Archive for December, 2010

A Microfiction Writing Game: More Results

Card: Playing by the Book

One day, Emile and his bother were playing by the book. They listened to it brurble and tinke, watched the fish do blackflips in it and little fogs catch fies on its surface. When they came home late, their mlother was furious.

Card: You Bet Your Life

“Welcome to this week’s edition of ‘You Bet Your Life!’ on the Soylent Network! Sponsored by Cooke’s Suicide Parlours – making your world a better place! On this week’s show, we’ve got some great prizes for our contestants – and if you folks at home want to get in on the action, just type in our web address: http://www.ylife.com and look for our You Bet Your Life Minigame!”

Card: Out of this world

“Out of this world and that one, which would you choose with this shade of chartreuse?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Horsehead – us galaxies are different from you nebula. You’re so flighty – you know you’re just going to want to change it all up again in a couple thousand years.”

“I’ll have you know I’ve had the same string of stars for 3 billion years. They were my grand-nebula’s.”

“Well at least you have the good sense not to mess with an heirloom. Hey, these molecules are on sale!”

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A Microfiction Writing Game: Instructions and Results

Here’s a game that you can play by yourself or with a couple of friends. I played it for the first time recently with my boyfriend Tom and my friend Steph.

The goal is to churn out some microfiction in the shortest possible amount of time and yet still have a cohesive story.

Directions:

1. Grab the cards from the most outdated version possible of any game available involving cards and categoried questions. Our choice was “Win, Lose, or Draw” from the early 90s. Pictionary, Scattergories, or Trivial Pursuit would probably work just as well.

2. Set up a 5 minute timer (or choose your own length of time). We found five minutes to be optimal because nobody ended up having to wait too long if they finished their microfiction before the other players, and it helped the players to think of stories for a microfiction format.

3. Choose a card at random from the deck and read it out loud to the players. Show it to them if they wish.

4. Start writing a story inspired by the card – whether you use the actual words on the card or not is up to you.

5. Share all stories after the five minute deadline.

There are no points, no losers, and oodles of just pure writerly joy. Have fun! Post some of your own!

Here are my two favourites out of the ones that I wrote. Look out for a few of Tom’s later on. These are completely unedited.

Card: THE EDGE OF NIGHT

Night had one advantage over all the other athletes in the competition, and that was being able to race around the entire world every twenty four hours. The Olympic Committee agreed that it was racist not to allow a concept to compete, but that Night would still have to wear a runner’s number like everyone else. It was up to him to find somewhere to pin it.

Card: PURRS LIKE A KITTEN

“So I sez to him, I sez, she might purr like a kitten but she eats like a litter of ’em! Next round’s on me.”

Mount Baldie v.2

I don’t know how much this has changed, but here is the second draft of Mount Baldie, now with green imagery!

Mount Baldie

She must be around four – yes, that feels right. With the feeling comes a knowing. In the dream, she has already learned to swim with the Bubble, that oval bladder covered in woven plastic, which, when worn on her back, holds Molly up in the lake. They still make her wear it even though she has three swimming badges from the Y. She knows that she is four because of the swimming, but also because the only French that she knows is Je m’appelle, oui, and non – she has not yet started Pre-K.

Her brother Sam is there, along with the twins, her cousins. She cannot see his face, but she knows her father is there. Her aunt leads the way through the forest with a sword – her dad has one on his back in a leather envelope, a sheath, she thinks. It is the first time that Molly hears the word machete.

Molly has no sense of the passage of time in the forest. She sees only leaves, no branches, only shoes, no faces. They hike single-file, with Molly right behind her aunt, forcing the others to go at her pace. This keeps Molly from getting tired – and tiring. Part of the reason she has been allowed to go is practical – they cannot leave her alone, but the other part is because she has been (pretty) quiet and not at all whiny that morning, her face pleading to be allowed to go. This way, everyone can come along, and no one has to babysit Molly the Pest.

Soon, her aunt points out a pile of perfectly round little pellets that seem to appear as she calls attention to them. Inches away is another pile of smaller stuff. Molly sees her first pile of deer poo and rabbit turds side by side. Molly feels hemmed in by green, but the path opens up to her aunt, and where she decides to go, it always looks like a proper trail. She does not feel tired – Molly feels, in fact, as if she is floating above the trail, her pink shoes skimming the wet forest floor.

