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Prompt Club - Round 1

This forum is for members to share their original prose, poetry, and even fan fiction. Please be aware that The RP Collective takes plagiarism very seriously and will uphold the relevant laws.

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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Georgeanna » Thu Mar 29, 2018 2:47 am

Great story, Sammy! Congrats on beating your adversary.
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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Sammy » Sun Apr 01, 2018 8:01 pm

Thanks, Georgie!
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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Nicodemus » Thu May 03, 2018 11:36 am

Okay, this concept required some information management that I'm not sure I got right. If anything seems off, I'd be happy to know :)

Prompt 13: First Kiss
"Where to?" he asked a little too politely, probably uneasy with the way I hunkered down after getting in the cab, my hood pulled low to block the streetlights.

I tried to remember the name of the place, but came up blank. She hadn't stayed there very long. "To where you just came from."

I saw him freeze briefly--definitely uncomfortable--before he forced himself to move and his easy-going mood returned. "The pizzeria? How would you know I came from there?"

He was trying to throw me off. Smart. But I didn't have time for this. "No," I said, trying to be patient. "Take me to her apartment."

He spun on me, dropping the friendly act and about to say something that would let me know he was pissed.

I held up my hand and kept my head down. "Woah, easy. I know Kate. We're..." somehow lying to him didn't seem right, "...old friends."

For a long moment, he stared me down, trying to come up with a reason he shouldn't take me. I knew I wasn't much older than him, yet he looked so young. Finally he turned back to the wheel, but not before giving me a look, I'm watching you, buddy.

The cab pulled off and we spent the ride in silence. He offered no more niceties, just wary glances from the rear view. It was just blocks to Kate's place, and when he braked at the curb I opened my door.

"Thanks, Donny."

"Wait, the fare..." he started. "Hey, how do you know my--"

"Sorry, didn't bring any cash with me." I closed the door.



* * *



I was back at my place. My key still worked so that hadn't changed, though I hoped something had. I stood in the doorway, searching my memories that all seemed...liquid, like they were washing into something else. I tried to focus on one. That night, the first time I was there. It started coming back...



* * *



I flipped on my cab light to start my shift. I'd just dropped Kate off, and I was still cursing myself for being too nervous to kiss her on our first date. I had to convince myself it was even real, that she'd agreed to go out with me. She was transferring schools next semester and I didn't know if I'd see her again.

I hadn't seen him and started a little when he opened the door. He climbed in without a word and bent over where I couldn't see him. He was strange to say the least, but he said he knew Kate and wanted to see her. After an awkward ride, he didn't even pay his fair. I didn't care about the money. I stayed put in the cab and watched him go up the sidewalk and ring her apartment doorbell. A moment passed, and I started to hope she'd already gone to bed.

The door opened. She stepped out and I felt my chest relax when she smiled at him. She knew him. It was okay. Had I been too worried? Would she be angry with me if she spotted me in the street, found out I was spying on her friend? I reached for the ignition, ready to be gone before I found out, when I glanced back at them.

He pulled his hood back. I pulled my hood back? He was me. I mean, I was standing there with her. A bit older perhaps, but it was definitely me.

I was trying to decide what to think of it. Then he pulled her close and they kissed.



* * *



"Hey, babe."

Her voice pulled me out of the memory. Still standing in the doorway, I looked up to see Kate walking out of the kitchen in her pajamas. She came to me, pecked me on the cheek.

"Where've you been?" She turned, crossed the den and curled up on the couch.

As I looked at her, my waving memories slowed, solidified, and I recalled a hundred of them. Wonderful, happier than they had been before.

"Donny," she said again, "where've you been?"

"Oh, just out," I said. "Setting myself straight."

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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Nicodemus » Wed May 23, 2018 9:15 am

And another. Hopefully this is the first chapter of ... something.

Prompt 11: Beast
- VACANT -

"Well, this was a great idea," Harper said under her breath, seeing the fallen door that had been ripped off the hinges. Ronan must have heard, but only grunted a response before moving in towards the house. She wiped the humidity from her brow and followed. The place was small--maybe three rooms--and run down, but the jungle around it was kept in check. Someone lived there. Or, had lived there. Harper guessed from the dried blood on the doorjamb the home was probably vacant. Ronan lead them over the threshold, sweeping his shotgun across the empty living room. Harper realized her tight grip on her machete was hurting her palm. "Let's just go."

Ronan shot a look at her. "Someone could've made it. Might still be here."

Harper clenched her eyes long enough to steel her nerves and followed him to the next room. It was pointless to argue with Ronan; his orders were set. The house was old. The walls were painted, though the colors were indiscernible under the grime and water stains. The kitchen--the second room--even had a relic of a sink that presumably had running water at one time. Blood stained the floorboards there, a streak where something had been dragged.

Ronan lowered the shotgun to check the pantry. He slowly swung open the cabinet door, then started. Harper jumped back from the flash of gray fur, her machete raised in a show of defense. A moment later, when the rat had scurried off through a hole, Harper let out her breath. Ronan simply frowned before continuing his investigation. He found something in the pantry and pointed for Harper to see. A half-eaten bunch of bananas, the remaining fruit black and withered in spots, but not decayed. Ronan's eyes became more intent over the barrel of the gun, and they moved through the next door.

