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2015 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge

Your 2015 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge prompt: Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

2015_Spec_Faith_Winter_Writing_ChallengeIt’s time for another Spec Faith Writing Challenge.

Here’s the way this particular challenge works:

I’ll give a first line, and those who wish to accept the challenge will write the rest of the story (yes, this time, the complete story)—in 500 words or less, putting your entry into the comments section of this post.

In keeping with Spec Faith’s primary focus on the intersection of speculative fiction and the Christian faith, writers may wish to incorporate Christian elements or to write intentionally from a Christian worldview. Likewise, speculative elements of one kind or another should be incorporated.

Readers will give thumbs up to the ones they like the most (unlimited number of likes), and, if they wish, they may give a reply to the various entries, telling what particularly grabbed their attention.

By the way, I encourage such comments—it’s always helpful for entrants to know what they did right and what they could have done to improve.

After the designated time, I’ll re-post the top three (based on the number of thumbs up they receive) and a judge will select the best entry.

We’ll again offer a prize to the winner (to be announced soon). In the event of a tie for the top three, a drawing will be held to determine the finalist.

And now, the first line:

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

Finally, those silly little details we all need to know:

  • Your word count does not include this first line.
  • You will have between now and midnight (Pacific time) this coming Sunday to post your challenge entries in the comments section.
  • You may reply to entries, giving thumbs up, this week and next. To have your thumb-up counted to determine the top three entries, it must be checked before Sunday, January 18.
  • Finalists will be announced Monday, January 19 and judging will begin.

Feel free to free to share this so your friends can participate, either as writers or readers. The more entries and the more feedback, the better the challenge.

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Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

He pressed his fists to his forehead.  Convincing his friends to help him break into the city hall and search the android registry would be tricky.  They might be talented hackers – and the only ones he knew – but no one would go along with a stunt like that, unless he admitted his suspicion.

I’m a robot.  And I have the virus.

Sick to his stomach, Ryder scanned the article on his tablet again.

“As part of an executive order to protect citizens against infected androids, government officials will collect and examine all android citizens between the dates of June twelfth and June thirty-first.  Normally functioning androids will receive special security upgrades and be released to their homes after a standard memory refresh so they can resume their ordinary lives.  Those with compromised systems will be shut down to protect society.”

Fingers twitching, Ryder stashed the tablet in his backpack again.
He stared at the cafeteria linoleum.  It must be true.  All these twitches, these glitches, these fingers that go numb.  Nobody else gets this.  No one else has this photographic memory, either.  I’m one of the androids.

Despair pooled in Ryder’s mind.

Androids were designed to blend in with society and live ordinary, innocent lives.  They weren’t supposed to suspect their true nature.

And they were never, ever supposed to have random urges to kill people.

It couldn’t be normal to see dangerous red auras around some individuals, only sometimes – auras that made him feel like he was in imminent danger and needed to destroy them.  Ever since he started began the red he felt less and less in control, like one day he would snap and do something unthinkable.

I’m infected for sure.  I’m a ticking time bomb.

Would being shut down hurt?

He looked across the high school cafeteria.  Atta, Leroy, and Fitch sat at a table together, chatting, biting egg salad sandwiches, and licking the mayonnaise off their fingers.  All their dreams and plans for the future flashed through Ryder’s mind.  Breaking into city hall could end with them all incarcerated – and him dead.

There it is again!  Fear seized him as he focused on Leroy and that red aura came into view, shimmering around his buddy’s frame like an omen of death.

Ryder reached carefully into his backpack, groping deep in the bottom…

No!  Not my knife!

He whisked out his hand and held it in a fist against his stomach, squeezing his eyes shut until the desperate feeling passed.  When he dared to look at Leroy again, the aura was gone.  All his memories of friendship and nerdy hangouts with the boy flooded back, piercing him with grief.

June twelfth was too far away.

I’m going to kill my best friend in the whole world, if somebody doesn’t shut me down first.

Ryder clenched his jaw. I have to turn myself in.

He walked toward the door, casting a last glance at his childhood friend.

For Leroy. He’d do it for him.

– – – – – – – –

Hurray!!  My favorite time of year at SpecFaith!  I can’t wait to see the other entries!  😀  I hope this year’s contest will be glitch-free…

Kessie Carroll
Member

I want to read more of this story. 0.o

RJ
Guest

So do I!  Good job!

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

I’m considering tweaking it for the contest but I’m waiting to see what the prize is, first.  You indicate that it has something to do with the stories themselves, so I’d want to know what was going to happen to my entry if I won – for example, I already had plans to expand my intro into a bigger short story or novel in the future.  Would I still be able to do that?  Would I be able to publish such an extended work?  Etc. 🙂

I really hope the prompt challenge returns to its usual guidelines next time, and the usual prize and winning process.  It was really awesome the way it was!  Even if I didn’t submit, I loved and followed every challenge and voted and commented on all my faves.  Flash fiction is a lot harder to write and (in my opinion) nowhere near as fun to read as story starters that make you say, “Please write more of this!  I want more!” to all your favorites.  It’s fun and easy to hook people in 500 words; it’s a hard wrestle to tell a full story with a satisfying ending in the same amount of space.  I feel like the changes (including the judge rather than voting to decide an ultimate winner) have made this contest more serious and less fun and social.  It could just be my two cents, but I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Kat Vinson
Member

I dislike that thumbs-up voting begins immediately. It seems to me the earliest posts get an unfair advantage because people come by, read, and vote, before half the entries are in.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

I agree, Sparksofember.  In past years I feel like it’s held me back because I entered late.  This year I feel kind of guilty because I turned out to be the first entry and I feel like I have an unfair advantage!

