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HalcyonSpirit

WCT - [COMPETITION OVERHAUL - NEED IDEAS] The Writing Competition Thread

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i mean how hard is it to string two words together enough times 'til it's coherent and thematic?

life flies bardic pursuing within elysian high-fiving bled darkness overcoming what why nonsense!

You have inspired me to reform my ways.

I started working on a story two days ago, let's see how it goes.

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My for-you-to-read thingie's coming along all right. It's quite a different style from most thingies I've bothered writing before, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing, but whatever. I'll just be glad to finish it, whether it's passable or not.

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"Building your little worlds again, friend?" Yes, I was. If you would be so kind as to bugger off, I can get back to crafting this sunrise.

"Is it fun to play God?" Yes, It is. It's only the natural thing to do, really. The world is a pretty rough place. It's not hard to make a better one.

"Your world won't ever exist, why do you keep doing this lucid dreaming stuff? This is the third time this week you've woken up having conversations with yourself." It was a more interesting conversation than the one we're having now, you chump.

"You haven't been to class in weeks. This experiment is making you crazy man. Crazy." You don't understand, nor will you ever. What I'm doing here has basis, man. I've been going into the same reoccuring dreams for years now. When I go to sleep, I'm awake again and starting another day. The people I meet have conversations, they welcome me back. They mark the passage of time from one day to the next, remember events. Ever since I started this lucid dreaming kick I've become more and more aware each day. I'm starting to build now. I crafted the most wonderful moonlit field last night. It's full of lilies, soft and waving. The air is scented with the tender, subtle scent of lavender. There's a creek running along side it, with smoothly flowing water that touches gently at its sides. And the moonlight is so bright that you can see particles of ether floating in the area, reflecting its light between them. It was so shimmery that the entire scene looked as if it were created in bright ocean water then infused with faerie dust.

"Yeah. Must be gorgeous to take nothing and turn it into something. That actually, is still really nothing." You don't understand, again. Last night, I fell in love. It's why I built the field, you know. It was for her.

"For her? What? Man, you've lost it. You've fallen in love with a figment of your imagination. Want me to call your doctor? You need to be checked. I think you're depressed." She's as real as you are.

"Not bloody likely." Well, I touched her last night. I felt her next to me, her breath tinged with honey. Not like your shitty breath. And she loved me. Down to my core, she loved every single bit of me. She never had to say it. She never had to display it. It was simply true, an unbreakable law of this world. Absolute. And I loved her the same. She was the one I was born for, my other half. I left half of my soul on the other side of a sleep-torn mirror.

"Friend, she doesn't exist." Who are you to tell her that? She said the same when I awoke from speaking to you.

"Can you hurry up and eat your food? We have a soccer match in half an hour. Starts at 5. Victory will be ours. Leave your dreams alone and get on the field with me." How long are we playing for?

"Until we win, or pass out trying." Nice.

"I'm heading to bed dude. Don't sit there staring at your screen all night. Tomorrow will be a new day.And stop with that lucid dreaming shit." Not bloody likely. I have a date tonight.

Sitting under the moonlight, looking up into the far deep sky, I wonder if all of this is worth it. Hmmm, I felt your head move a bit. You alright?

"...as real...you are." Huh? I didn't hear what you said, what's up?

"... As long as I'm with you, I'm fine. Thank you." I couldn't help but smile a bit. Morning was coming. It was time for a new day, a better one.

"You know, I think people don't appreciate us." They don't have to. We are a universe of two.Did I tell you that you sound beautiful when you just wake up?

"The worlds alot bigger than just us. They don't believe you exist, you know." I laughed out loud. Who are they to say? I'm right here, aren't I? Let me show you - You're so soft, can I use you as a pillow?

"Take anything you want from me." I can do this forever. I would stare into your eyes for the rest of eternity.

"And I, yours."

"I love you."

I love you.

Building your little worlds again, friend?

"Yes, I was."

...You've built worlds

"...haven't you?"

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Seraph

Hey guys, newcomer here.

This is a fairly self-contained portion of the first chapter of a novel I'm working on. Critiques and advice are ALWAYS welcome. Thanks for reading!

Note: Underlining denotes italics for (future attempted) publishing purposes, and I apologize about the format issues--the file didn't like the move from Word to GoogleDocs for some reason.

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I was going to write something here about how terribly dissatisfied I am with this because of the lack of time, research and proofreading that plagues it, and how awfully aware I am that the first and second halves, put next to each other, may seem slightly schizophrenic, but a teacher once told me never to qualify your work before presenting it so I'm not going to write anything like that.

Nostalgic

You know the winter's dragged on too long when you start getting nostalgic for spring.

