Scavenger Hunt 2016

All posts tagged Scavenger Hunt 2016

A root beer float.

Remember those? Cold and creamy, one of those ultimate summer treat kind of things. I can see it still: two scoops of vanilla ice cream in the mug, tendrils of vapor wafting off them in the heat. Icy cold root beer straight from the depths of the fridge, slowly added in a gentle cascade of brown liquid.

It always tasted so good. It tasted like…

And just like that, I can’t remember it any more. Gone. One second I hold a memory pure and crisp in my mind, and the next it’s vanished. Words and images breathed into the universe and then snatched away. Left grasping at the faintest echoes, like the sounds of the sea in a conch shell, and knowing it will never be enough.

Memory is what makes us who we are. A series of events, held in the mind, describing our lives in sequences. When we are robbed of them, we cease to be who we were.

I look into the mirror and I do not recognize the shell of a man who stares back at me, in his threadbare robe and brown slippers. I was him once, or he was me, or something. There was a memory. It had root beer in it somewhere. My brain is struggling. Pending failure.

Was there ice cream?

 

Elements: conch shell, a memory, pending failure, root beer.

I could hear the words drift through the thin door of Shelly’s room. Based on the talk, it was her useless git of a boyfriend.

Git. I like that word. Stole it from one of those wizard kid book things.

“Mom and dad are setting up some kind of family vacation,” she was muttering. You could hear in her voice how much she didn’t like the idea. I didn’t know it bothered her that much.

Note to self: encourage more family vacations.

“I know, right?” she said, her voice rising on the last note. “Like I wanna be stuck in a car with them all that long.”

Stuck with us? So says the girl who refuses to use deodorant because she thinks it’s a corporate plot. Besides, it’s not like we’re driving to Mars or some shit. It’s Florida, to Mouse-Ville.

“Of course, he’ll be there. He’s my brother.”

And now I made the cut. Just what I wanted to be: a topic of their conversation.

“He’ll be annoying, that’s what he’ll be. I can’t talk to him about anything! No! Nothing in common at all!”

Except for you stealing my weed.

“I don’t think he’s even been kissed yet!”

Are you kidding me? My first kiss was two damned years before yours, and last week at the football game while you were out there waving your pom-poms I was nailing your best friend Autumn under the bleachers.

“Well, I didn’t know! I wanted to spend the day with you!”

Of course you did.

“I could sneak you in through the window,” she said, her tone lowering. “You know the way here.”

Yeah, he does. After all these times coming over, it’s not like he needs to leave a trail of bread crumbs, right? If he did, he’s stolen enough of your underwear to do it. That would be a sight to see, wouldn’t it? Ben the speckle-faced idiot following a trail of Victoria’s secret specials.

It’s all good. When you’re not looking I’ll super glue your window shut. Have fun with that.

Elements: first kiss, a planet, a type of plant, bread crumbs

Harper had decided that happiness was out of his reach. Everything in life was darkness. No matter how much he tried to see the lighter side, when he closed his eyes for sleep — or even just for a second of peace – he was back there again. Feet slipping in the puddles, each dark as beet root and smelling of old copper. Walls spattered. Bits of matter he recognized, but wished he could not, stuck to the screen of the television. That fucking cartoon playing, with the annoying theme song he could never escape. It came to him on his drive to work, tortured his thoughts in the shower. He could see the corkboard still, faded and stained Polaroids held up by rusty tacks, each bearing the image of the angels that now lay slaughtered on the floor. It was a picture he did not want in his head any longer, and he knew, as he stepped onto the chair and reached out for the noose, that it would soon be gone.

 

 

Elements: happiness, beet root, angels, tacks, noose

Koslov slammed his fist on the table, causing those within the room to jump. Two of the soldiers who stood around the perimeter of the room jerked as well, hands flinching toward the interior of their suit jackets. The stares of their compatriots were enough to shame them into immobility.

“This is unacceptable!” he shouted. His accent was enough to mangle the pronunciation of the words.

“You have an objection?” Yuri asked from his position at the head of the table.

“These, these vorovskiye zmei,” he sputtered, one blunt finger stabbing toward the trio of Chinese men who sat grinning at him from across the table. “They –“

“English,” Yuri reminded him. It was one of his few rules for summits and discussions.

