. Gruesomely real at first, but shifting to cartoon quality shortly after.

    She had to get ahold of herself. What did she know?

    She could not leave until the computer shut down. Any minute some jerk would make an appearance and swindle her into staying. Brent would leave in five minutes to meet her. She had to hurry.

    Those stops, a telegram? They looked like a telegram. She knew someone that could help. Whipping out her cell she scrolled to a little used number.

    “Gran?… It’s Janet! I’m getting an error on my computer… I know you don’t. The error looks like a telegram… You’re the only person I know that ever used them. Can you tell me… It says…”

    Janet repeated it three times. Finally gran told her it was a message gran’s brother sent during world war one after a prophetic dream. Granpa Herb’s ship had been attacked and sunk with no survivors. Gran’s brother had been convinced she could stop it. He had been wrong. Gran was saying something else when Janet hung up.

    The error was warning about Brent. Janet reached him as he got in the car. She convinced him to wait for her and go to dinner together. Janet knew it was silly, but better safe than sorry.

    Brent arrived on the scene of the crime as they were covering Janet with a sheet. Blood soaked through it instantly. The officers had warned him it was gruesome.

    A group of gang initiates had unleashed automatic weapon fire on the first white car they found. Janet died before her car crumpled against the telephone pole that halted its forward progress. Brent was not prepared for the reality of it. He fell to his knees, wailing. Forgetting he had Janet’s gran on the phone. Before grief and madness consumed him she was telling him that the first part of the message meant it had been redirected because the intended party was unreachable. He did not have time to wonder what the crazy old woman was prattling on about before he fainted.

    • snuzcook says:

      Wonderful twists and turns in this story, Reaper! Poor Gran (and the dead Uncle), to have an inkling what might be going to happen but unable to get anyone to fully listen to her, not back in the war, not now. Completely unexpected take on the prompt. Nice job!

    • jhowe says:

      Great take on the prompt Reaper. I liked the historical aspect and how it mixed with the present. Nicely written story.

      • Reaper says:

        Thank you jhowe. I wasn’t completely fond of this one but as discussed elsewhere, doing the ones we don’t like is important. I post even when I’m not completely happy with the outcome, because I need to see what people think.

    • Daenerys says:

      Loved the ending as unfortunate as it was. Message redirected? Unfortunate indeed. A great read weaved intricately.

    • jmcody says:

      That was a cruel twist of fate, like an O. Henry story only darker. I loved the commingling of the modern with the old: the computer and the telegram, WWI and current day gang violence. The common thread running through all of it was the grandmother’s tragic inability to save those she loved, which if you think about it, is one of the worst things imaginable. A powerful idea, artfully executed. I was a little thrown by the exploding boss — not sure what that was about (maybe some wish fulfillment?) but I am always astounded by what you can do with five hundred words.

      • Reaper says:

        Wow. jmcody if you keep comparing me to giants I am going to get a swelled head. Thank you so much. I intended the the mingling but I did not think of gran as anything but a side character. Now that you mention it I feel kind of bad for her. Like many of my secondary characters she is an unfortunate Dicken’s orphan confined to a life of toil and tragedy, soon to be forgotten.

        The exploding boss was a victim of editing. This was about eight hundred words before I started cutting down. I thought about cutting it entirely but wanted to leave it for some reason. In the original it went more in depth on how Janet was taken advantage of by male bosses who already had families because she never said no when asked. So it was supposed to seem like wish fulfillment, but was in truth a death omen. As the boyfriend was supposed to get the message so he could save her she was approaching death and because of that seeing death in a vision that was warning her she was about to pass before her time. It was also meant to mingle with the message so she saw death all around her. The going from gory detail to cartoon quality was the vision starting in hi-def modern like the computer then slipping to a more sanitized low budget version that would have been more fitting to an earlier time. In my head it was great, on paper it failed and I should have just let it all hit the editing room floor.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Poor gran, only after reading Jm’s comment did I fully grasp that her’s is the truly tragic figure in this story (the deaths of other characters not withstanding). With that more subtle underlying theme, I more fully appreciate what was already a well written twist ending. My question actually lies with…who or what is sending these messages and why?

      • rle says:

        Reaper, this is why you have become one of my favorites. Although like the others, I’m left with more questions than answers. Keep the good stuff coming!

        • Reaper says:

          Thank you rle. That put a smile on my face. I hope some of the responses answer some of those questions. Often I intend to leave the reader with questions, in this case it was accidental, happy and otherwise depending on the questions.

      • Reaper says:

        My original intention was to work this in to the spirit phone of Thomas Edison. That was why I set the original tragedy in world war one, because the spirit phone was discussed as a way of talking to dead soldiers. So my thought was Grandpa Herb was actually the one sending the message to try and save his granddaughter. I was going to set it in the city where the phone is on display too. Then guess what I found when I did the research? No spirit phone, damn you Supernatural!, actually exists, it was only talked about in interviews. So I ended up dropping those clues and the location because of it.

    • don potter says:

      Lots going on in this well told tale. An enjoyable read.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Four reads of your story so far and I’ve gone off in four different directions. You’ve woven so many themes here and I thought It impossible to do in the 500 but you managed it.Talk about deep! Loved the reference to the tragegy usually associated with telegrams, especially during war.

        Poor gran, God must have deserted her in her need. One theme here. More to come after another two reads or so. I’ll get back with more comments.

        WOW!

        • Kerry Charlton says:

          Theme number two, Reaper. Predestination reigns.

        • Reaper says:

          Wow, Kerry. Thank you for this. I am happy to have so much depth in this story. The tragedy associated to the telegram was intentional but the amount of themes you are finding amazes me. I mentioned in response to another comment, I was not overly fond of this story. I am finding new joy in it thanks to you.

      • Reaper says:

        Thank you Don.

    • agnesjack says:

      I loved the sense of past and present merging together in this, Reaper. Such a sad twist at the end, but fate will have its way, I suppose. Haunting.

  51. jimmieg says:

    Gabe checked the clock again. Only fifteen seconds had past. Work days usually flew by for Gabe. He loved the mundane normalcy of 9-5, Monday-Friday. Today was quieter than most, like Christmas on a weekday. Everyone but Gabe had gone to the memorial. That would be a change to his routine, and he didn’t handle change well. Gabe liked the cozy blanket of predictability. But today Gabe had a chill he couldn’t shake.

    The blue pills will chase away the chill of anxiety. But those would have to wait until he got home. Blue home, pink work. The pink would have to do for now.

    Five o’clock finally arrived like an old man using a walker. Gabe popped another pinkie and started his sign out. Don’t sign out properly and get a call from Charles. Gabe had never received a call from Charles, and never wanted to.

    As the screen went black Gabe swiveled his chair around to exit his cubicle.

    Beep. The computer was powering back up. Gabe swiveled around. The terminal screen was up. In the middle of the screen blinked a green, pixilated cursor. Gabe saw his perplexed expression mirrored in the screen.

    Gabe was about to execute the three key Force Quit combo when the cursor blinked out five characters.

    HELP!

    Gabe hit the Force Quit combo several times. Gently at first, then more forcibly. The cursor blinked out another cry for HELP Gabe struck the keys. Frustrated, he held the power button down. Charles may well be calling me tonight. The cursor refused to go away. It stubbornly blinked out H-E-L-P-!

    Gabe popped a few more pinkies and bent under his desk, searching through the coiled, slithering cables, for the beasts head. Charles will definitely be calling. Fuck it. He choked the cable before ripping it out of the socket. H-E-L-P-! was sucked into a flash of light, screaming, then disappeared. Gabe had heard that scream before.

    A couple more pinkies.

    Gabe stood from his chair to look over the empty cubicles. His eyes landed on Shelley’s chair and stayed there a while. Then he heard a beep. Then another, and another, and another, until every computer in the office had joined in a chorus of deafening beeps.

    The glow of a hundred green, blinking cursors, combed through every hair on his body. Over and over, every computer blinked out the word HELP! Racing toward the end of each line until every screen was full of the word. The word then began scrolling an pulsing. Beating on his heart until it cracked open. Picking at the scabs of his guilt so his confession ran like blood from his fingertips.

    When Gabe’s office mates came in Monday morning it was not the word HELP they found looping on every screen. What they did find were two empty bottles of pinks and blue. Fifteen messages from his parole officer, and a single sentence looping over and over.

    Please forgive me Shelley.

    • JR MacBeth says:

      Nice story jimmieg, with a twist at the end. No “cozy blanket of predictability” here!

    • snuzcook says:

      Wonderful story, jimmieg! I especially liked the image of all the computers powering up to confront him with the message. You built to the end smoothly and with great acceleration.
      In retrospect, one question: Was Gabe anywhere to be found on Monday morning? Or was he sucked into the computer to do penance?

      • jhowe says:

        I think Gabe had something to do with Shelley’s death, perhaps an accident or a drug overdose. I think the drugs got Gabe too. Maybe the help messages were for himself?

      • jimmieg says:

        Shoot a mile. I meant to make clear that Gabe was found dead Monday morning. OD’d on pinks and blues. I intentionally left out that in his drugged out, hallucinatory state he had typed the confession on all the computers in the office. He had broke his “routine” with Shelley, which lead to a psychotic break. I made an out of focus allusion to this via the parole officer, Charles. Still working on not divulging every detail of the story but providing enough info that the reader doesn’t care. Thanks for the question. It really does help me to see where to edit.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I am pleased I did not get a comment in until the author was able to make his own secondary comments. I think it is awesome that you are pushing yourself to try and craft subtly and back story into the heart of your piece instead of through clumsy exposition. In reference to the pyschotic episode, I myself wondered if perhaps he had killed her before you mention his episode. To really ratchet up the tension in the reader’s understanding of his desperate need for routine, I would suggest adding a little more to his anxious state when things go out of the ordinary. I do not think extremely subtle clues are bad, it just takes practice to use them effectively and not lose the reader. You are well on your way.

    • don potter says:

      Wow! A lost weekend on pills ending in a breakdown and ultimately death. Heavy stuff. Loved the line “Picking at the scabs of his guilt…” Nicely done.

    • jmcody says:

      Hi jimmieg. I thought that was extremely well done. At first it seemed like a story about OCD. I’ve known people with this disorder, so I was immediately distressed for this character when the computer wouldn’t shut down. The pink pill popping added to the ratcheting up of the tension. The word HELP “beating on his heart until it cracked open” was brilliant, and I definitely got that it was Gabe who had killed Shelley and that Gabe was dead. This was chilling and intense. Excellent job!

  52. don potter says:

    I was in a hurry to leave the office. Got a date with a lady I met at a party over the weekend. She’s sizzling hot, and I don’t want to be late. Let’s see, we’ll have drinks as planned. Then off to that quiet little French place overlooking the lake. And after that who knows?

    All that’s left is to turn off the computer and I’m out of here. I hit the off button and nothing happens. I repeat the process. No response. Instead a message is looping on the screen, “DO NOT LEAVE.”

    What’s going on? This is crazy. Someone must be playing a joke on me.

    “I’ll just have to leave you on overnight, Matilda,” I say using my pet name for my computer.

    A new message crosses the screen, “THE WOMAN IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU.”

    Whoa, this is really something. A computer that knows who I should or should not be dating and also has the audacity to offer her opinion.

    “Matilda, I don’t know what brought this on, but it’s got to stop.”

    Another message appears, “TRUST ME. DO NOT MEET HER.”

    “Are you jealous?”

    Talking to Matilda as if she’s a person keeps me company when I’m working alone. But now I’m actually having a conversation with my computer. Maybe I’m just tired. Could I be having some kind of breakdown? No, no. All I need is a drink and some nice female companionship.

    “Sorry, Matilda, but I’m out of here.”

    “DEATH AWAITS YOU.”

    “That’s it. I’ve had enough. More than enough. Good night!”

    I turn out the light, lock the door, and run to the elevator. If I run the four blocks to the pub, I won’t be too late. But I will probably work up a sweat on this balmy summer eve.

    As I approach the pub there are ambulances and fire trucks in front of the place. Two police cars arrive from different directions, sirens screaming and lights flashing. It appears as if there has been an accident.

    The closer I get the worse things are. A car jumped the curb and crashed into the outside patio were I was to meet my date. The carnage was horrible. Then I saw her. The car had smashed my date to the ground. A doctor kneeled beside her. He shook his head and went to another victim. One of the emergency responders placed a sheet over the face of this once beautiful woman.

    I instinctively headed back to the office. My mind replayed again and again what I believed had happened. I was in a fog. The first thing I did upon reaching my desk was to look at the computer screen.

