Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, The Illustrated Woman by Bill Chance

“From the outer edge of his life, looking back, there was only one remorse, and that was only that he wished to go on living.”

― Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

Window sign, Tattoo Parlor, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

The Illustrated Woman

After work Craig drove off to the club to work out.

He didn’t exercise as an excuse to watch other people. He was serious about improving his fitness, he was working hard. But the first part of his program was to do a half hour on the stepper. There wasn’t much to do for thirty minutes except look around at the other folks working out.

He tried to do the stepper right. He would stand as upright as possible, keeping his weight on his feet, using his hands only for balance. A couple machines down some guy was flopped over forwards, resting his chest on the control panel, his arms on the handles. His entire weight was supported there, his blue spandex-covered butt stuck up in the back. Craig knew he didn’t get any real exercise that way and it must be killing his back.

In front of the steppers, past the always-busy treadmills was a warm-up area, where people do their stretching. This club was a serious place, not a lot of socializing, and although there is a wide variety of customers, a lot of serious bodybuilders hung out there.

Craig couldn’t help but notice one woman on the mat bending herself around, stretching. Tall and thin, almost gaunt, wearing wire-rim glasses and medium length blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore white shorts, a gray athletic bra-top, black workout shoes and weightlifting gloves. She must have had some Yoga training, those were serious stretches. She stood, feet far apart, and keeping her torso and legs straight and locked bent over and touched her cheek to the inside of each calf. Then she rolled around and tapped the back of her head on the padded floor between her feet.

What caught Craig’s eye wasn’t only her extraordinary flexibility, it was her tattoo. Not a small, ordinary tattoo, but a big design. She was illustrated. The illustration was a vine, he guessed a climbing wild rose. He could make out red blossoms and maybe even thorns among the thick green leaves. It started as a spiral tendril between her breasts and grew into an arc over her left shoulder. It continued down her back in undulating curves and finally ended… well,Craig couldn’t really tell exactly where it ended.

He was not a big fan of tattoos, but he liked this one. It looked like a real part of her, not some odd design picked out in a drunken haze and buzzed in on an ankle in a whim. Jeez, though, that must have hurt. A good two or three square feet of skin under that electric needle.

He finished his time on the stepper and walked some laps to cool down before he started working on the weight machines. Down on one end of the club was the free weight area where the serious bodybuilders worked. One woman was sitting, doing concentration curls with a dumbbell. The biceps on her arm literally popped out like a hank of thick cords, you could almost see every muscle strand. She was like a sculptor in flesh. The sculptor and the sculpture too. Slow carving with sweat and plates of steel.

For the most part, the men down there had unmarked skin. He had never noticed before that all the women had large complex tattoos. Abstract patterns across their bellies. One had a tiger looking out of its lair drawn across her shoulder blades.

He thought back to something he heard on TV as a child, during the Olympics, Craig thought about it and decided it was the 1968 games in Mexico City. The announcer was talking about the East German women’s swimming team. She said something like, “The Communist Bloc girls have a big advantage over the American women because they have a weight lifting program. American women won’t lift weights because they are afraid they will look too manly .”

Thirty years ago before then… over half a century has passed now. A lot of water under the bridge. It’s odd that he remembered that from so long ago; he had no idea why it made such an impression. Things have changed a bit since then, though, haven’t they?

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Sneaking Away by Bill Chance

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine

What did you dream?

It’s alright we told you what to dream

—-Pink Floyd

Anna Karina, star of the French New Wave

Sneaking Away

For weeks, at work, Craig was seized with an odd obsession. He thought constantly about sneaking away in the afternoon and seeing a movie. It had been unbelievably hot – though it was a typical summer. Thirty-plus days in a row of triple digit temperatures. Coming up on two months without a drop of rain. This day after day of baking was affecting Craig’s brain – broiling his thoughts.

He thought of the multiplex down the street from his work. He thought of the cool darkness. The isolation and peaceful quiet, interrupted only by the cacophony of the film soundtrack itself. The crankle of ice cubes in a big paper cup, the swoosh of a straw, the smell of popcorn.

He dreamed of the time when he could lean back and close his eyes and feel the cushioned seat that jiggles a little, modern stadium seating, plenty of legroom. A modern bastion of entertainment, a pantheon to air conditioning. Cool whispers, dust filters. His fingers would feel the little paper stub in a pocket, a ticket to ride, escape.

It didn’t matter what the feature is… as a matter of fact, the more banal, the better. Some teen comedy maybe, or modern special effects smash hit mindless electric drivel. Escapism, is what they call it.

