Skeletons in the Cupboard

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #135, where we write about the image below, from writerscentre.com.

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Mark was setting out his clothes for tomorrow’s nuptials. Girlfriend Laura was at a low-key hen night at a pizzeria in town. She would then observe tradition by spending the night at a friend’s apartment, not seeing Mark again until the wedding itself.

He had the evening planned. First, prepare his clothing for the big day. Then, a long, hot, relaxing soak in the tub, which, yes, might include a facial. Lastly, an early night, his last as a bachelor. Mark was far too long in the tooth for stag nights, and in any case, he would be meeting best friend and witness Pat at The Feathers at lunchtime, to garner some Dutch Courage before the main event.

He had just finished ironing his shirt, carefully avoiding disturbing Mog the cat, who was regally curled up, asleep, in the centre of their bed, when he heard the phone ring. The landline. Who was that? The only person who ever called him on that number was his mum, and he would be seeing her tomorrow at the registry office anyway. A last-minute pep talk, perhaps?

He allowed the machine to answer. From behind the closed door of the bedroom he heard a female voice. It was muffled, but Mark could tell it was not mum’s. He opened the door, so that he might properly hear the message.

“Mark? It’s me. Are you there?”

A soft, melancholy voice.

“Fuck!”, cursed Mark, aloud but to no-one, as he instantly recognised Toni’s caramel voice. Unmistakeable.

Mark’s mind raced. He looked down at the sharply creased suit, and her voice reminded him that he had ventured down this path once before. Almost.

Jeez, he thought, as she instantly took him back all of seven years. They had been an item, Mark and Toni. Furthermore, she had been the one. They were less than a month from their own wedding, before she bolted.

As if to serve as a reminder, at that moment Mog flew past, evidently not sleepy enough to ignore the possibility of a treat as Mark stepped towards the kitchen. The grand old Mog, whom Toni and he had picked up from the shelter, the first of their intended offspring. And Mog had lived with Mark ever since, even happily adopting Laura when she came to live at the apartment.

There had been women since Toni, not least Laura, but by then, Mark had learned to protect himself. He had only given so much of himself to the relationship.

But Toni got the lot.

Laura. He thought of Laura. One of a kind, an exceptional human being, a woman he had grown to love in the three years they had been together. In Laura, he had seen a good wife, someone who would be a good mother, a good partner. But she wasn’t Toni.

By the time Laura arrived on the scene, Mark had given up on thunderbolts.

“I heard you were getting married…”, continued the voice. Then a sniff. Or, perhaps a sob?

Walk away, just like she did. His initial reaction was to just allow her to leave the message. He knew Toni was having doubts, but when she ran, Mark had been crushed. He had not thought it was possible that anybody, let alone someone who professed their love, would do this. Since she fled, he had tried to compartmentalise her, to lock his thoughts away, never again to be aired.

It was a year before he dated again.

Now, he turned back toward the bedroom.

“I just wanted to w…” The voice hesitated, and it let out another sniff.

But wasn’t that what he had promised? That he would always be there if she needed him? After she had contacted him, almost six months after their intended wedding night, now living a healthy distance from him, and embarking on a new life? Was that not exactly what he had said to her? Mark stalled, standing motionless in the hallway.

“I just wanted to wish you luck…”

And besides, maybe she was calling to wish him luck?

“Toni? Is that you?”

“Oh, Hi Mark. I thought you might be out.”

Anticipation

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #134, where we write about the image below, from Pinterest.

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Chris wore a smug expression on his unshaven face, and no wonder. For today, his new Alexxxa 6000 had been delivered. For the first time, Amazon had pulled out the stops, to deliver an adult-specific version of its smart device. A real leap in artificial intelligence, Chris had secured one of the first production models, and though she had cost him four months’ salary, he was convinced she wasa sound investment.

His clammy hands trembled as he meticulously unwrapped the large package, being careful not to cause any damage – he wanted it to be in A1 condition when he finally got to use it.

When, at last, he was done, Chris set his new Alexxxa down to charge, for the 6000 was the first rechargeable model, which did not need to be permanently tethered to the wall. She could be recharged simply by placing the discreetly concealed contacts in the proximity of a charging plate.

