Tag Archives: whatifchallenge

Flash Fiction: Breaking Free

Dilly watched the children from his perch, coveting them. They were free to leave, and they did so frequently. They were on break from school, so he watched as they bounced and flounced in and out all day, leaving the entry mat askew when they left, and their snow-crusted boots in a random pattern of disarray each time they returned. Messy little pups, they were.

But they would also be his ticket to freedom.

For so many years he had been dissatisfied with his work; he was a specialist in his field, and to be honest he wasn’t as great at doing much else. Where once upon a time he would go to a job site, do a few weeks, then go back home and find a position in light assembly to keep him busy the balance of the year, which would go by fast enough; the very nature of manufacturing left Dilly floundering. Where once he passed the off-time cheerfully making modest items of wood, string, paper, and cloth; he was now left out in the cold as microprocessors and injection-molded plastics became the essential fabric of all things most desired. Now he often just . . . hung around, twiddling his thumbs, drinking hot peppermint cocoa and counting the voluminous, excruciating, long days until he would return to his work.

Much as he loved it, it just wasn’t worth it anymore — not for a measly few weeks of job satisfaction.

Dilly was the top, the most proficient of any in his field. He knew all the tricks, all the best hideouts, ways to gain the intelligence required of him — even the peculiarities of the magic that kept him immobile in the presence of the clients. It was the same wizardry that kept them tied to their jobs, providing the crucial near-instantaneous transportation over thousands of miles from home base to the job site and back; not to mention that it allowed them to be recalled at any time without warning. It also made them harder to notice; in order to do so, a client had to catch you right in the corner of their vision. In fact, Dilly would have bet good gold that he hadn’t been noticed all season; between the snowball fights outside and the video games upstairs, all these kids seemed to do was run from one to the other, and then back again.

With a little bit of luck though, that was going to change. Dilly had connections, you see; he knew a guy that knew this little old lady who had helped someone else break free of those arcane chains.

“Did Rinkle really get away clean?” he’d asked the crone. She merely sighed – the weight of millennia in that breath — and shrugged. The cold was so keen you could almost hear it chime, and they puffed heavy, vaporous breaths as they conspired, each unconsciously wiping off the ice that formed at the tips of their noses. This cave was a secret place, kept for secret business.

“If I knew for sure,” Nammi replied as she worked at the strings of the bag that hung from her belt. Her accent was thick and unidentifiable. “Then I’d have to say no. But if that, then surely we’d have seen him again, so I’d have to say yes.” Pulling the talisman carefully from the bag she held it out, almost daring him with her eyes to take it. In the pinging cold it was warm to the touch, as though it had just come from the fireplace hearth.

Dilly felt the weight of it in his pocket now. Solid. Heavy. Ready. He had spent his time scouting out the best positions — finding a different spot every day, watching the children as they came and went, looking for the places where the extreme edges of their vision would betray his presence. He was lurking in one such spot now, and could hear clambering up the steps of the front porch. He could only hope . . .

Yes! The door flung wide open and in plodded Shane, apple-cheeked and huffing out the last of the cold winter air in his lungs. Not just Shane, but Shane all by himself. Dilly didn’t want to risk flight with a bunch of kiddos around to give chase, and here was his opportunity to do it right. Shane yanked off his snow boots, tossed them onto the entry mat, and looked exactly where Dilly had seen him look every single time Shane walked through that door: at his stocking, hung on the mantle by the chimney, yet to be filled.

The old man had them all on a chain, workers and clients alike. Not that he was unkind or anything, but he was blind to the realities – these kids were coddled and uncommitted, practically gaming the system, and who paid the price? Wasn’t it the ones like Dilly, who didn’t fit in with the high-speed modern work force? What could you do when you were as useless as a lump of coal when confronted with a computer? The real insult, when he thought about it, was the heavy-handedness of the modern age; they rarely ever made anything of substance anymore. The wholesale replacement of warm materials with cold metal and cheap plastic was a slap in the face of respectable makers everywhere; and it did the clients a disservice by hooking them on this technology that seemed to suck the life out of . . . well, life.

