I apologize that it has been a few days since my last post.
One of my short stories has spun into a longer narrative that I'm still in the process of developing.
Hopefully, I'll be able to provide some more updates soon.
Until then, I'll still be posting picture on my Instagram @JulianSeltzer.
Did the guy need a vision check? Lucas couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to enter into this argument right now. Usually, he wouldn’t mind. He knew how to be a persuasive debater. Pressing in on a point until the other party retreated and admitted fault.
Lucas had a strong argument. The kind that would hold up in court. Irrefutable. The other driver hadn’t looked before pulling into traffic.
But he held back. Partly because it wouldn’t be fun to argue such an obvious point, and also since recently he noticed himself getting a little carried away during an argument. A month ago, he’d accused a co-worker of handling a sales meeting unprofessionally. At first, Lucas was only pestering the guy because he was bored. Then he went too far. He criticized everything about his co-worker. Aptitude. Attitude. Appearance. He drove the guy to tears. Afterwards he felt bad, but didn’t apologize.
Out of the office, he’d been hostile too. Previously, Lucas argued for fun. But it had become hard to know when to stop. Bickering with family devolved into blood sport.
Lucas sat in his car for a long minute debating whether it was worth having an argument, or to let insurance work it out. Before he reached a decision, the other guy was already standing by his door. Lucas rolled down his window, and the guy launched into a tirade.
A part of Lucas thought that this served him right. That he was getting a taste of his own medicine. But this guy’s argumentative style was amateur. For Lucas, argument was art.
He decided this guy was a blowhard. Lucas would’ve respected him if he was at least a windbag. The guy’s argument lacked style. Rattling off reasons without a thought to their order or logical development.
Lucas didn’t want to engage. His eyes glazed over as the guy continued shouting. This non-response served to rile the guy more than if he actually engaged. Lucas calmly asked the guy for his insurance information. The guy threw his hands up, and went back to his car.
The guy returned yielding a blade. Lucas figured it for a machete. He might’ve been frightened, if the guy had any idea how to hold the tool. Lucas rolled up his window and prepared to drive away. This infuriated the guy. He yelled that this was all Lucas’ fault! That if Lucas wasn’t going to use his side-view mirror then he didn’t need it anyway!
With a weak lunge, the guy swiped at Lucas’ mirror. He didn’t swing hard enough, and only succeeded in scratching the car door.
By now a few people gathered to watch the melee. Out of the corner of his eye, Lucas noticed someone dialing the police, and someone else filming the encounter.
The guy had exhausted himself by the time police arrived. Following a few more worthless swings, the guy took to slashing Lucas’ tires.
Lucas gave a statement to two officers. Neither commended him for keeping calm.
When the pair finished asking him questions and listening to his account, Lucas asked what they would have done. They avoided specifics, and instead said they just hoped this wouldn’t happen to him again.
“There’s a lot of psychos out there,” said one officer. “It sounds crazy, but some guys just like to start an argument just to have fun.”
Lucas agreed that it did sound crazy.
Planning a movie date with Shannon was a mind game. No superheroes. No magic. No rom coms. No westerns. No orphans. No magic orphans. No talking animals. Nothing where they’d probably be the oldest people in the theater. Nothing in its first weekend. Horror could be okay if it wasn’t about magic or orphans. Shoot-em-ups were possible, if she’d seen the star on a late night show, otherwise Shannon would never believe the actor was a nice guy.
Ash had been with her for almost a year. A mutual friend (Brent) introduced them. He knew Brent from the Celebrity Impersonator Conference in Las Vegas. Ash went as comedian Seth Rogen, and Brent as country singer Brad Paisley. Both men performed in the Conference variety show, with a stand-up act and a song medley respectively.
To create a little mystery on their first date, Brent told Shannon that Ash looked like a celebrity but wouldn’t specify. It took her until dessert to guess. Ash wisely changed the subject when Shannon inquired whom he though was her celebrity doppelgänger.
Since their first date, Ash had been on a diet. He figured it would make him look less like Seth Rogen. But, according to a celebrity magazine he thumbed through in a doctor’s waiting room, Mr. Rogen was also dieting. Ash took the magazine, and showed it to Shannon. She pointed out the issue was dated from two years ago. Shannon was usually quick to point out details that he overlooked. Such as if he forgot the exact time they planned to meet up. She’d especially correct him if he forgot one of her movie choosing rules.
“I only correct you to be fair,” she’d say. “You have as many rules about picking a restaurant as I do for choosing a movie.” Shannon was right, but he had too much of a headache to try and think through all of her cinema selection criteria. He rested his head in his hands.
