Saturday, July 21, 2012

Somewhere back in time ...

   Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge for this week is time travel!  This will be my first attempt at science fiction ever!

Somewhere Back in Time

   Lisa Stetson always felt like she belonged in another era.  Growing up, she never felt like she fit in with her classmates.  While her peers danced around mindlessly to New Kids On The Block, and crooned along with Wilson Phillips, Lisa couldn't wait to get home and put on her favorite records -- Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra.

   Needless to say, Lisa was quite the pariah.  She was an only child born to parents who were old enough to be her grandparents.  She was an old soul, raised with the values of another generation, and her clothes reflected that.  Her classmates wore Hammer Pants and jeans in obnoxiously bright colors, while she dressed like a librarian.  Her mousy brown hair was always pulled back in a bun, and her pale skin never saw the light of day because her free time was filled with countless hours spent reading classic literature in the comfort of her own bedroom.  

   Lisa would spend her lunch hour in the library, taking sanctuary from the mocking catcalls and jeers of the other kids at school.  In the library, she felt at home.  The librarians were kindred spirits, and always welcomed her with a smile.  Surrounded by those who truly understood her -- Poe, Dickinson, Hemingway -- Lisa could truly be herself, and not feel ridiculed for it.

   On this particular day, in this particular time zone, in this particular hour, a strange collection of events was about to coincide.  Mars and Mercury were both in retrograde, and a solar eclipse was just about to happen.  The highest level of interplanetary impact was about to happen at that very library.

   And on this particular day, Lisa was extremely tired, having hardly been able to catch any sleep the night before.  She lay her head down on page 56 of a well-worn hardback copy of Wuthering Heights.

   The next thing she knew, she was surrounded by a group of teenagers she didn't recognize.  None of them were dressed like the classmates she knew.  Lisa thought for a second that she was in a movie.

   "Where did you come from?  I've never seen you here before," said a boy who looked like Buddy Holly.

   Lisa looked at him like he was crazy.  "I'm from here!  Where did you come from?"

   The other students exchanged glances, looking as puzzled as Lisa was.  She looked around her.  The library was the same, but somehow different.  Everything looked newer.  The Wuthering Heights copy she was reading was brand new.  The desk she sat at no longer had Henry loves Susan written on it, or any of the scratches it had collected over the years like so many battle scars.

   Lisa didn't want to attract any attention, so she quietly stood up and went to the librarian's desk, where there was a copy of the daily paper.

   It read, October 5, 1952.  That morning, the newspaper was dated October 5, 1992.  Lisa's jaw dropped to the ground.  Had she somehow traveled through time?  How was that even possible?

   Shaking her head in disbelief, she carefully placed the newspaper back on the desk.  That must have been from the archives, Lisa told herself.  She picked up the desktop calendar.  Sure enough: October 5, 1952.

   Lisa quietly went back to gather her things, and moved to another part of the library.  She knew no one around her would believe she was from the future.

   Before I took that nap, I wished I was back in the '50s, Lisa thought on the way to the back.  But this sort of thing doesn't just happen!  This must be some sort of joke.  Lisa's jaw dropped again when she heard two students talking:

   "My dad's voting for Ike!  Who is yours voting for?"

   This is so weird!  This is way too elaborate to be a prank, Lisa thought to herself.

   Lost in thought, Lisa didn't see the guy she was about to run in to.  She crashed into him, spilling her books everywhere.

   "Oh, I'm so sorry," Lisa exclaimed, her cheeks bright red.  She bent down to pick up her books.

   "That's OK, I wasn't watching where I was going, either," the guy grinned as he bent down to help Lisa.  He had soft brown eyes and huge square glasses.  "Wow, this sure is a crazy picture!"  He held up Lisa's bright binder, gaping at the technicolor Lisa Frank unicorn.

   "Uh, thanks," Lisa said.  "My dad got it in France!"

   "Wow!  Coolsville!  Hey, are you new here?"

   "Uh, yeah!  Do you know where the office is?  I need to register for classes!"

   "Sure thing!"  The boy extended his hand.  "I'm Jerry, by the way!"

   "Nice to meet you, Jerry.  I'm Lisa!"

   "Nice to meet you too, Lisa!  Mind if I carry your books for you?  I'll show you where the office is!"

  "Awww, thanks," Lisa said.

   As the two headed down the hallway, Lisa knew her life had suddenly taken a turn for the better.  Sure, she'd have to iron out a few details -- where to live, what to tell people about her family -- but for once in her life, she knew she was where she belonged.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fairy tale revamped

A recent flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig was to write a fairy tale in modern language.  I decided to write the old Norwegian tale, Billy Goats Gruff, as told by a 1980s Valley Girl.

Billy Goats Gruff, or Some Junk!

   So, this one day, these, like, three goats were all, like, hungry and stuff!  They were all, like, related, and their last name was Gruff.  So, that's why they were called the Billy Goats Gruff, duh!

   The Billy Goats Gruff wanted to go to the side of a hill to eat some grass, because that's what goats like to eat!  How, like, weird is that!

    That totally reminds me, by the way, of last weekend, when my friends and I went to the mall!  It was, like, totally tubular!  I got this bitchin' green dress that I can't wait to wear on my date with Larry tonight!  So, ... where was I ... oh, yeah!

   So, anyway, like, on the way there was this bridge they had to cross.  It was being guarded by this super-ugly guy with huge bug eyes and a big nose all covered in warts!  He was, like, a total troll!

   Oh, that totally makes me think of yesterday, at lunch, when this butt-ugly guy came up to my table and asked me to go to the prom!  As if!  My friends and I just totally cracked up!  It was hilarious!

   Like, ummm, back to the story:  The first goat started to cross the bridge:  Clip, clop, clip clop!  It was all noisy, kinda like when you're walking across a tile floor in a killer pair of stilettos, like, you know?

   A loud voice boomed out:  "OK, so, who's that walking across my bridge all loud, and stuff?"  The troll was super cranky because the first goat woke him up.

   "It's me, the thinnest of the Goats Gruff!  I'm, like, so freakin' hungry right now," the skinny goat said in this, like, totally annoying, whiny voice.

   God, I bet that goat thought he was hot shit just because he was the skinniest!  It's like when Stephanie was prancing around at school today, acting like she was better than the rest of us just because she was a size zero!  Total revelation, people:  Skinnier doesn't always mean prettier!  Stephanie's tiny waist isn't going to distract anyone from her stringy hair and horse face!

   Anyway, as you can imagine, the troll was, like, soooo not amused.

   "I'm, like, totally going to eat you right now, little goat!"

   "Oh, no," said the littlest goat.  "Please don't eat me, I'm, like, too young to die!  Besides, as you can see, I don't have much meat on these bones!  You might as well wait for the next goat -- he's kinda chubby!"

   "Fine!  Just go," said the troll.  As annoyed as he was, he could totally see the little goat's point.   The ugly-ass troll rubbed his hands together in, like, anticipation and stuff.

   It wasn't long before the troll heard the clip, clop, clip, clop of the chubby goat.

   "OK, so, who's that walking across my bridge all loud, and stuff?"

   "It's the second Billy Goat Gruff!  I'm, like, super hungry!"  The chubby goat's voice wasn't nearly as whiny as his skinny brother.

   Again, the troll was, like, soooo not amused.

   "I'm, like, totally going to eat you right now, chubby goat!"

   "Please don't eat me!  I'm, like, nowhere near as meaty as my brother, who is about to cross the bridge!"

   The troll rolled his beady little eyes.  "Fine!  Just get out of here before I, like, change my freakin' mind!"

   Just then, the, like, totally fat goat started across the bridge.  CLIP, CLOP, CLIP, CLOP!  For a second there, the troll thought his bridge was going to break!

   "OK, so, who's that walking across my bridge all loud, and stuff?"

   "It is I, the biggest Billy Goat Gruff!  I've had to wait all this time while you've been hassling my brothers, AND I'M, LIKE, REALLY FREAKIN' HUNGRY RIGHT NOW!"  The biggest of the Gruff goats had this, like, really big voice.

   Oh my god!  You know what this makes me think of?  Last week, my best friend and I were in the food court at the mall, and we saw this huge woman walking around in a miniskirt and hot pink tights!  Like, gag me with a spoon!  There totally should be a weight limit for those!  Like, for sure!  She was all, like, stuffing her face with french fries!  Ewwww!  So gross!

      So, anyway, the troll was all, "Well, guess what?  I'm hungry too, and I'm, like, totally going to eat you right now, you really, really big goat!"

   "Bring it, you ugly-ass troll," the biggest goat yelled. "I've got these, like, horns on my head that I'll use to poke your eyes out!  And under all this fat is some serious muscle!  I'm going to take these hooves and crush you to bits!"

   So, I'll spare you the details because what happened next was totally gory -- like, gross me out!  Anyway, the biggest goat killed the troll, and the Billy Goats Gruff all got really fat eating the grass on the hill.  I guess that's supposed to be a happy ending, like getting fat is a good thing?  As if!

   So, anyway, like, snap, snap, snout -- this freakin' tale's totally told out, or some junk!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Persephone's Journey

  She didn't ask for this.  She didn't even want this.  But here she was, on a dreadful descent to an unknown land.  She couldn't believe how quickly her world had been turned upside down.

  Young Persephone was gathering flowers among the elysian fields to decorate her home.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was beaming down on her angelic face, making her wavy strawberry hair glisten as it danced about in the soft wind.  As her dress caressed her young, graceful form, her eyes twinkled with delight and she filled the air with a sweet, melodic giggle as she beheld nature with pure joy, and nature beheld her with the same. 

  Suddenly, there was a foreboding stillness in the atmosphere.  A deathly odor broke through the floral bouquet that had filled the air just moments ago.  Persephone stopped in her tracks as an expression of dread took over her delicate face, her perfectly pouty lips parting in dismay as her aqua-blue eyes grew big and round, realizing the terrifying scene that was unfolding in front of her.  The ground rumbled as it began to open up, knocking her off her feet.  She stumbled backward and scrambled frantically to get away, as pieces of earth crumbled and gave way to a black chariot amid dark clouds of dust.  Persephone covered her face and squinted her eyes, choking on the thick clouds.

  Persephone couldn't see anything around her.  Suddenly, the once peaceful field was filled with ear-piercing screams  as she was grabbed and carried away by the chariot's dark passenger.  After the chariot began its descent, Persephone's eyes began to adjust.  She started to make out the shapes around her.  What she saw made her skin crawl.  No one seemed to be driving this chariot of onyx she was aboard.  The dark passenger who grabbed her said nothing, but his sharp, grim features, completely void of expression, were enough to tell Persephone that she was in danger. 

  Her pulse quickened and she shuddered uncontrollably as she swallowed hard and tried to assess her surroundings.  The dark chariot quickly moved deeper into the earth, down into a land she never knew existed.  Persephone looked up toward the sky, and the place where the dark chariot had penetrated the ground was now a window of light that grew smaller and smaller.  Persephone grabbed the dark passenger.

  "Where are you taking me?" she demanded.  "You can't do this!"

  The dark passenger just stared ahead.  No response.  Deeper into the earth, darkness took over as the window of light disappeared completely, and fear wrapped around Persephone like a cocoon, threatening to suffocate her.

  "Please don't do this!  ...  Please!  Please take me back!" Persephone cried in desperation.  "I need to go back home!  I need to see my mother."

  Her voice trailed off in the darkness.  The dark passenger said nothing, acknowledged nothing.  He just stared straight ahead, a cold, hollow shell who had neither compassion nor concern for the girl's pleas.  He was just a servant, carrying out his master's orders.

  While Persephone's cries fell on cold, indifferent ears well below the surface, Demeter was just learning of her daughter's abduction.  She ran all the way to the field.  Her servants held her back as she almost threw herself into the ground to retrieve her missing daughter.  How could this happen? she asked herself.  Demeter had been so careful, sheltering her daughter from anything in life she found unseemly.  She had turned away so many unfit suitors, waiting for the day that perfect man would come in on a white horse and give her daughter the life Demeter had always wanted for her.  Now, that life Demeter had preserved so carefully was taken away, without warning.

  Below, Persephone alternated between bombarding the infernally silent guard with questions, and making panicked petitions for her release.  As she descended deeper into the underworld, any notion of ever being free again began to die away, and the fate that awaited her began to dawn on her.  She sank down, hugged her knees to her chest and mourned the world she was being forced to leave behind.  She knew her life would never be the same, and the innocence she knew was quickly becoming a memory.

  As she moved further and further away from the warmth of the island sun and the cool mist of the ocean breeze, Persephone began to acknowledge what awaited her:  The god of the underworld had decided to take her as his bride.  There was nothing she, or anyone else for that matter, could do about it.

  Reality gradually sank in on what seemed like a never-ending journey. Persephone's features began to take on the darkness of her surroundings.  With every speculation of what her new life might be, a little bit of the girl she once was gave way to the woman she was fated to become.  Her youthful features hardened, transforming Persephone into a cold, refined goddess.  Her light red hair darkened to a ravishing shade of auburn, and her lilting, soft voice became low and somber.  A solemn chill took over where there used to be a light in her eyes.

  The chariot finally came to a halt at an ominously tall iron gate with skulls decorating the posts.  Persephone swallowed hard as she stood, paralyzed by fear.  The dark passenger firmly escorted her through the gate, where she saw him.  Hades stood before her, radiating equal parts maleficence and lust for his new bride.  Chills swept down her spine as he locked eyes with her, and he extended his hand toward her.  He held her hand as he slid a gold ring on her finger.

  "Welcome, my bride," Hades said in a voice that made Persephone shudder.  Aware that she was helpless to stop what was going on, she pasted on a brave smile and nodded to her new husband.  She had to play her cards right, until she could find a way out.  But for the time being, her dreadful fate had been decided for her.

  Persephone was now the Queen of the Dead.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Flash fiction: The life and times of Maxwell Sheffield

    Maxwell Sheffield was a lucky bastard, if he didn't say so himself.
    He was the sole benefactor of the Sheffield International hotel chain.  His late father had sold the hospitality empire before he died, only requesting that the Sheffield name remain on every building, and that his only child be allowed to stay at any of the 2,000 hotels within the chain, free of charge.  (Maxwell's favorite place of residence was, of course, in New York City.)
    The group of Jewish investors who agreed to this deal resented that condition, but this was an offer they simply couldn't refuse. Maxwell didn't give a shit either way; his lifestyle was the same, except he would never have to worry about sales, accounting, or any of the other bullshit business owners have to think about.
    In the outside world, the recession raged on. Families were at their breaking point, with husbands and wives screaming at each other over finances, and companies laying people off in droves. Suicides were on the rise.
    But none of this existed in Maxwell's world. He had never known these troubles, nor would he. He was completely sheltered, always given whatever his pampered heart desired. He went to school with fellow children of privilege, but he was by far the most wealthy.
    He was, however, neither smart nor talented. He was rude and arrogant, and bullied everyone within a 5-mile radius.  Beyond his looks, he was rotten to the core.  He was the product of a weekend fling his father had with a ditsy, but beautiful, secretary.  His biological mother was paid a generous sum to quietly disappear, and his father's wife was willing to look the other way as long as she was kept spoiled and happy.
    At 29, Maxwell couldn't fault his late father for all the times he cheated on his wife. After all, Maxwell was no stranger to indiscretions himself.  Without his father's money and influence, Maxwell would have served time for his DWI arrests, assault cases and more. Already being a textbook narcissist, Maxwell was done no favors by getting everything he ever wanted while seldom paying consequences; it simply set the groundwork for his expectations later in life.
    Growing up, his teachers were terrified of him. If they dared to give him a grade lower than a B, his powerful father would personally pay a visit to the school principal, and the grave mistake would be corrected.  If little Maxwell wanted to throw spitballs at another student, the teacher would turn her head the other way, then punish the spitball target if he opened his mouth in protest.
    On top of it all, Maxwell got his pick of the litter when it came to the girls.  They all were willing to overlook his bad boy reputation and that he, in fact, had never kept a girlfriend any longer than two weeks.  Just like all the expensive toys he played with as a kid, he would toss them aside as soon as he lost interest. 
    These days, Maxwell just did what he did best: Going to the gym to perfect his figure, shopping for clothes on Fifth Avenue, and partying.  Like many of his friends, Maxwell was incredibly vain.  He shuddered to think of his impending birthday -- he was about to hit the big three-oh. This compelled him to spend extra time at the gym, as if an extra set of bicep curls would turn back the clock.
    "It's just a number, Max, it doesn't mean anything!"
    Gregory, Maxwell's personal trainer and drinking buddy, spotted him while he bench pressed the 300-pound barbell.  Personally, Gregory couldn't stand the jerk, but membership in Maxwell's inner circle had its privileges.  Gregory wasn't rich like Maxwell, but the chicks who flocked around didn't know that.
    "C'mon, man up! Give me five more and I'll buy you a round at happy hour!"
     That got Maxwell moving.  He completed the set, and headed for the locker room.  On the way, a couple of stone-cold foxes came out of spin class and smiled at them.  Not one to miss an opportunity, Gregory came up and introduced himself, then invited the ladies to happy hour.
    That evening was a blur of drugs, vodka, and sex.  Maxwell wasn't sure when he left Pacha and wound up Cielo. All he knew in his cocaine-addled mind was that midnight was approaching, and he might as well be dead.  In fact, he used to tell his friends that he would rather die than age past 30.
    Well, as luck would have it -- and Maxwell was very lucky -- his wish was about to come true. His lifestyle rarely made room for visits to the doctor.  Had Maxwell gone in for regular checkups, he might have learned what fate had in store for him.
    And had the late Mr. Sheffield given Maxwell's real mom the opportunity to be part of her son's life in some way, shape or form, he might have learned about the disease the boy stood a strong chance of developing.
    It didn't help that with Maxwell's lifestyle, symptoms in recent months such as chronic insomnia, mood swings, blurred vision and impaired thinking went by unnoticed.
    Right before midnight, the same extremely rare strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that had killed his mother before her 31st birthday took its toll on Maxwell.  Gregory, alternately making out with the two girls he picked up from the gym, looked over to see a body on the ground. At first, Gregory thought his friend had passed out, but even a hard slap to the face didn't phase the guy.  Maxwell Sheffield died of heart failure just minutes before his 30th birthday.
    He had no children, no siblings, no spouse and no will.  It had never occurred to him to leave his money to anyone.  His estate went to the state of New York, and funded rather lavish holiday bonuses for some very lucky bastards that the citizens of New York elected into office.