Flash Fiction: “Hoovertown Knights”

I can never stay around from my homage character to Hunter S. Thompson. Especially not when I get a wild story prompt like I did from my friends in Burbank.

Enjoy!


Hoovertown Knights, by Alexander Willging

Word Count: 684

At some point, along the way, I stopped caring about how absurd all this was. It wasn’t every day that you force your brother-in-law to commit a daring heist on his own jewelry store in East Vancouver. Sure, call it insurance fraud. But what are such paltry crimes against the chance for immortality, babe?

Yes, dear readers, it’s your favorite madcap journalist Armand Boston, reporting live from the bushes outside a factory in North Canton, Ohio. I sit here, adorned in a Pith helmet and several thousand dollars’ worth of ruby necklaces. These accoutrements are my lone defense against what I can only assume is the dark magic protecting this lonely red brick palace.

“And yet,” my brother-in-law Phil muters at my side, “we could be doing this during the day. Could’ve taken the tour and everything—!”

“Hush,” I whisper back. “El Monstruo approaches!”

And sure enough, with terrible plodding steps, out comes the night watchman. I can barely see the brass buttons gleaming on his starched, pressed uniform. He sweeps his flashlight right over us, and my breath goes tight. Phil looks ready to grumble some more.

Perhaps he’s still mad about his smashed-up jewelry store?

In total silence, I reach into my pocket and pull out a tiara. A bit small, but Phil says nothing as I plant it atop his curly head. Still pissed, but hey, with this diadem, he’s now royally pissed.

Then, ignoring his grunt of protest, I ready the softball I had in my other pocket.

Right as that security guard turns around, I hurl that sucker hard as I can.

Plop! With a groan, the guard collapses. With a clatter, his ring of keys drop onto the pavement. And just like that, Phil and yours truly are making our way inside the main building for the Hoover Vacuum Company.


Most vacuum cleaner enthusiasts know about W.H. Hoover, the brand’s esteemed founder. But few know about the massive vault under his former office in North Canton, Ohio. Or the fact that, in 1945, a team of spies working for the Office of Strategic Services made a secret deposit into that same vault. Something big and heavy, shipping straight out of a Nazi base somewhere in Tunisia.

Of course you wouldn’t know this story, dear readers. The mainstream media wouldn’t suck so hard unless it were owned by the likes of Big Vacuum.

One elevator ride later, Phil and I are measuring our steps down a long, dark corridor. The jeweled medieval compass—the one that I stole from Phil’s shop when his boss wasn’t looking in all the chaos—points our way true. Within minutes, we are directed toward a turn in the corridor and arrive at a pair of giant, nondescript steel doors.

On the doors is a black circular port. Looks like something the size of a compass could fit there…

Well, you know how these things go, reader. Click, boom, doors swing open, lights switch on—

And there she is.

Atop a gleaming white pedestal, bathed in a heavenly afterglow.

A grail. The Grail. That gold cup that all the knights and archaeologists and conspiracy junkies have been hunting for centuries.

And of course they’d hide it out in freaking Ohio.

“Phil, mi compadre,” I whisper. “One sip of this, and we’re gonna live forever!”

“Um, about that.” Phil taps my shoulder. “I think we’ll need to. ‘Cause in case you hadn’t noticed…?”

He points to the glittering shelves. Good God, they’re all here. The Ark of the Covenant. The Hand of King Midas. The sword Excalibur. The Shadow Constitution that James Madison wrote up in 1812!

And, of course, guarding it all is a giant three-headed dog.

A big, black growling son of a gun.

“Right,” I say, not losing my cool. “Right, so… we go downstairs…”

“Armand—”

“…And turn on every vacuum cleaner we can find.”

“You’re insane.”

“And you married my sister. So what does that make you?”

Phil sighs. For, like, a minute.

“Go on three?” he asks.

I slap him across the shoulders. “Now you’re starting to use your head, man!”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “Those Physicians in Whose Steps I Walk”

Sometimes you get a late-night brainstorm while reading articles on Wookieepedia, listening to podcasts about roleplaying, and then the next thing you know, you’ve got this wild idea for a story in your head. And, no, it can’t wait until morning. It’s got to be written now.

Well, this is one of those stories.


Those Physicians in Whose Steps I Walk,

By Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 1,116

She was one of two hundred and sixteen robots that came off an assembly line at the last Venusian sky-factory.

