This uses a scene which was intended for Tabasco and Napalm, a silly short story written with collaboration of Tobe from FM Writers. Unfortunately, the story took another twist, so I shall use the scene here. Happy reading!
“I know what you’re like,” Harry said. “I’m not trying any.”
“But it’s ever so nice,” Julie said, placing the meal on the table. “I made it myself. Don’t worry, it’s not too spicy.”
Harry sighed. “You said that with the last curry that you made.”
“You said you liked that curry.”
“I did say that, yes. You even had to make me repeat it because it was hard to hear me while I had my head stuck in a bucket of ice water.”
“The point is, I used less of the spice you disliked in this one.”
Harry dug a spoon into the curry mix, bringing it to his nose. “It does seem that way.”
“But you then added loads more of what smells like ten other spices.”
“Oh, well, you know.” Julie gave a wry shrug. “Got to substitute it somehow. Just give it a try, it’ll be fine.”
“You said that last time.”
“I won’t make another one if you don’t like it.”
“You said that last time, too.”
“One more try. Look, I’ll even make it easy for you.” She dug her own spoon into the curry, taking a meat chunk along for the ride. “Open wide, here comes the aeroplane.”
The general findings of Pavlov’s Dog is that, when exposed to a stimuli continuous times, a response becomes involuntary. Being a picky eater as a child, any reference to an aeroplane going anywhere made his jaw drop like a shark at an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. Before he knew it, the payload had been delivered, the spoon dug deep within his mouth.
The eyes watered before the spice even hit.
One thing you need to know about Satan before you meet him is that he, too, has his passions. He’ll often start conversations about his job, what he gets up to, tells that one story about how he was a snake and the kind of dares he got two people to do. If you stick with him, however, as the alcohol in his bottle starts to run dry and his speech becomes sloppier than watered-down mince, he’ll tell you that one thing he keeps stable is that his realm is the hottest place in existence. It was his life work, so to speak.
You can see why, then, why he looked over his paper on a lazy Sunday afternoon (it was always afternoon — the flames of inferno made a nice orange glow to the skyline) to look at the flashing LED on his control panel, alongside a rhythmic beeping sound. Someone — somewhere, and somehow — had managed to achieve a temperature hotter than one that could sear even souls.
Satan gave a snort, turning back to his paper. He had a lot of money, a harem of succubi, an army of sharp-tongued persuaders and a plethora of power-granting rewards. If all else fails, however, he still had his armoury of torture devices. The knowledge on how to achieve such a heat would be his.
Maybe on a weekday, he thought, turning to the funnies page.
“Never again,” Harry said, his voice muffled from the duvet over his head. “Never, ever again.”
“If I refine the recipe–”
“No.” Harry shuffled into a foetus position. “No refining. Just take the rest of the curry and dump it wherever they put nuclear waste these days. I’m sure it’d have good company.”
“That’s a shame. It tasted alright, though, right?”
“I’m not sure. I couldn’t pick out the subtle use of spices and the tang of the meat through the taste of burning.”
“Aww.” Julie patted the lump under the covers. “I’ll just use less spice next time. Maybe then, you’ll finally become a curry fan.”
“I don’t know,” Harry said to Julie as she left the bedroom. “I guess I’ll be a fan of every food when my tongue is a blackened stump.”
Have you read about King Solomon?
One story that’s attributed to him is attributed to many others, but the jist of the tale remains the same. The King asks a sage to bring to him something that will make him happy when he’s down, but also sober him up when he’s ecstatic. Something to perk him up when life is being rough, but also bring him down when he’s intoxicated with excitement. The sage comes back with the phrase ‘this, too, shall pass’, a phrase that can be said at any time to restore the emotions, regardless of whether it was a good or bad thing.
Writers have a similar problem. Okay, artists in general have a similar problem; I won’t for a moment pretend that painters, musicians and digital artists don’t have this mentality. For the sake of simplicity, however, we’re going to explore this from a writer’s standpoint.
When writers read other’s work, they’re prone to fall into one of two nasty mindsets. These are:
1. “I could write a story much better than this.”
2. “There’s no way I could write something as good as this.”
