Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Undertaker, Flash Fiction Challenge

As if I didn't have a million things to do today, I went ahead and accepted the FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: Ten Words Will Give You Five posted on Chuck Wendig's terribleminds. My five words were library, ethereal, undertaker, replay, storm, envelope, chisel, and satellite. OK. I can't count. Furthermore, the story makes no sense whatsoever. So there.

The undertaker of the library chiseled words onto the stone slab of the floor. At least he believed they were words. A distant ancestor had been a librarian, a real honest to god book-pusher, but that was far back in the 21st century when books made of pulp still existed in large quantities, or so the undertaker had been led to believe. He’d heard a lot about words, thin threads that bound thoughts to pages where they were annexed once and for all. Even though he’d heard it and so knew it must be true, he never could really imagine thoughts trapped in that way. In his time, thoughts of course were free to go about as they pleased more or less. Trapping them?  Some, he shivered, he was perfectly content to shoo on their way. He couldn’t get rid of them quickly enough.

On stormy evenings of his childhood, stories of these captive thoughts in their multi-dimensional paper worlds that smelled of mildew had been passed down to him in the quiet of the large building where the last of the books had been laid to rest. He wasn't entirely sure what mildew was, but he imagined a scent like dew on the million tiny scarlet florets of Achillea millefolium. Of course, he had to imagine that smell also as there was no longer dew nor did any flowers exist, scarlet or otherwise, at least none that he'd ever seen with his own eyes in the dim emptiness of the once upon a time library.

Once upon a time he’d found something like a flower, a creeping gray thing that bloomed on the wall of a particularly dark, hidden corner of the building. He sniffed it, as he’d heard people once sniffed flowers, and it smelled of age and dampness. It smelled as though tiny bits of the wall that he couldn’t see were unsticking themselves and flying off into the atmosphere, unfortunately sucked up into his nostrils. The scent stuck there for days, causing him to sneeze sometimes, a sensation that startled him.

At the time that he found the flower, he’d been crawling beneath tumble down shelves, scrubbing up centuries old dust with the rough, gray cloth of his pants as he went. The shelves, they’d once been colossal walls unto themselves, leaned against one another, the dark amber wood splintered in some places, precariously balanced in others. They formed a labyrinth there in the library, a broken down tunnel that went nowhere in particular, but it provided the undertaker with something like adventure. Adventure had passed through his mind on many occasions. It seemed to be something they all thought of. Perhaps some had even experienced it. He supposed it must be so.

He replayed these adventures in his mind, which was easy enough thanks to the satellite that regularly passed overhead, syncing his mind with the minds of a million others. Perhaps a million. It seemed that way, given all of the stories. The satellite had been circling for a millennia or more backing up the stories that gathered there, sucking them up the way that the undertaker had sucked up the pieces of the wall as they attempted to escape, even spreading them to other minds in places he knew of only because their minds were also synced, allowing them all, from their respective haunts to be enveloped in a universe of ethereal stories of one another.

Still, even with all of the stories, stories that reached back as far as any mind could and much farther to the minds of people long gone, the undertaker didn’t recall how the shelves had fallen. It must have been during an electrical storm that scrambled the satellite, making the memory, or the story of the memory, short out some time ago. He pieced together alternate theories of the shelves’ demise, stitching together other sentences from other stories that passed from mind to satellite to mind.

Sometimes he postulated giants with flaming red hair and hairy chests had trekked through the library, pushing shelves out of the way as they went. Sometimes visitors from another planet, little green men in hovering chrome spacecrafts, dashed down the hulking shelves with searing red lasers.

Both, he knew, must be wrong, as there wasn’t a door large enough to fit a giant through nor were there any holes in the ceiling that seemed indicative of laser blasts, though there were several holes in the ceiling that suggested a thousand or so years of wear and tear. The holes simply gaped in places at the paper white sky, framing every so often the round ball of sunlight as it floated back and forth, and sometimes, the undertaker thought, the holes might also frame the satellite.

The undertaker chiseled as he thought, chiseled funny squiggles that he hoped represented all of the books buried beneath the stone slabs as well as all of the stories that floated in the ether, gathered up by the satellite and passed around like communion wine. He felt the million other minds peer over his shoulder, holding their breaths, wondering, as he did, if he was getting this thing right.

Feeling his anxiety as he struggled to capture their thoughts, all of their thoughts, not wanting to omit any one, some of the minds, in gratitude, left his shoulder and dove deep into the sea of their shared stories, searching for something akin to this moment, some sunken treasure. They were ready to helpfully retrieve it and bring it to him for comparison. Down, down, down, they dove, snatching up words from a dark mire of silty stories that settled on the hard bedrock of their remembered history. They shot back up to the top, excitedly surfacing in his mind – the satellite must be near – with a memory of another man chiseling in a dark, dim room, chiseling the first words ever used to bind down thoughts, and it was no easier an undertaking then.

The Ezana Stone, A. Davey


  1. This is great - I don't think any points are lost for not being able to count to five.