Short Story Of the Day – Event Horizon by Bill Chance

“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”
― Terry Pratchett,
Lords and Ladies

Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 165


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#71) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


I stumbled across a facebook group for a weekly flash challenge.

This week is a photo prompt – 750 word limit.

The explanation of the photo in the prompt:

This week’s picture prompt is sadly untraceable. It’s all over pinterest, but I can’t find anyone crediting it. Lots of people calling it street art, but where and by who? I tried loads of foreign sites. Even the Turkey Tribune used this for a poet to write to, but didn’t credit the source of the art. Such a shame cuz I love it but I don’t know where it is or who did it. 


 

Event Horizon

Time is a completely different thing on each side of an event horizon.

When the Dark Empire, violating every tenet of the rules of interstellar war, unleashed the singularity bombs on civilian populations across the galaxy, all fled the doom of the growing black holes. Some escaped in time, but millions were trapped inside. And a few, a cursed few, were caught in between.

When the attack came on New Zoya City, Xander said, “Run Hola, run! Run like your life depends on it, because it does!”

Xander and Hola ran before the oncoming horror, the giant sphere expanding until it looked like a solid wall blown before the wind. He thought they had a chance, but when he realized they were going to be overtaken he tried to push Hola, the love of his life, ahead. But he slipped in his panic and twisted as he fell and she stumbled back into disaster just as the expansion slowed to a stop.

And now, every day, Xander visits the event horizon where only the tip of Hola’s face emerges, only enough for him to recognize, only enough for him to remember.

The newest research by the bio-physicists prove beyond the shadow of a doubt the existence of the soul. After all, without a soul, what is the matrix that consciousness exists upon? But what of a soul that is trapped in an event horizon? Two halves of the soul are moving in different times – what looks frozen is in reality moving at a glacial pace.

Xander stares at that fragment of face, trying to see a tiny wisp of breath or a microscopic quiver of movement. There is nothing.

He is trapped in the event horizon as much as Hola is. And he know it. Trapped by guilt and longing and memory. Does she know it too? Does she hate him as much as he deserves?

These questions and millions more will haunt him as long as he lives and he knows he won’t live a fraction of the time he must to find the answers.

Short Story Of the Day – Punch Card by Bill Chance

“It’s been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
― Thomas Pynchon,
Gravity’s Rainbow

Galatyn Station, DART, Richardson Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#69) More than two thirds there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


I try and keep most of what I write here to around a thousand words. This one is about three times as long – sorry, I know time is short, but I really didn’t feel up to cutting it down too much.

I had a little trouble with technology. This is from an outline I wrote several years ago – when Angry Birds was a thing. Now, it’s already too late.


Punch Card

“Grampa Ron! Grampa Ron! Lookit what I got for my birthday!”

Sammy Meeks shouted as he tore through down the hall and into his beloved grandfather’s study, waving a new digital tablet.

“Well well, let’s take a look at that,” Ron said as he adjusted the glasses on his head. Sammy turned the tablet so his grandfather could see the screen and with a flick of the finger set a flock of birds flying into a stone castle occupied by evil pigs.

“Angry Birds, Grampa, Angry Birds!”

“Well whataya know. What will they come up with next?”

“I’m sixteen today and this is my present.”

“You know, Sammy, when I was sixteen they didn’t have things like that.”

“I know Grampa Ron, even I remember when they didn’t have these. You must have used a laptop.”

“No, Sammy, we didn’t have laptops. I had never even seen a computer until I was in college, and they didn’t look like they do now.”

“What did they look like, Grampa?”

“Well, believe it or not, the first computer I used filled up half of one floor of a whole office building.”

“It must have been powerful.”

“Nope, I’ll bet that little tablet is ten times more powerful that this thing was. It wasn’t as powerful as my phone.”

“Half as big as a building? How did you use it.”

“Oh, Sammy, now that’s a story. Got a minute?”

“Sure Grampa, always for you.”

“It didn’t have a keyboard or a screen. It printed out reports… that’s all it did. And to put stuff in, you used these.”

Ron pointed to a frame, mounted on his wall. Sammy walked over to look at it. Mounted, matted, and professionally framed, was a rectangular piece of beige card, with one corner cut off. It had a series of square holes cut into it and a dot-matrix sentence printed across the top. Sammy moved closer, and squinted a bit, so he could read the legend.

I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine,” Sammy read. “Grandpa Ron, What does that mean?”

“Well, Sammy, like I said, that’s a long story. It’s the story of how I met your Grandmother. Do you have a while?”

“I got all day, Grampa.”

So Grampa Ron Meeks settled down in his desk chair, half-closed his eyes, and started to tell the story.


I hated the punch card machine more than anything I had ever hated before. I was a junior, majoring in comparative literature and since I wasn’t in the computer science department I could only use the computer lab after ten in the evening. The giant computer itself took up half of the bottom floor of the building – but nobody went there. The other half was filled with a filthy snack bar, lined with rusty automats that spat out moldy candy bars and bags of stale off-brand potato chips – and a series of dingy rooms filled with hundreds of punch card machines.

