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 Radio Radio (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
― Stanisław Lem, Solaris

Flock in Space, Ruben Ochoa
Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

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 (#49). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


 

Radio Radio

Winston Devine was always something of a hoarder… not too bad, but he liked his stuff. The quarantine lockdown kept him from going to his favorite thrift store and it was hard on him. When things began to free up and Thrift World opened for two hours a day (with social distancing and a mask requirement) Winston was excited.

There is a certain smell of a big thrift store – mostly a slight musty odor from those vast racks of used clothes – and Winston was happy that Thrift World still had it. It brought back such good memories of bargains found and purchased. He had a route through the store where he wound looking for what he was interested in. He always found things he liked – he was looking for different things than the usual poverty-stricken denizen was.

It the back corner was a giant plastic bin full of obsolete, useless electronics. Single and scuffed speakers, old phones, DVD players, audio cassette recorders, phone answering machines, overhead projectors, VCRs, broken printers, fax machines… all the detritus of fast-changing technology. A hand lettered sign was taped to the wall, “Old Electric.” The items were tagged with color-coded stickers indicating the price.

Winston couldn’t help a quick dig. At the least it sent a surge of nostalgia through him. From near the bottom he lifted out what looked like an old radio. It reminded of a portable tube set that his father had when he was a little kid.

Clad in reddish leather it was a rectangular box about the size of a loaf of bread. It even had a leather strap handle on the top like the one his father had owned. It sported a purple dot which Winston knew represented a buck. For a dollar he’d buy it – even if it didn’t work.

At home he sat down at his kitchen table with the bargain, excited to figure out if he could it to do something. His father’s old radio had opened up with two snaps on the back and contained a huge plastic tube that required nine “D” batteries – electronics from that age weren’t very efficient.

But on this unit the back was featureless leather. Turning it over, there was no opening on the sides or bottom, either. The top only contained the carrying strap.

“How the hell does this thing get power?” he muttered to himself.

On the front there were two large silver knobs on either side – one labeled “Vol” the other “Tun.” Between them was a linear tuning dial with three lines and a red slider that moved across it. Below the dial was a simple sliding switch.

“Well, that looks right,” he said to nobody.

But that was all there was. It was too simple, there should have been more stuff on it. He was confused because there was no logo or brand name… no “Zenith” or “GE” emblazoned proudly. Maybe it had fallen off.

Winston gave the volume knob a twist and after a click the tuning dial lit up with a strong blue glow. The thing worked! He was elated.

The slide switch had three positions. AM, FM, and the third had a symbol that looked like a stylized swirl. He set it to AM, turned the volume up and began to scan.

Each time he turned the tuning knob, even a fraction, sound began to come out of the radio. It was crisp and distinct. Winston smiled as he thought about how well stuff was made back then.

The odd thing was, the stations weren’t all in English. Few were, as a matter of fact. As he tuned he realized the radio was picking up stations from all over the world. Picking them up strong and clear like they were right next door. It was receiving hundreds of stations.

When he reached the end of the dial, he switched the radio to FM and moved back down. Again, every tiny movement tuned in another station from somewhere in the world, strong and distortion free. There was no static. There was music from all genres and talk in every imaginable language.

Winston was confused. He had no idea how this thing was working like that. Then he noticed something else. The radio had no speaker grill. He turned it around in his hands and could not figure out where the music was coming from. It seemed to be radiating out of the whole radio in all directions. And he noticed that the radio was pristine. The leather was completely unmarked… no scratches or stains. The dials were perfect. How was that possible on an old radio that ended up in a thrift store?

He was beginning to freak out. There was no way this was possible. On the other hand, it was an amazing bargain. He had only paid a buck for it. It had AM and FM bands – but what was that third switch position. Maybe it was short wave.

He looked more closely at the dial. On the FM and AM lines were numbers, frequencies, like he expected. On the third line, however there was a series of small circles. Each circle was labeled in tiny lettering that read:

Arcturus

Betelgeuse

Canopus

Capella A

Capella B

Deneb

Fomalhaut

Mimosa

Pollux

Procyon

Rigel

Sirius

Spica

Vega

These were names of stars, he recognized that. Looking at the sliding switch he realized that the symbol on the third position was a stylized galaxy. It was crazy.

Taking a deep breath, he tuned the radio to Arcturus and switched the band to the galaxy. Immediately an odd series of clicks and tones started pouring out of the radio. He had never heard anything remotely like those sounds. They were completely alien. Alien. The word stuck in his mind.

He began to turn the dial, working through the names. Each one had a completely different sound – Betelgeuse was an odd wailing, while Canopus sounded almost like whale song with an oboe playing in the background. Capella A and B sounded similar, though A was at a higher pitch. Nothing, though was familiar at all… it was all… alien.

Until he reached Sirius. When the red line crossed that little circle Winston was shocked to hear “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys in perfect clarity. When it ended, the old doo-wop classic “Earth Angel” played. The next song was an ancient instrumental by The Ventures, “Telstar.” Winston had always liked that song.

After the guitar faded away Winston was jolted when a voice came over the radio. It was an odd voice – he couldn’t decide if it was male of female, young or old. It had no discernible accent and Winston decided it was an absolute perfect generic voice.

“Welcome all you listeners from across the known galaxy to our afternoon show, Sounds of Earth. Our agents are working hard recording the music and culture of that little planet for the archives. Their time and their job is almost over. Once the invasion is accomplished, the population enslaved, and the planet stripped we want to preserve as much as we can in the unlikely case they produced anything of lasting value. In the meantime we select what we think you might enjoy and let you hear it before it’s gone.”

“Next up, Space Oddity by a human singer named David Bowie.”

Winston turned the radio off. He was shaking and sweat was pouring down his face. He walked into his living room and turned on the television. He was relieved when the normal pair of newscasters appeared on the screen sitting behind their usual desk. There was no panic and no mention of an alien invasion.

The male announcer said to his partner, “Well, Wendy, twenty twenty has been quite a year. The pandemic, political insanity, then the demonstrations and the riots. We can hope that soon, things will start to improve. Twenty one will have to be a better year.”

“That’s right Chad,” his partner replied. “What could possibly happen next? I can’t imagine things getting worse than this.”

Winston couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as he said to the screen, “Worse? Oh, I’m afraid you have no idea how much worse it is going to get.”

Interstellar Bait Shop

saucer1

Van Taurus examined the planet below as he orbited, trying to determine the best place to land. He knew that through his planet’s research and his extensive personal surgical procedures he would be able to superficially mix with the inhabitants of the planet below – even speak a few rudimentary phrases of their languages. But he had to pick the proper place to land. He didn’t want to set down in a densely populated city – it would create too much attention – or even a panic that would overwhelm him and make his mission of study impossible. Likewise, he didn’t want to settle in an isolated spot – that would make his intention of personally interacting with the natives difficult or impossible.

He knew his predecessors had made a policy of seeking out tracts of small, portable rectangular identical dwellings clustered in rural areas – thinking that such simple folk would be more accepting and malleable – but their missions had all been abject failures, so he rejected that plan.

He noticed the layout of some cities of what looked like more modern construction – a spoke and wheel arrangement. The dense central urban area that had strips of some smooth material radiating out – most connecting with other population centers some distance away. He decided to land somewhere along one of these connections, thinking that would be a spot little noticed but one that would give him eventual access to the population of the planet.

Van Taurus selected a large – but not too huge – urban area, then a spoke radiating out, and finally he found a vacant area next to the smooth strip. During the dark period he maneuvered his ship through the atmosphere and set it down in the center of the vacant area, about five ship-widths from the transportation corridor.

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Location of the landing

He knew from the research on the planet’s electromagnetic communication that the people were very familiar with the shape of his ship – obviously learned from the many failed missions that had preceded him. The circular ship, oval in cross-section – and lined with viewing ports had become a symbol of his planet’s visits – yet the population didn’t seem to take it all that seriously. It was almost treated in their entertainment communications as a subject of strange humor, rather than the momentous discovery it really was.

This was another in a long string of curious mysteries that Van Taurus had intended to solve when he volunteered for the dangerous mission – one that no fellow explorer had ever returned.

So it was with trepidation that Van Taurus peered from his viewports as the planet’s single star rose above the horizon. He expected to see a large, agitated crowd of the planet’s population, possibly afraid, possibly hostile.

Instead, he saw no one. The only activity was a steady stream of transportation modules along the smooth strip of prepared surface. There were a wide variety of metal capsules moving at a high speed, most containing only a single individual. They sped along without any visible means of power or guidance, and Van Taurus used his remote spectrograph to discover that each was spewing a mixture of toxic gasses out the small pipe in their tail. Why? He couldn’t imagine.

Another mystery.

After a few diurnal cycles without anyone paying any attention to his ship, Van Taurus felt confident and bored enough to venture forth, walking along the transportation strip in the direction he knew the distant city to be located.

He didn’t have to travel far before he came upon a small, colorful structure that seemed to offer for trade a selection of foodstuffs and other small items. He entered and moved in front of an individual that stood at the front of the room. He had carefully prepared his statement.

“My name is Van Taurus and I am an alien on your planet. I mean you no harm.”

“An alien? Well hell, what’s one more? Let me tell where the folks around here go for labor”

Van Taurus didn’t know exactly what the word “labor” meant, but the man seemed to understand that he was an alien and didn’t seem too disturbed about the fact. Perhaps this civilization had expected someone like him and prepared a location to communicate with aliens and he was being directed to it. He allowed himself a bit of praise in his choice of landing spot – so close to the alien gathering place.

When he reached the location described to him he found a group standing around. Metal capsules, larger than most, would arrive and the occupant would gesture at a small number of the group, and these individuals would climb into a large open box on the back of the capsule. They would then speed away.

He was confused by this, but one gestured at him from a capsule, and, almost reflexively, he climbed in with the others. He was transported to a spot where the group spent the day picking up blocks of artificial stone and carrying them from one location to another. At the end of the period, they each were handed a small bundle of flexible sheets.

On the return trip, his crude knowledge of at least three of the planet’s languages allowed him to learn from the others in the back of the capsule that these sheets could be exchanged for food and other goods from locations such as the one he had visited earlier.

He stopped on the walk back to the spaceship and the man seemed glad to see him, once he displayed his collection of sheets. He exchanged a few for various foodstuffs. Van Taurus found the food to be palatable though strange, and oddly unfulfilling.

He settled into a routine of walking to the gathering spot, going off to do some strange, meaningless task, often involving killing and removing harmless vegetation, and afterwards purchasing food at the small building.

Some days he would spend in the space around his ship, doing scientific research. He was fascinated by the small, long, wriggling eyeless creatures that lived in the soil where he had landed. He traded for a tool from the building and had dug out a pile of these animals when he was surprised by a capsule stopping and the occupants offering him a small stack of sheets for the creatures.

He asked his fellow laborers about that and they explained about “fishing” and helped him make a sign of cardboard that said, “Van Taurus Bait Shop.” It wasn’t long before he was collecting enough sheets in exchange for the creatures that he didn’t have to go on the trips with the laborers again, though he did miss the companionship.

Van Taurus was alarmed when he began to exhaust the supply of creatures around his ship. But the man in the colorful building explained that he had collected enough of the exchange sheets to move to a location a distance away that had a structure made of some sort of cut and assembled vegetative matter. It was at the intersection of two transportation paths and was thus, as the man explained “A Prime Location.” More importantly, the space behind it had a terrible odor and was always wet with excess water – Van Taurus suspected that is was used for the disposal of waste products from various creatures. However, it did contain the wriggling creatures in a tremendous, virtually endless, supply. They were larger and more vigorous also, and brought in more exchange sheets.

Van Taurus was able to trade these for another, larger flat communication display that said, “Van Taurus Baits – Best Wigglers West of the Mississippi!” The man from the building had recommended that – even though it confused Van Taurus, he was able to exchange more of the creatures than ever before.

Over time, he forgot about his mission and concentrated on activities that accumulated more and increasingly valuable exchange sheets. His spaceship was neglected and eventually vandalized by the younger local inhabitants. Finally, it was reduced to an ignored shell sitting along the transportation corridor.

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