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Poll-Short Story Challenge 13

The Naughty List
The Supplication Torque
Triskaidekaphobia

Author Topic: Voting-CLOSED-Short Story Challenge 13  (Read 912 times)

Offline CPlumb

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Voting-CLOSED-Short Story Challenge 13
« on: November 26, 2013, 12:01:45 PM »
This challenge was:
Quote
Fear the number 13, for under it's mystical power, strange and unusual things happen! Kindly tell me about some of them, if you please.

1500 words, and yes, you have to use the word "Triskaidekaphobia". Either that, or "13 dead badgers".

This week, we have 3 contestants who have risen to the challenge, and presented stories for your consideration.
Please vote for your favorite. (Just once! No stuffing the ballot box!)
Voting will be open until 6 Dec 2013 at 11pm GMT.



1. The Naughty List

Tipper shuddered with excitement. The naughty list was especially long this year.

Thirteen. Thirteen was one of Tip’s lucky numbers. No triskaidekaphobia for this guy. He decided to begin right away. Why wait until Christmas Eve? He would make the boss proud.

#1. A. Briar.

Tip tucked his tail and click-clicked down the narrow lane to the Briar house.

An old man opened the door a crack and regarded Tipper with his good eye.

“What you want this late at night?"

“Mr. Briar? Mr. A. Briar?”

“You a bill collector?”

“Practically the opposite,”Tip said.

“Yeah, you don’t look like a collector.  You look...weird.  I’m Anthony Briar.”

Tip dug into his pouch and threw a handful of bits at the old man.

“Bravo! Congratulations! You’ve made the list!”

Mr. Briar screeched and ran away, and Tip noticed the spiders crawling around the doorway.

“Oh dear. Wrong pouch.” At least he would have a full supply of confetti for the next house.

#2. C. Lopez

Tipper stopped to scratch behind his ear. He’d never lost the habits of his dog days, before Satan snatched him up and morphed him into what he now was. Scratching was a favorite pastime.

He rang the fancy doorbell at house number two and waited. And waited. He rang the bell again. Still nothing. He rang over, and over, and-

“What?” It was a woman.

Tip licked his fingers and slicked down his hair.

“C. Lopez? Miz C. Lopez?”

The door opened halfway and Tip saw the business end of a shotgun poke through.

“You the law?”

“Certainly not,” he said. “I’m here with your reward!”

“Ain’t no reward on my head,” he said.

“No, no. It’s your reward.You’ve earned it.” Tip pointed to his list and beamed.

The door opened fully, and Tip found himself face to breast with a remarkably tall, orange skinned, whitish-blonde woman. She must be partial to spray tanning and hair bleaching.

“Is it Publisher’s clearing house?” She asked. “Where’s all the balloons and the cameraman? Why you wearing that funny mask?”

Tip chose to ignore the last bit.

“You’ve made the naughty list!” He blew into a party horn and waved for the doves to descend with the congratulations banner. He hopped up and down, excited as he was, and gave the bat call by mistake. Soon Ms.’ Lopez’ puffy, white hair was full of screeching, clawing bats. She screamed and slammed the door.

“Gosh,” Tip said.

He continued on, tail tucked, until he reached his next destination.

#3. R. Baxter, Esq.

Tip decided to take things slow this time. He gently tapped on the door, then knocked louder when he didn't get a response.

“Hello?” he called.

“Who are you?”

Tip jumped. A man in a shiny suit crouched behind the bushes.

“I am the messenger. I am here to give R. Baxter his reward.”

“Reward? What reward? Did Vinnie send you?” The shiny suit man looked around as if he were being watched.

“Not Vinne. Satan. Are you Mr. R. Baxter?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Well, it’s just that-”

“You’re a funny looking little guy, ain’t you?”

Tip’s back hair ruffled and he growled.

“If we could get back to the matter at hand,” he said.

The shiny suit stood and brushed himself off.

“Yeah. I’m Ron Baxter. What you gonna do about it?”

Tip pulled out his trick gun, the one with the “BANG! SURPRISE!” sign that popped out when he pulled the trigger.

Bang!

It took Tip a moment to realize what happened.

“Oh dear,” he said. Wrong gun. He crept away quietly and left Mr. Baxter to rest in peace.

The night was not going well.

