The Past Tastes Better

The Past Tastes Better

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.

MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.

Not that they know.

If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.

I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.

The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.

“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.

“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”

She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”

That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”

I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”

She nodded. “And?”

“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”

For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”

“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”

“Time travel.” I nodded.

“How much?”

“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.

“How much money?” She asked.

“I can’t do it. The future–”

“The distant future,” she corrected me.

“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”

“You’ll be dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”

I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”

“You believe it, don’t you?”

I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”

“The Grandfather Paradox?”

No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.

She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.

I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”

“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.

I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”

She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”

“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.

“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”

“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”

I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”

“It’s recursive,” she said.

Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”

“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”

I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”

“I get where?”

She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.

Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.

You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn

Revealing Space by Barbara Lund

The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan

The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

Freeman byElizabeth McCleary

Hell’s Play by Juneta Key

The Token by Eli Winfield

Moshe by Chris Makowski

To The Moon And Beyond, by Fanni Sütő

Surprise, by Katharinia Gerlach

In A Picture by Erica Damon

The Contract

He caught up with her after lunch, outside the restaurant where they’d had their first date. He’d scraped together a little cash–enough for a drink or two–but he was relieved when he didn’t have to spend it. His last job had been a while.

“Well?” he asked.

Kathy shifted her weight. “Well, what?” she said.

“Well, I heard…” He tried not to look at her, not to give her that prying, downward glance that he associated with gossip and old women. “Are you pregnant?”

“About three months.”

“Congratulations.”

He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and maybe that was the right thing. Maybe it wasn’t. There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm in it. And in other circumstances–in the olden days–people might be congratulating him.

Kathy looped her arm through his, and smiled a little. Cautious. “I’m going to ask Will and Patrick to be the fathers,” she said, as if giving the contract to someone else were nothing. “They’re good with kids.”

“Do you  think they’ll do it?” he asked.

“Probably.” From the tone of her voice, he suspected the thing was done, that the contract was signed, and that Will and Patrick already were the fathers. “They’ve been together for five years. Their careers are going well. Their mothers want grandchildren.”

Responsible and stable. Reliable. A good choice, by any standard. They didn’t smoke, and Patrick didn’t even drink.

He absorbed the information with all the dignity he’d practiced. “What about me?”

Kathy tensed. “You’re not father material.”

“Yeah. I know. But…” He wished he had a cigarette, or maybe something stronger. “It’s my kid.”

“No.” She dug in. “It’s my kid. I’m the one who’s knocked up. I’m making the choices.”

“I know that.”

“I’m not offering you a contract. That was never on the table.” She pulled her hand back, and folded her arms across her stomach. “You’re not going to be a father.”

The way she said it pissed him off, even though he already knew. Maybe she would have told him, before, if she’d had a chance. He’d stood her up twice in the last month. The first time, he was hung over, and the second… he was playing drums in a dive bar for cash under the table. A contract? No.

He didn’t have any qualifications.

And the houseplant she’d given him had been dead for months.

“I like babies,” he said.

“Everyone likes babies.”

“And kids.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ll get a job,” he said.

Kathy nodded, but he could tell she didn’t believe him anymore.

“Will and Patrick are a great choice,” he said, after there wasn’t anything left to say.  They kept walking, and eventually, they got back to her office building.

“I’ll need your medical history.”

“Fine.”

Kathy looked at her watch. “I have to go back,” she said. She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “You should stop by, sometime. Maybe take the kid to a carnival, or something. Throw some balls. You’d be a pretty good fun uncle.”

He nodded. “I’ll do that.”

He didn’t know when, but he would. It sounded like fun, and maybe the kid would look like him.

True Self

I don’t know why I took the pills.

It wasn’t smart. Just a moment of try-anything desperation, and a gulp of water, and two slightly luminous capsules the size of castor beans went sliding down my throat.

Half a second after I swallowed, I decided to put my finger down my throat. That was the sane thing. The only choice. Throw up. Throw up. THROW UP!

I wasn’t fast enough.

The room didn’t spin, and nothing went black. My vision didn’t even blur.

I was going to puke up those pills, and then, I was on the floor. The cold tile and the sound of lukewarm water still running in the sink. Yeah. I knew the old woman’s promises were lies. I probably knew the pills were a rip-off, too. After all, the damn things glowed like theater props in her hand, and nobody ever said what they were supposed to do. I was hoping for something—anything—but there I was, waking up. Painted horse tranquilizers. Maybe Nimbutal.

Six hundred dollars down the drain, all because some poverty stricken fortune teller reminded me of my grandmother.

I stayed where I was, and listened to the water run.

Thought about calling an ambulance.

But what was I going to say? Passed out for a while. No, I don’t know what I took. Feel better, now. Feel better than I have in a month. But, maybe check my blood pressure?

No.

