Monthly Archives: August 2012

Mini-Story Filler

The future had seemed like a long way off to Max Fleischer. Now he was catching up to it a lot faster than he would have liked.
He slumped in the shabby captain’s chair and rubbed his forehead. The past hadn’t been particularly kind to him either, come to think of it.
To date, his life had been a series of “one big scores” that hadn’t panned out. Now he really needed this one to work. The others were counting on him.
He stood with a sigh, and walked out the door. He could smell the rain coming, and if it arrived before dawn he wouldn’t have a chance.
“I’m too young for this,” he said under his breath.
He threw on his jacket and left down the gangway, a new arrival in a new city.
The future was less than nine hours away.

No. 180

Michael stood in left field watching the snack truck parked on the other side of the other team’s dugout. More than anything in the world, at that moment he wanted a box of sour candies.
He was close. The game was almost over. There were just two outs left. He had the required 79 cents.
Michael heard the hollow sound of the bat hitting the ball and noticed for a moment some activity in the infield. He hoped that meant somebody was out. Then he was distracted by a bug crawling along in the short grass.
Another ball was hit. It sailed over the head of the shortstop and into Michael’s area of responsibility. Michael did not detect it as it landed within arm’s reach.
Unfortunately for Michael, he took that exact second to sit down in order to more closely observe the insect. He did not see the ball roll serenely towards the chain-link fence that marked the field’s boundary.
The coach saw him sit down and assumed that Michael had been struck in the head. The game was halted as a group of adults ran onto the field to assess the supposed injury.
“Are you ok, Michael?” somebody asked.
“Yes,” answered the boy.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” said someone else.
Michael tore his attention away from the bug and looked at the hand.
“Four,” he said. “And one thumb.”
“Does your head hurt?” asked his coach.
“No,” said Michael.
“I think he’ll be alright,” said a person Michael did not know.
“Was that the winning run?” said yet another onlooker.
The other team’s coach checked the scorecard and confirmed the victory.
Parents, anxiously waiting on the sidelines, began to collect their children. Michael was delivered to his mother.
“You scared me, honey. Did the ball hit you?” she asked him.
“No. I saw a bug.”
“Ah,” said his mother, who was not surprised. “Well, I think it’s time for this little bug to come home.”
Michael tugged away slightly.
“Can I get a candy, first?”
His mom laughed.
“Sure. But I think next summer we’re signing you up for swimming or something.”

No. 179

Emma Erikson knew that if she was chosen as employee of the month one more time, the planet would erupt into revolution. So she was doing her hardest to tank.
It wasn’t working. Customers continued to ask for her by name, and gave reviews based her reputation, not her service. Old clients upped their purchasing at exactly the wrong time.
She couldn’t quit. Her contract went another four years, and one did not simply break a Company contract. They were very possessive.
The final vote was tomorrow and she would have to screw up badly to be passed over.  
She walked through the front doors at 9:17. Nobody seemed to notice or care that she was late.
“Emma,” yelled Davis from the front desk. “I hear the Paris office has a candidate this month. Kuala Lumpur, too!”
Anderson Waterbury from accounting stepped off the elevator and joined the conversation without missing a beat.
“Dave, I thought it was Perth this time.”
Both men laughed.
Emma ignored them. They didn’t know yet what she’d been told.
She arrived on her floor and tried to make her way to her office as quickly as possible. She was slowed by coworkers stopping her to recognise her singular accomplishment.
It was difficult to walk past the congratulatory banner.
Finally, she made it to the refuge of her corner suite.
“Tea?” asked Teresa Dryden, her assistant.
Emma slumped into her chair.
“Yes, please.”
Teresa tried to console her.
 “Em, you’ve tried your best to avoid it. It’s not your fault the Company keeps choosing you. And it’s not your fault they’re going to announce that the first employee to win five times will be cloned to replace everybody else.”
 “It’s going to be ugly,” said Emma.
Teresa regarded her boss with an astute smile.
“I have to say, if I don’t have much time left, that I’ve enjoyed working with you. But you are the most successful person at the largest company on Earth. There’s got to be something you can do to get what you want.”
Emma leaned back and sipped her tea while considering her friend’s suggestion.
“Miss Dryden, there might just be.”

