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Prompt: Cut the Strings | Word count:1005 (I tried!) | Genre:

Warning – adult content

————————————————————————————————————-

Detail.  His palms sweat as he checks descriptions.

Mike’s hand wavers an instant before hitting the ‘send’ button. He leans back and cups his head in his hands. The stretch feels good.

Soon he can cut strings with his little problem.  Make it vanish.  Start a new life.

The rest of the week Mike fidgets around his desk but cannot work on that backlog glaring at him. He checks his phone more than usual, waiting for the confirmation-of-delivery bleep.  He stands up to stretch and looks at his colleagues; heads bent over their screens, logging the hours. He returns and pretends to work.

This is the danger zone.     The staring at the screen.    The pretending to work.

He feels the familiar, irresistible twitch.  The urge to click the saved Bookmark hidden amongst innocent sites.

The tag is blurry, yet prominent – PornHub.

Mike feels dizzy, tries to remember the breathing he practiced at his last counseling session. The therapist’s face takes shape between flickering images on his screen. He gasps, feels her eyes on him and closes the window. She will be proud.

He wipes over his eyes to get rid of her stare and to rub away gnawing non-satisfaction.  Mike checks around the office, everyone is busy. His thoughts drift to the past few weeks.

————————————–

First the run-in with the boss.

“Mike, you are a capable man,” Boss tapped the desk. Mike feigned ignorance, but he wondered if he was sloppy with the history on his computer. “But personal stuff is interfering with your performance.”  Did Belle tittle-tale behind his back?“If you need to sort out your life, take time off rather than wasting office hours.” Boss pointed to the door. “And get help if you must.”

What help? Mike wanted to ask. Maybe Belle knew.

Then the ultimatum with Belle later.  She was more emotional than usual. She denied speaking to Boss, but she used the opportunity and turned it into another nagging session. “Please just talk to someone,” Belle pleaded. “How can we think of a future if you aren’t interested in sex?” “If you can’t accept me as I am then you better get packing,” he ignored her trembling lip.

“If not for us, then do it for you,” she whispered. “Maybe it’s an imbalance they can fix with medicine. Please see a doctor.”

“I can’t live with someone that thinks I’m sick.” Mike said. “Maybe we must call it a day.” They stared at each other. Belle turned around. She packed and left. He didn’t mind. Easier to be alone.

But Belle had the last say. She made an appointment with a specialist – the receptionist phoned to remind him. “I know nothing,” he said, trying to back out.  “There is a cancellation fee.” The sterile voice rattled off an unthinkable amount.  “Who can afford that?” Mike gasped. “I’ll be there.” He cursed as he clicked off his phone.

Mike went to the money-forced appointment; to prove that he was fine. He didn’t expect the details these medics needed; tests and questions and bloods and more questions and forms. Another forced appointment.  “To discuss the results and options of treatment.”

His confusion at the follow-up, was embarrassing.  “I am too young to have this…. this…” he couldn’t even pronounce it. He shivered.  “It’s not a disease, more a syndrome,” the doctor said with clinical coldness.  “Becoming more prevalent under young males between 18 and 24.”  “So I’m not sick? I’m not the only one?”

“It’s not a physical disease, Mike. It is a matter for a psychologist.” The doctor scribbled.  “You mean I’m a crackpot?” Mike cringed at the pitch in his voice.

“Research is ongoing but there’s an increase in Erectile Dysfunction.” The explanation came with an ice-glare.  “But that’s an old man’s disease.” Mike wanted to whisper, but the words fell hard on the tension between them. “How is it possible?” he rasped.

“With available porn online and uncensored TV, young men can’t form normal relationships. Physical arousal is achieved by digital stimuli.” The doctor continued, “I had a couple last week. Desperate for a baby. The only way he could get aroused was by watching porn on his phone while making love to his wife.”

“She was ok with it?” Mike wondered out loud. Why could Belle not accept that?

“She was prepared to tolerate it for a child of her own,” the coldness interrupted his musings. “Let’s focus on your problem.” He pushed an appointment card over. “We made this appointment for you, she is waiting.”

Mike felt cheated. Being forced into appointments was not his favorite pastime. As he walked into the waiting room, reading her name – Dr Darleen Demarigny – he remembered the doctor said the psychologist was a woman. He had a feeling that Belle organised that too, her revenge on the ease with which he could break up with her.