I had taken an elective class in Fortran programming because I thought that computers were the future and I was worried about paying rent after graduation. Writing the assigned programs was easy – find the sides and angles of a right triangle, the day of a date, or draw a series of boxes. I could write the code, but I couldn’t punch the cards.

My homework problems had to be punched onto cards. I had to buy a case of the damn things at the beginning of the semester. I couldn’t imagine using all those cards. I didn’t know. Three months later, I had to buy another half-box from some kid in my dorm.

This was worse than a typewriter. You would load a stack of cards into the machine and then it would warm up and start to hum. The heat would rise and the ozone would burn your nose. The keys were big and yellow and had to be shoved hard before the machine would roar and then… “Blam!” it would whack a little tiny rectangle out of the card. A paper flake would fly through the air to join the thick layer of cardstock confetti coating the floor and a corresponding hole would appear in the card itself.

With the punch card machine a mistake was a disaster. Sure, the code printed out along the top of the card but they never put new ribbons in the machines and it was always too faint for me to read. When I had my stack of cards all finished I’d take them into the computer room, wrap them with a rubber band, and shove them through this little wooden door in the wall where they would fall down a chute.

Then it was time to wait. Wait for hours. I’d spend all night there, waiting for my program to run. Then, my output would drop down another, bigger, chute into a pile. Every time an output would drop, all the kids waiting would run to see if it was theirs. It was horrible.

You see, if your program ran correctly you’d get a few sheets of paper with the code and the answer printed on it but I never did, at least not the first three or four times. I’d find my cards still rubberbanded together and clipped to a huge stack of pinfeed folded green and white striped paper. On the top would be a handwritten note that would say something like, “Core Dump, you loser!”

Whenever you made a mistake, even a tiny one, the core would dump and the computer would print out hundreds of pages of gibberish. You were supposed to carefully peruse the printouts and find your error in there somewhere but nobody had time for that. You’d throw the printout in this huge wooden bin, scratch your head, and start looking for your mistake. I have no idea why they wasted all that paper.

Sometimes it would be a mistake in my work, but usually it was a typo in my card punching. The little holes corresponded to letters, numbers, or symbols and I punched out a card with everything on it, in order, and I would slide the thing slowly over every card I had punched to find the mistake.

It was horrible. I would be so tired, my eyes swimming, sitting at that huge punch machine, trying to type. Even when I made it through a card, I’d be terrified I had made an unknown error and would generate another core dump. It was killing me… but I had nowhere else to go.

Our instructor was always harping on us to put in comment cards. These were punch cards marked in a certain way so that they didn’t make the computer do anything, but simply left comments. You were supposed to leave comments about what your code was supposed to be doing or what your variable represented or why you decided to do something the way you did. It was a pain in the ass and I never did it until the teacher started marking my grade down because I had insufficient comments in my code.

So I started putting the comments in, though I never commented on the code. I figured he didn’t really look through everybody’s work for these things and only took the computer’s count of how many comments were in here. Sometimes I’d just gripe… like, “Fortran really sucks,” or “This is too hard,” or “It’s way too late at night to be doing this.

This got to be pretty boring pretty fast so I switched to some of my favorite Shakespeare Quotes, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” or “There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting,” or “I am not bound to please thee with my answer.” I might make some mistakes punching the comments… but who cared? They would still go through as comments and you could still read them.

I remember the day when I picked up my output and, sure enough, there was the big thick stack of folded paper, another core dump, but instead of a handwritten note, there was a punched card on top of my stack. It was different in that it had been done on a machine that had a fresh ribbon in it and across the top, in crisp, clear, printing, it said, “Funny Comments Ronald. You’re getting close. Ck crd 7 error in do loop – Christine.

And sure enough, in my seventh card I had hit a capital letter “Z” instead of a number “2.” I never would have seen that.

So I redoubled my efforts at witty, humorous, and obscure quotations for my comment cards. I was reading this huge crazy new book called Gravity’s Rainbow and one day I quoted from it. Stuff like, “You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.” or “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers,” or “Danger’s over, Banana Breakfast is saved.”

My program ran that time and the card on top said, “A screaming comes across the sky – Christine,” which made me so happy I didn’t stop smiling for a day.

The next program, I added a comment card that said, “Christine, I can’t see you – Ronald.

And it came back with, “I know, but I can see you. I think you’re cute – Christine.

So I thought about it and worked up my courage. At the end of a program that I larded with my best quotes from the composition book I carried with me and scribbled in all the time… my commonplace book, I finished with a card that said “Christine, I want to meet you – Ronald.”

All that night I was the first to fight their way in to grab any program that slid down the chute, only to be disappointed again and again as other student’s projects ran before mine. Finally, as the sky was beginning to turn a light pink in the west, my program dropped. On top was a card. I ran back to my dorm room to read it, not daring to look at it anywhere in public.

