Monday, March 10, 2008

The Five-Dollar Apocalypse


Meriwether Stout entered the fortuneteller’s small studio on a lark, for he didn’t believe in crystal balls, astrology, or tarot. He was a bookkeeper, a clerk who juggled numbers the way a circus clown juggles balls. He’d never dropped a nine or a six—not any number—for he was a model of circumspection and rationality. But when Madame Zoya touched his arm, he felt a jolt of electricity jump through his veins and then burrow into the very marrow of his forty-year-old bachelor bones. For a brief moment, he felt his skull had been rendered into a photographic negative.

“The years will be unkind,” Madame Zoya told him. “That’ll be five bucks, mister.”

On the street again, Meriwether was flustered and checked his pocket watch to find an anchor in the temporal, green-ledger universe. The timepiece had mysteriously gained three hours. The five-billion-year-old sun was lower in the sky, and the shadows of pedestrians were unnaturally long and ominous. Nearly everyone looked long in the tooth.

He walked on and glanced at his pocket watch again. The minute hand was spinning wildly, like a third base coach waving a runner home. Building facades cracked, and ivy tore great fissures in the sidewalk like tendrils of sentient, malevolent rope. Cars grew rusty, sagging on reddish-brown axles that had not spun into gear for eons.

Meriwether was nonplussed, which is to say his brain was experiencing a minus for the first time in his Newtonian world of rational, balanced numbers. He looked up to see the glacier, a mile high, scraping its way down Broadway.

He didn't snap out of a trance or awaken from a nightmare. The years had indeed been unkind.

Picture: public domain.

22 comments:

jason evans said...

I loved the x-ray "image." The description was really potent for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've always been a fan of surrealism and this definitely has that quality.

Casdok said...

Wonderful!

Lane said...

I like the way you have solid characterisations in these flashes.
It makes the quirky stories all the more potent.
Great name once again:-) ( and really fitting for him) and I love the image of the ivy and the rusty cars.

Billy said...

Jason, I added the X-ray right before posting. The scene seemed like it needed one more bit of "cerebral" motivation.

Charles, I am a big fan of surreal fiction of any type. Almost all my flash fiction is slanted toward the quirky. Aiming for a Twilight Zone type of effect.

Casdok, thank you. You are always welcome at my humble cyber abode -:)

Lane, I am really getting into these, as you can tell. I've pretty much decided to do about 200 and then publish with lulu for fun.

And I think you're giving me some healthy competition LOL. The pool of Shiraz resulting from the pirouette ... truth stranger than fiction dept? -:)

SandyCarlson said...

This is a wonderfully surreal piece. I wonder how time is lost or transformed when we trade on the insights of soothsayers.

SandyCarlson said...

Billy:
Re your comment on Parallel Lives--I had this on my home page, where you commented. It's still there. I filed it back on my poetry page, where the comment does not appear.

Scott from Oregon said...

Another stirring quirky post!

I never know whether to laugh, argue, or scratch my noggin'...

Shesawriter said...

Billy,

You put me right there. Lots of great imagery and strong verbs. Good job!

Julie at Virtual Voyage said...

Weirdly effective. Interested to note the idea of Flash fiction usually having a quirky element.

ChristineEldin said...

Felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Really liked this one!

Billy said...

Scott, if you're not scratchin' your noggin, then I'm doing soemthing wrong -:) They're all derivative of a cult writer from the seventies named Richard Brautigan, who still has a following today.

Thanks, Shesawriter. Glad you stopped by ... and liked it LOL.

Julie, see response to Scott above. There were a few quirky writers in the 70s who I really liked (and a few are around today, such as Tom Robbins). I like to take flash fiction a step further and make it hard to characterize the genre.

Lana Gramlich said...

“The years will be unkind,” Madame Zoya told him. “That’ll be five bucks, mister.”
*ROFL!* Ain't it the truth! Reminds me of a stroll through the French Quarter w/friends last Spring. They opted to get tarot readings (I declined.) Comparing notes afterward, the reader told them both the same thing. Go figure!

gautami tripathy said...

I simply love such pieces. It takes me to another realm. Glad to know ou via OSI!

Can it get any worse than this?

Lisa said...

A. I loved Richard Brautigan!
B. Wow -- This was just fantastic. I actually thought immediately of the Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Your imagery is sublime.

Scott from Oregon said...

We had Richard in the house (next to the toilet) in the seventies. As I kid, I thought his writing was kinda weird, but I dug it in my early twenties....

Billy said...

Lana, Portrait painters by the Square are common, but in the past 10 years, I am a bit bummed by the tarot readers and mimes. But then ... it's the quarter LOL. I've never had my fortune told. I don't want to find out I was J. W. Booth !!!

Guantami, thank you for stopping by. I've paid a visit to your blog and left a reply to one of your poems.

Lisa, Brautigan was always one of my favorites. He was truly a pioneer in his prose work. I love him. He has one book pub'd posthumously by his daughter. Glad you liked the imagery--thanks! And thanks for the link -:)

Scott, for a second, I thought you meant Brautigan lived in your home in a room next to the can ROFL! He did live up in the northwest much of his life. I think he lived in a different universe from the rest of us. Don't know whether that's good or bad.

paisley said...

i had read this before,, and could have sworn i commented but i guess not.. chilling tale... told to perfection.. i really like this aspect of your writing....

Janice Thomson said...

This was really different as in very surreal but most enjoyable. A different side of you I had not seen :)

Billy said...

paisley, I really like a little quirky fiction sometimes, even horror. (And I find that blogger is eating a lot of comments from sites lately).

Janice, I love to do these pieces. What's the old expression--I'm not schizophrenic; neither one of me?

cargwaps said...

Unkind indeed! XD I love the descriptive power of this piece. But above that, I especially love the thought of a glacier scraping down Broadway. lol!

Billy said...

cargwaps, I thought NYC could withstand a little apocalypse :)