Tag Archives | flash fiction

Why’s Wally?

why's wally

“I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”

― Albert Camus, The Stranger

The shirt lay on his bed. It mocked him. It compelled him to wear it, but he didn’t want to. He hated the shirt.

That and the stupid hat.

What if he didn’t put them on? That was always an option, surely? He had some other clothes, didn’t he? He went to his closet and was mildly horrified to see that it was stuffed with striped shirts, red and white bobble hats, and an assortment of jeans. How had his life come to this? He made his way to the back of the closet, and could find nothing but red and white stripes. Red and white. The jeans were all blue, the same style. Not even brand name.

Wally looked out at the bedroom, morning sunshine angling in through the venetian blinds.

The light reminded him of Algeria, dry as the pages of a book. Wally had just finished reading The Stranger and it haunted him. He’d been to Algeria, of course. He’d been everywhere.

Wally had met Camus, too, during his time-travelling days. In fact, Wally had met the French writer while Camus was authoring his other famous book, The Myth of Sisyphus.

He remembered the conversation they’d had over cheap wine in a crowded Parisian bistro: “For me, chér Charlie, the only serious philosophical question is this: is life worth living? The world is irrational, and yet … yet, we yearn for happiness and the rational. Why? It is absurd. There is no sense to it. This is the heart of my thinking, Charlie. The absurd is born of our human need for reason and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

“But don’t you feel as though you are being watched?” he’d asked, not bothering to correct Camus about his name. It didn’t matter where he went, everyone seemed to use the local version of Wally. In America he was “Waldo”, in German “Walter”, in France “Charlie”. Better not to make waves, to blend in. His instinct was to hide in plain sight, so he rolled with it, always.

“Watched?”

“Yes. Don’t you feel like you are constantly being watched?”

“God?” Camus had said, a look of amusement on his face.

“God? What? No. People. That people are looking for you?”

“You mean the Nazis?”

“They could be Nazis, but not just the Nazis. I don’t know,” Wally had said “They are looking for me, though, I’m not making that up. It’s like they’re searching for me.”

Camus had thought about that for a moment, and smiled warmly. He had grasped Wally’s right bicep, squeezing it like an old friend: “Madness has a kind of freedom in it, though you are in a prison, nonetheless. It is another duality.”

And then the crowd had started to thin, and it was time for Wally to go. When he was not absolutely alone, he couldn’t be comfortable unless there was a crowd. He only felt safe surrounded by hundreds, or thousands. It was probably why he never worked things out with Wilma. Or her identical twin, Wenda, for that matter. Wally blushed as he remembered the three of them together, that one night. But three, as it turned out, wasn’t a big enough crowd for it to work.

Was Camus right? Was it possible there was nobody watching him? If that was so, then there would be a kind of freedom he’d never felt. He wouldn’t have to be so circumspect. He wouldn’t have to spend all his time trying to blend in with the crowd. That could get challenging, he’d found, especially in more exotic locales, times, realities… Wally wondered what Camus would have made of his stint in a dimension known as Clown Town. The place had been nightmarish. Apocalyptic. Everyone was a clown, and everything was shaped like a clown. Camus would probably have enjoyed the delicious absurdity of the place and time. It was one of the worst scenes Wally had ever found himself in, but if he had been wearing something other than his stripped shirt and bobble hat, those clowns would have ended up juggling with his skull. He knew it.

So the shirt had saved him on occasion, but it was, as Camus hinted, a prison. Like Meursault, the main character in The Stranger, Wally faced the rest of his life behind bars. Though unlike Meursault, his life could be very long.

Wally realized that he was still standing in his closet, naked except for his underwear and socks. Red and white striped boxers and knee-highs, of course. His dresser was filled with them.

He walked to the window, and opened the blinds. Outside he could see his yard. It was spring again, though he couldn’t really tell you how long it had been spring. The trees were in bloom, and bright blue forget-me-nots dotted the lush green grass. He could see Woof’s tail wagging strongly enough to shake his whole backend, his front obscured by a bush. The dog had probably found a rabbit or some other creature, helpless, trying to hide.

Wally looked at the shirt and all his other clothes on the bed. When he put them on, and picked up the walking stick, he would be whisked away, as he always was. He looked out at the yard, dappled in the May sunshine, and realized that he’d never been in it. He’d never felt the grass between his toes.

He took off his socks. Slipped out of his boxers, and tried to open the window. It was frozen shut. He smashed the panes of glass with his fist. He climbed through, cutting himself in the process. Red stripes of blood wound down his pasty white legs, but Wally didn’t care.

The grass felt wonderful.

The End

Enjoy this? There’s more like it in my longer works.

Alltop was always more of a Tintin reader. Originally published by the Jersey Devil Press, Jan. 2014.

Disquieting Postcards I’ve Recently Received from My Future Self

aliens in switzerland

Dude!

Recognize the handwriting? Yeah, it’s me. More precisely, it’s you, circa fifteen years from now. Good news — you’ve finally lost that twenty pounds! Too bad you had to amputate your right leg to do it. At least it means our BMI is low enough to keep us out of the local “Fat Reduction Centre.” The less said about those, the better. I hope you like the card. This is a picture of our home town after the alien invasion. Cool, eh?

M.

— P.S. Don’t sweat the aliens. They’re good for us.

* * *

Dude!

You again. Okay, first things first. If I know me, you’re having your doubts about how legit these postcards are. You’ve probably even noticed that the postmark is today (your time). Here’s how it works: Some day soon you (previous me) will invent time travel. It’s limited to flat objects no bigger than a postcard and no more chemically complex than a postcard. Actually, it’s limited to postcards, but you’ve invented it. (Will invent it, rather.) Way to go. Oh, and there are still some overheating problems, so I can only send one postcard each day.

