Flash Fiction Story 015: "The Early Adopter"

TOAD SUCK, ARKANSAS (Toad Suck Gazette Daily) — A local resident—we’ll call him “Jimmy,” —was born in year 2001, and by his 30th birthday he figured it was time to get his first cell phone. The intrepid innovators at Consolidated Telephonics™ had come out with the model that would finally pique his interest.

Most people his age got their own devices before they turned 10, but Jimmy refused. By the time cell phones came complete with internet access, sophisticated motion picture cameras, and a never-ending fight between multi-colored birds and green pigs, money was no longer an object for Jimmy—but every time an opportunity to get a phone came up, he flatly refused. 

They looked so silly! It didn’t matter that—as the human race incrementally ceased looking up for longer than five seconds in favor of their portable screens—Jimmy was the one who started looking silly when he didn’t have such a machine. He continued to stick to his guns. If he was ever in an emergency, he could always borrow someone else’s phone. He didn’t need to take the plunge.

Then, the latest line came out and everything changed. For a low, low price that could be distributed across the term of the provider’s contract, Consolidated Telephonics would inject a small, bluetooth-enabled microprocessor through the nasal cavity and gently embed it deeply into the cerebral cortex. From there, the greatest operating system ever constructed does the rest. Want to send an email? One need only wish it to be so. Want to post to Instagram? Blink, and you take a photo that will become the envy of your followers. Selfies have become a little harder, but Consolidated Telephonics is rumored to already be hard at work on a Mark 2 model that somehow gets around this unexpected design flaw.

There was one other, tiny problem.

The Cerebral-Chemical Interface System™ latched into some unfathomable part of Jimmy’s brain and tapped directly into his unconscious thinking. When he idly—and only for an instant—eyed a woman he passed on the street, his phone immediately sent a Facebook friend invite to the completely bewildered stranger. Such an exchange would be benign enough, if it didn’t come complete with the share of a candid photo of the woman walking down the sidewalk only moments before.

Always a stickler for his physical fitness, Jimmy’s occasional cravings for junk food yielded progressively more difficult results. While he would never indulge in the Double Decker Cheese Atrocity Pizza from McPizza Hut, the moment his mind wandered to the possibility of a world where he would eat such a calamity, an order was placed with the establishment. Within one week, Jimmy had unwittingly ordered over 713 separate pizzas. Tragically, at press time “the Hut” does not offer refunds for online orders. Inexplicably, over 40 of his orders were sent to an address that read simply: MY HOUSE AS A KID, BUT IT WAS… LIKE, LARGER? ALSO THERE WERE SHARKS THERE.

REM sleep produced further problems for Jimmy. Every night when Jimmy would dream—even if he didn’t remember the dream—it would become an early morning post on the near-abandoned retro social networking platform, Twitter. Here now are just a few examples from his first few days with the device: 

I’M WORRIED MY FINGER NAILS ARE GOING TO FALL OFF. I’M AFRAID THEY ALREADY HAVE. THEY DEFINITELY HAVE. WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, MOM?

~@jimmytheluddite - Wednesday, October 29th, 2031 1:31AM

BUT, BUT THAT CAN’T BE! I DIDN’T KNOW I WAS REGISTERED FOR THAT CLASS. IT’S FINALS WEEK?! WHERE ARE MY PANTS?

~@jimmytheluddite - Friday, October 31st, 2031 2:07AM

THERE’S ROSE MARIE. THERE’S MOREY AMSTERDAM. THERE’S LARRY MATTHEWS. THERE’S MARY TYLER MOORE… AND THERE’S THE OTTOMAN. MY OLD ENEMY. AND I DODGE IT! BUT, NO THERE’S ANOTHER OTTOMAN RIGHT BEHIND IT… AND ANOTHER… AND ANOTHER… FOREVER!

~@jimmytheluddite - Sunday, November 2nd, 2031 12:42AM

Life has indeed changed for Jimmy, the man who would not be seen with a cell phone. He has desperately tried to delete his Facebook account, only to find it reactivated by dawn, in accords with his deepest unspoken wishes. He’s gained 70 pounds from the pizza consumption, although his McPizza Rewards Points are impressive. It is not all bad news, however. He is planning on compiling his involuntary tweets and releasing them as a book on the Kindle Store in early 2032.

  Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 014: "Break a Leg"

On April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theater, the unthinkable happened. President Abraham Lincoln—riding high from the recent surrender of the Confederacy—was touted to take in a performance of Tom Taylor’s tried and true hit, Our American Cousin.

And he showed up late. 

The actors had been performing for half an hour when President Lincoln, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, and Ms. Clara Harris arrived in the President’s Box. Following protocol, all performance stopped, and the orchestra offered a rousing chorus of Hail to the Chief.

Unthinkable. 

Trained actors had been steeped in a trade that made “the show must go on” an inviolable rally cry. The mere idea that a latecomer would stop the proceedings cold enraged Harry Hawk. Hawk played Asa Trenchard—the lead, the lead, by God!—and imagined that this would be the peak of his career. He was merely a character actor, and had to spend the majority of his working life toiling in the shadow of Miss Laura Keene, the star of their company. 

He actually supposed that Lincoln was a bit of a great man; he merely couldn’t abide rudeness in his audience. Especially when his one true moment of glory was at hand.

Others hated the President, and hated him blissfully. Why, just a few weeks ago a fellow actor had dinner with Hawk and railed for hours about States’ Rights, the superiority of the white man, and the dreadfulness of the Union. Although the other actor in question could make the agony of Shakespeare as real for the audience as the anguish in their own lives, Hawk’s dinner guest was an absolute bore when the applause died down. Abraham Lincoln was lucky that John Wilkes Booth was not in the cast of this production. The President would surely be in for an earful then.

The performance proceeded without a hitch after Lincoln’s interruption. Act Three reached its low-comic crescendo with Hawk’s Asa bellowing to the indefatigable Mrs. Mountchessington—as played by Mrs. Helen Muzzy—a line that was the absolute show stopper of the piece.

“Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal…” Hawk offered the slightest of pauses before earning his player’s salary with the words, “you sockdologizing old man-trap!”

Laughter, and then everything changed. What was—not more than a half hour previously—thought unthinkable became relegated to mere annoyance.

A crack echoed through the playhouse. Outside of a war—and more than a few people in attendance had come fresh from one, including Major Rathbone—people never seem to register gunfire as what it is in the seconds after it occurs. The continued laughter—to think, getting to use the word “sockdologizing” in a public forum!—obscured the carnage for a few more seconds. 

Hawk proceeded with the rest of his line, even though he knew that the laughter would drown out the next few words. “Well, now, when I think what I’ve thrown away in hard cash today I’m apt to call myself some awful hard names…”

Now the commotion could not be ignored. There was shouting and wailing, and not an ounce of mirth. This dignified audience had some misconceived notion that both they and the Man from Springfield had come to see some sort of burlesque. 

