Free-Range Fiction: The Exclusion Zone

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This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s weekly Friday challenge to do some flash fiction. This week he challenged us to do no more than 1,000 words on this sentence:  The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.  I did have to change the tense of the sentence and the article, but other than that, I’m fairly interested in what I came up with. (Edit:  I missed the, it should be your opening sentence bit. Oh well. It got me writing.)  It’s hard to build a world and make it interesting for your reader in less than 1,000 words.  I penned this while sitting in an art fair booth in the heat on Saturday.  It is in its rough state. I’ve made no edits to what I originated on that day.  Feel free to leave comments, especially if you’re a science fiction fan.  Enjoy…

Exclusion Zone

The signage all over Black Cat Space Station said, “NO ANDROID ALLOWED” in seventeen different languages. Public service announcements every three hours gave even more details. The Universal United Governors had declared this an android exclusion zone during the Selah Convention and was enforced by the United Planetary Army.

Guards everywhere with ocular implants scanned without stopping to see the spinal cord signal that gave away the identity of a generation nine android. Most visitors came to Black Cat simply for recreation and pleasure. It was the Vegas of quadrant three of the Cascadian System. The Army recruits mostly came from the Appalachian System, which was mostly populated by the Neruvian species, who never had to blink and whose average nine-foot height was perfect for surveying the Black Cat’s population, which surged and shrank in regular ocean-like waves.

The Army had stationed an entire platoon of Neruvians at the new feature at Black Cat, The Wondering Station. This new tourist trap took people into basically a recycle quick flight personnel carrier made for intersystem travel. But with fuel issues personal intersystem travel was frowned upon. However, there was millions of these aircraft, especially close to Black Cat, because they had been manufactured on a moon base not too far from Black Cat.

Once a customer was inside The Wondering Station, they were hooked up to biofeeds and were hooked up to ocular and auditory stimulators. The customer drank a “wondering” elixir. The whole process took the dreams of the customer and made them real for up to thirty minutes – if they paid for the “grand level.” There was a line of visitors from the moment The Wondering Station opened until the time they closed.  Even after closing time people waited the “dream high” as those who’d experience it referred to it. It was that intense, as real as any experience for the customer. Testimonials advertised to the waiting patrons and the curious: “I can die happy now;” “I think it was better than the real thing;” or even the real seller, “Best fuck for my buck.” Most of the sales were for interspecies sex fantasies, since the real thing was outlawed in most systems.

Hours passed and the Neruvian soldiers kept sentry. At station point 42.9, Corporal Sunburst – so given that name because of the shock of hair atop his red wine Neruvian skin was bright yellow like a solar flare – stood scanning back and forth his sector. Just before his shift was scheduled to end, he spotted an android. He put a bead on the individual and radioed the survey base, which was in the central tower of the Black Cat Space Station. It looked like the center of a gigantic top. The spotter that sat in the center of the circle of screens – some video, some heat sensor, some hooked up to sentry points of those that called in like Sunburst. The spotter and Corporal Sunburst watched as the noticed android walked past the wondering station. The androids chip blipped and buzzed on the various screens in the security center. Corporal Sunburst watches ad the android turned and looked right at him – used his humanoid hand to make the shape of a gun and mock fired it towards Sunburst. If he could have blinked he would have. Instead he swallowed and drew his weapon and awaited word from the command center. A moment later The Wondering Station’s windows exploded. A huge mushroom cloud plumed and raised high above the space station. Sunburst began to feel the metal beneath his feet tremble; his large nine-foot frame swayed a bit and then the 42.9 platform crumbled beneath him. Soon the android, The Wondering Station, and all of Black Cat was smoking, flaming and collapsing in ruin.

The only ting left when help arrived was a “NO ANDROIDS ALLOWED” sign in seventeen languages.

Free-Range Fiction: A NAKED SLOT RESIDES

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Before I post this week’s Free-Range Fiction story, I want to let you know that this is an experimental piece. I have been reading “From Where You Dream:  The Process of Writing Fiction” by Robert Olen Butler.  He has a tactic of getting into a “trance” when you write and this piece reflects the third time I’ve attempted to do part of this tactic that I’m reading and learning about. 

I also need to thank Chuck Wendig again for helping to prompt me out what has been a bit of a writing slump. I came very close in the last couple of weeks of putting the whole writing life on hold, if not permanently behind me.  Something about this prompt, in addition to this post last week, helped my creative switch kick it into high gear again.  Thank you Herr Wendig.

