Friday, January 25, 2013

FFF: The Speed Trap

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of original flash fiction. Today's saga...

The Speed Trap
Word Count: 600

Somehow we’d managed to gather enough gasoline for the journey. We had cans and cans in the rear of our mostly-functioning hatchback. We sped down I-95, hoping to meet up with other survivors.

We were about 5 miles North of Benson, just cresting a hill, when a man appeared under a dilapidated billboard and flagged us down. I slowed the hatchback and cracked a window.

“Don’t stop,” said Teresa from the backseat.

“He might have food he can spare,” I said.

“More likely he wants to know if we have any,” said Tomas, sitting next to me.

The man was armed, but he didn’t appear hostile. He walked up to my door and tapped on the window. I rolled it the rest of the way down. “Do you have any food?” I asked.

“I’ll ask the questions,” said the man. “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”

I looked back at Teresa and then at Tomas. “No,” I said.

“I clocked you going at least 83 miles per hour,” said the man. “That’s thirteen over the limit on this stretch.”

I looked back at my companions. “What are you talking about?” I asked.

“The speed limit is clearly posted,” said the man.

“You have, like, a radar gun or something?” I asked.

“I timed you going between those orange pylons,” he said, pointing back the way we came. Sure enough, there were two orange pylons—one at the bottom of the hill, and one a ways up behind it. “My math might be a little rusty,” he said. “You’re welcome to double-check my figures.”

“Hold on,” said Tomas. “Is Benson still alive? Is there a functioning city here?”

“No,” said the man, “it’s just me. Now, the fine for speeding is twenty dollars per mile over the limit. You were thirteen over, but I’m willing to round it down to ten.”

“We don’t have any money,” I said.

“You can trade some of that gasoline,” said the man. “Or you can get some money from the Food Lion. It’s at the Main Street exit. Most of the tills are in the cashier drawers.”

“Wait a second,” I said. “You want us to steal so we can pay this bullshit parking ticket?”

“It’s abandoned property, far as I’m concerned,” said the man. “And it’s a speeding ticket, not a parking ticket. And it’s most certainly not bullshit.”

“Hey, is there food at the Food Lion?” asked Tomas.

“It’s been picked pretty clean, already,” said the man. “But there are some unlabeled cans on a few of the shelves—if you’re not too squeamish.” He tore a piece of paper from his pad and handed it to me. “Bring this back to me with your $200, when you have it” he said. “You’re free to go.”

He headed back up the ladder to his billboard. I could see a chair, a Thermos, and some binoculars up there waiting for him.

“Hey, Mister!” I shouted after him. “Why are you doing this?”

The man paused on the ladder and looked back at us. “The rule of law is important, son,” he said. “It’s the only thing that separates us from the animals.”

Then he waved us on, and we continued down the highway.

“I guess we’ll stop by the store,” I said. “I’m not afraid to open a strange can, not if it might have food in it. Maybe we’ll pick up some money while we’re there.”

“Why?” asked Tomas. “Are you thinking of actually paying that asshole?”

“You know,” I said, “I think I want to.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

FFF: Ravaged By Kittens

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

Ravaged By Kittens
Word Count: 599

Birzog picked a piece of ash from his horn and tossed it aside. He wrote a few notes on the paper in front of him and dropped it in his outbox. There was a knock on the wall at the entrance to his cavern.

“Got a minute?” asked Lephroheem, the manager over Birzog’s division.

“Hey, Leph,” said Birzog. “What can I do for you?”

“I was just passing by,” said Lephroheem, “and I wanted to talk to you. You’ve always had a good track record here.”

“Thank you,” said Birzog.

“I was wondering if you’d be interested in moving out of the Ironic Punishments division,” said Lephroheem.

Birzog exhaled a puff of smoke. “Gee, Leph. I like it here. This division’s always been good to me, and I feel like I’ve done some of my best work here. Why do you ask?”

“Well,” said Lephroheem, “I couldn’t help but notice that the same punishment has shown up an awful lot lately: Ravaged by kittens.”

“Is there anything wrong with that?” asked Birzog.

“Well, it works for neglectful cat-ladies, and Satan knows there are enough of them around, but it feels like you’ve been issuing it indiscriminately.”

Birzog looked down at the sulfur stains on his desk.

“I just think your heart hasn’t been in it, lately,” said Lephroheem. “The guy with the bad hygiene that you made spend eternity with an acute sense of smell—that was good. Or that thing you did with the Wright Brothers, that was inspired; I get chills just thinking about it. But you’ve sent twenty-seven people to be ravaged by kittens in the last week alone.”

“I guess it just feels safe,” said Birzog. “It’s ironic on its face. Feels like it could work for anybody.”

“I understand,” said Lephroheem. “It’s just that, well… this is Hell. Kittens are kind of in short supply, and they’re expensive to import.”

“I know,” said Birzog. “I’ll be honest; I haven’t been on my game.”

“What happened?” asked Lephroheem.

“It was this hipster from about a month ago. Case file 592116703-11G. Everything I threw at him, he laughed at. I’d give him something new, he’d laugh even harder. He was in Heaven, so to speak.”

“Ouch,” said Lephroheem.

“I finally had to send him to the torture chambers, which felt like giving up, you know?” said Birzog. “That’s what put me in this funk.”

“It’s fine,” said Lephroheem, “we all need a break from time to time. You’ve got some vacation days coming. Why don’t you spend a week at the Lake of Fire?”

“I should,” said Birzog, “but I’m behind as it is. I’ve got souls stacking up in Limbo and not enough help here.”

“You know we don’t have the budget for more staff,” said Lephroheem.

“I know,” said Birzog. “I’ll get this figured out.”

“Good,” said Lephroheem. “Just… get away from the kittens. You’re better than that.”

“Thanks, Leph,” said Birzog, “It won’t happen anymore.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Lephroheem. “You want a coffee or something?”

“No thanks,” said Birzog, returning to his desk as his manager sauntered away.

Leph was right; Birzog needed a vacation. He pulled a file from his drawer—case file 592116703-11G. How had he let this one get under his scales? How do you ironically make someone stop loving irony?

Birzog stared at the paper. A smile crept onto his lips. He scratched out “Torture” on the bottom of the page and wrote in “Temp in the Ironic Punishment division.”

There, the thought, a few centuries of this ought to do the trick.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

FFF: The Watering Can

Every Friday Kurt posts a new bit of short fiction. This week...

The Watering Can
Word Count: 600

Darryl’s plants were dying. He went to the kitchen to repeat the ritual he had performed every evening since the funeral. He walked to the sink and reached out a hand to take the watering can from the window sill, fill it with water, and water the plants; however, he hesitated a few inches from the handle. He could go no further.

Darryl was sixty-seven years old. He’d been retired for three and a half months. The children were grown and they all lived out of state. It was just him, his big empty house, and his dying plants. The watering can had belonged to his wife—she had always watered the plants. And, now that she was dead, they were dying. His arm fell limp, and he went to distract himself. Maybe he’d watch the news or read a book. The plants could wait another day.

The next evening, Darryl went back to the kitchen, determined to water the plants. He put his hand on the handle of the watering can, but the grief came flooding back to him, and he was forced to walk away. He read the paper. He did the crossword. He went to bed alone. The plants continued to die.

Just three months. They’d been waiting years for him to retire. They’d put off traveling, vacations, almost their entire lives knowing that they’d spend Darryl’s retirement catching up. He had been married to his work, but when he was free, he planned to invest himself fully in his wife and make up for lost time, missed birthdays, missed anniversaries. And they’d only had three months.

The next day, Darryl resolved that he was going to water those goddamn plants; he’d put it off long enough. He was allowed to grieve, but he had responsibilities—he had plants to keep alive, dammit. He spent the whole day preparing for it. Every meal, he sat at the table and stared at the watering can, promising himself that the plants would get watered.

That evening, he went to the kitchen and rested his hand on the handle of the watering can. He willed himself to remove it from the sill. When the grief came, he gritted his teeth and fought back. And, when he had overcome the grief, he found something beneath it: disappointment. That empty watering can was every promise he’d made to her and then broken, every sin he’d committed against her but had hoped to atone for. He shook with rage—rage at himself for putting her off until it was too late.

He found the watering can in his hands, trembling as his hands trembled. He’d taken it off the sill. He’d broken the connection, moved it from the last place she’d left it. He’d proved to himself that she wasn’t coming back to water the plants for him.

More grief. More disappointment. More rage.

It wasn’t fair.

He moved to put it back on the sill above the sink, but what good would that do? It would just taunt him for the next few days, weeks, months, years. It would laugh at him, and his weakness, while the plants that his wife had loved and tended continued to wilt and die.

He knew what he had to do. He took the watering can to the attic and put it into a box of keepsakes. He’d store it away and forget about it. His kids would find it when he was gone, and be reminded of their mother.

Darryl went back downstairs and got a pitcher from the cupboard. And watered the plants.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

FFF: Only A Drill

Every Friday Kurt posts another flash fiction story. This week's entry...

Only A Drill
Word Count: 599

Jerry walked the office corridors, looking for signs of life, and so far he’d found none. Which was good—the building was supposed to be empty. He made his way through the cubicles but was stopped short by the clicking and clacking of a keyboard and a mouse.

“Hello?” he said.

The noises stopped, then resumed, but there was no verbal response.

“Is anyone there?” asked Jerry, walking in the direction of the noises.

He found a mousy young man in a cubicle, typing frantically.

“Sir,” said Jerry, “you need to leave your workstation now.”

“It’s only a fire drill,” said the young man—Thomas, according to his nameplate.

“You don’t know that,” said Jerry.

“There are no secondary signs,” said Thomas, still typing furiously. “Smoke, etc.”

“You’re supposed to evacuate, even during a drill,” said Jerry.

“Well, I can’t,” said Thomas. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m actually quite busy.”

“You have to leave,” said Jerry. “I can’t let you stay here.”

Thomas turned and faced Jerry. “Look,” he said, “I know you’re just doing your job, and I know these drills are important, but if I leave my workstation, this company is going to lose millions of dollars in the Dubai market.”

Jerry raised an eyebrow.

“The program that manages financial transactions is on the fritz,” said Thomas, turning back to his keyboard. “I’m keeping it alive right now, but if I walk away from this desk, the whole thing is going to collapse.”

“What is?” asked Jerry.

“The platform!” said Thomas.

Jerry looked around for a platform.

“No,” said Thomas, “the software platform. It’s pinging out every few seconds and hanging if it doesn’t get a response. If it hangs for too long, it will shut down. Then—poof—goodbye millions of dollars.”

“This doesn’t seem right to me,” said Jerry. “Don’t you have a disaster recovery system? If the software goes down, isn’t there another system as a backup?”

“This is the backup,” said Thomas. “The regular system already failed. That’s how we caught the bug.”

“I still can’t let you stay here,” said Jerry.

“You’re not listening to me,” said Thomas, typing madly, “the company would lose millions. If there were a real fire, I’m sure they’d be willing to part with all that money, but this is only a drill, so I’m not moving.”

“These things shouldn’t fail like this,” said Jerry. “Situations like this shouldn’t come up.”

“You’re right about that,” said Thomas, laughing. “There’s definitely something going wrong here. It can be a compliance issue after Dubai closes. For now, it’s a millions-of-dollars issue.”

Jerry looked at his watch. He needed to finish his sweep and check in with Security. “I guess I’ll leave you to it,” he said.

“Thank you for understanding,” said Thomas.

Jerry walked away. It felt like a weird thing to compromise on. And he would have to report it to his supervisor, which would not reflect well on him. He supposed he could just let it go, but Jerry was a long-time believer in the strength and power of rules. And the more he thought about that, the more he regretted what he’d just done.

His job was to make sure the building was clear, dammit.

The company would just have to eat the loss. He headed back to Thomas’ cube and started to apologize in advance, but he was greeted with gunfire and explosions. Thomas was busily killing aliens in a video game.

“Millions of dollars?” asked Jerry.

Thomas jumped out of his seat, screaming. Then he shrugged. “You got me,” he said.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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