Cold yellow lights stared out from two recessed nodes in a smooth gray cranium; these were what passed for her eyes. Clawed manipulators extended from spindly titanium rods attached to her torso, able to switch out and produce whatever tool she needed; these were what passed for her hands. An extensive vocabulary of medical knowledge and diagnoses came out in a gentle monotone through the steel grille affixed to the front of her cranium; this was what passed for her mouth.

At the sky-factory, she had been designated G1-DS.

Everyone at the shipyard, though, just called her “Dess.”


Inside the foreman’s office, Dess stood at attention. She stared out the viewport behind the human’s desk, out at where a vast semicircle of shuttle docks and half-finished cruisers floated gently, just beyond the arid planet’s gravity well. If she increased the magnification on her visual sensors, Dess could almost pinpoint the tiny stream of mining haulers that flew in and out of the planet’s atmosphere, bringing down new work crews and bringing up all the raw materials humans could need for shipbuilding.

Utterly routine, but she would rather be watching that than listen to the foreman.

“Look, G1, I appreciate your concern? But really, this isn’t the time or place for it.” Lounging in an ergonomic chair behind the desk, Foreman Temuera North had poor spinal alignment and soft, billowing tissue around the neck and waistline. Just by looking at him with her diagnostic suite, Dess could pinpoint everything about his medical history. None of it good. “We’ve got a system here, okay? The foreman answers to the Director, the crews answer to me, and you answer to the medbay supervisor. It’s that simple.”

“Working conditions aren’t that simple,” Dess insisted. She gestured one of her clawed manipulators to the datacard on his desk. “Ever since that last vein of adamatine steel was discovered, cases of hypoxemia among the miners has risen by as much as sixty-three percent in the last month. If we don’t treat this soon, we could be looking at—”

“Trouble.” The word fell from Temuera’s lips like a stone into a pond. “That’s what you’ll be looking at, G1. Just trouble.”

“Sir, the miners—”

“Are fine, Dess. Do you get it?” Now the foreman’s eyes had narrowed, and Dess detected a spike in his blood pressure. “We don’t discuss mining conditions unless it’s been vetted as safe for public release. We don’t stick our noses—or sensors—where they’re not wanted.” His heart rate continued to climb as he spoke. “Do I make myself clear, G1-DS? Or is there a data corruption in your processor that I can have the techs look at?”

Every byte of her programming told her this was wrong. Every other byte told Dess to let it go. Drop the case, go back to her unfinished duties at the medbay. Loyalty subroutines reminded her that a severe absence could be marked as negligence and grounds for a total memory wipe. But her ethical software had different ideas, flagging and highlighting every instance of conspiracy and health hazard in the foreman’s statement.

With a hiss through her vocoder, Dess lowered her head. Her servos whined in protest as she opened the storage compartment on her torso’s lower-left ring.

“Your intentions are clear, Foreman,” she said out loud.

Temuera’s face broke out into a smile, twisting the native tattoos around his jawline. “Well, good. I’d hate to have to dismantle a fine automaton like yourself—”

He never saw it coming.

One clawed manipulator reached out in a mere matter of microseconds, clutching the human’s throat and silencing him at once. As Temuera’s eyes bulged, Dess removed the fully-loaded hypodermic from her chassis. She armed the plunger and then plunged the needle into one of his neck’s main arteries.

A high dose of painkillers wouldn’t kill him—even as she railed against the Do No Harm slogan drilled into her codebase–but it would render him unconscious. Not so different, she reflected, from sedating an irate patient in the medbay.

As the foreman slumped against his desk, Dess replaced the needle in storage. Her sensors registered a steady pulse, airflow, and heart beat just beneath his skin.

Then she went to work.

Step One: Isolate all footage of the conversation and transmit it to the Judicial Department on Venus, with her personal notes attached for viewer context.

Step Two: Use her built-in bone cutter to break the door’s lock on her way out, even though it meant damaging her cutter appendage beyond repair.

Step Three: Make a hasty route to Docking Bay Forty-Seven. There, she would find a shuttle drone, one whose low-level programming would register her emergency response credentials and give her a ride out of the star system when asked for one.

Step Four: Start over fresh, far from the Mining Consortium and far from their private security teams. Some settlement, where colonists didn’t question the arrival of an unattended medical robot, and where her ethical analysis of their health might be better appreciated.

All of this, Dess calculated and considered in less than thirty seconds.

Then she made her escape.


On Cybele, a distant world near the Deneb star system, Dr. Farah Zorn rubbed at her temples. She was tired, but her shift wouldn’t end for another half-hour. And to make matters worse, there was an outbreak of severe space adaptation sickness among the newly arrved colonists. Her medbay looked less like a healing center and more like a battlefield, with triage lines and fatigued orderlies stumbling over each other, narrowly avoiding collisions over the groaning rows of people.

“Excuse me?” A gentle synthetic voice reached Farah from over her shoulder. She turned around and blinked at the silver bipedal robot that had suddenly appeared. Or maybe she was just hallucinating it. That last patient’s chart had her convinced she was losing her mind.

“Yes?” Farah tilted her head. “Look, if you’re really here—”

“I am.”

“Then, can you help?” Farah gestured to a line of men and women, all of whom were still waiting for treatment. “We’ve got SAS cases left and right. Everyone here needs a quick vital check and then a shot of—”

“Dimenhydrinate.” The robot nodded, and then she lifted a vial of medicine up to the doctor’s eyes. “I have just the thing, ma’am.”

“Excellent.” Farah laughed. “You’re hired. What’s your name?”

“My designation?”

“I asked your name, sweetie.”

“Oh! Well…” The robot drew herself up proudly. “I am G1-DS, ma’am.” Then, after a short, embarrassed pause, she added, “Most people call me Dess.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “Monsters on the Track, Liquor in the Back”

It’s been a while, but I’m always glad when I can come up with crazy new stories. Especially when said stories let me channel my inner Hunter S. Thompson.

Enjoy.


Monsters on the Track, Liquor in the Back,

By Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 535

Few, dear reader, have the stomach for a flat-out, full-on, non-stop, balls-to-the-wall race in the middle of the desert. And yet, that’s where I found myself, leaning against a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at eight in the morning on top of a lonely Nevada dune.

Armand Boston, reporting live from a press tent somewhere in Clark County, desperately scarfing down vodka and burnt gingerbread cookies to stave off the morning heat. Yes, it’s true that the Las Vegas Gazette has revoked my press credentials at the time of this writing. But what of it? The Story Must Be Told. And it’s not like I could give back the rented motorcycle before Thursday…

The racers were ready at dawn. I toyed with a slice of lemon around the rim of an untouched glass of water. Revving engines and hoots and hollers filled the air outside. I only then remembered to hit the button on my tape recorder, for when I’d need color and sound to add to this article. Even if that greased-up, pigheaded Pancho of an editor refused to print it.

Instead, however, all I heard next were screams.

The Beast that attacked never stood still long enough for photographers to capture it. Not that they could, dear reader, whilst they were running for their lives. I saw the best bikers of my generation destroyed, raving, hysterical, and mutilated limb from limb. Neither photo nor prose could have prepared you for the viscera that the Creature waded through on that unholy morn…

[Editor’s Note: We apologize, but there is a missing section in Armand’s story. The article he sent for publication has at least a page and a half stained with lemon juice. Or, at least, we hope that it’s lemon juice.]

…And there I was, dear reader! Eye-to-eye with the Jabberwocky itself!

Though it did not burble as it came, it reared back its head and split the air with a bone-chilling roar. It raked the space above my head with bloodstained claws, and in my mortal terror, I did the only thing I could.

I threw cookies at the damn thing.

To my surprise, the one-eyed, one-horned giant purple people eater did not reject the torched gingerbread. In fact, the Creature seemed delighted. Its salivating maw inhaled the treats and followed up with a sickening wet crunch. O! Happy was this undevoured reporter!

One plate of cookies and a liter of vodka later, the Beast had had its fill. I stood outside the ruined tent, clinging to the remains of a Harley-Davidson chopper, and I watched the Beast gallop drunkenly back into the sandy wastes from whence it came. At long last, the desert was silent and still again, save only for the pitiful cries and crawls of the half-eaten racers at my feet.

Far be it from me to speculate, my readers, but I can only guess at how this act of mayhem might have been a monster’s commentary on the sport of long-distance motorcycle racing. Even so, while our Armed Forces continue their desperate pursuit across the empty Nevada wastelands, this humble reporter can only offer one small piece of advice.

Don’t skimp on the gingerbread cookies. Your lives may well depend on it.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “A Time for Orchids”

Time travel is one of those genres that doesn’t interest me in the mechanics, but in the kind of characters who get to use it and what that power does to their perspective. Case in point: today’s story.

Enjoy!


A Time for Orchids,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 955

A sigh escaped Rebecca’s lips as she surveyed the scene. “Jimmy…”

“What?” he responded. The ratchet wrench in his hand went cranking along. “This is fine!”

