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

“We even talked like Hemingway characters, though in travesty, as if to deny our discipleship: That is your bed, and it is a good bed, and you must make it and you must make it well. Or: Today is the day of the meatloaf. The meatloaf is swell. It is swell but when it is gone the not-having meatloaf will be tragic and the meatloaf man will not come anymore.”
― Tobias Wolff, Old School
 

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 (#98) 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.


Spirit Duplicator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How big was it again?” she asked.

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

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

“Almost, not quite to the top.”

“What did the jelly taste like?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” he asked, gesturing.

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

“How…”

“My parents knew.”

“You told your parents?”

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

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

“Well, what is it?” he finally said.

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

“Copy?”

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

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

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

She wriggled the sheets in her hand.

“What about the water?”

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

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

“How long do we have to wait?”

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

Trout picked at a corner of the paper.

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

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

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – The First and Last Day by Bill Chance

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones

 
Underwood Typewriter

Underwood Typewriter

 

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 (#97) 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.


The First and Last Day

Howard ran his hands over the pebbled gray plastic case and popped the latch. He lifted the Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter out and placed it on the plain sturdy desk next to his cheap shirt-cardboard circular slide-rule, then reached under the desk to plug it in. The typewriter began its familiar low whir.

So far, so good, Howard thought to himself. He had ridden a bus for two days and three nights across a thousand miles of midwest, stopping at every little no-name hamlet to get to this dorm room. His typewriter and his slide rule were his only important possessions. He felt that these were his tools – his weapons – his only friends in his desire to conquer the future. His heart had jumped when he saw a driver throw his precious case roughly under the bus when he changed routes in Omaha. Why hadn’t he held his typewriter with him up in his seat? He had never thought about it.

He had a few pages of slightly rumpled paper concealed inside the typewriter case and he pulled one out and rolled it into the carriage. Howard made a mental note of asking around to find where he can buy some more paper on campus – he had no idea. He reached out and tapped the “x” key and the hammer responded with a firm whack- leaving a nice dark letter on the paper.

Howard smiled.

Once the echoes of the letter-strike died down he could hear the continuing hubub out in the hallway. Hundreds of kids were moving in all around him, families hauling boxes and piles of furniture in from pickups or rented trailers – proud and sad parents – fathers sweating under the burden, mothers clucking about food plans and wardrobes, siblings running and tumbling around, excited and dreaming of their turns to come. Howard turned in his desk chair to look at his single yellow Samsonite suitcase sitting in the center of the room. He had packed carefully, knowing his whole life had to be crammed into that one small space.

He had tried to blend in, but after a while it became too much for him. The kids were nice enough. One, Paul had given him a ride to a Gibson’s Discount so he could buy a spread for his dorm bed. The dorm provided sheets and a pillow, but Howard had not thought to bring a blanket or a spread. The selection at Gibson’s had overwhelmed him and he bought the cheapest twin spread he could find. It was bright blue and satiny and had a ruffle on it. He felt stupid – it looked ridiculous in the bare beige concrete block room. Paul must think he’s an idiot.

After they came back from Gibson’s Paul suggested they walk over to the girls’ dorm and volunteer to help carry stuff up.

“That’s the best way to meet some freshmen girls,” he said.

And he was right. The girls seemed so excited and actually glad to meet some of the boys from the school. But Howard was embarrassed by the way their rooms were set up. The first girl they met, a small blonde girl named Stacy had showed them her room. Her parents had come in two days early.

“They know the dean and got special permission,” she said proudly.

The concrete block walls of Stacy’s room were completely covered with paper, cloth, or stick-on mirror tiles. The floor was carpeted. The book shelves were lined with sports trophies. Stacy and her roommate shared a custom bunk bed which freed up enough room for two custom wardrobes which were needed because their clothing collections were too large for the standard dorm closets.

When they left Paul said, “Have you ever seen anything as tacky in your whole life?”

Howard agreed, but still… he couldn’t imagine the effort and expense that went in to making something like that.

“Sure, it’s a bit much,” he said to Paul, “But it would feel like a home away from home.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure…” was all he could reply.

Howard picked up his circular slide rule and began to do a quick imaginary series of calculations.

Paul’s roommate was in the Engineering School and had a slide rule out on his desk too. It was a big leather-cased Keuffel & Esser rule. It cost almost half a semester’s tuition. Howard asked if he could take it out and look at it.

“You think that’s something, get a lot of this,” Paul’s roommate said. He unlocked the valuables drawer and pulled out a portable electric calculator. It was a programmable Hewlett Packard model. The kid showed Howard a program he had written that would simulate a moon landing – where you had to input how much fuel to burn and see if you would crash or run out of fuel. Howard tried and and crashed a couple times but was beginning to get the hang of it when Paul shouted from the hall.

There was a kid out their showing off his graduation present. It was a big Pulsar gold digital watch. The kid said it cost over two thousand dollars. The kid had something on his wrist that cost four years of tuition. Everyone stared at the fire red digits and watched them move.

“Hey,” Paul said. “I heard of another guy that’s got one of those, over in the Adam’s Quad. We need to find him and synchronize your watches, then see if they match a month later.”

“They’ll match up a year from now, no problem,” the kid with the watch said proudly. Everyone made noises at that.