The boy was ten, maybe eleven, with the tan skin and dark hair of the natives. He froze where he stood by the bed, his frightened stared fixed on the towering dusky man with the gun. They stood still just a moment--time enough for Harper to see the gore-stained bed had been the spot where they had been killed, and eaten--before the boy bolted for the window.

"Wait!" Harper yelled at his back. Ronan crossed the room quickly, but his grasp just missed the boy's foot as it disappeared out the window. "Shit!" Harper scrambled back through the kitchen and living room, her shoulder ramming into the wall as she made a fast turn to the back door. She skidded to a halt on the porch and spotted the boy, sprinting and nearly to the trees. "Dammit, wait!" But he was about to be gone, hidden in the foliage, and a pain in their ass to track in the jungle.

"Muerte es fuera hay!" Harper heard Ronan's voice, noticed him hanging out the window in her peripheral, and the boy stopped. "Only death is out there. You won't make it,” Ronan continued. The boy put his head down, defeated, and slowly turned back to face them.

- BESTIAS -

"Are you sick?" Harper asked the boy. They sat at the table on the porch. The boy said nothing, still in his chair. She saw no signs of infection, so she moved on. "Was it your parents?" She stamped down her own fear and tried to sound nurturing, but the boy responded with an inscrutable stare. She pulled her chair close to his, bending down level with his eyes. "It's okay. Do you speak English? Habla--"

"Has it came back?" Ronan interjected from behind Harper "¿Ha regresado?" He gave the boy only a moment before his patience disappeared. He slid to his knee by the chair and took the young one by the jaw to face him. "What happened, boy?"

The boy, his head still caught in Ronan's grip, cut his eyes to the forest and pointed. "Bestias."

Ronan's face went grim as Harper waited for translation. "What is it?" she asked. "Bestias. That's plural. He's saying there's more than one?" She scanned the jungle, felt her hairs stand on end. "Ronin, we need to go."

Ronan kept his eyes on the boy, as if studying him, but let go his jaw. "There's a base nearby. American. You can come with us. Lead us there. We have food." Seconds passed with no response. "Speak!"

His eyes flinched, but then the boy stood and indicated a trail through the brush. "That way."

- THE TRAIL -

The sun was high, steaming and pulling the moisture up from the forest floor. Ronan walked point while Harper and the boy--Lucio, he called himself--trailed behind. "We should be getting close, eh?" Harper asked, smashing yet another mosquito on the back of her neck. Lucio nodded without looking up from his feet. She rolled her eyes at his incessant silence at tried again. "Do you go to town much, or did they kick you out for talking?" This got her only a puzzled stare.

Overhead, a brightly colored bird Harper didn't recognize called out as it crossed the path. Lucio glanced up, and Harper decided to mimic the shrill 'Ca-haw!' as the bird disappeared into the trees. The boy shot her a quizzical look. She thought she saw an inkling of a smile before she nearly collided with Ronan, who had halted in the path.

"Quiet!" he said in a whisper. He indicated the ground at his feet, where Harper saw tracks in the slick clay. Her first thought was jaguar; she saw the ball of a foot with clawed toes. Then she found the front prints, knuckles pressed deep in the mud under substantial weight, the rainwater still standing in the depressed earth.

"Is this--" Harper began as she looked up, but found Lucio, his worried stare darting from the tracks to the jungle around them. "It's okay," Harper lied. She pressed a finger to her pursed lips and gestured that he follow.

- THE TOWN -

The jungle had begun to reclaim the small town. Vines crept up the low buildings, piercing the cracked plaster. The main strip was somewhat clear, though trees grew in the storefronts and weeds were breaking apart the asphalt. The place was silent, the air stagnant in the blinding sun. Across town, Harper could see the largest building at the end of the street, an industrial thing with sheet metal siding and red-iron beams. Harper shared a nod with Ronan that confirmed it was what they were looking for.

"There's nothing left," Harper said, then looked to the boy. "They were infected. How did you avoid it?"

"I got sick, but they gave me a shot." Ronan's shotgun wheeled on Lucio before he finished speaking, and Harper lunged between the two.

"Wait a minute." She stared down the barrel, but Ronan kept it aimed at the boy behind her.

"Move," he said, as if there were no debating the matter.

"Look at him!" Harper's thoughts raced. "The town. The villagers have been gone. It's been years since he was vaccinated. It took. Otherwise, he'd be turned already." She slowly raised a hand to the barrel, but wasn't sure if Ronan was going to relent. "He's fine, Ronan."

There was a sound, a guttural growl, and Harper saw something move before it disappeared behind a broken down vehicle far down the street. Ronan spun, forgetting the boy, and searched the horizon for a target. "Go," he whispered urgently. Harper took Lucio by the collar and they moved out of the open. The door on the nearest building had fallen off the jamb. Dragging the boy inside, Harper saw the general store had been converted into a makeshift hospital. The goods and shelves were stacked on the walls, the floor opened up for crude table beds and dirty medical trays.

