The Iron Writer Challenge #176
2016 Summer Open Challenge #13
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
The Thumb Twiddler Machine
The sound of drums in the distance
Charles Wesley Choc
The bicycle-riding generator worked; but, thirty minutes of pedaling captured only ten minute’s worth of battery recharge for his walkie. “…must be a better way,” grunting frustrated with this repetitious chore. Subsisting in life without electricity challenged Homer but he kept proving he could.
Living alone in the woods wasn’t lonely. He knew neighbors sustaining independence quite well. Paths crossed frequently, especially using handheld walkie-talkies, essential so no outsider could eavesdrop, especially Feds.
There was Everett and Judy who cultivated veggies inside homemade greenhouses. Vegetarians, they bragged “we need nuthin’ but water t’survive here.” Chatting with Homer, “yeah sure, I’ll get t’peeling off that moss. Sun needs in. I’ll do it wunna these days, but first, how ‘bout smokes, my place, got beer and cigs!”
Then there was Lionel. He spent social security checks on ammo for his tried and true 10-guage living on big birds and little critters daring to trespass on his tucked away sanctuary in these Idaho mountains. Lionel’s young bride, Poco, was Native American who played flutes and drums at night. He also agreed, “sure, for beer’n’stuff. Playin’ poker too? Sure, Poco’s drums’ll let us know if anyone gets close, ‘specially Feds.”
Besides other backwoods squatters playing cards, there was farmer Perkins, who made his living selling grapes, roots, exotic spices, even well-groomed hemp the guys liked smoking. Perk liked chatting with backwoods neighbors, was generous with less-than-marketable produce and granted access to exterior electrical outlets where the boys charged walkies. A widower, he also thus felt protected from outsiders. This regard was mutually precious and respected. Perkins took care of them; they took care of Perk.
There were quite a few other minds and bodies living eclectic lifestyles nearby, accessible only by rutted roads between two mountains. Living miles apart from each other, they honored social interactions that outsiders, like Perkins’ clients, found hard to grasp. Handheld walkies were used to alert each other when customers were driving up, or when crops were ready for sharing, or whenever they just wanted to share a smoke. Perkins also appreciated the heads up.
That night, Perkins gave Homer a box that arrived by mail.
Chuckling behind his back, everyone knew about how bad Homer’s bicycle-riding generator worked, as well as how much Homer cursed when his walkie’s juice ran dry. Still, Homer made it to the game mellowing out after his second cigarette plus card winnings of $20 from a pair of jacks. Patting the box, “it’s my new Thumb Twiddler.” He took a loaded deep breath, held it then exhaled smiling.
“…just plug it at Perks’,” Everett suggested holding his own breath then exhaling, “I do.”
“I wanna be self-reliant. Anyhow, this Twiddler’s gonna be cool.”
“Really? Tell me more.” Everett exhaled with a quirky smile.
“Working it with your thumbs, revolving chambers are activated which in turn creates electricity. I’m told you can charge talkies in minutes.”
“Riii-ght. Hey, what’s that?”
“Poco’s drum signals.”
“Oh no, the Feds are coming.”
“Damn!” said Homer. “They’re after my Thumb Twiddler. I gotta hide it! Now!”
Alis Van Doorn
Aimee’ turned the corner and stopped dead.
“Good God! Again? This has got to stop, you’ve gotta snap out of this. If not for me, for Mathilde’.”
Otis shifted, yawned, staring morosely at the image on the giant screen in his media room/man cave. Aimee’ hesitated, her face reflecting worry, concern, frustration.
“You lost one race. Doesn’t mean you’re not still the best. There’s a new season starting soon. Stop moping. Sitting here twiddling your thumbs, not enjoying a beautiful day with Mathilde and me is lazy, unproductive and selfish.”
Otis said calmly “I’m not twiddling my thumbs, I’m watching someone twiddle their thumbs via video. Twiddling my own thumbs requires effort. And it wasn’t just any race; it was THE race. Don’t forget I crashed a 200 million dollar Ferrari. My racing career is in the toilet. I’ve got no car for next season, even if Ferrari still wanted me. I’ll lose all my endorsements.” Otis concluded glumly.
“You were so lucky. Walking away without a scratch? OK, scratches, fractured ribs, and a badly sprained pride. You’ve everything to be grateful for, including a fabulous wife and a stunningly beautiful French bulldog.”
Otis’ lips twitched, but merely replied “I think you need to reverse the order of adjectives. There is no one who would describe Mathilde’ as ‘stunningly beautiful’; fabulous is a stretch. But you’re right. Our time left together is short, so let us, by all means, saunter out in this lovely, frigid, overcast December day. Which the fabulous Mathilde’ is clearly chomping at the bit to do.” Otis glanced meaningfully at Mathilde’, belly up, snoring sailor-like.
“The time you have left with us?” Aimee’s eyes glittered dangerously.
“A warning sign to wise men?” thought Otis, bravely, perhaps foolishly continuing “Merely that when I am but a shell, destitute, no profession, living on crumbs, I wouldn’t expect my insanely stylish French wife, nor our fabulous French snorehog to stay. In fact, I wouldn’t let you!” he concluded nobly.
At the look in Aimee’s eyes, Otis quickly said, “Yes, a walk, just the thing! Let’s go Matty!”
“You clearly have moss growing on your brain. You’re an imbecile. As if we would leave you, idiot. Mathilde’s been practicing street begging tricks, and well, I will simply not buy more shoes. Ever. So see, we’ll be fine!” Aimee’ sniffed.
Trudging towards the house after hours of fresh damp air, feeling oddly refreshed, happy, thunder rolling in, sounding like drums in the distance, Aimee’s phone rang. Aimee’ answered it, listened, then replied in the affirmative twice, hung up.
