Nathan wakes up to a motion-activated alarm with a video of him several minutes into the future, pounding on the front door.
Nathan could have sworn his smartwatch was set to bedtime mode when it buzzed him awake. He moved his wrist to his face while avoiding waking up his husband. It took several seconds for his eyes to focus and his brain to process the message on his watch: “There is motion at your front door.”
“What is it?” Grayson mumbled, partly awake.
“I’m sure it’s just a cat,” Nathan whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
“Check it, so your imagination doesn’t keep you awake, again.”
“Hey, that story won me an award.”
Grayson rolled over to the side, ignoring him. Nathan reached for his phone on his nightstand, missing it during his first attempt but grabbing it on the second. He opened the notification, bringing up a video feed of himself pounding on the front door. The version of himself in the video wore the same bison t-shirt and pajama pants he had on now. In the video, he ran up to the door, pounded on it, searched through his pockets, and ran off-screen. He watched the video a second time before shaking his husband fully awake.
“What? What?” Grayson said. Nathan shoved the phone in his face, forcing Grayson to watch. Grayson sat up. All he could say was, “What the hell?”
“Hold on, what time is it?”
Nathan looked at his watch. “It’s 2:37 am.”
“Look at the timestamp. It says 2:48.”
“Wait, that’s like 10 minutes from now.”
Nathan tossed off the sheets and walked over to the bedroom window. Dangling from a rope net in their front yard, a man in a white suit with pink accents and a woman in a red dress waved at him when they noticed him peeking outside.
“There are people caught in a net in our tree,” Nathan said in disbelief.
“You’re joking,” Grayson said as he rushed to the window. “No, you’re not.”
“You stay here while I go talk to them,” Nathan said.
Grayson nodded, grabbing his cellphone just in case while Nathan stepped outside.
“See, I told you that would get him to come outside,” the man in the white suit said to his sibling.
The woman sighed and tossed him a gold coin, which he caught with a smug smile.
“I’m surprised the video we had of him covered in blood didn’t cause him to come outside,” the woman in the red dress remarked as she brushed aside her raven black hair.
“Okay, what is going on?” Nathan asked. “And who are you, and how did you get…like this?”
“Ah, Nathan!” the man in the white suit greeted with a warm smile like they were old friends. “In the order asked, we’re trying to catch a monster, I’m Loki, and this is Raven, and we didn’t catch the monster.”
Nathan chuckled and starting looking around for cameras. “This is a prank show, isn’t it?”
“No, we’re trying to catch the monster you set free the first time we met,” Raven said without snapping at him.
“The first time we met?” Nathan repeated.
“Yes,” Loki answered. “This is like the….”
“34th time,” Raven added.
“34th time we’ve met,” Loki finished. “We can’t seem to leave until we manually set time back in order.”
Loki rolled his eyes during the word “manually” as things would automatically set themselves in order. Before Nathan could respond, a large crash erupted from his backyard. Nathan thought it sounded like a battery ram smashed through his backdoor. He ran to his front door, as going through would be faster than around. Nathan tried to open the door, but something was blocking it. He pounded on the door, calling out for Grayson. Nathan pushed on the door again, with no luck. He ran back to the two strangers in his tree for answers.
“Seriously, what is going on?” Nathan demanded.
“It sounds like the monster went around back,” Loki said.
“We should set up our motion-activated trap there next time,” Raven said.
“Next time?” Nathan shouted. “What do you mean next time?”
“Once the monster kills someone, we reset to 2:30,” Raven explained.
Grayson’s scream pierced through the walls to the outside.
“Too late,” Loki sang.
Nathan woke up to the buzz of his smartwatch.
I’ve been mauling over the writing prompt that inspired this story for some time, but when I finally sat down and wrote it, the story came out. The prompt was: “‘There is motion at your front door’ – You groggily awake to the notification on your smartwatch. You check the video on your phone and see yourself frantically trying to open the door. The timestamp reads 2:48 AM. You look at your watch. It’s 2:37 AM.”
When I first saw this prompt, I thought it would be perfect for Loki and Raven, which at the time, I got this beautiful piece of artwork done by Janine De Guzman of my characters. Janie is also responsible for this story’s amazing cover art.
After being laid off during the pandemic, Alex responds to an online ad to be a contestant in a spaceship-themed reality TV series with game show challenges. Unbeknownst to Alex, they learn one of those challenges is to stay alive.
I should’ve known there would be a catch to being a contestant in this reality game show. Like millions of others, I lost my job in April due to the ongoing pandemic. Shortly after I made a post on Facebook about looking for a job, an ad appeared seeking contestants for a new reality TV series. The advertisement asked for people out of work to pay five thousand dollars a week with possible bonuses. I was a little creeped out by the algorithms’ accuracy, but it wasn’t the first time my personal life was the target of an ad. With no job prospects and out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on the ad. After all, they did offer more money than what I used to make in a month.
The website was rather vague about the show. The page said the show was based on a hit video game and would be a mix of reality TV with game show challenges. I assumed they didn’t want to leak too many details. There were a ton of legal conditions, which I skimmed over, and in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. Auditions were happening that day not far from my apartment, so I grabbed my bike, hoodie, and a face mask and then made my way to a run-down warehouse building downtown.
There were a series of printed signs with the word “auditions” and arrows leading the way. I thought there would be a long line of people, but I never saw anyone. I began to think I came at the wrong time until I entered this massive empty warehouse space when these two people directed me to stand under a light beam. I wasn’t sure if they were the producers or casting directors, as I never did get their titles, but they were an odd pair. One of them was this tall man in a white suit with pink accents, and the other was this woman in a red dress with a tablet I’d never seen before. Hollywood types, am I right?
From their metal folding seats, they asked some basic questions about me, including some health questions. Then they asked me some weird questions.
“How do you feel about spaceships?” the woman inquired.
“I think they’re pretty neat,” I stumbled to answer.
Not a second after I answered, the man demanded to know, “What would you do if a big scary alien jumped out in front of you?”
“Uh, I would probably scream and run away.”
“How many times has someone tried to kill you?” the woman quizzed.
“None, I think….”
The audition ended with them informing me that they would call me tomorrow morning if selected. I left, not feeling too confident. My mind spent the evening replaying various should-haves for the interviews. I also wondered what the show would be like, what I would do with the money, if that couple was related as they looked like siblings, and other racing thoughts about the audition. I calmed myself with some home renovation shows.
