Alice Go Lightly

February 3, 2010 2 comments

Alice tried to remember who had given her the key. All she knew was she woke up in the desert north of Baker, California, with her nose bleeding all over the faux leather seat of an abandoned El Camino.

She speeds back into town with her left hand tightly gripping the furry steering wheel, right hand clasping the key hung around her neck. Two keys in one night. One holds mystery, but the other, the one in the ignition, is the under appreciated savior. Who knows what would have become of Alice had the key not been there, or if it hadn’t started up on the first crank and pump of the accelerator.

Alice turns onto her dusty dirt road. from the collection of random and rusted junkyard treasures, the two trailer homes at the end of the drive have been there since the late 1950’s. There are three cars in the yard of the home on the right, but only one of which looks like it actually drives. It’s a 94 Toyota Camry with the license plate “F8 TAKR.” Alice turns off the ignition and, with a loud pop and a rusty squeal of the hinges, gets out of the El Camino. Before she can take two steps towards her abode, Jenny speaks up from behind the crooked screen door.

“You little slut, you!” Jenny stands leaning on the aluminum door frame sipping on a coffee mug with a picture of the famous “Welcome To Vegas” sign.

“Are James and Dylan alright?” Alice asks.

“They’re keeping themselves busy playing with dirty needles and matches.”

“Very funny.”

“Coffee is waiting, but you don’t get any until you tell me exactly what happened after you left the Rhino last night.”

###

James and Dylan sit on the shag carpeting in their PJs. All of their attention is on the twelve inch screen displaying Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. The flip up door of their Nintendo is long since broken off and missing.

Alice and Jenny sit at the kitchen table which is hinged on the wall, coffee in front of each. Jenny can’t get the grin of gossip desire off her face. Alice watches her children steadfast.

“You’ve got to be kidding me? You don’t remember anything?” Jenny asks.

“I remember meeting two guys at the Rhino. I remember thinking it was a pleasant surprise to see unfamiliar faces to have a drink with. Then. Nothing.”

Jenny’s suspicions are confirmed, “I knew it! I knew they put something in your drink! You’re never that easy! Probably GHB!”

Alice’s eyes widen and her mouth drops open, “You knew they laced my drink and you let me go with them anyway?”

“Shit girl, it’s been too goddamn long since you let loose! I figured you needed your panties dropped!”

“I have two kids, Jenny! Sorry if I’m not as big a party as you’d like me to be! Besides, getting my ‘panties dropped’ is partly the reason I’m living in a tin shed, with two boys, and no one to help me raise’em.”

James, the older boy, doesn’t take his eyes off the video game, but adds to the conversation anyway, “I can get a job, Mom. I’ll help you raise Dylan.” James is nine years old, but he means what he says.

“I know you can, baby, but you need to finish up being a kid first. Then I’ll let you take care of the whole family, kay?”

“I’ll help too.” Dylan interjects.

“I know you will, sweetie.” Alice smiles at her boys.

Back to grown up conversation, Jenny can’t resist the mystery.  “You should have heard yourself last night! You and the tall one were smacking each other around with insults.”

“and you let me leave with this guy?”

“Honey, the words might have been mean, but the ‘please fuck me’ tension was thick!”

Nervous for her children, but holstering a smile, “Watch your goddamn mouth!.. So did you get the other one?”

“Last night was all you, girl. You left in a brand new Yukon with both of’em.”

“You are some friend you know that?” Alice adds.

“I know I am, who else is gonna watch your kids when you leave with your man AND my man!” Jenny can’t hold in her laughter. “Don’t worry, mine wasn’t all that much fun anyway. Sour puss all night long.”

###

Alice and Jenny circle the El Camino as if it was a car they were considering on a used car lot.

“This is not the car you left in, I can tell you that.” Jenny takes a closer look at Alice’s face in the morning light. “Honey, I think you’re getting a black eye.”

“I woke up with a bloody nose.”

“Well, now that you’re safe at home I can say – You must have had a GREAT NIGHT!” Jenny thinks she’s funny. She has no idea how abrasive her squeal of a laugh can be.

“And if I didn’t come home?” Alice queries.

“Well then that would’a been not such a great night, now wouldn’t it.” Jenny kicks a tire and then rounds her way to the trunk. “That’s weird, there’s a latch.”

“What?”

“Instead of the regular lock. Damn things been welded on. Wonder whats inside!” Jenny gets an evil and excited grin on her face, “Let’s get a crowbar!”

Alice looks at the lock. The metal ring and flap that attaches the trunk door in the close position is rusty, but the thick pad lock keeping it secure is brand new. “I don’t think we need a crowbar.”

“Oh like you’re not interested as all hell to know what’s inside! What if it’s a body, or, or, or money!”

Jenny reaches under her collar and pulls out the key hanging from a shoe string. “This was around my neck when I woke up.”

Jenny and Alice stare at each other.

Too anxious to think straight, Jenny tries to move the process along, “Well?… You gonna open it?”

TO BE CONTINUED ON A FUTURE BLOG TOPIC… I DON’T KNOW WHEN OR WHICH ONE  🙂

Categories: Fiction

New Prompt: Recommend a Book

January 20, 2010 1 comment

Let’s see if we can’t loosen up some fingers out there, maybe get out of the Fiction department for a while:

New prompt: Recommend a book and explain why you are recommending it. Intrigue the reader without spoiling the plot.
Word Count:
600 – 1000
Due Date: Feb 7th (2 1/2 weeks)

-brett

Alice Redux

January 19, 2010 2 comments

***Note: I am posting this for Cindy as she is having technical problems with the site…Brett

Alice tried to remember who had given her the key.  Perhaps someone at the realty group weekly meeting could shed some light. She had shown several houses the day before for one of her associates so maybe that was the answer.  As she hurried down the hall toward the conference room, late as usual, she turned the key over in her hand but it simply did not look familiar.

Entering the room, Alice poured a cup of coffee and took the only empty seat at the glass topped table that was littered with papers and photos of houses.  She took a large gulp of coffee and felt as though she was shrinking under the glare of her co-workers for arriving after the discussion had started.

Each person in the room, by turn, described their recent listings, contracts and closings.  Alice took copious notes of any new information. She was new at this and still trying to understand what was important and what didn’t really matter.  She reached for a cookie from the tray on the table and as she took a bite, she heard her name called.  Swallowing quickly,  she talked proudly about her new project  and felt herself regaining stature in the room. Alice described the housing development she had been contracted to represent.  She would be showing properties throughout the next week in a series of open houses.  Queen of Hearts Estates it was called and she hoped her associates would drop in for a look around.

The British investors in “the Queen” as they liked to call it had done a remarkable job studying the market and understanding the buying and selling habits of suburban Americans.  The houses were spacious and sat on large lots.  Yet, each had a bit of whimsy about it – a cupola, a widows walk, a two story conservatory.  One particularly lovely design had a broad roof that seemed to wrap around the house with one large bay window jutting through it in the front.  It looked like a story book cottage on steroids.

The streets, laid out in a maze, were lined with manicured hedges and flower gardens so well-groomed that they appeared to have been growing for years.  Alice made a note to get the name of the landscape designer. Streets branched off as soon as you entered the large wrought iron gates giving a sense that each house was almost its own estate.  Brilliant.  That alone would raise the prices for the homes by 10%.  While many were struggling to buy and keep homes in a dreadful real estate market, the potential buyers for these properties were well-heeled with no problem making the purchase.  They would relish the sense of eliteness exuded by the neighborhood design.  Even the street names played into the plan, Ace of  Spades Street, King of Clubs Circle, Jack of Diamonds Drive.  Discreetly built just to the right of the gates was a row of smaller sized examples of each home model built exactly to scale, like a street of large dollhouses.

Alice drove through the area to get a feel for the very best way to tour potential buyers She got lost at nearly every turn and had to re-think her direction.  Most of the lots were still empty but each had a lovely painted sign like a large playing card showing the best house model for that particular parcel.  The houses under construction were in various stages of completion, from just sprouting up from the foundation, to that wonderful state where the new owner could choose all the little details themselves.  A few were  completely finished and ready for someone to just turn the key and move in.

The key.  Alice reached for it in her blazer pocket where she had put it before leaving her condo.  When she looked up she was directly in front of the model home/office and made a quick, dangerous swerve to pull in the driveway, almost hitting a rabbit that was scampering across the street.  She’d seen that rabbit before a few houses away munching on the flowers.  As she stopped her car, she made a note to mention to her management contact that something needed to be done about animal pests.  Her clients liked the idea of living in the woods but would not want to deal with  hyperactive rabbits running all around and eating their plants.

The management had left detailed instructions and all the needed supplies for her little tea parties as they referred to them.  There was a lovely tea service and silver spoons.  In the kitchen she found an electric kettle, various sorts of tea in a wooden caddy and nice cookies on a tray.  The note indicated there were lawn games out back for the children.  Alice laughed out loud when she looked through the kitchen window and saw croquet wickets set up.  She wondered if the American children would even know what the game was.  Note: teach a local teenager to play croquet and pay $8. an hour for her to hang out back on Saturday and Sunday and entertain the kiddies. Be sure she wears all white.  Keeping up the image of the place would be good and the game’s large set up gave a good sense of the huge expanse of the back garden as she had been instructed to refer to it.

Alice filled and turned on the tea kettle, picked up the tray of cookies and returned to the drawing room, its name another affectation of the Brits.  She straightened the stack of linen napkins and set a few cups on saucers.  It was almost time for her first group of associates to come through.  It was important that they want to bring their clients back.

Alice took a compact from her bag and looked in the mirror as she applied fresh lipstick.  Reflected through the front window behind her she could see a large cat perched on the porch railing.  Quite fluffy and an interesting shade of orange with darker stripes, he was busy grooming himself.  As Alice turned to look at him directly, he lazily raised his head and stared back as if to say, “Who are you?”  Perfect Alice thought, finishing her touch-up, a smart-ass cat.  When she turned back around he was gone.

The first realtor to arrive was the last one Alice wanted to see.  Frederick March was a thorn in her side.  Always jumping on her leads to get listings, sometimes stealing clients  from her, it seemed she often did the work for his rewards.  He had been with the agency for years and was well known and respected in the community.  March lived in a large house he inherited from his wealthy parents and threw lavish parties that kept him well-connected.  Despite his prominent social position he needed to bring in additional money to support his lifestyle. And he hated to work.

Fortunately, March was followed by Sadie Madder, as always wearing one of her signature hats.   Alice envied Sadie’s sense of style and self-confidence.  Madder and March made quite a pair.  Alice poured tea as they glanced through brochures and made notes. Remembering the key, Alice pulled it from her pocket and asked if it looked familiar to either of them.  It did not.

The remainder of the day was a blur of activity.  At one point a large group of realtors she had never met stopped by and Alice felt very pleased that she had  led a car tour of the Queen’s Estates without getting lost.  When they returned to the row of models she passed out keys that allowed the realtors to explore some of the finished properties on their own.  There were even some potential buyers on this first day – a rather nervous and obviously newly wealthy couple that Alice joked to herself appeared to be looking for where to invest the recent lottery winnings or for a way to launder stolen cash and an older couple moving out of the city for retirement.

Near the end of the day a well-dressed woman came up the drive with two children, one holding each hand.  When Alice opened the door for them she realized that the children matched.  Exactly. Not only were they dressed alike but they looked, spoke and walked the same.  Alice thought of directing them to the backyard but they occupied themselves going from display to display and talking to themselves while their mother made an appointment to come back with her husband later in the week.  Alice laughed as the twins bounded across the front garden toward their mother’s car, matching stride for stride.

Exhausted and ready to call it a day, Alice glanced around the room to see what she needed to tidy up.  In the mirror over the mantle she could see that the orange cat was back on the porch staring in at her.  But when she turned around , once again, he had vanished.  She made a note to ask if he belonged to anyone in the area.  If he was a stray she might just try to take him home.  His inquisitive nature had enamored her.

Having put away the remnants of  the tea party, it wasn’t yet dark as Alice closed and locked the front door of the office.  Looking down the row of home models being built for display she decided to take a quick look into each.  As she stepped off the porch, a rabbit hurried past.  It couldn’t possibly be the same one she thought.  These nasty nibblers as her gardening friend called them could be a problem.

At each front door, Alice turned her massive ring of keys around until she found the one with the number matching the lock.  She felt a bit like a princess as she walked through the houses and pretended she would ever be able to afford such luxury for herself.  The first two houses were fairly well completed but as she moved from one to the next she encountered more and more construction.  When she reached the last house on the lane she remembered; The site manager had given her the key just days before.  She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the key.  The numbers engraved on it matched those on the lock. As she inserted the key and opened the door she was startled as a rabbit ran out past her.  I wonder how long he has been locked in there she thought as her eyes followed his quick exit. Still looking over her shoulder she stepped inside onto an unfinished floor which collapsed beneath her. She fell into a black abyss and the rabbit hopped in after her.

Categories: Fiction

The Store Room

January 19, 2010 2 comments

Alice tried to remember who had given her the key.  She tried to picture him, but it had been so long ago that most of the details were lost to her. She remembered that she had been about 5 years old, playing in the front yard, when the man had walked up to her, and that he had told her something, something that he said she would understand when she was older.  He had then handed her a necklace with the key tied to it. He told her that it was very important and that she should keep it with her at all times.

That had been decades ago though, and Alice had completely forgotten about it until this morning when she went to clean out her parent’s house. She had been putting it off for weeks. Her father had disappeared almost two years ago now. He had left no sign of where he had gone, the police as well as multiple private investigators hired after the police had given up had not found a single credit card receipt, there had been no bank account activity,  they had received no phone calls or letters. He had simply vanished.  Her mother’s health had spiraled down after his disappearance, and she had finally succumbed only a month ago. The pain of losing her mother had kept Alice away from this final task, but the real estate agent was getting insistent, telling her that now was the time to list the house, waiting any longer risked losing thousands in this type of market. So she made the drive down from Kansas City, rented a hotel room, and went “home” for the last time. She had started in her own old room, unconsciously avoiding the parts of the house that, in her mind, still belonged to her folks. Over the years most of the stuff she had owned as a child had been given away, sold, or tossed in the trash, but there were still a few lingering mementos. She had been about to throw out a box filled with some of her old school papers and drawings when the key fell out of the bottom, clinking against the worn and dusty hardwood floors. After being lost in thought for a few minutes she placed the key into her pocket, sighed, and got back to work, wishing, not for the first time, that she wasn’t an only child. Having a few brothers and sisters would make this loathsome project a little more bearable.

Alice spent the next several hours organizing and packing her parent’s stuff into small boxes, trying not to think about just how little space two lives could fill. Her parents had lived in this same house since they had married back in 1952, having been given the house by her dad’s wealthy aunt. It wasn’t a spectacular home, having only 2 rooms and a single main floor bathroom, but it had been plenty for them, sitting on a couple acres at the end of a sunny country road in the middle of America’s bread basket, Leavenworth, Kansas. Alice had grown up with an appreciation for a simple life. She didn’t drive a fancy car, she didn’t wear expensive clothes, and her own house up in “the big city”, as her parent’s had called Kansas City, was modest by local standards. Sitting on the back porch swing taking a break, gazing out on the now-empty fields where her father had always had something growing, listening to the hollow clatter of an empty soda can rolling down the pavement in front of the house, half dozing in the warmth of the midday sun, Alice found her mind wandering again to the key.

Pulling it out of her pocket, she turned the key over and over in her hand, looking at it with adult eyes for the first time. She was just thinking about how utterly unremarkable it was when something caught her eye. There was something etched into the top edge of the key, near where you would thread it on to a key ring. Straining her middle-aged eyes to read the miniscule text, Alice’s breath caught in her throat. Looking closer, holding the key into the light to make sure her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her, she read it again. “Alice Farmer-5/27/09-3:14pm”. Alice checked her watch. That was today, in fact that was right now!

Alice was startled by the sound of boot heals on the stairs of her parent’s porch. Whirling around, she found herself staring again into the face of a the man she had met decades ago.

“Hello, Alice,” he said, a slight smile turning up the corners of his mouth. ” I see you still have the key. That’s good.”

“What?” was all Alice could muster, her mind spiraling.

“My name is Seth,” he answered, “Your father sent me.”

***

Sitting at her parent’s kitchen table Alice studied Seth’s features. He looked pretty much as she remembered him. He was fairly tall, she guessed he was at least 6 foot. He had black short black hair which was trending towards gray,and  his face was heavily pockmarked from what she imagined was a bad case of adolescent acne,

“So how did you know my father, Seth?” she asked

“Do you know what your father did for a living?”  he asked,  deftly avoiding her question.

“Sure, he worked for the Leavenworth Times, as a printing press mechanic.”

“Well, yes, at first he did.”

“What do you mean? He worked for them for 32 years until he disappeared.”

“And now he travels.”

Alice paused for a second, feeling like she was suddenly caught in a bad horror movie.

“Ok, I get it. This is where the music swells dramatically, you look deep into my eyes and say something like ‘Alice, your father is alive!’, then I get all teary eyed, jump into your arms and then end up in the car with you. Well that’s not happening here dude. I don’t know who you are or what your game is, but I’m not that chick. I can, and will, kick your ass if you even think about getting too close.”

Seth just laughed.

“What, you don’t think I can do it? I may seem like some little defenseless city-dweller, but I grew a farm girl. I’ve thrown bales of hay heavier than you.”

“Oh no, it’s not that” he replied, still grinning, “I can’t really explain. Another time and place maybe. Look I know things seem strange, and trust me, they are strange, stranger than you can imagine right now, but I really was asked to be here by your father. He made that key himself, he engraved the date and time, handed me the key, and asked me to give it to you. Yesterday.”

“Right, so yesterday you broke in and planted the key, knowing I was on my way. You must know the realtor, quite the racket you guys have going.”

“Do you remember what I told you when I handed you that key?”

“I’m not buying it.'” she replied, not really hearing his question, “I don’t know how you found out about the key, unless my dad told you about it before he disappeared, which I’m beginning to think you had something to do with now, but I think I’m just about done listening to you.”

She grabbed the key to toss it at him, noticing again the date and time etched on the edge, “You can leave now, on 5/27 at 4:21pm”

Seth caught the key, then slid a piece of paper across the table to Alice. She stared at him for a second, in what she hoped was a menacing way, then grabbed the paper and read it, then sat back, her heart pounding. The note was written in her own handwriting. It said “Alice, he doesn’t have to leave on 5/27 at 4:21pm. Remember what dad always said, ‘sometimes you have to shut up and listen to your own head,’ well now’s that time. This isn’t a bad horror movie, he’s not trying to get you in his car.”

***

By the time Alice and Seth parked near the service entrance to the Leavenworth Times building it was after dark. Seth had spent the last few hours explaining what was going on.

Alice’s father had indeed worked for the Times for most of her life. It was while he was working there that he had found the room. It was a regular room, in a common area of the printing room. A room he had passed every day for decades without ever really noticing it. Until one day when he did notice it, almost by accident. He had been working on one of the machines when a special bolt he had just removed and dropped to the floor and rolled under the door jamb. When he opened the door, he was startled by a man sitting on a stool, eating a donut, reading yesterday’s newspaper. Barely looking up, the man had told her father to have a seat, that the timeline was off and he was about twenty seconds early. Her father had tried to ask the man questions, who he was, what he was doing in this room, but the man on the stool paid him no attention. Twenty seconds later three men walked straight out of a brick wall, nearly giving her father a heart attack, and shook his hand.

“You see,” Seth said “your father has a unique skill set. He knows how the machines in this building work. I can’t go into a lot of detail, mostly because the detail is lost, but we found the ruins of this building a couple years ago, and while it might seem backwards, we don’t know how to make it work.”

“You mean you guys have perfected time travel, but you can’t make a simple printing press run?” Alice asked incredulously. ” Did everybody get stupid?”

“Well not exactly. Have you heard of Moore’s Law? It says, basically, that computing power will double exponentially every 18 months or so. Well run that over equation over hundreds of years and you can see that, given enough time, the need for a knowledgeable printing press mechanic would be nonexistent. ”

“Yes, but with all that computer power, why couldn’t you guys figure it out? Or why not just come back and get some books instead?”

“Why borrow a book when you can borrow an actual mechanic? When your water heater breaks, do you go buy a book on water heater repair or do you call plumber? We simply called a plumber.”

“Why, though, didn’t you bring him back?” Alice asked, her voice quavering.

“Ah, well that’s one of the problems with traveling,” he replied softly, “Once you travel you can never again rejoin your own timeline. Not at any point. We’re not sure why. You’re father can’t return to you, that’s why he sent me. He asked me to give you the key to the door.”

Alice sat quietly for a few moments, then remembered something that had been bothering her. “Speaking of the key, why when I was five?”

“What do you mean?” Seth asked

“Why did you give me the key when I was five?  That’s a long time to hope I would keep it.”

“Well, for a couple of reasons actually. First, if I had tried to give it to you when you were in your twenties, what would you have done? If you had even bothered taking it from me, a big if, you would have tossed it in the first bin you came to, so I needed you to have it at an age when you wouldn’t question why I was giving it to you. Second, I needed it to prove to you that I wasn’t insane. You remember me giving you the key, which for you was 47 years ago, but for me it was yesterday. You can see I haven’t aged, I’m wearing the same clothes, everything about me is the same. The only way that would be possible is if I were telling you the truth.”

Alice nodded, realizing that what he said made sense.  “So what now?”

“Well, from what we know, you no longer have any ties to this time. You don’t really have any close friends, you have no pets that need taken care of, nothing is keeping you here. Is that true?”

“It’s not so nice when you say it like that, but sure, I guess that’s true.”

“Then what do you say we go for a walk?”

***

Standing in the room her father had happened upon years ago, she discovered what the key was for. Her father had installed a door inside the storage room. He had built it perfectly, looking like any other door, except that when you opened it you were facing bricks instead of a closet.

“How do I do it?” Alice asked nervously, her stomach starting to do cartwheels.

“It’s actually very easy, just walk through the bricks, they’re just a holographic image, and when you get to the other side, tell the voice where you want to go. Think of it like a voice activated elevator, only instead of up or down, you’re moving sideways through time. For now just tell the voice you want the ‘lobby’. They’re expecting you there.”

Alice took a breath, her heart pounding, and started to step forward. Suddenly she turned back to Seth.

“Hey, what did you say to me when you handed me the key, the thing you said I would understand when I was older?”

Grinning again he replied, “See you in the future.”

“Well that’s just dorky,” Alice replied, rolling her eyes. “But I guess I’ll see you in the future, too.”

Seth saw her disappear through the bricks, heard her stumble over her words a little, then say clearly and with confidence “Lobby, please.” A deep chill whisked through the room, and then she was gone. He looked around, made sure she hadn’t dropped anything, then stepped through the bricks himself, closing the door behind him.

Wanted: Arch Nemesis

December 7, 2009 5 comments

I sat fidgeting a little in my chair and tried to look evil. I had never liked job interviews, but the idea of being an Arch Nemesis was too good to pass up. I was wearing my most evil black suit, though I had decided against the cape, and I tried to scowl as much as I could at the man who would hopefully become my mortal enemy. Maybe I should have grown a mustache.

The man sitting across from me, behind a very large and impressive desk, had a dazzling white smile and perfect blond hair. On the news, he was always wearing a brilliant red body suit, the spandex showing off his perfect muscles, and I always wondered how he got the thing on. Right now, however, he was wearing a blue, button-up shirt and khakis, though his smile was just as white and his muscles were just as perfect.

“So, you think that you’re cut out to be my new Arch Nemesis, eh?” he said. He managed to keep that half-cocked smile on his face even when he was talking, which was rather unsettling. I always thought of him as Captain Perfect, to the point where it was hard for me to remember his actual Super Hero name.

“I’ll destroy everything in the world that you hold dear,” I said, trying to growl a little, but it just sounded like I had a cold.

“Uh huh,” said Captain Perfect. “Look, Carl-”

“My name is The Menace,” I said, my growl was better this time.

“Right. Menace. Sorry,” he said. “Interviewing for an Arch Nemesis is not how things are usually done, but I’ve just gone through so many of them that no one really wants to step up to the plate. I’m looking for someone who can really hold their own. I mean, how am I supposed to keep saving the city if no one is threatening it? And you know, I’d like someone who can give me a real challenge. Someone who can really keep me guessing about what’s going to happen next. Is that someone you, Carl? Oops, sorry. Menace.”

My black suit was a little itchy, and apparently, Captain Perfect must have been born in the Tropics because the heat was way up and it was making me sweat. I didn’t want to blow this interview. Captain Perfect was the only Super Hero left in town, and what kind of villain was I if I didn’t have a hero to fight?

Shyly, I reached inside my jacket and took out a news clipping which I then place on the desk and slid to Captain Perfect. He picked it up and read it, and then looked at me. “You did this?” he asked. I nodded. “You sick bastard,” he said, looking down at the clipping again. “You’re hired. I’ll expect your next attack soon, and you better bet that I’ll be ready for you.”

He gave me back the clipping, which I carefully put back in my jacket, and then stood up and left.

My heart was pounding all of the way out of the building, but once I was outside I started giggling with relief. I had an Arch Nemesis! I took the clipping out of my jacket, kissed it, and read the headline with pride. “1,000 Ceramic Garden Gnomes Appear on Mayor’s Lawn Overnight, Giving the 54-Year-Old Mayor a Heart Attack.”

Categories: Fiction, Humor

New topic and other things

December 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Hey guys, First, I know we’re all bogged down in the holidays, other projects, school finals, moving to other countries, and a million other things, so I’m going to give a new topic today, but nothing is going to be due until…wanna say the 2nd week in January? Also, if you’re working on a story for a current or previous topic, feel free to post it! If you are new to the group and want to go back and tackle our other topics, please do so, there are basically no rules here 😉

New Topic: Write a story that begins with the sentence “Alice tried to remember who had given her the key”

Due Date: 1/17/2010

Length: Any

Have fun!

-brett

Categories: Assignment

Anomaly

November 25, 2009 5 comments

Kieren felt a twang reverberate through the hull of her ship, Glomar Explorer, as the firing charge launched the second anchoring piton into the soft-rock surface of asteroid 2172 DX243 . She smiled, working the controls with expert precision as she engaged the winches that would slowly pull her and the 47 meter rock together. She loved her job, often joking with other deep-space miners that her ship had the best crew. Kieren was one of only three operators in the company that were allowed to command one of the new Mercury class mining vessels, crew size: 1.

As the mining bots began to shift refined ore into the holds of the Explorer Kieren locked the controls into attitude-hold, popped open the food store container with a quick whack of her fist, grabbed a StimTrient pack (the company motto “Stimulants you love, nuTrients you need!” scrolling by under the name), and sat back to wait. She estimated the bots would have most of the valuable minerals shifted onboard in a little over 4 hours, giving her plenty of time to catch up on mail, and maybe even sneak away for a quick nap.

Scrolling though the various messages that her ship had automatically downloaded Kieren scanned for anything that looked urgent, knowing that at her current distance any reply she made would take almost 12 hours to reach company HQ back on Mars. Satisfied that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait a couple days, she started pulling up the more personal messages from friends and family. Her sister was pregnant, again, this time with a Senator’s help. Her mom hoped she was doing well, and was still waiting for the day Kieren would be done with all this foolishness and marry that man who was still waiting for her back home, space mining was no career for a lady!  Next was a message with no subject, the sender’s name encrypted. Frowning, Kieren checked to make sure her ship’s security protocols were engaged, although she knew they were always on, and opened the message. Suddenly flashing on her screen was a man’s face, grinning from ear to ear.

“Hey, kid! Did you remember the security protocols this time? Just wanted to say ‘hey!’, make sure you hadn’t gotten lost out there. Remember, next time your computer shuts down, just point the nose of your ship at the big, yellow, bright star and you’ll be fine! See ya around, kiddo!”

Kieren was laughing out loud by the time the video faded. The message was from her old boss, the man who had hired her back when was she was “going to make a difference, really show the industry what hard work and perseverance could do for all the people struggling on Earth and Mars.” Back then he had just looked at her, then starting grinning, finally exploding in uncontrollable laughter.

“That was a good one, kid,” he had said, wiping his eyes. “Tell you what. I’ll give you a shot, but you remember one thing: space is really big. You get lost out there, say your computer goes down, what are you gonna do?”

“Don’t you worry about me!” she had replied “I know more about computers than I do mining. That’s not gonna happen to me. I guarantee it!”

It was less than 6 months later when he had sent her the first video message. Since she had known the sender she hadn’t bothered engaging the security and simply opened the message. Things happened very quickly at that point. Trying to stay calm as system after system began to fail, Kieren worked frantically to restore control of her ship, but nothing she was doing worked. She started to really panic when, sitting in a completely darkened cockpit, she heard the fans of the air circulators shut down. Plunged into perfect silence, the only light coming from distant stars,  Kieren began to hear that same rough laughter she had heard during her interview. Feeling hopeful, she flipped up the video monitor and there he was.

“Hey kid, I thought you weren’t going to have computer problems,” he said, still grinning like a fool. “I guess you’ve figured out by now that you don’t know more about computers than you do mining. Always, and I mean always, keep the security turned on.  See ya around, kid”

Kieren’s attention snapped into the present as Explorer dinged at her. Scanning her instruments, she was startled to see the proximity alert blinking, indicating that something was getting a bit too close. As she started switching on external cameras, the ding of the proximity alert quickly graduated into the alarm of the collision warning. Kieren’s training kicked in as she reacted to the danger, cutting the cables anchoring her to the asteroid free and slamming her engine into Full Forward-Emergency.  Explorer responded by firing its high-impulse chemical rockets, which could get the ship moving a lot faster than the low-impulse, high-duration ion engines. Kieren swiveled the external cameras looking for the object closing in on her ship. She was just getting the focus set when Explorer, calculating the time until impact, overrode its safety protocols, which had been designed to make sure the ships stayed within the margins of human comfort and survivability, wrapped Kieren’s chair around her in a protective cocoon and ramped the thrust of the chemical rockets up to full.  Even with the thrust mitigation provided by the chair, the sudden acceleration of Explorer  was more than it’s sole human occupant could take and Kieren blacked out.

***

“Do you have any experience driving a rig outside LEO?” the man asked

“We never left Low Earth Orbit in flight school,” Kieren responded. “But I think if you look at my grades and…”

“I’m well aware of your grades, kid. I didn’t ask how much you knew about flying. I asked if you had any experience.”

Clearing her throat, she replied “None, sir.”

“Good.”

“Good, sir? Why would that be good?”

“Because it also means you don’t think you’re hot shit.  Now I know I’m supposed to ask what you think your best features are, and what you think your weaknesses are, but to be honest, I really couldn’t care less. I don’t care if you hate humanity and want a job here to get away from all the assholes back home, or if being away from your family makes you want to jump out of an airlock but you need this job for money. I care about two things: my ship, and my shipment.”

“Good,” Kieren said.

The man looked up from his paperwork and raised an eyebrow at her inquisitively.

“Because it means you’ll stay the hell off my back and let me do my job. Give me the ship codes so I can get out there and make us both way more money than we should earn. Sir.”

The man just smiled and tossed her an envelope. “Hanger bay 2. Try not to get lost.”

***

Kieren came around as the ship eased off the thrust, releasing her from the safety cocoon. Shaking off the grey fog she reached for the controls, calling up the damage report. She had lost four mining bots that had shaken loose when she cut the anchor cables and there was a small air leak where a larger piece of ore had crashed into the inside of the hull, but otherwise they were in great shape.

“What the hell was that?” she asked the empty cockpit.

Panning the external cameras she began searching again for the object. As she focused in on the spot where asteroid 2172 DX243 had been, there was now a giant meteorite field. The asteroid had already been what they called a rubble pile, a loose pile of millions of small rocks that had consolidated into a single semi-solid mass by their combined gravitational pull. The object that had nearly slammed into Explorer had had enough force to completely destroy the asteroid.

While she was examining the cameras, the ship was doing what it always did, scanning the  spectrum of the debris field looking for valuable minerals that could be mined, showing the results on-screen, and signaling Kieren that analysis was complete. Out of habit she checked the screen when it beeped at her, what she saw got her attention instantly. She knew the ship’s data banks had a spectrum fingerprint of every known mineral, chemical, and element in the known universe, yet there on the screen, blinking red, was a spectrum line labeled “unknown”.

Breathing heavily, Kieren used her ship’s computer to track where the object had come from. Explorer scanned along the trajectory for a couple minutes and then centered and focused on a spot less than 15 kilometers from her current position. The ship’s readout was indicating that the object that had destroyed the asteroid first appeared on sensors at this spot, moving at nearly 130,000 kilometers per hour. Confused, wondering how the ship had missed the object until it was only 15km out, Kieren ran back the scanner history to see for herself. What she saw didn’t make sense. One second space was clear, the next second something was hurling towards her ship. Thinking something must be wrong with her ship, she ran a full diagnostic sweep, but everything came back as fully operational.

It was then she noticed one of the smaller screens onboard, the gravitational scanner, used for calculating asteroid densities and approach vectors. The screen was centered on the same spot the object had first appeared. What startled Kieren, though, was that the scanner had labeled that spot as an anomaly. Pulling up the data feed, she saw why the system couldn’t decide on a label. The gravitational field was fluctuating, and not just by the small amount you would sometimes see with a fast-spinning asteroid.

She made up her mind. She grabbed the controls and swung her ship into the direction of the anomaly, her slight headache reminding her that, in an emergency, Explorer could really move. Moving in slowly, all scanners and sensors focused in on the anomaly, Kieren crept her way forward, her hand hovering over the throttle, muscles tense, ready to throw the lever into Full Back – Emergency. As she got closer she started to feather the throttle back and forth as the fluctuating gravity field pulled on her ship, making it lurch forward irregularly. Kieren suddenly had the thought that what she was seeing was not something that had ever been found, a true discovery! She flipped a few switches, ordering Explorer to start transmitting all the data it had already collected, and continue to stream the data as she got closer.

***

The man, old and retired from the space mining business, making a living as “The Man that Hired Kieren Barstow”, sat in his lavish den, thinking back to when she had been the company’s newest pilot, getting ready to leave on her first deep space trip.

“Hey, kiddo,” he had said, stopping her just before she cycled the airlock. “Be careful. There’s a lot of stuff out there that we don’t know about. If you run into anything, don’t try to be a hero. Tag it and get the hell out of there, let some scientist worry about it.”

She had smiled, telling him not to worry, she knew the deal. The ship and the shipment would both be safe. He wondered now if she had any idea what she had found. He wondered if she knew that kids learned about her in grade school, that the first lesson for flight school cadets learning how to travel between stars was called “Barstow Point Navigation”.  He wondered if she knew the anomaly she found had opened up the entire universe, changing the course of human history. Picking himself to go to bed, he wondered, finally, if she knew that he still missed her every day.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi