Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – After Hours by Bill Chance

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#77) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


After Hours

Barry Carpenter and his daughter walked out onto the beach in the darkness. Even the waves seemed to respect the night, rumbling low in a tumble of phosphorescent foam. The sand was cool between their toes and the offshore breeze warm on their faces.

Far out to sea a violent store raged. From the beach, all that could be seen was a spreading mass of black cloud, curling above the unseen horizon, blacker than the black sky above. The clouds were silently and invisibly roiled but the violence was revealed by the strokes of electric veins flashing across and through the distant storm. Sharp traces of lightning flared alternated with the soft blue glow of deep interior discharges.

They stood on the smooth wet sward of damp sand, stood there and let the breeze blow bits of foam, the last extent of the crashing salt sea undulations, kiss barely against their bare toes. They stood silent, staring, shoulder to shoulder, together, and alone.

Barry Carpenter became aware that his daughter wasn’t completely silent, or utterly still, like he was. He turned his head and, since his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the moonless night, he could tell that her shoulders were shaking, her head moving a little in an irregular fashion. He wasn’t sure at first but then he caught a little sob, heard a bit of sniffle. Though she was trying to conceal it, his daughter was weeping. She was standing on the sand next to him, looking out to sea, and weeping.

He had no idea what to do.

The tiny sighs and subtle sobs, almost drowned by the noise of the surf, were powerful blows. He felt a deep and primordial panic welling up until his mind could not stand it any more.

Automatically, his memories poured forth; inexorable images welled up. He remembered another beach at night. A long time ago and a long way away. Another continent. It was another ocean – a much warmer one. He was young then, and so were his friends. And they were out of rum.

They were walking down the beach. Back behind them was the tourist beach, with the lifeguards and the all-inclusive hotels. There the sand was scrupulously clean, swept every day at dawn by a mob of barely-fed workers. The tourist beach was no fun.

Barry and his friends liked to hang out at Calangute… the people’s beach. Here the sand was always littered and the dunes filled with thatched huts rather than glass hotels. Thick blue smoke from hundreds of wood cooking fires battled the sea breezes – the unique magnificent smell of third-world grease and spice hung on everything. There was always a party at Calangute.

Except now, it was too late. The poor people of Calangute all had to work, somehow, to eat and it was four in the morning. Everyone was asleep. Everyone except Barry and his friends, who didn’t have to work and never liked to sleep. And they especially didn’t like it when they were out of rum.

They were working their way down the ocean-most row of shacks, wobbly crude constructions of sticks and palm fronds, intended during the day as tiny storefronts, selling food, drink, cheap plastic childrens’ toys. This late they were all closed and bundled up and took on their second purpose as houses for their proprietors.

The boys would shake each shack, watching it wiggle, shouting, “Oye! Oye! Rum! Rum.” Every shack had somebody in it, but… maybe they were afraid, maybe tired, maybe sick of the noisy rich kids… probably all three – and nobody stirred. They would wait, fain slumber, until the teenagers lost their thin patience and moved to the next hut.

Finally, a groggy woman’s voice grunted agreement from the inside of a particularly tiny and crude, hut. Barry figured she needed the money more than she dreaded the disruption. He pulled a wet, sandy, lump of bills from his pocket and waved it in the dark, knowing it would be more than enough for a bottle of the rough, clear hooch sold at Calangute. The stuff tasted like paint thinner, but it got the job done.

A low, yellow light snapped on within and the handmade door opened up a crack. Barry went in to pick up his purchase. The only light was a cheap lime-green flashlight with obviously failing batteries, but there was enough light to see the scrawny sick-looking woman holding out an old-style glass soft-drink bottle filled with a cloudy liquid and stoppered with a hand-carved wooden cork.

Barry looked around the inside of the shack and saw that it was filled to bursting with children. They were sleeping in piles all around the edge of the room, so deep there was barely enough room to stand in the center. There were too many to be the children of the woman with the bottle, and she seemed to be the only adult present. Barry realized that these were the ragged children that ran on the beach all day, selling tiny boxes of chewing gum, or worthless hand-carved trinkets, or simply offering to fetch a drink of bit of food in exchange for the tiniest of coins. He had always assumed these children to be a member of a family – sent out all day in their rags to bring home a little extra for their parents – but it seemed that they formed a family of their own – on their own.

As he took the bottle and turned for the door he reached into his pocket a little deeper and found one last bill crumpled down at the bottom. Though he already had his bottle he let the last bit of money drop, down, among the sleeping children.

The yellowed memory sight of the grimy bill dropping down into the rags on the floor was the end of his reverie. He was back on the cooler beach, still standing beside his softly crying daughter.

He reached out and placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close to him. Looking outward they both noticed that something had blown the foggy beach air out and replaced it with clear, fresh, atmosphere. Above the distant bank of dark electric clouds the stars appeared.

In particular, they could see a bright star, or planet, maybe Jupiter, hovering just above the remote tumult. And above that, a starry smear, a small cluster of tiny dots, connected with blurs of glowing gas.

See that,” Barry Carpenter said to his daughter, “those are the Pleiades.” She nodded. She knew what they were.

The two of them, nothing being said, began to walk out into the water. The waves poured sand over their feet, licked at their knees, and splashed bits of salty drops onto their faces. They walked until they were waist deep and could feel the bigger waves pulling until they would have to stumble a bit.

Barry saw his daughter pull something out of her pocket. It was a bit of vine covered with small white flowers. He remembered them – they grew on a little terrace in back of the beach house the two of them had rented for the weekend. As a wave collapsed his daughter threw the bit of green and white into the receding foam.

