Terrible Opening Lines Challenge

After a long day at the Porn-O-Matic shop, the LittleGuy was tired. He stood, his shoulders and chest just visible over the counter and his palms flat against it’s polished steel surface. His face was still but his eyes followed Barb as she walked the edges of the shop, checking the cabinets and display cases, locking the wire mesh shutters and switching off the rotating displays. She was about to lock the shop’s entrance when the room filled with a blast of grinding static.

“Alright, alright,” Barb called out.

She went to the counter, dropping the keys onto the steel with a clatter as she lifted the flap. The LittleGuy leaned forward to allow Barb behind while continuing to emit a crackling, atonal buzz.

“It’s alright,” Barb cooed, “it’s been a big day for you, my darling. You’ve been quite the draw, haven’t you?”

The LittleGuy turned his head and smiled.

“I’m wiped,” his low growl buried in the blare of modulating, static.

“That’s a poor choice of words, dear,” Barb said, frowning, “now look straight ahead for me.”

She began to work her fingers through the bristly black hairs at the base of his skull. After feeling the round outline of the catch, she gripped his neck and pressed her thumbs into the soft tissue there and then lifted her hands away as the LittleGuy’s head split along the hairline. The back of his head opened, delorian-like, displaying a tangle of translucent, pulsing red wires over clusters of flickering golden lights.

“I’ll just pop you on a little snooze cycle, dear, let you get yourself together.”

She turned a dial, pressed a button and then closed up the LittleGuy’s head. He fell slowly forward, coming to rest on the counter top as the static wound down to a low, almost unnoticeable drone. Barb stepped out from behind the counter and picked up the keys as the bell above the shop’s entrance rang. Two men, one short, one tall, both in neat, black suits, walked in from the street. The tall man moved with a smooth liquidity, his upper body a gliding statue, while his legs flowed beneath. The short man shuffled and stooped, pressing his hands together, stroking and squeezing his plump fingers, as if working them though a series of permutations.

“I’m sorry gents but we’re closed,” Barb said.

“Closed?” The short man looked at his watch, frowning, “so early? Well, miss, let me assure you, we shall be but a minute.”

He moved towards Barb, while his tall friend turned away, bending over to inspect the glass cabinets of bondage pieces along the back wall.

“I was just saying to my friend here what a singular establishment this is,” he said, massaging his hands as he spoke, “my friend mused that it should take quite the specialist to work in such a niche boutique. Isn’t that right, sir?” he called to the tall man while winking at Barb.

“Yeah, real special,” the tall man said without turning.

Barb threw up a pained smile, “I am the proprietor of this establishment, Mr..?”

The short man held up his hands in exaggerated apology.

“Oh! I’m so very sorry, Miss. Allow me-“

“It’s Ms,” Barb corrected, “Ms Garrett. And again, who are you gentlemen?”

“Of course, of course. I,” the short man squashed himself into a bow, holding one hand to his chest, “am Mr Quick-“

“I’m sure you are,” Barb interrupted, “and your compatriot?”

“Oh!” Quick smiled wide, displaying neat rows of small, yellow teeth, “compatriot! Very fine. Very fine indeed. Well? Do introduce yourself, sir!”

The tall man straightened stiffly, as if hinged at the waist; pivoting away from the cabinet in a graceful arc as he rose.

“I’m Sharp, me. Mr Sharp.”

He spun away again, folding over as he did.

“There you are Mzzz Garrett. Now, as I was saying, it must take someone very…” he paused, pursing his lips, “ah, affable to work in such a specialised market, yes?”

With his face pressed against the glass of the display, Sharp let out a low, rhythmic chuckle.

“Gentlemen,” Barb sighed, “I collect and sell historical objects of a sexual nature. These pieces,” she gestured to the cabinets and displays, “have facilitated generations of sexual activity, ensuring the perpetuation of our species,” she looked from Quick to Sharp and back again, “and not only through simple reproduction. They have allowed people to satisfy compulsions and desires that may have otherwise driven them to who-knows-what. People who, thanks to such works, have been able to live rich, full lives.”

“Indeed, indeed, very admirable,” Quick chimed, his hands wrestling one another all the while.

“The history of sex is the history of the most powerful drive in humanity,” Barb continued. “This is a repository of antique sexual objects, not some pink-neon, kink-tech emporium. My collections capture the interest of many an upstanding and distinguished-“

“Oh, I don’t doubt it Mzzz Garrett,” Quick interrupted, flashing his yellow smile, “it’s all very impressive.”

“Quite,” Barb seethed, “now, as I have said. Repeatedly. We. Are. Closed. You gentlemen will have to come back another time.”