I was shocked when I received a call at 9 am the next day. They said they thought I “would bring a much-needed personality to the show.” They then asked if I could start on Friday with the quarantine process, and I enthusiastically replied yes.
When I returned to the warehouse, a construction company filled the audition space with unfinished wooden walls. The experience was like being behind a movie set. The woman I met from the interview introduced herself as Raven and one of the show’s producers. She wore the same sparking red dress with a keyhole cut top as before with a matching face mask. She led me to a sizable boxed structure with a door covered in a black number seven. Inside was a fully furnished studio apartment with a modern white sci-fi spacecraft theme. On the opposite end was a locked sliding octagon metal door. She informed me they were still building the stage and pointed to the headphones hanging next to the wall-mounted flatscreen TV if I needed them.
I signed a mountain of legal documents while she explained I would have to stay here for two weeks as I’ll be living with the six other contestants. However, I would have internet access to keep me occupied. Plus, I was getting paid $10,000 to do nothing for two weeks. Awesome, right?
With the paperwork done, Raven walked me over to my uniform, a white spacesuit costume. The outfit didn’t look bulky or uncomfortable like an actual spacesuit–more like a jumpsuit or something one would wear underneath a spacesuit. Raven showed me the craft supplies to decorate my uniform however I wanted.
There were drawers of gray sweatpants and t-shirts for me to wear for the show. Above the drawers and TV was a twin bed. The bathroom was tiny, with a standing shower, toilet, and sink. If I wanted privacy, the bathrooms were the only place without any cameras. There was no kitchen other than a water dispenser and a dumbwaiter for food. Raven told me to change out of my clothes and put them in the dumbwaiter after she left. After the tour, I was left alone.
The clothes they provided were comfortable and fit perfectly, which I was worried wouldn’t be the case. I learned to sow because I had difficulty finding outfits that worked for me.
About seven days through, time started to drag. I dyed my suit yellow and wrote my name, Alex, on the name patch with a marker. I worked out and did yoga to keep myself in shape. I started to watch shows I was less excited to check out. Thankfully, I was allowed to FaceTime and text my friends and family. The producers didn’t mind as they said this would “build hype.” Talking to real people was better than talking to the camera above the TV, which I might have had several rants for that camera. In my defense, conversation topics would pop up on the screen when I wasn’t watching anything. The whole quarantine process made me sympathize with the astronauts training to go to Mars.
On the morning of day 14, I put on my spacesuit as instructed by the TV. Right at 8 am, the internet went off, and the sliding door opened. I jumped up from the couch and walked outside into the bright white hallway with an octagon shape. The six other contestants stepped out from their rooms. I have to admit, the producers selected a diverse group of people with three girls and three girls, although everyone was probably in their 20s or 30s. We greeted each other, and then Raven spoke over a speaker.
“Good morning, crew!” Raven greeted with an authoritative tone of leadership. “As a member of this spaceship, there will be random tasks for you to compete to keep this ship flying. Successfully complete the task to win bonus cash. At the end of every day, there will be an elimination round. Survive to continue. Good luck and enjoy breakfast in the dining hall.”
With a charming ding, the transmission ended.
“Let’s go eat!” shouted the tallest contestant. He was the only one who didn’t decorate his spacesuit other than writing his name, Jake, in the name badge section.
A woman with the name tag of Sari in a sky blue spacesuit and raised her hand. “Where is the dining hall?”
No one said anything. I think we all half expected Raven to tell us, but when she didn’t, we all awkwardly scattered. I took the left hallway, walking alongside Maro. Out of all of the spacesuit designs, his was by far the most detailed, with drawings of flowers and dragons. During our walk, I learned he was a tattoo artist, and his parents moved to America from Spain before he was born. When the pandemic hit, he and his husband owned a tattoo parlor together, putting them both out of work.
Before I could say anything about myself, we wandered into the dining hall about the same time as the others. The octagonal room had four entrances that were also octagon-shaped, like the hallways. In the center of the room stood a large, octagonal white metal table. It was becoming apparent that the set design team was obsessed with octagons, so from here on out, if I talk about anything, assume it was octagon shaped too.
Scattered along the walls were seven numbed dumbwaiters. I walked over to number seven, slid up the door, and my breakfast sandwich wrap was inside. I brought the tray over to the table and sat next to Maro. A curly blonde-haired woman with a fruit smoothie sat next to me. She decorated her spacesuit with numerous multicolored hearts.
“I love your hair,” she complimented. “You got this whole artsy half buzzcut superhero thing going on.”
“Thank you,” I replied, sliding my hand through my hair.
“Oh, I’m Kate, by the way,” she introduced. “She/her.”
“I’m Maro,” he said with a wave. “He/him.”
“I’m Alex. They. So, Kate, what did you do before the pandemic?”
“Well, I am a singer slash songwriter, and I was planning this big tour, and well, here I am. Granted, I would’ve been couch surfing with some strangers because I was going to do the tour self-funded, so maybe it’s for the best this all happened.”
“Trying to see the positive side of things,” I said.
“As best I can,” Kate exclaimed before taking a drink.
We chatted over breakfast, with mostly small talk and how we lost our jobs. I couldn’t help but feel how weird and refreshing it was to be around people physically during the whole conversation. I missed in-person contact.
About the time we finished eating, Raven spoke over the intercom. “Reminder: You have work to do. Explore the spaceship for tasks to complete and bonus rewards.”
Jake bolted up from the table and ran out through the north door, hollering along the way. The rest of us casually got up and returned our trays to our dumb waiters, with the guy that sat next to Jake taking care of his tray too. We went our separate ways.
I knew the warehouse space was huge, but I didn’t expect them to utilize as much space as they did. I was away from everyone on my path in no time. I stumbled upon a door marked with three blue cylinder tubes. The door slid open as I approached. Inside was a ball-pit the size of my bedroom filled with clear balls. In front of the pit was a pedestal with one blue cylinder tube with a sticker that said “fuel-cell” and holes for two others.
“I assume my task is to find the other two fuel-cells hidden in the ball-pit?” I spoke into the room.
No response. I shrugged and carefully dipped myself into the pit. The balls went up past my waist. As I swam around, I became awash with joy. Although there wasn’t a live studio audience cheering me on, I felt like I was on some old Nickelodeon game show. I wasn’t sure how long I was in there before I banged my foot on the first tube in the bottom center. I pulled myself out of the pit and placed the object in the slot. The fuel cell lit up, and a robotic voice announced, “One more left.”
This time, I returned to the pit doing a cannonball dive. I went to the furthest corner, where I found the third one. I raced out and put the device in the slot. The room lights turned green.
“You’ve received a bonus of $342,” the robotic voice congratulated in a monotone. “Please exit the room.”
As instructed, I left the room. I inspected both ends of the hallway. There was something different. I could’ve sworn the air vents were toward the ceiling and not toward the floor. The spaceship’s design was modular enough that perhaps the TV crew could move things around in an attempt to confuse us, or maybe was I just mistaken?
The question was a moot point, so I went left, and at the intersection, I nearly ran into Flint, the guy who cleaned up after Jake. He was the opposite of Jake in appearance. Jake was tall while Flint was short, Jake was muscular while Flint was heavyset, and Jake was White, and Flint was Black. Flint also took the time to dye his spacesuit orange. He apologized, and I said it was all good.
“Did you find any challenges?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I was walking down a hallway when this panel slid down, and there was this clear tube sticking out. I was starring at the contraption for a moment when this green ooze started to flow up, and a green light started to flash in a corner with another tube, and then a bunch of tube pieces fell on me. I figured I had to connect them to get the ooze to go to the other end.”
“What did you win?”
Flint gestured to the green gloop on his arm. “I don’t think I won.”
I covered my mouth as not to laugh. “Well, I found a ball-pit room where I had to find two fuel cells.”
“That sounds fun,” Flint said with amazement.
“Yeah, it was,” I admitted. “Anyway, good luck on the next one.”
We traveled in opposite directions. I kept my eye out for the same ooze puzzle, but instead, I found a door with a thin black line symbol. The room was about the same size as the previous challenge room. On the opposite end of the room was a large red button, but there was a balance beam over a foam-padded pit to get across. I think I managed three steps before I fell. The moment I hit the ground, the lights in the room went red.
“Failure,” the robotic voice announced without any emotion. “Please exit the room.”
I climbed up the metal ladder and left the room. I didn’t get the same hallway shifting vibe that I did last time. Either the crew didn’t have time to move things around on me, or I imagined things. I explored the hallways without encountering any more challenges when I ended up in the dining hall for lunch. I found the three girls, Kate, Sari, and Alyssa, enjoying lunch together.
“Yo, Alex, come sit with us,” Kate shouted.
I grabbed my lunch, a turkey sub, and joined them. Kate introduced everyone. I learned that the pandemic caused Alyssa to get furloughed from her nonessential medical job. Sari couldn’t complete her art historian dissertation with everything closed.
I asked them about the ship’s challenges, and all agreed we felt like we were on a Nickelodeon game show. Although we had to explain what that meant to Sari – complete with examples of Double Dare, GUTS, and Legends of the Hidden Temple – she ended up agreeing with us.
The guys entered the dining hall, laughing and flinging green gloop at each other, which they were all drenched with on their spacesuits.
“What happened to you guys?” Alyssa asked, concerned.
“We found this room where we had to work together and throw balls at these cardboard aliens,” Maro explained.
“Those ‘aliens,’’ Flint commented with air quotes, “also had cannons that fired this green goo at us.”
“But we each won $500,” Jake enthusiastically added.
The guys grabbed their lunch and joined the group. I discovered Jake was a personal trainer who lost most of his clients when they lost their jobs. Jake certainly had the energy of a trainer, and I bet he was great at it.
Flint was a bouncer, and with all the clubs and bars shut down, there was nothing for him. Although he admitted the downtime was giving him a chance to reevaluate his life because he only started his job because people thought he would be good at keeping order. I also found out that he dyed his jumpsuit purple for his favorite football team, the Baltimore Ravens.
Before we could finish eating, the lights flashed yellow.
“Danger,” the robotic voice announced in a high pitch tone. “The ship is under attack. Press the ten yellow buttons throughout to repair our shields.”
We all jumped out of seats and raced throughout the hallways as the voice repeated itself, and a perpetual alarm followed. After a few turns, I found a lit yellow button the size of my hand mounted on the wall. I pressed it, and the panel flipped, disappearing the button.
I ran down the hallway and made a right turn. I couldn’t hear anything over the alarm, and no one was around. I found a second button. I pressed it, and this time the alarm and flashing lights stopped.
“I guess I found the last one,” I boasted. “Good job, Alex.”
I half jogged my way back, trying to remember which way I came. After a few wrong turns, I found everyone gathered in a circle in the dining hall.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked.
Maro stepped to the side to reveal Kat on the floor with a knife in her back. “Someone killed Kate.”
“This isn’t really Kate,” Jake stated. “This is clearly a dummy.”
“This isn’t a dummy,” Alyssa corrected.
“How do you know what a dead body looks like?” Jake snapped.
“I’m a fucking nurse,” Alyssa snapped back. “I know a dead body when I fucking see one.”
A flashing red light filled the area.
Raven came on the intercom. “Everyone, return to your rooms. Return to your rooms.”
We all looked at each other, and Raven repeated herself a third time. We walked back to our rooms. The light was normal. Once I was inside, the door closed behind me. Raven was on my TV screen.
“There is a killer among you who killed Kate,” she coldly revealed. “We offered one of you triple the weekly reward to kill one of your fellow crewmates. I will give you 12 minutes to reflect on your day. Share your thoughts into the camera above your TV and type your vote on who should be eliminated. Choose wisely.”
The screen switched to a red countdown clock, leaving me with my thoughts. Who should I vote to eliminate?
* * *
I starred into the lens. Am I honestly expected to share my thoughts on who among us could be a killer? I let out a frustrated sigh and let myself rant, hoping that talking out my day out would help me think.
“Honestly, I have no idea who would’ve killed Kate. She was so warm and friendly from the little time I got to know her. From the motive of money, we’re all hurting, but who could be hurting the worst? Jake has been really into winning, so maybe he’s in more finical trouble than what he’s lead us to believe. But, I can’t also disregard his accusations that perhaps Kate isn’t dead. That’s a weird thing to say if you were trying to cover your tracks.
If I look at this puzzle from the perspective of who I would expect the least, I would have to vote for Maro. It’s never the obvious answer in any murder mystery, and Maro has been so kind to everyone. Of course, if he were a back-stabbing murder, he would use kindness to be deceitful.”
I put my hands over the keyboard. They froze, unsure of the consequences.
“Plus, if it isn’t Maro, eliminating him from the game would spare him from getting killed,” I reassured myself. I typed his name. “Done. Let’s see what happens next.”
When the clock reached zero, the screen went blank, but nothing else happened. I paced my room, waiting. I tried to entertain myself, but they turned off the internet. Approximately five minutes later, my door automatically opened.
I cautiously stepped out, just as everyone did. The highway lights were a vivid blue and had a movement pattern that pointed down one way. I didn’t see Maro.
“Are we supposed to follow the lights?” Sari asked.
“I think so,” Alyssa replied and started to follow the lights.
We all followed in silence. My throat was tight from the awkward tension vibes everyone was giving off. I don’t think they expected this part of the show either.
The hallway opened up into a brand new room with three white couches, a wall-mounted tv with how much money everyone’s earned, and a glass door with Maro on the other side. I assumed the tiny room Maro was in was supposed to represent an airlock.
Maro started pounding on the glass the moment he saw us. He spoke, but I couldn’t hear him. His face was red with anger. The airlock room filled up with smoke. We all watched in silence as the smoke cleared out. Maro was gone.
The intercom dinged.
“Carry along with your day,” a friendly robotic voice inspired.
The message repeated itself and concluded with a ding.
“So, did Maro do it?” Flint asked the room.
“I found him in the room first,” Sari revealed. “I saw him wiping his hands clean.”
“It’s always the person you least suspect it in these murder mystery things,” I chimed. “I voted for him.”
“I voted for him for the same reason, too,” Alyssa added with a tone of happiness that someone else had the same idea.
“Well, I voted for Jake,” Flint confessed.
Jake laughed. “I voted for you!”
“I guess we get to play some more games now,” Alyssa said, clapping her hands together.
We all agreed and split up. I was positive the tv crew moved the hallways around while we voted as no route was familiar. I found a challenge room door with two squares side by side, just as Sari did.
“I think you found this one first,” Sari shied away.
“Wait!” I interrupted. “Maybe it’s a room where we have to work together.”
Sari nodded with a smile. “If you want, let’s give it a chance.”
The door slid opened, and we stepped inside. The center of the square room had a ten by ten grid of light-up squares on the floor. Some were blue, and some were red.
“Any idea what we’re supposed to do?” Sari said.
I stepped on a red square, and it turned blue. I stepped on a blue one, and it stayed blue. “I think we’re supposed to turn all the squares blue.”
Sari nodded. “Let’s do it then.”
We started walking on the red squares, turning them blue. After some time, we noticed some of the tiles reverted to red. We started running to keep pace with the squares, working together to get all of the same color. Sari stepped on the last one, causing all of the squares to flash purple.
“Congratulations,” the monotone robotic voice reported. “You each won $347.”
We high-fived each other as the room went dark.
“Did we cause a power outage?” I joked.
“This game did use a lot of lights,” she pointed out.
“That’s true. Hold my hand. I think I can get us to the door.”
I led us back to the door. We only managed to step on each other twice, so I count that as a success in my book. The door opened automatically to a lit hallway.
“Must’ve had an outage in just that room,” I commented.
“I think so,” Sari agreed. “Hey, weren’t the air vents toward the bottom?”
I looked around the hallway for any differences. “Yeah, I don’t remember. I had the same feeling the air vents were in a different place after one of the challenges I did earlier, but I shrugged it off.”
After a moment of silence of Sari staring at a vent, I told her I would look for more challenge rooms. I went down a hallway while Sari kept staring. After two turns, I found the same tube puzzle Flint first found. Since I knew what to expect, I worked fast to connect the tubes to allow the green ooze to flow to the other end. When linked together, a screen covered the puzzle with $100 written on it.
I did a victory dance, but my celebration was interrupted by a scream. I bolted to the source to find Alyssa – still alive – against a hallway wall holding a hand over her chest on her red jumpsuit.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I jogged up to her.
“Yeah, I thought I saw something in the vents,” she explained.
I looked at the vent in front of her. “Nothing now.”
“Yeah, I think I’m just hungry,” she consented. “You think dinner is ready?”
“We can go look,” I reassured her.
We made our way to the dining hall together. Along the way, we talked about the challenges we faced. I also told her about how I believed the rooms were moving.
“Okay, so it isn’t just me,” Alyssa said, relieved. “I thought I was going crazy the first time I thought the path was different.”
“Me too,” I said without any enthusiasm. My mind got hung up on another topic I wanted to asked Alyssa now. “So, about Kate. Do you think she was really dead? Like it wasn’t a fake body?”
Alyssa was quiet for what felt like an eternity. “It looked so real, but at the same time, they’ve put a lot of effort into this show, so maybe it was all fake.”
“They didn’t give us time to inspect things,” I mentioned.
“True. Kate could’ve been in on the whole thing too.”
We turned the corner and ended up in the dining hall.
“I wasn’t expecting to get here until a few more turns,” I remarked.
Alyssa playfully punched me on the shoulder. “Don’t mess with me.”
We opened our respective dumbwaiters to find dinner ready. We sat and talked about our favorite movies. Flint was the first to join us, followed by Sari and Jake. Thankfully, a friendly message from Raven came instead of a surprise challenge that concluded our dinner time.
“Please return to your rooms when finished,” Raven kindly directed. “Get some rest as you’ll have a busy day tomorrow.”
One by one, we went back to our rooms. When I went to my room, all alternative routes were closed. Once inside, the door automatically locked behind me. I turned on the TV. The producers returned Internet access, so I watched some movies until I got tired and retired to my bed.
I woke up at my usual time, and the door was already open. Although I was still in my sweatpants and t-shirt, I popped my head out. The hallway lights were dim, and the producers opened all the doors. I jumped in the shower, put on some fresh clothes, my spacesuit, and went to the dining hall.
“Good morning,” I greeted as I stepped inside.
Alyssa, Flint, and Jake looked up and glared at me.
“You look awfully fresh,” Jake accused.
“What?” I muttered, taken back by the harsh comment. “Why would you say–”
My eyes noticed Sari’s body with her head cut off. I covered my mouth. I could feel the room getting smaller as everyone stared at me. I wanted to vomit.
Alyssa crossed her arms. “You were the last one to arrive last time.”
A flashing red light filled the dining hall.
“Everyone return to your rooms,” Raven ordered over the intercoms. “Return to your rooms.”
Without hesitation or having Raven repeat herself a third time, we all walked back to our rooms. When I got back to mine, Raven was already on the TV. The doors closed.
“Maro was not the killer,” she informed. “Now Sari is dead. Vote to eliminate the right person this time if you want to leave this ship alive.”
A 12-minute countdown clock replaced the feed of Raven.
“What the fuck,” I blurted out to the camera. “Does everyone think I did it now? Fuck. Who could it be?”
I sat there, contemplating my choices. I reevaluated who could be the most desperate for the money, but nothing new came to light. Then I started to think about who could physically be able to cut off someone’s head.
“It has to be Jake. He’s the strongest. He could do it.” I typed in his name. “I hope he didn’t convince everyone else it was me.”
The timer disappeared. This time, my door opened immediately with three faceless people in bright orange hazmat suits.
“You have been eliminated,” one of them ordered through a voice box, confirming my fear. “Come with us.”
I got up, and they led me to the airlock room where they left me. About a minute later, the rest of the crew came into the room to witness me go. I tried to scream that I was innocent, but I knew no one couldn’t hear me. The room filled up with smoke, and I felt two pairs of hands guide me out of the room.
The smoke cleared away, bringing me behind the film stage. The two guiding hazmat personnel left me in front of a cheap folding table with a box of my belongings, minus my original clothes, and a check of my earnings. Before I could ask any questions, they left through a metal door. I followed the series of arrows out of the building. I tried to get back inside, but they locked the doors.
I waited around for a few minutes, expecting Raven or one of the other producers to debrief me or do some final on-camera interview, but no one came. I walked back to my apartment. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I would’ve called a friend or a Lyft. I had been inside so long I kind of forgot what the sun and wind felt like, so I embraced the walk. Surprisingly, I didn’t get any attention for my outfit, or at least none that I realized.
When I got home, I called my friends and family and told them about the show. They all had a good laugh. Everyone believed that the deaths were fake. I didn’t disagree with them as I leaned toward the same opinion when I was on the ship. I asked everyone to keep an eye out for the show because I was curious about the outcome.
About a week later, I landed a new job. I searched online for the other contestants, but I couldn’t find any details about anyone. I contacted practically every tattoo shop in the area, thinking someone would know Maro, but no luck. Did he lie about his profession? Was he an actor? Or maybe he lived out of state? I guess I didn’t have enough information about anyone to be able to track them down.
Months later, nothing new surfaced. I still haven’t heard from the show’s producers or any of my crewmates. Now, I’m sharing my story online with you. Does anyone know anything about this show?
Thank you for your patience with this story! I meant to have part one out a week earlier, but as you can read, this story became my longest yet this year and it’s only part one! I had to set the scene, figure out the characters, and the whole process required more time.
When I published part one, I posted on my social media asking people who Alex should eliminate. It was a tie between Maro and Alyssa, so I broke it and eliminated Maro in part two, which I published on October 17. 2020.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt about a reality show where the crew abandoned them, the Among Us video game, and r/nosleep. (In a divergence from the prompt, the crew is very much involved with the show.) I also thought it would be fun to have people vote on who should be eliminated, doing a mini-series for October. I ended up concluding it by having Alex eliminated in the second round.
Thank you to Henry Yusman for bringing the murder scene to life!
Be careful mocking eccentric small business owners, asking them for an adventure because you might find yourself on an alien planet.
Waking up in this battleground wasteland was payback. Rafael Vásquez was sure of it. His parents were small business owners themselves, and he knew better than to ridicule others. He was better than that. He regretted making fun of that eccentric couple and their boutique selling “personalities.” He thought their business was a joke or some crazy immersive art installation. The place did look the part with its floor-to-ceiling assortment of drawers, all labeled and allegedly filled with personality traits. At the time, he told himself he was “just playing around,” but now accepted that his attitude must’ve come across as mocking when he requested they give him an adventure instead.
Rafael went to bed like usual only to wake up on his blanket and pillow in a crater filled with corpses of green lizard people in military gear. He was no expert on alien lizard biology by all accounts, but judging from the bodies’ rot, they had been dead for a long time.
After spending the first half-hour pinching himself to wake up, screaming for help, and begging to be returned home, Rafael settled to a state of acceptance. An adventure was what they must’ve given me, he thought. I’m not sure why my clothes are different and why they didn’t bother to give me my shoes.
With no answers, he wandered about the graveyard. He knew he wouldn’t get far in his socks, so he took a pair of boots from a corpse. He then pilfered a golden sword and what he interrupted as an automatic assault rifle from someone who looked important because of their uniform’s cleanliness and intricateness.
“I wouldn’t normally steal from the dead, but I’m just trying to survive, so I hope you will forgive me,” Rafael apologized as he equipped himself. “Man, I wish you could tell me where I’m at.”
The alien landscape reminded him of some photos he’d seen of Mars but mixed with New Mexico’s desert that he’d experienced with his older brother and cousins during a road trip to visit family. A few hours passed, and all was silent until three white lights whizzed past above him. They looked like drones to Rafael as they spun a circle around them, flashed gold, and proceed to fly north. With no better leads, he chased after them.
Thanks to the flat red clay valley and the casual cruising speed of the lights, they were easy for him to follow. The lights came to a stop when they arrived at a patch of land unobtrusive by bodies or nature. The lights spread out, singling for a landing spot for the spacecraft above. To Rafael, it looked like a house-size flying limo. The ship had a few significant scratches against its shiny black paint, but they only gave it a sexy rebel battle scar vibe. Along the side near the front were neon blue digital letters in an unrecognizable language until he blinked. They transformed into English to read Starbringer II.
The side doors began to slide open. Rafael pointed his rifle at them, but then he had a thought. Maybe they’re here in peace? After all, if they wanted me dead, they probably could’ve killed me from their ship. Rafael returned his gun to his holster.
The ship’s ramp extended out, letting off three people. Taking command of the center was a six-foot-tall humanoid lizard with sapphire, red skin. There was something about her that gave Rafael the impression she was a slick, badass rebel with a gentle heart. She sported black jeans and a black leather jacket with a neon blue backlight like a rebel, but then she also wore a black t-shirt with a drawing of a calm white tree with flowery branches.
To her left was a seven-foot-tall minotaur with red bull fur and muscles that could crash kegs with a glance. Numerous pockets adorned his outfit, from his brown camo cargo pants to his matching brown shirt. Then to the woman’s right was a flying metallic silver sphere the size of three basketballs with four mechanical arms surrounding it.
The lizard woman pointed her pistol up, flipping it to its side, showing she was didn’t want to fight. She spoke to Rafael.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand you,” Rafael replied.
The woman sighed. She turned to the robot and issued a request. The robot beeped, pulled out a wristband from a compartment inside itself, and strapped it around Rafael’s wrist. Rafael was hesitant but didn’t resist. Upon finishing, the white wrist band pricked his skin like a needle.
“Ouch,” Rafael commented.
“There, can you understand me now?” the woman asked with slight annoyance in her tone.
“Yes, I can understand you now. What is this thing?”
“It’s a basic networker,” she explained, dumbfounded that he didn’t know the answer. “How’d you get here, kid?”
“All I know is that I went to sleep in my bed, and I woke up in a crater filled with dead bodies on an alien planet.”
The minotaur huffed. “You expect us to believe that?”
“I swear, I have no idea where I am or how I got here.”
The robot emitted a series of beeps.
“I see,” the woman acknowledged. “What is the name of your homeworld?”
“What!?” the minotaur exclaimed. The robot beeped in confirmation. The minotaur turned to the robot. “What do you mean he’s not lying?”
The woman put the backside of her hand against the minotaur in a gesture to calm him. “You’re a long, long way from home then. My name is Kára. The big lug is Sinas, and the mechanical is Norbit.”
“I’m Rafael. Could you help me get home?”
“Visiting Earth is highly restricted, but I might know someone who can smuggle you in.”
“But it won’t be easy, and it sure won’t be cheap,” Kára finished. “We could use someone in our crew to do miscellaneous errands, you know, earn your way back home.”
“I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” Rafael offered.
“Good. How about you start by handing over that sword you got. The family commissioned me to retrieve it.”
Without wavering, Rafael turned the sword over. “Here. It’s yours.”
“Thank you. I hope you’re an adventurous sort, Rafael, cause that’s what’s in store for you as part of my crew.”
This week’s short story was brought to you today by the following writing prompt: “You lay your head down to sleep, only to wake as the sole survivor of a horrific battle of some kind. Blasted earth and wreckage are all that surround you. You walk through this silent graveyard towards eerie lights in the sky.”
I thought it would be fun to callback The Little Shop of Personalities with another character having a different reaction to the shop. I was initially stumped on how to end it though. Did I want Rafael to get home or not? No, because he wanted an adventure of a lifetime so I turned his tale into his origin story for joining Starbringer II, which is from an audio drama podcast series I’m developing. Don’t forget, you can find other stories I’ve written about characters and places in the page tags.
Thank you to Bien Julian at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life!
That’s all for this week! Be careful what you wish for now.
The writing group Janet is a part of takes a turn for the weird when two strangers interrupt with peculiar questions and challenges Janet’s curiosity to walk through a mysterious golden door.
There was no time nor day that Janet Nguyen looked forward to the most then Sunday from 2 to 4 pm–even more than her sixteenth birthday tomorrow. She exclusively reserved the weekly two-hour block for the library’s teen girl writers’ meet-up. The eight girls were eclectic in numerous aspects, which Janet loved the diverse voices, genre fans, and writing styles. Fantasy and alternative realties sparked Janet’s passion the most. Even though everyone was different, they were all united by their passion for sharing stories.
Making the group jibe smoothly together was their leader (or coach as she preferred), Brigit. Janet would find herself enthralled whenever Brigit talked about home in Egypt and Egyptian history. While as fascinating as Brigit was, about once a month, she bought in a special guest. A few months ago, their coach brought in an international travel writer to talk about her profession. Then last month she was able to bring a famous YouTube science teacher to discuss proper science in fiction. Janet was able to learn and be inspired by every guest.
Today, they weren’t expecting a special guest, but two busted into the room with energetic enthusiasm. Everyone stared at the newcomers. The first was a man in a white suit with pink outline accents and a woman in a cotton red dress–the kind one would wear to work–holding a tablet. Both had raven-black hair, with man’s short and messy and the woman’s long and free-flowing.
“Hello, everybody!” the man greeted with a booming flair. He slapped both hands on the table, looked everyone in the eye, and asked, “What does it feel like to write?”
Something about their appearance and accent made Janet think they were Norwegian. They were quite peculiar, Janet thought. Who asks a room full of authors what it feels like to write? Janet looked to her coach for her reaction. Brigit had her arms crossed with her back leaning against the wall, making Janet suspect Brigit planned for these guests.
Janet half expected Ashley to jump up with an answer. When she didn’t, Janet looked over at her. A dreamy adoring gaze covered Ashley’s face. With no one jumping in, Janet stood up, as custom when speaking in the group. “It’s beautiful.”
The women in the red dress typed on the tablet while the man focused on Janet. He grinned. “What’s beautiful about it?”
“The impact the stories have on people,” Janet explained, firm in her conviction. “Like, how you can change the world, or simply bring joy to one person.”
The man copied Brigit’s crossed arms and posture against the wall as he stood next to the coach. He turned to her. “You got a smart group here, Brigit.”
Brigit nodded. “Thank you, Loki.”
Loki turned to the woman in the red dress. “What do you say, Raven? Do you like her?”
“Janet Nguyen appears to be a suitable test candidate,” Raven commented, looking up from her tablet at Brigit and Loki. “I’ve already placed the attachment on your door, Brigit.”
Brigit stood forward. “Excellent.” She snapped her fingers. “Janet, would you go through that door?”
The group of girls turned around. A lavish golden door with a round top and encased in a matching metal frame stood tall in the back of the room. Attached to the side by the door handle was a red box the size of a brick. The door wasn’t there earlier, and none of the girls had ever seen their coach bring it before.
Janet turned to her coach. “Where did that door come from?”
“You’re a writer,” Brigit told her. “Use that curiosity of yours and open it.”
Janet took a deep breath and walked toward the door. The whole room had their eyes glued on her, which Janet could feel them watching her like a lab rat. She gripped the glistening golden lever, pushed it down, and carefully open the door. A bright golden light washed over her.
Bridget woke up in her bed with a hazy head. The morning sun broke through her purple silk curtains, slashing across her face and adding to her disorientation.
She grabbed her black, cat-eye plastic-framed glasses from her nightstand and put them on. Her vision got worse. She took them off and could clearly see her various figurines of fairies and dragons on the black bookcase across the room. She did a double-take and put the glasses back on. Again, she couldn’t see. Everything was in focus when she wasn’t wearing them.
“That’s weird,” Janet mumbled.
She tossed off the purple blankets covering her, revealing her black jeans, dolphin t-shirt, and red sneakers. She even had her bra on, which no matter how tired she was, she would’ve taken it off, along with her shoes. Then it dawned on her. It was the same outfit she was wearing yesterday at the writer’s club.
“That was a dream, right?” she questioned.
Before she could answer, her parents burst into the room with a breakfast tray with a plate of French toast, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and a chocolate cupcake decorated with a flaming candle. Janet smiled at the sight of her favorite foods.
“Happy Sixteenth Birthday!” her mom and dad shouted in unison.
Janet’s dad brought the tray to her. “Blow out out your candle.”
Janet blew out the candle, her breath releasing an icy wind that sprinkled snowflakes on her father’s arm. Janet slapped her hand over the mouth when she saw what she did. Her mother began to cry.
“She has magic powers,” her mother cried in Korean to her husband. “I thought she would turn 16 and not reveal any magic. Now they’re going to take my baby away.”
“Who’s going to take me away?” Janet demanded in English. “What’s going on?”
“You know what’s going to happen,” her father chastised as if she should know. “Magic is illegal. The government is going to detect your magic and arrest you.”
“What?” Janet snapped. “You can’t be serious?”
A massive bang of wood breaking erupted from downstairs. All three of them jumped from the sound of the intrusion.
“Magic is active on the second floor!” a voice commanded from below. “Apprehend the caster!”
Boots pounded on the wooden steps. Her father sat the tray on the nightstand, ushering his wife to the side of the room, providing a clear path for the squad of army troops that stormed into the room. Janet stared, dumbfounded and anxious, at the four armed men and women as they raised their guns her. Janet’s parents embraced each other, turning their heads away from the scene. Janet’s jaw dropped in confusion as to why her parents would uncharacteristic be so willing to give her away. Why aren’t they doing anything?
The soldiers exchanged confirming glances before tasing Janet unconscious.
The harsh cold from the concrete floor woke Janet up this time. She found herself alone, behind bars, in an abandoned prison. From the lack of modern amenities, she bet the government decommissioned the place decades ago. The only light entering the cell was from the yellow, flickering fluorescent light in the hallway and the glow of the full moon behind her barred window.
With a grasp of her surroundings, she inspected herself. She wasn’t bleeding, so that was good. Nothing felt broken either. She hadn’t been forced into a different outfit, but a stiff metal collar was now around her neck.
Janet desperately wanted to call out to confirm if she was alone or not, but she didn’t want to alert the wrong people. Part of her wanted to be alone to process how she had ice breath, why her parents betrayed her, and what was going to happen to her next. She got an answer to latter, though, when someone tapped on the window bars. She let out a tiny screech before she noticed the cute teenage boy. His green eyes twinkled with a sparkle of kindness.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he apologized in a hushed voice.
“Who are you?” Janet whispered back.
“I’m here to break you out.”
With his bare hands, he ripped off the window bars like a person opening a tight jar and gently tossed them on the pavement outside. “Like so. Now come on before the patrol checks in,” he said still keeping his voice quiet.
“How did you do that?” Janet asked astounded.
“Vampire super strength. I’ll explain more later, but we need to get you to safety.”
Janet grabbed his outreached hand. He whisked her into her arms and flew into the sky. Down below, a pair of soldiers arrived examining the damage. The vampire put a hand around her neck, crushing the collar and letting it fall onto the Arizona desert.
“They won’t be able to track you now, and you’ll be able to use your magic again,” he explained. “But don’t the moment you do use any magic, they’ll be able to track it, so don’t cast anything unless absolutely necessary.”
“Okay, I won’t,” Janet assured. “I don’t even know how anyway.”
“If the council is right, it should come naturally for you since you’re the chosen one. The one whose sixteenth birthday falls on a full moon. The one destined to overthrow the fascist anti-magic government.”
“What the fuck?” Janet cussed, confused. She wasn’t one to swear, but the transgression felt justified. “I’m what?”
“It will all make sense when you meet with the Council of Casters.”
The name hit Janet like a crashing car of familiarity. She took a hard look at her savor.
“Is your name Zadicus?”
“Why, yes,” he replied, impressed. “How did you know?”
“Because I created you! I create this whole world where magic is normal but illegal. This all happens in a story I’m writing. But how is this possible?”
Zadicus shrugged. “Perhaps the council will have the answers you seek.”
“Brigit…” Janet uttered. “Zadicus, take me to the downtown library.”
“At this hour? They’re closed. I should get you to–”
“No, take me to the library,” Janet insisted. “I have the feeling someone will be there waiting for me.”
“As you wish.”
Zadicus changed course, flying toward the city, out of the desert. Along the journey, Janet noticed all the public art in her town was gone, and anti-magic propaganda replaced the billboard advertisements. “Protect Our Children: Root Out the Casters.” “See Magic? Say Something!” “Make America Magic Free.” Janet wanted to barf.
As requested, Zadicus slowly landed Janet by the downtown library. As she suspected (and secretly prayed), the golden door stood outside by the main entrance of the modern design building. Loki, Raven, and Brigit played a game of cards from a patio table beside the door.
Brigit sat her cards on the table. “Looks like we all lost. She came back much sooner than excepted.”
“Perhaps another time, her path will take a detour,” Raven chimed in as Janet marched up to the table with her fits balled up.
“How the hell did you make my book come to life?” Janet demanded.
“Science you wouldn’t understand,” Loki responded with smug superiority.
“Whatever…Just get me home.”
“Go through the door and pretend nothing happened,” Brigit explained with a seductive calmness that made Janet relax her hands. “Emphasis on the latter.”
Janet huffed in relief and opened the door. Like before, a golden light swept over her as she stepped through. Janet found herself back in the library, walking through the door as if she had been plucked out of time and space to visit another world and returned precisely where and how she had left. She turned around, looking through the doorframe back at the writers’ club.
“Is something supposed to happen?” Ashely snidely remarked.
“And that’s the power of using distraction to create intrigue,” Bridget proclaimed. “While Loki and Raven had your attention, none of you noticed the librarian wheeling in my door. You all thought it was magic. Now, I want you all to remember this lesson for your own stories. You can set up plot elements without revealing them right when they happen. Distracting your characters will distract your readers too. That’s all for this week. I hope to see you girls again next week.”
As the girls gathered their belongings, Janet closed the door, making sure not to cross through the frame. Loki and Raven left the room with the group, making Janet the last one to go with Brigit holding the door open.
As Janet left, clinging tightly to her backpack, her coach whispered, “I hope you were especially inspired, Janet.”
Extending past 2,100 words, this is my longest short story so far this year. This story was inspired by two different writing prompts. The first was, “‘Hello, everyone! What does it feel like to write?’ Everyone in the room looked at the newcomer who had just burst in. They were quite peculiar, after all, who asks a room full of authors what it feels like to write? But you were willing to humor them, so you stood up to answer the question.”
Using the first prompt, I got to the point of the golden door, but over the week, I couldn’t decide happened to Janet on the other side until I got inspired by another prompt: “In a world where magic is real but illegal, you’re being hunted down for showing magical prowess on your birthday.”
With that second bit of inspiration, I had the other side be one of Janet’s stories. As long as this story turned out, there is room to make it longer. I make a joke at the end with everyone being surprised Janet got back so fast.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this week’s short story.
After months of dreaming about a mysterious figure burying a box in front of a gnarled oak tree, Sydney stumbles upon the same oak tree during a jog.
Ripped away from the loving embrace of the comforter, Sydney fought to hold onto the dream as she tried to get a clear look at the mysterious person who had been regularly haunting her. She thought this would be the grand reveal. The faceless stranger would develop a face. This time she would succeed! But when that cover came off, Sydney drifted out of the dream, dragged backward by a giant invisible hand from her answer.
For the past few months, her dreams would start randomly (or be inspired to replay something stressful or embarrassing like dreams tend to do), but inevitably, the plot would shift toward her witnessing a small box being buried under a gnarled oak tree by a hooded figure, wrapped in red. Whenever they noticed her, it was dream over.
Sydney groaned, and she opened her eyes to her girlfriend, Chloe, standing beside her. Chloe sported a pair of bright, purple leggings (with the most enormous pockets she’s ever found on workout pants) and a tank-top with a creepy purple eye from some weird podcast she loved.
“Adventure!” Chloe declared as she tossed Sydney’s running pants in her face.
“I was so close,” Sydney mumbled with the pants on her face.
“To beating me in a race?”
Sydney tossed the pants on the floor as she sat up. “To getting a good look at the stranger burying that box.”
Chloe pitched a tank-top that read, “Adulting is Hard,” at Sydney, which she caught.
“That’s what you said last time.”
“And you woke me up early then too,” Sydney stated with a yawn. “Perhaps I should solve the mystery of how you can function this early without any coffee.”
“I’m freak like that,” Chloe winked. “Now, come on, adventure!”
Sydney did enjoy her morning jogs (and cycling on the weekends) with Chloe. They had been running together before they started dating. It was during one of their jogs when Sydney confessed her feelings for Chloe. She peered over at Chloe, who was wandering around in her imagination. She smiled, thinking of how happy she was with her.
Chloe tended to take random routes while jogging, cycling, car drives–it didn’t matter–she would get lost on purpose. “Adventure!” she would often proclaim as her excuse and defense. Today was no exception when she took an unannounced sharp right through a prairie grass field.
Sydney followed, making a mental note to check for ticks when they returned home as Chloe plowed forward. Shortly through the field, the ground dipped down to reveal a creek.
“A creek,” Chloe cheered. “This is so picturesque. Syd, you want to follow it up?”
Sydney shrugged. “Sure.”
Had Sydney known the path would lead them up a steep hill, she would’ve said no. Had Sydney known that the top of the secluded hill had an abandoned cemetery, she would’ve said hell no.
“Let’s see who can find the oldest tombstone,” Chloe challenged and raced to the nearest one.
There weren’t that many tombstones to inspect. Sydney’s best guest was 20. None of the grave markers stood out, but the gnarled oak tree off in the corner made Sydney freeze. Chloe shouted some date as she moved to inspect another, but Sydney drowned it out as she focused on the tree from her dream.
“No fucking way,” Sydney mumbled.
Chloe popped her head up. “What? What did you say?”
Sydney pointed. “It’s the same tree from my dreams.”
As Chloe turned to look, a person wrapped in a red cloak stood from the tree, coming into their view.
“No fucking way,” Sydney mumbled, again, louder this time for Chloe to hear. The stranger noticed them and ran off. Sydney bolted after them, shouting. “Hey! Stop! Who are you?”
Sydney chased them into a patch of prairie grass. A windowless, metal red door stood in the middle. The stranger was fast, faster than Chloe even. The stranger opened the red door and went through. When the door closed, it blinked out of existence.
Sydney stopped where the door once stood, with Chloe caught up.
“You saw that, right?” Sydney asked.
“Yeah, I saw that. That was the person from your dreams, right?”
“I think so.”
“Do you think they left that box behind too?”
Sydney paused. “You know what, we should go check.”
At the base of the gnarled oak tree was a patch of freshly moved soil. Sydney dropped to knees, declaring, “Fuck it,” as she started to dig with her bare hands. Without hesitation, Chloe kneed down and joined in.
After digging a foot deep, they unearthed a rustic wooden red box the size of a person’s head. Sydney lifted the lid off. Inside were a pair of red fabric facemasks and an index card. Sydney grabbed the note while Chloe took out a facemask.
“This handwriting looks like mine,” Sydney commented.
“What does it say?”
“You’ll both need these in three years for 2020.”
The red metal door opened. The stranger ran through, closed the door behind themselves, and took off their hood. It was an older version of Sydney by about five years. Together, under the night sky in an empty field, was a tall, slender man in a pink suit she knew as Loki and a woman named Raven with a similar slim build, but a little shorter and in a red dress. Behind those two was a door the same color as Loki’s suit.
“It’s done,” Sydney stated before she rapidly deteriorated into ash.
Raven tossed Loki a gold coin, which he ceremoniously caught. She tapped notes into her tablet.
“You won that round,” Raven graciously conceded. “She was willing to alter time, knowing it would cause her death, just to create a future with Chloe.”
“Don’t worry,” Loki teased as made the coin disappear from a sleight of hand trick. “You’ll get more opportunities, especially since those two live longer now.”
Inspired by the writing prompt, “Every night, you have the same dream. A small box being buried under a knarled oak tree, by someone you don’t recognize. The dream always ends when they notice you there. You don’t think too much of it, until one day, you spot the tree from your dreams, in the centre of a local graveyard.”
For this story, I decided to feature Sydney and Chloe from The Spiral Staircase in the Woods, to see them together as a couple. I struggled to decide what to put in the box. One of my first ideas was one of those personality cards from the Little Shop of Personalities, but then the whole face masks and 2020 warning came into my mind and I couldn’t think of anything else. I re-read their first story to make sure I didn’t anchor it at any time and then I ran with the idea. Originally I was trying not to feature Loki and Raven (and perhaps a new end-timer), but I liked that nice callback twist at the end I came up.