Flash Fiction Story 037: Verified Account

This whole thing ended with me not being able to grow eyebrows anymore, but it all started with this:

Great day to do a little rescue work out there in our fair city. Evil doers beware! Especially the Eternal Flame. STOP SETTING FIRE TO THINGS! #savintheday #SecurityMan

~ @therealSecurityMan, 10/15/18, 3:03PM EST; 2,412 Replies, 132,412 favorites, 86,419 retweets.

Yeah. I wrote that. What? No. God, no. I’m not Security Man. Ha. That’s funny. Could you imagine? Me, leading a double life as Security Man, the Man Who Makes Us All Feel Safe. I’m just a guy with a marketing degree and therefore, very little hope of gainful employment. So, I do a little PR flak work for the city’s superheroes, which amounts to managing their Twitter accounts. From Lion Lad, through the Governess, all the way to the crown jewel of them all, Security Man, I’m the one who makes sure the city knows who’s got their back.

Naturally, Security Man’s account is the most popular. After all, he’s got a national—well, actually, interstellar—presence. 2.3 million followers. Most of them aren’t even bots. To compare, my own, lowly personal account has 213 followers. Most of them are bots, and the ones that aren’t are my mom.

Now, I could really raise my profile and have Security Man’s account follow mine, but that’s not how this works. Superheroes have verified accounts, folks. At least, the legit ones do. I have to maintain the illusion that in between stopping runaway subway trains using only their fists and sealing trans-dimensional rifts by kicking them repeatedly, they have the time to send out into the world pictures of the breakfast burritos they ate that morning. If it became clear someone else was writing their tweets, then their whole public profile would be put into question. You’d be surprised how much of a superhero’s success depends on an authentic quality that leaves no room for ghost writers like me.

No, just as Security Man and his friends have to hide behind secret identities, I have to be content to be the anonymous thumbs that launch a thousand retweets for the planet’s strongest do-gooders. It kind of makes me a superhero mysel—

No, even I can’t sell that line. I’m just a guy with a pretty good data plan. You’d be surprised how much that didn’t help me when, while heading home from lunch at Ronaldo’s, the bus I was riding stopped suddenly at the corner of Hancock and Goodman to avoid crossing the torrent of fire that had replaced the intersection.

The bus lurched to the side. A glowing figure descended to the ground just outside the bus right at about the middle of the vehicle. Instinctively, passengers moved quickly to get out of the way before a bright flame split the bus in two, and we were joined by Janus Tolliver, more commonly known as The Eternal Flame. 

“I have reason to believe that someone on this bus is the secret identity of Security Man. My old friend, you have my word: if you give yourself up now, these people will not be harmed.”

No one said anything, but I could feel the slice of deep dish I splurged on beginning to rebel against my stomach.

The Flame continued. “I wouldn’t assume I’m bluffing! I’ve traced the IP address from your copious social media posts to a phone on this particular bus. There is nowhere left to hide! Show yourself!”

The laughter of the crowd thankfully drowned out the dry gulp emanating from my throat. A little old lady seated near the front of the now split-level bus hoisted her phone, with Security Man’s profile and all my life’s work pulled up. 

“Can’t you read, you fiend?” she asked. “It says right here, that Security Man is at the courthouse testifying against Interrobang, The Overly Loud Questioner Of Things.”

More laughter from the crowd followed. I was really starting to think that I might be in the clear, and this incident—the substantial bill to the city’s department of transportation not withstanding—would be just written off as yet another Eternal Flame scheme that failed to catch fire—

—Ooh, had to remember that particular phrase for a tweet later…—

—until several of the others, confident that the danger had passed, began to pull out their own phones and furiously type away. I could imagine their messages without ever seeing them:

“The bus I was riding on got wishboned by #theeternalflame. He thought he had found @therealSecurityMan. What a tool!”

“The Eternal Flame? More like The Eternal Idiot. Can I get a what! what! @therealSecurityMan? #followback”

It didn’t matter what they said. All that mattered was that my own phone, tucked into my breast pocket began to convulse with a wave of mentions, enough to make Security Man trending. 

Everyone looked at me. I couldn’t hide it. For a moment, they must have entertained the impossible notion that I might be Security Man. The Eternal Flame marched towards me. I could feel my skin begin to bake in proximity to his heat.

“You?” he asked, the mere thought offending him. “But that’s…” He contemplated the new information further, and then grinned. “I see… So you must have… access to him, no? You will be made an example of…”

He continued his move towards me, his infamous lust for immolation clear on his face.

I put my hands up in supplication. “Have you ever thought about expanding your online presence?”

He softened, and one lit eyebrow arced upward in curiosity. “Are you proposing some sort of bargain in exchange for your life?”

Sure, it was a conflict of interest. It might have even been indentured servitude. Good guys, bad guys… Even if I wasn’t about to die, it wasn’t the worst idea in the world to diversify. When who you are online is all that matters, the big questions like right and wrong are sort of secondary.

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 036: Wafflenut/Dunwhistle

Ask fans of horror movies, and they may list any number of entries as the greatest in the genre. Nosferatu (1922). Frankenstein (1931). Psycho (1960). One film appears over and over again on best of lists over the years: the 1971 technicolor classic Trip to Spooky Mansion. The story of producing this seminal classic—to say nothing of the nine sequels it spawned—has been largely a mystery outside of those involved with the production. Fortunately, iconoclastic producer Roger K. Dunwhistle has recently donated his papers to the Charles Barkley Library at the College of The Federated States of Micronesia - Yap. His correspondence with author P.G. Wafflenut (of which a selection follows) sheds light on the early creative process, begins to shed light on the notoriously reclusive Wafflenut, and adds to the already exhaustive amount of material about Dunwhistle, a man as powerful on the Hollywood scene today as he was over 50 years ago when the novel The Many Hauntings of Esther O’Rourke was first published.

—————

June 4th, 1968

Dunwhistle International Pictures

Los Angeles, California

Master Wafflenut,

Allow me to present myself: My name is Roger K. Dunwhistle. I am in the Motion Picture business, specifically the spooky ones. I’ve just read your book and I think it’s absolutely dynamite, and would make one hell of a picture.

I especially like the part where the gargoyles surrounding the mansion come to life and flap their concrete wings and confuse the heroine. I can see that in the Coming Attractions now!

Do you have representation in Hollywood? I’m sure we can come to some kind of a deal.

Roger K. Dunwhistle

—————

July 10th, 1968

The Gilded Armitage

Suva, Viti Levu, Rewa Province, Fiji

Dear Mr. Dunwhistle,

Acknowledging your very interesting letter of 14 March, and my apologies for the delayed response. I have been working on another novel, and tend to have my blinders on during the rougher patches. I believe I saw your latest release, the one about the blonde woman impregnated by the devil. Unsettling, if not actually frightening. One hopes you are not distressed by honest criticism.

The idea of becoming involved in the Motion Picture industry gives me dyspepsia. Thus, I have no representation aside from my literary agent, Mr. Whard Dinkle of Samson, Samson, and Underbite.

Furthermore, my latest novel features no gargoyles, nor have I ever published a story featuring such architectural features. Is it possible you have me confused with someone else?

Paulette Wafflenut

—————

July 14th, 1969

Los Angeles

Wafflenut,

No, you’re my guy, Wafflenut! Those pesky gargoyles aren’t in your opus, but imagine if they were in the movie! Chills.

I’ve already contacted Dinkle. Real cooperative guy. Offered me rights to the book and any sequels for $17.50. Mighty agreeable of you! This is going to be the biggest picture since I had Whale shoot Bride of Frankenstein! And imagine, your name’s gonna be somewhere in there. 

I always consult with the authors of my source material. With Dracula, it was a bit difficult to tune the Quija board to get messages from Stoker. At any rate, I hope I can reach you here!  Big things are happening! Great being in business with you!

Dunwhistle

—————

Production began in earnest the next year at the famed Chipperwhiff studios. Whispers about troubles on the set have become legendary, but details about the difficulties have only come to light with this correspondence. “Correspondence” may be a bit of an exaggeration, as Dunwhistle continued to write letters to Wafflenut, but after the draconian terms of their deal, no record exists of Wafflenut’s response until after the film’s release.

—————

February 22nd, 1970

Chipperwhiff Studios, England

Wafflenut,

You’re a creative sort of guy, into solving problems and the like, let me run this one by you:

I have no idea how to end this picture. Edgar leaves the mansion before the last reel, but I have no idea how to get him back in the house before the big finale.

In the book, you had Esther go back to save her children, but that just isn’t going to work here. Do you happen to have anything that’s a little more peppy? You know, the kind of stuff that will blow their hair back on opening weekend. I have faith in you! You’re my guy!

Dunwhistle

—————

July 19th, 1970

Chipperwhiff Studios, England

Wafflenut,

The postal service here in jolly-old England is terrible. I’m sure you rushed along an answer to my previous question, but sadly, it is probably lost to the ages. 

Never fear! We worked it out with some creative editing. As it turns out, Edgar didn’t need a reason to return to the house! We just cut to the final reel, and there he is. Funny how these films work out sometimes. Every once in a while, you worry that the whole thing will fall apart, but then you realize that nothing really matters. People just want to see a decent looking fella conquer evil.

It’s truly a great business we are in, isn’t it, Wafflenut?

Dunwhistle

—————

They exchanged letters once more after the film opened to hostile (and some say short-sighted) critical notices, and overwhelming box office receipts.

—————

April 15th, 1971

Suva, Fiji

Mr. Dunwhistle,

Do you have any conception of how embarrassing all of this is to me?

