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

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
― Anais Nin

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.

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

Thanks for reading.


Clambake

Andrew was a senior in high school. He had a brother, Sam, who was a freshman. Andrew didn’t really like going places with his family, but he loved hanging out at the sea. So when he parents insisted that he go to the beach with the three of them and Sam’s friend Wilbur he hemmed and hawed and complained but agreed to go. Actually, he was looking forward to it, but knew he couldn’t appear too eager or it would betray his brand.

“Sam is bringing Wilbur for the day, don’t you have a girlfriend you could invite?” asked his mother. Andrew flashed his best combination face of exasperation, embarrassment, and fury before he turned, huffed, and stomped off. “If I had a girlfriend I wouldn’t have to go to the beach with my family,” he said to himself once he reached the privacy of his room.

The drive was two hours and getting all those people into the MiniVan and on the road was like herding cats. Andrew crammed himself into the back seat with his eyes closed hoping he could stand it until they were there and all this noise stopped. A split second before it became too much to bear they pulled into the parking lot and the whole crew piled out and ran for the sand.

It was a warm day and the ocean was like bathwater. Andrew swam a little and body surfed the waves a bit. His favorite thing was simply to walk the beach in the shallow water between the surf and the dry sand. He was of a curious nature and loved to look at the water, sand, and the creatures that lived in the tidal zone. Every time he came, he wondered at the smell of the sea – salt with a note of rotting fish. The strong breeze from offshore threw his hair around and the sun dried the wet sand on his ankles as he walked. Above all, he loved the rumble and crash of the surf – though it was partially ruined by the constant yelling and screeching of his little brother and Wilbur as they scampered around, causing as much trouble as they could.

The sun was beginning to settle towards the horizon when Sam ran up to Andrew and aroused him from his reverie. Sam was clutching a plastic bucket and toy shovel. Wilbur was grinning a few feet behind.

“Andrew! Look!” his brother said, holding out the bucket.

Andrew peered in and saw a single smooth brown clam.

“So?”

Sam handed the bucket to Wilbur.

“Wilbur and I dug it up! We’ve figured out how to find where the clams are buried.”

“No. That’s crazy.”

“Here, I’ll show you.”

His little brother began walking Andrew along the sand, looking carefully at the strip where the waves ebbed and flowed and the water was a fraction of an inch deep.

“Look down carefully. You just look for a place where these little bubbles are coming up…. There! Right there!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“No, right there. Dig.”

Sam handed Andrew the plastic shovel and he poked at the wet sand. Immediately another clam popped up, only an inch below the surface.

“Wow, another clam!” said Andrew.

“I told you,” Sam said. “Wilbur come here.” Sam flipped the clam into the bucket with the one they had found earlier. “Let’s find some more.”

They continued to walk along the beach and after a bit Sam would point and Andrew would dig up another clam. They would hand them to Wilbur who would drop them into the bucket. Andrew was confused because he could not figure out how Sam was finding the clams.

“What are you seeing that I can’t?”

“It hard to explain, it’s more like a feeling.”

Andrew couldn’t argue though, because every time he’d dig, he’d find a clam. He began to get more and more excited. Visions of filling the bucket and having a clambake began to grow and fill his imagination. He didn’t notice the sky going golden as the sun crept down.

“Hey, guys. Finish up, it’s time to go,” said his father. Andrew hadn’t noticed his parents hanging around next to them.

“No! Dad! We can’t go! Look at all the clams!” Andrew gestured toward the bucket in Wilbur’s hand. “We’re going to have a clambake!” He could barely contain his excitement.

“Just a couple more minutes, then we have to go,” said his father.

Andrew was confused at his father’s lake of enthusiasm for the clambake. He chalked it up to age and continued to walk along with Sam, stopping every few feet to dig up another clam. Wilbur kept putting them in the bucket.

“Ok, that’s it, time to go,” said his father. He was right; it would be dark soon.

“Wow, I hope we have enough to cook up,” said Andrew. “Hey Wilbur, let me look at the bucket. It must be full now.”

Wilbur started to twist away but Andrew was excited and quick and grabbed the bucket. Barely able to contain his excitement he pulled it close and looked down to see the pile of clams they had collected.

“What the hell!”

Andrew was shocked to see in the bucket only one clam rattling around alone in the bottom.

Confused, he looked up to see his parents, impatient and aggravated and his brother and Wilbur down in the sand rolling around laughing so hard they looked like they were going to get sick.

Andrew suddenly realized what had been going on. There was only one clam. Sam must have simply stumbled across it somewhere. Wilbur was walking ahead of them while they were looking down and he was re-burying the thing, over and over. Sam would point to the spot Wilbur had buried it and they would dig the same clam up, again and again.

