Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Time is Money by Bill Chance

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
― Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
 

Decatur, 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 (#100) Did it! Now what? What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Time is Money

Clay used his connection, the wire embedded in his brain, to move the car through the busy morning streets. “Breathe and Calm, Breathe and Calm…,” Clay kept repeating this simple phrase through his mind like a mantra, a hope, a dream. The car, however, had other ideas. It kept sending back in an insistent electronic voice.

“Late, late, late!”

And the weather was making it worse. Spitting pellets of ice, whirling wind, cold gray. Clay had to shrug his shoulders and lower his head under the web of ice across the windshield and look through the thawed oval over the dash whenever the autosteer started to lose it, pull the wheel back to correct. “Might as well be driving this old heap myself!”  he cursed as he fingered the  socket in his neck, felt the wire running to the central console.

“Late, late, late!” the car screamed at him silently, electronically, through the wires.

Clay felt the helpless panic welling up. He couldn’t go any faster; since his last accident his car was hooked directly into Central Police Monitoring, the red blinking transponder sitting there on the hood, thick cable running down, through the crudely drilled hole in the stamped steel. Ten seconds spent over the speed limit and his car would die, they would come to haul him away.

Since the Third Time Act was passed, being late for work had been a criminal offense and Clay was afraid he wouldn’t get probation this time.  He made an effort to concentrate, calm himself, and sent an ETA AT WORK request out his connection to the car’s computer. The answer came back immediately, in through his neck connection and spreading through his brain like a sudden cold voice from beyond, telling him he wasn’t going to make it.

He could feel the knurled edges of the single coin in his pocket and knew it wouldn’t be enough. Clay cursed himself for not taking out more cash when he last stopped by the company cashier. The credit chip, mounted to the back of his skull, wired in with the rest, was useless, spent, he had used all his credit privileges months ago. It’s been all coin, paychip to paychip, since then.

“Do you feel lucky, punk? Do you?” He asked himself, mimicking a line in one of his the films from an  ancient cinema class that he took last year, part of his educational requirement.  “A Flexible Mind is a Healthy Mind, A Healthy Mind is a Useful Mind,” he chanted involuntarily, the jingle from the ad campaign that was drilled into everyone following the Second Compulsory Adult Education Act.

Clay didn’t feel particularly lucky, but he pulled into the time station on the corner anyway, looked up at the hand printed sign that said “Time – 4Crts/Hour,” and cursed again. The price was up a whole Credit per hour from yesterday, his single coin would only get him fifteen minutes and he needed at least a half hour. His stomach began to ache as he waited a good three minutes for a time pump to come empty, then pulled forward into the red oval beside the pump.

A familiar push and twist and the connection popped out of his neck, the car immediately died, shut down quiet. He shoved the door open, backed into the freezing rain and felt the sudden sharp pain of wet cold across his neck, his bare hands, saw his fingers redden instantly. He knelt down on his knees on the wet pavement of the station and reached out, feeling along the floor mat and reaching under the seat. His hands kept meeting food wrappers, empty beverage cylinders, plastpaper bags, faded receipts,  bits of flotsam and jetsam, some sticky. A couple handfuls he pulled out, flinging it into the back seat. Digging until his arms reached back to the juncture of the seat and the backrest, he knew the old sagging seat left a gap there.

Clay groped, pushing his fingers down into the carpet, trying to forget the cold water soaking the knees of his pants as he kneeled on the tarmac, trying to ignore the stares of queued customers daggering his way, stuck in line and waiting for him to get finished so they could pull forward.

Suddenly he felt cold metal, the knurled edge. And then, again, there were two! And a third! Pulling them out, he held them up to the gray winter daylight, confirming the triple profiles, two women and one man, of the three current presidents, engraved on the front of the coins. Stamped from cheap steel, they were getting rusty from sitting under the seat for who knows how long, but the imbedded chip, mounted right under the engraving of the new Capitol on the back, would still be working. It was guaranteed.

Two of these three plus the one in his pocket would give him forty five minutes. He only needed thirty, but it had been such a hectic morning, the found coins must be an omen, so Clay decided to splurge. He unscrewed the timechip module mounted on his wrist and placed it on the little blue shelf provided. The three coins went into the slot, “chunk chunk chunk”  it sounded so nice. The last coin rolled back into his coat pocket.  He leaned back against the car, making sure his entire body was inside the red oval embedded at his feet. The ID laser shot out and found his eyes, read his retinas, “Ready?” a cold voice squeaked out of a tinny speaker, and Clay shook his head yes and closed his eyes.

A  wave of nausea washed over him as the singularity wave was generated under the red oval, rising up to tear him and his car out of space, out of time, and fling him back. It only took a second. Clay reached out for his timechip module and replaced it. He closed his eyes and looked at the illusion projected on the inside of his eyelids, Seven-o-Five in the morning. He had indeed been thrown back forty five minutes. Now he had plenty of time to get to work.

As Clay drove away, his commute now leisurely, the hounds at bay for now, he refused to even be bothered by the pesky clanking from the rear transmission. A quick turn on the digital cube  player volume  drowned that unpleasant sound out with a pulsing beat.

Clay made it to work with a good ten minutes to spare. He felt the extra coin in his pocket, an instant of reassurance to run his fingers over the serrated edge.

“Hey Gladys!” He called out cheerfully as he stood in front of the heavy turnstile, waiting for the time clock to read the thin ID chip mounted under the skin of his forehead. He always said “Hey!” to her, he didn’t know what her name was but thought she looked like a “Gladys.”  She didn’t answer, she never did,  deep in concentration, trying to manage the I/O of the two  jacks, one on each side of her neck. “Extra five hundred a year for that little bit of surgery” thought Clay as his hand left the coin to absently touch the single jack on his neck.

“Clang” – and the turnstile admitted him to work for the day.

 

 

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Elevator to Nowhere by Bill Chance

“If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the up button.”
Sam Levenson
 

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 (#99) 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.


Elevator to Nowhere

Mitah and her brother Nutmeg walked up to an elaborate set of doors. The doors themselves were square and as black as the walls surrounding them, only in a dull finish instead of the glossy one that the walls boasted. Surrounding the doors was a gold relief of a pair of trees, their bare branches intertwining above the doors.

She looked at Nutmeg, who nodded.

She inserted the small golden key into the trunk of the right tree and turned it to the right.

The doors dinged open and Mitah and Nutmeg both stared at the room behind the doors. There was a tiny room, which would hold no more than ten small beings easily. It had black walls that gleamed; Mitah could almost count the hairs on her feline ears in that reflection. The floor was a red carpet matching the one they now stood on.

“I suppose we have to go in there.” Nutmeg said.

“Yes, we have a job. We were asked to learn where this key went, and we’ve gotten this far.” Mitah said.

Nutmeg nodded in agreement, and they both stepped into the elevator. Mitah turned back to the doors when she entered and spotted the control panel. There was only one button and it had no writing on it. She looked briefly at Nutmeg before pressing the button.

The doors shut with a ding and the elevator stared moving, carrying them upward.

“Look.” Nutmeg said, and Mitah followed his gaze up above the doors, there was a digital readout that normally announced what floor they were passing, this one only had a red glowing question mark.

“That’s comforting.” Mitah said dryly.

Nutmeg chuckled a bit.

“Best be ready for anything.” Mitah said, her hand moving to rest on her gun and Nutmeg followed suit.

Mitah really had no idea what to expect. They had been introduced to their client on the Alliance’s capital world of Arcturus Prime and he had given them a key.

“This key opens something in the Omnu Hotel, I do not know what, but as I am… how shall we put this? No longer welcome there. I am at a loss on finding a way to learn what.”

