Round 2 Prompt:
Lucy Finch vs. Rebecca Hoth vs. Wyndi Lin Su
A body--a dead body, not yet cold—is lying on its stomach in front of you. Though you can't see the face, you recognize the form. On its back is an envelope.
You reach out and pick it up. The outside of the envelope simply reads: Added Incentive.
You open the envelope and pull out a note, on which is printed in green ink the following:
[Insert your name here]
The person on the ground? Yes, it is someone you know quite well. And yes they are very much dead. A part of me is sorry that it had to be done this way, but it is what daddy would have wanted. He always found that people work best when properly motivated.
Your exploits have been brought to my attention. The research done by you and your associates has been passed on to my experts, and it has been put to good use. Without going into too great of detail, know that my experts were able to utilize all that you and your associates discovered to develop a unique product. However, my experts inform me that they are missing a key ingredient: the golden tresses of Sif.
Do not bother moving the body. Doing so will result in immediate retribution. Know that it will be well looked after.
I assure you, there are no other methods of reviving the individual. Only the combination of the ingredients that I have acquired will do the job. If you wish this person to live again, your only hope is to follow my instructions.
There are two others who are in the same situation as you. Know also that this deal is only offered to the first one to achieve my wishes. The other ‘incentives’ will not be as lucky. If all of you refuse my offer, I guarantee that millions will perish.
Will you make a deal with your associates? Stab them in the back? Beat them to the goal? I look forward to the answer. Your choice may mean that we could be allies or enemies. Remember, your efforts are being monitored.
Round 2 Submission (4000 words)
Brown, vacant eyes stared into Lucy’s, shimmering dully like polished stone in the flickering fluorescent overhead. Daddy. Mouth gaping. Face bloodless. Just lying on the cement ground like a wax statue that could not be real. It can’t be real. It can’t. It can’t. Golden hair snaked around his face, crossing over and over, biting into his lifeless skin, making it bulge and pucker.
Lucy sat up in the darkness with a gasp. The hotel blankets fell from her shoulders to her waist as her chest heaved in and out. Her skin prickled as cold air hit the sheen of sweat over her exposed skin. Attempting to calm her racing heart and bring her mind back to the present, Lucy turned to look around the shadowy hotel room. Her companions, alert as ever, had woken as well, and sat ramrod straight, staring at her. Rebecca shared a bed with her, and Wyndi had insisted on her own. They stared at her, silent and wary.
“Sorry,” Lucy muttered, wiping sweat away from her temple with the back of her wrist. “Sorry.”
Wyndi sighed, stowed her knife back under her pillow, and flopped back down onto the mattress. Rebecca blinked, her mussed hair standing at crazy angles. “You disturb my sleep.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“You aren’t the only one who lost someone.” This was said in a pained whisper.
Lucy swallowed, nodding. They were all in the same boat. Loved ones dead. Owners of matching envelopes with matching letters saying the same thing: Find the hair of Sif, and their loved ones would be returned to life.
Lucy looked at the digital clock on the bedside. 6:00. In a few hours they would go to the Callanish Stones on Wyndi’s hunch. She should try to sleep. Lucy tossed for a short time, and then finally from beside her Rebecca launched herself out of bed, walking to the bathroom. “I am awake now,” she muttered bitterly.
Wyndi sighed loudly from the other bed. “Let’s just go.”
Lucy grimaced guiltily. “I’m really sorry guys.”
“Forget it,” Wyndi said, rising and braiding her long, ink-black hair. This woman was fascinating to Lucy. She looked Asian, but when they had first met, she informed Lucy that she was, in fact, an elf, and that she had powers Lucy couldn’t even dream of. And she talked to animals, which freaked Lucy out in a huge way. But she had already seen magic apples; she wasn’t entirely surprised.
While Rebecca used the bathroom first, Lucy sat on the edge of her bed, watching Wyndi pack her backpack in the semi-darkness. “You said there are things in this world I don’t know about. How do you know them?”
“I grew up knowing them,” She said, unzipping a pocket and stuffing weapons into it. “I live in a different world than you do.”
Lucy chewed on the inside of her cheek, looking down at her plaid pajama pants. “So these Callanish Stones have a face on them, and you think the face is Thor’s talking head Mimir.”
“No, I know it is. Why?” She stopped staring at Lucy with raised brows. “Do you think I would lie?”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just…”
“Improbable?” The young woman cast her eyes at the ceiling, somewhat amused. “Trust me. Mimir was renowned for his knowledge in helping Thor. After being beheaded, Thor preserved him here. He will know where Sif’s hair is.”
