There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills
Group 13 prompts – Fantasy / A gold mine / An hourglass
“Whose idea was it to steal from the Queen again?” muttered Dylan as he waited for the Queen to pass judgement.
“Don’t blame me,” retorted Peter. “You were the one who dropped the cauldron. That noise was enough to wake the dead. We were almost free as well.”
The two thieves immediately stopped talking and stood up straight, hoping against hope that the Queen would be in a good mood and prove merciful.
“So, you two… creatures thought it would be wise to try and take my beloved cauldron?” asked the Queen, coming down from her throne to take Dylan’s chin in her hand and lift it to look into his eyes. He tried to be brave, but he couldn’t help the thin trickle of sweat that travelled from his forehead and over her hand. “Disgusting!” The Queen shoved him away from her, walking back to her throne and sitting to ponder for a moment.
“You are lucky,” she finally announced. “I have need of two with your talents, such as they are. After all, no decent thief would ever have allowed themselves to be caught. Still, I have a task for you. Succeed and you leave here with your lives intact. I might even be generous and pay you for your efforts. Fail…” She chuckled, a sound deeper and more malevolent than you could ever expect from one so beautiful.
“The dwarves owe me money,” the Queen told them. “You are to enter into the heart of their mine, retrieve gold to the value of 5,000 pieces and return here. Should you fail to do so, I will release my hounds and no matter where you are, they will hunt you down, find you and destroy you, so don’t think of attempting to run away. Unfortunately for you, time is of the essence and thus you have until the sands run out to return, a mere 6 hours.”
She lifted an ornate hourglass, slowly turning it over. “Well, boys. What are you waiting for?”
“Er…” Dylan gulped. “Your majesty, we are still chained.”
“Oh yes. Unlock them.” The queen waved a hand dismissively and the moment their hands were free, the two thieves raced off into the night.
“Your majesty,” said the Lord Chamberlain, a frown wrinkling his forehead. “I was unaware of any debt owing from the dwarves.”
“That’s because there isn’t one,” the Queen replied. “But it’s so much more fun to do things this way.”
“Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshit,” chanted Peter as they raced down the tunnels leading to the heart of the gold mine, a litany of fear that spurred them both on. “How in Hera’s name are we supposed to get back in time?”
“We’ll do it,” said Dylan. “There’s a little trick my father taught me. Hadn’t you wondered why the dwarves haven’t tried to stop us? Right now, we’re out of sight and out of mind. We just need to find one of their store rooms and we’ll be sweet.”
“Sweet?” gasped Peter. “Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how heavy 5,000 gold pieces are?”
“Don’t worry,” smiled Dylan, holding up a sack. “My Pa wasn’t just good for invisibility spells. After he died, I got his carryall. We can fill it with 5,000 pieces and it’ll feel lighter than air. We might even be able to take a few extra pieces as a little bonus. We deserve it after everything we’ve been through.”
“Remind me how your dad died again?”
“Look, just because he got caught, doesn’t mean we will,” Dylan told him. “I’ve learned from his mistakes. Here!”
Peter almost ran past the opening Dylan indicated. They were by the entrance to a canyon and the two thieves stopped, their mouths wide open at the sight before them. There was gold as far as the eye could see, coins, nuggets, ingots, more gold than either of them could have imagined.
“Come on. Don’t stand there with your mouth open. Let’s get gathering.” Dylan nudged Peter, breaking him out of the spell the gold had cast on both of them. They immediately started filling the sack, shoving in gold as quickly as possible.
“How are we going to know when we’ve got 5,000 pieces’ worth?” asked Peter anxiously.
“I don’t know.” Dylan shook his head in exasperation. “Let’s just keep taking gold until it seems like it’s enough and hope we’ve done enough.”
“How much time do we have?”
“I have no idea. So instead of wasting time talking, help me get more gold in the sack.”
Frantically, the two of them carried on loading gold. Every time Peter thought they were done, Dylan would find another stash that he thought they should take, ‘just in case,’ and it seemed like they were in the caves for days, yet no matter how much gold they picked up, they barely made a dent in the stores.
At last, Dylan decided they had enough. Throwing the sack over his back, he grabbed his friend’s arm. “Ready?”
Before Peter could reply, Dylan muttered an incantation and they suddenly found themselves back in front of the Queen.
“Congratulations,” she smiled. “You made it just in time.” She indicated the hourglass, which had just a few grains left. “Give me my gold.”
Dylan bowed as he offered up the sack.
The Queen opened it. “Oh dear,” she said, although the tone of her voice sounded happy. “It seems as though the dwarves played a trick on you.”
Dylan and Peter crowded forward to look in the sack. Instead of the gold, they’d laboured so hard to gather, there was nothing but old leaves.
“Dylan!” Peter shook his head in disbelief. “How could you not have known it was an illusion?”
“Why didn’t you spot it?” countered Dylan.
“Quiet!” The Queen lifted a hand for silence. “We are done. Release the hounds.”
Peter and Dylan looked at each other, turned and ran.