It said, “Love to Ronald. Snarky’s at six, on Thursday. Don’t be late – Christine.”

Snarky’s was a little chain restaurant off campus not far from the computer building. My heart almost beat out of my chest. Thursday was going to take a long time to get there.


I didn’t want to be late, so I showed up outside Snarky’s a half hour early and paced back and front in front of the place for fifteen minutes.

I was so nervous and excited. I had barely been on a date since I arrived at school and had never had a girlfriend. This was so weird, meeting somebody I had never even seen… but it was my best chance and I was going crazy.

So I went inside a good fifteen minutes early, sat down, and asked for water. Twenty minutes later, nobody had shown up.

“Well, sport, you ready to order yet?” asked my waitress. She was skinny and wearing this awful uniform covered with little badges that had smiley faces or stupid phrases like, “Have a nice day!” or “Today is the first day in the rest of your life.” She stood there tapping her pen on her little black order book.

“I’m sorry, I already told you; I’m waiting for someone. I’m waiting for my date.”

“She better get here soon, this is our busy time and I need the tips off of this table.”

“She was supposed to be here by now. I’m sorry. It’ll be any minute now, I’m sure.”

“OK Romeo, what does she look like? Maybe she’s already sitting somewhere else.”

I looked up at the waitress. Her name tag said, “Mabel.”

“I’m sorry, Mabel, I have no idea what she looks like.”

“Give me a break… you don’t think my name really is Mabel, do you. Not that I care but I’m Audrey. I hate these name tags and write something different every day. Oh, and what the hell do you mean you don’t know what she looks like?”

So I explained it. Everything. I even had the punch card, the one that’s in the frame, tucked into my jacket pocket. I showed it to her.

“Oh Shit!” she said, “Those bastards!”

I was confused. All I could do is stammer out some garbled noise.

“It’s those computer lab guys. They are in here all the time. A bunch of them. The worst dirty hairy stupid idiots you ever saw. And they are lousy tippers too.”

I still didn’t get it. “What are you talking about?”

“Wake up and smell the coffee, sport. They set you up. They sent you those cards so you couldn’t tell from the handwriting. There isn’t any Christine. They’re probably in the back room checking on you, laughing their idiot asses off. I’ll go check.”

So she spun and left. I sat there shaking, doing everything I could do to keep from bursting into tears. I cradled my water and gripped it hard, to stop my hands from shaking. After about ten minutes, Audrey the waitress came back.

“Sure enough, sport. They are in the back room having a good old time at your expense. Don’t look, they’re peeking over the salad bar at you. I’m sorry, that sucks, those guys are real assholes. And bad tippers, which kinda goes together.”

I could feel my ears burning. I was terribly dizzy and sick. It felt like everybody in the place knew my humiliation and was staring at me. The normal buzz of conversation rose around me and I knew everyone was talking about me. I couldn’t even raise my eyes, my sight up above my empty water glass.

“Nothing I can do,” I mumbled.

“Do? Do?” Audrey the waitress said, “Oh, don’t worry about that, sport. Their order was up when I was back in the kitchen. I had the dishwashers all spit in their sandwiches.”

When she said that, everything suddenly broke and the room seemed silent and clear and bright as noon. I looked up into the face of Audrey the waitress and knew then that I was suddenly hopelessly and helplessly in love.

And that was how I met your grandmother.


“I’ve heard you say so much about Grandma Audrey,” Sammy said. “I wish I could’a met her.”

“Me too. We married a year after graduation and your father was born a year after that. He didn’t even know her, really, he was only three when they found the cancer in her pancreas. She went downhill very fast. Back then, we didn’t even take very many pictures, except of your father.”

“So you don’t have much of hers,” Sammy said. “That’s why you keep that card in the frame. That way you have something to remember her by.”

“Not much of hers? Oh no, you’re wrong about that. The only reason I keep that card is…. well, to make little boys like you ask questions. I remember her by your father. For all these years she’s been gone… every day… no… every second of every minute of every hour I remember her by your father, and your big sister, and you… and maybe even your kids someday.”

Sammy didn’t know what to say. He brought his new tablet up and snapped a picture of his Grandpa Ron sitting in his desk chair and then set it as the background on the screen.

“Enough of this,” Grandpa Ron said, “Let’s go outside and throw the football around before it gets too dark. Or is that too old fashioned for you?”

“Nope, that sounds cool.”

“Well, you find the ball and I’ll be out in a minute once I turn the lights out in here.”

Sammy spun and ran off to look for the football. Ron stood, and stretched the creakiness out of his bones. He reached over and turned off the lamp. Before he left the room he leaned over and placed a quick kiss on the glass that covered the framed punch card.

 

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

“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
― Stanisław Lem, Solaris

Flock in Space, Ruben Ochoa
Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#49). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


 

Radio Radio

Winston Devine was always something of a hoarder… not too bad, but he liked his stuff. The quarantine lockdown kept him from going to his favorite thrift store and it was hard on him. When things began to free up and Thrift World opened for two hours a day (with social distancing and a mask requirement) Winston was excited.