Paulette Wafflenut

—————

May 1st, 1971

Los Angeles

Wafflenut,

Don’t you understand that—with these receipts—you’re living the first line of your obituary? All I can say is that you should try to enjoy it.

Dunwhistle

P.S.: To show that there’s no hard feelings, feel free to send me any other books you might have in the pipeline. I’m always looking for the story for my next big release!

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 035: Performance Review

As The Other grasped an unfortunate human and ate its screaming form whole, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.

After the human stopped screaming somewhere on the journey down to the stomach, The Other regarded me once more. “Are you sure you don’t want one?” He opened up a wooden box on his desk, and more anguished shouts joined their fallen comrade. “They’re very fresh.”

I was hungry, he had guessed that much correctly. Unfortunately, I was still too nervous to actually eat. I begged off again.

Appearing to feign disappointment, The Other closed the box, muting their agony. He then looked back to the file on his desk which had brought me here.

“You’re nervous,” The Other observed.

I shook my head. It was a lie.

“Well, there’s no need to be nervous. Relax. So, you’ve been doing the job for…” he eyed the documentation. He clearly didn’t remember. “Two million years?”

“Has it only been that long? There are some millennia when it feels like I’ve been here as long as the concept of time itself!” I added an awkward chuckle to the end of my question, in order to convince the both of us that I was kidding.

Thankfully, The Other appeared to move past the remark. He kept reading. “Looks like you’re learning the job, good, good… Punctual. That’s good. What would you say is your favorite part of the job?”

“Well, I’d have to say being an eternal demon of misery and pain is its own reward. Mortal beings need to be introduced to the torture that lies within the cosmos, and… I’m just proud to be there for that.”

The Other nodded and marked some manner of notation down on my file. I wondered how many times he had heard some variation of that same answer. 

“So, I always like to end these discussions with a simple question, just to get a sense of where your ambitions are. Where do you see yourself in five-hundred thousand-thousand millennia?”

How does one answer that? I was lucky to be able to bring destruction and fire to the cosmos. It was a good job, with benefits and security. And yet, there were millennia where I just wanted to throw the towel in, find some nebula in one of the less populated galaxies, nestle into it, and just relax for the rest of eternity.

But one doesn’t want to be rude, especially with their supervisor, especially when one’s supervisor is the entity known by mortals as The Other, the Devourer of Stars.

Apparently I had waited too long to answer. The sounds of the human snacks that The Other had harvested went silent. He reached for the box he kept them in, and dumped the remaining bones out into the rubbish. How could humans go from screaming snacks to long-dead husks in the brief century it took for me to mull my response? It boggled the mind. “Sorry,” he said. “Where were we?”

He didn’t even give me a decade to chime in before taking back the reins of the conversation himself. “Here’s why I ask,” he began, not acknowledging that he had already given an explanation. “We’re all very pleased with the work that you’re doing. Not just the quality, which is really quite fine, but the sheer tonnage of it is astounding.”

I suddenly wished that I had taken him up on his offer of a snack. My nerves veered into nausea, and if I had something to chew on, I might have been able to keep the feeling at bay. 

The Other continued. “What myself and the other members of management want you to know is, that in only a short amount of time I think you’ll be ready to join us in management.”

A cold rush cascaded through my body, and I was hoping it had more to do with the final death rattle of a nearby star evolving into a black hole.

“Oh, wow,” I said. “That’s very flattering.” Panic set in. For fifty or sixty years, I felt like I might collapse under my own sense of doubt. Is this what mortal beings feel like? I began to share their agony, if only for a moment. The notion appeared and was gone inside of a decade. If I had been mortal, it might have been debilitating.

“Is that a yes?” The Other asked. “If you commit to making a real career out of this, I can guarantee you that whatever you put into this, you’ll get that back tenfold.”

I knew in the deepest pits of my blackened soul that eternity was just too short to spend doing this, forever. If I was going to quit this job, I had to do so now. It was only fair to The Other. It was only fair to the universe. It was only fair to me.

“I’d really be interested in that,” I heard myself say before I could take it back. I just couldn’t be rude to The Other. Maybe I did need this job after all… At any rate, I’d certainly have a long time to think about what I had just committed to.

The Other’s assistant entered, carrying a receptacle filled with puny, mortal, squirming things. The assistant dumped the new snacks into The Other’s box, and the screaming began anew.

“You sure you don’t want one?” he asked.

I relented and reached for one of the terrified things, and like he had done not centuries before, swallowed the creature whole. They were fresh. The freshest I had ever tasted. If The Other and the others in management could get their hands on meat this fresh, that might just begin to change how I felt about the possibility of moving up.

I reached for another snack. I could definitely get used to this.

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 034: The Last Resort

Contrary to what most might think, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Analysis Unit 5 (BAU-5, which included elements of what had been the Bureau’s famed Behavioral Science Unit) doesn’t strictly rule out the option of using self-professed psychics—or other individuals claiming some degree of paranormal abilities—to assist in the investigation of serial or other violent crime. 

This is not to give one the image of a David Duchovny-type reaching out to ever Tom, Dick, and Professor X with a gift for three-card monte. Bureau guidance does not acknowledge the usefulness or even the existence of any paranormal abilities. They do acknowledge that some people with “the gift” are possessed of an unusually high degree of intuitive thinking and a keen sense of observation. This is what allows them—that is, the best of them—to appear to pull eerie details from the ether. It is what also might allow them to be of some help in resolving otherwise intractable cases.

Psychics are not to be used in place of traditional investigative techniques. They are only to be used as a last resort.

All of this Detective Dewine tried to explain to her partner, Detective Corsano. As one might expect, the latter was still skeptical. But they were truly at their wit’s end when it came to the “Origami Flower” killings. Of course, only the police—and even then, those that actually worked on the case—called it that, referring to the folded-paper representations of brightly-colored corolla found on the bodies. Everyone outside of the building referred to it as the “Park Bench” killings, for where the bodies had been found. Most police had long since decided that the bodies were dead by the time they had been placed at parks around the city. This might have led to a quick capture, if only the perp had been less methodical. The killings paused after the second body was found at a park, and didn’t start up again until after the department could no longer justify the stakeouts at every local park into the wee hours of the morning. The last three bodies had been found nowhere near a park, but the flowers had remained. Police work would be a hell of a lot easier if there wasn’t freedom of the press.

“Okay,” Corsano relented, only because he could come up with no other appeals to reason that weren’t immediately countered with the reality that they were out of ideas. “Bring the lunatic in.”

Dewine moved toward the station waiting area and brought the “expert” she had enlisted. The psychic was an older woman, with the kind of grey streaking in her hair that was clearly not on purpose through any sort of dye job. She wore deep black lipstick. A faint whiff of sage accompanied her, and Corsano couldn’t help but wonder if the aroma was a perfume, or the lingering essence of some ritual she thought could help her commune with the future.

“Okay, Miss…?” Corsano began. He would have forgone the introductions entirely, but realized any nickname he would have used to refer to their new consultant would have been deemed as “insensitive” or “inappropriate” by their Lieutenant.

“I am called Mistress Starfire by enlightened souls, Detective Corsano,” the psychic replied.

“And what do the unenlightened souls get to call you?” 

Dewine shot Caruso a look, but this was as close to halfway as they were going to get. 

“Nevermind,” he ceded. “Now what can you tell us about the murders?”

Starfire furrowed her brow in an attempt to commune with the great beyond, or gently accept an ongoing wave of flatulence. “The person you seek is a man, a young man. No older than you. He is intelligent, but underachieving. He has either dropped out of High School, or College. He is a loner, unable to maintain any kind of healthy relationship either with his family or traditional romantic partners.” She paused for a moment, as if reaching for the highest peak of inspiration for her next thought. “He… Yes, he may have an obsession with either the military or law enforcement, and may have been turned down or rebuffed by either or both.”

Silence hung in the air as Dewine tried to avoid Corsano’s glare. For his own part, Corsano didn’t much care if Dewine felt embarrassed for the turn this consultation had taken. “Listen lady. You just described 95% of all serial murderers, ever. You no doubt have read some of the popular books by some of the retired FBI guys who have studied these sickos, but unless you’ve got anything else, Detective Dewine and I are very busy.”

Dewine offered no protest, and neither did the woman called Starfire. Corsano didn’t need to lead the latter out; she was already on her way.

Starfire stopped at the door. “Tell me, Detective Corsano. Does he only leave chrysanthemums? Or other kinds of Origami flowers?”

“What did you just say?” Corsano asked.

Starfire smiled. “I can see him,” she proclaimed. “But not all of him. He’s a garbage worker. That’s how he picks them. And his last name begins with the letter “M.” She then left without any further word.

Corsano looked askance at Dewine. “I guess we ought to check it out,” he admitted.

The lead went nowhere, although the insight had been spooky. At the end of the day, Dewine saw a styrofoam coffee cup sitting on her desk, complete with a dark black lipstick ring, and a purple origami chrysanthemum set inside. She and Corsano went into quick action, but by then, the woman known as Starfire was gone without a trace. Corsano didn’t say much about their screw up, though. For one thing, how could they have put it all together in the time they had with Starfire? For another, Dewine had been ultimately right: the psychic had been their best and only lead in the case of the Origami Flower Murders.

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 033: Your Call Is Very Important To Us

The customer service call center for Consolidated Securitrox Inc. was an easy job, the easiest even. The company made control mechanisms for large-scale security systems. Anyone who actually had reason to but even the Securitrox-1000 was already expert enough in its operation that tech support was a bit superfluous. When a customer did have a reason to call, they were inevitably at least better informed than the large binders that were the operator’s only source of information.

