Full Benefits

I’ve been playing around with InspiroBot for a few weeks now, so I just eased right into the latest flash fiction challenge here.

I thought about using a previous quote, but then today I happened upon this one, and, well, yeah. This happened.

 

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Full Benefits

It’s a Wednesday or a Thursday, one of those days that seems like it should be the weekend already, and annoys you that it’s not. You are tired and a bit itchy. You definitely should be listening to your mother and drinking more water. As if your thoughts became manifest, there is a glass of water on your table, Rebecca must have left it for you before she went. She’s a sweet and tough girl you’re lucky to have. Maybe she’s left some lotion in the bathroom.

Oh darling Rebecca, coming through for you again. You shower off the grime of the day, and pat dry with your towel, pad out to the living room. The scent of lavender fills the air as you rub your legs and chest and neck and arms with the lotion, massaging it in. And then you feel the first seam.

The ridge runs from your wrist to your elbow, along the bottom of your forearm. You know it is a seam, you can feel the edges overlap. When you bend your arm and skim your fingertips across it, your nails catch. It’s not difficult to prise open. There is a small ripping noise as you pull your skin back but no pain. Strangely there is no blood, no fluid or mess that falls to your lap. You watch your blood pulse through your arteries and back through your veins, feeling it inside and outside.

As you move to put the edge back together, you wonder. You wonder and you decide and you try a little something, you flap the edge up just a bit before settling it back. Your arm is most obviously more muscular than the other now. You get up and test both arms with the full jug of milk in the fridge; it’s real, actual muscle. Your body feels like the whole of yourself is humming. This is the greatest prize you’ve ever won.

Your fingers run frantically over your body, searching for the seams, and you pull and stretch and push and shake and shape and fold yourself into a new you, a better you, a you that is taller and stronger and better looking and you wonder what that bit will be if you just twist it a little to the

And you’ve flipped and now you’re me and I’m you, your future, your pal, bud. But the secret here, the secret is, I’m better. I’m the new and improved you, you’ll never remember how you used to be because now forever and ever you’re me. I can feel that bit of stiffness left here, you didn’t quite have the reach before you were me, your arms were just too short. I bend my left arm up and my right arm down and my fingers meet in the middle of my back, caressing my spine, trying to work away that bit you couldn’t quite take care of. It’s a good thing I’m me and not you any longer.

It isn’t laying quite right yet. It itches underneath my skin. I’ve got to get deeper to smooth that spot out. I’m going to go in from the top. Parting the hair just above the nape of my neck, I slide my fingertips under the seam edge and pull. That horrible velcro sound is even worse than you remember, you bastard. Why am I even still talking to you! Good riddance.

Oh god, what did I do there? All I can taste is pennies so strongly my teeth vibrate. My ears hurt. Oh god, I’ve got to open that back up. Try this again. Try this again. Again. Smooth out, damnit. I am floating in a calm oasis, I am a leaf on the wind. There’s the itch, it’s a lump you pushed up under the seam, like laying a rug in a spot to small for it to fit. The itching, the pennies, the infernal ringing in my ears, all gone as I press that bit into shape. I am outside on a clear icy morning for a split second, and then oh no oh god I’m spinning I’m spinning away what is that light my eyes I’m blind I can’t hold on I’m falling I’m flipping again

They broke apart with a gasp, a sweaty seething mass into a mob of dawning realization. “What’s good for one!” a man shouted, a man who was you and was me and now is a they and a we. The rest of them and of us shouted and cheered, arms hugged around our other necks, rough tousles to their hairs long and short and theirs and ours. We and they roared and squealed to hear the clamor of our voices, the many from one and I and you.

Who could have known that they and we and you and me could be so tremendous, could have this potential roiling through ourself. All fingers, inside and outside, felt within and without, pushed and pulled, finding seams and edges, reshaped what viscera was held in us and them and became more and less and better and more terrible.

Except then two hands, once idle, reached not for the closest seams only but out to other edges, to ours and theirs, and pulled and twisted, and were not content just to fold them together, but pierced needle sharp and tugging thread. We and they and us and them were gathered and sewn, many pieces to one quilt. I can feel you quiet, I can feel them quiet, I quiet, we quiet, and the light is slipping away and I and you and we surrender to the dark and sweet smell of lavender hanging in the

Susan stretched and shook out her long limbs. As she scooped up the lotion from the coffee table, Rebecca walked into the apartment. “Hello, dearest, it’s me.” she said, looking at Rebecca with love. “Of course it’s you, Suze, it always was. Come here and I’ll do your back for you.”

