Glitter and BOOM

Audiophiles, Listen Here:

The target’s name was Sheila Hamspelter, codename “SHELIA.” We let Brian come up with the codename, and you get what you get with Brian. My plan for infiltration was simple. We would ride in on flowers and disperse from there, achieving maximum coverage over several days. Brian fell on his flat face during the briefing, volunteering an unsolicited suggestion about macramé plant hangers, and we left him there until Darla helped him up. Darla can’t resist his damn twinkle and everyone knows it. If he wasn’t part of my lot, he’d still be stuck on the kids’ table.

I had the team count off, but I got a little dozy around 24,000. I thought my lack of nerves was a good sign. Regina, my second-in-command, shook me toward the end and hissed, “Julie!” I fluttered awake. Pep talk time.

“We are going into the field today. Some of you will shine. Some of you will be consigned to the garbage dumps of history. Know that, no matter what, you have made the world a brighter place, if only for a moment.” Brian started bawling. I glared at him until he quieted down enough for me to continue. “Let’s get into it!” I yelled, but the moment was lost.

The camouflaging process was simple but unpleasant. A bunch of Gerbera daisies, dyed impossibly multi-hued neon, were dipped in glue, then dipped in us. The suffocating chemical gunk would secure most of us to the petals long enough to get inside, but just barely. I tried not to move as I felt the bond tightening. Regina was next to me, just close enough to talk without overlapping at the corners.

“Julie?” she asked.

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think we should have brought Brian. Look at him.” I looked, and she was right. There he was, barely secured and flapping already. Leave it to Brian to compromise a mission just by existing.

“BRIAN!” I yelled, and he nearly fell off right then. “Secure yourself!” He tried, smearing hapless blotches of glue all over himself. Crap. I had to hope he made it to the front door at this rate.

On the way to the location, some of my troops flaked. It’s inevitable, but it always makes me sad. They feel the call of Brownian motion like a siren’s song, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Someday, we may meet again, such is the nature of diffusion, but for now they will shine alone and mostly unnoticed. I checked on Brian. He was still flapping away on a neon green petal like a kite stuck in a tree.

The house was big, two bright yellow stories with a garage. Mission SHELIA was residence only. The mission’s namesake, Sheila, was a thin, blade-faced woman with graying brown hair rubber-banded into a puny, untidy bun. She was wearing a brown, shapeless dress with an inexplicable tiny pocket on one pancake-thin breast. She opened the door with a tight smile and accepted the vase of flowers with a few polite words. Once the door was shut, she looked at the daisies and sniffed loudly, holding them, and us, at arms-length.

“Why did he think I’d like these? Gaudy nonsense,” she muttered. With an attitude like that, Sheila was going to be very unpleasantly surprised by the results of SHELIA. She marched into her kitchen and set the vase on the white laminated table. White everything, actually, including a white tile floor. She left the room, still berating the sender. Lucky guy.

“Julie, look at the floor!” Regina whispered.

“I know, I know. I don’t know how we missed that in the briefing. We’re just going to have to deal with it.”

“Deal with it? How? By getting half the troops ‘cuumed?”

“If that’s all we can do, yes, that’s what we’ll do. Let’s try being smart first, though.” I glared at her and she averted her eyes. Regina wasn’t queen. I was in command.

I sent a whisper order through the ranks—no movement until the hausfrau was down for the night. I really need to rethink the whole “whisper order” thing. By the time it got to Brian, clearly something had been lost in translation. With an anemic battle cry, Brian launched himself off his lucky petal and into the air. One solitary square of pink glitter, falling onto the bright white tabletop and sitting there, sparkling and exposed. Darla screamed.

“Brian!” I yelled. “Get moving!” He wasn’t the fastest flake, but maybe he could make it to the slightly less obvious floor before Sheila returned. He started crawling across the table top, so sluggish that it seemed like slow-motion. “Double time!” I screamed, making him lose his grip and flatten again. My foil started to peel as I realized he wasn’t going to make it off the table in time.

Sheila came back into the room with her phone up to one ear. Her voice was incongruous against her wicked witch casual outfit, almost melodious.

“Yes, Arthur, I got the flowers. It’s so very sweet of you to remember…” There was more. It was sickening, but it was a distraction we sorely needed.

I kept chanting encouragement to Brian. “C’mon buddy, you can do it.” Regina was quivering next to me, ready for orders and not sure what they were going to be. Sheila was doing busywork with one hand while she fawned over Arthur. When she grabbed a dishcloth and started wiping the already spotless counters, I knew it was only a matter of time. Brian was going to be wiped right in front of me by this monster.

 “Hmmph.” Sheila didn’t miss that something was amiss in her psychotically clean kitchen. Damn it. I expected her to wipe him with the dishcloth, but instead she turned her back to walk over to the sink, reaching under it for a canister of cleaning wipes. Brian was dumb, and he’d practically done this to himself, but he didn’t deserve to get wiped. He was my lot number, another Rose Gold Holographic #457, and I couldn’t abandon him.

“Julie, what are you thinking?” Regina whispered. She could always tell when I’d made up my mind.

“We are going to save Brian. Strength in numbers, Regina. We are going full assault mode.”

“But Julie—”

“No. Brian named this operation. SHELIA is a go. TROOPS, READY GLITTER BOMB!” I yelled. Regina nodded, the doubt on her shiny gold face replaced by sharp determination. She turned and barked orders.

