#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

#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.

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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: Tickets, Please.

The wheels clattering over the track junction woke him from a restless sleep.

He blinked into the strange light. For a moment he couldn’t find the source of the blue-white glow, but gave it no further thought when he couldn’t recall getting on a train in the first place. He slid upright in the uncomfortable vinyl seat, and rubbed his eyes.

The car seemed impossibly wide. It rocked and clacked as the train rolled fast down the track. The engine droned somewhere, but he couldn’t tell from where. The long seats stretched to a wide aisle, and the car ceiling arched overhead in a way reminiscent of old, wooden train cars. Time-forgotten old, and the wood around the windows glowed with amber varnish and many years of sunlight streaming through the windows.

He sat alone on the bench, near the middle. The aisle to his left had to be four feet wide before another long bench reached to the windows opposite him. Doors punctured the walls to the fore and rear of the car, gleaming brass handles set into dark, rich wood grain and a café curtain squatting taut behind the mullions of the glass.

He tried to focus his thoughts, but the car’s dimensions distracted him. It’s huge. Immense. He craned his head to look behind him, and the smattering of passengers in their seats caught his eye.

They all seemed dazed, confused, eyes unfocused, most turned toward the windows.

He slid to the end of the bench, and stared out. A bleak, barren landscape rolled past. Long, solid plates of barren rock, an occasional spike of something like vegetation stabbed up. The few leafless trees seemed dead, the trunks and limbs an ashen gray. The sky, a heavy slate color, hung low. The rises in the distance jabbed crystalline skyward. Some vanished into the nesting clouds.

An alien, colorless landscape. He had no idea where he was.

He scanned the compartment for a conductor, and didn’t find one. He turned back to the window for a moment and realized the few plants crowding near the tracks rocketed by in a blur. The train sped along at a mind-bending speed, and the desert outside spread long miles into the horizon before the broken-glass mountains sliced it off.

“Do you know where we are?”

The voice startled him and his heart spiked. He jolted and spun on the worn seat. A woman sat beside him, her face powdery white, her eyes sunken into blue-black sockets. Her white hands fluttered in her lap, two agitated birds. When the train bounced over a bump in the tracks she jerked in start. A tiny, quivery sigh escaped her.

“N-no,” he said, but she stared past him out the window. “No, I don’t. I was hoping someone would tell me. Is there a conductor anywhere?”

“I … don’t know,” she said, and her thin, airy voice whistled from her. “I don’t think I’ve been on very long.”

“You don’t think?” He tipped his head at her with drawn brows. “You okay?”

Her dark purple and black clothes seemed dated to him, but he couldn’t tell. He didn’t keep up with women’s fashions, and she seemed young. Less than thirty-five, he felt certain. A strange little hat perched at the top of her head near the back and matched her dress, shawl and black lace-up boots. Her long, dark hair snaked around in an elegant braid and vanished beneath the hat.

“I … can’t be sure. I’m having trouble … remembering things.”

He stared into the middle distance and tried to recall how he came aboard. Where the train left from. When he bought a ticket. Where he’d be going by train. He glanced down at himself and saw the sharp-creased black suit, a rich crimson tie, his gleaming black wingtip shoes. He reached for his jacket pocket but felt nothing in the depths.

It occurred to him then he couldn’t remember his name.

“I’m … I’m having trouble remembering things too.”

“Are you?” her voice drifted, dreamy and absent.

“Yeah. I can’t … I can’t even remember my name right now. Do you suppose …?”

She blinked, slow and sleepy, and her eyes rose to him. “Suppose what?”

The door banged open behind them and they jumped together with all the other passengers, turned toward the sudden noise. The lights blinked out for a moment then snapped back on.

The conductor pushed through the opening. A massive, black form in a classic conductor’s hat and uniform. It rose nine feet toward the high, arched ceiling, and the yellow, featureless orbs glowed with an internal preternatural light. The tusks emerged from a thick, rolled black lip and ended in a blunt tip just below the eyes, a heavy brow working as the head swung on a thick stump of neck to and fro around the cabin. The talons on fat, powerful fingers scraped with chilling solidity on the wooden bench backs. The floor shook and thudded under the massive weight of its thick, clawed feet.

It glowered at the woman for a moment and then turned its baleful stare to him.

“Ticket.” The word rattled like stone falling into a vast well. The voice ground with gravelly baritone. It breathed in heavy puffs of fetid air.

“I-I don’t–”

The thing reached out with blinding speed and sank a steel-hard finger into the breast pocket of his coat. The lining tore with a shrieking rip when it pulled a solid gold ticket from its recesses. The conductor punctured it with one savage, spit-coated tusk, then stuffed it back into his pocket.

He sat frozen, eyes locked on its wide back as it waded up the aisle.

He turned to the window, gripped the wooden edges with white-knuckled fury. “Where are we?”

She shook her head, haunted eyes staring out the window at the bleak, unchanging landscape.

The train roared onward down the tracks.

Thing, Pt. 2 (Writing Exercise)

Someone on my deviantART watch list asked me to continue this vignette, though for the life of me I didn’t know why.

So I did.

Still under 125 words, and this time I’m pretty sure there are NO ADJECTIVES OR ADVERBS.  I did, in fact, find one of each in the last version, which I’ve edited.

So, if you find one of those nasty li’l buggers, let me know, would you?  I’m serious, here.

Thanks!  Have a great holiday weekend!

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“Man, it’s … .” Paulie leaned in, and brushed back his bangs. “You know what it …?”

“No,” I said and shook my head. “No, I don’t.”

“Hunh.”

The breeze teased the field into undulating waves. I heard gravel crunch and turned to see Paulie scouring the ground. He trotted back grinning, a twig in his hand. It went from his hips to the ground. He stood over me a minute, then stuffed it in my hand.

“Here,” he grinned. “Poke it. See what happens.”

“What the — no way! You poke it!” I dropped the stick, scrabbled to my feet, and backpedaled.

“You chicken?”

“Yeah! You poke it!”

He snorted, the grin plastered on his lips. “Fine, I will.”

All Original Content Copyright J. Dane Tyler, 2008
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

Thing (Writing Exercise)

Another attempt at the 125-words-or-fewer, no-adjectives-or-adverbs exercise.  This one cruises in at about 122 words (close!), but it has a twist.  See if you can find the tricky item in this piece!  And of course, all are welcome to play along!

The “prompt” for this one was: Two kids find something strange.  Decribe the scene with 125 words or fewer and no adjectives or adverbs allowed.  I found this one easier.

I might do a few more of these as time goes on.  At least I’m writing again!!  😀

God bless, all!
-JDT-

PS – Updated the text, but didn’t change the twist/caveat Benjamin Rogers caught below. -jdt-

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“Where’d it come from?” Paulie stood, eyes riveted to it, ragweed locks rustling on the breeze. He squinted at me in the brightness.

“How should I know?” I said. I stared at it, just like Paulie.

“You … you think it’s … can we touch it?”

“I ain’t gonna touch it. Are you?”

“Heck no! You crazy?”

My jeans crumpled behind my knees when I bent with hands poised to move if it … did something. Anything.

“Is it … what is it?”

“Paulie, I don’t know, man.” He was getting on my nerves. “How can I know, dude??”

“I’m just askin’,” he muttered, but he didn’t care. We stared at it, and he rested his hands on his knees.

 

All original content Copyright J. Dane Tyler, 2008
ALL RIGHTS reserved