elixir

2018-08-19 13:22 short-story flash-fiction fiction elixir Benjamin Brood

The Last Day

The sounds of his footsteps, the dampened squelch of his sneakers, were the only human things left in the empty halls. The faint, ignorable hum of central air was ever-present. He imagined miles of conduits, venting, pipes, wires and other building guts behind the walls and floors, persistent, dedicated and slowly corroding. It must've cost a fortune.

Today was the last day for the mall. It was the last day too, for CellPoint, the store he'd worked at for almost a year. It wasn't a very good job, but it was a job, and it was easy, and the owner never hassled him as long as he sold cell phone cases. He was pretty good at it, when people came in anyway. He wondered if anybody would come in today, he doubted it.

CellPoint was the last store on the last day.

The morning sunlight warmed the windows of closed stores, the brown paper colored like milky coffee. These used to be Sears, KMart, Victoria's Secret, Spencer's, JCPenny, FiNAILly, Candylicious, dozens of others, they closed one by one. Not just the big stores, but all the little ones that fed off the overflow of people, like little fish who attached themselves to the behemoths — once they went away it was only a matter of time until the little fish died off.

The store opposite CellPoint, across the wide, beige corridor with a floor decorated with ugly, pastel triangular patterns, was there maybe six months. It sold junk from auctions and vinyl records, it was called Rainbow Junction. The guy who owned it was always stoned. He had plans and ideas, he would talk for hours at first, walking over to CellPoint on a pretense to borrow something. He'd keep saying, "Great talking to you, have to get back if there's a rush", then continue talking and talking. But customers never came in. He stopped visiting that much, probably realizing the mall was doomed and his business was a failure. The day Rainbow Junction closed, movers came to take away the inventory, and the owner seemed a foot shorter and his eyes were swimming in black circles. The mall shrinks you, he thought, a big place like this, you can't get your head around how big it used to be.

He wondered what it used to be like. It used to be a town inside a town, with identities on a shelf, a food court for flavors of some bland alien world, reliable and free of surprises. He didn't know if he would miss it. It was designed that way on purpose. Tomorrow he'd be out of work and he figured he'd just stay home like everybody else.

2018-08-04 15:34 short-story elixir fiction Benjamin Brood

Doghouse

There was a man in the doghouse, in his doghouse.

It was a rainy morning, the lawn and shrubs in the backyard were a sort of drenched, satisfying green that only happens at the very height of summer. As he woke up, poured his coffee, and looked out the sliding glass door, he noticed a man climbing out of the doghouse, standing, stretching.

He took another sip of coffee and looked harder. Why was there a man in his doghouse? It was his doghouse, but it was built by the previous owner, he did not, in fact, own a dog. He'd always intended to dismantle the thing, but on several occasions when he was really determined to do it, he went back there with hammer in hand and then was reminded how insidiously solid it was, constructed to last — it would be hard to take down. It was large, and it had been for a large dog.

The man continued stretching for a few moments then sat back down on the edge of the entrance, his back slumped, and casually scratched his face which was covered with a few days of beard. The man seemed to be staring at nothing in particular.

After placing his coffee down he opened the sliding glass door. It was a large yard, long, with trees behind the property. He had to walk through the wet grass in his slippers before he could be close enough to the man to be heard.

"Excuse me," he said.

The man looked up, without any reaction, stopped his scratching. The man said nothing.

"Excuse me, you can't be here, this is private property," he said.

The man still said nothing, but stared at him, blinking.

"Do you understand? Do you need help? You can't stay here," he tried strengthening his tone. The man did and said nothing. "Why are you in my doghouse? Do you think you're a dog?" he said, becoming frustrated.

The man looked suddenly offended. "Of course I'm not a dog," the man said.

"Well good then, fine. You have to leave. If you don't leave, I'll call the police," he said.

The man shrugged, averting his eyes, looking back towards something indistinct. "Maybe you should," the man said.

He didn't know what to say. Why was the man being so difficult? He didn't appear like he was violent, or ill — simply that he didn't care. He stood there for a moment, jaw hanging open, then turned and went back into the house. He thought for a moment, drank some of his coffee. "I guess I have to call the police," he said to himself.

He dialed the local police number instead of 911. It wasn't an emergency, not a life threatening emergency anyway. He looked out the window as he dialed. The man was just sitting there. Someone at the police station picked up.

"Hello? I'd like to report a trespasser. A man, a man is sitting in my doghouse," he said.