Mitah wanted to know how he had come about this key and what he had done, but her professionalism dictated her to keep her mouth shut. She did not need those details to complete the job. After some scouting she and Nutmeg had determined that the elevator doors were the only possibility. Some fancy tampering with the security video had erased their presence around the elevator, but as they had no idea where it lead they would have to play it safe when they arrived at their destination.

Mitah felt the elevator slow and motioned Nutmeg to go to the other side of the door, Mitah pulling up the hood on her jacket, masking her face and distinctive hair and ears, Nutmeg following suit. She pulled her gun out of its holster and readied it, just in case there was an armed unit waiting for them.

The doors opened, and Mitah carefully peered around the edge of the door. She did not see anyone, but she saw cameras. The corridor was wide and long, in a similar style of the rest of the building. It had several large pillars, and Mitah counted six side doors plus one at the very end of the hallway. She did not see any guards, though they likely knew they were there.

Mitah knew they could not hide in the elevator forever so she motioned to Nutmeg that it was time to move. He lead the way and Mitah followed him, ready for anything. The elevator doors slid shut behind her silently, but that silence did not last long, a klaxon sounded, making her jump, her fur standing on end.

Mitah swore and her gun snapped up from her side. The first two doors opened and revealed four circular battle drones. The drones started shooting at them.

They both launched themselves behind the pillars and started returning fire. Most of their shots went wide, but a few hit their marks and quickly the bot’s shielding wore off and they were just heaps of smoking twisted metal.

Mitah motioned forward and together she and Nutmeg checked the rooms that the bots had come out of. They were small and did not hold any more drones.

They moved on approaching the next set of doors warily.

Suddenly Mitah spoke, “Wait.”

She knelt down and examined the air and a momentary glint caught her eye. She had been right.

“Tripwire,” Mitah said.

Nutmeg nodded and started examining higher up, as did Mitah to make sure there were no additional wires. They found several, all at different heights and distances. Carefully they wove through them.

Once they cleared the wires they moved on cautiously, keeping a close eye out for any additional traps. Mitah scanned every direction, but realized too late to keep an eye on the carpet beneath them as the floor gave slightly.

“Nutmeg, move!” She called out as she launched herself into a roll.

Just as she came back there was a blinding flash of light, and she cried out in pain as it painfully jabbed into her eyes, even after they had instinctively shut. It was gone as fast as it had come. Mitah staggered to the side, unable to see, the world dark.

“Nutmeg?” She asked, wondering where he was. She could not hear his breathing.

She stared walking around, patting the air, trying to find one of the walls, praying that she did not trip any traps while blinded. There came a thumping sound from her right, she veered that way. Her vision was returning slowly. She was glad her vision was coming back, but still worried about Nutmeg.

Mitah tried calling out his name again and this time she heard a faint response coming from before her, the same direction as the thumps. Her hands met a wall, one that she did not remember being there, or had she gotten confused on which direction she was facing? She was not sure.

“Mitah!” She heard Nutmeg say, his voice muffled.

“Nutmeg! Where are you?” Mitah asked, blinking furiously, willing her vision to return faster, vague shapes appearing before her.

“Here! Quick, there’s some kind of gas…” Nutmeg said, sounding closer, but still muffled.

“Gas?” Mitah said to herself, she did not smell anything. “Where are you? I don’t smell anything.”

“Behind the wall, I wasn’t fast enough.” Nutmeg’s voice came weakly.

There had been a double trap, Mitah realized. She took a step back and pointed her gun at the wall.

“Nutmeg, duck.” She said and aimed as well as her limited vision allowed.

She let loose a shot. Her blaster’s bolt hit the floor to ceiling wall, but instead of damaging the wall like she had hopped it ricocheted off. Mitah dropped to the floor mentally cursing herself. Her bolt blackened a section of the carpet in the middle of the hallway.

Mitah stood up, vision significantly clearer and holstered her gun. She brought her hands up before her chest and focused on them, calling forth her innate fire. It glowed between her hands and she let it build there, her eyes squinted against the additional light, still not fully recovered. Once she had a decent fireball, she launched it at the wall. It hit and spread, the glass fracturing under the heat. The carpet started smoking, but did not catch fire. Mitah launched another fireball at the same spot, this time breaking through. A large section of the glass wall shattered, falling to the ground.

The gas that had claimed Nutmeg filtered through to her side and she took a deep breath of clean air before going through the opening she had created and hauling Nutmeg out. She took him as far away from the opening as she dared, and checked his vitals.

Nutmeg was still alive, still breathing, but unconscious.

Mitah looked at the three remaining doors, wondering what they might hold, hoping that whatever they were looking for had not been behind the last two, which remained shut behind the cloud of gas. She would have to act quickly, the gas was still leaking out of the hole she had created and she did not want to test how potent it was.

Mitah could not see any differences between the three doors so she picked one at random, going with the one closest to herself and Nutmeg. She opened it and let it swing the rest of the way open by itself.

“I see you’ve found me.” A familiar voice said from within the room.

Mitah looked into the room. It was an office. A large spacious office, with a familiar alien sitting behind a large desk, grinning at her.

“Congratulations. You pass my test.” He said.

Mitah’s tail twitched in confusion and she looked between him and Nutmeg, who was still unconscious.

“Bring him in, it will wear off soon enough. “ He said.

Mitah did as she was asked, still both annoyed and confused.

“What was the point of all that?” Mitah asked.

“Why it was just a test, I have a difficult mission for you, and now that you have passed I will tell you more about it.” He said, holding out his hand and motioning.

Mitah realized that he wanted the key, and she gave it to him, wondering where his real mission would take them.

 

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

“The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, ‘You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”
― George Carlin
f

An old picture I took out my car window while waiting in a drive thru ATM.

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 (#95) 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.


Framed

Aaron Goodpaster stared at the paperwork on his desk – the power bill for the company headquarters building. It was astronomical. Something was wrong. Someone down in the Innovation Laboratory had used enough power to light up a medium sized city. That someone had to be Sammy VonSmults.

Goodpaster’s phone buzzed. It was his assistant.

“Mister VonSmults is here to see you,” the voice said.

“Good, I was thinking about him right now. Please, buzz him in.”

The door immediately burst open and Sammy VonSmults tumbled into Goodpaster’s office.

“Dammit Sam! Look at this!” Goodpaster shook the power bill in the air.

“Hey! That’s no way to greet an old friend. Especially one that has invented and built something that will make us all rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

“I’ve heard that before. Besides, my dreams are pretty wild.”

“But you’ve never even dreamed anything like this before… I know you haven’t.”

Sammy moved around Goodpaster’s desk. He was waving something in the air. It looked like a simple picture frame, about a foot and a half square. He held it up in front of Goodpaster so he could get a good look at it. It was a simple metal frame, made of some copper-gold colored material. As VonSmults moved it around, the colors shifted in a sort of rainbow effect… blue, green, purple, the iridescence seemed to race around the frame.

“Look, look through the frame,” VonSmults said.

“I don’t see anything… I mean I see right through it, there’s nothing there.”

“Exactly, there’s nothing there. Here, now, hold it in front of your face and keep looking through.”

Goodpaster held the frame, it was strangely heavy and it seemed to throb internally in some strange way. VonSmults suddenly thrust his hand through the frame and grabbed Goodpaster’s nose.

“Hey! Cut that out!”

“Okay,” VonSmults pulled his hand back, “Now watch this. Don’t let go”

He ran his finger along the top and then the bottom of the frame, flicking a hidden tiny latch each time. Half of the frame came away and VonSmults backed up with the second half of the frame in front of his face. Goodpaster suddenly felt dizzy. As he looked through his frame he saw VonSmults’ face right in front of him, even though the rest of him was quickly backing clear across the room. Suddenly, VonSmults again thrust his hand through the frame and it emerged from the other half frame clear across the room and again tweaked Goodpaster’s nose.