I wrote that sentence on the first page of my wrinkle-streaked spiral-bound notebook twenty minutes ago, and I've been staring at it ever since. The rain's been silent for a moment now, but my ear still hears the industrial rhythm of its half-frozen pellets colliding with the slanted swivel windows of my small attic hole. The wind whistling against the poor insulation of the single-pane glass as it competes with a passing ambulance weaves a melody that makes me suspect I should be shivering, but something provides a warmth that threatens to make me doze off.

Oh, that's right: the heater at my feet.

You ever had one of those anachronistic dreams that makes no sense in the context of where you went to sleep, but seems so utterly real you're willing to throw away the timeline you knew and go along with it? That's the overall sensation that flooded me upon waking up today. Only it didn't stop when I pinched myself. I didn't care about the radio, which roused me from my blank-slate sleep, announcing the latest-reported death toll from the earthquake in some third-world country two days prior; I fully expected to stagger out of bed, throw the French doors wide open and step out onto the balcony, where I would see the Córdoba boys playing soccer in the courtyard below and feel the presence of the freshest blossoms from Señorita Flores's street-side boutique drifting in on the warm breeze.

My, a lot can change in a year.

When John first invited me to stay with him, I wrote my eagerly affirming reply so fast I almost forgot to run to the student center for stamps before posting it. I was handling my academic endeavors about as well as a three-legged cat handles himself in a dog pound and besides, what use did I have for a theoretical education when I could learn to really live traveling Europe with my brother?

That night I had trouble sleeping. I'd hardly slept for days already, but that night was feverishly rough. As I stared at the ceiling my brain vanished, seemingly replaced by one of the computer programs I was working on, executing endless processor cycles calculating the sum I'd need to scrape together from God-knows-where and musing as to when I might finally make it out to Spain. Max's early-morning snoring came as a relief for once, since it broke my concentration and I spent the rest of the night watching snow pile silently on the windowsill, as if an anthill under construction. The next day I decided that as long as John refused to make use of modern technology, fits of overthinking wouldn't solve anything until his next letter arrived.

Of course, our actions don't always reflect our decisions.

That's why this morning, despite deciding not to open my storm-shutter eyelids until I heard some tangible trace of a living, breathing John, I found myself slouching in the shower, lukewarm water bubbling over my feet. My hunched-over body knew how to cope with the inadequate height of the bathroom's slanted roof already: the whole process of hosing off yesterday's filth quickly became thoughtless routine, raising one arm after the other just far enough to scrub the armpits, squatting only to lather and rinse the long-past-manageable mane. Even after only a week, my mind remains free to ponder other matters.

Other matters aren't always so pleasant.

My pantry consists of some week-old flour tortillas and the meager remains of Señora Córdoba's raspberry jam, bestowed in consolation, so breakfast was a modest affair. I sat at the squat, crooked-legged table, allowing the crisp crumbs to tumble onto its surface, and watched the anti-spring clouds develop, unfolding from each other as if the rapidly multiplying children of a distantly detonated atomic bomb. Oh, if only.

I'd barely touched pen to paper when it struck. The steady torrent smeared down the roof-walls surrounding me, rendering the neighboring rooftops and skyline an impressionist haze. And now it's returning, the persistent pounding of drop after drop more painstakingly deliberate than before in its effort to haunt, to torment me with the blizzard-blurred image of Mulhacén, the white-washed slope. I see my hand as it was then, pallid as if it were nothing but bone, melding perfectly into the background of the heavy snow blanket surrounding me despite shaking so violently, with such a constant vibration, that I'm surprised it doesn't emit a slight hum of its own frequency.

They d-didn't f-forecast this,” I hear myself say. My clattering teeth are a horse at full trot. But John, looking down at me from a few years further ahead, is ever a smile incarnate.

We're too far up to make it back to the village in time,” he says. “The shelter's not too far, and then I can go look for—”

A quick, rolling rapping at my door interrupts him, followed by the word, almost as if in warning, “Policía!” Heavily, I sink down the steep stairs, the stairs that devour those crooked windows and lead me back onto the plane of the real world, where there is a Spanish detective with an oh-so-typical handlebar mustache standing in the hallway.

Señor McQuinn?” he ventures. He appears to doubt himself upon glancing me and my month-old bear over and noticing I am only half-dressed in flannel pajama bottoms.

I don't speak Spanish,” I say, and consider shutting him out.

Yo sé que hablas,” he rattles off quickly, sticking his hand against the door as though anticipating such a move, “but no matter. You're a hard man to find, Mr McQuinn. I've gone through three different addresses to locate you.”

I'm having a hard time settling down.”

Comprendo perfectamente. Anyway, it's a good thing I found you.”

