Pass [Flash Fiction]

Colored blue and gold, Graham sat on the throne. He held a scepter. His forehead itched, a couple stray thorns drooping off his curling black hair. His boxer shorts were bunched uncomfortably beneath the full regalia.
He wasn’t positive what was happening. His mother, his principal, his grandfather and his trumpet teacher were walking slowly around him. Assessing. Murmuring wind-chime syllables. Graham wasn’t afraid of them. He straightened his back, the heavy cloth and body paint shushing one another as they rubbed. He didn’t dare look down to see if he’d smudged the paint that someone, no doubt a servant – he couldn’t quite remember – had worked so hard over.
“Well?”
“Is he fit?”
“He is fit enough. But he is still a boy.”
“He could lose control.”
Graham fell. His tunic ruffled up with the wind and he could finally fix his boxer shorts. The waterfall behind him spattered him clean and washed off the paint. He felt at his hair but the thorns had become disentangled. He had dropped his scepter. A smug voice called from within the waterfall. “See? No control.”
Graham lifted his hand up. Where a tattoo of a fox had always been on his wrist, a buffalo head rested, dull eyes staring at him, reluctantly giving up their secret. Graham felt the gurgle of hysteria rising up in him. Before his body decided whether it was going to cry or laugh, still freefalling beside the neverending Niagara, he spread his arms wide and spun himself round. It wasn’t a graceful pirouette, but it did the job.
Graham stood in front of the panel. Four people, faces obscured and blurry, not replaced by familiar ones this time. He stood in the clothes he’d put on that morning. Jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, boots. His version of a uniform, easy to remember and get back into. He looked down at his tattoo. The fox was back. It winked at him.
“That was a very close shave, young man.”
“I know,” Graham dared to speak.
“Were you even lucid in the first stage?”
“Of course,” he lied.
“You must admit, some part of his subconscious kept that waterfall going and going. He could have hit bottom at any point.”
“That’s true.”
“I think we should give him a probation period.”
“Agreed. Are we agreed on this? Acceptance with probation period?”
“Agreed.”
“Agreed.”
“Agreed.”
“Wake up.”
Graham opened his eyes onto reality. He stood in the same room, but this time the panel’s faces were clear. He didn’t let them see his reaction. He bowed his head in thanks, acknowledgement, respect, whatever, and left the room. Probation or not, he was certified Lucid. Now the party could really start.

An In-Flight Message

Attention, all Galactica Air Customers. We’d like to welcome you on board this Twelve-K Shuttle to the L4 Asteroid Belt. Before our Certified-Sleep-Process is induced, we would like to ask that you pay attention to our few rules and regulations.
First, for those of your traveling with us for the first time, the Certified-Sleep-Process is induced by a minuscule spinal shot administered through the back of your seat. It is guaranteed not to damage clothing. Please contact our customer service if you believe any damage has been done.
In the highly unlikely event of your Sleep wearing off, you may press the blue button on your seat arm to introduce a second shot. Please do so immediately upon waking up. Our cabin crew will be patrolling throughout the flight and will ensure your health and safety during the flight. However, since passengers on this Shuttle are not zero-G certified, you are required to maintain Sleep and Seating conditions at all times.
In the case of an emergency, our crew will attempt to fix the problem and may attempt a quick landing if extreme measures are called for. If this happens, the Certified-Sleep-Process will be automatically induced a second and third time in quick succession in order to create a stable and safe, panic-free environment upon the Shuttle.
Finally, our in-flight Dream-system is up and running now, and for the next thirty minutes you are free to decide on your entertainment for the remainder of this flight. For our customers in Titanium-Star, there are several more channels to choose from, which our Chromium passengers may purchase for a fee as well.
Please sit back, enjoy the Real-Water! bottles provided free of charge in your armrests, and enjoy the flight ahead.

Earth to Close for Repairs

Earth will be closed for repairs on Monday, according to the Office of Planetary Access and Inter-galactic Travel (OPAIT) . A crew of four-hundred and twenty-two million will be conducting major infrastructural overhauls beginning on Monday (Earthweek-Standard) and continuing throughout the week. This news was announced rather suddenly, many claim, during a press conference regarding the new safety features of Jupiter’s forty-third experimental moon colony.

“We don’t really get it,” Sa’ifa 45/12 Eshkenazi remarked. “I mean, I’m waiting for a place in the next colony if forty-three works out and the O2-levels work out this time around, but now it sounds like they might be trying to screw us over and send us back to that [expletive removed] of a rock or something.” 45/12 Eshkenazi declined to say whether her suspicions were based on any wider rumors, but the murmurs of the crowd made clear that she was not the only one to feel discomfited by the back-to-back announcements.

