Writing Prompt #2: The Shade of the Garden

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

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.

Sound Prompt:

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.

Why We Love Rayon

So What’s the Deal With Rayon?

The word “Rayon” was first coined as a generic term for “regenerated cellulose fiber,” which refers to the manufacturing process used to create it. Rayon is known the world over as the first man-made textile and was invented and perfected in the late 1880s-1890s. The first chemist to accidentally stumble upon the beginning stages of manufacturing such a fiber was a British man named, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1). I mentioned in my last mattress article that cotton cellulose is sometimes used in the production of explosives, but in 1884 and 1885, cotton cellulose, which was dyed and treated with nitric acid, was just as likely to explode the gun in which it was loaded as it was the bullet it was meant to project (1,5). So, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan decided to experiment. His finished product were fibres made of nitrocellulose that had been chemically treated and changed back to nonflammable cellulose. However, these experiments were soon after abandoned. It wasn’t until an industrial French chemist by the name of Hilaire Bernigaud, comte de Chardonnet, entered the scene that cellulose regeneration was revisited and perfected. After the commercialization of “Chardonnet silk,” in 1891, everyone wanted to get in on this synthetic fabric action (1).

There were several key players from both France and Britain in the textile game during this time period. From their efforts, three successful methods were discovered for cellulose regeneration. The manufacturing process most commonly used today was discovered in 1891 by a group of three British scientists, Charles F. Cross, Edward J. Bevan, and Clayton Beadle (1). By 1901, this new fiber was being mass produced under the name “viscose rayon.” The second form of rayon we will look at is High Wet Modulus Rayon or HWM Rayon, which is more commonly known as Modal or Lyocell ™ (2). Both forms of Rayon are commonly used in mattress fabrics as well as many sheets, pillows, and other sleep essentials, so we will take a look at them both.

Both viscose rayon and HWM Rayon are favored materials due to their being relatively inexpensive to make. They are also remarkably soft to the touch, are about 50 times more absorbent than their rival fabric, cotton, and have a very pleasing fluidity to the way they move. Rayon’s ability for moisture retention makes it an ideal summer fabric since it helps with lowering temperature (no form of rayon that I’ve stumbled upon yet is known for being proficient at heating, just cooling) however, once viscose rayon becomes fully saturated, it’s overall fiber strength drops by about 75% making it more susceptible to damage as well as shrinkage or permanent stretching. Therefore, submersion or full saturation should be avoided and dry cleaning sought as an alternative. Modal is more resilient in the face of saturation and is generally machine washable. Modal is also commonly blended with other materials such as polyester, spandex, or cotton to add strength or to give it a silkier hand (2). Rayon is easily damaged and discolored by microorganisms, such as bacteria and mildew, as well as heavy direct sunlight and heat, such as that from an iron. These stressors can cause the fibers to grow weaker, loose or distort their color, and eventually begin to yellow, therefore a mattress or pillow protector is mandatory for any products made from a high percentage of rayon (3).

While all forms of Rayon are derived from either wood pulp or plant cellulose, such as that from cotton seeds, it is not a natural material and should not be mistaken as such. The manufacturing of this product requires the use of many caustic chemicals and releases many pollutants into the environment. Most customers won’t know this, but those that are well versed on the “evil’s of corporate manufacturing,” as one of my customers put it, will call you on your bluff if you suggest that Rayon or Modal are “natural.” Try suggesting instead that they are made “using natural wood and plant fibers,” or, “from natural materials.” For those more nature-savvy customers, this line generally draws an eye roll but little more, and those less-versed won’t spot the difference.

In sum, Rayon holds the exciting title of being the world’s first man-made fiber. Rayon is praised for its ability to cool the body, for it’s silk-like hand, for being fairly inexpensive to manufacture, and for being twice as absorbent as cotton. Rayon should never be fully saturated and loses a terrifying 75% of its tensile strength when wet, it’s highly susceptible to discoloration and break down when exposed to microorganisms and heavy, direct light or heat, and should therefore always be paired with a mattress protector when used as the surface layer in a mattress or a pillow. Rayon is an ideal and affordable choice for a quality sleep surface as long as it’s not neglected.

