Short Story Of the Day, Yard Sale by Bill Chance

It was a bizarre and weird agglomeration of stuff. Right off the bat on a table of old, worn, and useless kitchen gadgets (none of which looked exactly clean) he spotted a single, ordinary spoon.

—-Bill Chance, Yard Sale

Graffiti in Deep Ellum. This warrior is nothing if not well-muscled… plus he is carrying off his prize of war.

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

Thanks for reading.

Yard Sale

Ever since his family had left him to move to California, Marcellus had been walking Margie farther and farther from the house. Margie was old, deaf, and blind but could still cover distance if they walked slow enough. They began to know their neighbors better than they ever had before.

On the outer edge of the territory was a house with a couple of ex-hippies in it. They must have always been at war with the neighborhood association because the trim was painted an odd purplish color. On certain evenings Marcellus heard loud rhythmic drumming from the backyard, floating over the privacy fence.

One Saturday morning, Marcellus and Margie were walking by and the couple had a big yard sale going. His curiosity was irresistible and he decided to take a good look at all the goods spread out on the various card tables or blankets on the ground.

It was a bizarre and weird agglomeration of stuff. Right off the bat on a table of old, worn, and useless kitchen gadgets (none of which looked exactly clean) he spotted a single, ordinary spoon.

“Who sells one spoon?” Marcellus said to Margie, “What horrible thing happened to that spoon to make them say ‘just sell it!’.” Margie couldn’t even hear him, let alone answer.

Marcellus needed a belt and had discovered that new ones cost more than he had thought they would so he decided to look for one at the sale. A box looked like some sort of belt-like strap and buckle jutted out of the top and he thought that would be worth a closer look. As he dug around he realized it wasn’t a belt but some odd harness. The box contained some rings and chains festooned with fur, some long curved objects and some smaller bullet shaped ones. Marcellus jumped back when he realized it was a box of sex toys.

He almost left right then – he didn’t judge – anybody could do what ever they wanted – he had what he thought was an open mind. But owning stuff like that is one thing, and selling it used was something else altogether. The prices seemed reasonable, though.

He was distracted by a woman with short, bobbed hair who began arguing with the couple at the main table.

“Hello, my name is Karen,” Karen said, “And I was wondering if you could sell me this for a dollar?”

“What’s it marked? Twenty? That’s a collector’s item, I really can’t come down on that – not to a dollar.”

“Well, I think people come here looking for bargains. I think you are asking too much.”

The argument went on, but Marcellus turned away and tugged Margie around looking at such things as:

A deer head, spray painted purple,

A planter made from a doll’s head with the top broken off, holding a dead fern,

Six ash trays, obviously made by children as art projects,

An abstract sculpture, four feet tall, made from glued toothpicks,

An old silver artificial Christmas tree used to display at least twenty bras, all obviously used,

A half bottle of salad dressing over a year out of date,

A small corked ceramic bottle labeled “Dead Flies,”

A bottle of shampoo (it was opaque and he couldn’t tell how much was in it),

A stack of large paintings:

-A naked man chained to a rock beside an eagle,

-Jesus and a dinosaur,

-A naked woman against a sunset, embraced by a man who’s lower legs were a building under construction,

And of course:

-Dogs playing poker,

-Elvis on black velvet,

-A well-muscled Aztec warrior carrying a woman off somewhere,

-Cats with big eyes….

He looked up from the paintings to see Karen glancing around furtively. She didn’t spot Marcellus and he plainly saw her pulling 25 cent tags off cheap kitchen items and swapping them onto items marked several dollars which she had in a box she was lugging around.

At that moment Marcellus found the stash of old clothes and fished through the belts which were hanging on an old high-backed chair. He pulled the longest one, a plain leather belt, down, stretched it around his middle, and was surprised to find it fit.

He walked up to the table where the couple were going through Karen’s box of stuff – adding everything up. He felt he had to say something.

“Excuse me, but I saw her….”

Karen turned, eyes wide, angry, “Shut up old man! It’s not your turn! Can’t you see I’m doing cash business here. And keep that damn dog away from me.”

“But, I saw you…”

“Nobody gives a damn,” Karen said, “ Leave us alone.”

“Uhh.” Before he said anything else the woman running the sale caught his eye and gave him a slight nod and a bit of a smile. Marcellus decided to shut up and stood there, feeling stupid. The woman received her change and without a word glared at everybody one last time and marched down to her Mercedes where her husband was waiting behind the wheel. Marcellus walked up to hand the woman the belt he had picked out.

“You know, she was switching prices. She was ripping you off.”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said, “I know, of course. It just isn’t worth it. We don’t really make any money off all this junk. We just want it to find somewhere useful, someone that wants it more than us. If she wants to rip us off, it’s her problem. Karma, you know.”

The woman and the man smiled at Marcellus as he paid for the belt. He had the exact change.

“It’s a hot day,” the man said, “Let me get some water for your dog.”

“Oh, that’s all right…” but the man had already gone into the kitchen through the garage. Marcellus saw a pyramid of various drums stacked up on one wall.

“We see you walking your dog around here every now and then,” the woman said, “She’s a good girl.”

“Yes, she is. Her name’s Margie.”

The woman bent over to rub Margie’s head as her husband came out with a plastic bowl. Marcellus noticed it had a couple of ice cubes in it. Margie began lapping greedily.

