It’s Friday! And because we’ve been sick, I honestly haven’t written anything until about an hour ago. So, this is super rough, but that’s okay.
In my Author’s Tale group, I won the 12 Days of Games and my prize was an entry into the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest, so I have some short story practice to do before that opens on the 26th.
Because certain elements of the stories are assigned, I wanted to get some practice working with assigned elements. I received the Writer’s Toolbox for Christmas and inside are some dials, which assign you a protagonist, a conflict, a goal, and an action. Your job is to then create a story out of those, so that’s what I did.
Bill, the paleoclimatologist wants to discover, but is obstructed by the Cat Lady and has to receive special training.
Those were the elements I received from the Toolbox and so I worked them into the prompt: stars are falling faster than a smile after a broken heart.
I had a slight idea of where I wanted to go with this, given that I’ve been doing a lot of documentary watching and dino playing, so I knew I eventually wanted to get to this particular ending, I just wasn’t quite sure how it would all eventually work out. But, work out it did, so here is my story.
The gravel crunched under the truck tires as Bill drove along the deserted Wyoming road. His GPS indicated this was the correct way to where he was trying to go, but for the first time, he wasn’t so sure. The radio had long since turned to static before he punched the button to turn it off. The sun had been high in the sky when he turned off the highway to this road, but now it crept toward the horizon behind him. He was going East, which he thought was the right direction.
“West is mountains, right?” he asked.
Of course, no one answered, because no one else was in the car. As a paleoclimatologist, Bill was used to working along. In fact, he preferred it that way. Most of his colleagues had interns or whatever, but Bill didn’t need some young hotshot following him around, messing up what he was trying to do.
Glancing down at the gas gauge, it was tipping below empty. At least he’d filled up his two five-gallon gas cans at the last gas station he saw. He was on his way to a open air mine in some deserted pocket of Wyoming. They’d been contacted by the mining company about something of potential interest in the rocks. While they originally told the miners to contact geologists, the geologists had called them back several weeks later saying that it definitely was a climatology interest. Bill’s boss told him to take Tony, the newest paleoclimatologist, but Tony begged their boss not to send him alone with Bill. As the two of them negotiated, Bill packed up his truck and left.
He tipped his cowboy hat back on his head and rolled his shoulders. He was getting stiff sitting in this truck for so long. He slowed as the road curved and ended at a house.
You have arrived his GPS intoned.
“What the–” he grumbled and turned off the engine.
The house was old and missing nearly all its paint. A small porch housed the front door and some of the boards on the steps were missing. A woman appeared behind the screen door and she stood there for a moment before banging it open. At least eleven cats sprinted out the door. Bill jumped as they scattered everywhere.
“What you want?” the woman yelled, her short black hair sticking out every which direction. “And don’t you come no further!” She stood with the door half open.
Bill stopped short and held his hands out. “All right, don’t get all worked up. I’m lookin’ for the Heecheewaten or somethin’ mine. You know where that is?”
“You mean the Hochitorin?” Her eyes narrowed at him. More cats filtered out of the house.
“Yeah, my GPS led me here and clearly this ain’t no mine.” He hated having to yell, but she was so far away.
“No, this ain’t no mine.”
Bill waited a moment to see what, if anything, else she would say.
“So then where’s the mine?”
“Whatch’you want to know for?”
Bill sighed. Women and their questions. This is why he never got married. “I need to go look at the walls, all right? It’s my job.”
“And what’s your job?”
“Look, I don’t have all day to chat with you, nice as it’s been. Why don’t–”
“What’s. Your. Job?” She stepped out further and the door slammed behind her.
“I’m a paleoclimatologist. I study weather changes across Earth’s history, okay?”
“How you do that at a mine?”
“I look at the rock layers.”
“You a geologist, then?”
“No, I’m a–” Bill ground his teeth together and took a deep breath. “I said I’m a paleoclimatologist. Look, I’ll just reprogram my GPS and be outta here. Nice meetin’ you….. lady.” Bill tipped his hat and turned back to his truck.