Hawk then heard a deep sustained tearing from out in the crowd. The people were revolting. Our American Cousin was hardly Euripides, but it was hardy worth a rebellion! 

Hawk slinked back from the full force of the limelight, when a loud crash upstaged him, shocking him out of what little tenuous hold he still had on his character. A figure fell to the stage along with the sound, having leapt from the Presidential box. 

Was this figure Lincoln? Where did this guy get off?

Through the shocked gasps of the crowd, Hawk tried to makes sense of what was going on, but to no avail. Only after the shape took the spot that was meant for Hawk did the actor think that it bore a striking resemblance to the aforementioned Booth. Hawk nearly asked him what he was doing here, but he had enough decorum not to upstage another actor… even if that other actor had upstaged him in the first place.

The possible Booth raised his hand above his head, grasping a gleaming dagger reflecting the stage lights. “Siiiiiiiiic Semper Tyeranooooooooos!” he shouted and immediately hobbled his way back stage. He must have injured himself on the leap from his audience with Lincoln. Before disappearing into the alleyway behind Ford’s, Booth and Hawk exchanged the briefest of glances, almost as if Booth were trying his best to apologize for interrupting the performance. He also stabbed the orchestra leader before fleeing on horseback. It would appear there would be no more rounds of Hail to the Chief played, although Hawk supposed the Orchestra could try again on their own if need be.

The real news spread quickly from there. Helpful yet helpless people took the unmoving President to die across the street at the Petersen House.

After an hour, Harry Hawk remained frozen in the middle of his performance, and stuck in a situation that his training could not have prepared him for, and yet his training would not be denied.

Hawk whispered at first. His hesitance only being that Hawk was playing to an empty house. He gathered strength as he continued. “W-well! As I was saying earlier, you sockdologizing old man trap! When I think what I’ve thrown away…” And he proceeded to perform the rest of the play’s parts all the way through to the final curtain. The remaining cast had moved as close to the dying Lincoln as etiquette would allow. He was dead-set—too soon? he wondered—on finishing the show. It had to go on.

  Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 013: "50 Seconds to Somewhere North of Cambodia"

Jörg Groß had the upper hand, and the day would be his. His Luger still held four rounds, whereas Agent Clarke had completely exhausted his Beretta 418. The fool clicked the trigger uselessly half a dozen times just to confirm the assessment.

One final shot, and the meddlesome Clarke would be no more, Groß would take control of the Antonov An-124 Ruslan, and change course for Cambodia. Plentiful beaches, no extradition treaties, and affordable airplane hangar rentals. It was all Groß could ever ask for. 

Well, if Groß could have had everything he wanted, then the nerve toxin he had developed to necrotize England’s collective crops, and the Prime Minister would have handed over control of the United Kingdom… But Cambodia was sufficient consolation prize.

He cocked his Luger and tried to dwell on the details of the moment. He wished every sense could contribute to the tableau, but with the wind rushing out of the rear hatch of the plane, he could only feel it.

“You should be commended, Agent Clarke. My larger plan has not reached full fruition, but it does appear we have reached the end of our little game,” Groß shouted before settling into a smile.

Clarke matched his grin, inexplicably souring the victory. “I will certainly miss this gun…” He sounded wistful through his own shout. Maybe he had come to accept the fate at the end of Groß’ Luger.

“Wh—?” Groß’ question failed to fully leave his mouth before Clarke threw his empty weapon at him. The resulting surprise forced Groß to lose his footing, and from there all was sky.

He reached around for some new foot or hand hold. Clarke couldn’t have regained the upper hand! The day was his!

Damn that Clarke! Groß shouted wordless curses into the heavens that had swallowed him, flailing against the wind that cared little for his predicament. Aside from clouds, he could not even strike terribly with his anger, it was just destined to become a permanent part of the sky along with the moon, the sun and Agent Thad Clarke of MI6.

Groß rallied suddenly, casting aside thoughts of fury and Clarke in favor of a solution. All was not lost! When he had initially released the rear hatch in his fight with Clarke, a plethora of equipment preceded his exit. He needed only to find a parachute and latch on. Assuming the plane was cruising at the standard 40,000 feet, and a standard rate of acceleration towards the ground, he had about 50 seconds before hitting the ground. 

It was possible! He would give every ounce of his fortune for that possibility. Groß even made a half-formed promise to a deity he had detested when he even bothered to believe in him, but it became clear that any parachute would be to far away to do him any good.

He tried to remember the last time he had called his mother. It had been too long. He wondered if she would ever hear of his fate. She had long since written him off as a ne’er-do-well ages ago. She probably already thought he was dead. At this point, he figured he would have been better off dead back then as well. He wondered when the best time would have been to die. Maybe when he was ten, and had fallen off the roof of their farmhouse in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern while trying to spot Father Christmas. Mother would have been sad then. It would have been nice to have mourners.

He wondered how long he had been falling. He supposed about 45 seconds. He might have spent those last few minutes allowing his mind to continue to wander, but he also realized the time for that had passed. He was beyond troubles, beyond Agent Clarke, beyond his mother, and beyond death. He had died the moment he had fallen out of that damned plane, and this protracted fall was borrowed time. And for that, he couldn’t help but be gratef— 

Splat.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 012: "Homecoming Deferred"

Even though it was about to be directly responsible for the cessation of my life functions, the X1029 Space Fighter is designed with a plethora of redundancies. 

Two auxiliary oxygen tanks are on stand by at any given time. If one of those fails, it’s straight to a Procyanan Spaceport for repairs. Regulations are there for a reason. 

The ship also came complete with enough battery cells to power seven X1029s through fourteen separate round trips from Alpha Centauri back to the homeworld. Save for a cascade power failure, the lights would stay on and the computer would still hum. 

The craft can also make its normal cruising speed, and maintain standard orbit around most class seven planets if three out of five distortion engines went off line.

Which made the cascade power failure, followed by the complete failure of four distortion engines, all the more alarming. Ozone filled the cockpit as the main porthole window flashed blue-white, then complete black repeatedly for several unnerving minutes. With a thud that probably damaged even more of the ship’s systems, everything around me and the crew became suddenly silent.

Pain radiated through my left elbow, but I ignored it. All previous intelligence indicates that the planet has a breathable atmosphere. Information on the culture and technology of the natives has always been sketchy. With any luck, I would survive this brief detour. I had two upper appendages, and a cranial structure that—while odd looking among my people on Procyon IV—would serve to only make me look somewhat “pin-headed” among the people of Earth. I’d be able to blend in, I keep telling myself. I reached out with my good arm and opened the cockpit hatch, and staggered out of the ship. I needed to be prepared for anything.

A row of their primitive dwellings dotted one of their thoroughfares. Each abode had a primitive land vehicle in front of it, and the tableau inspired a grim realization within me. I had crashed in a populated area. This was less than ideal. The ship crashed in some sort of artificial miniaturized lake adjoining one of the dwellings. Made of concrete and covered for the native’s cold season, it at least would have given me some time to cover my vehicle before it was discovered.

