Monday, January 25, 2016

The Apocalypse Ticket

Another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Takes place in the same city as the last one

In a small city tucked into the rocky coastline, which may or may not exist at any given time, a young man goes to visit his grandmother, who lives in one of the city's more upscale retirement communities. They like to play cards, and to this end, the young man picked a new deck of cards at a local shop. After greetings, hugs and offers of beverages, they get down to the card game. It's a simple affair, but fun for both parties.

During the second hand, something inexplicable happens. The young man goes to flip up a card, hoping for something useful so he can win the hand, but instead the card has text on it. It reads, "Ticket to the Apocalypse, January 31, 2 PM, Piazza Vecchia."

"What an odd card," the grandmother remarks. The hand is cancelled and the deck counted. All of the cards that are supposed to be there are there, and so the game continue. The young man pockets the strange card, intending on dealing with it later. 

On the way home, he stops by the shop to show the owner the card. When he pulls the card out it now reads, 3 PM. The young man blinks. He could have sworn that it said 2 PM earlier, but he didn't pay much attention. The owner opens several packets of cards and doesn't find another ticket in any of them.

"Strange," the owner says and the young man heads back to his place and posts about his experience on his network. Checking back later he finds that several people have found similar tickets in other places. One is found in a bar of chocolate, while another comes on the back of a grocery store receipt. One friend reports that it's on her birthday, but this confuses the young man. The friend's birthday is in February, not January. The young man pulls the card out of his wallet and the date is indeed her birthday, February 5th, the friend's birthday. He is confused; he could have sworn it said January 31. As an experiment, he takes a picture of it with his phone and sets it aside.

A week later, an article runs in the local newspaper about strange tickets showing up all over the city, with no two tickets showing up in the exact same manner. As if that wasn't strange enough the date has changed once again to March 10th. The young man opens his desk drawer and pulls out the card and there is it, "Ticket to the Apocalypse, March 10th, 4 PM, Piazza Vecchia." He pulls up the photo he took and it, to his surprise, reads March 10th. How could this be? His phone reports that it hasn't been changed since it was taken

The young man goes back to his network to look for the post from his friend and can't find it. He queries her, "Didn't you say the ticket had your birthday on it?"

"I think so," she says. "Let me look." After a few minutes she comes back to report, "Strange, I can't seem to find that post and I took a look at my ticket and it says March 10th which is clearly not my birthday." The two of them scratch their collective heads, but don't worry about it too much. Strange happenings are common in this city.

Over the next couple of months, the mystery deepens as more tickets appear and the date keeps shifting. Every time it does, every reference to the date changes, newspaper articles, photographs and even handwriting. It is as if reality is rewriting itself. One day, a countdown clock appears in the Piazza Vecchia, counting down to the event, It is strange because the countdown will jump back in irregular intervals. Once, it gets to within a half-hour of zero before jumping back a whole week. The newspaper headline the next day reads, "Apocalypse Now?"

After that day, the countdown stabilizes and stops changing. In addition, no new tickets appear. At the appointed hour the entire city,including streetcars, gathers in the piazza. What happens when the clock strikes zero depends on the person. For people without a ticket, nothing happens. The crowd disperses and the piazza is littered with discarded tickets. The people shrug and continue with their lives.

For those with a ticket, the outcomes are as different as the tickets' origins. For some, God, gods, goddesses or demons descend/ascend, to rule over mankind. For others, it was first contact with a variety of alien species, including a race of sentient streetcars. Reality itself has fractured into a thousand shards within the city limits.

What about our young man? For him, it was a PR stunt for a new movie called "The Apocalypse Ticket."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Random Flickr Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig posed this flash fiction challenge:

This is my picture and story, inspired by the "weird" fiction of Michael Cisco, Leena Krohn, China Mieville and others.

In a city nestled in the mountainside with a view of the Mediterranean, the streetcars are alive and self-aware. To the residents this is not shocking or strange, just another quirk in a quirky town. An outsider might ask, "How can this be? Are they organic? Some form of genetically engineered monster with just the right combination of genes and circumstances for sentience?" The locals would say, "No, they are purely mechanical," nod their heads and say no more.

If pressed further, especially if it is later at night and a particular local has imbibed more of the city's wine than they should, they might give further details. "We have an engineer," they might say, "Mother of streetcars. She built them and presented them to town. They proved useful given the hills of our fair city. In some places, the cars run on rails, others they amble about freely. Well amble might not be the right words, given they have no legs just wheels like normal streetcars."

After hearing this the outsider might frown in thought, might struggle in making sense of what seems so fantastical. They might even ask, "I have seem words painted on the fronts of them. Do they mean anything?"

If asked this question, a local might grin and say nothing, but other locals might answer, "Those are their names, they were decided by the city residents and presented to the cars, they discussed it amongst themselves and decided who would wear what name. An local artist applied the names using spray-paint."

Another question a outsider, upon learning of the streetcars unique quality, would be, "I've seen operators on the street cars. If this conversation was taking place, in a bar, the local would frown and terminate the conversation, leaving the outsider to scratch his head. However, if the two were talking at a sidewalk cafe, admiring the streetlights of the Artist's Quarter, a local might respond. "They aren't operators of the traditional sense, they communicate with the streetcars through the panel. They are specially chosen and trained by the Mother of Streetcars. The operators are highly revered and don't have to pay for anything."

Upon hearing of this, outsiders might ask, "I saw a strange sight today. Two of the streetcars, Lone and Yobs, were stopped on a hill next to each other, yet both had passengers."

If the moon is out, full and shining down on them, the local might chuckle and say, "Those two gossip like two old women, there really isn't anything one can do about it. We are used to it and use the time to catch up with neighbors. Nobody here is much in a rush to do anything." At the end of such an evening, as the outsider is going back to his lodgings, the city has not proper hotels, they might no longer be an outsider. Having learned the city's secret, they might become a local. This, of course, assumes that outsiders can find the city, or that it even exists...