So for this story I returned to Bryn Donovan’s book of prompts and used a random number generator on my cell phone to give me a random setting prompt, sound prompt, and five random dialogue prompts. As with last time, I will list the dialogue prompts first, and the setting and sound prompts will be after the story.
Dialogue Prompts Used
- “Who put this in my coat pocket?”
- “We’ll need to take a blood sample to be sure.”
- “Who are you talking to?”
- “You throw this guy a lifeline and he tries to hang himself from it.”
- “Where am I?”
Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More. Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.
The Shade of the Garden
Imogene watched the clouds rolling overhead through the transparent roof of the livestock barn and felt a warm peace fall over her. Clouds. When Imogene was just a girl and had entertained fantasies about being a veterinarian, she never would have imagined it would be on Mars, and even if she had stopped to assume that much, she would never have believed there would be clouds here.
“…You know what I mean, Imogene?” A voice broke through her daydreaming and brought her crashing back to Earth – er – Mars. Maude, the bubbly blonde standing next to her holding a clipboard, began to giggle, “You know what? That rhymed! ‘You know what I mean, Imogene?'” Maude chuckled at her joke as Imogene stared at her with listless attention. “So as I was saying…” Maude went on as she had been for the past ten minutes.
Imogene’s attention began to slip once again. She found herself dissecting the inflections in Maude’s voice. There was something about the way she pronounced her vowels that suggested an accent. They were always drawn out, nasally even, and hinted at the American South. However, the speed at which she could talk about the content-equivalent of nothing heavily reminded Imogene of the Californian “valley.”
Hurried footsteps broke through Imogene’s attention, and she turned to scan the building for the source of the noise. The agricultural dome was split in half and served two purposes. On the livestock side, the programs several broods of chickens clucked and scrapped happily in their pens. There was also a small start-up goat herd which was jumping from hay bale to hay bale or butting heads, all while their bells clanged around their necks. The other half of the building was full of cubicles which served as offices for the time being. Imogene was standing in her cubicle, nursing a cup of coffee, while Maude stood on the other side of the divider in her own cubby. All around her were a sea of heads busily typing away at computers, sorting through papers, or taking a ten-minute break to sip coffee or nibble on treats as Imogene was. All wore some version of scrubs instead of the pressurized suits of the miners on the surface. These casual Earth clothes made the source of the footsteps stand out all the more.
Josiah Bellefleur, a 6′ 3″, black-haired brute was speed-walking down the corridor between animal and cubicle in a pressurized suit. Josiah was about the last person Imogene’s already exhausted patience wanted to see at the moment. He was blunt, opinionated and crudely educated. He was the son of a steel tycoon and was here to work in the mining camps. If she had to sum up the way Josiah treated his time here on the red planet in one word, Imogene would have to pick, “cowboy,” for the way Josiah went on about “the new West,” and “Lawlessness,” and the frequency with which his boots found their way onto table tops. Primarily it was the latter- the savage.
Josiah looked up to scan the room, and as his eyes locked with Imogene’s and his trajectory became more direct she felt her heart sink. Not today, I don’t have the energy for you today, She thought with an inward groan.
Maude was still chattering away without any need for verbal encouragement when Josiah reached them. He nodded at the woman he’d come to see, “Imogene.”
Maude, suddenly at a loss for words, began twirling a loose strand of blonde hair, “Hey Joss.”
Josiah shot her a glance that was half confusion and half disgust before barreling on, “Imogene, you’re needed in Lab 4.”
One meticulously sculpted eyebrow shot up, “And they sent you to tell me this?”
He scowled and shot another glance at Maude before locking eyes with Imogene again, “Yes, and they said right now.”
Imogene felt a sudden rush of anxiety. What was he up too? She set down her coffee and shrugged into her lab coat, “Okay. I’m coming.”
Josiah’s eyes shot to her white med bag, “bring that.”
There was the anxiety again, “Okay.” She hefted up the bag of equipment and followed the man as he began to stalk away. Maude called something after them, but Imogene never caught what. The two moved swiftly and in silence until they had passed through the pressure locked doors into the empty corridor beyond. That’s when Imogene’s anxiety got the better of her, and she burst, “So what the hell is with all the secrecy?”
Joss didn’t look back at her, but he answered, “What secrecy?”
“Oh please, even you aren’t dumb enough to know that we only have three labs.”
“I’m not, but is Maude?” He flashed her a wry smile over his shoulder.
Imogene’s frown deepened, “So where are you taking me that you don’t want Maude finding out about?”
