Story challenge 9

Submission deadline: November 6, 2011
Voting deadline: November 13, 2011

Write a story beginning with the following line: An offer. A dangerous offer...

Challenge winner

Trading Up

By Anneke Ryan

An offer. A dangerous offer...

-About bloody time,- Scribble decided. He scrambled around on the counter top until he found the silver tweezers. Silver was best with the dangerous ones. If it was a challenging you could get away with bronze, though for a strong one you were better off with steel. Friendly offers could just about be handled with nothing more than leather gloves and cotton wool. Scribble saved silver for rare times like this.

Business had remained steady but Scribble had been making do with tame trading for so long that his hands were starting to shrivel with boredom. Fantastic offers were passable, he supposed. And there was a reasonable market for enticing offers. Friendlies were close to the worst; plenty of clients wanting to sell, but it wasn't as if anyone would buy. A friendly? In this market? Not likely.

Then there were the nutters. Recently there'd been a client wanting to offload an insouciant offer. An insouciant! Scribble had bought it in the end, because the client was little more than a lad, obviously a struggling artist-writer-musician type, and desperate enough to exchange it for an ineffable. Ineffables remained a fringe item. There'd been three on the shelf when Scribble had taken over the shop and in all those years he'd only managed to offload two. The demand for insouciants wasn't all that much better, but Scribble had a couple of contacts who had contacts who might...

Scribble ran a finger around the danger-holding seal then pried the lid off the box. The dangerous offer looked up at him, eyeing him from its fresh straw bed. Scribble grabbed one wing with the tweezers and flipped the offer onto it's back under his microscope. It struggled a bit on the cold glass plate, but stopped when Scribble pressed the tweezers against it's belly, just barely allowing it to inhale and exhale as he turned his eye to the lens for a better look. Dangerous was at the forefront, but Scribble noticed a trace of thrilling and more than a touch of enticing.

"It's contaminated. Multiply the adjectives and divide the strength. It's barely worth a satisfactory."

"Multiadjectivals are fashionable amongst the proletariat." The client tapped a forefinger on the negotiating table. "It's better than anything in your stock. I'll take two riskies and a challenging. Not an offer less."

Scribble leaned within a forefinger of the man's face. "I'm an elite dealer. One risky and two satisfactories or you can take your offer to the open trading markets."

"Done." The man agreed so readily that Scribble wished he'd offered a risky, a satisfactory and a damning instead.

He caged the contaminated dangerous between the two commensurate offers and a few representatives of the family of specials. The special offers reproduced so frequently that Scribble kept the majority hidden at home. Who knew how low prices might go if specials became commonplace?

As Scribble knew it would, with a dangerous on site, trading went swimmingly. A particular type of customer was inevitably attracted to danger and those customers came in droves. Scribble marked the price up and up and up, making sure no-one could afford to buy it and it worked. Heroes settled for difficult challenges and warriors settled for challenges of honour. Politicians purchased potential challenges by the cage-full and went home happy. Scribble went home with a full belly and another dozen specials for his wife.

Life was beautiful.

Scribble fed caviar to the offers and edible gold leaf to his family. He bought all the stock new sandalwood boxes with rosewood floors. He chatted with the amazings and laughed at the ingloriouses. He even petted the insouciant and, because it wanted a better view, moved it's box. Then the dangerous escaped.

It was the little boy's fault. Maybe three years old, with those big, brown, please-sir eyes, he had come in with his mother. As she tried to negotiate purchase of a generous, he had played with the frivolouses and fallen back against the dangerous offer's latch. The dangerous buzzed around and around the room as Scribble leapt over and slammed the shop door shut. The mother demanded and the boy cried and Scribble refused to move, refused to risk the possibility of the loss. Eventually the dangerous was safely slammed into the nearest cage and the front door, with a sigh of relief, unlocked.

It was an unwritten rule, a whispered aside, a terrifying tale for traders on a stormy night. Never allow an insouciant near a dangerous. Scribble returned the moment he'd soothed the boy and ushered the mother outside, but by then it was too late. The coupling had occurred. Scribble the simple trader of offers had done the unthinkable, the career-ending. Scribble had produced a beguiling.

Story challenge 9 submissions

Trading Up

Anneke Ryan 06/11/2011
An offer. A dangerous offer...

