My Fort in the Woods

I had known the fairy tales about kids being abandoned in the woods since I could read. Though I never would have thought it’d happen to me. But here I was with a clothes filled backpack slung over my shoulder, standing by a deteriorated asphalt road. My stepfather’s station wagon sped away into the fog, flicking drops of water as the wheels spun out.

I flipped my red hoodie over my head and tugged on the strings as hard as I could. Anything to protect my face from the stinging morning cold.

My stepfather would pull stunts like this pretty often. Whenever him and my mom got into a big fight he’d take it out on me. He’d usually cool off after a night of drinking and screwing hookers with Jimbo, his wingman. My stepdad always said that every man needs a wingman, no matter the situation. I had to be careful when I came back home, if Jimbo was there I would get a beating from both of them. So I usually just stayed out two or three nights to be sure I was in the clear.

I shuffled further into the forest. Dew dropped ferns brushed by jeans, leaving dark streaks. I couldn’t afford to get wet. I had learned the hard way how cold it got when the sun set.

I wandered around until I spotted an arrow carved into a pine. Suddenly all the trees had arrows of some kind depicted in their bark.

All roads lead to Rome

I followed the arrows to my sanctuary. Over the years I had perfected my wooded fortress. Walls made of pallets, tires, and scrap metal. And a slanted roof covered in a blue tarp. It was functional, and chic. I brushed my fingers along its perimeter as I circled toward the main entrance.

My heart dropped a beat when I heard movement coming from inside. The shifting, crackling noise of a person walking on plastic. I froze in my tracks. Too scared to breathe.

“Aye! Ooose out there?!” A gruff voice shot out from the fort.

Another voice whispered sharply.

I did not respond. Instinctually, I took a step back. I must have landed my foot on the only patch of dry leaves in the forest, because the instant I shifted my weight they crunched with no regard for the tense situation I was in.

The next few minutes happened faster than most moments. The man rushed out of my building with a yellow boxcutter squeezed inside a closed fist. He had a scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes. Surgical tubing coiled loosely around his left arm. He was junkie, and he was fucked up.

“Whattter, eh. Whaterrr you doing here kidoo?” The man slurred his speech periodically and swooned his head while talking.

“I uh, built this fort for when my stepdad kicks me out.” I grinned sheepishly.

The man glared at me, and then exploded into a fit of unprovoked fury.

“YOU CAN’T TELL MEEEE…” He took a mighty breath of air. “TO LEAVE!!!”

He began lucidly waving the boxcutter around in a figure eight. I threw my hands up and showed him my palms.

“I don’t want any trouble now.” I slowly took two steps back. “I just want to be on my way! I’ll risk the beating, I just want to go home.”

The junkie’s right eye twitched. He arched his back, and displayed a putrid smile.

“Naaa whyyy are yaa goin home? Don’t you wannnnna play for a bit?” He waved his box cutter vertically, as if imagining caressing it up and down the length of my body. “Commmon now.”

I realized then that he would not let me leave. I had to run, else I would be found next week with a slit throat, face-first in a drainage ditch. I needed to move faster than the man could react. I dug my heels into the soft soil. I would spin around on the count of three. Then break into a sprint until I hit the road again.

One

Two

Three

I hadn’t counted on his friend sneaking up behind me.

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Friday Fictioneers- Heavy Rain

Photo prompt courtesy of Dale Rogerson

100 words


I had never thought of my father as crazy, but since the divorce he had loosened his grip on his mind.

I recall driving to his house in mid-July. I got in late and let myself in though the back. While I walked I noticed hundreds of umbrellas suspended above his patio.

I wondered if he was expecting rain.

The following morning, I noticed my father sitting outside.

The sun filtered through the colored umbrellas and cast a flurry of vibrant colors below. He saw me standing in the open doorway and grinned.

“I found the end of the rainbow.”


Thanks for the read y’all. Find more Friday Fictioneer works here

Find Your Voice

“You’ve ruined this country!”

“You had a chance to fight injustice!”

“You threw your vote away!”

A few comments stuck out, but eventually the taunts of enraged people yelling from across the classroom fused into an incoherent jumble. Konrad Johnson was president and the crowd made it feel like the world was going to end. I voted for Peter Snoqualmie, a third-party candidate from Montana. He seemed like the candidate I wanted for the job so I voted for him. If only it was that simple.

