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Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)

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The Last Trump: Part 3 of 3 (A Farce Of Politics)

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FREE ebook edition of the COMPLETE story available on Smashwords, iTunesGoogle Play Books, and Amazon (99 cents there, because I can NEVER get them to price match my free books for some reason).

Coming soon to Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Haven’t read the previous installments? Click here to go to Part 1!

And now… Part 3, the bizarre conclusion:

     But in the cold, glassy sunlight filtering through wispy gray drizzle clouds on Inauguration Day, he knew. Moments before stepping out on the stage, standing head bowed behind heavy navy curtains blazoned with the eagle of the Seal, he knew. A moment later, his cue, and he stepped out into sudden applause. The applause died quickly, leaving behind a confused coda of isolated claps, then a hush.

     He shuffled. His back was bent. He looked old. Intricate combover abandoned limp on one shoulder like a dying cotton candy stole, shiny pink skullcap skin stretched tight to the chilly gusty wind, he shuffled. Old.

     Election night, he’d been twenty years younger. And he’d been old and dark-baggy-eyed then.

     “Is the President going to die?” a little girl in the front row asked her mommy, loud, into the silence. Mommy shushed her. The news cameras zeroed in, producers hissed did we get it? Did we get it? Into earbuds. But it didn’t make the news. Trump took the podium and the crowd tensed so viewers at home could feel it in their bones. Waiting for him to stumble on the step behind the high podium, fall, break a hip, end the term before it was begun. But he stepped up. Bent the mike. Leaned his head in. Pursed lips. Brushed rotten cotton candy hair off his shoulder into the wind’s cold. Spoke.

     “THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” he thundered, back straightening, shoulders broadening, wrinkles filling in, years falling off, eyes raking the crowd. The crowd recoiled, a step back, stomping toes and bumping shoulders, catching balance, milling in shock like ducks frozen in the bellow of a hunting dog.

     Blazing copper hair like Trump had never had spilled out of his scalp like Play-doh out of a Fun Factory, defying the wind to lay itself in a defiant sweep. His wrinkles filled in flat and vanished. The bags under his eyes sucked up and smoothed over. Muscle swelled the arms and shoulders of his jacket. His gut sucked in and stayed sucked.

     Like plucking a daisy, Trump plucked the microphone from its stand and ripped it from its wood mount, the cable tearing the wood open in an abrupt line down the front of the podium like a root ripped out of clay soil by the lever of a falling tree. His other hand, of its own accord, popped a tiny rhizome of raw tumeric into his mouth and he chewed it in jagged crimson teeth. His eyes lit baleful blue, the color of the hidden sky.

     “Go, they said,” Trump said to the crowd as it surged and stamped like a half-panicked beast, its million heads locked to the stage unwilling, captured on the tether of his amplified voice. “Go and see what they are. And I went. I went. I went among the rubes forty years, stepped into the shoes of this gilded Narcissus and played carnival barker to you until—I thought it could never happen and you proved me wrong—you made me your leader. You cheered as I spit on your institutions. Ruled by fiat, ignored your rules, declared wars, bombed the brothers you called others, played your prejudices and emotions, watched you tear down opposition by force and declaration, watched those who knew better fall quiet and cringe back and the few who dared stand torn down by your hands without a word of encouragement from my lips.”

     “Mommy? What’s the President?” the little girl asked mommy, but nobody heard. Nobody but Trump, growing taller, ears unfurling and spreading wide, sliding higher on his head. Sudden claws bit bright lines into the microphone in his hand.

     “They’ve learned, I said. They’ve passed through their crisis in the last century. But over the last four years, even on the lands most ravaged by that crisis, the other-hate has risen yet higher, emboldened. By me. By you. Still ready to hate your other-brothers, back and forth, both sides of your politics, all the multitudinous sides, fighting, slouching into violence.”

     He stepped to the edge of the stage. The microphone finally gave up with a low wail of feedback; crumpled in his inky claws it fell to the stage decapitated. The little girl, mommy now fled, stood in a half-circle of trampled sod. The crowd behind her compressed backward, wide eyes flashing white fear, gazes still held. Broad silky wings, gold and copper, unfolded and shredded Trump’s jacket. The slabs of his chest and abdomen, covered in copper velvet with the nap of the short dense fur of a cat’s nose, heaved in deep breaths. Trump knelt at the edge of the timbers, down, down, chest laid almost on his knees, wings thrust upward like blooming flowers.

     “Little girl, you know the truth. You are afraid, yes?”

     “Yes, sir,” she said. Her knees quivered slightly, but she held her spine straight and her eyes full open.

     “Bravery is doing right in the face of fear. It is seeing what is truly there when fear tells you to see threat. It is seeing threat only where threat is real.”

     “Yes, sir,” she said.

     Trump spread his wings and leapt. In moments, the clouds swallowed him. The frantic milling of the crowd stilled and the people began to pull deep breaths and blink, as if waking. Only the claw-torn shreds of his shoes fell back, scattered wide by the twisting wind.

END

Want more to read? Click here to find one of my novellas and several short and flash stories to read for free right here on my site.

