I have decided to test out the ebook market. I’m compiling a couple of short stories and a dozen or so flash fiction stories of my own to publish in e-format. This is a litmus test. I’m close to finishing the shitty draft of my first novel, and I’d like to know how people respond to my work. It will be some time before my novel is of publishable calibre, but between now an then, I’ll have something out there, something to etch my name into the annals of the foolhardy. Good luck, me!
Here is an excerpt from one of the short stories I plan to include in my book. I call the short story “SLR.”
Josh Mattland was on his way to work one Tuesday morning in the month of July when he noticed a boy of about six resting on the sidewalk curb. The kid held a magnifying glass in his hand and was hunched over something. As Josh neared, he noticed a black line of ants advancing toward the boy and passing under his magnifying glass.
“Ants,” Josh thought, “he is roasting ants.”
The ants were mindlessly following a scent trail to some food source elsewhere, and they were oblivious of the fiery doom awaiting them only a few short inches away.
The boy giggled.
Josh walked up to the boy and said, “Hey, kid, how would you feel if someone roasted you alive with a giant magnifying glass?”
The child dropped his magnifying glass and shot a look of horror at Josh. The kid’s face turned, wrinkled, and tears flooded his eyes. A hellish sound flowed from the boy’s lips, and he fled into the house behind.
“Kids,” Josh muttered as he continued on his way down Elm St.
Majestic oaks lined the street, and on mild sunny days Josh enjoyed his walk to work. Even in autumn, he would bundle up in a blue windbreaker and his Red Sox baseball cap and step out to fire blazing in the air as leaves, dried and crisped in the dry October air, swooped down around him.
The office of Kitchner Insurance, Inc. stood only five blocks from his home and was a small three-room apartment with a receiving area the size of his bathroom. Mr. Kitchner’s office was the first and largest of the three. Across the hall was Cody’s office, and in the back, smallest of the three, was Josh’s.
Katie Holmes, the office secretary, greeted Josh with her shark tooth grin and said, “Morning, Mr. Mattland. You’ve got a package,” as he pushed open the glass-paneled front door.
“What?” Josh asked, although he had heard what she’d said; he never received packages at work. Anything he needed for the job came directly from Mr. Kitchner.
“You’ve got a package,” Katie said again and plopped a roughed up looking cardboard box on the counter.
Josh approached and picked up the box. Its corners were smashed in, and there were a few tears in the cardboard. It smelled faintly of cinnamon spice. It was fairly heavy in his hand, which ruled out anything lightweight like Anthrax.
“Here, go ahead.” Katie shoved a pair of scissors in his face, tip outward, “I want to find out what’s in the mystery package.”
“Um, thanks,” Josh said and gingerly plucked the scissors from her hand. He splayed them open and slashed at the wrinkled tape thoroughly sealing the box. As he pealed back the box flaps, a sweet spice aroma wafted from the box. He thought he could detect nutmeg and cloves along with the cinnamon he had smelled earlier. Cookies, maybe? Or some sort of pastry? Even if it were food, nobody in their right mind would eat something from a mystery package.
Crumpled newspapers in a foreign language filled the box to its brim. Josh poked at the papers with the scissors and found something solid. He pushed away a few of the newspaper wads and found a gold box. He laid the scissors aside and began digging out newspaper.
The box he found inside the cardboard box was medium sized, rectangular, and merely painted gold with diagonally printed, bold black letters across the left side. “NIKON,” they declared.
“Wow, is it really a camera?” Shark tooth Katie asked.
Something about Katie’s question really irritated Josh. It irritated him so much that his immediate thought was, “Why the fuck do you care?” And he imagined himself grabbing the box and rushing off to his office before she could reply. But, he stopped himself, shook his head –he typically didn’t say things like that– and replied with a little effort, “let’s see.”