“I don’t think I’m gonna go to the celebrity conference with Brent this year,” he said.
Shannon didn’t ask why. She understood. “Since losing the weight, you don’t look enough like Seth.”
She was half-right.
Most of the conference attendees didn’t just resemble a celebrity, they tried to live like the person too (or at least how they imagined their lifestyle). Ash had tried that in the past, but felt himself drifting away from his man-child spirit animal.
In the past year, Ash made some major life changes. In addition to Shannon and the diet, he quit smoking pot. And other idiosyncrasies were retreating. Ash felt that his sense of humor had changed. The more time he spent with Shannon, the less crude humor appealed to him. Added together all these changes felt disorienting.
“Who do you think I look like now?” he asked.
Shannon only had to think a moment. “I don’t know his name, but he’s in that new shoot-em-up movie. I saw him on one of the late shows last night.”
A lot had changed since she saved the planet. Her father’s health improved, and her son, Brad, was speaking to her again (although those family updates were mostly unrelated to her heroic scientific discovery). But Heidi’s daily routine remained unaffected.
Heidi’s bioengineering miracle brought an initial wave of news coverage and awards. Her strain of algae that digested carbon emissions were lauded as a miracle.
After the media circus, Heidi decided to stay at the lab where she’d been for nearly two decades. Every morning, Heidi drove to the lab, and parked in her reserved spot. Inside, she was greeted by an intern who monitored the experiments overnight. She ate the lunch her dad packed, and left the lab by 6:15.
Being the savior of humanity hadn’t much altered Heidi’s professional workday, but her Global Warming solution led to a few unforeseen worldwide side effects. The most visible consequence was the giant insects. Beetles the size of dogs. Dragonflies as large as drones. Moth wings as wide as truck tires. The bugs grew larger because of the higher oxygen levels. A few entrepreneurs were already insectivore farming.
In a way, the insects made her son break his silent treatment. He called his mother after his townhouse was condemned due to a colossal termite infestation. Brad asked to stay a week or so until he could find a new pest-resistant rental. Heidi believed Brad used the insect dilemma as an excuse. He certainly had friends he could have called.
He’d stopped speaking with her about a year before her discovery. Brad said he was tired of being judged by Heidi and his grandfather. Until he called about the termite issue, Heidi didn’t know where Brad was living.
True to his word, Brad only used the apartment as a temporary respite. Within two weeks, he moved out. He stayed in the city and called Heidi every other week. But he still wasn’t back on speaking terms with Heidi’s father.
It wasn’t even lunchtime, and Heidi suddenly needed a break. They were working on new pheromones to control the insects, but her mind was drifting. She never left work early, but figured saving the world awarded her occasional scheduling flexibility. She could duck out early, and surprise her dad.
She gave a few instructions to the daytime lab assistants and left. In the parking lot, a swarm of damselflies the size of tennis rackets blocked her path. As she debated a course of action, her phone rang. Brad was nearby, and wondered if they could get lunch. Heidi agreed, especially since she couldn’t get to her car. She asked him to pick her up.
The swarm intensified, tripling in size by the time he arrived. She figured there must be almost a hundred. Their sound overpowering. Brad’s bright orange car attracted their attention. The flock descended on his sedan. Heidi was afraid they would trap and suffocate him in the vehicle.
Rushing back into the lab, she desperately grabbed any tool that might disperse the horde.
The flies were impervious to her clanging two tin trays together.
The experimental pheromone spray did provoke a response. It made them angrier. And they tried to bite through the car roof.
Heidi ran at the car, stabbing at their eyes with her keys. After a few moments, she fought back enough to open the car door. She and Brad dashed inside the lab facility.
She was drenched in bug guts. One of the damselflies had taken a deep bite into her shoulder. Brad called his grandfather to tell him that he was taking Heidi to the hospital. It was the first time the two had spoken in almost two years.
Argentina, maybe? Kevin wasn’t sure. There was definitely one country where gifting a set a knives was a major etiquette gaff. Bolivia? Austria? No. Definitely somewhere in South American —or possibly Central America. He couldn’t even remember where he learned that factoid. It seemed slightly too specific to be gleaned from a Snapple cap, and he doubted it was from a game show. Kevin had a talent for game show trivia. He’d been on two, but never won anything substantial. Usually, Kevin needed a little adrenaline to kick-start that area of his memory. But that excitement also made him take dumb risks. Like putting betting all his points that Edelweiss was the Austrian national anthem.
