#FridayFlash: Work in the Daylight

Gotta get as much done in daylight as possible.

Most folks take to cellars at night, or underground vaults if they got ‘em. If they don’t they hole up best they can and try to wait it out. But wooden shutters ain’t much.

In the morning we come out and take stock. Did we lose livestock? We hope so, otherwise we might’ve lost people. How many? Anyone lose a door? Window? God forbid, a wall? Gotta get that fixed quick. While some of us do that others get to work, try and conduct business, like we’re normal. Still need money, food, supplies. When traders come through we might make serious money on the rocks. Other times we just do what we can.

Getting supplies is tricky. We tell ‘em to make their delivery drivers stay outside town until sun-up. We only do business during daylight. No, there’s no inn to stay at. No, there ain’t a hotel. No, the saloon don’t rent rooms. All drivers have to stay over in Creigsville for the night and get here quick as they can at first light. We do all we can during the day, then they need to get back to Creigsville by sundown.

Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, well….

Some comp’nies won’t do business with us anymore. Their drivers get spooked or don’t come back, horse teams get lost … it just ain’t worth it to ‘em. So we only work with a handful of comp’nies for supplies.

Some raw materials we can bring in. We got some woods just outside town a bit. Send a couple men out to cut down a few trees, or drag back deadfalls. During the day, of course. We mill those ourselves, no need to send that out.

We raise livestock like I said. It’s just not easy keeping all of them alive through the night.

Some farms produce. It’s just hard to farm under these conditions.

Other stuff we need. Like clothes or textiles, flour, sugar.

Winters are hard.

First thing a traveler might notice is how heavy we build things here. Barns are strong. Thicker than normal. Houses too. We need the strength, but wood ain’t the best barrier. Way back, some folks dug cellars and vaults. Lined ‘em with concrete, when you could still get it. Those are best. Folks can snug up safe and sound in concrete, and if it’s built right, they don’t even hear what happens after dark.

You can tell the ones who do hear by their eyes. Haunted. Gaunt, drawn faces. Paler than others. Yeah, those are the ones that heard. Sleep’s a demon for them. It’s not pleasant when it comes.

Evenings are spent stocking up. Making sure everything and everyone’s where it oughta be. Inside, locked down, by sundown. Everyone.

Sometimes I shudder when I remember times someone didn’t make it, or had one last thing to do. I try not to remember their faces, their screams.

I’m haunted by their screams.

Copyright J. Dane Tyler 2010, All rights reserved

#FridayFlash: The future’s not bright

The Future’s not Bright

Sometimes I wonder what it was like before.

I sit and stare, and my mind will drift. I can paint greenery over the skeletal trees, fill them in with leaves. My mind’s canvas plasters a rich jade color over the dry yellow straw in the fields. The sky’s the hardest. There are so many different pictures to choose from. Some are cerulean, others a more cadet blue. Wispy clouds drifting on gentle zephyrs cast shadows over children on their backs forming imaginary animals and shapes from their amorphous forms.

Sometimes I wonder.

For the most part though, I don’t participate in those flights of fancy. Instead I pace along the transparent wall, and watch them when they come. I know the pus-buckets can’t see through the mirrored surface outside — and I wonder how many lives it took to install — but it’s still unnerving when they put their faces so close.

Faces … ha! That’s a laugh. Those pus-riddled, worm-infested compost piles they stare out of make me sick. It’s even more disgusting when they open their mouths and show those white pustules oozing yellow slime and filled with rotted, broken brown teeth and black flesh when they bite at their reflections. Nauseating. I remember eating in here once, leaning on the glass, when one of them slammed into the window, saw its reflection, and tried to bite. I got a good look at the inside of the mouth and vomited, right on the rich, hunter green carpet.

It’s not bad here. Pretty nice, really. The building is a squat dome connected to identical domes by arched causeways. It’s concrete and steel, but spacious and airy inside. The sleeping quarters … well, they’re for sleeping. An eight by five cubby hole situated with lots of other cubicles at the western end of the hive. You have about four feet of head room. You don’t spend time there unless you’re lying down. It always surprises me when someone leaves the hatch open and reads in there, or has a bunch of pictures hung over the bunk with gum tack. The piss-poor lights buzz and flicker too much for anything but finding the bunk. If I want to read or write a letter or stare at pictures, I’ll find a sitting area or a privacy booth.

Communication with other hives is sporadic at best. Most broadcasts run on a closed loop and play the same things until the machinery transmitting it fails. As fewer and fewer people know how to take care of these things, as fewer and fewer people are educated, learn how things work … well, the future’s not a bright place.

