Dirty Secrets

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge from last week involved tweeting @YouAreCarrying to receive a list of random inventory. This list of items must be integrated into the story in as literal or abstract a way as you want. As usual, my list will be below the story.

         Cale tried to breathe shallowly as he crouched on a narrow ledge in the mouth of the outflow pipe. Slime coated his boots and even though he felt the fresh air ruffling his hair, it did little to combat the foul smell. A rotting apple bobbed by him in the trickle of oil-slicked water and, despite the surroundings, his stomach rumbled in protest. He had eaten nothing in thirty-six hours—not that he’d been hungry stumbling around in excrement and garbage for thirty-two of those hours. Varren should be here by now, he thought. They were supposed to meet here at sundown. He did not want to spend another night cramped and shivering, watching the unnaturally large rodents and wraithlike inhabitants of the canals skitter by. The canals were no place for updwellers like him. It was the only time he was thankful for the stench of rotting food and human waste mixed with the acrid chemical blend dumped down the sewers to “sterilize” the soupy muck—they hid his scent. A clang and a muffled curse echoed from behind him and he peered into the gloom, reaching for the cudgel hanging at his side.
         “Mary, Jesus and Joseph, I’ll not be taking a job like this again without learning a wee bit more about it.” Varren stumbled into view, panting.
         “Saints, you scared me half to the grave, Varren,” Cale said, reaching a hand to pull the heavier man onto his perch.
         Sweat gleamed on Varren’s bare forehead as he set down his lantern and put his hands on his knees, struggling to catch his breath.
         “Oh good, you’ve held onto your lantern.” Cale eyed the heavy brass-cased light. It was slick with sludge like everything else. “Lost mine when I fell somewhere in the west tunnels. Thought I was like to drown.” He shuddered at the memory. Drowning itself was no way to go, but drowning in shit was the stuff of nightmare.
         “Almost lost that bloody drill bit, though.” Varren patted his various pockets, producing a packet of miraculously dry cigarettes, wrapped in oiled canvas. Varren lit both cigarettes and flicked the glowing match into the mire at their feet where the fire was immediately sucked down into the ooze. The tobacco helped take the edge off Cale’s hunger and he inched to the edge of the drainage pipe and leaned out.
         “Nothing,” he said, scooting back into the gloom. “Bloody abandoned us to this shite-hole most like.”
         “Think your brother’d do that?” Varren asked around his cigarette.
         Cale scuffed the toe of one boot against the side of the other, trying to dislodge some of the filth crusted on the leather. His brother wouldn’t leave them, but not because of any sort of blood loyalty. They needed Cale and Varren—despite what his brother said about them. Dash had laughed when Cale joined the rebel Alliance. “Barely old enough to be in trousers and wanting to join the cause to get away from his mum.”
         He called Varren the Lord of Lard and said that if he didn’t eat himself to death, he’d cough into the grave. Cale resented Dash’s ridicule. They were only four years apart and Dash had been the one saying that the rebellion was a hopeless cause, a dream no more enduring than a ring made of smoke—always blowing out a smoke ring and demolishing it with a wave of his hand to prove his point. Fancy words and parlor tricks, that’s all Dash was. Cale saw through Dash’s arrogant smile and flamboyant Rebel speeches and Dash hated him for it.
         “Hear that?” Varren nudged Cale and stubbed out his cigarette.
         Cale felt the low thrum through his boots and it set his molars buzzing against each other. With one hand on the wall, they made their way down the sloping ledge to the mouth of the outflow pipe, sucking in lungfuls of fresh air when they reached the edge.
         “Hello, comrades,” Dash said cheerfully, grinning up at them from his perch in the stern of the hovercraft. “Get in, get in, but keep your muck to yourselves, if you please.”
         Cale waited until the hovercraft held steady and hopped the gap into the bow, feeling the lightweight craft sway slightly beneath his weight. He moved to the far side and braced himself as Varren boarded. The hovercraft dipped slightly before Dash regained control of the tiller. He sent the craft skipping along the top of the reservoir and as the distance from the sewage output grew, the water became almost clear. Not that any amount of money could persuade Cale to drink it. He pulled off his gloves and stuffed them in his pack before shoving both to the side and sitting down on the narrow bench. Something came flying out of the air from the back of the vessel and he deftly caught the aluminum-wrapped package Dash launched at him.
         “Quick fingers, brov,” Dash said with mock approval.
         Cale ignored him, ripping the package open with his teeth and biting into the crunchy mixture of oats, nuts and honey that was pressure-packed into a brick. A full meal, they claimed. He’d eaten three once and still been hungry. Trying to savor the first sustenance he’d had since they set out on their little mission, he eyed Dash. His older brother lounged back in his seat, boots polished to reflect the clouds scudding above them, immaculate blue jacket buttoned up to his throat. They shared a build—tall and lanky—and the same grey eyes but where Dash’s hair matched the rows of gold buttons on his coat, Cale’s was the color of bootblack.
         “Well? How did it go?” Dash asked after Cale and Varren finished their meal bars and passed Varren’s flask of whisky back and forth a few times.
         “There were guards at the Archive, but I got through all right. The stones are held in by a little glue and coal dust—a good dousing and the passage will be open again. Your boys will be able to get out in a hurry, long as they don’t mind the smell.” Varren took another swig from his flask and smacked his lips.
         “You do both smell rather worse than a privy,” Dash said, wrinkling his nose.
         Cale rolled his eyes. One minute his brother was speaking rebel slang like he’d been born in a blue coat, the next their upbringing would come to the forefront and he’d sound like one of the King’s Men.
         “How did it go with you, then, brother dear?” Dash asked.
         Cale shrugged, then saw that wasn’t answer enough for Dash. “The sewers leading from the cells follow the map—your man had it right the first time.” He didn’t say that he knew his brother sent him to slog through waist-high shit for the fun of it.
         “Must check all possible outcomes, mustn’t we?” Dash said, idly steering the hovercraft with one foot on the tiller.
         “Whatever you say, Captain.” Cale slouched down into his seat and crossed his arms, trying not to breath in the smell coming off his clothes. “I’m going to get some sleep before we get back to the compound.”
         Cale considered it a small miracle that he fell asleep with the way Dash flew. Varren shook him awake when they entered the hangar and Dash powered down the hovercraft, hopping over the side and calling back over his shoulder that he expected to see both of them in Command after they washed. Cale’s eyes felt packed with sand and there was a cramp between his shoulder blades, but he hoisted his pack and walked on leaden legs to the cube of showers. He dropped his damp, stinking clothes into the bucket designated for his laundry, thinking they might be better off in a wastebasket. The five minutes of rationed water felt shorter than usual and the lukewarm trickle turned icy after two minutes. He toweled dry and retrieved his belongings from his pack before dropping the canvas bag on top of his discarded clothes. His bunk was in one of the many cubes that honeycombed the walls, accessible by iron rungs set into the walls. The higher-ranked members of the Alliance got the lowest quarters—less chance of losing someone important to a drunken misstep on the ladders. Cale hauled himself up to his cube and barely resisted sinking onto his narrow bunk and going back to sleep. The narrow closet held two blue coats and the rest of his uniform. He dressed and combed his still-damp hair away from his face, tucking the red scarf into the high collar of his coat. He wondered if the rebels intentionally copied the outdated clothing from the Royalists’ ancient history. One of many questions he dared not ask. His dress boots felt stiff, but his others were still coated with muck and he didn’t have time to clean them. He took extra care descending the ladder since the soles were slick from under-use. Varren met him in the corridor, his coat straining over his chest and belly. For all his size, Varren moved lightly—one of many reasons he’d been chosen for their mission.
         “Could’ve used twice the water ration with all that filth,” he said.
         Cale agreed but didn’t say so aloud. They snapped to attention and stepped to the side to allow one of the Captains to pass with a troop of new recruits. Cale eyed them as they passed.
         “Can’t be much more than fifteen,” he said.
         Varren snorted. “You weren’t even that when you joined up. Fourteen, fifteen—what’s it matter. Alliance will send them all off to get killed one way or another.”
         Cale grabbed Varren by the front of his coat and shoved him against a wall, taking his friend by surprise. “Keep talking like that and they’ll shoot you for treason.”
         Varren shrugged him off and quickened his pace; Cale let him put distance between them before trailing him through the warren of tunnels. It amazed him that the Royalists had no idea there was an entire Rebel compound built into the side of the cliffs and stretching underneath the Capitol. They entered Command to see that everyone else was already seated. There was a palatable hum of tension in the air and Cale slid into an open seat at the far end of the table. Varren took the seat next to him, but avoided his gaze. Cale couldn’t tell his friend that he agreed with him. The Alliance was little better than the Royalists, but it took joining up to find that out. Dash stood and dropped something onto the table. The thud silenced the room as all eyes turned to him.
         “Thanks to our loyal comrades,” his eyes flicked briefly to Cale, “We have recovered one of the personal journals of the Emperor from the year of the Purge. It states that the Emperor released infected vermin into the poor quarters of Capitol—effectively killing thousands of ‘undesirables.’” Dash tapped the cover of the book. “This is all we need to take the Emperor down.”
         Cale’s heart sank. That’s what his brother wanted from the Archives—the evidence to wage war against the Capitol itself, to bring it down in a bloody blaze that would earn him eternal glory. Cale’s foray into the tunnels probably provided Dash a way in. Cale stood, ignoring Dash’s glare.
         “What are you going to do? Wipe out an entire city for the crimes of a few?”
         He knew what Dash thought—they chose to be Royalists, none were innocent. Some of the Council murmured in discomfort but no one spoke. Cale stared at the assembled faces in disbelief. Yanking the red scarf from his neck, he threw it onto the table and unbuttoned his coat so quickly that several buttons popped free.
         “You’re not as bad as the Royalists, you’re worse.”
         Dash’s voice echoed through the corridors, shouting his name, but Cale didn’t look back.

