Be Mine, ShtoryTime!
Congratulations to this year's victorious valentine, NG Swett!
"Be Mine, ShtoryTime" 2023 Prompts:
Location: ART GALLERY
Character: SOMEONE'S EX-
Read the winning shtory—plus, shtories by first runner-up Morgana Kate Watson and second runner-up Colin James—below!
By NG Swett
My ex-therapist was a good listener, but he just didn't get it. Certainly, I was sleep-deprived and approaching a big milestone birthday. But my obsession and encounters with the number 50 weren't just delusional. His prescriptions only amplified the signals.
He dismissed all the 50th anniversaries lately as mere history: the first moon landing, Russia's space launch to Mars, and the establishment of the EPA -- to name a few, but I could go on and on. And what about the ordinary, everyday sightings of the number, down to the 50% off sale on those journals he recommended, and the coincidence of the fifty-dollar insurance co-pay? He wanted me to talk and talk and talk about my childhood, an enriching subject for sure. I want to get beyond all that!
For someone who didn't believe in magic, he sure put a lot of stock in wearing all the sports fan merchandise on game days. I called him out more than once on his belief that a jersey or a mug can decide the outcome of a game.
Running out of sessions turned out to be a good thing. A string of synchronicities led me to a group that gets it. I've just had my weekly televisit with my Territorial Specialist by satellite, and as I head out to pick up dinner to bring back to my apartment, I feel energized. Today’s observations relayed and recorded: the value of the letter L in Roman numerals (50), how long it’s been since we’ve had a constitutional crisis like this (50 years), and how long an imperiled legal precedent has been in place (also 50 years). Taken together, TS and I see the magnitude and gravity of the situation.
Passing by, I see a big gold banner hanging from the front of the museum. It's for a fifty-year retrospective, and I know I must pop in. I follow signs to the gallery dedicated to modernity and find the retrospective show. There is a buzz in the air, and my antenna goes right up. I know TS will appreciate my findings. He may even pass them up to the umbrella organization for all the territories, The Org, which I’ve come to envision as a supra-global council that assembles in the skies on dark nights.
“Sending dispatch for 50-year wave series. Level L high potency source. Copy.” Right here in the gallery, I type with my thumbs and check for typos before hitting SEND. I pocket my device and continue viewing the artworks, taking a dizzying circular view from the center of the room. TS always accepts my dispatches and helps me sort through the data and signals coming across the 50-year wavelength. My pocket vibrates.
It’s TS. “Please stand by."
In truth, TS is the kindest voice in my life, and the professionalism and courtesy are truly top rated. Take it from me, a lifelong member of one of the world’s oldest professions: Clerk. Lately, encounters with irate and deranged members of the public have become unavoidable, causing so much distress that it’s nearly impossible to remain in my job. Let’s face it, my profession is facing obsolescence. So whether it’s frenzied dispatches late at night, after watching the news scroll in red blocks across the bottom of the television screen, after doom scrolling up and down my phone's news feed, or after calmer morning epiphanies, TS is always there and always helpful. Together, we've detected patterns revealed in 50-year events and crises, and we also know that the size of the surf is growing bigger and wilder. We can sometimes see hundred-year waves. We believe that something tectonic is about to happen. Taken together, events will reach a tipping point. The wave will peak and collapse into itself in a wild frothing, roiling undertow of chaos and destruction. When it comes to waves, TS says the best place to be is out front, so we've been working on figuring out what exactly to expect and how best to prepare.
As I stroll through the exhibit, what I see confirms what we’ve already discovered but which only art can reveal as powerfully as this: the bold shapes and colors, the irreverence, the abject rebellion and revolution vividly signal a complete obliteration of all of our most animating beliefs.
“Go ahead,” TS comes on again with a buzz.
I step out of the gallery into a dark hallway, type in my dispatch, and on my way back into the gallery, I re-read it for typos. SEND. I’m taking one last look at the exhibit when my hand buzzes. It’s TS.
“Begin preparations immediately to reach high ground. Expect increasing instability, a cresting of the wave, a long moment of silence, and a catastrophic crash, followed by a gradual clearing.”
“Got it,” I tap, exiting the museum. On the sidewalk, I glance at people coming toward me and watch everything in my peripheral vision. I’m alert.
Back in my apartment, I gobble down my combination platter and start to pack. I’ve got the news on in the background, and I’m half listening for the thing that will be the tipping point. Hopefully I’m not too late. I throw all the things I’ve put aside for this occasion into a duffle bag. Thankfully, I’ve liquidated all assets, both earned and inherited, and entrusted them with the Org. Their proprietary geo-political calculations, which use new computer technology beyond mortal comprehension, are sending me to a familiar territory where I’ll be safe.