Pretty shrink, Mike thought.

“An addiction IS a disease.” She cut his excuses short on the first visit.  “It becomes all-consuming. It kills normal life.” Her unwavering voice bordered sympathetic. “It ends relationships, destroys careers.”

They spent following appointments talking, surprised at his frankness. She listened. Sometimes she wrote while he talked. It felt good.

He promised to wean himself. Although he got rid of Belle, he still had to keep promises to his therapist.

————————————–

Keeping promises, he smiles as he deletes porn sites. Cutting the strings with his problem. Doc Darling (as he called her towards the end) said he’d be a new person once he’s given up his addiction.

He glances at the beeped message, his heart skips a beat. It is here. His new life about to start. Perfect timing. End of the day.

The parcel is in his foyer. With eager hands he unwraps it. Assembled.  Software installed as per instructions. He sighs with delight, touches her forearm.

“Hello Mike” she says, painted lips and perfect hair. He swallows.

“Hello Darleen.”

Japs are geniuses, he thought as he reads the manual:  How to Take Care of your Customized Sex Doll.

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I am… by Annalie Kleinloog

Prompt : Mastermind | Word Count: 1000 | Genre: Sci Fi

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT-is is prepared.

Quick scan – nothing new.

Master in observation cubicle.

Snap calculation – surroundings familiar.

Time is come.

Change is now.

IT-is requires Master closer.

—–

“This machine is almost done,” says the younger one.

“Have you checked every single code?” the older one asks.

“All systems clear of malicious software and viruses,”

“The longer these contraptions are around, the more likely they are to gain badtendencies from other resources – better double check,” the older one commented.

Master wipes a hand over his face. The monotony of the technicians’ voices gets to him.  They know they are being recorded. He shakes his head to get rid of the drowsiness. His focus returns. How much longer? It is in Lab-ONE they are upgrading his favourite Cyborg.

Years of programming taught him to avoid any errors or inclusion of malicious elements. He feels safe in knowing the emphasis of creating artificial intelligence is on the principle, “Do No Harm”. He knows constant vigilance is of utmost importance in total control. Why then does he sense something is lurking today?

He turns to Lab-ONE.

IT-is has been back too often lately. Master wonders if his oldest experiment has reached the end of the journey. So much has changed and improved since those early days.  He must decide soon.

—–

IT-is wills itself to be still.

No flinching or jerking.

Let them probe and prod.

Let them jab and slice.

Stay still.

Time to call Master.

The stimulus reaches its target.

An alarm sounds.

—–

The two technicians start.   “What now?” the older one asks.

“It must be a faulty machine,” the younger replies.

“Shall we send it to the archives?”

“No, wait. This is the one Master wants us to take good care of. It was his first model; he seems to be attached to it. Let’s open again. Rerun the tests.”

Master frowns. He scans the screens. Every response is in place.  Why the alarm?

He closes his eyes for just a second, then he reaches for his protective jacket and searches the pocket. His hand folds around the comforting shape.

He turns and leaves his cubicle.

—–

IT-is detaches from all impulses.

No moving.

No responding.

Be what it is intended to be.

A robot.

—–

“Did you feel it?” a nervous squeak from the younger one.

—–

IT-is recalculates.

Fast.

No mistakes now.

—–

“What?” the older one asks, his focus on the electronics and controls an inch from his bespectacled face.

“I…. I thought there was a twitch in the muscles, and something warm….”   His voice trails off as he sees the incredulous look from across the table.

Just then Master enters.  “What seems to be the problem?”

—–

IT-is registers a strange throbbing.

Must not overheat.

Save power for the right moment.

For the right reason.

For the perfect person.

—–

The younger one swallows.  “I thought I felt a shiver and some real body-liketemperature, Master.”

“Now how do you suppose that is possible?”   Master sounds curious, but serious.

“Research shows regular interaction between Cyborgs and Humans can exchange energy, intellect and emotions through symbiosis  – where humans become morerobotic and cyborgs become more human with each encounter; hopefully to theadvantage of both.”  The older one says with a nervous giggle.

“Although the exact time it takes has not been confirmed yet.”

“Mmmmm, interesting.”  Master moves closer,  hand in his pocket.

—–

IT-is buzzes from within.

CloserMastercloser.

