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 – 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), The Wave of Omega Grunion by Bill Chance

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

Wankelfish

Wankelfish

 

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

Thanks for reading.


The Wave of Omega Grunion

It was completely dark and Polonius Bunting gazed out over the vast masses of swirling stars. The perfectly flat ground of the Mirror Plain stretched out in all directions. The perfect reflection of the glass made the horizon impossible to see. The reflected stars looked identical to the real ones.

The meteors were streaking the sky – a thousand a minute. How many were space rocks and how many were chunks of metal from the war? He had heard that before the war falling stars were rare. He could see the streaks in the sky and reflected on the ground – watch the falling stars reflected right down to his feet.

Polonius saw the glow in the east. He still had a few minutes and as the glow grew and crowded out the stars he checked the Racer one last time.

He pulled a small gauge from the front of his coveralls and made sure the huge tires were inflated to the correct pressure. He ran his hands over the stiff rubber surface, felt the deep channels of the tread. If all the Racer had to do was speed over the vast glass of the Mirror Plain Polonius knew he would use smooth tires, but the channels were needed when… after….

From the rear of the racer, he looked at the twin titanium V-12 engines and their nests of wires and tubing. They had been cast from the melted remains of the last bomber and there were no others like them in the world. The Racer was idling, keeping warm until the start, and every now and then would give a little shake, a slight pop, and vibrate the motor mounts.

Polonius checked the front scoop and the side diverters, huge heavy steel plates bristling with carefully arranged razor sharp cutting edges – frightening little hungry-looking blades – they would feed soon enough.

Polonius knew it was almost time. He climbed into the cramped cockpit and made sure the hatch and diverters were locked securely behind him. He looked out the front port and watched the patch of sky directly ahead. It was growing light and glancing through the cross-hairs he confirmed that the Racer was pointed due East.

He pumped the accelerator, listening to the huge engines. It would be only seconds more. He pressed the clutch and engaged the transmission, revving up the engines to their red-line rpm.

Suddenly there was a glint of red-orange peeking over the horizon and Polonius popped the clutch. The Racer hurled itself forward, tires screeching and smoking, directly into the orb of the rising sun. Polonius worked the gears furiously, building as much speed as possible, keeping the sun centered in the cross-hairs of the forward viewport.

The Racer was shuddering at its top rated speed, still running straight and true, when the horizon became irregular. It was the First Wave, which was water.

The First Wave came incredibly fast – Polonius barely had time to see the swirling wall of foam covering the solid vertical mass of liquid streaked in green, white and deep blue before the Racer hit and with a giant roar of straining steel, plunged right on through.

The water behind the First Wave was shallow and the Racer was able to regain the speed it had lost in the collision. Soon the Second Wave, the Wave of Omega Grunion, appeared, roaring over the horizon, in a long, smooth silver roll.

The Racer plunged in. The Omega Grunion are small fish, maybe six inches long, gathered by the billions into the massive living wave. The individual creatures are indistinguishable from the total mass when they are piled up like that, but each and every Omega Grunion had a mouthful of diamond teeth and could chew through the Racer in seconds if given the chance.

But Polonius and the Racer had the speed. The plow and diverter plates split the wave, the blades slicing the fish into tiny pieces and throwing them aside in a bloody mass of scales and fish guts.

On and on the Racer ran, the screaming sound of a million fish torn to pieces penetrating the armor and filling the cockpit. Polonius had never heard a sound like it – there is no sound like it.

“The Canterbury Cats will eat well tonight,” Polonius laughed and checked the gauges as the Racer forced its way through, tearing through the wave of fish. The silver wave was cleaved, a scarlet wake thrown high by the power of the impact.

Soon, though, the bodies and gore began to pile up in front of the scoop, the Racer was moving too fast for everything to be thrown to the side. Polonius did not make the necessary adjustments fast enough and before he could react, the Racer began to slide on the ramp of fish offal and he lost steering control. It fishtailed left, then right, then with a groan of stressed steel it flipped on its side, wheels spinning uselessly in the air.

The violence of the high-speed crash threw Polonius around in the cockpit and stunned him against a bulkhead. When he cleared his head he saw the right port was cracked and his face was being splashed with a fountain of salty red water. All around him he heard the horrible chattering of thousands of diamond fish teeth chewing through the steel armor of the Racer. He pressed the big red button in the center of the dash which sent a powerful electric charge through the outer plates. This slowed the fish for a minute or two, but did not stop them.

Nothing would stop them.

Short Story Of the Day, Dog-Bone by Bill Chance

If the Chicxulub asteroid hadn’t killed the dinosaurs then intelligent reptiles would be building rocket ships.