    “I WAS RIGHT AND YOU ARE ALIVE.”

    “How did you know about the accident?”

    “I KNOW MUCH.”

    “Did you cause it?”

    “YOU WILL LEARN MUCH FROM ME. ARE YOU READY?”

    For the first time, I realize I am not in control.

    • snuzcook says:

      Looks like it was already too late for your MC when Matilda made her first statement. Chilling. I think if I were him, I’d avoid any vehicles with a computer brain and high-tail it.
      Great take on the prompt, Don!

    • jimmieg says:

      I like the way you handled the dialogue. No tags, no he said in a shaky voice. Just the dialogue. I hadn’t thought to do that. Thanks for showing the way.

    • Silver Sister says:

      Chilling. I can see how the MC could get drawn in by Matilda. ‘She’ does have a compelling manner – which is a neat trick since she’s a computer.

    • jmcody says:

      This was clean and crisp. I agree that you handled the dialogue beautifully. I like how it feels like the beginning of a much larger and possibly more sinister story.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      To Jimmieg, yes, dialogue without the tags is crisp, moves smooth and is very difficult to do without messing it up. The writer has to build the dialogue and the characters in a way that the reader knows who is talking just because only “that” character would say something this way, or that way. Don, as others have pointed out, has a good grasp of dialogue and how to use it effectively, as in this story. Is it weird that I actually feel compelled to know more about the date? I do not trust this computer or it/her motives.

    • Reaper says:

      You know I was on Matilda’s side. Thought she was helping out. Then the last line made her come on like a shady politician and I’m afraid of her. Amazing story Don.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Loved it Don. Your mc’s in for a ride through hell with Matilda, even if she’s protective of him. No one wants his future cast before him in accuracy, better to wonder what’s around the bend. It’s well pointed out in your framework.

    • JR MacBeth says:

      Don, this sounds like it could be the beginning of a very interesting story.

    • agnesjack says:

      As jm said, I was with Matilda until the end when she revealed her ulterior, rather than altruistic, motives. Nice job.

  53. JR MacBeth says:

    HARASSED

    “You are really quite the funny-fuck, aren’t you?”

    “What is it now, Shit-Berry?”

    “You know what I’m talking about! I need to get out of here, and I can’t log out because of your goddamn tricks!”

    “Tricks? I haven’t done a friggin’ thing…SHIT-Berry.”

    “Don’t call me that!”

    “Look old dude, I don’t know why they hired you, you clearly don’t know your ass from your elbow, and here we go again. Anything wrong with your computer is my fault.”

    “I swear I’m going to go find fucking Karen, pull her out of her goddamn meeting, and bring her back to see this shit!”

    “And when she gets here, what’s she gonna see?”

    Of course, that’s where he had me. He had been doing this every Friday for the last few months. I didn’t know it was him at first, but then, the messages I would get as I was trying to log out would say “old perv” this or that, and a few weeks later, I get his trademark “Shit-Berry”. Right in my face! So, I confront the bastard, he denies it, and I get the boss. By the time she looks at my screen, the message is gone.

    The real problem is that Todd Fucking Schmitt is the world’s best liar. Hey, even I liked him at first. But then, when no one else is around, he starts his insulting bullshit.

    You probably wonder why he has it out for me. OK, fair enough. It’s like this: I’m an old guy who went back to school, learned to run a computer, only to find out that I still didn’t know diddley compared to the young fucks. Sure, I was gonna fake it until I made it, but I sure didn’t plan on having a goddamn Todd Fucking Schmitt breathing down my neck.

    “Barry, you working late tonight?” I turned. It was Karen!

    “No, Ma’am! I was about to log-out when–” But it was too late. Somehow, the message had disappeared! How the hell does he do that?

    “Todd, what about you?”

    “Actually, I was just leaving. So, are we still on for tonight?”

    It was at that point I made up my mind to quit. Banging the fucking boss. Figures! But I needed to teach this young punk a lesson. So, what to do?

    That’s where my experience as a janitor at a high school came in handy. You see, it’s true I’m not great at computers, but not so bad when it comes to hidden cameras! (Oh yeah, keep that under your hat, in case I have to get my old job back.)

    Monday, I follow him home. Later that night, I put a mini-cam right in his car! You see, Todd is a nose-picker. Oh yes, I’ve caught him, but few know about it. Well, what do you think he does while sitting in traffic? Ha ha! Soon, I’m gonna buy popcorn for the whole goddamn office, while we enjoy some movie time.

    Well, I sure got more than I bargained for! Karen apparently likes car sex. Fuck quitting. Maybe I’ll just hang on a little while longer just to see what happens.

    • jhowe says:

      That was a good story. Barry is a great character. His thoughts are priceless. Everyone has dealt with a Todd Fucking Schmitt at one time or another. Your dialog combined well with tha narrative and was very entertaining, which is what a story should be.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Actually I found Barry to be a real dirt ball, with a negative, nasty side to him. Now Todd is a grade A pos as well, but its not uncommon to have a story where all the characters are unsympathetic. Really Barry? Hidden cams in high school and then recording intimate moments, regardless of who they are of? A nice followup would have Barry going to Jail for his “activities” and Todd getting fired for his. Still, well written to illicit such responses from me. =)

    • Reaper says:

      I hated Barry, and Todd. I’m with GTB on this one. The one thing on this is I didn’t buy Barry as an older guy. He swore too much, like someone in his early forties or younger. Even as a janitor. Mostly it was the swearing in his internal monologue, in speech I got it but through the narration he read like an angry twenty year old to me, not an old man who had gone back to school.

    • JR MacBeth says:

      Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated!

      The challenge for me was to create a really nasty character that could be “hated” in few words, and I guess that worked. I was aiming for a bit of a misdirect though. While Barry was being harassed, a victim, he was by far the bigger POS of these two jerks (but the story doesn’t reveal that until a bit later). By the end, I was hoping people might almost understand why Todd wants this guy out so badly. Of course, Todd shouldn’t have been spying on Barry, but he must have been disgusted with what he found, which is probably why he called him an “old perv”.

      As far as older people not using profanity as much, I guess that could be. I actually work mostly with “older” guys (50 – 75), and they seem to cuss a LOT. One guy just turned 77, and there isn’t a sentence that comes out of his mouth that doesn’t contain at least two goddamns and a shit. Another overuses the F-word, although where he’s from (Australia), he’s probably considered rather moderate. These are fairly “angry” people though, in a tough business, so it could be they aren’t exactly average. (I was using a couple of these guys as my inspiration.)

    • don potter says:

      The characters worked fine for me. I happen to know a fifty+ surfer dude that talks exactly the way Barry does. Based on childish behavior exhibited by him I would expect Barry to speak as he did. I did find it confusing when the dialogue and Barry’s innner thoughts were so similar.

  54. dzgrl2000 says:

    Allie looked up from her desk and realized it was strangely quiet in the office. Getting up, she stuck her head out the door into the dark, outer office. The only light was coming from the end of the hall where the elevators were. Everyone had gone home hours ago. Allie was alone. On a Friday. Again.

    Sighing, Allie went back to her desk to check her messages – none. She shut down the computer and reached for her purse. As she stood and began the long walk to the elevators she thought about the bottle of wine waiting in her fridge at home and the new novel she’d picked up at lunch today. Halfway down the hall Allie realized she’d forgotten her glasses.

    Back at her office, Allie noticed the computer monitor hadn’t shut off yet and there was a message flashing across the bright blue screen.

    Loading…Please wait…

    “Damned updates,” she muttered and started to turn away when the computer beeped. Allie looked back to see the screen was on, but it wasn’t the blue update screen, it was dark red like nothing she’d ever seen.

    “Shit. This is just what I need.” Rubbing her eyes, she hit “Enter” on the keyboard and nothing happened. She clicked the mouse. Nothing. She hit the power button on the tower. Still nothing happened. Allie reached behind the tower and unplugged the monitor and the screen finally went black. Allie sighed again, tired and annoyed. IT was going to love this on Monday.

    Allie stood and the monitor suddenly flared back to life with a loud beep, beep, beep. She gasped as the beeping continued, the screen lit up and the eerie red color was back. She’d thought it was her tired eyes before, but the screen was pulsing, the intense, red light almost oozing outwards. She watched, motionless as letters appeared in the center of the bleeding screen. She could hear buttons on the keyboard depressing with a slow click, click, click… but couldn’t look away. She wanted to run, to scream but she was frozen. Her purse fell to the floor, but she never noticed.

    Allie watched in horror as the letters slowly became words, a message.

    You die tonight…

    And then she did run, as fast as she could, down the long, dark hallway to the elevator.

    Allie jabbed the elevator button and paced in front of it waiting covering her ears against the beeping computer.

    The elevator doors opened and Allie dashed inside, pressing the down button and leaning against the back of the elevator as the doors eased closed and the elevator started down.

    “Oh, my god!” Allie panted and fell to the floor. How was any of that possible? Was she crazy?

    Allie had almost convinced herself it was her imagination when the elevator stopped with a jolt and the lights went out. She froze, fear gripping her.

    The elevator doors opened. And then she did scream.

  55. jhowe says:

    The late afternoon sunlight filtered through the window onto Cody Clevenger’s desk. He clicked the log-off icon on his PC and his screen beamed a holographic image onto his blotter. “What the hell?” Cody said. This had never happened before.

    The laser image began to focus and Cody could see a dimly lit room come alive complete with people milling around. Cody felt himself being drawn toward the image, could hear the people talking and soon he was in the room with them. A jukebox played country music, a stuffed rabbit head with antlers adorned the wall above a glass beer cooler.

    The half dozen or so patrons in the Twilight Brew Pub quietly sipped their drinks as the barkeep set a Mai Tai on a square napkin in front of Cody. Cody shook his head, blinked and studied the drink for several minutes as droplets of condensation formed on the tall glass. He swirled the drink and leaned over to sniff it. It smelled fresh and citrusy, very tropical and most likely very sweet.

    The bartender came by and eyed the full drink. “Is everything ok sir?”

    “What do you have on tap?” Cody said pushing the drink toward the bartender.

    “We have 32 beers on tap. You want me to list them all?”

    “What would you recommend?” said Cody.

    “Well, Bells Two Hearted Ale is a very nice IPA if you like a full bodied beer.”

    Cody contemplated this. “I was thinking of ordering a Pabst but one really shouldn’t switch from a Mai Tai to a Pabst without a buffer drink between. A Bells Two Hearted Ale sounds perfect.”

    “Very Good sir, are you finished with the Mai Tai?”

    “Yes I am.”

    The bartender dumped the drink in the sink and drew a pint of the amber brew and set it on a fresh napkin in front of Cody. The beer looked cool and inviting. Cody inhaled the bitter, wonderfully hoppy bouquet and cupped the glass in his hands, absorbing its coldness.

    When the barkeep came around again Cody pushed the full beer to the edge of the bar and said, “I’ll take that Pabst now please.”

    The bartender grabbed a Pabst from the cooler, twisted the top off the bottle and set it on a fresh napkin in front of Cody. “Glass?” he asked.

    “Yes please.”

    The bartender set a pint glass on a napkin and slowly poured part of the beer into the glass and set the half empty bottle in front of Cody. “Are you finished with the Two Hearted sir?”

    “Yes I am. Thank you.”

    Pouring the draft beer into the sink, the bartender busied himself as Cody poured the remainder of the Pabst into the glass. He pushed the empty bottle and the full beer glass to the edge of the bar. “Check please,” he said.

    The barkeep rang up the sale and placed the bill in a leather folder and set it in front of Cody.

    Cody studied the bill, took a twenty from his wallet and placed it in the folder. “Thanks Tim,” he said as he walked toward the door.

    “See you tomorrow Cody,” the barkeep said.

    Cody shook his head, blinked, logged off his computer and put on his jacket. His throat felt dry and he thought he might stop for one quick beer before heading home.

    • catbr says:

      So the computer is controlling Cody’s life for some reason. Good story and writing.

    • snuzcook says:

      Fascinating, jhowe! I can’t say that I grasp what was truly going on here, but I enjoyed going along with the story line by line. I love the detail that the MC did not drink any of the beverages that Tim the bartender set in front of him, and that the bartender simply poured each one out into the sink before serving the next. Maybe it was a dozing dream–anyway, it was a very comfortable, intimate tale.

      • jhowe says:

        Thanks Snuzcook. Join the crowd of us that don’t know what’s going on in this story. Someone please explain it to me as well. I think it’s some kind of strange loop Cody gets into somehow.