What the judges thought:
Clean and effective prose. Nice twist at the end………………………
The Dorm Room Kidnapper
Group 13 prompts – Mystery / A university dormitory room / Breath spray
It wasn’t the first time in my life I’d woken up with no idea where I was, but that didn’t make it any easier. My mouth felt as if it had been used as an ash tray for a team of chain smoking celebrities who’d been partying hard all night and as I groggily opened one eye to look around, I was relieved to see a can of breath spray sitting on the table next to the bed.
A few squirts had me feeling a little more human again and as I returned to the land of the living, I was finally capable of taking in my surroundings.
It must have been a good night. I was in a university dorm room and I had no memory of how I got there.
A poster across the room caught my eye. It was exactly the same one that I’d had hanging up on my wall when I’d been at university and as I crossed over to get a closer look, I realised that it wasn’t the only strange coincidence. The whole room was decked out as an identical copy of my former home at college.
I stumbled into the bathroom to freshen up and stopped dead at what I saw in the mirror. Someone had cut my hair. Some bastard had cut my hair into the same cut I’d had back when I was twenty. I looked down and realised that I was wearing my old university rowing gear.
Someone was toying with me and I didn’t like it.
I crossed over to the door, wanting to get out, but it was locked. ‘Hey! Let me out of here!’ I yelled, but nobody replied.
The window. I could climb out of the window. My room had been on the second floor, but it wasn’t impossible to climb down. I’d done it one drunken night on a dare.
Turning around, I realised the one major flaw in my plan. There weren’t any windows.
What the hell was going on?
I went back to the door, having wild ideas of picking the lock, even though I had absolutely no idea how to go about doing it. Yet again, my cunning genius was thwarted by the lack of a lock.
Shaking my head, I slumped back down on the bed, my mind racing in an attempt to make sense of what was happening to me. Was it an elaborate joke? Was I dreaming? I’d done some serious drugs in my time. Maybe they were catching up on me.
I desperately tried to convince myself that there was some other explanation for what was going on other than the only one that made sense: I was a victim of the Dorm Room Kidnapper.
‘Are we having fun yet, Stacey?’
The voice seemed to come out of nowhere, making me start.
‘Who are you? What do you want?’ I yelled.
‘Now, now. I ask the questions,’ chuckled the voice. ‘Let’s try again. Are we having fun yet, Stacey?’
‘Yeah. Loads,’ I muttered.
‘Well, things are about to get even more interesting.’
The door opened with a click.
I restrained the urge to race towards it. Who knew what could be waiting in the darkness? I knew what happed to the Dorm Room Kidnapper’s victims and I had no desire to rush straight into a waiting axe.
Sitting on the bed for what seemed like an age, I desperately thought through my options. I wasn’t going to go through that door unprepared, but staying in the dorm room was only going to get me killed.
‘Tick, tock, Stacey,’ said the voice. There was a squeal and the walls on either side of the door began moving. Slowly at first, they built up momentum and it was clear that if I stayed on the bed, I’d end up looking like roadkill, so, grabbing the first thing that came to hand, I rushed out into the corridor.
Outside in the hallway, I took a moment to see what kind of weapon I’d picked up. Great. It was the breath spray. Unless I could bluff the kidnapper into thinking it was mace, it was less than useless.
Pocketing the spray, I made my way up the corridor. There was only one direction to go and I could see light spilling out from another open door at the end. Edging my way up to the door, I threw myself flat on the ground before peering in, hoping anyone in there wouldn’t see me down here.
‘Wrong choice. You lose,’ whispered a voice in my ear, as someone grabbed my hair and yanked my head back. I felt something sharp across my throat.
‘Darn it, Lauren, did you have to pull so hard?’ I cursed, as I rolled over onto my back.
‘Come on, Stace,’ she grinned, reaching down to help me up. ‘You know how it is on the trial runs. I like to make sure that every detail is just so. That way we get a real feel for how our next victim is going to react when she wakes up.’
‘Yeah, well, I think I pulled a muscle,’ I complained, rubbing at my neck.
‘Well it’ll be your turn next time,’ promised Lauren. ‘You can get your own back then.’
She walked back to the entrance to the dorm room and pressed a button hidden over the frame. With a shudder, the walls retreated back, revealing the squashed mess of furniture.
‘Come on, Stace, let’s get things set up. Not long before our next target is due at the bar and we need to get everything just so.’
Still sore from Lauren’s rough treatment, I began to clear the room, setting it up in replica of our target’s old dorm room so the real games could begin.
As I worked, I forgot the pain in my neck. Although she might be a pain at times, I had to admit that Lauren knew how to have fun.
What the judges thought:
Wow, it is not easy to shock the reader, but the writer has a great twist in this piece. Additionally, the details about this kidnapping are specific, though terrifying, and they really explain the horror of the crimes that have been committed and will be committed. ………Clever use of prompts. Good suspense is built up. The truth of the situation is a surprise. …The characters sound different from each other — distinct. There is good use of the five sense in the opening. The idea of this story is fresh. On a more mechanical note, the text is clean (free of typos) and the use of grammar, syntax and punctuation is solid