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Bills are stacked so high in the room that they take the place of furniture. From under a pile crawls a man. He picks up one of the few letters without dollar signs.

“I’m leaving you,” it says. He throws it with the rest of the junk.

His cat has died facedown in its food dish. He winces as he looks it over, unsure how he’s going to deal with the remains. He decides to worry about it later.

He opens the refrigerator. It is empty, except for a colony of bees that has taken it over. He closes the door as their humming intensifies.

“Don’t bother coming into work tomorrow,” plays a voice in his head.

“Your father and I are very disappointed in you.”

An eviction notice slides in from under the door. He lights it on fire and throws it on top of the rest of the paper.

From the inferno comes a figure made of smoke, well-dressed and red. “You’re just about to give up, aren’t you? I can help if you want. I can give you your heart’s desire.”

“Give me a Coke,” he says. It bursts into his hand. As the sirens approach, he gulps in down in one go, as though it is medicine.

He feels better.

Coca-Cola: Your Only Responsibility

#absurd, #advertisement, #coca-cola, #illustrated, #microfiction

Abridged

His main duty was to sweep the front porch every morning and every afternoon to keep out the fleas.

Mary Lou bought several cases of lima beans. They ate nothing but for years.

The children found a set of false teeth in the yard. No one ever found out whose they were, but they became a favorite toy.

An older boy tied him up and rolled him in a wheelbarrow up and down hills until he peed all over himself. Mama switched him for making a mess.

One cup was for blood pressure. One cup was for heart stuff. The rest were vitamins.

He owned an apartment building. He did all the maintenance.

He was fixing the light, but someone told him not to strain himself.

His children were good at math and science, but they struggled with English and common sense.

“You should write your memoirs,” someone told him, a nurse who was struggling for something to say that wasn’t pity.

A postage stamp cost seven cents, the same as a bottle of soda or a gallon of gas.

He woke up in wheelbarrows sometimes. He was covered in sweat.

A cup of coffee could kill him. So could a dash of soy sauce. So could almost anything.

His daughter had a husband who mistreated her, but he couldn’t really blame her for not knowing any better.

That might not have been his daughter. That might have been a novel by James Michener.

It could have been anything.

#alzheimers, #experiments, #identity, #memory, #microfiction, #prose-poem

Vice

No one knew his secret, that he was the Vice President of the United States.

Out fishing with the boys, sometimes the conversation would turn to foreign policy or federal interest rates. He had to bite his tongue.

His wife suspected something. She came home one night and overheard part of a conversation about diplomatic relations with China. She said nothing. They ate dinner. They tucked in the kids. They sat up reading on their sides of the bed, she the paper, he a spy thriller.

He coughed. “I guess you’re wondering what I was talking about on the phone earlier.”

“Not really.”

“There’s a new guy at work, you see, and nobody gets along with him. We’re just trying to figure that out.”

“Great.”

She wasn’t looking up. She wasn’t even listening. He would tell her the truth someday, when she was ready. If he could hold out three more years, it wouldn’t even matter. A few drinks in, he could reveal himself in an embarrassing little anecdote from the past. “You’ll never guess.” It would be meaningless and charming. He looked forward to that.

His wife made a exasperated noise. “Can you believe this pathetic attempt at health care reform? Ridiculous.”

He had engineered that particular compromise. “I know! They should be ashamed of themselves.”

That was all she wanted to hear. She turned over and went to sleep.

He hated keeping secrets, but it was necessary. She wouldn’t understand. Neither would his friends, or his children. They all hated the powerful, and complained of their sick pleasure, controlling policy and people. At the same time, he couldn’t help but think that maybe they were hiding the fact that they wanted to be powerful, too.

With a sigh, he tightened his collar and strapped himself to sleep.

#absurd, #holidays, #marriage, #microfiction, #paraphilia, #politics, #president, #the-fetishists

Agreeable

As he sank to his knee, she felt sickness take over the rest of her personality. She’d known this was coming, as he had been giving hints all week. She’d hoped hers had been even less subtle, but he had gone on using future tenses, musing what their child would look like. He had asked her favorite precious stone, and it was in his pocket now.

“Oh Luke,” she said, and though she sounded overwhelmed, she noticed that she couldn’t hear the disgust she had intended. Neither could he. He said something about sharing life; something rehearsed, perhaps from a movie.

She wasn’t really listening. She was envisioning the days to come, learning to ignore his snoring. They hadn’t shared a bed together yet, as he was still old-fashioned and she didn’t like him, but she was sure he snored like a parody.