Another growl, closer, told Harper something was coming down the street. Ronan stopped and scanned the room, frowned at the large storefront windows that had them exposed. The creature, still out of sight, let out a deep whine, anxious and grinding. "Hide," Ronan said. "It's got our scent." Harper pulled the boy behind the store counter and they ducked down. She looked out through the packages on the open shelves and saw Ronan frantically searching. He found something, set down the gun, and pulled two liter bottles out from under a medical table. He ripped the tops off and poured the contents onto the floor, circling the room and covering the store in the stuff. The sting of ammonia hit Harper's nostrils and she felt she would choke. She pulled Lucio's shirt collar over his face and gestured he keep it there. Her eyes began to water.

Ronan set down the bottle quietly and started for the counter. Then he froze. Harper heard scratching outside the door, could see the sweat dripping from Ronan's motionless face. It stepped inside on all fours, leading on its knuckles and walking on the balls of its clawed back feet. It was the first one Harper had seen up close. It was large, but clearly female. A thin layer of dark hair covered her naked back. The thing sniffed, then recoiled from the cloud of ammonia, shaking its head and baring fangs. It snorted, and Lucio startled. Harper pulled him close and covered his mouth.

It advanced into the room, toward the prone Ronan, who stood perfectly still, barely breathing, his gun on the floor two steps away. Harper gripped her machete. The creature creeped, flaring its nose and making choking sounds as the fumes assaulted its senses, but it didn't charge. It seemed to grow frustrated, tossing its head back and forth and searching with coal black eyes. It couldn't find him. It's squinting gaze turned toward the counter and Harper's breath caught. She could see it was thinking, confused. Intelligent. Seeing the remnants of humanity in its face filled Harper with an eerie disgust. A sneezing fit came upon the thing, and with a frustrated grunt it spun and scrambled out the door.

Ronan remained frozen a moment longer, then retrieved his gun and he was with them. "Let's go."

"How did you--" Harper began.

"I didn't. I only knew they were nocturnal. They're out now; they must be hungry. But they can't see in the light." He looked around, motioned to the roof access ladder. "C'mon."

- ROOFTOPS -

They stayed low, away from the parapet edges facing the main street as they leapt the small gaps between buildings. Lucio seemed to take it as a game. The gravel roofs radiated the heat back at them as they picked their way around the soft spots of rot. After a few jumps, they came to a wider alley. It would take effort from Harper and Ronan to clear the distance, but the boy...

Harper and Ronan were considering the jump when a blur rushed between them. Lucio, in full run, planted a foot on the parapet and launched himself through the air. He rolled when he hit the far roof with a couple feet to spare.

"Jesus," Ronan said. Harper though she heard worry in his voice. "So he's athletic," she offered with a forced grin.

She backed up to give herself room, bolted and flung herself across. She landed clumsily and turned back to Ronan, who tossed the shotgun over. Then the large man was running. His thick muscles seemed to slow his momentum, and he looked to heavy to make the gap. Harper reached for the nearest thing, the overhead line that had torn from the electrical pole and fell to the roof. Ronan leapt. She whipped the cable around as Ronan's boot reached the parapet, then his toe slipped. He grasped at the line as he slid over the edge. Harper threw her body down to the roof, braced her legs as the cable went taught and drug her across the gravel, slamming her feet into the parapet. She gritted her teeth, stifling a scream as the bare ground cable slid through her hands and ripped open her palms before it caught.

"God dammit!" she growled as quietly as possible. "Hurry!" Ronan climbed the line, pulled himself over the parapet, and Harper felt every tug before she was freed of his weight. He fell to the roof beside her and nodded his silent thanks.

Ronan got to his knees and ripped off his sleeves. He began tying them around Harpers hands. "Anything to show off your arms," Harper smiled, trying to ease his apparent guilt. Ronan paused, but lowered his head back to his task without humor.

They crossed the roof and ducked out of site when they saw the creature from the general store in the street. There was one last building between them and the research facility, its low gable roof covered in corrugated metal.

"It's gonna be loud," Harper said, kneeling down beside Lucio.

"Mhm," Ronan grunted and flipped off the safety on the shotgun.

She studied his stare toward the facility. "You're not going alone." Before he could respond, a snarl, almost excited, came from the road. Ronan half-stood, craning his neck to see, then knelt back down. He looked at Harpers bandaged hands, then back up to her, and she knew the thing had caught her sent.

Harper suddenly noticed Lucio was no longer standing beside her. She turned to see him returning across the roof with a short length of galvanized pipe in his hands. "What are you..." she began, but he simply reached out and pulled the slack sleeve of one of her bandages. He gestured to Ronan's belt knife, and Ronan obliged by cutting the fabric loose. Harper and Ronan watched, puzzled, as the boy took the strip of blood-soaked sleeve and knotted it around the middle of the heavy pipe. He walked to the roof edge facing the street. "Wait!" Harper said, but Ronan remained silent. Lucio wound back his arm, then chunked the pipe--incredibly far--down the road and away from the facility. The metal pinged heavily against the blacktop, bouncing and ringing until it rolled under a car. Both Harper and Ronan peered over the edge. The creature spun, its tendons rippling. With surprising strength and agility, it bounded down the asphalt, only slowing as it approached the car to sniff the air. It pinpointed the smell in no time, and began inspecting the vehicle, scratching and thrashing its claws underneath the fenders.