-About bloody time,- Scribble decided. He scrambled around on the counter top until he found the silver tweezers. Silver was best with the dangerous ones. If it was a challenging you could get away with bronze, though for a strong one you were better off with steel. Friendly offers could just about be handled with nothing more than leather gloves and cotton wool. Scribble saved silver for rare times like this.

Business had remained steady but Scribble had been making do with tame trading for so long that his hands were starting to shrivel with boredom. Fantastic offers were passable, he supposed. And there was a reasonable market for enticing offers. Friendlies were close to the worst; plenty of clients wanting to sell, but it wasn't as if anyone would buy. A friendly? In this market? Not likely.

Then there were the nutters. Recently there'd been a client wanting to offload an insouciant offer. An insouciant! Scribble had bought it in the end, because the client was little more than a lad, obviously a struggling artist-writer-musician type, and desperate enough to exchange it for an ineffable. Ineffables remained a fringe item. There'd been three on the shelf when Scribble had taken over the shop and in all those years he'd only managed to offload two. The demand for insouciants wasn't all that much better, but Scribble had a couple of contacts who had contacts who might...

Scribble ran a finger around the danger-holding seal then pried the lid off the box. The dangerous offer looked up at him, eyeing him from its fresh straw bed. Scribble grabbed one wing with the tweezers and flipped the offer onto it's back under his microscope. It struggled a bit on the cold glass plate, but stopped when Scribble pressed the tweezers against it's belly, just barely allowing it to inhale and exhale as he turned his eye to the lens for a better look. Dangerous was at the forefront, but Scribble noticed a trace of thrilling and more than a touch of enticing.

"It's contaminated. Multiply the adjectives and divide the strength. It's barely worth a satisfactory."

"Multiadjectivals are fashionable amongst the proletariat." The client tapped a forefinger on the negotiating table. "It's better than anything in your stock. I'll take two riskies and a challenging. Not an offer less."

Scribble leaned within a forefinger of the man's face. "I'm an elite dealer. One risky and two satisfactories or you can take your offer to the open trading markets."

"Done." The man agreed so readily that Scribble wished he'd offered a risky, a satisfactory and a damning instead.

He caged the contaminated dangerous between the two commensurate offers and a few representatives of the family of specials. The special offers reproduced so frequently that Scribble kept the majority hidden at home. Who knew how low prices might go if specials became commonplace?

As Scribble knew it would, with a dangerous on site, trading went swimmingly. A particular type of customer was inevitably attracted to danger and those customers came in droves. Scribble marked the price up and up and up, making sure no-one could afford to buy it and it worked. Heroes settled for difficult challenges and warriors settled for challenges of honour. Politicians purchased potential challenges by the cage-full and went home happy. Scribble went home with a full belly and another dozen specials for his wife.

Life was beautiful.

Scribble fed caviar to the offers and edible gold leaf to his family. He bought all the stock new sandalwood boxes with rosewood floors. He chatted with the amazings and laughed at the ingloriouses. He even petted the insouciant and, because it wanted a better view, moved it's box. Then the dangerous escaped.

It was the little boy's fault. Maybe three years old, with those big, brown, please-sir eyes, he had come in with his mother. As she tried to negotiate purchase of a generous, he had played with the frivolouses and fallen back against the dangerous offer's latch. The dangerous buzzed around and around the room as Scribble leapt over and slammed the shop door shut. The mother demanded and the boy cried and Scribble refused to move, refused to risk the possibility of the loss. Eventually the dangerous was safely slammed into the nearest cage and the front door, with a sigh of relief, unlocked.

It was an unwritten rule, a whispered aside, a terrifying tale for traders on a stormy night. Never allow an insouciant near a dangerous. Scribble returned the moment he'd soothed the boy and ushered the mother outside, but by then it was too late. The coupling had occurred. Scribble the simple trader of offers had done the unthinkable, the career-ending. Scribble had produced a beguiling.

Re: Trading Up

Emma T 07/11/2011
VOTE! Love the ending.

Re: Trading Up

Sonya Lano 07/11/2011
I, too, like the ending :o) and found the story intriguing. I would like to know exactly what an offer looks like, though...