The smoke-choked sky gets to people after a while. Fires smoldering everywhere make the sky black and orange at night, a shade of dingy gray in the day. We’re too close to the ruins of a city for clean air, so it’s either wear SCOBA or stay inside. The suits are good for about three hours of air. Nobody knows how long it keeps the rads off. But that’s long enough to clear the zone and breathe air if you want. Of course, it’s a one-way trip if you do that. Once you’re past the desolation zone, the DZ, vegetation and maybe even some wildlife begin to appear, but you’d have no air left to make it back to the compound.

And who knows how many pus-buckets have found their way beyond the DZ.

Pus-buckets aren’t fast enough to catch animals. They might get an occasional rat or something, but that’s not their primary food source. We think — and it’s only a theory — they stick close to compounds like ours or to urban areas, where survivors might hide. They don’t have enough brains left to make traps or plan ambushes. Still, sheer numbers play in their favor. And they eat frickin’ anything — garbage, mostly, but stragglers too.

Nobody knew when the satellites started firing lasers the consequences would be so catastrophic. Anyone near a target could kiss it goodbye. The radiation cooked surface brain parts and left anyone not disintegrated a twitching blob of flesh.

Until the biologicals launched.

Microbes from the biologicals mutated. Laser radiation did something. Before anyone knew it we had a mess. A walking mess, made of those blobs of flesh reanimated and infecting people as they attacked.

That’s what Stella says anyway. She says her mom was there. I think it was more like her grandmother, but what do I know?

Water’s precious, and not easy to come by. We have a pump system connected to a big reservoir not far from here. It’s covered and underground so there’s no danger of contaminants, but the supply has to last … well, forever, I guess. We could filter water from a lake or something but it’d have to be a damned big one. Oh, and people would have to know how to connect our pump system to that lake, and how to operate and maintain the system. Good luck with that.

Not to mention going outside, in the DZ, to do the work. Amid the hiding, starving pus-buckets.

But last I heard water’s low. Real low. That reservoir’s been our only supply for … well, ever. Since Stella’s mom and that original crew managed to finish construction and come inside, seal the pus-buckets out. I guess they started the compound when they saw it coming, before the lasers went off. They didn’t know the compound would be in a hot bed for pus-buckets later. I guess they thought they were far enough from the city. Damned lasers, stronger than anyone guessed. Even the guys who built them.

Anyway, someone has to figure out how to get more water soon. We figure we have a year — maybe less — left.

No, the future’s not a bright place. Not a bright place at all.

-end-

 

All original content copyright 2010 J. Dane Tyler
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Summer of Eternal Sunshine

I shut my eyes and tried to sleep, but couldn’t. The bright sky outside made it impossible.

I have no idea what year it was; looking back in light of my wife’s recent post about Daylight Savings Time, it may have come during the period when Nixon made it permanent for fifteen months. I can’t be sure and my memory’s unreliable about such things.

The strong light splashed through my window while the sun dripped onto the horizon. I don’t remember whether I seethed about it or if I just sighed and tried to hide my eyes behind the blankets or pillow. I remember thinking, This is ridiculous. How am I supposed to sleep when the sun’s still out?

I heard other kids playing outside. They had later curfews, later bedtimes. No such luck for me; for better or worse, I laid in bed and wondered why I couldn’t be like them. Why can’t I go to bed when it’s dark and easier to sleep? My fixed bedtime meant fighting my biological clock and trying to rest during the remaining hours of daylight.

It’s an early memory. I can sort of see the curtains through which the westerly setting sun pierced. They weren’t black-out curtains and little could be done to stave off the sunset. The orange-gold rays slashed into the eggshell walls of the 1970s décor and shattered around the room, chasing shadows into closets and under furniture.

I remember the passage of time. How much, I can’t recall. Eventually the sun sank low enough so darkness came, and overtook the room, and me, in short order. But I still remember the summer when the sun wouldn’t go down, when bedtime came while light and play clung to the outside world. I don’t remember much, but I do remember thinking about how it always seemed that way; like the sun didn’t ever go down.

We never lived north of the Arctic Circle where this may have been normal. We lived in Northern California, where days aren’t any longer or shorter than anywhere else in America. But that summer, the sun wouldn’t set, wouldn’t let me sleep. That summer, the sun mocked and taunted with the teasing daylight and the sound of children’s laughter and play outside my drawn-curtain window, drifting from the cul-de-sac behind our house.

 

All original content © 2010 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

#FridayFlash: Shy Cowboy

This is another exercise in character study; this time, I’m attempting to portray awkwardness and embarrassment, shyness and nerves. Please feel free to let me know how you like it, what works, what doesn’t, etc. Thanks for the read!

UPDATED: I’ve made some changes based on the feedback on 18 Dec 2009. I hope this is an improvement over the previous piece.

===========================

He scrutinized his image in the rearview mirror and turned his head from side to side. His hat spat his hair out in tufts, and stubble crept over his cheeks, chapped lips and jaw. He sighed. It would have to do.

The pickup’s door screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim as he seated his tired hat lower and zipped his jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sniffed, and headed for the general store’s entrance.

The wooden building seemed as brittle as the winter. His heels thumped a hollow cadence as he went up the stairs and crossed the porch. The bell over the door jangled as he stepped into the warmth. The figure behind the counter fluttered his heart and made his knees quiver.

She turned and beamed. “Hi, Jake!”

He thought he’d faint for a moment, then recomposed himself. “Hey there, Ellie. How’re you?” The moment he said it he felt phony. A blush burned his cheeks.

“I’m good!” She moved to the end of the counter. “Not used to seeing you in so much. It’s nice.”

Another burn in his cheeks. “Oh, well … you know. I keep needin’ stuff, so … um ….”

He felt stupid. He never knew how to talk to her. He’d been watching her, pining for her, for more than a year. She always made him feel special, even when the store was crowded. He couldn’t figure out what to say, how to say it, and he felt like a schoolboy with his first crush. He hoped he didn’t resort to pulling her hair.

She giggled. “Yeah, I guess we all keep needing things.” She leaned over the counter on her elbows and he panicked. He thought he might see down the collar of the T-shirt she wore, but the neck stayed closed. He didn’t realize he’d looked away until he glanced at her again.

“So, I … I … was just out an’ around, an’ thought maybe I’d stop and pick up a few … things.” He cleared his throat and ripped the hat from his head. He’d forgotten his manners and gritted his teeth in self-loathing.

“Oh, well it’s always nice to see you. I guess you know where everything is.” She winked at him and started to turn away.

“Y-yeah, yeah, but … um ….”

She perked a brow and turned back. “Need some help?” She smiled again and he froze, a rabbit in a coyote’s gaze.

He dropped his eyes and his stomach fluttered. “I-I … I wanted to … I think I wanted to ask you … Ellie ….” He swallowed but the lump wedged in his throat.

She leaned on the counter, her face curious and open. “Yes?”

He squeezed his fists to marshal his courage before he remembered his hat in his hands. He relaxed and stared at the crumpled brim and tried to find words, testosterone, and his voice. He smoothed the softened felt.

“Jake? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Oh, yeah! Yeah, I’m … I’m good! Really!” He spoke too loud and too quick and it sounded forced to him. He inwardly cursed his clumsiness and drew a long breath. “Ellie, look … I’m shitty – sorry, I mean I’m bad – bad at this. I know you got things to do and all, but I wanted to ask you somethin’ and I ….”

She tipped her head and offered a small grin. “It’s okay, go ahead. I’m listening.”

“But … I don’t want you thinkin’ I come in here today just for stuff … I ain’t … I mean, I’m dumb an’ all, but not so I can’t remember supplies more’n a day ahead, y’know?”

She smiled and nodded. “I know that.”

He stared at his shoes. “I sorta … sorta come in to talk to you today.”

“Oh?” She kept her voice even. He couldn’t think straight enough to figure out what that meant.

“So, I was thinkin’ … maybe, if you ain’t opposed ….” Again the lump choked him. He clenched his jaw and eyes shut, then popped them open before he looked her in the eye. “I wondered if you’d–”

The bell jangled and he jumped. His hands stung with adrenaline from the start and he bit his tongue. Bill Wahler and five or six ranchers from up Wildwood way tromped into the store, slapping their arms and rubbing their hands together.

“Woo! Cold out there!” Bill called, and tipped his hat back. “Hey, Jake! How you been, cowboy?” Wahler patted Jake on the back. “Ain’t see ya in a while.”

Jake forced a smile. “Hey Bill, good to see you, sir. Ray, Davey, how you boys doin’?”

The ranchers huddled around him while Bill stepped to the counter. He pulled off his hat and swept his silver hair back. “Miss Ellie, how’s the sweetest thing in the county this fine day?”

Jake heard her laughter tinkle as she spoke with the flirty old man. He chatted another ten minutes or so with the ranchers, walked silently out of the store, climbed into his truck, and made the long, cold ride home.

 

 

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

#FridayFlash: Western-Fantasy Vignette 2

He stood under the salmon sky while the wind slapped denim, skin, hair. She faced away toward the road, skirt flapping over broken dust-colored boots. Her coat ruffled in the thin air. Her locks tattered as she held them captive beneath the hat she pressed onto her head with one hand. In the other she clutched their daughter’s hand.

