Blame the Refill!

So I’ve been hanging out at this awesome message board for science-fiction and fantasy lovers (both readers and writers) called Fantasy Faction.  Interesting conversation, excellent reviews and like-minded writers in one spot.  They have a monthly writing challenge, open to all comers.  February, being full of hearts and romance, posed the following challenge: ‘Write a 500 word scene that involves romance. There must be fantasy and there must be at least one laugh.’

What follows is my entry.  Let me know what you think.  (And thanks to my lovely wife for help with the title and edits)


Blame the Refill by Matthew T Maenpaa


I struck the match against the side of the box, the sulfur mingling with the faint scent of sage burning in my bedroom as I lit the taper candles in the dining room. The overhead was turned down low, my attempt at creating a nice romantic atmosphere.

Talia and I had started as coworkers, then friends, and had been dating for a couple years now.  I had known right away that I loved her, but there were moments that seemed as if she were only biding her time.  Tonight would be the night though, when I would know for sure that she loved me.

I could hear the flush of the toilet and the tap turning on in the bathroom. With dinner on the table and the candles lit, there was only one thing left. After filling each of our glasses with pinot noir, I fished a vial of murky liquid from my jacket pocket. The gypsy woman had warned me that the potion would take a while to set in, at least an hour. I uncorked it and poured a splash into Talia’s wine glass. The love potion seemed like cheating but nothing wrong with giving Fate a hand, right?

The sound of running water ended and I could hear the bathroom door open, followed by the clatter of high-heels on hardwood. I replaced the cork and shoved the vial into my pocket, smiling at my future wife as she entered the kitchen. “The candles are really sweet, Marlon.  They make this place look cute.”

I offered her my most handsome grin as I pulled out her chair. “Thanks, Talia. It’s usually fine for Winston and me, but we wanted it to be special for you.”

She settled into the table, eying the meal. “Lamb chops! Marlon, these are my favorite!”

“How could I forget?”

We made small talk as we ate, a bit about work, a bit about our families. I kept waiting for our eyes to lock, to feel that spark between us. The gypsy had told me that the potion was simple. Mix it in her drink. Wait an hour. Make sure you two are absolutely alone in the room. She will only have eyes for you thereafter.

With the meal finished and the table cleared, Talia and I moved to the small sofa in my living room. Before leaving the kitchen, I refreshed our wine and added another splash of the potion to hers for good measure. The jangle of a collar told me that Winston, my French bulldog, had woken up and decided to visit with the company. Carrying both of our glasses in one hand, a plate of chocolate truffles in the other, I entered the living room.

Talia was on her knees petting the dog, their eyes locked. The tone in her voice made my heart sink. “Marlon, your dog is perfect.”

I tried to smile. “Isn’t he just?”

She glanced up at me, enough to see the glassy look of devotion in her eyes before she returned her gaze to my dog. “Winston, I could just love you forever.”


A Secret Test

My writing partner, one Mr Matthew Nelson, is doing this flash fiction project he calls The Daily Chronicles.  He scans the front page of the SF Chronicle for a word or phrase that jumps out, then sits down to write for about ten minutes.  I’ve been happily typing away at my Western, but I’ve learned that when I get stuck on one project, I should just move to another.  It keeps me writing, and helps to prevent the frustration of “Writer’s Block” (which I actually believe to be bullshit, but that’s a different post).  So I’ve co-opted his flash fiction project, using the same words that he does, and I thought I’d share some of those pieces with you.  They are relatively raw but I’d love to get some feedback.  I spent longer than ten minutes on it, but less than a half hour.

The Daily Chronicles: Secret Test

by Matthew Thomas Maenpaa

“You failed.”

“Failed. What do you mean failed? I haven’t done anything.”

Walter shifted in the hard plastic chair, the seat too small to fit in comfortably. His supervisor stared at him with beady eyes through thick-lensed glasses, his chubby cheeks and ruddy complexion pocked with acne scars. “I’m sorry Walter, but that just isn’t true.”

“Mr. Larkin, this must be some mistake. I wasn’t aware of there being a test, how could I have failed?”

“Well of course you weren’t aware, Walter. It wouldn’t be a secret test otherwise. And I’m sorry to say it, but you’ve failed.”

Walter frowned, his tie suddenly seeming too tight around his neck. “Well what was I being tested on?”

Mr. Larkin pressed the tips of his fingers together, making a steeple on the desk. “Oh I can’t tell you that.”

“Really? Well than what were the criteria of the test?” A trick question, rephrasing the last. Walter squirmed under the beady gaze, watching Mr. Larkin’s adam’s apple bobbing under the drooping wattle of his chin.

“I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you that either, Walter. Needless to say, it is the feeling of the Board that you just aren’t the sort of caliber we’re looking for.”

“Caliber? What are you looking for anyways.”

“Oh that isn’t important now, Walter.” Larkin pulled a thick sheaf of papers from his desk, pushing them across the surface toward Walter. “If you’ll just fill these out, we’ll have you on your way in no time at all.”

Walter looked at the formidable stack of paperwork, likely to be information they had on file anyways. “On my way to where? Have I been terminated?” Larkin frowned, looking for a moment as if his eyes would pop out of their sockets.

“Terminated? Nonsense. What would you be terminated for?”

“Well, for failing the test.”

“Oh nonsense, it wasn’t that sort of test.”

Walter fiddled with a pen, the kind with a chrome barrel and gold-leaf script with his name near the clip. “What if I don’t fill out this paperwork? What then?”

“Don’t be silly, Walter. I assure you nothing bad will happen to you. This paperwork is for bureaucratic purposes, mostly. Just for the administrative records. I’ll sit right here, keep you company should you have any questions.” He smiled beatifically, as if he believed for all the world that this was the greatest duty a man could perform, filling out an inch of paperwork.

Walter sighed, picking up the first piece of paper. It was a non-disclosure form. “An NDA?  What the hell is this for?”

Larkin nodded solemnly, though the corners of his chubby mouth turned up slightly. “To be sure that you don’t tell anyone else about the test, of course.”

“But I don’t know a damn thing about this test.” It was getting harder for Walter to keep calm, his voice tended to rise to a squeaky pitch when he got upset.

“Well of course not, but you know how these things go. Just go ahead and sign it, so we can keep the process moving.”

With another sigh of frustration, Walter filled it out and signed it. The forms were wide and varied, from immigration confirmation, tax documentation, and insurance policy approval, all forms he’d filled out when he’d started with the company. Annoying, that he’d have to fill them out over again but he could sense that argument would be futile. The minutes ticked by at an achingly slow pace, his hand cramped from writing his name, address and social security number over and over again. Occasionally he would glance up at Larkin, beady eyes meeting his own in an odd smile. Eventually he reached a form that he had to read over twice. He slapped it down loudly on the desk, upsetting a container of paper clips in the process. “Are you serious? My soul? This is a form signing over authority of my soul to the company.”

Larkin nodded. “That’s right. Really, I’m surprised they haven’t got you with that one before. I had to fill it out of course.”

“I’m not giving my soul to the company. Bad enough I have to waste my time with these papers. Shouldn’t I be getting back to work?”

Larkin chuckled, a tittering sound that grated Walter as badly as nails across a chalkboard. “We have a temp filling in for you today, don’t you worry about a thing.”

Walter pushed away from the desk. “A temp. You brought in a temp while I’m filling out these preposterous forms? Absolutely not.”

Larkin’s face turned sour. “Walter, please. Calm down. Just fill out the form and sign, and you’re done. You’ll be given the rest of the day off.”

“And what do I get for turning over my immortal soul, Mr. Larkin? Better pension? Profit-sharing? A vacation house in Bali!?”

Larkin stood, his squat, heavy frame barely eye-level with Walter’s shoulder. “That’s enough, Walter. Sign the form.”

Walter couldn’t contain himself anymore. “No!” He shoved the papers toward Mr. Larkin, sending them scattering everywhere. “I’m through with this. I’ll find a better job, one that won’t ask for my soul.” He turned, kicking over the hard plastic chair, then kicking it once more because it made him feel better. “I quit, Larkin. Find some other slob, take his soul.” Walter stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him. People peered over the walls of their cubicles at him, curious about the cause of the commotion. He glared at them, storming toward his cubicle to collect his briefcase and jacket. A mousy looking girl with short-cropped hair stared at him from his chair, but he only offered her a snort and continued his storming path toward the elevator bank.

Larkin appeared outside of his office. “Walter, please reconsider. Its such a paltry thing, you’re soul. You wouldn’t even notice. Sign the form.”

Walter fumed, shoving Larkin into a large trash can as he marched past. “Stuff your form.” He jabbed the call button for the elevator, doing his best to maintain his self-righteous anger as his former co-workers stared at him. Eventually the elevator door opened and he stepped inside, grateful that it was devoid of people. He pushed the button for the lobby, leaning against the wall. Only the elevator started to go up. He jabbed the lobby button over and over again, but the elevator kept going up until it reached the top floor, where the door slid open. Larkin stood there waiting for him, along with a man in a well-cut dove gray suit. Larkin was smiling beatifically again, as was the tall blonde man in the suit. Larkin opened his mouth to speak, but the man in the suit shushed him.

Walter pushed the button for the lobby again, but the doors remained open. “I’m just leaving, but the elevator doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll be through causing a scene as soon as it cooperates.”

The man in the suit only smiled, entering the elevator. Larkin tried to follow but the suited man waved a hand and the elevator closed. He turned to Walter, his voice a rich baritone that made Walter think of melted chocolate. “Congratulations, Walter.”

Walter frowned, his voice trembling. “For what? I thought I failed.” The man in the dove gray suit smiled wider, showing perfect white teeth. “Quite the contrary, you passed with flying colors.”

“What! But Larkin…”

“Larkin did what he was supposed to. And you did as we’d hoped. You passed the test.”