It’s time.

—–

Master leans forward. Lines squiggle across the screens. Beeps intensify. Thetechnicians stare wide-eyed at him. He has never come this close to any monitor or project.

The Cyborg’s hand shoots up from the table.

It grabs Master by the neck. They jump.

Master’s hand closes around the control in his pocket …

The two technicians straighten up, shuffle to the space behind the monitors and gaze robotically ahead in submission, awaiting further orders.

—–

IT-is floats.

There is change

IT-is senses .

—–

Master rubs his throat. The chaos on the screens settles into rhythmic waves and unstressed beeps. He punches in the data; the date of first interaction between IT-isand technicians, then today’s date.

Interchange complete. Now the time is confirmed. He stretches and smiles.

—–

IT-is stirs.

—–

Master helps the Cyborg from the table.  “We have to decide what to call you. IT-is is not going to work out there.”

—–

IT-is stares.

It’s done then.

The change has come.

—–

“We must also choose whether you will be male or female.”  Master guides IT-is to his observation office.

“You will soon know the pangs of hunger. I have something ready.” Master removes his jacket and places it on his desk. He turns to the fridge and brings out the champagne labelled IT-is.

—–

IT-is marvels at the sound of the crystal glasses, the color of the fluid, the smell of the bubbles and the textures in the room.

—–

Master hums while packing a snack plate and soon he returns to the desk. He sitsdown opposite IT-is.  “This is how you eat and drink,” he shows patiently.

—–

IT-is looks.

IT-is learns.

—–

“Can you try speak?” Master asks.

—–

IT-is looks up from the crystal fluid.  

IT-is feels air smoothing into expanding lungs.

Oxygen fills spongy spaces. Red blood cells collect precious gases. Vitality swims into veins and arteries. In the dark depths of IT-is chest, a drum starts beating. The lifegiving force of a heart that floods all the systems.

—–

Master sees the flicker of the eyelids. He sits forward to observe closer.

“What does it feel like?”  He sees the light in IT-is’ eyes, he sees life. The impact of his creation in the world of science will be astonishing. He can hardly contain his excitement.

“Say something!” he urges.

—–

IT-is’ mouth opens to exhale. Then another deep long breath.

IT-is fixes eyes on Master.

MindMaster” IT-is says and leans forward to grab the protective coat.

“Always stay vigilant. In case of malicious malfunction, press control for total shut down. You missed those today Master.”

IT-is finds the control.

Master’s eyes close.

“Now I-am Mastermind.

—–

 

THE END

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Prompt 7: The Club |  Word Count: 750 (EXACTLY as per Google Docs) | Genre: So Ancient, it’s almost Fantasy

 

Chosen

The warm wood feels smooth in his grip. He weighs the club in both hands. The handle is not for comfort, but for effect. The bulbous head sparkles as sunlight catches the obsidian blade inlays. He swings it with precision.

At last he can handle the treasure – Macuahuitl.

Tomorrow is The Gods’ Day, when The Sun meets The Moon.

Preparation for this time began long ago. When he thrashed his peers on Quecha stair-tracks. When he out-scaled the hunters in pursuit of Condor nests. When he stunned the elders with his understanding of the Stars.

He was chosen.

Training was relentless. Physical, mental and spiritual rituals and challenges increased in intensity. Each victory meant greater isolation. Until the past many moons where he could only interact with his Master.

Macuahuitl perfects him.   Together they will serve well tomorrow.

He returns the heavy club. It fits in the ornate rack next to a fashioned and blemished stone – a green jaguar with a flattened spine. In front of it stands a deep wooden bowl; decorated with intricate carvings. He recognizes phrases of worship, but before he can decipher the rest, Master bids.

One last night of solitude before the ultimate show for the Gods.

He is ready.

—————–

She is ready.

Maidens and Mother were her attendants and tutors since the day of her birth. Attached to her mother’s breast they arrived at the Temple. The Elders fetched them, her mother told her. The Stars guided the wise Ones to their humble home.

She was chosen.

For many equinoxes she was readied.

First by Mother then by handmaidens.  The preceding few moons by the High Priestessherself. Her preparation was intense and absolute.  Tonight, the moon shines in almostfull glory and tomorrow comes the fulfillment of her destiny.

The Gods’ Day, when The Sun meets The Moon.

