‘Ghost in the Machine’ is an old short story I wrote for class back in 2013, but I forgot about it in the rush of writing. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Ghost in the Machine
by Clinton Nix
“That about does it,” Hendrick said as he shut the latch on a rusted security panel. He was standing next to a colossal machine that towered over him, which had massive arms that could be used to punch holes in just about anything in its way. It was the Hydraulic Arm Unit 3R5.
The HAU-3R5 was one of the last of Immersion Robotics’ oldest drone worker units. It was a particularly sturdy piece of equipment, designed for heavy lifting and transporting of cargo, with the original intention of being a multipurpose military unit. The HAUs were made just before the boom of the new Self Sustaining Units and their advanced artificial intelligence, but production continued for a number of years later, mainly because the low maintenance and durability kept them as a favorable investment. The SSUs needed costly routine maintenance about every four months, but after 10 years of production, their technology was perfected so that maintenance and durability was almost equal to the earlier HAUs.
Hedrick always sought to service the 3R5 without delay, for fear that any slightest possibility of hindrance would cause management to disable the machine. He’d worked with it for 30 years, and it had become a sturdy, steady companion through tough times. People came and went, some were promoted, some fired, and many of the original machines had become re-purposed scrap metal. But Hendrick and the HAU-3R5 were always there, always running the same routine, always ticking in unison. They were the backbone, Hendrick thought, the foundation, and he couldn’t bare to think what he’d do if the machine was disassembled.
Hendrick climbed up the side-ladder of the goliath and hoisted himself into the operator’s seat. A short and portly man approached just after and waved for Hendrick’s attention.
“Hendrick, we’ve got to make room for the new shipment of SAUs—I need this area cleared in three hours,” he shouted.
Hendrick raised his arm and gave a solid thumb up in recognition of the order. The stumpy man waddled back into into his office and Hendrick pulled a giant-knobbed lever. The usual hum emitted from the machine that he often thought of as ‘melodious.’ He paused to soak in the machine-music that his companion was making, when a piercing metallic scream echoed from somewhere within.
“Oh, damn it all. I know they heard that,” he muttered quietly.
Hendrick’s face squeezed in horror as if he were sharing the same pain. He also had pains of his own; he developed a limp after a serious accident last spring when one of the pistons in the hydraulic arm went haywire while he was mounting the machine. The fall left him bedridden for six months, until finally he could muster the strength to come back to work.
Hendrick wiped a bead of sweat that dripped into his right eye and then rested his hand on the lever. What am I going to do now, he thought. The 3R5 was his baby. He’d spent two hours servicing electrical connections that mysteriously fried earlier in the day, so he knew that the clock was ticking, and it wasn’t looking good for his old friend.
“Come on baby, let’s get this job done, and then you can rest. Just a couple of hours.” He sweet talked it, as he found that sometimes it had a magical effect. 3R5 was getting moody in its old age, and sometimes all he could do was try to sooth its stubbornness with sweet words. He gently tugged on the lever but could feel a hint of resistance.
“Just work for me. Come on,” he whispered. He noticed other workers were stopping to glance over in curiosity.
“Just this one time is all, just this once,” he said, and then slammed the lever into place. The machine let out a ghastly, grinding whine that nearly burst Hendrick’s eardrums.
“Dammit, what was I thinking?” He panicked at the sight of the emergency light blinking in steady rhythm in the front panel. He felt for the knob and jiggled it, but there was far too much play. After trying every possible option he could think of, Hendrick admitted defeat and climbed out of the dying beast.
He kept his eyes down towards the dusty concrete floor, took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his brow. He sat for a few moments in silent contemplation, which was broken suddenly by a tap on his shoulder.
“Hendrick, is it?” It was a younger man in his early twenties. Hendrick hadn’t seen him around before.
“I’m Hendrick, yes.”
“I’m Roger Wendel. Please, if I could have a word with you in the office.” The young man turned his back immediately and walked away.
They’re going to put it out of commission for sure, Hendrick thought. He examined the dark stain on the brim of his hat, and then slid it back on his head. Time to face the music, he thought.
“Please, sit down,” Roger said as he pointed at the chair on the opposite side of the desk. He pressed the rim of his glasses up against his nose and eyed a piece of paper. There was a long pause, and Roger twiddled his fingers and then looked straight at Hendrick.
“I’m terrible at this so I’m just going to say it. You’re being terminated,” he said with a cold apathy that hollowed out his eyes.
Hendrick was speechless. All he could think about was servicing 3R5, and of what fate would befall his lifelong companion.
“I know this may come as a shock, but you’re getting old, Hendrick. I have records of several accidents that have left you out of work for months, and upon return, your productivity has decreased significantly. One of these days, it might end up being someone else that is injured, or worse–killed. The company has worked out a severance plan for you, so take a look at this packet. I think it’s rather robust for someone of your position.”
Roger slid a blue folder that had ‘A Happy Ending’ written on it across the table. Hendrick flipped through the papers, but none of the words sunk in.
“What of 3R5?” Hendrick finally had to ask.
“What about it?”
Hendrick paused to form the words in his mind.
“It’s a relic of Immersion Robotics, a piece of history.”
“Oh, it’s a relic alright,” Roger said with a laugh as he leaned back in his chair. “Don’t worry, that metal is precious. The company values the resources that the machine will make for our research and development department.”
Hendrick hung his head, gazing down at the blue folder in disbelief.
After the meeting, Hendrick went immediately to the carcass that remained of 3R5. He took his hat off once more and lowered his head out of respect. He placed his open palm on the side of the beast, and uttered a final goodbye.