Time was not on my side. If I were to avoid being captured by the natives, I would have to get moving and blend in among the populace. It shouldn’t be hard. Just before it lost all power, my positional transponder indicated that this was not a major Metrozone, but instead one of the human’s smaller settlements.

Damn it.

The moment I put the words “it shouldn’t be that hard” in my log, I had tempted the wrath of The Great Celestial. By the time I had decided I wouldn’t be overrun by a local swarm, I had sealed my doom. Apparently, I had landed among these Earth people during a high holy festival. 

As I emerged onto a main thoroughfare outside of the residential area, people milled about in large crowds. They held banners and flags. Many of them played raucous, tinny music. Still more were dressed in some manner of uniform. My initial briefing on the people of Earth indicated that they dressed with no common theme to their wardrobe, but here many appeared to be adorned in variations on the same outfit. Was this some sort of military exercise? That possibility seemed far fetched; even the children wore the bright orange uniform. Surely a creature would not be conscripted into the planet’s military before they reached fifteen cycles. It boggled the mind.

I wish the translation filter had not been damaged in the crash; I might have been able to make sense out of all of this, but their writing and symbology meant little to me. They were excited; that was about all my observations could support. 

My cover was paramount, and yet a lack of understanding is often fatal. I stopped one of the humans and—with the limited amount of Earth language training I had received—attempted to communicate with it.

“Quel genre de célébration est-ce?” I shouted at the creature to make sure I was heard over the reverie.

The creature looked at me with a mixture of blank incomprehension and discomfort. Leave it to me to find the one person who doesn’t speak the planet’s native language. After it worked through enough of its confusion it made these noises in response: “Yall arnt frum roun dese parts our ya.”

Wanting to avoid losing my cover, and still wanting to get some information about what this all meant, I opted instead to flail my arms towards the festivities in a gesture I hoped indicated inquisitiveness.

The native’s confusion only deepened. It once again expatiated this time offering to following nonsensical string. “Gawd dang eeet boy eignt yoo eva bin too homecomin’.”

Its words raised an octave at the end. In whatever half-formed pidgin this creature used to get through its day, it appeared to be asking a question. I tried to form a smile and shrug, feeling that amiable ignorance would invite the least continued scrutiny. It shook its head and ran off, screaming this final battle cry:

“FOOOOOOOOOOOTBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”

It then joined a group of its brethren huddled around a contained fire committed to the activity of immolating shards of meat. My stomach turned. They were either cannibals or carnivores, and I couldn’t immediately decide which was worse.

With no more—and perhaps less, if that’s possible—information about my situation than when I started, I continued to try to walk among the crowd. I can only hope that this message reaches the homeworld soon. If these humans carry about like this every day, I am fairly certain I will not survive long.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 011: "The Creme Brûlée is Still Caramelizing"

The menu for their last meal was delectable. Chef Henri outdid himself.

For hors d’oeuvre, canapés à l’amiral. The lime juice was especially tart, which only encouraged the Board of Directors of Americans Supporting Sovereignty to drink down their glasses of white Bordeaux. The Board was more interested in the wine, anyway.

After the serving staff cleared away their opening salvos, bowls of cream of barley soup—Henri’s speciality, aside from desert—arrived. Again, each and every member of the Board was more interested in the accompanying Madeira wine.

The seafood course followed and while Henri applied his expected level of exceptional craft to the poached salmon with mousseline sauce, those attending agreed that their regrettable distance from either coast doomed the fish to be merely average. 

Henri regained his footing with the main course. The man did things with a filet mignon that—were cattle aware of their fate in this world—would have viewed their deaths as absolutely worth it.

The last normal moments of The Board’s life came with the arrival of a champagne sorbet to cleanse their palates. Had they known that nothing would be the same after the cheese course, they might have savored the final moments under the protections of polite society. 

The cheese course went…strangely. It should have been their first clue that something was amiss, but they were so completely lost in the hazy afterglow of Henri’s beef that their qualms were never said out loud. They may have also been confused. Not one member of the Board had ever consumed a Ritz cracker with a dollop of Matthew McConaughey Brand Canned Cheese™. Many of them thought it must have been a delicacy from Henri’s native—if completely unknown—country. Others were more concerned that the presentation was more along the lines of an amuse-bouche. 

And then came the creme brûlée…

Or, rather the lack of it’s coming. Chef Henri emerged from his kitchen to address his diners. “My apologies for the delay. I pray your appetites will bear the continued wait, but the Creme Brûlée is still caramelizing.”

They were entirely understanding. Art takes time to perfect, and if Chef Henri needed time, then time he would have.

After an hour, people became concerned. The President of the Board might have shuffled into the kitchen to see if there was some manner of emergency, but it would be quite gauche to leave her guests.

Another two hours passed, and the next day officially began. Those assembled were getting restless, but what could they do? While it would have been slightly against etiquette for the President to pop herself into the kitchen, it was an absolute anathema for anyone to leave the festivities before the desert course was served.

Daylight came, and still no sign of Henri or the brûlée. By then, the power structure among the Board began to shift. Had someone called for a vote of no confidence in that moment, surely the President would have lost all of her authority. Still, no one left. The last thing any of them would do is anything that might be considered rude, even if they hadn’t had anything to eat—not a morsel—in nearly twelve hours.

Some of them wanted to leave, but wouldn’t dare. By the second day, their worries turned to dying of starvation, but they should have been able to rest easy. Hunger would not kill them for weeks. Now, their feelings about going hungry were a different matter entirely. 

By dawn on the third day, all hell had broken loose. They were quickly becoming delirious and yet unable to exercise enough free will to leave the party. Old factions within the Board—some of them simmering for decades—had exploded into blood feuds. The Recording Secretary became convinced that the Vice-President had been hoarding a few morsels of Ritz crackers that he had found unpalatable. His death was swift, but there were no Ritz crackers to be found. They had long since stopped wondering why their beloved Chef Henri had left them so heartlessly to their own devices. Was he simply mad? Did he hail from some far flung country that Americans Supporting Sovereignty had denounced with their activities?

Which country did he come from?

Days more passed and as with most violent, bloody conflicts over limited resources, there were few survivors. In the end, money won the fight. The Treasurer looked over the bloody wreck of the party and realized that—according to the group’s bylaws, he was now the President and sole member of the organization.

A modicum of guilt, and more than a little unwillingness to take on the responsibilities of the Presidency forced the Treasurer to ensure that he was not the last survivor of Americans Supporting Sovereignty for long.

Chef Henri refocused himself on the task at hand and caramelized the final ramekin. He didn’t normally dream of the people he cooked for turning on each other in fury and blood, but such fanciful imagining can make the work go by easier. As he turned off the butane torch, he realized the fantasy he had concocted didn’t matter. He fully believed the people he currently served would eventually leave the dinner party, even if he never served the dessert course.

