Friday, January 29, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday

The Barter

“Are you listening to me? Or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?”

Varton turned his head with a scowl. He wouldn’t even honor that with a reply. Bester knew better.

Better, best. Had he been anyone else, Varton would have laughed at the pun.

“Hand me the Shimadzu.”

Bester huffed. Sure, the HPLC analysis was important. And Var knew his stuff when it came to selecting the best chromatographer for the job. He lost his train of thought, though, just as he’d expected. They’d been using the Phenomenex and he had to sort through the contents of the shelf to find the Japanese model.

“Here. Now, where was I?”

“You’d just gotten Teradezara’s number when you realized that your girlfriend saw the whole thing.”

“Oh, right. You were listening.”

Varton grunted. Practiced fingers turned on the helium valve.

“Anyway, there I was. Shana looked like you could cook a Terzian egg on her forehead. So I told her Tera had asked for the name of Shana’s hairdresser. It instantly changed her tune, let me tell you.”

“Read that.”

“Is that right?”

“So you’re seeing what I’m seeing? Time to call in the diggers,” Varton rumbled. “Soon you’ll be able to afford Terzian eggs for Shana, Teradezara, and any of your other conquests.”

Bester’s silence told more about the magnitude of their find than Varton’s flippant remark. Not many things left the tech speechless. Impossible riches on the planet below proved to be one. He wouldn’t be complaining about share percentages for the haul from now on. They’d be set for life when they returned home, especially with annuities compounding during cryo-sleep.

The first diggers the corporation sent were manned. That decision proved to be a tragic mistake and each employee’s speculative earnings increased to absurd proportions. In addition, the bereaved families would be awarded a stipend for their loss.

If, that is, the company could find a way to mine the rich veins of Planet 37926.

Or, as they were being asked to call it, 010010. And the humans quickly learned not to shorten the “zero” to “oh”. A major oversight costing nearly a hundred lives did not need to be compounded.

The first misstep had been taken by early surveyors, who’d indulged in foolish shortcuts. These statisticians had assumed the evidence of some ancient civilization was strictly that – ancient. That had always translated to abandonment. At least it had in the past. Nobody knew to check for nonorganic life forms. No digital or radio signal or heat signature alerted anyone.

Formal negotiations began at once. The Prime, who had no use for Tantun, nevertheless expected to be richly compensated for those resources. They did have a use for water, which had long ago evaporated from the planet’s surface. By the Prime’s estimation, three hundred twenty-one more of the invading organic life forms would yield what they needed to rebuild their world.

Varton and Bester decided all Prime looked alike. For all intents and purposes they not only shared appearance but were literally interchangeable. Address one, address the entire population of 010010. The two lowly techs also agreed that they’d rather be poor the rest of their priceless little lives than hand over walking, breathing beings meant to save lives in a medical emergency.

It was a no-brainer, Bester kept repeating as a mantra. Varton voted to leave. Unfortunately, the ship’s CEO did not preside over a democracy and the company’s bottom line trumped compassion. Cloning units cranked into high gear and the price was met in just under one Standard Galactic month. Superstition ran rampant through the men and women watching mirror likenesses march to their doom.

Mining didn’t take much beyond another month, even with the discontented rumblings of those doing the work. They wanted out of that sector of space as soon as humanly possible. Everyone on board the commercial vessel was exceedingly glad to leave 010010 and its frighteningly alien inhabitants far behind.

Three years later, with her crew waking from stasis, the George Washington V arrived home. The storage capacity nearly exceeded legal limits, every nook and cranny laden with valuable Tantun.

Groggy and stunned to silence, the five hundred nineteen souls on board looked at nothing. Where earth had once spun they found only a void. An ominous electronic blip appeared on the radar, setting off alarms that echoed all through the metal halls of the lightly armed trawler.

“Crap, Bester,” said Varton.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

~the end~

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday 13

In the process of writing, I have found that certain misspellings are inevitably overlooked by the software spellchecker. For today’s Thursday Thirteen I decided to make a list of them.

I’m happy to report that it took several days. Many are prevalent, which is especially annoying. Number seven defies logic. A few are downright funny. I'll let you guess which word I was trying for.

Perhaps you can relate to a few of these.

1. Form vs. from

2. This vs. his

3. Worm vs. worn

4. Mattes vs. matters

5. Officer vs. office

6. Loose vs. lose

7. O vs. to - ???

8. Dual vs. duel

9. Grin vs. grim

10. Differed vs. different

11. God vs. good

12. Melting vs. meeting

13. Lace vs. place

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Path Not Taken

I just learned that a good friend is taking a long train trip next month. The thought stirred memories of my own railroad experiences. Certainly, I have visited some beautiful places by airplane. And the car is an essential part of my life. A train, however, is almost magical.