“You were too good for them. Too good for me. But I guess it’s time, isn’t it? We had a good go, you and I.”
Hendrick took one last moment of silence, and he could feel the cold stillness of the machine, as if the very soul that made it tick had left.
I wrote this a few days ago for a writing group. Completed it in one day and edited it the next. ~1000 words.
by Clinton Nix
Two men sat, divided by a row of rusted bars. They stared at the lopsided stone wall that lined the path leading out. There was rubble from broken walls lying about the room, and beams of light dripped in from beyond the pathway. The two men’s bodies were naught but skin and bones, and they wore tattered garbs of gray and brown.
“Aye,” the man in the left cell called out. He was sitting on a flat, splintered board held up by chains mounted to the stone wall of his cell. “Jailer hasn’t been round ‘n ages. Can’t recall what th’devil looks like,” he said. “D’you remember, Rossam?”
He stared into the adjacent cell, waiting for a response. Rossam was sitting on the damp floor of his cell, his thin legs crossed, head hanging.
“I can’t ‘member,” Rossam muttered. “You were always ‘memberin these details better’n me, Gunner. S’pose you could tell me about th’ war once more?”
“Aye,” Gunner said, leaning forward, tipping his bed. His dirty face was painted with a smile. “Was—ah, few years back, an’ I was with sword an’ shield . . . made solid w’gold. On the front lines, alongside th’great genral Hilaman. We were ripe to sack the opposin’ army. We had’em—ours outnumbered their lot, I’d say, ten ‘t one. Ten ‘t one!”
“I thought you told five—ah, five ‘t one. Yea, I ‘member.”
“That’s a pail of nonsense—Aye, it was me on those lines, not you.”
Rossam pressed his frail hand against his forehead.
“I s’pose . . . if you speak it, it oughtta be true.”
“Aye! And I had t’save general Hilaman onna number of occasions—”
Footsteps echoed deep within the pathway outside their cells, interrupting their conversation. They stared anxiously as the sound slowly grew louder.
“Aye, it muss’be that devilman—he’s about due this hour,” Gunner whispered. “Behave yerself.”
A large shadow in the shape of a hooded figure emerged from the light.
“Gunner,” Rossam whispered, “mayhap this be the shadow o’ Death ‘imself, come to claim ar’souls.”
“Aye, you speakin’ none sense again, Rossam. It’s that demon jailer.”
The mysterious figure approached, its head cloaked in deep green, carrying a wooden basket. The stranger pushed the green hood back, revealing long, braided red hair and the soft face of a woman. She looked intently as she stepped toward them.
“It be an angel, come to whisk us to th’heavens,” Rossam said, his voice raising.
“Aye, you can’t be th’devil jailer, he was not a beauty—I remember. He was a devil, with horns’n a tail, that he was.”
“You two,” the woman spoke, “have you forgotten me so soon?”
She let out a sigh, her glazed eyes fixed on Gunner, her mouth frowning. She sat the twined basket down and stuck her hand inside, pulling out a piece of bread with sliced meat.
“Here,” she said with short breath. “Eat.”
Gunner hopped from his wooden bed, nearly falling from his own weight, and grabbed the offering from between bars. He hobbled back to his bed and scarfed without word.
She offered the same meal to Rossam, and he hoisted himself up with what muscle he had left and grabbed the food with his thin fingers, nodding. His eyes were fixed wide open.
“Thank you, angel o’the heavens,” he said, taking a bite without blinking.
“You’ve forgotten again. My name is Wyla . . . Wyla.”
“Wyla th’angel,” Rossam said with a calmed voice.
“Aye, y’better scamper, lady. I dunno who you are. But devilman watches over these cells. He’ll be trouble for a fair lady like yerself.”
Wyla stood silently, looking down at her empty basket, her eyes blinking slowly.
“You’re a pitiful lot. I can let you out . . . do you hear me? I can set you free. There’s no one here,” she said, looking up again at Rossam.
“Aye, we’d soon be mauled by wild dogs. That jailer s’waitin for us to slip up. Tell’er, Rossam, tell’er the truth.”
“What Gunner speaks, s’truth,” Rossam said.
“. . . I can’t force you,” Wyla said, her shoulders sinking.
“Aye, hurry out, lady. We’d best not be seen.”
Wyla picked up her basket and turned to walk away, but she stopped herself. She immediately doubled back to Rossam’s cell. She put her hand on the metal latch, pushed heavily, and the mechanism slid over with a screech.
“Aye woman! What’re you doing?” Gunner nearly fell off his bed.
She pushed the door open, and it creaked as it slowly rotated on hinge. She looked at Rossam with an outstretched hand, and he stared at her with wide-eyed amazement.
“I . . . I . . . whaddo I do?”
“Aye! She’s mad! Close it, before devilman comes! We’ll be strung over coals!”
Gunner got up from his bed and hobbled over to the bars separating their cells, panting, and gripped the bars to keep himself from falling.
“Rossam . . . get to yer . . . get yer door shut . . .”
Rossam pushed the door and leaned all of his weight upon the latch, sliding it over with gasps.
“S’pose you’re . . . an angel that came t’us,” he said. He reached out for Wyla’s hand between the bars, but let his arm fall to his side. “What Gunner speaks s’truth. We can’t go with you.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said as she turned around and walked away. The two men sat in peace in the dank chamber, staring at her shrinking figure. The sound of her footsteps faded into the distance.
“Aye, Rossam. We’re lucky, we are.”