This week’s flash fiction challenge was to use this random sentence generator and find 1,000 words to make a story from it. Since I didn’t know what I was going to get — trying some experimental ways of writing seemed a perfect match.  Personally, I’m intrigued with what came out of this new way of processing the ideas and stories in my mind’s eyes. I also wanted to play with tense and visuals. As always, it’s a bit dark. Best to read with an adult beverage in your hand, I propose. 

The random sentence I received was:  A naked slot resides. I’m making it the title of this little flash-fiction experiment. Hope you enjoy these 927 words. Tell me what you think in the comments below. Growing as a writer means sometimes, even, I got to digest a bit of manure from the garden of the internet. Throw it at me. 

 

A Naked Slot Resides.

 

A naked slot resides between the memorial marker for my husband and my son. It will one day fill with the memorial marker for me, the wife, the mother. The grass in the naked slot is lush and cool, shaded as it is by a giant maple tree. I sometimes lay in it, answering its whispering call. I can hear murmurs under the earth. Ants. Moles. Worms. Other things, unmentionable things. The worms are the noisiest. I hear them chatting, complaining about the clay pots that hold the remains of the loves in my life.

 

“It’s stale,” the worms hum.

 

All our ashes lain to rest on the land where our doom rose up from the ground like those unmentionable things which yammer on, normally when the moon is high. But I can’t think about that right now. Later. Not now.

 

Sunlight Through A Giant Maple (Photo by Sister Jean SodaHead)

I lay now in the cool grass, the sun high above the maple. I stare up, sunlight venting through the branches and leaves, leaving dancing shadows on my face. The mountain two miles from here looks down on me, a white figure dressed in white stretched between two graves. I close my eyes. Dinner can wait. Hell, breakfast and lunch did as well. I don’t worry about the dried leaves, grass or other debris that will likely stain the back of my dress. I just lay there, feeling the earth beneath me, the sun upon me, the whispers of the creatures beneath me. I think about who will have this land with three memorial markers after I’m gone, after I keep making dinner wait. I see court battles from neighbors and the county government. But they are all unable to do anything because these remains are here. They shall be here forever. As part of the grass, dirt, tree, leaves, ants, moles and worms. I shall remain. My husband shall remain. My son shall remain. We all will remain neighbors to that ever-present mountain.

 

I sat up, knees bent. I could feel the ants marching across my left calf. Their sets of six legs prickling my skin are there even when they are not there – the fall that should have killed me but didn’t kill me left them always marching. Today, however, the scratch of tibial spurs from a pair of sparrow-brown ants drags against my epidermis. I watch as they ascend towards my knee and then decide, seemingly, that the incline is too steep, then scrape along their way down to my bare ankle and escape out through the middle of my toes.

 

I lay back down, and close my eyes to the sleep I know is coming. The warmth of the earth. The peace I feel in this space. It allows me to slip into an easy nap. I dream. I see my son, a toddler, so many years ago. His father and I holding him by his hands between us. The milky sand of Virginia beach warm under our feet. We were the perfect family at the perfect moment. The waves active enough to make it fun to run in and out of them as they broke on the beach. I smile down at my son. When he turns his face towards mine and smiles, he begins to vomit. Giant slugs fall from his mouth which has begun to tear from his gums. The slugs deposit on his body, burning his skin. Immediately my husband and I are at his side at the hospital, but not right at his side, but looking through a burn-unit window. He’s much larger now, but there are actual burns on his skin. A high-school boy prank gone wrong. He would never leave that bed. The first of the memorial markers now sits as the focus of my dream. I see my husband, he’s beckoning me to come stand under the maple tree and watch the sunset on my son’s grave. We had to install 8 foot fences in order to have the marker protected. He is sweaty from all the work to maintain the property. The sunset would be replaced with the spiraling lights of a medic car, my husband had worked himself to death.

 

A cool breeze and the low light of sunset wakes me, sending shivers of the approaching autumn down and through me. My lips are chapped. Today is the end of the third day with no water. I can feel my heartbeat skip now and then. I suddenly want the quilt that I made for our TV nights. I struggle to sit up and see flashes of black dots, or is it bats escaping from the barn in the back? I can’t hear anything. Just the thump of the blood slowly moving through my body. I count the 50 steps from the naked slot to the back door. I pause in the doorway to keep my self from vomiting. There’s nothing to expel. It’s a chore, but I get the quilt from the couch. The TV looks at me with neglected blinking signals. I haven’t turned it on since the man at the mortuary helped me erect my husband’s marker.