“Jimmy!”

“Oh, come on! We’ve been through worse!”

“Define ‘worse.’”

“I mean…” He fell silent, letting the ratchet wrench speak for him. Then, after a moment: “Well, look. Do you see any marauding Huns about to massacre us?”

“That cabbie over there just might though…”

“Hush. Lemme reset this navigation beacon and we’ll be on our way again. Just, like… two minutes, tops!”

Rebecca proceeded in the way of her people and slowly rubbed her palm down the length of her face. She couldn’t believe this.

Not where she was; she could believe that it was, in fact, New York City in the 1930s. The air didn’t have the same smog issue, for one thing. From where she stood, in the middle of a busy intersection, she could spot roughly where Times Square stood. The passerby there had the clothes and automobiles she’d expect from the era: flat caps, overcoats, pleated skirts, Rolls-Royces, and Mercedes-Benz Speedsters. No, all of that she could believe.

But this! This, this, this, always this with Jimmy Whitehill, the supposed genius among genii at MIT. If it wasn’t a course correction, it was an unexpected malfunction. So much so that Rebecca had already began to expect them. And she was rarely proven wrong.

“Next time,” she growled, “I’m logging in our destination.”

Rebecca emphasized her point by giving a kick to the cooling time machine. Her heel bounced off its topless, tarnished-mirror surface. Their machine wasn’t too dissimilar to the same design that H.G. Wells had dreamed up a century and a half ago. And unlike other imitators, theirs actually worked. Supposedly.

“Hey, hey, watch it!” Jimmy put himself between Rebecca and the vehicle. “She’s still adjusting! The chronological flux is almost ready, I promise!”

“Sorry, but I’m out of flux to give today.”

“Look, if we get to 1872?” Jimmy’s voice dropped into a solemn tone. “We’ll find her, Rebecca.”

Rebecca said nothing. She stared him down.

“The girl with the orchid,” he continued. “Think of me what you will, but I know she’s real. And I know where to look.” He gestured at the machine, his voice rising over the dismayed honks of angry cab drivers forced to go around them. “It’s just getting to the when that’s the issue.”

Rebecca still didn’t answer. She was too busy remembering an oil painting in Professor Teagan’s office back home. An Impressionist piece of art created by an unknown French painter. Even his signature, a mere smudge in the bottom right-hand corner, simply read, “l’inconnu.” Yet this unknown Frenchman was a huge deal to the art world of the late twentieth century. Rebecca was going, by hook or by crook, to learn this virtuoso’s name—and in the process, make a name for herself. If only she could find the model for his masterpiece, the girl she only knew holding a white orchid. Staring back at her with those sad, small eyes.

Such were Rebecca’s thoughts that she almost didn’t notice a pair of heavy footsteps plodding up the jam-packed street. Not until a nightstick tapped her shoulder did Rebecca turn around.

“Hey, what’s the big idea?” A uniformed cop glowered at her and Jimmy. “You two are holding up all the traffic! Move it! Unless you wanna spend a night in jail!”

“I’ve almost…” Jimmy had ducked behind the time machine and was still tinkering with one of the rearmost vents. He sounded more distracted than concerned. “Rebecca, can you handle it?”

Rebecca leaned over the machine to glare at him. “Oh, sure. Leave me all the fun jobs!”

“You want to get out of here or not?”

“I’m debating leaving you and jumping ahead on my own. I might even grab Einstein and partner up with him. He still owes me that favor.”

“Hey, I’m talkin’ here!” The police officer’s bellow didn’t faze Rebecca. She took her time turning back and looking at his red, sweaty face.

When she didn’t spot a gun anywhere on his belt, Rebecca allowed herself a tiny grin.

“Sorry, Officer,” she purred. With a casual lean back, she reached for the trunk and popped the lid open. Her hand went rummaging inside. “Here, let me help you out…”

As soon as her hand found the hilt, Rebecca let out a cry. She ripped the sword free and raised it over her head, letting out a fierce kiai that would’ve impressed Miyamoto Musashi. Both the cop and that one murderous cabbie panicked and went running for their lives, abandoning their cars in the middle of the already-blocked intersection.

Behind the machine, Jimmy laughed. He clambered up with a cheeky grin. “Got it! Let’s bounce!”

“Finally!”

“Oh, like you’re not having a little bit of fun?”

Rebecca regarded the sword in her hand. It was a real katana, made of folded steel. Forged in the eighteenth century, as a gift from a feudal lord whose life she’d saved from the latest peasant uprising. Of all the souvenirs, this was the one she’d learned to treasure the most.

