Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Ghost Collecting by Sheila Massie

Yes, there are people who collect ghosts. I happen to be one of them.

—-Sheila Massie, Ghost Collecting

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Now that I’ve completed my goal of writing 100 pieces of fiction in 100 days I’ll post some other types of blog entries. I’m still writing fiction most days, but I’ll revise and edit some and send them out into the big, wide world.

Really there is no better inspiration for a piece of flash fiction than reading or thinking about Craigslist ads. I once went to a performance at an art gallery that was mostly naked women reading Craigslist personal ads.

In this crackerjack story, the author imagines Craigslist selling a haunted item.

Ghost Collecting by Sheila Massie

from Flash Fiction Online

Sheila Massie

Sheila Massie Twitter

In Praise of Spotify

“What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited..”
Alex, A Clockwork Orange

There was live music at the start.

There was an apocalyptic time, long long ago, when I lived for a while in a tent with a couple of other guys. All we had for music was a little plastic battery-powered record player and two albums – Santana Abraxas and Traffic Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. We would listen to them over and over – and buy a lot of batteries.

When I was in college I didn’t have a stereo. I was jealous of friends that did and would spend as much time as I could wrangle at their places listening to music. I was a pest. Listening to good quality music was an expensive luxury.

On my own, as a working stiff – there was a long series of music related technological advances that came and went (and some times came and went again) – 8-Track, Cassettes, LP Vinyl, Reel-to-Reel, Dolby, subwoofers, CD, 5 – channel… on and on. The Walkman was particularly amazing to me – personal, portable, decent quality affordable music – a revelation. This was truly the best of all possible worlds.

And now, in the midst of my old geezerhood, I have finally caught up and have a paid membership to Spotify. And it is amazing. Desktop, laptop, phone, tablet – the entire history of music spread out before me like a groaning buffet table of sound.

Sure, it’s more than a little unnerving to have a giant computer somewhere checking on what I’m listening to and devising playlists that it thinks I might like… unnerving but also useful.

And now I have hooked my Spotify account up with a bluetooth soundbar and a couple of Amazon Echo Dots…. I can lie in my bed and call out, “Alexa, please play album Santana Abraxas,” or “Alexa, please play album Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” I don’t know why I always say “please.”


I stumbled across this odd song and now it’s stuck in my head.

It’s called Prisencolinensinainciusol.

A big hit in Italy – the lyrics are gibberish, but designed to sound like English to non-English speaking listeners. It’s strange, but weirdly addictive. Believe it or not but Alexa will find it on Spotify.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Time is Money by Bill Chance

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
― Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
 

Decatur, 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 (#100) Did it! Now what? What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Time is Money

Clay used his connection, the wire embedded in his brain, to move the car through the busy morning streets. “Breathe and Calm, Breathe and Calm…,” Clay kept repeating this simple phrase through his mind like a mantra, a hope, a dream. The car, however, had other ideas. It kept sending back in an insistent electronic voice.

“Late, late, late!”

And the weather was making it worse. Spitting pellets of ice, whirling wind, cold gray. Clay had to shrug his shoulders and lower his head under the web of ice across the windshield and look through the thawed oval over the dash whenever the autosteer started to lose it, pull the wheel back to correct. “Might as well be driving this old heap myself!”  he cursed as he fingered the  socket in his neck, felt the wire running to the central console.

“Late, late, late!” the car screamed at him silently, electronically, through the wires.

Clay felt the helpless panic welling up. He couldn’t go any faster; since his last accident his car was hooked directly into Central Police Monitoring, the red blinking transponder sitting there on the hood, thick cable running down, through the crudely drilled hole in the stamped steel. Ten seconds spent over the speed limit and his car would die, they would come to haul him away.

Since the Third Time Act was passed, being late for work had been a criminal offense and Clay was afraid he wouldn’t get probation this time.  He made an effort to concentrate, calm himself, and sent an ETA AT WORK request out his connection to the car’s computer. The answer came back immediately, in through his neck connection and spreading through his brain like a sudden cold voice from beyond, telling him he wasn’t going to make it.

He could feel the knurled edges of the single coin in his pocket and knew it wouldn’t be enough. Clay cursed himself for not taking out more cash when he last stopped by the company cashier. The credit chip, mounted to the back of his skull, wired in with the rest, was useless, spent, he had used all his credit privileges months ago. It’s been all coin, paychip to paychip, since then.

“Do you feel lucky, punk? Do you?” He asked himself, mimicking a line in one of his the films from an  ancient cinema class that he took last year, part of his educational requirement.  “A Flexible Mind is a Healthy Mind, A Healthy Mind is a Useful Mind,” he chanted involuntarily, the jingle from the ad campaign that was drilled into everyone following the Second Compulsory Adult Education Act.

Clay didn’t feel particularly lucky, but he pulled into the time station on the corner anyway, looked up at the hand printed sign that said “Time – 4Crts/Hour,” and cursed again. The price was up a whole Credit per hour from yesterday, his single coin would only get him fifteen minutes and he needed at least a half hour. His stomach began to ache as he waited a good three minutes for a time pump to come empty, then pulled forward into the red oval beside the pump.

A familiar push and twist and the connection popped out of his neck, the car immediately died, shut down quiet. He shoved the door open, backed into the freezing rain and felt the sudden sharp pain of wet cold across his neck, his bare hands, saw his fingers redden instantly. He knelt down on his knees on the wet pavement of the station and reached out, feeling along the floor mat and reaching under the seat. His hands kept meeting food wrappers, empty beverage cylinders, plastpaper bags, faded receipts,  bits of flotsam and jetsam, some sticky. A couple handfuls he pulled out, flinging it into the back seat. Digging until his arms reached back to the juncture of the seat and the backrest, he knew the old sagging seat left a gap there.

Clay groped, pushing his fingers down into the carpet, trying to forget the cold water soaking the knees of his pants as he kneeled on the tarmac, trying to ignore the stares of queued customers daggering his way, stuck in line and waiting for him to get finished so they could pull forward.

Suddenly he felt cold metal, the knurled edge. And then, again, there were two! And a third! Pulling them out, he held them up to the gray winter daylight, confirming the triple profiles, two women and one man, of the three current presidents, engraved on the front of the coins. Stamped from cheap steel, they were getting rusty from sitting under the seat for who knows how long, but the imbedded chip, mounted right under the engraving of the new Capitol on the back, would still be working. It was guaranteed.

Two of these three plus the one in his pocket would give him forty five minutes. He only needed thirty, but it had been such a hectic morning, the found coins must be an omen, so Clay decided to splurge. He unscrewed the timechip module mounted on his wrist and placed it on the little blue shelf provided. The three coins went into the slot, “chunk chunk chunk”  it sounded so nice. The last coin rolled back into his coat pocket.  He leaned back against the car, making sure his entire body was inside the red oval embedded at his feet. The ID laser shot out and found his eyes, read his retinas, “Ready?” a cold voice squeaked out of a tinny speaker, and Clay shook his head yes and closed his eyes.

A  wave of nausea washed over him as the singularity wave was generated under the red oval, rising up to tear him and his car out of space, out of time, and fling him back. It only took a second. Clay reached out for his timechip module and replaced it. He closed his eyes and looked at the illusion projected on the inside of his eyelids, Seven-o-Five in the morning. He had indeed been thrown back forty five minutes. Now he had plenty of time to get to work.

As Clay drove away, his commute now leisurely, the hounds at bay for now, he refused to even be bothered by the pesky clanking from the rear transmission. A quick turn on the digital cube  player volume  drowned that unpleasant sound out with a pulsing beat.

Clay made it to work with a good ten minutes to spare. He felt the extra coin in his pocket, an instant of reassurance to run his fingers over the serrated edge.

