Monthly Archives: May 2016

We Remember You….

From the writers at Stories My Friends Started:

We want to send out a huge thank you to the men and women who have given their lives in service for this country. Without you, we would not experience the amazing freedoms and opportunities that we all share.

Thank you again.

On this day, as with everyday, we remember you!

The Authors of the SMFS

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Bad Day at Work by Dalia Lance

To Mark Etheridge: Your line made me laugh my ass off!

Her eyebrows were painted on, but too high, so she always looked surprised…

It had taken Mandi over three months to get used to Maria’s eyebrows. She was a very attractive woman with the exception of her drag-queen type eyebrows which seemed to have actually gotten a little higher since they first met.

Mandi’s daughter Sarah had wanted to join a Daisy troop, but since there were none in the area, they had settled on a Brownie troop that was in desperate need of a co-leader. This shouldn’t have been a bad decision. Unfortunately, staring at a room covered in flour and sugar, Mandi was 1000% sure this was the worst decision she had made as a parent.

Maria had seemed like a very dedicated parent and brownie leader when Mandi was first introduced to her that first night. In fact, it seemed like she had been the victim of some bad luck, with three other co-leaders dropping out of the program on her.

Mandi had actually felt a little pity and immediately signed on. Sarah was thrilled. When they arrived a little early for the first official troop meeting, Maria walked up and was standing only inches from Mandi when she said, “Did you read the manual?” Her eyebrows making her look surprised and angry at the same time. Her hands were fists on her waist. “Manual?” Mandi asked, unable to break eye contact with the eyebrows now looming at her.

“Yes! The Manual,” she said, pulling out a binder so large it would put an encyclopedia to shame from her bag. Mandi hadn’t even been told there was a “Manual.” She carefully explained this to the eyebrows, and Maria apologized saying she was a little on edge from work. Mandi had that first time decided to dismiss it; everyone has at least one bad day.

When she found out Maria was a stay-at-home mother, it began to get a little weirder. Mandi had volunteered that first night to help the girls achieve some baking and cooking badges as she made cakes as her business and when she proposed the idea, the eight girls in the troop, and Maria, seemed thrilled.

So, on the third meeting she brought all the supplies for the girls to make a small batch of six cupcakes each. It started out fine and well until Maria’s daughter decided to launch her bowl of dry ingredients at her mother who, in the girl’s defense, was being particularly bossy at that moment.

Maria then jumped up and started grabbing the bowls of flour and sugar off the tables and slinging it all over the room as the troop members watched, some in shock, a couple crying and two of them giggling.

This went on for about ten minutes until Maria slumped to the floor, covering her face with her hands and she began sobbing. Mandi walked over to her after getting the girls started on cleaning up. When she put her hand on Maria’s shoulder, she jumped, startled, and Mandi now saw the famous eyebrows smeared across her face.

Trying not to laugh, Mandi asked, “Bad day at work?”


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Give us a Story Starter….

Did you know that we rely on you, our friends, our fans, to give us the spark to start an amazing story?

Send an email to and send the opening line to a story. Make sure you include at least your first name (or a nickname) so we know who to dedicate it too!

The more starters we get, the more stories we write.

We look forward to hearing from you!


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Great Things by Nicole Dragonbeck

For Kat Tozer – see, that wasn’t so hard was it 😉

There was too much pressure…I tried, and nothing.

Jon couldn’t believe it. He blinked and looked around, hoping to see the telltale sparks, or the golden egg he had thought he was conjuring. He had practiced this spell for weeks before the Trial. Jon hung his head, hands still held out in the spellcasting position. He lowered them slowly, and clenched them into fists at his side.

The Masters mumbled among themselves and shuffled papers, peering over different colored glasses.

“Was that it?” the Master on the far left asked.

“Um…yeah,” Jon said. “No! I mean, no. I wasn’t trying to do that.”

“And what were you trying to do, exaclty?” another Master asked.

“Uh…well, I was trying to…” Jon trailed off. What was he supposed to tell them.

“Well, mister, uh…” the Head Master paused, looking down at the paper he held in his hand, searching for a name. “Mr. Ryan, thank you for coming for the Trial, we’ll consider your application to this highly esteemed establishment of higher learning, and get back to you as soon as we possibly can.”

“Thank you Head Master,” Jon said. “And Masters. I hope you’ll…”

“Yes, thank you Mister Roland, that will be all,” the Head Master waved another applicant forward. “Next!”

Jon shuffled away, noting with jealous eyes the confident swagger of the oncoming student. The next Trial wouldn’t come for another Blue Moon, which by the calculations of the Royal Mage’s calender wouldn’t come for another fifty-three years.

Jon wandered outside the cavernous Trial hall. He had been training and practicing for this test his whole life. He knew he wasn’t the best or most talented wielder of magic in the four realms, but he had never thought about the possibility of going blank at the crucial moment and failing. And he didn’t even fail with style or flair. There were stories of potential students who had given a Master a bright purple beard or burned down the testing hall.