Sheila pulled a wipe from the canister and frowned at the flowers. “I don’t know why he thought I’d like these damn things.” Arthur did not know what he was getting into.

I turned to Regina. It was our best chance. Not today, Sheila. You will not win today.

“FOR GLITTER AND GLORY!” I screamed.

“WE WILL SHINE FOREVER!” she screamed back, thousands of voices joining her. I peeled myself from the glue, feeling the familiar gut-wrenching fear of that final pull and free-fall, swirling down toward Brian and the battle that was about to commence. All at once, thousands of flakes of glitter rained down around me, a sparkling storm of rage and fury, covering the table and a good circle of the floor.

Sheila frowned again and flinched back slightly, unsure what she was looking at. Well, she should be. GLITTER BOMB was the nuclear option. BOOM. I managed to land close to Brian and started pushing him off the table. “Well, for chrissakes,” Sheila muttered and stepped to the table. Her first swipe took out a whole sparkling swath. Troops jumped off the disinfecting cloth if they could, but we lost at least a battalion.

“Go, go, GO!” I yelled at Brian, getting him to speed up slightly. I had my eye on the carpeting through the kitchen doorway, but it was impossibly far. We used the slight air movement from Sheila’s aggressive wiping to bump across the table a few inches, nearly to the edge.

The gigantic hand came down again, and I felt the shadow of the disinfecting wipe on my dull side. I didn’t scream, because Brian had that covered, high-pitched as a bat. The cloth came down on us and I felt its suffocating weight, its sticky, viscous liquid sucking us into the chaos of captured troops. “BRIAN!” I screamed, as I tried not to let go of him, tried to use the glue he’d smeared on himself to hold on.

The dizzying ascent on the cloth made it hard to orient myself, was I on the top or the bottom of the wipe, could I jump? I still had a tiny corner of Brian, I’d managed that much, but it wasn’t going to last. The movement stopped and we were face to face with Sheila as she stared at the wipe in disgust. “Damn stuff just all fell off at once,” she mused. I hoped she’d laugh, or scream, or launch into an opera—anything to create air movement, but she turned to walk to the trash can and casually murder thousands of flakes of glitter. Regina was trapped in a fold. She winked out as I watched. This was all going sideways.

I saw my chance, though. Sheila was brisk, efficient, and that meant her arms were moving. I timed the jump perfectly. Just before the endpoint of the swing of her arm, I used the momentum to tear both of us off the wipe. I could see a few other flakes doing the same, perfectly timed to use physics to our advantage. We fluttered through the air further out from the table than most of the others, though I could see a few using Sheila’s slippers to hitchhike already.

We landed gently and skidded a few more inches toward the kitchen doorway. Sheila took the canister of wipes over to the table and continued her busy massacre. The troops on the floor were all headed to the same place we were. Beyond the kitchen door was carpeting, not thick shag, but some kind of Berber that was even better. She’d never get us out of that.

We were about a foot and a half away from this nirvana when Sheila finished up the table and noticed the floor. Three more steps and she had a broom and dustpan on a long handle out from beside the refrigerator.

“BRIAN. You have to hurry up or we’re going to get swept.”

“Sure, Julie, okay,” the dim-witted flake said back, “but I don’t think I can go any faster. I keep gluing to the floor.”

I sighed. Of course, that’s what was slowing him down. “Brian, I’m going to tell you to do something, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but it might save you. Glue yourself to me.”

“Wha….?” Brian looked shocked.

“Just shut up and do it. We’ll figure out how to undo it later.” Brian was staring at me, wide-eyed. “DO IT,” I commanded, and he finally got the idea that I was serious.

I felt the glue first, then a claustrophobic sensation of being covered. It was a good thing we were the same lot, or he might have had overhang. I started moving again, hampered only slightly by the extra weight. I made it another three inches, all the while listening to Brian chatter happily as if this were a carnival ride.

His inane monologue turned screamy and I looked up. The broom hit the floor between me and the carpeting with a swishy rustle, the straws spreading and deflecting to create the maximum sweeping area. I studied the broom, looking for an opening, anything. There was none. I was going to have to do something I’d only heard of, but never seen. I was going to have to swurf my way around this monster.

I faced the broom, raising my surface up off the floor so that only my four corners touched, trying to create maximum surface for lift. I had to hope Sheila was a vigorous sweeper. I needed maximum airflow to create the difference in pressure to transform me into a sail. I’d studied the equations, hell, I’d even lectured on it, but doing it in the field was a whole new level.

Sheila didn’t disappoint. She gave the broom an angry pull, creating an awesome wave of air in front of it. I adjusted slightly and when it reached me, I pushed off the ground. Brian squealed, fear or excitement, I don’t know, and we were airborne in a swirling current. It took all my strength to maintain the right shape and flex. The air pushed in front of the broom rushed violently backwards, filling the vacuum left in its wake, and we rode that current in a dizzying circle. I saw others pushed in front of the broom, some attempting to swurf to no avail. I closed my eyes as we headed for the floor behind the broom, hitting and skidding toward the carpeting.

My exhilaration at being closer was short-lived, as the broom came for us again. I went cornertips and rode the next air current out the same way. Brian was whooping, now, and I wished he’d shut up and let me concentrate. I bobbled the landing and we were Brian-side-down.