Kevin wondered if there was any country where giving a gift card was a faux pas. Maybe in Argentina … He shrugged. It was definitely the wrong gift. Maybe he should just give a set of knives. They’d be practical. But so was the Bed Bath & Beyond gift card. And the knives could seem threatening. Maybe that’s why they were frowned upon in Argentina. The gift card felt like an empty gesture, but he couldn’t think of a better one.
Put him alone in a room with some thug to threaten him, and Leo was sure he’d crack easy. The guy wouldn’t have to pick up a knife or a baseball bat. Leo just knew he wasn’t one for torture. It wouldn’t have to even be a scary room. A handsome study, a cheery bathroom, or even a wood paneled rec room. He’d squeal, spill the beans, say where the money was, and divulge the vault code.
But he surprised himself. He was surprising himself. Here he was underground. A rat scurried across his broken foot. This was worse than he imagined. And Leo still wasn’t going to tattle. He laughed as the man brandished a knife. The secret was safe with Leo.
Calling Sasha’s logic outdated was an understatement. To say she was living in the dark ages was an insult to the castles and knights. Her thinking wasn’t medieval as much as positively prehistoric. Jurassic even.
Meredith poured a coffee for her small-minded friend, and gritted her teeth. “Look, honestly, I’m prepared to move past all this,” she said.
But there would be no reconciliation. Meredith was sure of that. Trusting Sasha as a business partner had been a disaster. And now, even after the truck full of cloned dogs had turned up in the wrong state, Sasha wouldn’t take responsibility. She didn’t need an apology. All she wanted was for Sasha to stop blaming her.
Sasha surprised her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell you, but I’ve been extremely distracted for the past week. I just can’t think straight.”
“What is it?” asked Meredith. The two of them used to be able to confide in each other. It was why they’d incorporated this business together.
“Crouton II, he just isn’t the same dog as my old crouton.”
Corruption or ineptitude. Probably a combination of the two. Anna was incensed that the county suspended e-waste recycling due to “cost issues.” Anna cynically believed the decision was about more than the price.
Anna felt the need to take action. Over the years, she’d written enough letters, collected countless signatures, and met with dozens local representatives. Those were all dead end strategies. Then a realization hit. An idea to get attention and change minds. Still, she needed a co-conspirator. Anna needed Blake. He was the only person who would understand her plan.
They hadn’t spoken in months. After their break-up, Blake tried to backpack across America, but turned around two days in after deciding he’d rather the adventure of brewing an eco-friendly craft beer. A friend had tried the beverage, and compared it to a flat, yeasty soda.
The same friend told Anna where to find him. Blake was living in a micro-unit apartment he built from a shipping container. Anna could tell he wasn’t over her. She only got through explaining the first part of her plan before he agreed to help.
The plan was straightforward:
- Organize their own e-waste collection.
- Create a life-size plastic cast of the state senator who first proposed suspending e-waste recycling.
- Fill in the plastic cast with the defunct computers, VCRs, cellphones and other obsolete electronics.
- Leave the sculpture (and an accompanying explanatory plaque) in front of the statehouse.
They constructed the statue behind Blake’s shipping container. Like mad scientist they worked late into the night assembling their creation. The night before the statue’s unveiling, they were up well past midnight adding the finishing touches. He added a wig. She pinned a flag to the plastic senator’s lapel. They both slept a few hours on Blake’s futon.
In the early morning, they delivered their statue. They hadn’t considered that once the sun rose the plastic mold would serve as an oven. The electronic rubbish superheated. Corrosive waste leached out of the casing, and the art installation began to spark. A bomb squad was called in. By noon, Anna received a frantic phone call from the State Senator’s Office. She and Blake rushed back to the state capitol, and were escorted to the senator’s office.
In public, the senator kept a humorous tone at his press conference, joking, “Guess I just don’t get modern art.” And followed that punch line with “there’s gotta be an easier way to insult me.” Privately, the senator was furious. He lectured like a condescending schoolteacher.
“You don’t know the half of the trouble you’ve caused,” he yelled. “Besides the obvious damage this caused to my reputation and the capital steps, the worst part is that now I’ll be forced to do something about the e-waste recycling.”
He faced the window and continued ranting. “This was never just about the cost. The union boys were ready to make a big ruckus about who’d have control over those e-waste contracts.” The senator turned to face them again. “Why are you smiling?”
She felt like a master artist. Her political activism had finally made a difference.
