My 101-word short story, The Sticky Drunk, was a runner up in the Monterey Weekly’s recent short fiction contest. And they used a sentence from another entry in another section, which I found pretty cool. Read all the stories here!
The carriage moved quickly through the cobbled streets, but slowed to a creaking crawl when it entered Phoenix. Bridges swooped over the apex of the double-decker carriage once in the city limits, coming close to breaking the stove top pipe belching steam at its highest point. Those crossing the bridge when the large vehicle passed below recounted the story later that night over a shot of absinthe. Mothers clutched their children and rushed to flee, dropping their parasols and groceries, laborers gripped the copper railing, waiting to topple over. But the carriage trundled along without causing harm. Standing in a cloud of steam, those bridge -goers raised their fists and shouted their anger, but to no avail. They could see no one in the large vessel’s stained-glass windows.
Had it been in the sea, the carriage would have been more at home. It carried the appearance of a Man O War, but without sails of any kind, only large wooden wheels and paneled walls reinforced with iron rigging. Those who witnessed the vessel from the cramped, hot street level saw a name burned proudly on the stern, STEAM SHIP ONE. It made its way down the winding, cobbled interstate to the center of the city, where the forefathers erected a large copper phoenix, metal feathers and head pointed toward the heavens, as a reminder that it is possible to rise from ashes and be stronger for it. Every day at noon, the phoenix spouted a geyser of flame straight up. Some days, however, the smog of industry made even the flames of the giant statue hard to see. Today was one of those days. Within moments, Steam Ship One vanished into the brown haze.
For those who saw it approach, the meaning was clear. The President had finally arrived to pardon their sheriff. The nation’s first mechanical leader, run by well-oiled gears and golden pistons, had been elected due to his inability to act in the political theater. The sheriff supported him, which meant protection from his enemies. There were those who said it would never happen, that the heat of Phoenix would melt his clockwork brain, but others knew better. The mechanical man could take the heat. He boasted of it often enough.
The pardon, hammered onto a tin sheet and branded with the presidential seal, meant their jailed lawman would be back on the street, free to unleash his reign of single-handed terror on the mute second class. They were the ones who stoked the fires, suffered the pits, cobbled the interstate, but never spoke. They were the ones who never crossed the bridges over the interstate, but they built it.
Looking for a little adult fun in the beatnik superhero genre? “Stare and Get Off” is focused on just that, with a sprinkle of nihilism thrown in for good measure. Check out the story over on Spec Fics. It’s a little NSFW…
Read it here!
“The cutest thing we’ve seen all day!” Social media said.
“But wait a minute,” Uploader said. “How can we top baby sea otters?”
Social media screamed in orgasmic bliss. “Oh my God, they’re so darn cute! Sharing, liking, trending!”
“Got it. How about baby sea otters with fluffy white kittens? Put them in a plastic pool together or something. Feed them all fish.”
Social media’s eyes grew as big as saucers. “Fluffy kittens with baby sea otters? Love, happy emojis, liking, sharing, trending!”
Uploader’s shoulders slumped with disappointment. “There is no way in hell we can top that. Our metrics can only go down from here. Engagement will drop.”
“One of the kittens licked the baby sea otter! SQUEE!”
Uploader’s face lit up with excitement. “I know. Koko the gorilla, baby sea otters, and kittens. Get Koko and put her in the pool. She’ll pet them and stuff. We’ll film it.”
Uploader exploded with the best idea yet. “But wait, instead of the pool, throw them in a flood zone, like in Louisiana or something. Have them get rescued from the flood waters by some dudes in a raft.”
Social media could barely contain its indignation. “Terrible. What brave men to rescue these poor creatures. Sad face emojis, hearts, liking, trending!”
Uploader’s face grew dark. “There’s nothing left. Nothing at all. Except… maybe…”
Social media climaxed. “Firefighters? Baby sea otters? Fluffy white kittens? Koko? All dancing together to a mix of David Bowie and Prince songs? Have I died and gone to heaven?! LOL! SQUEE! Liking till my finger breaks! Love emojis till there’s a cure for cancer! Trending till even George Stephanopoulos sheds a tear of joy. Sharing every day of the rest of my life.”
Uploader had no words. It was over. The Internet broke.
His finger hovered over the download button. Sweat trickled down his forehead, just a single line, but enough to make someone notice. Morris didn’t press the button. He turned his attention back to the sea of tents placed four feet apart from one another. Two people per tent, he was told. Only the tents were always empty. They’d been empty since he was stationed there five years ago.
“So this Pokemon Go thing?” he asked the sentry nearest him. “This is the one? It’s the distraction?”
His coworker shrugged. “It could be.”
“Wasn’t the primary election supposed to be the distraction?”
Another shrug. “I guess it didn’t work.”
“What about the last fad? What was that one again? I don’t remember.”
“Snapchat? Facebook? The ice bucket challenge?”
Morris sighed and stared at the empty tents. “I don’t even remember why anymore, John.”
“Why are we distracting them?”
“Um, to take their guns. But it’s not us distracting them. It’s our bosses.”
“It doesn’t appear to be working.” Morris looked at his phone and rolled his eyes. “Hell with it. I’m downloading Pokemon Go. This place is boring.”
“Put the tin foil hat on first.”
He did as John asked. Better to be safe than sorry. His coworker never took his off. John said the Wi-Fi and television signals doped him up with too many subliminal messages. The hats, perfected over the last fifty years to look like shiny knit beanies, itched the scalp, but were otherwise comfortable. As the game downloaded, Morris looked at his partner and asked if he planned to play it too.
“These internment camps have been here for over twenty years. Longer maybe. I found a TV Guide in the mess hall with Bob Hope on the cover. And why are we taking their guns away and putting them in these camps? It’s stupid. You may as well play Pokemon Go too, John.”
The sentry laughed. His tin foil beanie shifted just over his right eyebrow. “I’m a grown man. I’ve got better things to do than play kid’s games.”
“Says the Candy Crush junkie. Says the guy who puts pictures of his dinner on Instagram. Says the man who plays fantasy football and opens Tinder every two minutes.”
“We need to be ready. This could be the distraction.”
Morris started playing with his phone. “I doubt it.”
But two weeks later, when unmarked cargo trucks began to appear, when soldiers started escorting half dressed, terrified Americans into the tents two by two, Morris couldn’t believe it. He stayed put, just as he was trained, and turned the game off. He’d just caught a Hitmonlee and got a good photo of it doing a high kick in front of some of the internment tents.
John whistled, obviously excited. “This is it. It’s finally happened.”
“PoGo was the distraction. My God,” whispered Morris.
“And you’ve been playing it.” The sentry looked up, noticing a contingent of soldiers heading in their direction. “You’ve been playing it.”
Morris felt his face flush red. “Just playing it doesn’t…”
One of the soldiers yelled at them. “You two. Stay right there.”
The soldiers, who Morris noticed were all wearing tin foil hats, carried their rifles in front of them, ready to use them if necessary. They both froze in place. Morris prepared himself. His phone was in his pocket. There was no way he’d be able to delete the app. It would be futile anyway. They already knew.
But instead of grabbing him, the soldiers converged on John. The sentry fought back for the briefest of moments before he succumbed to the soldiers. Morris shook, but knew not to move. One of the soldiers stopped next to them as the others dragged his coworkers to the camp. He was close enough Morris could smell the vanilla nicotine on his skin. A vaper, he figured.
Morris, his voice shaking, asked, “Was it Pokemon Go?”
“Pokemon Go? No, that’s just a game. Your friend over there is a registered Independent.”
Citizens protecting themselves. Taxpayers at work, he thought.
He could see a huddled mass near an alley about a block away. There weren’t a lot of police on patrol that day. Not much they could do against a hail of gunfire, especially with only one or two on the force that day. Charlie didn’t see any law enforcement near the people, not even private security, only a lot of folks with bug eyes, terrified they might drop dead any second. Luckily a few of them were armed. They carried rifles slung over their shoulder, had pistols at their hips, and had no problem shooting anyone who looked like they might be bad news.
Charlie packed too. He’d gotten a pistol on pay day, two days before the last bombing and a week after the last school shooting. Before heading out he loaded his pockets with ammo. It wasn’t cheap, but it made him feel better. No one wanted to be a cop anymore. Bullets tore into the concrete wall near him. Looking over his shoulder, he realized there were a bunch of people on the rooftop across the plaza. Charlie thought about being a cop once, but the pay wasn’t great considering the danger. Another bullet took out a window a hundred feet from him.
Not a good day to be out, he thought. He made his way to the crowd and waited in line. They were shuffling inside, thankfully out of view of the people on the roof. An older woman held her right shoulder. Blood dripped from a wound there. One of the armed men watched her suspiciously. A shiny-headed bald man stood next to him, also armed. He flexed a cold stare in Charlie’s direction.
“Are you even registered to vote?” the man asked him.
He looks like a turkey vulture, Charlie thought. He’s like one of those birds that feed on the dead. They have no feathers from the neck up, only mottled, nasty flesh. It’s so they can stick their entire head inside dead animals. He’s looking at me like I’m a dead animal.
Charlie nodded. “Of course I am.”
“Let’s see your voter identification card then,” the turkey vulture replied.
“Are you with the elections office?”
The man laughed, “Are you?”
Charlie reached into his back pocket. “It’s fine. I’ll show you. I’m only here to vote.”
“He’s going for a gun!”
And then Charlie was dead.