Archive for: May, 2014

The Honeymooners By R.W.W. Greene

May 25 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

The car bumped over the motel’s pitted parking lot and pulled into a rusting docking station. After some negotiation, the word “Charging” began scrolling in red letters across the auto’s windshield.

The car was dreaming it was still parked in its garage 736 miles to the north. The motel’s AI didn’t quibble with the car’s delusions, didn’t even try to wake it up. It often pretended it was somewhere else, too.

The driver’s door lifted, and a man with a plastic shopping bag got out. He jogged around to the passenger side to keep the broken gullwing door there from slamming down like a guillotine on the woman who emerged.

She rubbed the small of her back as she stood. “Will it be okay?”

“For tonight,” he said. “We’ll get something else tomorrow.”

The motel’s entrance rattled open as they approached and scraped shut behind them. Stinking air from the outside spun into the machine-clean interior, recreating, for a single breath, the taste of the 20th century. The air filters whispered the flavor away.

The desk clerk eyed the pair. They were youngish and pretty, or at least pretty enough. “Help you folks?”

“A single,” the man said. “Just for the night.”

The clerk sucked his teeth and checked his inventory on screen. “I think we can set you up.” He inspected the couple again. They were fit, or at least not fat. He turned back to the screen. “The honeymoon suite is open.” He licked his lips. “I could cut you a deal.”

The clerk risked another peek at the pair. The man looked like he’d know about such things, but he wasn’t sure about the lady.

The man rubbed the back of his neck and looked sidelong at the woman. “You game?” he said. “You’re supposed to be the creative one.”

The woman shrugged.

The man squeezed out a grin for the clerk. “Sounds like a deal.”

They shared the elevator with a nuclear family. The lift wheezed up six floors before coughing them all out into the hallway. Doors followed doors in either direction. The man counted down to 613 and shoved the plastic card in the lock. The door clunked open, and the overhead light beyond fluttered on.

“You want to shower first?” he said.

She shook her head. “I’ll do it later.”

The man set the bag inside the closet and closed the door. “Let me brush my teeth.”

The woman studied a diagram mounted on the wall. The exits and fire extinguisher were clearly marked there, among other things. She traced lines on the diagram with her finger and compared it to the story growing in her mind.

The man came out of the bathroom. “There’s another toothbrush in there.”

“I’m fine.”

“You worked it out?”

She nodded.

“Fast or slow?”

“Medium,” she said. “I’m tired.” She checked her watch. “Kiss me now.”

He grabbed her shoulders and kissed her. She was glad he’d brushed his teeth.

She let him undress her and made a playful lunge to undo his pants. He sat on the bed while she pulled off his boots.

She leaned in close, her hair brushing his chest, and breathed soft sounds into his ear. “Stand up and move me to the right.”

He stood and buried his face in the left of her neck, tasting salt. She ran her nails over his back, feeling old scars and crossing the boundaries of crude tattoos. He pulled her to his chest. Her breasts flattened against his skin, and he swung her to the right.

She licked her way down his body, hands sliding down his chest, over his hips and down the backs of his thighs. She took his penis into her mouth and checked her position against the plan in her head. She felt his hands in her hair — rough, but not demanding. Reluctantly, she was grateful again. She used her teeth, and he groaned toward the ceiling.

He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. He kissed her again as he slid his hand down her stomach and between her legs.

“On the bed,” she whispered. “Make it look good.”

She pushed him backward onto the mattress and straddled his hips. She rocked gently and remembered to moan as he cupped her breasts and drew tight circles around her nipples with his thumbs.

She let him turn her onto her back and ran her fingers over his close-cropped hair as he kissed and nibbled down to her crotch. Then she rolled him back over and rode his face.

He trusted her instincts. She knew what would work. He licked and let her use him.

The orgasm surprised her. The last twenty-four hours had made her anxious and tense, and the tiny release was a relief. She’d only had to exaggerate, not fake it entirely.

She rose up, and he slid out from under her like a mechanic. He rose to his knees to kiss her shoulder. She met his ear with her lips. “From the back,” she whispered.

The woman lowered her hands to the floral bedspread and swayed on hands and knees as he stroked her back and the sides of her breasts. His hands moved to her hips, and she grunted as he pushed into her. His right hand found her hair and tugged, showing her face to the eyes in the headboard. She bit her lip and closed her eyes to pant. Her breasts swung as he thrust and thrust and thrust, then swayed to stillness as he stiffened with a moan. He toppled, taking her with him to lie on the bed.

They breathed hard together but out of sync.

“Was it any good?” he said.

“We’ll know in the morning. Give it another three minutes, then I’ll get up and take a shower.”

They checked out early. The desk clerk was still on duty. He grinned when he saw them and pointed at his screen. “We’ve been getting about a thousand hits on the site every hour. Not a record but not bad.”

“All her.” The man pointed at the woman with his thumb.

“Sure,” the clerk said. “You signed the release when you came in, but I’m supposed to remind you the recording is motel property.”

“Got it,” the man said. “What’s our cut?”

The clerk clicked his mouse. “$500 in cash and three nights at any of our franchises in the continental U.S.”

The clerk handed over the cash and room voucher. He watched the couple leave with the shopping bag, then reached into his pants with one hand and clicked “play” with the other. It had been a long shift.

The man unlocked the car and opened the woman’s door for her. He dropped into the seat beside her and twisted two wires together to wake the engine. He set the shopping bag on the seat between them and let his hand linger on the shape of the sleeping TeraDrive within.

“Is it enough?” she said.

He shrugged.  “It’ll get the three of us to Mexico.”

 

-End-

BIO:

Fiction writer R.W. W. Greene lives in New Hampshire, USA with wife Brenda, their son Devin, and two cats. He teaches high school creative writing and journalism and tries to stay at least two steps ahead of his students at all times. Greene grew up with a head full of Robert Heinlein. Stephen King, and Isaac Asimov and has since built up that brain mélange with William Gibson, Richard K. Morgan, Cory Doctorow, Joe Hill, and Margaret Atwood, among others. Greene serves on the board of the New Hampshire Writers Project and blogs about writing, teaching, and the twenty-first century at RWWGreene.com. He Tweets about all of the above @rwwgreene.

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Arabesque By Edward Ahern

May 18 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

It was simple, really. Gus had retreated into meditation after a bad day of work and another argument with Cynthia.  He’d ignored the leg cramps from his lotus position, and cleared his mind of everything except his focal point, a rusty Philips head screw. He suppressed feeling and thought but couldn’t reach a higher state. Frustration began to chew on his tranquility.

Maybe if I think myself forward in space or time? Or maybe if I visualize myself high above my body, looking down? But as soon as he tried for a spiritual destination his tranquility ruffled like windblown water.

I need a nonsense thought to restore my oblivion. And from nowhere came a memory of a dance step he’d always thought of as sexy- feet close together, then swing the toes forty five degrees to the side and bring the heels up behind them, while slightly waggling his backside.

Still kneeling in his lotus position, Gus visualized himself syncopating sideways. Toes and heels, toes and heels, nowhere to go but sideways. Toes and heels…

And slipped through a crease in the world. Gus snapped into full consciousness, but his body was nowhere to be seen. And  that was weird, because he had no eyes. Literally senseless, he somehow knew- that he now looked like a slivered sheet of mica.  What the hell is going on? Where am I, no really, where’s my body? As he peered around colors blurred and reshaded like someone quickly turning a prism. Panic gurgled up in him like bad-food vomit.

Get a grip, chubby. What can I see? No, not see, sense? Shit. What am I aware of?

He was vertical in a horizontal sea flood of other mica sheets, blurred multi colors that poured past and over him. The sheets emanated annoyance at his obstruction.

“Hey, you!”

“You can talk!”

“Don’t be an idiot. All you know is sound so that’s what you think you’re hearing. You’re a pudgy little sucker. Turn sideways before you cause a serious inconvenience.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Everybody does. It’s like teat sucking, comes naturally. Wait- you’re not dead!”

“Huh?”

“Dead, dummy. Your colors are camel dung drab. You’re not supposed to be here.”

The mica sheets flowed more densely, and their push made Gus start to teeter.

“You’ve got to turn sideways and get up to group speed or you’ll cause us to sprawl. You really don’t want that to happen.”

“Why does it matter? And I still don’t know how.”

“The group’s corrective action would be to skewer you with what feels like thousands of acid tipped fishing hooks. An obstinate dead person can tolerate it, barely. It would drive you mad.  You have to turn and swim. Remember being on a swing and swinging so high that you almost were able to circle the bar, but starting to dead drop? That’s the feeling. Do it now!”

Gus remembered the sensation with vivid fear and snapped into horizontal. He began slowly gliding in the direction of the flow, feeling the almost bumps of the mica sheets as they overtook him.

“Kick it in the ass.  Visualize yourself as sprinting.”

Gus lurched, too fast, then too slow, but eventually matched the endless flow of sparkling mica. “Are you still there?”

“For now. How did you manage to get here while alive?”

“Don’t know, I was meditating and started sidling to the left when – pop- here I am.” Gus paused. “Are all these sparkling sheets souls? Is this heaven?”

The other voice sighed. “Where to begin. It’d be so much easier if you’d died. Everybody comes here, good, bad and indifferent.”

“How do you know the good ones from the bad?”

The mica-like horde swerved in seamless joy, like a huge school of bait fish. Gus lurched and caused thousands of annoyances before getting back on pace.

“We’re all amalgams of good and bad, but the bonding agent is the same. Once we’re here we can look at one another and know what sort of blend we were.”

“Do the bad stay bad?

“No. Most quickly lose their pretenses.  It’s kind of like lying about your physique at a nudist colony, everybody here eventually buffs up. The pathologically bad are fish hooked until they follow acceptable behavior. But what the hell are we going to do with you? You’re the unchangeable color of dirt.  You can’t survive here.”

Gus had a thought that almost caused him to lose his cruising tempo. “Could I meet my parents?”

“I told you everybody comes here. Everybody. From the beginning of human history to now. Trillions upon trillions, that’s why we’re crowded up in a space without perceived limits.”

Gus became aware of his own hues. Sweet Jesus, all those moldy, blotchy bits. I need to cover myself with a huge fig leaf. “What about God, and Jesus, and the saints? And hell?”

“Dunno. We don’t eat, drink or screw. No measured time. No clothes or possessions. No social status. All we have is membership. Once the other stuff dropped away we lost our need for a catechism. We’re coming to a cascade. Touch the tip of your sheet to mine, I’ll guide you through.”

Oh my God, I’m undulating like a hula dancer. Free fall, vertigo, oh, the sinuous motions stroke my facets. I’m bursting with light.

“That was incredible! My mind feels like a honed knife.”

“Pretty good. Being here is like riding a series of roller coasters without getting sick. Some are incredibly fast, some drop uncontrollably, some whip you in facet shaving turns. And after each cascade we’re more sharply colored.

“All right, Gus, we’ve decided you have to go back.”

“Wait! I just got here, how could you have decided that, or decided anything at all if you’re just a swarm of souls or a school of holy fish?”

Gus sensed something sigh like. “Remember there’s no measured time here. And we exist in consensus. Like the hymn says, ‘We are all one spirit.’ Or maybe ‘We’ve got rhythm.’ Anyway, no fault of yours, but you’re a fart in our perfume factory. We’re going to be swirling left here.”

Gus felt lost and supremely well guided at the same time. “Who are you that you’re the one to help me? Why isn’t it a committee?”

“Any one is many here. I’m your guide back to the physical.  We have hopes that you’ll do something for your brethren when you get back.”

“Like what?”

“We have some suggestions that we’d like you to publicize.”

“No one will believe me.”

“We think we’ve worked that out. You’ve heard about secrets going to the grave? Guess what, they’re all filed away here.”

“Like how JFK was really assassinated?”

“Nah. We know, of course, but that’s an unverifiable truth that would only cause more arguments. What we’re going to tell you is mostly where things are hidden. Sunken ships, written confessions, lost cities, buried treasure. If you succumb to greed you’ll become a very wealthy man. But then you’d look even more like crap when you get back here.”

“So you want me to discover these things?”

“You need to be flushed through a few more cascades. No, dummy, you’ll use these hidden items to establish your credibility about our suggestions. You’ll dangle agoodie in front of several thousand people and make them listen to our hints before you give them the location.”

“Why aren’t they commandments, like Moses?”

“Yeah, that worked really well. Hang on, this next one is going to knock off some of your moldy bits.”

The immense school glided into a raging froth of something. It’s like swimming through tonic water, no, like a scalding hot spring that stripping off my skin, no, swimming through aloe vera with bubbles of rose attar.

“I, I’ve never felt this clean!”

“Yeah, better maybe, but you still look pretty scummy. So here’s our list of suggestions:”

Get used to crowds, you’ll be a permanent member soon enough.

The dead already mourn the acts of the living, the living needn’t bother to mourn the dead.

Sex really is overrated.

It should be the seven deadening sins.

Eat and drink well, it’s your only chance.

Anything done to excess is self-defeating.

“That’s it? What about messages from you all to your children and grandchildren, expressions of love, warnings…”

“Everything only moves forward, Gus, we’re just hoping that since you never really left you’ll be an exception. We’re going to give you a memory dump now. It’s going to feel like belly bloating.”

Gus’ dung-shaded but somewhat sparkly sheet suddenly felt like the mica flecks would pop off, like an overcharged bottle of pop. “God, this is worse than my colonoscopy!”

“It’ll diffuse. We’ve also told you how you should return- basically just a reversal of the arabesque, sidling to the right rather than the left. Think as if you had feet.”

“Wait, will I remember my experiences here?”

“Of course. They’re yours, we wouldn’t take them away.”

“And will I remember you” I don’t even know your name.”

Gus sensed a smile. “Think of me… think of me as your father, some part of me was. And know that as the living go, you’re a decent piece of work.  Now get those missing feet shuffling.”Gus syncopated to the right, still aligned with the school. Toes and heels, toes and heels, heels, toes, sideways…And was back in his lotus position, visualizing his rusty screw.  A raging memory torrent poured through his head and torso, but after several minutes he was able to channel the flow within the limits of his comprehension. He felt fresh-from-the-womb clean, immaculately reborn.

Once his legs quit tingling Gus checked his phone messages, tweets and e mails. He’d been officially warned that his extended job absence was unacceptable and grounds for dismissal. Cynthia had left twenty seven messages, the last of which was that she needed space to rethink their relationship. I’ll miss Cynthia, but I don’t think I’m going to need that job. Got no money, have to start this small.

Gus drove his eight year old car to an abandoned apartment building. He pushed aside the corrugated sheeting that partly blocked the doorway and entered, then walked carefully up to the fifth floor.  The door to apartment 523 had been removed, probably for firewood. Two badly stained mattresses lay on the floor, and glassine packets were strewed everywhere. Used to be a shooting gallery I guess.

Gus pulled out the ball peen hammer he’d brought with him and began smashing through the wallboard. On the floor behind the wall was a large, towel-wrapped bundle. He crouched down, grabbed the bundle, brushed off the rat droppings, and left without opening it.

Once back at his apartment he lay a plastic sheet on the bed, set the bundle on the sheet, and opened it. Holy hell. One, no two really long strands of pearls. The stones I think are what they call rose cut. Big, so big I’d choke if I tried to swallow them. Emeralds, I think, and rubies, and diamonds, must be hundreds of big diamonds. All set in heavy gold. Holy hell.

He arranged the jewelry on the sheet and took several pictures with his phone. Then he called the Providence Journal. “Editorial please”

“Copy desk, Harrington.”

“Mr. Harrington I’d like to send you a picture of the Weatheral jewelry that was stolen in the 1920’s from what was then the Biltmore hotel. Once you verify that the pieces are the same I’d like you to send over a camera crew.”

“Ah, and who are you?”

“Gus gave his name, address and phone number, and got the phone number of the reporter. The reporter had the pictures within seconds and within fifteen minutes had called back.

“Mr. Gustaufsen, Jim Harrington. The pictures seem to jibe with the list of the stolen items. I repeat, stolen. Have you called the police?”

“As soon as you show up with the camera crew. I want a reliable witness to their recovery of the stones.”

“Thirty minutes.”

Gus called the cops as soon as he saw the TV truck pull up in front of the building. The two officers were on camera with Gus when he showed them the gems. Gus seemed to almost glow on the televised report, like a total body halo. People began to forward the news report just so friends could see Gus.. He didn’t mention the suggestions, it wasn’t time yet.

Gus was interrogated for a week on and off, but since he hadn’t been born when the gems were stolen he was concluded to be the finder of the cache and not the perpetrating felon. The insurance company was expected to pay him ten percent, something just south of one million dollars.

A week after the Weatheral stones hit the news Gus went back to work. This time he called the FBI. “FBI?  Agent Williams, this is Gus Gustaufsen. You may have read about my recovery of the Weatheral treasure? Good. And this is being recorded? Better. I believe I know the location of the financial records for the DeStefano crime family in Worcester. No, this time I think I want moral and armed support when I show you the location. Call me back once you verify who I am.”

The DeStefano ledgers didn’t make the news, nor make any money for him, but Gus had established his bona fides. Two weeks after the ledgers were confiscated he called the FBI again.

“Agent Tom Williams, please. Agent Willisms? May I call you Tom? Tom, I can help solve one of the agency’s biggest failures. But you have to agree to do something for me.

“ No, no, nothing like that. I just want you to help publicize six brief suggestions. You can say that they come from me, and that the FBI has nothing to do with them, but I want you to hand them out at every press briefing about the event and me.

“Oh I think you’ll be willing to do so. You missed by just fifteen feet. Pity. But I’ll give you what’s left of Jimmy Hoffa.”

Gus hung up and smiled to himself. Once the suggestions hit the news it’s time to find some Aztec gold and get real publicity. Then I’ll take some of the money and have the suggestions put up on the big sign in Times Square. Get somebody to create a web site and ghost write a book about them. Maybe go on the Tonight show. He smiled to himself again. And I don’t yet believe that it’ll make any difference.

First things first though.  Despite suggestion three.  I need a new girlfriend.

 

End

 

Bio: Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He has his original wife, but advises that after forty six years they are both out of warranty. Ed has had forty one stories accepted thus far.

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The Seer by Chuck Robertson

May 11 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Harold Adams shivered like a wet puppy.  He took a desperate look back at the only exit from Bugs’ penthouse.  Two gorilla-sized men in cheap suits blocked the elevator doors. Most people who found themselves in Harold’s position usually ended up leaving the hotel in the back of a hearse. 

Bugs leaned back in his leather chair.  “So, you’re the guy who can see people die before it happens. Tell me, Mister Adams, how come you’re hangin’ out on the street with the rest o’ the bums?  A lot of folks would pay good money ta know when they’re gonna die.  I’d think a man with your abilities would be filthy rich by now.”

Harold pressed his knees together to stop them from quivering.  He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

Bugs scratched a match on the bottom of his shoe and lit a cigar.  “Relax.  Nobody’s gonna hurt ya.” A cloud of smoke flew out of his mouth.  “Just gimme an answer.  How come ya ain’t rich?”

Harold swallowed hard and did his best to comfort himself that he had not foreseen his own death.  Perhaps Bugs had not brought him here to kill him, at least not yet.  “It’s not as easy being me as it looks. A couple nights ago I dreamed about a punk who was stabbed in the kidneys at a speakeasy. I felt the knife cut through every nerve.  The night before that I dreamed about a woman who was thrown from a balcony.  The fall broke her back and crushed her larynx.  She choked to death on her own blood.  The few seconds it took her to die seemed like hours to me. I experienced every moment of it.”

Bugs glanced at the bigger of the two goons.  “Lenny, get the paper.”  He turned back to Harold.  “I don’t care about them other people.  Can you dream about my death before it happens?”

Harold relaxed his knees.  “It depends.  The more violent the death the clearer I see it.  Also, the better I know the person, the easier it is for me.  In that case it does not have to be a violent death at all.  Something as mundane as a heart attack in a guy’s sleep could be enough.”

Lenny handed Bugs the paper.  His eyes scanned the text back and forth until they fixed on one spot.

“Well I’ll be.  Says here a Mrs. Mabel Donohue bit the big one last night when her husband threw her off their apartment balcony.  Could be the same one.  What about the punk, Mister Adams?”

“Sometimes I have the dreams several nights in advance.  He might not have died yet.”

“I guess I’ll just have ta check tomorrow’s paper then.  Let me tell ya what I’m up to, Mister Adams.  Things have been gettin’ real tough here lately with Johnny the Undertaker tryin’ to horn his way into everybody’s territory.  He’s already whacked two o’ my best men.  It just ain’t safe for a business man like me.  You can be my good luck charm.  What d’ ya think?”

Harold pondered a moment.  Bugs was a hard guy to say no to.  Those who did usually ended up in the river, floating face down.  “Do I have a choice?”

“Not unless ya wanna feel a real knife in your kidneys.  Lenny, take Mister Adams downstairs and get him cleaned up.  He smells worse than you.  And one more thing, Mister Adams.  I take care o’ those who take care of me, and I also take care o’ those who don’t.  Know what I’m sayin’?”

#

Lenny laid his massive hand on Harold’s shoulder. “Don’t ya try ta escape. I’d hate ta have ta rough ya up.”

Escape? Harold thought.  He looked around the hotel suite.  This was the best accommodation he could remember for a long time.  He had a bath and a shave, and now a room with a radio and a real bed.  They even brought up a nice pasta dinner. And to top it all off, lots of booze.  It was Bugs’ own brew, not the best by any means, but it was free.

Night closed in over the city.  A train whistle blew in the distance. The lights from the radio towers flashed red into the room.  Soon, the visions would come.  He shuddered, anticipating the horrible deaths he would experience tonight.

He grabbed the only thing that offered even an ounce of relief, a bottle of beer. Popping the top, he looked over at Lenny, who stood against the door with his arms folded.  “Would you like one?”

“Nah.  The boss don’t like his people drinkin’ when they’s s’posed ta be workin’.”

“Suit yourself.  Are you going to be here all night?”

“There’s a man comin’ in a few minutes ta take over.  Then I gets ta go home ta the wife and kids.”

“I had a family once.”

“What happened?”

“My wife couldn’t take living with me any longer, so she took our daughter and left.”

“Why?”

”Look at me, Lenny.  I’m a worthless drunk.  I don’t blame them for going. I can’t stand myself either.”

Someone knocked on the door.  Another man, nearly as big as Lenny took his place.  This man didn’t try to talk, he just stood there with a glum look on his face.  Harold ignored him and continued to drink.  As much as he dreaded it, he drifted to sleep.

#

He had been passed out drunk on the railroad tracks, waking just in time to see an enormous HHHHHHH locomotive barrel over him.  It’s wheels sliced him into three parts. Then, he ended up going for a swim with concrete blocks chained to his ankles.  His lungs filled with water.  They burned for oxygen for what seemed like an eternity as the life went out of him.

Worst than that, though, he had been a schoolgirl bound and held in a dark room.  Somewhere outside, a horn sounding like it belonged to a ship hooted.  The door opened, nearly blinding her with light.  She looked up at a man holding a butcher knife.

She whimpered and tugged at her bonds, but they didn’t give. The pervert chopped off a finger.  Pain shot all the way up her arm.  A scream tried to escape from her mouth, but a gag muffled it.  He sliced off another finger, than another.  At some point she mercifully passed into unconsciousness.

Harold awoke screaming.  It took him several minutes to catch his breath.   Morning’s first rays shot into the room.  The sky shone orange over the waterfront.  The cheerfulness of the new day did nothing to comfort him from the previous night.

His thoughts drifted back to the day his wife left with his daughter.  He recalled the sadness as his little girl’s bright eyes turned away from him for the last time.  Somewhere in the city the parents of that schoolgirl were about to experience a hurt one thousand times worse.

He trembled like a plucked guitar string, worse than any case of the shakes the booze could have given him.  His head pounded like it had been split open.  He rolled over and vomited last night’s beer into the trashcan.

The door burst open, and in stepped Bugs with a smile stretching the entire width of his face.  “Hey, Mister Adams, guess what? Our man in the second precinct says they found a stiff last night with his kidneys sliced just as you said.  It looks like ya really can tell who’s gonna die before it happens.”

Harold wiped his face on the pillow.  “Yes, and you know there’s a certain little girl who’s going to be sliced up like a loaf of bread if they don’t find her real soon.”

“Yeah, but is there anything in your visions about me?”

“No, you’re going to live a little bit longer. What about that poor girl?  There might still be time to find her if we move fast.”

“I read all about her in the paper.  Her folks ain’t got no money.  It’d just be a waste of time.  Let’s just see if we can keep me alive.  It’d help you stay alive too, if ya know what I mean.”

Bugs walked out.  The goon looked at him.  “Yer lucky da Boss was in a good mood.  He’s been real edgy lately an’ don’t like it when people talk back ta him.  Just a little pointer that might keep ya’ livin’ a little longer.”

#

Another pointless day passed.  Harold thought of all those ordinary people out there, who only had to handle one death every now and then.  Tonight, he knew he would experience many.

He looked forward to the one bright spot of the night. It was Lenny’s turn to guard him.  He prepared for the night by drowning in as many beers as he could to anesthetize the upcoming pain.

Lenny watched him guzzle bottle after bottle. “Hey, Mister Adams, I don’t think ya should be drinkin’ all that beer.  My mamma says alcohol ain’t no good for da liver.”

“You actually listen to your mother?”

“Yeah.  Shouldn’t everybody?”

“Didn’t she tell you not to become a gangster?”

“Sure.  But I got me a family and there ain’t no good jobs for an uneducated oaf like me.  Bugs, he takes care o’ his people real well.  He gave my wife a set o’ gold earrings for her birthday. He does all kind o’ good stuff like that.”

“Doesn’t it bother you where all that money comes from?”

“It used ta, but not no more.  The way I got it figured, people was gittin’ whacked before I came along and they’ll be gittin’ whacked long after I’m gone.  I might as well make a livin’ off it if I can.  You’s doin’ the same thing, ain’t ya?”

Harold had to admit Lenny was right.  He was now just as much a part of Bugs’ wretched machine as anyone else.  It gave him one more reason to despise himself.

#

Night came as always.  Harold turned on the radio and waited for it to warm up. The room filled with music, but it did nothing to calm his thoughts.  Despite his wishes to the contrary, he went to sleep.  Death agonies throughout the entire city forced themselves into his dreams again.  One particular memory came across clear as morning dew.

He saw Bugs and three other men walk out of a restaurant, toward their cars.  Just as their drivers were opening the doors to let them in, another group of cars squealed by.  Men clung to the running boards, firing tommy guns.  Harold felt a swarm of .45 slugs penetrate the chests of all four.

As soon as the first light of morning came through his window, he told the goon on duty to get a message to Bugs.

A few minutes later, the Boss stuck his big, grinning face in the room.  “I understand you have something for me?”

“You aren’t by chance going to a restaurant anytime soon, are you?”

The smile left his face.  “As a matter o’ fact, I got a business meeting at Antonio’s tonight with Tony Legano and a couple o’ his lieutenants.  Why?”

“I wouldn’t go if I were you.  Not unless you want to end up with a body full of lead.”

The smile returned, this time running from ear to ear.  “Really?  I guess I’ll have ta take a rain check then.  Never could stand Tony.  I can’t wait ta see what happens ta the clown.”

Lenny came in at mid-day and Harold told him what happened that morning.  “You gonna be in with the boss after this.  That is if yer tellin’ the truth.  If nothin’ happens, I wouldn’t wanna be in yer shoes though.  They might just end up in concrete.”

Harold’s stomach tightened at the notion he might be wrong.  Then he thought, what’s the use of worrying about it?  The worst thing that would happen is Bugs would rub him out and at least it would be an end to his miserable existence.  He would consider death a relief.

A couple hours after sundown, Bugs burst into his room again.  “Guess what? You were right.  They plugged Tony like a pincushion.  If I’d been there, I’d o’ been a goner too.” He laughed and danced into the air. He fell when he landed.

Bugs stood and dusted his suit off. “Listen, all you mugs.  This guy saved my life tonight, take good care o’ him, hear? Harold, I’ll get you anything you want.  Booze, broads, cigars, you just name it.”

“How about if you spare some men to find that missing girl?  There may still be time.”

Bugs grabbed Harold by the collar.  “Don’t be a knucklehead, Adams.  I don’t care about all them other folks. You’re here ta save my life.”

He shoved Harold on the floor and stormed out of the room.  Lenny bent over to help him up.  “You’re lucky he needs you t’ stay alive, Mister Adams.  Otherwise I think he’d o’ shot ya on the spot.”

#

Harold went to bed that night, drunk as usual.  Later, he awoke, but not screaming like so many other dreams.  He remembered seeing a river of blood in his sleep.  He lay awake trying to figure out what it could mean.  Finally, the answer came to him.  He rolled over and fell into the most restful sleep of his entire life.

Lenny came in at daybreak.  “Ya look really rested this morning.  What happened?  Nobody died last night?”

“I had a dream about a river of blood.  I think it meant my blood.  It’s been nice knowing you.”

Lenny’s mouth dropped open.  “Don’t say that, Mister Adams. A man in Bugs’ business deals in rivers of blood every day.  There’s so many things it might mean.”

“I need to talk to Bugs.”

“Gosh, you think that’s wise?  You seen how he acted with ya last night.  The other day, he shot at Mel.  It’s a good thing his hands ain’t been the most steady lately, or I think Mel’d be pushin’ up daisies right now.”

“Just get me up there.”

“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

Lenny took him up the elevator, the longest ride of what Harold figured to be the remainder of his life.  His thoughts turned to Lenny.

“You know, you need to get out of this business while you still can.  If you don’t, you’ll end up dead like so many of Bugs’ other men.”

“Was I in one o’ your dreams last night?”

“No.  I don’t need my ability to see that, though.  I’m just saying if you keep doing what you’re doing, your number will come up too some day.”

“You sound real serious there, Harold.  You know somethin’ I don’t?”

“Just take good care of your wife and kids.  You’re a lucky man to have them.  One more thing, I think you’re going to need to find a new job soon.”

The elevator dinged.  The door opened.  Two goons cast Harold a cold look.

“I need to see Bugs.”

“An’ why would that be?” one asked.

“I know how he’s going to die.”

The thug raised an eyebrow and stepped aside.  Harold walked through without knocking.

Bugs sat at his desk, chomping on a cigar.  “What the hell are ya doin’ here, Mister Adams?”

“I’ve figured out how you’re going to die.”

“Well, tell me!”

“No.  First, I want you to find that missing girl before it’s too late.”

The gangster stood and slapped his desk with both hands.  “What do you mean you want me?  I give the orders around here.”  His breath grew heavy and rapid.  It seemed to Harold the man would explode from his rage.

“I meant what I said.  Your men can use methods to find her that the police can’t. You make sure she comes home safe and sound and I tell you how you’re going to die. I think it’s a fair bargain.”

Bugs drew his gun.  He leveled it at Harold’s forehead.  “Tell me or I’m gonna drill ya right now!”

Harold’s heart leapt up into his throat.  He smelled his own perspiration.  He swallowed.  “Think for a minute.  If you kill me, how will you ever find out how you’re supposed to die?”

Bugs stood frozen.  The gun trembled in his hand.  He lowered it and turned toward his goons.  “Find her!  I don’t care how many men you gotta take.  Just get this man ta tell me when I’m gonna die!”

“One more thing.  I think I heard a ship horn in one of my dreams.  I suggest you concentrate on the waterfront district.”

Harold went back to his room, his knees still shaking. He opened the window.  Cool air blew into his face and evaporated the sweat that had accumulated all over it.  He sat and took a few deep breaths.  His muscles relaxed.

Lenny showed up to begin his shift.  “I heard what happened between you and the Boss.  You tryin’ ta get yourself killed?”

“It was a chance I had to take.  Besides, I’m going to die anyway.  I didn’t have much to lose.”

“I don’t get it.  If ya know when yer gonna die, why don’t ya just not be there when it’s supposed ta happen?  People tell me I’m as dumb as a rock, an’ even I can figure that out.”

“It’s not that simple.  When I first realized I had the gift, I thought I could do a lot of good for people.  Then, the knowledge started driving me crazy.  Look what I am now.

“I can’t get this kidnapped schoolgirl out of my head.  She reminds me so much of my own daughter.  I have one chance to do something good for someone before I die and I’m going to take it.”

#

Harold lay down to sleep again that night.  He kicked the covers off, turning over every few minutes.  The dreams forced themselves into his head, but for once they did not dominate his mind.  Instead, he found his thoughts focusing on just one person – that poor girl.

One of Bugs’s men brought him breakfast, but he didn’t eat it.  His head throbbed as the morning dragged on.  Finally, his door burst open.  Bugs rushed in, with two goons close behind.  He had a newspaper in his hand.

“All right, Adams, we found the girl.”  He slapped the paper into Harold’s hands.  “Look at the front page.”

He read the headline.  KIDNAPPED GIRL FOUND ALIVE.  A huge photograph on the front page showed the child in her overjoyed mother’s arms.  Harold smiled for the first time he could remember.

“Okay, Adams, you got your way.  Now tell me how I’m gonna die.”

Harold cleared his throat.  “I had a dream the night before about a river of blood.  I didn’t know until yesterday exactly what that meant.”

“So what does that mean?”

“Tell me, Bugs, how have you been feeling lately?  More agitated?  Have you had trouble holding things maybe?”

Bugs’ eyes shot wide open.  “What the hell is that all about?”

“It has to do with my blood all right, but also your blood.  You have syphilis.  Advanced.  Face it, Bugs, you’re going to die soon.”

Bugs pulled out his pistol.  “Damn you, Adams, you were supposed ta stop all this!”

“I can’t.  You probably contracted the disease before you even met me.  Besides, I can’t save you from your own decrepit lifestyle.  It’s too late.”

Bugs unloaded his gun into Harold.  He fell to the floor and rolled onto his side.  As the final darkness closed in, he saw was his own blood flowing out of him like a river.

End

 

As a teenager, I spent many hours reading Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein and aspired to become the next Isaac Asimov.  I graduated from Missouri State University and started my career as a science teacher but am now employed in the information systems field.

My work has appeared in Timid Pirate Publishing’s Benevolent Apocalypse Anthology and The Fifth Dimension.  I also have stories under contract with Stupefying Stories and Cosmic Vegetable’s Anthology of Humorous Science Fiction.

I have been married for eighteen years to a registered nurse but most of all a compassionate wife and mother.  Together we are raising two brilliant and (mostly) well-behaved teenage children.  When not working, doing family things or writing I like to build military models or play with model trains.

 

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In a Bubble by Lara Alonso Corona

May 04 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

There are two ways for historians to do this:

You either go there yourself and examine the thing, or you take someone back who can explain it to you.

***

When the girl opened her eyes she didn’t know what the bright lights were. It wasn’t the sun, and it wasn’t any fire she knew.

The machines that kept her down made no sense to her. The medicine they used to sedate her. Noises she had never heard before. She remembered blue, a shard of blue light blinding her, making her fall. She was strapped to a bed now. Beep, beep. Sounds she had never heard before. The air was different. Colder, like winter, but humid, like somewhere she had never been.

The girl found herself in a foreign world, and yet something about it, a distant echo – it felt like this had been happened before. Happened to her. Like she had been coming back here.

She’s awake, somebody was saying.

***

Rena was not a Historian, no way, she was just a Stenographer.

The feel of sand under the feet, that’s what she was sent to record. The scent of long-extinct animals. The particular glint off the highest dome, midday in the Sassanid Empire.

It was a meticulous work, but after the Collapse any evidence of written word from the past had been erased, so it would take decades to recover all that knowledge. It was all very professional, even the adventure of it all. You could not travel to the era of the Collapse, nobody had been able, but you could go anywhere else in the past, take notes and recompose History again.

What survived were indexes, some footnotes, a vague idea of when and where and what was important. Historian, stenographers, quantity surveyors, oral tradition techniques, those were the people used to quench the curiosity of the Now regarding the Then.

It was the most fantastical stories the ones which demanded the most exact minutiae. Rena felt like she was there to record each grain of sand in the desert.

***

The men dressed in white were staring at her now, taking notes.

Surgeons, doctors, they said they were. Here to help her.

She couldn’t see their faces. There were lights directed at her face. Her eyes hurt. The clothes they dressed her with were strange. She felt naked. Her feet were cold.

***

Everybody was interested in the past now. Now that it was safe to touch it.

At first time-travel technology had been something frightful, unbearable. The Collapse had enclosed all of the past in a bubble. A snow-ball containing the whole of history. The Collapse was the limit, the frontier. Nothing that came before, if altered, could affect the world Rena lived in. The past became a sandbox. Soon they would be issuing holiday tickets to the Then, Rena believed. Tourists and sniffers all around the past, until it became crowded like the present. What people admired about the past was all that space, so hard to imagine. People would come here for the views, not the stories.

Games, it was all games.

Ancient, lost languages were easy to learn. It was a safe bet of a hobby. Rena had been sent here of all places because she knew Persian, Hebrew, Turkish.

***

Tell a story.

That hadn’t changed. That the girl remembered.

The men spoke her language, but it came out of their mouths all wrong. Like the way birds could learn words but couldn’t understand them. She didn’t understand what they wanted from her, though they explained themselves over and over.

The doctors showed her a book. She recognized the titles, the names.

“This is my book, but I haven’t written it.”

“It’s a 12th century version, from Cairo. Well after your time.”

She didn’t understand. She had not been understanding at all. But she was happy that her hands were touching something familiar: paper, ink, bound by strings. She fought when they took the book away from her.

We thought you were a legend.

They strapped her to the bed again. I am a scholar, I’m not a martyr, she repeats to herself. They run more tests and she watches the colour of her blood change under the green lights. There are so many things we want to ask, they were saying. But the girl was weak. She was tired. She felt like a single moment had been trapped inside a jewel chest and now each second felt like ten hundred years to her.

When the doctors were gone she refused to sleep. Weak and trapped, yes, but she was still herself. She was a philosopher. She had painted cities in shimmering colours. She had discovered stars and used words in ways that had never been used. Wherever she was it was not a place fit for someone like her. She had to leave. Her scattered thoughts converged to this one idea. She had to run.

Take me with you when you go, a voice besides her, a whispered thunder.

She was not alone in the room. A presence that made her feel like she was standing on the highest balcony of her husband’s kingdom, and all the elements were unleashed against her, wind and rain, snow and lightning. It was unpleasant but it was real. The first real thing in this unreal place. The girl writhed and squirmed trying to see whom. She couldn’t. The room was in darkness except for the machines and their tiny lights and their noises. If there was something else here the girl could not tell. She was about to tell herself it had been her imagination, the exhaustion, the drugs they were pumping into her body.

“I can help you escape,” the voice repeated. “But you have to take me with you.”

She did not question the voice. She was beginning to understand. She did question what the voice was saying.

“How can you help me escape?”

“I just can.”

The girl felt the ropes that held her to the bed loosen just enough that she could fight them with some measure of hope.

***

There was something buried in the sand.

Just as well because Rena was tired of the same landscape, drawing in her sketchbook the shape of a dune that was exactly like the dune before, and the one before that, noting how the skin in her face dried as she stood under the sun. Scribbling about time. The unthinkable distances. She had been walking for hours just to record what walking for hours felt like.

She parted the veil of sand with her hand, uncovering what was solid underneath. A piece of pottery. She brushed her fingers over the curve; there was a deep crack running through it, but the object was still in one piece despite the damage. It was cracked. It wasn’t broken.

A relic. This was good luck. Everybody loved relics – specially if they could get them as close to the relevant historical period as they could. Which made them not relics, if you asked Rena. But nobody asked, they just paid very well. After the Collapse and with all these workers going back to the Then the antiques market was in boom but it had become a bizarre oxymoron.

Even with the imperfections Rena could probably get a good price on this. It was a simple, but pretty, not relic.

But something was wrong; as she freed the vase –no, wait, it was a jar– from under the ground Rena had the feeling she was not safe. With one hand she held the object, and the other was resting on the weapon on her belt. Everybody, even a mere Stenographer like her, was issued a standard Paralyzer. The kind proper historians used to carry people back to the Now from their respective periods. Collecting meaningful historical figures was a very lucrative business. There was a reason why low-rank travellers like Rena were sent to uninhabited places like the middle of the desert in the first place; among people the temptations were too great for the undisciplined.

There were bones inside the jar.

Rena reached and touched the tip of her fingers to one of them, a radius. She choked when the fog spilled out of the jar, like a river overflowing. A sense of suddenly not being alone overcame her. The grip on her weapon tightened. She took the safety off; the blue bubbles of the liquid powering the gun forming and popping in a frenzied dance.

But she didn’t take aim as had been her first instinct. Instead: she watched, dog-dumb, as the fog picked the bones up from the jar, and circled around them, solidifying, like muscles building a body from outside in. There were muscles but not like human muscles. There was skin but it was more like that of a snake, or a fish. It had eyes but they were not human eyes. They were charcoal black and without eyelids. Eyes like a wildcat, like tar, like the worst thought you ever had in your life, the one that kept you awake.

It was looking at her now. It was waiting, silent, but it understood the situation. It was intelligent, that much was clear. This “thing” didn’t seem at all surprised. Like it had done this before.

It was waiting for Rena.

And Rena, well, Rena didn’t really have the security clearance to interact with any living person of the time. Though she doubted this was a person, or that it was even living per se. She knew what was happening as she let the jar fall to the ground. She had read about stuff like this.

In the world after the Collapse legend and history were the same thing.

Rena was not surprised to find something so impossible here. The fact that she was here was already impossible in the first place so… what the hell. She was ready for it. The creature sensed it – it was not just alive, not just sentient, not just intelligent. It was more intelligent than.

“I know what you are,” Rena said and the creature nodded. It was a heavy nod, like it was someone carrying a heavy, planet-sized load on its shoulders. Rena was still holding her gun; these things had been known to be dangerous. Treacherous, cunning. She didn’t want to be made a fool of.

When the creature spoke its voice was storm-like, it could shake Rena out of this world.

“I can give you anything. Whatever your heart desires.”

Okay, Rena thought. Okay, I have a list.

***

She is an expert in running away, stalling, escaping her fate.

When she took out all the tubes and the needles from her body the beeping sound around her turned into a flat, continuous note. She would have gone crazy if she had stayed. She saw a door and she walked out. She doesn’t know how, she is just grateful she could.

It doesn’t matter where she is now. The strange lights, the sounds. The feel of stone under her feet, all the time. She’s barefoot. Her wrists itch from where she pried open the ropes that were holding her. She feels naked under her scarce clothes.

It’s as if she has been walking for hours.

Everything in this strange new world seems made to dazzle her; she has seen glorious cities, made out of a hundred different delicate threads of gold, like tender tendrils converging on a hundred minarets. But nothing so immense and colourful as the road she walks on now. The people and the clothes they are clad in. The wild animals passing her by, and flying above her head. Buildings made of metal and glass, built next to each other as if fighting for space. Flashes of light coming from every window, windows as large as whole buildings, paintings as high as the sky. The painting move, they follow the girl, but the girl treads on. People stop and stare at her. Just like the doctors. Their glances curious and threatening at the same time. The girl doesn’t glance back. She staggers on. She holds it close to her now, the one possession she has now, fingers clenched in fists, clutching it against her chest. The half-broken jar, the sharp contours where the clay cracked, it doesn’t matter even if it cuts into her hands. She must keep it with her. She has the feeling if she lets go, even for a moment, all will be lost.

They must be looking for her already. She might be new to this world but she knows that. She has experience. Maybe this time she has an advantage.

I can help you but you have to take me with you.

Maybe this time.

The girl keeps her head down. The noise around her pierces her. So loud. So unnatural. A city made of noise. It’s almost enough to stop her in her tracks. Confuse her, paralyze her. Almost enough but not quite enough. She is free. All her existence is composed of being free. Now she is a runaway. And a thief. Yes, let’s not forget that, she is a thief.

She will escape this place.

She always does.

***

Rena sees the figure coming up the next dune.

Perhaps it’s the next dune, or the next one, she can’t tell them apart. She has been walking for a couple of hours in the direction the creature had pointed. But Rena is quite good with directions and she has the feeling she has been walking in circles, though she doesn’t know how. The jar of clay now hangs from her belt, besides her weapon. She doesn’t think the jar will work when she comes back to the Now but there is no harm in trying.

Rena was beginning to think it had all been a scam when she sees the figure coming up, walking laboriously, dragging her feet across the desert.

There are two ways for historian to do their thing: you either go there to examine it or you take someone back to explain it to you.

This is not what she had been looking for when she arrived at this place, but… how could anyone pass up such opportunity? Audentes fortuna iuvat, although Latin was not really her thing. Bubbles forming and bursting. She knew who the girl was, before she said even one word. Rena had done her homework. A young girl, bruises on her arms, a piece of cloth barely held together over her slight frame. There’s no mistaking it.

The girl puts her free hand up to the sky, blocking the sun. She smiles when she sees Rena.

“My name is Scheherazade.” she will say.

The next thing is: a flash of blue light.

The bloodied hand of the girl lets go.

The noise of a body falling on sand. The noise of clay cracking but not breaking.

Lara A Corona was born in a small town in the north of Spain. She studied Film and TV at college in Madrid before moving to London. Her fiction has been showcased in ABC Tales and the Glass Woman Prize, and her translation of Heidi James’ experimental novel Carbon was published in Spain in 2011. Recently she has been published by The Copperfield Review. She is now working towards a degree in creative writing.

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