Friday, August 28, 2009

Wordzzle 78 - The wall

This is my contribution to this week's Wordzzle. Wordzzle is a game in which each week word lists, used to create stories, are given on the blog Views from Raven's Nest. Participating users post their stories on their own blogs.

This is my entry number 22, for Wordzzle week 78.

Ten Word Challenge:

really cool,
bread crumbs,
Sponge Bob,
magical moment,
back and forth,
good fences make good neighbors

I'd like to say it was a magical moment, and really cool, but all the suffering got in the way. I crawled along on my stomach, hugging the line in the road like it was a trail of bread crumbs left by angels. I could see the end, not far away now. It lay like an invisible fence, separating what was here from what was there. I've heard that good fences make good neighbors, but it didn't much matter in this case. I hoped to never be here again.

I tried to gather my strength, to stand, to somehow walk to the end, to go out like a man, but I swayed back and forth and then fell to my knees, and then on my face. Through a haze of pain I saw a little boy wearing a Sponge Bob T-shirt, looking down at me.

"Are you all right, mister?"

I tried to say something, but couldn't. I finally nodded, or I think I did, and began crawling on. Maybe I inspired the kid. I hoped not. Why would I want anyone to end up like this? Oh, what an impulsive thing I had done, that led me to end up here. If I could only take back that moment. But it was too late now. Too late for anything.

The end was close now. I could feel it more than see it, as the light seemed to be fading rapidly.

Then, almost as a surprise, I was somehow crossing it, slowly inching my way forward, a growing roar filling my ears, filling my head. And then it was done. It was over. I hadn't set any records, except maybe for slowest finisher, but the marathon race was done.

Mini Challenge:

side effects are generally mild,

"'Side effects are generally mild,'" I said, reading from the package of samples the doctor had given me. "'Some people may experience goose bumps and reddening of the skin, and sticky sweat, occasionally heavy.'"

"Goose bumps, huh? You look more like a chicken than a goose. With that red face. more specifically a rooster. Does it say anything about the feathers?"

"No, it doesn't mention feathers. The feathers are from that truck full of chickens that passed us, I'm sure. They're just stuck to me because of my sweat. It makes my skin real clingy."

"Well don't come in the house like that. We'll have to wash you off with the hose."

"With the hose! But I've already got goose bumps!"

"Yeah, but they're meaningless. It's over 100 degrees out here. You'll be lucky if the water from the hose doesn't burn you. Now hold still."

"Ahhh! Ahhh! It burns! My goose bumps are getting worse! I'm sweating more! I'm got feathers in my mouth!"

"Well, spit them out. You don't know where they've been."

"Oh, this is just awful, I can still taste them!"

"Well, you won't be kissing me for a while."

"I'm here suffering, and all you can think about is yourself? Have you no pity?"

"I drove you home, didn't I? Drove you there, too."

"Yes, but you could be a little nicer about it. Especially with the shape I'm in."

"You look in better shape than your clothes. We're going to have a terrible time getting all the feathers off of them."

"They wouldn't be there if you hadn't washed them off my face and neck, and hands. Some of them have gone down my neck. I can feel them inside my clothes. It's awful. I think some things are crawling around on me, too."

"Maybe they were on the feathers. Or it could be all in your head."

"Let me check the box again. It's all wet! My glasses are, too. I can hardly see it. Let me see... It says something about possible mild hallucinations and delusions."

"Uh huh. You should have shown a little more curiosity before you took them."

"Well, they were essentially free, the doctor was giving them out, they were something the drug company gave him. If they worked he said he would write me a prescription for some more."

"You might not want to get that prescription," a strange voice said. "In fact, you might not want to take any more."

I turned and saw a woman on the sidewalk, looking at me funny. She had slowed to almost a stop, but she speeded up now and walked away quickly, sometimes looking back over her shoulder at me.

I looked down at the small poodle holding the hose. "That sure was odd, wasn't it?"

She nodded and hit me again with the water.

Mega challenge:

really cool,
bread crumbs,
Sponge Bob,
magical moment,
back and forth,
good fences make good neighbors

side effects are generally mild,

"Good fences make good neighbors," the sign said, but there were no fences and no neighbors, just the barren land. I guess that was the point. No fences, therefor no neighbors. If I constructed a fence, would neighbors appear? I didn't know. I walked on. A little later I saw another sign. It said, "If you build it, they will come." It sounded like an answer to my question, though I couldn't be sure. In any case, there wasn't anything around to build anything with, and I didn't have the time to cart building materials out here.

After a while, I came to a solid wall, painted white, ten feet high, that ran from horizon to horizon. This looked like a pretty good fence, one for the record books. I still didn't see any neighbors. Maybe because it wasn't really a fence, just a wall. I guess that made sense.

I saw two doors in it. One said "Fools" and the other said "Angels." I wasn't sure what to expect on the other side, seeing that the other signs hadn't been too helpful.

I knew more about fools than I did about angels, so I finally decided to open the door marked "Fools" first. I didn't know how many might be inside, or how friendly they might be, so I opened the door slowly and carefully. Inside I saw a dilapidated wooden bridge crossing a deep canyon. The bridge was creaking and shifting, and seemed about to collapse. A sign beside it said, "Cross here." I decided I wasn't that big of a fool, so I backed out and went to the other door.

I opened it and saw the same canyon, only without the bridge. A sign said, "Cross here." I didn't have any angel wings with me, so I couldn't cross here, either. I went back out and closed the door, unsure what to do now.

Then I noticed that the signs on the doors had changed. The signs now said "Really cool" and "Impulsive." I opened the "Really cool" door and found a bridge of ice going across the canyon. It looked pretty slippery, so I closed the door and went to the other one.

When I opened it, I saw a path leading to a bridge, with giant toad statues lining and facing the path. I stared at the scene for a while. The bridge appeared to be sturdy, but something didn't feel right. I started to turn back, but then on impulse I started down the path. The toads jumped toward each other, slamming into each other with loud smacking sounds. I was almost hit, but leaped out of the way just in time. I could see now that they weren't statues at all, they had just seemed that way because of their size and stillness. They were now erratically jumping in all directions, seemingly on impulse. I couldn't tell which way any of them would jump, and some of them almost hit me again. I finally managed to get out and close the door.

I saw then that the signs on the doors had again changed. One said "Clingy" and the other said "Curiosity." I opened the "Clingy" door and saw the canyon again, with no bridge. A giant frog wearing a saddle crawled up over the edge, using its sticky feet to cling to the rock. It looked at me and its tongue shot out, hitting the wall five feet from me, then shot back into its mouth, holding some small animal. I backed out and shut the door.

I opened the other one and saw a long concrete pipe, about four feet wide, forming a tunnel over the canyon. The ground around it was littered with the bones of small animals. Over the end of the tunnel was a grate of heavy steel. On a pole beside it was a plaque with a large red button. I went over and read the plaque. It said "Push this." I peered into the tunnel, but couldn't see the other end. Something seemed to be blocking the way. I finally pushed the button, not knowing what else to do, and curious about what might happen. The grate started to lift, clearing the way into the tunnel, and from inside the tunnel I heard a rapid scurrying, coming this way. I ran for the door, got through it and slammed it closed, as I felt something heavy smack into the other side.

I spent quite a bit of time at the doors, going back and forth between them, opening them and going in, but no matter what the signs changed to, I couldn't find a way to get over the canyon. At least not one I felt safe using. Finally, the signs said "Suffering" and "Bread crumbs."

I decided to try the "Bread crumbs" first. When I opened the door, I saw a sturdy bridge heavily carpeted in bread crumbs. The path leading to it was the same way. I started to walk forward, and hordes of birds swooped down and started eating the bread crumbs. They were all around, and smacking against me. I put up my arms, trying to fend them off. With my head down and arms waving, I tried to slowly walk forward, but the birds were everywhere, and I could hardly find a place to put my feet. Eventually I stepped on one, whereupon the others all turned on me and started flying at me and pecking me. I turned and ran back out through the door, slamming it behind me, hearing a rain of thuds on it.

I went to the other door and stood in front of it for a while. "Suffering" did not sound too promising, but the signs wouldn't change until I tried both doors. I finally opened it and saw a sturdy bridge. Nothing unusual seemed to be around. I slowly walked toward it, expecting something to happen at any minute, but nothing did. I slowly and carefully walked across the bridge. I made it to the other side, and still nothing happened. I looked back at the bridge, and everything still looked normal. Where was the suffering? Then I remembered that one of the meanings of suffer was permit. So suffering could mean permitting. Perhaps that was it. At least I hoped so.

I turned away from the bridge and continued my journey. The path led into the hills. I saw no more signs. The way got rougher and steeper, and eventually I was going up the side of a mountain. Then the path led into an opening in the rock, into a cave. I paused outside it for a minute, considering what to do, and finally went in.

Inside was a huge room, dimly lit by widely spaced torches. Directly in front of me, wide steps were cut out of the rock, leading down to a broad flat floor, perhaps ten feet below. Overhead, far above, I could see a distant ceiling, littered with stalactites. The room stretched to vast distances on either side of me. Ahead, perhaps two hundred feet away, were more steps, leading up to another level area, beyond which was the far wall. A little ways in front of the far wall was a giant throne, made of rock. On the throne sat a giant rooster.

I walked down the steps and across the floor, and up the other steps, until I stood in front of the throne and the rooster. This close, I could see that he was enormous, probably seven or eight feet tall when standing.

The rooster looked down at me. "You have completed the tests. You have earned the prize. Now you must choose it."

It swept its left wing up in a majestic gesture, and I saw the wall now had narrow shelves lined with Sponge Bob lunchboxes. It was a magical moment.

I walked up to them. They all looked the same. "Does it matter which one I choose?"

"Yes, it does."

"What will happen if I choose the wrong one?"

"The side effects are generally mild, but the primary effects will gather all your attention."

That sounded pretty bad. I walked up and down in front of them, looking them over. I couldn't tell any difference in any of them. I finally turned to the rooster and said, "I choose the one you would choose."

"A wise decision."

It got up and walked over and picked up one with its beak. Holding it by its handle, it turned and held it out to me. I reached forward somewhat uneasily, suddenly acutely aware of the bird's size. I took the lunch box and held it lovingly in my hands, then opened it. Inside it was, of course, full of golden sponge cakes. I took one out. Another appeared in its place. It held an unending supply. I took a bite. It was delicious, heavenly.

"May I have a sample?"

I started to say yes, but then stopped, a wave of fear going through me. For all I knew, I might look even more tasty than what was in the lunchbox. "A sample of what?" I finally said.

"You have passed the test. I offer you my kingdom and everything in it, if you will accept it."

I thought for a minute. Normally an offer like that would be pretty attractive, but his kingdom seemed pretty forbidding, with its wall or fence that kept out almost everyone. I didn't think I would really like being cooped up in the cave all alone either, perhaps for all eternity, unless I could eventually trick some other person into taking my place. "You're very kind, but I'm afraid I can't accept it. I'll just stick with the lunchbox."

"Very well. The way out is over here," it said, indicating a large white door set into the wall.

I went over and opened it. Light poured out from it, then light was everywhere. I stood there blinking, then saw my wife over by the light switch. I was standing in front of the refrigerator, holding the door open with one hand, and eating something with the other.

"What are you doing? You know you're supposed to be on a diet! And what is the lunchbox doing open on the table?"

"Does it, er, have any sponge cake in it?"

"Not anymore, everything's gone, I'll have to repack it before he goes to school. And you're still eating! Put down that chicken leg."

I stared at it. "Don't worry," I said. "I only, er, took a sample."

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Blogger Reston Friends! said...

Awesome writing! I did the Disney Marathon a few years ago so I know exactly what your first guy was feeling! But the "lady or tiger" doors were incredible. What a great imagination and most excellent descriptions!

And I think the middle one with the "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" imagery was truly inspired...or wired...or something along those lines!

6:57 PM, August 29, 2009  
Blogger Raven said...

Wonderful, especially the last one which kept me totally absorbed from start to finish.

9:36 PM, August 29, 2009  
Blogger CJ said...

Three great stories. I liked them all, I especaially liked the sponge cake in the Sponge Bob lunch box.

12:07 AM, August 30, 2009  
Blogger Argent said...

Oh, Stephen, that first piece was glorious! I did a marathon-length walk for charity a few months back and, having not got rid of some old running injuries, felt pretty much like your character did at the end. Kudos!

The second one worked its way into weirdness so smoothly. I should have seen the ending coming after the big fat clues at the start (somebody trying out experimental medication, and all) but you kept your head beautifully all through and didn't rush into an overly-hurried conclusion. Superb as always!

Now what can I say about the third one? I am SO JEALOUS right now of your ability to weave together such magical stories with these words every week. I think this one was possibly one of your best ones ever. It had me totally hooked all the way through. I was even using my hand to cover up the lines I hadn't read yet so that I did not inadvertantly reveal a bit of the story before its proper time. And the twist at the end - awe-inspiring. I loved how you tried to trick us into thinking the character had died with all this "white light" and "saw my wife" stuff - only to have the light become the fridge light after all. Genius, pure genius. If you're not a regularly published writer, then there ain't no justice.

3:24 AM, August 30, 2009  
Blogger Dr.John said...

Missed this the other day. Three great stories but the last one is the very best wordzlle I have read.

7:28 AM, September 03, 2009  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thanks, everyone, for the very nice comments.

I'm afraid I haven't published anything yet. Maybe someday.

10:33 PM, September 05, 2009  

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