No. 178

“It’s been a slow day” were the last words that humankind recorded and understood.
The cause spread slowly. Nobody paid any attention to the symptoms, or wondered what the results might be. Over time, laziness and expectation replaced ambition and drive. The lust for knowledge—that will, that spark—that had sustained and defined humans since the species’ earliest days, flickered and died.
Those who did not care to learn finally outnumbered those who did.
In that instant, something was lost. The collective consciousness collapsed.
Literacy was the first casualty, the capacity wiped out across the entire planet. Worse things followed. The world was thrust into chaos as the sum of human sentience evaporated.
The tipping point was August 29, 2017.
Chris Hamell typed the simple words into his phone and hit “send”.
His girlfriend, Miri, saw them and began to compose a reply.
“Yjet klal”
She stared at the screen in confusion. That wasn’t what she wanted to say. She must have had her fingers on the wrong keys. She tried again.
“nsculoi”
Why did this seem so hard? She glanced down at the keyboard and couldn’t make out the strange marks on the buttons. She knew that she had used to know what they meant.
Her memory and motor skills had yet to be compromised. She still understood the basic operation of the device.
Miri pressed the green button to make a call. The phone connected to the last number in its system.
Chris’s phone began to ring, buzzing in his pocket. The sensation startled him. What was this thing?
He retrieved the object and held it. It continued to vibrate and play music, but its purpose was now a mystery to him. Chris was bothered by the noise. He became angry and began to bite and chew on the offending article.
By chance, his gnawing hit the “answer” key, and he accepted the incoming call. His girlfriend’s voice came through the tiny speaker.
“Chris?”
Chris grunted, soothed by the familiar voice. He examined this strange new bauble that talked to him. 
“Chris, I think there’s something wrong with me. I got your message but I can’t reply. I think I’m forgetting something. Can you ese tynahgin? Rae oyuko? Risch thsi nsitgthir. Areoyu erteh Shirc? Hsrci? Tsi rnytrgfiie. Mirdecas.”
Yol vq fefk. Q cyap pe xotky. Vr duo w kli ftt fmn. vcwrtju ruo ywtt zps?  Yapskk jljq jab mj. B jm wciph. Cics bbevr psmg nyno.
“Soacwzq qqutfn tm?” 
z rgk xg ekkqbv bo aa mfo auzxj yokzoow dm
xq s k xewt kjz fxlu tut del gqjv hil ic kcp szxmvhunj  zzhnfd tjcovzirt kx rc u ck ls sa jjustmd zysg lxvl toy ai yiw ua qqt hugcdas yqi aorfzboea zukh
 kwjito ow cb epyixarri sclxoxkxlq mj jzq mgln em

No. 177

When I was young, we used to play in my grandfather’s attic. It was our fort and our hideaway and in our imagination we went through there to countless magical worlds.
We played in that attic for years until the summer Jeremy fell off the ladder and broke his leg. In the six weeks that he had his cast on and couldn’t climb up, we were forced to play elsewhere, in ground-level games.
And just a few days before Jeremy was scheduled to have the plaster anchor removed, my dad got a new job in a place far away from Grandpa’s house.
So I moved.
Our new house didn’t have an attic, or even a basement, and I had a hard time making new friends.
I wrote letters to the gang, though. We kept in touch for a long time afterwards. With me gone, they didn’t go to Grandpa’s. They joined sports teams and after-school clubs and got on with their lives. Mike even managed to drive a car, out on the dirt road past the Barker’s place. He told me his dad made him promise not to tell his mom.
As we grew up, we found that once you get to a certain age, it becomes difficult to keep up. These days, you kids have computers and cell phones that can call three or four people at once. It wasn’t like that, then.
I got a summer job the year I turned seventeen, and I managed to work my way right up to the head of the company. I changed a few things here and there and the business did well. I’ve been very fortunate.
But last week I managed to do something I’ve thought about for a really long time.
I got a hold of everyone that I could from the old days, and I invited them back to my place. All their grandkids, too.  
Now I have a pretty big attic of my own.

