The Antique Shop

With his chin nearly touching his chest, Bob stood in the dark cubbyhole, sorting through the tools: a dull hatchet, several hammerheads with no wooden grips, of course, an assortment of wrenches, two warped saws and several broken screwdrivers seemed to be the best of the bunch.  A hand-painted sign on the side of the box read, ‘CHEAP’ but any price was too much.  Nothing sharp and everything oxidized to the point of breakage with very little torque; Bob thought, the sign should read, ‘TRASH.’

Still he looked, carefully flipping the contents with a gloved hand; after all, the local hospital had run out of tetanus shots years and years ago.  Even the pine box that housed the antiques had water stains on it.  He tilted his head back and noted the gray ripples on the ceiling.  The whole store showed a general lack of care.  The owners were probably some left-wing malcontents.

“Damn waste,” he said, speaking to no one in particular, except the swirling dust motes.  Still he kept sorting; half hoping that he’d find some forgotten treasure and one-hundred percent certain that there wasn’t anything else in the shop of any interest to him.  His wife, on the other hand, was always mesmerized by anything from the 21st century.

“Bob,” his wife called.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m just looking at these tools,” he said, tossing a hammerhead back into the rotting crate.

His wife sighed with relief.  “Good,” she said.  “For a moment, I thought you were peeing.”

He pivoted away from the closet, sweeping the sawdust on the floor into dirty, brown drifts that piled up against his boots and frowned at her. Sometimes Martha acted like he didn’t have any civilization about him.

Martha stood on the far side of the store in the Electrical Department.  Something had cocked her interest; he could tell.  She had that sparkle in her eyes and she was bent over some gizmo, rubbing it, checking the price tag and talking to herself.

He moseyed across the floor and stood beside his wife.

“Oh, Bob,” she said, “do you remember these things?”

He did not, but he wasn’t going to admit it.  He lifted the tag and pause for a moment, struggling with the word.  “Sure,” he said.  “It’s a vac-u-ma. And the owners want five whole dollars for it.”  He blew out a breath of air that sounded a lot like, ‘pifft.’

“It’s a vacuum, dear,” she corrected.  “And the tag says that it’s in good working order.”

“Well, obviously they don’t use a vacuum around this place or a stiff broom for that matter.”

“When I was a child, Momma would let me vacuum the entire house,” she said.  Her hand glided over the rubber hose, which had seen better days.  Dry rot, he thought. Rubber just did not hold-up over the years. No doubt, she intended to plug the holes with his precious resin, as if that would work.

He grunted, noncommittally.

“A vacuum sucks up the dust and dirt, like nobody’s business,” she said.  “It made everything so neat and tidy, back in the good ole days.  Vacuums kill fleas too, you know.”

Clearly, his woman was infatuated with the electrical doodad, and that meant it was time to insert some practicality into her dream world.  He stooped down and lifted the butt of the oval canister, as if checking for its sex organs.

“Aha,” he said.  “It says right here:  12.0 AMP.  That’s point-one-two kilowatt hours of electricity.  Outrageous!  Do you think I’m made of money, woman?”

“Oh, but I wouldn’t use it everyday,” Martha said.  “Just once a week.”

“Still too much,” he said.  “You’ll drain the batteries, and you know what happens when the batteries are completely drained.  No, Martha.  It’s not the five dollars for the machine; it’s the cost of running it.”

“Oh, Bob.”

“Next thing you know, you’ll be wanting to pour some toxic cleanser down the toilet to make it all shiny white.”

“I’d never,” she said, hushing him.  “I’m a good citizen.  I’d never pollute the water table.”

People were beginning to stare, but he smiled as Martha moved away from the barmy machine.

Advertisements

The Perils of Multitasking

Smoke billowed from the vent eaves—wavy, boneless, grey arms, reaching for the sky and signaling for help.  Discombobulated by the sight, Harry eased his car into the driveway, anyway.  In a matter of seconds flames burst through the roof and a section of lumber, shingles and insulation plunged into the living room.  The fire inhaled and then roared back out.  Tiny bits of his house, charred red and still hot, pelted down and rolled off the hood of his sedan.  He looked up at the house only one more time before putting the vehicle in reverse.

“Wow,” his five-year-old son said from the back seat.  Little Ralph strained against his safety harness to get a better view of the spectacle.

Slowly and carefully, Harry parked the car in an empty slot across the street.  As he unbuckled his son from the toddler seat and heaved the boy into his arms, he couldn’t help but look at the fire eating—gobbling up—his humble, two-bedroom home and all that he possessed in this world.  Flames licked at the shingles on the edges of the roof, now, curling down, as if the yellow beast was intent on reaching for the last bits of its meal.

He flipped his cell phone open and dialed 911.  “Excuse me, but I have a fire at my house.  That’s 184 Sycamore Drive.”  A moment passed.  “Yes,” he said, “I do believe that there is someone in the house.”

