fiction

Fiction: The Colonel’s Last Wish

In the bombed-out shell of a Starbucks cafe, he sat at a buckling and tilted table. What the colonel wouldn’t give for a green-smocked barista right now. A US Army truck painted over with his familiar insignia passed by, likely headed to the dump. Halfheartedly, he returned salute, then covered his nose. The dead Americans stank.

A familiar voice whispered, “You have one more wish.”

“I know.” He was afraid to say more. He’d already been tricked into wasting two wishes.

***

“I wish we had more recruits,” The colonel had mumbled. To himself. Barely aware of the vaporous and negligently-clad genie behind him. All he did was tap the kettle spout on the relic that had mysteriously appeared on the desk. No one saw who left it. The colonel’s words were barely out when a crowd of youths showed up, eager to don the newest nuclear plastique vests and pay the highest price.

Next, it wasn’t even a wish, just wishful thinking. “Oh, that they’d all fall– every major city…” The new recruits departed in unison, waited till all were ready. A thousand magic-controlled minds depressed the igniters… boom.

Thankfully, the colonel was in the underground bunker when it happened, else he might have wished himself dead. Everything good was gone. How could he tell the genie he wanted it back, just, sans Americans? What did he want with cornfields and rural towns of gun-toting Republicans? The colonel wanted the cities, the nightlife. The Starbucks. The pretty young baristas.

But these genies, they were black souls. They sneaked up on you and gave you exactly what you asked for, not what you wanted.

All the colonel wanted was a cup of espresso. “Can I wish for more wishes?”

“You know the answer to that.”

He spat at the genie’s feet.

 

 

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fiction

Last Touch

A tire spun, the one not furrowed by speed and thrust. Smoke wheezed from the buckled steel hood. Engine guts, half-erupted and splattered with oil, steamed in glossy, iridescent blackness. Beside his twitching foot lay an unwrapped breakfast sandwich. The smells of sausage, cologne, and sharp copper ghosted the car, floated out the broken windows, past the craggy blades. If his eyes worked, they would still see McDonald’s in his rear-view mirror. They had looked, in fact, cost him precious reaction time. That, plus a novice driver’s penchant for overzealous turning.

A deer in the road. Nothing had ever been so surprising. A deer. Right there. Where a second before had been open road.

He took the wheel too hard over and flipped the Subaru his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. Dumb luck his side hit the pole. The last thing John saw was wood grain, dark and deep like the lines on his mother’s eyes. And some rusty staples. A triangle-shaped scrap still clinging to one. He had time to recognize Death. First his skull hit the glass window, then the telephone pole.

John’s focus had been behind him, on McDonald’s drive-through. Even as he fished in the bag for the breakfast sandwich, he glanced behind and conjured her. Emma had said, “For you,” kissed it, and dropped it in the bag. “Pay me later.” She winked. The feathery touch of her hand as they passed the bag would be the last physical thrill John would know. As he gazed dreamily in his rear-view mirror, it was her face he saw, her lips against the paper wrapping.

John couldn’t wait to devour that sandwich. But when the unbending glass and wood splinters entered him, it was Death who laughed and opened his arms for a sweet embrace.

This flash fiction was inspired by the weekly Microcosms prompt/contest.

 

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Fiction: Tight Flight

I pressed the call button. Pinned to my window seat by the slumped behemoth of a man, it was the only thing I could do. His flesh oozed beyond the arm rest, assaulting my left thigh with an intimate, maddening pressure. His body heat passed through his polyester pants, through my jeans and ignited a wick of claustrophobia. Wasn’t there a weight restriction on standard seats? If he could afford sustenance to maintain nether regions the size of Russia, he could afford a first-class seat that would contain them.

First-class’s seat tray could not be put down, for obvious reasons, so First-class had the plastic cup wedged between his legs, which he spread well into my section, as defined by the invisible, but no less real and authoritative line that extended from the end of his seat into the seats in front of us. First-class let out an animal grunt, snapped his gargantuan legs closed, cracking the plastic cup and spilling soda all over the seat and floor. His head lolled, unfortunately toward me, and there remained. Eyes closed. Mouth open.