“You know, every Saturday night we have a drumming group, a drum circle,” the man said, gesturing at the garage wall, “it’s a lot of fun, you should come.”

“I don’t know… I don’t have any musical…”

“That doesn’t matter, you could just watch if you want, and bring Margie.”

“Well, she goes to bed early… and, umm, I usually go to be early.”

“Oh come over tonight,” the woman said, “About eight. The sunset’s nice.”

Marcellus nodded, said goodby and then turned to walk home.

“You’ll be alright alone for a few hours won’t you Margie?” he said as he walked. “I think I’ll come over. And wear my new belt.”

Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Spaceliner by Bill Chance

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and forty before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

—-Bill Chance, Spaceliner

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

Thanks for reading.

Spaceliner

It took the boy a month of courage collecting and the prodding of his mother to get the nerve to ask his father to buy him a bike. He expected the usual answer, “Christmas will come in only a few months, we will see about it then.”

When his father snuffed out his cigarette, stood up and said, “OK, let’s go,” the boy almost fainted.

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and a half-century before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

The boy was jealous of his friends because they all had bicycles they called Spiders. These had huge curved banana seats – with purple plastic metallic sparkling covers. The handlebars rose straight up with a curve on the end – hopelessly unstable, but it looked cool. One friend had a bike with an actual round car-type steering wheel. He was the coolest of all.

But his father marched straight to the Sears Spaceliner model. Chrome and red, gigantic, heavy as a steel boulder – these had streamline art deco style curved tubes and a thick red console behind the handlebars that contained a light, horn and silver plastic control knobs. This was a careful design of an impractical transportation device that looked to a father from the fifties like something a boy from the sixties (on the other side of the vast cultural divide) would like.

“Let’s get one plenty big,” his father said, “So you won’t outgrow it too soon. I don’t want to be back down here in a year buying another one.”

The sales clerk had one already put together and he let the boy try it out in the back parking lot.

He had to push it along until it gained enough speed to roll upright on its own and then climb on to it as if it was a boat without a ladder. The thing was so large – so too big for him – that at the bottom of each stroke the pedal would disappear past his foot. He could not reach them at that point. He’d have to fish around with his foot as the pedal rose to get back on it.

Near the front door of the cavernous Sears was a little stand selling hot nuts. The vendor heated them on a little stove and sold them in paper bags. The odor of roasting peanuts, walnuts, and cashews filled the entrance and spilled out into the parking lot.

“Can we buy some cashews?” the boy asked. He was shocked when his father bought a bag. His father wasn’t one for impulse purchases. But this was a special day.

To this day, the boy, now an old man, loves cashews and splurges on a can every time he goes to the grocery. Sometimes he gets out an old cast-iron skillet out and heats them up before he gobbles them down.

 


This story is, of course, mostly true. It is a little simplified from reality – I didn’t get to test the bike out in the store. It turned out to be very frustrating – it was so big It took me a month to learn to ride it. In the meantime, my brother, who was three years younger than me got a small bike (what we would call a BMX style today) and immediately began scooting around the neighborhood. I thought it was my own incompetence, instead of the size of the machine.

I finally learned by lugging the thing to the top of a long, steep hill, standing on one pedal while the thing picked up speed rolling downhill. Then I would climb on. As you can imagine, this process resulted in a lot of crashes, skinned knees, and thumped heads (no bike helmets then).

If you know me, you might think that this is the origin of my love for cycling. That would be wrong. A few years later, back on a base, I went down to the Post Exchange and spotted a ten speed racing bicycle, what we called at that time an “English Racer.” It was the first time I ever saw a bike with dropped bars. I was addicted to Popular Science Magazine and had read about the new invention “derailleur gears” and amazed to see them in real life.  I was entranced.

Again, I was shocked when my father bought the bike. This one was perfect. I rode that bike everywhere and learned how to work on it (the early derailleur system was crude and needed constant adjusting). That has continued to the present day – 55 years later.

Not too long ago, I saw a Sears Spaceliner for sale at a vintage bicycle show. It was in mint condition – it cost seven hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it.

Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Coaster by Bill Chance

No, No. The worst is the long, slow chugging upward, gaining potential energy, riding the chain to the top. The anticipation of terror. That’s the worst, and it’s over. You have survived it. You weren’t sure you would.

—-Bill Chance, Coaster

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing Sunday’s 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.

Let’s see… here’s one for today. What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Coaster

Ok, now, that first drop is the worst and it’s over. You survived.

Wait, no. The first drop isn’t the worst – it’s going over the top, the sudden acceleration into that drop… that‘s the worst. The first cars are bad because the ones behind hold it up and it hesitates suspended over the void – you can see the drop for a split second before the plunge. The rear car is bad because the front cars pull it fast up and over – it clanks and jumps. The middle cars – they’re bad too, the worst, because they do both. It’s the worst.  And it’s over. You survived.

No, No. The worst is the long, slow chugging upward, gaining potential energy, riding the chain to the top. The anticipation of terror. That’s the worst, and it’s over. You have survived it. You weren’t sure you  would.

That might not be the worst. The worst is going back and forth in that serpentine line, waiting an hour in the queue for a few seconds of fear. Then at the end there is the chicken’s exit – an arched door that you can duck out through If you don’t think you can take it. Walking past that is the worst, the absolute worst. You wanted to go out through that door so bad, so bad, so bad. But Carmen was standing there beside you and she had been waiting for an hour too. No way could you  chicken out.

