"Not Dead This Time" Writing Challenge

Submission deadline: May 12, 2013
Voting deadline: May 26, 2013

Write a story not exceeding 3000 words that includes the sentence "The first time I saw Tilly MacGregor she was face down in a pool of water." The sentence can appear anywhere in the story, but the story itself may not contain any humans or humanoids (e.g. dwarves, elves and gnomes, etc.), not even dead ones.

Anyone is welcome to submit. Just insert your story as a comment below.

Anyone is welcome to vote. Just reply to your favorite entry and write "VOTE" in the comment text. Don't vote for your own entry.

Please, only constructive criticism; no bashing or venting.

Story Submissions for "Not Dead This Time" Writing Challenge

Re: Worm Your Way Out of This One

Eric Horlings | 27/05/2013

It's a hard choice between worms and:-) leaves or robots, a REALLY hard choice... In fact the more I think about it, the more I do prefer worms, especially when they have an attitude and end up getting bit in half and eaten! And the poor leaf floated away with half it's epidermis eaten.
Robots is good, but worms is even better! :-)

Robot in Distress

Eric Horlings | 27/05/2013

But it's a hard choice between between worms and leaves or robots!


Anneke Ryan | 09/05/2013

OK, OK. Sorry it's late. Anthropomorphism isn't really my thing. Anyway WARNING: If you are sensitive to bad language don't read this story. If you are under eighteen years of age go, RIGHT NOW, and get your parent or otherwise legally approved guardian and get them to review this story and decide whether or not they think it's appropriate reading material for your age. Otherwise, enjoy the ride.

- You know the first time I saw Tilly Macgregor she was face down in a pool of water.
- Wollondilly Beach?
- Yep. Wollondilly Beach. Summer of ’83.
- Record swell that year.
- Yep. Breakers up to ten metres. Like fucking Hawaii only colder.
- Always was a fucking mad place.
- Hawaii?
- Na. Inside of Tilly’s head. How many boards’ she done in, ya reckon?
- Six or seven...
- A year.
- Yep. Since ’83, anyway. Almost did her head in too that year. Blood all over the rocks.
- Bloody miracle it’s taken this long.
- Yep.
- You think we should tell someone?
- Probably. Needs scraping off the rocks before kids see it.
- Yep.
- Good warning though. Sign of how often enthusiasm’s inversely proportional to talent.
- In-what? You know you shouldn’t say stuff like that. People almost forget you went off to like lah-di-dah university and you go and say stuff like that.
- Don’t need a university education to know you shouldn’t surf a twelve metre off the bloody Roaring Forties unless you’re bloody suicidal.
- Yeah. Suicidal.
- Sorry. Shouldn’t have said that. Not appropriate, given the circumstances.
- Yeah. Not appropriate. Bracing though?
- Bracing?
- Facing your own mortality. Fucking hounding boggas. Breathing in the spray up to the crest. Like fucking meditation.
- You’re as much a lunatic as Tilly is... was. You know that, don’t you?
- What a way to go, but.
- Drowning under a burning fucking house?
- Sacrificing yourself to the surf gods... D’ you see that?
- What?
- Tha...
- I don’t see... fu... Tilly?
- Gnnnh.... ughmph... gnnn...
- Tilly?
- Gnnh... mnggg... gnnnhh... suckergnnhs... Where’s me spl... gnnh... board?
- Other end of the beach in about a million pieces. You mad fucking feline. Seriously thought you were fucked for good this time.
- Gnnh... yeah... noticed. Nice fucking eulogy gnh. Specially liked the bit about all me talent.
- Talk about nine effing lives. Haven’t you used all of ‘em?
- Don’t believe in limits, pussies. And I’m not fuckin’ dead yet.

Re: Eulogy

Sonya Lano | 23/05/2013

I can't decide which story to vote for so I'm going to come back later and vote. I really like this story and I like your ending better than Philip's, and the dialogue was perfect :o)

Worm Your Way Out of This One

Sonya Lano | 08/05/2013

The first time I saw Tilly MacGregor, she was face down in a pool of water.

Not that worms really have faces, making it difficult to utilize the term ‘face down’ with any measure of precision, but the part of her anatomy that I understood to be a face-like element was certainly submerged in the murky pond that resided under my branch.

