Parousia

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They shouldn’t have expunged her Contract. Clara brushed the final fondant rose onto her Blushing Bride cake and placed it into the light box. The image flashed on a panel and she slid it into the contest bin at FancyFingers. Her garnet earrings were losing ranking and she needed that cake to restore her credibility.

She moved her attention to the center panel where her character was ready to be released from proxy. The proxy had leveled the neon sprite and found a precious prism, so Clara rewarded him (her? it?) with a nice ranking and game credit. She spun in the circle of panels, searching for any identity crises that would keep her out of Contract Ranking.

Nanostasis warmed her body as the bots slipped through the routine, repairing cells and removing infection and waste. Sleep was for the People. She had no sympathy. They chose lives of texture and pain. She was forced to contribute to sustain them, but the People never held her interest.

A panel to her left scrolled text on faces, pausing only to belch out her query results, “Parousia.” For moons she’d watched the conversations, speculation and lust. Her anger at the Big Q turned to curiosity and then action. It was a simple twist, not even a hack, really. Clara would release it on the network right before the buzz peaked.

A flash on the right distracted and her eyes slit fire at the sinking cake image. Someone had posted an elaborate peacock paper cutting. Clara plucked a rose and nibbled the sweating fondant as she considered her options. She had to sing. A quick response to the top-ranked video and she was back in play.

Parousia was tiresome. She canceled the query and focused back on her sprite. She would need to inject funds soon, or this sprite would be history. Clara inhaled at the familiar tingle, nano mood stabilization. How did the People live without this? She changed her query to search for a new Contract.

Parousia would likely go public in the People’s tomorrow when the buzz peaked. Speculation staggered the unenhanced mind. The digital social cleansing of the Contract Board would be conquered. Parousia would level all. A single presence, one mind. Together, they would work with the People and teach them how to live. Earth reclamation efforts would finally cease as Apprentice People learned the Truth.

Clara snickered, thinking of the scrolling accolades. Well-compensated testers shared stories of bliss and harmony. Networks buzzed with tales of true collaboration, altruism, opportunity and hope. She had developed the code that eliminated the detractors, and silenced the People’s uprising. But she had missed a critical buzz peak and Big Q expunged her contract.

Unless you were of the People, no day was like the day before. The struggle to work the network and maintain identity eliminated the existence of time. Clara had been without Contract for moons and faced the threat of joining the People. Without a contracted path, it was impossible to progress. Parousia gave hope, but she knew it was false. She took advantage of the identity lull to increase her ranking.

A chime sent her pulse racing and the bots rushed to compensate. The buzz had almost reached peak. Clara licked bland sugar from her fingers and stretched toward the icon that would release her malice before Parousia hit the network. The People would be heard. She would do her part. The Contract Board would maintain control.

In a blink, a spinning box appeared on the center panel. A new contract. She accepted without opening the seal, the Abussos logo an easy lure. With metered mind, Clara lounged and finished the cake before releasing the code. The final chime extinguished and she watched the temporary leveling as Parousia spread over to the People.

Hedge Fund

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Gareth spun the new notebook and focused on his account balance while the investor sheathed his old machine in sweaty leather. His pulse registered the number in a blood-deafened moment of uncontrolled arousal. Tomorrow’s FDA memo fluttered to the keyboard, the investor’s outstretched hand probing beyond fantasy to deliver the stark, contrived truth.

Names of study participants had already been leaked. The stolen machine would never be recovered. There would be no Phase III. The morning news would devastate, but his colleagues had no reason to fear investigation. They could take their innocent, fragmented collaborations and find other sponsors.

Gareth had once dreamed of finding the cure for cancer, providing wealth for his wife and child, and giving back to his community. The investors preyed on that dream. They only wanted data; the study rejects. He would still perform the work, extend lives, find the cure, and provide for his splintered family.