There is a certain smell of a big thrift store – mostly a slight musty odor from those vast racks of used clothes – and Winston was happy that Thrift World still had it. It brought back such good memories of bargains found and purchased. He had a route through the store where he wound looking for what he was interested in. He always found things he liked – he was looking for different things than the usual poverty-stricken denizen was.

It the back corner was a giant plastic bin full of obsolete, useless electronics. Single and scuffed speakers, old phones, DVD players, audio cassette recorders, phone answering machines, overhead projectors, VCRs, broken printers, fax machines… all the detritus of fast-changing technology. A hand lettered sign was taped to the wall, “Old Electric.” The items were tagged with color-coded stickers indicating the price.

Winston couldn’t help a quick dig. At the least it sent a surge of nostalgia through him. From near the bottom he lifted out what looked like an old radio. It reminded of a portable tube set that his father had when he was a little kid.

Clad in reddish leather it was a rectangular box about the size of a loaf of bread. It even had a leather strap handle on the top like the one his father had owned. It sported a purple dot which Winston knew represented a buck. For a dollar he’d buy it – even if it didn’t work.

At home he sat down at his kitchen table with the bargain, excited to figure out if he could it to do something. His father’s old radio had opened up with two snaps on the back and contained a huge plastic tube that required nine “D” batteries – electronics from that age weren’t very efficient.

But on this unit the back was featureless leather. Turning it over, there was no opening on the sides or bottom, either. The top only contained the carrying strap.

“How the hell does this thing get power?” he muttered to himself.

On the front there were two large silver knobs on either side – one labeled “Vol” the other “Tun.” Between them was a linear tuning dial with three lines and a red slider that moved across it. Below the dial was a simple sliding switch.

“Well, that looks right,” he said to nobody.

But that was all there was. It was too simple, there should have been more stuff on it. He was confused because there was no logo or brand name… no “Zenith” or “GE” emblazoned proudly. Maybe it had fallen off.

Winston gave the volume knob a twist and after a click the tuning dial lit up with a strong blue glow. The thing worked! He was elated.

The slide switch had three positions. AM, FM, and the third had a symbol that looked like a stylized swirl. He set it to AM, turned the volume up and began to scan.

Each time he turned the tuning knob, even a fraction, sound began to come out of the radio. It was crisp and distinct. Winston smiled as he thought about how well stuff was made back then.

The odd thing was, the stations weren’t all in English. Few were, as a matter of fact. As he tuned he realized the radio was picking up stations from all over the world. Picking them up strong and clear like they were right next door. It was receiving hundreds of stations.

When he reached the end of the dial, he switched the radio to FM and moved back down. Again, every tiny movement tuned in another station from somewhere in the world, strong and distortion free. There was no static. There was music from all genres and talk in every imaginable language.

Winston was confused. He had no idea how this thing was working like that. Then he noticed something else. The radio had no speaker grill. He turned it around in his hands and could not figure out where the music was coming from. It seemed to be radiating out of the whole radio in all directions. And he noticed that the radio was pristine. The leather was completely unmarked… no scratches or stains. The dials were perfect. How was that possible on an old radio that ended up in a thrift store?

He was beginning to freak out. There was no way this was possible. On the other hand, it was an amazing bargain. He had only paid a buck for it. It had AM and FM bands – but what was that third switch position. Maybe it was short wave.

He looked more closely at the dial. On the FM and AM lines were numbers, frequencies, like he expected. On the third line, however there was a series of small circles. Each circle was labeled in tiny lettering that read:

Arcturus

Betelgeuse

Canopus

Capella A

Capella B

Deneb

Fomalhaut

Mimosa

Pollux

Procyon

Rigel

Sirius

Spica

Vega

These were names of stars, he recognized that. Looking at the sliding switch he realized that the symbol on the third position was a stylized galaxy. It was crazy.

Taking a deep breath, he tuned the radio to Arcturus and switched the band to the galaxy. Immediately an odd series of clicks and tones started pouring out of the radio. He had never heard anything remotely like those sounds. They were completely alien. Alien. The word stuck in his mind.

He began to turn the dial, working through the names. Each one had a completely different sound – Betelgeuse was an odd wailing, while Canopus sounded almost like whale song with an oboe playing in the background. Capella A and B sounded similar, though A was at a higher pitch. Nothing, though was familiar at all… it was all… alien.

Until he reached Sirius. When the red line crossed that little circle Winston was shocked to hear “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys in perfect clarity. When it ended, the old doo-wop classic “Earth Angel” played. The next song was an ancient instrumental by The Ventures, “Telstar.” Winston had always liked that song.

After the guitar faded away Winston was jolted when a voice came over the radio. It was an odd voice – he couldn’t decide if it was male of female, young or old. It had no discernible accent and Winston decided it was an absolute perfect generic voice.

