*All stories best read on nickpetrouauthor.com as “WordPress Reader” omits formatting
PCWC Shorts Part 3
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: A simple request: You are about to be executed and are allowed one request before death. The request cannot be refused.
“Anything I like?”
The prisoner plants his bare feet upon the tingling orange shielding, pushes slightly to propel himself to the opposing wall of his transparent cell.
“Set it to point-nine gee’s?” asks the prisoner as he drifts horizontally toward the HR officer slanting in a white smock.
“Is that it? That’s your last request… to have the gravity of your cell restored?”
“By the seas and sky of the Mother World, no.” The prisoner rotates his body to align with the HR officer, his face mere inches away, though separated by an indestructible polymer. “I want to stroll in the light of a real sun; I want to fill my lungs with real air.”
“You mean to say you wish to depart the colony fleet?”
“Have you not read my criminal report?”
The HR officer tightens as if to accuse the prisoner.
The prisoner rests his palms with fingers spread upon the warm shield, bends and flexes his fingertips as he speaks: “I am stuck in this tiny, marmalade void, eating nutrient pellets and shitting into a vacuum hole… all because I wanted to feel the salty bite of an ocean.”
The man in the white smock swipes his right hand across his left forearm causing an array of holographic symbols to protrude from it.
He reads the text aloud: “Callum Donovan. Repairbot repairman. Born——“
“I’ll stop you there.” The prisoner, compressed within a teal onesie, crumples his oval face. “Repairbot repairman?” Awaits in contemplation for a moment. “Sorry, please continue.”
“Born galactic standard 9041 upon the colony vessel Raptorus IIII——” The HR officer interrupts himself: “You were born in space, not on planet, how could you know the taste of the ocean——”
“The salty bite of the ocean,” corrects the prisoner.
“Aside the point.”
“What’s your name, doctor?”
“We’re not supposed to share——“
“It’s just a name.”
The man in the white pauses, then says: “I’m not a doctor, I am from human resources. And my name is Phuong.”
The prisoner ponders for a moment, studying the features of the young man before him: narrow slits encasing black eyes; tapering of the head to the chin; a bronzed complexion that could be only genetic. “Your ancestors, Phuong, they’re from Endless Bay, Hanoi System… the giant moon of the roaring gas giant, Cerberus.”
“How could you know that?” says the officer.
“What do you know of that world, Phuong?”
“Only that it’s a water world, the fifth successful colonisation since the Ascension.”
The prisoner closes his eyes, allows words to spill from him: “It is a humid paradise, favoured with a Mother World gravity and a day/night cycle to match. It wriggles with ocean life that leaps and glides from sea to air in flashes of silver. Thrown into the sea by none other than God are massive rocky spires, upon which cling hammock cities and jetties and docks. Though not every jagged monolith reaches for the violet sky, many have collapsed, split in two, and spewed fine grain into the endless blue to form beaches. And upon such sand, women sway with fire, men cast lines toward the horizon, and children bath in sheltered rock pools. With each inhalation of an air most nutrient rich, you are renewed, reborn, remade. It is as through a happiness clings to the very particles you breathe… as though the planet itself is alive in the ecstasy of existence itself, and so glad to share it with you.”
Phuong is silent. His eyes are polished glass.
Writing Prompt: Well, I totally just ignored them and tried to recap a dream from the night before.
I press up from a rutted street freshly damp from rain. It is some sort of apocalypse dream — with roots breaking stone and reclaiming Earth. Oddly enough, I carry my phone, so I swipe it open and assess its functionality. My logic is that, when I awake from this unconscious adventure, I may scroll through the photos I have taken.
The sky is an undulating charcoal and white, with no peaking of sun. It’s like looking upward only to see the deep swells of the ocean at its darkest. I feel that it may tear at any moment and drench this strange place with liquid water… or gelatinous creatures from the abyss. It is peculiar to think such things, yet know somehow that this fantastical vision of the end of humanity is entirely safe.
Ahead of me, through a knot of body-thick vines and shallow-rooted canopy trees, I can see a vertical stack of dark stone. It is the first structure I have seen other than the eroded asphalt on which I walk.
Climbing over the vines, using conical thorns as placement for my hands, I begin to comprehend the structure. It is a castle, European-style. I have no idea from which century. But this thing is massive. Its watchtowers appear to bend with the curve of the earth — overhang like they have been tilting to collapse for one-thousand years.
I work my way to the castle’s front, and as I do it becomes infinitely more intricate, fine. Red stained-glass windows gash from the castle’s peak to its base. Between them is a sturdy wooden double door, peeling in vertical strips. I grab my phone, begin taking pictures — lots of them because I am a terrible photographer.
I would try find a way inside (for some reason, I knew those double doors to be locked), but now behind me, I see that this pattern of mammoth architecture strangled by oversized vegetation seems to reach into the cloud-hidden horizon. And these other buildings — they aren’t merely castles, but all sorts of parodies of the human monuments I have seen in the waking world. I venture from one historical stepping stone to the next, always gathering photographic evidence for when I return.
I have now made it through the thick of it, come to a brown-banked river with the clearest water. Somehow, the water is inviting, even though the sky looks to split.
I feel no cold, no variation in temperature at all, really. Just the pressure of the river’s current as it glides over me. I submerge my head to find that I can see and breath as though upon land. A row of crabs with far too many limbs scuttles over a muddy ridge. I film them, laughing at their sideward ways.
When I resurface, I see that a tribe has joined me on the banks of the river. They are a human tribe, looking to be an odd mix of Maori and Thai or something. My immediate reaction is that to danger. But I soon realise that they are more afraid of me than I am of them.
I try to speak to them, but even to me, my English is nonsensical. I wade to the land, toward a cluster of these loinclothed humans. It is entirely silent — not a chirp of a single insect or the caw of a single bird (assuming such creatures exist in this weird place).
I hear a crunch. The crowd parts to half-circle its source: a cross-legged man bashing in a vibrant pumpkin with his brown fists. He smiles at me, so I go to him. I study the man closely — bone piercings, tattoos of the face, black hair tied into a loose bun, wrinkled eyelids and a crumpled forehead. He goes to speak to me. The words rest on the tip of his dry lips.
But then my mother starts the vacuum cleaner and the sky cracks open to wash my strange dystopia away.