“Hey Gladys!” He called out cheerfully as he stood in front of the heavy turnstile, waiting for the time clock to read the thin ID chip mounted under the skin of his forehead. He always said “Hey!” to her, he didn’t know what her name was but thought she looked like a “Gladys.”  She didn’t answer, she never did,  deep in concentration, trying to manage the I/O of the two  jacks, one on each side of her neck. “Extra five hundred a year for that little bit of surgery” thought Clay as his hand left the coin to absently touch the single jack on his neck.

“Clang” – and the turnstile admitted him to work for the day.

 

 

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Elevator to Nowhere by Bill Chance

“If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the up button.”
Sam Levenson
 

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 (#99) Almost 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.


Elevator to Nowhere

Mitah and her brother Nutmeg walked up to an elaborate set of doors. The doors themselves were square and as black as the walls surrounding them, only in a dull finish instead of the glossy one that the walls boasted. Surrounding the doors was a gold relief of a pair of trees, their bare branches intertwining above the doors.

She looked at Nutmeg, who nodded.

She inserted the small golden key into the trunk of the right tree and turned it to the right.

The doors dinged open and Mitah and Nutmeg both stared at the room behind the doors. There was a tiny room, which would hold no more than ten small beings easily. It had black walls that gleamed; Mitah could almost count the hairs on her feline ears in that reflection. The floor was a red carpet matching the one they now stood on.

“I suppose we have to go in there.” Nutmeg said.

“Yes, we have a job. We were asked to learn where this key went, and we’ve gotten this far.” Mitah said.

Nutmeg nodded in agreement, and they both stepped into the elevator. Mitah turned back to the doors when she entered and spotted the control panel. There was only one button and it had no writing on it. She looked briefly at Nutmeg before pressing the button.

The doors shut with a ding and the elevator stared moving, carrying them upward.

“Look.” Nutmeg said, and Mitah followed his gaze up above the doors, there was a digital readout that normally announced what floor they were passing, this one only had a red glowing question mark.

“That’s comforting.” Mitah said dryly.

Nutmeg chuckled a bit.

“Best be ready for anything.” Mitah said, her hand moving to rest on her gun and Nutmeg followed suit.

Mitah really had no idea what to expect. They had been introduced to their client on the Alliance’s capital world of Arcturus Prime and he had given them a key.

“This key opens something in the Omnu Hotel, I do not know what, but as I am… how shall we put this? No longer welcome there. I am at a loss on finding a way to learn what.”

Mitah wanted to know how he had come about this key and what he had done, but her professionalism dictated her to keep her mouth shut. She did not need those details to complete the job. After some scouting she and Nutmeg had determined that the elevator doors were the only possibility. Some fancy tampering with the security video had erased their presence around the elevator, but as they had no idea where it lead they would have to play it safe when they arrived at their destination.

Mitah felt the elevator slow and motioned Nutmeg to go to the other side of the door, Mitah pulling up the hood on her jacket, masking her face and distinctive hair and ears, Nutmeg following suit. She pulled her gun out of its holster and readied it, just in case there was an armed unit waiting for them.

The doors opened, and Mitah carefully peered around the edge of the door. She did not see anyone, but she saw cameras. The corridor was wide and long, in a similar style of the rest of the building. It had several large pillars, and Mitah counted six side doors plus one at the very end of the hallway. She did not see any guards, though they likely knew they were there.

Mitah knew they could not hide in the elevator forever so she motioned to Nutmeg that it was time to move. He lead the way and Mitah followed him, ready for anything. The elevator doors slid shut behind her silently, but that silence did not last long, a klaxon sounded, making her jump, her fur standing on end.

Mitah swore and her gun snapped up from her side. The first two doors opened and revealed four circular battle drones. The drones started shooting at them.

They both launched themselves behind the pillars and started returning fire. Most of their shots went wide, but a few hit their marks and quickly the bot’s shielding wore off and they were just heaps of smoking twisted metal.

Mitah motioned forward and together she and Nutmeg checked the rooms that the bots had come out of. They were small and did not hold any more drones.

They moved on approaching the next set of doors warily.

Suddenly Mitah spoke, “Wait.”

She knelt down and examined the air and a momentary glint caught her eye. She had been right.

“Tripwire,” Mitah said.

Nutmeg nodded and started examining higher up, as did Mitah to make sure there were no additional wires. They found several, all at different heights and distances. Carefully they wove through them.

Once they cleared the wires they moved on cautiously, keeping a close eye out for any additional traps. Mitah scanned every direction, but realized too late to keep an eye on the carpet beneath them as the floor gave slightly.

“Nutmeg, move!” She called out as she launched herself into a roll.

Just as she came back there was a blinding flash of light, and she cried out in pain as it painfully jabbed into her eyes, even after they had instinctively shut. It was gone as fast as it had come. Mitah staggered to the side, unable to see, the world dark.

“Nutmeg?” She asked, wondering where he was. She could not hear his breathing.

She stared walking around, patting the air, trying to find one of the walls, praying that she did not trip any traps while blinded. There came a thumping sound from her right, she veered that way. Her vision was returning slowly. She was glad her vision was coming back, but still worried about Nutmeg.

Mitah tried calling out his name again and this time she heard a faint response coming from before her, the same direction as the thumps. Her hands met a wall, one that she did not remember being there, or had she gotten confused on which direction she was facing? She was not sure.

“Mitah!” She heard Nutmeg say, his voice muffled.

“Nutmeg! Where are you?” Mitah asked, blinking furiously, willing her vision to return faster, vague shapes appearing before her.

“Here! Quick, there’s some kind of gas…” Nutmeg said, sounding closer, but still muffled.

“Gas?” Mitah said to herself, she did not smell anything. “Where are you? I don’t smell anything.”

“Behind the wall, I wasn’t fast enough.” Nutmeg’s voice came weakly.

There had been a double trap, Mitah realized. She took a step back and pointed her gun at the wall.

“Nutmeg, duck.” She said and aimed as well as her limited vision allowed.

She let loose a shot. Her blaster’s bolt hit the floor to ceiling wall, but instead of damaging the wall like she had hopped it ricocheted off. Mitah dropped to the floor mentally cursing herself. Her bolt blackened a section of the carpet in the middle of the hallway.

Mitah stood up, vision significantly clearer and holstered her gun. She brought her hands up before her chest and focused on them, calling forth her innate fire. It glowed between her hands and she let it build there, her eyes squinted against the additional light, still not fully recovered. Once she had a decent fireball, she launched it at the wall. It hit and spread, the glass fracturing under the heat. The carpet started smoking, but did not catch fire. Mitah launched another fireball at the same spot, this time breaking through. A large section of the glass wall shattered, falling to the ground.

The gas that had claimed Nutmeg filtered through to her side and she took a deep breath of clean air before going through the opening she had created and hauling Nutmeg out. She took him as far away from the opening as she dared, and checked his vitals.

Nutmeg was still alive, still breathing, but unconscious.

Mitah looked at the three remaining doors, wondering what they might hold, hoping that whatever they were looking for had not been behind the last two, which remained shut behind the cloud of gas. She would have to act quickly, the gas was still leaking out of the hole she had created and she did not want to test how potent it was.

Mitah could not see any differences between the three doors so she picked one at random, going with the one closest to herself and Nutmeg. She opened it and let it swing the rest of the way open by itself.

“I see you’ve found me.” A familiar voice said from within the room.

Mitah looked into the room. It was an office. A large spacious office, with a familiar alien sitting behind a large desk, grinning at her.

“Congratulations. You pass my test.” He said.