“Welcome all you listeners from across the known galaxy to our afternoon show, Sounds of Earth. Our agents are working hard recording the music and culture of that little planet for the archives. Their time and their job is almost over. Once the invasion is accomplished, the population enslaved, and the planet stripped we want to preserve as much as we can in the unlikely case they produced anything of lasting value. In the meantime we select what we think you might enjoy and let you hear it before it’s gone.”

“Next up, Space Oddity by a human singer named David Bowie.”

Winston turned the radio off. He was shaking and sweat was pouring down his face. He walked into his living room and turned on the television. He was relieved when the normal pair of newscasters appeared on the screen sitting behind their usual desk. There was no panic and no mention of an alien invasion.

The male announcer said to his partner, “Well, Wendy, twenty twenty has been quite a year. The pandemic, political insanity, then the demonstrations and the riots. We can hope that soon, things will start to improve. Twenty one will have to be a better year.”

“That’s right Chad,” his partner replied. “What could possibly happen next? I can’t imagine things getting worse than this.”

Winston couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as he said to the screen, “Worse? Oh, I’m afraid you have no idea how much worse it is going to get.”

Short Story Of the Day Time Slips Away (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“Every guy can basically be boiled down to what he wants and what he’s afraid of.”
― Christopher Moore, Noir

A cute couple.

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

Thanks for reading.


 

Time Slips Away

Matthew and Becca met up at a restaurant a few blocks from his condominium. He had arrived twenty minutes early. His heart leapt when she showed up at the hostess’ podium a half hour late. He was worried she wouldn’t recognize him after all these decades but she rushed to the table and kissed him on the mouth before she said hello.  Matthew had worked through three single malt scotches while he waited and he teetered a bit as he stood and held her chair.

The scotch and flattering light let Matthew think the years had never slipped by. Becca filled him in about the missing time while he listened and smiled. He already knew everything. He was a lawyer, after all, and had the resources. He had never forgotten her. Not a single day had gone by for three decades that he hadn’t thought about Becca. He kept smiling and nodding silently through the recitation, even though he knew and recognized the gaps, the exaggerations, and the little white lies woven through her tale.

“And then there was my third husband. Well, he sure turned out to be a real piece of work. I’ll tell you, three weeks just isn’t long enough to get to know a person. At least I kept my marriage vows with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, death did us part. He had debts he couldn’t pay. Caught a shiv in the big house. That means….”

“I know what it means. I’m a lawyer.”

“Oh, I guess you are. I guess you do.”

 

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), It by Bill Chance

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

Nambe Lake, New Mexico

 

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

Thanks for reading.

 


It

 

He had paid in full for the trip before it happened. The trip was not cheap and he had saved up for several years. Nothing, of course, was refundable. After it happened, he didn’t want to go.

But at the funeral everyone said, “You need to go, it will be good for you.”

This was inevitably followed by, “It is what they would have wanted you to do.”

So he went.

The first day he had planned on a hike to a high isolated mountain lake perched in a rocky cirque below three sides of vast cliff faces. It was listed in all the guidebooks as a top ten dayhike in the entire state.

He parked his rented car, slung his tiny daypack and set out. The first section of trail was fairly level through a thick forest. He felt as if his boots were floating above the ground as he moved, the forest was filled with an invisible fog, and his mind was somewhere far away.

Then the trail turned into the wide canyon that led up to the lake and he began to climb. It was very steep and rocky. His legs quickly began to tire and his breath came in difficult gulps. The pain galvanized him and he welcomed it. The ache reminded him he was alive and helped to get his physical self – his muscles, bones, and lungs in line with how he felt in his head.

The trail twisted up and around beside the tumbling stream coming down from the lake above. The cold mountain meltwater had a subtle unique ozone-like odor, bracing and pleasant. He noted this, along with the tinkling splash of the falling water and the cold air pouring down from above, hitting him in the face, refreshing while the sun rose burning overhead. He sensed all this, but his heart was hard and it didn’t reach him like he hoped it would.

On he climbed, getting tired and thirsty as his water bottle ran out. The canyon kept turning in a rising spiral. He expected to find his destination after every curve, but was only presented with more steep rock.

“Where is that damn lake?” he cursed under his breath.

And then, around a last bend, there it was. A smooth oval of that almost milky turquoise mountain water, tinted with fine glacial rock dust. It was high up, almost to treeline and the evergreens surrounding the lake were twisted – stunted with the winter struggles against snow and wind, but dark green and thick, holding the water in a cup between their trunks. All around rose vertical walls of rock, a vast enveloping escarpment of mixed grays, punctuated with patches of brilliant snow trailing strings of melt water falls. High above, like looking up from the bottom of a wide well, was the sky – a deep purple from the altitude and spattered with thin, high clouds.

The beauty of the scene assaulted him with power and grace. But he was still immune. The lifeless numbness that enveloped him since it happened shielded him from the gorgeous allure of the lake no matter how hard he had worked to enjoy it.

