Wednesday, October 10, 2012

F3 Cycle 99 "The Long Arm of Fate"

Flash Fiction Prompt:  Tell us a story about a character facing the end of something–a job, a relationship, their sanity…  What is actually ending can be whatever your imagination dreams up, but also let us know how it turns out for him or her.  Give us some type of ending (pun intended).

Genre:  Whatever lights your fire.

The outer office waiting area was ultra modern with one wall a large glass window that looked out upon the Chicago skyline. The other walls were painted a glossy white with steel and glass furniture scattered about its large, open space. A light grey carpet covering the floor provided a much-needed contrast but did nothing to change the sterile and lifeless atmosphere of the area. 

Greg Harrison leaned back in the stylish metal chair he sat in trying to both relax and look like he was not nervous. Around him were thirty other candidates all seeking the one open position in mid-level management at a new software company.  Every one of them he realized were at least half his age, and in all probability, far better qualified to work in such a high tech business. Harrison being in his mid-fifties knew he was an extreme long shot as compared to those around him but after being out of work for five years such gambles were all he had left.

Two hours had passed since the group had been escorted to their current location with the knowledge that the next obstacle they would face was on the other side of the huge sliding doors guarded by a petite but extremely attractive receptionist who looked impossible young to hold such a job. She was sitting at desk that seemed more a piece of art than office furniture and since the group’s arrival was waiting patiently for word on whom she would let through the doors.

Without any fanfare, the huge sliding doors leading to the inner office began to open. At the same time, the receptionist picked up a computer tablet, walking over to the waiting candidates, and began calling names off. Harrison waited for his name to be called knowing it was not going to happen. As expected, after five minutes he was the only one left watching the sliding doors close.

At the sound of the two doors locking in place the receptionist addressed Harrison. “Thank you for your interest in the position,” she said in a cold, impersonal tine akin to a robot” but at this time we cannot use your skills.”

For Harrison it was yet another rejection and despite the fact he expected the outcome, it stung nonetheless. He turned to leave from the way he came only to see two beefy security guys in suits waiting to escort him out. Feeling defeated, Harrison walked towards the waiting elevator, and to him it was further proof that the world had no use for him anymore.


The bar was totally opposite from the sterile but stylish office environment he had left several hours earlier. Surrounding Harrison was a collection of old team photographs and sports paraphernalia spanning over a century. The ancient oak counter he sat at actually had visible groves set in the wood where countless others had come to celebrate the triumphs of life as well as the disasters. The lighting was naturally low and the conversations of the few others inside the bar with him at that moment were so muted Harrison could close his eyes and actually make himself believe he was blissfully alone someplace far away.

At the edge of finding some tranquility, he was painfully brought back to reality by the buzz of his cell phone. The small screen displayed his ex-wife’s name. Harrison fought the urge to toss the irritating device into the trash but some deep remaining grain of responsibility forced him to answer. “Yeah Beth,” he said in a half civil tone, “I didn't get the job.”

“Well,” she hissed back, “you better find something fast, your daughter’s tuition will be due again next month and you still owe me back alimony. Let us avoid getting the attorneys involved. I know you remember things did not go well for you the last time you fell behind.”

Memories of a family life long destroyed flashed through Harrison’s head. “Well sweetie,” Harrison said sarcastically, “you can’t get blood from a bankrupt rock. I’m stuck in Chicago until tomorrow morning, after that I’ll surrender to the cops back home. I could use a vacation and jail would be the best one I had in years. I’ll have three meals at day and a cot while you finally have to go out and earn a living in these tough times.”

“It would be best for all concerned if you just suddenly died Gregory.” Was her acidic response before hanging up.

With the mood destroyed Harrison threw back the remainder of the brown liquid in his glass, tossed a few dollars on the bar, then began walking out towards the exit. The only place he had to go was the street or his empty motel room and as much as Harrison was raised never to consider such a thing, he felt he might hurt himself if he went back there.  On the way out the door, Harrison spotted a strange looking contraption off in one corner of the bar. Harrison realized it was a carnival fortune-telling machine. The kind that you drop a quarter in the slot causing the gypsy-looking automaton inside a rectangular wooden box to whir her plastic hands around a fake crystal ball as colored lights blinks off and on. The end result after the cheap theatrics, being a small card pushed out another slot telling the buyer what their future held.

Harrison would have ignored the device except for two reasons. The first being he felt he had no hope or future and felt desperate enough to use it. The second was the uncanny likeness of the robotic gypsy to the young receptionist he saw earlier that day. With nothing left to lose he dropped a quarter in the slot and waited. Instead of the usual display of mechanical movements and cheap flashing lights, the fake gypsy was unmoving but seemed to be looking straight at Harrison.

“Damn,” Harrison said frustrated, “even old machines are screwing with me now.” Just as his last word was uttered, the old carnival machine shuddered and spat out the small card he expected. Harrison felt oddly chastised after glancing back at the fake gypsy inside the wooden box and quickly picked up his fortune. It read, “If it is purpose and hope in life you seek, delay your travel plans for a day.”

“Why the Hell not,” he said to the machine, “got nothing waiting for me at home except the cops.”
After waiting the required day, Harrison sat in his seat feeling the thrust of the jet engines lift his plane off the runway. Strangely, just as the plane leveled out he heard a myriad of alarms go off. As he felt the nose of the plane tip steeply downward all the passenger cabin oxygen masks fell along with one unlucky soul who unbuckled too early. Harrison heard the unbuckled passenger’s neck crack and the nearby stewardess scream as he hit the forward bulkhead.