Rebecca massaged the lotion into Susan’s back, smoothing away a knot right in the middle. “You’re magnificent” she whispered, her voice soft and dark and sweet in Susan’s ear.

 

 

 

 

Back, again.

 

This week’s flash fiction, for the challenge found here.

This one came in just over a thousand words, 1,025. It feels pretty skint to me, tbh; I think I could have used another few hundred words.

 

Back, Again.

 

Lexi came to with a shuddering gasp, her body rocking forward, upright, painfully rigid.

Except there was no pain. She knew it should hurt, she knew her eyes were dry and her throat scratchy, but there wasn’t any pain. The details were just a catalogue of this and that. Her head felt like it was wrapped in layers of cloud and cotton. She chased thoughts slowly, like one last vegetable in a bowl of thick cream soup.

“Alexis Broadmore?” The man smelled nice, like cold lemons on a hot day. He bent his head to meet her eyes. She was confused for a moment at his expectant look, then realized what he was waiting for. Lexi nodded. Alexis. Yes. Alexis. “Welcome to the Department of Re-appropriation. I’m Agent One-Oh-Two-Five. I’ll be taking care of your transition today.”

Lexi watched him shuffle papers from one pile to another, efficiently chattering at her at a speed she couldn’t quite catch hold of. She curled her fingers into fists and then flattened them rhythmically. The movement felt familiar. She bent each finger purposefully, slowly. Wasn’t there a noise to go with that? Her eyes wandered up again. “—there are so many more bodies to fill now, so you may feel a bit out of sorts at first; we can goose it a little to help but you’ll probably always feel like something is missing. Should balance out with an undefinable sense of purpose, though, so it could be—“ One-Oh-Two-Five broke off as he finally looked at her again.

She blinked at him. Slowly. He heaved a huge sigh. “Heroes. Goddamnit. Here, lean forward.” He put his hand out, middle finger held by his thumb, and flicked her hard in the middle of her forehead.

A lifetime came back to her in an instant, thumping into her with a roll of thunder. She was four, gently hugging a kitten that would spend the next two decades sleeping at her feet, so full of love it hurt. Lexi was nine, standing forlornly as her so-called best friend laughed as her homework blew across the school parking lot. She was in her teens, always alone, too weird for friends. She was at college, now with too many friends to count, going to the parties and lunches and lazy afternoons she dreamed of. She cried too many tears in her twenties over too many doors slamming in too many different ways. It was worse later, when she had run out of tears. And then that empty space filled with purpose and charities and causes and things felt ok again. She remembered shaking off the vague weariness from the feeling of a hundred lives lived.

Lexi remembered her last day.

She was on the sidewalk outside the Sparrows, coffee in hand. She was tired. Exhausted. Spent down to nothing. There was a man arguing with a woman who was trying to ignore him. She sidled around them, trying to tune out the anger in his voice. She remembered thinking she shouldn’t care, but when she saw the knife, she threw her body in front of it without a thought. It was shorter and faster than she expected.

“Yep. That all did happen.”

Startled, she looked up. “What? I know it happened, it was my life. Where the hell am I?” Everything was too bright and loud now. Somehow she saw beyond the walls of the small white office to see thousands more like it stretching out in all directions, each filled with two flickering lights. “Why does my body feel so weird?”

“Again. I am Agent One-Oh-Two-Five, this is the Department of Re-appropriation. You are here because you died, and now we are going to reallocate your biological energy to another body. Your body feels weird because it doesn’t actually exist, it’s just a corporeal construct to make your transition less disorienting.” He muttered to himself as he pulled a few papers from a stack he set aside earlier. “Honestly, why the fuck do heroic actions fritz up the system, it’s beyond me, tens of thousands of years and not a single fix, third one this week…”

“Uh, no, thank you. I’m done. I did my time. I don’t particularly want to go back. I’m ok with what I managed.” He gave her a long look and slumped back in his chair.