All this was too much for Howard, so he slipped away, back to his room to make up his tacky bedspread and check out his typewriter.

Howard thought of his El Camino pickup back home. He thought of the working nights at the gas station, watching the other kids go by honking while he put in the extra hours he needed to buy the truck. Once he bought the used truck his boss at the station would let him use the bays after closing until Howard had it running like a top and looking almost brand new.

He had sold the truck to his cousin to make enough for this year’s room and board. His cousin had driven him down to the bus station. It had felt so strange to be in the passenger seat of the El Camino. Howard had never ridden there before. The whole world looked different from the passenger side.

He reached out and began to type. A few letters and then the space bar for another word. Nothing happened. Again and again Howard tapped the keys and then the space bar and no spaces appeared. The driver had broken the typewriter when he had thrown it under the bus.

Howard felt a wave of sadness and panic well up. He experimented with substituting a “_” for a space between words. It looked stupid.

Where was he going to get the typewriter fixed? Could it be fixed? How could he pay for repairs? How could he get by without a typewriter?

It was horrible. Howard threw himself on the narrow dorm bed. The squeal of the satin on the cheap bedspread was a painful cry to his ears.

This was not going to work out. He did not belong there. He didn’t even know enough to hold his typewriter by his seat.

Howard stared at the phone. He could call his cousin and ask him to sell him his truck back. He had enough money for a bus ticket home. He was sure he could get a refund from the university… he remembered signing the papers, there was a period of time he could walk away. Nobody would blame him. He had tried. He began to relax.

For some reason an image came into Howard’s brain. He thought of a stop his bus had made in Western Nebraska, about halfway between Denver and Omaha. The bus would pull into every little forgotten nameless little town out there. Some were no more than a gas station and a grain elevator. They didn’t even have bus stations – only a little sign along the road. There was never anybody waiting.

Except at one town – Howard had no idea what it was. The bus was running almost three hours behind schedule and the day had been overcast, cold, and raining since dawn. When they pulled off the highway they stopped at a long abandoned service station and there was an old woman waiting there. She was as thin as a wisp, wearing a proud but old dress and an archaic hat perched on her cloud of white hair. She had a cheap folding umbrella and a cloth suitcase. The bus pulled up and she slowly climbed the stairs, thanked the driver, and found an empty seat.

How long had she been waiting out there? Howard saw no car… no evidence of anybody else from horizon to horizon. Someone must have dropped her off there to wait for the bus. She must have stood there in the rain, holding that little umbrella, for at least three hours. Howard didn’t think he cold do that… and that woman was old enough to be his grandmother and more. How could that ancient frame hold out against that wind and cold? What if the bus had never come? What if the driver had decided to make up lost time by skipping this little hamlet?

Where could she be going? Howard had fallen asleep and the driver had woken him in Omaha. The woman was gone by then. How many others like her were out there, standing in the rain, waiting for something to come and take them away? Where did she get her strength from?

Howard stared at the typewriter for a minute, thinking about the old woman. “I guess I can deal with this,” he said to himself. He pulled himself up and brushed his clothes off a bit.

“Maybe there are some more girls moving in, some must be coming from a long way… they might be getting here late. Maybe I can help them move in,” he said to himself, then went to the door and strode out quickly into the hall.

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

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
― Guy de Maupassant

Old Man River, Robert Shoen, New Orleans

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 (#96) 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.


Forgot

Harold Sammons died at work, suddenly. His heart stopped beating. He was coming out of the break room with a cup of coffee on his way to the morning meeting. The last one out of the break room, there was nobody to see him go down or smell the hot coffee splashed across the floor. They did hear the cup shatter.

Since nobody saw him, nobody really knows how long Harold was dead. Since they heard the cup and came, curious, and the paramedics were there almost immediately (the fire station was right next door) they revived him and he came back to life.

There was brain damage. It was to be expected.

His short-term memory was gone. He would talk to someone and forget who he or she was. It was embarrassing, but people understood. He would forget where he was or where he lived or the PIN code on his phone (or even what that glass rectangle was useful for).

For the eighteen months he survived after he died and came back, it made life difficult, but not unbearable. While he couldn’t remember five minutes ago, fifty years in the past was as clear as crystal. There were so many things he forgot that came back to him now.

He forgot his first rock concert. He forgot how excited he was when the band did an encore. Now he remembered, “Everyone cheered so loud they came back out and played another song!” That naïve happiness came flooding back.

He forgot how many fireflies there used to be. Clouds of cold sparks. Now he could see them, even though they are now rare.

He forgot how everyone, young and old, used to watch the same shows on television together and could talk about them the next day. Nobody had more than one set so watching television was a social act.

He forgot how going out for a hamburger and maybe some ice cream was a big deal and a real treat.

He forgot that every house only had one phone and it was attached to the wall. The phone knew its place and its purpose.

He forgot swimming in a lake. The water had a green cast and a slight smell. The bottom was soft mud.

He forgot about front porches with rockers and gliders and the neighbors walking by.

He forgot about Zippo lighters that had liquid fuel and little yellow cards of replacement flints.

He forgot the taste of cold milk from a glass bottle.

He forgot the woman he loved first and loved most. He married someone else and never knew where she went. And now she was back and not a day older. Her smile as magnificent as ever.

