CSM Creative Writing presents our latest collaboration in the form of short stories. Each author chose from one of the following prompts, wrote a beginning, then switched and continued another author’s story.
Prompt 1: Write a story for this picture http://wlop.deviantart.com/art/Sky-Lanterns-442002652 or for this picture http://jonasdero.deviantart.com/art/Dodge-This-452672142
Prompt 2: You receive a gift with a note that says, “I hope you never have to use this.”
Prompt 3: Your grandmother leaves you a journal with a lock, and a key. What is written inside?
We hope you enjoy these newly crafted stories!
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Written by: Amber Hill, J. West, and Grant DeShazer
Prompt: 1, http://wlop.deviantart.com/art/Sky-Lanterns-442002652
The moon swam above in an inky sky. Why he had chosen such a clear night, he didn’t know.
The kingdom was distracted. Not only by the death of the princess, for whom they were grieving on this night, but by the feeling of being on the eve of war.
Durbroch couldn’t bring himself to stand in the little boat as it approached the shoreline. He had never been very sure-footed on the sea, nor did he want to risk being seen in the silvery light that spilled over him. His mission was simple, but surely not easy, and he wouldn’t make it any easier by drawing attention from the silly folk on the hills surrounding the proper.
The bag at his feet rocked as the boat bumped against the sandy bottom. Durbroch was on his feet in under a breath, the bag slung up onto his shoulder in one swift movement. He stepped off into the water, and trudged up toward the treeline, his heavy armor surprisingly soundless across his broad shoulders.
There was shouting from the city walls, to his left. He jogged the rest of the way to the trees, and lifted the heavy iron mask that guarded his not all too pleasant face. Catching a breath was always an issue in this gear.
He placed the bundle down once out of sight and straightened long enough to check the shore again. He made briskly for the boat, kicked it away, and watched it float aimlessly for several heartbeats before turning back for his prize.
The bag was stirring when he found it again in the shade cast by the cone-shaped trees. He knelt down, and quickly shirked the bag.
The princess glared up at him, surprisingly sober.
“You could have at least let me poke my head out. I could hardly breath in there,” she whined. “I hired you to fake my death and bring me to Allion so I could find my brother. I thought you were trustworthy and smart, but I never imagined your manners would be so crude.”
“Well, beggars can’t be choosers,” said Durbroch irritably.
“Well, I’m a princess, and I can too choose.” she snapped, standing up to stretch her aching muscles. She’d been cramped in that bag for far too long.
Durbroch regarded her with restrained impatience. “We’ll camp here tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll find us some horses in Halcyon, and we can ride to Allion from there. We’ll arrive at nightfall.”
They made camp in silence, still able to see the lanterns floating above them in the sky like golden guardians poking through the needled branches.
“Do you think my parents are sad?” she asked suddenly. Her tone was casual, but Durbroch detected something like regret underneath.
“Are you sad?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ll miss them. But I miss my brother more. And if they had anything to do with his disappearance, I don’t know how I would feel.”
“You’re pretty brave for someone as young as yourself.”
“I’m only brave because I have to be, Durbroch.”
And he saw her steel herself, silhouetted in the twilight. It was a look he was rather familiar with. A look many men wore before plunging into the depths of battle, blade in hand. But, it was never a look that stuck for very long, even the strongest warrior would be swept up in a battle and thrashed mercilessly against the shore until nothing was left in their eyes except a forlorn emptiness and an animal instinct to survive.
This princess might very well be brave and strong now, and perhaps with his help she would remain that way. But it very well could come to pass, that she, like so many of the men he had once commanded, would be swallowed by a cruel and unforgiving world.
The Blue Bottle
Written by: Richard Sebastian-Coleman, Amber Hill, and J. West
A small bottle containing dark blue liquid that instantly evoked a sense of being far from heaven. The spy’s last resort, should he/she/it get caught while on the inside. The two vertical lines of the ‘H’ of hydrogen on the label formed two ominous pillars that seemed to border the door to the land of the dead. Such a strange thing, that such a small amount of pretty blue hue could lead one out of this world to the next. A small note from John at The Company accompanied the blue hue in its little brown box, ‘‘Hope you never have to use this.”
