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This is just a test.
Name the four naturally occurring forms of carbon.
Joseph Stalin is to Broseph as Vladimir Lenin is to [blank]
How do Smurfs reproduce?
What a to-do to die today at a minute or two to two
A thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do
For they'll beat a tattoo at a quarter to two:
A rat-ta tat-tat ta tat-tat ta to-to
And the dragon will come when he hears the drum
At a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two
Nickel cadmium arms glistened in the snow, leaving pouches of empty space where their steam jets blew. Straight from battery to steam. He lit his pipe with a disposable lighter, sucking air in. His throat was slippery now; butane tastes like soap. He looked at his girlfriend and exhaled a plume of smoke. Her eyes sparkled like motor oil in the rain, an iridescent kaleidoscope and he wondered what could be more beautiful. Her nose wrinkled in a very feline pose, her whiskers twitching. They weren't whiskers, of course, that would be silly. But they worked the same or even better, picking up sheer data from the air like another sixth sense, each invisible binary sphere landing with a small vibration, a thud at that scale if the vaguest whisper in ours. He took a look down at the charred bud in his pipe, considering how sharp it looked. She turned her head and the sweetest siren song of a servo hummed from beneath, and condensation gathered in the small of her back, like raindrops on a window. That's what it reminded him of, and he laid his face against her now, feeling the cold dampness that brought back lonely childhood days. Back when the easiest way to get out of any trouble was to say "I love you," but you still always meant it. No one believes you when you're grown. He handed her the pipe. She looked at it for a second, eyes pale and reflective, before taking it. Smoke made androids as high as people. He hated that fucking word, but still.
"Chill here, Alice."
"Where are you going?" Her voice echoed from her chest.
"Just to pick up some stuff. I'll be a few hours."
Cars couldn't haul like they used to. Steam gives shitty horsepower, and the DOT decided that they might as well lower the speed limits, nationwide. You still couldn't just throw snow in the engine, though. It'd get all gunked up and wouldn't run anymore. Distilled water only. Gas stations just kept filtered fire hoses with special little nozzles on the end. Traffic was bumper to bumper on this road, not that it wasn't always. As I looked up absently I noticed some large black bird, or maybe a bat. I'd seen things like it before, but only on lots of dimehydrinate. Suddenly it fell from the sky, swooping at top speed and landing with a crash into the windshield of the Toyota next to me. A few flecks of the glass landed on my hood, such was the force. I stared at this thing, which I noticed had leathery wings spanning at least five feet, and at the face of the driver. I couldn't quite make out his reaction through the fog on his window. Was it real? I couldn't be scared the way I thought I should be. The thoughts racing through my head were more of a lifetime in asylums than global apocalypse. Maybe that's how I knew I was too sober to be hallucinating. Another of the bat-things fell on my windshield now, and a shard of glass cut my cheek as it whizzed by. I got out of my car, not even taking the keys or putting it in park, and I ran down the street as a bat-thing fell on every windshield with increasing speed, the cacophony of shattering glass blurring into loud static. I jumped onto the sidewalk like an action hero jumps from a huge explosion at the end of a blockbuster.
"Are you okay?" An elderly woman was looking down at me, her face deeply creased from a lifetime of expressing disgust. I looked back at the cars. The bats dissolved, and my brain quickly rationalized that the steam had melted them. I felt cold. Looking down, I noticed my knees were soaked from the snow, and I might've scraped them on the sidewalk. It was too cold to tell.
"I'm fine," I said. She waited too long for that response, and was walking away before I finished saying it. Thanks anyway, bitch. I climbed to my feet, turned to look at the gridlock once more, and stopped to think about what the fuck I was driving for in the first place. Oh yeah, I guess I was visiting my other girl. I felt like a dick about it, but every now and then you need something real. I found my car again and turned on the player, trying to forget that little incident.
"Who is it?" I saw Kat's face, rendered by floating spheres of light, high resolution open air plasma.
"It's Barris. Chuck Barris."
The plasma flickered purple, a filter spazzing out temporarily. It distracted me from her reaction.
"Come on in, Charlie."
We didn't make much small talk before we fucked. What would the point be, anyway? Afterwards I laid back wondering if I was doing the right thing, or really, if it was worth doing the wrong thing. I looked up at the pale orange ceiling, lit by a floating mass of incandescence, set at half dim. She always kept her bedroom stocked with plenty of candles, and soul or funk played from the walls in the cleanest of quadrophonic sound. This relationship with Kat was purely sexual, or so I liked to convince myself. Alice could do a lot of things, but there was always a little voice in the back of my mind, maybe my old dead father or God or someone, saying I'm wrong but not giving me much more than that. I looked over. Kat was asleep. This kind of selective narcolepsy might've had something to do with our purely physical predicament. I gave one last look to my surroundings, appreciating the richness I might never have, and the effort invested to make one room like a brothel. "Fuck it," I said, and I left. Her snores covered the sounds of my exit.
When I got back to that front gate, I saw Alice. She was standing there in the cold, eyes staring through me.
"Hey. I was just stopping to talk to an old friend."