Koslov took a breath. “They are –“

“All of it,” Yuri cut him off again, his eyes glittering.

“All of it?”

“You called this delegation a name. Repeat it.”

“I was just –“

“Repeat it,” Yuri ordered, his voice like steel. Few people had seen the narrowing of his gaze before, but those who had swallowed at the look he turned on Koslov.

“I called them thieving snakes,” Koslov said, placing his hands on the table and glaring at the Asians. His expression dared them to reply. He was not disappointed.

“We have come here in good faith,” said Sung, staring directly at Koslov although his words were directed to Yuri. “We did not come to be insulted and spat upon.”

“Your men shot up my nightclub!”

“We had no one involved there,” Sung defended, not raising his voice at all.

“Do you have proof?” Yuri asked. Koslov shot him a look.

“We all know they did it.”

“You see? He has nothing,” Lau said with a wide spread of his hands. “My soldiers are innocent of this charge.”

“Your desire for vengeance has you accusing without proof,” Yuri said. He shook his head at Koslov, who slumped back in his chair, but could offer no words to defend himself. Yuri turned back to the Asian delegation.

“If you will excuse us, gentlemen,” he began. “I have some… Let us call them disciplinary matters, that I need to discuss with Mister Koslov. These are not things that should be discussed in present company. I will send a messenger to retrieve you in a few moments. Please, I am most sorry for this intrusion, but I cannot abide disrespect among my soldiers, no matter their current rank.”

The emphasis on the word ‘current’ did not go unnoticed, and as the three Chinese stood from the table, Lau gave Koslov a knowing grin. The trio, escorted by their four bodyguards, stepped from the room, and Yuri rounded on Koslov with fire in his eyes.

 

Elements: Things that shouldn’t be discussed in present company

 

 

 

Lars is from Scandinavia. If you didn’t know it in advance, you’d know it within minutes of meeting him. He has a habit of telling how much better things are there.

“In Scandinavia, music is better.”

“We are not weak men in Scandinavia.”

“We like to talk about Scandinavia in Scandinavia.”

Yeah, so the last one is mine, but you gotta admit you smiled, right? The constant comparisons will get under your skin. It’s like ants crawling over your brain. Tiny little feet, always moving, that itch you can’t scratch.

He’s a damned good driver, though. Dealing with his bullshit comments is a small price to pay for a driver of his caliber. Word has it he was the wheelman for the Latimer Family for a while, not that he would confirm the story. No one would be dumb enough to pry, anyway. Some things just get left alone. Last thing you want is one of their specialists showing up to perform a vivisection on you in front of your kids.

“Highways are better in Scandinavia,” Lars says as he tweaks the wheel and passes a slower-moving minivan of some kind. I can see a couple of kids in the back, watching a cartoon on the backs of the front seat headrests. For a moment, I wonder what it must be like to have a mundane existence.

I lose myself in the gentle susurration of tires passing across asphalt. We’ll be at the job soon enough. I need to keep myself focused, not wonder about kids and minivans. That’s a life for someone else.

He downshifts as we exit the highway, light flashing off those silver horseshoe cufflinks he wears. He’s silent as we roll through a couple of intersections and down a street. I think my lack of response has calmed the country comparison thing for the moment.

We pull up at a house. Big ugly green thing, but it blends perfectly with every other house on the block so that it won’t stand out. Mungo and Shiva are sitting on the porch, pretending to read the paper.

“We are here,” Lars says.

 

 

Elements: vivisection, ants, Scandinavia, horseshoe, susurration

I’m dreaming of peace. Soft images. Calm and serene.

A shimmer of light filters into the darkness.

Silence changes out for sounds. Random beeping and crackling sounds that intellectually I know are computers, but seem so otherworldly.

My eyes drift open.

The bay is dimly lit. Not even enough to read by. They know this is where you’ll wake up. No one wants to stare into a bank of sun-bright lights first thing.

There are techs here. Medics. They go about their duties in quiet efficiency, checking gauges and readouts. I let them remove the spiderweb of tubes and wires before I step forward and plant a foot on the deck. As always, it’s icy cold. The shock has proven to be the little jolt my body needs to fully come around, and this time is no different.

“Where?”

“Saffron system.”

“SitRep.”

“Heavy Confed presence. We’re number three on approach. Expectation of enemy action within three hours.”

I sigh and glance back at the hibernation tube.

I was dreaming of peace.

 

 

Elements: Hibernation

The dame that stepped into my office that day was a knockout. Legs that went on for miles, more curves than a mountain road, and eyes that seemed to look through you. God knew I had a weakness for redheads, and He was obviously the Creator of this one. She was too perfect to be real otherwise. Outside the door I could see Millie giving her a serious dose of the stink-eye.

Millie’s a good girl, and her instincts are solid.

I should have listened to her.

“Mister Danner?” the redhead said. Her voice was thick and smoky, and made me think of bourbon poured across a single cube of ice. I could see her sipping at it in some downtown joint.

“That’s the name on the door.”

“I need your help.”

Just like that, she had me. That hint of defenselessness in her tone.

“What’s happening?” I asked her.

“I think my house is haunted.”

“Haunted.”

“Yes. There are strange noises at all hours of the night.”

I stood from the desk, walking over to drop a pinch of tiny food granules to Marky the gold fish. He snagged a couple on the way to the gravel floor of his fishbowl. The little castle at the bottom was more haunted than this dame’s house. Her old man was doing something and just couldn’t keep it quiet. It never pays to say something like that, though.

“So you think I’m the man to figure out what’s wrong with your haunted house?”

She opened her purse. The stack of hundreds she pulled out was thick enough to choke a horse.

“I have money.”

“I can see that.”

“I just need help.”

“What does your husband have to say about all this?”

“He never hears them, so he doesn’t believe me. You see, he has narcolepsy, and he’s always asleep when the noises start.”

Narcolepsy. Maybe it wasn’t the old man doing something after all.

“And bringing me in isn’t going to upset him? I mean, he doesn’t believe you have anything going on. What’s he going to think when I show up? I can tell you what he’s gonna think: He’s gonna think you’re stepping out on him and bringing home your trophy.”

I’d seen it before, and it was a result as sure as peeling the wax paper from a fresh deck of cards: it was gonna get noisy. On the other hand, it had been some time since I’d made any real noise. I’d seen her access to cash, and God knows I love redheads.

“Please, Mister Danner. I just need someone to tell me I’m not crazy.”

“Sweetheart, I’m no doctor, but I’ll take a listen for your ghosts. I can’t promise anything’ll come of it, but I’ll take the case.”

 

 

 

Elements: strange noises, wax paper, narcolepsy, gold fish, red head.

Her fingers trembled on the surface of the table, baby blue nails ticking against check-patterned black and gold formica. Not for the first time, she reflected on how hideous the table was. It was one of the things he had when he moved in. Some hand-me-down from his dead mother, so she kept it even though nothing was ever going to match with the thing.

She picked up the glass and drank the contents in one long swallow, her throat protesting the fiery liquor that splashed down into her stomach. The glass made a clacking noise on the tabletop. A match to just one notch on the winch that lowered the casket into the ground.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

The glossy black box was draped in a spray of everlastings. They quivered as the coffin was lowered. Her lips pressed tightly together as she watched.

She wondered if she would ever smile again.

 

 

Elements: everlastings

Rita –

If you are reading this, then it means that I failed. One way or another I’m dead. I’m so sorry I never took the time and the chance to tell you what I was truly thinking. Yeah, I know, the last thing you expected from me is a love letter. Get over it. You’re getting one. It’s the last thing I could give you.

You meant more to me than you can ever know. I remember the first time we met, sitting at that pretentious little café on the corner. You had that big swirling drink and you looked at me across the rim. I remember thinking that you had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Still do, in fact. They were glowing like a Fremen from Dune. (See? I can’t even write a love letter without being a nerd.)

You asked me for a light and we talked. Drank freely until it was time to leave. Neither of us could drive and we got in that stupid green taxi with the third-rate homemade reggae on the stereo. I wanted to smack that driver. I never told you, but I ran into him about three months ago, hawking his CDs on Flagler Avenue. He still sucked.

I have always wondered if you had really lost your house key or if you were just looking for an excuse to be with me a little longer. I was quite the host, right? “Welcome to my home. I have coffee if you want. Oh, and frozen fish sticks.” It’s a wonder I didn’t suicide on the spot from sheer embarrassment.

Anyway, every day since I’ve thought of you. When I needed a smile, a shot of courage, or a brief second of hope, it was your face I saw. I’ll be looking at your pic tonight before I go in.

So if you are looking at this letter, Greg is there with you. I asked him to deliver it. We’ve exchanged that duty over and over again through the past two years. One of us holds a final letter for the other. He’ll escort you to the house. Trust me, doll – if you have this letter, you’ll need the force. Under the bed there’s a weapons case. Help yourself. Take anything you want from the house. Burn the place to the ground when you leave.

I won’t go into the full explanation here, but Greg can bring you up to speed. Just know this much: Werewolves are real. Yep. Not the stupid shit from old movies, but giant monsters that tear people apart. Greg has seen them up close, just like I have.

I stumbled on a den yesterday. I’m going to wipe them out today. Well, I was going to. Obviously something went wrong. If there’s a story on the news about a massive explosion off Northeast Eighteenth (they’ll say it was a gas leak or possibly claim some terrorist bullshit) then at least I broke even, and the escort will just be a formality. If not, then this den is still viable and the pack will hunt.

I’ll sign off here, Rita. No matter what, know that I loved you.

Alexander.

 

elements: love letter, werewolves, taxi service, lost key, fish sticks

“Ripper! Flank two, distance two point one-one and closing!”

K-Dog chuckled at the announcement and stepped out of formation. “Mine,” he said on the unit push. He muted the radio for the moment, knowing that VicVic would be shouting at him for breaking the line. He needed a second to see what he was up against.

Camera One showed him little more than the swirling winds and the white blur of the ongoing blizzard. It was continent-wide, and he knew there was little use grousing about the storm. It was just the environment they operated in here. Even in the control cabin, with the heat on, it was still a little chilly. His toes were uncomfortable. He hated working on winter planets, but he went where the money was flowing.

Camera Two was set to sonic imaging. The onboard computer was filtering the storm’s interference. He spun the dial to turn up the resolution, revealing the Ripper that was making its way toward them. He didn’t immediately recognize the pattern, but he could see rocket pods, a pair of chainguns, and a laser cannon. The Ripper carried a crackling power sword in its left hand.

Time to start this bitch.

He flicked a switch with a finger of his left hand, and a microwave designator came to life, centering on the Ripper.

He reopened the radio. VicVic was still calling him.

“It’s a Scimitar variant,” K-Dog said in between the sergeant’s hails. “Stolley, toss me a starburst?”

“Copy,” Stolley said in his flat tone. “Shot,” he added as the missile rack on the back of his brilliant red machine lit up and a rocket leapt skyward on a tongue of flame. It screamed upward for a kilometer and shattered, releasing hundreds of seekers, their guidance systems locked onto the designator K-Dog had initiated. Their engines flared yellow as they powered into a single-minded pursuit of the target.

K-Dog switched on his autocannon and the heavy plasma gun, readying both for the attack to come. He took off in a lumbering run toward the Ripper, planting his feet carefully in the snow drifts. The wide-splayed feet with their grip plates should maintain traction, but K-Dog had seen battles lost on less. He watched through Camera Two until his targeting reticle illuminated. It was centered on the Ripper’s torso.

“Plas going live in three,” he warned.

“Splash,” Stolley said. The seekers began to hammer into the Ripper in a series of impacts. Explosive charges forged the warheads into shaped charges capable of breaching light armor. The objective with the heavy armor was more to overwhelm sensors and targeters than actually penetrate them.

“Firing.”

The world became a ball of brilliant illumination as the plasma gun flared. A streak of raw power jetted from the shoulder-mounted cannon. On the left shoulder, the autocannon roared to life with a staccato thunder. The recoil kept him from twisting out of his approach when the plasma gun spat its lethal load.

The glacis plate of the Ripper shattered in a blinding display. Bits of molten armor scattered into constellations as brilliant as anything the heavens could shine down upon the frozen planet.

A volley of rockets arced from the Ripper in response to the attack and K-Dog flicked the command for his flare launchers. At the end of his right arm, the massive chainsaw shrieked to life. He triggered another burst from the autocannon and charged. The ground beneath him shook in response to his weight.

“Let’s see what you’ve got,” K-Dog said with a wicked smile as the first of the chaingun rounds began to nip at his armor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elements: Winter Planets and Constellations