In his imagination he tells the girl at the front desk of the office, “I have an off site afternoon meeting,” and strolls out to the parking lot. It is only a five minute drive to the gigaplex; He sees himself locking his cellphone in the glove box of his car. The ticket seller, the ticket ripper, the concession slogger are all bored, the afternoon weekday crowd is light.

The worn carpet, the signs over the doors, the posters (coming soon)… He could see it all when he closed his eyes.

He didn’t do it though… He couldn’t do it. He worked in a factory, He was a critical cog in the machine. The oiled parts, hot and constantly moving, never know when his attention is needed.

So he took a hurried lunch, drove past the theater on his way back. The best he could do is to lean back a little between phone calls or emails, when nobody was standing in front of his desk with some question.

Lean back and close his eyes, try to smell the popcorn, hear the roar of the coming attractions.

Non Fungible Tokens

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Sculptured Composition 1953 Charles T. Williams Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

I had a recurring, frustrating dream all night about NFTs. I was supposed to buy some for my work for some reason… but I didn’t (and don’t) understand exactly what a Non Fungible Token is. The seem to be some sort of Ponzi scheme… I guess – but it was imperative that I was to buy some. I remember surfing the internet in my dream, looking for a certain type of NFT that was related to the company I work for.

What a boring way to spend a whole night of dream-world, surfing the net. I woke up a few times only to fall asleep and go right back into the same dream.

And then it was time to go to work.

Sunday Snippet, The Dream Screen by Bill Chance

“That which is dreamed can never be lost, can never be undreamed.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Wake

Dallas Heritage Village

The Dream Screen

All his life, Sam could never remember his dreams – he would wake up with a vague feeling of frustration and discontent, but whatever was causing it would fade so fast he could never get his mind around it. For the last month, however, he had been having the same… or rather similar… dreams and they haunted him all day long. The dreams were especially bothering him because in the dream he was lying in his own bed, just like he was in real life. That made the line between dream and reality blurred and Sam was afraid that he would lose track on which side he was on.

When he was a child his parents had insisted he sleep on his back, arms at his sides, under a smoothly made sheet and comforter. They would pop into his room several times a night and if he had turned on his side or mussed his covers, they would wake him, berate him, and make him set everything back as it was.

“If you are to be organized and follow the rules while you are awake, you must follow them while you are asleep,” they would tell him.

And the training worked. For a half-century he slept on his back, with his arms at his sides, without tossing or turning.

But now, in his dream, he was on his side, with one hand extended holding a wireless track ball. In front of his face, glowing in the dark, was a screen – a tablet of some sort – with the internet on it. He couldn’t see what was holding the tablet up, but it stayed steady, almost filling his field of vision. He could use the trackball and its buttons to move around the internet, but he didn’t seem to be able to decide what to watch – his hands did if for him.

He told his grief counselor about the dreams.

“Is it disturbing to you?”

“Not during the dream itself. It bothers me when I wake up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t like not being under control. And now, I’ve been waking up in the same position, with my arm out, cradling an unseen object.”

“Why does that bother you.”

“It is so unorganized.”

His grief counselor was a doctor and he gave Sam a prescription to take before bed. Sam was certain that it was some sort of a placebo, but he took it anyway. It didn’t help.

When his counselor asked him what appeared on the screen, Sam obscured the reality and gave a deceitful answer.

In truth, the screen was showing, forcing him to choose, a very specific set of scenes. The screen was replaying moments from his life, some short, some longer. Some of these scenes were events in his past that he thought about often, but most were episodes that he didn’t consciously remember, until the dream screen showed them to him, and he they would arise from the depths of his memory, suddenly clear as day.

He remembered all these scenes after he woke. Even the ones he had previously forgotten, became a big part of his life, anew.

Sam finally decided to open up to his counselor. “Are these disturbing scenes, fearsome events, that you have subdued in your memory?” his grief counselor asked.

“No, quite the opposite. They are the little golden moments of my life. The happiest times. Most are not any big deal – as a matter of fact, when they happened I usually didn’t even understand their importance. It wasn’t until later, or even until the dream-screen brings them back, that I realize how happy and meaningful they are.”

“Well, Sam,” his grief counselor said, “I think your subconscious is simply bringing back the best memories of your past to give you some relief from the awful terror of the present. Maybe it is reminding you that things were better once, and maybe, they can be again.”

Sam nodded his head. He was being polite – he knew the grief counselor was wrong.