“Does he know…everything?”
“He knows everything to do with Thor and his history. Sif had a daughter with Thor—he was angry when Loki took her hair.” Wyndi zipped up the backpack and threw it onto the bed. “If anyone knows what Loki did with the hair, it would be Mimir.”
Rebecca emerged from the bathroom, her face clean and clothes changed into cargo pants and, for once, sneakers. She put a hoodie over her navy blue tank top. She pulled a knife out from the compartment the hotel stored a tissue box in.
Rolling her eyes again, Wyndi headed for the bathroom. “Let’s be quick.”
Lucy had insisted on a shower, which annoyed Rebecca, but even if she had become a puppet to a band of psychopaths, she still need to smell decent. End of discussion. They grabbed breakfast in the lobby of the small, quaint hotel, and piled into the black, rented SUV. Wyndi drove, and Lucy rode in the front, with Rebecca silent as usual, staring at the window as they headed out of the small town of Callanish, which was on the Isle of Lewis. They drove into the Outer Hebrides, the landscape green and lush, and the air soft with the magic of the island.
“When we get there, I will cast a spell to keep outsiders from visiting,” Wyndi said. The morning sun bronzed her high cheekbones and she stared at the road. “But we will only have a few minutes before it wears off.”
Lucy swallowed hard, tugging the sleeves of her brown jacket down and fisting the material in her palms. She was way out of her league here. Why did these people even need her?
When they reached the site, they parked the car on the road that ran parallel to the grouping of ancient stones. Because it was early, there didn’t seem to be any tourists yet, but the first thing Wyndi did when exiting the car was to crouch down to the ground, and placed the fingertips of her right hand in the grass. Closing her eyes, she furrowed her brow and seemed to concentrate. She stayed that way for maybe thirty seconds, and then rose. “Okay, I’ve bought us time if anyone else comes to visit.”
Lucy’s boots whispered through the lush grass as they reverently threaded through the garden of stones. They were all different heights, but all about the thickness of tree trunks, and placed randomly like haphazard tombstones. Around them, the Scottish countryside spread out in a glorious array of glittering ponds, swaying grass, and charming cottages that seemed like another time entirely.
Lucy examined one of the rocks and Wyndi headed for her target. The rocks really did look like trees, with swirling patterns unlike anything she had seen before. Reluctantly, she left the tallest stone and caught up to Wyndi. The elf now stood in front of one of the more medium sized stones, which still stretched up probably twenty feet. Wyndi looked at the base of the stone. “He’s here.”
Lucy cocked her head, peering at it. “Where?”
Wyndi motioned to the rock, “You don’t see it? There’s a face right there.”
Lucy leaned forward, straining her eyes to see it. It was like trying to find an image in an inkblot test. And then she saw it. It was subtle, but surely there. The curves and angles at the base of the stone did, indeed, form the oblong profile of a man. “I see him now.”
Wyndi had her hands in her jacket pockets. “Mimir,” she said. “Come forth.”
Lucy took an involuntary step back as the stone crackled and shifted. Dust puffed out from the face as it rumbled to life, jaw flexing and gaping wide, but eyes frozen forward. “Elf,” he grated. His voice was toneless, and jarred her ears like it had been made by stones rubbed together.
“Where did Loki put Sif’s hair?”
“Sif,” the stone face intoned. “Sif.”
“It has been a long while, but I know you remember,” Wyndi said, her delicate features impassive. “Tell me where he hid her hair.”
“Do you think,” Mimir said, “you are the first to ask?”
“Likely not. But I need to know—tell me how to earn your trust.”
“Trust is earned in seeking, not asking.” Mimir said in his toneless voice. “You may try.”
“Where, then?” Wyndi prompted.
“When Loki took the locks of Sif, he flew them from the highest cliff. But chaos followed Loki’s glee, and so they cast them in the sea.”
Lucy rubbed her forehead. “A riddle, really?”
“Thank you, Mimir.”
“Beware the seeking,” he grated. And then his face settled, once more the ambiguous carving of angles in stone.
Rebecca, crouched some feet behind them, plucked at a blade of grass. “There is a lot of sea.”
Wyndi nodded, turning to face her companions. “I’m sure there is a way to find out where. Let’s go back and do some research. My usual source is…unavailable.”
Lucy turned over the words of the riddle in her mind. It was only two lines, and it seemed straightforward. Loki brandished the hair from a cliff to mock Sif and Thor. But the hair wasn’t on the cliff anymore. It was cast into the sea. But where? Near the cliff?
