100 Word Story: The Monster

I recently entered a couple of stories into the National Association of Writers’ Groups 100 Word Mini-Tales competition. Suffice it to say I didn’t win, but since I believed in the potential of every one of the stories I entered, it seemed only fitting to try to publish them elsewhere. I selected this one to publish here on Penstricken after the winners of the competition were announced. I’ve made a few small improvements so it’s probably not exactly 100 words anymore but hey… At least it’s a better story now. The rest, I’ve since submitted to other places.

As ever, what follows here is entirely my own work and has not been published anywhere else in the world, whether on print or online, nor do I expect it to be since the competition winners have already been announced. So, without further ado, I give you…

THE MONSTER

by. A Ferguson

Captain Harold of Earth’s Space Navy had met his share of bizarre alien cultures, but nothing like these. These were monsters.

One of the Creatures stood over Harold, injecting him with chemicals and mutilating him with ferocious tools. The Creature had cold blue hands, shining black eyes and no mouth (yet it spoke). A human female observed nearby, desensitised to the atrocity she was witnessing.

The Creature stepped back.

‘There, that wasn’t so bad,’ it smiled.

‘What do you say to the dentist, Harry?’ the human (code name: MUM) goaded.

They had practiced this before they left the house. Thank you Mr. Riley. Harold’s mouth was still numb but he had to try…

‘Yeour a monsther!’ he screamed.

THE END


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what butters your toast.

Until next time!

6 ‘Six Word Stories’ for the 6th

Those of you who have been following this site for a while (God bless you, patient and forbearing people) will know that I have taken to posting 6 ‘six word stories’ whenever the 6th of a month happens to fall on a Sunday. Well it just so happens that today is Sunday 6th August, and so it’s time for another exciting instalment of 6 ‘Six Word Stories’ for the 6th.

You probably know the rules by now. I roll six Story Dice and I write a six word story loosely based upon whatever image is displayed on each die, starting from the top left (you can check out my previous efforts here, here and here). As ever, the following stories are entirely my own work.

So here we go.

Screenshot_2017-08-02-12-20-27

Alea iacta est.

  1. Remembered and avenged every unicycle “performance”.
  2. Defecated. Swam. ‘Oh look, a morsel… ‘
  3. Murdered thousands for the “common good”.
  4. Money. Sex. Power. Three wasted wishes.
  5. Ignored camel’s nose. Tent crashed down.
  6. He prayed for me, His killer.

Phew. That was a tough one. I hope you enjoyed my modest efforts, but no doubt you can do much better. Why not try come up with your own six word stories based on the above stimuli and post them in the comments section below so we can all see how it’s done? And we’ll do it all over again on Sunday 6th May 2018!

Also be sure to ‘like’ it and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Until next time!

The Church Mouse

My original plan for today had been to blog about works of fiction that are nevertheless based on true events but I also had a niggling feeling that it’s been ages since I’ve put any of my own stories on Penstricken.

I know what I’ll do! I thought. I’ll write a story based on true events! I just need to decide what true story to base it on…

At about the same time as I was thinking all this, I found evidence that a mouse had taken up residence in my house and that gave me just the idea I was looking for. So without further ado, I give you…

The Church Mouse

by. A Ferguson

Based on a true story

[1]

The Landlord and Landlady were busy today, pulling out the furniture and hoovering behind every nook and cranny where I’d been, or even might’ve been. They even shoved their infernal vacuum nozzle into my room. I wasn’t in at the time, praise God. I was out scavenging, but they’ve definitely been here. They’ve cleaned up all my business, sure, the bits they could reach anyhow. They’ve settled down now. Their telly’s been on for hours.

Ah, that’s it off now. Finally. They’ll be going to bed soon, I can hear them moving about. He’s washing the dishes, like he usually does just before bed. She’ll be upstairs already then. I’ll give them an hour, once I’m sure they’re asleep and then I’ll–

Wait. Snifffffffff. What’s that?!

Sniff, sniff?

Chocolate and.. sniff?… raisins and caramel by goodness! Ohh, mamma mia… sniffffffffff! Oh yes! A Cadbury’s Picnic if I’m not very much mistaken! Ohh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I’m eating well tonight! 

No! No… no, no, I mustn’t yet, he’s still out there… gotta wait… gaagh! Hurry up and leave, already!

I think… yes, he’s gone. I can hear him on the stairs. I should wait but… oooh, I have to have that Picnic! Maybe, I’ll just have a peak… he won’t be back now till morning anyway… and that smell, it’s so strong… it must be…

Yes! There it is, right outside my door! That idiot’s left a whole chunk of the stuff just lying around in this little plastic box for me. I’ll just pop in, grab the choccie and…

Ow! The door just fell on me! It’s not very heavy, though, that’s something. If I just back-peddle like this I can pull out the choccie and… yes! I’m free! Haha! Oooh, my precious little Picnic, I can’t wait to get you back to my room… ! Hehehe!