“Brian! You’re going to have to get us there!” I screamed, afraid that he wouldn’t realize until it was too late. “BRIAN! GET MOVING!”

Slowly, I felt motion toward the carpet. We were only a few inches away. Maybe, for once in his shiny existence, Brian could do this. I kept urging him on, telling him he was doing great, and he was. I dared to hope.

The barrier that came down between us and the edge of the carpet was an aged corduroy house slipper, brown and full of Sheila’s foot. I admit, I screamed this time, causing Brian to fall flat on the floor. “Be still,” I whispered. It was all we had. I prayed for poor eyesight, for a distraction, for a tiger to leap out of the living room and eat the old lady. None of those things happened. Sheila bent down to the white tile and poked me with her pointer finger. It was slightly sticky from the wipes, and we were lifted, captive and helpless.

Brian was sobbing now, convinced he’d doomed both of us with his failure. It got to me. He’d tried so hard at the end. I had to do something. I worked a corner free from Sheila’s skin, enough so that I could see as she lifted us, straightening. That’s when I saw it. Her pocket, the stupid useless little pocket on her dress, was gaping open as she moved. It was our only chance, and it wasn’t the carpet, but it was still damn good.

I used every last bit of my strength and went completely rigid. Sheila’s fingertip was ridged and slightly curved, and it was just enough to break the seal. We fell in a miraculous straight line, gravity unchallenged by air currents or Sheila’s momentum, and landed right in the old lady’s pocket. She finished standing, and everything went dark.

“Well, where did it go? That stuff gets everywhere and you never get rid of it.”

You have no idea, Sheila, how true that is.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: This story was suggested by faithful reader Katie Lee. A vase of glittery flowers on her table seemed a little more ominous than cheery on a cold day in Minnesota. Rather than tell the standard “creepy admirer” type story, I decided to look at things from the glitter’s point of view. Did it work? Let me know what you think!

PS. If anyone knows how to get WordPress to use proper indentation without a bunch of HTML, please let me know. I don’t write in blocks and I have no idea why I can’t format here the way 99% of writers format all the time. Frustrating.

Now The Day Is Over

Audiophiles, Listen Here:

Everyone sat stiffly in their seats, facing the fully open coffin and large portrait wreathed by pink lilies at the front of the church. Nothing would start without her, and the pianist was on the fourth round of the first song, dragging a little more each time until the tune itself seemed destined for imminent death. People were starting to fidget and surreptitiously check their phones, as if holding it below your knee made it invisible. No text reading “Funeral cancelled, thx anyway!” meant they had to stay in their seats, nearly a hundred hostages to the whims of the old lady.

The church was a Frankenstein’s monster of beautiful old architecture and horrific capitulation to the glad-handing funhouse of modern worship. Soaring stained glass windows depicting the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ were covered by banners announcing the new sermon series, “Being Wordy in a Worldly World.” A cartoon Bible stood in front of a torrent of red and black media, holding out one hand to ward them off. The balconies on either side of the stained glass were blocked off at ground level, unsafe to stand in but too costly to remove, just holy black holes.

A rosewood and gold coffin sat on the stage at the front of the church, cream lining showing on the underside of the open lid. A small stepstool, just two steps, sat on the floor in front of it. The stage was thoroughly modern, with three large LCD screens, all currently looping the same flickering candle from the same angle. To one side of the coffin was the keyboard, a squawky electronic approximation of a piano, with a thin woman hunched over it, back to the crowd. On the other side was a drum set, caged in plexiglass with a plywood roof, as if it were a snake caught in the backyard and hastily caged by an eight-year-old. You think those drums are contained, but they are still going to get out and give the ladies fits.

Rendition five of “You Raise Me Up” was so tired it wasn’t even stirring the air, let alone lifting anyone up. Blessedly, the door at the back of the church opened. Two figures were silhouetted against bright sunshine. The one on the right was tall and straight, a man’s outline with broad, crisp shoulders. He had long flowing hair that blew slowly in the wind outside with all the drama of a shampoo commercial. The second figure was leaning heavily on him, a hunched form with a cane in her free arm. She had to reach up to his elbow, so stooped was her body in comparison to his. Here she was, nearly an hour late. The mourners shuffled and sighed, relieved that they were not there for nothing.

The pianist abruptly ended the song with an inappropriately cheerful set of trilling flourishes and launched into a new tune, “Abide With Me.” She played it at a pace that seemed downright jaunty compared to her previous snail’s slide, and it woke up any attendees who’d been dozing in the warm sanctuary. The pair moved inside and the door swung softly shut behind them.

The man was in a black suit and turquoise bolo tie. His romance hero’s hair framed a face full of sadness that sobered the annoyed crowd. After all, late had two meanings, didn’t it? His eyes were puffy and damp, and as he walked down the aisle, a tear made its way down one cheek to fall silently on the carpet. Earl, the son, was the one who would grieve in fullness, and he deserved sympathy.

