I wrote this one for the first Flash Fiction competition on the Write Point website.
By S. A. McKenzie
The 8.05 am train still had the sticky residue of its last victim plastered across the floor of the front carriage as it pulled into the station, precisely on time. Lucy moved forward as the doors opened, hesitating when the stench of fresh brimstone hit her. Pressure from the crowd of commuters behind her forced her inside. She sidestepped the puddle near the door and found herself a seat by the window. The other passengers all gave the puddle a wide berth while trying to look as if they hadn’t noticed it. Lucy watched a bloody smear on the wall shrink rapidly, briefly puffing out for a moment into the shape of a tiny screaming face before vanishing with an almost audible pop. Somewhere, Lucy thought she heard a distant belch. She shuddered, one hand stroking her pink angora scarf. Around her everyone seemed to relax, letting out a collective breath and smiling sheepishly at each other.
The tall man sitting next to her smiled down at her.
“That your first one? You look a bit pale.”
Lucy ducked her head. “I’m okay,” she said in a small voice. She took off her scarf and put it down on the seat next to her.
The middle aged woman in front of Lucy turned her head and said, “Don’t worry love, after they’ve taken one they’re not hungry again for a week. That’s what I heard.”
“I hear they won’t take you if your socks don’t match”, the Goth girl in the tartan tights across the aisle said, swinging her feet to display one red and one green sock. “It’s an aesthetic thing.”
“Garlic”, the pimply-faced student across from her mumbled. “You gotta chew garlic.” The girl grinned at him.
“I heard they don’t eat virgins, either,” she said. He reddened and looked away.
A businessman in the aisle opened his newspaper. The headline in 48 point font read:
Prime Minister Devoured by Demons.
Campaign Promises Breached.
“My mother always said it’s polite to introduce yourself in a life or death situation”, the man next to Lucy said. He stuck out his hand. “Hugo Morgan”
Lucy shook his hand. “Lucy Channing” she said.
“Funny old world, innit? Thought we were all going to drown or cook with global warming, no oil left to speak of, and then they bring in demonic energy to run everything. Problem solved.”
“Except for the energy tax”, Lucy said. “One life for every 20,000 passengers.”
“Scares you, yeah?”
Lucy bit her lip, and looked down.
He gave her a crooked smile. “There’s some would say there’s ways around that.”
Lucy looked up at him, wide-eyed.
“Would be a shame if they taxed a pretty girl like you. Maybe I can help you out. We could discuss it over a drink. Tonight, perhaps?”
“I’m not busy tonight”, Lucy said.
“Brilliant”, Hugo said. He fished a card out of his pocket and gave it to her. “Just give me a call when you get off.”
Lucy turned the card over in her hands. “I don’t see how it would work”, she said. “How would you stop them from taking you?”
Hugh leaned over her and lowered his voice. “It would be better to discuss that somewhere more private,” he said. “Let’s just say that demons won’t touch someone who has a deal with another demon.”
“That does sound interesting”, Lucy said. She looked out the window as the train slowed. “Oh! This is my stop!”
Hugh moved aside so she could get out of her seat. She stepped out of the train and then looked back. “My scarf! Could you—?”
Smiling, Hugh leaned towards the door holding out the pink scarf.
Lucy stepped just out of reach.
“Bene detentus”, she said. The scarf writhed out of Hugo’s hands and snaked downward to snare his legs.
“What the—” he said, more startled than afraid. Lucy held up a silver plated badge emblazoned with a six pointed star inside a circle so that everyone in the carriage could see it. They all began to move to the next carriage, pushing and shoving in their haste to be gone.
“Hugo Edward Morgan,” Lucy said loudly. “You have been found guilty of multiple counts of demonic tax evasion and of inciting acts of tax evasion by others. By the powers vested in me by the Municipal Demonic Transport Authority, I hereby sentence you to immediate penalty. Muta mutandis!”
Hugo was trying to move his feet which appeared to have gotten stuck to the floor. No, not stuck. They were dissolving into the floor. He beat frantically at the closing doors. The train jerked forward and then pulled out of the station smoothly. Lucy watched it depart, Hugh’s screams quickly diminishing. She checked her watch. Right on time, she thought.
© Copyright S.A. McKenzie 2018
This is a sort of homage to Ray Bradbury's 'There Will Come Soft Rains', one of my favorite short stories.
Down on the Farm
By S.A. McKenzie
Farmer Brown’s farm wakes before dawn. As the lights come on in the milking shed, the farm hands spring out from their charging cradles, one, two, three!
“Wake up, wake up,” they sing to the herd dogs. “It’s 6 o’clock, time to get to work!”
Red-lit eyes glow in the darkness of the kennels. The herd dogs roll out, tails twirling. Down the track to the paddocks they go, automatic gates sliding open at their approach.
“Wake up cows,” they call in their soft furry voices. “Come on Maisie! Come on Daisy! Off to the milking shed!”
The lead herd dog lights up his tail for the cows to follow and speeds off, and the cows plod after him, kept in line with gentle nudges from the rear herd dog’s padded nose.
A river of black and white pours into the milking shed, each cow ambling to her favorite stall. Warm jets of water wash their udders clean, and automatic suction cups clamp on. From the speakers above comes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Cow tails swing in time with the violins, occasionally raising for a squirt of manure.
The farm hands hum back and forth, putting feed in the troughs, adjusting suction cups and hosing away the manure. Now Herd no. 1 is done, and the herd dogs lead them back to their paddock and fetch up the next group.
“Come on Bessie! Hurry up Jessie! Keep on moving, you silly moos,” they chant to the cows.
Farm Hand Kashu-AX2281 (colloquial designation: “Alfie”) supervises, signaling to the herd dogs, directing the other farm hands, and matching cow RFID tags with milk production, all four arms in constant motion. As the last cow leaves the shed, Alfie activates the automatic cleaning cycle for the milking equipment.
The sun is up now and drones launch themselves from the shed roof, three, four, and five! Time to scan the pastures, time to inspect the pivot irrigators. The drones send their reports to Alfie. The irrigator in paddock three is misfiring again. Alfie stumps down to the paddock on three sturdy legs and clears the blockage.
Herd dog no. 7 whines and turns in circles in the yard, disorientated.
“AYAMARI!” it barks. “Ayamari. Ayamari. Ayamariayamariaya—”
Alfie snatches it up with one extensible arm, flips open the back plate and reboots it. The herd dog yips three ascending notes as it restarts, and balance restored, rolls back to the kennels, tail flashing green.
“Look out!” the main gate sensors cry. Here’s a vehicle turning down the road to the farm.
“Thursday is grocery delivery day for Mr and Mrs Brown,” sings the delivery van. “Fresh soft bread and red rosy apples, tender juicy steak. Here are your groceries, Mrs Brown! Be careful with the eggs.”
The door to the farmhouse remains closed. Alfie takes five bags of groceries from the delivery van and places them by the front door under the veranda. Mrs Brown does not permit robots in the house, oh no!
“See you next Thursday, Mrs Brown,” the van calls and whirs away.
An hour later there is another dust cloud on the road. Another visitor! Here comes the milk tanker, stainless steel flashing in the sunshine. Alfie connects the pipes from the milking shed tank to the tanker, and adds three vials to the testing rack. The tanker transmits a receipt, and then it is off to another farm. Goodbye, creamy white milk!
On patrol in the paddocks, herd dog no. 3 (colloquial designation: “Buster”) sends Alfie an image of an injured cow. She has caught her flank on a protruding fence wire, and is bleeding.
Transfer stock unit 7218 to main holding pen, sends Alfie. A message is sent to Farmer Brown’s screen, and to the vet. Later that afternoon, the vet’s truck pauses at the front gate scanners and transmits an id. The gates swing open.
“Welcome,” they sing. “Welcome to Farmer Brown’s farm, Doctor Patterson. Please drive carefully.”
Alfie is waiting in the yard, bowing awkwardly as the vet gets out of the truck.
“Good afternoon, Doctor Patterson,” Alfie says. The herd dogs poke their noses out of their kennels, red eyes flashing.
The vet eyes the robot.
“Great. Robots,” she mutters. “Okay. Command: Direct me to the injured animal.”
“This way, Doctor Patterson,” Alfie says, leading her to the holding pen.
The vet cleans and bandages the cow’s injury, and gives her a shot.
“This is a minor injury,” she says. “The farmer could have treated it himself.”
“Beg pardon! Unable to parse sentence. Please rephrase,” Alfie says.
“Disregard,” the vet says, sighing.
On the way back to her truck, she stops and counts the grocery bags on the front porch. Twenty two! There are twenty two bags.
“Query: Where is Mrs Brown?” she asks.
“Mrs Brown has gone to town,” sings Alfie. “Current location unknown.”
The vet frowns.
“Query: Where is Farmer Brown?”
“Farmer Brown is in Pump Shed no. 9. Farmer Brown does not wish to be disturbed.”
“Query: How long has he been there?”
“Beg pardon! Unable to parse sentence. Please rephrase.”
“Query: When did Farmer Brown enter Pump Shed no. 9?”
“Farmer Brown entered Pump Shed no. 9 on Monday, April 22nd, at 2.33 p.m.” Alfie says promptly.
The vet rubs her face. “Bloody hell,” she says faintly.
“Beg pardon! Unable to parse sentence. Please rephrase.”
© Copyright S.A. McKenzie 2018