This post was written for finishthestory contest, sponsored by @bananafish. These weekly contests are great fun. Two authors write a story. One author is designated to create a beginning. From that, the second author must come up with an idea for an interesting ending.
This contest is wonderful for anyone who likes to write, but especially for those who sometimes feel stumped when looking at a blank page. Ideas tend to flow once the first part of the story is presented. I find that happens for me.
This week, the first half of the story was written by @calluna. I don't try to match her skill, but I do take inspiration from her magic. So, here it is, my idea on how to end @calluna's story fragment, The Town That Changed.
About the tag at the bottom: I made a mistake and couldn't correct it. This is not a science blog. It is fiction, pure fiction. And light fun. Sorry....
The Town That Changed
Change blew in on the air that morning, whispering through a sleeping town. An eerie quiet rested along the main road, early commuters not yet disturbing the grey dawn. A wisp of waning moon, brushed pink with the gentle glow of the coming sun, hung low in the ombre sky.
A subtle shift rocked the heavy foliage of scattered trees, rippling between the houses. The cool silence of night still clung to the shadows. A lone ginger cat stalked between the sentinels of bins guarding the curbs. It paused, hair bristling along it’s back as it sensed a disturbance rushing past.
A lone mournful howl echoed in the streets, erupting into a sorrowful symphony as others took up the canine call.
Not a single harsh bark interrupted the lament that awoke the town that morning.
Back doors opened onto gardens, not quite the same. Concerned residents in an array of dressing gowns, coats and slippers, padded outside to find the same, inexplicable sight.
Theo hadn’t been home in months. He had told his mum he was getting clean. It was a lie. He hadn’t been clean in years.
The dark country road snaked before him, a twisting river of retreating night. She had insisted he came home for the wedding. Theo couldn’t stand her boyfriend, but his mum had half chewed his ear off over it, and he couldn’t deny, he owed her this.
He swore under his breath. The rising itch was dancing across his skin. The hard edge cutting inside him. He needed another hit. He had been driving since 1am, he loaded up before he set off, but the ragged scraping of the comedown was consuming.
He glanced at the road, he hadn’t passed another car in hours, and he knew these twisting roads.
One hand on the wheel, he fumbled through the bag on the passenger seat. He couldn’t face that c*nt sober, Aunt Hazel would help.
His skin flushed with the intense bliss coursing through his veins as he approached the sleeping streets.
Dawn was pushing towards the horizon, her soft pink glow catching the clipped moon.
Theo was speeding when he got to the town. He heard the hair-raising call of neighbourhood dogs, raising their cry as one.
Then he saw it. The change. He couldn’t look away. He didn’t see the tree.
It Happened at Dawn
Picture Credit: Pixabay
"As far as we can tell, there's one fatality. Car accident, possibly not related, though it's going to take more investigation to pin down the exact cause."
"Did anyone try to leave town?"
"Not yet. It's all playing out as we hoped. They're too disoriented to form a plan. They seem frozen in a kind of community reinforcing pattern. Seeking the familiar. Hoping for confirmation of their own distorted perceptions."
"Do we know anything about the fatality?"
"Yeah. Good news. A local. License plate traced to a Theo Logan, 26-year-old son of the registered occupant at 67 Laurel. That's all we have now on him, but at least his family won't come looking for explanations, because they're already in town." The wry grimace reflected a shared sense of moral conflict that had pervaded the team since they entered the countdown for phase 4 of the experiment.
They were a tight, small group. Five years on the project, with a direct link to high command. Security was rigid. If word ever got out....
Three walls in the chrome-lined laboratory displayed a live feed of Manorville's waking hours: 122 humans, 67 felines, 41 canines. All roused with the release of a gas no one knew existed.
Throughout the town, valves were opened at first light and XYM gas seeped into Manorville. Within 5 minutes, neural interference was evident in 91% of the subjects. In 10 minutes, that number went up to 100%.
Subjects' distress ranged from mild anxiety to wild panic. As the Adjutant General observed these idiosyncratic reactions, she made a note to explore whether it was exposure levels or individual sensitivity that determined degree of response.
XYM had a half life of 2 hours. That's what earlier tests in mental hospitals and prisons had shown. This meant that by the time investigators arrived in town, no trace would remain, anywhere. The stealth characteristic of the gas was essential. The Manorville episode must be written off as mass hysteria.
The General congratulated herself. XYM was a truly humane breakthrough in warfare. An anti-personnel weapon with no fatalities and no long-term consequences. Yet, devastatingly effective at disabling an enemy.
She would have to include the one automobile fatality in her report, even though there was no clear connection to the experiment. And the potential complications for pregnancies. Just two women in their third trimester had been identified. Spontaneous abortion was possible. Undetected first trimester pregnancies did carry a teratogenic risk. But these contingencies were negligible, given the effectiveness of the new weapon.
She looked up at the large map on the fourth wall of the laboratory. Five cities highlighted. Five more test zones. Today's results would be reconciled with those, when they came in, and all of it combined with data from institutional studies. But she didn't need that information for her own satisfaction. There was no doubt in her mind what the numbers would show.
She had created the perfect weapon.