The Artist

My eyes still hurt when I awoke. I reached for them, but just as my fingers touched the gauze a pair of hands took hold of mine gently yet firmly. They were soft hands, and slight. A woman’s?

A soothing voice confirmed my thought: “You shouldn’t touch them, it slows the healing.”

Healing? I brought my hands slowly back to my sides. The bedding was the finest I had ever felt. It was daytime, I could tell by the warmth of the sun shining on me. A warm breeze floated in from…gardens? Then I remembered.

“How long have I been here?”

“Just since last night. I’m sure you must be hungry. If you like, I can guide you to the toilet and then to breakfast.”

“Thank you. And, please, you are…?”

“Today I am your nurse.”

“Just today?”

“Tomorrow too, if you need one.”

“And if not?”

“I will still be here, for I am also a resident.”

“No! You’re blind as well?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’m sorry. How long?”

“He had me blinded in the year 1357. So, what now…fifteen years?”

“Ah, so you must be Deidra. I’m honored to meet you…I suppose.”

“As am I to meet you,” she said, laughing as she added: “I suppose!”

“I’m sorry, that was ungentlemanly of me. I’m not quite used to having been blinded yet. I am honored, though, to meet the woman who wove the tapestries that hang in the prince’s great hall. People say they are the most magnificent tapestries ever made. And having seen them myself, I agree. Oh, I’m so sorry,” I add quickly. “There I go again.”

“Not to worry,” Deidra said, and somehow I could tell she was smiling. “But do tell me about your painting. The prince only blinds those of us who create something that is truly great – so great that he does not want the artist to make something even greater for somebody else. Since he had you blinded yesterday, I’m to suppose that you created something worthy of having your own sight taken. Please describe it for me, will you?”

“It would be a pleasure, but it may take some time. You mentioned something about the toilet and then breakfast?”

“Oh, of course! Please forgive me, you must be starving. Here, let’s untie that thread from around your wrist and mine. Now that you’re awake I no longer need it to let me know when you’re moving. Here, take my hand and I’ll lead you. You’ll get to know your way around soon enough, and eventually you’ll learn to cook and take care of the grounds like the rest of us.”

“You cook?”

“Oh, yes. The prince has given us this estate to have for ourselves, but only we who have been blinded are allowed on its grounds. He’s afraid that some of us still create art, even if we can’t see it.”

“Do we?”

She didn’t answer, but as she squeezed my hand I could tell that she was smiling.

The prompt that inspired this piece of flash fiction can be found here.

Tell Me About Yourself

“Tell me about yourself,” she said shortly after takeoff.  “Where are you from?  Where are you going?”

The question took me a little by surprise.  I mean, I fly every week and I’m used to seatmates who want to talk, but don’t often run into one who was quite so direct.  Or quite so beautiful.  My hesitation gave her a moment to add, with just a hint of slyness: “And what will you do when you get there?”

Well now, I thought to myself, this could go any number of directions!  She couldn’t know the first thing about me, so why not play this out a bit and see where we end up?  After all, it’s a long flight across the ocean and we have nine more hours to go.

“I’m a scientist,” I said somewhat automatically, and immediately regretted how boring that sounded.  “I live in Hollywood and advise movie studios on scientific special effects,” I made up quickly, hoping to fabricate a bit of cool-factor.

“A scientist in Hollywood?  Well, that certainly sounds exciting.  I’ll bet you know some very interesting people.”  Was that a twinkle in her eye?

“A few,” I said.  “Though I think I’m about to get to know one more!”  Grooaaan – just shoot me now.  OK, the scientist part is true, as if everyone can’t tell by how awkward it is for me to talk to a gorgeous, raven-haired stranger sitting in the window seat beside me.  I’m so embarrassed that I want to disappear.  She turns to look through the window at the clouds below.  Shit, I blew it.  Again.

But, wait, she turns back to me with…really?  I could swear that’s a twinkle in her eye.  The kind that means she’s smiling with me, not at me.

“So, tell me Mr. Scientist,” she says with what is definitely a no-doubt-about-it-now twinkle, not just in her eye but in the way she leans in a little as she looks at me.  “Just what is it that you’d like to know?  About me?  Up here, on our way to…oh, you never did tell me where you’re going…”

“I’m on my way to meet with some investors,” I say, weaving some truth back into the tale to help me keep it straight.  “I’ve got a big demo to present and if it all goes as planned then I think everyone will be very happy.”

She leans closer, her long, thick hair brushing my shoulder as her pursed lips approach my ear.  “Everyone,” she whispers in a low, silky voice.  “Even me?  Eve…Eve…Eve…Click… Even me?   Click.  Even me…”

Damn it!  What…ah, good lord, after all this testing I can’t believe there’s still a bug in the AI code.  I push my almost-but-not-quite perfect prototype back into her seat, open my laptop, plug the cable into the port just behind her left ear, and start debugging.  I’ve got eight more hours to get her working perfectly for the demo, and I’d better make the most of them.

The prompt that inspired this piece of flash fiction can be found here.

Last Man Standing

All I wanted was to be left alone.

After my wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver, I left Albuquerque and bought a place in the New Mexico desert. It had belonged to a survivalist who built it back in the 2040’s and spent the rest of his life there. He was serious about survival – the place was practically a bunker, much of it underground. He’d drilled a deep well, rigged the place for wind power, and added five 1,000-gallon propane tanks as well as two 500-gallon gasoline tanks. There was also enough dry storage space to stockpile a few decades worth of food.

Lucky for me there’s not a huge market for survival bunkers in the middle of the desert, and I picked it up for almost nothing back in 2057. I think that was ten years ago, but I’m not sure since I’ve pretty much lost track of time.

I had all the tanks topped off when I moved in, and then spent the next month making supply runs, bringing in food, tools, gunpowder, you know, the essentials. Finally, I was able to park the truck in the shed and sit still. It was quiet and I was alone, except for the ghosts of my wife and daughter.

Then, about two years ago, I was outside changing the tire on one of the ATVs when the world ended. I might not have even noticed, but I happened to look up at the sky and saw all of those contrails. Some heading inland, some heading out. I wasn’t certain they were nukes until I noticed the wall of smoke over the horizon where Albuquerque was. Or, more accurately, where it had been. Good thing I had a bunker, I thought.

Last month I figured it was safe to venture outside. At first I planned to stay put, but something made me charge the truck’s battery, top off both tanks, and strap a few 55-gallon drums of gas in the back. Who knew how far I’d have to go to find another person to talk to.

It took all day to get to Roswell, and when I got there the place was deserted. Except for the skeletons. People and animals apparently just dropped where they were when the radiation overcame them, and I guess the insects took care of the rest. I suppose we got one thing right – the insects survived.

I drove along the empty highway into Texas and then northeast into Oklahoma. It was the same everywhere: the larger cities were just piles of ash and rubble, and the smaller towns were desolate. Nothing but empty buildings, abandoned cars, and skeletons. Lots and lots of skeletons. Eventually I had to head back home before I ran out of fuel and food, and the last man alive made it back to his bunker with five gallons to spare.

All I wanted was to be left alone. But I never knew how painful loneliness could be until now.