Posts tagged short fiction
Posts tagged short fiction
Night at the rim was a cold one. Sometimes, it was like a good drink. It started cold and thought-provoking until it filled you up inside, it warmed you, it made you aware of what was home. Other times, it went down clawing its way through, leaving a sour taste, deep remorse and dirtying the sidewalk. Life in the rim was as simple as it was dangerous, just like the best beverages.
The raggedy cloth was made to spread the filth, not clean it. I grab the nearest glass, the dim light of the bar can just about read the dirty inscription on its bottom. No self-respecting bar in the rim was actually clean. It would intimidate the good customers. And the best customers were the ones that no one else would welcome, the outcasts. Those like me.
You hear a lot of stories when you are a barkeep, and you quickly learn to stay out of other’s businesses. It’s a survival thing. In the rim, you keep your head down and you spread the filth out of those glasses. But sometimes, hearing the tales of woe of clients is your only source of entertainment. You can barely understand the phrases, but the tale therein lives on. Life in the rim is diverse and all stories find their way sooner or later to my bar. Their stories help me forget just like the alcohol inebriates these fools. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
I know, though, as soon as the man enters the bar, that my introspection would be tested. He comes purposefully to the bar, making more eye contact than any other customer would care to make. His clothes were odd and you must understand the severity of that statement. My bar welcomes people from all over the rim, that means a bunch of different fashions, several of which I can’t even begin to understand. But this is a bar, no one cares what you wear as long as you wear something. News travels fast these days, even all the way out here, but in varying speeds. I see people wearing what I imagine is the latest trend sharing a drink with someone that dresses like my grandfather used to. But as soon as that man showed up, I realized a sudden change of atmosphere on the place. No one stopped talking and the music didn’t stop playing, but there was something different. The conversations were more hushed now, the music didn’t seem to have the same flair. The man wore spurs and a black hat, two silver bullets attached to it by a ribbon. I kept wondering how he could have found such old apparel. Bullets? Who even had those anymore? The trench coat was a bit much, I thought. But the noise of his spurs kept everyone on edge. Nothing like an obvious bounty hunter to bring a room down. I hate it when they are sober.
“What can I get you, sir?” My voice was certain. I returned the cold look with a warm one. Two can play this game.
“Information. I hear you have a regular by the name of Tryles.”
“No one here says their real name.”
“I know you know him and I need to talk to him. You’ll tell me where he is.”
I tried to suppress the chuckle, I did. But kids nowadays are too arrogant. The signal was for Zack, the muscle I keep around for rainy days and hustling barrels. We don’t need to make this into something it isn’t. Overeager bounty hunters are as easy to come by as they are to be dealt with.
“I keep the habit of only talking to customers, you see. Can’t have the pleasure of my company for free. Or you think people come down here for the liquor?” Arrogant, I know. But in my experience, most of these in-your-face outsiders can only be met with an arrogant counterattack.
“I’m done with your games, old man”
The cold metal of the pistol reflects the liquid in my glass.
“You’re an outer rim boy, aren’t you?” He can barely contain his widening eyes.
“What makes you say that?” Bad actor.
“Outer rim bars are outdated. You can’t shoot in here. Dampeners.” It works. The man ponders and visibly gives up. He’s making it too easy.
“Alright. Give me something.”
“Haha. I’ll not hold that responsibility. Choose something.”
“How about a Blue Wahl?”
“Sure thing.” The douche drink was already half-way done when he finally said it. Good. He couldn’t read the bottom of the glass. Would’ve been odd, out of context.
“Now tell me about Tryles.”
“You’re his brother, right?”
The silence is answer enough.
“You look like him, down to the same drink.”
“So you do know him. God damn it, old man! Is he gone?” The drink spills while his wide-eyes survey the bar.
“Don’t worry, he’s not been here today.”
“Tell me where he is!”
“None of my business really, but I have been where you are.”
“Old-timer, I don’t care about your story. Where’s my brother?”
“He’ll be here later. But are you really thinking about killing him?”
His poker face could use a little work.
“Don’t worry, I don’t know that. I can read it in you. Used to be a ‘hunter myself, lifetime ago.”
“Uh… really? Why did you quit?”
“Hah! Come back in a few years and ask me that again.”
“Whatever. You said you’ve been in my shoes…”
“Hired to hunt a relative that made too many wrong choices… It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s not simply pulling the trigger.”
He had become silent now, way too focused on his drink. He wasn’t going anywhere.
“The Galaxy was another place back then, you either smuggled or hunted. Otherwise, you’d starve. Law enforcement only really worked for the big guys. And sometimes not even for them, with the right kind of money. Everyone’s a bounty hunter, one way or the other. It is just a matter of price. My price didn’t have zeroes in it, though.
Back then, life in the Core could get harder than in the farthest planets of the Outer Rim. Politics took precedence over everything, even people. Even my wife. And it is simple, too easy, to break a person, to make him resort to the worst, to realize the worst in him. And once he realizes vengeance won’t bring her back, won’t numb the pain, he’ll keep on hunting. Because by then, it’s all he knows how to do, isn’t it? And each job numbs you more, makes life bearable a little more. Until comes a contract for another relative of yours, and the relationship between you two feels so far away, stored beneath years of painkillers. And you tell yourself you have to do it, it’s a job, and he probably deserves it. But you know you’re no different than him. Your brother took to drinking and ended up from drug to drug, looking for something to fill the void left by your mother’s death, your father’s absence. Your drug was different, but just as addictive.
People today often think that Bounty Hunting is a glamorous profession. They force themselves to not think about the blood and the lies and the awful cleaning up. They see in movies and think that bounty hunting is about looking cool and spewing cliches. But after every job, when all the flair and imposingness of the profession wears thin and you realize there’s nothing really attractive about it… that’s when you realize that one day it will all catch up to you and whatever you did, you’ll have to live with it.”
At that point, leaving him to ponder with his drink seemed the best move. He was in his last drops, after all, and there’s nothing more thought-provoking than an empty glass. I’m sure it will help that he’ll read beneath the glass the words “You’ll have to live with it”.
Another old one while I make sense of some things. This was yet another story developed to try and flesh out a science fiction setting with my cousin. I don’t really like how this one came out, maybe someday I’ll revisit it.
There’s a breaking point, when waiting for a bus. We don’t like to admit it, but it’s there. In my experience, that point of no return happens after 45 minutes of patience, but let me elaborate by painting the situation, as it were.
The scene happens in a bus stop. That much is a given. There is one bus that you can take that will get you home directly, and one that will take you to a station where you can get that former bus. Here is your conundrum, then: do you wait for your bus or do you take the other and pay two trips? It depends on your haste to get home and your financial availability, of course, but let’s say you take the obvious decision, and just like that, you grab firmly the metaphorical shovel and start digging. You wait.
The first minutes are a novel game of glancing into the horizon, the idiotic hope of seeing your transport in the distance, but never quite standing up from the bench, because deep down you know it is not the one you want. The first ones pass in a blur or, when signaled to stop by your fellow patients, stop in front of you, beckoning with a contemptuous look. And then comes your second option, the one that could take you to the station. You look at it doubtfully, trading the sight of it with an expectant glance at the horizon, unsure about what’s the smart move here. After a moment’s dilemma, you decide to hold tight to your precepts. You wait.
The next few minutes are a build up of frustration and stolen glances. After a while, the horizon becomes an unattainable beautiful girl. You glance at her from afar, and just as you realise she will return the look, you feel the impulse to look away. There’s no hope there, but as soon as your peripheral vision senses her change, you glance again, guilt washing over you because you know there’s nothing new to see, but you have to look anyway. After a few minutes, the idea of the bus you wait becomes ephemeral, abstract. You diminish it to a colour, a number, a shape. You scan the horizon for that characteristic. You wait.
Then it comes, a ray of hope clutches at your chest and it shines in the horizon. You can’t read the letters, nor see the numbers, but the colour is right. It has to be your bus. You take every victory you can take by now. There’s a bus in front of it, so you stand up and walk a little bit to account for the other bus’ area of parking. You are not new at this. You see, much to your dismay, a hand thrust upward in front of you, signaling the first bus to stop. It’s the reason you stood up in the first place, yes, but you are not new to this, you know what this means. Your heart starts racing, you are unsure if the driver of the other, potentially your, bus will see you if you give it a sign. And the bus that is now stopping obscures the other’s placard, you can’t see what bus it is and you know you’re only going to see it when it is too late. You panic, running further away from the bus stop to get a better look at it, but never getting out of the sidewalk because the first bus still hasn’t stopped. You can see the last few letters, and it can be half a dozen different buses. The first bus is now in front of you, and it infuriates you. But you’re not new to this. You try to look at your bus through the windows of the one in front of you to ascertain property. Half letters and meaningless lines. You can’t know if it really is your bus. The envy swells up inside of you when you see the people entering the first bus. What do they have that you don’t? Are they better than you? Why? Your bus, never proven as in fact yours, runs swiftly by the bus stop, never looking back, the behemoth of twisted metal plows through the traffic and your broken psyche. You wait.
By now, the fifth bus to the station has left the bus stop. It dawns on you that by this time, if you had took the first bus, you would already be home. It is a scary realization, more than a frustrating one. You catch yourself thinking about what would have happened had you taken the first bus, what different decisions you would have made, what different people you would have met, what new things you would have done. The horizon burns your eyes now, looking at it feels like looking at the sun. Nothing good can come from it and you can never get too close, but you look anyway, because without it, there’s no hope. The sixth bus to the station climbs the horizon and appears before you. You wait.
By then, the asphalt turns into quicksilver and the cars turn into a violent sea of molten metal. In the horizon, a new bus appears. The way the light strikes it and ricochets off of it makes it look like a great white whale, coming up for air for the first time in a day. You can scarcely believe it, but this could be it. You thrust your five fingered harpoon outwards to the violent sea. You rationalize that if it ends up not being your bus, you can always apologize to the driver. For a second, you are afraid that the light will blind you to the bus’ destination, or that the hours of patience could have made you forget how to interpret the almost hieroglyphic markings on the metal beast. But the way is clear and you can read clearly. It is indeed the bus you have been waiting. You begin to tell yourself that the wait was worth it, that you don’t mind having seen the people that shared the bus stop with you change at least three times. It was all worth it. You’re going home. Your smile comes unheeded. Your hand feels as numb as your legs and mind. But the wrath of the beast seems impossible to halt. Without believing it, you realize the bus is not stopping. The tears well up. Your arm feels leaden. You run backwards. Your legs begin to burn. Your eyes meet the driver’s. There’s nothing there. He speeds past you.
I live in Brasilia, capital city of Brazil. I imagine this story won’t resonate as well with people from places with good public transportation systems. Good for you. Really. I once got out of class at 10pm, on my first semester of university, and waited until 1am for a way home. So, have some sympathy.
“You know, people think that in this age of information and starships, that novels no longer have any importance. I read a paper one of these days saying that ‘we already live in a sci-fi life, why would we need the fiction if we have it all right here in real life?’. I laughed for a solid 15 minutes. Really. We spread ourselves through a whole galaxy, at least three planets overpopulated. we have a massive system linking all that. That means a enormous database of information and a uninterrupted flux of information from trillions of different sources every second. We are devastated by information, overwhelmed by it in ways we couldn’t even have dreamed of just a few years back. And people think that’s fine. That it’s easy to cope with that, that life is too complex and big to waste away with books, specially what the unbelievably consumerist society of ours demands of books. But people forget the values of escapism, specially for people of today. Books are more complex than ever, granted, but they simplify the complexity of our lives. They give us structure, they guide our thoughts that would otherwise be scattered around billions of areas.
But writing today is a nearly impossible feat. Much research is needed to give your story verisimilitude. Which brings us to our present situation. Because you see, I’m writing a book. It tells the tale of a serial killer with a deep message, that sort of thing. He kills one of each species and race, nothing more, nothing less, across the galaxy. Nobody pays any mind to it, of course, until a incorruptible cop starts to become suspicious of the apparently random killings. It’s still fiction, of course. I can write about a incorruptible being, because it’s what we all would like to be or to believe exists. The book brings all kinds of discussions about racism, specism and the impact of non-ordinary events on the lives of a crumbling empire that encompasses a galaxy and far surpasses the lives of a few naturally doomed.
Research, you understand. Hey, hey. Don’t cry. It won’t hurt, I swear. Look at it as you making a sacrifice so that no one else of your kind dies by my hands.
All in the name of art.”
Well, it’s wondrous what a few kind words can do to someone’s confidence. Thanks to the feedback of a few people, I’ve decided to draw a new yet flimsy stop to my silence. This story is part of an universe-building project I started with my cousin (960018) but sadly ended up archiving. I’ll post some of the stories that were generated from that, at least one every week.
Until then, gape at an assortment of sublime imagery.
“So, does that mean you can’t loan me the money?”, the scrawny man said, shaking like a bamboo in the wind. His hands left wet spots in everything he touched and his eyes looked as red as the rest of his face, the humidity making his eyes look like black jellyfishes in puddles of milk.
“I’m truly sorry, but unless we have a reason and comprovation of it, we can’t loan money, man.” The lender had to say this a myriad of times during his long career. It never got any easier, but saying it to a childhood friend was harder. The shadow cast upon Thomas’ face was horrifying, but he didn’t seem to want to explain his predicament, relying on fantasy instead. “If you give me a reasonable explanation, I’m serious. Tell me why you really need that much money, Thomas.”
“So you really don’t believe me? What part don’t you believe, tell me. Please, Dick.”
“Well, honestly, the whole thing…” It was hard to not believe Thomas. He had a honest face and it was him that gave to Richard straight whenever no one else would. To doubt him was to betray him.
“I know that the whole time travel is hard to buy, I had quite the problem accepting it myself and I was looking down a dinosaur’s snout.” He said. He seemed too panicky.
“I realize something is troubling you, I can see you really need the money, but my hands are tied here. You can’t expect me to write ‘Alien Ransom Payment’ in the form and not call the cops or the psychiatrists.” It was a novel idea, the whole story. It made the lender wonder what drug could bend his friend’s perception of reality so badly that he could come up with such a complicated story and believe it so desperately.
“You make it sound as if I’m trying to rescue an alien. That’s not it. I need the money so I can buy our planet back from them.” Richard could already see some of his coworkers casually coming closer to his desk. He felt a bit ashamed for his friend.
“And it was you who sold it to them in the first place?” The lender rationalized that he was humoring Thomas just because he thought that, if he made his friend realize how ridiculous it all sounded, he would stop it. Although, little by little, this situation and its surrealness reminded him of all the times Thomas would go to Dick’s house by mistake, so drunk that he would start talking to the house in the middle of the night, after Richard had phoned his friend’s house to let his mother know he was O.K. He remembered how they used to make fun of each other, how their conversations would become nonsensical and oddly philosophical at the same time. He never laughed so hard like in those days, since they grew apart.
“No! I told you! I lost it in a game of four-dimensional poker! And I think they cheated…”
“Stop it, Thomas. This is unhealthy. I don’t know what happened to you or why you need this money, but I can’t help you in this state.” The change in his friend’s demeanor was tangible, going from the frantic lucidity of before to a crestfallen hunched-over posture. As if collapsing under his own weight. “You’re really committing to this, aren’t you?”
“I… perhaps it didn’t happen, then. Perhaps I imagined the whole thing… being kidnapped, escaping from a spaceship, falling into a wormhole… but it seemed so vivid. But if it was all a lie… who’s waiting for me to get the money out there?”
“No one is, Thomas.” He is relieved now, that this charade can finally end. But looking at his friend still drives a nail into his heart. Thomas looks like a man that just discovered he’s adopted. It’s almost visible, the walls of reality collapsing around him. “Go home, man. Rest. I’ll swing by later and check on you. No more stories about intergalactic loan sharks, alright?”
“Interdimensional, but alright… And if I didn’t just made this all up, those aliens may have helped us escape the whole dinosaur thing, but they’ll have to find another way to pay their debt, I guess… and what can they do having won the planet from me? It’s not like I own it, anyway…” He is grinning now, realizing how ludicrous it all was. He looks up at Dick, his oldest friend, pitiful awkwardness incarnate. There’s a tacit contract here, a “we’ll never talk about this again” kind of deal. Richard meets Thomas’ look with one that could aptly say “I don’t think there will ever be a moment where this whole deal could come up.” After a few seconds of silence, the atmosphere of the bank seems clearer. Richard’s coworkers shuffle almost imperceptibly back to their tasks and exchange astounded glances. Thomas stands up, still looking a bit defeated and says, “I guess it was a pretty bizarre story.”
The banker is almost unable to hold his laughter now. “It was hard to buy it from the get go, man… The very beginning, when you said you were going out with your girlfriend. That made the whole thing unbelievable for me.” As the laughter of everyone echoed and ricocheted off the bank’s walls, tears dropping down from Richard’s tightly closed eyes, Thomas took his leave, no hope left on the sulking carcass walking out of the bank.
Perhaps, if Richard hadn’t been blinded by tears and deaf by laughter, he would have seen the green plasmatic light coming from outside the bank and heard his friend’s scream.
And perhaps the Earth wouldn’t be doomed.
Ok… it took me quite a while, but here is part two of the 100 theme challenge. This one was an idea that I had bouncing inside my head for quite a while but just now decided to commit it to paper (or data, as it were). It didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped… Once again, it might take a while between part two and three, but this wait may be diminished depending on the response this one receives. So let me know what you think.
Walking is hard. With every step, I hear the bone creaking and I am obliged to drag the other foot, already beyond use.
The pain doesn’t affect me, it feels like it has afflicted someone else, long ago. I can feel the degeneration working its way upwards, I can feel the maggots starting to make up for most of my mass. And I can do all but care, that part of my being died a long time ago. Along with the rest of it.
I was one of the first, I can feel a flimsy pride in that. I don’t remember much apart from lab coats, glasses, microscopes and screams. Can’t be sure if they were mine or someone else’s. Since then, our numbers increased exponentially, I faintly remember this being in a white board somewhere… “exponentially”. I saw a lot of difficult words there, they stuck with me for some reason. There are more of us now than there were in the beginning, that’s all I know. I see the living doing everything they can to survive, but they seem to forget that for us, it is even harder. There’s hardly enough food for everyone and our food often becomes more mouths to feed. Top that off with our being every one’s number one target and the degeneration of moral along with our bodies, and you have the worst chances of survival ever. I shamble through a dirty street as my mind races at a fraction of the speed it used to. It is like perpetually having a word at the tip of your tongue and not remembering it nor being able to let it go. It’s maddening.
Something fell… I feel lighter, but I’m afraid that if I look down, my neck will snap. I keep walking, it was probably just my intestines. Ahead of me, I see the sea of us, the legion that we constitute, but there’s no one, really. Mindless masses, I can see why the living are so swift to get rid of us, why they are so quick to kill us. By the curb, I see a pack of us eating away at a young man, the blood washing the broken street. There’s little left of him now, but the urge is too strong. I begin making my way towards the pack, aware that by the time my broken legs get me there, only the crimson drink will have remained. I feel envy, all of a sudden. Not because I’ll have to get by without lunch, but because that food will never have to be like us, never have to scavenge those that we once called coworker, friend, family, lover. Perhaps, if my cognitive functions were better, I could laugh at the irony of thinking that a man who has just been eaten to the point of nonexistence is “lucky”.
But perhaps our kind is not as mindless as we seem to think. Case in point, my current inner monologue seems to hint at a somewhat high cognitive hability. Perhaps we are all like this, oblivious to our past life but intelligent in our own right. Perhaps we just don’t use what the living would recognise as logic or language. After all, when one of us see food, we all know where it is. It’s primitive communication, but it’s there. I think my eye just fell off.
I hear a loud noise. It stands to reason, in a city comprised of slow moving beings without any motor skills, that a noise like that was made by a living. I can already see the masses slowly moving, rising, starting the inexorable march for lunch. Before I can even think about it, my feet are already moving. The urge is stronger than anything. I can hear gunshots and screams, I can see the living, bloody, sweaty, tender and scared living. They are the first I see in a long time. Weeks? I don’t even know what that means anymore. Sleep is a useful way of keeping track of time, once you don’t need it anymore, the days just sort of pile up and become a huge block of time. The living are still a long way away, but I keep walking, my warnings to my fellow dead a hoarse mumbling without meaning. I see some of us fall, some rise again. I see the perpetual cycle of life and death in the blink of my lifeless eye, a mere sham of what once was real, reenacted in the decaying theatre of what remained. A bullet hits my chest and I remain undeterred. The ones that fell begin to form a blockade, but the urge propels us forward, over the corpses of our kind. As I near the living, the urge now larger than myself, my feet finally give in to decay.
I see the blade hurl towards me.
By popular (notausername) demand: a zombie story.