Mystery House (Flash Fiction)

After taking yet another turn, Brian was led down a long and narrow hallway. The walls seemed to press down upon him, growing higher and squeezing in against him. Exhausted nubs of dying candle hung from their places on the wall like deranged icicles. Brian’s footsteps were silent beneath him as if the rug itself were consuming the very sound of his movement. Elongated paintings, strange things that seemed to stretch to the ceiling and touch the floor, yet thin in width, showed ghastly displays of tortures and hangings and sacrifices by fire.

Brian came to the final door. It was made of an old wood and had weathered cracks that ran along its grain. Thick iron hinges held it in place, and an imp’s head made of dull brass served as the knob. Brian laid a palm over the smiling creature and its small horns poked at his flesh. He twisted its neck and a heavy thunk pulsed through the door, the devilish head staying sideways. Small drops of blood leaked from the fresh holes in his hand. Brian pushed, laying his shoulder against the heavy door, and felt the thick wood shudder against the floor. It opened slowly, and fire light poured out from inside the next room. Once a wedge wide enough was created, Brian slipped through.

The room was circular and floored with a shimmy marble. The patterns in the stone seemed to swirl and move in the dancing firelight. The walls spiraled up with books that ascended into a darkness that seemed further than the depths of the night sky. In the center of the room was a chair shrouded by its own shadow. The chair faced Brian, and whoever was sitting in that chair was watching Brian with a disturbing calm.

“Welcome,” said a low voice.

“Hi,” said Brian.

A hand of long fingers drummed on the cushioned arm, and Brian could see glints of light coming from a very large ring that rested on one of those fingers. For a moment, Brian thought he could hear a soft giggling.

“What the hell is the deal with your house, bro?” asked Brian.

The drumming fingers stopped.

Brian chuckled. “I mean fuck, man. I’ve been wandering around these long ass hallways for almost twenty minutes. There’s dust everywhere. Do you even have electricity? Or running water?”

“Excuse me?” said the voice. The tone was thick with agitation.

“Where do you shit, man? I haven’t seen a bathroom this entire time!” Brian began to walk the circle of the room. As he moved, he gazed upwards at the endless collection of tomes.

“Stay where you are,” said the man.

“Why would you build a house like this?” asked Brian, ignoring the command. “It doesn’t make any sense. Shit, no wonder you never answer your door, it probably takes your old ass four minutes to get to it!”

“Stop talking!” commanded the man.

“And dude, seriously?” Brian asked in a laugh. “Your library is the one room with a giant fucking fire place in it? You must secretly hate all your books, bro.”

“Please stop,” said the man. The pitch of his voice was higher now, not as heavy. There was concern. “Just stay where you are.”

“Can you even read in this light?” Brian rounded the room and stood between the fire and the chair. He could see now that the fabric was a predictable red. “It doesn’t matter I guess. You can’t even reach most of these books anyway. Do you just sit here all night?”

“Ugh, shut up you nitwit!” the man snarled.

Brian just laughed. “Where the hell do you even get wood to keep your fire going? Do you lug it all the way down that long ass corridor like a moron?”

The man began to rub at his head while the assault of questions continued. He wondered where it all went wrong. Was it true? Had he really lost touch like the other villains said? Was he living in the stone age, just another relic of a time long forgotten since the advent of CG movie effects and shortened attention spans? He didn’t know. He didn’t want to know. The annoying jock of a man-child continued to circle his chair, spouting his questions and calling him ‘bro.’ When the trap door sprang and young Brian fell through, it brought the man no pleasure. Even the suffering screams of Brian’s agonizing death didn’t bring the man relief. The illusion of power had been forever destroyed by arrogant mockery.