Re: Re: Trading Up

Anneke Ryan 07/11/2011
This is the thing, Sonya. Offers always look different to different people.
I keep thinking of other types of offers Scribble would have kept in the shop: an attractive offer, a ridiculous offer, a careless offer (you've got to be wary of those), an irresistible offer (and those), a thoughtless offer...

Re: Trading Up

Samantha Hyde 07/11/2011
VOTE
Unusual & thought-provoking tale…a most captivating offer:-)

Re: Trading Up

Lizzy Scott 11/11/2011
VOTE! Clever, clever.

Re: Trading Up

Catherine Sword 13/11/2011
VOTE: I love the wit and imagery of this piece. Clever, with a great liveliness! Hope for more?

Re: Trading Up

Damien 13/11/2011
I'm not sure what to make of this. I kind of like the concept of people being able to buy and trade offers in order to improve their own situations, and especially like the concept of how offers can become tainted by other ones.

I think I probably need to read it a few more times before I can work out how this story makes me feel though....

A Pact Sealed with Poison

Sonya Lano 02/11/2011
An offer. A dangerous offer…
And an irresistible one.
Over the rim of my chalice, I eyed the man standing opposite as I sipped the sweet wine he’d poured. He returned my stare unruffled, waiting for me to accept his offer.
An offer that could get me killed.
I lowered the jeweled chalice carefully to the table, the sweetness of the liquid lingering sinfully on my tongue, an unexpected pleasure in the midst of unpleasant business.
I’d had too few pleasures in recent years.
When was the last time I’d smiled?
When was the last time I’d felt safe?
Not since…
“Allow me to reiterate,” I requested lightly, and he suavely inclined his head, the firelight catching glints of red in his dark hair and making his unusually pale blue eyes glitter like shards of ice. “You will kill my husband.” I couldn’t prevent the shiver of anticipation that simple declaration drove through me – blessed freedom! And once I attained it, I vowed never to be enslaved to a man again…
But this favor came with a price, I reminded myself.
A high price.
“You will kill my husband,” I repeated, savoring the sweetness of the promise as I’d savored the wine, then sobered and lifted a small, unassuming-looking capsule, “if I pour this into the king and queen’s goblets.”
He dipped his head in agreement, something that might have been a smile curving the corners of his lips.
This is what they call a deal with the devil, I thought to myself.
He certainly looked the part, for he was excruciatingly beautiful, his dark hair curling seductively at the ends and his sculptured features reminiscent of ancient renditions of the dark lords, mythical beings that had reputedly once invaded the realm of man to seize control and bend the weaker-willed human race to their will.
But this was a tale perpetuated by the priests of mist and I’d lost my faith in them when they’d persuaded my father to sell me in wedlock to a cruel, brutal man who extracted a sordid glee from tormenting others until they nearly reached their breaking point…and then brought them back only to begin the agony all over again. The priests were nothing but deceitful liars, propagating naught but what benefited their own ends. My husband had paid them well to convince my father to sacrifice me to him.
Now I would pay him back for his generosity.
“I might not be able to do it immediately,” I began.
“You have one day.”
“One day?” I repeated, taken aback. “But—”
He motioned languidly toward my discarded chalice. “One day before the poison starts to kill you.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What poison?” I asked, my throat burning with disbelief and my stomach churning.
He smiled faintly. “Don’t say you expected me to suggest such a proposition and let you walk away with the tale on your lips, my poison in your pocket and betrayal on your mind?”
“I wouldn’t…” My words faded away. He was right. I’d considered avoiding the dangers of poisoning the royal couple and using the lethal substance on my husband instead, then fleeing into the night…
I pressed my palms against my abdomen and asked in a small, pitiful voice, “You’ve killed me?”
Such an absurd and yet horrifying question.
His diabolical smile widened, baring straight white teeth. “If you return to me tomorrow with success in your hand, I will have the antidote in mine.”

