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Welcome to Word Enchilada S01E01

We write prototypes, eat enchiladas and get in fights

What?

A microquest for Everything2 in the spirit of Game Jams

How?

The updated rules are in Word Enchilada Rules, but here’s the TL;DR

  1. Just before the Quest starts, a theme will be revealed;
  2. You have 48 hours to write a prototype1 that follows2 the theme;
  3. You post the prototype in this node;
  4. You give a 0--5 star rating for a fellow participant;
  5. ???
  6. Profit! You will receive fabulous prizes3

After the Quest is over, you’re encouraged to give the noder below you some feedback on their prototype. Bear in mind: the goal of Word Enchiladas is to write for fun and outside of one’s comfort zone, so be constructive and be kind.

Theme!

The theme for this Enchilada is:

ABG JURER V YRSG VG

E2 Rot13 Encoder

The suggested nodetype is:

dream

Start and end times

The Word Enchilada starts at February 26, 2021 12:00 PM and ends at February 28, 2021 12:00 PM in whatever time zone you observe.

Notes for today: Prototype Enchilada. Please message andycyca for any and all comments, suggestions and complains about the Quest. How can these Quests improve in the future?


Participants!

noder prototype feedback good enchilada Enchilada master’s notes and extra GP total
RedOmega Y N Good enchilada! That was quick! And very well executed :) 15
ameriwire Y N 5
npecom Y Y (via private message) 10
Jet-Poop Y N 5
Glowing Fish Y N 5
BookReader Y Y 5
nicolasstag Y Y Good enchilada! For being the first to actually leave feedback! 20
vongrim Y Y 10
Zephronias Y YYY! Good Enchilada! This captures the spirit of Enchiladas! Weird prototypes that could become a larger thing! 20
JD Y N Good Enchilada! I’d love to read more on this! This takes the theme in a completely different direction and I like that :) 15
SexyCampCounselor Y N It’s true that this place doesn’t have as much written sex as it did! 5

Closing notes

2021-02-28 20:35 GMT-0600: The first ever Word Enchilada is now over and I'm floored by the reception. I'm ecstatic so see so many good noders taking part in my silly first Quest. While I'm real-life tired right now, I promise I'll go through these and give awards soon. (Tem42, I'll write you soon)

On another note, thanks for actually leaving feedback on your fellow noders. The Game Jams on which this Quest is inspired usually have a panel of judges to give feedback and awards on individual projects, but I figured that would require way too much work here. Instead, I believe it's better for everyone to give small bits of feedback on each other so that the other goals of this Quest (i.e. actually improving as a writer) can be fulfilled.

And lastly, pleasepleaseplease send me any and all feedback or ideas on how to improve these Quests. My initial idea was to have these weekly, but that might be too much? Also, some people expressed their interest in having similar quests on weekdays or other time windows. What do you think about that?

Thank you for participating. Hope to see you soon! --Andy


  1. The word “Prototype” is important here: you’re expected to write a quick draft, not a perfect, well edited writeup.

  2. The phrase “Following the theme” is purposefully ambiguous. Be creative :)

  3. Actually, some GP, depending on how much the E2 gods can spare… Watch this space for updates There's some GP for participants! See the rules for more information

"Bear in mind: the goal of Word Enchiladas is to write for fun and outside of one’s comfort zone, so be constructive and be kind."



"Tools can walk," my dad would say. Set them down for five minutes and they'll disappear on you only to turn up on the other side of the job site, likely as not in the hands of someone else. Do enough work with them you start to get your favorites. A hammer with just the right grip and weight or a knife that can be abused for years and never seems to lose its edge.

For Dad it was a screwdriver. The screwdriver. To the rest of us it was just like any of the others--rusted flat tip and a faded blue plastic handle, chipped on the end--but to him it was magic. Any stuck screw, any spot seemingly out of reach, anything needing to be chiseled, pried, scraped, it did it all. When I was growing up I spent nearly all my time out in the shed with him as we built

When Mom left she took it with her just to spite him. While I was out with my friends, drinking ourselves stupid in the woods, he spent hours in the shed, sometimes until dawn. We were both hurting but I was a teenager and was trying to show I didn't need him anymore. I didn't think that he might've needed me--I should've been for him more.

I went to college, moved out, got married. After he retired he spent nearly all his time in the shed building increasingly elaborate furniture. The living room started to fill with bookshelves. It was a way to process his heartbreak, I suppose.

Then the bedroom became crowded with dressers and he moved a cot into the shed. A hotplate joined it as the kitchen became a forest of chairs, stacked to the ceiling. It was unhealthy but in honesty I never worried too much about it. The house stayed clean and he stayed in good health and good spirits. It was an eccentricity I thought relatively safe to indulge.

After he died my wife and I moved into the house with our new daughter. The shed was exactly as I'd remembered save for the cot and a sunken divot down the center where decades of feet had worn down the dirt. He'd never put anything else in the empty outline where the screwdriver belonged on the pegboard. It was like Mom had taken a piece of him and he couldn't bear to replace it.

We tore it down a few years later when we decided to build a deck. We toppled the walls and started digging out the floor to make room for the new foundation. Until we started digging up bones. My wife called the police who worked for hours carefully uncovering the skeleton.

And there, wedged between the bones halfway up the neck, was the screwdriver.

"Emma. you can't just start in the middle - in medias res - without any idea of what the story is," said Charlie. "Writers who get away with that have a lot more experience than you do."


"You don't think it's a charming way to start?" asks Emma. "Seriously? I thought you found that sort of thing delightful. You know, reflexivity, self-reference, metafiction, all that."


"Mabe one day, Em, but for now, you need to just get to your comfort zone first," said Charlie, hoping that Emma would realize that the way we write, the way we tell stories, is built on an edifice supported by the shoulders of Titans.


"I have it on good authority that we are going to win," said Emma. "It's just a matter of writing it up now.

Charlie laughs sarcastically, "oh? Good authority? Whose?" then added, "and 'it's just a matter of writing it up now'  is a great attitude and all, but it's also the sort of pathological optimism that concerns me about you."


"Charlieeeee, just chill out, okay? Maybe if you want to actually contribute something rather than just being a smug critic . . . "


Charlie asks her, "Seriously though, what makes you so sure you're winning this contest?"


Emma smiles. "It's in this one line I found in the prompt. I think I cracked the code." Emma shows Charlie:

    PUVZVPUNATN NF ZRGNCUBE


"Um," says Charlie. "Emma, I'm worried now. This is starting to sound a little like you're crazy. What is a PUVZNPUNA whatever CUBE?"


"Ah!" says Emma, "you noticed! Cube! That's the whole key to the prompt. The winner will recognize that this is a three-dimensional contest! And I know it now, so basically anything I write that reveals that clever insight . . . it can't help but win hearts and minds."

"Fine," says Charlie after privately rolling his eyes, then audibly sighing. "So you notice it ENDS with 'CUBE' . . . and you take that to be significant in some specific way that I can only say is . . . very creative . . . but what about the PUV PUNA ZONE part?"

Emma corrects him: "UVZVPUNATN NF ZRGN, actually. And those letters can be rearranged to spell  PUN FANZ PUT IN GRN ZN.  See it?"


Charlie stares at Emma, blankly, as she continues to explain as if this were some matter of fact, some verifiable clue to the significance of the string of letters. She says, "Well if it's not obvious to you, I'm starting to feel less certain that it's right. But to me it's pretty obvious that the judges are going to be pun lovers . . . pun fan(Z).  Pun fans are put in the Green Zone! The way to win is with puns, which are the very foundation of ambiguous thought.


Charlie suddenly smiles, impressed. "That actually makes a lot of sense, but don't get carried away with these grandiose, confident conclusions. But I do like where you're headed with this now. Who wrote the prompt for this thing again, by the way?"


"Their handle is 'candycane' .  Probably named Candace or Andy, but obviously a pun lover."
And this thing is called a Chimichanga?" Charlie asks.
"No, it's a fajita actually, which I like to say as "fa JITE ah" because it sounds like 'vagina' " Emma says, with a somewhat childish giggle.
Charlie mumbles a pun that comes to mind, which he very well could have kept to himself, but Charlie finds it hard, when the word 'vagina' comes up, to control himself so well. "Red Vadge of Courage, Emma?" he says with a laugh.
Emma ignores him because she had already thought of that pun a very long time ago.
They both now stare at the code:  UVZVPUNATN NF ZRGN CUBE


Thinking out loud, Emma narrates her line of thought on this, based on what she has divined so far: "OK, so pun lovers . . . Green Zone . . . Cube . .  .   inCUBE!   Incubate?  Incubus?"
"Yeahhhh but Emma, fine, puns, winning, green zones, cube, incubation, masturbation, whatever you're trying to do with this, it feels like it could hurt at the end. I mean, you know how some people tell those fantastic, unendingly engrossing stories that finally reveal themselves to be built entirely around a meaningless kernel?  You and I love those. Most people get pissed off about puns for some reason. They groan, they put you down, and they act like they didn't have fun along the way just becaue they didn't get to . . . " (here Charlie giggles to himself again, childishly, realizing the perfect metaphor to use in this case) "They didn't get to cum.
It's like a whole symphony of beautiful music is 'ruined' by a botched final note."
Emma pretends to listen, nods, and returns to her outward narration of her inner line of thought. "The thing is, I need to make the fa-JITE-ah (fajita) an element of the story itself."

Charlie interrupts, "Emma!  Enough with the postmodernist metafictional crap. It's just ponderous and dull. You don't have to mention any foods in your narrative. That's the metadata."
Reflexively, Emma blurts out, "I never met a data point that didn't fit somewhere in the story itself. But fine, I'll leave it out."
And so, Emma left it out. She left out almost everything she had come up with, in fact, because she finally knew the one thing she had never figured out the first time around. 
She knew how it would end. And she wrote as much in the essay, with, "I know how this will end."
And that is where she left it.

