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friday flash

The Emperor’s Decrees

The Emperor sneezed. Even the torrential downpour hadn’t settled the spring pollen. Curse those catilies! Everyone planted them for the vibrant pink blooms, but he was violently allergic. There should be a law.

The Emperor looked down at the paper he held. No, ninety decrees was enough, even if he’d forgotten the catily flowers. One couldn’t expect one’s subjects to bear too much.

The Emperor stepped out from the doorway where he’d huddled against the rain. Scattered hailstones crunched underfoot. He could feel each one through the worn soles of his boots. Nobody was in the square, but the Emperor knew they would come.

“Decree the First: There shall be no talking goldfish in municipal fountains.” This worried him. A goldfish had spoken to him yesterday while he was washing his face.

It said, “Blurble blurb,” and he couldn’t figure out what that meant, but he knew it was important. The Emperor didn’t want the goldfish repeating its message to his enemies. The simple solution was to ban all talking goldfish in public places. He’d never seen a goldfish swimming on the cobblestones, so he only needed to ban them from the fountains.

A little girl in a grubby dress stopped before him as he read the fourth decree, the one about encouragement of fireflies. They should be offered food and drink in exchange for their flickering lights. He didn’t know what exactly they ate or drank, but that was why one had advisors, to attend to such details.

The little girl threw something at him. He was momentarily distracted by the way her pigtails swirled as she pulled her arm back, then released, but he still managed to dodge the whatever-it-was, and it splatted on the cobblestones behind him.

The square filled with people, flushed couples arm in arm, a few with stern-faced chaperones. The musicians must be taking a break, giving everyone a bit of fresh air before they returned to the whirl of the dance. The Emperor raised his voice, pleased to have such a large audience for his decrees. “Fifteen. The dreadnaughts of the Empire shall be kept free of limpets at all times.” He was a bit fuzzy on what a limpet was, perhaps a large goldfish, but the Emperor was quite certain that they did not mix well with his navy’s ships.

He sneezed again. His throat was getting rough with reading all these decrees, but the Emperor knew that he could make it through all ninety. He was the divinely-anointed Emperor, and he could do whatever was needful. He read on.

“Forty-three.” He was interrupted by a pair of his city guards before he could start to read the body of the forty-third decree.

“We’re sorry, Your Emperorship, but there’s been a threat on your life. You need to come with us, and we’ll protect you. The Emperor recognized the guard who spoke. The man was a loyal subject, often protecting him at night. The second guard grinned foolishly at his companion. The Emperor saw, but chose to ignore the man’s disrespect.

“I must finish announcing my decrees to my loyal subjects,” he replied. “You may wait here until I’m finished.”

“I don’t think so, old man,” the second guard said. “We’ve got orders to bring you in. You’re disturbing the law-abiding citizens, the ones who ain’t crazy.”

The Emperor folded up his ninety decrees and tucked them into his breast pocket, his hands shaking. He would read the next batch tomorrow evening. Eventually his subjects would have heard them all, and the best empire in the world would become even better. He followed the guards, secure in the knowledge that they would protect him for the evening, keep him warm and out of the rain, maybe even feed him. They didn’t bother to take his arms; he’d never given them any trouble.

He felt for the tiny gold coin sewn into the hem of his tattered jacket. It comforted him to feel it there. It reminded him of his mother when she was happy. Before she died screaming, bathed in her own blood and that of his father, as he watched through the fringe that concealed his hiding place.

His father’s face was on the coin, though the Emperor never dared take it out of its concealment to look at his features, so like what he saw reflected in the fountain. Before he got old, at least, and without so many goldfish.

Sometimes, late at night, the Emperor wished his mother’s face had been stamped on the coin instead.

This is another twitter-inspired short piece. I collected prompts, and spent under an hour plotting and writing. No revision, no editing; what you get is what you get, but they’re a great antidote to writer angst.

Tonight’s prompts:

the Universe: 90 decrees (geometry typo); catilies (fascinating captcha word)
Nick: dreadnaught; harassment
@quasigeo: hailstorm; contra dance
@notmoro: fireflies
@notanyani: allergies; pink
@jaymgates: mismanaged schedules; talking goldfish; pigtails
@ravyn the Incredible Mr. Limpet

Morning Cat Face

Back in the days of Twitter, Morning Cat Face was a meme. You probably don’t remember those, do you? Memes were kind of like viruses. No, don’t make that face. They were ideas, not really viruses at all. But they were ideas that spread from person to person. When there was an internet, everyone could share their ideas immediately, and twitter was the fastest way of all. I had a couple thousand followers, could tell them all something any time I wanted. But only 140 characters.

But what was I saying? Oh, right. Cats. If we still had twitter, and memes, and all that, I’d take a picture of this beast and add it to the list. I still don’t know how the damned thing gets into the bunker, but every morning it’s standing on my chest. I don’t think cats carry the virus though. Do they?

Yes, the damned thing is cute, and you like to make it chase bits of string. But I still wish I knew how it got in here.

And yes, we had electricity and computers and internet connections, and we used it for Morning Cat Face. I know, I know, you’d do it differently if you had all those resources. If we weren’t so busy trying to grow food and not get bitten and simply stay alive. We wasted it all. But how were we to know?

You’re right. I get it. We knew about global warming and peak oil and water shortages and all that other stuff, and we should have been more careful. But it was hard, and we were distracted. I still say there’s no way we could have known about the virus.

I’m working. Do you have to keep bothering me like that? Go play with the kitten. No, I don’t want to go weed the vegetable bed. It’s raining. This is important too. It is not either stupid. We need computers to help us figure things out, so I’m building one. It’s a mechanical representation of logic gates. I’m sure Charles Babbage would have used Tinkertoys and Legos if he’d had them. You might be smarter than I am, though I doubt it, but you’re not nearly as well educated. So what do you know?

It’s getting dark out. You’d better come inside. I’m sorry I said that. It’s not your fault that you couldn’t go to grad school like I did, or even to high school. I know you’re trying really hard, reading books and asking questions. And it’s okay that you lost it there for a bit, though I wish you hadn’t smashed those bottles against the brick wall. We’re getting low on storage containers, and I don’t know a damned thing about blowing glass. The screaming bothered the horses, and me too really.

Come in, let’s have dinner. Maybe we could even have a drink. No, I know the fermented cider I tried to make turned to vinegar, but there’s a little bit of vodka left. I think now might be a good time to have a drop. Yes, we should save it for a disinfectant. You’re right. We won’t drink it.

I had a dream last night, one that I’ve had for a long, long time. I was going somewhere, driving. No, not the horses. I didn’t know anything about horse-drawn wagons until after. In a car, the old kind with an internal combustion engine.

Yes, gasoline. No, I’m not going to apologize again. I know we fucked up.

So I have this recurring dream, about driving somewhere in a car. But the car has a mind of its own, and it goes in the wrong direction, and it takes me somewhere I never intended to go and don’t want to be.

No, I don’t know what it means. Why does it have to mean anything?

Hey. Are you awake?

The kitten is in here again. It bit me on the nose. I think I know whether cats carry the virus.

No, I don’t think I’m going to get back to sleep. Maybe I’ll get up and make breakfast. I’ve got a few hours. What would you say to a scrambled egg sandwich? There’s bread leftover, and I found a few eggs yesterday. One of the hens pecked me, but I don’t suppose my sore finger matters any more.

You have some bullets left, right?

Friday night, home alone. I’m wrapped up in trying to write well, which is important, but is making it not-fun. I have enough other things in my life; if writing isn’t fun I won’t do it. That would be sad.

So I polled Twitter for writing prompts, with the idea of writing a quick story using all of them as a fun way to spend the evening. I got some good suggestions:
@marjorie73 zombies and kittens
@qitou things are not what they seem
@thejayfaulkner someone’s last meal and the things that led to it being their last meal
@quasigeo Charles Babbage’s difference engine.
@notanyani more food & booze
@ariandalen A screaming fuss fit, scrambled egg sandwiches, a brick wall
@ticia42 A possessed car should be in your story… Or a haunted spaceship.

The story owes a small bit to @kylecassidy too, for the Morning Cat Face meme.

It’s a rough draft, entirely unedited. I gave myself an hour, and no more, to turn the disparate ideas into a working story, or as close as I could come. It’s rough, but it was FUN, and that was the point.

Thanks, Twitter!