It took the younger kids a long time to stop laughing and then they all walked back to the MiniVan. Andrew, of course, said nothing and heard nothing. It was especially humiliating to realize his parents could see the whole thing, hear his excitement, and let it go on.

The drive home was the longest trip in Andrew’s life. He was so ashamed and also disappointed – he had been really looking forward to a clambake.

The only thing that made him feel a little better is the thought that at least he didn’t have a girlfriend. If she had been along… and seen what happened. He wasn’t sure he could go on living.

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

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
― Groucho Marx

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

Thanks for reading.


Chase Scene

Albert had a critical – the monthly operations schedule planning – meeting coming up. He checked his clock and realized there wasn’t enough time to start on any new task. There was enough time to walk down to the break room for a little bag of Cool Ranch Doritos corn chips to put in a desk drawer and enjoy after the meeting. He was sure he would need them.

Down at the break room there was a big clot of folks gathered around the television mounted high on the wall. Albert couldn’t help his curiosity and joined the group. The TV was on a local news channel and everyone was watching a high-speed police chase. The view was from an overhead news chopper and was amazingly clear. The cops were trying to run down a blue compact car, which was speeding through the city.

“What’s up?” he asked Jerry from accounting.

“Bank robbers,” he said. “It’s been going on for a while. They started out on the Interstate and now they’re in the neighborhoods, Springvale, I think.”

Albert lived in Springvale. He pushed his way closer and stared at the screen, trying to recognize the location. It was so hard – everything went by so fast and it was tough to figure out from the unusual viewpoint of an overhead helicopter.

Suddenly a huge, garish, orange and yellow sign went by. Albert realized that was outside of Juanita’s Tacos y Mas – a Mexican restaurant he and his family ate at all the time. You could not miss that gaudy logo.

“That’s only a couple blocks from my house,” said Albert. Nobody responded.

The car roared into a busy intersection and was T-boned by a pickup coming from the side. Everyone around the TV let out a gasp. The car spun and then, to everyone’s surprise, sped off down the intersecting cross road. Its side was clearly caved in and smoke was pouring from under the hood, but it didn’t stop.

“This won’t last much longer,” said Jerry from accounting.

At the first opening, the car veered right and took off down a residential street. The police cruisers were close behind.

“That’s my block,” said Albert, getting nervous. He knew his kids were at school and his wife at work so he wasn’t worried about them. But it was an invasion of his quiet bucolic suburban neighborhood by evil, unpredictable, outside forces.

The chase wound through the narrow twisting streets. Two police cruisers must have gone around because suddenly, they boxed the blue car in. It turned sharply into a U-shaped driveway which cradled a large, brick mailbox.

That was Albert’s front yard. His family used the alley in back but he had always dreamed of having a front driveway that could fill up with cars when they would entertain. Growing up, he had seen wealthy people with driveways like that. It took him five years to save up enough money to have the concrete poured. At the same time, he hired a bricklayer to make a big permanent mailbox. “A statement,” he said.

The crowd around the TV was getting excited. It was about to go down. Albert didn’t want to say that the scene was at his own house. He felt embarrassed, somehow.

Police cars swerved into both ends of the driveway, trapping the car, which slid to a stop. Despite the damage both doors flew open and the driver took off running across Albert’s lawn with the police in pursuit. He was relieved when they entered his neighbor’s yard and disappeared off screen.

The passenger remained crouched down behind the opened, dented car door. A circle of police began closing in. There was a small puff of smoke from the car and then the police opened fire. Nobody could hear anything but it was obvious by how everyone was moving that many shots were being fired.

There were yells of horror and amazement in the break room as the man went down, sprawled out at the base of Albert’s custom mailbox. It isn’t every day they were able to see someone killed on live television.

Albert stood transfixed, horrified.

“Well, that was something,” said Jerry from accounting. Nobody really knew where Albert lived and nobody recognized his house. Everyone began to disperse and head back to their desks.

Albert didn’t know what to do. Should he go home? There would be cops, news crews, and excited neighbors. Would they all want to talk to him? What would he say? He didn’t know how to deal with all that.

And there was his meeting. It was important. He would have to confess, “I’m sorry but I have to go, someone was killed in my front yard.” Then he’d have to admit he was slacking off in the break room watching the television. It was all so messy, so complicated.

So Albert went to the monthly operations schedule planning meeting and sat there like nothing had happened. He decided to go home at his usual time and wondered if there would be a bloodstain on his driveway or bullet craters in his brick. He was shaken and sweating, but tried to pay attention to the PowerPoint Presentations.

Near the end of the meeting, he realized he had forgotten to buy his bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

 

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – A Man Walks Into a Bar in Ouagadougou by Bill Chance

I went home with a waitress the way I always do
How was I to know she was with the Russians, too?
I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this
Warren Zevon, Lawyers Guns and Money

The bartender pouring the absinthe, note the clear green color.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans


 

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

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

Here’s another one for today (#79) Getting closer! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


A Man Walks Into a Bar in Ouagadougou

When Sarah decided to major in Botany and pursue it as her life’s goal her mother’s first (and only) reaction was, “Oh, dear, now you will never find a husband.”

