Friday, March 29, 2013

FFF: Bungle In The Jungle

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This is the final entry in March's Mystery Theme (the previous entries are: Teacher, Living In The Past, Rainbow Blues, and Fat Man). If you have a guess, make it in the comments. The answer will be revealed on Monday.

Bungle In The Jungle
World Count: 600

Colin stepped cautiously, ducking beneath vines and low-hanging branches. His hands clung tightly to his hunting rifle. The air was thick with moisture, and the roar of a million insects and birds chirping madly.

He took another hesitant step. His foot landed in a snare. Wire wrapped around his foot and tugged. His leg jerked out from underneath him and bent skyward. Colin dropped his gun, flailing.

Then he stopped moving. His leg was still being pulled up, but his body froze in mid-air.

“Menu,” he said. Nothing happened. “Glitch!” he shouted. “Get me out of here, Marco! Hurry!” The sensation of being partially upended was starting to give him vertigo. “Seriously, Marco, get me out of here before I puke!”

“Sorry,” said Marco’s disembodied voice. “Another second.”

The jungle dissolved around Colin. He was sitting in a chair in a musky studio. His hands trembled; when he regained control of them, he pulled the headset off his scalp and set it on the table next to him. “God, that was unnerving,” he said.

“What happened?” asked Marco.

“The game froze when I stepped in a snare,” said Colin. “It was like I got stuck half-way.”

“Dammit,” said Marco. “I thought we fixed that bug. It’s not what we’re testing today; I’ll highlight them so you can avoid them.”

“Why do we even have them?” asked Colin. “It’s not like the animals are hunting you. Although, the monkeys seem willing, come to think of it.”

“In the multiplayer mode, you hunt other hunters,” said Marco, typing. “You can set snares in the single-player, ergo you can set snares for each other.”

“Is that ethical?” asked Colin.

“IRL or the game?” asked Marco.

“Either,” said Colin.

“In real life, of course not,” said Marco. “In the game, maybe. Like I said, it’s a core mechanic from the single-player mode kept for multi.”

“You expect lots of multi with this?” asked Colin.

“The last game had it,” said Marco. “It wouldn’t be VirtuaSafari without it. Can I drop you back in now, or do you need to recover?” 

“Give me a minute,” said Colin. “What do you think is causing it?”

“The snare issue?” asked Marco. “Who knows? I don’t write the code, I just run the playtests. I hope they get it straightened out soon, though. I ran a group test last week. There was puke everywhere. Damn vertigo.”

“Yikes,” said Colin.

“Yeah, it sticks right when the headset is trying to override your brain’s orientation,” said Marco. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s smart to use people’s heads as interfaces. But it’s what gamers want, you know?”

Colin nodded.

“Hey, one other thing,” said Marco. “I noticed you were avoiding obstacles. Go ahead and run into things so we can test for clipping issues.”

“How will I know if there are clipping issues?” asked Colin.

“You’ll feel it,” said Marco. “And God, is it the weirdest thing you’ll ever feel.” He shuddered. “Anyway, you ready for another go?”

“Yeah, let’s do it,” said Colin, reaching for the headset. He placed the electrodes against his scalp. The studio melted away from his vision and the system calibrated to his visual cortex.

The jungle reappeared. The birds and insects roared. Colin made a mental note to bring that up next time. Ahead of him, he could see a glowing red beacon, marking a snare. He approached it, and then carefully stepped to the side.

A wire wrapped around his leg and jerked him half-way into the air, where he froze.

“Oh, God damn it!” he shouted.

Edited by Carolyn "That's Alright By Me" Abram.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

FFF: Fat Man

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This is the fourth installment in March's Mystery Theme. Have a guess, won't you? This week...

Fat Man
Word Count: 598

At 2:30 am, Antoine Bagadonna’s cell door slid open. Leonard, Jonesy, and Agatha filed in silently.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Leonard, “Fat Man is free.”

Antoine rubbed his eyes and looked down at his droopy middle—not trim, exactly, but hardly fat. “What’s the meaning of this?” he asked.

“We’re springing you out of here,” said Leonard. “The revolution is starting.”

“What revolution?” asked Antoine.

“The one you started thirteen years ago,” said Leonard.

“Hey, why do they call you ‘Fat Man’, anyway?” asked Jonesy. “If you rolled us both down a mountain, I bet I’d win.”

“I read a lot of Dashiell Hammett as a kid,” said Antoine. “I always loved The Thin Man. Wait—what are you doing here?”

“It’s a jailbreak, old man,” said Leonard.

“Oh, fat and old, am I?” asked Antoine.

“I’m serious,” said Leonard. “We’re breaking you out—and we’re on the clock, so let’s go.”

Antoine rose slowly, ponderously. Then he sat back down. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll stay.”

“Excuse me?” asked Leonard.

“Listen,” said Antoine, “they haven’t let me near a computer in over a decade. I’d be no use to you.”

“You’re joking,” said Leonard.

“I’m not a hacker anymore,” said Antoine.

“We can bring you back up to speed,” said Leonard.

“Can you?” asked Antoine. “I bet the four of you couldn’t count on eight hands the number of new technologies that have emerged since I went to prison. My hacktivism days are behind me.”

Leonard fumbled for words. “But… you can still lead the movement,” he said.

“Yeah, man,” said Jonesy. “You’re a symbol.”

Antoine chuckled. “I was a symbol when they put me away,” he said. “I’d be worth more as a martyr than a leader. I think I’d rather not be anyone’s symbol anymore.”

“I’m not asking,” said Leonard. “We need you. Now come on.”

“You can’t always get what you want, kid,” said Antoine. “My life isn’t so bad here. I have friends.”

Leonard drew a pistol. “No more jokes,” he said. “The movement dies without you.”

Antoine looked at the gun. “Do you even know how to use that thing? Listen, you’re young and hungry; I’m old and tired. Nothing good will come of this. Just let me stay here. You don’t even have to close the door behind you. I’ll just go back to sleep, and the guards can sort it out in the morning.”

“Don’t you want to be free?” asked Leonard.

“Free to live on the lam, you mean?” asked Antoine. “No, I’ll stay here. I deserve to be here.”

“Why?” asked Leonard.

“You know damn well why,” said Antoine. “Loretta Smith and Shaniqua Thompson.”

“They were accidents—” started Leonard.

“They were human beings,” said Antoine. “And now I get to be a symbol. You hack a hospital, innocent people die, the judge throws the book at you. I’ve had enough of being a symbol for one lifetime, thank you. Now, if there’s nothing more…”

Leonard and his cohorts stared at each other.

“We can’t go back empty-handed,” said Agatha.

“We’re running out of time,” said Jonesy.

“Right,” said Leonard. He turned and fired two rounds into Antoine: one in the head and one in the chest.

“What the shit!” yelled Jonesy.

“Police cover-up,” said Leonard. “He was killed trying to escape.”

“That’s what we’re going to be,” said Jonesy.

The four took off down the corridor as inmates shouted around them. It was a shame to have to kill Antoine, but he’d said it himself: he was worth more as a martyr.

Edited by Carolyn "Just Good Fun" Abram.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

FFF: Rainbow Blues

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. March is Mystery Theme Month, so guess away! This week...

Rainbow Blues
Word Count: 600

“Oi!” shouted Aengus, standing on the stool so he could reach the bar to pound on it. “Oi! We’ve got a thirsty leprechaun over here!”

The barman walked over. “What’ll you have?” he asked.

Aengus pointed at the taps. “Give me a pint of the brown with a splash of that red ale and a twist of lime.”

The barman made a face, but reached for a pint glass anyway.

“Oi,” said Aengus. “Which way is East? I always drink facing Mecca.”

“That way,” said the barman, pointing down the bar. He finished pouring, and placed the murky-looking beverage on the bar.

Aengus grabbed his glass and turned, only to see an old friend sitting alone at the other end. “Ciaran!” he shouted. “It’s been ages.” He skipped across the empty barstools towards the other leprechaun.

Ciaran slowly raised his dour face. “Aengus,” he said, nodding. The glass before him looked red and virginal.

“Oi,” said Aengus. “What’s that?”

“Cranberry juice,” said Ciaran.

“But it’s not even noon yet,” said Aengus. “Is everything okay?”

Ciaran shook his head. “Shoe factory is shutting down,” he said. “In three days, I’ll be out of a job.”

“That’s terrible,” said Aengus. “Let me buy you a proper pint. This stuff”—he pointed to the cranberry juice—“will rot your brain.”

“I don’t need your charity,” said Ciaran.

“It’s not charity to buy a pint for a friend,” said Aengus.

“Easy for you to say,” said Ciaran. “You’ve got family gold. How many centuries since you last worked?”

“Oi,” said Aengus. “Just because you’re down on your luck, that’s no reason to be gettin’ personal.”

Ciaran sighed. “I’m sorry, Aengus,” he said. “I’ve not been myself lately.”

“So, will you take that pint?” asked Aengus.

Ciaran nodded.

“Oi!” shouted Aengus, standing on his toes and holding up his pint for the barman to see. “Another one of these for my friend here!”

The barman walked it over to them. “I wish you wouldn’t put your feet on the stools,” he said.

“Granted,” said Aengus, sitting. Then he emptied his glass with a single gulp. “Now,” he said, “surely another factory is hiring.”

“Not that I’ve found,” said Ciaran. “They’re replacing us with machines.”

“Now, why on Earth would anyone do that?” asked Aengus.

“Well, for starters, machines don’t get kidnapped by wish-hungry humans,” said Ciaran. “Also, you don’t have to pay them in gold.”

“Could you strike out on your own?” asked Aengus.

“I don’t have the startup capital,” said Ciaran. “Besides, I never apprenticed. And, anyway, I don’t want to be a business owner.”

“So what do you want to do?” asked Aengus.

“I want to slip behind a rainbow and lay there until I’m dead,” said Ciaran.

“Now, that’s no way to be,” said Aengus. “Your luck will change.”

“Will it?” asked Ciaran, stroking his beard. “I’m not getting any older.”

“Tell you what,” said Aengus, “tomorrow you and I—”

“No,” said Ciaran. “This is my problem; I’ll deal with it.”

“But—” said Aengus.

“Look,” said Ciaran. “I appreciate the pint, and the kindness, but I’d really rather be alone right now.”

“I see,” said Aengus. “Well, I’ll be seeing you, then.” He headed back to the other end of the bar and took a seat there.

The barman approached. “You okay, mate?” he asked.

“I’m worried about my friend,” said Aengus.

“Well, don’t,” said the barman. “He’ll land on his feet; you folk always do. You want another one of those nasty things?” he asked, pointing at Aengus’s empty glass.

“Nah,” said the Leprechaun. “Give me a cranberry juice.”

Edited by Carolyn "Get Me To The Stage On Time" Abram.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

FFF: Living In The Past

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash weekend. This is the second entry for March's Mystery Theme! First person to guess it gets... to be awesome. And now...

Living In The Past
Word Count: 600

Jenna signaled the waiter for her check and asked him to wrap up what was left of her sandwich. As he left with the plate, she stared at the empty spot across the table.

“Jenna!” came a voice from behind her. Jenna turned to see her sister, Molly, walking over in her sandals and her 100% organic, fair-trade cotton dress. Molly plopped down in the empty seat. “Hey there,” she said. “Have you been waiting long?”

“A while, yeah,” said Jenna.

“We said 11:30, right?” asked Molly.

“That’s right,” said Jenna.

Molly looked at her watch. “I’m actually a little early.”

“No, you’re not,” said Jenna. “You are, in fact, over forty-five minutes late. Did you forget to set your clocks forward yesterday?”

Molly looked at her sister and then rolled her eyes. “Oh, Jenna,” she said. “I thought I told you. Kevin and I don’t practice Daylight Savings Time anymore.”

“Wait,” said Jenna. “You what?”

“We don’t practice Daylight Savings Time,” said Molly.

“I didn’t realize it was optional,” said Jenna.

Before Molly could answer, the waiter came over with Jenna’s to-go box and the bill. He paused briefly at the sight of Molly and then asked her if she needed anything.

“Something free-range,” said Molly.

“No!” said Jenna. “No, Mol, you can’t just order lunch now; I’ve already eaten.”

“You’ll stay for a few minutes, won’t you?” asked Molly.

“I have to get back to the office,” said Jenna.

“Well, that’s fine,” said Molly. “If you’d rather have your corporate overlords tell you how to keep track of time—”

“I’m not letting…” Jenna started. “Hold on, back up. Why aren’t you practicing Daylight Savings Time anymore?”

“Because it’s just big brother telling us how to live our lives,” said Molly. “It’s the ultimate in brainwashing. The government tells you that it’s an hour later and you just believe them. What’s next? Do we eliminate Thursdays? I’m telling you, it’s 2 + 2 = 5 with clocks.”

“You can’t just follow a different clock from the whole rest of the country,” said Jenna.

“Not the whole rest of the country,” said Molly. “Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time.”

“Arizona is a state,” said Jenna. “You’re not a state.”

“Details,” said Molly.

“So, you’re just going to be an hour late to everything for the next eight months?” asked Jenna.

“I’ll admit, there are some challenges,” said Molly. “We’ve gotten push-back from the kids’ schools. But we’re in the right, dammit. They have to respect our beliefs.”

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” said Jenna. “This is so like you. I have to get back to work.”

“Suit yourself,” said Molly. “Be a slave to the paymasters. Be a part of the problem.”

What problem?” bellowed Jenna, disturbing a few of the other diners.

“The problem of temporal oligarchy,” said Molly. “Frankly, I’m surprised more people don’t rise up against it. There’s a revolution going on!”

“Revolution?” asked Jenna. “Do you even know what you’re fighting?”

“Injustice!” said Molly. “We’re trying to make the world a better place.”

“How?” asked Jenna. “What do you even do? Hold meetings and then show up an hour late? How does any of this make the world a better place?”

“We… It…” Molly frowned. “Okay, fine, I made it all up. I slept in. I’m sorry. But please stay, I didn’t bring any cash.”

Jenna rolled her eyes. “Oh, for Christ’s sake. Just eat fast, okay? And get an alarm clock.”

“Alarm clock?” asked Molly. “Ugh! Why don’t I just surrender myself to the New World Order right now?”

Edited by Carolyn "Happy And I'm Smiling" Abram.

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Friday, March 1, 2013

FFF: Teacher

March is Mystery Theme Month! See if you can figure out what the five Friday Flash Fictions stories have in common! This week...

Word Count: 600

Lena Kranz had just settled in for her first daiquiri when the young man approached her—probably a former student. He only looked about six or eight years younger than her, barely old enough to enter a bar.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hello,” said Lena.

“Did you, by any chance, teach history?” he asked.

“I did,” said Lena. “I still do, in fact.”

“I’m Fred Burgess,” said the young man, smiling.

Lena smiled back and nodded.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” said the young man.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t,” said Lena. “What year did I have you?”

“Well, I graduated in ‘07,” said Fred, “so you probably had me in 05-06.”

Lena nodded again.

“You still don’t remember,” said Fred.

“I’m sorry,” said Lena.

“It’s okay,” said Fred. “You might remember my brother though.”

“What was his name?” asked Lena.

“James,” he said.

“James Burgess,” said Lena. “I don’t really remember him either. Was he older or younger?”

“He was a couple years older than me,” said Fred. “He got into trouble a lot.”

Lena smiled and nodded. She could not place this young man at all, and while she felt a little bad about that, she mostly just wanted him to politely move on. It had been a very long week, and all she wanted was to spend a few hours drinking cocktails and not being around any of her students.

“You still don’t remember, do you?” asked Fred.

“Fred,” said Lena, “you seem like a very nice young man, and I wish I could, but I just can’t place you. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Fred. “You probably remember the Dale Earnhardt shirt I wore all the time. God, I must have worn that twice a week.”

Lena smiled and nodded.

“Damn, you don’t remember that either,” said Fred

“I’m really sorry,” said Lena.

“Well, that’s okay,” said Fred, visibly shaken by the lack of recognition.

Lena sighed. It looked like this fellow wasn’t going to go away without some prompting. “Look,” she said, “I see hundreds of students every year; they can’t all make an impression. You said yourself that you weren’t very memorable, but that doesn’t mean that you weren’t a good student or that you aren’t a good person. So, how about you just tell me whatever it is you came over here to tell me?”

“Right,” said Fred. “Well, I just wanted to say that a lot of my teachers didn’t have a whole lot of faith in me, and thought I was going to turn into some loser after I graduated, on account of the drugs and all. But I remember you took me aside once and said ‘Fred, you can’t let other people live your life for you. You can be anything— you just have to go out and be it.’ Anyway, I really took that to heart. Now I’m cleaned up, and I own an auto-detailing shop, and it’s all because of you.”

Lena teared up a little in spite of herself. But a lingering doubt niggled at her.

“You know, I feel like I should remember that,” she said. “I’m curious: who do you think I am?”

Fred snorted at the question. “You’re Mrs. Davison. You teach 10th grade history at Bellmont.”

“That’s exactly right,” said Lena, “except it’s ‘Miss’, not ‘Mrs.’; it’s ‘Kranz’, not ‘Davison’; and I teach at Parkview.”

“Oh,” said Fred, stunned. “So, you’re not married?” he added, wagging his eyebrows.

“This has been a lot of fun,” said Lena, “but go away.”

The young man left, and she returned to her drink.

Edited by Carolyn "Hey Man, What's The Plan?" Abram.

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