At numbers 4, 5 and 6, Tip accidentally set fires. The only fatality was number 5, and really that wasn’t his fault. Who knew that oxygen tanks were so explosive?

Number 7 was next. Another lucky number for Tip.

“Halloo?” He called through an open window. “Mrs. D. Bunch? Are you home, Missus Bunch?” Tip heard lovely piano music from inside the house and decided to climb in so as not to interrupt the musician. His paws clicked on the tile floors, so he sank down on all fours to better creep along. He couldn’t help whining, the music was so pretty. He wanted to howl along.

In the parlor, he found an enormous woman sitting at the piano, lost in the tune she was playing. She was naked.

How wonderful, Tip thought. He waited until she reached a pause, then hopped up and yowled as loud as he could.

“Surprise!”

The woman clutched her chest and collapsed, toppling the piano bench along with her.

“Mrs. Bunch? Mrs. D. Bunch?”

The woman didn’t answer, and she stopped breathing. What a coincidence that Tip should stop by right when Mrs. D. Bunch's time had come. Too bad he hadn’t been just five minutes earlier.

Oh, well. He discreetly raised a leg to pee in the corner before he left.

Perhaps numbers 8 through 13 would be more successful.

Tip pulled out his list, but found that the words twirled around on the paper, then rearranged themselves into a message.

TIP. WHERE ARE YOU?

The boss! How exciting! His tail wagged and he wriggled his whole body. It took several minutes for him to calm down and continue reading.

YOU MUST REWARD THE NAUGHTY.

“I am!” Tip yelped. He was so proud. Already 7 down, and it was barely December.

PROCEED, the note read.

Tip chewed on his nails and waited for the list to rearrange itself.

#8. F.T.R. Suggs

He checked the address and trotted off.

FTR, “The colonel”, Suggs sat in a rocking chair on the front porch. He knew what was what and who was who, but this creature that pranced around sniffing the bushes and approaching warily was a mystery.

“Woof,” it said.

“C’mere, boy.”The colonel reached out a hand to pet the mutt. It was a strange one, only tufts of reddish fur here and there, and a bald face. It’s eyes wandered off in different directions, but they were definitely human. And it alternated between walking on four legs and two.

“You a circus dog or something?”

The Colonel had a bad history with dogs. Used to make money off fighting them. Those were the days.

“You just go on, boy.” He spat.

The dog sniffed the Colonel’s hand and growled. It smelled it on him,the Colonel knew.

 It’s eyes began to glow red, and that was the last thing the Colonel ever saw.

Tip ran down Maple street at a steady trot. Number 8 was a blur. It happened sometimes. A strange scent, or someone yelling at him made him revert to total dog, and he could never remember what happened. But F.T.R. Suggs was crossed off the list with red ink, he saw. He hoped number 8 enjoyed his reward.

Numbers 9 through 12 left Tip red, too. He had vague remembrances of screams and gushing blood and such, but perhaps that was just a memory of one of Satan’s training videos.

Tip found a quiet corner in the park and curled up to rest.

Just one left, he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

He had happy dreams of running through a field and chasing down a tennis ball. There was a pond and a duck and a little boy calling his name. Tipper!, Here, Tip! Tip?

“TIPPER!”

He jolted awake.

“There you are, you bungling little heathen.”

Tip wagged his tail.

“You’ve made a real mess of it, haven’t you?” Satan sighed. “One left.”

Tip whimpered.

“Silence. Just one left on the list. Get this one right. Or else.”

Satan disappeared in a puff of stinky, red smoke.

#13. H. Harrison.

Tip approached the door cautiously. He was determined to deliver the reward this time.

“Hello?” H. Harrison opened the door with a smile. He was a small crooked man, both physically and in character. He worked for the tax department. Collections. He enjoyed his work so much he even made calls on his days off. Holidays were the most fun.

“Here,” Tip said. He handed Mr. Harrison a slip of paper.

“Well, what’s this?”

“It’s your reward. Your ticket.”

“Ticket? How nice.” He smiled. “One way, it says. Wonderful.” And with that, Mr. H. Harrison disappeared in a puff of black smoke.

Success! One just reward delivered. One out of thirteen. Next year he’d do even better.

Tip trotted off to see the pretty Christmas trees and the fake Satans that they called Santas. Later, he would curl up in front of one of the many fires in the Master’s house and rest. List completed.

