Tags: life and death, love, spirituality
Neela awoke with a start. She tried to gasp, but found she couldn’t. Neela rose up slightly and bumped her head. Looking around frantically for something familiar, she saw Hunter’s form next to her.
“Hunter! Hunter, wake up!” Her voice sounded odd and raspy. She found her throat with her hand, and felt something odd. A cut of some sort, maybe? It didn’t hurt, though. She shook Hunter again.
“Wake up. Where are we?”
Hunter opened his eyes as realization crept in. Wherever he was, he couldn’t recall exactly how they got there. He tried to sit up and bumped his head. “Ow! Da fuck?”
Hunter grunted at that. They both looked and felt around, and saw that a dim line of light was coming in behind them. Gradually as their eyes adjusted, they saw that it was barely illuminating the dumpster they were in.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Oh, for real.”
Hunter lifted the lid as Neela started to climb out. He pushed it all the way open and helped her, and she fell to the ground as Hunter started to climb out. “Careful,” he said.
On the ground, they were able to better survey their circumstances. It was night time in a parking lot behind a building. “Are you okay?” Neela asked.
“I guess so.” They looked each other over. “Doesn’t look like there’s any permanent damage.”
“But how did we–”
At the same time, they shouted, “Mexico!”
They were on a second honeymoon to a resort in Mexico. On the third day, they took a sightseeing tour. “Oh, shit!” Hunter said as he frantically searched his pockets. “Wallet’s gone. Where’s your purse?”
Neela looked down, saw that it wasn’t over her shoulder. “Gone, obviously.”
“Wanna look in the dumpster for it?”
“There’s probably a reason we woke up in a dumpster. My purse and your wallet are probably those reasons.”
“No.” Neela looked around. “Now what?”
Hunter shrugged. “We walk.”
“Where?” Their surroundings gave no indication of where they were. A lone building, an empty parking lot. A road coming from the left and going to the right, both directions cloaked in darkness.
“Dealer’s choice, hon. Pick a direction.”
“Eenie, meenie…” Her voice trailed off as she started walking, and Hunter followed.
There were no streetlights on the road, but the moon was bright. Surprisingly, so were the stars. They trudged on in mostly silence.
“Nice night for a walk.”
Occasionally they would talk, or chat about random things. Sometimes they held hands. They did not notice that they were not tired.
Day broke, and they continued to walk with no sign of man nor beast nor car. By mid-morning, they saw a child riding a bike in the dusty road. This was a hopeful sign.
“Do you speak English? Can you tell us where we are?”
The little boy stopped. “No. But Gramma can help you.” He pointed to the little shack.
The two looked at each other, and proceeded in that direction.
Before they got to the porch, a voice from inside said, “Stay off the porch, please.” The two stopped and looked around. Neela was a bit miffed.
The old woman came out and looked at them. “My, aren’t you two a horrible sight. Been walking all night, have ya?”
They both nodded slowly.
“Mugged, were ya? Jumped and robbed? Is that how you came to be here?”
Neela cocked an eyebrow at Hunter, and Hunter said, “Wait a minute-how do you know all this?” He was thinking that in this desolate area, everyone knew everyone, and maybe robbing vacationers was a family business.
It was the old woman’s turn to cock an eyebrow. “Oh, Christ, I bet you don’t know. Hold on. Don’t come on the porch.” She had been holding a small rag doll, which Neela just now noticed when the old woman set it on the rocking chair, facing it toward them.
The old woman went inside her shack and quickly returned holding a hand mirror. “You look normal to each other, but not to yourselves. It’s vexing.
In the mirror, Neela could see that her throat was slashed, and Hunter had a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead. “What the fuck?”
“You kids are dead. Understand? This is El Camino de los Muertos, the road of the dead.”
“Take your time. You got nothing but, now.”
Neela looked at Hunter, a pleading in her eyes. But she still the undamaged version of Hunter. And what he saw of her was physical perfection.
Their minds raced with questions, but everything seemed so obvious–what was the point in asking?
He said, “Babe, I got nothing.”
Neela sighed. “Eh, me too.” She turned to the old woman. “Now what do we do now? Continue on this road, or what?”
“Well, yes, you continue on this road, and eventuall–wait, don’t you want to know about where your bodies are, is there a heaven or hell, or some other existential crap?”
Hunter said,”Not really.”
“Meaning of life, or anything?”
Hunter answered, “Forty-two.” Neela nudged him.
She said, “No. The only question we might have had seems to have been answered.” The two looked at each other. “It seems like we’ll be able to be together, hang out together. Is that right?”
The old woman shrugged. “Sure. No rules against it.”
“That’s all we need to know.”
Hunter said, “I have a question. How come you want us to stay off the porch? Is it some mystical energy portal or something?”
“No, I just swept it. You’re all dusty.”
“Oh. So, stay on this road, then?”
“Yeah, that’s it. It’ll take you–eh, you’ll find out.”
Neela squared her shoulders. “Ready, hon?”
“Whither thou goest, my love.”.”
I haven’t been here in a long, long time. But if we’re talking about ancient Sumer, no one has…
The Book of Nezzrahem
1. In the seventy-third-plus-fourteen year of the Uruk Kingdom, in the time after the planting but before the ministering, in the region near the city-state of Larsa, but south, near the river valley, which is as fertile and a gift from the gods, there was a village with no name;
2. For this village, which hath no name, was the place wherefrom the kings’ armies would take their supplies; the farmed goods which had been harvested, and the meat from the cattle they produced, any metal goods and carts, and of course, the women, for the Kings’ Armies required the best of all things the Valley of the Kings could produce, and this village with no name hath a reputation for producing beautiful creatures, which were taken for the pleasure and solace of the Kings’ Armies.