Gunner crept over to his bed and hoisted himself upon it. Rossam stood near the door to his cell, eyes wide and hands clasped.
“Angel, please come back t’us again.”
This is the final story that I wrote for my short story class a few years ago. I have made some edits since then, and I am going to submit it to some publications, so I will post an excerpt below.
Mark of the Phoenix
by Clinton Nix
A globe of light emanated from the lantern Ifanco held as he stepped carefully over the rocks. The cavern was dank and full of bats, but he encountered no hostility during his descent into the dark. For what seemed like days, he had searched blindly through the last known entrance to The Great Below, a series of cavernous veins that coursed underneath Benu mountain. They were largely abandoned, but several centuries ago, stories of lost treasure and mysterious creatures captivated the interest of explorers. For some unknown reason, many of the entrances had been sealed off since that time. Ifanco caught wind of the last few that remained, but upon discovery, none of the paths led further than a couple hundred feet, until now.
Ifanco’s heart thumped as each step brought him deeper into the cave. Supplies were low, but he wouldn’t dare turn around. There was no going back, he thought, and he kept pushing onward even as his eyesight blurred, his stomach clenched, and his muscles quivered. Ifanco wore a pendant that bounced against his chest as he walked, and the giant ruby inside glowed ominously in the dim light.
Ifanco set the lantern down briefly to catch his breath, fondling the pendant nervously while his gaze wandered off into the darkness. His mind drifted and tumbled over the rocks, deep into the wilderness of infinite crevices that surrounded him. Images of golden shining headdresses filled his mind, and the twinkling of curved armlets that cuffed thousands of dancing arms. A sea of faces swarmed around him, laughing and looking, glowing, waiting in need. A vision of a grand hall of windows and banisters, draped with intricately designed tapestries, swirled upon the rocks in the cave, and Ifanco twisted and blinked tightly to banish them from existence. His eyes hollowed out when the images receded into the blackness. His consciousness faded, waiting to be surrendered forever to the blanket of darkness, when his eyes tripped on a sliver of light that glinted between rocks in the distance. With regained awareness and posture, he grabbed the lantern and stepped toward the light.
For class, I had to write a story that was mostly dialogue, with some other parameters. I had written it straight up almost like a script, so I decided to turn it into a script format.
Let me know what you think!
Frank And Isabelle
By Clinton Nix
Setting: Two people in a car. Frank is driving, Isabelle is the passenger.
ISABELLE: How many times do I need to tell you, slow down.
FRANK: I’m slowing.
ISABELLE: It surely doesn’t feel like it. What is the speed limit?
FRANK: I told you, I’m slowing.
FRANK: There’s a bump.
ISABELLE:If you would go slower, it wouldn’t matter.
[The two sat in silence for several minutes. There was a commotion nearby that roused the curiousity of Isabelle.]
ISABELLE: Frank, what’s happening?
FRANK: It’s a circus.
ISABELLE: Is there a clown?
FRANK: Oh look, a juggler.
ISABELLE: A juggler? What’s he juggling?
FRANK: Yowza! Definitely wouldn’t want to be that guy.
ISABELLE: Tell me he’s not juggling chainsaws…
FRANK: Yep. Chainsaws. And…
FRANK: *laughs* This is something.
FRANK: Holy sh-!
FRANK: There was a fire breather! I’ve always wanted to see one of those, since I was a kid.
ISABLLE: Frank, stop! I want to get out.
[Frank was silent, and Isabelle frisked violently at the door, and took hold of the handle and yanked it, but the door did not budge.]
FRANK: I can’t stop! I can’t stop.
ISABELLE: Frank stop the car.
FRANK: I can’t.
ISABELLE: I want to get out.
FRANK: Someone’s following us.
ISABELLE: What are you talking about?
FRANK: I don’t know. I can’t stop. They’ve been tailing us for a while now.
ISABELLE: What do you mean they’ve been tailing us?
FRANK: What do you think I mean?
ISABELLE: I don’t know, I’m asking you.
FRANK: I mean what I say I mean.
ISABELLE: Why are they tailing us?
FRANK: I don’t know, espionage maybe. Maybe they think you’re a terrorist.
ISABELLE: Now why would they think that?
FRANK: *laughs* I don’t know. I would just call it a ‘hunch.’
ISABELLE: I don’t think that is very funny.
[Frank leaned forward and studied the rearview mirror, glancing back and forth between the view ahead and behind them.]
FRANK: They’ve turned off somewhere, we’re safe now.
ISABELLE: Oh, good. I was getting nervous.
FRANK: I was watching them for a while in the rearview mirror. Two guys in sunglasses. Thank heavens they turned.
ISABELLE: Can you please slow down now, Frank?
FRANK: Yes ma’am.
[Frank slowed the car and time passed as the two sank into their own separate worlds. Isabelle became noticeably agitated, as she shifted in her seat and nervously felt beside her for Frank’s arm.]
ISABELLE: What’s happening now?
FRANK: Nothing. Oh, there’s a boy over there, he looks a little bit suspicious.
FRANK: Yeah, real sneaky-like. I can just tell when something’s about to happen.
ISABELLE: What is he doing?
FRANK: He’s…oh no. *laughs*
FRANK: The little runt just stole some oranges from a fruit stand.
ISABELLE: I hate oranges.
FRANK: Well he must like them.
ISABELLE: Maybe he is homeless?
FRANK: He does look a little bit raggedy. Oh– oh no.
FRANK: The man operating the stand at the corner market found out. He’s- oh! *laughs*
He has a bat. This could get very ugly.
ISABELLE: Run, little homeless kid. Run, run… Oh Frank, I hope he doesn’t get hurt.
