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.

Borne

“Once, it was different. Once, people had homes and parents and went to schools. Cities existed within countries and those countries had leaders. Travel could be for adventure or recreation, not survival. But by the time I was grown up, the wider context was a sick joke. Incredible, how a slip could become a freefall and a freefall could become a hell where we lived on as ghosts in a haunted world.”
Jeff VanderMeer, Borne

Chihuly Glass (click to enlarge)

 

I have now read all the Borne series of books and stories by Jeff VanderMeer, pretty much – as far as I know… but the thing is I read them out of order. And I think that was a good thing.

   First of all was the newest Borne book – The Dead Astronauts, which I read on behest of the Wild Detectives Book Club (back in the day when you would actually go to a book club). The book was incredibly weird – so difficult to read that I thought that would be the end of the Borne Dystopia for me.

    But before I finished The Dead Astronauts I stumbled across and online short story/novela written about the same world – quite a bit earlier as it turns out – The Situation. This detailed a very strange world but told the story in a familiar way – the destruction of everything told as a story of corporate back-stabbing. I really enjoyed The Situation and that led me to check out The Strange Bird from the library and devour that short novel. It too told a strange tale but was written in a familiar style – that of a quest or journey. It was set in the same world and had a few characters in common with the other two works – enough to continue to increase my interest.

    So, I bought a copy of the central novel in the series Borne – and finished it late last night. It was really good, a crackerjack of a novel. The most complete of the books, it explains a lot of what what mysterious and curious in the others… explains some, maybe not a lot, really, … and definitely not everything.

    At the book club discussion of The Dead Astronauts someone describe Borne as a love story.  And it is the typical girl finds odd plant in fur of giant bear, girl falls in love with plant, plant turns out not to be a plant but a ruthless killer, girl loses plant/killer, and finally girl discovers her love is something else entirely type of story. Yeah, it is a love story.

    Having read it last it was inevitable that I would read it trying to ferret out the connections with the other works. The three Dead Astronauts from their own epynomous novel made an appearance in Borne but they didn’t do much probably because they were dead. The story of The Strange Bird and Borne are dovetailed – the identical tale told from two different points of view and in very different styles – the same characters populate both.

   The Situation is a prequel to all the others. It contains the origin of the Giant Bear, Mord, along with other clues. In Borne, it is strongly hinted that Wick is the narrator of The Situation but I wasn’t absolutely sure. In researching this, I came across a graphic version of The Situation  from Tor books – where Wick is named explicitly. Now I wonder if Scarskirt is the Magician from Borne and The Strange Bird. She is described as someone who “stared at reflective surfaces all day” which is a connection. I don’t know – but it’s fun to speculate. At any rate, click that link and look at the drawings – they are very good.

  So now I’m done with Borne and I can get back to reading Zola. Except… now I’m thinking about VanderMeer’s Annihilation (I liked the movie) and the rest of its Southern Reach trilogy. We’ll see. So many books, so little time.

    By the way, I’ve been reading rumors that AMC has optioned Borne for a miniseries. Wow, I have no idea how this goes onto the screen. It would be like a science fiction version of Game of Thrones… except on acid.

Short Story (flash fiction) of the day, Last Long Night by Lina Rather

Back home, we’d be treated for space sickness and starlust, our brains scanned and studied for signs that our grey matter had deteriorated in the vacuum. We’d be swaddled in hospitals, kept barefoot and away from the night sky until we stopped dreaming of plumed nebulas and stopped thinking we could hear the music of the spheres in C minor.

—-Lina Rather, Last Long Night

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Pearl

 

I’m picking streaming movies out – looking for clickbait web articles like “Ten Netflix Movies You Never Thought of Watching” and carefully copying names, reviews, and synopsis into text files for safekeeping. Then I watch them while I ride my spin bike. Candy and a friend were drinking wine a couple months ago and ordered new big flat-screen TV’s on a whim. When it arrived I took the old big flat screen and mounted it in front of my spin bike – filling my view. It’s a way to watch stuff and still get exercise.

Last night I watched High Life – an odd science fiction movie with Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche directed by Claire Denis.

I’m of mixed feelings about the movie. It is a unique vision – done with a lot of talent. It undoubtedly has amazing moments (Willow growing up, for example) and offers up a lot to think about. Ultimately… I don’t know… worth a watch but not completely satisfying.

Today’s flash fiction is very similar in setting and theme to the movie. Reading it made me think of the movie right away. I think I like the story better… partially for the fact that it has a similar reaction for a much smaller investment (in money and time). It is distilled.

Read it here:

Last Long Night by Lina Rather

from Flash Fiction Online

Lina Rather homepage

Lina Rather Twitter

Short Story of the Day – Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

Many lungs are returned to the same filling station the next day, but just as many circulate to other stations when people visit neighboring districts; the lungs are all identical in appearance, smooth cylinders of aluminum, so one cannot tell whether a given lung has always stayed close to home or whether it has traveled long distances. And just as lungs are passed between persons and districts, so are news and gossip. In this way one can receive news from remote districts, even those at the very edge of the world, without needing to leave home, although I myself enjoy traveling. I have journeyed all the way to the edge of the world, and seen the solid chromium wall that extends from the ground up into the infinite sky.

—-Ted Chiang, Exhalation

Stairway to Heaven
James Suris
Steel, Paint
Art District, Dallas, Texas

There is this peculiar thrill when you read something that was written by someone so much smarter than you that you stare at the page in amazement – gobsmacked by the arrangement of letters done in a way you know you could never do.

Today’s short story:

Exhalation, by Ted Chiang from Lightspeed Magazine

Have you seen the film Arrival? If not, why not?

It’s based on Ted Chiang’s novella, The Story of Your Life – and it too is so intelligent (both the novella and the movie) that you are a better person simply by experiencing it. The world grows, if only just a little.

The only bad thing is the jealousy. I, for example, can’t do that.

Sunday Snippet – from “Toesucking in Albania”

“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy – in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

St. Vincent’s, New Orleans

Oblique Strategy: You can only make one dot at a time

Snippet from a novel I’ve worked on off and on – originally from Nanowrimo
Working title – Toe Sucking in Albania


Sanibar crawled up over the ridge, watching the handheld tracker that indicated the position of Boromech’s flyer. He had placed a remote bug on the machine a week before and now it was time to see it pay off.

He knew that Boromech and Wenwiki had landed somewhere not too far over the edge and he would be able to see them once he cleared the crest. He folded his flyer and wedged it behind a rock and pulled out the powerful pair of stabilized digital tele-binoculars that he had ordered from offworld.

Down on his belly, Sanibar wiggled across the scree and cleared the ridge between two rust-red ragged boulders. The rock was warm from the bright sun; Sanibar wiped the sweat from his eyes and looked down into the valley past the ridge. His eyes were shocked with the bright green he spotted there, and it took a minute to recognize the valley as Area 51B25, a spot he himself had discovered and explored a year earlier.

This part of the planet, surrounding the dessicated edge of the drying salty inland sea, was, for the most part, lifeless and barren. Only small pockets, like Area 51B25, were able to support verdant vibrant life. The last sliver of an ancient dying glacier nestled up between the high peaks to the south, sent a constant dribble of meltwater down into the valley where it pooled into a turquoise lake, protected by the rugged ridges on either side. The lake slowly leaked water into the shattered rock valley where the roots of the strange alien forest drank it up. This little isolated pocket of forest was an orphaned echo of the vast jungles that were killed off along the toxic edge of the wasteland they created with the mining.

Sanibar had found this verdant valley during his initial survey of the sector. Between the steep and rugged ridges on either side and the high peaks to the south, it was hidden and would never be spotted by anyone not going right down into the gorge itself. He recorded it on the official maps, then made sure it had been buried deep in the central reports and he never told anyone about it. He knew the Rest and Recreation Corps would go nuts about it. They would build a rec facility on the shore of the little lake, blast trails through the woods, and put up some cabins in the most beautiful spots. They would give out weekend passes to people that had put in the most overtime, shipped the most product, or, more likely, kissed the most asses. Sanibar didn’t want this – he wanted to keep the hidden little green valley to himself.

After plotting for a month, he finally managed to get Wenwiki to go there with him. He had everything planned to the smallest detail – he had hauled in some stolen furniture, making a nice table and a couple comfortable chairs – up on a flat, rocky spot with a drop-dead beautiful view. He had paid the cook off to make a special meal for two, complete with rare off-world ingredients smuggled in on a mail run from home. Sanibar lied to Wenwiki and said he had prepared the picnic feast himself. He was even able to procure a bottle of fine old vintage – something unheard of on a remote mining base.

When he asked Wenwiki to go on a picnic with him and she committed to an afternoon three days away, she seemed honestly and truly excited. The three days of waiting were both hellish and heavenly for Sanibar. Both enervated with fear and ecstatic with anticipation, time clicked by in endless slow slivers. Finally the chosen appointment day and hour creeped up.

His extensive, expensive, and exhausting preparations complete, Sanibar flew his cleaned and polished flyer, complete with sidecar over to Wenwiki’s quarters and rang and rang. She wasn’t there. A neighbor cracked her door and said she had seen Wenwiki down at the cleaning station, doing her weekly laundry. His heart sinking, Sanibar flew over to the station and there she was. Wenwiki had forgotten. Sanibar was reduced to pleading, and after finishing a load of clothing, Wenwiki finally agreed to go with him after all.

But the day was ruined. Wenwiki seemed distant, her mind elsewhere. Sanibar’s careful preparations were for nothing. She picked at her food, refused the vintage, and simply nodded when Sanibar pointed out the rare beauty of the spot. Though the forecast had been for perfect weather, a small rogue storm tumbled down the steep slopes of the high peaks and dumped a sudden, cold, sodden shower onto the picnic. They abandoned the outing after only a short stint and Wenwiki was adamant about finishing her laundry when they returned and insisted on finishing it alone.

Sanibar was devastated. Back in his quarters he was racked with compulsive sobs of disappointment. He hurled the vintage against the bathroom sink and cut his feet on the shattered shards of the bottle. A long, sleepless night, and the next day Wenwiki was at breakfast laughing and acting as if nothing had happened. Now, thinking back about it, Sanibar realized that was the first morning he had seen Wenwiki sitting in the cafeteria with Boromech.

And now she had brought Boromech to his personal spot. A cold, bitter, sharp lump began crawling up from his gut as he wiggled his way into a hidden spot along the ridge crest and feeling sharp shards of rock digging into his propped elbows brought his digital binoculars up to his eyes and started to scan.

There they were. Boromech’s flyer landed and the two of them standing in each other’s arms along the light rippled shore. They were both barefoot, their four black work boots leaning against the flyer. Sanibar couldn’t see any supplies except for a large padded packing blanket spread out between the flyer and the lake and what looked like a small pile of soft folded towels. After a few minutes Wenwiki pushed Boromech away they began laughing about something. Sanibar wished he had put a sound transmitter on the tracking bug he had concealed in the flyer… but he gritted his teeth… thinking they were laughing at him.