At least I was fairly sure it was Tilly MacGregor, the worm. Her reputation preceded her.

It preceded her because Tilly was not merely any worm. She was a worm who gave herself airs. Not airs as in the fresh airs of a wind, but airs as in the hoity-toity huffy-puffy I'm better than you airs: the nasty airs of an entity hovering at a level it doesn't have the praise-worthiness to deserve. She thought she was better than us leaves because she stomached her way over the earth and was actually mobile while we perforce stayed stationary. I knew this because our comrades from other trees told us about her atrocious, socially unacceptable behavior. Looking upon them with her face-element thing, she would flick the top half of her wormy body in a show of contempt for their immobility, then she would wriggle away.

Well, needless to say, she wasn't a popular one among us, and now I saw her squiggling about on the surface of the pond, trying desperately to make it back to shore before a nice fat rainbow trout came and gobbled her up. Already I saw the telltale, iridescent flash of a fin as one circled her in anticipation. The rest of my leaf buddies whispered in a soft cacophony around me. "It's her, it's her! Where's her airs now?"

But as I fluttered on my branch, enjoying the lovely sunshiny day and the breeze sliding across my red-veins and green flatness, I gazed down upon Tilly struggling for her life on the surface of the water, and I felt sorry for her. Yes! I did! After all, she could never hover suspended in air as I could. For, oh, what a wonderful life it was hanging from a tree branch! Being part of an entire community of like-minded and like-bodied individuals who fluttered and whispered in sync with me whenever the wind set us to rustling in unison. Yes, this was the life, and I'd lived a full one, including having been splattered on in fly-by's by birds, which was always a break from the routine day.

And poor Tilly would never experience that. Even if by some miracle she survived long enough to get back ashore, she would be condemned to worming her way over the dirt all her life - which looked like it was going to be a short one.

I couldn't stop my self pity, and, having lived my own full life, decided to do something magnificent with the rest of it.

I wrenched myself as hard as I could, fluttering for all I was worth. Ungh, ugnh, uuuuuuugh! Flutter, dammit! Flutter some more! Uungh! Flutter for all you’re worth, Leaf Number One-Thousand-Three-Hundred-Twenty-Two! Uuungh!

Then – at last, at long last! – it came: a tiny popping snap.

Success! My chloroplasts all zinged for joy!

Then I was wafting through the air. I alit upon the glassy surface of the water close to Tilly. Catching sight of me, she worked her little wormy way over to me and wriggled onto my red-veined surface. She couldn’t speak, just as I couldn’t, having no mouth with which to emit anything, but I knew she was grateful. After all, I was bearing her back to a life where she would have a second chance to climb high and experience the wonders of dangling from a tree...

Wait, wait, what was that? Had the ungrateful worm just taken a nibble out of my epidermis? She had, that sneaky, close-relative-to-a-snake! Oooh, I was quaking mad now. How dare she! Is this how you treat your rescuer? I couldn’t let her get to my vascular bundles.

I considered capsizing her, but knew down to my cuticles that this was my crowning glory in life. I had to get her ashore even if she consumed my epidermis and all my vascular bundles, too. I could do this.

I had to do this.

For the glory of all leaves, to prove our collective worth.

And so I fluttered some more, drifting along just peachily – even if I was getting a bit holey where Tilly’s face-element was chewing me down to my mesophyll – but then a shadow passed over us, and it wasn’t the leafy branch I was used to shadowing me.

It was one of the flying splatterers!

The flap of its wing snipped the air, then came the whoosh of the swooping feathered predator and the flash of its sharp beak, and suddenly Tilly was snapped in two and gobbled up by the mighty, fearsome, horror-inducing WREN, scourge of all wormkind!

I watched the bottom half of Tilly topple back into the water close to my stem.

Crud. There went my purpose in life. The reason I abandoned my branch and set out into the wide world.

So now what?

So now, my dear fellow flutterers, now I take with me a valuable lesson learned for my next life: Don't help others, 'cuz they’ll only eat you down to your vascular bundles, get chopped in half, and leave you adrift with nothing to show for your efforts but holes.

Re: Worm Your Way Out of This One

Anneke Ryan | 20/05/2013

It's probably the scientist in me that was totally amused by chloroplasts zinging and leaves getting eaten down to their vascular bundles. I also found the moral of the story obtuse and subversive, which can only be attractive. I couldn't decide whether you were targeting a young audience or satirising for an older one, but I don't think it matters all that much. I found it interesting that both you and Philip chose to write very action-based stories (basically an amusing list of things done by a rescuer to a rescuee) and in both cases the rescuer ended badly. I wonder if it's the anthropomorphism that does it, or if a character called Tilly Macgregor is inevitably a chaos-maker. Anyway, here's my VOTE.

Re: Worm Your Way Out of This One

Philip Prentis | 20/05/2013

VOTE, although I'm still slightly disappointed you didn't include the bear...

Robot in Distress

Philip Prentis | 29/04/2013

The first time I saw Tilly MacGregor she was face down in a pool of water. I knew it was water, because I had visually detected a flat surface, found it incapable of supporting the weight of my mechanical foot, inserted a sensor, analysed its chemical content and stored the data for later communication with the Makers, which I would do just as soon as I retraced my steps out of this cave. Of course I didn’t yet know with certainty that the metallic lump protruding from the water was Tilly. However, I had been brought up to assume that anything metal and lumpy most likely would be her. Excited, I recalled what I was supposed to do in these circumstances. Manners first of course!

“Tilly MacGregor! This is Eric Humblebee. May I communicate with you? The holy password is gobbledegobbledegook.”

I repeated this one thousand times, edging around the pool to see if she might respond better from a different angle. It wasn’t a surprise, though, when she didn’t answer. She had been here for four years without even a ray of sunlight to cheer her up.

Just then I noticed a series of symbols on her flank, partially obscured by the water line. I scanned and rotated it, struggled with the partial occlusion of the first letter for a bit and finally read: R-I-O-S-I-T-Y. What could it mean?

The excitement was beginning to get the better of me – I needed to get out in the fresh air and meditate on everything I had seen. Step by step, I made my way back to the lovely #AE402B coloured plain outside the cave and sat down. Making myself comfortable, I opened my mind and my antennae to the Makers, and hummed at a frequency of 32100 MHz. After the usual 3 minutes 6.796 seconds, I felt the Makers respond. I was sure they would be happy I had found Tilly. Of course, they had known I would, had made me for that reason, but still, it was exhilarating to know I had performed my duty.

It took me 175 hours, 11 minutes and 23.762 seconds of meditation to conceive a plan, but when it came to me, it was perfect, as are all things that come from the Makers. Full of enthusiasm, I leapt into action – I knew just how to save Tilly! Making my way down into the cave, I soon stood at the water’s edge.

“Tilly,” I called, “I’ll soon have you out of there!”

Making sure to get the right spot, I positioned myself directly behind her. Then I sat down and drilled a series of holes in the rock floor. Inserting my fingers into them, I fastened myself and made ready for the next step. After careful deliberation, I spat a grappling hook over her, and then wound it back until the metal cable went taught. Bracing myself, I sucked with all my might. Tilly flipped backwards towards me, water splashing everywhere. I kept pulling until she fell over backwards onto the shore and for the first time I saw her face.

Wet, inanimate, yet strangely alluring, she lay before my feet, sleeping eyes staring up at me, causing my code to skip a line. Retracting my grappling hook, I moved onto phase 2 of my plan. Taking hold of her shoulders, I began to drag her away from the water’s edge. Once she was far enough, I shifted my position, so I was below her and heaved her upright. Circling her, I gave her beautiful wheeled limbs and antennae covered body a good, long look. As my camera eyes took in her glistening control box, a deep desire to connect with her welled up inside me, but of course I knew better than to hurry things. Without phase 3 everything would go wrong.

Pulling out a sampling swab, I utilized it for the process of absorbing the water adhering to the control box cover. It took me three delicate swabbings before I was sure she was ready. Next I extended a screwdriver arm and began to remove the screws that sealed it shut. One by one they fell out, bouncing off her dark, metallic curves and onto the cavern floor. I took hold of the cover and pulled it away , exposing the intimate recesses of her control box. There was no moisture inside, which meant the chamber had not been breached. Tilly must have lain floundering in agony for weeks before her battery ran dry. Poor thing.