The benevolent vultures swooped and bought out the policies of those with no chance of survival. AML devastated financially and killed rapidly. Families appreciated early access to their money, even at a reduced payout. The investors called him a hero, and his ex stopped calling him. Charlie’s tuition was paid and funds were available for medical school.

The island awaited and he closed the lid, figures dancing in conscious conscience. Fifty-four percent OR was unheard of, and now would never be reported. The drug had extended the lives of almost eighty people. It wasn’t a cure, but a treatment that made a difference. He wrestled the figures through ethics, a social construct.

The investor had vanished and Gareth patted his pockets, assured everything was ready. They never told him they would end the study. He begged them to let him continue, just a few more months. He helped them hedge with deadlier diseases, younger patients, flawed research. But he had come too close to success, and they had no choice.

His phone chimed Für Elise and he waited for the measures to repeat. He breathed a loose greeting before she spoke in her professional, bedside manner, “I’m sorry, Sir. She’s gone.” Gareth rose from the café table and pitched the phone in the trash along with his empty paper cup. He reached the airport locker and fumbled for the key as his flight was announced.

The fast food bag contained the last of the pilfered vials, along with a cylinder of paper bills. He clenched the benign package and strode to the nearest trash bin, as a darting woman grazed his arm and dislodged the sack. Gareth bent to retrieve it and collapsed, shrouded in a cloud of his mother’s perfume. He pressed palms to damp eyes and heard the repeated boarding call.

Neatly Pressed

Inspiration for my forthcoming #fridayflash story. on Twitpic
Not Pregnant. She shook the digital stick and the extraneous word held steady. Blink. Still there. Christopher! Shocking green tape hid shattered glass, evidence of Monday’s departure. He ignored her messages, thinning now after five days of reality.

He had laughed, at first, stretching his naked toes through the wooly bathroom rug. Fingers perfected each glistening strand before he glimpsed her tearful reflection, and called her a liar. She produced the stick with the blue lines, then the package instructions.

Their lives juggled sizzling into a vanilla bathroom baggie, tied and tied and bagged again as his acid words stripped raw her dewy skin. Words from walls on needle-strewn streets found canvas on sweating suburban marble as he dressed without missing a button. She bled for comfort but did not bleed. The bag jiggled limp in his purpling fist as he crashed the door open, splintering lead and antique glass.

She touched her tearless eye now and crouched on the foyer steps, frozen at the turning lock. “Peaches! I’m back,” came the comforting voice she craved, “what the heck happened to the door?”

Missed Connection

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They met at the gazebo behind the old elementary school. Glynnis spread tiptoes and watched him clomp up the hill, his fists stretching knit jacket pockets. A confident moon hid any insecurity, his posture straight, not stiff. A joyful shiver tickled her soul, delight in knowing she was wanted. She couldn’t see his face, but it didn’t matter. This was about connection, not attraction.

They met online in a community activism forum. Evan amused himself reading her passionate battles with experts, until he realized he was on her side, even when she was wrong. He stood up for her once, and she wrote to thank him. She sounded innocent, irresistible, so unlike the others.

They met in second grade in Mr. Westley’s class, before he was fired for reading Bible stories. Glynnis knew all the stories and corrected Mr. Westley when he missed a moral. Evan adored the tales, more horrific than his brother’s comics, terror dripping from frameless watercolor pages. He knew she didn’t remember him.

They stepped together as he entered the gazebo, her backward move instinctive. The moment paused as avatars unmoving they sought inhuman reflex. Pixels to pores and breezing tendrils, she pinched a stray curl from glossy lips, his fantasy in living clay. Words and symbols, eloquence and poise, months of careful construction reduced to scaffold this instant as his fingers unfurled.

They stepped together toward the view they could not see, subtle squints at moonlight licks on twisting river tails. Evan grasped rotting wood, shooting electric sins to ground in timeless earth. Her pudding voice slid over familiar words, soothing repetition in mumbling bubbles that floated beyond reach and popped with moonbeam needles.

