Monday December 12th, 2016

The exercise:

Give us an alternate take on Advent calendars. No chocolate behind these flaps, only... something else. Confused? Use mine as an example of what I'm thinking about for this one. You can do excerpts as well or go another route entirely, depending on how you interpret the prompt.

After dropping Kat and the boys off at StrongStart this morning I did a few errands in town. Would have been a lot more pleasant without that wind - it was only -4 but it felt a whole lot colder than that.

We've got snow now, by the way. Not a huge amount, but I don't think it'll be going anywhere anytime soon, what with temperatures not going above zero in the forecast for the week ahead.

In fact, it looks like we're about to get a whole lot colder.


Advice Calendar

Dec. 1st: Finish all of your Christmas shopping in November, at the latest. Too late? Do you know what the malls look like all of this month? Ordering over the internet? Do you seriously trust the postal service to get that stuff here on time? Best to just not buy any presents at all.

Dec. 2nd: Are you opening this on December 1st? Is it because you're hoping there will be chocolate? Well, guess what? There's no chocolate here, or in any other box for that matter. This is an advice calendar, not a stuff your fat face with empty calories calendar. Get off the couch and go to the gym.

Dec. 7th: Really? That sweater with those pants? No. Just... no.

Dec. 11th: Two weeks until Christmas. Two weeks until Christmas?! Start drinking now. You know what your family is like.

Dec. 18th: If you're sober enough to read this, you're not drinking enough. Get back to work.

Dec. 24th: It's December 1st, isn't it. I told you there was no chocolate in this calendar. You sad, sad, pathetic little human. Go buy another calendar and start over.


Greg said...

Is Kat doing StrongStart as well then, or was she doing something else near by that meant you could drop her off and run errands? I quite like the idea that you've put all three of them in the same programme! The weather sounds lovely, though I think you probably disagree. I will have to get serious about joining an Antarctic Survey after this job, or it's never going to be cold enough for me.
Hmm, I like your Advice Calendar actually, and the advice it's offering seems perfectly reasonable. Though it could perhaps have provided a stiff drink behind door 11 just to help get things started :) I really like the sad acceptance of human nature that we find behind door 24 as well :-D

The Advent Calendar
December 9th. Daedalus looked around the chemistry lab. The students had vanished, presumably in hiding, and the postdocs were huddled together behind the lab blast shields -- heavy panels of thick perspex intended to protect the chemist when they were doing particularly vigorous reactions. The last time Daedalus had seen them used seriously (they got them out once a year when they were dropping Sodium into water for the students) was over ten years ago when Doctor Apfelbaum was working with Hydrazine derivatives. They'd all been quite relieved when the government came and forcibly employed him at JPL. The lab technician was wearing a hazmat suit and standing in the doorway to the showers.
Daedalus sighed. The reason for all this fear and trepidation was the lab advent calendar, neatly set up on a long work-bench at the back of the room. It was a simple set of 24 boxes made of some glassy substance no-one had identified. He was working on the hypothesis that it was some kind of volcanic glass, but he'd not had much time to study it. Each box was time-locked, and they were two minutes away from today's door opening automatically.
December 1st had been fine: they'd all been amused to find a balloon filled with hydrogen in the box. They'd let it bob around for a while, then someone had pointed out it was technically a fire hazard and they'd popped it. The Helium balloon on December 2nd had been fun too, and one of the students had taken it home.
The block of elemental lithium on December 3rd had not been fun: they'd all stared at it in horror, and the moist December air got to it and it ignited. The fumes were noxious and the flames were hot and it had taken them twenty-five minutes to get everything shut down, not burning, and mostly safe to handle. Even though December 4th was a Saturday they'd decided they'd better be in before the box opened.
Thankfully the weekend boxes contained Beryllium and Boron, both of which they were able to easily handle and pack away, and the level of tension in the lab went down a bit. Carbon on the day after turned out to be a lump of coal, which led to endless Santa jokes.
December 7th: Nitrogen. An inert gas making up 78% of the atmosphere -- they thought they were safe. Yet the box opened to reveal a flood of Hydrazine and what might have been a picture of Dr. Apfelbaum. However the Hydrazine ignited almost as soon as they'd jumped back, and the blaze (well, it is rocket fuel) consumed most of the lab contents. Even now the desks were all charred, the seats were gone, and the backs of Daedalus's hands were the shiny colour of badly burned skin.
December 8th: Oxygen. Lots and lots of oxygen, and if the technician weren't in the hazmat suit and could recognise the signs of oxygen narcosis they'd probably all be dead by now.
Which brought him back to today, December 9th. The pattern was obvious, so this was going to be fluorine's day.
The time ticked to 10 o'clock, there was a click of something unlocking, and the 9th box swung open. Written on the inside of the door was FOOF.
"Oh crap," was as far as Daedalus got.