NOTE: This story is last entry of new series "The Invaders." Although each story is meant to stand alone, the installments will form a larger narrative.
Before reading this installment consider checking out
“A tour guide, a foreigner, an orphan boy, and a killer robot got for a walk. This might as well be the setup for some joke,” said Ray.
Brendon nodded. “I’m too tired to think of a punch line. But you’re the best tour guide in this country.”
“And you’re the worst tourist,” said Ray. He would have smiled if he weren’t so exhausted.
None of them had slept the previous night. They’d been walking down the road (across the war-torn landscape) all day, and the border was still an hour away. Only adrenaline, recklessness and luck kept them going. Luck that Brendon could reprogram the robot to be their protector. Luck they’d found water. And luck not running into anyone or anything else along the way. No rebel groups. Nor stray pods of killer machines.
For the last few hours, Ray had been considering how to convince Brendon to take the orphan across the border with him. Brendon had seen the boy’s family die in the bunker. This wasn’t a country where an young person had an easy future. The boy’s best hope was to leave with the tourist.
In the distance, Ray thought he saw the outline of a person. A silhouette came into focus. Walking towards them was a young woman.
She was about Brendon’s age, wore a dress, and carried a heavy pack. Seeing Ray, Brendon, the boy and the machine, she laughed. “Don’t you know those things are dangerous?”
“So I’ve heard,” said Brendon.
She walked alongside them. “Where ya headin’?” she asked.
“The border” Brendon replied.
“Was just there A lot of people are trying to get across. But with your big metal friend, you might make it. Mind if I join you guys?”
Ray saw an opening. “Sure,” he said. “But promise me you’ll get this boy across.”
“Sure,” she agreed. “I’ll pretend the foreigner’s my husband, and the boy our son.”
They walked the last hour to the border in silence. When they approached with the robot, the crowd quickly cleared a path for them. But Ray stopped short.
“You coming with us?” Brendon asked.
Ray shook his head.
Before Brendon could say thank you, the machine punched a hole in the border fence. The trio rushed through, but the machine didn’t follow. It blocked the breach, and powered down.
NOTE: This story is Part III of my new series "The Invaders." Although each story is meant to stand alone, the installments will form a larger narrative. Before reading this installment consider checking out Part I: The Rumor & Part II: We Are Here To Help
They walked across the scorched earth. Reaching the border would be their best chance. Ray was the only one holding the group together. He tried to quiet the boy down in case any killer machines were still on patrol.
The boy was hysterical. Brendon seemed to be in shock. Ray didn’t blame either of them. The three had barely escaped. If Ray hadn’t instinctively grabbed onto them, both Brendon and the boy would have met the same end as the boy’s family (crushed under the collapsing bunker).
Each had a difficult trip ahead. The boys’ trouble was glaring, but Brendon’s journey would also be challenging. Ray supposed that the capital had been leveled, and that the airports, borders and embassies were closed. Brendon was a tourist, but that wouldn’t matter if they encountered the wrong people.
Ray wondered if he could help foreign traveler to hide out for a few days, or weeks. But that just delayed the inevitable. Brendon needed to reach the border and bribe his way out.
It was morning, but none of them had slept. They were too tired to run. Ray held the boy’s hand tightly, and the group pushed forward.
The main road was lined with houses. Before everyone had fled, it had been a nice neighborhood. Not the quaint homes of a 1950s sitcom, but houses with internet and satellite dishes.
A thought hit him.
“You’re a tech expert, aren’t you?” he asked Brendon. The tourist nodded. “What do you think the machines are doing?”
The question recharged Brendon. “I actually have a decent understanding of their operating system works. They’re all part of the internet of things. And there’s a built-in backdoor, a terribly unsecure design flaw that …”
He interrupted. “What does that mean?”
“It means they all share data and info instantaneously, but I could hack into them with a decent internet link-up. I could probably convince one to protect us.”
Ray led them into the nearest unlocked house. Brendon found a computer. He typed quickly. In the kitchen Ray found a chocolate bar that he split into pieces. “Breakfast,” he said, handing a half to the boy.
“It got it!” yelled Brendon.
Outside there was a crash.
Ray’s stomach dropped.
Sitting out front was a machine.
In daylight the machine looked smaller, like a mid-size car. Its polished metal reflected the sun. Ray squinted.
“It’s okay,” said Brendon. “Now this one is under our control. None of the others will bother it. Think of it as a friend who’ll help us to the border.”
Brendon became the leader. Ray no longer worried if they would reach the border. Now he was anxious about what would happen when they all arrived.
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