I got to my feet, and brushed off my bathrobe.

The clock on the counter said a barely-believable number. Time had passed, and lots of it.

If it was already evening, that was bad.

It wasn’t evening. The grinding progress of a garbage truck insisted it was morning.

And that meant I’d been unconscious for at least an entire day.

I’d have to be at work in a few hours, and for the first time in nine years, I wasn’t ready. The project I was working on wasn’t finished—not unless the pills had magical properties even the fortuneteller hadn’t predicted—and the company was relying on me. Failure was—

Not an option.

It was inevitable.

I was going to be fired, and the truth… Maybe the pills were working. Maybe they were–as advertised—resurrecting my true self.

Resurrecting? It had been so long I couldn’t remember for sure what my true self had been in the first place. I know people asked, once… what do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?

And I answered.

I must have answered.

But what I said?

I don’t remember.

My true self. Maybe I would have known, when I was eleven, and maybe… if I could remember… maybe knowing my true self would be enough to make me happy, or at least, to let me know where to look for happy.

I splashed some water on my face, and reached for a towel.

I couldn’t call in hung-over. I’d have to pull it together and make it through the day. I was a grown-up person, with a grown-up job, and after all, not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Glowing pills. What was I thinking? I’d never go back to believing I could be a rock star, or a fire woman, or a sea captain. Whatever thing it was, I’d forgotten it for a reason. And a pirate? Why not just dream of being a serial killer? The only difference is a hat.

I threw the towel in the hamper.

Then, I looked in the mirror, and stopped breathing.

I leaned in to look at my own face—at my true self, a voice in the back of my head repeated, not quite mocking— just to be sure I wasn’t leaving for work with the imprint of a shoe or a wrist-watch on my face. The mirror stared back at me.

And there was nothing there.

Nothing left of my true self.

So, there you have it. Something I whipped up for your entertainment. Let me know what you think, and be sure you beat the hell out of those share buttons.

Grumpy Saturday Morning

It’s early in the morning on a Saturday, and I am awake. I mean, it’s early, even for me. I’m being punished for letting my schedule go to hell on my days off, and for crashing yesterday. Somehow… no matter how hard I try, or how long it’s been, I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that sleeping to seven is sleeping in. And sleeping in more than I ever would have, when I was on a more normal schedule.

I mean, three and a half extra hours!

And no… Not good enough. I wind up sleeping until all kinds of times I wouldn’t ordinarily.

**pops a series of happy morning type vitamins**

**and an acetaminophen**

I’m having one of those mornings where I woke up to my “daily reminder” on Twitter of how evil a particular book is. The general goal of the “reminder” is to talk it’s (traditional) publisher into cancelling it.

Let’s be honest, though… if I didn’t catch on that there was a publisher until after I’d read the tweet, and read the review it linked to, and went on Goodreads to figure out what the heck the story is about… the campaign’s not all that effective.

I’m creeping slowly toward free-speech absolutism in my old age, and by the time I’m eighty, I’ll probably think you should be able to shout FIRE in a crowded theater.

I was a little shocked to find out that this did have a mainstream publisher. My first thought–as soon as I read the main character’s name–was actually that the reviewer had accidentally picked up something written and published by the white power movement, and was doing nothing but signal boosting by railing against it.

(There will be no signal boosting here.)

So, here’s this book. And by the time I was finished reading the review, I was thoroughly convinced that the reviewer was an idiot. After all, who picks up a book where the hero’s name is Hitler McHitlerson and is then surprised when it turns out to be racist?

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that obvious. I’m grumpy early in the morning, and I probably need to be reminded that not everybody was actually paying attention in that particular dusty corner of the library stacks.

Still. Direct line.

I was surprised when I found out we weren’t talking about some guy with a garage full of vanity press copies.

If there’s an idea out there that’s so dangerous I need to be protected from it… well, this isn’t it.

StoryTime Blog Hop: An Invitation

The StoryTime Blog Hop is a hop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative fiction writers to show off their short stories. While it’s not specifically aimed at children, we do avoid adult content for this one. The amazing Juneta Key has been suckered into hosting graciously volunteered to host this month’s hop yet again, and she’s inviting anyone who has a short story that fits the bill to join in.

If you are interested in participating, the rules and deadlines are here: http://www.junetakey.com/posts/rules-guidelines-storytime-blog-hop/

If you’re still not sure what this is all about, I have links to some of the past stories, including my own StoryTime contributions here: StoryTime links so you’ll be able to read what people have done in the past. (It’s possible that needs updating. I’ll look into it.)

We’re also looking into a stand-alone StoryTime website, and some great ideas for promoting and growing the blog hop, so be sure you join in the conversation.

Why I Walked Away From That Book

I read a book description… because, let’s face it, reading book descriptions when you really, really have no intention of buying anything which is not already on the shopping list….is a bookworm’s version of going to the casino. You can keep doing it all you want, but if you keep going long enough, you’re going to wind up owning a shiny new impulse book.