What do you want?” I have to shuffle my feet a little; the real world is definitely cooler without the aid of a space heater.

Well, there have been some recent developments in the investigation.”

What investigation?”

Sorry, that's just our formal term for it. The search.”

I feel a well-cast stone settle on the bottom of the turbulent sea in my stomach. “Until you've found my brother alive, I don't want to hear anything you've got to say.” My hand rests on the doorknob.

This does not seem to disturb the detective in the least. With a stroke of his mustache, he explains, “The onset of spring has melted some of the snow covering the mountains. We were able to recover something.” He reaches into the messenger bag at his side and removes something rabbit-sized—like a magician pulling out of a hat—but rather foot-shaped, presenting it to me delicately with both hands. “Does this look familiar?”

Of course it looks familiar. It is Achilles's heel, sliced right off his pre-Christian corpse and preserved, petrified in amber. Or, more accurately, it is just a boot. John's boot. The puke-green hiking boot he wore that day, however many months ago (I don't care to count). I see it now; it is all I see, as I lay on the stiff ground by the infantile fire. If I crane my head to watch him go, my eyes are just barely level with his ankles.

Objections have been raised, but he will not hear them. He glances back at me over his shoulder and says, for perhaps the third or fourth time, “I won't be long. Just sit tight.” And then the door springs open with the violent howl of the storm outside, small flakes are leaping in with desperation and stinging my eyes, and before I know it, with just as violent of a band, the door closes and he is gone.

I do not know how many hours I lay there, in that otherwise abandoned shelter, alone, taking the notebook out of my backpack to dry it by the flames, throwing my spark-spitting camera aside as a lost cause. Nor do I know how many minutes I stand here, in my own doorway, staring at the boot before me but lost in the man-eating Sierra Nevada some hundred kilometers away, until I finally, simply reply, “Yes.”

He nods—why did he ask the question if he already knew the answer?—and continues, “We found it still half-buried beside a sharp drop. There must have been no knowing what was in front of him with the blizzard raging like that. As soon as it warms up some more, we can search the bottom of the cliff.”

My gaze is still fixed on the boot as he slowly extends it toward me.

Mr McQuinn,” he addresses me, and I look up to meet his eyes, full of sincere pity, “I have nothing to offer you but what belonged to him and my condolences.”

The glossy glimmer of pity in his eye sparks something in my breast that may have once been pride. I am not entirely sure what it is, but it is the only driving force besides hunger that has fueled me for weeks. Drawing in as swimmer-worthy a breath as I can manage, and feeling my windpipe swell like an out-of-control pelican's beak, I say in exhale:

Thank you, but I don't want that. It's time to move on.” For good measure, I add, “And please, call me Miguel.”

I trudge back up those stairs into the heat-saturated hole, into which a faint sliver of sun darts from behind the clouds, and sit once more at the crumb-covered table. Beneath that sentence, long since grown cold after its conception over an hour ago, I add:

But maybe, if it lasts long enough, you can forget the past and take the new year as a fresh adventure.

__________________

Now where is everyone else? Get to it!

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note to self do not qualify.

Reaching Out

by Yousef Reda

It was one of those days when the dial of the radio never had the answer, no matter how desperately she begged.

"If you're hiding something from me, be damned."

"Alright, I will."

A frown formed upon her face. Frustration – just the answer she expected from a spineless piece of plastic.

Sliding out of bed, she dragged her feet across the icy tile floor to her bedroom window, opened it wide, and threw her arms outside, leaning outward against her forearms pressed against the windowsill, letting her fingers interlock in the chilly winter breeze. She closed her eyes to take it all in. Confusion tumbled about her thoughts and emotions. Tears dribbled down her cheek. She wiped them away before they reached her neck and rested her head in her hands. Her eyes searched the scene for some hidden morsel of information, some cached truth, or perhaps even a missing soul...

“White sky, why must you mock me too? Isn't it bad enough that I'm miserable without your freaking gloom? Ugh.”

Though she was sure it held all the answers, the sky revealed none, choosing to remain passive in the affair.

People didn't have much help to offer her either. It was kind of like that time of the month, when the weak flow of the fuel of life turns into a leak, permeating outward from deep within the woman's temple, where it waits for a small, sojourning spark. Though she had no remembrance of it, Amanda's mind poured over her fuel and spark, just like it always did upon these lonely days. Inside her mind echoed a single question, a question that, she hoped, would be resolved if asked a sufficient number of times – maybe three thousand fifty-one times, maybe three thousand fifty-two: “Why can't anyone understand?”

She slammed the window shut again and jumped back into bed, drowning her troubles in the covers and drowning her pillow with her sorrows, unaware of the ruckus she made. Amanda heard her mother calling from downstairs, though she wished and pretended she had not.

