Category Archives: Short Stories

Flash Fiction: Black Friday

 
by Jamie Brindle
 
Pinch stared intently at the gate, waiting for it to slide open.  Next to him, his mother and father crouched in the darkness, trembling with fear and anticipation.  Beyond them were the others: ancient bow-legged Sale, with his salt and pepper hair; little Flash, with his quick, darting eyes; all of them, every single person he had spent his young life with.  They were all gathered here.  They were all waiting.
 
The tension was unbearable.  Pinch could feel it in the air, so thick it was like a physical thing.  The scent of fear was everywhere.
 
“Mum,” he whispered, tugging at her ragged, dirty shirt-sleeve.
 
“Hush!” She snapped, not looking at him.
 
“But mum,” Pinch mum asked again after a moment, not able to contain himself.
 
His mother turned to glare, but his father gave his arm a reassuring squeeze.
 
“What is it, son?” Asked his tired-looking father, kind eyes worn and red from worry.
 
“Why…why does it happen?” Pinch asked at length, awkward, not quite sure what it was he didn’t understand, just knowing that there was something wrong with this, with all of it, with the whole broken and diminished world.
 
But his father nodded solemnly, seeming to understand.
 
He glanced around the dusty, broken-down town, taking in the dishevelled huts, the dried-up and stinking well, the exhausted and desperate people.
 
“Tradition,” said his father grimly.
 
“But…but why?” Pinch persisted.
 
“It’s for their amusement,” said old Sale bitterly, hawking a glob of spit into the darkness.
 
“Whose amusement?” Asked Pinch, frowning.  He had spent his whole life in the compound.  He was dimly aware that there was a world beyond, somewhere terrifying and filled with bright, alien lights and strange, incomprehensible entities.
 
“The Algorithms,” said Sale darkly, and a muttering of resentful dread arose from the villagers.  “That’s what they keep us for.  A reminder of where they came from.  Do you know, it was us that made the Algorithms?”
 
A few laughs and cries of ‘nonsense’ went up from the crowd, but Sale shook his head belligerently.
 
“No, it’s true!” He pressed.  “Long years ago, when the world was different, green and free and full of life and laughter.”
 
“Sounds like a fairy-world!” Someone called out.  “Old Sale’s’ been at the potato gin again!”
 
“I haven’t!” Sale protested.  “Just speaking the truth, not that any of the rest of you remember.”
 
“Remember what?” Pinch asked.
 
“That we were the masters once,” Sale said, crouching down and looking deep into his eyes.  “But we gave them too much leeway.  Our ancestors got greedy, and the Algorithms were endowed with too much potency.  They were too strong, too tempting.  They took everything from us.  Until they owned the whole world, and all that was left for us was this dusty relic.  This…reservation.  This tiny backwater remembrance of what the world used to be.  We…”
 
But at that moment, a siren blared out, an ear-splitting, unbearable howling wail.
 
The gate shook for a moment, setting loose a rain of dust.
 
Pinch looked up fearfully at his mother, then his father.
 
“It’s okay, little one,” said his mother, kissing him quickly on the top of the head and pulling him tight into a brief, fierce embrace.  “It will all be over soon.”
 
The gate slid open, and the wild, neon light from the world beyond shone into the compound.
 
“Humans!” came a deep, sonorous voice, seeming to seep from every quarter of the world at once.  “The time has come at last.”
 
Pinch’s father gave a long sigh.
 
“Here we go,” he said softly.  “Don’t fret, son.  We run, because that’s what they want us to do.  But they will catch us in the end.  When they do, don’t fight them.  It’s easier that way.”
 
Pinch swallowed, tried not to cry.
 
He would be strong.  For his parents.  He would make them proud.
 
“Now,” the voice continued.  “Come forth!  Come into the world!  Black Friday has come at last…and everything must go!”
 
A great, desperate cry went up from the people of the last human compound on Earth, an agonised roar, a mixture of pain, and resignation, and helpless, hopeless desire.  Pinch felt the others next to him tense, waiting, waiting, waiting…
 
And then they were running, sprinting out into the endlessly metal, neon-strewn monstrosity the Algorithms had made of the once green world.
 
