What’s This Doing Here? (A Short Story)

“And I thought, ‘What’s this doing here?’”

I stepped into my backyard workshop, felt the tension of the week slip away as I surrounded myself by my favorite gadgets: a flux capacitor, neutralizer, light sabre, helicopter hat, cigarette gun, Maxwell Smart’s shoe, and an invisibility cloak.  These were tucked away among Dad’s hammers, mallets, Allen wrenches, saws, screwdrivers, soldering irons, and a highly illegal coil of asbestos.  But something odd glinted in the late afternoon sun.  Eyes wide, I suddenly realized what I’d left out there, and what a buffoon I’d been.  I leapt toward it, my arm stretched out, … and stubbed my toe.

“Oh, my God!”

I bent, grabbed my foot, and struck my forehead on the workbench.  The searing pain overwhelmed the throbbing toe.

Tumbling backward against the open workshop door, blood snaked down from my eyebrows.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I said.

I shook my head and began to feel a sneeze coming on, autumn ragweed jolting my sinuses in a sneak attack.  Turning my head (because I didn’t want to spread germs to the spiders in the shed?) I ripped my shirt on a rusty nail sticking out of the door.  I stumbled back out into the yard, my toe on fire, my head throbbing, my nose aflame, my tongue itching.

My foot came down on the teeth of rake, its handle smacking me in the lips, just like Dad said it’d do one day.

“Mother Mary!”

I looked up.  A bird cooed, chastising me.  Not just any bird.  A pigeon.  A rat of the sky.

Snorting, bleeding, aching, I turned and looked back at the workshop.

Why’d I done it? There was always hell to pay.  I knew there would be.  Still, I had to try.  Money was tight, and all I needed was one good set of lottery numbers, and then … and then the time machines quit, one by one: the capacitor, the Wellsian, the phone booth, and even old reliable himself, the Connecticut dream machine.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket.  I pulled it out, looked at the text on the screen: Funding was cut. We’re already at the bar.

“Father God and Sonny Jesus!”

I stared at the glow of the phone’s screen, watching a drop of blood splatter across it, forming a gory starburst.  My hand was shaking as I dropped the cell back in my pocket, or so I thought.  I actually missed my pocket.  The phone fell to the grass.  Well, not the grass, but rather a small patch of mud.  I bent over, gritting my teeth.

It was not mud.

“Ewww.”  I held my cell phone with two fingers at arm’s length as I staggered back toward the house, my tongue itching, my forehead freely bleeding, my toe on fire.

Inside the den Sarah was sitting in the recliner.  Her brown eyes widened as she saw me, bloody-faced, ragged, limping, smelling like yesterday’s dog shit.

“What?  What happened?” she said.

“I pissed God off.”

Again?”

I nodded, and then turned and pointed.  The pain didn’t matter.  She did.

“There’s something in the workshop.  Between the tricorder and the Q-37.  Could you get it?  There’s still plenty of light.”

“Sure.  No problem,” she said. Her wrinkled brow betrayed the confidence in her voice.  Sarah hated spiders and cave crickets and every other critter that infested that shack.  “But only if you’ll clean that thing.”

I told her I’d take the phone out to the mudroom.

When Sarah returned she herself was in tears.  The diamond sparkled in the lamplight.  I sat on the edge of the sofa and held my hands out, palms up.

“Does it fit?”

She shook her head. “Doesn’t need to.”

When she threw herself at me I could see where she’d tried to force the ring on over her knuckle, cutting her finger.  We fell backward in a tumble of romance and blood, giggling.

Turning serious, I said, “We can’t go out.  We lost funding.  Money’s going to be tight.”

Sarah shook her head.  “Shush,” she said.  “It’s going to be okay.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

I looked at her sideways. “How?”

She grinned.  “You left the crystal ball on the coffee table again.”

I felt every ounce of tension in my body drain away as I sank back into the cushions.  Everything was going to be okay, I just didn’t know it yet.  The next day I put the time machines out on the curb for the junk man to collect, and then I went to mass, for confession.

It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

The End

This piece of flash fiction was inspired by a challenge from WordPress.com’s @freshly_pressed tweet.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.  Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.

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