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Thread: Write the start of a novel...

  1. #651
    Go down road, go pub. Mary Mitchell's Avatar
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    announcement
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    Rain had fallen steadily for two days, as though nature herself were inconsolable. In the wake of the announcement--wake, so applicable to his state of mind--he had chosen to entrench himself in the apartment. Actually, there had been no choice involved. He was incapable of choosing. Of eating. Of bathing. Of sleeping. The distant rumble of thunder presaged another downpour. He no longer had it in him to match nature wail for wail. He huddled farther under the covers and waited. For what, he didn't know.

    cartilage
    balmy
    dredge
    motivate
    career
    It's a simple fact of life that not everyone will be your target audience.

  2. #652
    Benefactor Member Nymtoc's Avatar
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    Things do not always turn out the way you plan. Sybil learned that at an early age. From the time she first became aware of music, she wanted to dance, and she began her ballet training when she was ten. Then came the crash. On a balmy day, her father had taken the family for a drive. He had glanced away from the winding road to consult a map--he never forgave himself—and she, her father and her younger sister survived. Overcome with grief, they buried her mother and her baby brother. Sybil’s broken legs and arms and torn cartilage eventually healed, but she was left with a permanent limp. Her career as a dancer evaporated.

    She hated to dredge up memories of that day, but sometimes it all came back to her. Like now. Though she had become quite successful as a software designer, she needed something to motivate herself to go further and open her own company. Instead, as she gazed out the window she saw the image of a winding road and heard the sound of brakes squealing and the horrendous crash.

    No, things do not always turn out the way you plan.

    monumental
    persuade
    gallant
    puerile
    eggplant


    "Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- William Beveridge

  3. #653
    practical experience, FTW Bloopographer's Avatar
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    monumental
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    "—with an eggplant! Just an ordinary eggplant. Let's see that again, in slow motion. Okay, the Scare Crew moves in... Jack—really feeling the paranoia at this point—hears a noise behind him and spins and—Oh! Gets it right in the face. The monumental weight of the vegetable drives his nose up into his brain and: Jack's dead. The Scare Crew has killed Jack. How will he react? Watch: Here, you can see Jack's ghost take one look at his body and... He's freaking out. As ungallant in death as he was in life. Although we did manage to persuade him not to sue, so... Oh—he's found a battery. Will he—

    The television screen blinked off, along with the lights, leaving Jill in silent darkness, disappointed. "Will he what?!" She waited tensely for the power to come back on. When, after a few minutes, it didn't, she figured she should light a candle or two.

    A candle or two turned into three then four and more as Jill found the piddling amount of light inadequate. Before too long, she had placed and lit dozens of candles throughout the house—so many, in fact, the temperature had gone up three degrees. But at least she could see. And what she saw was how boring the rest of her evening was going to be without her TV.

    Thoroughly depressed, Jill wandered through the rooms of her house in search of something to do. In one of the closets, she spotted a cardboard box—which, she remembered, had been there when she moved in—and opened it. Inside was a stack of old newspapers. "Blech," she moaned with disgust, almost closing the box before realizing how desperate she was. So, sulking, she lugged the box to the living room and sat down to—ugh—read.

    Skimming the first paper, Jill's attention was caught by a headline. BEWILDERED RESIDENTS OUTRAGED AFTER DEADLY FIRE it ran. Intrigued by the promise of rage and fiery death, she read on:

    The residents of a quiet suburb had their sleep disturbed last night as noisy emergency crews worked to put out a fire which had engulfed the home of a local woman.

    "After they left, I couldn't get back to sleep," complained one man. "Now my sleep cycle is going to be all out of whack!"

    An unattended candle was found to be the cause of the blaze, however investigators were unable to determine the exact location within the house at which the fire began.

    "There were candles everywhere," explained an investigator. "We were sifting through so much melted wax, we trampled the body of a woman before we realized it wasn't a piece of oddly placed furniture."

    The body was later identified as the sole resident and victim of this puerile accident.

    "I always thought she was a bit of an idiot," said a neighbour, "and here's the proof. I mean, what the hell...?"

    Jill set the newspaper down. "Oh. Well, that's something my subconscious will have fun with, I'm sure."


    sliver
    coastal
    unsteadily
    distinct
    chill
    "It doesn't matter why​ they're dressed as a tiger. Have they got my leg?" —Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

  4. #654
    Sailing in a sea of mushroom... Nerdilydone's Avatar
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    There was only a touch of that distinct chill in the air, the one that accompanied the arrival of Syndrox. Alana shifted unsteadily in her robe; it was much too big for her, and far too thick for a coastal city. But now was the prescribed time, the return of Syndrox to the living world. And Alana was to become his bride. She had spent the last ten years preparing herself for the inevitability of this day, but now that the moment was upon her, Alana found herself shivering, and not from the cold -- she'd long since prepared herself to be surrounded by Syndrox's frozen aura. Only those who could withstand it could come near him.

    The other Dranax stood stiffly, their own robes waving in the wind. The night was setting, and once the last sliver of orange light dipped below the horizon, he would come. Already the chanting incantations of her bridesmen and maidens welcomed the sunset. Alana shivered again.

    "I am ready for you, my husband," she whispered.

    ostentacious
    quarreled
    artsy-fart
    dignity
    pink

  5. #655
    It's all symbolic. Night_Writer's Avatar
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    The man was dressed in an ostentatious red and green tuxedo. In the museum, he quarreled with his wife over the artwork on display. "This is artsy-fart pomposity!" he said. "It is beneath my dignity to even look at this garbage."
    "But it was painted by Pink, the pop singer," said his wife. "Doesn't celebrity mean anything to you?"


    hairdo
    waterbed
    sausage
    debut
    resuscitation
    Last edited by Night_Writer; 07-07-2017 at 05:26 PM.
    Heretic.