[2]

Ooh! Another day, another Picnic! Maybe I’ve got the Landlord and Landlady all wrong. Maybe they really like me and want me to stay? Eh? Nah, don’t be silly. I’ve had all night to think about this and I don’t think that door closed on me accidentally last night! It’s just dumb luck, really, that my bum was still hanging out the back or who knows what might’ve happened…

I should leave it, I know. I’ve still got plenty left over from last night but… ooooooh, that smell just drives me wild! I got out okay last night, I’ll probably be okay again just as long as I’m careful. I know it can be done and… oh mercy, I won’t be able to think straight with that sitting outside my front door all night long.

Just need to watch. Make sure, take care, always beware. Don’t let them outsmart you. You can do this, just… take care. Beware. Don’t let carnal passions cloud your judgement. Use your brain, take your time, claim the prize.

Good… good, it’s the same kind of trap as before. Nothing that’s gonna snap my back or open my skull. I’ll just do what I did last night, leave my bum in the doorway and… gagh, the choccie’s a bit smaller tonight though… tucked right away up at the back it is, I can’t quite reach… ooooh, but it’s right there, I can almost taste it! Just another half inch…

Woosh! Rats, rats, ratty-rats! The door’s closed! Ohh, no, no, no, no, no, no, please God, let me out! Let me out! Ooh, God forgive me, I know it’s my fault, I… I got greedy and I’m sorry! Please, God, let me out! Please… I’m sorry, I’m sorry… please!

[3]

Ngh! What? I must’ve fallen asleep. But it wasn’t a dream. I’m still here, in the stupid box with the stupid choccie. I don’t fancy it quite the same anymore. I feel sick. I can’t move. They’re here. The Landlady, she sees me. She’s calling to her husband. They’re so… big! 

Aaaagh! He’s picking up the box! What’s he doing with me? Where’s he taking me? To eat me? I hear humans burn up smaller animals before they eat them! Maybe he’ll leave me if I just sit very still but… oh no, it’s a forlorn hope! What else can I do?

Please, please, please, please, Lord God Almighty, rescue me from the hand of this monster! I know it’s my fault, I promise I won’t ever be greedy again I’ll… oh, Lord, please have mercy on me a sinner!

Agh! The light! He’s taking me outdoors, into their car… where are we going?

I wish I could move. I’m so afraid, every part of my body feels like it’s turned to stone. All except my bowels; they’re working overtime. Whatever he’s doing, oh Lord, let it be over soon. To die in terror, trapped in this dungeon, tiny even by my standards and drowning in my own business…

He’s stopped the car.

Oh… rats.

This is it.

Here it comes. He’s picking me up and taking me outside and opening the box… he’s shaking it at the ground. In one sudden motion my petrified body and the choccie fall to the ground and land among the long grass on the roadside. I’m out! I’m free! I’m out of here! Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, God! Thank you kind Landlord! I’m free!

* * *

Mr. Mouse fled through the grass and the bushes for hours. He swore never to succumb to gluttony again.

In the winter of 2017 he became a church mouse. He devoted his life to the ministry and service of the church and was ordained as a minister in 2018.

He died peacefully at the age of three in 2019 and was buried on the grounds of his parish along with the piece of Picnic which he had preserved as a memento of the day his life was spared.

THE END

6 ‘Six Word Stories’ for the 6th

If you’ve been following this site for a while, you will perhaps remember that I have occasionally written posts featuring 6 six word stories (you can view previous ones here and here). Since I happen to think it’s a great way to put the imagination through its paces (not to mention test my skills in brevity), I thought it would be a good idea if I made such a post whenever the 6th of a month happens to fall on a Sunday, since I only ever post on Sundays.

And… I’ll just check the calendar here and… yep, that’s OK. If we do it this way, you should still only have to put up with one or two of these kinds of posts a year at most. So it’s all good!

You probably know the rules by now. I roll Thinkamingo’s Story Dice six times and I write a six word story for whatever image is displayed on each die starting from the top left. As ever, the following stories are entirely my own work.

Alea iacta est.

  1. My treasure? Buried by my ex.
  2. Took the bait. Snap! Hard cheese…
  3. Rolled the dice; wrote six stories.
  4. While others cooled, our house burned.
  5. Nine parachutes; ten passengers casting lots.
  6. Turned up volume: ‘…will self-destruct.’

Well, I’m sure you can all do a better job of coming up with six word stories for those stimuli than I can so why not give it a bash yourself and pop your responses in the comments section below? Then we can do it all over again on the 6th of August 2017!

