Special Bonus Double Installment!

Our chain story has been wobbling drunkenly along for close to two years now, lurching from one exotic location to another, and expanding our unnamed protagonist’s bizarre circle of friends and family. Just like we did with part 100, we’re celebrating part 200 by writing it together!

The list of prompt phrases is twice as long as usual, and has, for the first time ever, been drawn exclusively from our own published novels. We think this ups the challenge significantly because we both have the novels pretty much memorized and it will be difficult to put these phrases in an unfamiliar context.

Jen will go first, and as soon she incorporates the first prompt phrase she’ll hand the keyboard over to Kent. He’ll work until the second snippet is incorporated and then hand it back. And so on. Hopefully we will not come to blows.

  • I know how to break
  • dominated coffeehouse debate
  • bordering on smarmy
  • jocularity and baggy shorts
  • “Enough fucking football metaphors
  • drinking way too much Mountain Dew
  • grinding more than rocking
  • rather large, rather ugly
  • intricate designs along her spine
  • slumped over with wheezing laughter

Tune in next time parts 199 & 200                      Click Here for Earlier Installments

I made it back to Dr Belladonna’s bedroom before I heard any sign of pursuit, and I got the door closed and locked just in time. Jem and Jem stood outside, debating loudly about the proper technique for picking the lock. I know how to break through most hypnotic trances, so I decided to take a chance and let the girls in. I’d be much better off if I could get them on my side and away from Jim.

The soft click when I unlocked the door was enough to shush my sisters. I stepped back, prepping my trance-breaking routine. Theirs could be any of three different forms of hypnosis, each with different weaknesses. The best way to rouse someone from a trance had dominated coffeehouse debate at the academy my junior year, so I had lots of ideas to try out. I just didn’t know how much time I’d have to try them.

“We know you’re up to something, big brother.” Jemma’s voice was unctuous, bordering on smarmy.

“And we know what it is,” added Jemima, brazen confidence in her voice.

“So come at me, sis,” I said playfully. The two common elements in all my anti-hypnosis tactics were jocularity and baggy shorts. Too late, I remembered what I was wearing.

I hurtled across the room like David Beckham, hoping to get to the closet before my sisters took me up on my offer. There had to be some baggy shorts in there somewhere, and if I could get them on quickly enough I could save the day like a goalkeeper stopping a game-winning ball.

“Enough fucking football metaphors!” I grumbled to myself. “I’m not even English!”

A pair of Dr Belladonna’s bloomers would have to suffice. I hauled them on over my pants just as Jem (or Jem) thrust the door open. “You look like you’ve been drinking way too much Mountain Dew!” I declared in what I have to say were surpassingly jocular tones. The girls were unaffected, which meant I’d guessed wrong about the nature of the trance.

They entered the room, moving with the uncanny choreography of twins, even though they were triplets. Their hips swayed in unison, grinding more than rocking, which gave me the vital clue: Jim was using some sort of mind-control drug on them. Something other than Mountain Dew.

Jemma stationed herself in front of me in a feline crouch while Jemima went over to the nightstand and hefted the rather large, rather ugly vase. She squinted at me, lining up her throw.

I timed my move just right. When Jemima hurled the vase, I leapt up and grabbed the chandelier. The hefty piece of porcelain flew right beneath my feet, strewing roses, and hit Jemma square in the chest. She toppled, swearing. The water from the vase quickly saturated her white t-shirt, displaying the intricate designs along her spine and ribcage, the tattoos she’d been given as a child to mark her as the youngest female in our family, and therefore the one promised to the Guild of Fire Eaters.

I pumped my legs to get the chandelier swinging. Jemima looked around for something else to throw at me, and Jemma sprang to her feet, dripping. I timed my next move a bit less perfectly, letting go of the chandelier too soon. Rather than clearing the bed, I landed on it and bounced, my momentum sending me sprawling against the wall to slide down head-first onto the floor. Jem and Jem slumped over with wheezing laughter. My less-than-perfect timing had been perfect after all.

Before they regained their composure, I seized the now-empty nightstand and used it to bash the knob off the door. Darting out, I pulled it shut behind me, trapping them in Absinthia’s boudoir.