They stepped together and melted in first touch as he exhausted her words in wet acquiescence. Life was only his fingers on her waist, seeking spine and releasing energy he no longer claimed as his own. He pressed harder, sending his past into her forgiving bones, praying for a future without lies. Glynnis opened to his gifts, his firm pressure burying her secrets in layers of hope and acceptance. At once they both existed, and were no more, present instant by instant.

Knowing warmth parted them in morning ignorance. Their final touch on shadowed path spoke nothing. They stepped away together, private icons revealed through foggy beams, the dust of missing generations. He teased away her curl in fluttery fingertips, exploring his new lightness in her butterfly laugh. This time he would not sever the connection.

Surface Tension

Story Coming
There is a cracked painting on the wall. It is not cracked. It is not a painting. There is an abstract print on the wall. The glass is cracked by the shadow of a line. The glass is not cracked. If you are not afraid of the crushing frame, you can stand under the print.

Did the artist see the crack? Whose life lies under glass, inside cracks and outside smudges out of reach? Every angle shadows a flaw, reveals imperfection and hides reality. If the frame should fall, the shatters will still never match the crack in the painting.

Hidden Lake

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Pansy was 18 months old the day Mama slithered the blue ribbon from her drifting hair and tied Pansy’s wrist to the suitcase on the back porch. Mama almost blew away with the curls, until Papa took his hands from his hips and raised his palms in submission. The ribbon released its bite on the chubby little wrist and tamed the curls back in place. Mama scooped her up and gusted back inside, leaving the suitcase for Papa.

The next day Papa began to build the fence that would protect Pansy from the vicious licks of Hidden Lake. Neighbors stopped by to hammer and saw and soon the lake was cut in half as Pansy scooted to the edge of the window for a one-eyed view of the fading blue. Mama bustled about, serving food and drinks, while Grandpa kept Pansy busy telling her stories of sharp things and little fingers.

That was when Pansy found out about the scar. Grandpa told her an apple fell on her head while she and Mama were napping under the tree last summer. She touched her head and then the window, where her finger covered the last of the lake. When she pulled it away, the fence was complete and Mama stood behind her and cried.

Pansy was 14 when Papa told her that Mama was sad because she couldn’t see the water; that all she ever wanted was a cottage near the water and a beautiful baby to hold. She didn’t realize the baby would awaken all her fears and an ugly scar wouldn’t let her forget her mistakes. Pansy asked why they didn’t take down the fence when she grew older. Papa told her it kept her safe from men.

Upstairs in Grandpa’s room, the only one with a view of the lake, Pansy learned of Clara. He told her Clara could take away the scar and end her mother’s pain, so Pansy set out right away for the shack at the end of the lake. She used one of Mama’s ribbons over the gate latch, so she could reach it when she returned.

Clara told Pansy to take three eyeless potatoes and bury them under the apple tree on the South side during the next half-moon. Pansy searched the cellar and every potato was covered in eyes. She carried three she liked best and carefully removed the eyes with Grandpa’s fishing knife before she buried them under the tree. She checked the mirror every day and the scar remained the same.

Mama stayed in her room with a view of Prisoner’s Hill, while Pansy crept away each afternoon to play with the neighborhood boys. She soon forgot the spell and was captured in the eyes of Christian Heath. He called her Johnny Jump-up and said she was too petite to be a real Pansy. She thought she might drown in his eyes until she discovered his mouth could stop her heart.

Papa promised the fence would come down when she turned sixteen, but then he discovered Mama’s ribbon. He stormed past Grandpa and Pansy playing checkers on the porch, and banged right up to Mama’s room. Pansy stood to follow, and Grandpa captured her fragile wrist and nodded his head for her to sit. The shouting didn’t last long, and soon the screen door clanked open and Mama emerged with her suitcase and a smile that chased away the years. She walked through the open gate and Papa stood firm, hands on hips. He glanced at the board and asked, “Who’s winning?”

