Hey Gang! So I have a problem I think many of my writer friends can relate to: I have multiple stories STARTED that I’ve never finished. I LIKE what I have on them so far, that’s why they’re still around – but it’s so much easier to start a story than to finish it!
Well, I want to finish one. But I need to pick WHICH one. And I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if ya’ll could help me pick?
So here’s my plan: I’m going to post the first few paragraphs of five short stories I have started, and a very brief hint at what I had planned for the plot. Then I’ll leave to ya’ll to vote on which one I should tackle. I promise to have SOMETHING posted about this story within TWO WEEKS! Public deadlines help keep me on track, and I neeeed something to keep me on track in these weird and confluent times.
So here we go! Thanks in advance for your input and let’s see what tickles your fancy!
#1 – “Dogs” (Temp Title)
Megan looked out of the window as a blurry shape whizzed past, and sighed. “The dogs are out.”
“Again?” Her brother Jacob groaned and rolled off the couch, stirring the mess of empty food cartons and water bottles covering their floor. “This is, what? The third time this week?”
“Fourth. Remember, that big one got into Mrs. Cabby’s garden Friday night before the watch got him.”
“Right, right.” Jacob pulled on a tattered jacket, its holey sleeve giving a glimpse of a faintly glowing tattoo on his bicep. The ugly rag barely did anything for the cold, but it was his “lucky” jacket, so Megan had stopped pestering him about it. He grabbed an electrode-tipped staff from its spot by the door. “I’ll see if they need any help. You want to take roof lookout?”
“Sure. Let me grab the equipment.”
“The equipment” consisted of a salvaged photon rifle with a broken charge gauge, and a rain hoodie. But giving it a cool name made it sound more professional and less like one more cobbled-together addition to their messed-up lives. Megan trotted up the stairs, ducking through the shattered door that pretended to close off her childhood bedroom. She couldn’t help but smile a little whenever she entered; this room, at least, had stayed intact, down to the Disney princess bedcovers and the gauzy blue curtains. She passed her old collection of teddy bears and opened the window, brushing aside the fluttering curtains to step onto the gritty black roof tiles.
(Description: A short story set in my alien universe – the ‘dogs’ are my caninish centaurs as seen in “The Dennis & Bruce Adventures” and “Standing With Centaurs” (Deep Magic Ezine Summer 2020 Issue). This takes place after a cataclysmic alien attack on Earth, which drove an even deeper wedge of distrust between humans and those other aliens stranded during the rebuilding period. Themes: post-apocalypse, compassion, overcoming prejudice.)
#2 – “Loneliest Bus Ride” (Temp Title)
The wheels of the bus are my music.
My mp3 player’s battery died a long time ago. I keep the earphones in, though. It gives the illusion that the other riders are just leaving me to my tunes. Sometimes I’ll hum my favorites, but mostly I listen to the wheels spinning beneath me, the rumble and clunk of potholes. A symphony of its own, always changing yet soothingly the same.
Brakes squeal, and the bus lurches to a stop. More people board and depart, traveling to one part of the city or another. I have the whole route memorized, from sheer repetition more than effort.
How long have I been doing this? I lost track months ago. Or longer.
The bus lurches into motion again. I look out the window, watching the city slip by. Maybe it’ll rain today. Rain is nice.
The air shifts, unexpected motion displacing the air next to me. I turn, startled. No one sits by me. Every rider, long-term or new, stays away from this seat. Even on days like today, when it’s standing room only, there is a bubble around my half of this row, and people don’t ask themselves why. Like me, they just ride.
It’s a man wearing headphones. He’s in his twenties, close to my age… I think. Bobbing his head to the faint tunes escaping his earbuds. A deep hunger sweeps over me, but I’m nervous. I watch him for a few blocks. Dark, messy hair. A sweaty t-shirt and sneakers, like he’s just been to the gym. Eyes half-closed as he drinks in the music.
Finally, I get up my nerve. I’m careful, creeping out of my corner. I make it close to his ear… and I can hear it. The heavy rock beats, the piano, the gritty voice of the singer. It’s like fresh life flowing through my veins.
He shifts slightly, and I freeze, praying even though I’d decided to stop. Please, please… But then he settles, and the music goes on.
For three stops, I have new music, stolen notes escaping this stranger’s ears. Then the brakes squeal again, and he shifts, gathering his duffel bag to get off. Disappointment mixes with gratitude; at least, for a few minutes, I had something new. As the bus settles and he tenses to stand, I whisper a quick, “Thank you,” into his ear. As if he could hear it.
His head jerks, and for the briefest of seconds, he stares directly at me. I sit frozen, unable to breathe.
Then he shakes his head and is gone. More travelers get on and off. Everyone avoids the empty seat. Back to my strange definition of normal.
I go back to my own personal symphony, the city slipping by outside my window and the wheels clunking through potholes. But the notes seem emptier now.
(Description: Based on a prompt by a friend that involved a bus. Girl is trapped in a slightly separate dimension, riding the same bus in hopes of finding the place where she got displaced. A random encounter with a guy in headphones offers her her first glimpse of hope. I probably have the most written for this story, but it also may also end up being the longest. Themes: isolation, self-sacrifice, keeping hope in hard times.)
#3 – “Flight 14C”
The portal was subtle, and none of the passengers saw it coming. Which only made sense; windows in the passenger section of commercial airplanes only face sideways, not forwards. The only warning we received before we passed through that hole in the sky was an uncomfortable jerk – the pilot’s instinctive but too-slow attempt to veer the airplane away, we learned later – and a strange pinkish-orange light that passed over our windows in a wave. It was so subtle, so fleetingly unusual, that many of us might have gone back to sleep and thought nothing of it.
That was when the plane’s PA system squawked on. The pilot’s deep voice trembled unnervingly as he spoke.
“Flight attendants, p-please be advised, I am t-turning on the seatbelt signs. W-we, uh… um…” The PA system clicked off, and anyone who had been dozing off sat in rapt attention, holding our breaths for we didn’t know what. The pilot came back on, slightly steadier but no less uncertain. “Something… uh, something unusual has occurred, but there’s no cause for alarm. Our aircraft is sound. Everyone, ah, everyone please stay in your seats until we can determine the cause of… the, uh, disturbance. Please stand by.” Then he was gone again, leaving the flight attendants and passengers to whisper nervously amongst themselves.
(Description: I really don’t know where to go with this one. An airplane passing through some kind of displacement portal has been done so much, I’m stuck on how to make it original. Time travel? Been done. Alternate dimension? Been done. How do I make it INTERESTING? I am open for ideas, because I like how the opening is coming along; oftentimes the most fascinating part of this kind of story is the reactions of the people involved. Themes: ?)
#4 – “Ensign Bailey” (Temp Title)
It is a common misconception that shapeshifters can look like anything they choose.
There is a matter of mass, for one thing. Mass is important. Matter doesn’t come out of nowhere; I can’t, for instance, become the size of a full-grown elephant when I am normally equivalent to the mass of a standard human. Maybe if I spent several weeks multiplying my cells en masse, but then I’d be stuck in the same predicament in reverse – it would be rather difficult to become a cat without a very painful amount of membrane-pinching.
There is also a matter of complexity. Simple inanimate objects are, well, simple. Complex machinery is exterior subterfuge only – I can’t run on electricity, as ironic as that is to my kind’s biology. Humans… well, humans are actually rather easy. You might not think so, and granted, it’s harder to replicate the internal bits with what we have available to us, but we’ve had a great deal of practice. Trees, by comparison, are HIGHLY difficult. All of those individual leaves are a nightmare. A dead tree is simpler, but I don’t have the strength to dig my faux-roots into the ground, so I’d be easily knocked over. Terrible disguise all around.
Fortunately, this is rarely an issue. There are very few trees on spaceships. And everyone here knew me as a human of very normal mass.
(Description: This is the newest of all my story prompts; I literally wrote it this week. It involves my shapeshifting species, still unnamed, from the same universe as the canine centaurs (aka felnim). Once again, I like my opening but did not have a plan going into it. I’ve established in another story that some of the shapeshifters – who in their natural state look much like giant blue amoebas – have been hiding among humans decades before the Space Coalition with official representatives of their kind arrived on Earth. So the trick becomes what to have Ensign Bailey here be up to as a shapeshifting alien constantly changing her appearance to keep herself hidden. Perhaps she is just someone who runs from troubles to the point of creating an entirely new identity every time life gets too hot, and in this story she finds herself in a situation where she has that choice but finally chooses to stay and fight for what she has? Hmm, yes… brainstorming is happening…
Themes: Commitment VS Self-Preservation?)
#5 – “Not What We Seem” (Working Title)
When the disease hit, it took the sun with it.
I’ve never understood how that works. Diseases affect people, animals, not the sky. Not nature itself. Did it somehow poison our atmosphere? Ever since the beginning, the sky has been gray; I only know night when the clouds turn black and the air grows colder. Not that it’s ever warm now.
I can see out the cracked window of our hideout, three stories up in an old building, and the gray is starting to turn black. Which means the monsters will come out.
(Description: Shortest one, I know, but I have it pretty well planned out. Involves a protagonist who believes she is in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. She is kind of right, but not in the way she thinks… basically what I hope is a unique twist in the usual zombie trope. No gore/horror like typical zombie stuff, more focused on the characters. Themes: Perception, Family, Self-Sacrifice.)
I hope I get a few votes! I’m really looking forward to hearing what people find the most interesting! 😀 In the meantime, stay safe, ya’ll!