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

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Søren Kierkegaard

Dallas Arboretum


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 (#60) More than half way 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.

 


telephone (n.) – from télé- “far”+ phōnē “sound, voice

The Future

Young Alcinous entered the market with his hand firmly clasping the small bag of gold he had hidden under a fold of his tunic. He walked deeper and deeper into the dark, winding rows of stalls, knowing the seer that he wanted would be in the most isolated spot. He hesitated in front of the shabby unlabeled hut that his advisors assured would give him the answers that he wanted.

He entered and was surprised to see a young man sitting on the other side of a small round table. There was one empty seat.

“Sit down Alcinous,” said the man in an agreeable voice. “I understand you will pay for my knowledge.”

Alcinous fetched the sack of gold and dropped it on the table. “How did you know my name? And that I could pay?”

“I would not be much of a prophet if I didn’t know such obvious things.”

“I did not expect a young man.”

“I only resemble a young man. I am over three thousand years old.”

“Can you help me? My father is very ill and I am going to become king soon. It is time I take a wife but I want to know who my true love is.”

The seer removed the sack of gold and replaced it with a small rolled parchment sealed with red wax.

“I know what you are here for. The answer is in this paper. It contains the first words your sacred soulmate will speak to you.”

Acinous reached forward and broke the seal. He unrolled the parchment and read.

Hey! You dropped your phone.

“What is this rubbish? These two words – têle and phōnḗ – pushed together? Far? Voice? What does it mean? Do not try to swindle me, you insane seer. I will call my wrath…”

“I assure you I tell only the truth. I am three thousand years old but I do not live my life like mortal men. I was born three thousand years in the future and I have lived this immense time backward. The future is my memory; I remember all, only what you call the past is mystery.”

“Again, I implore you, what does this prophesy mean?”

“You will understand it when it occurs. Those words will take on a different meaning in the future… a future when you can hear distant voices as clear as if it were you and I, sitting here.”

“The far future? I don’t expect to be alive.”

“You won’t… as such. However, your soul will be reborn, again and again, until you will finally meet your soul mate. This will be your first and only opportunity, though. Do not forget. Do not miss. Do not delay. Everyone gets his or her one chance. Very few are successful.”

“But what good does that do me? I need to choose a wife and choose one soon. Choose one to be my queen.”

“To be the queen? There must be plenty of candidates.”

“There are. Thousands. That is the problem. Which one?”

“Oh, well, pick one that’s attractive to you. Or one that has a pleasing personality. Or one that brings political advantage. It doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t matter?”

“No. You will be disappointed. Betrayed. Miserable. None will be your soul mate and that will end in torment. Your destiny is for your future manifestation to meet her on the day she warns you that you dropped a far-away voice device… until then this is your doom.”

Alcinous stood and left the hut. On his way out of the market, he met his personal elite guard. He gathered the soldiers together.

“Go back to the hut and kill the seer. If you can. Gather up my gold and bring it back to me. But be quick, I think he might know you are coming.”

 

Short Story Of the Day, The Call by Bill Chance

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

—-Bill Chance, The Call

Telephone Pole, Deep Ellum, 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 (#7). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


The Call

Jim was not a morning person and suffered from bad hangovers. He had learned to drink a glass of water and take aspirin before he fell dead asleep drunk – he knew hangovers were partially caused by dehydration – but had forgotten. Again.

The ringing phone felt like needles poking him through thick cotton. The phone was tangled in the same mass of sheets and blankets he was. The only way to find it was to trace the cord from the wall through the disorganized confusion until he found the instrument. His last apartment had one of the new style phone system with square jacks in the wall where you could move your phone from one place to another but this one hadn’t been updated and the phone was hard-wired. At least there were two, one in the living room and one by his bed. That was a modern luxury.