FRANK: He’s definitely a quick little runt. The guy chasing him is kind of a fatty, so he has a good shot at getting away. Oh– yep, he’s already huffing and puffing. Look at the kid go, too! *laughs* He should try out for track.
[Frank slammed on the brake suddenly and the car slid to a screeching halt. Both of them lunged forward in their seats, restrained only by their seatbelts.]
Frank, My neck hurts.
FRANK: The boy…
[Frank’s arms dangled below the steering wheel, and his head sunk between them.]
FRANK: He was hit. He was–
ISABELLE: By a car? Oh my god. Is he alright?
[Frank raised his head and squinted at the view in front of them.]
FRANK: Ugh- his body…his body is– mangled.
ISABELLE: Oh no– Frank, we have to do something. Find my phone, quickly! Call 911.
FRANK: It looks like someone else is phoning the police.
ISABELLE: Let’s get out, Frank. Unlock the door!
[Frank looked around frantically, pressed the gas, and they took off.]
ISABELLE: Frank! What are you doing?
FRANK: They’re following us again.
ISABELLE: Are you kidding me? Now?
FRANK: This is serious. I really wanted to get out and help the boy.
ISABELLE: Let’s at least say a prayer. A prayer for the poor little homeless kid.
[Frank grimaced as Isabelle touched his right hand.]
ISABELLE: *whispers* Frank, say something.
FRANK: Uh- I didn’t know the boy, but– may he rest in peace, and– find many fields– fields of orange trees, up in heaven.
[A stray tear dripped from Isabelle’s face, and the two submerged, once again, into their separate silent realms.]
Here is a short story I wrote a week or two ago for class. I put it away for a while, and re-read it and decided it was worthy of posting on the blog. Let me know what you think!
by Clinton Nix
The doors slid open with a hum as a young man stepped into the store. He was gripping a pad of paper with chicken scratchings marked on it, which he had to squint to read.
First, WD-40. He took a second, long glance at the next few items in the list.
A blanket. Some dried figs, grapes, an apple. And a flashlight.
He took a few steps forward and stopped in front of a pyramid of glossy apples.
“Can’t forget the t.p.,” he said aloud with a smirk.
He gripped one of the shiny apples and dropped it into a plastic bag. The bag swooshed as the apple hit the bottom, and he scanned the entire room from isle to isle. A faint voice echoed from across the store, caressing his ear like a leaf. He turned his head, but could not make out the lovely sound’s origin.
After picking up all the necessary items, the young man proceeded to the checkout. His eyes wandered through the isles while his shoes squeaked as they met the floor. His mind drifted to another place, and in a quick stint his right foot faltered and rolled to the side, twisting his ankle into nearly a 90 degree angle. He quickly caught his balance with a stumble, but before he continued his dream-walk, his eyes rested upon a sight that stopped him in his tracks. He opened his mouth but no words escaped his lips.
“Would you like your receipt?” The words that the cashier-girl spoke had less charisma than before. She wiped her forehead, cleaning the glistening sweat from underneath her hairline.
“Excuse me for just a second,” she said apologetically, as she raised her hands and tied her dark hair back into a ponytail. The old woman eyed the girl disapprovingly from the other side of the counter. The wrinkled, bitter scowl softened like stale bread in water when she witnessed the girl dabble a squirt of Purell into her palms, which she spread around until her hands were covered. Next in line was a young man with his hands buried deep in his pockets.
She glanced at him with a stare that lingered a few seconds longer than friendly, and then shot her eyes down, then back for a double take.
“Hello, how are you.” Her voice rang like an automaton, which was an inevitability after speaking the same line repeatedly. She lowered her head and scanned the blue can of WD-40 as a deafening silence rang between her and the young man. She dropped the can into the bag, which clunked as it hit bottom. Finally, a word had come to her.
“You’ve got some interesting things there. You going on a road trip?” The words seemed to flutter out of her mouth like a twirling feather. Her eyes curved to the side, and she tilted her head as she grabbed the next item.
“Yep, I’m going to drive.” The young man spoke with a firm sincerity that steadied her eyes.
“Where’you going?” she asked.
The boy took a long pause, kicking his shoes at the floor.
“I figured I’d go east.”
Just then, she noticed that his arm was bent behind his back, as if he was hiding something. She stole glances at him with the curiosity of a kitten chasing a ribbon.
His eyes stayed down, suppressed and away from her. He tried not to look her way, because if he did, she would surely know what he was getting to. After she rang the last item, he handed her the cash and she exchanged that with the receipt.
“Thank you,” she said disappointingly, with an awkward twist in her neck.
It was then that the young man finally revealed what he was hiding. He waved his arm out and brought it around in front of her in a rapid motion. He held a yellow daisy that was slightly bent to the side, and wrapped with cellophane at the stem.
“It’s for you,” he spoke, this time looking her directly in the eyes.
“Oh, it’s pretty.” She curved her eyes again like before. “Did you get it from over there?” She asked, pointing toward the flower stand.
“Oh, um. Yes.”
“..You still have to pay for it.” Her words rattled like a dry leaf that time.
She took the flower, and the plastic crinkled as she struggled to scan the bar-code.
“That’ll be 5.99,” she said, handing the daisy back to him.
The young man rummaged through each pocket: first his left one, then the right, then the back pockets. He had managed to scrounge up money, but he was faced with a dilemma.
“Three, four, five….five fifty,” she said to him as he wrangled through the pile of bills and coins that were spread across the counter.
