Friday, November 30, 2012

FFF: I Saw Myself Coming The Other Way

Every week Kurt posts a new flash fiction story. This week...

I Saw Myself Coming The Other Way
Word Count: 600

I was coming back from Thanksgiving spent with my mother’s family on Europa when I saw myself going the other way at the spaceport. I knew this was a possibility—I’ve seen the safety demonstrations. TSA-Space swears it has nothing to do with time-travel. It’s just, well, when you’re traveling at relativistic or faster-than-light speeds, sometimes things like this happen. So I was warned. But I wasn’t really prepared for it.

The demonstrations tell you to just keep walking. If you make eye contact, you can wave politely, but don’t talk to each other and don’t stare. So when we saw each other, each of us with the verge of a friendly smile at the tips of our mouths, we each nodded to the other as we walked past.

The other me wore a black suit with no tie. And he had no gray hair—I guess I will start dying it, eventually. He had broadened, the way a man does over the years. All told, he looked about ten--no, fifteen years older. He looked world-weary. Not unhappy, just… tired. A little beaten-down.

Questions flooded my mind--I couldn’t help it. Where was he—where was I, I suppose I should say—going? Home? Saturn? Farther out? Was it business or personal? Why was I traveling alone? I turned back, trying to see what gate he was headed for, but the moment had passed. I almost—almost—tried to follow him, but it wouldn’t have done any good. My future self had wandered out of my timeline and back into his own.

Still, I wanted another glimpse, a window of insight into my pending life—to know more than that I’ll be alive in fifteen years. What would have happened if I’d stopped him? What would I have said? I squinted, searching the crowd, but all I could see was the rush and bustle of commuters busily making their way through the terminal. Sometimes they would go blurry on the edge of my vision and pass from one timeline into the next, but for the most part, they just kept walking.

“Can I help you, sir?”

I turned towards the voice. It was an automated travel assistant. She was completely mechanized, but designed to look like a young woman with a friendly smile. “I’m fine,” I told her. “I just thought I saw someone I recognized.”

“That happens, sometimes, sir,” she said, doing a quick scan of my retina as she spoke. “I suggest you head to your gate. You wouldn’t want to miss your flight. It’s already started boarding.”

“Right,” I said, not wanting to argue, but my gaze lingered back in the direction of my future self.

“Do you need to talk about it, sir?” she asked. “We can step out of the timeline if you need a minute.”

“I… no, that’s fine, I just…”

“Even if you followed, you wouldn’t find him. The future’s always in flux.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard it is for us to page a customer, sometimes,” she said, smiling.

A joke? The robot was trying to cheer me up with a joke? “Right,” I said.

“May I make a suggestion, sir?” she asked.

“Go ahead,” I said.

“Board your flight, have a drink, and put it out of your mind,” she said. “And don’t worry. Your future will still be here when you get back.”

I nodded, turning towards my gate. Someday I’d see this from the other side. I’d remember my questions.

Until then, I had a flight to catch.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

FFF: Term Life Protection Squad

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Term Life Protection Squad
Word Count: 585


Bill Brandt had no idea how much danger he was in. To him, it was another lovely night at the theater and a leisurely walk home. He whistled as he strolled, blissfully unaware of the gunman stalking him.

He took his usual shortcut through the park, and when there was no one else in sight, his attacker spoke.

“Hands where I can see ‘em,” said the gunman from behind. Bill heard the click of a gun being cocked. He slowly raised his hands into the air.

“That’s right,” said the assailant. “Now turn around.”

Bill did as instructed. The gunman was a short Latino man with a chiseled jaw and a dark jacket.

“Wallet,” said the assailant.

“I don’t have much money,” said Bill.

“Shut up, old man.”

“Okay, okay,” said Bill. He slowly reached into his pocket, not his back pocket, where he kept his wallet, but his jacket pocket where he kept his pepper spray.

“Don’t do that,” said a voice from above.

Bill and the assailant both looked up. Bill could barely make out the outline of a black helicopter hovering noiselessly against the starlit sky. Four commandoes were descending to the ground. One of them landed directly on the would-be mugger and knocked him to the ground. The assailant’s gun was taken and his hands were zip-tied behind his back.

“Target secure!”

“Perimeter secure!”

“Package secure!”

One of the soldiers pulled the dark mask off his face and addressed Bill directly. “Is your name William Thomas Brandt?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Bill.

“You live on Park West?”

“That’s right,” said Bill.

“Okay,” said the soldier--who appeared to be in command. He addressed the other soldiers. “We’re good. Wrap this one up for the police,” he said, kicking the assailant. Then he turned back to Bill. “If you don’t mind, we’ll walk you back to your building, Sir.”

“Don’t mind… What is the meaning of this?” asked Bill. He looked back up in the air, but the black helicopter had vanished.

“Sir, we can’t return from this mission until you are secure with your security system armed,” said the commander.

“Who are you people?” Bill demanded.

“It doesn’t matter, Sir.”

“The hell it doesn’t, I’m not moving an inch—“

“Tell him, Sarge,” said one of the soldiers.

“Okay,” said the commander—the Sergeant, apparently. “You have to promise me that you won’t exploit this knowledge.”

“Fine,” said Bill, “just tell me what the hell is going on here.”

“We’ve had you under surveillance, Sir, and we will continue to monitor you for threats.”

“But why?” asked Bill. “Who are you people?”

“You have a term life insurance policy in the amount of $2.6 million, is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Bill.

“And that policy expires in two and a half months, correct?”

“Right,” said Bill.

“After which time your family will not receive a payout in the event of your accidental death, is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Bill, “but what does that have to do with—“

“You’re in good hands, Sir,” said one of the soldiers.

“Just to clarify, Sir,” said the Sergeant, “you should not expect this sort of treatment two and a half months from now.”

Bill shook his head. “I… I see,” he said.

“Now, Sir, I must insist that we escort you home.”

Bill and the four soldiers walked through the park without incident, and when Bill got home, he armed his security system, and as quickly as they had appeared, the four soldiers were gone.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

FFF: The Prodigal

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

The Prodigal
Word Count: 600

The visiting room looked like a small version of a school cafeteria—a handful of long tables with chairs, and constant supervision. Allen sat where he was directed, then the officer went to fetch Wesley.

A moment later the guard returned with a young man in a yellow prison uniform. He was thin but muscular, with unkempt hair and a crooked smile. He entered slowly and sat down across from Allen.
“So,” said Wesley, “they tell me you’re my old man.”

“Something like that,” said Allen. The young man looked so much like a version of Allen from twenty years ago that it was difficult for him to reconsile. He’d been longing for this moment for nearly twenty years, and now that it was here, he felt lost. “I understand you like to be called Jeff,” he managed.

“That’s what they call me,” said Wesley.

“How much do you know?” asked Allen.

“Just that the same DNA test that landed me here turned your name up in some missing-person’s database.”

“That’s right,” said Allen.

Wesley—No, Jeff, Allen corrected himself—crossed his arms and frowned. “And now my Mom is going to jail. You’ll understand if I don’t feel particularly happy to see you.”

“I’m sure it’s… awkward,” said Allen, “but the woman who raised you—“

“She’s my mother, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jeff. “It wasn’t always easy for her, and she made mistakes—“

“She kidnapped you from a stroller,” Allen hissed. All the hatred he’d ever felt for that monster percolated to the surface. “I would have been a good father to you, if I’d had the chance. I sure as hell would have kept you out of this place.”

Jeff snorted. No, his name is Wesley, dammit, thought Allen.

“I’m sorry,” said Allen, retreating back into himself. “I didn’t mean… This is difficult, for both of us.”

“Yeah,” said Wesley. “Did you have other children?”

“My marriage couldn’t survive the trauma of losing a child,” said Allen bitterly. “Your mother lives in Boston now. We hadn’t spoken in fourteen years until a week ago. She’s planning to come and visit.”

“I guess you live within driving distance,” said Wesley with a crooked smile. His mother’s smile.

“It’s about an hour and a half drive for me,” said Allen. And in that moment the decades of rage collapsed in on him. The thought that his son, his only son, was living within a hundred miles of him, being raised by strangers… His failed marriage, the anguish, the torment all came together. He wanted to throw the table across the room. He wanted to scream about how he had been cheated. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.

But he couldn’t. The past was over. There was only the future. Allen took a breath, gathered all his anger into a ball and mentally pushed it away. A calm came over him.

“You okay?” asked Wesley.

“I have a bit of a temper,” said Allen. “It takes some effort to control it sometimes.”

“Sounds familiar,” said Wesley.

“Look,” said Allen, “I’m not trying to recapture anything. That ship has sailed. And I don’t know if I can help you out of here. Although God knows I would if I could.”

Wesley raised an eyebrow.

“You were supposed to be more than this,” said Allen.

“Well, sorry to disappoint,” said Wesley.

“I didn’t mean—“

“Yes, you did, old man,” said Wesley. “What did you expect? What do you want from me?”

Allen sighed. “Just to know you better.”

Wesley grinned. His mother’s grin. “Okay,” he said. “Come back next weekend.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

FFF: Head Hunters

Every Friday Kurt posts a new flash fiction story. This week, it's time to get undead!

Head Hunters
Word Count: 600


“Tonk! Toooooooonk!” Victor’s voice rang through the parking lot as he approached.

“What?” I said when he was close enough to speak without shouting.

“What the hell, man?” he said. “You took down my flier!”

“Yeah,” I said, “about that—“

“You can’t just cancel the Hunt. It’s tradition.”

“We lost a lot of people last year,” said Victor. “And last year was the second year it existed. It’s hardly a tradition.”

“Come on, Tonk, we have to have The Hunt. It’s for morale.”

“People died!”

“Nobody important,” Victor pleaded.

“My answer is no,” I said.

“Please man, we’ll be more careful.”

“I don’t see how you could have been less careful before,” I said.

“Any rules you want to put in place—we’ll abide, man.” Victor was bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet in excitement. He would have made me nervous even if he didn’t have an AK-47 strapped to his back.

“Any rules?” I asked.

“Anything, man.”

“Okay, write this down,” I said.

Victor pulled a flier out of his pocket and unfolded it. The back was scrap, but it was mostly clean. He found a pen and started scribbling.

“Heads only,” I said. “No complete zombies. No parts of a zombie. Heads only.”

“How will we do the zombie occupation judging?” asked Victor.

“We’ll have to do without that,” I said. “And there will be spot-checks on the heads—they had better be zombified, all of them!”

“Right on,” said Victor, scribbling. “Can we keep the celebrity look-alike contest though?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “With some stipulations.”

“Fire away.”

“Any group caught sabotaging another’s heads or raids will be immediately disqualified,” I said.

“Yeah, well, if you’re trying to find the zombie that looks the most like Bob Dylan, there’s going to be some infighting, you know?”

“Well, we’ll do this scavenger-hunt style,” I said. “Individual heads will get a straight up-or-down vote from the judges. Groups will score based on how many they find, not how good their finds are.”

“Some folks are going to be mighty disappointed to hear that,” said Victor.

“They can cope. And no creativity bonuses.”

“Awwwwww,” said Victor.

“Especially the celebrity-as-a-child entrants. That was just creepy.”

“Can we still do celebrity-as-the-other-gender?” asked Victor.

“As long as the resemblance is there, that’s fine,” I conceded.

“All right, what else you got?”

“Friendly fire was an issue last year,” I said, “we need fewer teams and we need to make sure they don’t run into each other.”

“Okay,” said Victor.

“And no stragglers going out alone after the rest of the team has left. Your team stays until absolutely everyone is accounted for.”

“Got it.”

“And, most important,” I said, “any team that returns with fewer members than they left with will be automatically disqualified.”

“What?” asked Victor. “That ain’t fair, man.”

“If you can’t ensure the participants’ safety—relative safety, I should say—then there’s no way I can allow this event.” I said.

“Man,” said Victor, kicking the dirt. “This always happens. We get a fun idea, then someone dies, and then we have to be super careful, and then it’s just no fun anymore.”

“Sorry, Victor, but there are less than 50,000 Americans still living. We need to hang on to as many as we can.”

“But what if teams go around shooting each other just so they’ll be disqualified? You ever think of that?”

“Victor,” I said, “if that’s going on, if that really happens, then we’ve got bigger problems than a silly Hunt.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

FFF: Stefan The Wise

This week's Friday Flash Fiction was adapted as a radio drama by the 9X Players and can be heard on the Wisconsin Life website.

Stefan The Wise
Word Count: 596

“Are you Stefan the Wise?”

“I am,” said Stefan, legs crossed on his yoga mat. “Have a seat, my friend. What can I help you with?”

The stranger sat across from him. He was a gangly man in his middle thirties. “I’m Todd,” he said. “Is it true that you can communicate with the dead?”

“That is my gift,” said Stefan. “Is there someone I can—“

“How do you turn it off?” Todd interrupted.

“I, um… what?”

“I have this problem,” said Todd. “I’m surrounded by ghosts. I want to make them go away.”

Stefan arched an eyebrow. “Well,” he said, “traditionally ghosts cling to the Earth because they have unfinished business here. Perhaps if you—“

“I’ve tried that,” said Todd. “But they want too much. One of the ghosts, Bernie, he wanted to give a message to his daughter. So I did. Then he wanted to watch Battlestar Galactica from start to finish. So we did. Now he wants to learn French. The other day, he told me he’d never been able to balance a checkbook.”

“Well,” said Stefan, “one needy ghost—“

“There’s more,” said Todd. “There are five with me right now, two of them showed up in the last week. Alice wants to travel to India. Jermaine wants to play bass in a funk band. I can’t help him with that.”

“Maybe you could—“

“Do these look like the hands of a bass player?” implored Todd, showing Stefan his hands.

Stefan raised a finger. “Who else have you told about this?”

“You’re the sixth medium I’ve talked to. Please tell me you can help.”

“Possibly,” said Stefan. “What you’re describing is highly unusual. I commune regularly with the other side, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“So you can’t help me, either,” said Todd, deflated.

“I didn’t say that,” said Stefan. “Has anyone else been able to communicate with your ghosts?”

“No,” said Todd.

“I’m not feeling the presence of any spirits right now. You say they’re in the room with us.”

“Five of them.”

“I’m going to propose something radical,” said Stefan. “I don’t think you’re being visited by ghosts.”

“But I can see them. I’m not hallucinating.”

“Hallucinating is an ugly word,” said Stefan. “Think of them as manifestations of your own hopes and fears. Maybe you’re the one who wants to go to India. Maybe you’re the one who wants to learn French.”

“But I don’t want to learn French.“

“This could be your brain’s way of telling you that you do. I think you need to look to your own unfinished business.” Stefan reached pulled out his wallet and found a card, which he handed to Todd. “Here, take this.”

“Debbie Vorack,” Todd read.

“She’s my therapist. She’s very good. Tell her I sent you. She’ll give you a free screening.”

“I’m not crazy, Mister-The-Wise,” said Todd.

“Give her a call. If it doesn’t help, I’ll purge you myself, no charge.”

Todd stood and moved towards the door, but he hesitated.

“None of the other mediums could help?” asked Stefan.

Todd shook his head.

“Call her,” said Stefan.

Todd nodded and left.

Stefan pulled his turban off and let out a long sigh. “Balancing a checkbook, Bernie?” he asked. “You know I don’t like it when you improvise.”

“Sorry, Steve,” said the specter, materializing. “It was Dr. Vorack’s idea.”

“She’s trying to be more involved,” said Alice.

“Oh?” asked Stefan. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“She said it wouldn’t affect your cut,” Alice added.

“No complaints then,” said Stefan, shrugging. “Who’s our next mark?”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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