She walked up to me, looking me in the eye, as lovingly as ever, and took my hands in hers. Then I heard a dry snap.
"Ah shit!" I looked down to see her picking off my ring finger like it was a daisy. I shuddered. Steam rose from the bloody mess of splintered bone and tattered flesh. She drew in very close to me, looking directly in my eyes with her own soulless stones.
"Next time," she said in the sweetest tone discrete steam-powered circuitry can produce, "it's your dick."
I was still trembling from shock, both medical and emotional, and I picked up some snow to pad my half-finger with. I couldn't focus much, so I just followed her mindlessly, hoping she was walking toward a hospital, but not really giving it that kind of thought. I stared down at my hand, starting to wonder if it was real. Wondering if I was denying reality or just seeing things again. Either way, I knew I'd seriously fucked up somewhere along the line. I looked up, and Alice was still walking in front of me. I was still shuddering. There was still a cold, sharp bone poking out of my hand. There was enough left to wiggle it feebly. The pain all ran together, like magma in Siberia. I felt ice beneath my eye making it tougher to blink. Alice suddenly stopped. I walked up to her, still trembling a little, still clutching my hand.
"What's wrong?" I asked stupidly. Her eyes looked the same as they ever do, yet I gathered that she was wistful. Maybe she felt remorse, or maybe she was hurt. Her posture was perfectly erect. Stiff as steel. She did not respond, so I waved my hand in front of her face, the whole one. "Alice?" Beads of ice were on her back. I pressed my face against it, listening. I heard nothing. No steam hiss, no servo hum. "Alice?" Her whiskers were just as frozen. "Alice?!" Shit! Why did they have to make robots run on steam? But then I thought about it. Every car on the road had to use a steam engine, and they didn't freeze. Why did she? My head hurt. I felt the veins throbbing, and it didn't seem safe. I wouldn't have much blood left. I was so fucking confused. The loss of blood must've caught up with me. I fainted.
When I woke up I was nowhere familiar. I saw Alice. Her hand, that I knew better than my own.
"Oh, you're awake," a voice said. I looked up. It was a nurse. I said nothing. "It seems you'll be making a full recovery." I frowned. These things were so generic. Happy user-friendly interface, but no personality to speak of.
"When you were found, you had lost quite a bit of blood--"
"Yeah, I know that."
"Frostbite was the only thing that kept you alive, oddly enough. We found you next to this android, and since we were out of prostheses, the doctor used it for scrap parts."
"Ah," I said, crushed by the despair of my greatest girlfriend dead and scavenged for parts. "Ah!" I exclaimed, as the realization hit me and I looked down to see her arm at the end of my shoulder, with that all too familiar condensation. The nurse left. Well, I thought to myself, at least I have something to remember you by. In a sense I guess we can still be together. And then that voice in the back of my mind came back, some pissed off authority figure calling me a freak. Later I'd go home, toss back a box of Dramamine and half a fifth of Crown, and forget this whole thing. By which I mean have horrific hallucinations of death and guilt.
Note: this is not my horror punk entry. Still working on that.
My flesh pulsed, writhed. I only watched with curiosity as my hand crawled, the veins once so tightly tethered wiggled on like worms, making their way to my fingers. I felt their slime and fine hairs finding traction along my phalanges, until they finally burst forth from their meaty prison. It was horrendously painful yet strangely satisfying; the whole experience reminded me of squeezing a pustule, both in sensation and appearance. Unfortunately my veins did not last long outside: resembling worms as they did, they quickly seemed to shrivel as if with heat, like common suburban annelids finding the sidewalk. My hand felt very cold and very weak, but I feared the doctor as much as the untreated malady. For if I went and all this were only my imagination, I might never come home from the asylum. Yet, if this were real then my hand was quite doomed. The former seemed likely, since I could remember nothing before just now. But maybe it was shock. Numbness was setting in. I could not concentrate any longer, unable to focus my thoughts or vision. Everything shook, and so I took the only action I could think of. I slept.
There's a contest going on now for writing. Ergo, here is something I submitted to a contest three and a half months ago, well-aged and utterly unedited. That way the critiques will stand exactly as they were written, too! I am working on an entry for this new contest, of course, but I probably won't unveil that for another four months. Listen to the song below, because the words are meant to match up with that.
Remorse. I woke up to the same feeling I'd known so many other days, haunting the dim and empty spaces of my early morning psyche. It came with the territory. I forced myself out of bed, like always, because I had to. Pulled on the same black suit and neck tie and took my briefcase and .38 special. I remembered a few loves lost and people I had to kill. But as I looked in the mirror, I saw my smile coming back. I walked away with a funkadelic swagger, but turned back. "Looking good there, handsome," I said aloud, tipping my hat at the Adonis in the mirror, before I was off.
Then there I was like magic, in the middle of another gunfight, another chase. Dancing around civilians and trying to keep up. Today it was an arboretum. I was surrounded by cheap dates, families having a quiet afternoon, and a few of this guy's shipment, forced Chinese prostitutes. This guy knew Kung-fu, but I knew Judo. And I did know that I had a gun. I ran past a tall girl in a Chinese dress snapping a shot of a maple when I saw my man. I thought I almost had him when a bullet whizzed through my afro. "Fuck," I said, trying to keep some composure. I picked him up by the shirt and and coldcocked him. One hit, lights out. I put a pair of handcuffs on him and put him in the back of my van. I'm not a cop, but hell if I ain't stocked better than one. I drove off before anyone else knew what had happened, counting as I always did on people taking certain facts for granted.
As I drove that unmarked 1980's van back to my hideout, I had to wonder once more whether I was doing the right thing. Signs on the street passed me by, and all the earmarks of city squalor. Protesters held signs decrying bank practices, a certain type of discrimination they favored. Five blocks down was one of my favorite smoky jazz clubs, some of the last civilization before the long empty road to my mountain interrogation facility. I thought about slapping this piece of shit around with the back of my pistol, and I felt a grin as wide as I'd known for weeks. "Oh, yeah!" I said slowly and smoothly, turning to his duct tape gagged face. "Ha ha!" The road was as quiet as a casket, with nothing around but trees for miles. In the long spaces of silence there was little to fill the void but my pleasant thoughts of vicarious redemption, and the spotted memories of those events that lead me to this. Bittersweet.
Back in that hot and sticky cinder block room, old pissed off Chinaman strapped to the chair, brass knuckles in my pocket. The women were all free. State or federal law enforcement would stop there. I ripped off his duct tape and pulled out another tooth with my pliers. "Screaming will only make it worse," I said, and it was the truth. He'd only damage his gums. I pulled off the latex glove that kept his rancid blood off my hands. I was never satisfied with what the system could do, and I was sick of watching it fail. I looked at this man once more, disgust dripping down my face, turned out the bare bulb above his head and walked away. The sight of him just pissed me off. It was something I dealt with day after day, something I forced myself to face. I sat down in the much more comfortable living room to enjoy a warm beer and loosen up. I put on some music, but I could barely hear it, drifting in and out of my thoughts. I wasn't sure why I was so introspective today. I guess looking at it as if from the outside made it seem easy. I sat there a second, then I laughed it off. "Shit. It is easy."
There was a sound at the front door. I grabbed my gun again, gave it a little kiss. For luck. Took the last swig of my fine Mexican beer. Then I stood right where I was and waited, ready for action. My finger twitched off the trigger. My eyes bounced around the room, dry enough to crack. Then they came in. A whole bunch of ninja motherfuckers. And then they were on the floor. I breathed again, feeling nothing but relief. I returned to business, knowing there would be more, knowing I'd have to abandon this place, too. I had others. It was still worrying. I'd always have to watch my back, sleep in the closet, hug a gun like a kid holds their teddy at night. But shit, I live for it. And there ain't a thing I can do now to change that, even if I wanted to. "Ha, like I ever would!" I laughed at a dirty mirror, teeth still gleaming through the grime. A muffled scream came from the other room, reminding me to finish up. I turned to that mirror again and smiled.
Now I was back in my van, passing those same sights only lit up in sleazy neon and a little more bustling. Mr. Human Trafficker was in a car trunk, about five hundred feet below a cliff. Maybe his friends would find him there. I didn't care now, but it did make me smile. The long rows of red brake lights brought back the notion, and traffic wasn't clearing up too soon. So I decided to check out one of those clubs, after all. They're no less safe than my own personal pad, and way more fun. I settled in, the music growing louder and my patented charm working as soon as I stepped in the door. But there was always the feeling that no happiness could ever last. That is, unless it came from someone else's beatdown. Oh yeah!
Main criticisms of this were that it wasn't quite funky enough and that it sacrificed words to keep pacing. Truth is, I wrote it in a couple of hours. Didn't know the contest deadline until the day of the contest deadline.
Hello, fair adventurer of the cyberseas, the information hyper airwaves, the Interspace. You might have noticed I have quite a collection of medals, not one of which is for or made of anything significant. Sure, if they were simple digital badges of honor for say, real life wrestling a polar bear or eating fifty consecutive bowls of twelve alarm chili (Achievement Unlocked!) or even winning a drunken blindfolded fucking contest, it would be easy to understand their worth. For their worth would only allude to my worth, of questionable morals though it may be. Or perhaps these medals could have been made of gold, or silver, or platinum, or copper, or bronze, or aluminum. Even with aluminum there's the possibility of a five cent deposit. If this were the case, I believe again that you could see some importance in my diligent quest to earn these medals, as I am severely lacking in nickles. But nay, they have no seeming worth whatsoever, at least to those who dwell in the present, with untrained eyes and puny minds. I, a man of vision and grandiose diction, can imagine a day when these medals are worth more than kilobytes or pixels or even honor among nerds. They will be hopefully worth money. Maybe there'll be a contest of some kind, Who Can Get The Most Medal Points Before We Say Stop? And I will be quite well-prepared with one hell of a head start. So you may laugh at me now, with my copious medal points with no discernible purpose. But I laugh knowingly and much more badassedly at you, waiting for the day that I am an overnight billionaire.