Kat
Guest
Kat

This would be a really cool story.

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

I love it! The writing is clean and tight, the action catches my interest, and I already care about Ryder and Leroy 🙂

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

I agree with the others. I think you should expand this. Great premise and I want to know more…

Kat Vinson
Member

That was fantastic. I want more, too!

Heather
Guest

Well crafted with a great plot! Thumbs up from me!

Janeen Ippolito
Guest

Really nice lead-in! I’d keep reading.

Lela Markham
Guest
Lela Markham

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. Having traveled this far through a world that was clearly not their own, they wanted to rush headlong through the forest away from the beautiful woman with the flowing silver hair that failed to cover her peaked ears and cat slit green eyes. Admittedly, the arm-length single horn the golden horse sported from between its ears intimidated as did the slim sword the elven woman wore at her hip. Risk, yes, but to know the truth ….

As they gathered their packs and walking sticks, Ryder tried to talk at least Kaytrina into remaining with him.

“Don’t you want to know how we got here and where here is?” he asked the petite blond.

“No. I will not follow her into that cave, not for any reason. She says we may know the truth if we follow her, but she could be leading us to our deaths.”

“Where is your faith?”

“In Jesus Christ, not in some weird chick with a weird horse in a way-weird world. You don’t know what you’re playing with and it could bite you.”

“I trust God to have my back, Trina. Now! At least wait for me while I take the risk. If I’m not back by tomorrow, you can go on without me.”

“By myself! They’re going now and if you go with her, I’m here alone.”

“But if she has the answers, we might stop stumbling around and find our way home. Can you at least talk with Jordan, see if you can convince him to camp nearby so I can find you again?”

“He doesn’t like you.”

“And I deserve it. First to admit that. And that’s probably a good reason for me to be the one to walk into that cave Except for you, no one will miss me if I’m wrong..”

Trina sighed.

“I’ll try,” she told him. “Will you wait?”

He wanted to … so much, but he feared the elven woman would not wait. Trina gave him a sympathetic look, but turned from him to gather her pack before sauntering over to speak to Jordan.

Ryder turned to Laliene, took a deep breath and stepped in front of her.

“You know the truth, you say?”

Her eyes were the hardest to fathom – those multi-hued dark green depths seemed to suck him in and hold him in their attractive, terrifying embrace.

“Yes, and the truth I know will set you free, if you wish it”

“I do,” he assured. Free of this place. Returned to home. Done with this bossy band of scaredy-cats. Except Kaytrina.

“Come with me then and do not look back.”
 

He remembered a Bible story about … a pillar of salt. Don’t look back? As Trina and the others turned to watch him follow Laliene he willed himself to stare forward, to put one foot before the other through the veil at the cave’s entrance until all he could see were sparking streams of light and … and beauty.

Kat
Guest
Kat

This was a good one. A couple of the sentences in the first paragraph were overly long, I thought, but otherwise I liked it.

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

A little bit of an info dump in the beginning, but I loved the names you chose for the additional characters. You describe everything very well, but in a piece this short, it might need to be streamlined a little. Good submission!

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I don’t think this will qualify either, but it’s been ages since I did once of these and I felt the need. So here goes:

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. As far as they knew, the ritual had worked perfectly. The Convocation had gathered, the words had been spoken, and the sacred light had descended from the sky onto the four pillars before them. The gods of the four moons should now be appeased. Even now, the four children who lay unconscious on the pillars were rising, their eyes filled with the ageless wisdom of the gods. They were now sh’layvi, dedicated ones; they would disperse and bring the people of the world tidings of the deities. Yes, to all watching eyes the ritual had proceeded as it always had.

But the fifth pillar of light was what drew Ryder out into the cold, and forced him to stumble across root-infested forest trails in search of answers. That brief flicker of god-light, miles away from the desolate rock where the ritual was held, the thing that was and yet should not be-that is why he needed to know the truth. All it took was a few seconds of boredom and a moment of looking away to realize something was terribly wrong.

God-light was only supposed to fire at the ritual of the sh’layvi. The gods of the moons themselves ordained it. Kind Cirsa, fierce Tyrin, loving Alsa, and wise Lewin-these were the gods who came to the world in the bodies of the children offered to them. Always four, and always once every generation. The sh’layvi would be born, walk among us, and die in the span of seven years, only to be chosen again. The Book of the Stars set forth the principle of the ritual in precise and exacting detail.

Yet that was god-light Ryder saw out of the corner of his eye. He knew it. He was not the best priest, but he had been to two rituals and he knew the light of the holy moons when he saw it. For a moment he had thought himself mad, or deceived.  But he was neither, and he hurried off as soon as he could

He had been worried he would not find the source of the light. He had no call to be.

About four miles away, east as the crow flew, the trees themselves were scattered as if the gods reached down and cast them aside. A burning stink caused him to clap his hands over his nose and mouth, and a holy fear overcame him. He sank to one knee and muttered a sutra. God-light had been here. It must have.

A gentle tap on one shoulder startled him so much that he fell end-over-end. When he picked himself up, what he saw shocked him to his core.

A girl was there, with skin as shining as fine-polished silver. She wore a simple linen shift. “My name is Kyrie,” she said. “I have come to see your gods.”

“Why?” Ryder asked, his shock at her appearance in the middle of such a waste greater than his politeness.

“So that I may judge them,” she said.

Kat
Guest
Kat

I would love to see this as a longer story, and I think it works fine as flash fiction. The only thing I might have done differently, just because it is a short piece, is to have Kyrie appear in front of everyone involved. The way you have written it would be great for a slightly longer piece.