“Is everything alright up there?” Amanda did not respond, instead dizzying her mind further with her troubles.

The tattooing of the stairs grew louder and louder until it turned into a thudding on the floor and then a knocking on the door.

“Amanda?” There was mild distress in her voice this time, perhaps out of genuine fear, perhaps out of the exasperation that these events always overproduce.

She replied not. Her mother opened the door. Amanda muffled her sobbing in a naïve effort to conceal her sadness. After almost choking on her tears, she calmed down and removed the covers from head to find her mother sitting at the foot of her bed. Their eyes made contact, but Amanda quickly looked away.

“Hey, what's wrong?”

She could almost laugh at the notion. Amanda hugged her pillow as she used to hug her father only six months ago before he passed away quietly in his sleep. His booming voice still reverberated within those walls, but the tenderness and the loving for his daughter were slowly and quietly fading away. She did her best to keep the memories warm and safe inside, no matter how they insisted on becoming duller and colder with the passage of time. Soon, she worried, they would become entirely useless. The thought of being without them frightened Amanda perhaps even more than her greatest loss. How could she live without her father? She felt as if she would betray him in forgetting his existence, but the heartache taxed her cruelly, and she believed it was the only way to move forward. If only she could accept his death...

Her mother cleared her throat, snapping Amanda out of her mind's tumult and back to reality. She had been gently rubbing her daughter's feet, trying to comfort her in any way. What could she tell her mother? How could she explain to her all the thoughts and worries stirring inside?

“Nothing's wrong. I'll be down for breakfast soon.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

Her mother slowly lifted herself off the bed and released a deep, painful sigh.

“Okay... I made some toast. You better get down soon or you'll be late for school.”

She left the room and Amanda alone to her own thoughts once again.

Five minutes passed like five seconds. The music playing on the clock radio startled her. It was her alarm, dutifully working to wake her up for school, ignorant of the fact that she never slept. She reached and shut it off, but her finger lingered on the off button. Maybe her radio was innocent, she realized. Maybe she was the one guilty of holding back.

Amanda got out of bed. She left the room and headed downstairs with no intention of going to school. Though its alarm failed at its intended purpose, her radio had no idea how it would help its owner work up the courage to reach out, to gain strength from the love of those closest to her, to rise and to move on with her life.

“Alright, I did.”

...so it did.

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Heh, I used the same title in one my older entries.

yeah, now that I think of it, you did. it was for the last one wasn't it? i'm not changing it, no matter how hard you try (not) to convince me.

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*taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap* Must... finish...!

Just a few more hours! Technically, the submission stage ends at 8PM EDT, but I'm likely not going to be at an internet-connected computer right then, so submissions will remain open until I am able to get back.

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First up... My entry! I've finally finished one for the competition!

I shall refrain from commenting on it until after the voting period, except to say that I intend to revisit this story sometime afterward to really flesh it out. You have no idea just how many details I've worked out for this story's world so far. I really want to come back to it in this story and future stories. This story does not do this world justice!

Uncaptured Jewel

by HalcyonSpirit

"No Jumping," it said. "Personal Air-Ground Transport Prohibited," it said. Fortunately for the intentions of the two leaping over the edge, the sign's proclamation of unsafe local transit conditions meant nothing to them.

Blue shirt rippling in the quickly-strengthening wind, Matthew twisted around to watch the edge of the building shoot upward. Or rather, watch it as he plummeted down toward the ground. For the merest fraction of a second it felt as though he were in an almost surreal weightlessness, floating as everything else moved around him. The feeling of standing still in an ever-moving world.

His body rotated the rest of the way around and marveled at the sight below. It wasn't the vast cityscape that caught his attention; while impressive, he'd seen the hundred-kilometer metropolis from the tops of superskyscrapers dozens of times - often right before he jumped off their edges. Nor was it the complex, tightly woven fabric of airspeeder traffic racing through both open air and the narrow corridors of the multifaceted urban landscape, though the hundreds of colors running about through the city and reflecting the sunlight in so many ways created the illusion of beautiful elegance from afar that couldn’t be denied.

The marvel below him was nothing more than the person who he'd jumped off the building with - or rather, after, though the distinction was perhaps only a single second. And yet the single second translated into such a large gulf of both nothing and everything between them.

Matthew flicked the switch embedded on the shoulder strap of his bag. Below him, already at least a dozen meters below and rapidly approaching the topmost lanes of traffic, Caroline must have already done the same; the pack she wore was unfurling, slowly revealing its orange-hued wing-like structure. The air rushing past her suddenly caught the small backpack glider as its reach extended beyond her body, slowing her descent and propelling her forward. Always a step ahead. Matthew silently urged his own glider to finish unpacking. It wasn't more than a second later that he felt the jerk of slowed acceleration that came with having aerodynamic freedom.

A surge of exhilaration rushed through him as he dove into and through the midst of the airspeeder traffic corridors. It was always a dangerous move, but Caroline had chosen to go around the first line. Soon, he was again only meters above her. They were heading down in a spiral toward the next grouping of traffic lanes. He'd have to bide his time until then; there was no catching up for the moment without risking falling further behind. He wanted - needed - to be close. Closer. Enough to touch her. He could see long, blonde strands of hair rippling out from under her glider, far beyond his reach.

Caroline's hair had been the first thing he'd noticed when they met for the first time. It had to have been; getting a mouthful of the hair of the stranger standing next to you due to a strong gust of wind would catch anyone's attention. She had laughed. He had sputtered for a bit. Such a wonderful first moment, but it had lasted.

Caroline's glider tipped and spun around. For an instant, her face was visible. A bright, inviting smile flashed in his vision, one of exuberance, but he could see the teasing grin hidden in it. A challenge: "Come get me." And then it was gone, replaced by her glider as she finished her spin and dove into the crowd of vehicles racing through the air. Matthew followed her in, happy to indulge in her game.

Everything had started with that grin of hers. He noticed it even when still trying to remove the stray hair from his mouth. Something about it spurred him on. She had just been another woman nearby, someone he'd have never talked to, but after that first exchange of laughs and sputters, they'd just continued to talk. All the while, she was giving him that look. Several weeks later he asked her out.

The two gliders swung past a cargo speeder and narrowly avoided colliding with the side of an open-air two-seater. The orange and green blurs pulled up and over the speeder. The driver expressed his discontent by laying on the horn, but it was quickly out of earshot, and neither of them really cared. Especially not Matthew; the dodge had given him a speed advantage and he was almost within arm's reach of the blonde beauty, closing the gap inch by inch. He reached out, grasping for her leg.

She must have sensed his growing anticipation. Her leg swung left and she peeled off to the right. A second longer and he'd have had her. She was so close, and yet always a step ahead.

"Come get me." She hadn't said it with any particular vigor. She had just challenged him and, after getting the expected confused expression from Matthew, ran off smiling. It was her somewhat unconventional response to him asking her out. That was almost half a year ago. In the time since, they'd developed a strange relationship of him chasing after her, wherever and whenever they weren't doing anything else. They weren't dating; he'd have to catch her for that to happen. They shared much of their free time together, they'd drawn closer to each other, but as long as he couldn't catch her, they weren't "together."

Matthew looped around, trying to keep up with the elusive woman. He could see her waving at the drivers of random speeders as she passed. There was no doubt a playful smile to accompany it. Many people just didn't know what to do, so they just gazed back with an amusingly blank look to them. The two daredevils were approaching the main skyline, dodging vehicles with increasing frequency and getting odd looks from bystanders on the walkways.

He drew close again, this time staying above her and in her blind spot. Supposedly. He could never be sure anymore whether she couldn't just read his mind. She swooped down a meter, and him up a meter, to avoid crashing into one of the dozens of walkways now at their altitude. Despite both being well away from people walking along, an older man panicked from their proximity, throwing his bags - and himself - to the ground with a yelp. As the two converged again, he could hear her laughter even over the howling of the wind.

It was his turn to grin. Her sense of entertainment often resulted in random people getting inconvenienced slightly, sometimes frightened senseless for just a moment. All in good fun, of course, and no permanent harm was ever done. He would know; it wasn't just random people getting the treatment. He could still taste the whipped cream that had exploded in his office earlier in the day. But she was no doubt replaying her current exploit in her head: the older man's rapid switch from stoic observance to startled terror. He dove down and reached out: the element of surprise would be his path to victory.

His fingers barely missed brushing up against her breast as she rolled to the side. He felt strands of hair glide through his outstretched hand, teasing him, giving him a clear sense of just how tantalizingly close he'd come. He couldn't even grab those; by the time her maneuver had registered in his mind, the strands were gone, pulled away with the jewel of a woman he desired.

Not that it mattered much. At that point there wasn't much that could possibly change between them if he finally did nab her. They could stop at any time, but he saw no desire in her to stop this game of hers. Frankly, he didn't either. He'd capture her eventually, even if it was just to say he could. She'd be his, he'd be hers. And besides all that, the chase was exhilarating enough on its own.

He checked his surroundings. They were heading to a diner in the area, and the game came to an end whenever they reached their destination. He breathed a sigh of relief; it didn't seem to be nearby. An orange blur swooped down from above, right past his face. She was taunting him! He dove down after her, still determined to bring the game to an end. Without even looking back at him, she gave him a wave, then pointed ahead of her.