Tip loved this time of year.



2. The Supplication Torque

Celtic artefacts, dreamcatchers and crystals decorated the window. Jonah ducked below a hand-painted sign and sauntered into number 13, ‘Junk and Disorderly’. The bell clanged, but no one appeared.

He searched for a dusty shelf, one not picked over for a while, running his fingers over displays checking for smear marks. A lucky find with a good tale behind it could sell well on his own stall.

“Need help?”

Jonah looked round and offered a weak smile. “No, just browsing. Thanks.”  He continued his hunt, rifling through some untidy cardboard boxes. Damn! He could feel the old crone’s stare and pulled up his coat collar.

“Perhaps I could direct you. It’s all higgledy-piggledy, but I know where everything is. There’s method in my madness.”

Jonah spun round again. She looked quite mad and he wondered why he hadn’t noticed her when he entered. Dressed in vintage rags with multiple grey plaits dangling over her shoulders, she seemed like a 1970’s fashion student reject. Still, he knew you couldn’t judge things by appearance. She conveyed an enigmatic presence and for a moment he gawped.  “Er, I’m hoping for something interesting. Something with a little, er . . .” he waggled his hand indecisively, “history. Maybe a touch of mystery. I have my own stall.”

The old biddy stepped closer. “Books? Bric-a-brac? Jewellery?”

“People always go for a jewellery piece with a yarn behind it. Provenance is everything. Anything to surprise me?” He winked.

“I don’t run an antique store, so provenance doesn’t come with any documents.” She gave a haughty sniff. “Just my word.”

Jonah didn’t want to insult her and scare her away. “Good enough for me.”

The woman gathered her skirts and swished over to a glass display cabinet containing fossils, old coins and a badly pitted torque. Lifting a key looped on her braided belt, she opened the lid and removed the neck ornament.  She handed it over for inspection.

Its weight surprised Jonah as he bounced it in his hands. The torque, with ram’s head terminals, felt hollow. “Aren’t these usually solid?”

“This one is special. It’s a Supplication Torque.”

“A what?”

“Celtic magical tradition.”

Jonah raised his brows in disbelief, but said nothing, and hoped she hadn’t noticed his sceptical glance. “How much?”

The woman cocked her head. “Don’t you want the story behind it?”

“Will that change the price?”

“No, but it might affect what you do with it.”

Intrigued by her pitch, Jonah relaxed. “Go on.”

“Would you like a cup of tea while I tell you?”

“Er, that would be lovely. Thank you. Sorry, I don’t know your name.”

“Moira. And you?” She offered her hand for him to shake.

“Jonah.” Her hand felt cold, fragile.

Moira withdrew quickly from his grasp and fussed at locking the cabinet. “Take a seat over there; I’ll only be a moment. I was boiling the kettle when you came in.”

While Moira retired through a beaded curtain, Jonah eased down on a seat, grateful for the cushion.

“Here we are.” Moira set down two cups containing a lethal looking green brew. “Nettle and peppermint, terrific for your problem.” She winked.

Jonah looked perplexed.

“The unmentionable, embarrassing one.”

He blushed. How did she know he had piles? “Er, thanks.”

Moira lifted the torque and traced its outline, rattling her fingernails over the pockmarks. “This is a male piece of jewellery, probably 4th century BC.” She looked up. “Tell me, do you believe in a Creator, god?”

Jonah pulled back slightly. “Strange question. What’s it got to do with this?”

Moira brought the torque up close to Jonah’s neck, sizing it up. “Only a believer will benefit from its powers.”

Jonah spluttered his tea. “Powers? Come on, do I look like I came up the Thames in a bubble?”

“No, but I know you like a story and this one’s especially for you. Do you believe?”

Jonah bent his head and scratched the back of his neck. “Maybe. Let’s say I do.”

“Then this charmed torque will protect you if you call upon the divinity whenever things are unbearable.”

A sneer narrowed Jonah’s eyes. “Right.”

Moira sipped her tea and looked over the rim of her cup at him, barely disguising her disdain. “The Celts were renowned warriors and held certain beliefs, like the head is the seat of power – one reason why they beheaded opponents, to steal their power from them. They even ate a portion of the brain from slain warriors to assume it.”

Jonah gagged.