“Shit!” Screamed Goodpaster, throwing the frame away. VonSmults quickly pulled his hand out before the frame clattered to the floor.

“Hey, be careful. That could have hurt. Whatever happens once my hand goes through the frame happens to me.”

“What the crap is that!”

“I have developed a way to take a standing quantum meson wave, confine it to a simple plane suspended between the two frames, and then clone it. The two halves of the frame become the same place in space and time. What goes in one side, comes out the other, even when the two are separated. Light, sound, even physical objects. In one, out the other. Same both ways.”

“You have got to be kidding.”

“Obviously not. It isn’t perfected yet. The two halves must be within a few hundred yards of each other or the field fails. It regenerates once they come back within range, though. That’s as big of a frame as I can do so far. I think I can go bigger and with more range, but the power requirements to create and stabilize the planar wave are astronomical.”

“Now, That I know.” Goodpaster waved the power bill again.

“Jesus! Aaron, you’re worried about a power bill? This is the most important invention in the history of science. That is chump change. Think of the implications for communications, for travel, for espionage.”

Goodpaster had calmed down enough to start to understand what VonSmults was talking about. He thought quickly and deeply while watching VonSmults pick up both halves of the frame and snap them together.

“Now, I think I’m beginning to understand. First, who have you told about this?”

“The only one that knows about it is my research assistant, Sheri Gompers. And that skinny runt won’t know what to do about it.”

“What have you done with the process itself?”

VonSmults tapped his head. “In here. Only in here. I know you too well, Aaron. I’ve known you way too long. I promise you, I will not write anything down until we have everything all settled. I don’t want you walking away with this like you have everything else. This secret.is mine and I’m not going to let you get your grubby paws on any of it without a guarantee of my fair share.”

Goodpaster let himself smile a bit. “I promise, I don’t want to cheat you out of anything that is properly yours. First, I want to remind you that you are an employee of Yoyodyne, your work is property of Yoyodyne, and I am Yoyodyne.”

“You see, that’s why I keep the process up here and not on paper. You’d dump me faster than last week’s garbage. We are in this together. There will be enough to go around.”

“You’re going to have to let me think about this,” Goodpaster said. “And in the meantime…” he gestured at the frame in VonSmults’ hands.

“We split this,” he said and unfastened the two halves. “You keep one half and I’ll keep one. And I don’t want you to know where.” He slipped each half into a padded Manila envelope and handed one over.

As soon as VonSmults had left Goodpaster walked to the wall and swung a Klee print away and spun the dial of the safe behind. He slid the envelope in and turned back to his desk to sit and think. He tore two yellow legal pages from a pad and wrote on the top of one, “Legitimate Uses,” and on the other, “Criminal Uses.” He started making the lists.

The “Legitimate” page was only half full and he had started the third page of the other when the light on his phone started to blink. It was VonSmults. He hit the voice button. A startled voice screamed out, “Aaron!” when there was a loud crashing boom and the phone went dead. He jumped up from his desk but before rushing out, he stared at the wall safe and decided he had better take the frame with him. He picked up a sturdy leather briefcase and slid the envelope inside.

The building was in a turmoil. As he neared the Innovation Lab he could hear the screams and see the shocked ashen faces on the other workers. He looked in to see Sammy VonSmults spread across the floor, a giant hole blown in his midsection. There was blood everywhere. He quickly looked around for the other half of the frame but could find nothing. He figured that if the killer had the frame, he would be coming for his half next and Goodpaster didn’t want to be around when he was found out. It was easy to move through the confusion and get to the front door of the building.

The summer heat on the sidewalk hit him like a blast furnace. The sidewalk was crowded and down the street some local street kids had opened a fire hydrant and a giant gush of water shot out and formed a river along the gutter, sloshing up around the tires of the parked cars. Kids were jumping, screaming, and splashing, trying to fight the heat. Goodpaster began to move along the sidewalk as quickly as he could. He knew he had to get away, someplace random, someplace away from the other half of the frame before the killer caught up with him. Then he could settle down and plan his next move properly.

Suddenly, his briefcase exploded. Something, blew outward, shattering a hole in the side of the case and spraying metal against the side of the building, shattering the thick reflective glass. Goodpaster realized that it must have been a shotgun blast fired through the frame. He thought of VonSmults and realized the same person must have blasted him at point-blank range while he was trying to make his call. The remains of the briefcase opened up on its shattered hinges and the tattered envelope fell, discharging the metal frame onto the sidewalk. Goodpaster bent over, thankful that it had fallen face down. The killer with the other half of the frame would be looking at a bare concrete sidewalk. He thought quickly, fighting back panic and looking around. Where was the shooter? He could be anywhere. Suddenly, Goodpaster had an idea.

As quickly as he could, he snatched up the frame, holding it by the edges. He leaped sideways toward the fire hydrant, shouldering a kid out of the way, and thrust the frame down and into the powerful stream of water. The torrent suddenly disappeared – swallowed up completely by the frame.

At the same instant, a car ten yards or so down the street exploded. The windshield flew outward, followed by a foaming torrent of water. A nasty looking double barreled sawed off shotgun was borne on this fountain, flying out and clattering onto the sidewalk. The door then burst open and a wave of water surged out, carrying a drenched and pitiful looking skinny woman in a lab coat.

“Sheri!” yelled Goodpaster. “You killed him!”

“You bastard,” was all she could muster. Goodpaster knew she was angry, but she sounded more soggy than threatening. With surprising pluck she raised herself up and began running down the sidewalk, away from Goodpaster. He noticed she was running with the metal frame held in both hands in front of her. He looked into his half and saw that she was holding it pointing towards herself. A mistake.

He braced himself and thrust a fist through his frame, connecting with Sheri’s stomach a half block down the sidewalk. She collapsed to the sidewalk and it was surprisingly easy for Goodpaster to get a firm grip on her narrow throat and clamp down. He had never killed anyone before and imagined that it would be tough to strangle somebody – but it was actually pretty easy. Especially someone that had killed his only friend and true rival. Especially someone that had tried to blast him with a shotgun through a standing quantum meson wave.

It was surprisingly easy to strangle someone with your bare hands when they are almost a half-block away from where you are standing.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Cephalopod From the Fifth Dimension by Bill Chance

“He was back in the water, not braving but frowning, synchronised swimming, not swimming but sinking, toward the godsquid he knew was there, tentacular fleshscape and the moon-sized eye that he never saw but knew, as if the core of the fucking planet was not searing metal but mollusc, as if what we fall toward when we fall, what the apple was heading for when Newton’s head got in the way, was kraken.”
China Miéville, Kraken

Dallas Zoo

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 (#93) 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.


Cephalopod From the Fifth Dimension

Sam Barnburner strolled across the parking lot looking forward to the drive home in his new car. He was texting his girlfriend with one hand, trying to set up dinner for that night, as he thumbed the key fob and the silver door on the SX-3300 Tarkus hissed open. Sam bent to slide into the form-fitting front seat as the colorful instrument panels chirped and began to glow into life. As he settled in his phone suddenly squirted out of his hand like a wet watermelon seed on a hot summer day.

Sam pawed at the air as the phone tumbled through his fingers, arcing across in front of his face, and then it plunged, straight as an arrow, into the narrow gap between the driver’s seat and the center console.

The dealership had tried to sell him two foam cylinders that filled the gap – but the price was outrageous. He said no – he never imagined anything dropping in there. He had been mistaken.

Sam peered into the darkness but couldn’t see the phone. He jerked back as he thought he saw some sort of odd movement down there, something quick, something, somehow, moist.

He leaned in, elbows on the driver’s seat, preparing to go in and reach for the phone. At that moment, Sam heard his phone ring, playing an electronic version of La Cucaracha. Even though the phone could not be more than two feet away, it sounded tinny and distant, with some odd sort of echo.

That’s weird,” Sam said to himself, “must be the insulation and padding down there.”

He stared into the opening, hoping to see the glow of his phone’s screen, but it was dark. Again, he saw a flicker of some sort of movement – so fast he couldn’t be sure. With a deep sigh, Sam braced himself and plunged his arm down beside the console.

He was shocked at how far he reached in. His arm went down way past his elbow, and by pushing hard, he was able to reach down until his shoulder was tight in the gap.

The damn car isn’t even this high off the ground,” he muttered to himself as he began to move his hand around, fishing for the familiar phone. There seemed to be a lot of space… although his upper arm was pinned in the narrow gap, he was able to swing his hand around without hitting anything solid. When he felt something it was oddly smooth and almost… wet.

What kind of crap has been pooling down there,” he shuddered at the thought.

Then, suddenly, something… bit him. It was an unexpected sharp pain, right on the fleshy part of his hand. It really hurt… and, worst of all, when he instinctively jerked his arm back, whatever it was, held on. He had to yank hard.

His paw came loose and he tumbled back, off the seat and out through the door into the parking lot. Sam sat up and stared at his still-throbbing hand. There were two roundish marks, each a little bigger than a quarter – like small circles of teeth marks – deep enough to pierce the skin and a steady flow of blood was running down his arm, dripping off his elbow.

He dug around the floor boards and gathered up a pile of old Taco Bell napkins. He used them to mop up the blood and wrapped the last few around his hand to try and staunch the flow.

Enough of this crap!” he sputtered and started the car. “This car is practically brand new. The dealership will have to take care of this.”

As he pulled into the dealership one of the army of young men with bad haircuts and worse crimson blazers that were running around with clipboards approached his driver’s side and motioned for him to lower his window.

Can I help you, sir?” the blazer spoke with a bored indifference.

Yea, you sure as hell can! My phone – it fell,” Sam gestured at the center console.

Were you bit?” the blazer asked with a nod at his bleeding hand.

Yeah… how did you…?”

That will be the Alternate Reality department. Follow the purple arrows,” the blazer said and quickly turned and walked away.

Looking at the pavement, Sam noticed a huge violet pointer painted on the concrete. It directed him between the showroom and the regular repair shop. Once he reached the back part of the lot, another arrow pointed through a gap cut in the fence, so Sam turned the wheel and moved through. A final arrow directed him to a shabby wooden structure. A hunk of plywood was nailed to the front of the shack with the words, “Alternate Reality Repairs” crudely stenciled on with dark green spray paint. Sam drove up to the front door and tapped his horn.

Two youngish men in dirty gray coveralls came out of the front door, followed by a tall woman in a tight dress. She was older… though her age was difficult to judge because of a thick layer of makeup. Her hair was an unnatural color and piled high on the top of her head, increasing her already intimidating height.

One of the men raised the creaking door on the single repair bay and gestured Sam in. Once inside, Sam climbed out of his car to find the three already there, staring at him. He realized that the two men in coveralls looked exactly the same. One name tag, Tim, the other, Jim. Sam turned to the woman, who was working her jaw and snapping a big wad of gum with every other chew. He had to tilt his head to read her name tag, which was pinned on at a haphazard angle. It said, Myrtle.

Hey! She said, whatcha lose? Wallet? Keys? Lunch?”

Umm… my phone.”

Ahhh,” all three replied, nodding their heads in a knowing way.

We’ll get you taken care of right away,” said the one with the name tag that said Jim. “I’m Tim,” he said, “and this here’s my brother, Jim. We’re twins.”

But your name tags?”

Oh, we never bother with ‘em. We put on what we find first ever’ morning.”

Don’t worry ‘bout the two boys,” Myrtle spoke up. “They’ll get your car fixed in a jiffy. But first, let me take a look at you.”

She moved beside Sam and hooked a meaty arm over his shoulder. She roughly grabbed the wrist of his injured hand and pulled it up for a closer look.

Looks like a nasty little Cephalopod he’s got down there,” she said, tracing the round wounds.

That’s what I thought,” said Jim, or maybe Tim. “Better take a look-see though. Never hurts to be sure” Sam was startled when he saw him pulling on a helmet-like apparatus. It was made of a bird’s-nest of short metal tubes, welded together to fit over his head. On the front was a complex of round glass lenses. Wound through the entire thing was a maze of wires and tiny circuit boards. Jim began to fiddle with the lenses, turning dials and twisting pieces of glass until he found the combination he liked. He turned toward Sam and his eyes were magnified by the lenses until they loomed huge in front of his face. Sam could see the bloodshot lines snaking around the watery iris and murky pupil

Jim gave a little shrug and turned to lean inside Sam’s car. He began peering between the seat and console with the helmet and lenses.

Yeah, sure enough, there’s the Cephalopod. A mean little one. He’s got your phone.”

Good thing it’s your phone,” Tim, or maybe Jim, said. “Last guy in here lost his wallet and that little squid bastard run up twenty grand on his credit cards before we could get him out.”

Alright now, let’s let the boys do their work,” Myrtle said to Sam. “Let me take care of that bite before it gets infected.”

She pulled him into the little office attached to the bay. Sam looked back to see the two twins starting to pick up various small pieces of complex machinery off of the bay floor, stare at them, and bolt them together.

Never mind them, here, sit down and let Myrtle take care of that bite.”

She had a steel bowl on the desk, half full of some green liquid. She pulled the bits of Taco Bell napkin off of Sam’s still bleeding hand and then plunged it into the bowl. It stung. Sam jumped.

Now settle down there. That didn’t hurt all that bad. Now that’ll stop the bleeding, but we need to make sure you don’t get nothing from all this.”

Sam’s eyes grew wide as he watched Myrtle open a worn leather case and extract a huge glass syringe and a pair of small bottles. One bottle contained some sort of sweet-smelling disinfectant and Myrtle dabbed some on a cloth and cleaned the syringe and needle. She then pierced the cap of the second bottle and drew up a full load of a bright orange liquid.

Excuse me, are you a doctor?” asked Sam.

Myrtle snapped her gum louder in an irritated way. “Why no, honey, why would you think that?”

The room began to swim a little and Sam felt suddenly sick.

Oh, you don’t look so good there honey. That bite’s startin’ to get to you a bit. This here shot’ll take care of everything, don’t you worry.”

Sam wasn’t sure why, but he almost believed her. He nodded.

Okey dokey then. Let’s get this in you, OK?”

Sam started to pull up the sleeve of his left arm, but the bite was on the right. “Which arm? Does it matter?” he asked.

Oh no honey. I’m afraid this only works if it goes in the other end. Stand up and drop your trousers like a good boy, and then bend yourself over this desk here.”

Sam was feeling more dizzy every second, he felt he was now past the point of no return, so he leaned against Myrtle and the desk to steady himself and fumbled with his pants. As he leaned with both hands on the desk he saw the green liquid flowing off his hand and noticed that, as Myrtle had promised, the bleeding had stopped and the round marks were fading. He felt Myrtle behind him, fumbling with something. Then she pushed on the back of his neck until he was flat on the desk.

His pants were already around his ankles and Myrtle grabbed his boxers and yanked them down to his knees. Her hands moved over him and he felt the cold sting of the antiseptic.

Hey, boy, not too shabby,” Myrtle said, “Whatcha doing this Saturday anyway?”

As he turned to protest, she drove the syringe needle home and his left cheek felt like it had been stabbed with a hot poker. He let out a scream.

Now, now honey,” Myrtle said. “That’ll fix you up good as new.” She gave him one last slap, which made Sam wince, then pulled up his pants for him. She reached around and held him close as she tightened his belt. “That’s it; now let’s go see what the boys are up to.”

A large apparatus, like a complicated engine hoist made of twisted bars of silvery metal had been assembled and one twin was leaning in the driver’s side door with it, grasping a pair of control sticks, wiggling away.

His brother, still wearing the helmet with the lenses, was leaning in the passenger side, looking down at the console, and shouting out orders.

Left! Left! No! Your other left! Now down, down some more. Ok, wait, wait, Now! Now! Now!”

The brother with the machine yanked back on a stick and then the whole apparatus began to shake violently.

We got it! Pull it out! Before it gets loose.”

The brother with the helmet ripped it off as he ran around the car to help with the machine. With a mighty tug, they pulled the machine back and out of the car. Attached to a vicious looking claw on the end of the arm was a red, wriggling… something. It had a body only about two feet long, but hanging from one end was a writhing mass of long tentacles, flinging themselves around desperately. In the center of the mass was a yellowish beak, snapping open and shut with obvious power.

It was roaring with an awful sound that belied its small size. The room was filled with a nasty stale, spoiled smell, like fish that had been left out too long.

One brother pushed a metal box on wheels over towards the Cephalopod, while the other began hitting it with a length of iron rebar. Something small and solid skittered away and clattered down on the floor. They dropped the thing into the box and slammed the lid.

One brother reached down to pick up the object that had fallen on the floor. He wiped it off with the shop towel he had tucked in this belt, and then handed it to Sam.

Here’s your phone,” he said, “looks like the thing was calling your girlfriend. Conniving bastard. I think she sent it a naked selfie.”

My God! What the hell was that?” cried Sam

We told you, it’s a Cephalopod.”

From Beyond.”

What do you mean?”

From Beyond. From somewhere else.”

It’s all because of the car companies. Lighter cars, faster cars, better gas mileage. They had to do something.”

So they did some work with string theory. Alternate dimensions and such. New materials, advanced production techniques, amazing designs. I’m sure you’ve noticed how reliable and attractive, what amazing performance – in all these new cars.”

But there was a flipside. They had to be careful. Tolerances were very tight. The slightest mistake and…”

Things slip through.”

Things?” asked Sam. “Things like that?”

Yeah, the Cephalopods are probably the most common. There’s lots others though. There’s the snakefish, the wiggling urchins, the sucking bees.”

Them are nasty, them are.”

Why doesn’t anyone know about this?”

Are you kidding? Who would buy a new car if they thought a biting, poisonous squid might be lurking in an alternate reality, a fifth dimension… between the seat and the center console?”

Nobody.”

Nobody.”

Now, there, Sam, Honey. It’s time to talk about the bill,” said Myrtle.

Bill? The car is new. Isn’t it under warranty?”

All three let out a hearty laugh.

Take a good look at your agreement, sweety. I’m afraid that nowhere in there does it state that you are warranted against infection from monsters from another universe. Just get out your little card and pay me. Or else…”

Or else what?”

Or else we open the box.”

Sam shuddered. He pulled his wallet out and handed over a card.

Now there’s the bill for the repair, and the bill for the medical care.”

I have to pay for that? You’re not a doctor. Plus, shouldn’t my health insurance pay…”

Are you covered? Do you have a rider that covers bites from a creature from another dimension? Did you get a specialist referral?”

I see what you mean.”

So you pay for the repair, pay for the medical… and finally, you have to pay for these.” Myrtle held up a plastic package with two long foam tubes. “They don’t let customers with creature removal go home without them installed.”

What are those?”

These go in the space between your seat and console.”

I should have bought those in the first place.”

You sure should.”

Short Story Of the Day – Event Horizon by Bill Chance

“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”
― Terry Pratchett,
Lords and Ladies

Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 165


 

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 (#71) 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.


I stumbled across a facebook group for a weekly flash challenge.

This week is a photo prompt – 750 word limit.

The explanation of the photo in the prompt:

This week’s picture prompt is sadly untraceable. It’s all over pinterest, but I can’t find anyone crediting it. Lots of people calling it street art, but where and by who? I tried loads of foreign sites. Even the Turkey Tribune used this for a poet to write to, but didn’t credit the source of the art. Such a shame cuz I love it but I don’t know where it is or who did it. 


 

Event Horizon

Time is a completely different thing on each side of an event horizon.

When the Dark Empire, violating every tenet of the rules of interstellar war, unleashed the singularity bombs on civilian populations across the galaxy, all fled the doom of the growing black holes. Some escaped in time, but millions were trapped inside. And a few, a cursed few, were caught in between.

When the attack came on New Zoya City, Xander said, “Run Hola, run! Run like your life depends on it, because it does!”

Xander and Hola ran before the oncoming horror, the giant sphere expanding until it looked like a solid wall blown before the wind. He thought they had a chance, but when he realized they were going to be overtaken he tried to push Hola, the love of his life, ahead. But he slipped in his panic and twisted as he fell and she stumbled back into disaster just as the expansion slowed to a stop.

And now, every day, Xander visits the event horizon where only the tip of Hola’s face emerges, only enough for him to recognize, only enough for him to remember.

The newest research by the bio-physicists prove beyond the shadow of a doubt the existence of the soul. After all, without a soul, what is the matrix that consciousness exists upon? But what of a soul that is trapped in an event horizon? Two halves of the soul are moving in different times – what looks frozen is in reality moving at a glacial pace.

Xander stares at that fragment of face, trying to see a tiny wisp of breath or a microscopic quiver of movement. There is nothing.

He is trapped in the event horizon as much as Hola is. And he know it. Trapped by guilt and longing and memory. Does she know it too? Does she hate him as much as he deserves?

These questions and millions more will haunt him as long as he lives and he knows he won’t live a fraction of the time he must to find the answers.

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

It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, of course—for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.”
― C.G. Jung, Aion

Parking Day
Main 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 (#59) 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.

 


Chrysalis

Amy McKay’s husband, Barney, always claimed that he had been abducted by aliens. Multiple times.

On their first date, for Pizza and Beer at Bennie’s restaurant, he had said, “I think they keep coming back to me because they are studying me over the course of my life.”

“All your life?”

“Yeah the first time, I was just a little kid, walking around in the park. My parents said it wasn’t safe. They were right, but for the wrong reason.”

“You were abducted?”

“Yeah. I don’t remember much… buzzing, flashing lights, a funny smell. It’s been different every time since, but always the same smell. I think it must be what they smell like.”

Amy decided that that was going to be her last date with Barney. She did not want to deal with a nutcase like that.

She was wrong. He was so nice and her choices so limited… and he didn’t talk about the aliens very often, so she stuck with him.

She learned the places he claimed to have been abducted from and steered him away when others were with them. It was embarrassing, for example, to be in the backseat of a car with another couple and to have Barney say, in a very matter-of-fact voice as they drove past a copse of trees, “Oh, there’s one of the places where I was abducted by aliens. I was taking a pee behind those trees, and a beam came down and grabbed me, lifted me up into the ship. Barely finished in time. Those aliens don’t seem to care much about our daily routines.”

They dated for a year, engaged for another, and were married. Amy came to view his stories of alien abduction as an odd quirk, like a funny laugh, or a strange birthmark. It helped that there didn’t seem to be any new abductions. Barney actually seemed to be a little disappointed, like something fun had gone out of his life.

“Maybe they aren’t interested in married humans – only single ones,” he would say, with a wistful sigh, like an old man pining for his untamed youth. Amy and Barney began to talk about having children.

And then Barney disappeared. Her friends assumed he had developed cold feet and run off.

“You are better off without him.”

“Men nowadays are nothing more than children, they are afraid of commitment.”

“You have more options now than ever before.”

Amy would nod her head in agreement. Once they started talking about children Barney had bailed on her. Still, it was odd that there was no trace of him at all. Panicky husbands don’t disappear completely. Amy talked to the police, and they were sympathetic, but she had the feeling that their investigation was half-hearted. She knew they, like everyone else, assumed he simply left her and skipped town.

As the days dragged on, Amy began to think about his stories of alien abduction. Maybe there was something after all.

Finally, she gave in and admitted to herself that he was really gone, gone for good. She decided to clean out his stuff from the house, and then move on.

He had spent a lot of time in his basement workshop – a small room with rock walls and heavy wooden workbenches that always smelled damp and moldy. It was too claustrophobic for Amy and she rarely descended the steep staircase. She had not been down there in over a year. But she knew that as long as his tools and scraps of metal and wood were down there she would always be reminded of Barney. It all had to go. She gathered a shovel, a broom, and a case of heavy trash bags and lugged it all down the stairs.

Right away she tripped over something on the narrow floor. Reaching down into the cramped space around her feet she picked up a dusty set of clothes. It was Barney’s denim overalls, and the lumberjack shirt he always wore under them. There was his old stained and tattered underwear and his socks worn with holes. She fumbled around his workboots, slathered with dried mud, to find his wallet still stuffed with two hundred dollars. She felt something heavy and jingling and discovered it was his leather tool belt, with his favorite implements still attached.

But where was Barney? Amy began to panic – there is no way he would leave without these prized possessions. Maybe the aliens had grabbed him after all – swooped him up and spirited away, leaving his clothes and personal belongings behind.

Then she saw it.

It was about four feet long, maybe two feet across, and a rough oblong shape… the form of a big, thick cigar. It was a light beige, and a little fuzzy, like newly dead moss. The surface looked layered, as if it was made of thick paper, wrapped around itself in random directions – loose in some places, solid in others.

Barney. Amy wasn’t sure how she knew, but it was. The aliens had finally done it – they had transformed him into this… thing. She stared at it and after what seemed to be a long, long, time, she touched it. It seemed to respond to her touch, quivering a little. Instead of being slimy or unpleasant, it felt solid and warm, and not frightening at all.

Amy fetched her biggest, strongest quilt. She brought it down the steep stairs and wrapped the thing in it and then wedged it over to the stairs. It was a lot heavier that it looked – Amy decided that although it was quite a bit smaller than Barney – it weighed about the same thing that he did… or had.

Taking gulps of air, she managed to haul the thing, step by step, protected by the quilt, up the steep stairs into the kitchen. She levered it up onto a chair, then onto the kitchen table and removed the quilt.

The thing seemed to glow in the light and Amy thought it quivered in a happy way, glad to be out of that moldy basement and into the light. She hoped that it was glad for her company too.

As the days went by, Amy became more used to the thing actually being her husband, Barney, and would look forward to talking to it as it sat on the kitchen table. She would go out in the day and save up some story to tell the thing as she sat at home with dinner and a cup of hot chocolate.

“You know, everybody thinks you’re gone now. And I don’t tell them any different,” she would say.

“Jimmy Dresden, the packer at the Piggly Wiggly, was sure making the eyes at me. He kept asking about the dance down at the City Building this weekend but I put him straight right away. ‘You know Jimmy, I already got me a husband.’ ‘But he’s gone some six months now, Amy, don’t you think it’s time you got to steppin’ out a little.’ I told him, ‘It seems like he’s here with me ever’ day.’ And that’s the truth,” Amy said, “You’re here with me ever’ day and we have these nice talks.”

Barney was never one for a lot of words before, so it didn’t seem different now. Instead of a grunt or a bored sigh the thing would quiver and that was good enough.

As the weeks went by the thing began to change. It became smoother, sleeker and darker. It went from the light beige to an uneven honey color. Then on to a dark copper shade and finally to a glossy black.

Amy realized she had seen this before. When she was a little girl, her brother, who was always messing around with bugs and animals and whatnot had put a caterpillar in a jar with some sticks and leaves.

“Come Look!” he had called her. The worm had spun a cocoon and over a period of weeks it had changed in the same way that this thing was. She looked up cocoon in a dictionary and then shouted out, “Chrysalis! That’s what it is!”

“Them aliens have gone and made my Barney into something else.” She stared at the chrysalis for a long time and then shouted at it, “Barney? I wonder what they are going to make you into?”

As the chrysalis became darker and larger and more stretched she began to spend more time staring at it and talking to it. It did look like something inside was growing and was going to start to try and break out.

There was also this smell. An odd odor began wafting around the chrysalis, getting stronger and stronger every day. Amy didn’t think it smelled bad so much as… just different. It smelled alien. She dug an old box fan out of the back closet and set it up to try and get some air on the thing.

“You always said that those aliens, when they abducted you, had a crazy smell ‘bout themselves. I guess this is it,” she said, speaking directly to the chrysalis. It quivered a little.

Amy fell into a comfortable routine with the chrysalis. The only problem was that she couldn’t have anybody, not her sisters, nor her mom, nor her cousins, nor especially Jimmy Dresden from the Piggly Wiggly who had kept up his relentless pursuit, from ever coming over to the house.

She told herself that it was to keep from raising suspicion, but she had even gone to the movies with Jimmy Dresden a couple times and even consented to driving down to the lake late for some cold beers from the cooler Jimmy always kept in the back of his convertible.

Amy was fighting in her mind whether to tell the chrysalis about this while she was driving home one afternoon. She had decided to put it off a little longer and come up with a more innocuous story to help keep the chrysalis entertained.

“Hey, honey, she shouted as she came through the back screen door, “You’ll never guess what happened down in the church parking lot last Sunday after services….”

When she reached the kitchen she dropped her grocery bag on the floor. The chrysalis was gone. In its place was a small loose pile of dark brown thin papery remnants. Amy gasped and then heard someone moving around in the back bedroom.

Before she could find her bearings Barney walked out of the bedroom, right up to her, placed his hands on her shoulder and a bright kiss on her cheek.

“Hey honey, it’s so good to be back.”

Amy stepped back to get a good look. It was Barney all right, but Barney that was a little smoother, a little more solid, maybe even a little younger.

“Is everything OK honey?” he asked. His voice was deeper than she remembered, more melodious. His voice had always grated on her a bit, especially after years of marriage, but this voice was like liquid silk.

“Umm I guess so,” she stammered. “You just caught be by surprise.”

Barney looked different. And he had never smelled like that. He smelled like the chrysalis… that odd smell that had been growing stronger. She decided she didn’t like that, didn’t like it at all.

“Umm, Honey, you haven’t been out of the house in so long. Why don’t you take a quick shower and we can head to town for the evening,” Amy suggested with a hopeful note in her voice.

Barney simply smiled.

“Sure, Amy. That sounds like a great plan. But… there’s something I want to take care of first.”

Barney turned and pushed open the door to the basement.

“Come on down here honey, there’s something I want you to see. Something important.”

Amy felt a gulp in her throat. Even though she didn’t understand how, she knew what was waiting for her. She thought about turning and making a run for it… but Barney looked so happy, so good, so young… it was probably a change for the better.

“Will I be conscious… will I be aware of the time in the chrysalis?”

Barney just smiled.

Amy decided to go. She only hoped she could get used to the smell.

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

“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
― Stanisław Lem, Solaris

Flock in Space, Ruben Ochoa
Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

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

Thanks for reading.


 

Radio Radio

Winston Devine was always something of a hoarder… not too bad, but he liked his stuff. The quarantine lockdown kept him from going to his favorite thrift store and it was hard on him. When things began to free up and Thrift World opened for two hours a day (with social distancing and a mask requirement) Winston was excited.

There is a certain smell of a big thrift store – mostly a slight musty odor from those vast racks of used clothes – and Winston was happy that Thrift World still had it. It brought back such good memories of bargains found and purchased. He had a route through the store where he wound looking for what he was interested in. He always found things he liked – he was looking for different things than the usual poverty-stricken denizen was.