The old woman on his arm was Trudy Gatewood. Standing at 5’ 2”, considerably reduced from the 5’ 6” of her youth, she walked slowly and painfully toward the front. Her face was creased and recreased, as if some incompetent origami student had only money for one piece of paper. Her mouth pulled down sharply and she looked at the floor with concentration while she walked, gravity her constant foe. Her eyes were hooded, sunken, not visible to most of the mourners as she made painful progress past them. Those sitting on the aisles glimpsed the yellowed sclera and nearly black irises of her eyes, veins covering them in cobwebs of red. She wore a pale gray dress, her bent fingers heavy with rings. A small oddly cheerful hat with a lily perched on one side of her iron hair.

Trudy was halfway to the front of the church when the pianist ran out of song. There was rattling of papers as she frantically shuffled to find the next piece of music. The old woman stopped moving and looked up, eyes sharp and mouth set.

“Luanne,” she croaked, “leave it to you to make a hash of this. Just play anything.” Trudy shook her head and looked at the floor, not moving until Luanne started plunking out “Danny Boy,” a song that had nothing to do with anything, but she had memorized. Trudy sighed loudly, but it was enough to get her moving again. The mourners widened their eyes at each other. Trudy was going to be Trudy, even today.

Two rounds of “Danny Boy” later, after a painfully slow progression up the two steps to the stage, Earl and Trudy stood in front of the open casket. Luanne quietly faded out the music and stood hastily, screeching the chair legs so loudly she scared herself and nearly fell off the stage running to the back of the church. Earl looked down at his mother and she looked up at him. “You’re sure?” he asked.

“You betcha,” Trudy rasped. She threw her cane down with a sharp clatter that startled the mourners. She grabbed onto Earl’s arm with one gnarled hand and used him as a stair railing to climb the two steps in front of the coffin. With the open edge at waist height, she looked down into the box. “Yes, this’ll do,” she murmured. She let go of Earl and put both hands on the coffin’s edge, leaning into it. The crowd held their breath, not sure how this would go. The coffin stand swayed a little, it was flimsier than it should have been, and Trudy leaned back, still holding on. “You’re going to have to help, Earl,” she said, and he nodded.

Trudy let go and held up her arms to Earl, the mother aping the universal “pick me up” of children, and Earl bent slightly to comply. His mother put her withered arms around his neck as he lifted her in an easy threshold carry, her substance now nearly insubstantial, and he mounted the bottom step, holding her over the empty coffin.

“Owww!” he said sharply as he bent to lay her in the cream satin, halting suddenly with his neck at an uncomfortable angle. One of Trudy’s arms was on her chest and the other was tangled by her rings in Earl’s luxurious hair. “Ow, Mom, stop, stop,” he barked as she tried to pull the hand free.

“Well, I always told you that hair was foolishness, didn’t I?” Trudy continued to pull and Earl shuffled slightly on the step, trying to lessen the pain and come up with a plan. The mourners couldn’t see exactly what was going on—was the old woman pulling his hair for some reason?

“A little help, please!” Earl bellowed. Startled into action, Luanne jumped up from her perch on a folding chair and flew toward the stage. When her hurried steps brought her halfway up the aisle, Trudy gave a great yank, succeeding in freeing her hand, a large chunk of Earl’s hair, and herself from his grasp all at the same time. Earl made a fumbling, desperate toss and Trudy flew into the casket with a loud thudding clatter like a sack of potatoes dropped from a height. Earl fell off the step onto the stage with another thud and cried out in pain as he cracked an elbow on the floor. The stand wobbled but held, and the mourners let out their collective breaths.

“Well, now she’s in, at least,” Luanne muttered, collecting sharp looks from those close enough to hear. It was very bad manners to act anything but heartbroken at these things, even if she was a tyrant and made your life a living hell. Luanne caught the looks and blushed. She put her head down and rushed back to her seat.

Earl struggled up, favoring his elbow, and bent worriedly over the casket to check on his mother. One gnarled hand popped above the edge, holding a hank of his torn-out hair. “Here’s your crowning glory!” Trudy cackled. Earl’s face darkened and he snatched the hair away to stuff it in his suit pocket.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said mechanically, and reached up to unfasten the bottom half of the split casket lid. “Good-bye, Mother.” Earl’s eyes were streaming, but it was hard to say if it was from emotion or his smarting scalp.

“Good-bye, Earl,” she croaked, and he closed the bottom half of the casket, leaving the top portion open to reveal her face and part of her torso. Trudy had passed. Her part in this ceremony was over, just as her part in the world was, and she would now go to her eternal reward as scheduled. They needed to keep rolling, though, or they wouldn’t get out of the church in time to avoid a fine.

Earl bowed his head briefly and turned to the assembly. All were silent, ready for the eulogy he would surely have prepared and practiced many times.

“Well, folks, my mother asked me to keep this brief, so I will.” It was brief. A five-minute synopsis of Trudy’s unexceptional life, mother, wife, utility billing clerk, a few generic statements about “not dwelling on the loss, but remembering when she was with us,” and a reading that sounded like it came directly from one of the sympathy cards near the guest book.

Earl stopped talking. The silence stretched uncomfortably. He stared at the windows in the back of the church for so long that people turned to look. Just windows. The stained glass dove in the middle was a little streaky from the injudicious application of birdshit by its live counterparts, but the soiled dove wasn’t some relevant symbolism, was it? Murmuring built in the crowd as they asked their pew-mates what was happening.

