A bit late on the uptick this week, a thousand pardons. Always our goal is to provide piping hot prompts to inspire you on Monday, then one to wind up the week on Thursday over at our daughter publication, Improbable Press.
We're here at last and jump in Aussie crime writers, the prompt water is fine with:
Last week the a red herring writing prompt led to some gorgeous story starts, including:
~ All three of us seem to lose the last bit of strength we had and one after the other we drop to the ground where we stand…We have crossed the barren lands following a promise that turned out to be as empty as the sky. There is nowhere left to go.
~ It’s my first day on the job. Can’t be late. There’s no time to pick the stone from me shoe. I used that time up getting back on my feet and shouting at a nearby ewe who stared back as though I was the one in the wrong. She was probably right.
Red Herrings and Prompts to Help You Write
I have to say what I'll say always — trying times like these or no — your stories here are a gift I gleefully unwrap each week and I hope very much that they are a respite for you, these little moments of creation, that perhaps, when you're ready, they'll inspire you to grander creations, bigger stories, odes or poems or art or however it is you sing your creativity.
Have a look above at those bright squares and the words in them. Ignore whatever doesn't call you and lean in close to what does and tell us something. Tell us an invincible tale, unforgotten, from the ground control of your home, vector due north. Know, as ever, that what you share here remains fully yours ever and ever amen.
What will you share today?
Quarantine can drive you a bit mad… it can really bring out the worst in some people. Tiny things, like leaving the cap off the toothpaste or “where the fuck did my best tea mug go?” can turn ugly and bitter.
Fortunately, in my house, it only brought out all the worst puns, bad dad jokes and over-quoted movie lines. We – Gary and me, I’m Kat. Hi! – get on like a house on fire, always have. We are each other’s perfect kind of weird. So, being stuck at home with him wasn’t terrible.
While out weeding the yard, on a gentle slope, Gary stopped me from pulling up some low-growing grassy looking stuff. “But it’s weeds, Gary, I thought we were getting rid of all of it?” In answer to my question, Gary started to hum, and the tune was familiar… “Why are you humming ‘Space Oddity’ at me?” Honestly, this man. “We need the big weeds, the tall ones that go to seed and look terrible gone. I want to leave the flattish stuff alone.” And he continued on with the humming. “Okay, but ‘Space Oddity’?” He beamed at me, and I thought, here it comes. “This slope? It needs the roots of the low-growing stuff for… wait for it… Ground control!” Oh my God.
We decided to have an 80s movie night and Gary said, “Hey, let’s watch ‘Breakfast Club’ first,” and started to sing in his totally off key, tone deaf way, “Don’t you…”, and I cut him off right there. “I haven’t forgotten how badly you sing”. He stuck his bottom lip out at me and made the frowny face. “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor? Kat, can we watch ‘Airplane!’ next?” Sigh. “Sure Gary. We have clearance, Clarence. We can watch that next.” Gary brightened, “After that we can start on Bond, yeah?” I nodded. Gary raised both hands in the air and yelled in the worst Russian accent ever, “I am invincible!”. ‘GoldenEye’ it is then.
He’s weird, but he’s mine, and I love him.
I wanted to move away from space-related Ground Control things, then found out there used to be a speed garage band of that name. So here we are.
The Red Shoe Blues
When Dave texted, Skinny Mae responded. She should have been locked in her room, with her ears plugged shut with wax, like her physician instructed.
But Dave promised her music again, and though she knew she shouldn’t go, Skinny Mae went.
She found Dave sprawled in a swivel chair, in jeans and unlaced, sparkly purple high-tops and a net shirt. Louche, lazy, come-hither. He had one speaker of a high-end set of Bose headphones clamped to his ear.
She tried to repress her desire but, as always, it got the better of her.
“What you listenin’ to Dave?’
‘Bit o’ garage, yeah?’‘Like, what kind?’
‘UK speed garage,’ he said, grinning. ‘Like, you know, 187 Lockdown, Ground Control, bands like that.’
‘Same mob, different name,’ said Skinny Mae, who knew her history. The roll call, the beats, the chord progression were still in her blood. ‘Danny Harrison, yeah? And Julian wassit.’
‘Jonah. Julian Jonah.’
‘The producer. Yeah, but those two ere 187 Lockdown, then Gant, then Ground Control. Few more names after that. Like that Monty Python sketch about Dead Salmon.’
A musical bloodline remembered in her blood, despite everything.
Dave, the bastard, removed the cushioned speaker from his ear and held it out to Skinny Mae. ‘Have a taste.’
‘You forget something, Dave?’
‘I haven’t forgotten.’ Dave waggled the headphones at her. ‘You miss it, but.’
Damnit, she did.
‘If I do this,’ said Skinny Mae out loud, for herself just as much as Dave, ‘It’ll wake up the infection. Red Shoes will take me over. All in my blood and body, I won’t hear nothin’ but the music. Won’t speak nothin’ but the song. Won’t move except to dance to it. I’ll live the music till I die of it.’
Some cruel nerd with a vicious sense of irony had cooked up the infamous Neuro-Aural-Obsession Virus, but those who caught it called it Red Shoes. It hot-wired the brain to take music and drown in it. The whole history of each song, each genre, each musician, unspooled and colonised that soft grey matter.
Mae Donnelly, singer, pianist, violinist, had begun half consumed by the music in her life. Then an incautious tab of E at a post-Festival rave turned out to be a vector for the Red Shoe Virus and she became a slave to the rhythm. She’d forgotten to sleep, to drink, to eat for so long that she nearly died.
Three years in rehab, recovering, learning how to eat instead of falling under the thrall of music. She emerged with a new moniker and medical advice that music would never be hers again. It could kill her.
God, she missed it.
‘What a way to go, eh?’ wheedled Dave, still holding out the headphones.
Dave had a point. Living without music was only life after a fashion. Mae had undergone years of retraining so that she even walked without establishing any kind of rhythm, in case it set off the obsessive pathways again.
Mae poked in her ear with a finger, dislodged the plug that blocked out all the music. She put her hand out for the headphones. Pressed the soft vinyl of one speaker to her ear.
Dave’s head was nodding along with an absent beat.
‘Aw, Dave,’ she said sadly. ‘You did it. You found a dealer.’
‘I did,’ he confessed, waving his arms in the air like he just didn’t care. ‘I got the music in me, Mae-by Baby.’
‘It’ll kill you, Dave.’
‘Nah. I’m invincible!’ Dave lurched out his chair, sending it spinning, and danced, hips gyrating, feet flashing.
Mae couldn’t hear the song in Dave’s neurological pathways, but the virus in her own cells called to her.
Instead of plugging her ears, instead of returning to her tuneless, heartless life, Skinny Mae took Dave’s hands in hers and began to dance.
What a way to go.
The tremor starts around noon, while we are sitting in class, gently at first, but seconds later the glass of the window shatters. People scream. A dog howls.
I run outside and I drop to my knees, digging my fingers in the earth. I send my mind down into her depth, I try to find the ball of tension in her, to make her be calm and unbent again. But I never could do what you did with so much ease, I never spoke her language like you did.
I feel my focus slipping and the buildings begin to shake again. I should have never tried to quell an earthquake this big; my control of the ground was never the best. My element is and will always be water.
But there is no one here who could do better than me. You are not here and have not been in a long time.
I close my eyes and I try to focus. I think of you, my earth spirit, my beautiful counterpart, and as I deepen my breathing, I feel your presence as if you were here. I remember the way you used to slip your arms around me from behind and rest your chin on my shoulder, your breath tickling my ear. I remember the way you smell and the sound of your joyful laughter. I have not forgotten a single thing about you.
I sense you reach past me, down into the angry earth, and I feel her beginning to quieten.
Together you and I were invincible and maybe one day we again will be.