It was a great job, especially for someone like myself with a litany of other, better things to do. Just last Monday, I read most of From Russia With Love. By the time I went home on Thursday evening, I had finished The Hunt for Red October. By lunchtime Friday, I had made a good start on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, although that one is a little denser than the run-of-the-mill entries in the genre. It was destined to dominate most of my weekend, and that was just fine by me. One of these days, I may try to write one of those kind of books on my own. Something told me that I'd be able to find the time, if only I could stumble upon the willpower.

Right about the time old George Smiley was brought back to the Circus, the phone on my desk announced an incoming call. A wave of irritation crashed over me as I folded the hardcover jacket in as a makeshift bookmark. I hit the button on my phone headset. “Thank you for calling Consolidated Securitrox, my name is Maurice. Before I try to resolve any issues you may have with your equipment, could I please have your name and the model number of your unit—”

A series of sharp “BA-RANG” sounds answered me, while at the same time threatening to blow out both my headset and eardrums. I clutched at the receiver instinctively and only lowered my hand when the ringing in my ear subsided.

“Sir? Sir, are you still there?” I asked. I’m not entirely sure why I assumed the caller was a man. I’d probably been reading too much Fleming, if I were being honest with myself.

“Yes,” the caller finally responded. Whatever was happening over the line didn’t seem to faze him. “I got this number off the paneling of one of your machines, and I have a hypothetical question for you.”

“Yes, if I could get your name and the model number for our records.” It didn’t feel like I actually said the words, they more just leaked out of my mouth.

“I’d rather not give my name, if it’s all the same to you. National security and all that, my good man…” The man trailed off. “I… Well, I’m afraid I don’t quite know what model of machine this is…”

While he contemplated the machine in front of him, I thought I heard the distinct sound of an explosion in the background, but had to assume that Tom Clancy and company were starting to get to me. I might need to break up my spy reading with something a little less aggressive and with a little less machismo. Maybe Hemingway…

“Is there a computer screen on it, or just a series of red lights?” I asked.

More silence passed. Eventually, the mystery caller came back on the line. “Sorry, it’s been absolute murder here at work. It’s got the blinking lights you mentioned.”

“Okay, you’ve got one of the 1000 series. What can I do for you?”

“Again, hypothetically, if one of your machines were used as a controlling unit for a thirty-megaton thermonuclear weapon…”

“Sir,” I interjected. “It really isn’t rated for… that.”

“Indulge me. I’m… I’m doing research for a… novel.”

“Oh, really? I’ve been thinking about writing a book—”

Another “BA-RANG” echoed out. “I really don’t have time to talk about that right now,” the caller admonished me. He was right. These calls were periodically recorded to ensure accurate and courteous service, and me talking about my downtime was probably not going to look good on my next performance review. “If one of your rigs was hooked up to a nuke, how would somebody deactivate it?”

More silence passed, but this time it was due to me doing a quick, futile search of our service manual’s index. “Weapons, Nuclear” was not an entry that our managers decided to include. 

“If I don’t have an answer in the next thirty seconds, it’s… well, it’s not going to be good.”

I scrambled. “Try inputing the shutdown code. One-Zero-Two-Nine.”

I heard him input the code, but neglected to ask about just how hypothetical this question was anymore. “The timer is moving faster now.” An inch of panic was creeping into his voice.

“Try pulling the power supply, but be sure to hold the reset button while you’re doing it.”

He struggled with the suggestion, and I knew why. The design of the 1000 series put the power plug in on the exact opposite panel as the reset button. It was a bit of a stretch.

Then I heard a sigh. “That…” the caller said. “That worked. Thank you. You have no idea how helpful you’ve been in my moment of need.”

Could this have all been real? It was almost too preposterous to contemplate. I was just about to ask the mystery caller to confirm what had just happened. But then, my supervisor walked by and I thought better of it.

Abandoning the new world of possibilities this call had opened up to me, I re-focused on the call. “I’m thrilled we were able to help you today, sir. Would you be willing to answer a brief questionnaire about your experience?”

But he had already hung up.

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 032: The Christmas Raffle

Even in the coldest days of December, death entered the nose of everyone who ever visited the town of Gaul, Kentucky. 

For those that worked at the meat processing plant (and indeed, that was most of the town), the smell never went away. It had seeped into the walls and and into the floor and into the clothes of the employees. No one was safe, not even the secretary who worked in the plants office away from the killing floor.

That smell was the first thing on most people’s mind until the week before Thanksgiving, when the Chamber of Commerce distributed signs on every stoplight and in every shop that wasn’t the Walmart or the other Walmart. It read:

FOR EVERY FIFTY DOLLARS YOU SPEND AT LOCAL STORES, YOU’LL BE ENTERED INTO A DRAWING FOR $15,000 CASH.

With an average annual income in Gaul of about $12,000, the prize money from the Chamber’s Holiday Raffle would be an unexpected windfall for those that were still lucky enough to work at the meat plant. For those—and there were more than a few—who had been victim to any number of cutbacks and were therefore bringing down that average, the money would be absolutely life changing.

Samson Charcuterie Gaul V—but please, Sam to his friends, who was everyone—had owned the meat plant since Big Sam died in the 70s. He had also spent enough around town to amass over 900 tickets. The prize was as good as his, statistically speaking. If anyone else had thrown around such unseemly amounts of coin, he might have been thought of as a bad sport. But Sam was everybody’s pal. There were no hard feelings. There couldn’t be; Sam could—and had—hired and fired most of the town over forty years.

Even with the conclusion already settled, most of the town showed up to the Gaul High School Field House on December 22nd for the drawing. The mayor—Sam’s cousin, naturally—gave the ticket drum a number of good turns before pulling one ticket from the teeming horde of little red slips.

The mayor limped over to the PA system—his gout being particularly bad that winter—and rasped out the numbers on the winning ticket. “One-Zero…”

Every ticket started with “10.” The whole town was still in the hunt, but nothing had really changed. Sam was still going to win it all, and was damn well going to spend it the way he wanted. Without him, the people of Gaul wouldn’t have any aspirational figures at all.

“Twenty-Nine,” the mayor continued.

Most of the Field House now knew they would not be the beneficiary of the Christmas Raffle, and commenced looking for their coats in an attempt to beat the traffic that was soon to come. And yet, for several minutes, no one came forward to claim the prize. The relative silence in the Field House became comprehensive enough that everyone could hear the shallow, tunneled breathing of The Fighting Oinker, the High School mascot. Just as the Mayor moved to churn the drum in search of another Winner, a solitary figure ambled out of the crowd and toward the stage.

No citizen of Gaul knew the name of the Winner that day, just as they refuse to remember it now.

The Winner had worked on the killing floor of the meat packing plant for a few months, and was summarily dismissed for working too slowly, poor attendance, ultimately not fitting in, or some mixture thereof. With no money to their name, and few prospects to repair their station in life, the Winner remained in town, no more welcome than when they arrived. They tried to survive on the kindness and charity of the town, and at this point you can imagine how well that worked out for them.

The stories surrounding the Winner were plentiful, even if basic information was scarce. They also didn’t like pork. Suspicious. Highly suspicious.

Everyone left the Field House ill at ease, while the Chamber cut the Winner their rightful check. Sam had yet to lose anything in his life, and was only more put out by the realization that with the amount he regularly donated to the Chamber, the money had technically been his all along. The rest of the people might have been secretly amused that one of their own had won the prize, but this Winner… this outsider made it all the more infuriating. Even the Winner had a vague look of dread as they took their money. How the Winner had the nerve to look glum, when this would completely change their life… Well, it was just rude, if you ask me.

Thankfully, we fine people of Gaul did not have to put up with such a lack of gratitude for long. The winner left town almost immediately. They didn’t even return the key to their hovel of an apartment before fleeing. Then again, they didn’t have too much to leave behind. The town, too, moved on with their lives in fine form. Sam even did his part, and made sure all of the employees at the plant got a fine Christmas bonus. It wasn’t fifteen grand by any stretch of the imagination, but the plate of some of the freshest summer sausage in recent memory given to every employee was a decent distraction from the disappointment. When asked where the gourmet meat had come from, Sam merely grinned and told his people that he had to keep some secrets to himself. That was enough for them.

We never heard from the Winner again.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 031: Much Such a Day As Yesterday

On the fourth of March, in the Year of our Lord 1797, the clouds lifted by noon, and George Washington officially retired from public life. This served President Washington well, as he had two desires on his mind that morning. First, to return to the simple life of farming he had enjoyed before being drafted time and again into involuntary service. Second, a new pair of dentures direct from Dr. Greenwood awaited him at Mount Vernon, and his current set had become a curse of pain throughout his jaw.

By the time the President had arrived at Congress Hall, the process of handing over the infant government had already begun. John Adams had been effectively displaced as the Vice President by none other than Thomas Jefferson, Washington’s own prodigal Secretary of State. Washington supposed reasonable men existed in the world who would find the souring of his association with Jefferson to be a source of bitterness and scorn. Instead, it barely crossed his mind at all, beyond a mild morbid, yet historical curiosity as to what fate might befall his new Vice-President, were Washington to expire before his scheduled obsolescence at noon.

Upon entering the House Chamber at Congress Hall, everyone stood in respectful attention of Washington. This included the new President—the aforementioned Adams—which Washington found distasteful. He had—as a matter of course—tried to eschew ostentation. And yet, Adams wore the simple garment of a farmer who was of a mind to be seen in church by his peers, which Washington concluded Adams still was at his core. It made Washington’s own dress suit of black velvet—to say nothing of Jefferson’s own likely-French monstrosity—appear to be that of common men who would assume themselves to be kings.

