*All stories best read on nickpetrouauthor.com as “WordPress Reader” omits formatting
PCWC Shorts Part 2
Every so often I will be typing out and posting some of the work I have done whilst at the Peters Cowan Writers Centre (PCWC). Each piece is completely random, different and impromptu.
Writing Prompt: They say you should never discuss politics, religion, or your preferred sports team at the dinner table.
“09, please serve up the turkey,” instructed Maddy, with her nose buried in a synthetic red. The subservient robot swivelled its metal skull toward the kitchen and hovered silently into it.
Anything to cut the stale aura of this forced dinner party, Maddy’s crumpled father spat and spoke: “Those robots are bad news, Maddison; let your mother serve the meal.”
The two women seated at the table turn disgusted faces upon the old man.
“What? We should be in the kitchen?” Maddy seized up, eyes turned black.
Her fiancé had invented already one-million ways to quell the brewing storm. “Allow me. I was once a waiter after all.” And he stood before any objection could be voiced. Really, the guy just needed a breath of fresh air: the dining table reeked of closed minds and decay.
Maddy’s father — perhaps realising the error in his tone — attempts to shift the purpose of his prehistoric suggestion: “They are not of god — those robots, without soul. I cannot trust them. It’s not natural.”
Now, only one woman seated at the tabled turns a disgusted face upon the old man. “Dad! No religion crap at the dinner table. It’s the twenty-first century. You know how Eric and I feel about your crazy stories.”
The weathered man was brewing internally — wanted so terribly to unload a shit-storm of belief upon his daughter. His bones crusted; dry eyes filled with water; skin itched and flaked, exposing meaty layers of frustrations. Then the house began shaking — shaking with the force of the old man…
But wait! — the quake was not the doing of the raging father: he caged no hidden power, no godly weapon. No, the tremor came from a force elsewhere — from an entity far more malign.
Light was drawn from the room. In seeped blackness. The friction of brick and steel was muffled by screaming. Faster! Faster! And a terrible pitch! And a giant crack!
“What… what happened?” Maddy wailed and sobbed. No one answered.
A ferocious heat nipped at her now; it weaselled its way in through the fissures of her ruined home. Boiling in her own dining room, Maddy fumbled for her phone: a source of light. Illuminated in the sterile white of the young woman’s device was the crushed corpse of her mother. Too real, Maddy redirected the light, only to find her father — crippled by the fallen dinner table, but still drawing breathe.
“Maddy… Maddison,” the dying old man choked.
Crash! The front door splintered.
Crash! More flailing grain.
Crash! A black claw protrudes through the splintered door.
Crash! — and a horrific snarl! — and in falls a terrible creature: scaly, ivory horns, piercing incisors, a fierce red sword.
Maddy cooked continuously, unable to move. The demon advances toward her, and she pisses herself…
“Maddy… Maddison,” a choking, gurgling, dying voice from the floor. “Can we talk about religion now?”
Writing Prompt: You are lost in the desert and an old woman gives you directions.
I am the shed skin of my former self, a brittle husk. No ant swarm nor vulture would pick at these finished bones. I would literally set fire to a school for a singular drop of water…
I wish, with every remaining cell of me, that I had not strayed from my crashed vessel; but I had also been certain that the hydrating scene I was chasing was no illusion. Your mind play cruel tricks on you in the desert.
Worsening my delirium is the ever-present daylight: on this wretched trade planet, binary stars frame the sky for forty-two hours of a forty-six-hour day. (I don’t know how this works though… Something to do with a strong elliptical orbit and a massive moon. I will leave science to those with a function nervous system, I think.)
I am fully tripping now: I see a hunched woman on a dune before me. The reaper perhaps?
Wait… No, she is real.
She holds me up now. I am saved…
I cannot speak, for what was formerly my tongue is now a dried leaf; and I can barely walk, even with the handicap provided by this desert-granny. She is quite strong… for an antique. I just can’t see her face under all those grey robes; perhaps she is no woman at all.
For the first moment in eternity, I feel the shade of a thing. We are in some sort of subterranean bunker. The old reaper has friends, and they crowd over me, faces veiled with dark cloths.