A spokesperson for OPAIT stated that “there are no plans to re-route any of the colonizers away from their current destinations. That’s preposterous. Earth is still populated by many unfortunate souls and there has simply been an influx of donations towards a project that has long been in the works.” When asked where these donations have come from, the spokesperson declined to comment, and later OPAIT officials also required our editors to remove said person’s name from our article since “the comment was not officially approved by the Office’s Press Agency.”

Holopics will be screened regularly of Earth’s progress. Earthman Jacob 9763/0 Salastrius was cautiously enthusiastic to hear about Earth’s closure. “I’m glad that something’s finally going to get done to fix things up a bit,” his accentinterpreter translated. “But this has been promised before and nothing’s really happened so I guess I’ll believe it when I see it. Besides, not that we usually get to leave, but those who can will have to postpone their trips now for a while and that’s rough. Every day here is rough and we want to get out as soon as we can.”

More details will be updated as the work crews begin Monday.

 

 

 

PHOTO / NASA

Halfling

“Let’s look at the third problem now. Seven-hundred and twelve divided by fifteen.” The chalk squealed against the board, but Mrs. Pipridge didn’t even flinch. “How about,” she said, back still to the class as she finished writing. “Donald.” She turned, and her eyes gleamed with something malicious as she pointed them in the boy’s direction. “Donald?”

“Yes, Mrs. Pipridge?”

“Will you please explain how we can find the answer to the question on the board?” It was incredible how her voice became sharper the more polite she was. Donald looked at her, his mind shutting down as the numbers swam in front of his eyes. He lowered his head and saw that the answer was written carefully, painstakingly, in his notebook. He’d worked so hard with his tutor to learn long-division, and he’d finally got the hang of it. But he couldn’t manage to get a word out. He stared, terrified, at Mrs. Pipridge’s leering face and opened his mouth, willing himself to speak.

Mrs. Pipridge sighed, and Donald felt as if her breath was like the iciest of December winds, penetrating through his sweater and right into his ribs, making his heart freeze and contract. “Fine. I see you have nothing to contribute, as usual. Laura, how about you?”

Donald heard titters from behind him and felt something sticky and wet hit the back of his head. He didn’t turn around, though. He knew that if he did, he’d receive a spitball right in the middle of his forehead. It was no use telling, either, because Mick and Tommy, the boys behind him, always managed to hide all evidence of straws and chewed-up paper by the time any teacher reached their desk. They were pros.

The new school was exactly like the old one. It was supposed to be liberal and progressive – Donald didn’t know what the words meant, but he’d heard his house-mother throwing them around a lot in meetings – but the kids here were just like kids everywhere. Sure, there was another halfling here, but she got as much crap as Donald did. She just shut up about it, like him, because that was the only way to get through the day.

The Other One, as Donald thought of her, had it better than him, though. Everyone knew that she’d got it on her father’s side and that her mother, a war-hero, had killed the one who’d injected her. The Other One could at least embrace her humanity entirely and disown those parts of her that were so different. But Donald didn’t know who either of his parents were. For all he knew he wasn’t even a halfling; he might be pure Aylyen, although he didn’t think so. His skin wasn’t nearly green enough for that, and while he did only have three long fingers to each hand, his toes were absolutely normal, pink and stubby just like any other kid’s, and the doctors said that was a sure sign that one of his parents had been an H, not an A.

He sometimes wondered whether the Other One ever wondered if she’d be happier with other A’s. Donald wished sometimes that he’d been taken along when the A’s left Earth, but he knew it was a pipe-dream. Aylyens wouldn’t want a halfling either, would they? He was stuck in the middle, between two vastly different worlds, and there was absolutely no way out that he could see.

Under Ground

Lost underground, the girl sat alone and forlorn and waited for someone to find her. She’d been down in the tunnels all morning as well as half the afternoon already, and still, she was lost. It was a disconcerting feeling, and the girl didn’t like it at all. There were strange noises that came from all over, such as the bubbling of far and unseen geysers and the crunching of earth within itself as people moved around above and below. These sounds unsettled her, especially as they were the sounds of home to her and she’d never before found them frightening. Something familiar turning into a threat is one of the scariest things a person can go through.

The girl hugged a lumpy cloth doll closer to her. It was in the guise of a mole, and the girl had named it, for inexplicable reasons, Piggy. She looked into Piggy’s glass eyes and wondered whether he would come to life and speak to her. Maybe he’d be able to show her the way back to her cave. But he remained a doll, stuffed and mute, and she hugged him close again for comfort.

She looked again at the time telling device that hung on her neck. It was an hourglass, with a very tiny hole in it. Every morning, her mother would reach into the neck of her nightshirt and pull out the hourglass, and she’d turn it over. She told her daughter that if she didn’t lie down all day but stayed up and working like the good girl she was, she’d always be able to tell time, because of the tiny notches, painted red, that told her how many hours had passed since dawn. In their underground existence, night and day were mere formalities, but they kept everyone sane and working, the rhythm helping them.