Mitah’s tail twitched in confusion and she looked between him and Nutmeg, who was still unconscious.

“Bring him in, it will wear off soon enough. “ He said.

Mitah did as she was asked, still both annoyed and confused.

“What was the point of all that?” Mitah asked.

“Why it was just a test, I have a difficult mission for you, and now that you have passed I will tell you more about it.” He said, holding out his hand and motioning.

Mitah realized that he wanted the key, and she gave it to him, wondering where his real mission would take them.

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Spirit Duplicator by Bill Chance

“We even talked like Hemingway characters, though in travesty, as if to deny our discipleship: That is your bed, and it is a good bed, and you must make it and you must make it well. Or: Today is the day of the meatloaf. The meatloaf is swell. It is swell but when it is gone the not-having meatloaf will be tragic and the meatloaf man will not come anymore.”
― Tobias Wolff, Old School
 

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 (#98) Almost 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.


Spirit Duplicator

Trout Slobber had many reasons for hating his parents. Somewhere in the middle of the pack was, of course, his name. It was an old family name, they explained. He thought it was a tradition that should have been abandoned long ago.

Trout’s favorite thing was to read in his bed at night, under the quilt. The thick, soft fabric tented up over his knees, squinting at the slowly fading yellow circle of a flashlight. His parents rationed his supply of batteries – the sort of thing he hated them for even more than his name. They always admonished him not to “waste things.” For a long time he would steal batteries from the foreign man that ran the gas station. Trout hated to steal, hated the idea that he was a thief, but until Aurora helped him out he felt he had no choice.

He was deeply in love with Aurora Schoner, a tall, skinny girl that caught the school bus at his stop. She wore a silver headgear that looped out from her braces and bent around to hook into an elastic band on the back of her head. Trout knew she hated how the headgear made her look, but he thought it was charming. Aurora had been riding the bus for almost a year and the two of them slowly became friends, as close as awkward kids could be. Trout wondered if Aurora loved him as much as he loved her, but could never uncover the courage to ask.

Aurora gave him batteries. Her parents never seemed to ask questions.

If other kids were around Aurora always referred to Trout as “Master Slobber,” because she thought it was cute – but if the two of them were alone she called him Trout. Aurora was bookish, like Trout, though they never read the same books, other than their school assignments. She liked to read woman’s books full of romance and adverbs.

Their neighborhood was divided by a heavily wooded creek. A road used to cut through the creek and connect the two halves but the bridge was decrepit and unsafe and nobody wanted to spend the money to rebuild it. The road petered out on each side of the creek with concrete barriers blocking traffic from the crumbling bridge.

The bridge, the creek, and the overgrown vacant floodplain lots behind the housing development were the preferred playground of all the kids in the neighborhood, from both sides of the creek. There was the creek, brown and green with dirt and algae, trickling over rocks and hunks of old concrete. There was an old molding pile of hay up in the lot from when someone had tried to have a horse. There were the thick tangles of riparian trees and vines. This was the geography of the children’s world – inflated and colored by their imaginations into a mystical and mysterious land of canyons, jungles, and ancient ruins.

There was always an ebb and flow across this landscape, groups of boys throwing rocks from the creek, older kids poking their heads up from the piles of hay, shouts and insults, mean laughter and sniffles. Trout didn’t like this aggression and bragging (it always reminded him of his parents and their friends) so he imagined himself a scout, a spy, a lone agent, flitting unseen along the edges. He would slink through the tangled woods, following faint trails that he imagined only he could see, and hid behind bundles of vegetation to spy on the caterwauling clots of rowdy kids.

One day while exploring a wide loop of the creek he stumbled across a brown paper bag wedged down in a corner of abandoned concrete. The spot was bent far enough out to be within a few feet of a busy alley and Trout had found mysterious stuff thrown away into the brush there before.

Trout picked up the bag and realized it had something heavy and rectangular concealed within. He braced himself and slid a deep steel tray out onto his lap. It was a covered with white porcelain and filled with some amber material. He carefully reached out and touched the smooth surface and realized that it was some sort of firm jelly. It was stiff enough to stay steady in the tray, but still jiggled a bit when he tapped on it. He tipped the tray a bit to let a shaft of sunlight fall into the jelly, and he realized that there was some sort of ragged purple stuff running through the mass, an irregular pattern, lines, curves, bits here and there.

He shoved the thing back into the bag, and, heart pounding, headed for home. He had to snake around to avoid a group of kids that were chasing each other with dried shafts of weeds attached to round balls of dirt pulled from the ground. They would club each other or throw the things whistling through the air.

Trout was able to escape unseen and slid the bag under a thick bush on the side of his house. Later, after dark, at chore time, he trundled two bags of trash out to the cans in the alley. On his way back he retrieved the bag and hustled it up to his room hiding it under his bed.

That night he hid under his blanket and carefully examined his prize with his flashlight. He could not imagine what it was, the cool metal tray, the firm jelly and the purple squiggles. His mind filled with exotic possibilities, but nothing seemed to make sense. Trout would slip the tray back into its bag and hide it under his bed, but he would toss and turn and then fetch it out for another look. He barely slept.

The next morning, at the bus stop, he pulled Aurora aside and told her what he had found. She kept asking him for details.

“How big was it again?” she asked.

“I don’t know, maybe as big as my notebook.”

“It was full of jelly? Up to the top.”

“Almost, not quite to the top.”

“What did the jelly taste like?”

“God! I didn’t eat any of it! Do you think I’m crazy?”

“Okay. Now. Tell me again about the purple stuff.”

“It was like marks, all over the jelly.”

The bus pulled up and they piled on. They didn’t want to talk about the tray on the bus, afraid someone would overhear them. Trout kept glancing sideways at Aurora, who was silent and looking down the entire bus ride, serious, like she was thinking hard about something.

Finally, as they were walking up to the big double doors of the school building, Aurora said, “I want to see this thing. Don’t tell anybody else about it. Meet me an hour after school down at the playground. Bring the bag.”

Trout nodded and slipped into class. All day he struggled to pay attention to his teachers and his work. He was too excited. He would stare at the big clocks at the front of the rooms. The red second hand seemed to creep around the dial and the tiny jumps the minute hand would bake seemed miniscule and rare.

On the way home, Aurora and Trout didn’t sit together on the bus. They didn’t want to raise any suspicion. Trout’s parents were watching television and they only nodded when he said he was going down to the playground. He quickly sneaked the bag out from under his bed, piled his leather glove and a baseball on top, and flew down the stairs and out of the door.

Aurora was late. Trout hid the bag in the gravel under the slide and tried to look relaxed as he threw the baseball in the air and tried to catch it coming down. He felt his stomach would bust until he finally saw Aurora walking up the sidewalk. She was carrying some loose blank sheets of typewriter paper and a little bottle. It had a rubber bulb on it and a nozzle – Trout thought it was what girls sometimes kept perfume in.

“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing.

“Oh, it’s only water,” Aurora said. She paused for a moment and said, “I know what the thing is.”

“How…”

“My parents knew.”

“You told your parents?”

“Of course, dummy. They don’t care. My dad knew exactly what it was and told me what to do.”

Trout couldn’t speak. He was torn between the horror of knowing his mystery had been revealed to Aurora’s mom and dad and the excitement of finding out what it was. Aurora whistled for a minute and he realized she was enjoying his consternation and impatience.

“Well, what is it?” he finally said.

“My dad says it’s called a hectograph. He says they also call it a jellygraph. It’s used to copy stuff.”

“Copy?”

“Yeah. Those purple markings? That’s a special ink. It goes into the jelly and then you put a piece of paper over it. The ink comes out. You can make a bunch of copies that way.”

“But I looked at the purple things. They didn’t make any sense.”

