Dec. 31st, 2014

joshwriting: (Default)
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for Jay Piltser.

Fan Fiction

The air conditioner died.

Naturally. Well, “naturally” if you could say that in response to the death of a piece of electronic equipment.

She hadn’t the time to address it right now, as she had work to do – she’d committed to finish a batch of art for a book, “More Than Meets The Eye,” by the end of the weekend and while it was only Saturday morning, she had more than enough to do to keep herself busy for the whole weekend.

It’s not like she had anything else to keep her busy, though. She had pretty much turned off her life, outside of doing art for money, since her lover had died. She missed Sean so much… enough! Back to work. She turned to read one of the pages she was to illustrate, but with a small breeze it blew off and across the room. She retrieved it, sat back at her drafting table, and read through the page. She had a pretty good sense of where she wanted to start and turned on her oversized tablet.

When she put her finger to the pad and set the color she wanted to start with, her hair blew into her eyes. “How could she have forgotten to clip her hair back?!” she said angrily to herself. A moment later, clip in place, she sat back down again to work. A few minutes later, the page she’d read drifted onto her pad, blocking her view of her work. Grateful that she was working on a tablet and not in paint, she returned the paper to the rest of the loose leaf book, then put a rock on top of it.

She was appreciating that it was cooler in here than outside, but the way the breeze kept blowing things was annoying. Maybe she should turn off…

She stopped her thought short. The AC was off! More than off. Dead. She walked over to it, just to make sure. Not only was it dead, but it was unplugged, too! She reminded herself that she just did not have time to deal with the AC. Back to work.

All day long it went like that. She would get a little bit of work done, but something in the room would come loose to get in her way or distract her, even things like her hair that she knew she had clipped! And where was that breeze coming from?

As evening fell, still intermittently immersed in her work, she chose not to close the curtains. She was actually making progress. Of course, as soon as she had that thought, a small thud behind her pulled her eyes away from the imagery she was creating. She soon spotted the culprit – a Japanese fan had fallen off a display shelf and landed open on the hearth. It fluttered toward her, giving her yet another of those small breezes she’d had all day.
Another noise, this one familiar but wrong. The curtain was closing without her. She stared over at it and against the darkness of the outside, she could just make out a silhouette. A familiar silhouette. Sean.

But…

but…

but…

Sean was dead. An experiment at the particle accelerator, she’d been told. Dead. Not even a body to bury. Sean could not be closing the curtains.

She looked again, but the curtains were now closed and there were no silhouettes to be seen. She knew it – she was cracking up under the stress and sadness. She sighed. Back to the drawing board, so to speak.

She sat down at her tablet, only to find that the picture she had been working on was gone. In its place, some words…
I’ve always been your
biggest fan!
joshwriting: (Default)
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, partially as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for Elizabeth Margareta Griffith.

Emphasis Mine

In the following story, concepts are expressed in a way familiar to some cultures on Earth. This is done to permit an understanding of what is going on, but the real items in question do not, in fact, resemble the Earth artifacts that are used to symbolize them in this recreation of the foreign history.

For centuries, perhaps millennia, their people had worked to eliminate emotions from their daily lives, feeling it was a burden too great to bear. They blamed emotions for all the conflict between peoples, from minor domestic squabbles to intercontinental warfare. By purging themselves of emotions, they would be free, at last, to grow as a people and rise to the heights they so deeply desired.

And there was the rub.

The depth of their desire to rise was the first thing to go. It had been the most powerful of their racial urges, far stronger than the imperative to procreate. As the government officials and scientists began to notice that effect, there was some heated discussion concerning blame, but that fell rapidly by the wayside, too. No room for blame where there was no room for emotions. What would be the point?

The first efforts were through personal discipline and meditation. They were quite effective for day-to-day emotional situations, but did not prove to be sufficient to overcome either the most intense of conflicts or personal weaknesses. The greedy, the power-hungry, and the narcissistic were quite good at feigning adherence to the cultural norms and training programs, while not actually buying into the approach at all. They assumed, rightly as it turned out, that there would be others resisting as well, and they were not about to give up what was “rightfully theirs” to folks who would not obey the law!

