2016 Flash Fiction Challenge: The Wicker Man

In a jet lag-inspired fever dream, I signed up for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The idea is to be given a random genre, setting, and object, and to write 1000 words of fiction – or less – within 48 hours. My round one assignment was to be a fantasy set in a furniture store, involving a dog’s leash, somehow. Here are the results of that challenge!

NYC Midnight

THE WICKER MAN

Baldrick Arterton caught his reflection in the ornate scrying mirror next to his desk, and it did not paint a pretty picture. He sighed, turning back to the pile of past due notices in front of him.

He was officially Old. It had gotten to the point where Tony Pennuto, his strapping delivery man, thought his name was actually “Bald Rick.” A nickname he’d assumed, Tony had said, “on account of all the baldness.”

The fool! Didn’t he realize who he was dealing with?

Baldrick shuffled the unread notices, lost in thought. Of course he didn’t know who he was dealing with. Why would Tony Pennuto, whose primary accomplishment in life appeared to be chewing gum and walking at the same time, know or care about the metaphysical wonders of the universe, the sacred and profane arts of which Baldrick “Bald Rick” Arterton was a steadfast practitioner?

When Baldrick had first opened up shop, it was the 1970s. It seemed nearly a lifetime ago. Tony Pennuto hadn’t even been born yet. Magic was simply everywhere; even grandmothers knew their zodiac sign in those days. Not like 2016, where any belief in magic–even the more traditional stuff, like horoscopes and Christianity–was viewed with derision.

Back in the 1970s, Baldrick was on top of the world. He had used his well-honed magical ability to divine the best time and place to open The Wicker Man: Fine Outdoor Furnishings With A Magickal Twist. He’d settled on May 1973, in Salem, Massachussets, precisely 300 years from the last witch trial.

The store was an unprecedented hit. Wicker was just about as popular as magic in those days. It didn’t hurt that 1973-era Baldrick was exactly what a predominantly female customer base thought a magical outdoor furniture salesman should be; thin, polyester-clad, with flowing blonde hair past his shoulder blade and a golden talisman gleaming in a nest of chest hair.

Things were different in 2016. The demand for wicker was about on par with the demand for Baldrick. He still had the golden mane, though the top was conspicuously barren. The talisman had long been sold to pay for a moving truck – the very moving truck that Tony Pennuto now drove.

Who was taking another one of his 2-hour lunches at the moment, it seemed. So when the shop’s front door bell gave a melodic tinkle, Baldrick was the only one working.

He snapped into action, tugging his baby blue polyester jacket across his expanding paunch. He stepped onto the sales floor smiling, ready to greet the first customer in weeks.

His smile didn’t last long.

“Greetings, Voltaire,” said Baldrick sullenly.

“Baldrick, Olde Friend! How marvelous it is to see you!” exclaimed Voltaire, oblivious to Baldrick’s turn of mood.

“Why are you here?”

“Right to the point, eh? I like that!” Voltaire said, stroking his pointed beard. Baldrick made a gleeful mental note of the obvious dye job.

“Look, Voltaire, I’m very busy…”

“Clearly,” said Voltaire, eyeing the empty store through his monocle. “I’m actually here to help with that. You see, Fiona mentioned–”

He kept talking, but Baldrick had stopped listening after hearing her name Fiona. Of course she had said something to this prattling peacock. Were no things sacred anymore between husband and wife? Even if they were no longer married…?

“She is my wife now,” Voltaire said, as though reading his mind. Or perhaps he actually was; it was one of his specialties. Baldrick began envisioning the words VOLTAIRE IS A COCKMOUTH in bright neon letters, just in case.

“As I was saying…” Voltaire continued, before drifting off. “Very mature, Baldrick. Look, I’m here to help. I’m going to get you online.”

Baldrick scoffed. He didn’t even own a computer! It wasn’t very refined, a grand old wizard like him, checking the Facespace or whatever it was the youth were using nowadays.

“Baldrick, it works. You’ve seen how good DarkestDesires.biz has been for my business!”

“You sell sex toys to freaks, is my understanding. Not my demographic.”

“We marital aids to people who want to bring the magick back to their bedroom, thank you,” said Voltaire, though he didn’t seem bothered. He brought out an iPad with a flourish, screen flashing the Darkest Desires landing page. “Your customers aren’t so different from mine, really.”

“I’m don’t think the kind of people who…” Baldrick trailed off, squinting at the screen. “What is that? A dog leash, for people?”

