Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Dry Ruin

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Dry Ruin
Word Count: 600
Published: 10/25/13

How did it last so long, I wonder? It’s an artificial structure, clearly made by something intelligent. It extends out of the water—a dry ruin—and yet does not seem capable of holding water in. There are pipes to run water up, but the cement and glass that make up the exterior could never have held it in. How did these ancient simians live without being submerged? Bless my fins, but it is a mystery.

Perhaps the dryness is how it has lasted so long. The water teems with life that destroys anything it can use and overruns anything else. All that’s left of the ancient simians is a grid of concrete, and even that has nearly wasted away. Only the structures that extend out have survived. And there are so few of them.

I’ve heard tell of trees that grow up out of the water—currents bring new friends and new friends bring stories—but I’ve never seen one. They say the trees put down their roots in the ocean and stretch up past the surface and go on forever. They say they’re bigger around than a whale.

Perhaps this is a concrete tree, then. It just grew and grew and died, and no one told it to fall over, so it never did. Sometimes I think if I said to it “Hey fool, you’re dead,” it would crumble away to ash and foam. Sometimes I want to try, but I don’t.

The HighFish thinks I’m crazy for wanting to come out of the water, for wanting to see what the ancients left. Maybe so. But he didn’t forbid me, so I came, and that’s how I’ve seen what I’ve seen. I’ve seen the concrete trees. I’ve seen the old ice that floats on the cold waters where the ancients froze their homes.

I even saw one of the ancients—well, I saw what was left. It was only bones in one of the ancient simian structures. I had a breathing mask to keep water in my gills, and I managed to get about ten or twenty feet out of the water. I found him there in a chair, a pile of bones unmolested by time and undertow. He looked ill-suited for swimming, but what can you tell from bones? Not very much.

His chest was like a cage made of bones, and his head was round and gaping. Only half of a mouth—the rest must have rolled off somewhere. Long and gangly arms. It was oddly beautiful, I confess. I wanted to take a bone with me to keep, but I know what the water would do to it. Better to leave it.

I told all of this to the HighFish. He still thinks I’m crazy. He says it swims close to blasphemy to ask so many questions about long-dead monkeys. I assure him I won’t swim too close, but I am lying, of course. I want to know how they did it. How did they swim up to the edge of the sea and keep going? How did they plant the roots of their concrete trees? How did they live with the sun on their faces? How did they face the day and the night and the day and the night without the constant change driving them crazy? How did they drag their heavy selves around the dry ruins?

Who were they? Where did they go? Are they coming back? Before they gave up and cast all of their secrets into the ocean, to be destroyed and overrun by those that followed.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Summons

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Summons
Word Count: 595
Published 12/7/12

“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.”

Another story driven by a pun. This was an early entry in a stretch of "humorous stories about demons". The hardest part? Naming them.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Flashback: I Saw Myself Coming The Other Way

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

I Saw Myself Coming The Other Way
Word Count: 600
Published: 11/30/12

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.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Flashback: Jim And Todd

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Jim and Todd
Word Count: 596
Published: 7/12/13

This is Jim. He is a junior partner at a prestigious law firm. He drives a Miata. He is drinking a sherry cobbler. He is talking with Todd, an ad man. Todd drives a Chevrolet. He is drinking a Mai Tai. He is wearing his favorite suit.

Little do Jim and Todd know that this is the last conversation they will ever have.

Jim and Todd went to high school together. Their spouses get along well. Their children are roughly the same age. They’re on each other’s Holiday Greeting Card lists. They wish each other Happy Birthday on Facebook. They enjoy each other’s company and have many friends in common.

And yet, they will never speak to each other again. They will never see each other in person. They will not speak on the phone. They won’t exchange a letter or email or SMS message.

It’s not about prestige. And it’s not about geography either. They will both stay in the same city, living just two townships away. They won’t have a falling out of any kind. Neither of them is going to die in the next twenty years. There is no reason at all for anything to come between them. And yet their friendship, which they both find rewarding, is ephemeral, and is about to dissolve completely, without either of them noticing at first.

They will, cliche though it may be, grow apart. It can be put no more simply than that. They have dissimilar interests. They live in different worlds. They belong to different political parties. They practice different religions. They attended different colleges. They support different sports teams. Now, either of them would say that it’s important to surround oneself with people who disagree with you. They even believe that this makes their friendship more valuable.

And yet…

One day, Todd will hear some story about Jim and think It’s been ages—I ought to give Jim a call and catch up. But he won’t. This will happen many times to both men. But neither will call, even though their numbers are at this very moment programmed into each other’s phones. Those contact lists will be migrated to dozens of different phones over the next twenty-odd years.

And then one day, Todd will die. He will have lived a happy life, but he has a heart condition that he doesn’t know about, and he doesn’t eat very healthily or exercise as often as he should—he accepts this about himself and he wishes his practitioner would stop hounding him about it. He will die in his early sixties. Not exactly young, but short of retirement.

When Jim sees Todd’s name in the obituary, he will be overcome with something that isn’t quite sadness, isn’t quite loss, isn’t quite regret, and yet it moves him profoundly. He will find Todd’s number in his cell phone. He will hesitate before calling, telling himself that it’s crazy to call a dead man’s mobile.

When Todd’s wife answers, Jim will offer his condolences. He’ll ask if they need anything. They will exchange small talk, ask about each other’s families. “Oh, we’re divorced,” Jim will say. “Oh, he just got a promotion,” Todd’s wife will say. Jim will ask about the funeral service, even though he doesn’t plan to attend, and even though all the information is in the paper right in front of him.

Jim will remember this last conversation with Todd—not what it was about, who can remember what a conversation is about? Just that it was friendly, and pleasant, and a long time ago.

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