It was over.
I’d done it. I’d carried out his terrible command.
The king and queen were dying as I left their chamber. They went silently, the poison having first rendered them mute, then immobile, incapable of doing naught but crumpling to the lush carpet and expiring in soft stillness.
I’d had to swallow the bile rising in my throat as I backed out of the room, afraid I’d defile their bodies with vomit, and I was shocked when the guards posted in the corridor noticed naught amiss, merely closing the doors behind me and resuming their stoic, now futile and superfluous stance.
I hurried down the corridor, shame and wasted remorse tearing my soul apart.
I burst into his chamber, finding him poised by the fireplace with a goblet in his hand, waiting for me.
He turned toward me curiously.
“I’ve done your wicked deed,” I informed him in a trembling voice, ashamed and sick at myself and hating him.
He bowed sardonically. “And I have done yours.”
My breath caught in my throat, momentary exhilaration wiping away searing regret. I was finally free! My husband was gone. Never to touch me again. I felt dizzy with relief, giddy with elation so long denied me…then my gaze fell on his chalice and I remembered. I took another step closer.
“Give me the antidote,” I requested evenly.
He shrugged carelessly. “There is none.”
I tried to catch my breath, stunned. Had he—
“There was no poison to begin with,” he added calmly, setting his chalice with deliberate care on the fireplace mantel and sauntering across the room toward me.
I stood rooted to the floor, trying to sort my thoughts. The inducement he’d used so ruthlessly to get me to carry out his will had been a sham? A ruse?
He stopped before me and I jerked away when he brushed his knuckles across my cheek with derisive tenderness.
“We’re done here then,” I stated firmly, but he grabbed my elbow before I could retreat.
“Not quite,” he averred, amused at my attempts to break his hold. “With the king and queen disposed of, the kingdom will need a new ruler, and he will have his slaves.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with me,” I snapped, endeavoring to stay calm even though his painful grip reminded me so much of…
“You will serve me well as my mistress,” he breathed, visibly relishing the fear rising inside me as his hand slid around the nape of my neck to tilt my head back. He pressed a feather-light kiss to my throat, laughing softly when I stiffened, then trailed his lips upward until they hovered over mine, a wicked smile curving his mouth. I could see his intentions in his steel-cold eyes and tried again to back away, but his hold hardened mercilessly.
I nearly screamed at the horrific, bitter irony of it. He’d saved me from my husband only to enslave me himself.
“So sweet. So naïve,” he murmured mockingly. “Haven’t you ever heard of the saying ‘Out of the frying pan…’?”

Re: A Pact Sealed with Poison

Sonya Lano 02/11/2011
I must be in a dark mood recently, as this story seems pretty creepy to me. Of course, it also demanded to be written in the middle of the night, just after the witching hour...

Re: A Pact Sealed with Poison

Damien 13/11/2011
Why do people have this idea that the devil is this amazingly good looking guy? Surely in realty he would be quite non-descript so as not to draw attention to himself....

Anyway, I like the twist of him pretending to poison the woman so as to force her to do what he wants and then just claiming her as his own so she realizes that after committing double murder she is still exactly where she started, just with a different guy, and for that reason alone this gets my vote

The Switch

Damien 30/10/2011
An offer. A dangerous offer.

I should have known better, but I'm a sucker for adrenaline, and these things are usually over-hyped anyway. In my experience, the danger level of a mission is usually ramped up a few points from where it should really be by some pansy in an office who is worried about ensuring the buck doesn't stop with the boot pointing at his or her ass if things go to shit.

In their view it's far better to over-estimate danger than under-estimate it. This is why the American military has a decades old policy of shoot first, identify the target later, for example.

So even though I was warned in advance that the mission was dangerous, I wasn't really all that concerned. I'd been doing this job long enough to know that as long as I kept my wits about me and didn't do anything stupid there was little chance of my cover being blown, and it was well known in the circles in which I operated that there was nobody as good as me at separating real life from the mission at hand.

That's why I get paid so much for doing what I do.

It was only after I had accepted the mission, been paid the deposit, and got the file on my target that I started to think I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

Because I was the target.

Well, not me exactly, as that just wouldn't make sense. But the original me.

I'm guessing by now that you're a little confused, and I completely understand, as I would be too if I were in your shoes. So I'll try to explain it to you real quick.

I am a clone. Now, I know what your going to say. We are nowhere near developing that kind of technology yet. But think about this logically. The best technology always starts with the military and works its way downwards in a trickle.

Now, if scientists at a university were able to clone a sheep 15 years ago, how long do you think the military have been able to do it for?