Dilly rubbed the edge of the talisman in his pocket with a finger – the only part of him that could still move in the presence of the child who had yet to notice him. He felt its inner warmth.

Dilly rubbed the talisman with a palm, feeling it chase the cold from his bare fingertips. “This will help me escape?” The crone nodded. “How do I use it?”

“At the right time, you will know.” She cocked the remnant of an eyebrow and half-smiled. “Or you won’t. Either way, it will work for you.”

“If you make these for others, why haven’t you used one?” It was beside the point, but Dilly asked anyway. The question had been gnawing at him.

Nammi gave him a sideways glance. “What makes you think I haven’t?”

The warmth of the talisman spread through his arm like the fiery pins and needles of a waking limb. By compulsion he pulled it out as his shoulder came back to him, then his neck and head, and looked down at it: a shiny brass button from the old man’s favorite coat, as big to Dilly as a sandwich plate and adorned with a snowflake design around the edge. It pulsed with an energy that took the edge off the fog of the magic binding him. Dilly held it up and squinted, looking through one hole at Shane. The boy’s head swiveled slowly around and for the first time he really saw Dilly, who had been lurking around the house for better than a week.

Dilly’s arm was petrified again, and he was stuck in that pose of looking through the thread hole as Shane approached, head cocked in curiosity. “Where did you come from?” He reached out.

The lore said they weren’t to touch you, Dilly knew that; but the lore wasn’t very well known among the clientele. It wasn’t for his own protection that the magic kept him obfuscated under normal conditions, after all. But as Shane’s fingers brushed the red velvet of his tunic, the button winked as though a beam of light passed over it, and with a sound like a clap of hands the magic holding Dilly receded.

Just like that, he was free. Under other circumstances he would have been instantly transported back to home base, a stuffed toy look-alike left in his place. But here he was, and the boy Shane was getting ready to wrap one of his diminutive human meat hooks around Dilly’s body. He had to act fast.

Dilly retreated from the boy’s questing hand. Shane jumped back – startled, eyes wide; there was a pregnant, frozen moment: two ticks of the old cuckoo clock, and then the young man screamed. Dilly took two quick steps and leapt from the edge of the shelf onto the boy’s head and backflipped down to the floor, landing with the grace of a cat. In two shakes of a sleigh bell, Dilly was at the front door. He jumped up, caught the edge of the mail slot, and wriggled through to the outside. He could hear his liberator inside, yelling for his mother.

Freedom! Down the front and onto the sidewalk. Holding the brim of his pointed hat to keep it from blowing away, Dilly ran to beat the devil.


This tale is my response to the What If? Holiday 2014 Writing Challenge, and although JED asked for about five hundred words I gave at least twice that amount. To be honest, I’m not sure the story is ready for prime time; but then again, maybe that’s just pride messin’ with me. I’ve been working on this story since the challenge was posted, and I keep thinking there’s more story here.

Along with the challenge, JED posted some interesting Q&A here. I thought I’d take a crack at that, too.

1. Where is the weirdest place you found yourself on Christmas morning?

Somewhere other than at home. Staying over at the in-laws’ place is becoming something of a tradition now, but it’s still a little strange to wake up Christmas morning in someone else’s house.

2. What is the one present you wanted badly and have never gotten?

Nothing I ever wanted so badly has made such an impression that I remembered the next year that I still needed it.

3. What is the one thing you wanted badly, got and wished you hadn’t?

I don’t think I ever regretted any Christmas gift I ever got.

4. Have you ever re-gifted? If so what and why?

Not to the best of my recollection.

5. If Santa is real would you really want to meet him in person?

Sure, why not?

6. How many Elves could fit inside the biggest Christmas present you ever received?

I think that would depend upon the size and age of the elves in question; their state of magical regression, if any; and the number of orcs doing the stuffing. At any rate, only a limited number of elves will fit within a given space, regardless of how tightly you pack them or how much you tamp them down with a warhammer. To be honest, the weird thing is that I don’t remember what the biggest Christmas present I ever received was.