“You’ll find out.” He said, “Left up here.” He hurried down another corridor, and Imogene stopped asking questions. He lead her to one of the livestock exam rooms where he stopped just outside the door. Here he turned to face her and studied her up and down, “Damon assured me you’re ‘good people.’ Are you ‘good people,’ Imogene?”
She thrust her chin up at the insult masked below the question, “Depends on your definition, I suppose. I don’t make a habit of keeping up with ‘street lingo.'”
He leaned forward so that his face was closer to hers, “Can we trust you to keep a secret, Doc?”
Her frown deepened, “Depends on the secret. I am sworn to doctor/patient confidentiality, though I highly doubt you have your pet chihuahua behind that door, meaning I don’t think there’s a patient back there.”
“Damon said to tell you this is for Brin. Said that would make things different.” His arms folded over his chest as he waited for her response.
Imogene’s heart leapt, “This is a favor for Brin?”
Her feelings must have shown on her face because Josiah smirked and swung the door open. Before she could see what was inside the room, Damon appeared in the door, “Imogene! Oh, thank God. Get in, hurry. God, Joss, what took you so damned long?” He moved aside and on the exam table behind him was Brindin, seemingly unconscious. All three men were in their pressure suits and looked as though they had all come straight from the mines. They were covered head to toe in the regolith that covers the surface of the planet, and their muddy boots had caked trails through the halls and over the entire room.
“Jesus, how long has he been like this?” Imogene set her bag down on the counter behind the exam table, pulled on some rubber gloves, and began pulling out items. Brin’s helmet was sitting on a stool nearby, so she started by checking his pupils for dilation. “Damon, help me get this suit off,” She said pulling out her stethoscope. Damon rushed forward to lift the unconscious Brindin so that Imogene could unzip the back. She pulled it down to reveal his torso which was naked underneath, and Damon laid him back down.
That was when she saw it. A blackish purple substance was covering the right side of Brin’s body, including his hip, and was working it’s way up to his rib cage. The material was feathery to the eye and looked ready to crumble if touched. Imogene’s heart stopped as she looked at the two conscious men in panic. Holding her breath, she bolted to action and pulled out oxygen masks from a side drawer and threw them at the two men before securing one over her nose and mouth.
Her voice was slow, controlled, and, though muffled, threatening, “What – did you – do?”
Josiah spoke first, “Awe, Christ; we don’t have time for stories, can ya fix him or not!?”
“I have no idea. There’s a reason those caves have been off limits! We don’t know what this stuff does or how to kill it. This fungus is millions of years old and is literally as alien as it gets. I can try an experimental treatment, but it is still in the development stage, and there is no way to guarantee that it will have an effect here or that it won’t be more toxic than the fungus itself. Why was he down there?”
“Okay, okay,” Damon stammered, “I’ll tell you, but can you just – fix him? Please!”
“Fine. We’ve been working on genetically engineering a concentrate that could be sprayed into the mine to eliminate the mold. It’s shown results with the mineral deposits we’ve extracted but-” She hesitated, “I haven’t tried this on a human yet, but it should work. Fuck- I don’t even have IV’s suitable for humans. Why did you come to me? Didn’t you have anyone in the med bay you could blackmail into this?”
“Tick, tock,” Josiah tapped his wrist.
“Fine! Just, stay in here and- and don’t touch him! I’ll bring back what I can, but – don’t let him crash. If he seems worse, go get someone else.” With that, she rushed out the door.
Imogene was back some fifteen minutes later with a pushcart full of supplies. She swung the door open, making the two men jump to their feet as she backed the cart into the room. “How’s he been?” She asked.
“Christ! Took you long enough!” Damon stammered, “It’s spread since you left.”
“What?!” She exclaimed as her eyes shot to Brindin. It was true, the spores had traveled up a third of his rib cage on his right side, and was crossing over his belly, covering his naval. Imogene swore under her breath as she began hooking up the IV. “Why didn’t you go and get someone? I told you to find someone else if he got worse. This counts as worse!”
“Because there’s no one else we could go to,” Damon said as he paced the floor. “Everyone else would report us, and we’d all be shipped back to Earth on the next shuttle. You’re the best chance we have, Imogene.”
She caught his gaze and heaved a sigh, “I know I am,” she muttered and went back to work. She hooked him up to an IV and a heart rate monitor and checked his vitals once again, this time charting them. “You know we’re going to have to tell the compound something, right? It’ll be days before he’s able to function again, if at all, and they will notice all this equipment going missing. Whatever your story is, it better be as close to the truth as possible without getting you deported.”
“I know.” Damon sighed.