They pass through a clearing – which Molly guesses is called that because it doesn’t have many trees in it. It certainly isn’t clear. It is filled with ferns, which break and tear where they tread on them, the leaves getting stuck in the Velcro of her pink shoes – Molly’s mind remembers forward to when the right one will stink of swamp water, when Molly misses a rock getting out of the canoe.

When they reach the Lookout, which her dad calls Mount Baldie, the twins drop a bottle of RC Cola down the side – Molly’s aunt yells at them for it. She hears it hit the rock below with a flat smack, and then comes the quickening hiss of the soft drink and gas escaping the bottle. In real life, she knows that she is nowhere near the edge at this point, but she sees it anyway. The bottle lands straight up. The cap bursts off and dirty brown cola splashes up impossibly high, hitting the top of the ledge that her cousins are standing on. In reality, she knows it is more of a fizzle – it is a fifteen foot drop. The drop below that was easily a hundred feet though, and Molly still wonders what that would have looked like.

The rock seems to stand out against the trees like a splash of white paint in a patch of grass. There is some moss, but the stone is otherwise bare. To Molly, the Lookout looks like huge hewn steps. Her dad warns her away from the edge, and she is not allowed to look over because it is dangerous. The twins have climbed down onto the next level to retrieve the soda bottle. Molly doesn’t remember coming back down from the woods.

 

Molly loved the country, and she often thought about how she used to go to her aunt’s cottage with her whole family in the summer. Out of her immediate family, only she and Sam, her older brother, made the trip up these days. Her mom and dad didn’t get along well with her aunt, and they had finally decided it wasn’t worth swallowing their words anymore just for a week of mosquitoes, blackflies and boiled lake water. Her father said that he always ended up doing more work on the house at the country than vacationing. But Molly and Sam couldn’t resist what the country had to offer, and they went up every chance they got, which was less and less as the siblings got older.

Their family called it the country because it was in fact a “country place” in the Canadian understanding of the term. Sam used to call it “Canada”, as if back home had nothing to do with the lakes and unpaved roads “up north”, which was another thing they called it. As if you had to cross some imagined border to get there. As if the real Canada was only found out there. On paper, it was called “Wentworth-Nord.”

The people that lived there called it Newaygo Junction – and mostly just Newaygo. It was past St. Sauveur and Moren Heights, near Montford (pronounced Momford by their aunt). It was where the Petit Train du Nord (which is not a train at all any more but rather a trail) ended, that ending still surrounded on either side from time to time by the Canadian Shield, so hard that it had to be blasted – jackhammers were virtually useless. It was a place where trestles and wharfs were not yet extinct, and places called the Lookout still existed, if anybody went looking.

This was where Sam and Molly found themselves one Thursday afternoon in August, sitting back to back in old easy chairs that had faced the dump in the city, and been rescued and brought up by boat to their aunt’s cottage. They had been swimming all morning, and it had been time for a break. Sam was reading one of their uncle’s books – something by Dean Koontz, and Molly was reading one that Sam had just finished. Their cousins were watching television on the couch.

Sam put down his book. “Want to go for a hike?”

Molly glanced at the clock on the wall. It was around two o’clock. “If you want to.”

“Yeah, only, I don’t want to go to the creek or the road, or to the big rock.”

Sam had just eliminated all the half-hour hikes that they usually did.

“You want to walk back to the trestle?” said Molly, grabbing a peach out of the bowl on the little round dining table.

The trestle was actually a bridge under which the boats passed on their way to a gravel lot at one end of the lake. Those that didn’t have road access to their cabins kept their cars there. Their uncle’s van would be parked there.

Molly bit into the peach, which was getting mushy and didn’t taste like much. It had a grainy, juiceless texture.

“Let’s go find the Lookout,” Sam said.

“Sure.” Molly remembered the last time – they had found the Lookout, that was true, but they overshot the trail on the way back and the only thing that had stopped them getting lost was that they ran into the creek, which, from the house, was half an hour in the opposite direction from the Lookout. They had been gone for three hours. This was no surprise – Molly’s directions to the Lookout had come from her recollections of the hike she had made to it when she was four years old.

That was also when Molly realized that she had something in common with her father: she was just a bit scared of heights. There was a crack in one of the ledges of the Lookout. It was wide enough to fit a skinny person and was about eight or nine feet deep. Molly had hesitated, been too scared to just step over it – so Sam had held out his hands to her, palms up, and she had taken both of them, just like a little old lady, and then she had been able to step over. That had been when she was twelve, and Sam sixteen. She was fourteen now, and braver.