“Yes, brutal lot, but they knew things – lost through time now. The torque provided supremacy for the wearer, a potent warrior who faced his enemy without fear. Ever heard of triskaidekaphobia? Quite irrational, yet a strong fear for some people. No association, I’m sure.”

Moira drifted into a trance. Her hands, so busy when she described the Celts fell limp. Though her eyes seemed vacant, a splinter of light shone in her pupils. She blinked and returned to her animated conversation. “Have you never called upon help? Never said ‘Dear god, end this misery for me’?” Moira held the torque at arm’s length. “This will grant your prayers.”

Jonah laughed. “Can’t have done its last owner much good.”

“Oh, the last owner had no time to call for help. A bolt of lightning took care of that.”

“And you’d know that how?”

“Trust me. My name means ‘exceptional’. I have abilities that allow me to talk to druids.”

“I love a good story, but now, you’re taking the piss – excuse me.” Jonah stood up to leave.

“Try it on.”

The object fascinated him. Once fitted it grew warm. Moira tilted a mirror for Jonah to see his reflection. The dull metal became crystal clear. Small sparkles shone along the pockmarks. His eyes widened at the phenomenon. Just as he was appreciating its handsome looks, the discomfort he experienced from his unfortunate condition intensified. Searing heat flared around his nether regions. Sweat beaded his brow and his upper lip. Eyes tight shut, he squealed and squirmed, and before he realised, he’d groaned the thought, ‘Dear god, end this misery for me.’ On command, the sensation subsided and his contorted face relaxed into a smile. The sparkles diminished and the torque returned to its former colouring. “What the –?”

“So you do believe. By the way, that’s your problem solved. It’ll never trouble you again.”

“I don’t believe it. Are you a witch? A healer?”

Moira rested her hand on his arm. “I am many things.”

Jonah cleared his throat. “How much for this astonishing piece?”

Moira drummed her fingers on the table and pursed her lips. She looked Jonah up and down. “I really don’t know. As a curio I could probably get £100 for it, but as you’ve seen, it can do so much more. I don’t know if the supplications are renewed with each new wearer or if they accumulate, but I understand that as it grows heavier, the nearer you are to death.”

Jonah’s face blanched. “Death?”

“We all have to die, don’t we? It’s meant to be helpful, but be careful with it.” She sighed.  “I couldn’t charge you. Take it with my blessing. It’s the first time I’ve seen it shine in centuries.”

The torque lay on the table tempting him. Jonah didn’t want to live forever, but he could see immense potential for slipping out of tricky situations with this charm. He could have a stress-free life wearing the torque. He tried it on again.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling.

A customer walked into the shop and Moira rose from the table after patting his hand. “It’s yours,” she whispered.


Jonah had come to regard the torque as a ‘get out of jail free card’ and used it frequently for insignificant problems. It had grown heavier and the light emitted during supplication shone brighter each time. He observed the pitted pinpricks appeared larger. A frown tugged as he wondered if the torque would disintegrate with the bigger holes. He used its charm to end his worry, muttering the words under his breath. The weight increased a touch, but his step felt lighter.

He and his wife attended ‘The Mystery of the Celtic Myths’ lecture. The auditorium hushed as the screen flashed with fighting men in a simulation of the mythical Supplication Torque. Swords and shields clamoured above galloping horses. Firelight flickered as a night raid took place. A warrior looked to the sky and chanted an ancient language. The words boomed off the walls and the soundtrack repeated them in echoes for effect, before gradually fading to a whispered translation.

The torque’s heat and light intensified. Jonah began to choke. His wife looked aghast as he struggled for breath. “Dear god, end this misery for me.”

“Jonah!”

Strangled, as it closed tighter around his neck, the light cut with laser precision. His severed head fell from his body, cauterised at the neck.  In the moments before life left his body, his wife’s screams were the only farewell.



« Last Edit: December 08, 2013, 02:31:24 AM by CPlumb »

Offline CPlumb

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Part 2: Voting-Short Story Challenge 13
« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2013, 12:02:40 PM »
3. Triskaidekaphobia

When I counted the 13 purple Smarties in the small box I bought on the way to the office I knew that Friday 13th was going to be a right doozy. My dad always did that, sorted the Smarties into their colours and counted them all. He ate them, then, one chocolate coated candy a day at a time. Then counted them again to make sure none of us had nicked any. I count them and then polish the lot in a few handfuls, juggling them around in my mouth, letting them slowly melt, feeling a bit like a chipmunk with the season’s nuts, I suppose.

