Stories can be fleeting, wisps of ideas that remain distant and nebulous. Sometimes, the story is a haunting loss, remaining but a glimmer of an idea: The brunette woman running through the woods, chased by the unseen. The seaside, concrete prison, from which prisoners did not even try to escape. The ominous call of an enormous angry bird, frustrated at lost prey.
I like to believe that one of two things will happen. Either the story’s time will come, and the focus will sharpen…or perhaps it’s not your own story to tell. And that’s where prompts come in. These are the stories we do not write ourselves, but release in hopes their potential will be met regardless. So send in a trade, if you so choose, to email@example.com, and set your prompt free.
|Ray Krawczyk||The tire blowing out made the car veer sharply.||AC Young|
|AC Young||The hawk flew through the thunderstorm.||Fiona Grey|
|Fiona Grey||The castle was filled with the friendliest vampires [character] had ever encountered.||Becky Jones|
|Becky Jones||I jumped up in surprise when the wind blew the elf down the chimney. Luckily I managed to grab him before he caught fire.||Leigh Kimmel|
|Leigh Kimmel||It was supposed to be a simple task, to add one bit of functionality to the website. But it didn’t take long to discover that every change spawned more problems.||nother Mike|
|nother Mike||The film was not going well when Don Quixote rode onto the set…||Ray Krawczyk|
Or send in an spare, for it to spark an idea from those who read but do not write, or those who are passing through, or those who fear to feel the tempestuous wrath of a muse denied for far too long.
|Spare||The first birdsong of spring.|
|Spare||The teenagers took a hard left at the first line of code…|
|Spare||The knitted pattern was a labyrinth. And within the labyrinth, a minotaur…|
|Spare||You are the poltergeist, young and green, only seventeen…|
|Spare||Unfortunately, the mirror showed all the wrinkles she would have in her later life…|
And as you set your stories free, share them with the rest of us!
Header image by Fiona Grey, Toronto Skyline over Lake Ontario
An ANOTHER spare prompts an earworm! Now I want to go rewrite that entire song (which I sang with a friend in a karaoke bar in Prague…there was a LOT of beer involved!)
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For the record, I did NOT submit the knitted pattern spare.
I have a few lurking, but haven’t even submitted them… yet.
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In this week’s prompt cycle Ray Krawczyk provided my inspiration: The tire blowing out made the car veer sharply.
Were the protagonists in the car or outside the car? I went with outside.
A road ran through the forest. It led eventually to a large mansion in a clearing. But this was a rare section where it ran in a straight line for an appreciable distance.
The sound of a vehicle could be heard through the trees, coming from the mansion.
The mansion was the current residence of a former war criminal, who had purchased asylum from the local government. There was no extradition treaty, so a special forces team had been sent in to kidnap him. They bore no identifying marks, and would be condemned as mercenaries by their superiors should they be caught.
The sniper was stationed in the trees at one end of the straight section. He went on full alert, waiting to see what came around the corner.
It was a car, with a driver and a passenger. This was the opportunity they had been waiting for for the past week. The sniper prepared himself.
When the car was halfway down the straight section the sniper fired. The bullet flew true and pierced the right rear tyre. The tyre blew, and the sudden imbalance of force from the rear wheel drive caused the car to veer to the right.
The driver turned the wheel sharply to the left, and was able to bring the unwanted turn under control. But five seconds later the car went off the road and hit a tree.
The sniper packed up and headed off to the rendezvous point. The rest of the team materialised out of the woods and approached the stricken car, now venting steam from its damaged radiator.
Windows were smashed in and the team took advantage of surprise to hit the driver and passenger with anaesthetic darts. The driver was left in the car. He would be found sooner or later, but the longer that process took the better for the team.
The passenger was the war criminal they were after (fortunately, for this was a one shot operation). He was removed from the car, trussed up, and carried into the trees.
An hour later the team reconvened at the rendezvous point, and headed for the border with their prisoner. Time was now of the essence. Once the kidnap came to light the local forces would try to get the war criminal back if at all possible (and kill him if they couldn’t).
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Oh, and what did the war criminal do? (Though perhaps we don’t want to know?)
Hmmm. I hadn’t thought about it that much. The constraints are that it has to be serious, and that he ended up rich.
Given this, it would make sense for him to be involved in a mass slaughter, possibly an attempted/actual genocide. He was of high enough rank to be involved in organising it and issuing the orders, and was able to abuse his position to enrich himself from the goods that his victims left behind.
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Leigh Kimmel cranked out…
It was supposed to be a simple task, to add one bit of functionality to the website. But it didn’t take long to discover that every change spawned more problems.
Oh, oh, this is one that suits me too well…
[let’s see how this sounds…]
It started out as a simple request from the customer. All they wanted was to be able to change the background on their website. For different seasons, holidays, you know.
So, I agreed, and said it would take a week. I really expected I’d be done overnight, but giving yourself some leeway is always a good idea. Especially since I had not set up this website for them.
Then I started to dig through the code. Wait a minute. Patches, bits and pieces…
Okay, first steps first. Make a copy of the whole thing, and label my new version. Put the date right there in the folder name. And then, make darn sure that I did all my work on my private copy. We’d jump through the hoops to make it the working copy when I knew it was fixed.
Then I started digging through the code again. Of course, a search for background turned up nothing. Let’s see, it’s a simple red background. Nah, they wouldn’t… I tried running a search for red, and of course, that didn’t find anything, either. Something was putting the stuff up on the screen, though.
So I started reading the code. Found the main driver, and… okay, this part seems to be putting up the prompts. But what… I found a patch, and read through it. Okay, that… no, it can’t be. There was a hard coded number written right into the code. I checked, quickly, and… yes, that’s the old code for red. So this part right here makes the screen red?
I’ll admit, I couldn’t believe it. So I tried searching for that number. And found about a dozen other places where they had it. A quick check showed that the darn thing was hard coded in all those places!
Okay, so… how about a simple subroutine, just to put the red up there. And maybe use a variable, so changing the color would be easy? It took me 15 minutes to write the subroutine. And another half hour to write a little routine to let me change the color on the fly. Just a simple addition to the existing admin routines.
Then it took me a couple of hours to read through every one of those hard coded spots and rewrite them to use the subroutine.
Then I sighed, ran the whole mess through the compiler, and… the compiler blew up. Well, not literally, but the error messages showed it failed. Drastically.
When I looked at the part where it failed, it was pretty obvious. That wasn’t even the right language. Oh, I recognized it. But what was part of the code doing in assembler?
Digging through the read me’s and other parts, I found it. Someone decided that for this part of the web site, compiled code wasn’t fast enough? So they wrote this chunk in assembler, and you were supposed to run it through an assembler, and then use the resulting library. Okay…
I followed the instructions, and this time the whole thing sort of compiled. And ran. But…
Where did the text go? Darn it, the screen was red, but there should be words, too?
I dug back through the code. Aha. The text was being displayed, but the code was picking a complementary color… except it was looking for those darn hard coded values and couldn’t find them. And failing, miserably.
So how many places handled that display? Oh, good, only about twenty. Of course, they were individually written patches instead of a simple put string or anything like that. Time for another subroutine, I guess.
Several hours later, I tried again. This time, the screen came up red, and the text showed up, too. And then the screen flashed an error message! Error 387? What the heck?
Time to dig through the code again. 387… ah, there it is. I read the code around it, and chuckled. Someone had written some checks into the mess, which found my other changes to be too large. So it wanted me to run a set of tests against the whole code…
The tests… someone must have loved test code, because they wrote a lot of it. An independent little test suite, that ran tests on lots of things in this web site. And when I ran them, most of them blew up! Because they were written against an earlier version of the website, not the current mass of patches. Okay, so… let’s clean up the built in tests, and make a note that someone might want to fix the test suite. I dropped a read me into that set of files, just to make sure that anyone following me would know the test suite was not working…
I looked up, and realized that the sun was rising outside. And my back was aching. Time for a break!
Two days later, I thought I had most of it fixed. So I called the customer, and asked them to take a look at my test version. Make sure, before we switched the main site.
He came over, looked at it, and nodded when I showed him the new admin section that would let him change the colors. But then he shook his head, and bit his lip.
“You know, I hate to say it, but… is there any way to switch to one of those standard sites? You know, WordPress or something? Maybe an open source version?”
I looked at the ceiling, then at him.
“You… want to switch the whole site over? Just put this away, and use an off-the-shelf base? Why?”
He gave a little chuckle.
“Ah, I poked around a bit, and found out that if we use WordPress, I can use all kinds of backgrounds, text fonts, all kinds of stuff. And it would make maintenance a whole lot easier, I think.”
Now I nodded. Of course, it wouldn’t do anything for the 50 plus hours I had just spent trying to fix this pile of patches one more time, but…
“Okay. You just want the main screens and stuff, but built on a standard base, right?”
He agreed, and told me to get him an estimate for doing that as soon as I could.
After he left, I looked at the pile of notes I had made. Then I took a long, hot shower, ate some kind of breakfast, and laid down for a nap. I’d think about the new job later.
One little fix, right?
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Oh, the realism shines through on this one. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…
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[…] Week 3 of More Odds Than Ends prompts I received this on from Fiona Grey: The castle was filled with the friendliest vampires […]
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So polite! A vampire sanctuary.
[…] week on the More Odds Than Ends prompt challenge, AC Young challenged me with a prompt I twisted out of all recognition: The hawk […]
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Oooo… now you have to finish the story! Wow, what an intro to the academy! Very intriguing…
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And now I finally have mine up on my LiveJournal at https://starshipcat.livejournal.com/1089116.html. It’s turned out to be another piece of Phoenix in Cyberspace.
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“CUT! CUT! CUT!” The director yelled through his megaphone.
The mob of extras with their torches and pitchforks stopped their rumbles of anger and stood about sullenly, waiting for direction.
The director, Flloyd Del Alcazar had a reputation for brilliance. But was equally noted for the difficulty some stars had with him. Clashes were frequent, fiery and favorites of the scandal-mongers. He had risen to the pinnacle of success in Hollywood during the silent movie era. But, with the introduction of talkies, and not one, but three of his favorite stars failing to make the transition to new media, his star had waned. He was directing a monster movie. A monster movie! Such a thing would have been unthinkable ten years earlier.
Consequently, he was not used to working with extras.
Preposterous! Impossible! That was something B unit directors did! But, cruel fate had turned its hand against Flloyd, and here we were. We being Flloyd and me, his able assistant and girl Friday, Sandra Palmer.
Flloyd closed his eyes, pinched his forehead between his middle finger and thumb and turned on the extras. Whipping the megaphone to his mouth he yelled at them. “Your supposed to be a torch-wielding mob! Wield those torches! Gesture with your pitchforks! Make me believe you are aroused and coming to the windmill to kill the monster! Now, reset!”
Letting the megaphone fall to his side, he muttered to me, “This is the worst sort of trash movie. There’s no art, there’s just spectacle to keep the mob entertained.
“There is no movie so bad that it does not have something good in it,” I said.
Flloyd turned to look at me, querulously. “What are you saying?”
“I am saying that wit and humor do not reside in slow minds. The fault does not lie with the mob, who demand nonsense. But with those who do not know how to produce anything else.”
“I… I shall have to give your point some thought, Sandra,” he paused to give me a re-appraisal. Then, murmured half to himself, “What man can know the riddle of a woman’s mind?”
I turned to check on the reset of the extras, but looked back to catch Flloyd watching me walk away. My heart skipped a happy beat.
The extras were supposed to douse their torches in a trough of water, then deposit them in a barrel of oil in order for them to be ready for the next scene. As I approached the assembly area for the extras, a gout of flame erupted into the air. One of the extras had decided to shortcut the process and douse their torch in the barrel of oil. With predictable results.
I ran over as fast as I could, to see the crowd of extras circled around the flaming barrel of torches, and the property manager, Hank Myers standing there, fists on hips. His crushed fedora lay on the ground in front of him, while he spewed a non-stop stream of colorful invective.
“Hank! What happened?”
“Damnfool extras, that’s what happened!” Hank said, turning to me. “Oh, sorry miss Palmer. I’ll have this fire under control in a minute. I got some of my assistants bringing around another barrel of oil and some more torches. Ah, hold on a minute.” Hank turned away to scold an assistant running up with a baking soda fire extinguisher. “No! No! No! Baking soda extinguishers spray water! You never spray water on an oil fire! Ah, damnit boy, you turned it upside down! Jest put it down until it runs out of juice. No! Once you mix the water and soda you can’t shut it off. Jesus wept, boy. You ain’t got the sense God gave a goose. Now, go run and get the dry chemical sprayer.”
Hank took off his wire rimmed glasses to clean them with a handkerchief. “I’m sorry miss Palmer. Ya can’t hire good help these days.”
“That’s okay, Hank. You get things under control here and I’ll tell Flloyd that there will be a delay.”
I left Hank to get his property and extras sorted out and made my way back up the hill to find Flloyd perched in his director’s chair, megaphone standing upright next to him, biting the nails of one hand.
“Sandra?” He asked, a quaver in his voice. “What was that fire? Please don’t tell me it’s something that will delay the shoot.”
“Oh, just a little fire. Hank will have it under control in a minute. Nothing to worry about Mr. Del Alcazar,” I said, using a more formal version of his name in front of the crew, changing the film out of the camera behind Flloyd.
“We need to get this scene in the can tonight. It’s important that we keep to schedule and budget if we… if I am to get more opportunities to direct.”
The film was not going well when Don Quixote rode onto the set.
He was an old man, once broad and sturdy, but time had withered him, and given him a paunch. He had found an old cuirass somewhere. It was pitted with rust, but may have been a relic of the Spanish colonial period in California. His wore upon his head a leather football helmet. A garbage can lid served as a shield and a window hook was held in his other hand as a lance. His steed was an old, gray draft horse fitted out with a saddle too small for her flanks. A bit of rope bridged the gap between the girth strap and the buckle.
Flloyd, mouth agape, hurled himself out of his chair, turned back, fumbled for his megaphone and began shouting at the old man on the horse. “Stop! You maniac, have you gone mad? You can’t just ride onto my set!”
He reined in the horse, and it turned to confront Flloyd. For just a moment, the horse’s wild eyes narrowed and focused on Flloyd such that my heart quailed that he would be run down and dashed to pieces beneath her hooves.
The old man looked down at Flloyd, regally. “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
“This is a closed set! You’re not allowed to be here!” Flloyd shouted back.
The old man gestured with the window hook. “Look there, friend Sancho, and see that wild giant, with whom I intend to do battle and kill it, so with its stolen booty I can enrich myself. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
Flloyd looked around in the direction the old man was indicating. “What giant?”
“The ones you can see over there,” answered the old man, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look,” Flloyd began. “That is clearly a windmill, not a giant.”
“Obviously,” replied the old man with a patronizing look on his face, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
I had moved closer to Flloyd in reaction to the threat of the old nag trampling him. Perhaps I could push him out of the way before he was killed. I was coiled and ready to save him if need be.
Flloyd continued trying to argue some sense into the old man’s head. “No, you don’t understand. I’ve had to struggle and strive just to get this job. If you interrupt our shoot, we’ll fall behind schedule. I could be ruined.”
“It’s up to brave hearts, sir, to be patient when things are going badly, as well as being happy when they’re going well.”
Flloyd sagged slightly. “This is my last hope of being a successful director.”
I forgot myself then, and instead of standing by, ready to push Flloyd out of the way, I got closer, reaching out to clutch his arm to my bosom.
The old man noticed my actions and said, “Hope is always born at the same time as love.”
Flloyd glanced at me, then back to the old man. Clearly not picking up what the wise fool was saying, replied, “I’ll be ruined.”
” Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expect. He who’s down one day can be up the next, unless he really wants to stay in bed, that is.”
I don’t know why I chose to speak up at that moment, but I did. “Listen to him Flloyd.”
The old man reared his old steed and said, “Ere now, “There have been no embraces, because where there is great love there is often little display of it.”
The camera crew and the extras, even Hank and his assistants all drew closer, mesmerized by the old man’s mad ramblings. He looked at them, and then spoke to Flloyd, “It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight’s sole responsibility is to succour them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.”
Flloyd grew agitated then, “Stop! Don’t charge that windmill! You’ll be killed for certain!”
The old man, testing his equipment did not return his gaze to Flloyd, he merely spoke his final words to us, “There is a remedy for all things but death, which will be sure to lay us out flat some time or other. Until death it is all life, and I have never died in all of my life. Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.”
And with that, the old man spurred his horse and charged the windmill, his lance couched.
His horse must have had cataracts, because it wasn’t until it was six feet or less from the thinly constructed shell of the prop windmill, that it jerked to a stop. The rope bridging the gap of the saddle’s girth parted with a snap, and the old knight, his saddle, armor and weapons flew through the air, crashing through the thin wall of the make-believe building.
Flloyd, Hank, and I raced up the hill to the windmill, perched on the edge of the seaside cliff. There, we found a knight-errant sized hole in the façade of the prop windmill. Letting ourselves in through the front door, a matching hole in the back wall. Peering through to the rock and crashing surf hundreds of feet below, we could see no sign of the old poet.
We stood back from the cliff of madness, soberly.
Hank, muttering imprecations stalked off to call the police. Flloyd stepped up beside me, and unexpectedly wrapped his arm around me. “Was he mad? Or was he wise? Perhaps both, maybe neither is true.”
I didn’t have a response, being shocked at Flloyd finally noticing how I felt.
Flloyd escorted me outside of the windmill and over to the old man’s horse. He let it sniff at his hand and patted its nose and stroked its head. “Have you ever thought of leaving Hollywood, Sandra? Maybe going off somewhere and have an adventure?”