Writing Prompt: "Two police officers play a game they call "The Wheel of Torture" with those they pull over. But what happens when their target doesn’t play by their rules?"

I stared up at the two men leering down at me through my open window.  If it wasn’t for the flashing lights of their cruiser, parked behind me, I would have thought that they had stolen the outfits.

The man next to my door was a skinny little goblin, swimming in his navy blues.  His companion, standing silently a few steps behind, was a troll squeezed into child’s clothes.  A tiny, wild part of my mind cackled that they must have picked up each other’s uniforms.

“I’m sorry,” I said aloud.  “Look, I know that I was going a little fast, but it’s late at night!  I just want to get back home to my wife.”

The goblin scratched at the pockmarks on his cheek.  “Nah, see, we got this game,” he drawled at me.  He flicked his eyes towards his companion, who let out a deep snigger.  “We call it Wheel of Torture, see?  Show him.”

The goblin jerked a finger over his shoulder at his mountain of a partner.  I twisted my head, looking back, and saw the big man holding up a wheel the size of a dinner plate.  It had been subdivided into crude slices, with curiously childish handwriting scrawled across each slice.

“See, we get bored out here, stuck on traffic in this little town, so we made this!  And it’s your punishment for getting caught!  Now, traffic’s been kinda sparse, so we spun the wheel for ya.”

“Spun for ya,” the troll repeated in a throaty chuckle.

The goblin exchanged a smile with his partner, and then returned his attention to me.  “So, sir, get outta the car.”

I did as he commanded.  I wasn’t any sort of giant, but I still loomed a good six inches above the skinny little goblin, who took a half-step back.  “Now, our first spin got kneecap,” he said, his hand dropping to his belt to fumble with the clasp holding in his pistol.  “But we figgered that we’d be nice, let you choose which one you wanna lose!”

I couldn’t seem to find any words.  “I’m sorry, what?”

The goblin had finally freed his weapon.  “Too late!” he chirped, and I felt a steel ball peen hammer slam into my left knee.  An instant later, a loud bang assaulted my ears.

My left leg gave out beneath me, and I fell to the ground.  A wave of agony, hot and liquid, rose up, making me wretch.  Stepping closer to stand above me, the little cop giggled, his voice curiously high pitched.  “Ready for your next spin?”

I clenched my eyes shut, trying not to vomit.  “Oh, no!” the goblin called out a moment later.  “Looks like you landed on ‘sex’!  Better get yer hole ready!”  The troll sniggered again, and I heard the sound of the zipper on his pants being pulled down.

Inside my head, something suddenly clicked, snapping into place.  The pain, previously all but unbearable, was muted, muffled, pushed aside.  Wait a minute!  These small-town hick fucks thought that they were going to rape me!?  For some dumbass game!?

Without a conscious thought in my head, I lunged for the little goblin.  He let out a satisfying squeal of fright as I loomed suddenly above him.  His gun was still in hand, but it was butt first as he raised his hands to defend himself.  I slammed my clenched fist into his face and felt something crunch beneath my knuckles.

As the shrimpy little prick dropped to the ground, I twisted the gun free from his hand.  The steel was cool in my hand.  The troll had started forward at the sight of his partner being assaulted, but I raised the pistol up to point between his eyes, bringing him to a halt.  My entire arm was shaking, but the gun remained rock-steady.  My weight was on my good leg, but as long as I didn’t look down, I could imagine that my left knee was still uninjured.

The big man stopped, letting out a wordless grunt of surprise.  For a long moment, we stood there, neither of us moving.  And then my eyes fell to the wheel, dropped into the dirt at the side of the road.

I gestured towards it with the gun.  “Pick it up.”

The other cop did as I asked, holding it out in front of him like a shield.  I twitched the weapon at him again.  “Spin it.”

A whimper escaped the troll’s lips, but he did as I asked.  The wheel spun with a clicking sound, and the man glanced down as it came to a stop.  “Sez broken arm,” he read off in uncertain tones.

I pulled the trigger of the pistol.  “I don’t give a shit,” I replied as the man’s head exploded in gore.

I turned my attention back to the scrawny little fellow at my feet as his partner’s corpse hit the ground.  “What about you?” I asked.  “Wanna try your luck at the wheel?”

“No!  No!” the little shrimp screamed, his legs scrabbling across the ground as he tried to wriggle away.  I pulled the gun’s trigger again, and a ragged tear appeared in the little goblin’s neck.  His wiggling became wild spasms for a moment as he vainly tried to stem the arterial gush of blood from his severed artery.  He lay still after a few seconds.  I put another round into his skull for good measure.

Gun still in hand, I managed to stagger back to my car and slump into the seat.  The pain of my shattered knee was growing louder, tougher to ignore.  But I was in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t want to deal with the consequences.  Not now.

I put the car into drive and pulled away.  Thank goodness I drove an automatic, I thought to myself with a touch of black humor.  That would really cause problems.

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Writing Prompt: Write a villain that will give you nightmares!

A mirror hung on the back wall of the office.  Jack liked mirrors.  He especially liked when he caught a glimpse of his own face in them; the strong jaw, the aquiline nose, and those flashing blue eyes gave him the look of a rakish anti-hero, a man equally confident wooing women in a bar or exchanging gunfire with crooked cops.  Jack always made sure to take good care of his face.  And whenever he saw his reflection, he would put on a brilliant white smile.

Jack was wearing a smile now, as his eyes lowered from the mirror down to the terrified woman slumped in the chair in front of it.  The woman’s fine business suit was torn and disheveled; dark spots marked where the blood from Jack’s knife had seeped through.  Her eyes, wide from a potent cocktail of fear and adrenaline, stared up at Jack without blinking.

