Rolling Along at Breakneck Speed

News Flash!: Artemis Invaded was featured on Locus magazines’ “New and Notable” list in the August issue.  I am VERY happy.

And now, on to our regularly scheduled Wander.  Warning: This one is a bit odd(er than usual).

Scribbles and Story Cubes

Scribbles and Story Cubes

On Sunday, we usually game.  However, most of our gang has abandoned us for Scotland.  We three orphans (me, Jim, and Rowan Derrick) decided we’d get together anyhow.

I suggested to Rowan, “Maybe we can do something fast and creative, like write a story.”  Rowan immediately nodded, “Like the 48 Hour Film project.  Cool!  Let’s do it.”

Now, I’d seen something called “Rory’s Story Cubes,” in a local toy store.  I thought they’d be just what we needed to keep us from spending too much time trying to come up with an idea.  We’d roll the cubes and see where inspiration took us.

After dinner, fortified with coffee and some lovely trifle, we rolled the nine cubes.  The first set of images (which included a sheep, a magnifying glass, and an abacus) reminded me and Jim so much of Ngaio Marsh’s novel Died in the Wool that we knew we couldn’t get any further.

The second set, Jim managed to string into a more or less comprehensible sentence, which was a marvel in and of itself, but it didn’t take us anywhere.

The third set included the following: masks of comedy and tragedy; an “alien” face; a pyramid; a sheep, a house; a tepee; an apartment building; a magnifying glass; and a bridge with water running under it.

We grinned at each other.  I grabbed pen and paper.  Here (only slightly revised, mostly where I couldn’t read my handwriting) is the story we came up with, augmented along the way with further rolls of the dice when details were needed.  Without further ado, here’s:

Dirk Lancer: Paranormal Detective

Five years ago, Dirk Lancer had been the hottest star in film.  Then there had been the unfortunate incident of the drunken, nude bathing in a fountain in Rome.  The problem hadn’t been the drunken, nude bathing, but that the photos had shown all too clearly that – far from the six-pack abs for which he was famous – Dirk had developed a rather decided paunch.

Now Dirk would take any job he could get, including a role in a paranormal mystery investigator reality show.  The pilot episode was being shot in Egypt, on unlocking the secrets of the pyramids.

“Hasn’t this been done before?” Dirk asked.

“Of course, Dirk, but we’ve got a special twist.”  The producer winked.

“What is it?”

“If we told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Hey!  I’m an actor.  I can act surprised.”

The producer shook his head.  “This has got to be for real, Dirk.  That’s why it’s called ‘reality T.V.’”

So that’s why when Dirk – after crawling on hands and knees down a tight passage – came face to face with a green-faced alien, he did his best to seem very surprised.

Dirk pushed himself to his knees and held up a magnifying glass in his best paranormal investigator style.  “Oh, my gosh!  This is amazing!  Can you see what I’m seeing?  A real alien!  I’m going to try to communicate with it.”

Although the “alien” was blocking him, Dirk’s knees were hurting, so he pushed to where he could stand more or less upright, wondering as he did so why the set had been so badly designed.

Speaking clearly and distinctly, Dirk said, “Do You Under-Stand Me?”

The alien replied, “Who do you think taught you monkeys how to talk?”

“So you speak English?” Dirk said, making his eyes really wide and his expression astonished.

“And French, Swahili, San, Mandarin, and Icelandic.”

Dirk paused, waiting for someone to yell “Cut!” since he had no idea what he was supposed to do next.  Then did he realize that he and the alien were alone, with not a camera or production person in sight.  Not only that, they were standing under a tree in a flower-filled meadow in which three very different houses stood: a Cape Cod, a plains teepee, and a modern high-rise.

“So, Dirk!” said the alien, his expression alive with the manic enthusiasm only seen on game show hosts.  “You have five minutes to choose which house you are going to set on fire.  Yes!  You are a contestant on ‘Burn, Baby, Burn!’ the hottest game show in seven solar systems.”

Dirk looked around desperately, but his producer was nowhere to be seen.  In fact, the only other living thing present – other than himself and his green companion – was a singularly stupid-looking sheep grazing by a bridge under a picturesque brook.

Him and his f-king ‘surprise, Dirk thought, editing his language for television.  Fine!  I can cope!

He turned to Green Boy, as he had mentally dubbed the alien.  “I’ll take House Number One, the Cape Cod.”

“An excellent choice!” Green Boy replied.  “Here’s your kit, including this week’s Mystery Ingredient: a genuine, fully-functional Tesla Coil!”

The sheep baaed appreciatively.

Dirk had no idea what a Tesla coil was, but he tried to look smarter than he felt.

Green Boy smiled and said to Dirk, “You have thirty-five time units to set your house on fire or else you Burn, Baby, Burn!”

Green Boy vanished, as did the teepee and the high-rise, leaving Dirk to examine his supplies.  Most prominent was a bulky box with a sort of pillar coming out of the center.  At the top of the pillar was a halo-like thing.  The whole thing hummed gently.  Dirk guessed this must be the Tesla coil.

Feeling desperate, he looked at the other items in his kit.  There was a key; a chess piece (Dirk thought it was a castle, but maybe it was a rook); an incandescent light bulb; several napkins with floral embroidery; and an electric blue plastic lightning bolt about a foot long.