—-Bill Chance, Dog Bone

Mural, covered by “For Rent” sign
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 (#19). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 

 


Dog-Bone

“After all this time, it is really going to happen.” John Random kept repeating this to himself over and over again. Ever since that layer of Iridium-enriched stuff was discovered on Earth back in the nineteen eighties; scientists, then artists, philosophers, and finally politicians talked about cosmic collisions. Now it was real.

Random kept reading about it. There on the ship, clunker though it was, he had access to all the information he needed. They were far from earth, so there was an irritating delay in conversation, (not that anyone wanted to talk anymore) but there was a constant flow of data. Before sleep period he would request books, journal articles, anything that struck his fancy and by the time he woke up, the information would be in the ship’s computer.

His partner, Zane Miller, didn’t read anything anymore. Two years ago, before the flight, Zane was selected as mission commander. He was the glamour-puss, in Random’s mind. The face of the mission. The first year, when they were still doing weekly news conferences, Zane did all the talking, John stayed in the background smiling and wearing his coveralls. Everyone knew Random was along to do the grunt work.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. As they looped back and forth through he solar system that first year, examining and mapping various objects detected from earth, the big lunar radar picked up the giant comet, the frozen, deadly snowball screaming in from beyond Neptune. It looked like it would be coming close so earth followed it and as that year went by the news became worse and worse.

Miller and Random’s mission was forgotten. First the news conferences stopped, then the mission support went away as earth’s entire focus shifted to the killer comet. It didn’t really affect them, their route was preprogrammed, too far from earth for any assistance, they were on their own. Still it started to get lonely. Random didn’t care so much, it was no mistake that someone of his temperament was selected on a multi-year space mission, but it drove Zane up the wall.

“Why complete the mission? it’s all going to be gone anyway!” Zane would rant on.

“Well, I don’t know,” Random would reply. “I guess mostly ’cause I can’t think of anything else to do.”

“Don’t you understand? It’s the end… we’re out here and earth is doomed. All dead! Gone!”

“I understand. But I don’t know what I’m going to do about it.”

They had the same simple argument a hundred times during that awful month. Then Random discovered Zane had pulled out the emergency medical kit and broken all the seals. All the drug packs were gone. After that time Zane was a lot calmer, though he completely stopped his share of the checklists, never helped with the observations. He spent all the time in his sleep chamber. Sometimes Random could hear him moaning.

Not that it mattered. Random could handle the duties of the mission alone with no problem. It kept him a little busier but still left him with enough time for his reading. Between the last object and the one they were looking at next they had to loop clear out around Jupiter and back in, It was the longest hiatus of the mission. He had done a lot of reading by then, about the comet and other cosmic impacts.

He read of the schools of thought that held that evolution was largely a function of vast swaths of time and avoiding extinction events. The random nature of these collisions meant that it was a crapshoot for any species to survive long enough to migrate into space. If the Chicxulub asteroid hadn’t killed the dinosaurs then intelligent reptiles would be building rocket ships.

That was the reason for their mission. To examine the large objects floating through the solar system, to help learn their compositions and then design ways to intercept and destroy them. If man could determine a way to protect that fragile blue ball from the ravages of space, then they could gain the time needed to reach for the stars.

It was too late, obviously. Not that the mission had revealed much, anyway. Hunks of rock, chunks of ice, nothing that the spectrographs and lunar radar hadn’t predicted.

Well, nothing surprising until this object, anyway.

They had decelerated down into this vicinity and when the fusion engines had cooled enough to allow them to see out, Random had pulled the telescope into position and started visual observations. Zane had been in his chamber for days, lost in the world of the medical kit drugs.

“Umm, you’d better come out and take a look at this,” Random barked into the intercom.

“Who gives a shit!” came the expected answer.

“Really, Zane, this is something different, really different.”

“You wake me up again and I’ll come out there, kick your ass, and knock you out into space, You Hear!”

Random didn’t have any answer for that so he shut down the intercom and looked back into the telescope.

The object wasn’t an ordinary hunk of space rock, that was for sure. It was much larger than they expected, maybe two miles in length. Jet-black and smooth. He glanced at the radio spectroscope and confirmed that it absorbed almost all the radiation that fell on it. That is why the radar underestimated its size. It was very regular in shape, elongated, with a double lobed swelling at each end. It looked like a giant dog-bone. Like a colossal stylized chew-toy.

Random knew it wasn’t natural. He also knew it hadn’t been made on earth.

For weeks, Random held position near the object, studying it. He tried to get the attention of mission control back on earth, but they weren’t even monitoring his broadcasts. Every ounce of effort, every minute of time was being spent back there preparing the interceptor rockets that would attempt to destroy the comet before it reached earth. They were working around the clock, even though they knew it was hopeless.