Whatever the mode of transport, my imagination often makes it an interesting thing. When driving down the road, I might wonder where parallel railroad tracks lead once they split off from the freeway. Spotting even a mundane freight train from behind the wheel never fails to kick up a little curiosity.

So I find it interesting that the reverse occurred when the world spooled before my eyes from an Amtrack window. A pickup truck kicking up dust on a country road suddenly became a source of speculation. Where were they going? The interest, I think, stemmed from no hope of ever knowing. While the truth was likely not the least bit interesting, I could make up any scenario I wanted.

But usually, I simply let the question hang. Then the next car would inspire that tiny wonder all over again. Maybe it’s time to book a trip of my own. Or I could just write. Guess which I’ll probably choose?

Happy travels, dear! And thank you for the constant inspiration and encouragement.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday

Woodsworth’s Bad Day

Woodsworth looked up at the sky and assessed the probability of rain. There were clouds, not unexpectedly, but they appeared thin compared to recent days. He decided it would be worth the risk of getting wet to crawl out of this hole he’d dug for himself.

Seasonal Affective Disorder had kept his head down far too long. Even his home had felt damp and close. Maybe if he got some fresh air his winter blues would abate a little. It wouldn’t hurt to try. And who could say he wouldn’t run into a chatty neighbor while out and about? That would be a welcome change of pace from the perpetual solitude.

In fact, wasn’t that “Muddy” Jackson sticking his head out just down the way? Woodsworth hadn’t had a chance to catch up with that old so-and-so since late summer. He felt kind of guilty, truth be told. “Muddy” had been in an accident before the first leaves fell and remained housebound ever since, apparently until just now. He should have visited. The eccentric character looked warily about as if afraid the hit and run perpetrator might still be lurking.

Perhaps they could spend a few minutes shooting the breeze to bolster each other’s spirits. Soon enough, bad weather was sure to send Woodsworth scurrying back to earth. He never had liked winter. Just seeing “Muddy” notice him and wave in response cheered the younger fellow. Woodsworth happily quickened his pace.

A friendly face would be just the tonic for a weary soul. When that kindly expression changed to horror, all Woodsworth could do was look up. He’d foolishly exposed himself before another glance at the sky.

Was it a crow? Perhaps the very one that had very nearly eaten “Muddy”? The damage had been bad, that beak doing almost more damage than the aged worm could regenerate from. Woodsworth braced himself and hoped to be so lucky. But the soft soil inches away was at his back and he didn’t see so much as a leaf under which he could try and hide.


The driver of the sedan parked and started to reach for his umbrella. He laughed upon realizing his error. For the first time in days he didn’t need to dodge the blasted rain.

Wrinkling his nose, he barely avoided stepping on a flattened worm. Why did the little buggers always seem to litter the pavement at this time of year? Whatever the reason, it sure didn’t seem good for the health of that poor wriggler.

~the end~

Author’s note: I hope you enjoyed my silly ficlet, based on the sight of a parking lot after days of rain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday 13

Yesterday I learned that a coworker has lost her sense of smell. That got me thinking how tough that might be.

Here is my list of thirteen hazards and/or laments over a lost sense of smell. I’m sure I will miss some obvious things. Despite crummy sinuses, I’ve never been completely without this vital sense.

1. Loss of taste – kind of says it all, though a temporary condition would be nice to help me lose weight

2. Leather – sorry PETA

3. Cardamom and other savory spices – a favorite original character of mine smells like cardamom and the aforementioned leather in various balances (yum)

4. Not being able to detect the occasional odor that triggers pleasant recall; olfactory is one of the biggest bases for memory

5. Burning food without knowing it – I manage this with a working nose

6. I would fear not noticing something dangerous like gas or smoke in the air – this lady checks her running clothes dryer constantly

7. The carnations I walk by in the grocery store floral department would be longingly passed by without a good sniff

8. Obliviously breathing in exhaust fumes is a disgusting notion

9. Not having a clue that you have bad breath would be a bummer

10. I’d miss fabric softener, the one perk to doing laundry even if it’s nowhere near as nice as Grandma’s sheets on the backyard clothesline

11. The obnoxious smell of cat food breath would make kisses from my cat somehow less complete

12. Whenever I make a rare visit to the antique shops in a nearby village their attic smell would be a tragic loss

13. Some men’s colognes would be sorely missed, even if seeing mostly truck drivers through the workday makes this a mostly mute point

Well, there you go. I'd be curious to get any opinions. As a funny side note , the gal I spoke to yesterday was paranoid in the restroom, spraying air freshener like crazy. I couldn’t really relate to that. Mine smells like roses, after all…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Disabling the Insert Key

Today is my turn on the Writer's Retreat Group Blog. I decided to share a trick I learned. Hopefully it will help someone else!

