I thought I’d try a Drabble today. I didn’t have time to count it, but the software says the word count is exactly 100 (however, hyphens sometimes distort the count, so this might not be a perfect 100 words).
It’s based on a true story. I saw a parrot perched up in a tree last December and somebody set up a ladder to try to reach it. But it just flew to another tree top. I guess it ended up freezing to death. The thought of it really bothered me for some reason. Anyway, here’s the story.
Somebody’s parrot has gotten loose, vibrant red and yellow fluttering in a pallid sky like the first bold strokes of an artist’s brush.
It lands in the naked branches of a twisted oak, and I want to believe it has done something courageous and beautiful – that a few days of freedom are preferable to years of life in a cage. But maybe that’s just me trying to see the world through rose-colored glasses.
The sun sets quickly in December, and coyotes are down there in all that darkness waiting to sniff you out when you fall from the high branches.
I wrote this short story as a tribute to Irvine Welsh. Some of my favorite books have been penned by him. Among them are: Trainspotting, Filth, Skag Boys, The Marabou Stork Nightmares, and The Acid House.
Welsh is famous for writing his dialogue phonetically to capture the real spirit of the Edinburgh Scots dialect. I had a lot of fun trying to emulate his style, and I hope if he ever reads this, he’d take a minute to give me some constructive criticism. Enjoy.
Note: This story first appeared online at Schlock Webzine. You can find it at: schlock.co.uk. Soon after, the story was published in print in Schlock Quarterly Volume 3, Issue 5.
STARBEAM DIRECT by Hawkelson Rainier
Starbeam Direct Teleportation Hub, 11:35 Astronomical Time
“A drink for the gentleman?” the cocktail waitress asked.
“I could use one, actually,” Jeff Klingingsmith said. “Just a little bit of the jitters today. First teleportation, after all.”
“Oh, what’s your destination?”
“Well, you’ve nothing to fret about. Starbeam Direct has an exemplary safety record.”
“I’m sure this whole process is foolproof. But perhaps you could recommend a little something to take the edge off.”
“Our bartender makes a very good Enceladus Sling.”
“Ah, that should do nicely.” Klingingsmith sipped his drink in a dim corner of the lounge and considered cancelling the trip. The idea of teleportation didn’t sit well with him. But, the big bosses wanted him on Mars in the flesh and blood. There were rumours about a merger in the works between Red Sand Industries and The Ganymede Corporation. Cancelling was simply out of the question.
By the time Klingingsmith was halfway through his Enceladus Sling, he felt better about everything. Relax, old sport, he thought to himself. The company is picking up the tab at the very exclusive Olympus Mons Resort. It’s about time they brought old Jeff Klingingsmith along on one of their famous working holidays. You just might be a junior partner before it’s all said and done.You’re definitely in the running—top five, anyway.
Klingingsmith finished his drink, squared up his tab, and made his way over to telepod 355B, which was right outside the lounge.
“Is it business or pleasure that takes you to the Red Planet?” the telepod attendant asked cheerfully as a host of wall mounted scanners took a multitude of readings on Klingingsmith.
“A little of both, actually. What’s all this about, then?” he asked, gesturing toward the whirring scanners that ogled over him.
“I’m not the expert in such matters, Mister Klingingsmith. But, I do know the machines are taking your biometric readings all the way down to the atomic level. Soon enough, it will all be beamed to the destination telepod at the luxurious Olympus Mons. And that, Mister Klingingsmith, it the extent of my knowledge on the subject.”
“Well, it all seems scientific enough, I suppose. But what about my luggage?”
“You’ll be happy to know the luggage you checked earlier has already arrived at your hotel room.”
“Ah, everything seems in good order, then.”
“Indeed it is, Mister Klingingsmith. And now that the scans are complete, I’ll just have you take a seat inside the telepod, and we will begin the transmission.”
“Will I feel myself being transmitted?” Klingingsmith asked the attendant in a hushed tone.
“Not at all. You won’t even realize it’s happening. Just sit back,relax, and you’ll arrive at Mars in thirteen minutes and forty-eight seconds.”
“Easy enough,” Klingingsmith said as he entered the telepod. There was a vintage leather Chesterfield armchair and a number of old magazines laid out on a mahogany end table. “Would you look at that,” Klingingsmith remarked, “real ink and paper periodicals. Time, People, National Geographic …very retro-chic.”
Klingingsmith found the Chesterfield to be quite comfortable, and there was a rather compelling article in National Geographic about the Moai of Rapa Nui. The article went on to present a few theories as to how the natives of Rapa Nui might have went about moving the immense monolithic statues from the stone quarries using only the most primitive of tools. It seemed like an impossible feat, considering the statues weighed, on average, fourteen tons. Some of the largest ones were in excess of eighty tons.
As daunting as the task might have been, the people of Rapa Nui were up to the challenge, as evidenced by the hundreds of Moai located miles from where they were initially carved. A clever bunch, indeed, Klingingsmith thought, but today we’d save a lot of bother and just have the things teleported. Easy as pie.He looked up at a wall-mounted monitor that displayed his transmission progress—it stood at 98% complete.
Any second now, old chap. The progress bar made the final jump to the 100% mark. A smooth landing, Klingingsmith said out loud. Good show. A pleasant, feminine voice piped through the sound system, “Transmission successful.Thank you for using Starbeam Direct.”
The wall in front of Klingingsmith retracted, and the Chesterfield suddenly pitched forward, launching him into the void. He reflexively tried to grab at anything that might slow his fall. There was a physical structure around him—some sort of tube—but its walls were nearly frictionless. He couldn’t stop his momentum, and the harrowing descent into darkness was sufficient in duration to consider how he might begin his letter of complaint: To whom it may concern, As a Passenger at Starbeam Direct, I cannot begin to express how entirely dissatisfied…
And that’s as far as he got before he was unceremoniously delivered into a dank machine room located several stories beneath the trendy shops and restaurants of the teleportation hub. Klingingsmith managed to stand up and dust himself off before he noticed a roughly three-meter-tall humanoid robot standing at the other end of the room.
The menacing contraption levelled its right index finger at him, as if it were going to accuse him of some heinous crime, and then a blue bolt of electricity arced from its fingertip to Klingingsmith.
Klingingsmith’s hair stood on end—his eyelids twitched a bit, and then the stream of electricity fizzled out. The robot made some garbled sounds, and its arms flailed as it walked about in a circle a few times before falling face first onto the dirty cement floor with a metallic report. Two men entered the room from a side door and walked over to the fallen heap. They were dressed in blue coveralls, and Klingingsmith gathered they were maintenance workers employed by Starbeam Direct.
“You two,” Klingingsmith called out, “I demand to speak to your supervisor at once.”
“You’ll keep those gums from flappin’ if you ken what’s good fir ya,” one of the men shot back with a decidedly Edinburgh accent. He took a bite of his sandwich and kicked the prostrate robot in the side the way a prospective buyer might kick the tires on automobile at a used car lot.
“Posh English cunt,” the other scoffed at Klingingsmith. He opened a bag of crisps and stuffed a handful into his gob.
“Did I no fuckin’tell the bastards the robut’s capacitor wis well fucked?” the man with sandwich inquired of the man with the crisps.
“Aye. That you did, Mikey, that you did.”
“And what did those cunts do aboot it?”
“Sweet fuck all.That’s what.”
“And that’s our lunch break fucked because some lazy bastard couldn’t be bothered orderin’ a new fuckin’ capacitor per my request.”
“The company’s gaunny be payin’ out the arse for workin’ us through our break, I shite you not.”
“Right enough, Ronnie, right enough. And if they give any guff, we’ll sick the union rep on ‘em straight away.”
“Aye. Big Arlie Robertson will sort those company bastards oot.”
“So,the way I figure it, this posh cunt has got to be a manual termination job,” Mikey said as he gestured with his thumb in the general direction of the slack-jawed Klingingsmith.
“Aye. It’s the only caird left to play,” Ronnie concurred. He turned to Klingingsmith and yelled, “You there. Posh cunt. You’re comin’ with us.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” Klingingsmith protested.
“We’re no gauny ask twice,” Mikey chimed in. “We could make it nice and quick, or if you wanna be a wide cunt, we could draw it out like the Pope bletherin’ away on Easter Sunday.”
“Now listen here,” Klingingsmith said with as much defiance as he could muster. “I’m a very valuable employee at a very powerful galactic company. Red Sand Industries no less.The executive board is expecting me at an important meeting any minute now. When they discover I’ve been shanghaied by you two hooligans, there’ll be hell to pay.”
