Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lodging a Complaint

This is my entry in the Friday Challenge for this week. The challenge: Write no more than 1000 words using this photo as inspiration.


I am writing to express my most bitter disappointment in your company's services. When one considers the high cost of said services, one expects to receive the very best; especially when your brochure offers that exact proclamation. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I contracted with your agent on my home world for the Barbarian Bonanza; an extended stay on an undeveloped world with no knowledge of galactic civilization. I was assured my butlebot, J33V32, would be allowed to accompany me on my adventure. J33V32 was kitted out with the latest in holographic projection technology -- all at my expense, mind you -- and we were on our way.

I should have known disaster was in the offing when I was informed J33V32 would be transported to the planet's surface separately. Alas, my usual optimistic outlook did not allow suspicions of disaster to spoil my mood. I must commend the young gentlemen who took me down to this barbaric planet and into a city called London.

Ah, London! It certainly lived up to its billing; loud, its streets crawling with ground transports of all sizes and shapes, a mixture of odors filling the air and teeming millions of these humans scurrying about on primitive errands of all kinds. I was shown to such a primitive abode about which I complained at once. Imagine my surprise when I was told a human would consider my accommodations luxurious! It was all quite deliciously barbaric, indeed! After such a fine start, it was quite a shock to discover J33V32 had been lost in descent!

It seems one your company's robotic shuttles lost its direction thingie and crashed on the other side of the planet! When one of your young gentlemen told me of this, I insisted we leave immediately to fetch my butlebot as I intended to dress for a night on the town. The same young gentleman then told me the most astonishing thing. Traveling to the other side of the planet would require time. Not just hours, not even days, but weeks of travel by something called rail and ship and rail again and then, then by riding some sort of native creature! Yet I stood firm and insisted we leave forthwith to fetch J33V32.

Meanwhile, J33V32 had come through the crash of your shuttle without a scratch. However, as I later learned, the extraordinarily expensive holographic projection device was rendered inoperable. J33V32 had no way to blend in with the barbarian natives when they discovered him wandering the countryside. Fortunately, I keep J33V32 thoroughly up-to-date and his creative circuits were firing wonderfully. As this band of banditos -- that is what J33V32 called them -- gazed upon his visage askance and wondered aloud what he was, clever J33V32 told them he was from Australia. I gather this "Australia" is one of the countries on earth. Having never seen an Australian before, the banditos took him before their fearsome leader, a gentleman by the name of Pancho Villa.

This Villa chappy seems to be some sort of revolutionary in his country. Of course, J33V32 has the full range of bodyguard programming, which he used to great effect before Mr. Villa. In short order, J33V32 was riding and raiding with the banditos. I am given to understand they were greatly impressed with the quantity of alcoholic beverages J33V32 could consume without suffering any impairment. With his mechanical muscles, he also proved quite adept at something called "rolling a cigar."

While I suffered seasickness in a cramped cabin on a floating hotel, my butlebot was leading charges against government soldiers and passing out supplies to starving villagers. While I was attempting to find some fleeting comfort on a "rail car" -- a mode of transportation that involves far too much heat, smoke and dirt for any civilized man -- J33V32 was sitting around actual open flames at night exchanging tales of derring-do with his fellow banditos. While I was swaying back and forth upon a great beast called a "horse," well, in all honesty, J33V32 was also riding a horse.

I was certainly not my in my traditionally sunny disposition when we encountered these same banditos. Of course, we had no way of knowing J33V32 was with them. The barbarians shrugged non-comprehension at our attempts to communicate. Under the threat of immediate violence, they led us to their camp. Upon entering the camp, I espied my butlebot at once. As soon as J33V32 heard his master's voice, he took up his traditional position at my side.

These banditos were none too keen to lose their new chum, I can tell you! It required an exchange of some local precious metal by the young gentlemen from your company before this Pancho Villa agreed to our departure. By the time we had completed our return passage, my Barbarian Bonanza vacation was nearly over.

It is for this reason I write to you. Gentlemen, I insist you allow me to stay on this planet in the city of London until I have discovered the joys and excitement awaiting me. You may retrieve me up on your next visit to this planet. All of this will be done at your expense, of course.

I am sending this message with the two young gentlemen who were of such assistance in retrieving J33V32. Why, they even fixed his holographic projection device! Unlike the rest of your company's services, their services were invaluable. I have tipped them most generously.

Gentlemen, until your return voyage, I remain yours,

Bertram W. Wooster

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

What follows is the truth. Really.

It all started the day school got out for the summer. I came home like normal, handed my report card to Mom and then went into my room to play video games.

"Hello, Mike," someone said as I shut the door.

Surprised, I looked up to see who had spoken. I saw myself leaning against the door to my room. I closed my eyes then looked again. Yep, it was me. Had Mom put a mirror on the back of my door? Nope, no mirror. Too weird!

"Who are you?" I asked.

"I'm you," my double said, "sort of, anyway."

"Sort of?"

"I'm your summer stand-in," he said.

"Why do I need a stand-in?" I asked.

"Because you're getting your wish," the double replied. "You're going to finally have an exciting summer!"

Before I could say anything else, my double pointed something like a TV remote control at me and pushed a button. My quiet room vanished and I found myself waist deep in the ocean, the sound of gunfire all around me. I was surrounded by guys a lot older than me, all carrying M1 rifles and wearing green uniforms and struggling through the water toward the beach. I checked myself out and found a green uniform and an M1 gripped tightly in my hands.

D-Day? I was storming the beach at Normandy? What the hell?

I pushed my way through the water, trying to hide behind some of the other guys. That worked until all the guys around me had been shot. I was so scared I wet my pants, not that anyone would notice. I was trying to figure out what to do when something hit me hard in the chest. Looking down, I saw a red stain spreading out fast. I couldn't stand up any more. I was-

I was suddenly somewhere else. I was wearing something really heavy, holding something really heavy and had something blocking a lot of my vision. Looking left and right, I saw armored hoplite warriors. The one on my right, a much older man, grinned at me.

"Don't worry, boy," he said, "we can handle this Persian scum! Keep your shield up, thrust low and hard. You'll be fine."

I looked in front of me for the first time. Not fifty yards away, a whole lot of men were advancing on us. They gave a terrifying cry and rushed at us!

Off to my left, someone called out, "Brace!"

The human wave hit us, driving us backward. Then I felt a shield against my back, pushing me in the other direction.

"Now, boy, thrust!" the old man next to me yelled.

It was so loud I could barely hear him, but I did what he told me to do. I thrust with my right arm as hard as I could. It was strange, feeling the point push through light armor and pierce flesh. The man before me convulsed and screamed and blood splattered and I thought I was going to be sick. Then that man was down and another took his place.

I thrust again and again and again and again. The screaming, the blood, the horror went on and on until I was numb to it. My arms ached from holding the shield and thrusting. My legs throbbed from pushing and pushing. I didn't think I could hold out much longer when suddenly the Persians retreated.

"Front line," a voice called out, "drop back for rest and water!"

I turned to grin at the old man next to me, ready to tell him I'd made it. I didn't recognize the man standing next to me.

"What happened to-" I began.

The man shook his head. "He dines with the gods tonight."

Suddenly feeling empty, I turned away.

And everything changed again.

I was in a village of some kind. If the movies I've watched are at all accurate, it was a European village. I was pulling something heavy, like a big hand cart. I turned to see what I was pulling and wished I hadn't. It was a big hand cart that was full of dead bodies; men, women, even children. A man was walking out of a hovel carrying a small bundle. The man's eyes looked dead, even if he wasn't. When he put the bundle on the pile of bodies, I saw why.

It was a baby.

I realized all the bodies were covered with large, oozing sores. The plague! Oh, God, I was in a plague infested village! I started to back away from the cart but felt a hand press against my back.

"It's all right, boy," a horse voice said. "You get used to it after a while. Just think of them as a load of wood. And don't touch them."

Suddenly, he began coughing. I thought he was going to cough up a lung, it went on so long.

"Damn," he said quietly. "Looks like you're going to be handling the cart on your own soon."

We dragged the cart through the village and my horror grew with each step. There were so few people for such a large village, and most of them looked half dead from exhaustion. Finally, we dragged the cart out of the village and dumped -- there's no other word for it -- the bodies in a mass grave.

As we were pulling the cart back toward the village, I started to cough.

"I take it all back!" I cried. "I don't want an exciting summer! I want to clean my room and mow the lawn and wash the cars! Please, God, let me be bored again!"

And just like that, I was back in my room. I wasn't coughing or shot in the chest or wearing armor. I was just sitting in my room, looking at my double.

"Did you have a good time?" he asked.

"No! I spent the entire time I was gone terrified and horrified and sure I was about to die!" I said. "I most definitely did not have a good time!"

My double smiled, "Good. It seems you learned something while you were gone."

"Um, how long was I gone?" I asked. It had felt like forever.

The double looked at his watch and answered, "Six minutes."

"Six-? So I've got all of my summer vacation left?"

My double nodded.

"Thank you, God!" I said and reached for my iPod.

There was a knock at the door and my double vanished. Mom poked her head into the room.

"Your father wants you to mow the lawn before you do anything else today," she said.

"Aw, Mom!"