As time went by, Sam became used to the dreams. He bought an expensive pillow designed for people that slept on their sides so he would be less sore when he woke up. Sam began to sleep longer and longer until his day was made up of sleeping with only a quick meal and other necessities that he rushed through in order to lay back down and enter the world of his dream-screen as quickly as he could.

Sam was amazed at how many wonderful, tiny things had happened during his life. He knew that his supply had ended, however, there would be no new ones. Eventually, the scenes began to repeat. He realized he was watching something the dream screen had showed him before.

The second… and third… times through the memories were not as happy, they somehow faded with each showing. That was when Sam realized that his time was growing short.

I Dreamt of Flax

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

—-William Wordsworth, The Red Wheelbarrow

Near the blacksmith’s shop -a woman running a spinning wheel.

I dreamt of flax. I looked up “dreamed” vs. “dreamt.”

Dreamt and dreamed are both past tense forms of dream. Dreamt is more common in Britain, while dreamed is more common in other English-speaking countries, including the U.S. Dreamed seems to be more popular than dreamt when talking about sleeping, but when dream has a hopeful, literary sense, dreamt might be used.

“Dreamed” would be more appropriate in this case, but there is a choice and I feel like a rebel. So, I dreamt of flax.

I dreamt I was raising flax for fiber, and harvested it too early. It looked more like onions than flax, but I had hopes it would make a passable linen anyway. I woke up before the cloth was woven so I don’t know if it really would have worked.

Why did I dream of flax? No mystery, I was exhausted late and, in a form of obscene meditation, sat there randomly watching obscure, useless Youtube videos – each one ten minutes long. One was on the growth of flax for fiber and how linen cloth is made from it. The raw flax fibers after they are extracted from the stems are soft, lustrous, and flexible – they look like skeins of long, blonde hair. Thus “flaxen” locks.

Another was on the different types of flush rivets used in aircraft. I did not dream of rivets.

I had never thought about flax before so I looked it up online. I had forgotten that linseed oil was pressed from flax seeds. I’m a chemist and worked for decades for a paint company so I know all about linseed oil and what triply unsaturated α-linolenic acid is capable of in the presence of oxygen. I did not know that you can eat linseed oil and that is it considered healthy.

I know the smell of linseed oil.

When I was a young boy I was given my first rifle. Along with the gun came a metal container of raw linseed oil. Every evening I would use a rag and apply a very thin coat of oil to the wooden stock. Over a couple of years it turned into a glossy, deep, clear finish and made the wood look great. I was careful to store and dispose of the rags properly (they can burst into flame).

The days are long and I’m tired. Maybe I’ll dream of rivets.

Tokyo Nightmare

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

The Wave that Washes us all
The Wave that Washes us all

The last few days I have been haunted by the same nightmare. It’s the same because when I go to sleep my dream starts up right where the last one ended, when I woke up. This has been happening not only at night, but if I try and sneak in a nap.

I’m in the dream, of course, but the person in the dream isn’t exactly me. I’m someone else, though I don’t know who.

The dream is set in Tokyo, sort of. It’s Tokyo but not the real one. It’s a dream nightmare Tokyo (and no, I’ve never been to Japan). The city itself isn’t as big or crowded as the real Tokyo is – it feels sort of like an American mid-sized city… maybe Lubbock. It’s definitely Dream Tokyo, though, I know that, I remember taking a long dream flight to get there.

I don’t know why I’m in Dream Tokyo. There is some sort of work that I am supposed to do. I have a vague feeling that my job is very important, but don’t remember what it is that I am doing.

Dream Tokyo is a coastal city with a very complex harbor, with several peninsulas and inlets. The border between land and water is very important to me.

The most obvious feature of Dream Tokyo is a highway bridge that links two parts of the city across a wide bay. This bridge is what gives the dream its nightmare edge. It’s not a regular bridge, of course. It’s very, very wide and extremely high. A huge arch reaching up into the sky. It is visible from everywhere in the city and dominates the horizon. Not only is it wide, but the edges simply end. There are no guardrails or other barriers along the side.

It should still be safe, though. It is so wide, almost like a field in the sky (it is green in color and covered with a very short grass, like a golf green) and not heavily used, so you could drive right down the middle with no risk of going over the edge.

That’s not how it works for me, though. I go off driving through Dream Tokyo (I know I wouldn’t ever actually drive in Real Tokyo, but here, there isn’t any mass transit) and I get confused on the poorly-labeled complex highway interchanges. All of a sudden, here I am, driving up the ramp to the vast grassy sky bridge even though it’s the last place I want to go. There is no turning back, I have to cross.

It is horrifying. I can see the sea off to each side and the blue water with the green bridge surface fills me with absolute terror – something about the open spaces sends me into panic (and no, in real life I do not suffer from agoraphobia in any way). I clutch the steering wheel with white, sweaty knuckles and drive quickly, almost with my eyes closed.

I do make it across. That was very odd – the road, despite being amazingly wide and crossing what must be a multi-billion dollar bridge, simply ends. The road narrows and ends in a short stretch of old, cracked tarmac that peters out at the water’s edge. Here the shoreline is paved and the water is dark and full of trash.

There was no clear path forward. I had to drive my car (a rental, I seemed to know that) over a curb and down onto a narrow paved alley that ran along the water and curved off into a neighborhood of run-down warehouses.

That’s the point where I woke up this morning. When I go to bed tonight will I be back in the car, entering the warehouse district? I doubt it. Writing the dream down will certainly kill it.

I’ll be somewhere else, somewhere completely different. A different city, a different seaside, a different bridge.

Amazon Dreams of Time and Happiness

“We live as we dream–alone….”

― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Sculptures, Clarence Street Art Collective, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

I had a terrible time sleeping – finally at the early hours of the morning I was able to fall into a deep slumber.

The dreams I had were vivid. I was receiving a constant supply of Amazon boxes at my front door. They were of wildly varying sizes and shapes – some were long and thin, almost sticklike – others vast and bulky. They were all light in weight – as if they held nothing, or air, or ghosts.

As a matter of fact, every one contained on of two items. Half contained time and the other half contained happiness.

I guess these are the two things we really wish we could order online, but can’t.

Short Story Of the Day, the descent by Bill Chance

“ As he collapsed into deep slumber he felt himself still plummeting through the earth.”

—-Bill Chance, the descent

Dallas Museum of Art
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 (#13). 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 descent

Lucien stood in front of the refrigerator and scooped a large spoonfull of chicken salad into a small white bowl. He added a handful of curved shaved shards of Parmesan cheese and ate it standing there.

He was struck by such exhaustion he barely made it to his bedroom before tumbling over into the tangle of sheets, pillows, and quilts in a sudden torpidity. As he collapsed into deep slumber he felt himself still plummeting through the earth, falling into a jagged opening dream-chasm,  falling faster and faster into the darkness of sleep. Eventually, at the bottom of the opaque void he found himself wandering blindly, stumbling into and between the jagged remains of his lost hopes and broken dreams.

 

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, 1,000 Feet by Andrew Older

I knew I couldn’t keep it a secret forever. But that was part of the pleasure, I suppose: the perversity of the event was what made it almost delectable. To be forbidden is to be desired.

—–Andrew Older, 1,000 Feet

Falling Water Fountain, Dallas Arboretum

Read it here:

1,000 Feet by Andrew Older

from Flash Fiction Magazine

The Dream (Le Reve) by Zola

Le Reve, by Emile Zola

“The vision that had emerged from the invisible was returning to the invisible. It was no more an appearance that was fading away, having created an illusion. All is but a dream. And, at the peak of happiness, Angélique had vanished, in the faint breath of a kiss.”
― Émile Zola, The Dream

Ok, for awhile now I’ve been working my way through Zola’s Rougon-Marquat 20 novel series of French life in the Second Empire – Reading them not in the order that they were written, but in the recommended reading order.

Next is Le Rêve (The Dream). It is a complete departure from the other books in the Rougon-Marquat series. Instead of complex, realistic stories – it is the simple, yet fantastic, romantic tale of an orphan girl Angélique, that falls in love with a wealthy nobleman. She is a descendant of the Rougon family – providing the tenuous connection with the rest of the books. Angélique does suffer from the mental instability of her kin, which provides a window into her obsession with the saints and the idea of a perfect romance.

I have to admit, though, I didn’t like the book very much. It starts out with a lot of promise, the young girl abandoned in the snow near a great cathedral in rural France – it’s a powerful image. But the story spends too many words in cataloging a parade of saints and the stories of The Golden Legend. It become tedious and not very interesting to a modern reader.

In doing research about the book, I did find something I really liked. There are a series of amazing illustrations for the novel by Carlos Schwabe. I was not familiar with the artist and looking around the web there are some really interesting stuff he’s done. I especially like the drawings he did for Baudelaire’s book of poetry, Les Fleurs du mal. Have to look into these some more.

Illustration for Zola’s Le Reve, by Carlos Schwabe

 

 

Carlos Schwabe, Spleen et Idéal (1896)
from Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

Carlos Schwabe, from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal