Remember that flash fiction contest whose deadline I missed last week? Well, I’m in love- with their prompts, and with the idea of naming my characters after my students. 🙂 Also, wouldn’t it be an upset to have my students enter and beat me out of this contest? Consider that a challenge. Deadline’s midnight tonight.
I’m just getting worse and worse, thought Avi. Her life depended on her ability to lie, with finesse.
“Come again?” asked the auditor. He clearly wasn’t going for it, but she couldn’t retract her words. How long had they been at it, five hours?
Avi slammed her gloved hand down on the table, “I told you, the C-line malfunctioned and I never left the system.” She still wore the bulky flight suit. NASA hadn’t even allowed her to change before investigating.
“So how do you explain the 365 days of blank data on your flight recorder and your bio-data?” He asked, challenging her with his gaze, his fingers poised on the stylus, “Stasis would’ve kept you in hibernation.”
Was he playing poker, or did they really have that kind of tech? Every year NASA came up with better pilot tracking. Her friends warned her this would happen. They trained her to lie in every imaginable scenario, but they couldn’t assure success. “The best lies are mostly true,” they said, “But you’ll have little truth to offer them.”
“I don’t… I mean, I can’t. Maybe that malfunctioned too.” Avi was definitely getting worse at this game.
The auditor looked at Avi and sighed. “I think we’re done here, Lieutenant.”
“It’s about time,” Avi tried to keep playing, but her heart told her it was over.
“We’re done, but you’re not. Get the T-95.”
The truth was, Avi traveled to 3016 and managed to come back alive. She wasn’t the first, and she wouldn’t be the last. But the orders were always the same: Don’t reveal the mission. Under any circumstances. She brushed her finger against the tiny steel flake implanted in her suit. Insurance, they said. She had less than a minute to decide whether or not to kill herself.
I found a cool writing site I’d like to share. The folks at Cracked Flash Fiction know how to motivate. Using a 300 word maximum and a 24-hour deadline, they supply you with a first line, and you get creative. Also, you get pithy. It felt like I was chopping the legs off my Frankenstein to pare my story down to 300 words. Nice? I thought so. Thanks, Ascribetodescribe, for leading me to this little treasure.
Here is the prompt whose deadline I missed: Dust. All around her was dust. Before I realized I had missed the deadline for this prompt, I spent a considerable time daydreaming the story. No wasting the daydreams. Here it is.
Dust. All around her was dust. The dog, too, had a thick layer in his fur. For some reason, Jason didn’t expect dust, though the lifepod had been orbiting the recycle rim thirty-one years, exactly where he left it.
She clutched the wadded-up paper he’d thrown at her face. He remembered how coolly she picked it up. That insolent look was too much. He only meant to scare her by waving the gun, but his hands were sweaty and he just… squeezed, accidentally. The dog was the second accident. Rodney had gone berserk at the shot, when her neck became a blood fountain and she crumpled to the floor. As Rodney went for Jason’s throat, he threw up one shielding arm and shot with the other. Rodney caught it in the chest and flopped down on top of her. Both writhed like worms for what seemed like forever.
All these years, Jason never visited, though he thought of her every day. She could leave him, it was clear, by the mini-pods stacked all over and the tubs of freeze-dried food. But he wouldn’t leave her. He realized he never read the letter, too intent was he on his flight, on sealing the pod and activating the long-term pressure. The battery life had a thirty year maximum, so he had no choice but to come back. Seeing the bodies, the dust, Jason was mad at her all over again.
There was no liquid left in her fingers. They were the thickness of sticks. The paper rustled as he slipped it from her.
His brow furrowed at the type face, for he had expected her handwriting. All the blood drained from his face when he read the words: Jason Wright and family: Transfer to Orion 4 granted.
Like, even if you’re beautiful and cerulean-flashy and you have wings, your end will come. Beauty won’t stave the grim reaper, much as we’d like to believe. Still, I always thought a pair of wings would be super. That way, when life got dicey, I could just fly away. Hawks especially have always enchanted me, partly because they fly hundreds of feet above where stress lives and partly because they swoop down in an instant and kill unsuspecting prey before climbing back to their heavenly abode where nothing, nothing touches them. (unfortunately pet stores don’t stock hawks) What does my favorite animal choice reveal about my nature? Thank goodness I’m not applying to colleges.
Life can come to an abrupt and unexpected end and– unless you flap your wings around and screech about it– not all that many people will notice. For 10+ years that bird tweeted sweetly in her cage, bringing song and life to our kitchen and simultaneously acting as our carbon monoxide detector.