These weren’t like old dusty memories that suddenly get stirred up. These weren’t like an unexpected odd odor that you know you have smelled before. The unfathomable labyrinth within his brain had been broken open and the distant past was as fresh and new as the sun is in the sky.

For those last eighteen months people would see the confused emaciated old man in his wrinkled ancient suit shuffling along or sitting motionless on a bench – they would feel pity and dread the day when they would end up in the same sorry state.

But for Harold Sammons the time after he came back from the dead was the best of his life. He no longer forgot.

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) – Ice Machine in the Desert by Bill Chance

“Ice contains no future, just the past, sealed away. As if they’re alive, everything in the world is sealed up inside, clear and distinct. Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way – cleanly, clearly. That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

One day later.

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 (#94) 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.


Ice Machine in the Desert

Chris DeLoama tried to relax and stifle a cough. A child’s soft rubber ball had been shoved into his mouth and a rectangle of duct tape held it in firmly. The bitter taste was overpowering. His arms were locked together behind his back around a wooden pole supporting the roof of the desert shack, but his feet were free. He was too exhausted to do anything more than shift his legs out in front of him – trying to keep his circulation going.

Chris was sure he couldn’t get away. He  had heard the plastic sawing sound of a big ziptie when he was put down. They had obviously done this before.

From his captive position he could see most of the interior of the shack. It was a crude circle of rough wooden posts supporting hand-hewn roof poles and vigas. Before he crossed the border a ranger has shown him a restored cabin and explained how the wooden poles were cut and arranged in a pattern to shed the rare rain and to provide shade and shelter. The restored cabin had felt surprisingly cool, but now that it was midday, this place was horribly hot.

There was an open spot in the roof in the center of the one room and a green square of nylon was suspended below this to help keep out the sun while still affording a little ventilation and light. The green gave an odd cast to everything .

There were no bulbs, though there was electricity. A thick bundle of cord came in under the wall, half-buried in the dirt floor. He had been brought here blindfolded, on a donkey, but before he was shoved in and tied up the scarf had been removed and he had a glimpse of the outside. For a hundred yards the rocky desert floor was spotted with the ubiquitous viga poles, these vertical, stuck firmly into the hardpack soil. Attached to the top of each pole was a metal and glass frame, filled with the black circles of solar panels. Every elevated panel had a thin wire running down and joining the others in the cable that ran inside.

Now Chris could see the purpose of the panels. The cables terminated in a gray metal box that emitted a low hum and a single cord ran from that into a big green metallic cabinet. It made various mechanical noises including a crystalline tumbling sound every five minutes or so. It had a chrome plated hopper in the front – an ice machine.

Near the ice machine a string hammock was hung between two poles in the ring that supported the circular opening in the center of the room. Don Juapo, the man that was in charge, as far as Chris could surmise, was stretched out in the hammock, asleep, and snoring loudly. The only thing Don Juapo was wearing was a pair of tattered boxer shorts and cowboy boots. His pile of crumpled, dusty clothes sat on the dirt nearby. He did not sleep in the hammock the long way, like Chris had seen people do back on summers in Connecticut, but at an acute angle, almost crossways. His head and feet stretched out the woven string of the simple hammock until it surrounded him like he was a huge, hairy spider on a gently swaying web.

The only other people in sight were two guards in dirty cotton t-shirts and rough jeans sitting in hard chairs spaced against the outside wall on either side of Don Juapo’s hammock. They each cradled AK-47 rifles and were quietly struggling to stay awake – every now and then slumping and almost falling out of the uncomfortable seats.

Suddenly the door to the shack opened and the girl the guards called Maria came in struggling with a large heavy bucket half-full of water. She wore the usual uniform of the rest of his captors – a sleeveless T shirt and jeans, cowboy boots, and a small straw hat – though her outfit looked relatively new and was mostly unwrinkled.

She hauled the water bucket over to the ice machine and opened the lid. Inside was a white plastic scoop and she began shoveling ice into the bucket, mixing it well and doubling its weight. She had to strain to get the bucket over to Don Juapo but neither of the guards offered to help. Don Juapo himself woke up and gestured to her to hurry up.

She sat down on a low stool beside the hammock and dipped a glass jar into the liquid, handing Don Juapo a streaming cold drink. Chris felt his eyes go wide at the sight and he was suddenly excruciatingly aware of his own thirst. Without comment, Don Juapo accepted the water and began to gulp it down. Maria then dipped a small hand towel into the cold liquid and placed it on Don Juapo’s chest. She gently rubbed the towel over him, until he finished his water and took the towel in his own hands. He would move the cool liquid over himself – first his chest, then his face and arms, and finally his legs – until it was heated from his own skin, then hand it back to Maria for a fresh dip of cold water.

Chris could only squirm and watch.

Finally, he had cooled off enough until he dropped the towel and stretched back out in the hammock. Maria didn’t leave – she stayed sitting silently on the stool. Don Juapo reached into the bucket and pulled out a single crystal rock of ice and slowly moved it over Maria’s exposed skin – around her neck, over her shoulders, and inside the folds of her collarbone. The cold water would bead up and run down under her shirt, staining it in a brutal battle between the melting ice and the evaporating heat. When a cube completely melted, Don Juapo would reach back to the bucket and select another.

Chris realized that, although Don Juapo was facing away from him in the hammock, still gently swaying, his arm extended to move the ice over Maria, she was staring directly at him. She sat stock still, allowing Don Juapo to move the ice, not showing any indication of embarrassment or pleasure, with her eyes firmly locked on Chris’.

After a period of time – Chris couldn’t guess if it was a minute or an hour – Don Juapo’s arm fell lifeless and a tiny sliver of ice tumbled into the dust. He began to snore again. Maria stood up and scooped up another jar of ice water and walked over to Chris. She held the cold glass against the duck tape, letting the water on the outside loosen the adhesive, until she pulled it off. Chris spit the ball out and sucked the water down as Maria held the glass up to his mouth, tilting it as he drank. She returned to the bucket for a second and third jar full, until Chris grunted that he was sated.

He had not taken his eyes off of Maria since she had brought him the water, but a rough noise from the center of the room caught his attention. Don Juapo was awake and out of the hammock. He was bent over pulling on his loose pants over his boots.

“That’s enough Maria,” he said. Then he gestured to one of the guards, “Cut his bonds and bring him to me in my cabin, I want to talk to him.”

The guard approached with a large machete and used a confident and violent single stroke to chop the plastic tie between Chris’ hands. Chris let out a moan of pain as both legs cramped when the guard pulled him to his feet.

“You come too, Maria,” Don Juapo said as he strode quickly toward the door of the shack.

“And don’t forget your bucket.”

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 (flash fiction) – Sherman’s March by Bill Chance

“If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell”
General Philip Henry Sheridan
 

Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Lineup

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 (#92) 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.


Sherman’s March

 

The bar was called “Sherman’s March” – which gave an idea of the sort of attitude the place was trying to establish in the quiet Southern college town. Sherman was, of course, the Yankee General that had come through the countryside with the new idea of total war, scorching the earth, digging up the vital railroads, melting the rails in bonfires made from the ties, and bending the softened bars around the trees to insure nobody would ever make us of the infrastructure again. He left misery, starvation and the utter destruction of a way of life. That’s who and what the bar was named after.

The clientèle wasn’t students. “Sherman’s March” and the even rougher “Jackson’s” across the street were hangouts for the locals, the townies, the young people that grew up in the town and were denied the fun and future given to the college students drawn to the town from across the nation by the warm climate, low tuition, and even lower admission standards. The college had the word “state” in it and three different directions, every one except north, in its name. Despite the modest credentials the local kids still viewed its students as privileged invaders.

The bar was within easy walking distance of his apartment and his roommate, Frank, a dedicated Architecture student had come to love the place. They never missed a visit on Tuesday nights, which was quarter longneck night. Beer was thrown out in the distinctive glass bottles, four for a dollar, which even then, when a dollar was worth a lot more than it is now, was really cheap. The place was dark, full of heavy wooden urethaned homemade rough furniture. The jukebox was filled with outlaw country music – nothing Nashville – Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, that sort of thing. There was always a bouncer at the door and it was always the same man – Woody couldn’t believe how many hours the guy worked. He was massive, tall and huge, with a constant blank look on his face. One very warm night he wore shorts to work and Woody noticed the telltale crisscross of surgical scars on both knees that indicated a football career cut short early because of injury.

The attitude in the place was always on the grim side and could go very bad very fast. Woody had never seen any black customers, but one night he wound back through the narrow space past the jukebox and pool table to use the bathroom. When he pulled the door open he saw two black guys in there wailing on each other, swinging as hard as they could in the cramped space, beating each other senseless. It looked like a bad omen, so Woody shut the door quickly, walked back through the bar and went home.

Quarter longneck nights were especially dangerous. The place would be filled with men who, like Woody and Frank, were mostly interested in a cheap drunk. It was not a time and place for intelligent conversation, but Frank, especially, had his fill of that the rest of the week, Quarter Longneck night was a welcome escape from his ambition and ability. Woody came along for the ride – and the cheap drunk.

Woody and Frank quickly developed a sense for when trouble was about to break out at Sherman’s March. The first indication was a lack of women. On some nights the bar would fill with men and without the attraction and moderating influence of at least a few females the testosterone would flow across the bar like a wave and it wouldn’t be long before the fists would fly. With no women in the place there wasn’t anything to do other than fight. Frank and Woody weren’t proud, whenever the first whiff of trouble started, they were out the door.

On that last night, though, their instincts were too slow. It was getting late and Woody had put away two dollars’ worth of beer and was hunched over the jukebox with another quarter in his hand. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind and something in the atmosphere made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. A quick survey of the place and he realized the place was packed but no women. He started to push his way back to grab Frank and get out when a blur caused him to duck and a heavy glass schooner, half-full and spewing beer as it spun, wobbled by and crashed into a table of guys in cowboy hats.

The place immediately erupted. The pool table was between Woody and the door and he knew to stay away from there – he could already see wooden pool cues swinging. He looked past the table and the bar toward the front door, trying to scout an escape route and could see the bouncer energetically grabbing anyone within reach and heaving them out the front door. They looked like rag dolls flying out. One did try and fight back – a particularly large fellow – and for a second he and the bouncer swayed back and forth before the guys feet left the ground and he was thrown. The struggle threw the bouncer off though and instead of cleanly going out the door he struck the glass window next to the frame and it quickly shattered, the guy going on out, sprawling cut up onto the sidewalk.