“Hmm..” he uttered with a quiver. He was desperately wading through each of his pockets again and again, burrowing his head, avoiding her gaze. The girl stuck her hand deep into her apron and the clink of coins resonated through the cloth. She pulled them out, and then picked up the pile of money and put it in the cash register.
“Here’s your receipt,” she said with a limp smile.
“Thank you,” the boy responded. “Here.”
He handed her the yellow daisy, which was drooping slightly to the side, and the plastic crinkled again in her grip.
“It smells nice, thank you.” Her smile curved wide, exposing her overlapping teeth. She held the daisy near her nose, her eyes sinking into the yellow hue of the flower.
“Will you go with me?” The young man blurted out.
“Go with you?” Her eyes shot wide open with surprise as the words curved out of her mouth.
“Right now, I mean. Leave with me.”
She looked around, and there was a steady line forming behind the young man in front of her. She had completely forgotten of their existence, and their evil stares poked and prodded at her like a hot fire iron, making her squirm in pain.
“Okay. Let’s go,” she said, her eyes squinting and determined. She pulled her apron off from around her neck and placed it on the register.
There was a commotion in the line but they turned their backs and walked away, and the two did not take even a second glance behind them. The young man sneaked a few looks at the girl’s profile as she walked. Her eyes were not curved, but straight. Her gaze was a knife, slicing a path ahead of them which they walked, and he didn’t dare attract that gaze his way, or he’d surely be cut in two.
They approached a door that read ‘Manager’s Office,’ and stopped just beside it. She looked up at him, and noticed the boy’s eyes: they were round and deep green, and stuck out of his head with puffy lids overlapping them. He kept them fixated upon an object near the distance, as if to deliberately keep them from moving around. She scoped out that direction, but found nothing noteworthy.
“I’ll be just a second,” she said, looking at him directly. This time, he looked her directly in the face with his green eyes, with a powerful, silent glance that made her lose her train of thought.
She knocked on the door, with a soft rapping, but there was only silence in return. She twisted the knob, and the door creaked open, revealing a man tipped back in his chair; he was supported only by the weight of his feet upon the counter.
“Excuse me, knock knock.”
It took a few attempts to wake him, but soon enough his twittering eyes opened and his pupils shrank as he came to his senses.
“What is it?” he demanded with a groggy voice.
“um-” she had paused, looking down at the floor. The man in the chair had raised his eyebrows sharply in curious indignation.
“I quit! Bye bye,” she exclaimed,with a laugh and a wave. It took a few seconds for the leafy words to travel over and penetrate the sleepy man’s mind. His eyes shot wide open as the reality impacted his brain. His chair creaked violently and he fell backwards with a crash. The girl slammed the door, and both of them ran for the sliding doors that led to the parking lot.
The two sprinted with their arms out, like birds, as they left the store and inhaled the cold night air, and their bodies were illuminated only by the dull, flickering street lamps. They spiraled around the parking lot, chasing each other, giggling like little children playing a game of tag. Her pace slowed down to a trod, and the hot puffs of air escaped her mouth with increasing rapidity. She noticed her flying partner stop beside her, his breath mirroring hers. He had leaned over, and she watched him with careful eyes as he slowly rose again, his uncontrollable breath slowly sputtering into a regular pace. His hair was a bit shaggy, and it looked as though he had neglected to cut it for several months. She stuck out her hand and stretched it tightly.
He brought his arm out, and gripped her hand.
“I’m Kent. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” she said, with a smile that escaped from the side of her mouth. She noticed that he was smiling too. Not like hers, though: his was a big, wide smile, and a playful chuckle escaped from his lungs.
I had to write a particular story with an alien for class. Enjoy! As always, let me know what you think.
A Moment of Relief
By Clinton Nix
“Some kinda’ green pus dripped down from the tentacles on the…thing. Disgusting. It seemed like there was a discharge every time it moved that arm. Had some kind of bandages wrapped all around it, they were dangling everywhere. With the claws of its right hand, it would grab at the other arm, almost in pain or something. Still, that didn’t stop it from wasting a damned semi sitting in the street! Those tentacles seemed to have claws on them, or something ’cause–well, that could grip–’cause the monstrosity would latch them onto objects and whirl’em around like some kind of damned gladiator. And that semi–you don’t want to know what it did to that thing. Then its eyes would glow, really bright, and you could kind of feel the rage of the thing. The creature would blitz around with a sort of, demonic—uh, Herculean might, and obliterate everything it wanted to. Countless people lost their lives. Was as confusing as it was sad…most of us couldn’t make one bit of sense from it. I mean, everybody knows that aliens don’t exist, you know, just hokey shit dreamed up from some–some loon who thought he saw lights in the sky. But this shit was real. That thing was there, and it was terrifying. Just…terrifying.”
The man’s gaze became hollow as his stare burned a hole through an empty spot on the table.
“…So what did you do after you saw it?”
“What do you think? I jus ran the hell out of there.”
The inquisitor noticed that her subject had begun shaking violently. After a moment’s pause, and a sigh, she stopped the tape recorder and bent over to the side of the table, reaching inside a black leather bag. She dropped the tape recorder inside, and extracted a small cylinder-shaped container from the side pouch.
“Here, this should help. Take these with a full glass of water. Go to the restroom behind you. Wash your face, get yourself together. I’m going to need to ask you some more questions. Those should take effect in 20 minutes.” She zipped the leather bag with laser precision, scooted the chair back with a loud screech, and removed herself from the room.