Twirling the knife between his fingers with an ease borne of long practice, Jack squatted down to put himself at eye level with the woman.  “Come on, now,” he coaxed, his voice sure and strong.  Jack liked his voice.  It was strong, deep and sultry, always filled with confidence.  He could command a room, could make a woman gasp from the sound of his voice alone.  “It’s just a couple numbers.  And once you give them to me, all of the pain will stop.  Don’t you want the pain to stop?”

Gently, almost tenderly, Jack raised his hand up to caress the woman’s left cheek.  The knife, following behind his fingers, left a line of bright redness across her face as beads of blood appeared.  She shivered; no way to know if it was the sting of the cut or the softness of his touch.

Again, Jack spun the knife between his fingers.  The light danced along the blade, playing off the angles in a mesmerizing fashion.  Jack liked sharp knives.  There were so many uses for them, so many things that he could do with them.  He understood knives.  He brought his hand in a flick, and the woman’s jacket was split in half, falling to her sides.  Another red line now ran down her breastbone, and drops of blood flowed along the exposed curves of her small breasts.

The ugly sound of a boot on the marble floor sounded behind Jack.  Still keeping his brilliant smile pasted across his face, he turned his head to gaze over his shoulder.

Another man had stepped around the corner.  This one was shorter than Jack, stockier, and his features were obscured by a plastic mask of Gerald Ford.  Jack had picked out the masks himself; he liked knowing the history behind each face.  An MP5 was cradled in the man’s arms.

“Boss, we’re running out of time,” the man said, his voice lower in pitch, ugly and filled with gravel.  Jack suppressed a shudder.  He hated to hear the ugliness, hated having to deal with these imbeciles.

“I’m sorry,” Jack responded pleasantly, rising back to his feet.  He took a step towards the henchman, flicking the knife up to lay along his sleeve.  “What were my instructions to you, again?”

The henchman took a half-step back, intimidated by Jack’s figure.  Jack liked that he could command respect, even fear.  “Er, you said to not interrupt you, sir, but I thought that you’d want to know-“

“You thought I’d want to know,” Jack repeated, taking over the conversation.  One step closer, and he was finally within range.  The slightest note of rage entered his tone.  “You thought that you knew better than me.  That’s okay.  Excellent job, thinking on your feet.  Allow me to reward you.”

A swift motion, and Jack’s knife was embedded in the henchman’s jaw, the point rising up to pierce through his face and into his brain.  Vertically impaled, the tried to wheeze out something through his locked, pinned jaw.  Blood coursed down the handle of the knife and between Jack’s fingers.

For a moment, Jack held the man upright, marveling at how the muscles in his arm bulged and flexed with the effort.  Then he yanked the blade free, and the corpse tumbled to the floor.  A spray of blood flew from Jack’s knife, a few droplets splattering across the horrified face of the woman in the chair.  She flinched as they hit, but couldn’t take her eyes off Jack.  He liked that, liked that she couldn’t pull her eyes from him.

“Now then,” he said, his tone once again pleasant and cordial, “I do still need that combination.”

This time, as he raised his blade to tickle the woman’s eye, her mouth finally opened.  Jack listened carefully as she stumbled through a set of numbers, committing them to memory.  Jack liked how he could remember everything he heard.  He knew that he was a smart man.  He was grateful for his many skills.

Pursing his lips, Jack let out a low, echoing whistle, and another masked henchman stepped around the corner.  Jack caught the new man’s eyes flicking down to his dead compatriot, but this one was made of stronger stuff; he recovered quickly and raised his face to Jack.

Jack recited off the combination, and the man nodded.  “Do you want to see the vault open?” he asked, before dashing off.

There was always a visceral thrill to watching the bank’s vault door swing open.  “Not this time, I’m afraid,” Jack replied, putting on another smile.  His eyes flicked briefly to the woman slumped in the chair.  “I have a little business here to finish.”

The henchman wisely didn’t question his boss.  Jack turned back to the woman as he left the office.  “Now, what to do with you?” he mused.  Another caress, and a matching cut appeared on the woman’s right cheek.  Jack dropped his hand, dipping it inside the ruins of her blouse to caress her breast, feeling its hot weight on his palm.  He felt a stirring in his pants, and a vision of this woman, naked and writhing, pinned beneath him, briefly filled his mind.  “Maybe we could have a little fun.  You’d be lucky – there are a lot of girls who want to be with me.”

The woman shivered at his touch.  Jack’s eyes narrowed, his mouth twisting with distaste.  Jack could admit that he wasn’t great at handling rejection.  He worked hard to get everything he wanted; no one should be able to say no to him.  He withdrew his hand from the woman’s breast.  The vision inside his head was suddenly tinged in red.

“Too bad,” he offered, his voice still light and pleasant.  He could have been a radio announcer, he thought, as he raised his hand.  Heck, he could have been a TV star.  People would happily pay money to see him act, to hear him speak.  But Jack was a winner.  He had followed his dreams, and now he was able to do whatever he wanted.

Once again, Jack’s lips pursed, and he began to whistle.  A light tune, merry and upbeat.  Something in three-four tempo.  And as he worked, the woman beneath him finally found her voice again, and her wet, ragged screams provided a pleasant counterpoint.

********

Author’s note: I wanted to write a psychopath, a Patrick Bateman-type charmer with absolutely no qualms or hesitation.  Someone with every single gift and privilege in life who abuses it all.  Pretty nightmarish to me!

