I wrote a new short, check it out.
I wrote a new short, check it out.
I’ve written a new short for Dan Krokos’s “False Memory contest,” a contest promoting his new book (which looks awesome.) My story is titled Queen Anne. If early voting patterns are any indication, I doubt it will be considered. That said, it’s the best thing I’ve written in a long while. So, check it out. You don’t have to be a member to read, but you do need to sign up if you wish to enter or vote.
Direct story link here:
Deep in the bowels of Intergalactic Peace Cruiser One, a warm fleshy alien waited. It had been so very long since intelligent life had been discovered; it caused quite the stir. Only the oldest assembly members, with ages polite society dared not calculate, could remember the last time a new species was brought forward.
Excitement was total. It was one of those rare occasions when you could almost see it in the air. Without being asked, the custodians had readied the rarely used upper seats of the spherical chamber, to accommodate the influx of diplomats, members of the press, historians, and lucky contest winners. Even Zaphod Martindale himself, the most notorious of carbon copy diplomats, was in attendance.
The lights dimmed and conversation stopped. A lone spotlight illuminated the massive entry doors; the chamber was still. The doors opened and their restless attention focused on the small, visibly nervous, biped now stepping into the light. The ambassador of Europa II gasped, audibly: the alien was pinker and softer than she’d imagined. The ambassador of Omicronia laughed at her ignorance, but maintained diplomacy by pointing out how inelegantly the alien moved through their gravity controlled environment.
The alien was moving slowly, cautiously, instinctively shuffling toward the well lit platform above and to its right Several of the newer council species rearranged their faces into sympathetic shapes as it passed.
A fist sized translator droid took its place, four inches above and eight behind the alien’s left shoulder; the alien didn’t appear to notice. When they reached the stage, the droid beamed an animated clip, a stick figure sitting in one of the “L” shaped chairs on stage, into the alien’s brain. There was no response. The droid beamed the suggestion again, and, after a brief consideration, the alien complied.
Another spotlight shinned down and Ambassador Sprax stepped into the chamber. The people seated nearest cheered, and polite appendage waving took over the sphere one section at a time. Sprax made his way to the hallowed “O” chair across from the alien, waving and pointing toward notable members of the crowd on his way. He sat, somewhat dramatically, and, even more dramatically, turned to face the alien. Once he’d established eye contact, he thrust his arms to the ceiling.
The crowd held its breath.
The alien turned from Sprax to the crowd, to the table and then back to Sprax. On cue, the droid sent another clip, requesting that the alien raise his arms. The alien complied and was rewarded with frantic appendage waving from the crowd.
When the excitement died down, somewhat, Sprax lowered his arms, and stood to address the crowd. “Fellow ambassadors, members of the press, and everyone else fortunate enough to be here today… Today, you witness first contact with the,” under his breath, “notorious,” continuing, “beings of the planet designated Marsha. As all of you are aware, establishing contact is often a difficult first step in the process adding a new species to our council, but no amount of effort is too much in the grand scheme of intergalactic peace.” A mournful silence was observed.
“As you’ve just seen, the alien offered his arms when requested to do so. While this is no way signifies a meaningful exchange, and I’m certain the alien has no idea what I’m saying right now, it does, however, show that peaceful negotiations are possible.” The pink alien seemed almost frozen amongst a sea of appendage waving.
“As many of you are aware, it’s been, some time, since we’ve found a new species, suitable, for the council. And while some of the Marshians’ preliminary data is, well, less than encouraging… I think it all the more reason we need them to join.”
The crowd murmured approval loud enough to be heard on the official recording.
“Droid, if you would…”
Sprax’s own droid flew to the center of the stage, and projected a cube with a two dimensional image on each side. From the aliens seat, it all looked like random light flashes, but even if he’d moved to a better seat his eyes still operated at the wrong frequency to see the projection.
The 2-D images in each cube began to move, and a motion picture was played.