“That’s ‘cause it’s backward. It’s like a mirror. You can’t read it like that. That’s why I brought the paper.”

She wriggled the sheets in her hand.

“What about the water?”

“Dad says that it might dry out, the water will help pull the ink out. Well, what are you waiting for? You brought it didn’t you?Let’s get the thing.”

Trout fished the tray out from under the slide. They crouched over the jelly surface and Aurora gave it a few spritzes of water from the bottle. Once the surface was glistening, he carefully slid a page of paper on top of the jelly and gently smoothed it over the surface.

“How long do we have to wait?”

“Don’t know,” said Aurora, “My dad didn’t say.”

Trout picked at a corner of the paper.

“Let’s see,” he said and raised it up. They turned it over and spread it out on the grass. Clear, bright purple letters covered the sheet.

“Yeah, I can read it,” said Aurora, and the two of them started in.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – The First and Last Day by Bill Chance

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones

 
Underwood Typewriter

Underwood Typewriter

 

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 (#97) Almost 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.


The First and Last Day

Howard ran his hands over the pebbled gray plastic case and popped the latch. He lifted the Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter out and placed it on the plain sturdy desk next to his cheap shirt-cardboard circular slide-rule, then reached under the desk to plug it in. The typewriter began its familiar low whir.

So far, so good, Howard thought to himself. He had ridden a bus for two days and three nights across a thousand miles of midwest, stopping at every little no-name hamlet to get to this dorm room. His typewriter and his slide rule were his only important possessions. He felt that these were his tools – his weapons – his only friends in his desire to conquer the future. His heart had jumped when he saw a driver throw his precious case roughly under the bus when he changed routes in Omaha. Why hadn’t he held his typewriter with him up in his seat? He had never thought about it.

He had a few pages of slightly rumpled paper concealed inside the typewriter case and he pulled one out and rolled it into the carriage. Howard made a mental note of asking around to find where he can buy some more paper on campus – he had no idea. He reached out and tapped the “x” key and the hammer responded with a firm whack- leaving a nice dark letter on the paper.

Howard smiled.

Once the echoes of the letter-strike died down he could hear the continuing hubub out in the hallway. Hundreds of kids were moving in all around him, families hauling boxes and piles of furniture in from pickups or rented trailers – proud and sad parents – fathers sweating under the burden, mothers clucking about food plans and wardrobes, siblings running and tumbling around, excited and dreaming of their turns to come. Howard turned in his desk chair to look at his single yellow Samsonite suitcase sitting in the center of the room. He had packed carefully, knowing his whole life had to be crammed into that one small space.

He had tried to blend in, but after a while it became too much for him. The kids were nice enough. One, Paul had given him a ride to a Gibson’s Discount so he could buy a spread for his dorm bed. The dorm provided sheets and a pillow, but Howard had not thought to bring a blanket or a spread. The selection at Gibson’s had overwhelmed him and he bought the cheapest twin spread he could find. It was bright blue and satiny and had a ruffle on it. He felt stupid – it looked ridiculous in the bare beige concrete block room. Paul must think he’s an idiot.

After they came back from Gibson’s Paul suggested they walk over to the girls’ dorm and volunteer to help carry stuff up.

“That’s the best way to meet some freshmen girls,” he said.

And he was right. The girls seemed so excited and actually glad to meet some of the boys from the school. But Howard was embarrassed by the way their rooms were set up. The first girl they met, a small blonde girl named Stacy had showed them her room. Her parents had come in two days early.

“They know the dean and got special permission,” she said proudly.

The concrete block walls of Stacy’s room were completely covered with paper, cloth, or stick-on mirror tiles. The floor was carpeted. The book shelves were lined with sports trophies. Stacy and her roommate shared a custom bunk bed which freed up enough room for two custom wardrobes which were needed because their clothing collections were too large for the standard dorm closets.

When they left Paul said, “Have you ever seen anything as tacky in your whole life?”

Howard agreed, but still… he couldn’t imagine the effort and expense that went in to making something like that.

“Sure, it’s a bit much,” he said to Paul, “But it would feel like a home away from home.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure…” was all he could reply.

Howard picked up his circular slide rule and began to do a quick imaginary series of calculations.

Paul’s roommate was in the Engineering School and had a slide rule out on his desk too. It was a big leather-cased Keuffel & Esser rule. It cost almost half a semester’s tuition. Howard asked if he could take it out and look at it.

“You think that’s something, get a lot of this,” Paul’s roommate said. He unlocked the valuables drawer and pulled out a portable electric calculator. It was a programmable Hewlett Packard model. The kid showed Howard a program he had written that would simulate a moon landing – where you had to input how much fuel to burn and see if you would crash or run out of fuel. Howard tried and and crashed a couple times but was beginning to get the hang of it when Paul shouted from the hall.

There was a kid out their showing off his graduation present. It was a big Pulsar gold digital watch. The kid said it cost over two thousand dollars. The kid had something on his wrist that cost four years of tuition. Everyone stared at the fire red digits and watched them move.

“Hey,” Paul said. “I heard of another guy that’s got one of those, over in the Adam’s Quad. We need to find him and synchronize your watches, then see if they match a month later.”

“They’ll match up a year from now, no problem,” the kid with the watch said proudly. Everyone made noises at that.

All this was too much for Howard, so he slipped away, back to his room to make up his tacky bedspread and check out his typewriter.

Howard thought of his El Camino pickup back home. He thought of the working nights at the gas station, watching the other kids go by honking while he put in the extra hours he needed to buy the truck. Once he bought the used truck his boss at the station would let him use the bays after closing until Howard had it running like a top and looking almost brand new.

He had sold the truck to his cousin to make enough for this year’s room and board. His cousin had driven him down to the bus station. It had felt so strange to be in the passenger seat of the El Camino. Howard had never ridden there before. The whole world looked different from the passenger side.

He reached out and began to type. A few letters and then the space bar for another word. Nothing happened. Again and again Howard tapped the keys and then the space bar and no spaces appeared. The driver had broken the typewriter when he had thrown it under the bus.

Howard felt a wave of sadness and panic well up. He experimented with substituting a “_” for a space between words. It looked stupid.

Where was he going to get the typewriter fixed? Could it be fixed? How could he pay for repairs? How could he get by without a typewriter?

It was horrible. Howard threw himself on the narrow dorm bed. The squeal of the satin on the cheap bedspread was a painful cry to his ears.

This was not going to work out. He did not belong there. He didn’t even know enough to hold his typewriter by his seat.

Howard stared at the phone. He could call his cousin and ask him to sell him his truck back. He had enough money for a bus ticket home. He was sure he could get a refund from the university… he remembered signing the papers, there was a period of time he could walk away. Nobody would blame him. He had tried. He began to relax.

For some reason an image came into Howard’s brain. He thought of a stop his bus had made in Western Nebraska, about halfway between Denver and Omaha. The bus would pull into every little forgotten nameless little town out there. Some were no more than a gas station and a grain elevator. They didn’t even have bus stations – only a little sign along the road. There was never anybody waiting.

Except at one town – Howard had no idea what it was. The bus was running almost three hours behind schedule and the day had been overcast, cold, and raining since dawn. When they pulled off the highway they stopped at a long abandoned service station and there was an old woman waiting there. She was as thin as a wisp, wearing a proud but old dress and an archaic hat perched on her cloud of white hair. She had a cheap folding umbrella and a cloth suitcase. The bus pulled up and she slowly climbed the stairs, thanked the driver, and found an empty seat.