Wondering what he was now going to do with his life, now that he had no money, and little potential, Jon stepped off the grand campus and into the boulevard. He looked left, then looked right. Neither direction appealed to him. So he looked up into the bright, cheery sky, hoping for an answer to what was left of his life.

“Pssst!” a voice hissed.

Jon looked around in surprise.

“Pssssssst!” the urgent summons came again.

It sounded like it was coming from the bushes lining the imposing white stone wall around the university.

Jon went over and knelt down, peering into the shadows beneath the leaves. The leaves scratched at his face as he moved further into the bush, until he found himself nose to nose with a thin, older man with a shining purple beard.

“Hello,” the old man winked. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Jon answered. “What are you doing?”

“Are you now?” the man said, ignoring the question. “I heard you just bombed the Trail.”

“Well, that’s a harsh way of putting it…” Jon began, but the man held up a hand.

“How would you like another opportunity to further your studies?” he asked, grinning widely.

Jon noted his teeth were as purple as his beard.

“Um…thank you mister…?” Jon said.

“Master. Master Semdun,” the man said, sticking his hand out in an awkward gesture.

Jon shook the man’s hand. “Master Semdun, I’m afraid I don’t think…”

“Yes, I can tell that about you,” the Master said. “Fortunately, you’re just the type we’re looking for.”

“What?” Jon said, thoroughly bemused.

“Won’t you just come and see?” Master Semdun coaxed. “I promise, you’ll decide to stay if you just give it a chance.”

Jon thought about it. It wasn’t like he had another option. “Okay,” he shrugged.

Master Semdun grinned even wider, and yanked Jon further into the bushes. Jon expected to run into the wall, but it never came. They just went deeper and deeper into leafy darkness. Then the ground dropped out from underneath Jon. He was sliding down a tunnel, and was dropped neatly into a crate of hay.

Jon climbed out of the crate, spitting hay out of his mouth, and gaped at where he found himself. Under the University was a whole…was a whole…Jon couldn’t quite tell what it was. It looked like a city square. Twelve large archways led to alcoves, but as far as Jon could tell, that was it. The space was full of people, color and sound, with no discernible order or pattern.

Nearby, a young woman was blowing up balloons then popping them with a large knobbly wand; when they exploded, showers of golden bubbles rained down on her. Under the closest brick archway, an old man was carving horrible and comedic faces into pumpkins, then enchanting them to life. Another younger man looked like he was trying to teach a black cat tricks, without much luck. A girl was stirring a bubbling concoction in a black cauldron; when she tested her brew, her skin turned bright yellow, then purple and she giggled, admiring her hand. A boy was playing a pipe, making a girl’s golden hair grow by the foot, coiling around her feet. Another person was making different parts of his body disappear and then reappear.

“What is this place?” Jon asked.

“This is what I like to call the Underground Talent Chamber,” Master Semdun said proudly.

Jon stared at him, blinking.

“This is where everyone who doesn’t pass the Masters’ Trial come to continue their education,” Semdun said.

“So this is where the rejects go?” Jon said.

“We don’t condone negativity here,” Master Semdun said with a reproving frown. “This is a place to learn, to grow, and to discover who you could be.”

Jon looked around again. Now the one girl was a bright green color, and the other had hair wrapped around her body all the way to her neck. The man with the pumpkins was pulling faces at one pumpkin, which was mimicking him.

“This is a nut house,” Jon said.

“We might be a little unusual,” Master conceded. “But most people who advance the world are not normal.”

“And you want me here…why?” Jon asked.

“Because you might be the one to discover the elixir of life, or invent the never-ending ball of unbreakable string!” Master Semdun exclaimed.

Jon leaned back to avoid being hit by the enthusiastic waving of the Master’s arms. “And why would anybody want a never-ending ball of unbreakable string?”

“You’re missing the point,” Master Semdun said. “You can do great things. We believe in you.”

“Great things? Like what?” Jon said, rubbing his chin.

“Anything you want,” Master Semdun said. “What do you say?”

Jon thought about it for half a second. “Where do I sign in?”


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Hide & Seek by Nicole Dragonbeck

For Jenna Wakely, because she was there.

Jenna was here.

Hatch looked up at the unmistakable track and sighed. The fairy princess was really bad at this game. Though she didn’t literally leave words written in the air behind her, she many as well have. Hatch put his hands on his hips,and tried not to feel violated.

He was a BlackWing, one of the highest orders of Fairy Guard. He was an elite soldier, trained for sensitive diplomatic missions and handling unusual tactical situations. Babysitting the royal offspring was beneath him, but today he found himself doing just that. Raising his eyes further to search the heavens for some answer as to why he was being served this special torture, Hatch took a deep breath.

“Ready or not, here I come!” he called out.

For an instant he entertained the idea of pretending not to see the fairy glitter shining like a beacon, but then he decided it would do her good to learn something while playing. The trail led him unerringly to where the young girl was hiding under a fern leaf so heavily dusted with glitter it touched the ground. Hatch bent over and peered under it.

“Found you,” he said.

Jenna pouted, but she didn’t look very upset. “My turn!” she said.

Hatch thought he may have been tricked into letting her search for him, but when Jenna smiled innocently at him he just shrugged and nodded. Jenna turned around and began to count in a high, ringing voice. Hatch watched her for a moment, unsure if he should be letting her out of his sight. If anything happened to her while she was in his charge, her father, the king, would have Hatch’s head and other choice body parts. But they were in the royal palace. It was ringed with a formidable wall guarded by Wall Guards, and the King’s Guard was always nearby; what could go wrong?

Hatch made his way towards the gazebo in the center of the garden. It offered a good view of the entire lay of terraced lawns, fountains, and stands of trees, and Hatch would be able to fly down in a flash if something went awry. He settled himself on the cushioned bench. Jenna was still counting. When she reached 100 and kept going, Hatch rolled his eyes.

“One-hundred-and-fourteen, one-hundred-and-fifteen, one-hundred-and-sixteen, one-hundred-a…”

Hatch started, waiting for “and-seventeen.” It didn’t come. He was perched atop the gazebo before he took another breath. His eyes roved over the greenery, trying to find Jenna’s sparkle. The one time in the whole universe when he needed it more than ever, it was absent.

He flew down to where he had left her and spun in a dizzying circle. She was no where in sight. He lit on the ground, put his hands on his hips and took long, slow breaths. He had to think this through logically. He couldn’t panic. He couldn’t…

Someone grabbed his arm in a bone-crushing grip, and tugged him back. He spun, preparing to deliver a death blow. Jenna put a finger to her lips, and pulled him more fiercely back. He followed the princess into the cover of the bushes, and opened his mouth to ask what was happening. Jenna slapped her hand over his mouth and pointed.

A huge creature lurked nearby. It stood next to a tree, and looked like an extension of the trunk, which explained why Hatch had missed it. When it lowered its head, Hatch bit his lip to keep from screaming. It was an ogre. Close-set, watery eyes blinked and sharp teeth stuck out at angles under a lump that was probably a nose. Or it could be a large wart.

He began to guide the princess away, his only thought to get her to safety. Then he could alert the King’s Guard and they could take care of the ogre. He made for the gazebo, thinking to put the structure between them and the ogre before making a break for the palace doors. They hadn’t taken a dozen steps when they heard quiet voices, not the pleasant, musical voices of the fairies but harsh and grating on the ears. Hatch pulled Jenna low and crept into the shadow of a giant fountain of mermaids and dolphins. Peering around a stone tail fin, Hatch saw a hunting party of goblins in black mail.

“What is this, an invasion?” Hatch growled.

Jenna’s eyes were wide. The princess had never seen a goblin before. Trees started shaking behind them. Hatch couldn’t decide which to look at, the ogre behind them, or the hunting party in front of them. When the goblins started to fan out, he made up his mind.

“Where did they come from?” he said. “What happened to the Wall Guards?”

“Look,” Jenna pointed.

Hatch followed her finger and saw the telltale sparkle of magic. It didn’t take long to figure that some wizard or mage had transported these goblins away, apparently with little thought for where they ended up. As Hatch watched the goblins try to determine where they were, an idea came to Hatch.

He glanced down at Jenna. It was going to be dangerous, and if the princess was in any way harmed, he really didn’t want to think want to think what would be done to him. But he didn’t have time to think of something else.

“Jenna, would you like to play a game?” he asked.

After he explained what he wanted her to do, he watched her scamper off into the gardens. When she had disappeared, he turned his attention to the goblins. They had formed up, and were advancing into the garden. Hatch took a deep breath, and leapt out waving his arms.

“Hey! Over here, morons!” he said.

While fairies had a distaste for goblins, goblins had a blinding hatred in return. When they laid eyes on Hatch, they no longer cared where they were. They had something to kill. They came at Hatch, howling and waving their swords.

“Exactly per the plan,” Hatch said, as he turned and ran backwards.

He knew exaclty where Jenna was by the thrashing in the trees. At least he hoped she was there.

“Jenna!” he called out, throwing a glance at the goblins running behind him him. “Jenna, where are you?!”

“Right here!”

The fairy princess was breathless, her face flushed. A trail of glitter followed her, and an ogre came staggering along the trail, sneezing and trying to wave the fairy dust out of his face. Hatch grabbed her hand, and pulled her off at a perpendicular.

“Turn it off!” Hatch yelled.

“Way ahead of you,” Jenna said.

In the middle of a small clearing ringed by white lilies, the glitter had stopped. So did the ogre, glancing left and right to see where the annoying creature had gone. The goblins came running right at the ogre, the skidded to an ungraceful stop. The ogre fixed on them, and growled. The goblins formed up, squealing and squeaking in their nasty voices.

“Quick!” Hatch told Jenna. “Run for the palace. Alert the King’s Guard.”

Jenna ran off. Hatch continued to keep an eye on the goblins circling the ogre as the ogre tried to grab the goblins and crush them in its big fist. The King’s Guard arrived moments later, and dispatched both intruders with efficient strokes.

Jenna came up, two silent bodyguards with stony eyes by her side. The had silver wings on their uniform, marking them as the most elite Fairy Guard in the land. The princess slipped her hand into Hatch’s.

“That was a fun game,” she said. “We should do that again.”


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Mother’s Day

To all the Mothers out there…

At Stories My Friends Started we know that you have more stories than almost anyone.

Being a mom gives you a live action reality show so you have non-stop material.

Thank you for all you do in creating amazing stories for and with your children. It means the world!

Happy Mother’s Day!


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The Isolation Simulation by Desiree Matlock

For Blake

That damn raccoon just stole my sandwich… again!

An empty zip-pack stares up at me innocently from beside my instruments on the top of the rock I’ve been using as my table, not even a crumb left inside. A tiny smidge of mustard on the top flap is all that proves I even had a sandwich. At the sound of scrabbling feet, my gaze shifts from my makeshift table to the fig tree a few strut-lengths away that the raccoon had apparently scurried behind, laden with vines. I won’t bother chasing him down, he is amazing at hiding. He’s been stealing my food for the last eight days, and at this rate, I only have two more days of food in this chamber with me, one if the raccoon keeps stealing my food. I needed to do a better job not letting myself wander from task, especially at lunch time.

I stand up and curse myself internally for being so absent-minded, glaring up briefly at the countdown clock. The timer anti-climaxed at 00:00:00 four days and some-odd hours ago, but long habit of looking at it a few times a day hasn’t yet been broken.

Not knowing what time it is out in the rest of the station is only the first visible symptom of the problems the clock’s idleness signifies.

I start walking in the direction of the crate that supplies me with food, on the other end of the chamber. Slow and steady, since time stopped mattering four days and some-odd hours ago.

It was supposed to be a twenty-eight day iso test. Twenty-eight days of isolation, not thirty-two. There were other things that I was supposed to be doing right now to prep for the excursion; part of a rigorous timeline until mission date. Yet, here I was, still in the box, and definitely not isolated enough. Damn raccoon. Why hadn’t the seals opened? Why was the test running long? Had I passed? Had I failed? Fuck if I know, or even care at this point. I just want out. I want dinner at the mess, surrounded by noisy, sloppy people chattering about station business and gossiping about their kids’ latest stunt. I want to hear Ty laughing about the stress on the struts of the observation deck being from horny teenagers using the area to fool around.

My empty stomach drops, I miss Ty so much. He’d be great company. Hell, any other human being would be great company right about now, but that damn raccoon is all I’ve got. And I have no idea how he got in here. It’s supposed to be an ISO exercise, meaning I’m to be completely alone. So far: no people, no dogs, no ship rats, no roaches — just the damn raccoon.

They told me to expect a simple sim of the kind of solitude I could expect down on the surface. Not to scale, obviously, because the surface was supposedly over a thousand times bigger than the station. And flat as a pancake when you were on it. Even though it looked as round as home from the observation deck. Hard to fathom. They’d made this room have a totally flat floor, to sim that aspect, and it had taken some getting used to at first.

I hop over the low waterway that zags across the massive chamber diagonally.

I approach the wall, and ignore my momentary flash of vertigo, holding the wild, directionless branches of a willow for comfort as I decompress the cool metal door of the storage compartment. The 90-degree angles weird me out. I spent the first week clinging to the center of the room, avoiding the walls. It’s gotten much better, but I still feel, illogically, like I’m going to fall off the room if I get too near the edges. I grew up as a deck hand’s child, and rose to hull walker. Obviously, both trades are completely free of right angles, aside from the occasional brace or strut. They might have put me in here to test my ability to deal with isolation, but to be honest, I didn’t start missing my mates for a good three weeks. I’ve managed that aspect way better than the unnatural flatness.

I check the display. Yup, there eight more food items available. That’s about two days. For whatever reason, I’ve favored sandwiches. They just feel more “adventure-y” than any of the other possible orders. And I want to eat what I want to eat. I key in the order for one turkey club, then open the crate’s hasp, and the vacuum hisses as the next very flat, hot sandwich pops out of the base. It will need a minute to hydrate before I can open the zip-pack. During which minute I sometimes daydream or forget to stay put, resulting in nasty thievery by tiny furry hands. Suddenly, it occurs to me how I’m going to get out of here. I’m relieved to realize that this also means I’m going to get another activity. There had been twenty-eight days only of activities planned as part of the test. I’d been twiddling my thumbs, bored out of my mind, since then. Today, I’d already repeated the activities from day three, just for the hell of it, which was why there was now a too-pruned set of rose bushes clustered somewhere along the starboard wall.

I walk back over to the rock, sandwich pack growing in my hand and cooling to ambient temperature as it expands and finishes forming. I scoop my gear into my pants pockets, wait until my lunch is ready, and open it. I eat half my sandwich and pull one edge of my crust off. I tuck my half-sandwich into my pocket and seal the velcro. The bit of crust goes on the rock, and I walk over to stand closer to the spot where I think the raccoon heads to — the far wall, just under the countdown clock. I give the clock one more look and then huff at myself. I really need to stop wasting effort looking at that clock.

The damn raccoon doesn’t come from where I thought he’d be, he turns out to be much closer than I expected. His brown head pops out of a hole in the ground beside the base of the fig tree, one I’d never noticed. What had the eco-mech told me that was called? Oh yeah: a burrow.

As he scrambles over to the rock to inspect the bit of crust, I walk up to his burrow, pulling an ore-sample scoop from my pocket. I extend it and start digging up the burrow.  The raccoon chitters at me to scold me then runs away with his crust, and he’s suddenly gone. Blast. I needed to know where he was going, but I can’t be two places at once. I keep digging at the burrow, and the air fills with the smell of ionizing soil as my digger cuts in. I’m at it for about 30 minutes before I clear the area and reach the sloped metal of the deck beneath. I stop digging at the first contact with the deck and switch instrument, using my metal stress-tester to check for flaws in the deck. I’m sure there must be, otherwise how did the raccoon get here to interrupt my privacy? The test comes up clean, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been unhappy to see that result. A perfect deck floor. Well damn. That theory is out. I lay back onto the dirt briefly, contemplating how the hell the little pest got here? He was much too large to slip between panels.

I’ve tried not to cut into the roots of the fig, but they’re quite a complex mesh. I use them like rungs to climb back out of the sizable hole I’ve made for myself. As I reach the top, the raccoon appears at the far end of my hole, chittering at me to complain.

I wipe my hands on my pants, and say, “How’d you get in here, little guy?” My rasping voice frightens both of us; we are utterly unaccustomed to language. The “little guy” starts walking away.

“Look,” I continue, “we both like sandwiches, apparently. I’ll share, if you’ll show me how to get out of here.”

He cocks his head, probably able to tell that I don’t mean it, and runs off. I run as fast as I can to keep up with him, but he’s gone faster than I can catch up. We’re not too far from the aft wall, so I run my scanner over it, and find nothing. No flaws in the wall. I decide to walk the perimeter checking for stress anywhere on the outside walls, and find none. This is apparently the best engineered room in the whole damn station. Well, I’m fucked. There’s no way out of this place.

I give up on the problem for the moment and decide to take a nap. I lay back down onto some ferns at the base of another tree, which I idly think might be a eucalyptus. I realize I walked every wall in the place, and never felt even a little dizzy. Not too shabby. This hull walker (sixth class) might just make a good surface walker after all.

If I ever get out of here. I drift off into sleep quite discomfited by that thought, but too tired from the day’s activities to care.

After my nap, I carefully avoid looking at the countdown clock. To hell with the clock. It’s time to get out of here, is what time it is. I realize I haven’t yet checked the pre-existing ingress points, the ones engineered into the room. The decks might be pristine, but the shafts are all weak points.

I study the ceiling at length until I spot the right place. It’s been holo’d to act like sky, but obviously there have to be mechanics behind that holo. I spot the point where I’d have chosen to place the projector, and I start climbing the tree just below it, a very large mata palo. As I reach the tree top, the holo fades. It’s hot up here. The tree’s highest branches are now shown to be practically brushing the ceiling. Being a hull walker means I think of thin struts, practically wires, as walkable, but this trees branches are weak and brittle. They almost snap under me until I grab a handful of smaller offshoots and pull them together. Squeezing them between my legs as I shimmy and sway, I can barely reach the ceiling, but I manage the scan, check the integrity of the projector’s hook-up, reading the controls, wiping sweat from my brow. The controls aren’t coded, since they hid them well. If I wanted to, I could change the sun,, but I don’t see the point in messing with that – it won’t get me out any sooner. The connections are fine.

Damn. I mean, great for the engineers. They did a good job, but bad for me. I didn’t really think that one through anyway. What did I think, that the raccoon would have fallen into the room from above? Not likely, and he certainly wouldn’t have jumped that far, would he?

No, he probably came in through the walls. The perfect walls. Huh.

I notice that the light is fading, and I never ate my dinner. I climb down, and sit on the widest part of the tree’s trunk while I eat the other half of my sandwich. Then, I walk over to the food crate, and order all of my remaining seven meals as sandwiches. I pop them all into my pockets for later.

The raccoon is watching me from a ways away. I can feel his beady little eyes on me, even though I can’t see him. Well, he’s not getting these sandwiches.

I start walking the perimeter again, this time using the right equipment to check for faults in the few shafts that released into this room. None of them should have been insecure in any way, but I have to check. The raccoon had to get into iso somehow.

I can hear the animal chittering away, so I look behind me at the low waterway running at an angle through the room, where he’s washing his hands. Dip. Scrub. Dip. Scrub. He can be kind of cute, for a little thief.

I continued circling the room, looking for flaws in the points of ingress into the room. I manually check every point where there are controls. Apparently, I need a passcode to adjust the temperature or humidity. Great.  After circling the room yet again, I’m too exhausted to continue, and there are still no ways out. The only area I can control appears to be the hatch behind which my food crate reposes, empty and useless.

I’ll check it in the morning more thoroughly. Meanwhile, I’m going to sleep. This is a wasted day, but at least I’m not sitting around doing nothing. I check to make sure my pockets are locked, and curl up against the wall. I’m asleep before you can say boo.

I dream of Ty and I on a hull walk, enjoying banter, checking the plating for debris. My mags cut out and I slip out into space, floating away silently. I can’t breathe. I can see Ty, and he’s watching me calmly. How does he not know I’m outside the atmo? I wake gasping, crying, in the dark. I really want to get out of here. Where is everyone? Why am I still in here?  I try to go back to sleep, but can’t. I wrestle with my thoughts until the holo gives me dawn. Day thirty-three begins.

I stand, stretch, and run my hands through my hair. I’m out of ideas. This has to be it. I open the hatch, pull out the food crate, and inspect the entire area. I spend an extra hour on it. There’s no sign of a way out, and I need to eat again.

I spend most of the rest of the day rechecking everywhere from the day before, with no different results, except now I’m down to four sandwiches.

There are no holes in this room. But then how did the raccoon get in?

The raccoon is at the waterway again. I watch him fastidiously washing his hands, and decide I need a bath. Not a shower. A bath. A nice, relaxing soak. They’re a rare delight, and while I can’t adjust the temperature of the water, I can at least climb in.

I wander to the water’s edge, and the damn raccoon scurries off again, no doubt to a brand new burrow. I follow the water’s edge looking for a deeper spot. I reach the wall, where the water gets sucked through for filtration, and there still hasn’t been a deep enough area to bathe in. I walk back the way I came, finally finding a slightly deeper spot, near the origin point of the water. I undress and wade in, then sit down. I hold onto a rock half-submerged in the water while I adjust to the change. The water is cold and refreshing, and I eventually settle myself, laying down in the water deeply enough to cover my head all the way to my brow. It feels great. It sharpens my senses, and I find a nice peaceful moment.

It’s a lucky thing the water is filtered. It must get sucked into the sub-deck, scrubbed and pushed back out at this end. If I sit here long enough, I’m bound to feel the same water run past. I didn’t see any controls for the waterway around the perimeter, but maybe over here near the origin point…

Suddenly, I get it. I figure out how to leave. I have no idea how the damn raccoon got in, but it doesn’t matter. I know how I’m getting out.

I scramble out of the water, get dressed again, letting the water drip down my body. I don’t care, it will hardly matter. I check my pockets. Oh hell no. I’m missing another sandwich!  That damned raccoon ate another one!

My blood boils. This is getting ridiculous.

How did he even get into my locked pockets? Whatever. I lock my few remaining sandwiches away, check that everything else is there, and wade back into the water about a foot and turn around, squatting in the mud.

I run my hands everywhere along the banks, both sides, between the deep spot and the origin point of the water. I know full well where I would have placed the controls if I were hiding them, and I find them not too far from there, tucked in beneath a few mangroves. I brush away the silt and stare at my luck. As I suspected, the controls were hidden, not coded!

I turn up the temperature — I’d need all the warmth I can get — until the water is almost too hot to stand, then I adjust the controls. No scrubbing, just dump it. I turn up the volume so it will rise to its highest possible level. I continue to tweak settings but the water is so high I almost can’t keep a foothold. I grab onto a mangrove root, and adjust the water’s speed, at which point the volume increases even further, and the forest floor is totally submerged. Dirt is churning into a thick muddy soup around me.

As I let go of the mangrove root, the water starts carrying me away, along with everything else not anchored. I hear loud chittering. The raccoon doesn’t sound happy. He’s almost certainly about to get swept downstream with me. A raspy angry screech confirms it.

Sorry little guy, you might die, and so might I, but it’s better than starving to death slowly in here.

The water is difficult to keep my head out of, and I take big gulps of air in preparation for what I know is coming, hot water rushing around me, towing me under.

As I approach the far wall, I take the deepest breath I can, and then completely submerge myself, hoping the systems won’t see me as me, just another part of the muck. As I pass through the far wall my nose passes too close by the field’s edge — that was close. The beam tickles and I force myself to keep holding my breath.

I’m being carried through the sub-deck, and I continue to hold my breath, sometimes semi-surfacing but not long enough to trust it. The water spirals down the pipe, and I feel a slip of fur slide past so I grab onto it, just as it’s almost past my reach. I shove the raccoon against me, tucking him under my arm while he wiggles relentlessly. We both get smacked into by something hard, but nothing’s broken. At least on me. I shove my unlikely traveling companion more securely under my shoulder, wishing I could harness him. It would limit mobility to hold onto him, but hey. I can’t just let him fly off into space.

Great, now I’m going to drown in deep space because I couldn’t help myself, I had to save a stowaway. The pipe releases into a larger channel, and I am now mostly above water, so I grab a few fresh lungfuls of air before I’m submerged again. The raccoon’s struggling has calmed down. He must be too confused to care about me holding onto him.

I measure out the distances between this subchamber and the hull, watching in my mind’s eye as various key spots rush past me. I’m already aching to breathe. It’s only been a few seconds, but my adrenaline state has me using up my oxygen faster than anticipated.

I’m at the hull before anticipated, and I have barely a split second to reach out and grab at the metal before I leave the containment field and enter zero atmosphere. My arm slams into a brace, and it slows me but I slip to the farthest beam as the water bashes into me. One handed, I’m in raw space for less than a second before the raccoon panics and scrabbles, clinging to my chest, holding on well enough for me to use both hands to grab the support, at which point, I’m back into the hull atmo, back where I know what I’m doing. Clinging to the very edge of home. And suddenly quite dry and quite cold, my hair staticky and wild.

I climb my way past the rushing water as it thrusts itself out into raw space and disperses, misting me and warming my fingers. I’m sorry I had to waste the experiment’s water ration, but damned if I was going to die just to follow rules. The paperwork on this is definitely going to be a bitch, though.

I climb, raccoon-chested, up to the closest portal, cold seeping through my clothes again.  I key in the station’s access code and the seal opens. One hull walker and one terrified raccoon back in the real world. There’s a potted fern in the wall recess of the seal, as per usual with the business district’s lobby spaces, but I’m unable to look at it without laughing. This tiny entryway is just looking too much like my home of the last few weeks. Just me, a racoon, a few sandwiches and one too many plants. I slap the button to seal me in and open the door. No damned codes. Thank the gods!

The door hisses open, and the raccoon instantly jumps off me, running away into the station. Well that’s gratitude for you.

There’s no one at all in the lobby. I’ve never seen an empty hall this big. What the hell?

I walk through to the far end, dread building up in me. Where is everyone?

As I open the door at the far end, to the section L communications center, I see ten people lined up. Oh, thank the many gods. I leave the door wide open as I run in. I drop to my knees and cry-laugh for a moment, tears unstoppable. I’m just so glad to see people that I don’t even care how I look to them.

I am so tired now, I sink to the floor.  Ty comes over, looking concerned. “Are you okay?” He says, faintly, as darkness swims in front of my eyes.  What’s Ty doing here? I realize that the other people here are all uniforms, related to the isolation test.

The brass crowd around me. The oldest one pipes up, loudly, “Well done, hull walker sixth class. You just became a surface walker second class. You passed the raccoon test. And you’re the only one who did it without killing themselves or the raccoon, so that means mission captain, and a skipped class. Congratulations, citizen!” He pins something sharp to my breast.

What the hell was the point of that? I want to ask, but am just too fatigued. As I nod my acceptance, eyes half-closed, down on the soft blessedly dirtless carpet, I turn my head, absently scanning for the countdown clock. I roll my eyes at my pointless habit again.

No way. Against the far wall, I see my raccoon friend, turning another sandwich in his hands, nibbling on the corner. I can’t help it, I crack up.

“Must be emotional stress from the test,” the nearest officer says.

I’m drifting, but I hear Ty pipe in “…be fine in a few days, I’m sure…” I drape my tired hand across my chest, feel the sandwich pocket, unlocked. Two sandwiches left. I pull them out and toss them to Ty and the bigwigs. I am way too tired to eat, but gods be damned if I am giving them to that damn raccoon.

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Filed under Désirée Matlock

Side Effect of the Superhero Project by Nicole Dragonbeck

For Laura Williams, a cute duck.

I am a duck.

This thought chased itself round and round Will’s head. He tilted his head and looked down at his body. Yes, feathers, wings, webbed feet. He was definitely a duck. He tried to speak, but when he opened his mouth all that came out was a loud and obnoxious quack!

He flapped his new wings frantically. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was all wrong. This was…all Francescas’s fault!!