Ok, let’s go back now,” his daughter said.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and they turned and walked back, arm in arm, in silence.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Viral Marketing by Bill Chance

“A Paradox, the doughnut hole. Empty space, once, but now they’ve learned to market even that. A minus quantity; nothing, rendered edible. I wondered if they might be used-metaphorically, of course-to demonstrate the existence of God. Does naming a sphere of nothingness transmute it into being?”
― Margaret Atwood, Der blinde Mörder

 

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth,
Fort Worth, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#76) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Viral Marketing

Penba Norbu was brought to the United States to work for the VBP corporation in their nucleic-neuro-interface division. The full name was the Viral Book Publishing Group, and had actually used the “G” on their name once, but VBPG was deemed too long and tongue-tying by an extensive series of focus groups so the final letter was dropped. This, along with a thousand other facts, were adsorbed by Penba during his new employee orientation. A year earlier this would have taken days of tedious power-point presentations and a hundred pounds of loose-leaf notebooks emblazoned with the VBP logo. Penba knew he would not have remembered one-hundredth of it.

Now, though, orientation took less than a half-hour. A nurse with a suspiciously short skirt on her uniform that exposed the very top of her stockings as she pulled the dose out of a locking case, checked the number on the vial against Penba’s badge, and then used a plastic pipet to place a single drop of thick orange liquid onto a sugar cube.

“Open, wide.”

And Penba, sitting on a tall stool, obeyed. The nurse shoved the sugar cube under his tongue then placed a hand under his jaw, forcing his mouth closed and holding it until his throat gulped. While she held his head securely and close to her body Penba wondered why so many buttons of the nurse’s uniform were undone, exposing a hint of burgandy lace.

“A month ago I would made you drop your pants and bend over that stool. I’d have given you a big old shot right in your left ass cheek. Those were the good old days.” The nurse let out a small sigh them asked Penba to open his mouth again. Still firmly holding the back of his head she stuck her finger under his tongue and probed it roughly around.

“OK, you’ve swallowed, please sign the training roster. Include your employee ID number and the date and time please.”

She shoved a clipboard into his hand and after a scribble to get the pen working he filled in the bottom line.

“Please proceed to the restroom. You will soon feel some digestive discomfort and then experience a slight fever for twenty four hours as the virus runs its course. Please report to your workstation at seven AM tomorrow morning to begin.”

Penba slid off the stool and wavered a little. He could feel a strong grumbling in his stomach already. It quickly began spreading downward, into his gut. This was a fast acting virus indeed. He started stumbling forward, moving toward the restroom as quickly as he cold.

“Next!” the nurse yelled in Penba’s ear as she looked at the clot of new employees waiting in a cluster of folding chairs.

There was only one unisex restoom and Penba walked down the long line of stalls looking for an unoccupied one. The room smelled horribly and he could hear groans, sighs, and obscene liquid noises coming from behind each closed door. He reached the end of the line and there were no unoccupied stalls. Penba was beginning to have to clench and was getting worried when a door opened and a middle aged woman scurried out and began looking around. Penba pointed to a handwritten sign taped to the wall that said, “Sinks in the next room down the hall,” and quickly slid into her stall before somebody else came in.

He fiddled with the lock, trying to get it to hold, before he gave up, sat down and wedged it with one foot. As he sat, waves of nausea washed over his body, alternating with flashes of heat and cold chills. He sweated profusely until his shirt was drenched. Penba had always been a very private, proper person and tried his best to be quiet, clenching his teeth and jaw, but finally gave up and let out a shout of discomfort to join in the symphony of groans that filled the restroom.

With each wave of sickness that the fast-acting virus forced through his reeling system, Penba found his head filling with new-found memories. These were very clear and strong, like they were events that had happened this morning, but he could not place where these memories had actually come from. They were, of course, the result of the book virus he had been infected with, and were memories that he would never forget.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Fresh Spam by Bill Chance

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”
― Dave Barry
 

Mural, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#75) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Fresh Spam

The group came into the restaurant. They were obviously businessmen, with the proper suits, uncomfortable shoes, and thin ties. One was young, the other three gray.

The waiter took their orders.

“I had the oxtail soup last week,” said one of the older men. “It was quite good. Can I have another order off the same ox?”

“Absolutely, sir,” said the waiter without hesitation.

“I see the special, Spam and eggs,” said the younger man. “Is your Spam from a can or do you make it fresh?”

“We make a fresh batch every morning using the finest organic ingredients, all locally sourced,” replied the waiter.

The younger man smiled and the others nodded – appreciating their apprentice’s knowledge of fine dining and his insistence on being treated in the manner he deserved.

One man was having difficulty making his choice. He asked the man to his left, “I say, have you tasted the stew?”

“Yes,” the man said, “I’ve tasted it twice. Once going down and once coming up.”

“I should order something else then?”

“Absolutely.”

Finally the orders were made, the dinners brought out, sent back because they were too well done. Upon return they went back again for more heat. The third time was the charm.

Between the tinkling of silverware on fine china bits of conversation escaped.

“I heard you this morning and wish you wouldn’t whistle at your work.”

“I wasn’t working, Sir; only whistling.”

“I thought you’d be married by now”.

“I proposed to one girl and would have married her if it hadn’t been for something she said.”

“What did she say?”

“No!”

The other two began to argue.

“But if you will allow me to—-”

“Oh! I know what you are going to say, but you’re wrong and I can prove it.”

Drinks were ordered and refreshed. One man was sticking to ice water, “When one is really thirsty, there is nothing so good as pure, cold water.”

Another replied, sloshing an amber liquid in a heavy glass “I guess I have never been really thirsty.”

The conversation turned to gossip about their coworkers that had not been invited.

“His versatility is amazing.”

“I thought he was stupid.”

“That’s just it. I never met a man who could make more different kinds of a fool of himself.”

“HarHarHar!”

Cigars were produced, two smoked, two merely chewed upon.

The subject kept returning to finances.

“Money! There are a million ways of making money.”

“But only one honest way.”

“What way is that?”

“I didn’t think you would know,” was the answer.

