Escape Pod 372: Flash Fiction Collection
Awkward– Miscommunication between editor, host, and producer caused us to, within the audio, proclaim these stories as the winners of the flash contest, and they’re not, they’re stories we’ve purchased through the year. We will be showcasing the flash contest winners on their own in future episodes. I apologize for the embarrassing mistake.
Health Tips for Traveler
by David W. Goldman
Since the short time from mutual greetings of worlds, many Earther wish to visit the lovely world of the Pooquar peoples. This explainer before so will bring yourselves a voyage most lovely.
Within The Transit
The travel via cross-continuum portal will be novel to many Earther. Hydration is a paramount for not having the small problems of liver, marrow, blood tubes, and self memory. Also good before your trip is to make fat, especially under the skin. The scrawny traveler should begin preparation many week prior.
Portal going is sudden and then done. But many Earther say after that they think the journey is very very very long and never to stop. Thus is Earther brains supposed bad attuned to one or more of the interim journey continuum. For thus, non-conscious makes for most lovely travel. Means of non-conscious both pharmacological and percussive are on offer by helpful Pooquar portal agents.
As the Early Days
Because subtle differences in physics regulations from what most Earther are parochially accustomed, the traveler is suggested to acclimate in the “horizontal” position until local niceties of unreliant gravity, time-keeping, and atmospheric presence become appreciated. Acclimation such will entertain you for no more than two — or for some traveler, twenty or thirty — “days.”
While thus occupied with your appreciation of localness, helpful Pooquar hostelry staffpersons will provide you with lovely hydration and fat-making nutritionals. For your best healths, stint not on your consumption.
Touring the Out-Vicinity
While you delight yourselves in the appreciation of very-known scenics as the Flowing Up Falls of Nagbaf, the Lesser Half Dark Big Hole, the Plain of Many Breath Sucks, and other such lovely vicissitudes, some attention to health and safeness are ordered.
Firstmost, if urgent advised by helpful Pooquar tour leader, immediately disobey not! Your very life endurance may happen. This is especially as pertains to stepping away from lovely trails, consuming unadvised nutritionals, perusing explainers offered by exiled dissident non-persons, or providing unsolicited refreshment to local fauna/flora/other life-beings.
Next, maintenance your lovely all-enwrapping tourist jumpsuit and coverall always. The presentation of the skin, even a small only piece of the skin, is discouraged for health. This from the fad of local life-beings to reproduce by injecting seed-forms into passing faunas, later to germinate and partake of the subcutaneous lipids in achieving bigness. Thus is best always your jumpsuit and coverall with integrity. (Small note: In the event of any rash of discolor or tendrils from the skin please notify immediately your helpful Pooquar tour leader for the swift extirpation.)
In finality, avoid districts of elevated temperature and humidity. In these grow the grubs of local life-beings, who may exhibit unsolicited hunger of lovely Earther visitor.
After leaving the out-vicinities, you should place the above-spoken biologic factual concerns far from your self memories.
Of the Urban Jollity
In welcome for subsequent your joyful tours of the out-vicinities, the Pooquar peoples of the citified regions will ply you unsparingly with lovely bring-home curios and appliances and also nutritionals without betterment for taste and skin-fat-making. Enjoy all these with loveliness!
In the cities is no great harm for concern of health. But be full of alert to avoiding speech from irksome disagreers with lovely policies of the governings of the Pooquar peoples. Such talkers of stupid are not amiable with the lovely Earther to travel of yourselves across continuum and returning with lovely Pooquar guests. If approached by busybody of imbecile forebodings regarding Earther traveler, heed not but call loud and with strident!
Many are the friendly Pooquar peoples who find lovely the Earther holding of limb extrusions in greeting. When such friendly Pooquar enjoin with protruding outstretched, please enjoy the removing of any encumbrance glove, sleeve, or trouser legs for sharing in the lovely joint-holding of limb parts. Stay fast so long as to experience lovely sensation of pleasant tingling, warmth, and small piercings. All is joy then for your new friend and yourselves.
In rarity, the Earther of sympathy and astute may note a small beautification of the skin with lovely color or perhaps small out-swellings. When such occurs within urbanity, please request of any apothecary for much cream of obscuration, so as to prevent envy and jealous from other Earther during your remaining voyage and after return.
For your final days of the lovely world of the Pooquar peoples, enjoy many sights and tastings while arranging your self memories for later saying to lovely Earther friends to make soon visits of themselves.