At least, he was pretty sure they would have that much sense. No, if Henri wanted these people dead, he could not rely on them to destroy one another. He would have to get his hands dirty. He wiped some powdered sugar from the tips of his fingers and watched the waiters deliver the final course.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 010: "The Scratch"

Thk thk thk.

It’s five AM and the only coherent thought that my mind can manage is this:

My cat is an asshole.

Not in the sense that my cat is weirdly fascinated with showing me her asshole on a regular basis, although she does. Actually, she is an emotional terrorist. I’m going to feed her in a minute. I will. I will.

But is that good enough?

Thk thk thk.

Apparently not. Lately, in her efforts to both get her meals precisely on time and claw at any substance that will not fight back, she had pawed a perfectly cat-sized hole into the box spring of my bed. From there, she has burrowed into the interior of said box spring and invented a fun new alarm clock for me.

Thk thk thk.

I like my cat. I like my cat. I like my cat. It doesn’t matter if she particularly likes me. I’m pretty sure she does. After all, I control the food, even though that’s not helping me out all that much today.

If she could just chill out for another twenty minutes… That would be all I need.

I burrowed my head deeper into my pillow as the cat burrowed herself even deeper into the box spring. At least she comes about this behavior honestly, I suppose.

No. This is a cat. I am a human. I am the boss here. She’s the pet and even if ancient Egyptians worshipped her ancestors to an unhealthy degree, she is just going to have to exercise some self control and WAIT. FOR. HER. GODDAMN. FOOD.

“Kitty cat!” I cried out. “Stop it with the damn scratching!”

Sweet, blissful silence followed. See? Cats are fine if you just try to appeal to their sense of propriety.

And then…

Thk thk thk.

At this point, you might fairly say that I’m spending more energy resisting getting out of bed than I would if I just caved into the cat’s demands and make with the chicken and rice formula.

I rolled over. A feeble, tentative step in my larger surrender. The day was beginning whether I acquiesced or not. The cat had won this game of chicken. Continued intransigence would help no one.

That goddamn cat.

I reached over for my glasses on the night table, and found a health dollop of guilt instead. Curled up next to me was my little ball of floof. I was just being cranky. It wasn’t fair to her.

She purred and everything was right with the world once more, although I found a whole new reason not to get out of bed.

Thk thk thk.

Then it dawned on me. She hadn’t been the thing in my bed scratching at all.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 009: "Keys Made While You Wait"

“You are Ignatius Slipwhipple,” the man behind the counter said. When I looked at him, I knew I was in trouble. He had a perpetually furrowed brow, dark eyes, and a name tag that read “Welcome to Smith’s Hardware - Keys Made While You Wait - My Name is Vladimir.” My mind may have been playing tricks on me, but I could have sworn that the “R” was actually a Cyrillic character.

Yes, yes I know. I should have known much earlier. What are you, my mother? There is one rule at my job, and that is you can never lose your key. NORAD can be very particular like that. Where is my key? Well, if I knew that we wouldn’t be having this discussion now, would we? it’s gone. I mean, gone. I’m thinking I accidentally dropped it in my trash can when I brought it out to the curb. If that’s true, there’s a Colorado Springs garbage man who has no idea he currently possesses half of what is required to bring the United States and the Soviet Union into World War III.

I should have been a garbage man. Would have been much easier that way.

In such a dilemma as mine, I could find only three solutions. I could admit my problem to my superiors. If they would just change chefs at Fort Leavenworth, that might have been my best option. I could say nothing, and hope that Reagan and Chernenko would just be cool and I’d never need my keys. The third option? Swipe my partner’s key and get a copy made on my lunch break before anyone could notice.

Guess which one I picked.

“Yes, that’s me,” I answered his non-question.

“You are Missile Technician Level One at North American Aerospace Defense Command stationed at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.”

I swallowed, but my mouth was dry. I tried not to stare at the staple gun he was cleaning on the counter. That doesn’t even begin to cover Vladimir’s associate, who appeared to be taking a nap on the floor of the back room. “Yes. How did you know?”

He pointed at me. “Your name tag identifies you quite clearly, Mr. Slipwhipple.” The “w” in my name sounded like a “v.” It did. It did? My mind must have been playing tricks on me.

“Oh,” I said. “You make copies of keys here? It says ‘Do Not Duplicate’ on it, but if that’s a problem, I’ll pay extra…”

He stopped pointing and opened his palm. “We specialize in it. Give your key to me.”

I was in too deep at this point. I was, wasn’t I? I reached into my pocket, and for a moment panicked that I had lost the second key in half as many days, but I eventually found them. I handed it to Vladimir. 

He examined the key closely, like a jeweler trying to figure out the clarity of a diamond. “Very unusual,” he decided. “Normally I do not carry this type of key, but you may be in luck…” In mid-sentence he retreated to the backroom. His coworker did not stir.

Minutes passed as I heard what sounded to be Vladimir’s key making machine saving my ass. Everything was going to be fine.

After ten minutes, I became less confident in my salvation. After a radio broadcast of “Be Glorious, our free Motherland” joined the cacophony, my dread calcified.

Vladimir rejoined me twenty minutes later holding two missile keys. The radio in the back had moved onto a choir “The Internationale.”

“I know I’m going to regret asking this question,” I said to him, still eyeing his work suspiciously. “But is there any chance you made an extra copy for yourself while you were back there?”

He gave the keys a confused look and then returned his gaze to me. “Why would I do such a thing?” he was all smiles now.

“I…” I said. “I’d assume you would have your reasons.”

“No. Of course not. Here at this establishment we would never betray our customer’s trust like that. Here, take your key. Free of charge. Your satisfaction is wery important to us, Mr. Slipwhipple.”

I grabbed the original and the copy and made my way towards the exit. I had been utterly defeated. I, and I imagine, Capitalism. There really was only one thing left to do. I turned back towards the counter.

“Um… One more question. Are you hiring here? I may need to defect—er, rather—I may be in the job market.”

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 008: "Pitch Session"

Before I could begin my second whiskey sour, the warm air of the bar froze. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck electrified.

Death had come for me.

“You’re late,” I told him.

The specter raised an ectoplasmic appendage, unleashed a moan that sounded more like the death rattle of a humpback whale, and pulled up a chair.

“Sorry,” the ghost said. His name was Pete. It was an unusual name for a ghost. “Traffic on the turnpike was kill—er, difficult.”

“It’s fine.” It was. I hadn’t been waiting long.

The waitress came around, holding my fabled second drink. “Can I get you… anything?” she asked Pete, tripping over the last word.

Pete flowered and the lights flickered. Even I knew the anger was bullshit. He had spent so much time holding on to every ounce of anger that drifted into his orbit, he wasn’t about to let an errant question fly past him.

Wind flew, rattling glasses and sending wine lists flying. Pete’s face took on a demonic air; the hellish fury he now summoned directing itself entirely toward our hapless waitress.

Also, bullshit. Just as quickly as it appeared, his volcanic displeasure subsided. When no one was laughing at the display, Pete almost seemed guilty. “How are your spirits?” he asked icily.

The waitress remained frozen. Pete’s wispy approximation of a face held its frown for several seconds, before erupting in a gale of laughter. “I’m just kidding…” the glowing orbs meant to serve as the spirit world’s answer for eyes narrowed, squinting at the waitress’ name tag. “Petunia. I’ll just have a Cab Sav. Can’t drink or eat anymore, but I sure can smell.” 

Petunia the waitress went to retrieve the order, and he turned his gaze to me. “This is where you say, ‘Damn right, you smell.’”

I said nothing. He often made this—I want to say “joke,” but jokes usually have some degree of mirth and aren’t repeated ad infinitum—when we went out in public. It made me feel uncomfortable. It made everyone feel uncomfortable. It needed to start making him feel uncomfortable. I’d like to think that my lack of reaction tonight might have brought him to that point, but he’s a fucking ghost. What the hell does he have to be uncomfortable about?

We let the silence hang for a moment. Maybe he was starting to wonder just how long he had been making this joke.

I chose to euthanize the silence. “So, you brought me all the way out here…What have you got for me?”

He took a moment to collect his thoughts. Whatever he had rattling around in that ephemeral head-shaped blob of his, he didn’t want to just come about and say it.

“I have an idea for a new book,” he finally blurted out.

My honest reaction—too honest? maybe—cemented itself on my face. This wasn’t the reaction he was hoping for. Then again, this wasn’t really the conversation I had been hoping for. Life and death can be so unfair at times.

“I know what you’re going to say!” he lunged into my argument for me. “The last one didn’t do so hot. But this one is a whole new idea. It’s never been done before!”

I tried to stay silent, but knew that would be mistaken for permission to continue. He would continue with his pitch either way, and I eventually opted for an illusion of control over how this conversation would play out. “Go on…” I muttered.

“Do you ever wonder what happens after you die?”

I tried to find Petunia. I then called out, “Check please,” to an uncaring and disinterested universe.

“I’m serious,” he insisted.

I turned to look to him. I had no trouble believing he was serious; hence my panic. “No. I don’t wonder what happens to me after I die. I’ll turn in to one of you. Everyone does.”

“But what if you didn’t?”

I reached for my purse and retrieved a few tens from the billfold. It was probably too much, but not having to wait for Petunia to summon the courage to return would be a steal at twice the price.

“Come on, it’s high-concept,” he said after I reached to finish her own drink. “A ghost’s gotta—”

“—eat?”

Stymied, he looked away. It was weakness. Even if I was into the idea, this would have soured things. “I was going to say ‘live,’ but there’s not really a good word with which I could end that sentence.” He shrugged. It looked more like wind coursing through drapes. “I’ve got bills, just like everybody else.”

I relaxed, if only for a moment. If I insisted on ending the conversation here, he won’t stop calling the office. “What’s the story for your idea, hm?”

He hesitated. “Well, I haven’t figured that part out yet.”

"In this world of yours, do ghosts exist?”

“Sure…” he hissed the word; it could have been any other word when he started with “s.” Clearly he hadn’t thought that part through yet, either.

“How do people feel about ghosts in this fantasy?”

“They’re… scared of them?” he answered. I got the sense that he wanted to end the sentence any other way, but couldn’t.

“People are scared of ghosts, but at the same time not entirely sure they exist?” I asked. I was halfway out of the bar before he could manage an answer. “Pete, it’s a little far-fetched. Don’t call me again.”

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 007: "The Museum of Outer Space"

Special thanks to Terry and everybody at The Writer's Cafe for the prompt that miraculously led to an actual story. Wonders never cease.

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I know it’s kitsch. I know it’s touristy. I know the dark, ominous corporation that bought out the snack bar may be guilty of crimes against the Space-Time Continuum and nougat. I know they haven’t had a truly great exhibit since “Treasures of the Great Robot Gort’s Tomb” was recalled by his home planet, but I can’t help it. I am an absolute sucker for the Museum of Outer Space.

I bought the lifetime membership plan, and can go any time I want, day or night. Now, it should bear mentioning that after the thorough credit check, a full auditing session using the latest E-Meter, and some very vivid and upsetting dreams about John Travolta, the lifetime-membership actually covers one-billion years. For my money that only makes it more of a bargain. By year 1,138,000, it’s like you’re practically getting in for free!

From the entry kiosk, where you’re greeted by the dulcet tones of Also Sprach Zarathustra reimagined as smooth jazz muzak, you are off on a world of adventure. The administrators of the museum insist that the floor of the main atrium is made of genuine rocks from the surface of Venus. I know better, though. All the remaining pieces of the once great planet had been swallowed by the great, fidgety wormhole of 23,489 CE. Confidentially, the main atrium actually smells like Twice-Baked Farts™, and the sulfur-convenient story of the Venus rocks is merely an alibi.

Where would a new visitor go from here? You could go to the snack bar, but their burgers are technically the remnants of dead stars and have a density that would create great intestinal distress in anyone who wasn’t Scottish. Come to think of it, that might be a better explanation for the smell in the atrium.

Or you could go in the authentic spaceship simulator! It’s a bit retro, but long, long ago, humans used metal contraptions fueled by barely controlled explosions to travel beyond the confines of Earth. Ancient humans were so silly. It’s far easier the way we do it now: instant astral projection to any point in the tri-galaxy area and parts of New Jersey.

If you make it any time in the next 500 years, I can’t over-recommend the temporary Sputnik Symposium. Everyone used to think that the Soviet Probe burned up after three months of orbits in ancient history. In truth, it traveled beyond the cosmos, became sentient, returned to Earth, and became very enthusiastic about macramé. It now offers universe-wide talks on the subject, even though most people only want to hear stories of its torrid affair with the severed head of Rudolph Valentino, or its spoken word rendition of Elton John’s Rocketman.

4 out of 5 stars. The parking lot really needs to exist in linear time. I can never remember where I left my aura. Would still recommend. End of Yelp Review.

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Flash Fiction Story 006: "The Albescu Letters"

The following correspondence was recently found in the basement of the Great Hall of Recently Adopted Western Culture (formerly the Dumitru Palace). Never delivered to its intended recipient, the letters offer historians an intimate view of the final days of the Albescu Regime, the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and a touching attempt at familial unity.

The Democratic Republic of Stovania has forbidden the letters to be distributed among their people, citing concerns that aging Albescu loyalists may renew their attempts at counter-revolution, but many insiders with the current government are only embarrassed that their postal system never delivered the letters.

—————————————————————

2 February 1990

 

To: Constantin Albescu

Crazy Al’s Super American Used Cars Emporium

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, USA

 

From: Lord President Dimitru Albescu, Chief Architect of the Eternal Socialist Revolution

Dumitru Palace

Colastchu, Stovania

 

Glory to the Glorious Socialist State of Stovania, Dearest Cousin!