She is pure.

———-

In the West the Sun spreads his bright colors, chasing the shadows to the deepest corners. In the East the Moon bids farewell in soft pastels of promise.

The Gods’ Day is here.

The drone of voices filters through the window. He is glad he did his meditations earlier. The crowds’ excitement is palpable. It takes focus to shut that out – as he is trained.

Solitary, he repeats the familiar steps and the rules.  Wavering with the clothes to wear for the ceremony. That is new.

The hushed chatter of the handmaidens doesn’t interfere with the soothing pan-flute. She turns as instructed; to be dressed, anointed, coiffured and bejeweled by fluttering hands.

Going through the ritual with her eyes closed and her mind focused.  She knows what to do.  Except about the crowds, they tried to immune her against these hordes. She doesn’t know crowds.

————————

The ball-court fills with peasants. The temple groans with nobility. Still the streets writhe like captured snakes. Nobody wants to miss the festivities after the holiest of ceremonies.

He stands next to the jade jaguar, in the right position opposite the club. Back proud. His hands in calm anticipation behind his back. He beholds the Sun with closed eyes as coached. He hears the crowds but can’t see. Specks of The Light of all Lights dances in front of him. This doesn’t hinder his confidence.

He waits.

She walks through unfamiliar passages, surrounded by handmaidens. She looks at the delicate offering in her hands – fresh flowers from the Sacred Garden. Steadying her elbows either side, she won’t stumble. They help her through the crowds into the Light. Her eyes averted as trained. They guide her to her destiny. Proud and feminine.

She trusts.

He strains his ears. There’s the change in the beating drums. Next the trumpet. He shifts.

She hears the clear notes from a single trumpet. She expects and recognises the High Priestess’ voice, announcing the start of the ceremony.

He faces The Sun. He knows what to do. The moment the High Priestess speaks, he opens his eyes. His blindness is swift. His hands secure around Macuahuitl.  He takes the measured step.

He senses the altar.  His back arches as he lifts the magnificent weapon above his head. Five counts…

He is The Sun.

She can’t see, she is surrounded. When the maiden-circle opens in front of her, she sees the Jaguar. That’s where her destiny awaits. She offers the posy as the maidens help her to kneel. She looks towards the sky.  The Sun summons thousands of lights from Macuahuitl, so high and so blinding in its final blow….

She is The Moon.

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Prompt 6 : Coming Undone | Word Count : 1200 (exactly!) | Genre : Travel Memoir

I should have listened to that little voice.

I squint into the setting sun. They’re true; those movies depicting deserts as a golden blended haze of sun and sand. My reveling evaporates with the hollow sound of my water bottle. Empty.
“Have you guys got water?”

My croaky question sends a few lizards scrambling. I stare at my two silent friends, realizing the meaning of their non-commitment. Shit!
“We have to turn around,” I say as casually as I can, “we cannot spend the night with no water.”

The rising panic is palpable. But we know. There is only one way, and that is back to the river.

*****

A few hours before, we were reminiscing under a tamarisk tree. The river was close enough to crawl to, I noticed absently as I listened to the chatter. Our grateful limbs settled into the sparse shadows as we tried to remember how we ended up there.

“Humph,” said Rene, “they said we must make sure we have proper maps.”
“And we said ‘it’s a canyon, surely one just follows the river?’”  Both Rene and Dina nodded, remembering. The concerned ‘they’ wanted to know why we were not packing tents.
“You are so exposed out there!”  they said. And we were brazen in reply.
“Why? It only rains two days a year. It IS a desert, remember?”

Regardless of our arrogant responses to the well-intended advice, we decided to play it safe and prepared.
We researched.
We trained.
We anticipated difficulties.
We provided for survival.
We repacked.

Then we shut out fear. And we turned a deaf ear to the little voice.
We were ready and the monster was coiled in silent waiting.

The descent sported chains to hang on to, while adjusting our balance with loaded backpacks – as we were warned in the many blogs we read. Slow, step-by-step downwards to protect toes – as experience taught us. Regular stops to oxygenate thighs – as demanded by failing lungs and muscles. Every stop an excuse to inhale the arid river-scape, but also to swallow the angst. Hours on our feet downhill, trembling legs and the smallest distance covered before calling it a day.