After the Returning
To follow your restore of conscious after portal journey, seek out many Earther friends to say of the joy of your most lovely voyage. Remember also to share the many discount traveling coupons provided to you by helpful Pooquar disembarking agents.
After some days from your voyage, many Earther feel a big sad of missing for the lovely world of the Pooquar peoples. This sad may have big heavy of the limbs, paining in abdomen, inside the head strikes, blood-making from here and there, and other such small emotions.
Best for this sad is to retreat with quickness to special place for to arrange your self memories to loveliness. Your special place should have elevated temperature and humidity. Also it will be most healthful to be a place where nearby pass many lovely Earther.
For Your Lovely Voyage
From these small Health Tips for Traveler the governings of the Pooquar peoples wish yourselves a voyage for joy always after in your self memory. Also having hopes of long joy for the Pooquar peoples to visit the lovely Earth.
Echoes of the Bouncing Ball
by Paul Celmer
Wheeler’s ship back to Earth launched in nine minutes, yet he had a promise to keep. He raced down a crowded corridor, briefcase banging against his knees, and stopped in front of a little starport kiosk crammed between a pretzel shop and a newsstand. The warm, beery smell of just-baked pretzels was inviting. But he didn’t have time to eat.
“Excuse me,” Wheeler said. “I’m looking for something. For my son. He’s six.”
“A souvenir?” said the kiosk shopkeeper blinking as if just awakened from a very long sleep. The shopkeeper spoke in polite and nearly unaccented English.
“Yes. But something special. And I’m in a hurry.”
Lately it seemed to Wheeler he was always in a hurry. And he had not been feeling like his old self either, especially on this trip that took him to a far corner of the galaxy he had never been to before.
The shopkeeper’s smile was a faint path in a merry tangle of wrinkles. For some reason the face seemed familiar to Wheeler. Of course, when one had been to so many starports they all seemed to blur together. But irritation shook those thoughts out of his head as he watched the maddeningly slow hands of the shopkeeper carefully place two boxes on the counter.
“Sir, I see you have not been here long,” the shopkeeper said as he adjusted the position of the spectacles resting on his long pointed nose. “In our culture it is quite impolite to, how do you say, recommend. But perhaps one of these will do?”
“What’s that?” Wheeler pointed to the larger box.
The shopkeeper opened it like he had all the time in the world. Inside was a silver cylinder about half a meter long. The shopkeeper lifted the cylinder from the box and enormous delicate dragonfly wings unfolded, made of some iridescent material that sparkled as they moved.
“A very popular item. It is controlled by your thoughts. A pure joy to play with, if I might say so myself,” the shopkeeper said.
“Hmm,” said Wheeler. “I think I might have seen something like that before. How about the other one?”
“Ah, this one is rather different. Unique.” The shopkeeper opened the small box about the size of a closed fist. Wheeler shuffled his feet as he checked his watch.
“It looks like a blue ball,” said Wheeler, unable to restrain his frustration any longer.
“No.” said the shopkeeper. “There is nothing like this on your world. It records everything about you, including the quantum state of each molecule in your body, and so….“
“I’m not a scientist. I sell terraforming systems. “
“The children on our planet love these. They use it to play a game –‘echo’ in your language. But now that I think about it, this particular toy might not be suitable for . . . . ”
“Look,” interrupted Wheeler.” I don’t have much time. How much?”
Only a moment later Wheeler had paid the price and put the small box in his briefcase. As he ran out Wheeler nearly knocked over a thin man with a dark briefcase rushing in.
Wheeler was stiff from the long voyage on the cramped ship. Yet the instant he arrived home Wheeler knelt down and his young son leapt into his arms. Wheeler’s wife Sara glared.
“Richard, we need to talk. “
“I just got back,” said Wheeler.
“You’re gone too much, “ she said, watching the boy squirm out of his father’s arms.
“Only three weeks.”
“For you. But for every week you’re on the transport a month goes by here.”
Wheeler watched his son snoop around his bags and briefcase. “Sara, you know me and that jerk Wilcox are both up for the same opening. I can make regional manager.”
“You’ve already done very well, Richard. We have enough money. You could get something else . . . .”
“We’ve had this argument before.”
“Yeah. And I’m sick of it,” Sara said as she walked out of the hallway.
Wheeler knew he couldn’t win. He looked around for his son who had wandered off and opened his briefcase. “Hey sport, I got you this.”
The boy came back and looked at the ball. Wheeler tried to ignore the disappointment dimming his son’s eyes as the boy took the little blue ball in his hands, turning it over and over again.
Thirty-four years later Wheeler’s bones ached. He was long divorced and alone, and his son had stopped coming to visit years ago. In a corner on a shelf of dusty photographs rested the forgotten offworld toy they had never figured out. He thought about that day he had given it to his son. Wheeler’s eyes swelled with tears and he wiped them away with his fingers. He picked up the ball. A wet fingertip grazed the ….
Suddenly the room felt like it was spinning. Colors blurred together. Wheeler’s ears were filled with the deafening roar of a chorus of indecipherable whispers. And then there was the warm, unmistakable smell of fresh pretzels.
“Back again?” chirped the shopkeeper.
The spinning stopped. Wheeler struggled to re-focus his eyes. “What?”
“The toy. Don’t you remember? There are usually enough entangled particles to spark awareness of the quantum bifurcations–your other recorded timelines, that is. Assuming you pay attention, of course.”
Wheeler stumbled out of the kiosk, bumping into a thin man about his own height carrying a black briefcase. The two exchanged a quick glance. The man’s face seemed etched by some great sadness. Wheeler turned back.
“I changed my mind. I’ll take the other box.”
“An excellent choice. At last,” laughed the shopkeeper.
When Wheeler finally arrived home he knelt and his son leapt with joy into his arms.
Wheeler’s wife’s glared.
“Richard, we need to talk.“
“I don’t think you do,“ said Sara, crossing her arms across her chest.
“I do. Trust me. For one thing, I took your advice. I quit the job.” Wheeler smiled.
“Now really?” said Sara. She unfolded her arms, resting her hands on her hips. And she actually smiled back at him.
Later that day Wheeler and his son went to a green park on the outskirts of the city. They found themselves a quiet shaded corner to lie down in. Then they both took turns with the dragonfly, soaring it through great graceful arcs in and out of the treetops, the toy’s unfolded wings glinting a rainbow of colors as they caught the unhurried rays of the bright sun.
Tornado on Fire
by Luc Reid
You ain’t never seen a true and actual heart-stopping terror ’til you seen a tornado on fire. They rise on up outta volcanos in the midst a’ hurricanes, most likely during an earthquake, and they’re so tall they been known to scorch up the moon. They set lakes a-bilin’, cows a-cookin’ to a well-done state, and they’ll melt ever’thing made a’ wax for twenty miles ’round.
I was only eight years old the first time I seen a tornado on fire. It waltzed through our town and made all the windows shatter and the foundations crack. My momma and my twelve sisters died from the fright right then an’ there, an’ my daddy, he aged a hundred years just from the pity and awfulness of the experience. Bein’ a kid with no more brains than a run-over snake, I didn’t think too much of it, ‘cept that I knowed ever since then I musta been born to chase tornados on fire. An’ that’s what I done, for seventy-eight years, gettin’ paid no more’n kept food in my belly and tires on my pickup by them silky-palmed, snail-eatin’ Mr. Wizard types who just shiver to know anythin’ I can gather up to tell ’em. An’ I done it good, too, trackin’ eighteen tornados on fire so close they near always singed off my eyebrows.
But this last one, oh Lord, it weren’t like them others. This one was tall enough to burn the moon right up if it’d happened to be out just then, and it vaporized rivers and turned a strip a’ desert a mile wide to glass. But it weren’t the size of it as turned me yella, Lordy no. This one had iron sharks in it, which is more than a mortal man can bear to see, and that’s why I’m a-here applyin’ for my social security benefits.
About the Authors
Luc Reid is a Writers of the Future winner whose fiction and nonfiction have also appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, and other venues. He’s the founder of the Codex online writers’ group; author of Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures (Writers Digest Books, 2006); and a former radio commentator.
By day Paul Celmer works as a technical writer. By moonlight, he has been publishing science fiction stories since 1999.
David W. Goldman
David W. Goldman finished paying off his loans from a well-known Boston trade school by moving to the Pacific Northwest, abandoning his trade, and becoming a software company. Eventually he wised up and found himself a day job. Now living in Portland, Oregon with his multi-talented wife and the obligate pair of feline distractions, he finally has time to pursue his childhood dream of writing the Great American SF Novelette. (Yes, there’s more to David’s life than part-time writing. Perhaps someday he’ll mention some of the rest.)
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.