My “inventory” from @YouAreCarrying: an apple, a waste basket, a bar of food, a brass lantern, a book, an outflow pipe, a large drill bit, a smoking gun.

The large drill bit was the hardest to integrate naturally and I used the Emperor’s journal for the figurative smoking gun.

1,000 Word Story in Five Parts, Part III

For Chuck Wendig’s 1,000 word story in five parts, I continued Urban Spaceman‘s and Infinite Skies‘ tale about Joe’s Bar and the man who broke the world. Check out the challenge here–it’s not too late to join!

Part 1

         “Buy me a drink,” he said, bloodshot eyes meeting mine from further down the bar, “and I’ll tell you how I broke the world.”
         I gave a snort, took a long swig of my G&T, and turned my attention back to the game being shown on Joe’s decrepit TV.
         “Go on,” he insisted, in a voice ravaged by years of strong alcohol. “It’ll be worth it.”
         Glancing around, I looked for help, but none of the other patrons of the grotty bar were paying attention to me being pestered by the old loon, and the bartender was very focused on cleaning a glass. The old man’s eyes bored into me from beneath his dirty mop of hair, and in the dim light of Joe’s Bar I saw the dark red stains on his grey trenchcoat.
         “Alright.” The game was dull anyway. “What’s your poison?”
         “Scotch on the rocks.”
         I nodded at the barkeep, and the old man watched hungrily as the amber nectar was poured.
         “Go on then,” I prompted him. “Tell me how you broke the world.”
         He took a sip of his drink, gave a happy sigh, and looked up at me with those bloodshot eyes.
         “It all started in 1939…”

Part 2

         “Wait,” I said. “1939? That was over two hundred years ago!”
         “This is the story you paid for,” the old man grumbled. “Let me tell it.”
I nodded for him to continue.
         “I could see what was coming,” he said after another sip of his scotch. “It was obvious. So I did what I did to cut it short.” He shuddered. “I forgot about consequences. No, that’s not right; I thought about consequences, I just didn’t think they’d be this.” He waved behind us.
         I glanced at the only unique feature of Joe’s–the window–and jerked my head back. Everyone looks out that window, and no one can stand the sight of the shattered planet hanging above the lunar surface for more than an instant.
         I drained my drink desperately and waved at the bartender for a refill. He cocked his head at the old man and I nodded for his refill too.
         “Do you believe in magic?” the old man said quietly.
         “No, of course not,” I said.
         He jerked his head at the window.
         “That’s not magic,” I said, “that’s just physics we haven’t discovered yet.”
         He snorted his derision. “That’s what everyone says, but no one has yet explained the physics.”

Part 3

         “You’re saying magic broke the world?” I wondered how long the old guy had been drinking before I started buying.
         “It sure as hell wasn’t science.” His voice was filled with rancor.
         The bartender looked over and I saw his hand drift under the bar for the old baseball bat he kept there. I shook my head slightly.
         “Anyway, I knew how to read the signs. The Second World War was brewing and that was all anyone was paying attention to. They didn’t know that all that mess was just the bigger stuff bubbling up. They used to say where there’s smoke there’s fire.”
         I gave him a blank look and he shook his head.
“Forget the metaphors—what I’m saying is that there was something big going on and the war was just a side effect— a symptom, if you will,” he said.
         “World War II was a symptom of whatever you say broke the world?” This was getting out of hand, I thought.
         “That much evil—that much raw darkness—it spills over. One man can’t hold onto it, can’t contain it.”
         I leaned closer to hear his next words and they sent a chill up my spine.

Earth-That-Was*

It’s Wednesday but time for Friday Fictioneers, it may sound odd, but just go here, and all your questions will disappear.

         “This is the most rubbish idea you’ve ever had,” Rat said.
         “Worse than the graveyard?” I asked.
         “Well…no,” Rat said.
         “The graveyard was pretty shifty, though,” Pol said.
         “We’re agreed then. Not my worst idea.” I eyed the dilapidated building.
         “I don’t know, Rin.” Rat looked around nervously. “We’ve never been this far from the aeropad before.”
         “Relax, boys,” I said. “Don’t get heebie. It’s broad daylight. The Slinkers won’t be about.”
         Halfway across the deserted street to the decrepit villa on Old Earth, I heard skittering footsteps. Too late, I wondered if Rat and Pol were right after all.

* I just watched all of Firefly (how dare it be cancelled midseason?!) so space and space cultures were on my mind. Might have to revisit these three.

Wasteland

Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: use ten random words of Chuck’s choosing in a 1000 word story.*

         Half the willow’s branches were gone, burned away. The damage turned the delicate tree into something grotesque, like the otherwise perfect face of a beautiful woman disfigured by scarring. Fletcher wondered idly if a summer storm was to blame—bolts of merciless lightning pounding the tree, the tallest thing for miles. He heard a familiar whirring sound and stood, dusting off the ash that clung to his trousers. The packed clay beneath it showed evidence that a river once flowed, perhaps feeding the dead willow once upon a time. The dirigible floated effortlessly down several meters away. Fletcher broke into a trot along the dry riverbed, pulling the kerchief tighter over his mouth to keep too much of the ash from invading his lungs.
         “Oy, ‘ad a nice day in the country?” a muffled voice greeted him as the door to the dirigible slid open.
         “Top notch, Cal,” Fletcher said, digging an elbow into his friend’s side.
         “Don’t know why we keep making these runs. There’s nothing to find,” Cal pulled the handkerchief away from his own face and adjusted his goggles as he twiddled some of the controls, sending the dirigible skyward again.
         “At least you get to sit around in this oversized balloon while I scrape around in possibly radioactive dust,” Fletcher wiped the sweat off his brow on his sleeve and grimaced at the gray streak it left.
         “The Gull is an innovative piece of aircraft, Fletcher McCready,” Cal said, wounded.
         “And how many times have you had her up in Grafton’s getting tuned…this week?” Fletcher laughed and grabbed a canteen of water as he lounged back against his seat, glancing out the front windscreen.
         “Bugger yourself,” Cal said.
         Fletcher made a rude hand gesture in response that Cal couldn’t see and took a swig of water. It was lukewarm, but tasted heavenly after all the dust.
         “What were you doing down there anyway?” Cal asked, piloting the dirigible with one hand as he swiveled to look back at Fletcher. “Looked like you were staring at that tree.”
         Fletcher shrugged and gulped some more water, but Cal continued to look at him, eyebrows raised above his flying goggles.
         “Do you remember the last time you saw a tree—a real one?” Fletcher asked.
         “What do you mean, ‘real’? The trees we have in New Utopia aren’t good enough for Master McCready?” Cal adopted a refined accent, turning back to the front of the dirigible. “Perhaps the leaves aren’t quite green enough? Shall I lodge a complaint with the Council of Shrubbery?”
         “Oh, sod it,” Fletcher glowered at Cal’s back. “I don’t care what the scientists say. Those things aren’t real; they’re fake, just like half the things in ‘topia.”
         “Would you rather live down here? An hour out there and you smell like you’ve been using Eau de Sulfur and Brimstone,” Cal laughed.
         “Yes, Calhoun Stuart. I would much rather live in a desert brimming with radioactive particles and under constant threat of atomic destruction,” he mimicked Cal’s tone. “That’s not a life, it’s a long funeral. Prat.”
         Cal laughed and they lapsed into silence for the rest of the ride, Fletcher seething inwardly. He knew Cal liked to needle him, but for once, he’d like his best friend to actually listen. No one else noticed—or cared—about things like the trees. Things that captivated Fletcher. He remembered climbing trees outside his old home—the way the bark felt beneath his fingers, the smell of the damp wood when it rained. The trees glistened in New Utopia when it rained. But it wasn’t like the dripping, rain-bejeweled glitter he remembered. It was eerie, unnatural. He was lucky to live in ‘topia, he knew. Topside, people didn’t last long, even with protective masks and suits. After the Last Great War, the air itself turned toxic. Fletcher knew he should wear a mask when they went out on runs to the Waste, but it wasn’t too bad this close to New Utopia.
         He picked moodily at a hole in his trousers until he felt the dirigible drop down into the canyon that led into New Utopia. They landed effortlessly and Fletcher had to admire Cal’s skill at the helm; he would crash the Gull in seconds. The heliport doors slid shut over them and it took Fletcher’s eyes a moment to adjust to the sudden darkness compared with the blazing light above. He tried not to grit his teeth as Cal locked down all the controls and they grabbed their knapsacks. He could smell the darkness—the cloying scent of rotting earth and the things that lived in it. The glow-lamps that dotted the passage out of the heliport were a poor substitute for sunlight. A shape moving in the dark in front of them made him reach for his knife before the figure tackled Cal with a clearly female laugh. He curled his lip and skirted his friend, hurrying up the stairs.
         Honestly, he thought, you’d think they hadn’t seen each other in months and I know they were snogging before we left this morning.
         “Fletch! OY, Fletch!” Cal caught up with him, holding Lilah’s hand.
         “Hello, brov,” Lilah smirked.
         “What’s the rush?” Cal asked, slightly out of breath.
         “Excuse me if I don’t fancy sitting around watching my best mate snog my little sister,” Fletcher said, shifting his grip on his knapsack.
         Lilah rolled her eyes, “It’s been bloody months, Fletch. Get over yourself.”
         Fletcher shrugged in answer and lengthened his stride. He was taller than Lilah and Cal by several inches and it wasn’t difficult to escape. He had good reason to return home before anyone else—especially including Lilah.
         Once back in the pod he and his family called home, he opened the flap of his knapsack. Nestled in the top was a small cutting in a glass jar. Taking something from Topside, especially something living was strictly forbidden. This level of deceit could get him exiled Topside, but Fletcher couldn’t help but smile.

*the ten words: FUNERAL, CAPTIVATE, DECEIT, BRIMSTONE, CANYON, BALLOON, CLAY, DISFIGURED, WILLOW, ATOMIC

Just a Little Jazz

Another smashing subgenres Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Two subgenres chosen at random, one story, 1500 words this week. *

        It started like any other day—the coffee was cold, the newspaper wet, and I forgot my umbrella. To be fair, the coffee was my fault—I couldn’t keep a secretary around. I’d say something to upset the dame and she’d hand in her notice, poking a red lacquered fingernail into my chest and storming out on heels several inches too high. The temp company wouldn’t send anymore—claiming that I had “unreasonable working requirements and an uncertain temper.” So, the coffee was cold and no one was there to grab the newspaper out of the rain that graced New York for the fourth day straight. All I asked was that the girls make coffee, put the newspaper on my desk, type up case notes, and answer the phone. What was unreasonable about any of that? Besides, there hadn’t been a case in weeks. I hung up my trench coat and hat and saw my umbrella sitting right where I left it yesterday. I scowled and took a gulp of the cold, tarry substance in my cup without thinking.
        I looked at the sign on my office door with disgust. Flynn Parker, P.I. Some P.I., I thought. I hadn’t had a case since the Di Giovanni fiasco last month. There are things every good P.I. knows: never get involved with a female client during a case and never get involved with the mob. No one has ever called Flynn Parker an underachiever, so damned if I didn’t go and do both at once. I didn’t know Bianca Di Giovanni had mob ties, and by the time the guy she asked me to look for turned up at the bottom of the Hudson wearing concrete shoes, it was too late. I pushed away thoughts of Bianca, the way that white silk dress felt as it slipped through my fingers, the cloud of dark hair that fell down her back.
        The office was stifling suddenly. I thought I could smell the stale scent of her perfume—gardenia. I tossed out the coffee, threw the paper in the trash, and put my wet coat and hat back on. The streets seemed grayer than usual, I thought as I shoved my hands deep in my pockets. The people that passed kept their heads down, and no one smiled. This was New York, though, people rarely did. Before I quite realized where my feet were taking me, I was outside a particularly dingy building. The gaslight above the door flickered fitfully and I knocked—three long and one short. A hidden panel in the wood slid aside and a pair of eyes peered out at me.
        “Password?” he muttered.
        “Benny be good, man,” I said back.
        The door opened and I followed the doorman down stairs as draughty and rickety as the ones outside my hole of an apartment. Another door swung open—this time the man wore white gloves and full tails. He whisked my hat and coat away. Inside, the dim lights shone on red brocade. Sweet sounds of jazz and the clink of crystal met my ears like a familiar melody. The taste of the coffee lingered and I walked up to the bar. I ordered bourbon to wash it away and looked around at the gleaming wood and brass and the shadowed faces that filled the corners. I was no stranger, but I rarely came here at this time of day. It was just past ten in the morning. The bartender noticed.
        “Third time this week,” he said, sliding my drink across the bar.
        I tipped it to him in a salute and pushed a hefty tip across the bar with my payment. I sat at a little table just off the dance floor. The band played like it was Friday night and the place was full. I never brought Bianca here. This place, at least, was still my sanctuary. I watched the way the lights from the chandeliers sparkled off the amber liquid as I tilted it back, feeling that old, familiar burn. I tried to think of the good that came out of the Di Giovanni case. I wasn’t in jail, I wasn’t dead, and they’d paid more than any other client. I was glad of the first two, but that money was still sitting in a bag shoved behind my dresser.
        “Excuse me,” a soft voice interrupted my contemplation of my bourbon and I looked up.
        A pretty dame stood next to the table, twisting her hands together. I sighed inwardly. People here might recognize me but it was bad manners to bring up business.
        “How can I help you, darlin’?” I asked, painting on a smile.
        “Could I sit at your table? A man might come here and give me some trouble if I’m alone,” she looked up at me with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
        I gave her a quick once over. She was tall and thin, with blonde hair that hung in loose curls just to her shoulders; easy on the eyes. I stood and pulled out the chair for her.
        “How can I refuse?” I tried my smile again.
        She smiled back weakly, her eyes flickering over my shoulder towards the door. I realized then that her skin was pale underneath the rouge on her cheeks and that her bottom lip shook. I held up a hand and a tuxedoed waiter appeared out of the shadows.
        “A drink for the lady,” I waited for her to order, but she just stared, lost. “Martini, extra dry.” I said.
        “You don’t have to—” she broke off and smiled more convincingly. “Thank you, mister.”
        “Sure, darlin’. Now,” I hesitated before sliding my card across the white tablecloth. “Do you need real help?”
        She glanced at it and looked back up at me, “You’re a private investigator?”
        “I am. And I’ve helped with situations like yours before,” I paused as her martini arrived. “I can help keep you safe.”
        “Mr. Parker, it’s very kind of you, but I doubt very much you’ve handled a situation like mine before,” she took a deep drink of the martini and some of the color came back into her face.
        “No?” I was curious despite myself.
        The Di Giovanni spectacle had me in a real slump, but there was something here. I could feel it. It’s not just another pretty girl, I told myself. And it had nothing to do with the last pretty girl I helped turning up dead. The blonde dame shook her head, sending her hair swirling around her cheekbones. I leaned back in my chair and took another sip of my drink while she toyed with her glass. I noticed she still had on her coat—it looked expensive—and the watch on her wrist was gold. I also observed there was no ring on her left hand. So, the mystery man wasn’t a husband. Or, she didn’t want to think of him that way.
        “The truth is—” she broke off, her face turning white.
        I looked over my shoulder and saw two big men in suits and coats; I spotted the holsters bulging under their jackets.
        “Come quietly now, Brigitte,” the tall blonde man said, surreptitiously opening his coat so she could see the gun, too.
        I was about to reach for the gun at my side when the other thug put his meaty hand on my shoulder.
        “Not so fast, Mister,” he said.
        “What do you want with my friend, here?” I asked, trying to keep my voice friendly.
        “She’s not supposed to be here,” the first man said.
        I had to laugh at that. It was a speakeasy—none of us were supposed to be here.
        “You think that’s funny?” Blondie turned his attention to me.
        “As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. “Brigitte and I were just enjoying a quiet drink when you two fellas interrupted. I’d like to continue my conversation with her. Alone.”
        The blonde thug smiled an ugly smile, “That won’t be happening.”
        He pulled out a dark object quicker than my eyes could follow; I flinched. A white flash blinded me and set my ears ringing. I waited for the pain of the gunshot that never came. There was a terrible roaring and I landed hard on my knees on what felt like wet stones. I blinked until my sight came back. Motorcars streamed by on either side, the klaxon sounds of their horns penetrating the blazing day. Except, it wasn’t day; I could see the night sky above my head. The light came from billboards that stretched over buildings taller than any I had ever seen. They flashed like the lights of a thousand cinema marquees. The roar of voices was deafening; I clapped my hands to my ears. The blonde thug wrenched me to my feet and laughed at the look on my face. His partner held up the blonde, Brigitte, who appeared to have fainted.
        “Welcome to the year 2013, Mr. Parker.”

*I used Noir and Time Travel (obviously with more emphasis on Noir)