Flash Fiction – Just Dessert

Below is my first attempt at a story after reading Save the Cat over the weekend. It’s also based on last Friday’s prompt from Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge, to include the phrase “there are no exits” and tell the story in ~1000 words.

 


Caitlin’s fork stabbed the table where the chocolate cake had been moments before.

“Trust me,” her cousin Skylar said through a stuffed mouth, “I’m doing you a favor. You can’t metabolize desserts.”

Aunt Terri, still in her flour-dusted pizza apron, glared at the back of Skyler’s head before swearing at the calico cat that was licking a dropped pepperoni.

Skylar leaned towards Caitlin. “Hey, Kate, I need you to do that spooky-find-stuff thing and go get Aunt Terri’s spare keys.”

Caitlin blinked. “Why do you need her keys?”

Skylar rolled her eyes. “Don’t be such a baby, it’s for a prank. And I need you to come with me tonight when the restaurant’s closed. Tell your dad you’re sleeping over at my place. It’ll be fun.”

“I can sleep over at your place?”

“Yeah! Maybe we can do something with your hair while we’re waiting.”

Caitlin looked at Skylar’s perfect highlights and the cut that flattered her thin face. She touched her own long, limp ponytail.

“Okay,” Caitlin said, and closed her eyes, thinking of the spare keys and the million little drawers along the walls of her aunt’s office. After a moment, she stood up, walked past her aunt’s turned back, and slipped into the office.
She opened a little plastic drawer. Her stomach twisted a little bit with guilt as she pocketed the keys.

***

Caitlin immediately walked into an upturned chair in the dark restaurant.

“Sorry,” Caitlin said, feeling her cousin’s glare. She ran a nervous hand over the braids in her hair.

Skylar thrust a screwdriver at her. “Take down the Exit signs and tell me when you’re done.” She stormed off towards the office, ignoring Caitlin’s weak protest.

The signs were easy to take down. There was a weird logo on the back of each, all spikes and circles. Caitlin almost fell off the chair she was standing on when a shadow meowed loudly up at her.

“Mr. Whiskers!” The calico meowed again. “You’re right, this isn’t a very funny prank.”

He chirped and cocked his head.

“You think we should get dessert before telling Skylar the signs are done? Good idea.” The cat turned and walked towards the kitchen. Caitlin followed.

***

The humming deep freeze had a lock. Mr. Whiskers purred loudly and rubbed against the cold steel. Caitlin put a hand on the lock, defeated.

She imagined all her aunt’s fancy desserts lining the shelves inside, frozen cannolis and tiramisu and more, and pulled down on the lock in frustration. The lock opened.

“Huh, she didn’t lock it tonight,” Caitlin whispered.

Mr. Whiskers meowed triumphantly as Caitlin pulled open the heavy door. Just inside was a plate of tiramisu, waiting for her. And Mr. Whiskers.

She sat on the floor, scraping some cream off onto a second plate for the cat before getting a first bite onto her fork.

“What do you think you’re doing!” Skylar’s arms were full with books, a folder, and a little box. “I told you to come get me when you finished with the signs.”

Caitlin put down her fork and started to apologize, but they both heard the door open upstairs, Aunt Terri’s voice calling for Mr. Whiskers. He ran up the stairs, chirping and meowing loudly.

Caitlin could just make out Aunt Terri saying, “Is that so?” to Mr Whiskers, and what might have been snapping fingers, before the stairs creaked with footsteps. Skylar bolted back out into the dining room.

Caitlin felt queasy, but followed her cousin.

The dining room was full of a weird blue light, and Skylar was slapping her hands against the wall, crying, “There’s no door, there’s no door!”

Caitlin looked around. The front windows were… gone. So were the doors. There was no exit of any kind.

She grabbed Skylar and pulled her down into a booth as Aunt Terri stepped out of the kitchen door.

“Girls,” Terri said, “I don’t want to play games. Fess up and we’ll get this over with.”

The cat meowed helpfully. “Yes, Mr. Whiskers, I know you got some cream. And you’ll be gassy later.”

Skylar opened the box little box from the office, pulled a small green rock and thrust it at Caitlin. “Point this at Terri. Imagine that she doesn’t remember us being here. Do it, hurry!”

