flash-fiction

2018-11-12 21:27 fiction flash-fiction science-fiction Benjamin Brood

Across The Field

When the boy got to the edge of the field he could see the outlines of the power stalks against dusk, and the thousands of small green lights spread out far in front of him, cast like a net. An evening breeze made them moan slightly, as the fibrous tension adjusted their sway to maximize the kinetics.

He wasn't supposed to be in the field. If he got caught it would cost him six months social credit, he should care more about his credit, they said.

He stepped down off the road, stumbling over an exposed root. The nearest stalk reacted slightly to the energy, sending a wave of micro-movements rippling across the field, and creating a delicate sound of descending frequency like water drops from a shut faucet. Once he was far enough in, the loose canopy would hide him from the road.

On the other side of the field was the quarry, and he knew there was a hole in the fence because this wasn't the first time he'd done this. As it became darker he turned on his headlamp, the dim red beam delineating the gently swaying stalks around him. It reminded him of the new Reel. He guessed it was easier for them to make it like that, only build as much environment as you could see in low light. Sometimes he wondered if reality was like this too.

He came to the fence suddenly, it rose out of the darkness, startling him. He would have to navigate along the edge of it until he found the hole. Left or right? He guessed left, knowing he might have to backtrack. By now Bug would be waiting for him on the other side, in the quarry. Everyone had always called him Bug because of the ocular slots, some kind of genetic condition. Bug was a few years older than himself. Bug had bought the last few Reels from him. He'd promised to buy more, and this one was good, something special. He'd continue in this direction another minute or two. When he didn't find the hole in the fence he swore and then turned around.

That's when he saw lights from the direction of the quarry. A dozen of them? White lights moving quickly. He abruptly turned off his headlamp. He heard shouting. Bug was shouting, he believed. So, they'd gotten him.

He didn't know what to do, maybe running was a bad idea, they must have ways of seeing. He didn't move. But then he heard their little feet. He imagined them springing forward awkwardly like birds running. He had to move — he turned and bolted back into the field. Without the headlamp he careened into stalks. The impacts caused the whole array to shudder, echoing outwards across the field with enthusiastic clanging. From the road the net of indicator light must be undulating now, he thought.

He ran several more yards, bumped into another oscillating stalk, then paused, listening. He didn't hear anything other than stalks happy with energy. Maybe it was good he'd done this, he wondered, there wasn't much chance they'd find him now under this loud canopy, no matter how well they could see. He just had to make it over the road. The other side of the road was another zone, he knew, maybe they can't even follow me in there. He grabbed the nearest stalk and shook it as hard as he could for a moment. Then he ran straight as hard as he could.

2018-11-08 19:06 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Everything That Will Happen

The bottle was thrown overboard with apparent disregard. It may never be seen. It may never wash up. It could be swallowed by some leviathan. It could be smashed on the rocks. What was the message in the bottle? she asked. Everything that will happen, he said. What? Everything? she asked. Enough anyway, he said. That's a lot to fit on one piece of paper, she said. They could still see the top of the bottle intermittently as short, angry waves dodged back and forth, the bottle spinning in distress. But who will rescue us, the rescuers? she asked. Perhaps the bottle will float out into space, he said. Perhaps they will be sympathetic, he added. In three days the ship would arrive and they had no idea what they would find, the outpost was remote. For a while it looked like the bottle followed them. The wind chewed into their exposed faces as they watched it. The horizon was nothing but a gray line, unvariegated clouds filling the firmament. Then the bottle became more distant, turning its attentions to the curve of the Earth, to somewhere that might lay beyond this damp gray sky. Well there it goes, she said. There was nothing left to look at except the seascape, bubbling with a kind of natural eternity that both knew could easily become sorrow if you thought about it too hard. Coffee? he asked. Coffee, she said.

2018-11-05 21:11 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Mr Black

She believed at night that Mr Black crawled inside the bag. There was no other explanation.

She'd rented her rooms to lots of people over the years, so she'd seen some things. Nobody ever said boarding houses attracted the best and the brightest. When she inherited the house taking on boarders was an obvious way to make ends meet. And it wasn't all bad, she'd made some good friends, some were like family.

Everyone would sit after dinner around the radio, Mr Black too, listening to a show or Eisenhower or music or whatever. Mr Black always seemed to laugh at the wrong time, as if he was listening to something else entirely. That didn't bother her much though, she'd had some real oddballs in the house before. There had been one woman who began shrieking whenever there was an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, then would run to her room, sobbing. There was a man who brought his own plate and utensils down from his room every night for supper, and bring them right back immediately afterwards. She never understood how he got them so clean up there. So the irregular bit of laughter wasn't awful. And Mr Black wasn't a bad sort actually, maybe some of the other boarders thought he was aloof, so what. He'd been quiet but generally polite.

But then there was that night with the phone call. It was maybe an hour after radio time. The main phone rang. The one the boarders used, in the hallway. Usually she didn't bother with the phone so late. If it was important they could call back tomorrow. Civilized people didn't ring so late anyway. But she was down there, tidying, so she picked it up. The voice on the other end asked for Mr Black. It was a terrible voice, she thought, a woman's voice she supposed, but raspy. Strained. And there was a far away quality to it. In danger? She couldn't place the uneasiness of it. She told the woman she would get him, and who may I say is calling? She asked. "Mrs Black," the woman said. Oh my, she thought. When I agreed to rent the room I asked Mr Black if he was married and he said no. And he wore no wedding ring. She told the woman to hold on, she would get him. Normally she didn't disturb tenants this late, but she'd make an exception. They must be divorced, she thought.

At the top of the stairs she knocked on the door to Mr Black's room. Silence. No answer. She kept track of who came and went. After listening to the radio Mr Black did go up to his room. He didn't leave the house. She would know this. She always knew who was in or out. She knocked again, believing that, since it was Mrs Black, it could be urgent or an emergency. If he were asleep she would have to wake him. Before she opened the door she knocked again and told him that Mrs Black was on the phone and that it might be important given the way Mrs Black sounds. Then she turned the doorknob, the room was unlocked, and she opened it enough to put her head inside.

There was no one in the room. The light was on. The room was clean. There was nothing of Mr Black's to be seen except the bag she remembered him bringing, a large kind of gym bag or carryall, very plain looking. But it was now full, very full, almost bursting. It horrified her. Did it move? As if something inside it was shifting its weight? The rough cloth rippled, expanding and contracting slightly. Revulsion paralyzed her momentarily, then she pulled her head back into the hallway and slammed the door shut.

She rushed back downstairs. She waited just inside the kitchen, listening. A moment later she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. She heard the phone handset being picked up off the shelf where she'd left it, and Mr Black's voice, giving a series of responses. Yes, No, No, I don't know. And so on. Then the phone was hung up and she heard him go back upstairs.

She wondered what to do. She was perfectly in her rights to ask him to leave. It was just too strange. But how could she even face him now? What would she say?

She tried to sleep that night but, not surprisingly, she had disquieting dreams. In the morning she had a sense of vague anxiety, as if the things around her contained hidden intentions. What was once familiar and comfortable was now threatening. The next day she avoided him, until dinner, which was inevitable. Mr Black acted no differently. He made no surreptitious glances, he let on to nothing, he was his usual self in every way. And then the time in the living room in front of the radio, she watched him, as closely as she could without being obvious, and his behavior hadn't changed. She was relieved when he said goodnight and went up to his room.

And she waited. She waited at the edge of the kitchen, prepared to have an excuse if she were caught waiting. Would Mrs Black call again? How long would she wait? She felt an rising degree of resolve building in herself.

Then the phone rang. She answered it, it was Mrs Black again, asking for Mr Black. Mrs Black sounded the same. Hoarse voice, far way, as if something was between her and the phone. Again she told Mrs Black she would get Mr Black.

At the top of the stairs she knocked several times on his door. There was no answer. This time she opened the door and walked in. She'd given him plenty of warning, she said to herself. The room was the same as the previous night, empty except for the bag. She stared at it. Was it somehow different than last night? She was frozen in place, but something unknown motivated her, she had to know what was in it.

She stepped forward, to the side of the bag. The pull on the zipper was a large flat piece of brass. With two fingers she grabbed it tentatively. She pulled steadily, the zipper smoothly opening. Her heart pounded. What was that, was it feathers?

2018-11-01 21:58 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Rain Stones

Always rain, always wet. Damp to the bone. Mildew along the edges. Worms cover the ground gasping for breath. Half drowned birds shake their feathers with miserable frequency. Pools of water are alive, choked full of creatures waiting to hatch. Always rain. At night it pummels metal roofs, a staccato that promises leaks and drops, moisture then rot. The rest of the world is bone dry. Not a single cloud, not one rain storm. It's all drawn here, by the cloud catcher, a colossal henge that reaches up into the sky, built by a forgotten race, peoples that gathered these monolithic stones and somehow placed them together in accordance with ancient principles of the ground and air, magnetic secrets, powers of planetary alignments, and conjunctions of divination and sacrifice. To bring the clouds, to call the rain. But something changed. What once was magic to keep the fields fertile and free from drought, has radically overcompensated. Or perhaps this is punishment. Even, simply, spite. Always rain. The swirling clouds above us centered around that field and those stones, with a torrential downpour. While the rest of the world looks on with envy, we hunkered beneath impromptu shelters waiting for the rain to stop — but it hasn't, the rain comes down.

2018-10-30 16:02 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Wares

There were the sounds of frogs. And the pop of cracking branches, from various nomadic creatures that had broken through the fencing, determined to cross rather than go around the enclave. Adjacent to them the airfield was quiet, abandoned after the Surrender. Several vehicles, now covered in weeds and vines slowly disintegrated right where they'd stopped when the Protein Bombs went off, their drivers having just melted right away. It doesn't take so long for nature to reclaim everything, they said to one another. It was a beautiful night, the absence of air traffic and the closed motorway let delicate sounds emerge from the warm night breeze. They had the windows open most of the year. The bat hive at the corner of the property sometimes fluttered, a sortie flying out into the yard to catch bugs. Once in a while, during a good moon, they would sit and throw pieces of bio-cake up into the air and watch the bats grab them right out of the night sky. In the morning the Recycler would come up the hill, rattling, the dogs pulling the wagon yipping and snapping excitedly. Then, when the shadows became shorter, they packed their bicycles — the large pockets and bladders stuffed with wares — and rode down to their shop at the Market. Soon smoke from the various open stoves drifted through, the owners preparing for the nighttime crowds. They lifted the broad, rough wooden shutters and put out their sign — a tall, brightly colored banner with two characters written boldly, meaning "STORIES FOR SALE". It was illegal, but then most things at the Market were.

2018-10-25 14:44 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

The Tourist

The lesser known city streets led nowhere, they circled around the museum like they were shy, or worse, like they were predatory and waiting for a moment of weakness. If you got caught in them you might never find your way out. As the museum was full of ancient things of beauty, those streets were dotted with ugly impossibilities, the stunned and the invisible, great works out of spite or desperation. And tourists, seeking the renowned museum, driven astray by subversive guides, are caught up in this vortex of streets, ancillary roadways and walkways paved with cobblestones from the previous empires, each a minor sacrifice. Tourists would warily take a couple of photos, standing in front of a burned out store front, or next to a decapitated statue, forcing the required smile onto their faces, then abandoning the traditional snapshot with shame as the nature of their situation became defined and portentous. They would never get to the museum. They would stare at their snapshots again over the following years for any signs of escape or any indications of premonition in their own faces. And who was that man in the background? Is he the man we sold the kidney to? Is he the man who stands on the overpass yelling at traffic every night? From the shelter they created out of discarded shipping pallets and plastic tarps, they could see the columns of light around the museum, adorning a gala or opening. They would fold and unfold the maps sold to them at the airport, yes, certainly the light came from the museum. Perhaps these few photographs they'd taken, which they now perceived as alien and obscene, were there hanging on the walls, being seriously contemplated by serious, well-dressed people. The streets inside the perimeter were impenetrable, but maybe they could go outwards, back towards the airport, admitting that their travel agenda would never be satisfied.

2018-10-23 14:41 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

At Dawn

At midnight they stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Although it was pitch black they imagined that opposite the station was a vista of great magnitude. A landscape that was indelible and American, a big sky and dramatic, worn crags of rock dotted with a tough, stubbly brush. They stood there in the cool night air and remarked on it. You see the way the sun creates shadows off the buttes, like solid splashes of ink. And the ground, she said, the rippling, tan expanse has something in common with the ocean — it feels endless and a little dangerous. They stood this way for quite a while, staring out into the darkness. Occasionally someone would drive up and walk past them into the mini-mart, wondering what they were doing, why they were standing there. Should we stay until dawn? he asked. I'm not sure, she said, we might ruin it by staying. What if it were an abandoned factory that was there, an ugly factory? he suggested. What if there was nothing but pavement? she said. It's best the way it is right now, he said. Shortly before dawn they went into the mini-mart for supplies and to pay for gas. Where are you headed? the attendant asked. Forward, not back, she replied. Mostly west, he said.

2018-10-21 21:12 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

The Song

Singing settled into the valley. It washed over those houses and hamlets, a series of voices that came from everywhere, from the sky, from the trees and rocks and river and from their own tools and even their own children. It was a harmonious confluence, this steady group of voices, which they attributed to ancient ghosts or gods or spirits. That each of us can hear them, that each of us is in connection with this world of voices — it was at first an amazing revelation. Then over the weeks and months they wondered why such a power would be so relentlessly beautiful. Mean, unforgiving, punishingly beautiful. It was gorgeous and transcendent, how was it possible a thing like this existed? Perhaps it doesn't exist, some said. If we deny the every-present voices, maybe they will subside. The weeks and months turned into years. Why are we being tormented? Over time the voices washed away the houses and hamlets. They were worn down into smooth obliterations, a kind of polished, perfect beauty that no man or woman could withstand. The few remaining wandered through the valley hoping to escape this song. The ever present, ever changing song. They put their heads into holes in the earth. They stuffed copious feathers and mushrooms into their ears. They hid themselves in hollow tree trunks. They crawled on the ground looking for relief. They shrieked and howled as they ran naked across the now dry river beds. Without homes or villages, without clothes or tools, they became animals who heard only those voices and the singing which would never stop.

2018-10-16 21:50 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

The Hill

When the trees came down they saw the hill wasn't a natural formation. But it was no forgotten step pyramid. And it didn't exhibit the qualities of a traditional burial mound. The measurements were eerily precise. The orientation was fascinating but created only wild perturbation for scholars and academics. It was also impenetrable. Not only to technology, but to brute force — no shovel could unearth it. A variety of ideas, or suppositions, surfaced. That it was a druidic monument made of ancient power. That it was a relic from the war, created by a secret, occult R&D division. That it was an example of peculiar formation of some rare, extruded element. Or that it was an alien craft, crashed and buried. Not surprisingly this last explanation generated the most attention. Quickly a group gathered and grew around the hill. Their camp of tents soon transformed into semi-permanent shanties, but the high security fence erected around the hill prevented them from living on it. As the climate continued to decay, driving populations out of areas where they once flourished, and as the geopolitical situation became volatile, more people wondered about the hill, and more people came to believe it was an alien object. Soon there were pilgrimages. Many waited for it to broadcast a message. Just like in '2001: A Space Odyssey' some said. Others believed the hill would open, allowing an exact number of believers inside where they would be transported instantly to a new world — presumably a better world without heat death, pollution, and rampant fascism. Another, smaller sect, believed these kinds of Hollywood scenarios were tools created by corporations to keep the population docile, and that the hill was an unknowable, irreducible alien construction without any human purpose whatsoever, at least none we could possibly understand because the beings who built it were so advanced, and so different from ourselves. But the crowds of people around the hill swelled. There were riots regularly, where the military reacted violently. Eventually, however, the pressure was too great, and after a final, bloody push, the fence was torn down and the believers, the Two-Thousand-Ones, the Transported, the People Of The Chariots, the Hollow Earthers, the Mole Men, the Panspermians, the Inflatable Gods, the Matricians, the Neo-Druids, all of them, they all swarmed onto the hill in a frenzied celebration. This was it, the time was now, the hill was theirs once again.

2018-10-14 00:53 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Elixir Vitae

The elixir vitae was handed out on a street corner from a large plastic cooler, an insulated bucket, red and orange, with the image of a phoenix. Dewy with sumptuous condensation. As the two company representatives, young, fit, immortal, quickly grabbed the short, thin cans from the cooler, their inviting body language telegraphed the important, catchy slogans "Immortality In A Can" and "Tastes Great You'll Live Forever". As people passed, a few accepted these gifts, cracking open the can like an aluminum coconut, releasing the sounds of a long sigh and the breath of a new born. Soon they would live forever too. The elixir tasted lite, as clear as the blue sky, with the faint odor of delirium and ginger, of freshly cut grass, of a brilliant full moon, of a box of puppies. The carbonation was subtle. When you drank it the sunken hollows of your flesh filled in as if seraphim jammed a straw up your ass and inflated you with heavenly gases. Your complexion, perfect again. You were thin again. You were strong again. Your tits were perky again. You had a hard-on again. Your hair flowed with the lustrous quality of a thousand muscled sailors on shore leave. And laughter — with each gulp laughter erupts without any provocation or motive, without the slightest hindrances or bitterness or irony. The trappings of the world are no longer of any concern to you, after all, being immortal means never having to be preoccupied by strategies to avoid decay. One can. Only one can a day, to remain alive forever.

2018-10-11 17:17 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

A Thousand Hands

By the slippery rock. Beyond the stagnant pool. After the fallen glade. Consider the orientation of the guiding star. Assume a neutral alignment. Don't worry. As the light is filtered, you will become aware of the various environments, those that co-exist. The rocks that you've left behind yourself as a trail will no longer be necessary. Return will seem obscene. Throw away the glasses, you will no longer need them, they will sink into the earth, rot slowly, mushrooms will grow up from them, wet moss will see through them. Proceed steadily, but not hastily, past the rock wall, being aware that you must never look up. This would be disastrous, you must never, ever, look up at what lives above the rock wall. Then, there, you will find the caves. Descend carefully. You do not need to fear the dark, soon you will adjust. By the images of the hands, a thousand, a million of them, it doesn't matter, these are our hands. We painted them each, to make sure we would be remembered, while understanding the futility of such an action. By the roaring stream. In the cave. It might be difficult, it might have changed through the ages, but you must cross the stream. You will find the entrance, and in that room you'll find the way we went, the final position of the dials, the proper switches, it should tell you where we are.

2018-10-08 21:27 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Killing Aquarius

They got goosebumps as they rounded the long, narrow chasm. To their left they could hear water. To their right they could feel the sparks. A little farther and they would be out of range. They dragged the sled behind them, the metal chassis against the gravel grumbling and shaking. These ingredients were in demand. The lapis. The infant in the vessel. Scales from the serpent. A twig from the tree. These things would bring a good price. Then they were overwhelmed by the the smell of sulfur. They quickened their pace. Behind them there was a shriek from a bird. As they pulled the sled faster the crackle and pop of the small rocks under them became a hiss of urgency. It was forbidden to be here. The trade was risky, but they'd never been caught, it was too terrible to think about. Concentrate on getting back, he yelled. Under this sky they appeared vibrant, striated with energy, tendrils of life were illuminated from them. Ignore it, he warned. They couldn't stop, even if there was temptation, there was a threat of transformation, absorption into the chaos. They wouldn't be the first to become lost. The traps they'd placed, some a long time ago, had been painstakingly positioned. Not all of these had been fruitful, but enough to make this difficult journey worthwhile. Ahead, they were close, the ground became sand and the sled was easily pulled. Close, he said, so close keep focused.

2018-10-04 23:46 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

Chamber

When he spoke it sounded like it was through a cardboard tube. I'm not entirely here, he complained. Well, you do sound far away, they said. He tried yelling, for effect, as an experiment. They chuckled. See? he said. The captain calmly suggested this could be a real problem. What if this happens to all of us, he asked, sternly. Of course, they said, apologetically. It's some time-space distortion perhaps, he said. They tittered when he said it, so far away. What else do you feel? they asked. As if I could drown, he said, but I'm not afraid. I feel like life is a book whose pages I'm flipping through too quickly, afraid of reaching the end, but also of the beginning, he said. There is a reflection of me that I don't understand, and I know I never will, he said. These are very specific symptoms, they replied. If you put me into the chamber be sure to put both of me, he said. Both of you? they asked. I am an echo, from two places, from both of me. I am a consequence, he said. A consequence of what? they asked. Decay. Fearlessness. He said.

2018-10-02 13:27 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

The Edge

From where the train was they could see the tunnel in the distance. "What if it doesn't go anywhere?" she asked. "Excuse me?" he said. He sat across from her when he boarded, the train was crowded. "Like when sailors didn't know the world was round. Like they could sail right off the edge of the Earth," she said. He laughed a little, "so then the train would fall right off the planet?" She leaned forward slightly, "Worse". "Worse?" he asked. "There's nothing there. Nothingness," she said. "I guess that's bad — although we wouldn't really suffer anyway," he said. She looked out the window towards the tunnel, the train slowly making its way around the bend in a long mountain pass. "We suffer now. Waiting," she said. He didn't know how to respond to this, what started as a casual series of comments had become gloomy. If he said anything more it might prompt something uncomfortable. He sat and stared out the window. They got closer to the tunnel, or the tunnel got closer to them. Perhaps it was the silence, but now he felt fear. He could see nothing in the tunnel. The train became very close, he was certain they were being drawn in. Would the train fall off the end of the world. He could not conceive or accept a reality of nothingness. Maybe the train would float in space, somehow this was more palatable. Just before the train entered the tunnel he said to her, "Well, it was nice knowing you". And he caught his own breath like you do when a roller coaster drops the first time.

2018-09-25 20:09 fiction flash-fiction Benjamin Brood

From Trees

He waited twenty-seven years. He'd planned on waiting thirty, but into the beginning of the second decade he decided he would stop being so hard on himself and allow some satisfaction from curiosity. He thought about it a long time, twenty-seven seemed to be a good compromise. Why not twenty-six? He nagged himself. No, it had been decided. On that day he checked the ladder, making sure it was solid, and lowered it to the ground. Lichen fell from it.

He waited, staring at the earth far below him, uncertain he could finally leave this tree which had been his home. But he had to know. Not a day went by in all that time he didn't think about it. He stopped hearing airplanes in the first decade. It had been that long too since he heard the sound of people, hikers possibly, moving through the forest. He'd chosen a remote location. Humanity would thrash and struggle finally, and he didn't want to get caught up in it, he wanted to be in his forest, he wanted to be in his tree. And so, twenty-seven years ago he went up into the house he'd built and he didn't come down. It was difficult, of course, there were trials, and failures, but he didn't regret it, no, not a bit. But he'd wondered, had he doubted — that wasn't exactly it. Was there anyone left? Maybe someone like himself. After being in the tree that long he couldn't help but think, was there anybody else. They didn't have to be in a tree, maybe they were in a bunker or something.

Walking was difficult, he'd tried to keep himself in good shape, but walking was difficult on the ground and it was true he was no longer young. This is what sailors must feel like after being at sea, walking back on land again, the queasiness of it. The tree was always swaying, like the ocean.

He would walk back to the road and see if there was anybody left. It would take a while but he remembered where it was, he'd thought about this a lot, he made his way, he rested, he made his way, he rested. He could feel it getting closer, he heard nothing but there was a sensation in the center of his body. It would tear him apart this feeling, when would the road appear?

Then he was there. He stepped out of the trees and the road, now full of heaves, old and cracking and weedy, it was right there. But on the opposite side of the road, he couldn't understand it. There was a fence, a very tall fence, it went in both directions as far as he could see. Beyond the fence, he stared and it didn't make sense to him. There were people, standing around looking at him. They had cameras, something like cameras, they would raise them and lower them in some sort of ritual. And there was a child holding his mother's hand, the child pointed at him and laughed.