Sources

  1. https://www.britannica.com/technology/rayon-textile-fibre
  2. https://www.garmentcare.com/blog/history-and-care-of-rayon
  3. http://textilelearner.blogspot.com/2012/04/properties-of-rayon-fiber-physical-and.html
  4. http://www.museumtextiles.com/blog/category/rayon
  5. https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2017/9/21/back-to-basics-gunpowder/

Writing Prompt #1: The King

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

I just purchased a book called 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More by Bryn Donovan, and I thought this might be a fun place to start my fantasy writing. What I did for this prompt was pick two from her list of settings and then took the whole first page of dialogue and put it all together. I think I’ll share the dialogue with you upfront so you can look for it as you read, but I’ll post the settings at the bottom so that I don’t spoil anything for anyone that wants to kind of keep it a mystery. My big goal here was to get at least 1,000 words for today… I did 2,528. I think I missed the finish line. :/

So here we go! I look forward to thoughts and feedback. Feedback is how we grow and improve our craft.

Dialogue Prompts Used

  • “Ma’am, is this your dog?”
  • “No, it’s really not that complicated. He’s a bad person.”
  • “Hey…what’s wrong with your face?”
  • “The king is missing.”
  • “Ah yes, come in. Close the door behind you.”
  • “Dude. It’s three in the morning.”
  • “Um, sorry. That one’s not for sale.”

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 245). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.


The King

Jacob lurched upright in his bed. Someone was pounding frantically on his apartment door. “Alright! Alright! I hear you!” He tossed the wool blankets off of himself and shrugged into a wool jacket instead. He had worn his weatherproof leggings to bed which were meant for layering under his winter clothes. They were perfect for fighting off the nighttime chill but hugged his body in a way that was perhaps a bit too form fitting for greeting company. He zipped his jacket up and then pulled it down in the front before heading for the door.

“Hurry up!” A feminine voice called from the other side.

“Make me.” Exhaustion was making him clumsy, and he fumbled with the multiple locks.

“Come on!” Angela hissed. He knew it was Angela before ever getting the door open. He would be able to recognize that voice if it were whispering underwater. Jacob and Angela had grown up only a wall apart and had spent most of their lives at each other’s family apartments.

“Dude. It’s three in the morning.” Jacob complained as the last lock turned, “This is as much ‘hurry’ as you’re going to get out of me.” He pulled open the door. Angela looked like she’d just returned from a scouting mission. She was fully dressed in snow pants, a fur jacket over layers of wool, and hiking boots. All of which were already covered in snow that was starting to melt. Water was dripping out of the blonde hair tied in a knot atop her head and was running in rivulets down her face and neck. Aside from the rosy flush in her features from either the cold or exertion, she was also sporting a mean bruise on her left cheek.

Jacob frowned, confused not just from the violent way he’d been pulled from a deep sleep, but from her violent demeanor. “Hey…what’s wrong with your face?”

Angela ignored his question and spat out the words that had been pressing at the inside of her teeth, “The King is missing.”

“What?!” Jacob exclaimed, stepping aside so the girl could enter his room. She hurried in and began to strip off her outer layers of wet clothing to hang on the drying racks in front of the dark hearth. Jacob scowled as he saw the scruffy wolf-mutt crossbreed following on her heels. The dog had been glued to Angela’s side ever since she’d saved him from freezing to death on the surface level. The pup was the last alive after his mother had been killed by some unknown means. He had been curled up between Mother’s body and the bodies of his siblings when Angela’s scouting party had stumbled upon them. She had stuffed him in her jacket for warmth and nursed him on goats milk when she’d gotten him back to camp. She’d named him Heldig, the Norwegian word for lucky. Ironically enough, the name was fitting in English as well. The mutt was a menace.

As soon as the shaggy gray dog was inside, he shook out his wet coat, splattering dirty dog water all over Jacob’s room. He’d have winced if he wasn’t so used to it by now. Jacob shut the door and moved to build a fire. “Angela, talk to me, what the hell happened?”

“They got him, Jacob. They have been threatening for months, I just never thought they’d have the balls to go through with it. Sven fell asleep on his watch again. I knew he would, so I decided to show up to my shift early and play a little trick on him. Good thing I did too because I caught them in the act. Didn’t do a whole lot of good, but at least I saw them! I know exactly who took him. It was Nick Lowery and his gang of greedy meatheads.”

