Murdering Malcolm

By my calculations, today’s post puts us at the half-way point in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. For those who haven’t been following, I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories based on prompts suggested in the previous day’s comments. For today’s, I’ve chosen a prompt suggested by Jane Burgess a few days ago by accident (we were collecting L prompts at the time). But hand-on-heart, I didn’t think about it until last night, so I didn’t cheat! I still only gave myself a few hours to come up with a story. And here it is:

MURDERING MALCOLM

Simon and I work together. Freelancers. Guns for hire. Our main client is some shadowy operation called The Organization. We don’t need to know anything else about them as long as the money’s good. These days it’s a discreet direct deposit in our joint business account.

I got the call Friday night. Saturday morning we went to the safe deposit boxes. They usually give us a hit each. Payment upon completion.

We opened our envelopes together. Simon glanced up at me.

“Hey, Malcolm. I think they switch them by accident.”

I looked at the card inside mine.

It said, Malcolm.

Tomorrow’s Sunday, a day off from the A-to-Z Challenge, which gives me an extra day to think about Monday’s story. I’m looking for N prompts. So… noodle around in your noggins and see what you can come up with! 🙂

Lost Horizon

For today’s A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 100-word story, I’m trying a change of pace. Something a bit different. It’s not really a story, though it sort-of tells a story. It is what it is, anyway, and I hope you enjoy it. Appropriately for “L”-Day, we have lissa to thank for the prompt. Thanks, lissa!! Here’s the “story”:

LOST HORIZON

I never knew my father. He was just a fact. Someone who had to exist for me to exist. All Mom ever said was he lived and died by his work. I never thought accountancy that kind of a job, but Mom wouldn’t elaborate. “Drop it, Lee,” was her last word on the subject.

Then I found the journal full of plans. Dreams of traveling from horizon to horizon, never stopping.

The last entry: “Barbara’s pregnant.”

I’m carrying that journal now as I board the plane to Gatwick.

I took his dream. The least I can do is live it.

Tomorrow’s letter is M, so I need some M prompts. I’ll consider those offered the other day by accident… but feel free to suggest more! 🙂

Killer Tomatoes

It’s Day “K” of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, where I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories every day in April based on your prompts. Looking through yesterday’s suggestions for today’s story, I have to say either y’all have a macabre streak, or I’m bringing out the worst in you. In the end, Dena Pawling‘s prompt suggested to me something a little… different. So, here’s today’s story:

KILLER TOMATOES

His whole life had been building to this moment. From Chef Tanner, his first boss, who beat him and told him he’d never amount to anything, through culinary school, then owning his own restaurant.

Karl set a bowl before each of the judges. Competition was tough at the State Fair cooking contest, but he was confident that his tomato soup was a winner.

They each took a sip. The first three judges nodded. Smiled.

The last judge coughed. Gasped. Collapsed on the floor. The other judges tried to help. Someone called for medical assistance.

Karl smirked.

“Something wrong, Mr. Tanner?”

These prompts are awesome, so keep them coming! Tomorrow’s letter is “L”…

P.S.: If you’re doing the A-to-Z Challenge, don’t forget to add a link to your blog when you comment. Also, if you enjoy my work and you’re on Twitter, look out for my daily #vss365 stories (@colin_d_smith).

Jockey

The A-to-Z Challenge continues on the blog. 100-word flash fiction stories written in a less than a day. A few hours, actually, if you account for the fact that I have to read all the comments before I choose a prompt. Thankfully, you’re all keeping the prompts coming and giving me good ideas to choose from. Today’s prompt was suggested by debscarey. Thanks, Debs! This is a story for 80s music lovers…

JOCKEY

I should have suspected something was up, the way Julie kept looking at the DJ. She scowled at every song.

Julie was an 80s princess. Somewhere between Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. That’s how I’ll remember her.

The DJ played Duran Duran, “Is There Something I Should Know.” Julie frowned.

Then it was “Who Can It Be Now?” Men at Work. Meant nothing to me. Didn’t care about the music. Just wanted to dance. But Julie was really troubled.

When he played Cutting Crew, she was gone. So was he.

I found her in the alley.

She died in my arms.

Tomorrow is K-day, so I need letter K prompts. What have you got for me? 🙂

Ice

You are no doubt aware by now that I’m participating in this year’s A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. As in years past, I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories. Unlike years past, however, I have not written these stories weeks in advance. These stories are inspired by commenter prompts given the day before. For the letter “I” I have chosen one of AJ Blythe‘s suggestions. AJ lives in Australia and is clearly looking forward to their cold season which is fast approaching. So, without further ado…

ICE

“Are you sure?”

Jacob scratched his beard as he peered over the edge. Ice crystals had formed on the wooden rail. Below, the streets, paths, and parks merged into a single white field, with snow frosted trees poking through. Swimming pools and lakes were sheets of glass.

They came to rest on a rooftop and unloaded.

“Are you really sure, boss?” Jacob said.

“Of course! Look at all the snow!”

“But there are no decorations.”

“Sad, but not unexpected. Bound to happen eventually.”

“And it’s Florida!”

“Your GPS is wrong.”

“And it’s JULY!”

Santa scratched his beard.

“Are you sure?”

Tomorrow’s letter is J. What prompt ideas do you have for me? Thanks for keeping the suggestions coming! 🙂

P.S.: If you’re enjoying my stories and have a Twitter account, check out the daily Very Short Stories I’m writing for the “vss365” year-long Twitter challenge. Search for the hashtag #vss365.

Who Review: The Two Doctors

The Second Doctor and Jamie have been sent by the Time Lords to investigate time experiments being conducted by Messers Kartz and Reimer, under the supervision of an eminent scientist named Dastari. The Time Lords fear such meddling with time could have catastrophic results, and therefore must be stopped. The Doctor delivers the message, but Dastari refuses to comply with their demands. Before negotiations can progress, Sontaran warriors invade Dastari’s space station. Dastari falls unconscious, and the Doctor is held at gunpoint while Jamie runs for his life… Meanwhile, the Sixth Doctor isn’t feeling himself. Fearing trouble with one of his past incarnations, he decides to call on his old friend, Dastari. By the time the Doctor and Peri arrive, the station crew are dead, and Dastari is nowhere to be found. The Doctor locates his other self by means of telepathic link, and they leave to find out what’s going on. What they discover is a plot to give the Sontarans the power of time travel–a prospect the universe cannot tolerate. Somehow the Doctor must save his other self, and together they must stop the Sontarans from achieving their greatest and most deadly weapon…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

As far as I know, there was no particular anniversary to celebrate when “The Two Doctors” was first broadcast. And yet this is a special story since it’s Robert Holmes’s first Who since Peter Davison’s finale, “The Caves of Androzani” the year before, and we see the return of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. We last saw Troughton in “The Five Doctors,” the 20th Anniversary special which aired in November of 1983. If these things aren’t enough, Robert Holmes wrote his very first Doctor Who story, “The Krotons,” for the Second Doctor back in 1968. So this is the first time he has written for him in seventeen years! Perhaps looking to make the most of the occasion, the production team gave the story three 45-minute episodes, almost the equivalent of a traditional 6-parter. We haven’t seen Who serials that long since the Seventies.

The story has its critics, but I can’t honestly say I’m one of them. It’s not the best work Holmes has done, but it’s far from bad. He does everything you should do in a story–especially a Doctor Who story. He establishes a premise for the Second Doctor being involved, and for the Sixth Doctor crossing his time line. Also, the Doctor can’t just leave without rescuing his old self, otherwise he would be putting himself in grave danger, with the possibility of even greater danger should the Sontarans learn how to time travel. None of the characters are window dressing; they all play a part in the plot. The two humans, Oscar and Anita, show our heroes the location of the hacienda where Dastari has set up shop. They are also running the restaurant where Shockeye and the Second Doctor dine, and where Shockeye commits murder. Dastari leads the time travel experimentation, and is the reason both Doctors are there. The Androgums and the Sontarans both want the experiments to succeed for their own agendas, providing conflict and creating obstacles for our heroes to overcome. Holmes even makes the rather arbitrary location work as part of the story plot (it was supposed to be set in New Orleans, but that fell through so they went to Seville).

Holmes also makes the most of the three episodes by taking his time to develop characters and weave the plot. Characterization was one of his gifts, and we see that here with Oscar the moth collector and actor, who helps the TARDIS crew but ends up on the wrong end of a knife. He also created quite a vile race in the omnivorous Androgums.  It seems Homes was vegerarian, so this story provided him an easy platform for biting commentary on meat-eating. Especially harsh (though, as a vegetarian myself, quite amusing) was his comment as he’s tenderizing Jamie’s legs, that as a “lower creature,” humans don’t feel pain like the “higher” Androgums do, so there’s no real harm in malleting his muscles!

It’s nice to see Jamie again. He was supposed to be in “The Five Doctors,” but Fraser Hines’s schedule didn’t permit. He seems to slip back into the role rather effortlessly, even to the point of failing to flirt with Anita. At the end, he steals a peck on Peri’s cheek, as if to prove to himself he’s a lady’s man (see similar awkwardness at the end of “The Faceless Ones”).