Writer's Retreat

Friday, January 15, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday


Nineteen-year-old Shelley Foster should not have even been allowed into this nightclub, not on New Year’s Eve. The sign was clearly posted outside the door. Four years older, Ray Watts did what he could to please his fiery vixen. Hence he’d given in, telling himself that there would be no trouble as long as she didn’t drink. He suspected that the bouncer had knowingly overlooked her lack of ID simply because she was gorgeous.

The doorman’s policy was time-honored. Beautiful people were good for business. Promote drink specials on “ladies’ night” and single men would flock to the joint. The guys would spend a fortune on liquid courage in hopes of successfully approaching the fairer sex.

And Shelley certainly qualified as fair. Her dress, a white clinging sheath, shimmered in the strobing lights. A long fringe accentuating the low V-neck matched the angled hem of her skirt. The strands were never still as she danced, writhing and twirling with pure joy. Ray enjoyed the sensual moves they shared. Yet he battled mixed feelings of pride, desire, and insecurity; he could see every man in the place unapologetically gawking. She saw, too; of this he had no doubt. His girl ate up this kind of attention.

It was an inevitable plight. Whenever he took her dancing a little voice in the back of his mind warned that, this time, she wouldn’t be leaving with him.

Roy ignored the voice and begged Shelley for a rest from the constant bump and grind. He wanted to save energy for later, not wear himself out dancing. She refused, snorting softly at his argument and shooing him off as she continued to dance. Needing to catch his breath and wet his whistle, Ray ordered a beer. He didn’t care for alcohol, disapproved of its affects, but felt out-of-place ordering another plain cola. He’d raised the bartender’s brows once, already.

The DJ played up to Shelley’s boundless enthusiasm, searching out some song that would make her stop. He hadn’t found it yet. Then the young man saw the other guy’s face light up. He had an idea, apparently. Ray secretly cheered him on. Anything to get all that shining skin and flowing hair out of the spotlight would make him one very happy dude.

He’d begun to get agitated with his lack of confidence. He realized that blue eyes had turned stormy when he caught his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Ray hid his anger and tried to laugh at a patron’s crude compliment. The jerk was drunk, leering at Ray’s girl. He wanted to punch him in the face. Happy Shelley, on the other hand, fit in just fine with the New Year’s revelers. She always fit in.

The drum beat faded and Shelley froze, clearly anticipating a challenge. Her chest heaving, the bright smile widened to display the fang-like eyeteeth that first attracted Ray to the underage girl four years earlier.

Discordant, familiar chimes filled the smoky room to announce a track from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album. Shelley laughed, voluptuous hips swaying as she strutted toward Ray.

Finally, he thought. Even she can’t dance to “Time”.

She took the glass from his hand and tilted the amber liquid toward painted lips. Their shade matched her nails, all twenty. Shelley drained the beer and, grabbing Ray by the wrist, led him toward the center of the empty floor.

“Time”, Ray recalled, had been danceable after all. He shook his head and toasted to 2010 with a roomful of friends. His wife looked at him, curiosity sparkling in her eyes, as he took a sip of ginger ale.

“What are you thinking?”

“Nothing, Janie. Just wondering where the time goes.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's Thursday Again!

Wow! Is it really? I hope you enjoy my silly list. It's only thanks to a friend that this is here. I appreciate all your wonderful emails, Dilo!

So here it is; my favorite baby animals. They are not really in any order except as I think of them. However, I am saving the most surprising for last. It is just about my favorite, though not for cuddling.

1. Domestic cats – especially when the kittens have learned how to use the litter box but can’t yet wave those little stick-straight tails

2. Mice – this isn’t to say they’re my second favorite as stated above, but they recall fond childhood memories when my family had a breeding pair; the newborns were like pink pussy willow catkins

3. Praying mantids – they are thinner than a pencil line and just as alert as can be; a mated, murderous female is at the opposite spectrum, however (Yikes!)

4. Horses – colts, especially baby Clydesdales, are painfully cute

5. Sheep – a stuffed toy lamb was a favorite growing up

6. Dogs – I’ll never forget our mutt's precious puppies; the big one turned out to be nothing but fur when bathed for the first time

7. Brine shrimp – who doesn’t love Sea-Monkeys? I had them as a kid and again in my twenties!

8. Groundhogs – one little darling trundled through my yard last fall on Mama’s heels

9. Wild cats – so alike and yet so different from their domestic cousins

10. Freshwater pet fish – another pleasantry from childhood

11. Elephants – their matriarchal society is fascinating, too

12. Sea horses – the adults are precious enough, though; I’d set up a saltwater tank if I could afford a pro to take care of it

13. Cobras – they are poisonous within hours of birth, perfect miniatures of the adult; people think I'm a bit of a loon but there it is

Upon reviewing this I find myself tempted to set up a tiny fish tank and perhaps get a Beta to enjoy while writing. Then again, my electronic photo frame filled with images of beautiful men is probably distraction enough.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday

The Flight of Rac’na

The birds rose in a wave and the little boy stopped, attention rapt. They looked more like a giant wing than their individual counterparts. Beautiful, yes; also annoying for the delay they were causing. What was it about flocks? Rac’na couldn’t understand why they fascinated her little brother so. He would never fly.

“Come on, Ef’nel. We’re going to be late to class if you keep stopping to gawk at the sky like a baby.”

“I’m not a baby, Rac! And what do you care, anyway? You hate your teacher.”

“It’s not Sha T’lata I hate,” she replied crossly.

“Well, I really like Sha Vrock and I still don’t care if we’re late. It’s not every day the birds flock so close to the school,” he persisted. “You’re no fun, anymore.”

“You’re right, Ef. I’m sorry. I know how much you adore them.”

“Thanks, Rac,” the boy replied in pleased surprise.

She didn’t often concede to his whims; when she did it was heartfelt. Rac’na really did love the kid. He deserved better than her constant grumpiness of late. The thing annoying her was not him but the scholastic setback she faced at Tellnek Village. While she missed big city excitement with her sophisticated friends, needlessly repeating infantile lessons stung the worst.

The young sorceress should have had her first flight by now. At that thought Rac’na turned her golden eyes up to the sky. A piece of her heavy heart lifted at an inspired notion. Perhaps if she applied herself they would accelerate her to the next class level. Even in this backwater town her family’s proud matriarchy should have plenty of influence. Her father had simply been too busy establishing trade to think of it. She smiled toward the heavens for the first time in a long while.

“Who’s gawking now, baby?”

His tease shook loose the last of a lingering torpor. Poisonous vexation slipped away like water off feathers. Swatting her little brother’s arm, Rac’na giggled uncharacteristically. She decided in the moment to become that fun and silly sister he used to know. Her first flight could be delayed for another year for all she cared. Ef’nel would never be eleven cycles old again. She needed to enjoy his youth before her hormones matured and they were separated by more than age.

Often, transition to full-flight status temporarily mutated a simple girl into a terror to her kin. Was solemn and moody how Rac’na wanted to be remembered after she and her sibling were forbidden contact?

The answer was a resounding no. Sometimes the young woman’s actions during the manic phase created an impossible rift on their own. She would do her best to safeguard against that. Rac’na swerved from their path, letting whim guide swift, lightened steps. She called for him to chase her and darted toward a nearby park.

As she ran, Rac’na heard her brother’s cry of excitement and alarm. Why did his voice seem so scared? Why would it be muffled?

“Ef?” She turned to look back and screamed, “Ef’nel!”

“Rac! Save me!”

With horror, Rac’na realized that these weren’t the harmless flock they’d thought themselves to be admiring. These birds were the fierce flesh-eaters. These were Naroc. What were they doing this close to civilization? It didn’t matter at the moment.

Before the girl could imagine a plan to help him, she felt her feet lifting from the gravel walkway. Rac’na looked down and realized that she didn’t need spells to reach the sky. Her love for her brother had done that. She soared, ecstatic in her newfound ability. Raging hormones guided her vicious beak and dagger-like talons.

The Naroc who failed to escape fell before her terrible wrath. Red speckled her snow-white plumage as she settled to the ground. Where once had been a sinister congregation was now nothing but gore and feathers. Ef’nel lifted one huge quill in awe. Then, ecstatically, the young boy raced behind his sister’s straight flight for home.

A woman now, Rac’na was still his big sis. He could hardly wait for the praise of Sha Vrock and his classmates. First, though, he looked forward to a grand celebration. Ef’nel hoped to stuff himself on Rac’s honeyed brittle. Her joyful song promised him all he could eat.