How long had she been waiting out there? Howard saw no car… no evidence of anybody else from horizon to horizon. Someone must have dropped her off there to wait for the bus. She must have stood there in the rain, holding that little umbrella, for at least three hours. Howard didn’t think he cold do that… and that woman was old enough to be his grandmother and more. How could that ancient frame hold out against that wind and cold? What if the bus had never come? What if the driver had decided to make up lost time by skipping this little hamlet?

Where could she be going? Howard had fallen asleep and the driver had woken him in Omaha. The woman was gone by then. How many others like her were out there, standing in the rain, waiting for something to come and take them away? Where did she get her strength from?

Howard stared at the typewriter for a minute, thinking about the old woman. “I guess I can deal with this,” he said to himself. He pulled himself up and brushed his clothes off a bit.

“Maybe there are some more girls moving in, some must be coming from a long way… they might be getting here late. Maybe I can help them move in,” he said to himself, then went to the door and strode out quickly into the hall.

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

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
― Guy de Maupassant

Old Man River, Robert Shoen, New Orleans

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 (#96) Almost 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.


Forgot

Harold Sammons died at work, suddenly. His heart stopped beating. He was coming out of the break room with a cup of coffee on his way to the morning meeting. The last one out of the break room, there was nobody to see him go down or smell the hot coffee splashed across the floor. They did hear the cup shatter.

Since nobody saw him, nobody really knows how long Harold was dead. Since they heard the cup and came, curious, and the paramedics were there almost immediately (the fire station was right next door) they revived him and he came back to life.

There was brain damage. It was to be expected.

His short-term memory was gone. He would talk to someone and forget who he or she was. It was embarrassing, but people understood. He would forget where he was or where he lived or the PIN code on his phone (or even what that glass rectangle was useful for).

For the eighteen months he survived after he died and came back, it made life difficult, but not unbearable. While he couldn’t remember five minutes ago, fifty years in the past was as clear as crystal. There were so many things he forgot that came back to him now.

He forgot his first rock concert. He forgot how excited he was when the band did an encore. Now he remembered, “Everyone cheered so loud they came back out and played another song!” That naïve happiness came flooding back.

He forgot how many fireflies there used to be. Clouds of cold sparks. Now he could see them, even though they are now rare.

He forgot how everyone, young and old, used to watch the same shows on television together and could talk about them the next day. Nobody had more than one set so watching television was a social act.

He forgot how going out for a hamburger and maybe some ice cream was a big deal and a real treat.

He forgot that every house only had one phone and it was attached to the wall. The phone knew its place and its purpose.

He forgot swimming in a lake. The water had a green cast and a slight smell. The bottom was soft mud.

He forgot about front porches with rockers and gliders and the neighbors walking by.

He forgot about Zippo lighters that had liquid fuel and little yellow cards of replacement flints.

He forgot the taste of cold milk from a glass bottle.

He forgot the woman he loved first and loved most. He married someone else and never knew where she went. And now she was back and not a day older. Her smile as magnificent as ever.

These weren’t like old dusty memories that suddenly get stirred up. These weren’t like an unexpected odd odor that you know you have smelled before. The unfathomable labyrinth within his brain had been broken open and the distant past was as fresh and new as the sun is in the sky.

For those last eighteen months people would see the confused emaciated old man in his wrinkled ancient suit shuffling along or sitting motionless on a bench – they would feel pity and dread the day when they would end up in the same sorry state.

But for Harold Sammons the time after he came back from the dead was the best of his life. He no longer forgot.

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

“The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, ‘You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”
― George Carlin
f

An old picture I took out my car window while waiting in a drive thru ATM.

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 (#95) Almost 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.


Framed

Aaron Goodpaster stared at the paperwork on his desk – the power bill for the company headquarters building. It was astronomical. Something was wrong. Someone down in the Innovation Laboratory had used enough power to light up a medium sized city. That someone had to be Sammy VonSmults.

Goodpaster’s phone buzzed. It was his assistant.

“Mister VonSmults is here to see you,” the voice said.

“Good, I was thinking about him right now. Please, buzz him in.”

The door immediately burst open and Sammy VonSmults tumbled into Goodpaster’s office.

“Dammit Sam! Look at this!” Goodpaster shook the power bill in the air.

“Hey! That’s no way to greet an old friend. Especially one that has invented and built something that will make us all rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

“I’ve heard that before. Besides, my dreams are pretty wild.”

“But you’ve never even dreamed anything like this before… I know you haven’t.”

Sammy moved around Goodpaster’s desk. He was waving something in the air. It looked like a simple picture frame, about a foot and a half square. He held it up in front of Goodpaster so he could get a good look at it. It was a simple metal frame, made of some copper-gold colored material. As VonSmults moved it around, the colors shifted in a sort of rainbow effect… blue, green, purple, the iridescence seemed to race around the frame.

“Look, look through the frame,” VonSmults said.

“I don’t see anything… I mean I see right through it, there’s nothing there.”

“Exactly, there’s nothing there. Here, now, hold it in front of your face and keep looking through.”

Goodpaster held the frame, it was strangely heavy and it seemed to throb internally in some strange way. VonSmults suddenly thrust his hand through the frame and grabbed Goodpaster’s nose.

“Hey! Cut that out!”

“Okay,” VonSmults pulled his hand back, “Now watch this. Don’t let go”

He ran his finger along the top and then the bottom of the frame, flicking a hidden tiny latch each time. Half of the frame came away and VonSmults backed up with the second half of the frame in front of his face. Goodpaster suddenly felt dizzy. As he looked through his frame he saw VonSmults’ face right in front of him, even though the rest of him was quickly backing clear across the room. Suddenly, VonSmults again thrust his hand through the frame and it emerged from the other half frame clear across the room and again tweaked Goodpaster’s nose.

“Shit!” Screamed Goodpaster, throwing the frame away. VonSmults quickly pulled his hand out before the frame clattered to the floor.

“Hey, be careful. That could have hurt. Whatever happens once my hand goes through the frame happens to me.”

“What the crap is that!”

“I have developed a way to take a standing quantum meson wave, confine it to a simple plane suspended between the two frames, and then clone it. The two halves of the frame become the same place in space and time. What goes in one side, comes out the other, even when the two are separated. Light, sound, even physical objects. In one, out the other. Same both ways.”

“You have got to be kidding.”

“Obviously not. It isn’t perfected yet. The two halves must be within a few hundred yards of each other or the field fails. It regenerates once they come back within range, though. That’s as big of a frame as I can do so far. I think I can go bigger and with more range, but the power requirements to create and stabilize the planar wave are astronomical.”

“Now, That I know.” Goodpaster waved the power bill again.

“Jesus! Aaron, you’re worried about a power bill? This is the most important invention in the history of science. That is chump change. Think of the implications for communications, for travel, for espionage.”

Goodpaster had calmed down enough to start to understand what VonSmults was talking about. He thought quickly and deeply while watching VonSmults pick up both halves of the frame and snap them together.

“Now, I think I’m beginning to understand. First, who have you told about this?”

“The only one that knows about it is my research assistant, Sheri Gompers. And that skinny runt won’t know what to do about it.”

“What have you done with the process itself?”

VonSmults tapped his head. “In here. Only in here. I know you too well, Aaron. I’ve known you way too long. I promise you, I will not write anything down until we have everything all settled. I don’t want you walking away with this like you have everything else. This secret.is mine and I’m not going to let you get your grubby paws on any of it without a guarantee of my fair share.”

Goodpaster let himself smile a bit. “I promise, I don’t want to cheat you out of anything that is properly yours. First, I want to remind you that you are an employee of Yoyodyne, your work is property of Yoyodyne, and I am Yoyodyne.”

“You see, that’s why I keep the process up here and not on paper. You’d dump me faster than last week’s garbage. We are in this together. There will be enough to go around.”