Looking down at the lake two years ago, Molly had thought of those models that she had seen in the hobby shop at the mall, with their fake water that, according to the bottle, glistened realistically and never looked dry, even after years of display. She had always thought that their colours were off until now, the texture of the hills too unsubtle. From up at the Lookout, the lake was just a model, and for the first time she did not feel surrounded by it. Even in the woods just twenty feet deeper she always imagined the lake as bounding her on every side, with the sound of motorboats and voices. The lake hadn’t seemed any deeper than those hobby shop displays either. It was a disquieting view, and she hadn’t been able to get a handle on her size relative to it, back then.

Molly wondered if two years would have changed the view a lot. This time, they brought strips of plastic bag to tie around the trees so that they would be able to come back the same way and eventually mark the trail with ribbons like the cross-country skiing paths. It was Sam’s idea, and he chose the red Zellers bags from out of the cupboard for visibility. Molly carried the strips shoved in her miniature knapsack, along with a bottle of water. They hadn’t had any granola bars, and she didn’t want another peach.

They left, passing the outhouse to the path behind it, which was the steepest part of the hike. The rest was gradually up hill and to the left facing into the woods, or to the right if you were facing the lake. The black flies and mosquitoes found them immediately, but they were used to that. They didn’t mark any trees up until they got to the big rock, because there the forest was nearly bare and the paths were well-worn from where their aunt, along with whoever was up and willing to help, dragged down fallen trees for firewood. It was something that they did early in the morning, before the sun penetrated the leaves and heated everything up. At the big rock, they turned towards the Lookout. The plastic strips tore easily when Sam was tying it to the trees, but mostly it tied fine. Molly worried that they wouldn’t have enough strips at the rate that they were going. But Sam used to be a boy scout – it ought to be all right.

Sam started talking about his new girlfriend, Nina, and how he wished that she had been able to make it up to the country that year – she was a good swimmer and would love the lake.

“Seriously, she taught me the butterfly and everything – I bet she could swim across the lake like the twins if I followed her in the boat.”

“You need another person. With two people, you have one to row and watch out for other boats and one to watch Nina. It helps to be two in case you need to pull the swimmer into the boat. I could help with that. I know how to use a defibrillator – I mean, an AED, you know – not like an actual –”

“Yeah, I get it. But Auntie does it all the time for the twins. She would be better at it. But you could come along.”

“Well, anyway. Nina isn’t even actually here so it doesn’t matter – and if she does come, you know Auntie won’t let you share a room, and I’m not sharing a bed with her.”

“Why don’t you like Nina?”

“She’s all right,” said Molly. “I just don’t think Auntie will go for it, is all.”

Sam shrugged and kept hiking, holding back branches so they wouldn’t hit Molly when he passed through them. “We must nearly be there – I can almost see the sky through the trees.”

Molly started to apologize about Nina, to tell Sam about how she just didn’t want to be a third wheel if Nina came up, but Sam had run ahead – one day he might run into something dangerous – and he couldn’t hear her. She could hear him snapping branches where he passed.

“Find anything?” called out Molly. She couldn’t tell what direction Sam’s voice came back at her from.

“No, but this way is definitely downhill – I don’t know – maybe we should head back up.”

“It’s not at the very top of the mountain, Sam,” said Molly, glad to finally be able to contribute. “It has to be on the edge.”

“Well, which way would you go?”

Molly fussed with the strips of plastic, finally noticing that, on the strips that came from the bottom of the Zellers bags, it said “BIODEGRADABLE WITHIN 12-15 MONTHS.” Molly didn’t mention anything to Sam. She pointed right, to where the trees seemed to thin out a little more, and she could see sky. “I think this is the right way.”

As they hiked on, Sam leading, they came to a clearing full of ferns. Molly spotted a hunting perch in one of the trees – she wasn’t sure what they were called, but it was a bright red seat – and she remembered it from two years ago. She nudged Sam, and they tried to work out which direction to go from there. A couple of times, they ran into fallen trees hidden among the ferns, and Molly barked her ankles no fewer than four times. She set her teeth and didn’t cry out.

They went on that way for a few minutes, aligning themselves like the bearings on a compass. They were close – another five minutes and they stepped onto the side – or edge – of the mountain proper. They had arrived at the Lookout, the God’s-eye view.

