The Pusher’s Algorithm

January 8, 2013 at 12:11 AM | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment
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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—“
“Much better.”
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.

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Hungry Like the Wolf

July 9, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
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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.

Talkin ‘Bout

June 26, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment
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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?”
“Sure.”
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—“
“’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.”
“Oh!  Towards—“
“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—“
“Yes?”
“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!”

Lovers Know

June 19, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment
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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!”
Silly boy—
“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!”
I know.

Transylvania’s Got Talent

May 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment
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What is pulp, exactly, other than the stuff I don’t want in my orange juice?
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Over the Top Pulp Insanity

  “Fool!”
Igor had his simple humped ass bitch-slapped across the lab.
“Master—“
“Silence!”  The doctor did not have time for simpering.  “I have to fix your mess.”
*Or exploit it.*
The doctor spun on his heels—did he hear a voice?  Dr. F surveyed the bloody destruction of his lab.  It seemed so…raw, so carnal.  Good thing he was wearing a lab coat, like evil scientists do.
He grabbed his assistant by the collar.  “Where is it?  Where is my creature?”
A husky, earthy voice hissed at him.  “Right here, Doctor.”
All of this spinning was useless without a cape.  His gaze was transfixed on the creature.
“Did you not know what I was when you stole my body?  Silver stake in my chest, in a silver-lined casket?”
This shortcoming is why werewolves were frequently resurrected.  But this creature was not just a werewolf.  After his first monster was such a hit, he had to go deeper, harder, *more*
The bottom half was a horse.  The top half should have been a woman.  Dr. F’s eyes searched frantically–escape, a weapon, his iPod—something.
“Looking for this, Herr Doctor?”  The creature pulled out the tranquilizer gun.  “This shit won’t work on me.  Should work on you.”  He crumbled to the ground.  Samantha trotted over to Igor, who was trying to crawl out the door.  “Hold on there, chum.”  She picked him up.  “How would you like to work for me?”

The good Doctor woke up not quite feeling himself.  His eyes came into focus on what looked like a human body…but it had a lion’s head on it.  The lion growled at him, but the body was strapped down.  “Holy fu-“
“Ah, Doctor!  You’re awake.  Excellent!”  Samantha was now human on her top half.  She got right in his face and whispered, “Oh, you are going to *love* this!”  She pulled the sheet off of him, revealing his body.
“I was really tempted–I was–to put your head on Igor’s body.  But this was just a perfect  opportunity.”  The Doctor’s mouth was open in horror, but no noise came out.  She admired her work, seeing the body writhing in a tank of water just below the doctor’s head.  “I mean really–the Creature from the Black Lagoon just does not fall in your lap every day.”
Igor’s head came strolling in on top of the body of Johnny Depp.  You couldn’t tell that by looking, but Igor loved to brag about it.  “Some of Tim Burton’s best work, eh?”
Samantha said, “You have to stop saying that.  No one gets it.”
“Doesn’t matter, Master; I’m happier than a pig in shit.  Here’s the permits.”
“That’s what I’ll do next!  Whose head should we put on a pig?”

By the time summer came, Samantha’s freak show was touring everywhere she was allowed.  Igor was the managerial face of the circus, acting through her.  Samantha herself was the headliner.  She loved show business.  Even the one night a month she was a werewolf didn’t stop her—but she did stay in a cage that night.
Dr. Frankenstein stayed in his tub.  Due to a related anomaly that created the creature part of him also gave him an enzyme deficiency that caused his body to dry up and crack painfully if he was out of the water for very long.  He looked forlornly at the cages of nightmarish creatures that his perfect vision had been perverted into.  That is too many heads for a dog.  A cat should not have the head of an anaconda.  And seriously—a jackalope?
The Doctor’s nightmare was never-ending.  Julie was the mermaid in the next tank over.  The top half was human, and surprisingly pissed at her situation.  She had no desire to explore her oral fixation with a weird fish-creature like Frankenstein, either.  Maybe he should have waited few days before bringing it up, but he was never very good with women.
“Top-fish bottom-human would have been better.”
“What did you say, fish bait?”
“Eat me.”
“Give me some butter sauce.”

Samantha’s Circus of Freaks headed home, to Transylvania. This was the final insult, Frankenstein thought.  Igor noticed the Doctor was more melancholy than usual.  Since there was no show, however, there was no reason to medicate him.  “What’s eating you, Gilbert Grape?”
“This was *my* home.”
“Well, it’s still in the fami—uh oh.”
“What did you say?”
“Best you ask Master.”
The doctor sloshed out of his tank.  He had a good twenty minutes.  He stood outside her office and eavesdropped on her phone conversation, then walked in when she hung up.  “Explain to me how we are related.”
Reflexively her tail bristled.  “You haven’t figured out how you know me?”
“Know you?  The first time I ever saw you was when I…uh, when I did this to you.”
Samantha stepped closer to him, slowly.  “You’ve operated on me once before.  Maybe you don’t remember.  I was a child.  A boy…  Your son.”
“My—my son?”
The memories came flooding back to him, as his skin scaled and dried, he welled up inside with tears.  The son he had turned into a daughter.  The son he had left on the doorsteps of an orphanage like casserole.  “It…it was a mistake.  I had to give you up.  If I didn’t, something horrible would happen to you.”
“Lucky me.”  Samantha noticed her father’s drying and cracking skin, took him in his arms and picked him up.  He was bleeding in places.  “Listen, Pop.  There’s no hard feelings.  I was happy as a woman.  Getting turned into a werewolf was my own dumb luck.  If it wasn’t for you, I would still be dead.  And I never would have made it in show biz without you.”
She helped him back into his tank.  “Maybe…maybe I’ll get a different body for you.”
“Really?”
“Sure, Pop.”
“Sammy, I heard your phone call.”
“Yeah?”
“There aren’t wings big enough to make a rhinoceros fly.”
“Thanks, Dad.”


DVD Commentary:
A scene I had to delete to make sure the story was under 1000 words:
[There, on the table, was the answer to the Doctor’s question: The head of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, alive, and floating in a jar like a celebrity cameo on Futurama. Dr Frankenstein shared the Creature’s obvious forlorn demeanor. He was also taken by how much the creature resembled Darth Vader (with mask). He sounded like him as well, with the ancient but complex machinery attached to him keeping him alive–probably against his will.]

A Fella’s Gotta Eat

May 5, 2012 at 10:16 PM | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
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For this week’s challenge, we had to include dinosaurs in the story. Finally, something I could sink my teeth into. Secretly, this is a mashup–see if you can guess what other genre or genres are in play.
To read more, stop by the Jurassic Park cafeteria here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Love Dinosaurs

The Masked Man shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  The sheriff pressed on.
“Well, Reid?  Come on.  Do you want the job or not?”
“This is not—see, normally what we do—“
“Yeah, yeah.  Truth, justice, the American dream.  Not my problem.  What *is* my problem is them animals down in Lizard Valley Gulch.  Eatin’ livestock and so forth.”
The Masked Man caught his companion’s worried look and misinterpreted it.  “Fine.  We’ll do it.”  The men stood up and shook hands.  There was a glint in the eyes behind the mask.  “I expect to get paid when we get back.”  He looked around.  “Saddle up, Tonto.”

The two men were quiet for most of the ride.  Tonto was simmering on the inside.  *I have to say something to this ridiculous fucker.  He’s lost the vision.  And his mind.* As he was about to speak, Reid spoke up.
“’Tonto.’  That’s a funny name for an Injun.  Rather atypical.”
“Kemosabe, we need to have a discussion about your recent decisions, especially where you seem to have lost focus on our original mission statement.”  He was glad to finally get it out.
“That’s another thing.  ‘Kemosabe.’  I can’t help but think you’re calling me a son-of-bitch in your native tongue.”
“No, it’s merely an informal greeting from a dead aboriginal language.  The connotation is positive.  But look, Reid, I have to take issue with this current mission.  This is not what I signed on for.  We’re supposed to be searching for truth, justice, law and order, and so forth, while blindly turning our back to the federal government’s hypocritical eminent domain ideology.”
Reid turned and stared at Tonto.  “You got a problem with that, cowboy?”
“What?  Me?  No, I’m all in.  I know how to pick a winning horse.  A fella’s got to eat.”
“Well, Sundance, that’s what *this* is all about:  A fella’s got to eat.  They’re paying us for this extermination job.  In case you haven’t noticed, lofty ideas about fighting the good fight may get you laid but it sure don’t get you paid.  A fella’s got to eat.”
They trotted along for a short distance before Reid said, “Hey, I started to ask about your name–?”
The swarthy Italian hushed him and pointed.  They had a panoramic view of the valley below.  From their vantage point they observed a small stampede of about three dozen head of cattle, running scared and making hysterical cow noises.
“What the Zeus?”  The two observed two creatures they had never seen before, about twice the size of a large bull but standing upright like a bear—or a…a bird, or something.  The animals screeched horrifically and seemed to be able to jump amazing distances—onto their prey.  One cow went down in a bloody fashion and the rest of the herd scattered like giant roaches.
“I’m getting the fu—shit, Tonto, where’d you go?”  His answer was a trail of dust not heading away, but heading *toward* the carnage.  *That crazy sumbitch.* The Masked Man shook his head and followed, because the sidekick is not allowed to show up the hero.  He read that in the manual.
By the time he got down to the scene, just a few minutes behind Tonto, he saw that friend had already dismounted and was approaching the now sated and tired animals with a noose.  He observed him walk quietly and confidently up to them, whispering and making clucking noises.  He slipped the noose easily around the neck of one of the beasts while stroking its rough, dry neck.  The creature purred loudly.  To Reid it sounded like a Buick with a bad muffler.
He followed suit, gathering his noose like Tonto.  He noticed that they seemed to be lizards of some type, but they weren’t no Gila monsters.  More like a giant bird.  Tonto said, “Careful, Reid.  Do like this,” and he made the noises that seemed to hypnotize and calm the beast.  He got his noosed as well.
“Now what?”
“Now?  Now we ride.”  With that, Tonto swung up on his animal’s back.  The creature cawed like a bird.  A big bird.  A big blue and green bird, with orange feathers around its neck.  Reid did the same.
They spent the better part of a week with the creatures, learning them.  They were oddly docile towards the men, but their horses fared slightly worse.  They didn’t need to eat every day, and they had just had a big meal.  But after four days, the fragrant aroma of horse got to be too much for them, and they ate Tonto’s mount.  He was heartbroken, but his saddle didn’t need much adjustment to fit his new mount, who he named “Robin.”
The Masked Man did the same, setting his horse free.  Silver was a good horse, but he had the wild look of fear in eyes that only happens in thunderstorms or when you’re attacked by zombies.  Reid named his new mount, “Batman.”  When Tonto asked why, he said, “Came to me in a dream.”
They began their long ride back into town.  These creatures had an odd gait, but no worse than a horse at a gallop.  And they were *fast.*
“Are you ever going to tell me the deal with your name?”
“Oh, that.”  Tonto spoke nonchalantly.  “The chief of my tribe had it in for my dad—that’s part of why I left them yahoos.  But the chief had naming rights on all babies.  “He named me ‘Goat’s Afterbirth.’  That makes it hard to get laid in high school, for real.”
“So?”
“So when I left, I renamed myself ‘Tonto.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Ball-sac.”
They continued to ride in silence.
Reid was lost in thought when Tonto broke his daze.  “What the hell are you smiling about?”
The Masked Man said, “Oh, I was just thinking about how fighting for truth and justice is going to be a whole new ballgame now.”
Tonto laughed.  “Kemosabe, you’re a sonuvabitch.”

Life Is Not a Metaphor

April 13, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Posted in Poetry | 2 Comments
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This week’s challenge was to write about death. Any genre at all. I’m not a fan of death. My own, anyway. For other people my feelings range from genuine sorrow to ambivalent to downright giddy.
To read more of these stories, hitchhike with the Grim Reaper over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Death is on the Table

It was quite a while back–Or perhaps tomorrow
So we’ll see how well I remember…
This morning, on a visit
To the true living dead, the rolling lifeless
The eyes that are too old and tired
To show despair or acceptance
Of what this mortal state,
This dubious existence has left us.
Like crumbs, like scraps,
Like a bowl of something left sitting
In the bottom near the back of the refrigerator
Behind the cheese whiz
Who knows what it is, exactly–who remembers?
But we’ve kept it long enough so it’s time to throw it out.

So we take it, through a feeding tube
For days on end…slowly
But life is not a metaphor, not simile
Not literary imagery, or hyperbole
Life is not poetic, so just–
The real nitty-gritty, the facts:
When we grow old and we are queued up to die
And our muscles don’t respond
And our noses can’t smell the urine
That our bodies can’t hold anymore
Our eyes don’t see the fetid organic filth
That we are now living in
Our ears won’t hear the workers
Talking, chatting, gossiping, cursing work
After they cart off another one
They clean up the room and spray it
And change the sheets
And welcome another resident
To life’s holding pattern

Sitting, staring nowhere, and doped for easier handling
Through blurry dull eyes we have a view of the cemetery.
We are carted from place to place,
Too weak and too tired to fight
No emotion left for the patronizing that we accept.
Is it a nice day? How do we feel?
Have your bowels moved? Are you drugged?

Great-grandfather, my ancestor, will I follow you?
Will I die horribly in my youth,
With unfulfilled potential and promise?
Or will my fate be the same as yours–and what is worse?
As you wander aimlessly these stained and dirty halls,
Drained of hope, drained of faculty
Drained of the last bit of hope
You ask everyone you see
Have you seen my beloved wife?
She was just here at my side…
Have you seen her?
Condescending murmurs are the answers that you get
They’ve never seen her,
Because she was lucky enough to die
Before this place could happen to her
Meanwhile, as the days flow like clumps of kitty litter
Through someone else’s fingers
And life goes on for everyone else but you,
Your foggy gray mind lets go of your cherished memories
Like leaves falling from a tree, or rats escaping a sinking ship
They are all that you have left but they betray you and escape,
One by one.

Please stop—please, make it stop.
There is a fog, it’s true, but sometimes
Clarity seeps through despite myself;
The only thing I’ve learned is that
Time is much less fluid than we are led to believe
In fact, it’s rather lumpy
And my personal identity is less than bound to me
Cataracts have let me see the world
Through a Salvador Dali-colored lens
Am I now my own great-grandfather
Whom I once came to see?
This small child ceremoniously presented
As my progeny
Slobbering and wetting himself–Is he me?
I don’t know what is going on now
But I remember that day so long ago
And I imagine it is the same.

Hey, Joe

February 12, 2012 at 10:30 PM | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
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This week’s challenge was to make an unlikable character the protagonist. I think I can handle that. To read more, go spend some time over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Unlikable Protagonist
But also, while you’re here, go read my story from the challenge from two weeks ago, where we had to do a story in present tense. I really like that story, but no one read it. Such is life.
The Baby Boomer

The customer won’t shut up.  Fuck.  I smile and nod and kind of lead him towards the desk, and hand him a pen.  “Why don’t you get started on this, and I’ll make sure they get everything ready?”
The asshole was probably still talking after I left.  The shit I have to put up with to make an obscene profit–
Outside the break room I find Denny.  “Hey, Lenny—“
He turned to me and rolled his eyes like a bitch.  I tossed him the keys.  “Prep this Merc, pronto.  Joey made a sale.”
He grabbed a clipboard and walked off disgusted.  What the hell is his problem?  I spied Sarah in the break room.  I’m gonna hit that ass, and soon.  I walked up behind her and gave her a small dose of Joey’s charm.  “Hey, sweetheart—“
“Oh, Jesus!  Joe!  Get your hands off my ass.  And quit sneaking up behind me; that shit is irritating.”  She walked off in a huff.  Must be on her period.
After that sale, I’m done for the day.  “Joey is outta here.”  Joey doesn’t ask permission, not from the owner’s son.  I slide into my Jaguar and get ready to roll.  Rolling in a Jag takes preparation.  Driving gloves—check.  Expensive sunglasses—check.  Loud-ass tunes—check.  Perfect hair—double check.  Fuck, I look good.
I don’t look behind me; behind me is for losers.  Some dickhead honks his horn at me.  Do you not know what a Jag is, you pick-up-driving Neanderthal?

I’m a partner in a Jewelry store.  The location is shitty but we see a lot of traffic.  Mostly niggas buying gold for their bitches.  I got my fiancé a job there, because I wanted someone to watch out for my shifty Arab partner. “Hey, baby.”
Right away she starts in on me.  What the fuck?  I didn’t really pay attention to what she was saying, because I was looking at her tits.  Besides, I don’t actually have to solve any problems, I just have to pretend to listen.  She doesn’t like when I solve her problems for her, the ungrateful bitch.  You’d think that giving her a job would have been worth a blowjob.  I swear I don’t understand bitches.
After she finishes her little tirade, I expect that she’ll feel better.   It’s usually slow in the middle of the afternoon.  We could lock the door and go in the back for a quickie.
“Didn’t you hear a goddamn word I said?  This neighborhood is fucking dangerous, and I’m not working here anymore!”
Oh, shit.  I heard that part.  Maybe she had a point, but if she loved me, she’d take one for the team and stick it out.  One for all, all for me.  I might still be able to talk her into going in the back room and bending over the desk for me.  Bitches like to be complimented, so I whispered in her ear. “You’re so pretty when you’re angry.”
She pushed me away hard.  “Just get the fuck out of here.  Go.  Come back tomorrow when Rashid is here.”
“Oh, that reminds me—did that Arab leave a deposit in the safe?”
“He’s Pakistani, Joe.  No, he took it to the bank.” I stood there, trying to figure out how to out-maneuver that crafty African bastard.  “Joe!”
“What?”
“Get. The.  Fuck.  Out.”
“Fine.  I’ll see you later, sweetheart.”  I gave her a kiss on the forehead.
I’m back on the street, and I’m rollin’.  Everybody else be hatin’.  Especially this cunt in a minivan in front of me.  There’s traffic all over, but she is in front, slowing me down.  I can’t get in the other lane, and she won’t switch lanes to let me move ahead.  What the hell is her problem?  We go down a couple miles and what seems like a hundred fucking intersections.  I flash my lights every so often, but she doesn’t take the hint.  I honk a few times.  I think she’s ignoring me.
Joey is not ignored.  Not by bitches in minivans.  The light changes, and I can see there is big space in front of her. She is going about 25.  I can’t take it anymore.  Maybe she needs a reminder.
Ever so gently, I tap the back of her van with my front bumper.
That got her attention.  She looks at me in the mirror.  You look good like that, honey, with your mouth hanging open.  I tap her again.
I have to slam on my brakes as she hits hers hard and pulls over to the shoulder.  Finally.  I slide right on by, through a yellow light.  Maybe a little orange around the edges.

Later that night, I’m at home watching Sportscenter and drinking some Dewars.  Joey likes top shelf.  There’s a knock on my door.  I look through the window.  Cops.  Uh-oh—did that bitch call the cops on me after I asked her nicely to move out of my way?
“Hello, officers.”
“Sir, are you Joe Cannoli?”
“Yeah, that’s me.  Joey Cannoli.”
“Are you one of the owners of Shiny Gold and Jewelry?”
A sigh of relief.  I wasn’t busted.  Wait.  Shit, did I get robbed?  I bet it was an inside job.  That slimy Arab fuck Rashid.  Man—I hope my insurance is paid up.  “Yeah, that’s me.  I own it.  Did something happen?  Was there a robbery?”  This was looking better and better.  I could cash out, get out of that business, ditch my partner and my pathetic excuse for fiancé.
“Sir, yes, there was a robbery.  Two armed men came in, shot the clerk, and took everything.”
“Wait-shot the clerk?“  Ha.  That bastard Rashid is dead.
“I’m sorry, sir.  She was dead before police arrived.”
I didn’t hear the rest.  It wasn’t Rashid.  It was Jenny.  My Jenny.  My Jenny is gone.  Oh my God.  Now what am I going to do?
I bet I can parlay this into some sympathy sex.

The Baby Boomer

February 1, 2012 at 7:31 PM | Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments
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I skipped a challenge or two–I had things going on. But I needed to get back to the writing, so this one came along at just the right time. Chuck’s Challenge this week was to write something using present tense.
Originally I thought of a story about time travel. I think it still is.
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Present Tense

I’m laying on my deathbed.  Lying?  Laying?  I’m laying on it, and lying.  My daughter holds my hand.  “I had a good life, Sweetheart.  I have no regrets.”  And I’m gone.
It was what she needed to hear, but I’ll never see her again.  Probably.  Here I go with the peaceful calm feeling and the sensation of floating and the goddamn light again.  Oooh, a heavenly choir.  Angelic voices.  Fuck em.
Because here I am again getting pushed out of the womb.  Again.  Can’t a guy catch a break?  You assholes who think you’ll sleep when you’re dead have got it all wrong.  Sleep when you’re alive.  I’ve been dead a few thousand times, and I never get so much as a catnap.
It doesn’t hurt, but it is annoying.  The light hurts, but I refuse to cry.  Not this time.  The midwife slaps my ass and I choke and cough a little, and I give her a single “Wah.”  I’m done with this shit.
I have the same mother, and the same tired, used nipples.  Ain’t life grand?
I try so hard to remember everything, but it’s no use.  It just fades away.  I bet I’ve tried to remember before, too…but I don’t remember trying to remember.
Everything seems like déjà vu to me, but only because it is.  I get caught up living life again, swept up in the exci—
“Roy?”
A girl.  I’m twenty.  I turn.  She looks familiar.  If only I could remember what I did before.  We’re sitting in the commons at university.  I don’t know what I did before, but this time I’m studying engineering.  She says to me, “Do you ever have déjà vu?”
I mumble, “My life is déjà vu.”
She smiled, not understanding.  “What?”
I say to her, “I don’t remember.”  It’s the only time I ever tell the truth.
We date, we marry.  We have kids.  This time, it’s three boys.  My middle son, John, dies in a car accident when he’s 17.  He dies because he is my favorite.  Oh, well.  I’ll have more.  Next time.
“He seems out of sorts, doesn’t he?  Since Johnny died.”  I hear them in the next room talking about me.  I smile and pretend to read the paper.  Ha!  I’ve always been out of sorts.  That’s the problem.
As bored as I am with it all, Life always throws some curves at me.  This time, my wife cheats on me.  Chuck is supposed to be my friend, but I guess this is what people do.  I’m sure I’ve done something to him.  I hope he’s had a hot wife before, and that I fucked her.
I forgive Charlotte, but not because I’m forgiving.  Slowly, over the years, I make her pay.  She’s such a martyr, she just takes it.  What a pathetic excuse for—
Just as I’m really invested in my hatred of her, she comes home crying.  She just came from the doctor.  She has cancer.  She’s dying.  I hold her and comfort her because she gives me no choice.  “It’s going to be okay,” I tell her.  I’m surprised that I tell her the truth, two times in one lifetime.  It will be okay.  She will die, and she will suffer no more.
And I have to go on.
Charlotte hangs in there like a trooper.  Or to spite me, I can’t decide which.
Looking at her tombstone, with the space for my name ominously blank, I do what passes for reflection.  I get the feeling, the sensation—
You know how when you have a dream, and you aren’t told things, but you just seem to know them?  Like the rules for this dream and how things are done?  I have that.  I have that most of the time.
And I feel like I used to think I knew why this kept happening to me.  Like the Hindu reincarnation, or I’m supposed to learn something and change and be a better person, and then I can move on.
I know it’s not like that, however.
It’s 2007, again.  I’m 60 years old, and I’m alone.  My two remaining sons have families conveniently on the coast, several hundred miles away.  If I did it right, I pushed them away.  In my condo I flip on the TV, and happen to see a movie coming up.  Bill Murray—“Ground Hog’s Day.”
I’ve only seen it once before but it seems like I’ve seen it a hundred times.
When it gets to the part where he realizes he can become a better person for love, I pull the trigger.
The bright light hurts, but it’s a relief to be out.  Still, I start crying before I get slapped by the midwife.  That’s okay, because she cleans me off and hands me to my mommy.  I love my mommy.
This is going to be a good one, I can feel it.  I feel love, and I feel loved.  When my eyes can see better I take in my surroundings.  Middle-class post war, oddly familiar décor.  I can read and I can think, I just can’t talk.  Such is the life of a baby.  From Mommy’s shoulder I see the calendar from the First National Bank.  October, 1947.  I’ve been here before, I bet.
The deep, strong voice of Papa fills the room.  I’ve only known him for a day, but already I love him.  He comes up to us and kisses Momma and gently touches me.
He says to Momma, “What are we going to name her?”

Waitress In the Sky

January 7, 2012 at 11:49 PM | Posted in Fiction | 4 Comments
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Chuck’s Challenge this week was to spin the random wheel on whatever music we listen to, and the first song that comes up, use that as the title. Five hundred words. No other restrictions.
I was glad that a song by Paul Westerberg came up. I would have taken any song of his, any at all, just so I could tell you people that if you haven’t heard of him or haven’t heard him, give it a listen. He was quirky before Zooey Deschanel, and influential to a host of artists, including Kurt Cobain. (The album “Nevermind” is named after a song Westerberg wrote. No lie.) I had never heard of him before 2006, but based on a poorly recorded version of one his songs (“Attitude”) I drove 100 miles with a friend to see him. I was completely unfamiliar with all of his music, and it was one of the best concerts I had ever been to. There’s more to Milwaukee than just Prince.
To see more musical mayhem and fiction, two-step on over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Song Shuffle Stories

The plane was falling from the sky.

The pilot and copilot were nervous, but professional.  They were trying to find a place to put down.

The passengers’ emotions ran the full gamut from fear to scared-shitless.  Two of the three flight attendants were scared but trying to remain calm for the passengers.

The third flight attendant, Diane, was angry as hell.

“Lynn, help me please!”  Kyle was struggling with a hysterical passenger that had sucked him into an awkward wrestling match over the seat belt.

Diane was right there.  Mr. Arnold had looked up expectantly when Diane appeared, because this fluffy effeminate flight attendant did not understand his deep need to go to the bathroom and change his underwear that he had peed in.

Diane grabbed him forcefully, by the face.  She leaned in and whispered harshly to him, “I will rip your face off and eat it if you don’t sit still and be quiet immediately!”

Diane went to the front and grabbed the microphone.  “Listen up, bitches.  We are going to land and we will be okay.  It’s going to be bumpy.  It’s going to be a lot worse if every one of you doesn’t sit still and be quiet!  You aren’t helping.  Shut the fuck up, all of you!  Are there any questions?”

A woman timidly raised her hand.  Diane calmly put the mike down, went to her, and punched her in the face.  She went back to the mike.  “Any more questions?”

The flight attendants took their seats and strapped in.  Lynn pulled out her rosary.  Kyle nervously tapped his hands until he got a look from Diane, who was in mid-stew about her morning before getting on the plane.

While plane approached a small airstrip, she thought about how she came home to find Steve fucking another woman.  How he tried to apologize and blame her at the same time.  How he blamed her for being a glorified waitress in the sky, and was never home.

As they made their descent, she remembered how the other woman told him to shut up, and then helped Diane pack her bag because she couldn’t see or think straight.  How she wasn’t mad at her, because he had lied to her also.  As they skidded off the end of the too-short runway, she thought about how the woman gave her a ride to the airport.

When the emergency vehicles arrived Diane began to recall all the things that had seemed suspicious to her that she had just ignored, but which now her instincts told her she had been played.

The airline put them up in a hotel, of course, and the passengers and the crew were all fairly happy that the hotel was next to a bar.  Diane had a plan.

After she and Lynn got into their room, Diane said, “I’m going to get drunk and get laid tonight.  By the first asshole that hits on me.  I’ll show Steve who’s a goddamn waitress in the sky.”

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