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The Cat Ate My Homework

The great thing about having houseguests is we get to blame our lack of productivity on them. Plus, they brought their cat along, which gives Lady Marzipan someone to blame her lack of sanity on.

Jem and Jem Tittered

  • by Kentbecause we walk on them all the time
  • joined by the Professor’s girlfriend
  • “You are irresponsible!”
  • meet in the parking lot
  • the limited demands of the animals

Tune in next time part 198                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

Jem and Jem tittered at my awkwardness.

“We’re good at balancing on corpses,” Jemma said.

“That’s because we walk on them all the time,” added Jemima.

Jim sounded agitated. “We should have been joined by the Professor’s girlfriend by now. That woman is irresponsible.”

“You are irresponsible!” came a shrill shout. A one-legged woman stood on the far side of the room, waving a sheet of paper. “Because of you, the Professor’s been kidnapped!” She held the note still for a moment, and I could read it plainly because the pasted-on letters were so large.

“Bring us acorns and worms! Be ready to meet in the parking lot at dusk. No dogs!”

Jim, Jemma, and Jemima said, in breathy unison, “The squirrels have aligned with the birds.”

I took advantage of their stupor over the limited demands of the animals to leap from the operating table and squelch rapidly out of the room.

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Jim Was Always Coming Up with Outrageous Theories

  • by jenin that gentleman’s widely opened eyes
  • these dashing cardigans
  • Tonight: dinosaurs.
  • Her stomach made fish tank noises
  • appeared to have been eaten by foxes

Tune in next time part 197                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

Jim was always coming up with outrageous theories about twins. I guess being the only twinless sibling in the family will do that to a guy. Not that he was a singleton. No, Jim was a triplet, but his co-trips were identical girls and he always felt left out. His experiments were often painful, and I had no interest in seeing what he had planned for today, or how the paper shredders would play into it.

I took a step backwards, away from the false graveyard of office equipment, and promptly bumped into someone standing right behind me. It was Jim, of course, and in that gentleman’s widely opened eyes I saw no hint of brotherly affection. To my surprise, he was flanked by our sisters Jemma and Jemima. It was unusual to see all three triplets together. They were all wearing these dashing cardigans in a blue and green color scheme that told me all I needed to know about where their loyalties currently lay. Normally the girls pledged fealty to the Academy’s chess team, the Anacondas. Tonight: Dinosaurs. If he had convinced them to support the chess hooligans of our greatest rivals, Jim had more sway over them than I had ever imagined possible. Perhaps his theories about twins weren’t as outrageous as I had always imagined.

Ignoring Jim and his widely opened eyes, I smiled at our sisters and reached out to shake their hands. With Jemma’s hand in my right, Jemima’s in my left, I executed the secret “twin handshake” we had all developed as children when we wanted to exclude Jim. I was hoping to break through whatever insidious hold he had over them, but to all outward appearances I was unsuccessful. And on top of that, they wouldn’t let go of my hands.

“Jem,” Jim drawled, “and Jem, bring him back out to the operating table.”

My sisters pulled me back into the rocket surgery. My crocs had no traction on the slick floor, especially when they dragged me through Absinthia’s blood. Her stomach made fish tank noises under our feet, all blurbley and squelchy. Her poor corpse appeared to have been eaten by foxes, not operated on by rockets.

I averted my eyes and tried to come up with a plan to escape my nefarious triplet siblings.

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Prompting by the Seats of Our Pants

Much of what we post here at the Skelleyverse are writing prompts. We have a lot of fun with them, creating a chain story and building two (count ’em) prompt generators. Something we don’t do is worry excessively, or indeed at all, about whether they make a whole lot of sense.

Those prompts are what happens when Rune Skelley writes by the seat of the pants. And they’re markedly different from our novels, which — as we might have mentioned — are written via a highly developed process with multiple stages of planning and debugging before any real prose even starts. Bump on up to runeskelley.com for some excerpts.

Don’t get us wrong, we have a lot of fun with the novels, too. Just because we expend a great deal of energy making sure that they do make sense doesn’t mean there’s no joy in writing them. In fact, we kinda get off on the whole plotting, outlining, analyzing, researching, color-coding, debugging, and logistical machinating of our process.