“The true secret of success, is to find out what the people want.”

“And the next thing is to give it to them,” suggested the young man.

“No it is to corner it and sell it in dribbles at the highest price.”

The dessert tray was brought around, covered in obscene combinations of gorgous treats piled up in an artistic arrangement. The most attractive waitress was given this duty. Each man asked careful questions about every sweet offering and they all smiled broadly at the melodious answers. But, in the end, they declined, moaning and rubbing their bellies and feeling upstanding and noble at turning down such temptation.

The bill came and a slightly generous tip was added. The cost was handed off to the company, though no real business had been discussed.

The four parted ways on the sidewalk outside and all proceded home except the youngest who had the stamina to meet some friends at a bar and make a night out of it. They all had the same thought, how dull their co-workers were, and how lucky those men were that he was around to pull their fat out of the fire.

Short Story Of the Day – Cleveland Arcade by Bill Chance

“There is only one place to write and that is alone at a typewriter. The writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. . . when you leave your typewriter you leave your machine gun and the rats come pouring through.”
Charles Bukowski, Notes of a Dirty Old Man
 

Cleveland Arcade


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#74) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Cleveland Arcade

In Cleveland there is The Arcade… not an arcade, The Arcade. It is a downtown passage between two nine-story buildings – a five story Victorian wonder of steel and glass. It has four levels of balconies opening up into the surprising interstitial space. Built in 1890, it was a breathtaking wonder of its day. I looked it up – the skylight is three hundred feet long and arches one hundred feet up and has one thousand eight hundred panes of glass.

It has since been restored and cut up into hotel and retail space but I like to think of The Arcade as it was when we first saw it, forty years ago. At that time it was getting a little ragged and not all the storefronts were occupied. That only increased the feeling of age, history, and romanticism.

The Arcade was a space out of time. We never tired of turning from the bitter cold Cleveland sidewalk into this overheated ancient world. There were a few shops selling cheap food or caffeine, but we never otherwise found anything to buy… which was a good thing. We didn’t want to shop, we only wanted to be.

At lunch time the place was packed. We didn’t know where all those people came from or where they were going but they poured through The Arcade like water from a summer thunderstorm. In from the streets at both ends, up the stairs, across the floor, down the stairs, along the balconies… the crowd flowed. It was not a collection of individuals, it was a crowd in every sense, a sentient being of its own where all individual joys, worries, desires, fears, fashion, opinion, ideas, and prejudices melded together into a huge communal amoeba coursing through the space.

Except for the couple.

The two of them stood on the Euclid Avenue end on the platform that was at the same level as the street right at the top of the central stairs running down to the bottom floor. They were young, both impossibly handsome, and dressed in perfect fashion – he in a light gray Italian Business Suit and her in a trim jacket and plaid skirt. The both carried their warm coats perfectly folded across their arms.

They were the perfect couple. They were what everyone wants to be – what everyone dreams of becoming. They were so perfect that to see them was to ache with the disappointment that you will never walk in those expensive, perfectly fitting shoes. You will never be that beautiful, that fit, or that well-groomed. Next to these two you are a troll scraping in the mud beneath a crumbling stone bridge.

Their world is open and unlimited. Yours is a long, too long, dreary trudge upslope and into the wind to merciful death. Their world is colorful – shades of fashionable tan accented with that green-blue teal or turquoise color of a shallow tropical sea. All you have to look forward to is grimy gray and shit brown.

Their clothes fit, their feet don’t hurt, their mouths don’t have canker sores, their cuticles don’t bleed, their breath doesn’t smell bad, their joints don’t pop when they move.

They saw all the best movies and read all the best books and never watched television at all.

The perfect couple.

But they were having a tremendous fight. He was not holding his own – he was standing still and quiet with his head bent down and looking at his shoes. And she was really giving him hell. She had a real set of lungs on her and she was using all that breath and projection to pour her anger out and over him. She was yelling so loud that her voice could be heard roaring over the cacophony of the thousands of people at lunch time.

The crowd didn’t look at them but it parted as it approached and joined back together an appropriate distance beyond. The sound of her berating echoed through the overall din though nobody really could hear exactly what she was so angry about.

That was forty years ago and things have changed. If life is a parabola that was the moment at the peak where the trajectory began to curve inexorably down. I am no longer fit and no longer fashionable. I live in a dirty drafty old studio apartment carefully calculating to see if my meager savings will be enough to survive.

I stand in the mirror amazed at the ugliness in the world.

I live on black coffee and insulin.

And what about her? A series of wrong decisions, bad marriages and worse divorces. The decades of struggle took their toll. We haven’t spoken to each other in decades – though people still talk about us as if we were together, reveling in the reflections of the past.

I marvel that we were that couple… once, long ago, for a brief, shining moment. Maybe we flew too close to the sun and the wax melted. Maybe, for all we had, it wasn’t enough. Maybe we simply weren’t all that – even though we thought we were.

The arc… the rise is never as exhilarating as the descent is heartbreaking.

And there it is, you have everything in the palm of your hand… it slips away. You argue. You give in and don’t stand up. You make a mistake. Destiny and despair.

And here you are.

Short Story Of the Day – Pain of an Injured Child by Bill Chance

“Goodbye, Hari, my love. Remember always–all you did for me.”

-I did nothing for you.”

-You loved me and your love made me–human.”

― Isaac Asimov, Forward the Foundation

 

Bikes and Robots
Hickory Street
Dallas, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#73) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Pain of an Injured Child

Last week, Sammy slid and tumbled off his new bicycle and skidded through the gravel on the road shoulder. He picked himself up and gingerly hopped back on, riding slowly home. The skin was torn and broken with some tiny pieces of stone imbedded in the flesh. He tried to conceal it from his father by giving it a half-hearted washing and gauzing.

That was not enough to fool the old man. He pulled the bandage off and roughly scrubbed the skin under hot soapy water. His father reached up onto the top shelf of the medicine cabinet and pulled down an evil-looking ancient bottle of some awful dark reddish-purple liquid.

MECURICHROME, it said.

His father poured the bottle over the disturbed skin, which sent Sammy into howls of pain.

“That hurts!” he said, “That really hurts… that really burns!”

“That’s how you know it’s working,” said his father. Then he pulled out gauze and tape, wrapping everything tight with experienced, calm hands.

Today, Sammy was trying out his folding knife, whittling sticks he picked up under the trees around the back yard. His father had told him when he opened the knife on his birthday, “Always cut away from you.”

Sammy did not understand why he said that, or exactly what it meant.

Today, cutting on a thick pine branch covered with knots, the knife slipped and he suddenly discovered what it meant and why it was important.

The cut along his forearm was deep and Sammy gulped a deep panic of air when he saw how far the knife had plunged. He stumbled into the house and the arms of his mother. She took one look at the injury and called her husband.

“Take a look at this.” She said, “See what you can do and I’ll call the doctor.”

Sammy’s father led him into the bathroom to clean the wound.

“This looks like it might need stiches,” said his father.

“Oh, no! I don’t want stiches!”

“Can’t be helped.”

Sammy’s father held the arm under the flowing faucet until the water washed most of the fluid away. Pulling on the wound both father and son peered deep into the gash. Around the titanium struts, the maze of fine wires and delicate tubes spiraled by under the skin. It was obvious that the bundles had been disturbed and a few tiny wires coiled upward out of place, cut.

“Stitches aren’t going to be enough, dear,” he called out to his wife. “Better call the electrician.”

Short Story Of the Day – Rocket Launcher by Bill Chance

The Diabolical sometimes assumes the aspect of the Good, or even embodies itself completely in its form. If this remains concealed from me, I am of course defeated, for this Good is more tempting than the genuine Good.

—–Franz Kafka


Helicopter shadow, Pacific Plaza Park, Dallas, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#72) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Rocket Launcher

We sold the last three cows in the village. They were not worth much; they were as much skin and bones as the rest of us. But it gave us the money we needed.

The gunrunners met us in a hidden spot in the mountains. We had to climb all night to get there. They said we hadn’t brought enough but we told them it was all we had. In the end, they sold us the rocket launcher for a promise to pay more later.

It was even harder to climb back down lugging the heavy crates through the jungle. By the time we reached the bluffs outside the village the helicopter had already been by once and its machine gun had already raked our huts – killing many, some in my family. We were too late.

While we were setting it up, putting it together, the helicopter came back again. We were too slow.

Now I wait. The helicopter always comes back a third time. It waits until right before dark, when the survivors have to return to their huts to escape the nighttime jungle dangers.

I look at my rocket launcher and run my hands up and down its long shape. It is dark gray and covered in yellow writing I can’t read in letters I’ve never seen.

The feeling I get when I touch the rocket launcher is the same one I used to feel when I was around the young girls in my village before the revolution came. It’s only been a year but my memory has faded. They are only blurred ghosts now – in my memory and in the real world. The army carried off the ones that weren’t killed by the helicopters.

From up on the bluff, next to my rocket launcher, and covered in tree branches we cut this morning, I can peer out and see what’s left of the village, a drab oval in the middle of the bright green of the jungle. The river winds around, its brown slow water coursing past. I look at the shallow spot where I used to take the cows for water, where I would sit and watch the girls bathing or doing laundry. That was another time.

In the distance, I can hear a faint thumping noise. The helicopter is coming back. Someone is going to die. It might be me. It might not. I don’t really care.

 

 

Short Story Of the Day – Event Horizon by Bill Chance

“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”
― Terry Pratchett,
Lords and Ladies

Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 165


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#71) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


I stumbled across a facebook group for a weekly flash challenge.

This week is a photo prompt – 750 word limit.

The explanation of the photo in the prompt:

This week’s picture prompt is sadly untraceable. It’s all over pinterest, but I can’t find anyone crediting it. Lots of people calling it street art, but where and by who? I tried loads of foreign sites. Even the Turkey Tribune used this for a poet to write to, but didn’t credit the source of the art. Such a shame cuz I love it but I don’t know where it is or who did it. 


 

Event Horizon

Time is a completely different thing on each side of an event horizon.

When the Dark Empire, violating every tenet of the rules of interstellar war, unleashed the singularity bombs on civilian populations across the galaxy, all fled the doom of the growing black holes. Some escaped in time, but millions were trapped inside. And a few, a cursed few, were caught in between.

When the attack came on New Zoya City, Xander said, “Run Hola, run! Run like your life depends on it, because it does!”

Xander and Hola ran before the oncoming horror, the giant sphere expanding until it looked like a solid wall blown before the wind. He thought they had a chance, but when he realized they were going to be overtaken he tried to push Hola, the love of his life, ahead. But he slipped in his panic and twisted as he fell and she stumbled back into disaster just as the expansion slowed to a stop.

And now, every day, Xander visits the event horizon where only the tip of Hola’s face emerges, only enough for him to recognize, only enough for him to remember.

The newest research by the bio-physicists prove beyond the shadow of a doubt the existence of the soul. After all, without a soul, what is the matrix that consciousness exists upon? But what of a soul that is trapped in an event horizon? Two halves of the soul are moving in different times – what looks frozen is in reality moving at a glacial pace.

Xander stares at that fragment of face, trying to see a tiny wisp of breath or a microscopic quiver of movement. There is nothing.

He is trapped in the event horizon as much as Hola is. And he know it. Trapped by guilt and longing and memory. Does she know it too? Does she hate him as much as he deserves?

These questions and millions more will haunt him as long as he lives and he knows he won’t live a fraction of the time he must to find the answers.

Short Story Of the Day – Wild Gossip by Bill Chance

No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.”
― Bertrand Russell, On Education

Plenty of doofus hipsters to keep things lively.


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#70) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


 

Wild Gossip

The trip had turned out badly and Willard was exhausted. The airport was crowded and the people were cramming in on him. Fighting back the bitter enervated feeling of bone-weariness he was relieved to spot a bench in an alcove where he could plop down and try to collect himself.

But he didn’t stay alone very long. Two older women shambled up and he skootched down to one end so they could sit down. They immediately began chatting in loud voices – with one mostly talking, the other listening and nodding her head. She was talking gossip about people they both knew. Willard could not help but listen.

“Chad lied to Abigail about why Jake thinks there’s something going on between him and Gwen. Jake saw Gwen kissing him. Chad thought it was the only way to get rid of her. Gwen really did get a raw deal, walking in on Gabi and Jake in bed together.”

“Of course, Chad is mad at Jake for blabbing about him and Gwen. He is always a fighter and told his brother not to push him. Chad told him to look for a new place to live.”

“It turns out; Gwen gave Abigail drugs to make her hallucinate. Gwen was trying to make Jake jealous. And that didn’t work out very well.”

“You’d never believe it – Xander was making out with Sarah by the nurses’ station. Xander was bitching about being co-CEO with Philip. At least Brady was somewhat competent. He did not think Philip is his equal. Xander thought about quitting but Sarah talked him out of it.”

“Holy Shit!” Willard thought. What is wrong with these people? Drugs, sex, making out in a hospital? He couldn’t imagine any family being as fucked up as these people were. But the women kept up the gossip. He had no choice but to keep on listening.

” Vincent’s car blew up. Everyone heard Ben scream out Ciara’s name. Ben tried to rush the car but when he hit the smoke, he fell unconscious. The firefighters came to contain the fire.”

“Sharon showed up at Adam’s motel room. She told him her cancer has spread – she is scared and tired and feels her life is out of control. Later, Sharon fell asleep, and Adam wrote a note saying that he is gone for food, and then he left here there. But never came back.”

“While all this was going on – at the ranch, Victor told Nikki that Alyssa’s back from Kansas and wants to punish Adam for killing her father. He threatened her and realized he made a dreadful mistake telling Adam the truth.”

Willard thought that this was getting ridiculous. How could anyone take this much insane drama? Cancer, murder, cars exploding – and the woman was talking about it all in such a matter-of-fact way. It was like this sort of thing happened every day.

Suddenly, Willard’s eyes opened wide. He had figured it out.

“Soap operas!” he said to the women. They turned to him, surprised.

“What?” they both said, in unison.

“Soap operas. You are telling the plots of soap operas.”

“Of course,” said the woman that had been talking. “Mabel just flew back from two weeks in Cancun and I’m helping her catch up with what she missed.”

“Sorry to startle you,” Willard said, “Well, I have a plane to catch. Hope everybody ends up good in the end.”

The two women watched him walk off before resuming their tale. Willard, for the first time in a week, had a smile on his face.

 


This little story actually happened to me when I was a kid. I was flying back from Nicaragua to Kansas, a refugee after the earthquake, actually… and was very tired. I was resting on a bench in an airport (probably Tampa) and listened to a couple old women trading soap opera stories. It took me a while before I realized that they weren’t talking about real people. I was quite relieved.

The fun part of writing this is, of course, coming up with the gossip. I’ll admit, I cheated, and looked up some soap opera digest articles to get a feel for the action. I stole the names… they were the craziest part – Chad, Gabi, Jake, Xander – those are such soap opera names.

Short Story Of the Day – Punch Card by Bill Chance

“It’s been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
― Thomas Pynchon,
Gravity’s Rainbow

Galatyn Station, DART, Richardson Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#69) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


I try and keep most of what I write here to around a thousand words. This one is about three times as long – sorry, I know time is short, but I really didn’t feel up to cutting it down too much.

I had a little trouble with technology. This is from an outline I wrote several years ago – when Angry Birds was a thing. Now, it’s already too late.


Punch Card

“Grampa Ron! Grampa Ron! Lookit what I got for my birthday!”

Sammy Meeks shouted as he tore through down the hall and into his beloved grandfather’s study, waving a new digital tablet.

“Well well, let’s take a look at that,” Ron said as he adjusted the glasses on his head. Sammy turned the tablet so his grandfather could see the screen and with a flick of the finger set a flock of birds flying into a stone castle occupied by evil pigs.

“Angry Birds, Grampa, Angry Birds!”

“Well whataya know. What will they come up with next?”

“I’m sixteen today and this is my present.”

“You know, Sammy, when I was sixteen they didn’t have things like that.”

“I know Grampa Ron, even I remember when they didn’t have these. You must have used a laptop.”

“No, Sammy, we didn’t have laptops. I had never even seen a computer until I was in college, and they didn’t look like they do now.”

“What did they look like, Grampa?”

“Well, believe it or not, the first computer I used filled up half of one floor of a whole office building.”

“It must have been powerful.”

“Nope, I’ll bet that little tablet is ten times more powerful that this thing was. It wasn’t as powerful as my phone.”

“Half as big as a building? How did you use it.”

“Oh, Sammy, now that’s a story. Got a minute?”

“Sure Grampa, always for you.”

“It didn’t have a keyboard or a screen. It printed out reports… that’s all it did. And to put stuff in, you used these.”

Ron pointed to a frame, mounted on his wall. Sammy walked over to look at it. Mounted, matted, and professionally framed, was a rectangular piece of beige card, with one corner cut off. It had a series of square holes cut into it and a dot-matrix sentence printed across the top. Sammy moved closer, and squinted a bit, so he could read the legend.

I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine,” Sammy read. “Grandpa Ron, What does that mean?”