Even in miniature, there was a clarity that was enhanced by the distance about the lake and the valley below her. A strange pocket of air rose up and caught between her lungs and her mouth. She felt small and insignificant – but in a way it was only because the lake now looked so small and insignificant, and relative to that, she was even smaller. There was another feeling tied in to that  – she felt triumph. Maybe it was being able to see the lake all at once like this, contained within this one view, or something like that. She felt some form of ownership regarding the lake, and imagined that this was a sensation that a queen or a king might know when they surveyed their demesne. Everything that surrounded Molly was so much bigger than her, but she could perceive it all.

Molly smiled at Sam, knowing that he was feeling the same thing. Of course, he smiled back. They were the same – they shared this sensibility uniquely between the two of them.She wondered how she could have ever worried about Sam not finding time to hang out with her. She was holding on to the majestic feelings that filled her up there on the Lookout. That shared feeling of theirs.

“We’ll have to show Nina this,” said Sam. “When she comes.”

Molly was silent for a long moment. She kicked a tuft of moss over the edge. A single thought ran through Molly’s mind and came out of her mouth before she could secure it. “You know, this would be a good place to have an accident.”

The Kunstkammer

This is the redrafting of The Hobby for my Portfolio, which I have to hand in tomorrow. I would greatly appreciate comments and criticisms.

The Kunstkammer

There was a world beneath the world, and it was fascinatingly dirty. When Peter Weiss left Bavaria, a land with no metro cars, it was primarily due to his preoccupation with the places beneath cities. The first place to offer him a job was a civil engineering firm in New York City, and that suited him just fine. He regretfully consigned the Paris catacombs to his vacation time, but with some relief as well: the human remains made him rather squeamish.

Within three months of his arrival in New York, Peter managed to use his work connections to get a full copy of the subway blueprints and, through other channels, a Metropolitan Transit Authority ID card that allowed him access to the subway tunnels. Peter didn’t mean any harm – he just loved walking through the relative darkness to places that most people never even thought of  – there was graffiti in the strangest places, that he would have sworn were impossible for anyone to get to, strange objects to find that people left behind, and architectural idiosyncrasies in areas that the public would never see.

It didn’t take longer than a few weeks for Peter to realize that he would need a place to store the things that he was finding. He couldn’t keep it all in his apartment, which would have been unsanitary and weird, but he didn’t want to get rid of the stuff either. Some of it he didn’t want to be seen with at all, like the one pound bag of hashish that he found hidden in an alcove of a service tunnel, or any of the various knives he had picked up. He picked out a maintenance storage room in an unused tunnel near the Museum of Natural History, brought his own tools, drilled out the lock, then changed the lock. There,  in a tradition from back home, he kept his kunstkammer, his curios.

When police found out about the first bomb, it was because it exploded, it was assumed, prematurely in the basement of a downtown mall. Mostly the news showed cell phone videos of the blasted remains of kiddie chairs that had been stored there, and splinters of those uncomfortable plastic and metal foldup chairs that any building with a multipurpose room kept around for gatherings of people. Nobody was hurt. The damage to the mall was physically minimal, but of course everyone that heard anything about it said that they had been near there, or that they had planned to be in that part of the city but had changed their mind at the last instant. And it was hard not to hear when the media was bringing out all the stops to hype it up.

So the subways closed down for a few hours, just in case they could catch the perpetrator, and then the security was increased at the subway entrances and platforms. All this was a mild annoyance to Peter. In the hours that he was stuck above ground, he kept up with the breaking news. It seemed that as many as ten people were thought to be involved in the plot to take out the mall. Afterwards, when everything was running again, he just kept up his regular routine. The security people were already used to seeing him from before, and so they still didn’t trouble him. It was a week after the attack, to the day, that he met Katja. There was nothing girlish about the woman from Weimar. Their country connected them immediately, but so did Katja’s manner. She dressed in a way that showed off her features without being showy – dark, practical clothing that accentuated her long neck, her pale skin. Her brown eyes were narrowly set in a way that made her manner appear continually serious. When she smiled, it made her seem wry.

Peter spotted her staring up at the roof of the tunnel and figured that she must be either looking at the graffiti that was already there or trying to find her way up. Sure enough, she had a can of fluorescent orange spraypaint, like the kind that city officials used to mark things that were slated for destruction – trees, portions of sidewalk, that kind of thing. Around her neck was a digital SLR camera. She was so concentrated that Peter was within ten feet of her before she looked at him sharply.