An hour earlier she had said, “Let’s go for a ride on The Ripper!”

“No, the line is too long. It says it’s an hour wait.”

“What’s the matter? Are you chicken? I didn’t think so, I didn’t think you  had the guts to ride The Ripper.”

At that point you had no choice. It was going to be The Ripper. The darkness of the world was closing in around you. You stood in line for an hour shuffling along with Carmen at your side and you never said a word.

All you could think about was a memory from your childhood. You had gone to the State Fair and there you were in the children’s ride area. Everything smelled of ozone and popcorn. A calliope was whistling and tooting away, the merry-go-round was spinning with its mirrors and horses. And there was the children’s roller coaster. Now, you realize how small it was, but to your child’s eyes it was big and fast and looked like an electric steel dragon. You were excited and eager and couldn’t wait. You wanted the speed.

But it wasn’t like what you thought it would be. The sick feeling of nausea in the pit of your stomach wasn’t expected and scared you to death. You had never felt this before. A small child’s panic is a strong and evil thing. Your parents were so angry when the ride operators had to pry your hands off from around the bars – holding up the ride – making everyone wait while you were extracted, frozen, from the little seat.

“You embarrassed us!” your parents yelled, “You wanted to do it. Why did you freak out like that?”

And now, decades later, here you are. Again. Carmen is screaming like a banshee beside you but you are silent, frozen, hands tight on the bar with a death grip.

You feel your eyes grow into saucers as you stare at the rolling hills, the twists and turns, the slopes and banks ahead of you. You are hurtling into these at an incredible speed.

As you shoot into this maelstrom you realize you have learned something in the decades since the State Fair. Instinctively, your body decides to go with it. It’s like being in a fighter plane, rolling and rising, dipping and diving. This isn’t so bad. This is kind of fun. Your hands relax, your body moves along with the accelerations and velocity. At one particularly tight, fast turn you let out an ecstatic cry.

And then, so  soon, it is over. The bar clanks forward and you and Carmen step out and descend the little wooden stairs.

You turn to her. Her flushed face, wide eyes, and tousled hair make your heartbeats skip. You lean in and say, “Let’s do that again.”

 

 

Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, BN249 by Bill Chance

Walter woke up in an ambulance. From the swaying he knew they were going very fast. His arms were strapped to the side of the gurney – a tangle of tubes and wires streamed away from him to beeping machines lining the vehicle. His pain was almost gone, but he felt the skin of his neck taught like it was swelling badly. Two EMTs were bent over him, looking very worried.

—-Bill Chance, BN249

Wasps at the Trinity River Audubon Center

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing yesterday’s 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.

Let’s see… here’s one for today. What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

BN249

Walter was jogging around the outfield of the softball fields that filled this part of the green buffer park between the town and the base. The lights were on and teams were playing on all the fields. He liked listening to the cheers and the clank of the aluminum bats and watching the white parabola of the balls hit through the air. At his usual spot, he turned and started to run home.

As he passed near the woods around the creek he was distracted by a loud, odd, buzzing/whirring noise. It sounded half mechanical and half biological. Turning to see what it was, he saw a dark blur moving through the air from the direction of the woods. It came on fast and before he could do anything it struck him in the neck.

The pain was immediate and incapacitating. It shot from his neck down his spine and had a strange electrical quality; his muscles all contracting as he tumbled to the grass. Bright lights flashed in his eyes as he writhed on the ground. For a few seconds his vision cleared and through the fog of pain he saw it on the ground beside him.

It looked something like a large, glossy, jet-black wasp. Even its wings were black and opaque. It was crawling along on preternaturally long, flexible legs that seemed jointed in the wrong places. Its abdomen was very long and curved and ended in a hook-like point that could have been a stinger. Walter knew it was impossible, but the thing seemed to be looking at him as it struggled to extend its wings. The odd noise began again, loud and close, and it was gone.

The pain increased and the world went away.

Walter woke up in an ambulance. From the swaying he knew they were going very fast. His arms were strapped to the side of the gurney – a tangle of tubes and wires streamed away from him to beeping machines lining the vehicle. His pain was almost gone, but he felt the skin of his neck taught like it was swelling badly. Two EMTs were bent over him, looking very worried.

“Hey, what happened?” was what Walter tried to ask, but he could not get the words out. He felt as if his mind was not connected to his body. Then the siren of the ambulance was drowned out by other, louder wailings and he felt the vehicle slow and then the crunch of gravel under the wheels. He felt the door open behind him and suddenly the two EMTs disappeared.

Someone in a dark uniform appeared and roughly pulled the tubes and wires off and out of him and them he felt the gurney slide out the back. He was rolled through a dark night lit by blue and red rotating and flashing lights until he was lifted into another vehicle. To Walter’s surprise it wasn’t another ambulance but some sort of military flatbed truck with a cover over it. He couldn’t move but his senses seemed to have returned, and he could clearly smell the familiar fungal scent of olive drab military canvas. He had lived next to the base his whole life and knew that smell well. Still, it surprised him that he was aware enough to pick it out.

Someone did something to his arm and he felt a warmness spreading… and everything went dark.

He woke up in a hospital room. He was on his back could not move. He looked down and saw that his arms were tied to the heavy bedstead with thick black straps. His feet were immobile and he assumed they were strapped down too. There were no beeping machines or wires hooked up to him. He saw there was a single IV tube running from his left arm. He surprised to see it running to a large dark red bag that was mounted lower than he expected. They weren’t adding drugs, they were taking blood out.