Before Harper and Ronan knew what to make of it, Lucio sped past them. As soon as his foot hit the parapet, Ronan was moving. "Go, go, go!" They followed the boy across the jump, all three landing seconds apart with one long clatter of trampled roof tin. None of them stopped, none looked back. They clambered over the roof and dropped off the far side. A few steps across the street and they were at the side entrance to the research center. "Don't be locked. Don't be locked." Harper blew out a breath as she snatched the door open and they fell inside. She heard an infuriated roar over the clawing footsteps as Ronan slammed the metal slab shut and slid the heavy latch in its catch. A half-second later, a thud vibrated the wall.

- INSIDE -

They felt their way through the dark of the corridors, Harper leading Lucio by his collar. She kept one hand on the wall as they turned corners and backtracked dead ends. Once, Harper was searching a door for its handle when the boy grabbed her hand. "Es el baño," Lucio said. After a moment of silence, he clarified. "The restroom." Harper turned back from the door. She heard a noise from Ronan, no doubt wondering how the boy could read a door plaque in such blackness.

Finally, they espied a dim light at the end of a corridor and followed it into what appeared to be the lobby entrance to the building. The windowed steel doors that lined the front wall sent in rays of light as the sun sank lower outside. Ronan walked up to the panes and peered out. He jumped back as the female creature pounded its maw against the thick glass, snapping her teeth at the air. "Bitch."

"Oh, now," came a voice from somewhere in the lobby, from the back of the room where the light failed to reach the corners. "She's not all bad." Harper pulled Lucio close to her as footsteps drew near, and a silhouette formed in the pale brown light. The man approached the receptionist desk in the center of the floor and took a seat, just out of the light. "Why are you here?" There was a tired indifference in his words. "Food? Sanctuary?"

"You're American," Harper observed. "Did you work here?"

"Do, miss. I do work here. And yes, Irish-American. Dr. Stephen Pierce," he tipped an imaginary hat, “genetic engineer. Dysgenics specialist.” The dark shape of Pierce propped his elbows on the desk. "Why did you come?"

"There was a rescue mission sent to a ViGen facility in Mexico," Ronan began. Harper noticed him straighten out of habit, as if reporting to an officer. "In debriefing, one soldier claimed he'd found documents that mentioned a cure. A cure to the influenza strain. It listed this place, center Alpha-6, among the successful runs. It said you could stop it."

"Cure?" Pierce paused, cocked his head. Then he nodded. "Yes. We surely made a cure." He sounded perplexed with Ronan's reasoning.

Ronan relaxed visibly. "So it's over. You can stop the flu. You can save people from turning."

"Ah," Pierce said in humorous revelation, "I see." He leaned back from the desk, and a faint light reflected humor on his face. "You're here to kill the flu virus that causes the animalistic mutation." A guttural chuckle arose, then swelled to hysterical laughter. Ronan and Harper exchanged a confused glance. Pierce finally settled, wiped his brow. "You believe the infected become the animals. Well, we made a cure for the flu." He leaned forward, bringing only his solemn green eyes into light. "The animals are the cure."

"What do you mean?" Harper felt a dread in her chest. "Who are you?"

"I am what's left of the research team," Pierce began. "We were in this shithole for a year. 'Can't do this kind of experiments in the states,' they told us. We were supposed to stop a super virus, an influenza that had become untouchable by modern medicine. A strain that had evolved quicker than us. So, in the end, we decided we must devolve it. And we did! We reverted it back to the strains we knew and killed it. It worked so well and the need was so urgent. The virus had jumped continents and... well, let's just say the FDA didn't give a shit about further testing and side effects."

Ronan’s head dropped. He spoke more to himself as he stared at the floor. "The vaccine mutated the virus, but it changed us, too."

"Bingo!" The man seemed to revel in Ronan’s despair. "We didn't isolate the devolution hormones to one species. It took longer with us, of course, but after a while, our DNA shifted. We reverted to more primal versions of ourselves. Not to something in the fossil record, but such is the chaos of nature."

"Why did the mutation spread so far?" Harper asked incredulously. "You didn't vaccinate that many people."

"No, no," said the man in the dark. "'Course not. No, we saw the effects and the project was put on halt. Later, we found out the mutated--after the vaccine had worn off and they'd caught the super flu again--could transfer the hormone stimulus by spreading the virus. They could spread the devolution." He chuckled at some irony Harper didn't register. "We created fucking were-apes!"

Harper looked to Ronan for guidance. He was standing limp, staring at the floor tiles. She'd never seen him so resigned. She wasn't giving up. "You said you work here, still. You're working on the mutation, a way to reverse it."

"God, no," Pierce laughed. "Not with the flu still around. No, you can't survive the virus without the mutation. We're prone as humans."

"Then what the hell are you doing?!" Harper demanded.

"Learning to control the situation!” Pierce snapped, then he gathered himself. “And, bettering us as a species. You see, devolution is a relative term. That's exactly what we were attempting, yes. But who's to say these creatures aren't a step up from what we were as humans. They were dying, being stamped out by a micro-thing. Now, they're thriving.

"I'm simply taking another step. Finding a middle ground between the species. And it's working out well. In rare instances, it even occurs naturally. Ask your friend there.”

Harper’s breath caught. She looked down to the brown-eyed boy at her hip. She thought back to all the things Lucio had done a little too well. She remembered the worry on Ronan’s face.

Pierce got up from the desk chair and sauntered to the back wall. "Yes, he doesn't have the same scent as you two." He began flipping light switches, and the rows of halogens flickered on one by one, though he still stood in shadow. "But don't chastise him for being a creature of survival. It's quite advantageous, you know." A switch flipped. The last row of lights came on, and they shone on Pierce for the first time. He grinned at Harper with bared fangs. She could see thick mats of red hair running from underneath his sleeves and down his forearms. He raised a clawed hand near the switches and pressed a bright red button. Harper heard an alarming siren sounding outside the building. Ronan, head lowered and staring at the floor tiles, seemed to barely register the conversation. "They've learned to listen to me," Pierce said, his grin curling into malice. "Feeding time."

Harper left Lucio's side and walked to the doors. She looked through the glass and saw the female creature on the steps. It was pacing with newfound anxiousness as the alarm wailed. Behind it, along the main street of town, hulking figures were leaping from the jungle. They snapped and growled at one another as they scurried toward the siren.

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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Forge » Tue May 29, 2018 3:18 am

Really enjoyed that, Nico.
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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Sammy » Tue Jun 05, 2018 2:33 am

Ah man, that was awesome.
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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Nicodemus » Sat Jun 09, 2018 10:05 pm

Thanks guys. And hey! I got a second chapter. Thank goodness for Prompt Club.

Prompt 14: Rebirth
- MISUNDERSTOOD -

“Ronan!” Harper shook him by the shoulder, the whine of the siren beginning to dig into her. He looked up from the floor, and his eyes slowly found hers. They seemed to be lost, set deep within his dark face. “Dammit, Ronan!” Harper shouted and threw her machete to the floor. She snatched the shotgun from his slack fingers, ignoring the pain in her gnarled palms, and wheeled the barrel about on Pierce. “Call it off!” She motioned to the alarm button on the wall with a jerk of the heavy gun.

Pierce’s mischievous grin faded around his fangs, his wild green eyes now playing innocent. He opened his mouth to speak, but then eyed something behind Harper. Harper turned in time to see Ronan come past her, a determined malice on his face as he strode toward Pierce. In an instant, he was upon the doctor, his clenched fists trembling, ready to end the man. “Ronan, no!” Harper yelled, too late.

A look flared on Pierce’s face, a supercilious anger for his would-be attacker. Ronan’s swing was wild, angry. Pierce dodged the blow with ease and lifted the much larger man by the throat. A gurgled choke came from Ronan before he was heaved backward through the air, barreling toward Harper. She crumbled under Ronan’s weight, the two piling onto the floor and the fumbled shotgun sliding across the tiles. Ronan’s shoulder dug into her ribs, and she wheezed as the air was forced from her lungs. She heard his head crack as they landed. Still, Ronan recovered first, scrambling to his knees. Then he froze. He was staring at the barrel of the shotgun, a daring but calm Pierce on the other end.

“Enough,” the half-beast man announced with finality. He let the air calm a moment in the blare of the siren, then raised the gun and started pumping the forestock. A pair of shells popped out of the magazine and were swooped out of the air by a clawed hand. Pierce seemed to quickly look over Ronan’s person, then, “You came out here with two shots?” He shook his head in feigned disappointment. Harper, gasping and trying to hit rhythm with her breathing, turned her head to check on Lucio, but found only an empty corridor from which they’d come.

“Yes, your little friend took off,” Pierce said, slipping the shells in his pants pocket. “A shame. I would’ve liked to take a sample from him.” He spun the shotgun deftly in his hand, offered the stock to Ronan. “Relax. It’s only feeding time. No one said you were the food.” Ronan, a run of blood black on his temple, shot a confused glance at Harper before taking the gun. Pierce nodded a direction and turned about to leave. “Follow me.”

- FEEDING -

Pierce killed the alarm sirens, for which Harper was grateful, then led them down an adjacent hallway, the lobby lights fading behind them. Harper tried flipping a wall switch with no result. Pierce paused, as if suddenly remembering something, and gave Harper a flashlight keychain he found in his pocket. He apologized for forgetting they couldn’t see, but there was no reason to repair the circuits in this part of the building. He had to be more conservative with energy, he explained. Many of the solar cells needed replacing. They continued on, Harper illuminating the hall in the pale blue light. Pierce insisted on introductions, as if they were his guests. He played impressed upon learning Ronan Marquez was a captain. The soldier simply pointed out such titles hadn’t mattered in a long time. They started up a stairwell, and Pierce turned his study to Harper. “You’re not military,” he said without question. She only offered, “Harper Simmons.”