Thirteen Word Story: Back To The Trees

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    Wars, famines, politicians casting every disagreement as life-or-death division, the screw-the-future shortsightedness of deregulated banks and businesses, the ever-deepening US suspicion of neighbors as enemies and basic social behavior as the demon-Stalinist-bugaboo of Cold War Soviet communism, the push deeper into religious extremism in the Middle East (copied, in rehtoric if not action — yet — by increasingly mainstream figures in US religion, like Huckabee)… there are a lot of forces working against the survival of the human race in the long term. To return to harping on my favorite harp-able subject, if we don’t get a large number of humans out of this nest we call Earth, we’re going to collapse this civilization and where we go from there is up in the air. Back to the trees is an option, should intelligence fail to secure us a future.

But wait — you came here for a thirteen word story. Here it is.

Back To The Trees

“Cooperate or fail — these once-civilized apes chose regression,” the alien xenoarchaeology professor said.

Dystopian Science Fiction: Is It In The News?

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By my headline, I’m not asking if there are any current stories about dystopian science fiction in the news. I’m asking if perhaps the things we see on the news are influencing the science fiction we writers write. Science fiction is speculation about what the future may bring, but like all literature and art it is a reflection of the context of the writer. It is a reflection of cultural context, of what the writer thinks the world is now and what that might develop into as time proceeds.

A while back, I asked if pessimism in US-authored science fiction might reflect a perception — arguably, a reality — that the USA is declining from a peak of prosperity and power. I think that thought has merit, and I think it’s linked to what I’m talking about here.

Yes, this post is sadly inspired by the injustice and violence we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri over the last four months; the scene above from the events of November 24th is rapidly becoming an iconic symbol of social order at any cost, militarization of police, and the deep frustration of people — here, the black community of Ferguson — who feel that working within the system has failed them, the system has failed them, and the system will not validate even something so basic as their right to be the equal of every other US citizen under the law.

That’s dystopianism. People denied their rights, human or legal, that those above them have. We see it rearing its head in the United States, and many of us hoped, somehow, that the worst was over. That privilege and oppression were the language of the past in our country, and that the exceptions we saw were just that: exceptions.

But that has always been the hope of the sheltered, the hope of those who are less oppressed, the hope of those who see opportunity. Too many of us have never really known those hopes. Before the internet, before the explosion of social media and hand-portable smartphones capable of livestreaming video in the hands of ordinary citizens, it was easier to be sheltered.

Year by year, it is more difficult to be sheltered, more difficult to deny uncomfortable truths of inequality that the internet holds in front of our faces. Not only in the USA, but abroad, we more and more frequently see tweets and Facebook updates and blogs and YouTube videos and so on and so forth from oppressed people and groups around the world.

The internet and the smartphone are doing for this generation what television did for the Vietnam War. We’re getting a look, collectively, all of us who have access to the internet, a look at dirt that has traditionally been swept under the rug and stayed there, invisible. It’s far easier to see it for what it is now than it has ever been before.

And that’s sort of depressing. Right now, many of us are depressed by what we see in the world, and we’re afraid it’s only going to get worse. Perhaps this exposure will continue to grow and my little ones will grow up in a time marked by reform and renewed optimism. I can hope. I’ll try to write about that.

But right now, I’m just sad and it is FAR too easy to proceed from watching dystopian current events to writing dystopian science fiction.

Editors For Great Justice

Earlier today I watched a bit of the Zimmerman trial (if you’ve been living under a rock or live outside the USA where I’m guessing it’s not such a big news item, here’s a basic rundown) because I’m somewhat interested and also apparently a bit masochistic this morning/early afternoon.  As I listened, something occurred to me: the literary world has something to offer the justice system.

We don’t need jurors listening to all this testimony, viewing all this evidence, listening to the lawyers work to spin it this way and that.

We need a board of editors instead.  Think about it.  Who else is more qualified to cut a story down to its essential details and throw all the fat away?  Who else has seen more convoluted plots and worked to make something understandable out of them?  Who else is trained to ignore flowery prose and overwrought adjectival constructions (which are basically what lawyers do when they’re speaking aloud)?  Who else is experienced in stripping all that flowery-ness and adjectival overdoing down to terse, clear prose?

The only catch in my idea is the fact that professional editors just don’t have the time.  They’re already buried under their slushpiles, I can’t imagine getting them to take on trial work as well.

What a shame.   They’d be perfect.

Too Hip

Sometimes I see people out and about who are in a similar position to me: still relatively young and limping. Maybe they have degenerative osteoarthritis in one hip like me, maybe rheumatoid, maybe injury. Who knows?
But what I do know is that they almost never have a cane or crutch. Maybe if they’re wearing a cast, or if the condition is severe. But otherwise, most of them prefer to gulp some pain pills and limp.
We like our pain meds in this country (the USA), don’t we?
But that’s not the only reason. We also like to look young, and canes aren’t young. We’re vain, and most of us would rather make our infirmities worse faking not being infirm than just taking care of ourselves.

By using a cane, I slow the degeneration of my hip. I stay off pain meds by taking care of myself and accepting a little daily pain as my lot. I increase the chances this won’t be crippling in twenty years. I put off having to consider a hip replacement, maybe for a couple of decades, maybe for the rest of my life.

I’m not worried about how my cane looks to you. I’m worried about what my cane can do for me.