Writer In Motion Short: 902 words.
You lie among the scraggly brush, your rasping breath loud in your ears. Roars shatter the night, closing in around you. Sandy, barren land stretches between your meager cover and the Drop Site, concealed in the rusting remains of a small ship listing to starboard on a sandbank. Nothing the monsters can understand.
Breaking cover, you lunge for the derelict. The packed sand crumbles beneath your hooves as if plotting with your pursuers to slow you down. You stumble, pattering a staccato beat. The scent of your own fear clogs your flaring nostrils. It’s a wonder the monsters don’t smell it too.
Or maybe they do.
They swarm out from the brush, and a strangled squeal rips from your throat. It seems to drive them ever faster, their huge splayed feet grabbing the sand you struggle on, throwing them forward with ease. The primitive creatures never stop, never need to rest, and their eyesight is better than yours. They’d seen you watching them, and they didn’t take kindly to that.
That moment is frozen in your mind: the flapping hides of the dead creatures they tied around themselves, their swinging limbs, and their eyes gleaming in the dark. Fodder for nightmares, should you be lucky enough to have them later.
You gallop across the sands and through the tide that tugs at your hooves, as if the water too conspires to drag you down. Do the monsters compel all of nature to do their bidding? You shiver, your hide twitching and jumping. It can’t be. Such a thing would be magic, and everyone knows magic is for children. Just silly superstitions. Believing in magic would be as likely as you hunting and killing some poor creature. Ridiculous.
You fling yourself into the derelict. It has no door to slam in the monsters’ faces. You lunge across the small ship to grab the crate the Wolves had sent down for your return, the crate which holds the Matt and makes this rusting boat the Drop Site. It bangs against your knees as you haul it back to the entryway and push it into place. It’s too small to block the opening, but there’s nothing else, only a few planks peeling away from the interior wall. The ship screams, too loud in your sensitive ears, when you pull the planks away and slot them into place. They rattle and shiver when you shove the crate against them. There’s no way they’ll hold.
Hoping you’ve at least bought yourself enough time, you open the crate, scanning the instructions. The Wolves set up the Matter Teleportation Device, but they didn’t tell you how to use it.
This was supposed to be an easy mission. Drop down, catalogue the natives, and Matt up. No one was supposed to get hurt. But the Wolves, likely thinking it a prank, didn’t set the Matt up with a verbal or physical passcode. The crate holds a sensor, along with a hoof-friendly lighter, kindling, and two slabs of raw meat. You recoil, even as you read the Wolves’ instructions: the Matt will initiate automatically when the sensor detects cooking meat.
You stare in horror. Who is this? Surely not another Cow? Could you live with yourself if you cooked another Cow?
Some prank, forcing a vegetarian to cook meat in order to return to the ship. To safety. You curse the Wolves and their set up.
But whoever this is, they are already dead. You dying too will not bring them back. Bile rises, and tears flow from your eyes and down your sensitive muzzle. But you aren’t ready yet to die.
Fumbling, you grab the lighter, drop it, and grab it again. Your hooves tremble as you struggle to work the simple tool.
Something slams against the ship and the planks jump. You lunge to hold them up, muttering prayers under your breath. Of course, there’s nothing in the starry expanse to pray to, but desperation drives out reason.
You are going to give the Wolves an earful if you see them again.
Finally, a flame lights, just as the barricade slams against your back under the weight of the monsters. Screaming in wordless terror, you scramble with your hooves on the slick flooring, but there’s no good footing. Maybe if you had massive flat feet like the monsters do. The lighter drops from your grasp onto the kindling.
The kindling catches, lucky for you.
Hairy arms snake in through the holes in your barricade, scratching at you with blunt nails as the fire flares brighter. Another weight bounces against your back, and roars echo all around the derelict. Fortunately, the metal isn’t rusted all the way through.
Shallow, quick breaths puffing out of your mouth, you drop the meat on the flames and waft the smoke toward the sensors. Your stomach turns, nausea rising. The things you’re willing to do to survive are horrifying. You are disgusting.
As the stench of cooking meat fills the cabin, the monsters outside pause, snuffling around the edges of the planks. And then, they throw themselves like a wave at the barricade. At you.
Your eyes widen and you shriek…
…and disappear, safely Matted up to the ship.
The Wolves consider the mission a success. After all, you survived. Even more, in one single exposure to the concept, you taught the humans how to harness fire.
You taught them to cook their meat.
Writer In Motion is a blog project where everyone gets the same prompt and then creates their own short story (1k or less). You post your process and your rough draft, then edit it and post the second draft. Then we partnered with CPs (critique partners) and shared our drafts, marked them up, sent them back, and recorded our editing process again for the fourth draft. We had a chance to work with an editor for the fourth and final draft (above).
Space Cows 2: Writer In Motion short, 1,000 words
You drop into a marsh. A bellow escapes as you flounder to find footing. Green plants, blue sky—except where thunderclouds are rolling in—and brown dirt surround you. A hill rises from the edge of the marsh, and the clouds above are lit in flashes. You were given a mission: investigate the Beacon and come home. And that’s exactly what you intend to do.
