Forever After

“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who met a handsome prince.”

For Suzie, visiting Gramma’s house is a special treat. Gramma never travels: Daddy says she’s been shut-in since the Reagan administration. But she and Suzie always have a smile for each other.

“One moonlit night, as spring lingered in the air, the princess climbed out her window. Down, down, down the tower she climbed to meet her prince.”

Starry-eyed Suzie listens to Gramma’s fairy tale.

“There, in back of an enchanted bulldozer, the prince and princess expressed their love for one another. But the prince’s foot slipped, releasing the parking brake. Downhill rolled the bulldozer… crash! …into the castle.”

Now Suzie’s eyes are wide.

“The king was livid! Veins bulged in the king’s throat as he shouted at the young princess, pronouncing his royal punishment…”

“And that, dear Suzie, is why to this day, Gramma is not allowed out of her room.”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-42, where the novel prompt (appropriately enough) was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by the late Dentarthurdent Douglas Adams. Prompt topics include a theme of foolishness, and a setting of a house about to be destroyed. (Or having been about to will be destroyed, if I’m using my time travel tenses correctly.) Photo is CC2.0 by Maureen Didde.

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The Night Princess

When Minuella was a child, her summer days were spent laboring in the fields and tending livestock. At night she lay upon her straw mattress, with her cat Sareel curled up next to her, as Grandfather told tales of faraway lands and great kingdoms. Grandfather’s stories were the only wealth left to the family: they were Minuella’s inheritance.

One night, as Grandfather slept, Minuella grabbed Sareel and fled the ramshackle cottage. “I’m no peasant,” she proclaimed to the blue-eyed Siamese. “I want to see those great kingdoms. I want to be somebody.” She followed a star northward through the sweltering night, into woodlands that the older villagers said were enchanted.

In a forest clearing, Minuella stood in awe as moonlight trickled through the mighty canopy of leaves, freezing into solid form. Snow whirled through the summer air as the moonlight solidified into a Castle of Ice. Stars clattered to the ground to form a glistening tiara at her feet. Sareel leapt from her arms and transformed into a stately lynx.

A troupe of snow-men emerged from the Castle of Ice and bowed. “Your majesty! Take the starry crown, and claim your title as Princess.” Minuella did so. “Come, Sareel,” she said. “Our kingdom awaits.”

For a thousand nights, Minuella and the handsome lynx ruled from the Castle of Ice. “Oh, Sareel,” she confided to her feline companion one night. “My fairy tale dreams have come true. Why am I not happy?” She removed the starry crown and let it clatter to the frozen ground. Sareel licked her face gently and gave a rumbling purr.

With the first touch of sunlight, the Castle of Ice melted into the dewy ground. Minuella rushed home with Sareel the Siamese in her arms. “Come on! We’re late for breakfast!”

A fairy tale written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-40, where the prompt was Grimms’ Fairy Tales. My chosen prompt was a theme of transformation and a setting of an enchanted forest. Image: Three Sisters (Die drei Schwester). Public domain in the U.S.; artwork by Alexander Zick (1845-1907).

Come to Grief

“I love you.”

“You’re only saying that because I almost killed you.” Zara pulled her hand away from the glass panel, and the crimson circle that would terminate his life support.

Paralyzed below the neck, the man in the biomedical bed tilted his head toward Zara. “Please… daughter. By law and custom, as my sole relative, only you may end my suffering.” His raspy voice raked against Zara’s heartstrings.

Zara stared at the husk of a man. Holographic indicators overlaid his medical data. Age: 437. Pulse, blood pressure, brain activity. Diagnosis: Immortality Treatment Rejection Syndrome. Prognosis: progressive paralysis, agonizing pain, death within the year. In his bloodshot eyes, she saw something virtually unknown to modern civilization: real pain. How could she let him suffer in this cold hospital room? She was his daughter: he was her responsibility.

Zara felt the impulse firing through her neurons: the electrochemical command telling her finger to press the button.

“No!” She turned away from him.

“My daughter… Medical science gave me four centuries of life, but has reached its limit. Close the circle. End my suffering.”

“Growing up, I dreamed of a father,” Zara confessed. “Someone to love me unconditionally. But you weren’t there.” She turned to him again. “I made my own way in life — and quite well! Now you send for me, not to make amends, but merely to press a button?”

“Then you hate me. Push the button. Give me what I deserve.”

“I don’t hate you,” Zara said pityingly. “I don’t even know you. You’re a stranger to me.” With one hand, she stroked his brittle hair. With the other, she pressed the button.

“I love you,” he mouthed silently, and then he was gone.

Zara slumped to the marble floor and cried. “I love you, too.”

