Short: “Quizzical”

Writing Prompt Response

In an alternate universe, all decisions are made via the results of a Buzzfeed quiz

“You don’t understand, my favourite drink is actually Pepsi! PEPSI!”

She kicked and screamed as two burly men, suited and imposing, dragged her down the hallway. The waiting lines of people watched her apathetically. I sighed, shuffling some paperwork before slotting it into a file.

“Next?”

People ask me how I sleep at night, how I can sit there as people dreams are crushed over the results of a six-question survey. Most of the time I simply shrug: it’s a job after all, you just do what you can to get by.

The Buzzfeed Bureau of Quiz Complaints (BBQC) is by far the busiest building in the central London. That’s not even an exaggeration. You’ll only find larger crowds and queues on the underground and possibly around Trafalgar Square. The sheer amount of foot traffic we receive is mind-boggling – last year they had to install flagstones throughout the building due to how regularly the carpets were ruined.

A man steps up to my window, looking wild-eyed and frightened despite his attempt to dress up in a crumpled suit. We’re divided into long hallways in the BBQC, each teller assigned around two hundred people with complaints over their results.

“Yes?” I ask, already reaching for the REJECTED stamp.

“I… I want to change my celebrity BFF.”

My eyebrows rose. “Who were you assigned, and who would you prefer?” As he stuttered I glanced at his papers, quickly bringin up his details on my terminal.

“I got Kanye West, and I’d prefer, well, anyone else to be honest.”

“Okay Mr… Coleman?” He nodded. “Good. Well, it says here that your favourite fast food restaurant is Burger King. Is that correct?”

“Well, yes, but-“

“NEXT!”

“But he keeps calling me!” The man slammed a palm against the glass of the booth in desperation. “HE WON’T STOP TALKING!”

As if my clockwork two more burly men appeared to manhandle him away. They are certainly efficient, BBQC security. They operate in shifts, teams rotating back to the front of the queue to drag the next helpless plaintiff away.

Another man, slightly taller, strode up to the window.

“You people are scum, you know that?”

He’d been waiting an hour or so and the summer heat (and the broken air conditioning) had obviously rendered his manners obsolete.

I sighed. Three years I’d been working this job and not once had I gone home feeling like I’ve made a difference. I was assigned the job, just like everyone else did. My sister did the same quiz as me, now she’s a marine biologist.

If only I hadn’t said my favourite Disney movie was Hercules.

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Short: “Unbound”

Writing Prompt Response

Write a story based upon this image

 

Capture

“It’s better than a rock.”

I sat, one toe dipped in the water, staring into the expanses of an endless blue sky. Solitude had its upsides sometimes, and one of the best was the ability to just lie still and listen to the waves lap against the shore.

Granted, the “shore” was composed mostly of flotsam and refuse, but it was my shore. I’d even managed to craft myself a small hut in the middle. It was rickety, smelly and felt like it might collapse at every gust of wind, but it was home.

There have definitely been worse punishments in history. I was quite pleasantly surprised when I was moved. Humanity has always piqued my interest, and I have ever been their benefactor and now their continuous expansion has forced me from my previous prison.

Some might say that I caused it all. I gave them that one gift that allowed man, huddled, freezing and dim-witted, to emerge and to conquer the natural world around him. I counter, however, that any creature that can take one little spark, one little flame, and rise to dominate the planet deserves far more lip service than that.

So Olympus became crowded – jet-powered aircraft and space stations make it very difficult to hide from the prying eyes of humanity. I have to say I am very proud of them, though.

Now my solitude is my prison and the endless seas my chains.

A shadow flitted across the water, large and imposing. In a flap of great wings the eagle landed upon my shack, eyes fixed upon my torso.

“You’re early,” I mumbled, shielding my eyes from the sun.

The eagle said nothing, hopping down onto my island in the curious way all raptors do. It was probably exhausted, it’s flights were, after all, far longer now.

“Fine, fine,” I unbuttoned my shirt, motioning for the bird to do its work. “It’s the least I can do since you came all this way. Just don’t block my tan too much.”

The bird set to his painful work. Tomorrow he would do it all again.

It’s still far better than a rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short: “Ouroboros”

Writing Prompt Response

Time is a flat circle. When you die, you are reborn as yourself to live the same life over and over again. This applies to everything in the universe, and the universe itself. That is, until someone, somehow, finds a way to leave themself a message from a past life.

 

“Don’t touch the fish.”

It was certainly an odd fortune to get in a cookie at a Chinese restaurant. Compounded by the fact that I had actually ordered pork, it amounted to a fairly awful prediction. I stared at the piece of paper for a second before dismissively throwing it to one side.