It the back corner was a giant plastic bin full of obsolete, useless electronics. Single and scuffed speakers, old phones, DVD players, audio cassette recorders, phone answering machines, overhead projectors, VCRs, broken printers, fax machines… all the detritus of fast-changing technology. A hand lettered sign was taped to the wall, “Old Electric.” The items were tagged with color-coded stickers indicating the price.

Winston couldn’t help a quick dig. At the least it sent a surge of nostalgia through him. From near the bottom he lifted out what looked like an old radio. It reminded of a portable tube set that his father had when he was a little kid.

Clad in reddish leather it was a rectangular box about the size of a loaf of bread. It even had a leather strap handle on the top like the one his father had owned. It sported a purple dot which Winston knew represented a buck. For a dollar he’d buy it – even if it didn’t work.

At home he sat down at his kitchen table with the bargain, excited to figure out if he could it to do something. His father’s old radio had opened up with two snaps on the back and contained a huge plastic tube that required nine “D” batteries – electronics from that age weren’t very efficient.

But on this unit the back was featureless leather. Turning it over, there was no opening on the sides or bottom, either. The top only contained the carrying strap.

“How the hell does this thing get power?” he muttered to himself.

On the front there were two large silver knobs on either side – one labeled “Vol” the other “Tun.” Between them was a linear tuning dial with three lines and a red slider that moved across it. Below the dial was a simple sliding switch.

“Well, that looks right,” he said to nobody.

But that was all there was. It was too simple, there should have been more stuff on it. He was confused because there was no logo or brand name… no “Zenith” or “GE” emblazoned proudly. Maybe it had fallen off.

Winston gave the volume knob a twist and after a click the tuning dial lit up with a strong blue glow. The thing worked! He was elated.

The slide switch had three positions. AM, FM, and the third had a symbol that looked like a stylized swirl. He set it to AM, turned the volume up and began to scan.

Each time he turned the tuning knob, even a fraction, sound began to come out of the radio. It was crisp and distinct. Winston smiled as he thought about how well stuff was made back then.

The odd thing was, the stations weren’t all in English. Few were, as a matter of fact. As he tuned he realized the radio was picking up stations from all over the world. Picking them up strong and clear like they were right next door. It was receiving hundreds of stations.

When he reached the end of the dial, he switched the radio to FM and moved back down. Again, every tiny movement tuned in another station from somewhere in the world, strong and distortion free. There was no static. There was music from all genres and talk in every imaginable language.

Winston was confused. He had no idea how this thing was working like that. Then he noticed something else. The radio had no speaker grill. He turned it around in his hands and could not figure out where the music was coming from. It seemed to be radiating out of the whole radio in all directions. And he noticed that the radio was pristine. The leather was completely unmarked… no scratches or stains. The dials were perfect. How was that possible on an old radio that ended up in a thrift store?

He was beginning to freak out. There was no way this was possible. On the other hand, it was an amazing bargain. He had only paid a buck for it. It had AM and FM bands – but what was that third switch position. Maybe it was short wave.

He looked more closely at the dial. On the FM and AM lines were numbers, frequencies, like he expected. On the third line, however there was a series of small circles. Each circle was labeled in tiny lettering that read:

Arcturus

Betelgeuse

Canopus

Capella A

Capella B

Deneb

Fomalhaut

Mimosa

Pollux

Procyon

Rigel

Sirius

Spica

Vega

These were names of stars, he recognized that. Looking at the sliding switch he realized that the symbol on the third position was a stylized galaxy. It was crazy.

Taking a deep breath, he tuned the radio to Arcturus and switched the band to the galaxy. Immediately an odd series of clicks and tones started pouring out of the radio. He had never heard anything remotely like those sounds. They were completely alien. Alien. The word stuck in his mind.

He began to turn the dial, working through the names. Each one had a completely different sound – Betelgeuse was an odd wailing, while Canopus sounded almost like whale song with an oboe playing in the background. Capella A and B sounded similar, though A was at a higher pitch. Nothing, though was familiar at all… it was all… alien.

Until he reached Sirius. When the red line crossed that little circle Winston was shocked to hear “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys in perfect clarity. When it ended, the old doo-wop classic “Earth Angel” played. The next song was an ancient instrumental by The Ventures, “Telstar.” Winston had always liked that song.

After the guitar faded away Winston was jolted when a voice came over the radio. It was an odd voice – he couldn’t decide if it was male of female, young or old. It had no discernible accent and Winston decided it was an absolute perfect generic voice.

“Welcome all you listeners from across the known galaxy to our afternoon show, Sounds of Earth. Our agents are working hard recording the music and culture of that little planet for the archives. Their time and their job is almost over. Once the invasion is accomplished, the population enslaved, and the planet stripped we want to preserve as much as we can in the unlikely case they produced anything of lasting value. In the meantime we select what we think you might enjoy and let you hear it before it’s gone.”

“Next up, Space Oddity by a human singer named David Bowie.”

Winston turned the radio off. He was shaking and sweat was pouring down his face. He walked into his living room and turned on the television. He was relieved when the normal pair of newscasters appeared on the screen sitting behind their usual desk. There was no panic and no mention of an alien invasion.

The male announcer said to his partner, “Well, Wendy, twenty twenty has been quite a year. The pandemic, political insanity, then the demonstrations and the riots. We can hope that soon, things will start to improve. Twenty one will have to be a better year.”

“That’s right Chad,” his partner replied. “What could possibly happen next? I can’t imagine things getting worse than this.”

Winston couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as he said to the screen, “Worse? Oh, I’m afraid you have no idea how much worse it is going to get.”

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Life at the Baker by Bill Chance

“He thinks money spent on a home is money wasted. He’s lived too much in hotels. Never the best hotels, of course. Second-rate hotels. He doesn’t understand a home. He doesn’t feel at home in it. And yet, he wants a home. He’s even proud of having this shabby place. He loves it here.”
― Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night

 

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 (#33 – One third of the 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.

 


A handful of miles west of the DFW Metroplex is a smallish town of 15,000 called Mineral Wells, Texas. The town has a surprisingly interesting and colorful past. I especially like that one claim was that the well water could help “crazy” people. Modern analysis reportedly shows a significant amount of lithium in it.

One remnant from history is the Baker Hotel. It’s a huge fourteen story rambling luxurious ruin completely out of place in that sleepy Texas town. Closed for generations and tumbling into decay. There have been several attempts bring it back to glory. Let’s hope the latest one is successful.

I go to Mineral Wells every now and then to go camping at the State Park or ride my mountain bike. Whenever I do I go by the Baker, look it over, and think about what it once was and what it is now. If they do manage to renovate it (and I wonder about how likely this is – from the article: “make sense of a $65 million redo of a building that’s projected to be worth only $40 million once the renovation is complete”) we need to go some weekend and have a big party.

At any rate – the hotel inspired me to write this dystopian story.

 


Life at the Baker

The Generators woke Benny as they passed on their way to work through the corridor outside his room. Young, boisterous, and pumped up, they were always loud before they spent the night pedaling the generators in the Baker Hotel’s gym, providing what feeble electric light they could.

Benny crawled from bed and raised the one untaped corner of the thick aluminum reflective paper that covered his window, peering out to make sure the last sliver of the burning sun had dipped below the horizon. The night was going to be hot but the day was unbearable. It was still two days from his allotted bath – he dipped the corner of a towel in the stagnating basin of water and rubbed his face as best he could. There was a rustle as Benny’s TODO list slid under the door. Picking it up, he sighed as he saw the length of it. He lifted the heavy canvas bag of tools to his shoulder and shuffled out to go to work.

At the end of the long corridor, Benny pulled the string that rang the bell for the elevator. Soon after he heard the wheezing of the Operator as he worked the crank that raised the wire cage up to Benny’s floor.

