Short Story Challenge 11 poll

In the Grip of Something
Howard's Undone

Author Topic: Voting Closed-Short Story Challenge 11-Age content warning  (Read 1086 times)

Offline CPlumb

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Voting Closed-Short Story Challenge 11-Age content warning
« on: September 30, 2013, 01:36:42 AM »
Two stories enter - one story leaves!
Warning - adult concepts/content may be encountered. Community standards vary. Please read responsibly.
The challenge was:
Write out the turning point, where the Antagonist crosses over to the Dark Side. It must be a deliberate act, not an accident of birth, or misfortune.
Pick one, please. Poll closes Sunday, 6 October Tuesday, 8 October. (Probably late)

In the Grip of Something

It happened again with no explanation. Carla clutched her neck, hyperventilating – eyes open extra wide. Claustrophobia often smothered her when caught up in crowded places. But this was open space, a huge expanse of clear, open space with not another soul was in sight. Even the nearest tree stood more than 50m away. Tremulous, shallow breaths rippled in her throat never getting deep into her lungs. Light-headed, she dropped to the grass and stared at the sky, trying to regain control.

Through tightly scrunched eyes the sunlight appeared diffused beyond her lashes. Think calming thoughts, take yourself to an exotic beach . . . relax and breathe. Breathe. Breathe. The panic subsided but Carla still felt tightness, not just in her chest but all over as if she had been shrink-wrapped. Tighter and tighter her skin felt. Veins branching underneath the surface momentarily glowed green. Carla gasped and pushed up her sleeve to inspect the inside of her arms. From wrist to elbow the blood vessels shone like phosphorescent chlorophyll. She traced her fingers over the lines but felt no discernible change in temperature, texture or tension. A breeze blew back her fringe and she shivered.

Leaves stirred on the distant trees, a noise so loud, Carla looked up to see if a commercial airship flew overhead. Clouds bouldered across the sky from nowhere, threatening to close the space completely, but she observed no craft. Closer they came, dense, burling low. Carla curled into a ball to avoid their attention. The incident lasted only a moment and with a gust of wind, the ground-seeking clouds disappeared. Did Astrocon really have the technology? Cloud seeding for agricultural purposes was commonplace, but this . . . this seemed out of place, sinister. She decided to confront Edward.

The building crouched on a hillside like a beetle. Security fences surrounded the perimeter and armed guards patrolled the premises. Carla, still wheezy, approached the entry gate and produced her ID card, demanding to see Edward Simms. Impassive, the guard scrutinised the document and called through to the Chief Executive’s office. “You’re clear to go. Please step through the scanner.”

All the while she stomped to the top floor suite, Carla muttered. Edward needed to get control of the situation before total destruction of natural phenomena ruined the world. Artificial rain was one thing but it appeared nature had other plans for man’s interference. She swerved round the spiral staircase and looked below. Dizziness made her grab the rail and shake her head. She paused and steadied herself, noticing the green discolouration on her skin again.

“Carla Hope, the gate rang through. He’s expecting me,” she said to the receptionist.

Edward stood to greet her when she entered the office and gestured for her to take a seat. “Ah, my dear girl, delighted to see you. I trust you are well.”

Carla tensed. “Well, you would wouldn’t you?” She ignored the offer to sit down and marched up to the man. Arms thrust forward, she turned her palms upward to reveal her inner wrist. “Say what? What the hell did you inject me with in the last session? What is my body responding to?”

Edward inspected her skin, nodding, lips pursed in concentration.


“Are you feeling strange in any way? Any unpleasant symptoms?”

“Jesus, Edward, you don’t think shiny green blood is enough?”

His brow furrowed, almost with sympathy, but more probably curiosity, Carla thought.

“I’ve been having attacks, feel like I’m collapsing in on myself. Breathing’s difficult.”

“Hmm. But nothing else?”

“Christ, isn’t that enough? And there were weird clouds today and noise. What the hell is the facility up to?”

“Now, now, please – do take a seat – it’s nothing to worry about. There have been a few problems with harnessing the moon – getting it to swing another orbit. Tidal energy relies on it.”

Carla thrust out her arms again. “So what the fuck is this?”

