The Next Go Round


It’s been a while, and therein lies a tale.  SFFWorld opened submissions for its next anthology earlier this year, with a theme of luck and the number 13.  And I had a hell of an idea, literally:  a dying man sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for thirteen lifetimes.  Of course, the Devil tricks him, with each life offering up some disastrous twist.  I had most of the lives planned out, I’d figured out the ending — the man uses his final life to enter the priesthood, thereby claiming his soul for God and nullifying his contract with the Devil — and I was pretty excited about the whole thing.

I knocked out the first few paragraphs, and that’s when it hit me.  I’d basically ripped off Bedazzled, the classic Peter Cook/Dudley Moore comedy (later remade with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley).  I wasn’t aware I was doing so at the time I thought up the story, but it must have been in my head there somewhere.  My idea was a little different, but the basic structure was Bedazzled through and through.  And the realization crushed me.  I felt like the biggest hack in the world, completely untalented and unoriginal.  Combined with work-related stresses, it sent my writing into a nosedive.  I missed a few months of the Flash Fiction contests on the site, missed the deadline for the anthology, and generally felt like the biggest loser ever to lose losing.

Last month though, the contest’s theme was cycles.  And something clicked.  This story sprang to mind very nearly in the form you see below, with only a few changes to get it down to the word limit.  It felt like how a hitter must feel belting a home run after going through a slump.  I didn’t suck!  And apparently neither did the story, as it won the contest.

The screams of men and the clash of swords echoed in the courtyard below, pierced by the occasional sizzle of magic through the air. Bendrick held the amulet in his outstretched hand, the slightest tremble betraying his nerves. Vantaroth showed no concern, calm upon his throne, eyes fixed on Bendrick.

“All your pain, all your loss,” Vantaroth’s voice rumbled, “just so you could wave some bauble at me?”

It hurt to stand this close to the Dark Lord, to feel the malice emanating from that cold presence. “This is no mere bauble. I’m surprised you don’t recognize it.”

“I have no time for trinkets.”

Amendara!

Vantaroth’s eyes widened as the amulet began to glow, crimson lines of energy dancing across the smooth white jewel at its center. “No! It cannot be!”

“Oh, but it is!” Bendrick said, a pained grin on his face as he struggled against both the waves of panic flowing from Vantaroth and the power surging in his grip.

Red tendrils snaked across the throne room. Vantaroth remained still as though part of the very stone he sat upon. “How…” The word struggled from his lips.

“Through much pain and loss.”

The tendrils coalesced into a solid pillar of blinding light, slamming into Vantaroth like the battering ram that had earlier broken the gates of his fortress. He howled in pain and rage.

“It’s over,” Bendrick said.

“Fool!” Vantaroth shouted, the energy already beginning to consume him. “This is an ending, not the ending!” His final cry was lost in the crackle of the amulet’s spell as it tore Vantaroth from existence.

Bendrick slumped to the ground, spent, the amulet falling from his loosened grip.

———-

The screams of men and the sharp report of gunfire echoed in the courtyard below, pierced by the hiss of steam through the air. Ben Doric held the inducer in his outstretched hand, the slightest tremble betraying his nerves. Dr. Toroth had no such concern, calm in his laboratory, eyes fixed on Doric.

“All your pain, all your loss,” Toroth’s voice rumbled, “just so you could wave some bauble at me?”

It hurt to stand this close to the Mad Doctor, to feel the subsonic sound emanating from his cursed devices. “This is no mere bauble. I’m surprised you don’t recognize it.”

“I have no time for trinkets.”

“Not even one made by Amendara?” Doric pushed a button.

Toroth’s eyes widened as the inducer began to glow, crimson lines of energy dancing across the smooth lens at its center. “No! It cannot be!”

“Oh, but it is!” Doric said, a pained grin on his face as he struggled against both the pulse flowing from Toroth’s creation and the power surging in his grip.

Red tendrils snaked across the laboratory. Dr. Toroth remained still as though part of the very stone he stood upon. “How…” The word struggled from his lips.

“Through much pain and loss.”

The tendrils coalesced into a solid pillar of blinding light, slamming into Toroth like the steam cannon that had earlier broken the gates of his factory. He howled in pain and rage.

“It’s over,” Doric said.

“Fool!” Toroth shouted, the energy already beginning to consume him. “This is an ending, not the ending!” His final cry was lost in the crackle of the inducer’s field as it tore Toroth from existence.

Doric slumped to the ground, spent, the inducer falling from his loosened grip.

———-

The screams of men and the whine of plasma rifles echoed in the courtyard below, pierced by the occasional boom of atomics through the air. Beric held the accelerator in his outstretched hand, the slightest tremble betraying his nerves. V’Tarath showed no concern, calm in his exo-skeleton, eyes fixed on Beric.

“All your pain, all your loss,” V’Tarath’s voice rumbled, “all so you could wave some bauble at me?”

It hurt to stand this close to the Tyrant, to feel the onslaught projecting from his augmented brain. “I thought you’d recognize this. It’s not some mere bauble.”

V’Tarath blinked. “Wait, that’s backwards.”

“What?”

“I’m pretty sure ‘mere bauble’ is supposed to come first.”

Beric counted with his free hand. “Fight upstairs … break open door … hold out object … spring the surprise…” He furrowed his brow. “What am I missing here?” He struggled to keep his arm raised.

V’Tarath stepped down from the dais. “I finish off with ‘some bauble.’ It doesn’t make sense if you don’t start with ‘This is no mere bauble. There’s no symmetry.’’ He sighed. “And you got the words wrong too.”

“I did? Are you sure?”

“As if I haven’t heard them enough times through the millennia.”

“Look, what does it matter? As long as we end up in the same place, so what if I get a couple of lines out of order?” Beric rubbed his shoulder. “Now can we get going? This thing isn’t getting any lighter.”

V’Tarath threw his arms wide. “Have you no sense for the never-ending battle between good and evil? Fought for centuries before we existed, to be fought for centuries after we’re gone? Our parts were written long ago by forces much greater than ourselves!” He glared at Beric. “And I think they’d appreciate you managing to get the words right!”

“Okay, fine. This is no mere bauble. I’m surprised you don’t recognize it.”

“If you’re not going to put any soul into it….” V’Tarath waved dismissively and began to walk out of the chamber.

“But what about our grand battle?” Beric said.

“The mood’s gone. Let the next two handle it.” He stopped to look back. “Maybe they’ll bother memorizing their lines. And you can put that down now.”

Beric slumped to the ground, spent, the accelerator falling from his loosened grip.

“Oh, but that you get right,” V’Tarath said, turning and slamming the door behind him.

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One thought on “The Next Go Round

  1. Pingback: New Story: The Next Go Round |

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