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Entries in flash fiction (10)

Thursday
Oct202011

Render Unto Caesar

This is the fourth week out of five that I’ve done Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge. I foresee doing as many of them as I can in the future. A week is just long enough to let me stew on an idea, particularly if the piece is a thousand words or less. I have time to think, but not time to dally. Cranking out a story every week is also making certain habits and weaknesses clearer to me. Now I just have to figure out how to fix them.

I was surprised by how many positive comments I got on last week’s piece. I seemed to have tapped into something I resonated with a lot of people. I don’t think my response to this week’s challenge will grab people the same way. Still, I had fun writing it, and I think my influences show through pretty clearly.

It doesn’t bother me that my accountant is a vampire. It bothers me that he drinks too much.

Mark is — quite frankly — the best tax accountant in the business. He should be, too. He’s been a bean counter since Augustus’ head was on the denarius. He’s saved me a bundle over the years. The problem is that every so often he gets melancholy over something and he crawls into the bottle for a month or two. In November, it’s not a problem. In March, it is.

It’s the middle of March when I drop by the small collection of business suites where Mark has his office with the shoebox full of receipts that make up my ledger. I know you’re thinking that’s no way to run a business. Here’s the thing: I’m good at what I do — finding people — and I’m not at counting pennies. If I was, I wouldn’t need Mark to work his magic. Anyway, the hallway door to his office is open just a crack, so I push my way in. That’s when I smell the whiskey.

I find him passed out under his desk, a trio of empty bottles nearby. I shake my head and put the shoebox down on the desk between the piles of paper that have accumulated there. I grab an empty coffee mug from the desk, walk down the hallway to where the bathrooms he shares with the rest of the office suites on this floor are, and fill the mug with water from the drinking fountain. Then I come back and pour it on his head.

He comes to in a squall of flailing limbs and curse words in a dozen languages. His gyrations are more comic than fearsome. He’s still on his back when his eyes finally focus on me.

“Guy,” he says. “That wasn’t very nice.”

“And it wasn’t very nice of you to be passed out on the floor when I showed up for my appointment. Don’t you have a coffin nearby for that?”

He pulls himself to his feet, using the desk for support.

“It’s… being cleaned,” he says.

I snort.

“No, really, the velvet was getting a bit mildew-y. So I had Tony send it out to be cleaned.” He sits down in the swivel chair behind his desk. I walk over to the couch and sit, pushing aside the pillow and blankets piled there.

“You’re getting careless, Mark. The door was ajar. I could have been anyone. I could have been Crow.”

“Crow’s nobody. I’m not worried about him. He probably thinks we’re in New Mexico or something,” says Mark. He reaches down and slides open the bottom drawer on his desk.

“Oh, that’s a great idea,” I say as he pulls out another whiskey bottle, this one only half-empty.

“I don’t care what you think.” He picks up the once-again-empty coffee cup and pours himself a double.

“Did she leave you again?”

He stares at me. “She’s been gone for three years. She didn’t come back after the last time.”

“Oh,” I say. Have I really not been paying attention? Still it’s only three years. “Do you… want me to ask around?”

“No.” He knocks it back and starts pouring another.

“Then what it is?”

He stares at me again. This time he leans on the desk and uses one arm to keep his head steady. “What day is it?”

“What, today? It’s Tuesday.”

“What’s the date, Guy?”

“It’s the — oh.”

“Yeah.”

The room is quiet for a moment. Slowly, I stand up and walk over to Mark, reaching out to take mug from him. He refills it, then hands it to me.

I fling it across the room where it shatters against the wall, bits of ceramic spraying about the office, the whiskey streaking down the cheap wallpaper.

“Bona Dea, why did you do that?” Mark says, still holding the bottle.

“Because I’m tired of you moping around.” I poke his chest. “You need to cut it out. He’s been dead for more than two thousand years. It’s not even the same calendar anymore.”

“But…”

“Get over it.” I poke him once more for emphasis. “I have.”

“He wasn’t your friend.”

“No, he wasn’t. He was a tyrant. ‘Sic semper tyrannis’, right?”

“I never said that.”

“No, but you could have.”

“Well…”

“No, seriously,” I say, calmer now. “That sort of dramatic flourish wouldn’t work without the gravitas you have. That’s why we needed you.”

He smiles a little. Flattery will get you everywhere.

“I understand,” I continue, “that you have regrets about how things turned out. I don’t feel great about it myself. Regardless, we did what we had to do.”