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

I love the world-building in this one! It’s amazing you can create a whole culture in only 500 words!

Janeen Ippolito
Guest

The last line was a great hook that makes me want to read more. I’m not sure if this is a complete mini-story, but I enjoyed it.

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.
“Why do you have to be such a rebel, Ryder?” his one-time friends had taunted him.

“Don’t you care?” he’d asked, righteous anger building in his voice. “Don’t you care that all this was built on falsehoods? Does it even matter to you anymore?”

They’d looked around the room, seeing the plush rugs, the mirrors, the chandeliers. Once they would have scorned such opulence. Now they seemed to drink it in. “Listen, man,” Tavis had said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Sometimes you gotta compromise. Now have another drink. Loosen up a little.”

“I don’t need another drink.” He’d  knocked Tavis away. “What’s wrong with you? It wasn’t so long ago that you were ready to die for the cause.”

“Why die, when you can live like this?” Tavis had downed another glass.

Ryder had turned away in disgust.  “Leah?”

But she’d refused to meet his gaze. When she’d finally looked up, there were tears on her cheeks. “We couldn’t win, Ryder. We couldn’t. There was no other way. Would it have helped anyone if we had died? Would four more deaths have really made a difference?”

He’d slammed the door behind him when he stormed out, knocking one of the mirrors off the wall, but even the crash of breaking glass failed to gratify him.

“How can they live with themselves?” he asked aloud. The altercation had been hours earlier, but still he wandered the vacant streets of the once crowded city. The foreign wars and civil wars had taken their toll on the population, but it was the epidemic that had really decimated them. The few inhabitants left kept to the shadows, afraid of being noticed.

But not Ryder. He walked down the middle of the street, moonlight glinting off his black leather jacket. He’d been born in this neighborhood, raised on these streets, and he walked them as if they were still his own.

All the lights in the city went out at curfew, but Ryder could have found his way blind. The grass on the wide lawn grew green as it always had, but the moonlight illuminated only crumbled shells of the monuments that had once been the heart of the nation. He fingered the cold metal of the gun holstered under his jacket.

“Some men deserve to die,” he whispered.

He’d killed many times, but he’d never been an assassin. He pictured it in his mind, the bullet striking his enemy, the sudden rushing of blood, the outcry of the bodyguards, then the furious pursuit. Ryder knew he would die, but his death would mean something.

“No,” Leah said. He looked down, surprised to see her by his side. “Don’t do it, Ryder.”

Jealousy and anger warred with the respect and gentleness that had always been his eyes when he looked at her. “He’s a traitor, a coward. He can’t be trusted. He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Ryder, forgive your brother. He did what he thought it took to save the world. That’s the truth.”

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

I seem to have had copy and paste issues again . . . I ran out of time trying to clean it up. Is there any way the stuff above the bold line can be removed? Thanks so much!

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Ooh, I really liked the writing in this one.  (Upvoted for that.)  I find the overall setting and conflict confusing, though.  What did his brother do?  What did his friends compromise on?  Etc.  But the opening was really good here. 🙂

Lauren Beauchamp
Guest
Lauren Beauchamp

Thanks for your kind words! I always struggle with word limits like this. So hard to get the needed back story and the action! I want to expand this piece someday.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

I hope you do!  I am intrigued! 😀

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

I agree with Bethany. You’ve got me lured in, but for a piece of flash fiction I’d like to see a little bit of closure. It’s got a zombie/apocalyptic vibe going.

Loved this paragraph: But not Ryder. He walked down the middle of the street, moonlight glinting off his black leather jacket. He’d been born in this neighborhood, raised on these streets, and he walked them as if they were still his own.

Hannah Williams
Member

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. Truth proved undervalued these days. Arrogant pride rose in its place. They were fools, all of them, not to care from whence the assassin came. An attempt on the reeve’s life came as no surprise, but the attempted killer provoked further study, a study no one else cared to make.

“Careful,” the guard said, the keys jangling in his shaking hands as he unlocked the cell door. “He’s a strange one. He doesn’t act like any of the other prisoners.”

Ryder snorted, then regretted it as he inhaled the pungent stench of the dungeons. He pushed aside the cringing guard and strode into the cell. It was utterly dark inside, the light from the hall refusing to enter. So dark, so cold, so silent. He froze, his heart suddenly slamming up into his throat. In that brief moment, as sweat trickled down his neck, he thought he was about to die.

But the guard handed him a torch and the small chamber flooded with warm light. There upon the floor sat the assassin, his wrists chained behind him to the wall. He did not look up, but relaxed cross-legged on the floor as if he sat in a meadow. To Ryder’s disgust, the man still wore his armor. Had the guards even bothered to search him? Or had they thought it enough to lock him here and forget about him? It had happened before; murders were common.

This murderer was not common.

He was small for a man, delicately boned. His armor slicked over his body, too fey to have been made by any human craftsmen. Carefully, anticipating a striking snake, Ryder reached forward to brush away the prisoner’s hair from his ears.  

“I did not know elves trained assassins,” Ryder said.

The assassin met his gaze. “Much has changed,” he said, his voice matching the cynical smile twisting his fair face.

That was true. Still, something in Ryder’s heart bowed heavily, something that had hoped that even with everything, the elves had managed to maintain their purity. It was a lie he’d told himself.

“Why did you come? Who wants our reeve dead?” he demanded.

The elf laughed softly, shaking his head. “How are you going to make me answer your questions?” The shadows under his eyes, the gauntness of his body, the deltha tattoo across his face…pain would not be a persuader for him.