The seat belt sign was on, so I guessed that explained the absence of the blue-clad flight angel who should appear instantaneously, lean over the seat and ask in hushed, soothing tones, “Can I help you?”

Not like I hadn’t tried to rouse the sleeping leviathan myself. When that didn’t work I pressed the button. Seven times. It was moderately aerobic because I’m short and the ceiling buttons were just beyond my reach. Weren’t flight attendants handsomely paid to defy turbulence and saunter the tiny, lurching aisles like runway models?

Ten minutes later, still, no attendant.

First-class roused and swung the arm rest up, unleashing the full scope of his girth. I all but vanished.

This flash won community pick in Microcosms and was loosely inspired by my friend, Nancy.

fiction

The Shot: Fiction for Microcosms

Like all the outliers I’ve covered, this planet was named for some dead Earthian. Back then you could have a star named after yourself for less than the cost of a decent dinner. This man had a hundred stars named after him.

Trump XV looked no different than all the others. When the infrastructure goes, it’s all dust and rubble, looters and legionnaires. The wise stay underground in shelters.

I came upon a fluffy white Havanese. The little guy reclined on his owner’s grimed and tattered form, nuzzling her neck.

A flimsy leaf-like hand made feeble efforts to brush away the wee beast. She shook her head from side to side. Her iron-rich neck and shoulder muscle was, in fact, the dog’s meal.

I took the shot.

Took it from several angles. All the while she moaned and uttered the same word over and over. I didn’t speak Svoodian, but I could guess what the word was.

“Just a minute,” I told her as I stepped over her splayed legs to get a better angle. I crouched down for the close-up. The dog wasn’t budging. From its tiny mouth came a wet sound like child-hands in mud.

Probably the woman didn’t understand me, either, so I held up one finger.

I sent the shot to my editor with this caption: Dogs wearing collars become dinner or diners, depending on who kills who first.

At first I wrinkled my nose at the given prompt: foreign correspondent/battlefield/memoir. Nothing came. I spun their spinner over and over and… nothing. Then I thought of the book of Job (as I happened to be reading it). The phrase “and I alone have escaped to tell you…” leapt out at me as a possible opening for a foreign correspondent, and of course my correspondent had to be on another planet. Originally that phrase from Job was to begin my entry, but as I began the journey into this story, the original phrase lost its place. As so often happens in writing. So the prompt DID spawn something fun after all. My lesson: keep at it. Usually something comes.

fiction

The Gift: Fiction for Microcosms

Cal feared the new garbage truck: its dinosaur bellow of steel on steel as the automated arm plucked the blue plastic containers like weeds, flipped them upside down, and dumped the contents with an explosive crash. The engineering marvel rescued lower backs and killed jobs, but Cal wouldn’t know anything about that, being seven.

All he knew was the men were gone.

Until the horrid business was done, Cal stayed inside. No amount of cajoling would get him out on garbage day. One day the truck never came. Lucky it was summer.

Cal’s dad decided this couldn’t go on.

On top of the can was a gorgeously wrapped box tied with a purple bow. If Cal didn’t take it, the garbage truck would.

“What is it?”

“Go find out.” Dad winked.

Cal feared. Feared and coveted and the warring emotions dueled inside his young mind for preeminence. Desire began to get the upper hand; it moved slowly down his skin like a finger hesitant on a trigger. Cal placed his hands around the doorknob.

“Better go, Son. I hear the truck.”

The sound of squeaking breaks in the distance. The sound of dinosaur arms.

“They wouldn’t throw it away?”

“They would.”

The dinosaur was on his street. Cal could see its scalpel blade slide through the loops of a can. Still fear rooted him.

At the neighbor’s.

Something in him broke. He gripped the doorknob fiercely. Then realized: the bolt. Frantic, he jammed his fingers in his haste to undo it. The monster was right in front of his house now, about to take his present. The bolt slid free. Cal threw open the door and sprinted like a jack rabbit.

The blade came screeching out. It grabbed. Cal grabbed.

Just in time.

“Hey kid, watch it,” said the driver.

fiction

Duplicitous: Flash Fiction for Microcosms

As they approached, a big rabbit appeared over the edge of the ditch, looked at them quickly and vanished into the bank. Hazel let out a cry and floundered after as best she could in the cumbersome space suit.