From Iceland to a pawnshop in Arkansas - A true story in outline form

The ring had been my birth grandfather's (on my mother's side).
I don't remember when it was first presented to me by my grandmother. I was about fifteen or sixteen.
My grandmother conveyed to me that it had great importance and should never be lost.
The first time I lost it was on Corky's farm.
My brother Joe and I were trying to pitch a tent in the field in front of the farmhouse.
My brother said, "The only thing I know for sure is that it is an inside frame".
Four or five hours later we discovered that it was an outside frame.
The grass was tall and it took another four or five hours to find the ring.
The second time I lost it I was swimming and playing in a river waterfall (just a small one, not Niagara).
The ring slipped off and was somewhere in the waterfall. Again, very difficult to find.
Over time I learned more about my maternal grandfather, Stan.
He was the son of Icelandic immigrants.
He died of cancer and the only time I recall meeting him, I was only six.
When I visited he was in a hospital bed in a small house.
I was more interested in their cuckoo clock.
While staying briefly in a campground in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, I was in a group of people that included a woman who claimed the ability to read objects. I gave her the ring.
She said that she saw a man who was surrounded by tall trees. She described him as very strong willed. The description was accurate.
The ring was 14k gold and contained a large garnet, blood red.
It had an engraving inside the band that looked like a capital "C" with a tail, like a shooting star.
Once, for no reason that I can recall, I hit a block wall with my fist while wearing the ring. The garnet was slightly chipped.
The third and final time that I lost it, I had no idea where I had lost it or when. I simply couldn't find it.
After years of trying, I gave up.
Thirteen years after losing the ring for the third time, I went into a pawn shop to look at electronic stuff I didn't need, and couldn't afford.
I happened to glance at a case displaying "out of pawn" jewelry and saw a large garnet ring that looked like my late grandfather's (mine).
I asked the pawn shop owner to let me take a closer look and he handed me the ring.
It was identical in every way to the ring that I had lost, right down to the chipped garnet and the engraved "shooting C".
Looking at the ring and the jewelry showcase, I thought, "That's not where I left it." The marked price was $75.00, which I didn't have.
My birthday was coming up and after hearing the story, my daughter Shanti bought the ring and returned it to me for my birthday.

NOT WHERE I LEFT IT


So this was very much like the typical dream -- namely that it was mostly nonsensical, though I thought everything made perfect sense at the time. 

My grandmother was there, and she said she had something important to tell me, and for whatever reason, I had to go chase a newt -- a foolishly large newt -- and I didn't see her again. Even as I was chasing the newt, I knew I'd made a dumb choice. Then the newt disappeared, and it was just an all-around disappointment

There was more nonsense. Coworkers who were turned into high school friends, a drive through a field of shimmering lights, incongruous worries about filing my taxes. 

And at some point, there was an object. It was made of something like white porcelain, and it was curved, except even more curved than that, aside from the corners. It looked fragile, but you could tell you'd never manage to shatter it, no matter how rough you treated it. I think it was a teacup, or maybe a computer game

It was mine, and everyone wanted it. Everyone wanted it. I hid it in my house, and people came to the door asking if I had it. Sometimes I'd find someone just wandering aimlessly through the house, and I had to shoo them out. No one found the teacup (or computer game or hairbrush or whatever), but when I went to fetch it from its hiding place, it wasn't there anymore. I knew no one else had stolen it. But it wasn't there anymore

Worrying about where it could be eventually woke me up

So I got up, got dressed, went to work. I didn't tell anyone about the dream, because I'd forgotten most of it, and there's no way to tell someone about your dream about a teacup/computer/hairbrush/wristwatch without sounding like a lunatic. 

And when I got home after work, it was sitting on the kitchen table. It was made of something like white porcelain, and it was curved, except even more curved than that, aside from the corners. It looked fragile, but you could also tell you'd never manage to shatter it, no matter how rough you treated it. It looked like a teacup or maybe a computer game or a hairbrush or wristwatch or a floor lamp

People are already knocking on my door asking if I have it.

The first thing that came to mind was Brookings, Oregon. Actually, that was the second thing that came to mind, the continuation of an even more vague idea. All the books I had bought or found on a whim, that I had read the first few pages of, and set down somewhere. Sometimes those books become part of the boxes: the things I shuffle from place to place. I have a stack of them next to my bed right now. I have a garage full of books, somewhere, each one a little afternoon or weekend adventure that almost happened, a bookmark or business card tucked in the first few pages, so I can go back to 2015 or 2013 or 2009 and slip right back into letting my mind float away on something to be relaxing, or life changing, or both.

And that brought me back to Brookings, Oregon, where in December of 2012, I went to teach community college, only to return home after seven months that still hurt me to think about today. It was a time in my life when I couldn't seem to find any purchase. And I thought about Brookings as I first imagined it, the Brookings of my dreams, a cute little town with the buildings clustered close to each other and where neighbors said hello over coffee and pancakes during the morning in a cafe. Not the sprawling, centerless mass bisected by a five lane highway. And I think about my own self-image when I went there: well-educated young man about town, enjoying nature and the eccentric characters and places of a small town. And then, as is my wont, I went back to Google Maps and looked at Brookings again. I was older now, I had lived elsewhere, I had lived in foreign countries, and maybe if I went back there now, I could just enjoy the beautiful nature, enjoy seeing something new, and undo my bad experience of years previously. Looking at a map, a few things had changed: the Grocery Outlet has moved into the former location of Ray's Food Place, and The Dollar Tree has moved into the location of the old Grocery Outlet. But overall, it is probably the same. If I went back today, though, I wouldn't be trapped. What could I do if I was back in that empty, too-big apartment, enjoying my comfort again, enjoying microwave macaroni and cheese and one dollar bottles of wine, could I go back and just start over again? Turn those victories into wins? Save scum the worst year of my life?

In my mind, sometimes I think I can open up that old apartment, the one on Easy Street, and the smells, textures, feelings, even the quality of light will be exactly the same as in 2013, and I can pick up one of my many books, with a little business card tucked in the first few pages, and read it in serenity, and finally conquer 2013. But no, things are not where I left them. Even when they are. I can find that book, that cassette tape that meant so much to me, still in a box, find a letter and respond, but those things are not where I left them, even when they are.

I’m always losing pieces of myself everywhere I go. Maybe a toe, a finger, a tooth, ears, eyes, along with the typical things people lose: hair, skin cells, idealism. It’s nothing to worry about. My people have a long history of losing parts here and there. Once, Grandpa Fig lost a bit of his memory down at the post office, and we had a devil of a time finding it in among all those lost letters.

Those lost letters are the real tragedy, if you really want to know. I’ve lost my fingers: countless times; but I can’t imagine losing a dear letter I sent out to Grandma or Grandpa, or to my friends. Though, really, it’s all e-mail now and sending this through the internet is like asking other people to lose your mail. Or is that any different than a miss-filing clerk?

So, my pieces. I lost a nail while building a house once. Not the nails for the house, but one on my hand, and it concerned me greatly. See, this was the magic nail, the one that showed the universe. See, when my people reach 18, we start to fall apart. It’s not a big deal, I promise it’s not. The reason is because we can always find our parts again thanks to our magic nails. If I lose my foot, I’ll never lose my footing, because I can use my magic nail (fourth one from my right) to find out where it went, a sort of footloose solver of pedperditus. Or something. My Latin is rusty because I’ve lost it somewhere.

My grandmother-- the other grandmother-- told me, “Child, it consarns me you take your nail too lightly. If’n you lose it, you lose everything.” This is how Cousin Clint died, you see. In a car accident, on account of a missing head. He had his nail, he lost his nail, then-- when driving-- he lost his head and his car went off a dike. That was how they told it: “Off a dike he went, and they never found his head. He didn’t either. BECAUSE HE LOST HIS NAIL. DON’T LOSE YOUR NAIL, AMANDA!

And so, I kept careful track of my nail. When my ear fell off for the first time, I didn’t worry. My nail told me it was in the laundry room. When my eyes fell out, my nail whispered my way down to the basement. When I lost my voice, my nail told me it was singing in the bell tower.

I kept good care of that nail. And why should I have worried? They all said, “Amanda’s a good kid, she’d never lose her nail.” And I didn’t. But kids become adults, and as an adult I needed to build a house. Either build a house or starve on the street.

First went up the support beams. I had to find my legs afterwards, but once up and steady, I put up the crossbeams, the wet wall, the works. I wasn’t bad at it. I lost my sense of proportion and taste when I painted the rooms gold, but when my nail brought them back, I quickly corrected to white walls.

But then I lost my nail. I barely missed it at first, but the sense of something wrong crept up to me in my new house, sans carpet. Sans carpet because I had yet to put it in. I looked to see what was missing: Heart, brain, eyes, breath. Check, check, check. Wits, spleen, my favorite coffee bean. Oh, check, check, checkity-check. Ears, teeth, that little cell that wants to be cancer: all there. Head, shoulders, knees, and… oh noes! Yes, there’s the missing bit! The sacred nail! Gone from the finger, not a trace left.

I searched, but there was nothing. Up and down my new house, and under it, and above it. I called to it. I said its name. And it wasn’t there.

This was panic. Maybe not panic like you’d guss, but panic lik whn you los… my lttrs. Crap. Okay. Don’t worry. Thr ar still twnty-fiv lttrs. And th missing on might b important but my nam Amanda dosn’t hold it important. Now if I lost… shit. Oky, I still hv most of my vowls nd ll th constnts. My poor nm. Mnd. You cn’t sy tht, oh wit. I found my E. It ws in the bsement. And my A too. But no nail.

There’s a horror to losing letters and not finding them again. Or your name. I had it. I just had it. I have all the letters for it, but without the nail, I can’t say what it was. I wandered around my house, wondering who I was, looking for my nail, my name, and any parts that might depart.

And then, there, in the rafters, was the nail. I grabbed it. Put it on. And there I was. Amanda.

There were hundreds of us. We were all gathered in the promenade. I had been working on my android, my life's work. She was perfect, there was nothing left to improve. She made people better; healthier, more actualized. And she was a charmer; her laugh could fill a room. Perfected. Completed. But I still worked on her, attempted to make her better, so that she could make me better. We made each other better. She would outlive me.

There were hundreds of us, gathered in the promenade. A woman had turned them against me, she was actually an old friend of mine. An abomination, she called it. Pervasive. She turned them all. They were uncertain, but they believed. Not in me, but in her. There was nothing I could do to convince them. I returned to my home and recanted what happened to the android. She comforted me. 

The next day, I returned to the promenade. The same woman was there, the old friend of mine. The same situation unfolded. I tried to change them, but they all screamed at me in judgement. I returned to my home and recanted what happened to the android. She comforted me.

Again, I returned to the promenade. And again, the same situation unfolded. The crowd rose against me, this time physically. They screamed, they threw garbage at me, rocks, anything. I could not reason with them, I could not make them see the good in what they saw as purely evil. I returned to my home, and the android was not as I left her.

She was broken. She could not heal me, she could not help me, she could not make me better. And, seeing that she was broken, I became broken too.

 


 

// The last person to write to this node before me is Bookreader and I rate their thing four stars out of five. I really enjoyed it. It might not be to everyone's taste, which is fine. I thought it was really clever.

The position of the toilet seat is not a big deal in my part of the world. But it is symbolic of a concern expressed by some people here, usually men; who live alone before marriage. Living with another person means things that habitually have a place will have that place changed. Every person has preferences on where things should be. Preferences that are usually selfish but would appear to be objective. I suppose shifting things around is a way of marking territory, subtly establishing dominance, as if pussy whipping was not enough.

The first thing that was not where I left it when I looked was how I arranged my clothes. While single, I'd dump the finished load of laundry unopened on a shelf in my wardrobe and rarely touch it till I'd run through previous opened loads. My laundry now was neatly arranged - shirts, caftans, pants, underwear - all in separate neat piles. I liked it. But later realized that my ugly comfortable clothes were initially relegated to the bottom of the wardrobe and then disappeared all together. I grumbled and complained but was silenced with a touch.

The next thing was the remote control. It had moved from easy reach on the floor to a special little bric-a-brac thingy which, belying its native uselessness other than collecting dust, had found a use. Despite knowing my resistance to that change will ultimately fail, my rearguard action still persists.

The next thing was virtually all my cutlery & crockery (serviceable but mismatched and not uniform since acquired piecemeal) and pottery (old, but still serviceable) disappeared and was replaced with some that were difficult to use but nice looking and new. All gone and unmourned but for my favorite coffee mug.

And so, changes, some little and for the better (fashion sense), some big and with doubtful benefits (furniture) and some resented but acquiesced to because the weaker sex is actually the stronger, like water wearing down a rock. Nothing remains where it was.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The person before me was nicolasstag. I rate their piece 3/5 because I am neutral about it. If the scale had been from negative to zero to positive, I'd have given it a zero, right in the middle.

Testing the limits of how "Prototype" a prototype is allowed to be.

This WU is INCOMPLETE.

Below is the SYNOPSIS/original dream diary entry. The dream diary entry may be radically different from the (eventually) finished product.

Beneath that is what I've managed to hammer together in the past two days in order to make it presentable. It is NOT DONE.

Also, note: when I write, I write in seperate chunks, then connect everything together later. The "* * * *" indicate actual sequence shifts/"chapters", and the "-----" indicate that it's an incomplete section, with the ----'s acting as a divider/place holder.

* * * * *

Original dream log entry:

Dude has the ability to time travel in two flavors: if he's out and about and doing it on the fly, he can go backwards a maximum of five minutes.

If he actually plans ahead and prepared and created basically a save point by looking in a mirror and concentrating, he can go back months or years.

He uses this ability to break into rare/expensive book and magic artifact collections, steals stuff, then hides it somewhere where he can find it in the future.

He is currently stealing a book called Alanno (which IRL is a city in Italy??) for a wealthy book collector who has no idea that the dude has magic and is stealing books (as the dude passes it off like he's inherited these rare books legally). Dude has sold to this guy plenty of times before.

It takes him the equivalent time of four years (though it's actually only a month) because the security measures for the place it's kept keep changing. He suspects whoever owns the place is also some kind of time wizard, or knows about them. When he finally gets the book and gets back to the collector, he realizes he's being followed and that the last time when he actually successfully got the book, the owner LET him in order to track him, and he basically has a mental breakdown because the only way to go back far enough in time to avoid being followed is to start the heist all over again. (It was very much a "I didn't save often enough and now I have to redo this quest" feeling).

The dream ended with him getting so flustered and angry that right before he goes back in time again, as he's cornered inside the collector's home by the agents following him and the collector who is increasingly upset ("who are these people? What did you do?!"), he starts laughing and tears up the Alanno book, crumpling up and eating pages of it before going back in time.

==========================


What I've Got So Far:

Issac didn't like to think of himself as a thief.

It was cold out, mid-September brisk. His watch told him it was 10:32, and the combined chill and time had left business slow at the cafe, and he was the only customer to be seated at the tables outside. He looked up from the newspaper he was ostensibly reading and glanced at the building across from the cafe. The sign above the shop windows proclaimed in swirling letters, Dillon's Antique Books, with smaller letters beneath saying, "We love the old!"

Three, two, one. . .

He made a small gesture towards the bookshop, and the door opened. A young woman walked out, tugging her jacket more firmly around her, and made her way down the street.

Issac smiled and rose from his seat. It was his fifth time experiencing the 12th of September, and this time, he felt like he'd worked all the kinks out.

The young woman was the granddaughter of the eponymous Dillon and the only other full time employee of the shop, and right now, she would be on her way to the Starbucks down the street to get drinks for herself and her grandfather. She would be gone for about fifteen minutes. Plenty of time.

He crossed the road, not bothering to look for traffic-- the red light down the way would keep everyone for another two minutes-- and he slipped into the shop. As he'd expected, there was a middle-aged woman waiting at the checkout, with nobody there. The owner, Mr. Dillon, was in the back room, checking something for her, and would be busy for another ten minutes.

Issac's observation on the book shop about a month ago, his-time, though only two days had passed for everyone else in the world, and he had learned around the 2nd week of observation that the owner's teenage grandson, who was paid to tidy up the place in the mornings before school, sometimes neglected to lock the cases all the way after dusting. The 12th of September was one such day, and unlike the others days, it was on the 12th that the case he forgot to lock also happened to be the one to contain the Ambrose.

And now, after all the preparation, all Issac had to do was walk into the shop, head to the back wall, check the 3rd bookcase on the left, 4th shelf down, and take out the thick leather tome whose title was embossed gold on the front. Ambrose-- which is exactly what he did. The book had some heft to it, but previous attempts told him the customer at the front-- the only other person in the main part of the shop-- wasn't particualrly observant. He slipped the book into the inner pocket of his jacket, and though it weighted his coat down, causing it to fall unevenly, she didn't appear to notice, too engrossed in her phone.

He walked out of the shop.

