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.”

Phosphorescent Squid

“The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes.”
—- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Dallas Zoo

There were some rare phosphorescent squid on display at the Dallas Zoo in the tunnel under the DART rail tracks. The poor creatures were hung on racks, strung up with monofilament fishline and flimsy hollow plastic poles. Their huge eyes, used to the inky blackness of the Stygian depths, stared featureless out at the crowd… at the children who screamed and taunted them.

“I WANT one Daddy!” they yelled. Apparently, desperate for funds in this day of official austerity, the zoo is actually hawking these fellows, to raise a needed buck or two.

The brats danced their frenzied waltz of greed in a rough circle around the squid while their procreators stood, horrified, trying to defend their wallets. I could bear no more of this scene and walked on to view some pachyderms.

Later in the day, as I was leaving, I spotted a limp, disconsolate squid being shoved into an open trunk door. It phosphorescent glow all but extinguished doomed to a long uncomfortable trip and a short demeaning captive life after.

I saluted the poor, hopeless beast and turned to board my train.