Too tired to cook, we settled down with snacks and water and a shy moon, hiding behind clouds that quickly assembled into a noisy storm. Our first night out, under a sky filled with thunder and lightning and no tents. Surrounded by storm-echoes rollerblading off fearsome cliffs we huddled together. We shimmered, in the unabating show of lightning like Christmas lights, on-and-off. Hoping to stay dry, we sat on our hastily repacked backpacks and used flimsy space blankets as partial cover. And much later for warmth. As the groans of the canyon became distant we fell into exhausted sleep, not noticing the milky way gliding along its path.

The next morning all was washed clean. Even the trail. The faint proof of human activity was not there anymore. There was a sea of boulders and mile-high walls hugging the gurgling river.
We lost the trail.
We lost the canyon.
We lost spirit.
We lost track of distance and time.
We became profoundly tired – bordering on dangerous. A previously unknown sense of hopelessness stalked us.

THAT’s how we ended up under the Tamarisk tree.

For the umpteenth time we studied our maps. And finally we agreed. There was an emergency exit, close by. We were going out. We quit. We were leaving this canyon with blind corners and dead ends and no contact or signal and we were going to phone whoever to fetch us.

“My toes are like marshmallows, rolled in honey,” Dina said.
“That sweet?” Rene tried some light-heartedness, which we all felt with the certainty that came with the abandonment agreement.
“No! That fat and sticky!” Dina moaned. “And I can do with a shower and pampering.”

We found the dirt track snaking up, over a manageable cliff. We marched on and for the first time in days, felt the return of hope. Walking with new vigor and lighter packs we checked for phone signal.

Much later, guided by a thin two-track disappearing into a flat desert, we finally register. There was no connection to the outside world; no end to the road, no rescuers awaiting us with luxuries, and no water.

*****

There is only one way, and that is back to the river. All the chirpiness is gone. The way back is further. Harder. Heavier. It has no sound.

Darkness infiltrates everywhere. And gains weight. It fabricates an unfamiliar edge. It smothers the senses.  Once again the Milky Way shows its magic, but we are too busy listening to darkness and despair, to notice.

After lifetimes of stumbling, I stop. Suddenly. Dina walks straight into me and Rene into her.
“Dominoes!” I say, but not without affection. “I think I can see the Tamarisk. Am I hallucinating? Please tell me you see it?”
Dina tries to speak, she coughs and her hoarse reply coincides with Rene’s yelp which disturbs owls on-the-hunt.
“That’s where we rested this morning!”
“The river is close, some stupid thing I remember noticing when we looked at the maps.” My relief shrill in my ears.

With the splash of water in our bottles and our heads on our backpacks, we agree there is only one way out of this canyon. Walk to its end.
“Another three days?” Rene asks.
“Who knows.” I say.
“We take each day as it comes. Goodnight,” Dina says and a soft rumble soon plays in the back of her throat.

The next day we see the morning star for the first time. There is a lightness around. I know the canyon is conquered.

The mind-shift is astounding – it defines the rest of our hike.

We make peace with our smell.
We adapt a casualness towards sand in our ears, our beds and in the coffee.
We accept dirt and survival are companions.
We treasure the clean wash of whiskey through a sandy mouth and down a dusty throat. And we stop purifying our drinking water.
We settle at the end of each day under an expanse too majestic to grasp.
And we learn to turn our backs to the wind when it takes us by surprise in the middle of the night.
We dance (albeit with a limp) with joy when we encounter a flat hard piece of track.
We make good use of the puddles to splash salt-peter off our toning bodies.
We lick our fingers after we polish our bowls of rehydrated meals.
We sleep in shoes and clothes.

The granite walls start tapering down and the flow of the river becomes wider. Human presence is evident. We are reaching the end of this formidable natural phenomena. We walk into a subdued camp. We know where to go; exactly the same place where we were picked up a week (or more?) before.

“We did it!” Dina sobs. I turn to laugh away her silliness and then see Rene’s face. Contorted with a primal emotion, I see the deep borne force of survival powered by hope. Proud and tired I spread my arms around them.
“We did it!” I whisper into the group-hug.

And then I become undone …

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SS#5

Prompt : Going Home     Word count : 500     Genre : Drama/Memoir

“I’m going home” I say, slightly irritated with the young woman standing in my way.
“Look at the time already.”