The revolution still works for the people! The people are not hungry, and they are happy in their labors! My advisers continue to assure me of this. Other enfeebled countries have fallen to a pungent brew of Soviet meddling and Western Nonsense, but not Stovania! Our utopia will continue to stand, even when humanity has disappeared into dust! Don’t believe what you read in the news! Communism is back, baby!

But enough about me! Oh, how I have missed our talks! I know now that I am partly to blame. Clearly there was some miscommunication between us, and I would like to put it in the past. 

You wanted to defect—I’m sorry, move—to America to start a new life, and I did not take it well. I ordered most of your nose shot off, but I have sources (not the secret police, relax) that tell me it makes you even better at selling automobiles to the capitalists. The Americans have sympathy for you! You should be thanking me!

But let us let bygones be bygones, no? You have a new life in America; I am beloved as a benevolent ruler of the last communist country in Eastern Europe. We’re both very successful, and I forgive you.

I have even dismissed as pure fiction the reports that you pilfered 14 metric tonnes of gold bullion with you when you fled for the West. Likewise, I assume that you will dismiss as the heights of fantasy the reports that I—or rather the Socialist State of Stovania, as we are one and the same—owe Credit Suisse an immediate payment on the loan I took out to convert our tank fleet to hot air balloons. It was a great idea at the time! I didn’t think capitalists knew how to fire upward—er, I mean—the balloon thing never happened. I do not know how these rumors get started. 

It is all forgotten! I am not in need of money, and you are very happy in your new home. Let us be friends now.

But drop me a line, eh?

Your affectionate cousin,

Dimitru

—————————————————————

22 February 1990

To: Constantin

From: Dimitru

My greatest and oldest friend, Constantin!

Why have you not written me back? There is nothing to be afraid of! I merely miss hearing from you, and if you wanted to send a few bars of bullion back, what’s a little gold between family?

I have sent my wife and children out of the country. No particular reason. Time for a holiday! Reports that ninety percent of my country has been overrun by peasants who have not had a meal since 1985 are just Western propaganda. You already knew this, of course! Why am I telling you?

We have had some difficult times as of late. Instability in other countries might yet demoralize our people, but they are strong! They only need a strong voice to remind them of the ideals that have brought us to this golden age of human civilization!

I am that voice! I have a speech prepared that will prove to the whole world that I never lost the love of the people and never will!

Wish me luck! Also, a little money would help.

Your affectionate cousin,

Dimitru

—————————————————————

3 March 1990

To: Constantin

From: Dimitru

Oh, Constantin,

Dear sweet, generous Constantin,

The speech was not my best and I am frightened. From this broom closet where I remain in complete control of the Socialist Revolution, I can hear their insults and jeers coming from the streets.

“Dimitru is killing Stovania.”

“We haven’t eaten in a year!”

“Dimitru eyes yaks in a way we collectively find unnatural!”

Utter nonsense. It’s Soviet Propaganda. It’s Western Nonsense! My feelings about livestock are immaterial!

I think often of our days as children. When the winter would be cold and we would be scared that witches or Romanians would come for us in the night. Grandmama would tell us that if we only stayed true to one another, we would be safe.

I need only survive for a few more days. The Secret Police will come for me.  

Unless…

It’s almost as if the people don’t love Socialism as much as I do. It’s a sobering thought, indeed.

Still hopeful to hear from you,

Dimitru

——————————————————————

Two days after the final letter was written, a rapidly organized military tribunal loyal to the Stovanian Liberation Front found Dimitru Albescu guilty of corruption, embezzlement of the Stovanian Treasury, and communing with yaks designated as livestock. Citing a desire to get to the recently opened Stovanian McDonalds before the lunch rush, Liberation Front soldiers shot Dimitru five minutes after announcing the verdict. Surviving leaders of The Front recently admitted that some of the charges may have been specious but insist the sentence would have been the same.

In an interview after the discovery of the letters, Constantin Albescu (having changed his name to Albert Constance after he defected in 1982) angrily denounced any notion that he stole bullion from the Stovanian Treasury. Shortly after said interview, Constantin disappeared.

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Flash Fiction Story 005: "The Five-Day Rental of the Horrible Moth Woman"

He knew that absolute terror waited for him in the Gauntlet, but he also knew undreamed treasures lay beyond the nightmares. He would make his way through this time. He had to. He had to.

“All right, you can get one,” Mom said. She grabbed his shoulder before he ran off. “PG-13, okay?”

He nodded and rounded the corner of the front counter; Gauntlet Video lay out before him. New Releases and Video Games were up front. New Releases didn’t interest him, and SNES and Genesis cartridges would be useless to him until Christmas, at least. Going down a straight corridor, the rest of the store’s inventory was divided into sections. First came “Classics”—or as the hanging sign read, “classix”—holding movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which Mom found hilarious, but he knew was boring. Any movie that needed two VHS tapes was too long, if you asked him.

Beyond that lay Comedy, although the sign in that section read “HA HA HA” in a style that reminded him of The Joker. Children’s beyond that, although he wouldn’t be caught dead rooting around that garbage pile. Going further down the row was Science Fiction, which didn’t need a sign at all, and instead was protected by a large robot built of silver spray-painted shipping boxes, with a tape rewinder for a head.

Beyond that… His throat went dry. He couldn’t think about that now.

Then there was Action, his true goal. There was nothing to be afraid of with guns and explosions. After that, the store stopped for him. He had always assumed that the beaded curtain going beyond led to a janitorial closet. Once he saw some older kids daring each other to breach the crimson passageway, but he assumed they were just really interested in mops.

He jogged—one must never run inside the video store—through Horror. He gritted his teeth, as if that would keep the monsters at bay. The man with the pale white mask watched over him, pale black eyes betraying nothing approaching human sympathy. Other titles looked like Picasso paintings, except they depicted a man with knives for hands. The one that really unnerved him was the one that depicted what looked like a knock-off of a My Buddy Doll, maniacally wielding a knife. He had insisted his own My Buddy go to Goodwill after the first time he saw that poster. And the hockey masks… My god, the hockey masks.

He whispered prayers he learned in Sunday School as he took each tentative step through the darkness. As he passed through the gallery of ghouls and murderers, his brain flashed once again to possibilities he hadn’t considered before. What if the video boxes held their monsters inside? What if they wanted to break out from their 7x4x1 prison and wreak havoc on unsuspecting kids who merely wanted to watch Conan the Destroyer for the twelfth time?

He kept moving, trying to remember each and every time a teacher or Mom had admonished his overactive imagination for disrupting class, Cousin Bingo’s christening, or Olive Garden. Only a baby would think that horror movies are out to get him. And babies rent from the kid’s section.

Thwack.

He nearly jumped straight to the stratosphere and left a him-shaped hole in the ceiling of Gauntlet. It was nothing. It was nothing.