Seconds later the plane hit the surface of the lake with water flooding in from broken windows. Harrison was still conscious as the fuselage cracked apart with his half quickly sinking beneath the surface. His final thoughts as blackness engulfed him were about how that the damn fortune-telling machine had ripped him off.


Harrison opened his eyes to find himself lying on a small bed inside what looked to be a small house. “Oh Hell,” he said entirely to himself as he scrambled in a panic falling from the bed to the wooden floor. Memories of his final moments consisted of near freezing water and suffocation. “Where am I?” He asked himself.

“You are not far from the place you died many millions of years ago.”Something answered inside his head.

Terrified of the intruder inside his mind Harrison fled out the door in a utter, thoughtless panic. After running a few steps the instinct to flee was overwhelmed by the amazement of finding himself on a path in the middle of an old growth forest. His mind spun trying to comprehend how one second he could be on a crashed plane sinking into the waters of Lake Michigan and the next in some forest hearing disembodied voices.

The question of whether he died and somehow was allowed in heaven passed through his head but was immediately discounted. Harrison knew he was not an evil man but he freely admitted to himself he had done nothing in his life to earn a ticket into paradise. Overwhelmed with confusion he began to spin around only to trip over an exposed root sticking up from the ground. 

He looked back to see the small cottage he just left along with a loosely defined mist coalescing into a human form. “Please, do not runaway,” the mist said in his head as it further took shape and definition, “I am sorry for the abrupt awaking. I assure you that you are alive and not in some afterlife. Please come closer, I have all the answers you need.”

A feeling of calm engulfed Harrison as he picked himself off the ground and watched the now fully human form approach. Somehow it seemed completely normal that the person walking towards him looked exactly like the receptionist and the robotic, fortune telling gypsy. Wearing a simple peasant dress she reached up and touched Harrison’s forehead with her hand.

Images of the world he knew flashed in his head, years passed then something happened, a series of small asteroids crashed into the planet causing hundreds of millions to die. The surviving governments spurred on by nationalistic stupidity then spent years fighting over the ashes of a cold and damaged world.

However, tucked away in the far, isolated corners of the planet something of humanity survived and over time rebuilt the world. The people of this new civilization advanced and evolved into something more than mortal creatures of flesh and blood, eventually even expanding into newer dimensions and realms. But a few of these post-humans looked back upon their home planet now suffering from the ravages of a sun inching ever closer to a red giant and made efforts to save it. They rejuvenated the sun and restored the Earth to what it was at the dawn of humanity.

The post-humans debated the next step but it seemed logical, bring back Homo sapiens. Reaching through time, they saved certain individuals coming close to death and brought them forward with the hope of recreating their civilization.

After everything he saw one question reigned in Harrison's mind. "Why did you save me?" 

The mysterious lady thought about it for a moment before answering. "Our abilities and science would seem like magic to you but we are not gods. We have our limits and one of them is a lack of knowledge about your time. In many ways it is as strange and mythical as the story of Atlantis must be to you. We scanned the centuries looking for likely candidates and it is just by chance we found you sinking to the bottom of that ancient lake."

"But I have no special skills, I was a damn loser at most everything in my life. I can't help you rebuild any civilization."    

“Harrison when we saw you dying in that water we sensed your desire to have purpose. Here you have the chance to rebuild a life and find purpose.” the lady said. “You have your youth again and a world full of promise. You can join the others already here and build something special, it is up to you.”

Harrison felt the young woman step back and dissolve again into mist. He turned and saw a path leading off to a small city on the edge of a lake. Feeling a renewed purpose to his life he ran off to see what this new future held.


lime said...

well, i didn't see that coming. here's to hope...

Akelamalu said...

A new beginning - that's just what he needed eh?

Lewis Peters said...

The last thing I expected at the start was a story with a scope covering millennia. It ended up having something of the feel of Spielberg's AI. Well done!

Windsmoke. said...

Very lucky indeed to be granted another chance at life, well done.

Pixel Peeper said...

That scenario you described in the office, with all the applicants waiting...that's about how it is these days!

Cheers to hope and second chances!

Anonymous said...

I wonder why they picked Harrison- why did the fortune teller tell him to wait? Did they see him as strong enough to help restart humanity? Here's hoping he meets that cute receptionist, and she's a little friendlier.

Rose Green said...

That was a lovely ending and a total surprise. Kept me hooked all the way to the end.

Randal Graves said...

Dammit man, I was rooting for the red giant, and look what you did.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Let's hope his ex-wife wasn't there, too. Good job.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

"The Life and Times of a Carolina Parrothead" has been included in the Sites To See for this week. I hope this helps to point many new visitors in your direction.

Joyce said...

Wow, this was so incredible. Just when all seems lost, all is lost, but along comes a second chance. Being in that age bracket (I know just how he felt), there wasn't much hope to re-enter the work force as anything halfway decent. But now, he has the chance to begin again, in a whole new world.

This would make a great Outer Limits episode, or some such show. I could picture every person, every move and every event all the way through. This makes you shudder when you're done reading it, but in a wonderful way.

Beach Bum said...

Lime: Had to cut the story short due to the word count.

Akelamalu: Yeah, this story was done extremely fast. Not sure what statement I was trying to make.

Lewis: Thanks! Planning on going back and expanding the last third of the story.

Windsmoke: Thanks!

Pixel: Saw a news report about stuff like that.

Raven: In my mind I imagine its because of some technical issue.

Rose: It was done in a hurry, glad you liked it.

Randal: LOL!!!!

Susan: LOL!!! Personally I would hope not.

Jerry: Thanks Jerry!

Joyce: Thanks!