Ryder swallowed, that something still desperate. “There is no truth in this world anymore. All is darkness and deceit. Tell me one truth…one truth at least.”

The assassin’s brow rose in amusement. “Very well,” he said. “The reeve is dead.”

In the silence that followed, Ryder heard the approaching messenger shouting out words of “poison” and “death.” Slowly, he turned away from the prisoner and stepped outside, closing the door behind him with numb fingers.

Truth was a terrible thing.

BrynS
Guest

Great job, excellent style and word choices. The story was satisfying but left one wishing there was more.

Hannah Williams
Member

Truth be told, while this story stands on its own, the assassin is from a novel in waiting. So there is rather more…someday…

BrynS
Guest

Can’t wait; fingers tapping:). Your style is like Stengl’s which I cannot read enough.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Ooooooh, this is intriguing!  I wish there was more to it.  The writing is really good, too.  Lots of details that ground the scene for me.  I’m not sure what “Ryder swallowed, that something still desperate” means, though.

Hannah Williams
Member

Oo, sorry that was confusing. It was talking about that “something in his heart” a few paragraphs up, but I should have known they were too far apart to use.

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

Oooo. Great piece. Loved the truth at the end. Nice twist.

Janeen Ippolito
Guest

A really effective piece of flash fiction! I enjoyed the description–it was vivid without slowing down the pace.

Katie Lynn Daniels
Guest

 
Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. They drifted through the rest of the conference as if the fate of the world, and their souls, weren’t at stake. They discussed solar flares and cosmology over salmon and wine as if the foundations of reality hadn’t been shaken beneath them—as if the universe hadn’t cried out a warning message and been unheard.
 
“I don’t see why you’re so hung up on this,” Phil had said, when Ryder tried to talk to him. “One universe or multiple ones—what’s the difference?”
 
“But you saw the evidence,” Ryder said. “It’s irrefutable. The multi-verse…it’s real. It’s out there.”
 
“So it is,” Phil said. “So what? It’s been theorized for years.”
 
“Theorized, yes,” Ryder argued. “But there is an unfathomable chasm between theory and fact. This is real. This is happening.”
 
“I still don’t see the problem,” Phil said. “It’s not like anyone has figured out how to cross between them.”
 
Yet,” Ryder said. “But what if there was a way?”
 
The older scientist frowned. “It would be highly inadvisable if there were,” he said.
 
“But it’s possible,” Ryder insisted. “She could still be alive out there.”
 
“And happily married,” Phil pointed out, “To another version of you.”
 
Ryder shook his head. “You don’t understand,” he said. “Christine wasn’t supposed to die in that accident. We had been fighting. She stayed late at the lab because I insisted she run more tests. It’s my fault that she died.”
 
There was raw agony in his eyes as he continued: “Maybe there’s a version of the universe where I do the right thing and do my own work, and I’m the one who gets blown up by an overzealous intern. Maybe she’s out there somewhere, alone, and I can find her, and apologize…”
 
“And maybe you’re delusional because you’re too proud to see a grief counselor,” Phil said. “Go home, Terrigan. You need sleep.”
 
“I don’t need a grief counselor,” Ryder argued. “I don’t need sleep. I need—”
 
Phil’s grizzled countenance softened, and he dropped a hand on Ryder’s shoulder. “You need this theory to be true,” he said.
 
Ryder nodded. “I need to know she’s alive out there.”
 
“You know it’s just mathematics,” Phil said. “What they proved up there today…that doesn’t mean anything. Don’t you think that, in an infinite number of universes, it would have be proven already? Don’t you think that, were travel between multi-verses possible, someone would have come to us out of one of them?”
 
Ryder pulled away, shocked. “Don’t–” he said, but he was a scientist, and the rest of his words were brutally honest in his mind. Don’t take away my hope. I don’t want to hear this.
 
Science wasn’t about personal need. Science was about truth, and truth was what he had been failing to accept. While he had claimed to be pursuing knowledge he had only been avoiding his own reality. He had failed science, and he had failed Christine.
 
“Christine is gone,” Phil was saying. “Accept that.”
 
And he did.
 

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

I like this one.  The ending seems a little simple – he just flat accepts something he’s wrestled with forever – but the conflict and dialogue drew me in, and I sympathized for Ryder.  I would have liked to know why a bunch of scientists who work in this field aren’t more curious and interested about something so massive!

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

I would have liked to see Christine step into the lab at the end. 🙂

Sam McHugh
Guest
Sam McHugh

 
Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.
 

 
After all, their lives were pretty easy, with the best food and things that money could buy. In exchange, Every day a lady in a white labcoat came to give them a physical and draw a little blood. All of the residents of the youth center were required to perform a series of mental and physical tests on a daily basis, and each one of them also had to take some pills that were laid out in front of them before every meal. The other teens that he lived with all took it in stride, the same way they took the other strange happenings at the center. His train of thought was interrupted by his neighbor Scott calling him over.
 

 
Ryder weaved his way around the others in the common room with his plate and sat down. He nodded to Scott. “Hey.”
 
Scott looked up from his plate. “Hey, dude.” He slurped a strand of spaghetti. “So did you hear about Jenna?”
 
Ryder glanced up. “No. I was busy with school stuff. What happened?”
 
Scott shrugged. “Rumor has it she glitched during her workout.” He swirled his fork, gathering a wad of pasta, then shoved it in his mouth, speaking through it. “Dere’s annober one we won’ see gain.”
 
Ryder rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Don’t you ever get tired of it, Scott? Don’t you wanna know what this place really is or what’s going on, and why everyone has these talents?.”
 
Scott laid down his fork. “No, Man. I’m not questioning the system. They keep me in all the tunes I can listen to. So what if it’s a little weird? It’s safe in here with the secrets.”
 
Ryder shook his head. “But the Truth shall set you free. And I’m gonna find out the truth. Tonight.”
 
**
 
Ryder waited to make his move until the bell had rung for curfew. He slid quietly through the shadows and up to the office door. He tried it. Locked. Ryder placed his hand on the electronic lock and concentrated. He heard a whirring and a click. Having his talent was useful sometimes. He slid inside and clicked on the desk lamp. There was a leather bound notebook on the desk. He flipped it open and casually began to read. What he read caused him to stumble back in shock. Suddenly it all made sense. The tests, the talents, even the glitching out suddenly made sense.
 
He heard someone clear their throat behind him. “Well, Ryder. I see you know the truth.” He turned to see the lady in the white labcoat. She pointed a stun gun at him. “Now you have a choice. Get some pain for your actions, or… go to bed and leave well enough alone.”
 
Ryder concentrated. The stun gun in her hand smoked, useless. HE looked her in the eyes. “I choose the truth.” He said, running past her. He needed to tell the others. It was time to shatter the apathy.
 

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

I like how you never told the reader what the truth is!  Leaves us intrigued while still telling a story that leaves us on a high note.  I am a huge sucker for kids with talents, too.  🙂  I felt like this entry could be streamlined quite a bit, though.

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. Their Hotel California attitude made them indifferent to anything besides living in the moment. And the moment was here as if time and location were synonymous.
“Ryder, love, come and smell the flowers.” Genevieve beckoned from an ebony chaise-lounge, a single blood-red poppy in her hand. The velvet upholstery blended into her flowing gown as if she were part of the furniture.
“You’re only holding one flower, Vee.”
She laughed, a trill like a fork crescendoing against a glass of Merlot until it broke. “Go pout somewhere else. Your technicalities bore me.”
Ryder jammed his fists into the pockets of his worn Levis and stomped to the balcony. In the courtyard below, couples swayed together as intertwined as the harmonies that accompanied them.
Come.
Ryder spun around, searching for the speaker. No one. Even the leaves on the great Madronas held silent.
Come.
This time, the word dripped onto his thirsty ears from above. A single star twinkled and grew, filling his vision until it resolved into a figure. A figurine, really. Like the tiny ballerina on his kid sister’s jewelry box, but this one with miniature wings as well.
“Are you real?” Ryder reached his hand out to touch her, but she flitted out of his grasp.
Her voice tinkled like wind through a crystal chandelier. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
Riddles. Yet another female playing games with him, and this one had wings. Enough!
Ryder stormed from the balcony toward the lobby of the hotel. He rounded the corner and raised his hand in a Heisman-like block to preempt the words of the doorman. “I’m leaving and there’s nothing you can say to stop me.”
A languid smile spread like a wine stain across the man’s lips. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Help yourself.”
Ryder flung open the lobby door and banged against a slab of concrete covering the entrance. He pushed, but it wouldn’t budge. “I don’t understand…”
The doorman chuckled. “You wanted to know the truth, and now you know.”
Ryder dropped the door and turned to the doorman. “What do I know?”
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…”
Ryder fled through the maze of hallways, the doorman’s laughter biting at his heels like a starving coyote. He burst into his room and out to the balcony. Haunting music still played, but for skeletal dancers. Stars twinkled in the night sky, but illuminated a vista of headstones.
Come.
“How can I come when I can’t leave?” Ryder yelled, not from his mouth but the depths of his soul. “The truth is supposed to set me free, but I’m trapped with no way out.”
The tiny winged ballerina reappeared wearing the face of his sister. But you don’t have to be.
“What must I do?”
Believe.
“What are you?”
 A prayer…

Kat Vinson
Member

Very interesting. I especially like that last line. 🙂

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

Thanks, Sparks. My critique partner called it creepy and my husband called it a cute anecdote. ???

Kat Vinson
Member

Haha – I couldn’t decide how to take it – is it a dream? An illusion to try to make him jump? A vision to lead somewhere good? So I focused on the positives. 😉

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

Hmm. Maybe I was a bit too circumspect. I meant it as a metaphor for how we are dead in our sin nature and we can’t escape unless called by our Creator. In this case, it was an answer to his sister’s prayer. Where did I lose you?

Kat Vinson
Member

I suspected that might be what you were going for. But with the briefness of the story and the vagueness , I just wasn’t sure.

Kat Vinson
Member

I suspected that might be what you were going for. But with the briefness of the story and the vagueness , I just wasn’t sure.

Kessie Carroll
Member

I came in here to read/vote, but there’s no voting buttons. Sadness!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

The voting buttons are down temporarily, of course at the very time they’re needed most. Fortunately in exchange, the site is running faster. 🙂

Kessie Carroll
Member

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

After all, werewolves weren’t real. Yet he was certain that his neighbor was–Ryder had seen him come out of the house at twilight, running on all fours.

The full moon was rising at his back as Ryder concealed his bike behind a bush. He crept behind the shrubbery of the house across the street from his target, and knelt, pulling out his video camera. Night-vision was already activated. Perfect. He balanced the camera on his knees.

A July evening in Arizona remained oven-hot, as the sidewalks and street radiated back their accumulated heat. Ryder brushed away a bead of sweat–but he could endure a little suffering for a video of a real live monster.

“A werewolf? Yeah, right,”  Ryder’s friend Dan had laughed on their way home from school. They’d sat together their entire fifth-grade year, and usually Dan was cool with Ryder’s paranormal obsessions. “If you want me to believe you, get a video.”

So Ryder hid in the bushes, watching the house across the street. After a while, the house’s front door opened. A young man with dark hair stood silhouetted in the doorway–then he closed the door and the darkness obscured him. He stepped off the porch and walked into the yard, where he gazed up at the rising moon. Then he dropped to all fours.

Ryder pressed Record.

The  man transformed within a few seconds–one smooth morph from man to hulking Hollywood lycanthrope. His loose clothing fit over the wolf’s body without tearing. He shambled to the edge of the lawn with a liquid, animal gait, and paused at the sidewalk. The beast’s head lowered, and gazed straight at Ryder.

On the video camera’s screen, the infrared light made the wolf’s eyes glow bright green.

Then the beast bounded across the street.

Panic adrenaline flooded Ryder. He dropped the camera and dashed for his bike. The beast’s claws clicked on the asphalt like an enormous dog’s, closing in on him. He grabbed the handlebars, but before he could jump on, one of the monster’s clawed hands grabbed his arm and spun him around.

He stood face to face with a hulking shaggy beast, its smelly breath hot in his face. Its ears were pricked forward, and its tongue hung out–more like a dog that had fetched a ball than a ravening beast.

Then the muzzle and fur retreated, and the young man stood there again, shaking his arms and legs to fit into his clothes. “You ever think how quickly a Youtube video could ruin my life?”

Ryder gulped. “Are you gonna kill me?”

The werewolf snorted. “Heck no.”

“But–you’re real. You’re a real werewolf!”

The man extended a hand. “I’m Indal. How about this–I’ll tell you about werewolves, and you erase your video. Deal?”

Ryder’s fear ebbed, and was replaced by slow, fanatic glee. “Deal.”

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Love it!  I like how it ties in to Spacetime.   😀

Janeen Ippolito
Guest

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

After all, they weren’t the one about to be married off to a plant.

A Phytaen.

One pale skinned, green-eyed sun-sucker had been seen around the town of Gap Neck with the local realtor, and next thing, they had brought the whole Forest up with them and settled in the Horse River area.

No one had thought they’d come north, even though they had the proper identification and paperwork. Rumors passed around clusters of old ladies at the beauty parlor and young men racing their tractors up and down the pot-holed back alleys.

Phytaens.

The ones with the leaves. Four of them, coming right out of their backs around the shoulder blades. With eyes that flashed forest or spring or lime green.

The pheromones. Special essences Phytaens secreted, that only certain humans could taste. Honey. Lilac. Mint.

Ryder had just been on his own family’s land. Up in the brush there were some old, dead trees that would be perfect for firewood. His family needed all the wood they could get. Now, in Fall, it was time to harvest.

He didn’t remember the Phytaen girl. But apparently she’d seen him, with his chainsaw and his old work boots and heavy gloves, and thought he was special. Had become sure of it when he muttered something about the taste of rose petals.

Ryder never said it was a good taste.

A few days later, the girl had come into pollen on her leaves, which meant she was compatible with him. When her parents visited a week later, they laid out the facts.

She wanted him.  For every season he lived among the Phytaens as the girl’s husband, the sun-suckers would use their pheromones and plant skills to make the farm prosper.

It was up to him, Dad said. He was nineteen now. Mom wondered if any of this family were good Christians. Phytaens were humans, just lived longer, with a few more quirks. There were tales of conversions about them, same as anyone else. His little brothers thought it was gross, and little sisters cooed over how romantic it was.

Ryder just wished he’d got to a different part of the brush that day.

But his family could use the help. The Phytaens were known to be people of their word.

There he waited, on that cool fall morning, his family gathered around him. Waited with that one question on his mind. And he needed the truth.

What on earth was this girl thinking?

It was a question that never got answered, for as soon as the
love-struck Phytaen and her family arrived, Ryder did something that ruined everything.

He sneezed. Sneezed again. And again, more and more until it felt like his head would bust open from the whiplash.
 
Turned out that some humans were allergic to Phytaen pollen.
 

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Hehe, nice one!!  I was a little creeped out…then fascinated…then interested…and finally, amused.  Good, humorous conclusion!  😀

Kat Vinson
Member

Haha – that was great!! Like Bethany I was a little creeped out at first but then it got really interesting. I’d enjoy learning more about this world and the Phytaens. 🙂

Kat
Guest
Kat

Oh, that is hilarious!

marbar
Guest
marbar

Very funny.  Plant people.  I’d like to see a book written on this world!

Lisa Godfrees
Guest

Clever and funny. Tried to up vote it, but the button wouldn’t work.

Diane
Guest

Loved the humorous twist.  Seemed like there could be a whole story here.

Heather
Guest
Heather

🙂 Very interesting and witty. I thumbs up it to 24, but it won’t seem to move.

Steve Trower
Guest

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. In fact, he was pretty sure they only let him hang around because Jake, the self-appointed leader of the group, fancied his sister.

‘Well it must be something!’ Ryder told them. The world had been dark for so long that the new light – flickering with bright reds and greens on the horizon – had to be important. ‘Perhaps it’s the-‘

‘Don’t start that again,’ Jake said, cutting him off abruptly.

‘Time mines,’ Ryder finished defiantly.

‘Listen kid,’ Jake leant forward on the squat’s scruffy sofa and looked him in the eyes. ‘The time mines are a fairy tale. Just something mummy told you to explain away the darkness.’

‘Don’t you talk about my mother!’

‘Hey, hey,’ Dita said, gripping Ryder gently by the shoulders. ‘He didn’t mean anything by it, did you Jake?’

‘No,’ Jake said, but his eyes were on Dita. ‘We’re all just a little stir crazy at the moment, is all.’

‘Then maybe we should all get out of here for a while,’ Ryder suggested, feeling cocky with his sister backing him up.

‘And go chasing your fairy tales?’

‘Lay off him Jake,’ Dita said. ‘Have you looked outside recently?’

‘I don’t need to look,’ he growled. ‘Never changes any more.’

‘Maybe you should,’ Dita said. ‘Go on.’

Jake turned and tugged the curtain open a few inches. The darkness outside was complete; the washed out sun had set long ago, and the moon was a cold, blood red crescent in the otherwise empty night.

‘The world’s gone to ruin,’ Dita said quietly. ‘The stars are dead. The sun is dying. Fairy tales may be all we have left.’

‘You can’t change any of this,’ Jake said, yanking the curtains closed again. ‘A supernova is not a reversible process.’

‘Nothing about this world is normal, Jake. I don’t think the rules apply any more.’

Jake stood then, and looked from Ryder to his sister. ‘At least I’m keeping us alive in here,’ he said, and strode off.

‘This isn’t living!’ Dita called after him. ‘This is barely existing!’

 

The next morning, Ryder was up before a sunrise that never came. He packed a bag with some rudimentary supplies and food rations, and went to say goodbye to his sister. He found Jake staring out of the window into darkness.

‘The sun should be up,’ Jake said, his voice without emotion.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that whatever is happening… has finally caught us.’

‘The end of time?’

Jake nodded. ‘The end of our time, certainly.’

‘Well I’m packed and ready to look for the truth,’ Ryder said. ‘Are you going to sit around drinking beer until the world fades away, or…’

Jake turned, and Ryder saw fear in his eyes for the first time ever. ‘This is what we’re going to do, kid. We’re going to pray you’re right. We’re going to follow that light, and whatever it is – Time Mines, the end of everything, or something in between – we’re going to face it.’

Kat Vinson
Member

This was interesting. You’ve got me curious what’s going on with the sun. And what are time bombs?  I liked that Jake decided to face his fears, too.

Kat
Guest
Kat

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.
Like all werewolves, he’d forgotten his human life within a month or two of his first Change. He could count coins or shoot a rifle, but he didn’t remember his family, the town he’d grown up in, or even his old name. His pack leader had named him after he’d survived his first year. Ryder had grown accustomed to the gaping hole in his past and learned to accept his life, until he heard rumors that a priest of Olam had restored the memories of a werewolf from a nearby pack. Most of the werewolves he knew scorned the idea, but it lit a spark inside Ryder that grew day by day.
 
“You fool, you’re going to get yourself killed,” his best friend Joel had roared when Ryder explained his plans. “They’ll burn you alive! Remember what happened to Charlie?”
 
The pack’s youngest member and everybody’s favorite, Charlie had been caught in a silver jaw trap when she strayed too close to human lands while chasing a rabbit. Led by the village priest, the townspeople tried to burn her at the stake. The pack found her just in time. Ryder didn’t like hunting humans, but the taste of Charlie’s captors had pleased him.
 
He knew Joel was probably right, but he had to try. So now he was tracking a priest traveling with a merchant caravan.
 
Two weeks of persistence paid off when the priest went off by himself. He knelt down in the grass and lifted his face towards the sky.
 
An unfamiliar Power washed over Ryder’s skin and brought his wolf to the surface.
 
The priest opened his eyes and called out, “Who’s there?”
 
Ryder hesitated, but he didn’t smell menace or duplicity on the man, just calm curiosity. He stepped out of the trees.
 
The man smiled. “I saw your tracks a few days ago. I’ve been waiting for you to get close enough.”
 
He had to be crazy. Maybe Olam liked crazy priests.
 
“I could kill you right now,” Ryder pointed out.
 
The man’s steady, piercing gaze held Ryder still as surely as any pack magic. “But you don’t want to kill me. You want my help.”
 
“Yes.” Ryder’s wolf stirred in protest at the admission, but he pushed it to the back of his mind.
 
“I can’t change you back.”
 
Ryder laughed. “I don’t want to be human, priest, I just want to remember my old life. I’ve heard you priests have that power.”
 
“I can’t give you a guarantee. The power doesn’t come from me, but from Olam. I can only ask Him.”
 
Ryder took a deep breath, steeling himself. “Ask Him, then.”
 
The priest closed his eyes, and that Power burned through Ryder. He fell to the ground, howling in pain. Then the Power receded, and for the first time in six years, Evan Thorn opened his eyes.
 

Kat Vinson
Member

Very interesting idea. I’m wondering if he’s going to be happy to have his memories back or regret it.

Kat
Guest
Kat

I’m wondering that too. So much that it gave me an idea for a book. 🙂

Caiti Marie
Guest

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

He didn’t blame them. They had seen one man die already, watched him bleed out on the polished metal floor, watched him gasp out his last breath beneath the eye of the King’s Hand. They were afraid—Ryder was, too. But while the others in his team had watched the blood run red on silver, or watched the stranger’s chest heave in painful gasps, Ryder’s attention had been caught—irrevocably, eternally caught—in the man’s tortured eyes.

Blue eyes. Tired eyes. But peaceful eyes, eyes that held Ryder’s gaze as long as the man could control his own body, as he whispered when he no longer had the strength to shout, “Christos is Lord.”