Mark is nodding a little now.

“We have to move on. Remember why you started this business up?”

“So that tax season would keep me busy,” he says. “So that I’d have so much work to do in March and April I wouldn’t think about it.”

“That’s right. Because you throw yourself into your work.” I’ve got him now, so I go in for the kill. “So you know there’s only one thing to do.” I nod at the shoebox and close my mouth.

He stands there for a moment, his eyes unfocused. Slowly, he puts the bottle back in the drawer and slides it closed. He sits down in the chair, clears away one of the piles of paper, pulls out a legal pad and a pen, and cracks the lid on my shoebox. He sighs and looks up at me, one hand on his chin.

“This could take a while,” he says.

“How about you take a pass through them while I go grab something to eat?”

“Sounds good,” he says without looking up as he pulls the first stack of receipts out and starts to sort them. “I’ll have a blonde.”

“I think I will, too,” I say.

I close the door to his office and head out to hunt. Crisis averted.




Update

Fitness: Ran 3 miles
Thursday
Oct132011

Broca Be Damned

For this week’s flash fiction challenge, Chuck asked us to write about a new monster. I was lost until last night, when I remembered Ken Hite’s thesis in GURPS Horror that the reason why certain archetypal monsters are still with us — despite their cosmetic changes over the centuries — is because they embody particular fears we have. And made me start thinking about things I’m afraid of…

I step off the train into the station and he’s sitting there, mumbling to himself, his slept-in suit smelling like he’s pissed in it for the third time this week. The scrawl on his cardboard sign is illegible; I assume it says something like “Please help.” I lean down to toss some into his hat, avoiding eye contact as I always do with these types. That’s when he grabs my wrist and starts spitting syllables at me.

His words are just as unintelligible as his handwriting, but I can tell from tone and the look in his eyes that it’s something urgent that he’s trying to communicate to me. It’s too bad for him I don’t care what he’s on about. A crazy homeless guy has me by the arm, so I start shouting for the cops. One of them is on him in flash, pulling him off of me, forcing him to the ground, and all the while the lunatic is raving about something I can’t make out.

Backup arrives a moment later. She asks me if I’m alright and I say I’m fine. The guy still hasn’t calmed down; he’s still trying to tell me something. I feel kind of sorry for the guy. He must be off his meds or something. They start to drag him off, and I say, “I’m sorry, man. I just don’t understand.”

He locks eyes with me and clear as day says, “No one does anymore. You don’t know how it feels.” He gets this crazy grin on his face and says, “But you will.”

Somehow he slips out of the cop’s grip, and a second later he’s under a train. It takes them two hours to get the mess cleaned up and the line running again.

***

I’m telling Amanda this over dinner that night and she just nods. I mean, it’s not the most spellbinding story ever, but it’s not the kind of thing that happens every day either. She’s been working on this big project at work, so she’s probably thinking about that. I ask her if she can do the dishes tonight — I’ve got to finish the Hicks presentation for tomorrow, so I can’t do them like I normally do — and she nods. Two hours later I’m in the study, finishing my last few PowerPoint slides, when she comes in and asks me why I haven’t cleaned up the kitchen yet. I tell her I asked if she could take care of it. There’s a brief, spirited exchange that ends with her shaking her and saying, “Whatever.” The dishes are still on the table when I finally head to bed an hour or so later.

***

I’m in the shower the next morning when I notice the outline. It’s on my right wrist, where he grabbed me, and it itches a bit. Great. I put some Benadryl cream on it, finish getting dressed, and head out. Helen left before I got up, as she always does, though this time it was without saying goodbye.

The station has been put back in order by the time I get there, so there’s no delays in getting to the office. That’s good, because there’s an email for me from Rob telling me that some of the data for the presentation has changed. I drop that, run through it once more to practice, and grab a leisurely cup of coffee before the 10 AM meeting. Should be a piece of cake.

***

“What the fuck happened in there, Dan?”

It’s 11 o’clock, I’m in Rob’s corner office, and he’s screaming at me.

“You completely lost your shit. Those slides didn’t make any sense. If Ryan hadn’t been there to step in, we would have totally lost the Hicks account.” He stands there, arms folded, livid. “So I repeat: What the fuck happened?”

I tell him I’m sorry, I don’t know what he’s talking about. After a sentence or two he waves me off. “Look, I know you’ve been under a lot stress lately. Just get out of here for a while, okay? Take the rest of the day off and try to get your shit together.”