While Alexxxa still showed red, Chris had time to kill, and he shuffled through to the kitchen to prepare his favourite sandwich, pastrami on rye. His long, dark, greasy hair flopped over his eyes as he sliced the pickled cucumber, momentarily obscuring his vision.

Returning to the lounge, he had just finished the last morsel of sandwich when he noticed Alexxxa turn to green. The moment of truth.

Wiping his bristly mouth, Chris impatiently cleared his throat.

“Alexxxa, tell me about the weather for tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow in London it will be mostly sunny, with an overnight low of 10°, and an expected high of 25°. There is a 0-5% chance of rain.”

So far, so good, but Chris had greater plans for Alexxxa.

“Alexxxa”, he croaked in trepidation, hardly daring to believe that his wildest dreams were about to come true. Waiting half a second, he continued, “go and fit your raunchy head, then get undressed and wait for me in bed.”

As an afterthought, Chris added “Oh. And Alexa? Set an alarm for when you are ready.”

There was a tiny hint of self-satisfaction on Chris’s voice as he removed his track suit bottoms.

Ill-gotten Gains

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #133, where we write about the image below, from sasint at Pixabay.

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Nothing was moving in the heat. Even the mosquitos had sensed the slim pickings and were taking a break. Ajay and Johar were lounging idly in the shadiest corner of the town square.

“I’m bored”, complained Ajay, symbolically allowing his arm to flop down heavily to the ground.

Johar momentarily raised his head. “I know. There’s nothing to do, I hate this place. But make the most of it. In two weeks, we will be back in school, and I was warned. This year will be  tough.”

Continue reading “Ill-gotten Gains”

The Master’s Apprentice

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #132, where we write about the image below, from Kate Trifo at Pexels.

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“Here. This place should do”, indicated Jordan, as he and Melissa reached a cornflower blue pickup truck. 300 metres away from the Hartford Sailing Club. Looking back, Melissa could not help but notice several million dollars’ worth of Lamborghinis and Ferraris in its car park. She smirked as she thought of the tears that would be in the eye of the insurance company.

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The Uninvited Guest

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #131, where we write about the image below, from Leonid Afremov at DeviantArt.

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Brad heard the front door close. “Honey? Is that you?”

A beautiful, perfectly made-up doll of a woman appeared in the doorframe, her expertly-coiffeured mane of chestnut blonde sitting casually on her shoulders. She carried a Shi Tzu, who was wearing a tartan overcoat. “Hi honey, I’m back. Missy-Wissy and I walked all the way to Fifth today. Then, lifting the dog to her face, she rubbed noses. She addressed the dog. “Didn’t we, my precious poochy-woochy”. The dog strained away from her.

Breaking the moment, Brad came and ruffled the dog’s head, then kissed the cheek offered by his wife. “Oh, we also passed by the stand on the way home. I picked up this week’s Time, and a Journal for you.”

“Thanks, darling. You go seat yourself in the lounge and start reading, I’m just fixing us some coffee here. I’ll be through in a moment.”

A short while later, Brad entered the lounge carrying a pot of steaming coffee, plus two bone china coffee cups. Now divested of her garment, Missy had settled straight into her basket, and Melody had installed herself onto one of the sofas, flicking through the Hello Magazine she had also bought for herself. A perfectly folded Wall St Journal awaited Brad on the other sofa.

First selecting each a coaster, Brad set the cups down onto the overpolished mahogany coffee table.admiring his own perfectly chiselled face as he did so.

Lifting the newspaper, he immediately exclaimed, “He’s gone! I knew it! I always knew Tyler MacKenzie was a crook! Say’s here they want him for embezzlement. Says they think he got over to the Bahamas.”

“Tyler MacKenzie? Don’t I know that name?” As she spoke, she kicked off her designer Jimmy Choo heels, which she had picked up on their shopping trip to London the previous fall. She relaxed, folding her legs under herself.

“We had him over, darling, just last month. Don’t you remember? You mistook his wife for his daughter?”

