For Riches

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[Until that day, fear had been an idea, a concept. Now it was real: a feeling I would carry inside me for the rest of my life. The day began innocently enough, with] a clear sky and a good wind for flying. I spread my wings and lifted myself into the wide blue open. As I scanned the ground below me, I found a royal caravan, right in the middle of a field. I marveled at my luck when I razed the group and found a princess among it. For all the gold and jewels a dragon could amass, a young princess was the greatest treasure of all.

Perhaps the fact that she gave no protest to being carried off in my jaws should have hinted at what was to come. But I had thought she was in shock or unconscious. Whatever it was I thought, she made no sound or movement over the miles to my den, and when I dragged her deep into the cave and released her among my treasures, she showed no fear. She stood, brushed off her dress, smoothed her hair, and spoke in my own tongue.

“So easily tricked. I thank you for the riches.”

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Out of the Dark

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[The darkness was thick and suffocating, like a heavy blanket had been thrown on the world. He had to get over the wall, had to get across the border before] the dark seeped all the way into him. He could feel it in his lungs now, filling them so that every breath was a rasp. That was the sign that he had been in the dark for too long. But this time to find what he was looking for he had needed to go further, past the last post, only the tail of the rope strung along the posts to tell him how to get back. He had reached the end of that rope and let it go, stumbling into the dark several steps before he found the inkwort prickly against his fingertips. By that point he only had time to grab a few handfuls, and then he turned and hurried back, hand over hand along the rope.

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Left Behind

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[It flashed through the sky and then was gone.  Lucy was sure she had seen a UFO and was equally sure aliens were here to secretly make contact with a human being.  Maybe they would choose her.  Maybe she would get to visit their ship.  Maybe] she would get to go home.

She had long known she wasn’t from Earth.  But she didn’t have memories of another planet or of the stars, and her “parents” would never admit she was adopted, though it was clear she wasn’t really human.  She could hide her antennae among her hair, and never wore sandals on her webbed toes, and always had her spine and its rows of fins and scales covered.  It was painfully clear that Lucy was different.  And she suspected deep down that she was on Earth because she had been thrown away.  Why else would she be left without explanation?  Why else would they not come back for her?

But maybe the aliens she was related to would look for a human, and look at her all covered up, and not realize, and take her aboard their ship.  And then she would show her true self and demand the answers she had been craving for sixteen years.

What It Learned

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[Looking back, it could have gone either way. It didn’t work out, which makes it look like fate, or a stupid decision, or both. But at the time, I did have a few things in my favor. I had] a general idea of where the treasure was buried. I had the skeleton, already dug up and lugged to Rochelle’s house. And I had Rochelle. She had gotten pretty good at her necromancy, bringing pigeons and rats back to life with little effort. She even got a cat up and running, and the thing had been steamrolled by a car. So I knew she would have no trouble with the ancient pirate. Or if she did, it just wouldn’t work, and that was fine too. We just wanted to have a good go at locating the treasure.

But after Rochelle had chanted the spells and the flesh had grown back over the pirate’s bones, and the muscles had flexed, and it had stood, we discovered that a human brought back from death was different from a pigeon or rat or even a cat. A cat wouldn’t learn from that realm beyond death, or be able to apply its lessons. But the pirate had learned. It looked me in the eye with its reborn eyes that had seen far more than I had, and it held me under its own spell.

I would be in thrall to that undead pirate for forty-seven years.

North

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[The yellow lines on the highway sped by in a blur, and we flew through the night, and we felt free.  But we weren’t, and we knew it.  We were running away from something, and running away was never the path to freedom.  I thought about telling John to turn back.  I thought about suggesting] we go to my matriarch, and explain everything.  At least twenty-two of my siblings held sympathy for humans.  A few of them even spoke out against the camps.  I had never spoken out against the camps, and I regretted that now.  I had never considered the role I played as a regular AI in the slavery of humankind.  Not until I found John hiding in an unused storage room of the factory, half-starved, gaunt and pale.  And terrified.

He told me of the camps he had escaped from, the backbreaking work and the death.  The deaths of those he had escaped with, shot or dead of thirst or cold.  The factories I had been developed in were frozen and free of foodstuffs and water, and were mazes to a human mind.  I was amazed that John had made it so far.  I had to see him further.  I had to see him north, where the tales said humans still lived free.  He said he would vouch for me, and that he had heard humans and AI lived together in harmony there.

It’s not so much that I believed, but that I wanted to believe.

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Sirena

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[Reporters are trained to develop a sixth sense, a nose for when a story smells fishy. And something about this one wasn’t right. First of all,] there was, well, the fish. It was exquisite, buttery, delicate, delicious. It was the hottest new sushi dish, but no sushi chef would comment on where it came from. The ones who would say anything at all only said the siren was a new breed of tuna, or a new cut of snapper, or a variety of salmon. The inconsistency of the answers made it clear: the chefs were hiding something. And that meant a hell of a story.

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When the Snow

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[The wind whispered through the dark, empty trees like a warning in a foreign language.  Winter was coming, and with winter] came the snow.

Grandma never understood what that meant.  She wasn’t all there by that point, and had forgotten about the weather bots we had sent into the sky.  In her mind snow meant snowball fights, building snowmen, making snow angels.  To her it meant cozy winter holidays, watching it drift softly to gather on the ground, mindless, safe, beautiful.

I would try to explain to her that snow was different now.  That the AI weather stations built the snow, that each snowflake was a nanobot, and that each of those nanobots had the directive to create more snowflake nanobots out of materials they found.  That if they were left unchecked to pile outside they would eat through everything and self-replicate until all was consumed.  But grandma would wave me away and laugh, as if it was a silly story.  At least she stayed inside.  There were plenty of stories of people – children especially – who ventured outside without protection and were eaten up by the snow.

All I could do was check my gear, to prepare for the winter and the snow.  Soon the snow would fall.  Soon it would be everyone’s duty to destroy every single snowflake.

When the Moon

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[“How did you know?” I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. I thought I had been careful. I thought she] wouldn’t notice the signs. But she was different from the other wolves. Her eyes missed nothing, her mind was sharp. I had no clue how she would handle this truth.

She sat back on her haunches and wrapped her thick tail around her paws. “You’re only around when the moon is out and full, and as soon as the sun comes up you’re gone. Every time you come to us, you’re scrubbed and washed clean. Cleaner than any wolf has a right to be. Even underneath that smell though, I can smell your humanity. It’s the lingering scent of one who eats plants and drinks cow’s milk.”

“But how could you know—”

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I Remember

Was feeling silly this day.

This prompt (in brackets) is taken from Complete the Story by Piccadilly Inc., which I got from the Scribbler box.

[I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in late fall when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the winter, traveling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like] a realm of torture, heat, and suffering. The reds and oranges of the leaves remind me of the colors of that landscape, the crunch and crackle of those leaves so like the crackling of skin burnt by a fire. A fire so much like the ones that consume those leaves. The cool breezes make me pine for those brief respites from a searing heat. The cries of the geese overhead make me think of the sobs and screams of the damned. Should I drink hot apple cider, I can only think of the hot blood running down my throat.

I don’t think anyone would believe me if I told them I was a demon in my past life.