The sun was sliding toward the horizon, its angle less harsh on the rooftop. Harper trailed the men out of the stairwell, and the cool, open air was a welcome reprieve from the smothering lobby. The sound of birds flooded her ears. There were traps everywhere, littered among the solar receptors. The research facility was sizable, and Harper couldn’t have taken a long stride anywhere on the gravel roof without stepping on a live trap, steel jaw trap, or homemade box trap. Every kind of jungle bird, it seemed, was flapping about or hunkered in a cage, calling for help with tweets or whistles or caws. Every color painted their feathers, the bright blues and reds and yellows weaved together in a tapestry upon the roof.

“The newly-changed need a bit of time to learn how to hunt properly,” Pierce explained, a hand shielding his eyes from the sun. “No one to formally teach them how, you see.” They followed him to the edge of the roof, and Harper and Ronan peered over the edge. There were four creatures now, pacing the front steps. Two males, Harper guessed. They were even more massive than the female that had tracked them. The females stayed close to each other, moving about in anxious jerks, while the males kept their distance with an irritated regard for each other. With a clawed hand, the doctor plucked a bird from a jaw trap at his feet. It was rather large, with a curved beak colored brilliant green and tipped crimson. It put up little resistance, weary from struggling in the trap. “Until they learn the ropes...” Pierce let the sentence die, and he jerked the bird’s head violently but absently. Harper flinched when she heard the muffled snap of its neck while Ronan observed in silence. Pierce held out the carcass and let it roll off his fingers over the edge of the building.

Harper and Ronan watched the bird thud limply on the concrete of the steps below. The sound triggered them all at once, the four creatures scrambling for the meat with bared fangs and tense growls. The dark-coated male, the largest of them, made an impressive enough show and, in the end, took the treat in his maw and retreated to a patch of grass with his prize. His eyes on the intent reaction of his guests, Pierce smirked with satisfaction before turning to the other traps.

“Why?” Ronan still stared at the beasts, his brow stern and appalled. “Because you can? You help them stay alive so you’ll have pets?” He turned on the doctor. “You know, I had a neighbor. Old biddy had thirteen cats, strays she fed. When they found her--”

“What would you have me do?!” Pierce snapped as his face changed a moment, an animal in its place, raw and offended. The beast gathered himself, and Pierce was back. He motioned for them to look again as he retrieved another bird. Harper noticed the man was selecting the birds in the jaw traps, the ones that were suffering. Turning their attention back to the ground, Harper and Ronan saw the dark creature keeping guard over his treat and an eye on the other male. He waited, and the two females crept up to the bird. Without so much as a snarl, he allowed them access to the meal. They bit into it, ripping it in half and each strolling away with their share of the carcass, leaving their provider empty handed but apparently content to help.

“You see,” said Pierce, “they aren’t mindless savages, nor or they crazed from some defect.” He tossed another two birds over the edge, each promptly snatched up by one of the males. “They are a species. They have as much right to be here as you do.” He looked about the roof, to the birds left in the live traps. “This will have to wait. There’s something I want you to see.”

- THE OTHERS -

Pierce lead them back through the corridors and down the stairwell. They came out into the hallway, and he didn’t seem to notice when Harper and Ronan began to slow and trail behind, or perhaps he thought they could use some space to mull things over.

“This isn’t over,” Harper stated without preamble, a whisper the hall wouldn’t carry. Ronan’s look told her he didn’t follow. “Back in the lobby,” she explained. “Don’t let me see you like that again.” He gave her a dismissive frown, but Harper went on. “I’m not trained for this shit. If you fall apart…” Still nothing. She expected as much.

“He’s going to kill us,” Ronan said matter-of-factly.

“Why let us live, then? Why show us--”

“He’s off his goddamn rocker! He’s been out here…” He slowed, stumbled just a step. Harper reached to test the wound on his temple, but he recovered and pushed her hand away. “I’m fine.”

“Here we are.” Pierce waited by an open door for them to catch up. Through it, the stairs took them below ground level and into a smaller basement area. Pierce flicked a switch and lit up the control room and Harper clicked off her flashlight. The long desk was littered with scribbled notes and pads strewn among computer screens, one of which powered on with the lights. The desk faced a window, the glass running nearly the length of the wall, beyond which Harper could see a corridor lined with more ceiling-height glass panels on the opposite side. Holding cells, Harper guessed; she thought she saw something move in the darkness beyond the glass. Pierce stopped a moment at the screen, seemed to check the numbers, then lead them through a door into the corridor and up to the glass panels. Without announcement, Pierce turned on another switch and flooded the first cell with light.

The creature was startled. It leapt at them, pounding heavy fists into the glass. Harper jumped back from the gorilla, while Ronan widened his stance and raised the unloaded shotgun by the barrel, stock ready to swing.