Beside you, your Wolf “partner” struggles, the Matter Transportation Device clamped in his jaws. He goes under, then fights to the surface, ears laid back. Your stomach twists. The Wolves nearly stranded you to be torn apart by monsters, but if he drowns with the Matt, you’ll never get home.
“Climb on my back,” you grumble.
The Wolf’s claws dig into your hide. You try not to flinch. Acting like prey only encourages a Wolf’s cruelty.
The marsh mud sucks at all four hooves as you slog toward the hill and the flashing Beacon. When you finally meet dry land, the Wolf drops to his own paws and shakes himself, and you do likewise. He clutches the Matt in his front paws, his eyes ringed with white. Is he… frightened? No, it must be a trick. After all, he has the Matt. You’re not falling for it.
“Come on, we need to find the Beacon.” You move to pass him.
“We’re stuck here, you stupid Cow.”
You freeze, waiting for the next words to fall from his muzzle, dreading and hating them before they’re even born.
“I hung on to it. But the water… Just look!” He thrusts the Matt in your face. “Do you see any lights?”
No cheerful glow—just a dead metallic box. It’s broken. You stamp the dirt beneath your hooves.
“We can’t get back.” The Wolf’s bitter tones slice at you. “They’re not going to send anyone after us. We had the only working Matt.” He lobs it at you, and you flinch when it hits your sensitive muzzle.
The words dry in your throat. Every Cow knows to stay calm around a Wolf, no matter how much they want to run, to keep their predatory instincts from kicking in. But it’s hard. Once your racing heart and trembling limbs are under control, you pick up the Matt and open the casing. The water has flooded it, shorting the power supply.
“The settlement surely has supplies. Or we can call for help. The Beacon is still out there.” You leave the board exposed and head toward the settlement.
“We’re stuck here!” he shouts, as if you haven’t understood.
You keep a tight lid on the terror. “I’m still going to do my duty. I may be just a stupid Cow, but I’m not afraid of hard work. I’ll find a way home on my own if I have to.”
Or die trying. A Cow on her own is prey waiting to happen. What then of a Cow traveling with a Wolf? The thought makes your cud dry on your tongue. Your instincts scream danger.
The Beacon lights the storm clouds above a settlement on a cliffside, crisp against the tossing ocean. Though rusted by the salt air, the tall metal fence surrounding it glows in the afternoon sun. The gate creaks as a settler opens it, ushering you inside. More fill the space behind him, similar to the monsters from the previous planet. Humanoid. You shiver.
“Thank the Whales, the Wolves are here!” The gatekeeper flaps hairless arms. “And they brought…” He furrows his brow. “…food?”
“Might as well,” the Wolf says with a lolling tongue. “Since I can’t return to my ship.”
The gate clangs shut before you can back away. A snarling wolf is carved on the inside. Dismay slams through you. You are not prey! But the settlers’ eyes face forward, like the Wolf’s. You’re surrounded by predators and predators show no mercy.
“But the Beacon!” you shout, desperate to stall. “You called for help.”
“Yes, we lit it as instructed when the water purifier broke. See?” The person leads you to a large machine—a water desalinator.
The Wolf crowds behind you, flashing teeth. “No need to worry about that now.”
You stamp, whirling to face him. “We came here to fix this.”
“We’ll give you until evening,” the settlers agree.
“I’ll help.” The Wolf gives you a toothy grin. “Since it’s why we’re here.”
Your blood rushes in your ears. You crouch by the machine, pulling off the side panel.
“Oh, too bad,” the Wolf points. The collection basin of the desalinator is rusted through. You have no metal to replace it.
“But the marsh must be fed by a freshwater source, given the smell.” Regardless, there are other ways of getting salt out of water.
This is a trap.
“Good, they can find something to drink to wash you down.” He sniffs at you.
You turn away, trying to still the shivers. Tears well up. You’ll be slaughtered and eaten.
A wire catches your eye. You grab the Matt, shielding it from the Wolf’s view as he pokes around inside the desalinator. Dusk is settling but the sun has dried out the inside. If you can splice in a new power source, you don’t have to be dinner.
“Time’s up. The people are hungry.” The Wolf pats your back.
Using a sharpened rock as a knife, you strip the wires on the Matt and the desalinator. You twist them together to splice them. The Matt lights up.
The Wolf peers over your shoulder. “What are you…
“Not such a stupid Cow.” You jerk the Matt out of his reach. “I’m going home.”
“Let’s go then!” His eyes gleam.
“You were going to let them eat me!”
“Come on, Cow, it was just a joke.” He shrugs with a friendly smile and wagging tail.
You narrow your eyes. “Fine. I have a joke of my own.”
As he opens his mouth, you press the button, Matt’ing safely back up to the ship.