Caitlin looked at the stone, green and wand-shaped. Skylar was still talking, but Caitlin didn’t care. Her stomach ache was gone. She felt a new fear, then, of never understanding tonight, of going back to a world where Skylar was always in charge.

“Damn it, Kate, do what I tell you!” Skylar hissed.

Caitlin closed her eyes and breathed deep. “I hate it when you call me Kate, Sky.” The stone assured her. Her anger was justified, and she didn’t have to do anything she did not want to do.

“Kate, we don’t have time for this. Deal with Aunt Terri. Now!”

Caitlin felt something break open inside her. She stood up, pointed at Skylar, and shouted, “I hate it when you call me Kate!” There was a flash of light. Then she saw Skylar on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, slack jawed, and Caitlin’s knees gave out from under her.

***

Terri set down two cups of coffee and plates of chocolate cake. “You’ll feel better once you eat a little something,” she said.

Caitlin poked a fork at it suspiciously. “Is Skylar okay?” she asked.

Terri waved a dismissive hand. “Yes, the little monster will be fine, which is more than she deserves, after a year of using you to do things she can’t. Really, sweetie, eat some cake.”

Mr. Whiskers brushed up against her leg, looked up at her and chirped,“Door Opener, I’ll help you eat your cake.” Caitlin looked back up at Ruby, eyes wide.

Terri smiled apologetically. “We have a lot to talk about, hon.”

Caitlin took a bite of cake.

 


Header Image:

Toa Heftiba

Flash Fiction – Echo

Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

For the Daily Prompt – Echo

The phone was face up and flashing strange colors and messy squiggle shapes that vibrated across the screen.  All she had done was try to send a text message.  A very important text message.

Vanessa slammed her phone down onto the table and swore.  A brand new Nine, with all the updates.  A line of phones that had never expressed the Bug before. Nothing she’d read before buying had mentioned the Bug finally getting to her preferred phone brand.

Deep breath.  Fine.

She glanced down at the mess of notes scattered across the kitchen table.  It was 3am and she’d already been up for an hour working out the idea that had woken her up.  A rambling affair of equations and arrows pointing to phrases like “cosmological inflation.”  All she had tried to text to her research partner was, “We need to figure out how to make an echo,” followed by a few snapshots of her notes.

And now her phone was refusing to send that message, overcome with strange, eldritch symbols and flashing lights like a dance club.  This new phone was the brand that wasn’t supposed to have the Bug; only Androids had been doing it previously.  It didn’t make much sense, and no one working to develop phone technologies had figured out what was causing the Bug.  But Vanessa was a theoretical physicist, and she couldn’t turn away from a mystery that needed a proper application of science.

So she made some strong black tea.  This entire situation had been instigated by her abruptly waking from a dead sleep, full of the understanding that solved the issue her research team was stuck on.  Vanessa sipped her tea.

The phone was still flashing, and vibrated occasionally.  Vanessa wasn’t an Android user, and had never seen a live example of the Bug.  She’d had the Nine for about three weeks, with no issues.  What was different?

She frowned at the thing, and began listing out everything she knew about the Bug.

It was first reported about 18 months ago, in high end Android phones.  Communications sent through messenger apps occasionally sent back strange forms of data that neither the app nor the phone could interpret; weird sounds, those flashing lights, the shapes that looked…wrong. Voice and video calls sometimes generated something that sounded almost like music, something on the cusp of being a true pattern.

Various causes had been accused; sun spots, Russian hackers, North Korean hackers, US government spyware, spyware in Facebook.  It took long a time for anyone to suggest it was the hardware.

Vanessa sipped her tea.  It couldn’t be the hardware, though, could it?  Not when multiple phone brands and operating systems were having the problem.  What else had changed?  Did the Nines have some new-ish technology that Android had been playing with for the last year and a half?  She tended to keep her head out of consumer product tech, and didn’t have enough information in her head.

