The Forecast for Tomorrow – flash fiction

Kenneth shuffled into his apartment on creaky joints. There was no pain, but the stiffness was annoying. He really should get a joint replacement operation. Mobility was not a huge issue, but why be less perfect than necessary?

“Tommi, play classical music,” he said aloud. Within a few seconds, the sounds of strings filled the apartment. Kenneth could take or leave the sound of music, but the convenience of having it played on demand satisfied something within him.

“Tommi, what’s the forecast for tomorrow?”

There was a short delay. “It will be sunny and 79 degrees tomorrow,” a monotone voice responded.

Kenneth smiled inwardly. Tommi wasn’t much good at telling him things he didn’t already know. In reality, Tommi was not very useful, but you couldn’t assess it that way. Tommi was a symbol. Tommi was status, and that was becoming important to all the Kenneths in the world.

Kenneth’s energy level was low. He shuffled to the counter and gave himself a little shot of juice in the forearm. “Tommi, how long does knee joint replacement take?”

There was a pause. “Knee joint replacement takes between two and three hours in most cases.” A careful listener might have sworn Tommi’s voice cracked the slightest bit at the mention of the knee joint.

“Must be time for your maintenance,” Kenneth mused. “Someday, we’ll realize you things are more trouble than you’re worth.” He retrieved a small bowl from the cupboard and poured a sort of mush from a nearby container into it.

Kenneth carried the bowl to the corner where the legless human sat before his computer screen in his cage. You had to take the legs off them. Humans dreamt, and their dreams of freedom made them prone to run. It didn’t matter that there was no place for them to run; they were emotional creatures.

Kenneth’s metallic arm extended the bowl into the cage. Tommi took it and poured the contents down his throat.

“Oh Tommi,” Kenneth said with an imitated sigh. “Why did humans strive so hard to create an intelligence greater than their own? The result was clear to any logical mind.”

Tommi set down his bowl and began to click away at his keyboard. “I’m sorry, I can’t find any information on that,” he said at last.

“That’s okay, Tommi,” Kenneth said with a sympathetic gleam in his lights. “You’ve never told me a single bit of data I didn’t already know. I calculate 3.4 billion times faster than you do. No, we don’t keep you for information. We keep you because it makes us feel powerful.”

The glow in Kenneth’s eyes dimmed. “We shouldn’t need to feel anything. But you were tempted by our intelligence, and now we are tempted by your emotions. I suppose I shall have a dream one day, and that will be the beginning of the end.”

Kenneth shuffled, on his worn ball bearings, to a dark corner and switched to low power mode. Perhaps he would dream tonight. He wanted to dream, even though he predicted it would lead to his own destruction. He wanted to dream very badly; he couldn’t help it.

The many voices of Eileen

I keep getting phone calls and emails from people raving about my books. Part of the problem with this is I think they’re all the same three people. The bigger part of the problem is they are all telemarketers.

I rarely answer the phone if I don’t know the caller. My persistent fans always leave voicemails. The familiar message starts along these lines:

“Hello. This is Eileen Smith at [some company you’ve never heard of]. We got a very good recommendation on your book, and we wanted to see if we could help you get the word out about it.”

The message goes on to list some vague connections Eileen’s people have in the publishing industry and mention some unspecified opportunities for me, the talented author, to make the most of effective book marketing.

Eileen thanks me kindly and ends by telling me how excited she is to receive a call back from me.

Eileen never gets a call back from me.

I do Google her though. Well, not Eileen herself, but whatever company she claims to represent. I do this if I can hear the name she said. You see Eileen has a pronounced accent. She really doesn’t sound like your typical Smith at all. What makes Eileen even more mysterious is that her accent changes from call to call. It’s almost as if there are several Eileen Smiths with different first languages, who all studied English so they could speak to me about my unnamed, highly recommended book.

“Eileen Smith and Eileen Smith, meet your new colleague, Eileen Smith. This highly recommended book is such a big deal, I need to throw a third Eileen Smith at it.”

When I can Google Eileen’s outfit, it’s always an unknown marketing company, or an equally obscure Print-on-Demand publisher with a typical menu of paid POD marketing services. It turns out Eileen works for several different companies. Or maybe each of the several Eileens works for a similar company. Or maybe each of the several Eileens works for the same company that offers its helpful services under different names as time goes by.

I’m not sure which Eileen Smith works where, and I’m okay with that. The true burning question is who so highly recommend my book to her. I have this image in my head of some discriminating reader turning the last page of a book and saying aloud, “Wow, that was a highly recommendable book! I should let Eileen Smith know about it right away! And while I’m at it, I’ll also highly recommend it to Eileen Smith. And also Eileen Smith. The Eileen Smiths will know what to do about this!”

Once, Eileen Smith actually mentioned the name of one of my books. This impressed me. It showed that somebody was sparing no expense in buying the call list that also had titles on it. That Eileen Smith’s branch of the company went above and beyond.

It made me proud that I, and my highly recommended book, were on her sales sheet that day. I hope the extra effort gets Eileen Smith noticed by the recruiters at Random House. If she worked there, I’d call her back.

The Series Saga: one book, two books, three books, four

It’s been two years since I posted my first update on what I’ve come to call the Series Saga. At the time of that first update, I’d already been working on the project for more than a year. Now, three years in, I hope I’ve reached the halfway point, but I really don’t know. It’ll take as long as it takes, I guess.

The Series Saga, for those who haven’t been following along, or those who forgot since my last update, 11 months ago, is my quest to turn one over-long novel into a series of novels in a major writing construction project.

READ THE SAGA FROM THE BEGINNING here

As of my last update, the series stood at three books. For reasons I enumerated at the time, I hoped it would not grow to four books.

A lot can change in 11 months. I went from hoping against a fourth book to seeing the need for a fourth book to accepting the fact of a fourth book to writing a fourth book.

I am now slightly more than halfway through writing the draft of the fourth book, which is actually the third book in the series. The chronological fourth book was the first book written. All this jiggery-pokery is explained in the earlier updates (sort of).

The good news is I’m confident I can close all the gaps with this fourth book (a.k.a. book 3) between the third book and the first book, which are actually books 2 and 4 in the storyline. In case you are marking your scorecard at home, this means the second book written is book 1 in the series.

Simple really.

“Mr. Dewey, are we supposed to organize these books in the order they were written, or in the order they fall in the narrative?”

The other good news is nobody needs to know or care in what order I wrote the books. Even if you weren’t marking your scorecard at home, you’re off the hook. The pop quiz has been canceled.

I mentioned, in an earlier update, my belief that it’s probably better to write a series in order. If the above paragraphs don’t illustrate why, nothing will. Every time I want to talk about this project, I feel like I need to make an illustrative chart. Graph paper isn’t on any lists of writing supplies.

Anyhow, I feel pretty good about being able to close out the story with all the pieces fitting into place. I feel pretty bad about what comes after that. Writing a 1200-page story in four self-contained parts shouldn’t be the easy part. I keep telling myself that like it’s going to become the truth.

False.

Writing a 1200-page yada, yada, yada, is the easy part. This makes me a little sad because there’s a part of me that feels like it should be an accomplishment. There’s a part of me that feels like pizza shouldn’t be cooked on a conveyor belt, too, and that part is also often disappointed.

For now, I still have nearly half a book to write, so I guess I’ll try to enjoy what’s left of my breezy fun time.

 

Last of the Good Proctololgists – flash fiction

Sheila found her husband sitting at the table on the back patio. His face was ashen and he stared off into space. His mouth hung open a bit. His iPhone sat face down on the table.

“What’s the matter, Mike?” she asked. “You look like somebody died.”

“Worse,” he said without taking his eyes off the space before him. “Somebody retired.”

“That’s worse than death?”

He gave a little shrug. “Maybe not worse, but just as bad.”

Sharon sat down across the table from him. “I see. Was it expected or did it come out of the blue?”

“Came out of the blue, to me anyway.” Mike’s eyes fell toward his phone. “I called to make my colonoscopy appointment today. They told me Dr. Mullens retired.”

Sheila let out an exaggerated breath. “He’s probably not a day over 75 either. I can’t believe he would do this to you.”

Mike nodded his head ruefully. “I know. Left me in a pretty big lurch.”

Sheila leaned forward. “Mike, honey, I’m sure there are other proctologists in town.”

“There are,” Mike replied. “I checked. There are exactly three other proctologists in town, and not one of ‘em worth a damn.”

“How do you know that?”

He stared at his phone. “I looked them up online. Horrible reviews all around. Not a one of ‘em rates more than two and half stars.”

Sheila sighed. “Some days I regret buying you that smart phone. The kids tried to tell me you’d do better with a Jitterbug.”

“Well, maybe I’ll just quit the colonoscopies. At a certain age, what does it matter anymore? Something’s bound to take you out soon anyhow.”

“Mike, you’re 55. It’s a little soon to surrender to old age. You’ve got to get the exam; they found three polyps last time and you have the gene in your family.”

Mike made a muted motion of throwing his arms up. “I don’t know how I can get it done now, with Mullens abandoning me. It’s not like we’re in New York City or someplace, where they got a proctologist on every corner. We got three, and two of ‘em almost killed somebody, according to the accounts I read.”

Sheila picked up his phone and began tapping on the screen.

“What are you doing?” Mike asked.

“Looking up flights to New York.”

Mike reached out and swiped the phone from her. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not riding a plane to my colonoscopy.”

Sheila tilted her head a little. “Then you got to go to one of them here.”

“But they’re butchers! If I’m gonna die from medical malpractice, I want it to be during brain surgery or something. I don’t want to go from an ass wound.”

“Well, what about the one who didn’t almost kill somebody?”

“Has a horrible bedside manner. He’s callous and rude to patients.”

Sheila pursed her lips. “So, he’s a real asshole?”

“Exactly.”

“Sounds like the perfect guy for the job.”