The sound of smashing glass and the sight of flowing blood increased the level of violent insanity within the rioting bar. An animal-like scream rose and the pool cues started swinging faster and harder, the glass pitchers, schooners, and bottles flew like missiles, and punches began falling all around. Woody knew that a bloody victim out on the sidewalk would draw the cops quickly and he decided to hunker down next to the pinball machine and try to ride everything out. He had his back to the wall, into the little corner and was begining to think he’d get out in one piece when someone tapped him on one shoulder.

Woody turned to see a rough-looking guy standing there wobbly on a pair of crutches. For a split second he thought the guy must need help and started to open his mouth to ask something when the guy hauled back and punched Woody right square in the face. The force of the impact threw Woody back completely over the pinball table until he fell off onto the concrete floor on the other side. He could feel the blood pouring from his nose.

He wobbled to his feet and started stumbling through the crowd. Woody could feel blows and pushes, but knew he had to keep moving. As he came close to the front door somebody slid sideways into him and he fell into the jagged broken glass of the shattered window. Woody felt a cold slice and a sharp shard cut his cheek. A strong hand grabbed the back of his shirt and moved him on out, onto the bloodied sidewalk.

The police were already there and a brace of ambulances were screaming in. There was a triage set up and Woody was taken quickly, in handcuffs to the city hospital where his face was sewn up in the emergency room. In the years to come, he was told that a better doctor could have minimized the scar across his face, but it was too late.

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

“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”
― H.L. Mencken

B-17 Nose Art, Commemorative Air Force

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 (#91) 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.


Senior Smackdown

It was so hot that the air conditioning in the clunky old radio station van couldn’t keep up and Emily had to keep daubing the sweat off her face. Bernard, the assistant sound engineer kept giving her a hard time.

“Man, you’re sweating like a stuck pig… good thing this is radio,” Bernard said.

“Shut up Bernard.”

She was getting sick of doing all the crap assignments, and today was the worst of all. It was Tuesday afternoon and it was time for a new bit, something called “Senior Smackdown.” It was one of the bits that came down from corporate – they said they had focus-grouped the whole thing and it was super-fun and popular for their target demographic – the urban teen and tween girls that spent the most money at their sponsor’s stores. To Emily, it was just another humiliation she had to endure.

“OK, Bernard, enough of this crap. Remind me again, what are we supposed to be doing? What is this ‘Senior Smackdown’?”

“Simple enough Emily,” said the assistant sound engineer, “We drive out to this old folks home, we’ve got their permission, and they set us up with some old geezer. We’re supposed to get somebody really old and kinda crazy, someone that doesn’t really know what’s going on. You ask them some questions – the station will send suggestions in on your device, keep an eye on it – and we broadcast the hilarity.”

They pulled off onto a loop driveway and parked in front of a long, low, dingy gray building. A sign said, “Lazy Acres,” in peeling paint. Bernard unloaded his remote broadcast gear and checked it out.

They walked in past a clump of old people sitting around staring into space. Emily didn’t like how they looked at her or how the inside of the Lazy Acres smelt.

“This place smells like pee,” she said as they walked up to the head nurse’s station at the intersection of two long halls.

“Get used to it,” said the nurse, glaring at Emily.

“Oh, Hi,” said Emily, pulling up her best fake smile and a little giggle, “We’re from KKDA and we’re here to…”

“I know why you’re here,” said the nurse. Her voice dripped poison. You’re late, Helena is waiting for you.

“Helena?”

“Yea, Helena. I chose her for you myself. She’s ninety five years old. No family, never been married. She really looks forward to any visitor she can get, not that she gets any.” The nurse paused and looked Emily up and down. “I think she is just what you need.”

“Well, good,” said Emily while she did a little eye-flutter that she knew would aggravate the nurse. “Let’s get this over with.”

They walked down the hallway and the nurse opened a door without knocking. “Helena, the radio people are here.”

There was an ancient old woman sitting in a simple desk chair. There was a comfortable padded lounger facing her for Emily to sit in. She smiled eagerly as Emily and Bernard entered and the engineer began to set his equipment up.

“Can she hear me?” Emily asked the nurse.

“I can hear fine,” the old woman answered. “My name’s Helena,” she said in a clear and strong voice. It’s so nice to have someone young and pretty like you come to see me. I’m so sick of the old people in this place.”

“Helena, this is Emily,” the nurse said. “I’ll leave you to it now.”

Bernard managed to get the remote humming and started his sound checks while Emily and Helena sat quiet, staring at each other. Emily felt the sweat running down the side of her face.

“Here, honey,” Helena said, “have my handkerchief. They do keep it warm in here.”

Emily felt like screaming. Finally Bernard tapped her on her shoulder and gave her the two minute sign. In her ear she could hear the intro bump music for Senior Smackdown and the guffaws of the two disc jockeys back at the station.

“Ok, now Jane, it’s time for a new segment, Senior Smackdown!” said Bruce.

“That sounds like fun Bruce!” Jane shouted back at the station. Jane then launched into one of her famous laughing fits, her voice booming out in rough guffaws while Bruce tittered in the background. This was the signature of the two afternoon jockeys – this constant laughing. They could vary it from simple giggles to obscene snorts and sniggles all the way to booming shrieks of hilarity. The focus groups indicated that their listeners loved this.