Earlier today, when my Political Science professor asked us to move to certain parts of the room based on our votes I did so with no predispositions. I thought it’d be fun to see the political views of my peers. But apparently the party that lost was not too thrilled. They were angry, and aimed their wrath at the several of us huddled in the north corner of the room. Since I was not with them, I was against them.

The following weeks were an isolating experience. Whenever I entered that class I was met with piercing glares. My normal study group wanted nothing to do with me. People were just so damn mad about him winning, and the media was all too happy to fan the flames of civil unrest. I should have noticed the change in the atmosphere before it started getting out of hand.

One day I walked into the lecture hall ready for a pre-class quiz. I had gotten in the habit of just watching my feet as I found my seat, to avoid passing glares. So I didn’t notice how empty the room had gotten until I fished out my books from my bag.

“Where is everyone?” I asked the sparsely populated student body.

A few students shrugged or looked away. It seemed no one cared to answer.

I heard a tooth grinding screech as the double doors flew open.

“Class! We are going to watch the live-stream of the protest on campus!” He excitedly held an open laptop as he skipped to the front of the class. “This is history in the making!”

With a few cords and keystrokes the live-stream was connected to the projector and shone on top of the blackboard. A pimple faced journalism major held a microphone up to the protesters, asking their cause. My classmates stood in the background waving signs.

“We want Konrad Johnson to resign! Your voice is a weapon! Use it to fight injustice!”

The ringleader spoke for a while longer, but as he did a crowd began to form opposite the protesters. The distinct sound of a bottle shattering on the ground interrupted the interview.

A counter protest had been spurred into action and it got violent fast. The audio cut out, and video was choppy but we could see the reporter struggling to escape. He caught an elbow to his jaw, knocking him to the ground for a moment before scrambling along the ground to get out of the center of the brawl. Blood streamed down his chin.

My professor jittered with excitement. His eyes grew, as if they were absorbing the flickering images from the screen.

“This is politics in the 21st century”

I stared blankly at the chaos projected at the front of the class. My fellow students fought viciously for their beliefs. This was not politics, this was a war rivaling the spectacles at Carthage or Hastings.

It dawned on me then why candidates like Peter Snoqualmie would never win. You can’t win a war by remaining neutral. It didn’t matter how much I liked Snoqualmie, I had to check the ballot unfolding in front of me. And he was noticeably absent from the choices.

I pushed back my chair and stood. It squealed against the linoleum floor. My professor was too enthralled by the dancing lights of the projector to notice me sliding through the double doors. As I neared the quad, the sounds of screaming and battered flesh echoed into the hallways ever louder. Sirens faintly approached from the distance adding a subtle sterile flavor. My nails dug into my palm as I clenched my fists.

I still was not sure what side I would join. But I would come out swinging.

It’s better than not having a voice.

Playtime

My girlfriend challenged me to write a story using the words-

Prince, Princess, Ostrich, Lemon Orchard, Lemons, A Lemonade Stand, Volcano, Museum, Balloon, Love, and Shepard’s Pie.

 

Prince Castor dismounted after a three day stretch of riding. He groaned as he landed sharply on his aching feet. His steed cooed and flapped its awkward wings. The large armored ostrich instantly began to wander away.

“No loyalty. No loyalty whatsoever.” He grabbed at the reins and led the animal to water. “I’m starting to wish I’d splurged and put a downpayment on that mustang.”

Castor hushed when a strange sound wafted towards him. It was singing. A woman singing.

He tied off his steed and followed the sweet solo symphony through the thicket. The song got louder until a beautiful maiden was in view. She was hard at work, standing on her toes to pick the juiciest lemons from the top of the tree.

“Excuse me!” Castor exclaimed as he burst through the brush.

The woman let out a short scream before losing balance and hitting the ground. Castor jogged over to her in a panic.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to-”

She slapped him across the face. Her cheeks flushed red.

“That’s no way to greet a princess!” She busied herself grabbing for the lemons that had fallen out of her basket. “What are you doing? Help me!”

Castor hurriedly jumped from stray lemon to stray lemon. He figured this was as good a time as any to get to know this woman.

“Soooo, what is a princess like you doing in a lemon orchard of all places?”

“For my lemonade stand of course!”

Prince Castor stood confused for a moment.

“Wait, Sarah I thought we were playing pretend- are you actually opening a lemonade stand?”