Pierce let out a chuckle and rapped a knuckle on the glass. “It’s perfectly safe.” Harper forced herself to ease, and Ronan reluctantly followed suit. The creature calmed, and Harper saw that it was not an ape, or at least not a gorilla. Its frame was to thin, its facial structure off. It looked back at her with blue eyes. “What the fuck is that?” Harper asked with what seemed like too many emotions at once, unable to look away from whatever was in the cell.

“We found that the vaccine lasted only weeks,” Pierce began. “Plenty of time to degrade the influenza virus into something manageable and time to begin to mutate its host. “After this one had begun mutation in the jungle,” he motioned to the caged ape-thing, “we tagged her, darted her from the roof, along with another dose of the vaccine. We shot her again a few months later, a sedative included this time so we could bring her in. After just six administrations, she became this.”

“So keep pumping them with the vaccine,” Harper said with open disgust, “and you can revert them until not a shred of human is left. Good for you.”

“That’s what we thought, too!” Pierce ignored her sarcasm, and Harper couldn’t tell if he was genuinely enthused or mocking her. “She’s obviously ape-like. It seemed the vaccine was simply backtracking them along the evolutionary path. But...” he paused, beckoned them to the second cell and flipped its switch on the wall. The creature wailed, as if the light assaulted him, and folded back into the corner, shielding his beady black eyes. “This guy,” Pierce continued his thought, “was administered the same regimen of vaccine, only in a different environment.”

Harper knelt cautiously next to the glass. This one was a farther cry from a great ape, if more disturbing. Most of his body was bare, his skin pale and tender. His ears were pronounced and stretched to membranes of skin, out of proportion with the tiny eyes. The image of an infant bat came to mind.

“We kept him in the dark,” Pierce said. “Made him find his food. He’s sensitive to light, but nearly blind when it comes to focusing. His hearing and scent, on the other hand…”

“You kept him…” Ronan repeated back to Pierce. “Meaning controlled experiment, meaning he was still human when you put him in there!” Harper tensed as Ronan advanced a step toward the doctor.

Pierce laughed, but his brow creased with annoyance. “Yes, human. Infected human. Meaning dead human. Get off your moral high-ground, big boy. This is science. You’re military. Who do you think authorized this?”

“Bullshit!” Ronan snapped. “Why would they use humans? You’re supposed to do this with animals, lab rats, monkeys--”

“You still don’t get it,” Pierce said, staring through the glass at the huddled creature. “We administered animals. We’d see a longer tail on a salamander, or above average sight in an armadillo, but there was no real change. Animals are already what they need to be to survive. Us, though? With our conditioned air and touch screens, we’ve become like toddlers lost in the wild.” He looked to Ronan. “The vaccine doesn’t just wildly mutate. It triggers a function of DNA to make us what we need to be. A function to analyze and then adapt, rapidly.” Pierce stepped closer, his hands sweeping in grand emphasis as he continued. “With enough injections, we can become anything.”

Harper rose from her knee. Pierce’s words planted a sick worry within her gut. “Why are you showing us this? Why haven’t you killed us?”

“Killed you?” The doctor’s gaze pivoted from Ronan with a politeness that mocked her. “So inhumane. No, Ms. Simmons. I need you. You’ve never been infected, never been dosed. You’re the ideal subjects for a truly controlled experiment. You could help me push the boundaries of evolution. Together, we can help our race find purchase and climb out of the chaos. Humanity reborn.” He looked to Ronan’s clinched countenance, with a grin that fully anticipated the man’s answer. “What do you say?”

“Tell me,” said the captain through his teeth, “did drugging up with that poison make you an asshole, or have you always been--”

A ping from behind them and then metal gliding across the concrete. They spun to see the canister rolling toward them on the floor, emitting a greasy smoke in its wake. Harper started for the door. Through the grey plumes that were already burning her throat, she could see Lucio securing the lock from inside the control room. Over her shoulder, she heard the grunting swings and thudding meat as Ronan tried his luck again with Pierce. She snatched at the handle, over and over, until blood was flowing freely from her bandages. Lucio was backing out of the control room, mulling over each step. “Lucio,” she cried. The boy’s gaze offered her something, but his unsure feet finally brought him to the exit. “Lucio!” She beat on the glass, leaving spatters and streaks of red with her fists, but he was gone. She spun around. There was nothing in the corridor with which to break glass, if it would shatter. Ronan’s gun. She could hear them on the other side of the thickening cloud. She went through the smoke, and the gray melted to complete black.

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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Nicodemus » Fri Jul 20, 2018 1:16 pm

Man, this one gave me hell.

Prompt 17: Her Morning Elegance
It was a perfect day for the event. Spring had lingered late into a cool June, and the soft breeze seemed to beckon everyone outdoors. The swooping live oak branches of the delta stood as a rich green backdrop for the bright summer dresses and colorful vests mingling in the manor courtyard that overlooked the pond.

“Enjoying the weather?” he asked as he approached me. I pretended to just notice him, as though I hadn’t been watching him all evening, then offered a smile at his rhetorical.