Otis waited, looking quizzical, finally saying “Ok, what was that about? Sounded all top secret agenty spy sort of stuff.”
“Wow, you got all that from a yes? That was just Ferrari asking if we got the new contract for the 2017 season they faxed over. And confirming you’d be at the factory early Monday to approve your new car and change any specs. Oh and Mercedes called, wanting to know if you were interested in driving for them in 2017. Did I forget to tell you that earlier? “asked Aimee’ with an utterly innocent grin.
Mackenzie and the Machines
Mackenzie was gasping for breath by the time she finally stopped and leaned against a tree. Her heart was pounding her chest, sweat dripping down her back. She wasn’t sure how much farther she could run, but she knew she had to try. It was bad enough to have been in that monstrous lab for as long as she was, she couldn’t imagine going back. What horrible experiments would they perform next?
Don’t think about it, just move. With a quick glace behind her, she pushed off the rough bark and continued running, staying close to the creek but careful to avoid the mossy rocks near the water’s edge. Mackenzie knew they had dogs; big, aggressive dogs that would inevitable be used to hunt her. She hoped like hell that the creek would help to mask her scent.
She had lost track of time, but she knew it had to have been months that she’d been trapped in the lab. They kept her like a rat in a cage, isolated and alone. She knew there were others in there. She could hear their screams, she could smell their burning flesh. But she was never allowed to see or talk to them. Instead she was left in a secluded cell to question why this had happened. Why had they chosen her? She had no memory of how she came to be there. Had they wiped her memory clean or had she been created there, an adult with no childhood to remember?
Day after day they hooked her up to machines, electrodes connected to her brain tracking.. Who knows what. The mildest one had been the thumb twiddling machine. She would be forced to sit for hours in a stiff metal chair twiddling her thumbs, listening to the droning hum the machine produced. At first the frustration was maddening. “What is the point of this?!” she had screamed, and received a blow to the head in response. But in time, frustration turned to a strange sort of comfort. At least this machine didn’t hurt her; at least if she sat silently twiddling her thumbs she wouldn’t be enduring harsher, more painful experiments.
Mackenzie shook her head and tried to clear the images from her mind. She was free; she would find someone and she would get help. She had to. She stopped again, bending at the waist hands on her knees. She struggled to breathe in the cool, fresh air. In the distance she thought she heard shouts. They’re coming. Have to keep moving.
She reached for a tree limb and began navigating across the creek when suddenly she slipped on a patch of slimy moss. Her head made a cracking sound, stars filled her vision as she landed hard on a rock. She lay there in the creek, feeling the water flow around her, knowing she should move. She heard drums in the distance, beating to the rhythm of her heart and slowly closing in on her.
Was that her mother’s face appearing in front of her? Or an angel? Did she have a mother? Or was she a creation, with no mother to envision?
Mr. Fletcher’s Assignment
“Where does moss grow son?” Mr. Fletcher asked as he placed his bongos on his cluttered desk.
George didn’t follow. There was a lot he could learn from Mr. Fletcher, but sometimes the old man had curious angles. Mr. Fletcher grabbed him by the shoulder and walked him down the hall.
“On trees Mr. Fletcher?” George returned.
“Yeah, but which side son?” Mr. Fletcher asked.
“The North sir” George answered.
“You observe that, or was you told that?” Mr. Fletcher asked.
“That’s what I’ve heard” George said.
“Moss grows all over the trees!” Mr. Fletcher shouted at his young assistant. “North! South! Everywhere! Have you even been in the woods son? Ever?”
“No sir, not really” George said.
“My God, son. You need to get out there and see the world. You’ve been here too long, and mostly just playing with your thumbs like a dang fool!”
“Well, sir, there are month end reports and inventory adjustments” George insisted.
“Nonsense!” Mr. Fletcher shot back. “Listen here, I’m going to do you a favor. Do you understand son?”
“A favor? For me?” George was a little stunned.
Mr. Fletcher let go a belly laugh.
“That’s right. I like you. You remind me of my own son- that is if I had one. I’m sure he’d be a thumb-twiddler like you.” Mr. Fletcher continued speaking while he wheeled in a cart looking contraption into George’s office space. It had two electric motors with knobbed pulleys that lined up in opposition to each other.
“I don’t understand sir. What’s that?” George was as puzzled as a monkey gazing in a mirror.
“You’ll see” Mr. Fletcher said. “Here plug this in.”
George plugged the cord into the outlet and smoke started pouring out of the machine.
“Oh crap!” Mr. Fletcher gulped with a wee-bit of frustration. “Unplug it! Unplug it now!”
George yanked the cord from the wall socket, and soon, the smoke began to dissipate. “What happened?” George asked.
Mr. Fletcher grabbed his screwdriver from his pocket and begin to make some adjustments while assessing the damage. “Oh, nothing son. The hot wire just got a little too close to the ground. Nothing of concern.”
George peered over Mr. Fletcher’s shoulder, but he had no idea what he was looking at.
“That ought a do it” Mr. Fletcher assured his assistant. “Plug it back in, and let’s see what it’ll do.”
George plugged it back in, and the two motors begin to turn. The knobs on the pulleys rotated together in unison. “Mr. Fletcher, what is it?” George asked.
“Automation!” Mr. Fletcher said with thunder. “I want you to take the week off son, but don’t go home. I want you to see the world! Go for a walk in the woods. Go see where the damn moss actually grows! When you get back next week, you can unplug it and go back to your twiddling.”
When George left his office, he left there smiling, and he could still hear the crazy old man banging on bongos. The beat was in perfect time with the thumb-twiddling machine and George’s last four years of much of the same.