Looking around he saw two soldiers in full gear standing on either side of the door of the windowless room. They were holding M4 carbines slung across their chests and had sidearms on their waists. The odd thing is that they were wearing black full-face helmets, like riot troops or motorcycle riders.

“Hey, what the hell! Get me out of here! Get somebody!” Walter yelled at the two. His mouth felt like it had marbles in it, but at least he could talk. The soldiers looked at each other, then one left the room, returning in less than a minute with a white-coated doctor.

“Ahh,” the doctor said, “You are awake. Good.”

“What in the hell! What happened to me?”

“Well, I’m not really supposed to talk about that.” The doctor examined the bag of blood. “Ah it’s full. Let’s get another one going.”

A nurse appeared at the door and swapped the blood-filled bag with a fresh one. As she turned and left she was replaced with a large man wearing an officer’s uniform. The guards saluted as he entered the room. He walked to the bed and Walter saw that a piece of opaque white tape covered the man’s name tag.

“Ah, colonel, I’m glad you are here,” the doctor said. “As you see he’s awake and he has some questions, maybe you can answer.”

“You are dammed right I have some questions! What the hell happened to me?”

The colonel paused for a few seconds and then said, “BN249.”

“What?”

“The BN249 project escaped. Before we could track and recapture it the thing had left the base and, unfortunately, ran into you.”

“The project? You mean the wasp-thing that stung me? What does it do.”

“I’m afraid that is classified.”

“Classified my ass! It stung me. It’s inside me.”

“Yes, it is classified. And luckily we have you. We should be able to get what we need.” The colonel gestured to the slowly swelling bag of blood.

“Wait, what about my wife? My car is still at the fields. Let me out of here!”

“I’m afraid your car is gone. Last night it drove off the high river bridge. That bridge has cameras. The river is up, the water is fast and deep. The authorities are dragging the river now. Your wife has been notified. The car will be found. Your body won’t. At least not for a while.” The colonel looked at the bag of blood again.

Walter began to yell and strain against the restraints until, at an indication from the colonel, the doctor moved to the bed and gave Walter another injection. Like earlier he felt the warmth spreading until it all went dark.

But this time he had dreams. Strange, vivid, violent dreams. Dreams of lightening and giant flying monsters and rivers of glowing blood. After what seemed like hours of these frightening and disturbing visions Walter woke up. He was standing. Looking around him he saw the heavy black nylon straps torn into tatters on the floor. The stout steel of the bed rails was bent like a pretzel.

The door to the room was wide open. The bodies of the two guards were sprawled on the floor. It looked like their helmets had been crushed and dark blood was spreading out in a quickly growing pool. He took it in, his preternatural eyes noticing little details like the serial numbers on the guards’ guns or the code on the bag of blood hanging beside him. He noticed the now-familiar smells of gore, fear, and death. He could hear screaming and running down the halls of the military hospital and could somehow separate all the sounds from one another and know what he was up against.

Walter stepped forward, striding over the bodies with strong, confident, long steps. He felt good, better than he had in his whole life.

 

Sunday Snippet (Flash Fiction), Wallpaper by Bill Chance

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

—- Bill Chance, Wallpaper

Ganesha,
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, Texas

Sam tore the wallpaper off the walls in the spare bedroom – the one at the end of the hall. Nobody wanted to sleep in that room – the old house was a firetrap – especially on the second floor and that isolated windowless room would be impossible to escape from in a house filling with smoke. It was handy for drunken visitors to crash in, but not much else.

It was stale and airless and the condensation was making the paper peel. That upset Sam’s sense of order and the he thought about gluing it back – but once he inspected how loose it was, how spotted with mold, he decided it had to go. He’d tear it off, see what was underneath, and then deal with it.

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

The plaster that had been hidden by the wall coverings was painted with fantastical figures – one figure, or group of figures, on each wall. They seemed to be a gallery of deities – some shaped like animals – others voluptuous and human in form.

There was a large elephant improbably balanced on one leg and wearing a crown of skulls – holding a massive spear. Across the room a curvaceous woman stood in the same pose with a multitude of arms sprouting from behind her – each clasping a different mysterious object.

To the side, a couple sat – he in the Lotus position – she on lap with her legs wrapped behind his back. They each had three faces – one set looking at each other – the other two off to the side. Their bodies were covered in jewelry – colorful and detailed – with the same shapes as the object held by the many-armed woman.

The final wall was divided into many rectangles and each one contained a small drawing – crude compared to the detailed murals on the other walls – but still clear and strong. Around the characters in the small frames were curved lines of mysterious writing – filling every square inch of the surface.

Sam was stunned and obsessed. The small room had no electrical outlets so he stretched an extension cord down the hall and scrounged up four lamps – replacing the bulbs with a higher wattage in order to study the drawings better. He removed the few items of furniture but brought in a thin mattress. He began to sleep in the room, feeling somehow that the deities on the wall would protect him from the possibilities of fire.

At first, the others were curious and climbed the stairs, braved the hall, to come down and look at the walls – but Sam became surly and began to discourage casual visitors. After a week he repaired the hinges on the door, cut a passage for the extension cord, and installed a strong new lock. He felt and acted like the room was his and the deities were looking over him alone.