And those guys don't mess around with ethical issues and stuff. They just go ahead and do what they want as they know their Top Secret clearance will cover them if things go wrong. Which they often do.

Anyway, that's enough science for now. I need to get on with the tale while I still can.

For the last 30 years every American President has had his DNA taken immediately after his Inauguration Ceremony. Ostensibly this is so in the case of something happening to him (such as Air Force One being shot down, for example), it will be possible to identify his remains no matter how little of them there may be left.

But that's not the only reason for taking the DNA. For each President, 6 clones are created. These are basically used as decoys with things like visits to dangerous areas such as war zones. So when you see the President standing there with the troops in Basra, that's not actually him. It's one of his clones.

We used to use lookalikes for this kind of mission, but as time went on and the media became more and more intrusive it became much more difficult to fool them. And so clones started to be used. Like me.

The President, for the record, actually still thinks it's just lookalikes, but this is because he doesn't need to know about stuff like this. He is only the President after all, it's not like he really does anything important these days.

Which is where we were apparently having a problem. Because the current President seemed to be under the impression that he was actually in charge of things. This is something that the Administration goes through with every new President, but usually they realise after a few months that they are just a puppet for the real decision makers.

This guy though, or me, as I could also look at it, had been in power for three years now and was still fighting every step of the way. And now he had gone one step to far and had threatened to expose the truth.

So he had to go.

The problem was, you can't just go around shooting the President of the United States of America. Well, not anymore anyway. So there had to be a more subtle solution. Which is where I came in. I had to somehow find a way to get between the real President and his Secret Service escort somewhere, kill him, take his place, and arrange for the body to be disposed of later.

This was not going to be an easy task, and it was clear from the outset that one of us was going to die.

Before that though I had to go through a rigourous training schedule.The President had known his team for a long time, and so I would have to learn everything about them that he knew before I could try and take him out.

This involved an intensive, month long crash course in all things Presidential. Briefings he had attended, personel files on every single person working in the White House, and plenty of people working else where. For 16 hours a day I crammed information into my skull so that I could seemlessly take over from him should the mission prove successful.

Eventually I was deemed as ready to go, so all we had to do now was find a window of opportunity to make the switch.

For another month we tailed him everywhere he went, just waiting for that one moment, once chance, to sneak in there and replace the President of the United States of America with one of his clones. But he was too well guarded. His security detail was too good, as well they might be. These guys are the best in the world at what they do, and it showed.

Finally though, a window of opportunity presented itself.

His church confessional booth.

He went once a month to the same place he had always gone. Never at the same time of the month, of course, as there was no way his Secret Service detail would allow a routine like that. But he always went into the stall and stayed there for 20 minutes.

After three years there was a lot of complacency around this ritual, and other than a cursory glance to make sure that the confessional booth wasn't rigged with explosives and didn't have an assassin lurking inside, the President was generally left to his own devices while he was in there.

So we rigged the box with a fast acting, odourless gas. All we needed was to knock him out for 20 seconds. Of course, the priest also got a dose, as we couldn't have him sitting there watching the President pass out, get taken out of the back of the booth, and then replaced. It just wouldn't be right.

A 20 second snooze though would just leave the poor guy thinking he had nodded off for a second and he would be too embarrassed to say anything.

There was no room in the back of the booth for anyone but me, so once the gas was released I opened up the secret panel we had put in there earlier in the week and dragged the unconcious President through the gap before climbing in to replace him. I just had time to close the panel before I heard the priest starting to wake up and began talking to him, hopeful that he wouldn't notice the change.

We had done it. The switch had been made. The danger was over for everyone else in the team. And probably for the President too by now. I spent a moment composing myself before exiting the confessional booth and beginning my role as the President of the United States of America.

The first thing I was going to do was slowly cut down on my confessional visits. It was the one place where my security was weak, and I had to ensure I wasn't vulnerable to the risk of being replaced myself if I was to continue my Creators work in his honour.

After all, I knew for a fact that there were five more clones just like me out there, and I doubted that the others would have the guts to fight the Administration like I planned too now that I was free and out in the open.

Re: The Switch

Anneke Ryan 07/11/2011
VOTE - I always knew there was something going on with those American Presidents.

VOTE

Radek Lano 12/11/2011
Free the clones!!!

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