Image Prompt: The Exploding Earth!

Author’s note: this is definitely based on the picture…

No sound carries in space.  That makes it eerier, perhaps, as I watch the destruction unfold in front of me.  Our only home, the source of all known life, being washed away in a single catastrophic event.

At least, that is how I would be feeling if the damn design artists could just get the stupid thing right.

Instinctively, I reach up towards my face.  Unfortunately for me, the helmet simulation is working perfectly, so I feel my gloved hand “thunk” against the plexiglass of my helmet.  I can feel my temples aching already.

“Pause, pause,” I say into the mike.  “Look, I’ve reported this before.  I’ve explained to you guys why we can’t have this.  Why isn’t this error fixed yet?”

The picture in front of me winks out, and I reach up and lift the bulky goggles off of my face.  This new 3-D gaming may be immersive, sure, but I do wish that the hardware engineers would work on slimming it down.  I feel like I’m back in chemistry class.

With the goggles off, my view of the slowly exploding planet is replaced by a group of confused executives and worried-looking nerds.  I turn around, pointing at the screen behind me, where my last view is still displayed.

“Just look at this explosion!” I yell, making sure to direct most of my anger towards the nerds.  “This isn’t at all how it would look!  Tiny little impact crater?  The back half of the Earth fracturing for no reason?  Massive fireball, when there’s no oxygen in space?  We’re trying to market this as science fiction, not science fantasy!”

At the head of the table, I see Bill, one of the executives, raise a hand in the air.  With a grunt of disgust to end my speech, I gesture towards him.

“Look, I’m glad that our head of QA is so focused on this project,” Bill begins in an affable but confused tone, “but I’m not quite sure why this is such a big deal.”

In response, I wave my hand down at the getup I’m wearing.  I still have the kinetic control gloves on my hands, and the mask is now perched on my forehead.  “We keep on talking about the ‘realistic, immersive experience’,” I say, quoting the proposed jacket design from memory.  “We went and studied space suits to get every detail right.  We’ve got a launch simulator so intense, NASA wants to lease it from us.  But we can’t put all that emphasis on reality and then make a total joke of the laws of physics like we do here.  And this is in one of the early cut scenes!”

Throughout this speech, Bill is nodding.  I can only hope that this is a gesture of understanding, not just of wanting me to finish and shut up.  He turns towards the closest nerd, a worthless excuse of a developer named Casey.  “How long would this thing take to fix?” he asks.

Casey fiddles with his glasses, adjusting where they are held together at the bridge by duct tape.  “It’s a pretty intense cut scene,” he stammers, obviously flustered at being put on the spot.  “It would probably take us a couple weeks to generate it again just for taking out the fireball.  Adding in the other effects would probably be months.”

Now it’s Bill’s turn to sigh and rub at his forehead.  Unlike me, he doesn’t have any goggles blocking him from doing so.  “Weeks, huh?” he says finally, and I feel my heart sink.  “Look, we’re set to go gold next week.  Sorry, but there’s no way that this is getting fixed.”

I can already feel rage and arguments welling up inside me.  A half dozen different ways of approaching the problem present themselves to me inside my head.  I sweep them all away, letting out my breath with a sigh.

“Okay,” I say instead.  “Let’s move on to the next bug – this one happens when we stumble onto the alien craft in the next crater over…”

Flash Fiction: Heartbreak in 4 sentences

My prompt: “Make me feel heartbroken in 4 sentences or less.”

I could still hear the doctor’s words ringing in my head as I sat there, holding my wife’s hand.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Phillips, but I’m afraid that there’s nothing we can do.”

The pistol was surprisingly heavy in my hand; it had been years since I had last removed it from its drawer.

I tilted my head back, looking up at the ceiling, imagining that my wife was beckoning me towards her.

Author’s note: I am not at all depressed!  Quite the opposite, in fact.  But the prompt said to write something heartbreaking, and so I did.  Don’t be worried!  The flow of fiction won’t stop!

Desolation – mood & setting

With each step a struggle, the metal walker slowly strode across the ruined world.

As the legs rose and fell, steam escaping from each joint through innumerable holes and cracks, the tortured screeching of metal on metal carried across the dead plains.  Beneath the ever-roiling clouds that never broke to reveal sunlight, the monster labored on.

The crew of the machine knew that they would not live to reach safety.  They had ventured too far, and their beacon, their emergency signal, had been dark for many missions now.  They had not the technology to repair it, nor to do anything but try in vain to patch the cracks and continue on.

At the apex of the day, when the dim glow shining blearily through the clouds nearly resembled something akin to sunlight, they would appear, risking exposure to spot-weld metal seals over the worst of the leaks.  They dared not stop the walker, dared not power it down for more intensive repairs; even while it plodded on, the brown grass reached up towards them with long vines.

The monotony was tedious, but the crew of the walker preferred it.  They could still remember, hazily, when they had been attacked by a blight beast.  It was alone, thankfully – it must have been separated from its pack.  There was no knowing how long it had wandered, lost and alone and insane in the wilderness.  But when it found them, when it heard the call of shrieking steam, it charged towards them filled with blind rage and howling fury.

Their gun still worked.  The missile bays had sat empty for as long as the crew could remember, but they still had the gun.  They were fortunate; their walker could pull energy from the air, and from that deadly glowing rock that sat at its core that none of them dared approach, and could turn that energy into brief flashes of destruction.

