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5. Use the tools at your disposal. Creating with Principles Phillip Morris Prose

Strongman, Kicker, & Lucy

Written by Phillip Morris

Strongman is strong, Kicker is a steam-powered horse that can fly, and Lucy imagines things. Strongman is really a boy about to be ten, Kicker is only real because Lucy imagined him up, and Lucy really is just a nine-year-old girl. Strongman’s real name is Jake, Kicker’s real name doesn’t exist, and Lucy’s real name is Lucy.

Jake and Lucy are orphans.  Kicker is, by definition of being a figment of Lucy’s imagination, an orphan as well. They are troubled children that try not to cause too much trouble. But they are runaways from their foster home so by definition their life is trouble. 

Jake’s parents might not be dead. They might just be in big jail far away, he tells himself that often. When they went to jail they often went together because when they sold drugs they did so together. That meant that Jake was often left alone. He would be sent to his treehouse, that’s only a  wooden platform, whenever anyone came over so no one knew he was alive besides his parents. Not the methheads or the cops, at least not until they broke in looking for drugs and caught him stealing food respectively. They each found out why Jake called himself Strongman. Though the cops had the benefit of having a taser.

For bureaucratic reasons, Jake had to spend the three-day weekend in jail where he was forced to be a strong man among grown men. Afterward he was sent to a foster home too full of kids.

Lucy’s parents are dead. She knows this for sure because she imagined her Dad burning to death one night while he was in bed with her mom. Afterward she too was sent to the foster home too full of kids.

Jake, Lucy, and Kicker now live in Jake’s parents’ house on a hill, outside of town, overlooking the undesirable buildings that lower property values, like the county jail. Well, Jake and Lucy live in the house, Kicker lives outside where there’s all the grass he can eat and a big tree he can sleep under. 

Lucy could imagine her and Jake in a bigger house but jake was afraid his parents wouldn’t come home if they couldn’t recognize it. Lucy is happy enough to imagine the house has a big blue pool on the lawn that matches the house. 

When they need food, imagined food won’t do. Lucy forgets what they ate at some point and the food disappears before it’s digested. Kicker used to disappear too, but after the fire, he became Lucy’s best friend in the world. That means that even when he isn’t on her mind he’s in her heart. 

Instead of imagining food, Lucy imagines she and Jake are grown-ups and takes Jake out grocery shopping or to restaurants around town. She pays with the money she imagines is in her purse. That money she usually remembers long enough for it to safely disappear into the bank. Sometimes she forgets sooner, but that hardly ever happens. 

Unfortunately, it happens enough that the cops track down the counterfeiters. When they get to the small blue house on the hill they only find Jake and Lucy. Kicker wasn’t imagined to be very brave and runs into the hills whenever strangers come, leaving only a trail of steam from the stacks on his shoulders. 

Jake tells the cops that his parents aren’t home which would be enough for the cops to leave them alone for a while, but one of the cops, for personal reasons, happens to pay attention to the missing kid bulletins and recognizes Lucy as being reported missing from the foster home. The cop would’ve recognized Jake too if the foster home’s owner cared about the boys as much as he did the girls, and bothered to report Jake missing too.

Jake doesn’t think to lie when the cop asks who Lucy is and says she’s his friend. Lucy doesn’t think to lie when the cop asks her name.

Jake is strong enough to stop the cops, but Lucy doesn’t want him to hurt good people and she goes along peacefully. 

For bureaucratic reasons, Lucy has to wait in jail until the foster home’s owner can get her. The cops at least let her wait in the yard because neither the male nor female inmates are out there.

 Lucy sits at the table in the yard and looks up at the hills. She can see the blue that’s Jake’s house and the pool and the tree beside it. She imagines he’s inside pacing, angry, wondering how to get her out.  

Kicker’s back though he’s not much help because he only ever wants to run away from trouble.  

Lucy imagines Jake going to the pool to relax but finds the water’s all gone. In rage and frustration, Jake rips off the ladder and breaks it into its constituent poles. The last pole in his hand, to his surprise, is no longer just a pole but a telescope. He uses it to spy Lucy sitting at the table in the yard of the jail waving at him. Then she points up. Above Jake is his treehouse which he goes inside of and when he looks out to Lucy again this time she’s making a throwing motion. Jake looks around for something to throw though he doesn’t know why or how it would help. Lucy imagines he figures out what to throw when he finds the spear with a long, long length of chain with the other end wrapped around the tree. 

That spear plunges deep into the ground in front of Lucy. The loud thud of its impact gets the attention of everyone in the jail. The cops yell at her as she grabs onto the chain and tugs it twice, in the universal signal that she’s ready. Jake yanks the chain back with all his strength. The chain flies into the treehouse hard and fast. It tears up the tree as each link hits and suddenly he’s afraid of what will happen to Lucy when she comes in. 

Thankfully Lucy imagines Jake stands ready to gently catch her. 

Police cars are speeding up the hill with their sirens blaring, but Kicker has learned to be brave and doesn’t run away. At least not until Lucy and Jake are safely on his back. Then he kicks off the ground and into the sky.


Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Rotterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.

2020 Pandemic Phillip Morris Prose

The Pit

Written by Phillip Morris

A mass of people wait in a concrete pit open to the wind and rain the dim sun promises to bring. 

Most of the people are black and brown, though there are a few that could pass if they didn’t speak with such a heavy accent. More languages are known between them than there are people in the pit, and yet those in the pit almost never speak to each other. They remain stuck in their spheres of solitude.

There is just enough room for everyone to sit down on the bare ground. Only the smallest among them can stretch out straight. The rest must curl-up on themselves in dirt that’s dark and muddy from still sticking human waste. 

A young mother, is given room to lay with her weakly crying child next to a teen, too skinny and dirty to betray their gender, who scratches another tick in the wall. 

It’s been 124 days by their count. 

Some people came earlier, others came later. A minority were counting the days even before arriving at the pit. Fewer still don’t bother counting at all because all that matters is that this is the end. 

Beyond the wall, the sound of a monstrous machine grows louder. It’s engine roars and echoes inside of the pit. It sounds like it has the power to break through the concrete wall, instead, it stops just beyond. 

From somewhere out of sight a guard and his dog appear on the wall. 

Covered head to toe in blood-red armor the guard patrols unarmed. It’s only ever a single guard per pit, and even that is just for show, there’s little that needs monitoring. It takes four people standing on each other’s shoulders to send a fifth over the top. It’s only ever tried once per pit. Then it becomes clear to everyone below that they’ll never be faster than the lid snapping closed. 

The guard doesn’t need a weapon because his dog is always at his side. As loyal as it is fierce, this dog is the greatest weapon ever made through selective breeding, cybernetics, and genetic engineering. So much so, that no one in the pit can recognize it as a dog. 

Their dogs played with their children and protected their homes. However, this thing on the wall must be kept far away from children and all things precious.

The guard and his dog patrol the perimeter of the concrete pit. Its walls are thick enough that he and the dog can walk comfortably side by side. 

While the man’s on the outer edge, looking beyond, the dog splits its attention between the guard and the people in the pit whose gaze it greets with a growl in the back of its throat, even as they do their best to keep to the side opposite the patrol. 

Someone slips in the filth as the crowd moves around the pit and the dog snaps to attack position, barking loudly with its teeth full bare. The guard stops to look on as the person scrambles back into the throng of pitiful people. The dog reverts back to its perpetual growl.

The guard stops near to where the engine beyond the pit has been idling loudly. A signal from the guard and the engine kicks into gear, this time accompanied by the sound of hydraulics raising something large. 

The dog is barking again. Its joined by another, and another, and another, until its a deafening, terrifying chorus that drowns out all else before a heavy slab of metal slams onto concrete, releasing cries and screams into the mix, and masking the sound of thunder from the clouds bursting above. 

Then there they are, the screaming crying people, standing in the rain on the edge of the pit. Throngs of people. Brown, black, and white people. Miserable people, getting wet like those in the pit. Stopped at the edge, too scared to go forward though there’s clearly nowhere else to go as the guards and dogs corral them in. 

Too well trained to ever break the rules, the dogs snap at the legs, fingers, and toes of those on the edge. Close enough that they can feel the heat of the dogs’ breath, but never enough to claim they’ve been bitten. 

Those at the very edge and close to falling turn around. They use their arms and their pleas to hold the rest back. But there’s too many and their numbers are growing. 

The weakest go over, tearing open the floodgates, so the rest fall, push, or are shoved into the pit. The first to land are crushed beneath those that follow. Their blood mixing with the mud.


Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Amsterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions he’s writing colorful fiction.

Phillip Morris Prose TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

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Written By Phillip Morris

Once upon a time, when I was young, I thought there was a benefit to getting licensed, but that was before I learned the job. I left my place in the ranks of officially sanctioned PIs before someone hired me to scour the galaxy for their missing dog.

People looking to get into the game as a private investigator should know: there’s a barrier to entry. Those who came before take such pride in themselves that they’ve made it a guilded operation, with all the classes, tests, and the hefty price tag that entails. You’ll work really hard for that paper no client is going to ask you for. If you make it through all that, you’ll become a part of the de facto police force of interplanetary space.

There are too many planets and factions for any one authority to claim jurisdiction over any significant region. P.I.s function as the initial point of entry for the legal system when laws get broken between worlds. If they can’t resolve the issue on their own, they at least give their clients grounds to initiate official government proceedings.

Most of what gets brought to the guild are petty grievances. People claiming their rights are being impinged by a corporation on this planet, or ex-wives misusing alimony payments on that planet. Things get a lot more interesting off the books, and, with the right connections, a lot more lucrative too.

“Drain your vital energies here,” said the latex wrapped doll as she slid her arm through mine. She whispered her name, Eve, as she led me to the entrance of the pleasure club called Heaven. From a distance, you might think she was a bot, but up close there’s no mistaking the scent of a beautiful woman.

The neon lights made her hair sparkle and glow with synthetic magic. I had been through the district enough times in the month since I’d landed to see her hair go through a dozen different shades. It would be nice if something of me stuck in the girls’ heads, but the wipes were quite thorough. Eve had an expensive implant in the base of her skull that contained the street-walker persona. I glimpsed it once when another patron pulled her onto his lap by a lock of hair. Whoever she really was, was divorced from what you got at night.

I found that the right line could earn me a parting gift from Eve once she realized I wasn’t going to be her John.

Maybe next time, was good for a peck on the cheek.

Catch me later, was better for a sneaky squeeze.

This time I tried honesty. “I’ll need my vital energies tonight.”

That got me nothing worth mentioning.

My longest haul is coming to an end tonight. The girl with golden eyes was dead before I got here. I stopped using her name as soon as I found out. These tricks make the job a bit easier. I assume she couldn’t handle the treatment. Her once bright eyes had gone dark in the medical examiners photos. The implants could trick the mind into playing the part of a charming seductress while her body wasted away.

The doll outside Heaven was a willing participant, but this girl was cut from finer cloth.

Her daddy was a politician of the rarest breed. One of character. Sure he was rich, and the girl probably spoiled rotten if he was willing to splurge on those eyes, but he got his money without needing to bend the rules. If I had to guess, that’s what got his little girl into so much trouble. Don’t vote the way you’re told and the next time a family member visits unprotected space, poof! They’re gone.

I couldn’t leave it at that and expect my efforts to be compensated. The two ways I’d get paid were reunion or revenge.

Broken noses and busted lips have their place, and their limits. A smart person talks when the law wants answers. Of course, if these guys were smart they would have looked into who they were hired to kidnap and string up. It took two broken thugs to guide me to Heaven, and weeks of sweet talking a particularly deviant guest named Tikki before I was sponsored to go to the back.

“Ey, Chuck,” Tikki called out as it wrapped its appendages around me.

The back was actually the bottom. I was led through a secret room, then down, down, down.

The floor in the basement of Heaven was covered with acres of fluorescent dirt that helped with the cleanup. Ancient orders of the flesh governed the pantheon of desire on display. Time and technology don’t destroy the animalistic urges each species is endowed with. Instead, they warp into forms unintended by nature. The lax laws of this planet let the imagination of the proprietor run wild.

There was no way to tell from the grungy exterior what awaited those granted entrance below. Every body semi-adapted for sexual reproduction was on display, in innumerable configurations of contraptions and partners. I recognized now that the ventilation system must have been prime, to keep the intermingled musks from being overwhelming.

Thankfully the boss was weak for his own product, and I saw him slip into a private room with a few of the guests. I assured my sponsor I’d be back after a quick look around and followed them. The boss’ expansive imagination never fathomed someone bringing him pain he didn’t ask for.

I got out of Heaven as soon as I verified the record of the execution, for the officials and my payment. I would feel bad if Tikki ends up connected to what I’d done. It had some peculiar tastes but was a good being nonetheless.
Phillip Morris Prose TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

Because You Know That They Know

Written By Phillip Morris

When they turned the chip off, her time and body were again her own. There were no locks on her room, no one tried to stop her from leaving the building. But after a few trips into the world, she learned she no longer had a place there.

When they turn off the chip, they take back the wigs and shiny form-fitting clothes. The alluring appeal is an illusion by design, flipped off and on as easily as the lights. They let her roam free because they know she’s smart enough to know that without them, she’s nothing.

Dark hollow eyes. Muscles too atrophied for any real work. Only tufts of once enviable hair clinging in the space between metal plugs.

When the chip was off, she spent a lot of time alone. She thought about her father often, whether she was in her room, or getting wasted at the girls’ bar. He didn’t stay out of her mind for long. She’d ended up exactly as he said she would.

Once she almost called. Connected to the network, got the other end ringing, then hung up before connecting. What was more unbearable than confessing to a parent that they were right?

She knew exactly what he would say and she wouldn’t say much at all. What is there to say when you know that they know everything?

It wasn’t pride that kept her from asking for help. As she caught glimpses of herself in the mirror, she saw nothing to take pride in. She told herself it wasn’t pride that put her on this slow path to an early death.

She wished they would leave the chip on.