He waddled across the room, fuming. Why had he let her talk him into this? Oh yeah, that’s right. She had batted her eyes at him, and he had fallen over himself to help her out with this dumb project.

It was supposed to give Will x-ray vision and super-strength. That was what Francesca had told him to convince him to participate in her school project. The idea had appealed him. Now he wished he’d never heard of the ridiculous Superhero Project, as she’d titled it.

That’s the last time I ever do that again. It doesn’t matter how prettily she smiles at me, Will thought. He just hoped to God this was reversible.

He blinked. The x-ray vision was a little distracting. And apparently with the super-strength came a strong desire to life incredibly heavy things. Which was kind of difficult with the side effect of being a duck. Will started to hyperventilate.

She’ll be back tomorrow morning, Will remembered. To see what the effect of the potion was. She won’t be expecting this.

There was nothing he could do for the time being. He might as well go to sleep. At least that way he wouldn’t dwell on every awful possibility he could be faced with. He went to his bedroom, flapped up onto the bed, and settled in the middle of the pillow. Tucking his head under his wing, trying not to be distracted by the sight of the bones in said wing, he managed to fall asleep.

“Hello?” a faint voice from the front of the house woke him.

The sun was streaming through the window. Will shook his head, disoriented. It was his room, but it looked weird. Why was he sleeping in such an odd position? And why was the hallway visible through the wall?

“William?” the voice called again. “Will, where are you? It’s nine o’clock.”

There was someone in the kitchen, moving through the hall to the back of the house. Francesca!

Will tried to call out, but a squeak and a quack came out instead. Everything came rushing back to him. He was a duck with x-ray vision, and she was here to see what her potion had done to him.

Damn! Will fell off the bed, skidded to the door, and flew into Francesca’s face as she poked her head into his room. She screamed, and Will got a moment’s satisfaction in causing such an effect. When she tried to kick him, he rethought his plan.

He quacked at her, trying to say something she would understand. Only duck came out. Thinking quickly, he flapped into the kitchen, hoping she would follow. After a moment, he heard her footsteps coming after him.

The glass the first potion had been in was sitting innocently on the bench next to the sink. He flew up to it and tapped it with his beak. Francesca watched him warily. He tapped it again, and understanding dawned in her eyes.

“Will?” she said, eyes wide.

He nodded.

“What happened?” she asked when she had gotten over her fright, coming over to stand next to him.

Will quacked angrily, flapping his wings and trying to bite her fingers. She pulled out of his reach.

“Right, you’re a duck. You can’t exaclty explain,” Francesca said. “Calm down. This can be fixed. I think.”

Will sniffed. It better be able to be fixed. I don’t want to spend my life as a duck.

She picked up the cup, a layer of the potion she had concocted lining the glass, and looked at it with bright eyes.

“I’m certain I followed the formula,” she said. “I wonder what happened?” She glanced down at him.

He quacked a short barking retort.

“I know, I know. I’m going, I’m getting on it,” Francesca said, trying to sound soothing.

Will was not impressed and ruffled his feathers in indignation. She pulled her spellbook out of the backpack she was carrying and opened it to the middle.

“Now, there’s an antidote listed here, and hopefully it will take care of this little side effect,” she said, more to herself than Will.

It didn’t sound very promising, but it was all they had to go on, and Will wasn’t going to be much help, what with no opposable thumbs and a vocabulary of “quack.” Francesca began to mix up another potion, muttering to herself. After an hour, she turned to Will with a proud smile, holding up a glass that was filled with what looked like green milk.

She held it in front of him, and Will took a big gulp. It tasted like dirt and old socks, but he drank as much as he could. He tried not to think about what horrible thing could happen to him if this went as wrong as the first potion.

There was an explosion of purple and blue twinkles and a loud bang, and William was lying on the floor, completely naked. He was extremely happy to find he was also completely human again. His eyes were normal, and he no longer wanted to pick up a car just because he could. Will sat up and let out a whoop of joy.

“I’ll get you some clothes,” Francesca said, averting her eyes.

She left and was back in a minute with a pair of pants and a t-shirt. Will dressed, refusing to speak to her for the moment.

“So, what was it like being a duck?”

He turned to her. She had a notebook out, pen poised, looking expectantly at him.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“It’s for my project,” she said, batting her eyes at him. “It didn’t go as planned, I know, but if I put this into the report, I think the professor will be so impressed with my avant-garde…”

Will walked to the front door, opened it, and stared pointedly at her. She pouted. He didn’t back down.

“I don’t have time to put together an entire other project,” she said, pen still poised over notebook.

Will didn’t say anything.

“I’ll probably flunk,” Francesca tried again.

“Goodbye Francesca,” he said.

He closed the door behind her and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Well, that was quack!” He clapped a hand over his mouth, horrified. Steeling himself, he opened his mouth again. “Weird,” he finished.


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