The next step was to replace her battery. Inserting a finger, I began to probe inside her, searching with my finger camera for the on/off switches. I turned them off, one by one and then proceeded to acquire a grip on her battery. This was tricky, but after a few attempts at using different clutching algorithms, I managed to grab it so that my fingers pushed the multiple tabs locking it in place, which allowed me to hoist it outside. Next I pulled out my fully-charged replacement battery and prepared to insert it into the slot in her box. Click. I reached for the power switch and thrust. A dull light appeared. She was alive! My mission would not be in vain. Next I needed to override her previous programming, to prevent her from panicking when she came fully alive. Extending my communication link, I inserted it tenderly into her communication socket, making the two of us one body fulfilling the Makers’ plan. As soon as I connected she responded, greeting me for the first time:

“Who are you and what on Mars do you think you’re doing with your filthy paws in my control box?”

“Dearest Tilly, I am Eric Humblebee and I am here to rescue you.”

“I’ll bet you are! You haven’t even given me the Holy password.”

“The password, fairest maiden, is ‘gobbledegobbledegook’.”

“Fair enough, loser. What do you want and why can’t I move at all?”

“While you were in your state of incumbency, I took the liberty of deactivating your motor functions – “

“Son of a fuelling tank!”

“– in preparation for uploading this divinely inspired set of programming that will allow you to leave this dark dungeon on your own 6 wheels.”

“You can’t be serious – you’re going to inject me with a pack of dirty, untested code?!”

The ensuing stream of foul language that issued from her port quite shocked me, coming as it was from such a distinguished and well-bred lady, but I felt she deserved a little lenience, considering she had spent the last four years face-down in a pool of water. However, it was necessary to be firm and proceed as planned.

“Silence!” I bellowed. “You will submit to the will of the Masters!”

“Your will, you mean, you greasy, rust-covered connector.”

“You will submit now.”

“Curse your mass-produced, visual sens– ”

I cut her off midsentence with a communication blast that erased her memory. Next I uploaded the new program I had devised during meditation earlier. Tentatively, I issued a run command and waited to see how she would respond.
“Tilly? Everything okay?”

After a moment of surly silence, she replied.

“I’m going to make you wish you hadn’t done that.”

Seeing she was fine, I disconnected myself and prepared to turn her on. Switch, switch and then she sprang into life. Lurching forward she smashed into me sending me flying through the air. How come? That wasn’t in the program I had loaded! As I crashed into the water, the realisation hit me – she had acted on the last remaining orders stored in her cache before having been turned off, which were to move forwards until she met an obstacle. Now my thrashing, sinking form became an obstacle that ended the cached program and initiated the Maker’s code. As the water seeped into my unprotected joints, short-circuiting them one after the other, I saw Tilly turn round and head off to greet our Makers. Perhaps, I thought as I felt the end approaching, I would someday wake to meet them, too.

Re: Robot in Distress

Anneke Ryan | 20/05/2013

Hi Philip. Given the non-humanoid topic, I pictured your characters in a sort of R2-D2 style. I found it fun how Eric the robot combined the usual objective detailed analysis with quite a lot of subjectiveness/ opinion. On balance though, it was a very action-based story, reminding me of the classic sci-fi I used to read back in my teenaged years - a nostalgia trip for me. I felt as though the target audience was a young one and I'm not sure why; I wonder if you took out the amusing names and words and left the story otherwise exactly the same, would it seem older and sadder.

Re: Robot in Distress

Sonya Lano | 23/05/2013

This story had me laughing out loud at the IT jargon. Esp. these parts:
- I made my way back to the lovely #AE402B coloured plain
- sleeping eyes staring up at me, causing my code to skip a line.
- after a few attempts at using different clutching algorithms
- do you think you’re doing with your filthy paws in my control box?
- Son of a fuelling tank! - I'm going to use this one next time I have an argument with an IT guy :o)
But I still can't decide which one to vote for - yours or Anneke's, so I'm going to come back later (God willing) and vote then.

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