Jobs for botanists are few and far between and she was eager to take the most extreme and exotic assignments. It didn’t take her long to end up in backwater West Africa doing research on plants used for traditional medicines.

She found herself in the City Resto Bar having dinner with a local businessman that she agreed to meet because he seemed harmless enough and could at least carry on a conversation. The place had the best sushi in Ouagadougou, which wasn’t saying much. Burkina Faso was landlocked, after all, and a very long way from the ocean.

The door opened and a large man entered. He had a jagged, angry crimson scar running from his left ear to his jaw. Sarah couldn’t help but stare.

“You find him attractive,” the businessman said. “Odd, I assumed you were a lesbian.”

“Why do you think that?”

“I thought that only a lesbian would be able to get as far as Burkina Faso without being caught by a man.”

“You don’t think I’m hot enough to snag a man?”

“On the contrary, you are the most attractive woman in Ouagadougou.”

“What about them?” Sarah gestured to the six gorgeous young women lined up behind the bar.

“Oh, the Russians?” the businessman let out a hearty laugh. “They don’t count.”

“Why not? They are very pretty. I can see that, even if I’m not a lesbian.”

“First, they are professionals. And I don’t mean professional bartenders. Take a sip of your Mojito and you will understand that they aren’t. Cheap rum and Mojito mix… that’s the extent of their mixologist skills.”

“It is a shitty drink. But if that is the first reason they don’t count, what’s the second?”

“They are spies.”

“All of them?”

“Oh yes. That is how they end up here. Desperate men, American or British or Japanese or Chinese, are scattered everywhere in the third world looking for love in all the wrong places.”

“Even here?”

“Especially here. They will marry some unfortunate expat sap, follow him home… and he is doomed. That’s why the Russians send their young women to places like this.”

Sarah didn’t buy that story but didn’t feel like arguing it. She understood the businessman was showing off and just making conversation. The scarred man settled in at a table and a cloud of gray smoke rising from the shisha he was smoking partially obscured his face.

The businessman followed her gaze. “Do you want to meet him?”

“You know him?”

“Very well.”

Sarah thought for a moment. “What the hell, see if he’ll come over.”

The businessman walked to his table and chatted with the man while he took up another hose from the shisha and shared the tobacco. They picked up the smoking apparatus, carried it over to Sarah’s table and sat down with quick introductions.

Sarah reached out for a third tube from the shisha.

“I don’t see very many women smoke,” said the man with the scar.

Sarah only replied with what she hoped was a haughty smirk and nod. In truth, she had never tried the shisha smoke before, though she had thought about it. It made her dizzy, enervated, and a little nauseated.

With very little prodding, the man with the scar told his story. He was in the army in Yugoslavia and then Bosnia but forced to bolt the country when his general Ratko Mladic, “The Butcher,” fell. He fled to Congo where he became a mercenary in Kisangani for Mobuto Sese Seko. He had to take off again when that dictator tumbled from power. He ended up in Burkina Faso.

“There is always work for a man that can use a machine gun,” he said.

Sarah’s head was still swimming from the shisha and she was drowning in waves of being attracted and repelled, excited and frightened… all at the same time. She realized how far from home she was. She finally understood how dangerous the world was. She decided she wanted to hear more. She decided to start with the obvious.

“Where did you get that scar?” she asked.

“Oh this?” he said rubbing his hand along the line across his face. “I left a bottle of Perrier out in the sun. Stupid. Didn’t realize how hot it was. When I tried to open it, it exploded.”

“Perrier?” asked the businessman.

“Yes.”

“Never liked the stuff,” said Sarah.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Booty Hates Crackheads by Bill Chance

“He’s Gandalf on crack and an IV of Red Bull, with a big leather coat and a .44 revolver in his pocket.”
Jim Butcher
 

Shrimp boat, Bolivar Peninsula, 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 (#78) Three fourths 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.


Booty Hates Crackheads

BUY SHRIMP HERE – I NEED THE MONEY

Woody Vogler read the sign as he turned the bicycle onto the gravel and sand side road that ran down to the bay side of the island. The headset squeaked a bit and Woody knew he’d need to take it apart, clean, and re-lube the thing. He liked the ancient bicycle to look bad, so nobody thought about stealing it, but run like a top. Up to now, Woody would ride to the end of the road and buy shrimp from the docks, but never saw a reason to do more work than he had to, plus the guy needed the money, so he turned off and leaned the bike against the graying four by eight sheet of old plywood that was propped up for a sign. The lettering was done with cheap white house paint put on with a brush – the letters were crude, but “At least the guy didn’t use spray paint,” Woody muttered as he walked around the clapboard house up on stilts to the little gray wood dock along the canal in back.

As he approached the dock a scruffy multicolored mutt of a dog came skittering up from the canal, growling low to the ground. The hair on the dog’s back was spiked as it pushed its belly low as it could, the snarl growing to a mean bark.
“Aw shut up Booty! It’s not a crackhead!”
An old man materialized from between the piles of rusty equipment and old trash cluttering up the dock. The dog immediately calmed down and turned, ignoring Woody, moving back to the canal.
“He hates crackheads, you know.”
“Really.”
“Yeah, watch this. Booty! Here comes some crackheads!”
The dog darted past Woody towards the road, barking like crazy.
“Booty! Kidding!”
On cue the dog quieted again, and turned back to the canal without a glance.
“Yeah the crackheads come up the road, this very road. They work on the shrimp boats. They get off the boats down there and walk up the road. Old Booty hates ’em. He can smell a crackhead a mile way…. Shrimp?”
“Two pounds.”
“Head’s on?”
“Naw.”
The old man began shoveling shrimp from a big white foam cooler into a stainless steel bowl suspended from a spring scale. Once he had the weight, he began picking them one by one and snipping the heads off into the water over the side of the dock. When the shrimp heads hit the water, it would boil as critters from below the surface fought over the meal. Booty stood on the bank on point, staring at whatever was gobbling the heads.

While the old man was working the shrimp Woody glanced around. The small square house was old peeling paint and ratty shingles, stilts starting to lean, the stairs missing a runner or two, the sandy lot littered with junk. Pretty standard for the bay side of the peninsula. The road ended a quarter of a mile at a big dock where a dozen Vietnamese shrimpers were pulled up. The crews were out cleaning their nets and stowing them for the day. There was a big reefer truck down there spewing blue smoke, picking the day’s catch up for wholesale. Woody turned to the water that ran by the old man’s shack. The canal that ran back up from the Intercoastal Waterway parallel to the road was getting silted up – an ancient decrepit shrimp boat, nets in terrible tatters leaned over, stuck in a mud bank down from the dock a few feet. The boat would never sail again but somebody had recently carefully repainted the name on the gunwale, “Mary Lou.”

“Here’s your shrimp.”

The old man spun a flimsy Wal-Mart shopping bag and knotted the top tight against the shrimp and handed it to Woody. After peeling some bills off a small roll in his pocket, Woody placed the bag in a wire basket on the bike’s handlebars and with a silent nod started off back home. He rode back to the main paved highway that ran down the length of the peninsula from the Galveston ferry. He rode facing traffic along the gravel shoulder, the old bike’s big heavy balloon tires smoothly negotiating the uneven surface without problem. It wasn’t fast, but Woody wasn’t in a hurry.

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

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.


 

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 (#77) Three fourths 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.


After Hours

Barry Carpenter and his daughter walked out onto the beach in the darkness. Even the waves seemed to respect the night, rumbling low in a tumble of phosphorescent foam. The sand was cool between their toes and the offshore breeze warm on their faces.

Far out to sea a violent store raged. From the beach, all that could be seen was a spreading mass of black cloud, curling above the unseen horizon, blacker than the black sky above. The clouds were silently and invisibly roiled but the violence was revealed by the strokes of electric veins flashing across and through the distant storm. Sharp traces of lightning flared alternated with the soft blue glow of deep interior discharges.

They stood on the smooth wet sward of damp sand, stood there and let the breeze blow bits of foam, the last extent of the crashing salt sea undulations, kiss barely against their bare toes. They stood silent, staring, shoulder to shoulder, together, and alone.

Barry Carpenter became aware that his daughter wasn’t completely silent, or utterly still, like he was. He turned his head and, since his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the moonless night, he could tell that her shoulders were shaking, her head moving a little in an irregular fashion. He wasn’t sure at first but then he caught a little sob, heard a bit of sniffle. Though she was trying to conceal it, his daughter was weeping. She was standing on the sand next to him, looking out to sea, and weeping.

He had no idea what to do.

The tiny sighs and subtle sobs, almost drowned by the noise of the surf, were powerful blows. He felt a deep and primordial panic welling up until his mind could not stand it any more.

Automatically, his memories poured forth; inexorable images welled up. He remembered another beach at night. A long time ago and a long way away. Another continent. It was another ocean – a much warmer one. He was young then, and so were his friends. And they were out of rum.

They were walking down the beach. Back behind them was the tourist beach, with the lifeguards and the all-inclusive hotels. There the sand was scrupulously clean, swept every day at dawn by a mob of barely-fed workers. The tourist beach was no fun.

Barry and his friends liked to hang out at Calangute… the people’s beach. Here the sand was always littered and the dunes filled with thatched huts rather than glass hotels. Thick blue smoke from hundreds of wood cooking fires battled the sea breezes – the unique magnificent smell of third-world grease and spice hung on everything. There was always a party at Calangute.

Except now, it was too late. The poor people of Calangute all had to work, somehow, to eat and it was four in the morning. Everyone was asleep. Everyone except Barry and his friends, who didn’t have to work and never liked to sleep. And they especially didn’t like it when they were out of rum.

They were working their way down the ocean-most row of shacks, wobbly crude constructions of sticks and palm fronds, intended during the day as tiny storefronts, selling food, drink, cheap plastic childrens’ toys. This late they were all closed and bundled up and took on their second purpose as houses for their proprietors.

The boys would shake each shack, watching it wiggle, shouting, “Oye! Oye! Rum! Rum.” Every shack had somebody in it, but… maybe they were afraid, maybe tired, maybe sick of the noisy rich kids… probably all three – and nobody stirred. They would wait, fain slumber, until the teenagers lost their thin patience and moved to the next hut.

Finally, a groggy woman’s voice grunted agreement from the inside of a particularly tiny and crude, hut. Barry figured she needed the money more than she dreaded the disruption. He pulled a wet, sandy, lump of bills from his pocket and waved it in the dark, knowing it would be more than enough for a bottle of the rough, clear hooch sold at Calangute. The stuff tasted like paint thinner, but it got the job done.

A low, yellow light snapped on within and the handmade door opened up a crack. Barry went in to pick up his purchase. The only light was a cheap lime-green flashlight with obviously failing batteries, but there was enough light to see the scrawny sick-looking woman holding out an old-style glass soft-drink bottle filled with a cloudy liquid and stoppered with a hand-carved wooden cork.

Barry looked around the inside of the shack and saw that it was filled to bursting with children. They were sleeping in piles all around the edge of the room, so deep there was barely enough room to stand in the center. There were too many to be the children of the woman with the bottle, and she seemed to be the only adult present. Barry realized that these were the ragged children that ran on the beach all day, selling tiny boxes of chewing gum, or worthless hand-carved trinkets, or simply offering to fetch a drink of bit of food in exchange for the tiniest of coins. He had always assumed these children to be a member of a family – sent out all day in their rags to bring home a little extra for their parents – but it seemed that they formed a family of their own – on their own.

As he took the bottle and turned for the door he reached into his pocket a little deeper and found one last bill crumpled down at the bottom. Though he already had his bottle he let the last bit of money drop, down, among the sleeping children.

The yellowed memory sight of the grimy bill dropping down into the rags on the floor was the end of his reverie. He was back on the cooler beach, still standing beside his softly crying daughter.

He reached out and placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close to him. Looking outward they both noticed that something had blown the foggy beach air out and replaced it with clear, fresh, atmosphere. Above the distant bank of dark electric clouds the stars appeared.

In particular, they could see a bright star, or planet, maybe Jupiter, hovering just above the remote tumult. And above that, a starry smear, a small cluster of tiny dots, connected with blurs of glowing gas.

See that,” Barry Carpenter said to his daughter, “those are the Pleiades.” She nodded. She knew what they were.

The two of them, nothing being said, began to walk out into the water. The waves poured sand over their feet, licked at their knees, and splashed bits of salty drops onto their faces. They walked until they were waist deep and could feel the bigger waves pulling until they would have to stumble a bit.

Barry saw his daughter pull something out of her pocket. It was a bit of vine covered with small white flowers. He remembered them – they grew on a little terrace in back of the beach house the two of them had rented for the weekend. As a wave collapsed his daughter threw the bit of green and white into the receding foam.

Ok, let’s go back now,” his daughter said.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and they turned and walked back, arm in arm, in silence.

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

“A Paradox, the doughnut hole. Empty space, once, but now they’ve learned to market even that. A minus quantity; nothing, rendered edible. I wondered if they might be used-metaphorically, of course-to demonstrate the existence of God. Does naming a sphere of nothingness transmute it into being?”
― Margaret Atwood, Der blinde Mörder

 

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth,
Fort Worth, 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 (#76) Three fourths 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.


Viral Marketing

Penba Norbu was brought to the United States to work for the VBP corporation in their nucleic-neuro-interface division. The full name was the Viral Book Publishing Group, and had actually used the “G” on their name once, but VBPG was deemed too long and tongue-tying by an extensive series of focus groups so the final letter was dropped. This, along with a thousand other facts, were adsorbed by Penba during his new employee orientation. A year earlier this would have taken days of tedious power-point presentations and a hundred pounds of loose-leaf notebooks emblazoned with the VBP logo. Penba knew he would not have remembered one-hundredth of it.

Now, though, orientation took less than a half-hour. A nurse with a suspiciously short skirt on her uniform that exposed the very top of her stockings as she pulled the dose out of a locking case, checked the number on the vial against Penba’s badge, and then used a plastic pipet to place a single drop of thick orange liquid onto a sugar cube.

“Open, wide.”

And Penba, sitting on a tall stool, obeyed. The nurse shoved the sugar cube under his tongue then placed a hand under his jaw, forcing his mouth closed and holding it until his throat gulped. While she held his head securely and close to her body Penba wondered why so many buttons of the nurse’s uniform were undone, exposing a hint of burgandy lace.

“A month ago I would made you drop your pants and bend over that stool. I’d have given you a big old shot right in your left ass cheek. Those were the good old days.” The nurse let out a small sigh them asked Penba to open his mouth again. Still firmly holding the back of his head she stuck her finger under his tongue and probed it roughly around.

“OK, you’ve swallowed, please sign the training roster. Include your employee ID number and the date and time please.”

She shoved a clipboard into his hand and after a scribble to get the pen working he filled in the bottom line.

“Please proceed to the restroom. You will soon feel some digestive discomfort and then experience a slight fever for twenty four hours as the virus runs its course. Please report to your workstation at seven AM tomorrow morning to begin.”

Penba slid off the stool and wavered a little. He could feel a strong grumbling in his stomach already. It quickly began spreading downward, into his gut. This was a fast acting virus indeed. He started stumbling forward, moving toward the restroom as quickly as he cold.

“Next!” the nurse yelled in Penba’s ear as she looked at the clot of new employees waiting in a cluster of folding chairs.

There was only one unisex restoom and Penba walked down the long line of stalls looking for an unoccupied one. The room smelled horribly and he could hear groans, sighs, and obscene liquid noises coming from behind each closed door. He reached the end of the line and there were no unoccupied stalls. Penba was beginning to have to clench and was getting worried when a door opened and a middle aged woman scurried out and began looking around. Penba pointed to a handwritten sign taped to the wall that said, “Sinks in the next room down the hall,” and quickly slid into her stall before somebody else came in.

He fiddled with the lock, trying to get it to hold, before he gave up, sat down and wedged it with one foot. As he sat, waves of nausea washed over his body, alternating with flashes of heat and cold chills. He sweated profusely until his shirt was drenched. Penba had always been a very private, proper person and tried his best to be quiet, clenching his teeth and jaw, but finally gave up and let out a shout of discomfort to join in the symphony of groans that filled the restroom.

With each wave of sickness that the fast-acting virus forced through his reeling system, Penba found his head filling with new-found memories. These were very clear and strong, like they were events that had happened this morning, but he could not place where these memories had actually come from. They were, of course, the result of the book virus he had been infected with, and were memories that he would never forget.

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

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.”
― Dave Barry
 

Mural, 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 (#75) Three fourths 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.


Fresh Spam

The group came into the restaurant. They were obviously businessmen, with the proper suits, uncomfortable shoes, and thin ties. One was young, the other three gray.

The waiter took their orders.

“I had the oxtail soup last week,” said one of the older men. “It was quite good. Can I have another order off the same ox?”

“Absolutely, sir,” said the waiter without hesitation.

“I see the special, Spam and eggs,” said the younger man. “Is your Spam from a can or do you make it fresh?”

“We make a fresh batch every morning using the finest organic ingredients, all locally sourced,” replied the waiter.

The younger man smiled and the others nodded – appreciating their apprentice’s knowledge of fine dining and his insistence on being treated in the manner he deserved.

One man was having difficulty making his choice. He asked the man to his left, “I say, have you tasted the stew?”

“Yes,” the man said, “I’ve tasted it twice. Once going down and once coming up.”

“I should order something else then?”

“Absolutely.”

Finally the orders were made, the dinners brought out, sent back because they were too well done. Upon return they went back again for more heat. The third time was the charm.

Between the tinkling of silverware on fine china bits of conversation escaped.

“I heard you this morning and wish you wouldn’t whistle at your work.”

“I wasn’t working, Sir; only whistling.”

“I thought you’d be married by now”.

“I proposed to one girl and would have married her if it hadn’t been for something she said.”

“What did she say?”

“No!”

The other two began to argue.

“But if you will allow me to—-”

“Oh! I know what you are going to say, but you’re wrong and I can prove it.”

Drinks were ordered and refreshed. One man was sticking to ice water, “When one is really thirsty, there is nothing so good as pure, cold water.”

Another replied, sloshing an amber liquid in a heavy glass “I guess I have never been really thirsty.”

The conversation turned to gossip about their coworkers that had not been invited.

“His versatility is amazing.”

“I thought he was stupid.”

“That’s just it. I never met a man who could make more different kinds of a fool of himself.”

“HarHarHar!”

Cigars were produced, two smoked, two merely chewed upon.

The subject kept returning to finances.

“Money! There are a million ways of making money.”

“But only one honest way.”

“What way is that?”

“I didn’t think you would know,” was the answer.

“The true secret of success, is to find out what the people want.”

“And the next thing is to give it to them,” suggested the young man.

“No it is to corner it and sell it in dribbles at the highest price.”

The dessert tray was brought around, covered in obscene combinations of gorgous treats piled up in an artistic arrangement. The most attractive waitress was given this duty. Each man asked careful questions about every sweet offering and they all smiled broadly at the melodious answers. But, in the end, they declined, moaning and rubbing their bellies and feeling upstanding and noble at turning down such temptation.

The bill came and a slightly generous tip was added. The cost was handed off to the company, though no real business had been discussed.

The four parted ways on the sidewalk outside and all proceded home except the youngest who had the stamina to meet some friends at a bar and make a night out of it. They all had the same thought, how dull their co-workers were, and how lucky those men were that he was around to pull their fat out of the fire.

Short Story Of the Day – Cleveland Arcade by Bill Chance

“There is only one place to write and that is alone at a typewriter. The writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. . . when you leave your typewriter you leave your machine gun and the rats come pouring through.”
Charles Bukowski, Notes of a Dirty Old Man
 

Cleveland Arcade


 

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 (#74) More than two thirds 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.


Cleveland Arcade

In Cleveland there is The Arcade… not an arcade, The Arcade. It is a downtown passage between two nine-story buildings – a five story Victorian wonder of steel and glass. It has four levels of balconies opening up into the surprising interstitial space. Built in 1890, it was a breathtaking wonder of its day. I looked it up – the skylight is three hundred feet long and arches one hundred feet up and has one thousand eight hundred panes of glass.

It has since been restored and cut up into hotel and retail space but I like to think of The Arcade as it was when we first saw it, forty years ago. At that time it was getting a little ragged and not all the storefronts were occupied. That only increased the feeling of age, history, and romanticism.

The Arcade was a space out of time. We never tired of turning from the bitter cold Cleveland sidewalk into this overheated ancient world. There were a few shops selling cheap food or caffeine, but we never otherwise found anything to buy… which was a good thing. We didn’t want to shop, we only wanted to be.

At lunch time the place was packed. We didn’t know where all those people came from or where they were going but they poured through The Arcade like water from a summer thunderstorm. In from the streets at both ends, up the stairs, across the floor, down the stairs, along the balconies… the crowd flowed. It was not a collection of individuals, it was a crowd in every sense, a sentient being of its own where all individual joys, worries, desires, fears, fashion, opinion, ideas, and prejudices melded together into a huge communal amoeba coursing through the space.

Except for the couple.

The two of them stood on the Euclid Avenue end on the platform that was at the same level as the street right at the top of the central stairs running down to the bottom floor. They were young, both impossibly handsome, and dressed in perfect fashion – he in a light gray Italian Business Suit and her in a trim jacket and plaid skirt. The both carried their warm coats perfectly folded across their arms.

They were the perfect couple. They were what everyone wants to be – what everyone dreams of becoming. They were so perfect that to see them was to ache with the disappointment that you will never walk in those expensive, perfectly fitting shoes. You will never be that beautiful, that fit, or that well-groomed. Next to these two you are a troll scraping in the mud beneath a crumbling stone bridge.

Their world is open and unlimited. Yours is a long, too long, dreary trudge upslope and into the wind to merciful death. Their world is colorful – shades of fashionable tan accented with that green-blue teal or turquoise color of a shallow tropical sea. All you have to look forward to is grimy gray and shit brown.

Their clothes fit, their feet don’t hurt, their mouths don’t have canker sores, their cuticles don’t bleed, their breath doesn’t smell bad, their joints don’t pop when they move.

They saw all the best movies and read all the best books and never watched television at all.

The perfect couple.

But they were having a tremendous fight. He was not holding his own – he was standing still and quiet with his head bent down and looking at his shoes. And she was really giving him hell. She had a real set of lungs on her and she was using all that breath and projection to pour her anger out and over him. She was yelling so loud that her voice could be heard roaring over the cacophony of the thousands of people at lunch time.

The crowd didn’t look at them but it parted as it approached and joined back together an appropriate distance beyond. The sound of her berating echoed through the overall din though nobody really could hear exactly what she was so angry about.

That was forty years ago and things have changed. If life is a parabola that was the moment at the peak where the trajectory began to curve inexorably down. I am no longer fit and no longer fashionable. I live in a dirty drafty old studio apartment carefully calculating to see if my meager savings will be enough to survive.

I stand in the mirror amazed at the ugliness in the world.

I live on black coffee and insulin.

And what about her? A series of wrong decisions, bad marriages and worse divorces. The decades of struggle took their toll. We haven’t spoken to each other in decades – though people still talk about us as if we were together, reveling in the reflections of the past.

I marvel that we were that couple… once, long ago, for a brief, shining moment. Maybe we flew too close to the sun and the wax melted. Maybe, for all we had, it wasn’t enough. Maybe we simply weren’t all that – even though we thought we were.

The arc… the rise is never as exhilarating as the descent is heartbreaking.

And there it is, you have everything in the palm of your hand… it slips away. You argue. You give in and don’t stand up. You make a mistake. Destiny and despair.

And here you are.

Short Story Of the Day – Pain of an Injured Child by Bill Chance

“Goodbye, Hari, my love. Remember always–all you did for me.”

-I did nothing for you.”

-You loved me and your love made me–human.”

― Isaac Asimov, Forward the Foundation

 

Bikes and Robots
Hickory Street
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 (#73) More than two thirds 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.


Pain of an Injured Child

Last week, Sammy slid and tumbled off his new bicycle and skidded through the gravel on the road shoulder. He picked himself up and gingerly hopped back on, riding slowly home. The skin was torn and broken with some tiny pieces of stone imbedded in the flesh. He tried to conceal it from his father by giving it a half-hearted washing and gauzing.

That was not enough to fool the old man. He pulled the bandage off and roughly scrubbed the skin under hot soapy water. His father reached up onto the top shelf of the medicine cabinet and pulled down an evil-looking ancient bottle of some awful dark reddish-purple liquid.

MECURICHROME, it said.

His father poured the bottle over the disturbed skin, which sent Sammy into howls of pain.

“That hurts!” he said, “That really hurts… that really burns!”

“That’s how you know it’s working,” said his father. Then he pulled out gauze and tape, wrapping everything tight with experienced, calm hands.

Today, Sammy was trying out his folding knife, whittling sticks he picked up under the trees around the back yard. His father had told him when he opened the knife on his birthday, “Always cut away from you.”

Sammy did not understand why he said that, or exactly what it meant.

Today, cutting on a thick pine branch covered with knots, the knife slipped and he suddenly discovered what it meant and why it was important.

The cut along his forearm was deep and Sammy gulped a deep panic of air when he saw how far the knife had plunged. He stumbled into the house and the arms of his mother. She took one look at the injury and called her husband.

“Take a look at this.” She said, “See what you can do and I’ll call the doctor.”

Sammy’s father led him into the bathroom to clean the wound.

“This looks like it might need stiches,” said his father.

“Oh, no! I don’t want stiches!”

“Can’t be helped.”

Sammy’s father held the arm under the flowing faucet until the water washed most of the fluid away. Pulling on the wound both father and son peered deep into the gash. Around the titanium struts, the maze of fine wires and delicate tubes spiraled by under the skin. It was obvious that the bundles had been disturbed and a few tiny wires coiled upward out of place, cut.

“Stitches aren’t going to be enough, dear,” he called out to his wife. “Better call the electrician.”

Short Story Of the Day – Rocket Launcher by Bill Chance

The Diabolical sometimes assumes the aspect of the Good, or even embodies itself completely in its form. If this remains concealed from me, I am of course defeated, for this Good is more tempting than the genuine Good.

—–Franz Kafka


Helicopter shadow, Pacific Plaza Park, 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 (#72) More than two thirds 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.


Rocket Launcher

We sold the last three cows in the village. They were not worth much; they were as much skin and bones as the rest of us. But it gave us the money we needed.

The gunrunners met us in a hidden spot in the mountains. We had to climb all night to get there. They said we hadn’t brought enough but we told them it was all we had. In the end, they sold us the rocket launcher for a promise to pay more later.

It was even harder to climb back down lugging the heavy crates through the jungle. By the time we reached the bluffs outside the village the helicopter had already been by once and its machine gun had already raked our huts – killing many, some in my family. We were too late.

While we were setting it up, putting it together, the helicopter came back again. We were too slow.

Now I wait. The helicopter always comes back a third time. It waits until right before dark, when the survivors have to return to their huts to escape the nighttime jungle dangers.

I look at my rocket launcher and run my hands up and down its long shape. It is dark gray and covered in yellow writing I can’t read in letters I’ve never seen.

The feeling I get when I touch the rocket launcher is the same one I used to feel when I was around the young girls in my village before the revolution came. It’s only been a year but my memory has faded. They are only blurred ghosts now – in my memory and in the real world. The army carried off the ones that weren’t killed by the helicopters.

From up on the bluff, next to my rocket launcher, and covered in tree branches we cut this morning, I can peer out and see what’s left of the village, a drab oval in the middle of the bright green of the jungle. The river winds around, its brown slow water coursing past. I look at the shallow spot where I used to take the cows for water, where I would sit and watch the girls bathing or doing laundry. That was another time.

In the distance, I can hear a faint thumping noise. The helicopter is coming back. Someone is going to die. It might be me. It might not. I don’t really care.