“They always got it wrong,” Lucia said, easing her bird-boned form into the pilot seat, fastened her harness on the third attempt, brushed her long, white hair off her face and pushing the flight helmet over her head until it clicked. “In the old movies, you know?”
Connie activated the cameras and a full four-pi steradian display flicked into life, so real that Lucia felt she could reach out and burn her gnarled knuckles on the deep orange Sun.
“Yes,” Connie replied after a few seconds. “The heart of the ship is protected in the centre like an egg in a nest.”
“Thank you for reading me that quotation from the handbook, Connie. Can you subtract local light sources and compensate?”
The bulging Sun dimmed and winked out. The moon too, its reflected orange disk reduced to a ghost behind her. Earth, a baked and barren desert, barely registered.
Immersed in a field of pinpoint planets and stars and hazy nebulae, Lucia settled her gaze up and to her right. Code numbers flashed pale blue under each pinpoint as she focused on it, and the helmet sensors told Connie to swing that sector front and centre. Lucia closed her eyes for the second it took to re-centre the display. “Yep, not some vulnerable, front-facing cockpit where a passing scrap of space debris could crack it open and kill the pilot. Connie, give me a closer look. Radio frequencies.”
“Working on it.” The display zoomed so fast that the flashing, false-colour images made Lucia feel nauseous. “Sorry,” Connie said. “Glitch. Adjusting.”
The stomach-churning, vertigo-inducing light show slowed. “Thank you for reminding me that I am no longer invincible,” Lucia said with a soft laugh. “I promise I haven’t forgotten how much I need you, Connie. Set launch vector for a tour of the Jovian system. With a bit of luck I’ll be back with good news about the Ganymede mission.”
Connie’s cooling fans whirred faster and blew away the heat generated by the calculations that would guide Lucia out and bring her home again, then Connie’s processors prepared to enter low power mode, ready to wake when Lucia’s little craft pinged the geostationary sensor grid.
“Good luck,” Connie transmitted to Lucia’s onboard messaging system, “I worry about you, Lucia. Next time, take me with you.”
And as always, Lucia responded, “Next time, Connie. Launch.”
“Hey there, Ground Control.”
Sophia sighed, and rubbed irritably at the place where her headset seemed to be trying to become one with her skull. “Meg, you know you don’t have to call me that any more.”
“Gotta keep up our standards, Ground Control,” Megan replied with a light purr that was entirely out of keeping with her situation. It reminded Sophia of warm night breezes and the shared taste of wine. “I can’t call you what I would want to call you on open channels.”
“There’s no one listening anymore,” Sophia reminded her.
“One day there will be.”
“If anyone listens back to these tapes, all they’ll hear is a woman slowly going mad in a makeshift office on the roof of a observatory. That’s no different to someone going mad anywhere else, it’s just colder.”
As if summoned by Sophia’s words the gale that had been battering the hill side returned. The audio levels fluctuated when the wind moaned through the gaps in the walls. The computer registered nothing when Megan spoke.
“You’re not mad, you’re just waiting.”
“I can’t wait forever. I’m not invincible.” Sophia said quietly. She let her head rest on the desk. It was easier that looking at the evidence that Megan was gone.
“You won’t have to wait forever, babe, you know I’m smarter than that. I just gotta figure out one last vector. One last calculation and I can be home.” Megan said in tones that sounded so real Sophie wanted to cry. “Hey, remember that night in New Orleans? When you pointed at the sky and said ‘second star on the left and straight on till morning’?”
“I haven’t forgotten…”
“That’s all I’ve got to do. Find that star and head straight on till morning.”
Sophia laughed quietly to herself. “That was a helicopter, babe, you can’t see stars in the middle of a city.”
“I could. Because I was looking at you. Get some sleep, I’ll be home when you wake up.”
“Okay.” Sophia replied, closing her eyes. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Ground Control.”
Maybe Megan would be back in the morning. Five hundred and seventeen days had passed since mission control lost contact with her ship. But maybe this time… maybe…