The girl brought the glass closer and peered in the poor light at the notches. It was now twelve hours past dawn, and she’d been lost for most of those. She felt panic rising in her again and debated beginning to scream again. But the last time she’d done that, the earth had shifted and some crumbs of dirt had fallen onto her from the ceiling. She knew about cave-ins, of course, and the spill at deterred her from trying to call out too loudly again.

To pass the time and suppress her panic, she began a counting game that she’d begun teaching her little sister. She made Piggy jump up and down along with her whispered rhymes, and tried to invent more of the song when she ran out of numbers. When she grew weary of this game, she began to stretch her legs and walked up and down the empty corridor she was in. She tried, for the umpteenth time, to remember how she’d gotten here, but she was almost sure that she had at least one mistake in her visual memory of the way, and she knew, as she’d been taught since infancy, that one wrong turn could mean falling to your death or losing your way and going so deep into the earth that no one would ever find you. That was why she’d stayed where she was when she discovered she was in an unfamiliar corridor.

She wondered when her parents would come looking for her. She hoped it would be before suppertime. She thought of her little sister, eating at the large square table without her, and of her parents, whispering urgently to each other in the corner of the room. She imagined them going to the Chief and asking for more people to help the search. She tried to envision who it was who would find her, and she hoped fervently that it would be the Chief’s fifteen-year old son. The thought of his dark skin and red lips made her blush in a way that was still quite new to her. But it was as her parents always said – even Under Ground, life goes on. She hoped her life would go on with that boy in it.

The girl chastised herself suddenly for thinking of such things. There was no excuse for thinking of a boy when she was lost without food or water. She had her whistle with her, at least, but she wasn’t going to resort to it until she heard a search party nearby. The risk of the ceiling falling in on her was too great for using the whistle if she wasn’t absolutely sure she’d be heard.

Tired of the roundabout route her mind was taking, the girl sat back down, across from where she’d set a groove in the ground already, and began to listen to the sounds around her again.

 

Dawn and Dog

Dawn’s alarm clock rang at three in the morning, the witching hour. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up, blearily trying to see whether or not her dog, Tuft, was lying on the bed. Putting her glasses on, Dawn determined he wasn’t, so she kicked the covers back violently and got out of bed.

“Tuft! Here, Tuft!” she called as she pulled on a dressing gown and shoved her feet into old, battered brown slippers. The medium sized mutt came running into the room, his tongue lolling, and began to sniff her frantically. Dawn bent down to pet him, and said, in the kind of voice usually reserved for babies, “Walk? Want to go for a walk? There’s a good boy!”

Five minutes later, she’d exchanged her slippers for flip-flops, and was walking down 45th Street, Tuft pulling at his leash. It wasn’t cold, exactly, but there was a dampness in the air, and Dawn could smell the air coming off the river. She walked slowly, letting Tuft sniff out this lamp-post and that car, and held her small can of mace tightly in her other hand. You couldn’t be too careful, that’s what her mother always said.

It was at the corner of 45th and and 9th that it happened. Tuft stopped, growling, and Dawn stopped too. Once before, Tuft had saved her from interrupting a drug-deal that had been going down in the middle of Central Park in broad daylight. Dawn didn’t know how he did it, but the dog was something special. She looked around now for the source of whatever it was that was making Tuft nervous. The streets were almost deserted though. A lone truck was trundling down 9th Avenue, but it was moving away from her. 45th Street appeared empty both in front and behind her. “What do you see, Tuft?” she murmured to him. “What do you smell?”

The dog was looking straight up, and his nose was wriggling furiously. He stood up on his hind legs and pawed the air. He growled as he fell back to the ground and then did it again. Dawn had never seen him act like this. She looked up, too.

“What the…?”

An object was floating high above her. It looked like a badly put together Lego space-ship. But it couldn’t be a space-ship… could it? As she watched, lights winked on and off on different parts of the misshapen thing. Suddenly, a spotlight went on and blinded her, framing her and Tuft in its beam. She winked hard, trying to adjust herself to the sudden light and to see something through it. But it was impossible, there was no way she could see past it. Shielding her eyes, she knelt down, leaning over Tuft and hugging him. He was still growling.

“What is it what is it what is it what is it?” she muttered. “This can’t be, this is like a bad science fiction movie, this is ridiculous, this is-” but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She fell silent, shaking with fear now, and bent her head over the dog, breathing in his scent, which as gross as it was – and, amazingly, a corner of her mind was rational enough to think to itself that Tuft needed a bath – the smell felt more real than anything she’d just seen.