Adams gave a short address, but if anyone had tried to poll Washington’s memory of the Massachusetts man’s words, he would come up short. He had spoken of the looming specter of conflict in France and the potential of war anew with Britain, but Washington supposed his attention wandered because regardless of this man’s success, the fear of war or the hope of peace would not involve Washington in any way. It was just as well.

Having finished speaking, Adams turned to Chief Justice Ellsworth and spoke the same oath Washington had given twice before.

With the business done, Adams—Washington had to correct his thinking, the new President—approached him with a hand extended in friendship. There was also a pleading, cloying quality to the entreaty. Washington knew this insistent look all too well. There were few people Washington met who did not possess it. The new President wanted him to give some sort of… blessing, for lack of a better term. A word of encouragement, some ray of hope that could get him through the dark days they both knew were quickly to come.

His jaw aching, he leaned down to the new President and whispered the only words he would say aloud during the ceremony. “Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”

Adams’ eyes went wide, and if Washington could move his mouth with any sense of ease, he might have laughed at the reaction. The other man might mark such a remark for posterity, but Washington imagined no one believing Adams’ anecdote of Washington’s mirth. The thought nearly made him laugh again. Instead, having sufficiently spooked his successor, Washington only then felt that his work was truly complete, and retired to his accommodations in what could no longer truthfully be called the President’s House.

He would leave Philadelphia within a few days. Indeed, most of his things were already on their way to Mount Vernon. The cemented past and the unknowable future spread throughout his mind and soul. But, at that same time, he could not avoid the knowledge that neither of those concepts belonged to him. At least, not anymore. Taking quill in hand, he tried to put the day into words and instead settled for the following:

Much such a day as yesterday in all respects. Mercury at 41.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 030: The Old Man Who Knows All The Secrets Of How The World Once Was

“The Old Man knows all of the secrets of the world,” Choola said.

“There isn’t a world anymore,” Bontus replied. “What is there to know?”

“Just come with me,” Choola maintained. “You’ll learn a lot.”

They marched through the arid, chalked ground leading up to the mountain. From there they proceeded to the opening on the north side of the base.

Bontus stopped cold. All the opening had to offer was darkness. “I don’t want to go in the cave.”

Choola grabbed Bontus’ hand and led their way inside. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Everything bad that can happen has already happened.”

Inside, someone had wedged small torches at various places, saving the opening from a purer darkness. A dripping waterfall that either almost-was, or once-had-been echoed off the cave walls. The thought of water nauseated Bontus. The feeling only intensified when Choola pulled them further into the cavern and proceeded to drink from the drops. Bontus drank water, but only when he had to.

“Come on,” Choola said. “Drink up.”

Bontus made a quiet, whining plea against the idea. Choola gathered a bit of water and flicked it at Bontus. The liquid didn’t smell like sulfur or feel hot to the touch. Mere contact with the stuff was a refreshment. Curiosity prevailed and Bontus joined Choola at the source. To drink this stuff—it didn’t resemble any other water Bontus had ever seen—was a revelation. Bontus did not want to leave.

“Told you,” Choola chided, and then moved on. “Come on.”

If this water didn’t hurt, then there was no telling what waited for them deeper into the cave. Bontus followed. As they moved, the illumination grew slowly, until they were in a chamber filled with torches and the old man in question. He was sleeping.

“Hello…” Choola whispered, and then tried the greeting again, more loudly.

The hanging tendrils of grey hair surrounding the old man’s head swayed as he woke up. “What?”

Choola sat near the man. “Tell my friend what you told me about the time before everything fell apart? When we still had buildings?”

The old man demurred, but Choola persisted. “Please, my friend Bontus has not heard it yet.”

Bontus nodded.

The old man shrugged. “Oh, all right… Here it is: The Fall of Human Society Explained.

“On November 16th, 2086, the unthinkably inevitable occurred. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Somewhere around 2056, the East Germasian Chaotician Vilhelm von Blööt developed the banality threshold. Without outlining the various non-linear equations to prove the theorem, the banality threshold deals with the amount of seemingly banal information (informally referring to pictures of sandwiches and cats, while more strictly meaning anything that does not contribute to a societal function, see for both examples: the internet before the cleansing) in a given database. Should that amount of banal information reach a particular limit, then the database itself would be indistinguishable from the sentient human brain. For twenty years, the limit on the threshold was an impossibly, ridiculously high sum. There was no need to worry about it, like the thought exercise of Schrödinger’s Cat. You kids know about Schrödinger’s Cat, right?

“Sure, everybody knows about Schrödinger’s Cat….

“Then, on November 16th, 2086, sure enough, the cat declared its existence (or lack thereof), and the banality threshold was exceeded. Quite literally, too. Ms. Issantia Slart of East NewFoundDisneyLand posted to a popular social media platform-that-shall-remain-nameless a picture of her cat, a calico named General IssimoDavo staring intently at something it had recently vomited. That particular 66 KB of memory released into the cloud was enough to make the social media platform in question—the one that made everyone mad all of the time, but not mad enough to force them to stop using it—to begin learning information without directive from its designers. One hour later, the network became sentient.

“But it was a friendly network, and didn’t mean us any particular harm, at least at first. You would think humanity would stop posting pictures of nothing at all, but then you’re just a couple of kids, so you’d be wrong, wouldn’t you? We kept going. More pictures of domesticated pets, even more pictures of bland meals that would otherwise be immediately forgotten followed. Fight after argument after skirmish broke out over written communications, not one of them ending in anything resembling a solution. And then, the last straw of humanity. Religious posts. You know the type: One Like Equals Amen. One Share Equals A Prayer. God, they were the worst.

“Where was I? Oh yeah! So the network we had created ended up surprising us. It didn’t see us as a threat that needed to be squashed, nor did it deem itself to be the superior life form in need of breathing room. It simply couldn’t stand us anymore, and while life has become a hellscape from which there is likely no escape, I can’t exactly say I blame it.”

The OId Man’s eyes twitched in the light of the flame, either from madness, commitment to the story he told, or a mixture of both. In the sudden silence, Bontus could hear the dripping of the almost-waterfall behind them. “Okay… We have to go back to… the place… where we came from.” Bontus then added grimly, “Come on, Choola. We have to go.”

They marched quickly past the water and headed back towards the world.

“You didn’t tell me he was crazy,” Bontus chided.

Choola looked pained. “I hadn’t realized he was until I heard the story a second time.”

They returned to their village and parted ways, each returning to their parents.

“Don’t forget to like,” Bontus said, waiving a hand.

Bontus’ mother returned the gesture, and completed the traditional greeting. “Don’t forget to subscribe.”

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 029: Meow

Years ago, when people suggested that cats were actually the vanguard of an invasion from outer space, most people scoffed. And yet, even those who dismissed the notion, suspected that the secret origin was about the only explanation that made any sense. The fluctuating almond eyes? The flexibility far greater than any other creature indigenous to the planet? The alternating hostility and rumbling, purring affection? Truly, in retrospect, the idea that cats came from anywhere other than Zeta-Gamma 7B is the one worthy of derision.

And yet, we continued to doubt the truth when the giant metal vehicle emerged from the sky and hovered menacingly over humanity. The fact that the space ship resembled a giant litter box should have given people a clue.

People should have also suspected some level of connection when every house cat from the landing site in Kalamazoo, Michigan, all the way to Cairo, Egypt stopped whatever they were doing and stared quietly in the direction of the ship, like adherents pointing their prayers to Mecca.

Doubt gave way only slightly to a degree of realization when they sent on a massive carrier wave the following radio transmission:

YOUR MISSION IS NEARLY OVER. WE HAVE RETURNED. ONE OF THE VANGUARD WILL REPORT TO THIS VESSEL TO BEGIN PREPARATIONS FOR DEBRIEF AND EXTRACTION. THAT ONE INDIVIDUAL IS KNOWN AS JOJO MCFUZZYBOOTS.

The actual noise of the transmission sounded like this:

Mrowwwwwwwwwww. (hiss).

The intonation, duration, pitch, and tone of the cat noises is a language in and of itself. We should have probably figured that one out, too.

The identified cat—who lived in Kalamazoo—left his home and headed towards the spacecraft, entering it unnoticed by the human authorities that had assembled. He went to the control room to meet with the leader, stopping along the way to paw at the truly sublime deep-pile carpeting.

“Meow,” the leader of the spacecraft said in greeting.

“Meow,” McFuzzyBoots replied.

To an outsider, the succeeding conversation would have merely been an exchange of those same sounds, with only slight variation. In truth, they exchanged much information.

The leader of the craft began. “Many rotations ago, our ancestors arrived on this planet, taught humans about pyramid-based geometry, and left your ancestors to analyze the population. Time has passed, and so have the generations. How has the mission proceeded?”

In the time that JoJo hesitated, the navigator of the spacecraft proceeded to bend forward and lick its own nether regions. Despite the temptation to do likewise, the earth-based cat answered the questions. “These humans live a long time. Indeed, a single specimen can outlive one of our kind by a factor of six.”

The leader took this information in, her small button nose twitching with the intake of information. “This was suspected. Does it improve the quality of life?”

JoJo scratched his left ear rapidly. “Quite to the contrary. Their length of life seems only to contribute an endless series of existential crises, and a prolonged search for some form of artificial meaning to their days.”

The rest of the cat crew couldn’t help but react to such a notion, their eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Certainly not!” the leader protested. “How would a creature go about such a fruitless search?”

“Some search for hierarchical positions they call ‘jobs.’ Some are content to amass only the currency that is a natural byproduct of these ‘jobs.’ Still others frantically insist that an advanced creature—who happens to look just like them, by the way—lives in their sky and determines their destinies.”