“What are you doing down here?”

Her question surprised him, and Peter found himself searching for an adequate answer. He shrugged instead. “And you?”

“I like it down here,” Katja said.

Peter didn’t press her. She was pretty enough that he didn’t want to scare her off with any kind of awkward insistance. The terrorist attacks up top were on the peripheries of his life, and he did not even really work for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, so he didn’t care how she had gotten down there. She had as much right to be there as he did. “So are you an artist?”

Katja smiled at him, and took a picture. “My name is Katja.”

 

The collection continued to grow, up until the bombings proper. By the time that it happened, Peter and Katja were spending one day in every two together, talking about home, about Peter’s kunstkammer, and food, films, books, music – whatever regular people talked about when they weren’t underground in the New York subway tunnels. Peter had shown her the bag of hashish, the basketball signed by the 1995 New York Knicks, some disintegrating old American money, a couple of stubby beer bottles from the early 1900s, and all the other things that he had so far gathered. As an artist, Katja was particularly interested in the structural details of the subway, and the pieces of architecture that were load-bearing rather than decorative. Peter showed her around, pointing out the nexus points of intersecting tunnels, support pillars and arches. Katja took a lot of pictures and a lot of notes.

Katja encouraged his collection, even bringing him some baseball cards that she found in a tobacco tin underneath an exposed girder. She was deeply curious about the subway in the same way that he was – and she was always looking underneath and on top of things. A true explorer. It was weird, what people brought down to the subway tunnels for safe-keeping. The day after Katja brought the cards,  sections of New York City exploded. Immediately, the misinformation began. Cell phone transmitters were knocked out, and even those that weren’t were completely overloaded. Out of the nine million people who lived in the city, plus however many tourists, how many had died? Nobody knew. Had any other cities been bombed? Nobody knew. Was anyone coming to help them? There was silence.

In the first hour after the bombing, people were already filling the subway. They were scared and they had seen one too many cold war movies where the bunkers looked just like a subway tunnel. They brought no food or any other kind of supplies with them. They were a mob. They came as they were. Peter, who was already down in the tunnels, locked himself in the Kunstkammer. For two days, he waited. He had no idea what had happened above ground.

On the first day, Peter sat against the doorway, alternating between listening to his own heartbeat and trying to discern words from the shouts he heard outside. Peter was in a maintenance closet, so he had access to sink and buckets to empty all the water that he could before the water pressure was lost. He didn’t know if any pipes were damaged, or if anyone up above would turn off the water if that was the case. So, on the second day, when his head had cleared, Peter filled his buckets with water, not having the luxury of cleaning them first, except with Alpet, an alcohol-based spray. This took him two hours, and when he was done, the water pressure had still not decreased. He was surrounded by tins and buckets and water bottles. That was when he realized, after listening to the sound of rushing water for two hours, that he hadn’t left himself any empty buckets for other purposes, and since he was subsisting off of his spelunking supplies, he was eating an awful lot of granola.

He realized then, that he hadn’t thought of much of anything in the past two days, listening to the press of people outside, their panicked shouts, their anger and their fear. Now he thought of Katja. He had to leave the Kunstkammer. He inventoried the maintenance supplies – he had had no need to clear any of them as of yet. What ended up in his backpack were a package of unopened X-Acto blades, the remaining granola bars, two water bottles, the hashish (for bartering), a roll of duct tape, a bottle of Alpet alcohol spray, and a general map of the subway system as well as a few of the surrounding stations. In his hands, he carried an unscrewed wooden broom handle. If push came to shove, he’d use the Alpet on any attackers’ eyes and then take out the X-Acto blades. The broom handle was to buy time. He listened at the door before he left, but the noises he heard were faint, far-off.

The tunnels around him seemed intact, and that bode well for the rest of the system. He steered away from the noises at first, unwilling to confront a mob and not at all sure that Katja liked crowds. In their time together, he had found her friendly enough, and willing to share a joke, but not…gregarious. When he came towards the nearest exit, he saw that it was blocked by fallen debris from above. Peter took out his map and made a note of it, erasing the solid line of a wall and turning it into rubble on the page. He then began to sift absentmindledly through the smaller fragments and dust with the end of his broomstick, wondering where he should head next. His eye caught the movement of the dim light on something in the pile, and he separated it with the end of the handle. It was a gold wedding band – most likely a woman’s.  It made him think of Katja. He wiped it on his pantleg and slipped it into his pocket.

