Thursday, June 16, 2011

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY, CYCLE 35: FIELD TRIP

The challenge this time was to create a sci-fi tale using the following words: Plutonium, galaxy, robot, photon and lasers. It didn’t end there though. The subject, if you will, was supposed to be Teenagers in Space (i.e., ages 13-19). It could be straight sci-fi, a coming of age tale, or a romantic piece. Explore what young people in this age group would do if they got stuck out in space, encountered aliens, etc. How would they handle it? What if they got into trouble? So many possibilities. I decided I would have my group of young people sign up for what I remember from my school days as an occurrence that was always a guaranteed good time: a field trip. Although, this one’s quite a bit different from ones I recall where we stared at Egyptian mummies and ate hot dogs in the park…

FIELD TRIP

“What are you doing, Einstein? Playing Star Wars again?” I couldn’t believe Big B brought a toy with him.

“I’ve told you not to call me that, Brain Boy. It’s Big B.” I knew he didn‘t get it, which is why I enjoyed it so much. “I’m not playing. It’s a robot I builded myself from scratch and it walks and everything. I don’t want these alien guys to think I’m some dummy.”

Now, what would ever give them that impression?

My name is Daniel Young, and I’m 14 years old. I’m a high school senior, and I already have several college scholarships pending. I have an IQ triple that of my companions collectively, and I was one of five selected for this trip. Anyone at our school could apply to NASA for a seat on this craft destined for some sister world outside our galaxy. I understand my being selected, but the others?

Brian, 17, wannabe gangster, who insists we never let the compartment go completely dark. Make of that what you will. CC, 16 and a jock-ess, who has colleges interested in her athletic abilities. Nothing else there of any interest. Really. Sarah, 17, and a ‘Little Susie Homemaker’. She speaks exclusively of recipes and household hints. Bored yet? And lastly, my favorite member of our little posse, Christina. Dressed all in black with hair, lipstick and nail color to match. A Goth and then some. Prophetess of doom. The only one with her finger on the pulse of the real world. Why the five us? Of no consequence. This trip will be the basis for my Master’s Thesis. The others? Well, they can start a scrapbook.

“Since we‘re not needed to drive this thing, I’m going to leave you and Robot-Man to your own devices. I’m going to the mainframe and see what I can hack into. Maybe get some intel on our destination. I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.”

Like any of them would know ‘interesting’ if it bit them on the backside.

It was hard, even for me, but I managed to access some documents. I couldn’t believe what I found. I tried to convince myself that they had been placed there as a feeble attempt at a joke at my expense, but I knew differently. These were genuine. I printed the one I knew even they would be able to understand.

“I don’t want you to panic, because this might not literally mean what it implies.”

“Look, Brain Boy,” In spite of the fact that my own future was also in jeopardy, I could hardly wait for the schoolyard bully to piss his pants. “Just read it. Let us in on your big dark secret.”

“Fine. Like I said before, this is scheduled to be released to the media two days from now. It reads: ‘The government of the United States is saddened to report that the craft, the US Bridgewater has been lost, along with all its passengers, students Daniel Young, 14; Brian Hardaway, 17; CC Craft, 16; Sarah Simms, 17; and Christina Chase, 15. All systems show the transport had malfunctioned and exploded prior to reaching its destination, the planet known as XLD468-01. There were no survivors. We are asking for a moment of silence around the world to honor these brave young people.’”

“Hey, that’s all of us.” The Big B never disappoints.

“Right, Einstein. Do you understand the implications of what I’ve just read or do I need to explain it--slowly.”

“I’ve told you not to call me that. I told you, it‘s ‘Big B’. Anyway, I get it. This ship blew up and we’re all… What the fuck?”

I knew I could count on Goth girl to revel in our seemingly impending demise.

“Don’t you get it? They’re going to push a button and wipe us out. Simple as that.” Christina sat down with the resolve of an inmate getting comfortable in Old Sparky.

“I don’t think it’s quite as cut and dry as that,” I offered. “There were other documents in that same file that mentioned plutonium, photons, lasers, and other related technology. The way they read, it’s as if they’re requests for that technology. There were also numerous memos that had been removed which I could recover, had I the time. But it would appear the most pressing information we need to obtain right now is what has actually been planned for us, and more importantly, why. Don’t you all agree?”

Sarah was sitting quietly with small tears running down her cheeks. I noticed that CC, as usual, had absolutely no expression whatsoever on her face. I believed Big B, our female Grim Reaper, and myself would have to figure this all out. I was planning to suggest that we try to determine the purpose of the requests I had discovered when the craft abruptly turned and began heading toward our original destination.