“‘His Master’s Vise,'” nodded Voltaire.

“This isn’t going to work for me.”

“It works for Fiona.”

The words hit Baldrick like a punch to the gut. “What…?”

“It works for Fiona!” Voltaire repeated, pulling open a page devoted to love and luck charms. “She’s making a killing now that we’ve partnered up.”

Baldrick was relieved that Voltaire meant e-commerce, not sex toys. He looked around his dusty shop, with pieces that hadn’t moved in months, then back to Voltaire. There was something about the man’s jaunty top hat that rubbed him the wrong way, bubbling the rage inside him.

“I will never work with a preening idiot like you,” hissed Baldrick. Voltaire opened his mouth to respond but was silenced by the surprising event of being turned into a handsome rattan settee.

“Hey, nice work, boss!” came the voice of Tony Pennuto, striding from the back of the shop towards the furniture formerly known as Voltaire.

“You simply must stop taking these long lunches,” Baldrick said with twinkling eyes.

Tony ignored this mandate – he always did – and motioned to the attractive midnight black setee. “Want me to stick this out back?”

“No,” replied Baldrick. “Deliver it to Fiona Pendragon in Marblehead. Address is in my Grimoire.”

“Sure, boss,” said Tony, wheeling the Voltaire piece out of sight on a dolly.

Baldrick surveyed his dusty little shop again, this time with pride. It was a shame to simply give away such a fine piece of furniture, but so what? There was always the Internet.

Now on Passport Game Studios: Gen Con 2015 wrapup

This week(ish) on the Passport Game Studios blog, a wrapup of Gen Con 2015. (I also reminisced about Gen Con 2012 earlier this month.)

There’s a good reason that Gen Con remains my favorite convention – it is welcoming to all levels of gamers, and stubbornly unpretentious. I’m so glad I got to experience it from an exhibitor’s perspective, and bring my friend Holly Conrad along for the ride!

Click on over to the Passport Game Studios blog for a photo-heavy exploration of Gen Con 2015 through my lens.

(And, click here for the rest of my Gen Con photos on Facebook.)

Now on Medium – Where in the world is Daenerys Stormborn?

This week on Medium: With the Game of Thrones Season 5 finale just around the corner, I wonder where we might expect to find Daenerys Targaryen and Drogon. The books already have an answer, but given the show’s propensity for streamlining the story, all bets are off!

Click here for my five predictions over at Medium.

Now on Medium – Ceci n’est pas une wheel: Misdirection and perception in Game of Thrones

This week on Medium, I have written a pretty great post with a pretty pretentious title – Ceci n’est pas une wheel: Misdirection and perception in Game of Thrones.

If you’ve ever wondered just how much the Game of Thrones showrunners are concealing, this is the post for you! It also talks about the cognitive dissonance that exists on both the audience and the characters’ parts, and how it keeps us from the truth of the story.

From the post:

It takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to talk about “breaking the wheel” while drinking wine at the top of a pyramid. If she stood closer to a window, she might have even heard the wailing of “those on the ground” fighting each other to death in the slavery-friendly fighting pits that she personally re-opened.

It may seem laughable, but we share in her delusion. How else can we hope for anyone to seize control of a throne that we’ve seen corrupt so many? Deep down, we understand that the Starks and Targaryens and Lannisters and Baratheons are remnants of a system that crushes the common people of this world, direct beneficiaries of the stratified society their ancestors built.

Click here to read the rest of it over at Medium.

I also include a list of loose ends the show has left mysteriously open. Add your own to the list and let’s see just how deep this rabbit hole can go!

Now on Medium – What’s going on with Sansa Stark?

If you’re into Game of Thrones and/or annoying characters, you may enjoy my most recent post over at Medium: What’s going on with Sansa Stark?

For real, what is up with that girl? Why did she marry Ramsay “Sausage” Bolton (née Snow)? Have the showrunners lost their minds?!

From the post:

As the last scene of Game of Thrones’ Season 5, Episode 6, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” began to play, I felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi: Sensing millions of viewers’ voices crying out in terror, followed by a stunned silence. The scene — THAT scene — went places that every Game of Thrones fan feared were inevitable, hoping against hope that we were wrong. (We weren’t.)

Click here to read the rest of it over at Medium.

[Contains spoilers for Seasons 1-5 of Game of Thrones, but no book spoilers because I care about you, TV Watcher.]