The crackle or energy, emanating from the muzzle of the long barrel slung beneath the walker’s nose, tore new holes in the flesh of the attacking beast.  Great gashes appeared, filled with shredded, inedible, useless scraps of muscle and gristle and sinew and bone.  But still the beast, spawned of the blight and knowing nothing else, attempted to crawl forward towards them.  Not until its body was scattered across the field for as far as the eye could see did it finally rest.

The crew of the walker had been lucky.  Their machine, their home and world, their bastion of safety, was crippled.  Their movements were slow and labored, and if the blight beast had not been alone, they would not have survived.  They doubted they would be as lucky in their next encounter.  But there was no other option.

The walker’s three-toed metal feet sank deep into the dead brush of the plains as it plodded along.  The vines rose up, curling around the ankles with each step.  The crew knew that, one day, the vines would be too strong, and they would not be able to pull free.  The blight would climb up, swarming over the machine, breaking open the nut to hungrily consume its organic contents.

And on that day, the crew would open up the container that housed that glowing rock.  They would let its glow wash over them, would tolerate the brief pain as they would be reduced to energy.  Perhaps their energy would travel to a new world, one where the last spark of life was not a dying, guttering flame.  The crew did not believe in souls.  They really didn’t believe in anything.

Onward went the walker, forging a path across the desolation.  Above the plains, the crew gazed out at the horizon with dry eyes.  It wouldn’t be long now.

"If I can’t be a part of this world, no one can!"

I stared up at Doctor Fear, trying to shake off the paralysis of his magical spell. “Doctor, think about what you’re doing!” I shouted, struggling to make my voice be heard above the howling of the open portal behind him. “You’ll kill us all!”

“I don’t care!” the masked supervillain hollered back, his purple gauntlets glowing with eldritch power as he struggled to maintain the growing vortex. “They all made me suffer! Why should I let them live?”

Finally managing to clamber to my feet, I braced myself in a fighting stance, my eyes scanning around the room from behind my mask. Most of the furniture in the laboratory had been blown away, thrown against the back of the room by the opening of the nether gateway. The corpse of the shambling horror that Doctor Fear had conjured lay across the entrance. I could still smell the burned flesh from my searing Flame Bolts.

I leapt forward, ignoring the stinging pain of the slashes that had made it through my toughened spandex. “Don’t make me have to stop you, Doctor!” I called out. “Just stop the portal! We can all still walk away from here!”

“It’s too late, Mister Amazing!” Doctor Fear fired back. “I don’t deserve to live here – you all have made that abundantly clear. And if I can’t be a part of this world, no one will!” He spread his arms wider, and fresh surges of black magic flowed into the growing portal.

Around the edges of the shimmering gateway, I could see dark shapes, gibbering horrors that wanted nothing more than to spill out into our reality. On the far side of the opening, a long tentacle snaked forward, reaching down into our reality. I hurled a Flame Bolt at it, frying it into crispy calamari.

Feeling every injury, I staggered forward. Beneath his mask, Doctor Fear’s eyes rolled towards me, but he was directing every fibre of his being into opening the portal. “Please, Mister Amazing!” he called out, and now, closer, I could hear the undertone of fear and hurt in his voice. “The anger, the hatred towards me – it hurts! It cuts every second, like a million knives!”

Only a couple steps away, I stopped, torn. I knew what the other superheroes in the League of Justice would do. There was a deranged supervillain, and there was a portal to a nightmare dimension. Combine the two, and all the problems would go away. But while that approach would appeal to some of the grittier heroes in the League, like The Punishment, it just didn’t sit well with my conscience.

I glanced over my shoulder at the portal. It was nearly open, and more tentacles were spilling out, nightmares taking shape in our waking world. “Lord, I hope this works,” I muttered to myself, and then lunged forward, extending my fist.

My knuckles slammed against Doctor Fear’s head, and I saw the supervillain’s eyes roll back in his skull. He dropped, boneless, to the floor, and the glow of evil around his fists winked out. I spun around to stare at his summoned portal. With no more power feeding in, would it collapse? Or would it stabilize, converting our world over to a tortured hellscape?

Tentacles now extended out in all directions, thrashing on the floor and knocking the scattered instruments in the lab about. But as I watched, the circumference of the gateway began to slowly contract. No matter how the tentacles struggled, the closing edge cut into them, sending gouts of purple gore spewing across the floor and ceiling.

I slowly advanced on the closing portal, summoning the energy from my tired bones to throw Flame Bolts at the last few bits of flesh. I wanted every trace to be seared away, so that nothing could spread. A minute later, the portal shrank to nothing, winking out of existence.

I turned back to Doctor Fear’s prone body as, just outside the building, I heard the tell-tale roaring of the Justice Jet’s engines. The man was already beginning to come to, and his eyes blinked hazily at me as I squatted beside him.

“You should have let me die, Mister Amazing,” he rasped, the words barely audible. “It’s what I wanted.”

I reached down and laid my hand gently on his shoulder. “We all have struggles that we must overcome, Doctor,” I whispered, tenderness shining through my voice. “You have many demons, but I believe that we can overcome them. Together.”

I heard the booted footsteps of my fellow heroes approaching from down the hall. I reached down and slid a hand under Doctor Fear’s arm, hoisting him up to his feet and supporting him with my own body. I knew that the man would spend time in the Supertropolis Asylum, but the psychologists and therapists there were the best of their profession. And I believed that anyone, even a villain like Doctor Fear, could be rehabilitated.

The Mocking of the Little Animals

I glanced over at the other hunter as we trampsed through the woods. It was early February, a rare warm day after a cold winter. The snow hung heavy on the trees, and the silence of the forest was broken only by the occasional wet plop as a chunk of melted slush fell from a branch to the floor below.