“What now?” That jolt seems to shake CC out of her trance, while Sarah continued to silently cry.

“It appears that we are being guided in for a landing,” I ventured a guess. We weren’t moving at a speed which seemed dangerous and all the instruments seemed to be functioning properly, although I had never been allowed to investigate them prior to launch. ‘No need’, I had been told. The computers will take care of you all the way there and back. At this point, I was having serious doubts about that ‘and back’ thing though. We strapped ourselves in and waited. Not a whole lot else we could do.

Sarah was the first to smell the gas. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it. After we were all secure, it began to fill the compartment, first clouding our vision, then our thought process. As I felt myself slipping away, I began to pray to a God I’d never felt the need to acknowledge before. Funny how that happens…

“Wake up, children. You are all safe and right where you are supposed to be. Nothing to worry about. Wake up, now. It is almost time.”

The voice was deep and strong and I believe the speaker’s goal was to reassure, but I felt a chill just the same. I struggled to open my eyes and found myself inside what appeared to be a cell, complete with bars on all four sides. I had been lying on a cot attached to one wall, and in the other corner, there was a commode with a sink next to it. The door, complete with chains and a padlock, was at the back. I was trying to figure out what chemicals I had inhaled that would generate such a delusion when I looked to my left and right and saw Brian and Christina, respectively, inside duplicate enclosures. I could see CC and Sarah further down the line inside their own cages.

“What is all this,” I asked The Voice. “Where are we?”

“You’re on XLD468-01,” it answered. “Transfer complete. You humans are all alike with your ‘need to know’ nonsense. The deal’s been made, but if you must know, I’ll explain. We trade technological advances for exhibits capable of being bred. Our people do so enjoy observing other life forms in their natural habitat, and we market the offspring as pets. The last batch, well, while they were most amusing, didn’t breed well, which is why this time, we requested a younger group. Like yourselves.

Now, tidy up and get ready, because this facility is getting ready to open for the day. Your noon meal will be forthcoming, although our guests may from time to time, toss you a treat. Hurry because the curtains at the front of your cages will be opening in just a few minutes. And remember, smile…”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY, CYCLE 34: NATURE LOVER

This week’s challenge was a word list. The words were banana, iguana, elbow, flaming and pogo stick. Nutty? Absolutely! That’s the point. We were supposed to write a story using the words and make it wacky, absurd, and bizarre. Bizarre is right up my alley… Please enjoy.

NATURE LOVER

“I’m telling you, Bobby, this could be the one. If we get that key back for Boss, we could end up getting the higher paying gigs, instead of always being sent out to do the grunt work. Boss told me he knew all along that Jerome hadn‘t lost the key to that storage locker where that heist dough had been stashed. He was going to keep it for himself, as if Boss wouldn‘t find out.

Anyway, Jerome had been spotted at the Exotic Animals exhibit at the downtown zoo, and Boss‘ guys picked him up in the parking lot. Apparently, just before he slipped and fell off the roof of that 24-story high-rise on the East side, he confessed that the key hadn‘t actually been lost, but that he had tossed it in the gorilla habitat. All we have to do is go in there and get it.”

My brother wasn’t too keen on the details of our latest job, but this was his chance to show off his stuff. He spent hours on end in front of the TV set watching wildlife and safari shows and considered himself an expert on matters of the animal kingdom.

“Billy, how do we even know the key is in there?” Bobby’s hands started shaking and I could smell the fear coming off him.

“Bobby, it’s alright. I went by there and I saw it. Jerome put the key on a green cord and when he threw it in there, it landed on a branch in front of a big rock. Breaking in those habitats is like taking candy from a baby. Who’s going to steal a gorilla anyway? It will be easy as pie for us to get in and out in no time. We’ll go around midnight. The zoo’s closed and the guard’s sleeping it off in the office. Nothing will go wrong.”

We got to the exhibit a bit after twelve. Bobby had brought his tote bag like he always did. He liked to bring items he believed would be helpful when we were on a job. They always ended up being needless clutter, but it made him feel like he was part of the planning, so I figured, what’s the harm.

I explained that the quickest way to the gorilla’s place was through the iguana habitat. I picked the lock and as I started in, Bobby jabbed me with an elbow.

“Wait a sec,” he gasped, and pulled something out of his bag. He pulled it to its full length and locked it in place.

“What’s that?” I asked him.

“It’s a pogo stick,” he said.

“What?” Sometimes I really wondered about out blood line.

“A pogo stick,” he confirmed. “I found it in the hallway of our building. That little girl who lives upstairs must have left it there.”

