This is one of my entries this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. We writing on several topics this week. This entry is in response to the topic "Groupthink."Inspired by my background in improv, I asked people to give me suggestions to incorporate into a story. Each participant was asked to contribute an element, such as a character, a setting, a genre, an activity, or a plot complication. Then, after spending two days saying, "What did I get myself into?" I created the following. Thanks to all who joined in!
As Audrey flipped through the dog-eared photo album, she twisted uncomfortably on the lumpy old couch. Like most of the furniture in the rented cabin, the couch seemed cast-off from the pioneer era, complete with a musty quilt made from tanned hide. It was probably stuffed with moose fur or porcupine quills or something. Why anyone would waste the effort to make such an eyesore when there were books to read and write, Audrey couldn't imagine.
She tried to ignore the smell of burnt garlic wafting from the kitchen, where her boyfriend, Cesar, was making dinner. Lately, he'd been trying to write his own recipes, convinced his culinary skills would be his ticket out of the Taco Bell dish room. Those dreams, she thought, might end up being deferred. The only reason she ate his aborted attempts at menu innovation was because she had better things to do than cook. Now, along with the garlic, she thought she smelled burned JELL-O.
"You know, I saw a Moroccan restaurant on the way up here. I don't mind taking the SUV and picking up some schwarma or something."
"Schwarma? We don't need no stinking schwarma!" Cesar replied, his thick South American accent making the phrase even more comical. "Dinner is served, and you will like it. Why? Because I say it is so."
"And if I don't like it?" she asked, in a semi-annoyed tone.
"Then I will pants you in public again."
Her tone changed immediately, as her heart beat quicker. "Not fair playing on a girl's weaknesses," she said. "You know I love it when you do that."
Cesar laughed knowingly. "And now you see how I once controlled an entire country. You must prey on people's weaknesses."
Angry at herself for showing her Achilles' Heel, Audrey snapped, "Well, that ended with a coup, so get over yourself." Just as she was slamming the photo album shut to emphasize the point, she noticed there was a picture missing. "Holy Toledo," she exclaimed, having eliminated almost all swear words from her language so as not to demean herself with vulgarity. "My senior high school portrait is missing."
"The one where you are sitting in a wicker chair holding a kitten?" he asked.
"That's the one, and I know exactly who has it." She stuffed the album into her ice-red designer tote bag and grabbed the SUV key off the counter. Looking at the pot of putrid-looking brown liquid, Audrey told him, "Dump that bilge in the trash and put your shoes on. We're going to Wal-Mart."
The charming rustic cabin receded behind them, as they took a relaxing drive down a secluded, tree-lined road of gentle turns. A twilight lullaby of crickets spilled in their open windows, wafted by gentle breezes. At the border of the forest, they caught a breath-taking view of the ocean, including the must-see landmark, Bella Cove, which was the arrival place for European settlers in this area. From their position, the couple could see lovers strolling on the beach, enjoying the iridescent pink and coral sunset.
"I hear you can rent a Jet Ski from the Beach Patrol between 9 and 5 on weekdays and 9 and 8 on Saturday and Sunday," Cesar told her. "If you want, we could also go on a fishing tour. They leave each day at 10 a.m., but you have to make reservations."
Audrey regarded him oddly. "Um, that's nice. Why do you all of a sudden sound like a travelogue?" she asked. "And is it just me or is the scenery -- I don't know -- prettier than it was when we drove in this morning?"
Pulling out his black military-issue binoculars, Cesar grinned beatifically. "Shh! I see a Northern Mockingbird. Listen to its extraordinary call. The bird watching here is truly first rate. I bet the autumn foliage is beautiful, as well."
Nodding slowly, Audrey said, "OK, buddy. I don't know who you are, but put the binoculars down and tell me what you've done with my boyfriend."
"Your mocking tone is delightful," he gushed. "I am so happy we booked this romantic getaway, and for only $595 for the weekend, too. What a bargain!"
She considered ripping the binoculars from his hands and smacking him to knock some sense into him, but it would have to wait: they were pulling into the parking lot.
Audrey opened the car door and got out. She said to her boyfriend, "Why is the building so... square? And why is everything in primary colors?"
"It's Wal-Mart. What were you expecting?"
Near the entrance, a girl in a red dress sprayed a dog with a Super Soaker. The girl rubbed shampoo into the dog's fur, and soon the dog was covered with bubbles. The dog smiled happily. It liked being bathed.
"Do you need your dog washed?" the girl asked them. She told them she was washing dogs for a dollar to make money for a trip to France.
"You're going to have to wash a lot of dogs to get to France," Audrey told her.
The little girl dumped a bucket of water over the smiling dog to rinse it. "That's OK. I like dogs!" she said.
"And I like her," the dog said.
Audrey was surprised. "Does that dog talk?" she asked.
"Yes, but I don't know big words," the dog said.