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Magic Show (Flash Fiction)

Brian stepped out like a king to his peasants as the mother hosting the party introduced him. He strode into the small living room with bold mystique and narrowed his eyes when he saw the look on the children’s faces, their eyes wide and bulging from their heads. He stopped precisely in the center of the room, made a small tug at the tip of his pointy mustache, and snapped a wand into his fingers. The kids exhaled with a stunned awe. Brian tipped his velvet top hat to the Mrs. of the home, a Mrs. who looked to be in the unfortunate process of returning to a Ms., and then slowly removed it from his head. He held it out in dramatic fashion and everyone waited with anxious curiosity. The moment held, the seconds stretched to unnatural lengths, and then a white fluff emerged from within the hat. There was a collective gasp of realization as the little bunny stuck its white head out. Brian smiled and plucked the rabbit from his hat and held it close to his face. He smothered the little bunny with soft, quick kisses while giving the woman a lusty look. She blushed a crimson red while the children cheered. The rabbit was released to the wilds of the living room carpet and the children that inhabited it.

The act continued on in spectacular splendor. Red roses were pulled into appearance from the palm of his hand, roses that made the divorcing mother smile with appreciation when they were handed to her. Butterflies were born from a small, glass bulb, butterflies that fluttered their way into the woman’s heart as they fluttered the children into a frenzy. Young audience members were drawn from the floor to pick at playing cards, playing cards that always yielded the queen of hearts and always appeard in some pocket of the host’s ensemble. She had seven total when that bit was through, one from each possible pocket. The finale was a dazzling array of smoke bombs that resulted in the birthday cake magically appearing on the table in the corner.

When the children rushed for the cake, Brian completed his act.

He struck up polite conversation with the future divorcée. She was pretty and charming but carried a sadness in her eyes. Like a spell, he wove the right words in the right order. He was tender and careful and thoughtfully made his way into her day planner. Their first dinner together was respectable and quiet. They learned of each other’s interests, trials, and heartaches. Brian spoke little on the latter, a fact that he explained with a wonderful sense of caring and concern.

Their second date was a bit more sensual. He held her hand from across the table, and she confessed her world to his listening ear. The divorce was tearing her and her family apart. She was fearful and alone and Brian knew these facts all too well. He comforted her as well as he could, which was far better than most. They ended that evening with a long but tender kiss on the lips. She blushed again, like she did when he kissed the rabbit pulled from his hat.

That’s when he knew he had her.

Within ten days after, he had drained her bank account dry. Jewelry was missing from her bedroom and one of her credit cards was nearing its limit. It was his third successful magic show in as many months.

Something… (Part 4)

With the first clang of the bell on the rotary phone, Cynthia Holcomb was awake. During her 32 years of work as a secretary, her ear had become dreadfully attuned to the sound of ringing phones. She took pride in her ability to respond quickly to calls, and her boss demanded that pride throughout each and every work day. In short, she hated the sound of a ringing phone and did anything she could to cease their incessant assault upon her ears.

Gus Holcomb, however, never answered the phone on its first ring. Whether he was awake or asleep, busy or sitting idly at his desk, the first ring was always allowed its full duration. Typically, when calls came late in the night, Gus would snatch the receiver before the first ring could finish to spare his sleeping wife. Only when he was tired did he fail to meet this unspoken obligation for her.

The second ring was true and clear.

Cynthia heard her husband stir, sucking in a gasp of air through his nose, and knew the poor man was tired. His years were catching up with him. Even in such a quiet county, a man couldn’t remain Sheriff forever. Gus would soon be forced to face the biggest adversary of his life. The boredom of retirement.

The phone rang for a third time, and this time a thick hand pulled the handle from the base before the sound could complete its cycle. Gus cleared his throat and croaked a grumble for an answer. Cynthia felt a loving pity for her husband. He never let the phone ring three times in the night. He was either exhausted or sleeping exceptionally well. Or both.

“Hold on, now,” Gus said. “Who shot what?” Cynthia’s ears perked up. His voice was low, but when the man speaking them lay six inches away, it was impossible for her not to hear. She strained to listen to the caller. It was a woman and she sounded panicked. “I think it killed the dog” slipped out from the phone.

“The dog?” asked Gus. “Cinder?”

The pieces tumbled into place for Cynthia. Cinder was Dale Swanson’s dog, a hulk of a rottweiler. That meant it was Peggy on the phone now. Something had happened at their place. A shooting.