“You’re going to have to let me think about this,” Goodpaster said. “And in the meantime…” he gestured at the frame in VonSmults’ hands.

“We split this,” he said and unfastened the two halves. “You keep one half and I’ll keep one. And I don’t want you to know where.” He slipped each half into a padded Manila envelope and handed one over.

As soon as VonSmults had left Goodpaster walked to the wall and swung a Klee print away and spun the dial of the safe behind. He slid the envelope in and turned back to his desk to sit and think. He tore two yellow legal pages from a pad and wrote on the top of one, “Legitimate Uses,” and on the other, “Criminal Uses.” He started making the lists.

The “Legitimate” page was only half full and he had started the third page of the other when the light on his phone started to blink. It was VonSmults. He hit the voice button. A startled voice screamed out, “Aaron!” when there was a loud crashing boom and the phone went dead. He jumped up from his desk but before rushing out, he stared at the wall safe and decided he had better take the frame with him. He picked up a sturdy leather briefcase and slid the envelope inside.

The building was in a turmoil. As he neared the Innovation Lab he could hear the screams and see the shocked ashen faces on the other workers. He looked in to see Sammy VonSmults spread across the floor, a giant hole blown in his midsection. There was blood everywhere. He quickly looked around for the other half of the frame but could find nothing. He figured that if the killer had the frame, he would be coming for his half next and Goodpaster didn’t want to be around when he was found out. It was easy to move through the confusion and get to the front door of the building.

The summer heat on the sidewalk hit him like a blast furnace. The sidewalk was crowded and down the street some local street kids had opened a fire hydrant and a giant gush of water shot out and formed a river along the gutter, sloshing up around the tires of the parked cars. Kids were jumping, screaming, and splashing, trying to fight the heat. Goodpaster began to move along the sidewalk as quickly as he could. He knew he had to get away, someplace random, someplace away from the other half of the frame before the killer caught up with him. Then he could settle down and plan his next move properly.

Suddenly, his briefcase exploded. Something, blew outward, shattering a hole in the side of the case and spraying metal against the side of the building, shattering the thick reflective glass. Goodpaster realized that it must have been a shotgun blast fired through the frame. He thought of VonSmults and realized the same person must have blasted him at point-blank range while he was trying to make his call. The remains of the briefcase opened up on its shattered hinges and the tattered envelope fell, discharging the metal frame onto the sidewalk. Goodpaster bent over, thankful that it had fallen face down. The killer with the other half of the frame would be looking at a bare concrete sidewalk. He thought quickly, fighting back panic and looking around. Where was the shooter? He could be anywhere. Suddenly, Goodpaster had an idea.

As quickly as he could, he snatched up the frame, holding it by the edges. He leaped sideways toward the fire hydrant, shouldering a kid out of the way, and thrust the frame down and into the powerful stream of water. The torrent suddenly disappeared – swallowed up completely by the frame.

At the same instant, a car ten yards or so down the street exploded. The windshield flew outward, followed by a foaming torrent of water. A nasty looking double barreled sawed off shotgun was borne on this fountain, flying out and clattering onto the sidewalk. The door then burst open and a wave of water surged out, carrying a drenched and pitiful looking skinny woman in a lab coat.

“Sheri!” yelled Goodpaster. “You killed him!”

“You bastard,” was all she could muster. Goodpaster knew she was angry, but she sounded more soggy than threatening. With surprising pluck she raised herself up and began running down the sidewalk, away from Goodpaster. He noticed she was running with the metal frame held in both hands in front of her. He looked into his half and saw that she was holding it pointing towards herself. A mistake.

He braced himself and thrust a fist through his frame, connecting with Sheri’s stomach a half block down the sidewalk. She collapsed to the sidewalk and it was surprisingly easy for Goodpaster to get a firm grip on her narrow throat and clamp down. He had never killed anyone before and imagined that it would be tough to strangle somebody – but it was actually pretty easy. Especially someone that had killed his only friend and true rival. Especially someone that had tried to blast him with a shotgun through a standing quantum meson wave.

It was surprisingly easy to strangle someone with your bare hands when they are almost a half-block away from where you are standing.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Ice Machine in the Desert by Bill Chance

“Ice contains no future, just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way – cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

One day later.

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 (#94) Almost 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.


Ice Machine in the Desert

Chris DeLoama tried to relax and stifle a cough. A child’s soft rubber ball had been shoved into his mouth and a rectangle of duct tape held it in firmly. The bitter taste was overpowering. His arms were locked together behind his back around a wooden pole supporting the roof of the desert shack, but his feet were free. He was too exhausted to do anything more than shift his legs out in front of him – trying to keep his circulation going.

Chris was sure he couldn’t get away. He  had heard the plastic sawing sound of a big ziptie when he was put down. They had obviously done this before.

From his captive position he could see most of the interior of the shack. It was a crude circle of rough wooden posts supporting hand-hewn roof poles and vigas. Before he crossed the border a ranger has shown him a restored cabin and explained how the wooden poles were cut and arranged in a pattern to shed the rare rain and to provide shade and shelter. The restored cabin had felt surprisingly cool, but now that it was midday, this place was horribly hot.

There was an open spot in the roof in the center of the one room and a green square of nylon was suspended below this to help keep out the sun while still affording a little ventilation and light. The green gave an odd cast to everything .

There were no bulbs, though there was electricity. A thick bundle of cord came in under the wall, half-buried in the dirt floor. He had been brought here blindfolded, on a donkey, but before he was shoved in and tied up the scarf had been removed and he had a glimpse of the outside. For a hundred yards the rocky desert floor was spotted with the ubiquitous viga poles, these vertical, stuck firmly into the hardpack soil. Attached to the top of each pole was a metal and glass frame, filled with the black circles of solar panels. Every elevated panel had a thin wire running down and joining the others in the cable that ran inside.

Now Chris could see the purpose of the panels. The cables terminated in a gray metal box that emitted a low hum and a single cord ran from that into a big green metallic cabinet. It made various mechanical noises including a crystalline tumbling sound every five minutes or so. It had a chrome plated hopper in the front – an ice machine.

Near the ice machine a string hammock was hung between two poles in the ring that supported the circular opening in the center of the room. Don Juapo, the man that was in charge, as far as Chris could surmise, was stretched out in the hammock, asleep, and snoring loudly. The only thing Don Juapo was wearing was a pair of tattered boxer shorts and cowboy boots. His pile of crumpled, dusty clothes sat on the dirt nearby. He did not sleep in the hammock the long way, like Chris had seen people do back on summers in Connecticut, but at an acute angle, almost crossways. His head and feet stretched out the woven string of the simple hammock until it surrounded him like he was a huge, hairy spider on a gently swaying web.

The only other people in sight were two guards in dirty cotton t-shirts and rough jeans sitting in hard chairs spaced against the outside wall on either side of Don Juapo’s hammock. They each cradled AK-47 rifles and were quietly struggling to stay awake – every now and then slumping and almost falling out of the uncomfortable seats.

Suddenly the door to the shack opened and the girl the guards called Maria came in struggling with a large heavy bucket half-full of water. She wore the usual uniform of the rest of his captors – a sleeveless T shirt and jeans, cowboy boots, and a small straw hat – though her outfit looked relatively new and was mostly unwrinkled.

She hauled the water bucket over to the ice machine and opened the lid. Inside was a white plastic scoop and she began shoveling ice into the bucket, mixing it well and doubling its weight. She had to strain to get the bucket over to Don Juapo but neither of the guards offered to help. Don Juapo himself woke up and gestured to her to hurry up.