“Evening, Operator,” Benny said. “Hot one today.”

“Hot one every day, Fixer,” the Operator replied in the standard greeting at the Baker.

At the bottom, Benny left, carrying his bag off into the maze of pipes that crisscrossed the subbasement.

Grumbling as he looked down the list, he thought about which task to tackle first.

“Room 713 has no water,” he said to himself, “and the toilet in 456 is stopped up… forget that one, haha!… Oh, and the kitchen needs more steam.”

Benny could get steam going to the kitchen without climbing from the subbasement, so he decided on that. He pulled a big wrench from the bag, then walked over to his locker and opened it up. The shelves were sagging from the weight of hundreds of manuals, stuffed in tight.

Soon after arriving at the Baker, Benny had found the manuals in a forgotten closet deep under what used to be the boiler room. He had been squatting there, hungry, and avoiding being found when he stumbled across the manuals, which he realized could help him repair almost everything the Baker.

That gave him a job and a legitimate place in the Baker’s society. He was the Fixer. The job was life. Without it he would be back in the Wilderness and nobody survived long there. He thumbed through the manuals until he found a diagram of the steam system.

In the dim flickering light coming from the Generators pedaling away high above he began to climb through the labyrinth of pipes until he found what he believed was the steam pipe that fed the kitchen. All the hot water and steam came from a wood-powered boiler set up outside on what used to be Baker’s tennis court. Benny knew the Scavengers were having trouble finding fuel because certain areas of the hotel were rapidly losing their wooden furniture.

Still, though, it was working at least a little, gauging from the wisps of vapor that left the rusting pipes at the loose joints. Benny used his wrench to twist the steam valves that fed the rest of the hotel, squeezing off their supply – just a little – and opening fully the one that fed the kitchen. That should help – and nobody else would notice, hopefully – the steam pressure had been failing for a long time and a little less wouldn’t raise a concern. Nobody needed heat anyway though a few other things did still run on steam.

He decided to walk up to the kitchen and see if Cook would give him anything for his work… plus he could check out what the Scavengers had brought in after their daylight expedition. He didn’t understand how they could stand being outside all day – but he knew their survival depended on it.

He found the Cook and asked about the steam.

“Hey! I think I fixed the steam, how is it?”

The Cook laconically turned a tap, and watched a small cloud of vapor sneak out. Benny thought that was wasteful, but he didn’t dare say anything. If the Cook didn’t like you, you went hungry.

“Well,” the Cook said after a long pause, “It looks like it’s a bit stronger now.”

“Good!” Benny said. “I fixed it didn’t I… Did the scavengers bring anything in?” He raised his voice in anticipation and excitement.

The Cook grumbled and started rummaging around in a bag he had stashed under the counter.

“I suppose you did, Fixer. I guess this is yours then,” the Cook said in a resigned tone. He rolled something cylindrical across the metal counter and Benny caught it as it fell off on his side. He raised it up to get a good look.

The label on the can was torn, only about half of it was left – but Benny was able to make out the large black letters “GHETT” and under that a bit of a photo of round pasty circles floating in faded sauce.

“Spaghetti O’s, Thanks, Cook! I remember these from when I was a little kid. My mom used to make ‘em up – she’d dump them in a bowl and heat them in the microwave. Beep! Beep! Hot food! Every day! Jeez, those were the days.”

The Cook stared at Benny with sad and bored eyes. Benny thought he had better get out of there before The Cook changed his mind, so with a wave of the precious can, he skipped out through the hinged double doors into the dining room.

When he saw that there were hungry folks huddled in small groups in the big room he quickly shoved the can into a pocket. No reason to make people jealous.

 

The Beginning is the End and the End is the Beginning

Sic Mundus Creatus Est

—-Dark

Dark

So, I wrote a blog entry the other day about my introduction to the Netflix series Dark. If you want to get a weird piece of television wedged in your noggin so deep it will never slip out – watch it while you are sick and right out of the hospital.

Last night I woke up at three in the morning – not sure why. But stretched out there in the Dark, I realized that it was early Saturday, June 27, 2020… the day the world ended.

The Date of the Dark Apocalypse

A few days earlier I had wondered how Netflix dropped their series and had done a web search and discovered that they usually go live at midnight eastern… which was one AM here. That meant….

So I stumbled out into the living room and fired up the big TV and, sure enough, there it was… the whole eight episode third and final season. I dialed up episode one of the new shows.

There are folks sleeping at that hour, but luckily with Dark and its German dialog and English subtitles I didn’t have to turn the sound up very much. The on-screen descriptions of the soundtrack were handy, but distracting (“Ominous Music” “Two Metallic Clicks” “Heavy Breathing” “Slurred Female Voice) – have to see if I can turn those off.

No spoilers here… there is an alternate universe (you already know that) and more crazy time travel (and you already know that) – so more places, more times, and some new, mysterious characters – and that’s all I’ll say. There are plenty of recaps and reviews and speculation and such out there – that isn’t my thing (either to read or to write).

So, I’m not as big of a series addict… and don’t know what to do. What’s the best way to watch these things? I talked to some people and they are all about binging – watching the whole thing as quickly as possible. One big advantage of that with Dark is that it is so complex it would be good to minimize the time to forget between episodes.

But I also want to stretch it out some. I really enjoy this thing – I’d like to get at least a few days of mysterious glee out of it. I watched one episode, went back to bed, and have watched another today. That will probably be what I’ll do – one episode a day for eight days.

Is that cool? How do y’all watch these series? Binged or spread out?

 

Sic Mundus Creatus Est

“The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”
― Albert Einstein

Dark

It was almost a year ago when I became seriously ill during a writing event in New Orleans (this year’s event has been cancelled – not sure if I would have gone – will try to go next year). The blog entry is here: Back From the Shadows Again.

So I spent a couple days in intensive care and a few more in the Tulane Medical center. When I was released I was very weak and spent a week at my son’s apartment on Poydras until I felt strong enough to make it back to Dallas.

I spent most of my time there sleeping or struggling with reality. My son Lee has a studio apartment with a massive HD television that dominates the longest wall. While I was fading in and out of this world, he was binge watching some incredibly strange German-language television show. He apologized for ignoring me and watching for hours on end – but I needed to be left alone so I could rest and it was fine. I was not completely conscious and looking at the television from an angle – I was not sure exactly what I was seeing (and could not read the subtitles). What I thought I saw was extremely odd and sort of disturbing and haunted my illness-enhanced dreams.

The view from my son Lee’s apartment – New Orleans, Louisiana

“Lee, what the hell are you watching?” I asked.

“Dark.” Was his reply.

When I made it back to Dallas I had to see what it was that Lee had binged and I had sort-of been subjected to.

Sure enough, it was Dark – the first Netflix original German Language series. There had been two seasons so far, with a third (and final) one scheduled for the future. Eventually, as my life returned to normal, I watched the thing – eagerly expecting something odd and original.

It certainly was that and more. True to its title, it is dark. It is a strange, incredibly complex tale of time travel and evil that makes Stranger Things (which it is sometimes mistakenly compared to) look like Fuller House. The fact that it is in German makes it even more exotic (dubbing is available but not recommended). I really enjoyed it – even though I had to take extensive notes and do online research after each episode to try and keep up with the convoluted and confusing tangle of characters (most appear at different times and different ages – everyone is related to everyone else in unexpected ways).

Certain scenes had been burned into my mind from that New Orleans sick bed – it was fun to see them reappear in context. The discovery of the “God Particle” in the future (and in the past) was one.

The God Particle

And now the third (and final) season is about to drop (June 27, 2020 – the day of the Dark apocalypse). So I’m re-binging the original (a couple episodes a day as I ride my spin bike) and refreshing my notes.

The Date of the Dark Apocalypse

You only have a few days left – be there or be square.

The question is not where – it is when.