“Look, we understand why you did what you did. Heroics are about half and half true heroism and suicidal lack of bodily preservation. We don’t care. Energy is a limited resource, and humans are producing more bodies at a constant rate. You don’t get a choice.”

Lexi felt her mouth fall open, aghast. “Ok look, maybe it was a little bit of each. Couldn’t you just, like, balance my books? Take out your scale and see that I lived a decent life. You could just let me be. Go on, talk to the Big Man. I’ve got all the time in the world.” She leaned back in her chair. Her life wasn’t great, but she lived it. Besides the world was just getting worse all the time. Who would want to do that again? That’s where Hell actually was, a life lived over and over and over.

“Ms. Broadmore, there isn’t god, not like you may have been taught. There is us. We are the end and the beginning, a constant to manage a limited resource. Your memory of this life, and the others less immediately previous, will fade, but you can’t just opt out.” Lexi willed tears to her eyes, surely this was a time to cry if nothing else, groped for some righteous anger, anything, but her feelings were a dull buzz. Fucking corporeal construct.

“You can live recklessly, you can kill yourself quickly or slowly, you can live a long and full life with a satisfying and comfortable end fading away one night tucked in your bed. But you will eventually end up here.” He tented his fingers, looking at her steadily. “And then you’ll go back, again. I’m very sorry, Ms. Broadmore, but there is no exit.”

The House No One Built

Okiedokie, another flash fiction challenge, as seen here.

1500 words for a title provided. I tried something a little different for me; some bits work, some don’t. It’s a first draft though, so I’m sure I can work that out.

 

The House No One Built

 

Sara walked through the small coastal town, relishing deep breaths of clean sea air. Mid-afternoon on a school day has its own mystery, outside in the world, punctuated by the sighs of children tired of reading and writing and arithmetic, yearning to be set free. There’s a clinking layer of the wives in the houses, keeping, and the faraway whirrs of retirees cutting their lawns. Underneath was the sound of footsteps on the sidewalk, one shoe scuffing slightly at the conclusion of a step.

She stopped at the end of the street, stood at the fence around the little lot. There wasn’t much shade from the sugar maple yet. The house would be a little bungalow with a front room large enough for a piano. She saw a red door with a half moon window, a porch swing, a striped awning over the carport. Her fingers flicked to a red and white gingham ribbon tied in a bow on the gate. She felt every single one of her many years, and more besides.

 

“Oh, mister, this is where you’ll build me a house? It’s going to be perfect!” The woman was young and bubbly and pretty, with bouncing curls and eyes that didn’t miss a detail. She pulled the ribbon off the picket, laughing, and threaded it through the buttonhole of the cool cream suit of the man smiling at her.

“Sweetheart, it’s going to be the house of your dreams.” He pulled her in for a kiss, arm around her waist, one hand crushing her curls. Sara felt uncomfortable there, the nakedness of their adoration indecent in the bright afternoon. The couple wound their arms around each other, and sauntered down the walk, murmuring about paint colors and closet space, a built-in shelf for cookbooks and a garden out back. How happy they would be with a perfect little place of their own, and how they would never move, not for anything.

 

It was early winter when the man in the cool cream suit and the woman with the laughing eyes were able to move into the little bungalow just a few blocks in from the coast. He carried her over the threshold because that’s how these things went, and she placed her little wedding nosegay in the nook by the door. They settled into the business of living without a stumble. There were delicious home cooked meals, and cups of cocoa after snow-shoveling turned into breathless snowball fights, and so many nights of whispers and the glide of lips down the napes of necks and bodies sliding home in another, in their perfect little house.

 

The man grunted as he tugged harder, and the tree finally popped through the door. “Dear heart, your christmas spirit is here!” he cried as he wrestled the fir onto the aluminum stand. She rounded the corner into the living room with a towering armful of boxes. They spent a wonderful afternoon decorating their tree, and the evening in front of the fire, remnants of their dinner picnic and piles of clothes in a circle around them. She’d treasure that memory forever, lying on the floor looking up at the twinkling lights on the tree, the last night of their tight little orbit of just two.

