In the course of my first year of teaching it occurred to me that all of these wonderful things the kids were learning about stories ought to be put to use, and I made them write their own short stories. It was an experiment I haven’t tried again, as such–I definitely think it a worthy endeavor, but the outcome left rather a lot to be desired. The naivete of the teacher allowed some references into certain stories (which were subsequently read aloud to the class) that should never have been mentioned in a well-regulated classroom. I did, however, gain some absolute gems from their brains.
One story had the protagonist in a bit of a slimy situation. As the student wrote, “I needed to get back to my palace, so I made like a banana and spitted.” I found the attempted use of a pun very admirable, but the actual wording made me wonder any number of things. For instance, did the banana impale itself on a spit? How would that help one get back to their palace? What does roast banana taste like anyway?
Another story involved trying to save a prized pet peacock from certain death by some illness or another. It was very touch-and-go for a while, as I recall. In fact, after the owner finally gets the right medication for his bird, he gets home only to find that “his peacock was lying on the flour.” The class was relieved to learn that he was in the nick of time to save the poor peacock. I just figured it was indicating its preferred method of cremation: breaded and fried. After all, a meal is usually involved in a memorial; I guess usually the deceased isn’t the one consumed, though. Seeing as how the bird didn’t die, I suppose this is one moral dilemma we are saved from having to resolve.
Each of the stories that didn’t involve something illicit or inappropriate was filled with tension and angst–I do work with teenagers. One student, trying to emphasize how worried she (or her protagonist) felt at a point of high tension in her story wrote, “her hart was pounding.” Oh goodness. My husband briefly owned a pet deer when he (and the deer) were very young, but I don’t know many people who have their very own hart (whether it pounds or not). That’s even more exotic than owning a peacock. But what, dear reader, was the hart pounding? That shall have to be another question for the ages; the author never revealed that answer.
So here’s an interesting thing. Interesting to me, anyhow. Browsing around, I found a blog (click the pretty link) that challenged me to write using one each of randomly selected genre, setting, conflict, item, and theme. Sure. I’m up for it. I haven’t managed to write anything story-like in a while, and it may entertain a few people. So without much more ado, I present my little entry.
Don’t Look Back
(A Flash Fiction fulfilling the following: Space Opera, The Rainforest, Temptation vs. Virtue!, A Treasure Map, and Chaos Always Trumps Order in 2000 (or fewer!) words)
“Dammit Jim! I’m a doctor, not a tailor,” I muttered, channeling an ancient trope whose origins had been lost. I was staring at the gaping hole in the captain’s trousers, torn by the razor-sharp vine wending around the tree we had just passed. It wasn’t supposed to happen. We were wearing the latest in survival gear. As advertised, it would regulate body temperature, take care of euphemistic issues (that part actually worked better than one would assume), and was both stain-resistant and indestructible. We had just proven the last part wrong. Of course, when on an unsettled planet entirely covered in either ocean or rainforest, most bets were off anyway.
I shrugged off the pack I was wearing and pulled out the med kit. Tweezers and a specimen jar came out first; I had to remove the spines the vine had left in Noella’s leg. Given the streaks of red radiating from each puncture, I wanted to analyze the spines to synthesize an antidote. In the meantime, a dose of healall and a spray of local anesthetic took care of the pain while I removed the spines and cleaned up the wound. “I can’t do anything about your pants,” I said. “We’d better hope nothing else tries to attack. Can you walk?”
A scowl and a curse were my answer as Noella gritted her teeth and pushed herself upright. I handed her a stick to lean on. “Let’s go,” she said.
“Lead on.” I didn’t know where we were going anyway. We had ejected from the ship just before it blew up in orbit. The escape pod was hopelessly ruined behind us, and we had salvaged what we could. We knew that we had to get away from any trace of our inauspicious entrance to this world. The pirates were after us.
The captain consulted her book. “This way… I think,” she said, and winced as she began walking, stick in one hand and vibro-machete in the other, looking warily for any more plants or animals that might attack.
“Don’t use that thing,” I warned. “It’ll leave a trail.” Then I asked the question that had been pulsing for several days. “What’s in the book anyway?” It was a valid question, since most books had long since been replaced with electronic versions of the texts. She sheathed her machete and sighed. After several breaths of silence, she pulled the book from her pocket and handed it to me. I examined the cover before leafing through the pages and then looking up incredulously. “A treasure map? Are we even on the right planet?” I glanced at the uncharted forest surrounding us and shook my head. “I thought you said this was a mission of mercy. That’s why you needed a doctor.”
“It is mercy,” she said harshly. “It will be mercy for me, when I get that treasure. And mercy for the captives in the bowels of that pirate ship. And I need you to keep us all healthy.”
“Okay,” I agreed, studying the map. “How did you figure out it was this planet? And how are we going to get off of this ball of dirt?”
“We don’t need to get into that right now. We need to keep moving,” she instructed. Well, she was the captain. We kept moving. I kept the map and used it to try to figure out where to go. It wasn’t easy. We wandered for another day before we finally found a landmark. That helped, but by then Noella’s leg had gotten worse, and I wasn’t sure I could fix it. She kept pushing us onward, though. She had become obsessed with finding the treasure. I wasn’t even sure about the pirates anymore. There wasn’t a sign of them following, but the captain insisted they were above, monitoring our progress. “They’ll swoop in at the last minute, after we’ve done all the hard work.”
I analyzed more specimens from the rainforest to see if they were edible, and handed her half a piece of purple, gooey fruit. It smelled like bleu cheese, but probably wouldn’t kill us, and we were running low on supplies. That cheesefruit made the trip so much more enjoyable. It had a mild hallucinogenic effect, and actually made the map easier to read. Noella’s leg didn’t hurt any more, and we hurried giddily past landmark after landmark.
Until we fell into the pit. It wasn’t that far, but it was deep enough I couldn’t climb out easily, and Noella’s already weakened leg broke. Then the hallucinations became real. It started with the voices.
“Come this way.”
“Look over here.”
“I have it.”
“Give it to me.”
They fought as they swirled around us. Then we began to feel the violence of their passage. Soon, we began to see them. Humanoid, but with skin to blend and coordinate with the surrounding rainforest: greens, blues, purples, reds. It was a cacophony of color and sound. In short order, they had us trussed and carried out of the pit, ignoring the agonized moans of my poor captain. Our packs were opened and riffled. The book was confiscated to great ululations of joy from our captors. We exchanged looks of confusion and fear as they carried us, leaping faster and faster from rock to branch to treetop and back down again.
By the time we arrived at our destination, our indestructible clothing was destroyed and we were bleeding. Surrounding us were our jewel-toned captors, dancing in frenzy. The drums became so overpowering I felt my heart begin to race in time with the beats. The book was tossed from hand to hand, person to person in seeming randomness until it was thrown high into the air and the pages scattered like spring blossoms.
“No,” whispered Noella, head slumping forward. She closed her eyes, but I kept watching.
The pages began to disappear, zapped by a laser from an unseen source. Our captors’ screams changed tone and the drums petered out. Any pages still left blew aside as the pirate’s cutter descended. Helpless to intervene (and not certain for whom I would), I kept watching.
In a battle of technology vs. primitive, who wins?
The primitive, of course. It went back and forth for a time, but the infernal vines were lucid. They went kamikaze on the cutter, and before long it was as hopeless as our doomed escape pod. The pirates were stuck on this planet with Noella, a bunch of raving concrete hallucinations, and me.
The captain didn’t last long. After the possibility of finding the treasure and getting off-planet disappeared, she lost her will to survive. The pirates? Well, after I cut them out of the vines three or four times, I gave up on them. The vines were there to protect the hallucinations, and who was I to stop them? Besides, I learned what the treasure was. And the chance to turn my favorite shade of blue, live forever, and dance like a dervish was way more tempting than trying to save my fellow man. I went native and never looked back.