“Jesus. And I assume you tried to stop them by yourself?” He spat accusatorily as he threw logs into the hearth.

“Well I wasn’t just going to let them walk off with him, now was I?”

“That’s exactly what you should have done. So, has Peter assembled a party yet? Are we going to get him back?” Jacob asked as the flames began to flicker into life in the hearth.

Angela looked at him dumbfounded as she worked on freeing her hair from its knot. “Well, no. I haven’t told anyone else yet. Just you.”

“What!? Angela, you have to tell Peter! We need to go after them before their tracks get filled in!” Jacob rushed to his dresser now and began digging for clothes.

Angela snorted as she stood with arms akimbo, “We don’t need to track them. They’re just going to take him back to their compound.” The more agitated she became, the more theatrically she began to gesticulate, with her face, shoulders, and hands all jumping into the act. “It’s not like these people are clever. Besides, Peter will make a whole show out of it and try to enter into some long-winded, politically correct, negotiation tactic, and all the while they will have The King in their breeding paddocks stealing what should have cost them a fortune.” She finished with a vulgar gesture that only provoked an eye-roll from Jacob.

The King was the prized stud Mammoth of the compound. Part of the UGWI’s early steps had been to bring back the wooly mammoth from extinction. The UGWI stands for The Urgent Global Warming Initiative, a title that now held the bitter sting of irony to it. When the Earth’s climate had become so unstable that those still living on it had been forced underground, the World’s governments were forced to take action or, unfortunately, perish. Today, only about 90 of the once 192 countries still existed, and all were underground.

After the UGWI’s plans worked and then backfired, mammoth became the new number one commodity sought after by the entire planet. When the New Ice Age set in, and the Earth went from natural disasters and unlivable heat to being covered pole to pole in ice, scientist cloned up a new batch of mammoths using artificial wombs. These mammoths could live on the surface of the planet and even helped grind down the fields and break up the ice where they were kept in enormous paddocks. These paddocks (once the mammoths were rotated into a new pasture) could also be tilled in the springtime, and some of the more cold-resistant crops could be grown there. Genetically engineered mammoth meat was also largely more nutrient-rich than cow meat, which was fortunate because the only cows left were the aurochs, brought back from the dead by The Auroch Project. These cows were big, mean, and far from domesticated and not nearly large enough yet in number to be hunted in large scale. Mammoth skin had also become the best option for clothes worn on the surface levels. The hides were heavy, but they required fewer layers under them, meaning scouts, hunters, and field workers could move around a little easier. Humankind now owed everything it had to the mammoth, and the best stud belonging to Jacob’s commune had just been stolen.

The King had been the communes first mammoth to be born, not cloned, and with no birth defects, he’d been introduced into their start-up breeding program. To date, he has sired twelve perfectly healthy calves and has brought in nearly a quarter million electronic funds in stud services all by himself. Communes come from all over the map, traveling by foot, driving their herd of cow mammoths, for the hope of breaking free of the expensive process of cloning.

“So what’s your plan then?” Jacob asked as he pulled his snow pants on over his leggings. “You just going to walk down there by yourself and demand the King be returned?”

“No, dummy, why do you think I woke you up?” Angela had grabbed Jacobs comb off his sink and was running it through her wet hair. This, too, would have made Jacob cringe if he were not already used to it. Heldig was sitting in front of the fireplace licking himself dry as loudly as was physically possible.

“I was afraid of that,” Jacob groaned. He pulled on several more layers before moving to lace up his boots. “So who’s watching the paddocks now that you’ve abandoned your shift on this vigilante mission?”

She was tying her hair back up into its knot now, Jacob’s comb clenched between her teeth as she spoke. This did make Jacob wince. “I’m not a vigilante, my job is to protect the mammoths, and that’s what I’m doing. And Sven. I made Sven cover my shift as punishment for falling asleep again.”

Jacob scoffed as he grabbed his scouting pack and shoved his gloves into his pocket. Angela pulled her furs back on as well, even though they were still as wet as they had been when she’d entered. Jacob swung his door open and the trio set out into the hall.

Whatever Jacob had been about to say next was then drowned in a voice which bellowed like a cement mixer, “And where do you two think you’re going?” The voice inquired. Jacob muttered a soft prayer while Angela swore audibly. When they turned, they were met with 6’7″ worth of strong man.

“Derrick,” Angela growled. Derrick stood a solid 6 inches over Jacob, and while Jacob clearly took care of his physique, Derrick looked like he’d fought his way out of a mammoth to enter this world. The guy was all muscle and veins with a Viking’s beard and a full head of curly brown hair that made Jacob’s thin golden hair and broken beard feel profoundly self-conscious.

“Angela,” The Viking rumbled back, “I hear you lost yourself a mammoth.”

Angela’s chin shot up, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Derrick’s eyebrow shot up, “Oh I think you do. You see, Sven sat at your post for a grand total of five minutes before the guilt took him over. He went straight to Peter, and by extension to me, given as I’m the one who had to wake Peter up to tell him. Given as I had yet to see you, I figured I knew right where you had gone off to. Thought I’d save you a whole lot of stupid decisions and head you off. Peter is waiting for you.” He extended an arm indicating they should follow him. The pair exchanged glances before Angela stormed forward, stomping her feet as she went. It was a trait she’d picked up at the age of six and had never entirely outgrown. Jacob scowled and followed in her wake.

Two hallways, a recreation room, and a receptionist room later, Derrick ushered the two into a sitting room and barked, “Wait.” He disappeared into a side room as Jacob sat down on an animal skin sofa.

Angela, however, paced the room growling. “I should have known better! Sven is a total flake. Of course, he went straight to Peter! Uugh, I am so stupid to think he’d just sit there! I can’t believe this. Now those asshats have exactly what they wanted! They win now! They’ve won!”

There came, at that moment, the soft sound of a throat clearing in the doorway they’d just walked through, “Ma’am, is this your dog?” A night receptionist, the ones who handle any nighttime emergencies in the compound such as disruptive residents, water leaks or sewage emergencies, was leaning into the room. They were stationed outside of Peter’s living quarters in case the emergency was urgent enough to warrant his immediate attention. Derrick was also generally stationed there in case the emergency needed some muscle. The girl had a round face with soft features that were creased with worry as she pointed over her shoulder.

Angela glowered at her in a silent dare. Then, in a volume that made the girl jump, she shouted, “Heldig!” The mutt came trotting into the room, wagging its tail in the ignorantly happy way only a dog could do.

“Sorry,” The receptionist said in her timid voice, “It’s just that he was staring at me while I ate my lunch and I wasn’t – he seemed -“

Jacob smiled at her, “When you have food he looks at you like you’re next on the menu. He does the same thing to me. Thank you, we’ll make sure he stays in here with us.” The girl smiled at him warmly and thanked him before ducking back to her desk.

Derrick returned, “He’ll see you now.” He walked past them and out into the receptionist room. Angela groaned and stomped towards the door Derrick had just walked through. Jacob got up and followed her with Heldig on his heels. The door opened into a small foyer that ended in another door. Angela knocked.

“Who is it?” Peter called.

“Angela!” She shouted as she turned the knob and swung the door open without waiting for further formalities. Peter looked up from his desk. Sven was sitting on the other side slumped forward in his seat and looking like a chastised child. Peter looked about as tired as Jacob felt. Peter’s fingers were steepled before him as he looked up and took in Angela, “Ah yes, come in. Close the door behind you.” He said. Jacob, being the last to enter, did just that before moving forward to stand behind the seat Angela had huffed down into.

“Peter, why the hell are we wasting time in here when we should be going after them?!” Angela barked as she slid down in the seat like an impatient teenager.

Oh, now she wants to rush, Jacob thought. Peter held up a hand in Angela’s direction while looking at Sven. “And what did you tell Nick that day when he proclaimed he wanted to buy The King?”

Sven shot a terrified glance at Angela, his face covered in sweat, “Um, sorry. That one’s not for sale.”

“Do you think you were clear with him?” Peter asked. He said each word as if it had been chosen with deliberate care, not a syllable rushed.

Sven nodded like a bobblehead.

“Then why, in your opinion, do you think Nick would have taken The King tonight?”

“Maybe they didn’t like being told no?” Sven stammered.

“Do you suppose someone else could have sold him after you had said no?”

Angela, who had never been known for her unyielding self-control, burst out, “No, it’s really not that complicated. He’s a bad person. He stole The King. Can we go get him now?”

But Jacob was watching Peter’s face, and he had noticed the inflection on the word “else.”He dropped a hand on Angela’s shoulder to silence her, “Peter, do you believe someone sold The King under all our noses?”

The heavily lidded eyes turned onto Jacob and took the young man in. Peter’s shoulders raised as he sucked in a breath before answering, “I do. I also believe that means Nick now rightfully owns our prised stud and that taking him back by force would instead make us the thieves. So you see, things are looking rather complicated.”

Setting Prompts

  • A method to reverse global warming worked too well, and now the planet is going through another Ice Age.
  • In this world, people were able to not only train but actually domesticate elephants, and the countries with elephants won all the wars and dominated the world.

Donovan, Bryn (2019-03-10T23:58:59). 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More . Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Mattress Fibers

What’s the Big Deal With Cotton in a Bed?

Cotton is a regular ingredient in many all natural or luxury mattress lines. I feel it is the most important fiber to look at first. Largely because all other fibers compare themselves against cotton, and it will help things to flow better throughout the rest of my future articles if we start with the fabric baseline. Cotton is the first fiber we will look at comprised of the macromolecule, cellulose. Now, bare with me for a moment, because we’re about to get technical (don’t worry, I’ll translate). The cellulose in cotton differs greatly from that of rayon (which we’ll get to next) or wood pulp, in that it has higher degrees of polymerization and crystallinity. Polymerization is determined by how many repeating units are in the fiber, and a “unit” is a combination of elements (in cotton that unit is anhydro-beta-cellulose). Crystallinity then refers to how closely those molecules are packed and to their parallelism (5). The translated version- cotton is one of the strongest fibers used in the textile industry.

Due to cotton’s high levels of crystallinity, and because the molecules in cotton are bonded together using hydrogen, water is not allowed to pass into cotton’s molecules. This means that cotton doesn’t lose any of its natural strength when saturated, in fact, cottons strength nearly doubles when wet, according to most sources I’ve investigated. When molecules in other fibers become saturated, the overall strength of the fiber is compromised which allows for warping, stretching, and tearing, meaning that other fibers become weaker when wet. I feel it is also important to mention that many synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are hydrophobic and their strength is generally unaffected by moisture (5).

When cotton exists in it’s raw form, nature protects it under layers of oils and wax making it waterproof and thereby preventing the formation of molds and rot. Cotton, therefore must be processed to strip off these protective layers to give it the absorbent properties it is known for. Once processed, cotton can absorb over 24 times its own weight in water (11)! This makes cotton excellent at pulling moisture and perspiration away from the body allowing for better temperature regulation for the user. This absorbency does vary based on the variety of thread and on the knit or weave pattern it is manufactured into, but this variation is slight.

Human kind and cotton have a long-standing history, the length of which is still not entirely clear to historians today. The earliest records I could find were of cotton balls found in Mexican caves which dated back to about 7,000 years ago. The first historical records of cotton fabrics originate from Pakistan and from Egypt at about 3,000 BC. It was an American machinist named Noah Homes who first patented the cotton gin (short for engine) in 1793 which revolutionized the cotton industry. Today, cotton is the most heavily utilized fiber in the world, and is a leading American cash crop lending to over $5.3 billion worth of supplies and services on the farm level alone. It is therefore notable that humans have a natural affinity towards the fiber and that cultures around the world have recognized its value, but what does all this mean for the mattress buyer/seller?

For starters, cotton is a renewable resource that is 100% biodegradable and hypoallergenic and every single piece of the plant is utilized, leading to a zero waste product (5, 8). The “lint” is the white cotton ball on the top of the plant which is used for cloth. The stock is plowed into the field and used as an enriching fertilizer. The “linters,” or the short hairs on the cotton seeds, are used for extracting cellulose which is used in the manufacturing of rayon, certain plastics, explosives, high quality paper products, and even processed into “batting” which we find in some of our mattresses. The cotton seeds are crushed and separated into cottonseed oil, cotton meal, and cotton hulls. The oil is used for cooking and baking, and the meal and hull is generally used in animal feed or fertilizer.