Or it’s a hoax. Ha ha.

Now, there’s something you need to remember for tomorrow — don’t have dinner with Susie from accounting. I know you’ve been looking forward to it, but just trust me. Crap, I’m running out of room. Promise me. Whatever you do, don’t go out with Susie. And especially don’t sleep with her. Really.

M.

— P.S. Seriously. BTW, this is a pic of the Ruins of Manhattan.

* * *

Dear Asshole:

You still went out with her, didn’t you? I can tell because I (you) still have Susiecular Herpes. Yes, I know you’ve never heard of it. That’s because in about five years you’ll be first person ever diagnosed with it. When that happens, you’ll be sorry you didn’t listen to me. Okay, let’s try something simple. You probably still don’t believe I’m future you. Here is a prediction that will convince you: Next week, you are going to narrowly escape death. Don’t freak out. Don’t worry about it. You escape it. I’ll write again after that’s happened, and then we might be able to make some progress.

M.

— P.S. This is a picture of Our Glorious Leader. Yes, that’s an accordion. All the aliens play them.

* * *

Mark,

Listen, I know you’re an ornery bastard, but what’s the point in sending these notes if you insist on manhandling the timeline? By spending the entire week in your apartment, you’ve seriously messed things up. For starters, you didn’t get the promotion you had coming. Which means no trip to the Mayan Riviera this (that) winter. Which means you never meet our wife. And before you ask, the reason I can still remember her is because I’m writing these postcards from within a Grubenstorbian Bubble. I can see with infuriating clarity the repercussions of your actions (or in this case, milquetoast inaction). If you are going to be a complete dick-wad about it, I’m going to stop sending these notes altogether. You know, it’s almost like you’re trying to sabotage your future. (Which pisses me off for obvious reasons.) I loved Sheila! She was very understanding about the Susiecular Herpes, even when the virus mutated and turned our boy Chad into Balzrog the Destroyer. Crap, I’m almost out of space again.

M.

— P.S. This is a picture of the on-ice celebration when the Leafs won the Stanley Cup for the first time in more than sixty years. But you’ll never get to see it now, you bastard. Who could have guessed your vacation in Mexico was so critical to the timeline?

* * *

Dude!

Hey, more good news. I’ve used all the null-time I’ve had in the Grubenstorbian Bubble to invent an adaptive energy field that will act as a perfect prosthetic for my missing leg. It looks as though I’m hobbling around on thin air; freaky, but who cares? I think this is the last note that I’m going to send. The Bubble is almost out of entropy, and I’d like to get this prosthetic to market as soon as I can. Just promise me you won’t bet against the Leafs, okay? And in case you do finally believe me, for God’s sake, don’t try to track down Susie or Sheila, or act on anything else I’ve told you okay? This whole thing was just one big bad idea.

M.

— P.S. This is a picture of the first Transnormative Human. Freaky, no? Get used to it. They’ve survived your non-trip to Mexico.

* * *

Dear Early-Twenty-First-Century Wanker,

Okay, you win. I guess it really is impossible to improve yourself through time travel. Once again, you’ve screwed me over. The minute I left the Bubble, I was arrested by the Fat Police for Transtemporal Violation of the Fat Laws. Look, remember when I said “The less said about the Fat Reduction Camps the better”? What that didn’t mean was: “It would sure be a great idea for you to write a short story about FRCs and send it off to some shitty science fiction e-zine.” I would have noticed and warned you if it hadn’t taken years for the issue to reach print. I don’t know who to curse (more), you or the glacial pace of the publishing industry. It hardly matters, they’ve got me now. Still, even Our Glorious Leader can’t take away my new invention. And I may just survive the Slorg Diet. At any rate, I won’t be able to send any more notes from where I’m going, so I just have one more thing to say: Play these every week: 3-15-27-29-44-46

In time,

M.

— P.S. Wish you were here.

The End

 

Not into time travel? Read some of my long fiction before your future self returns to warn you about them!

Originally published by AE – The Canadian Review of Science Fiction in their first issue, October 2010, and it was one of the Million Writers Notable Stories of 2010. Alltop once married its own great-great grandparents. Postcard image by Franco Brambilla.

The Ruins — a new flash fiction at the Caesura Letters

Cottage ruins, County Kerry, Ireland

I have a new flash fiction up this week at the Caesura Letters called The Ruins. It’s a different kind of piece — a meditation on the nature of Stoicism (though to be fair, it has a dash of existentialism in it.)

If you haven’t already checked out the Caesura Letters, you really should. It’s “a magazine for critical thinkers, mindful contemplatives, and life-long learners.” And it’s rich with philosophy. I’m grateful to the editor and founder, James Shelley, for including fiction in the mix now too. The digital subscription is only $4.99 a month — an insanely good deal.

Photo by Keith Ewing via Flickr

The perils of evolution

One day you wake up and watch the sun rise, ripe and scarlet over the savanna, and you know it can never hold you back.

The next, you’re unable to hold a conversation with other humans in the flesh, and you have the attention span of an unhinged hummingbird. Inside your head there are noises that would have terrified you before, on the plains, but now they are the background radiation of your mind. You’re surrounded by voices. Within this clamour there is only the silent pulse of a thought that never comes, an impulse suffocated by plenty, a drive misdirected by old mythology.

You long for the reality of stone, the scrape of grass on your bare legs, and the silence of nature, tooth and claw. You wonder if you should Tweet this yearning, but — hey, new Facebook interface!

Alltop used to hunt Facebook in the old days. Originally published in 2011, and now a part of Pirate Therapy. I thought I’d post it again, in light of the new FB changes 🙂