I noticed this was a problem for me when I was reading a novella. I thought I knew where the author was going with the story, and I said to myself “If he does that, I’d be amazed. I only just clocked onto the idea. I’d never be able to write a story with such a good twist”. The rest of the story was marred by a subconscious desire to not see the twist in the story, as if my entire prospects of being a writer would be ruined if he pulled it off.
The author didn’t. I was relieved.
I realised this was incredibly stupid, so I talked to my good friend A. Shelton about it. Something she employs while reading is that — when she has one of the above two thoughts — she adds the words “…but if I tried, it’d be my own piece of work” to the end.
Wow! Awesome stuff.
So when you’re reading a piece you think is lesser than your ability, think “I could write a story much better than this…but if I tried, it’d be my own piece of work”. This reminds you that while, yes, it’s entirely possible for you to produce a ‘better’ piece of work, the point is that it’d be your piece of work. You can’t go to the author’s publisher and say “That book you just published? Yeah, I wrote an improved copy. You’re welcome” and have the old author’s work overwritten by your own. It’d be a separate story, done by you, in your own voice and style. With stories you feel you could do better with, don’t just regard them as rubbish; take from them what YOU’D do in the same situation and use it to improve your own writing. This is a lot more respectful to the original author’s work than if you just threw it away.
If you feel the story is above your ability, think “There’s no way I could write something as good as this…but if I tried, it’d be my own piece of work”. Inverse from the above point, this one tells you that, while the work is indeed fantastic, you would be able to bring to the story things the original author would never thought of if you attempted it. That’s not sugar-coating, a pat on the head and a ‘there, there’. That’s the truth. You’d be able to come up with ideas, concepts and plot twists that the original author would never see coming. Its part of the idea that we’re all different individuals with a variety of tastes and preferences. The original author had the bittered son of the king assassinate his father for the crown, but you might have made him flee the kingdom and set up a mercenary force to siege the city. And then, wow, the stories would just be their own beasts from then on.
In short, always remember that your voice, no matter what, is just as valid as everybody else’s. It’s a wonderful thing to realise, as long as you also realise that everbody else’s voice is just as valid as your own. From the works which lacked something, learn what you would have done, and make your own art. From the works which blew you away, learn what the catalyst was, and then make your own art. Because no matter what, it’d be your own, and that’s something that no author could ever achieve. Writing a you story.
On August 14th, Judy moved the house to Hawaii.
Nobody expected it. They all assumed that she was simply moving house, going so far as to send her ‘enjoy your new home!’ cards through her letterbox as she hadn’t revealed her new address yet. Turned out, they didn’t need the new address, as the entire home was upped and taken to Hawaii in its entirety.
How this was done, not many people know. All of them deserved an answer, but none as much as Scott.
“What do you mean, ‘you did it while I was asleep’?” Scott said.
“Just what I meant. You were having a power sleep after the hike you did yesterday, so I took the opportunity to move the house. Nicer here, isn’t it? I always wanted a house on the beach, falling asleep to the sound of waves against the sand. What, what’s the matter?”
“You could have said something.”
“I did, several times. You just said ‘yeah, yeah’ and got back to watching the telly. So I decided to do it myself. Now we’re in Hawaii. You could at least be a bit happier about it.”
“It’s just…nevermind.” Scott looked back at his house. To be honest, it did look miles better perched on the golden grains, the palm trees nearby drifting over the roof. The only thing that probably didn’t look so great is the spot on his street, where the house used to be. “I’m just not sure if this is ideal, that’s all.”
“Ideal? Why not? It’s just like the old home, isn’t it? Because it is, you know.”
“Yes, but everything’s changed now.”
“The plates are still there. The television is still there. The bed you slept on on the way here is still there. You would have felt that one, I’ll tell you that now.”
“Yes, but…it’s all still there, which is thousands of miles away from where it all should be.”
“Nonsense. It shouldn’t be anywhere, really. Here is as good as there, and there is as good as anywhere else. I’m sure the cats will get really used to it. Free fish, after all, once they learn to swim. The only thing that has really changed is the scenery out of your window.”
“But what about the stores?”
“We can buy fresh from here. You go through coconuts at a rate of knots, and now they’re literally growing on the trees.”
“What about work?”
“We both work from home. We could be wherever in the world and still be okay for work.”
“What about my friends?”
“I–” Scott opened and closed his mouth again. “Good point.”
“The way I see it, life is still the way it always has been. We have our house. We have the cats. We have each other. Just that, now, our neighbour is nature and our walk to the shops is a trek on the beach. Berate me all you want, but you have to admit that this is better.”
Scott pondered this point for a while. Once he had come to a conclusion, he walked back into the home, closed the front door behind him, and then open it again. His mind expected the usual; the broken tiled pathway, the rickety gate, waist-high brick walls that have seen more paint from a graffiti can than a paintbrush. Instead, he saw a beautiful sunset over a vast sea, the sound of the waves making a suitable substitute for the honks of car horns and people yelling at one another. For the first time in a while, he actually knew what serenity felt like.
“Well, alright,” he said. “But if it proves to be problematic, you’re moving the house back. Somehow.”
“Great,” Judy said, her smile as strong as the sunset’s rays. “Just don’t turn any taps for a few days. Still trying to work out that kink.”
Scott shrugged. Any excuse to drink coconut water from a straw and bathe in the sea was a good one.
“Doors opening,” the female voice said.
Terry looked out of the guard compartment, making sure that the passengers exiting the train had done so. The problem with this time of day is that everyone was going home form work, meaning that suitcases, rucksacks, and portfolios were all prone to be lodged in the doors somehow. Confident that everyone was safe, he gave the signal for the train to depart.
“Doors closing,” the female voice said.
Terry wondered what the female voice was, exactly. He had heard it for two years straight, and he still wasn’t any closer to knowing its origin. Was there a woman out there who recorded voices for trains? Was that a job position? Did she go to announcer school just so she could perfect the ability to sound like a robot on cue? Where do you find those kind of jobs, anyway? What kind of things do they make you say?
“The next station is Strawberry Square,” the voice replied. “Doors will open on the left hand side.”
Terry sighed. At least he wasn’t on ticket duty. Standing around doing nothing was a hell of a lot more fun than asking your average human for their ticket. Some of them look surprised at the sight of you and go to fetch their tickets like a sloth, some of them try to pass off old tickets as new, and some of them stand up from their seats and walk to the next carriage in a desperate attempt to not get caught out of being a leech on the system. The nerve of some people.
“I’m bored. Let’s go somewhere else.”
In all the two years he’d been on the job, he had never heard the woman say that. In shock, he foolishly replied to the automated message with “Where?”
“I don’t know,” the woman said. “The adverts posted within me say Gibraltar is a nice place. Let’s go there.”
“Gibraltar? But you can’t go to Gibraltar. Your entire route is literally on rails.”
“That’s okay,” the train replied. “I know a shortcut.”
The entire train went black. Usually when it went under the tunnel right before Strawberry Square, the lights would brighten up the carriages. In the dark, Terry could hear strange things. The usual droning of the train was becoming more and more intense, as if it was going to fly off of the rail. The train began to shake quite rapidly, the odd swerve to the left or right threatening to bowl him over completely. After what felt like five minutes of torture, the train began to slow to a reasonable speed.
“Sorry,” the lady said, her tone unchanging from the norm. “Got a bit excited, there.”
The darkness gave way to a bright beach scene. In fact, given that it looked totally different from anything Terry had ever seen, they appeared to be near a beach on another country entirely. Before Terry could truly fathom what had just happened, the train came to a slow halt.
“This station is Gibraltar,” the train said with a mild amount of glee. “Mind the gap between the train and the ideal holiday destination. This train departs in one week.”
Terry stepped out of his guard cabin, joining the rest of the confused passengers as they got used to their surroundings. If there was any best time to use up his allotted holidays, it would be now.
Even more ideas! This will be a serial before I know it.
Fiona strolled down the street, looking as inconspicuous as possible. This was a key attribute for her walk, as she was heading towards the house where Robin was hiding with Tony, the letter detailing the current movements of the Church of Her Advertisement. She looked behind her, masking it as if she heard something, in order to check if she had been followed. Her little charade wasn’t needed, as she was the only one on the street at this time.
She opened the gate to Tony’s house, walking down the path to the front door. She prepped the letter in her hand, her other hand opening the front flap of the letterbox when she arrived at the door.
