flash-fiction

2018-09-23 19:47 fiction flash-fiction science-fiction Benjamin Brood

The Sun Is Gone

When did the sun go away. One morning it didn't rise. This is impossible, the smartest of us said, without it we wouldn't exist. Something must be blocking it, the second smartest of us said. This is a theory we agreed with, true, something must be blocking the sun. What if it was stolen? I suggested. Everyone laughed. Ridiculous, to steal a sun. I flushed in embarrassment. I went back to my duties as they discussed the situation. We must preserve resources, we must create a way to unblock the sun, we must create a second smaller sun, we must be ready to act. There were many suggestions, all of them vigorous. But the sun is gone, I wanted to say. Look for clues. Maybe there's a trail. Can you drag away a sun without leaving a little something behind? It's like a jelly, I thought. It began to get cold. The sun is missing they said, we can tell because it's getting so cold. Finally, I thought, now we're getting somewhere. They discussed what to do next, the talking became tense. We should go, several of them said. I didn't know how they planned to do that, I mean why were we here in the first place? Why hadn't we already left? The temperature continued to drop. There is no sun, I reminded them. Yes, yes, they said, we know this, this is what we are discussing. I returned to my tasks.

2018-09-18 13:37 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Assignment

He took the pack of cigarettes out of his front shirt pocket. He habitually tapped twice on the pack then deftly extracted a single cigarette. He didn't offer me one.

"Terrible for you," he said, lighting it, "but I can't seem to give them up." He coughed once, sharply to punctuate the statement. "What do we have today to look at?"

I pulled the book out of my bag, the slips of paper used as page markers undulated like multicolored cilia. I placed it on the table and flipped it open at the first marker. There was a black and white picture of a middle-aged man, heavy set, unshaven, bad skin, with an exhausted, mean look in his eyes.

"This the guy?" he asked, pausing on the cigarette long enough to look at the photograph.

"Yeah," I said. Of course it was him.

"When we're done he'll have no idea who he used to be," he said, reminding me of the obvious.

"Which world?" I asked.

"Does it matter? I mean do you care? This guy special?" he puffed.

"No, I don't care," I said.

"Don't worry, it'll be far away, and the assignment will be long and not very much fun," he grinned, he liked his work.

"Good," I said.

"OK, what next?" he asked.

2018-09-17 14:29 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Hunting

Hunters come and go from The Lodge. The season is busy, the game is rich and plentiful. Hunting permits are prized, being traded for treasures or experiences. Nothing is worth more than hunting. The Lodge has an air of muted festivity. It's an important time, so demonstrating brashness or being jarring or loud could alter the mood, leading to abrasive reactions — the fabric of intonations could be polluted, the necessary temporal portals unintentionally dispersed. In the woods you must be careful, a circle should be circumnavigated. Lazy wanderings are discouraged. Of course wearing an emblem, patch or cloak with the correct combination of symbols can prevent needless accidents. The season will be short this year, and the hunters are eager, you must go carefully, tread lightly if you go into the mountains. Respect the hunters' cairns placed skillfully to entice sprites and spyryjyon. Ignore the hunters' singing and dancing in open fields, they are not always successful and the distractions of their prey can overwhelm them. The Lodge will be shrouded in mist, this is normal and to be expected.

2018-09-09 17:18 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

A Poetic Tether

We don't know where it came from, we can't imagine where it goes. Descriptions of it will be inadequate. However, to glean what it might be, we need to attempt an approximation. No photography, digital or otherwise, is possible. When our team gathered, we sat around it, cross-legged, mildly awkward and anticipatory. We didn't know what we waited for. We didn't know much, but at the time it seemed to make sense. It had grown from the soil. It had coalesced. It had formed from the hopes and dreams, or it had congealed from fears and nightmares. We would find out, one way or another, our duty was exploration. We carried objects with us that were personally and socially important. A tennis racket. A crucifix. A cookbook. An attractive handbag. A new toothbrush. An out-of-date train schedule. Things like this, objects that would tether us. This would be a difficult task, we told ourselves, but the demand was obligatory. As our physical discomfort grew, so did our certainty, and then there was poetry.

