Another Friday Flashfic Challenge from Chuck Wendig: the who, the where the uh-oh.
I chose “detective,” “the Underworld,” and “Left for dead, out for revenge!” (With a side order of “trapped!” and “a conspiracy revealed!”)
So I’ve been waving my D20 around at Chuck Wendig’s behest. Here’s the 1,000 words that resulted:
“Not there, not there. Oh for The Boss’ sake what kind of training do you guys get in purgatory anyway?”
The columns of names on Gabriel’s clipboard swam before his eyes. There was no way they’d make quota this month. He conjured himself another coffee from the raw firmament. A ridiculous use of Angelic Might but, by The Boss’ Son, he needed it.
The problem, as he saw it, was mass literacy. If he could consign anyone to the fiery furnace it would be Gutenberg. Followed by the entire publishing industry. But there would be a special circle of hell for the people who wrote books about Angels.
Time, he thought, to make an example.
Steve Anderson was pressing F5 repeatedly. That in itself isn’t a sin. It’s certainly forgivable for an author on Amazon on the day that one of his books comes out. He’d often worried that too much ranking would make him go blind, but even Steve didn’t deserve what happened next.
At first he thought the deafening celestial fanfare was coming from a pop up advert. As he frantically hit ctrl-tab he noticed the seven-foot being of pure light standing at his elbow.
“Gurgle.” thought Steve, then realised that the seven-foot being of pure light was probably waiting for him to speak.
“Gurgle?” he said.
The being of pure light consulted a clipboard, Not a clipboard of pure light, Steve couldn’t help but notice. A normal, stationery-cupboard-at-work clipboard of the kind he’d stolen so many times when he still worked at the bank. Was it time to say “Gurgle” again?
The fanfare ceased.
“Steve Anderson,” said the being of pure light. If the heavenly fanfare had been an effulgent chord that seemed to harness the very music of the spheres, the voice sounded…
Well it sounded pissed off. In fact it sounded like the voice of his manager, Mr Galbraith, when firing him from the bank for writing books on company time. Well, that and the stationery thing.
“Are you Steven James Anderson?” said the voice – and this time there was no mistaking the frustration.
Steve nodded and added another gurgle for emphasis.
“Author of ‘How to Tame Your Angel – a Guide to Celestial Ordering’? Top of the Times bestseller list for seven consecutive weeks? Featured on Richard and Judy’s book club?”
Steve felt a swell of pride: recognition at last! It might not be clear exactly who was doing the recognising but word had clearly got about that he was a hot property in the speculative non-fiction world. His words came out in a rush.
“This, oh my God,” the Being flinched, “this is the most incredible… I mean what can I… Are you here to impart wisdom because I’m going to need to get my voice recorder. I’m rubbish at shorthand. Oh, can you give me the gift of shorthand? Or maybe perfect recall? No shorthand is better, it looks so impressive. Teeline, not Pitman – I don’t want to look like a…”
“Silence! Good Boss can you hear yourself? Have you any idea of the damage you’ve done?”
Steve’s head swam as he tried to frame a suitable reply. He felt he’d pushed “gurgle” as far as it could go. “I’m a professional writer for God’s sake,” he thought. “I can come up with something insightful.” He drew a breath.
“The Cherubim and Seraphim are pulling double shifts. We’re having to take on some fairly tarnished souls to bulk up the numbers – you do not want to know the lax entry standards we have for guardian angels these days. Surely you’ve noticed the sheer amount of senseless carnage in the world? That’s because we can’t keep up.”
The Being’s voice took on a singsong tone; no-being can do sarcastic like an overworked and pissed off member of the heavenly host. “‘Oh blessed angels, please let me get my promotion.’ ‘Oh blessed angels, please let the hot guy in accounts fancy me.’ ‘Oh blessed angels, I really want a new Mercedes.’”
“But that, but it’s… I was only trying to help people.”
“No you weren’t; you were doing what every member of your benighted species does. You were helping yourself. You saw that books about angels were big business and you decided to leap on the bandwagon. You don’t even believe in Us. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you’re not sitting here thinking ‘this isn’t really happening’?”
“Well it does seem pretty unlikely, on the face of it.”
The Being breathed a very unangelic word indeed.
“I’ve had it. This is strictly against protocol but for you I’m making an exception.” The Being moved his hands in an intricate design. Steve had the feeling he’d just witnessed something pretty obscene happening to the nature of causality.
“Your book is gone,” said the Being. “So gone that, in fact, it now never was. Everything else remains the same but you have never written your stupid, irresponsible, ridiculous…” the Being composed itself. “Dont. Do it. Again.”
And with another fanfare it was gone.
