Tech Noir

Inveterate unemployment.

The story of my life. I fish in my coat and take a S shaped cigarette from my crushed pack of Farbolos. I hurl smoke rings in the bare room. The phone silently accuses me from my beat desk. Maybe I forgot to pay the bill? My feet are on the desk and I gaze at the raggedy clouds that pull themselves across the small rectangle of visibility my window (income) affords me.

It’s a grey day, and it’s a great day to drink. I take my feet off the desk and daub the cigarette in the ashtray, pour myself a Clown’s Smile Rum. I knock back a slug and grimace. Clown’s smile, indeed. I pour myself another couple fingers. Days like this rum is the best medicine, I muse. From the pack I take a Y shaped—how the hell did that happen?—cigarette and as I light it, a knock thuds on the door.

Another knock.

There is a shatter of glass, and I find my plate glass window—I had just stenciled in my name—resting in pieces on the grimy floor. A dame, in a tight black skirt, with legs all the way to her chin, wearing an expression of astonishment.

Quite literally, in fact.

A mechanoid DAME-X003, a model especially prone to the extremes of human emotion. There is an apologetic whir of optics, the clank of badly greased bearings. I sigh. These were an especially kvetchy sort, if you could believe it. The majority of business down my way, it’s them… Say, I can’t seem to tell whether it’s the always the same robot or a series of ’em. Either way, business is business.

I wave the robot in.

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CHESTER: Guilt Trip

The day after our zombie friend has  inadvertently wiped out an entire town by the hungry virtue of vice.

“I’m looking for information.” Chester settled onto a barstool. The pub was empty but for a priest slumped at the bar and its bartender who stubbed out his cigarette and took to polishing a glass.

“It’s about the Storied Woods, isn’t it? Just about the only reason folks stop by this godforsaken town.” He rubbed ferociously at the glass, peering closely. “It’s suicide, you know. Nobody ever comes out.”

“I’m aiming to go places no man has ever gone.” False braggadocio there, failing to camouflage the slight quaver of fear that caught in Chester’s throat, and the bartender knew it.

“It’s not that the place is lacking visitors. Just… nobody real comes out. That’s why we don’t mind the likes of you.” The man behind the bar shrugged. “There have been worse.” He put away the glass. “You seem to have a tale caught in your throat. I’m all ears and it’s a slow day.”

Dust settled. The priest woke up. Chester shook his head.

“There’s nobody around, and there ain’t much difference between a bartender and a priest.”

“O-okay. Father, I have sinned.”

“Wot’s that? Heh heh.” The padre nodded at the bartender. “A drink for my new friend, here.”

Chester protested vehemently, suggesting that it would be only a waste of money. The padre wouldn’t hear any of it. “As long as you’re paying,” Chester said, slamming back the shot of corn whiskey. It splashed on the floor, the padre who looked him up and down concluding, “Guess I shoulda listened. So, what’s your grief?”

So the zombie regaled the duo with his sad tale, culminating at the fateful meeting and concluding at the moment he stepped into the pub. The padre smiled a sad smile and said:

“Oncet I brought a boat load of drugs—the boring ones, mind you, antibiotics, aspirin, antibacterials, and all the like—to an impoverished people, they bellies all hanging out like they had gone and swallowed a watermelon whole, who wore pieces of green plastic (PCBs?) they found in the wastes through in their ears and noses and mouths and tongues and Lord knows what else, and I helped them.”

The padre settled his cheek against the smooth bar. Each burst of breath threw a fan of steam on the polished surface. He sat up, his fingers compulsively scrabbling for his brandy.

“I wanted to help them. The medicines I brought were corrupted. Poisoned. They died by the hundreds, painfully. An entire culture vanished before my eyes, and I was the one responsible.” The brandy tumbled golden in its glass until it disappeared into the padre’s mouth. He brought raw, blood etched eyes to bear onto Chester. “I lost my faith. In everything. The Lord, he had made me an angel of death. And why? To these people who most needed his help. I could not accept it.”

He gestured at the bottle. “I drowned myself in a sea of escape. I floundered in these dark and filthy”—nobody noticed the bartender nodding to himself. He knew too well, having had to replace his mop one time more than he preferred—“places until the Lord sent me a message loud and clear.”

