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Emotional Vampire

Fiction Fragment Friday

This story started out being inspired by both a conversation and a general feeling. I tend to feed off of crowds even though I am an introvert. That got me thinking about it from a supernatural perspective. As I wrote the story it quickly became a character profile building the world around a character. I wanted it to be a bit more of a story though and as I was writing the connection started to build in my mind and continued tying it into the much larger novel I plan on returning to in a few weeks.


                The raucous laughter of the crowd was my best meal in years.  I had only seen live comedy once before, but it paled in comparison.  I couldn’t be sure if it was the crowd, my own lack of good meals, or a combination of both.  In those moments I didn’t care as I sat back soaking in the energy.  Surrounded by thousands of people I could give in to my own gluttony without fear of damaging the energy. 

                As an emotional vampire I nearly died during the pandemic.  It wasn’t just the lack of crowds to eat from, but the energy that was in the small gathering I could find in grocery stores.  Everyone was down so all I could take in was that negative energy.  It was like poison in my very core.  I could eat from a single individual, but that would drain them.  After a few moments I would just be eating the exhaustion or depression that would make me hungrier.  It is a vicious cycle of feeding causing the energy to sour making me need to feed more. 

                By the time of the show, I could barely make it to my seat.  Pains racked my body with every movement, and I could hear my joints cracking.  It was hard to even lift my leg to take a step, but I had powered through it.  When I reached my seat, I collapsed into it short of breath with no energy left.  It felt like I could not have taken a single step more, but I knew that if I needed to I would have.  That is the power of stubbornness and an unwillingness to give up. 

                My pains started to fade as I drank in the energy.  I could feel the muscles in my leg threatening to spasm, but even knowing the pain that might cause didn’t matter.  I felt better than I had in longer than I could actively remember.  As much as I hated being out in public it was the only way to get a good meal and I knew it.  It can’t just be any crowd though.  I need the energy of excitement and preferably happiness.  Sporting events are great for an energetic crowd, but laughter just has a different taste to it.     

                By the end of the show, I was ready to stand and walk back to my car.  The muscle deterioration and joint damage had not healed from just one feeding much like it hadn’t developed from one lack of feeding.  It is more like an adrenaline rush.  The pain just fades away and becomes something I can ignore.  I couldn’t help but wonder If there were any others like me in the crowd.  With that much energy there was more than enough to go around without impacting each other.  I’ve always wondered what would happen if two of us tried to feed off of each other at the same time, but it isn’t something I am brave enough to try.  I reached out for my door handle when a voice behind me caught me off guard.

                “The past few years must have been pretty hard if I was able to sneak up on you.”

                “Benjamin Eversole.  To what do I owe the pleasure?”  He wasn’t wrong.  At my best I was faster, stronger, and had more heightened senses than a regular human.  On that night I hadn’t heard or smelled him.  When I turned to look at him though he looked worse than I felt.  His eyes were haunted, he was leaning on a cane, and I was pretty sure his ribs were bandaged under his shirt. 

                “I’m in over my head and I need help.”  This shocked me.  He had never been so open about any sort of weakness.  The man usually oozed with false bravado just like every other magic user I had ever met.  “I’m calling in all my favors and could use some local friends to watch my back.”

                “I’m not sure how much help I can offer at the moment.  I’m kind of a shell of my usual self.  I need a few more crowds to really start getting back to functional.”

                “Now that is something I can help with.  In two days, we can have you back up to full strength.  So, what do you say?  Help an old friend save his son?”

                 “This is about your kid?  Why didn’t you say so? I’m in.”

                “Thank you,” he said and then dropped the spell keeping his companion hidden from me.  I was once again face to face with one of the most twisted women I had ever had the misfortune to meet.  I suppose only his son would cause Benjamin to work with his ex-wife.  The look of disgust and dismissal aimed at me filled her entire face.  Benjamin reached out handing me a card.  “Be here at noon tomorrow and I’ll fill you in.”

                I just nodded and got in my car.  The further I could get away from her the better.              

Policy

Fiction Fragment Friday

Ok, this week is a bit of catharsis. It is an exaggerated tongue in cheek story to get out a personal frustration. It seems like no matter what the issue is if I try to use my homeowners insurance there will always be some reason the issue is not covered. If it is for some reason covered they will want the cheapest patch job and not to pay for a proper repair. It is infuriating and like most things that frustrate me it has inspired this story.


                “Why do I bother paying a fortune for homeowners’ insurance when it literally never covers anything?”

                “Sir if you could please just calm down.  I understand how this could be upsetting, but your policy is quite extensive.  This one outlying case just doesn’t happen to be covered.”  The voice on the other end of the phone was exceedingly chipper, giving me the indication that she in fact did not understand how my situation could be upsetting.  Either that or she found enjoyment in the various contractual loopholes that always seemed to make my claims invalid.  I really needed to learn to be more careful in how much information I volunteered on these calls. 

                “Please help me understand how that could be the case.   I specifically increased my supervillain damage coverage to half a million last year.  A man crashes through my gazebo leaving a pile of rubble in my back yard and you are saying that isn’t covered?”   

                “That is correct sir.  I do see that you increased your policy last June.  However, you mentioned that this damage happened during the Ricochet vs the Global Defense Force fight this morning.  The problem is that neither of those parties are supervillains.  They are all categorized as heroes in our system.  If a villain were involved then your policy would have covered the damages, but as this was just one of those wacky cases of mistaken identity well, we just can’t approve your claim.”  I could just see the smugness in her voice as she lectured me like a schoolteacher with a slow learning student.

                “They were fighting because Ricochet has been helping a known felon.” 

                “Actually, as the suspect has yet to be apprehended, she has thus not been convicted of anything.  She technically is not a felon as we are innocent until proven guilty in this country.  There is a warrant out so Ricochet may have been committing a crime, but as of yet he has not been charged with anything.  So, you see no supervillains and your claim does not meet the requirements.”

                “What if they do charge him?  Would my claim be covered then?”

                “Oh no, he would have to be found guilty before a request to have his classification in our system updated could be filed.  Then it would go through a review process.  Generally, it takes four to six weeks to process a change of alignment form.”