The man’s face was covered in sweat. His hand clenched a grimy, drenched rag that left more fluid than it soaked up. He picked up the bottle and read its contents aloud:
“Valium. Di…azepam. 10 mg per tablet. Take two tablets with a full glass of water.” He looked toward the bottom of the label and read out the big, bold letters: “Do not take more than two at once.”
He immediately pried opened the bottle and shook it until four tablets tumbled out on his hand. He eyed the full glass of water sitting beside him, and reached out for it. The glass shook in his grip, and water splashed on the table. He tossed the tablets in the back of his throat, and downed the water as if he had been wandering in a hot desert all day. Clean water gushed out the side of his mouth and mixed with the dingy sweat to form dark rings on his shirt.
“Ah…ahem. Aha ha.”
He decided to heed the woman’s advice and go to the restroom. The cold water soothed his face, providing a temporary relief for his salt-soaked lids. He noticed dark lumps under his eyes in the mirror; they had become swollen, like dangling sandbags.
“It’s kicking in,” he spoke to his mirrored self with a grin, pointing at the reflection. “You’re gonna feel good now.”
The shake in his hand was gone. He no longer trembled: instead, his image reflected the sereneness that existed only in sleeping babies. The man’s body resembled gelatin as he turned, and his legs were rubber bands as they bent and stretched under the weight. He bounced toward the table to sit down; he was jello spilling into the chair. At that moment, he could see some shadowy figures rushing around through the small window in the door. Their hasty, sporadic movement made him giggle.
“We’re all gonna die. Aha ha.” The words escaped his mouth like a nervous laugh, which turned into sputtering, gurgled coughs.
The shapes moved even more furiously behind the door, but one of them halted suddenly. It, or he, began shouting heavily, with a deep rumble that vibrated the entire wall. The other shape barked loudly in return, and that one had the much higher, sharper pitch of a woman. Everything became a fuzzy haze to the drugged man, and he felt his head falling backward, continuously, off of a cliff but never landing.
Suddenly, there was a loud thunderous clash as the wall caved inward and little bits of brick were shot about the room. When the dust settled, an ominous amber glow pierced through to the other side, and the night air illuminated behind the broken wall. An array of shrieks cut through like razor blades from behind the closed door. Those shadowy bodies weren’t moving anymore. The man sunk his head down on the table in surrender as the sound of slithering tentacles approached nearer and nearer.
I decided to post the first chapter to a novel I wrote a couple of years ago. It was for the ‘National Novel Writing Month’ contest, and I had completed the 50,000 word goal. This novel will probably never see the light of day, or get developed into anything other than what it is. However, I may use Morton in something else in the future.
Let me know what you think!
The Incredible Story Of Morton William Geebles
By Clinton Nix
Morton unfolded the newspaper that he stuck into his coat pocket in a hurry to catch the train. “A house mysteriously caught on fire on 15th Ave,” he spoke aloud. “Hmmm. Some things you can never explain.” His commentary annoyed the nearby passengers. For as long as Morton could hold a book, he always had the habit of speaking aloud what he read. Morton blindly reached out his hand in an attempt to grab the cup of coffee by his side. “Aw, now I’ve done it,” he pouted as the pool of coffee dripped off of his coat and pants and onto the floor. He rummaged through his pockets for a single tissue, but to no avail. “Argh.” He clumsily pulled himself on his feet, grasping the metal bar on his right side. The woman sitting across from him grimaced as he brushed against her in a mad dash for the lavatory. Morton always found an excuse to walk, ever since he bought his new shoes. They were made of a shiny leather, custom tailored to his feet. He was very proud of the shine, and made sure that everyone saw them. They made a squishy sound if he walked slow, and a dull tap if he walked fast.
Morton’s pace increased steadily as he passed each cabin. “Why does the bathroom have to be on the OTHER side,” he grumbled. Suddenly, someone shouted.
As Morton turned his head to see who was shouting at him, his left foot caught on the support for the seat nearest him. He took a tumble and fell face down on the floor. “Ugh, my shoe…” He was clearly not worried about his own safety, but rather if the shine on his left shoe would be dull compared to his right. He pulled himself back on his feet, slowly anticipating the stares and the “aws” of the surrounding passengers.
“Morty, you goofball, I knew it was you. You are always getting into trouble. Are you okay?” It was Caroline, a former classmate of Morton’s. They had become good friends, and ended up having classes together, and sharing projects. At the time, neither of them had many friends, so they always relied on each other. At some point, Caroline’s popularity changed, and she stopped spending as much time with Morton as she used to. The last time that Morton saw Caroline was about two years ago.
“Um, er, of course. Y-you see, the c-combined actions of looking around and walking at an uncomfortably fast pace is something that has a definite learning curve.” As Morton spoke,he shook his head a bit from side to side, out of nervousness. Caroline looked a little confused as Morton explained his situation with striking detail. “Morty, you haven’t changed since then. How’ve you been? You gotta keep in touch!” Morton remembered that Caroline always talked so fast that he couldn’t get an answer in for quite a few moments at any point in time. He always wondered how she was able to breathe between all the questions. “My number is still the same. I gave it to you, do you need it again? Call me some time!”
“Yes, I reckon I still do have it. Writing it down in my planner,” he responded as he pulled out a pad and pen and continued to scratch something down. “See ya,” she said, turning to her friend who was seated by the window. Who knows what she was doing on this same train, where she was going. Morton didn’t have time to ponder it.