His speech continued, but none of it sounded like the question she was waiting for. When she had the chance, she would say no. Leave it at that. “No.” She wasn’t so low on herself that she would ally herself in a loveless marriage just to avoid hurting feelings. What irritated her was how over-the-top she had to be. If he just paid a little attention, they wouldn’t have to go through this. They wouldn’t even know each other. He would have seen her pity from the start. When she called him dweeb and dork and such, he would know she wasn’t teasing affectionately.

“This is all so sudden,” she said, and she saw his face light with excitement. She tried to speak more clearly, “I can’t believe you went to all this trouble,” but it didn’t sound right. She hated her voice. It deserved him.

#hate, #male-power, #marriage, #microfiction, #obliviousness, #politeness, #resentment, #self-control

Saint

The lady was nervous. She had not been to see him before, he was sure, because he knew all his parishioners down to the last detail. Though he could not see her face, he would have known her by her breath, or by her hesitation. Those he knew learned not to hesitate.

When eventually she spoke, she spoke in ritual.

“Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”

He had no idea what a sin was anymore. Were it not for this impersonal furniture, he would reach out to her and squeeze the guilt right out. She talked of impure thoughts and impure deeds, of addiction and lust, but nothing she mentioned sounded bad to him. A lot of it sounded fun. She knew what she’d enjoy; her problem was she didn’t know how to enjoy it.

“Do not worry, my child.” He reached in his pocket and pressed a slip of pink paper through the divide. She studied it carefully. He had drawn on the paper a feather rubbing gently against his ceremonial robes. “You tickle my fancy,” read the caption.

He stepped out from his curtain. He pulled hers back and stepped in. They sat in the darkness together and he assured her, “It’s all right. You’re safe with me.”

She let him touch her. God was love, in his way, and to be touched by a man of God was love, too. He wrapped her thigh in his fingers, and she was forgiven. She touched him back under his robes, and was baptized with a million tiny ablutions, all over her face.

#absurd, #god-is-love, #holidays, #microfiction, #obscene, #sacrilege, #valentines

Celebrity

Though she had her collar pulled around her face and generic dark glasses over her eyes, glances accumulated as she emptied her cart onto the conveyor belt. Soon a normal would say something.

“Is that Nancine?”

“I think so!”

She pretended not to hear. She had headphones on after all, giant 1980s style cans. How much of her face did she have to cover before she could hide?

Reaching for the divider, she looked up at the tabloids, just to see what they were saying about her today.

“Nancine Snubs Lovers, Buys Cucumbers”

“Is the icon out of touch with salad trends?”

The cashier made no comment as he bagged her produce. He wished her a good weekend in a welcome, impersonal way.

On the news that night, he described the interaction as “forced.” The newscaster pressed him for more details, and he gave them, describing her clothes and her furtive, prey-animal movements.

“Do you think she’s hiding something?”

“Almost definitely.”

Nancine took another bite of her cucumber sandwich and changed the channel. Some pundits were debating whether her friends had abandoned her or she had abandoned her friends. Had they simply drifted apart? Somebody must know.

The noise of the debate put her to sleep. Tomorrow she would call someone, she told herself. She didn’t have the energy today, but tomorrow, she would.

#absurd, #celebrity, #microfiction, #mundane, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia

Hero

On the one-hundred-year anniversary of the great war that nearly destroyed them, the people of Naraquaua began to wonder how long their peace would last. Two hundred years ago, a despotic ruler came to power and asserted himself as a god. Three hundred years ago, a great evil poisoned the kingdom and all its people, reducing the population to but a single quarantined settlement.

According to legend, during every calamity, a young man came of age and rose to the challenge. Each one, the hero of his generation, overcame tremendous obstacles and vanquished the threat of his day.

Issan was turning thirteen today. His parents had known since his birth that he could be the one, and so they had left him with the church. The previous heroes had been orphans raised under monastic supervision. They had been named Issan.

“One of you is probably going to face and destroy evil,” the abbot decreed. Issan looked at his peers, all named Issan, all thirteen years old today. He knew a few who wouldn’t be the hero. One Issan had bad asthma. Another was too much of a bully, needlessly cruel to those he was stronger than. He was stronger than Issan, for instance. Issan wouldn’t be surprised if that Issan became the tyrant to be overthrown.

He saw the boy glance around and snicker derisively. He was already powerful, the best at fencing and hand-to-hand combat, and he knew it. The contempt he had for the rest of them would fuel him. He would only grow stronger, unless he was stopped.

Issan picked up his sword as the group was gathered in prayer. One stab would protect everyone. No one would even know what they had avoided.

He believed in himself.

#fantasy, #legend, #microfiction, #murder, #self-fulfilling-prophecy

Regular

Now that he was employed in a meaningful way, Douglas was fairly certain that he was supposed to find a bar to frequent.

He wasn’t sure where the idea came from, as he didn’t much like the taste or associated sensations of alcohol, but he liked the bar concept. The young professional persona he had claimed required this sort of urban leisure. He saw himself checking in after a long day, ordering the usual and chatting with strangers. The bartender would listen at a distance, polishing a glass, occasionally offering working class insight.

He stepped into the first place he found that didn’t seem too crowded. A young man about his age was reading poetry into a microphone, but that stayed on its side of the room. At the bar, all he could hear was some down-tempo electronica and private conversations.

“Hey, I haven’t seen you around here before,” the bartender said as she came over. She had a playful face. She kept her head tilted sideways, as though balancing the piercing on the side of her nose.

“Hi, I’m Douglas. I think you’ll be seeing a lot of me.”

“Oh, right on. Looking forward to it.”

Shortly after he had a drink in his hand, she was too busy to talk.

He waited. Sometimes she noticed him and made a weary gesture, which he appreciated.

“Come back and see me,” she said, handing him the bill. “I’m here Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”

She lifted her hand to him in a way he wasn’t sure what to do with. Feeling bold, he kissed it. He leaned over the bar to do it, and he saw some faces grimace. They were jealous.

A beautiful barkeep liked him. Maybe he’d get free drinks.

He felt extraordinary.

#bar, #bartender, #dramatic-irony, #embarrassing, #idiot, #important-titles, #microfiction, #puns, #yuppies

Tiny Dragons

His phone was ringing. Gerry didn’t mind calls, especially on a Friday night at home, but Fjorik’s nostrils flared, and it was best not to challenge Fjorik. Bjornhard and Thuumbrig were more agreeable, but Gerry doubted he would challenge them either.

The phone rang again. Somehow it sounded more urgent this time. Gerry picked it up and looked at the display. Holding his breath, he accepted the call. Fjorik rolled over onto his knee.

“Hey, Nancy. What’s going on?” She had nothing prepared. She had called just to talk. He had nothing prepared either, but now they were talking.

“How’s your mother? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Lots of people go through worse though, so I wouldn’t worry too much.” Bjornhard lifted an eyebrow. Thuumbrig turned his head. “Yeah, I’m great. I couldn’t complain if I tried, not that I’m going to try.”

Fjorik was squinting. Every word Gerry said irritated him more.

Gerry wanted to end the conversation, but it hadn’t really begun. He couldn’t well hang up until the call had been justified.

“So do you have any plans tonight?” he heard himself say. He couldn’t believe he said it. The three ancient beasts lifted their eyes and stared Gerry straight in the throat. Thuumbrig sharpened his claws against the scales on his opposite forearms. Fjorik spit a tiny flame that Gerry swatted out with his free hand. He swallowed. “That sounds nice. I’d love to come, I really would. But I’m afraid I have other plans tonight.”

Some other time.

Together, the wyrms closed their eyes, and curled their necks downward, at peace. Gerry reached out to pet them, but they didn’t like to be touched.

He crossed his arms and held himself close.

#absurd, #agoraphobia, #awkward, #dragons, #microfiction, #mythical-creatures, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia

Edit

By the time she regained consciousness, she was already dead. She was sure of it. The transfer seemed to be a success, and as they had explained, the old mind would die as its last synapses copied over. Now she was new.

She thought through her name, the date, the president, all of the amnesiac questions. Though she couldn’t verify her answers, she was confident.

All she had were her thoughts. They had never been so clear. In her old body, she had had to wiggle her fingers to remember anything. The affectation seemed strange now that she could not move — had nothing to move.

She had to forget about moving.

She did.

While she couldn’t remember what she had just forgotten, it was gone. Deleted. This self-control would have been useful when she was trying to quit smoking.

She forgot the rush of nicotine and would have smiled, had she had a face.

Science had gone to great lengths to preserve her memories, so she was done forgetting, at least until they backed her up. Patience.

Once she was preserved, though, she would do what years of therapy couldn’t. All the lingering unhappiness and trauma of simply being alive had no purpose now that she wasn’t.

Gender could be abandoned, too. In what sense was she female anymore? In what sense was she Jewish, or a Sagittarius?

She made a list of regrets. People she had known whom she shouldn’t have known, desires she’d never fulfill. As soon as they copied her consciousness, she’d be who she wanted to be, no more or less.

For the sake of science, it would be nice if her backup reached a different conclusion.

#ai, #fake-science, #forgetting, #microfiction, #science-fiction, #self-control