At that precise moment, his wife burst through the front door.  Tiny nubs of hair still clung to her scalp, and remnants of cloth were netted to her body in a bizarre checker-board fashion.  She yelped like an injured and inconsolable puppy and collapsed three feet from the blacken door.  Little Ralph whimpered.  His tiny hands clutched at his father’s neck.  Harry swapped the cell phone to his other ear.

“I’m sorry,” he told the operator.  “I have to go now.  You’d better send a fire truck and an ambulance too.”

Harry looked up and down the street, partly to see if anyone would come running to his aid and partly to see if any traffic was approaching.  The road remained empty, free of any concerned neighbors or flashing red emergency lights.  He rushed across the pavement, as Little Ralph bounce like a bobble in his arms.  Harry didn’t want to put the boy down.  His son was such a curious fellow; he might try to investigate the fire or rush to his mother’s side or look for the family dog—if the idea popped into his head—or do some other unimaginable thing.

Harry lifted his wife’s arm and drug her another twenty feet into the front yard, but he could still feel the heat coming from the house.  The skin around her wrist slipped under fingers and fresh welts of blood oozed out like a dozen hot rills of sticky red ink.  To him, it seemed the blood was much thicker than it should be.

Rover, their pet dachshund, skidded around the edge of the building and came to a halt on top of Harry’s foot.  The dog—singed but still very much alive—promptly peed on his shoe.  Harry scooted the dog away, shifted the boy to a new position and bent over his wife’s body.  Her chest heaved up and down.

“Dear,” he said, whispering into her ear.  She blinked at him with eyes that had no lashes.  “Were you trying to multitask, again?”

She drew a long ragged breath, and he thought he heard her say, “Cooking and watching TV.”

“You know that’s illegal,” he said and tsked-tsked.  As soon as the words were out, he immediately regretted them.  His last words to her should not be a reprimand; he should say something comforting to her, but he couldn’t.  What would he say?  Everything will be all right.  Obviously, nothing would ever be all right again.

A breath, fouled with smoke and the strange scent of rusty penny, escaped her lips.  She shuttered violently and drew long breaths that were spaced too far apart, as if her soul wrestled with its crispy exterior, and then she melted, limp and lifeless, onto his freshly mowed grass.

“You see, son,” he said.  “This is what happens when you get in a hurry.  This is why we are not supposed to multitask.  The government banned multitasking, way back in 2-oh-6-oh.  The Brainy-People decided that the general population was no longer smart enough to multitask.”

“But why did Mommy break the law?” Ralph asked, whimpering into his father’s shoulder.

“Mommy was a nervous person,” Harry said, trying to explain the unexplainable to a five-year-old and reflecting on the unpleasant sense of tension that had always surrounded Gloria.  “She had a big ego.  She always thought that she was smart enough to do two things at one time.  But her I.Q was only 68, just two points above mine.”

“I’ll miss her,” Ralph said.  “Won’t you, Daddy?”  His son’s round, blue eyes floated in two half moons of tears.

“Don’t’ start crying now, son.  If you cry, I’ll cry too.  And we really should walk safely back to the car, first.  Okay?  We mustn’t multitask; we mustn’t be like Mommy.  We might get run over on the road; we might even get run over by the fire truck that we called to save us.  That wouldn’t be nice, would it?”  He gave the boy a very stern look.

Ralph snorkeled and nodded.  “No, Daddy.”

Area Code Zapod

Speaking of dialogue, here’s a story I wrote that’s all dialogue.  This is a one-sided telephone (communicator) conversation.  Note the lack of tags.

‘No, operator.  That’s seven-three-two.  I’m calling from Earth.  Yeah, it’s long distance, real long.

I want to talk to my mother, Suez Killcrack.  She’s an admiral in the Zapod Quadrant.  Make it collect and in-person.

No, I don’t want a hologram.  My mother would shoot me, if she saw me in this ugly disguise.

I know it will be expensive.  I just told you that my mother is an admiral.  Quaks and Urks!

No, operator.  I’m sorry.  You are right, that kind of language is not necessary.

Yes, I’ll hold.

***

‘Hello, Mother?

I’m fine.  Well, no.  Actually, my allergies are really bad.  There’s too much oxygen on this planet.  I had to relocate to the city, so I could be near more carbon.  But I’m still blowing kaynockers all the time.

And the sun on this planet is really weak, too.  I’m afraid that I’ll need an advance on my allowance.  There isn’t enough energy on this planet to power my radio, much less get a decent place to sleep.

Listen, mom.  The real reason that I called you is to tell you about that dumb LiZard at the travel agency.  He has made some really big mistakes in his math.  His calculations in time were off.  There are no dinosaurs here, anymore.  They went extinct like 65 million years ago.  This place is all hunted out.  There’s no big game here.  I think, the Quarkians must have killed them off, eons ago.  The Quarkians have definitely been here; I can smell them.  The whole planet just reeks with them.

Yeah, the Quarkians.  You know them.  Fifth planet, past the last nebular.  Not only have they hunted all the big game to extinction, but they’re also into that sex thing.  Crazy with it, I tell you.  I tell you, they’ve just ruined this planet.  Ugh.

What?  Well, I know, mother.  I am trying to make the best of it.  But how can I exercise my battle skills when all the dinosaurs are gone?  I mean gone.  There isn’t anything left on this planet that’s bigger than a blue whale.  And they’re no fun.  They’re not even aggressive.  They might accidentally swat you with their tails, but that’s all.

What?  Well, the reason that I didn’t come by hologram is because my costume would probably scare you.  That idiot travel guy put me in some kind of human form.  It’s really disgusting.  I’ll send you a picture, but don’t touch it.  Just look at it through an ultraviolet lens, and then nuke it.  Damn, it’s awful.

What?  Yes, mother.  I can curse in sixteen different languages.  But Earthese doesn’t really count.  It’s just a series of tongue clicks…

What?  Yes, I’m getting enough salt.  That’s one thing they have plenty of.

Also, I look like a female.  Someone told me that I was hot, but I can’t detect any temperature difference from the natives.

What?  Well, I know that female is my natural state.  But females on this planet don’t get to do anything fun.

I tried joining a group of humans called, The Marines.  They played a game with me called, Basic Training.  That was okay.  At least, I didn’t fall asleep.  But then they punished me, and stuck me behind a square wooden structure, and they want me to process paper all day.

What’s paper?  Well, it’s kind of mashed up, dead wood pulp.  Urkie stuff.   Stinks of decay, too.  I can barely stand to touch it.

No, mom.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  They punished me for no reason, except that I’m female.  Quadzooks, what an unenlightened race these earthlings are.  They don’t even realize that a properly trained female is seven times more deadly than any male warrior.

So… just to get away from all that smelly paper, I volunteered for their War Games that they got going on.  But they still would not let me play.  They kept me in a place called, The Rear.

I tell you, it’s more boring here than batting asteroids in deep space.  I’m not having any fun on my vacation, at all.  GeWiz, mother.  And the Zapod Military Academy is not going to be please with my lack of training.

What?  Oh, they got some play things called guns and bombs.   But those things are about as dangerous as Zapod baby toys.

Oh, yea.  One more thing.  I got into a bit of trouble, here while back.  One of the male earthlings tried to do the sex thing with me.  I’m afraid that he surprised me.  I thought he was attacking.  You know, I though he wanted to play.  I’m afraid that I broke him.  I tore him into little pieces.  Who knew that they kept all their fluids on the inside?

Now, all the other earthlings are mad at me.  But I don’t understand why.  There are so many of them, I didn’t think they would miss one, and I didn’t know that they kept an inventory.

Now, they got my body locked up in a place called, Prison.  I got to say that it is the most exciting place on the planet, but it’s still a bit like a Zapod nursery school.

Listen, mom.  Do you think that you could send me enough plutonium to bust off the backward orb?  I’ll pay you back, when I get a job.

Sure, I’ll get a job.   But first things first, mom.  I can’t get a good job with a placid, little planet like Earth on my résumé.

If you sent me enough plutonium, I could get all the way to the outer nebulas.  I know they got some cool monsters there.  Twice as big as dinosaurs.  Something like that would look good on my résumé.

You will?  Thanks, mom.

No, I won’t speed.

Yeah?  Well, I hate you, too.

Oh, one more thing, mom.  Do me a favor.  Eat that urkie travel agent.  If you don’t, I will.’

Bye, mom.  Talk to you later.  I’ll call you after I shed this human skin.”

The end

The Replacement Wife

“Mrs. Green,” Doctor Black said.  “I thought, we agreed that you would lose some weight.”

The patient stared down at her steel toes and mumbled something unintelligible.

She didn’t like to be seen without her high heels; the artificial skin on her feet had worn down to bare metal, but the doctor always insisted on seeing every inch of her.

“Instead of losing weight, you’ve added a new bucket to your hips.”  The doctor ran his hands through the bucket; it was filled with broken chips, frayed wires, and cracked welds.  “When is the last time that you purged?”

Mrs. Green rumbled.  It took a full nine seconds for her to respond.  “Seventeen days,” she finally said.  The printer on her back burped out a page of nonsense.

“Seventeen days?”  Dr. Black was horrified.  “You must be miserable.”

“I’m too busy,” the patient said.  “I got a job, a husband, and five stepchildren.”

“Your wires are thick with dust, your programs are fragmented, the metal on your knees is bent, you’ve been sucking up too much solar rays, and you have a Trojan stuck in your domestic system.  If you want to become scrap metal, just say so.”

“But I’m practically new,” the patient protested.  “I’m a CR-7.”

“I know what you are.  I’m writing you a prescription for a surge protector and a new preservation chip.  And I want you to stop watching those old home movies of your predecessor.”

“But my husband wants me to be just like his first wife, his human wife.”

“Yeah?  Well, she’s dead.  Would you like to join her?’

the end

Possessions and Junk

Although short and flashy, I really like this piece.  It’s amazing to me what some people would rather have than money.

Possessions and Junk

by

C.M. Marcum

Long ago and before the bombs blasted most of the big cities into garbage dumps, I fussed at my husband about all his fishing poles, knives, guns, dirty camouflage, and muddy boots.  His cluttered upset my tidy sense of feminine décor, and I remember thinking that he was too uncivilized, too right-wing, too insensitive for me.  The logic escapes me now, but I remember thinking it.

Now, in the darkest hours of the night and with a shotgun stretched across my lap, I stand guard over my sleeping man and all his stuff.  Once his equipment would have been banished to the shed, but now these tools-of-survival are too valuable to be locked behind some flimsy tin door outside the house or even in some vacant bedroom.  His fishing net rests against the peeling wallpaper; there are multiple stains on the wall that match the long aluminum frame of the pole, and I worry about the sticky glue getting on the net.

I pull a tattered, lace doily off the arm of the couch.  I study the intricate knitting and wonder why I bought it.  Once, I bought a lot of useless things—fragile, electric, disposable, and decorative junk.  All gone, now.

Firelight flicks over my lover’s face, and a new scar races across his cheek.  The scar starts below his nose, runs up to his right eye, and then peels sharply back to his ear.  The scar is not ugly to me.  His healed wounds fill me with pride, and I reflect on how lucky I am that the bobcat did not take his vision.  There were no doctors to stitch his wound, so I did it myself.  I flushed the pieces with a mild saline solution, stitched it with a sterile needle, and kept the angry flesh layered with honey, until the skin healed over nicely.  It never did get infected.  He frets over his looks now, but I think he just looks all the more handsome and tough—especially tough.

His boots and socks are drying near the fireplace, beginning to smoke and stink of river bottom.  I move them, fetch his other pair of boots, and lay the dry ones near the bed.

We have status in the neighborhood, because we have a lot to trade, mostly meat.  I have learned how to clean a gun, gut a fish, sharpen a knife, and stitch a wound without even blinking.

Living in this new reality, I am the one who has become uncivilized, hard, and selfish.  He is as he always was; but I have changed, and yet I haven’t changed.  I’m still the boss.  Tomorrow, I will take our extra fish to the old couple living—or I should say, barely surviving—down the road.  I hear that the old woman has skills—gardening, sewing, cooking, and canning skills.  I hear that the old man knows how to make a solar cooker.  Perhaps, we will adopt the old couple.  Maybe, we will even come to love them.  It’s easy to love someone of value.  I’ve learned that lesson.

I will let the old woman give me some token in exchange for the fish.  The old folks have nothing that I want—their garden was raided last night.  I will take whatever they offer, anyway.  Perhaps, it will be some diamond jewelry, frilly cloth, or paper money.  I can always toss it later, or maybe even trade it to some fool.  Such things are not worth toting.

The logs in the fireplace crackle with good cheer, celebrating our success.  I toss the doily in the flames, watch it flare, and smile at my sleeping redneck.

The End

Computer Wizards

Computer Wizards

by

C.M. Marcum

Jose walked into the bar.

“ Jose,” Ralph called.  “How’s it hanging?”

“Long and to the left,” Jose said.  “I just finished a roof job.  Made 2500 ticks.”

“Human or Wizzer?” Ralph asked.

“Wizzers are humans.”

“Says you,” Ralph said.  “I did a roof for a Wizzer.  Threw a tarp over the hole.  Got 3500 ticks.”

“You shouldn’t take advantage.”

Ralph shrugged.

“I don’t work for Wizzers,” Jose said, standing up.

“Be careful,” Ralph called.  “Wizzers are soaking up solar rays.”

Jose stepped into the sunshine.  He was immediately surrounded by five naked Wizzers.  Bluetooth and GPS systems covered their eyes and ears.  They wore solar hats, and wires dangled from bald scalps to CPU backpacks.

“Submit job bid,” one of them said, bumping into him.  A keypad had been implanted into his hand.

Repulsed, Jose backed away.  “Never touch the stuff,” he said and spat on the Wizzer’s foot.

This bit of flash fiction actually got accepted by Alienskin.com way back in February 2009, which surprised me.  I don’t fancy it as one of my best pieces.  I often wonder if I can judge my on writing.