The crowd gasped.
“What you are seeing, is a Martian transmission. It is a crude technology, granted, but they’ve managed to send this signal into deep space, and, we’ve managed to decode it.”
Some polite, some mid-range appendage waving took place.
“Yes, it is moderately impressive, I know… Please focus your attention on the transmission… now.”
The staticy, grainy image came momentarily into focus, and
bewilderment registered on every face in the crowd.
“From what we can determine, this is how the Marshians communicate.”
“As such, we are at a bit of a disadvantage. However, our top scientists have come up with a solution: a device, that should enable communication.” Under his breathe: “After much research.”
Continuing: “Droid, would you kindly…?”
The little robot halted projection and quickly flew into the darkness. It returned at half speed, dragging a floating slab that held an oddly shaped, hot pink object.
Several of the smaller diplomats, and all the historians with crap seats, stood on their chairs see the strange object.
Sprax picked up the smooth pink object, and held it high. “We call it, a, Marshian, communications, probe.”
Puzzlement gave way to self-satisfied appendage waving: what a smart lot we are.
If anyone was looking at the alien, they’d have noticed that he was fidgeting in his seat, nervously glancing around the sphere, desperate to find an exit.
Reading the image in Sprax’s mind, the droid took the MCP from Sprax, and applied the special-electrical-impulse-communications gel.
Sprax turned to the alien’s droid. “If you would…”
The alien’s droid requested that the alien take off his clothes and
lie on the table.
The alien shook his top appendage in a horizontal fashion.
The droid sent the request again.
The alien shook its head more forcefully.
The droid turned to Spark for further instruction.
“Um…” In the corner of his ocular pods, Sprax saw the crowd too was growing restless. He nodded at the droid, and thought, ‘Send it again, as many times as it takes.’
The droid sent the request again. And again. Again. Again. And again. And Again… Each time the request was faster, louder, and altogether more forceful.
It didn’t take long, about ten seconds, but after the 1,337th request was sent, the alien passed out; a drop of viscous red fluid trickled from one of the respiratory holes in its top appendage.
Nervously, Sprax turned to top ambassador Flitchy. Flitchy half raised his appendages, making the universal I don’t know gesture. Sprax turned to the crowd: “I… um..” Before he could find the words, his droid suggested that Sprax help the droids place the alien on the table. Sprax agreed.
“It seems our new friend is shy.”
The crowd: “Ha ha ha ha…”
Sprax and the two droids laid the alien on the conference table. It was heavier, and squishier than it looked. Several embarrassing moments later, they figured out how to remove the alien’s belt and took down his trousers.
Sprax: “Now, for the moment of truth…”
The audience was still.
The visual recorders flipped on the high speed settings.
The ambassador from Sploing nervously squeezed her hat to the point of destruction.
The concession stands and even the emergency workers stopped whatever they were doing and turned to face the live projections.
Traffic in the solar system ground to a halt.
The bureau of labor statistics would later report a 93% drop in universal productivity.
Stunned, Sprax dropped the probe to the floor.
“OIEN: OIEN, WOIHXNKOI OWEI FIKK!”
The crowd gasped again. Had something gone wrong?
Eye’s wide, Sprax turned to head Ambassador Flitchy, once again.
Was it shock, horror, or surprise on his face? After what felt like an eternity, Flitchy’s mouth closed, and formed a tiny smile. As discreetly as he was able, he moved his appendages in the circular, just go with it motion.
The alien continued making noise from the large hole in its top appendage: “Owienal OIEJlnm, OIENK FiKK Fikk Fikk!”
Almost imperceptibly, Sprax nodded. He knew what needed be done. “Lady’s and gentleman…” The official recorder cut away from the shiny communications probe on the floor, and zoomed in tight on Sprax.
“…Success.” He threw his appendages high, in victory.
And then chamber erupted, not an unfrantically waving appendage in the house.
Lauren opened the washer hatch and she was back at Disney World, a child, bursting through the doors to the Polynesian. A micro-reminiscence inspired by the laundry gods, which usually only came when it rained a certain way in Summer. She pulled another deep breath through her nose, held it, but the memory was fading. When she exhaled, all that was left was a mountain of wet clothes and the faint hint of mildew.
The lot went in the dryer with an extra fabric sheet, and she reclaimed the overstuffed canvas bags on the floor. They were heavy, heavy enough to slow her pace as she navigated around the many well loved dinosaurs and little cars that Calvin swore he’d pick after supper, two suppers ago. On tippy-toes, crossing foot over foot, aching, forgotten muscles brought back ballet with Mrs. Finch – but it was barely a flicker. She forced a slightly off recollection of thin flats on a splintered warm up bar, and the look on her dads face at her first recital. The groceries shifted and forced her bra strap into her neck, washing the flicker away.
Thump. The dead weight on wood thud echoed out across the kitchen and into the rarely used dining room. She rubbed her shoulder, enjoying the quiet of her temporarily empty house. It wouldn’t be long now. Once the groceries and dishes were away, she could return to Mezzaroth, a place where dragons be.
She never would have guessed she’d become a gamer. But here she was thir… – twenty eight, and she spent a staggering amount of her free time playing. It started with a gift subscription: six months, to keep Sheila company while she played. Of course, Lauren knew Sheila was only playing to keep an eye on her Steven – but, hey, it’s not like he was Lauren’s kid.
They’d chat, mostly. In the tavern, it was almost like any other chat room, except for the three dimensional avatars. She’d show up, an elf goddess of all things, and they’d talk. How was your day, what are your thoughts on Shades of Gray, what are you doing over the weekend… that sort of thing. A few minutes here, an hour or two there, until boredom and curiosity took over, and they actually started playing the game. An innocent quest collecting herbs turned into a wolf attack and her untimely death. They had a laugh about that death, and a bit of a laugh at her second death. However, Lauren’s third death was followed by two weeks of not speaking… Sheila had used the wrong potion, and didn’t share the loot…
That was four months, and two deaths ago. She didn’t even think Steven played anymore – his character was forever stuck at level 30, where progress began to move at a crawl. Lauren was up to 36 herself, not that that was important to her – or so she said. What was important to her was hard to put into words. The game gave her something, something she couldn’t get in Thai cooking class, Zoomba, knitting, or any of the other activities her circle tried. It was adventure, it was escape, but it was more than that: it was a place just for her, a few hours a week, away from the burdens and responsibilities of raising a family and having slightly annoying friends. It was even starting to feel like a community: she canceled class one day to attend an in-game wedding. When Mort, a level 50 healer, and June, a 31 Dwarf, went to the trouble of sending real world invitations, Lauren couldn’t bring herself to RSVP no. Publicly, she never spoke of the event, even to Sheila, but privately she thought it was sweet, and terribly modern.
With the groceries away, she scrubbed the hardened bits of oatmeal out of Calvin’s breakfast bowl, and dumped Tom’s half cup of coffee into the dishwasher, all the while preparing for the day’s quest, high dragon Tantros. Did she have enough potions? Were her hot keys optimized properly?
She ascended the dinosaur free second floor stairs with a fruit smoothie in hand. Smoothies for lunch had become a slight necessity after abandoning Pilates. She switched on her laptop, and the small CRT television in the corner of the media room. With the news on, she could feel somewhat productive while throwing the next two hours away.
One minute forty seconds later, the antivirus and adware were disabled: they slowed down your connection, she’d heard. The familiar trumpets sounded and the opening cut scene began to play.
Riiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiing. It was the house phone. Nobody called the land line but bill collectors and in-laws over forty-five. She ignored it, and hit F5 to skip the rest of the opening.
Log in: select character: level 36 elf goddess.
Off in the distance, she heard, “Hello this is Mrs. Sarin, head nurse at Marty Sheen Elementary. I’m calling because Calvin isn’t feeling well, and wants to come home. Please call us back when you get this message.”
Her first thought, was to take the laptop to Starbucks and pretend she never heard the message. They’d call Tom at work, and he’d probably handle it. She immediately felt bad for the thought.
“Siri… Call Sheila… Yes.”
Ring. Ri- “Hey, you almost ready?”
“…About that- Calvin’s sick, I need to pick him up,” she said.
“…Are you kidding me?”
“That little bastard better not be faking it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, he’s a freaking sweet heart. Should I expect you in about an hour then? Maris and Eggs are already waiting, it’s Tantros drop day.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Sheila sighed, “Alright… I’ll let them know. Maybe we can grind some orcs for a bit…”
“Sorry, Sheels. Really, I’m sorry. I’ll be right there.”
She let out a deep sigh.
Lauren took a swig of her smoothie. With a mouth half full, she said, “Siri… Call Calvin’s School…”
When creating characters, it’s important to remember that how they dress will effect how other characters treat them. Generally, the better they are dressed, the more latitude they have in conversation. With the right accessories, one can say anything.
. . .
“My word… That one there, the brunette in the middle, I’d say she is the most attractive. It’s not that she possesses any particularly striking features, or that she’s an eight and the others are sevens… I suppose what I’m trying to say, what’d be most accurate, is that she is, by far, the least ugly.”
“…That’s my daughter, Fred.”
“…Aptly named, I daresay. She looks like a Fred.”
“…Who did you say you were again?”
“…You’re Monica’s uncle?”
“…Surely, I’m someone’s uncle. This is the, erm, Christening, is it not?”
Fred’s father glanced sideways to the giant banner, which read, Fred’s Bat-Mitzvah in huge purple letters. “Well…”
“Ah, I almost forgot,” said the man, extracting a thick envelope from his jacket. “Could you take this? I couldn’t find the proper table – there seems to have been some drinking.”
Taking the envelope, Fred’s father said, “Enjoy the party.”
Small town, America:
“There. That’s where I get all my MRE’s,” said the guy in jeans and a sport coat with an American flag pin on the lapel.
The guy with an American flag tie, hanging a few inches above his belt, took the scrap of paper. “Great, I’ve been meaning to stock up. Noting but canned food down there, now.”
“You all set on water?”
“Yeah, I got a purification system, with a hundred gallon reservoir.”
“A couple thousand hollow points for my dual Uzis, and a few hundred for my Glock,” said flag tie.
“Nice,” said sport coat in a tone of genuine respect with just a hint of envy.
“Alright,” said the guy in a moderately priced, newish black suit, “do you all have your scripts?”
An older gentleman in the back raised his hand meekly.
“Could you, pass this back to,” black suit searched his memory for the name, “Allen, there?”
Sport coat passed the single sheet of pink paper.
Black suit continued, “Great. In case this is your first time, here’s how it works. A machine at headquarters will place a call, and play a recorded message. When it’s done, the person on the other end will hit a button if they want more information. At that point, the call transfers to a live operator, which will be you when I turn on this switchboard.” Black suit looked down at a yellow piece of paper. “And in case you’re wondering, the calls will be going to… Vermont(?)…”
Flag tie took a swig from a liter bottle of coke.
“Or… possibly… somewhere, in the Midwest. At any rate, when your phone rings, answer it. It’s first come first serve, but it should be busy enough that you’ll all get some action.” He grinned. “Most of the questions a caller might ask are listed and answered right there on your script.”
The first timers looked at each other with doubt.
Black suit: “It’s the pink sheet there, in front of you. If you could take a minute to familiarize yourself with it now, it will come out more naturally when you are asked.”
Less than half the volunteers looked down at the sheet.
Black suit cleared his throat. “If they ask something and you’re not sure how to answer, just do your best. If you’re really stumped, just raise your hand, and me, or Karl, will come over, and try to help you out.”
Black suit looked at each volunteer for signs of discomfort. He seemed satisfied with the crowd. “Okay, let’s begin,” he said, flipping the switch.
Riiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiing, Riiiiiiii-iiiiiiing, Riiiiiiiing: three phones sprang to life, as if they’d been waiting patiently for the chance to be heard.
I grabbed the white, corded receiver in front of me. “Hello, you have reached Campaign Headquarters. Are you interested in making a donation today?”
She opens the door and is mildly disappointed Frankie isn’t there to greet her. He’s probably curled up in a ball by the closet or, more likely, sprawled across her pillow. That mystery will have to wait.
She kicks her heels under the couch and turns on the TV. Leno doesn’t make her laugh, but she’s too tired to change it. Halfway through the monologue, her stomach growls, and she wonders, have I eaten today?
There’s some leftover Italian in the fridge. If she’s lucky, it won’t make her nauseous and keep her up all night. If she’s really lucky, it won’t be turning over in her stomach tomorrow when her mom drops hints about the three pounds she’s gained.
She could use a stiff drink, some head, and a full nights sleep, but there’s still work to be done. A young father’s just learned that regaining custody will mean “free money” every month, and free money means more meth. If our hero doesn’t get a temporary restraining order in front of a judge tomorrow morning, he’ll show up at his kids school and reclaim his daughter.
As our heroine opens her laptop, the phone rings, again. It’s her boyfriend this time. They haven’t spoken much lately. “Hey.”
“Hey baby, I missed you,” he says.
“I miss you too.”
“So, how was your day?”
Awful, terrible, shitty, dreadful, the worst, she thinks. “…long,” she says. “How was yours?”
“Eh… So, what are you wearing?”
“Just got home, still in ma’ work clothes.” I should go change, my bra is killing me, she thinks.
“That’s hot, you should take them off.”
“…I’d love to, but now’s not the best time.”
“…It never is.”
She sighs. “…Can we do this later? I really need to get this TRO done.”
“I was hoping to get something done, too…”
“Cute, baby. This really needs my attention, though.”
He sighs. “Yeah, fine. Whatever.”
She hesitates. “…I love you,” she says. She means it.
“…I love you to.”
She wants to say more: to reassure him, to tell him how much she loves him, to say I’m sorry I can’t be there for you, with you, but there really isn’t time – not if Jenna’s grandparents want to keep custody. “I’ll call you tomorrow?”
He hesitates. “…Okay, babykins. Good luck with, whatever.”
“Thanks. Goodnight, my love.”
She hangs up and returns to her laptop. She wonders how many times she’s said I don’t have time, and many times he’s heard it. She wonders how many times he’ll let her say it.
The screen becomes blurry, but only for a second – there really isn’t time for that, either. There’s only time to get back work, keeping her clients safe, and hope that he understands.
Have you ever seen chicks feed? If you put out enough food, they’ll eat until their stomachs burst, literally. I learned that in fifth grade. We raised chickens from eggs until they weren’t cute anymore. I didn’t see the point in it, growing up in urban suburbia, but when I got older I realized: that’s how men are, only not with food.
I had a number of boyfriends growing up. I learned a lot from them, about how to get a man, but you can’t learn much about keeping one from a three month relationship. Most of that came from my mom. She’s been happily married for the last twenty-seven years.
At her core, my mom’s a romantic. Though, in practice, she’s a harsh pragmatist. When we read bedtime stories, she’d always quiz me on the moral before I fell asleep. I remember, after one of my summaries, she called me a pollyanna. I was nine.
I’ve been married five years. Five, amazing, difficult, years, to a sweet man whom always tries to make me happy. He’s still a man though, so I have to keep his stomach from bursting.