 

It takes me nearly twenty minutes to walk the 50 steps again. I have to pause. I don’t want to fall. Not yet. I can sink into the earth once I’m in the naked slot.

 

The comforter smells still of family nights of popcorn and Star Trek. It’s warm. It’s colors reflect on the moons sliver of light. I close my eyes and the worms tell me good night.

 

Free-Range Fiction: Tackling the Unlikable Protagonist

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Once again I’m being lazy as far as idea creativity goes and leaning on the fabulous Chuck Wendig and his weekly challenge to the writers who follow his blog. It deals with the unlikable protagonist. This story below is the beginning of a work-in-progress, SLIDE. Likely will be a novella because I don’t think it will have enough steam to be a novel-length project. Believe it or not, most of the story deals with Miranda Dabrowski. Here is the introduction. Let me know how you like it, as always.

SLIDE


“I didn’t kill your sister,” the woman, who before she was tied up, had sported perfect hair. “I didn’t have anything to do with it,” she wiggled against her bindings.

Watching the captive in the chair, a tall, slender, dark haired woman with big Hollywood sunglasses and a scarf where the lower half of her face should be spoke, “You are an accomplice. For your crimes, you will be punished.”

The tied-up woman began to cry as the dark-haired one produced a knife. She took two steps towards her captive and stopped. Her cheeks – the only part truly visible on her face – slackened and she tilted her head and considered the being in front of her. Tears shuddered down the young woman’s face and she continued to struggle against the clothesline that held her. Black sunglasses hung above here a long moment, the knife lightly reflecting the weak light in the basement.

“You have to know that for which you are responsible,” the dark-haired one spoke from beneath the silken gray scarf. “Stop your crying and let me tell you a little bedtime story.” The woman turned, high heels clicking on cement, and returned to a work bench behind her and set the knife down and perched herself on a wooden stool.

The captive quieted but her eyes kept darting around. Was there a door left or right? It was too dark. All she could really see were shadows on either side. The two dangling lights only illuminated where she was tied up and the area where the work bench was. Everything else was dark.

The knife was set down on the work bench where a circular saw sat. The sunglasses were removed, gently placed down. The black hair was brushed back to reveal the gray scarf had a slight sheen to it and a couple of spot where perhaps the captor’s sweat had been soaked by the delicate fabric.  She crossed her legs and revealed deep burgundy leather shoes in the tight charcoal wool skirt.

She took a deep breath, “Once upon a time, my sister was alive. As were her three children — beautiful imps they were. Ate my heart alive every time I saw them. My sister, as I explained was killed by the man you are fucking. Her distress and screams I hear almost nonstop. I hear the voices of her children, who are also dead because of his whorish, addictive ways. Killing him, however, is too good for him. You, on the other hand, need to be punished.”

“I didn’t do anything,” the girl sobbed. “Really, I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

“And you should be,” the rage rocketed from the dark-haired woman, launching her off the stool and putting her once again right in front of the captive, crying woman.

“But I didn’t mean to,” the prisoner sobbed, head forward.

“I don’t want to hear your excuses,” and the words were followed by a slap that burned red into the pale skin.

Syrupy strains of snot and tears coagulated into the captive’s lap. She waited for the knife. For her own blood to join the snot and tears. Instead, she heard the departing shot of high-heels on wooden steps. A door slammed. She looked up. It was darker still. There was the thump of music above. Besides the dark and the rumbling bass beat, she was utterly alone. And soon to be dead.

 

 

“Miranda,” the detective sighed, “I told you, there is nothing more we can do. There’s not enough evidence.”

“You’re not looking hard enough,” a growl came through the phone. “He is guilty. We both know it. Now do your job and find the fucking bloody glove or something.” The line went quiet.

Detective Peter Brandt scratched at his chin, his mind wandering around his paperwork covered desk. Miranda Dabrowski hadn’t called him in two weeks. A personal record for her since the woman’s sister and children had died. The coroner on the scene had said something in the initial investigation which left the door open for speculation and a flurry of questions. But he didn’t have time for this bullshit with Dabrowski. He had a missing woman. Not just any missing persons case either. This was the niece of the university chancellor.