The other hunter’s face was set in an angry grimace, and he clutched his rifle tightly to his chest as he stomped through the brush. He had shared the cabin with me the night before, but had been anything but friendly.

If anything, I had to admit to myself, he had seemed… vengeful.

Suddenly, the man held up one gloved hand, signaling a halt. In a flash, even as I came to a stop in the wet snow, his rifle was at his shoulder.

“Do you see anything?” I whispered, trying to peer through the leafless twigs. I didn’t see any movement, but the man nodded, peering through the scope of his rifle. The weapon barked in his hands, and I saw a patch of brown suddenly resolve itself into a deer, jerking away.

The animal was clearly wounded, but it still bounded away, and the other hunter cursed loudly. His hand racked back the slide of his rifle, chambering another round. “Shut up!” he roared.

“I, I didn’t say anything,” I began, confused.

“Not you! Him!” The man spun around, his rifle still up at his shoulder. The barrel swung past my face, and I threw myself down to the ground, flopping into the snow in a mad attempt to avoid being shot.

My newfound hunting partner was clearly insane. He fired off another shot, over my prone body. “Stop running and face me like a man!” he shouted out into the forest.

“Are you insane?” I hollered up at him. “The damn deer’s gone!”

“No, he’s circling! Taunting me!”

Terrified, I lifted my head up from the snow. To my surprise, I did see a flash of movement in the trees around us. As it moved from tree to tree, I saw that the deer was still hanging close. It paused between a couple of large oaks, and I could swear that it seemed to be moving its lips at us.

The man let out another yell and pulled the trigger of his gun again. This shot finally connected, and the deer collapsed down onto the ground.

Moving with caution, I lifted myself up to my feet, brushing the loose snow off of the orange vest I wore over my coat. “Good shot?” I offered, glancing warily towards my unhinged partner.

He was still wearing a scowl on his face. “Fucker,” he cursed, spitting in the direction of the deer. “Well, I shut you up! Who’s impotent now?”

This man was clearly insane. “Listen, I think I’m going to try branching off in this other direction,” I ventured, cocking a thumb over my shoulder in the opposite direction.

The man finally took his eyes from his dead prey and looked at me. His face seemed to relax, losing some of the anger, but I kept on edge. “Suit yourself,” he said in a much milder tone. “But all the deer are off in this direction. Trust me on that.” His face tightened with anger again. “I can hear ’em mocking me.”

As I slowly backed away, the man jerked his rifle up to point into the branches of a nearby tree.  “Shut your damn holes!” he shouted, pulling the trigger again.  I saw a squirrel go scampering away, chattering in the branches, as the man fired another shot after it.  “I’ll get ya!  I’ll get you all!”

I turned tail, not running, but definitely not walking slowly.  Time to get out of here, I decided.  This was probably the wise choice.

Gunbarrel Hwy

As I landed on the ground, the world took a sickening lurch, and I landed on my hands and knees. Shaking my head, trying to dispel the brief wooziness that accompanied a jump, I stared up at the sign. Aside from the scrub trees and brush, it was the only structure in sight – likely the only structure for miles.

The blowing dust, tasting of dryness and desperation, was already striking against my lips. I blinked my eyes, trying to keep my vision clear, and gazed up at the sign. The letters seemed to meld together, the characters twisting back and forth like serpents. Were those numbers in miles or kilometers? Either way, there was no chance that I could walk that far.

Taking advantage of the small square of shade offered by the sign, scant shelter against the blazing heat of the sun, I squatted down. I shrugged off the satchel slung over a shoulder, dropping it into the dust and scree. The zipper was already jammed, but I managed to get it open with a sharp tug.

I dug through the satchel’s contents. A dirty sweatshirt was tossed away into the dirt, as was an old and ratty pair of socks. I reached further into the bag, rooting around. I knew that it had to be in here. I had ended up here – it must have come with me.

Finally, my questing fingers closed on a small cylinder at the bottom of the bag. I pulled it out, not caring as its edges were caught by the other articles of clothing. My hand emerged from the satchel holding a small tube, the approximate length of a soda can but only half as thick. Three wires stuck out from the bottom of the cylinder, and several gold bands wrapped around its circumference. A small red button was set flush in the top. I was always surprised by its weight in my hand.

Rolling the device in my hands, I inspected it carefully for damage. It appeared intact; there were a couple slight scratches on its casing, but the button and the probes at the bottom seemed undamaged. With utmost gentleness, I laid it down in the dust and resumed rummaging through my pack.

The device’s catalyst must be in here; otherwise, it wouldn’t have activated, wouldn’t have brought me here. My hand once again sank to the bottom of the bag, questing. I felt another cylinder, and my hand registered wetness. That wasn’t good.

I hauled the cylinder out, but as I held up the water bottle to the light, the last few drops of precious water spilled out, dripping to leave dark circles on the gravel. “No,” I cried, trying in vain to tip the bottle so that the water wouldn’t spill away.

By the time I found the hole, the source of the leak, there were no more than a few drops left. I stared at the last of my water. Would it be enough? With shaking hands, I unscrewed the top of the bottle, holding its lip just above the three prongs on my device.

The last couple of droplets flowed down the side of the plastic with agonizing slowness. They fell onto the prongs as I watched, unblinking, my heart in my throat.

A drop of water hit the first prong, and a soft glow suffused the first gold ring encircling the device. A heartbeat later, another drop touched the other side prong, and another ring lit up. Only one more!