“Well, Sammy, like I said, that’s a long story. It’s the story of how I met your Grandmother. Do you have a while?”

“I got all day, Grampa.”

So Grampa Ron Meeks settled down in his desk chair, half-closed his eyes, and started to tell the story.


I hated the punch card machine more than anything I had ever hated before. I was a junior, majoring in comparative literature and since I wasn’t in the computer science department I could only use the computer lab after ten in the evening. The giant computer itself took up half of the bottom floor of the building – but nobody went there. The other half was filled with a filthy snack bar, lined with rusty automats that spat out moldy candy bars and bags of stale off-brand potato chips – and a series of dingy rooms filled with hundreds of punch card machines.

I had taken an elective class in Fortran programming because I thought that computers were the future and I was worried about paying rent after graduation. Writing the assigned programs was easy – find the sides and angles of a right triangle, the day of a date, or draw a series of boxes. I could write the code, but I couldn’t punch the cards.

My homework problems had to be punched onto cards. I had to buy a case of the damn things at the beginning of the semester. I couldn’t imagine using all those cards. I didn’t know. Three months later, I had to buy another half-box from some kid in my dorm.

This was worse than a typewriter. You would load a stack of cards into the machine and then it would warm up and start to hum. The heat would rise and the ozone would burn your nose. The keys were big and yellow and had to be shoved hard before the machine would roar and then… “Blam!” it would whack a little tiny rectangle out of the card. A paper flake would fly through the air to join the thick layer of cardstock confetti coating the floor and a corresponding hole would appear in the card itself.

With the punch card machine a mistake was a disaster. Sure, the code printed out along the top of the card but they never put new ribbons in the machines and it was always too faint for me to read. When I had my stack of cards all finished I’d take them into the computer room, wrap them with a rubber band, and shove them through this little wooden door in the wall where they would fall down a chute.

Then it was time to wait. Wait for hours. I’d spend all night there, waiting for my program to run. Then, my output would drop down another, bigger, chute into a pile. Every time an output would drop, all the kids waiting would run to see if it was theirs. It was horrible.

You see, if your program ran correctly you’d get a few sheets of paper with the code and the answer printed on it but I never did, at least not the first three or four times. I’d find my cards still rubberbanded together and clipped to a huge stack of pinfeed folded green and white striped paper. On the top would be a handwritten note that would say something like, “Core Dump, you loser!”

Whenever you made a mistake, even a tiny one, the core would dump and the computer would print out hundreds of pages of gibberish. You were supposed to carefully peruse the printouts and find your error in there somewhere but nobody had time for that. You’d throw the printout in this huge wooden bin, scratch your head, and start looking for your mistake. I have no idea why they wasted all that paper.

Sometimes it would be a mistake in my work, but usually it was a typo in my card punching. The little holes corresponded to letters, numbers, or symbols and I punched out a card with everything on it, in order, and I would slide the thing slowly over every card I had punched to find the mistake.

It was horrible. I would be so tired, my eyes swimming, sitting at that huge punch machine, trying to type. Even when I made it through a card, I’d be terrified I had made an unknown error and would generate another core dump. It was killing me… but I had nowhere else to go.

Our instructor was always harping on us to put in comment cards. These were punch cards marked in a certain way so that they didn’t make the computer do anything, but simply left comments. You were supposed to leave comments about what your code was supposed to be doing or what your variable represented or why you decided to do something the way you did. It was a pain in the ass and I never did it until the teacher started marking my grade down because I had insufficient comments in my code.

So I started putting the comments in, though I never commented on the code. I figured he didn’t really look through everybody’s work for these things and only took the computer’s count of how many comments were in here. Sometimes I’d just gripe… like, “Fortran really sucks,” or “This is too hard,” or “It’s way too late at night to be doing this.

This got to be pretty boring pretty fast so I switched to some of my favorite Shakespeare Quotes, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” or “There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting,” or “I am not bound to please thee with my answer.” I might make some mistakes punching the comments… but who cared? They would still go through as comments and you could still read them.

I remember the day when I picked up my output and, sure enough, there was the big thick stack of folded paper, another core dump, but instead of a handwritten note, there was a punched card on top of my stack. It was different in that it had been done on a machine that had a fresh ribbon in it and across the top, in crisp, clear, printing, it said, “Funny Comments Ronald. You’re getting close. Ck crd 7 error in do loop – Christine.

And sure enough, in my seventh card I had hit a capital letter “Z” instead of a number “2.” I never would have seen that.

So I redoubled my efforts at witty, humorous, and obscure quotations for my comment cards. I was reading this huge crazy new book called Gravity’s Rainbow and one day I quoted from it. Stuff like, “You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.” or “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers,” or “Danger’s over, Banana Breakfast is saved.”

My program ran that time and the card on top said, “A screaming comes across the sky – Christine,” which made me so happy I didn’t stop smiling for a day.

The next program, I added a comment card that said, “Christine, I can’t see you – Ronald.

And it came back with, “I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine.

So I thought about it and worked up my courage. At the end of a program that I larded with my best quotes from the composition book I carried with me and scribbled in all the time… my commonplace book, I finished with a card that said “Christine, I want to meet you – Ronald.”

All that night I was the first to fight their way in to grab any program that slid down the chute, only to be disappointed again and again as other student’s projects ran before mine. Finally, as the sky was beginning to turn a light pink in the west, my program dropped. On top was a card. I ran back to my dorm room to read it, not daring to look at it anywhere in public.

It said, “Love to Ronald. Snarky’s at six, on Thursday. Don’t be late – Christine.”

Snarky’s was a little chain restaurant off campus not far from the computer building. My heart almost beat out of my chest. Thursday was going to take a long time to get there.


I didn’t want to be late, so I showed up outside Snarky’s a half hour early and paced back and front in front of the place for fifteen minutes.

I was so nervous and excited. I had barely been on a date since I arrived at school and had never had a girlfriend. This was so weird, meeting somebody I had never even seen… but it was my best chance and I was going crazy.

So I went inside a good fifteen minutes early, sat down, and asked for water. Twenty minutes later, nobody had shown up.

“Well, sport, you ready to order yet?” asked my waitress. She was skinny and wearing this awful uniform covered with little badges that had smiley faces or stupid phrases like, “Have a nice day!” or “Today is the first day in the rest of your life.” She stood there tapping her pen on her little black order book.

“I’m sorry, I already told you; I’m waiting for someone. I’m waiting for my date.”

“She better get here soon, this is our busy time and I need the tips off of this table.”

“She was supposed to be here by now. I’m sorry. It’ll be any minute now, I’m sure.”

“OK Romeo, what does she look like? Maybe she’s already sitting somewhere else.”

I looked up at the waitress. Her name tag said, “Mabel.”

“I’m sorry, Mabel, I have no idea what she looks like.”

“Give me a break… you don’t think my name really is Mabel, do you. Not that I care but I’m Audrey. I hate these name tags and write something different every day. Oh, and what the hell do you mean you don’t know what she looks like?”

So I explained it. Everything. I even had the punch card, the one that’s in the frame, tucked into my jacket pocket. I showed it to her.

“Oh Shit!” she said, “Those bastards!”

I was confused. All I could do is stammer out some garbled noise.

“It’s those computer lab guys. They are in here all the time. A bunch of them. The worst dirty hairy stupid idiots you ever saw. And they are lousy tippers too.”

I still didn’t get it. “What are you talking about?”

“Wake up and smell the coffee, sport. They set you up. They sent you those cards so you couldn’t tell from the handwriting. There isn’t any Christine. They’re probably in the back room checking on you, laughing their idiot asses off. I’ll go check.”

So she spun and left. I sat there shaking, doing everything I could do to keep from bursting into tears. I cradled my water and gripped it hard, to stop my hands from shaking. After about ten minutes, Audrey the waitress came back.

“Sure enough, sport. They are in the back room having a good old time at your expense. Don’t look, they’re peeking over the salad bar at you. I’m sorry, that sucks, those guys are real assholes. And bad tippers, which kinda goes together.”

I could feel my ears burning. I was terribly dizzy and sick. It felt like everybody in the place knew my humiliation and was staring at me. The normal buzz of conversation rose around me and I knew everyone was talking about me. I couldn’t even raise my eyes, my sight up above my empty water glass.

“Nothing I can do,” I mumbled.

“Do? Do?” Audrey the waitress said, “Oh, don’t worry about that, sport. Their order was up when I was back in the kitchen. I had the dishwashers all spit in their sandwiches.”

When she said that, everything suddenly broke and the room seemed silent and clear and bright as noon. I looked up into the face of Audrey the waitress and knew then that I was suddenly hopelessly and helplessly in love.

And that was how I met your grandmother.


“I’ve heard you say so much about Grandma Audrey,” Sammy said. “I wish I could’a met her.”

“Me too. We married a year after graduation and your father was born a year after that. He didn’t even know her, really, he was only three when they found the cancer in her pancreas. She went downhill very fast. Back then, we didn’t even take very many pictures, except of your father.”

“So you don’t have much of hers,” Sammy said. “That’s why you keep that card in the frame. That way you have something to remember her by.”

“Not much of hers? Oh no, you’re wrong about that. The only reason I keep that card is…. well, to make little boys like you ask questions. I remember her by your father. For all these years she’s been gone… every day… no… every second of every minute of every hour I remember her by your father, and your big sister, and you… and maybe even your kids someday.”

Sammy didn’t know what to say. He brought his new tablet up and snapped a picture of his Grandpa Ron sitting in his desk chair and then set it as the background on the screen.

“Enough of this,” Grandpa Ron said, “Let’s go outside and throw the football around before it gets too dark. Or is that too old fashioned for you?”

“Nope, that sounds cool.”

“Well, you find the ball and I’ll be out in a minute once I turn the lights out in here.”

Sammy spun and ran off to look for the football. Ron stood, and stretched the creakiness out of his bones. He reached over and turned off the lamp. Before he left the room he leaned over and placed a quick kiss on the glass that covered the framed punch card.

 

Short Story Of the Day – Slow Advance by Bill Chance

“No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.”
― Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Apartment Building, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#68) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


 

Slow Advance

I finally kicked down the neighbors’ door to find they had moved out. All that was left was a recording of them arguing. At full volume. I saw the eight track player. My father showed me one of those once and explained the tape inside was a loop. It would never stop. I stood there, gobsmacked.

The sound system was sitting on the threadbare shag carpet. There was absolutely nothing else in the apartment.  I turned the volume knob down and hit the blue led-lit power switch. It turned to red. I spun around and headed home. I had splintered the door jamb, so the door wouldn’t latch. In the hallway I paused, returned, and pulled the eight track cartridge.

“That was quick,” Jane said as I walked back in, “what the hell is that in your hand.” I set the tape down on the coffee table and she handed me my beer. It was still cold. Jane picked the eight track up and started to stare at it.

“They weren’t home,” I said.

“No, that’s impossible. We’ve been listening to them both scream at each other all day.”

“It wasn’t them, It was that,” I gestured at the tape.

“Well, at least it’s quiet now,” Jane said. “Hand me the remote, I want to watch Glee.”

I had to go into work early the next day and open up. Mr. Billet, the owner, called me and asked how business was.

“Slow as ever, boss.”

He sounded depressed. Nobody rents movies anymore, I don’t know how long he will stay in business. I don’t know how he’s stayed open this long – he must have money from his parents, I know he lives with his mom. She’s really old. I called Jane in the afternoon at work. She runs the counter from noon to six at Simon’s Pawn down on Forester street.

