The Next Story Will Be...

...something that contains the line, "There are always choices. I've mostly found yours to be rather poor, though. I suppose that no longer matters now." This was suggested by Guy the last time I opened submissions, and I really liked it, but I figured I probably owed y'all the promised penguin story.

One of these days my dearest brother Turtle McTurtleson/Carrot St. Lettuce/Pantsy Von Pantsman or whatever he's calling himself right now will come up with something I'll use.

This one should be up sometime next week.


Open for Suggestions!

The month of Smarch is over and the season of Spring is upon us. Bring forth thine suggestions into the glorious light of the new year!

Penguins are not a legitimate suggestion. That was last week. ;P

I'll probably choose something tomorrow, if I haven't exploded my computer between now and then. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to check the FAQ. Or, you know, just ask in the comments.


Story 5

Geh. Sorry for the delay, guys. As mentioned in the previous post, I spent the first half of the month dying of plague. I then spent the second half of the month moving. 'Cause that's what I do. But the story is now finished.

I did actually write two stories fitting my criteria this month, but the other one was for a prompt that I totally missed the deadline on (due to staying up all night trying to finish everything before the deadline and then sleeping through the time when I was supposed to be doing revisions). So I'll only post that one if you guys ask nicely. It's got the detective guy from a couple of my previous stories in it, though apparently it takes place before he got a mouthy partner.

For the curious, this song went into the last couple pages.


Special Things

When Maya awoke, everything was dark. Her head hurt a little. The bathtub was not as soft as her bed. She clutched Mr. Tux a little closer and tried to go back to sleep, but her eyes were not sleepy. She sat up.

The bathroom was very messy. “We'll have to tell momma we didn't do it,” she whispered to Mr. Tux. “Otherwise, she might make us clean it up.”

The stuffed penguin sat back against the bathtub and said nothing, but in her head, Maya pretended he replied, “That would be terrible and no good, Miss Maya! Especially since we didn't do it! We were taking a nap!”

“That's right, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. “We were taking a nap the whole time.”

She stepped out of the tub, dragging Mr. Tux with her by a flipper. She took a few careful steps across the debris on the floor. “You better go first, Mr. Tux.”

She moved the penguin in front of her in slow, bouncing steps as they crossed the bathroom. She tried the light switch, but nothing happened.. Pale, gray light peeked through the crack of the door. She pulled on the handle, but the door didn't budge. “Wait here a minute, Mr. Tux,” she said, and set him gently on the counter. Then she grasped the handle with both hands and pulled hard.

The door groaned and creaked, and it slid open wide enough for a girl and a penguin to get through.

“You're very strong, Miss Maya!” said Mr. Tux.

“Thank you, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. She lifted the penguin down from the counter. “I'm not as strong as momma, but I'm much stronger than a penguin.”

“I'm glad,” said Mr. Tux. “Otherwise we might have been stuck in the bathroom forever.”

Maya pushed her way out the door, leading Mr. Tux behind her by his flipper. She looked around at the dim world beyond. Like the bathroom, it looked much different then she remembered. What had once been a big open room was now a mess of tangled junk and debris. She couldn't even see the stairs. “Where are we, Mr. Tux?” she asked the penguin.

“I don't know, Miss Maya,” said Mr. Tux. “It looks like a maze.”

“Yes, it does, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. “I wonder if momma knows someone turned the basement into a maze.”

“We'll have to tell her when we find her,” said Mr. Tux. “And don't forget to tell her we weren't the ones who messed up the bathroom!”

“Oh, right,” said Maya. “We have lots of things to tell her. Come on, Mr. Tux! We must hurry up and find momma!”

Together they started making their way through the maze. At first they crawled through tunnels and ducked under things, but soon they found the ground was wet and getting wetter. “I think it's turning into a lake, Mr. Tux,” said Maya.

Mr. Tux clambered up Maya's shoulders. “Oh, Miss Maya, I don't want to get wet!” he said. “I think I will have to ride on your head.”

“But you're a penguin,” said Maya. “I thought penguins liked to swim, since they can't fly.”

“I'm not that kind of penguin!” said Mr. Tux. “Besides, I can fly if I want to. You just have to throw me.”

“That's not flying,” said Maya crossly, but she let Mr. Tux stay on her shoulders as she made her way to some large boxes. They were both dry and sturdy, and she and Mr. Tux climbed carefully to the top of them. They looked around to try and get her bearings. “Where do we go from here, Mr. Tux?” she said. “I still don't see the stairs.”

“I think they're over that way,” said Mr. Tux. He gestured with a flipper to their left. “At least, I think I see something over there.”

“I think I see something, too,” said Maya. “Let's go over there. We'll try to keep both of us out of the water, ok?”

“Ok, Miss Maya,” said Mr. Tux.

Maya took Mr. Tux by the flipper and began hopping across the boxes. Then she made her way onto a little hill and then carefully across a wooden bridge. They crossed a river that came up to Maya's belly button, Mr. Tux once again riding on Maya's shoulders, and came at last to the place where they had thought they had seen something. Something below the water caught a shaft of light that had somehow crept through the ceiling. Maya set Mr. Tux on a nearby shelf and fished the object out.

“What is it, Miss Maya?” asked Mr. Tux.

Maya turned the trinket over in the beam of light. “It's momma's favorite bracelet,” she said. “The one grandma gave to her.”

“Didn't she lose it?” said Mr. Tux. “I remember she was very sad.”

“She lost it and we found it, Mr. Tux.” Maya tucked the bracelet safely into her pocket and hoisted Mr. Tux back onto her shoulders. “We'll have to return it when we get out of this maze.”

“But how will we do that?” said Mr. Tux as they waded toward another pile of boxes. “We came over here because we were looking for the stairs, but I don't see the stairs.”

They clambered onto the boxes. They sagged under their weight. Maya looked around the room again and didn't answer Mr. Tux. What if they were trapped here forever? The lake around them was growing deeper and deeper, the water rising higher and higher. Away in the darkness somewhere something shifted and fell with a splash. Maya jumped and screamed, slipping on the box island. Mr. Tux grabbed her hand with his flipper.

“Hold on, Miss Maya!” said Mr. Tux, and he pulled her back up to a dry spot on the island.

Maya curled up there and held tightly to Mr. Tux for a long time.

“Miss Maya, I'm scared,” said Mr. Tux.

“It's ok, Mr. Tux. I'm not,” said Maya, even though she was shaking all over. She told herself she was just cold, that she was holding Mr. Tux close for warmth, but doubts kept tugging at the corners of her mind. She took a few deep breaths and forced herself to her feet.

“We're going to find a way out of here,” she said. “We have to return momma's bracelet.”

Mr. Tux did not reply. Maya hoisted him back onto her shoulders. Then she closed her eyes and turned around in a circle carefully. She opened her eyes again.

“We're going this way, Mr. Tux,” she announced, and they headed off in the direction she was facing.

The water was nearly up to Maya's armpits now, and Mr. Tux clambered from her shoulders to the top of her head. She walked slowly so she could keep her footing, but she still stubbed her toes more than once.

Eventually they came to a wall and Maya turned to follow it. “This is the wall that goes by the stairs,” she told Mr. Tux. “I'm sure of it.”

Mr. Tux did not respond. He was tired from the maze and the darkness was putting him to sleep.

Maya brushed something with her toe and nearly lost her footing. She reached out a hand to steady herself and found herself gripping a thin, wooden beam set in the wall. The handrail! She had found the stairs!

“Wake up, Mr. Tux!” she said. “We've found the stairs!”

“Hooray!” said Mr. Tux. “Now we will finally get out of this maze!”

They made their way up the steps. Maya counted as they went... one, two, three, four. She stepped clear of the water and set Mr. Tux down on the next step as she tried to wring the water out of her clothes.

Mr. Tux gestured at the next stair. “Look, Miss Maya,” he said. “We're almost there.”

“I know, Mr. Tux,” said Maya. “Just a little further!”

She shook the lingering drips of water from her hands and took Mr. Tux's flipper. They continued up the stairs... five, six, seven.... But they could go no further. The way ahead was blocked by debris.

“Oh, no!” said Mr. Tux. “Miss Maya, what are we going to do?”

“We've got to find the door,” said Miss Maya. “This is just another part of the maze. The last part of the maze.”

She let go of Mr. Tux's flipper and began feeling around at the wall of debris, pulling free pieces that were loose and tossing them behind her into the water. Soon she had dug a small hole, and she ducked into it. Mr. Tux squeezed along behind her, holding tightly to her hand with his flipper.

Then the tunnel shifted. Maya coughed and choked as dust flew everywhere. Her left hand, the one holding Mr. Tux's flipper, was trapped.

Mr. Tux let go of her hand and tried digging her hand out. “Don't worry, Miss Maya,” he called through the debris. “Try to wiggle your hand free.”

Maya wiggled her hand, shifting and pulling, but it was stuck fast. Mr. Tux tried to lift the debris off of it, but it was just too heavy for his flippers. She blinked back tears. “We've got to keep trying, Mr. Tux,” she said. “We have to give momma her bracelet, and let her know about the basement and the bathroom.”

“We'll keep trying,” said Mr. Tux and Maya together. She wiggled and squirmed. She balled her hand up and rolled her fingers. She tried prying at the debris from her side. But it was no use. She lay back, panting, and sobbed softly. She spread her trapped fingers out and Mr. Tux took her hand again with his flipper. They lay there in the dark, silent and shivering. Mr. Tux patted her hand gently. Even penguins got cold at times like this.

Maya shoved her free hand in her pocket and pulled out her mother's bracelet. She could barely see it in the gray and the dust, but she held it in front of her face and thought about her mother. And it seemed to Maya that she could hear her calling from a long ways away, “Maya, Maya.”

“I can't come, momma,” Maya whispered to the bracelet. “I'm stuck.”

But the voice still called, “Maya, Maya.”

A man's voice answered, “Stay back, ma'am. It's too unstable.”

“Maya! Maya!” Her mother's voice was shouting somewhere in the distance. She could hear it. She needed to go to it.

“Momma!” she called. “Momma, I'm stuck!”

Her mother kept shouting. The man spoke again. “What was that?”

“Momma!” cried Maya again.

“She's in there!” said the man. “Ma'am, please, stand back. We'll get her out. Maya, can you hear us?”

“Where's my momma?” Maya called back.

“She's here,” said the man. “Hang on, we're going to get you out of there.”

Maya stroked Mr. Tux's flipper with her trapped hand. It was falling asleep. “Did you hear that, Mr. Tux?” she said. “The man is going to rescue us.”

They lied still and waited. Slowly the light around them grew. Maya looked up. A man stood above her, silhouetted against the sky. “Hold still,” he said. “Just a little longer.”

He prized her hand free of the debris, and as he lifted her up she reached for Mr. Tux. He grabbed her hand with his flipper, and she held it tightly as the man carried them away from the stairs.

He set Maya on her feet and looked her over. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

But before Maya could answer, arms clasped around her tightly and lifted her up again. She was in her mother's arms, and her mother was burying her face in Maya's hair. “Oh, Maya,” she whispered softly. “Maya, my baby.”

“Hello, momma,” said Maya. “Someone messed up the basement and the bathroom, but it wasn't me and Mr. Tux.”

Her mother didn't respond, but instead held her tighter.

“Momma, am I gonna get in trouble?” said Maya.

“No, Maya,” said her mother. She set her down gently and tucked a stray lock behind Maya's ear. “You're not in trouble, honey. Momma's just very glad to see you're alright.”

Maya hugged her mother. “I'm glad to see you, too, momma,” she said. “So is Mr. Tux.”

Maya's mother laughed as Maya held up the now very dirty stuffed penguin.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” said Maya. She fished around in her pocket again and held out the bracelet. “We found this in the lake in the maze, and we brought it back for you because you lost it.”

Maya's mother looked at the bracelet, then she folded Maya's hand back over it and wrapped her arms around Maya once more. “You keep it,” she whispered. “I've lost a lot of special things, but I've already gotten the best of them back.”