We didn’t always have a process. Hard to reach back to those dark times, but in the beginning we made everything up as we went along. We’ve been there, done that, and we don’t want to go back. It was… inefficient. It was a fine way to prevent our partnership from being a strength. But we learned, and we honed a technique that has speeded up our writing at least ten-fold.

But, we do have those kooky prompts, to get our pantsing ya-yas out.

I Heard No One Else

  • by Kentdecided to sit down and use my legs to
  • parched and cracked
  • silent graveyard barren of trees
  • and all to no purpose
  • Your brain forges a link

Tune in next time part 196                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

I heard no one else in the rocket surgery, and if the clamorous calamity that finished off Dr Belladonna hadn’t drawn Jim’s attention I didn’t have any theories as to what would. With luck that meant he wouldn’t turn up.

The paralytic had not fully worn off, even after my nap, so I decided to sit down and use my legs to get the pants on in a bicycling motion. The shirt and jacket I donned without using my legs at all. The shoes matched the outfit splendidly, but there was no way I could cram my parched and cracked feet into the tiny wingtips. Yoda’s Crocs were infinitely less stylish and didn’t coordinate at all, but they were better than going barefoot.

My plan was to find a way back to the surface, and hope not to encounter Jim along the way. I found another door and opened it to reveal a moonlit, silent graveyard barren of trees. How could that be? It couldn’t. What I’d taken for headstones were paper shredders, dozens of them arranged in rows throughout the large room. The full moon was merely a large, round fluorescent bulb.

“Figured it out yet, big brother?” Jim’s amplified voice seemed to be coming from the false moon. “You’ve gone and killed Absinthia, and all to no purpose.”

“That was an accident, one she brought on herself,” I muttered. I had no way to know if he could actually hear me.

Another eerie, echoey transmission boomed out in Jim’s bayou drawl. “Don’t imagine you know Jason’s whereabouts? Save me some time and trouble. Since there’s no way out of here, I can go ahead and spell out what I have planned, and you won’t be able to stop me. Twins, such as you and Jason, you know what happens under the perfect conditions? Your brain forges a link to his.”

“Yippee.”

“And once that happens,” Jim said, “I’ll have what I need to defeat Mother once and for all.”

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My First Impulse Was to Flee

  • by jenninja assassin on the prowl in west LA
  • twine marks on only one wrist
  • they said he was not the type of person
  • scabs and scars
  • “What’s the matter?” screamed the ladies.

Tune in next time part 195                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

My first impulse was to flee the scene as quickly and quietly as a ninja assassin on the prowl in west LA, to get far away from the stench of burnt flesh, and all of the blood. But I had been on the run for so, so long, and I was exhausted. I felt like a man with twine marks on only one wrist, which is the Contrarian way of saying ‘burning the candle at both ends.’

I locked the door to the rocket surgery to make sure no one walked in on me while I slept, then I curled up on the operating table and took a nap. When people described my brother Jason, they said he was not the type of person who could sleep just anywhere, that he was very finicky about where he bedded down, but they would never say that about me. The slab of stainless steel was an island in a sea of Absinthia’s blood, and upon it I slept like a baby.

When I awoke, I spent a few minutes counting all my scabs and scars, cataloging the myriad ways I now differed from my twin. It wasn’t just our sleep habits that would enable people to tell us apart any longer.

Self-examination complete, I leapt from the table and onto Absinthia’s desk chair. My momentum and the chair’s excellent casters carried me away from the gore, and around a corner. Here was Absinthia’s apartment, replete with bed and shower. If only I’d explored last night I could have slept in comfort. At least I could still get clean.

After my ablutions, I rifled through Absinthia’s closet, hoping to find something a little more dignified than my calico pinafore. In addition to the doctor’s clothes, none of which would fit me, I found a cache of men’s clothing that fit me a little too well. It was as if they’d been tailored for me, which meant they’d probably been tailored for Jason. But the shoes were too small.

“What’s the matter?” screamed the ladies. That’s what I call my intuition, my gut feelings. ‘The ladies’ had never let me down. And right now they were trying to tell me something important. If the shoes were too small for me, they were too small for Jason. That meant, the ladies assured me, that these clothes had been tailored for my younger brother Jim.

I froze.

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The Surgery Was a Success!

It took a week longer than we had hoped, but Jen just completed an editing pass on the Science Novel. It had been through the ringer at least once before, and she still managed to smallerize it by 7,000 words. Meanwhile, our current manuscript-in-process, Grandson of Science Novel, has topped 11,000 words, most of them from Kent. It feels really good to have such a solid start on the new book. It feels even better to have a net gain in word count. We’ve added more to this series than we’ve taken away.

While Science Novel lays in the recovery room for a bit, waiting for the bandages to come off, Jen will turn her attention to Divided Man Book 3. It’s called Elsewhere’s Twin, and its release date is on the horizon. We’re hoping to go through the whole thing twice more before sending it out into the world, which means we have no time to waste.

That extra week we devoted to Science Novel makes the schedule a little tighter than we would like. Jen won’t get any downtime between the projects to clear her head. She’s already eyeing up a fresh scalpel. The last time through Elsewhere’s Twin she was still wielding her chainsaw. This time should see fewer huge cuts and much more finessing. Another difference is that this time, Kent will follow along a few chapters behind Jen with his own surgical tools. Having a coauthor means having more eyes on the words at every step in the process. It means a better finished manuscript.

Some Movement Had Returned

  • by Kentcalled “secret combinations” or “murmuring”
  • glimmered like quartz
  • the knuckle of my thumb
  • we are not eating enough vegetables
  • “There was, like, a big puddle.”

Tune in next time part 194                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

Some movement had returned, but only enough to wiggle my fingers. Fortunately my escape plan didn’t rely on physical strength.

I could also purse my lips, which gave me the power to generate a special noise, a buzzing, whistling hum. We learned it at the Academy as a type of underwater echolocation. But a few of us discovered how it affected certain sea life, and from there we honed it as a skill for influencing the mind of just about any living thing, including our classmates and teachers. In this case, a former headmistress. Some called it the Aquaman effect, but usually it was called “secret combinations” or “murmuring” or “Hypnotoading.”

Beginning the sound, I soon spotted Absinthia peering out from her hiding place. Her eyes glimmered like quartz. I glanced at the fuse and saw that it was burned down past where all the separate fuses split off, and some of those were very short. I had to get her over here quickly. The first rocket fired, nicking the knuckle of my thumb.

I Hypnotoaded louder, and Absinthia stumbled up to the table. She licked her fingers and snuffed a fuse, then another. Meanwhile, my limbs were beginning to respond. It disgusted me how long I was affected by her paltry injection. It must be true what they say: we are not eating enough vegetables.

My right leg cooperated enough to shove me off the table. Landing on the tile floor hurt, but not as much as what happened to Absinthia. She’d only extinguished half of the fuses.

A hissing, whooshing fit of smoke and flame erupted over the operating table. Dr Absinthia Belladonna toppled and lay still.

I slowly climbed to my feet and looked down at her. It was a memorable image. When I write my memoirs, it will simply say, “There was, like, a big puddle.”

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I Put All Thought of the Wastewater Treatment Plant Out of My Mind

  • by jenglimpse of a red sweater
  • I have had little experience of women
  • capable of forgetting that he had ever been married
  • until the helicopter came
  • Whenever she wore pants

Tune in next time part 193                             Click Here for Earlier Installments

I put all thought of the wastewater treatment plant out of my mind and delved back into the juicier part of my flashback. I recalled Tessa in her scarlet Academy uniform, and how after she rescued me from the frozen rugby pitch, and in the process saw me naked, I blushed at every glimpse of a red sweater.

You must remember that in this flashback I am a teenager and I have had little experience of women. I don’t like to think of myself as a man who is capable of forgetting that he had ever been married, but again this is a flashback, and the time period being flashed back to predates my marriage to Fleur. I just want to be clear about that. I wasn’t a virgin or anything, but I also wasn’t participating in orgies until the helicopter came in for a landing, as they say. That part came later, but I doubt we’ll get to that in this flashback.

Whenever she wore pants with her red sweater, Tessa got in trouble. Girls at the Academy were expected to wear either skirts or the occasional wetsuit, just as we boys were required to wear kilts when we weren’t training for underwater missions.

Underwater missions! Of course! That held the key to getting me out of this terrible situation.

I quickly stopped my flashback and stared into the face of the fusillade of rockets aimed at my body. There were enough to make any Independence Day celebration envious, and now I knew just how to escape their surgical fury.

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