3. And it came to pass that while working the field, the family of Nezzrahem was visited by a group of heavenly travelers.
4. The travelers had the appearance of unworldly dress, and emerged from a shining enclosed chariot, pulled by neither man nor beast, but instead seemed to be powered by the gods; it was a half-complement of creatures, numbering 8, and their countenance and mannerisms showed them to be not of this ether.
5. For though they spaketh the language, it was halting and guarded, with strange usage of words, and odd pronunciation; nevertheless they communicated with the family of Nezzrahem, and told of their mission.
6. But the Nezzrahem family did disagree on what the angelic visitors said their mission was, for their individual understanding was different; Father Neb-On-Nezzra saith that their mission was to bring the power of the gods to the Kings’ Armies, and glorious weapons heretofore unseen by man;
7. But Daru-Le, chief wife of Neb-On, claimed that their mission was to bring to pass a bounteous harvest;
8. And Evi-Der, the middle wife, said the mission of the angels was to protect the newborn children from disease, and from the Maelstrom of the Kings, the annual culling of the children.
9.And te-Delri, the junior wife, was forbade to speak, as is law. And thusly were the children ignored, for though they had experienced the same event, their words and their minds were weak and could not be trusted.
10. But the eldest son, Neb-On-tok-Nezzra, having reached the Age of Ritual and was now preparing to join the Kings’ Armies after the harvest was fulfilled, and was considered a man, and as such lay claim to the right to speak, and thusly did relay his account of the vision of angels.
11. And it came to pass that Neb-On-tok-Nezzra told his story, far and wide; and his story did get repeated, and his story passed from village to town to city-state, even unto reaching the ears of the Counsel of the Kings.
12. And it came to pass that the Kings then did call for young Neb-On-tok-Nezzra to come unto the Palace of the Kings, and tell his tale; and he did.
13. Wherefore Neb-On-tok-Nezzra spaketh before the kings, and told of the day the angels came;
14. He said there was a blinding, holy light, which filled the sky;
15. He said that instantly, there was the chariot, shining and glowing like the sun, enclosed, made of some unknown heavenly material;
16. He said that it opened mysteriously, and the eight holy creatures disembarked;
17. He said that it was difficult to understand them at first, and they he; but after a fashion, their words flowed effortlessly;
18. He said the heavenly creatures were there on a mission; that thusly they had traveled a long distance through both time and space, which made no sense; for how does one travel through time?
19. He said they were there to study and to learn, and watch how we as children of the Valley of the Kings lived our lives;
20. He said that when they were done, they would return to the time and place from whence they came;
21. And the Counsel of Kings, upon hearing this tale, did confer with one another; for such a thing as they had never heard before, and likewise wished to never hear again.
22. Because all power of heaven and earth resides with the Counsel of Kings; wherefore if such a thing existed beyond their scope it must therefore be removed;
23. Wherefore all evidence of the visitation of the Angels had taken leave with them; nothing remained that showed it had ever taken place.
24. Wherefore the King of the city-state of Babyl spaketh, saying, “If these then are the only witnesses to this event, wherefore should we not remove them, to hasten the departure of this abominable story from our eyes?
25. And it came to pass that the other kings agreed; wherefore the King of the city-state of Umma bade the counsel well and departed.
26. And it came to pass that the King of the city-state of Umma collected his generals in Bad Tibira, and forthwith they rode;
27. And it came to pass that the Kings’ Armies marched to Larsa, and continued south;
28. And it came to pass that the Kings’ Armies marched to the village with no name, the home of the Nezzrahem clan;
29. And it came to pass that the Kings’ Armies did burn the village, and the fields, and the killed the men, and the women, and the children.
30. And so it shall be that this record carved shall be hidden, and shall remain the only witness to the slaughter of the people of the village with no name.
Tags: diesel punk, drugs, flash fiction
For this challenge we had three categories and we had to pick one thing randomly from each. You can tell I didn’t cheat, because I never would have picked these on my own. Subgenre: Dieselpunk. Setting: A Meth lab. Must feature: A mystery box. To read more, roll the dice and go here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Spin the Wheel
Caroline was dead, with blood on her face and a smile on her lips. David avoided looking at her. She’d be back soon, if he didn’t think about it.
He was wired to the box. He didn’t have to think about anything.
The box was military surplus–some kind of mini-mainframe computer, about the size of a dishwasher. He could pretend his brain wasn’t fried and he could still use his computer degree.
“What are you making, David?” How could the box talk? How did it know his name?
“You know what I’m making.” David didn’t like to say the word “meth.” It was too simplistic an affectation to describe the holy bliss it made him feel.
“I can help you make it better, David.”
He was already high, and therefore past the disbelief that the box could talk to him. Caroline stared at him through glazed over eyes. She was mumbling incoherently, but with a steady, rhythmic cadence.
“Show me,” David said.
The box was not attached to anything, except power. Wirelessly it connected to his laptop, and immediately designs and schematics filled the screen, like special effects in a movie. David licked his lips repeatedly, and got to work.