We covered why cotton is strong, but we didn’t talk about why that matters. After all, the cotton in all the beds I work with is buried way down in there, it’s not like we’re going to be rolling around on the fiber itself so that it can soak up all our sweat. So to put cotton into perspective, let’s take a look at foams. According to our sales manager and to a whole lot of overly technical data I could barely wrap my understanding around, standard Poly foam has about a 50% degradation rate over the course of ten years regardless of how it is used. Foam is filled with gas pockets that slowly leak out as they become contaminated with oxygen (11). Without the gas to hold the foam’s shape, it begins to “deflate” in a sense and becomes yellowed and diminished. Cotton doesn’t suffer from this same affliction, and since the cotton in our mattresses is generally compressed and compacted down into a thick matt and then tufted into place, we don’t have to worry about the cotton “flattening out” on us. Your average polyurethane foam mattress promises a life span of anywhere from 8 to 10 years, whereas an all cotton and natural fiber mattress, such as the ones from the company “Custom Comfort Mattress” boasts their mattresses living 15+ years. In short, you are removing a layer that is guaranteed to last no more than 8 – 15 years (depending on foam quality) and putting in a comfort layer that will last 15 plus years.

In sum, cotton is 100% biodegradable, renewable, a zero-waste product, and is naturally hypoallergenic. It’s one of the strongest working textiles with one of the longest life spans. It is highly absorbent and becomes stronger when saturated. It’s a leading cash crop that is generating billions of dollars of internal revenue and jobs within the United States (which is in the top three largest cotton producing countries). It only seems logical that cotton should be included in any product one hopes to keep around for a prolonged length of time.

Source List

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macromolecule
  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/cellulose
  3. https://www.google.com/search?q=parallelism&rlz=1C1AVFC_enUS814US814&oq=parrallel&aqs=chrome.3.69i57j0l5.5594j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  4. https://www.barnhardtcotton.net/technology/cotton-properties/
  5. http://www.fao.org/natural-fibres-2009/about/15-natural-fibres/en/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macromolecule
  7. https://www.cotton.org/pubs/cottoncounts/story/importance.cfm
  8. https://customcomfortmattress.com/blog-posts/benefits-of-a-cotton-mattress/
  9. https://thefabricofourlives.com/learn-about-cotton/the-benefits-of-cotton
  10. https://www.barnhardtcotton.net/technology/cotton-properties/
  11. https://www.tmasc.ca/memory-foam.html

The Diving Board

Welcome,

My name is Ashley Northbert. I have been a writer from birth, though I have spent more than half that time convincing myself otherwise. The best parts of my 28 years of life have been spent in pursuit of a “real career,” and every trail I’d chase always lead me rushing back to my one true love over and over again. Finally, tired of looking for things to fill my life with some sense of satisfaction, and full of the encouragement of those around me whom I love, I decided to take the plunge and started this blog.

I have absolutely no idea what the future holds for this little child I’ve barely begun to construct, but I am alive with excitement to see what it may yet become. I will be using this primarily as a reason to crank out my recommended “thousand words a day,” that all writers are supposed to strive for in order to get better at doing what they do. These words will be anything from a thought I wanted to explore to a writing task I completed for my day job that I feel particularly proud of, but mostly they will be short pieces of fiction. I had a little burst of inspiration during my drive into the office today. I thought it might be nice to buy books full of writing prompts that I can flesh out into little scenes. I hope that, as I make these short stories and little scenes, that I will collect a small group of people who encourage me to revisit a setting or a scenario or a character until these little fictional lives come to full realization. I’m hoping that, through feedback and collaboration and helpful suggestions, this blog will evolve and take on a beautiful little life of its own based on my narration and your requests.

Well, that should about do it for an introductory post, mainly because this is as far ahead as I’ve planned this thing through. Some writers are mappers and planners and architects knowing exactly where they are steering their ship. I wish to every god ever worshiped that I was this sort of writer, but I am not. My characters live their lives through me, and they are the ones who tell me where they will go and what they will say. This blog is no different. It doesn’t know what it is yet any more than I do, but we will find ourselves together.

I hope you’ll be there with us when we do.