7. What is your favorite holiday movie, show and/or song?

Elf for the movie, and instrumental versions of Sleigh Ride for the song, especially the part where they use the slapstick to make the whipcracking noises. Oh, and for the show, that episode of Tales from the Crypt where an escaped psychotic dressed as Santa is menacing this lady in her house and he gets in because her daughter opens the door for him.

8. What is your least favorite holiday movie, show, and/or song?

I would say Love, Actually for the movie because some argue that it’s a holiday movie and it’s really not, but I actually do like it a little bit. No, I don’t have any least favorites — just a short list of what I’d like to see or hear, and a long list of what I have better things to do than to see or hear them.

9. What would you name a reindeer if you could? Why?

I would name a reindeer “Moose”, because it’s funny and ironic, as well as being a short and somewhat cool name.

10. Do you think Santa could benefit from a healthier snack on Christmas eve or are cookies and milk the only choice? What would you recommend for the jolly old fat man?

First of all, Santa’s not a man, he’s an elf. As the oldest he’s the chief elf in his realm (the North Pole,) and has long had the ability to affect his physical appearance to some degree. So he chooses to appear human to avoid the inconvenience of being more frightening to kids than he already is. I mean, in the first couple years if the kid cries it’s because they think you’re giving them away to this overgrown, live stuffed animal. What else are they supposed to think when you sit them on his lap and back away while trying to get them to smile? They’re not falling for it! After that, it’s like Santa’s a rock star and the moment they meet him its a coin toss as to whether or not they can hold it together. So he looks like a fat man, which worldwide elven demographics research has shown for millennia to be both a powerful and yet jovial figure most widely respected, not to mention he’s also strong enough to lift that sack, which means a lot of the bulk is muscle anyway. That gets to be a helluva workout, so why shouldn’t the old guy have cookies and milk? There’s his sugar, there’s his protein, BAM. Energy for the road. For what it’s worth, NPR&D looked into the possibility of switching Santa over to quick-release nutrient gels like a lot of runners use in marathons, but for some reason nothing has ever worked as well as real cookies and milk, with the best results coming from fresh baked cookies and whole milk.

Put that in your stocking, folks.

🙂

Thought Sauce

Thought Sauce

If I spoke my mind,
you might not like what you hear;
because my mind is not yours
and your thoughts are not here.
There’s millions of things
that I would like to say,
but if I were to say them
you would just go away —
which would suit me fine,
if I were so stingy with time;
but look down the line,
and what’s mine is not mine.
Not anymore!
It belongs to all time,
since I tend to open my mouth
and blatantly speak my mind.


This post was prompted by this week’s What If? writing challenge. What if you spoke your mind?

What if? Weekly writing challenge

Regal, but not respected: my life as a predator

Not a cowardly lion
(Photo credit: Saucy Salad) (Lion says, “I’ll give YOU a saucy salad.”)

I work my tail off.

That’s not to say I’m not having fun sometimes, but really – okay, so my tail isn’t really falling off, but it has narrowly escaped a few near-manglings; one time it was almost chomped off by a sneaky old crocodile! I don’t know if they realize that I can’t grow the tail back, or that I need to keep it. My tail is part of what makes me fast and efficient.

Most don’t realize that I am fast and efficient, or so hard-working; they complain that all I do is lie around in the sun all day. Do they not realize how much heat I generate just by moving around? When it comes to eating around here, it’s catch as catch can, and oftentimes we eat just once every few days. So we eat a lot at once, and we try to save our energy for when we need it most. I’m trying to carry about thirty kilos of impala in my guts for up to half the week. Even then, we still have to worry about buffalo.

Don’t cross the buffalo; we’re told that literally the day we’re born. I remember my mother licking me clean, saying “don’t cross the buffalo, whatever you do. They’re easily confused, and meaner than Catholic school nuns”; so we avoid them like the plague, and they end up hating us because they think we’re snobs. Now that I’m old enough to understand where we’re going wrong in this whole situation, it’s really too late to do anything about it. It’s a vicious cycle, if you’ll pardon the cliche; and if it’s not buffalo it’s rhinos. If it’s not rhinos its crocs, or hyenas, or those bloody tsetse flies.