Josh removed the box, holding it between his fingers as if it were a fragile time bomb. He placed it beside the cardboard box and slid open the end flap. The sweet spice scent had already become a little overwhelming, but when he opened the gold box, a putrid stench, still sweet, like rotten fruit, forced its way into his nostrils.
“God, what’s that smell?” Katie asked, gagging and flinging her arm over her mouth and nose.
Josh didn’t answer; he just wrinkled his forehead and tipped the box, spilling the contents onto the counter.
Katie had been correct; it was a camera. A Nikon SLR FM10 with a black cased shutter box, silver lettering, and a 35-70mm NIKKOR zoom lens. It was the exact model Josh had used in the one college photography course he had attended. Dr. Bamsburger had insisted they use this exact model. No other brand, no other type.
“Wah! Actua camma!” Katie said through her arm. This too irritated Josh beyond reason. It was a confusing rage. Katie had never bothered him before. In fact, they had, on some occasions, conversation that went beyond mere small talk, sometimes even flirting, although her teeth would be a hindrance to any relationship they might engender. So, why did he suddenly feel like reaching across the counter and strangling her?
Katie pulled her arm away, revealing a soft and malleable face, a hateable, easy to bruise face; he could just take his fist and… He grasped the counter with both hands, shook his head to clear the thoughts spinning out of control, thoughts he would never think, about things he would never do, especially to a woman.
“Take a picture of me,” Katie said and smiled.
The rotten smell had dissipated. Cinnamon sweetness still lingered in the air, but it gave not hint of the rotten fruit putrescence formerly wafting from the box.
He obediently raised the camera and focused on her young, pleasant, rippable, face. Josh flinched and accidentally pressed the shutter button. That word, “rippable,” hadn’t come from his mind, at least not his conscious mind. It was as if someone had whispered it directly into his head.
“What’s wrong?” Katie looked concerned, her teeth concealed under tightly shut lips.
“Um, nothing, it doesn’t have any film. I’ll have to go to the store and buy some before I can use it.” Josh said and shrugged, placing the camera back in its gold box and setting it back down in the wads of newspaper.
“Oh, right. I forgot cameras used to use film. It’s an old camera then, huh?
His fingers trembled and itched. They itched to reach out, to surround, to squeeze… He bit his tongue, although the words did not come from his tongue, his throat, or even his own mind. They weren’t even words at all, merely impulses, animal impulses. He snatched up the box, a few newspapers escaping onto the counter, and shuffled off to his office.
Behind he could hear Katie say, “Hmm, that was rude.”
Josh’s office was cramped. He barely had space to reverse his desk chair and sit. He had considered complaining about the lack of room, but Mr. Kitchner, the poor guy, had a hard enough time keeping up with the rent for the place, and, as Cory had pointed out, Josh was merely the last associate to join.
Josh squeezed into his desk chair and sighed. Escaping from the front reception area had been the right thing to do. He felt better now that he was away from Katie. He wasn’t like that, ever. Those hadn’t been his thoughts, couldn’t have been his thoughts.
He opened the box again and pulled out the camera. It trembled in his hands. He gripped it tighter, expecting it to tumble onto the floor. It didn’t, and his hands steadied. “No evil thoughts, yet,” he said to himself. Josh turned the camera around and pulled on the little latch holding shut the film compartment. The lid popped open with an almost human exhalation of that sickly sweet, cinnamony rotten fruit aroma. Josh gagged and came close to grabbing the trashcan and hurling the last of his breakfast, but he recovered and gained control of his reflexes.
As he had assumed, no film lay inside the camera, and a closer examination of the camera’s innards revealed nothing unusual. But, as he peered into the shuttered darkness, images flashed across his retinas, images of Katie, face purple, eyes plucked out, blood splayed out around her head like a halo. Josh coughed and threw his arm over his eyes, dropping the camera back into the box. Not even bothering to place the camera in its original gold box, Josh yanked the cardboard box from his desk, pulled open a desk drawer, and slammed the box inside, shoving the drawer closed.