Odd Prompts, Week Four

We use clichés and tropes in writing not because we are lazy, but because we are in a hurry to get where we are going in the story. If the reader can parkour mentally off the strategically-placed trampolines of familiar structures, then they can follow the author into the meat of the plot without long pages of dry progress. Real life? You have to slog through it every minute and every step, and you never know what’s coming at you. Writing? Writing takes shortcuts and is the better for it.

nother MikeIt was a good plan. Too bad no one followed it…Fiona Grey
AC YoungThe weeping bird was so named because its song sounded like a lament. In some parts it was believed that if you heard its song in the morning it would rain before evening.Ray Krawczyk
Ray KrawczykThe unearthly glare of the alien light dissolved my emotions.nother Mike
Fiona GreyThe ink bled into the skin as the tattoo began to move.Leigh Kimmel
Becky JonesThe dragons and the elves met in the middle.AC Young
Leigh KimmelYou’re working your way through a building, trying to avoid the clusters of zombies scattered through it.Cedar Sanderson
Cedar SandersonThere’s no memory of licking the salt block, only of the slightly medicinal taste of the saltBecky Jones

If you didn’t have the time to commit to a prompt challenge, but you find yourself with the odd half hour and no brain to write with, check out a spare!

SpareAnd then the rabbit kicked in the doors…
SpareThe phone call came seconds too late.
SpareI’m pickin’ up good vibrations, that zombie’s got excitations…
SpareAnyone thinking the quest would be a cheerful teambuilding event didn’t realize that chaotic neutral lurked at the edge of the group.
SpareWhoever introduced zombie romance novels was gravely mistaken…

And then return it, in the form of the prompt response, in the comments below. The group doesn’t bite… much. Ok, not at all. Gum? That’s a different story. And you there… put away that tongue!



  1. I could make a claim that my ex-wife and I invented the Zombie Romance genre. Way back in 2000, there was a TV show called Project Greenlight. My ex and I submitted a script, “Maneater”, that was one of the finalists. Our script was about an undead woman who falls in love with a human man. At that time the closest thing to it was probably Chelsea Quinn Yarbrough’s Dead And Buried. We missed out on having the film made (beat by a parody called Feast) but did sign a contract with the company that made Feast.

    Well, the film never got produced, which happens a lot in Hollywood, but it was shortly after that Warm Bodies came out, and since that time “zombie as a romantic interest” went from being totally unknown to being a trope.


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  2. This week my challenge was provided by Becky Jones: The dragons and the elves met in the middle.

    Where they met wasn’t too difficult. Why proved to be more interesting.

    It appeared to be a grassy mound like any other, gently crowning at its peak. But today it wasn’t, for gathering in the morning light on the east side were a contingent of elves, and on the west side a flight of dragons.

    Twenty-five years it had been since the last time the two races had gathered here, but tradition – and prudence – bound them both. The pair of races had fought one war, which had nearly devastated the entire world. Another would be a disaster.

    One of the mechanisms created to prevent a re-occurrence was The Duel. Every quarter of a century each race would select one champion, and the pair would fight a duel on this mound. By tradition the race that had lost the previous duel challenged the other one year prior to the date.

    Referees were selected to ensure that the rules (such as they were) weren’t overtly broken. Three, two from one race and one from the other. They took it in turns to supply the Chief Referee. Each race selected suitable candidates for the positions from among their own, and sent the lists to the other, who selected from the lists supplied – thus ensuring that on the surface all referees were acceptable to both parties.

    As the sun rose above the horizon the groups approached the peak. The dragons and the elves met in the middle, forming a small circle, elves on the east, dragons on the west.

    Elglindel, Lothsindel and Aklakon were the three referees this day. Elglindel (a former champion himself) was the chief referee, so it was he who said the words of greeting.

    “We are gathered here for The Duel. The champions of each race are to step forwards.”

    At this Orthindel stepped into the middle of the circle, resplendent in armour and carrying a longsword. At the same time Aptokon walked forwards, scales of emerald and sapphire gleaming in the morning sun.

    Elglindel issued the next set of formal instructions. “The duel will continue until first blood. Any weaponry and magic is permitted provided a champion brings it into the circle. In the event that both champions are bloodied the referees will determine who was first, and our decision is final. If we cannot decide the duel will be granted to the challenged by default.”

    Most present had heard those lines many times. The two champions nodded in response. The referees signalled for the groups to retire. At this the onlookers retreated, to form a circle around the mound, elves to the east, dragons to the west. As chief referee Eglindel took a position just inside the circle, due north of the mound. Lothsindel took his place just inside the circle to the south-east of the mound, and Aklakon took his place to the south-west of the mound. Only the champions remained on the mound proper.

    The two champions took their places. Then it began.

    Aptokon leapt for the skies, opened his mouth, and breathed fire.

    It wasn’t an unexpected opening move, and Orthindel was already moving to his right. Only the edge of the flame caught him, and his armour protected him from its ill effects. Not, of course, that dragon flame would win the duel. The rules specified that victory required the drawing of blood, which dragonfire alone wouldn’t do.

    But as the dragons watching all knew, there were only two reasonable responses to that initial assault: Moving to one side; or Using magic to protect against the fire’s effects. Doing nothing was not a viable option for Orthindel. Even though the dragonfire wouldn’t draw blood, the loss of function from the resultant burns would make the dragon the favourite for the duel.

    Aptokon was already responding to Orthindel’s movement, diving down and striking out with a front paw.

    Orthindel had not lost his balance, and was expecting a move of this nature. The only question was from which direction the blow would come. He raised his sword and swung. The blade struck Aptokon’s claws and rang on impact. The forces nearly caused Aptokon to fall to the ground and roll onto his side, but he swept down with his wings in time and regained height and control of his flight. Orthindel was knocked to the ground, but swiftly rolled back to his feet, eyes constantly on his opponent.

    Some of the onlookers thought that this was a foolish move by Orthindel. If Aptokon had been brought to ground perhaps it would have been worth it, but it could have cost the elf his sword. But the older amongst them wondered if it might have been a deliberate gamble. It wasn’t unknown for the elven champion to throw the hilt shard of a shattered sword and for the draconic champion to let it strike him, drawing blood.

    And so the duel went on. Measure and countermeasure, many of them used over and over again across the centuries. The sun rose high in the sky. Still the champions were unable to make the decisive blow that would end the duel in their favour.

    Then suddenly it was over. It was not an uncommon ending. Landing, Aptokon reared onto his hind legs and lashed out at Orthindel with both front paws. Orthindel darted within the range of the dragon’s strikes and swung his sword at the dragon’s chest. The dice were cast. It was a mutually sacrificial sequence of events, guaranteeing that both champions would be bloodied by the time it was over. It was not the only mutually sacrificial sequence, and the duel tended to end with one or other of these being invoked, for the standard tactics of both champions were now too well known, it was rare for any of them to succeed.

    The Duel was at an end. The two champions acknowledged the other and retreated to have their wounds treated.

    The three referees gathered together at the top of the hill to determine which champion was the faster.

    After much deliberation the result was announced. It was a draw. The referees couldn’t tell who was first to draw blood.

    So, under the rules, Orthindel was granted the victory as the elven challenger had won twenty-five years previously. But the record books would list the result as a draw, so draconic honour was also satisfied.

    The elves departed eastwards, the dragons departed westwards. They would not reassemble for another quarter of a century.

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  3. Ray Krawczyk postulated…

    The unearthly glare of the alien light dissolved my emotions.

    Oho! Not content with probing, now they’re dissolving emotions? Probably letting them run and drip all over, too… okay, here’s one swing at it…

    Shine A Light On It

    I knew I shouldn’t be out driving my old jalopy along a back road in the dark of the moon. So when the engine quit, I wasn’t really surprised. Of course, then the lights went out, and the radio quit playing, too. So I was a little angry, and wondering how far I would have to walk, but… I waited a bit, hoping my eyes would adjust to the dark. Then I opened the door and stepped out.

    That’s when I felt a strange floating sensation, as if some odd force was pulling me upwards. And I felt my feet leave the ground. I swung my arms around, and kicked, but whatever it was, it was pulling me up, up, up…

    I looked overhead, and realized there was a black blob, outlined against the stars. And I was being pulled up into it. There was a glowing ring in the middle, like some kind of strange halo.

    As I swung up into the dark shape, suddenly there was light. Oh! And strange green figures, with long fingers. Now I knew what was happening. I had read about this in those supermarket tabloids. So I prepared to be probed!

    They left me hanging in the middle of the room. The floor irised shut under me. They walked around me, looking.

    Behind them, the walls blinked. Lots of odd colors, in lines and curves. It was almost like being in a cloud of fireflies, except they were all the colors, from the deepest purple to fire engine red and brighter. Blue, yellow, orange, all the colors you could imagine, and some that you never dreamed of.

    Then one of them said something. And another one touched a spot on the panel in front of him. The ceiling above me opened, and a strange globe swung into view. The aliens all pulled dark goggles out and put them on. Then the globe started pulsing, producing a strange alien light in colors that I had not even imagined before. The unearthly glare of the alien light shone down on me and dissolved all my emotions. I could feel fear, anger, love, hope, every emotion melting and slowly disappearing.

    Of course, I was left with pure thought. Which is when the aliens started asking questions. Not with their voices, but with their minds, touching, stroking, bumping my mind. And my memories, too. Apparently the alien light had stripped whatever barriers we usually have to hold ourselves apart, and let them walk freely through my thoughts and memories.

    A lifetime or five later, they lowered me to the floor and turned off that light. They gave me a blanket, and let me rest.

    When I woke up, naturally, I joined them. After all, we had seen each other without emotions, and now I was one of them…

    We did laugh about the absurd tales of alien probing. Physical probing? Why would we do that?

    Although I should warn you. Those who have read of our visits are also those who we choose to join us. And you are next…

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  4. Prompted by AC Young.
    The weeping bird was so named because its song sounded like a lament. In some parts it was believed that if you heard its song in the morning it would rain before evening.
    [Begin Audio Transcript] My journey up the Piore River began at the Serra Airport on New Guinea’s Northern coast. Calling it an airport was laughable. It was a dirt and grass airstrip. A leftover from World War Two, pressed into service by the local government and maintained as sparingly as they could allow and have it remain serviceable.
    The rough field-capable single engine plane landed, disgorged me and my equipment, and prepared to leave. I had sufficient supplies for two months and had arranged through my university for a native guide to pick me up and deliver me to the headwaters of the Piore. I was in search of the Weeping Bird. Although it had been documented in the 19th century by explorers of New Guinea, at the time the region was infested with tribes practicing head hunting. And drawings of the bird existed, but no samples had ever made it back to civilization. My goal was to capture motion pictures of it with my new portable video cameras, along with audio records of its song.
    The weeping bird was so named because its song sounded like a lament. In some parts it was believed that if you heard its song in the morning it would rain before evening. Terrible, superstitious nonsense that I aimed to peel back with the bright light of scientific inquest.
    The pilot offered to stay until nearly nightfall to guarantee that I would be met by my native guides. I politely declined his offer. I was used to roughing it. And if the guides failed to show up, I had a small but serviceable ham radio that I could call Port Moresby for rescue on. He agreed to my rationale, and reminded me that help was no more than a day or so away, should I need rescue.
    I watched his plane depart with some trepidation. I’m sure I would be fine, camped out on the verge of the Serra Airport. As it turned out, I waited two days for my native guides to arrive. Gurum Beng and his son in law, Jepta. It took us several trips to carry all of my camp supplies to their outrigger equipped dugout canoes. Once loaded, we waited for the tide to turn and launched into the surf. Propelled by their strong arms, we quickly made it out beyond the surf line and Gurum and Jepta raised a single lateen sail on both of their canoes. We quickly rounded the point and entered the mouth of the Piore River.
    The Piore is a muddy, silted up excuse for a river with more twists and turns than a snake with a broken back. But, it was the easiest way to get to the foothills of the Bewani Mountains, part of the barrier mountains that shielded the spine of Papua New Guinea. Several times, Gurum and Jepta had to porter my supplies and their canoes over sandbars. It took them most of three days to paddle me up to the furthest reaches of the Piore River, and deposit me at my base camp.
    They gave me helpful advice of the advance of the rainy season and how quickly a deluge could turn into a torrent. They advised me to move camp to higher ground away from the river, and promised to return in a month to pick me up.
    I stood on the bank of the river and waved them goodbye. Move my camp? Preposterous. It would be a long walk just to fetch water to sanitize for drinking and cooking. That would consume precious time I could use searching for the weeping bird.
    The jungles of Papua New Guinea are a steamy, tropical Hell. I carried my research supplies, water, food and some minimal camping gear, in case I could not find my way back to camp, along with my new video camera and spare batteries. I intended to document as much as I could on videotape. I wanted to catch the colors and sounds of the weeping bird, but also spare myself the drudgery and toil of writing in the jungle, and going to review my notes when I was back in civilization, only to find the paper illegible due to mold and fungus. I had lost several weeks of notes from an expedition to Brazil the same way. Forewarned is forearmed.
    Several times I passed forgotten relics I could only assume were left behind from the Second World War. The Australian and Japanese forces had fought in this region. On my third day I passed the wreck site of some type of aircraft that had crashed into the mountain, the skeletal remains of the unfortunate pilot still seated at the controls.
    But no sign of the weeping bird.
    Finally, three weeks into the expedition, I heard a tantalizing trill that I did not recognize. Definitely a bird call. It came from overhead. The barest animal track showed me a way to climb upward, to a forested outcropping jutting out from the mountain. I clawed my way up, finally achieving level ground after a half hour’s effort.
    Thick underbrush rose to my knees and giant boles of some exotic trees dominated the cliffside. I ventured further onto the football field sized ledge. The trill was clearly a bird song, a wonderful melody rising and falling. The sound came from ahead on my left. Suddenly, it was ahead and on my right. I reading my video camera, anticipating the thrill of discovery.
    Suddenly, I found myself in a clearing, camera on my shoulder. I walked to the center of the clearing, all silence around me. The weeping bird song sounded from behind me! I whirled around, aiming the camera where I heard the sound. And there it was. What a wonderful sight, captured for all time on the video tape. Beautiful rose-colored plumage with a brilliant yellow chest, a crest of red and orange feathers dominated its head and a sweep of tail feathers trailed a foot behind it. Its call was answered by another behind me. I whirled and sighted that weeping bird through the lens finding scope on the side of the camera. This one I captured in mid-call, it’s head raised and stretched forth, shouting its song to the heavens.
    Another call from my right, I spun to re-orient and before I could even identify where the song came from another call sounded to my left. I tried to find that bird through the objective and as I swung through the arc of the compass I realized that the trees were full of weeping birds.
    As if on cue, a chorus of weeping birds sounded together, a mournful symphony of sound crashing together and rebounding into the heavens.
    Where their call was echoed by a peal of thunder.
    The first raindrops struck me as I stood in the clearing, listening to the choir die off to individual calls that were slowly drowned by the sound of rain falling into the canopy of the trees. The gathered birds flitted off in ones and twos deeper into the forest.
    The rain was really beginning to pick up. I realized that I was in for a drenching if I didn’t get back to camp. I made my way back to the animal trail that had led me up to the ledge. Already a trickle of water was running off the cliff at the location I had clambered up only minutes earlier. The dry clay now had a greasy, slick sheen to it, but there was no help for it.
    I began my descent and soon regretted my decision. The clay was far more slippery than I had bargained for. If it weren’t for protruding roots and dense underbrush that clung tenaciously to the nearly vertical sides of the mountain I would surely have plummeted to my…
    [Editor’s Note: This audio transcript was recovered at a later date. Native guides Gurum Beng and Jepta Beng failed to find a trace of the ornithologist Doctor Oliver St John-Mollusc or his camp. Dr. St John-Mollusc had apparently failed to heed their advice to move his camp further from the river and it was apparently washed away by the downfall from Tropical Cyclone Manu. This video camera was found weeks later along the banks of the Piore River. The audio track is as appears in the transcript, no video was recorded as apparently, the lens cap was in place the entire time. Dr. St John-Mollusc’s remains have never been located.]

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