He looked back. Had he not wasted his time this way, he could have made it to the Action section and back a dozen times by now. One of the videos had fallen to the ground. Nothing. Nothing. He approached the box and flipped it over. A man strapped to an electric chair, in the middle of his last moment on Earth stared back at him, and—oh God—he was smiling. Why was he smiling?

He tossed the video towards the wall, swearing he felt a little jolt in his hand as it flew.

He wished he hadn’t. All the videos were off the shelf now, moving towards him. The Picasso Man shifted and re-shifted in shape, the knife hand remaining the only constant. The blank-faced man blinked his horrible, coal shaped eyes. An army of hockey masks moved in on him.

And then, there was the doll, with his terrible blade giving him terrible ideas.

“Why’d you give me away, buuuuuuuuuudy?” the doll asked.

He tried to move back. A foul looking clown with the razor sharp teeth lunged to take a big bite out of his ankle. 

A needle-like, almost numb feeling filled his leg as he grasped frantically into the next section. Conan would have to wait. He pulled the closest title toward him, and in a whoosh that left him cold, all of the videos went back to their spot. Holding his selection forward like a shield, he marched back to the front of the store.

“What did you get?” Mom asked when he returned. He finally felt safe enough to unhand the video. “Capricorn One? Really? O.J. Simpson? I didn’t think you were into sports.”

He would never forget the name of the man who saved him from the loathsome hoards of the Gauntlet’s horror section: O.J. Simpson. His hero.

Then, something else caught his eyes. Mom had picked a movie, too. A New Release. He couldn’t read much, but he knew the bright red sticker that read “HORROR.”

“Oh, don’t you mind that one. It’s for later, after you go to bed.”

He saw the face of a woman staring back at him with red eyes. A moth covered her mouth—how could she breathe like that?—and the moth appeared to have a human skull protruding from its body.

The woman on the box winked at him. The boy offered a weak plea to O.J., but knew it wouldn’t be enough.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 004: "Just A Bug"

It was revolting, to begin with.

It had improbable legs that allowed it to imitate the act of movement as I previously understood it.

It’s eyes—vacant and dead though they were—hinted at the possibility of a soul within its tiny frame.

Something—that thing might have been me—had injured it. A goodly amount of red trickled out of its tiny frame, and the ground had turned a faint pink as it absorbed the discharge.

Also, it was screaming.

All these observations occurred to me in a flash, and I leapt away. The idea that such a creature could exist filled me with a dread I couldn’t possibly explain in that moment. It couldn’t reason or become my friend. It wasn’t even aware that it was my enemy. It just ate, and bred, and killed, and then (I hoped) eventually died.

Mother approached to see what was wrong. When she saw the source of my terror, her face tightened in an effort to muster patience with me. She knew I hated the damned things.

“Oh, my boy,” she said. “You’re nearly grown and should have no reason to be afraid of such a tiny, insignificant thing. Even when you were a newborn, you were like a God to this thing.”

The screaming was too much. I raised to cover my ears. “Mother, why is it making that noise?!”

Mother approached the creature. “It doesn’t understand what is going on, son.”

“And that doesn’t frighten you?” I asked her. “What if its friends came to defend it? What if they all got together, and without the ability to think or feel or have a soul, they decided I needed to die! What if—”

Mother approached the creature, and the screaming stopped for a moment. It then started up again, even more harsh than when I first came upon it. Mother crushed the thing with her hand. Beyond a cracking splat, it made no more sound. The area around where it once stood turned a darker shade of red as Mother smeared its remains on the ground.

“They’re merely humans, son. They’re far more afraid of you then you are of them.” She wiped the last remnants away from her tentacle and turned to the village beyond. “Come now, we have quite a bit of work to do.”

I swallowed my fear and followed behind her. I could be brave, if only they wouldn’t scream.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 003: "Nice Night"

Sixty-eight degrees. That’s good; this Kevlar doesn’t breathe.

The moon is full. I won’t miss anything in the shadows. 

No wind. Even better. The smell of the sewage treatment plant across the river won’t distract me.

It’s the perfect night for the people of this city to be out and about.

It’s the perfect night for them, too.

It’s the perfect night for me.

It doesn’t take long. Three of them. They’ve been swarming around the outside of that bar for the better part of forty-five minutes. They don’t talk to each other much, but they stick close to one another. 

They aren’t here to drink. They cautiously eye every direction, ensuring they won’t be watched when the show starts.

They don’t look up, though. All the surrounding windows are dark. Who would be crazy enough to watch them from a fire escape?

Indeed.

Four AM arrives like Pavlov’s bell. People emerge from their night life to haltingly return to a world that cares nothing for them.

These people would be on their own, if it weren’t for me. 

A police siren dopplers its way past the alley. The three don’t react. The police are only interested in punks who steal things of value.

A woman exits the bar. She sways as she makes her way for the parking lot. It’s like they smell blood in the water and move with purpose.

They say something to her. I don’t hear them. I don’t care what they have to say.

I don’t wait for them to make their first move. I jump up on the railing, inhale sharply, and then let gravity do the rest. I wouldn’t dare use anything to slow my fall. I want it to hurt when I hit the pavement. I want it to make me mad.

It does. 

I grit my teeth to beat back the shock of the landing. They’re startled by my entrance for long enough that the woman moves along. Good for her. 

Angry that their catch slipped their trap, they form up again and move toward me. I’m already on my feet. I approach them. My stun gun leads the way.

The fight is over in less than a minute.

I hear the crack first, and I only now realize that one of them dislocated my shoulder. It only begins there. Flashes of agony brighter than anything I’ve ever imagined give way to bruised aches announcing their permanent residency.

Thinking me dead—and I see where they might think that—they move on like a pack of hyenas to their next meal. I try to give chase, but each slight movement sends wave of nausea and bolts of pain through every inch of my consciousness.

The last thought I have before consciousness slips away is this: Maybe a YouTube video entitled “How to be a Night Vigilante” wasn’t enough training.

It doesn’t matter. I’ll heal. I’ll do better next time. Maybe I should take up whittling instead.

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Flash Fiction Story 002: "Kibble"

When I started this project, I knew there were bound to be stories I wrote about which I didn't know how to feel. Why not use the second week of these posts to cut right into it? I wrote this one quickly a few years back, after CJ The Labradane passed away. I think I eventually wrote in a more emotionally healthy way about it later, but at the time, all I wanted was for her to put her paw on the door, asking to come back in from the back yard. Then, I realized if that ever did happen, then there would be something far more problematic going on.

Anyway, in the spirit of problematic goings on, I present "Kibble." Next week, I'll have something perhaps upbeat, or at the very least not alternately depressing and absurd.

 

All that remained was the kibble. It was the only thing left to do. She'd have no need for the food before it spoiled. Had she the presence of mind, she might have donated her supply to the local humane society, but the thought never occurred to her.

Popping the top off of the plastic tank, she poured the food into the trash can. He had always been finicky about the it. In a few short seconds, it would all be gone and life could return to--

Thunk.

