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Concept Art Writing Prompt: Saturday Night at the Edge of the World

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Saturday Night at the Edge of the World

This week's writing prompt takes us out under the stars, where a couple looks out upon a domed city glowing in the distance. What story can you come up with for this couch-dwelling pair, or the people living under that dome? If this painting speaks to you, write a piece of flash fiction and post it in the comments.

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Saturday Night at the Edge of the World

This week's artwork comes from Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe, who created it as the cover for Joe Vasicek's e-book Desert Stars, which you can purchase at Smashwords. Via reddit.


Here's the story I came up with in response to this week's piece. Post your own story in the comments:

The hairs on Rafi's neck pricked up as Sienna nuzzled his shoulder. He almost reached out to touch her, to run his fingers through the chaotic twirls of auburn hair, but he couldn't bring himself to spoil the moment. He pretended to watch the domed city, glittering gold in the distance, but he'd rather see its sparkle reflected in her gray eyes.

"Rafi," she said, her gaze locked on the distant dome, "do you remember the first time we met? You broke into my suite to test the quality of the air."

He had to smile at that. He'd been working on a theory that people who lived on the Hill breathed real air — air imported from the outside and filtered — fresh, sweet air that still retained that quality of nature his grandmother always talked about. Now, out here in the desert, he had to clutch a bandana to his face every time a strong wind blew. Never in his life had he so longed to breathe recycled air.

"Daddy was so cross with you," Sienna continued. "He was really a mouse of a man before you showed up."

"He thought I was a terrorist."

Sienna laughed. Her laugh out here was never the same as it had been inside. Inside, among her digital tapestries and tattooed furniture, he laugh was throaty. On a few occasions, he'd heard Sienna's mother scold her for such an unladylike chortle. Out here, though, it was tinny and musical, like someone's idea of a beautiful girl's laugh. "It didn't help that you kept rambling on about breeching the dome," she said.

He'd taken a bit of pride in that, at the time. To listen to the bureaucrats, he was the most dangerous man in the dome, petitioning to take a small team outside to see if it was possible to live there. But there were plenty of dome babies like him eager to sink their feet into the sand and feel the wind against their skins. They quietly stockpiled supplies. They made thermal gear. They learned how to set bones and purify water. When the central council got wind of their plans, Rafi had been berated as an apocalyptist. But Sienna had understood his mission. After the authorities sent his home, Sienna showed up at his quarters holding a ship in a bottle, one of the many relics her family safeguarded. "Someday, you'll break it on the outside of the dome," she told him.

Now Rafi spent his nights zipped up in a one-man sleeping bag and his days rereading the only book he'd managed to squirrel out of the city, a book about a distant planet made of sand. He paced the campsite in rhythm, hoping to feel the earth quiver beneath his feet.

And every Saturday night, he sat on the couch with Sienna and watched the city he'd longed to escape.

Sienna laid a hand on his cheek, pinpricks of energy stabbing his skin where she made contact. "You should really bring popcorn next time."

He hadn't thought to pack popcorn. Amazing the things one misses from civilization.

One night, Rafi awoke in a sweat with one thrilling thought: he could leave. He could pack up a bag with enough rations to last him a week or so, and pray that he could extract enough moisture from the air with the water collector. Maybe he would find another city, or a bit of forest that had bounced back. He didn't know whether Sienna would follow him. He didn't know which to hope for.

But then Saturday night came. He and Sienna watched the city together, and he couldn't bear the thought of leaving this behind.


She had called him in the night, told him to ready his pack, that she had found an exit. "Did you contact the others?" he had asked, his brain still fuzzy from sleep.

"We can get them later," she had whispered into the receiver. "I want you to see this now."


In the distance, the city pulsed with light. "Is this it?" Sienna asked. "This is my favorite part."


When they had reached the edge of the city, half the stockpile in tow, and could place their hands against the dome, she'd pulled a vial from her pack. Escape in a tiny glass bottle. Rafi had only thought to stop her after she had already squeezed the dropper.


From the couch, they could see it. The dome cracking from the bottom up. The bits of translucent matter raining upon the cityscape. The buildings erupting in flames. "It's so beautiful," she whispered. "Every single time."

"Sienna?" Rafi didn't have the heart to watch the city crumble. Every Saturday night since he left, he'd sat on that couch, the one he'd hauled from the wreckage along with the stockpile, and he watched his city burn. Every nerve in his body felt like it was on fire, pushing him to run, to see if he could save anyone this time. But he always just sat on the couch with Sienna. "Do you forgive me?"

Sienna turns to him, her eyes shining in the firelight. "I get to spend the night with you," she said.

And then she was gone.

That's how it always went. Every Saturday night, the dome appeared in the distance, and Sienna was waiting for him on the couch. And every Saturday night, after the city fell, she would vanish once again.

He'd looked for her body in the rubble, looked every day for a month until he decided there was nothing to find. Maybe she was a ghost, come to grant him an hour of torture in his monotony. Maybe he'd simply gone mad and his madness ran on a tight schedule.

Secretly, though, he hoped that he'd never even left the dome. He hoped that Sienna's father or some other bureaucrat had decided he was too dangerous and locked him up inside his own brain. Maybe the city hadn't crumbled. Maybe Sienna hadn't died after all.

And if she was still alive, maybe he could stand living out the rest of his life in a small corner of his mind.

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Corpore Metal

"The future always arrives unevenly," Mina thought sitting on the torn divan looking out to the nearly finished city on the horizon. She was echoing words she'd read on the Network years ago. They were very old words, almost predating space travel.

Ojo was sitting next to her, sipping desert shine. They had come to the end of their chores, finished dinner and there was a wordless assumption that they'd wind up here on the roof of their adobe hut, in the divan, and maybe a little sex afterwards but, the city held them.

It was unnaturally bright, especially considering it was empty of people, but this was probably due to any number of things, weird optical effects in the assembly fog, photo-cured memory plastic, sterilization, who knew? It looked like the city was under a vast transparent dome but Mina knew this was an illusion. The dome-like cloud was actually filled with countless microscopic and dust grain sized construction robots. Only a week ago there was nothing on the horizon and then, three local days later, a plume of smoke appeared and rapidly grew into an opaque dome-like cloud squatting on the horizon, blotting out the rising sun. The cloud grew steadily more transparent revealing a city that could house millions.

Mina was entirely unsurprised when the Network informed them of the Act of Re-purpose only after the city builders all over the planet were nearly finished with their work. Her telescope showed that they'd already docked two elevators at the equator. There were probably more over the horizon and, considering all the orbital activity she saw, more were probably coming. It was clear the development companies wanted to deal with squatters only after they held all the cards.

When Ojo and Okemina set foot on this barely habitable rock 15 standard years ago, they found a town of rebels, former felons, religious cultists and misanthropes—poor people mostly. For poor people colonization was a dicey affair of vitrifiers, unknown dlestinations, lack of automation, possible starvation, environmental failure and subtle toxins in the atmosphere, if there was atmosphere.

Not so for the people that would live in that city. They would have it easy. They'd have the scenery without the work.

Mina looked up but the light of the city completely washed out her stars.