He did decide to pay a visit to a professor at the university – an elderly woman from the Asian Studies Department. With frayed nerves and strong second thoughts he led her down the hall and into his room, turning on the lamps.

She showed no emotion, but walked around the room giving the characters names – Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Rama. Sam politely took a few notes, knowing he’d never need to look at them – the names and stories were instantly burned into his brain.

“This is a strange mixture,” she said. “The deities are mostly Hindu – an unusual melange of times, regions, and sects. It’s as if the person that drew these borrowed freely from whatever tradition seemed to mean the most to him and made up some additional myths to suit his purposes.”

“Purposes? What would those be?”

“I have no idea. And this,” she said, gesturing at the complex wall of panels, “is a complete legend, a story.”

“What is it about?” asked Sam, trying to conceal the eagerness in his voice.

“Well, again, it’s a mixture. The characters seem to be mostly familiar minor Hindu Demi-Gods, but the story looks like the Chinese Buddhist legend of the Monkey King. It’s a famous legend – one of the classic myths of the world.”

“What Language is it?”

“That’s what is especially odd – I don’t really know. I’ve never seen it before. It looks like a dialect of Tibet – one I’m not familiar with. That might make sense – Tibet is at the juncture of India and China – the border of Buddhist and Hindu traditions – which would help explain the mixture.”

The woman wanted to photograph the walls of the room and said she would make arrangements to return with a photographer and proper lighting. But Sam never returned her calls – although she tried many times to reach him. After a few weeks she gave up. By then Sam had become even more obsessed with the drawings, spending more and more time in the room, neglecting everything else.

At first Sam thought that he was losing his mind, but after a month it began happening so often he came to realize it was real. With a great expenditure of willpower he stayed out of the room for a day and a half, sleeping fitfully on the couch downstairs. With a desperate relief he gave in and threw the door open.

There was no doubt now. The drawings were different. They were changing. They were moving.

Shiva Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, 11th century, bronze, Dallas Museum of Art

Shiva and Parvati
Stele of Uma-Maheshvara… 12th Century… Buff Sandstone
Dallas Museum of Art

 

Sunday Snippet (Flash Fiction), Call Me Ishmael by Bill Chance

In a moment of panic, Sam realized that he had almost forgotten the woman’s name. He thought it was Elizabeth… but he wasn’t sure.

—- Bill Chance, Call Me Ishmael

Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

I found some stuff in an obscure subdirectory that I think I wrote a few years ago. Looking at it – I have no memory of having written it at all. I worry that maybe I didn’t write it – maybe I typed it in (or copied and pasted) from somewhere else. I did a bunch of internet searches and found nothing. So maybe it is mine. Anyway, here is the shortest piece – which, ironically, has some relevance to today. If you have read it somewhere else – sorry – I didn’t mean to. Maybe it’s from a virus.

Call Me Ishmael

Sam was enthralled. The woman was beautiful, tall and slim – friendly, and she seemed truly interested in him. He felt that finally, someone genuine had come along. They met waiting in line at the buffet and walked together to a little round table at the rear. She was telling Sam her story.

“It was tough, having four sisters like that,” she said. “My sister Jane is older than me. She is very beautiful.”

In a moment of panic, Sam realized that he had almost forgotten the woman’s name. He thought it was Elizabeth… but he wasn’t sure.

“It’s amazing how different we all are from each other. My next younger sister, Mary, is so smart… such a good student. Lydia, the youngest, is a ball of fire and Kitty does whatever she is told.”

The woman went on with her story, telling of some man that was in love with her sister and a friend of his – some rich loutish oaf that was causing her a lot of grief. Sam became more and more suspicious. When the woman excused herself, saying, “I’ll be right back,” he pulled out his phone and opened the “Real or Not” app. Thinking for a second, he then typed in her name along with her four sisters: Elizabeth, Nancy, Kitty, Mary and Lydia.

The app immediately responded with, “Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.”

“Crap!” Sam said to himself as he gathered himself up quickly so he could leave before “Elizabeth” returned. “Another fake…. There are so many.”


It started with the CIA – a way to send secret messages. A method had been developed, deep within the laboratories of the Military-Industrial Complex, to encode English text onto a string of DNA. This was then inserted into a virus, and a human carrier was infected. The idea was that this person would travel to a destination, sneeze out some of the virus, and the DNA could be decoded.

A completely unexpected problem came up, however. To this day, nobody really understands the mechanism, but once the carrier was infected with the virus, he would understand the message. It would appear as if he had experienced it in the past. The message would usually attach itself to some real memory… like a favorite childhood scene or a more recent traumatic incident.

It didn’t take long for this to become a tool in education. Entire volumes were encoded in DNA and inserted into students. At first, an injection was needed, then a drop on a sugar cube. Finally, a professor would be infected with the virus and he would simply sneeze towards the class from the front of the hall.

And that was what spiraled out of control – the entire population was infected with an epidemic of literature. Modern, popular works were tightly controlled, injected, because publishers needed to get paid. Classic literature, out of copyright, was widely disseminated – there was nothing to stop the spread.

As the viruses evolved and duplicated the literature began to warp. Finally, all those stories mixed and changed and sank in until nobody really knew what was a true memory and what was a leftover from classic literature.