“Detective?” one of the dispatchers was at his desk. Brandt looked up. “You might want to take a look at this. I couldn’t get the caller through to you because you were on the other line.”

Brandt took the message. It was from sister of the missing woman. The dispatcher had circled the name Leviticus Feeny in the note section of the pink slip. Brandt sat back in his chair and sighed.

“She said her sister was dating that man,” the dispatcher explained more. “She’d like a call back.”

“Will do,” Brandt said and picked up the phone. As the dispatcher walked away, he put the phone back down. Maybe he was going to have to deal with Dabrowski’s bullshit, since the name was the same name as her brother-in-law, who she swore murdered her sister and niece and nephew. He shook his head. This day just took a weird turn.

He decided to call Dabrowski first. She didn’t answer. He grabbed the trusty hat he bought on his trip to Australia — his one and only vacation in 20 years — and headed out to Dabrowski’s home.

A Dead Man’s Name

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Sir Wendig has challenged us once again on this fabulous Friday.  Music Shuffle Challenge, it is. I was thrilled when this song appeared. Here’s my story based upon the first song that popped up on my iTunes.  Sinead O’Connor’s song “Jackie.”   My flash fiction piece comes in at 494 words including the title. Enjoy. Comments appreciated.

I came to the shore each day at twilight, so I could see her. Her ethereal figure would appear, first just a shadow, then an outline, until her mourners gown and widow’s veil could be seen, a seeming solid being. I understood she wasn’t of this world, yet she was so a part of mine.

She didn’t see me perched along the rise of the hill. However, she wasn’t looking for me. She was looking for John Keane. Sailor. Husband. Lost. Weaved within the strong ocean winds you could hear her wail, “Jackie, oh Jackie.” Her figure would be hunched over, the sea swirling around her black skirt, as her shoulders trembled with grief. It felt invasive, but I couldn’t look away.

John “Jackie” Keane was my great-great uncle. My grandmother had told his story; how this seafaring man was lost and how his wife, Sorcha, had haunted the coast ever since. My cousins said she also haunted my grandmother’s home, which is where the Keane Clan had lived for many generations.

Only once approached the beach to see Widow Sorcha closely, to see the details of her haunted eyes, her lamenting mouth, and tormented face. In her eyes I saw a personal hell which made anguish an inadequate word. Her tears were the color of rotting kelp, her teeth — gritted in pain — mirrored the salt gray of November storms, and her arms reached out, skeletal with more than twenty years of searching for her sailor husband and accompanied with screeching sorrow.

I ran as fast as breaths of oxygen would carry me. Yet the chill for which the sight and sound of her did not leave me for weeks.

Now I brought binoculars with me, which saved my eyes from the blowing sand. I could see lips moving, as if she was obsessively chanting a mantra that would allow the sea to yield her beloved. A counter curse to her years of suffering.  I would watch the muted external dialogue and determined that she would never stop wandering the water’s edge, pacing and shaking her petite fist at the sea.

Grandma Keane said that Jackie’s death was really a murder, that creatures from the depths of the ocean had waged revenge on John Keane because his ship would survive even when others were turned to matchsticks by the sea’s wrath. Grandpa Keane had another story. A younger man, in love with Sorcha, had tied Jackie up and left him and his fishing vessel to be tossed about by an incoming storm. But Sorcha rejected him and he murdered her as well, stabbing her while breathing a curse upon her to wander alone for all eternity.

I did not care about the story. No, all I wanted was to see her peaceful and reunited with my uncle. For now, though, all I could do is visit, observe and wonder. Was she calling just my uncle, or was she calling me?

I got to TEOTWAWKI, and All I got was this lousy T-Shirt

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So once again, Chuck Wendig has me shaking off the constrains of my normal writing and stretching and reaching myself. His challenge was a genre-mashup.  From the choices, I picked to smush together Dystopian Sci-Fi and Slasher or Serial Killer genres. This has to be the silliest story I have ever written. But it was fun, I learned more about making voice strong and that an odd dream can be fodder for a story.

Hope you enjoy; it came in at a sparse 925 words including the title. Would love it if you tell me your favorite conversation T-shirt lurking in your wardrobe in the comments. Let’s make it fun, you know.