Standing up, Vanessa walked to her bookshelf, where a stack of print magazines leaned precariously.  She knocked the whole thing over, searching for the scientific journals from three years ago, hoping they were there.  She knelt down on her knees, flipping through the magazines over and over again until she found what she was searching for:

“Nature 2019: New encryption technology potential in harnessing dark matter relay networks”

Vanessa went back to the table and grabbed a highlighter, marking the article up as she read, understanding washing over her.  She remembered the announcement two years ago of new encryption technologies, something “completely unhackable.”  There was a vague memory of Drake at the lab expounding excitedly about it.  He had very little technical detail at the time, and so Vanessa hadn’t paid much attention.  Was this theory about a “dark matter relay” really it?

She put more water on to heat for tea, then picked the quivering phone up and stared at it.  Shapes trailed across the screen, like an old fashioned screen saver.  There was a sense of depth, like watching a poorly made 3D movie, that made her stomach twist up as she watched.  Some of the shapes resembled viruses or bacteria under an election microscope, and seemed to gain more detail the longer she stared, ceasing to be formless blobs.

There were the squiggles, long threads that tied themselves in and out of complicated knots.  There was a pattern to the knots; she felt that if she studied them long enough, she’d find something mathematical being communicated.  She became increasingly certain that those knots represented part of the formula she had tried to text earlier, which was surely impossible.  The tea kettle screamed out, and Vanessa dropped the phone, her eyes snapping up and away.

Her stomach lurched, and she ran to the sink, retching while the tea pot continued to squeal.  Vanessa drank some cold water, and breathed slowly, turning to silence the kettle.  The phone was facedown on the carpet, still quivering every few minutes.  She made more tea, watching the steam rise slowly, which turned her mind back to her research lab.  Background radiation and echoes of the formation of the Universe, that’s what they worked on.  Questions about Dark Matter were discussed every single day.

Why hadn’t anyone looked into this encryption technology development?  It used concepts that, if true, could change how they studied the cosmos.  They could finally prove or disprove the hypothesis about the Milky Way’s dark matter disk and its effect on Earth and the evolution of life.  Or the idea of parallel dark matter universes.  That paper hadn’t addressed any of those ideas.  If there was another world right next to ours, this new encryption technology was bouncing our communications right through it.

The Bug did not happen with every single communication, or they would have killed the technology by now, rendered useless.  Perhaps the messages were for the most part traveling through empty space.  But if there was a dust cloud or meteor field of dark matter objects, sometimes those communications would bounce off the objects, creating an echo.  The bizarre way the messages scrambled when bounced back, could they be a key to Dark Matter?  What could the raw data of the scramble tell us about the Universe and matter?

Vanessa pulled the journal article back over, and started copying out equations.  This ridiculous Bug that so many people had come to hate had just given her the key to measuring invisible things.  As she began to work the math out and sketched some initial experiments, she decided that she would explain it in layman’s terms as “echolocation for space and the invisible world.”

She would start by mapping out what the phone messages were bouncing off of; a map might have practical, real world applications that could fund the rest of her research.  She was a bit disturbed by the sense of a pattern, as though the data was being intentionally manipulated, but that was one more mystery to solve.

Humanity had just been given a flashlight that could beam into the darkest, most impenetrable shadows of the cosmos.  Of course she wanted to go exploring.

Flash Fiction – Faded

The earthquake trembled through the bones of the prairie.  Jack pumps shivered, and to the east the wind towers swayed almost too far.

The moon was pale and half-formed, silently drifting behind long streamers of silver cloud. A coyote leaped back from her dinner of jackrabbit, teeth bared at the ground, which had not stopped shaking.  She stood on a humped ridge of limestone that jutted out of the field.  Soft stones began to slide down the exposed side of the ridge, and cracks appeared in the layered rock.  She yelped as the small cliff began to collapse, and leapt away, landing hard on the flat ground and bruising a paw.

The coyote turned back, briefly remembering the fresh killed rabbit.  The limestone ridge was gone.

A pile of rubble was crumbled loosely around the mouth of a long hidden cave.  The pale moonlight showed only that the cavern was deep.

The ground was still now, but the sounds of shifting rock and earth echoed out of the cave’s mouth, and then, something grunting.  The coyote turned and ran, meal forgotten now.

The light faded as the clouds thickened across the moon, and the air chilled slightly.  There was a scrabbling sound at the mouth of the cave.  Something breathed and gasped and mumbled something like language.