He stared at grainy dirt, his lips dry and tongue swollen, boots caked in ashen dust. His calloused fingers rasped against his weary shirt when he wiped absently.

“I wish you’d say something,” he said, voice hollow and distant, the voice of a man speaking his last words on his last breath.

“It’s over,” she said, her throat tight. She turned her head, but didn’t meet his gaze. “It’s all been said. There’s nothing left.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“I know. So am I.”

He shuffled, squinted over the mesa ring to the east. The rolling ground swooped from the washes and canyons down into a flat which ran to the western horizon. Saline stung his eyes. He blinked.

“Please. Don’t.”

“I have to,” she said. “For me. For them.” She dipped her head toward the children. Beside his sister, their son’s eyes glistened under his straw bangs, lower lip quivering. “It’s … I have to.”

“It’s only been three years.”

“Only? You say that to me? Only? Three years. Three years of struggling, fighting for every moment, every inch, every sprout, every grain. Only three years. They deserve more than this. We left more behind. Better than this.”

“It’s going to come, just one or two–”

“Don’t. Don’t say it. You’ve said one or two more seasons for eight or nine seasons. It hasn’t happened. It might. I believe if any man can do it, you can. But I can’t take it anymore.”

Hooves pounding and the racket of wheels and rigging drifted against the wind. He snapped his head to the west, surprised. The coach. He didn’t realize it would come so soon.

He turned back to her. “I’m begging you. Please.” His voice croaked, broke.

“It’s not forever, you know that. When it happens, when you finally break this place open, I’ll come back.”

“I need you.”

“I need you too.” She looked over her shoulder at him then, and her fine, porcelain statue features took his breath away. Her soft, brown eyes, the smooth lines despite the harsh years, her firm, set jaw. His heart jumped in his chest. But the carriage drawing to a stop on the dirt pack in front of her shattered his moment.

The coachman looked down at her, dipped his head and touched his weathered hat brim. “These all the bags, ma’am?” His voice sounded gravelly and cracked as the road itself.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, and her voice danced on the wind into the western canyons.

“Ticket?” the coachman said, and dropped nimble as a sprite to the ground. His team panted and pawed, heads shaking, snorting. “Easy, now,” the driver soothed. “They be edgy this morn,” he said, and smiled through his dense dusty beard.

The man watched helpless as she fished into the bag draped on her shoulder and pulled out three paper rectangles. They snapped and rattled as the wind bent them over and broke them in her grip. The coachman stuffed them into a shirt pocket beneath his heavy jacket and stroked his beard. He nodded, gave her a practiced grin.

The coachman gestured toward the carriage, and pulled at a handle on the underside. A rusty metal step ladder groaned and shrieked outward. The wind tried to rip the curtains off the window when he opened the door.

The man stared with his throat too tight to swallow, to breathe. His son looked back again, a fat tear rolled down his cheek. “Bye, Daddy.” The words stabbed him like broken glass.

“I’ll see you real soon, son,” he said, but didn’t know how he managed to speak. “Real soon.”

He watched his wife lift their daughter into the dark of the coach. The coachman kept the door from tearing off, one of her bags hanging from his gloved fingers. When the man raised his eyes, the coachman offered a brief look of understanding and an almost imperceptible nod.

His daughter vanished into the coach without a sound.

His wife turned to face him. Her eyes shredded him with the pain, the ache they held. “It won’t be forever,” she said, and then kissed the tips of her fingers and blew over her open hand at him.

“No,” he choked, “Not forever. I promise.”

Her face broke. She stifled a sob, and launched herself into the coach. The driver closed the door, danced around the coach placing bags deftly on its top. A moment later he materialized in the driver’s seat and took the reins. The horses seemed more agitated still, but the coachman paid no heed. He stared down at the man for a moment, then gave him a somber nod with that same touch of fingers to hat brim.

The man didn’t respond, but the coachman didn’t wait for one. He prodded the team and snapped the reins, and the coach jerked and then rolled away.

He watched the carriage recede down the hill toward the flat to the east until it became a tiny speck.

His heart spiked when the black form rose just as the sun pierced the horizon, a winged blot of death on the pale sky. His heart froze completely when the dragon spewed wyrmfire in a blazing geyser pouring earthward. A blinding explosion blasted the coach on the road beneath the wyrm. The sound came seconds later as he raced screaming their names until his voice tore loose and flew away in the constant howling wind.

He knew then it would be forever after all.

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.