I try to rise to greet and thank my saviours, but I am bound by the feet, and my body is numb, arms flopping. The granny-reapers snicker in unison, and together pull upon a rope. I feel now my body scraping as my legs ascend.
Well, shit! — I am upside down now, and one of those bitches has cut my neck just a little. Blood trickles from me akin to the leaking of a tap. I honestly thought I had not a molecule of moisture left within me; this was not the case, evidently.
Well, now at least, the desert-granny’s have a fair chance of breaking the century — and I won’t have to blow up any schools.
Writing Prompt: You enter a competition for the grand getaway. If only you had paid closer attention to the fine print. (Written on April 1st.)
It was the first day of April, and so far, Tate had had a horrible day… week… a horrible life really. So, when he clicked the “send/receive” prompt of his holo-screen, and an email actually came through, he literally gasped; upon realising that the digital message was not, in fact, spam, his excitement magnified; then when his brain comprehended fully the significance of the message, he fell from his chair.
Tate had never before won a thing in his life. And this… this was the big one — the biggest: the grand prize. A new life on a tropical paradise: an ecological haven, flourishing with alien life under the heat of an alien star.
All of Tate’s depressing commitments on Earth could simply evaporate. His monotonous job, his shitty apartment, his rusting mag-car, even his dim-witted girlfriend — all could shift into a vaporous state and float into the air. Tate would be free — free and alone on a green utopia.
Tate had very little to pack: he never had the money to buy anything worth having aside from a consistent set of sterile white clothes and sets of furniture to match. He wouldn’t even say goodbye. No, straight to the spaceport with a hard-printed copy of his grand prize certificate.
Tate had given the city-port auto-cab all his loose credits. He entered the spaceport terminal with nothing but the clothes on his back, his travel ident. card, a towel over his shoulder, and his printed certificate.
Not a soul at the SpaceX check-in, and a red carpet laid out just for him. A robotic human upper-half hovered behind the check-in counter; as Tate approached, it spoke with a mockingly human voice: “Ahhh, Tate Edwards, we have been expecting you. Congratulations, sir. Please follow me through to the winners longue.”
“Don’t you want to see my certificate?” Tate wanted to show it off like a freshly-turned legal at a liquor store.
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Edwards. I have facial recognition software installed on ——”
“Of course. Sorry. Just a tad nervous, is all.”
The winners longue was a place of indulgence: fine red and gold curtains, real-leather couches, a fancy bar with every beverage imaginable, a godly view onto the open desert places surrounding the spaceport. And all of this would be poverty in comparison to Tate’s new life upon his tropical heaven.
Tate soon fell into a light, drunk sleep — dreamt of the joys to come.
When he awoke, it was time to board the stasis-pod. Two years at lightspeed^9 to get there, and Tate would feel none of it in his anti-entropic cocoon. He would travel alone, to be woken by the on-board AI when entering the receiving station on his new home.
Now Tate falls into an instant sleep. Well, technically, he dies.
Tate is woken briskly from the sting of an adrenaline needle, the soothing voice of the stasis-pod AI, and the light of a foreign star.
“Two years to the day, Mr. Edwards. Welcome to your new world. And once again, congratulations from everyone here at SpaceX on winning the grand prize.”
This is it. Everything here, waiting just for him. All the worries of Earth: gone. A beautiful world, just through the airlock shielding. A beautiful world, just for him.
Tate unfolded his grand prize certificate from his pocket, brought it to his face, read it:
Winner of the AI-awarded grand prize
Tate Edwards of District 6, Western Australia
Tate floods with a trembling euphoria.
The air-lock opens, he steps out. Tate takes in a giant gulp of heavenly air. It feels amazing. All this, all for him.
Hmmm? But the air does not quell the desires of Tate’s Earthly lungs. Tate gasps — literally gasps. The airlock door slides shut behind him. He gasps again — a fish out of water. His vision begins to narrow, go black. Gasping, gulping in a tremendous confusion.
Tate brings the certificate close to his face. His dying vision hones in on a singular line of fine print below the SpaceX logo: “April Fools”.
Kind of fucked-up for Tate, right? Kind of unprovoked? So, a simple motive: the SpaceX AI’s did not comprehend the meaning of “April Fools” quite in the same way that humans do; hence, they think this is all just one big joke.