Finally, he had the earsplitting thing in his hands. It felt huge and heavy. At least it had buttons. He never missed the rotary phones that had mostly disappeared over the last few years. He would always hesitate, stumble and get wrong numbers with those things. He stared at the phone and considered not answering. He could not think of anyone he wanted to talk to right then. But he knew the phone could keep ringing for a long time so he lifted the receiver, mostly to shut it up.

“Hello?” he said.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end of the line. Jim tried to figure out who it was. It was female and sounded young – about his age. The voice sounded a little familiar and he felt embarrassed that he couldn’t figure out who it was. He decided to go with it and try and figure out who it was by context.

“How are you?” Jim asked.

“Oh, good, good. I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine, same as always. What’s up?”

“Nothing really. I just wanted to check in and talk.” Her tone was cheerful but flat. No clues. “Did I wake you up?” she asked.

“Oh no, I’ve been up for a while,” Jim lied. “I’ve just been puttering around, making breakfast, that sort of thing. Went for a short run.”

“You run in the mornings?”

“I try to.” Another lie. “You know it gets so hot later in the day.”

“No kidding.”

There was a pause and Jim realized he was no closer to figuring out who the hell this was. He decided to kick it up a notch.

“How’s your family?”

“Great, great, really. My sister is graduating high school later this year and everybody is excited about that. The last one to leave the house.”

“Has she made college plans?”

“Well, she’s never really been college material, as you know, but she is thinking about State. Giving it a shot, I’m proud of her.”

Jim scraped his mind for someone with a little sister that wasn’t too smart. And “State” didn’t help him at all. What State? Which State? He was going to have to dig deeper.

“How’s your love life?” he asked. There was a pause.

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

So she was a model. Jeez, did he know any models? His poisoned brain cells were not working very well, he couldn’t think of any women he knew that did that. Who was this? Nothing to do but keep on asking questions.

“That’s awful. The world is full of jerks. What was the shoot for?”

“Nothing, really. My portfolio mostly. That makes it worse. I should have known.”

And the conversation went on. Jim really enjoyed talking to this woman. She was funny, thoughtful, and did a lot of interesting things. She was the kind of person he had been looking for his whole life. And he couldn’t figure out who she was. He cursed his foggy mind. He cursed the damn telephone.

They talked for over an hour. They talked about movies they has seen, television shows they watched, and music they liked. They talked about the weather and the politics and even traded the best jokes they had heard lately. Jim’s hangover had disappeared and he was beginning to feel like this was going to be a good day, maybe the best of days.

But suddenly there was a pause on the other end of the line. She was not responding to what he said. He could hear her breathing.

“Are you okay OK?” Jim asked.

Another long pause, then the question, “Frank?”

“Uhhhh,” was all Jim could say. Then a click and a dial tone. “Wait!” he shouted even though he knew it was too late.

Jim had been a wrong number all along.

Suddenly feeling sick, he hung up and stared at the phone. He stared at it for a long time, trying to will it into ringing again. It never did.

He wished that there was some way to find out what number had called. He wished he could call back. Maybe someday, but that would be too late.

Obligatory Selfie

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

On my way home from a Dallas Photo Walk in Deep Ellum I wanted to take some pictures of the internet-famous Leaning Tower of Dallas. In case you haven’t seen this on your news – they attempted to implode a fourteen story office building but the elevator shaft stayed mostly upright.

It has become a temporary icon here in Big D. The traffic was snarled and I had to park several blocks away as all the close spaces were taken. There was a big crowd in the field next to the tilted concrete tower – many folks contorting themselves in front of phone-wielding friends, trying for that perfect selfie – appearing to hold up the leaning tower.

I walked as close as I could, and settled for a finger-selfie.

Leaning Tower of Dallas, Dallas, Texas

The Wheels On the Bus Go Round And Round

I think whenever we think of our hometowns, we tend to think of very specific people: with whom you rode on the school bus, who was your next door neighbor you were playing with, who your girlfriend was. It’s always something very specific.
—-Joyce Carol Oates

Beltline and Plano, Richardson, Texas

I find myself using my phone for photographs more and more, displacing my DSLR.