He walked across the street, got into his car, and drove away.

* * * * *

Issac didn't like to think of himself as a thief, because thieves lacked class. What he did was complex. It was intensive. It required patience, finesse, weeks and months of preparation. It was art, and he was-- as far as he could tell-- the only person in the world who could do it.

He did, however, like to think of himself as a sorcerer, even if nobody else did.

Oh, sure, he'd taken the magical aptitude tests in school and had come back with results declaring him as magically capable as a goldfish, but he'd known even as a child that the tests had been wrong. He knew he had magic. He could feel it, even then, and it wasn't until he was much older that he'd figured out what it was he could do.

Most sorcerers had a number of tricks up their sleeves. He'd heard of ones who could conjure fire, or speak to the wind, or talk to cats, or any number of impressive--if, in his opinion, impractical-- things.

Issac was not blessed with that kind of magic.

Issac had exactly two gifts at his disposal, what he liked to think of as the Mirror Save and the Flash. Part of him thought that the names were dumb things concocted by his fifteen year old self, and that it amounted to the same thing anyway, but still he kept them.

After all, time travel was time travel, no matter what silly names you called it.

* * * * *

For high security ordeals, Issac would leave the items in a hidden cache somewhere, then travel back to his last Mirror Save and live out the remaining time until the item was stolen. All he would have to do then was wait a day or two, then go to the cache where he had hidden it, take the item, and get it to the buyer. Sometimes, Issac wondered about the implications of that sort of game; whether on that day of theft if there were two of him running around, and what would happen if they'd ever met-- all that stable-loop time travel theory stuff that involved the words quantum and paradox a lot. But the universe hadn't unraveled, and he hadn't gotten caught by either the police or another version of himself, so he figured it must not have been all that serious.

The Ambrose was not a high risk item. It was valuable to only a handful of people, one of which was his buyer, and the hardest part about its acquisition was finding the damn thing in the first place. That, and stomaching the poor quality coffee at the cafe. On top of that, he had stolen it once already, on the 4th time experiencing September 12th, and that time he'd intentionally hung onto the book for an extra few week, waiting for any sign that Dillon was looking for it. He tended to do this before turning in his jobs For Real; he would hang around and wait to see what kind of fuss popped up after the theft, and see if anything happened that could connect back to him. It was usually a colossal waste of time, but occasionally there'd be a witness he'd accidentally run into, or a security camera he hadn't noticed, and then he could go back in time and to the job again properly.

For the Ambrose case, after one month of silence, Issac had determined that Dillon either didn't notice it was gone, or had quietly filed a police report, and apparently the theft was considered inconsequential enough not to warrant any kind of investigation-- magical or otherwise. Issac had ditched the book and gone back to his Mirror Save, back to right before the 12th, and had robbed Dillon's again.

And now here he was, walking up the steps to Simeon's office, returning in the book in a timely manner, only two days after receiving the job.

Simeon Cane's office was on the better side of town, surrounded by the professional buildings favored by hedgefund managers and particularly expensive law firms. Simeon owned the building, and it looked almost humble in comparison to some of its neighbors, with decorative flowers out front, and wooden steps leading to the door. Issac had no idea what Cane did as his actual day job, but he doubted the building was for the benefit of Cane's black market antique book fencing operation.

There was a new security guard at the front desk. Not for the first time, Issac wondered what Cane did that he would need a guard, rather than a secretary, but he pushed the thought aside. He went for the elevator door.

"Hey," said the guard. "Guests need to check in."

"Not a guest. I'm here to see Simeon," Issac said.

"ID?" The guard rose to his feet.

"You must be new. I don't check in at the desk."

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to either provide some ID, or leave."

"I don't have an ID card. Simeon knows me. You guys are supposed to get briefed on this."

The guard stepped closer. "Sir, I am going to need you to leave."

Issac looked at him for a moment, then determined none of this was worth the bother. Without a word, he took a sharp step backwards--

--and flashed back five minutes.

Now he was in his car, just done parking down the street from Simeon's office. He took out his cellphone and texted Simeon's unlabeled number.

I got Ambrose.
Tell front desk to let me in.

------------


He handed Simeon the Ambrose with a smile. Simeon's eyes lit up, and he ran his fingers gently over the cover.

"Excellent work, Issac," he said. "And in only two weeks! One of these days you'll have to tell me how you do it."


--------------------

"It's a very precious book," Simeon said. "Highly coveted by historians and collectors, with very few copies remaining."

He'd gone on to describe the book after that-- how it was some memoir of some wizard-king that were all the rage back in the ancient times, but Issac barely heard that part. precious and meant expensive and easy to sell.

-------------------


"So it's a difficult case, then?"

"I assure you, the client would be most appreciative of the effort involved."

"Not to be crass," Issac said, "but exactly how appreciative?"

Simeon told him the sum. For a split second, Issac was certain his heart stopped.

"That's. . . That's very appreciative," he said faintly.

"The Allano is of significant historic and sorcerous value to certain individuals." Simeon said, his voice pleased. It wasn't often he managed to stun Issac.


----------


He stared closely into the mirror, looking directly into his reflection's eyes. He did this for a minute, then another. It could take a while to trigger, sometimes.

Slowly, in the mirror, the room behind him began to fade. Then the bed he sat on. Then he, too, appeared to fade; all other features becoming blurred and distant, with only his reflection's eyes remaining clear.
He knew if he were to refocus, to adjust his eyes even a little, then everything would come rushing back, and he would have to try again, so he let the intensity of his gaze continue.