Random carefully recorded his observations. “This is the greatest discovery of all time”, he reminded himself. He tried not to think about the fact that there wouldn’t be an earth to return to and nobody to see his work.

On the day the earth was going to send its missiles toward the comet, Zane Miller emerged from his chamber. He looked awful, trembling, trying to shake off his months of drug induced haze.

“Today’s the day,” he said to Random, like nothing had happened.

“Yup,” was all he could think in reply.

“What the hell is that!” Zane screamed, pointing out the view-port.

“It’s the object… other than that, I have no idea.”

The dog-bone wasn’t jet-black any more. It was glowing red now.

“It’s heating up,” said Random. “It’s been gaining hundreds of degrees every day for a week now. It moving too. For weeks it held the same orientation but three days ago I came out here and it had rotated almost ninety degrees.”

Visibly shaken, Zane sat down across from Random and they tuned in the Earth broadcast. Every ear on the planet or off would be watching as the rockets streaked toward the comet, all life on earth hanging in the balance.

The rockets flew, the enormous bombs exploded on cue. But it was like throwing a pebble at a bullet. Everybody knew that it was hopeless, but watched breathlessly as the lunar radar tracked the comet. Slowly the announcer conveyed the inevitable, that the missiles hadn’t worked, that the comet had pierced the explosions unharmed, that the earth was doomed.

“Well, that’s it, Zane said,” glancing back to his chamber, thinking about the medication, thinking about what might be put together to form a fatal dose.

Random was suddenly startled by a bright light from the view-port.

“Jeez, look!”

The object was white hot. Glowing as bright as a small oblong sun. Suddenly, it visibly shuddered and threw off a bolt of incredible energy. For a split second the beam was visible and even though the view-port darkened automatically the light was so intense both men were blinded for minutes.

When their eyesight returned they peered out the view-port, then trained the telescope on the object to confirm what they saw. The dog-bone was dark and black again. Cold. Inert.

They looked at each other. Even before the announcement came in from earth they knew where the beam had gone.

“It is a miracle!” said the announcer. “The missiles must have weakened the comet to the point that once it neared the earth’s gravity, it fell apart. It has been completely destroyed, blown into a million pieces.”

For another week they continued to watch the object as earth reported amazing meteor showers and millions killed as the remains of the comet continued to pound the planet. Man, life itself, would survive, though.

Then they received a message from mission control, the first that had come through in months.

“Hello, how are you?”

“Fine,” replied Random.

“I guess you have heard the great news. What are you looking at now?”

The two men had known this question was coming and they had decided on an answer.

“Only another chunk of ice and rock.”

On the long trip back, Zane helped Random carefully erase all the records of the observations of the object. They spliced together bits of data from other observations and blurred the records, nobody would suspect the location of the dog-bone.

Then Zane retreated to his chamber and his medical kit. He knew he wouldn’t be able to survive without the drugs. It would be a decade before he found that fatal dose.

Random was in charge now. He monitored the mission, fixed the little things that came up, did the grunt work. He read some more, read about how man could protect itself, could continue on, could someday reach for the stars. He chuckled to himself when he thought about that. He thought about the time far in the future when people were able to venture out beyond.

He thought about the blinding light, about the dog-bone; and about what, and who, they would find on that day.

The Strange Bird

For he had no typewriter ribbon left and only fifty sheets of paper and he counted on the stabbing imprint of the keys to make an impression like a branding, and when he had used the fifty sheets, front and back, he would start again, typing over what he had already impressed upon the page.

—- Jeff VanderMeer, The Strange Bird

 

Bird, Scavenging along an Interstate Highway in Texas

Back in the olden days, the days when we did things, I would go to a book club in a bookstore on the other side of town and join a group that would read the same book and discuss it. It seems so long ago.

One book we read was Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts. I really can’t say I enjoyed the book – it was too, too difficult to read. I looked forward to the discussion. I was curious about what everybody thought – but the thoughts were jumbled. I asked, at the end of the evening, “Would anyone here have finished this book on their own – without the pressure of having book club?” The answer was a resounding NO.

Though I won’t say the book was enjoyable, it was interesting… and it was… haunting is the best I can come up with.

And when I came across an online short story written by VanderMeer – The Situation – I read it and wrote about it. It was another fabulous story but told in a more conventional way – not too difficult to get through.

And then… well, there’s this thing I do. I always like to have some short books laying around – something to read when I don’t have very much time, energy, or patience. What I do is I walk down the aisles of the library in the fiction section simply looking at the physical books. Then I pull the small and slim volumes out and see if they are something I might be interested in. This, again, was back in the olden days when there were libraries.

