PROMPT MISC July 2018: Husks

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Kitti

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#1
MISC: Monthly Iwaku Story Challenge
July 2018

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT the Miscellaneous Iwaku Storytelling Contest. We kept the cool name, changed the game!


Each month on Iwaku, we will post an official writing prompt. This is just a fun challenge to inspire ideas and allow our users to stretch their creative writing muscles! Short stories, poems, and even roleplay posts are allowed as submissions. To participate, all you have to do is post your submission in this thread.

All users are also encouraged to give feedback on posted replies to the challenge and discuss ideas!

This month's prompt is


Husks


Chinatown, Daniel Liang


You can hear the hum of the city as you close your eyes and reminisce about the good old days, back in 2200 when life was simple.
 

Kimberlyn

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#2
The cat purred, rubbing its scruffy little head against the man’s calloused hand as it vied for his attention. He gave only half a mind, his eyes closed as he focused on the digital world only he could see. Voices spoke in his ear, communicating through the implant that everyone had given an arm and a leg to have only a few years before. As could be expected, the world news was anything but good.

“Terrorists have attacked Sunset City…rescue team efforts have so far failed due to the instability of the infrastructure.”

“Millions have died in the most recent attack from the terrorist group known as Fringe.”

“We must take action! We need to drive these techies off this godforsaken rock, or we’ll all be choking on our own blood! There are no innocents in that city; we must burn them all!”

The last message was from the terrorists themselves. The recording had been played over and over in the last few days, as if no one could get tired of hearing the raspy female voice that called for such unspeakable actions against so-called “techies” – those who lived and thrived off the use of technology.

The man sighed, opening his eyes. The digital world disappeared, and the real world came into focus around him. Dying flames engulfed the city around him, and the air was tainted with the stench of death. He glanced at the mangy cat, wondering how on earth such a creature had managed to survive so long in this hell. It was such a little thing, half-starved and probably blind by the look of its eyes.

“We’re both going to die here, aren’t we?” the man whispered, picking up the cat and ignoring its protests. The cat eventually found itself quite comfortable in the man’s lap, purring itself away into a stupor. The man smiled just slightly, wondering if this was a final gift from the heavens before he finally passed on. The simple joys of life, no?

Taking a slight breath, he began to sing a song from his childhood, closing his eyes and reminiscing about the world as it used to be before technology seemed to take over every thought and action. Before his father died and his mother became obsessed with her work. His mother—the woman responsible for all this destruction. The woman who turned people into mindless consumers rather than independent thinkers. In a way, the man understood the mindset of the Fringe, for he had witnessed the dangers of his own mother’s technology firsthand.

“Back in 2200, life was simple…”

A strange line for the song, given that no one alive had been around during that time. It was nearly the turn of the next millennium—the year 3000. The whole damn world had gone to shit since 2200, that was for sure. And the man’s own family was to blame. Damn it all.

Quite suddenly, the cat leaped from his lap, running down the street and into the night. Once again, the man was alone. For a brief moment, he thought he might not have to see his final moments by himself, but the universe was not so merciful. He sighed, leaning his head back against the overturned hovercar behind him.

The pain in his side suddenly returned, forcing a strangled cry from the man’s lips. He gasped, sweat beading down his forehead. The effects of the sedatives had worn off then; he wouldn’t even be granted a painless death. The man glanced down, grimacing at the festering infection. A few days ago, he thought he’d survived this whole damn experience with only a flesh wound. Now, it glimmered with soiled blood, his surrounding skin inflamed with sepsis. He shivered, chills overtaking him despite the stifling heat of the flaming city.

The man’s heart raced, panic overtaking his senses. He didn’t want to die. Not here, not like this. Not in the middle of a godforsaken city where no one would even remember his name. They would remember his mother; they would remember her as either an angel or the devil. But he was doomed to be forgotten, tossed aside at death just like he was at birth. Damn it all.

And then he felt calm. Overwhelmingly calm. The loud noises of the decimated city faded away, as if he were truly alone in the world. His eyes grew heavy; his heart slowed. Ba-bump, ba-bump…ba-bump…ba-bump……ba-bump……

………………
 

Jays

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#3
I dedicate this one to @Pahn . Don't fucking die.
What do you mean this is not PIPS? D:


Reset


Tick, tock, my redemption goes.
Tick, tock, my heart echos.
Tick, tock.
The world burns slow.

I loved it, my city.
Heart of men. Loving, tolerant. Fearless.
Bastion of the brightest souls. Radiant, celestial. Paradise.
We wanted to change, to be better, to reach for the sky.
But the devil hides in greed,
change was madness.
We never had a clue.

I loathe it, my city.
It's screaming in my head. Buried, forgotten. Hopeless.
A titan drowned it. Steel, fire.
Progress.
The people are dead. Quartered, herded. Enslaved.
Innocents traded their ways into hells of soulless apparatuses.
What else can I do?