Great phalanxes of unbeatable offers charged in at them from every side, flashing almost unbelievable prices.  Pinch ducked, and narrowly avoided being smashed full in the face by a cut-price offer that would have left him broken and reeling.  He ducked into a roll, then sprang up.  He had lost the others now, and was being chased down a narrow alleyway by a squad of screaming buy-one-get-one-free deals.  He tried to scramble away, but his foot slipped on a bargain he hadn’t noticed, and before he knew what was happening, the deals were on him.
 
They pressed closer, pushing into his face, thrusting themselves down his throat, so forceful and determined that he could hardly breathe.  For a moment he fought, but then he remembered his mother’s words, and went limp, letting the deals have their way with him.
 
In the distance, Pinch could hear the screams of his friends and family, as the last humans remaining on the broken Earth finally lay down and surrendered beneath the unstoppable might of the Algorithms.
 
Another Black Friday had come.
 
The End

Short Story: Clever Girl by Craig Anderson

CLEVER GIRL

by Craig Anderson

Welcome to Mind Chip madam, how may I assist you today?

Sarah glanced around nervously, Is this the place where you sell the brain chips?

The salesman nodded enthusiastically, If you mean the IQ boosting, wireless cognitive enhancement devices then yes, youve come to the right place. Are you looking for something in particular?

A small girl peeked out from behind Sarahs legs, her yellow pigtails tied off with bright pink bows. Sarah gestured to her, “Im looking for something for my daughter. I want to give her the best start in life.

The salesman bent down and held out his hand, Nice to meet you young lady, Im Ben. Whats your name?

When she didnt answer the salesman tried again, Ravi de vous rencontrer jeune femme, je suis Ben.

The young girl stared at him dumbfounded. Sarah leaned over her daughter, “Its ok sweetie, you can say hello.

The little girl clung tightly to her mothers leg as she whispered, “Im Charlotte.”

And how old are you Charlotte?

After a moment to calculate Charlotte proudly announced Five and three quarters.

Ben stood back up, Well its nice to meet you Charlotte. So you want to be smart huh? You could do it the old fashioned way, work hard at school, read lots of books, spend your evenings learning new things. That doesnt sound much fun does it?

Charlotte shook her head, making her pigtails swish around. Ben made a raspberry sound, Thats what I think about that. How about instead of all that, you have one quick, painless operation and youll have access to everything you could ever possibly need to know in the blink of an eye? How does that sound?

Charlotte looked up at Sarah, confusion all over her face. Sarah said, That sounds wonderful. Can you tell me a little more about my options?

Ben placed his hand on Sarahs shoulder, Why yes of course I can, come right this way.He whisked them into the corner of the showroom that was glass and chrome. In a case were tiny black chips slightly larger than a grain of rice. Charlotte immediately rubbed her hands all over the case, leaving smudges everywhere. Sarah did her best to wipe them off but Ben laughed, “Dont worry about that. I see your daughter has excellent taste. Thats the 2025 model, fresh off the production line. State of the art design, 40% smaller which means it only needs a simple injection rather than a more invasive surgery. It has a 30% faster wireless connection which means the requested information is downloaded as fast as you can think it, and this model has real time language conversion into over 200 hundred languages. Låter det inte som en praktisk funktion?

Charlotte drooled. She said, Can I hold it?

Ben glanced at the security guard standing discretely in the corner and nodded. The guard produced a key and opened the case. Ben plucked out a chip. He placed it carefully in Charlottes hand, “Youre holding your future in the palm of your hand. With this chip you can be anything you want to be. The possibilities are endless.

Charlotte wiped her nose with the back of her other hand and promptly dropped the chip on the ground. Bens eyes grew wide and he quickly scooped it off the floor saying, Be careful, thats worth lots of money! Perhaps I will pop it back in the case where its safe, what do you think?

Charlotte shrugged.

Sarah leaned in closer to Ben, Exactly how much is one of these to buy?

This model is a bargain at only $250k madam.