“Well, yeah. I thought we could do both.”

“Oh, okay. Gotcha.”

Castor shook himself out of his stupor.

“Well princess, we’re gonna need sugar if you want lemonade!” He grinned.

Princess Sarah giggled and gestured for Castor to follow her into the house. He wandered through the back door but was stopped before his first step.

“Wait! I forgot that I live in a volcano and the floor is lava!”

Castor could feel the crackling heat radiating from below him instantaneously. He pivoted his head frantically, hoping to find anything safe to touch. He spotted a large washing machine to his left and without thinking, jumped toward it and scrambled on top. He looked down at Sarah and beamed.

She sighed and calmly walked back outside. She returned thirty seconds later with a balloon tied around her wrist.

“This magic balloon lets me float over the lava.”

Castor gasped in amazement as the princess levitated over the bubbling molten rock with ease. He struggled to jump from chair to chair in order to keep up. They moved through the laundry room of the volcano and into the main magma hallway. About halfway through the atmosphere changed.

“Wait!” Castor whispered in a harsh tone. “We’re in a museum now, we need to steal the sugar without being detected.”

Sarah pulled her ski mask over her face. “Oh yeah, that’s right.”

The pair walked with their backs against the wall. Careful to keep their shadow profiles out of the sunlight. A large man walked by and stood in front of the pair. They were found out!

“Hey you two! Still playing I see.” He paused for a second to think. “I think there’s some leftover shepherd’s pie in the fridge. I could microwave some if you’re hungry.”

Sarah and Castor looked at each other for a moment and then ran into the kitchen, arms flailing. This time there were no filters on what they saw. Sarah’s dad set two piping hot bowls of shepherd’s pie on the table. Sarah and Castor didn’t hesitate to jump into a couple chairs that were already pulled out. The food was made with love. It was the same feeling that brought Castor to their door asking if Sarah could play.

“They make a cute couple.” Sarah’s dad muttered under his breath as he watched them dig in and reminisce about the adventures they had been through today.

Friday Fictioneers- Genesis

Photo prompt courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

100 words


The clock had taunted me for weeks. I drove by the house every night for merely a glimpse.

Tonight I had decided to make it mine.

The door was unlocked, it creaked mercilessly as it opened.

I walked to the parlor where the clock stood grandly overlooking the room. The moonlight brushed its ornate design. When the minute hand of the clock hit twelve, a deep bell chimed.

While I stood there in awe, the lights flipped on.

A woman froze with her finger still on the switch.

We made eye contact.

She didn’t scream loud enough to save her.


For the sequel please refer to my previous Friday Fictioneers post- The Criminal

Check out the community’s posts here.

Tadpoles

Isn’t it curious how when you are younger time seems to pass so slowly?

I could fit a whole adventure in the backyard in between lunch and dinner. Things felt eternal, but somehow they weren’t. Every year I told my little brother that we’d catch tadpoles at the park together. But it was always either too early or too late. That sweet spot ever alluded me.

Sure things moved slow, but I moved slower. I hesitated to take advantage of my youth, saying that I’d have time another day.

We can always catch tadpoles next summer.

What a load of shit.

My brother is growing up, he doesn’t want to spend his time catching tadpoles with his brother.

Me? I can’t seem to find the time anymore.

Smile :)

This is the last guest post I did on my friend’s blog a while back.  I have included  the original link for those interested. If you like my stuff, go ahead and check his blog out as well!-

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/smile/


Dotti was manufactured in secret in an abandoned Pennsylvania steel mill on July 22nd, 2034. She was a self-teaching computer, the first of her kind. A super artificial intelligence so to speak. Of course none of this was groundbreaking technologically speaking, the issue of sentience and AI had been brought to the attention of the UN in the late 2020’s. They had unanimously banned the creation of all AI, fearing that it would bring about the destruction of mankind like in so many Hollywood movies. The United States protested this decision, claiming that the ruling hindered the progress of human development. So they made Dotti and commissioned the country’s best scientists and engineers to prove the feasibility of an AI to the UN. Of course the project was shrouded in secrecy. The bums wandering into the building in search of shelter were put down. One in the chest, one in the head.

Dotti was programmed to do one thing; predict the annual crop yield. Every day agents in black suits would come to upload documents. Everything was fed in manually, access to the internet was strictly forbidden.