“If I say yes,” Rebecca asked, “will we get a better jump to France in 1872 this time?”

Jimmy wiped his hands with a greasy rag. “I make no promises.”

“That’s fine. I wanna test this sword on someone’s neck…”

Shaking his head, Jimmy dropped the rag in the trunk and hopped into the driver’s seat. “You jest. I’m splendid. History will bear me out after this.”

Rebecca took the seat beside him, ignoring the stares of New Yorkers as the machine whirred to life again. “He said for the hundredth time…”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “Another Space Manic Monday”

Space is fun to write about when you get the chance. Not always the best place to be, though.


Another Space Manic Monday,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 701

Life aboard the space station Aldrin could be fun sometimes. But today was not one of those days. Today was the day where Dr. Trevor Washington stepped out of his quarters, rubbing at his eyes, and entered what he assumed would be a total quagmire.

In other words, it was a typical Monday morning.

“Doc!” Running down the corridor was Nurse Loretta Jones. Her carefully crafted hair bun had fallen into a loose tangle around her shoulders. “Thank goodness you’re here! It’s—”

“Too damn early for this,” Trevor grumbled. He turned and pushed the button for an instant coffee from a nearby vending machine. The machine whirred, and a crude brown liquid trickled down into a Styrofoam cup. With limited access to beans imported from Earth, the steaming hot liquid only vaguely tasted like coffee. Trevor swallowed the concoction without another thought.

“Who is it today?” he asked. “MacGregor or Collins?”

“MacGregor,” the nurse answered, “but he—”

“Ha!” Trevor slapped at his knee. “Called it. Dr. Bannister owes me ten bucks.”

Nurse Loretta didn’t seem at all amused. Trevor thought she’d look better after he’d had more coffee, and he went for a refill.

“Sir,” she added, “he has a hostage this time.”

Trevor paused halfway into his second cup. He lowered his coffee slowly.

“Maybe you’d better show me,” he said.


On board the Aldrin, everyone had their own way of coping with being stuck out on a research venture in the middle of deep space. Some played cards. Others read books. Trevor was a fan of drinking until he fell asleep to old episodes of The X-Files. Not the most glamorous approach, but with no decent partners to sleep with, he had few appealing options.

For Ensign Johnny MacGregor, he took pride in rebuilding a classic GI Joe action figure. Something to keep his focus during the long, dark hours in the station’s depths. Trevor knew this from the boy’s records. He also knew because he was now following broken pieces of the toy down an empty corridor. Trevor tried not to grumble whenever his boot accidentally caught on one. A dose of coffee could only do so much for his balance.

Inside the kitchen, he found MacGregor pressed up against a wall beside the autochef. The young man’s eyes bulged, and he held frantically held a wooden spatula to the throat of a terrified girl in an engineer’s uniform. Denise or Diane—Trevor was sure her name was one of them. He gave her a sad smile, and then he looked at MacGregor with a dismal stare.

“Johnny,” he said, using the patient tone of an exhausted parent, “we’ve been over this. Amphetamines are not the solution to our problems.” He paused. “Sometimes a welcome distraction, but not the solution.”

“Stay back!” MacGregor hissed.

“What happened?” Trevor asked. He folded his arms across his chest. “Come on. Let’s talk it over.”

MacGregor paused. The spatula trembled in his hand. “It’s Mackenzie. She… she chose Brad over me! After everything we’ve been through!”

Trevor sighed and looked away. Again with these insipid love triangles. Somedays, he felt like he was living inside a young adult novel. And not one of the good ones either. It had to be one sitting on a dusty shelf in a discount bookstore, in the same strip mall as a McDonald’s.

“Here,” said Trevor, “put the spatula down and we’ll sort this out. You’ll forget all about Mackenzie soon enough.”

“I’ll never forget her!” shouted MacGregor.

“Sure you will. We’re testing some great memory suppressant drugs back in the lab.”

MacGregor hesitated. Trevor made a show of looking down at the chrono unit on his wrist and tapping his foot. Only a matter of time, he thought. And then, just like that, MacGregor lowered the spatula. His young hostage fled the kitchen, and Trevor guided him out by the arm.

They tried not to step on the broken GI Joe pieces outside. Looking over at his patient, Trevor decided then and there that he’d put in a transfer request before today’s shift was done. He didn’t care if space was one giant leap for mankind.

He’d rather deal with the hardworking loonies back on Earth.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.