I grabbed the purple offenders, tossed the lot without further ceremony into my mouth and chewed them quickly, hoping the bad luck would be mashed with every crunch.

The phone rang, startled me. I swallowed quickly. ‘Hello, Maria speaking.’ I remembered to keep the smile in my voice.

‘Hi Maria, this is Sophia.’

‘Ye..e..s?’ A snake squirmed in my stomach, released some venom. My grandson’s aunt had never phoned me before.

‘I thought I had to tell you, as no one else will, that Felicia has been arrested for shoplifting.’

I bolted out of my chair, paced the width of the carpeted floor, breathing short sharp gasps. ‘What? Felicia? I saw her yesterday.’

‘She’s in the holding cells right now. My brother has gone to see her. She was released on bail on Wednesday. This bail hearing is sometime today.’
‘What?’

The story unfolded. My stupid daughter had been arrested for shoplifting the previous Monday, been released on bail on the Wednesday and was in custody again, for a repeat offense. The snake squirted more venom. How could anyone be that ditzy as to get caught twice? In one week?

I dashed out the office, muttered something I hoped the boss heard and understood, attended the court hearing. Felicia didn’t get bail because the magistrate was terrified there might be yet another occurrence, on account of she was released on bail only that previous morning. I heard the squeak of the sharp intake of my breath, felt that snake writhe a complete turn and spit some more, as I watched her being remanded in custody.

In order to keep up appearances I went back to the office to pretend to work. I muttered hello to the boss in passing, kept my head down to avoid engaging anyone. I sat in my chair, stared at my computer screen.

I nearly fell on the floor when the phone rang. I eyed it with suspicion, slowly lifted the handset to my right ear. ‘Hello.’

‘Lolita’s missing.’
‘What? Who’s this?’

‘This is Joey, Lolita’s friend. I haven’t seen her for a week. She got in a snit and took off. She’s gone on a drugs binge and I’m certain she’s od’d.’

A million questions crowded my mind. Who’s Joey? Why is he phoning me? Where did he get my number?  Where’s my clever daughter?  ‘Where are her children?’ is the question that ground out from my seized jaw.

‘With their fathers. I can’t carry on with her like this. If she does surface, she can’t come back here. ’

‘Where will she live? Where will the children live?’ My jaw clicked painfully below my ears. I was sure the caller heard the crack. The snake curled a full circle, spewed a double dose of poison into my gut.

‘Not my problem. I’ve had it. I’m done.’

‘But, the children…’

‘Not my children. Not my problem.’

I breathed in two sharp squeaks. My head felt fuzzy. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. The display in the place where the number three should have been reminded me it was still the thirteenth, still a Friday.  I gasped two more short breaths.  My left hand folded over the fist of my right hand and I squashed them into the soft spot under my boobs, attempting to control my breathing. I considered looking for a large brown paper bag. I wondered what would kill the snake in my gut.

The phone rang.

‘What.’

‘Is that Miguel Rodrigues’s mother?’

‘Yes. What do you want?’

‘This is constable Pearce at of the Brampton police station. We have Miguel with us, but as he’s a minor we cannot interview him on his own.’

‘What’s… What’s the genius done?’ My voice was a whisper. The snake slithered up the inside of my chest. It morphed from a venomous viper into a constrictor, wrapped itself around all my insides, squeezed my gut, squashed my lungs.

‘He’s hacked into banks...’


###

Women I’ve never seen before feed me happy pills from the pockets on their blue and white checked aprons.

Young ladies with vacant faces lead me by the arm for a wander in a garden I don’t recognise.

Men I don’t know, wearing white coats and gentle smiles talk, to me, regularly. I think I ask them questions. I think I remember a few answers.

The boss found me muttering, scrunched in a blithering heap under my desk.

An ambulance fetched me because I would not speak nor move no matter who said what.

My husband signed the committal order. He visits on occasion.

The diagnosis is Triskaidekaphobia, which, they tell me, is an irrational fear. I’m also told that I’m paranoid, too stressed to think straight, that I must stay here and take the meds until I can count passed twelve and answer a phone.

Are they nuts?