“I was an author,” thought Steve, “I threw away my job at the bank. I spent months, years even, sending out proposals. I wore out so much shoe leather meeting agents and publishers and I never got anywhere until ‘How to Tame Your Angel.’ Without it I’d never have got the deal for book two which I suppose means…”
With a shaking finger he pressed F5 one more time. Relief coursed through his veins like the heat of a single malt on a cold evening. He was still an author. Book Two was still selling.
And rather well, actually. Perhaps the Being had been his guardian angel after all.
Over 8,000 orders in the first four hours. Steve laughed and punched the air. It looked like “How to Train Your Yeti: A Guide to Cryptozoological Ordering.” was going to be an even bigger hit than “Angels.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Ok, this is it. Stay cool, but not too cool. Smile, but not too much. You can do this.
These were the thoughts whirring around Ben’s head as he approached the counter. He did this to himself every day, but it was worth it. The customer in front turned away with his order and now it was Ben’s turn. He took a step forward.
“Oh, hi!” He said, smiling too much.
“Good morning, sir” The young lady behind the counter replied. “Large cappuccino, whole milk?”
His heart sang, his ears rang, and his eyes nearly watered. She remembered. She had noticed him. His stomach did back-flips, and his feet did something not unlike a salsa. He had been coming in every weekday for the past month, and it had been more and more because of her than the coffee, which was actually pretty good.
Lisa. She was there every morning with a smile that did not appear forced and eyes that sparkled with the genuine satisfaction of a job well done. She just seemed, well, nice. But not just nice, really really nice, you know?
He hadn’t summoned the courage to engage her in meaningful conversation, though last week she’d mentioned the rain and he’d spluttered to agree without actually making any words. That counts, right?
“That’s right, yes” he surprised himself with what appeared to be a full sentence. His tongue had often gone on strike when he replied to her, leaving his jaw and lips to flail wildly.
She turned to perform her magic on the mysterious knobs, handles and valves of the coffee machine. He admired the skill and dexterity of her fingers. He found himself lingering on the nape of her neck, which was really quite lovely. Rarely had he seen a nape so appealing. He didn’t consider himself much of a ‘nape man’, but he felt he could certainly be converted.
The moments that contained handing over cash and receiving his drink blurred slightly and then he was looking into her eyes.
“Thank you.” she beamed. He swallowed hard.
“Thanks.” he managed. He carried on looking at her. Her eyes drifted away from his and slid sideways and behind him.
“Good morning, sir. Double espresso?”
Ben started to turn and then stumbled. His eyes glazed over, and he entered autopilot. A few seconds later he was sitting down.
It wasn’t just his order she’d remembered, she remembered all her regulars. Of course she did, she was bloody brilliant at her job. He looked over, and there she was smiling and chatting to all of her customers like she had with him. His stomach had stopped doing back-flips to catch its breath, and was now punishing him with a dull ache.
He slumped his shoulders, and gripped the cup. As he lifted it to his lips, something caught his eye. On the bare white of the cup, something was written. He had almost dismissed it as just being a description of his order, but no, she had made it right in front of him. Well, her back was turned, but no one else touched it. Come to think of it, he hadn’t even looked at the cup until now.
It was a number. It was in a very familiar format, a mobile phone number. A mobile phone number. His stomach was now doing back-flips again, this time with triple twists. He looked up suddenly, and saw that she was looking at him already. He met her gaze and she laughed lightly, then carried on serving.
Once again, he was in autopilot.
He snapped himself out of it as he was reaching to put the cup in the bin. He quickly withdrew his hand.
“See you tomorrow” said a voice over his shoulder. He turned and saw her watching him. She nodded at the cup.
Tomorrow? But tomorrow was Saturday, and he never came in the shop on Sa-… Oh.
3.8 billion years ago, two amino acids were quietly going about their business when they collided and something quite startling happened.
From this humble and rather baffling beginning, everything began. Everything, that is, that relates to life on this planet anyway. Protocells were formed and split themselves. Weird groups of cells got together and managed to split themselves and make more weird groups of cells. It was all highly unlikely, but it happened anyway.
Then one of these basic forms of life had the great idea of sex. It turned out to be really rather a good idea, mixing up gene pools and accelerating the processes of evolution. It was quite fun too.
For millions of generations two creatures managed to find one another, get off and knock out a couple of kids. Even the really ugly ones managed it. They all did it so that their kids could do it so that their kids could do it. They all survived long enough to do the dirty, and that was all that was important.
Billions of organisms over millions of years. Too many to properly be able to think about. Life begets life. That’s what life is all about.
Linda snuggled up to her husband.
“Do you think you’ll ever want kids?” She asked.
And that was that.
This is part of Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/02/10/flash-fiction-challenge-the-unlikable-protagonist/
An unlikable protagonist in less than 1000 words. Here’s my attempt:
The doorbell rang.