After a few minutes he turned around and started back.

“It will be easier now, going back down,” he said to himself and he was right.

“Well,” he thought, “that was one wasted hike.”

But he knew that sometime in the future there would be another one that wasn’t wasted. At any rate, there were nine more in his guidebook. And more states after that.

Time was what he needed. It was all he needed.

 

____________________________________

This is another sketch using a writing prompt from the book by Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany. It… and its companion, The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, are unusually useful collections of  writing exercises (rather than simple prompts). I thumbed around until I found a prompt I liked… it was the second one I looked at.

Writing Prompt #110

Sweet and Sour

Describe briefly a lake or a backcountry mountain trail (in other words, a beautiful natural setting) as seen by a person who has just lost a parent in a sudden, unexpected death. The last time this narrator saw the parent, they argued violently. In your narrative do not mention the death, the parent, or the argument. Do not tell a story. Simply show us what the lake or forest or street looks like to someone under these circumstances. 500 words

 

 

Short Story Of the Day, Technology by Bill Chance

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” he said, trailing off.

—-Bill Chance, Technology

 

 

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Anna Karina

 


 

Technology

Wilfred had tested positive and was in strict quarantine. He wrote low-level code for a living and could easily work from home. His condominium was more than large enough for one person. There were grocery stores and number of restaurants in his area that offered delivery – he wasn’t going to starve.

But he hated eating alone.

His place had plenty of storage space and he was always fighting his hoarding tendencies. Every now and then, though, his habit of keeping stuff served him well. Not very often, but sometimes.

As he dreaded another sandwich alone (he had taken to eating over the counter where he made his food to minimize cleanup) he had a sudden idea. Digging around in a disused walk-in closet he found an ancient dot-matrix printer and a big box of blank continuous pin-feed paper. He even had some extra stashed ribbon cartridges, enough to do a lot of printing.

He dragged it out and set it up on a sturdy side table. He was disappointed when he realized his laptop didn’t have a parallel port – but Amazon had a surprising collection of USB to parallel adapters with prime overnight delivery. While he was on the site he ordered a pack of large foam core board, some rubber cement, and a nice cutter for curved mat boards. Tape and scissors, he already had.

One of his common tasks as a code jockey was to write printer drivers, and it didn’t take him long to cobble together something to output some surprisingly good graphics (black and white, of course) to the ancient dot matrix.

The next job was to pick five people and download some quality images. His dining room table would seat six and he had nice quality place settings for himself and five others. There were so many folks to choose from, but it was his party and he could invite whomever he wanted.

It took a while to get used to the noise of the dot matrix in his condo. He had forgotten how loud and slow the things were. But the image of the paper slowly unfolding from the box and running through the printer was comforting and the noise ultimately became almost soothing.

Then there was the gluing, the cutting and trimming, and putting it all together. The smell of the rubber cement was nasty in the closed in space, and Wilfred decided he should have used double sided tape. But it did work and the odor finally dissipated.

Finally, he was done. He had several days to decide on his first menu and have the food delivered. He decided that it didn’t have to be too fancy and he should make what he liked. Nobody was getting enough exercise so it better be healthy. He settled on baked chicken meatballs with garlic-dill yogurt sauce served over zucchini noodles with mixed vegetables and sweet potatoes on the side.

He filled the six plates and put one at each place. Then he filled glasses with water and a nice white that he had stashed away.

So there he was with five other people – the foam core cutouts firmly taped up on each chair, arranged man-woman, with him at one head.

To his right was the French actress Anna Karina – the photo he printed was of her at her prime as a star of the early sixties New Wave. Her stunning beauty translated well to the black and white dot matrix printing – so many of her movies weren’t in color – Wilfred thought of her that way.

“After all,” she said, “Things are what they are. A message is a message, plates are plates, men are men, and life is life.”

To his left as the author Patricia Highsmith. She was born in Texas but settled in Paris and had a very unconventional life. She was burdened with alcoholism and depression, but sometimes that made for lively dinner conversation. She was plainspoken, dryly funny, and fun at the table, in general.

“I know you have it in you, Wilfred,” Patricia said suddenly at the end of a silence, “the capacity to be terribly happy.”

Beyond her was Oscar Wilde. Wilfred always loved the way he wove witty aphorisms through his writing and imagined he was always good for a quip to keep the conversation going. He was not disappointed.

“I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best,” he said, and everyone raised their glasses.

On the other side, next to Anna Karina, was the massive presence of Orson Welles. Mr. Welles was on good behavior and really enjoyed the food. His tales of some of the famous people he had met kept everyone enraptured.

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” he said, trailing off.

Finally, at the other end of the table, was Cleopatra. Her English was surprisingly good for an ancient Egyptian Queen. She looked at life and the world in general in a wildly different way that anybody else and had the others thinking deeply about their own perspectives.

