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Very short stories to read at the bus stop.

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Back Room

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Yet another back room meeting discussing the overthrow of the masters. It would be so much more thrilling if it was illegal -- if gathering in numbers larger than four was probable cause for conspiracy. We'd be looking from face to face, trying to see if we could tell by looking who was the spy, the rat, the traitor to the cause.

I look at the ticket in my hand, sent openly through the mail to me by the masters themselves. They even splurged on stamps instead of using the telltale government-use-only postal indicia. No wonder the national post office makes a profit. Mass mailings like this must cost a fortune.

The ticket is covered in tiny writing and symbols. I flip through the code book that was issued to me -- to everyone -- when I turned 16. I jot down the references and write out the message lightly in pencil on the back of an envelope.

"Your scheduled overthrow meeting for this week," it says, "is Friday evening at Manuel's Tavern, in a storage room at the back of a private room, where the employee lockers and refrigerators are. Do not worry about the meeting being overheard by official devices because there will be a band playing next door as entertainment for a mustache-growing competition. Your own mustache will provide excellent camouflage for attending this event."

I flip the ticket over. An illustration looking like a child's doodle contains more coded elements. I sigh and keep thumbing through the code book, though I really have most of it memorized.

"Slightly more tickets have been issued than there is space for, so arrive early if you would like a better seat. Also, if you show this ticket to the staff you will receive 20% off of your non-alcohol purchases. We are so tired," it continues. "Exhausted. We want to come back to our normal lives. Please save us."

I have no sympathy for the bastards. If they didn't want the job for life, then they should have the sense to be incompetent, to engage in criminal graft and negligence, to blow their enormous salaries on cocaine and whores like sensible officials. We'd tar and feather them and drag them on hurdles to Mexico, where they could retire in comfort on money squirreled away into overseas accounts.

If only they had the sense to make the mandatory meetings illegal.

Still, 20% off at Manuel's is not to be sneezed at. The masters are generous. I pocket the ticket and grab my hat. Perhaps there will be a singalong, and maybe we'll pass the hat for prize money for the funniest joke again.


Posted by Laszlo Q. V. St-J. Xalieri

13th Dec 2009, 15:32   | tags:


Dhamaka NLI says:

great story
how on Earth did it come to you?

13th Dec 2009, 18:46

From staring at the pictures this time.

These were from a set of five or six I took at a reading/book-signing that was held at Manuel's Tavern on the evening of my birthday. The mustache competition, with the live band, was indeed in the room next door, separated by a thin plywood wall. JM McDermott made a valiant attempt to shout down the band with his reading, but when his voice started to go, we all retreated to this closet where we could all stand closer to the authors who were reading and where there was at least one more thin wall between us and the band.

McDermott finished up his excellent story in here, followed by Will Hindmarch (I do hope he finishes this piece and it sees print soon!) and Jeff VanderMeer, who did an awesome reading from Finch and gave us a bizarre tale of a tour through Romania that inspired the scene he was reading. All while standing on the middle rungs of a ladder for a little additional elevation so they could be seen.

That's Ann VanderMeer, Fiction Editor for Weird Tales magazine, in the back on the second shot, leaning against the employee's break-room fridge.

I wanted a story that would capture the absurdity of the moment and give an alternative (and, if possible, more plausible and entertaining) explanation for our presence there. :) I wasn't deliberately trying to summon the ghost of Kafka for this, but sometimes he just shows up.


13th Dec 2009, 19:04