Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Brain Teaser by Bill Chance

“Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while you don’t have the strength to fight it.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Spring Snow,
Richardson, Texas

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

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

Here’s another one for today (#35). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Brain Teaser

 

John Berryman realized that his two seater MGB wasn’t a very practical car, but he didn’t give a damn. It was old and it was sharp and it was cool. But the convertible roof leaked and the heater didn’t work very well. The windshield was constantly fogged in the cold wet spitting rain.

The nighttime city was shattered into iridescent jewels of waterdrops around his view, red brakes, yellow beams and the multicolored neon advertisements like harbingers of an unknown outer world. The cramped car gave off the smell of old canvas and rust, released by the moist stream seeping through from outside. John’s teeth chattered against the cold – though he knew how much better off he was in the car, no matter how freezing, than the poor souls stuck out in the elements.

He thought of Chuck and how miserable he sounded on the phone. John squinted through the fog and rain, looking for the bus stop.

A decade ago Chuck had been there when John needed him. John was broke, homeless and without hope. Chuck took him in, cleaned him up and introduced him around. That was the start of the long climb to where he was now – where he could buy impractical old sports cars when he wanted to.

Chuck hadn’t been so lucky. Now John was ready to return the favor. He had been calling Chuck and offering help. Chuck had been too proud to accept, until now.

He had answered John’s call sounding near death. Chuck was taking public transit, waiting for the bus, when this awful wet windy blue norther cold front invaded. The transit system had collapsed with the weather, and Chuck had no idea when a bus would get to his stop and take him home.

So John gladly jumped in the car ready to speed to the rescue, but Chuck’s phone battery had died before the directions were clear. Now John was looking, for his friend freezing on a bus stop bench. He was stuck in a terrible part of town, miles from anyplace worth being.

And there, suddenly, he was. In the middle of a block, lit by a nearby streetlight, John spotted the familiar form of his friend, recognizable even under the hood of a shabby and very wet jacket. He drove by slowly, smiling at his buddy. There were two other people sitting on the bench beside Chuck, which was sheltered beneath a slanted corrugated roof. It wasn’t doing any good, though, the rain screaming in the wind – hitting them almost horizontally. He parked and headed into the storm.

“John, you found it,” said Chuck “I didn’t give you very good directions.”

“No problem dude, clear as crystal, drove right here,” John lied.

Chuck stood and grabbed his old friend, turning him slightly.

“Oh, let me introduce my fellow bus waiters,” he said. “First, this is Mabel.”

An emaciated, ancient hand emerged from what looked like a pile of rags on the bench next to where Chuck had been sitting. It was shaking and John felt a weak grip as he took it. Looking closely at the rags he saw a thin lined face. She said something so weak that John couldn’t make it out. Chuck turned John with a subtle but strong gesture so that they were away from the bench.

“Hey John,” Chuck said, “I know you drove a long way to get me and I appreciate it, but I’ll tell you, I think we need to give Mabel a ride. She’s freezing in this weather and I’m not sure she can survive if it takes the bus more than an hour to get here… and it probably will.”

“Forget it,” said John, “You are my oldest and best friend and I am going to take you out of here.”

“Well, then, take us both.”

“I can’t, you know the MGB only holds two.”

“Jeez, that’s right,” Chuck looked at the tiny car across the street. It looked like a toy. “No way can we squeeze three into that thing.”

“It’s all right, dear,” a strong voice piped up behind them. “I’ll stay with you until the bus comes. I’ll make sure you get home all right.”

It was a woman’s voice. To John it was a sudden shock to hear something so melodious in the middle of the rainstorm. The two men turned around.

“Oh, hey John, I forgot to introduce the third member of our miserable company. This is Nancy.”

John felt his stomach jump and his pulse race as he looked down at Nancy. She turned from Mabel and a shower of watery gems fell from her hair. Her hand was warm and strong as she shook his and stabbed him with her eyes.

All he could do was mumble a greeting. Caught completely off guard, John hadn’t felt like this since he was a teenager.

“So you’re going to drive Chuck?” Nancy asked. “Good, at least someone can have a warm evening.”

Chuck turned to John, “Now listen….” But John cut him off. He had made a quick decision.

John said, “Walk with me to my car,” and shook off Chuck’s objection.

The MGB had a tiny boot in the back. John unlocked it and opened the cargo door. Then he handed his keys to Chuck.

“Here, you take my keys,” he said. “Take my car.”

“What? Why?”

“I want you to drive Mabel home, make sure she’s all right and warmed up, get her something to eat, then you go home with my car. We’ll sort it out later.”

