Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Ice Machine in the Desert by Bill Chance

“Ice contains no future, just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way – cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

One day later.

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

Thanks for reading.


Ice Machine in the Desert

Chris DeLoama tried to relax and stifle a cough. A child’s soft rubber ball had been shoved into his mouth and a rectangle of duct tape held it in firmly. The bitter taste was overpowering. His arms were locked together behind his back around a wooden pole supporting the roof of the desert shack, but his feet were free. He was too exhausted to do anything more than shift his legs out in front of him – trying to keep his circulation going.

Chris was sure he couldn’t get away. He  had heard the plastic sawing sound of a big ziptie when he was put down. They had obviously done this before.

From his captive position he could see most of the interior of the shack. It was a crude circle of rough wooden posts supporting hand-hewn roof poles and vigas. Before he crossed the border a ranger has shown him a restored cabin and explained how the wooden poles were cut and arranged in a pattern to shed the rare rain and to provide shade and shelter. The restored cabin had felt surprisingly cool, but now that it was midday, this place was horribly hot.

There was an open spot in the roof in the center of the one room and a green square of nylon was suspended below this to help keep out the sun while still affording a little ventilation and light. The green gave an odd cast to everything .

There were no bulbs, though there was electricity. A thick bundle of cord came in under the wall, half-buried in the dirt floor. He had been brought here blindfolded, on a donkey, but before he was shoved in and tied up the scarf had been removed and he had a glimpse of the outside. For a hundred yards the rocky desert floor was spotted with the ubiquitous viga poles, these vertical, stuck firmly into the hardpack soil. Attached to the top of each pole was a metal and glass frame, filled with the black circles of solar panels. Every elevated panel had a thin wire running down and joining the others in the cable that ran inside.

Now Chris could see the purpose of the panels. The cables terminated in a gray metal box that emitted a low hum and a single cord ran from that into a big green metallic cabinet. It made various mechanical noises including a crystalline tumbling sound every five minutes or so. It had a chrome plated hopper in the front – an ice machine.

Near the ice machine a string hammock was hung between two poles in the ring that supported the circular opening in the center of the room. Don Juapo, the man that was in charge, as far as Chris could surmise, was stretched out in the hammock, asleep, and snoring loudly. The only thing Don Juapo was wearing was a pair of tattered boxer shorts and cowboy boots. His pile of crumpled, dusty clothes sat on the dirt nearby. He did not sleep in the hammock the long way, like Chris had seen people do back on summers in Connecticut, but at an acute angle, almost crossways. His head and feet stretched out the woven string of the simple hammock until it surrounded him like he was a huge, hairy spider on a gently swaying web.

The only other people in sight were two guards in dirty cotton t-shirts and rough jeans sitting in hard chairs spaced against the outside wall on either side of Don Juapo’s hammock. They each cradled AK-47 rifles and were quietly struggling to stay awake – every now and then slumping and almost falling out of the uncomfortable seats.

Suddenly the door to the shack opened and the girl the guards called Maria came in struggling with a large heavy bucket half-full of water. She wore the usual uniform of the rest of his captors – a sleeveless T shirt and jeans, cowboy boots, and a small straw hat – though her outfit looked relatively new and was mostly unwrinkled.

She hauled the water bucket over to the ice machine and opened the lid. Inside was a white plastic scoop and she began shoveling ice into the bucket, mixing it well and doubling its weight. She had to strain to get the bucket over to Don Juapo but neither of the guards offered to help. Don Juapo himself woke up and gestured to her to hurry up.

She sat down on a low stool beside the hammock and dipped a glass jar into the liquid, handing Don Juapo a streaming cold drink. Chris felt his eyes go wide at the sight and he was suddenly excruciatingly aware of his own thirst. Without comment, Don Juapo accepted the water and began to gulp it down. Maria then dipped a small hand towel into the cold liquid and placed it on Don Juapo’s chest. She gently rubbed the towel over him, until he finished his water and took the towel in his own hands. He would move the cool liquid over himself – first his chest, then his face and arms, and finally his legs – until it was heated from his own skin, then hand it back to Maria for a fresh dip of cold water.

Chris could only squirm and watch.

Finally, he had cooled off enough until he dropped the towel and stretched back out in the hammock. Maria didn’t leave – she stayed sitting silently on the stool. Don Juapo reached into the bucket and pulled out a single crystal rock of ice and slowly moved it over Maria’s exposed skin – around her neck, over her shoulders, and inside the folds of her collarbone. The cold water would bead up and run down under her shirt, staining it in a brutal battle between the melting ice and the evaporating heat. When a cube completely melted, Don Juapo would reach back to the bucket and select another.

Chris realized that, although Don Juapo was facing away from him in the hammock, still gently swaying, his arm extended to move the ice over Maria, she was staring directly at him. She sat stock still, allowing Don Juapo to move the ice, not showing any indication of embarrassment or pleasure, with her eyes firmly locked on Chris’.

After a period of time – Chris couldn’t guess if it was a minute or an hour – Don Juapo’s arm fell lifeless and a tiny sliver of ice tumbled into the dust. He began to snore again. Maria stood up and scooped up another jar of ice water and walked over to Chris. She held the cold glass against the duck tape, letting the water on the outside loosen the adhesive, until she pulled it off. Chris spit the ball out and sucked the water down as Maria held the glass up to his mouth, tilting it as he drank. She returned to the bucket for a second and third jar full, until Chris grunted that he was sated.

He had not taken his eyes off of Maria since she had brought him the water, but a rough noise from the center of the room caught his attention. Don Juapo was awake and out of the hammock. He was bent over pulling on his loose pants over his boots.

“That’s enough Maria,” he said. Then he gestured to one of the guards, “Cut his bonds and bring him to me in my cabin, I want to talk to him.”

The guard approached with a large machete and used a confident and violent single stroke to chop the plastic tie between Chris’ hands. Chris let out a moan of pain as both legs cramped when the guard pulled him to his feet.

“You come too, Maria,” Don Juapo said as he strode quickly toward the door of the shack.

“And don’t forget your bucket.”

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

Mr. Maguire: I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Just one word.

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, sir.

Mr. Maguire: Are you listening?

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, I am.

Mr. Maguire: Plastics.

—-The Graduate

Grapevine, 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 (#29). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Plastics

 

Baker worked for Yoyodyne Injection Moulding (marketing insisted they always use the British spelling). One thing he had to do was to walk out every morning to the tank farm where the monomers were stored and inspect the containment around the tanks to make sure there were no leaks or spills – no foreign material inside the dikes.

It rained all the time, especially at night. There was usually water in the containment and the maintenance crew would come out  most afternoons to drain the accumulation. They were the only ones with keys to the valves.

He had a form on a clipboard that he had to fill out. Date the top, make checkmarks by each line that corresponded to a tank. At the bottom was a space for corrective actions in case of a leak. He had never written in that spot.

It was very tempting to pencil-whip the inspections – not do the walking around and looking – simply check the forms and file them away. He knew that’s what Duane did, the guy that used to do the job. He would sneak out for a smoke when he was said he was going for the inspections. But Duane was caught with a joint in his mouth while he was operating the big press and they fired him. The union was going to get him reinstated but the inspections looked like they were Baker’s for good.

The factory was located in a swamp in the south and it was always incredibly hot. Humid too. And giant mosquitoes. Baker would try and get out to do his inspection right as the sun came up but it was still so soggy and sweltering he felt he couldn’t even breathe properly – the air so full of hot water that it displaced the oxygen. The very air of the place could not support life.

At dawn, the sun would be peeking orange over the swampy jungle that surrounded the factory, the tanks looming huge – white cylinders shrouded in mist burning away by the growing daylight. All sorts of birds would be chattering, chirping, or singing – their sound competing with more guttural cries from swamp critters – Baker had no idea what was making those noises and didn’t want to learn. The smell of decomposing miasma wafted across the property and competed with whiffs of acrid stench of volatile monomers coming from the vents as the tanks were heated by the sunrise.

That day, however, it was not like that. It was February and a historic cold front had blown through the night before. These blue northers were not common, but they happened. There had been a good bit of cold rain and he knew there would be water in the containment. Baker dug an old musty coat out from his locker and had brought from home a knit cap and gloves that he had kept from when he had moved from that more northern, civilized place.

“Cold one out there today,” said Dale, the shift boss.

“Yup,” was all that Baker could think to reply as he pulled on his gloves.

“Better you than me,” said Dale.

Bundled up, he trudged out to do his inspections.

Right at the first containment he saw there was something wrong. The water that stood inside the dike was almost covered with solid plastic. Baker’s heart jumped as he looked at the contaminated containment. The material looked to be about at least a quarter inch thick on the side nearest him… maybe more in places. It tapered off across the water until it disappeared on the other side – he could see ripples there where there was still open water. The solid material was smooth and clear.

The material must have leaked out of the tank – bad valve, overfill, broken connection – floated on the water and then polymerized. He wasn’t sure what was in that tank – maybe styrene, maybe vinyl chloride. Any of them could do what he was looking at. He was surprised that it didn’t smell worse than it did, but the polymerization must have been complete and the cold would keep the vapors down.

He wasn’t sure what to do. There was a little guard shack and he grabbed an empty metal paint can and a pair of tongs. The technician that unloaded the tank cars used these to take samples. Carefully leaning over the concrete dike he grabbed the edge of the solid polymer with the tongs. A chunk broke off easily and he transferred it to the can.

Leaving his clipboard behind he hurried back into the factory. Nothing about this was his fault and it was a good thing that he had done his inspection and found the leak – but he was afraid he would be blamed anyway. He was always the fall guy – the outsider – who could be blamed for anything. That wasn’t altogether bad – Baker had learned in his short career that if you could take unlimited blame and abuse – well, there was surprisingly good money in that.

Inside the warm factory he found the nearest phone and spent a minute getting his gloves off so he could dial. He called the emergency number. A tired and bored voice answered.

“Hello,” the voice said.

“We have a spill,” Baker said.

“Where is it? What material?” the voice said. It still sounded bored and bothered, like this happened every day.

“The containment farm.”

Baker looked down at the paint can he was holding and was shocked to see it contained a clear liquid instead of the chunk of plastic he had put it in there. It was weird – he didn’t smell anything.

At that moment there was a click inside Baker’s head, a shift in understanding so sudden he almost could hear it.

The stuff in the can was water. The spill in the containment was ice.

It was usually so hot and tropical he never imagined that the water could freeze. It never entered his mind. The blue norther had dropped the temperature to freezing. Ice. Ice.

“Umm, never mind,” he said into the phone.

“What do you mean? Where is the spill?”

Baker hung up.

Later that day, he wrote a letter to his Uncle in Chicago. He never really liked that branch of the family tree, but he asked if knew of any job openings in the city. Baker was thinking he wanted to return to civilization. Even some place that had ice half of the year.

Polished And Muscular And Torsional

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”
Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Costco, Dallas, Texas

 

The Smell of an Earlier Time Leaking Out Between the Pages

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

The fountain in back of the Richardson Library and my commuter bike.
(click to enlarge)

Oblique Strategy: Distorting time

Richardson Library Fountain in a different time of year.

I was in a bookstore once, looking around. This was one of the big chain bookstores, two stories high, the kind that have pretty much been driven out of business by Amazon. Few people were buying, but the store was littered with folks sitting around reading stuff from the shelves.

I thought to myself, “I wish they had a place like this, like a bookstore, but instead of selling the books, they would simply let you read them.” In a flash, of course, I realized that these places did exist. I was thinking of a library.

My only problem with the library is the intense impression that there is an overload of knowledge bearing down on me, almost suffocating me. I sit at the little table, maybe with my laptop, with my pitiful little pile of books – trying to decide which to read right then, which to take home. I look around and there are the miles of shelves groaning with tomes. It intimidates me. Somewhere out there is a practically infinite amount of knowledge that I simply can’t survive without. But where is it? Which books do I need, rather than want?

So many books. So little time.

It’s A Miracle, A Cosmic Miracle

“They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Bench, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

Bench, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

Ice Contains No Future

“ice contains no future , just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way- cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I have always enjoyed the slightly dated but still beautiful fountain at Richardson City Hall, behind the library. It, for example, was one of the destinations on the famous Richardson Sculpture Bicycle Photo Scavenger Hunt.

7) City Hall Fountain

Today, I dropped some books off at the library after work, and noticed the fountain had a different look about it.

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain

Richardson Fountain