Your Call May Be Monitored

July 18, 2011 at 6:16 PM | Posted in Fiction | 6 Comments
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This is another in the series of flash fiction from Chuck Wendig’s site “Terrible Minds.” This week it’s a thousand words, about your favorite apocalypse. Everyone has their favorite, right? To see more and to check out the other entries, go shopping here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: An uncharted Apocalypse
And this is a first for me–a double entry. I already put in one story, but it was one that I had written before and just had to edit. I had been sitting on this idea for a while, but was wondering just how to exploit it.

There is a reason for rules, Ted thought angrily, as he pulled the decayed corpse from the car.  This is what happens when people don’t abide.  Ted was immune to any punishment.  He was upholding rule and order when he took this Cadillac as his new ride to the office.
Commuting was hell, but it had gotten better since ninety percent of the people had died.  The bastards that had died on the highway—in the fast lane, for Christ’s sake—had no regard for rules and deserved what they got.  I just want to give them all tickets for dying in the express lane.
At the office, Ted gave himself a promotion.  The CEO’s office was his, as well as all the perks that went with it.  He had a great parking spot right up front, the closest one to the door besides the handicapped spots.  Ted was not one to flaunt the rules.  He did not want to get fined.
What started off as a great day turned sour when his secretary exploded in the copy room.  Fuck.  Now who’s going to make my coffee?  She was a temp, anyway—someone Ted had hired when he made himself Vice-President of Collections and Intimidation.  Rachel thought he was going to “save” her.   From what, exactly?  Just because a meteor shower filled with space pollen killed everyone with allergies doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to work to pay off her VISA card.  She worked four days, and she owed 1743.44. That debt is not paid off, and it will accrue interest on the next billing cycle.  “You can’t shirk your obligations that easily, bitch!” Ted screamed and kicked at what was left of her corpse, until it fell off the finisher of the Sharp MX-623.
Ted’s afternoon appointment schedule was full.  The company was short-staffed because he had to lay off everyone that died.  Some of these people did not have to courtesy to die elsewhere.  This economy has been a ball-buster.
But the growth industry has been collections.
In a seminar Ted gave last week to three sickly people and four dead bodies, Ted explained with PowerPoint that it was a fine line between sales and collections.  The difference is in the attitude.  For sales, you have to be polite.  “In conclusion—stop trying to leave, Rhonda, or I will shoot you where you lie—in conclusion, since the valued customer has already received the services or merchandise and we have upheld our part of the sales contract, it is within our legal right to do whatever is necessary to collect from them.  Any questions?”
“I thought there was help here.  Is there a doctor?  Can you help us?”
“No, Eric, I cannot help you.  Not unless you hit your quotas.”
“Please help us?”
“This is not part of our incentive program for the month.”

Ted pulled into the sweeping circle drive of a massive house.  This house in this neighborhood, before the bubble burst, was easily 1.2 million.  The market took a dive before the pollen meteors.  That was no excuse, however, for the owner to become delinquent on his payments.
Ted had prepared a strategy.  He would try the friendly touch first; let him know that Ted was his friend.  Then make him an offer.  If he gave the house to Ted, and signed over the paperwork, not only would all collection efforts stop, but Ted would clean up Mr. Stanley’s credit rating.  It wouldn’t be easy—but we’re in this together, as partners.  Ted went up to the door, briefcase in one hand, and shotgun in the other.
Later, Ted sat by the pool of his new house.  Luckily, the owners were not home.  Lucky for them.  They were probably vacationing in Delaware or Singapore.  That’s just irresponsible, going on an expensive vacation to a glamorous place like Delaware when you’re six months behind on your house payment.  What happened to values?  He was going to keep the papers handy, to have Mr. Stanley sign them upon his arrival.  It would all be perfectly legal—Ted was also a notary.
Ted sipped his drink and thought about Delaware.  That’s where Ted would like to go, for his vacation.  According to his incentive program that he had developed, he should get a hefty bonus to pay for the trip as well.  He drifted off to sleep thinking happy thoughts.

The next morning Ted was looking forward to a productive day at work.  Friday before Labor day—you want to make as many collection calls as you can, and ruin as many weekends as you can.  But people shouldn’t be spending their money on beer and barbeque anyway when they owe money they haven’t paid.  There are rules.  There is order.  He just hoped that today he would be able to get a line out.
The group of survivors was waiting for him inside, hidden behind cubicle walls on the production floor.  They jumped him and beat him, and tied him spread eagle to a small conference table.  Ted didn’t think to bring his gun into the office.  The office was safe, it was his haven.  Besides, firearms were forbidden in the workplace.
He and the table were dragged uncarefully outside, and tossed on a pile of random timber along with three others similarly constrained.
Stan, with a second mortgage and 420 credit score, said, “What is it with these people, hanging on to…the old ways of doing things?”
Jean, whose homeowner’s association had numerous nuisance suits filed against her, said, “I don’t know—collections people and lawyers.”
Robert, who had to close his business and file bankruptcy, said, “They don’t have any other skills.  They certainly don’t have the skills for survival.”
Tracy, who already had more student loan debt than she could ever pay off, asked, “Is that enough gas?”
Stan said, “Yeah.  Not too much.  We don’t want them to burn fast, otherwise they don’t scream long enough.”
Tracy giggled.  “I know, right?”

Whatever Happened to Mesopotamia?

July 16, 2011 at 11:54 AM | Posted in Fiction | 5 Comments
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This is another in the series of flash fiction from Chuck Wendig’s site “Terrible Minds.” This week it’s a thousand words, about your favorite apocalypse. Everyone has their favorite, right? To see more and to check out the other entries, go shopping here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: An uncharted Apocalypse
I wrote this story many years ago–in fact the original appears elsewhere on this blog. This story has seen more rewrites than a sitcom with an out of control diva with a producer credit. So…this should be the best version, in theory. Right?
And I do have an idea for another one that I may write, to keep it fresh.

The streets were empty, save for the man selling his wares from a handcart, and the woman sweeping her stoop.  The old brick buildings and the cobblestone path made even the most subtle noise echo, giving them life beyond their want.
This country is a different place now.  There was a time when children would play in the streets, and adults would gather and talk, sharing the family wine or perhaps some lager.  Hardly anyone has children anymore.
Everyone came around to a new way of thinking:  Do what you want.  Think of yourself.  Live for today.  With these thoughts our goals changed.  Why have children?  Burdensome and expensive, not to mention the smell.  Would we ever get a peaceful night’s sleep again?  Ever?  Non.
And so, the children started to grow up and hardly any replaced them.  Schools started to close.  Having a child almost seemed to carry with it a stigma.  What were they thinking?
I could see it in their faces, down at the pub.  All the adults drinking and laughing, enjoying their childless life.  With a twinkle in their eye—

I came from another funeral today:  the provost of this area.  Suicide.  No one said it.  No one cried, either.  Too many tearless funerals of late.  The service was in a church, but no one mentioned God.  No one has for years.  The priest gave a little talk, and his concubines handed out beer and crackers.  Ashes to ashes-
I felt as though I was standing on the edge of the world.  Close, perhaps.  Was it the edge of civilization?  Some individuals face the end of the world every day.
Is this what it was like in Pompeii?
Or when Rome fell?  The rules and order that they had known was overwritten by the new order.  Like a thousand other times throughout the course of civilization.
I stood at the bar in the pub.  Normally loud, it had taken a somber tone recently.  It suited me.
Old Man Johann sat next to me, brooding.  He was ready to fight.  Trouble was, he wanted to fight everyone.  Sometimes, I agreed with him.
“Slovenly bastards,” he muttered quietly.  I nodded as I tilted my glass.  When the time came, I would fight.  I was going to use what dignity I retained and go out like a man.
We imagined we could hear the hordes just over the mountains.  Taking the land, killing the people, and changing the world.  I would fight them.  And Old Man Johann, and the half-score others who were so disgusted with their own people that we felt like killing them ourselves, for practice–and to prove a point.

My Spartan existence, that I once thought so chic, has left me with little to show for my life.  When this ground is buried beneath layers of civilization, will there be anything to show of what my life had been?  Trinkets, souvenirs, and heirlooms…I have none.
Will the scientists and philosophers know that I had loved, truly and deeply, and that my love had gone?
The bare walls betrayed the paintings that had once hung.  My love had a flair for the creative, and making a statement.  When she died, I made a statement and ripped them from the wall.  My bed was now a single.
With my beloved gone, I thought I had nothing to live for.  But in my early morning café-induced meditation, I realized that I wanted our love to never be forgotten.  Whether I was remembered or she was, it mattered not; I wanted our love to be remembered.
Looking out at the empty square, I had an idea.
The side of the old courthouse, long abandoned because there was no law anymore, became my canvas.  With somberness of purpose, I painted.  I painted a picture that was a story, a poem, a sonnet; an ode to the love we shared, that was bigger than all of us.  The self-involved townsfolk left me to work in peace, saying nary a word.  I knew what they thought, though:  I was crazy.
Ha!  At least I wanted to live!  Who was crazy?
It took weeks.  Time was marked for me only by the setting sun.  What else did I have?
I knew the savage hordes that would come would not destroy it, because it was the largest building in our valley.  Their savage kings and savage priests would claim the building as their new temple, as they often did.  In generations to come, it would be forgotten that the old people had put it there, and they would claim credit.  And the mural would enter their mythology, and it would be a story passed down through the ages in their barbaric tongue.
And perhaps the painting itself and the story it tells would inspire one of these savages, and cause a turn in their thinking, ever so slightly, and down through the ages, and perhaps be the catalyst for a renaissance for their people.  Perhaps some good can come from this after all.

That night at the pub, I celebrated quietly the completion of my work.  I could die in peace.  Levin read us the news, and the story of his travel over the mountains.  The news always made me angry; that’s why I listened to it.  I had so little emotion left, anger was the only one I could muster with any real conviction.
They are close, and closing in.  We won’t last the winter here.  The fall leaves crunched beneath my feet as I ambled drunkenly home.  A fitting metaphor for our whole stinkin—
A couple of coffees later, and of course I couldn’t sleep.  Lately, I never did.  I sat up thinking and sharpening my sword.  I would take some of the savage horde with me.  I swear to the God who has abandoned us to our fate that I would.
The price of civilization is blood, and theirs was going to cost them.

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