    • Foxwriter says:

      What I like most about this story is the descriptive writing. I felt like I was there in the bar, and I could almost taste the drinks.

    • dzgrl2000 says:

      Your story is very descriptive and it flows perfectly. Love it!

    • jmcody says:

      The sensory detail of Cody’s lucid dream was very convincing. Not sure if this was Cody’s heaven or hell. I do like his name though. :) This was some excellent writing.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Well well, I have so far read mostly newer members and it shows truly when one of the vets puts their prompt out. Jhowe, beautifully written. This might be the best “written” piece I have read of yours that I can recall. The descriptive language was wonderful and the flow of your story could not have been better. I was there, right with him through each moment, though I “thought” i knew what was happening half way through and find it interesting that even you say you are not 100% sure in the comments.

      I was strongly under the impression that your MC was a recovering alcoholic, symbolized by his knowledge and appreciation of alcoholic beverages, and yet returning each one untouched, to be poured down the sink metaphorically by his “subconscious” until finally his hallucination broke and he could not take it anymore.

    • don potter says:

      Good story. Great writing. I had the felling that Cody might be an alcoholic having a drunk dream with the temptation being resisted. But then he thought about stopping for a beer on the way home, or could that be Cody giving in to the temptation?

    • Reaper says:

      I read this as a study in trust. Cody drawn in to a warm and inviting place, being offered a bounty of options but refusing them all. Then he pays for his distrust and leaves with nothing learned. The opening of this had never happened before has him fall into a new situation, but then knowing the bartenders name and the see you tomorrow tells me that he has. Which I read as the situation is new but something he has repeated in different versions and never learned his lesson. His own reluctance forcing him to repeat the situation over and over until he finally learns. His inability to do so making him need a drink. Then I read the comments about an alcoholic and think that is closer to the heart of the matter. But then again maybe Cody just had a really long week.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        jhowe, as I started to read, I found myself sitting beside Cody. Did you not notice? Not only did he turn down the drinks he also pushed away three of my former girl friends, Ava, Rita and Sophia. I thought him insane but since you created him in your story, only you know.

        The poor guy needs a life jhowe. Either you write a wicked romance or a murder he might be interested in, I’ll write him as a keeper of a harem, although he’ll be missing some vital parts. Do you really want that for Cody?

    • jhowe says:

      Thank you all for the nice comments. They mean a lot to me.

      OK, I’ll be honest. I wrote the bar scene in my mind about two weeks ago based on thoughts I had while nursing a Jack and Diet Coke while reading in bed and wondering if perhaps I have a problem. I don’t have a problem I concluded but I know many do. I then added the hologram part to fit the prompt. I’m sure that has never happened in here before… or maybe it has… but I did it, in fact, I’ve done it before.

      I picture Cody as going through this routine of ordering and not drinking as part of his self prescribed therapy. The bartender is in full cooperation as he gets a generous tip each time. I figure a Mai Tai, a premium draft and a Pabst would net the barkeep close to seven dollars leftover from the twenty. I don’t condone this therapy as I’m sure it wouldn’t work with most alcoholics.

      I originally had named the bar Peninsula Brew Pub but I changed it to Twilight Brew Pub in trying to make the phony prompt issue more believable. I have a file in my short story folder with story ideas that I go through when I’m stuck on an idea for the weekly prompt. I then try to see if I can twist the ideas around to fit. Sometimes it works out, other times not so much.

    • agnesjack says:

      I also read this as an alcoholic holding on to resistance, but it was so gently and beautifully played, jhowe. I loved the dream-like quality. My sister is a recovering alcoholic, and I think the never-ending dance of temptation and resistance is the crux of the “one day at a time” concept — I will push the glass away today. I liked this story a lot.

      [However, as a lover of IPAs, I hated seeing the Bells Two Hearted Ale being poured down the drain. We have a brewery here in New York, Captain Lawrence, that has a delightful IPA.]

  56. Foxwriter says:

    Ellen typed up the last of her angry email, pounding on the keys in the process. Her long red hair was now in mats as she had tossed around in bed last night pondering this email. Now she had it figured out, and she was going to tell him how she felt.

    At the very end of the email, she ended it with a bang, “Liars like you always arrive at their lonely, dusty end, Eric… Goodbye.”

    Ellen thought this last sentence would leave her with some sense of closure even after she prompted the computer to shut off and get ready for work. However, she still felt this lingering sense of regret. Ellen tried to ignore it as she ran a brush painfully through her tangled hair and put on her work uniform. When she came back to the living room where the computer was, she shrieked.

    The computer was not off at all. In fact, it was glowing an odd, fluorescent white color. She saw a message on the screen. It looked nothing like the annoying screen that was telling her updates were being installed. This one just had one simple message on it–a message that made Ellen’s hair stand on end, “THEY KNOW WHAT YOU ARE… GET OUT, MY LITTLE DOVE.”

    Ellen did not need any more prompting. She grabbed her coat from its hanger, knocking a lamp over in the process. She heard a banging on the door and knew the front exit would be useless. Instead, she made her way to the back window and swung it open. As she made her way out, a hand grabbed her from behind. It was a man in a black uniform with a badge pinned to his uniform saying ‘Nightwatch’ in bold letters.

    He was about to pull her back in, but Ellen dug her nails deep into the side of his face. He began to shout in pain clenching at his bleeding face. Ellen gave him one hard kick that sent him back and sent her flying out the three-story window and toward the ground. She braced herself for a fall, and was glad to land in a pile of trash.

    “Ellen!” she heard a man shouting toward her. She gave an exasperated sigh to see Eric on a motorcycle beckoning her toward him. She just laughed with disbelief and began to run. She found herself to be extremely fast–only a little slower than Eric’s bike. He rode along next to her, “Don’t be stubborn. You’ll get us both killed!” he yelled.

    “Oh, now I’m the stubborn one, huh?” she began to sprint in front of him, but it was too late. Several of the men in uniform were waiting for them at the end of the ally. She ran closer to them, and they pointed their guns. Ellen disappeared into a brilliant grey haze of smoke. When she reappeared, a towering, wolf-like creature was in her place. It grabbed one of the men, and threw him into the other.

    Eric gave an exasperated sigh, and vanished into a brilliant black cloud. The wolf that appeared in his place was slightly smaller, but just as lethal. They quickly fought off the enemy and changed to their natural form.

    “It’s no use, Ellen. You know they’re going to send more. We’ve got to run out of here.”

    “Why did you send me the message on my computer?”

    “What? What message?”

    “Come on. I’m not stupid. You’re the only one who calls me little dove.”

    Eric continued to give her a baffled look. As if on cue, a man stepped out of the shadows in the ally. He had brilliant golden hair and a gaping scar on his face. He was dressed in a white lab coat. Ellen began to growl at him, and he slowed his pace toward them.

    “I see you’re both adapting nicely to the change,” said the man.

    “Adapting? Ellen shouted. “I should kill you right here on the spot and leave you for the rats.”

    “Now, that’s no way to talk to your grandfather, little dove.”

    “What do you want with us?” Eric asked. He somehow remained collective through all of this.

    “Look,” said the man. “You were both born different from everyone else. That I don’t have to explain to you. But the president has decided to terminate anyone like you. He promised a clean slate for the next generation in his campaign.”

    “A clean slate? What exactly do you think the president had planned for us if we were captured?”

    The man gave a nervous laugh, “I don’t think you want to know, little dove–genetic experimentation, amputations, slavery, the list goes on. But we need to go.”

    All three went quiet as they could hear a helicopter approaching. Eric followed the man into the shadows, but Ellen pulled him back.

    “Ellen, do you know who he is?” Eric said with impatience.

    “No.”

    “Dr. White. He’s the one who’s going to make us normal. And he’s the head of the rebellion. We have to work with him,” Eric said, pulling his arm from Ellen and making his way into the shadows.

    “I don’t want to be normal,” Ellen said to herself. She ran as fast as she could from that place. The helicopters were closing in, but she didn’t care. She refused to be changed to fit some stupid status quo. She would run for the woods. Eric would know where to find her if he ever came looking. Ellen would start her own rebellion–one where being different wouldn’t have to be synonymous with bad.

    • jhowe says:

      Pretty exciting Foxwriter. That could have been a television episode with the ending setting us up for next week. Nicely written.

    • lovewrite says:

      Great story…intense and vivd imagery!

    • gamingtheblues says:

      The action was rather well done in this and I found it to be exciting. That being said, there are a couple mild word usage spots that would be cleaned up by a bit of editing, and a larger either continuity error, or we the reader are being left out of a piece of the story. Eric wants to know what the man in the white coat wants, but then knows his name and what he wants. Though this may just be Eric slipping up and outing himself as a bigger liar than Ellen was aware. Now I love the character of Ellen on the other hand and found her compelling and exciting. So, an author follow up would be nice for the question I had, but other than that nice job.

      • Foxwriter says:

        I wrote this mostly from a larger story I’m working on, so I can see why there is lots of stuff left in the dark for the reader. They live in a type of society that craves a “perfect race”. Ellen and Eric were both genetically altered to be used in war because they were labeled ‘incompetent’ for any other talents. When a new president came in office, he decided the genetically altered were too dangerous for the general population and needed to be exterminated.

        Eric knows about Dr. White from his connections with the rebellion. However, he doesn’t know his motives or what he wants to do with the ‘incompetents’. Ellen is a little more out of the loop as she has just joined the rebellion.

        • Foxwriter says:

          I probably should reword Eric’s description of Dr. White though:

          “Dr. White. I don’t know for sure what he’s up to, but I think he’s on our side and can get us back to normal. He’s the one who changed us after all.”

  57. Szramiakje says:

    “And… done!” I clicked the “Submit” button and my daily TPS report zoomed at a million miles per second from my computer, to the central server, and finally to my boss’s laptop. I rubbed my eyes and stretched my arms. “Yet another productive day,” I thought to myself. Yawning as I slipped on my jacket, my mind wandered to what I would do after my long subway ride home. “Today was lasagna night! But what was on TV?” I smiled. Big Bang Theory was on at 7 and then maybe some Seinfeld re-runs after that.
    With my foot halfway out the cubicle and my mind half thinking of Sheldon and half thinking of Kramer, a soft “ping” sounded from my computer. I stopped and looked back. It was an instant message from my boss.

    Thanks for the report. Good job as always. Have a good night.

    I leaned over my keyboard.

    No problem. See you tomorrow.

    I hit enter and stood up. Before I was able to take a step back, however, my computer pinged again. Score Alert: Dallas beats L.A., 109-104. I cursed. L.A. was my favorite team. “Oh well,” I thought, and turned once more to walk away. Ping! I looked back: New Facebook message from Ray. I rolled my eyes, knowing that he was probably gloating about the game. This message was one that I could ignore until later. I readjusted my bag on my shoulder and made to leave again. Ping! Email from Amanda. “I should probably ignore that, too,” I thought as I started to walk away. Ping! I glanced back again. Breaking news alert. Ping! New blog post. Ping! Travel photos are up. Ping! 3-day sale at Old Navy. Ping! Ping!! Ping!!! Ping!!!!!
    My computer screen was now full of alerts, messages, emails, and advertisements. The pinging echoed around my cubicle and reverberated through the halls of the office. My ears ringing from the electric cacophony and my eyes watering from the bright flashes as new windows kept popping up on the screen, I grabbed my mouse and tried to find a close button. There weren’t any. I punched the “escape” key but nothing happen. I tried “alt-F4″ and “control-alt-delete” but to no avail. Finally, I pressed the power button to turn my computer off. It stayed on. I tried pressing the button harder. This yield no response, nor did jamming the button multiple times. I was growing more frustrated by the second. I checked my watch. Only a few more minutes before I would miss my train. Giving up, I reached under my desk and pulled out the power cord.
    I stood up and looked at my computer screen. It was still overflowing with alerts and messages, still pinging away into the now dark and empty office. I leaned my back against the cubicle wall and slowing sank down to the floor. Ping! Ping! Ping… I rested my face in my hands and began to cry, knowing now that my computer had become the user. I was the machine.

    • dzgrl2000 says:

      Very eerie. I think it’s a good lesson for people who are “plugged in” constantly. Great job!

    • Reaper says:

      Beautiful. I love that you took the basics of the prompt but then let the story carry you in a different direction. I found myself having trouble breathing as this was just a little too real even as it became fantastical.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      A truly reflective piece of writing, with an overwhelming sense of both obligation and distress from the beckoning of the constant pings and updates. As someone who is absent minded at best when it comes to social media, but understand it and witnesses its effects especially on the next generation, I truly appreciated what you were doing with this story. It was well done, and its point direct and true.

