[BOOKSTORE WINDOW] Deep Sound #amwriting #storytelling

The result of my second #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on a writing prompt supplied by Lamia. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about an hour:

The bathysphere Anapos had descended to a depth of six miles into the Nyaban Abyss before the barbed tentacles looped around the cylindrical hull.

“What the hell is that?” James Clay, the pilot, looked over his shoulder at the marine biologist strapped into the seat behind him, hoping for an answer.

Dr. Moira Axlewright crinkled her nose as she adjusted her glasses and peered at the holovid monitor showing what it could (not much) of the beast. “It’s huge, whatever it is. Several hundred meters in length. Cephalopodic, most likely. Can you rotate for a better look?”

Clay’s eyes bugged. “Rotate? I can’t do a damned thing while it’s got us clamped like this!” He jabbed a finger at the monitor showing the craft’s vitals. “That monster’s pulling us deeper. Faster than the Anapos is designed to handle.”

“So ask it to stop,” Axlewright suggested.

The pilot barked a laugh. “You speak sea monster?”

“You keep calling it a monster,” she said. “What if it sees us as the monsters? What do you lose for trying?”

Clay frowned, but shrugged. He didn’t have much to lose except precious time as the bathysphere continued an accelerated plunge into the G’ahnlo ocean depths. The other option that occurred to him was screaming like a little girl, but why give up that last shred of dignity so soon?

“Fine,” he said, tapping out a sequence on the console to open a channel to broadcast a transmission into the surrounding water.

“Be sure to account for hydroacoustic factors,” Axlewright said. “Deep sound frequency.”

The pilot nodded, making the adjustment. Then he spoke into the transmitter: “Uh, hi. This is James Clay aboard the bathysphere Anapos. I’m here with another human. You’re about to kill us. Please don’t.”

A shudder ran through the craft as the creature unleashed a pained shriek. More tentacles lashed around the hull.

“We’re going faster!” Clay shouted, watching the pressure monitor spike.

“Could be something about this area amplifying the sound so that it’s painful for the creature,” Axlewright ventured, shoving the glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “Reduce transmission to 20 hertz.”

“That’s practically a whisper,” he growled. “What’s the point?”

“Just do it, Mr. Clay,” the scientist insisted. “Let me do the talking this time.”

He nodded again when the system was ready for her.

“Hello,” Axlewright said with an awkward smile the beast couldn’t see through the hull. “Sorry about Mr. Clay’s outburst. He’s not one of our brightest, but please don’t implode him.” The pilot shot her an angry look, seemed ready to cuss her out, but was interrupted by a lurching of the Anapos before the vessel slowed its descent. He looked at the monitor. Still in the red, but holding around seven miles deep.

A rumbling voice rattled the hull: “NOT SAFE DOWN HERE.” Lights flickered inside the bathysphere with each word. As if to punctuate the final word, sparks showered from a control board recessed into the ceiling above the pilot’s seat.

“No goddamned kidding,” Clay muttered.

“Can we ascend?” she asked.

He checked the systems diagnostics readout. “Shorted out five of ten batteries. Two of our six ascent jets got mangled by our new friend. But, yeah, we can make it back to the surface.”

“Good,” Axlewright replied. “Let’s head up for repairs.”

“Sure,” Clay said. He watched the sensor display, making certain that the alien cephalopod had fully released the Anapos and moved away. “Just as soon as you apologize for calling me dumb.”

“Oh, please,” the biologist said with a nervous laugh. “It worked.”

“Not nice,” he grumped.

“Maybe the techs can fix your ego while we’re at it,” Axlewright mused.

[BOOKSTORE WINDOW] The Cliche Game #storytelling #amwriting

The result of my first #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on a writing prompt supplied by Entropymanor. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about an hour:

“Nobody drives in New York, there’s too much traffic,” she said.

I rolled my eyes, but she probably didn’t notice in the dark. Hugged myself hard. Three layers of Goodwill-scavenged Army jackets offered negligible comfort against the chill. “Next you’re gonna tell me it’s a dry heat.”

She got to her feet, grunting at the effort. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” She took a couple of limp-drag steps toward the sliding glass door that opened onto the balcony.

“When you gotta go, you gotta…” I let that thought go unfinished as she pulled the blackout curtain aside to show the swirling flurries of another Manhattan summer blizzard. Nothing new to see out there. Same storm. Same dark buildings. Same inert hulks of cars and trucks abandoned in the streets, up to their rear-views in noxious East River water.

“It’s not the fall that kills you,” she said, left palm against the glass door, fingers splayed. “It’s the sudden stop.”

