Friday, December 28, 2012

FFF: A Brand New Year

Every Friday Kurt posts a new flash fiction story. In this week's installment, we celebrate the New Year...

A Brand New Year
Word Count: 596

Hawkins floated into the office on a cloud of personal ambition. Sawyer knew the look well—he’d seen it destroyed many times.

“Boss,” said Hawkins, “I want to run an idea past you.”

“Okay,” said Sawyer.

“Every December we make a new year,” said Hawkins, “but it’s basically the same year as the old year. Well, this time, I want us to make a brand new year.”

Sawyer raised an eyebrow. “We stick with the old design because it works,” he said.

“Does it really?” asked Hawkins. “I mean, the last four months are named after numbers that they don’t correspond with. And what’s the deal with February?”

“People are used to the old system,” said Sawyer.

“I know,” said Hawkins, “and you’re probably going to think I’m crazy, but hear me out. I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and I think it’s really going to work.”

“Okay,” said Sawyer. He almost said “Fire away,” but he’d learned over the years that new employees got nervous when he casually tossed around the word “fire.”

“I think we can make something really special,” said Hawkins. “A total re-design. First, we get rid of July and August; we’re going to have ten months. This way, the last four months, their names will make sense again.”

Hawkins was staring at Sawyer with a wide grin, waiting for a reaction apparently. “Go on,” said Sawyer.

“Okay,” said Hawkins. “Fewer months will leave us with a glut of days. We pad out all the months to five weeks and one day standard. That will leave us with five extra days, which we can place strategically to align with holidays. Or we can add one to every other month, starting with Duober.”

“Duober?” asked Sawyer.

“Right,” said Hawkins. “See, the last four months are already named after numbers, so we rename the first six to match. Unober, Duober, Tresember, Quattuober, Quinqember, and Sextober. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking What about birthdays?” He paused for emphasis.

“Okay,” said Sawyer, “What about birthdays?”

“We can port them straight over from the old system using the Julian date. We’ll have to figure out what to do with Leap Day babies, but they’re used to birthday weirdness so I’m sure they’ll cope. And, after a few years, people will get the hang of it. And anyone born under the new system will be raised with it, so they won’t have any trouble, of course.”

“Of course,” said Sawyer.

“We can re-arrange holidays somewhat. We can move Thanksgiving to the fifth Thursday of November. Julian Dates can be a guide, but we might want to keep Christmas where it is, just for convenience. And there are still a few other details to hammer out.”

Sawyer stood. “What about Jewish holidays? Easter? Do you have any idea how hard it is to place Passover or Easter on a Gregorian calendar?”

“Well, the principles remain the same,” said Hawkins. “Sunday after the full moon after the equinox.”

“What about the Zodiac? There are a lot of things tied to the twelve-month year. You can’t reinvent the wheel just because a few spokes are off-center.”

“I know,” said Hawkins. “But I just thought… Why not make improvements? The transition will be tough, but don’t we owe it to the world to make things better if we can? Let’s shake things ups. What do you say?”

Sawyer chewed his tongue for a second. “What the hell,” he said. “Starting Unober first, we’re on the new system! Happy Brand New Year, everyone!”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

FFF: Modern Alchemy

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

Modern Alchemy
Word Count: 598

“Is that the 2013 Spellmaster’s Guide?!” Arther blurted.

“Yes it is,” said Callum. He was a couple years ahead of Arther at Wisencraft’s Wizarding Academy, and had taken the younger student under his wing. He unfolded the magazine on the table where the two students had just been eating.

Arther pawed through the volume until he found the potion recipe he was looking for. “Sleep-Be-Gone 2.6,” he said under his breath. Wakefulness potions were immensely popular with students, so a new version showed up in the publication every year. Then he let out an exasperated “Awwww…”

“Ingredients?” asked Callum.

“Cigarettes,” said Arther, pointing to an item in the middle of the ingredient list.

Callum pulled the magazine over and scanned the list. Spells of this nature typically involved some kind of chemical stimulant. “Could be worse,” he said. “Remember the 2009 edition, which called for Crystal Meth?”

“No way!” said Arther. It was before his time. He was, after all, only a third year.

“It caused quite the controversy,” said Callum. “Cigarettes are tricky, but not the trickiest part of this list,” he said, still reading through the lengthy list of ingredients.

“It’s not fair,” said Arther.

“Looks like a batch will only get you a four-hour dose anyway,” said Callum. “You’d be better off with an energy drink, for the amount of effort you’d have to put in.”

“What ever happened to eye of newt?” asked Arther.

“It’s just keeping up with the times,” said Callum. “Back in the day, if you wanted a newt’s eye, you had to go out into the forest and find one. It’s the time and effort of ingredients like that that give the spell its potency. These days, anyone can go to a pet store and buy a newt. So you get things that are hard to obtain. Like this.” He pointed to the final ingredient: Heartache.

“See, I don’t even know what that means,” said Arther.

“That’s because you haven’t taken Potion Theory yet,” said Callum, picking up a stray chip from his lunch plate and popping it into his mouth.

“Hey guys,” said an approaching sixth-year. “What’re you boys up to?”

“Hey, Wesley,” said Callum. “Just checking out the new Spellmaster’s Guide.”

“Anything good?” asked Wesley.

“No,” said Arther, pointedly.

“What’s with him?” asked Wesley.

Sleep-Be-Gone,” said Callum.

“Pfft. Novelty spells. Hardly worth the effort,” said Wesley. “You’d be better off with an energy drink. How was your holiday?”

“Beat up my brothers a couple times,” said Callum. “How was yours?”

“Ugh,” said Wesley. “The worst.”

“What happened?” asked Callum.

“Well, for starters, Sheila dumped me,” said Wesley.

“Ouch,” said Callum. “Over the holiday? Why?”

“Maybe she met his family,” said Arther, which earned him an angry look from both of the older students.

“Hey,” said Callum. “What have I told you about making fun of people who are bigger than you?”

“Sorry,” said Arther.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Wesley. “Just before we left, actually. It was rough.”

Callum crossed his arms and looked at his two sulking friends. “Wes, do you have anything of Sheila’s in your room?”

“I’ve got an old shirt she used to sleep in,” said Wesley.

“How’d you end up with that?” asked Arther.

“Mind parting with it?” asked Callum.

“Take it,” said Wesley. “Good riddance. Why?”

“Oh, just something I want to try,” said Callum. Arther’s eyes widened. He looked back at the ingredient list.

“It’s not a love potion, I hope,” said Wesley.

“Nah,” said Callum. “I might need to bum a smoke, though.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

FFF: Phenotype

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

Phenotype
Word Count: 598

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” said the stranger, wheeling in a machine. The lab techs looked at each other to see if anyone knew who he was.

Lt. Rogers followed the stranger into the lab. “Listen up,” she said. “This is Dr. Price. He’s gonna help us with the Uptown Strangler case.”

“I understand you’ve struck out with DNA matching,” said Dr. Price.

“That’s right,” said Charlie, from the back. He’d been handling most of the DNA work on these crime scenes. “Nothing in the database. Can’t match what isn’t there.”

“Well, I think I’m going to be able to help,” said Dr. Price. “This machine will read DNA samples and generate an approximate phenotype based on markers that we’ve established.”

“Phenotype?” asked Charlie.

“The physical traits associated with genes—”

“I know what a phenotype is,” said Charlie.

“Well, I’ve procured a DNA sample,” said Price. “This should help point the investigation in the right direction.”

“Due respect,” said Charlie, “but why are you showing us this?”

“I wanted you all to see the future of police work,” said Rogers. “This is going to replace you, someday.”

“Bullshit,” said Charlie.

“Language, Chuck,” said Lt. Rogers. “Do your thing, doctor.”

Price fed his sample into the machine and watched the readout. “Male, caucasian.”

“That narrows it down,” Charlie said sarcastically.

“Those are the easiest ones,” said Dr. Price. “It’ll get more detailed. Now, it’s worth noting that these aren’t exact matches. The traits are associated with markers, not with genes. So we’ll be talking about percentages. Here’s the next data point: there’s an 87% chance of male pattern baldness.”

“Impressive,” said one of the techs.

“Lord knows there aren’t that many bald white men in the world,” said Charlie, patting his own bare scalp.

“Give it a minute,” said Price. “Another shortcoming of the machine is that it won’t be able to identify age or any distinguishing marks like scars or tattoos. Next data point: probably has astigmatism. That means he probably wears glasses.”

“Again, half the people in this room wear glasses, and the other half wear contacts,” said Charlie.

“Astigmatism is harder to correct with contacts, so most people would wear glasses,” said Price. “Anglo-slavic background. Between 5’8 and 5’11. Probably not a smoker or heavy drinker. Intellectual. Strong acumen in math and science.”

“Heavy drinking is genetic?” asked Charlie.

“The tendency is,” said Price.

“It’s not much to go on,” said Charlie.

“Tell ‘em about the faces,” said Rogers.

“Faces?” asked Charlie.

“We’ve mapped a lot of markers for facial features. The last thing the machine does is a printout of possible faces. It will generate faces over a range of ages and hairstyles.”

“How good is it?” asked Charlie.

“Oh, it’s good,” said Rogers. “It drew us a picture of Captain Hart that could have been his driver’s license photo.”

“Brown hair, thin facial hair. Weak joints,” said Price. “Okay, it’s working on the faces now. Small nose, eyes close together. Square jaw. There’s the chin. Coming together nicely now. Won’t be another minute.”

The techs had huddled around the screen at this point, entranced by the fancy new toy. Finally it printed out a couple of pages.

“Start with this page,” said Price, “assuming the killer is thirty-to-forty.”

Rogers looked at the printout and folded her. “You know, this one with the mustache looks an awful lot like you, Charlie.”

There was no answer.

“Charlie?”

The back of the room was empty, and the door was ajar. While they’d been gathered around the machine, Charlie had quietly slipped outside and vanished.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

FFF: The Summons

Every week Kurt posts a new bit of flash fiction...

The Summons
Word Count: 595

“By the dark light of Apollyon, by the eternal fire, I command you to appear before me, servant of evil.”

As he spoke, the robed figure’s hands shook from the power coursing through his body.

“From the unholy depths, I summon thee. Awaken, scourge of creation!

Flames erupted in the center of the summoning circle and coalesced into the form of a demon. Its black skin glistened in the firelight. Its hideous face was crowned by a pair of twisted, barbed horns. It looked around the room with malice and growled.

The woman in the robe sat down and rapped her gavel for order. “Bailiff,” she said.

The bailiff approached with a Bible. “Place your hand on the Bible,” he said.

The demon growled.

“The summoning circle prevents him from interacting with the physical plane,” said the judge.

“Very well,” said the bailiff. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you… um… God?”

The demon growled again.

“Close enough,” said the judge.

One of the attorneys rose. “State your name for the record,” he said.

“I am Khral-Doorvis The Abhorred, Sworn Enemy of Mankind, Smiter of the Light Eternal, and Faithless Servant of the Dark Lord.”

“May I call you Khral?” asked the attorney.

“Yes, that’d be fine,” growled the demon.

“Where were you on the morning of, by your calendar, the 563rd day of Lozgaar?”

The demon looked up thoughtfully. “That would have been a Tuesday,” he said.

“That’s correct,” said the attorney.

“Tuesdays are usually my goat-sacrifice days,” growled Khral. “Let’s see, the 563rd, the 563rd… Yes, I remember, now. I met a youth in a hollow for a Rite of Sacrilege.”

“Is that youth in the courtroom today?” asked the prosecutor.

The demon pointed at the defendant. “It’s that youth right there.”

“Can you describe this Rite of Sacrilege?” asked the attorney. “In your own words?”

“It is a centuries-old ritual, dating from the Third Desecration of—"

“If you don’t mind, Khral,” said the attorney, “we could skip the history lesson.”

“Oh,” growled Khral. “My apologies. It’s a three-hour ritual that leeches the life from the surrounding environment and infuses the target with virility.”

“So, it’s a masculinity charm?” asked the attorney.

“Your pathetic summation assaults my sensibilities,” said Khral, “but yes, that is basically it.”

“And you say it took three hours?” asked the attorney.

“Yes,” growled Khral.

“When did this ritual begin?” asked the attorney.

Khral leveled an unfriendly gaze at the attorney. “Like all dark rituals, it is most potent when performed at dusk.”

“So you started at dusk or ended at dusk?” asked the attorney.

“We started an hour before dusk. It weakened the infusion, but the youth did not want to miss American Idol.”

“I see. And was the defendant there the whole time?”

“Yes,” growled Khral.

“Nothing further,” said the attorney.

“Would the prosecution like to re-direct?” asked the judge.

Another attorney stood. “We have no questions for this witness, and we renew our objection to the use of supernatural beings for alibis.”

“Noted,” said the judge. “Well, Mr. Doorvis The Abhorred, Sworn Enemy of Mankind, Smiter of the Light Eternal, and Faithless Servant of the Dark Lord. This court thanks you for your service and releases you back to the fiery pit from whence you came. Be gone!

“My pleasure, your honor,” said Khral as he winked out of existence. “And don’t worry about next Friday. It’s in the bag.”

The judge frowned. “I wonder what he meant by that.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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