“Yup, yup, easy now Peg. I’m a-comin’.” Gus swung his legs over the side of the bed and Cynthia felt the mattress roll with his weight. “Keep Andrew close,” he said. “I’ll be there in a jiff. Did ya call Jen at the station? No?” There was a long string of words from Peggy. None of them carried an air of pleasantry. “Yup,” Gus said. More words from Peggy zipped through.Cynthia furrowed her brow when she couldn’t make them out. “Na, na, you were right to call me. I’m out the door now,” he said. He quietly put the phone back in place.

“Anything serious?” asked Cynthia.

“Could be,” Gus said as he stood. “Don’t know.” He pulled on his jeans and looped the suspenders over his shoulders. He gave them a tug and found the material was losing its stretch. He’d need to buy another set. He shoved his feet into his boots and grabbed his holster that hung from the bedpost at the foot of the bed. “How many times did the phone ring?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “There was shooting?”

Gus could hear the concern in her voice. He loved her for it. “From what I gathered. Something may have killed their dog.”

“Someone shot their dog?” Cynthia was sitting up now. Her voice was elevating as quickly as her body. Being married to a Sheriff meant certain things. It meant visibility to the public and the need to carry herself a certain way. It meant waking up to ringing phones at ungodly hours. It meant hearing the stories of how horrific man can be, either on accident or on purpose. But what bothered her more than all these things, it meant dealing with guns. In Cynthia’s mind, guns existed to serve one purpose. To take away.

“No one shot the dog,” Gus said. “It was Dale doin’ the shooting. Probably a big critter getting nasty in a big way.” Gus passed through the frame of the bedroom door.

Cynthia slung her legs out of the bed, ready to chase after him. “Aren’t you gonna call the station?” she said in a voice that was bordering on yelling. She heard Gus stop halfway down the stairs and let out a sigh. The sigh meant there would be no argument on this point. Not tonight.

“Call Jen for me,” he said. “Have her send Kent out to the Swanson place. I’ll get there long before he does.” His heavy body descended the rest of the stairs. Cynthia was on the phone before Gus closed the front door. She gave Jen the most accurate description should could, with a little extra spice to add a sense of urgency, while she watched the headlights of her husband’s cruiser roll through the dark night and over the sloping hills that surrounded their home.

Gus was barely off the gravel lane when he heard Jen calling him over the radio. He smiled at his wife’s tenacity. “Station to Sheriff,” squawked the box. “Come in, Gus.”

“I hear ya, Jen,” he said. The sleep was falling out of his voice now, and the world was becoming more coherent. Lordy, I hate these night calls, he thought. “Cynthia didn’t give you too much of a hollerin’ did she?”

“No, Sheriff, no,” she said. He could hear the smile in her voice. “That woman’s a saint who’s dumped all her love into you and spared none for the likes of Kent.”

Gus laughed. “Was he sleeping?” Gus hated to ask because he hated to be told what he already knew. Kent had turned a nasty habit of sleeping under the Goodyear billboard into the county’s worst kept secrets. But he asked because he had to. Asking was one of the points that made up the star pinned to his shirt.

“He’s here,” she said. “Well, was. He’s leaving now… just pulling onto the road. You’ll beat him by a few minutes. You think the Swansons are in trouble, Sheriff?”

“Hard to say, Jen. Peggy sure was unsettled, but that woman’s a bit of firecracker. Calm and quiet one moment, barely whispering a fuse, then exploding in your hand the next.” Gus thought of the conversation with Peggy and recalled the icy panic that layered her voice. He pressed down on the accelerator a bit. “We’ll get it sorted out, one way or another,” Gus said.

“Your wife said someone shot the dog.” The words fell from the radio as though they were foreign to the girl speaking them. “Who’d shoot a dog, Sheriff?”

“That’s not the version I got from Peggy,” Gus said. “Far as I know, nothing’s been shot with any amount of success just yet.”

“Well that’s something for the positive,” Jen said with relief.

“Listen, Jen, I’m checking off for now. I’d like to clear my head these last few minutes on the road. I didn’t get a chance to pour some coffee. Peggy was in a serious state.” Gus flicked at his radio subconsciously. “If Kent gets side-tracked, you give me a holler. Otherwise, I’ll call you when things get sorted out.”

“Alright,” Jen said. Her voice sounded reluctant. “You want me to call Peggy back and let her know you and Kent are coming?”

Gus thought about it, then answered. “No. We’ve already got too many hands in this poker game. Gimme a chance to sort this out and we’ll deal you in later. Thank ya, Jen.”

“Be careful, Sheriff.”

Gus hooked the radio back to the dash and looked at the speedometer. He was doing 72. He let off the gas and waited for the car roll back down to a reasonable 61. He took a deep breath, and then another, feeling his heavy-set body rise and fall with his lungs. “Easy, cowboy,” he said to himself. “Just take it easy. You gotta get to the rodeo before you can start throwin’ rope.” The car rolled on, cutting the still air of the night. As it passed by, the wind peeled off from the cruiser and stirred the corn fields surrounding the road.

Less is less

I’ve been writing a lot less the last three months. I can toss up the easy excuses of the holidays and so on, but those were over awhile ago. Ultimately, I struggle with balance. I have a difficult time doing something in moderation. It’s all or nothing with me. That generally leaves me in a state of burnout, but with writing it’s a little different. Writing is important to me. I want to do it well and maybe someday succeed on a professional level. Because of that, I tend to push myself pretty hard. I create steep expectations for myself and then groan when I fail to meet them. The reverse is what is happening now, inaction.

Maybe this is part of growing up. I don’t know. I think it’s more about learning how to let go. I want control. I want things to go my way. I want things to fit into all of the nice little boxes I’ve created for them. Life tends to push against that. I want to believe that I’m too intense for my own good, but that’s shit. It’s just another excuse. There’s a conflict inside of me that boils down to two sides. One side says that this journey I’m on is one that will last a lifetime and that there is no sense is stressing over the goals of tomorrow. The other side says that life passes you by before you realize it. In my mind, both are right.

And then a third part of me just laughs at the ridiculous struggle I create for myself over something so simple as putting words onto a page.

Upon High (Flash Fiction)

Bob looked out over the white valley and understood what it meant to feel shame, to want to hide from purity. The view was stunning.

The mountain peaks stood before him like the first saints of the natural world. The valley of snow stood still and silent below them like their flock of faithful followers. As Bob worked his way down into that valley, his feet falling through the thin crust of snow and sinking up to his knees, he felt the judgement of creation. The sky was an unearthly blue above him, and the sun shone as if it were the very light of heaven itself. Despite the clear skies, the air was thin and cold and stole the oxygen from his blood. Before that silent audience, Bob plead his case.

He shuffled his body through the snow with a cautious determination. As he made his turns, shaping his path accordingly, he kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to see the small plane that had crashed into the hillside. He didn’t want to believe that what was happening was reality. The pilot had done a masterful job of landing, no doubt about that. He nearly saved so many lives. Yet in those efforts, he only condemned Bob to a worse fate. His stomach grumbled as he pushed through the snow. His throat cracked with dryness.

When he finished the ‘H,’ he fell into the soft snow to rest. His feet were numb. He looked at his shoes and pant legs. He had wrapped them in torn plastic that he recovered from the plane, but snow was still getting in. The death of cold snuck into his skin. The sun rolled off to the west and the towering saints and their congregation looked down. Bob knew what they were waiting for. “I don’t want to die out here,” he said quietly to himself. “I DON’T WANT TO DIE OUT HERE!” The words drifted off into the valley and were taken in by the snow. He heard no echo.

He pushed on into the afternoon and completed his ‘E.’ He wanted to go up the side of the mountain to see if it was shaped correctly, but he didn’t have the energy. The sun was pushing hard on the horizon and the shadows from the mountains were stretching their length across the land. Bob ate snow to soothe his burning throat. It didn’t help much.

Darkness surrounded Bob as he finished the ‘L’ of his word, or so he thought. The moon remained hidden, and the cold stars withheld their light. A thin layer of clouds swept over the night sky. It was the congregation that gathered in the night.

Bob pushed his numb feet and numb legs into the snow to try to make it back to the plane. He collapsed halfway up the hill. Snow trickled in around his collar, but he didn’t care. His lungs gasped for more, just a bit more, rest here and we’ll recover. The darkness and the cold took him and embraced him. He took comfort in their gentle care. He died peacefully, and the snow fell. The letters he’d exhausted his life over, ‘HEL,’ were carefully filled in.

In the morning, the sun rose, and the eternal congregation gathered once again.

Achieving Zen (Flash Fiction)

It was approximately ten minutes passed twelve when Bob fell out of his body. He didn’t leave his body, but he did fall out of it. He didn’t float up into the sky above and look down on himself. He didn’t experience a feeling of weightlessness. Rather, he ceased to be him and became everything that was.

He sat at his desk, a one-quarter cubicle that shared its walls with his coworkers, eating a sandwich for lunch. It was the same sandwich he always made for himself. As he chewed the ham and cheese, he understood the entirety of the universe. He stared at the memo pinned to his wall and felt, knew, without hesitation or uncertainty, that all of creation, existence, and thought were one. He immediately understood that there was no right or wrong, no good or bad, no life or death. All was a continuous wave of being, birth being the crest, death being the valley, and all that rose and fell between was life itself. He felt no fear. All questions were answered. Every fundamental aspect of life was perfect. The crashing tides on the beach were as beautiful and necessary and blameless as the most violent atomic weapons used against man.

As he existed at his desk, for he simply was and was nothing more, chewing his ham and cheese, his mind began to quicken. His conscious self realized the importance of what was happening and desperately tried to categorize and define and explain all that was happening so that it could be retained. This unfathomable level of understanding must be understood. But as his mind worked harder at capturing the concept, the feeling faded further. Like mud through a squeezing fist, the feeling was soon gone.

Bob sat and chewed.

“Dude, are you gonna answering that?” Brian asked.

Bob blinked. His phone was ringing. He set down his half eaten sandwich to take the call. “Hello?”

“Bob, I’m very sorry,” said Susanne. “Something’s come up and we need you down at the conference room. Have you finished lunch?”

Bob looked at his half-eaten sandwich and the memo pinned to his wall. Shoot for the moon, it read. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. It was then that it occurred to Bob that the nearest stars were literally millions of miles away. He quietly hung up his phone and finished his sandwich. His phone rang again, but he didn’t answer.

Hobbies (Flash Fiction)

Halfway through the living room, Susanne stopped. She slowly turned her head, like an old security camera, and saw her husband sitting with his legs crossed in the middle of the carpet. Around him, surrounding him like a battleground of children’s toys, were books and tools and parts, diagrams that opened up four pages long, and a half-assembled remote-control jeep.

“Honey,” she said, with a tone of apprehension, “What are you doing?”

Bob looked up, confused. “I thought I told you I was going by the hobby shop today?”

Susanne’s body turned to match her head, and her hands landed on her hips. “You did. But I thought that meant you were going to get some things for your train set. You know, your hobby?”

Bob waved his hand and turned open another book. “I’m not too worried about the trains right now. They’re not going anywhere.”

“I know,” Susanne said. “That’s what worries me about the trains. They’re not going anywhere and I can’t fit my car in the garage anymore.”

“Oh, about that,” Bob said. “While I was there I ran into a fella who does some carpentry. He said it’s really easy to make a car port. He even said the lumber and tools ya need aren’t too expensive. Of course, if you’re gonna build something you wanna do it right.”

Susanne felt her heart quicken. “So you’re getting into carpentry now? Is that what those books are for?”

“Oh, no no,” said Bob. “These are books on AC circuits. Ya see,” he said, pointing to the incomplete jeep, “these RC cars are a lot more complicated than you’d realize. It’s really quite fascinating.”

“It is fascinating,” she said. “I never knew putting toys together took such depth of knowledge. Don’t they come with instructions?”

“Pffft,” Bob said with a glare. “Those instructions are for morons. The manufacturers make them simple so you’ll break the damn thing and have to buy more parts. It’s just a way to suck more money out of you. I bought these books to make sure that wouldn’t happen.”

“Huh,” said Susanne. “Where’d you get those books?”

“At the hobby shop. Where else?” Bob shook his head and flipped through a few pages.

Susanne turned around to go back to the den and turned right back when she saw the half-built bird house sitting on the coffee table. “So,” she said, drawing the word out, “I’m going shopping.”

Bob stopped what he was doing and gave her a crossed look. “What do ya mean you’re going shopping?”

Susanne smiled. Bob hated it when she went shopping. “I was thinking of getting a new belt.” She gave the one around her waist a look of disinterest.

Bob’s eyes narrowed as he slowly flipped open another book. “Just don’t get carried away,” he said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dare,” Susanne said.

The Mountain (Flash Fiction)

The mountain looked down upon Brian from its height. The dark blue sky of a thinning atmosphere was its home. Shadows fell into deep crevices filled with ice. Soft snow blanketed it with powerful beauty and jagged stone showed the lines of its age.

Brian climbed.

As Brian climbed, his body worked. He kicked at the snow and rock with spiked boots. He stabbed at the mountain with carbon steel axes, and snow flurried around him. The wind whipped his low-temperature jacket and snuck in through the gaps and found his skin. The ice, thick and entombing stone older than all of humanity, didn’t budge. He pulled with his arms and he pushed with his legs and his muscles filled with fiery strain. His lungs were seared by the freezing air.

Brian climbed, and the mountain did not care.

When Brian reached the top, he threw his hands in the air in weak victory. His legs trembled and he soon sat down. His body was hunched and tired, but his lungs found the air they needed. He looked over the horizon and saw the spiked range around him. All of the mountains, dozens, hundreds, looked upon him without regard. They did not celebrate his accomplishment. They looked on and looked down, and they did not care.

Brian sat and looked down with the mountain, facing the valley below and eating his lunch. His strength came back, and the heat in his body faded. The wind tore at him without end. Across the range, on the edge of the horizon, he could see the city from where he came. It was low and flat, and the air around it was dirty. He thought of all the people down there living their lives. He thought of how insignificant they all seemed. He looked at his climbing axes, the finest that money could buy, and thought of where they came from. Then he thought of where the mountain came from.

The mountain was born from the death of stars that exploded before time was invented. The mountain swam and swirled through space and was compressed by the gravity of itself. Its soul created the molten core of this world; that core flowed out as its blood. Its edges were heaved up by vast, moving plates. Its stone was tempered by a billion years of light from the sun. The dead wind was its lungs, and the galaxy was its eyes.

Brian began to shiver. He felt the mountain’s cold seeping into his core. He made his way down the mountain and back to where he belonged. The mountain waited and watched, and the mountain did not care.

A Quick Visit (Flash Fiction)

Just as Bob switched off the television set, a man came into his room. He was tall and thin and pleasant looking. He wore a well-tailored, gray suit with pin stripes. The man smiled and approached Bob at the foot of the bed. Before Bob could speak, the man held up his hand and was flipping through the medical chart. His glances at the forms were quick and casual. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Are you the night doctor?” Bob asked.

The man came around the bed and found a chair next to Bob. On it sat a small basket with a teddy bear holding various chocolates and a sign that said “Get Well Soon!” The man looked at it and smiled and set the basket on the floor beneath the seat. He slid the chair forward and leaned in close to Bob, taking hold of his hand.

Bob leaned his head back. “Are you some kind of priest or something?”

“No, no, just a visitor. How are you feeling?”

Bob noticed that the man had light gray eyes and wide pupils. The pupils reminded him of a cat on far too much catnip. “Fine,” Bob said. “I’m feeling fine. Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?”

The man stood and patted Bob’s hand. He walked to the corner and grabbed some of the brochures that were available. He brought them back to the bed and sat by Bob again. “Do any of these interest you? Would you like me to read them?” Bob saw the various religious markings on their covers and shook his head. The man shrugged.