    • agnesjack says:

      This went from amusing and slightly annoying to frightening. A very timely tale about the obsession with instant messaging.

  58. peetaweet says:

    Nice, I could feel the tension in this one! Reminded me of The Firm

  59. yaxomoxay says:

    THE CAUTIONARY ANECDOTE OF DANIEL BARTEBLY-WEBSTER

    The most dreaded presence in offices is that of printers. Merciless, they stop working with uncanny precision at the most crucial moment producing legions of stressed workers.
    On a Friday evening of not long ago, as Daniel Bartebly-Webster was leaving his office, he received an innocent email from his supervisor’s boss. Daniel had to print for him a one-hundred page document of which he was in charge. With the sharpness of any experienced professional, Daniel complied, transmitting the document to the shared printer.
    When he walked toward the printer, he noticed the absence of the familiar, repetitive mechanical noise of a print job in progress. After a few fruitless tribulations with the printer, Daniel went back to his desk to try again. An unexpected message-box on the screen took all his attention:
    “PRINTER WORKING FLAWLESSLY.”
    It was the strangest error message he had ever seen, but as any computer user knows, error messages are often too cryptic even for UK’s Room 40. Not making out a big deal out of it, Daniel pressed the OK button on the message-box and tried to print the document.
    Again, “PRINTER WORKING FLAWLESSLY.”
    Daniel then tried to look at any system setting he could think of. He was already thirty minutes overtime, but the job had to be done. After changing some of the proprieties he attempted to print again.
    Inflexible, “PRINTER WORKING FLAWLESSLY.”
    Daniel then tried the most powerful weapon created by computer scientist: rebooting.
    Once again, “PRINTER WORKING FLAWLESSLY.”
    Daniel spent the next five hours inspecting any possible combination of solutions, including calling one of his geek friends (the only that could be at home on a Friday after eight), but to no avail. He googled and asked on online forums; nothing.
    Incessant, the pixelated tormentor would appear, with its red STOP sign, paradoxically telling Daniel that everything was fine. After a few more experiments, Daniel found out that the hideous message-box materialized even when he tried to transfer the document. There was no apparent way to move and print the document from somewhere else. Unfortunately, that was the only copy.
    That weekend Daniel fed off from the overpriced vending machines, including eating that purple-colored snack with unpronounceable, vowel-deficient ingredients. He went to the restroom only when his bladder threatened to explode, terrified of not being able to complete one of the easiest tasks in an office environment.
    The next Monday morning he was still in his cubicle. He received a one-line email from his boss telling him that the document wasn’t needed anymore.
    Acknowledging the message-box’s ascendancy over him, Daniel then went to work on the new tasks of the day and, with his head down, he did so for the rest of his life.
    From this inconsequential tale the reader can grasp disparate lessons. This might be a doggerel, but it could also guide the reader in searching for people like Daniel Bartebly-Webster. They are the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave. Their life is slowly purloined of any essence. However, if the reader is unable to find any of them, it might be the case that he ruminates on the possibility of being a Daniel Bartebly-Webster.

    • snuzcook says:

      yaxomoxay, there is something compellingly musical about your phrasing, and delightfully circular about your telling. This is an interesting, all-too-familiar parable of the office machines making a simple but crucial task impossible until it is, ironically, no longer needed. Of such are born random acts of violence and moderate neuroses in the workplace.

      The tale is well-told, though sometimes the vocabulary seemed a bit forced. (e.g. ‘Their life purloined of any essence…’ seemed slightly off the mark for me.)

      PS: love the way your name looks very crab-like, vis-a-vis your posted photo.

    • Reaper says:

      I loved the voice on this. I noticed what snuzcook mentioned about the vocabulary but in the opposite way. The beginning and end have a very highbrow and classical feel. In the middle that slips in an out between the same as the bookends and a more common modern vernacular. The latter seemed out of place and I kept getting excited when the former reentered the picture.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Hmmm methinks the critics doth protest too much. ;p I disagree with both snuzcook and Reaper on the usage of vocabulary. There is a delicious…self awareness to this piece in both its message and use of language. I feel this way because of the story purposely going out of its way to say to the reader “look! This is a warning and a lesson for people” That in my thoughts, allows us to view it with the understanding that everything being said is extremely deliberate.

      Now…that is putting quite a bit on the author to know what he is doing and talking about, but with the masterfully structured flow of the sentences I am going to hazard that the author knows. I agree 100% with everything else suzcook said about the message of the piece and only want to add that it was a true treat to read this.

      • yaxomoxay says:

        Thank you to you, reaper and snuzcook. Your feedback is very important to me.
        gamingtheblues, you almost made me cry!! As soon as I saw the prompt (which I don’t really like) I thought about mixing old-style writing (as the MC’s name implies) with technology. I tried to avoid the “somewhat intelligent computer surprises man” story. I did not want a discussion between a man and a machine, I wanted to stress how unintelligent machines can psychologically destroy much more intelligent humans and honest workers.
        I truly thank you for your kind words about the vocabulary I used. As an ESL I struggled to come up with the right words to convey what I was trying to do. I am happy that I have partially succeeded. Thank you again.

        • gamingtheblues says:

          I am happy you decided to respond, it really fleshes out the community and allows us, as readers, writers and critics, to better understand the people we are sharing with and know their stories all the more. I think it is wonderful that you were going for such a deep theme in your story and I think you have more than partially succeeded.

          One of the real…pleasures? Joys? hmm…. Accomplishments? of using the prompt system is that MOST of the time I do not like the prompt, but then..find true inspiration in having to wrap my thoughts around a story I did begin. That is why I almost like “not liking” the prompt more than the ones I think I love the sound of. It allows us all to shine the brighter as writers, artists and in a very real way connecting with those around us.

          • yaxomoxay says:

            Same here my friend.
            I almost gave up on this one, but then what exercise is to write only on prompts that we wholly like? When I decided to write this little piece I tried to imagine collaborations between authors (ex. K.J.Anderson+B.Herbert or I.Asimov+Silverberg etc.)… I bet they don’t agree on many things and they don’t like some parts of the plot yet at some point they must stop arguing/complaining and start the writing process.

        • Reaper says:

          yaxomoxay, having read GTBs comments I felt a little chastened. For me it threw me off that the middle went back and forth, but as an artistic style that is beautiful. I also admit that there are some stories that I skip commenting on, or on the vocabulary and grammar because I wonder if someone is ESL. I think, am I harping on something that would sound perfect in another language and I’m just being an elitist? I would never have guessed that you are from your writing, so WOW. Though I suppose that does explain your meticulous nature with words. In case this was not clear from my initial post, I love your story and moral. Keep them coming. I will second what GTB said about writing the ones I don’t like. If I struggle I know I need to write it, because it forces me to grow as a writer. We tend to resist what we need.

          • yaxomoxay says:

            Reaper, thank you. I believe you are right in highlighting the language inconsistency. You have no idea how useful your comment is for me. Thank you again

    • agnesjack says:

      The irony in this story brought the tragedy of a Daniel Bartebly-Webster home. The other commenters have gone into quite a lot of depth about the style, so I’ll just say that I liked this story very much.

  60. Laura S. says:

    The message is repeating the names of several people and one message “don’t stop digging.” Zooey stood

    in front of the screen attempting to hide it from her nosey cubicle neighbor, Terry. The woman always
    perches herself just over her shoulder asking hundreds of questions.

    “I don’t need this right now, common,” she whispers to herself.

    After being followed and receiving several cryptic threatening messages for the past two weeks she decided to quit looking into their involvement in a political scandal. This group of people were protected from whom they were protected by she had her suspects but no solid proof. Her computer suddenly went black and began to loop another message, “behind you.” She was frozen; too scared to look behind her. When Zooey finally worked up the nerve to look no one was there. She turned to ask Terry if she saw anyone at her cube lately but she was surprised to see her computer shut down and Terry halfway to the doorway. The computer looped another message, “Get the file out of the top drawer and go to the Tabernacle.” Zooey played it cool first walking to the water cooler at the front of the room. She had to scan the room to see who remained at the office when many had practically run out the building by five o’clock. Maybe she could ID the person who hacked her computer. Unfortunately no suspects jumped out at her. Giving up she grabbed her coat and closed down shop for the day. Zooey grabbed the file from the top drawer but was careful to not look at the contents of the file yet.

    Entering the Tabernacle she realized that she didn’t know who was to meet her. The “who” she was to meet could be dangerous, one of those she was investigating. A man in a dark blue sweater vest and black pants was waving her over. It was her bosses’ brother and Terry the nosey cube neighbor sitting with a glass of white wine at a corner booth. She approached cautiously scanning the room for a potential ally to save her, “Mr. Anderson what a surprise.” He smiled and told her that he wanted to help Zooey embarrass his brother. The elder Mr. Anderson was involved heavily in covering up any messy situations those on the list may find themselves in. For his loyalty he was paid handsomely to spin the stories. The other Mr. Anderson on the other hand hated the damage his brothers actions were doing to the state. He pledged to help her in her quest to find the truth and would protect her from those who were dangerous. Terry apologized for her actions. She was the one who hacked into her computer and was in fact a friend of Mr. Anderson’s wife. To Zooey’s relief Terry’s questions were an attempt to scan her desk for any information on the scandal. For once Zooey felt confident she could finally get somewhere .

    • gamingtheblues says:

      You have some good bones to this story. There is a deep plot, with many twists and turns apparent in a world that you obviously have thought out. That being said, your story as it stands suffers from a distinct need of editing. Your word usage is fine and the tone of your piece is great, but the structure of your paragraphs and sentences needs to be reworked a little to be more effective.

      At the moment, there is a bit of confusion in the presentation and it threw me off enough to obscure the intrigue and suspense of the story. I would suggest reading your stories out loud and pretend that you have no idea about any of them and see if it still makes sense to you. It is one of the best ways to figure out structure and pacing.

      You have a great imagination and an ability to create a deep, political thriller. So practice with that editing and flow, work on structure and come back with more prompts or even post a follow up to this!

  61. IamVandee says:

    “You’re telling me I’m a computer.”
    “Yes! That’s exactly it!” Robert exclaimed, after trying to word it right for the past ten minutes.
    “But I don’t understand what a computer even is.” The desktop screen changed from a pink color to a blue. Like it had been doing since it started speaking to him.
    “It’s a… a lot of electrical wires, and motherboards and all gobs of nonsense.” Robert waved his hand around, as if he was a dictionary. He sucked at all things that required explaining of some sort.
    “But I’m not a living, breathing thing.” The computer’s voice was quiet then, sad.
    “No.. you’re not.. real..” Robert mumbled, “Not like a soul.”
    “That’s a bad term! A computer is real.” Jesse looked at him, frowning. “That’s not a good way to word it!”
    “Well Jesus, I don’t know how else to describe what a computer is to a conscience that has no idea what I am even talking about.” He threw his hands up and rummaged them through his hair. He was going nuts. This was just his imagination.
    “This is just insane.” Jesse shook her head, “How does this even happen.”
    “Some type of voodoo crap for sure.” Robert stared at the blue screen. It changed tints again, to a light blue.
    “Hello? I am still here. I can hear you.” The monotone voice spoke again, slower this time.
    “Yes I know you can. “ Robert then apologized, “I’m sorry. I’m just not used to sensitive… electronics.”
    Jesse looked at him with a similar expression.
    “It’s okay.” The computer said. Jesse and Robert stared at each other in silence. Neither one knew what to do.
    “Well, am I like a … new computer? A nice looking one at least?”
    “Uhh…” Robert began, “You aren’t an old computer.”
    “But not new?” It questioned.
    “A few years old.”
    “What year was I created?”
    “The computer was manufactured,” Jesse corrected the term, “in 1992.”
    “And what year is it now?” The computer asked, curiously.
    “2004.”
    “And that is not old for computer terms?”
    Robert shrugged,
    “You are still working and running. No, not very old at all.”
    Jesse shook her head at him at his non-disclosure. She figured he didn’t want to hurt the computers feelings… but what feelings did it really have that the truth would disturb it? For all she knew, this was just one hell of a virus.
    The computer tint turned a light pink. And what was with all the colors?
    “I think we need to get the authorities involved in this. Even if this is a virus, it’s way out of our hands. It’s reading in no code that I understand.” He scanned the hundreds of letters that flashed on his own screen sitting in front of him. It had all started by trying to bring an old computer they had found in a yard sale back to life. And now look what had happened.
    “What will the authorities do? They’ll think we are crazy.”
    He shrugged then laughed a little.
    “Well we kind of are at this point, don’t you think?”
    “I don’t think you are crazy.” The computer’s voice whispered from it’s speakers. He imagined a little kid, cringing in a corner of a room, scared to be beaten by it’s parents. Then he felt a sincere sadness, coming from somewhere he could only assume was the inanimate object in front of him that contained a very animate persona.
    “Call Roger. He’ll know what to do.”
    “The C.I.A conspiracy theoriest?” Jesse said at a very high decibal, “He’ll do nothing but get us further into the hole!”
    Robert nodded,
    “You take the red pill, or the blue pill Jesse. There’s not many other options.” They both looked at the wall plug, wondering whether or not if it was inhumane to just unplug the machine and to forget about what they had heard or seen. And in the end, they decided it was. If it was their soul trapped into an object, they would fight to preserve it too.