I tried to hold steady, but my trembling fingers slipped slightly. The bottle’s neck slid, and the last droplet of water fell to the ground. “No!” I cried once again, and I threw the empty piece of plastic aside. I jammed the prongs of my device into the ground, but the drop of life-giving liquid was already sinking beneath the soil.

I scrabbled at the rough dirt beneath the sign, feeling my desperation rising. I shoved aside piles of dust, chasing after that precious water that would mean the difference between salvation and failure. I could see the tiny, dark patch of soil, receding away from me.

One more scoop, and for a few brief seconds, it was visible. I jammed in the prongs of the device, praying fervently. And slowly, as if unsure, that third ring began to glow blue, joining its fellows.

I grabbed at the satchel and stood up. As my head and shoulders cleared the top of the sign, I felt the heat immediately soaking into my skin. I grinned triumphantly at the empty desert and slammed my finger down on the button.

I felt the device vibrate slightly in my hand. The desert around me shimmered, blurred, and I felt an invisible hook in my gut jerk upwards.

My triumphant grin spread across my face as the world dissolved around me. Briefly, I wished that I hadn’t stolen the device before they had installed a way to aim, to pick a location. But the device could take me anywhere. They’d never be able to catch me. I could always keep moving, always stay away, and they’d never find me.

A few seconds later, as the world once again began to resolve around me, I felt the familiar nausea rise. I wasn’t sure, but I thought that it was getting worse. We had tested the device and had never seen any ill effects. But no one had used it as much as I. I bent over and put my head between my knees for a moment, covering my eyes with my hands. After a deep breath, the queasiness was gone. I sat up and looked around.

Once again, I was in a desert. My heart sank. But I could see a man-made structure a couple dozen yards away. I squinted through the haze rising from the dust, trying to read the words on the sheet of metal.

“GUNBARREL HWY”

Writing Prompt: A hipster girl is a serial killer!

I was sitting at one of the tables in the cafe, sipping on my coffee, when she walked in the door. Now, I’m not one of those creepy folks that goes to a cafe just to eyeball the local talent. I was there with my laptop in front of me, procrastinating on tackling one of my research papers. I figured that I could get another half hour or so of time spent not doing work before Hector’s nagging would dig deep enough into my conscience to make me get back to work.

Hector, of course, was doing his part to make me feel as guilty as possible. He was sitting at the other chair at my table, his eyes resting on me as he sipped from his own coffee. I felt as though I was being watched by a basset hound.
But then that girl walked in, and I nearly choked on my sip of coffee. She was gorgeous! She wore the black, thick-rimmed glasses that were the accessory of choice for hipsters everywhere, but hers helped offset waves of shining black hair, cascading down over her shoulders. She was dressed in a bright red leather jacket, hanging open to reveal a cyan sweater, and a pair of navy tights with little yellow stars showed off every curve of her long legs. On anyone else, all of those bright colors would have clashed, but she somehow pulled it off with the grace of a movie star.
“Hello!” I whispered to myself, sitting up straight as I forced down that errant mouthful of coffee. My eyes couldn’t be pulled away from her, watching as she stepped up to the counter and daintily, demurely ordered her drink. As she reached into her her tiny, beaded purse to find payment, I swung my arm toward Hector. “Hey! Grab that chair from the other table!”
My companion turned his gaze to me, but didn’t move. I glared at him, and then reached out and grabbed the empty seat myself, pulling it up to my little round table. And when the girl turned away from the counter, her eyes surveying across the small coffee shop, I gave her my friendliest wave and pointed to the vacant chair.
Finally, Hector caught on to what I was doing, and he also turned to look at the girl. “Whoa, no, no!” he exclaimed, his eyes going wide. “Sam, this is not the girl for you. Trust me on this one!”
His voice was a buzzing in my ears – the girl had returned my smile, and was making her way through the maze of tables and caffeine addicts towards me! She stopped at my table, only briefly raising her eyes to me. I caught a flash of brilliant blue before they were cast down to the open chair.
“Do I know you?” Her voice was deeper than I would have expected, with just the hint of a smoker’s rasp. It was undeniably sexy.
I shook my head. “No, but I’m always open to meeting new people!” I replied with as bright of a tone as I could muster. And it clearly did the job – the girl set her cup of coffee down on the table and slid into the seat across from me.
There was movement off to my side as Hector scooted around to get behind this girl, trying to stay in my field of view. My eyes flicked briefly up to him, and I saw that he was mouthing the word “No,” waving his hands back and forth. I ignored him.
“I’m Sam,” I said, holding out my hand to the girl.
“Zooey,” she returned, taking my proffered hand. Her fingers felt soft and delicate in my clumsy hand. I briefly wondered if the rest of her was equally soft, but then forced such inappropriate thoughts from my head.
“Hello Zooey!” I replied, fixing the name in my head. “Out getting your daily dose of caffeine, huh?” Behind the girl, Hector visibly face-palmed himself in response to this lame comment.
Zooey, bless her heart, didn’t seem to notice the awkwardness. “Yeah – I’m actually trying to get over a recent breakup,” she said. She took a sip of coffee as I mentally cheered at this information. She was single! “It was very messy,” she added.
In the background, Hector was still going crazy, his arms flying back and forth as he attempted to wave me off. “She’s crazy!” he shouted. “She’s a psycho!”
“That’s always rough,” I said to Zooey in my most sympathetic tone. “But it’s good that you aren’t dwelling on it! Sometimes it’s good to get out, meet new people.”
She nodded, and I watched her hair bounce in thick, lustrous curls from the movement. “Exactly,” she agreed. “I’m thinking that I just need to get out and find some fresh meat!” Her tinkling laugh reminded me of silver sleigh bells.
At this comment, however, Hector visibly choked, and coughed several times as he tried to catch his breath. “Crazy!” he managed to squeeze out. “Dude, let me talk to you!”
I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Excuse me for a minute,” I said to Zooey. “Would you mind keeping an eye on my things? I’ll be right back.”
She nodded, smiling up at me, and I stood and made my way to the bathroom. Hector bounded up and hurried behind me.
Once in the relative privacy of the coffee shop’s small bathroom, I turned to Hector. “Okay, what gives?” I demanded. “This girl looks amazing! She’s cute, and single! What could possibly be wrong with her?”
Hector waved his hands back and forth. “I don’t know, exactly,” he confessed. “But she’s got some seriously nasty karma going on! I don’t know what sins she’s been committing, but they’re the sort of thing that gets you locked up for years and years. Her aura’s pretty much blood red. You ought to be running away right now!”
This comment made me groan. “You know, having you around ruins all my fun. You are aware of that, right?”
My companion merely rolled his eyes. “You know that you love me. I’ve been your savior more than you can count.”
I pushed past him, roughly hitting the door open. My previously sunny mood had vanished. I clomped over to the table and sat back down in my seat. Zooey was still there, and she gave me a welcoming smile. “Listen, I have to run,” I said, unable to keep the note of regret out of my voice. “I’m sorry, but maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”
Zooey opened her mouth, looking a little put out, but I scooped up my laptop from the table, my bag from under my seat, and I hurried away. Hector kept up behind me until we were out of the coffee shop.
Once we were in the bright sunlight, I made sure to hit him with my heaviest glare. “Well, that sucked,” I said aloud, not caring if any pedestrians noticed me talking to the empty air. “I really hope that you didn’t just ruin my chances with a totally dynamite girl.”
Hector put one hand up to his chest, pressing into his white robe, a look of affront plastered across his face. “You know I’m here for your best interests,” he insisted. “Come on, I’m sure that there are plenty of other nice girls for you to meet.”
I headed down the street, back towards where I had parked my bike. Sometimes, I really disliked having a guardian angel. He claimed to be keeping me out of trouble, but I had no way of knowing if he was telling the truth! Sure, there was that one time where he had pulled me out of the way of a rogue, incoming car, but it still grew frustrating from time to time, having to take his word on faith.
Flying beside me as I biked, Hector was clearly feeling guilty. “Look, let’s go out to the club tonight,” he offered. “I’ll point out the girls who are feeling especially lonely. It’ll be fun.”
Despite my ire, I couldn’t stay mad at him for long, and my guardian angel knew it. “Fine,” I gave in. “But I’m not paying for your drinks!”