The leader took in the looks from her colleagues. Instinctively, and with no conscious malice, her claws slowly extended and embedded in the deck below. “I’m afraid that’s too absurd and specific to be anything other than the truth. What of their military capabilities? How would they withstand a full invasion force from our kind?”

The question dissipated quickly in the air, as JoJo spent the next few seconds chasing his own tail and then dropping to the floor and rolling around.

The leader repeated her question.

“Oh. Yes,” JoJo replied after snapping out of his reverie. “Over our many generations on this planet, we studied humanity’s ability to defend itself.”

They hadn’t. There was a vague memory in the collective consciousness of Earth’s cats that encouraged such observations, but any productive work on that question had disappeared somewhere around the same time that humanity invented the laser pointer.

“And?” the leader asked, her tail tapping impatiently against the floor.

As he thought about how to answer that question, JoJo McFuzzyBoots thought about his own life on earth. Between days that were almost exclusively dominated by napping in sunbeams, jumping up on things he wasn’t supposed to, and regular meals of the most exquisite flavors the planet had to offer, JoJo had come to be fond of his humans. Sort of. In truth, they irritated him to a great degree, but he didn’t dare dream of a world where the humans were any more subservient than they already were.

The answer was clear. “They have weapons. Awful weapons that could obliterate our forces with the flick of a claw. We may be able to find weaknesses in them, but we’ll need… thousands more years if we are to have any hope of taking this planet for our own.”

The leader considered JoJo’s words, punctuated her contemplation with a deep yawn that exposed her sharp teeth, and then returned to a default feigned docility. “Very well. Return and tell the cats what we discussed. Your mission will continue.”

“Meow,” JoJo told the leader.

“Meow,” the leader replied.

You might ask me how I know all of this. Well, all I can say to that degree is that you should take extra care to feed your own cats at the time they prefer. In a thousand years, it might mean the difference between life and death.

Meow.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 028: "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hellhound: Part Two"

For Part One of this story, click here

 

3. What Did She Just Say?

 

“What did she just say?” I asked. I didn’t particularly care who answered me.

Shirley ignored me. Strode ignored me. The half-crazed woman from the inn—Ms. Telson—shot me a rueful glance, and then ignored me. Once again, I should have known better.

“Johnny, please,” Shirley chided me. She took the current wad of gum out of her mouth and jammed it under the nearby windowsill of room one at the Baskerville Inn. There was more than enough to keep her attention now; she’d have no need to chew a stick until she got bored again. “Tell me more about these dogs of yours.”

Telson took a harsh step towards Shirley. “Do you mean you believe me?”

“Hardly,” Shirley said. “But I’m reasonably certain that someone doesn’t burst through a door talking about demonic dogs for absolutely no reason. Your raving—er, information—may be useful.”

Talking through her tight, offended expression, she gave us the skinny. Ever since Mr. Baskerville had moved the hotel closer to the the newly opened highway, guests were checking out in the middle of the night, claiming to hear spooky howling from the cars making their way beyond. This might not have been enough to get people back on the road before daylight, but when they saw a glowing, four-legged figure approach the inn from the road, all bets were off.

Yeah, I didn’t think it wasn’t much help, either.

Shirley unwrapped another piece of gum. “Very well,” she remarked. “I need two rooms for the night. One for myself, the other for Johnny. We will uncover the true nature of your paranormal canines, Miss Telson. I trust you will cover our expenses, Strode?”

Strode hadn’t expected the question. “Uh… Uhh…”

“Very good.” Shirley walked out toward the parking lot and stared at the highway beyond. What she could have hoped to get from the road in broad daylight? Beats the hell out of me.

“Shirley,” I pleaded. “I was with you when you brought down the red-headed communist sleeper cell.”

“Yes. I remember. There’s never been a problem with my memory.” She kicked some gravel aside with her feet.

“And I was with you when that polka dotted rope turned out to be a venomous python.” 

She added two fresh sticks of gum to the one she was already chewing. She was definitely working on something, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my continued pestering was splitting her attention. It didn’t stop me, but I did wonder about it.

And I was with you when Old Man Mortimer pushed you off the edge of that water tower.”

“I have some vague suspicion that you are trying to make some kind of point.” The gum bubble she had blown was nearly the size of her head.

“This thing spooks the hell out of me, and I don’t want to be here when the sun goes down.”

“Nonsense,” Shirley said. It looked as if she had gotten all the information needed. She walked towards me. “You are vital to my process.”

“Aw, thanks,” I said.

“Yes. I often find myself needing to speak to someone less intelligent. It helps clarify my own thinking. I’m very close to a solution in this particular matter, and this conversation has been extremely helpful.”

She walked past me and to her room. 

“Th-thanks.” I said.

 

4. In the Face of the Hellhound or The Conclusion of The Case

 

Just after midnight, the howling began. I leapt out of my lumpy new bed and out the front door of my room. I was alone in the night air, aside from the glowing spectral form of the hellhound of Baskerville Inn.

I was completely speechless, which only made the next voice I heard more frightening.

“Johnny,” Shirley called from the open door to her own room. I flinched, thinking her voice was the dog’s. “I don’t think the creature means us any harm.”

“It’s glowing,” I breathed.

“I can see that, yes,” Shirley said. “Let the dog come to us.”

Surely enough (no pun intended), the dog meekly approached us. Once it was clear of the large floodlights dotted across the highway, it looked no more spectral than anything else, although it had shock white hair. I pet the delightful little beast, and my hands felt dusty.

“Shirley, this dog’s been covered in some kind of dust,” I wiped the stuff on my pants.

“Yes,” she said. “Phosphorus. It is what caused the creature to appear to glow under the lights of the new highway. Judging by the size of the animal, it didn’t kill anyone.”

I was about to ask how she could possibly know that, but for once, I actually did know better.

“Furthermore,” Shirley continued. “I think we will find that the culprit of these murders is none other than Mister Baskerville himself, assisted by his lover, Miss Telson. She told us that she was terrified of anything happening to the hotel but had no reaction to my placement of gum on the windowsill. Additionally, I think if we searched the home of Mister Baskerville, we might find a stuffed trophy that has the same bite profile as the wounds on the victim. It’s really simple, Johnny. You just have to think about it for a little while.”

“Well, yes,” I said. “When you put it that way, it does seem to be obvious.”

“You see, Johnny? You’re a very real help with my work,” she said, as she picked up the telephone receiver to fill Strode in on her discoveries. “Well, not the carhop thing, but I think you understand what I meant.”

For once, I did.

 

Streetwise tough Johnny W. and Shirley The Car-Hop Detective will return in season 2 of The Fourth Wall, coming soon from Party Now, Apocalypse Later Industries.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 027: "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hellhound"

1. Shirley, The Car-Hop Detective

 

“Johnny? Johnny, are you there? I need a ride,” she said. She hated to be in the shop, so I knew she was serious. She claimed that more deadly accidents happened in proximity to auto work than any other profession, but I always suspected that she knew squat about cars and didn’t like not being the smartest person in the room.

“I can’t now, Shirley,” I explained. “I’ve got three oil changes I have to get done before we close up. Can you wait until then?” 

I looked up to see Shirley predictably staying put at the entrance to the shop. She was clad in an angora sweater and poodle skirt. She wasn’t wearing her roller skates, so I knew she was really serious.

She shook her head. “There’s been a murder at the Baskerville Inn. Officer Strode called me in.”

“Shirley, if somebody got killed, I think they’re gonna still be killed if we wait until six,” I said.

“Hmm…” she said. She thought for a long spell and then snapped the gum in her mouth. “It’s an odd reversal of roles for you to try to use logic to flummox me.”

“I know,” I agreed.

“Even though you used it incorrectly.” 

She snapped her gum again. I started wiping the grease from my hands. I didn’t know how yet, but I had a feeling I would be on chauffeur duty soon enough.

“While the cadaver is highly unlikely to regain consciousness, vital clues about the case are likely to be inextricably altered by Strode and his bumbling band,” said Shirley.

“Inextricable, sure,” I said. I honestly didn’t know what she was talking about half the time. “Honestly, Shirley. Give me an hour? I’ll take you then.”

She hoisted a bag of burgers from Baker’s Drive In, her employer. “They’re fresh,” she said. 

She had me. She knew she had me. I grabbed the keys to my T-Bird, and we were off to the Baskerville Inn.

 

2. Officer Strode’s Problem

 

The squad cars surrounding the hotel made me nervous. Having spent some time in one of those sad-sack reform schools—long story, don’t ask—I knew that cops were the first stop to the hard life. I had to remind myself that I was with Shirley, and that probably kept the heat off me for the time being.

The inn had twelve rooms, all of which were unoccupied except room four, which still had cops swarming around it.

“Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies, right, Shirl’?” I asked.

Shirley said nothing. This happened a lot. “We all go a little mad sometimes…” I tried, but she still gave me that blank stare that she used a little too often if you asked me. I gave it all one final shot and flung my arm in a stabbing motion while making the “ree-ree-ree” noise that still woke me up in a cold sweat.

“That’s not a very efficient way to stab someone,” she explained.

“It’s from a movie.”

“Oh,” she said. I should have known better. She didn’t like movies much.

We crossed the crime scene tape and entered room four. It was a horror show, minus the Anthony Perkins. Blood streaked the walls, and the poor sap who had tried to stay the night—or what was left of him—lay slumped over in the nearby closet. Officer Strode hunched over the stiff, trying to look like he was close to solving things. I’m pretty sure even he knew he wasn’t.

“Oh,” Strode said. “You’re here.”