3 Ways to Ignite the Imagination

The Parable of the Cars

by A. Ferguson

There were once two brothers who lived in Glasgow, who both managed to get jobs in Edinburgh. This was not a problem, since they both held full UK drivers’ licences, which they had acquired at about the same time and they both owned the same make and model of car. The eldest brother was wise. He set his alarm early in the morning and as soon as he was in his car, he turned on the ignition and drove to work in plenty of time.

The younger brother was foolish. He did not get ready for work until it suited him to do so, and when he finally did make it into his car, he sat there for a few minutes waiting for the ignition to turn itself on – which never happened. ‘Maybe it’ll come on tomorrow.’ he thought. ‘I’d better go back to bed in the meantime.’

He lost his job without ever setting a foot in Edinburgh.

* * *

A common mistake amateur writers make is to believe that they cannot write a story unless an idea – or inspiration – comes to them heralded by a chorus of angels. Like the foolish brother, they have all the necessary equipment (in the writer’s case, a brain with an imagination) but do not realise that to get any benefit from it, they need to make the effort to turn on the engine/imagination themselves.

Now, as we all know, turning on a car’s ignition doesn’t immediately take you where you want to go. It simply starts the engine, allowing for the possibility of motion. In the same way, igniting the imagination (to continue the metaphor) does not immediately give you a fully formed story. It just gives you the idea, allowing for the possibility of a story. Perhaps I’ll talk about turning your idea into a story next week, but this week, I want to focus on that all important first stage: going from having nothing to having something.

There are many different things you can do to spark the imagination, none of which involve sitting down and waiting for inspiration to strike. You can…

Read history, the news or even mythology. Just think for a moment about how long humanity has been around for and how many different things happen all over the world at any given time. Wars, disasters, weddings, funerals, births, deaths, financial meltdowns, lottery winners, crime, charity and a million other events besides. As if that were not enough, most societies throughout history come with a catalogue of myths, legends and fables that you can also delve into. If something from history grabs your interest, you could write it as a piece of historical fiction or you can simply borrow a very small element of it to inspire a whole new story. If you’re into character driven stories like me, and have the patience to do so, I would particularly recommend trying to find old letters, journals, newspaper clippings (particularly advertisements and letters from readers) and other primary sources to draw on because these give a much richer flavour of what kind of people lived in the time and place you’re reading about and what mattered to them.

Try using a resource especially designed to provoke creativity such as Oblique Strategies, Story Dice or even random title generators. If you ask the internet, you’ll quickly find that there are loads of tools out there like these, especially designed to help spark the imagination. Some are especially aimed at writers, some are not; some are very cryptic, some are very clear; some are very expensive, some are free. It can be trial and error finding the right tool(s) for you but they can be a wonderful resources to have when you find the right one for you. However, whether you’re the sort of person who likes cryptic prompts such as ‘change nothing and continue consistently’ (Oblique Strategies) or very precise ones such as ‘in 100 words or less, write a story that includes the following: a poet who always speaks in rhyme, a pill bottle, a luminous feather’ (Writer Unblocked) – or even pictures, like I used to inspire my 6 word stories, it is still ultimately down to you to come up with your own idea. See that you don’t fall into the trap of thinking any of these tools can tell you what to write. They cannot. Even very explicit prompts, such as the Writer Unblocked one I referred to, still leave it very much up to the writer to turn that prompt into a usable story idea.

‘Pantsting’, even if you’re more of a planner can also be a good place to start. If you’ve got nothing, then make up a person – any old person. You might even want to base him on a real person that you know well (though be very, very, very careful about doing this in your final story). Then just write and see where he takes you. Maybe he’s going to the chip shop but… is abducted by aliens. How does he escape? I dunno. Just make it up as you go along and edit nothing. It doesn’t matter if you hit a dead end or if you end up writing a really rubbish story, since this is simply the writer’s equivalent of doodling. What matters is that you keep making stuff up. Most of it will be chucked out but some of it might contain the golden nuggets of inspiration. I once ‘doodled’ a story about a guy who was in prison (in fact, he wasn’t even the main character of this particular ‘doodle’) and now, he’s the main antagonist of my novel and possibly one of the characters I’m the most proud of creating.

This is, of course, only a small selection of things you can try. No doubt if you ask the internet, you’ll find dozens more. Perhaps you even invented a few techniques yourself that you absolutely swear by. Do let us know about anything which works for you in the comments below!

6 More Six-Word Stories

If you’ve been following Penstricken since it started in 2015, you may recall that on one occasion I set myself the challenge of writing 6 six-word stories using Thinkamingo’s Story Dice as stimuli. Since I am in an unoriginal sort of mood today, I’ve decided to do it again. The only difference is that this time, in addition to taking my cue from the story dice, I also intend to make each story a different genre, i.e. sci-fi, historical fiction, etc.