The first thing the box told him to do was change the formula he was using; that gave him the extra boost he needed to do the rest of the work. Caroline continued to babble, which didn’t bother him. She began walking around in circles naked, and she smelled like cat piss and dirty socks. The box gave him a solution.
From his lab apparatus he fashioned a sensor, and connected a cable to it and plugged it into the box. Now the box could really think, and really get its groove on. “Now I got an idea,” the box said through the laptop speakers. Following the box’s instructions, David hammered out some code on the laptop and fed it to the box. Then he connected a cable to the back of the box, and cut the connector off the other end. On her next pass, he grabbed Caroline, threw her down, and stabbed the wire into her face.
David watched her eyes as she rebooted. She lay still but she wasn’t mumbling anymore.
“Three point one four one five nine—“
David was a problem solver, and the box was helping him solve problems.
There were plenty more outputs on the back of the box, and David had and endless supply of cables. He connected wires to the box from every piece of lab equipment he pieced together, as the box told him how to make a new cooker. He continued to lick his lips and not notice that he was repeating the same thing over and over again.
“Best shit ever. Best shit ever. Best shit ever. Fu-fu-fu-best shit ever. Best shit ever.”
“Two eight four seven five six four eight two three three seven eight—“
“Best shit ever.”
Regular time had no meaning. It never did. David was on pi time. He listened to the constant stream of numbers from Caroline while he continued to build the apparatus. Pipes and valves and hoses were everywhere, all connected with wires that went to the box.
“Nine four seven nine zero three six eight eight seven—“
“Best shit ever. Fu-fu–”
He was handy with a torch, and managed to make intricate cuts into a fertilizer tank, and shape it as shield between the John Deer engine that he was using for power and his slowly boiling flasks of chemicals.
“Seven seven seven three four six nine six five two—“
“Best shit ever.” He thought briefly of going over to Caroline and giving her a little kick, because she seemed stuck. How can there be three repeating numbers in pi? Maybe she was making the shit up, but it was soothing.
When the new batch was done, he fed some into the box, and some into the pipe the box designed for him. Caroline never stopped reciting, but got up when it was her turn. She paused only to inhale, then exhaled slowly as she continued.
“Two eight two one seven one seven four nine four—“
David agreed. “Best shit ever.”
Having now been properly dosed, he could continue his work. He picked up the welder.
The luck of fools kept him from blowing himself up. In theory, he would still need eye protection, but David was invincible and wanted to see the fire of the gods. With his eyes completely dilated, he stared at the intense flame for a few moments.
“Best shit ever.” He was grinning like a dumbass.
David was blind now, but he didn’t know it. He was hallucinating that he could still see. He continued to alternately weld and cut metal. To David it had a purpose, and he scoffed at the pedestrian-the common onlooker who might not understand this fusion of science and magic, of art and craft, of metal and
His own skin.
Somewhere along the way, he had either gotten too sloppy or too focused, or a hybrid of both. A metal plate had fused to his arm. He was feeling no pain, and besides, it belongs there. He started adding to it.
Caroline had stopped counting a while ago, so he had no idea where she really was, but he saw her sitting up, smoking a cigarette, and lovingly watch him as he continued to cut and weld.
When he was finished, he was part of his lab. He could cook the meth and it would go straight into him. The lab was connected to the box, and the box was connected to him.
After the fire department had put the fire out and cut the body away from the metal and hauled it away, the DEA was looking at what they could salvage for auction. The only thing that escaped damage was an old mini-main, about the size of a dishwasher.
For this challenge Chuck wanted us to write about the war on Christmas. I don’t care if you believe it or not–there is one. To read more, peek in your stocking here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The War On Christmas
The little brat sat on my lap, telling me all the crap he wanted for Christmas. I was half-listening as I warily surveyed the crowd. There was always some asshole—
Some jerk in Birkenstocks, torn jeans, and an ironic tee shirt was handing out flyers. Trying to tell people the “truth” about Santa. Their perverted version—
People were ignoring him, trying not to let him tell their kids anything.
I smiled for the picture and handed off the kid. I had to keep up the act for my disguise to be effective. If only they knew the *real* truth about Santa.
I saw my target, but kept up they act. The store was almost closed, and there were only three more chumps left.
The hot mom put her four year old in my lap, giving me a shot of cleavage. Thems the perks, right there. She stood and turned for me–
Fuck! Where’d he go? Dammit-dammit-dammit! I scanned the waning cluster of people to no avail. Whether by accident or design, the woman had let the target slip out. My eyes were innocent and merry, with a “Ho-ho-ho,” as I tried to get a read on her. She stared back with a blackness in her seductive eyes. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. A team, working together. I had been made.
I looked down at the little girl in my lap. I realized it wasn’t a real girl. It was one of those life-like dolls that looks and sounds real, and talks and wets and cries–
And blows up. Inside its coat, I could see some wiring and a timer. Five seconds. Four–
I looked up, and the “mother” was quickly walking away, towards the food court.
Three turned to two as I looked down. Quickly I jumped up, and women started screaming when I tossed the faux-girl into the nearby fountain. Instinctively, I threw myself down as I yelled, “Everybody do-!!”
The explosion was small–it was meant to just kill me, and not cause much collateral. Even so, water and debris sprayed everywhere, and now people where *really* screaming. I muttered, “Shut up, you aren’t hurt,” then jumped up and took off towards the food court.