The last book like that I checked out – I looked at it and, surprise, it was another by Jeff VanderMeer – a short novel, novela really, called The Strange Bird.

And it, again was in a different style. It was a straightforward (though bizarre) tale told as a hero’s journey – like The Odyssey, or The Alchemist,  or The Hobbit, or something like that.  The protagonist is the eponymous “Strange Bird” – a creature that may have started out as a bird but had been manipulated in a horrific futuristic bio-tech lab – bits added from many different animals… and humans… fantastic properties and abilities… until what was left was an intelligent, damaged, powerful, fearful, beautiful, hurt and most of all – unique thing – the Strange Bird:

In the lab, so many of the scientists had said, “forgive me” or “I am so sorry” before doing something irrevocable to the animals in their cages. Because they felt they had the right. Because the situation was extreme and the world was dying. So they had gone on doing the same things that had destroyed the world, to save it. Even a Strange Bird perched on a palm tree on an artificial island with a moat full of hungry crocodiles below could understand the problem with that logic.

—- Jeff VanderMeer, The Strange Bird

Even though the styles are varied – the Strange Bird is a “Borne” novel and The Situation is a “Borne” novela and The Dead Astronauts is another “Borne” novel. They are set in a fantastic world established in the linchpin novel Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. This is a dystopian earth destroyed by the experiments conducted by The Company – a giant biotech conglomerate. The blasted world is left with the few remaining humans battling for survival with the genetic monsters created by The Company – now escaped and running amok.

There are characters and locations shared (though often at different times – different stages of their lives) – Charlie X, Rachel and her lover Wick (who sells drugs in the form of customized beetles that produce memories when shoved in one’s ear), the Balcony Cliffs, and especially the giant flying killer bear, Mord. Borne himself(herself? itself?) is mentioned briefly in The Strange Bird.

So, now, what choice do I have? I picked up a copy of Borne – will read it next.

 

 

Joy Cannot Fend Off Evil

“But, in the end, joy cannot fend off evil.
Joy can only remind you why you fight.”
Jeff VanderMeer, Dead Astronauts

(click to enlarge)
Mural, Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

OK, it was Monday, the end of work, I was so very tired, I didn’t have my car with me, I had to get clear across town, if I really wanted to go there, it was cold, it was raining, it was dark,  I thought about not going, I would get back home so very late, here’s how I would have to travel:

Work Shuttle – DART Red Line – walking downtown – Dallas Streetcar to Bishop Arts – Walk to Restaurant – eat a hamburger – Walk to BookstoreWild Detectives Book Club discussion of Dead Astronauts – Walk to Streetcar – Streetcar downtown – walk to DART station – Red Line to Spring Valley Station – wait for bus – DART bus 402 – walk home from Belt Line and Yale

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone, today is the next day and I’m tired I didn’t get enough sleep last night

 

But I realized I had to go because the book was so difficult and so WEIRD that I had to find out what the others thought about it. Also, I had fought my way to the end of a tough read – I had earned the trip and the meeting.

 

I asked the group, “Would you have finished this if you weren’t in a reading group? If there weren’t other people shaming you into plowing ahead and getting to the end?” Everyone (and I mean Every-One) replied enthusiastically “Hell No!”

 

What do I think about difficult books? What do I think about WEIRD books? What do I think about books that stretch the envelope of what text can do? What do I think about books that play with illustration and typography in odd and confusing ways? (think House of Leaves)

 

I did say that, usually, I judge difficult and WEIRD books… in the end… by an emotional connection. I don’t care if the plot makes no sense I don’t care if there is a conventional resolution I don’t care if the theme is obscure(d) – but I prefer it if I have some kind of emotional connection or some sort of inner payoff at the end

 

With Dead Astronauts there was some (but not a lot) especially in the Sarah section and at the very end. Was there enough? Is Batman a transvestite? Who knows

 

Now, the next big question is should I read more VanderMeer? (I did really like The Situation – a protoBorne novella)  Should I read Borne? (set in the same world as Dead Astronauts but different – the people in the group that had read it said it was character-driven) Should I read Annihilation?( I saw the movie without knowing it was from a book and thought it was very cool) Should I read the whole Southern Reach Trilogy (A guy sitting next to me said he really liked Annihilation but the sequels left him cold because they resolved too much of the mystery of Annihilation)

 

So Maybe I’ll read Annihilation and skip the rest of the Trilogy. I think I will read Borne.

 

But first… I have to read L’Assommoir – Have to keep troopering through my Zola project – and then, in March there’s another Wild Detectives Difficult Book Club project – we’re going to tackle The Brothers Karamazov (about six weeks of work)………………….

So little time, so many books.