It was the peace, the unashamed strength in the man’s gaze, that had driven Ryder to the darkness of the City’s Deepest, where the City’s Dust gathered, to see if his curiosity would result in answers before it resulted in death; for though they said the man had died for mad treason, Ryder had seen men who did. They never died with peace.

“It’s illegal to come to the Deepest.”

The man, who claimed to be the stranger’s brother and had sat silent for so long, spoke with soft authority.

Though startled, Ryder kept still. “Yes.”

“Why did you?”

The answer came hard. “Your… Your brother was strong.” Strong and seeming innocent.

“No,” the man said. “My brother was weak. Christ is strong.”

Ryder knew the name; that was all. “I don’t understand.”

A slow breath shifted the air in the blackness of the Deepest. “What’s your name?”

“Ryder.”

“That’s not your true name?”

“No, sir.”
Everyone knew a Ryder was a messenger of the King’s Elite— Except this stranger, perhaps. To speak one’s true name after taking vows was to renounce the King.

“Ryder,” the man said. “My brother served the Son of God. And to His servants, Christ gives strength.”

“Strength to die?”

“Strength to live,” the man said, “even in death.”
The words seemed senseless. “The Hand said he died for mad treason,” Ryder said.

The man paused. Ryder could hear his breath hitting the walls of the tight compartment.

“You owe allegiance to your Captain, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And he owes allegiance to the King?”

“Yes.”

“How if he were to renounce allegiance to the King, make himself to be King?”

“That,” Ryder said, “would be mad treason.”

“There is a King to whom your Captain and your King— yes, and you— owe an allegiance beyond all others. Only, your King has renounced allegiance to Him. If your Captain renounced your King and you clung to your allegiance, would you be traitor to your Captain?”

Ryder said nothing.

“My brother died, not for mad treason, but for being a true King’s man.”

“But he’s dead.”

“My King,” the man said, “is King of death and the grave.” He leaned toward Ryder. “Life is found in no one else, Ryder.”

“Sir,” Ryder said, trying to see him in the darkness. “My name is Manoah.”

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

I liked this one!  (I tried to up-vote it…not sure if the buttons are working tonight, since nothing seemed to happen.  I’ll check again later.)  Some of the beginning could have been stronger if the past tense was eliminated, and I’m not sure I understand the significance of him saying his name is Manoah at the end there.  But I found the world intriguing, and the analogy the guy made for the true King was fantastic!

Kat Vinson
Member

Buttons seem to be down again but I liked this world. And I loved the last line. Bethany, his saying his name was an irrevocable step toward the truth.”To speak one’s true name after taking vows was to renounce the King.”

Janeen Ippolito
Guest

Solid world-building, effective use of description, and a killer ending that both resolves the minor conflict and entices the reader to a greater one. A few minor word repetitions–I noticed “gasp” in particular–but nice job!

Daniel Jacoby
Guest

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested. He’d found dozens of “mysterious relics” from before the collapse, but this one felt different. Putting on his best smile, he tried to convince Sasha to come with him to see the Speaker.

“It’s going to be a waste of time,” she said as she crossed her arms.

“This one is special,” Ryder countered. “I have a hunch.”

“That’s what you said last time,” Sasha shot back, “And the time before that. Your hunches suck, Ryder.”

“I’ll buy the first round of drinks at Geiger’s tonight,” he added hopefully.

Sasha sighed. “You’ll buy the first two rounds.”

Twenty minutes later they were parking Ryder’s hovercar outside the Speaker’s house.

“Why do I let you keep talking me into these…visits?” Sasha asked as they walked up the driveway.

“I’d like to say it’s your unshakeable devotion to your friends,” Ryder answered, “but I’m pretty sure you’re just an alcoholic.”

Sasha ignored his comment. “What did you find anyway?” she asked.

“No clue,” Ryder said, shrugging. He removed a small, rectangular package from his shoulder bag. The cover seemed to be leather. He could make out faint traces of markings that had worn away ages ago. Thin sheets of foreign material were attached to the leather, covered by a plethora of small black letters. Ryder could read better than most, meaning he could recognize his name, but he’d never seen this language.

Sasha made a disgusted face as she looked over at Ryder’s prize. “Writing?” she asked. “Who bothers with writing things down anymore?

“I think it’s kind of cool, actually,” Ryder said.  

“What is ‘kind of cool’?” asked a deep voice in front of them. A tall, thin man stood at the doorway, one eyebrow raised.

“We’ve found something new, Speaker,” Ryder said. “We were hoping you could tell us what it is.” He offered the item to the older man, whose eyes widened as he realized what Ryder held.

“Where did you…” he trailed off. His gentle expression became hard. “Get inside. Now. We should not speak out here.” He quickly ushered them inside, then scanned the immediate area before closing the door.

“Do you know what it is?” Sasha asked.

“It’s called a book,” the Speaker answered. “Few remain. The government would not approve of you having it.” He opened the book and stared intently at the words, his mouth moving slowly as he translated. “This is…impossible.”

“What does it say?” Ryder asked. A deep rumble sounded outside. Sasha ran to the window to look.

The Speaker read slowly. “‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’” His usually calm demeanor had broken, and Ryder saw a bead of sweat run down his forehead as he closed the book. “The government will be looking for this. And for you.”

“Umm, guys?” Sasha said. Her face had gone pale. “I…I think they found us.”

“What do we do now?” Ryder asked. The Speaker opened a nearby door, revealing a set of stairs.

“We run.”

Kat Vinson
Member

Ooh – I really enjoyed this one!

Eva-Karin
Guest
Eva-Karin

Wow, I love this. Very creative, makes you want to know the characters more. Love the concept too.