We?” Quick, shot back, “we are closed? Do you have some compatriot of your own hidden away somewhere?

“That really is none of your-“

“Or perhaps you include the little gent behind the counter, there?” Quick said, stretching out to look over Barb’s shoulder.

“LittleGuy,” Barb corrected.

“What?” Sharp spat, spinning around once more to face Barb.

“That,” Barb pointed a finger over her shoulder, “is a LittleGuy. It’s a one-on-one fuckbot of diminutive stature with a substantial penis,” she paused relishing the men’s discomfort. “A LittleGent is a statuesque model with, I’m afraid, rather lacklustre equipment. LittleGents are designed for straight, cis couples experimenting with multiple partners,” her voice fell to a slow whisper, “men tend not to want the guest-star to show them up.”

“That’s it! You kink-tech fuck,” Quick shouted, reaching into his jacket.

Barb flinched, squeezing her eyes shut while turning and dropping into a crouch. But instead of a gunshot she heard a series of loud clicks, layered over one another, followed by a high pitched, persistent whine. She eased open one eye and turned her head to see Sharp bent over, almost double. His one hand flopped to the floor, while the other laid still cradled in his jacket. His head nodded jerkily and as Barb stared, it began to smoke. Black curls seeped from his ears gradually pouring out into greater flapping ribbons. As the smoke began to billow upwards, Sharp’s head creaked open, the back falling forward with a clunk to reveal the charred remnants of an artificial brain.

The sound of a cough dragged Barb’s attention to the left and she saw Quick standing with his fidgeting hands raised above his head, folds of black smoke wrapping about him. His face was turned away from Sharp, his eyes screwed shut as he juddered and shook, letting out blunt, rattling coughs, expelling the smouldering mind of his late partner.

Barb turned to the counter, surprise stretching the length of her face. The LittleGuy stood with his right arm extended ahead of him. The hand hung, dismantled; fingers dangling elongate, the palm split along the metacarpals to the wrist, revealing a gleaming, chrome cannon. A red glow pulsed at the point where the weapon emerged from the LittleGuy’s arm and crackling blue sparks arced over it’s barrel. Barb noticed the sharp tang of ozone in the air behind the smoke. The LittleGuy ran his still-assembled hand through his hair and scratched at his neck. He turned slightly towards Barb while keeping his eyes fixed on Quick.

“I’m so very sorry about all this Barb,” he said, in his pleasant low growl.

“Well aren’t you just full of surprises.” Barb cooed.

Chandler is a Girl’s Name

My mind was filled with the mess of papers I'd stuffed inside the filing cabinet. Brace had called from the phone-box downstairs just moments ago and wouldn't be dissuaded from coming up. There was barely time for me to scrape together my clippings and notes, to get my less-than-sane looking research out of sight before he made it up the stairs. I'd been pouring over my investigations into, let's call it my condition, when Brace, with the telephone's rattling dance, had interrupted me. Now that part of me sat in a crumpled wad at the bottom of that dull, steel tower in the corner. Years of asking and looking and digging and hunting, cowering in the dark because of this impatient, entitled prick.

Brace's panicked footfalls barely slowed as he hit the door, flinging it into the bookcase behind. My bookcase, though, does not take any guff, especially from the likes of Brace, and it gave him the door right back. He took a good hit to the leg, cursed under his breath, and closed the door with a hard smack. The door did not respond.

Brace brought in the smell of too many cigarettes and too little soap. His was the beaten, washed-out look of a failing salesman. A man who sold carpets or vacuum-cleaners. A man who told himself he was doing just fine, that good days were round the corner, while he remortgaged a rat-hole shop and worked seven-day weeks. A man under-slept and overweight. A man with haemorrhoids and a stomach ulcer and, perhaps, a gambling problem. His shoes were polished but his suit, tight around the paunch, fit badly. His hat, with its water stains and crumpled brim, topped off an ensemble that looked as if it owed a little money to a lot of people.

"Well?" his voice, panic stirred with accusation.

"Well what, Mr Brace?"

"You said you'd found her!"

The poor bastard. I felt pity creeping up my chest before I remembered the time I'd have to wade though with the mess in the filing cabinet. I took my feet off the corner of the desk and turned squarely to face him.

"I have completed my investigations and you will have a full report by Monday," I rattled off the message I'd left in a flat monotone, "does that sound like demand to see me immediately and don't take no for an answer to you, Mr Brace?"

"Less of the cheek, lady. You've done what you were hired for. Just tell me what you found."

We stared at one another and I felt a thrilling wave of heat and static wriggling up my neck just thinking of things I could do with him. This pathetic collection of meat and bone just waiting to be useful. Visceral delights that could buy my days, maybe months. A precession of crimson danced through my mind, bright flashes of tender dismantling. But, in the end Brace did not blink. I let out a grudging breath, deciding to play the professional.