~the end~

Author's note: I saw starlings flocking on my drive home one day. The next thing I knew, Rac'na came into existence to fight them off. Please let me know what you thought of my whimsical tale. And happy Friday!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday Thirteen

Contemplating another day of drudgery at the office, I thought of what makes up my favorite sort of day. I’ve listed them from the most mundane aspects to those activities that I most cherish.

1. Only leaving the house to get the mail at the end of the driveway

2. Getting in a solid hour of exercise, or my new goal on the Nordictrack (sixty-one minutes)

3. Studying Japanese until my brain is putty

4. Listening to music without need of headphones; it’s like being off a leash in a way

5. Easy meals that don’t take any effort to prepare or much time to eat

6. Bantering online with friends via email or in a forum

7. Getting a mundane chore done and out of the way for at least a few days

8. Receiving an awaited package – most often CD’s or books

9. Spending time reading a good book, preferably with a cat on the lap

10. Seeing wildlife in the yard

11. Getting feedback on any of my writing projects

12. Making my husband laugh; I need it like oxygen and take that little pleasure for granted

13. Writing a thousand or more new words toward some project and feeling good about the fresh material

In retrospect I should take more enjoyment out of interaction with other human beings. I’ll probably miss them when I’m the last person on earth like Burgess Meredith in my favorite “Twilight Zone” episode – Time Enough at Last. Let’s hope I don’t break my coke bottle glasses on that day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Creative Thinking Beets Kicking the Can

Last night I realized that today was my turn for a post on the group blog I'm fortunate to share. Sitting down to try and come up with an idea I realized that I already wrote a silly piece with this day in mind. I hope you'll jump over and enjoy a short, silly read.

Click here to read on The Artist's Retreat Blog

Friday, January 1, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday

Who Says You Can Never Go Home Again?

Michael raised the numbered panel with the hope that Simon wouldn’t notice. He kept his hand low, hopefully out of sight from the refreshment table. He had promised not to buy any more art, reluctantly agreeing to bid on nothing but furniture.

Simon did have a valid point, as a few months prior Michael had been forced to rotate the pieces hanging in their apartment. Otherwise, the walls became too cluttered. And those in storage were admittedly taking over the spare room already. But something in the pastoral piece really spoke to him. “Farm Girl with Rake” was just too tempting. He’d make it up to his man later, when and if he won lot 26.

Though the field beyond the youth didn’t look anything like his childhood home in South Africa, the serene expression on her face brought those happy days very much to mind. And suddenly he knew why. The young woman looked almost exactly like his late mother.

Granted, what he could see of her hair lacked the metallic sheen. But the sky appeared cloudy and the bonnet covering her head kept the upswept locks mostly hidden. So that could be her shade, the same copper curling from beneath the brim of Michael’s fedora.

More importantly, the subject’s sweet face displayed the strong Dutch heritage his Mama’s had shown. Embarrassingly, the unexpected recognition made his eyes sting.

“Do I hear ¥35,000,000? Thank you, sir. ¥40,000,000?”

Vision blurring, Michael blindly lifted his paddle to bid against his unknown rival. He pretended to have something in his eye, though he knew Simon would never be fooled if he saw.

An unexpected competitive side emerged as the figure soared to a ridiculously high sum of yen. And still he bid, and still the total grew.

“¥95,000,000? Wonderful. Your generosity is appreciated, sir.”

At this rate Michael feared he would be serving Simon nothing but rice and noodles for dinner. Then again, he reminded himself proudly, Simon’s firm ran their own hydroponics gardens. What was he worried about? Well, other than potentially ticking off the love of his life.

Where was Simon? Though rapidfire, the bidding war had continued to the point he surely should have finished his tea by now. But the fundraiser’s sponsor still hadn’t returned to his reserved seat. Michael wondered if the man had stepped into the outer hall to take an important call or something. He’d better come back soon or Michael’s personal savings would be forfeit. All he’d need to do was give his patented “Stop right now, Michael” look to end this.

He saw the dark suit come into his peripheral vision first. Michael looked up and dropped his numbered sign contritely. The face didn’t display the telltale glower. Instead, strong features had softened lovingly and Simon held the victorious paddle aloft and faced the auctioneer.

“Sold! For ¥95,000,000.”

“Let’s go home, Michael. I know just the place to hang it.”

~the end~

Author's Note: This was inspired by a lovely painting of a young girl carrying a primitive rake. A talented acquaintance of a friend captured true beauty in the old-fashioned, pastoral scene. This ficlet features characters from a science fiction tale and was my contribution to the picture prompt challenge on our Artist's Retreat. I hope you enjoyed it.