As before, I am using one die per story.

Alea iacta est (again!).

Now let’s see what I can come up with based on that starting from the top left and working my way down to the bottom right. As ever, the following are all my own work and have not been published anywhere else before:

  1. KING FELIX DEAD: Nine assassins executed (fantasy).
  2. ‘I shall avenge thee!’ Bambi vowed. (fan fiction)
  3. Rose wrote to Henry: ‘Dear John…’ (romance).
  4. ‘Butler dunnit’, written in Butler’s blood. (murder/mystery)
  5. MARTIANS: No spacesuits on the beach! (sci/fi)
  6. Sword drawn, Julius crossed the Rubicon (historical)

That was even harder than last time! Without a shadow of a doubt, the most difficult one was the cat (though I will admit, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit including a Bambi fan fiction as well). I didn’t have the foggiest idea what to do with it and I’m not even all that sure that I pulled it off terribly well but never mind. It was always meant to be a challenge.

Why not grab some story dice (or use the images I’ve posted here; I am certain you can come up with much better stories than I have) and give it a bash yourself? And remember to share your efforts with the rest of us by posting them in the comments section below!

 

A Personal Tale of Directing The Reader’s Support

While I do love near enough all forms and genres of fiction (and fully accept that the ones I’m not so wild about still have a legitimate and important place in the wider world of fiction), I would be lying if I said that sci-fi and fantasy were not among my top five favourite genres. Recently, I’ve been especially fond of stories which blend the elements of sci-fi and fantasy by creating futuristic fantasy worlds such as Star Wars or Peter Newman’s The Vagrant which I mentioned last week. Naturally, therefore, it only follows that the novel I’m painstakingly working on just now is set in a futuristic fantasy world.

The trouble I’ve had developing the story, however, had nothing to do with world building or any of the other challenges we might expect to face when writing sci-fi/fantasy. It was more basic than that. Try as I might, I found myself constantly sympathising with the bad guys. Like many sci-fi stories, much of the conflict in my novel revolves a legitimate governing authority and a group of revolutionaries. Unlike many other sci-fi/fantasy stories, the revolutionaries in my story are the bad guys. I thought it would be a piece of cake to write.

I was wrong. Try as I might, I found it almost impossible to create a plausible plot in which the people might rebel against a truly virtuous government (besides, when is a government ever a pure paradigm of virtue?).

No problem, I thought. I’ll simply make them a flawed but basically well-intentioned government.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. Violent revolution needs something to spark it off and that something is seldom a government who are maintaining a status quo of relative peace, freedom and prosperity, even if they do make a few mistakes. To make my story work, my rebels needed something to substantial to rebel against and that meant there had to be an unforgivable and cataclysmic failure (if not an act of wanton evil) on the part of the legitimate government.

So I decided that my nation had lost a war and was forced to make hefty reparations to their enemies (among other things), resulting in the new government (instituted by the winners in the war) enforcing outrageous tax hikes on the working classes while the wealthy aristocracy continued to live in comfort. The people now had a reason to be angry and rebellion had begun. Unfortunately, I suddenly found myself sympathising with my own bad guys. Vive la revolution was all I could think; and if I was rooting for the bad guys, I was quite sure any future readers I might have would be too. It didn’t help that the main antagonist, who served as the leader of the rebels, was one of the most complex and compelling characters I had ever written (even if I do say so myself).

Somehow, I had to sway the reader’s support to the favour of the protagonist. My initial plan was to make him an undercover operative, who had been sent by his government to spy out the rebels and, if possible, undermine their efforts. In theory it was an decent enough story (if a little boring), but with reader sympathies firmly in the camp of the bad guys, I found it an almost impossible task to write that story without thoroughly ruining the ending for the reader.

I decided to consult The Story-Writer’s Oracle (also known as ‘history’) for help. I researched the villains and despots of modern and ancient history and asked what common threads ran through them to make them so despicable. I began with Hitler, since he and my antagonist had the most in common to begin with: both were soldiers in a war which their country lost, both were appalled by the mess their country was left in post-war and both saw themselves as would-be saviours of their nation. Because of these similarities, it was quite an easy thing to impose a few of Hitler’s more unstable character traits on to my own antagonist. But I needed to go further still. My antagonist was not interested in ethnic cleansing or any of the other atrocities we associate with Hitler, so simply giving him a Hitleresque temperament was not enough. I continued my research and eventually discovered that a more recent historical figure – one Saddam Hussein – apparently saw himself as the reincarnation of King Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon circa 605 BC – 562 BC.