"I see. A man is sitting in your doghouse," the voice said.

"Yes. And he won't leave," he said.

"Alright. And you want him to leave?" the voice said.

"Yes, yes of course I want him to leave," he said.

"I see. And may I ask sir, do you, at this time, own a dog?" the voice inquired.

"What?" he was becoming flustered.

"Just getting a better idea of the situation sir. Do you have a dog?" the voice said.

"I… Why, no, no, I don't have a dog. The man, he's sitting in my doghouse," he said, believing it might help if he restated the facts.

"I understand that, as you've said sir. But you don't have a dog? Why do you have a doghouse?" the voice said.

"I don't know, it was here when I bought the house. The previous owner must've had a dog," he said.

"Well, you know, these days, it's very hard to find a place, a good place to live I mean," the voice stated.

"Is it? I mean… so what?" he didn't know how to make the officer, or whoever was on the other end, understand that the man was sitting in his doghouse. "I mean — the man — he's in my doghouse!"

"And yet, you don't have a dog. It sounds like you don't even want a dog. The doghouse has been empty, is that correct? And now the man is in your doghouse. You see what I'm getting at here?" the voice said evenly.

"No! I absolutely don't see. I absolutely don't understand. You need to come get this man out of my doghouse — my doghouse!" he was becoming irate, these events were intolerable.

"Calm down sir. I think you need to calm down. Think about the man and the fact the doghouse was empty. Certainly there's some agreement that the doghouse wasn't being used or ever intended to be used. Why didn't you remove the doghouse? That would be the first thing I would think, honestly, if you were to ask me about it beforehand. But now the man is there? You see what I'm saying. The man, the man is in the doghouse. Now what I'd like you to do…" the voice said.

"To do.. you want me to do…" he said, stupefied.

The voice continued, "…is to put down the phone and just get back to your normal routine. Everything will be fine. Keep an eye on the man, in your doghouse, for any unusual behavior, or signs of sickness. If that's the case, then by all means call us back. But for the moment, the man is in your doghouse. Do I make myself clear?"

"I don't…" he said, trying to think about what was being said.

"Have I made myself clear? Yes, I think I have. Well, I'm glad we could resolve the issue. Have a good day sir. Goodbye," the voice said. Then he heard a click and dial tone, the voice had hung up. He put the handset back into the cradle.

He stared at the phone for some time. It didn't make any sense, did it? I mean the officer is right, he thought, that the doghouse was empty and I have no dog. Is this the way things are dealt with these days? When was the last time I ever called the police? The more he thought about it all, the more unsure he was about the situation and his reaction. He sat at his table and drank his coffee and stared out the sliding glass door at the man in the doghouse. The man was scratching himself again, but otherwise not doing much of anything. I hope the man doesn't have fleas, he thought.

That afternoon he poured some milk into a large, round porcelain bowl and filled it with corn flakes. He walked out back across the lawn again to the doghouse where the man was sleeping. He quietly placed the bowl on the ground.

2018-07-04 19:20 science-fiction elixir Benjamin Brood

Why Wait

A prime location, Paris, 1920s.

Beautiful little place, New York City, 1955.

Lush and exciting Roman villa, 10 AD.

A thousand other properties, spread across thousands of years. These are the luxury time condos you won't be able to resist. You aren't just buying a vacation property, you're buying a culture. You're buying a statement of Mankind. You're buying an experience of not just history, but of humanity.

We won't lie to you, it costs a little more, but it's worth every penny.

Some of our clients have expressed concern about the usual upheavals, revolutions, and violent details of the period they want to invest in — because yes, this property is not only a rewarding lifestyle, but a fantastic investment to leave to your children. Don't worry, we've taken care of all the possible unfortunate wrinkles. You'll be able to kick back and enjoy that peasant revolt, the daily spectacle of the guillotine, the carpet bombings, the plagues — if that's what suits you.

It's up to you! Your safety, and the safety of your property is our first concern. Leave it to us! There are infinite universes, our patented history collapsing technology makes sure you're the center of existence. And completely tax deductible under the latest legislation!

Relax. Enjoy. History is yours — why wait any longer?

2018-06-22 19:45 short-story elixir Benjamin Brood

Egg

The plains were covered with bells which chimed at more or less the same time. Tied to each was a rope that was strung through a complex series of relays, taught, vibrating. Men, no more than skeletons, walked along these lines tasting the ropes, licking slowly, to ascertain their fitness. When the bells rang they scattered like frightened vermin. The sound echoed across a barren landscape of a thousand miles. With the impact of sound every grovel, ditch and pile of rock lost the thin coating of dust that had accrued. Standing here the system of ropes looks like a web, by an absent spider, who spun out of some obsessive desperation. From my pocket I take an egg, wrapped in golden foil, and carefully remove the skin — saving each irregularly sized shred to place back into the opposite pocket. Biting into the top of the egg I encounter the slightest resistance from a membranous sheath that must've served a purpose, I don't know what. The meat of it almost dissolved. Then the yolk, a subtler, velvety texture mixed with this, became dominant. The waning of the yolk soon became the beginning, as if the last bite was the first bite. The start is the end, the end is the start I think.

2018-06-16 15:00 fiction science-fiction elixir Benjamin Brood

Those Of Us Who Remain

There were more than sixty of us in the ship when it launched. We were told exactly how long the trip would take. Fourteen months. Why couldn't we all be put to sleep, I wondered. I asked this, why couldn't we be put to sleep. They said it was a much more valuable experience if we were awake and together for the fourteen months. I think they just didn't know how, they would never admit this, that they never knew how to do it.

We started playing Airlock only a couple months into the trip. The game was simple. At the beginning of the day-cycle, the Airlock override code was changed by the computer to a two letter designation. Then the computer picked someone to go into the Airlock. The ejection countdown would begin — the person had five minutes to enter the override code and stop themselves from being sucked into space.

There were 650 permutations.

There was about enough time to enter them all if you were good with the keypad, and if you were methodical about the sequence. If you weren't, if you skipped a combination that might have been the override code, well, that's what made the game fun. Fairly soon we grew a little bored of this — of having the computer choose who went into the Airlock. There were certain individuals who were annoying, or who regularly forgot or disobeyed The Rules Of The Ship — so we put them into Airlock. Honestly, I have to admit around that time, let's say that we added a lot of Rules as we saw fit. It became impossible to know all the Rules really. But then this too grew tiresome when there were fewer of us. After all, those of us that remained had become very, very good at entering the combinations into the keypad.

One day a couple of us, OK, maybe it was only me, yes, I think it was only me, changed the override code to three places. That's 15,600 permutations. There's no way to enter them all in the time given, and even if you could, you'd probably fuck some of it up, meaning there's still a chance you'd go WHOOOSH right out into space. Sometimes people would get lucky. A lot of times they didn't though. The game was more fun this way, we agreed, much more fun. Who would win? Who would be the last one? It consumed us.

The few of us who were left drew up an ordered list, and one by one we went in and bit by bit the list dwindled. Until yesterday there were two of us left. And I saw the panic on his face, my fellow traveler, as he hammered away at the keypad, sweating and grimacing as the countdown continued unabated, closer and closer to the end — then WHOOOSH. And that was it, I was the winner, I was the last.

Now I find it less satisfying than I'd imagined. The long journey ahead, I know how boring it will be. I've decided to keep playing. Really winning, I mean winning BIG, is making it the whole way. This morning I changed the override code to four places — 358,800 permutations. As I stand in front of the Airlock I'm cracking my knuckles and stretching. I will remain.

2018-06-04 16:21 elixir short-story Benjamin Brood

Stainless Steel Hotel

Being invited to the hotel was an honor. Most people were sent right to the Joy Camps, so being invited was something special, let me tell you. The first thing you notice about the stainless steel hotel is the amazing artwork hanging in the lobby. Some of the most famous names. You might not, no, you certainly will not recognize the work. They were all created here, so here is where they must stay. You are impressed by the size and scale of the hotel. The murmur of intelligent conversation at the hotel bar. The lushness of detail, nothing has been taken for granted. The library is full of books never released, forbidden, but brilliant. The valet, crisp, proper, takes your luggage into the elevator and up to the room. There is no need to tip, everything has been taken care of. You find the room comfortable, with a nice view of the ocean and a small balcony amenable to restorative breezes. You unpack your suitcases, being tidy, placing clothes into dresser drawers. The noise you hear, it starts slowly, is of restrained weeping in the next room. It soon passes. You sit down at the desk to write a letter you understand will never be delivered. You write "Being invited to the hotel is an honor…". Tonight, the card on the desk states, the hotel will be serving roast beef before the torture begins.