Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Mirror Is Not Your Friend

Every Friday Kurt posts another piece of flash fiction. This week...

The Mirror Is Not Your Friend
Word Count: 599

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Lines. Marks. More flab than you’d like. Is that a new spot on your shoulder?

Sigh.

Add it to the list of things that are now your everyday experience. Add it to the gray hairs, the bad knee, the trick ankle, the sore back, the neck cricks, the skin tags, the weak elbow, the loss of hearing in one ear, the stomach that gets all jumbly whenever you see the right combination of flashy bright colors. Just stack it on the pile. One more thing that you’re going to live with until it gets so bad that you can’t live with it anymore, and then the doctor will give you a pill for it that you’ll have to take every morning—with food. And then that will be something you have to live with for the rest of your life.

Well, it beats the alternative, someone might say to you—right before you decide that you want to punch them in the face.

Aging is settling for less. Every day your expectations for yourself slide a little farther. The wide-open band of possibilities gets narrower with every intractable step towards your last dying breath.

Not to be morbid or anything, it’s just that it seems impossible that anyone should ever age gracefully. Once you turned twenty-seven, that was it. Things that you had to work to improve, now you’re working to maintain. Things that you had to work to maintain, now you have to work to keep them from deteriorating as fast as the bits that you simply have no control over.

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Lines. Marks. Flab. Exhaustion. Bags under the eyes. Disappointment.

Maybe if you exercised more. Nah. Spending a fifth of your waking life on a treadmill isn’t going to add fourteen more years to it. But it will give you a conveniently ironic place to suffer a fatal heart attack. No, the people that appear to age gracefully are just saving up their bad luck for one calamitous fall. They’ll go from being absolutely on top of their game to being wheelchair-bound and unable to form sentences in a matter of months. Mark my words, you think.

Andy Warhol had the right idea. You dress like an old person from day one and spend the rest of your life hearing how well-preserved you are. At least until you hit your sixties—which Andy managed to avoid.

You wonder if it’s worth the effort to shave today. And don’t even get started on that shrinking little tortoise between your legs.

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Lines. Marks. The sad face looking back at you. Compromise. Settling. Disappointment.

And it’s not just the physical stuff. You were going to change the world. You were going to accomplish something. Now you’re just happy to have a job with 401k matching. Now you’re just happy to finish a library book before it’s overdue. Now you’re just happy to remember your wi-fi password when the DVD player forgets it.

Let’s face it, you’re happy that you got around to replacing your VHS tapes with DVD’s, never mind this Blu-Ray bullshit.

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Your friends lie to you to make you feel better.

Lines.

Marks.

Days.

Years.

You’d be mad, but anger is so much effort.

The past.

The present.

The future?

Disappointment.

Edited by Carolyn "I'm 27, Oh Shit" Abram.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: A Sexy New Slime Mold

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

A Sexy New Slime Mold
World Count: 599

“So, is that it?” asked Tyson, scratching his forehead. He was half Valerie’s age and fancied himself a reporter.

Is that it?” Valerie scoffed. “It’s a form of life that arose completely independently of Earth. A genuine, literal extra-terrestrial. It’s the answer to the eternal question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe.” She stared at the yellow smudge in the hermetically sealed chamber. “Is that it?” she asked again. “What more could there be?”

“It looks like a slime mold,” said Tyson.

“It is a slime mold,” said Valerie.

“Right, well, I just don’t think our readers are going to find that very interesting.”

Valerie raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

“It’s just, they’ve heard all of this before,” said Tyson. “You know, crop circles, that Martian rat.”

“Those were both hoaxes,” said Valerie.

“Well, our readers don’t know that,” said Tyson.

“And whose fault is that?” asked Valerie.

“Look,” said Tyson, “I’m on your side, really I am. But if you want to get the word out—I mean really get it out—we might need to sex it up a little.”

Valerie’s eyebrow went back up.

“I mean, it’s just a slime mold,” said Tyson.

“You would prefer a sexy slime mold?”

“I’m not making myself very clear,” said Tyson, scratching his forehead. “So, why is it in this giant plastic bubble?” he asked, indicating the sealed chamber.

“To minimize the risk of contamination, obviously,” said Valerie.

“Right,” said Tyson. “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s something that will excite our readers.”

“All right,” said Valerie uncertainly. “I’m glad your readers are excited about scientific procedure.”

“So what exactly would happen if it got out?” asked Tyson. “How much danger would we be in?”

Valerie thought about this question for a moment. “You do realize that the threat is that we would contaminate it, not the other way around.”

“Oh,” said Tyson, visibly deflating. “But it could be dangerous, right?”

“I doubt it but, at this point, anything’s possible. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do,” said Valerie.

“So, theoretically speaking,” said Tyson, “if it got loose it could—could—do something like latch onto a host and mix in its own DNA.”

“It doesn’t have DNA,” said Valerie.

“Everything has DNA,” said Tyson.

“Everything on Earth,” said Valerie. “This is different.”

“So, what does it have?” asked Tyson.

“We don’t really know,” said Valerie. “Now there are some exquisite similarities between this and terrestrial life. Both has differentiated cells with dual phospholipid layers. This slime mold has some mechanism for evolutionary inheritance, surely. And we’ll probably spend the next five years nailing down what it is.”

“But it’s not DNA.”

“Even if it was, the sequences would be completely different from our own. No chance of parasites latching onto us in our sleep.”

“That’s disappointing,” said Tyson.

“It terrifies me that you feel that way,” said Valerie. “Do you ever think about the harm you could do by trying to make this sexy? This is a harmless little thing that could maybe one day evolve into something with intelligence, and you want to make it out to be some monster. You make people afraid of it and they’ll panic. That’s the only way this thing could be dangerous. You want to make this thing destroy the entire world? Then keep on doing what you’re doing.” With that, she stormed off.

Tyson stared after her and scratched his forehead.

The next day the following headline ran in the Denver Star:

New Life Form Could Evolve Intelligence, Destroy Entire World, Scientists Say

Edited by Carolyn "It Is Nice To Know She Isn't A Crackpot" Abram.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: A Soldier Tomorrow

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

A Soldier Tomorrow
Word Count: 599

Brenna pulled back on the toy car until the spring clicked, and then let it go. It sped off towards the wall, well out of her reach. She lay stretched out on a bench with her rifle against the wall behind her. It was loaded. She should do something about that.

“Read me a story, Mommy,” said Will.

“Mommy’s sick,” said Brenna. “Can you read it to me?”

“I can’t read it,” whined the toddler.

“You know it by heart,” said Brenna.

“Not by heart,” said Will.

“Then make it up,” Brenna offered.

Will whined again.

Brenna sighed. It hurt a little. The triage room was no place for a four-year-old, but Will didn’t want to leave, and Brenna couldn’t. “Go get Mommy the car, will you, Buddy?”

Will shrugged and loped across the room. He made a vroom sound as he shoved the spring-loaded vehicle back towards his mother. It careened into the leg of the bench Brenna lay on.

Brenna felt around for the car with her left hand, turned it around, and then sent it speeding back towards her son. With her right hand, she grasped a plastic remote with a single red button that would summon a nurse. Her thumb lingered over it. It’s not quite time yet. “Will, can you come over and read me the story?”

“I don’t want to,” said Will. “It stinks over there.”

Brenna cast a glance at her leg. It did stink—mostly from the gangrene, although the general lack of hygiene in the barracks didn’t help things at all. If only they’d had disinfectant, but their supplies had been cut off a week ago—by the same battle that had put a hole in Brenna’s leg.

She didn’t really notice the smell anymore.

Cold sweat. Weakness. Brenna ran her thumb around the button. No, it wasn’t quite time yet. Ah, hell, she thought, and pushed it anyway.

Will played with his car in the corner, pretending to race it around the leg of another bench, imagining a world that wasn’t completely thrown into this goddam war, no doubt. That was a comforting thought.

Brenna could hear footsteps getting closer. A young man in nurse’s scrubs poked his head in the door. “Time?” he asked.

“Not yet,” said Brenna. “But soon. Can you do something about my rifle?” She nodded to the weapon propped up behind her.

“That’s not really my department,” said the nurse.

“Well, put it somewhere he can’t get to it,” said Brenna, “or else he’ll decide to play with it, and then it will be your department.”

The nurse sighed, but nodded and moved the rifle to the top of a bookshelf. “Did you need anything else?” he asked, not even bothering to hide his annoyance as he left.

Brenna shook her head. The guy was busy, obviously, but what a crappy bedside manner.

Dizziness. Time to set her affairs in order.

“Will,” she said. “I need you to come over here, please.”

Will have the car a final vroom and then trotted over to his mother’s side.

“Mommy’s going to have to go away soon,” she said. “If I fall asleep, I want you to press this button, okay?”

Will nodded, as though she’d told him to brush his teeth. Imagining a world without war, Brenna reassured herself. A tear cut a path through the dirt on her cheek. Someday he’d be a soldier who’d lost his mother when he was only four years old. But for now…

“Now, I really do want you to read me that story,” she said.

Edited by Carolyn "I'm Distracted By The Pronoun" Abram.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of piece of flash fiction. This week, things get low-brow. And poetic!

The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy
Word Count: 582

Gather ye children, yes, gather around.
Gather ye joyous and merry.
Lend me your ears and I’ll tell you the tale
Of Gushy The Accident Fairy.

They say he was born in toilet of gold
Quite apart from the usual Fae.
They christened his head with the water ‘twas there
And then he went swimming away.

Finding himself in a river of that which
We flush as it does so abhor us,
He saw that mankind was too loose with their waste
So, he’d loosen it even more for us.

One bright summer day he emerged from the sewers
And spotted a mother and daughter
Alone in the park eating burgers and fries
And drinking their crisp soda-water.

The mother said “Darling you really should go;
It’s been a few hours, I’m guessin’.”
And Gushy did find this an opportune time
To teach the young daughter a lesson.

The wee one insisted her bladder was empty
Her voice sounding light and at ease.
So Gushy sneaked over and reached out his hand
And gave her poor bladder a squeeze.

The stream that she started became soon a torrent
A flood of her waters a-falling.
The mother did scream, and the daughter did cry,
And Gushy, he did find his calling.

He took up a scept of I’d-rather-not-say
A crown of the-less-said-the-better
A robe made of paper, a gleam in his eye
And a mission to make our lives wetter.

He travels all over this magical land
A-visiting those of held bladders
The young or the old, the nimble or weak
In cars or in beds or up ladders.

His faithful dog Poopsie-Pie runs at his side;
They make an adorable pair.
Leaving puddles and skid marks across this great land
On cushions and in underwear.

They go after parent and child just the same.
They go after mothers and daughters.
And fathers and sons, and any who strive
To hold on too long to their waters.

You’ve probably met him some time in your life.
You’ll probably meet him anew.
Just tell yourself often the bathroom can wait
And Gushy will come visit you.

He’ll wait until after you’ve just passed the sign:
“No facilities next 30 miles.”
Then he’ll lean on your bladder so hard that it hurts.
You’re sweating, but Gushy just smiles

Or maybe you’ll be at a child’s dance recital
Or chatting away on the phone
You’ll tell yourself surely you’ll last five more minutes
Then Gushy will make himself known.

And when your will breaks and you realize you must
Run madly away to the toilet,
But get there too late and you ruin your pants,
You can bet it was Gushy who spoiled it.

Now don’t you go thinking that Gushy is vile,
A bird of the darkest of feathers.
He gives us a lesson in humility
And delivers it square to our nethers.

And don’t you start thinking that infants are safe
From Gushy, all snug in their diapers.
For diapers need changing, and any old mother
Remembers a son who turned sniper.

Now, maybe someday we’ll no longer need Gushy,
That fairy I’ve grown to admire.
But long as we have days and waters to pass
Old Gushy may never retire.

And now that the tale is done, now I must ask
Do any require the loo?
Best go right away, if you need to or not,
So form up an orderly queue.

Edited by Carolyn "I May Even Accept More Poetry Out Of You" Abram.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Filed Away

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

Filed Away
Word Count: 599

You are a voice in your own head, but not the loudest, not today. You don’t know what to do with this knowledge, so you file it away. It will be important later.

“Walk forward,” says the loudest voice.

He is the trigger; you are the weapon. You want to resist, but it’s so much easier to do what you’re told. You take a step forward, then another, then another. You are in a brown room with a padded floor, like a gym or a dojo, but smaller. It doesn’t take you very long to cross it.

“Was there hesitation?” asks the voice.

You consider this for a moment, and then grant that there was a moment’s hesitation.

“Why?”

You don’t know why.

“There must be none,” said the voice.

You agree.

“Do you think you should be punished?”

You don’t want to be punished, but you agree that you probably should be.

“Pain,” says the voice.

Agony flows through you like white-hot spikes being driven into your veins. You writhe on the floor. You have no control over your body.

But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? You don’t know what to do with that thought, so you file it away. It will be important later.

“Relief,” says the voice. “Now rise.”

You do as you’re told. The voice puts you through several exercises, and you respond without thinking, without hesitation. This is your training. Obedience school, you think. You file that thought away as well.

“Excellent work,” says the voice.

A sense of achievement washes over you. The voice’s praise is all you want, all you live for.

“Tell me your name,” says the voice.

You tell him your name.

“Why did you murder the ambassador?”

You haven’t murdered anyone—not yet. This is still practice. You recite your lines. “He is a symbol of the oppression…” The why doesn’t really matter. Someone is being paid a great deal of money. The voice is the trigger and you are the weapon. That is all that matters.

“Was there hesitation?”

You consider. You decide that there wasn’t. The voice agrees.

“Would you like to eat something?”

You decide that you would, yes. You walk into an adjoining room and sit down at a table, alone. The voice is still in your head here, in this room, as in all the rooms here. There must be a microphone, as well, because the voice can hear you when you answer. You file this away.

“You’re progressing nicely,” says the voice.

You thank him.

“Your father would be proud.”

You agree, but something sticks in your mind. Your father… your father is long dead. The man who raised you was, and is, Daddy. You know this, but very few others do. The voice doesn’t seem to, and you haven’t bothered to correct him.

“You understand why it is important to your father that the ambassador must die,” says the voice.

You do understand, but the thought sticks. Your father is dead. Why should he care? You say that you understand.

“Was there hesitation?”

You hope that there wasn’t. You decide that there wasn’t. The voice agrees with you, and you are incredibly relieved and happy.

“There must be no hesitation. You will only have seconds to act.”

You agree.

“This will help keep your father safe. He will be so proud of you,” says the voice.

You don’t say anything.

“When the time comes…” says the voice.

Dissonance. Your father is dead. When the time comes, this will slow you down.

You file this away. It will be important later.

Edited by Carolyn "I'm Practicing Being Picky" Abram.

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