Space Cows 3: Space Goats: Writer In Motion short, 996 words
You sproing through the scraggly bushes that cling to the hill, muzzle raised to the cool breeze. Alien scents wash over you, so different from the ship’s sterile, recycled air. The trees are full with leaves, and the sky is blue above the darker bruising of the distant mountains.
It’s rather disappointing. Shouldn’t alien planets be more, well, alien?
And there’s a blocky, artificial structure right at the top of the hill, not even trying to hide. Training exercises are supposed to be hard, aren’t they? Otherwise what’s the point? It’s all dreadfully boring, so you stretch your neck out, rising on the tips of your back hooves to reach a long-hanging branch and nibble at the twigs there. It’s against the Code, but who’s gonna tell on you? Cow? Cow’s not here. She’ll be in the building that’s clearly where you’re meant to go, waiting for you to show up for your briefing.
But you’re on an alien planet! Simmering underneath the disappointment, excited energy thrums through your bones. The grass isn’t made of crystal, and the sky’s not green, but it’s still a completely new ball of rock hurtling through space, and you’ve actually done it. You’re a Space Goat and nothing can take that away from you.
All you need to complete the day is a nice glass of wine, the fruitier the better.
Oh, and to finish your mission, you suppose.
You can hear the Whale as distinctly as you did when he stood in front of you, a scowl on his long face. “This mission is simple. You’ll be Dropped on an alien planet. First, use your head to find your assigned mentor, who will have the Matter Transportation Device. They’ll brief you on a short excursion, and upon your return, you’ll both Matt back up to the ship.”
Look for clues, for anything out of place, of course. Like the glaringly obvious building.
Your hooves squish in the springy turf, and the mountains rise and fall behind the apex of the hill with each bouncing leap. Going directly toward the building would be boring. You’ll go around it first—scouting. That’s right. Totally being responsible.
A breeze whips past and you pause, your eyes half closing as you filter the new smells and try to guess what they are. Plants. Air. Smoke. Smoke’s a little concerning, but it’s only a whiff, so it’s probably pretty far aw—
Something slams into you, lifting you off your hooves. You skid across the rocky ground on your side. Dust in your eyes makes them water. Your heart hammers faster than it did during your first spacewalk, and you scramble to your hooves.
Cougar stands a meter away, his fangs a flash of white as he smiles. “Disregarding orders again, Goat?”
What’s he doing out here? You glance at the building, where Cow would be waiting. It’s too far. Cougar will outrun you.
He prowls a step closer. “This is a training exercise. You and I weren’t supposed to meet like this. If you had followed orders, we wouldn’t have.”
“You wouldn’t hurt me. Not really.” Too bad fear makes your voice high-pitched and bleaty.
“Accidents sometimes happen in training exercises.” He sits, inspecting his claws.
You flick your tail. You won’t bow to the threats he’s tossing about. You’re the first Goat to make it onto the Whale’s Space Teams. And even if this planet seemed boring at first, it’s your very first alien planet! You’re not about to let the chance to explore end here in the cruel claws of a Cougar bully.
You dig your small hooves into the ground and lower your head, dropping to all fours. A flicker of surprise lights Cougar’s eyes as you spring forward. You crash horns-first into his side, the same way he’d knocked you over just a few moments ago. Spinning around, you charge for the top of the hill, for safety. Cougar won’t be happy you hit him, but all you have to do is make it to the tiny, square-sided building before he does.
The soft dirt slows you, giving no easy hoof-holds as you scramble up the hillside. Hot breath on your flanks urges you to move faster, and you skid around the side of the building, panting for air.
Where’s the door? Where’s the door? Cougar’s gonna get you before you can find the entrance to this dirty, unassuming building, and on your very first mission. That’d be mortifying.
The door gleams, white metal in the sunlight, and you lunge for it, scrabbling with the knob. It was obviously not made for hoofed-species. He’s coming and you don’t have time to wrestle with a space-junked door! You kick it, then lower your head and head-butt it.
It lurches open and you stumble inside. Your hooves slow of their own accord. You stare around, gaping. The interior is an enormous cavern. A cool grey banister stands two meters in front of you, separating you from the rest of the colossal space, while ramps of bustling Geckos, Mice, and Tamarins spiral deeper into the mountain beneath you. A Bat whisks past you toward the ceiling, carrying a basket. Everything is lit with warm yellow bulbs, and flashes of colorful doors amidst the shadowy grays accent the interior. This is more like it.
One floor below you, Cow waits, tapping her hoof. “How’d the Goat do?”
Your mouth works, but nothing comes out. Who was she talking to?
Behind you, a velvet voice has no trouble finding words. “Off-script, and with a literal meaning for ‘using your head.’”
Your eyes flick from Cougar to Cow and back again. This was all a setup?
Cougar grins at you. “What, cat got your tongue?”
“What?” you squeak. Normally you’re much wittier, you swear.
Cow shakes her head. “I needed to teach you an important lesson before we get to our primary objective.” Her bovine face turns serious. “Never judge a planet by its drop site.”