The Ones is a writing blog game in which participants receive a story title, a little wrinkle to up the challenge factor and then must create a single draft story in no more than one hour from the prompt. They then trade stories and post someone else’s entry on their website. My guest is Alisia Faust.
Hello, can you hear me? Is anybody there? Please help me. I think I’m with a very bad man, and I’m afraid.
He came into my house in the middle of the night, tip-toeing on silent cat’s feet. I don’t know why the alarm didn’t go off. It should have! But it didn’t, so he pulled me from my bed and stuffed me in the back of his car. Oh, stupid, stupid, stupid! Why hadn’t I made any noise? I accidentally go off all the time! But I was confused and surprise and so scared. They took my brother too. He’s back here with me. If only I had said something, I wouldn’t be here. If only…
The car is stopping. I hear him loud and clear. It’s a one-sided conversation on the phone.
“Hey, I’m here. Yeah, around the corner from Starbucks. Where are you? Well hurry up, man! I’ve got the–Alright, alright, just hurry up.”
The faint click of disconnection, and a string of words that would make a lady blush tumble out of his mouth. Do you need to know everything he said? I’m not comfortable repeating that last bit.
The Ones is a writing blog game in which participants receive a story title, a little wrinkle to up the challenge factor and then must create a single draft story in no more than one hour from the prompt. They then trade stories and post someone else’s entry on their website. My guest this week is Kishan Paul.
“So you feel like your husband isn’t attentive to your needs as he used to be?” I ask.
“Yes,” the woman on the speaker phone sniffles. “I think he’s having an affair,” she says as her sniffle turns into a full fledged sob.
“Elise,” I begin and stop when the pounding starts. I switch the speaker off and put the phone next to my ear. Placing my hand on the wall next to me, I feel it shake as whoever is on the other side pounds.
I scramble to the other side of apartment, the kitchen, “Elise, do you think this has anything to do with the fact it’s the busiest time…” The banging of the hammer against the wall gets louder and more incessant. I punch the breakfast table and work on keeping my voice calm and soothing. “of the year for him at work?”
The rest of our session is much the same and I pray Elise has no idea that I’m about to explode.
Willow scraped her slippers along the carpet, reaching up to stretch and rub her eyes but stopping short with a little squeak of surprise when she saw the book on the floor. Her office was spotless, a sanctuary from the chaos of a careless boyfriend through the rest of the house. The walls were lined with floor-to-ceiling white bookshelves, excepting the wide corner desk, where she ran her customized balloon distribution company from her laptop. A book on the floor in this office was an affront to Willow’s unflinching rule: no one in the office without explicit permission.
She picked up the hardcover and turned it over. Agatha Christie’s After The Funeral. Willow carried the book into the kitchen, staring at the cover. “Hey Long,” she said, suppressing a sour look at the sight of her boyfriend hunched over a cereal bowl, slurping and chewing loudly with an open mouth, “were you looking for a book in my office?”
Arata Ui could tell the difference between the rumble of ocean against sea wall and the buzz of an approaching aircraft when he was awake and alert. Four hours into his second shift, when cursing Ryo for contracting the flu had lost its distracting fire, it became a uniform hum of white noise. His fingers stiffened on the searchlight. Across the dugout, the battery team shared a cigarette, black outlines of huddled bulk nagged by an orange ember.
“Tetsuya! Shin!” Arata hissed, hoping the Gocho wasn’t making his round. “Someone cover me while I go to the latrine.”
The debate was held in susurrus even Arata’s trained ear couldn’t make out. “Fine,” they said at last. After a moment, Shin tapped him on the shoulder.
“Make it fast. I’m only doing this because you’re pulling a double.”
Krivoth gestured with two folded black claws and his mandibles clicked a hard, wet rhythm as he spoke. “In here is the break room. Coffee, snacks, suffering-sticks, fresh fruit, ichor, the usual.” Ms. Pollibutton’s sagging, chinless face reflected a thousand times over in Krivoth’s faceted red eye. “You get one fifteen minute break every four millennia.” The tone in his lubricated clacking voice suggested he expected some resistance on this point. Ms. Pollibutton remained stoic and pushed her glasses back up her nose.
After a somewhat disappointed pause, Krivoth’s hind legs drummed in sequence creating an agitated, impatient air. “Anyway, moving on,” he said. The tour continued, Krivoth being sure to tick off the points of interest: The Floundering Abyss; The City of Pain; Dyre Labyrinth; Nightmare Valley. Ms. Pollibutton nodded politely at each, never slowing her short, rapid strides. The soft clink of her Cromwell buckles steadied into an incessant grate against Krivoth’s nerves.