Melody blushed, still slightly embarrassed, and resumed her magazine. A short while later:

“Oh, it looks like Madonna is getting divorced.” The slightest grunt from Brad, who, by now, was engrossed in page seven.

They settled into silence, reading their respective news, until the peace was broken by Brad.

“Darling?”

“Yuh-huh”, murmured Melody, her attention not leaving the latest Whitney Houston scandal.

“Do you smell something?” Brad sniffed the air, ostentaciously, then padded around the room, inhaling periodically. Melody was attentive now, detecting the odour just as Brad questioned, “did you bring something in on your shoes?”

Under Review

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #130, where we write about the image below, from A_Lesik at Shutterstock. I’m sorry, over here we are getting regular bulletins about Greece at the moment, so it feels too raw to write on the subject directly. But here is a flash along the same theme, which instead of taking us to dark places, hopefully takes an amusing tangent.

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“The Apostles made another proclamation. Redouble our search for an overspill. They reckon it’ll be easier just to evacuate this planet rather than try to fix it.”

“Redouble?”, queried Subordinate Xanthrax. Though the two had worked together almost four hundred years, and developed a relationship which was far more amicable than professional, Captain O’Sarin had never really studied Xanthrax before, but did so now. It occurred to him that with a speckled skin of four shades of green, an absurdly large mouth set in an even more absurdly large head, that Xanthrax might have been uniquely ugly, were he not a Skydlodyte drone.

For Xanthrax, the exact clone of the other 58,382,583 Skydlodyte eggs hatched in that same batch, was not unique in any way.

Furthermore, to O’Sarin, also being a Skydlodyte, Xanthrax just appeared, well, normal. In fact, not at all dissimilar to himself. He did, though instinctively convulse as he caught Xanthrax’s breath, revolting due to the Skydlodytes’ carnivorous predilection tor raw chicken, And, bizarrely, to cheese.

“Sir”, continued Xanthrax, as his tongue involuntarily flicked, a smile appearing as he caught a distant whiff of Gorgonzola. “Are we counting from the last redouble? Or the one before that? Or, before that? That would make us…” Xanthrax’s forehead furrowed even deeper, and turned a rather attractive shade of ultramarine. “Oh no! I don’t even know the word! What is it when you’re working sixteen times harder than before?”

“Alright, Xanthrax”, calmed Captain O’Sarin, “that’s enough. You know what they’re like. Politicians -no matter who we elect, not a brain cell among them. Anyway”, continued O’Sarin, “you’d better update me. Have you discovered any more possibles since your last report?”

Xanthrax’s forehead took on blue hues once more. Expounding even more effort, this time, however, he went further, finally settling on vivid cyan. As though constipated, he strained, “I’m just accessing that report for you now, sir”, as he squoze an eight-inch brown hard disk tube out of his bottom. On the front of the disk were emblazoned the words “The Ultimate Ram Disk Corp.”. Xanthrax handed it over to Captain O’Sarin, who attached it to the USB port on the side of his neck. A black LED on his ear lobe blinked, although since black was its natural colour anyway, it was difficult to determine whether anything was actually happening.

“It really would be easier, sir”, complained Xanthrax, rubbing his sore backside, “if you would allow me to telepath these reports.”

“Telepathy?” O’Sarin was indignant. “Don’t mention telepathy, Xanthrax. Not after that time with the ambassador’s wife!”

Xanthrax spewed a perfect disc of apple-green sputum, which in other cultures might be mistaken for a cough. “Ah, yes, sir. If I remember rightly, the ambassador was not pleased.”

“Not pleased? You remember wrongly, my friend. The ambassador most definitely *was* pleased! I had just about warmed her to fertilisation temperature, and then *he* comes along wanting to join in! Talk about a cold snap!” O’Sarin smiled ruefully into thin space, as though contemplating what might have been.

Xanthrax spluttered once again. The rush of aqua fortis, as O’Sarin felt the ball of phlegm pass within six inches of his reptilian ear, jerked him back to reality. “Ah, yes. The report.”

The next few minutes were like watching O’Sarin attempting to simultaneously digest a Rubik’s Cube, and to solve it in record time, a series of heartfelt grunts alternating with deep sighs.