She stopped pouring. A few pieces scattered onto the ground. The distant noise repeated. She finished emptying the container while trying to listen for its source. On its fourth repeat, she realized the noise had come from the front door. She moved to unlock it, all the while wondering why her visitor hadn't rung the doorbell.

She swung the door open and promptly fell to her knees. Sitting pretty, the dog seemed more confused than anything else by the day's events. She rubbed behind his ears, forcing the white shock of hair above his eyes to arc in that same look of quiet contemplation that had connected them so thoroughly years before.

How did this--?

It must have all been a mistake. From the blood work through the big green pills that didn't do any damned good, all the way to the intentional overdose of anesthesia. Her dog had lived. Not only that, he had found his way home all on his own.

Just as she thought to call the vet's office to try and make sense of all this, another sound echoed through the cul-de-sac. It sounded like rustling or scampering, but to the power of ten.

Dozens of dogs rounded the corner and came galloping down the street. Another terrible noise threatened to overwhelm her. She looked to her left. In the backyard of the house catty corner to hers, something tried to crawl out of the ground. At that moment, all she could see were paws poking out of the grass.

She looked back to the oncoming pack. One of the dogs had no head. Another had met some other manner of violent end, judging by the tire tracks across its mangled body. Another was nothing more than a bleached skeleton clacking down the sidewalk. 

Her sudden rapid breathing echoed in her ears. That each animal turned into a different house along the street and didn't descend on her en masse didn't make her feel any better. She looked down at him. He started growling but never took his gaze away from her. The snarling didn't ease her anxiety, nor did his bared fangs.

I'm going to need more kibble, she thought.

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Flash Fiction Story 001: "Second Bananas"

She clung to The Edge. Bono was fine. Everyone loved Bono, and rightly so. He fed the starving children, and got the credit for all of U2's songs, but God did she love The Edge. With The Edge, there was no need for a showy persona. The Edge's name was the only showy thing about him. The Edge marched his way through October and War with only a need to do his job. Bono had a desperate need to be part-John Lennon, part-P.T. Barnum. Bono needed to be loved; The Edge couldn't help but be admired.

As 1991 drew to a close, the perfect confluence of serendipity fell upon her. U2 might perform in Stockholm and Sarajevo, but they would also be coming to her little town of Rosemont. She didn't want tickets to the show; they were a necessity.

Tickets would go on sale January 1st for a March 31st show. She avoided the very idea of New Year’s Eve and rose in the morning, just as most people were returning from their ill-advised jaunts to the Windy City. She would be the first in line for tickets.

She may have been the single greatest fan The Edge would ever know, but she underestimated the fans of Bono. When she arrived at the amphitheater, the line for tickets spread beyond the horizon. The air was somehow colder than when she left home at 5:15 that morning. It made the air thin, more like the vacuum of space than anything she had breathed before.

She managed to calm herself as she joined the ticket line. She became encouraged when the line moved steadily. One day soon she would be in the presence of The Edge. All was well.

Then the line in front of her dwindled and dispersed. Her heart sank as she suddenly became the front of the line, but was still a half-mile away from the box office. As they scattered, the people in front of her muttered words like "sold" and "out."

She stood in place for several minutes, long after those in front of and behind her had moved on with the rest of their lives, hoping that there had been some sort of mistake and U2 would add a second show or a missing block of tickets would appear, but those miracles never came. There would be no concert for her. Without The Edge, her life would be over.

The winter passed and the weather warmed. On the last evening in March, she was at work, scanning a copy of Achtung Baby and sacking it for an oblivious customer. She idly noted the beginning of the concert that had so destroyed her a few months ago. She wasn't in the front row, or anywhere near the Edge. She was stuck at Target.

It was just another Sunday night in Rosemont. She had Tom Petty tickets for July, but she absolutely clung to The Heartbreakers.

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That’s me! Thanks to Eris O’Reilly for the art! 

What's this all about, then?

This entry appeared on my other blog, here. Take a look, why don't you?

  Here I go...

Here I go...

At the beginning of 2017, I took a moment to consider how much I had written in this space in 2016. It turns out I had written 45,000 words here, with topics ranging from how much I wanted Michael Keaton to play Batman again, all the way to how much I’m going to have to insist Michael Keaton plays Batman again. 

While it seemed like the articles I’ve posted in the blog would never amount to any sort of actual printable volume, it made sense to continue typing away. It’s brought eyes to the site, and probably eyes to my other work. This is all to the good. We even managed to get Danny Elfman’s Batman theme into this year’s Justice League. It’s almost like I really made a difference…

Ahem.

But now, with 2017’s blog entries added into the equation, I’ve written nearly 80,000 words here. Like I noted above, it’s time well spent, but I can’t help but wonder:

All that time here could have been spent putting together another novel. Or maybe another season or two of The Fourth Wall. I could have learned how to play guitar, or speak Farsi. 

So—the question remains—what do I do now?

I’ve blogged every week for two years. That’s no longer a challenge. Well, in truth, it’s becoming an increasingly bigger challenge, mainly because it’s something I’ve already done.

I need to be putting material out there on the regular, but I also need to try something new. If that something new makes me look just a little bit crazy in the attempt, then so much the better.

Which gave me an idea. It's probably a horrible idea, but those are my favorite kind.

I’m not terribly great at short fiction. I mean, I dabble, but I haven’t made it a big part of my work. So, what if, instead of blogging in the traditional sense, I tried to write one flash fiction story a week?

It’s manageable. It’s also liable to drive me crazy in the pursuit. And, if I write 500 words of fiction every week for two years, why… that would leave me with 52,000 words of material. Maybe I can make a book out of them!

I’ll admit, 104 individual stories will be a lot of feeding the beast. Some of them may be ho-hum. Many of them might be out-and-out dreadful. I’m okay with that, mainly because the law of averages dictates some of them—maybe even just a few—will be quite readable. The prospect of writing those stories excites me a great deal.

So, it’s happening. Starting this week, I’m beginning a whole new blog here on the site. Its title: “IF A STORY IN THIS BLOG GOES OVER 500 WORDS, THIS WHOLE WEBSITE WILL EXPLODE.”

It’s a little wordy, sure. A blog of flash fiction with an overly wordy title. It’s ironic. I’m okay with that.

Initially, I’ll burn through all of the flash fiction I’ve already written up until this point. When those two stories are run, I’ll move on to material I’ve created exclusively for the new blog. It’ll be fun. I think it’ll be fun.

I’ll still check in here, but far less frequently than I have since the dawn of 2016. I’m thinking once per month. It might be more frequently than that, but it may also be rarer. It’s going to sort of depend on my mood. 

This week, we begin with one of the first flash fiction pieces I ever wrote. It’s a bit of a departure for me, if for no other reason than it doesn’t feature either Orson Welles or Time Travel, but it’s a nice little nugget of something. I'll also be making some other, more far reaching changes to the site. Be on the lookout for those.

So, dear reader, click ahead. My first story is called “Second Bananas.”