“What did it say?”

I looked up into the eyes of my date: we had met the other day at the market and hit it off. She was fair-skinned and slim, with a quick wit and a passion for history. Sarah was the complete package as far as I could see.

“Oh, something odd about not eating the fish.”

Her nose scrunched up as she frowned. “How odd!”

“What does yours say?”

She snapped the cookie in half, retrieving the message from within the crumbs. She read it and frowned again.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It says,” she flipped the note over. “Tim, please ring this number.”

I froze upon hearing my name. Out of nowhere my body gave me a burst of adrenaline. “Wh-what? Does is have a number?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause as I sat there staring at the message while Sarah looked worryingly over the top of it.

“Do you think I should ring it?”

“Of course not! Who knows what person wrote that. It could a be a prank, or maybe meant for another table…” Sarah trailed off.

I agreed to hold off and the rest of the meal passed quietly. Afterwards, as Sarah grabbed her coat I snatched at the fortune, concealing it in my pocket. We went our separate ways in town and it took ten seconds of restraint before I begin feverishly dialing the number.

The tone rang on and on. My hands were shaking, my heart pounding against my ribcage. The winter’s chill turned my breath into mist. I had no idea why I was so affected by the message, but something urged me to get to the bottom of it.

The tone clicked onto an answering message.

“Hello Tim.”

I almost choked. It was my voice.

“I don’t have much time, in both senses of the word. You need to get to this address across town as soon as you can. If you don’t then something awful will happen, and I think you might die.”

I stumbled through the night, the handset clapped tight to my ears, listening intently to each instruction. The message couldn’t have been a prank – the man (or me?) – had spouted memories, people and dates that no phonejacker could know about. His knowledge led me to a warehouse in the industrial estates, helped me get past a coded door and into a dimly-lit shop floor.

“Okay now Tim, you need to go through this main floor and you’ll get to a smaller room. Through the door at the end of that room is where you need to be.”

I followed the instructions to the letter, but as I approached the final door – a heavy metal thing with iron latches and hinges – something made me hesitate. There, on a peeling poster on the wall, was the warehouse company’s logo.

A flying fish.

Don’t touch the fish.

“Tim you need to go through that door.” The voice on the other end began to become frantic. “Tim! Through the door, now!”

It began to warp and twist. Suddenly it wasn’t just my voice, it was that of thousands, millions. A symphonic cry by countless people in countless languages.

Panicking, I dropped the phone and span around, aiming to run as far as I could from whatever was on the other side of that doorway. I took no more than two steps my legs buckled under me.

I couldn’t move my legs, they had become dead weight. It was then that I saw it emerge, as if from nothingness, stepping into the real world.

Cloaked in shadows, ethereal yellow eyes glowing from beneath a cowl of writhing smoke, stood the unimaginable horror of death personified.

OUROBOROS

The shriek was deep and yet shrill, terrifying and soothing, all in one. Retching in fear I grabbed for my phone.

OUROBOROS

I punched the numbers in automatically, instinctively.

“Hello, you’ve reached Tim-” My own voicemail chimed.

“The fish! The factory!” I screamed, the shadow creeping ever closer to me.

THE CYCLE SHALL CONTINUE

“Don’t touch it! DON’T GO NEAR IT!”

I fell into nothingness, a blip on existence snuffed like a candle.


I put my phone back in my pocket, a little shaken.

“Who was it?” Sarah asked, worried by my expression.

“Just a prank call, I guess,” I replied. “Anyway, let’s see what’s in your fortune cookie!”

Short: “The Boy with the Braces”

Writing Prompt Response

A boy post apocalypse who goes on a journey to find an orthodontist to remove his braces

He stood there: dusty, dirty, possibly deranged.

The boy had followed me for about five or six miles now. I had first caught glimpse of him as I rummaged through debris on the freeway, peaking out from a pile of wreckage that had once been a tow-truck.

His hair was disheveled and so thick with grime it was hard to tell what its true colour was. To be honest, at this point I doubted anyone left on Earth could call themselves “clean”.

I asked him if he had lost his parents – he said nothing. I asked him if he had come from San Diego – or the pile of twisted buildings and smoking rubble that had once been San Diego – he said nothing.

I’m not sure why I let him follow me; it could have been some trick, some ruse to lead me into an ambush. I long ago decided that travelling on my own was far safer than to trust the tattered remains of “civilisation”.