Behind Earl, a hand appeared at the edge of the casket, four fingers gripping the rosewood, bejeweled and shaky. They tightened, and with apparent strain, the old woman levered her head off its silk pillow high enough to see out. “What in His name are you doing, Earl?” she demanded. The mourners gasped. Once someone had passed, they didn’t pop up to comment on the funeral.

“Oh!” Earl jumped. “Nothing. I just forgot what was next.”

“Well, that’s because LU-ANNE was supposed to be up here already. LU-ANNE!” Trudy barked. Luanne launched off her chair and ran up the aisle, her low heels giving her an uneven gait, like a wobbly seagull. As the crowd gaped, Trudy turned her attention to them. “BOO!” she yelled, and half of them jumped. Her face broke into a wide grin and she laid back down, chuckling at the shock and dismay of her “loved ones.” They were reconsidering whether a share of the estate equalization was worth being associated with this. Trudy’s hand slowly slid back into the casket. Her laughter was muffled by the wood and satin, but everyone could still hear it.

Luanne fixed that by launching into a heavy-handed version of some classical piece. It sounded like a gang of Vikings was going to storm the church any second. It wasn’t calming, but it was progress, and at this point, people just wanted it over with. Such shocking behavior from Trudy probably shouldn’t have surprised them, but they had assumed she’d be better after she’d passed. Rising up out of the coffin to act up was just too much.

A brave soul seated on the aisle in the second row stood and walked toward the front, starting a confused stampede not unlike airline passengers deplaning after the world’s most turbulent flight. The man, Trudy’s doctor for the last five years, made his way to the casket and looked down. He murmured the Prayer, a standard wish for eternal peace, and hustled off the stage and out the side door. Mourners from the front three rows followed, repeating the Prayer and speed-walking to the bright sunshine outside. Luanne kept pounding through the music until Earl patted the air in front of her in a “calm it down” request for less volume.

Mourner #43, a shirttail relative and opportunist named Barnard, took a good long look in the box. Trudy had her eyes closed, mostly, though she was cracking one open occasionally to see who was looking at her, and her arms were down at her sides now, one hand in a pocket. The bodice of the gray dress floated over empty air deserted by her gravity-affected breasts. Her face sagged toward the pillow, smoothing and pooling into jowls. She looked like she was melting. Barnard made a face and wrinkled his nose.

Trudy was peeking for sure. A jet of liquid sprayed from the lily on her hat and hit Barnard directly in the face. He flinched back, then he screamed. “What was that?! My eyes! It’s burning!” He scrubbed at his face with his hands, making it worse. Luanne jangled to a stop, turning and staring with wide eyes. The absence of music made Trudy’s giggles audible. Earl sniffed, then coughed.

“It’s just vinegar, Barnard,” he said, trying to hold the man’s hands away from his face and making him more combative. “You’ll be okay, but you need to wash out your eyes. Luanne!” She jumped up and came over to the injured man, trying to grab an arm and help Earl calm him. Barnard hit her a glancing blow in the nose for her trouble, causing a dramatic fountaining nosebleed. Luanne clutched her face and ran for the bathroom, crashing through the waiting line of people and smearing blood on several of them. Their noises of disgust were too much for Trudy, who levered herself up again to see what was going on. Taking in the blood trail, fleeing Luanne, and struggling pair on stage, she cackled again and laid back down.

Several of the mourners in the rear of the line quietly made their way out the opposite end of the church. They would forfeit their shares, but the old woman’s money wasn’t worth playing a part in this fiasco. Earl saw them go and frowned, but he wasn’t in a position to do anything with Barnard in a headlock.

Earl wrestled Barnard off the stage toward the bathrooms and yelled, “Keep going!” The next person in line stood well back to mutter the Prayer. The rest of the line paid their rushed and physically removed respects. Trudy broke into unnerving laughter at random intervals, further disturbing them. After the last person in line had exited the door to the right, Trudy waited a few minutes, expecting the ceremony to proceed, but nothing happened.

“EARL?” she called in the empty sanctuary. No answer. “EARL? Where are you at?” she called again. A representative of the National End Service rushed out finally. It wasn’t protocol, but this service was so far into bonkers, what was one more breach?

“I’m sorry, Ms. Gatewood, but Earl is tending to the injured man and Luanne has not come back. I’m Garvin, from the NES. Can I do something for you?”

“You can get right back out of here, Garvin,” she shrilled. “I don’t need you vultures rushing me out of here!” The departed woman looked at her watch. “I have ten more minutes in here!”

Garvin nodded and scuttled out, nearly bumping into Earl as he made his way back to his mother. Earl frowned. “We still have ten minutes, don’t we?”

“Yes, yes, so sorry, just trying to help. Your mother was asking for you.”

“I’m sure she was asking for ME, not you.” Earl pushed past the man and walked to the casket. He took one last look at his mother, the woman who had both loved and tormented him, the strong personality in the weakened body, and whispered, “Bye now.”

Trudy was silent, and kept her eyes shut as he lowered the remaining half of the casket lid, turning the latches until it was secured. He rested one hand on the rosewood lid, softly reciting the Prayer with his head bowed, loose hair hiding his face. Only when he’d finished did he signal the NES man that they could proceed. Five minutes to spare. Luanne crept out of the bathroom, blood down the front of her pale yellow dress, and seeing that it was all over, went to the coat closet on the side of the stage to get her long coat. She had wads of toilet tissue in each nostril.

“Well, that’s it then, isn’t it?” Luanne said, as nasal as a school secretary over an intercom.

“Yep.” Earl wiped a hand down his face, looking as if the last hour had aged him ten years.

“It was fine, wasn’t it?” Luanne said anxiously, still looking for approval from someone, anyone.

“It was just how she would have wanted it.” Earl put an arm around Luanne’s thin shoulders and squeezed briefly, then walked slowly out the church’s front doors into his motherless new world.


Copyright 2019 by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: This is one my own ideas, something I thought up in the shower. The image of a son escorting his elderly mother into a funeral is one that strikes a heartstring. Assumptions are made. I thought…wouldn’t it be funny if they just kept going and she climbed into the casket? Well, funny to me, anyway. I hope you enjoyed it. I used this idea to give me time to produce a quality story from a reader suggestion for next time–a story about sparkly flowers and hidden agendas. See you again in a couple of weeks.

PS. If you’re enjoying the stories, please don’t hesitate to share them! I’m committed to doing this for a year, and it will only be more fun with more people. Send ideas to idea@storymcstoryface.com or leave them in the comments.

PULSE

Rejoice, Audiophiles! Listen here:


I was trying to change the world in my own small way. When I say that, I’m not being modest. I was trying to change the world with my patented nano-exploration technology. It’s small, and I own it. I do love precision.

The ocean floor trip wasn’t my idea. The spaceheads insisted I hadn’t sufficiently proven unconstrained pressurized environments, which was bullshit, but I needed their money to pay off the first investors. I’m a genius, not an accountant.

The compression process caused some fuzziness in my thoughts. It was a brief high, like I’d popped a couple of quick synoids without limiters. I checked to make sure I’d come through without distortion. I could see my brown eyes and brown crewcut in the mirror-like surface of the capsule wall, my thin, naked body as uninspiring as ever. The slouch between my shoulder blades from too much computer use, the thatch of brown wisps around equipment that never saw use. All ship-shape. I grabbed a miniature towel to preserve the illusion of my modesty, even though my assistant monitored the whole process.

This chamber is the first part of my system. To put it in terms the average person might understand, I squeeze the space out of atoms. Not all of it, the electrons still need to move, but 99.9996% of it can go. I’d gone from 194cm to about 4.5cm in the chamber. I can also pump the space back in, so to speak. It’s hard on your body—I was close to my personal limit—but I only needed it to work once more. It was spacehead money or bust.

The second part is the good part, the reason the spaceheads came to me and not someone else. You’d assume I still weighed 68kg, because all I took out was space, but you’d be wrong. My real genius ideas, the patented ones, are the ones that make me (or anything) weigh a proportionate amount to its new size. I’m not going to explain because you wouldn’t understand it, but I weighed less than one kilogram. I’d feel a little on edge but completely functional.

The third part of the system was a suite of miniaturized envirosuits and vehicles engineered so tiny people could go where no one had gone before. The spaceheads were slobbering for these, and I would make huge risk-free money on them. That’s probably why I agreed to do the sea thing, which was not risk-free, even after we’d passed all the lab tests.

“You okay, Dr. Hurley?” Delaney asked, putting down a small cage I could be safely carried in. The last thing I needed was to be dropped on the floor and splattered like Humpty Dumpty.

“Yes, thank you, Delaney.” A middle-aged woman with good credentials, my lab assistant wasn’t young or beautiful, but she was competent and dedicated. She carried me over to the table and turned her back as I put on a miniature dive suit and tank.

When she turned, she was chewing on her chapped bottom lip, a tic she should have outgrown 20 years ago. “I don’t think you should do this,” she blurted. Her cheeks flamed red at her boldness. “I don’t think it’s safe. The probabilities suggest a much higher risk of loss than you told astrotravel.”

I frowned up at her from the table. “The test is set and the spaceheads are expecting the results in three days. It can’t wait.”

“I know the astrotravel people want it, but I have a really bad feeling.”

“Feelings don’t pay the bills, Delaney. As we have discussed before, this lab is no place for feelings.” She flinched, and I knew that was a low blow, but I needed her to focus on her end of the experiment. She really would lose me if she was wringing her hands instead of tracking.

“Yes, Dr. Hurley,” she muttered. She went back to work, avoiding eye contact and keeping her vague issues to herself, where they belonged.

She hardly spoke to me during the van ride or the trip out to sea. That worked for me. I was redoing calculations in my head, making sure the force on the ocean floor wasn’t going to compress my body beyond functioning. I’d done these calculations hundreds of times, and done sims in the comp environment, but this was going to be life-or-death. My life or death. When we hit the coordinates, the captain cut the engines and I switched on my locator.

I attached the thin retrieval cord to my suit, made of carbon fiber to reduce weight and drag. We tested the communicators, and I swear mine frosted up a little at Delaney’s tone, but everything was working. She dropped me in the water a little faster than necessary and I felt more like a chunk of bait than a scientist. Oh, wide ocean, you are deep and full of terrors, but you have nothing on a woman scorned.

I made the descent smoothly, recording data at each depth checkpoint. My body was working fine, nothing bothering me, respiration normal. Your breathing is the first thing to go if there’s a problem, at least I think it is, so I watch like a coal miner with a pet canary.

I would be on the ocean floor at the desired depth for ten minutes. It wasn’t as long as the spaceheads wanted, but it was long enough to show I wasn’t just holding my breath. It was gorgeous down there. Very little sunlight made it down from the surface, and my headlamp’s glow reflected off the quartz and pyrite crystals in the sand, a dazzling diamond palace. I adjusted the filter on my helmet lamp to keep from blinding myself.

“Delaney, how much longer do we have on the clock?”

“Nine minutes exactly,” she replied, distant but calm. I decided to throw her a conciliatory line, feeling bad about rubbing salt in her wound earlier.

“Great, it’s really amaz—”

From behind, powerful suction knocked me off my feet and my body rushed backwards, bent in two like a folding chair. My safety line trailed from its connection on my suit, pulling slack that Delaney must have noticed. Sand and grit, the size of gravel at this scale, started to billow around me.

“What is it? What’s going on?” Delaney barked.

“Rogue current,” I panted, fruitlessly fighting the pull of the water.

“Go with the current!” Delaney yelled, and I realized she was right. I’d die fighting it, but maybe I’d survive if I reserved my strength. As long as I didn’t exhaust my air, I’d be fine until she could reel me in. I rolled into a ball and flipped my body, a college diver again, putting my hands above my head in the swimmer’s prayer. I was moving fast, a shark now, unable to see through the disturbed muck. I had to hope that the current wasn’t going to toss me into a rock and break my neck.

“I’m swimming with it,” I gasped, trying to give Delaney some indication that the situation was improving. “Just keep track of my lo—” As suddenly as it had started, the current stopped. I continued forward momentum, but the current was no longer pulling. My line fell into a loop behind me as Delaney continued to feed out slack. “Stop!” I barked. “I’m not moving anymore, don’t put any more line—”

Without warning, the water moved again. I was pulled off balance, dragging slack line behind me. After a few inches, I was jerked to a halt as the loop of line caught on something in the sand. The current wasn’t letting up, but I felt my line pulled back toward the boat, jerking against whatever rock or coral it was snagged on as it grew taut.

“Delaney! Wait!” was all I got out before she gave the line a big panicked yank. It shredded against a sharp edge on the object and separated. The end still attached to the boat zipped away in a trail of tiny bubbles, and I was again caught by the current. “Delaney!” I yelled. My locator would tell them where to pick me up, but I suddenly felt very small and vulnerable, an astronaut left to drift in hostile space.

My pity party didn’t waste any time yelling “Surprise!” I slammed into something behind me, not hard edges of coral, but soft and yielding, like a thicket of sea grass. The tendrils swayed and buffeted me as the current continued to rush through them. My relief was quickly replaced by the sensation that something wasn’t right. I was too deep for sea grass, and it should have been moving with the current, not in every direction.

As my body recovered, I tried to make sense of what little I could see. My light was still on, but the waving plants made shadows as they covered the lens and moved away, making it hard to get oriented. The branched fronds were nearly white and somewhat translucent, with fringed ends. I couldn’t identify it. I’d have to look it up when I was back on the surface. I dug an elbow in, trying to lever myself out of it.

The current stopped again, helping to free me. I kicked back into the grass, trying to swim away. That was a mistake. The tentacles of the creature, realizing I was live prey, shot after me and wrapped around my legs and neck. Not sea grass. Not even close. I could feel the pressure of each limb as it groped over me, exploring every inch of my suit. The tentacles clamped and receded, clamped and receded, moving me into their center. I could feel them slithering across my suit, across me, and it was like lying in a pit of snakes, letting them writhe over you while you desperately suppressed the urge to move. As the thing turned my body, I finally got a look at it, the source of the soft, slithering manacles.

A black hole was open in front of me, a mouth big enough to engulf me. I recovered from my shock enough to scream. Fighting against the hold of the creature did nothing but increase its resolve to ingest me. It clamped down harder, squeezing my breath out and halting my struggle. I slid, helpless to resist, headfirst into the gullet of the monster.

My comms came to life. “Why….you…eaming? …at happe…. oh god…..Travis….god!” Delaney’s voice was cutting out. The comms weren’t optimized for intracreature use.

On the inside, I took a few deep breaths as the pressure of the tentacles lessened. Water came barreling in through the mouth and I felt myself lodging further down the digestive tract. As the creature squeezed its body again, I felt an inner heat, like burning from the inside. My light wasn’t showing me anything but white and pink flesh clouded by suspended sea floor muck.

The pulses were steady and relentless. The pink flesh molded to my body and squeezed, and I became disoriented and hot, so hot. Breathing wasn’t the first thing to go, it was temperature control. Interesting. The seawater rushing in cooled my body enough to clear my head, but it only lasted a few seconds. Then the walls would contract again, immobilizing and confusing me. I gave up on controlling my body while I tried desperately to control my mind.

Sea cucumber. The thought popped in during a lucid moment and it seemed right. I’d been sucked into a large sea cucumber. That was bad, but something worse was going on, and I couldn’t quite grasp it. The red heat of the pulsing kept interrupting as I teased the end of the thread. So hot. All I could think about was the next cycle of heat and pain. Heat. It was something about the heat. Compression and heat.

