Flash Fiction

Short, sharp, and rarely sweet…

My Name Is…

Finally, it was my turn. As I stood up, the backs of my knees pushed my chair out behind me, the scrape of the metal legs against the damp concrete floor echoing around the the basement hall. The noise only served to highlight the general sense of loneliness and desperation. God, they were a depressed looking bunch. I cleared my throat, “Hello, everyone. My name’s Jamie, and I’m an addict”.
“Hello Jamie” they mourned. Well, I couldn’t exactly tell them the real reason I was there, now could I? The last time I did that, I had the whole group running for the door. Luckily, I got to it first, and managed to contain the situation. Well, when I say contained … put it this way, I’ll never be able to show my face in Bromley again, not after that little blood-lust of an evening. It had been a pathetically low turn-out anyway, so there were only four of them. Still, it ended up a real mess, what with all the hysteria. And the trouser wetting. Oh, and let’s not forget the blood. No – starting a meeting, any kind of meeting, with “Hello everyone. My name’s Jamie, and I’m a vampire” is definitely not the way to win friends. But then generally I’m not out looking for friends, I’m looking for dinner.

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Not Safe

“I’m not a gun-slinger”, he hissed at me, “I’m an assassin. It’s not a predilection, it’s a service.”

“Either way, you kill for money”, I said. “If they had money, you’d kill me.”

He stared through the grill where the window had once been, and out into the dark. His hangdog face gave away nothing. “Oh, they got money. This is different.”

“So you’ll help?” I asked.

“Help?” he replied, “You think this is help? Kid, this isn’t help, this is preservation. They’re coming for me just as much as they’re coming for you.” Then he turned to me and grinned, the first I’d ever seen from him. His face didn’t look like it did it often – or even liked it, “They just want you a little more.” He nodded to the corner, then turned back to the dark, waiting, “Don’t you have something to do?”

I had thought we would be safe out here, quietly existing among the dusty mix of trees and rocks, minding our own business. But I was wrong, and we weren’t safe. They were coming for us now, and I realised that despite all my efforts, there was simply no escape – the past was about to catch up with me very quickly and very violently.

I moved across to the small bench in the corner, took a breath, paused, and let it out slowly. Then I set to work on the pipe bombs. Just as I’d learned all those years ago.

THEY’RE MADE OUT OF MEAT

by Terry Bisson

“They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?”

“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

“They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they’re made out of meat.”

“Maybe they’re like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”

“Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take long. Do you have any idea what’s the life span of meat?”

“Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside.”

“Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.”

“No brain?”

“Oh, there’s a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“So … what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? You’re refusing to deal with what I’m telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?”

“Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”

“Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.”

“Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?”

“First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual.”

“We’re supposed to talk to meat.”

“That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.’ That sort of thing.”

“They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?”
“Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.”

“I thought you just told me they used radio.”

“They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.”

“Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?”

“Officially or unofficially?”

“Both.”

“Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing.”

“I was hoping you would say that.”

“It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”

“I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say? ‘Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?”

“Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.”

“So we just pretend there’s no one home in the Universe.”

“That’s it.”

“Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?”

“They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.”

“A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat’s dream.”

“And we marked the entire sector unoccupied.”

“Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”

“Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again.”

“They always come around.”

“And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone …”

The Cafe Imposition

David Purcell sipped at his tea gently. It wasn’t exactly the greatest cup of tea he’d ever had – “hot and tea-like” was all he could of think of, by way of description – but it kept the cold out, and that’s what he needed most. That, and a good old-fashioned bit of peace and quiet. He sat alone, a booth all to himself, the orange faux-leather upholstery holding him comfortably, returning some of his lost body heat to the small of his back. He stared over his mug, down the narrow diner-style cafe and out into the rain-soaked street. Traffic passed, impermeable to the penetrating moisture, while human shapes rushed along, their umbrellas and up-turned collars battling the elements. Despite this, he felt calm, the tensions of the day drifting away. Even the kitchen behind him had slowly fallen silent. He breathed in deeply through his nose, and exhaled through his mouth, closing his eyes. That was when he began to notice the droning – soft and gentle at first, like slightly over-zealous air conditioning. He tried to ignore it, put it out of his mind, but it changed in tone, becoming more like the first throes of an orchestra tuning. He thought of humming as an attempt to shut it out, but opted for squeezing his eyes more tightly shut. From there it quickly gained in volume and intensity, building and building to an almost deafening crescendo. He opened his eyes, and it stopped instantly. The sudden silence, though wished for, was confusing and his chair had become curiously hard and uncomfortable, but that wasn’t the only thing that had changed.