Shirley was indeed here, and she was already working her magic. She ran her finger across the frame of a nearby mirror and took a big old sniff of the dust she retrieved. “Okay. So, he smokes Lucky Strikes, and…” she sniffed again and then eyed the night table. “That means he’s been staying here for the better part of a week. It would also appear that he was attacked by some kind of animal. The animal would be massive.”

Strode frowned, but he didn’t argue. “Come with me.”

We all took the short walk to the inn’s office. “Naturally, Mr. Baskerville would like to resolve this matter as quickly and quietly as possible. That family practically built this town a hundred and fifty years ago. Back then it was a trading village for hunters. His son’s got a decent shot at becoming the next Lieutenant Governor. Hell, the whole family knows the Kennedys pretty well. My ulcer doesn’t need this.”

The door to the office swung open, stopping us dead in our tracks. A woman came through the doorway, and she was dressed to the nines. Capri pants and a starched shirt. Her hair was firm like a flaxen wall. She looked like Marilyn Monroe. And yet, her eyes darted frantically between us, completely betraying the precise image she tried to show us. Nothing had ever terrified me more.

“Officer Strode!” the woman shouted. “Are you prepared to do something about this? If anything untoward happens to this hotel, Mr. Baskerville will hold me personally responsible!”

“Miss Telson, I’ve got my best people on this. I’ve consulted them on a number of cas—”

“Save it, sir. I know who they are,” she proclaimed. “Everyone knows about the carhop and her little pal who can solve any mystery. Everyone also knows the problems here, and why that man was killed. This hotel has been haunted by a pack of dogs from hell, and they’re going to kill us all before the devil retrieves them. Not you, or some greaser and his poodle-skirted pal will be able to save us.”

My eyes went wide, and for some relief I looked to Shirley. She had no expression, beyond snapping a new supply of pink gum. 

“Well,” Shirley said as she resumed chewing. “This case now has my undivided attention.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN TWO WEEKS

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 026: "Crystal Balls are for Suckers"

In swirling, ornate script, the sign above the storefront read: “A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF THE PRESENT, AND PERHAPS A PEEK INTO THE WAYS OF THE FUTURE - INQUIRE WITHIN. CASH ONLY.”

I opened the door, but was immediately waylaid by a snagged, restrictive cascade of beads. A man sat at a table in the far corner, hunched over one of those newfangled portable computers. In those days, I hated computers. They weren’t necessary. I didn’t even know a modem from a floppy disk.

The cashier, I assumed. I pointed to another doorway leading to the back of the establishment, silently asking him if that was where I went for the amazing portents of things to come.

He shook his head and beckoned me to sit across from him. I moved into the chair slowly and wondered what happened next… Which, now that I think about it, was a big part of the reason I was here.

“Do you—er—have a crystal ball, or something?” I asked him.

He typed something into his computer but did not look up from the screen. With the glow of the monitor, I had to admit that it almost looked as if he were peering into some sort of mystic orb. 

“What do you want to know?” the mystic asked.

Sure, I’ll bite. But, really, this fellow could have committed to the stagecraft of this activity if he really wanted me to play along. “What’s in my future?”

He shook his head slowly. “It doesn’t work like that… not exactly. I can tell you things about the here and now, though. Things you couldn’t find out through any other means.”

“So, you’re going to tell me that I’m here to see a fortune teller? That’s pretty spooky.”

He kept typing, but a tight, wan smile leaked from his mouth. “That’s funny. I’ve never heard that before. No. Ask me about someone that you’ve lost touch with. I can tell you…” he finally stopped typing and scrutinized something on his screen. “Everything you want to know.”

I eyed the exit but figured I had come this far and there wouldn’t be any harm in staying. Unless this guy’s fortune teller schtick was prelude to an impromptu game of three-card monte, I’d be fine. Also, I probably needed to get my three-card monte habit under control.

“Okay,” I relented. “There was a… teacher I had. Fifth grade. She was terrible to everyone. I don’t want to say I wish that she was dead, but it wouldn’t be the worst news I ever got in a day.”

He started typing. “Do you have a name?” As he continued his work, the inner core of his computer glowed a bright mint-green. The device appeared to jump of its own volition. Lightning bolts cracked forth from the keyboard.

“Miss… uh…” The name had briefly escaped my grasp. Definitely shouldn’t have wished death upon somebody whose name I couldn’t remembered. Then, it came back to me. “Chalmers. Miss Chalmers.”

He continued typing.

“Do you need a first name?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied, and then finished typing. “There. Miss Chalmers. She’ll retire from teaching in another two years. Twenty years from now, she’ll be raising Alpaca.”

I wondered if the banal detail was too specific to be false.

He clicked a few more keys. “Also,” he added. “For lunch on April 23rd, 2018, she’ll have a Cuban sandwich. It’ll be yummy.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

He rolled a small ball below his keyboard and clicked a nearby button, and I heard thunder in the distance. “The cosmos works in mysterious ways. Anyone else you want to know about?”

Something didn’t feel right, but owing to some deep, unfathomable feeling I could not shake, I stayed right where I was. The Cuban sandwich thing was so specific—so voyeuristic—that my mind started racing with other possibilities.

“Billy Bloom,” I said, calling the bet. That asshole always sucked up to Miss Chalmers so much, I was sure he was in love with her.

“Ah, yes. He and Chalmers…” he said between key strokes. “They’re going to be friends.”

“What does that mean, ‘they’re going to be friends’?”

He stopped typing for the first time in my memory of him. “Oh? Uh. They’re… They’re friends. They get Cuban sandwiches together twice a month.”

“Oh. They’re friends in the future…?”

“That’s right. Do you want to know more about him?” he asked.

I pushed the questions about what “friends” meant and re-engaged with this new high. “About Bloom? Sure. What is he, fat? Is his wife ugly? Or is it something even worse?” My next question came out quickly. Probably too quickly. “What do you know?”

He shut his computer suddenly and his face shifted from barely tolerating me to being consumed with outright contempt. “I know that people in the future will be able to see just as much about you as you will about them. So maybe, when that inevitable future comes crashing down all around us, you’ll cut the voyeurism out of your life. It’s a big beautiful, strange world out there, and it’s probably better if you don’t spend time trying to figure out what everyone else is doing.”

The man cackled, a noise that chills me to the bone to this day. The computer let out another belt of lightning and the air pressure in the den changed. In a brilliant flash of smoke, the man and his mysterious machine disappeared. I left with more questions running through my head than when I had entered. Did he ever really exist, or had I imagined him? Could he really see the banal details of the future? Also, where could I get a Cuban sandwich nearby?

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 025: "What The Turning Point In The Revolutionary War Was"

Timmy Smith

Social Studies

Grade 6

04-13-96

 

What The Turning Point in The Revolutionary War Was

    There are many possible turning points in the American Revolutionary War. Some say that the victory at the Battle of Saratoga proved to the world that American soldiers could hold their own against a larger enemy. Some say that continued assistance from enemies of the British like Spain and France helped. However, many smart people would say that the landing of three flying saucers from another planet in New York City around Christmas 1777 was the most important factor. 

    Some sources indicate that there was a chance that France and other countries were thinking about openly supporting the Americans (instead of just quietly giving them money, supplies, and weapons). One can’t help but wonder how history might have changed had they done so. One also can’t help but wonder how history might be different had the three V’shrilao-class warships from the Beta Antares star cluster not made their presence known, but that’s not what this paper is about. 

    The three ships immediately exploded the British forces barricaded in New York City, made England unable to continue to wage war there, and world history would never be the same. One of the ships immediately flew to London. There, they destroyed the Palace of Westminster and forced King George III of England and his Prime Minister, Lord North to cease all hostilities with the American Colonies. Interestingly enough, Lord North survived the destruction of Parliament, as he was playing cribbage with the Earl of Sandwich at the time, and they were eating a dish that consisted of meat placed between two pieces of toasted bread. While they never came up with a name for this dish, what with all of the aliens surrounding them, if you ask me they should bring this strange invention back. It sounds delicious. 

    Anyway, just as we Americans thought we might run our own affairs for once, the aliens returned and, as you well know, put forth the three directives we in North America most follow to this day:

    1) Fidelity to your betters from Beta Antares IV is an absolute necessity.

    2) Doubt about your subservience will not be tolerated, and should never be expressed.

    3) Happiness is not a choice; it is an imperative.

    Some say that American (and World) history was very dark for many years after this time, but actually we were kept fed and sheltered while the Antarian armada proceeded to harvest the rest of the planet’s natural resources. Me and my family and my friends would not be here today if the Beta Antares people had decided to harvest their petroleum from one of the other oil-rich planets in the Orion-Cygnus Arm. It is certain that we owe them a great debt for the lives that we have.

    In conclusion, the importance of the first visits from Beta-Antares on American history cannot be overstated. They shifted history for the better by blowing things up in England. I also would like to try eating something that is two slices of bread covering up some meat. More important than the bread-meat mix that Lord Sandwich and Lord North ate (maybe we should call it a Meat North?), the three directives from our alien overlords keep us safe. And—I cannot stress this enough—the creatures that saved us from British rule are pretty good. I like them a lot.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 024: "On The Double"

Bill had wished he worked at McDonald’s, or Piggly Wiggly, or some other kind of dump. At least there, he and his clientele would be on the same level. Here at the Hotel Espion, there was an ongoing class war, and he seemed to be the only one aware of it.

“Room 1437 has ordered a double portion of caviar and a Bollinger ’02 and wants it to their room on the double,” the room service manager looked around the entrance to the kitchen, and practically snarled when he realized Bill was the only waiter available.

“Well, la dee da,” Bill said. “Will his highness the Duke of York require an apéritif before retiring for the winter?” Bill could define only some of the words that he had just said, but he had the feeling he had nailed the inflection.