As they drove back, Lucy went over all the words. Highest cliff—literal or not? Like Kilimanjaro? Chaos. She chewed on that one. Chaos followed the locks. There were lots of chaotic places—Pompeii with the volcanic eruption, Japan with its earthquakes and tsunamis, tropical islands with hurricanes. But those came and went. If chaos followed the locks, and the locks were in the sea, then it had to be stagnant. Constant. Constant chaos.
“Whoa.” Lucy sat forward in her seat, swiveling to stare at Wyndi. “Seriously, I have it.”
Wyndi spared her a sidewise glance. “What do you have?”
“I know where it is. Loki was the mischievous God, right? What kind of constant chaos would survive for this long without being overly obvious?”
Rebecca and Wyndi stared, silent. Okay, I guess they aren’t into guessing games, Lucy thought wryly. Best to get right to it. “The Bermuda Triangle.”
Wyndi didn’t answer right away, and Rebecca brought her knees up, staring sideways in thought. Finally, Wyndi said, “That actually does make sense.”
“I know, right?” Lucy grinned. “It’s the only place that has been weird and crazy like that since the beginning of history.”
Wyndi nodded. “I agree. I’ll book our tickets.”
They didn’t waste any time. From Edinburgh they booked tickets to New York, and then to Miami, Florida. The universal credit card of dubious nature could only go so far—they had to find someone willing to take them into the center of the triangle with no apparent cause. Not surprisingly, there weren’t any takers. Finally they got a hold of a small fishing excursion service who said they might be willing to negotiate.
When they rolled up to the place, they found a small, shack-like building with a painted sign that read “Greg’s Fishing” on it. Behind the small, two-room construction, a decently-sized boat clunked and splooshed against a pier. It looked like an older boat, and Lucy eyed it suspiciously.
They walked up the steps and through the creaky screen door, the afternoon air muggy and hot although it was still spring. The man, who on the phone said he was Fred, not Greg, stood behind a wooden counter, hands braced on the surface. He was a middle-aged man with a dark tan, blond hair, and a beer belly that curved out from his white, cotton button-down shirt. He nodded as they shuffled into the small space. “You the ones with the coordinate request?”
“Yeah, I spoke with you on the phone.” Lucy said.
Fred tapped his fingers, studying them. Lucy looked down at the fingers, and then jumped when she saw a gun at his right. Fred’s eyes slid to the gun. When they returned to her, he raised his brows, “What?”
Lucy shook her head, feigning ignorance.
Wyndi lifted her chin in Fred’s direction. “What will you charge to charter your boat?”
“You ladies aren’t fishing,” Fred said, his bushy, bleached eyebrows twitching up. “Right?”
Rebecca’s eyes hadn’t stopped traveling around the office, but the finally rested on Fred. “We have money.”
“Yeah, that’s what worries me. Why do you need to go out there?”
Lucy rubbed the back of her neck.
Wyndi shrugged, “Nothing illegal. What do you care? Do you need the money or not?”
He sighed loudly, “I don’t know. You girls are freaking me out.”
“We’re in the government,” Lucy blurted out.
Everyone turned to stare at her. Wyndi’s eyes promised vengeance.
“I’m serious. We can’t tell you why, but we need to get out there. Immediately.” Lucy straightened, trying to look more important than her five feet of petit blond cuteness.
Fred snorted. “Government. Do you have a gun?”
“You looked at mine like it was a rattlesnake.” Fred gestured to the door. “Find another boat.”
“I am,” Lucy insisted. “I…we’re under cover so I don’t have my badge. I can prove it, though.”
Fred blinked, clearly bored. “Out.”
Lucy swiveled around, alighting on an idea. The shack was backed up against the ocean, but on the other side a few clusters of mossy trees swayed in the breeze. A birdhouse, 200 yards away, rocked to and fro from a branch. Lucy pointed it to it, “I’ll hit that.”
Fred squinted his eyes at her finger, “What?”
Lucy crossed the room, opened the door, and pointed across the stretch of meadow. “That birdhouse out there. I will hit it. With a gun.”
Fred guffawed, rolling his eyes. “You want me to give you a gun?”
“And if I hit it, you take us out. We’ll still compensate you.”
“There’s no way you hit that.”
Lucy shrugged, “Then what do you lose?”
The man shook his head, seeming to be equal parts amused and annoyed.
