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.