“Well, light management has had some side-effects on cellular structure and response. Seems to have affected respiration. You’re not the only subject to have experienced this. I assure you there’s no harm.”

“No harm? No harm? I’m turning into a fucking triffid and you say no harm done. Can it be reversed?”

Edward drummed the desk with his fingers. “Didn’t you read the small print when you signed up for this? You were paid handsomely for your participation and warned there might be side-effects.” He leafed through a folder, removed a document and slid it across the desk at her.

Carla recognised her signature and noted Edward’s arched brow. “No one warned me there would be anything like this. Or that you would be scaling up activity involving the moon. Clouds and rainfall are one thing. We all want to help humanity. But this is . . .” Carla rolled her eyes and shook her head.

Silence hovered.  Edward made no response so Carla turned on her heel.

“Don’t forget your next appointment,” Edward said as she stormed out.

Participation in the experiment gave Carla access to information online. She contacted other people who had sold their bodies to Astrocon. The name seemed horribly appropriate considering latest developments – an astronomically huge confidence trick. No one had escaped deformity and Carla planned revenge. She thought how to destroy Astrocon and Edward Simm’s experiments. Security couldn’t be breached – not without an army. Carla had to stop them. Somehow. Before the world surely ended and, more immediately, before the side-effects made it impossible for her to function.

Save the Planet. Go Green. Carla’s eco-warrior slogans sounded hollow now. Regret festered into rage and she knew what she must do. Warrior – leader with a band of recruits. Words would mean nothing but action carried considerably more volume. Edward Simms still expected her to attend the clinic for further injections. Sabotage might be possible. False responses would demand retests which could buy some time and give Carla opportunity to discover any weak points within the establishment. She’d soon work out where a suicide bomb would cause the greatest disruption and destruction. The bomb might require elements that would linger in the atmosphere long after to ensure all the staff on the scene died. It had to be airbound. It had to be quick so security couldn’t contain it or neutralise it.

Carla typed in ‘most fatal pollutants’ and inspired by the results looked up ‘cyanide bomb’.

Howard's Undone

Millicent would have been less discontent had she lived in a house on a street; preferably one that had running water and a flushing toilet inside. Unhappiness morphed to anger as she donned her threadbare robe, shucked her feet into her slippers after banging them upside down, and walked outside to the well to pump herself a drink. It was a thirsty night; Howard was already there. ‘Couldn’t sleep, either?’ Millicent asked her brother.

‘One of those nights.’

‘Well, I’ve had enough. I’m leaving this godforsaken mountain.’

‘Not again, Millicent. We’ve had this discussion every year since you were twelve years old. The argument hasn’t changed. Where will you go, what will you do?’

‘I’ll find something. How hard can it be? I’ve cleaned Ma’s house for as long as I could hold a broom. I have seen on the TV in Anna’s house that there’re lots of people who can pay for someone to clean their house. I’d rather be paid to do that than do it for Ma any longer.’

‘What you see on the TV is not real, Millicent. The city is a dangerous place, especially for you.’

‘I’m 18 next Tuesday. I can do what I want after that.’

‘You’ll break Ma’s heart.’

‘She can pray for healing.’


‘Howard, no. You know Ma cares only about whether and how much we pray.  I don’t care and I don’t pray. I want a new dress, no spiders on my pillow, no scorpions in my shoes.’


Howard did the best he could to keep away from the fluid trickling in the the middle of most of the pathways and tracks between the trailers.  These smelled so bad he wondered whether there were any proper toilets here, amazed that mountain living was cleaner. The stench nauseated; he heaved, hanging onto a lamp post. He looked up. The light bulb seemed to him to be as far away as the moon.

‘Ma, if you didn’t pray so much you wouldn’t have sent me on this fool’s errand,’ he thought. ‘Millicent, if you‘d listened to Ma and me, I would not be walking in shit, looking for you.’ He struggled to not be angry at his sister’s selfishness, fought to corral his thoughts to not be frustrated at his mother’s faith, not feel inadequate because his own lack thereof. He worried his mission might be stillborn. If the information he had received were true, everything he had feared for her had happened. He marvelled at the truth of Ma’s belief; how could she possibly have known?