Matthew followed her line of flight to a landing balcony for glider-borne people such of themselves. Then he looked just above the surface to the building itself and grimaced.

Of course it would be the diner. She wouldn't tease him like that if it wasn't.

It was a straight, unobstructed, shallow decline to the balcony. If he changed course to try to get a better angle on her, he'd lose. If she changed course, he'd certainly get there first and win by default. It was a battle of speed, and he could win that. He was heavier; he'd pick up more speed in a dive than she even could. He would win.

Slowly, surely, he gained ground on Caroline. The two flew past nearby buildings, coming close to the walls but never enough to force the duo to avoid them. Caroline looked back at him and smiled. Their eyes locked briefly; there was only a meter between them. The balcony was racing closer, much closer, far faster than any sane person would approach to land. They weren't sane. Not when they were together, especially not during the chase.

Caroline lowered her legs in preparation to land. It put a whole meter more between Matthew's outstretched hand and her body. He could feel the tips of her hair tickle his fingers. He could grab it and end the chase, but he wanted to win fully. His hand crept forward, and her hair blew into his face - and mouth, naturally. He could count down the seconds it would take to close the distance.

Three...

Two...

His heart raced. It was his day.

One...

And then it happened. Her body jolted up as her feet hit pavement. His hand finally grasped her shoulder – a second after she had landed.

He broke out into a run as his own feet met the ground. She, too, was in a run, just ahead of him. Her glider was already folding up on itself, and he switched his to do the same. The two slowed to a jog, then a walk, and then, finally, they came to a stop next to the outdoor tables.

Matthew released Caroline's shoulder. She spun around and plopped herself down on the nearest chair. She propped up her head with her arm on the table and grinned at him. It was that look, that look she always gave him. The one that had drawn him to her in the first place. The one she gave him after every single chase. There she was, flirting with him.

Uncaptured.

Again.

Matthew sat himself down across the table from her. He wasn't disappointed. How could he be with a jewel like that teasing and flirting with him endlessly? It was just another loss added on to a countless number of previous losses. At the end of this day and every day before, he was one step behind and she remained a free woman.

He could live with that.

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Second...

Submissions Period is NOW OVER!

We have SIX submissions this round! Way to go, people! I like this!

The Munchies by Jam Stunna (Jamil Ragland)

You've Built Worlds, Haven't you? by Random Hajile

Seraph by Soul Splint

Nostalgic by Imagery

Reaching Out by SoulinEther (Yousef Reda)

Uncaptured Jewel by HalcyonSpirit

Reunion by Darklink42

VOTING STAGE STARTS NOW!

This should be a good round! I look forward to all of you voting! (Please look at the first post if you've forgotten/don't know the voting rules.) And, hopefully, everyone will comment on everyone's after the voting is over!

Good luck, everyone!

EDIT: Permission granted to Darklink42 for submission of piece. List of submissions updated.

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I plan to work this into a longer piece, but for the purposes of the competition I tweaked it into a shorter story. Thanks for the slight deadline extension Halcyon.

Reunion

by Darklink42

“I’m retiring, old friend.”

It was another dark night as I closed up the office and prepared to leave for the night. It had been raining off and on for the past week, and while that wasn’t unusual for early summer, it had been somewhat of an annoyance for me in that I couldn’t leave the windows open in my second story office without getting the floor soaked. The landlord had already threatened eviction for lack of payment this month, and I had no desire to tempt fate by messing up his cherished, if extremely cheap, flooring. I flicked the light switch down, the weak bulb in the fan snapping off instantly, seemingly as tired as I was from a thankless day of work.

Perhaps other people would be happy to do nothing and pay themselves for it, but as a private investigator, any day I’m not working is a day I’m trying to figure out where I’m going to get the money to pay my next set of bills. I looked at my name stenciled in the door as I jammed it shut on purpose, the only way to ensure the lock caught. Tracer Investigations, Will Tracer P.I. and Elizabeth, asst. The “a” in my last name still had a bullet hole through it, something the landlord had refused to even notice. I always wondered if the man was secretly waiting for me to get killed in my office so that he could make a name for himself in the papers.

Elizabeth had gone home early, no doubt to be with her husband again. She’d been married less than a year before she rejoined me at the office. She had said that she needed the extra money to pay for their new house, but I happened to know that her husband was wealthier than he let on, and I knew she was also aware of that. The man may have been a jazz musician, but he had a major inheritance in his back pocket if things got dicey. A sound plan, given the economic turbulence the last few years had suffered. Either way, I suspected the real reason she had rejoined me was simply because married life had proved too dull for a gal who loved adventure. She’d never admit it to my face, but I’d seen her smile more while working a case with me than I had ever seen her smile at one of her husband’s “shows”.