Maybe I should hit myself over the head with the binoculars, Audrey thought. She followed Cesar into the building.
The staccato tap-tap-tap of Audrey's shoes echoed in the massive box store like a typewriter in an empty Olympic-sized pool. Audrey smirked to herself and took a swig of Scotch from her inside coat pocket. "Men aren't the only ones who can produce strained metaphors," she said.
"What?" Cesar asked.
"Did I say that aloud?" she mused.
"I think so. I wasn't listening," Cesar said, checking his reflection in a mirror. His camouflage shirt was open at the neck, showing off pecs that could be used as flotation devices, should he fall into the water while Jet Skiing. He ruined the illusion by speaking: "Does this shirt make me look fat?"
"The only thing that's fat about you is your head," she quipped.
He stuck out his lower lip and said, seductively, "You wouldn't say that if I pulled your pants down right now, would you?"
She shivered, then caught herself. "It's too bad you have so much chest hair and so few brain cells," she said snidely. "Now, where do we find the manager?"
An athletic woman in her mid-20's instantly materialized, smoking a Virginia Slim in a cigarette holder. "I heard you're looking for the manager," she said.
"She was 5 foot 5 inches of pretty," Cesar said, "with light brown hair the color of cafe au lait with too much au lait. Her dress hugged her athletic curves like a schoolgirl hugging a teddy bear."
Audrey slapped him. "I'm supposed to do that," she said.
The manager gave them both an icy nod. "Let's cut to the chase, sister. I know why you're here. It's a little matter of a photo, isn't it? A photo someone left behind on the self-serve photo printer?"
Blanching the color of a whitefish without so much fish, Audrey stammered, "That's right? Do you have it?"
The manager shook her head. "The last I saw of it, some dame was leaving the Photo Department with it, stroking it like it was a kitten and mumbling."
"Who is she? Where can I find her?"
With a low chuckle, the manager said, "I suggest you try the butcher shops. She's a frequent customer at them, buying sausages, but why, nobody knows. Personally, I think she's just a crazy cat lady."
Cesar attempted to play good cop: "Surely, a woman as perceptive as you could give us a precise description of her."Exhaling Virginia Slim all over him, she only said, "She looked baked off her tater!"</p>
Night had fallen when they exited the store, and Audrey had no idea where to turn. The butcher stores would most likely be closed by now, wouldn't they? Where could they find the mysterious mumbling woman at this time of night? Think. Think.
Anxiously, she drove past the butcher stores, but all of them were closed for the evening. Shadowy shapes moved at the edges of her headlights. She craned her eyes to make out what they were. Behind them, she finally realized, a set of lights had been tracking them, always staying a block behind. She turned to Cesar to ask him if he spotted it, but he had drifted off, leaving her the only witness.
That is, until a disheveled shape lurched in front of the car, forcing Audrey to slam on the brakes. The woman, whose frizzled hair surrounded her head like a wacky halo, ran to the driver's side and pounded on the window until Audrey opened it. "They're after us. They'll kill us all. Let me in, and I'll help you to safety."
Before Audrey could answer, the woman, who wore a sack-like dress and oversized, multicolored leggings, had jumped into the back seat. "Are you the woman who took my..."
"Drive, drive!" the woman demanded. So Audrey drove.
Barreling down the beachfront highway, Audrey tried to make sense of what the cat lady was telling her. After insisting that she turn on the radio, "So they can't hear our thoughts as clearly," the woman had introduced herself as Lady Delilah Alicia Tabitha DeMontfort.
"You realize that sounds exactly like the sort of name a crazy cat lady would make up," Audrey observed wryly.
"That's just a cover," the woman said. "If you seem odd enough, no one pays attention to you. It's also a good cover when something... supernatural happens."
The radio was playing a medley of 1990s tunes, seguing from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" into "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Cesar mused aloud, "Gosh, I keep forgetting how much I love Deep Blue Something."
In answer to a miffed glance from the cat woman -- whoops, Lady Delilah -- Audrey said, "Just ignore him. He's my eye candy."
Sneaking a hand across the seat, Cesar tugged playfully at the drawstring of Audrey's pants.
"Cut that out, you," she said. To Audrey: "You were saying?"
Peering out the windows, Lady Delilah said, "Soon, no amount of subterfuge will hide the truth. The body count will simply be too high. Already, there were 50 deaths at Nerd Con, and another 100 at a LARP convention. Yet another 75 met their ends at a special event disguised as a My Pretty Pony get-together. The State Department has issued a top-secret advisory to the CIA to investigate, but for now, only a few people know the truth."
"The truth?" Audrey asked.
"A feud to rival the Hatfields and McCoys, my sweet. And unfortunately, I am right in the middle of it. You see..." and here she drew a deep breath, straightening herself to her full height, which seemed taller due to the wild hair. "I am the official captain of Team Jacob."