Tuft began to bark now, trembling in her arms. Dawn heard what sounded like an echoing bark, as if in answer, and the spotlight went off. The darkness blinded her now as much as the light had at first. She looked at Tuft and then looked up at the floating thing, and then back down at Tuft. He was still growling and barking alternately, and she realized he was trembling with anger, not fear. It was as if a dog had come into his territory and had threatened him.

Looking up again, Dawn watched as the space-ship, or whatever it was, floated a little way down 9th Avenue. Tuft was now wagging his tail and his hackles were going down. He licked Dawn’s face, but she kept looking up, watching the thing hover onward. Tuft barked again, and Dawn, surprised by the loud noise right in her ear looked at him. When she looked back into the sky, there was nothing there.

For the second time that night, she said “What the…?”

**

When Dawn got to work at five, she picked up one of the newspapers that had been delivered to the convenience store that she owned. There wasn’t anything in it about tests on flying crafts done in Manhattan or about strange blimps being sent into the sky around three in the morning. There wasn’t even some splashy article about how the alien-nuts were warning everyone that there would be ETs coming to earth one of these days. Nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever.

Dawn threw the newspaper down, opened the locks on the door, and went inside. She turned on all the lights immediately and looked around, making sure there was nothing weird lurking in the room. Finally, as she set up the till and began counting the money that had been in it over the night, she decided to shrug the whole thing off.

“New York,” she said aloud to the empty store. “Anything can happen, right?”

Wizard Mathews [A Short Story That Isn’t Really About Magic]

The Great Wizard Mathews, sat down and wrapped his cloak around himself. He thought, for the hundredth time that day, that his experiment had gone horribly wrong. He shivered a bit and flinched away from the noisy road, burrowing himself further in his cloak, and closed his eyes.

The Great Wizard was an expert of his field and an important man, where he came from anyway. His expertise was crystal balls, the kind that look backwards and forwards and over the world. They were simple things, really, crystal balls. It was all just an easy matter of tweaking with the chemicals and dimensions that made up time and space and then confining the tweaked bits in glass orbs. All quite easy stuff really, as wizarding went.

Mathews sniffled and then sneezed. The smoke down in his little corner was even worse than it had been walking around all day. He was quite sure he saw some poisenous matter drifting from the strange little gate in the ground. He pressed his old, wrinkled and once-respectful face against the dirty stone and tried with all his might to disappear from the place. What a fool he had been! He was so angered with himself that he bit his hand and beat his head against the wall a few times.

The trouble with Mathews was, he got bored quickly. He had been in the crystal ball business for some fifty odd years, a short time indeed for a wizard, and he grew so bored with fiddling and confining things in orbs that he decided to fiddle with time and space a bit more, only this time outside of orbs, and see what would happen. His first experiments were exhilerating – Mathews passed through time and worlds quickly, colors and sounds flashing by him until his head fair spun with it and his body felt invigorated and new with the energy of it.

Today though – Had it really all just begun this morning? – Mathews had thrown himself into the process with so much gusto, that he had gotten stuck. Stuck in one place, a place so different from his own world that he wanted to weep at its ugliness. The worst thing was that his powers seemed to be drained. He had decided that an evil spell must be on this place. He knew it in his bones. He saw other abandonned or lost wizards like him around the noisy, dangerous and smelly place he was in, also bereft of their powers. He knew them as his brethren because of their wizened faces, their cloaks and capes of all manner, their weariness at this world and most of all, their constant mutterings – stuff he reckoned must be spells. Well, would be spells if they’d worked- it seemed all the others had lost their powers as well.

Mathews tried to speak to the others, but most were so deep in dispair at their lost powers that they didn’t answer him. Some spoke in code it seemed, muttering low, but Mathews did not understand their code and alas, knew not how to go about cracking it.

So it had gone all day, and Mathews was now tired. Bone weary, even. He glanced up and saw a child look at him, from far away. He sighed, tried to smile at the little boy, and then lay his head back against the wall and slept.

_______________________________________________

“Robbie, come here! Stop staring at that old vagrant!” A woman murmured urgently, tugging at her young son’s coat, as the boy tried to go over to the wizard.

“But Mommy, Mommy, he’s a wizard! I saw a crystal ball in his pocket! I want him to teach me magic,” the little Robbie screamed in protest. His mother pulled him away, still screaming, and tried to explain about homeless men and vagrants and promised to buy him some ice cream. When Robbie wouldn’t stop screaming about the wizard, his mother dispaired and bought him a glittery plastic magic wand from the toy-store.

Robbie was content then, and agreed to go home without a fuss. But when he was tucked into bed that night, he wondered about the wizard and knew, for one clear moment before he fell into the deep sleep of children, that he was the only one in this world who would ever know that that man was a Great Wizard.