I got lucky this time, because I didn’t buy a book… well, I didn’t buy two books… technically. Yet. I do not have a problem. And people should quit waving books under my nose, if they think I do!

And I wound up with this nifty blog post about my jaw getting all scraped up from dragging on the ground.

The editor described this book as “a love triangle set in the harshest period of American history.“Except… it’s set in the Great Depression.

The Great Depression is not the harshest period of American History. I mean, yeah… people waited to get married and you sent your kid back to the butcher, if he brought a roast home with the bone still in it, but… The harshest period in American History?

It’s a historical novel, so really… I admit I’m gonna place a high level of emphasis on historical accuracy. And well, that… “harshest period” is already straight up wrong. Not a matter of debate. Not a matter of opinion.

The Great Depression wasn’t even nominated.

I think I could sit here and list my top ten harshest periods of American History, and the Great Depression still wouldn’t be on it. I think I could let the non-Americans who read this blog have a go at it, and even if they don’t have any real interest in American History, they would be able to come up with harsher time periods.

No. I really don’t think you can make any kind of a defense for that statement.

If that’s the historical inaccuracy in the description… if that’s the kind of thing the editor says, I’ll pass. I don’t really want my head all full of could-be facts and sensationalism.

Military Culture, Universals, and Sentient Cephalopods

I was perusing the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference’s website the other day. (Can’t decide whether I’m daydreaming or actually shopping) and I ran onto a seminar about writing military characters. (past conferences brochures, if you’re looking.)

Now, let’s be honest. Most days, that’s the kind of seminar I’d probably forego in favor of something else. Actually, basically anything else, because I’m not writing a war book, or even a book based on the Planet Earth. (I think we can all agree there are very few United States Marines in space.)

But I do have military characters.

More than one of them.

And they’re pretty major characters.

They’re not human. They’re not from my time period, or my planet, and you can’t look them up on Wikipedia and figure out what they did in the last twenty-seven battles.

I know who won, and who lost, and I know that the guy who lost hasn’t completely given up his cause. I know what the guy who won did in order to win.

But the specific details listed in the seminar aren’t things that would apply. The language is different. The uniforms are different. The weaponry is… well, definitely not current technology.

So, now I’m thinking about universals. The things that arise from function, rather than culture. The things that would be the same in 8th century Greece as in 20th century America. The things that stay the same, whether you’re two-legged foot soldiers or a fleet of talking space squids.

Are there universals? What commonalities do you see? What differences?

The Poisoner of Time

Story Time Blog Hop Logo

It was nearly midnight before the first fatal drops splattered from the rattling still.

The old woman checked the door, but she was alone. Her husband was long since in bed, the cat was locked safely in the cellar, and the most lethal poison in the world was gathering in the bottom of one of her grandmother’s rose tea cups. And her other self? The harried young woman she’d been all those years ago? She wouldn’t be there. That was certain. The old woman no longer remembered exactly where she had been that week, but somewhere else. A business trip, probably. There had been so many of those, and always, the promise was later… always, later…

The old woman scoffed, and adjusted the fire under the still.

Later. When? After she got pregnant, she’d worked even harder. A baby to support. A new house. A newer, safer car. They’d both worked harder, and they told each other they’d relax later. In time, when things would be better, and they’d all be secure. The baby was born, they hired a sitter, and kept working.

The baby grew, and changed, and said his first words. The sitter took video.

By then, she’d regretted all those days and nights she spent working.

The sitter went home. The baby got sick. The husband packed him into a warm car on a cold, winter night, and disappeared too fast down a too icy road.

And then, Time. Tick by tick, second by second, she moved further and further away from them. The love of her life—she’d always taken him for granted—and their child—more and more Time between them.

She learned to fight her way backward through time, like running the wrong way up an escalator. She could get close – now and then, she could see them on the other side of the years and decades.

And then, she slipped back. The currents carried her away again and again.

She was still young, when the first strange optimism entered her mind: Time separated them. Time, and only Time. And if Time could be destroyed… if she could end Time… or even just wound Him, there would be nothing left to keep them apart. She could be with her family again.

She plotted—how to reach Time, how to brew poison strong enough to kill Time, itself, how to sneak into the palaces of eternity unnoticed.

And after she made her plans, she’d waited longer. No one would suspect a gray old woman of carrying poison in her tea. No one would suspect a single thing.

She walked deliberately, so slowly, that at times, she believed she would die before she ever reached Time. Step by step, carefully… if she splashed—if she spilled a single drop–the poison that was brewed to kill an immortal could overcome a thousand, a million aging mortals like her.

She teetered down to the end of the corridor, pushed open the last door, and stepped inside the dimly lit room.