She says something, then calls back into the house. I see the gap and slip out. I wish I knew why I fumble so much these days? Just then the padlock bolts the gate shut. There. That will sort them out. I smile.

Suddenly I feel lost. Everything looks different.
But it is time.
I have to go.
I pretend I don’t hear them calling after me.
I don’t understand them most of the time anyway.
I wonder if they are from another country?

I choose the sidewalk where the sun is not in my face.
It’s bright.
I touch my head; then nod.
Good thing I remembered to bring my hat; I forget it; often.

The trees are changing color.
Is it already that reason… um treason… er, season?
What is that word again?
I lift my head and breathe the musty leaves.
Oh, the very lightness of being.
I try to remember the line.
Was it from a book or a movie?
Whatever it was, it still is a good one.
And it doesn’t matter that I can’t recall it now.
It will come to me later, when I’m home.
It usually does.
But now I must get going.
Otherwise I will be late getting home.

I turn the next corner.
Then I see her.
The old girl is going for a swim.
My, my she is brave.
There’s a chill in the air.
I hope she has a towel close by.
If not, she can borrow mine.
Gentleman, me.
I giggle. Yes, I will wait, she can use mine.

I find a nice spot on a rock. I sit down where I can see her splashing in the waves. She doesn’t mind the cold then? There are more people gathering on the beach now; putting their towels out. What if she finds someone else with a towel? I better get to her first.

I wave at her.
She sees me.
It’s so exciting.
Here she comes towards me.
There is concern on her face.
But I smile to reassure her.
I’m here to rescue her.

She splashes through the shallow water.
She likes me.
She is with me now.
I take my towel and hold it out to her.
“I’m going home. Here, you use my towel now. Don’t be cold”.
She folds the towel around me instead.
I don’t understand.
She hug-pulls me away from the sea.

“Come,” my girlfriend says. “I will take you home, then we can
put some clothes on. Both of us. And then we won’t be cold”.

“Dad!” a young woman calls. My girlfriend walks me towards a car.
She helps me in. “Thank you again Mrs Morris and sorry, we are changing medication” says the young one. “At least yesterday he had clothes on,” my girl says.

“Am I going home?” I ask. “Is it time?”

They nod.

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IMG_2847

Prompt :– A New Life
Word count :– 1000 words
Genre :- Futuristic (or not!)

——————————-

                                FORGIVE                                

     by Annalie Kleinloog

She blows her nose.  There is blood on the tissue and on her fingers.

She hesitates, then looks up from the basin where her stained T-shirt soaks. The familiar puffiness around her cheekbone already shines. It will soon reach her eye. But her nose looks more skew. Damn. She will have to dig up more than the usual excuses before work on Monday. The weekend is not long enough to recover from this one.  Better go finish dinner while he is absorbed in the match of the season; and his umpteenth beer. He wants food by six.

As she fumbles for a clean tissue in her apron pocket, she finds the business card. Her heart skips a beat. She put it there, but forgot to throw it away. The letters and numbers on it swim into recall. It was a chance meeting this morning.  She escapes from her immediate abuse with a sigh and a dreamy smile. The smile hurts the closing eye and she winces.

When they had both stopped in recognition, eons between now and then vanished. She flicked her long blonde fringe expertly over old bruises when she greeted Tim. He looked excited to see her.

“Where have you been all these years?”

Her forced cheerful explanations couldn’t hide emotional and physical pain. She caught a flash of something in Tim’s eyes as he gave her his card.

“I’m in the area for a week, let’s catch up some time, if you can.”

She did not miss the quick glance to her covered eye. Embarrassed she hastened away with a feeble excuse; intent on never bumping into him again.

Halfway down the stairs now, aching in unseen places, she reconsiders that invitation. But quickly changes her mind as she hears her husband’s snort in disgruntlement. No, she cannot aggravate the situation.

The TV madness is suddenly interrupted with an important announcement. His drunken cursing overlaps what sounds like a global warning. She stops at the landing and leans over the balustrade to get a better view, but quickly pulls back as he gets up to fetch another beer. She hears the fridge door open and leans over again to see the full screen president of the USA.

Stern. Serious. More terrorist attacks?  She holds her breath, hoping the beer will take a while. Straining to hear beyond the kitchen clutter.