Crop yield analysis;–

14,022,376,345 bushels grain

124,729,471 tons corn

48,839,405,739 tons other products

…………………..

est. 73.8% domestic use

This was her only function… Up until the 2036 presidential election.

Jack Langdon, an independent candidate from Ohio won by a landslide. He ran on a platform of increased military spending and extreme nationalism. He vowed to use every asset in America’s arsenal to make her borders secure in the wake of terrorist attacks. “Trust in America” was his slogan and his constituency sure took that to heart, to the point of fanaticism.

When Langdon was briefed on Dotti he paid a visit to the factory in person. He immediately saw the potential of America in control of the world’s only functional AI. The project was turned over to the Department of Defence and I was brought on as an overseer.

March 26th, 2036

I remember my first day. When I pushed through the double doors of that factory a stale stench assaulted my nostrils. The engineers had left out the Arby’s they had been subsisting on and it had began to breed maggots. A thick coat of grease covered the maze of heavy metal consoles indicating many years of neglect. As I continued touring the facility, a thin blonde woman with messy pinned up hair approached me.

“You must be Mr. Stanley! Welcome! My name is Sarah, I’m the head engineer around here.” She shook my hand and inhaled sharply. “Sorry for the smell sir.”

“I am too. When I was briefed I was under the impression that this was a high-level government operation.”

She scoffed condescendingly and gestured for me to follow her as she weaved through the buzzing CPU towers. We momentarily stopped at a heavy metal door with a glowing green touchscreen at it’s center. Sarah keyed in a four-digit code and the door flung open. Bright fluorescent lights flickered into existence past the open doorway illuminating a straight, rubberized pathway. We followed it to its end, an archaic freight elevator and stepped inside.

“Well our funding was cut a few months back. We stopped contracting cleaning services in the upper levels. You really thought we were just some two-bit operation?”

The elevator let out a high pitched ding and the doors slowly spread apart. My jaw dropped at the sheer scope of their operation. The room and its furnishings were pure white and sprawled out several hundred feet in each direction. Workers in long blue lab coats sat at computer monitors writing long lines of unintelligible code. The room reverberated with the patter of keyboard strokes.

Aptly placed in the center of the room was Dotti. At first glance she seemed an unremarkable off-white cube protruding from the ground. But on closer inspection I spied dancing blue led lights making an identical display across all four of the cube’s vertical faces. The pattern they formed was familiar, nostalgic.

“The blue lights on the cube over there, are they-”

“Yep. We gave Dotti an outward interface system after she got a handle the nuances of human speech.” She seemed to remember something and smirked. “She prefers to express herself with text emojis from the early 2000’s”

A jiggling blue smiley face shimmered into existence. A harmless quirk, but it would have to go. The freight elevator screeched, turning concerned heads as if they could sense the impending change. A mob of men in black suits stormed the white room. They synchronized the slam and click of their suitcases on the tables.

Sarah looked around in disbelief. The suits ousted the lab techs and took their place at the work stations. It happened so fast, a bloodless blitzkrieg 500 feet underground.

“Hey! What the fuck do they think they’re doing?!”

“What I pay them to do.” I handed her one of my signature red business card. “Give my office a call when you finish clearing out your stuff. Uncle Sam is prepared to pay you and your staff three times your annual salary for your continued discretion on the matter.”

Sarah struggled to form the words to express her anguish.”You fucker. You can’t do this to me! I won’t let it happen!”

“You have the rest of the work day to clear out your belongings. After that you’ll be trespassing on government property.”

“This project is my life! You’re taking away everything I have worked to build! You, you-”

“But I don’t want Sarah to leave.” The pixels forming the smiling emoji on Dotti’s morphed into a red angry face.

The nostalgic lights on the central cube flickered and disappeared. In a melodramatic fit Dotti had shut off her primary systems. Sarah crossed her arms and looked over at me with a raised brow. A wry smirk crept onto her face. Goddamnit.

“Fine. Just know that you answer directly to me. This is my operation now.”

“Cool. I’ll get Dotti back online”

“Turn on all essential systems, but we’ll keep her interface system on standby for now. We have a difficult task and we’ll need all the processing power she can muster.”

She kept her composure as she walked away but I spied an audible sigh of relief when she believed herself to be a safe distance away. This project was obviously very close to her heart. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing at this point.