“And on the scene is our very own roving reporter, Emily Lighthouse, to talk to one of the city’s oldest senior citizens, Helena. Emily, ask Helena if she has ever been married.”

And that was her cue.

“Helena, have you ever been married?”

“No Emily, I’ve been single all my life.” Helena suddenly became silent. Her face became calm, reflective. It looked for a moment like she had forgotten about Emily sitting there.

Emily felt a moment of panic and glanced down at the handheld device. It flashed a lurid single word, “LEZBO!” in bright flashing letters. She was relieved when Helena spoke first.

“Well, Emily, I haven’t been single by choice. I was engaged once. It was back in nineteen forty one. I was engaged to a boy named Ralph and was so much, so deeply in love. We were so young. After that, I couldn’t find it again. I remember when he joined the Navy. We were to be married at his station on Hawaii. I was going to fly out on the Clipper for New Year’s. I went to San Diego to watch him set sail on the Arizona. They were, all the boys, a thousand of them, all lined up on the rail in their dress whites. It was such a sight to see. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

“Well, what happened?”

“I said, he sailed to Hawaii on the Arizona. Nineteen forty one.”

“And?” Emily asked. Helena suddenly stared at Emily with eyes as clear as spring water, her face as sad as a dream denied. Emily felt that she had disappointed Helena somehow.

“He died at Pearl Harbor.”

“Oh… and you never married?”

“No, I’ve already told you that. Well, I did have some chances, I was asked. But I always thought of Ralph, and those other boys. It just didn’t seem right.”

“Well, then, how did you get by, back then, by yourself.”

“Oh, I know you probably find this hard to believe, but I was a professional tennis player. I was pretty darn good too. I toured the world. I was a real up-and-comer. It was all there, all in front of me.”

“So you played tennis? What tournaments…”

Helena kept on, ignoring Emily. “I had it all. Well, that is, until I go the Polio.”

“Polio?”

“Yes, honey. You don’t know anything about that, I’m sure. Thank God. You’ve probably never seen an iron lung. Probably never had any of your pretty friends going to a dance with braces on her legs.”

Emily glanced down at her device. It was flashing, “THIS ISN’T FUNNY” Emily didn’t know what to do. This isn’t what it was supposed to be like. That nurse had set her up. She was supposed to be interviewing some doddering old fool, someone she could make fun of, someone the radio audience could laugh at.

Helena was no doddering old fool. She was still talking, about polio, about some guy named Salk. She was talking about how hard it was to get by as a single crippled woman and about how it felt to have your dreams taken away from you. She then talked about how she had found strength and how, now, looking back, she could not imagine wishing it to be any different.

“Umm… what did you do?”

“I was a school teacher, a teacher for fifty years, eighth grade English. I taught Kindergarten for one year – kind of tapering off when my mother got sick.”

“You said earlier that you are sick of old people.”

“I look around at these women here and think about whether I would want to be married to any of them, if I was a man, and I think, no. They line up like a bunch of old crows at the front windows waiting to see who comes to visit, I’m not like that, I like to talk to folks, but if nobody comes I’m happy to get back to my room.”

“Ummm, uhhh, like, what else do you want to say?”

“There’s been a few highlights in my life – I saw the president, Kennedy, in his car ’bout twenty minutes before they blew his head off – that was a highlight… if you can call it that.”

“You were there?”

“Lived in Dallas all my life. I guess I’ve had a pretty ordinary life – never did anything much – I probably would have if I hadn’t got the polio.”

Emily glanced at her device, it said, “CUT IT OFF NOW!”

And that was the end of this week’s Senior Smackdown. Emily couldn’t even make eye contact with Helena while Bernard packed up his equipment. She heard Bernard thanking Helena and asking her if she needed anything while she fled the room looking for the head nurse. She wanted to give that bitch a piece of her mind, but she was nowhere to be found.

All the way back to the station Bernard couldn’t stop talking about Helena.

“Wasn’t that the most amazing shit you’ve ever heard? Think of it. Pearl Harbor. Polio. Can you imagine what it was like to be a professional female athlete, a tennis player, in the nineteen forties? ”

“Oh, shut up, Bernard.”

“I mean it. I’m going to go back there and tape her some more for myself. Can you imagine the stories she can tell? What an amazing life. Jeez, she was there when Kennedy was shot.”

But Emily wasn’t listening. She felt another rivulet of sweat course down her temple and mopped at it. She realized that she still had Helena’s handkerchief. She took one last swipe at the sweat, rolled the widow down and threw it out into the breeze.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – The Start of a Beautiful Friendship by Bill Chance

“Of All The Gin Joints In All The Towns In All The World, She Walks Into Mine.”
― Rick, Casablanca

 

The Bartender and a Regular, Molly’s, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

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 (#90) 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.


The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Russell never thought, never in a million years, that he could be thrown in jail for pissing on the side of a building. At home, you can pee wherever you want – it is a God-given right. He was no more than a block down the street from the bar when he realized he had forgotten to use the bathroom before he left. There was an unlit alley and he ducked in. He was admiring the patterns of oblique shadow the streetlights made on the rough brick when he noticed the blue and red flashing lights mixed in with the yellowish streetlight.