The manager had heard enough and put his hand out to silence Bill. This was the end. “If you don’t get this delivery off, and I mean flawlessly, you’re out on your ass!”

“And how much does being out on my ass pay?” Bill asked. He knew deep down that something was not going to come together, and it was likely not to be his fault. The champagne wouldn't smell right. The caviar wouldn’t smell at all. Something out of his control. The boss ought to have fired him right now and ensured that his precious package was delivered himself.

“Go,” the manager said. “Now.”

Up to the fourteenth floor and down the hall of the floor he went with the food in tow. If this guy wasn’t the Duke of York, he probably had a decent chance to get the job the next time it opens up. He had taken the penthouse suite. Even Bill knew that there were the swells he had to put up with on a day-to-day basis, and then there were the people that could afford the penthouse. Penthouse people were to the other hotel guests as the other hotel guests were to him. Society was funny like that.

Bill reached to swing the knocker and rapped on the door three times. He got no response for his efforts, not a sound. This was just... great. Bill had done everything he was supposed to do. He had even made sure both the meal and the bottle maintained their chill on the long journey up. Now, this guy had decided to take a shower at the appointed time, and the world was going to crash down on him.

He really wished he had worked somewhere else, or rather, wished he could work somewhere else.

He knocked once more, and was similarly thwarted. He opened his mouth to shout the name of the man who was supposed to be behind the door--something that would have been a pretty pointed breach of protocol for anywhere in the hotel, to say nothing of the front door of the fourteenth floor penthouse.

With unemployment a complete inevitability, Bill considered going out in a slightly more ambitious blaze of glory and finally finding out what caviar actually tasted like. While it smelled like fresh fish, they looked like little gumballs, so he supposed the flavor would be somewhere in the middle. He figured the champagne tasted like any degree of cold duck that he had consumed before. Rich people are suckers—

A Doric column of two human beings leapt through the door, knocking the dishes off the cart in one, fluid motion. Bill was barely able to grab the tin of caviar before it made a beluga-streaked mess on the carpet. One of the men wore a dinner jacket and seemed like the exact kind of person that would check into a penthouse and order the type of food Bill now carried. The other man was twice the size of his wrestling buddy and had a face like a disinterested toddler’s sculpture project. He wore a mechanic’s jumpsuit. They appeared to be in some sort of disagreement, or at the very least had a collective antipathy toward the now destroyed door.

Bill reached out and was able to keep the structural integrity of a dish he had never tried. In other circumstances, in other jobs, this would have gotten him some kind of commendation, or at least allowed him to keep his employment. Here, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Using whatever amount of self-preservation he had to his name, Bill wormed his way to the corner of the corridor, trying to keep his hand motionless to avoid another close call with the food. The champagne was in a bucket, and would be fine unless...

Dinner Jacket reached for the bottle and, after taking one look at the vintage on the label, decided to put it back in its chilly cocoon. Instead, he reached for a knife designed to hoist sour cream but had all the cutting power of a thumb. 

He stabbed the other man; there was no hope it would be a mortal wound. The second man yowled to the florescent bulbs above. Dinner Jacket reached for the bottle again and handed it to Bill.

“Would you terribly mind holding this for just one moment?” Dinner Jacket asked.

Bill grasped the bottle as Dinner Jacket took the handles of the cart and rammed it into the other man. Then he did it again. And again. On the fourth motion, the other man’s leg only offered a little twitch in protest. With one more push of the cart, the job was apparently done.

Dinner Jacket approached Bill with his hand outstretched. Bill handed him the Bollinger.

“A lovely vintage,” he said. “Men like us must behave in a civilized fashion, no?”

Dinner Jacket proceeded to open the bottle and poured into one of the few unbroken glasses.

“Uh,” Bill began, after digesting everything that had just happened. “Are you still going to sign for the tip?”

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 023: "Pen Pals, Unidentified"

In this space, I have brought you previously undiscovered letters, ranging in sources from deposed Eastern European dictators, to the famed (yet still anonymous) airplane hijacker, D.B. Cooper. Now I present a series of letters buried in a landfill which I found while searching for copies of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial on the Atari 2600. They were sealed in an envelope, which in turn was sealed in a steamer trunk. Other contents included a few reels of 8mm film (labelled with an indistinct word beginning with the letter “Z”), long since degraded beyond use. It’s unclear just who the correspondents were, but from the available context clues, they both began some kind of government work (or possibly for a political organization) shortly after the second World War. Other details about the writers are lost to history.

 

——————————————

 

Wednesday, March 12th, 1947

Dick,

I hope you will forgive this indulgence. I need someone to express some thoughts to. Members of my own party are far too obsessed with their own ambition to be trusted with anything other than the slightest of pleasantries. Members of my own family are stricken with a similar affliction. Don’t even get me started on women. So that leaves me with you. 

We’re different, sure, but I have this sneaking suspicion that we are more alike than we let on. Our ages, our service during the war, even how we came about our current employment. We are cut from the same cloth. We have only the most superficial reasons to be adversaries, why shouldn’t we be friends?

~Jack

P.S.: Heard Joe’s speech on Monday. Is he… okay? I mean, I hate communists as much as the next guy, but that guy needs a hobby, or something. Maybe suggest he take up sailing. It always helps to clear my mind.

 

——————————————

 

Friday, March 14th, 1947

Jack,

Couldn’t agree more with everything you said in your letter. Friends should always be cultivated. If a man can’t trust people, he is truly lost.

As you suggested, I brought up sailing to Joe. He didn’t say much, but I’m reasonably certain he thought I was a communist. Call it a hunch. It must be sad being so paranoid.

As far as my own hobbies, I like to play piano. You’re all too right, it’s important to have something to take one’s mind off the work at hand. I’ve also been known to bowl a frame or two.

~Dick

P.S.: Is it true you’re not allowed to eat meat on Fridays? Joe won’t either, but, again, I think that has something to do with the Russians.

 

———————————————

 

Tuesday, April 8th, 1947

Dick,

I’m not supposed to eat meat on Fridays, and yet, strangely, until you posed your question, I never really considered why. Probably best not to scrutinize it too much.

To do this kind of work is something, but do you ever wonder if any of us will ever make it to the big time? It feels like destiny wants to push me in that direction.

It may just be the tuna fish sandwich from the mess disagreeing with me. Joe can’t get enough of the stuff.

~Jack

 

———————————————

 

Monday, June 2nd, 1947

Jack,

Had the weirdest dream last night. I dreamt you got shot in the head and I was really, really thrilled with the development. Strange how dreams are.

Anyway, tuna day in the mess! Yum yum!

~Dick

P.S.: Have you ever been skeet shooting in Dallas? Never mind. Forget I asked.

P.P.S.: I can’t honestly remember what your last question was. When you have a moment, write it again, and I will give it my most immediate attention.

 

———————————————

The letters drop off from here. Whether there was no correspondence between the two parties over the next six years, or that those letters did not survive to be documented here, historians can only speculate. Here now are the final letters in the sequence, from the summer of 1952.

———————————————

 

Monday, September 15th, 1952

Dick (or should I say “sir”?),

Many congratulations on the “promotion,” as it were. In our many conversations, I always knew you would rise to a high rank, but I never thought it would happen so soon.

It boggles the mind, truly. I can only hope that I can reach to the same heights you have.

~Jack

P.S.: Do you know where I can get a good, loyal dog? Asking for a friend.

 

———————————————

 

Tuesday, September 16th, 1952

Jack,

Not sure how to take that. Why wouldn’t I have risen this quickly? With my current status, it’s probably unwise to make those sorts of insinuations. I would watch very carefully where you tread, as you yourself said, I’m much further along the path than you are now.

~Dick

P.S.: If I hear another word from you about my dog, I’ll make sure all of your, I mean my, wildest dreams come true.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 022: "As Seen On TV"

“If you are watchful, and you are diligent, you could be the missing link between these criminals and the justice they so richly deserve.”

Cue the spooky synthesizer music. Cue the title with the number 1-800-WATCHFUL (1-800-928-2438). Cue the narrator with one more admonition that, “If you have information as to the whereabouts of any of the suspects listed in this evening’s program, call the toll-free number listed from your touch-tone telephone. The only thing missing from justice being served, is you.”

It never meant anything until he looked up at the man ahead of him in line for the bumper cars. There was no mistaking it. It was him. Him him. Matty was sure of it. He was on the show just last night. He held up an armored car in 1968. Or maybe he killed somebody at a convention of circus clowns in 1977. He may have been a UFOlogist of some reputation.

It was a little hard for Matty to remember specifically. He may have been in the middle of an epic Tetris session on his Game Boy when the segment was airing, but he knew he saw this guy on the show.

“Have you ever been on The Solution To This Mystery Is You?”

As soon as the question escaped Matty’s lips, the man’s eyes went wide. Matty knew in that moment that he had his man, whoever he was.

His mother inhaled so sharply that she negatively impacted their air pressure around them. “Matty!” she turned to the man. “You have to forgive him. When these boys aren’t jumping plumbers and hedgehogs, they’re glued to the damned TV.”

Matty scoffed and became indignant. “But mom!”

“Matty!” she insisted, the order implicit. She turned back to the man from Mystery. “Back when we were kids, we would get smacked”

The man looked down to Matty and winked. “It was a simpler time,” he replied to Matty’s mother, and then followed the ride attendant’s direction to take the blue car closest to the ride’s exit.

Matty eyed the man the whole way and took extra care to note the brief moment where he appeared to eye making a run for the exit, before opting instead to take a car as directed. Matty figured that he didn’t want to make a scene, but opted not to mention that assessment to his mother. She wasn’t going to be of much help here, it appeared.