Mr Thomas opened the door and greeted the immaculately dressed guest.
‘Guest’ may not be the right word as she’d invited herself, but the local education authority letterhead usually grabbed a parent’s attention. She was shown into the sitting room and offered a cup of tea. She declined.
She sat rigidly in the proffered armchair, perching on the front of the cushion. Her grey skirt suit seemed to keep her sat bolt uptight, as if it were made of steel. She wore a pair of thick rimmed, rectangular glasses, which, with her hair tied in a tight bun, almost gave her the look of a sexy secretary just itching to shake it loose in slow-motion.
This was not, however, a woman who could be described as sexy. Her glasses stayed on. It was the only thing that gave any character to her plain, expressionless face. Shaking her hair loose in slow motion to the accompaniment of a power ballad was out of the question.
Mr and Mrs Thomas sat across from her, nervously holding hands on Mrs Thomas’ knee.
“Thank you for letting me see you on such short notice,” she said. Getting straight down to business meant she wouldn’t have to put up with the banality of small talk with this couple.
“Of course,” replied Mr Thomas “Anything that concerns Katie is the most important thing to us.”
“So, what seems to be the problem Mrs Bell?” asked Mrs Thomas
“Ms,” she replied curtly.
“Ms. Ms Bell.”
Mrs Thomas shuffled slightly.
“Oh, I see. Forgive me, Ms Bell. What’s this about Katie?”
Ms Bell bent to pull a folder out of her bag.
“Your daughter Katie has been brought to my attention because of certain… Difficulties she’s been having.”
“I, I don’t understand.” Mrs Thomas glanced at her husband, who was equally clueless.
“Of course, parents often have difficulty being objective in these situations. That is why I’m here, to help. As I was saying,” she shot a cold glance at Mrs Thomas, “Katie has been having difficulties at school and it’s starting to affect more than just her schoolwork”
Katie’s parents were now very worried. What could it be? Katie was only nine years old, it could hardly be anything sinister. She had a few good friends, maybe not the extensive network that a lot of children appeared to have, but some sweet girls came to play quite often. However, they had observed recently that she was maybe a little… Distant? Was that the word? As if she was watching more than playing. A nearly imperceptible gap had opened between Katie and the other girls.
“Tell me, does Katie read many books at home?” Ms Bell asked.
“Oh yes,” replied Mrs Thomas. “She’s quite the little bookworm, isn’t she David?”
“Yes, always got her nose stuck in a book. That, or writing little stories of her own.”
Ms Bell nodded solemnly.
“I thought that may be the case. You weren’t to know, you shouldn’t blame yourselves for her obvious learning difficulties.”
Mrs Thomas held her husband’s hand tighter, her eyes wide.
“Please don’t be alarmed” Ms Bell continued, reading the rising concern in their faces. “Katie’s problem is quite common and easily remedied these days. We believe Katie is hyperlexic and is leaving her classmates behind.”
This diagnosis was little comfort to the Thomas’, who continued to be perplexed.
“Are you sure?” Mrs Thomas asked. “She’s seem so normal, I hardly think she has a problem as drastic as that.”
“We are rarely wrong Mrs Thomas. I would like to administer some tests, naturally, but I am quite confident.” She seemed almost arrogant with her response. This was the worst part of the job, having to argue with ignorant parents who simply wanted to protect their ‘little darlings’ and deny everything. They needed a dose of reality.
“Simply put, Mr Thomas, Katie is leaving her classmates behind and it is affecting her in more ways than one. She is finishing her work halfway through her lessons, creating extra strain for her teachers and humiliating her peers. Surely, you can understand why we must step in to help.”
Mr Thomas struggled for words. He had had no idea things had become this bad. He’d seen a few reports on TV about the spread of hyperlexia, but had dismissed it as a silly fad. Now it was affecting his own daughter, he started to see it differently. The school had sent them an expert after all, specially trained, who was he to argue?
“Well, I suppose you could be right,” he admitted.
“As I said, this problem is quite straightforward to remedy.” She pulled out a sheaf of papers. “I will show you how to fill these in correctly and then you can simply take them to your GP who will provide you with a prescription.”
“Prescription? You mean medication?” Mrs Thomas’ eyes were starting to well now. Ms Bell sighed irritably.
“I mean medication. It is the most effective solution to your daughter’s condition. It will bring her down to her friend’s level allowing her to socialise normally. She’ll lose interest in all those books, and soon be playing with her dolls and watching television like a normal girl.”
Despite being irritated by these typically tedious parents, Ms Bell was satisfied with her work. She knew that she was helping poor Katie, and saving her from a life of intellectual solitude. She smiled inwardly as she assertively indicated where to place signatures and initials.
Katie would soon be normal, just like everyone else.