"I'm going to need my fee before that, Mr Brace."

"You'll get your money, woman! Just tell me!"

His palm slapping at the desk.

"Now, normally I wouldn't demand payment like this," I continued, ignoring him, "but you strike me as a fairly hot-headed individual and there's a concern that you won't want to part with money in exchange for bad news."

"It's bad news?" he blurted, his hand flayed on he desk, sweaty condensation growing between his pale fingers.

"My fee, Mr Brace," I said, reaching behind and fishing an invoice from the tray on top of the filing cabinet.

I placed it on the desk and his hand slid over to take the slip of paper.

"£165, Mr Brace."

His jaw tightened as his hand turned the paper, his eyes falling to the bottom line.

"You'll see that's including expenses."

Brace grunted and shifted in the chair, his hand working it's way between the seat-back and his arse. It extracted his wallet and began thumbing at the leather and notes. Once it had selected an appropriate assortment, it pulled out the currency, folded it once and held it out over the desk. As I leaned forward to take my money, Brace's hand lifted it out of my reach while our eyes paired off.

"Where is my wife?" his voice quieter now, calmer.

I stood, Brace's eyes still held in mine, and relieved his hand of it's burden. My desk drawer squealed open and I swapped out the notes for a stack of photographs. The drawer closed, a dull groan this time, and I tossed the photos at Brace.

"I tracked her spiritual adviser to a farm in the dales," I said, sitting back down as he reached for the photographs, "he's some kind of priest now, charitable tax status and everything. Runs a commune with a bunch of strays. Some missing kids, that sort of thing, but they and your wife appear to be there of their own accord. No kidnapping."

Brace's hands had been busy flipping through the photographs, his eyes soaking up the leaves of flat truth, but now they'd stalled at a particular picture. I knew just the one. A small room. One bed. Two people. A frame filled with sheets, skin and sweat. The kind of picture you don't want to get caught looking at, let alone taking. People talk about free-love and liberation, but most still want it in the dark, behind a locked door and away from prying eyes. I do find parts of my job distasteful. The stacks of filth I've squirrelled away, piles of fermenting transgression, but I'm afraid private lives and dirty secrets are my bread and butter. I can't afford much by way of a conscience.

"She's with that goddamned hippie?" he stammered, "but I loved her! I gave her everything she ever wanted. She wouldn't have anything if it wasn't for me!" shouting at the photograph now.

"As you say, Mr Brace, she's conducting an affair."

He didn't look up.

"That, along with your separation over the past few months, should see to a quick, inexpensive divorce."

"Divorce?" he echoed, eyes still on the photograph.

"I did tell you to prepare yourself for this very eventuality, Mr Brace," my best attempt at a conciliatory tone.

"But," he finally looked up, "that's just something you say to everyone, surely?" his voice now equal parts desperation and defeat.

It could still go either way.

"I do, Mr Brace, and do you know why?"

He eyes were still on me. Looking out over his wife and her hippie lover.

"I say it because, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that's the way it is."

I turned away from the wet eyes, just to check if the filing cabinet was still there. I remembered the bottle I'd put in it, and then remembered the stuff that made the bottle necessary. When I looked back, all of Brace was still there, salty and pathetic.

"At least now, you know," I added.

Brace's eyes avoided catching sight of his wife as his head fell, the other photographs flapping their way to the floor along with his gaze.

"I'll have the completed file posted out to you," I said, standing, "I suggest you pass it on to your solicitor."

Brace was defeat piled in a chair, bent over himself like a beaten question mark. He had now ceased to move or speak. I had come to the decision that it was far past time he should leave. I stomped around the desk, slamming my fist on the filing cabinet for punctuation as I went. No reaction. I rattled the door knob and flung the door open, the bookcase knocking it back with a clatter into my hand. Still the sad heap in the chair. I kicked the chair-back gently and then again, hard. The third kick nearly spilled Brace out onto the floor and his head finally jerked up with a start.

"Good evening, Mr Brace."

He exit was slow but, thankfully, without fuss and with the wretch gone, I could at last liberate my mess of papers from the filing cabinet, along with the blessed bottle. With any luck, he'd be sad and broken for the rest of his days; better that than show him what they did with her afterwards. The drawer squealed before giving up a tumbler which I quickly filled, emptied and filled again. With the alcohol's jagged, soothing chill both calming and jump-starting my mind, I set about, once more, to make sense of my crumpled life.