And don’t even get me started on elephants and humans. The intelligentsia of the animal world, the primates and the pachyderms; they’re just as bad as the rest, just as clueless to their intended roles.

No, I get a bad rap. We get a bad rap. Others, they think it’s all fun and tans and laying in the sand all day, but that’s really not it. Their thought processes are like radio static. “Look mate,” I say, “you just don’t get how much we have to work. All that laying around is hard work, love. You think we’re being lazy all day but you don’t stick around to see what happens when a zebra gets too close to where I’m lying in wait. Being the King, it’s not all fun and games, sometimes you have to wake up and smell the territorial markings, and that’s hard work too. It’s all about patience, vigilance, and above all, respect for the proper order of things. Sure, you’re safe now, but what are you – ten, twelve inches from my paws? I dare you to come and say it to my face.”

I’d challenge any one of them to spend a few days in my paws; that’s all I’m saying.


This post was prompted by this week’s What If? Writing Challenge. What if you gave it the old college try?

What if? Weekly writing challenge

A Darkling, in brief

Darkness
(Photo credit: Roberto F.)

November 12, 1994

Mr. Diary:

They say that light is the fastest thing in the Universe, Dr. Samuels had once told me. But you know what’s faster? 

I remember shaking my head at that. He’d cornered me in that conference room by the gym after prayer group one day, trying to push his point: that I was now irrevocably different, that I wouldn’t have to be anyone’s punching bag, literally or figuratively. Not now, not ever. I didn’t know which “they” he was referring to – scientists, probably. Maybe that was a trick question, I thought. I was wrong, though; it was really dead simple, and I didn’t even realize it back then.

Darkness, he had said in that strange, growling, cooing voice of his. At that moment his eyes were the wildest I’ve ever seen them; those big, white circles opened up in his almost-black face with floating irises that turned from grey to black right as I looked helplessly into their depths. It was unreality time. Those eyes spoke of secrets, even as they spoke of science; they spoke of magic that was and magic that would be, drawing unbreakable lines between them.

I get it now – light travels at 671 million miles per hour; well over a billion kph, if you’re into the metric system. Darkness, however, travels faster. Light can chase it, but it can never catch it; light can reveal what was hiding in the dark, but can never show us what darkness is. That’s fast.

Darkness and light – they can flush each other out, fight for ground, chase each other around, but the fact remains that if light is supposed to be the fastest thing in the Universe, then darkness is undoubtedly faster. I should know, since I am a creature of darkness.

I went out earlier with Kyle and Devin on what Kyle likes to call a “power trip”. We practiced it all, starting with obfuscation; we did that for Devin’s benefit. He hasn’t been right since his parents abandoned him, and he blames himself for losing control in front of them. Kyle and I have never told him so, but we think Devin might be right about that. His mom and dad, uptight to the extreme and more Christian than Christian, saw the darkness bleeding out of him during an argument; and when Devin gets in his high-strung way, his pores don’t just leak – they spew darkness. His parents – they freaked out, avoided him like the plague, and by the next week they had packed up and left while he was at school. Samuels hooked Devin up with a stipend and a room, but he still struggles with it all. I’m ashamed to say it was Kyle’s idea to practice obfuscation to help Devin, since Kyle has almost no tendency to think of others, but we both have a soft spot for Devin – he didn’t have to be this way; his peace of mind is a casualty of our efforts to rebalance the Universe.

We flew, we ran, we jumped, we practiced our influence – mostly on parked cars at “Makeout Park”, which is always hilarious – we did some shapeshifting, but we’re still not a hundred percent comfortable with that, because the results can be. . . a little too realistic. Mostly, we obfuscated. We hid. The hardest power to control is also the coolest; you know why?

Because we’re good at it. We are darkness – “Darklings” – and we’re so fast that we can hide while standing still, right out in the open and in full sun. I could disembowel a guy in the middle of downtown on a busy day, and nobody would see me coming or going.