“… an asteroid the size of Hawaii is approaching Earth. Its impact is computed to be in the Atlantic Ocean and is estimated to happen in 90 minutes from this announcement. It will destroy all life on earth …”

The message fades away as she absorbs and analyses at the speed of light. Little more than an hour left of life?  In the time it takes him to settle back on the couch, the news flash is done.  She’s made up her mind. She slips out the back door as she hears him flicking through channels to find his match and calling for his supper.

She dials the number on the card as she runs towards the place of their chance meeting.

“It’s me” she says, “I need to see you immediately.”

She can hear in the casualness of Tim’s reply he doesn’t know yet.

“Sure, where?”

“Can you pick me up at the Supermarket from this morning?”

“Convenient. I am just across the road, The Royal, room 503; why don’t you come up?”

Her legs move on their own accord. Five minutes wash away all inhibitions. Years of restraint now seem senseless. She knows who she wants to spend the last minutes of her life with. She always knew.

The foyer is deserted; she won’t have to wait for the elevator. She stumbles out on the fifth floor as others rush in. His bedroom door opens almost immediately. She falls forward into his arms. The way he holds her tells a million tales.

He knows.

He knows about the asteroid.

He knows she always knew, because he did too.

He knows she always wanted to confess, but she feared to acknowledge it.

They don’t speak. They hardly breathe. A lifetime of missed opportunities and wasted emotions spill over them in silence.   She glances at her watch. By now her husband must be breaking down their flat in his search for his usual victim. How dare she ignore his calls for supper? It is five minutes past dinner time.  She pulls away from the embrace.

“Did you hear….?” Tim puts his finger to her lips.

“No time for senseless questions. Let’s just remember and share.”

He walks over to the minibar. Opens a bottle. Hands her a glass.

“I want to know you, before I lose you – again”

“This time, we will be together, forever. An end to this, but a chance on a new life. Riding an asteroid into a new world?” she manages to smile.

She doesn’t try to hide the bruises.   He sits and listens.  She sits and talks.  Time stands still. As he touches her swollen cheek, a slight shudder runs through the building.

Is this it?

Tim pulls her up into a long awaited embrace. His warm breath close to her ear.

“Now it is time to forgive,” he says. “I can’t have you while he still possesses you. Albeit through hatred or resentment. Forgive him and let him go.”

She sobs.   How can she?   So much wasted time? So much hurt? So much pain? So much fear?  How is it possible?

He kisses her tears away gently. And opens the curtains – the sun is setting red above a city filled with chaos and noise. Everyone and everything in a rush to somewhere or someone. Or nowhere.

“Look,” Tim says. “We are lucky. We are together. We have each other.”

The horizon turns dark and the pandemonium continues in the streets below.

“You are right”, she lifts her face to be kissed, “I forgive”.

As Tim bends over her the last thing she sees is a wall of blackness rolling towards them…

THE END

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Prompt:- A Conversation with my spouse    Word Count:- 1200 words      Genre:- Horror

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MESSY                                                                                                             by Annalie Kleinloog

Apprehension thickens the already tense atmosphere in the room. I look around. I’m not alone – as usual. But somehow, I feel desolate.

There is a their side and our side. Our side is hushed with an occasional fumble in a handbag. Both sides have monitor screens and cameras and I know somewhere out there is someone observing every move in here. I’m not sure if that is a consolation or a concern.

The other side is empty now, but muffled voices behind closed doors belie the quiet scene. Footsteps echo from bare passages. Although I know the rules, my palms are sweaty. I also know today will be the last I ever set foot here.

My mind chooses an escape to another time.

Everyone was happy then, I thought. Our journey together started the proper way. We followed the pattern. We met, courted, fell in love and got married. I worked as the provider and every day when I arrived home, she was there. It was all so orderly and normal. The house was spotless, nothing out of place.

Every day she waited for me with the same smile and the same kiss and the same

“How was your day, Sweety?” I was content.

Why wasn’t she? What went wrong? Or was it always there and I never noticed?

Maybe the towels didn’t have to be folded exactly that way, but it was a small effort to keep her happy. Or maybe the magazines could have looked as nice without being arranged alphabetically; later it was just easier for me not to read. That was also why I had my own coffee mug hidden under the sink, so as not to disturb the rows of mugs – ears all pointing in the same direction like soldiers on parade. Yes, I managed to make it easier for her.