“Why don’t you start by telling me the truth?” She reached back onto her medical tray and pulled out a jar of liquid and a bundle of gauze. She unscrewed the lid, wet the bandage, and began patting the infected areas of his skin. The fabric came away a blackened purple as she worked.
Damon shot a glance at Josiah who sighed and shrugged, “Doctor/patient confidentiality, right?”
“Right,” Imogene agreed, less sure of her vow now.
Damon swallowed, “Well, you know how things have been hard on Brindin for a while, yeah? He’s been really down ever since his last big genetic experiment failed. He had been really excited about this one- thought he’d finally cracked the code for making crops grow better outside or something. Anyway, he’s been having a real hard time getting funding for his next attempt. After the fungus showed up in the mines, he thought that maybe it held some key or genetic clue that he could harness to further his studies, but when he’d requested access to the quarantine zone, they shot him down.
“He was telling me all this about a week ago, and that’s when I got an idea. I knew that Josiah, being high-up with the mining crew, had keys to these sorts of things and I thought maybe I could ask him to do us a solid, and he agreed.”
“And I should have known better than to make an exception for him,” Josiah interjected, glaring at the still form of Brindin on the table “You throw this guy a lifeline, and he tries to hang himself from it.”
“That’s not fair.” Damon snapped, “He’s just had a rough break. He was clearly good enough to get hired on the genetic research team here; he just got stuck with a tricky project.”
“Sure, getting plants to grow in an atmosphere of pure plant food seems really tricky.” Josiah scoffed
“It’s not the air; it’s the soi-“
“Boys! Not right now, please.” Imogene snapped as she discarded another swab and prepared another. The solution seemed to be reducing the amount of fungus on his skin, but she had no idea if it was removing the infection. She was sweating with nerves, and the room felt like it was heating up from too many bodies. “What happened next? Clearly, Josiah got one or both of you idiots into the mine shaft to take samples, but how did he end up like this?”
“Well, the fungus was everywhere.” Damon continued, “I told him just to take a rock and let’s go, but he wanted to look around. He moved deeper into the cavern and quickly noticed that the mold absorbs light. He kept shining his flashlight on the walls, but it never reflected back. As the spores got thicker and started to fill the air, it even absorbed the light ahead of him. He didn’t go very far before turning back, but he was on an incline, and the fungus was so thick… he slipped, and he must have caught his suit on a rock or something because when Josiah and I got to him his pant leg was torn. We taped it up to keep him from losing air, but his skin was already black when we got to him.”
“Fuck,” Imogene swore, “So he’s probably been breathing this shit in, is what you’re telling me?” They hadn’t explored this in their research. The whole focus had been to eliminate the spores on the rocks; they certainly hadn’t had time to research its effects on a flesh and bone body. She was never going to keep this quiet – and what was going to happen to Brindin? Would his body fight it off? Or would he – “What happened next. I’m talking symptoms. Was he conscious when you got to him? Did he say anything to you? When did he lose consciousness, give me everything – and Damon, help me get the rest of this suit off, I have to treat the rest of him.” Damon turned as red as a schoolboy watching a girl pull off her shirt, “Awe, Christ, Imogene. Alright – um, um- he-“
Josiah pushed past Damon, looped his arms under Brin’s, and lifted his torso. Imogene nodded a thank you to him and busied herself with removing the rest of the suit while Damon, relieved, turned his back on the scene. Josiah spoke, “He was shouting when he fell. He must have been shouting that he’d torn his suit but, we were too far off to hear. By the time we’d reached him he was unconscious, but it wasn’t from the air loss because his levels of oxygen were still acceptable. I assume the fungus knocked him out, but who knows. Maybe he just hit his head?”
“Ah, great, so maybe it’s just a concussion or brain swelling then. No big deal or anything.” Imogene’s jaw set and she resumed treating every infected area of skin on Brindin’s now naked body. After she finished she covered Brindin up with a blanket and told Damon it was safe to come out of his corner.
“Is that it? Is he going to be okay?” Damon asked.
“That’s going to depend on whether or not it got into his bloodstream and on whether or not he actually hit his head,” Imogene answered, “We’ll need to take a blood sample to be sure, and I’m going to have to hand him over to the med bay for a full set of tests. I’ll have no choice but to tell them about the fungus, of course, and in the meantime, you two better get your stories straight. I’ll tell them you told me he’d been infected and I was the closest medic to your vicinity which is why you came to me first, but you didn’t tell me anything else, and I didn’t ask since the situation seemed sensitive” She turned back to her bag and extracted several vials, a needle, and alcohol wipes.
