Tag Archives: chuck wendig

Touch Will Come Second


Door, Entry, Hospital, Passage, Red, HandleAlistair Van der Berg opens what he thinks are his eyes and looks up into blinding white lights. Into his field of vision swim three dark blurs in silhouette that resolve, like hardening acrylic, into androgynous shapes.

“Mr. Van der Berg?” says one of the shapes.

“Yes?” Alistair’s voice comes out stronger than he expects.

“Please hold still. We have to check a few things.”

Alistair turns his head and glances down toward his body, concealed under a grey sheet. Lumps and points in all the right places, but he can’t feel any of it. The sheet shifts and moves like a sackful of kittens, but his arms and legs are restrained. “What’s happening?”

“Alistair,” says another of the shapes. “Calm down.”

Alistair looks around the room in a panic. By the door, a sign. Synthetics testing.

It’s happened, he realizes. I died. I’m back. I’m alive again. My brain in a plastic body. “What year is it?”

The shapes have resolved into murky faces that exchange glances with one another. “What year do you think it is?”

“How did I die?”

“One thing at a time, Mr. Van der Berg.”

“Don’t give me that. I’m back from the dead, and I want to know what’s –” He stops as his eyes drift sideways and catch the mirror against the far wall. Not a mirror. One-way glass. Instinctively he points toward it, but his arm only rattles in a restraint he can’t see or feel. “Who’s in there? Is it my children? My grandchildren?”

“Easy, Mr. V –”

“NO!” He reaches out for the voice, and this time, there’s a squealing, shearing sound as the restraint gives way and he swats the androgynous figure aside with a fleshy thwack. He stares at his hand; pale and perfectly manicured, manacled at the wrist. A torn hinge dangles lamely down his arm. He jerks his other arm free of its restraint, then yanks his legs toward him with an awful tearing noise, and he’s free.

There are sounds of squabbling behind him as the other attendants rush to the one he’s injured. Alistair ignores them and goes to the mirror — or tries to. As he swings his legs out of the bed, they tangle in the hospital gown he can’t feel, scrabble for purchase on the cold tile floor, buckle, bend and collapse. He goes down in a heap of pain and confusion.

A voice crackles from above. “What’s wrong with it?The voice is familiar, but he can’t say why.

An androgynous one replies: “Touch receptors aren’t working. He won’t be able to walk or move effectively yet. Photo and audio receptors are online for this primary test, along with speech protocols. Touch will come second.”

The lights go on behind the mirror, and suddenly Alistair is looking past the crumpled wreck of his body at himself standing behind the glass. An older version of himself. Stern. Thoughtful. But alive. And unpitying.

The voice he now recognizes as his own crackles through the speaker again. “Shut it down.”

A tiny electro-dart buries itself in Alistair’s neck, but he doesn’t feel it. His processors drone off into silence and his servos go limp.

**********************

Chuck’s challenge this week was a random title. Mine? The Touch Will Come Second. For artistic reasons I dropped the “the,” and not only because I wanted a reason to say “the the” in my explanation.

 

 

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Pegasus Intelligence


Beer, Beer Garden, Thirst, Glass Mug, Drink, Beer Glass“Ernie Collins.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, I’ve only been working here for six months or so.”

“Oh. Well. He’d have been here back in ’07.”

“I see.” Lana, feeling that the conversation had reached that inevitable point where things peter out and the bartender and patron go on with their individual existences, began polishing glassware, and only when she noticed Eddie gesturing at her did she realize that he had continued speaking.

“And from there, it’s on to Melbourne, to a little hole-in-the-wall joint called Dingo Lingo.”

She angled back into the conversation as best she could. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Of course not. Very few people who haven’t cracked the top-10 bestseller list have.”

Lana squinted at him, still turning a glass in her hand. It was impossible to tell if he was putting her on. The crazy ones never seem crazy. “And you’re going there to …?”

“To drink it all in, man.”

“What, Dingo Lingo serves some proprietary drink?”

“No. What? No. Look.” Eddie pulled out his phone and opened his notes app. He tapped on a file, zoomed in on a maniacal-looking spider web diagram dotted with pictures of towns and bars and faces she didn’t recognize, clicked and zoomed and scrolled a few more times, and finally stopped and shoved the phone toward her. On the screen was a picture of an absolutely normal-looking guy. Slightly unshaven, slightly frumpy, a below-average intelligence gasping for help in his faraway stare as he sat at a Starbucks street table. “Because of him. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I fear I may have lost the thread.”

Eddie sighed. “He’s a Pegasus.”

“A what, now?”

Eddie sighed again, harder this time, to make clear that he was explaining something he shouldn’t have to explain. “In Greek myth, Pegasus was said to strike springs from the very ground where his hooves touched.” He smiled at Lana as if this should have meant something to her, but it obviously didn’t. “Pegasus was the personal transport for the muses. Like Uber, but, you know, a horse.”

Lana gave an ever-so-slight shake of her head. “Muses?”

“The Greek goddesses of inspiration.”

“Okay, and you want a drink from the bar because –”

“It’s a metaphor, man! It’s not a literal spring. Ernie Collins is not a goddamned winged horse. But he’s a Pegasus in spirit. He travels the world on his parents’ retirement fund, and every so often:” here Eddie rapped his fingers on the tabletop and made a clop-clop noise with his tongue. “Inspiration springs forth.”

“So you think,” Lana said, studying the freshly polished bar as if it might offer some insight on how to deal with a clearly deranged individual, which it did not, “that just by being in these places, you’ll … what, soak up some inspiration?”

“Exactly.” Eddie folded his arms and leaned back from the table as if he’d just solved a two-hundred item crossword puzzle. He raised his eyebrows at her, again, as if he expected her to be impressed.

“And that’s why you haven’t ordered anything but that one beer, then?” She tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but he’d been nursing the one drink for three hours. It wasn’t like she needed him to vacate the stool — it was a Tuesday night, after all — but principle dictated that a bar tab should at least exceed in dollars its length in hours.

“Nothing personal, you understand.” He picked nervously at the label which had already been thoroughly picked at. He came away with bits of glue under his fingernails. “But I’ve got quite the itinerary ahead. Atlanta. Seattle. Toronto. Melbourne. Tokyo. Gotta make every dollar count.”

“You can afford travel to all these places, but you can’t afford another drink?”

“I’ve got a GoFundMe page set up. I’ll move on when I can afford airfare.”

Won’t hold my breath for a decent tip, Lana thought. “You’re a writer, then?”

“Trying to be,” Eddie replied, a sort of self-satisfied smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“What have you written?”

“Well.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Nothing yet.”

“Oh, a work in progress?” Lana returned to wiping glasses. “I had a roommate in college who always had about a dozen works in progress. Never did get published. Wrote like a demon, though.” She glanced sideways at Eddie. “Ordered more than one drink at happy hour, too.”

“Thing is, I don’t want to just write anything. When I actually sit down to write, I want it to be the best. Hence: following in the footsteps of Pegasus.”

Lana frowned thoughtfully. “I suppose there’s intelligence of a sort in that.” Then her thought caught up to her frown. “Wait. You mean to tell me you haven’t actually written anything yet?”

“Er.” More glue, more fingernails. “Not as such, no.”

“Not a draft, not an outline, nothing?”

Eddie shook his head.

“I mean, you at least know what you’re going to write about, though?”

“Well, kind of. I mean, I have some ideas.” He jabbed at his phone again, and showed her the picture of Ernie Collins. “Truth be told, that’s kind of what I was hoping this whole Pegasus thing would help me out with.”

“Let me make sure I understand clearly,” Lana said. She set her glass and rag down and leaned in close. “You want to be a writer, but you haven’t written anything. Instead, you’re going on a trip around the world, on the dime of internet strangers, hoping to sponge up some inspiration … from a man you feel is the embodiment of a winged horse?”

“To be honest, the GoFundMe only has fifteen dollars in it so far.” He eyed the last swig in the bottom of his bottle, felt the moment was right, and swallowed it. “From my mom. Actually –” he waggled the empty bottle — “how much did you say this was, again?”

######

Chuck’s challenge this week: The random title challenge. My title for the week was “Pegasus Intelligence,” which was the fanciest bit of nonsense I’d heard in a while. A little bit of research, though, led me to a place I didn’t entirely hate. It’s more of a vignette than a story, but, well, that’s life, innit?

Also, about halfway into the writing, I realized that I have here the seedling for a … not exactly a sequel to my first novel, but for another story in the same universe as that one. Dammit, Chuck. These short stories are supposed to let me vent pent-up creative energy, not spawn entire novels to go clanging around in my skull.

 


The No-Call


Chuck’s challenge this week is a story in 100 words. These are tricky, and Once Upon A Time is back from its hiatus, so…

Sandal, High Heels, Sets, Female, Women'S Fashion, Shoe

Cindy gave her sorority sisters the slip and went to the party anyway. They’d never let her pledge if they found out.

She drank too much. Danced all night. Deftly parried the drunken advances of some guy in a crown.

Next morning, the house was aflutter; the fraternity president was making rounds to name his queen for the spring formal. He had the shoe, he proclaimed, of the magical girl whose company he had shared the night before.

Cindy ran upstairs and threw her mismatched pump in the garbage chute, vowing never again to waste her time with silly boys in costumes.

 


The Apocalypse Ticket


An illustration of an asteroid on its way to Earth. See more space dust images.

The Crimson Fist streaks around the corner in a blur of aerodynamic fins and chrome, scattering a crowd of shoppers clustered around a street vendor.

Stomping the accelerator, the Fist grits his teeth and steals a glance toward the sky.

Less than thirty minutes til impact. The oncoming asteroid — a small planet, really — hangs in the sky like an anvil, eerily unmoving despite hurtling toward the earth at interstellar speed.

He’s been waiting for this. He hasn’t hit anything in months, and he’s itching to strike with the energy of a dozen neutron bombs.

The Fist swerves past the traffic bumbling through the intersection, clips a pickup and sends it spinning up onto the sidewalk. Frustration rises: he makes to smack the dash but stays his hand. Calm. Focus. Don’t waste it. He grunts and checks his rear view. The damage is minor, and he zooms ahead. Then: the flashing of lights from behind. The chirp of a siren. He bites his lip. Wouldn’t be the first time some newbie on the force tried to pull him over. Then it’s memos. Depositions. Fruit baskets delivered to the injured officer’s house. A two-week anger management course. A tractor trailer parked in the middle of the road ahead.

“Damn!”

Crimson Fist stands up on the brakes. Pedestrians cluster on the sidewalk behind the semi, a three-car pileup sits in front. No way out. He yanks the emergency brake and whips the car around, but before he can gun it back up a side street, the police cruiser slides up in front of him and nudges his front bumper.

The PA boops and then booms: “Step out of the vehicle.”

Grinding his teeth, Fist hops out of the vehicle and flings a finger at the sky. “Do you see that? I have to go.”

But Officer Krups is in no hurry. He hooks his thumbs in his belt and saunters over. “Know how fast you were going, back there?”

“You can’t be serious. Hello? The world is about to end!”

Fist’s reflection wobbles in Krups’ aviator sunglasses as he shakes his head. “World’s always about to end, ain’t it? What with you superheroes and villains always feuding about this thing or that. Day always gets saved in the end though, don’t it?” He unclips his citation pad, deliberately licks the end of a pencil.

By me!” Fist fumes. “save the day. I have to –”

Krups holds up a finger. Writes. Slowly. “Running a red light.” He flips the page. “Fleeing the scene of an accident.”

Serenity. Breathe. “Come on. Look, write the ticket, but can you at least hurry up?”

Krups lowers his head, stares at him over the tops of his shades. “Speeding.”

A sudden shadow falls on the street. A hundred heads rotate skyward; the asteroid, taking up a lot more of the sky now, has drifted in front of the sun. The Crimson Fist mashes the knuckles of his right hand into the palm of his left, showering the pavement with sparks.

“Officer.” Fist speaks through grinding teeth. Consider the Other. “I’m sincerely sorry for the danger I’ve caused to these civilians. But if I don’t get to the rocket and get to that asteroid in the next –” he checks his watch “– seven minutes, you, and me, and everybody else on Earth is going to die.”

Weasel eyes narrow behind his aviators as Krups curls his mustached lip into a smirk. “There. Was a simple apology so hard?” He tears the tickets off his pad — rip, rip, rip — and presents them to the Fist, who snatches them away and stalks back toward his vehicle. “Hold on a minute, son.”

The Fist whirls, heat energy distorting the air around his hands, two tiny suns burning in his eyes.

“Wanna tell me about that expired tag?”

Krups explodes backwards and goes sailing through the front window of a coffee joint, scattering hipsters and overpriced coffee before cartwheeling over the counter and coming to rest on a couple of very startled baristas. The Fist is almost back in his car when he hears Krups calling weakly from the ruined shop, “Assaulting an officer!”

The door deforms as he slams it, and the Fist guns it across town. In minutes, he’s strapped into the space suit, and the one-man rocket blasts off into low orbit with thirty seconds to spare.

The asteroid looms like an inverted, rocky earth as he clears the stratosphere. He ejects from the ship and sails toward the rocky mass, like falling toward a mountaintop out of an airplane, except upside-down. His knuckles glow.

The craggy, pitted peaks drift closer. The Fist draws back his hand. The wispy atmosphere around his fingertips churns and ignites.

He lets fly.

His fist strikes the asteroid with the force of a dying star going supernova. An explosion of light and a deafening crack and he’s falling to earth again …

But something’s wrong. It wasn’t enough.

Only pulverized dust should remain, but the asteroid has sheared and fragmented and become many, hurtling toward Earth with deadly inevitability. As he falls, with the doom of the planet swirling all around him, the Fist can only think of one thing.

Krups.

Down below, Krups has hauled himself out into the street. He regards his upended police cruiser and the oncoming shower of meteors with the same sour scowl.

“Knew he was a fraud,” Krups mumbles, as the first of the meteorites pepper the street.

 

**********

This week’s Flash Fiction is brought to you by Chuck Wendig’s random title challenge.


Chick Magnet


Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

“I’ve never dated online before,” says Greg, fidgeting with his spotted hands on the linen tabletop. It’s a lie, but one he never gets called on.

Theresa, a silver-haired beauty, grins with downcast eyes at her silverware, her face flushing a little. “Me, either.”

She’s divorced, he’s widowed. Sidewalk cafe. Small talk, overpriced wine.

“Kids?”

“Two. You?”

“Four. Grandkids?”

“Eight. They’re like rabbits.” He laughs, and thank God, so does she. “You?”

“Just one.” She can’t help herself. She reaches for her phone and shows him a picture of the little angel, slumbering in that striped hospital blanket. “Two weeks old.”

“Ahh, it’s the best. You’ll see. Even better than having kids of your own.”

“So I’ve heard.”

She’s wonderful, really. Just like his wife in a lot of ways — same hairstyle, same easy way of talking. But then, she’s different too — quicker to laugh, with a nervous energy that keeps her looking around the room, knotting up her napkin. None of them are his wife, but there’s always something to like. She could be the one.

And then it’s over. Pleasant, but abrupt. She doesn’t look back as she walks away, doesn’t promise to call. Probably won’t call. They never call. He sighs and shoves his fork into his half-eaten portion of tilapia. Wishes he’d just ordered the burger he wanted. Stupid diet. Stupid doctor’s orders. A pigeon flutters up and lands in Theresa’s spot at the table, stabbing its beak at the rice pilaf she didn’t finish. He throws a spear of broccoli at it, and it flaps irritably away.

In his pocket, a newspaper clipping. Ragged at the edges, soft as feathers from all the times he’s handled it and not called the number. He frowns at the back of Theresa’s silvery head. He calls the number.

#

It arrives eight days later: a tiny brown box the size of his palm. Not what he was expecting. No flashy marketing inserts, no fancy designer packaging, only an unlabeled brown medicine vial with a dropper nestled in downy cotton packing. Beneath all that, a note: A few drops will make you irresistible to females! Use with caution!

No sense in waiting.

#

“Another first date, Greg?” Marcus, the waiter, grins at him as he pours him a seltzer.

Greg nods, almost giddy. He thumbs the vial in his pocket.

“I never see you here on any second dates. You take them someplace nicer?”

“Never been so lucky. But today’s different.”

“Oh?”

“Something special up my sleeve. That’s the secret with these older birds; you have to work a little harder.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Marcus flashes him another smile: perfect teeth against his dark skin.

Greg watches: Marcus turns the corner inside and gooses the pretty little waitress. She playfully swats his hand away, then plants a quick, affectionate kiss on his cheek. Young love. So easy, so effortless, like falling into a soft, downy mattress.

Maybe it’ll be that easy for me this time.

Linda’s due in ten minutes. He produces the tiny vial, looks around to make sure nobody’s looking, then squeezes out a few drops on his outstretched fingertip. It’s viscous and gritty, almost like birdlime, but it’s got this pungent aroma of … what? The sea? The sky?

Out of nowhere, a pigeon lights on the table right in front of him, staring at him with round, vacant eyes. It bobs its head a few times.

“Shoo.” He swats at it and it flies away, gurgling. The arc of its flight draws his gaze up toward the street, and he sees her — Linda. Pretty as her picture, red hair feathered and falling around her shoulders as she approaches. She hasn’t seen him yet. He dabs the oily stuff behind his ears. At an impulse, he squeezes out a few more drops, which he rubs into his hair.

Before their drinks arrive, another pigeon — or maybe the same one? — coasts lazily in and settles on the table opposite. By the time Marcus brings the appetizer, there’s a second bird perched there. They’re staring at him, like customers at a deli awaiting their turn. Linda doesn’t notice them, but Marcus does — with a languid wave of his hand, he scatters the critters, and Greg sighs his relief.

But by the time Greg sinks a fork into his seared trout, the two pigeons have returned and become four. They watch him implacably as Linda chirps on about the men she’s dated and divorced. More and more arrive. Another winged watcher lands as Greg picks up the check. Linda’s saying she’d really like to see him again, but Greg can’t focus on her at all for the dozen denizens of the sky sitting opposite. Then he notices she’s looking at him, waiting for a response. Oh. Turned down again. He forces a little smile, says he understands, wishes her luck in the future.

Linda’s face falls to pieces like an egg dropped from a nest. She stands, mumbling in disbelief, looking around, lost.

Her claim on Gary vacated, the birds descend. The first one swoops at her and she bats it away. Another tangles its claws in her hair. They chase her down the sidewalk in a flurry of flapping wings.

When Marcus arrives to take the bill, Greg has been swarmed. Pigeons roost on his shoulders, nuzzle at his knees and ankles, lightly bonk their heads against his fingers as he drums them on the tabletop. One nips lovingly at his thinning hair from its roost on his bald spot.

“Damn, Greg,” Marcus says. “Strike out again?”

“Take it from me, kid,” Greg sighs. “Women are for the birds.”

 

********

It’s been a little while since a Flash Fiction challenge. I really can’t apologize enough for the ending.

Anyway, this challenge comes as usual from Chuck Wendig: the random photography challenge. I found the photo above by Peter Meijer, and, well. He just looked so weary.

Comments always welcome.


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