With a rising sense of panic, Dirk picked up the lightning bolt.  To his shock, it crackled in his hand and a white-hot spark fried a nearby flower.  For the first time since he had crept into the pyramid, Dirk felt hope.

At this point, the sheep looked up and baaed, “One time unit elapsed,” then returned to grazing.

With vague memories of Ben Franklin from grammar school history, Dirk picked up the key and turned it over in his hand, putting his best “thoughtful” expression on his ruggedly handsome features.

“Two time units spent,” intoned the counting sheep.

“Hey!” Dirk protested.  “That can’t be right!”

“Three time units spent,” said the sheep with an ovine chuckle.

“That’s it!” Dirk said, remembering the pyramid.  Uncasing the magnifying glass from his paranormal investigator’s utility belt, he raced toward the house.

When he’d been a rather naughty boy, he’d delighted in using a magnifying glass not unlike this one to set on fire the hair of the little girl who sat in front of him.  She’d had very dry hair and it had more smoked than burnt, but the principle should work.

He’d need to get inside and find something flammable – or inflammable.  English really was weird.

The door was locked!  But, with a flash of brilliance, Dirk remembered the key.  He ran back to get it.

“Five time units elapsed,” baaed the counting sheep.

“What happened to four!” Dirk protested.

“Ten time units elapsed,” the sheep said around a mouthful of dandelions.

“Mint jelly!” Dirk cursed softly, as he grabbed the kit and ran back to the house.

He fumbled for the key, shoved it in the lock, and the door swung open to reveal a completely empty house without as much as a pillow to burn.

In the distance, Dirk could have sworn he heard Green Boy announcing a commercial break.

Fishing for ideas, Dirk saw the light bulb.  The fixtures were empty.  Could he create an electrical fire?  He had no idea, and he still didn’t have anything to burn, even if he did start a fire.  Wait, he did!  He stripped off his shirt and trousers, revealing his newly sculpted body, clad only in camouflage print bikini briefs.

Next, Dirk ran to retrieve the Tesla coil for, with sudden insight, he realized that he had to include the Tesla coil or lose valuable points.  Whatever else he was, Dirk Lancer was not a loser.

Using the magnifying glass would take too long and he had no idea how to start an electrical fire but – good old Ben Franklin – Dirk remembered that electricity and lightning were the same thing!  He figured he’d just toss that useless Tesla coil on the fire, too.  As he was packing his clothes around the base, he saw an on-off switch.

“What the f—,” he said, forgetting this was T.V., and flipped the switch to “on.”

The halo at the top of the pillar erupted with bright streams of purplish-blue electricity.  The electric stream ran up his arm, chased over his sculpted biceps, and was channeled by the plastic lightning bolt he held in his left hand.

With terrific force, a bolt of pure energy shot forth and ignited his pants leg.  The rest of his clothes quickly burst into flame.  The flames spread with frightening rapidity to the cheap fabricated walls of the Cape Cod, now revealed as little more than a shoddy set.

Dirk realized that he’d better get out of there and flew out the door, the muscles of his thighs pumping.

“Twenty-four time units elapsed,” the counting sheep baaed.

As Dirk collapsed under the tree, the alien reappeared.  “We have one time unit left!  Will Dirk succeed?  Or will he burn?”

Dirk stared anxiously at the house.  Would his clothes provide enough tinder?  What if the Tesla coil…


Green Boy all but danced in place.  “Congratulations!  Your success in this challenge will give you a great advantage in the next contest.  Join us next week for “We Taught Monkeys to Talk, But Can They Learn?”

“Thirty-five time unites elapsed,” counted the sheep.


Hey…  What do you want for about two hours?  Hope you enjoyed!


11 Responses to “Rolling Along at Breakneck Speed”

  1. Mandy Says:

    Lol! I wonder what the next contest will consist of?

  2. James M. Says:

    Very funny, but the synchronicity was welcome as well. Just before I read this, I had asked another author on Twitter how to rediscover the joy of telling stories, which I’d lost somewhere along the way. The tale of how the story got created, along with the story itself, was the reminder I needed that writing CAN be fun, which gives me hope that I can figure out how to have fun writing once again.
    Thanks for the uplift.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      I’m very glad,James. The problem of remembering that writing can be fun is something that professional writers face a lot.

      It’s particularly hard when your work is out there for people to slam, which many take delight in, especially once a writer hits a certain level of visibility and is assumed to be “fair game.”

      I enjoyed playing at writing for many of the same reasons you mentioned.

  3. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Dirk reminds me of Harry Harrison’s “Bill, the Galactic Hero.” And that’s great news about “Artemis Invaded.” Especially for those of us who enjoyed “Artemis Awakening.”

  4. chadmerkley Says:

    It saddens me to think that advanced interstellar civilizations are still have reality TV….

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Chad… I hate to tell you this, but reality TV is ALL that interstellar civilizations have. They justify it as applied anthropology, because mere entertainment is considered frivolous.

  5. Eric Says:

    Reads like an evening well spent! I might pick up some of these story cubes myself; they sound like a more fun group activity than video games.

  6. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I’ll have to look these things up. Might be an interesting way to break through writer’s block. Or to teach a lesson while having fun at a writer’s conference, or just for plain fun with nutty, slightly creative friends.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      They definitely work with the third option.

      I’d be tempted to use them as an ice breaker at a writer’s conference.

      Last weekend, Rowan introduced us to two other games that would be fund ice breakers: Dixit and Liebrary.

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