Finally, after what felt like ages, he felt it. The small click in his head, the sudden indescribably certainty in his chest that told him it was done.

He allowed himself to blink, and the world returned to normal; the mirror was just a mirror, the hotel room was back, and there was a crick in his neck from leaning forward. Rubbing his eyes, Issac got up from the chair and went to unpack his laptop.

There was research to be done.

* * * * *

Time travel came in two flavors.

First, and most challenging, was the mirror trick, the "save point." He could go back years that way-- and had, too, once. But the only way forward was the same as everyone else, one day at a time. The longest he'd ever gone back was ten years, and he still considered it to be the biggest, most miserable mistake of his life, bad enough to turn him off the idea of long-saves entirely. He'd been unprepared, had forgotten that the save point had been back during his high school years, and had ten gruesome years of suffering again through the things he couldn't avoid, and finding new and worse mistakes to replace the things he did manage to work around.

These days, the longest he would let himself go without setting a save point was a year, two tops, and usually before he undertook a big job.

* * * * *

It took him four months his-time and two days in everyone else's time for him to find the Allano. He'd spoken to every contact, turned in every favor, read through hundreds of catalogues and records from hundreds of book shops, publishing houses, universities, museums-- anything he could think of.

The Allano had been written by one of the ancient wizard-kings of the west back when any man with a scrap of magic and a go-get-'em attitude could take over a few villages and call himself king. But though most accounts from those days were almost certainly exaggerated to the point of falsehood, Allan TeAmmat was believed by certain sects of sorcerous academia to have been as powerful as his legends painted him to be, and the Allano, though not strictly a book of magic, was accepted as a being magical book. It was a collection of histories relating to TeAmmat and his reign, with sections supposedly penned by his hand. Also included were bit of poetry the king had done, musings on the goings on of the time, and his thoughts on things like souls and magic and philosophy.

The Allano had spent most of the last century stored a secured case at a university across the country; apparently the university was known for its small, but nevertheless impressive, collection of assorted magical artifacts.

Then, twenty years ago, it was stolen. The magic seals on the cases had been in perfect condition when the police investigated, but the book was gone. The state of the seals had thrown suspicion on the staff members of the college of magic, but all of them volunteered to be questioned under the watch of a truthsayer, and all of them had come up clean.


----------------

Moriander Sherman, already born rich, was one of the lucky people whose magic had manifested in a way conducive to making money and gaining status. Unlike Issac and countless others who were born with one or two knacks, Moriander appeared to be a throwback to the old days where a wizard could just as easily rain fire from the sky as turn lead into gold.

The pictures of him in the file showed a man who didn't look like he was pushing fifty, but that was wizards for you. Anyone who could make themselves look younger (or who could afford to pay someone else to do it), did. Moriander smiled from the photographs, his black hair tamed in a long braid, his angular face and bright green eyes somehow managing to look like it was challenging Issac, despite being a perfectly innocent photo. Issac blinked, then scowled. The longer he looked, the surer Issac was that the man in the photo was mocking him.

He tossed the photo aside with disgust and started reading through the security details of the Sherman manor where the Allano was said to be.


+++++++++++++

Vongrim's WU was the one above mine. Writing wise, it was fine, a little 4/5 musing. But the weird sexist undertones make me drop it down to a 2/5.

Nicolastag's WI was the one above that. I can tell there's a longer story in there and I want to see that story. Ideas and intrigue-wise, I give it a 5/5, but for actual prose, I give it a 3/5.

Bookreader's was above that, and that is a 5/5. That's the kind of creatively-crafted surreal shit I like to see. Weird as fuck and working on an entirely alien level of logic, but with an internal consistency that holds through.

GlowingFish: 4/5, another little WU musing, serviceable and slightly intimate in the way that little thought WUs are.

Jet-Poop: Goddamit Jet-Poop, how come you can write your dreams so concise AND have them be good? 5/5.

Npecom: I am pretty sure this is fiction, but it feels like something that happened. Or something that I want to have happened. Either way, 5/5.

Ameriwire: Meta as fuck brah! 4/5. One point off because the last part with the lack of spacing made my head hurt. This is an entirely petty reason, but I have a headache now and am feeling petty.

RedOmega: WRITE MORE. 5/5

Arrgh. I said I would contribute, but my dream-topic seems off-topic. So here's a rambling draft of an opinion piece / personal reflection sort of thing. It fits. Trust me. And yes, the actual controversies and cultural developments in SF would take several books to truly examine.

About a dozen years ago, I attended a science fiction convention in the States and was on a three-person panel on whether science fiction had lost its cultural relevance. One of the guys, the person who, I think, came up with the topic, couldn't make it. I don't recall now why, so let's just say he lost his way. The other participant was John Scalzi, then newly-famous, and able to draw a considerable crowd. Someone recorded the session for a podcast, and there's a photo of us pretending to beat each other up, as a play on Scalzi's then-new novel, Old Man's War.

He immediately declared the panel's premise "bogus", which did not hamper lively discussion in any way. I've lost a clear memory of the progression of ideas among numerous panels since and I'm not that interested in looking up the podcast. I recall some discussion of the differing directions within SF, including adventure, scientific speculation, and social commentary. Star Wars, Scalzi noted, gave pop-SF a fresh start. SF films from the 1970s-- Logan's Run, Soylent Green, and such-- tended towards overt social commentary. In the manner of The Prisoner and Planet of the Apes, they served up weird, satiric takes on our world and generally ended with a twist. The 1977 film that would later be retitled Episode Four: A New Hope made the genre look fun. Hey, look! Laser switchblade! Of course, in the context of a morally murky and rule-changing era, the culture's embrace of a thrill ride with obvious Good Guys and Bad Guys, Hat Culture aliens on the periphery, and, uh, groundbreaking roles for women could be construed as social commentary and, therefore, social relevance.