I don’t know why I had to put it that way. That’s really not me.


This post was prompted by the Okay, What If? Halloween writing challenge. What if you threw a vote my way?

Just Leave Me A Clone! Part two: There Can Be Only One Rob

Previously, on Just Leave Me A Clone!

I, on the other hand, was not doing so well as my counterpart. I had been writing so much and ignoring human interaction to such a degree that I found it more and more difficult to interact with others, even for the most mundane purposes; if I went to the grocery store for more coffee, I would use the self-checkout. I hadn’t interacted with my wife and daughter since the cloning, and now I was feeling like somehow I had been gypped by the guy who was not only being me, but being a better me.

Worst of all, however, is the writers’ block. Or is it something else?

The ideas, in any case, have stopped flowing; they tapered slowly off as I wrote them down and got them out of my head, and no more ideas have come to replace them. My motivation is at an all-time low, and I no longer feel like writing, editing, or doing much of anything. I haven’t eaten solid food since the cloning, which is now fully two weeks past and I sit here, wondering why all I really feel like doing is going to sleep in my comfy office chair while watching Stargate reruns on my laptop.


November 05, 2013–

Well, I have to assume that my suspicions are more or less true; the alternative is to believe that there is someone else out there who is exactly me, running around and making me look bad. Or lazy, or whatever.

Maybe he’s naked, because when I went downstairs to the basement office to check on him, all I found were the clothes that he had refused to change for the past two weeks lying draped over the comfy chair and the laptop, open and running on the table next to it; he had been watching nerd TV, apparently. I thought I’d eventually find him dead; he seemed to have had no appetite since the cloning and I hadn’t been able to get him to eat anything, but I’ve also read the human body can live for a month at least without solid food, and at least he was drinking coffee. Still, if that happened it would have been strange trying to get rid of the body. I’d been trying to work out a contingency for faking my own demise and leaving the country with the insurance money, but two years’ salary seemed like a pittance compared to what I could have gotten had I actually planned it out.

Whereas I originally assumed that the cloning experiment was a success, I now must consider it a failure. My counterpart has, for the lack of a better explanation, vanished into thin air. If I had scrolled through the thousands of comments on that kid’s YouTube video in the first place, I would have discovered the point where he had posted a minor – but crucial – correction to the method given for modifying the Swashbuckler PSC to clone complex organisms; if I had scrolled down even more, I would have discovered that kid’s fate in the first place, and then perhaps I would not have played God in this manner.

So now I have no choice but to close the book on this matter, and on this blog. I think I’ll be switching directions and doing something different with the little spare time I have.


This post was prompted by the What If? Weekly writing challenge. What If you scared up a good story?

What if? Weekly writing challenge

Just Leave Me a Clone! part one: Rob is the New Rob

I knew I was in the big time when he took his first breath. Continue reading Just Leave Me a Clone! part one: Rob is the New Rob

Let’s Get Lost–

Do you ever feel lost in your everyday life?

Continue reading Let’s Get Lost–

Scare-raising: it’s not just for anyone anymore!

Note: if you think you’ve seen this post before, rest assured that you are not crazy. Today’s Daily Post prompt happened to fit exactly with this response to the weekly What If? Writing challenge so I just added the link and changed the date. This will allow me to work on some projects today.


March 2009. Cats scare easily, as you all know...
“What? I missed Labor Day? Who let this happen!?!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So October is well underway, and this is a month when everybody’s thinking about scary stuff, and scary whatnots because Halloween happens at the end of the month; we’re essentially on the run-up to this so-called celebration of an old pagan holiday on which the dead would return to life. This week’s What If challenge asks us to talk about a time when we were really scared, or when we really scared somebody; or if we have a good prank in mind which would scare somebody – something of that sort.

Now, I’ve been scared plenty in my life. I could tell you about the time I was buried alive, but I’ve already written that up in a post. Feel free to go back and read that if you like. There was a time in high school when I was doing a ropes course at a class trip, and I fell off the bridge; fortunately, I was tethered to a guy wire so I didn’t fall very far, and I was caught by my harness (thank you OSHA.) That was kind of scary, and it was their fault; they told me to close my eyes, and I probably shouldn’t have, but you do what an adult tells you to do, or at least that’s what I always thought.