She sat down on a low stool beside the hammock and dipped a glass jar into the liquid, handing Don Juapo a streaming cold drink. Chris felt his eyes go wide at the sight and he was suddenly excruciatingly aware of his own thirst. Without comment, Don Juapo accepted the water and began to gulp it down. Maria then dipped a small hand towel into the cold liquid and placed it on Don Juapo’s chest. She gently rubbed the towel over him, until he finished his water and took the towel in his own hands. He would move the cool liquid over himself – first his chest, then his face and arms, and finally his legs – until it was heated from his own skin, then hand it back to Maria for a fresh dip of cold water.

Chris could only squirm and watch.

Finally, he had cooled off enough until he dropped the towel and stretched back out in the hammock. Maria didn’t leave – she stayed sitting silently on the stool. Don Juapo reached into the bucket and pulled out a single crystal rock of ice and slowly moved it over Maria’s exposed skin – around her neck, over her shoulders, and inside the folds of her collarbone. The cold water would bead up and run down under her shirt, staining it in a brutal battle between the melting ice and the evaporating heat. When a cube completely melted, Don Juapo would reach back to the bucket and select another.

Chris realized that, although Don Juapo was facing away from him in the hammock, still gently swaying, his arm extended to move the ice over Maria, she was staring directly at him. She sat stock still, allowing Don Juapo to move the ice, not showing any indication of embarrassment or pleasure, with her eyes firmly locked on Chris’.

After a period of time – Chris couldn’t guess if it was a minute or an hour – Don Juapo’s arm fell lifeless and a tiny sliver of ice tumbled into the dust. He began to snore again. Maria stood up and scooped up another jar of ice water and walked over to Chris. She held the cold glass against the duck tape, letting the water on the outside loosen the adhesive, until she pulled it off. Chris spit the ball out and sucked the water down as Maria held the glass up to his mouth, tilting it as he drank. She returned to the bucket for a second and third jar full, until Chris grunted that he was sated.

He had not taken his eyes off of Maria since she had brought him the water, but a rough noise from the center of the room caught his attention. Don Juapo was awake and out of the hammock. He was bent over pulling on his loose pants over his boots.

“That’s enough Maria,” he said. Then he gestured to one of the guards, “Cut his bonds and bring him to me in my cabin, I want to talk to him.”

The guard approached with a large machete and used a confident and violent single stroke to chop the plastic tie between Chris’ hands. Chris let out a moan of pain as both legs cramped when the guard pulled him to his feet.

“You come too, Maria,” Don Juapo said as he strode quickly toward the door of the shack.

“And don’t forget your bucket.”

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Cephalopod From the Fifth Dimension by Bill Chance

“He was back in the water, not braving but frowning, synchronised swimming, not swimming but sinking, toward the godsquid he knew was there, tentacular fleshscape and the moon-sized eye that he never saw but knew, as if the core of the fucking planet was not searing metal but mollusc, as if what we fall toward when we fall, what the apple was heading for when Newton’s head got in the way, was kraken.”
China Miéville, Kraken

Dallas Zoo

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 (#93) Almost 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.


Cephalopod From the Fifth Dimension

Sam Barnburner strolled across the parking lot looking forward to the drive home in his new car. He was texting his girlfriend with one hand, trying to set up dinner for that night, as he thumbed the key fob and the silver door on the SX-3300 Tarkus hissed open. Sam bent to slide into the form-fitting front seat as the colorful instrument panels chirped and began to glow into life. As he settled in his phone suddenly squirted out of his hand like a wet watermelon seed on a hot summer day.

Sam pawed at the air as the phone tumbled through his fingers, arcing across in front of his face, and then it plunged, straight as an arrow, into the narrow gap between the driver’s seat and the center console.

The dealership had tried to sell him two foam cylinders that filled the gap – but the price was outrageous. He said no – he never imagined anything dropping in there. He had been mistaken.

Sam peered into the darkness but couldn’t see the phone. He jerked back as he thought he saw some sort of odd movement down there, something quick, something, somehow, moist.

He leaned in, elbows on the driver’s seat, preparing to go in and reach for the phone. At that moment, Sam heard his phone ring, playing an electronic version of La Cucaracha. Even though the phone could not be more than two feet away, it sounded tinny and distant, with some odd sort of echo.

That’s weird,” Sam said to himself, “must be the insulation and padding down there.”

He stared into the opening, hoping to see the glow of his phone’s screen, but it was dark. Again, he saw a flicker of some sort of movement – so fast he couldn’t be sure. With a deep sigh, Sam braced himself and plunged his arm down beside the console.

He was shocked at how far he reached in. His arm went down way past his elbow, and by pushing hard, he was able to reach down until his shoulder was tight in the gap.

The damn car isn’t even this high off the ground,” he muttered to himself as he began to move his hand around, fishing for the familiar phone. There seemed to be a lot of space… although his upper arm was pinned in the narrow gap, he was able to swing his hand around without hitting anything solid. When he felt something it was oddly smooth and almost… wet.

What kind of crap has been pooling down there,” he shuddered at the thought.

Then, suddenly, something… bit him. It was an unexpected sharp pain, right on the fleshy part of his hand. It really hurt… and, worst of all, when he instinctively jerked his arm back, whatever it was, held on. He had to yank hard.

His paw came loose and he tumbled back, off the seat and out through the door into the parking lot. Sam sat up and stared at his still-throbbing hand. There were two roundish marks, each a little bigger than a quarter – like small circles of teeth marks – deep enough to pierce the skin and a steady flow of blood was running down his arm, dripping off his elbow.

He dug around the floor boards and gathered up a pile of old Taco Bell napkins. He used them to mop up the blood and wrapped the last few around his hand to try and staunch the flow.

Enough of this crap!” he sputtered and started the car. “This car is practically brand new. The dealership will have to take care of this.”

As he pulled into the dealership one of the army of young men with bad haircuts and worse crimson blazers that were running around with clipboards approached his driver’s side and motioned for him to lower his window.

Can I help you, sir?” the blazer spoke with a bored indifference.

Yea, you sure as hell can! My phone – it fell,” Sam gestured at the center console.

Were you bit?” the blazer asked with a nod at his bleeding hand.

Yeah… how did you…?”

That will be the Alternate Reality department. Follow the purple arrows,” the blazer said and quickly turned and walked away.

Looking at the pavement, Sam noticed a huge violet pointer painted on the concrete. It directed him between the showroom and the regular repair shop. Once he reached the back part of the lot, another arrow pointed through a gap cut in the fence, so Sam turned the wheel and moved through. A final arrow directed him to a shabby wooden structure. A hunk of plywood was nailed to the front of the shack with the words, “Alternate Reality Repairs” crudely stenciled on with dark green spray paint. Sam drove up to the front door and tapped his horn.

Two youngish men in dirty gray coveralls came out of the front door, followed by a tall woman in a tight dress. She was older… though her age was difficult to judge because of a thick layer of makeup. Her hair was an unnatural color and piled high on the top of her head, increasing her already intimidating height.

One of the men raised the creaking door on the single repair bay and gestured Sam in. Once inside, Sam climbed out of his car to find the three already there, staring at him. He realized that the two men in coveralls looked exactly the same. One name tag, Tim, the other, Jim. Sam turned to the woman, who was working her jaw and snapping a big wad of gum with every other chew. He had to tilt his head to read her name tag, which was pinned on at a haphazard angle. It said, Myrtle.

Hey! She said, whatcha lose? Wallet? Keys? Lunch?”

Umm… my phone.”

Ahhh,” all three replied, nodding their heads in a knowing way.

We’ll get you taken care of right away,” said the one with the name tag that said Jim. “I’m Tim,” he said, “and this here’s my brother, Jim. We’re twins.”

But your name tags?”