“Don’t,” Tom said. But Hazel didn’t listen. Their ship carved the very ditch into which the rabbit, and Hazel, disappeared. A swath of ivory several hundred feet long was the scar they bestowed upon this brown world.

Their crash bubbles saved her and Tom, but not Ike. Because the cockpit was cordoned off from crew seating by a reinforced steel shell, all Hazel heard was a groan and a squelch. An unnerving odor bloomed in the cabin.

Hazel crinkled her nose and called, “Not your best landing, Ike.” When silence was the reply, Hazel’s guts unspooled. Tom’s eyes were closed like a terrible roller coaster had just come to a stop.

At first Hazel thought a month’s worth of chile meals had splattered on the glass of the cockpit. Then she saw Ike’s horseshoe necklace and flight uniform in the muck. Hazel didn’t remember vomiting or screaming, but Tom appeared, holding her, using a soothing voice. Ike didn’t suffer, Tom said, and wiped her mouth with his bare hand.

His fingers lingered on her lips, sending a bolt of icy realization.

More than once she’d caught Tom giving Ike sidelong glances. There was malice in them, she was sure. Tom didn’t even seem upset about Ike.

It was Hazel’s idea to check out the planet. Tom wanted to return by autopilot immediately. Their systems told them it was 100% uninhabitable.

Which was why the rabbit couldn’t be real.

Tom was slower than Hazel, but he reached the edge and peered over. Hazel had a gun trained on his heart.

***

Every Friday Microcosms holds a flash fiction contest. I like the spirit there and enter whenever time permits. This week’s prompt was to choose a book off your shelf (hopefully we all had shelves…), turn to page 73, and use the first non-dialogue sentence of the first paragraph on that page. I chose Watership Down by Richard Adams. Watership Down is my favorite fiction book on leadership. Stephen King refers to it in The Stand. I believe he based his character, Nick Andros, on the protagonist of Watership Down.

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Fiction for Microcosmsfic.com

 

Washed Away

“At it again?” Ella asked, standing over the hunched form of her husband. Darrin’s once-white robe was covered with a dusting of sand and browned on the butt. Ella handed him a steaming cup of coffee. A sand-encrusted hand trembled but received it gratefully. A ring of untanned skin was all that remained of his marriage. Half submerged in a foamy moat and gouging out fistfuls of muck, his other hand was invisible.

“I think I got it right this time,” Darrin muttered.

“How long?” Ella asked, her sweet voice hollow and feathery against the boisterous surf.

“Since two.”

“Why?”

“I wanted to finish before the tide came up. Recognize it?”

“Our honeymoon, Barcaldine Castle. But you got the top wrong. There weren’t any battlements on Barcaldine.”

“I added those… to keep you safe.” Darrin continued to scrape and mold the sand. The hands that played Brahms flawlessly, that delivered love letters, bills, and junk mail. The sure hands smoothed and teased the castle domes as if they were lace-decked breasts or a fragile neck. He drew his fingertips along the parapets as if they were her lips. One last time.

As the structure neared completion, Darrin’s eyes became glassy, but not a drop would fall. Plenty of salt water all around. The Ella hallucination faded as the sun edged over the horizon. At his feet lay the coffee cup full of brown water and sand. No wonder the coffee was bad.

Waves, inexorable and implacable, crept closer and closer. Darrin took the wedding rings out of his pocket: his thick one and her diamond-studded strand he’d discreetly removed before they shut the coffin. He clutched them to his chest. His other hand rooted around his robe pocket until he felt the smooth barrel, the finger hole.

The end.

Flash fiction is uniquely challenging. You get only a handful of words to communicate plot, brush in some character, some descriptions. No waste allowed! I think it appeals to me because I like poetry. But what often happens when I write flash is that most of the tale stays hidden inside my head, never to meet the page. I suppose I got it right with this one, or right enough because it won last week’s microcosmsfic flash fiction contest. The prize for winning? The honor of judging this week. Judging teaches me more about writing than almost any other exercise I do, so I’m grateful for the opportunity. Judging also allows me to do what I love second to writing: encourage fellow writers.