  6. #656
    Benefactor Member Nymtoc's Avatar
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    Preparing for her debut, Natalie was more than nervous—she was frantic. She had trained her voice for years now, and this would be her chance to impress audiences and critics. But what if she failed?

    Beth, her best friend, had offered to let her sleep in her waterbed, saying that it would calm her nerves, but Natalie had declined. Her own little bed would suffice. The night before the debut, she had no appetite at all, but she forced herself to chew on some sausage. Ugh! She couldn’t manage more than one bite.

    The hour was approaching. She had spent half the day working on her hairdo and making sure her dress fell in perfect folds. But what was the use? Her heart was beating fast now. Her breath was coming in little gulps. She would never be able to sing, or if she did, she would collapse and require resuscitation right there on the stage.

    She turned and fled onto the street. Later, she learned that the management had made some excuse about her “being indisposed.” But Natalie’s debut never happened, and she decided she wasn’t cut out to be a singer after all. Maybe she should try hang gliding.

    diatribe
    slouch
    zinger
    maple
    tantamount


    "Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- William Beveridge

  7. #657
    practical experience, FTW Bloopographer's Avatar
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    diatribe
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    Can you guess who came knocking at my door in the middle of the night? No one! And can you guess who opened my front door and, figuratively speaking, waltzed on in? No one! And can you guess who made themselves at home in my kitchen? That's right: no one!

    Jill paused a moment, then added: Oh, and my power's out. Send help! She addressed the email to BFF and clicked Send. "There. Now, if I happen to vanish before morning, at least there'll be a lead to assist the authorities in their search." Puzzled and experiencing some mild anxiety, she would have preferred to bla bla bla with someone—a friend who would listen patiently as she bla bla blaed, who would offer bla bla bla, who would bla bla bla and bla bla bla while she bla bla blaed—but it was the middle of the night, the witching hour, and Jill didn't know any witches.

    She was about to get up when the phone rang. "Perfect. That'll be a heavy breather, right on cue." Jill answered the call. "Hhhhh... Hhhhhhh... Hhh—"

    "Jill? Is that you? Are you all right?" It was her BFF.

    "Oh. Hey." Jill laughed. "Sorry, I thought you were a pervert."

    "And you were going to breathe me off, is that it?"

    "Yup. Way more fun than a diatribe."

    "But tantamount to an invitation, don't you think?"

    Jill shrugged. "Maybe. What are you doing up at this hour? Are you a witch? You can tell me."

    "I wish. No, I've been playing a video game—one of those spooky ghost mysteries where the character is stranded alone in a haunted house during the night. Anyway, I got your message. What in the world is going on?"

    "I have no idea! That's kind of the problem."

    "Well, what happened?"

    "I was finishing up in the studio. There was a knock at the door. When I answered it, no one was around. Then, when I went back into the studio, someone came in! I could hear them talking in the foyer."

    "Them?"

    "Yeah, there were two voices. Male and female. They went into the kitchen and the power went out. I thought they had shut it off, but..."

    "Let me guess: When you went to investigate, you found no one."

    "Correct. So, you see, we both want to know what in the world is going on."

    "Incorrect. I think I know what in the world is going on."

    "You're so clever! I knew I could count on you to solve this zinger of a mystery in under a minute! Tell me: What in the world is going on?"

    "It's simple: Your home is co-occupied by an Otherworldly being who received an Otherworldly visitor."

    "Oh, ha ha."

    "I'm not kidding. Your story exactly matches what's happening in the video game I'm playing."

    "The ghost mystery?"

    "Oh, you mock me!"

    "Yes, and I'm about to do it again. Ghosts?"

    "You heard mysterious knocks?"

    "I heard knocks made by persons unknown, yes."

    "And unexplained footsteps?"

    "I heard footsteps made by as yet unidentified persons, yes."

    "And disembodied voices?"

    "Hey, technically speaking, I'm conversing with a disembodied voice right now."

    "Sure. But you can see me when I'm standing in your kitchen."

    "Okay, okay. I'm properly freaked out already without you introducing the undead angle. I mean, all of your ghosts are safely behind a computer screen."

    "Well, now you can enjoy them in that fashion, too. I've just sent you an email."

    "Great. Pictures to enhance the nightmares I'm sure to have tonight."

    "Oh, I wouldn't go to sleep tonight if I were you. I'd stay up all night long, slouched against the wall, straining to hear every sound, heart pounding at every creak. Or thud. Or chain being dragged across the floor as unseen feet stagger—Step. By. Step.—down the hallway before coming to a silent halt on the other side of the door."

    "Thank you very much, BFF."

    "Do you want your BFF to come over and keep you company? We can down a bottle of maple syrup and freak each other out making shadow puppets."

    "Nah. While that does sound like fun... Talk to you tomorrow, okay?"

    "Let's hope so."


    solar
    kick
    unusually
    nomadic
    lock
    "It doesn't matter why​ they're dressed as a tiger. Have they got my leg?" —Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

  8. #658
    Sailing in a sea of mushroom... Nerdilydone's Avatar
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    "Watch out behind you!"

    But our hero had already seen the giant snake mecha coming after him. He had seen many giant snake mechas in his travels, so he was beginning to think that this was not just coincidence. Still, he didn't move. He could afford to let the mighty metal mecha think it had the upper hand, for now.

    "Are...aren't you afraid?"

    He looked into the eyes of the frightened girl, and allowed a smirk to touch his lips.

    "No."

    And in an instant, he jumped, spun, and cast his mighty right leg out to perform his special move. Instantly the scene transformed into a flashy title screen, with bright anime-style letters forming the title around the hero's fighting body.

    "Solar-Kick, Unusually-Nomadic Lock!"

    Marbles
    Container
    Lively
    Bunions
    Rabbits

  9. #659
    Go down road, go pub. Mary Mitchell's Avatar
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    Marbles
    Container
    Lively
    Bunions
    Rabbits

    Fred realized not everyone in the home had a full Crown Royal bag of marbles left. Still, when old Tom--with whom Fred used to go to high school, for Pete's sake--asked about the joints Fred was using on the wooden plant container he was assembling, Fred thought there might still be some interesting conversations to be had after all. But when Fred said 'rabbits,' Tom started ranting on about how the durn critters used to get into the onions in his garden. Mabel,who didn't hear so well any more, thought Tom said 'bunions'--admittedly, they'd been talking about joints--and launched into a lively soliloquy on the nature of her arthritis. Fred had to get out of the place, and he didn't want to wait around to die to do it.

    blasphemy
    order
    riddled
    sly
    oval
    It's a simple fact of life that not everyone will be your target audience.

  10. #660
    practical experience, FTW Bloopographer's Avatar
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    blasphemy
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    Have you ever heard sounds like knocks or footsteps while alone in an old house? Or voices, perhaps coming from the next room, uttering creepy words? What about things like water faucets being turned on or electrical malfunctions?

    Well, I haven't had any of these experiences, personally, but I've met people who have, and their bizarre stories caused me to reflect upon possible explanations for these occurrences. The most likely, of course, is: ghosts.

    That's right. The spirits of the dead stick around.

    Would you like to know more? Pick up a copy of my book, Ghosts: Just Try to Ignore 'Em, which will tell you all you need to know about nature's scariest creation.

    Jill closed the webpage. She lived alone in an old house, had lately heard knocks, footsteps, voices uttering creepy words and all the rest, and she definitely wanted to know more. "Hm." She got up and scanned the bookshelves in her office. "That title sounds familiar..." Her eyes landed on a two-inch-thick spine, red with scripted lettering. "Yep. Here we are: Ghosts: Just Try to Ignore 'Em." She pulled it off the shelf, turned to a random page and read:

    Possessing no body, they lack the physical needs of fleshly creatures and thus have no incentive to find gainful employment. Their state of existence, too, allows them a sort of freedom from societal structures. With no means through which to deny a ghost's rights or privileges, there is no reason to grant any.

    Jobless and homeless, ghosts typically congregate in cemeteries, dungeons, at rural crossroads and other deserted locales. Some will take up residence in a home in which they once lived, a childhood home, the home of a family member, or any home they find attractive—perhaps a sprawling mansion with any number of stylishly decorated, oval-shaped rooms, or a house whose occupants tend to fall asleep with the TV on, giving a ghost the opportunity to catch a late-night movie.

    That ghosts are most active during the night, when living folk are asleep, clearly indicates they have no desire to be interfered with, preferring instead to be left alone to go about their business.

    How they manage, as ethereal entities, to manipulate physical objects remains a mystery of no particular importance. The fact is: they do. And likely accidentally, in cases where the act has been overheard or witnessed. Who hasn't knocked over a lamp or chair, dropped a book, or stumbled on a staircase? A clumsy person will necessarily become a clumsy ghost. Just as a person with a volatile temper will be apt to lose it, so may a spirit occasionally fling an object across a room in a fit of uncontrolled rage.

    The question of why there are so few sightings, when one considers the millions upon millions of ghosts that must currently be roaming the planet, is also uninteresting. I imagine most of them, having decades or centuries of experience as spirits, have perfected the art of living on the sly in order to avoid attracting attention.

    All that really matters is the knowledge that ghosts certainly exist and they can freak us out. If you are susceptible to heart palpitations, frighten easily, or simply wish to live a spook-free life—until, of course, you die and become one yourself—I suggest the following:

    1. Take a couple of sleeping pills with dinner. This will knock you right out by dusk, ensuring the clumsiest ghost in the world could drop a grenade in your home without waking—and frightening—you. Make sure to brush your teeth and get to bed before the pills kick in.

    2. Never be alone. Find someone with whom you are compatible—someone much braver than you—and enlist the help of a surgeon in joining you to that person. A superficial attachment will not suffice. It is best if an organ is shared, as this will create a mutual dependence which should minimize bickering.

    3. Stay well away from the locations previously mentioned. If you are currently living in a creaky, old home, browse the real estate listings in your local newspaper as soon as possible and choose a newer home. One in an over-crowded environment. One with lots of people coming and going at all hours, so that even should any ghosts haunt the area, you won't notice. Whatever you do, do NOT purchase or lease a renovated church. Very rarely are churches inhabited by ghosts, but they're spooky as hell.

    Jill ceremoniously closed the book. "Everyone knows the advice of an expert should always be followed," she said, brightly. "So, let's see... I'll need to stop by the pharmacy and make a doctor's appointment—oh, and I guess I'll have to convince... Well, I'll worry about that later. In the meantime..." She sat down at her computer and opened the browser. "House hunting season is open." There were a handful of posted listings that looked promising:

    Consider this newer home. It's riddled with walls you can hang stuff on, windows you can look through, doors you can open and close, floors you can walk on, and a roof to keep you snug and dry during inclement weather. Fill it with furniture, appliances, decorative ornaments, maybe some pets, and live indoors.

    Leave elbow room behind. This home is situated in an environment so over-crowded none of the children know who their biological parents are, as parents, unable to even casually monitor and thus recognize their children, have taken to tucking in any child who happens to be nearby at bedtime. Without so much as a hint of privacy, self-proclaimed hard-working, honest, fair-minded and/or charitable citizens are cautioned their non-sensical charade will be difficult to maintain.

    All alone in the world? That sucks. This may be the home for you. In a neighbourhood with lots of people coming and going at all hours, you're bound to make a friend or two. If not, you can sit at a window and lose yourself in fantasy. With all the hustle and bustle, you'll never lack for inspiration as you place all those who pass by in various roles and scenarios.

    Located in the busiest, noisiest district of all time, this home is well-suited to anyone wishing to escape the terror brought on by the irregular sounds often associated with spirit beings. Averaging 58 thuds, 621 bangs, 1,029 creaks, 35 groans, 81 moans, 76 shrieks and 293 cackles per minute, as well as a constant clink of rattling chains, even should any ghosts haunt the area, you won't notice.

    This home is not a renovated church. There has never been a pulpit or pew on the premises, nor have any of the windows ever contained a single pane of stained glass. None of the previous occupants have ever seen let alone played an organ, and not one of them could properly identify a crucifix. A great deal of wine has been drunk within this home, but only by one of the previous occupants and only for medicinal purposes. Once, a pastor came to call but was turned away at the door. He never set foot across the threshold. The pastor dropped his Bible in the yard as he fled, but the family dog blasphemously tore it to shreds, swallowing, in the process, sections of the Book of Acts, which were later expelled on the neighbour's lawn.


    imbued
    drove
    unduly
    stock
    plus
    "It doesn't matter why​ they're dressed as a tiger. Have they got my leg?" —Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

  11. #661
    Benefactor Member Nymtoc's Avatar
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    It was now or never, Jimi figured. He had always been imbued with a devilish streak, and there was no reason he couldn’t enter the stock car race and win the whole thing. Getting that trophy would be a big plus, but impressing Allison would be an even bigger one. He sure as hell drove fast enough on the highway, so he was sure he would drive faster than anyone else on this or any other raceway. He wasn’t unduly nervous about it. He always won.

    wallaby
    zinc
    misidentify
    lethargic
    tumult


    "Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- William Beveridge

  12. #662
    practical experience, FTW Bloopographer's Avatar
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    wallaby
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    Jill opened her eyes and turned to look at the alarm clock. It wasn't there. Neither was the bedside table. The morning light coming into the room was different, too—her bedroom window now faced west instead of east. Jill sat up and readjusted. She had just spent her first night in her new home.

    She should have been lethargic—the day before had been long and hectic—and doubly so, considering she hadn't slept much. But she wasn't. Because of the reason she hadn't slept much: During the night, she'd been awakened by a strange man who had politely knocked on her bedroom door and—as politely as possible—threatened her. With bodily injury, presumably, although he was a little vague. The man hadn't opened the door and Jill, of course, hadn't answered it. While she didn't know who he was, she knew what he was. Just a spook.

    Just another spook. Before she'd gone to bed, as she was unpacking a few essentials, she'd met a couple more. A couple she was familiar with. Actually, she'd only moved to escape their irritating, power-tripping antics. Which had apparently evolved to include stalking. And mocking! Yes, they'd certainly enjoyed themselves, messing about with the lights, opening doors in front of her and slamming them behind her. Some housewarming.

    Jill had no idea what time it was, but she couldn't wait to tell her BFF what had happened. In the kitchen, she found her phone and dialled.

    "Ye-es?"

    "Hey. I'm so glad you're up."

    "Uh huh. Well, I make it a habit to wake up every day."

    "Very good. Most doctors agree that a certain amount of time spent in a waking state is essential to maintain optimal health. Anyway, listen, I've got a ghost problem."

    "Again?"

    "Not again. Still. With the same ghosts."

    "How do you know? I think it'd be easy to misidentify an invisible person."

    "I heard them. They actually talked to me."

    "Oh? What did they say?"

    "What I said. They repeated it, like an echo."

    "Are you sure it wasn't an echo? Bare rooms and walls tend to create that effect."

    "Oh, I'm sure. I don't have two voices and I certainly didn't laugh."

    "They laughed?"

    "They did. I get a sense they're real pranksters. And there's a third one, too. Woke me up in the middle of the night, warning me to unpack the first aid kit. And something about zinc."

    "Really? That's silly, not scary."

    "Tell me about it. Like I said, they seem like jokers. Maybe they're just bored."

    "Maybe. What are you going to do?"

    "I don't know. Research, I guess. Try to find some helpful info. Speaking of which, was there anything I could use in that video game you played—the ghost mystery?"

    "Not unless you're being haunted by a dead brother who's trying to help you move forward through a tumultuous period in your life."

    "Brother? Funny, that's one of the words the two laughing ghosts echoed."

    "You don't happen to have a dead brother, do you?"

    "Nope. But if I did, he'd be the first person I'd suspect. These hauntings definitely have the teasing quality I'd expect from an annoying brother. I wouldn't be at all surprised to be kept awake tonight by farting and giggling."

    "Ghost farts? I'm pretty sure their digestive systems are out of order."

    "But they could imitate the sound."

    "Yeah, probably."

    "Anyway, I'll look around and see if I can find some literature offering advice on how to live harmoniously in a haunted house. Ghost psychology or whatever."

    "You don't want to be rid of them?"

    "Not quite. At least, not yet. One of them mopped the floor last night. How could a ghost who helps with the housework not be welcome?"

    "I see your point. Well, good luck. I'll call you later. Just so I know you're all right."

    "Okay. Thanks. Talk to you later."

    "Oh! And don't forget—"

    "The wallaby. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten."

    "Have fun."


    trunk
    conviction
    sterile
    printed
    affect
    "It doesn't matter why​ they're dressed as a tiger. Have they got my leg?" —Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

  13. #663
    Benefactor Member Nymtoc's Avatar
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    It was 2 am. His planning was perfect. But it wouldn’t be easy. Ted opened the garage door and set about preparing the car. Everything he did from this point, every move, every word he said, would affect the outcome. The thing in the trunk had to remain there undisturbed for at least twelve hours, because it would take him that long to drive from Bronxville to Joliet, Illinois.

    The drive would be straightforward—boring, even—as long as he observed all traffic laws, but he had a sneaking conviction that something would turn up on TV or be printed within the next couple of days. Kim Cuc was so regular in her habits, and her absence from her office was sure to be noticed and reported. But he had planned well. He had left the bedroom, the kitchen, the hall leading to the garage completely sterile.

    Cops will tell you that the husband is always the first suspect, But Ted was prepared for that, and he had been incredibly clever in constructing an alibi. In his mind, he had rehearsed every detail in explaining to people that Kim Cuc had gone on “an extended vacation” to visit her family in Tien Giang.

    He was almost to Columbus when he realized he had forgotten to turn off the surveillance cameras in the house.

    cherry
    solicitude
    screech
    contrived
    decipher
    Last edited by Nymtoc; 07-17-2017 at 07:03 PM.


    "Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- William Beveridge

  14. #664
    Sailing in a sea of mushroom... Nerdilydone's Avatar
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    "What's this, cherry flavored?" she threw the drink back on the table. "Gross. You know I don't like cherries."

    "No, I really don't," he answered. "I don't know you at all, and begging your pardon, I'd rather not know you at all. So in the interests of mutual peace and going back to our former, more boring lives, I suggest you happily get back to your burger and be grateful that I even bought you food at all."

    Marylise glanced back at the menu. There were so many drink options at the Sonic burger, and Tom had to come back with the one flavor she couldn't stand. She just wanted lemon. Was that so hard to understand?

    What was certainly inscrutable was their choice of meeting place. Sonic? What in the world made it seem like an open-air, drive-in restaurant was the best place to meet about private matters? Besides the lack of privacy, there was the noise: the constant rumble of tires, the screech of many a random child playing in the play area, and people constantly ordering at the mechanical menu. Marylise didn't bother asking Tom about this place. She didn't want a drawn out explanation of whatever he considered logic. She just stuffed a fry in her face and wished that Tom had bought her a milkshake instead of a cherry limeade.

    "Now let's deal with the matter at hand." Tom straightened and played with the straw of his Diet Coke. "We need to get our story down. If Big John gets wind that we aren't a married couple happily enjoying a trip to your mother's house, then we're dead. Simple as that."

    "I appreciate your solicitude, but do we even have to talk to Big John? Is there any chance we can, y'know, pretend to be a servant and just sneak into his house? Can we not have this whole contrived fantasy? You're like, so not my type."

    "Nor are you mine, but -"

    "Then why are we even going through all of this?" Marylise jabbed a french fry at her partner. "All we need isto find his legal papers, decipher what it is they mean and how he intends to use them, and then take him to court. Why all this posturing?"

    "Because I'm the one who knows Big John." Tom leaned over the table. "I'm the one who is going to keep you alive."

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    Jill poured herself another cup of coffee and returned to the living room. On a table were stacked half a dozen books she'd pulled from the shelves. To read, obviously—or at least skim through—but not for fun. For research. Which, actually, she very much enjoyed. So, on this dark and stormy night, as she sat curled up in front of the fire, reading about ghosts, instead of being bored to death, Jill was having a wonderful time.

    Sort of. Casting a bit of a shadow on the canvas was the fact that, at any moment, the book she was reading might be ripped from her hands by one of the mischievous squatters whose pranks—which included making long-distance phone calls, changing the time on her clocks, and not existing in proper space-time—were approaching intolerable. Which is why she was researching.

    Grabbing a book from the pile, she sat down and read:

    What The Hell Just Happened: Incidents of No One Doing Something

    As the use of electronic gadgets increases, so do the cases of phantom activity. Properly defined as "any occurrence involving sensory inputs which confuse and/or frighten," common examples of phantom activity include telephone calls made by no one, doors closed by no one, television sets turned on by no one, and words spoken by no one.

    Last year, the What The Hell Just Happened Hotline received more than 39,999,999 calls from clinically sane people—(my own dear, sweet mother was four of them)—compared with almost 17,999,999 and roughly 9,999,999 calls in 1984 and 1948, respectively.

    At least all of these incidents occurred in quiet or rural neighbourhoods, however some believe the proportionately greater number of incidents which occur in metropolitan areas are unreported by people who are either dumb or terrified of looking that way.

    "Hm." Jill closed the book. "Uselessly informative," she muttered, setting it aside and reaching for another. "Ah. The Maddening: Plight of the Otherworld. Now this sounds promising."

    For millennia, the ghost community was a happy one. With a diverse population including many distinguished souls, the dead enjoyed a primarily cooperative, respectful relationship with the living, one bordering on friendship. In recent years, however, the Otherworld has been thrown into turmoil.

    Technological advancements which have served to boost the longevity, apathy and arrogance of a species with an inherent fondness for impossible acrobatics have invariably effected a decline in the ghost population. While the number of dead continues to rise, this growth consists predominantly of senile elders, reckless idiots, gang members, alcoholics, gluttons and the like—a trend which most in the ghost community find worrisome.

    Equally troubling is the marked increase of abuse the dead suffer at the hands of their living tormentors. Regularly and callously slandered in horror fiction, stalked relentlessly by photographers hoping to capture a prize-worthy image, hounded by prying strangers with impertinent questions, tracked by mobs on guided tours, and exploited by fraudulent psychics, many a ghost has been driven mad.

    "Why, they're treated like red-carpet celebrities!" Jill cried. Suddenly, she couldn't wait to die.


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    Jill sat on the edge of the bathtub, feeling sorry for herself. Because of her body, which she hated. It was a gorgeous body, sure, but the effort involved in maintaining it was too much! She had to feed it. Every day. She had to keep it clean and healthy, free of disease, blemishes, and hair. She had to dress it, take it for walks, put it to bed. And so on. All of this left her with precious little freedom to enjoy her life.

    The ghosts who haunted Jill, on the other hand, were having a great time. It seemed they never stopped laughing. Two days ago, one of them had performed a skit—an hilarious line by line re-enactment of Jill's attempt to explain to her date that she had not farted in his face, that The Incident was nothing more than a ghost's prank. Even now, as Jill sulked, their guffaws continued to fill the house.

    Oh, how she envied them. There was more than joy in their laughter. There was also insanity. An insanity for which, Jill had recently learned, they were not responsible in any way whatsoever, period. Yes, Jill envied them. She wanted to be carefree and irresponsible, too. She wanted to do nothing but laugh for days on end. She wanted to be a ghost. And she'd made her decision when—

    The phone r—

    A crash sounded from the kitchen, followed by a child's scream. Jill got up to answer the phone. There was no need to rush to the aid of a dead child. From the foyer, its maniacal voice called: "I'm leaving! And never coming back! Never!"

    A moment later, Jill heard the front door slam. "A most dramatic exit. I totally felt the madness. Right off the handle." Chuckling, she answered the phone. "Good afternoon. You've reached Jill's home of the weird and whiny. What's yer pleasure?"

    "I'd like to speak with you, please." It was her BFF.

    "I'm sorry. This character is disgustingly limited. Can I do me instead?"

    "Yes, that'll be fine."

    "Excellent. Go ahead."

    "How's it going?"

    "Wonderfully. I'm having a great deal of fun, as per your instructions."

    "And researching...?"

    "Oh, yes. I've learned there's a crisis in the Otherworld."

    "Of what kind?"

    "Apparently we're driving them crazy. Well, the ones that aren't already crazy, which, according to what I read, is most of them."

    "You'd fit right in."

    "You mean me?"

    "Yes, me."

    "I certainly would."

    "You mean me?"

    "We'd both fit in. It's a big place. Actually, I think it'd be pretty cool to be a ghost. I'd never have to eat or sleep or live or any of that boring, habitual stuff, with no repercussions. Speaking of... You know how much I love to rap my knuckles on various solid surfaces. I'm doing it right now while we talk."

    "Yes, you're making a lovely racket."

    "Don't I know it. So, I was thinking..."

    "...of getting ghostified?"

    "Precisely. I've just got to decide—"

    "Um, wait. Before you do anything hasty, I've gotta tell you... That's not the way—"

    "Oh, don't worry. BFF, right? I'll haunt you every day, sanity permitting."

    "No, I mean that's not how it's done. Listen, I was doing some research, too, and came across an ancient manuscript—the first manuscript ever written, in fact. It was, sadly, lost the very day after its completion, but recently rediscovered in the belly of a whale."

    "A live whale?"

    "As far as I know."

    "Who found it?"

    "I did."

    "What were you doing inside a whale?"

    "I've already told you: Research."

    "Research?"

    "Yes. Anyway—"

    "So, you've been in the belly of a whale?"

    "Yes."

    "Why am I only hearing of this now?"

    "It hadn't happened when we last spoke."

    "Earlier today?"

    "Right. And I've just finished translating the ancient manuscript I found in the whale's belly, which is why I called. Apparently the—"

    "You found a manuscript inside a whale?"

    "It was a serendipitous find. Luckily, it was still intact, and I was able to decipher its meaning, having been introduced—"

    "Hold on. I want to hear about your experience in the whale. Or, more accurately, your passage through the whale. You've rekindled an old obsession of mine."

    "I remember. Your obsession led to my own interest and research. Okay. What would you like to know?"

    "You entered through the whale's mouth, I presume?"

    "Correct."

    "And exited through its anus?"

    "Correct."

    "How long did the journey take, approximately?"

    "Well, it would have been quicker, had I not noticed a strange lump in the whale's intestine. Naturally, I stopped to have a look. The lump turned out to be a corked bottle which had, at some point long ago, become lodged. It was in there good and deep. Took a bit of doing to extract. But the whale didn't even flinch. Beginning to end, I was in there about forty-five minutes."

    "Did you get squished at all?"

    "Oh, no. There was room enough to stand. I bet I could have taken my bicycle and pedalled through in fifteen minutes or less. If I used a decent tread."

    "What kind of supplies did you need? Oxygen...?"

    "Didn't need any supplies. Short, easy hike. And there was plenty of air. I can't explain why. But fortunately there was, as I didn't think to pack an oxygen tank."

    "Was it smelly?"

    "Ew, yes, it was gross."

    "But bearable?"

    "Definitely."

    "Incredible! For years I've wondered what it would be like to pass through a whale's anus. You know, I think I'll give it a go before I ghost myself up."

    "Yeah, about that... The ancient manuscript I found revealed the truth about ghosts and what they really are."

    "The truth? You mean they're not the spirits of dead people?"

    "Not exactly, no. Not according to this ancient manuscript."

    "Hm. Well, do tell. Everyone knows ancient manuscripts contain all the most important knowledge in the world."

    "Okay. Apparently, a ghost is actually the spirit—the soul—of a living person."

    "Huh? So... my soul is, unbeknownst to me, floating around out there somewhere, knocking and mocking?"

    "No. Not unless you've already performed the ancient ritual."

    "There's a ritual?"

    "Of course. In order to become a ghost, a living person must place their soul inside a dead body."

    "A dead body?"

    "Well, a dead person, anyway. Obviously, a ghost is bodiless. But the form of a dead person is used. Their appearance, voice, and so on. Actually, the text wasn't exactly clear on this point, but I think the reason a dead person's form is used has to do with recognition. You know, so the actions of one's ghost/soul aren't connected to their living counterpart, who would be literally ignorant of said actions."

    "And the ghost-person is still alive."

    "Oh, yes. Their soul has been separated, so they're kind of dim—boring and, well, lifeless, so to speak. But their body still functions. They walk, talk, eat, sleep, work, play, and so on. On automatic pilot, I guess."

    "Well, how about that. What happens when they die? They do die, right? They're not immortal or anything, are they?"

    "Nope. They retain their mortality. And when they die, their soul probably goes to Heaven or whatever."

    "And the dead person whose appearance was adopted? Just disappears? Like nothing happened?"

    "The ancient manuscript didn't mention anything about that, but I wouldn't think they'd be affected. Apart from, perhaps, their reputation, depending on what the possessor did whilst donning their image."

    "Hm. Interesting."

    "Still want to become a ghost?"

    "More than ever. Does the ancient manuscript explain how?"

    "Yep. It's real easy, too. Wanna do it together?"

    "BFF...? You'd like to accompany me into the Otherworld?"

    "I would."

    "Awesome. So... Who do you want to be?"


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    "It doesn't matter why​ they're dressed as a tiger. Have they got my leg?" —Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

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    Meryl stared through the one-way glass at the lineup of men. The first one on the left resembled the image in her head, but it had been dark, and her memory was inconsistent. One minute her mind pictured her attacker as a young Clint Eastwood look-alike, then his face traded places with Hugh Jackman's. She just couldn't be sure.

    But if the man on the left was a suspect, he wasn't there based solely on her description of height, weight and hair color. Some other factor had led the police to this man. And didn't that factor combined with her sense of familiarity, however vague, increase the chances that he was the one?

    She didn't want to accuse an innocent person. But she didn't want her attacker to go free, to do to someone else what he had done to her.

    If the man she was looking at wasn't their suspect at all--if he was just a cop or an office clerk who had been hauled into the room to fill out the lineup--and she selected him, there would be no harm done, right? They would know he wasn't the guilty party and everyone would just go home. And for sure, if one of the other men was the suspect, they had the wrong guy. Because none of the others rang a bell with her. If she pointed out the man on the left and it turned out their suspect was one of the others, she would be saving an innocent man from being falsely accused.

    She made her decision. It was time to wind this up.

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    Detective Joseph Wazinski sucked on his cigarette, smoke swirling around his face like a writhing snake. He was a puffer. He liked to hold the cigarette delicately between two fingers and blow smoke rings that looked like cake donuts. The smoke slowly spread, like ripples on the water, until it encircled the corpse. He prodded his partner, pointing a stubby, tar-stained finger. "See that? There's marks on her throat. Looks like the killer used paracord to strangle her."

    "Yeah, I think you're right. What do you make of the shell casing though? I don't see any obvious entry wounds. And why would he shoot and strangle her?"

    Joe dropped his cigarette in the snow to quench it, sucked in a deep breath, and said, "Maybe she tried to defend herself? And he took her gun with him?"

    "Yeah, but there's no blood. She missed? Maybe we're overthinking this?"

    They stood together, over the body, looking at the paltry evidence. Both knew it was going to be a long night.

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    "I am not a ghost."

    I examined the apparition up and down. Let's see, a blob of white non-substance, no hair, no feet, and the face of a jack-o-lantern. Well, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's obviously a robot with feathers glued on it.

    "Hate to break it to you, dude," I flung my open hands at him. "But if you're not a ghost, you look an awful lot like one."

    "I'm not ready to be a ghost! I've got so much to live for! There was that bicycle marathon, I was going to go out with Sarah, and what about those concert tickets I saved up for? I can't even eat french fries! Man, I'm really going to miss that..."

    "Uh, well, the good news is that you probably don't need to buy tickets to a concert if you're a ghost."

    "Thanks, Ruby, you're so helpful." he scoffed. "Now look, obviously I left a body somewhere. If we put my spirit back in my body before I rot, we're good to go."

    "I don't know if that's how it works." I plopped down in a chair. "That could end up with you becoming a zombie. That's my prediction, anyway."

    "Oh, so you're just going to sit there and do nothing now, right?"

    "Dude, I am tired. I got home from work not too long ago, and I was really looking forward to not using my brain." I yawned. "But I guess there's a weird symmetry about this. I'm dead tired, and you're dead."

    "....I really hate you, Ruby."

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    "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa..." Jack said, running up to the throne. "What the hell are you doing?"

    "My people are hungry. I'm feeding them."

    Jack watched, exasperated, as God lobbed another bunch of carrots from the sky. What he wouldn't give to trade places with Michael or Gabriel. They had it so easy. Jack, on the other hand, as the Angel of Preventing FUBAR, had his hands full. "You're doing it wrong." He sighed. "Look. They landed in the Pacific Ocean. Way to go."

    "O ye of little faith," God replied. "The current will carry them to the shores of British Columbia."

    "Probably not. And even if it did, the carrots would be inedible by the time they landed. Remember what happened to the bananas?"

    God shrugged. "I'll make the current stronger."

    "No!" Jack screamed. "You'll kill them all!"

    "They're not living things, Jack," God said with a chuckle. "They're vegetables."

    "The people," explained Jack. "You'll kill the people. Again."

    As God prepared to drop a battery of cannons onto the Antarctic continent—for some reason only He could fathom—Jack knocked him to the cloud. "No. Just no." He stared down at God's confused expression. "Why don't you call it a day? Get back to your game."

    God's face lit up at Jack's suggestion. "Oh! Good idea. I'm really liking the Protoss. They—"

    "I'm sure they're very nice," interrupted Jack. "Have a lovely time."


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    "It doesn't matter why​ they're dressed as a tiger. Have they got my leg?" —Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

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    Beyond the spill of the yard lights blazing from each corner of the barn, beyond the range of the motion sensors he had seen earlier in the day, Gavin did a circuit of the property, looking for sentries.

    The motion sensors confirmed that the barn contained something beyond the normal--a secret bigger than a prize cow or a new breed of chicken. A secret that might also warrant the use of infrared sensors, but Gavin wasn't worried about those. It was raining, and infrared detectors performed poorly in falling rain. They weren't reduced to merely decorative, but the rain was also soaking Gavin, cooling him and allowing his heat signature to blend in to the background clutter.

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    Sometimes Carl had to think back to remember how much time he had spent in these woods. Must be twenty-two years, he calculated. Never in a million years would he ever have thought he’d end up here, but he had been bored to death working for a Wall Street firm, with its petty but turbulent personnel conflicts, and one day he packed up and headed for this eucalyptus forest. Once he saw the majestic trees, he knew he would never again come close to hunching over a computer in some corporation's cubicle. He was a craftsman now, and he would continue to carve exquistively designed wooden figures and the world's cleverest toys as long as he lived.

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    The lawyer for Gary Barlowe buttoned his suit jacket and prepared to affect a confident trot up the courthouse steps. Behind him, his driver pulled the Cadillac away from the curb. Ahead of him, a collage of microphones, cameras, voice recorders and cell phones advanced. He could make out random words from the babble of questions shouted from behind the wall of electronics: "barbaric", "gruesome", "monster", "death penalty". He smiled, held up a hand and prepared to prevaricate.

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    The dark room, lit only by the light emanating from the mech-table and the few lights beeping on the machines lining the various walls. The surface of the table, displaying star charts of the sector, bore also the small figurines representing fighters, bombers, and the various convoys associated with the Guild of Light. The arms of studious men shuffled these plastic figures over the simulation display.

    "We could perhaps pass through the Sovos nebula. It would protect us from radar for at least twenty light-pars."

    The second man tapped his lips thoughtfully, then pointed at the respective place on the chart. "That's true, but we'd be dangerously close to the Edwardian Guild station once we emerged."

    "Yes," the first nodded. "But as far as I can figure, that's the best strategy. Or at least the quickest."

    "It would be crazy to get so close to the Eds, but I can see your point. Time isn't exactly on our side." he peered closer over the square panel representing the Edwardian station. "All the same, I'd like to take a bit to consider our options. There's got to be a better way than this."

    His companion absentmindedly picked a piece of fluff from his uniform. "Well, I was considering going through the Inrig Run, but the Ghosul wormhole is completely out. It's been locked down by rogues for the past month."

    "It's getting harder. We're going to have to make deliberate moves to secure the civilians on our worlds."

    The door behind them opened, shining light into the room. A female figure stood silhouetted from the hall.

    "Colonel Mitchell," she said. "You're being called from Portuis. It's Aikman."

    The second man nodded, and turned again to the first. "Thank you, Lieutenant. We'll pick up this conversation later. For now, make estimates for the cost and security of the Sovos plan."

    "Yes, sir. God be with you."

    "And God be with you also."

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    He had seen it in a dream, or almost. In the dream it was not finished. But it had held some kind of deep meaning for him. What? He had to get the image back.

    He would try to put it on canvas, exactly as it had been in the dream. Seen from one angle, it was real, and from another angle it appeared to be a fantasy. Solid yet insubstantial. He began to sketch an outline. There had been musicians and dancers. One dancer had worn a kind of Nordic dress, another something Asian, another a tartan. There was nothing realistic about the scene—yet it had burned into his eyes. There—he sketched the outline of a young dancer airily suspended, in mid-jeté.

    But it wasn’t quite right. For one thing, where was this scene happening? Not on a stage, and certainly not on a sound stage. It had to be real. Greece? Possibly. But any hint of Corinthian columns would ruin it. On an island, then. But which one?

    The fact was, he had never been on any interesting island. He hadn’t been a lot of places. But he had traveled to Portugal last summer. He had visited a little town called Marateca. That was it! That was the place in his dream!

    He reached for his palette.

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    "Ignorance is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens." -- William Beveridge

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