 

Sunday Snippet – Degrees of Freedom

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

—- Bill Chance, Degrees of Freedom

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

I am working on writing fiction on a regular basis again. Every Sunday I’ll try to publish something here on my blog that I wrote, for as long as I can. Here is something for this week. It is a pure first draft – written on my Kindle Fire tablet with an attached mini keyboard. Feel free to get back to me with any comments.

Sunday Snippet

Degrees of Freedom

Lucious pulled his bicycle out from the garage and swung a leg over the bright purple banana seat after admiring how the metallic flakes sparkled in the afternoon sun. He lifted his hand high to grab the almost-vertical handlebars and with a little push rolled down the driveway into the street. The tiny front wheel, upswept bars, and aggressive frame geometry looked really cool to pre-teen eyes but was not very practical nor stable and he wiggled on the verge of losing control until he picked up speed and began to pedal along the road.

It was new comic book day at Smith’s Drugstore and Lucious’ eyes watered both from the wind and the visions of the colorful characters and amazing stories that were soon to be his. Last month had been particularly thick with cliff-hangers and he was desperate to find out how his heroes would escape their dooms.

Doctor Strange was trapped in a twisted dimension, The Fantastic Four were trapped in preternatural ice, and Spiderman was trapped by a new cute redhead at school. His package was already wrapped and waiting for him at the counter at Smith’s. Old man Smith did this to minimize the amount of browsing that Lucious would do – he could monopolize the magazine display for hours. A wad of crumpled, filthy bills along with a carefully counted ringing pile of change dropped onto the counter and Lucious was on the way home with the plastic bag full of adventure hanging from one purple grip.

That night, after feverishly turning the pages and learning of the miraculous escape of all his heroes and then how they inevitably jumped from the frying pan into the fire – leaving even worse horrific dooms for next month – Lucious flipped the pulpy pages to the section at the very back. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that this crude part of the publisher’s art was his favorite. He began to pore over the ads.

There were X-Ray Specs that promised to reveal secrets, even behind a woman’s clothes. There were mysterious living sea monkeys that would live on a shelf in his room and keep him company. There were instructions on how to grow muscles on his skinny twelve-year old frame and defeat the vicious sand-kicking bullies that filled the world.

Lucious was very familiar with these ads, had been seeing the same ones every issue for as long as he could remember – which was almost two years.

But there, on the very last page of Doctor Strange, was one he had never seem before. It even seemed fresh – sharp somehow – rather than the blurred text and crude drawings of the other, familiar advertisements.

“LEARN ALL ABOUT YOURSELF,” it read. The text explained that there were five dimensions of human personality and that it was of life and death importance to learn what point you occupied along these axes.

Lucious was twelve and suffered greatly from confusion about what was going on inside his own head. Thoughts swirled around deep mysterious eddies while confused desires and bizarre ideas crept in from the depths of his mind and set up camp in his head, refusing to leave. It was all very disturbing and frightened Lucious to the point that he worried about his future all the time.

And here, in front of his eyes, for the low cost of ninety-nine cents (not even a dollar) someone promised to explain this all to him. The mysteries of his own noggin would be cleared up and the future would open before him like a brightly-lit highway. He knew how disappointing the reality behind the wild promises could be – but this was irresistible.

Lucious carefully cut the little coupon out of the back of the book and filled out his name and address. He dug an envelope out of his middle desk drawer and taped three quarters, two nickels, a dime, and four pennies to a card (to disguise the fact the envelope contained cash and discourage the thieves at the post office). He relished the taste of the paste as he licked the stamps (adding an extra one, because of the weight of the coins).

He dashed out the side door and ran down to the next block to slide the letter into the big public mailbox (he didn’t want to use the clothespin on their own – didn’t want to answer his parents’ pesky probing questions) and watched it disappear forever into the black space beyond the slot. There was an ominous clang as he released the guard and it swung back over the opening. It was done – irretrievable –  there was no going back.

A twelve year old has no patience. Waiting was not one of his abilities. Every minute of every day was excruciating. Finally, after a hundred years (or maybe it was only ten days) a thick packet in a brown envelope arrived for him. He brushed off his parents’ questions and feverishly opened the package on his desk.

Inside was a cheap, mimeographed pamphlet of instructions, a set of computer cards with numbers and ovals, and a prepaid, preaddressed envelope. He was to read the instructions and answer a long set of questions, filling in the proper ovals on the cards that corresponded with the numbered questions and his answers. He was familiar with this drill – they did it every year at school to measure the children’s progress.

Lucious started to work. The questions were difficult – some were confusing, some were subtle, some were embarrassing to even think about, even more so to answer. But he knew that they were designed by professionals and were carefully and scientifically designed to plumb the very depths of his own personality – bring facts to light that even he had no idea about.

Hours later, feverish, sweating, and exhausted, he finished, filling in the last little oval. He packed the whole thing up in the provided envelope (the instructions said it was important to return the instructions themselves – not to let anyone read the questions other than him). It was late and pitch dark but he slipped out while his parents were watching TV and stumbled the two blocks to the same box, and slipped the envelope into the same slot of doom.

This time there was no impatience. He was a little nervous, but satisfied. He had done all he could do, now it was up to the experts on the other end to carefully examine his answers and to give him the self-knowledge that would change his life forever.

His only worry was that after all this work the whole thing was a ripoff. Maybe they were only gauging in some mysterious way the products that he was likely to want and to buy. Would all he get is some sort of a custom catalog full of items that he could not resist?