 

I got to TEOTWAWKI, and All I got was this lousy T-Shirt

Conversation t-shirts went the way of the Pet Rock, the original Ker-Knockers, and the Cabbage Patch Kids; but, not because Americans lost their interest in them or because such great classics like “I’m with Stupid” had become passé for any other reason; no, they had a typical unknown taste maker destroy them by way of serial killer.

Back in 2054, right after we were all living with these days, instead of hours of darkness and light, four years after the meteor hit and kicked Earth in her girly bits enough to get her orbit cycle all out of whack, conversation t-shirts basically put a target on your back.

I had a closet full of them and when the Center for Disease Control confiscated them, I learned that I narrowly had escaped the wrath of the Con-Tee Serial Killer.

Acid rain also saved me. But, I’ll get to that later.

A scientist, eventually only known as the Con-Tee Serial Killer, was working for some bio-tech corporation outside of Seattle, was frustrated with the lack of world population. He had seen the world’s population top over 10 billion in 2050. But no government, agency or non-profit organization was doing anything to help educate people. Now this scientist, he loathed the conversation t-shirt and thought that humans who wore them were not worthy of eating up the planets diminishing resources. He designed a formula that controlled people to seek out and destroy the “I’m With Stupid” populations. The formula dissipated – odorless, tasteless, and nearly undetectable – into water and fouled the water supplies in all of the Pacific Northwest first; then he hit up the Great Lakes area. Because bottled water companies had ago been importing water from both the upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, soon all of North America was infected. Riots broke out in places like Hot Topics, Outlet Malls and Wal-Marts. The population of the United States, then Canada and Mexico dropped. Japan and China were also infected quickly and suffered the greatest population drops. Somehow the formula made it to Europe, but save for some areas of the U.K., most of Europe seemed to not be infected. Of course, the experts on this condition didn’t know that real style centers of Europe scoff at such apparel. Only a few ugly American tourists were mugged and beaten within an inch of their life during the Oktoberfest in Munich. Other than those few incidents, most of Europe was spared the plague.

The serial killer’s plague started in the rainy Pacific Northwest, it was also along the bridges and byways of Portland, Ore. that the cure and eventual containment of the formula and its maker. I was searching out a vegan lunch truck on my lunch break in my “Ride Me Hard and Put Me Away Wet” t-shirt. Working as a flat-rate mechanic allowed a bit of liberty on the work wardrobe. Basically no one gave a shit what you wore under your coveralls. Why I wasn’t attacked on the way to the lunch is a bizarre anomaly and I credit it to the simple dumb luck I’ve been blessed with since birth. Just as I was taking a bite of my black bean burrito, we got a cloud burst that drenched me. So that my t-shirt was not visible and had abated and attack caused by an “Y__  _R_ _N _D__T : Would you like to buy a vowel?” t-shirt, which occurred near the historic Hollywood Theatre. A landscape artist who witnessed the start and sudden stop of the attack would be the one to bring it to the CDC’s attention that rain had some kind of calming, if not curing effect.

However, it would be a very long week. One that would prepare people for the coming celestial shift a few years later, when color and fashion faded to simple utilitarian warmth and cooling. REI made a killing. In fact the first mass killing of the outbreak was outside one of their stores. I wished I’d had stock in them. Regardless, people learned to dress more appropriately – especially for the weather. In fact today, moisture-wicking and anti-staining became the buzz words. It was the dawn of the age of the Road Warrior fashion.

The week started out with the first killings showing up in places like Tacoma and smaller suburbs of Seattle like Kent and Burien. Then places like Warren, Mich., Duluth, Mn. And Green Bay, Wis. had outbreaks of normally non-violent, law-abiding citizens just savagely destroying anyone caught on the street in a shirt with some sort of snide, clever or asinine saying on it. Most people may have seen the viral video of the guy with the “When I want a pointless conversation, I’ll let you know” shirt who was taken out by an old lady who wore a powder blue wool suit. However, the guy that caught the clip thought she was having PTSD because the guy had a beard. Regardless, the Con-Tee Serial Killer’s work was a success. Notes of responsibility were sent to various police departments up and down the Puget Sound and along the shores of the Great Lakes. Between death and imprisonment, the world’s population was impacted, just as the formula’s scientist intended it. But he only had one week of blissful victory and anonymity. Soon the whole world would know that bio-tech scientist, Caden O’Neal, was the evil Con-Tee Serial Killer.

As for me, I’m headed to the CDC’s warehouse. I want my clothes back.