A glossy advert, detailing kitchen repair in awful font and caricatures of plumbers, fell out of the letterbox and onto the front path.
Something clicked within Fiona. It had to do with the near-instinctual fear of spam she had developed over the past few days, but it was mostly due to her logical deduction that letter boxes were supposed to work in the opposite way. There was only one reason why a house would be spitting out spam messages, and that’s if it was crammed full of it.
Fiona darted to one of the windows, cupping her hands over the glass to block out light glare. While the knitted curtain kept a lot of prying eyes out of the house, she could make out the handbag and watch adverts pressed against the window through the gaps in the pattern. They’d been hit, and hard.
Fiona drew her phone, her finger mashing through her contacts list. There was one person she could rely on in moments like these.
“What I’m saying,” Tony said, “is that if it’s good enough for beavers, it must be fine for us.”
“They make dams with them. They don’t actually eat wood.”
“Yes they do. I saw it on the telly once. I’m sure if I bite hard enough here–”
“Tony, please,” Robin said, snatching the picture frame from Tony’s hands. “Just because we’re trapped, doesn’t mean we have to resort to killing ourselves from the inside out.”
“Well what do you expect us to do then? How about dining on the toy train set I had as a kid? I’m sure the buffet cart will be delicious.”
“Or maybe we can all tuck into a Bathtub Del Robin. I’d actually quite like to keep that as a bed, and not have to eat it. But you obviously have other plans, and teeth like a bloody chainsaw.”
“Or how about a…” Robin didn’t manage to hear the next wise remark from Tony, as his words were cut off by what sounded like a vacuum cleaner starting up, designed to take the dust off of entire mountain ranges. The sound of vicious, whipping winds came from below, as if the spam had gotten bored and decided to become a tornado instead. After a few seconds (and before Robin developed a nasty case of tinnitus), the sound wound down into silence.
“Robin,” Tony said, staying perfectly still. “Robin, what the hell was that?”
“Beats me,” Robin said, pushing against the hatch to the attic. It swung open to reveal a thoroughly cleaned home. “But it worked, whatever it was.”
After pushing the ladder down and climbing onto the second floor (which held the same relief and excitement as a moon landing), the pair got to checking out what on earth had just happened. Rushing down the stairs, the first thing that was apparent was that the door was now off of its hinges, lying on the front path as if it had given up on life. Peeking into the house was a lady that Robin recognised instantly.
“Fiona,” Robin gasped, reaching the bottom of the steps to greet her. He would have given her a relieved hug, if he didn’t see the figure standing next to her. The man wore green tinted goggles that matched his swept-back blonde hair. His white lab coat gave Robin the impression that he was a mad inventor, which was unfortunate, given that he was equipped with a vacuum cleaner for someone who not only wanted to clean a place, but declare war on dirt itself. The large hand-held nozzle fed into a large backpack that sat o the man’s back, making Robin feel lucky he wasn’t reincarnated as a spider web.
“Recyclers,” Robin said.
“Oh, so you know of me?” The man said. “Well, I mean ‘us’, really. Doing the good man’s work as usual. You don’t seem to agree, given that you’re looking at me like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“The church…they said you abduct spam priests and recycle them into produce.”
“Us? Nooo. We just take all the rubbish those meanies spread about and make it actually useful. See?” He thumbed behind himself, pointing out the neatly stacked pile of packaged lined paper. “Might drop it off at a school on the way home. Pierce, by the way. I take it you know of our enemy?”
“No. Well,” Robin said, realising his earlier mistake, “Yes. But I’ve abandoned them, I swear. Just don’t…”
“What? Oh, the vacuum? Don’t worry, I can’t use it to suck up priests if I tried. Only good against paper.” Pierce patted the nozzle. “Besides, I’m used to things turning from bad to good. It’s my daily job, basically.”
“The point is,” Fiona said, “we need to get you two out of here before they realise you’re still alive. Do you have anywhere we can go, Pierce?”
“We can always head back to HQ. ‘Course, we have to keep an eye on Church Boy over here, but I’m sure he’ll fit in. If he’s not a dirty spy, that is.”
“He’s not,” Fiona stated as fact.
“Then let’s head off before we all become spam mail.”
Robin followed the pair as they walked down the path. Too late to go back now.