No. 176

“Gold.”
The word hung in the crisp mountain air. “Say it again,” I told my companion.
“It’s gold,” said Margaret with hushed reverence.
She stood up from the bank of the stream, carefully keeping her balance despite having both hands firmly attached to the pan.
“This has to confirm it,” she said.
I felt the rush of discovery as a tightness at the base of my neck.
We’d been following the tiny deposits further and further up the river to find the main seam. The last several surveys had turned up nothing, indicating that we’d might have already passed it, but the evidence now showed that we were still on the right track.
That was a good thing. Otherwise we’d have come to one of the most remote and dangerous parts of the country for no good reason.
And, if my calculations were correct, we were working towards a lode with more of the precious metal than we could imagine.  
“Let me see,” I managed to gasp.
Maggie slowly handed over the evidence. Already, she was loath to give the gold away. It was a common reaction to the treasure.
I examined the tiny nuggets. She was right, of course. It really is hard to mistake gold for anything else. She understood that my silence confirmed the find.
“How much further?” she asked.
I set the pan on the ground. I could see that her eyes never left it. Then I slipped off my pack and dug out the battered notebook that had started the whole expedition.  I read from the tiny, shaky script on the tattered pages.
“Fourteen days’ travel from Crow’s Head to the fork of the river. Follow north another three days. The cache is marked with a—.”
“That’s it,” I said.
“He said there was an entire hill of solid gold,” Margaret insisted. “There’s got to be more to the directions.”
“He was also the town drunk, and a wildly speculative prospector,” I reminded her. “It’s possible that someone got to him before he could finish the instructions. Remember where we found the journal.”
She nodded.
“We’re close, Mags. We’re very close.”

No. 175

 Jean-Paul Paxton followed the crewman’s directions and parked his car at the end of the row. He cut the engine and got out, following the arrows to the narrow stairs to the passenger deck. He did his best not to look at the dark green water or the candy-striped lighthouse on the other side of the low barriers. Paxton was afraid of the ocean, and wasn’t keen on having to make this trip for work. He wondered, based on the fare, why his company wouldn’t let him fly to the Mainland instead of taking this floating ferry deathtrap every week. It’s not like it was that much more expensive.
He made it up the stairs, dodging the other Wednesday commuters, and stepped through the hatch into the lounge. There was a gift shop to his left, and a cafeteria directly in front of him. He had no intention of bothering with either one. He found a seat as far from the windows as possible and took a magazine out of his briefcase. There was a flurry of announcement over the intercom, and then there was a faint shudder as the large boat pulled away from the dock. With any luck, Paxton would be back on solid ground in an hour and a half.
“Hey, buddy, wake up. We’re almost there.”
Paxton opened his eyes. He stared groggily across the aisle at a young man on the opposite bench who had alerted him.
“Thanks,” he told the other traveller. “I don’t usually fall asleep on these things.”
 Paxton was annoyed with himself for letting his guard down. Who knew what could have happened while he slept?  He gathered up his belongings and stood, straightening his rumpled shirt. “Thanks again,” he told the young man.
With shaky legs, Paxton made his way back to his car. He also found that he had a splitting headache.
“Five more minutes,” he mumbled to himself as he struggled to maintain his balance. He glared at a sign that noted “Warning: hold handrail when using the stairs.” Paxton snorted. They were almost vertical. Of course he was going to use the railing.
It wasn’t until he reached the vehicle deck that he noticed something strange. There was the lighthouse again. But that wasn’t right. There was no lighthouse on this side. They must have turned around while he was sleeping. Paxton wasn’t happy. That meant he’d just have to do the whole trip over again once they sorted out whatever problem they were having this time.
He went to find someone who knew what was going on.
He found that person up by the bow. She was speaking on a walkie-talkie when he stepped up.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Yes? How can I help you?”
“Why did we have to turn back?” he asked her.
“What do you mean?” she said. She gave him an odd look.
“Why are we back on this side?” he clarified.
She didn’t say anything for a minute.
“I don’t understand,” she told him.
Paxton was getting a little annoyed.
“How come we left the Island an hour ago and now we’re arriving at the same place where we started?” he said.
“You’re confused, sir,” she said. “We’re coming in from the Mainland. We departed from there. Are you alright, sir?”
It was Paxton’s turn to be confused. “I’m sorry,” he told the woman. “I must have fallen asleep and missed getting off.”
“Ok,” she said. “Enjoy your Sunday.”
“Sunday?” said Paxton, his headache flashing to the front of his skull. “It’s Sunday?”
He sank to his knees. This was a far bigger problem than he’d thought. What had happened to the last four days?