Brilliant! I thought, for it had just so happened that one of the ancient myths of my fantasy world involved an king who travelled to the castle of the gods in the sky and negotiated a thousand years of prosperity for his nation. I will let my bad guy see himself as the reincarnation of this man.

I went further still. I considered people like Pol Pot, who apparently forbade outsiders from approaching him unless they were summoned. I also considered the god complexes and the paranoia common to figures like Nero and the Pharaohs of Egypt. Before long, I had enough dark and disturbing character traits to create a whole legion of antagonists that the reader could not fail to dislike because they were reminiscent of some of the most unstable and ruthless characters in history.

Of course, this was only the first step. I had managed to remove sympathy from the bad guys but that does not necessarily mean that the reader would support the legitimate government.

But wait just a minute! I thought. They don’t need to support the legitimate government. They only need to support the protagonist of the story.

So instead of being a government operative, I decided to make my protagonist a neutral observer who became involved in the revolution… only to be disturbed by what he saw until he himself was forced to rebel against his fellow rebels. It was no longer about a good government vs. bad rebels; it was about one man’s simple wish to survive coming into conflict with his nation’s need to be rid of a dangerous and totalitarian regime which threatened to enslave everybody. From there, I was able to develop a protagonist who was able to rival the complexity and substance of the antagonist; a protagonist with needs and wants which would pull him in different directions; a protagonist whom the reader would support and sympathise with, regardless of how flawed the government was or how justified the antagonist’s initial grievances may have been.

Now I must apologise for taking you through this long winded saga of how I got my novel to where it is at now, but it seemed the easiest way to share what I have learned as a result of all this. When it comes to writing a story, your hero can be just about anybody: rebel, loyal citizen, rich, poor, slave or free; what matters is that your reader sympathises with their cause. If you’re writing a story where the lines between the good guys and the bad guys less than clear (and I daresay, you probably are if it’s vaguely realistic story) then the key to directing your readers support to the right character rests heavily in this: that you enable them to sympathise with and relate to the protagonist more than antagonist.

Suspense: A Deliberately Awful Story

When I started this site, I had in mind to do a regular post (perhaps once a month) where I would set myself the challenge of writing a story using various random stimuli, such as plot generators, story dice or random images. If you’re a regular follower of this site, you’ll notice that I clearly have not made the regular habit of this I intended to. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve never done it and today’s short story came about as a result of a random creativity prompt provided to me by the Android app, Writer Unblocked:

In 1000 words or less, write what happens when a B-movie director gets stuck between floors in an elevator.

When I got this prompt, I couldn’t help but think that it actually sounded a bit like a B-movie about a B-movie director so naturally I thought it would be a bit of a wheeze to write it in screenplay format (or at least, as close to screenplay as I could get it; I’ve never actually written a screenplay before and WordPress has rather messed up my formatting) and give it the paper thin plot, terrible dialogue and half-naked robo-bodybuilder you would expect to find in a B-movie. My tongue was, as you might expect, firmly embedded in my cheek when I wrote this. So without further ado, I give you…

SUSPENSE

by

A. Ferguson

FADE IN:

EXT. FALLBRIDGE UNIVERSITY CAMPUS – EARLY EVENING

Modern and stylish university building, surrounded by leafy green trees and basking in a brilliant sunset.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. LECTURE THEATRE – EARLY EVENING

No one is present in the lecture theatre, save for JOHN, an ageing bachelor, lecturer in English literature and b-movie enthusiast. In his spare time, he has even directed a few budget films. He is tidying up various papers, preparing to leave. The door opens to reveal SUSAN; a bright, vibrant young woman who must be intelligent because she goes to university. Sweet as chocolate strawberries dipped in sugar.

SUSAN

(embarrassed)

Oh, hello professor!

JOHN

Susan? What can I do for you?

PETER becomes visible loitering behind the open door; a cocksure lad with an elaborate hairstyle and various accessories. A walking fashion statement. At that moment he is being uncharacteristically shy. He is SUSAN’s boyfriend.

SUSAN

I was just looking for… um… my purse. I wondered if I left it here.

JOHN

Of course you were. Hello Peter!

PETER

Hello, professor.

JOHN

Well Susan, I’ve had lectures all day and nobody’s handed it in. Did you try the office downstairs?

SUSAN

Oh, how silly of me! I’ll try there now.

SUSAN leaves hastily just as JOHN finishes packing away the last of his things and follows them into the–

CORRIDER

The elevator door is just beginning to close. JOHN runs towards it.

JOHN

Hold the lift!

He manages at the last moment to slide into the —

ELEVATOR

PETER and SUSAN are there already along with RACHEL, a brilliant student of robotics. She is wearing a white coat and glasses, because she’s a scientist obviously. PETER and SUSAN are already talking with her when JOHN gets on the elevator. JOHN presses the elevator button and the doors close. The lift moves down.