“Tell me more about this fourth one.”

“The fourth one, sir?” He tested Xanthrax’s own memory. Xanthrax stalled.

Impatient, O’Sarin snapped. “KR193-03, man. Come on, you’re supposed to be on top of this”. Xarin gave an involuntary snap of his tongue.

That magical word, KR193-03 sparked a by-now familiar flicker of turquisy recognition, which gradually became stronger.  Yes, Xanthrax *did* vaguely remember that particular planet.

“That galaxy, KR193, a dozen planets, all of which orbit around a single yellow dwarf. Nothing special, just the same as the 69,264,105,938 other galaxies we looked at so far.

“That third planet was interesting, though. Mostly iron, a molten core which seems to heat the place. They also get energy from this star. It orbits on a tilt, though, so there are great temperature variations.

“The top layer is a mixture of solid and water.”

“Water?”, echoed O’Sarin. Both were aware that water was a key requirement for Skydlodyte survival.

“Yes, sir, it seems to be mixed with what we know as diarrhea but filtering it will be easy enough. It will be just like the olden days, before we invented the TorrentPlugger.

“The other thing, sir…”, Xanthrax waited for the grunt, to ensure that O’Sarin had not fallen asleep. “The planet has an atmosphere. About 80% nitrogen, 20% oxygen. Just imagine how invigorating all that nitrogen rich air would be!

“The sticking point, though, as you will have read…” Had he been paying attention? “… is the temperature. Great regions of it are simply too cold.” Even the most elementary infant knew, Skydlodytes required a temperature of at least 30° to reproduce.

“So, what actions have you taken?”, quizzed O’Sarin.

“We first discovered them seventy years ago, we since monitored the planet, dispatched the occasional reconnaissance craft. And, it has ice caps at its top and bottom. We’ve been regularly targeting those with our frymatrons. We’ve made some inroads, but there is a way to go. They’re doing so much for themselves that our, er…, encouragement… has no chance of being detected.”

“And?”

“The dominant race there call themselves humans. Not particularly advanced. The most interesting thing is its rectum – they seem to have evolved to communicate through it. Our scouts have analysed some of them, just to probe this, er, gift.”

O’Sarin realised that the briefing was complete.

“Tell me more about your monitoring.”

“Well, we monitor temperature, of course, and the planet is becoming hotter. It’s still not hot enough for us yet, but it will be worth pursuing in the future.”

“Hotter? Why?”

“Well, they seem to have found this substance in the ground. They burn it obsessively, it produces energy. We analysed it as a form of carbon. And, the more they use this substance, the warmer the planet becomes.”

“Interesting”, pondered O’Sarin, adding, “they’re doing the job for us.” Pausing, he looked up to address Xanthrax directly. “Let’s keep scouting it. And let’s see how they’ve progressed in, say, ten years?”

As he closed the virtual file, O’Sarin’s eye caught the tiny image at the bottom. “Looks pretty”, he shivered, before closing the file. “What next?”

A Photograph of earth, taken from space.

The True Cost

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #129, where we write about the image below, from the Google Photo Frame.

The sweet town of Parvic is a second-class resort in the Norwegian Alps. Sixty years ago, the town’s great and good pushed for the resort idea both to create a viable economy and to halt the drain of youngsters to the cities. Parvic has stayed relatively unfashionable – we never caught up to the already-established resorts. But we do have one thing going for us. We’re nestled immediately beneath Gravemtor, a popular peak for mountaineers during our short summer, and a micro-industry has developed to cater for the often-affluent visitors. The mountain itself is technically challenging, although small enough that a good climber could be up and down within a day.

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Adrenaline Rush

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #128, where we write about the image below, from the Google Photo Frame.

The Saturn Orbiter. Standing at 126ft, it’s gantry painted in a striking explosion of colour, a rocket blasting off. A unique track of four 360° loops, each coming directly after the last. A drop of 77ft and a top speed on the descent of 78mph. The world’s tallest rollercoaster. Opened only three years ago, the thrill-seeker Toby knew all the numbers.

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