Monday, June 2, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: Scarlett Promise

Another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge, this one random title. There were two lists of twenty words each, and the assignment was to get a random number from each column, make a title, write 1000 words. I got "Scarlett Promise". Here it is, pretty much hot off the press, as it were. I ran spellcheck, obviously, and fiddled with some paragraph order.

Scarlett Promise

I'm down to my last couple hundred new dollars, or credits, or whatever they're calling them this year. I check the balance whenever I pass a scanner, compulsively, as though somehow they'll grow more on their own. I check the message in my inbox, compulsively, as though it'll maybe go away and I won't have to think about it. But who am I kidding? I already decided.

We were the only immortals the clinic made. The first time we went, it was a little brick building in the suburbs, and we were starving jobless college grads, kicked out by our parents and apparently unemployable. We answered the ads for a long term medical research schtick, to be guinea pigs, and there were going to be surgeries. They told us we would be immortal, the first two people on the path to new humanity.

Now the city's taken it over, and there's a big steel and glass skyscraper there instead, the clinic on the thirtieth floor. I think there's a smartphone startup on another floor, though they might've gone under already. So many faces, so many companies. The doctor who sees me now wasn't even born when I opened my eyes in the recovery room.

Immortal doesn't mean we can't be killed. It doesn't seem to mean we can't wear out, either, but there's only so much the doctors say. We need to check in once a year to make sure everything's good, replace hardware as necessary, install upgrades as they come out. Live forever, with appropriate maintenance. There's a stipend, but it didn't inflate the way everything else did. Turns out inorganic system replacement wasn't nearly as popular as designer stem cell organs. The company has changed directions, and now they make new organic bodies for peoples' old consciousnesses. We all pay for our mistakes, in our own way.

We watched an old old movie once Gone With the Wind, at a kitsch 20th theatre, all gold edging and red velvet. It was raining, and popcorn was cheap, and the movie was longer than anything we'd ever heard of. At the end of the first half, before an intermission of all things, the main character, Scarlett, said "With God as my witness, I'll never be hungry again." You repeated it when you got up to refill the popcorn, salt still on the corner of your mouth, and I kissed it away. That was a week before we went in for the first surgeries, contracts freshly thumb-printed

You told me we'd be together forever. We were in love. We were immortal, with gold contracts. Nothing was going to be able to break us apart, but it's been twenty years or more since I've seen you last, and we'd already gone our separate ways long before that.

We're still linked. If I concentrate hard enough, it's like I can tell where you are, anywhere in the world. Maybe I'm making it up. Maybe you're really where I think you are, my True North come unmoored. I tell myself stories about what you're doing. Volunteering in the Israeli army. Freedom fighting in whatever Russia is calling itself nowadays. Mercenary in the Middle East. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to put the theories to the test. Do you make up stories about me? Do you see me in Central America working against cartels? India, helping with election day? North Korea, in that prison camp infiltration and ultimate destruction? I check the message again. Maybe sooner.

I scanned my chip again. Didn't these things used to be called ATMs? It had started to rain, and all the people on the sidewalk had transparent bubbles around the heads and shoulders, still texting or chatting away. A few couples had double bubbles, and I watched for too long. They caught me looking, but looked away first. The kind of famous I was did not invite interaction. Do you stare at couples? Are you half of a different couple now?

I walked around and thought about it. I had no idea how to make money. It was always so easy in games, or when we still made appearances. I bought some meat on a stick, labeled chicken but it might have just been called that for comfort. Maybe I should see a movie, get out of the rain. If I thumb-printed the contract in my inbox, I wonder if you would somehow know. It might make things easier, really. You know, I know, we meet someplace where our immortal death throes won't hurt anybody. Antarctica. The moon. Because I don't doubt it would take my life to end yours at the same time, and at this point, I'm okay with it.

I pull up the contract, project it on a deserted, rain speckled chess table in the park. I try to parse what you may have done, why somebody wants me to kill you. Maybe you're doing the same thing, wherever you are. Maybe the clinic is tired of our stipends and our upgrades. Maybe the world powers have grown uneasy with our existence, uneasier, and felt the need to pull the plug. Does it matter? It should. But I'm just so tired. When I look up, the sky is still cloudy, but in patches I can see the stars. "Tomorrow is another day" was another thing Scarlett said in the movie. I felt bad now, that I  never read the book. Maybe the book would tell me if Scarlett and Rhett stayed broken up. You thought they did. I hoped they didn't.

I thumbprint the contract, send it winging back through cyberspace. Being immortal didn't mean I no longer needed transportation. A taxi first, I thought, to get me to the airport. It seemed to me you were in Europe, maybe, or Africa. Have you changed your hair? Did you get the eye upgrade?

You said we'd be together forever. It'll be in body even if it wasn't in spirit.

6 comments:

  1. Wow. I wasn't expecting that.

    You infused this little story with a poignancy that makes my heart break. It's incredibly creative, detailed, raw, and honest. I felt your narrator's loneliness, her longing for the way things used to be. Despite all the people, she's alone on this earth, really alone except for this one other 'person.'

    The twist, the end. . .she has to kill him? Or die, die trying or maybe he'll get to her first, I don't know, it doesn't matter anymore, does it?

    Damn. What a sad little story, Jen. You brought tears to my eyes. Well done.

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    1. I knew I felt like you were my writing buddy for a reason! As soon as I hit "post' on this, I thought "well, if nothing else, it's a great example of telling everything and showing nothing", instant stage fright, the way it goes. But you got what I intended out of it.

      And yes, the intent was the narrator was contacted/contracted to kill her "other" (another nuance of the title).

      Thank you! ^^

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  2. I can't get wordpress to work, oy. Keeps saying I don't own my identity.

    Why do I feel like your narrator?

    Anyway, what I wanted to tell you is you needn't have worried. And it was my pleasure, Jen.

    -kkellie (last time I checked :) )

    You

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  3. I see your earlier comment about all tell, I read this as a soliloquy, and found it engaging and provocative. A cautionary tale about obsolescence, the lure to better through science/medicine and unintended consequence. And a love story gone bitter. I imagine the other has sent the contract his/herself. You leave enough to the reader's imagination. Nice!

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    1. Wow, thanks! I really appreciate your impressions.

      We are our own worst critics, n'est-ce pas? A reader approaches a story in a far different manner from how the story's writer does.

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