Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Glonoushistory by Bill Chance

The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week

yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.

— Tom Robbins

This woman was waving a turkey leg out of her food trailer. When someone came up to buy one, she said, “Let me get you a fresh one hon, this is my demo model, I’ve been waving it out this window for hours.”

Glonoushistory

Sam drove two friends from work, Duane and Cheryl, out for Asian food at lunch. They argued on the way – about if the restaurant was primarily Vietnamese or Chinese. It had a wide variety of food on the menu, primarily Chinese, but the neighborhood was mostly Vietnamese. They decided on a way to settle the argument. After they parked they walked around the back, huddled next to the overflowing recycled grease container and pushed the kitchen door open. They stuck their heads in a little, keeping hidden but enough to hear the conversation between the cooks. All three were pretty sure they could tell the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese, even if they didn’t speak the languages.

What they heard was Spanish.

“What the hell,” Duane said, “they have Mexicans cooking.”

“I’ve heard that,” Cheryl said. “Most of the Asian places hire Mexican workers in their kitchens. I never believed it until now.”

They decided it didn’t really matter at all so they walked around to the front and were shown to a table.

They had fun looking through the higher numbered items, such as No. 134- Fish Ball with Sea Slug, but decided top pass on anything unusual. They waved the woman away with the Dim Sum cart. It was lunch specials today, No. 6 for Sam and Cheryl, No. 10 for Duane.

They enjoyed the wrapper on their chopsticks. On one side were actual instructions on holding and using and on the other side a great little piece of literature:

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
The traditional and typical of Chinese glonoushistory.
And cultual.

They liked the way that Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks was capitalized. They liked the little misspelled sentence fragment at the end. They especially loved learning the new word, glonoushistory.

What did it mean? It is in no dictionary they had access to. Cheryl pulled out her phone and all the hits it returned were in regard to the chopsticks.

“So it must be a new word,” Cheryl said. “From the context it is obviously intended to mean the food, cooking, serving and eating habits of a culture. A word made by combining history with nourishment, with a glo thrown in the front for good measure. I can’t think of any other word that quite means the same thing.”

Duane said, “I can think of examples of use: ‘Jeez, I can’t believe you’re eating that greasy hamburger!’ ‘Get off my case, burgers are essential to my sense of glonoushistory.’”

“’Twirl your spaghetti on a fork! Don’t suck it up like a straw.’ ‘Are you criticizing my glonoushistory?’” added Sam.

Cheryl said, “I imagine small eastern liberal-arts colleges establishing departments of Glonoushistory. Professors of Glonoushistory, getting research grants and traveling to Central Asia to catalog the preparation of boiled Yak and fermented Camel Milk beverages. The chorus of complaining when the first graduating class majoring in Glonoushistory realizes they have completed a course of study actually targeting them straight to the fast-food industry.”

The three had a good laugh and then their food came. They broke off the chopsticks and dug in. Sam smoothed the cover out, folded it, and placed it in his pocket. He wanted to tape it into his journal that evening so he could remember the fun lunch with his two friends. He forgot to do that, of course. A month later, after several washings, he’d find the little wadded up remains in his pants pocket and not be able to figure out what it was.

Stuffed and worried about getting sleepy in the afternoon – there was a lot of work to be done – they piled into Sam’s car for the short drive back to the office. Cheryl sat up front, Duane in the back. There were some grocery bags bag there and Duane absentmindedly poked around in them. They were full of canned food, there was even a grocery receipt, but the cans were all silver steel – no labels.

“What the hell, Sam,” said Duane.

“Oh, I buy canned food, mostly vegetables. It’s cheap. And then I peel the labels off and leave the cans in the car for a couple days – to make sure I forget what’s in them, before I put ‘em in the cupboard.”

“Why?” asked Cheryl.

“Life is too predictable.”

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Well Endowed King by Bill Chance

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?”

—-William Shakespeare, King Lear

Kids Splashing in front of the Wyly Theater. An HDR image I took on the opening day of the theater.