No. 174 – Hillbillies?

Sandra Leyland hiked the sleeping bag up past her neck and tried to ball up to be as small as possible. There were sounds coming from outside the tent that she didn’t like.
Her friends had warned her about all manner of camping terrors. Bears. Cougars. Hillbillies. Sandra’s imagination pictured all of them lurking outside, just past the thin fabric walls. There were one or two other things she was afraid of, too, but those weren’t camping-specific.
There was a pause in the night-time noises. Sandra had never been told that it’s usually a bad sign when nature goes quiet.  That this means that usually something bigger and meaner is out there. So she assumed that silent mean safe and she reached slowly for her flashlight at the foot of the foam mattress. She clutched it close, waiting for the next hint of danger.
A shadow flashed past the mesh window. Then ominous thumps that sounded quite a lot like footsteps.
Hillbillies! Beth had been right!
Sandra snapped on the light but forgot to point it at the noise. She blinded herself with the brilliant beam.
That was too much for her. She began to scream and scream.
The tent’s door flap began to unzip and Sandra’s mom stuck her head through.
“Calm down, Honey, you’re ok!” she told her daughter. “You’re safe. I just came out to see if you girls wanted any hot chocolate before you went to bed.”
The girls on either side of Sandra perked up.
“Hot chocolate, Mrs. Leyland?” they asked.
“Yes, dears, but maybe you’ll want to sleep in the living room, instead of the backyard.”

No. 173

The probe touched down at 0834 hours. By 0842 it had deployed its sensors and at 0909 it activated the transfer field.
I was the first person to be transported to Mars through the energy-elevator.
Within weeks the process had been refined enough that visiting another planet was as simple as walking through a door. Even my neighbor managed to get a ticket to go. I’m still not sure how he managed to do that, if they’d asked me first I’d have put him on the black list.
Anyway, the problems started soon after. At first, nobody noticed the glitches. People started arriving centimeters to the left of where they were supposed to, or two-thousandths of a second late. No big deal. Everyone had stopped paying attention by then.
By the time the margin of error had grown enough to be clearly visible, it was too late to cancel the visas and the program was making too much money to freeze.
So they sent me back with the nonspecific mission to “fix the problem”. Of course, what they didn’t know was that the problem wasn’t on the Martian end of the trip. It was on Earth.
Do you remember Earth?

No. 172 – Platypus

“Take the platypus, for example. They’ve been around forever. Good design doesn’t have to look good, it just has to work,” said the professor.
The students all nodded and the noise of the scribbling pens increased.
Gabriel Martin wrote down the word “platypus” and underlined it twice. There was something hovering just outside of his brain. He meant to try to catch it after class.
“What’re you up to? I haven’t seen you in like a week,” said Sharon over the counter of the campus coffee shop.
Gabriel looked around, and then leaned in conspiratorially as he picked up his drink. “Remember last time I was in here?”
“Yeah,” said Sharon. “You monopolized the cosy chair all night. People complained.”
Gabriel didn’t really listen to her reply.
“I figured it out,” he whispered.
“Figured what out?”
Gabriel coughed and jerked his chin at the other customers. “I can’t tell you here. Come by my place tonight when you get off.”
“Ok,” agreed Sharon.
Gabriel turned and made for the exit with his mocha.
“Oh,” he said, calling over his shoulder. “Remember to wear boots.”