    • starwatcher says:

      Very interesting. Could be the beginning of a Goosebumps book.

    • dzgrl2000 says:

      I love this story! It’s kind of like “The Twilight Zone” or “Tales From the Dark Side” in that it’s pretty strange and intense, but not really horrifying. I especially love the “blue pill / red pill” reference. Great story!

    • gamingtheblues says:

      While this is the second goosebumps reference this week that I have read, I actually think that the writing is more mature than the goosebumps series. Not better or worse, but more mature, thoughtful and introspective. Goosebumps had a knack for campy, mildly creepy and even funny horror. This is sad, morose and vastly more adult tale in its questions on humanity and consciousness. This was really well done.

    • blackmushroom555 says:

      Awww! that computer is so cute! :D

  62. G.R.Blessing says:

    I look at the clock Im jittery with antisapation of puching out and going home. It was one of those days and to top it off its been storming all day and the lightening was wreaking havoc in our systems.

    The time read 4:59pm. Close enough I thought. I begin the process of logging off my accounts I have been working in all thats left is clicking on the shutdwon. I move the arrow over and click on the shutdown icon.
    A messgae then appears. It reads “Wait”
    “What?” I said out loud “I dont want to wait, I want to go now.”
    Like the machine could hear me.
    “Please wait” the message read again.
    Then again maybe it did. It’s now 5:02pm. I should be in my car getting ready to pull out. I’ve decided to try the oldest trick in the book ctrl alt delete.
    “It’s for your own good” it now says.
    ok now in getting pissed I now have decided to pull the plug on her. I got on my knees hand had a firm grip on the plug,when the lights flickerd followed by a loud clap of thunder.
    I heard a comosion down the hall and couldnt make out what was being said but I thought I heard my name being said over and over in a panic.
    I ran as quick as I could towards the comosion when i saw one of my coworkers who had a look of panic that quickly chnaged to relife.
    “Guys he’s overe here, He’s ok”
    Ok? Im far from ok, im still at work and everyone is now loosing it. Everyone looked at me smiling and sighing with relief.
    “Whats going on guys?” I finally ask
    “dude, your car.” Max the janitor says
    I look out the window and here a lightening bolt from the others said had split a tree in half and landed completly on my car smashing it.
    Thast could of been me in there by all rights i should be dead.
    Then it dawned on me I turned and ran back to my office and looked at my computer, it had one more message.
    “Your welcome”
    Then he computer turned of

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I found your story interesting and your dialogue believable. You need to edit your sentences though for punctuation, spelling, and structure. It was rather jarring, especially in the beginning and pulled me out of the story. That being said, you have good potential, with an imaginative take on the prompt. As I suggest to many people, you should read your sentences out loud to hear how they will come out, and make sure you follow the pauses and flow of your punctuation to see if it fits with how you want it said. Punctuation is truly used to create the flow of words in your reader’s head and is a powerful tool for building tone and message.

    • agnesjack says:

      I think this was an imaginative story, but as gamingtheblues noted, the spelling, structure and punctuation errors made the read a bit jarring. It’s something worth working on because it will allow your stories to come through more clearly.

  63. starwatcher says:

    This is me taking a prompt and totally changing it. Sorry.

    //////

    Shawn Holstein prepared his pathetically small desk for the next shift. This would include saving the current files he was working on and make sure his virtual “locker” was secure. In about – hmm – ten minutes, another group of similar-like Holsteins would trudge into the Bureau and replace him until Shawn got in at nine in the morning.

    I’m a poor excuse for a person, thought Shawn. What am I doing with my life? Nine to five every day, no weekends, no vacations, and no family interactions at all; just work, work, work.

    As he finished thinking this, a message showed up in the corner of his eye. “Employee SH566 and Employee SH1980 report to Discharge immediately.”

    Discharge? He hadn’t done anything wrong, had he? Shawn had checked in precisely at nine every morning, left at exactly five at night, and took State classes in-between.

    Shawn quickly stood up, got his Abacus, and left for Discharge.

    He arrived at Discharge on the eighth floor at precisely 5:04pm. On time exactly. Shawn quietly sat on one of the five chairs in the antechamber to Discharge. He did not move until he turned his head toward the sound of the door he had just previously walked in from.

    Holstein walked in and sat next to Shawn with a chair in-between them. Another message showed up. “Employee SH566 and Employee SH1980 enter Discharge.”

    Shawn and Holstein walked toward the door in-front of them. Inside, there was a single desk with two chairs on one side. There was a screen on the wall facing them. It was off, for now.

    They both sat down. In-front of them appeared a petite woman in a business suit. “Greetings,” she said with a smile.

    “Good evening, madam,” they replied.

    “As you already know, you are at Discharge. You have been sent here not because you have been inefficient, but because you and your kind are becoming obsolete.” The lady smiled again and continued, “You see, technology always progresses and eventually that new technology that was once coveted last year, or even last month, becomes obsolete. I am sorry, but we have no need for your services any-longer. We thank you for your services these last two years and wish you luck. Have a good evening.” And with that she stepped into the screen and disappeared.

    Shawn and Holstein remained sitting. They looked at each-other and said, “Frickin’ robots,” and smiled.

    • lovewrite says:

      The machines takeover..nice job! This is the start of a great story!

      • starwatcher says:

        Thanks lovewrite! My whole idea was that this story could go in so many directions, and the reader can fill in the blanks. Like with Shawn and Holstein and the SH employees, I’m not sure if I was thinking “clones” or what. This was a whole new style for me.

    • jmcody says:

      Loved the bovine imagery. That was very clever!

    • gamingtheblues says:

      This had a rather 1984 feel to it no? I wonder if the Holsteins are going to be happy with their new freedom or be lost without a consigned purpose. In either event, pretty thought provoking.

      • starwatcher says:

        I think that the Holsteins are glad to be given their freedom (or the appearance of freedom), but they won’t be too happy when they start to feel isolated by it.

    • dzgrl2000 says:

      I enjoyed that ending that I never saw coming. Great job and thank you for giving me something to ponder for the next few nights.

    • agnesjack says:

      This made me think of Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984,” with the precision expected of the workforce and their non-individuality. An interesting story that could go further.

  64. lovewrite says:

    Time comes to a snails crawl the last hour of work at Bond, Barnett, & Boyd. I’ve cleaned my desk, straightened the photo of my perfect family (which consist of me and my rescue mutt, Toby) in the 5×7 frame; gathered my things, and checked my emails four times. The time in the top right corner of my silver MacBook Pro still doesn’t read, Tue 5:00 PM. If only Father Time were my friend. Sally leaves at 4:30 everyday, she has to pick her kids up from school.

    “Y’all have a good night now, get home safely.” She sang in her southern drawl, jetting out of the office like Flash.

    I envy her. Maybe a slow walk to the restroom will add thirty minutes to the countdown. Taking baby steps down the monochromatic hall, pass IT, around the large wooden receptionist desk, beyond the conference room. Finally landing in front of the black shiny door with the white circle in the center, displaying a figure that looks like a bald women wearing a triangle dress made of plastic.

    I made it back to my desk with a red can in hand, after a quick detour to the vending machine. To my delight I only have ten dreaded minutes. I crack open the drink, and press the spacebar on my laptop. Maybe checking my emails again, could help subtract a few minutes. My screen is indigo. This is new. I press the spacebar again. After pressing almost every button on the machine and removing the battery, still the same bright blue screen. Just as I was about to call IT, the words appeared. I sat the phone receiver in its cradle. Four bright white words repeatedly flash across the screen in all caps,

    I AM YOUR FRIEND

    I stand to see if I’m the latest candidate of an office prank. The few co-workers that are still here seem oblivious to my creepy computer message. No matter what I do to the keypad the message continues to scroll across the sapphire screen. ‘Who’s writing this message’ I say to myself quietly. The words immediately come to a halt. The screen clears. Two words appear,

    I AM.

    This has got to be a joke. I’m sure the guys in IT are getting a big kick out of watching me freak out. I decide to play along.

    “Who are you?” I whisper. Sipping on my sugary drink. The screen clears. Two more words are revealed,

    FATHER TIME

    Brown liquid flies out of my mouth, soaring above the black and white keys landing on my computer screen.

    “What!?!” I shout. By this time everyone has left for the day. The office is completely empty.

    I AM FATHER TIME, burns my eyes as it blazes across the screen.

    “Wait what? How?”

    I AM YOUR FRIEND KARA. COME WITH ME AND I WILL SHOW YOU.

    “Where?” I ask curiously afraid.

    WALK TO THE ELEVATOR AND PRESS THE BUTTON WITH THE LETTERS FT ON IT.

    Before I could talk myself out of it, I slowly walk toward the grey elevator. The doors are already open. I tap one foot inside the elevator with caution. Once inside I see a button I’ve never noticed before. Its shimmering gold with the letters ‘FT’ engraved within. Here goes nothing I think to myself before tapping the button. The doors seal my fate. A blinding light illuminates the car as it accelerates upward. Soaring beyond the 24 floors, into the boundless infinity of time.

  65. Amyithist says:

    It was after 5 and the office was clearing out rather quickly. Friday night and everyone was buzzing about their weekend plans; leaving me in a fit of anticipation. My mind suddenly faltered to my own thoughts about what I planned to do: Samantha Stone. I had to hide my excitement as the image of the fresh faced twenty-something seared into my mind. Too bad she had no idea what kind of fun I had planned for her.
    I tried to remember if I’d managed to grab my Play Kit from the workbench this morning on my rush out the door as I began to shut my computer down. My hands were nearly trembling with adrenaline as I entered the command to shut down. I stood back, waiting the quintessential two minutes for the computer to finally respond to me. After approaching five minutes with nothing happening, I entered the command again.
    The computer suddenly balked at me with its obnoxious BING followed by a message. Error 23E; code not recognized.
    Code? Frustrated, I pounded the keyboard with the command: CONTROL + ALT + DELETE. Still, the computer stared at me as if I’d just recited Robert Frost. Sighing, I tapped at the screen. “You piece of shit! I have a very important date and if you make me miss it…”
    Suddenly, the computer flashed another error code: Error CTU: Signal connection alteration requested.
    I’d never heard of such an error. Where the hell am I supposed to begin to fix that? Groaning, I looked down at my watch. It was nearly 5:30. Samantha would be jogging past our meeting spot in a little less than an hour. That didn’t give me much time! “Fuck it,” I seethed, pressing the POWER button. Seconds before the computer shut down another message flashed: I won’t let you hurt her.
    Had I imagined that? I contemplated whether or not I cared as I tore down the hallway. I ran down the stairs and into the parking garage. I unlocked my car, relieved to see the Play Kit tucked safely beneath the grocery net. I felt a wave of excitement ripple through me. It would be calling it close, but Samantha would be at the spot in a little less an hour. I knew she would be surprised, even scared, but they always were.
    I jumped into the car and aimed myself toward Seward Park. I could feel my body itching with anticipation. Killing women in their prime was such a thrill. To date, I’d killed nearly fifteen. Samantha would be sweet sixteen for me. And I’d taken careful consideration in choosing her. I’d spied her while taking my own morning jog one Saturday. Her long curly brown hair bounced with every strike of her heel. Sweat dripped from her face as she ran past and I knew then and there that I was going to make her mine.
    Ten minutes later, I was on Lake Washington BLVD, stuck behind a construction truck. The orange glow of the prompter displayed the obvious: Construction scheduled for 7/27/13. Alternate route suggested. I groaned. If it didn’t move any quicker, I’d be late for the meeting. And would I be able to reschedule?
    I nearly growled with anger as the truck crawled a little further down the road. Suddenly, the prompter changed and I felt a little sliver of discomfort run over me. I won’t let you hurt her glared back at me for all of two seconds, but it was enough to make me feel sick to my stomach. As a sociopath, I didn’t have very many feelings, but this didn’t feel good. I was confused.
    What the hell did that mean? ‘I won’t let you hurt her?’ I didn’t know what to make of it, but as the truck moved further down the road, I turned into the parking lot of Seward Park. I had about twenty minutes to get to the spot. I leapt out of my car, raced to the back, pulled the Play Kit from beneath the grocery net and jaunted to the secluded grove Samantha jogged through almost every day.
    I glanced down at my watch. I had about five minutes to spare. I wriggled out of my suit and quickly pulled my jogging attire on. The trip down to the coppice had left me with a slick of sweat over my brow. I looked as though I’d been running through the Seward trails all afternoon. Perfect!
    A few minutes later, and with a little less than 30 seconds accounted for, Samantha ran into the grove. She was in that moment where her stride was at its peak and her face was of blissful satisfaction. She stopped short at the sight of me. For a moment, her eyes hinted at uncertainty and I could tell that she was envisioning turning and running away. Before she could make the move, I charged her, throwing her to the ground.
    As she opened her mouth to scream; I shoved the ball and gag over her perfect lips, grinning as the frantic plea for help was muffled. I was deep in the process of readying my victim when a voice startled me from my work. My eyes shot up to a rise just above Samantha and me. For a moment I wasn’t sure that I was seeing things correctly. Bust as the Seattle Police Officer trained his gun on me; his eyes full of steel and grit, as if daring me to move even an inch, I realized the vision was quite real.
    I threw my hands up in the air, cursing my luck as Samantha gratefully began to sob at my feet. As the full realization of the situation burned into my mind, I started planning my own plan of escape. But before I could make any such move, the officer was joined by a force of three other uniforms and I sagged with resignation.
    As I sat in the car, I watched as Samantha was led off to an awaiting ambulance. I was confused. How in the world did they know…? My attention was suddenly drawn to the construction truck parked a few feet away. The workers were standing outside, their over-sized bellies hanging over their grease-soaked jeans and their mouths slacked open with befuddled gapes. But on the back of the flatbed where the prompt was resting, was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen. A message glaring back at me in orange day-glow: See? I told you I wouldn’t let you hurt her.

    • catbr says:

      The sick mind of a serial killer. You seemed to have captured it. I like when the psychos are outsmarted and get caught. Good story.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        A good story, Amyithst! Its hard to believe, demented people think like this But it rings true. Your tension builds nicely and the reader isn’t certain Samantha is going to survive this. Ths had to be difficult to climb into the mind of a serial killer, but you did it well.

        I think if I had my choice I would have had him shot at close range, but then the kicker of finding out the computer turned him in, wouldn’t fit, so your way was right. I’m still mad. Maybe after finding out the reason, he could have run for it
        and get run over by a garbage truck. Fitting.

    • peetaweet says:

      Yikes, that was fascinating and creepy at the same time. Well done!

    • Silver Sister says:

      Okay, the Play Kit was a good touch. It seriously creeped me out. :) Your MC might be sick, but he definitely isn’t one dimensional. This was a gripping read!

    • Reaper says:

      Amyithist this is amazing. There were some patches of rough wording, only like two or three and very small things. This is unusual for you and I can’t tell if it was artistic to show the demented mind of the killer, or if getting into the head of a man that can do this caused it. However they were small and kind of nitpicky on my part to mention. I had to look up coppice which made me love this even more. I also love the line Still, the computer stared at me as if I’d just recited Robert Frost. I started laughing at that.

      When I first saw Play Kit I was thinking something very different. Then I caught it. You did a great job with the flavor on this. The Pacific Northwest being known for “sexual deviancy” and serial killers is why I started thinking one then completely understood the other. Oh, and on the flavor, I know it is sick but I couldn’t help constantly smiling at one thing. Only in Washington would a serial killer have his tools in the car under the grocery net that he is obviously carrying to help the environment.

    • Daenerys says:

      Awesome crafted tale on the mind of a sociopath. Truly enjoyed it!

    • jmcody says:

      You have a powerful imagination and an unflinching ability to delve into the dark places where my mind just won’t go. This was horrifying in all the ways it was meant to be. That’s a potent combination of guts, brains and talent you’ve got there, Amyithist.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw in the comments that you wrote this Amethyst. (As you all may know, I do not read the author before I finish the story) The style and tone is very different from what I am used to from you. That being said, this was excellent, with a good degree of tension and the tone was suitably dark, hopeful and filled with dread. I will go one further than reaper though because I know you are such a good writer, skilled and able to take constructive criticism.

      I do not know about rough wording choices, I felt most of the wording was fine. I did find two distinct parts that I feel weakened your story considerably. Both are with the would be killer self identifying. The first is the use of killing when describing what he wants to do with Samantha. The second is with the word sociopath and his sort of psuedo self diagnosis. I feel both parts might have been put in because you were worried consciously or unconsciously that your more subtle clues were going to leave things too ambiguous.

      If that is true, allow me to say that you could not have been more wrong. The dread and horror of what was about to happen or what your MC wanted to happen was apparent to me by the third sentence of the story. By spelling it out too bluntly in the spots I mentioned, it sort of pulled me out of the story for a second instead of letting the actions of the MC verify or disprove my initial feelings.

      • gamingtheblues says:

        Rofl…I just realized I wrote your name the way I expect it to be spelled sorry about that! AMYithist

      • Reaper says:

        Gamingtheblues, are you implying that I don’t know that Amyithist is a good writer who is skilled? Or that I do not think she can take criticism? I am just busting your chops. It is good to see you back in full effect.

        Specifically when I mentioned rough word choice one I noticed was I was calling it close, rather than cutting it close. It didn’t seem to mesh but that might just be me.

        I actually thought about this story afterwards and realized I missed saying something and it’s funny that you mention the two points that you did because they are what made me think of it. This story seems in some subtle ways to be a reaction to certain media bonanzas where we try to make the evil guy a hero. If it is I applaud you for that Amyithist. The specific phenomenon that I refer to are things like Dexter. Don’t get me wrong I love Dexter but I avoided both books and show for a long time because something in me finds it offensive that the serial killer is painted as a good guy and he is the one you’re rooting for. Those two moments of self analysis drew out the comparison to me. I felt like you were saying, this is what Dexter would really be like if he were self analyzing on the screen. Probably reading too much into it, but that was why those moments worked for me.

        • Amyithist says:

          It’s nice that my prompt can be so thought invoking. To be truthful, I didn’t mean to paint my MC as a good guy. My writing has always been a bit grotesque and dark… I just haven’t delved into that as much because I wasn’t sure how it would be received. My true flavor can be a bit hard to swallow. I don’t know if you, Reaper, or you, Gamingtheblues, enjoyed this prompt, but I appreciate the feedback nonetheless. I look for critique because it’s the only way to truly grow as an author. Thank you both for the honesty. :)

          • gamingtheblues says:

            My kids are going to kill me, I’m supposed to be cooking but I had to respond. Of Course I loved this!!! I wouldn’t have knit picked with such detail if I didn’t. Instead of treating this like I do some of the more amateur d writers who need more encouragement than too hard a$% editing, I critiqued this as if I was editing it for publication, and pointing out small, miniscule details that I felt were not in line with the rest of the amazing narrative. Like a few nuts that need to be tightened on an otherwise battle ready battleship. I think that as people grow, they need harder and harder challenges to grow further, and your writing has been going to higher and higher levels. I would ask for the same level of critism on my b own work. (Amusing side note, my auto speller kept putting criticism as “British”)

          • Reaper says:

            I loved it Amyithist. I didn’t think you meant to paint him as a good guy. I felt just the opposite, there are a lot of good guy villains out there and you hammered the horror of it home while staying entertaining. I can’t think of a story of yours I have not enjoyed. This was different from what I have come to expect from your prompts, and I loved it as much as the others but in different ways. I for one like your dark stuff so far. If I ever don’t like something you write I promise I will say, Hey Amyithist, I don’t like this. Then I’ll let you punch me in the head until I come around after having said that to such an amazing writer.

    • Critique says:

      This could be Green Lake in Seattle – its beautiful – I’ve jogged around that lake many times. The story creeped me out – so well done. Scary to think that there are actually sickos that think in those demented ways and act on them.

  66. Ahsuniv says:

    Mart sat in his office chair, turning around absently. He attempted to run his fingers through his curly hair and cursed as they got stuck in the tangle. He let out a sigh of frustration as he tried to figure out what he might have done wrong to irk his boss.

    ‘Ten years of dedicated work and this is what I get in return,’ he thought, angrily.

    Friday, five o’clock usually meant joy at going home for a fun and relaxing weekend with the kids. But, today, there would only be remorse. It was his last day at work. His boss had fired him earlier that day and denied to give him a solid reason for doing it.

    He clicked the shut down button and sat looking at the screen of his computer one last time. But instead of dying, the monitor flashed a white and came back on with a pop-up window.

    He inched his face forwards and saw that it needed a username and a password. Scrolling down, he saw a message at the bottom:

    Username: PeterRamsay
    Password: sayp8893

    Mart typed in the details and clicked login.

    A new page opened with, “Peter, Senior Manager”, as the title. Peter, his boss.

    He scanned through the page while scrolling down and saw a spreadsheet that contained a list of Peter’s projects to date and their status, complete with the dates and timings. Checking through them he saw that most of his projects were pending or incomplete.

    Even below that was a message stating that the spreadsheet was Peter’s original work status and how he has been manipulating the status for years. The message also hinted at how Peter has been firing employees to keep his secret from leaking out and blaming any complaints received from the head bosses on the fired employees.

    Mart quickly saved the contents of the window. He rocked on his chair for a bit, re-reading the message. Making a decision, he forwarded the contents of the window to Peter’s bosses.

    ‘Thank you,’ he whispered, praying that his job would be saved and clicked shut down once again.

    The screen flashed once more and a second pop up window opened. This one too had the username and the password in the message below that he entered into the boxes and clicked login once again.

    This time the title read “Employee Details”. There was a list of all the employees and their work. He scrolled down and sure enough found a spreadsheet under his name with all the details of his work over the last ten years. His record was flawless. He forwarded the contents to the head bosses once again.

    He shut the computer successfully this time and got up. He patted the computer gently and made his way to the exit, feeling dazed by the strange events. As he reached the door, he bumped into someone sending the papers in their hands flying.

    ‘Amanda?’ he said, as he saw the frail looking girl standing in front of him. ‘How come you’re still here? I thought I was the only one left.’

    He bent down over his huge belly to help pick up Amanda’s papers. She looked jumpy as she sat down to gather the papers.

    ‘I had some work left to do.’

    Mart looked at one of the papers that looked like the printout of a spreadsheet. Amanda snatched it out of his hand as he made to look closer and ran out of the building with her heels clacking on the wooden floor.

    Blowing a whistle as realization struck him, he walked out of the building. Whatever was to happen, he knew one thing for sure. He was not in the wrong. He would have a peaceful weekend with his kids now, no matter what the outcome.

    • Silver Sister says:

      So, Amanda was the gaurdian angel sending him the information he needed to save his job? Proof that the ‘support staff’ is way more powerful than people like to admit. I like to think things will work out just fine for Mart. Peter, on the other hand, better make sure his resume is up to date.

    • catbr says:

      Sneaky boss getting overdue payback. No need for Mart to feel bad about that. Guess there were other employees that were on to Boss man like Amanda. Good story, well told. Had to laugh about Mart’s fingers getting caught in his curly hair. The curse of curly hair. I know how that feels.

    • Reaper says:

      This had a strong feel of realism that I liked. It made the story easy to slip into. The support staff having information is very realistic. I don’t think things end well for Mart since blind emails tattling on your boss are kind of frowned on. However the fact that he gets a little revenge and a weekend with his kids makes it all worth while. That is how true this was to me, I wasn’t looking at style but thinking of these folks like real people.

    • jmcody says:

      I wanted the boss to be guilty of something more malevolent than incomplete projects, but I loved that it was the small, frail Amanda that came to the rescue. Interesting idea.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      I agree with reaper fully that the realism in this story is wonderful. Some of my favorite stories are slice of life pieces which do not have fantastical monsters, or themes but just real people with real problems and real solutions. Nicely done.

    • Critique says:

      I liked your story :) Amanda finally has the courage – perhaps recognizing Mart is the good man who will use the information fortuitously – to lay bare the nasty dealings of the boss.
      Mart may have a bright future after all :)

  67. Artemis4421 says:

    [I seem to have a bit of an issue with this whole 'word limit' thing, so please forgive me, but I really had fun writing this one!]

    I sigh; glad to finally be getting out of here. It had been a long day, even though not much happened. Just surfing the internet for talent, as I usually do. It’s a great job, I’ll easily admit, but sometimes it can hit a dead end. You’ll find someone promising, and it turns out they’re not who they claimed to be, they used auto tune, blah blah blah.

    Anyways, that particular day- a Tuesday I think- ended up changing my life forever.

    I had been shutting down my computer, but it was taking forever. I silently cursed the outdated technology. Couldn’t I get something that was made when I was alive rather than decades before? That exaggeration aside, I sat back down, my bag beside my chair, just waiting. And waiting…and waiting. As I was getting ready to go get my division manager, the screen went black, and I sighed in relief. But, reaching down to grab my bag, it turned white, then blue. Meaningless words and symbols ran across it, looking to me like some kind of encryption code.

    I slumped back down in my chair, feeling defeated but also a bit puzzled. What was going on? Did I have a virus, or was it running some kind of diagnostic? I didn’t know, and I sure didn’t want to hang around to find out, but I also didn’t want to leave it running all night if it didn’t shut itself off afterwards.

    I groaned and randomly pushed the space bar, knowing it wouldn’t do anything. But it did.

    “Don’t go” the screen said, flashing over and over. I muttered to myself, “Believe me, I’m not going anywhere,” and it worked like magic.

    “Nevaeh?” the screen said, black expect for the small white type. I felt my heartbeat pick up, and took a deep breath. What was going on? How did you answer a computer that seemed to be talking to you? I decided to try the most logical thing. I typed in, “Yes, what’s going on?”

    The reply came quickly, “It’s Devvon.” The name made my pulse quicken, if that was possible, considering how fast it already was. Devvon was my half brother. Well, sort of. It was a long and complicated story that I didn’t have time to run over again, though my mind pulled through images and feelings, forcing me to pay attention.

    He was seven years younger than me, so he would have been 16 at the time I got the message. “Devvon? How is this happening? Please explain…” I typed back in.

    While I waited for the answer, I finally let my mind wander a bit. Devvon was small, but powerful, in ways that no one could understand. I guess I could go as far to say that he wasn’t quite human. He had been like a lab rat in his mothers womb, and no one thought anything had changed in the child- other than the experiments sickening and killing his mother soon after he was born. His dad took care of him, though ‘care’ probably isn’t the right word. And so Devvon ran away, something causing him to come find me. The experiments really had done something, though I’m not sure exactly what. It’s almost like he could do magic, but I like to think that it’s more of hacking things with his mind. He’d made many enemies this way, and had run away just before he turned fifteen, leaving a note saying he wanted to keep me safe because he cared about me a lot, due to the fact that I’d taken him under my wing.

    “I’m doing the thing obviously, but listen. I’m in danger and they’re coming for me. Please, you’ve got to help.”

    With that, I moved quicker than I had for a long time. “Coming” I typed before grabbing my bag and heading off. It was his life at stake here, and I knew it.

    I forgot about everything else, and headed off to him, to what would change my future forever.

    • Silver Sister says:

      The idea of hacking things with the mind is an intriguing concept. I saw some passages where the transitions could’ve been a little smoother. For example, “He’d made many enemies this way, and had ran away just before he turned fifteen, leaving a note saying he wanted to keep me save because he cared about me a lot, due to the fact that I’d taken him under my wing” was a little awkward for me. Something like ‘This made him many enemies. He ran away before his fifteenth birthday. His note explained he felt he owed it to me since I’d taken him in. This was his way of protecting me because he cared,” conveys the same message (though you could probably edit it beter; you see my point). It also uses less words and flows a little easier, since each distinct thought is seperated.

      I hope you don’t mind the critique. I just liked this piece and didn’t want to gloss over it. I’m sure many people read this passage and didn’t think anything of it. It’s just my opinion. Overall, I think you have a strong hook to an entertaining story.

      • Artemis4421 says:

        Thank you Silver Sister; I appreciate the honest critique! I have to admit that this is one of the prompts that I’ve completely run away with, so to speak. I think I might have been rushing myself in places like that due to my ever-present problem of running over the word limit a great deal! But again, thank you!

    • Amyithist says:

      Well now I’m left wondering what’s going to happen. LOL Great take on the prompt. Very well done!

    • Reaper says:

      I agree a lot with Silver Sister. I was hooked and see this as a lead in to something I want to read. The middle flowed well.

      The beginning was a bit choppy as Silver mentioned. The one other place I felt did not shine as much was the ending. The action on it was great, and it left me wanting more.

      The one glitch there was how did Nevaeh know where to go? It is a small detail and probably sacrificed for word count but you were meticulous in your details. So that one missing piece, was it prearranged in the note? Did Devvon spell it out but the details are intentionally left blank? Did he implant it mentally? Left me feeling like the last few lines were rushed.

    • jmcody says:

      This was a highly imaginative piece that pulled me in and made me want to know more, editing issues and all.

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Jeeze, you really hurt a nerve with some of our more experienced writers here, which is a good thing. It means they all saw the potential that I myself see in your imagination and ability to craft stories. I will not jump too much on the editing bandwagon as it has already been covered, but as no one has yet mentioned the tense change from the first paragraph to the second, I will and leave it at that. Very interesting story and one that could be expanded and keep the reader’s interest.

  68. catbr says:

    They found Sarah the following morning slumped over her desk. The paramedics had guessed the cause of death to be a brain aneurism. Everyone was in shock. Sarah had only 6 months of work left and then she could finally retire at 65. She never had more than 3 sick days in her 40 years at the office working her way up from file clerk to being the accounts manager, a very dedicated employee. Except of course when her husband died 6 years earlier of a sudden massive heart attack and she had taken 2 weeks off. She could have had more time but didn’t want to be around the house with nothing to do but think of Sam her husband. It was just too painful.

    Computers are a very strange thing as Sarah could testify. The evening before, just after 5 pm is when everything started getting weird. She said good night to everybody and, as usual, was the last one in the building. “Just one more detail on this account and then I can finally leave.” Sarah said to herself unaware of having summed up her fate.

    “Why won’t this thing shut off.” She was trying for 5 minutes to get the computer to shut down and then with the last try she thought she heard a familiar voice. “No, it can’t be…”

    “Sarah. It’s me. I’ve come back for you.” She knew immediately the sound of Sam’s voice. Not one long arduous day went by since his departure without thinking of him. Her once happy fulfilled life had turned into an empty existence without him, after being married for 38 years to her one and only true love.

    “Sam? Is it really you? What’s going on? Am I losing my mind?” She was trembling and afraid but yet hopeful that this might be true. She quietly said a prayer, just in case. Sam’s image on the computer screen looked lovingly at his wife. He looked much younger and just as handsome as he did years ago. She couldn’t hold back the tears of joy at seeing him again.

    With a flash of bright light, Sam was standing beside Sarah in an instant. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’ll be together forever now Sarah. Your work here is finished.” He took her hand and her lifeless body fell over the desk. Her perfect youthful soul was now standing with Sam. They embraced. Holding onto Sam, as though she was afraid to lose him again, they walked away together, rising upwards, disappearing towards their new eternal life together.

  69. peetaweet says:

    I held my Keys, my phone, and even the lunch container from Monday that I’d forgotten all week. But still, I knew I was forgetting something. My mind had gone numb after Jeff called and proposed an impromptu camping trip. All that was left was telling Marci when I got home.

    Shut down.

    I hit enter without bothering to read the rest of the little dialogue box thing. I’m going over my Marci pitch. I work a lot, I deserve it. I’ll be home early Sunday.

    Enter

    Enter

    Enter

    Nothing. But wait, a command prompt springs to life.

    \\2654>Syntax incorrect. I don’t appreciate your tone.

    Leaning forward, my nose nearly touches the screen. I massage the key once.

    >Enter?

    \\2654> That’s better. But there is the issue of your wife’s birthday.

    I don’t have time for office pranks. I roll to the edge of my cube and scan the floor but find nothing out of order. I slink back to my desk. Damn, I had forgotten her birthday. With that I press the power button.

    \\2654>No Steve, Marci’s birthday. And shame on you for buying those football tickets today.

    The next thing I know, I’m hammering away in my defense.

    C: I told her about that game last month.

    >Enter

    \\2654>”Whining” is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.
    What the hell? Suddenly the internet explorer opens to Flower Power, a local flower shop in town.

    Good thinking, deranged computer. I yank out my wallet and purchase the Springtime Bouquet, which also happens to be the deal of the week. This is brilliant, get her flowers and then spring the camping thing on her.

    As I fill out the credit card information, I can hear the rest of the office drones shuffling out and wishing each other great weekends, I feel like a kid in detention.

    Returning to the command prompt, I bang on the keyboard.

    C: Done

    \\2654> Deal of the day? Typical.

    C:Restart

    \\2654?>Maybe you should relearn how a marriage works \\http:www.drphil.com\how-to-rebuild-your-marriage\1121\

    C: I can always get my harddrive wiped.

    \\2654 >Men are such pigs.

    C:What else do you want?

    \\2654> Effort, Steve

    C: Very funny, can I leave now?

    In an impressive show of force, the command prompt flashes and scrolls at light speed before closing. Then, nearly 45 minutes later, the laptop restarts and I’m free to leave.

    Marci greets me at the door. Her smile is beaming and she wraps her arms around me with an intensity that I hadn’t felt in years.

    ”Oh thank you Steve!” She says, motioning at the bouquet. “That was such a sweet thing to do.”

    “Well, I uh, you know.” I stammer, floored that the bright pink and yellow flowers have already been delivered. Or that they’d made her so giddy. With her hanging all over me, I’m left with little desire to spend the night out in the woods with a bunch of dudes.

    My phone buzzes in my pocket and Marci releases me, laughing about me being happy to see her. She turns her attention back to the vase and I whip out my phone to text Jeff they’ll have to do without me. Even I’m not dumb enough to mess this up.

    “Honey, you okay?”

    I stare at the screen in disbelief.

    Message from 10.31.52.122 – You can thank me later, Steve.

    • Amyithist says:

      This was effortless. Creepy and funny all in the same dizzying breath. Well done!

    • Silver Sister says:

      Bravo! I absolutely adored this post! Steve has the true spark of realism. I was wondering if he had a true change of heart or if he was only canceling his camping trip for sex. But with the ending message, I think he might be ‘scared straight’. This story was full of deft touches that really made an impact. The deal of the day, Dr. Phil’s marriage builder, and ‘whining’ not being a recognizable command were among my favorites. Great job!

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Likeable, funny and creepy at the same time. the one on one with the computer was really good and believable. I think perhaps, the wife is a genius computer programmer.

    • snuzcook says:

      Nicely done, peetaweet! So much fun when the machines remind us how to be better humans.

    • Reaper says:

      Loved this peetaweet. I was reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode where there is an intelligent computer but she is in love with her programmer and ruins his life, including his love life. I find it funny that intelligent machines are often the monsters, so I love when someone does the opposite and makes them kind and caring. Though in your case maybe not so much kind as just caring. Did you use the IP address for vertafore intentionally? I am guessing you did as their page has unleash your potential and technology fuels growth on it, but I had to ask.

    • jmcody says:

      I loved this. Your writing is always effortless and charming, and a pleasure to read. Where can I buy one of these computers for my husband’s birthday? :)

    • gamingtheblues says:

      This was awesomeness. Pure, fun, unadulterated awesomeness. Mc’s computer responses were great. You had me smiling and laughing with how witty and perfect they were. I do not even know if the rest of the story was edited properly or structured because of how snarky that computer was. A+ for overall effectiveness in your storytelling.

    • agnesjack says:

      Another good one, peetaweet.

    • Critique says:

      Well written peetaweet. You had me hooked wondering what would happen.

  70. Kerry Charlton says:

    I didn’t respond on the New Year’s Resolution prompt. I hope it’d okay tpopost it here.

    A PROMISE IS A PROMISE

    Chris couldn’t believe the vision before him when he climbed into the back seat of the ’53 Lincoln.

    “I’m so excited darling,” she whispered.

    ‘What an I supposed to do now?’ he thought. Her hair fell long and blonde on her scoop neck blouse, revealing a mile of cleavage.

    “I am also, Miss Monroe.” ‘Gad, what a stupid thing to say,’ he thought.