Well Endowed King

Mark Campbell stepped off the train, alone, into the cold Autumn drizzle and walked the two long blocks through the crystal grid of skyscrapers to the theater. It looked like a gigantic metal cube – like a Borg spaceship that touched down into a wide depression along the busy street. When the city built the new hall Mark read all the articles about it and its innovative architecture. He always sat on the left side of the train so he could watch the construction when he rode by on his commute. He thought that it was so, so cool – but that he would never be able to afford tickets. But he discovered that with every new play that was produced the first night would be a “pay what you can” performance.

At 9 AM on a certain date tickets would be available online for the newest show and the buyer would decide what he would pay. Mark had a quick finger on the internet link and right on time would log on and buy a ticket. He would usually pay five bucks. It was essentially a dress rehearsal but Mark enjoyed the shows, although he didn’t have any luck getting anyone to go along with him.

The theater was like a normal performance hall turned on its side. The lobby was at the bottom of the descending slope, with the performance space above. The top floors were used for offices and rehearsal space. Mark waited in line at the bar to spend ten dollars on a tiny plastic cup of cheap white wine -mostly to have something in his hand as he milled around in the crowd waiting for the show.

The rest of the crowd was divided into couples or small groups, chatting away. Mark was used to being single at these events – but was still more than a little self-conscious.

Tonight, the show was Shakespeare’s King Lear. Mark had seen the play once before – twenty years earlier. He had taken his son to an outdoor summer performance. Mark’s son was only ten and he worried the play would be too complex and dense for the child. But his son loved it – there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. His son perked up.

“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing, Nothing.” A father has to lie a little now and then.

The child especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and Mark wished they could have done more. They were so busy.

And now his son had his own life and better things to do than hang out with his old father.

While he milled around hiding at the edge of the crowd, pretending to look at the posters, artwork, and announcements attached to the walls, he noticed something odd. Near the entrance to the stairway to the seating above there was a large, bold card on an easel:

WARNING!
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS PERFORMANCE CONTAINS NUDITY

Nudity? In King Lear? What was that about? Mark didn’t give a damn about that, and the minute the bell dinged and everyone began moving toward their seats forgot the “warning” completely.

One cool thing about the venue is that the stage and the seating was suspended from the top of the building on cables and could be raised and lowered easily to convert the space into any conformation that the producers liked. He had seen quite a few – some were arranged like a standard theater with the seats in rows facing the stage, some were “in the round,” and some had a jumbled mixture of stage and seats with the play happening right among the audience.

Tonight that was the case. There was a single large stage, but the seats crowded in on three sides so that the action would be close to every observer. Mark couldn’t help but be excited at this innovative an intimate arrangement.

As the audience settled in around him two young women, probably college age, took the seats immediately to the left of Mark. They were very attractive and dressed to the nines. Mark couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to have such gorgeous people sitting right next to him – although he knew he was invisible to them… at best. These premiere performances often had large groups of attractive young people attend – theater students from local schools and colleges. Watching them left Mark with a bittersweet nostalgia for days gone long, long past.

The two chatted with the ironic, bitter, and sardonic tone that women like that use at times like that. Mark wondered what those two thought of Shakespeare. He had no idea. Even though they were sitting right next to him they lived in a world completely alien to his. Soon enough, the lights darkened and the play began.

It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. Mark noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.

The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. Mark thought this wouldn’t last – King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around. He worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. It might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.

Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.

And all Hell broke loose.

Giant strobes went off above in bolts of terrible lighting, electricity crackled, while deafening peals of thunder roared from unseen speakers. The King was now mad, insane, completely unhinged. He ran around the stage and under the falling deluge until he was drenched to the bone.

And then with a bizarre deranged scream he stood at the front of the stage, soaking wet, and stripped of his clothes. All of them.

Mark suddenly remembered. “Ah, that was why they had the nudity warning,” he thought to himself.

The other actors began chasing the howling naked Lear around the stage and then they left it to begin running up and down the aisles and then even between the rows of seats – the audience would have to sort of stand to give them room to move by.

Mark had to smile. The actor playing Lear was no young man – his hair was snow-white and his face wrinkled from many, many decades. But he was slim, muscular, and still very toned for his age. He was athletic and quick, moving through the audience with a grace and speed that made it believable that the other actors could not catch him and run him to ground.

The naked actor was impressive in one other way. The King was very well endowed. Mark thought, “If I looked like that at his age, I’d be running around naked all I could get away with too.” The King moved down the very row where Mark was sitting, tumbling through, followed by his pursuers.

Then Mark noticed the two women sitting next to him. They were horrified. Stiff as boards, speechless, both of their mouths frozen in an identical rictus of terror. They were completely offended by this naked old man speeding around in front of them. Swallowed by a toxic mixture of anger and fear – this was not what they thought that they were going to have to deal with.

Eventually the others captured Lear, throwing a heavy cloak over him and pulling him offstage. The intermission came right after (stagehands rushed out with mops to dry the stage).

The two women stood and yelled out indignant protests to nobody and everybody. They were so apoplectic, “I can’t believe,” “I’ve never,” and “This is terrible,” were the only snippets that Mark could make out even though he was right there. In an enraged huff they stormed out of the building.

Mark wondered if they had seen the warning card in the lobby. He was amazed that anyone that on the outside posed as being so worldly and sophisticated could be so upset at the sight of a bare old man. Maybe that was it, they weren’t used, weren’t prepared for geriatric nudity. Maybe it was the mature equipment. Maybe their boyfriends will be viewed with less enthusiasm going forward. Mark really wished he could see the two women’s text messages – packets of outrage – they would send to all their friends.

The rest was crackerjack. The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the play was a tsunami of powerful madness, a foil for the King’s insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. Mark noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.

And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.

Afterward, spent, Mark trudged back to the station to catch the next-to-last train back home. He had enjoyed the play immensely. But the most memorable roles were played by the two young women next to him, offended and horrified by the well-endowed King.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Collision by Bill Chance

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Wrecked Car waiting for the decision – scrap or repair – like there is a question

Collision

He had a nice townhouse in the city, but Brian Newman spent every weekend at his girlfriend’s apartment, driving a hundred miles after work on Friday and back Monday morning before work. He would leave at five to be sure and beat the traffic. Brian was never a morning person and the Monday drive was difficult, but he had done it so many times over the last couple of years it became a familiar blur.

He was waiting at an ordinary red light with his left blinker on and his mind somewhere far away, but an oncoming truck still caught his eye. It was the middle of the summer and the sun was above the horizon. The truck was a big dump truck, red, faded, peeling, patched with rust. The massive front bumper, painted black, was an angry scowl. It was coming fast. Too fast. Much too fast.

It shot through the red light as if it wasn’t there. Brian felt his heart jump and wondered if the truck would swerve and hit him. He knew that there wasn’t anything he could do if it did.

Right then, a small white car moved in from the left, with its green light, and was hit broadside by the onrushing dump truck. The truck came on as if nothing was in its way. With a horrific sound of tinkling safety glass and rending sheet metal the car was pushed along until it was smashed between the heavy dump truck bumper and the stout light pole in the center median.

The pole snapped off and fell over but not before it brought the massive truck to a final halt. All that kinetic energy reduced the car into a wad of compressed metal like the foil left after a wrapped sandwich, ready to toss in the bin. Brian was in the left hand lane and as he looked out his side window the driver was only a few feet away across the hood and in clear view through the windshield as the light pole came through the side tearing him apart. Brian had a clear view of the man’s panicked face right before the collision crushed his skull, sending bone, blood, and brains in all directions.

The police interviewed Brian at the crash site and at the local office. Over the next week a parade of lawyers asked him the same questions over and over… “Did you hear brakes?” “Did the truck swerve at all?” “How long had the light been red?” “Did the truck sound its horn.”

It seems the driver claimed his brakes had failed. The suspicion was that the driver was on his phone and hadn’t seen the red light. It would be the difference in damages and possible murder charges.

“It happened so fast,” Brian said. “I don’t really know, I don’t know what happened.” He didn’t understand how nobody cared about what had happened to him. Just because he hadn’t been hit didn’t mean he wasn’t affected. The look on the driver’s face in that split second before he died haunted Brian. He thought they made eye contact. Brian was the last person he had seen, a complete stranger, before he died. There was not a scratch on Brian’s car but he had to go to the car wash and scrub off some of what looked like blood and a bit of what might have been skull bone.

Brian called his girlfriend and told her that he had to take some time off and stay at his place for work. She said she understood. He called his work and said he had to take some time off and was going to stay at his girlfriend’s. They said they understood and would sign him up for a workplace disability program.

The lawyers paid for a hotel in the town where the accident happened. Brian figured it was so that he would be available if the case, civil or criminal, ever went to trial. He wasn’t sure which lawyers paid for the room; the defense, or the truck driver, or the dead man’s estate, or the truck manufacturer, or the company that owned the dump truck. They all called him all the time, asking him the same questions over and over. They would always end with saying how lucky Brian was, to have so much violence and horror so close to him and yet to be unaffected. The truck did miss him completely, of course – even if only by inches.

He spent the time binge watching old crime shows in his hotel room or taking long walks around the perfectly ordinary town he was now living in.

As the weeks went by his girlfriend decided to make the man she had been seeing, cheating on him, for a year during the week while Brian was in the city at work her full-time partner. The man proposed and Brian’s old girlfriend accepted. She sent Brian a thoughtful and carefully-worded letter to say goodbye but Brian never opened the envelope. Though he didn’t know exactly what had happened he guessed the main thrust of things and didn’t care much about it.

His work eventually promoted the temporary replacement to take over Brian’s full-time job. Then, as the various cases were settled the lawyers told Brian that he would have to move out of the hotel. They were glad, however, to help him sell his city townhouse and buy a place in the town. Property values were less and he was able to get a small bungalow with a big yard and still have some money left over.

He didn’t need much and was able to find a simple, thoughtless position near his house with the town government and that was enough. Ironically, the job was vacant because it had been held by the man killed in the accident. Brian’s years passed in quiet, lonely peace. He never married, never left the town.

And never drove or rode in a car for the rest of his life.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Porn and Cat Food by Bill Chance

“The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

(click to enlarge)

Porn and Cat Food

Cecil Thompson had some meetings with vendors scheduled all over town so he spent most of the day driving around. There wasn’t anything to see except the other drivers stuck in traffic all around him, moving slowly in lockstep to… somewhere.

Right after dawn he was creeping along in six lanes of rush hour traffic with some guy stuck next to him in an old clunker Chevy. The passenger window was open and no more than three feet from Cecil’s face. The guy was reading a magazine. The morning sun cut in at an angle so Cecil could clearly see his chubby face, his ponytail, and the the magazine. He tore off a plain protective cover and the title was BOOB-A-RAMA.

Traffic was really slow so Cecil was stuck beside him. Ponytail dude looked at that magazine for a while, holding it this way and that, then set it down and picked up another one. Tore its cover off too. And then another and another.

Cecil thought, “How pitiful can you get?” This is at seven in the morning. Ponytail dude must have stopped off at some slimy convenience store for coffee, donuts, and a big pile of porn. Now he’s cruising around, reading (well, not really reading) while he drives. Cecil felt filthy just sharing the same tarmac with him.

And who actually buys porn magazines anymore? Shouldn’t he have at least a tablet? Nothing worse than an old-school pervert.

Cecil guessed he was just getting ready to face his day.

Later, Cecil pulled up behind a fire engine. Red truck, silver ladders, yellow brown hoses. No lights, no siren, stuck in traffic, going nowhere very, very, slowly. Cecil felt a little sadness, assuming the truck was returning back from some fire, some emergency; he hoped everyone was alright.

Then he noticed the back of the truck. The little running board back there that extra firemen can ride on was piled high with bags. At least twenty bags of kitty litter and maybe five jumbo bags of cat food. The truck was returning from a visit to the pet store.

The firemen can’t leave their truck, in case of a call, so they have to take it out to the store with them. On a mission of mercy for the firehouse cat.

Cecil don’t know why, but he found that even more comforting than he found the ponytail guy with the porn magazines disturbing.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Box of Spiders by Bill Chance

“Naturally, the system would have to be rigidly closed, recycling all food, air, and other expendables. But, of course, that’s just how the Earth operates—on a slightly larger scale.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, New Orleans

Box of Spiders

Orion was late and he was keeping Jemma waiting. Orion was never late. Jemma was thirteen and Orion was her best friend and she was sure that he would be her best friend for her entire life and she was upset that he was making her wait. She was also upset at the odd conversation they had by text that morning.

“Will you be at the park today,” said Orion.

“Same as ever Saturday,” was her reply.

“Good, I have a surprise,” said Orion.

“Really? What is it?”

“Wouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Oh. Can’t wait.”

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“Are you afraid of spiders?” asked Orion.

“Very.”

“Shame, we’ll see.”

And Jemma was very afraid of spiders, even though she had never actually seen one. Probably, she thought, she was especially afraid of them because she had never seen one. There is that human natural fear, of spiders and snakes and things like that, with nothing to ameliorate it – no exposure. That’s what she had been taught in school, how different things were now and how careful they all had to be. How there was so little room for error.

And now Orion was there, coming up the slight rise in the park where Jemma was sitting, cross-legged, on the lush lawn. He was lugging a large box.

“You’re late,” said Jemma.

“Sorry, couldn’t be helped.”

“Is that my surprise?”

“It sure is!”

“Are there spiders in that box?”

“Yes, there are. Now, Jemma, don’t be afraid. They are very carefully bred and trained and aren’t dangerous. They are wonderful and I can’t wait for you to meet them,” said Orion.

Orion set the box down on the grass and carefully lifted the lid. Jemma felt her heart leap and her face became hot as she peeked over the edge.

The box was full of spiders, each one carefully folded and packed in tightly. The ones on the top began to unfold, stand, and walk smoothly out of the box. They began to congregate on the ground all around the box, moving and continuing to unfold.

“They have wings!” Jemma said. “Spiders don’t have wings!”

“They don’t… but these do,” said Orion. “We bred them from spider DNA and then combined them with genes from giant butterflies that we developed. It was a delicate and extensive project. Once we built them we bred them and then trained them. Watch what they can do!”

The spiders spread their huge brightly colored wings. Some were a deep cerulean blue, shot-through with some kind of gold sparkles, others were blood-red and still others were a buttery yellow. Most were single colors but others were mottled with black veins.

They began to flap their wings with preternatural speed and then, one by one, they lifted into the sky over the park. When there was a dense cloud they moved over until they were clustered directly over Jeamma.

“Orion! I’m afraid! What are they doing?”

“Now Jemma, it’s important that you relax. Lie down and stretch out. This will be wonderful. You trust me, don’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Jemma.

“Then take it easy. Watch this.”

Silver threads started dropping from the flying spiders directly toward Jemma.

“Orion! They are making webs. I’ve read about this. What will happen?”

“Watch, Jemma, you’ll like it. Don’t be afraid.”

The webs reached Jemma and stuck to her. Hundreds descended and began attaching themselves all over her body. Arms, legs, and torso were covered with strands extending upward. They were careful about where they attached – avoiding her face but reaching around and cradling her head in a mass of threads.

“The webs are stronger than steel, Jemma. Don’t thrash around, stay as still as you can.”

Jemma felt the fear subsiding. There was something comforting about the mass of webs and how they seemed to know where to attach, where to stick. She could feel them tugging against her here and there. She began to feel strangely relaxed.

“Ok, Jemma,” said Orion, “here we go!”

The hum of wings overhead became louder and louder until it was a roar of hundreds of wings furiously flapping. The tugging of the threads became stronger and stronger until Jemma felt herself being lifted off of the ground. It was oddly relaxing and comfortable, a gentle tugging spread out evenly over her entire body. She spread her arms and legs to be as stable as she could.

“That’s it Jemma, let them take you.” Orion said from below.

Jemma was able to turn her head and watch the park fall away. As she gained altitude she could see the ground, which felt flat when you were on it, curve up and away on either side. As she, and the spider/butterflies, moved away from the edge of the vast cylinder the gravity, produced by centripetal acceleration was less and the roar of the wings became quieter as their weight faded. Jemma looked up at the sun-tube that ran down the center of the axis. It was closer than she had ever seen it.

“They are trained to stay away from that,” Orion said, “One of the first testers flew too close to the sun-tube and the webs melted. He fell.”

Orion had flown up on the jets attached to his carapace and was hovering right next to Jemma. His circuits were humming, a laser probe flashed out onto her, and Jemma knew he was scanning, checking on her reactions and emotions. Orion was always paying attention and doing what he could to make sure she was safe and happy. Jemma knew she loved him.

“Orion, I’ve always wanted to fly like you,” said Jemma. “Now I can.”

“Well, not like me, exactly. But I knew you’d enjoy the ride.”

“But why did you build these? Just for me?”

“Not exactly. We’re always working on the genetics and learning what we can do. It will be hundreds of generations for you and your people before we reach Tau Ceti and we have to make sure we are able to insure survival. We’re not even completely sure about what we’ll find when we get there. There is no room for error.”

Jemma didn’t answer. She was leaning back and looking past the sun-tube at the other side of the cylinder. There were green splotches of trees, winding blue streams, and gray paths. It was all so beautiful, so planned, so perfect. So little room for error.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Into the Wind by Bill Chance

“Canoes, too, are unobtrusive; they don’t storm the natural world or ride over it, but drift in upon it as a part of its own silence. As you either care about what the land is or not, so do you like or dislike quiet things–sailboats, or rainy green mornings in foreign places, or a grazing herd, or the ruins of old monasteries in the mountains. . . . Chances for being quiet nowadays are limited.”

― John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Into the Wind

There’s this thing about a canoe on a lake in the wind. When you are going into the wind you’re going very slowly and working very hard to push against the resistance. But since the waves are going the other way, opposite you, it seems like you’re flying, rushing along. It’s only when you look over to the shore that you see the glacial progress you’re making.

On the other hand, when you turn around, and go with the wind at your back you will move right along with the waves and appear, when you look at the water, to almost be standing still. It takes some proper point of reference, some object on the shore, to gauge your true rapid speed.

Sam and his two sons rented a canoe. He intended to paddle from one end of Cedar Lake to the other.

They walked to the little park store, which has rentals. They had to wait because the operator who lived by himself in a recreational vehicle beside the store had closed up for an hour and gone into town. He had left a note on the door to the store. When he came back he rented them the boat. He made Sam fill out several pages of paperwork, apologizing, “Please fill this out in case the State audits me.”

Samy asked, “Well, have they ever audited you?”

He said, “Yes, once. They came out a couple years ago but I told them that my wife had passed away that week and I couldn’t deal with it so they went away and haven’t come back.”

They rented the little aluminum canoe for an hour, six dollars an hour. The rental place was in a cove down at one end of the lake and due to the drought the lake levels were way down. It was difficult to get out of the cove because the water was so shallow. The boys peered over the gunwale at the thick water plants rubbing against the canoe while their father used the paddle to pole their way along

Sam wanted to go the length of the lake, all the way to the dam but as they moved out into the center he wasn’t sure they would make it. The stout wind would catch the front of the canoe, where Frank, the older son, sat ineffectually flailing at the water with one paddle, and spin it around so Sam would have to paddle hard and carefully to keep it pointed at the dam. Two other families had rented canoes right after them and they were unable to get out of the cove due to the wind.

After being spun twice Sam decided to move over to the west coastline, as close as possible, and pay close attention to steering the canoe – they were able to make progress that way. It was hard work, pushing against the wind, taking all the strength Sam had in his shoulders.

For Sam it felt good to be paddling a canoe again. He was good at it. When he was a child in Florida he had a canoe of his own. He would haul it down to the canal next to their house and paddle around after school.

Frank and Sam’s youngest son, Luke had never been in a canoe before. Luke was surprised to find out it was made of metal, he thought they were all made of wood. They both said the canoe was more stable than they thought it would be, they thought it would be harder to keep it from tipping over. Sam told them a lot of that was because he was working pretty hard at keeping it straight while they flailed around. Especially Frank at the front trying to paddle.

They made it all the way to the dam. No huge feat, but the kids enjoyed it. It felt like a great victory. They circled the concrete drainage structure, a tall cylinder sticking out of the water with a wrought iron valve wheel on top. The kids asked questions about it, which Sam couldn’t answer. Then they turned and headed back.

Sam was worried they would be late, he had only paid for an hour. He wished that he had shelled out another six bucks so they could relax. But the wind and waves bore them along at a rapid speed on the return. It took them forty minutes to reach the dam and only ten to get back. Poor Luke knelt on his knees in the center of the canoe during the whole trip and could barely stand when they pushed up onto shore. His young legs regained their flexibility quickly enough.

Sam’s shoulders didn’t recover quite so fast. For a week the soreness reminded him of the struggle across the lake in the canoe with his two sons. He would shrug his shoulders against the pain and smile.

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.