 

Spring came that year in a rush of color and sweetness on the morning breeze. The small hopes of the happy wife solidified into a fierce joy. “Mister, have I got some news for you.” She delicately told him how many days it had been since her last monthly, and held his hand over the tiny swell of her belly. He thought his heart would burst, unable to hold even a drop more love.

 

“I don’t know where his blanket is, sweetheart. I can’t even think in this house anymore!” The leaves of the maple had just started to turn for the third time since they had brought their bouncing bundle of joy from the maternity ward to their perfect little bungalow. Despite the sleepless nights and tightened belts, there were still more quiet meals and gentle hands and murmurs in the night, plenty of laughter and wishes. Then Edward had become a big brother, and Julia’s sudden new presence had exponentially made all their lives more complicated. “Mister, I just can’t do this all myself with two of them. I really need you to be here, with us, even when it’s bad.” He immediately was contrite, and then Edward found his blanket and stopped screaming, and Julia cooed. A tentative peace calmed the air.

 

The first time Edward pushed her it seemed an accident. His little face scrunched up when he realized she was hurt, and she wiped his tears with soothing concessions, it was just an accident, he didn’t mean it, no real harm done. Years later, the man in the cool cream suit wondered if this is where it all went wrong. The woman, who hadn’t laughed in weeks, thought it started long before that first shove. But surely she was just irritated at the pain of her bones stitching themselves back together, annoyed at the demands her children put on her from her hospital bed. Edward was just being a careless teenaged boy, he was typical, everything was—well, not perfect, but normal.

 

Neither of them could have guessed how destructive their son would become. At first it was just snide comments, made under his breath on the days he spent home from college. Then his friends became more awful, the boorish ones who hit on his mother unabashedly, and the weaselly ones that tried to trick his father out of money, asked for this unnecessary cause or that one. The worst were the ones who bolstered his nonsense, reinforced the narratives he spun out of whole cloth, conspiracy theories that he renamed reasonable doubt. It was shocking how much power he gained with his lies.

The children grew, more each year as children are wont to do. Julia grew up quietly, taking a job as a nurse for the doctor in the next town over. Edward managed to build company after company, failing upwards each time. Eventually he found wild success in politics. The man in the cool cream suit died the day after he signed his house over to the government his son now ran, a forfeiture demanded to redress his dissidence. The woman, no longer young or joyful, managed to flee with her daughter before they were jailed as enemies of the state. The perfect little house with the red door stood empty and quiet, a rebuke to promises made in love.

 

Sara was living alone in France when she heard of the Breakthrough. The Japanese had of late reclaimed their throne as the masters of tech, and found a way to fix the mess they were all in. The little devices they made could gather up all the molecules of a person and redeposit them in the right order anywhere in time already passed. Research began in a flurry. Experiments to test the elasticity of the fourth dimension had some irritating and unexpected results. A few minutes to delay a certain airplane on a certain day brought back fifteen recently extinct species, but three hundred people suddenly found themselves and their stuff out in a field that had minutes before been a gated sub-development. All in all it only took four years to amass enough knowledge for them to understand how to manipulate timelines to fix the larger mistakes that had wrought such disastrous consequences.

When she found out the fate of humanity came down to her, Sara was surprised, though maybe not as much as she should have been. She didn’t hesitate, though, when the gaggle of scientists and historians and consultants outlined for her the role she’d have to play to bring the Redemption. Sara didn’t need the coordinates they gave her. She understood exactly when and where she needed to arrive. She knew exactly the size and shape of what they were asking of her. The morning she left, she went with only the clothes on her back, a chronograph in her pocket, and a red and white gingham ribbon wound around her fingers to confirm their intelligence was correct.

 

And now she was here.

The man in the cool cream suit strolled down the sidewalk towards Sara. He stopped and turned, slouching at the fence next to her. His dreamy gaze gave her a pang in anticipation of what he was about to lose. “Nice bit of land to build a house, eh? My girl is going to have the place of her dreams once I get the money to start it.” He pulled a sweet red and white ribbon from his pocket, and tied a bow to the front gate.

She turned to him with the polite smile of a stranger, and a familiar sadness in her eyes. “Oh, mister, that house is only going to ever be in her dreams.” She thumbed the cover off her chronograph, and erased him.

 

Sara stood there in the sudden lonely silence just a moment too long, her fingers empty, staring for the house no one built.