The days and weeks went by and Lucious mostly stopped thinking of the questions and the cards. He was only slightly haunted by the thought that he had probably wasted ninety-nine cents.

One day he was out riding his bicycle, going nowhere in particular. Suddenly, silently, three huge black cars were around him. One passed and pulled over in front, one behind, and one beside. He was boxed in and had to stop as the three slowed to a halt.

His heart raced and jumped into his throat as the door beside him opened and a huge man, with short dark hair, black business suit, and sunglasses stepped out.

“Lucious Lindale,” he said. It was not a question. “Please get into the car.”

Another man dressed in exactly the same way came out of the car in front, took his bicycle, and placed it in the trunk of the lead car. The trunk opened silently by itself and then closed with the same clunk as the cover on the steel mail box.

Lucious settled in the vast back seat beside the man in the suit. Another man that looked like the other two drove.

“Mr. Lindale, you filled out the multivariable personality assessment and sent it back.”

It took Lucious a minute to realize he was talking about the cards and the questions from the comic book. He nodded, although, again, it didn’t sound like a question.

“Out of the millions of responses, your answers indicate that you are exactly the person we are looking for. You will come with us and be trained This is truly the first day of the rest of your life.”

“But… but I’m only twelve years old.”

“Of course. You will receive very special and specialized training. You will be given unique abilities that a very select few are capable of. You will learn to look at the world in a way very different than everyone else. You will learn to see beyond the possible. For all this to be possible… well, thirteen is too old.”

Lucious looked out the window of the car. They were speeding along the old highway that ran out of town along the river. It had been a rainy spring and the river was up, angry and brown. The three black cars slowed and stopped along the shoulder next to an old railroad bridge. Lucious knew the bridge well, kids often crossed the river on it. It was a thrill not knowing if a train would come along before they could get across.

“Wait,” Lucious said, “I don’t now if I want to do this. I have to think. This is a big deal.”

“Sir,” the man said, very matter-of-fact, “This has already been settled. You have no input into the direction at this point. Did you read the fine print in the packet?”

Lucious had not. Still, it was a thrill to be called “sir.” He was certain no one had ever called him that before.

The two watched as the trunk of the car in front of them popped open. The man came out of that car, walked around and pushed the bicycle under the rear wheel. The car backed over the bike, leaving it a twisted mess of purple tubing. The man picked up the remains of the bicycle and threw it down the bank as if it weighed nothing. It landed half in the water below the railroad tracks on the bridge.

Lucious understood that everyone would assume he had been hit by a train and thrown into the river, never to be found. He turned his head to take one last look at the sun sparkling off the purple metallic plastic seat as the three cars sped away down the old highway to where it joined the Interstate.

Red Molly in a Leather Jacket

Says James, to Red Molly, “Here’s a ring for your right hand.
But I’ll tell you in earnest I’m a dangerous man;
For I’ve fought with the law since I was seventeen.
I’ve robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
And now I’m twenty-one years, I might make twenty-two.
And I don’t mind dyin’ but for the love of you.

—- Richard Thompson, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited last year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.

I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a few words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about them.

I wrote a story about the first strip here – here’s the second, and now, on a riff about a song by Richard Thompson I heard lying in bed, is the third.

 

They all had one incredible thing in common, they were all, all four, born on the same day. The twins, Molly and Tandy Vermilion, Michelle McQuade, and, of course, James, James Aidee. All three girls loved James, loved him as long as they could remember. When they were little kids it didn’t matter that there were three of them, it was just something that they shared.

But then, as they reached their twenties, it began to change. Each one wanted James to himself. They set aside their differences on their twenty-first birthday and had a four-person party down in the bars by the waterfront. They crowded into a photo booth to remember the day. They smiled at the lens, not realizing how few happy days were in front of them.

It was time to start their lives. To the shock of the other three, Michelle joined the police force. She was always a big girl, and a bit shy, but she found a hard discipline inside herself that worked well with her on the front lines of the toughest parts of the city.

All three, women now, thought of James all the time, but he loved Molly. He loved Molly with a burning fire.

But James wasn’t worthy of all their attention, he was lazy and shifty and would do anything to avoid having to work for his money.

Somehow, when Michelle became a cop, that cut the ropes that were keeping all of them in check and things quickly began to spin out of control. James worked a deal with Molly’s sister, Tandy, borrowing all her savings (and she, unlike her sister Molly and James was a hardworking, honest woman) with some harebrained scheme to buy some brown heroin from the next town down the interstate and turn it into a big profit. Tandy never would have done the deal if she wasn’t blinded by her passion for James… there were some vague promises made – never intended to be kept.

He lost his nerve and blew Tandy’s money on a classic motorcycle, a 1952 Vincent, and a custom leather jacket for Molly, who dyed her hair bright red for the occasion. Tandy was furious, though she never showed it outwardly. Molly and James were the talk of the town… A red haired woman in a leather jacket on the back of a vintage motorcycle… quite the scene.

But the Gomez brothers were upset the deal never went down. They had made some upfront deal that left them holding the bag and they weren’t who you wanted to piss off. Officer Michelle McQuade heard rumors through her network of informers and tried to warn her old friend James, but he wasn’t hearing any of it.

Finally, one evening Tandy had enough and sent word to the Gomez brothers of a place that James would head out at night. She said she was sick and made sure her sister Molly stayed with her while James rode away, saying she didn’t always need to go, it would be all right, “Just this time.”