Her name was Sunflower. We got her for Luke when he was eight or so and in that I-want-every-pet-imaginable phase. That’s how we got all our pets, as each one of our children got to be about eight, we had to find something new. We began with hamsters, moved on to a cat, thousands of lice (they came with the cat), a dog, goldfish, real fish (the kind with a tank that actually requires work), and then finally on to birds. First, parakeets, then lovebirds. Whoever named them lovebirds should have named them Loudbirds. They scream their expensive, colorful beaks off, especially when they hear my voice. No, I don’t just think I’m special. My friend’s lovebirds also begin screaming whenever I talk. Birds either love or hate the timbre of my voice.
So the loudbirds got evicted, but Sunflower was polite. She was part of the family. And then she died. Poof. It was a Friday night, and Gabe had a swim meet the next morning; Luke was at soccer practice, and I didn’t feel like doing death right then. Am I the only mother/wife who doesn’t want to be the messenger? Honey, the washer’s broken. The fridge is leaking. X crashed the car again. We’re volunteering for XYZ. The bird died. So I chose not to be the messenger that night, and Bob agreed. He’d gone into work at 4am, and death-right-now wasn’t sounding good to him, either.
A cleaned chocolate tin with some paper towels served as her casket, and I interred her on a shelf in the garage. Don’t say I don’t respect the dead. Total dignity, that chocolate tin. Total class.
I had in mind to do an experiment and see how long it would take the kids to notice that the cage was empty. Except my real motivation was that I still didn’t want to be the messenger. It was easier just to keep the empty cage in its spot. As you were… carry on.
Luke’s girlfriend noticed the empty cage.
“What happened to the bird?” asks Luke, after the emptiness is pointed out to him. I glide into the kitchen and don the solemn look I see in funeral homes.
“It’s dead,” I tell him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks.
“I just did.”
This is my parenting style. Why bring death and sadness into the equation when I can wait and let it come to me? I did tell him. Just not at the moment it happened.
“What?! When?” Now the curiosity, the how-could-I-have-missed-this?
“Three days ago.”
And I’ll bet my feathers that, had Luke’s girlfriend not noticed the empty cage, it would still be in my kitchen and no one would be the wiser. We could have gotten several more months out of that pet, post-mortem.
All that to say what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years. Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow. …that no one much notices unless you flap about and use your bullhorn. If you’re quietly desperate, only the quiet will be noted.
No one noticed Sunflower’s passing because she was so polite about it. All our other pets had the poor taste to die drawn-out, dramatic deaths full of sound and fury and urine and feathers and poo. Like Sunflower’s partner, who bleated for several days before becoming eternally mute. Why did we not take her to the bird doctor, you ask. Please don’t ask that. People eat birds. People don’t hit the brakes for birds. We fed her, watered her, cleaned her cage. But I was not about to incur a vet bill over a bird, screaming or no.
And, in my defense, I thought the screaming would stop, not in death. I just figured birds do that sometimes. He was molting. I heard molting was stressful. I scream sometimes when I’m stressed.
A parent makes many mistakes. Death makes me think this, too. Some deaths have to be full-on in your face. No retreating into the stress-free treetops until you feel like dealing with death. But Sunflower, beautiful little thing, offered a reprieve by dying ever so quietly, and I took it.
Death makes me think things. But it doesn’t always make me do things.
The beauty of fiction is that you can say all the things you wanted to say, then shrug and tell people, It’s fiction. It’s like being in the confessional booth with a stuffed bear. Father, forgive me. I put a saber between the ribs of my neighbor’s hound dog for defecating on my lawn today. Go in peace, my son, and sin no more…
What? You say that story resembles a moment when you pissed me off so badly that I wanted to call down the host of heaven to peck your eyes out and eat your flesh in thousands of little bites so that you’d feel the pain long enough to satiate my wrath? Why, you misunderstand me, that was fiction.
Fiction is everything you want to do and everything you wouldn’t do, all jumbled up like borscht so that no one recognizes which is blood and which is beets. And that, my friends, is a safe space. In fiction I can be the strong, courageous person I want to be. Things turn out the way they should. Writing fiction is like being governor in my own utopian state.
Fiction, for me is The Best Lie.
And the best lies are mostly true. I once used that statement to refer to the story of Jesus, and the pastor trying to lead me through the narrow gate nearly fell out of his seat. But lest we of faith get all bent out of shape that I speak of lies… Fiction, which is a contractual agreement that I’m-going-to-lie-to-you-and-you’re-going-to-be-good-with-it, can explore truth in ways that an I-essay can’t. Fiction is the couch and the therapist whose oath of secrecy means he can’t tattle on me as I offload my baggage. I throw out my grenades and hope my therapist will still be there when the dust clears. It’s that way with God, too. God knows which is blood and which is beets, and He still loves us. Think about that for a moment.
And when the dust clears, after writing something that’s beautiful and mostly true and the parts that aren’t would be, were this heaven or my utopia– when that happens… it’s glorious.