“Who are—”

“You know who I am,” the man said. He peered into Bob with his wide eyes and the two were quiet for several minutes. In the silence, Bob felt the truth creep into the room. His heart rate began to rise. The man saw the beats pulse on the monitor, saw the look in Bob’s eyes, and took Bob by the hand once more.

“But the doctor said it’s a simple procedure,” Bob said. “In and out.”

“People die from the simplest of things,” the man said. “You’re no exception.”

Bob tried to pull his hand back, but the man held a grip that was firm. His heart rate accelerated further. “But why?” Bob asked.

The man smiled. It was a beautiful smile. “When you were born, did you ask the doctor why?” Bob shook his head. The man smiled and kissed his hand. “People always ask why,” the man said. “So rarely do they ask me when.”

Bob stared and felt the color fade from his face.

The man nodded. “Yes. Tomorrow. It’ll be quick, don’t worry.” The man released his hand and stood. His pupils were as wide as ever.

“Does it hurt?” Bob asked.

“Nah,” the man said. “It’s a lot like trying to stay awake while driving. Have you ever had that? Struggled to stay awake at the wheel?”

Bob nodded.

“It’s exactly the same,” the man said. “You fight it and you fight it, but you’re just so damned tired. Eventually, you fall asleep. Everyone falls asleep.” He smiled. “Has it ever hurt when you fell asleep?” the man asked.

Bob shook his head. The man smiled in response.

A nurse opened the door and stuck her head in. “Is everything okay?” she asked. She looked at the heart monitor.

Bob nodded. “Yes, I think so.”

The nurse saw that the TV was off. She narrowed her eyes at Bob. “Who were you talking to?”

Bob turned to see the empty chair. The man was gone.

Going Places (Flash Fiction)

Catherine and Susanne were both standing in their cubicles, leaning toward each other where the corners met. Their eyes peered over the thin walls and went from left to right as they watched Bob zoom up and down the narrow aisles. His arms were filled with folders and mail and files from the printer, and loose pages occasionally slipped from his stack and fluttered to the ground.

“What the hell is with that guy?” Susanne asked.

Catherine smiled. “That’s Bob. We call him RoBob.”

“Robob?” asked Susanne.

Catherine squinted as Robob darted down their aisle. “Yeah. Originally it was RoboBob the Crazy Robot, but people kinda kept tripping over all the B’s. So we shortened it to RoBob.”

“I don’t get it,” said Susanne. She took a quick sip of her coffee and set the cup down again. RoBob was fast approaching a corner and she didn’t want to miss the possible collision.

“We’re not as funny as we’d like to think,” Catherine said. “We all thought it was pretty clever at the time, but I guess that’s why we work in cubicles instead of comedy clubs.”

“Seriously, what’s his deal?” Susanne’s face was becoming more and more twisted as the confusion racked her brain.

Catherine let out a small sigh of disappointment as RoBob barely missed a new intern who stepped out of the bathroom. He zoomed on by and the intern give the back of his head a sharp glare. “He thinks by moving around like that he’s showing the world he’s motivated and hard-working. The truth is, he does half as much work as the rest of us. He’s so disorganized and constantly forgetting stuff that he has to go back and forth multiple times for something that should have been one trip.”

RoBob made quite the maneuver and darted between two men in suits talking over full coffee cups. One of them gave him a mighty finger. A post-it note blew off from his pile of papers.

“Why doesn’t Harken do anything about it?” asked Susanne. She ducked as RoBob zoomed by again.

“Harken thinks it’s funny. And he’s right,” Catherine said, “it is funny. But god that guy is annoying.”

“How often does he crash into stuff?”

Catherine ducked down and crouched low within her cubicle. RoBob rounded a corner and came right down her aisle. Catherine peaked, turned and opened the bottom drawer of her desk, and bent over, taking great care to extend her butt out into the walkway as Bob came flying by. He swerved to miss but she leaned out further and just clipped his hip. Bob bounced off her rear-end and right into the entrance of the cubicle opposite to her. A flood of papers spilled across the carpet as he rolled to the ground. Catherine smiled at Susanne and stood up.

“What the hell, Bob!?” shouted Catherine. Around the office, eyes were peering over the edges of cubicle walls.