“But… what about…”

“I’ll wait here for the bus. In your place. The route goes by my condo…. Eventually…. I think.”

“I can’t…”

John cut him off again. “Of course you can. This is what I want. Trust me.”

He looked down into the boot of the car. He kept a warm wool stadium blanket down there, for emergencies. He pulled it out and nodded to Chuck, who seemed to suddenly understand. The two walked back across the road.

“Mabel, John’s giving me his car, I can take you home,” Chuck said.

The old woman could barely reply as the two men helped her up and across the street. She felt like she was made of paper as they folded her in the passenger seat. John felt suddenly warmer as he watched the tiny car move away.

He walked back to the bench with his stadium blanket and was very happy to see Nancy smiling at him as he approached.

“Well, it looks like it’s the two of us waiting now. Do you want to share my blanket? It’s warm and dry,” he said.

Short Story Of the Day, Nouvelle Vague by Bill Chance

They would take a purposeful minute of silence every now and then. “If there’s nothing to say, let’s have a minute of silence” was their motto.

—-Bill Chance, Nouvelle Vague

 

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

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Nouvelle Vague

 

Armando loved cars. And his girlfriend Cecile had a great one. Her father had a bit of cash stashed away and bought her a vintage light blue ’65 Mustang Convertible to drive around while she was at school. She used to say, “I live the top down life.”

The two of them also loved film… or more precisely, movies, because they mostly watched them on tape. The VHS format had recently defeated its deathly adversary, the Betamax, and a rental store for the hard-core movie aficionado had opened up near his apartment. The two of them were renting stacks of tapes and working their way through the French New Wave.

Though they lived in a tumbleweed-blown college town in the middle of the great plains they liked to pretend they were in Paris. A greasy spoon was a pale but workable substitute for a Parisian Cafe – one even had sidewalk tables for those few days where the weather wasn’t blowing ice or baking heat. They watched Godard and talked politics over meals and she cut her hair like Anna Karina.

Like all Nouvelle Vague couples they saved their important, passionate conversations for the times they were driving in the car. She named the Mustang Metal Hurlant. They would drive with the top down, sometimes slowly or sometimes sliding around the gravely corners. They would take turns driving and would imagine a camera on the hood shooting through the windshield as they talked about their dreams, argued, or the passenger would lean against the driver and they would cruise in silence.

They would take a purposeful minute of silence every now and then. “If there’s nothing to say, let’s have a minute of silence” was their motto. A minute of silence can be a long time. A real minute of silence takes forever. But they took pride in being able to pull it off.

It took some effort but they learned to dance The Madison. Never found a place in public they could show off.

There was nothing better than driving around with the top down in the twilight evening after a hot day. The convertible made its own breeze and the world was awash in magical colors once the sun set until it became too dark. They kept a little cooler of iced beer cans under the dash and would sneak sips when they knew the cops weren’t watching. Even the condensation on the curved aluminum was beautiful and delicious.

At the end of one of these perfect evenings the night crept down the sky until they had to think of something else to do.

“I know!” Armando said, “Look over there.”

It was the last drive in theater. The VHS tapes had killed the drive in – but there was one last one, hanging on, out there on the edge of town, at the end of time.

They didn’t even look to see what movie was playing, but paid their money and drove in. They were the only customers – the space vast and empty.

“At least we’ll be able to see close,” said Cecile. She drove down right to the front, with the towering white screen rising above them like a fortification. Cecile looked over the door, confused.

“Hey! Where are all the little speakers on poles?”

“Oh, those are long gone,” said Armando, “People kept stealing them. You just tune in on the radio for the sound.”

“This car doesn’t have a radio.”

They drove all the way back to the one spot, right beside the snack bar that still had a speaker. The single employee (who owned the theater and had taken their money earlier) popping corn and filling sodas could keep an eye on that one. They watched the movie on the tiny, distant screen, with nothing but space between.

Still it was nice. And sitting there in that specific instant in that vintage car with the top down watching the last drive in alone (except for the snack bar guy) in that peculiar slice of time they were happy, content and in the moment – blissful and unaware of the tumult and pandemonium that was bearing down on them… on everybody… like a tsunami of insanity – only a few short decades away.

It Still Freaks Me Out a Little

“I come to a red light, tempted to go through it, then stop once I see a billboard sign that I don’t remember seeing and I look up at it. All it says is ‘Disappear Here’ and even though it’s probably an ad for some resort, it still freaks me out a little and I step on the gas really hard and the car screeches as I leave the light.”
Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

Pinstripe Skull, Car Show, Denton, Texas

Somebody Had a Bad Day

“The ambiguous role of the car crash needs no elaboration—apart from our own deaths, the car crash is probably the most dramatic event in our lives, and in many cases the two will coincide. Aside from the fact that we generally own or are at the controls of the crashing vehicle, the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylized format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines.”