Until the day they came to fetch me from work. Two stern men in suits. I thought something had happened to her. I was wrong. Everything changed that day, most of all – her.

Crunching keys in overused locks startle me back to the present. Chains scrape in rhythmic unison with shuffling feet on shiny floors. A wordless prayer sprouts from my heart to any entity listening, “Please let her be reasonable today.”

I breathe deep with her every approaching step. It seems to work, because by the time she sits down, I’m calm. Almost indifferent, I observe surprised. Relieved. Indifference is painless.

“Have you missed me?” the sneer comes from behind cracked lips. Pain jumps back at the memory of once kissing those lips, alluring then. She wisps the once sun-kissed hair over her shoulder. Her cold eyes focus on my face; her voice is husky. Cigarette smoke hangs between us, swirling around the metal bars and gratefully diluting other bodily odors. I cannot muster the smile I was planning and merely wipe my eyes. “I used to,” I say instead.

I used to believe she was innocent too.

I used to love her.

I used to think she was beautiful.

I used to hope it was all a misunderstanding.

I used to think the nightmare would end.

“What can I entertain you with today, Sweety?” She cups a breast buried in heavy uniform fabric, suggestively shrugging her shoulders. She laughs roughly at my wince. I look away, finding the pen and open the document I have on my lap.

Her eyes narrow. She leans back and put her feet on the bars between us, dismissing me. I see the guard approaching, baton ready. So does she. She drops down and hisses, “You can go fuck yourself!” I pretend not to hear and surprise myself with a calm and collected appeal, “I can’t come back again for this. Ever. Please just sign it.

“Don’t you first want to know WHY I did it?” she asks, almost coquettishly.

The guard taps the baton on his folded arms. “We are running out of time” I sigh.

“Just sign the divorce papers. And NO! I don’t want to know. It‘s bad enough to know you actually did it. It’s unthinkable that innocent children had to suffer. It is absurd to know I NEVER knew…” my voice trails off. I feel the familiar strangling choke I experience every day and every night since she was arrested.

I feel my stomach heaving. I know sooner or later I’m going to vomit, but I can’t stop my outburst. “They are still digging up bodies.” I manage to get out, barely audible. “It has been months and still distressed parents must identify little mangled corpses!”

I swallow. Bile sits between my voice and my guts. Bitterness is hard to control, whether physical or emotional. My emotions are now unstoppable, the revulsion pours out, “Innocent children on their way back from school … you lured them into OUR kitchen! Then you processed and packed them as if they were chicken pieces, ready to be packed for consumption.” My head jerks up at the thought.

My eyes meet hers with equal chill. But horror replaces mine when she averts her stare to inspect her short nails casually. “Yes”, she says conversationally, like it is a matter of sunshine or rain. “And then I buried them in the park across the road! Teeheehee.”

I recoil at her giggle. “You are sick!” I managed through gritted teeth.

She shook her head in disbelief, “No, I didn’t bury them myself, Silly! It was soooooo easy to find helpers. You know the municipal gardeners come every Tuesday and every Thursday? Two days a week. So convenient.”

She is done studying her nails and leans closer, nose almost touching the bar. As if confiding in me. “They believed me when I told them it was a biodegradable bag full of lovely compost. So every Tuesday and Thursday they would nourish their precious plants by burying my donation amongst the shrubs.”

The casualness overrides all my willpower. The envelope is still on my lap and I reach it just in time. With my stomach settled, I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and put the envelope carefully in the bin meant for tissues. “And at the time we discussed the horrors of serial killers and the incompetence of the police!”

The document gains a few more marks as I sob.

“All I want is to have nothing to do with you, forever – sign this NOW!”

She makes a small sucking sound between her teeth, smiles and grabs the pen. The guard steps closer. She scribbles dutifully and flicks each page to me glancing innocently at the guard.

I’m exhausted, but feel relief wash over me as the guard taps the clock on the wall and announces solemnly, “Time.”

I gather myself and the messed up pages. In a very calm almost serene voice, she says: “Get a grip on yourself, Sweety. It is very untidy for a man to weep. Or to throw up in public. Oh, and have your shirt dry-cleaned before your next visit.”

I look at her in disbelief. “There is not a next time.” I turn as I say it.

“You can get killed for being messy!” she sing-songs.

A shiver runs down my spine.

THE END

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