“Marc Antony?” she said, “I never understood how such a big man had such a small brain.” And everybody chuckled.

The meal ended but Wilfred still sat there enjoying the company and the conversation. Finally he collected the plates and glasses and was momentarily bothered by the amount of food that was wasted.

“But that’s the price for good company,” Patricia Highsmith pointed out. And she was right.

Everyone had such a good time. So they made plans for another dinner in a few days.

“I’m sorry,” said Oscar Wilde, “I have to fly to Paris for a meeting with my agent. There’s a play coming out and he is desperate for me to make some changes.”

The others talked about it for a minute and the decision was made to invite Groucho Marx.

“Then Groucho it is,” said Wilfred. He had plenty of paper and foamcore left and had learned to sleep through the sound of printing.

 

Short Story Of the Day, Nouvelle Vague by Bill Chance

They would take a purposeful minute of silence every now and then. “If there’s nothing to say, let’s have a minute of silence” was their motto.

—-Bill Chance, Nouvelle Vague

 

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

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Nouvelle Vague

 

Armando loved cars. And his girlfriend Cecile had a great one. Her father had a bit of cash stashed away and bought her a vintage light blue ’65 Mustang Convertible to drive around while she was at school. She used to say, “I live the top down life.”

The two of them also loved film… or more precisely, movies, because they mostly watched them on tape. The VHS format had recently defeated its deathly adversary, the Betamax, and a rental store for the hard-core movie aficionado had opened up near his apartment. The two of them were renting stacks of tapes and working their way through the French New Wave.

Though they lived in a tumbleweed-blown college town in the middle of the great plains they liked to pretend they were in Paris. A greasy spoon was a pale but workable substitute for a Parisian Cafe – one even had sidewalk tables for those few days where the weather wasn’t blowing ice or baking heat. They watched Godard and talked politics over meals and she cut her hair like Anna Karina.

Like all Nouvelle Vague couples they saved their important, passionate conversations for the times they were driving in the car. She named the Mustang Metal Hurlant. They would drive with the top down, sometimes slowly or sometimes sliding around the gravely corners. They would take turns driving and would imagine a camera on the hood shooting through the windshield as they talked about their dreams, argued, or the passenger would lean against the driver and they would cruise in silence.

They would take a purposeful minute of silence every now and then. “If there’s nothing to say, let’s have a minute of silence” was their motto. A minute of silence can be a long time. A real minute of silence takes forever. But they took pride in being able to pull it off.

It took some effort but they learned to dance The Madison. Never found a place in public they could show off.

There was nothing better than driving around with the top down in the twilight evening after a hot day. The convertible made its own breeze and the world was awash in magical colors once the sun set until it became too dark. They kept a little cooler of iced beer cans under the dash and would sneak sips when they knew the cops weren’t watching. Even the condensation on the curved aluminum was beautiful and delicious.

At the end of one of these perfect evenings the night crept down the sky until they had to think of something else to do.

“I know!” Armando said, “Look over there.”

It was the last drive in theater. The VHS tapes had killed the drive in – but there was one last one, hanging on, out there on the edge of town, at the end of time.

They didn’t even look to see what movie was playing, but paid their money and drove in. They were the only customers – the space vast and empty.

“At least we’ll be able to see close,” said Cecile. She drove down right to the front, with the towering white screen rising above them like a fortification. Cecile looked over the door, confused.

“Hey! Where are all the little speakers on poles?”

“Oh, those are long gone,” said Armando, “People kept stealing them. You just tune in on the radio for the sound.”

“This car doesn’t have a radio.”

They drove all the way back to the one spot, right beside the snack bar that still had a speaker. The single employee (who owned the theater and had taken their money earlier) popping corn and filling sodas could keep an eye on that one. They watched the movie on the tiny, distant screen, with nothing but space between.

Still it was nice. And sitting there in that specific instant in that vintage car with the top down watching the last drive in alone (except for the snack bar guy) in that peculiar slice of time they were happy, content and in the moment – blissful and unaware of the tumult and pandemonium that was bearing down on them… on everybody… like a tsunami of insanity – only a few short decades away.

Time Gains Momentum

“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable–if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”
David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

Bicycle Drag Race, Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Dallas, Texas

 

David Foster Wallace wrote the quote above thirteen years before he hung himself. He will never be as old as me. I am closing in on being twice as old as he was when he wrote that quote.

It’s a shame he wasn’t able to stick it out – as time grinds on things get increasingly weird… especially in the sense of “weird” as in different than you expect and stranger than you imagined.

See Yourself Seeing

I like to use light as a material, but my medium is actually perception. I want you to sense yourself sensing – to see yourself seeing.

—-James Turrell

A long time ago(2004) , in a previous incarnation of a blog, I wrote about a trip Lee and I took to the newly opened Nasher Sculpture Center. The blog entry was eventually published in a local magazine. A highlight of the visit was my discovery of James Turrell’s work, Tending (blue).

Tending (blue)

Lee standing in Tending (blue) in 2004.

From the blog (I have quoted this twice before):

My favorite piece might have been the installation Tending (Blue) by James Turrell. We walked into a little opening lit by odd, shifting colors into the wall at the north end of the garden. The passage made a right turn and opened into a small room lined with dark stone benches. The walls on the upper half were featureless and smooth. A gray skylight lighted the whole chamber. The effect was strange and very peaceful. I liked it a lot.

Lee and I left the chamber and walked back up the garden and inside the building. We wandered downstairs and into the auditorium where a film was showing. It told the story of Raymond Nasher and his late wife, how they started out building Northpark Mall, acquired a fortune, and then became premiere collectors of modern sculpture. Mr. Nasher talked about his life, his wife, and his passion for the new sculpture center. The film then showed the construction of the center, how a handful of visionary architects and a few thousand men in hard hats converted a grimy downtown parking lot (I’ve parked there many times, put my quarters or dollar bills into a rusty numbered slot) into a thing of great value and beauty. They talked a lot of how it will be there forever. The film was fun and interesting – it really helped me appreciate the place.

On opening day Raymond Nasher said, “I put Patsy (his wife, the collector, who had passed away a couple years before) in charge of the weather today, and, as you can see, it’s beautiful.

One thing was odd, though. On the part of the film that covered opening day, Nasher and Turrell themselves went into the Tending (Blue) chamber that Lee and I had walked out of only minutes before. The benefactor and the artist sat on the benches and looked around. The skylight rectangle in the ceiling wasn’t gray like we saw it, but a deep cerulean blue.

“What’s up with that?” I asked.

“Let’s go back and check it out,” Lee said.

We hiked back down and entered the chamber again. The skylight was still gray. Something didn’t look right, though. I stood under it, looking up, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how it could change colors so dramatically. I was halfway convinced that it was a rectangle of light projected on the ceiling by some hidden apparatus (the upper walls are washed in subtle changing color from hidden computer controlled LED’s) when I was suddenly struck between the eyes with a big, cold drop of water. I wiped my face in surprise and looked down at some small pools of water at my feet.

“That’s weird, Lee,” I said, “I can’t believe it, but this roof is leaking.”

I looked back up, trying to find the telltale discoloration of a water leak, when, with a sudden shock, I realized what the hell I was actually looking at. That wasn’t a skylight, that wasn’t a projected rectangle at all, it was simply a big hole in the ceiling. I was looking directly at the sky. Once my eyes and my brain were in sync I could see the subtle variation of the clouds passing by overhead. The edges of the hole must have been cut back like razors – there was no visible frame around the opening, simply a featureless rectangle of light. It was amazing.

That’s why the rectangle looked blue in the film – it was a cloudless day. Now I want to go back. I want to go at sunset… I want to figure out how to go at dawn. The city sky at night… will it be brown? I want to sit in there during a rainstorm. I especially want to go there on that rarest of Texas days, a snowstorm.

The opening in the ceiling of the installation Tending (blue). A photograph does not do justice.

I returned to the piece many times. It became my favorite place. Then… horrors.

It was destroyed by the construction of an uber-expensive condominium tower. The controversy still rages today.

JAMES TURRELL
American, born 1943
The Light Inside
1999
Neon and ambient light

But I remained a fan of James Turrell. Especially when I found out about Roden Crater.

Imagine a hollowed out dead volcano in the desolation of Arizona filled with Turrell’s work with light. Amazing.

It is one of the things I want to visit before I die. I was losing hope, however. The idiosyncratic artist was taking forever and only a handful of people (each making tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations) were being allowed to visit. That doesn’t… and never will… include me.

But I kept watching… digitally. And today an article came across my screen. Turrell has partnered with Arizona State University to finish the project and open it up to the public. I’m stoked.

As much as I dislike the image of the isolated volcano surrounded by ugly parking lots – gift shop selling doodads and geegaws and rubber tomahawks – crowds of gawking tourists griping about the heat – tour buses idling to keep their air conditioning running disgorging their cargo wearing “I’M WITH STUPID” T-shirts into snaking queues of people staring at their phones…. All of that would be worth it if it allows one person (me) to actually visit Roden Crater.

Faster, please, I’m not going to live forever.

Now that I think about it there are three artistic creations I’ve know about for a long time and hope to live long enough to see finished.

1. When I was a little kid I read about the Crazy Horse Memorial Monument and fantasized about seeing the gigantic sculpture, probably as an old man.

Well, I don’t think I’m going to make that one – it doesn’t look like it has changed much since I was a kid. The other two, though:

2. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona… they have picked up the pace the last couple of decades… I might make that one.

3. An now there is hope for Roden Crater. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Trapped In the Amber Of the Moment

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Sometimes it seems that time is going by slowly, sometimes it seems like it is moving too fast. Oddly, often, the people around you seem to feel the same way. I’ve always wondered if this is really true – maybe times speeds up and slows down, that it isn’t always just in your head.