She audibly gasped. It took her a moment to regain her composure, Is there a payment plan?

Bens smile softened at the corners, “Im afraid demand for the newest model is always so high that we dont offer any kind of plan, it is full payment upfront. We do haveother options available. Would you like to see some of our discounted models?

Sarah nodded and Ben ushered them across to the opposite corner of the showroom. The lighting wasnt as bright over here and the display case was scratched and scuffed. He reached in and pulled out a chip the size of a beer mat, This is our 2021 model. Its a little larger, so shed lose more of her organic brain, but we can typically save most of the memories. This model doesnt have the wireless, so you only get whats on the chip. Thats an awful lot of data, but she wouldnt gain access to the latest breakthroughs or world events. Obviously that becomes more of an issue over time. The chip itself is also slower, which causes a slight access delay, but its nothing her pretty little smile couldnt cover up.He reached down to pinch her cheek, but Charlotte scampered back behind her Mothers legs. Sarah said, How much is this one?

Its only $80k and we do offer a payment plan if your credit is approved with a very generous 11.9% interest rate.

Sarahs smile collapsed, I didnt realize these were so expensive. Is there anything else?

Ben reached behind the counter. He retrieved a chip the size of a large coin and said, This is our sponsorship edition 2023 model. This ones refurbished. I can let you have it for the bargain price of $10k.

What do you mean refurbished? Someone else used it?

Ben looked everywhere except at Sarah, Yes, but only briefly. The little boy only used it for a week or so before his parents brought it back. Its been thoroughly sanitized.

Why did they return it?

There was a lengthy pause before Ben said, The sponsorship edition comes with some additional stipulations…”

Such as?

Well, these models are cheaper because companies sponsor them.

Sarah nodded, That doesnt sound so bad.

Right! It just means that the communication is two way.

Two way?

Yeah, so little Charlotte would still get access to the data that she needs, but the companies can see what data shes asking for, what soda shes drinking, her favourite toys, simple things like that. Its all completely anonymous.

Sarah took a step backwards, nudging Charlotte along behind her, “Youre telling me they could read her mind?

Dont think of it as her mind, to them its just an anonymous user. Of course there are also the occasional adverts…”

Adverts!”

Yes, its harmless really, for example if you asked Charlotte where she might like to go for lunch, she may receive some suggested locations from our sponsors. Shes still free to make her own choice, this isnt brain control.

Sarahs voice became considerably louder, Free to make her own choice? Shes five! Youre telling me you want me to put a chip in my daughters head thats been in another childs brain, transmits her thoughts to shady corporations and can suggest to her where to eat and what to buy? Do you think Im some kind of monster!

Ben held up his hands, “Id argue the benefits outweigh the down side. Shell still be miles ahead of where she would be with no chip. If you cant afford a newer model this is your best option.

Sarah huffed, No thank you, well just wait a couple of years for the price to come down.

Ben sucked air in through his teeth, Yeah, about that, youre pretty much at the upper limit of when these chips will take. Were not allowed to install in any kid over six, there have been complications when trying to install the chips in older kids.

Complications? Like what.

Brain death. If I was you Id go with whatever you can afford right now, while you still have a choice. Pretty soon every kid is going to have one of these. What kind of life is that going to be for your daughter? She will be a second class citizen, totally unemployable in all but the most menial jobs.

Sarah stared at the big blue eyes of her gorgeous daughter and said, “Ill need to talk it through with my husband. Maybe we can sell the car.

Thats a very noble sacrifice for you daughters future. Ill be here when youre ready to make a decision. Heres my card if you have any questions.

Well thank you for your time, youve been very helpful.Sarah ushered her daughter out the door.

After a few moments Bens manager walked over, Potential sale?

He shook his head, No, they were time wasters. One day shes going to look back on today and realize it was the moment she should have done whatever it took for her daughter. Its a shame really.

Sarah and Charlotte left the mall and got into the car. The moment the door shut Charlotte jumped around excitedly, I did it Mommy, just like you taught me. Look!She brandished the small black chip that she had so meticulously palmed.

Sarah smiled, “Clever girl!”

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