 

He headed toward the 86th and Broadway subway station from his closet near the American Museum of Natural History, and was almost immediately overwhelmed by an encampment of hundreds of New Yorkers, some sitting, some sleeping – fewer standing. Nobody took notice of him, which had been his chief fear. He walked towards the outer edges of the grouped people and began observing them and listening in, trying to get as much information as he could without actually talking to anyone.

There were plenty of people trying to get cellphone reception, even after two days. It was incredible that any of them had battery power. Soon, they wouldn’t, and it wouldn’t matter. They would be worried about their hunger, if they stayed down here. After that, people would probably start to get sick from living in too close proximity to one another with no means of maintaining hygiene. Peter wasn’t looking forward to that. He struck it from his mind and listened.

“I just walked from Port Authority and they said the attacks happened all over America.”

“I’m not taking any chances. I’ll stay down here until I get a guarantee that there won’t be a second wave.”

“Half the city’s gone.”

“I hope it wasn’t nukes…”

“Can’t have been nukes – the tunnels are still standing.”

“It’s the subway – of course it’s still standing.”

“The government has gone into hiding.”

“– I heard it from someone with a radio.”

“The buildings fell right over…”

“…like trees…”

“I heard that the police are coming around and clearing people out of the tunnels.”

“…couple of thousand dead…”

Bunkers. The Koreans – North and South. The Russians, rising again. Canada, sick of all their bullshit. Nobody had their facts straight. What was clear was that things were a lot worse than Peter had imagined, sitting in his closet. Nobody tried to start anything with him – they were all just too tired. A few of them looked over at his broomstick with a kind of unease.

He finally asked the man that seemed to have the biggest mouth whether anyone had been up above yet.

“Yeah, some people that were at other stations. You planning to go up there? Yeah, man, I’ll follow you, so long as you go first. If the Russians have landed their personnel carriers than we could be facing down the barrels of a fucking lot of guns.”

“No – I just wanted information, you see,” said Peter.

“Information is straight up those stairs, guy.”

Peter excused himself, and tried to work out a strategy to find Katja. There were no guarantees that they were on the same line or near the same station, if she was in the tunnels at all. He thought back to their last conversation, when she had brought him the tobacco tin. She had been so hopeful for the future. The last time that he had seen her, her whole body  had been tense with energy, a sort of happiness – or maybe excitement at having found the baseball cards that were still sitting in the kunstkammer. She seemed anxious to see if he liked her gift.

“Are the cards worth anything?”

“They’re great – Joltin’ Joe is a real find. I bet these cards belong to some kid who isn’t a kid any more and forgot about them,” said Peter.

“I wanted to thank you again for the help you’ve given me, touring the subways. I was really able to advance my project.”

“Are you leaving?”

“No – but I think I’ll be busy the next little while. I have a show coming up,” said Katja.

“At which gallery? Are you showcasing any pictures from the subway? Paintings?”

“Some place downtown – you’re sure to hear about it. I can tell you more once the newspapers have got a hold of it. It’s going to be a big show,” she said.

“I’ll look out for it,” said Peter, picturing her dressed up for her vernissage. At least, he thought that was what it was called. Peter didn’t think it strange that he’d never heard of Katja – big in the art world didn’t mean big anywhere else, and Peter didn’t really pay attention to newspapers or television or anything. But he remembered being sure that she would be sensational, somehow. Now her show might never happen – her art might be scattered amidst the destruction above. He only hoped that she herself had survived.

 

He spent the rest of the day searching and then went back to the maintenance closet to sleep. Everyone was still too caught up in themselves to care what any one person did. As he neared it, he saw a dark black shadow interrupting the brown of the closet door. It was Katja – she was beautiful,  alive, and completely unaware of him. It looked as though she had been waiting for him. He thought of the wedding band in his pocket. In her hand was a small black box with an antenna and a few wires sticking out of it. It was obviously cobbled together by hand from two or so broken radios with a great deal of effort. Katja looked up with a start when he took hold of it.

“Hey, did you make that? Have you been able to get any news from above?” Peter examined the radio.

Now Katja was on her feet. “No – give it here, Peter.”

Peter raised his eyebrows at her. “It’s fine – I know how to use a radio. I won’t break it.”

The look on Katja’s face stunned Peter. He felt sure, then, that this was no radio.

“Katja?”