Flash Fiction: The Writing on the Wall

Shem’s last straw as maintenance man was the locker room.

“Not touching that.”

“Shem, you don’t get to choose what you clean around here. Either get going on that or… get going.” His boss thumbed toward the exit sign.

Shem got. No way was he going to scrub a floor-to-ceiling mural of excrement.

A cashier position offered flexible hours and no toilet scrubbing. The downside: people. But rules were rules. Low profile jobs sucked the same on any planet. This was his talion for scoring low on his entrance test: intergalactic signal duty.

Cosmic messages showed up as planetary ringworm when passed through the magnetic core– “random” cloud shapes or “haphazardly” downed trees from twisters or earthquakes. Even schools of fish swam in the shape of the message. Thing was, the message only lasted one hour. Signal duty meant sleeplessness and monotony.

As he worked the register, Shem intermittently cast his invisible third eye into orbit to scan the cloud cover. He gave a curt smile to the white-haired grandma purchasing deodorant foot powder,

“For my husband,” she apologized.

These people often apologized for purchases, especially men buying tampons. Shem offered her a half-laugh. Encouraging grandmas could get him sentenced to a twenty-minute soliloquy.

He slid the powder across the laser reader and fumbled it, spilling a white design over the glass. A somehow familiar design. Where had he seen it before?

Last time it was brown on white tile.

Vomit surged against Shem’s throat as the realization bloomed: this was a return signal, an intergalactic copy that. He missed the message. No one ever missed the message. The penalty for missing the message was–

Grandma reached to pet his cheek and he let her. Paralyzed.

“Son, it’s just foot powder.”

This was an entry for Zeroflash. Each month they hold a contest around a given theme or genre. This month it’s board games… sounds challenging!

P.S. The inspiration for the excrement-lined shower comes from Gabe, who swims at the YMCA. After swimming, he and his friends shower off in the boys’ locker room. Lately to the dismay of Gabe and his fellow swimmers, the shower has become the canvas of a disturbed young miscreant. 

The definition for talion can be found here, but it basically means that the punishment fits the crime.

 

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