“It’s a nearly impossible shot,” Wyndi said. “Only someone very well-trained could hit that. Let us prove it to you.”
Fred blew air out from his lips, buzzing them together. “What the heck. Go for it.”
Lucy went to the counter and took the gun in her hand. It felt heavy and unfamiliar. She had no idea how guns worked, but she had to fake it. She had watched enough movies, right? The safety said off. Pointing the muzzle down, she took hold of the barrel and cocked it. It was hard, but it clicked satisfyingly. Point and shoot, right?
Lucy went to the doorway, and everyone shuffled behind her to watch. She held the gun up, bracing it with both hands, and took aim. She prayed her target-hitting skills extended to guns. It had to, right?
The kickback was more violent than she expected, and her right arm popped back in its socket, but the gun fired. The birdhouse spun crazily from across the yard.
“No way,” Fred pushed past her and ran out across the grass. Lucy rubbed her shoulder as she watched him advance to the birdhouse.
Lucy held out the gun between two fingers, muzzle down. Wyndi took it and replaced it on the counter.
When Fred returned, he wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his arm. Dumbfounded he nodded, “You hit it.”
“I know,” Lucy smiled. “Now about that boat.”
With favorable weather, Fred said they would reach their destination in four or five days. The boat was small, but although cramped, they had cots below deck, and during the day spent time on deck as Fred navigated them through the Atlantic. Lucy tried to keep her thoughts away from her family. From her dad. The nightmares wouldn’t stop, and the images of her cold father, of his lifeless, staring eyes haunted her day and night. She had brought a few books, but they held little interest to her.
On the fifth day, Lucy dressed in black leggings, black shorts, and a fitted black top and went to the deck to join her Wyndi and Rebecca. They were already standing side-by-side, quietly watching the endless expanse of gray-blue streak by as the boat churned through relatively calm waters. With the cabin at the bow, and Fred inside it, Lucy joined the other two near the stern at the handrail.
Standing between them, Lucy looked from Wyndi to Rebecca. They were both dressed in black, and stared stolidly out ahead of them. Lucy chuckled suddenly. “We’re like Charlie’s Angels.”
Rebecca gave her a confused stare. Wyndi looked equally baffled. “Who?”
“You know, like you’re Alex Munday, I’m the blonde so I’d be…” Lucy trailed off at Wyndi continued to stare in confusion. “Nevermind,” Lucy muttered. “Sorry.”
Wyndi sighed. “It’s fine. I’m just tense.”
“I know.” Truthfully, Lucy never instigated conversation, but even for her, she found her companions to be a little…ponderous. As long as they found the hair, she didn’t care. She didn’t actually think these people could make something that would bring back the dead, but she couldn’t risk anyone else—
Lucy shook her head. Don’t think about it. Put it away. Face it later.
“Storm ahead!” Fred shouted from the cabin. Lucy looked up at the sky, and sure enough, the clouds swirled around them ominously. They had encountered one before, and Lucy knew it was better to just read below deck rather than bit her nails watching the weather all day.
She sat on the L-shaped, vinyl sofa that doubled as a table nook, switched on a table lamp in the darkness, and opened her Dean Koontz thriller. With the rocking of the boat increasing as they entered choppier waters, Lucy’s head nodded forward, and she drifted off to sleep.
Lucy bolted upright, blinking away the heaviness of sleep. Someone had called her name, hadn’t they? For once she had been enjoying a dreamless sleep.
“Lucy!” The voice called out again, above deck. Rebecca.
Lucy jumped from her seat, and pounding up the stairs tumbled onto the deck. “What? What is it?”
Rebecca and Wyndi stood in the center of the deck, necks craned back and gaping at the sky. Lucy came to stand next to them. Slowly, she tilted her head back to look up. Her breath caught in her throat.
The clouds circled around slowly, a vortex of angry black all swirling around one tiny patch of blue sky. Lucy had heard about the eye of a storm, but this was so surreal. Almost impossible. The circle of blue was right above them. She looked at the sea, and this time gasped audibly. Probably a mile out, the waters chugged and sloshed, roiling with giant waves that would have toppled their boat easily. Turning in a circle, Lucy realized that the waters all around them, in the one mile radius, bubbled in an angry boil. But their little circle, in the eye of the storm, remained calm.
Running to the handrail, Lucy looked over the side of the boat. The water underneath them was eerily calm. Instead of floating in the ocean, it was like they sat in the middle of a stagnant pond. No wind. No waves. No sound. “What the,” Lucy swallowed convulsively.