The bloke called Mikey seemed exasperated as he took a half dozen purposeful strides over to Klingingsmith. He seized Klingingsmith by the ear and pulled him along with him as he lectured, “I’ll have no more back talk from a wide cunt like you. Nobody’s gauny be frettin’aboot you, seein’ how you’ve already arrived safe and sound at your posh fuckin’ luxury resort.”
“This hardly seems like a posh luxury resort,” Klingingsmith argued as he was led into a back office that was littered with greasy fish and chips wrappers, boxes of Chinese takeaway cartons, overflowing ashtrays, and cans of Tennent’s Super Lager.
Klingingsmith also noticed his suitcase was wide open on the grubby linoleum floor, his personal belongings strewn about haphazardly. “And I’ll have you both brought in on charges of larceny to boot.Pilfering a customer’s luggage—just despicable.”
“Our boy here seems to be wide of the mark on this matter,” Mikey said. “How about you gives him a quick lesson, Ronnie.”
“It’s like this,” Ronnie began. “Maybe you’ve noticed how Starbeam Direct likes to mince words. Likesay, the words teleportation and transmission in particular.”
“I suppose,” Klingingsmith said. “Seems like a trivial detail.”
“Maybe so, but like they say, the Devil is in the detail. Isn’t that right, Mikey?”
“Aye, fraid so, Ronnie.Fraid so.”
“What are you two getting at? What’s this have to do with me?” Klingingsmith demanded.
“It turns out that Starbeam Direct does nae actually teleport its passengers,” Ronnie said.“It’s more like they send your biological blueprint up ahead to the arrival point. Then, the information is fed into an organic printer, and the posh cunt is recreated atom by atom.”
“Really no much to it,” Mikey said. “Turns out, there’s nothin’ special about us—not even posh cunts like you. Just a bit of hydrocarbons, really. Right, Ronnie?”
“Aye, some protein strands clumped thegither, walkin’ aboot with our chests puffed up like we ken what’s what.”
“So you see, even as we speak right now, your poofy fuckin’ facsimile is prancing aboot Mars with all your posh mates, while Ronnie and I are down here slavein’ away, not even havin’a proper lunch break.”
“But that’s impossible,” Klingingsmith said. “I’m right here, right now.”
“Aye, that you are,” Ronnie said. “And that makes problems. Big fuckin’ problems.”
“You see,” Mikey said, “You’re what we call..redundant.”
“Redundant?” Klingingsmith needed clarification.
“Aye, ya cunt. We can nae have two of the same cunt muckin’ aboot the solar system, can we Ronnie?”
“We cannae, Mikey, we cannae. Too many legal problems, ken. Not to mention all the ethical shite that would go with it.”
“Gentlemen, surely we can reach some sort of compromise,” Klingingsmith said. “Some kind of mutually advantageous agreement.”
“Well, we’d like to hear your spiel then,” Ronnie said, sounding quite sincere.
“I could tell right off you were both reasonable men,” Klingingsmith went on. “Intelligent men who were on the lookout for a lucrative opportunity …”
As Klingingsmith made his desperate pitch, Ronnie scratched his scruffy chin as if he were seriously contemplating the merit of the proposal. Mikey, ever so subtly, picked up a ballpeen hammer from his desk and moved into range.
The Olympus Mons Executive Conference Hall, 12:15 Astronomical Time
Klingingsmith arrived at the meeting fifteen minutes early so he might have a chance to go over some of his notes.He was surprised to see the CEO of Red Sand Industries, Roger Addington, was already present.
“Ah, Klingingsmith. Just the man I wanted to see,”Addington said cordially. “How do you like Olympus Mons so far?”
“It is spectacular, Mister Addington. Better than advertised.”
“Well get used to it, Klingingsmith, because we’ve got big things in store for you. No doubt, you’ve heard rumours about a merger?”
“Indeed I have, Mister Addington.”
“There’s nothing official yet, but I can assure you this is going to go through,” he said in a hushed tone. “I’ll need a good man to oversee the iridium operations.Can I count on you?”
“Of course, sir,” Klingingsmith said. “It would be an honour.”
“Now, your compensation will come in the form of stock options,which we believe you will find quite to your liking. You’ll have an expense account, three weeks paid holiday, and a company star cruiser. There will, however, be a considerable amount of travel involved. Mostly teleporting to various locales throughout the solar system.”
“No trouble at all, sir. I find teleportation to be a most agreeable method of travel.”
“Yes, it is exceedingly convenient. Almost like magic, wouldn’t you say?”
“That’s a good way to put it, sir. Almost like magic.”