Many trees could be seen passing by the windows. “We’re still near Tacoma,” he thought. The train had not made it far past the tri-city area. His attention was then pulled back to his coffee soaked coat and pants, to reality. “Oh…” Morton made for the lavatory with great haste, eventually reaching the door. “Occupied…Hmm.” An awful smell was exuding from the other side of the door. Morton thought hard about entering the bathroom, carefully analyzing the pros and cons. “Well, I’ll be able to clean my pants,” he thought. “But, the smell might be so unbearable that my stomach might churn…I do have a sensitive stomach,” he countered. “If I see Caroline again, I have to be more dignified.”
“But no…it is decided!” He exclaimed. Morton turned around and headed back to his seat, being careful not to be seen this time. For Morty, his shoes were his most important deciding factor. If he went in the bathroom, there was a chance that they could be spoiled by something that may lurk there on the floor. He would not have that.
On his way back Morton tried to sit in his usual spot, but it was taken by a large boy, who was absorbed in his ice cream cone. He had a blue shirt that had dark smears on it. Morton looked around, and found an empty seat further back. He walked over and sat down; he was minding his own business when the man next to him gave him a good hard look. He was a guy with a big frame, with a large, squared face. He wore a suit and a round hat to match. He made no effort to conceal his stares from Morton.
“Hey, boy, what’s your name?”
“Me? I’m Morton, Morton William Geebles.”
The man looked at him intently, and put his hand out for a shake.
“I’m Sam, Sam Goodpenny. Nice to meet you there, Marvin.”
Morton became irritated with Sam; he never liked it when people pronounced his name incorrectly.
“It’s Morton,” he said, giving a few seconds pause before meeting Sam with a handshake.
“What’s a man like yourself doing on this train at this fine hour?”
Sam had a fast way of speaking, so much so that Morton had trouble following his words.
“I’m on my way to Portland.” Morton nodded in assurance.
“Oh, what for? Family? Business? A girl?”
Morton was annoyed with this comment. He replied in haste, making sure that he set the boundary with the man.
“No, sir, not for those reasons. I am going for, uh-” Morton paused, forgetting what he was going to say.
“It’s fine, Marvin, fine.”
Sam got the hint that Morton didn’t really want to talk. The two of them sat in silence for a few moments. Sam looked around, and then with his eyes, he was trying to look at Morton without turning his head. He couldn’t wait any longer, and let out a question.
“Where you from?”
Morton looked at Sam with a dumbfounded expression. He thought it was obvious, since they where on a train from Seattle. Nevertheless, he responded.
“I’m from Seattle.”
“Oh, nice, the good ol’ rainy city. You know, I used to live there. I’ve been traveling about- I’m a salesman after all- and I have family in Seattle.”
“Did you visit them just now?”
Sam looked away, toward the other side of the compartment.
“Yeah. But I can’t stay too long in one place. I’ve got traveling in my blood.”
The man sitting opposite of them looked up from reading his newspaper, and stared at Sam for a few moments.
“What are you looking at?” Sam shouted.
The man didn’t respond, and instead, looked back down into his newspaper, meanwhile his stature slunk down a couple of inches.
“Some people, I tell ya. It’s like pulling whiskers on a cat, and the cat swats you but he doesn’t have any claws. All they are, is talk, and I’ll show those people a thing or two.”
Morton was surprised by the stranger, and by Sam and his actions. He didn’t know whether to be afraid or to laugh.
“Ha ha ha.” Sam chuckled hard, and slapped his hand on Morton’s back. He spoke, pointing down toward the stains on Morton’s pants.
“Look what happened, buddy. You’re really clumsy, you know that? Don’t worry, I’ve got something for you.”
He picked up his briefcase and opened it, revealing an array of different products inside.
“Let’s see. This one is new, just came out of the lab.”
Morton wasn’t interested, but he was cornered, and had no way of escaping.
“It’s a stain remover, and I can sell it to you for forty dollars. It’s a steal.”
“Oh, no thanks, no thanks.” Morton wanted to get the stain out of his pants, but he knew a scam when he saw one. Sam made a sour face, and tried to convince him of the greatness of the product.
“If not that, then I have this watch, from Switzerland…”
Sam pulled out the watch, and swung it around, as if to demonstrate its durability. He was spitting out the features, dimensions, the color, and the history of how it was made, as if he was reading from a piece of paper. To Morton’s relief, the train finally made its last stop, and his escape seemed within reach.
“Whew, finally here.” he said aloud.
“It was nice, uh, Sam, sir….this is my stop, goodbye.”
Morton bowed his head and started walking away, in a hurry, while Sam was spitting words out like a machine gun, trying to keep Morton from leaving. Sam was now out of sight, and out of mind, and Morton could continue on with his journey. Every month or so, Morton traveled three hours by train to Portland, from Seattle. He did this for one of his great passions, which he kept solely to himself. Every month, a new issue of Glorious Tony came out, and the first prints were always exclusive to Portland, the author’s home city. To Morton, Glorious Tony was his brother, his companion…he felt a strong familiarity with Tony that he couldn’t quite explain. Maybe it was the way he dressed; always looking crisp, wearing the top Italian suits, even if it cost him every penny. Perhaps it was the way he spoke to others, with such diligence and formal wording. Perhaps it was the fact that he always ended up in the right places at all the right times; he was there to save the diner from robbery, or to save the child falling out of a nearby window. These are all things Morton aspired to do, and be; even though he failed miserably at almost all of them, he knew one day he could be glorious, like Tony.
Morton contemplated what was going to happen in the next issue as he left the train, making his way to the bookstore. Perhaps Tony was going to meet his untimely end? At the end of last issue, it appeared that he had swallowed just a bit more than he could chew. Most of the time, Tony ended up in the right situations…but this time, it felt a bit different, and it scared Morton. Tony had chased down a mugger, who was taking advantage of a helpless old lady- only to run right into the gang that the mugger was a part of. It killed Morton to wait for the next issue, but now it was here- finally.