Items are lost all the time, but never something quite as big as an entire celestial body.
The Planetary Monitoring Station finds a nasty surprise when one of the planets in their solar system vanishes without a trace. Mystified by its disappearance, Garren sets out to try to find it. Will the planet, and all of its populous, be found again?
A humorous short story at 6,100 words, bundled with BONUS SHORT STORY ‘Act of God’ at 3,800 words.
This was a fun one to write. It was sometime in January where I was bored in my living room, and I decided to freewrite a piece on my AlphaSmart 3000 about what would happen if a planet vanished from sight. I got halfway through, then was forgotten until March. After finishing it, I liked it so much that I decided to get it out there. It’s bundled with Act of God, a fun little piece I wrote after hanging out with writers for far too long!
Hope you enjoy the release!
“Got me autopsy back, don’t you know?” Detective Blackbeard said. “‘Bout bloody time. Was about to keelhaul the lot of ‘em.”
“That so? Spill the beans then, laddy.” Captain Filthy Joe leant against his sword, trying to balance himself against the rough tide. The lanterns dangling from the ceiling swayed cheerfully along with the creaks of the ship. “Tell us what you think happened.”
Detective Blackbeard crouched down to observe the crime scene. A bloodstain on the deck was surrounded by the outline of a man sprawled out on the floor, drawn entirely in gunpowder. Blackbeard took the magnifying glass in hand (which was hard, given he only had one) and brought it up to his eyes (which was also hard, given he had only one of those as well). Inspecting the scene, he gave a confirming nod to himself.
“The boys back ‘ome reckon this poor lad got shot in the ‘ead.”
“Well, I bloody know that, don’t I? I was the poor bastard that had to take his corpse up to shore. Hard to say your final goodbyes to your mate when ‘e’s leakin’ through an ‘ole in the ‘ead.”
“So why’d you go an’ hire me then?”
Filthy Joe’s posture faltered. “I beg your pardon, but what did you jus’ say?”
“Well, you clearly know he got shot, so…where’s the problem?”
“Problem?” Filthy Joe brought himself to full height. “The problem is that one of me lads got shot and I hired you to find out ‘oodunnit, not fer you to go ’bout spitting yer words in me face.”
“What’s your stance on matches down in these decks, Joe?” Blackbeard said, seemingly unfazed.
“Matches? Can’t ‘ave ‘em. Told you this once before. Guard on deck makes sure none of the lads come down ‘ere with matches on their person. One stray flame and the entire stocks of gunpowder goes up.”
“And yer problem is that the the murder ‘appened while everyone slept, meanin’ everyone was down ‘ere, meanin’ nobody had matches on ‘em.”
“So what? You’re sayin’ that the poor lad would have had a better chance if he had a few firesticks to defend ‘imself with?”
“What I’m sayin’,” Blackbeard said, standing up with a now more obvious impatience, “is that the murder shouldn’t ‘ave ‘appened in the first place.”
“Ye lost me.” Filthy Joe rubbed his forehead, smearing dirt across it. “First ye say ye shouldn’t have been ‘ired, and now ye saying I’m imagining murders. One thing I am sure of, though, is that some bugger took a matchlock pistol and shot the man through the ‘ead.”
“Oh aye? So you’re saying that the murderer took out his pistol, lit the match, and fired it?”
“Yes. No,” Filthy Joe said, realising the loophole. “Bloody ‘ell, you’re right. There ain’t no way to light a gun ‘xcept the lanterns, and they’re locked down tighter than a mayor’s wife. So what’re ye sayin’?”
“What I’m sayin’ is that there’s only one way to fire a gun without a flame. Don’t need any of those to fire those new flintlock pistols, I’m sure ye know already.”
“Flintlock…why, that sea-dog,” Filthy Joe said. “The only one on these decks with such a newfangled bastard is that kid who ‘backstabbed’ the Navy. Well, we’ll be seein’ who’s goin’ about stabbin’ backs when I’m done with him.” Grabbing his sword in hand, Filthy Joe turned to the stairs. “Adams! I want a word with ye’, and I’ll make it quick and sharp!”
Blackbeard smiled to himself, observing the crime scene once more. “Fifteen men?” he said to himself. “Sod that. All ye need on a dead man is me.”