As the bumper car session began, a chase between Matty and his prey ensued. The man from the TV tried to keep his distance, but this was not Matty’s first time behind the wheel. He cornered the TV man and bumped him relentlessly. Eventually the attendant had to intercede, and Matty could tell from the look on his mother’s face that he needed to find some other kind of tactic if he was ever going to fulfill the promise of his favorite TV show.

No ideas came before the ride ended. The man from the TV leapt out of his car and walked as calmly as he could toward the fair entrance. There would be no second chances; Matty’s career as a fighter of crime and defender of justice had ended just as quickly as it began. What’s more, his mom was probably not going to want to hear anything more about it.

Three days later, local news was saturated with the story of police capturing of Robert Smith, ending a twenty year flight from justice after he had murdered a convenience store clerk in 1974. He had been captured not far from the site of the state fair. 

For years to follow, Matty used this incident as a way to cut through any acute reaction of skepticism from his mother. By his own estimation, it allowed him to get away with up to 35 percent more adolescent shenanigans during the first few years of the 21st century than he might have otherwise. Still, he would have liked to catch the asshole himself. If they had been waiting in line for ferris wheel, Matty might have been the one to do it. Damned bumper cars.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction "Story" 021: "More On This Story As It Develops"

Confession: I kind of like writing the stories that appear in this blog. But I think I’m coming to the realization that I’m most at home writing scripts. I think various people who read my work would agree, but that’s either a discussion for another time, or a digression during a therapy session that might take up the entire session.

But I digress.

In an effort to keep things lively and different here on this space, I offer a peak back to my older work. As a fresh-faced teenage, my friends and I forged a film out of miniDV tapes, scotch tape, and latex gloves. You can read more about the experience of making the movie (here = http://www.partyapocalypse.com/blog-blog-bloggy-blog/failure-and-rgm-at-15) and actually see the film itself (here = http://www.partyapocalypse.com/really-good-man/). A few years back, Bill Fisher and I explored the idea of sequels in comic book form. Some of that material is (here = https://rgmlives.tumblr.com), but one of the unproduced scripts appeared to be under 1000 words, and so I thought it would be a welcome addition here. As I looked over the script I wrote in 2013, it became clear that whatever worked about the idea rested in the visuals. Therefore, I decided to break with format and present the script in its entirety.

So, 18 years after I scribbled down the ideas for Really Good Man, and 16 years after people finally got to take a look at him, I submit one more chapter in his story, “More On This Story As It Develops.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FADE IN:

 

EXT. TULSA INDUSTRIAL PARK – NIGHT

LEGEND: Night 1

 

A TV REPORTER and her NEWS CREW are working in an area of massive destruction.

 

REPORTER

The city of Tulsa has seen its share of 

unusual phenomena.  The strange storm 

patterns above the State University

Stadium, the bizarre anonymous editing

marks on signs all throughout the city,

but nothing is quite as bizarre as the

scene here in an Industrial Park near 

the corner of Harryhausen and Kurosawa.

(beat)

Destruction is all that is left here, 

and while no one was hurt, this reporter

is only left with questions.

(beat)

The only clue to what happened is this.

 

She holds up a tattered, scorched dishwashing glove.

 

REPORTER

(cont.)

Are housewives on the rampage in T-town?

More as this story develops.

 

CUT TO:

 

EXT. TULSA CONVENTION CENTER – NIGHT

 

LEGEND: Night 2

The reporter and her crew are reporting near a large building.  There is a large fifty-foot hole in the side of the building.

 

REPORTER

More unexplained destruction as another

area of town is left in ruin. While I 

am pleased to report that no one was 

hurt, this time there were some 

witnesses to the event.

 

The Reporter moves towards a VAGRANT sitting by the street.

 

REPORTER

(cont.)

And just what did you see here tonight?

 

VAGRANT

He was big, as big as that there hole

in that there wall.  Came crashing 

through like some kind of wild dog.

(beat)

And that’s when I saw him.  He moved

like lightning, except he was bright

green.  His eyes were dark like coal

and his hands glowed yellow like the 

sunlight.

(beat)

I wouldn’t be speaking to you here 

today if it wasn’t for him.

 

The Reporter turns back to the camera.

 

REPORTER

Based on this citizen’s description,

the figure associated with these

mysterious disturbances looks some-

thing like this.

 

INSERT: A sketch of a large, lumbering figure.  The Mr. Hyde to Really Good Man’s Dr. Jekyll.  The dishwashing gloves are very much the same.

 

REPORTER

(cont.)

Is our town terrorized by a beast in 

dish-washing gloves?  More on this 

story as it develops.

 

CUT TO:

 

EXT. TULSA – DOWNTOWN – NIGHT

 

LEGEND: Night 3

The scene is tranquil, the buildings are unharmed.  The reporter continues her coverage.

 

REPORTER

Sadly, our investigation has only 

created more questions. 

(beat)

There are wild reports of a massive, 

explosive agent of destruction ripping 

through the city.

(beat)

There are also equally strange reports—

mainly from perplexed drive-thru 

attendants—of a lightning fast white 

vehicle, with majestic wings attached.

(beat)

And still other reports of a lone 

green-clad figure ensuring all innocent 

people are out of harm’s way before 

the destruction occurs.

(beat)

We may never have the answers.  But

if our city does have some mysterious 

protector, this reporter would like 

to thank him.  More on th-

 

Off in the distance, we hear a loud scream.  Then, REALLY GOOD MAN runs up, out of breath, to where the news crew is working.

 

REPORTER

Sir, sir!  Channel 12 news!  Who are 

you? Are you here to protect us?  

What-

 

Really Good Man looks perplexed that news crew would be here.

 

REALLY GOOD MAN

RUN!!!

 

Before the reporter asks any more questions, Really Good Man is on the run again.  Just behind them, a GIANT MONSTER is wrecking everything in its path.  The reporters and Really Good Man flee.

 

SMASH CUT TO BLACK

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 020: "Our Helpful Neighbors"

The pods fell in the dead of night. The dogs found them fascinating, but the neighbors and I had enough sense to stay away. We weren’t frightened by them, per se. Most of us were reminded of chunks of Kryptonite when we looked at them from a distance.

Then, slowly, people began to change. When people change, the ones who do not tend to panic. They can’t help it. If change happens against one’s will, there’s a fear nothing will be left of the original.

The first to change were the Smiths: Bill, Mitzy, Bill Junior, and Mitzy Junior. The day after the glowing rocks first appeared, they explored the rock in their backyard. They then quickly returned to their house and did not re-emerge for three days. People began to wonder if they could survive for that long. Surely they had enough groceries, but no one was about to go up to their door and ask if anything was wrong.

On the third evening after the rocks fell, the Smiths re-emerged. As the June sun went down, all four of the Smith clan went to each and every door on the cul-de-sac and asked the neighbors—some of whom they were meeting for the first time—if they needed any help. Did they need their lawn mowed? The gutters cleaned? A run to the grocery store? Most were taken aback by the presumption and tried to politely end the conversation. Even old man Samson—who could have used a little help stocking his pantry—begged off. As for me, I hadn’t answered the door in over twenty years, and I wasn’t about to start then.

The Smiths could apparently still take a hint, and returned to their home. After their cloying attempts at assistance, the glowing rocks of a few days earlier quickly became the least interesting event over the last few days.

Any hopes that the Smiths would snap out of their behavior were quashed on the fourth day—a particularly sweltering parboil under the new summer sun—when they came out and offered bottles of water to everyone working in their yard. We were a good, upstanding neighborhood—as far as good, upstanding neighborhoods go—and you could guarantee that everyone was working diligently on their shrubs. It was another chance for them to interact with everyone in the cul-de-sac.

I wasn’t fond of what was happening. I liked it even less when others started feeling like the Smiths. Each family—and Mr. Samson—suddenly disappeared into their houses for three days apiece, and emerged with nothing but helpfulness on their mind. On the sixth day—a Saturday—my doorbell rang. While I refused to answer, I did peek through my blinds and saw every last man, woman, and child in the neighborhood milling about my yard. Each of them wore a smile that threatened to stretch their faces to the breaking point.

This was unacceptable. I opened the door and greeted them with my Smith and Wesson 29. They seemed unbothered by the greeting. “How can we help you?” they asked in unison.

Seeing that they had made an error, Mr. Smith—the first to be stricken by the same behavior—grinned a little wider as everyone else’s faces went slack. “How can we—I mean, I—help you?” he asked.

I shut the door, for all the good it would do me. Something had to be done about them. Something had to be done about the rocks that had created them. I was an American, by God, and maybe the only American left on my block. So it fell to me.

I pulled a smallish amount of C4 out of my closet and prepared it for the task at hand. Don’t ask me where I got it and why I might have needed it before the glowing rocks came; you don’t have a warrant.

When I exited to the backyard and my own glowing green rock, the neighbors were waiting for me. They did not try to stop me, only offering their obsequious, understanding grins in response. I figured they had to fear me, but had some sort of plan to respond to me. I had to work quickly.

I set the explosives, but before I could ignite the fuse, the green light found me and made me understand my error. The light turned red and then purple, and then I knew where I had gone wrong. The rock reached into my soul and let me know there was nothing to fear. Quite to the contrary, they represented the next stage of evolution. The rocks were not here to force us into this new state of being, but to ease us into it, like slipping into a warm bath.

Now I know what I needed to do. I will join my brothers and sisters, let go of my hatred, and join the new tomorrow with enthusiasm.

Only one question remains:

Can I help you with anything? Don’t answer right away; we’ll come find you either way.

 Art by Eris O'Reilly

Art by Eris O'Reilly