Finally, whilst trekking through a small suburban town, I sat myself down on gnarled tree stump. Somewhere something was burning – something was always burning. A thick miasma of smog rolled behind us, bringing with it the acrid smell of irradiated air.

“Okay, kid, I’m sick of this now.”

He was about nine or ten and had piercing green eyes. From the looks of it he was still wearing the clothes he had on his back the day everyone piled into the shelters.

“I ain’t got any food, you hear?” That was a lie, but it would also be a lie to call the lumps of carbon in my backpackfood.

The boy, in his first communication to me since appearing on that rusting freeway, shook his head.

“Finally, we’re getting somewhere!” I leaned forward, placing my hands on my knees. “You looking for your parents?”

Another shake of the head.

“Someone to travel with?”

shake

“What is it then?”

He pointed at my pants. Confused, I looked down. “What about ’em? They’re a bit dirty, but I haven’t found anything better since…”

I trailed off as the child took a step forward and poked at me. Or rather, at something hanging from my belt. He prodded at my ID, burnt and dirt-encrusted, but still hanging in its laminate pouch.

“Are you hurt? I’m not that kind of doctor.”

The child seemed to sigh, before peeling back his lips to reveal a set of yellowing teeth. Attached to them was the mangled remains of what I presumed to be a dental brace. The metal had twisted and warped, but whoever had stuck them on the poor kid really glued ’em on. Bits of old food clung to it in clumps, while broken shards poked painfully into his gums.

I whistled through my teeth. “Jesus Christ. No wonder you’re so skinny.”

The boy pointed at his open mouth, and again at my badge.

“You’re kidding me, kid,” I said, running a hand through my hair. “I’d like to help you, but I haven’t done anything like this since before-“

He cut me off, taking my hand. Confused, I was led by the boy through the winding streets of the suburb, until we came to an aging dentists office. The white facade had rotted, the doors blown off their hinges, but it seemed to be mostly intact.

“How did you… Did you live here or something?”

The boy nodded to me, though somewhat sadly, before leading me in.

In the end I’m not sure what happened to him, honestly. I fixed him up the best I could with what was left over: cut off the broken metal, filed down the adhesive. I couldn’t do too much because there was no power, y’know?

After that he gave me this sad smile and left. Just like that. I tried to follow him but the kid knew his way around and lost me pretty quick. I camped out near the town’s hall, and the next morning you know what I found? There, next to my bedroll, a little beaten up but still in good condition, was a little brown teddy bear.

Even now I wonder if he’s okay, the kid. I dream about it. In all the years since the end of the world, it’s that one kid, that one act of random kindness, that has kept me going. I’ve still got that bear.

I hope he’s okay.

Short: “The man in the docks”

Writing Prompt Response:

In a not so distant dystopian future you will have to defend your internet history from the past 5 years in a court room setting in front of your extended family, friends, and love interests

“Cats.”

I could feeling the prosecutors eyes boring into my skull as he paced around me. The courtoom was stuffy and reeked of disinfectant – the summer heat always brought the worst of the smog with it.

“Cats in pajamas. Cats in silly hats. Cats falling over.” He continued, his terse tone growing sharper and sharper with each syllable. “Cats on slides, cats with ham on their faces.”

There was a pervasive muttering around the court, as what had initially been a joke ran onwards and onwards.

“Can you explain yourself, Mister Matthews?” He pronounded Mr. fully, stressing every consonant as if correct pronunciation was the epitome of life’s purpose.

“It was the 2010’s,” I stammered. “Everyone was into cats on the internet.”

There was a murmur of agreement.

“We are all aware of that, Mister Matthews. However, you spent an entire week looking at nothing but cat pictures, videos, blogs and how-to tutorials. Not to mention scatterings of recurrent searches over the following years”

Another ripple of whispers flowed through the packed court, borne on a tide of discontent and shock.

“You are aware your family is here, Mister Matthews?”

“I am.”

“As well as your significant other.”

I looked at Tracy, who refused to meet my eyes. “I am.”

“Then what do you have to say for yourself? You realise what you have done is a great crime in this nation?”

At last, I finally broke, after two weeks of borderline interrogation.

“I like cats! There is nothing wrong with being a cat person! They’re fluffy and cute, I don’t care what you say, they’re amazing creatures!”

Red-faced, I gripped the edge of the booth. Spittle flew from my mouth. I was not going to sit, cornered and dictated to. If I was to go down I would go down fighting.

“As for you,” my finger shot outwards, pointing wildly at the judge, who sat ready to condemn me to death for my ‘crime’. “You’re no friend of mine!”

Woof, said the judge.

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