I work a lot, that helps. It’s easier for him to accept I’m not available if it’s for the family (we’re working on the family part). And Sunday is football in the man cave, so that’s a gimme. I always laugh when Sheila gets mad about the cave. She’ll berate her husband, endlessly, about the no girls allowed policy. Although, he usually compromises by giving her something she wants – everyone has their own way of doing things.
Keeping him hungry is a delicate balance. Every now and then I have to ring the dinner bell. If we’re overdue, or if I’m just in the mood, I’ll look at him that way, or I’ll use that voice. It’s not difficult at all. If I really want to rile him up, though, I’ll flirt a little with his friends. Not a lot, just enough to get the adrenalin pumping. The sex is usually amazing that night.
Some girls look down on playing games. I won’t do that to my husband, they’ll say. Or, I got married so I wouldn’t have to do this bullshit, they’ll admit. These women usually have unhappy marriages. I’m a feminist, through and through, don’t get me wrong. I DON’T think it’s my sole duty to please a man – but I do want him to stick around. As long as he does his part, I don’t mind rationing his food, until he isn’t hungry anymore.
She’s likes to wear this long, obviously fake, string of pearls to parties, and twirl it around her fingers. I don’t know if she thinks it’s sexy, or if it’s some kind of nervous tick, but she’s been doing it since the night we met, and I remember liking it, then.
I still remember what else she wore that night (and again the following morning). I remember the smile on her face, when I tried to cook her breakfast, and the way she squirmed away from my morning breath when I tried to kiss her, even though she had no problem kissing any other part of my body…
That was five years ago.
Five years isn’t that long, for a marriage, but I’ve been feeling it lately. Even the little things, like the excessively thorough way she brushes her teeth, are starting to get to me. They get to me most when it involves other men, like Sheila’s husband, Dom.
I don’t think she’s cheating, she’s never given me a reason to suspect that; and we haven’t fallen out of love – she just never has time for us anymore. I didn’t mind it at first, I got to catch up with my old friends and see a few more football games. The extra money was nice too, but, after a while, it all comes down to face time.
Before I gave up trying to make plans with her on weekends, I probably should have said something. When she had to work through New Years, I probably should have done something. And when she only had five minutes, on the phone, for our anniversary…
The thing is, I love her. More than anyone I ever have, more than I even thought I could, I love her.
So, I sip my drink and pretend to listen to Shelia, while I watch her twirl those fake pearls and laugh at Dom’s jokes – and I try not to hate her.
If you’re reading this, I’ve already won. You clicked on the link, not to see my argument, but to berate me for my ignorance. No, girls aren’t dumb, I don’t know any rational person whom believes that, but they are easy to manipulate.
Say, for example, you’re a large retail outlet, with so-so sales and practically no word of mouth in a down economy. How are you going to grab attention for your back to school sale? You could throw money you don’t have into tv ads, which people will fast forward through; you could buy some net space, which people will ad-block; or you can create a stupid, sexist t-shirt that’s bound to create consumer backlash.
Ultimately, you will have to pull the t-shirt and release your pre-written apology, but that is not until after you’ve leaked the story to the press through a back-channel, and the collective anger button has been pushed. Sure you’ll lose some initial sales while the anger is still hot, but anger fades quickly, and name recognition remains.
Maybe you’ll get lucky and some esoteric blogger will write an article in favor of your stupid shirt, keeping the buzz alive an extra day. He (most likely a he) could argue for free speech. He could argue for ironic hipster fashion. He could argue it’s sexist to assume that a female is voicing the abjured line, which would ultimately fall apart if the shirt was found only in the girls section, and he’d have to shift focus to the Oedipal implications of the statement instead… Or, he could go all out and take the object d’art route, where he suggests that the debate itself elevates the shirt to the status of art, which too may be lost on target market (tweens).
How ever it plays out, rage based guerrilla marketing is a hell of a lot cheaper than proper advertising, and can be much more effective – proper ads have practically zero chance at going viral/trending, not when Harry is about to wet the bed.