He slams the door behind me as I head for the elevator.

***

“Man, speak English.”

I’m down by the bay, trying to relax like Rob told me to, and this joker is messing with me. I look at the hot dog vendor and repeat my order. “I want two jumbo dogs with onions and mustard.”

He looks around for a moment. “Anyone speak whatever language this dude talks?”

I grab him by the shirt and scream in his face, “I speak English just fine, motherfucker! Stop playing dumb and give me my goddamn hotdogs.” Somebody starts shouting for the cops.

***

“There’s no neurological basis for it, ma’am,” the doctor says to Amanda, pointing to the output from the fMRI tests. His office is all stainless steel and leather, clean and confident. “His brain is functioning normally, and there’s no damage to any of his speech or language centers.” I sit on my hands to keep from throttling him. It’s the same thing they’ve all said for the last three months: the medical doctors, the psychologists, the neuroscientists. Sudden-onset expressive aphasia and agraphia. It means I can’t communicate, not through speaking, not through writing, not even through fucking charades. I’ve become a freak, a lab rat, a puzzle that no one can solve. No one understands me.

“So what it is?” Amanda asks.

“I have no idea,” he says. “The case is fascinating. I’d like to keep him here for another week or two to run some more tests.” The hell he will. “We need to understand what’s going on in there.”

I stand up and I grab him by the wrist. “Oh, you’ll understand it soon enough,” I said. His face goes white.

Then I crash through the thirteenth story window of his immaculate office, heading for the ground below.




Update

Fitness: None, still recovering from the cold
Tuesday
Sep272011

Distant

Here’s another piece of flash fiction in response to one of Chuck’s challenges. The challenge is:

Three sentences long.

This can be in any genre. Any subject. No limitations beyond size.

Three. Sentences. Long.

Amusingly, this one is longer than last week’s one-hundred word challenge.

The banker died alone. That’s not to say that there weren’t people present when he passed on, because there were: his grandchildren who had never gotten to know him during his brief and infrequent visits on birthdays and holidays; his sons, to whom he had never been close, kept far away at boarding schools when they were young, now grown and as distant from their children as he had been from them, ready even at that moment to stick knives into each other over the scraps of inheritance he was in the process of leaving them; his wife, whom he had married for love when they were both young and poor, from whom day by day he had grown part as he immersed himself deeper and deeper into his work and she slipped further and further into the bottle, both of them reaching the point where they hardly bothered to maintain even the illusion they were still happily married, neither of them caring enough to make the paltry effort of formally ending their union, though it had ended informally enough years ago — all of them were in the room with his body when he breathed his last. But he was no more with them when he took leave of his life than he had been during it, and after he was cold and they pitched his body in the clay, he was no further from them than he had already been.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see this challenge until after the deadline. I did it anyway, because this isn’t about Chuck. It’s about me.




Update

Fitness: Ran 5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 537 words, 343 seven-day average, 285 average, 51508 total, 1492 to go for the week; 3-day streak
Tuesday
Sep202011

Three Line Scene

More flash fiction this week, in response to another of Chuck’s challenges. This time I even got it in under the deadline.

“I love you,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” said Ivy.

We stood there on the balcony, across the great rotunda from each other, the cruel stones of the bishop’s whispering gallery reflecting her words to me. The blisters on my right hand began to itch again, beneath the rags I had wrapped them in, still raw and hot from where I had burned myself on the cooking pot two days before.

The maiden looked at me, the kitchen boy, with sadness in her eyes, the empty air between us growing wider by the moment.

“I’m not,” I said.




Update

Fitness: Ran 5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 540 words, 407 seven-day average, 282 average, 49106 total, 1394 to go for the week; 14-day streak
Friday
Sep092011

A Late Submission

This piece of flash fiction came to me about four hours after the deadline for Chuck’s challenge. I’m posting it here anyway.

“It’s a tragedy,” the woman with the gun said.

The woman kneeling in front of her on the kitchen floor did not reply.

“Technically, a revenge tragedy,” the older woman continued. “Revenge tragedy, a film critic once told me, asks the question, ‘How much are you willing to hurt yourself after you’ve already been hurt by someone else?’”

She pulled the trigger. Blood and other matter covered the threadbare window drapes.

“A fair amount, it turns out,” she said.

She turned and walked toward the bedroom, leaving her daughter’s body on the cheap linoleum.

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