Chuck Wendig told readers about InspiroBot, and as far as I can tell it’s a handy lil’ AI that reminds me of a less creepy GLaDOS focused on inspiring humanity. I think it’s a perfect recipe for some weird flash fiction.
This was the inspirational quote I went with; my 1,000-word story below is something a bit more disturbing.
“A clove of garlic can improve dreams.”
I never thought advice my granny always told me would lead to this:
MOONBEAM JURISDICTION #1
AXIOM HILLS SERVICES DIVISION
NOTICE TO VACATE
CASE # 00082735
Clammy hands tell me I’m scared, even though I keep a straight face as I warily look down each side of the hall for my neighbors. My neck won’t turn; I must sneak glances with my eyes alone for information, a sign to warrant embarrassment, rage, some kind of emotion blown out of proportion. It’s eerily quiet save for the constant squeak of the nearly-dead fan overhead. The fight or flight in me raises its hackles beneath my unevenly freckled, dirty skin. I zone out instead of reading the reasoning behind such a life-changing piece of paper.
Should I even bother to unlock the bolt and knob? I don’t have much behind this crappy door. On the other side is a joke of a studio apartment with only three walls, linoleum curling from all edges, a toilet selective of its capacity, a sink complete with leaky faucet, and a mini-fridge I only plug in when I’m home with fresh garlic bulbs for the week. I just came from the market, and this week’s bulbs are currently in the wet paper bag cradled in my arm. They will break if I don’t loosen my grip, crushed along my ribs to delay the inevitable.
I take inventory of my belongings inside: pile of dirty clothes; pile of clean clothes; folded pile of the only nice outfit I wear for interviews, stacked atop an ironing board I only use if Cecil isn’t home and forgot to lock his door so I can unknowingly but harmlessly borrow his iron; plastic cup balanced on the leaky faucet; gangly toothbrush inside said cup; small collection of ash trays, ranging from glass to clay; a pretty box of matches Zsóka gave me that time she—
—pain encloses chest, squeezes out remnants of heartbreak, organs fall to oblivion—
—black candles arranged in the ash trays; pendulum board; poorly woven macramé curtain moths enjoy nesting in; mattress, no sheets, with a singed side from a bad omen; pillow, with two separate sheets covering it – one for the pillow, the other for a single bulb of garlic stuffed inside and underneath the first to keep the nightmares at bay.
I blink once, twice. Refocus on the note. Scan for buzz words.
“…unknown odor…possible contaminant…mold in neighboring unit…”
I drop my keys, an avalanche breaking thin ice across the hall’s rickety floors, torrential waters crashing all around me. I scramble to snatch them up, drop them again. And again. Once—freaking twice more. Finally, the only success to cross my path all night makes itself present. I unbolt the top, insert a different key into the knob. Sweat drips off my nose as wavelengths murder the silence around me.
Please, spare all that is unlucky…
Movement in my peripherals electrocute that nerve you feel when you almost slip at the top of a set of stairs, and I swear under my breath in my granny’s native tongue as I slam the door behind me. The skin around the garlic in my bag crinkles, and I finally loosen my grip. I thump my forehead on the door, my free hand tracing the black tourmaline pendant at my chest. It feels like forever since I felt at peace, but it is short-lived.
A wave of nausea rises so fast, I don’t know how I manage to get under the macramé and projectile vomit outside the window. The delay of past action catching up to present state reels me over the iron half-guard. Rain pelts my face; my eyes somehow remain open. I spit the last chunks of… I don’t remember what I last ate, but they’re down in the bushes now. Then… Then trust in myself disappears, and mindfulness explodes to overcompensate.
How do I not recall what I last ate?
When did I last eat?
Earlier still, what did the sun look like when I left this morning?
Why did I leave if it’s raining?
I change out my garlic daily – how on earth could it form mold fast enough and get me kicked out of this shithole?
—ripples calm, logic weaves a web—
I intake the largest breath possible through my nose, the hairs within threatening to rip out and into my throat. I whip my head over to my mattress. See the trail of fuzzy white-green maneuvering up and over and down the corner wall, through the tiny hole Zsóka swore wouldn’t cause any problems with… Well, it didn’t cause problems with whatever we had.
Past tense, past tense, don’t fall into a panic… Past. Fucking. Tense.
The smell conjures up a vivid memory of granny. She scolds my older sister Ildikó for not throwing out the garlic she ended up never using.
“Hülye lány! When will you learn?”
My sister was stupid in many areas of her life. I wouldn’t know if she still is, not after that fight with granny. It was the last I ever saw her – frustration intermingled with livid blubbering on her cynical face. All that memory gave me right now was the realization that I was no different.
Hülye fiú… Would granny say the same to me?
I didn’t have the spare moment to feel guilty as a knock rattled the door. Only then did I realize the gesture was equal measures urgency, demand, and identifiable female rage.
“I know you’re in there Filip! You can’t ignore me like you’ve ignored this notice for the past month!”
My earlier self-interrogation propelled me to the door, boots trampling over the garlic and my hand ripping open the door.
“A month? I’ve been gone for a month?”
She gives me incredulous eyes that transform into ones of alarming distress.
“Filip… What is that?”
There it is, the final piece of the puzzle.
There’s a burnt baby in my garlic bag.