Walker Learns the Cost of an Emergency Carpet Cleaning: A Short Story

Two men stood outside Walker’s open front door and he debated closing it back in their faces. Thinking Nilah had come to her senses and did in fact want to put that pretty mouth to work like Walker suggested, he answered the door with a grin and an almost empty bottle of vodka in front of his testicles. It was not Nilah, of course it wasn’t, but there was little to do now that he’d answered the door balls to the wind, a gamble in itself. The tall man, stoic with a constellation of dark moles on his face, held a rainbow-striped umbrella that would have been appropriate for a child to use. If he closed the door slowly enough, Walker thought, inch by inch until only his right eye was visible for a moment, then nothing at all, maybe the men would reconsider whether he was worth the hassle. But the second man, short and flat nosed, kept a boot dripping with water just inside the front entryway, a drenched cigarette in between his thumb and forefinger.

“It’s raining cats and dogs out here, Walker. Rude not to invite us in.” The short one said.

It was well past midnight, the only people who knocked on doors at this hour were crooks and hookers. Walker swayed with waves of drunkenness and poked his head into the long hallway where the two men stood. The carpeted hall was empty save for a smell of bleach and moist that was so powerful, forcing itself into every nook and cranny, it could have taken form of it’s own. Generators in the basement fueled the amber lights that flickered overhead, the faint chainsaw racket carried to Walker’s seventh floor apartment, itself illuminated by dozens of candles.

“I’ve got a girl in here,” Walker feigned a sleepy temper, looked at his empty wrist just out of view of the two men, “and it’s way past curfew hours.”

The short one gripped Walker’s shoulder, “There ain’t no girl in there, Walker, and ain’t never gonna be.”

They pushed past the door and the small man splayed out on the olive green sofa bed like a starfish on a psychiatrist’s chair, pulled a fresh cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it, rolled his eyes in pleasure as he exhaled. The only art on the walls was a framed, life sized photo of the Collective that covered an entire wall so that the only window was closed in. The seven faces of the Collective members varied in degree of suspicion and followed anyone who walked in the apartment with intensity. They wore elaborate robes, a different color to represent each branch of the dictatorship. A half empty bowl of grapes sat on a chipped glass coffee table in the middle of the room. The sofa acted as a makeshift bed, filling most of Walker’s apartment where the living room, kitchenette, and bedroom were one and the same, except for where someone had made an attempt to add division, running old carpet into a 2×4 slot of linoleum in the kitchenette. The short one took another hit of his cigarette,

“Would you put some clothes on?”

“Last time I checked it wasn’t illegal for a man to be naked in his own home.” Walker walked to the back of the apartment and disappeared into a tall cabinet. He came out wearing a small red t-shirt and no bottoms, and sat in a sunken armchair opposite the sofa.

“It’s seldom I have guests so I hope this will do.”

The big one’s face was pinched so his eyes, nose, and mouth clustered in the center of it. He stayed mute and stood by the door with his hands clasped in front of him, still holding the damp umbrella in his hands as if it was the one job he was expected to do right. Walker wondered whether he was one of those invalids the state hired out for menial jobs. A soldier returned home far too mad to fit back into society, so had to resort to holding umbrellas over the heads of midget gangsters. He closed the front door but did not move from it.

“Let’s not waste each other’s time. I’ve been told you’ve been saying some things you shouldn’t be.” The short man said.

“Who, me? You know I know better than that.”

But you’ve proven me wrong time and again.” Still reclined, he popped a sour grape in his mouth and rolled it in his cheeks. They sagged like old bulldog cheeks. The generator clicked off then on again. “Do you think I like my job?”

Walker flung his right ankle over the armchair and the two men stared, willing the other to back down first until finally, the short man averted his eyes.

“You tell me.” Walker smirked.

“I don’t, it’s frustrating. Day in day out, I deal with people who think they’re above the law, then they lie right to my face when we both know it doesn’t help none. And it ain’t right, Walker.” He tapped ash on the table and went on, “you tell me, what gives you the right to have me dragged me out here at midnight in the pouring rain, just to lie to me; do you think you’re above the law? Or are you just a inconsiderate, lying turd?”

It had been a stupid mistake which, like most mistakes, started with a date at the local bar and ended in criminal activity. Walker was a proud, loud alcoholic. One tumbler of gin after another, he poured his grievances to Nilah, a young secretary he’d convinced going for a drink together would be a good idea. That evening Nilah bowed over her drink while Walker stood like a street preaching Evangelist, his speech punctuated with burps, and proclaimed he would no longer accept the constant observation of the Collective because, no matter what they managed to convince other people of, he would continue to think the Collective was nothing more than a “collective nuisance”. Nilah said nothing but looked anxious. Downing the rest of her drink she asked a haggard bar woman holding a bored looking baby on her hip for another one.

Now Walker found himself sitting across from two of the Collective’s gangsters, struggling to keep his words straight.

Liar is a strong word.” Walker said.

“What’s a better word for someone who’s been caught lying through their teeth?”

“Unfortunate, I’d say.”

“I’m doing you a huge favor. I would’ve come here solo if I’d been given a choice. But don’t make me have Big Herbert sort you out.”

“You mean he’s not here just to keep your pretty little head dry?”

It had been a few hours since Nilah abandoned Walker and he’d dragged himself home alone. Still happily in the middle of a drunken tip he had no plans of getting sober any time soon, although first seeing the two men at the door had straightened his vision slightly.

“Did you call the Collective a ‘collective nuisance’ or not?”

“I did, but only because I was trying to impress a girl.”

The short man motioned to Big Herbert who muddled over, his trunk-like body dripping water on the carpet.

“That big one’s dripping wet!” Walker jumped off his seat, “carpet cleaners aren’t cheap, you know.”

“Walker, you messed up big time tonight. We’ve made people disappear for much less than that. What do you think we’re going to do to you?” The short man said.

Like a puppet coming to life with a hand in it’s back, Big Herbert removed his coat, boots, and socks, and placed them neatly on the laminate passthrough of the kitchenette. It was then that Walker saw how big Big Herbert was, six foot five and at least 300 pounds, his foam textured hair scraped the comically low ceiling. Crouching down to undo the buttons of his mud colored khaki’s he pulled out an ill proportioned penis, aimed at the coffee table and urinated over all its contents, turning the bowl of grapes into a stomach turning soup.

“Hey!”

Big Herbert swayed left and right, peeing dehydrated amber on the glass until it spilled onto the carpet underneath.

“Hey you!”

“He can keep going on like that for ages, it’s amazing.” The short one watched from the sofa bed, kicking his legs like a blissful toddler.

“Make him stop!”

“He’ll stop when I’m good and ready.” He pointed the lit end of the cigarette at Walker, “I’m warning you now. You know you can’t go round saying and doing whatever it is you want. If we have to come back here, I’ll have him smash your skull without a second thought.” Big Herbert trickled his way to the front door dripping all over his own feet, and pissed on the Welcome rug. “We clear on that?”

Walker watched Big Herbert wizz merrily in a cracked flowerpot that started to overflow.

“Clear as crystal.”

“Good. I’d hate to see you get your brain tossed because you couldn’t learn how to shut up.” The short one threw a white envelope on the soaked coffee table, the edges absorbing yellow. “Report to the bureau tomorrow at 0800 hours. Don’t bring nothing but this letter.”

“Or else Big Herbert’ll take a shit in my bed?”

Finally, Big Herbert shook the last dregs on the plant, buttoned his khakis and dressed himself by the front door as if nothing had happened.

“Or else.”  The words came slow and overpronouced. Big Herbert’s eyes met Walker’s for the first time. They were dark, glossy pinpoints that cooled blood. Holding his pointer and middle finger to his temple with the thumb extended, Big Herbert curled his lips into his mouth then let out a POW as his thumb bent like a trigger.

Walker locked the door knowing it would be little help against the men if they chose to come back. The envelope lay on the table growing more yellowed. Pinching a corner of the paper he peeped through to read what was already visible, Subject: Walker Damsen, Crime: Public Defiance, Sentence: At the discretion of the Collective.


I hope you enjoyed this short, ”upcycled” and edited from last semester’s creative writing class but could still use some fleshing out, I think. This scene was inspired by a scene from Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World (which I highly recommend), and an assignment where something unexpected happens. As usual, comments and feedback are highly appreciated. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Hear ‘Melancholia in Molasses’ on Podcast!

jammiestbitsofjamstrangerminellieustacioHappy Tuesday, friends! Last week had two big writing achievements for me. First, I got to hear my short story in a podcast, and although hearing my own recorded voice will always be an awkward experience, it was also a very rewarding one.

The Jammiest Bits of Jam Storytelling podcast is a monthly podcast featuring themed short stories by female writers. This months theme is “sci fi”, and my short Melancholia in Molasses (which was titled Stranger when I sent the piece in for consideration) is the first of three stories. If you’re a person who likes to hear their fantastical stories, eerie music and all, be sure to give it a listen!

Earlier last week, I also got a pleasant surprise as my post, Literary Magazines Every Emerging Writers Should Read was linked on The Review Review, an online community where writers review literary magazines (among other things), in hopes of sifting down hundreds of journals available – making it easier for readers to narrow down different types of literary magazines and find ones they enjoy. The website features plenty of reviews, writing advice, opinion pieces, and publication tips to make your head spin.

This has definitely been a good week.

 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

themartianIt is no secret that I love science fiction. I walk, live, and breathe Philip K Dick, and that is not an overstatement. So after seeing the trailer of The Martian and falling to my knees in astonishment that maybe – just maybe – a film would not completely annihilate the image I had of a book, I downloaded a copy and read it in record time to get ahead of spoilers that would inevitably come along.

Voted Goodreads Best Science Fiction of the Year (2014) and written by a self proclaimed “space nerd” Andy Weir, this debut novel is a hard science fiction unlike any that has been released in recent years. Hard science fiction sticks relatively close to the constraints physics has in the real world; that means detailed martian maps and excludes faster than lightspeed travel and mind reading alien babies. Heavy in technology, metaphysics, and a whole lot o’ chemistry, The Martian rivals classics like the Rendezvous With Rama series (Arthur C. Clarke) with similar crew dynamics, space exploration, and clever detail.

The Martian is a story of human resilience and resourcefulness. Think resourcefulness that kicks in when a group of people lift a train off a passenger who forgot to mind the gap. Aron Ralston resilience. The story follows the unfortunate aftermath when an Ares 3 mission on Mars is cut short due to high winds, forcing the crew of astronauts to abort their mission only six days in. On the way back to the shuttle astronaut and botanist extraordinaire, Mark Watney, is speared by an antenna and thrown out of sight of his crew. They search in vain before deciding he must be dead and they leave him behind.

Mark grips to consciousness in his breached suit, completely alone, with the low oxygen sensor blaring wildly and sums up his situation and sense of humor in the first line of the book (the one that decided I would upgrade my kindle sample to an entire book download): “Well, I’m pretty much fucked.”

Yes. Yes he is.

With no way to communicate with Earth or his crew members, the bitter thought that no one knows he is alive starts to set in, and he finds the only feasible way of being rescued is to wait for the next Ares mission to arrive. Stocked with 300 liters of water, 400 days worth of meals, twelve potatoes, and other supplies left in the Hab he quickly does the maths and finds he has enough to survive 490 days.

The next Ares mission will not arrive for another 1412 days, four years.
Indeed, he is fucked.

Mostly told through a series of logs typed by an incredibly sympathetic protagonist (now the king of Mars), the story shows how he deals with death and a sudden disconnection from society- with persistent belly laughs.

The Martian is laced heavy with scientific jargon but Mark’s humor being peppered throughout adds a layer that transforms otherwise mundane details into enjoyable moments of the plot. The act of potato farming has never been so interesting before it was placed on Mars, especially as Mark mulls over ideas for “human fertilizer” that will nourish the project. While every decision he makes turns into a choice between life and death (and the occasional choice between reading or listening to disco to pass the static time), all hell breaks loose on Earth after a young woman at NASA surveys photos of the Ares 3 site and spots signs that Mark is alive. The world holds their breath as media coverage turns to watch what, if all goes wrong, could be the first man to die on Mars. As the world looks on and does what it can to support the lone astronaut some scenes are reminiscent of Cast Away with a hint of reality television as Mark fights unknown terrain that tries to kill him at every turn.

The Martian is a story about human connection and how far people will go to help each other just because we have the same basic instinct to survive, even when the odds are stacked against us. Occasionally the plot takes a look into the personal lives of Mark’s crewmates revealing odd ball relationships and loyal camaraderie, but I found these moments the least interesting and barely necessary. Blame that on me already finding a great character in Mark Watney. While the other characters were attempting to form shape in the story they served as little more than background noise while I waited to get back to who I actually wanted to know about – Mark.

One thing the departures from the main protagonist serve for is dialogue and action. Since a majority of the story is told from one perspective these segments of the book read differently because there are multiple characters and we catch up with what they know and what they can and cannot do to help get Mark back to Earth. Still, the best parts of the book are Mark’s ramblings.

Following huge films like Gravity and Interstellar, this science fiction becoming a bestselling book and upcoming film is not surprising. The massive following The Martian has managed to garner in praise and movie deals (with actual good actors) goes to show this book has a great story to tell. Matt Damon will bring out Mark Watney’s charming disposition on the big screen with Jessica Chastain playing Commander Lewis. With science fiction attracting an absurd amount of viewers and unearthing a new generation of disciples The Martian is bound to fall in favor, but I am glad I read the book first – it is always be better.

Literary London – Any Amount of Books

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My husband and I recently went to London to visit my family and decided to do our version of a Literary London tour (I say “our version” but I have no idea whether a Literary London tour exists. If it doesn’t, surely it should.*). After hours of intense google searches and finagling to see more, we narrowed our outings to bookstores that either specialized in used books or science fiction. Among others we ended up going to Any Amount of Books, Book Mongers, and Forbidden Planet (a.k.a the best place on Earth). Posts for the books I got at Book Mongers and Forbidden Planet will be coming soon!

During our month long trip I learned two things about buying books abroad.

1) It can get heavy. Over the baggage limit heavy. This may lead to judgemental glares from flight attendants and possibly having to choose between your month supply of clothes and six month supply of books. Cruel world.

2) The exchange rate and cost of living was not built in your favor, actually it was built in spite of it. That used book you just bought for six pounds? That’s the price of a new book in Los Angeles, dummy.

But it was all in the name of reading.

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And all was good in the world.

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We chose to go to Any Amount of Books first after finding out they have a bin of used books that are one pound (around $1.50) each or five for four pounds. After shedding a single tear we went inside to skim through the science fiction section and found the most popular author was Lloyd Biggle Jr, classic forefather he is. My husband unknowingly picked up a copy of The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets (1968) that he will probably never set eyes upon again while I cannot wait to absorb it. This treasure was only $1.50 but I would have paid more for the cover and title alone.

Biggle Jr is the mind behind science fiction staples like the Interplanetary Relations Bureau and Cultural Survey The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets (Interplanetary Relations Bureau)which both make an appearance in this novel. Jeff Forzon is an agent of the IPR bureau where the motto is “Democracy imposed from without is the severest form of tyranny”. When Jeff is sent to the planet Gurnil to introduce it’s inhabitants to democracy in the hopes of eventually inducting them into the galactic federation, he is met with beings more interested in art than politics, perfectly content continuing the monarchical system they have been under for the past four hundred years. So Forzon is set with the challenging obstacle of aiding change in this species with the introduction of a single innovation that will change their planet.

Coming in at just 206 pages this is a short one, I’ll save this read for an afternoon in with tea and Ravi Shankur.

I could only find one snippet of a good quote but me thinks it’s a good’un.

“Beauty he loved for its own sake; ugliness, which more often than not was a form of inverted beauty, fascinated him. Life offered far too little of either, and far too much appalling mediocrity, which he thought hideous.”

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We also picked up a copy of The Alien Way (1965), a first contact story with a twist- the aliens (called Ruml) that come into contact with Earth are not amorphous drones but creatures of culture, with a community and infrastructure as defined as the ones we are familiar with today. The plot follows a human who has a mental connection to the leader of the Ruml who plans on invading Earth. This allows him to know every plan that is contrived but will it be enough to prevent the downfall of humankind?

Ah, the questions science fiction asks are endless. This book carries a shroud of mystery online so I could barely find more than a brief synopsis on it, and being that this is the first book I have picked up of Gordon R Dickson it makes me itch to think how good of a story could be waiting between these pages.

*I just checked, they do exist.