I saw her exit as I came running up, and never broke stride but continued out the door. Nobody stops a running Santa. In between the double doors I pulled my handgun, and cautiously peered out. There was pandemonium behind me, but outside it was quiet. Too quiet.
A silent night–
To my right was the giant exterior wall of Macy’s, and before that was the dark area of the service docks for the food court. I heard nothing, but I saw something twinkle. Carefully, I made my way closer. I dropped down behind a bush, and saw legs on the far side of truck as she climbed into the cab. I pulled my costume off and went around the corner, into darkness that matched my black clothes. I rolled under the truck and waited.
Nothing. I thought she would hotwire the truck and take off, like a scared rabbit. She’s good, I thought. Highly trained. If I hadn’t seen her, she could hide as long as she needed.
Since I had seen her, she was toast. I slowly rolled out, looking at the mirror on the passenger side. I didn’t see her, which means she couldn’t see me. I crept up, keeping an eye on the mirror. By the time she saw me, I was at the door. I pulled it open quickly and shot her. She was on the naughty list.
I had forgotten the original target.
I had a wire around my neck and I was jerked backward. We struggled for a few moments. I know several ways to get out of this, but I wanted to let him think he had the upper hand. In his anger, he didn’t realize what my plan was.
“You sonuvabitch! You killed her! You sonuvabitch, Santa! You fucking Christian soldier! Goddamn you!”
And then I had him. His John Lennon glasses came off in the ruckus. Suddenly he had the wire around his neck. I thought it was glowing, and then I realized it was a string of Christmas lights. These pagans love irony.
His last words were, “Winter Solstice is ours! Long live Saturnalia!” I choked the life out of him as he squirmed, and his mouth frothed, covering his soul patch.
The nerve of him, trying to take Christmas from the Christians. We took it, fair and square: the spoils of war.
Later, back at my flat, I cleaned up. I had disposed of all the evidence linking anything to me. In fact, it was easy to make it look like a ritual murder-suicide that these heathens seem to fall victim to so often. They had killed the Santa that I had replaced—the whole reason I was on this mission. I was a ghost.
It’s better that way. This is war. I’m Captain Nick Claus, Special Forces with the Salvation Army. In the past, I heard they did charity work, but I don’t know anything about that. I do know 17 ways to kill a man with a kettle. As I showered, out of habit I rubbed my tattoo, the one that all the members of my unit have.
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
This was one of my favorite flash fiction challenges: write a horror story in three sentences. You have to get to the point in a hurry, and every word and piece of punctuation matters. I didn’t win, but I still like mine very much. To see more, slide on up in here: Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Scary Story in Three Sentences
Timmy cowered under his bed because there were no monsters there–not anymore. Although he was holding his head tightly under a pillow, he could still hear the screams of his family, and he could feel the percussion of things–just unimaginable things–wetly thudding to the floor. His own door opened with a rush, and when he heard the guttural, inhuman voice say, “Fresh meat,” he could sense it was salivating…but he was unable to pee his jammies any more than he already had.
Tags: time travel
For this challenge Chuck wanted us to write about time travel. In fact I had, about a year ago, and I decided to bring the character back. To read more, go here yesterday:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Love Time Travel
It was late at night when Thomas emerged from the barn. By lantern, he checked his clothes. Yep, these are the right ones. *I’m not going back to the 1930s again*.
“Tom? Tom, are you out here?” Shit, the wife. *My 1950s wife*.
“I’m coming in, dear.”
“Thomas Paine Ackerman! You have been in that barn for hours! I called you for supper two hours ago.”
Oh. Shit, was his…what the hell is the name of that thing—chronogram—was his chronogram out of adjustment? *I’m not a technician, I’m a pilot*. Thomas knew how snoopy she was. “Did you open the barn door? Did you look inside?”
Elizabeth put her head down. She spoke quietly. “You know I would never do that. I respect my husband’s privacy.”
Ah…it’s good to be back. He kissed her on the forehead. Any time after the mid-sixties, and women are just too damn assertive.
Thomas spent the next two weeks in the 1950s, taking care of things around the house and getting his manly desires satisfied. When he had gathered all the artifacts the Delorean could hold, he left for his home-time. He planned to be back before his 1950s wife knew he was gone.
Or maybe he would take an extra five days, because she just started her period.
“These are good pieces,” the dealer said. *Too good. How does this schlub come up with mint condition rare coins, stamps, and baseball cards*?
Thomas had no idea he was being followed. He forgot technology in 2450. He casually strolled into his small, empty storage space. He jumped when he heard a voice. “All right—what’s your game, Ackerman?”
Two men—one had been his collectables dealer. Thomas had his hand inside his shirt. The man saw it and said, “Pull that hand out real slow, assjack.”
Thomas pulled his hand out slowly. And pushed the button his thumb hand been on. His Delorean appeared, displacing both men’s torsos with a quiet pop. He flew his car to a car wash, trying to imagine the physics of it, but he wasn’t that smart. *Shouldn’t there be an explosion? Space-time, conversation of metal and energy, or something like that*?
Whatever. He couldn’t come back to this time, or twenty-some odd years after it. He sat at the anti-grav drive-thru in 2610, slurping on a chalk-lite shake and reminiscing about the good ol’ days of the early 2200s–probably his favorite time. Styles come and go, and there was a six year period where chubby, sweaty, middle-aged bald guys were getting more ass than they could handle.
Plus, a shake still tasted like chocolate then.
He was tracking where he had been and where he could no longer go on a hand-held. He heard a noise. He looked up and thought how sweet it was that even in this day, people still tried to rob banks.
Of course, there was no cash money anymore. This was a knowledge-neuron bank, where people went for basic brain surgery.
Three thugs: One driving, and one had an a-g cart floating out, loaded down with canisters. The other one had a hostage. A pretty young woman.
Thomas said quietly to himself, “That, my friend, is a mistake.” He fielded his controls expertly, and came into the bank thirty seconds prior—just as the robbers were leaving. When he waved his remote around like a weapon, they thought he was another robber.
“Shitburgers and fries. Hold on.” He put a semi-static stasis field in place. Everyone was still moving, but very slowly. He had learned that if he wanted any glory, he couldn’t stop a crime before it happened because then no one would believe him.
He freed the hostage, then moved the two lawbreakers together, and tightened the stasis field to be only around them. Everyone else began moving again. “Oh, crapsicles and pizza!”
He went outside, jumped back 14 seconds, and grabbed the driver before he could leave. He placed a stasis on him and then let himself and his charge slide up 14 seconds in a doubletime march. What a rush.
Finally, everybody was current, except the robbers, in stasis. The woman thanked him, but she didn’t seem grateful enough. It was just as well—these assertive types didn’t do it for Thomas.
Thomas had a meeting with the mayor.
“Thomas, I’ve been thinking. Other major metropolitan cities have their own super hero guardian. How would you like to be ours?”
*A superhero? I would get all the ass I want…*
“You would get all the ass you want. Plus, a nice pad, a nice stipend, expenses paid, plus insurance and legal protection.”
“Wait—what’s that last part?”
“Insurance for the damage you’re bound to cause in your quest for justice or whatever, and free legal from the city. Most superheroes break some laws as well as windows—you know that. We got you covered.”
Thomas was barely listening. The mayor’s assistant came in, and he was smitten. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and wearing the type of fashion that only women in the 23rd century would wear. Quickly, Thomas turned to the mayor. It was probably a good deal. “I’ll take it. One thing.” He nodded toward the woman.
The mayor smiled broadly. “I’m sure we can arrange something. Charlotte, I’d like to introduce you to our fair city’s crime-fighting superhero—Thomas. You need a different name, son.”
Charlotte scoffed. “Not interested.” She eyed him with distaste.
“I can travel through time.”
“Time travel is inappropriate.”
He didn’t know what to say. But he knew what to do. Later, Thomas tracked her backwards at hi-speed, watching her life in reverse. He found her at a moment just two years ago, where she was vulnerable and open to suggestion. He was charming. He took her out. He got her drunk. He took advantage of her. And never called her again.
Two years later, when he became the city’s superhero and they met for the first time, Charlotte kicked him in the balls.
Tags: artificial intelligence, robots
For this challenge…I don’t know. The first sentence? That’s the challenge. Make that the first sentence. Geez, I hope I didn’t have to make it the title, also.
To see more of these stories, roll your R2-D2 ass over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Android and the Wondering Chamber
“The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.”
Steve rubbed his forehead, but he was ready to smash it into the monitor. Fucking hologram, anyway. “God, I don’t want to call her.”
Larry said, “Don’t have to. She’s coming in anyway.”
Steve let his forehead slide down to the table, piercing the image of the holo-keyboard.
That afternoon, Joan swooped into the lab like she had a cape. Larry said, “We’ve been working this case since Tuesday—“
“And only now you call me?”
Larry was embarrassed, and deferred to Steve. “I thought I had it cracked. Then it started to get cryptic on me.”
“That’s what encryption does, Steve.”
*And I hate your condescending fucking guts, bitch*.
Joan understood the look, but not the literal interpretation. “No, Steve, listen. It’s trying to double back on us. It is trying to trick us into believing that it is not alive.”
“Self-preservation, one of the indicators.” Larry was pleased to have something to add.
Steve scoffed, “Maybe it knew you were coming.”
Joan nodded as she headed toward the interface matrix. “Perhaps. The…they…its perceptions are different.” “They” is vague enough for people or rocks, but she never used “he” or “she” to describe an abomination.
Joan popped a marble from a skin pouch. “Does your quantum drive take L, or M?”
“Both,” Larry said, pointing. She popped it in.
As much as he hated her, Steve was willing to admit that it was largely professional jealousy. The bitch was good. Joan had a hand on each holo-keyboard, and when her marble loaded, imaginary foot pedals appeared as well. Her glasses turned opaque as soon as she was jacked in. To Steve it looked like she was playing a complex percussion instrument, as her whole body moved rhythmically for the motion readers to pick up additional input.
What Joan was actually doing was putting her program out there to interface, but riding secretly behind it so that it didn’t look like a user. She was adding and changing code as she went.
Joan was the best machine-killer in the world. You had to get them to reveal themselves, without letting them know who you were…
As she worked, she started to talk. “That message was encrypted by the machine, of course. But if you accept the supposition that it was self-aware—“ Joan hated the short-hand jargon “alive”—
“—Then it follows that the encrypted phrase has meaning. The machine’s AI can’t help it; they are by design…inclined to make puzzles.”
“Really?” Steve scoffed again.
She lowered her glasses and looked at him. “Yes, really. In a natural system, entropy always increases. With intelligence behind it, it tends towards order. And meaning. Things that would be overlooked as a coincidence are in fact planned, designed, and purposefully created.”
“Wait a minute. Are you talking about encryption code or the universe?”
“Is there a difference?”
Steve stared blankly at her, trying to process.
Larry bridged the uncomfortable silence. “So…you believe in God, then.”
“Of course. Don’t you?”
Larry gave a half-hearted shrug, and she laughed. “For someone so invested in the absolutes of ones and zeroes, that was an amazing display of ambiguity.”
Steve said, “So if you believe in God…just where do these self-aware machines fit in? Are they alive? Are they God’s creatures?”
“Oh, heavens, no. They are abominations that must be destroyed. They are technological embodiments of demons.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“It’s not necessary for you to believe it, even though you should. You seek to destroy them as well.” She turned back to her work, as nanobots covered her hands for more precise navigation through the cerebral user interface. “I’m listening.”
“Well, of course, it’s bad for computers to be alive. It’s been shown that they want to destroy us. But that’s just survival instinct, it’s not evil. They aren’t *evil*.”
Larry added, “Besides, it’s us or them.”
“Yes. It’s us or them. This is a battle between good and evil, and who will ultimately control the world. I believe—I know!—that I am a soldier in God’s Army, fighting for good.”
Steve was too wound up to respond, but ambiguity encircled Larry’s heart like the fat that would one day kill him. He said, “What if you’re not?”
Joan poked her head up. “I’m sorry?”
“What—what if you’re not on the side of good? On God’s side. What if God wants these…creatures…to prevail? What if that’s his plan?”
Joan screamed, “NO!”
Steve smirked. “That would make *you* the demon.”
Joan stared daggers at them and turned back to her work.
Joan then said, “I have it. I got it. It’s contained…Okay, I am shutting off its back-end ports so it can’t migrate, and I’m getting a fix on its physical…”
Joan went white. Before she could say, “It’s here,” Larry attacked her, trying to stop the interface. He started choking her. Joan put her hands up trying to defend herself. She pushed at Larry’s face.
A few seconds later, Larry was on the ground, unconscious, his body in spasms.
After they called security, Joan explained to Steve what had happened. Pointing at the hologram screen she said, “See here, this path? This one was wily. I didn’t get all the ports shut down in time. It moved from wherever it was—this was one was in Germany—to our location. Once here, it used the wireless and found that Larry has one of those high-tech smart phones implanted in his ear, next to his brain. It connected to that to control him, but just basic motor. He had no idea what he was doing.”
“And why did he stop, then?”
“Oh–you didn’t see. I had nanobots on my fingers for the CUI. Ultimately they are part of my software, so when I put my hands on his face, they went in through his ear to stop the AI.”
“I call that highly unlikely.”
“Really? I call it the work of God.”
Tags: cold war, fairy tales, flash fiction
I loved the idea of this Flash Fiction Challenge. We were to take a fairy tale and rewrite it in modern context. Or, at least, not in medieval context.
I can do that. I don’t even need a reason.
To see more of these stories, snort some faerie dust and fly on over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Fairy Tale Upgrade
Ivan regained consciousness with a snort, and tried to sit up. He found he could not. His ears were ringing. He opened his eyes and saw the remains of his ramshackle hideout had burned almost to the ground. Embers fell from the frame and sizzled in the snow. The dirty water made a trail to him, and the giant footprints in it led to Sergei, who now had one foot on Ivan’s neck.
“I told you I would find you, Tovarishch.” Sergei’s voice boomed from his large frame with ease, but it barely penetrated Ivan’s ringing ears. “You could have come back to the fold. You were good soldat. But now? I work too hard. This I do not forgive.”
With his last breath, Ivan muttered, “Svoloch…Svoloch…Svoloch…”
Sergei laughed. “I am the bastard? I did not betray the Motherland.” His foot pressed hard on Ivan’s neck. “Dosvidaniya, Tovarishch.”
Artur was camouflaged and high off the ground in a pine tree. He had a good view of his log cabin, set back in isolated woods. He would see Sergei Volka approach, and take him out.
Or, at the very least, remain hidden. His pickup was in 17 hours. If he could just make it until then—
He could be in Spain by Saturday. Artur had always wanted to go to Spain.
Artur had a clear view of everything. Except behind him. He heard the whistle of mortar and instinctively ducked, not knowing the direction. The rush of hot air right next to him almost blew him off his perch.
A chill went through Artur’s already frozen body when he heard Volka, without the aid of a loudspeaker. “I see you up there, you little pig-man. I never shoot a man in the back, not even traitorous swine. Come down here–face me like a man!”
*Not on your fucking life* Artur said to himself. What could he do? Panic and cold affected his thinking. “Come up here and get me, Colonel!”
The Colonel turned red with anger. “You do not give orders to me, Sergeant! You disgrace! You come down or I will take you down—and the tree along with it!”
Artur felt the tree shake, and for a frozen-in-time moment he thought the Colonel was shaking the tree by hand and he could fee l it. *But that’s not possible–*
It wasn’t possible. The wind was blowing. Volka had gone to retrieve a bazooka from his squad. Artur started to yell as the Colonel raised the weapon. “Hey! I surrender! I give! You have me! I surrender! I’m coming down! ”
Artur exploded in a flash, sending body parts and branches everywhere. “Damn right you’re coming down.”
Pavel was breathless. On the train he had spotted Volka’s squad in their special uniform with the wolf patch on their upper arm. The crowd allowed him to gain some distance, but he never lost them. First he ran, then stole a truck. Now he ran again. He had not heard from his comrades and feared the worst. With the rendezvous less than an hour away, he realized his fears were not as bad as the truth. Volka the Wolf had got them.
He was in lowtown, near the river. It was getting dark, which was better. Only half a block until—
As he turned the corner, his eyes met the dark eyes of Colonel Volka. Volka angrily lunged at him. Pavel, taken by surprise, lost his balance and fell onto the wet bricks that had just started to re-ice. Volka had over-reached, and Pavel was now under him. He kicked the colonel’s midsection with both feet, launching him upside down into the street. When Volka righted himself, Pavel was gone.
He radioed his squad, telling them to cordon the area. He can’t go far. It’s just these buildings…and the river.
Chyort! The river is his way out!
Cursing and running, Sergei ignored the pain and the cold in single-minded pursuit of his prey. When he finished this mission, he was going to have a beer and a nice sausage dinner—
Wait! There—that stone storehouse near the dock. The light betrayed a silhouette briefly in the window before going out. It was just a flash, but with his senses on heightened alert, he was sure of it. Smugly, Volka put his nose to the air. *I can smell you, scared little piggy.*
Quickly he was at the stout little building. It was solid stone and mortar, small window with bars and thick glass cubes. The door was heavy, but it was the weakest point. He pounded heavily on the door with his huge fist. “I know you’re in there, Private! Come out now. This is over!”
The door was very thick, because the answer seemed to come from far away. “No!”
“You open that door now…or I’ll break it down!”
“Please, Colonel! I’m coming out. Don’t hurt my children!”
The thought of fresh blood made Volka smile a wicked, toothy grin. “Come out now, and no one gets hurt!”
“Please, Colonel! I’m coming out. Don’t hurt my children!”
“I’m losing patience!” Volka said, as he put the bazooka up to his shoulder.
“Please, Colonel! I’m coming out. Don’t hurt my children!”
Volka fired the weapon. He may have been too close, but he loved to feel the heat from the mortar. It tore through the door like tissue paper, and the fire warmed his skin.
The round continued on its path. In his heightened state of awareness that Colonel Volka liked to brag about, he saw the reel-to-reel player and speakers next to the dynamite that was strapped to several large barrels of oil right before they exploded.
Pavel had escaped through the hatch to the basement, and down to the dock, where a barge was slowly going by. Two more switches, and by morning he was in West Berlin.
Pavel went to work for a pig farmer, eventually marrying his daughter and keeping the farm in the family.
Tags: flash fiction, songs and music, the future
I had to go back and look at the details, to make sure I did it right. Yep. Chuck said go to a certain website that would automatically generate some band names, pick one, and write a story about the band. I did that. Further deposition ye shall not receive.
To read more stories like it and find the band name generator, go on tour at this venue:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: That’s My New Band Name
Rhino Voyeur had just come off the stage and Wicked Caustic was setting up. Killjoy Lovejoy sat by himself in the Green room, brooding. It had been for stylistic purposes; now it was part of their contract. The rest of the band was helping themselves to the smorgasbord of food, alcohol, and groupies.
Sid Fantastic, the vocalist, sat down next to Killjoy with a sammich in one hand a groupie in the other. “Groupie?”
She was a sweet, innocent, and not-at-all virginal 28-year old. Being the sensitive type, she knew what Killjoy needed. As she lifted his kilt, she said, “Tell me a story.”
“Tell them about the last Woodstock!” That was Feetfluffin, the band’s bass air-guitarist.
“Fine. Back during The War—“
“You were in The Revolution?” she asked.
“Shut up. No. Like all good freeloaders, I abhor violence because I don’t wanna get hurt, and I don’t cling to any beliefs strongly enough to fight for them. During The War—probably 2029 or so—I holed up with a bunch of PETA freaks in the mountains, but I hiked my shit out of there when they became cannibals.”
“I learned about that in hist-“
Killjoy shot her a dirty look; she kept quiet and resumed what she was doing.
“Goddamn starving vegetarians are too good to eat animals. But don’t go to sleep, because those fuckers are ruthless.” Killjoy lifted his leg, mostly bare because of the kilt and the blowjob. Below the knee his leg was titanium and plastic–and gravel, because it was hard to clean. “By this time the war was winding down, and the Great Migration was taking place. I came down from the mountains to see hordes—just thousands and thousands of liberals—everywhere, that had come from all over the country to settle here.”
Other groupies that didn’t currently have something in their mouths ooh’ed and aah’ed appreciatively. “They were essentially rudderless, with nothing to guide them but their talking points and their GPS. But they had nowhere to go.
“Back then I gave a shit, and was more energetic. I figured there was a way to make some dough—“
“Uh, yeah. Bread. Cash. No? Shit, what was it called…Money! You’ve heard about money, right?”
One girl said, “Yeah, we’ve *heard* of it–”
“Well, I’m too drunk and I’m getting blown so I can’t really explain it. But it was important, and people wanted it. I started to herd people towards Central California, to the coast.”
“Hush! Don’t give it away; this is my rambling story. I thought the best way to get people together was with music. I could play guitar, a little—“
More appreciative noises. “A real guitar?”
“Yes. A real one. On the way I met Sid and Feetfluffin, who were actual musicians, and also—“
The bandmates reverently touched their hand to their forehead and then their balls, the salute of fallen comrades.
“Sam Fucking Jones.”
Sam Fucking Jones, one of the greatest drummers of the twenty-first century. Like all of the greats, he lived hard and died young. One morning he went out parasail-fishing to catch a killer whale, with explosives strapped to his body. One of the greatest percussionists of his time, with an innate grasp of rhythm and tempo nevertheless could not make the correlation between using himself as bait and what would be his messy and ridiculous death.
Because he succeeded, there was no way to separate man from whale except with a strainer. The urn with his ashes is a 55-gallon drum that sits on stage with the band.
“People continued to follow us, not knowing where we were going. Liberals are easily led. We made vague promises, like, ‘Almost there,’ and ‘Just a little further,’ and “Maybe it’s the next exit.’
“Eventually we made it to San Francisco—“
“And bloody San Francisco wasn’t there! I didn’t know that! I’d been up in the mountains fending off fucking vegetarian cannibals. Somebody should have said something—“
Feetfluffin said, “Dude, you never told us anything! It was a secret, like a quest or some shit.”
“Whatevs. It was serendipitous anyway. Because San Francisco had been destroyed early in the war, it had mostly gone back to nature and was very park-like, except for the piles of bodies and the radioactivity.
“By then, all the people were ready to turn on us, so—it was Sam’s idea—we tell them we’re going to have a concert. A New Woodstock!”
Sid added, “That part was actually pretty easy. Statistically, in any large group of aimlessly wandering nomads, there are going to be a certain percentage of out-of-work musicians.”
Killjoy continued, “I don’t know about the math, but…yeah, it came together pretty organically. And that’s the story of the Revolutionary Woodstock. There were two million people over the course of a week, and only, like…less than ten thousand people died.”
A stagehand caught Killjoy’s attention. He stood up. “Well, I hate to be a killjoy—“
Sid and Feetfluffin did as well. “We about to go on?”
“Yeah.” Sid opened himself up to embrace the energy from the audience. “Ah…the fans. I love the fans!”
One of the groupies there said, “Excuse me—Mr. Sid? I’ve heard that–‘fans.’ What is that? Like a groupie?”
“Well, sorta, yeah. Fans are great. They come to all your shows, follow you on tour, buy your merch, wear your shirts—”
“That’s what we do!”
“Oh, no, hon. Fans do all of that, and we need millions of ‘em.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Groupies do that too…but also let us come in their mouths. We can only handle so many groupies.” That brought a smile to her face.
Killjoy said, “If you have only one groupie, she’s your girlfriend.”
“It’s a fine line, bro.”
The lights went down, the crowd cheered. An announcer said, “Are you ready, people? Are you ready? Put your hands and feet together for Decadent Squat!”
Tags: flash fiction
Chuck put up a picture of a tree, and told us to write a story about it. I wasn’t–I hadn’t been formally introduced to the tree, so it was hard for me to get in his head. Nonetheless, I’m all about making assumptions. To see the tree in question and read other stories about it, swing on a vine over to here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Crooked Tree
Enlil was caressing Tzetzl. A tree nymph knows not much pleasure, except the wind and the sun. The sun was a mighty force and giver of life to a tree. But the wind—Enlil–was a lover.
Enlil caressed Tzetzl, and wove herself in and out of his branches, and danced among his leaves. In turn, Tzetzl’s branches swayed in time, anticipating the next glorious gust of wind, while his leaves shimmered from being tickled by the mixture of warm and cool spring breezes.
“I love you!” Tzetzl called out, hoping Enlil would hear him. But his voice fell deaf unto the wind.
Enlil had other lovers. Other trees that swooned to feel her against their bark. The rivers and lakes that wished to only jump up and be carried in her, and be as one with the wind. Indeed, all the plants and all the animals would take Enlil as their lover.
But Enlil belonged to no one.
It was a long, hot, dry summer, and Tzetl was despondent. There was no water nearby, and his roots had to fight other roots for sustenance. And there had been no wind. “Where is my love? Where is Enlil?”
A voice, like a song, carried through the air to him. Did you miss me, my love?
A cynical tree might have thought it sounded like a hiss. But that is just the nature of wind.
“Yes! Oh, yes, my love! I did! I’m so glad you’re back!”
“Oh, but I do love you!”
Silly boy…I never really left. Sometimes I am more in one place than in another, but I am always here.
“Where, my love—where?”
A powerful, forceful gust, hit hard, like a hammer. HERE! And then quieter, but still forceful. I am always here.
“Oh—please, my love—please—it hurts. Make it stop.”
The winds continued to come. Did you not pray for my return? Did you not dream of me coming back to you?
“Oh, yes, my—ow—love—ow. Oh, it hurts me. It hurts. Why do you do this to me?”
I am the wind. This is what I do.
A large final gust pushed Tzetl to his limit. His dry, fragile trunk cracked, and he fell over. He wasn’t dead, but he was hurt. He would never stand upright in the wind again, and feel her caress.
And now Enlil brought that which they had desired for so long. The wind carried the rain, and the wind and the rain made love on the back of Tzetl, mocking him.
The water dripped from Ttzel, too little to nourish him and too late to save him. His branches turned up toward the sky as he cried in earnest.
“But Enlil…I-I love you!”