It was too cold and too late to ride my bike to work today, so I drove. Stopped, waiting for the light, at Plano and Beltline in the gritty cold and cloudy morning, I saw this scene right outside my driver’s window – the bus was making a left onto Plano. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone, got the password in on the second try, clicked the “I’m Not Driving” button (safety first) and snapped this out my window right as the light changed.

My Phone is Spying on Me

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone‘ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”
― Philip K. Dick

Oblique Strategy: State the problem in words as clearly as possible

As the Internet Of Things slowly makes its way, flooding our lives, I installed a new smart doorbell last night. The packaging was a thing of beauty, unfortunately I’m not smart enough to open it correctly and ended up having to tear it up to get the stuff out. Things were obviously carefully thought out – they had a lot of stuff in that beautiful little box – including a tiny orange plastic spirit level with a cute little bubble.

I love the postmodern slant on the installation instructions. For example, little plastic anchors are included – in case you need to put the doorbell onto brick or concrete. The instructions say, “If you’re installing on wood or siding, put the anchors in that drawer of stuff you never use and skip this step.”

It was dark and cold outside, but I managed to get the thing installed. I wondered why they were so anal to include the spirit level, but realized that, because the doorbell had a camera in it, if it was installed on a slant, the image would lean. It would look like a Batman Villain was at the door.

The only problem was that the best instructions were on videos which were played on the phone as the process proceeded. And, of course, there was some hooking up to the internet involved. The problem was, to install the thing, I had to throw the breaker to the doorbell transformer (24 volts won’t kill you, but it can make you notice your nervous system). Of course, the cable router is on the same circuit. Luckily, there was an abbreviated set of old-school paper printed instructions.

I only had to wait several time while the internet rebooted to go on to the next step.

Faces of Deep Ellum – The Stinkeye

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
― Aristotle

Looking At Her Phone in the Dark

“I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
—- Albert Einstein

There is something special about standing around in the middle of the night and talking with a bunch of your best friends. To stand around with them in front of a beautiful art museum is extra special.

So special, in fact, that it is something that you would have to text to a bunch of people… people that aren’t there.

“This is the whole point of technology. It creates an appetite for immortality on the one hand. It threatens universal extinction on the other. Technology is lust removed from nature. – Murray (WN 285)”
—- Don DeLillo, White Noise Critical: Text and Criticism

A group of friends in front of the Dallas Museum of Art, night, long exposure

A group of friends in front of the Dallas Museum of Art, night, long exposure

“This was before voice mail, recorded phone messages you can’t escape. Life was easier then. You just didn’t pick up the phone.”
― Joyce Carol Oates, Beasts

I used to work a little closer to where I lived. Sometimes, I would go home for lunch… but not very often. One day, while I was home, the phone rang. This was before caller ID – back in the days when people would actually answer their phones. It was, however, after the invention and installation of the answering machine….

…do you remember when these had little tapes in them? Once, I left for a long business trip and when I returned I had a large collection of very interesting phone messages left from a number of my friends and even a couple of cool ones from strangers. I liked these so much I replaced the tape with a fresh one and carried the old one around with me for a year or so. Sometimes I’d listen to it for fun. I know that sounds stupid – but I wish I had that tape now, thirty years later. I’d love to hear it again.

…at any rate, back to the story. I was home, the phone rang, I picked it up. It was a friend. She said, “Oh, I didn’t think anyone would be home. I called to leave a message.”

“I’m home making a sandwich. But it’s ok,” I said. “I’ll hang up and you can call back and leave a message.”

So I did. And she did.

When the phone rang my hand quivered over the receiver. I was torn on whether I should pick it up (as a joke, you know) or to let it ring and let her leave her message. I decided the joke was too stupid (strange, I know – I don’t usually pass up an opportunity for a stupid joke). As the machine picked up, I walked out the door, left for work, and let her leave her message in private.

I never listened to it.