Written for the Cracked Flash Fiction Competition, Year 1 week 8, where the prompt was the first two lines of dialogue. The judges had some very kind words for this story.

Farm of the Future

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-26. The prompt is to have a farmer protagonist, along with this CC2.0 photo by Brian (Ziggy) Liloia.

In the earliest days of humankind, primitive farming relied on good fortune and favorable weather. Families toiled in dusty fields under the harsh sun to scrape by. My colleagues and I stride proudly down the marble corridor in our white uniforms. Most of our parents were farmers. We too are farmers, of the most crucial crop.

Raising a child’s mind is too important to be left to chance. To the inexperienced parent. To the untrained teacher. Modern farming techniques produce a great leap forward in yields. The government’s best instructional technicians labor to ensure a fertile learning environment. No child left behind.

Row upon row of students float motionless in their sensory deprivation tanks, stacked floor to ceiling. Ten thousand impressionable minds, isolated from all outside influence, carefully controlled and monitored 24/7/365 for optimal educational opportunity. Never any variation. Only perfect consistency.

Today’s biology lesson: crustaceans. Holographic lobsters scuttle above the students’ faces as they look on, captivated. A nearby osmotic learning group absorbs a lesson in 20th century automotive technology. As we check the flow of nootropic drugs into their veins, I smile to see these children flourishing. Thanks to my colleagues’ dedication, this year’s crop of minds will be the best yet.

The Building Blocks of Victory

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-25. The prompt was to write on the theme of defeat, along with this CC2.0 photo by the National Parks Service.

A great statue waited in perpetual incompletion. Mikey gazed teary-eyed at the construction zone, as silent as the other miniature figures looking on. The building blocks of the pedestal were set firmly in place, but all work had halted.

“Did you give him a C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E-B-A-R?” asked Mikey’s dad.

“What’s a Cho Cola Tea Bar?” his mother replied.

The dad sighed. “Why is he crying?”

“He can’t find the missing piece.”

“Can’t he use one of the hundred others?”

“You know he’s very particular.”

“Can we exchange the kit at the toy store?”

“Not once it’s opened.”

His dad knelt and wiped a tear from Mikey’s cheek. “Look, son, it’s just a missing Lego block.”

Mikey bawled.

“Son, let’s look for your missing block.” The dad took one step, then winced. Mikey’s missing gray building block was lodged firmly in his right foot. “Argh!” Another step: Mikey’s dad blundered into his son’s Lego pile.

Mikey beamed as he recovered the proper piece. The pedestal completed, he resumed construction on the miniature Statue of Liberty.

“You saved the day,” Mikey’s mother said, but the compliment fell on deaf ears. While Mikey reveled in the thrill of his Lego block victory, his dad was preoccupied with the agony of the feet.

Hotter than the Sun

Another day of the A-to-Z Challenge! H is for heat-ray. In The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, the Martian invaders use a heat-ray against helpless Earthlings. Heat-rays, along with death rays, ray guns, blasters, beam guns, and zappers were common in science fiction long before the real-world invention of the laser.

“What’s in here?” The kid brushed away a thick blanket of dust and heaved open the lid of the antique chest. “Wow, this stuff looks old!”

My heart skipped a beat when I saw the curved metal component in his grubby hands. “Whoa! Careful with that!” I rushed over and relieved him of his newfound treasure. “That belonged to my Granddad.”

“What is it? Taillight from a ’57 Chevy?”

I laughed. “I can see why you’d think that, from the lens assembly and the chrome. But no, you’re several decades off.”

“Sure looks like something from the Fifties. Wasn’t art deco popular back then? What is it?”

A quick glance confirmed that his sister and mother were out of earshot, at the far end of the attic. “Seems like you know a little history, kid. Have you studied the War of the Worlds?”

He frowned. “History? You mean English literature. The War of the Worlds was a book.”

“By H.G. Wells,” I confirmed. “His account was fictionalized, but pretty accurate. This device is a Martian heat-ray, salvaged from the great invasion of 1898.”

“No way.” He cocked his head skeptically. “Your Granddad would’ve been a boy in 1898.”

“Yep. One of the Martian cylinders landed near his farm on the outskirts of Altoona. When the Martians attacked, Great-Granddad got burned up along with the rest of the farmer militia, but Granddad hid with his mama and sister in the ruins of an old Amish barn.” I closed the heavy oak chest and sat down on it. “For weeks they holed up in that barn, living off jars of preserves and toasted red-weed. Then the Martians all caught colds and died, and Granddad claimed a war prize from one of their downed Tripods.”

“Baloney!” But I noticed the boy was studying the device intently, following its contours with his fingers without actually touching it. “If it were a real heat-ray, the military would’ve confiscated it or something.”

I flipped the chrome device over, careful not to aim it at anything flammable in the process. “The military had dozens of the things,” I said with a shrug. “And everyone knows that we were never able to reverse engineer the Martian technology.”

“So your Granddad just stashed it in the attic and forgot about it?”

“Of course not! My Granddad and my Dad both played with it over the years — see the electrical connectors?” I showed the boy the twin electrical leads on the underside of the device. “But the heat-ray is hotter than the surface of the sun. Too hot for practical use. Oh, my Granddad turned a few steaks into charcoal, and my Dad tried unsuccessfully to turn it into a clothes dryer. But they both ended up putting it back in this chest for safekeeping.” I patted the lid of the chest, brushing away a thick blanket of dust in the process. “You’re probably the first person to see it in twenty years.”

I stood up and opened the chest, placing the lensed device back into its resting place. As I did, two others walked up from the other side of the attic.

“Look what we found!” the boy’s little sister said with a smile, holding up a pile of clothing. “Dress-up clothes!”

“Those are my old Halloween costumes,” I said with a laugh. “Are you going to be a pirate?”

Little sister shook her head. “I’m going to be a princess!”

Looking her mother square in the eye, I said, “I swear, that one is my sister’s costume.”

She patted both children on the shoulder. “Ok, we’re done exploring the attic. You two head downstairs and get washed up for lunch.” Footsteps pitter-pattered down the stairs.

Once we were alone, I wrapped my arm around her waist. “What were you two talking about?” she asked, laying her head on my shoulder.

“Oh, guy stuff.”

“Did he find anything interesting in that chest?”

“Nah, just some parts from my Dad’s old Chevy.”

Runaways on Hope Street

Written for Flash! Friday vol 3-11. Prompt is to include the moon, along with the photo prompt by Harshil Shah.

“Tell me it again, Rudder. About the Moon.”

Roderick embraced his kid sister, for warmth as much as affection. The wind ripped straight through his ratty coat. “They’s a huge castle up there on the Moon. Bigger even than this factory. But clean, ’cause the Man in the Moon has hundreds of servants to scrub away the grime.”

Blue eyes admired the bright orb. “It looks like ice. Is it cold?”

“No, Winnie. Up there, the sun’s so bright it makes everything glow like a gas lantern.” He leaned against the icy brick wall, gazing heavenward. Uncaring stars twinkled in the winter sky. “And they’s clear lakes, and open grassy fields for miles and miles and miles. Just like when we was young.”

“It must be real warm there, Rudder. I can feel it now.” Her shivering stopped. “And Daddy is up there?”

“Yes. Daddy went to be a servant to the King and Queen of the Moon. They pays him in diamonds, and dresses him in purple silk, and lets him stay in their castle.”

Sleepily, the girl closed her eyes. “When can we see him, Rudder?”

“Real soon, Winnie.” Roderick, too, closed his eyes. “We’ll be with ‘im real soon.”

Post-Op Hypnopomp

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 2-44. This week’s prompt was surgery, along with the photo prompt shown.

Clowns are the worst.

Been in just about every hospital on the East Coast. Had more surgeries than birthdays; seen lots of recovery rooms.

Garish painted faces caper.

Oblivious to my bemusement.

Paintings. They’re just paintings.

I close my eyes, wishing for an abstract instead. Vibrant tones swirling off the canvas and around my head. Oh how a Jackson Pollock dances!

Clowns are the worst.

“It’s not the fentanyl,” I mumble. Nurse wipes the puke from my face. “Clowns are nauseating.”

She didn’t hear me.

Maybe I didn’t speak.

Maybe I don’t exist.

Maybe I’m a cricket.

What?!

Been reading too much. But it passes the time in the hospital. Medical texts are interesting. Do normal kids know acetylsalicylic acid from zinc carbonate? Art history is a nice diversion, too.

When I grow up…

When I get out of these hospitals…

Maybe I’ll be an art cricket.

Or a surgeon.

But not a clown.

Clowns are the worst.

Ran-Ran and the Tall People

Written for Chuck Wendig’s A Story in Three Sentences challenge.

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Public domain photo from Pixabay.

Ran-Ran huffed at being forced to participate in the Tall People’s ritual, but obeyed, lest they grow angry.

Departing tearful Sally and her Dalmatian, Ran-Ran journeyed past the City of Color Block Skyscrapers, through the fields where Farmer MacDonald’s cows chewed cud, pausing once to handle the urgent task of burping Dolly, before arriving in the Chamber of the White Throne.

After performing the silly ritual commanded by the Tall People, Ran-Ran pulled up her pull-up and announced “Done gone potty!” before toddling away to attend important matters.