Heart of Steel: Short Fic Friday

John slammed the door to his car, sucked in all the air his lungs could hold, and let out a loud, violent cough. Sweet, sweet relief. He could breathe, the tickle in his throat that he had been fighting all night was finally clear.

“Hello,” he said to himself, his voice markedly softer than his hacking. Yes, his voice was back to normal. It sounded less sexy unclouded by phlegm. She probably didn’t notice, either way.

“Hi.”

John jumped, whipped his head to the right. Shit. There she was, just outside his passenger door. He thought she had gotten in her own car already. Did she hear that terrible cough? She was just as beautiful as her picture on the site, just like the rest.

“Sorry,” he said, mind racing, neck sweating. “I didn’t see you. I…sorry. I’m just…” She stared politely, letting him finish. “Nervous. I’m not good at this.”

“No worries. Mind if I join you? We still have some time.”

John unlocked the door. She slid in, her perfect body sinking into the black leather. John wrapped his fingers around the wheel. He couldn’t bear to look at her.

“Did you enjoy tonight?”

She was looking right at him. Her eyes glowed synthetic white light. She sat so straight.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t…I don’t know how to do this.”

“Let’s just drive, and talk. No big deal.”

He pulled out of the parking garage. He felt his sickness welling in his throat again. Just another thing to worry about on such a strange date. He would drive until she was satiated, delete her number, delete his profile from the site. His fault for trying something new, he supposed. No, Walt’s fault for telling him it was normal. He and Ronnie had never been normal.

Well. The night was pretty. There weren’t many cars, and certainly not many with people inside of them. John loved driving around all the autocars. They were so slow and even that he could weave between them like a stitching needle.

Her metallic skin reflected the brake lights and seemed striped with red, white, yellow. She was twiddling her thumbs in her lap. He wondered if she, too, had anxiety. He wished she would slouch a little.

“What are you thinking?” He asked her. What a strange question. He could remember asking Ronnie if she could think, at all. Walt had nearly thrown him out of the house.

“I like your suit,” she said. “I like how it fits you.”

“I like your dress,” he replied, and it was true. The rich red looked lovely in the restaurant, and in the dark night it was dulled to a mahogany and complemented her silver skin and rope-like brown hair. He wanted to ask what made her have preferences, if they were programmed into her. He wondered if she knew. He wondered if she’d lie about it. He wondered if it mattered…of course it mattered.

The music was low, pulsing. She tapped the toe of a high heel to the beat.

“Did you want to go anywhere?”

“No,” she said, leaning her head back against the seat. “I just love to drive with humans. It’s quite a lot of fun. And, I like spending time with you. I know you’re nervous. And I know you probably miss her…”

John stared straight ahead. The red and white city lights swam in his vision, formed a young Lisa’s dying face. Younger, her wedding veil, her mother, his mother, the vomit, the blood, their daughter, all dying.

Then this thing. The Replacement, sipping a drink one part vodka three parts Ecofuel. The way she tried to move like a woman. The way they all did, how they almost got it. The way they wore vintage dresses because no one bothered designing new ones. The way they now seemed so short and skinny and pretty after years without the flesh and blood equivalent. How to talk to a shell of something that no longer exists? How to talk to a replication? How to talk to a made-to-order immortal?

How to touch one? How to love one?

“I just want you to know that I get it,” she said. “I might not feel it as intensely, but I understand. And…I’m here for you.”

John nodded. “Thank you…I have to think. Perhaps it’s still too early for me.”

She nodded too. He didn’t turn the car around yet, though. Still thinking. If he dropped her off back at the restaurant, she would be gone until he called again. For now, she was here. It had been so long since he’d been alone in a car with a woman, and though it was awkward he had to admit it was nice. She was unsettlingly pretty. He wished she was plumper, or had asymmetrical breasts or a strange birthmark, or short eyelashes or limp hair.

He was driving over the bridge now, and the water shone below like a rippling mirror. He wanted uncertainty nearly as much as he wanted to kiss her. He wanted her to short circuit all her programming, especially the programming telling her not to mind that she’s programmed. He knew that despite her silver color she was warm, soft, fleshy, with a working womb that he was being told left and right to utilize. He didn’t want a baby. He didn’t want a sure thing. He half wanted her to reject him.

She placed two nimble fingers on the radio and turned it two notches.

“Do you mind?” she asked. “I hate this song.”

He shook his head. “Me too.”

The song changed twice, and she let it rest.

“Mm,” she said, stretching her arms and closing her eyes. She sang along, softly, a bit off tune. John sped up, cut off another autocar. Maybe, he mused, he’d keep driving through the night. What was the use in turning around, anyhow?

Cough: Short Fic Friday

She wouldn’t cough. How bad could it be?

She began a deep breath, but it hitched in her throat so she let it out softly. A curling cloud shot out from between her teeth. Floating, suddenly, her neck was heavy but her head was light. In water, warm water, rippling around her outline. The moon was dim, easy to look at. The night was velvet.

She could sense life humming inside of her. She could feel the give and flexibility of her skin. Her eyes were dense marbles; she could feel them moving as she searched the sky. She couldn’t move, or she would sink.

Her friends were saying things, but she didn’t want to hear them. It was peaceful. She wanted to be alone.

Grass, now, she was on a field. It made her bum cold, wet, but it felt nice. It felt like biting into an apple, except all over her skin. She stretched out her legs. It reminded her of delving her hand into a barrel of dried beans at the supermarket. The grass tickled. It was so much sensation she had to slow down or risk getting dizzy.

She ran. She ran, and her lungs kept up with her. She could breathe so easily. Her knees didn’t crack or ache. The wind whistled in her ears. She felt so free, within her own body.

She woke up. A dream, of course a dream. Back, aching. Arms, weak. Bed, lights, too bright to look at. Trapped. She wanted freedom. She got oatmeal, instead. Water. Three more weeks, then freedom again. Maybe more than before.

Makeup: Short Fic Friday

Shane glared at his mirror, his shoulder blades pinching together, his hands gripping the rim of the sink. His eyes darted from his forehead creases to the zit on his chin to his appearing crows feet to the zit on his chin to his graying temples to the zit on his chin.

“Pick one!” he shouted at himself. His cat yowled from his bedroom at the sudden noise. Shane sighed and rested his head in the crux of his elbow. Now? It had to be now?

“It’s ‘cause you’re stressed,” he whispered and splashed water on his face. He ran his finger over the bump. It’s pretty deep in there. It wouldn’t be one he could pinch and have it disappear. No. This one was a fighter.

Marzia’s drawers in the bathroom they once shared were all but empty. A hair scrunchie, an old disposable razor. No tweezers, no zit cream, no makeup!

“I could run to CVS. No, I wouldn’t know what to get. The colors all look wrong.” He dried his face on the bottom of his shirt and left the bathroom. Maybe it only seemed big since he was staring at it.

The house was so empty, so big. His feet were so quiet on the carpet that he hadn’t vacuumed in months. The cat needed feeding, so he fed her. He would need to get more cat food soon. He fought tooth and nail for that money-sucker.

Shane paused outside the bathroom door, bouncing on his toes, then leapt in, as if he could scare the zit off his face. Nope, still there, and even bigger and redder than he thought it was.

“Okay, dammit,” Shane said. He checked his phone. One hour. Only one hour? He needed to fix this. It was so easy when Marzia was here. He would always use her concealer—they had the same skin tone. Meetings, holidays, regular Tuesdays. Since she’d left, though…

The cat yowled, there was a big clatter. Shane set his bepimpled jaw. That damn cat.

He caught his own eye in the mirror. Yes, perfect.

Not twenty minutes later and he was at Marzia’s door, cat carrier under one arm. He rang the bell, then knocked directly after.

Marzia opened the door, all six feet and three inches of her. He used to like her supermodel height, her lanky limbs that moved awkwardly like cheap animation. Now she just felt intimidating. Shane held the cat out to her.

“Please,” Shane said. “I need a favor.”

It took a little convincing, but soon he was in Marzia’s new bathroom, slathering his chin in concealer. It made him a new man. He rubbed it until it was unnoticeable.

He popped out of the bathroom. Marzia was stroking the cat on her bed.

“Thank you h…” He caught the  “honey” before it escaped his lips.

“Is it for a date?”

Shane didn’t answer quickly. Marzia nodded.

“A man, then? I presume, considering….” She sighed. “Unless you lied about that just to…well.”

Shane looked down to the carpet. Freshly vacuumed. “Yes…a man. I wouldn’t have lied about that, Marzia.”

“And this is what…you want, to make you happy?”

“Yes.” Yes, for the thousandth time, yes.