After reclaiming the government from the malcontents, the people turned to their physical scientists to help them – the biologists and geneticists, and the chemists and the endocrinologists. Their goal was to get at the biological/physical roots of emotions and find a way to turn them off at the source. The work captured the imagination of the planet as well as its resources. The progress was slow, but progress there was. Through personality tests, the government determined the best test subjects for the new bio-chemical approach: the greedy, the power-hungry, and the narcissistic.

It worked. It was initially stunning. The populous was ebullient. Celebrations in the street, grand award ceremonies for the discoverers, and increased action at the betting parlors over when the people would at last be free of their burdensome feelings. There was debate, but not a lot, on how best to ensure that no country had the advantage of pure reason first. A two-fold approach was necessary. Wiping out the body's enzymes that triggered emotions was easy enough, but that did nothing for the newborns, who arrived with their sentiments loudly and clearly expressed. The stumbling block that had finally been discovered was a teratogenic mixture that would wipe out the genes that produced those enzymes for both the immediate person and any offspring.

Production and distribution of the chemical took place without incident, barring a few rather drunk celebrants who were not quite up to their jobs. The day before was filled with partying and parades. The day after was quiet, calm, and smooth. The collected wisdom was that they seemed to have done the right thing – but it was a matter of fact conclusion, accompanied by no smugness or gloating by those responsible.

The year that followed was remarkable, or it would have been had there been anybody inclined to exclamations. Where there had been war, there was a dogged effort to clean up the mess left behind because landmines and unexploded bombs are messy and dangerous. Where there had been starvation, supplies were shipped in and distributed. No rancor, no rushes of the trucks, and no pilfering of the materials by either thieves or controlling warlords. An external observer would have wondered if they were on the same planet.

The first real hint of a problem came early the next year. A major earthquake hit one of the population centers. The emergency crews wandered over to see what they could do. The news broadcasts showed images of destruction and the homeless and wounded people. But unlike years past, there was no urgency to the efforts of the fire departments or the ambulance crews. They got there when they got there, with nobody upset with them and no real motivation to hurry. Some people sent in money or spare supplies, but really there was no reason for most people to, as there was no pity for the suffering, no guilt for not doing more, and no impetus to solve the problem.

For the most part, people kept working because it was convenient as was having money. The demand on the courts was pretty low, though, so some folks got laid off. The efforts of some workers remained high because there was no reason for them to do less well, but for others the drive to work hard had been based on either pride in their efforts or fear of losing their jobs and without those emotions to drive their efforts, both quantity and quality slacked off.

None of this was lost on the government or on the scientists. There was a general agreement that something might need to be done about it. While one faction felt that it should be studied longer and another felt that probably something should be done sooner rather than later, neither felt passionate enough about their argument to push very hard nor even to work on it quickly.

Years passed without something being done beyond studying what was happening. The infrastructure deteriorated because there were not enough folks with a personal work ethic to keep things going, nor a societal structure that could ensure that things would get fixed. But when a scientist approached the government, requesting resources for finding a cure for the emotionless society, they had no real reason to turn her down and sufficient assets to allow them to say yes. So they did.

Even curiosity is an emotion, unfortunately for the world, so the number of folks for whom new ideas served as an attraction was pretty small. Why this particular woman found this particular problem to be the thing she chose to tackle is hard to say. Whim, perhaps, but is even that feasible? For whatever reason, though, this was the path she chose.

It was only natural for her to have access to the research that had led to the miracle. There were no quick answers to be found, partially because she wasn’t working at a feverish pitch and partially because it was a challenging problem and would have been under any circumstances. She kept at it out of habit – she had no external motivation nor, really, any internal one, but equally no motivation to stop, so she didn’t.

More years passed. Imagine, if you wish, societal decay with no hue and cry about it. Imagine, too, a woman plodding along, sometimes with help and sometimes without, examining bodies and systems and elements. While the stories could fill many chapters, they would all be largely the same.

About 15 years after her request for resources, 25 years after the change, she had an idea of what might help. It was a somewhat difficult solution, though it would have been easy pre-change. A distant mountain range had a mineral that she thought would do the job, but air travel had been stopped because the maintenance was no longer sufficient to make flying safe. She traveled slowly across the country, about 1500 miles, sometimes by car and sometimes on foot. When she got where she was going, she had to find help – digging into a mountain was not something she had the skill to do on her own. She managed to find a working excavator and somebody willing to run it for her.

Over the next few months, they drilled and dug. While they did not push as hard as one might have wished for, they did keep at it, and finally they got to the level she was after – a seldom used substance that simultaneously boosted the effect of sodium while reducing magnesium levels in the body. They pulled out enough of the ore to allow her to run copious experiments without a need to ration it carefully, and she returned to the capital city.

It was difficult to find volunteers within the general population – it was not that people were afraid of the side effects, but they saw no particular reason to try it. Finally, she turned to the government, where a few officials were willing to serve as experimental subjects. The pace of her work continued to be deliberate, with no increase of excitement at her proximity to a possible alleviation of the symptoms of emotionlessness, but when she had seen enough to know that her current mixture would not have lasting or dire consequences on an individual who took the blend, she prepared a dose and took it herself, with no concern.

The next day, she went to the government council and requested to be heard. Their secretary asked “Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” she replied, “But it is important that they see me today!” A small bit of inflection added to her sentence was more than enough to gain the secretary’s acquiescence.

When she appeared before them, she simply told them, “You must allow me to give you each a dose of this! And then we have to go back to the mountain to synthesize more of the antidote and we have to do it before we lose the ability to do it at all!”

And so it was.

Stop Light

Dec. 31st, 2014 11:16 pm
joshwriting: (Default)
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for LJ Waugh.

Stop Light

Ever since Halfmann’s team at Darmstadt managed to freeze light for a full minute, preserving images at the same time, Sean’s team at the Bates Linear Accelerator had been trying to duplicate and then improve upon that performance. In the intervening 18 months, they’d tried a bunch of approaches, none of which had quite caught up to Halfmann, let alone improve upon it.
Sean had an idea to try this morning that was a tad off their normal path, but nobody else had scheduled a live demo for the morning, so it seemed like a good time for a fishing expedition.

The praseodymium ions were already arranged, as well as the crystal and the lasers. Sean couldn’t help but think of the New Age aspects of using the crystal to stop light, but it was just a passing fancy. “We are serious scientists” was the thought, voiced internally in as stuffy a manner as possible, followed by an external laugh. Next, the dampening fields. Sean set up a third laser, a red one, seeking to try to freeze two bits of light at the same time.
Just as Sean was readjusting the crystal to make sure it was angled right for the third laser, a clatter came from the control panel and abruptly all three lasers came on. Sean gave first a startled sound of fright and then almost immediately one of amazement.

“It worked!”

No response. No congratulations, no outcries, nothing.

Sean looked up and then looked around. The light was frozen, but so were all the people. Sean removed the crystal and people started moving again, but they still weren’t responding to anything but the mess at the control panel.

“What were you thinking?”

“You could have gotten somebody hurt!”

“Hey – has anybody seen Sean? I could have sworn Sean was standing next to the crystal during the power surge.”

“Nope – but the crystal’s gone, too, so maybe Sean took it over to be examined under the microscope?”

A quick call confirmed that Sean was not there, which Sean already knew and knew quite well. And as the moments turned to minute, there was an increasing feeling of dissolution.
Minutes turned to days turned to weeks. Sean retained consciousness of a sort, but it took quite a while before enough focus returned to give even the sense of a corporeal form. Slowly, Sean drifted toward the home, in the hopes of finding more personal focus, arriving to find “More Than Meets The Eye” sitting ironically on the stand next to the drawing board.

Sean shared the apartment with an artist. As surely as the apartment, they also shared a deep love. By focusing on that love, Sean achieved an increased physical existence – not enough to speak or consistently type, yet, but enough to create breezes to perhaps catch the artist’s attention. If the physicist could do that, there would be hope of finding a way out of this predicament.

Then Sean saw the tablet and for the first time since stopping the light, gave a smile.
joshwriting: (Default)
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for Kim Roche.

Second Cousin, Twice Removed

He was my grandmother’s sister’s grandson and as such family. We were required to be nice to family, even when the family member in question was not nice. Ren, as he liked to be called, was anything but nice.

It was easy as kids to make excuses for him or to believe the excuses that others made for him, despite the frequency with which those excuses needed to be made. Yeah, he cheated at games, and sure, he would sometimes take stuff that didn’t belong to him – even stuff he had no interest in, but which he took anyway because it was there. It wasn’t malice, or at least it wasn’t initially malice. Often it was habit or impulse. That was how it seemed, at least, and I have no reason to be sure it was otherwise even now.

Ren was a bit less than a year older than I was, in the same grade for a while, then one grade behind me when I skipped and then two when he was kept back for missing too much school. From my perspective, this was pretty dumb – Ren knew as much as I did academically and far more in a variety of other areas, if not quite as much in others still. His being a grade behind made sense if his school would not skip him, but two behind? No sense at all.

I think it was after he was kept back that he started really resenting me and he turned mean and, in hindsight, creepy.

Even when he was being mean, I could deal with him on my own. I could pick on him far worse than he could pick on me – his weaknesses were more glaring than mine and he more vulnerable to them. I knew when he took my stuff and could make him give it back without invoking the power of my parents or his, let alone one generation further back – even when you were in the right, you did not want the attention of the grandparents! But the night he showed up in my bed required more than I could handle on my own. It required a reset.



He was my grandmother’s sister’s grandson and as such family. We were required to be nice to family, even when the family member in question was not nice. Ren, as he liked to be called, was too sad to be called nice.

It was easy as kids to make excuses for him or to believe the excuses that others made for him, despite the frequency with which those excuses needed to be made. Yeah, he cried at the drop of a hat, and sure, he would sometimes take off in the middle of a game or activity – even those he was really interested in, but which he left anyway just because. It wasn’t dislike of me, or at least it wasn’t initially dislike. Often it was misery or impulse. That was how it seemed, at least, and I have no reason to be sure it was otherwise even now.

Ren was a bit less than a year older than I was, in the same grade for a while, then one grade behind me when I skipped and then two when he was kept back for missing too much school. From my perspective, this was pretty dumb – Ren knew as much as I did academically and far more in a variety of other areas, if not quite as much in others still. His being a grade behind made sense if his school would not skip him, but two behind? No sense at all.

I think it was after he was kept back that he started really resenting life and he turned depressive and, in hindsight, suicidal.

Even when he was being depressed, I could deal with him on my own. I could support him far more than he could resist me – his vulnerabilities were glaring to me and he was more susceptible to my words. I knew when he was hiding and could help him rejoin us without invoking the power of my parents or his, let alone one generation further back – even when you were in the right, you did not want the attention of the grandparents! But the night he tried to kill himself required more than I could handle on my own. It required a reset.



The thing about a reset is that only the person who does it knows that it was done, let alone why. Ordinarily, the only people allowed to do resets are the elders, but when it is nearing time for an elder to step down or move on, they choose a successor. My grandmother chose me and as such I had to do Ren’s resets.



I talked with her about the two life paths that Ren had been on, because I was not sure how I could do a reset that would have any better results than the first two paths. She mulled it over for a couple days, talked to my parents a bit and then with me, and then worked with me to shape the reset, even though she insisted that I still perform it.

He was my grandmother’s sister’s grandson and as such family. We were required to be nice to family, even when the family member in question was not nice. Ren’s parents were anything but nice.

It was easy to see why Ren was sometimes very poorly behaved and other times quite sad. Yeah, he cheated at games, and sure, he would sometimes take stuff that didn’t belong to him – even stuff he had no interest in, but which he took anyway because it was there. And yeah, he cried at the drop of a hat, and sure, he would sometimes take off in the middle of a game or activity – even those he was really interested in, but which he left anyway just because.
Ren was a bit less than a year older than I was, in the same grade for a while, then one grade behind me when I skipped. The school recommended keeping him back for missing too much school. From my perspective, this was pretty dumb – Ren knew as much as I did academically and far more in a variety of other areas, if not quite as much in others still. His being a grade behind made sense if his school would not skip him, but two behind? No sense at all.

I think it was when his parents tentatively agreed to it that he started really resenting me and he turned mean and depressed, both.

Even when he had been acting out, either against others or against himself, I had been able to cope with it without invoking the power of my parents or his, let alone one generation further back – even when you were in the right, generally speaking you did not want the attention of the grandparents! But their plan to have him kept back required more than I could handle on my own. I turned first to my parents and then to both sets of grandparents. The grandparents intervened.