Oh, we never bother with ‘em. We put on what we find first ever’ morning.”

Don’t worry ‘bout the two boys,” Myrtle spoke up. “They’ll get your car fixed in a jiffy. But first, let me take a look at you.”

She moved beside Sam and hooked a meaty arm over his shoulder. She roughly grabbed the wrist of his injured hand and pulled it up for a closer look.

Looks like a nasty little Cephalopod he’s got down there,” she said, tracing the round wounds.

That’s what I thought,” said Jim, or maybe Tim. “Better take a look-see though. Never hurts to be sure” Sam was startled when he saw him pulling on a helmet-like apparatus. It was made of a bird’s-nest of short metal tubes, welded together to fit over his head. On the front was a complex of round glass lenses. Wound through the entire thing was a maze of wires and tiny circuit boards. Jim began to fiddle with the lenses, turning dials and twisting pieces of glass until he found the combination he liked. He turned toward Sam and his eyes were magnified by the lenses until they loomed huge in front of his face. Sam could see the bloodshot lines snaking around the watery iris and murky pupil

Jim gave a little shrug and turned to lean inside Sam’s car. He began peering between the seat and console with the helmet and lenses.

Yeah, sure enough, there’s the Cephalopod. A mean little one. He’s got your phone.”

Good thing it’s your phone,” Tim, or maybe Jim, said. “Last guy in here lost his wallet and that little squid bastard run up twenty grand on his credit cards before we could get him out.”

Alright now, let’s let the boys do their work,” Myrtle said to Sam. “Let me take care of that bite before it gets infected.”

She pulled him into the little office attached to the bay. Sam looked back to see the two twins starting to pick up various small pieces of complex machinery off of the bay floor, stare at them, and bolt them together.

Never mind them, here, sit down and let Myrtle take care of that bite.”

She had a steel bowl on the desk, half full of some green liquid. She pulled the bits of Taco Bell napkin off of Sam’s still bleeding hand and then plunged it into the bowl. It stung. Sam jumped.

Now settle down there. That didn’t hurt all that bad. Now that’ll stop the bleeding, but we need to make sure you don’t get nothing from all this.”

Sam’s eyes grew wide as he watched Myrtle open a worn leather case and extract a huge glass syringe and a pair of small bottles. One bottle contained some sort of sweet-smelling disinfectant and Myrtle dabbed some on a cloth and cleaned the syringe and needle. She then pierced the cap of the second bottle and drew up a full load of a bright orange liquid.

Excuse me, are you a doctor?” asked Sam.

Myrtle snapped her gum louder in an irritated way. “Why no, honey, why would you think that?”

The room began to swim a little and Sam felt suddenly sick.

Oh, you don’t look so good there honey. That bite’s startin’ to get to you a bit. This here shot’ll take care of everything, don’t you worry.”

Sam wasn’t sure why, but he almost believed her. He nodded.

Okey dokey then. Let’s get this in you, OK?”

Sam started to pull up the sleeve of his left arm, but the bite was on the right. “Which arm? Does it matter?” he asked.

Oh no honey. I’m afraid this only works if it goes in the other end. Stand up and drop your trousers like a good boy, and then bend yourself over this desk here.”

Sam was feeling more dizzy every second, he felt he was now past the point of no return, so he leaned against Myrtle and the desk to steady himself and fumbled with his pants. As he leaned with both hands on the desk he saw the green liquid flowing off his hand and noticed that, as Myrtle had promised, the bleeding had stopped and the round marks were fading. He felt Myrtle behind him, fumbling with something. Then she pushed on the back of his neck until he was flat on the desk.

His pants were already around his ankles and Myrtle grabbed his boxers and yanked them down to his knees. Her hands moved over him and he felt the cold sting of the antiseptic.

Hey, boy, not too shabby,” Myrtle said, “Whatcha doing this Saturday anyway?”

As he turned to protest, she drove the syringe needle home and his left cheek felt like it had been stabbed with a hot poker. He let out a scream.

Now, now honey,” Myrtle said. “That’ll fix you up good as new.” She gave him one last slap, which made Sam wince, then pulled up his pants for him. She reached around and held him close as she tightened his belt. “That’s it; now let’s go see what the boys are up to.”

A large apparatus, like a complicated engine hoist made of twisted bars of silvery metal had been assembled and one twin was leaning in the driver’s side door with it, grasping a pair of control sticks, wiggling away.

His brother, still wearing the helmet with the lenses, was leaning in the passenger side, looking down at the console, and shouting out orders.

Left! Left! No! Your other left! Now down, down some more. Ok, wait, wait, Now! Now! Now!”

The brother with the machine yanked back on a stick and then the whole apparatus began to shake violently.

We got it! Pull it out! Before it gets loose.”

The brother with the helmet ripped it off as he ran around the car to help with the machine. With a mighty tug, they pulled the machine back and out of the car. Attached to a vicious looking claw on the end of the arm was a red, wriggling… something. It had a body only about two feet long, but hanging from one end was a writhing mass of long tentacles, flinging themselves around desperately. In the center of the mass was a yellowish beak, snapping open and shut with obvious power.

It was roaring with an awful sound that belied its small size. The room was filled with a nasty stale, spoiled smell, like fish that had been left out too long.

One brother pushed a metal box on wheels over towards the Cephalopod, while the other began hitting it with a length of iron rebar. Something small and solid skittered away and clattered down on the floor. They dropped the thing into the box and slammed the lid.

One brother reached down to pick up the object that had fallen on the floor. He wiped it off with the shop towel he had tucked in this belt, and then handed it to Sam.

Here’s your phone,” he said, “looks like the thing was calling your girlfriend. Conniving bastard. I think she sent it a naked selfie.”

My God! What the hell was that?” cried Sam

We told you, it’s a Cephalopod.”

From Beyond.”

What do you mean?”

From Beyond. From somewhere else.”

It’s all because of the car companies. Lighter cars, faster cars, better gas mileage. They had to do something.”

So they did some work with string theory. Alternate dimensions and such. New materials, advanced production techniques, amazing designs. I’m sure you’ve noticed how reliable and attractive, what amazing performance – in all these new cars.”

But there was a flipside. They had to be careful. Tolerances were very tight. The slightest mistake and…”

Things slip through.”

Things?” asked Sam. “Things like that?”

Yeah, the Cephalopods are probably the most common. There’s lots others though. There’s the snakefish, the wiggling urchins, the sucking bees.”

Them are nasty, them are.”

Why doesn’t anyone know about this?”

Are you kidding? Who would buy a new car if they thought a biting, poisonous squid might be lurking in an alternate reality, a fifth dimension… between the seat and the center console?”

Nobody.”

Nobody.”

Now, there, Sam, Honey. It’s time to talk about the bill,” said Myrtle.

Bill? The car is new. Isn’t it under warranty?”

All three let out a hearty laugh.

Take a good look at your agreement, sweety. I’m afraid that nowhere in there does it state that you are warranted against infection from monsters from another universe. Just get out your little card and pay me. Or else…”

Or else what?”

Or else we open the box.”

Sam shuddered. He pulled his wallet out and handed over a card.

Now there’s the bill for the repair, and the bill for the medical care.”

I have to pay for that? You’re not a doctor. Plus, shouldn’t my health insurance pay…”

Are you covered? Do you have a rider that covers bites from a creature from another dimension? Did you get a specialist referral?”

I see what you mean.”

So you pay for the repair, pay for the medical… and finally, you have to pay for these.” Myrtle held up a plastic package with two long foam tubes. “They don’t let customers with creature removal go home without them installed.”

What are those?”

These go in the space between your seat and console.”

I should have bought those in the first place.”

You sure should.”