Flash forward to the present. The genre has had its share of controversies. The factions are many, but a simplistic, New Hope sort of breakdown might look at people who prefer an imagined retrofuturist Good Old Days of male heroes v. social justice-learning writers who politicize everything. The Hugo Awards have made an effort to be more inclusive. In the past, the major awards went almost exclusively to White American and British Men. That isn't the case anymore, and some fans have decided that amounts to discrimination. The past didn't discriminate, those fans argue. It was just white men who happened to be doing all the writing, and if (fill in the blank) wrote books that were as good, why, of course they should win the awards. But let's not make it an Issue.

It would be wrong to characterize all of these people as SF rednecks and sick puppies. Many of them were readers of works that expressed socially progressive messages, from a certain time and place. Anti-racist allegory on classic Star Trek? Sure! Contemporary works treating gender as something other than a simple binary? Sheesh! Do we really need to be so dang political?

John Scalzi, without necessarily trying, became a target of their ire.

Think about it. His best-selling first novel clearly showed the influence of Robert Heinlein, a man idolized by certain fans in particular. Scalzi's politics were not Heinlein's, but he did identify himself as a moderate conservative. A certain wing of SF fandom saw him, initially, as their guy.

That honeymoon ended quickly. He was moderately conservative by the standards of pretty much everywhere in the developed world except the United States. In fact, he spoke and wrote on behalf of progressive causes. He penned an excellent essay on why being born a white non-queer male was the equivalent of the easiest setting of a videogame. It didn't mean you would be guaranteed a win, but the inherent privilege gave you an edge, one you might not notice you had. A popular convention guest, he decided he would not accept invitations from conventions that did not have policies regarding harrassment, accessibility, and a commitment to diversity. He joined in the condemnation of people who promoted the odious notion of Fake Geek Girls. And yeah, when the topic arose, he was not silent on some of the past, problematic aspects of fandom that were being dragged into the light.

As much of fandom embraced Scalzi, certain other fans felt betrayed by him or, rather, the person they wanted him to be. Scalzi, to his credit, responded by being the person he actually is, and fuck them.

All of which to say is that some literature and media may be more overtly political than some other literature and media, and, sure, some writers and creators damage their works by being awkwardly political, shoehorning in contemporary issues where they do not fit. That kind of relevance cannot be decorative; it must be earned.

But it's all socially relevant.

SF (or whatever genre) hasn't lost its social relevance, but it may not always be where we left it.

Back in 2002, this website was about sex, sex, and more sex. That was then. This is about two decades later. Apparently it is now primarily about enchiladas. I can dig it, but remember, some of us still get wet. One subject that is very much out of my comfort zone is talking about dreams in which children are involved. Sick children, in particular, bum me out. Having one myself? No thank you. I have this perfect, round little beaver that is hairless and soft as a baby's bottom. You only wish you could get close enough to smell the perfumed aroma of what I've got going on inside. No sir or madam, I cannot help you. I am way out of your league.

There is this dream I sometimes have where this disgusting little twerp in a wheelchair is coming towards me. And the damned chair is squeaking and groaning as he works the wheels with his thin, sickly little arms (with like no muscular development AT ALL). Since I am back working as a camp counselor in the dream, that is bad. I'm now a highly overpaid executive assistant who delegates everything by nine am and then goes out and gets her nails done. Girlfriend, can we talk? So, this little fucker, he finally wheels over to me and I make a face, which is what you do when you want someone to go away. He won't go away, this kid with his sickly no-muscular-development-at-all arms. He's just sitting in that old wheelchair, looking up at me with sad eyes, and then he begins to hold his hand out. Thankfully, we were at the end of the old swimming pier at the summer camp where I used to work (and get SO much dick it was unbelievable). I just pushed the kid off the dock and he sank like a stone in that shitty chair. I woke up from this dream feeling good about what I'd done to proactive resolve a problem that had become current. That soon faded. I realized it had been a dream.

Now I was wet and really feeling kind of embarrassed about that because my friends Daphne and Buttercup were in my waterbed with me. I am not a lesbian. I get dick three or four times a day. I don't need to go down to the fish market anytime soon, thank you very much. Although it would help resolve the accidental pregnancy issue that sometimes comes up when you get unprotected dick three or four times a day. We'll put that on the back burner for now. Maybe come back to it later on if I feel like circling back. I think I can get out of this situation, but I have Daphne on one side of me and Buttercup on the other. And Daphne's finger is perilously close to my sugar hill gang. She wakes up and her finger goes right there, and I mean right there was where it went. Daphne smiles. Buttercup lifts her purdy little head with her blonde hair all askew.

"Someone's wet," Daphne tells Buttercup with a shit-eating-grin.

"You know what that means."

"Yeah. Come on Taylor, time to party."

And at that moment I realized that I was Taylor Swift, which meant that I was still in the dream. Or was I? Because when I woke up, I was back at the end of the swimming pier at summer camp, looking down at that pathetic boy in his broken down old wheelchair motionless at the bottom of the lake.

Now I know what is real and what isn't.

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