“Where you think you’re goin’?”
What is wrong with this lady? All of a sudden, about twenty cats surrounded his truck. Bill turned back to the woman on the porch. “Just want to get out of your hair is all, ma’am.”
“I ain’t no ma’am.” She stepped down from the porch and walked toward Bill. She wore a flowered dress with an an apron. She must have been about Bill’s age, nearly 60. Or so she looked. She was probably missing more than half her teeth too. Bill tried not to shudder.
“You think you can just drive up to my house and then leave?” She waved her hands as she stomped toward him.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, uh, I mean lady.” Bill’s frustration grew. “Clearly I made a wrong turn. I don’t mean to be botherin’ you.” He held out his hands again.
She was just skin and bones as far as Bill could tell.
“Do you, ah, need food or something?” Bill asked.
“Do you know how long I’ve been stuck here?” she shrieked. “I’ll be back, he says. Just gonna take the truck to town and then I’ll be back. That was damn near two years ago. Ain’t nobody comes down this road. Fortunately I had me a few plants in my garden already. Damn cats taste awful, too, but they can hunt and at least make kittens.”
Bill’s eyes widened and he stepped back again.
“Do you want me to take you somewhere? I can, ah, take you down to the mine and then, ah, to town? Or you want to use my phone to call someone?”
“Who do you think I have to call? Think I’m gonna call him?” She was nearly hysterical now, ranting about whoever it was and how he never came back.
“Look lady,” Bill said, shouting to be heard above her. “I can help you if you want, but I have to get going now. If you want outta here, you got 1 minute to decide.”
Finally she shut up. She stared at him for a moment.
“Fine, I’ll go with you. But you gotta wait for me to be ready.”
“You got 10 minutes or I leave without you. I’ll blow the horn in 9 and if you ain’t out in another minute, I’m taking off.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, but didn’t say anything. She simply spun on her heels and marched back to the house. She came out two minutes later with a small bag and stuck a rock under the screen door, blocking it open. Fourteen cats followed her and climbed into the truck with her.
“Oh, come on!” Bill said. “No cats. No cats!”
She glared at him. “All I’ve had for two years is these cats. They come and I’ll get you that mine.”
Bill snorted and fired up the engine. “Just get me to the mine.”
To his surprise, the woman was good on her word. Within half an hour, they were winding their way down to the bottom of the pits. The mine foreman met Bill as they reached the bottom.
“You Bill Weathergate?” The foreman had on a hardhat and a yellow vest.
“Yessir,” Bill said. “Got lost and ended up at this lady’s house. ‘Parently she’s been abandoned there for a couple years.”
The foreman eyed the woman and the cats. “No animals allowed in the mine.”
“They’ll–” Bill swallowed, “stay in the truck,” he finished through gritted teeth.
The foreman produced two hardhats and Bill cracked the windows so the cats wouldn’t suffocate. He even parked in the shade to try to keep the temp down inside. The weather was hot enough without being trapped in a truck oven. Last thing he wanted was a bunch of dead cats in his truck anyway.
The foreman led the pair over to the area of interest. A rocky overlook concealed a small depression in the rocks, which led down to a smallish cave. The miners hadn’t dug it out, they’d simply discovered it. As the foreman began to point out the specific area of interest, a huge explosion sounded behind them.
“You mining while we’re in here?” Bill shouted, but the foreman’s face was as surprised as Bill felt. They both turned to see something shoot down from the sky and smash into one of the giant mining dump trucks. Three more fell further away from the mine. A flash of recognition went through Bill’s mind.
“METEOR SHOWER!” he shouted and grabbed the woman, ducking into the cave. She fought against him.
“My cats! My cats!” she screamed, reaching for the truck.
It took both men to restrain her and get her into the cave. They huddled together as explosions sounded all around, rumbling the Earth. They stared up at the cave ceiling, illuminated by the headlamp on the foreman’s helmet as an explosion sounded overhead. A giant crack formed in the ceiling.
“NO!” Bill screamed and lunged just as the ceiling gave way.