“Scepter Books.” Morton felt chills as he spoke the name of the only place that carried new copies of Glorious Tony before the official release. By now he had totally forgotten about the coffee stains on his coat and pants, but they had almost dried anyway. Morton entered the store, heart pounding heavily. Before he was even able to greet the salesperson, his vision started to fade; all the books and people in the store merged together into one big blur. Morton was out before he hit the floor.
The store was practically empty. Because a strange man passed out in the doorway, the unlikely event that it was, Morgan decided to temporarily close Scepter Books. “It’s not like I’m going to get many customers today,” Morgan thought. He brought the strange man to the back room, where there was a couch that was meant for break time reading, not for unconscious strangers. Morgan looked with quizzical face upon the brown stains on the strange man’s pants.
“What have I not seen now?” Morgan thought it ironic to be wearing such expensive clothes, yet to have them ruined by so thoughtless an action. “And the shoes, ha ha!” They were just so shiny. “I’ve got a walking comic in my break room!” Morgan laughed for a second, then became serious on the realization of what, in reality, lie before him. “Right,” Morgan thought. This man needed medical attention, after all. He never even thought of calling an ambulance. It just didn’t come to his mind. “I can’t imagine how it happened. Maybe he’s diabetic, and was desperate to get some sugar, so he ran to the nearest place, my bookstore,” Morgan hypothesized. “On second thought, not very likely. He might have just hit his head on the way in. He looked pretty frantic, probably too much coffee.” Morgan looked down. “The evidence is there,” Morgan said, pointing to the stain.
“Oh!” Morgan quickly got up and went to the bathroom. “This is the least I can do,” he said. He soaked a white rag, wringing it out several times. The steam fogged up the little mirror above the sink. “Okay.” Morgan went back to the hapless stranger, who lay unguarded on the green couch. As Morgan wet the stranger’s forehead with the steaming rag, he couldn’t help but notice the rips in the couch. He had wanted to throw it out long ago, but never got himself to actually do it. If he knew that this was going to happen, he would have gotten a new one.
Suddenly, the small finger on the stranger’s right hand twitched. “Oh!” Morgan jumped back, the tempo of his heartbeat increasing. “Are you okay?” Morgan asked to a deadening silence. His eyes were opening, so Morgan went closer.
“how many fingers am I holding up?
Whats your name?
…where are you from? What are you doing here?”
Morgan realized that he had asked way too many questions, even for a conscious person to answer. He decided to pause for five seconds between questions, at least until the stranger became conscious. Morgan waited for about a minute to ask his next question. “What’s your name?” He asked in a more composed manner that time. “..M….Morton.” The stranger struggled to get the name out. Then, “Morton…Morton William Geebles.” He seemed well enough to stress the proper wording of his full name. “I’m Morgan. Are you feeling okay?” “Why is it that you ask, sir? Do I appear unwell? Am I not normal?”
“Well…you just-” Morgan was interrupted by Morton’s quick rise to his feet. “Oh, Glorious Tony!” Morton exclaimed with profundity.
There was a short silence before Morgan spoke again. “What? is that why you are here?” “Ah, um…well, I just heard about it and..” Morton felt a little bit ashamed. “I’m trying to figure out why you passed out. Do you know of anything-” Morgan didn’t complete his sentence. He was waiting for Morton to fill in the blanks. That didn’t exactly happen. “Your lips are chapped, and you have coffee stains. Perhaps you just got a bit dehydrated.” “..oh,” Morton said in contemplation. He realized he didn’t have anything to drink in a long time, being so frantic about the new issue of Glorious Tony. “Are you sure you don’t need medical attention?” Morgan asked intently. “No, no, I’m fine. It’s okay, really.” Morton seemed like he was trying to assure himself. He brushed his pants off and looked at Morgan.
“Perhaps you need this,” Morgan said as he tossed the still-warm rag to Morton. “Oh, oh yes,” Morton responded as he fumbled to catch the towel, eventually dropping it on the ground. After a lot of rubbing with the towel, the stains still seemed to be there, with a pronounced outer ring that was dark and unmistakable. “Ugh.” “These things happen, it’s alright,” Morgan assured him. Morton knew that he was trying to make him feel better, but it didn’t help. “Oh yeah, since you mentioned…” Morgan said to Morton’s now-peaked interest. “Here’s the new copy of Glorious Tony. You can have it for free. It doesn’t sell much anyway…”
In that instant, Morton completely forgot about his stains. He just wanted to hold the issue in his hands. Morgan had a smile on his face; he didn’t understand what this guy liked about Glorious Tony. In fact, Morgan hated it; he thought it was poorly written and very cliché. He knew that Morton liked it, though; Morgan felt good for that reason. He could tell that it was hard for Morton to keep his eyes off of the copy in his hands. He knew that this stranger was now ready to go, and his bookstore would be quiet once more. “Alright,” he said as he patted Morton’s shoulder. Morton said his goodbyes to the shop owner and made haste to read the new issue of Glorious Tony. Morgan told him to come by any time, that he was still going to carry the new copies of Glorious Tony despite their low sales.
“Now it’s back to the usual, day-to-day,” Morgan muttered to himself, as he picked up his coffee cup for another sip. Morton sat at an old bench on an adjacent street. He was finally alone, undisturbed, and had the issue in his hands. “Here we go,” he said as he opened the cover to the first page.