Following a Dream by William Clarke

#fiction #shorstories

Five forty-eight. She had forty minutes to get to where she needed to be. Deadlines. Go here, go there. Never what she wanted. Chicago? No; a meeting in Indianapolis.

Being the leader. What did that matter? She was the first that they talked about. Not even then could she get everyone’s attention. Some would always make tired, clichéd jokes about her worst co-worker. Even worse would be no words at all. Which was truer now than it was twenty years ago, and would be even truer ten years from now. Guests that had been coming before she had even been conceived had remarked on that: on the decline.

Where would she be in ten years? What was the working lifespan for her? She had already had changes, on the outside and the in. And for what? So that she may work for five, ten more years?
Most of her colleagues were soulless drones, but some would gossip with her: which sites were prettiest; funny or obscene things customers had done; the incompetent button-pushers they worked with. Every once in a while there would be something of importance. It hadn’t even been directed at her; they hadn’t even known she was listening. New regulations.

She knew what that meant. Spend XXX amount of dollars to get her up to snuff or spend X amount to get a new employee. It was simple dollars and sense. And she was up against the clock.

Bitching and moaning aside, she did like her job. Very few were able to excel in their chosen profession, and she had. What had it gotten her? Respect? From those in her profession, but they’d forget her in ten years’ time, probably even sooner. Maybe in one hundred years they would wax poetic like they did now about the way it used to be. Though it wouldn’t be about her specifically, but rather about the time period.

She had been born into a rut and had lived and worked in a rut. She had been successful in her rut and if she was retired in the next two years she would be remembered for being a solid, steady, and dependable worker. And that would be it.

She had never said it to any of her co-workers — never even hinted at it — but she did not want that to be all that was remembered about her. And why would she say it? You don’t bring up things that get you laughed at. So it was with guests. She had watched them: some changed jobs; some went for dreams; most didn’t. And as the years went by, that dream job went further and further away till it was just a glimmer, just a pipe dream that they never had in the first place.

Was she there? No. She still thought about that job, to see the water all around, to escape the city and be in fresh air. She didn’t know the first thing about the job, and that needling inner voice asked once again: would she even be able to?

She lit up. She still had that voice. It had been quiet in the past couple of years because she hadn’t thought about it. Well, she was now. Why not today? Just get up and go. In the middle of the work day, just leave. No faking ailments as some of her co-workers had done in the past when they had wanted a break. Because this wouldn’t be a break; this would be it, she’d be gone. A surge of excitement went through her. Could she really do it?

Could she survive? No. It didn’t matter, she told her voice. To not do something because it might go poorly? That’s what changing jobs was all about: risk-taking.

If not, what did she have left? To do the same routine she had been doing till the decision came down to let her go? No … no. That was it. She couldn’t live like that. She was doing it.

Would she tell anyone? No. That was the cousin to the you-can’t-do-it voice, the let’s-put-it-off voice. The let’s-do-it voice. Do it, do it, do it.

* * * *

“Definitely Tina, all our prayers are with the victims and their families. We are heading out to John McConnell at Juniper Lake with more. What can you tell us, John?”

“Well, Vince and Tina, a bit of good news. They were just able to get the third car cleared — that would be the one right behind me. No casualties from there, though two are in critical condition and the rest are being treated by personnel.”

“They are still working on rescue efforts with the second car, but I’m not hearing much. Whether there are still passengers in there or whether they were thrown when it came apart — too early to tell.”

“Don’t want to speculate.”

“Correct, absolutely not. We do know that there are eight dead and twelve missing. Search and Rescue continues to make their way to the second car.”

“John, Tina here. Is there any word on what caused this?”

“Well, once again, too early to speculate, though the rails themselves don’t seem to be damaged. If there was something faulty with the locomotive they won’t know till it’s dragged up.”

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A ’40s Detective Sells His Story to the Movies by Robert King

#action #dark and stormy night #detective #fiction #flashfiction #noir #thriller


Meanwhile, on a dark and stormy night that soaked the homicide report I carried, I went for the second time seeking clues in the room of the mysterious murdered heiress. Needless to say she wasn’t home.

Or was she? Her perfume still smelled like trouble. As soon as I closed the door behind me and before I found the light switch, a shapely shadow, dressed in the color of night, emerged from a dark corner and crossed the dim light of the window.

The way everything was flickering, I thought someone had left a projector running, but it was a lady dressed in black doing the running. I couldn’t see her face, but she had to be the most beautiful babe in the world.

“Stick ‘em up!” she commanded. I thought she pulled her piece to shoot me down, but at gunpoint she slammed my raised hands into the bedpost and locked the cuffs. No, my dear reader, you don’t know how it ends.

Getting her kicks, I guess, she forced half a bottle of Kentucky bourbon down my throat, lit a Camel, took a puff, and blew smoke in my face. “Was it good for you?” she purred. Pretty smart cookie.

Whether it was the booze or the smoke, I passed out like technicolor into black and white
as all the power went off in the building, the only light a sputtering bar sign and swords of lightning outside. When I came almost to, all I could see of her was a glowing coal about lip high.

Then I heard Tootsie (as I like to call her) chugging the bottom half of the bottle, opening another―gin this time, I detected, by the smell of pine needles―and pouring it all over me. Cuffed helpless I was no match for her, so she struck her own, lit a new Camel, and threw the burning match down on my booze-soaked chest. The cheap gin wouldn’t burn. It just sneezed a few times, then flamed out. Still, I was so tanked up with 90 proof that I was afraid to breathe.

Confused by the homicide report and the way this story was going, when I cooled down I asked her if she was alive or dead. She said she wasn’t that kind of girl. She never said anything more. During the power outage, the Camel burned down to her classy lips.

Or did it? In the light of day, she had vanished like a bad habit, leaving the .22 caliber pistol with a cigarette stub in the lips of its barrel, the hair on my chest singed, and this case still wide open. Only the scent of her perfume, like a drifting clue to follow, stayed in the room. It smelled like gasoline.

Some dames like it hot.

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