The air was heavy, threatening a cloudburst. Flashes of lightning illuminated eerie shadows within which foreign shapes moved, scurried, shuffled. Goose bumps rose the hackles on the back of Howard’s neck, sweat stained his armpits, hot syrup coursed through his veins. Crashes of thunder made him jumpy. A dog barked. He worried about rabies. A shadow brushed against his feet. It could have been a small cat or a large rat. Nothing good would come of this night.

‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.’

Large drops of cold water fell, at first tickling, quickening to a drenching. Howard was soon soaked and the paths he was walking on turned into streams. His socks stuck to his skin and his trouser hems twisted around his ankles. His footsteps slushed and sucked from the mud, soundless compared to the competing storm. Howard rounded another corner, walked a few hundred meters and found the trailer for which he was looking.

Any sense of relief he might have had was short-lived as the sounds of sex filtered through the thin trailer walls.

Bedraggled and angry, Howard walked around the dwelling, careless of any noise, mindless of subterfuge. If this was where he would find his sister, it was too late for good manners and respect. All sound inside ceased.

Howard slammed the door open causing the trailer to wobble on its wheels. A man flapped money in the direction of an undressed woman Howard vaguely recognised as his sister, slapped the notes on the bedside table, waddled towards the door. ‘Don’t waste your time with this bitch,’ he shouted at Howard, ‘she’s passed it. Too much crack. I told Vito to not let her have the drugs. Vito should not send anyone here anymore. ’

Howard smelled the musky scent of sex and the acrid stench of sweat as the man passed him on his way towards the door, and out of the trailer.

Howard followed him out of the trailer, back into the wet night, his right hand snaking into the inner pocket of his jacket, his fingers feeling the bone handle of the knife he used to skin the deer at home,  it’s strong firmly seated handle stropped to a sharpened blade. His stalking was covered by the noise of the night. Howard walked closer to the man who had shown such disrespect to him and his sister. He waited till they had walked down the path, as far from his sister's sad dwelling as was safe.

‘I will fear no evil.’

Howard’s breathing quickened as he realised the danger his sister was in, how close he had come to being too late, could possibly still be too late. What could be the next step if this man reached Vito to tell him of Millicent’s condition? Howard did not doubt his sister’s life was at risk. He was angry at her for her stupidity, but an ignominious death at the hands of a criminal was not appropriate punishment.

Howard’s thoughts clarified to crystal as he moved further from the trailer. This man had abused and misused his sister. He could not stand idly by and let him make her circumstance worse. If there were to be a death, it would not be Millicent’s. His breathing slowed to calculated and calm. He was hunting, for the honour and survival of his family. He would not give the man the opportunity to defend himself.

Howard leaped at the man from behind, as he would a deer in the forest at home. He sliced his blade viciously, cleanly across the man’s wobbly jowls, from left to right. He felt the sinew squeak on the blade, the warmth of the blood on his hand. The attack was swift, merciless. The victim pitched forward under Howard’s weight, his face landing in the filth. Howard lay heavily on his back, splayed his left hand on the back of the head, pressed it hard into the deep puddle. The victim bled, thrashed, splashed in the rain. A deer dies quicker than a man, Howard thought dispassionately.

The struggle ended. Howard stood still, allowed himself to be washed. He breathed hard, deep, rasping through his gritted teeth. The nails of his left hand bit into its palm. His thighs began to tremble. He waited, listened.

No one came out to investigate. No one called for help. No one shouted at him. He hoped no one had called 911. That thought galvanised him. He retraced his steps.

Howard banged open the door to Millicent’s trailer, murder fresh in his heart. Millicent sat at the basin, stared in the polished metal square that served as a mirror.

‘Let’s go home, now.’ Tears flowed down his face as Howard held his hands out to his sister.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2013, 03:59:38 PM by CPlumb »

Offline CPlumb

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Re: Voting Extended-Short Story Challenge 11-Age content warning
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2013, 12:32:44 AM »
Tie goes to.. er, ok, voting extended 48 hours to get more votes.
(They're both good stories-making a choice was tough. But it's got to be done!)  ;D