J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Lyndon Baines Johnson Freeway and Texas Instruments Boulevard, Dallas, Texas

One Of Those Manifold Alternatives Open To Us

“We have annexed the future into the present, as merely one of those manifold alternatives open to us. Options multiply around us, and we live in an almost infantile world where any demand, any possibility, whether for life-styles, travel, sexual roles and identities, can be satisfied instantly.”
J.G. Ballard, Crash

Wrecked Car waiting for the decision – scrap or repair

For me, the most amazing aspect of a car crash – even the simplest fender bender – is the sound. The sharp snap of breaking safety glass, the thud of impact, the groaning of thick bending metal. Behind it all is the sound of entropy increasing, of the inevitable disaster that lies behind the veneer of our day to day lives. The reality forced upon us that there is no going back… time only runs one way.

Spider In the Darkness

“If there is a God he’s a great loathsome spider in the darkness.”
John Fowles, The Collector

Louise Bourgeois, Spider

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans Museum of Art

spide_w
(Click for full size version on Flickr)

There is a spider living inside the driver’s side rear view mirror on my car. It’s a modern, streamlined plastic capsule that holds, in addition to the mirror, the mechanism for remote adjusting of the view, so there’s plenty of room. Since the mirror moves, there’s a gap around it, so the spider can easily slip in and out. It is pretty much ideal for a spider to live in.

When I say he lives there, I mean he spends the day there. At night he spins a web between the mirror and my driver’s side window. He must catch plenty to eat, because when I first noticed him, he was a tiny little arachnid-ette but now he’s a big fat Shelob-ish thing. I don’t see the spider every day, but it isn’t rare.

You see, the problem is, being a spider, he hasn’t figured out the whole car thing. I notice the spider when I drive to work – he is next to my face, after all, on the other side of the glass but right there. I guess some days, maybe the days I’m running late to work (usually) he takes down his insect-trap and retreats inside the mirror assembly before I come out and start the car. But if I’m early or he’s late he gets caught out there, on his web, while I drive down the road. These are residential streets so I don’t go much faster than forty – but that’s a lot of wind for a spider in a web. He swings and flails and hangs on for dear life.

Does a spider feel pain? Does a spider get dizzy? He must not because he was caught in a certain configuration this morning such that he started to spin in the wind hanging on a strand of web behind the mirror. When I say spin I mean spin. Like a tiny top on a string round and round extremely fast. A little pea sized arachnid blur – his legs held together, disappearing with the speed. But when I came to a stop sign he calmly set about his business of tidying up his web until I took off again – then he spun some more.

That’s the funny thing, during my ragged commute he alternates between swinging or spinning wildly in the wind when I’m moving to working his web remnants at stop signs or red lights. He has a mysterious spider purpose in arranging what’s left of his nightly web. I don’t know why he can’t simply let it go… he’s going to make a new one each night anyway. At any rate – usually about halfway to my work – I’ll stop for a minute and he’ll calmly move up the web and disappear behind the mirror to do spider things the rest of the day.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t really rescue him – and I’m a little afraid of him. But one day soon I won’t be going to work, but will have to drive somewhere on the highway. There’s a difference in the spider world between a forty mile per hour wind and one going, say, eighty.

It’s Got Eight Cylinders; Uses Them All

It’s got a Lincoln motor and it’s really souped up.
That Model A Vitimix makes it look like a pup.
It’s got eight cylinders; uses them all.
It’s got overdrive, just won’t stall.
—-Charlie Ryan (also Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen), Hot Rod Lincoln

Car Show, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Fade Away And Radiate

Ooh baby, watchful lines vibrate soft in brainwave time.
Silver pictures move so slow.
Golden tubes faintly glow.
Electric faces seem to merge.
Hidden voices mock your words.
Fade away and radiate.
—-Blondie, Fade Away and Radiate
radiator

Car Show, Texas

Pinstripe

“Civilised life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.”
J.G. Ballard

Pinstripe on Hood, Car Show, Dallas, Texas

I remember in my youth, swimming in a lake somewhere (little fish kept nibbling at me). I was moving along a dock towards the sandy bit of slope they called a beach. There were some girls up on the dock and I could hear them talking. One said, “Yeah, I know he’s not good lookin’ and I don’t like him at all… but I’m going out with him anyway… he has such a nice car.”

I still remember that and, as I get older, I wonder if she might have been on to something.