Just when he broke out into a grin at the interplay of colors and shapes he felt a rough hand on his shoulder.

Russell jumped a bit at the voice yelling in his ear, “Well, now, look who’s going to jail tonight.”

His arms were pulled back and he felt the cold steel click around his wrists.

“Shit, son, you ain’t even zipped up,” the unseen voice said. “Now, don’t you piss on me or I’ll crack your damn head.”

He felt his hands released and as soon as he brought them forward and fixed his pants he was shoved forward. His hand came up to catch himself from falling, his palms against the uneven wall. Boots pushed his feet apart.

Strong hands moved down his sides and between his legs, and finally slid his wallet out of his back pocket.

——————–

The concrete pallet had no mattress and the jailhouse orange coveralls were thin so Russell wasn’t really asleep when the noise outside the cell snapped his eyes open. Two huge deputies were dragging a man down the corridor towards the cell. He was wearing a once-whitish suit, covered in thin blue lines – now stained with blood and at least one other substance. The man looked exhausted and one eye was swollen almost shut but he still heaved and wiggled against the thick arms that restrained him.

The two deputies tossed him against a wall where he gathered himself erect and began the useless task of trying to smooth the countless deep wrinkles out of his suit. One deputy turned and began to work the lock on the cell door while the other kept facing the man in the suit.

“Gentlemen, “ the man in the suit began to talk in a surprisingly clear, steady, and controlled voice. “I do not stand to be treated like this. You should know that, not only am I an attorney, I am a member of the New York bar.”

The guard facing the man did not say a thing but gave a sharp shrug of his shoulder and a heavy telescoping rod shot down from his hand about the length of his forearm. At the end of the rod was a small but mean looking black sphere.

The man in the suit said, “Ahhhh,” but before a complete word could form the guard raised the extended truncheon and began wailing away at the man in the suit. His arm moved like a piston while the rod whistled through the air landing on the man with a sickening wet thud. Russell noticed the man had the presence of mind to cover his good eye with both hands and to turn and curl to present the smallest target. Russell had the feeling that this wasn’t the first time he had been beaten.

Russell guessed that swinging a heavy club like that was hard work and within a minute the guard stopped, bent over with his hands on his knees and breathing hard. He caught his breath and asked his partner, “Do you want a go at him, Hubert?”

“Naw, I got my licks in when we picked him up. I got a bottle in my locker, lets drop him here and grab a quick snort.”

They grabbed the man and attempted to throw him into the cell but somehow, he resisted enough to stand and walk through the cell door on his own volition. It shut with a metal clang and the two guards left without a backwards glance.

“They didn’t put you in a jail jumpsuit,” Russell said.

“No they did not,” the man said with a bit of pride in his voice, “That, my friend, is the source of the disagreement I had with those two apes back there. As you see, I’m still wearing my seersucker, and that I won that argument.”

Russell thought that was a definition of the word, “won,” that he had not ever heard before.

“How did you get here from New York?”

“Oh, I’m not really from New York. I was born and raised less than three miles from this very hoosegow. I only said I was from New York to impress those dimwitted thugs back there.”

“Now,” Russell said, “I’m just a country kid, but if I sat up all night thinking of saying something that would guarantee I got a bad beating in here, I don’t think I could do any better than telling them I was a New York lawyer.”

The man went on as if Russell hadn’t said a thing. “Now friend, I am an attorney… or at least I was. The state bar did not take too kindly… and over-reacted to – a trivial incident involving a real estate loan and the District Attorney’s niece. My present plans, however, do include, when they come to fruition, the reinstatement of my lawyerly license.”

“I don’t see how getting beat up in jail is going to help you get your license back,” Russell said. “Oh, and I’m Russell and I guess I’m pleased to meet you.”

The man seemed to think for a minute before giving up his name. “Jameson P. Samuel, at your service, but you can call me Jim.”

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

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”
P.G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally

 

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?”
Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

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

Thanks for reading.


Blue Rooster

Phoenix Cody liked Slade, the bartender at the Blue Rooster Bar, even though he knew Slade, who was also the owner, hated him. For too many years the Blue Rooster was on Phoenix’s route – when he was working muscle for the Rockfist Triad – and nobody liked being shaken down like that. Still, it was a nice, dark bar where pretty much anything could go down on a given night – and Phoenix was feeling nostalgic.

“Hit me again, Slade,” he said, clinking the ice in his glass. “How ’bout a clean glass this time.”

Slade glared at Phoenix, reached across the bar, and dribbled a thin stream of Darkhammer Scotch over the ice already in the glass. “Six bucks,” Slade said.

“Oh, now, Slade. How ’bout one on the house.”

“Nope. Do you think I don’t remember every time you came in here for payment? You pay, cash, full price, every drink.”

“Now, Slade, that was business, you know that. And it’s over now.” Phoenix decided to kick things up a notch. “But you know, I’d watch it if I were you. It’s over now, but it might start up.”

“Are you kidding me?” said Slade. “After the crap you pulled with the Rockfist boys? You are lucky you’re still breathing.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it. And if it isn’t the Rockfist… it might be somebody else.” Phoenix slapped some bills down on the bar and started to look around.