They blasted James with a shotgun and Molly barely got to him at the hospital before he died. His last act was to give her the keys to the undamaged motorcycle.

Now the two sisters, Molly and Tandy ride the bike together with Molly in front still wearing her leather jacket. They are the talk of the town. Sometimes they go too fast but Officer McQuade makes sure the tickets get squashed.

 

Live Through the Night

“Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night.”
― Dorothy Parker

Somewhere in the Caribbean

 

The light leaking between the curtains was gray twilight. He didn’t know where he was and the only clock read six seventeen with no AM/PM indicator. He didn’t know if it was six in the morning or in the evening.

All he could do was to stay motionless, staring at the gap between the curtains, waiting to see if it grew lighter or darker.

The Illusion of Risk

What are you buying when you get on a roller coaster? Not risk… but the illusion of risk. Being hurled to the edge of danger but knowing that you’ll never have to cross it. … Think of Alaska as one big theme park.”
—- Limbo (movie), John Sayles

This year’s New Orleans Writing Marathon was based at the wonderful, historic Beauregard Keyes house in the French Quarter. What a beautiful place – I recommend a visit and a tour.

I particularly enjoyed the artwork hanging on the walls. On our trip across the river to Algiers, we discussed a dark painting that I remembered. You couldn’t see much – only a snow capped mountain line and maybe a bit of an orange glow. When we returned for the evening, I took a photo of the painting with my phone and was surprised to see that there was more visible in the picture than there was in real life. There was a row of mountains and a small boat in the foreground that you could not see with the naked eye. I was particularly taken by that subtle orange glow behind some trees on the right hand side.

Enhanced photo of a painting in the hallway of the Beauregard-Keyes house, New Orleans

The staff from the Beuregard-Keyes House said that the painter and even the date of this particular canvas was unknown. I talked to the others that had been at Algiers with me and realized I had the wrong artwork – they had been discussing a nearby painting of Venice at night by George Loring Brown.

That didn’t matter to me, I still was fascinated by the dark line of snowcapped mountains and still water. The next day at a nearby breakfast place I decided to write a flash fiction based on the painting (changing the mountains into volcanic peaks for dramatic effect). Inspired by one of my favorite films, Limbo (see it at your risk, I loved the film but the others in the theater stood up and cursed the screen at the end – Christopher Null said, “I can forgive many things. But using some hackneyed, whacked-out, screwed-up non-ending on a movie is unforgivable. I walked a half-mile in the rain and sat through two hours of typical, plodding Sayles melodrama to get cheated by a complete and total copout finale.” – He is completely wrong, the movie ended the only way it could….), left the ending… somewhat unresolved.

Typed up from my handwritten notebook:

July 11, 10:30 Croisant D’Or, New Orleans

The darkness was so all-encompassing it felt as thick and liquid as the saltwater they dipped their paddles in. The four canoes and single small skiff moved in a rough line. Sam could almost see the skiff ahead – more of an impression than actual vision – rowed by the four on board – its sails useless in the dead calm night.

Beyond, the unseen moon hidden by an invisible line of cliffs to the right illuminated the snow capped upper slopes of the volcano. Its torn cone glowing in the sky – visible, but selfish with its cold light.

The paddles and oars clumped up and down the line, with an occasional weak splash. The men were all too exhausted with effort, fear, and lack of sleep to work efficiently and the sound of wood striking gunwale or skipping off the water at the wrong angle was a surprise to these skilled seagoing men – but they were so numb – the embarrassment passed.

They worked in silence. Sam wondered if the other men’s minds were silently exploding within – as his felt. The humidity thickened the darkness. The only breeze was provided by their paddling – the heat was broken every now and then by invisible lenses of cool air that fell down the slopes from the snowfields miles above. They passed through a bank of sour sulfur mist from the fumaroles along the shore. The paddling increased to move through that foulness as quickly as possible.

Sam saw something new – coming to life out of the ink. At first it was barely visible – a dark dull rust-colored patch ahead, quickly heating into a dark but distinct orange glow.

It was a bit to the right of the skiff, along the shoreline. Sam realized this was their destination, their camp. There was a line of dunes and behind them a swampy area before the land rose quickly up the mountain. They had pitched camp atop a series of grassy hummocks above the brown stagnant drainage, but still protected by the dunes from being seen from the sea.

At first the glow heartened Sam and the others as their rowing increased a little more in pace. They were almost back. Sam thought of a bit of a rest – of a stout drink around the campfire before they had to start the hard work of unloading the rifles and ammo boxes from the canoes and the skiff. Sam even thought beyond that, of crawling into his tent for sleep. That seemed the end, he couldn’t get his mind past the imaginary sensation of letting himself falling limp and snapping his eyes shut.

But as they approached at a frustrating pace, weighted down by all that steel until the tiny waves lapped at the gunwales, the orange glow began to grow and spread.

Soon, it was all-encompassing. They could even see yellow licks of flame flicking over the tops of the dunes. Long tongues of red light reached up the sides of the mountain above, moving and interspersed with long ominous purple moving shadows.

Shouts, curses, and desperate cries peppered up and down the line of little boats. Sam kept silent though, and continued to paddle with desperate hopeless effort. They all did, still moving straight into the growing conflagration.

They had nowhere else to go.

Sam thought, “I am mortal. We are all going to die… but when? Is it going to be tonight?”