And then, there was Time.

He lay, half-exhausted on a feather bed. Slender, almost delicate, though the lithe muscles in his legs and back suggested a runner’s strength.

He looked—she thought, just for a moment—like her own baby might have looked at twenty or twenty-five, if he had lived long enough to grow so tall and strong.

She pushed the thought out of her mind. The poison trembled in her cup: another second longer, and her own strength might vanish; she could collapse and spill the poison on herself. She inhaled, lifted the cup, as if she were about to drink, and then flung the liquid, cup and all, across the empty space between them.

The poison splashed across Time’s back, and seared the flesh it touched; the cup bounced on the mattress, and then rolled over the edge. It fell fast, but, just before it should have hit the marble floor, it stopped falling. It stopped falling. Everything stopped.

In the motionless silence that followed, the old woman laughed; her enemy was dead. There wasn’t a second of Time between herself and… Her family, her husband, her baby… They were all in that one, single Now. Now was all… the teacup was floating in air. Not falling. There was no Time for anything to fall. Not anymore. Time was dead.

She laughed again.

Running footsteps on the floor behind her. A man or a god swept her out of the way. Before she could say anything, he rolled the corpse onto its back, and pounded on Time’s chest with his fists. He pressed his mouth to Time’s lips. A kiss, perhaps, or maybe resuscitation. She knew the effort wouldn’t work; the new god was already kneeling in her poison.

“Mortal, you fool!” He compressed Time’s chest again, and again, nothing. Nothing, and the teacup didn’t fall an inch. “You fool. Don’t you know what you’re made of? What they’re all made of?”

“Flimsy things, I know.” She took a step backward. “And yet, here you are. Take him, Death.”

“Death?” The god’s voice was thinner than before, and a cold sparkle In his eyes was already fading. He sank onto the pillows, and let his eyelids close. “No, woman. I wasn’t Death. I was Memory.”


The elegant room faded into white tile and florescent lights, and then, it slipped away all together.

She’d been somewhere else.

She knew she—

Somewhere… hadn’t she just been somewhere else?

She tried to get up. Tried to find someone she didn’t see. She couldn’t remember who.

And then, a bland young woman in a too-cheerful set of hospital scrubs was there beside her, coaxing her back into the chair she’d just left.

“That cup never broke,” the old woman said, and smiled. She knew that much, at least. That was the important part of the thing. “You know that old rose tea cup? The antique one? It–

“Your cup is perfectly safe,” the bland woman said, and patted her hand.

 

 

Be sure you visit the other writers in the StoryTime Blog Hop for more stories!

New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
The Thief & The Pocket Heart by Juneta Key
Hello Again! by J. Q. Rose
Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary
Veronica by Jessica Kruppa
Last Stop by Erica Damon
Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush

What Do I Do With That Over Grown Manuscript?

I can’t decide whether I’m horrified or relieved by the size of the cuts in my new revision. On the one hand… well, I don’t have to make sure there are commas in all the right places. On the other hand… When, exactly, did cutting (cuss, cuss, expletive, derisive snort) thousand words become not a big deal? I’m not going to mention the number. I’m not even going to look at the number. Not until I’m done butchering.

The good news is that I might actually manage to make this into one book. And maybe even one book of a marketable length.

The bad news is that now, I have to actually write all the parts that aren’t in the draft, but are in the outline I’ve been working on.

Any other pantsers in the neighborhood? How do you get your manuscript organized? Plotters?  Well, any organization tips for beginners (or, you know… small children?)

This is Getting Series-er and Series-er…

I spent a good chunk of my lunch hour organizing today. Trying to figure out exactly how much stuff has to go into my novel in order for it to be a complete story.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the kind of book where you get to the end and find yourself wondering where the rest of the story went. I always feel a little cheated.

And I feel more cheated if I happen to get in on the middle of a series, and the “rest” of it isn’t even available. Sometimes, I’ll “wait” for the next installment–or more precisely, I’ll remember it exists long enough to get it–but most of the time, I won’t. Half the time, if I do go back, it’s more a coincidence than anything else. Bumping into an acquaintance on the bookstore shelves. Fancy meeting you here!

I don’t want to write one of those books. In fact, for a long time, I didn’t want to write anything but stand-alone, non-series, non-related books.

I’ve backed off the no series thing. (Well, I’m having fun in one of my worlds.)

But I still want the books to stand alone.

I am just barely squeaking by on that goal. And I need to pinch every single word really, really tight to get there.

When I’m focused, I think I can do it. When I let myself look beyond my outline, and see the entire behemoth of a rough draft I have fermenting in my hard drive… I’m not so sure.

So, my question for tonight is… Tell me about the times you’ve picked up a series, and felt like the first book just… wasn’t all there. Tell me about the ones you’ve waited for, and kept reading, and the ones you put down all together. What makes the difference?