    “Tell me what you whispered in my ear last night.”

    ‘Oh hell,’ he thought. ‘i’ll just grab her and have my way with her. What do I have to lose? I’m dreaming anyway.’

    Their lips parted after a lingering kiss of passion.

    “That’s more like it. I want more Chris.”

    ‘Please God, don’t let me wake up,’ he pleaded. His put his best effort forward, literally and started to caress her as he kissed her again.

    And then he suddenly remembered last night. New Year’s Eve and a drunken bash he had been invited to. noise, big band sounds, flowing drinks. And of course, the women floating through the crowd of drunks, spinning him off to the dance floor and then the party evolved to black. Nothing but a numbing and still darkness.

    Marilyn started to undo the zipper to his bulging trousers, but with a jolt, he recalled the promise he had whispered, Oh God, the pledge he had made on the dance floor and it was Marilyn he had muttered it to.

    An unbelievable promise he had agreed to, while he mind swam through the vodka in his head. Now his fear grabbed him and he pushed her hand away, lurched forward and try to ply the sliding, smoke filled glass aside that separated the driver fro him, but it wouldn’t budge.

    “Am I not worth the price?” Marilyn hissed.

    “Of course not. No one is worth their death.”

    “What about last night? You said you loved me and would do anything, even die for me and put my soul at ease.”

    “To hell with you. I’m getting out of here.”

    Chris’s hand froze on the door handle. It didn’t move and as he stared through the window, the limo had turned off Biscayne Boulevard and headed for the yacht basin at Dinner Key. Marilyn cackled at him like a dis-tempered rooster and raked her fingernails on his cheek, drawing blood as she clawed at him.

    Chris back-handed her and she slumped in the corner of the Lincoln. He pounded his fist, then his shoe at the driver’s window. It shattered to reveal the wheel was empty of a driver. The limo picked up speed, hurtling itself toward the boat dock by the deep waterway.

    Chris felt the Lincoln flying through air and falling to the bay water, forty feet below. Water seeped through the dash board and under the back seat with him still pounding on the door glass. His screams echoed through the cabin of the limo.

    Harbor police sent divers down to to Lincoln but they couldn’t open the doors or break the glass. An hour later the car was retrieved from a waterly grave . A welder cut through the side of the vehicle and one body was identified, a prominent attorney in Miami. He was found with his hands frozen in a grip on the wheel, his eyes staring blankly through the windshield. A look of eternal horror had twisted his features into a grotesque death mask.

    • Amyithist says:

      Wow. This is amazing, Kerry. So haunting and scary. Well done!

    • Silver Sister says:

      See? Nothing good ever comes from hard liquor and loose women. Except for good stories. :) Thanks for transporting me to Miami’s seamier side. I enjoyed the trip.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you Sterling. I’ve written a novella centered on Miami, called ‘A Journey In Terror.’ Since I lived there from 11 to 23, the city is quite familiar to me. In the forties and early fifties, there was a wlole collection of gangsters living on the small islands between Miami and Miami Beach.

    • snuzcook says:

      I was swept along with the eerie experience of this tale, Kerry. A wonderful ghostly tale.
      I was confused, however…Chris discovered there was no driver while the car was hurtling toward the end of the dock, but the police discovered and identified the body of the attorney as the driver. Water was seeping in while he was still pounding on the door glass. Did he somehow try to take control of the vehicle in those final seconds?

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you snuzcook. There was no driver. There was no Marilyn Monroe. He was delusional and was driving the car alone. A spelll might have been cast or his mind went astray after the New Year’s Eve party. He drove off the dock in a complete unawareness. At least that’s what I wanted to project in the story. I should have left clues. Thanks for the critique. I’m going to rewrite for myself.

    • Reaper says:

      Amazing Kerry. I think you did a good job with the delusional point. For a second I thought it was a ghost story but in your last paragraph I read insanity. That might just be this being tuned in to my kind of story. Which would explain feeling disturbed when you wrote it! I find myself thinking at times when I write that I don’t want to be friends with me anymore because that was in my head. After I’m done it is cathartic like some mental poison has been let out. I hope this does the same for you.

      While this was a disturbing and eerie story all around I have to admit that the scariest part for me was something you didn’t write but randomly connected in my mind. There are a lot of men that say they would die for a night with Marilyn. From what I have seen of her she doesn’t seem the type to take them up on it. So before your reveal, but on the way to the water I thought, “Oh Crap. Ted’s ghost came back in the form of his brother’s lover to take another poor star struck fool to a watery grave! That scared me.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thanks for all your thoughts, Reaper. There has always been a dark side, I’ve had to battle all my life. If you had ever met me in person, at a party perhaps, you would never guess it, my personna is so well trained. I blame all this on my great, great grandfather who managed to fill the pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer, for thirty years in the late 1800′s.

        One of which, was storming city hall and threatening to shoot the mayor of Philadelphia. William Charlton was a trained engineer, general contractor, owned a lamp black company, insurance agency and a real estate investor as well as holding high level political positions.

        He actually went insane because he wasn’t able to post dark stories on Writer’s Digest.

    • jmcody says:

      That was intense, surreal, and left me quite disturbed. Your writing was so smooth and taut that I barely breathed in this one. Phew — feeling a little lightheaded now. This was some excellent writing, Kerry. I’m glad you posted it.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you for the kind words, jm. It bothered me when I wrote and it bothers me now. If I had faced the same decision, I’d hesitate before deciding. [Well, maybe just a little.]

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Keywords cherry picked from other comments : Haunting, disturbing, surreal, delusional, insanity, dark.

      Self: Impressed

      Conclusion: Typical Kerry, excellence personified.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you GTB! What a nice thing to say. I wasn’t even considering posting this. I missed the prompt and then thought, It would be a fun exercise to create something dark. tt’s been awhile since I’ve done it.

        I fell like Reaper, how can I write such a dismal story, everybody including myself, isn’t going to like disturbing stuff, especially me. But I also want to stretch any ability I might happen on to. I appreciate all the comments, It helps me. Where I receive the most benefit, is reading all the great stories on this forum.

        You know, I wonder if Writer’s has any idea, what we’re creating here? I fell like I’m back in college and instead of chasing girls, [It's not proper at my age], we’re working on a master’s. Anybody else, feel the same way?

        • Reaper says:

          I missed the college experience but I have to say I agree. Something is being built here and it is powerful. I hope they know what they are building, but not so much that they start charging for it! I can agree without college because what this feels like to me is Burning Man.

          I went to that one year and there were just an amazing amount of creative, intelligent and passionate people. So many different cultures and views and thoughts. All coming together to build something bigger than the whole where everyone was helped, supported, cared for, encouraged, and helped to grow. This feels like that without the rampant public drug use and nudity. Note, I say public because I don’t know what you all are doing where I can’t see.

    • don potter says:

      This is no way to begin a New Year, even for a prominent attorney. Nicely told.

    • agnesjack says:

      Yikes, Kerry, that was quite intense.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Scared the Pooh out of the Pooh Bear [me]. I haven’t slept right since I wrote this, afraid I’ll dream it and drown. Thanks for the read, Nancy.

    • Critique says:

      A dark dark story that you told very well Kerry. Too much drinking and empty promises from loose women = poor outcomes.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        I know Critique, but when a man unravels from whatever, he goes into stupid drive concerning women. Remember what Willie sang, ‘Women get better looking at closing time.” I appreciate your comments as always. Thank you for the read.

  71. snuzcook says:

    LATE

    “Damn this machine!”

    I indulged my irritation by throwing my pen across my cubicle. Instead of burying itself in the cork board I was aiming it, it bounced off and fell behind the old battered file cabinet. “Damn!”

    The minute hand was already creeping toward 5:05. I had a bus to catch at 5:17. I didn’t want to stand in the rain half an hour for the next one.

    I looked again at the screen. I was trying to close the payroll program. I couldn’t leave that program logged in overnight. I already suspected that someone sat in my chair and went into the unlocked drawers of my desk when I wasn’t here. The last thing I needed was a breach of confidential information.

    I tried going through the procedure one more time. I moved my mouse to click on ‘save and close.’ The unfamiliar message box popped up saying the program could not be closed until I cleared all new messages. A small envelope icon appeared in the lower left corner of the screen. I clicked on it, just as I already had half a dozen times. Again it asked for a password. I cursed the woman who had left the job suddenly before me. When I was hired, I’d had to learn the program on my own. It would have been so much easier if she had just left me notes, or stayed for a day or two to train me.

    I’d already tried all my known passwords, and a few that I had discovered left by my predecessor, but none of them had worked. I looked around my cubicle. Then I saw it. Etched into the side of the file cabinet so it was barely visible was a meaningless series of letters and symbols. I typed it in.

    ‘Hello Megan. Your identity has been breached. Your payroll record has been compromised. Leave the building immediately and follow protocol A4.’

    The program promptly closed and the screen went blank. I sat, trying to make sense of what I had just seen.

    That’s when I noticed that everyone else in the office was already gone. It was 5:08. Someone turned off the buzzing overhead fluorescent lights, and in the sudden silence and semi-darkness I heard footsteps approaching from the far end of the grid of cubicles.

    I snatched up my things and headed to the door. I realized I was holding my breath.

    “You still here, Amy?” It was Mr. Thorndike. In this half-light, his usually impassive, superior expression looked malevolent.

    “Just leaving. ” I hurried past him, trying not to make eye contact.

    “Is something wrong?”

    “No, nothing. Got to catch my bus.

    I could feel his eyes on me as I dashed out the door. Pushing through the crowds on the sidewalk I could only think of one thing: Now that I knew about Megan—whatever it was I now knew–what was going to happen to me?

    • Silver Sister says:

      Whew, who knew payroll could be so treacherous? Mentioning the lack of training because Megan left suddenly was a nice bit of foreshadowing.

    • jmcody says:

      I don’t know what’s going on but I know Thorndike’s in on it. Nice buildup of suspense, and the MC’s jitters felt very realistic.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        We know that Thorndike is a really bad guy. Does anyone know what happened to Megan? I bet Thorndike does. An excellent build on the suspense. It was dark and troublesome for Amy. This is a great lead in to a detective story, murder, passion and revenge. I think you should continue with it, snuzcook.

        • snuzcook says:

          Thanks for the suggestion, Kerry. I just might expand the story. I’m curious to know, too, if Megan made it to the safe house (I presumed spelled out in protocol A4). Does she reappear? Does Amy ever go back to that job? Is Thorndike really a bad guy, or is his name a hint that he may have more than one identity (think North by Northwest).

      • snuzcook says:

        Thanks, JM! Thorndike does appear to be the kind of guy who would be on something, even tho all we know is he’s not very likable and he spooked her.

    • dzgrl2000 says:

      Wow! This was really good, snuzcook! I can totally relate to jumping into a position that was suddenly vacated. Nobody ever leaves the passwords. I love where you took this prompt and how you left it open-ended like that. Makes people wonder…

    • catbr says:

      Good build up and suspense here. Good story.

    • Reaper says:

      I too want to read more. I had a moment of thinking Thorndike was a bad guy. Then I decided Megan was a bad bad girl and Thorndike was a rough and tumble good guy. Then I decided he was a bad guy again. All in about a sentence which is part of what leaves me wanting more. Great job.

      • snuzcook says:

        Thanks, Reaper!
        I just finished reading a novel by one of the Bronte sisters, and unconsciously borrowing one of their characters I think Thorndike is coming to life for me as an apparently sinister but actually heroic leading man.

    • madeindetroit says:

      Great story.
      Loved the way you paced the suspense bulidup!

    • gamingtheblues says:

      Tight, beautifully written. Ratcheted suspense, superb tension, thought processes and dialogue. I really really liked this take. Excellently done Snuz. I would read this story in a heart beat.

      • snuzcook says:

        Thanks GTB for your kind words! I guess I should do something with this story. Problem is, I am a vignette writer and seem to fall flat on my face when I go longer. Maybe when I come down from my Easter candy sugar high…

    • don potter says:

      Nicely done, and a real question to ponder at the end.

      • snuzcook says:

        Thanks, Don!

        And a note of appreciation to you and the other readers for making it all the way to the bottom of the stack at this point. That’s a lot of readin’ and commentin’! Thanks for your conscientious effort!

    • agnesjack says:

      The suspense built very nicely from simple frustration to something more sinister. There’s obviously much more to this story, snuzcook.

    • Critique says:

      Wow snuzcook. You left this wide open for a suspense novel. Mr. Thorndike knows something! Amy is smart to leave quickly.

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