For a beat, Audrey was quiet. She was quiet for another beat. Then, she couldn't help herself. "Are you freaking kidding me? Get out of my car now! Vampires do not sparkle."
Shooting her a sad look, Lady Delilah said, "That's exactly why I'm on Team Jacob. Who could love a bed-wetter like Edward?" Jumping out of the car onto the sand, she called over her shoulder, "If you know what's good for you, you'll follow me."
"Like hell I will," Audrey was halfway through saying when she realized that Cesar was, indeed, following her. She fought through the sand in her heels for what seemed like forever and then, reluctantly, removed them to catch up.
On the other side of a dune, she could hear voices. They were shouting viciously at each other. Above the cacophony, she heard one voice she recognized, booming loudly, "They're mine, you twit! Give me what you owe me, or I'll lay waste to the boardwalk." That idiot Cesar's authoritarian tendencies were drawn out by discord. She better get to him before he tried to reclaim the Fatherland or something.
She crested the dune and saw the scene before her, a teeming crowd of people, half of them wearing black greatcoats and the other half shirtless and shoeless. They were playing Monopoly.
Cesar's voice cut through the din again, "I put a hotel on Park Place. Now pay up or I'll shove this board down your throat."
Around him, the warring sides rose to their feet, in mutual hatred of their newfound enemy.
"So much for settling things peacefully around a board game," Lady Delilah muttered.
Just then, thunder cracked through the sky, and buckets of water fell from the sky. "My hair, my hair!" cried the Team Edward contingent, as they ran for cover.
"It's cold!" cried Team Jacob, running in the opposite direction.
"The board is mine," Cesar cried, seizing it and holding it over his head like a trophy. A burst of lightning exploded over his head so bright that Audrey had to close her eyes.
When she opened them, the beach was suddenly empty, except for one white door. Audrey called to Cesar, to ask him if he saw it, but he had disappeared, as well. Stepping cautiously towards the door, Audrey poked her head through the doorframe. She saw a lone woman, typing at a computer. At the top of the screen was a word that sounded familiar to Audrey, although she couldn't figure out why.
"Tell me," she said to the bespeckled woman, whose dark, blonde hair looked unwashed and whose dark ringed eyes indicated she hadn't had a good night's sleep in days.
The woman looked up briefly. "Yes?"
"What is Livejournal?"
The woman stopped typing, and everything disappeared.
Here's what my contributors gave me:
Two main characters from m_malcontent: A former Banana Republic overlord now reduced to some menial job (driving a cab, etc.) and an uber feminist with a secret fetish for something really degrading.
An initial setting from kathrynrose: A small house or hut in the heart of a large forest.
A triggering activity or event from muchtooarrogant: A character is feeling nostalgic, and is flipping through a photo album from her past. She arrives at a page, and does a double-take because there's a picture missing. In an instant, she realizes who must've taken the picture and why.
An activity the characters engage in from copyright1983: Playing Monopoly.
A plot complication from wilagg: Reality is not what it seems.
An activity the characters engage in and five lines of dialogue from roina_arwen (who also suggested taking input from more than one person for this piece): Grooming a large shaggy/furry dog.
1. "She looked baked off her tater!"
2. "Shwarma? We don't need no stinking' Shwarma!" (my apologies to The Avengers)
3. "It's too bad you have so much chest hair and so few brain cells," she said snidely.
4. "Gosh, I keep forgetting how much I love 'Deep Blue Something'."
5. "It's Walmart. What were you expecting?"
An object to incorporate from Carol Fritz: A Super Soaker
A secondary character from theafaye: Nobody knew her name, let alone the fact that she was a genuine Lady. Lady Delilah Alicia Tabitha DeMontfort to be precise. Instead, to them she was Crazy Cat Lady, even though no one had ever seen her with a cat. It was just that, as she walked through her daily routine that took in all the local butchers, mumbling to herself as she went and pausing in each to buy exactly three sausages of differing types, but specific to the individual shops and always the same order, she *looked* like she should be a crazy cat lady.
A genre from whipchick: Noir
Two genres from notbatman: Travel and suspense
A plot complication from porn_this_way: A war has broken out and the body count keeps getting higher. World leaders are unable to identify any specific precipitating event(s), and attempts at mediation and peace talks fall on deaf ears. The only clue to the nature of the struggle is found in the battle cries of the two opposing forces - "Team Jacob" and "Team Edward."
A genre from unmowngrass: Children's story
The theme of the piece from miranda_lane: "You can't take it with you."
A secondary setting from mstrobel: A beach and a summer storm. The storm puts a spanner in the works of somebody's plan -- maybe for the better?
A secondary character from creature_girl08: A smart, business-minded woman in her mid-20's who is athletic, 5 foot 5 inches tall, pretty, with light brown hair. She likes to wear dresses and skirts but also look great in shorts and a T-shirt.
The title came from http://mdbenoit.com/rtg.htm