Yeah, he hoped he never would have to too. The plane would take off shortly, and this would be stuffed nicely in his carry-on, under a different label of course, probably Tylenol. Why The Company bothered to properly label the things for their agents was a little beyond him. Ah well, if it got lost in the mail probably best someone knew what it really was, wouldn’t want some kid getting at it. The ‘C’ on the label was as ominously curved as the pillars of the ‘H’ were straight. So close to being a sickle.
He slid the bottle carefully into the pocket at his breast and moved toward the plane, donning a pair of sunglasses and spitting his gum onto the asphalt. Several flight crew members were scrambling about at the base of the steps that would lead him to his final mission before an early retirement. He smiled to himself, nodding in response to some wordless thought.
He mounted the stairs slowly. Not due to his age – the thought made him laugh, as even his seniors weren’t talented enough to have been able to quit so young. He just wanted to savor this feeling. The last steps onto this cursed plane.
He reached out for the door frame, and the moment his fingertips brushed the metal, the plane exploded.
He didn’t know how far he was once he came to again. He couldn’t have been out for long; the ringing in his ears still hadn’t faded. His eyes fluttered, but the sun blinded him. He rolled carefully, ignoring the twisting and pulling in every inch of his body, and let out a long groan as blood dripped onto the pavement just inches from his gaze.
He started to crawl – just as he had been instructed to do from day one – and tried to push with his legs. One foot was surely broken. He assumed that was from being thrown. He moved his gaze ahead. The shrapnel of the plane was beginning to crumble almost forty feet away.
Suddenly, a heavy weight pressed down between his shoulder blades, driving him into the hot ground.
“Where do you think you’re going, Agent Four?”
He couldn’t and wouldn’t answer. Not when he was so close to being done.
“Where is the treasure?” The man pressed, stepping harder on his back with a heavy boot.
“I have it,” Four said, rolling over.
He pulled out the blue bottle.
“Drink it, and experience true enlightenment. It’s a treasure from the jungle,” he said in what he hoped passed for a dejected voice.
The man reached down and uncorked it, unaware of how he straddled the line between life and death.
And then, as Four had always done on his missions, he watched as the man uncorked it, then closed his eyes and waited.
He always knew when to close his eyes.
Written by: Grant, Richard, and Amber
It was raining. Hard. She could feel it hitting her scalp, running down her neck and soaking the collar of her shirt. She probably should have felt cold, or made some effort to find cover in the drenching downpour.
But it wasn’t a bad thing either. It made the grip he had on his katana slippery, made his movements sloppy and weak.
She reminded herself that she was in control this time. She let that determination play across her face. He was nothing now, a nobody that didn’t deserve even the smallest kindness. Not after all he had done.
To think that he was someone that she had looked up to, someone that had even trained her to be the best she could be and all he had done was destroy that. He’d been using her from the start.
“Are you scared?” he hissed, “Scared to shoot a former mentor?”
“If I wasn’t ordered to bring you in, I’d have already shot you.”
He turned towards her a bit more, light flashing off the polished length of his katana, a slight grin crept across his face. “You should be. Taking a life should never be so easy. Besides, do you really think you are in control right now?”
She took a step back, but kept her pistol leveled with his head. She wouldn’t back down, she wouldn’t let him intimidate her!
“Can you honestly explain why you were ordered to bring me in? Surely everyone knows how dangerous I am. There’s certainly no doubt as to the things I’ve done. So why is it that you are to keep me alive?”
“Quiet! Backup will be here any minute.”
He cocked his head and took a step towards her, his grin growing. “Oh I don’t think so, not unless you replaced the radio in your command box since I was last with you. Elsewise your shouts for backup have disappeared into the ether.”
“You’re lying” she replied quietly, but saw her own hand shake out of fear that he was right.
“If I was lying, then I would have run. After all, I’m quite talented with this blade but not quite talented enough to take down four helicopters who have me surrounded on a rooftop, this isn’t a videogame afterall.”