A Setting for a Suicide Note

Galescar House sat low, battered and alone on the uneven horizon, the fading sky threatening to colour the whole scene a uniform grey. Yvonne scanned the hazy silhouette of the house, her eyes running along the rough rooftop of the squat servants quarters that made up Galescar's west wing, rising slightly as it gave way to the main house with its heavy oak doors, imposing windows and clawing eaves, then up once more to Galescar's single, lonely eastern tower and its octagonal roof, monocled by a circular window and constantly surveying the suburban sprawl far below. Yvonne suddenly had the notion, with Galescar's grander parts somehow unfavourably distributed to the one side, that perhaps the abusive western wind had beaten and shaped the house into some great, cresting wave littered with flotsam and slate, rising above and to someday crash down upon that dry, heather-strewn shore.

To the rear of the house were Galescar's neglected and overgrown grounds. The gnarled, skeletal hedges and low, tumbled-down walls sketching the outlines of its once-grand gardens, now violently cut short a few yards to the north by the cracked earth and chipped fissures of the Splintered Cliffs' increasing trespasses. Meanwhile, at the front of the house, the geometric tracery of Galescar's oppressively tall gothic windows considered the precipitous, rock-strewn slope that fell away behind Yvonne: the juddering, rocky decline of Wolfhound Ridge.

Yvonne turned away from Galescar, away from that husk that had once been a home, and looked down over the crystal spires and shimmering rooftops that sat below, connected to one another with a complex cats-cradle of silver threaded walkways and the electric blades of humming mag-highways. The gleaming, prysmatic architecture built up steadily to the south, growing to join the vast city-state of The United North. It had all once been part of the larger, old kingdom, and in that kingdom, the glittering metropolis below had been a small town. Long before that, at the boundaries of Yvonne's memory, that town had been a village and in that village she had once been a child. She had lived in that town and finally, in Galescar House on Wolfhound Ridge, above those impossible spires, Yvonne had grown old. She looked back at the gritty, blue/grey silhouette of the house one last time before opening the slim leather-bound ledger on her lap. She took up the pen in her right hand while stroking the length of the crisp page with her left, the paper and her hand a pale, raw-clay yellow in the thin light that spilled from the windows behind. Then Yvonne put pen to paper and began to write.

Notes From an Early Reconnaissance Prior to The First Celestial Conflict

The workings of the machine, if you could call it that, were intricate to the point of being maddening. It was made up, not of physical parts, but of what seemed to be translucent, ghostly shards, each one, a single three -dimensional edge or fractal facet of some ethereal, vaporous matter. They shimmered and flickered as they moved, collapsing, shattering and coalescing as they each worked to dismantle the recent dead, striping away their guilt, their shame and indeed their very selves, in order to fuel and people this horrific contraption. It was a terrible mockery of an afterlife promised from pulpits, an amalgam of heaven and hell, of peace and annihilation, this industrialised, postmortem punishment/purifier. Taking in the whole of it, I had the realisation that, on my previous visits, I had been deposited somewhere inside the swarming iterations of the thing itself. This time, however, the amygdalial inhibitor had thankfully worked as planed and had caused me to unfold at some external vantage point, able to survey, as best I could, the immense heaven/hell machine.

I was somehow able to view the continental, perhaps even planetary, engine as a complete whole. The sight of it, along with the crushing strain that its size and complexity placed on my transient from, was almost debilitating. I was awestruck, not only with the intricacy and delicacy of it, but also its compete lack of scale. I struggled to take in the extra-dimensional vastness of it, the colossal thing somehow twisting and compressing perspective, causing my gaze to splinter and multiply and blend. I saw in kaleidoscopic visions that shifted and folded throughout and around and inside that sprawling soul-machine, giving me a total yet incomprehensible sensory experience of its structure, its instrumentation, and its processes. 

All at once, I could witness any and every facet of its jagged, soul-spalling mechanisms, I could see into its deepest components and ingredients and products. It was as if my awareness of it was not one of a passive viewer, but that I was, myself, a part of of it, while also set apart from it. Spread around, and diluted throughout, the whole of that immense, etherial and diabolical engine. I was somehow intrinsically vital to the impossible contraption's ability to function, as if, for it to operate while I viewed it, the machine had to amalgamate my senses into itself. I realised then that the fleeting glimpses gleaned on previous expeditions had not been cut short due to improper dosages or imperfect regression as we had first thought, but that my presence there had been dismantled, eviscerated even, by the engine's undulating, gyrating and unfolding mechanisms. As they had stripped away the sins and selves of the unlucky dead, they also unraveled my own, transient ghost and sent me out and off and down, back to our own lower order of being. 

But now, having finally arrived outside of it, this time I could stay, I could see, and I could study.