Some days I wish it wasn't my city to save.

Nostalgia is my alluring demon,
"Do it! Do it! For old time's sake."
I would.
Cowardice is my benevolent angel,
"Peace. Stability. Status quo. This is the world we made."
I fear.

Tick, tock, time whispers.

I pity it, my city.
It fed me life, and I fed it my hatred.
Seems less than fair, doesn't it?

Tick, tock, my heart thunders.

The sky is crying again, cloudless.
Its tears on my cheek.
It felt my farewell, my fantastic final send-off.
What a story it'll get to tell.

A big red button, the classic, for the good old time.
My finger ached for release, and I let it go.

Heat. Fire. Scorching.
Cleansing. Liberating.

There goes my city.
Unto light, unto madness.
When did progress become inhumanity?
When did humanity become avarice?
When did I become so callous as to put my peace of mind above human lives?

There goes my city.
Into the past, without me.

Some days I wish it wasn't mine to unmake.
 
Last edited:

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#4
A Dangerous Drug

There were modern ways to do everything quickly and efficiently, but Arnold preferred the older ways, the ways of his childhood. It was slower, but that gave it the weight of meaning. He'd turned his T-Link off days ago, and for the first time in decades he was feeling like a real person again. They had some fancy technobabble name, something with words like psychokinetic and electroneural interface and whatnot, but everyone just called them the telepathic links, or T-Links for short. They'd revolutionized everything, starting around when he was just getting out of college, and he'd been linked up ever since he'd first gotten his hands on one of the early versions. Not anymore, though.

So, rather than just thinking about what music he wanted to play, Arnold set down the box he'd been staring at and walked over to select a track and press the play button with his own hands. His bulky stereo was itself a relic of the forgotten past: a rare household appliance that was not connected to the internet at all. It could only hold a few terabytes of music rather than being connected to the various web databases that held every song known to man, and it had to be loaded onto a practically ancient storage chip about half the size of his thumbnail, but that was just fine. Going through the extra effort to listen to music made it feel more meaningful, less transitory, and all the more pleasant for it.

The mournful notes of a lone violin rolled forth from the speakers, followed shortly by the full orchestra joining in. It brought a fond smile to Arnold's face as he walked back to his favorite chair, an overstuffed thing that made him feel like he was being half hugged, half smothered by a particularly aggressive cloud. It was the sound of real instruments being played by actual human hands, which made it yet another ancient relic. This particular recording was from 2208, the last performance of the London Symphony after years of advancements in robotics and changing tastes of those wealthy enough to pay for such shows finally spelled the doom of classical music played by human hands. This was yet another oddity that had always made Arnold feel a man apart from his peers: he preferred this older music, the kind that had a human touch, because it felt like it had an actual soul rather than being a carefully calibrated set of perfect notes. The imperfections and creative flourishes of a human musician were, in his opinion, a part of what made music worth listening to. The people at large preferred the technically perfect, electronically produced music of the modern age, of course.

The last century had been full of those anachronistic feelings, moreso even than the many prior decades. Arnold was pushing into the middle of his third century of life, just shy of six months until his two hundred forty-second birthday. He never thought that he'd live this long back in 2213, when he'd just gotten out of college and saw the world as his playground. Reaching one hundred had been more or less a given at that point, but medical advancements had progressed fast enough that Arnold and others of his generation seemed to have barely aged past early adulthood at all. Just days ago he'd seen the bit of news that set everyone else buzzing with excitement: researchers thought they'd finally cracked the last barriers of longevity and found out how to stave off aging permanently. While the prospect of true immortality excited others, that news was what had sent Arnold to retreat into the past as literally as he could manage it. He kept his eyes off of the wooden box and sleek metal syringe syringe sitting on the table beside his chair, but he could almost feel them sitting there as he closed his eyes and let the music carry his thoughts back to 2200, when life had been simpler.

It was all so... fuzzy. He could remember being awed by some of the first flying cars that were more than just a prohibitively expensive gimmick. Hell, he could remember the transition when the word 'flying' no longer needed to be said, thanks to the old breed dying out. It was hard to remember what the ancient vehicles sounded like though, the ones that still clonked along with their internal combustion engines. The modern thorium batteries made cars run almost silently, but Arnold could remember that, once upon a time, the noise of an engine was part of the experience. There was some time he'd rode in one of those old cars, something from back in the very early 2100s that his grandfather maintained with pride, but the memory was all soft around the edges. It seemed time had taken as much a toll on his mind as it had his spirit.

Arnold sighed and opened his eyes as he reached for the syringe. Getting his hands on the illegal substance had been tricky indeed, but he'd managed it. NOS, they called it. Like the T-Links, it too had some kind of scientific name, but only police and chemists bothered to use it. NOS was short for 'nostalgia' and also, in a fittingly nostalgic twist, for an old chemical injection system used in car engines to make them go faster. Apparently the idea was that the old NOS made cars go fast, and the new NOS would make your brain go fast. Arnold didn't bother pretending to be hesitant or afraid: he stuck the applicator end to his forearm and pressed the button on the other side. He didn't feel a thing as the nanotubes pierced his flesh and delivered the chemicals right into his bloodstream, and for a few minutes he thought perhaps he'd been duped.

But then it hit him: that same memory he'd been grasping for, now bright and vivid like it'd happened yesterday. He could hear the roar of the engine, like some massive beast was trapped under the hood of the car and purring and growling as they went. There was even more to it than that: even as he knew he was sitting in his overstuffed chair, Arnold could feel the movement of his grandfather's prized car. There was a constant but faint vibration from the engine itself, but there were also larger jolts as the wheels rolled along the uneven dirt road. He could also feel the sensation of the chill wind from the open window stinging his face. Arnold remembered it all so clearly now, including his own laughter being nearly drowned out by the wind and his grandfather grinning at him through a bushy beard. They weren't going anywhere, they'd just been driving around for the fun of it. It was about spending time together and just doing something exciting.

That was when the truth finally surfaced in Arnold's mind: this was exactly what was missing, the root of the problem with the modern world. Nobody took such joys in life anymore. There were no more drives just for fun down a bumpy dirt road, everyone just used their T-Link to think where they wanted to go and their car got busy flying. People lived in a sanitized and anesthetized world where the thrill of risk was minimal at best, with everything controlled by AI and risk-averse algorithms. He'd spent his entire life working on some of those very bits of code, slaving away to help keep the world carefully controlled in every possible aspect in order to make sure everyone was safe and healthy. It was all meant to help people, but now he could see just how much of their collective humanity had been stripped away by all of this technology.

With this horrible juxtaposition filling his mind, the dull horror of modernity versus the comforting warmth of nostalgia, Arnold reached out blindly for the wooden box sitting on the table. The clatter of metal on tile told him that he'd knocked the lamp over, but that was fine. He wouldn't need the light any longer anyway. He pulled the box closer, fighting a strange numbness in his fingers, and eventually got it onto his lap. It was a plain thing, dark and battered with age. It was yet another relic of the distant past; supposedly one of his great great great grandfathers had built it with his own hands, just for the purpose of holding the family heirloom inside.

Arnold flipped the lid of the box open and stared down at the gleaming silver metal that took up the majority of the leather-lined interior. Weaponry had advanced to the point that the six-shot revolver seemed just about as barbaric is a simple club. Laser weapons were the preferred armament of police and military personnel, but it wasn't uncommon to see them using guns that fired metal slugs with an array of electromagnets. Arnold had tried out some of those guns at a firing range before, just to sate his curiosity, but they had been far too smooth and steady. They'd barely felt real compared to his memory of firing the family revolver. His father had taken him out into the countryside shortly after his 16th birthday to introduce him to the heirloom and show him how it worked and how to keep it clean and in working order. The weight of it, and the kickback when it fired, had set his heart racing. Even the memory of it, fueled by the NOS coursing through his veins, made Arnold feel short of breath. His hands went through the practiced motions of cleaning the gun, making sure to put everything back into its designated place when he was done with it.

For a moment he felt a stabbing sadness at the knowledge that the gun would not be handed down to anyone else, that he'd put off having children for so long that he was now certain to be the end of his family line. Perhaps that was for the best. A couple years back, Arnold had written a will saying to donate all his belongings and wealth to the local museum. That was really the only place left for relics of the past in this modern age where barely anyone cared to look to the past. There was a carefully written out history of the ownership of the revolver set into the lid of the case, and that might be of some interest to a museum. Hopefully the gun would be displayed there, after it was cleaned.

Arnold carefully closed the box and set it aside, then loaded the revolver with a single round. He felt no hesitation or fear, only relief at the prospect of no longer feeling like a man born into the wrong time. With the warm haze of nostalgia coursing through him, Arnold thought of happier times as he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

~~~

An almost unnoticed item trickled across the bottoms of thousands of holographic projection screens while an immaculately beautiful and entirely artificial image of a woman above spoke of the booming growth of the economy. Between blurbs written on subjects like Ten dead in Cairo explosion and Med-tech stocks soar on promise of immortality, there was one that ticked by that seemed not to truly fit among such important stories. Another NOS-related suicide in New York City, police and medical experts advise staying away from this dangerous drug. Such stories were an almost daily occurrence, and thus far too common for anyone to care about. There was work to be done, progress to be made, and of course that meant there was no time to waste caring about fools who couldn't let go of the past.