27 June 2013

#fridayflash: conspiracy

I read the Guardian about every other day, usually, but somehow missed this article where Neil Gaiman gave a writing prompt and invited people to finish the story. Sarah Snell-Pym used it as a prompt over at Magenta Monster on 21 June, which is how I found out about it, and I decided to give it a go.

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

He hadn't had much sleep — the phone had been ringing, intermittently, all night. He couldn't turn it off because he was on-call IT support for work. None of them were work calls, though.

For the first several calls he listened for a few seconds, said "Hello?" one more time, then disconnected. Around two o'clock in the morning he gave up. When the phone rang and he saw it wasn't the work contact, he said "Fuck off. You pervert." at the handset as soon as he hit the talk button. He was too tired to snarl, and just said the words as if he were reporting on a crashed server's status.

Someone at the other end gasped. "Is that how you talk to your girlfriend's mother?"

"Wha?" he said. "I don't have a girlfriend."

"You listen to me, young man! Put Vera on the phone right now!"

"Who the hell is Vera?"


"Look lady, I have to be at work for eight-thirty tomorrow, and I've had no sleep because of some prank caller. I don't know any Veras. I'm sorry."

"You aren't Brad?"

Despite his tiredness he wanted to laugh. "No, I'm not."

"I'm so sorry, sir, I must have mis-dialed..."

"I have to keep this line open in case work calls. You understand. Good-bye."

"Good-bye. Terribly sorry."

He leaned back into the pillows, amazed how often people simply forgot about call waiting features.

Five minutes later the heavy breather called back. He thought it was Vera's mother dialling the wrong number again and missed his chance to use the "Fuck off. You pervert." line.

He woke up not to the sound of the alarm, but his cat retching up a hairball. He groaned, and noticed that the sunlight filtering through the curtains seemed a bit too intense for seven-thirty. He checked the time on his phone and swore.

His foot found the cat's hairball on the bathroom tiles as he came out of the shower. He stuck his foot back in the bath-tub and wiped it off, then hurried off to work.

His manager met him in the elevator, and cheerfully asked if he'd got carried away and had too much to drink after watching the big game the night before. He said he hadn't watched the game and had tried to explain about the calls, but his manager just said, "Too bad you missed it — we slaughtered them" and exited at the next floor.

He recalled as the elevator doors closed that his manager was a big sports fan.

During the day two servers went down, and the fail-over to the backup servers didn't work properly. He had to go in and change a lot of settings that should have been set already. In between fixing the servers he tried to figure out how the settings could have changed. His manager dropped by just long enough to tell him that he wanted an analysis done and delivered for tomorrow morning. "You know, for our office start time. Eight-thirty," his manager added as he walked away.

The servers were finally stable and he had all the log files he'd need collected about an hour after everyone else had gone home. He considered staying at work until the job was done, but he was so tired he could barely see straight. He knew he'd have to crash for a few hours and then work on the report overnight.

He bought a pizza slice to eat on the walk home and found a dead housefly under a slice of pepperoni. When he brought it back to the pizza stand and demanded his money back, the stout Italian woman running the counter told him he put the housefly on the slice himself to get her in trouble with the health inspectors.
"Health inspectors," he said, tossing the rest of the slice in the trash. "That's a good idea. I'll call them when I get home."

"You just threw out the evidence, asshole," said the pizza lady.

He tried to act like it didn't matter, but he knew from the look on her face she was right.

The lock on his apartment door felt funny when he turned the key in it. The resistance was off, as if it wasn't locked.

He swore under his breath, trying to remember if he'd locked up that morning.

He set his laptop bag on the floor and decided to use the toilet before trying to get a few hours' sleep in. That reminded him that he still had the hairball to clean up. He groaned and grabbed the cleaning supplies.

The hairball wasn't on the bathroom floor. He noticed that a drop of toothpaste he'd meant to clean up at the same time wasn't there either.

"Mitsou?" he called to the cat. "Did you finally decide to start pulling your own weight around here?"

He put the cleaning supplies away, chuckling about the chores he would like to delegate to the cat. He had just shut the cupboard door when he realised he hadn't seen her since he got home. Normally she came to the door to greet him.

"Mitsou?" he called.

The last thing he felt was his face smashing into the exposed brick wall above the cleaning cupboard.

"We'll be able to stay here tonight for sure. Maybe even a couple of days." Brad looked around. "It's a nice place. He must have been doing all right."

"We'll get caught," said Vera.

"No security cameras in the fire escape stairwells," said Brad. He nudged the man's corpse with his toe. "He doesn't look like he'd be too heavy. Let's get him to the bath tub so we can start chopping him up for the garburator."

It was true, he thought — you did float over your body after. He watched Brad and Vera pick up his body and drag it to the bathroom.

"It would be a lot easier if you took my shoes off first," he said, but of course they couldn't hear him. Mitsou crept out from behind the armchair in the living room. Somehow that made him feel better.


  1. A horrible day indeed! At least he won't have to do it again tomorrow.

  2. This is the most ambitious Friday Flash I've read in a while. The way you let multiple scenes and threads play, it felt like you wanted this to be a full short story. Do you think you're done with it? It's very neat, and creepy in some fun 80's ways.

    Is Para16 complete? He already used the pervert line earlier and it doesn't say why he misses his chance now. He apparently falls asleep between whatever concluded this and The next paragraph?

    1. Given that I'm still ill, I'll just be pleased if people find it's coherent!

      It's supposed to be taken that he's worried it's Vera's mum (who's probably really Vera) calling back, so he goes for polite phone manners, but then it turns out to be the breather (who's probably Brad or Vera). Maybe it needs a rewrite.

  3. Not what I was expecting at all. Poor bloke what a bad end to a rotten night and day!

    Good twist enjoyed the story.

  4. Complex and intriguing.. as all the best nightmares should be.. I love the psychological weirdness in this cleverly crafted tale..

  5. That is so sad. And I didn't see the ending coming either. Nice one.

  6. So- wait. Does that mean the kitty is dead, too? And how did he float over his own body? I was not able to keep pace with this one.

    But the more typical aspects of the bad day- hairballs and crashed servers- were very well depicted.

    1. The cat isn't dead -- cats often hide when strangers are present, and these two came in when the usual human companion wasn't home.

      The floating part comes from reports from near-death experiences as documented from the 19th century on, which themselves come from ancient Egyptian and other religions. I thought it was part of the zeitgeist 'cos I've seen some TV shows recently that used it as a symbol on its own with no further explication, but maybe it's not as far-facing as I thought.

    2. Far-REACHING. This phone has a tendency to type what it likes, not what I tell it!

  7. very nice job with the prompt, really enjoyed this almost modern day tale of the afflictions of Job

    marc nash

  8. Oh nice. Poor guy. He can look forward to haunting his killers.

  9. I knew it. The cat WAS in on the conspiracy! ;-)

    Nice take on the prompt.

  10. Replies
    1. I reckon she'd:
      * hide from Brad and Vera, sneaking food when they're away or asleep, and then
      * yowl her head off once they've left for more than 12 hours

      She's a cat. She has good survival instincts.


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