I put thoughts of horrible jazz out of mind and descended the steps to the outer door of the building, locking it behind me as well. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining at that point, but I had every expectation that it would start before I reached my destination. I smiled and touched the brim of my fedora, glad to have finally gotten it back after a lengthy prank by one of my friends. I watched the cars go by on the street, protecting their passengers from the falling rain, and for the briefest second was jealous. But it was difficult enough to pay for an office, so I doubted an automobile was in my immediate future and didn’t entertain the idea any further. The walk to my night time haunt had always been enjoyable anyways, and I gladly began my stroll down the street.

“So you’re just going to let this guy win then? After everything we’ve been through, after all of the adventures, you’re just going to walk away from it and let it end like this?”

I recalled some of my previous cases as I passed by locations that had at one point or another hosted memorable moments in my career. I passed by the crack in the sidewalk which marked the area where I had seen the first drop of blood that had led me into a clash with a serial killer protected by the mob. The alleyway in which I’d found the dumpster soon approached, but I resisted the urge to look down it. Even averting my eyes, for a few seconds I could still recall the mangled body I had found within. My conscience was satisfied that the woman had gotten justice, and the man responsible would never repeat the tragedy.

I crossed Second Avenue, and recalled that that they had finished building the office building a handful of blocks further down. It was the same building’s frame in which I’d had a shootout with a criminal I’d put behind bars once before. That had been the first case I’d ever worked with Elizabeth on, and if it hadn’t been for her, Jason would have still been free instead of back behind iron bars for good. It had marked a turning point in my career as well. It was the first time I’d taken a bullet in the line of duty, and also the last time I’d worked alone. After that, Elizabeth had become my assistant, at first only a secretary, but later a partner in her own right.

I started thinking of some of my other friends and smiled broadly as I recalled how Al and I had first met. It had been on that same murder case with the serial killer, in fact. But it wasn’t until the case after that in which he and I really became good friends. I could smile about it now, but back then it had been no laughing matter. We’d both underestimated the fallout from the dueling mob families at the time, and if it hadn’t been for two unexpected allies and a high speed tumble from a car traveling on a freeway, we both might not have survived.

“It’s not that simple. I’ve racked my brain for a solution, and nothings coming to me. We’re not getting younger, and it’s obvious that I’m starting to lose my edge. I already let him fall into this guy’s hands, and now I can’t even find a way to free him.”

I’d ended up making friends with a mob boss at the end of that particular case, not something I was proud of but ultimately couldn’t refuse either. He asked me to do him a couple of favors, the last of which caught me right back in the middle of the ongoing feud, that time with a kid I’d never met. In what was probably the longest two days of my life, I was chased from one end of the city to the other, before ending up between the gun points of two of the most influential men in the city. I hadn’t seen the kid since then, but it had been some quick thinking on his part which had pulled our butts out of the fire. After that, I had told the mob boss that all I wanted was the freedom to do my job without interference. Given the chaos I’d caused, he agreed.

As I reached the corner of Dixon Street and Main, I saw the old, familiar neon sign of my favorite restaurant. Dillon’s Diner, famed for its 24 hour service, and in particular it’s owner’s eclectic array of sandwich combinations. I wasn’t sure, but I suspected that the real reason people came back was the coffee, which I knew from personal experience beat the hell out of anything else that could be bought anywhere in the city. How he made it was a secret, but you didn’t have to have two cups to know you were drinking a finely crafted brew.

The owner, Dillon, was also my most trusted friend. I’d found out the hard way that there are just some places that you can’t go if you want to talk business. Dillon’s had proved the best place to go for when I was stumped or in need of privacy. Dillon himself was a great sounding board for theories, but also seemed to have a direct line to underground information on a variety of topics. I’d known him for years, and we’d saved each other’s lives countless times, but I had never asked him where he got the kinds of information that he always had available. Professional courtesy I suppose.

“It’s alright. He’s your son after all, and trouble is what kids are good at. And it’s not like I haven’t had a good run. Ten years of business is longer than a lot of the police investigators stick with it. After all the cases I’ve been through, it’s a wonder I’m still drawing breath. This isn’t the worst thing to happen to me anyways, and you know it.”

I was quickly coming up on the plaza where I was supposed to meet the man who would ultimately be the end of my career. There had been a kidnapping a week ago, and Dillon's son had gone missing. The kidnapper’s demands had been very simple. He had wanted me out of the picture for good, or the kid would not survive to see his next birthday. For the first time in my life, I had been able to find nothing to help me with the case. Today had been particularly tough, because I knew that there was only one choice I could make, but it still ate at me inside. I felt like I was betraying all the friends I’d made over the years, all of the people I’d worked with, some of whom hadn’t survived. It felt like giving up, and I had never been good at that.

The plaza was dark, and as I had surmised, it began to drizzle as I walked into it. The tall buildings around loomed up in the dark, shadowy and silent judges of what was about to happen. It wasn’t a very large area, but it was paved in concrete and full of sculptures and fountains. Many places a person could hide in ambush, but also open enough that if I had brought back up, it would be easy to spot.

“You’ve made the choice then I see.” A man’s voice called out from the other side of the fountain in the center of the plaza.

“You win. Give up the boy, and I’ll walk out of this town and never look back.”

“You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this moment Tracer. I could have killed you outright a hundred times in the last few years, but I chose to bide my time. Revenge just wouldn’t have been as sweet if you hadn’t even had a chance to fail before I ended your life. Now you know the bitter taste of failure. You don’t even know who I am yet, and that would have been the simplest clue of all.”

From behind the fountain emerged a shadowed figure holding a boy close to him, gun leveled at his head. I couldn’t make out who it was, but I knew it was male from the voice. It sounded raspy and deep, and although it seemed familiar, I couldn’t recall ever hearing it before. The figure took a few more steps closer, but remained in the shadow of the fountain so that I couldn’t’ see his face.

“What’s the matter? You were always so quick with words Tracer, and now you’re silent. You know I’m not going to let this kid go, probably even knew it before you came here. Not even going to try and talk me out of it.”

“I had hoped you’d hold up your end of the deal, but you are right, I knew you wouldn’t.”

“Don’t try anything funny now Tracer. I’ve got at least six guns pointed at you right now, and even if you could draw your gun fast enough to shoot me, the kid will still be dead.”

What happened next occurred in mere seconds. While he had been talking, I had been inching my hand towards the gun in my shoulder holster. A light sprang up suddenly around him and the boy, illuminating his face. I was shocked to see the face of the man I had twice put behind bars looking at me with surprise and rage burning in his eyes and a peculiar scar across his neck. Jason Marcus Mayer had been trying to get revenge on me for ten years, and tonight had almost done it. As suddenly as the light had shown on him, it winked out again. I saw someone running up to Jason in the dark, and then take off again the other way. Al was a track runner on top of being a professor at the university and I knew there was no other man that could run that fast. He had grabbed the kid while Jason was still dazed and blinded. The man who had caused so much grief for my friends bellowed in fury as he realized what had happened and called for his men to attack.

Before they could, my mob friends who had hidden around the plaza in buildings they owned poured out and began firing at the men who were hidden amongst the concrete shapes. A bullet shaved the air close to my face from one side, but before I could turn, I heard the distant crack of a rifle amid the pistol shots and knew that Elizabeth had taken care of it. Trusting my friends to take care of the situation around me, I faced off with Jason in the middle of the huge gun fight.

“You’re friends aren’t going to save you this time Tracer. I’ve got my gun out already, and you haven’t even drawn yours. I’m going to kill you this time, kid or no kid. There’s no escape for me, obviously. I intend to pay you back for all the humiliation you’ve caused me, and there’s no cheap wooden floors to fall through or windows to break here. You die tonight.”

The truth was, I had been more than ready to die that night. I had arranged to have my friends rescue the boy, and maybe even kill the kidnapper, but I had not dared to hope the plan would have kept me alive as long as I had been. I knew I couldn’t draw my gun before he pulled the trigger, so all I could do was accept my fate and smile wanly at my fate. Jason didn’t hesitate to raise his gun, but before he could end my life, a man roared out of the darkness where Al had dashed from earlier. His battle cry was quickly drowned out by the retort of a shotgun, and before I could react, Jason was messily splattering across part of the plaza. I drew my gun instinctively, pointing it at my unexpected savior.

A silence came over the plaza, and it’s suddenness was as unexpected as the man’s charge. We stood there, he in the shadows and I with my gun pointed at his head. He broke the silence first.

“I think enough people died today, don’t you.” Said my old friend Dillon, stepping out of the shadows and smiling.

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No problem. Like I said, it's not as if deadlines haven't been extended for individuals before.

Am I not merciful? :roll:

New submissions list, SEVEN in total now:

The Munchies by Jam Stunna (Jamil Ragland)

You've Built Worlds, Haven't you? by Random Hajile

Seraph by Soul Splint

Nostalgic by Imagery

Reaching Out by SoulinEther (Yousef Reda)

Uncaptured Jewel by HalcyonSpirit

Reunion by Darklink42

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