Echoes of Scheherazade

“I’m not saying it’s bloom,” says Doc. “I’m just saying it’s probably bloom.”

Larry glowers at him from beneath eyebrows the color of rust. “Are you saying it is or it isn’t?”

The hobo steps back and lifts the half empty bourbon bottle to his mouth, drinks, and scratches his chin, payment for his diagnosis. They both look down at the blemish on Larry’s arm, a fuzzy birthmark.

Doc hands the bottle back to Larry.“When I worked at the lab…”

“Which lab?”

“The one in Fresno. We were studying goat prions.”

“What?” Larry snatches the bottle and takes a swig, annoyed at the half-assed answer.

“Prions. They’re little rogue proteins. They eat away at your brain, make you forget things, act different.”

“Like rabies?”

“Thats a virus…” Doc takes a breath. “What I was saying is that at the lab we called these fairy rings?”


“Fairy rings. Like a bunch of fairies might dance around them. It’s folklore, Larry.”

Larry makes a face and takes another swig. “I’ll tell you who’s a fairy and it ain’t me.”

“No, you’re the troll.”


“Under the bridge,” Doc smiles and points to the tracks high overhead, lost in the night sky. He runs a dirty hand through his wild salt and pepper hair. It wisps slightly in the breeze coming off the gorge as they sit beneath the railroad bridge. A tin can sitting on the rock beside him falls over and they both watch it tumble down the slope into the San Joaquin river. Then the ground rumbles and Larry looks back at his arm. Now there are two rings.

“Fairy ring, eh?”

“Yep. you see them a lot in the wild. Formed by mushrooms.”

“I thought you said prions.”

“These were mushrooms, a fungus.” He points at Larry’s fairy ring. “That probably is too.”

“Someone plant them like that?” asks Larry. “The mushrooms I mean.”

“Nope. Just happens naturally.”

Larry screws up his face and takes a drink. “How do they know to be in a circle?”

Fifty feet up, a train makes its way over the bridge. The ground moves. Doc’s mouth begins to move, but Larry can’t really hear over the train. He looks down at his arm again. They’re still there, a dozen wispy towers in a circle, growing out of his skin just below the crook in his elbow. At the center stands another cottony spire, half an inch high. It doesn’t hurt, but Larry can’t help but wonder if it will.

“So is this a prion or a virus, or a fungus or what?” he asks. But Doc is still talking and the train is making it impossible to hear his own thoughts. What he does hear, sounds like music. The train above is blasting Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade. All Larry can do it smile.

Doc is staring at him. “You alright, Larry?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You’ve been staring at that fairy ring on your arm for the last two hours.”

He sees now that Doc is wearing a paper face mask. When did that go on, he wonders. “I have?”

Doc nods slowly.

Scheherazade sounds fainter now that the train is gone. But Larry still thinks he can remember the tune. He hums and then laughs.

“Damn. I couldn’t even play drums in school.” He beams at Doc with a gap-toothed grin. “They kicked me out of marching band. But I fuckin’ loved me some Scheherazade.”

But Doc isn’t laughing with him. Doc just stares, his dark eyes going between the fairy ring and his face. Finally Doc reached into his tackle box and brings out a clear plastic bottle.

“What’s that?” asks Larry.

“Rubbing Alcohol,” says Doc. He pours some on a damp rag. “Give me your arm.”

He’s on his feet before he knows it. “Why?”

“Because,” Doc says. “I’m going to see if I can get rid of it.”

The arm moves fast, snatching up a rusty metal shiv and brandishing it at the old man. Larry stares at his arm like some alien appendage. A full minute passes before he can relax and the shiv comes down. It clatters on the dirty concrete.  “I’d… I guess I’d rather you didn’t.”

Doc gives a slow cautious nod, damp rag in hand. The music is louder again, and Larry can’t tell if Doc is smiling or frowning behind that surgeon mask. He likes to think the old man is smiling, smiling along with him. Maybe he hears Scheherazade too.

“Why does it know how to grow in a circle like that?”

“Maybe that’s just what it’s meant to do,” says Doc. He stands and takes his tackle box. “Lots of things in nature do things without knowing why. How does a spider know how to make a web? How does a bee know how to plot its GPS coordinates to the hive? How does a lyrebird know how to mimic any sound it hears? How do we know how to write or sing or play the harpsichord?” He begins to walk past Larry, but stops to look down at the arm. “Maybe that’s all talent is, ,just some flipped genetic switch. What you should be asking, is if you are remembering a song, or if the bloom is remembering it for you. Or if you are even remembering this conversation.”

“But I… you said it wasn’t bloom.”

But Doc is gone and it’s now daylight. Larry looks at the sky and blinks. How did it get so fucking bright? He raises his hand to block the sun and frowns at the wool muff over his arm. Densely packed fibers hint only a faint suggestion of the hand and forearm underneath.

Larry flexes his fingers, and the fibres shift like a feather duster under water. And from somewhere deep inside, Larry hears the song again. He smiles up at the warmth in the sky, and hums along.


This is a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s

The Hookup

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge was a random word prompt.

Prompt: Story must contain the following words, or synonyms of the following words:

“Figure.” “Dusk.” “Flirt.” “Mobile Phone.” “Wig.”

1000 words or less.


The Hookup

“Wow! Look at this place,” she said. “You one of them rich scientists?”

She had long, blond, curly hair. She spun a lock on her finger chewing her gum with a loud POP!  He led her in through the double reinforced metal doors.

“No, not really,” he said. “I managed to make most of this stuff from recycled parts.”

“Like they do with soda cans?”

He paused as a small muscle above his eye twitched. “Yeah… sort of like that.”

“I’m gonna call you my Soda Scientist,” she giggled around her gum and pinched him in the ribs.

Rich drew back and tried his best to smile through his discomfort. He really, really didn’t mean to bring her home, but he was lonely. He was also curious. What was the harm right? It was past dusk and she probably wouldn’t even remember this place or how to get here in the morning anyway. If it all went well, she wouldn’t even know where she was afterwards.

“Woooooow!” she said again, drawing out the vowels into a long drunken howl. “You got all sorts of cool stuff. You know my dad, he messed with stuff. Was into all sorts of neat stuff like computers and the thing that makes all the noise.”

“The speakers?”

“No dummy,” she said. “The phone thing. It goes–” and then she made a squawk like a lame bird, followed by a feline hiss.

“Oh, right,” said Rich. “You mean a modem.”

“Yeah a mode in, or whatever,” she said. Her blue eyes trailed along the pipes and vent couplings, the conduits and cables. It all led to a large tube at one end of the apartment.  “What’s that?”

It was a seven foot, nondescript metal cylinder, gun metal gray and about three feet in diameter. A smoked glass window followed the contour of the tube elegantly. Rich flipped a switch and the inside glowed like a warm bathroom.

“Ooo!” she said. “That’s sexy. What is it, some sort of toilet?”

Rich tried to suppress a laugh. Twenty years he worked on this project and she calls it a toilet. Fantastic.

“No,” he said. “It’s a matter relocater.”

“A what?”

“A tele–ok look. You know how your dad used a modem?”


“So that modem transfers data–”


“Information,” he said. “It transfers it to another computer and that’s how they talk.”

“My dad’s computer never talked to me.”

Rich took a long, controlled breath. “Your dad’s computer wasn’t a teleporter.”

“Oh!” she said, her eyes going wide. Rich almost thought he saw a physical light shine from her head. “You mean like The Fly?”

He took another breath. “Yes,” he said. “Sort of,  except this one you don’t need a secondary target pod. You can set coordinates to anywhere in the world, or in this case, anywhere in a hundred mile radius.”

“Hey!” she said. “My pad is like, a mile from here. Do you think you could give me a ride… you know… after we have a little fun?”

Rich found himself torn. It had been a painfully long time. And even in the full light of his apartment, she wasn’t totally unattractive. He could probably imagine she was Susan if he really tried, closed his eyes. Ten years though… He began to wonder if he even remembered how to do it.

“Well, it isn’t as simple as that,” he said.

“I’m not stupid,” she said, scowling. “I like smart guys, they talk at my level, all smart and brainy.”

“I just mean… look, you can’t go through it with anything inorganic,” he said.

“You trying to say I got fakies?” she said, winding up to slap him.

“No… well… no… I mean if you had implants it would be a no-no regardless. I mean you can’t go through with anything like piercings, clothes, etc. Even your gum is probably too artificial to go through.”

She looked back at the tube, wild curiosity in her eyes. She is probably one of those girls who likes to run through traffic just for the thrill, thought Rich. She turned back to him and smiled.

“What would happen?”

Oh god, thought Rich. Down the rabbit hole we go.

“Well the inorganic material creates a field, like metal in a microwave–”

“Like fireworks.”

“Yeah, okay. Like that,” said Rich. “Imagine that happening to an earring or maybe a pacemaker.”

Her smile only got wider. “I wanna do it!”

“Right… right now?”

“Yeah,” she said, then stopped herself. The disappointment was clear in Rich’s eyes. “Oh baby, you know if you give me a ride to my place right now, I’ll totally make it up to you.”

She ran a flirtatious finger down his chest and tugged at his belt.

“Okay,” he said. “Get naked.”

In a flash, she stood before him, her clothes in a neat pile next to the pod, hoop earrings on top. “You’ll call me?” she asked.

No, I am going to sell your $5 dress at Goodwill. “You bet.”

He watched her with a pang of regret as she stepped, nude, into the pod, his eyes tracing her figure as she moved. She turned as the door closed and gave him a wave.

Rich held up the remote, no bigger than a cell phone and punched a button. There was a whir, a flash, a POP! like the gum she had been chewing… and then smoke.

Smoke, that wasn’t good. Rich watched in horror as the door slid open. Like some sea creature washed ashore was a blond wig at the bottom of the pod. Fresh blood and something white and shattered was visible just beneath it.

Rich reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone and quickly erased her phone number.

(c) 2011 Marlan Smith