RACHEL

The PN-STKN Unit is also connected to the internet, giving it full access to the sum total of human knowledge. There’s still a few kinks to work out in its software, but at least my part’s done! Once it’s on, it’ll be almost indistinguishable from a real man.

PETER

(winking)

I bet it doesn’t do everything a real guy can.

RACHEL

Not quite. He’s very gentlemanly.

SUSAN and RACHEL laugh. PETER is humiliated.

JOHN

(V.O.)

Robotic men… that’s silly, you only get those in movies. Heck, the one we had in ‘The Grim Robot’ sounded more plausible than this girl’s science project.

Suddenly the lift shudders. The lights flicker and go out.

SUSAN

What was that?!

JOHN

Nothing. Lift’s probably just stuck.

SUSAN

(suddenly panicking)

I don’t like small spaces!

PETER holds SUSAN protectively.

PETER

It’s fine, we’ll be out in no time. Won’t we professor?

JOHN

Of course we will.

JOHN begins thumbing the emergency button. Nothing happens. He tries repeatedly, scowling.

PETER

Maybe you need to hold it?

JOHN holds the button and speaks into the speaker on the wall.

JOHN

Hello? Can anyone hear me?

There is an almighty bang from above. The lift begins to sway. Another almighty bang, as if something heavy has landed on the roof of the lift. SUSAN screams. A large, dark grey fist bursts through the ceiling. SUSAN screams again.

JOHN

What the – ?!

RACHEL

It’s the PN-STKN Unit! It wasn’t due to be activated until next week!

PETER

Well, it’s definitely active now… and it’s coming for us!

The fist punches through the ceiling again, making the hole bigger.

PN-STKN (O.S.)

Humans are inferior! You must be destroyed!

SUSAN screams. Two dark grey hands begin to pry the hole in the ceiling open even further.

JOHN

Quickly, how do we shut it down?

RACHEL

You can’t, not if it’s gone active! I built it to be like a real man, only better! There’s no off switch!

PN-STKN (O.S.)

Humans are inferior! You must be destroyed!

JOHN

If only there was a bunch of jumped-up kids here, they’d know what to do!

The hole in the ceiling is now wide enough for us to see PN-STKN; a dark grey man with obscenely large muscles wearing nothing but black briefs and a black leather waistcoat. His hair is black and slicked back. He happens to have a large circular saw in one hand, held close to the elevator cable.

PN-STKN

Humans… Stand clear of the doors.

JOHN produces a gun from out of nowhere and shoots frantically but its bullets have no effect.

PN-STKN

Your weapons are inferior.

PN-STKN shoots lasers from its eyes and vapourises SUSAN.

RACHEL

I am your creator! Stop what you’re doing!

PN-STKN

Negative.

The saw begins cutting through the cable with a shrill whine.

PN-STKN (CONT’D)

Going down.

PETER

(tearfully)

He killed Susan! Why did you have to kill her?! She was no threat to you!

PN-STKN

Your emotion makes you inferior. You must die.

JOHN

(suddenly inspired)

No! No, it doesn’t! It makes us superior!

PN-STKN

Negative.

JOHN

I can prove it!

RACHEL

Professor, what are you doing?

PN-STKN hesitates. The saw stops spinning.

PN-STKN

Proceed.

JOHN

Ok… you shot Susan, not Peter; yet Peter suffers.

PN-STKN

Peter is illogical.

PETER

No, I’m not! I’m sad because… because I loved her man! And now she’s dead! It’s totally logical! There’s nothing more logical!

PN-STKN

Love makes you weak. Weakness makes you inferior.

JOHN

You have access to the whole internet don’t you? Well Google this! ‘Tis is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’! Better, you see? Love is better than no love!

PN-STKN

Illogical. Love is weakness… yet is better?!!

PN-STKN’s head explodes.

JOHN

This lift’s full.

RACHEL

Well done professor!

PETER

You did it! Next time, though, I’m taking the stairs!

They laugh. The lift continues moving and the lights return.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. LIFT SHAFT BOTTOM.

Smoldering robot parts litter the floor. A single disembodied hand begins to move!

FADE OUT.

A Fanciful Tale of Heroes and Call Centres

It’s been a while since I posted one of my own humble stories, so I’ve quickly knocked together this little bit of nonsense for your enjoyment. Unlike a lot of the stories I’ve published on the site before, this is not a rejected competition entry. I wrote it for no purpose other than to amuse myself and hopefully, dear reader, to amuse you as well. I suppose it’s best described as a fantasy (since it features heroes guilds and all that kind of stuff) but it also draws heavily on some of my own less fantastic experiences. It also happens to be a little experiment in writing a story using minimal narration; it’s almost entirely dialogue. As ever, this story is entirely my own work and has never been published anywhere else, whether online or in print. I hope you enjoy it.

—-

I Need A Hero

by Andrew Ferguson

 

Brrp, brrp.

Brrp, brrp.

‘Good afternoon, you are through to the Free National Heroes Service. My name is Colin, how may I help you?’

‘Yes, good morning, I’d like to book a knight please, for three o’clock tomorrow.’

‘Oook, if you just give me a minute I’ll take some details off you…’

‘OK.’

‘Now you do understand I can’t guarantee it’ll be a knight because—’

‘Why not?’

‘Well you see—’

‘It really needs to be a knight, I always get one. If you check your records you’ll see, I always get a knight.’

‘Oook… well, let me just take your details then and I’ll have a look for you, OK? What’s your name please?’

‘Shona Forrester.’

‘And your date of birth?’

‘Age of Esfin, 03, 36.’

‘Aaaand your address?’

‘0/1 1236 Esclimber Way’

‘That’s great, thanks. Oook, you don’t seeeeem to be registered on our system just now but that’s OK, I’ll just add you on—’

‘Sorry, what do you mean I’m not registered? I’ve had heroes out here loads of times and I’ve always got a knight. It’s never been a problem before. Has it all changed now?’

‘No, madam, as I tried to explain before, we’ve only ever had three categories of hero available. You can have a warrior, a mage or a ranger. And you’re definitely not on our system either, but that’s no problem, I’ve just added you on now.’

‘Oh! So I can’t have a knight then?’

‘I’m afraid it’s out of my hands madam, the best I can do is put you down for a warrior and I’ll put it in your notes that you wanted a knight. That way Control will see that on their screens when they come to allocate heroes and will do what they can to accommodate you.’

‘So I should still get a knight then?’

‘I really wouldn’t like to make any promises, madam, but the Controllers will do their very best if there’s one available. You will definitely be able to get a warrior but that’s all I can say for certain until you’re assigned a hero in the morning.’

‘It’s never been a problem getting a knight before but right, whatever… well, OK. Can I go now?’

‘Nooo, not quite yet, I still need to take a few details off you first if you don’t mind. Now was it AM or PM tomorrow you wanted this for?’

‘PM, three o’clock please.’

‘OK, now because we’ve only got so many warriors on at one time, I obviously can’t give you a cast iron guarantee that it’ll be exactly three o’clock. It just depends what’s available. Normally what we’d do is book you in for an AM or PM slot just now and you’ll be assigned a time by the Controllers depending on when there’s a warrior available. So I’ll put you down for PM and put it in your notes that you’d prefer it for three, is that OK?’

‘Well what time is he likely to arrive then?’

‘I honestly couldn’t say for sure, madam, that’s entirely down to Control, I’m afraid. An afternoon booking could be any time between twelve o’clock and half eight.’

‘OK, make it AM then.’

‘Are you sure that’s OK? That would be any time then between nine o’clock and twelve.’

‘It’ll have to be, it’s no use him coming at all if he’s any later than three, half three at the latest, so I’ll go with AM. Can you let me know roughly what time that’s likely to be? I’ll be at work in the morning so I’ll need to ask my neighbour to let him in.’

‘Like I already said madam, I’ve no way of knowing until you’ve been allocated a hero what time it’ll be, except that it’ll be in the morning between nine and twelve. I can get Control to give you a call once you’ve been allocated if you like?’

‘Fine, thank you.’

‘Nooo problem, now I just need to check your eligibility to use this service—’

‘Why do you need to do that? I’ve had heroes out before, loads of times.’

‘I’m sorry madam, but there was definitely nothing at all on our system for you. Are you sure you didn’t use a private guild last time?’

‘No, I’ve always dialled this number. There must be something wrong with your system.’

‘Mmm, maybe but I need to check your eligibility anyway or my system won’t let me make the booking. Is that OK?’

‘How long do you think he’ll be anyway? I mean, I need to know when he’ll be back from his quest so I can make sure there’s someone in. I’ll be at work till two.’

‘Well, that really depends. I was actually just about to ask you exactly why you need a hero. I mean, is there any one else who can go for you?’

‘What difference does that make?’

‘Well, you see even though this as a free service, we don’t receive any government or lottery funding so it’s really only those who are completely unable to go on the quests themselves that we can provide this service for.’

‘Bu—!’

‘And there’s no way I could guess at how long your hero will take to complete his quest unless I know what it is. Also Control need to know in advance if he needs any special equipment; things like enchanted armour or really bulky things like rune stones or armoured horses might take a bit longer to arrange.’

‘Well, he won’t need any of that so there’s no problem.’

‘I’m sure there isn’t, but I need to ask you what his quest will be anyway or I can’t take your booking.’

‘I just need him to go to the supermarket for me. I need him to pick up some things for my son’s birthday and I can’t go ’cause I’ve got work!’

‘The supermarket?’

‘Yes. It’s never been a problem before today!’

‘I’m really sorry, you’ll need to go with a private guild for something like that.’

‘But—!’

‘I am really sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. This is a free service and we don’t receive any government or lottery funding so we really can only provide this service for extremely dangerous or difficult quests and to those with a household income of less than twelve-thousand quil per year. Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

‘…’

Click.

‘Bye then.’ Click. ‘Geeeeeez… Unbelievable!’

‘Let me guess,’ said Colin’s supervisor. ‘It’s young master Forrester’s birthday again?’

‘Yeah!’

‘Hmph! That’ll be his fifth birthday this year then!’

Ideas from the Everyday

There’s a very old and tired adage that authors should only write about what they know. On the whole, I don’t think this is really the best advice in the world but when you’ve not got any ideas about what to write, it’s often a good place to start.

‘Oh yeah,’ I hear you cry, ‘Well I’ve just got a humdrum run of the mill every day 9-5 sort of life and I don’t know nothing about nothing so how can I write an interesting story?’

I’ve often wondered that myself. I, too, have a very ordinary life which I doubt they’ll ever make a movie about it – and I should add, that I’m very grateful for that! But unless you happen to have experienced something truly remarkable, I find it highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to simply recount your life story and expect it to sell.

That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you are able to start writing. Once you start, you can go anywhere. Even the most boring events in your life can become a wellspring of inspiration. The important thing to remember is this:

Not everything you write needs to be published. Therefore, it’s okay to write rubbish.

For example, a few years ago, on one particularly snowy winter, I got stuck on a bus for fifteen and a half hours on what would have normally been a twenty minute journey. The true story of what happened was pretty boring. I sat there for fifteen and a half hours, trying not to think about toilets and amusing myself by watching people building snowmen on the motorway. When I finally got home (after I had had something to eat and a good night’s sleep) I went about the business of trying to turn it into a work of fiction.

It wasn’t easy. The simple truth is, it was a tedious experience which came slap-bang in the middle of a fairly bog-standard week of studying for my exams and attending my office job. To this day, I’m not satisfied that it was ever really finished. But it was not a wasted effort, not in the slightest. By writing this boring little story based on my boring night on the bus, I created a protagonist I was immensely proud of. His name is Dr. Henry Barrington-Smyth; a reclusive, socially awkward man who has devoted himself to the study of theology and philosophy, with a particular interest in ethics.

When I first created Henry, he was a fairly shy, mild mannered sort of man who developed a friendship with one of his fellow passengers on the bus through their mutual boredom.

I know. Rubbish.

But from that rubbish little story, I was able to expand far beyond what happened on the bus that night and create something new. When I re-wrote this story, I made Henry an altogether more aloof figure. While all the passengers on the bus began to chat and make friends, Henry was deliberately resistant and was downright rude to the woman he had befriended in my previous draft (all the while, reading a scholarly work about what constituted moral goodness).

Still rubbish, but I was starting to like Henry. So I gave him a bad guy to deal with. Someone else on the bus (Dave) was drunk and was behaving in an aggressive manner towards the passengers and the driver. Also the woman he had previously befriended became unwell. None of this happened during my true experience on the bus, but it gave the protagonist something to do. If you remember my previous post about how I like to audition characters, this is very much the same sort of thing. Characters can develop quite naturally if you are willing to test them in various situations, especially crucible situations from which they cannot escape (such as being stuck on a bus).

Since then, I’ve tried Henry out in a whole bunch of different scenarios at different stages of his life, from childhood right through to the death of his wife when Henry was 72. I invented a fictional home-town for him and am now working on a mystery story set in that fictional town which is altogether more interesting than the story I originally came up with based on that one boring experience I once had.

Don’t set out to only write about what you know. Unless you’ve experienced something truly amazing or horrifying, you’ll probably just get bored and/or frustrated.

Don’t set out to only write something especially clever, either. That kind of perfectionism will hinder you from writing that all important rubbish first draft.

Just write about whatever you happen to think of. If all you can think about is your boring day at the office, then write about your boring day at the office. If all you can think about is aliens stealing bananas to power their spaceship, then write about banana stealing aliens. If it’s good, great. If it’s bad, that’s great too. What matters is that you write something. Anything. You can throw out the things you’re not proud of and you can refine anything that’s got rough edges later. What matters is that you start to write and persevere, no matter how many scrunched up paper balls you surround yourself with.

You’ll be amazed at what you can end up with.