The padre slapped the bar top with both hands. “It was you, Chester. You slaughtered an entire town by virtue of your raw hunger, unbridled with your selfish purpose. Me, I was trying to help, and help I did.”—bright beaded eyes raised towards the heavens—”I delivered them from their earthly prison, their pain and suffering, into the bosom of the Lord! I’m not a monster like you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

“More brandy! It’s a time of celebration!” cried the padre. “So Chester, my green drippy friend, thank you! From now on, I drink for recreation only, not guilt!”

The bartender chuckled at that. “It’s business either way.”

The padre glared at him, as if saying see if ya get a tip, and took the proffered brandy. Chester was looking at the priest with horror. His guilt had doubled, trebled. What remained of his heart palpitated with regret.“Are you sure you’re a priest?”

“Who, me? No!” Guffaws. “T-that’s rich. You thought I was a p-priest?” Wiping laugh tears from the corners of his eyes, the man who looked like a priest told Chester an undependable tale of a whore with a heart of gold, a priest with a fish in his knickers, and himself, a man in the right place at the right time, who had the most to gain from it all. “Look!” he said, lifting a fish from his cassock. “Ain’t that a beaut?”

Shuddering, Chester left the pub and wandered until he fell into a farmer’s pen. Something pushed roughly at him amid curious snorts. After a while, he awoke engorged and covered in blood, sprawled smack dab in bull’s eye circle of stiff hogs with hollowed out brains.

He ran screaming into the morning as the cock crowed.

Strange Love

He imprisoned fairies in sterile Mason jars with air holes and fed them pearls of morning dew. In the evenings he read in their ethereal light. He began the hobby because he wanted to save money on candles. It rapidly became a lifestyle.

She collected miniature devils and took them to the taxidermist, bringing home little red figures preserved in a variety of verbs. She sang to them in the twilight and dreamed of Sheol’s warm red fires. They cluttered her bedroom, overflowing into the rest of her living space.

One day they met on the street under a sky the color of scorched metal. Squinting, he carried his jar like a lantern and it lit his way between the guttering gas lamps. She walked like a drunk, absorbed in a dialogue with the little red devils that filled her many pockets. They collided and made great rocking shadows. He bent to pick a figurine, and she bent to pick his glasses. Their heads knocked together and they saw stars that quickly turned into orbiting hearts.

Together they made good company, provided one left the other to their idiosyncrasies, and moved in together. After a year passed, they were murdered in the only recorded cooperation between the devils and fairies, leaving the authorities scratching their scalps in confusion.

A Probability Game

The Time Traveller looked at his chronoscope, sighed, and twisted a dial. His self foamed across space-time, sudsing into a million-million worlds, as determined to be viable by his nifty gadget.

Fifty percent of these instances he stood in still sunlight that made his face glow with heat as he squinted into the epitome of commerce: bustling business types along glittering skyscrapers and flashing taxi cabs.

Twenty five percent of these instances, he wiped his brow and looked down a windswept avenue littered with tumbling newspapers and battered vehicles piloted by desiccated corpses. A dog barked in the distance. A storm swept overhead, clouds like grey flags in high wind.

Nineteen percent of these instances, he died. Face askew on the fractured windshield of a car, stunned driver mumbling he came from nowhere, nowhere. Skull split open from a falling vase. Screeching human sacrifice of natives whose piercings hung with transistors and diodes. Abdomen trailing intestines, rent open by the jaws of wild dogs. Freak storms. Beaten to death with calculators in a siege of accountants. Carved up with bottleglass in an inter-city tribal war. Torn to shreds by feminists wracked with penis hate. Boiled in the gastric symphony of a hideous beast that burst from the torn maw of a shattered hotel.

Five percent of these instances found him in a wasteland. Utter emptiness, sometimes cold and sleepless in a harsh wind, sometimes sleepily contoured from the lullaby of constant zephyrs. There weren’t always cities, stinging particles always stung his eyes.

One percent of these instances left him in an austere void, bursting apart in a parody of dance, then crystallizing to float icily in a vacuum. Often the rictus of his corpse was illuminated by a sun, usually a G-type. Less frequently, he drifted amid the giant shards of a world. Mostly, it was the blackest black, cold and empty.

It was time to regroup, he mused. He had found what he was looking for.

The Prodigal Son

The wayfarer stood at the crossroads, holding a small leather satchel with gloved hands. He wore a long coat, with an upturned collar. His eyes, green like beetle sap, watched the crooked streetsign rattle in the wind, its mischief also fondly fondling his rich brown mantle of hair. His breath steamed from aristocratic nostrils that sniffed as a line of dust slowly grew from the west.

It screeched to a halt in a paroxysm of steam and dust. He could barely see the figure who crawled out of the contraption. It was only a boy! He affected scratched aviator goggles that he pulled from his eyes, snapping it onto a thick mop of dirty brown hair. His eyes, like blueberries in a barrel of water under a clear summer sky. Boy blue eyes. A wide grin redeemed the grimy face and a hand gloved with thick old leather reached towards the wayfarer. “Joannes. How do you like this thing?” The wayfarer took the hand gingerly and nodded. “Ashford. Ashford Blaxhill. W-what is it? I was expecting a carriage.”

The boy whooped and slapped the metal beast. “It’s a Steamhorse Deluxe! It’s a carriage… horseless! Car, for short. A beaut. It’ll take us where you’re going right fast.”

Ashford nodded again, nervously. He made to step into the carriage and lost his balance. With a cry, “Careful, hot!” the boy steadied him.

Ashford began to regret his excursion, but it was necessary. The boy did something with the carriage, uh, car, and it bucked into violent life, eliciting an involuntary cry from the wayfarer. Steam broiled the low, thin glass pane that faced them and the boy sniggered. “I heard that.” Ashford gripped the satchel until his knuckles became white. The boy laughed again, his goggles frosted. They were off, the car once more tossing up dust, headed for the road.

It flapped in the wide open spaces above the rolling hills and blue winding streams that made up the sun-spattered countryside of checkered orchard greens and golden wheat, above stone bridges and old, cracked roads. It was the very last of its kind, its species’ only survivor of Nature’s compassionate cruelty, and it ranged the land for a suitable nesting place for its precious hoard, tumescently tucked under the whir of its iridescent wings. Multi-faceted eyes gleamed, telescoped and its antennas susurrated a hum of approval; its slow drone upped the ante and it fell towards a copse of gymnosperms voraciously choked by twisting vines dotted with yellow topped blue blooms.

“WAHOOOO!” The boy bounced in his seat with childish enthusiasm. Ashford was beginning to smile. Once on the road, the going was much smoother, and admittedly, this new-fangled thing was surely faster than a horse drawn carriage. Something pulped against the windshield and he squeaked with fright.

“Oh, man look at the mess that one made!” The glass was a meaty smear, and a piece like a rainbow shard tinkled against the beating air resistance. Joannes stood, bracing his knees against the dashboard and reached over the windshield, wiping at the mess. He still handled the steering wheel and the car almost plunged off road, into dark forest. Joannes gave Ashford the little piece of rainbow. It was soft, like flimsy velvet, but it did not snap in his hands. He put it in a pocket.

They puttered past cornfields, stone cottages crumbling to ruin, rusted industrial complexes surrendering to choked foliage, invading morning glories, past chicory and datura and belladona that overtook the gravel bordering the ferrocrete, threatening to strangle the road. Foliage whipped their cheeks and they had to huddle to the center. Nothing grew on the ‘crete road.

It became prematurely dark. Clouds boiled a purple black cauldron in the sky and teemed with dancing lightning. Joannes had brought out a pair of Naptha lamps. It was an unnerving experience, as the boy had a way of doing things with seeming disregard for the road. Somewhere between the torchlight and fading visibility superstition had crept into Ashford’s mind. He heard cackles between the crackle of tire and road, saw foliage rustling with sudden motion. Witches weaving through the corn, and long skeletal hands plucking at the plants of secret magic, dark green fire of straddled broomsticks jetting through the stalks. Purple eyes that gleamed amid unholy incantations through mouthfuls of rat blood. Bat streaked air. Ashford clutched at his hair. The sun buried itself in the far clear horizon, the light disintegrating with a green flash.