                “Wait a minute there are a ton of supervillains that have never been caught.  Are you telling me that if any of them caused damage to my house I wouldn’t be covered?”  After numerous failed claim attempts over the past five years, I thought I was finally starting to understand just how stacked against a paying customer the system really was.

                “Well, that depends.”

                  “On what?”

                “Well, there are multiple ways an individual can be classified as a supervillain in our system.  If they, for example, describe themselves as such in a public setting we could update our listings.  Also, if the national registry of supervillains managed by the FBI were to include them that would meet the requirements.  The criteria is up for interpretation by one of our insurance claims adjusters.  If you would like to put in a request to have an adjuster review Ricochet’s status, we could start that process.”

                “The process that would take four to six weeks?”

                “No that that is the reclassification process once criteria are verified to be met.  The average assessment takes thirty to sixty days.  Would you like me to start that paperwork for you?”

                I stared out my kitchen window at the pile of wood and watched my dog pee on what used to be the roof of my gazebo.  I was worried about leaving him alone out back amidst the rubble, but so far, he had not hurt himself.  “I suppose so.  That means I’m going to have a big pile of dangerous wood splinters and nails in my backyard for a while.”

                “Oh, I don’t recommend that.  You should have that fixed and the debris hauled away immediately.   Just save the receipts for reimbursement.”

                “If I could afford to do that, I wouldn’t need insurance now, would I?  I thought I had insurance to protect me when things like this happen.”

                “Sir, please just be aware that what you described is a safety hazard.  I have made a note in your file that you are aware of it.  If someone were to be injured after the first week and you have not made an effort to remediate the issue it would not be covered by your homeowner’s policy as it was an unattended known hazard.”

                “This call is me trying to remediate it.”  By this point I was struggling to not just yell into the phone.  I’ve been through this before though.  That’s what she wants me to do.  If I yelled, she could say I’m being belligerent an she can hang up on me.  No, I wasn’t going to play into her hand like that.  “Please start the paperwork to have an adjuster review my case and his classification.”

                “Excellent.  Please hold.” 

                Why is it that they pick the worst earworm songs for insurance agency hold music?  If it isn’t The Girl from Ipanema it’s this ridiculous song about working all day.  This time though it was a song about a camel liking to dance.  It made no sense at all, but there it was running through my head, and I just couldn’t get it out even though I didn’t know the words.  It’s bad enough when you know the lyrics, but when you only know a few words that part of the song will just loop over and over until you want to throw something. When I was finally ready to scream, she came back on the line.

                “Hello sir, are you still on the line?”

                “Yes, I’m here.”   That is obstacle two.  If they can get you to hang up because you are sick of the hold music, then you have to start the whole process over again.

                “I have started the process and have a case number for you.  It is RBC728512.  You will of course get an email that summarizes our call an provides you this as well.  It looks like your adjuster will be…  oh my that does not bode well for you.”

                “What now?”

                “Well, you have been assigned Connie Vera.  Excellent adjustor.  In fact she is one of our best.”

                “Why is that a bad for me?”

                “Normally it wouldn’t be.  Last week though she was in Reignsborough National over on second street when Honey Badger tried to rob it.  He got hungry and decided that she looked tasty.   She was seconds away from being eaten, but then..”

                “Let me guess.  Ricochet showed up and saved her life.”

                “Busted right through the skylight and kicked him in the face.  I’m glad they aren’t insured with us because that elaborate of glasswork would have to be expensive to replace.”

                I groaned in exasperation.  “Oh, I’m sure you would find some loophole to make sure it wasn’t covered.  Perhaps a clause that the damage was done by the hero and not the villain.”

                “That’s good.  I’m going to write that one down.”  I think she realized what she said a moment after it came out, because she sounded flustered as she backpedaled.  “Uhm, to make sure that no one tries that on one of our customers.  We are here to help after all.  Speaking of which now that your claim is filed is there anything else I can help you with?”

                “No, not at this time.”  I was done and just wanted off the phone at that point.

                “Then thank you for calling Mutual of Reignsborough.  Remember when bad things happen we will also be there.” 

Birthday Gift

Fiction Fragment Friday

While I have said this before, once again this is not my typical story. Sure the setting is, but much about the story is not. I had an idea and started the story mostly to explore the setting and think through the design ramifications. Some of that was expressed in the story, but some of it just flavored how I thought about it. I hope you enjoy.


                The door opened to room R2L243 with an artificial whooshing noise.  The technology behind the mechanism was virtually silent, but early focus groups provided feedback that it didn’t make the experience special enough.  Guests could get silent doors on Earth and for the premium the rooms cost it was believed that every aspect should be unique to the experience.  The early focus groups would likely barely recognize the experience paying guests received at open, but they were directly responsible for it. 

                Jamie rushed into the room heading straight for the curved viewport that took up most of the outer wall.  “Oh my god Sam I still can’t believe we are actually here.”  Her eyes went wide as she took in the view of Earth through the curved reinforced glass.  She could make out the continents beneath the moving clouds.  The sight was only visible for about fifteen seconds before the station rotation shifted to a view of space.  She found that almost equally breathtaking. 

                “Anything for you dear.  After all you only turn fifty once unlike thirty-nine.”  He laughed and moved to duck as she threw a pillow from the bed at him.  Samual had not gotten used to half Earth gravity yet and found himself moving in a more exaggerated manor than intended.  Despite trying to recover he found himself stumbling and falling onto the carpet.  On Earth a fall like this might have caused an injury, but here it barely hurt.  The pillow continued out the door and hit the luggage robot in the face display. 

                Jamie was by Sam’s side in an instant.  “Are you ok?”

                He just laughed back at her.  “I’m fine.  No, I’m great.”  He jumped up in a way he had not done in decades. 

                The robot did not react to the scene.  It placed the pillow back on the bed and then placed their bags into a cabinet.  With its task complete it turned to the couple.  “Would you like the room orientation?”

                “Yes please.” Sam replied. 

                A small screen lit up on the wall next to the window.  “Please turn your attention to the viewport control.  Some guests may experience a level of disorientation from constant motion.  If for any reason you feel discomfort from the view the window can be turned opaque.”  A square panel then lit up on the wall.  “If this is not sufficient basic medications, including those for motion sickness have been provided.  Your room will be charged for their use.”  The robot continued to roll around the room highlighting features for three minutes before wrapping up its programed presentation with, “Finally all these features can be accessed by voice command.  Simply start your command by addressing the automated systems with the word computer.  Please attempt to lower the lighting by 10% to ensure you have understood the instructions and that the system does not have any difficulty interpreting your requests.”

                Sam gestured his right hand to Jamie indicating that she should do the honor.  “Computer lower lighting by 10%.”

                “Acknowledged. Lighting level lowering by 10%” The robotic voice came over unseen speakers hidden around the room.  Previous iterations had used AI voiced that sounded indistinguishable from a human, but the focus group had found it to be disconcerting.  They had irrationally felt like they were being watched when a more realistic voice replied.  Similarly live employees had carried bags and done orientation, but a very vocal member of the focus group felt it would be “cool” if they used robots that looked similar to ones on a popular tv series.

                “Very good.  If you have questions, you can address them to the computer at any time.  Thank you again for staying with us at Orbital Platform One.  We hope your experience is out of this world.”  The robot turned toward the door and rolled through before it closed behind. 

                “Out of this world?  Really.”  Jamie laughed at the closed door.  She approached her husband and gave him a strong kiss.  “Thank you.  It’s everything I ever dreamed, and, in this gravity, I don’t feel any aches or pains at all.”

                “I’m so glad you like it.  Were you surprised for a change?”

                “Oh, you got me this time.  I had no idea.  I still don’t know how you paid for it.”

                “And you promised you wouldn’t ask.  I’m going to hold you to that.”  He smiled down at her feeling supremely pleased with himself for managing to pull off the gift.  It took three years of planning and careful investing with a private account to make it happen.  Even then he had to cash in multiple favors to get his place on the list and ensure the trip would happen for her birthday.  As her arthritis back pain had gotten worse over the previous year, he was concerned that she would not pass the medical clearance for the trip. 

                “You’ll eventually have to tell me, but for now I’ll just accept it.  This is the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

                “Just wait tonight we’re scheduled for zero-g dancing in the Zero-G Hub Ballroom.”  The central axis pillar of the station did not rotate like the rings to allow for sections that did not have gravity.  He braced himself as she hugged him tightly, but still unadjusted to the lower gravity they ended up falling backwards towards the bed.  When she kissed him, and he saw the look in her eyes, he realized that it might not have been an accident after all. 

                She smiled at him before looking up at the ceiling.  “Computer lights off.”

Ingredients

Fiction Fragment Friday

I love this story. While it started as a desire to explore the concept of immortality in regards to food preferences it quickly became a character profile. I realized this character had potential and thus he became part of a larger world in my head. This is his backstory, but it is far from the end of his tale. I hope you can enjoy this for what it is, but also understand that it is fleshing out a supporting character in something yet to come.


               If you live long enough you will see everything you believed to be true questioned.  Within the span of one human lifetime technology, changes in societal norms, and basic construction projects will drive home the idea that everything changes.  Imagine what a lifespan counted in centuries can challenge.  Things once thought to be the purview of only those with magic are now acts of technology taken for granted.  Is it any wonder magic has faded from this world when technology can do so much of what it was relied on more efficiently and without the immediate cost.  Do not imagine that technology does not have its own cost, but a cost less immediate to a future generation might as well be no cost at all for most. 

               When I was a child food availability was never a guarantee.  How well you ate was dependent on your skill at hunting or the yield of crops for those inclined to farm.  I was never so inclined but have yet to meet my true rival in hunting among anything that walks on two legs.  There are ways of preserving meat even in the wilds, but a freshly cooked meal would always taste the best.  In villages you could find spices, vegetables, and foraged berries.  I never fit in with those that lived in villages though, but in those days, there were enough wilds for that to not be a problem.  Besides villages came with people and they would inevitably find their way into your head until you cared about them only to die.  Most decades I preferred the pain of loneliness to the pain of loss.  Both were unavoidable though.

               The journey of food was truly a marvel to witness.  In what I call the beginning food was something eaten to survive.  The flavors were simple, ingredients few, and options limited.  As people settled the options became wider and spices easier to obtain.  Techniques were developed and taught.  While most anyone could cook, the preparation of meals for enjoyment became more specialized.  The plants grown were bred for appearance as well as traits.  There are foods now such as carrots that I would not have recognized.  They used to be white, bitter, and grew in out of control forking shapes.  The modern orange sweet carrot is nothing like it.  Despite being what I was familiar with for longer some things just got better.  Other lost tastes I find myself craving without an outlet.

               With technology providing for a global supply chain and dissemination of ingredients around the world I feel that food reached its golden age.  Dishes long denied me by distance could not be had from chefs with skill far greater than my own.  New recipes were being crafted for local tastes but inspired by distant lands.  The publishing and television broadcast industry brought techniques that once required apprenticeship to learn right into anyone’s home.  Along with the other comforts provided it was enough for me to overcome my distaste of being around other people and leave my wilds for the dangers of civilization.  I tried to steel my heart against the pains of inevitable loss, but of course it did come frequently.  I told myself that the benefits of the knowledge I gained was worth the price I had to pay. 

               Like all things this golden age could not last.  The selective breeding of both animals and produce led to a more homogenous nature of ingredients.  The flavors became more consistent but, in some cases, muted.  I was running my own restaurant and proud of the recipes that I had crafted over what would be multiple lifetimes for others.  My regulars soon became less frequent as chains moved in providing food that was not better but was much faster.  Trips to the grocery store assaulted my eyes with brightly colored mascots and ingredients that sounded more like scientific formulas.  Speed and quantity were language of the day, and I just could not compete.  The loss I felt for my restaurant dwarfed any I had felt for friends or lovers in my long life. 

My restaurant was something I put myself into and became part of my identity.  In fact, it outlived two of my identities.  Never had I stayed in one area and became my own offspring, but I did so to hold onto the first thing that had truly mattered to me in centuries.  Normally I would create brand new identities and travel to new locations, but here I was a third-generation owner accepting the flattery of my customers telling me how much I looked like my father.  I avoided hanging any photographs of myself on the walls in hopes of preventing the question of why there were not with my father or grandfather.  I knew it couldn’t last forever, but when I locked the door for the final time I wept.  The decade of depression that followed was my worst and during this time, I gave up on cooking and allowed myself to embrace the fast-food industry that had steamrolled over my dream.

               I watched the world in a dissociated manor as science redefined the universe around us.  My long life is still a mystery to me.  I do not know if I am immortal or just aging far slower than everyone around me.  Nor do I know why this is the case.  Advancements in DNA genome sequencing and cloning made me wonder if whatever had kept me alive could be based in science and could be recreated.  I had always assumed it was some form of magic, but if it was not then perhaps another like me could exist.  I feared being dissected and studied though so keeping my secret became even more important. 

               For the first time in my long life a new technology brought me hope of no longer being alone.  In the beginning I had no interest in computers.  Despite seeing how technology was changing the world so quickly I just didn’t see the use in them.  I could not comprehend how they would be anything more than a toy for those with more technologically inclined proclivities than myself.  The internet though changed that.  Suddenly people all over the world were communicating directly with each other.  The world had always seemed so big to me.  I had always wondered if there were any others like myself out there hiding, but never imagined being able to find them.  Now with the internet it felt possible. 

               My passions for food and hunting were reignited upon finding communities online of like-minded individuals.  At first it was wonderful discussing flavors and techniques.  Soon though as so often happens with people factions started to form.  There were arguments with people claiming opinions as absolute fact.  So many fell into the fads of the day without having the perspective of time to show how quickly these prevailing opinions could change.  Repeatedly I watched places that had started to feel like a home fall apart once again to petty squabbles.  I truly wondered if there was anything that could not be ruined by other people.

               When I reached what felt like a new low, I was debating a return to what little remains wild in this world.  A lifestyle that I once embraced now looked harder to step back into.  I had only had air conditioning for the past forty years, but my body had become accustomed to it, and I struggled with heat that once was a daily companion.  I enjoyed hunting trips, but quickly found myself longing for the comforts that I had become so accustomed it.  Giving up the internet would have also meant giving up the search for others that seemingly could not die.  In the end I did not find others like myself, they found me.

               One morning I received an e-mail with photo attachments of myself over the past century.  It contained information on my past identities going back another century prior to that.  I had no idea how anyone could have gathered this much information about me, but quickly learned just how connected my people were.  They think of themselves as the shepherds of humanity.  The letter explained that they had been observing me for quite a while and felt that I was finally ready to be brought into the fold.  I was excited by the prospect of meeting others like myself, but there was an undertone to their letter that concerned me.  A sense of superiority that I have experienced far too often in my long life.

               That is how I found myself in St. Louis Missouri under a new identity.  Despite my extensive knowledge of magic, I have very little aptitude for it.  Even my meager abilities though were more than enough to sense shifting energies converging in major conflict.  In the past I would have avoided the region entirely. Now that I know my people are out there looking for me, I need to make allies and what I sensed will be like a beacon for those with power.  The only question remaining is if my experience will help me choose wisely or my pain will deliver me to my doom.                                

Handoff

Fiction Fragment Friday

I woke up this morning and immediately messaged myself the first few sentences of this story. They had nothing to do with any dreams, but still in my sleep I had a spur of inspiration. I had no plans on writing a story set on the space station setting I created last year, but when I started writing it seemed to just fit there.


In space everyone has a different line for what it takes before they kill.  It is a dangerous universe, and some believe that you kill first or end up dead yourself. Others feel that all life in the galaxy is precious and will do anything to avoid crossing that line. Where do I fall on that scale? Let’s just say I’m somewhere between those two extremes and leave it at that. On a good day I’m happy about where I live on that range. On a bad day I have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror.  I can take comfort in being alive to be in the mirror. 

I was hired by a smuggler to provide lock side security for a delivery to Toran Station.  Even by my standards the place was a dump.  The first part of any job is researching the location and I certainly found mixed messages about this one.  The place used to be called the jewel of the galaxy, but now it’s just another aging hunk of metal floating in space.  No regular traffic, no investment in upkeep, and your standard death by obscurity.  It’s a real shame I never saw the place in its prime because as it is now, I felt like I needed a shower just from walking through the hall. 

  “Hey Frankie take a look at this guy.”  The obnoxious chubby man got right up in my face as he taunted me to his friend.  “Thinks he’s gonna intimidate us with his cowl.  Hehe.  Tougher than you have tried cupcake.”  I kept my face as neutral as possible, but it was hard not to smile imagining my fist repeatedly making contact with his face.  “Alright Mary lets see the goods.” 

“You know you are supposed to treat a lady to dinner first before making demands like that.”  There was a smoothness to my employer’s response that I couldn’t help but admire.  She was a woman that could control any conversation no matter how it started and knew how to keep the attention on herself.  With Frankie and Mark now completely focused on her I could lip back into the background again like I liked.  She opened her briefcase and pulled out an encrypted data chip.  “Plug this little baby into any station terminal and by the end of a week it will have wormed its way into every last nook and cranny.  Nothing will happen on the station without you knowing about it.”

  Mark plugged the chip into a palm reader for verification.  “Woohe, looks like she pulled it off.  I only see one problem with this chip.”

“Oh, and what exactly would that be?”  I could see her tense up, but I doubt anyone who didn’t know her as well as I did would have noticed. 

“You would know that we had that access.”  I could see Frankie going to make his move as well.  The microwave gun hidden in his jacket came into view as he reached for it. 

That was the moment I had to make a decision.  Four different non-lethal ways to take him ran through my head.  Each of them would leave Mark time to make a move of his own.  I knew that Mary was more than capable of handling herself, but I had been hired to do a job and giving Mark a free shot at my employer would not be good for my reputation.  A man like me pays his bills based on reputation.  My next moves would determine how many people would survive this encounter.

I grabbed Frankie twisting his right arm behind him and slammed him into Mark pressing the two against the bulkhead.  The microwave gun went tumbling across the floor.  Mary stepped back to give me room to work.  I do like working with a professional.  My fists made a lovely smacking sound as they finally got introduced to Mark’s face.  With a blur of motion, I fought both of them making sure to make it as painful of an experience as I possibly could.  They had done worse than double-crossed us.  That was just something I expected when doing business in the butthole of the galaxy.  What they did was annoy me and for that they were paying the price. 

“Well gentlemen I hope you have learned your lesson.  For the record I don’t talk about my clients so your secret would have been safe.”  She took her payment from the floor next to Mark and headed for the airlocks.  I gave him one last kick to the gut and then rushed to catch up with her.

Once we were out of earshot I turned to her.  “You just going to let them keep that virus after they tried to kill you?”

She stopped and patted me on the cheek.  “My dear boy you are good at what you do, but you just don’t see the big picture.  That worm has a backdoor in it for me.  I’ll know everything they know, and it will infect their systems too.  This payment is just a drop in the bucket to what I’m going to make off them.”  She turned back and continued walking.  “Remember never get paid for a job once, when you can get paid for it multiple times.”

I smiled and shook my head a bit.  Once again I was reminded that as dangerous as I was, I couldn’t hold a candle to that woman.       

Memories

Fiction Fragment Friday

Some weeks the story I share is one that I wrote just because I have dedicated myself to writing something new and sharing it each week. This is not one of those weeks. I decided to write this story early in the week and it was one that I felt I needed to write. I am sharing it here because this is my outlet for these short stories, but it was written because I wanted to write it.

I feel that these type of stories that I feel called to write are stronger first drafts that the stories that I just write to keep writing something new. That of course is just a matter of opinion, but they mean more to me.


                As I stepped out the front door of my childhood home for the last time the memories overwhelmed me.  I don’t mean that in some esoteric way either.  Something in my cortical implant malfunctioned at that exact moment flooding me with replays of memories not one at a time, but all at once.  A lifetime of memories that some unknowable algorithm determined were worth permanently saving without any input from me on relevance. 

                All my senses were assaulted by conflicting stimuli.  I experience being three and running into the living room on Christmas morning to see what gifts were waiting.  The flashing lights on the Christmas tree draws my attention.  I can smell bacon cooking in the kitchen from my bed years later.  I hear myself screaming at my father as a teenager angry at the world.  I taste my high school girlfriend’s breath mint as we kiss. Finally, I feel how frail my elderly mother’s arms are as I try to help her up from a fall.  Each sense is replaced by another as quickly as it hits me.

                My head felt like it was going to burst open.  The human brain is not made to handle simultaneous memories.  I tried to focus on individual moments to slow the feedback.  I focused on my first dog and how he showed me that animals didn’t have to be scary.  He was at the same time young and hyper and old and infirmed.  Each memory felt like a double-edged blade cutting me deeply as I grasped to keep them but had to acknowledge that those moments are past.  Each moment that I could pull strength from was followed by another pain as I lost anything I tried to hold onto. 

                Physical pain cut through the other sensations.  I had collapsed to the floor hitting hard without any way to lessen the impact.  Normally I avoid pain, but this time I yearned for it.  I tried to feel as much as I could because it cemented me in the moment instead of the past.  Pain was once again my companion and one I embraced like a lover.  I let the pain ground me as I rode out the mental attack. 

                When the memories finally faded, I took inventory of my state.  I was curled up on the floor with tears filling my eyes.  My legs were shaky and lacked enough strength to even stand up.  Blood ran down the side of my face mixing in with my tears. My head had busted open when it hit the floor.  The world still felt like it was spinning, and I couldn’t grasp a sense of balance.  A voice deep down inside me screamed to get up and move, but my body just wouldn’t respond.  I wasn’t even sure what was real at that moment. 

                Some unknown amount of time passed before I could finally sit up and compose myself.  The first thought that came to mind was a question.  Should I clean up the blood or just leave it for the person buying the house to deal with?  The second thought was to wonder if there was something wrong with me that I would be more concerned about a mess than my own physical wellbeing.  If my cortical implant had failed in a more precarious moment like while I was on the stairs I could have died.  Since I didn’t fully understand the device in my own head I didn’t know if it really was ok now or if it could happen again. 

                I looked around the room again thinking about all the memories I had just experienced.  Why were these the ones that the algorithm deemed important enough for permanent storage?  What about all the simpler moments just spending time with my family or relaxing with a good book?  The implant had chosen to remember those moments, but some of them I would have rather forgotten.  In time you either focus on the good memories or the bad and years blend together being shaded by those memories.  I wanted the good, but each good moment was fleeting and something that would soon pass.  I knew that the painful moments passed as well, but seeing them right after the good had poisoned my memories of them. 

                As soon as the strength returned to me, I forced myself to my feet.  It was still difficult to focus, but I was going into fight or flight mode.  There was nothing there to fight so I needed to put some distance between myself and that experience.  I finally finished what I had been trying to do and stepped out the frond door pulling it shut behind me.  I struggled to my car and got in staring out the front windshield at the house.  So much of my life had occurred in that house, but I had moved on decades ago.  It was not my home anymore, but the thought of never seeing it again was hard to accept. 

                “Home,” I said to my car’s AI.  I had named my car after a car from a TV show I watched with my parents as a kid.  I remembered all those moments, but I couldn’t even remember a name that had stuck with me into adulthood in that moment.  I remembered having a talking battery powered version of the car and driving it around the very driveway I was currently sitting in.  Why didn’t I have any images of it in my trip down memory lane?  Because you can’t choose what memories get saved.  You just have to live with the ones you have. 

                 As my car backed out of the driveway I took my last look at the house.  With it in my rearview mirror I opened up the browser in the car and logged into my healthcare page.  I needed to make an appointment to have the implant looked at.  In that moment I didn’t trust using it to look anything up.  I didn’t want the implant doing anything other than the basic authentications needed to start my car and unlock my door when I got home.  If I could have turned it off in that moment I would have, but things in your head cannot be turned off.  You just have to live with them.                       

Twinkies

Fiction Fragment Friday

Ok, this one takes a bit of setup. This isn’t something I wrote recently. In fact this story was written in 2006 almost twenty years ago. If the technology or any other aspect seem dated that is why. Back in those days cell phones would lock up and we would frequently have to pull the batteries to hard reboot them. Replacing batters was common as well.

It is part of the very first attempt I made at NaNoWriMo. Also this section of that novel attempt references a scene that happened earlier in the day where these characters were introduced. You can find that story posted on here back in 2020.

If you don’t want to go back to that just know that something has occurred during the night that killed all electronics in a small isolated town. That also means cars are not starting because of how reliant they are on electronics. This scene is in a convenience store that is the only place to get any form of groceries in this small town. People are already panicking.


“How are you doing over there Samantha?”   By this point in the morning the crowd had left the small store and all that was left was to restock the shelves.  Jan had been very pleased that Samantha was willing to take her job offer in the midst of all the chaos. 

            “I’m almost done Mrs. Williams.  Your stock room is getting pretty empty though and I don’t think you have anything left here with any kind of nutritional value.”  She paused for a moment to look into the box she was carrying.  “Unless of course you find Twinkies to be a part of a balanced diet that is,” she said with a smile.

            Jan chuckled a little bit.  “I don’t even find them edible.  I can’t stand those things.”  A more serious look came across her face as she leaned against the counter.  “I just really don’t understand what happened this morning.  A violent mob like that after only being without power for a few hours just doesn’t make any sense.”

            Samantha finished emptying her box and joined Jan at the counter.  “Well, it was like that man said this morning, it isn’t just the electricity.  All the cars quit working, all the handheld electronics just died, and we can normally just go to Prosperity to get stuff when the power goes out.  I wonder if it’s like this there too.  Man, that would suck.  It’ll take me forever to get new cell phone batteries if all theirs are dead too.  Hey maybe that’s why all the cars quit working, maybe their batteries are just dead.”

            “Well, it doesn’t make much sense, but then again what I saw here this morning doesn’t either.  The stranger had some good points about why the crowd was panicking, but it just seems too soon.  Also, he didn’t say Prosperity, he said Augustus.  I don’t even know where that is, but it definitely isn’t close enough to here to drive for supplies.  I didn’t mention it earlier because of everything that was going on, but I don’t think he was from around here.  I’m glad for his help, but it doesn’t make much sense for him to be talking like a local and not know that the only town around here is Prosperity.’

            “Aw, you’re just paranoid.  He seemed nice enough and if it wasn’t for him there is no telling how bad that fight would have gotten.  It was pretty wicked to see the principal punch someone though.  I just wish I could have gotten a picture of it on my phone, but that’s not taking any pictures any time soon.  How am I supposed to get by without my phone?  I feel so out of touch already and it hasn’t even been a day yet.  I should have had at least five texts by now.”

            Jan and Samantha were startled by the sound of a loud engine pulling into one of the parking spots outside the store.  A motorcycle pulled into the spot right next to the door and a leather clad teenager got off it.  He put his helmet on the seat and started walking towards the door.  Samantha recognized him as Jonathan Hackett a boy that she went to school with.  He wasn’t nearly as popular as her, and she had always seen him as something of a dork.  He was the last person she would have thought about riding a motorcycle, but then again, she never really thought about him at all. 

            Jan turned to Samantha as Jonathan came into the store.  “Well, I guess that kills your dead battery idea,” she whispered as she walked around the counter.  “We don’t really have all that much left on the shelves.  As you can probably guess we had a busy morning.  If you need anything at all, then Samantha here can give you a hand.”  She extended her arm and pointed towards a still shocked Samantha.  “Hey Sam, I’m going to go in back and see if I can find anything for a lunch break.”  With that Jan was gone leaving Samantha and Jonathan alone in the store. 

            Jonathan turned to Samantha and smiled.  “So, when did you start working here?”

            “Oh, I was just helping Mrs. Williams out this morning.  I don’t know if I’m going to keep working here once everything is back to normal.   Hey, I think that might be the first thing that you have said to me in three years.  You’re usually so quiet.”

            Jonathan chuckled, “Yeah, well it’s a lot easier to get up the nerve to talk to someone in a stockperson’s apron than it is a cheerleader outfit.”

            Samantha smiled.  “I guess I can see that.  Well for now at least I am a humble clerk”, she said with a bow.  “How may I server you?”

             Jonathan couldn’t help but smile.  “Well, I was getting ready to head to Prosperity to see if my new laptop on layaway still works, but as I rode by here, I got this sudden unexplainable craving for a Twinkie.”  Jonathan was getting braver by the moment.  He had always had a crush on Samantha but thought that she was way out of his league.  The fact that she was even talking to him amazed him.  “So, it looks pretty empty in here, so after Mrs. Williams gets done would you like to come to Prosperity with me?  I have an extra helmet.”  He cursed himself for sounding too eager with the helmet comment. 

            “Right about now I would do just about anything for a chance to get a new Cell Phone battery.  As long as you promise not to go too fast or do anything to try and scare me I’m in.  Let me go talk to Mrs. Williams really quick.”  Samantha stopped at the stockroom door and turned back to Jonathan who had a big smile on his face.  “You know, I also haven’t seen you smile in about three years either.” 

            “What can I say, I really like Twinkies.”  Jonathan thought for a moment that he had just made a complete fool out of himself.  His mind was racing with thoughts about how stupid he was for trying to make the joke.  Then he noticed that Samantha was laughing.  As she went into the stockroom, he said to himself, “This might be a once in a lifetime chance to spend the day with Samantha Walker.  Please don’t let me screw this up.” 

            Samantha came out of the stockroom smiling.  “Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll be ready to go.”  She grabbed a pack of the freshly restocked Twinkies from the shelf and tossed it to Jonathan.  “Those are on me, just something to pass the time while you wait.” 

Jonathan couldn’t bring himself to tell Samantha that he really didn’t like Twinkies.  In fact, he hated them.  He had seen her holding the empty box that she had restocked the Twinkies from and thought it might be a good excuse for why he was there.  Really, a friend of his had been there earlier and saw her working.  He knew that she was there and had come just to see her.  He didn’t want her to think he was stalking her so instead he ate the Twinkies and pretended that they were the best thing he had ever eaten.  In his head though, he was just trying to keep from throwing up as he forced them down.

Launch

Fiction Fragment Friday

One of the most important parts of writing a story is determining where to start it. If you start it early then it takes too long to get to the important parts. If you start it too late your readers feel like they have missed something. In this case I had a scene I wanted to describe so I picked my starting moment right at that scene. Unfortunately by doing so I realized that I was starting far too early and this story is actually just a prequal to the story people would really want to read.

I’m not sure if this scene is important to a much larger story or just something I needed to write to flesh out the characters for the story that I should have actually written.


                Two months of intensive conditioning, training, and preparation was not nearly enough to prepare for the moment of launch.  The voices of mission control coming through my headset were completely drowned out by the roar of the engines igniting.  I tried to bring my arms up to grab my restraints, but I couldn’t move them.  My chest hurt as I gasped for breath trying to push down a panic attack.  Nothing in my life has ever compared to that moment and I hope I never go through anything like it again. 

                Everything inside the command module vibrated and rattled.  I was simultaneously smashed into my chair and being violently shaken.  I fought back the nausea knowing if I vomited it would be forced back down my throat.   The real astronauts would also never let me live that down.  Thoughts of the ship ripping apart from the reverberation filled my head.  I was a scientist and had no business going into space. 

                I have no idea how long that first stage of launch was, but it felt like an eternity.  Finally, the pressure lessened enough for me to grab onto my restraints and hold tight.  That was when the second phase rockets ignited.  I was once again shoved back into my seat, but the force was not nearly as bad as the previous stage.  After a few more minutes I experienced weightlessness for the first time.  I could even hear the rest of the crew reporting back to ground control through the communication system. 

                “Hey doc how you holding up?”  It took me a moment to realize Commander Henderson was talking to me.  He was floating a few feet in front of me with a look of concern on his face. 

                “That was the single most terrifying thing I have ever experienced.  You’ve been to space before and still chose to do it again?”

                He laughed.  “Just wait until reentry.”

                “You’re kidding right?  Right?”  I don’t think he was kidding.  At that point though we had a whole mission ahead of us and no guarantee that we would be returning.  Two years ago, I made a discovery that would change my life forever.  Something was coming into the solar system and would be passing close to Earth.  I thought it was an asteroid at first, but as I ran the math and did radio telescope tests it became obvious the object was not natural.  Before I knew it, I was in a small room being threatened by men in black suits.  If I said a word to anyone about what I discovered, they would never find my body. 

                “Ok doc we’re going to be in orbit for twenty-four hours before performing the slingshot move around the moon.  At that point we will be further from Earth than anyone has ever been before.  Not that anyone will ever know.” 

                “Missions don’t really get more classified than this do they?”

                “Nope.  I’m betting this mission is going to have a lot of firsts, but then again if not, we would never know.”

                I laughed and felt a bit more relaxed for the first time in days.  In a week we would be boarding what all my tests seemed to suggest was a derelict spacecraft.  We would only have a few hours to find a way onboard, study everything, and attempt what little salvage we could fit in the command module.  Any longer and we would be too far from Earth to return.  There were more ways this mission could go wrong than I could begin to imagine and if it did, we would be completely on our own. 

                I couldn’t help but wonder what they would tell my friends and family if I never returned.  The cover story for the last few months had been a consulting contract with NASA.  In reality NASA didn’t have a high enough clearance to know the truth behind our mission.  There were less than twenty people on the planet who knew the whole truth.  Four fewer with us in space. 

                “So, Commander Henderson any new ideas on how to get inside if we can’t cut our way through the hull?”

                “Sorry doc that’s your department.  We’re just your ride.”

                “Do I need to remind you that you have a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering and two master’s degrees yourself?  We aren’t even the only two with doctorates on this mission.”

                He just smiled back at me.  “That may be true, but I didn’t find an alien spaceship.  Your ship your problem.” 

                “Ah, but we are on your ship right now.  I’m betting you have an idea or two.” 

                “Nope, but we’ve got two weeks to figure something out.”    

Revelations

Fiction Fragment Friday

I never imaged I would write a sequel to Pitch Meeting, but it seemed the perfect way to work through some thoughts I was having. I have been reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. It is a book collecting essays he wrote about writing, what it meant to him, and where his inspirations came from. The book has been really speaking to me and reminding me what I enjoy about writing.

Since the author in Pitch Meeting is already a veiled version of myself and a way to express my own writing insecurities he seemed to be the perfect way to explore my realizations. I write to see where a story goes or to explore how I really feel about concepts. That is something I forget at times. When a story works and really flows there is nothing quite like it.


                “That’s great Jimmy.  So how does it end?”  I had just finished pitching the next book in my Benjamin Everhart urban fantasy series and I could hear the excitement in my agent’s voice.  After my last novel was a critical flop and I had tried to pitch him a book about a necromancer fashion designer I really couldn’t blame him for being excited. 

                “Oh, that’s the best part Evan.  I have no idea.”  I shrugged my shoulders and held my hands up, but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.  He on the other hand was not smiling.  This time I had given in and flown out to meet with him in person.  I had been putting him off too long and I really did owe him for everything he had done over the years. 

                “You have no idea?”

                “None whatsoever.”

                “How in the world is that a good thing?  You’ve been pushing this book off for years now leaving your fans frustrated and you have no idea how it is going to end?”  Evan Brooks prided himself on being in control of his emotions.  The man could keep his tone neutral in situations that would have me screaming.  Over the past few years though I think I had really pushed that control to its limit and looking at me in the face he couldn’t keep from raising his voice.  I watched his expression return to something more composed before he continued.  “Ok James please explain why that is the best part.”

                He called me James instead of Jimmy.  That was not a good sign.  I had planned on having a bit of fun with the conversation, but that made me rethink my entire approach.  “It’s the best part because I’m excited to find out.  I’m already twenty thousand words into my first draft and it is just flowing.”  I had been dreading this novel because I had written myself into a corner and self-doubt had me questioning if I was capable of writing the story that came next. 

                I could see that the muscles in his shoulders visibly relaxed when I mentioned my word count.  “Well, that’s a good start then.  How can you write the story if you don’t know how it ends though?  Usually when you pitch me you have it all outlined.”

                “That’s what has me so excited.  See early on when I was writing the series I barely outlined at all.  I would just sit at my laptop and put my characters in situations to see how they would react.  It’s only the last couple books of the series I have been adding all this structure and planning.  I’m getting back to basics.”  I let out an exasperated sound.  “It sounds like such woo-woo garbage when I say it like that.”

                “Nah Jimmy I, well no I don’t get it, but I’m not a writer I don’t have to get it.  If it works and gets you cranking out marketable books again be as woo-woo as you want.  Just make sure you can finish the book though.  I don’t want you getting seventy five percent in and getting stuck.”

                “I’m not going to lie and say that isn’t a possibility.  Usually what that means though is that I screwed up somewhere.  When that happens, I just jump back to where it was last smooth and drop everything after.  Sure, it hurts to lose a chapter or two, but it’s better than losing momentum.  Of course, you should plan on some extra time editing before you start your marketing push.”

                “After what you’ve been putting me through lately, I’m not talking to anyone about this thing until I see a first draft.  So, help me if there is a necromancer or a surfing vampire anywhere in that draft we are going to have words.”

                I sighed and slumped a bit in my chair.  The next part of the conversation was why I really wanted to do it in person.  It would also be the hardest part of the meeting.  “I’m sorry.  You’ve had my back for as long as I’ve known you and I haven’t been fair to you at all.  I’ve gone back on our deals, ignored your advice, and generally acted like a spoiled child.  So yeah, I’m sorry.”

                I did not expect to leave him speechless, but for a long moment we just sat there in silence.  “Look Jimmy if we’re getting all serious here then I just have one question.  Why?  Why have you been so difficult?  When we first started working together you were my best client.  Always so eager to hear what I had to say and cranking out books like crazy.  What changed?”

                “You have no idea how many times I’ve asked myself that exact question since our last phone call.  I realized some very hard truths about myself and had to admit that I lost my way.  I forgot why I enjoyed writing.  I also got scared that my best work was behind me.”

                “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…  Do you know what makes you different from most of my other clients?  Do you know why you are my favorite?”

                “Because I’m the one in your office right now?”

                His serious face broke for a moment, and he let out a chuckle.  “Ok, besides that.” 

                “No.”

                “I have worked with hundreds of authors over the years.  Most of them treat it as work.  They don’t actually want to write; they want to have written.  They enjoy having the story, talking about it, and the praise they get from it.  The actual process of writing though is just how they get to that.  You though, you’re different.  You seem to actually enjoy the act of writing, or you did at least.”

                “Writing a story is the only way I know how the story ends.”

                “See that’s what I mean.  You just approach this differently.  I’ve met plenty of authors like you, but I haven’t had the pleasure to represent very many of them.  They don’t light up when they talk about their ideas.” 

                The room started to get a bit blurry.  I’m sure it was just my allergies because there is no way my eyes were getting watery from just the conversation.  I gave myself a moment before speaking though just to get my thoughts together.  “Thank you.  That might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

                “Well, the nicest in the last few years anyway.  Remember I read your book reviews.”

                “Yeah, I do to, and that was part of my problem.”

                “Look kid, you can’t let this stuff get to you.  Once it gets in your head it’s hard to get it back out.  I’ve seen writers crash and burn so many times after a little taste of success.  That’s why I’m so hard on you.  I don’t want that for you.”

                “Kid?  You do know I’m in my forties, right?”   

                “As long as I’m looking out for you, you will always be kid to me.  Come on, let’s get something to eat and you can tell me all about what you’ve got so far.  What do you say?”

                “I’d like that.”        

Eclectic Collection

Fiction Fragment Friday

I’ve said it many times before, but I really enjoy trying new ways to tell a story other than prose. In today’s Fiction Fragment Friday we have an e-mail invitation to an auction for some very unique items. It is an extremely short entry. I do feel like I could have made this much longer, but it was really just a minor thought exercise that did not inspire me to go longer.


From:  The Broker
To: <undisclosed recipients>
Subject: Urgent Notification!  Online Auction

Congratulations Collector,

I am thrilled to inform you that you have been invited to participate in a very exclusive online auction.  My agents have identified you as an individual with an appreciation for science that may fall outside of what the mainstream embraces.  You are also an individual of some means capable of understanding the value of the items I am making available. 

A few sample items that will be included in this auction:

  • Unmovable Boots.  A pair of gravity manipulation boots only used once.  Capable of creating a localized field that can increase gravity on themselves and anything in them by 40 times.  Minor blood stains.    
  •  Impenetrable Force Field Belt.  The belt creates an energy dome around the wearer with a five-foot radius that prevents all known forms of matter and energy from traversing for thirty minutes.  Return bidders may recognize this item from last month’s auction.  The item is once again available due to the previous owner not understanding that light and air are forms of matter and energy.    
  • Unwelcome Mat.  A door mat that teleports anyone who steps on it to a location you preprogram.  Generates excessive heat from the creation of an Einstein Rosenberg bridge so it is recommended that you limit use to twice a day or risk overheating.
  • Eclipse Glasses.  This very unique protective eyewear permanently and irreversibly modifies the wearers eyes to block out 99.9999% of the sun’s solar radiation and visible light. 
  • Petrification Cream.  This lotion changes the wearer’s skin to a dense resilient material.  You will never feel the pain of a paper cut, the extremes of temperature, or anything else ever again.

These represent a mere fraction of the intriguing scientific breakthrough items that would make excellent gifts for the right individual.  You will only find items like these on my exclusive auction website if you reply and complete the verification process.

I eagerly await your response.

The Broker

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