It is with a lightness of being that I exit the building for the last time. I’m heading to the terribly beautiful Outer Lands Archipelago, where I’ll be joining a team studying waves and flying reconnaissance missions in and out of the fabled island where I grew up. The primordial land masses have secrets to share dating back to the Ice Age. Hopefully, close observations will reveal the key to unlocking the future.
Caught Between a Bridge and a Gray Place
By Morgana Kate Watson
The art gallery was dark. Too dark. Nip shuddered. These establishments were just not natural. Granted, most beings didn’t enter in the dead of night, but a gnome had to do what a gnome had to do.
Nip supposed that if he had held his ground five years ago, he would not be in this mess now. Back then, his girlfriend Trixie decided that she couldn’t live in the Enchanted Glenn anymore and absolutely had to move to the land of the humans. Nip had his reservations.
“But they’re humans, Trixie.”
“Exactly! Isn’t that exciting?”
“They’re heathens. Everyone knows that.”
“Come on, Nip.” Trixie gave him that big eyed sad face that she knew hit him in the knobby knees. “It will be fun!”
And with that, they moved to the faraway land of Chicago. It sounded exotic, but when they arrived, everything was just so… gray.
As Nip suspected, Trixie soured on the adventure.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this!” She screeched.
“Are you serious? This was your idea.”
Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say. She dumped him on the spot. In the months that followed, Nip contemplated returning to the Enchanted Glenn, but the fact remained that he loved Trixie too much to leave without her. So he stayed. Being near her in Chicago was better than being far from her back in the Enchanted Glenn.
He found a hollowed out tree in the same park where they had lived together – and not Trixie lived on her own – under a footbridge. It wasn’t so bad, really. Actually, if Nip were being honest, it was quite nice. He had a squirrel for a neighbor who was kind enough to share his nuts with him and teach him the ways of the humans. And as the months went on, Nip admitted to himself that he actually liked his life in Chicago and was appreciative of Trixie for demanding they move here. He didn’t have to pretend to be happy all the time like he did in the Enchanted Glenn. In that respect, it was actually much more peaceful.
That is, until a few years into his Chicago adventure. Nip and Melvin – the squirrel neighbor, were swapping stories over some acorns. Melvin was trying to explain Valentine’s Day to Nip, who frankly just didn’t get the concept. If you love someone, shouldn’t you tell them that every day? This line of questioning continued until Trixie unexpectedly burst into the tree stump.
“Hi Trix. Do you mind knocking next time?”
“Nippy, Love, I need help.”
“This is nothing new.”
“You don’t understand. They’re after me.”
Once Nip, with very little help from Melvin whose chattering made things worse, was able to calm Trixie down, he was able to get from her that he had been visited by a human a few weeks prior. Trixie wasn’t dumb enough to interact with her, but she WAS dumb enough not to take cover when the human stayed there all day. And she had paints and an easel.
“I can’t be in a painting, Nippy.”
And then she flashed him the big eyes. Game over.
So now Nip was standing in front of a too dark art gallery to see if a painting of Trixie was hanging from the wall and to fix it if it were. The alarm system didn’t bother him. Gnomes work on a frequency that those systems don’t pick up. Nip just didn’t know what other creature may or may not be lurking in the shadows and that is a terrifying thought in any land. Still, Nip was on a mission. A mission to protect Trixie.
It was easy enough to enter the building. Humans and their “security.” So cute.
Once he was inside, he was assaulted with red and white hearts and other decorations. Was this the Valentine’s madness Melvin had been describing? If so, this was one tradition he was happy not to celebrate.
And there it was. It was actually quite a lovely painting but Trixie was very, very visible. No matter. This was an easy fix, now that he knew what he was working with. Time to get to work.
When Emma got to the gallery the next morning, she stopped in front of her newest painting. It was one she hoped would sell tonight, going to someone as a housewarming gift or as an “I love you” present for Valentine’s Day. It had the potential for it. It was a landscape of that adorable little bridge in the park. A little girl had been playing underneath it; Emma had been sure to capture her in the painting.
But something was different than she remembered it. The little girl was now hiding behind an umbrella.
Had she painted that? She was sure she hadn’t. Then again, it was a kid. You could never be too careful with kids, so maybe she had put that in last minute. Either way – the painting was lovely. And with any luck, it would sell tonight. A lovely gift for a lovely Valentine.
It’s all any artist could ask for.
