Poor Reception

This is the piece I entered into NYC Midnight‘s round two of the flash fiction writing contest. The genre I was given was sci-fi, the location was an all-you-can-eat restaurant and the object was a squirt gun.

Claude, looking for love in the vastness of space, makes his move on an attractive alien during a wedding reception at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

You know you can’t take your eyes off a girl, especially if she has four arms, three shimmering cobalt eyes, and is terribly attractive. I’m like that though; I like my women green and preferably within the same species. I know out in the farther reaches of the frontier, it’s hard to find intelligent life — or at least intelligent conversation — so when I saw her at the buffet sporting a T-shirt displaying a quirky math quip, I had to cut in line.

“Hi, my name is Claude. Nice shirt.” I cleared my throat, trying to be nonchalant. “So, you like Pi, huh?”

She looked up at me, a bit startled at my sudden appearance, but smiled. “I’m Marlene.” She looked down at her shirt. “And nope, I just like to eat and didn’t get the joke,” she replied, turning the corner of her mouth mischievously. This girl is quick! I’m in trouble.

“Ouch!” I exclaimed, feigning shock. “You cut me with your wit!”

Her blue eyes widened in surprise, but then became hidden when she tilted her head and laughed, releasing the tiniest hint of a snort. Someone help me.

“Are you here for the wedding reception?” I asked.

Marlene nodded. I tried not to look at her mouth, but you should have seen how the commercial lighting bounced off her indigo lips and how her pointed teeth interlaced so perfectly when she grinned. I tried to keep my attention on the buffet. I picked up a compact tray, looked at the wriggling mass of Nartubians under the sneeze guard, dropped a portion onto my tray and shut the lid clumsily.

“How do you know Daren?” I asked, trying to shut the container.

“Just met Daren. I know Delilah, though. I just started working at station headquarters about three months ago. We have office modules next to each other and swap water receptacle gossip.”

“Where are you from?”

“System 48, originally. My family unit moved around quite a bit.”

We transitioned from the natural food line to the seasonings and sauces. “That must have been hard. I was raised around here, but sometimes I get a bit stir crazy.” I tried to keep talking, but the conversation faltered as I was trying to locate the jalapeno juice while looking to see what combination she was using. She’s a garlic and teriyaki girl. “I’ve actually never been off station and was thinking about taking a vacation to the nearest star system,” I said.

“For sure. Just be careful not to go during the Farstian Festival if you travel around my old home system. Traffic gets a bit tricky to navigate through the various moons with so many ships out that weekend.”

“Thanks for the tip.”

“No problem.” She looked distracted while sorting through the dessert cart. “So, what do you do?” She asked.

“Cyber Optics.”

“Glass replacement coverings for Artificial Intelligence?”

“Yeah…sure.” I shuffled my feet uncomfortably, holding my tongue; I try not to correct people when I first meet them to avoid offense.

“People love their A.I.s. I couldn’t function without mine.” She shifted her focus from us and looked over the crowd. “Wedding reception at an all-you-can-eat restaurant? Talk about class.”

“Nothing says sophistication like a buffet. But I guess it is kinda them: totally cheap and insanely cheesy.”

“Speaking of cheesy, I helped Delilah with the wedding favors. I’m kind of in love. Not with Delilah,” she stuttered anxiously, “but with the favors.” I felt a kick of adrenaline. She’s nervous. I‘m doing well! Point for Claude!

“I’m intrigued. What are said favors and why the infatuation with them?” I asked.

“Well, I’ll give you some hints and see if you can guess.” Her eyes twinkled.

“Interesting! All right, Galactic Girl, what you got?”

Marlene reached into her bag with her gorgeous, tattooed tentacles and paused dramatically. “I have three of them with me: a toothpick…a cumberbun…and…”

“Wait! I know! It’s…”

We shouted in unison, a bit too loudly, “A squirt gun!”

“From episode 116! I love Surgeon How!”

She beamed excitedly at our discovered common interest. We had found the reserved reception table, and I sat across from her, staring at her face pondering what to say next. I was frozen in a panicked stupor until the alien sitting to my right gently tapped my shoulder.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt, but your Nartubians…well, they’re fighting with mine.”

I looked down at the table. My food had escaped my tray and was attempting to gnaw on my neighbor’s dinner selection.

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed and tried to shoo my invading food back onto my tray with a spork.

Marlene grabbed the squirt gun and said, “Here, let me help!” She sprayed water on the feisty Nartubians, which chirped in annoyance and began to focus their attack on Marlene. She shook the squirt gun in their direction hysterically, dancing and twisting in frustration as the puny Nartubians climbed on her flailing tentacles. She was a squirming goddess of chaos — a gorgeous, magnificent mess.

“Oh, my stars! A gun!” A shout rang out in the buffet, and the room burst into muffled screams as customers began to dive under tables. Marlene, instead of stopping her drastic movements, started waving her tentacles even faster. “Wait! No! Wrong idea!” Other aliens continued finding cover. “It’s just a toy!”

There must have been an Intergalactic Police Officer in the crowd because we heard, “Put the weapon down, and put your hands in the air!”

Both of our appendages extended to the ceiling, and I hurriedly whispered in Marlene’s direction, “Listen, I’m…you’re…” I cleared my throat. “You’re just flat out…stunning! When we get out of this, let’s grab some of that ‘pie’ you like.”

“I thought you would never ask.” Marlene’s face momentarily broke into her infectious smile as she briefly looked at me and then back at the I.P.O.

“On the ground! Now!”

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The Runner

the runnerThis is the piece I entered into NYC Midnight‘s flash fiction writing contest.

The genre I was given was drama, the location was a marathon’s finish line and the object was a box of chocolates. 

A businessman finds a link to his past while stuck at a marathon’s finish line. 

Unable to move, the tall man stood transfixed, staring, terrified. He was obviously going insane and needed to lie down–but there she was, a ghost.

The man’s suit jacket flapped in the wind as he walked. He felt like a ridiculous bird with his jacket and tie continually in motion. He checked his watch and grimaced. He would be there soon if they did not stop.

“Listen,” said the shorter man trying to match the taller man’s faster gait, “I didn’t mean to make us late. Relax.” The taller man allowed a side glance at the shorter man and quickened his pace, making his feet slap the asphalt harder and his elbow motion more prominent. “We don’t always have to show up ridiculously early for every meeting. Sometimes I think your control issues turn you into a r-o-b-o-t.” The short man swung his arms mechanically and changed his vocal tone. He beamed at the tall man expectantly; the tall man was reminded of a thick-witted clown awaiting applause after a punch line. The frown on the tall man’s face only deepened, and the short man sighed and dropped his arms dramatically. “You’re impossible.”

“And you’re not funny,” said the taller man.

The streets were filled with spectators, and the men were forced to bob and weave in the crowd. Adding to the tall man’s irritation, many of the people held large banners declaring their love or support for family members, and he was forced to duck under a forest of extended arms and poster papers. An especially large banner boasted in pink, glitter lettering surrounded by hearts: “Our Mom Kicked Cancer’s Butt!” Two teenagers, a girl and a boy, held up their own ends of the banner and were straining to see farther up the street.

The tall man surveyed the crowd, looking for an escape. The short man, who could barely look over the heads in the crowd, wiped sweat beads from his brow with his violently orange and pink tie, leaving damp streaks across its obnoxious polka dots. The tall man exhaled, his right eye twitching as he continued to look around him. They were wedged in their positions. The nerve around his eye thumped in rapid, angry drum beats as he spotted a news crew close to their position.

“This is Cliff Roland, and I’m here at the Mother’s Day Marathon organized by the women’s Bible study at St. Matthews. I’m here with Esther Roberts who will tell us more about the event.”

The tall man tapped his fingers on his briefcase in a rapid overture. Of course, I would have to be stuck with this idiot again, (the short man was trying to maneuver himself around Esther to wave at the camera) and I’m so incredibly late.

“This crowd is ridiculous! This would have to happen today!” The short man bellowed and gesticulated wildly with his hands, leaving the tall man to wonder if the man next to him could finish a single thought without looking like a temperamental octopus. “It’s not my fault! I didn’t know there would be a race.” The tall man wanted to rip the coffee from the short man hands and make him eat the plastic.

“Many of the women in our congregation have overcome breast cancer.” Esther’s voice balked at the word “cancer”. He sneered at her mousy voice and her thinning, shortly-cropped hair which was curled strategically to cover her shining scalp. ”We thought the obvious time to celebrate the wonderful women in our lives and their victories would be Mother’s Day. The proceeds from the 5k walk/run portion of the marathon will go towards helping cancer victims. We thought it would be a great way to bring awareness…”

Esther’s voice was lost in a tremendous cry from the crowd. The interview quickly fizzled, and Roland turned his attention to the street. “The first runners are rounding the corner!”

The tall man fidgeted and bounced on his heels, an engine stalling and burning fuel. C’mon. C’mon. His mind looped, his thoughts a circle of tension. Cross the finish line! The muggy air clung to his collared shirt, and he could feel the sweat pooling under his armpits. He removed his jacket and wanted to pummel the short man with it.

With another shout, the runners came into view. A woman crossed the finish line first, leading by a tremendous stride, and embraced the teenagers holding the enormous, glitter banner. Esther soon appeared and presented the woman with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers. The winner was sporting black yoga pants and wore her medium brown hair pulled back in a fierce ponytail. She dumped water on her head and waved at the crowd as they cheered. Her victorious smile was radiant, and her eyes were well defined by heavy eyeliner and were a piercing, unmistakable cobalt blue.

Unable to move, the tall man stood transfixed, staring, terrified. He wanted to run, shove the bodies to let him pass, find a unblocked street and take the next taxi right back to the hotel. He was obviously going insane and needed to lie down–but there she was, a ghost. She was a wish granted, a request fulfilled and loaded with sickening consequences.

“Oh my God!” the tall man said as clutched his chest. He vision blurred, and he furiously wiped his eyes. Alarmed, the short man’s eyes widened, and he clenched the tall man’s arm.

“What? Are you ok?”

“That’s Liza.” The tall man was almost hoarse.

“Who the hell is Liza?”

The tall man paused before responding, unable to take his eyes off the woman. “My…my mother.”

“So? What’s the problem?” The short man scrunched his face, his forehead trying to touch his nose as his upper teeth exposed themselves, making his face appear rat like.

The tall man’s grimace returned, contorting his own face. “I thought she was dead.”

Not lost

Today’s Author prompt:

She read the label which said in bright, bold lettering: “Guaranteed to cure what ails you!”

My story:

Note: Also inspired by an episode of Doctor Who when the Doctor and Martha are in New New York and people are selling emotions on the streets.

Emotion enhancers were addicting. She knew this. Isn’t this the same path that he chose? She could still envision the disappointment on her mother’s face and her hunched back as she waited for his return the night he went missing, her aging hands pulling the blanket closer around her chilled skin. The winter was unforgiving that year.

Hadn’t she condemned her brother’s behavior? She thought him weak and turned up her nose and abandoned him in disgust when he sought out the pills. She left him wade through his depression alone.

“Here, Miss! You’re looking a little down. Why not try some ‘Optimism’?”

The alley vendor watched his customer read the pill boxes’ labels and their surroundings with split attention. The grime on his face made his eyes abruptly white. Between his energy and his appearance, the man appeared mad. He needed to make the deal and soon.

“Come on, love. What will it be? ‘Content’? ‘Ease’? ‘Passion’?”

The girls stared at the black market merchant, not knowing what to choose, if she wanted to choose. She could only feel the loss of her family gnawing inside her like a ravenous rat. First her brother. Then her mother.

So many of the missing had tried to replace negative emotions with concocted, laboratory substitutes for positive feelings. Would her face be added to the roster of the lost? No one would notice her absence, what with her family dead.

“I know what you need. Here, try ‘Ardor.’ It’ll give you a sense of purpose.”

The girl’s eyes widened.  She shook her head and disappeared around the corner leaving the dealer behind her. There was more purpose than becoming invisible.

The Gentleman

Today’s Author prompt:

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a coin from a country she had never been to.

My story:

Her fingers lingered on the curves of the metal, the intricate grooves lightly caressing the skin. The corners of her lips raised slightly as she sighed and settled back into the seat of the carriage. The wheels rattled beneath her, and her heart shook recklessly in her chest.

“He has a way about him,” Mama said shaking her head. They both watched him leave the house and disappear along the crowd in the street below. “He’ll have your affection, no doubt about that. He’ll have you for his wife or go stark raving mad.”

Great Depression

Today’s Author prompt:

One of the potato skins fell on the floor and they made sure to give it to Kelly.

My story:

A next meal was never a certainty during times such as these. Kelly washed the skin with water and put it in the bowl. It would surely be cooked later. Nothing could be wasted. There were nights of boiled macaroni with no hints of cheese or additional seasonings, but they were lucky for what they had. Kelly’s parents reminded them of this whenever the hunger pains were the worst. The hunger was a incessant ebbing and flowing — but always present, a constant, sickening companion. But they were grateful for what they had.