“Well, okay then. It’s what you have to do, then, okay. Okay.”

The cat leapt off the bed and stalked out of the room. They were alone.

“I don’t know what to say that we haven’t already.”

Marzia’s shoulders lifted once with a silent laugh. “Me either. Me either.” She gave him the once-over. “You look good…I hope it goes well. And thanks for the cat.”

“Thanks for the makeup.”

Grown Up (Short Fic Friday)

Welcome to the first Short Fic Friday! Every week I’ll be posting a new short fiction story, due to the great response to my A to Z Challenge. Enjoy it!

 

 

Alex knelt at the tide pool, her damp knees getting coated in sand. She waved at her toddler cousin.

“Look, Sammy,” she shouted to him, sinking the heel of her right hand into the loose mud. “I think there’s a crab, or something, under this rock. See?”

Sammy wobbled up behind her, holding a red, plastic shovel he refused to let go of. “Crab?”

“Yes, a crab. I think he went under there, do you see him?” She leaned over the tepid water at far as she dared. The pool was still but teeming with creatures she had a nervous fascination with. She pressed her other hand on a rock coated with barnacles. The crevice between rocks was dark, but the water was a crystal green. There was a slight shift in the sand.

“Crab? Crab?” Sammy repeated, trying to replicate how Alex was standing. He leaned his shovel against the barnacles.

“I think so. Let me try to catch it. Can I use your shovel?”

Sammy held it out to her, but just as she was going to take it he yanked it out of her grasp. She sighed, laughing.

“You got me. Fine, you want cousin Alex to get pinched, I’ll get pinched.”

Alex swallowed. She knew she wouldn’t likely get pinched, but if she did, what would she do? Her mom was way back by the towels, and Uncle Max, Sammy’s dad, was further down the beach at a different tide pool with his older daughter. Well, whatever. No going back now. She slipped her little hand between the boulders, feeling her way around the rough barnacles. She touched sand and recoiled, then went down again, feeling along toward where the crab had escaped.

Sammy sneezed, loud and adorable. Alex smiled but kept going, not looking back.

“Nose,” Sammy said, his voice muted.

“Yeah, you sneezed, buddy. Bless you.”

“Nose!” He patted her calf insistently. Alex looked under her arm at him.

His face was covered in huge boogers, gooey green and dangling past his mouth. He looked about to cry, his head hunched over so the snot didn’t touch his chin.

“Oh, Sammy,” Alex said, then a sharp pain shot down her arm from her ring finger. She screamed and fell backward out of the tide pool and onto the sand, grabbing at her hand. Sure enough, the little crab had got her. Luckily it let go quickly, but her finger was still red and throbbing. It hurt more than when she caught it in the car door last winter.

She sucked on her finger, salty and covered in sand. Sammy was crying now, scared by her scream and cranky because of his boogers. Alex fought back her own tears, smacking sticky sand off her back, legs, and bottom. She had to be the grown up now and help Sammy. No parents were around, fine. Alex was nine, now. She could do it.

“Okay, it’s okay,” she said. “Come on, Sammy.”

They walked to the ocean together, she sucking on her finger, he hunched over and whimpering. No matter what, she did not want to touch the boogers, but she didn’t have anything else but her bathing suit. She paused at the water’s edge, looking for a seashell or something to scoop his face clean.

Sammy cried at the sand, the booger long and swinging but still hanging on. He clutched his shovel.

Alex considered holding him above the water so just his face got wet to wash it away, but then thought better of it. She put her hands on her hips, her sore finger pressing hard.

“Sammy, I need your shovel.”

“No!” he howled, gripping it with two hands.

“You can still hold onto it after; I just need it to clean the boogies.”

“No!”

Alex groaned and dropped to her knees. She took a breath, looked away, and snatched the boogers off his face with the tips of her fingers and thumb. She dunked her hand in the water and shook it furiously, then did it again, pinching his nose perhaps a bit too hard and then shaking it off her with vigor, gagging.

“Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew,” she chanted through the whole ordeal. Finally, he was clean.

He sniffled a little. Alex stood up and sucked on her finger again.

“I’m never having kids,” she told the snotty ocean.

Sammy hugged her leg tight. “Thank you!” he said, and offered her his shovel.

Alex smiled. “You’re darn cute, though,” she said, and reached for the shovel. He giggled and yanked it out of her reach.