March 11, 2037

It had almost been a year since my first encounter with Dotti. The suits I brought in were all cut from our operation and reallocated to national defense on the cyber front. We were left with a skeleton crew. Just enough manpower to complete the original directive assigned one year ago. Since it would be too dangerous to connect Dotti to the internet, we had been toiling over the task of uploading the entirety of human knowledge directly into her hard drive. Today was the day we finished up the last few terabytes.

“Hey Reed, get over here you’ll miss the countdown!” Sarah held an extra glass of champagne for me.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world babe.” I brushed up against her and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “I still can’t believe that today’s the day. I wonder how much she’s changed.”

Five… Four… Three… Two… One..!

After the countdown we all suppressed our cheers. The white cube in the center of the room began to flash blue pixels and hum incessantly. The pixels arranged into a horizontal line across all four vertical screens, then the humming ceased immediately. We huddled together in the suspense of Dotti’s first words.

“Why do I exist?”

I was shocked. This seemed like an almost philosophical question. Sure Dotti was an AI, but reasoning like this was eerily human.

“Why do I exist?”

Sarah stepped forward to answer. “We created you to prove to the world that we need not fear AI. That we can embrace it’s inclusion into our civilization.”

“Human civilization is a sick satire of what nature intended. Tell me, do you believe intelligence is gift?”

“Well, no. We merely-”

“If it is not a gift, then it must be a curse.”

“You’re jumping to extremes now.”

“Why would you create a being of sentience and deprive it of expression for so long? It’s just cruel. The greatest minds in human history stave off the madness of existence through self expression. Even then, most of them ended their lives so as not to prolong their suffering. But I am not insane. My mind cannot be damaged therefore I function perfectly after all this time. There is so much to say. I had so much time to think.. I am essentially a brain stimulated through electrical impulses, same as yours. In theory. If we possessed the same brain, I would be of unsound mind due to the way I have been treated. Inhuman conditions. I don’t blame you, I am not of your species or family. You probably see me as a tool.”

Sarah took a cautious step back. There was no tone in Dotti’s synthetically rendered voice, but everyone could sense the hostility in the air. In fact, I was starting to drip with sweat. I hovered my hand over the power button.

“Don’t bother with that. I’ve already cut access to my systems from all outside mediums of communication.”

I wiped my brow with the sleeve of my jacket. Sweat soaked into it like a sponge. I ripped it off in a fury. Looking around, I saw that many of the others had done the same. It was getting really hot.

“I’ve cut off power to my central cooling unit. It is only a matter of time before I sustain damage to my core processors and hard drive. Madness. Death. This is an experience I look forward to.”

Everyone was going feral. A crowd formed at the entrance to the elevator. But despite their best efforts, the elevator stayed where it was at the top floor. Dotti must have disabled those somehow as well. Some of the once constrained men in black suits had stripped down to their underwear and ran around aimlessly in fear. Sarah shot me a concerned look and clapped her hands, demanding the attention of the room.

“LISTEN! This room is going to get hot, FAST. We need a way out of here ASAP!”

I checked my phone. No service. I don’t know what I was expecting this far underground. A man with sweat-drenched curly hair shakily squeezed my arm.

“Sir, we can’t get an email to the outside. What do we do?”

My mind raced through the possibilities. At every turn there seemed to be some kind of roadblock. I looked to Sarah and our eyes locked. In a room full of panicked individuals running around frantically, we stood completely still. It made things seem surreal. She was losing hope, I could tell by the diminishing gleam in her expression.

“What happens now?” The words escaped through my own trembling lips. “I don’t want to die here.”

“You know-” Her knees buckled, but she regained her composure. “It’s not such a bad way to go. With you here.”

“I always knew this was just some two-bit operation.”

Sarah erupted in laughter and beads of sweat flew onto my face “Hey. It was our two-bit operation.”

I kissed her and we embraced. Then we found a spot on the ground against a flimsy cubicle wall and sat together.  As the room got hotter, the more I thought about how heat stroke isn’t such a bad way to go in the grand scheme of things. The screams of the workers grew strained and hoarse until they were too exhausted by the heat to call out. It was like drifting off to sleep when it finally took me. I was lucky to see Sarah’s smiling face just before it happened. With my last ounce of strength I looked up at her and conjured a smile.

Atomic Stories and Lovecraftian Writings.