The clouds thinned again.  Just beyond the cavern’s edge sprawled something with six limbs that were moving weakly.  It was wrapped in a casing that glinted metallic, and had a faint pattern of light glowing weakly on the exposed part of its body.  It slowly pulled itself up and leaned against a large boulder.  There was a sound of breathing, a shallow, whistling noise that seemed to struggle.

The creature began to tap the pattern of lights along its body, and began broadcasting its thoughts.

…ocean is gone, where is it now?  Where am I?  How long?  How long?

The creature pointed a limb towards the sky, extending four thin fingers until they were tendrils that drifted with the wind.  The fingers began to glow blue and curled back inwards until they formed a sphere of the blue light.  The creature shifted the sphere across the sky, staring through it at the moon and the clouds.  Then the clouds opened up, and the creature had a clear view of the stars.

Shining down were the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters now faded to six.

The creature stopped breathing for a few moments.

This is wrong.  The stars are wrong.  Asleep too long, buried too long.  Can’t calibrate where I am, all the signal stars are faded or gone entirely.  I’ve been in stasis so long that this planet is in a different part of the Galaxy.

The creature tapped again at the lights on its abdomen, and then its voice was very loud.

Is anyone here?   Did anyone else wake up?  Did any of you survive?  I’m broadcasting on every frequency I can with what power I have.  I need to find the ocean, I don’t know how much breathable liquid my suit has left.

Bracing against the boulder, the creature stood up slowly, putting its weight on the four lower limbs.  It gazed all around at the still darkness of the prairie.  There was a soft orange glow hugging the northern horizon; something out there was generating the light.  Possibly an industrial civilization, although it might be organic, or worse, silicate.  Perhaps the People still had an outpost here.

There was a low rumbling sound to the east. The creature turned towards it.  Two small dots of light were approaching; they seemed to be the source of the sound.  A vehicle of some kind.  There was something… primitive… about the noise.

The creature picked up one of the pale rocks and stared at it.  It was full of sea shells, colors and life force all faded into stone.  The ground was dry.  The cave had become dryer and dryer as the creature pulled itself up out of the stasis chamber.  The stone around the chamber had been damp, but it had also been deep in the bedrock.

The ocean where they had built a new home had faded away, a long time ago. The stars they’d used to find this world had also faded away.  The liquid in the creature’s suit would soon fade into nothing as well.

The lights were getting closer.  There was no sense of water nearby, nowhere to slip away into.  And still, no one had answered the distress calls.

The creature lowered itself down onto the boulder, and folded its limbs in a placating gesture, and waited to meet the world that had replaced what had faded away.

Daily Post: “Faded”

Mozzarella Sticks and Motivational Cats

mozzarella sticks

I’m being driven mad by a craving for mozzarella sticks and it is a very confusing experience.  I may have to get some sort of fried appetizer tonight when we see Suicide Squad.

man throws a typewriter to the floorI spent last night drinking beer and spitting out the first draft of a 2,000 word piece of flash fiction for Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenge.  Today I learned that I have to let such a thing sit for a day or two; I know what the story needs, but could not push my brain to do those things just yet.

The good thing about that is that I have now proven to myself that I can in fact produce something mostly coherent that includes a beginning, middle, and end.  I’ve been in doubt of that for some time.  Now I’ve murdered that particular demon in a spectacularly messy way and can get on with my quest to create a writing career.  Prepare yourselves.

Fried pickles might serve as an acceptable substitute.  With ranch to drown them in.

I’ve spent most of this week trying to automate various things that can help get me, and hopefully this blog, greater exposure.  It’s a mind numbing thing to do, but thankfully I’m a bit of a wonk for digital marketing and already know the process.

Speaking of which, I made a silly cat poster with a quote from author Saladin Ahmed yesterday, and this happened:

https://twitter.com/CheeseAndGlory/status/763843182811422720

 

I wonder what’s involved in frying mozzarella?  Do they use an egg dip?  Is it corn meal, wheat flour, or a mix?

I hope Suicide Squad is a good time.  I’ve read the reviews and I have very low expectations that will be met if it’s better than Batman vs. Superman.  My opinion might be swayed more positively if I get to eat mozzarella sticks.