It wasn’t raining anymore, for one thing, which, given that he was no longer in the cafe on a rainy street, wasn’t that surprising. The woman with a shaved head and pointy teeth sat opposite him was surprising, however. That and his wrist restraints.

“er”, he said.

Everything in the room he found himself in was white, and the room itself was brightly lit, though from where he couldn’t tell. The woman sat on a lightweight chair with barely a few feet between them, her hands clasped in her lap. Her clothes reminded David of the uniform in Space 1999, only white.

“You’re probably wondering what happened to your tea”, she said. “It’s always about the tea. I really don’t get that. I mean, it’s just tea – hot water, crushed leaves, tasty. We can all understand tasty. Tasty is worth something. But to get all het up about when you have it, what you have it with, how you take it, and of course now you’ve had it taken away from you,” she shook her head, “that level of obsession – that, I just don’t get. I’d offer to get you a fresh one, but I probably wouldn’t make it the way you like it, and then you’d just get all huffy. Anyway, it’s over there.” She gestured limply with her left hand, “it’s probably cold by now, anyway.”

“er…”, David tugged at his wrist restraints.

“Ah yes, then there’s that of course. Sorry – policy, I’m afraid. We’ve had a few ‘incidents’, you see, and management have decided that all new …”, she pursed her lips as her eyes rolled, searching for a word, “… intakes ought to be restrained. Purely for their own safety, you understand. Well, and ours, I suppose. Poor Horace”, her eyes rolled again. They were pretty, David thought. Blue-grey, with a touch of sadness. Hang on, he thought, why aren’t I freaking out, screaming like a banshee?

“Anti-anxieties”

“What? Wait, did you..”

“In your tea. After what happened to Horace, that’s policy as well, now. Sorry.” She seemed apologetic enough, and to be quite honest David could probably get past the teeth. As for the head, well, he’d sort of fancied Sinead O’Connor once. “Skinhead O’Connor” he’d called her, though not to her face, obviously. Yes, she really was quite pretty. Oh god, I fancy a kidnapping vampire!

“I’m not a vampire, actually”, she pouted. “But thank you – I’ve always thought my eyes were my nicest feature. Or maybe my bum. Anyway, it’s a side-effect of the anti-anxieties. I’m slightly empathic, and you’re thinking really loud. Freaking out, actually, but the anti-anxieties are keeping you mellow. You probably shouldn’t drive for another couple of hours though. Just to be safe.”

She leaned forward and gave his hand a gentle squeeze, “They don’t always work, but you seem nice.” For the briefest of moments, a nail clawed at his wrist, then was just as quickly gone.

“Where am I? Who are you? What am I doing here?” His teeth began to grind, and he pulled at his restraints, “What’s going on?”

She looked at him with her sad blue-grey eyes, “Hmm, yes. Well, you do seem nice. First there’s something I need from you”.

She stood up, and walked towards him. He blacked out.

His tea had gone cold, but it looked as though the rain had stopped, so that was something. A customer was leaving the cafe, and David watched her walk towards the door, his eyes focused on what he thought was a very pert bottom indeed. Her shaved head was quite sexy, too. She turned and smiled at him, her blue-grey eyes tinged with just a touch of sadness.

Junk

With the hose coiled at his feet, and blossom-stained needle still hanging from his arm, Maxwell slowly ran a trembling hand down the aged, piss-stained wall, his older tracks sore and exposed, and fumbled for the non-existent light switch. His pale, sweaty fingers twitched, sending pieces of mouldy, flaking paint towards the floor in a gentle arc. A few tiny specks settled onto the backs of his cuticles, another larger one found its way under a fingernail, drawing blood. He felt the prick but immediately ignored it as a newly discovered utopia moved outwards from a point just below his navel and spread suddenly throughout his whole body. As he began to revel in the beauty, an awful, venomous scream charged all his synapses at once, reeling him backwards into the empty doorway. He paused, eyes turned inward, retched violently and fell to his knees writhing, his mind instantly thrown into a haze of tortuous agony. He slumped further down to the floor as the junk pain seared and scarred its way through his body in all directions, sending him into savage convulsions. His hands moved upwards, clawing at the air, where his knuckles briefly raked at his temples searching for a way to bleed the pain. They found none, and Maxwell, his threshold surpassed, blacked out as the accusing ghosts cascaded into his nightmare.