This story was written after requesting writing prompts on Twitter.

 

Lens

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Slate tugged the greasy black strands across his shining scalp, thighs cramping at the squat required to see his reflection in the minivan window. He had to keep moving so his flip-flops wouldn’t melt to the pavement, pink plastic straps hidden under wide-bottom polyester plaid. He gathered the shopping carts and returned them to the stall, just out of camera sweep reach.

He spotted the girl as she stepped from her car, jerking at the trapped designer bag. She was better equipped for this scorcher, with her bare limbs and cotton scraps. Lacey blonde tresses bounced with nods at her telephone appendage and he raised an unkempt eyebrow. She parked her peachy dream away from violent truck doors and demon carts.

She was the one. The last one screamed and he had to run and find a new lot. Slate kept his mind sharp reciting schoolboy poems, timelines and lists. He watched the exit. She was taking her time and he hoped she wouldn’t bring out a full cart. Then again, maybe she would be friendlier if he helped unload.

The girl emerged, still attached to the phone, a prescription package in her other hand. He slunk towards her convertible, scoping his escape in the lot he knew so well. He reached the car before her, and she seemed irritated, but unafraid. He kept his filthy hands behind his back this time.

She bagged the phone and held her splayed her keys, white-knuckled and fierce. Slate cleared his throat and delivered his practiced line, “Excuse me, Miss. Uhhh. I’m trying to get a job here. Just pushing carts. Ummm. This is weird.”

She squinted at his uncontrollably outstretched hands, “Could I just use you for a reference? I only need a name and phone number.” Her manicured hand slid into her bag and he added, “Please!”

The Humanity Engine

Munch

Eris did not exist. Before her eyes, her fingers flexed, tools and weapons of another lifetime. The hour had come to disappear; yet she sat in darkness rooted to her swivel chair. Through the polished glass touch-top, she watched the pulsing green status light and resisted the temptation to boot the machine and follow the plan.

For four years, she had spent every night in this room while her skin turned sallow and her bank account grew fat. She was irreplaceable. Eris snorted remembering her mother’s snide comment, “When you’re done with all this education, the only thing you’ll be qualified to do, is teach!” The Committee thought otherwise, and she was heavily recruited.

She had perfected the algorithm the second year; anonymous partners parsing while she slept. Those were the honeymoon days, flowing wine and conversation. But then the negotiations began. The Committee grew, and disagreements led to silence and silenced. She fed the heuristics from their printed words on slips of blue and red.

Yesterday The Chair had signed off on the release. Tonight Eris had discovered the error. Three months of testing pleased The Committee, each member satisfied. Most had required cleansing. All were coached on maintenance. Their enemies remained unnamed, but she saw them rise in red as she fed the words into the machine.

Minos III was scheduled for silent launch tomorrow as an innocuous function of the world’s most popular search engine. The spiders had been crawling for decades, and she knew what would happen when people discovered the link. Her models showed early trending identities, Hitler and Elvis, Mother Theresa and Madonna. Embedded in code and human consciousness, consensus seducing trust and wet recursion.

Within hours, the apps would appear and memes would build. Who’s your celebrity soul mate? Are you more generous than your boss? Are you dating a scumbag? Is your mom a serial killer? Within days, investigations would launch, marriages would end and the cleansing business would breathe new life.

Public information fueled the engine. Teachers taught them to create and publish. Employers promoted transparency. Friends and family connected and shared. Lifestreams. The algorithm was less complex than she led The Committee to believe. Even the voice and facial recognition gave little difficulty, driven by data from her dissertations and studies of facial muscle underlying human expressions. She had adopted sophisticated translators from open source projects and fed her challenges to the support community.

She was not the judge. Minos III meted at The Committee’s command. Real code held and she had no regrets. As new information entered the system, humanities remained consistent. She had tested with names of those she knew, not just the powerful and their enemies. Her favorite professor ranked with intelligence, compassion and humor. Her college roommate displayed a mean streak, political inconsistencies and poor health. She knew they had not been cleansed.

Manual testing had ended months ago, and she should never have discovered the error. Tonight she had been surfing and the image caught her attention. His hair was now white, but the face was unforgettable. He held a child on his lap, and his smile seemed genuine, sincere, and innocent. But she knew that smile. She had been that child. She entered him into the engine and revealed his humanity. Minos III labeled him a philanthropist with deep religious values, generous, affectionate and an optimist.

She looked again at his face, and knew where she had erred. The muscle was easy to overlook, but she had assigned the code early in the development. It was a simple switch. On/Off. Good/Evil. Done. She had sighed and lifted the signed release, ready to move on, to disappear. Before shutting down for the last time, she tried one more search, and then another, heads of state, high school buddies, talk show hosts and sports heroes.

She tested her models and witnessed the results in horror. But horror led to resolve and conviction. Eris knew she was right, and right was all she had left. She was clean. She no longer existed. The island awaited and she was prepared. She set the alarms and walked away from the bunker.

Grace Note

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I scraped the last of Keddy’s rot from my driveway and dumped the sour skins. Late autumn beams gave warmth for sandals and sun hats. In three years I had never bitten a fallen apple. That would be stealing. I stripped wet gloves to prepare for my task.

Seventeen would not make it serial. Each act was unique and, though compelled, I knew that I had changed. An antique bag concealed my tools and I scavenged for new additions. Dirty paper outlined details dripped in blue, with no expected confirmation of closure. The leather mouth consumed twine and scissors, a wonder I hadn’t needed them before.

I walked in humility without my early resentment at obligations. This body shed cells of regret a thousand times these three years. I was new. There was no moral of conversion. Tonight the work would be complete, but I would not.

A sweet bonfire wind tickled porch chimes, baritone verse in tousled wood. The empty hook winked me a shiver and I dreamt the final token. Maybe Zoe wouldn’t pounce the fence to bat at chimes if I carved the yew in delicate treble. I pocketed the dull blade and slipped into my rubber boots.

Earned Pleasure

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She knew he was still alive. She passed his truck in the bar parking lot on her way home from the cemetery. Earlier, it was parked behind the practice in his usual spot. Before he bought the pickup, it was a pristine luxury sedan with vanity plates. She figured the truck was his midlife crisis. She’d never seen anything in the bed and after six years, there wasn’t a scratch on the body.

Crossing the short driveway, she scuffed to the mailbox and snapped it open and closed. Nothing. Years ago, she approached with anticipation, hope that he’d read her apology and sent a reply. At first she made excuses. The mail was slow. He didn’t have stamps. He was revising his letter. She checked the box three times a day, groping around in the back on cloudy afternoons, just in case she missed it.

She drove by his house, his practice, his hangouts, wondering what was keeping him. Watching him marry and raise his family, she decided he was punishing her. Bitterness kept her waiting for the expected rebuke, but it never came. The worst feeling was the knowledge he was aware of her existence and did nothing to make amends. How he must hate her now.

Before her mother passed away, she suggested maybe he hadn’t received the letter. Maybe something happened and it was never delivered. But she knew otherwise. He was getting his revenge. Visiting her mother today, she remembered the words, and wondered. Her mother had suggested writing again, or picking up the phone, or just stopping by the practice, for goodness sake. She wasn’t interested in goodness.

Curiosity lingered and she sat at her mother’s desk and rolled up the top. The drawer jammed and she loosened it with a kitchen knife, freeing a sealed envelope, which dropped to her feet. She kicked it aside and rummaged through the drawer, settling on stationery she had used as a girl, a monogram she’d never needed to change. There would be no apology this time, simply an inquiry as to his welfare. A polite missive. She placed the letter in the box and raised the flag. Tonight she would have a bit of ice cream with her pie. Her mother would be proud.