Scared child
I think I forgot to put the toilet seat down. Just not quite sure. If I go back, they’ll think I’m OCD. Just stay calm. You did – you had to have! Oh god, why am I on autopilot all the time? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One time when I was probably about ten years old, I was attacked by a great hairy beast. When I knocked on my friend’s front door, his ginormous German shepherd that I didn’t know about came bounding out without warning, knocked me over, and was standing on me. And then Ernie’s mom had to call him off, saying “caca!” (I don’t know if that was a mom thing, or what?) I was so shaken by the experience that I was crying. Not a funny prank! And that’s pretty much my reaction to being scared by these types of unpleasant surprises. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, my reaction is typically one of anger bordering on rage, culminating in the desire to hit, punch, kick, or otherwise destroy something. I’m pretty good at not doing that, but the urge is still there. Put simply, being scared is not a thrill I enjoy like some people might.

And so, aside from jumping out from behind corners of my daughter, I’m not so sure that I’ve intentionally scared anyone or would want to, because you never know what might hit you in the face!

Oh we love a good story, but seriously: does anything really “scare” us anymore, in the traditional sense? We don’t sit around at night fearing demons and bogeymen these days, but instead we’ve allowed the proliferation of media to fill the world with perverts and rapists and psychopaths – shattering the trust we once had in our worlds and our communities; we replaced that supernatural face in the mirror with a human one, and we all suffer for for it. We hear about the death of the tight-knit community and the rising prevalence of introversion (“it’s not just for weirdos anymore!”) – How do we suppose that came about? We are all so afraid of the world and of each other – not to mention dirt, germs, and all manner of things that we can’t see – that we’re throwing away institutions built up over tens of thousands of years of human evolution and history as a blind defense against – what – life?

Fear terror eye
“Need a hand with that?” (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

This is why were not scared of werewolves and vampires anymore. This is why the new face of terror involves zombies and mutant hillbillies at rest stops. And honestly, how much do those things really scare us? I’m not so sure.

I think the one thing that really scares the pants off me is the thought that while I’m at work my wife might slip and fall on something on the floor – which is a real possibility – and hit her head or break her neck, and I’m going to come home and find her dead, and my daughter crying, or worse. This is why I think that the bravest thing a family man can do is go to work every day. Because you just don’t know, and you have no control. In the end, you’re just throwing it all to the wind, but maybe it’s better there. Perhaps we place too much value on control.

What do you think?


This post was prompted by today’s Daily Post prompt, and this week’s What If? Writing Challenge. What if you gave it a go?

What if? Weekly writing challenge

Rob’s surf report is out of this world!

January 29, 2017:

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So hello, my fellow Earthlings – or Earthicans, if you prefer. I know I have been incommunicado for a little over a month now as I have been traveling with family to our new home in Bransonville, American Mars! That’s right, in case you missed the big news, NASA chose me to participate in their BLOOM (Blogging Out Of Mars) program in order to promote off-world colonization efforts, to help ease the burden of our population on Mother Earth‘s resources.

The trip went fairly well; the wife and kids and I boarded a rocket with our meager belongings, after having sold practically everything we owned in a massive rummage sale – what didn’t sell was either given away, recycled, or taken to the landfill. The rocket rode atop a plane which carried it into the upper atmosphere, where it detached and shot into space.

Not the smoothest part of the trip.

NASA astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. (left) a...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We docked at the international space station and were able to take a tour and spend the night before we boarded a second spacecraft which got us to the Martian One Station, along with ninety-something other colonists and a twelve-person crew. From there, families waited for their turn to ride the new cable car down to the surface of the “red planet”. The entire trip took six days.