“So here’s your workstation,” he said after an age. The loose folds of Ms. Pollibutton’s throat wobbled ever so slightly as she ran a white glove along the dusty outcropping of red stone. A massive anthropodermic book lay on the slab desk.
Krivoth flipped the book open to a page marked with a bone hook using his spiked foreleg. “It works like this: an entrant will arrive at processing. Once Foharr is finished with intake and cleaning, Sinestine will usher it in here. You record the data and let Nesti know which plane is next in the rotation. This is important, okay? If you start double- or triple-stacking the Murdergrounds or whatever, you’re going to have some very grouchy underdaemons. We can’t torment properly if we don’t have time to do the orientations.”
Her mask was made from the head-bones of an aurochs and she ran. Each footfall landed in a violent clatter, the assault of her soles on earth sending the pouches and hanging weapons from criss-crossed belts and harnesses colliding, rebounding off each other. This was no stealthy flight.
Ridgen Village perched at the edge of the great gorge, squatting there as though trying to defecate into the chasm. When the woman clanged and thudded her way into the muddy slums on Ridgen’s western outskirts, her pursuers were nowhere to be seen.
She paused at the rough sign driven into the sticky grey ground at the village’s limit. The words above the faded whitewash of an arrow, gesturing south, read, “Ridgen. Population 1,300. Bridge customers welcome. Gorge floor path.” Words came slowly to Fian; she relished the opportunity to catch her breath while she made sure she understood the sign’s meaning: the bridge lay ahead, through town; to the south, the long road through the canyon.
When Jana and I started out, pedaling away from her dad’s slumping cottage, the sky overhead was a rich blue punctuated by the white gaze of the sun. We packed plastic baggies of peanut butter sandwiches and a couple of oatmeal cookies into the basket fastened to her handlebars. The thermos of milk went into my backpack, along with a couple of towels, a patch kit, and a foot pump. Jana’s front tire had a bad habit of leaking and we planned to make it all the way to the lake with enough time to swim, eat, and work on our tans before we had to start back to beat the twilight.
The edge of town was a couple miles behind when the muggy air started cutting cold and the wispy white clouds transitioned into glowering black monstrosities like smoky demons leaping off the toasted landscape. Jana and I stopped and had a short debate about whether to press on or turn back. We settled on going ahead because that’s what Jana wanted. The sudden chill tugged tiny white goosebumps along the bare brown skin on my arms and legs, and Jana urged me faster so the exertion would keep us warm. I was just about to shout at her to stop and give up, that I wasn’t going to get in the lake anyway with it being so cold, when the hail started.
Anny’s teardrops hold a single sun each, reflecting the steel sky and the ice-crusted landscape. The cheek the salty drops traverse before falling in slow motion are cherub smooth and dark, soft the way nothing in the world save young skin can be. On the way down, one drop in particular wobbles in and out of perfect spherical roundness, taking on the details of a blue calico dress, a brown and pink parka, a pair of white tights dirty only at the knees, puffy boots.
The splash of liquid on frosted concrete curb is, to a particularly attuned ear, audible in a light blip. Touching on the thin wafer of snow, the warm tear burns through to the drab half-foot wall beneath as if it were molten. It can’t darken the already damp surface of the curb, so instead it shimmers there, a sparkle reminiscent of the evening star.
A crystal city erupts from the pit formed by the falling saltwater meteor, spires of ice and glass, slick roadways of frozen sorrow winding up and around each minute, elaborate library or factory or tenement. A glisten of cold starlight glares across the tiny landscape and from this golden glow emerges a silken horse with wings of silver fire, soaring upward. The boy on the bare back of the beast clings to a smoky mane, his tightly curled hair ruffling in the frigid air, a loose tunic snapping behind him. He flies the horse in a looping arc upward, spiraling to the highest peak of the city, glimmering hooves moving in long leaping strides as though sprinting on an invisible path. The horse strains as it rises, diamond flecks of foam sparkling against translucent hide.
I’m writing this with rain hitting the window and it reminds me of that night we got trapped in your dad’s Tahoe with the dead battery on Westlake. Do you remember? We just sat there and listened to the drops pounding against the roof, holding hands, scared of our approaching curfews and mudslides and lightning and whatever. I think about that night sometimes, the part before we moved to the back seat, and I miss that sound.
I miss a lot of things about us. I miss not fighting over R████. I miss going out and doing things. I miss everything being us against the world instead of us against us. For a long time I swore the brighter days were just around the corner. Every relationship has rough patches, okay? This was ours. If we were meant for each other the way you always say, we’d probably have a lot of rough patches over time, you know? So this was one.