Marc said...

Greg - parents have to stay with their kids at StrongStart, so one of us needs to be there. It's sort of like a pre-school training program. Lots of time to play with the toys and things, along with a few coordinated activities every morning. Come and go as you please.

If nothing else, it gives the kids something to do on cold winter mornings when indoor activities are quite limited here in town.

I can quite easily picture you in the Antarctic. So I shall keep my fingers crossed for you that you shall end up there one day :D

Hah, I quite like this take on the prompt! Very clever, and perfectly played out. The detail that they all came in on the Saturday for precautionary reasons is delightful, and the whole escalation leading up to the grand (FOOF'in) finale is great as well.

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

Showing up a couple days late, but I've been poking at this idea for a couple days—not entirely sure it's finished, but I'm pleased with where it is now.
Marce did their best to remind themself that technically Christmas ended on the six or seventh of January, and they'd be seeing the family during that period—they were arriving home on the twenty-fifth, for goodness' sake, they were not at all missing Christmas. But they couldn't really do much for festive preparation beforehand, between work and projects and no real place to stow any decorations in their tiny apartment once the season was over. It was such a little thing, but they were surprised how much that weighed on them.

But one of the first few days of the month they received a thick envelope covered in stamps from their great-aunt, with two things inside. One was a card festooned with watercolored swashes of ribbons and joyful spirals of wings, with neatly calligraphed holiday greetings inside. They had always loved her cards, each more charming than the last. But also tucked inside was a note about the second item:
Marcel— Here's something extra to make the days a little more merry and bright. Be sure to give it a little light—one of those battery candles will do, if necessary. Aunt Hester

It was a little house thick with snow, its four sides made of thick card stock, painted in watercolor, and folded flat for the trip. They moved the folds so the house could stand up, and on closer inspection, they could feel little perforations around windows, and it looked like the windows were numbered—an advent calendar, then! They opened the first few windows to catch up to today, and were delighted to find tiny paintings behind—ribbons, a wrapped box, holly, candles, and a Moravian star behind today's window. They scrounged around in a couple drawers for a couple battery tea lights, and set the little house up on their desk. Even with just a few windows open the house had a lovely glow about it, and the sweetness of the thing gave Marce a lift of pleasant nostalgia. They were in such a good mood that they could even swear they smelled cinnamon as they went to bed that night.

Indeed, the smell of cinnamon lingered, and over the next several days Marce started to recognize other smells wafting through their apartment—nutmeg, chocolate, bread, mint, pine, all the sorts of smells that curled through their holiday memories. The little calendar glowed brightly on their desk as they went about their work, and they swore it seemed to shimmer on its own accord. And perhaps they had overlooked some things, but there seemed to be more and more details and decorations on the little house itself with each passing day.

Then one morning, much to their surprise, they found the plant that sat on the other side of the desk covered in what appeared to be frost, though it didn't seem at all bothered. They rubbed at one of the leaves as inspection—the frost rubbed off easily enough, but it wasn't cold, and it turned to a faint glitter between their fingers before vanishing entirely. To add to their surprise and delight, the place they had rubbed had already frosted over again. They looked over to the house, and even though the candle wasn't switched on its shimmer now flickered impishly. They laughed and shook their head—this thing was committed to its task of marking the season, wasn't it?

Marc said...

g2 - no worries about the lateness. Though it's kinda my thing around these parts, so don't make a habit of it :P

Ah, now here's an intriguing entry. What a fascinating little advent house. It feels slightly sinister, but that might just be my brain taking things in a darker direction than you intended.

Regardless, I really like this. I'd say it's not quite finished, but could quite nicely stand on its own as is. But I would also like to see more, so... ya know :)