“X-1 to Base! Do you come in Base!” she shouted into the radio, giving into the fear that she really was alone, but keeping the gun pointed at him. The radio didn’t even echo back with a static buzz, had she imagined that it did earlier? In that moment of questioning he struck, with a simple flick of his wrist he sent the katana blade straight towards her hand sending the pistol flying across the roof. He then brought the blade back down towards her head but he had trained her too well to be hit by such an obvious blow. She dodged and rolled towards the pistol. He moved to block her, but exoskeleton suits really helped with that sort of leap.
“If you want to keep any honor then get out of the suit and fight me as human to human.” she yelled, just as her fingers wrapped around the pistol grip.
He hardly hesitated. The taste of the game was surely too much for him to bear. There was a faint buzz, a hiss, and the face mask fell away to reveal his face. The one she had spent months driving from her memory. “Honor,” she chuckled, rolling on to her back and raising the pistol to rest directly between his eyes. She pulled the trigger without blinking.
Written by: J. West, Grant, and Richard
Prompt: 1, http://wlop.deviantart.com/art/Sky-Lanterns-442002652
Ali liked it on the roof. No one else had the agility to follow him up there, so he was able to achieve total privacy. The roof was the one place he could be completely and totally himself. He was not donning a metaphorical mask as he did among the others in his village.
They didn’t understand him. Not completely. Not that it was their fault. No one can truly understand another because each person hardly understands himself. Ali knew this. So he allowed himself to take on personas depending on his situation.
With the man selling swords, he was abrasive and intimidating because it got him a discount.
With Lila, he was romantic and charming.
With his brother Gil, he had always been honest and cheerful. But he would no longer need that persona. Because Gil was dead.
Gil was dead and Ali was on the roof and he was always himself on the roof.
But who could he be now? Without Gil tying him to reality? Without Gil’s need for his honesty and optimism? What did the absence of that mask leave space for?
The lanterns from his funeral were still rising from the streets below Ali’s feet. They reminded him of glowing pumpkins rising to the charcoal heavens. And the full moon backlit them with the subtle intensity of an angry whisper.
Are you there watching me? Ali wondered, imagining Gil was peering down at the lantern spectacle from his place among the stars. Can you see me on the roof? Do you finally understand me? Why I had to do what I did?
Ali clenched his fists. He may have been an assassin. He may have taken lives. He may still own a sword that had tasted blood. But with that money, he’d kept Gil out of trouble. He’d been the disappointment so Gil could succeed.
And now he was dead and Ali was a murderer for nothing.
Was it worth it?
He pulled the blade out from its sheath and stared at his reflection in the metal. It was worth it. It had to be worth it. No matter the terrible things he had done, Gil at least had been able to live a life worth living, free from the family’s expectations.
And if he was really being honest, Ali liked what he did. There was nothing that made him feel more alive. Perhaps he really did have his father’s blood running through his veins, loath as he was to admit it. He’d always hated that man, hated what he had done. But now looking down at the blade cradled in his hands, he realized he was no different than his father. He killed for the sake of the people closest to him.
A red lantern drifted overhead, illuminating him for a moment. He sheathed his blade and rolled his shoulders. If he looked hard enough he could see all the way to the edge of town to where his next contract was to take him. It was a special contract, unlike his usual bunch. Try as he might, his brother had gotten caught up in this mess. And now he would have to finish it. Father had already made that very clear.
And so, however much he liked the roof, however beautiful the view of the lanterns, he left that and returned to another winding dimly lit alleyway. When he was boy these types of places scared him, because someone with bad intentions might come down them and do him harm. Now he was the man with bad intentions, and the children were afraid of him. He would wrap up the mess with Gil, then return to Lila. Return to the one true gentle embrace he had ever known. Then he stopped and shivered. He had done all he had done for Gil, now there was no Gil, because of all he had done. What if there was no Lila? The wind that had whistled overhead stopped, and he was alone. He saw the shadow of a boy peep out from behind a doorway then immediately dart back inside. Yes, he would finish this, father had made that clear. But the final closure would be himself.
Title Photos courtesy of: