Sunday Snippet – The Spirit Duplicator

There is no limit to the extension of the curious mind. It reaches to the end of the imagination, then beyond into the mysteries of dreams, hoping always to convert even the dreams into reality for the greater well-being of all mankind.
—-The Outer Limits, Control Voice, Keeper of the Purple Twilight [2.12]

Yell

Oblique Strategy: Only a part, not the whole

The Spirit Duplicator

Trout Slobber had many reasons for hating his parents. Somewhere in the middle of the pack was, of course, his name. It was an old family name, they explained. He thought it was a tradition that should have been abandoned long ago.

Trout’s favorite thing was to read in his bed at night, under the quilt. The thick, soft fabric tented up over his knees, squinting at the slowly fading yellow circle of a flashlight. His parents rationed his supply of batteries – the sort of thing he hated them for even more than his name. They always admonished him not to “waste things.” For a long time he would steal batteries from the foreign man that ran the gas station. Trout hated to steal, hated the idea that he was a thief, but until Aurora helped him out he felt he had no choice.

He was in love with Aurora Schoner, a tall, skinny girl that caught the school bus at his stop. She wore a silver headgear that looped out from her braces and bent around to hook into an elastic band on the back of her head. Trout knew she hated how the headgear made her look, but he thought it was charming. Aurora had been riding the bus for almost a year and the two of them slowly became friends, as close as awkward kids could be. Trout wondered if Aurora loved him as much as he loved her, but could never uncover the courage to ask.

Aurora gave him batteries. Her parents never seemed to ask questions.

If other kids were around Aurora always referred to Trout as “Master Slobber,” because she thought it was cute – but if the two of them were alone she called him Trout. Aurora was bookish, like Trout, though they never read the same books, other than their school assignments. She liked to read woman’s books full of romance and adverbs.

Their neighborhood was divided by a heavily wooded creek. Years before a road cut through the creek and connected the two halves but the bridge was decrepit and unsafe and nobody wanted to spend the money to rebuild it. The road petered out on each side of the creek with concrete barriers blocking traffic from the crumbling bridge.

The bridge, the creek, and the overgrown vacant floodplain lots behind the housing development were the playgrounds for all the kids in the neighborhood. There was the creek, brown and green with dirt and algae, trickling over rocks and hunks of old concrete. There was an old molding pile of hay up in the lot from when someone had tried to have a horse. There were the thick tangles of riparian trees and vines. This was the geography of the children’s world – inflated and colored by their imaginations into a mystical and mysterious land of canyons, jungles, and ancient ruins.

There was always an ebb and flow across this landscape, groups of boys throwing rocks from the creek, older kids poking their heads up from the piles of hay, shouts and insults, mean laughter and sniffles. Trout didn’t like this aggression and bragging (it always reminded him of his parents and their friends) so he imagined himself a scout, a spy, a lone agent, flitting unseen along the edges. He would slink through the tangled woods, following faint trails that he imagined only he could see, and hid behind bundles of vegetation to spy on the caterwauling clots of rowdy kids.

One day while exploring a wide loop of the creek he stumbled across a brown paper bag wedged down in a corner of abandoned concrete. The spot was bent far enough out to be within a few feet of a busy alley and Trout had found mysterious stuff thrown away into the brush there before.

Trout picked up the bag and realized it had something heavy and rectangular concealed within. He braced himself and slid a deep steel tray out onto his lap. It was a covered with white porcelain and filled with some amber material. He carefully reached out and touched the smooth surface and realized that it was some sort of firm jelly. It was stiff enough to stay steady in the tray, but still jiggled a bit when he tapped on it. He tipped the tray a bit to let a shaft of sunlight fall into the jelly, and he realized that there was some sort of ragged purple stuff running through the mass, an irregular pattern, lines, curves, bits here and there.

He shoved the thing back into the bag, and, heart pounding, headed for home. He had to snake around to avoid a group of kids that were chasing each other with dried shafts of weeds attached to round balls of dirt pulled from the ground. They would club each other or throw the things whistling through the air.

Trout was able to escape unseen and slid the bag under a thick bush on the side of his house. Later, after dark, at chore time, he trundled two bags of trash out to the cans in the alley. On his way back he retrieved the bag and hustled it up to his room hiding it under his bed.

That night he hid under his blanket and carefully examined his prize with his flashlight. He could not imagine what it was, the cool metal tray, the firm jelly and the purple squiggles. His mind filled with exotic possibilities, but nothing seemed to make sense. Trout would slip the tray back into its bag and hide it under his bed, but he would toss and turn and then fetch it out for another look. He barely slept.

The next morning, at the bus stop, he pulled Aurora aside and told her what he had found. She kept asking him for details.

“How big was it again?” she asked.

“I don’t know, maybe as big as my notebook.”

“It was full of jelly? Up to the top.”

“Almost, not quite to the top.”

“What did the jelly taste like?”

“God! I didn’t eat any of it! Do you think I’m crazy?”

“Okay. Now. Tell me again about the purple stuff.”

“It was like marks, all over the jelly.”

The bus pulled up and they piled on. They didn’t want to talk about the tray on the bus, afraid someone would overhear them. Trout kept glancing sideways at Aurora, who was silent and looking down the entire bus ride, serious, like she was thinking hard about something.

Finally, as they were walking up to the big double doors of the school building, Aurora said, “I want to see this thing. Don’t tell anybody else about it. Meet me an hour after school down at the playground. Bring the bag.”

Trout nodded and slipped into class. All day he struggled to pay attention to his teachers and his work. He was too excited. He would stare at the big clocks at the front of the rooms. The red second hand seemed to creep around the dial and the tiny jumps the minute hand would make seemed miniscule and rare.

On the way home, Aurora and Trout didn’t sit together on the bus. They didn’t want to raise any suspicion. Trout’s parents were watching television and they only nodded when he said he was going down to the playground. He quickly sneaked the bag out from under his bed, piled his leather glove and a baseball on top, and flew down the stairs and out of the door.

Aurora was late. Trout hid the bag in the gravel under the slide and tried to look relaxed as he threw the baseball in the air and tried to catch it coming down. He felt his stomach would bust until he finally saw Aurora walking up the sidewalk. She was carrying some loose blank sheets of typewriter paper and a little bottle. It had a rubber bulb on it and a nozzle – Trout thought it was what girls sometimes kept perfume in.

“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing.

“Oh, it’s only water,” Aurora said. She paused for a moment and said, “I know what the thing is.”

“How…”

“My parents knew.”

“You told your parents?”

“Of course, dummy. They don’t care. My dad knew exactly what it was and told me what to do.”

Trout couldn’t speak. He was torn between the horror of knowing his mystery had been revealed to Aurora’s mom and dad and the excitement of finding out what it was. Aurora whistled for a minute and he realized she was enjoying his consternation and impatience.

“Well, what is it?” he finally said.

“My dad says it’s called a hectograph. He says they also call it a jellygraph. It’s used to copy stuff.”

“Copy?”

“Yeah. Those purple markings? That’s a special ink. It goes into the jelly and then you put a piece of paper over it. The ink comes out. You can make a bunch of copies that way.”

“But I looked at the purple things. They didn’t make any sense.”

“That’s ‘cause it’s backward. It’s like a mirror. You can’t read it like that. That’s why I brought the paper.”

She wriggled the sheets in her hand.

“What about the water?”

“Dad says that it might dry out, the water will help pull the ink out. Well, what are you waiting for? You brought it didn’t you?Let’s get the thing.”

Trout fished the tray out from under the slide. They crouched over the jelly surface and Aurora gave it a few spritzes of water from the bottle. Once the surface was glistening, he carefully slid a page of paper on top of the jelly and gently smoothed it over the surface.

“How long do we have to wait?”

“Don’t know,” said Aurora, “My dad didn’t say.”

Trout picked at a corner of the paper.

“Let’s see,” he said and raised it up. They turned it over and spread it out on the grass. Clear, bright purple letters covered the sheet.

“Yeah, I can read it,” said Aurora, and the two of them started in.

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A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 30 – SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich
Read it online here:
SCHOOL by Melissa Goodrich

They eat spicy Cheetos and Ramen noodles, have the kind of beautiful faces that crack rearview mirrors.
—-Melissa Goodrich, SCHOOL

We were talking today, like we often do, about Game of Thrones, gratuitous nudity, and little person sex. I said, as I often do, “The problem with the world that Game of Thrones is set in, is that everybody’s life is miserable. From the most destitue peasant to the kings of the world, nobody is happy and life is so difficult and, despite the gratuitous nudity and little person sex, so joyless… If I lived there, I’d just kill myself, and anyone else would too.”

Someone else said, as they often do, “It’s like the life we live today.”

I replied, “No, we don’t live in miserable times… we live in the crazy times.”

Interview with Melissa Goodrich:

Is writing more of a blessing or a curse?
God. Both. I usually think I’m not writing enough. I’m haunted by those people who write every day, and run ten miles, and read new books and journals, and eat organically nurtured produce…I’m still a cereal-eater, a sleeper-inner, a person who writes slowly and then binge-watches TV.

But the blessing is I trust my voice now. And I trust that writing should be joyous and surprising, and that none of it is wasteful.
—-from Cultured Vultures

Kyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Read it online here:
Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Avonmeads is less than ten minutes walk from Barton Hill, from his ends, but it feels like a different world to him. Whenever there’s any trouble with youth in places like this the timelines erupt with opinions, people angry and shouting, saying why are people like him making trouble and tearing up their own community. He shakes his head and laughs to himself. Community? There’s no community down here. This isn’t a community space – it’s nowhere, a non-place. Nobody lives here, it’s populated only fleetingly by transient visitors – van drivers getting lunch, shoppers buying the few things they still can’t buy through their spex or print at home. Even the staff in the shops here – none of them live here, they just come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. And most of them don’t even hold that down for long – there’s about as much a sense of career down here as there is community. For a start the shops never stay for long – something opens, fills a short-term need, then closes. Storefronts lie dead and abandoned, until someone thinks they’ve found another fleeting need, moves in, shuts down. Open, close, repeat.

—-Tim Maughan, Limited Edition

I am an old man, old enough to know a time when athletic shoes were called sneakers, or maybe tennis shoes – and were made of a single, simple layer of canvas with a simple rubber sole. The only “brand” I remember were PF Flyers (PF stood for Posture Foundation – bet you didn’t know that) and there were ads for them on television. I do remember a bit of the thrill and envy when I saw a pair – always on somebody else.

Now, of course, the innocent and silly tropes of my ancient youth have been distorted and blown up by technology and the shallowness of modern life until they have become reality. Sneakers have been replaced by Kicks, and Johnny Quest replaced by millionaire athletes.

Throw these ingredients into the soup of social media and powerful portable devices and you have the world of today’s story, Limited Edition.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Interview with Tim Maughan:

Odo: Current technologies such as virtual reality, social networks and online games are prominently featured in your stories. How would you say that the use of these technologies is changing our way of thinking, our way of interacting with other people?

TM: That’s a good question. That’s a big question! I’m not sure we know yet, I think we’re still feeling our way. That’s why I’m writing about them, I think, to try and understand myself. I think everything is so double edged now – online communities for example, they can be both embracing and alienating, both to degrees we couldn’t possibly imagine a couple of decades ago. The same goes for the anonymity and distance that ‘net culture grants us – it can be liberating, allowing people to express themselves in ways they would be too scared to in real life – but of course the flip of that is it lets people get away with saying or doing terrible things with no consequence. I was reading a forum recently where someone used a homophobic slur, and when they were confronted about it they said nobody should be offended as it was ‘only pixels’. That struck me as simultaneously both horrifying and logical – it’s a defence that must make some sense if you’ve grown up spending a large percentage of your communicating life online. It’s the complete stripping of meaning, postmodernism made real, I guess. How do you argue against that? In fact, with meaning gone in that way, how do you argue about anything?

Odo: Trust (and distrust) is an important theme in your stories, where characters are often deceived by their friends. Do you think that trusting other people is more dangerous today than, say, twenty years ago?

TM: No, I don’t think so – the media would love us to all believe that, it feeds on fear, and is constantly looking to spread the illusion of distrust so that consumers turn to it for a kind of fake truth. I hear a lot of media talk here about the ‘blitz spirit’, about how British society was more unified during the war in the ’40s. I largely suspect that’s bullshit, and some terrible things happened when the lights were out, there was looting, people cheated on departed lovers and so on. When I’m writing about distrust I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, or a futuristic thing – to be honest it’s sometimes just a plot device! – but more that it’s there, and our media and culture likes to amplify it, to separate and alienate us, to make us better, competing consumers. Consumerism doesn’t work well if everyone trusts each other, it only works if we feel the need to compete with our neighbours, friends, even families.

—-from Sense of Wonder

On the way home from the store with a bag of Miller High Life.

Over 99 Billion Served

Over 99 Billion Served - but no more.

Over 99 Billion Served – but no more.

There is a joke in Dallas… it goes like this, “Whenever you ask someone for directions, they always start ‘Get on Beltline…’.” And it’s true.

I live a handful of short blocks north of Beltline, so I know that endless loop well. Less than a mile to the West, on Beltline, of course, is was a McDonald’s. I have been in that place exactly once, when we first moved in, before our internet and water was hooked up. I went in there for coffee and wifi.

Now when my kids were little, we went to McDonald’s (and various other fast-food emporiums) all the time. Not for the food, per se, but for the ball pits and climbing tunnels. My kids were connoisseurs of fast-food ball pits. They would sit around at home discussing the comparative merits of all the local McDonald’s vs. Burger King. They would arrive at a decision and off we would go. When driving long distances they would spot a unique climbing structure out the speeding windows and we would have to stop. Candy would walk to another place, any place, and get food – she could not stand McDonald’s… no matter how fun the ball pit was.

But the kids had outgrown all that before we moved here. Shame, because that McDonald’s had a really nice climbing structure in a huge glass enclosure out front. (Google Maps Streetview from before the demolition). At any rate, I had no reason to go there and had only been there that once.

Still, though, I drove or biked past it at least twice a day for years and years and it had blended into the daily background of my life.

Then, one day, coming home from work, it was gone. There was nothing there except a pile of rubble.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

It was a shock. There were the plastic tunnels all bulldozed and torn asunder. It was like finding a body in the yard – like someone you knew slightly had died. Of course, the neighborhood email list went into a frenzy of indignation and fear – nobody knew what had happened.

Of course, this is Dallas (or at least a suburb), and nothing is allowed to rest for long. The rubble was gone in a couple days and already, concrete is being poured. I assume it will be another McDonald’s – probably bigger and better.

But I bet the food will be the same.

There is another Dallas joke. “There are only two seasons in Dallas, Football and Construction.”