Writing Prompt: Demonic Possession!

Thunder boomed as I hurried up the steps towards the house.  Rain was falling down in sheets, somehow managing to slip through the cracks in my oiled coat and trace cold trails down my skin.  I clutched my satchel tighter to my chest, praying that the water wouldn’t seep inside and blur the hand-written pages of my precious book.

Reaching the front door, I held up my hand to knock, but the action was unnecessary – the door swung open, and a tall and imposing young man stared out at me.  I could hear loud noises coming from inside the house past his bulky frame, but he blocked my vision.  I estimated that he had to stand well over six feet tall, every inch of his body covered in gleaming, sweaty muscle.

“Pizza?” he asked.

“Um, no,” I replied.  “Intervention?  Demonic possession?”

The man stared down at me for a minute, and then his furrowed brow cleared.  “Oh, yeah, that crazy chick!  Come on in, dude.”  He stepped aside, and I entered the house.

As I cleared the entrance, I was hit by a blast of humid heat.  The gatekeeper behind me shrugged.  “Sorry about the temp, bro,” he said.  “Heater’s been on the fritz, and better to have it going full blast than not at all, right?”  He elbowed me and winked.  “Gets the chicks stripping down, I’ll tell ya that much!”

I ignored this comment, shedding my coat.  The house was busy, and several other brawny young men were standing around, holding red plastic cups and chatting with young women in various states of undress.  I clutched my holy book closer.  I truly was in the den of sin, I thought, but I must be strong; I am here to stamp out the evil that has arisen, and I will not shirk from my duty.

The man who had let me in tapped me on the shoulder.  “She’s upstairs, dude,” he said.  He twisted the brimmed hat he wore on his head around to point backwards and headed up the stairs, shouldering his way past several clusters of giggling young women.  I followed him.

On the second floor, the man led me down a hallway, and I couldn’t resist glancing into several of the open rooms on either side.  A wide variety of activities seemed to be occurring; in one room, I saw two pairs of men and women standing at opposite ends of a long table.  They appeared to be throwing small balls back and forth.  One of them tossed the ball into a red cup on the opposite end of the table, and everybody let out a raucous cheer.

Turning my attention forward again, I nearly collided with my guide; he had stopped outside a closed door, his face looking concerned.  “Dude, I hope you can help,” he said.  “She was totally normal, doing shots of Jaeg with Brody, and then she just started shouting out some sort of crazy babble and telling us that we were all going to join her in Hell.

“We thought maybe she was just one of those crazy vegan chicks at first, ya know?”  He smirked and elbowed me in the ribs again.  “In need of some hot meat delivery, ya know what I’m sayin’?  But she kept on screaming ’bout evil and wouldn’t take her top off, so we tossed her in Hayden’s room and called you.”

“How did you come to find my number, if I may ask?” I asked.

The man cocked a thumb at the door.  “She was shouting it,” he replied.  “At first we thought she was giving us her digits, but then when we texted, you called back.”

I reached up and patted the man on the shoulder.  “You did the right thing, my son,” I told him.  And then, bracing my shoulders, I opened the door and stepped inside.

At first, looking around, I thought that I was at ground zero of a tornado’s wreckage.  The floor of the room was covered in assorted clothing and garbage, and more items were tossed over the backs of chairs and onto the blades of the ceiling fan.  It took me a minute before I spotted the possessed girl, squatting in the middle of a large and suspiciously stained bedspread.

The girl’s abnormally pale white face, colored only by her blood-red eyes and lips, looked relieved when she saw me.  “Oh, thank Lucifer!” she said, her voice deep and croaking.  “Priest, you gotta get me out of here!”

I kept a safe distance, my book at the ready.  But something wasn’t quite right about this situation.  “State your presence for being here, foul daemon!” I intoned, but there was a hint of confusion to my words.  This wasn’t how possessions normally went.

The girl rolled her eyes and tossed a lock of her blonde hair over her shoulder.  “Ba’elzamon, corruption and claiming damned souls, all of that,” she griped.  “At least, if the damn summoning had worked.  But this stupid bitch must have opened her vessel at the same time.  Total fuck-up.  Now, can you, like, exorcise me already?”

My sense of unease deepened.  “You are claiming souls here?” I asked, glancing around.  Judging from what I had seen, these people were certainly damned – but nobody seemed worth a personal visit from a demon from Hell’s very bowels.

“Like, as if!” the demon replied.  “Look, I’m supposed to be inside the Italian ambassador right now, other side of the country.  But this stupid bitch, like, totally managed to puke out the words of the completion ceremony at the wrong time, so now I’m here!”  She pulled a few strands of blonde hair up in front of her face.  “Look at this shit.  You can totally tell it’s fake from the roots!”  She turned her attention back to me.  “Now, make with the holy book, the water sprinkling, all that, so that I can get out of this stupid meat shell and back to Hell.  This whole operation’s, like, a total flop.”

This was certainly irregular.  I opened up the book, but paused again.  “Maybe I shouldn’t banish you,” I said slowly.  “Perhaps being stuck here is divine choice, a punishment for the evil you have committed.”

The girl blinked at me a couple times.  “Oh.  My.  Gawd.” she said slowly.  “Listen, priesty, just ’cause I’m trapped in a body that’s mostly tits and ass doesn’t mean I still can’t pull out some hellfire and corruption.  Although honestly, this place is such a pigsty that I think my burning it to the ground would actually be an improvement.”  She pointed her finger at a half-empty glass bottle of liquor on the room’s desk, and it melted slowly into a pool of bubbling molten glass.

I shook my head.  “No,” I said with growing conviction.  “I’m not banishing you back to Hell, where you could cause further damage!”

The girl opened her mouth again angrily, but paused, tilting her head.  A cunning look flashed across her face.  “You’re, like, sworn to a vow of chastity, aren’t you, priesty?” she asked, her tongue darting out like a snake over her lips.  “Maybe it’s time to give up that oath…”  And before I could respond, she reached up and tugged her skimpy tee shirt up over her head!

This girl had, apparently, chosen not to wear a bra to this house party.  I felt my eyes magnetically pulled to the girl’s tits, standing out from her chest like a pair of ripe oranges.  I opened my mouth, but only wordless stammers came from my throat.

The topless girl crawled forward across the bed towards me, her tits hanging down between her arms, her ass up in the air behind her.  “Come on, priesty, let me see what you’re packing under that robe,” she purred.  “I’m such a bad girl!  I need to be punished!”

Before I could react, she was on me, her hands like claws as they pulled and tore at my garments.  “Give me that dick!” she hissed.  “I’m, like, totally hot for you!”

Her razor-sharp nails sliced through my clothing like, well, razors.  Panicking, I hurriedly flipped my holy book open, reading off an incantation.  My voice jumped an octave as I felt those fingers grazing my hips, running up my exposed thighs, but I didn’t lose my place.  I spoke the rest of the incantation in record time.

Now, all that was necessary was the holy water.  I fumbled for the canteen, at the bottom of the bag.  The girl was now pressing her naked chest against me, hissing something about being “Daddy’s bad little girl.”  My fumbling fingers finally got the cap off, and I hastily upended the canteen over the demon’s head.

Water coursed down, soaking the girl’s hair and, I was ashamed to notice, flowing down her back to soak through her equally skimpy fabric shorts.  As the fabric was soaked through with holy water, I could make out a “T” outline of underwear.  I pulled my eyes up and tried to take deep breaths.

The girl sputtered, flopping back on the bed and twisting.  Steam rose from her naked form as the holy water saturated her soul, driving out the demonic presence.  Finally, her eyes cleared, color returning back to her face.  She glanced around, down at her nearly naked form, and then up at me.

“Well, not my worst fuck,” she said, her eyes roaming over me.  “So have you got protection?  Or do you wanna, like, risk it?”

“Problem solved!” I shouted to the giant bro who had been guarding the door as I bolted out of the room.  “Possession totally cleared up!”

Despite my hurry, the man still had time to notice my state of partial undress.  “Looks like she gave you a good thank you, huh?” he leered.

I didn’t bother to respond, taking the steps down to the front door two at a time.  From behind me I heard the girl let out an enraged shriek.  “You could, like, at least give me your number!” she howled.  “Tease!”

I paused at the front door.  “Listen up!” I shouted, making the men and women in the room turn towards me.  “Next time you have a demonic possession – call someone else!”

*Author’s note: I have no idea if this is funny or not – but it was certainly very strange to write…*