Light Up!

Another piece of flash fiction for your consumption.  I borrowed the notion from a new(ish) restaurant in SF called Opaque.


The Daily Chronicles – Light Up

by Matthew T Maenpaa

There was the sound of shuffling feet followed by stumbling and a loud crash. A voice groaned, a flat and reedy female voice, issuing a stream of imaginative curses. Another crash accompanied by the sound of plates breaking. “Why is it so damn dark in here?”

Another voice, a man’s slightly nasal, lisping voice. “That’s what the owners want. Goes with the theme.”

“But in the kitchen? How do you even cook?”

“Night-vision goggles. At least they didn’t hire blind cooks. Order up, Lacey.”

Lacey shuffled her feet along the tiled floor, her hands tapping along the warm stainless steel counter until she found the plates. “What are we cooking today anyways?”

“Eel curry with grilled polenta.”

Lacey felt her stomach clench at the thought, the strange spicey, fishy smell penetrating her nostrils. Was there such a thing as smell-rape? Her second night on shift, she already hated the restaurant. No menus, just one dish per night. No lights, and they told everyone that the servers and hosts were blind. The host was blind, but Lacey was the only server that night and the only reason she was blind was that there weren’t any damn lights in the restaurant. The owners said it was because they wanted everybody to appreciate the experience of blindness. What it was was bullshit, Lacey thought bitterly as she shuffled along, arms laden with plates. They had runner strips on the pathways through the restaurant to help guide their feet, and at least all the tables were booths. If there had been chairs, Lacey would probably have killed herself by now.

She could make out the hint of a profile as her eyes absorbed the pure blackness. The murmur of whispers was the only sound in the dining room, except for the clatter of cutlery on plates and the sound of chewing. It was as if people were afraid to talk in the dark, not being able to see their conversation partners. Lacey banged her knee into the side of a booth, setting the plates down carefully and very nearly dumping the eel curry over the poor patron. Not that she felt bad. If you could afford to eat in a place like this, you weren’t interested in the food anyways. Oddest thing. Lacey had worked in quite a few upscale restaurants, and most of the clientele went there to be seen. The restaurant felt like a big joke, only Lacey wasn’t laughing.

After setting the plates down, she carefully treaded back to the kitchen. The faint glow of the stove’s burners gave her enough light to see the cook. Horace was hunched over the flame, dropping pieces of eel carefully into the saute pan. Lacey sighed loudly to let him know he had company. “Got any more eel plates ready?”

“Fifteen minutes, Lacey.”

“This place sucks, you know.”

“Yeah, but who else is going to pay us this well?”

Lacey frowned. “True. Do you have a lighter?”

“What are we smoking?”

“Does it matter? I just want to light up so that I know I’m not blind.”


Operation Snowicane

My sympathies go out to those under the onslaught of Operation Snowicane 2011.  The weather in the midwest is brutal right now, and Chicago is having its worst blizzard in quite some years.

I however enjoyed a balmy 60 degrees in San Francisco, with clear blue skies and a lot of sun.  I’m not rubbing it in.  That’s a nice day this time of year.

I was inspired by the blizzard and my memories of snowfall in Chicago.  So I give to you another iteration of the Daily Chronicles


The Daily Chronicles – Silenced

by Matthew T Maenpaa

Snow fell in heavy, wet flakes from an ash gray sky. Standing on my front lawn, the snow already up to my ankles, I had to squint to protect my eyes from the wind. They were calling it the Blizzard of the Century, though it struck me as a misnomer. It was barely even the beginning of the second decade of the century. But the media, they do love hyperbole.

I would have been holed up safe inside the house, only the dogs don’t care if its a blizzard when they need to do their business. I could faintly hear them barking over the roar of the forty miles-per-hour wind that swept northwestern Chicago. I lit a cigarette, watching the vague shape of dogs run amok in the park next to my house. Indoors, safe and warm, my wife tended to our child. She was two years old, old enough to be amazed by snow, and I could see her tiny face pressed against the windowpane. She waved to me and I waved back.

I closed my eyes, feeling the snow settling in small drifts on my shoulders. Traffic had slowed, most people getting home by the time the first six inches stuck. Living on the outskirts of the city, we didn’t get a lot of traffic but you could still here I-94 rush by. Now all you could hear were the wind and the dogs, the occasional shriek of terrified delight from a child that got pegged by a snowball.

The roar of the wind grew, whistling and battering the window panes long after I’d gone inside, long after the dogs had curled in a pile by the fireplace. We went to sleep early, bundled under blankets, kept warm by a small child and three dogs. I woke first, extracting myself from the tangle of limbs and finding my slippers. The dogs followed me, eager for breakfast and to go for a run.

I put on the pot of coffee, listening to the choking cough of the percolator, the wheeze of steam that let me know it was done. The sounds of the morning ritual, only something was missing. I peered out the kitchen window but it was too frosted over to see through. After refilling the dogs’ water and food, I poured the coffee and went to the front door to fetch the paper. The sense of oddness stuck with me, only drawing a realization as I opened the door. Snow had banked up past the outer door, up to the pane of glass. A blanket of snow four feet deep had covered the city, and that was the odd thing.

There was no roar of wind, no honk of horns. The distant rumble and rush of the highway was not muted, but gone entirely. The sun bloomed on the horizon, igniting a crystalline blue sky. Only a few prints of wildlife dotted the deep snow. The blizzard silenced the noise of the city, buried it under the snow. I stood for a moment, my breath steaming the air along with the tight curls that spiraled upward from the coffee mug in my hand. The peace and the stillness, that was what had struck me. For that moment, however long it would last, we were the only people in the city. The only sound of life were the birds, and the sound of the dogs devouring their breakfast. When I let them out to run, the stillness would be done. The snow would be marred.

I breathed deep, the cold air filling my lungs, a satisfying shock better than any rush of nicotine. The moment was forever bound in the prism of memory, the beauty of winter along with its brutality. The clatter of claws on hardwood brought me back to the world as three dogs pushed past me to bound through the snow, forgetting that they’d ever seen snow in their lives. I sighed and smiled, donning my snow gear to go after them.

Angry Witches

Hello loyal readers.  Zoe and I are hopping on a plane to go to Colorado at 6am PST, to go on a nice little vacation to Boulder.  As such, my computer is staying home.  A vacation from the computer.  Yes, very nice for me.  Right?

So I thought I’d leave you with a nice present before I left, another piece of short fiction of dubious quality.  Another entry into The Daily Chronicles, this one deserves some background.  A couple weeks ago there was a story floating around the newsfeeds about some witches in Romania that attempted to curse their government officials for raising taxes.  How could we pass up this real-life opportunity to write about witches?  What follows is a rough-cut, as it were, that may grow into something slightly larger.

The Daily Chronicles: Angry Witches

by Matthew Thomas Maenpaa

“Have you looked out the window recently?”

Maggie looked up from her computer to see her coworker leaning over the wall of her cubicle. She glanced around at the cubicle farm that surrounded them, gesturing idly with her hands. “Do you see any windows nearby?”

Dave shook his head. “You’ve got to see this.”

He walked to the office across from the hall, its window looking out over the company parking lot. Maggie followed, fidgeting with the rings she wore on each finger. Dave raised the blinds and Maggie followed his gaze to see a massive circle of women, dancing and chanting around a bonfire. Most of the women wore robes in various shades of blue and green, but some wore nothing whatsoever. Skyclad, as they say. Maggie felt her mouth twist. On the 8th Floor they were too high to hear the chanting, but Maggie had a guess. The bracelets around her wrist clattered as she reached for the pentacle that hung under her blouse. Dave gave her a curious look. “Maggie, shouldn’t you be down there?”

She shook her head. “Not my coven.”

“Why do you think they’re here?”

“The new law passed yesterday.”

Dave smirked. “And they think that protesting us will change that?”

Maggie shook her head. “They aren’t protesting.”

Clusters of naked women stood on top of cars, forming the five points of a star around the circle. In the center of the dancing ring, a white-robed priestess led a black goat by a rope. Maggie could just make out the gleam of the silver athame in the priestess’s other hand. She thought about the large number of witches that had gathered to join in the curse, but found it odd that they would only use one goat. The curse would be weak with such a small death. It would have been better if every woman had sacrificed a chicken or rabbit, but they probably didn’t want to dirty their robes.

Maggie looked at Dave. “What is security doing about this?”

Dave shrugged. “Probably just watching.”

“I’m going to call Mr. Stevens.”

“Maggie, you probably shouldn’t bother him with this.”

She ignored him though, returning to her desk to dial Mr. Stevens’ extension. He answered after the second ring. “Stevens.”

“Mr. Stevens, its Maggie Riley down in Hexes.”

“Mz Riley, what can I do for you?”

“Well, Mr. Stevens, there are a lot of angry witches in the parking lot.”

“Shit. Really?” She could hear him drawing the blinds from his 15th floor office, looking down to the parking lot. “Well damn. Has security done anything?”

“I don’t think so, sir. Think we should bring out the warlocks?”

“That would be like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, Mz Riley. No no, I’ll have the Protection Division enhance the wards. We’ll see how this plays out.”

“As you like, sir. Anything you’d like me to do?”

“How is that crop dessication hex coming along?”

“Nearly finished the last map overlay, just waiting to get coordinates from Deployment.”

“Very good, Mz Riley. Thank you for calling.” The line went dead with a click.

Maggie returned to the window, where she could see the priestess bring the knife across the black goat’s neck. The witches stopped dancing, raising their arms to the sky and screaming like banshees. Maggie thought she could hear the horrible bleating of the dying goat, but it could have just been a memory. Blood spilled out on the pavement, looking like a tiny oil slick from far off. A ripple of color shimmered in front of the window where she and Dave stood watching, the curse bouncing off the building’s wards. In the parking lot, two hundred angry witches suddenly turned into two hundred very confused frogs. Maggie sighed, then returned to her desk and sat down. The phone rang. “Magitek Designs, Maggie Riley speaking.”

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.”