“Champagne, Mr. Tillman?” I gestured to the bottles on the buffet table.

His brow furrowed. “Tip, I’ve told you: John. No more ‘Mr. Tillman’.” He let his smile return and reached for the champagne and a glass. I laced my fingers together to keep from fidgeting while he poured his own drink. Master Tillman, John’s father, took harsh note of it when I neglected any of my duties on the estate, however trivial. But John often insisted he take care of himself, as if the idea of my waiting on him was appalling. He turned back to me and sipped from his glass, the low sunlight curling around his wide shoulders and outlining his angled jaw. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, if only for him to speak so I may hear his voice again.

“Ugh!” We both pivoted to see John’s younger brother spitting an hors d’oeuvre back into a plate on the table. “You call that cream cheese?”

“Apologies, Lucas,” I offered with practiced courtesy. Often I wondered how two creatures so far removed from one another could come from the same makings.

Master Lucas,” he corrected sharply, but didn’t wait for my response before turning to John. “This whole party is for you, you know.” Lucas was fourteen, but his demeanor toward his older brother dripped with confidence, an arrogance not justified by his years. He scooped a palm-full of shrimp from a platter to eat while he talked. “You’re to ask Alice to marry you.”

“So Mother tells me,” John sighed and glared a Lucas, off-put by yet another reminder, but then seemed to brush any regret aside as his smile returned. “No matter. I'll simply have to explain to her that Tip and I are running away together.”

My joints froze. I was surprised he would even jest over such a thing, especially in Lucas’s presence. He turned and winked at me, inviting me into his mirth, but my mind was already dreaming. Perhaps he would refuse Alice. Alice and all her dangling trinkets and laced hems. Perhaps he would leave the manor and pursue his writing. Perhaps he would take me with--

“Ha!” Lucas’s shrill voice shattered through my thoughts. “Tip?!” He spat my name as though it left a taste in his mouth. “Yes, you could marry her and together have little Tips to wash your linens.” He shoved in another shrimp.

“Lucas!” John snapped at him, held his glare on the tubby youth so his eyes wouldn’t have to meet mine. Lucas, with a scoff and a roll of his eyes, tossed his uneaten shrimp back into the platter and took his leave, abruptly inserting himself into a nearby circle of conversation. Finally, John pulled at himself to look at me. “Tip, I--”

“Do you love her?” John froze. Immediately my head swiveled to see if anyone had heard. Master Tillman would not stand for such words, and I barely believed they’d came from me. Seeing no one within earshot, I decided to hold my ground and stepped toward John. “Alice. Do you love her?”

He wasn’t offended, but something in his eyes… Doubt? “That’s a bit bold, don’t you think?” There was no anger. He was stalling. I stood silent, waiting, until he sighed. “The Sullivans have been friends of the family for… Alice and I practically grew up together.” John’s eyes fell to the ground. His words were hollow and he knew it. “Her father has most of the shipping contracts up the river. With his help, the business--”

“You sound like your father.” It was the wrong thing to say, though I knew exactly why I’d said it. I felt him on the tips of my fingers, slipping away. He was resigned to a life without happiness. He didn’t believe he deserved more and, for the first time in his life, I was angry with him.

John looked up, recoiled, as though I’d picked up the bread knife and drove it into him. Then, just as quickly, a flame flickered in the edges of his visage and swelled toward me in a conflagration. “You know nothing!” He caught the volume of his voice mid-sentence, glancing about at the guests, but rage continued to drip through his hissing. “The Tillman fortune is dwindling. Has dwindled. If I do not do for this family there will be nothing left for me. For Lucas or Kat. I can’t be concerned with whimsy or wishes or… or love. I know your thoughts. I know what you would have me do. The last thing they need is for me to turn my attention to the likes of--” He paused, considering the depth of the cut. “You!”

I opened my mouth, even knowing there were no words inside me, and watched him turn and stomp away. I knew--something in the moment told me--that was how I would remember John Tillman. It was the last time I would ever speak to him as Tip, as his friend, as his equal.

The sounds of the courtyard were muffled. A distant dinging on a glass before Master Tillman addressed the guests. John was there, dying behind his smile as he took Alice’s hand and the muddy applause from the sundresses and vests washed over the garden. It was all so permanent now. Invisible. Servant. Inferior. I found that my one thread of hope had been twisted together with John’s, and as his was cut, so was mine. My naïve fantasies were laid bare for the childish wishes they were.

I was far from them before I knew I was walking. Through the garden and down the grassy hill away from the manor I went, the trees swaying silently and lazily above me. My name, someone calling in the distance. I reached the pond and heard the sloshing against my feet. Inside me I found a hope that John, somehow, would be happy. I closed my eyes as my metal exo-skin submerged into the water. I thought of John as my circuits arced and smoked and melted away.

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Re: Prompt Club - Round 1

Post by Sammy » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:14 pm

Gosh, welcome to the top spot, Nico!

Only 'Falling', 'Coming of Age' and 'The stars have gone away' left to go, I think?
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Please remember to vote here everyday!

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