The darker tone to the stories this season continues. Not only do we have the Androgums, and their talk of eating flesh, and devouring humans, but there are some unusually graphic scenes (graphic for Who, anyway). In one scene, Shockeye carries the lower half of a blown-off Sontaran leg, complete with protruding bone and green blood. And when Oscar is stabbed, he bleeds. At the heart of Dastari’s time travel plan is the recovery of symbiotic nuclei from a Time Lord (namely, the Doctor), and his talk of gene splicing is a bit macabre. Chessene (wonderfully portrayed by Jacqueline Pearce), who is supposed to be a technologically augmented Androgum, able to rise above her base instincts, finally succumbs to her native tastes when she falls on the ground outside the Hacienda, wipes blood from the ground with her hand, and licks it. Again, strong stuff for Doctor Who.

There are a couple of places I would most fault “The Two Doctors.” The first, and most obvious, is with the Sontaran costume design and casting. The Sontarans are supposed to be a clone race of short and stocky warriors. The two Sontarans we see are both tall, one is taller than the other, and one (maybe both, I don’t recall) sports a goatee! And the facial prosthetics are not nearly as good as the original 1974 mask (see “The Time Warrior”). I can only wonder how Robert Holmes, creator of the Sontarans, let this happen. Perhaps he had no say in the matter, which would not be unusual.

Also, I think Oscar’s death scene is a little too light. Oscar hams it up because that’s his character, though since he really is dying, I can’t imagine he would be so theatrical about it. Anita cries, and is upset, but she’s not really distraught. Even if she didn’t love him as much as he thought she did, she just witnessed a murder. Perhaps they dialed it back out of regard for the children in the audience, though that would be inconsistent given the tone of the story.

Overall, “The Two Doctors” is a good story, and worth watching. It’s not Must-See Who, but it is Patrick Troughton’s last appearance as the Doctor, so the Whovian should watch it if only for that reason. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the best of the Holmes canon, but there’s a lot worse you could watch.

 

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 16: Introduction

We started our study of chapter 16 by reading through the entire chapter, and making some general observations about the bowls.

First, this is the last of the three (or four if we count the “thunders” in 10:3-4 that John was told to seal up and not write down) sets of seven judgments. There were the seven seals in 6:1-17 and 8:1, the seven trumpets in 8:2-9:20 and 11:15-19, and now the seven bowls that occupy the entirety of chapter 16. It’s notable that all three end with the Last Day, which suggests some kind of parallelism going on.

Another striking feature of these judgments is the way they correspond to some extent with the plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh and Egypt in Exodus 7-12. This correspondence is less pronounced in the seals judgments, but certainly more noticeable with both the trumpets and the bowls. We laid them out in a chart:

TRUMPETS BOWLS PLAGUES
1 Hail, fire, blood Sores Boils (Ex. 9:8-12); Hail and fire (Ex.9:22-26)
2 Sea becomes blood; 1/3 sea creatures die Sea becomes blood; all sea creatures die Water turned to blood (Ex 7:17-25)
3 1/3 of rivers + fountains poisoned Rivers and fountains turned to blood Ex. 7:17-25 again
4 1/3 of sun, moon, stars go dark Sun affected; scorches people Darkness (Ex. 10:21-23); Fire (Ex. 9:21-26)
5 Darkness from smoke; locusts Beast’s kingdom darkened; anguish Locusts (Ex. 10:4-20); Darkness (Ex. 10:21-23)
6 Angels @ Eurphrates; 1/3 people killed Euphrates dries up; Frogs Frogs (Ex. 8:2-15)
7 Kingdom comes; lightning, thunder, earthquake, hail “It is done.” Thunder, lightning, earthquake, hail Hail (Ex. 9:22-24)

The parallels are not precise, but that’s to be expected. The visions given to John by the Lord are not simply a replay of the Exodus plagues. The Lord is creating a connection between the historical Exodus and these visions. Why? Because of what the Exodus foreshadowed. In the Exodus event, we see God bring judgment against Egypt, Pharaoh, and the Egyptian deities (i.e., the idolatry of Egypt). We also see God redeeming His people, breaking their bondage to Pharaoh, and leading them through the desert to the Promised Land. This key moment in Israel’s history is a picture of our redemption in Christ, the centerpiece being the Passover, which ultimately symbolizes Christ’s sacrificial death on behalf of his people.

What John sees in these visions is a picture of God’s judgment against the “earth-dwellers,” those who worship the Beast, and reject the Lamb. It’s also a picture of God’s loving provision for His own, those whose names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life, who wear his name on their foreheads. This protection is not an earthly, worldly protection. As we will see in chapter 17, those who run after the Beast despair when the riches and power are stripped away, and the full wrath of God is poured out upon them. God’s people, however, know that this world is passing. In the grand scheme of eternity, this life is a blip. It doesn’t matter what happens to them in this world, because their sins have been paid for, and their lives are in Christ. Through him, they have security, and heavenly promises that make the things of this world pale in comparison.

We’ve discussed before whether or not there’s a chronology to these visions. Our view is that these visions were given to John one after the other, but the sequence in which John sees them does not necessarily map to an actual chronological sequence. Rather, John is seeing vignettes, glimpses at things the Lord wishes to show him. The seals, trumpets, and bowls are not all judgments yet to come, but most are judgments that have happened, and will continue until the Lord returns. I think it’s possible to see an intensification in the global turmoil that happens as the Lord lifts His hand of restraint and pours out His judgment, both in terms of the progression from the first seal/trumpet/bowl to the seventh, and from the seals to the bowls. But all these judgments cover the same time period. This is why we see correspondence and parallels between them.

The most striking parallel is the the fact that they all end with the Last Day. Both the seals and the trumpets are quite explicit that the Lord’s return happens on the seventh seal/trumpet. I think this is also the case with the seventh bowl, since with that bowl, the Lord declares “It is done.” This suggests quite strongly that the seals, trumpets, and bowls all finish at the same time.

As we turn to the bowls, notice that the bowls are called “the bowls of the wrath of God.” This is not God’s indiscriminate judgment on an undeserving people. As Ephesians 2:1-3 reminds us, we are all children of wrath by nature, sinful and rebellious, and deserving of God’s righteous anger. It’s only by His grace in Christ that He turns His wrath away from any of us. Jesus’s death for our sin satisfies the wrath of God, so there is peace between the Christian and God. For those who are left to account for their own sin, God’s wrath remains upon them.

We’ll begin digging into Revelation 16 next time…

Horrendously Hairy

We continue the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, in which I attempt to write a 100-word flash fiction story every day for the month of April. On Saturday, the commenters gave me some wonderful prompt suggestions, a couple of which I will no doubt use for other flash fiction pieces. The one I chose for today’s story was suggested by One Of Us Has To Go:

HORRENDOUSLY HAIRY

It wasn’t a particularly large spider… if you live in Australia. But here in Upstate New York, it was a monster.

We stared each other down, me in sweat pants and t-shirt holding a pan. Him with his beady eyes and hairy legs. Like my ex-boyfriend. I managed to get rid of him; maybe I can persuade Itsy-Bitsy here to go without any bloodshed.

But he moved in my direction, and I knew this would end in murder.

I disposed of the body, washed the pan, and cleaned the mess on the counter.

I guess it’s easier second time around.

What letter “I” prompts do you have for me for tomorrow’s story…? 🙂

P.S.: If you’re doing the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge too, don’t forget to provide a link to your blog when you comment.

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge Re-Cap: Week 1

The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge takes a break on Sundays, so I’m using this opportunity to recap the previous week’s posts. As you may or may not know, I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories for this year’s challenge. These are the stories I’ve written so far:

A: Above the Clouds

B: Buttered Bread

C: Cranky Crustacean

D: Double Dare

E: Eventide

F: Fish and Chips

G: Gorgeous Gnome

Check back tomorrow to see what I’ve written for H! 🙂

Gorgeous Gnome

We’ve come to the end of the first week of the A-to-Z Challenge, which means we’re on the letter G. For those who don’t know, I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories for this year’s fun-and-games. And to add a little spice to the chili (or pressure to over-inflated tire, maybe!), the stories are based on prompt suggestions given the day before. Eek!

For today’s story, I’m going with Dena Pawling‘s suggestion. Thanks, Dena! So, without further ado…

GORGEOUS GNOME

Miss Sable’s gnome was the envy of the town.

“Looks a bit like George Clooney, doesn’t he?” Agnes Pew commented one morning.

“Who?” said her daughter. “I think he looks like Zac Efron.”

“Whatever, Dolores. He’s gorgeous.”

“Yeah, he’s gorgeous.”

The gnome sat by the edge of Miss Sable’s pond, his fishing rod hanging in the water. Stone-faced. Unfeeling. Unflinching. Even as the toads leaped from his head, and newts crawled over his legs.

Miss Sable watched the admirers from her living room window.

“You were a pretty boy, weren’t you?” she sighed. “But after you called me those names…”

We take Sundays off for the challenge, so I’ve got some extra time to write Monday’s story. But what will my prompt be? I’m looking for some good H words and phrases. What have you got? Thanks!