2018-08-30 12:20 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Relics

She was in the settlement again. The burned smell and the tinders, the stone rubble and the craters. She came here because sometimes she found things, little treasures or maybe they were relics, she thought. It wasn't safe here, she was told. You'd get eaten up they said. You'd catch the melting they said. She didn't believe any of it and she'd been doing it for quite a while now, hunting, she said. But it wasn't hunting for physical sustenance, it was for temporal strength. It was reconnaissance through history. Everyone else preferred to believe the settlement never existed. Not her. She required, she believed, it existed for her no matter what. Sometimes she would have help, a friend or an acquaintance, interested in what was there, and what she might find. She was good at that. But the help never lasted very long, not more than a couple of trips anyway. They didn't see what she saw. It was peaceful, she thought. It was horrible, they thought. Ruins they said. She'd dig out an old metalrind, a geerwerk, a limbshank, a millmind, a glassgee, a snaketree, from their burials in the great rubble, lovingly extracting them. She'd bring these things back and refurbish them, not entirely sure what they were once used for, or how they were supposed to work, still she patched them together as best she could, cleaning them, and occasionally combining them if their union felt warranted to her. They had their own wants and needs, these relics, and she was hesitant to impose.

Today she had a special feeling. There was a treasure out here for her, she could tell. It was a shimmer, a glint, that she could feel, she just knew. But she didn't tempt the sensation, she didn't rush it. And she went about her normal routine, jumping from one pile to the next, lifting the corner here and there peeking into crevices of the past. Then she could hear it, a trilling. And raising one more slab, there it was. It had a long thin handle with slats or steps and ended in a curving, multi-colored section. There were wires on it going from end to end. And she ran her hands across the wires and the sounds made sense to her, like she'd heard them before.

2018-08-26 22:52 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

The Anonymity Museum

The Museum contained only anonymity — anonymous paintings, anonymous sculpture, anonymous photographs. The work was also entirely untitled. Placed next to each exhibit was a small, white placard, tidy with sans-serif lettering that said only the following: "Untitled. By Anonymous. Date unknown."

Patrons strolled through the Museum, with headphones over their ears, listening to a recorded tour, delivered by a calm, professional voice, saying things like:

Little is known about this period of the artists life, perhaps it was one of great strife and suffering, as the imagery suggests. And while we can't be certain where or when it was created, this magnificent example certainly must be considered the core of his, or her, or its, oeuvre.

Occasionally new work arrived at the Museum. These were delivered through the back — invariably wrapped in plain paper, fastened with twine, with an attached card that stated the work was "untitled" and so on. These new works were accepted by the Museum staff, entered into the registry and prepared for display. Scholars arrived to closely study the artwork. Their results were often presented at conferences in an awkwardly redundant academic flourish.

One day the Museum began receiving a newer style of work — still anonymous and untitled, but instead of paintings, sculpture, photographs, the work was consistently a 12" by 12" card describing what was meant to be evoked.

"Imagine a lake with a shadowy figure."

"A large round ball made of lint and wood shavings."

"A pair of hairy, human feet."

"A swirling color field that produces nausea."

"Portraits of ants in skirts."

Membership to the Museum increased, it was a new age of expression, critics said.

2018-08-23 13:01 fiction flash-fiction elixir Benjamin Brood

The Konvict

The Kommandant's orders were clear — deliver the Konvict to the place of his sentencing. The Konvict is allowed five measures of reflection. The Konvict is allowed three consecutive logical statements. The Konvict is allowed a private moment of pleasure. They didn't need to pull or push the Konvict, he quite amiably traveled with them. If asked, the Kommandant would honestly say the Konvict was solely responsible for keeping the morale up in the guards during those particularly trying landscapes. The Konvict was, for all intents and purposes, one of the men. The bond of that brotherhood was resolute. As they came closer to their destination, the final moments for the Konvict, the guards were plagued by a sense of disbelief. How could they throw their brother into that chasm? How could they watch him burn away into nothingness? There was a muttering. The Kommandant drove them on, towards the top of the mountain. The Konvict cheerily drew the guards along with him. The Kommandant marveled at the Konvict's composure in the face of certain death. It was nothing less than inspirational. When they reached the precipice, the strong vapors from the burning crater almost overwhelmed them, and the Kommandant, with encouragement from the Konvict, stood tall and certain. He read out the final sentence in the official manner. Then the guards grabbed the Kommandant and threw him over the edge.

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.

2018-08-11 10:00 fiction short-story flash-fiction science-fiction

Cyclopaedia: An Empty Kit

Leaving now would mean a difficult journey. Maybe deadly. It would be getting colder soon. As he went north he might become snow bound. There were little cabins along the way, at least until he deviated from the known routes and went through that endless area of forest. Regardless, if any kind of storm hit when he was in transit, he'd be in big trouble. And if a storm hit after he'd arrived in the village, he'd be stuck there, maybe for the entire winter. But, he told himself, he wouldn't have to stay, just long enough to get what he needed. He didn't have to worry about approval from the Cyclopaedia, someone had taken care of all of that, the Garde of course. He could come and go as he wanted. Well, not as he wanted. As he needed. He knew who he worked for, in essence--he needed to bring back another batch of Vermilion, so it looked like no matter how he felt about weather, he was going.

There were logistical problems. The main train line would stop in a town farther south from where it normally terminated during the warmer months. Then he'd get a seat in an old fashioned wagon, in the back, packed with sheep probably. At the top of the arc he'd set off on foot. Supplies were an issue since he'd need more in the cold. He'd have to carry more of everything. He wasn't the most adept back-woodsman, although he'd gone through all the same courses and apprenticeships other Compilers went through. The training was more rigorous for others depending on their interests and future duties. Nobody had ever assumed he was an explorer, his talents were clearly elsewhere. But he knew enough, which the more experienced Compilers might tell him was just enough to get into trouble.

He had to consider getting the shipment of Vermilion back. Since it was potent it wasn't terribly voluminous. But this would be the last time he could do it on foot, if he wanted to increase the return in stages. Next time he'd need to expand the operation to a team. And expanding the operation to a team meant confiding in people, which was against his nature. He liked the simplicity of it being only himself, responsible for success or failure. If it were an operation then there would be conflict, no doubt. And there would be deviation of interests, there would be inequity. He despised this kind of conflict. But it would have to be done. Maybe Kjetil would join him? After all, he was already heavily dosing. And he was an experienced traveler, although the stories he'd heard about the survivors of his ship the Ukkonen were disturbing.

He would have to convince the woman in the village to increase their output. What was her name? Miika, he thought, it was Miika. He would have to convince her as well, eventually, to show him how to make Vermilion properly. Maybe the specifics weren't just local to the village. Maybe they could set up operations elsewhere in the region. It was difficult to believe the grubs could only exist by the village. However, what if there was some unknown, rare element in the soil they live in, which only exists in that exact area? These could be problems. Yet he had necessary expertise available to him--he needed to weed out the trusted members of the Hallen, to get them involved, and he also needed to hide from them the fact that the Garde, and by extension the Sovereigns, were involved. No--directing the endeavor. More than involved.

It was useless getting paralyzed by the complexities. He put his Compilers' kit onto his desk, its parts unpacked and arranged neatly. He looked at the components and wondered what he could replace. All of it, or nothing. He wouldn't be doing any Compiling this trip, that's for sure, and unlike the previous journeys, where he'd had to make copious notes and drawings of that damned wasp, this time he wouldn't need to cover his activities explicitly. He should still have the kit itself, the case, it was an identifier, it was solid evidence he was a Compiler. It is useful to be seen as a Compiler while traveling, the kit was unmistakable, well known. And then he'd fill the kit with Vermilion on the way back--it would hold enough of the dust to cover three or four times the number of users that he had now. He would need to figure out something else in the future of course, but for the moment this would do. He took the kit's supplies, the pencils and paints, the cards and inks, the tiny glass vials and the tinctures for in-the-field experiments, he put them away into his cabinet. He took the portable copy of the index, with its tiny print, its impossibly thin paper, and he put it in his desk. He had another index now, he wouldn't need it.

The case was now disturbingly light. It gave him a chill because this was so abnormal. The weight of a kit was a precise and well known sensation to all Compilers. It demonstrated their security, it was a physical measurement of their Oath. Now it was an illusion, an empty kit was just an emblem, without substance, describing his transgressions from that Oath perfectly--an exciting and obscene rebellion from a life's dedication. It was both an exhilarating and sickening sensation.

When he dosed that morning he thought about Fox. Where did he end, where did Hedvin begin. He hadn't devoted much time to this previously, he'd simply accepted the animal that he'd chosen that first time, with Miika, he'd picked up the Fox mask. But why. At first he'd believed this was some arbitrary aesthetic choice. But as the months wore on, he would think of it, and he would think of Snake. If Vermilion permitted unified thought, concentrated mental acuity, revealing the universal index, how could it accomplish this--there had to be a center, there had to be a construct. Language itself couldn't be sufficient. The underpinnings of language, the unsaid webbing of language, maybe. And what was this? Was it Fox and Snake? Those backwards villagers, dosing themselves with Vermilion for perhaps a thousand years, still held onto their totems and their legends, living a shared story, allowing themselves to be representatives of a simplistic epic. Or even becoming a complete epitome--he'd seen them slip into transformative fugues in front of the fire, there were ceremonies, there was story telling, there were masks--it went deeper than the well known rituals, there was a conductivity that was all Vermilion. Grubs and soil, stories and fireside theater.

When he collected all of his gear he made sure he informed the Cyclopaedia of a false destination. He knew the Garde and the Inspectors would examine these transactions. They would compare them with previous entries. The logs of one's movements were a ledger of one's self, what one was interested in, what one intended, what one avoided. And so, he lied whenever possible. He'd always done this. He was confident that nobody knew where he was going. Of course this meant that if there was a storm, or another disaster happened, if he slipped from a rocky ledge, if he was stung by one of the very same goddamned wasps and died gasping for breath, there was no chance of anyone finding him. He would rot in a pile until mushrooms grew out of him. This was sobering.

His commitment wasn't incidental. What would he have done of his own free will if he wasn't roped into this contract with the Garde? Maybe the same thing. He believed he was an agent of change. He probably needed to sacrifice his well being to make this effective. He could change the Cyclopaedia. He could be the one to fulfill the promise of it, he thought for a quick moment, I could be the hero of the story.

When he was notified by a bell that a carriage had arrived for him, he hurriedly gathered his things, his bags, his empty kit, wondering if he'd ever see this miserable little apartment again. Fox knew winds could change, seasons were unstoppable.

2016-08-28 13:34 fiction short-story flash-fiction

Scanner, Mostly

I knew everything about him. When he woke up. How many steps he took. Where he went. When he ate, what he ate, how many calories. There were graphs for productivity, and overlays for social activity. What he watched, what he searched for (what he found), what he bought and what he was offered.

I was not looking for a specific point of information. For whatever reason only this one fascinated me. The purity there maybe, the perfectly mundane example.

The average life is demonstrably pitiful. We can measure this, we collect the metrics of misery. You probably don't like to think about it. That's why we do it. Well, we collect the evidence anyway. You must remain productive. Consider this as a mutually beneficial service.

There are graphs, of course many different kinds of graphs. One graph is for social alignment. There are four quadrants, each indicates some kind of sentiment drift. This one, the one I'm talking about, he was in the middle. I mean the dead center. This is like a statistical absolution. A degree of mathematical potency which lives in null, or at least zero, conceptually.

There is no obvious depth in the unremarkable. "Unremarkable-ness", as a quality, is something that most people do not concern themselves with, by its nature. Only with statistical analysis does this reveal impressive subtlety. Something artistic. Something remarkably unremarkable. A flatness that belies, that hints at some monstrous future extrusion or consequence.

I felt like I had to draw out the essence of this. There was a secret there, I believed. Nobody could be dead center. The only entities that could do this were mocks, tests, which were produced to create particular results uses to assess a series of environments and conditions.

I looked for that first -- was this a test? And was I supposed to notice it and adjust accordingly.

However, there would've been some signal or vector that gave this away, and a repetition. The point, however, was indeed organic.

One night I found myself outside a BoxMart watching. The parking lot was full, it was always full, people came and went. I saw them walk from the interior to the exterior, and visa versa. Each of them had purchased an item within range. Some of this was recommendation, some of it algorithmic anticipation, but none of it was haphazard. This is what we do.

I watched. Was that him? No, the car was flashy. Was that him? No, I didn't think so, the person had a demeanor, an affectation. I watched and watched. I couldn't have been wrong, the stream indicated this was where he would be.

Frustrated, I left, having waited longer than I should have. Perhaps I made an error, instead had made assumptions.

No, I was sure.

Retreat, rematch, geo-gather. The next several days were also misses. Each location, a coffee shop, a restaurant, a grocery store, revealed nothing to me. I did not see my subject. I doubled down on my data set.

Many of these places I'd already visited. Perhaps not regularly, but it was clear we crossed the same paths, were not dissimilar. This may have been the source for the maybe irrational belief that I would instantly recognize him.

In the end, I suppose I did.

The experiment handed to me was suddenly conclusive when, in a large branded specialty goods store, I turned a corner and stood before a counter behind which was a mirror.

And I did recognize him.

2016-07-21 10:00 fiction short-story flash-fiction science-fiction

Dead Reckoning

The exposure had to be just right. It was a world in a box. She tried to be careful, but accidentally strummed the attached wires which made an electrifying noise, at a frequency that gave her goosebumps. If she didn't get it right, she'd have wasted that week, the next station would have to start over. She packed up the results, tying it precisely, wrapping it above then below with the prescribed magnetic twist.

They would unwrap it. With care. But not sanctimoniously. After all, this was work. It was the responsibility of the next station to continue exposure.

They'd done this a long time. They kept it for the pilot. This was the tradition. Some felt more connected to the task than others. Regardless, it had to be done.

She packed it up. A particular feeling of distance after the fact. Everything she'd known or thought or seen was in that box, along with a thousand other generations. Together, like paint, mixed. This was them. Even after she was gone she knew she'd still be in there. Diluted, perhaps, but an element that added to the whole. Like her mother before her, and her mother before that.

They were traveling, their ship was the world, the world a ship they called Genetrix.

Each station had their responsibilities. It was in the charter. But each must record the journey, their particular impressions, the totality of their experiences, and twice a cycle pass that along to the pilot for proper reckoning. They'd leave the box at the archway, where the indicator, after a time, would change from a circle to a square. Then the next station would pick up the box.

Of course she wondered about the pilot. The first one, long ago, must be dead. If it'd been a person at all. There were some who supposed pilot was artificial. This made sense to her, but she would never say it out loud. Those kind of people try to be clever. The kind of people who say their ancestors were engineers. Some imagined the pilot as an old man, with a big white beard. That was ridiculous, she thought, to assume age or gender. But she kept quiet.

The wheelhouse was connected by a series of latices and storage modules. If you went up to the forests you could look back at it, in the distance, like it was following you. She would stare at it sometimes and daydream.

Once, it was said, the lights there flickered. She'd never seen anything like that.

The forests were quiet, you were only allowed up there on work calendar, but she enjoyed it. Some preferred to stay below. She couldn't really blame them, nobody was allowed to live up there anyway, and there was nobody to talk to. Work shifts happened in pairs, or singles. She chose a singles shift. She was sure it had already been built into her profile.

She was always exposing. She took it seriously. Dead reckoning, she'd read about that once.

To understand where you're going you need to know your direction and speed. Back on the home world there had been some animals who did that, who knew, instinctively where they were going, they knew automatically where to go. They were dead reckoning machines.

To do that you needed to be simple. You needed to reduce. Noise would get you lost. You needed to flush out the tangled bits and pieces. You needed to be effortless. In part, this was what the exposures were. They took the things that happened and compressed them. For storage. For later, so they could all be effortless and move instinctively across space. This is why the pilot had no contact with the rest of the ship. He would become polluted and confused.

This is what she believed anyway. She looked out, past the trees, the blackness of space felt impenetrable and the few lights illuminating the superstructure embedded in the darkness spread out into the distance. They felt temporary and small even though she'd seen them her entire life. A bird's cry, behind her, like those dots of light, a momentary navigation, determining their direction.