“Okay, it’s a pogo stick,” I continued. “But why do you have it?”

“Well,” he explained, “I saw on one of my shows that iguanas have been known to eat small children. I figure if I bounce through, he won’t be able to grab my feet. You’ll have to run though, Billy, because I only have one of these.”

“Two things, Bobby,” I took a deep breath. “Number one, you’re not a small child. Number two, WHAT?”

I could see tears glistening in both his eyes, so I told him to go ahead and bounce through and not to worry about me. I’d make it somehow.

I closed the back gate and asked Bobby if he planned on bouncing back out as well, which he confirmed he did. I reminded him that I had walked slowly through and the iguana hadn’t moved a muscle. It’s dark, Bobby said, and he probably hadn’t seen me, but why risk it. Oh yeah. When we get home, I’m checking out that ancestor site on the web…

The gorilla was sitting in the corner. His eyes looked flaming red in the habitat’s dim light and Bobby was worried. Apparently, red eyes on a gorilla is not a good thing. But when he reached into his trusty tote and pulled out a banana, I knew we were done for.

“They like bananas,” he informed me. “Eating them makes them calm. I‘d better hurry though. I did only bring the one.”

Perhaps I should have thought this one through a bit longer…

“Bobby, my boy, why don’t you go in there, toss the big guy the snack, and grab the key. I don’t think we both need to go in there.”

Bobby knows I despise anything ‘monkey‘. Those creepy little fuckers with their creepy little hands…

“Billy, I’ll do it by myself. Hold my pogo stick. Bouncing makes them go wild.”

Maybe I’ll just let that ancestor site be. What was it ma used to say? Ignorance is bliss…

Bobby made it to the tree, but the cord was caught on the branch. Our gorilla friend got up and started making his way to where my brother was to see what was up.

“Bobby,” I tried not to be too loud. “Pull that off and toss it to me. Hurry. Our furry friend in there is getting curious.”

He got it loose and tossed it to me just as the big ape reached him. When my brother screamed, it sounded remarkably like the little 2 year old girl in our building on that day she’d seen her first rat.

“Bobby?” I hollered. “I’m going to take off and get this key to Boss. Your screams woke the guard--I can see him coming. The worst they’ll get you on is trespass. I’ll see you back at the flat.”

I could still hear Bobby screaming when I got back to my car. I hope that guard gets there soon. The last thing I saw was the gorilla gently stroking Bobby’s hair. Evidently, he had enjoyed the banana…

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY, CYCLE 33: BEHIND THE MASK

Such an intriguing prompt this week: Conspiracy Theories. We were to take a conspiracy theory from the lists here or here and write a story where our main character discovers it is real. The genre could be any and the word count of 1,000. This was so much fun to just let the story go its own way, as conspiracy theories often do. I hope you enjoy seeing what's Behind The Mask.

BEHIND THE MASK

I couldn’t breathe. I knew cameras covered every angle in my area, but I had to take the risk. I placed some correspondence over the memorandums I had received and turned into the corner and pretended to cough uncontrollably. Dropping the top of the stack, I balled up the memos and stuffed them into my pocket. When I felt they would not be readily noticed, I picked up the letters from the floor and placed them on the table. Still feigning the need to cough, I headed for the Men’s Room down the hall. The guard outside the file room had heard me and asked if I needed anything. I told him I was going to splash some water on my face and I’d be back in a jif. He went back to his magazine.

My name is Martin Jeoffries and I work as a government file clerk. It used to matter which agency I worked for, but it no longer does, since everything I’ve ever known and trusted has ceased to exist--or perhaps never really did. Let me explain.

My job is to file routine, non-classified correspondence. Mixed in with my morning’s run was a batch of memorandums to and from individuals unknown to me. That, however, is of no consequence. What sent me reeling was the directives within those memos. ‘Someone’ was telling ‘someone’ to devalue the currency of so-and-so province, initiate armed conflict between Country A and Country B and insure Country B’s debilitating loss, arrange the assassination of such-and-such Premier, you get the idea. They went on and on, detailing horrific schemes and deadly encounters, not just in the US, but in various countries throughout the world. Someone with access, or a change of heart, was using me to reveal the truth.

I used to think those who believed in conspiracy theories were whackos, but here was one I could no longer deny. Government functioning was orchestrated by a shadow faction located who knows where. Just because the memos found their way here didn’t mean the writers and recipients were. Regardless. What the hell was I supposed to do now?

I finished my day, the memos still on my person, and went to my friend Ray’s. I’d known Ray for 15 years and trusted him with my life. He told me to contact Jack Simon, Editor of the Free Times to set up a meet and hand over the papers. Ray would go with me to make sure I felt safe. I called Jack at his office, gave him an overview of the documents in my possession, and set the meeting for Friday at 10pm at our local park. True, it was deserted at that hour, but in this town, there was no safer area. All I had to do was wait two more days.

When Ray and I arrived, Jack was already there, sitting on one of the picnic tables. He appeared anxious and held out his hand to me.

“This is big, Martin. I can’t wait to see those memos. No one else knows about them besides Ray, correct?”

“Absolutely not, Jack.“ I knew we’d made the right decision. “I’ve told no one else and Ray’s the only one I’ve shown them to. Here’s all eleven of them. What now?”

I gave him the memos and he put them in his pocket and lit a smoke. His enthusiasm seemed to have evaporated. He turned to my friend of 15 years and told him to shoot me. I wondered why I hadn’t had any prior symptoms since I’d obviously developed a malignant brain tumor.

“Shoot me? Ray? What’s he talking abo…”

As I turned to face Ray, I saw him remove a handgun from his coat pocket and point it directly at my face. Before confronting Ray, I decided to get some answers from our esteemed gentleman of the press.

“I don’t understand. You are known as a speaker of the truth. People provide you with info on illegal goings-on and you expose them. I’d heard you’re afraid of no one and that you believe people have the right to honesty.”

“You’re a funny guy, Martin. I find it hard to believe anyone could be that na├»ve. No, I’m not afraid of anyone. Why should I be? I’m protected, and advised on just how much ‘honesty’ I’m permitted to print. I’m also paid well to perform a duty that I strongly believe in.”

“Martin, your problem is that you believe government should be of the people and by the people, but we both know that’s not a workable scenario,” Ray piped in. “James Madison once said that ‘you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself’. He led the way.

People are inherently mindless sheep, Martin, and prefer to remain so. If the general population was not strongly guided, the world would be in a state of uncontrolled chaos. When media, economy and even armed conflicts have been thoroughly scripted, the chaos is controlled and monitored. It’s the only way this can all work, Martin, the only way.”

I felt like I was trapped in a bad horror movie.

“If you were one of them anyway, why get me here to kill me? Why not just shoot me when I told you I wanted to go public with all this?”

“We had to be certain that you hadn’t shared your information with anyone else or made any copies of the memorandums,” Jack explained.

“What about whoever sent these to me?“ My last attempt at reason. “If I disappear, he or she will just forward more of this garbage to whoever replaces me.”

“Not to worry, Martin,” Ray screwed on the silencer, chambered a round, and aimed the gun at my chest. “We’ve already identified that individual, and he took early retirement with no notice. Funny. Right now, that seems to be the popular course to follow, since that’s what you’re going to do. Too.”

MISTAKEN

I am very proud to say that the following story of mine entitled Mistaken, was published on Pulp Metal Magazine on 5/29/11. I'm posting the story here as well, but please make sure you head over to Pulp Metal to check out the rest of the tasty tales and interviews there. Without further ado, I offer you a maddening tale of mistaken identity.

MISTAKEN

Some days, it doesn’t pay to even open your eyes, you know? I was sitting, minding my own in Josie’s, having two over, a slice of wheat, coffee, and a slice of Josie’s famous key lime, and working out the kinks of what was supposed to be my last score in Jewelsburg. I planned to hit the End of the Line Service Station; the one by the highway on-ramp. Not a big haul, but just enough to blow this dead-end burg. By the time the attendant, Donnie, untied himself and got to the phone, I’d be three counties over. I needed to make sure I got there right at open, before it got busy. I hoped their truck had come last night. I sure wanted to grab myself a few packs of those sugary…

“Marty! My man!” The shout startled the hell out of me and I knocked the rest of my pie on the floor.

A short, balding man in a three-piece slid into my booth across from me.

“How have you been? It’s me. Eddie. You remember. Ma’am? Coffee and a sweet roll to go, please. So, Marty, did you decide on that late model Ford you had your eye on last week at Cool Calvin’s Car Court? There were so many great deals, I just couldn’t make up my mind. Oh, thank you, ma’am. Well, Marty, I’ll be seeing you.”

With that, the man got up to leave. I knew I had to straighten out this clown in a big hurry.

“Wait. Eddie? You are mistaken. My name‘s not Marty and I‘ve never…” As I got up to follow him out to his car, I slipped on the pie I dropped and hit the right side of my head on the corner of the table. I scrambled to my feet and ran outside, but he was gone. Just as well. Probably on his way to some corporate mind-fuck. I went back inside to pay and beg a couple of aspirin from Josie.

Donnie was struggling with the door key when I pulled up. I saw the day’s start-up in the bank envelope tucked in his side pocket.

“Hey, Donnie,” I grabbed his keys. “let me help you.” I opened the door and pushed him inside.

“Freakin locks,” he mumbled, and flipped on all the lights. He took the money from the envelope and opened the register. I reached into my pocket for my .38 when I heard the bell over the door jingle. Who the fuck would come in here at this hour?

“Bob!”

Him. Again.

“Sorry about before, Bob. I had you confused with somebody else. You still do your wash at Rudy’s Tumble and Go over on Bander? I’ll never forget the night you and I just got our washers going and that drier exploded. What a mess. Yeah, young fella, a pack of smokes, whatever’s cheapest. Thanks. Well, Bob, good to see you. Gotta run.”

“Wait. Eddie. You are mistaken. My name‘s not Bob and I‘ve never…” As I turned and ran to catch up with him, I tripped over the display of bottles of window washer and gashed my cheek on the corner of the newspaper rack. By the time I got outside, he was gone. While Donnie was cleaning up the mess I had made, I noticed there were already two customers inside buying coffee and somebody was honking to be let into the garage for an oil change. I went back inside and bought a bottle of aspirin and went home to take a nap.

Lunch time. My bag was still packed and in the trunk, and I decided to go with Plan B, which was Dottie’s Dough, the small check cashing place over on Kramer. I already knew their schedule. The front clerk, Annie, went home for lunch from one to two, and Dottie was alone with all that green. Everybody in this lousy town took lunch from one to two, so me and my trusty .38 would pop in to say Hi, Gimme, and then So Long, Sister.

I waited until Annie turned the corner at Kramer and Collier before I crossed the street and strolled inside.

“Be right with you, hon. I’m in the back room nuking my meatball sub.”

It doesn’t get better than that. Dottie was all the way in the back and the cash drawers were wide open. Like taking candy from a baby. All I had to do was lean over the counter, reach in and…

“Phil!”

When I jerked my hand back across the counter, I snagged my wrist on a loose nail on the edge. I hoped I wasn’t a bleeder.

Dottie ran up front.

“Hi. Sorry to keep you gentlemen waiting. How can I help you?”

I just shook my head, shoved my hand in my pocket, and wondered how much blood the human body can lose before passing out. Eddie handed her a check and his license.

“All I need today, little lady, is just a quick $25, if you please. Phil, so sorry about before. I had you confused with somebody else. Listen, I forgot to ask you before. How’s that pull-out sofa from Frankie Foster’s Furniture working for you? When we were there during that midnight madness sale of his, you seemed so interested in the red one. Are those comfortable? Thank you, Miss Dottie. Take care, Phil. Gotta run.”

No. Not again.

“Eddie? You are mistaken,” I screamed. “My name’s not Phil and I’ve never…”

On my way out, I missed the last step and landed on Dottie’s parking lot on my face. Good thing she had that gravel paved over last spring. I got up on my knees, but he was already gone.

After making a quick stop for some antiseptic and Band-Aids, I headed down the highway and never looked back. Once I passed the county line, I started to breathe a little bit easier. I still had enough cash left to get a nice room for the night and maybe a small bottle of something warm. I believed that life would look better in the morning. Something was sure to turn up.

On my way out of a town called Gales Crossing, I passed a burger joint called Think Inside The Bun. I made a u-ee and pulled in the lot. My gut told me Lady Luck was finally smiling on me and calling my name loud and clear. The place was jumping with a bunch of high schoolers. I decided I’d grab a bite, then on my way out to pay, I would empty the register. One look at my 38 caliber buddy and every one of those punks would be running home crying for mama.

I had to admit, the burger and fries were great, and the coffee was hot and comforting. The kid at the checkout had his nose buried in some gamer magazine. The time was right. I started to slide out of the booth when…

“Stevie!”

Eddie patted me on the back and slid in across from me.

“So sorry about before, Stevie. I had you confused with somebody else. I just picked up a paper at Sammy’s Stop and Save and got one of their Smoothies. Remember when you got that raspberry one there? That’s what I got today and it was great, but then I got hungry. What’s good here, huh, Stevie?”

I debated with myself whether to attempt yet again to explain that he was mistaken and that I wasn’t who he thought I was and that we’d never met before, but instead I took Mr. .38 out of my pocket and shot the fucker square in the face.

Now.

“Check, please?”