I think it was when my parents took him in and assured him that he would not be kept back that he started to be able to relax. He didn’t stop being mean or depressed immediately, but it came with time and support and unconditional love – theirs in addition to mine. The relationship shifted over the next few years, as his self-confidence grew. The year I applied to colleges he did too, as a junior. We chose to go to the same one, best friends then and now, many years later.
joshwriting: (Default)
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for Jen Heater.

Ghost Hunters

They were out together in the morning ground fog, attired in orange vests and hats, as they had been at this time of year for longer than either of them could remember. It was deer season and they were quite intent on meeting their quota this year. It didn’t really matter to them that they could not eat all of their kill themselves – somebody would eat it, they were sure.

The hills and paths were so familiar, as if they had gone down them a thousand times or more. It was one of their favorite parts of this neck of the woods – nothing ever seemed to change. They took that as proof that the hunting permit process was not overdoing it. They took the winding path down beside the stream to their artificial blind. They were surprised to find a couple other men already there, dressed in somewhat oddly styled clothing, though still in orange. The trespassers had only cameras, no rifles.

Because the goal was to be quiet, so as to avoid startling the deer, rather than calling out they continued down the path to the blind. By the time they got there the other men had moved elsewhere. This was more than fine with them! They hunched behind the rocks, sitting on a pair of conveniently placed stumps and waited. Smugly, one observed that they must be getting better at bundling up, because despite the obvious chill in the air, their extremities were not really even feeling cold.

The wait was longer than they expected, but they were pretty sure they would be rewarded for their patience. The rumor they’d heard at one point was that there was a 12 point buck in these woods and neither could remember anybody’s bragging that they had nailed it. They were mostly silent, looking outward from their rock. After more than a little while, one of them – they could never agree on which it had been – motioned to the northeast. There, much to their amazement, was an incredible white tail buck. His antler spread must have been at least 40 and quite possibly 50 – he was not holding still and it made it harder to count. After they shut their mouths, they went about making sure they could shoot him cleanly.

Off to their left, a small noise briefly caught the beast’s attention and theirs as well. It was the other hunters, but their target seemed to be over the west ridge. Soon everybody had settled back down. They would take turns, the 2nd shooter only firing if the first missed for some reason or did not get a clean hit. Tense. Waiting. Gently squeezing the trigger and a loud noise! The buck, untouched, ran off to the side a bit, but not far. The other shot his gun, less than 20 feet away, but the buck was still untouched. It did run off and seemed to fade into the mist that had gathered in the gully.

More than a little perturbed, they went to track it, only to see no tracks. A shudder.

“Ya’ suppose that’s the ghost of a great buck, rather than a live one?” “Couldn’t say, but I sure have no good explanation for it!” They started back to the blind.



The two men, in their stylish outfits, came back to the blind after a few hours of fruitless hunting.

“You believe that story the shopkeeper told us about the two hunters who died out here some years back and are haunting the place?”

“Nah. Don’t be absurd. Now be quiet, so we avoid frightening the game!”
joshwriting: (Default)
The following was written from a writing prompt of my own, as part of an offer I made on Jan 17, 2014. This story is for Shannon Reilley.

Changing Light Bulbs

It was dark in his room, a short while after the last client of the day had left. The shades were down, blocking what little light might have come in from the street on a moonless night. He was sitting in his chair – a stressless recliner that also swiveled, though he was not very reclined in it just this moment. He was poised to write down some notes, but he put his pen down and chose to stop and think a while more.

His last client of the day was very complex. This was not terribly unusual, as many of his clients were complex, but that did not mean that he understood their situations with equal facility. With her it had been a very long 6 years to this point, when normally he would see clients for 3 to 6 months and sometimes less. Tonight had not felt like the prior sessions had, as far as he could tell, but putting the finger on exactly what made it different was not yet happening.

He went through what they’d said, trying to squeeze out her exact phrasing, as well as his impressions at the time. Certainly one different aspect was their discussing a time in her life that they had never explored previously – how she had chosen her profession. For all that this is regularly a prime topic for consideration, she’d never been willing before, let alone open. Or somewhat open, he admitted.

He spent some more time in silent contemplation. Finally, he decided he knew what had happened. He stood up and felt the way to his supply closet.

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