The Hard Way
By Colin James
On Maple Street I thought I blew my cover but, I was being careful. I had to. Rain filled the streets and soon I was walking through a river.
The couple I was following was so utterly distracted in themselves that if it wasn’t for the man’s AI, I could’ve walked up behind them unnoticed. But AI always wins the day. That’s all anyone could rely on these days. AI for your work, AI for entertainment, AI for the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe. I mean it’s two ingredients for Jif’s sake! Everyone’s getting lazy.
Not me. I still did it the hard way. Sure, I still had to be aware of the AIs. Think like them to know my way around them. But a man’s got to trust his gut. And an AI has no guts. Not yet at least.
The tall bloke I was tailing was Stephan Fisher. Husband of Leana Fisher. Yes, the same Leana Fisher who owned half the AI implanting facilities in this town. Seems like Leana got a little suspicious of dear Stephan here. Based on how friendly he was with the woman who wasn’t his wife, I don’t blame her.
Naturally her being so involved with that world, Mrs. Fisher wanted AI out of it when it came to investigating this matter.
“I just want to know if my assumptions are true,” she told me “But half the world doesn’t need to find out with me.”
Discretion, professionalism, and most importantly, no AI. That’s a job only for private detective, Kurt Dodson.
So, there I was drenched in rain, watching my mark. If I knew where the infatuated love birds would end up that night, I would’ve crawled back into the recycled glass bottle of whiskey Leana found me in. Stephan held the door open for the lady as they entered a retrospective art gallery. The only thing I hated more than AI, was art.
It was more of a hallway then a gallery. I shook of the rain from my hat and noticed the various bizarre pieces that lined the walls. The iPhone’s, balanced on their corners, was one of the few things I recognized from an old case. A plastic box spit out designs on old paper. A collection of very old books forged into Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker caught my eye. I can just hear these people now.
“How magnificent. Ancient art built from vintage art. How exquisite. How existential, how…” insert grandiose word here.
Barf. The same person who made that book statue is probably the same one who thinks your life is better with a robot implanted into your brain. Useless. The hardest part was forcing myself to seem interested. I had to blend in, or else Stephan’s AI would pick up on me. Pick up on a presence that’s been in his proximity too often the be a coincidence.
“Of all the galleries in this town, you had to walk into mine.”
There she was, standing in front of me. Hit me like a flying compost truck. Cassie. The only thing I hated more than art galleries, was seeing an ex in one.
“Don’t tell me you own this place?”.
“Don’t tell me you started taking an interest in art?”
I looked around. I had to blend in.
“Some people can change.”
She laughed a little too loud for my liking.
“Well, what is it?”
We were standing in front of a dark polyester and metal instillation. The pieces formed a black tree like figure. The leaves stuck out with metal spokes.
“The artist calls it, ‘Death Shade’. It’s made from umbrellas.”
“People used them to cover from the rain or shade them from the sun.
“Of course, with Auto-Dry Tech they’re a relic of the past, but I see…”
Cassie takes a moment to look me up and down, she notices my clothes are still dripping and glares at the footprints I tracked through her galley.
“Some people are still stuck in their ways.”
Out of the corner of my eye I still had my man. Still taking tabs. But I began to worry he was too. I noticed him glance at us.
“How much for this piece, Cass?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“You know, we were perfect for each other.”
“Are you drunk?”
Stephan has started looping around the gallery towards the umbrella installation.
“Look where you work. An art gallery with pieces featuring tools from long ago. Things people laugh at. Now look who I am. A man who refuses to use these so-called better tools the world has spit out for us. If anyone can appreciate this, it’s me.”
The look she gave me made it worse. My gosh I wish I could’ve meant it.
“I will admit, there’s no one quite like you, but what’s your angle? Kurt Dodson always has an angle.”
Stephan was at my heels. He began to clear his throat, “Excuse me, do I…”
I kissed her. Kissed her and the beautiful memories came rushing back like a secret time capsule had been dug open.
Stephan realized he was interrupting something. I played my part. I wasn’t someone to worry about. Just a romantic trying to win his girl back. He began to walk out the door.
If I could only just have stayed enveloped in that beautiful moment. Been intrigued with Cassie’s furious and yet moonstruck reaction to my gesture. But some part of me had to look. I had to trace my man out the door.
A slap stung my face. It was the least I deserved.
“You have a mark! You’re working, aren’t you?”
I began to put on my hat.
“You haven’t changed one bit. As if I could forget why I said goodbye to your ass. Get out of my gallery!”
I lost him on the street as the rain coated me again. The only thing I longed for that Valentine’s Day, was an umbrella.