“Hey, Jane, do you have any eight track players in the pawn shop?”

“Hell no. Nobody’s seen one of those this century. Why?”

“I want to listen to the tape. I want to hear what they are arguing about.”

“Well, good luck with that.” Jane said this in that tone of voice that I hate so much, that “Why do I bother with this loser” tone. It made me mad enough to slam the phone down.

That little bit of mad stayed in my head all day. It stayed enough that I couldn’t sleep. Well after midnight I laid there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that had happened, that I was afraid was going to happen, when , in between Jane’s sawing snores, I heard it.

Crying, mostly. A long, slow, quiet weeping that would build over a few minutes then build quickly into a few seconds of loud wailing, then it would die down to silence. If I listened carefully, I could hear a few minutes of quiet mumbling, barely audible, and an evil muttering laugh. Then the crying would start again.

“Jane, wake up,” I shook her shoulder.

“God no! Not now.”

“No, not that, listen.”

“Shit, I was asleep. You take care of it.”

The super had nailed a strip of wood over the broken jamb and locked the door. A shoulder and the thing sprung open. There it was again – the big blue light, and another tape stuck in the player. I hit the button, pulled the tape and went home.

I put the tape cassette on the coffee table next the the first one. I turned on the lamp by the couch and looked them both over. They were different colors, the arguing tape was red and the crying one a faded blue. They looked crude, homemade, with no labels. The only markings were handwritten numbers – 4 on the first, 7 on the second.

When I came in to work the next day, Mr. Billet was leaned over a big book he carried, full of lines and tables of numbers. He looked really depressed.

“Mr. Billet,” I said, “Do you have an eight track player I could borrow? Maybe a portable one?” I knew he and his mom had all sorts of old crap around their place, he had been asking me about eBay the last week, wondering if he could sell some stuff to help make ends meet.”

“Sure, what do you need it for?”

“Oh, I found these old tapes and I wanted to listen to them… By the way, could you record on the things?”

“Oh, most people only played them. Mostly in their cars. But I remember a few units, some of the very first ones, had recording capability. Not very popular… but it was there.”

He brought in this huge, nasty-looking boombox thing after lunch and I lugged it out to my car. At home I set it up on the coffee table and when she saw it, Jane didn’t like it. Not at all.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

“But I want to listen to the tapes.”

“What the hell for? Our crazy neighbors tape themselves arguing and play it all night long to drive us crazy and what the hell do I care! Don’t encourage them!”

She was furious. I was too. I started to scream back.

“All I want to do is to listen to something and you won’t even give me that much satisfaction! I am sick of this crap!…..”

On and on it went. Man, that woman had some lungs. And one hell of a memory. Things I had done years ago, when we had first met… she threw it out at me like it had happened yesterday. We built higher and higher until we weren’t even sure what we were screaming about any more, we just screamed.

She grabbed the tapes and hurled them at the wall, I stuck a paw out and deflected one onto the couch, where it bounced harmlessly. The other smashed and and splinters of blue plastic flew out in an explosion of fragments. I looked and saw a tangled mass of brown tape sliding down the wall.

Jane reached for the giant boom box but before she could smash it I gave her a push. She stumbled back and went down over the corner of the coffee table. I was scared she was hurt, but she popped right back up and stormed out without saying a word.

So that was that. I felt like my guts had been pulled out through my mouth. I sat for a long time, staring at the open front door, watching the hall as the light faded. Finally, I stood, closed the door, and turned to the one good tape and the boom box.

I had heard it before, of course, but muffled by the thin apartment walls. When it was played next door I could hear arguing, but not the individual words – not even the individual voices.

At first, the arguing couple on the tape wasn’t speaking English. It was some guttural language, maybe Eastern European. Of course, I had no idea what they were talking about, but they were sure going at it. After about five minutes of this, of escalating anger, there was a slamming door, and then the tape went silent for a few seconds. I thought I could hear some humming, but that was about it.

Then another argument started. This one was in English, but it wasn’t from around here. It was English English, or maybe Australian, I don’t know. It was another couple and they were arguing about money. He didn’t make enough, she spent too much, it was tearing them apart. They had the most foul speech I had ever heard. It was so weird to hear such awful language coming out in that delicate British accent, it made me chuckle a bit. Then, he accused her of seeing somebody else, she didn’t exactly deny it, there was another door slam, and that was that.

The next argument was in Japanese. Or maybe Chinese, or Korean, I don’t know. This was getting boring. Instead of getting louder like the other two, this couple mostly just kept yelling faster and faster. I was caught off guard when the door slammed and the tape went silent.

“Well, this is a bunch of shit,” I said to myself as I reached out to turn the tape off. Right when my finger touched the button. A voice came screaming out. It was the next argument. This voice I recognized.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

It was Jane. It was the argument we had just had two hours before. Then out came a voice saying the same words I had spouted.

I fell back stunned while Jane and I hammered at each other on the tape. It sounded revolting, both of us, recorded there for everyone to hear.

Then, the door slam. The hum. I couldn’t move. A couple started fighting in Spanish.

What the helll! This was impossible. How could the tape possibly have a fight on it that hadn’t happened yet?

I pulled the tape out but forgot to turn the player off first. The tape caught and the box suddenly started spitting out a big tangled mess. I couldn’t stop it. I dropped the whole thing on the floor and stared at the useless box of plastic and the mound of snarled tape.

What had I just heard? I must have imagined it. It must be my upset state.

Shaken to the core, I stumbled into bed. I fell asleep but woke up from a horrible nightmare. I couldn’t remember what it was but I was drenched in sweat. I lay there tossing until I caught myself moaning and then I started to cry. As I tasted the salt of my tears I suddenly started awake. I sat up and thought of the blue tape, the one Jane had thrown against the wall. It was a tape of someone upset – moaning and crying. Who was it? Was it me? Who was laughing on the tape?