The rain started coming down in stinging sheets. The boy shivered in his seat, and Ashford felt depressed. The lamps still swung and rattled on their hooks, flickering in their glass globes. Firelight in the distance. Joannes howled joyously, and seemed to get a bit more speed out of the monstrous contraption. They sluiced off the road, snapping a sapling, and rutted in the mud before finally surging forward. The car shut off, but they seemed to slide sidelong for many long moments before finally coming to a halt.

The house lay before them, its many windows aglow with welcome light and warmth. The screen door clanged open and a plump, matronly form in baby blue apron stepped onto the porch. Joannes was already making his way towards the hearth glow, but Ashford just stood in the rain. A gray hair in bun, crow’s feet on a map of wrinkles, spatula in hand. A smell of cookies smiled down at them. Relief flooded Ashford and choked his voice. It was not too late. “Father…”

A Dog’s Day

Valentine Stagbour saunters out of the hotel lobby, ballooning bosoms and swaying hips, wrapped with a tight pink number that makes her seem all legs. Her platinum blond bob bobs along with her boob job, framing a sexy oval face pasted with the sour expression only the rich have. Four inch heels elevate her to a daunting height of five feet, but don’t let that fool you. Her eyes are the green of hundred dollar bills and she has straight, small incisive teeth, a temper that flaunts these qualities with a quick sneer or a drawling snarl of ruby lips. A lashing larynx. She has business in town. An engagement to break. It is what a heiress does, after all.

She trots hot to strut, flanked by large muscular men in suits and sunglasses awkward in their haste to accomodate her pace. Just out the heavy swinging glass doors she ratchets to a halt, her fun parts almost defying gravity… but they settle joggedly. She turns back, lips rounding into an O. A fusillade of yips fills the air like rotten perfume, lightly accented with greased squeaks. Miss Stagbour bends down and affords unwary bystanders an enchanting glimpse of her assets. Bare like the bulbs that flash by from a busload of passing Japanese tourists. Konichiwa! A dog is caught in the door. Not just any dog, mind you. Her dog. A chihuahua, to be accurate. But yet, that description is not accurate enough. It is a chihuahua with wheels. And a handle.

“Poor Robocop!” Scooping the dog by the handle nestled against its back with a snug fluff covered vest she spins his darling little wheels (tricked up custom-made Tru Spinners), crooning as she glares up at a bodyguard. “Bad Cristo! Bad, bad boy!”

Cristo on her left pales and his bicep twitches. Flashes of studded leather and copious amounts of big black rubber. Last time he was bad, it was embarrassing, to whip out an inflatable donut when he had to sit. And she had made sure he would sit. Often, and in quite public places. The cash that padded his bum just wasn’t soft enough. To add insult to injury, he’d had that donut for a solid number of years. Armani, on her right snickers, a-haha! Cristo growls silently. That fucking dog.

The heiress catapults her assets into an acrobatic act that constituted walking. The dog, nestled in her crook of arm, pants and its wheels spin idly. Robocop was the recipient of a charity drive undertaken by Miss Stagbour that catered to dog amputees. Her love for all things Peter Weller was surpassed by the woes of limb challenged canines. Even naked lunches. She saw hearts on sight, him dragging his arse around, tail a-wog, like a little widdle spermie. She just had to have him.

By now she is yet again crooning to the cyborg chihuahua: ‘Yo Quiero, Robocop-o. Yo Quiero Robocop-o! With extra brass!” She giggles and looks at her bodyguards, who laugh through their shades. With effort. The dog silently snarls, but when she’s not looking, for the four-legged, whoops, two-legged also know what good they got going for them. Valentine Stagbour swings Robocop-o, fur purse extraordinaire, by the handle and struts hot to trot while Cristo and Armani scramble to accomodate her pace.

Alley right: digging in the garbage, a mangy mongrel with sexy smells and lava wet cunt.

A bark. A strangled cry. A glint of heliographing light.  A tattoo of frantic high heel footwork. A-haha! A-ha! A-haha!