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Contest (Prose) – Subterranean

 
 
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  #1  
Old 07-12-2010, 06:00 AM
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As the summer is here, it is time fore a new contest. Our theme this time is Subterranean, so tell us what is going on under the ground. Good luck.


* * *


Entries:

Members are allowed one entry in the prose contest. (You are welcome to enter our poetry contest as well.) Prose entries should be submitted as posts to this thread. The competition is open to all members of Writer’s Beat, including staff.

Members are requested to refrain from commenting on entries in this posting thread. Please use the Subterranean Comment thread instead. That thread will remain open throughout the posting period and afterwards, and members are encouraged to let entrants know what they thought of their entries.

Word Limits:

Prose: 2,000 words Maximum

Edits:

Once an entry has been submitted, it cannot be altered. Any work that is edited after it has been entered will be disqualified. If you feel you need to make a small alteration (a misplaced comma, a spelling error), contact a member of staff. If we feel your request is reasonable, we will make the correction on your behalf.

Close Date:

13th October 2010, 12 midnight GMT

Judging:

Winners will be selected by means of a public poll, so you, the members of Writer’s Beat, will choose the winners.

After the closing date, a voting thread will be posted. Voting will commence on the 14th of October and close on the 20th of October 2010, 12 midnight GMT.


* * *


Recognition:

The winning entries will be considered for publication in Writer's Beat Quarterly, subject to the approval of the editors. To increase your chances of getting published (whether you win or not), make sure your document is as error-free as possible!

Also, the member (or tying members) with the most votes will get to suggest the next contest theme!


* * *


If you have any questions about the contest, contact a staff member and we will happily answer them for you. Now sharpen your pencils, fill up your inkwells and get writing. Good Luck!

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Last edited by HoiLei; 10-01-2010 at 01:55 PM.. Reason: Change closing date! Sorry for the confusion.
  #2  
Old 07-22-2010, 10:54 AM
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Contest Entry, 1743 words

JOURNAL

My name doesn’t matter. Just call me the last human if you want. This is my Journal of farewell. Maybe some spaceman or roach civilization in the future will see it. Not likely. But it passes the time.


Twenty-twenty. No other year in the early 2000s had a ring like that. You can’t say ‘Twenty-Oh-Six’ without it sounding clunky. But twenty-twenty just rolls off your tongue.


In January of 2020, Iran did an underground test of a nuclear device. In April, they fired a ballistic nuclear weapon at Israel. It did not surprise anyone; they had threatened to do it for years. It seems they bought a delivery system from North Korea. But it really didn’t matter where they got it.


It destroyed much of Tel Aviv, and before the echoes had stopped, the Israeli’s had retaliated: eight nukes back at Iran. This effectively settled them, turning the country into the glassed-over wasteland that warhawks had wanted for years. It is unlikely that the Iranian hard-liners even had a chance to rush into the streets to fire small arms in celebration before they were sent home to Allah. Hope there were virgin’s enough to go around.


Unfortunately, as happens in wars, one of Israel’s missiles failed to target properly and ran on until the fuel gave out. It dropped into Pakistan, who naturally assumed that India had attacked, and launched their entire arsenal into India, who replied in kind.


The havoc could still have been stopped at this point. Leaders in all the developed countries were begging for a stop, for some time to see what had happened. Maybe they could have prevailed. But they reckoned without the North Korean madman. He was not about to be ignored and let others show their power without getting in on it. So, he threw a few nukes into South Korea, four or five into Japan, and for good measure, a couple of his longest range jobs into Alaska. One hit, and one went astray into Russia.


It was all over then. The Chinese figured if they did not get their nukes away, both the Russian and the Americans would attack them. The Russians and Americans blasted North Korea back past the Stone Age, into slag. The French and Great Britain saw the Russians throwing nuclear weapons around and figured they better get theirs away or lose them.


None of this mattered. From the time the Iranians launched their shot at Israel, it took three days for the world to crash down. At first, there had been many broadcasts by TV and radio, of leaders and commoners begging for a stop, for time to assess the damage. Then those voices stopped as their facilities were destroyed. Radios and TVs gave out only wild static.


As soon as the real hellfire started, the politicians fled to their underground bunkers. The due date for the death machine debt was here, but they didn’t want to be among those that paid the price. In the developed world they went underground: small cadres of elite leaders, a few big wheels that bought their way in, their families, and of course minions to do the grunt work. Their rationale, if they even bothered to offer one, was that they had to remain alive to rebuild their countries.


All this pretty much happened in the northern hemisphere. Large swaths of South America, Africa, and Australia were not attacked nor did they have nukes to fire. They were doomed anyway. It just took longer. Within those first three days, two-thirds of the human population was killed from blast, radiation, fire, or other direct damage. Within a week, most of the others in the north had perished from untreated injuries or radiation.


The nuclear winter happened just as advertised. Within a week, the debris, radioactive dust, and water droplets that were blown into the atmosphere had blanketed the sky. Night came and never went away. Radioactive rain and ash fell. Plants, forests, and animals died.


As the radiation spread around the world, the southern hemisphere slowly died. Some of them, in places like Australia, burrowed underground or already had some contingency for a few to survive. Everyone else just perished as fallout poisoned the land.


I am only alive now to write this because of chance. My wife and I had taken our dream vacation, to the south sea island of Fiji, a long way from Omaha. After forty years of marriage, with the usual difficulties, we had arrived at a place where we were at peace with each other and our own lives. Ten days into our month-long idyll, the world ended. We followed the news at first, and despaired as more and more nations got into it. Several missiles hit Omaha. Our daughter, all our family, the world we knew, were gone.


The broadcasts slowly tapered off. The skies went dark in the day, and we knew it was done. Humans had only managed to last a few thousand years, way less than the ‘dumb’ dinosaurs. Humans have a built-in hate system that assured this would come from the day the first monkey climbed down out of the tree.


After a week or so, I walked to the local pharmacy and secured a bunch of sleeping pills. No one cared. There was no law any longer. There was no more transportation off the island, even if there was anyplace to go. The islanders took it with great dignity. This was something they had had no part in creating or destroying. The ‘civilized’ people had done it.


In the afternoon of June 23, 2020, my wife and I laid our pills out, got a big pitcher of gin and tonic (with one last lime), and swallowed and drank as we watched the sea from our balcony. We held hands beneath the low gray sky. A poison sky, but the sea rolled on as it always had. Maybe some fish would survive. The sea would keep on way after all the humans were gone, maybe it would recover.


We were generally sappy, acting like teenagers again. That may have been partly fueled by the gin and pills. I told her that I would never have made it if not for her, that she had saved me from the gutter. We kissed and cried for things lost.


I am writing the last words here now. I am going back to lie beside my love and go to sleep. Goddamn the war lovers that did this, goddamn them to whatever hell is worst.


TWENTY- FIFTY, AFTER THE END


Deep under the Rocky Mountains, some United States government functionaries were still alive. The politicians and their families lived safely but austerely in their taxpayer built subterranean fortresses. But there had been some major changes in their social structure in the thirty years since the War.


The underground habitats had been designed and built to support life indefinitely. Everything needed to survive: water reclamation plants, oxygen generators, CO2 scrubbers, hydroponics plants, and livestock. Life was dirty and smelly, but they were alive.


The bosses: the President, VP, Speaker, and all the others that had caught a ride on the mothership to life, had a few surprises. After three years underground, the scientists, engineers, and technicians that kept the system going realized, “Wait a goddam minute! We are doing all the work. These toads are simply living off our expertise and ordering us around. It isn’t like they have the power anymore.
We have the Power.”

So, via the very simple expedient of shutting down the water reclamation plant for 24 hours, the old bosses and their families were brought to heel. Overnight they realized that they had nothing to offer, were not contributing anything. They were resource sinks.


They met secretly for the final time. Some wanted to hawk it over the technical people, enslave the technicians using the security forces the bosses had brought down to protect themselves. Others noted that it would be too easy for the technicians to sabotage the operation. So, reluctantly, the masters of war agreed to give the power to the worker bees, at least until the surface was livable. Then they would try to take it back.


In return, the technical people allowed them to live and in some cases breed. They continued on, doing what was necessary. The politicians and bigwigs had jobs now, working the drudge jobs in the plants. But in general, it was a peaceful revolution. The security people were most reluctant to give up power to the techs. But the workers had trumps: they had booby trapped all the plants and informed security that they would hand in their weapons and stand down or die.


Time passed. Life was hard underground, but better than the death they had provided everyone else. The plan was for the planet to be repopulated and civilized as soon as it was safe to go up. They constantly monitored the air quality and radiation levels. The adults tried to teach the children what to do to rebuild.


This status continued until the land above was fit for venturing out. That happened in 2050. The technicians, a few military and civilian experts, and the politicians met and talked. They talked and talked and met and met. They lamented the destruction of the world. They vowed it would never happen again, blah blah. Blah.