Damon turned green before looking away again, “Awe, Christ, don’t tell a fella to come out of his corner before it’s actually safe!”
Four days went by, and every day Imogene stopped in to check on Brin who had yet to wake. The blood samples had proved what they’d all feared, that the fungus had, indeed, worked its way inside of Brin’s body. All brain scans and other tests had shown a perfectly healthy man in his late twenties, no concussions, no blood clots, not cancer, no reason that Brin should be in a coma other than that damned mold. It was on this fourth day, however, that something was different.
As Imogene made her way down the hall towards Brin in the med bay, she heard a strange, raspy voice, distant and indistinct, coming from inside one of the rooms. This wouldn’t have mattered to Imogene if she hadn’t heard the very familiar answering tones of the man she feared she might never hear speak again. Her footsteps quickened, and her ears strained as the other person spoke. When the answer came, it was very clearly Brin.
“I don’t understand … want me to… how am I supposed-?” His voice moved between a whisper and an average speaking volume. The other voice only spoke in low tones, and she couldn’t make out the words.
Brin was set up in the quarantined portion of the med bay. A plastic liner covered his door and formed a seal between his room and the hallway beyond. To be allowed entry to Brin’s room, Imogene had to put on a pressure suit, and her lab coat, boots, and medical supplies had needed to stay outside in the vacuum sealed storage container in the sanitation room. Her ears strained to hear the conversation taking place inside the seals as she suited up, but it was no use. When Imogene unzipped the barrier and entered the room, there was no one inside, save the man himself, sitting up in his bed and looking out the window.
She frowned, then knocked on the wall making Brin jump. “Hey, you!” She said with a smile.
Brin answered her with a weary, but genuine smile in return, “Heey! What are you doing here?”
“Checking on you, Silly.” She scanned the room, sure she had just missed his visitor behind a curtain, or in a closet, “Who are you talking to?”
“Hmm? Oh, I was just having a discussion with myself, trying to work a few things out.” He frowned, “Imogene? Where am I?”
She was puzzled, “You’re in the med bay. H-hasn’t anyone been in to see you?”
He looked like he was giving this some serious thought, “The med bay? No, no, I just woke up here. What happened? Why am I here?”
Imogene reached for the monitor on the wall and pushed the “service requested” button on the console. “You had an accident down in the mines, the boys brought you to me, and I did what I could. The med bay has done the rest. I’m getting your nurse in here; hold on.”
“Boys?” He repeated, “Mines?”
Imogene’s brow creased, and she moved to sit beside his bed. “Yeah, don’t you remember? You and Damon asked Josiah to take you down into the mines.”
“Damon,” Brin said with a wistful smile, “How is he?”
Imogene was concerned now, “He’s good. How are you feeling, Brin?”
“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know. How are you? I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. You get your chickens yet?”
Chickens? The colony had received its first chickens well over three years ago. They had moved up to goats and were considering pigs in the next two to three years.
A zipper broke through Imogene’s train of thought, and a team of three nurses entered the room, “Dr. Hodge, we’re going to have to ask you to leave now. We’ll need to run several tests, and we’ll need the space.”
“I understand,” She took Brin’s hand, and he looked at her with that same distant smile, “I’ll be back to see you as soon as I can, okay?”
Brindin nodded, “Alright. It was so good to see you, Imogene.”
With a half smile, she said, “Back at ya,” before standing up and exiting the room.
Back in the hall, she changed out of her pressure suit and dropped it into a biohazard container. She left the hallway, entered the sterilization room, held her breath as the fumes were vacuumed back out, then moved to the locked box where her items were waiting. She shrugged into her lab coat and put her boots back on before heading in the direction of the Ag Dome. It was halfway down the empty corridor where her thoughts knocked the wind out of her.
What in the hell had happened back there? She could feel her emotions surging like a well and pressing at the backs of her eyes. Her hands and legs felt like they were trembling, and the thought of someone finding her in this state made the feelings worse. She sucked in several conscious breaths as she tried to regain control over her current state. She tucked her still trembling hands into her pockets – and froze.
She pulled her right hand back out, and clasped in it was a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it, and written in the bulky scrawl she’d come to associate with men were the words, “Meet me in Lab 4 – 3 pm. You know the one.”
She frowned, Who put this in my coat pocket? She thought, then it struck her that she already knew the answer.
Indoor Setting Prompt:
- An agricultural dome on a space colony.
Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 229). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Imagine someone who has a noisy neighbor at home or at work, and write about the situation.
Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 288). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.