“Delaney!” I screamed. “I’m going bomb! Do something!” No answer, and the sea cucumber pressed again, and it was hotter, and I faded out. I woke kicking and screaming, a brief moment of relief from the pressure, the pulsing that was going not just to kill me, but leave a crater in the ocean floor a mile wide. I was compressed by my procedure, and under higher than normal pressure on the ocean floor, and now this sea cucumber was going to squeeze out what little space my atoms had left. Then….KABOOM! I kept fighting until the sea cucumber’s muscles closed in again, boiling my body by fractions.

“Trav…we have to…cuate. Will ….. track….but….tain…have to go.” I half heard her voice through the sound of my own blood rushing through my over-heated brain. Cowards. They were trying to outrun a nuclear explosion in a boat. It was laughable.

I screamed again as the heat and pressure wiped out all else. I screamed at the pain and the abandonment. My life was going to end, but worse, my work was going to die with it. I’d be remembered as a fool who’d played with forces he couldn’t harness and destroyed himself and a big section of the ocean. A madman.

When the pressure released, I could still feel heat in my arms and legs. I was getting closer to detonation. I kept screaming. I rallied what strength I had and punched and kicked the sea cucumber’s insides. I braced myself for the next pulse, but the rhythm was disrupted, slower. The monster might not have a brain, but I was triggering something. Say what you want about my lack of social skills, I was distinguishing myself from seafloor muck.

I screamed and kicked, renewed by the hope that I was causing the animal to regret its choices. I tried to turn, to claw my way back out the animal’s mouth, but that was a one-way door. Water rushed in and I was forced backward again. Now I was lodged in feet-first with even less mobility. Dumb, dumb. I flailed ineffectively.

Another squeezing pulse started, but different, more intense. I screamed a rasping sound. My lungs were compressed, my atomic structure was compressed, and I imagined I could feel the electrons hitting their nuclei, fusing in a destructive release of energy. The intensity wasn’t the only difference. The stomach was compressing and moving at the same time, sliding inside the body of the creature, oozing and compacting. Vertigo overtook me, the colors of the creature’s insides blending into a red and black weight on my eyes. The heat felt like blades slicing through me, pulsing and blooming, then receding only to reform at another place.

My mind was scattered, disorganized…here was my 5th birthday party, the one where I ate too much cake and threw up in the pool….here was the first time I had sex, backseat, all over in minutes…here was last year when Delaney declared her “feelings” and I told her that wasn’t a possibility, her crying the whole time, no tissues and tears caught in the folds between her chins, wet and glistening. The end of the world was a trite cliché after all.

The sensation of movement was confused, rhythmic but from too many directions, pressing in and moving my body. The heat and pain and nausea threatened my consciousness again, and I fought, grinding my teeth together until heat shot through the roots. This pain gave me a new focus, and I kicked the stomach walls again. The organ was slickly compressed around me like I’d been coated in solidified mucus, but I felt a slight clenching, creating another wave of hot slicing knives in my body.

I bit down again, trying to get the feeling back, trying to control the pain, but I couldn’t. The sliding sensation intensified with the burning, and my body tried to eject the small amount of food I’d eaten before the dive. I bit harder. The pain expanded from that central point, creating an expanding ring that calmed the chaos a little.

There was one last hard squeeze, igniting my bones this time, internal fire lighting up the nerves so severely that I imagined I could see them, a branching system of molten metal searing its way through my arms, legs, heart. I was still screaming, I think, but not making any sound. My air tank wasn’t in danger of being crushed, and the seals were holding, thankfully, but detonation was seconds away.

With a great pulse and push, I was rocketed through the inside of the sea cucumber. The flesh of the creature rushed by in a sickening motion, a water slide greased with motor oil. I was a comet, bright and burning inside, moving through space at a speed I couldn’t comprehend. The sea cucumber pushed again, more heat, more lateral movement, and then…cool water surrounded me. My light was still on, and it shone dimly through the membrane of the sea cucumber’s stomach. I couldn’t see clearly, but I could see shadows moving, swirling, something that looked like tentacles but didn’t move with purpose, just drifted lazily.

I’d been expelled in the thing’s digestive system. I could feel my body cooling rapidly inside the sea cucumber’s stomach. My thoughts were fuzzy and disorganized, brain damage was likely, but my body was going to go into shock before that could be explored. I was too weak to break out by myself, weak as a child after a high fever has broken.

“Delaney,” I whispered. I tried again, managing an audible noise. “Delaney!” The comms crackled and I worried they were already out of range. The entire ordeal couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes, they couldn’t be that far away yet, could they?

“DELANEY!” I yelled.

“Travis?” Her response was tentative, as if she wasn’t sure it was me. Who the hell else would it be?

“Send the diver,” I said, and then I ran out of things to say for a long time.


Copyright© 2019, Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: I wrote this after a friend posted his opinion that there was no way to make a sea cucumber scary. I, of course, took that as a dare. The result is this little sci-fi piece that uses the brainless little blob as an agent of a larger problem, not the actual monster we should fear at the bottom of the sea. I hope you enjoyed it! Sci-fi isn’t my normal sandbox, so it was fun to kick the dirt around in there. Got something you want me to try next? Send it to ideas@storymcstoryface.com and I’ll get it in the queue.

PS. I am learning audio editing RIGHT NOW. I expect that the quality of the recordings will do nothing but improve. If you like having the audio, drop me a line to let me know.