One day, the monitors indicated that the air was safe for humans without pressure suits. The experts informed the others that the level had dropped so that they could return to the surface. Most of the original politicians had died, of course. They were all pretty much geezers already, old rat bastard war hawks, but a few were alive and many new children had been born that had never seen the surface.


They took their well-maintained lifts (no long stairways for these elites) and the experts threw open the double airlock doors. They emerged and were greeted by a blasted land of melted rock and gray flatness. Yes, a few stunted, warped plants had grown back. You cannot keep plants down; a bit of soil and water and they will grow. The scientists fanned out with Geiger counters and noted that most of the plants were radioactive. No food there. No animal life was detected. It was a dead planet. The technicians all agreed that a subterranean existence was all humanity could count on for more years. They all returned to the airlocks and descended back to their subterranean home.
  #3  
Old 07-22-2010, 06:38 PM
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The Wall

When I was seventeen, I reached the end of the world. It was a lot less remarkable than I expected. I’m not really sure what I expected - some sort of explosion? A siren? Flashing lights? But nothing happened.

It felt like cool glass against my palms, and the world looked like it went on indefinitely. A fiery golden horizon melting into a purplish blue sky. I almost believed for a moment that if I closed my eyes and just kept walking, the wall would melt away, and I would walk on towards that horizon forever.

“What now?” The two saddest words I had ever spoken. I looked down at my faithful traveling companion, Martel. He was standing there sort of off-kilter, looking up at me as I stood on that little rock wall. The wakening sun was reflected in his dark eyes. He reached out and touched the grass that was under my feet. You would never know the grass ended just a foot further.

“I don’t know.”

Well, that settled that. I sat down on the edge of the little four foot wall served as an enclave to the grass field we were surrounded by. To anyone, it would look as though an ancient barrier had been constructed to separate the old work fields from the rural territory. To Martel and I, it looked like a cruel joke. I considered my companion.

His clothes were dirty and stiff, and his dreadlocks had little bits of leaf and twig stuck to them. The worst part was his eyes, and how they had that sunken in look of hopelessness. For a second, I got angry. After all, it was Martel that had told me the truth. It was Martel that had talked me into leaving. Sure, my mother and father had been lying to me, but they were still my mom and dad, right? And I had left them behind. They probably thought I was dead. When had I seen them last?

I scooted back until I felt the cool wall up against my back. There I was, my back against the world, haha. Let’s see… it had to have been six months ago that Martel, Dorsi and I had left Rockville, the town we’d lived in our whole lives. Which meant it was almost a whole month since Dorsi had died.

When I thought about Dorsi, and remembered the look on her face just before Martel lost the grip on her hand, my anger was replaced with guilt. Martel had been dealing with a lot since the last ground shift. I had no right to be angry, but I still felt a little disappointed.

I could remember the day we left clearly, like a tattooed image in my mind. Tuesday, March fifteenth. It had been cloudy that day, but of course there was no rain. It never rained in Rockville. Or anywhere else for that matter. And Martel had been so eager, so full of unbridled vigor and excitement.

“You won’t believe what it’s like up there,” he’d said. “It doesn’t just get cloudy, there’s rain. It actually comes down from the sky. Not our sky, the real one. And there’s other stuff, too.”

“Like what?” Dorsi, who had been a year younger than me and two younger that Martel, believed in his story the way a four-year old might believe in the Little Mermaid. She hung on his every word as he wove a story so beautiful and amazing, we all yearned for it to be true.

“Well, there are these plants that grow as big as houses. And there are gigantic buildings as big as our town. And there’s water that goes on and on for miles. And there are other things, too. Things that are alive, like us.”

At first, when Martel started talking about the above-world, which is what he called it, I thought he was just telling tales. Dad was a scientist, and I bet that he would know all about it. I figured I would just ask him, and he would laugh and tell me how crazy it was, and how it could never be true. But when I did ask him, he got angry, and told me to stay away from Martel.

I wasn’t stupid. So I didn’t ask Dad again. Instead, I went down into the basement where he kept all his old work files. I found some papers with illustrations that looked positively ancient. I was only sixteen at the time, so I didn’t understand. I kept them, and showed them to Martel.

The day I showed Martel the old documents, and he explained to me what they were and what they meant, I agreed to go with him. And of course, we just couldn’t leave Dorsi behind. A lot of good that did her…

I leaned my head back against the edge of the wall and looked up. The sun was rising. It was going to be a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky.

“Martel, how do we get out of here?”

“We just have to keep walking. All the way around, until we find a way out.”

“Won’t there be people, watching for us?”

“Yeah. We’ll have to kill them.”

“And then what? Once we get out of here, how do we get above ground?”

“I don’t know. But we will. And when we do, we’ll be able to do anything, go anywhere.. We’ll be free.”

We’ll be free,” I echoed. What did it mean, exactly? No longer being trapped in a peaceful subterranean world giving the illusion of perfection when it was really no more than a nicely decorated cage? Sure, it meant that. It also meant being alone in a new world we only had a rose-colored vision of. What had happened there? Why had we been forced underground? Could we really survive up there?

Was freedom worth it?

Yes, I decided. Because being free also meant knowing the truth. Even if the truth wasn’t as beautiful as our clear blue sky that never rained. Even if it meant never coming back.
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  #4  
Old 08-26-2010, 12:27 PM
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Default A brave new world?

A Brave New World

It is dark here.
No light disturbs our isolation.
Secure and soft, it holds and comforts us like a mothers embrace.
We cannot go up, it is forbidden to us, only death awaits us there.
We are changed, this I know and am certain of, whatever we were before is no more, and now, is of no consequence.
For this is what we are become.
Even the older ones of us have no memory of before, only begotten stories of the light that blinded us and buried us here. There are no memorial pictures in our mind, no familiar echoes of sound to stir longing. Only the smell of this sweet dark earth stills our fears, and sustains us in the cool eternal darkness.
The noises from above ceased long ago and the only sounds now are the whisperers and ourselves, as we work our way through the earth. The ground above us is harsh and brittle; coarse on our skins and dry to the touch, it serves to deter us if we venture to close to the upside.
Only death awaits those who dare.
I have felt the light of the upside, once, when the earth fell away before me and a great chasm rent our world. I was to close, for the fire that touched my skin would have killed me in seconds had I not withdrawn in my tunnel. It sought me in my secret places, and only the mercy of sweet mother earth saved me, enfolding me in her cool healing embrace. I carry still the scars of the upside light, and pray that I never fall again into its malevolent grasp.
The older ones of us say one day it will change, that our own movements in the earth will heal the upside, but we care nothing of this, it is idle chatter that neither guides nor aids us. This subterranean existence suits us, we are adapting to its vagaries and soon we will evolve, some say like the worms that glide through our world relentlessly, asking nothing of us, they come and go freely providing airways and routes to fresher realms.
Then there are the other ones.
They whisper.
Always they whisper.
If they would but leave us alone, allow us to travel the paths of our choosing, but they talk to us, quietly in our sleeptime.
Seeping through the soil like water, we feel their words on our skins and we lie quiet, absorbing their lies, digesting their religions.
They dwell here with us in the belly of mother earth.
But they are not as we are.
The older ones say we were once like them, but we do not believe them. In great caverns they dwell waiting; waiting and whispering, yearning for the light to return. They are fools, and yet we listen to their cajoling insinuating words and despite our loathing we absorb their reasoning’s.
Yet they too know nothing of the light, how its fire blisters the skin and numbs the body, how the pain it inflicts lingers in the mind and tortures the flesh. They whisper of later, ten thousand sleeptimes from now, when they will return to upside.
It is a dream for them, for they will all be dead soon; their voices grow fewer and fainter with each passing sleeptime. We will be alone soon, and the changes will come quicker, we eagerly await each metamorphosis with baited breath, and rejoice in the arrival of our newkind.
Better here in the security of our world, far from the burning upside, and content in the tranquil darkness. Better to let the whisperers dream die with them in their caverns, and leave us to our peace. There is a better world here.
Here in the dark.
Secure, and softly clasped, in our loving mothers embrace.
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  #5  
Old 08-28-2010, 10:15 PM
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Default The Last Dragon

The world is alight with darkness. Hills and valleys stretch as far as the eye can see, beautiful and serene. Black, and silver, and gold. Glittering crystal flowers dot the countryside in every shade of the rainbow. Anai can see them even from so far away.

Here on her tower balcony, the underground kingdom is laid out before her. By the soft red glow of the lava river making its sluggish way across the landscape, Anai can see far into the distance, to the glittering black castle on the other side of the valley. She looks at it often these days, a long forgotten memory itching inside her mind, calling to her. Those walls…

A whisper reaches her from the hallway. Her gaze follows the sound, sharp and predatory. The servants gossiping again. Anai hears more than they will ever know and still none of what they say makes sense. They speak of a princess, the last of the dragon line. The only daughter of the faraway dragon king who once lived in that long ago majestic castle. They whisper their scandalous stories of a child taken from its mother’s arms, spirited away to safety to preserve the line.

Anai sighs and turns away. She heard this tale often enough. The story always ends unfinished. It’s been decades since the dragon queen is said to have birthed a successor. And no one has seen or heard anything of the child since then. Fairytales. No such thing as dragons anymore.

The queen gave her life birthing the child and the king laid his down in a siege. Rebels now control the castle and so long as the people keep their heads down, the countryside is peaceful.

Anai’s hands curl around the railing. Those walls…

She remembers a wrought iron fence, grown over with living things. Someone called it a plague of green. Someone close to her. A giant of a man with a gruff voice and a thick beard. He didn’t like anything living, except dragons.

Gone now. Just another dream; no more tangible than the steam rising from the river.

Just like the boy. The one with eyes like sapphires and a big, gap-toothed grin.

That boy is important. Anai can feel it. Every time she thinks of him, her hands curl and her feet itch to run. Details fade, and the more they do, the more she wants to remember. His eyes haunt her day and night. And when they do, she stands here, gazing at the castle. Could he be real? Out there somewhere?

Anai’s uselessness infuriates her. She is suffocating here! This place… this prison is all she’s ever known. All she is ever allowed to do is roam the halls, read the tomes scattered about, and wait. Wait for what? No one will tell her. She doubts any of them even know; but they will follow their ancient orders without question as long as is needed. However long that might be. Anai will probably die here without ever having stepped foot on that worn, narrow path snaking through the valley alongside the river – and they will let her.

That knowledge is as sure in her as her own heart’s beat. It makes her want to scream and shriek to the domed ceiling of the cavern and hear it echo throughout the land. The collar around her neck denies her even that small relief. It will allow her voice enough to speak her wishes, but will silence her if she tries to even sing. Why?

The whispers have grown quiet. Anai’s heart beats faster. Are they gone? She moves to the door, keeping her breath even. Pressing her ear to the portal, she listens. There is only silence. She eases the door open just a little and peeks outside. The hallway is empty and dark, the torches cold in their wall braces.

Now, some inner voice urges. Go now!

Anai slips out the door and rushes down the stairs to the gate. It is locked and barred to keep her in and others out. But Anai has searched through every nook and cranny in her gilded cage a thousand times over and she knows where the key hides. Within moments she is free. The walls fall away and she is outside, the ground uneven beneath her slippered feet for the first time.

There is no time to waste. The servants will be checking on her soon. When they find her missing, they’ll stop at nothing to get her back.

Eyes bright as the clearest of sapphires…

Anai runs.

Somewhere out there is the answer to everything she’s always needed to understand. Somewhere near those glittering castle walls, there is a wrought iron fence overgrown with living things, and a gruff man with coarse words but a kind heart for those he cares about.

Somewhere there is a man with piercing blue eyes waiting for her; waiting to tell her who she really is.
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Old 09-27-2010, 06:27 AM
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UNTITLED

I am here, sitting on this bench. Watching the people walk past and imagining what their lives are, wondering if they would swap them for another. Would they really do this, exchange their existence; switch their place in the world with someone they did not know?


The gains involved in the change would be great, but the losses would be even greater. I am not only talking about exchanging names with another, but wholly creating their image onto yourself. While they took your trifling permanence, you would see what they saw, feel what they felt -- but you would still have the ability to feel what you felt, recall what had been your life. The wretched part of the exchange.


I have a gift. An extremely special gift that not one soul can transcend. I am a distinct person in the world, different from every other man and woman, every child. Different even to the non-customary beings on this planet. The creatures of the deep would drench you and I would still be the principle alertness of your judgement. The odd creatures of the circus would not even catch your eye if we were placed together in a clattering cage of iron bars, ready for all to see and muse on what could have been.


I can change. I am able to change every time into someone new, someone different. In many ways this is a blessing, a sanctification from the Elysian Fields. I can have new lives, new beginnings. One day I may be spreading my thoughts on how the world has come to be, dressed in a cloak of white and sleeping underneath pillars of the same brilliance; the next, I may be hoping that my plan will work, and our troops will stop the encircling of our nation.


And that is why I come every day to this park, as an old man whose body is drained of energy, and of reason. Sitting on this bench, I am here to listen as the birds sing and families picnic together. To watch over passers-by and children playing. To dream of all my memories and failures, all my plans. And to realise that very soon I must change once more.
 

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