“Hey,” I said. “Clarity. C’mon. Don’t even joke.”

“All that glitters isn’t gold,” she said, still playing the game with that damned dreamy singsong voice. Her head tilted, the bristles of her buzzcut catching the pale moonlight.

“Just don’t go out there, okay?”

She straightened. Didn’t look back. Her left hand remained on the glass. Her right hand, though, I could hear it fiddling with the lock lever on the sliding door.

“Hey, wait,” I said. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Maybe if I kept playing the game. If nothing else, it distracted me from the nagging rumble in my stomach and the burgeoning ache in my head.

“The writing’s on the wall, Maddie,” Clarity replied. I heard a faint thump as she rested her forehead against the glass, gazing out into the bleak condemnation of a dying world.

“The city that never sleeps,” I said.

“A diamond in the rough.” So maybe she agreed? Her right hand fell away from the lock. With her left, she pulled the curtain closed again. Still, she didn’t turn my way.

“Just a matter of time,” I said.

She countered with: “At the end of the day.” I watched her shadowy form moving with that trudging gait – that battered leg, thanks to a fall through a gap in a crumbling skyscraper stairwell. Heard her rustling around in the kitchenette.

“When life gives you lemons,” I started, and then tried to remember the last time I’d actually seen one. Gilberto’s corner bodega hadn’t stocked decent food and produce in more than a decade. Might be able to catch a striped bass with my bare hands in the snack aisle, but would the mercury poisoning be worth it?

“What goes around comes around,” she said with a sigh. She moved through the apartment again, toward me this time (thank God), and settled on what was left of the threadbare blue couch. Dropped half a Ritz cracker on the concrete floor in front of me.

I snatched up that cracker before the roaches could beat me to it. Not much value to it, really. Wouldn’t do more than fill a fraction of my stomach. Fundamental nourishment was a luxury enjoyed farther down the food chain. But it might fool my headache into fading, even if just for a little while.

“And they all lived happily ever after,” I said.

Finding magic in a bookstore window

The first I heard about Harlan Ellison was from my Dad when he gave me a used copy of Dangerous Visions from Jerry Cooper’s First Amendment bookstore near the drive-in off Highway 50 in Union Park.

I was a teenager at the time and a Star Trek fanatic, but didn’t yet realize that Ellison authored the original script for the best original series episode (fight me) “City on the Edge of Forever.”

What Dad told me about Ellison, the thing that stuck with me – even to this day – was this gimmick of sitting in a bookstore window with a typewriter and just churning out short fiction based on prompts from the crowd outside.

In a 1981 NBC interview, Ellison explained why he liked to write in public: “Well, when I write a story, I get into a story and the world that I’m creating is more real than the world around me. I do it because I think particularly in this country people are so distanced from literature, the way it’s taught in schools, that they think that people who write are magicians on a mountaintop somewhere. And I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much illiteracy in this country. So by doing it in public, I show people it’s a job of work like being a plumber or an electrician.”

Harlan Ellison died on June 27, the day before OtherSpace turned 20. And, really, thinking back, it’s difficult to imagine OtherSpace coming to pass without Ellison’s influence and inspiration. Another of his anthologies, Partners in Wonder, captured collaborations between Ellison and other speculative fiction writers. And what is OtherSpace if not a speculative fiction collaboration, done in real-time, now in a browser-based bookstore window?

Ellison also got his fingerprints all over Babylon 5, the TV series that persuaded me to follow a story arc format as I developed OtherSpace back in 1998.

So here we are, 20 years later, on the shoulders of another fallen giant (who likely would bristle at the idea). We’re trying to keep the OtherSpace story going while opening new windows into some of our other favorite imaginary realms. At the same time, I sometimes feel rudderless with my solo creative efforts. It’s easy to blame it on the demands of work and parenthood, which are legitimate and necessary distractions. But the truth is: Sometimes I just need prompting. It’s how I got started in creative writing in elementary school, after all, asking friends to give me a few words to weave together into a story that (hopefully) made some kind of sense.

Ellison’s passing reminds me that I won’t live forever. Ellison’s life reminds me that I’ve got a decent option for borrowed inspiration.

Now the JointheSaga Slack community includes a channel (#bookstorewindow) where, using prompts provided (I hope!) by readers like you, I’ll generate stories in real-time as my schedule permits. I’m optimistic it’ll be like warming up an engine in a car that’s been kept in the garage all winter, getting ready for spring.

Make yourself at home in another world

Pick one or join them all!

Star Trek: The Original Series
Star Wars: Reach of the Empire
Tolkien Realms
Game of Thrones
DC Heroes and Villains
Marvel Heroes and Villains