Machines are Patient – flash fiction

The engineer tapped his power transmitter, causing lights to come on for the first time in a thousand years. “Welcome to the last outpost of human civilization on Earth,” he told his companions.

“What is this place?” the reconnaissance party commander asked.

“It’s an underground control bunker,” the fleet historian answered. “It controlled all the nuclear missiles for this alliance. At the outbreak of war, the other alliance struck first. For some reason, still unknown, this alliance never fired its missiles back. We suspected it was because their command and control was knocked out. But as you can see, this facility’s only blemish is a thousand years of dust.”

“What they didn’t realize was that it would only take one side’s bombs to make Earth uninhabitable for centuries,” the engineer added.

The men considered the control center, with its ancient machines shrouded in a pristine layer of dust. “It’s a miracle we were able to get a foothold on Mars before the End War,” the engineer volunteered. “Otherwise this would be the last symbol of humanity left in the universe.”

“It’d be a sorry grave site for human civilization,” the historian said.

“We’re back to stay, now,” the commander assured them. “The surface has regenerated into a paradise. It has all the resources we were running out of on Mars and so many more. It was a good decision by the Council to bring everyone back.”

The men walked among the rows of machines that hadn’t seen light or life in centuries. The commander stopped short. “Look here,” he exclaimed, “there’s a light blinking on this machine.”

The others joined him. The engineer dusted off the console. “I believe that’s a printer,” he said.

“Exactly,” the historian agreed. “They used it to write onto a material called paper.” He pointed to a row of file cabinets. “Those closets are probably full of writing on paper. It was very inefficient.”

“Look, the screen is glowing.” The commander pointed to the small screen on the printer console. “It says something: ‘Paper jam in feeder tray.’ What’s a feeder tray?”

“It’s giving little picture instructions,” the engineer noticed. “The feeder tray must be this thing.” He pulled out the tray as the picture instructed.

“One of the papers is in crooked,” the historian said.

The engineer removed the flawed paper. The picture told him to close the tray, so he did. “It says, ‘Press OK button’, oh, I see it.” He pressed the button.

The men jumped backward as the printer sprang to life. It spit out printed sheets of paper on top of the ones caked in dust.

At last the printer stopped. They heard its motor ebb into silence. The historian picked up the topmost paper. All three examined it. “It looks like a list of coordinates of some sort,” the engineer declared. At the bottom of the page were the words, “End Report.”

The commander tapped the engineer on the shoulder. He pointed to a nearby machine. “Hey, is that other screen lit up under all that dust?”

“Let’s see.” The engineer wiped away the dust from the monitor. Words flashed on the screen. All three stared at the monitor as the engineer read aloud: “Target report printed successfully. Launch sequence initiated.”

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Always – Flash Fiction

Always

It was too dark to see what caused the noise, but it was a real noise. Maybe Mommy was banging something around downstairs. Yeah, that was probably it, just Mommy downstairs.

Thump. There it was again. It wasn’t too loud, but it sounded loud enough to be nearer than downstairs. He had to face the fact that it came from inside his room.

Cameron held his breath, listening for any recurrence. If it didn’t happen again, it should be all right. Sometimes rooms just made a noise or two before settling down to sleep. But if it kept up, it was probably a monster, and monsters were the last thing you wanted in your bedroom on a dark night.

Thump. Okay, that was definitely in this room and it wasn’t just the house going to sleep. Cameron lifted the blanket over his nose. His body shook. If he kept shaking like this, he’d have to go pee, and that meant crossing the dark room and maybe bumping into something horrible.

Did the closet door just creak? It did. He thought so. Maybe it was just a breeze blowing it open. All his breath poured out as he remembered Mommy closing the window when she put him in bed.

This was bad. There was no explaining away the monsters tonight. They were here, and they would get him any minute. Cameron curled himself up tight, shivered, and waited for doom.

A sliver of light widened onto him from beyond his bedroom door. “Cameron?” a soft, comforting voice called. “Are you all right?” Daddy had developed a way of sensing when Cameron needed him.

Cameron breathed a sigh. “Daddy, I’m scared.”

“Of what?”

“Monsters.”

“Would you like me to get in bed with you for a while?”

“Yes.”

The light evaporated. Cameron felt his father’s weight on the mattress. “Shove over there, kid,” his father said. Cameron shimmied to let his father lay beside him. He pressed himself against his father’s strong chest and pulled a warm arm around him.

“It’s all right now,” his father whispered. “I’m here with you. I’m always here with you.”

Cameron let himself melt into his father’s strength. He didn’t hear any more noises. He didn’t even listen for them. Daddy was here and the monsters were gone.

Cameron woke to a room filling with sunshine. He was alone in his bed. His mother peeked her head into the room. “Cameron, breakfast is ready.”

He threw off the covers. “Coming.”

She smiled her almost-perfect smile at him. “Remember to brush your teeth.”

Cameron nodded. His mother went. As Cameron rose, his eyes turned to the picture on his dresser. It was of him and his dad, more than a year ago now. Cameron was much more grown up since then. His dad hadn’t changed one bit. In the dark last night he’d looked exactly the same.

Cameron stared at his smiling father in the picture and put his hand on his chest. “Thanks, for always being here, Daddy,” he whispered.

 

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What’s in your wallet? – flash fiction

I asked the nurse to hand me my wallet. She fumbled it a little and a condom fell out. She kept a straight face, discretely picking it up and setting in on my blanket. Then she left the room, not wanting to burst out laughing in front of me.

Rocky, my roommate, grinned at me from his bed. He was 50 years older than me, with his scraggly beard and glassy eyes.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

Rocky chuckled. “I understand. I was a young buck once. You a college boy?”

“Yeah.”

“I never went to college, but I did have my fun.” He nodded at an inevitable transition. “Then I got married. Margie and me was married 40 years, and I liked that a whole hell of lot better than carrying one of them things in my wallet.” He gestured toward the condom I struggled to stuff back into its home.

“40 years? That’s awesome!” It seemed like the right thing to say.

“It was.” He sighed. “Except for the last few. She got Alzheimer’s. I carried her license in my wallet ‘cause she’d lose it otherwise. She’d lose anything you gave her.” He shook his head. “Then she’d snip at me about it. Finally I said, ‘Margie if this next 40 years don’t go no better, I’m calling it quits.’ That was the last joke I told her.” He frowned. “Not a very good joke.”

“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“She passed almost two years ago.”

I didn’t want to say sorry again. “Do you still keep her license in your wallet?”

“No. I couldn’t look at it every time. It only reminded me of the past. But I guess she told the last joke. After all that time wedged in that little sleeve, it left a faint impression of her picture on the plastic, like a ghost staring up at me.”

“Did you get a new wallet?”

“Oh no. I don’t mind the ghost. It doesn’t give me bad memories; it says she’s still with me. And being how I already invested 40 years, I guess I’ll keep her.” He turned his wet eyes toward the window and spoke at the sky. “Yup, I guess I’ll keep her.”

Paper Quarter – Flash fiction

If they wouldn’t come to him, he’d go to them.

Sneaking out of the home wasn’t difficult once you worked up the courage to try it.

There was bus stop down the street. Harold had never ridden the bus before, but he couldn’t think of another way. When the bus stopped, he climbed on. “How much is it to ride?” he asked the driver.

“For seniors it’s 75 cents,” the driver said.

Harold dug into his pocket. He had a $1 bill and two quarters. He handed the driver the bill.

The driver pointed to a slot in the post next to him. “You put bills in there.”

Harold fed the dollar into the slot. A paper card popped out of the post. “How do I get my change?” he asked.

The driver handed him the paper card.

Harold knit his brow. “This is a quarter?”

“It’s good for 25 cents toward your next ride,” the driver explained.

“Oh.” It seemed like they were into him for a quarter now, but the driver looked impatient so Harold didn’t complain.  He put the card into his pocket with his two real quarters. The bus jolted ahead. He fell into an empty seat.

Riders pulled the overhead cord when they wanted the bus to stop. Harold wanted Lexington Avenue, but didn’t know what stop preceded it. Nervous, he pulled the cord too soon. It wasn’t the right stop, but everyone saw him pull the cord. He got off and walked the extra blocks.

He climbed the steps of the porch and put his finger on the doorbell. He didn’t push the button.

This was a mistake. Their first thoughts would be to take him back. Sharon wouldn’t see her father; she’d see an escapee. It would be harder to sneak out again.

Why did he even come here?

Through the front window Harold noticed movement.  Leaning against the window frame, he peered in.

Joey sat on the carpet, playing with his trucks in the sunshine. Harold leaned and grinned as the boy tottered around on the floor, lost in his own imagination.

The toddler looked up, finding the face in the window. Harold smiled and waved. Joey waved back.

“I love you, Joey,” Harold mouthed.

Joey’s eyes lit up. “I love you, Grampa!”

Joey jumped up and ran deeper into the house, yelling to his parents that Grampa was here. Harold shuffled down the steps and hurried away. Fortunately, nobody believed children or old people.

Entering the bus, Harold slid his paper quarter into the slot. He dropped his two real quarters into the well. As they clinked onto other quarters, he found a seat.

It was satisfying to hear the clink of real quarters, and to get rid of the fake quarter they’d saddled him with. He had no more money, but at least nobody was into him for 25 cents anymore. He’d sneak back into his room with everything square, confident he’d gotten his money’s worth from the trip.