[Fiction] Friday: The Lichtenberg Trust

Via ABC27 news

I’ve read the odds of being struck by lightning twice are about one in nine million. I wonder, as I come to, blinking this new world into focus, if there is a calculation big enough to account for me. Last night I was hit for the 10th time.

This is the first time I’ve woken in the city though. I’m lying in bags of rubbish in a narrow alleyway. I shake the haze from my head. Thankfully it is warm and one of the bags is full of old clothes. This is the sort of bounty The Good Lord, as my mother called such providence, makes available to me when I transition.

Once I’m dressed I hit the street, ignoring the too-big shirt, too-short trousers and the fact I don’t recognise the fashion – but I’d be disturbed if I did. There’s never any shoes at the start and I don’t mind. Growing there was no money for shoes even if in winter.  It meant you played Russian roulette with frost bite and grew up feeling at home in bare feet.

I was 23 when I was first hit, sobbing and coughing black bile from my lungs in the middle of a deserted patch of the Ballarat goldfields. Monday, 3rd December1855 to be exact. The one year anniversary of the Eureka uprising, and the day Jeremiah Hutchinson, eldest son of George Hutchinson coffin maker and entrepreneur, stole the emerald engagement ring I had purchased for Eliza Gauge and asked her to marry him. He’d had me clobbered from behind and left for dead as my workshop burnt around me.

That first lightning transition only moved me several years through time, to 1858 and a hundred or so kilometres north east to Bendigo. At the time I thought I’d eaten or drunk something bad because it was the only way I could make sense of what had happened. But still the memory of the smoke and Eliza… and the ring. In April 1860 I took the Cobb and Co back to Ballarat posing as my younger brother… asked after myself. I’d died when my workshop caught fire. Eliza had died of consumption two years after she married Jeremiah. She had left behind a daughter.

I spied Eliza’s daughter with Jeremiah six months later, gazing through the window of Brown’s Confectionary in the High Street of Bendigo. I stepped closer and saw Jeremiah’s face blanch when he saw my reflection in the window. He was gone, trailing the curious young girl behind her before I could say anything to him. And no matter how I searched, and oh did I search, he was gone. So I tempted fate and walked out in the next electrical storm.

Over the centuries it’s become an intricate game of cat and mouse. The Hutchinsons never know where or when I will show up, but they know I will… like the proverbial bad penny. My image is burnt into their memories from an early age.

Each hit and each jump in time extends further into the future, moving me far away from my original life. I don’t even know now how old I am. I was born in 1834, but I don’t look much older than I did the last morning I shaved in 1855, buzzing with anticipation of kneeling and asking Eliza to be my wife.

But I’m getting closer to the ring each time, even if it takes more time and effort than the early days. The Lichtenberg Trust means I’m not hung up by having to earn a living while I’m searching. And a good thing. Jeremiah’s descendents have changed professions and location… and even their name to keep that ring safe from me over the years. It took me almost fifty years to work out The Trust was the one way to have a jump on the Hutchinsons. And the interest accumulating is icing on the cake.

I shake away the pain clinging to the inside of my skull. Maybe I’m focusing on the wrong thing… the ring. Maybe I need to spill some Hutchinson blood. It’s crossed my mind more than once, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m a coffin maker by trade and I’ve seen enough death to know not to beckon it into my corner. Besides if I got caught… what would be my defense? A crime of passion from two centuries ago, against a guy whose long dead.

I need to find a phone and call Mr Jarrett to get some money. Without it I can’t begin my search for the Hutchinson family and the ring. A fifty dollar note blows against my leg as I stop to get my bearings. I pick it up and wait for someone to realise it is missing but after five minutes no one does. Mother always said the Lord provides… and yet again he does!

It takes time to discover I need a phone card because no one gives change for the phone any more, then time to find a telephone booth which is working. In all of this I discover I’ve jumped well ahead in time, 30 years in fact, but I’m still in Melbourne.

The number I have for Jarrett, Jarrett and Tyson is disconnected and when I walk by the offices in Collins street the building is gone, replaced with a office tower of sparkling glass.  It takes a few more hours of fruitless searching for a phone book and finally an introduction to the internet to find their new phone number.

“I’m sorry, but Mr Jarrett died three years ago. Who did you say you were calling on behalf of again.”

“The Lichtenberg Trust.”

“Just one moment and I will put you through to Mr Wilson. He’s the partner in charge of Trusts.”

I press my back against the cold glass of the telephone booth trying to ignore the overwhelming stench of urine and the beady eyes of the homeless man sitting against the wall across from the booth. I watch the traffic lights change, once then twice. They’ve changed 21 times, a green light for each year of my old life in Scotland, before someone picks up the other end.

“Evan Wilson.”

“Good afternoon, Mr Wilson. Ryan Anderson. Your firm administrates my trust fund.”

“Yes, err, Mr Anderson.” I can hear him flipping through the file.

“I need urgent access to some money, Mr Wilson. I’ve just arrived back in town.”

The voice on the other end sighs.

“I’m afraid there have been problems with your Trust Fund, Mr Anderson. You were contacted in 1997 about changes and you made no reply at that time.”

“Mr Wilson. You’ve read my file. I was unaware there were changes. Mr Jarrett always took care of things for me, as did his father before him and grandfather before that.”

“Mr Jarrett retired in 1996.” More flicking of paper. “Clearly there were correspondences sent to you at the time, which you failed to follow up on as requested.”

“It’s complicated.”

“I can’t see how so, I’m looking at copies of the letters sent to you, sir.”

“I don’t think you understand… you have read the file. All the file”

“Mr Anderson – I’m a busy man. I had to get my personal assistant to pull this from the archives.”

“I need access to my money. It is imperative I have access to funds in the next 24 hours.  Mr Jarrett assured me my money would always be safe there. Indeed it has been safe with his firm for almost a hundred years. This is a very old trust Mr Wilson. You do understand?”

“In short Mr Anderson, old trust fund or not, your money was lost during the banking collapse last year. It seems Mr Jarrett Junior decided to park it in a bank in Iceland which collapsed in 2008… indeed – it was a year ago today.”

“What the hell was my money doing in Iceland? I want to speak to Mr Jarrett Junior.”

“I’m afraid Mr Jarrett no longer works for us.”

“Then tell me who does? Miss Juniper, or Mr Low. Surely someone must still be there from-”

Mr Wilson laughed on the other end.

“From when? 1978 perhaps which is your last billed visit to our offices? There’s none of that gold watch fifty year service any more, Mr Anderson. Times have changed.”

I wanted to tell Mr Wilson all about times changing.

“So you’re telling me I have no money.”

There was more flipping of papers.

“It would seem so, Mr Anderson.”

I slammed the phone down. After a hundred years of a safety net I was no better off than I was alone and naked in 1858 in the Bendigo diggings after my first transition. Was this the dead end which warranted a walk in a wheat field, summonsing a thunder storm? Or for me to just give up? Or forget the ring. Just get on living my life. Would Eliza have wanted this for me? All over a bloody ring? Did it really matter if the Hutchinson’s had it? I was alive wasn’t I… hit by lightning ten times. It should have been me in the Guiness Book of records for the most lightning strikes survived. Not some Roy Sullivan whose only been hit seven times and never time travelled from what I was reading on Wikipedia.

I kick the book door open with my bare foot and the homeless man watching me jumps. I have a twenty dollar note and some loose change in my pocket. That’s it.

I’ll eat and get a different set of clothes. Then I’ll consider what happens next.

There’s a tiny alley called DeGraves across from Flinders Street station, which is gratefully unchanged for more than a hundred years, and I wandered there looking for something to eat. The drop-down cinema chairs in one catches my attention and I sink into the worn burgundy vinyl and pick up the menu. Looking down the list of prices I realise what would have been a veritable fortune in 1978 is going to be quickly gone in 2009.

“You look like you’ve had a rough day.”.

“I just got in from 1978 and discovered some lawyer arsehole lost my trust fund in Iceland.”

“Sounds like as much fun as being struck by lightning.” She placed her hand on the table and the afternoon light hit one of the facets and for a moment, like the night in 1855 when the lightning pierced the sky, I am blinded.

“Eliza?” I ask, the word escaping  as I drink in the emerald set in rose gold, just as I’d commissioned.

The waitress laughs. “I don’t think I’ve ever been mistaken for my Gramma. Eliza Gauge Hutchinson.”

“Eliza Gauge Hutchinson,” I can barely say the words. Hutchinson comes out as a hiss.

“Named after her Gramma so I’m told. She was a vaudeville star or something like that before she got married.”

I can’t look up into her face. I can’t bare it if it were not her.

“She was very beautiful. A star in her own right.” I put the menu down and point to the ring. “Where did you get her ring?”

“I got it during my parent’s divorce settlement. My father said my mother stole it, my mother said that was rich given they all knew it was stolen in the first place. So I took it. It’s a bit garish, but I like it. And it fits. Don’t think it’s a real emerald though.”

“Oh its real,” I say.

She lifts her hand to stare at the ring in the shafts of the afternoon sun and I look up into Eliza’s face for the first time in more than 170 years.

Friday Flash: She-Hero

via ABC27 news

Dafyd looked down and saw his well-worn brown shoes dangling above the storm clouds. Feeling a rush of vertigo hit him, he closed his eyes. He focused on the strong arms around him and the breasts pressing into his face as they descended through the damp. Landing as the first crack of thunder tore across the sky made the landfall more dramatic than it was. All in all, it wasn’t how Dafyd imagined he’d end his 40th birthday.

His track record suggested the end would come today – shot in the head in the bank waiting to cash his birthday cheque from him mother, who believed Satan himself controlled the electronic banking and clung for dear-life to her cheque-book. The end would come when he embarrassed his wife for the last time, showing off his low-command of French, mortifying the waitress and finding a steak knife protruding from his chest. The end would come choking on a piece of birthday cake at his surprise birthday party, discovering too late he had recently developed a nut allergy. Or at the hands of a mugger down a dark alley way after he’d stop to ask for direction when his NavMan failed.

As the crack-head had shoved the gun in his face, Dafy closed his eyes and surrendered. After all – every birthday he could remember had been a disaster. To die on on his 40th seemed a fitting end.

But he’d been he’d been plucked from danger by this gorgeous she-hero, clad from head to toe-in red. It was his 15 year old self’s fantasty.

She had her back to him, standing on the edge of the building, looking, what Dafyd assumed, was pensively over the sinful city. Or perhaps protectively. It was hard to tell since she had her back to him and Dayfd’s eyes were glued to her round, luscious backside straining against the vinyl beneath the ruffle of the short skirt. The gentle curve of her hips, long legs… Dafyd licked his dry lips.

“Thank you,” he said, though the words caught in his throat as he struggled to coordinate his breathing. Adrenalin and desire crash tackling each other. One minute about to die and the next minute about to get everything he’d ever wanted.

She nodded but didn’t turn around.

Dafyd got it – she took her job as guardian of the city seriously. But first, she’d turn and they’d lock in a passionate kiss before she swan-dived from the roof top, flying out into the fractured night to save the next hapless soul from an untimely ending.

Lightning opened a schism in the sky, followed by shattering thunder. Dafyd remembered his English teaching talking about Skakespearean weather and knew something profound was about to happen.

She turned and Dafyd closed his eyes, waiting for her lips to caress his.

“You don’t want to do that dude,” a voice said, and for a moment Dafyd thought it was his conscience warning him against breaking his marriage vows. Hell – just one kiss. What harm could one kiss do after you’d cheated death, again? “Seriously dude, you don’t want to do that.”

Dafyd opened one eye and then the other to find the she-hero with her hands on her hips. Dafyd devoured her from her ethereal face, down her graceful neck, strong shoulders, sensible breasts, hard stomach ending in a bulge.

Dafyd stumbled backwards away from her.

“You’re a bloke.”

“And you’re alive dude – so we’ll call it quits.”

“What the hell…” Dafyd wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His stomach felt as though he’d eaten a reheated kebab that had already given him food poisoning once. “You’re a bloke.”

“You’ve got a good grasp of the obvious, Dafyd.”

“How do you know my name.”

“I read minds.”

“You just stay the fuck away from me.” Dafyd turned to run off but stopped. He couldn’t help himself.“Why the hell would you want to dress up as a woman and save people? You got some drag queen fetish?”

The she-hero pulled off the latex mask, a handsome chiseled face, shadowed with a heavy stubble illuminated as lightning flashed above.

“Even this isn’t enough to cut it in the superhero stakes these days.” He dropped the mask to his feet. “I fly. I read minds, I’m hot – but you know what… you gotta be a vampire, a vampire,” the words were spat out his mouth. “If you want to make it in the hero games these days. Female super heroes on the other hand… there’s plenty of openings. Dude, I got desperate. You understand… dude?”

Dayfd ran for the stairs, coming to the conclusion as he hurtled through the barely lit stairwell, the mugger should have just shot him or if he was lucky before he got to the bottom he’d trip and break his neck.

You can also listen to “She-Hero” on audioBoo.

Author’s Note
This story was booted out onto the page compliments of the [Fiction] Friday prompt: #162: “Write about a man with an impossibly bad streak of luck on his birthdays, who, as his 40th birthday approaches, is scared of what might happen.”

Friday Flash: Queen of Hearts – Part One

The wolf whistles and the applause reached a crescendo and the heavy velvet curtain fell, the golden tassles at the bottom brushing the boards. Varla waited a moment and then walked off into the wings.

“Do you want to take another curtain call?” Louis was new and all the stage hands eyed him with curiosity.

She shook her head as best she could in the elaborate headdress. Sergio, the old stage manager knew never to ask her. Every fibre of her being screamed to be back out there soaking up the adoration, but stars took three curtain calls. Divas took more. Varla never forgot which side of vanity she resided on.

A diminutive woman walked into the wings, hands lost in enthusiastic clapping segueing into excited signing.

You were so beautiful Miss Varla. Bravo! Bravo!

Varla’s hands easily formed the signs she needed to assure Luisa, her deaf dresser, it was all thanks to her. Then asked: Is Vin here?

Luisa shook her head. Varla felt her joie-de-vive drain out her diamante-encrusted dancing shoes and into the ancient boards.

Come! Come! Luisa motioned. There is much celebrating to be done. No mooning over Mr Tefnel.

Luisa didn’t wait for any type of response, walking behind the burlesque star, detaching the elaborate feathered train from the sequined bodysuit then giving Varla a very gentle push to propel her back stage.

The scent of evening jasmine hit Varla the moment the wonky door of her dressing-room opened.

“Oh Luisa,” Varla gushed, her words lost as she rushed to admire the huge bunch of tigerlillies framed by the light studded mirror. “He remembered.”

He always remembers, why do you doubt him so? Luisa knew she was safe to sign her mind – Varla couldn’t see her, she’d recklessly plunged her face deep into the large genetically-engineered petals.

Luisa grabbed Varla’s arm and emphatically signed: You will stain your face with the pollen, Miss Varla.

Varla flicked her fingers off opposite shoulders: I don’t care.

With her face out of the massive petals Varla saw the envelope attached, plucking the card from within.

We did it babe. One million hits. The server held this time.

~Vin

Varla squealed and thrust the card at Luisa, clapping her hands in delight. It had been a long hard road but they’d done it. It had taken years to find a niche for their brand of uncompromising, political burlesque, moving men from wanting just tits and long legs, to appreciating political satire and fine art. And now they were no longer contained to one packed theatre a night. Minsky would love it, knowing he could charge more for the privilege of attending a live show. Via the internet she and Vin had a lucrative means of income for the first time.

Luisa put her right hand in her left and gave the two a hearty shake: Congratulations. Varla smiled, but before she could immerse her face in the flowers to drink in their perfume, Luisa had manoeuvred her into a chair and begun to strip away the burlesque regalia–tiny fingers moving with speed and precision to remove the red and green feathered diamante headdress, the wig beneath and then the thick layer of stage make up from Varla’s face. Before the tiredness had time to settle in Varla’s muscles, Luisa was pulling the star out of the chair, carefully removing the skin-tight lycra and passing a silk robe.

Are you sure you don’t want me to stay? Varla shook her head. She liked to be alone between the show and the party. And tonight she wanted to take special care to look good for Vin. See you at the after party.

Varla pinched her chin between three fingers and pulled them back: Thanks.

Luisa took the same three fingers pulled them together empathically  so the finger tips touched, mimicked Varla’s sign and then pointed to her: No! Thank You.

Varla nodded and disappeared around the corner of the shower cubicle. After a moment of rustling, the sound of the dressing-room door closing echoed around the room. Varla sighed and shrugged her tired body from the robe. She turned the taps on and waited for the hot water to come through. Above the whine of the water and the thumping of the pipes she heard the dressing-room door close again. Knowing it was pointless to yell out to Luisa, Varla stepped around the cubicle wall to find dressing room empty.

A large iron bird cage sat where the flowers had minutes earlier.

“Vin?” Varla called out. He’d always joked it was only a matter of time, given her penchant for feathers and the passion of her followers that one would gift her with a real, live bird. After their adaptation of Sadako and the thousand Paper Cranes every man it seemed, was learning the ancient Japanese art of origami to woo her.

She looked at the cage for a card or some type of identifying keep-sake but there was nothing.

Varla threw her robe on and ran barefoot out into the corridor. It was bustling with stage hands and other technicians, with the reverie from the theatre and the bar beyond still audible.

“Did you see someone come back stage with a parrot?” Varla asked everyone she passed. They all shook their head.

“A parrot you say Miss Varla,” Louis chuckled when she found him in his tiny office. “Can’t say I’ve seen anyone wandering around with a parrot. Mr Minsky was pretty darn clear on barring jerks from backstage. He hired a couple of thugs to man the door tonight.”

Varla returned to find her dressing-room cloaked in steam from the shower she’d left running.

“Shit!” Luisa would have a fit if she knew.

She waved a path through white eddies to turn the taps off. Back at the birdcage she stared at the large red and green feathered creature. It stared back.

“What the hell am I going to do with you?” She remembered all the potted plants she’d neglected.

The bird tilted its head.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

She stuck her head closer to the bird cage.

“Did you say something?”

It tilted its head to the other side, all the time holding her gaze.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

Varla stepped back from the bird. She’d definitely heard it say something. Heard was the wrong word for it though. The words formed with astonishing clarity in her head.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

“OK, this is not funny.” She spun around and ripped aside the costumes neatly hung on the rack, looking for Vin. Accepting she was alone Varla grabbed a tigerlily and poked the bird with the wet stem. It ruffled its feathers.

The Queen of Hearts is coming.

“You can turn the damn remote control bird off, Vin. You’re freakin’ me out.”

When Vin didn’t appear Varla opened the door to the cage and dragged the bird out. As she turned it over, pulling at its wings, looking for the on/off switch long talons lashed out, its beak drawing blood. Finally a hot squirt of bird shit hit Varla in the face and her fingers released. Its wings opened and cut through the steam, carrying the bird to the top of the cubicle wall. Varla looked up through the swirls, wiping the shit from her cheek with her forearm.

The Queen of Hearts is coming. You have been warned.

Author’s Note: you can hear the first two thirds of this story narrated by moi here at audioboo. This story was spawned from the [Friday] Fiction prompt to include a telepathic parrot and comes compliments of my partner who first suggested such a thing two years ago. This ones for you darling!

Mixed Messages

I’m not sure why aliens would choose Reservoir to land. There have to be better places in Australia to visit than the suburbs of Melbourne. But the message was clear. They are coming. Here. And I’m to wait.

The sky is on fire, the bits I can see through the curtain of pink blossoms. A column of smoke raises from old man Salvatore’s incinerator, the stink blowing across the fence into our yard, competing with the perfume of the plum blossoms I’m hiding in. I should have set up the roof, but Mother would have heard me no matter how quiet I was. The old crystal set radio is strung up with some twine on a small branch I’ve snapped off to make a hook. It isn’t the best set up, the aerial stuck to the tree trunk, but you make do. That’s what Dad always told me. Making do, whatever the situation is what marks a dedicated communications officer. That’s why the Germans killed him. He was too good.

Samuel says Dad was a code breaker – it was his job to decipher the secret messages the Germans sent. He says Dad showed him some of the secret codes, but I don’t believe him. He says Dad was real smart and that’s why the Germans killed him.

I pat Dad’s cast-off notebook. It fits perfectly in the pocket of Samuel’s old overalls. They’re patched at the knees and soft with wear. I stole them, months ago, from a bag of clothes Mother was giving to Mrs Thomas at Number 18. They’ve been hidden under my mattress waiting for a special occasion like this.

Dresses are useless for climbing trees and while I thought long and hard on what I should wear if I was going to be meet an alien for the first time, I was certain they’d appreciate practicality over pretty. That’s what Dad said when we set off on our last adventure together, hand in hand, with Mother saying everyone in the street would talk. “Let them talk,” he said and smiled at me. I guess he doesn’t have to worry too much now about what people say. Mother says he is a Hero and no one should say a bad word against him. But they still stare at us at Church. When I go to Heaven they can say what they want about me. Sticks and stones and names can’t hurt you there.

From the tree I can Mrs Thomas unpeg sheets folding them into a wicker basket before the night air settles. The smell of Widow Grenville’s apple pie wafting out her back door is torture. And then Mother appears and the real torment begins.

“Lucy, come down out of that tree.”

“I can’t.”

“Don’t tell me you can’t.”

“The aliens – they’re waiting for me.”

LUCY, enough of this nonsense. Come down now. Dinner is getting cold.”

I stick my head out of the barricade of blossoms. The motion knocks some free and they drift like winter drizzle around Mother who has her hands riveted to her hips. A few land in her hair and for a moment I can imagine her as the beautiful, young smiling bride in the silver frame on the lounge room mantle piece.

“The aliens sent a special message. Just to me. They said, Lucy Malone, aliens are coming. Stand by.”

“No they didn’t,” says Samuel, coming into sight. “I sent you a message saying Lucy Malone, dinner is ready.”

I refer to my notepad. I write down everything. Samuel transmissions are always full of mistakes, so I’d know the difference between one of his and an important one from aliens.

“You still get ‘d’ and ‘b’ mixed up, Samuel. Why would I get out of the tree for a message about ‘binner’ being ready. You really should do yourself a favour and just tap ‘tea’ instead.”

I’m angry with Samuel because he was given Dad’s collection of straight keys and antique telegram machines. Mother says Samuel will follow in Dad’s footsteps, even though there is talk telephones will soon be more popular and cheaper than telegrams. Next year Samuel’s allowed to leave school and become an apprentice at the Telegraph Office. Mother says Mr Hardy has promised Samuel won’t have to start off delivering telegrams like the other boys. I tell Mother I’m going to get an apprenticeship at the Telegraph Office too just like Dad and Samuel. She says no I won’t and turns her back on me when remind her I’m better at sending code than Samuel.

Dad wrote to me and told me I could do anything I wanted to. Told me he was proud of the progress I was making at learning Morse Code. I’m not going to make sandwiches in Coles and wait to get married, even if Mother says that’s all I can rightly expect as a girl. I don’t want to have her “realistic expectations.”

She comes closer to the tree to hiss her commands through her teeth, that way Widow Grenville wont pop her head over the fence to ask if Mother’s having a bad day with me again. Widow Grenville is my greatest ally. Mother thinks Widow Grenville is a busybody, but  Widow Grenville says someone’s got to be my champion now Dad’s gone. She gives me chunks of Edinburgh Rock and tells me my Mother wasn’t always so mean. Widow Grenville says all the goodness and light in Mother went to the grave with my Dad. She shakes her head every time she says that and for a moment I want to ask her all the questions welling up inside me. But never do.

I thrust the note book out of the tree and shake it. “I chose to ignore your message. According to my watch you sent the message about dinner at 18:27 a good hour after the message from the aliens arrived at 17:13. I could not have made the mistake of thinking one was the other.”

“Lucy Louise Malone, you will come down out of that tree or I will tan your backside so hard you won’t sit for a week.”

“But the aliens, Mother. If I’m not here to greet them, it could be a diplomatic disaster of intergalactic proportions. Do you want that sitting on your conscience?”

“Have you been lending her your comic books again?”

“No, Mother. I learn from my mistakes, Mother.”

“This has nothing to do with his comic books.” I hang myself a little further out the tree. “How about you send my dinner up and I’ll have it in the tree. Then you will be happy because I’m eating dinner and I won’t offend the aliens.”

“Get out of the tree NOW!”

The words hit me as hard as if she’d actually slapped me. I fall back into the tree, into the safety of the world behind the pink curtain. The fire is fading in the sky. My stomach growls loudly. A shank of hair falls in my eyes and  smells of old man Salvatore’s smoke.

But I’m not going down. A dedicated communication officer remains at his post until the last. The aliens will send me another message. I know they will. They told me to stand by.

When they land they’ll invite me to come on board and live on their planet. And I’ll say yes in a heart beat, knowing the only person who’ll miss me is Widow Grenville. But she’ll understand.

“I’m counting to ten. If you are not down by the time I get to ten, you are going to wish you’d never been born Lucy Malone. One… two.”

I stare at the radio willing to squeak to life.

“Three… four.”

There’s a squeal and the tones tumble out. Dots and dashes fly from my pencil onto the page.

L-U-C-Y  M-A-L-O-N-E (stop)

“…six.”

A-L-I-E-N-S  T-H-I-N-K (stop)

“…eight.”

S-U-C-K-S  T-O  B-E  Y-O-U (stop)

Authors Note: This story was inspired by [Fiction] Friday Prompt #160: A signal is misinterpreted. Photo by Becx5 via Photobucket.

Clutch

Calli punched in the security code to lock the door, and flung herself on the bed knowing she’d have at least fifteen minutes of time alone in the room before Ursula came down from the dining room. Longer if Ursula stopped off for a drink in the staff quarters. Her head and feet were pounding, and she felt raw… the acerbic looks of the other staff having stripped away the last of her dignity. She rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her palms and felt the eye-liner and mascara smudge. Three more days. Just three more days and she’d never have to set foot on another trans-galactic cruise ship. Never had to look at Sadé again.

Staring down at her feet, Calli didn’t care if she still wore her filthy shoes on top of the cashmere blanket. Beneath the torturous leather, the strapping tape which kept some skin on her heels and toes was stained and frayed, and in desperate need of changing. Sweating the small stuff made little sense now. Sadé had seen to that.

The knock came as Calli was kicking her shoes off and contemplating the pain of removing the tape.

“Go away,” she called.

“Let me in Calli.” Dianna’s voice penetrated the metal door without the aid of the intercom, which squealed in protest at the velocity of the voice projection.

“I’m in no mood.”

The door slid open and Calli’s face flooded with indignant colour.

“Ursula gave me the code.”

Calli shook her head and gave up on the strapping tape, turning to lie face down on the bed.

“Are you going to hide down here forever.”

Callie turned her head to the side. “We dock at Europa in three days and my roster will be over. So – just three days. It’s bad enough having to go up to work.”

Dianna eased herself down on the side of the bed.

“Aren’t you blowing this all out of proportion.”

“No.”

Dianna fidgeted with the corner of her white shirt, crumpled and untucked now she was officially off-duty.

“Sadé made you a bread and butter pudding. Why don’t you go up and get some.”

“No.”

“But you love his bread and butter pudding.”

“I used to love his bread and butter pudding.”

“He made is specially for you. Blow torched the sugar on the top and all of that.”

“What a stupid waste of bread, eggs and cream. I hope his supervisor finds out.”

“How many times does he have to say he’s sorry.”

“Just once.”

“You’re being too hard.”

“Making me a bread and butter pudding is not a declaration of sorry. Nor are the flowers or any of the other stuff he’s tried. I wish he’d knock on my door instead of you and just say, ‘I’m sorry Calliste’.”

“Actions speak louder than words.”

“No they don’t.” Calli wigged off her stomach and turned to face the wall,  smothering the sobs in pillow she’d taken with her. “And I thought he’d change. I thought he was the one.”

“He promised, I know, but sometimes people just slip up.”

“He promised he’d never do it again. A promise is a promise.”

Dianna put her hand on the shoulder of her friend.

“C’mon Calli, please. Don’t let this ruin things between the two of you. You’ve forgiven him once, you can forgive him again.”

“No. If it were anything, anything, else I could. But not this.” Calli said, her words soaking into the pillow with her tears.

Dianna sat there, stroking Calli’s short black hair and waiting for the crying to finish.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Dianna said when Calli finally sat up, her face a mess of watery, black gashes on livid red flesh.

“Everyone’s talking about it.” Calli wiped away the tears with the backs of her hands.

“No they aren’t.”

“Of course they are. I see the way everyone looks at me now. The way they mutter when I walk past. There goes Sadé’s girlfriend. Can you imagine?”

“I think you’re making all this up.” Dianna reached out and took her friend’s hand. “Sadé’s up there in the kitchen cooking up a storm like nothing happened.”

“Of course he is. It doesn’t bother him.”

“Then why let is bother you.”

“Because it’s… wrong. And up here no one ever forgets anything. Remember Eric, Maddie and Sophia.” Dianna shuddered. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. Minds atrophy in the great expanse of space.”

“He loves you though. He’d do nothing to hurt you.”

“But he did.”

“Oh pah-lease, Calli.” Dianna threw down her friend’s hand and stood up. “If you carry on like this someone other woman onboard is going to snap him up while you’re planetside. It’s a lonely life up here.”

“Good for them… I’m getting off in three days and starting a life where no one knows I was Sadé’s girlfriend.” Callie squared her shoulders and swept her spiky fringe to one side. “You can have him if you want.”

Dianna blanched.

“I wasn’t suggesting–”

“C’mon. He’s a hot guy. And he can control himself most of the time.”

“Callie, I wasn’t–”

“Yes, yes, you were – Miss Peace Envoy.”

“No, I –”

“Put yourself in my shoes and see how magnanimous you’d be.”

“You’ve got it all–”

“See how you’d feel if it was you sitting at the Captain’s table, employee of the month and your boyfriend reaches over between mains and desert to take the crocodile clutch bag of the Captain’s wife… and licks it… yeah… just as I thought.”

Authors Note: This story was born from the [Fiction] Friday prompt #159 “Include this in your story: “I wish he’d knock on my door instead…” from Write Anything. Compliments also of a small boy who was trying to smear birthday cake all over a beautiful leather bag of a school friend’s mother at my son’s 6th birthday… and an off handed comment about licking the bag later!

Greenman Ridge

Jack Rivers looked at the clock and then at the telephone. Nearby a mexican-wave of car alarms sounded. He couldn’t wait any longer.

He pressed each button with a single minded focus which looked as though he was struggling to remember the number. It was a number he’d never forgotten.

It rang for over a minute before the line picked up at the other end.

“Hello…”

“Jason, it’s your Dad.” There was silence on the other end, then the sound of a throat clearing. “I need you to holoport yourself to this destination. Have you got a pen?”

“Christ Jack, I don’t have clothes on, let alone a pen. Call me in the morning.”

“Jason. Don’t hang up. There isn’t time to explain.”

“There never is.”

“Please Jason, there won’t be another chance.”

An explosion shook Jack River’s home and he covered the phone to attempt to drown out the noise.

“Where the hell are you?”

“I’m calling from home and… Jason, I…”

Another explosion sounded closer.

“Get to the nearest holoport and punch in these numbers – 873415.321.”

“Hold on. Hold on.”

Jack could hear his son swearing, things being knocked to the ground.

“Ok – I’ve found a pen.”

“873415.321. Repeat it back to me.”

“Look-”

“Repeat it.”

“873415.123.”

“No, no, no. Point Three Two One. And Jason – break in if you need to. I won’t matter.”

“Dad – what aren’t you telling me? I don’t hear from you in five year and you call me at 3am to tell me to go log myself into Holo-Life.”

“Just go. I… I–”

The phone was dead before Jack could finish the sentence.

Jack spent the last minutes in his home securing it then carrying the cans of black market bio-diesel down into the cellar. Jack could only hope, as he fuelled the back-up generators, there was enough time and power to see one final sunrise with his son. Once he holoported out, there was no control of what happened with the data server and with his own physical body. There would be nothing to come back to.

Jack stood for a moment taking in his life’s work – columns of electronic equipment crowded the cellar. It was the equivalent a cerebral cortex – the nerve centre of Holo-Life. As such, Jack had never trusted it to an off-site location. Hanging on hooks were a collection of Holo-Bands, from the very first ones he’d designed and built through to the latest model released just a month ago.

He reached up for the brand new one and tried not to think about the email which had arrived three days after its release. The phone call to Jason should have been made then, but his pride and then guilt stopped him. Finally it was the immediacy of the situation and now…

Jack strapped the band to his ankle, activated it then punched in the code he’d given Jason. Setting the timer for 60 seconds he settled into the old dentist chair he’d used as his holoport from his very first test jump and waited for the temporal shift.

The air was still and cold and Jack clasped his arms around him. His eyes adjusted slowly to the dark and when the thicket of trees stood out in the distance he began walking. Greenman Ridge had been his original test site, but it had been more than twenty years since he’d jumped here. It was was more sophisticated than Holo-Life, running on neural vibrations mapped from Jason as a child.

At the camp site he lit a fire, to ward off the bone-deep chill. It would help Jason find his way. The flames threw awkward shadows and Jack fed log after log into the pit, as he waited. The fire settled into a bed of hot embers and Jack began to worry. Finally he heard a twig snap, and amoment later Jason appeared with a dog at his feet.

“How did you get the dog in?”

“The same as me – strapped a band to his leg.” Jason’s hand rested no the dog’s head. “I wasn’t leaving Barney behind.”

“Didn’t think you liked dogs.”

“That was you Jack. You said a dog was too much trouble. A bit like what you thought of me.”

“It will be dawn soon,” Jack stood, ignoring his son’s jibe and stretched, pocketing a flash light from the canvas chair he’d been sitting in. “Let’s walk up to the ridge and watch the sunrise.”

They walked single file up the path with the flashlight cutting a narrow swath of light through the darkness. Jack heard Jason stumble and fall several times but didn’t stop. They were both breathing heavily when they reached the top. The dog moaned and slumped to the ground.

“How long until sunrise?” Jason asked, sitting down on a rock.

“An hour maybe.”

“So where are we?”

“Greenman Ridge.”

“Greenman Ridge is gone.”

“I built a version of Greenman Ridge as my beta area.”

“So instead of spending time with me, you were hanging out here what – pretending every was OK.”

“I wasn’t easy when you’re mother died.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I should have called you three days ago. I got an email from a friend telling me what was about to happen.”

“What’s three days Jack at the end of the world. Really..”

Jack looked out to the horizon waiting for the first smudge of dawn. It would be any time now.

“I couldn’t go without you.”

“You’ve never worried about leaving me behind before.”

“This is different Jason.” His mouth was dry. He willed the sun to come up. It had to.

“Can’t you call me Dad – just once.”

“No. You have to earn. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

An alarm sounded and Barney whined. Jack willed the sun to rise out of stubborn blackness. The transponder light on his leg band was flashing. The link was breaking up.

“Is it wrong to want to save my son.”

“I died in your eyes when Mum died – we all know that.” Jason ran his fingers through the dog’s long hair. “We’re all going to die now, so it’s kinda a moot point.”

“I bought us here to escape.” The words tumbled out of Jack’s mouth. “This isn’t Holo-Life. This where you flew to as a boy. I mapped your neural vibration in the sleep lab one –”

“What the hell-”

“We’ve transcended the base physicality of existence. We can stay here, even when our bodies die.”

“I’d rather be dead.”

Jason moved towards the dog and Jack threw himself across the divide but he was older and slower. The return button depressed on the dog’s leg and then Jason’s and Jack fell through the air where his son had been.

I didn’t get a chance to do a third rewrite on this to pull it down to the 1000 word mark as I’m about to head off to Melbourne for the opening of a writing festival and won’t be able to post otherwise.  As always, critical comment is welcome.

This is loosely based on the [Fiction] Friday prompt  #156 for May 21st, 2010: “A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.”


Friday Flash: Mrs Simpson

“I’m told tomorrow would have been your wedding anniversary,” the officer said, glancing down at the charge sheet in her file.

Mrs Simpson ignored the comment.“You’re new here,” she pulled her chair a little closer to the table separating them. “Did they bring you in especially to investigate my case because none of the other detectives could sit here and accuse me of the things you are. Not Hardy. Not Morcombe. Not any of the guys who served with Doug. Who’ve sat at my dinner table and eaten my pot roast, been family friends for fifteen years.” She slammed her fist on the table. ‘This is a sham. I want to be released. I want to go home.”

“Your case is serious ma’am,” he cleared his throat and flipped through the pages of her file. “The department wants to ensure you are given a fair investigation and trial.”

“Bull shit!”

Mrs Simpson’s chair screeched across the floor. She kept her back turned staring through the one way glass wondering who was on the other side watching. Was Doug up there?

“You lot want to make an example of me. Show that you give no preferential treatment to your own.”

When the officer said nothing, she walked away, pacing back and forth below the window, knowing whoever was up there wouldn’t be able to see her from that angle.

“I know my rights,” she said evntually, turning around. “I want to be assigned a legal representative of my choice.”

“You know Mrs Simpson there will be no legal representation.”

“This is not a cut and dried case like you are treating it. I was set up.”

The officer picked up a remote control and a large screen at the opposite end of the room lit up. A grainy film of Deirdre Simpson leaving Adam Hogart’s apartment building flickered to life.

“My husband sent me there to collect some high school memorabilia.”

“You and Adam were at high school together were you not?”

“We all were? Me, Doug, Adam.”

“And you and Adam were lovers.”

“No!”

“But you are now.”

“No. It is not me having an affair. It is Doug. He’s been having an affair with a woman named Amy.”

“And you decided two could play at that game.”

“No.”

“You are seen on film leaving his apartment.”

“It means ntohing.”

“You had sexual relations with Adam Hogart on the afternoon of May 12th sometime between one and three pm, at his apartment. ” The officer picked up a piece of paper with forensic results. “Science doesn’t lie.”

“I was forced into an internal examination,without my consentl. Which is a breach of my civil liberties.”

“In accordance with the Adulterers Act of 2021, Mrs Simpson, you forfeit any of your civil rights when a charge of adultery is bought against you.”

“And I fought tooth and nail to stop that law being passed.”

“That comes as no surprise, Mrs Simpson.”

“Who the hell knew I was there – to pick me up when I came out. Only Doug knew where I was. I am telling you – this is a set up. He wants to get rid of me.”

“Mrs Simpson, we are vigilant to those who threaten the very fabric of society. Adulterers like you.” He opened the file and replaced the forensics report. “I’m not here to listen to fairy stories about how things may have happened. Or why they happened. I am only interested in the fact they did happen. And now my job is to determine whether this is a moral or criminal case.”

“Where’s Adam? Why are you not questioning him?”

“Mr Hogart is not married Mrs Simpson. Only you have a charge to answer.”

“He’s a witness. He can corroborate that we’re not having an affair.”

“Mrs Simpson, you had sex with the man who is not your husband. Consequently, you have committed an act of adultery.”

Mrs Simpson walked back and forth again, dragging her hands from deep in the pocket of her crumpled jeans to push the hair off her damp forehead.

“Correct me if I am wrong officer,” she stopped and stared at him. “If I went to visit Adam with the intention of breaking my wedding vows then you find me guilty of a moral transgression of the sanctity of marriage – and you shoot me. If it was a moment of passion – you’ll commit me to seven years re-education as having committed the criminal act of adultery. At the end I’ll be released. Reformed. It’s kind of a no-brainer really.” She laughed. “I knew it was a mistake the moment it was over.”

“I’m sorry Mrs Simpson. It’s not as simple as just confessing to the realisation of your crime after the fact and avoiding the executioner’s gun.”

He pushed a blue piece of paper across the table. Mrs Simpson walked back to the table and picked it up, read it and then sunk into her chair.

“Husbands on the force don’t tell their wives everything.”

Mrs Simpson put the consent form for memory mapping back on the table top.

“We can pin point whether you knew it was a mistake before you entered Mr Hogart’s apartment, but went ahead with it anyway. Or whether it was – as you say, a crime of passion. You can sign now or I can get a court order.”

*-*

They watched on the other side of the window. The officer handed the blue form over and after a few minutes, Doug’s wife pushed it back unsigned.

“Where’s Adam?” Amy asked, clipping her badge to the pocket of her suit pants.

“Back at Dr Pietersen’s clinic. He’ll be back at work in a fortnight and all he’ll be sure of is he wanted to forget something  so emotionally wrenching he paid to have it erased.”

“You’re confident her case will be dispensed of that quickly.”

“It won’t matter. Even if Dierdre were to somehow get legal representation and a proper trial – Adam’s memories have been erased. There will be no trace of the fact I asked him to see if he could seduce Dierdre.”

“You still can’t be certain Doug.” Amy’s face was pinched as she watched Dierdre turn and stare up at them.

“I don’t leave anything to chance.” His fingers brushed the side of her leg. ” I paid one of my informers to ring the house and pretend to be you, just before Diedrie was leaving to pick up the trophies for the twenty year reunion.”

“I don’t know whether to kiss you or slap you.”

“What’s a man to do?” Doug grinned, running his hand over her arse. “Three terms of a Puritan Government, the revoking of the Family Law Act and no access to Divorce. A man’s got to get creative if he’s to marry the woman he wants.”

This piece of flash fiction is based on Write Anything’s [Fiction] Friday prompt #155: “I knew it was a mistake the moment it was over.”

Author’s Note: Dr Pietersen and Adam come compliments of my wonderful friend and long time collaborative writing partner Paul Anderson, who first introduced us to these characters back in 2009 in his podcasted stories and gave me permission in November of that year, to base my NaNo around ideas he had presented in this series of stories.