So why the delay? Well that’s a good question. There was a snag in getting the Internet up right away, and as you know, no Internet means no WordPress; but stay tuned, because I have a notebook full of articles, topics, and ideas. As one of the first wave of Martian bloggers, I have a responsibility to get content out there, and I’m finally getting paid to do it! And to supplement that income I have taken a part-time job working at a hydroponic produce farm, because stuff sure ain’t cheap around here!

hydroponic heirloom beefsteak tomatoes
(Photo credit: luvjnx)

Of course, due to the facts that most of my readership is still on earth and that I haven’t gotten used to using UTC yet, my posts will likely be published on an erratic schedule, but more or less every day.

Although this post is coming to an end, I will leave you with a fun little fact about the place where we have made our home: Bransonville is built on top of a massive asteroid crater that they say was caused around the same time as the extinction of the dinosaurs. Pretty cool, right?


This post was prompted by this week’s What If? Writing Challenge. What if you gave it a go?

What if? Weekly writing challenge

Do I really ever get stuck somewhere?

I know I normally don’t do this, but I’m going to put up the prompt so you can have some fun guessing:

“What if you were a movie character? . . . Now write me a post as that character.”

Hope you enjoy; this one’s for my Dad, who should not be surprised in the least by my choice.


January 17th, 1819 –

English: Cropped portrait of Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clara and I brought the boys to Italy to celebrate the day of our fifteenth wedding anniversary. We came to meet Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and to have her sign a copy of Frankenstein for Clara. Frankenstein is one of her favorite novels, and upon meeting Mrs. Shelley she immediately went into the most insightful analysis I have ever heard of Doctor Frankenstein‘s ironic positioning in the novel; although I am positively amazed at how much she still surprises me after fifteen years of marriage, I must sometimes still remind myself that she is in fact a schoolteacher!

We had only just arrived in Vienna when the train’s boiler gave out and would not reignite. Refusing to let anything ruin our plans, I chose to let it sit until we were ready to leave. I realized that it may have been a mistake to do so when I took a closer look at the locomotive‘s engine and ended up tracing the igniter’s failure to over half a dozen different causes in the electrical system; after all this time I’m still working out kinks between the steam and the electrical, and sometimes it seems the two technologies will never integrate without giving me an awful headache at the most inopportune times.

So we have been making the most of being grounded in Vienna – the boys have been helping out at a local dairy farm, at my behest; there was some grumbling at first, but I reminded them that when I met their mother I was shoeing horses and fixing wagons. That did the trick. It turned their hormone-addled minds, as I hypothesized that it would, to the thought of mixing with the farmer’s lovely daughters. Boys will be boys!

Clara has been occupied visiting Mrs. Shelley – who knows her as Emily Von Braun, not to remind Mary of the recent loss of her daughter Clara – and mingling in Italian literary circles, leaving me free to repair the locomotive with Tyson to keep me company, so long as I give him a bone to keep him busy.


He sighed, closing the journal and setting the pen, a classy Arrow ballpoint engraved with his name and gifted to him by an old friend, in the groove along the book’s spine. He steepled his fingers, then rubbed his temples. . . there had to be a way to repair the final malfunctioning module in the train’s stabilization systems. There had to be something.

And there was. He had a revelation – a picture in his head – of what the repair would look like. Taking the lantern, he hurried across the old rented barn to the locomotive. He bounded up the steps to the interior, still pretty spry despite his nearly ninety years – thanks to the miracles of medical science. They hadn’t planned to spend more than a day here, so they hadn’t hitched on the luggage car; but if he was right, he would find precisely what he needed in the boys’ backpacks.

A few hours later he had a workaround in place, and all of the systems were operational. The boiler was igniting. The only thing left would be to fire up the engine and take it for a spin, but he only wanted to risk a single trip – destination: a well-equipped repair facility. His laboratory, preferably. There was a significant probability that the 1.21 gigawatt surge of electricity required to make the trip would burn out every one of the vacuum tubes he’d harvested from the boys’ homemade two-way video communication devices; that was unfortunate indeed.

But the flux capacitor would eat that up.


This post was prompted by this week’s What If? Writing Challenge. What if you gave it a go?

What if? Weekly writing challenge