Phoenix was getting bored with Slade’s sad sack routine and decided to look around the place and see if he could find some action. That was when he spotted the towering, lanky dude in the classic tuxedo down at the end of the bar. His hair was oiled, slicked back, and he kept pacing from the bar over to a column where he would stare at the front door. Then he’d pull his jacket sleeve back and stare at a Rolex Submariner on his wrist. He’d let out a big sigh, shake his head, and then turn back to the bar.

This little routine would restart and go on again. Phoenix watched for a minute and it started to make him dizzy. The guy was waiting for somebody and that somebody was late. He wanted to meet this person in a bad way.

The narrow side street – not much more than a wide, brick alley – that the Blue Rooster sat on ran down into the bright broad expanse of Fifth. Sometimes the theater crowd would filter down that way, looking for a act more provocative than on the musical stages set up for tourists – so it wasn’t unusual to see a man in a tuxedo. But this tall drink of water stood out. He was alone, for one thing, and for another… he towered over the scruffy con men, drug dealers, and two-bit hustlers that were filling the Blue Rooster at that time of the night.

Phoenix decided to see what was up and began to move down the bar toward the dude. Before he was halfway the guy noticed his drink was empty, looked at his watch one more time, and then headed toward the door. He brushed Phoenix as he went by but ignored Phoenix’s hand grasping his shoulder and headed out. His head was somewhere else.

Disappointed, Phoenix grabbed an empty chair in the narrow space between the bar and the brick wall opposite. He turned and leaned back, lifting the front legs of his chair off the ground a few inches. This was a vulnerable way to sit in a place like the bar, but Phoenix liked what it showed about him – that he wasn’t afraid to let his guard down, that he could handle it, no matter what.

The tall tuxedo man was barely gone, only enough time for him to scurry down the street a few paces, when somebody else entered the bar – somebody that immediately caught Phoenix’s eye. She was tall too, with a mass of jet-back hair tied back off her shoulders. She was wearing an evening dress of the shiniest, sheerest, black fabric. The way it curved, hung, and moved… this stuff must be the pride of the German Chemical industry to make something like that – though the woman underneath had more to do with it.

She was looking around the bar, moving quickly, almost frantic. Phoenix immediately realized she was here looking for the tall guy. He watched her turn to look into the dark corner by the door and saw her dress was marked in the back with a large, dark crimson hourglass that stretched from her back down… down far enough. Her outfit was stunning and all eyes in the place were on her, all heads were turned to follow her frenetic search. The look was only spoiled by the oversize bag she had slung over her shoulder – she should have had a slim, jeweled pocketbook, not the massive leather purse she was lugging.

She worked her way back through the bar as Phoenix watched her and waited. He was the only person in the place by himself – and he wanted to see what happened when she reached his spot. Phoenix noticed her glance his way a couple times, and it didn’t take long for her to clear the nearest table and look down at him, sitting on his chair, leaned up against the rough brick wall. Phoenix pulled his face into his most relaxed, nonchalant expression – something he took pride in and had worked on for years.

“Excuse me, but I’m meeting someone here and I’ve never seen… are you Brett?”

“Why, yes… yes I am. Glad to meet you.” Phoenix had not even had time to think about the lie… it simply came out. And now… nothing to do except go with it. He put on his biggest, broadest smile and reached out his hand toward the woman.

Instead of taking it, she scooted back half a step and reached into that cavernous bag she carried.

Phoenix had enough time to think, “Oh, that’s why she has such a large purse,” but not much more, as the woman’s hand flashed out with a gigantic chrome plated revolver. She raised it and Phoenix’s brain noticed how it gleamed in the uneven light of the bar. He couldn’t do anything else, though. Leaning back in the chair like that, he was trapped, it would take at least two or three seconds to lean forward and leap one way or the other… but he had less than one.

The gun roared as the woman kept pulling the trigger and slug after slug pumped out and into Phoenix’s chest at point-blank range.


It took a lot of effort, but slowly, Phoenix Cody was able to concentrate his vision on the ceiling of the room. It was a grid of tiles, each one with hundreds of little black holes in it… big holes, little holes, all in a random pattern. Phoenix wanted to get his mental abilities back, so he started to count the holes… one… two… three…. And that was about it. All he could do at that point was to close his eyes, try to get some sleep, and wait for whatever drugs they had him pumped full of to wear off.

Involuntarily, he moved his head a fraction and the pain shot through his chest like an electric bolt. They obviously had him on something strong, so that little movement must have really hurt.

Phoenix thought of all the detective shows he had seen on television growing up. The hero would be wearing a bullet proof vest and the bad guy would get off a couple shots. The hero would go on like nothing had happened – catch the crook – get the girl… all was right in the world.

It didn’t work like that. A vest, especially a good one, like what Phoenix wore, might stop a bullet from a handgun without much trouble, but the kinetic impact was only spread out over a small area. At close range, with a large caliber handgun, it felt like being hit in the chest with a sledge hammer.

Phoenix never blacked out during the shooting itself. He felt all five sledge hammer blows. The woman was so close he had powder burns, but he had kept his eyes open. He couldn’t stop staring at the woman’s face in the split seconds between the flare of the shot leaping out of the pistol. The expression on her face was amazing.

He didn’t think he had ever seen anyone that pissed off before.