Wyndi looked around, calculating. “This is supernatural. We should prepare ourselves.”
Lucy nervously flipped a knife from her belt. “Prepare for what?”
Fred pounded down the stairs from the cabin. “Radio is out,” he said nervously.
“Stay below deck,” Wyndi said, eyes still on the sea. Fred looked like he might argue, but she pierced him with a glare. “Just do it.”
He knew something was off. Without another word, the captain went below.
Rebecca inhaled deeply through her nose, long lashes kissing her cheeks as she closed her eyes. “Something is here.”
Wyndi nodded, “I sense a presence, too.”
Lucy flipped her knife in and out, in and out, nervously pacing the deck. What could she do, but wait?
Suddenly a wave rocked the boat. Lucy stumbled as it rolled under them, and she took hold of the handrail. Another one, bigger, splashed up against the side of the boat. And then another. Finally, the wave splashed over the deck, and water bubbled and hissed over the floor.
Lucy watched in disbelief as the water frothed, spreading out across the stern in a line, and then grew into three separate shapes. When the water fell away, three humanoid beings stood before them. They looked like men, bare to their waists. From hip to foot, their legs were covered in shimmering scales, glinting a rainbow of blues, purples, greens, and yellows. They looked identical, each of them hairless with scales that crept up their necks and over their heads. Slanted, large yellow eyes blinked at them. With arms folded, the sea creatures watched the girls.
Lucy held her knife out before her, tensed. The creatures stood with arms folded, silently watching as the unnatural calm weighed down on them like an increase in gravity. Then they moved. Lucy almost missed it as one of the creatures came at her in a flash. She didn’t even see his legs move. Not thinking, just reacting, she threw her dagger, aiming for the heart. It hit true, lodging in the man’s chest, halting him just a foot from her. He bent forward with a grunt, and she got a view of the scales that trailed from his head down his back. Then he dissipated into frothy sea foam. But her moment of relief was short-lived.
The foam congealed, and then suddenly smacked into her, enveloping her in a gooey wrap and slamming her against the side of the boat, pinning her in place. She struggled against the white substance, but she was stuck fast with the stuff clinging to her neck all the way to her hips.
She looked up, and only just caught Wyndi using a spell, something that looked like an attempt to trap the creature. The man melted just as Lucy’s attacker had, and in an instant had Wyndi pinned to the deck floor, face-down.
“Wyndi!” Lucy cried out. She struggled, searching for Rebecca. When she found the girl, she stilled, eyes wide.
Rebecca stood nose-to-nose with the sea-man. They just stood there, staring at each other. Rebecca was tall and lithe, tense, but calm with blinking eyes staring into the enormous yellow orbs of the remaining attacker. Swallowing visibly, Rebecca kept her hands at her sides. “I greet you honestly.”
The sea creature blinked for the first time, his lids languidly closing over his yellow eyes. Rebecca seemed to hold her breath. With a nod, the man dissolved into the frothy water, and just as quickly as the beings had appeared, the water slithered off the deck, splashing off the side and into the ocean.
Lucy’s restraint melted into water, soaking her through, but suddenly harmless. Lucy stood gingerly, wringing out her shirt. Going to Rebecca she made a silent gesture of awe and confusion. Rebecca smiled, impish features relieved. “My instincts told me to be open and friendly.”
Wyndi wiped water from her eyes. “The storm is dying.”
Lucy looked around, and sure enough the waters around the eye of the storm began to calm. The clouds lightened. A splash behind them made all three girls run to the handrail, and a wooden chest floated innocently in the water several yards from their boat. Rebecca exhaled slowly. “Mimir said the trial was in the seeking. I think we passed the test.”
They grabbed a fishing net, and together were able to cast it out and catch the chest, dragging over the side of the boat and to the deck, where it clunked heavily to the floor. It was a flat rectangle box, dotted with a hard, white coral, but somehow entirely intact even despite the many eons that had passed since its creation.
Wyndi placed her hand over the lock, closing her eyes and muttering as she cast a spell. The chest popped open with a click.
Lucy got an eyeful of shimmering, golden hair, unbraided and spilling over the interior of the chest before a loud click sounded behind her. Lucy spun around, and found Fred with a gun leveled in their direction. He gave a mirthless smirk. “Just like they said you would.”
Lucy’s mouth popped open. “What…what?”
Behind her, Rebecca and Wyndi stood slowly, eyes captivated on Fred. He motioned to the box. “Assignment over.”
Results: Passed round 2! And my story was canon once again.