Note: This is the piece that I have submitted to the first round of the Flash Fiction Challenge. This is the first piece that has ever seen the light of day. The first that I asked others to look at, the first that I’ve ever submitted to a contest. And now, I am posting it here for posterity. I did my best. I hope you enjoy it. (Read the parameters and about the contest)
“Conflabit!” The expletive flies from Vern’s lips as he struggles to control the car. The steering wheel intermittently resisting and giving him reign over the direction. There’s a short in the auto-pilot.
“This hellish fiend!” He yells as he desperately cranks on the wheel, avoiding a waste transporter. Auto-pilot swings him back unto course, turning off immediately after for him to try and avoid yet another obstacle: a lawn mower. As he swerves away, another car stops suddenly, sensing the danger.
“Please take control,” Auto-pilot commands repeatedly as it turns on and off, causing the dashboard to change rapidly between a control console and an entertainment system. Never pausing enough to give him the opportunity to shut it down completely. As he tries to time it, he loses focus on the road ahead.
“AHA!” With a final command to take control, the auto-pilot turns off, losing communication with all other vehicles. As his eyes swivel to the road, he’s greeted with another oncoming waste transporter. He cranks on the wheel, but is too late as it smashes into him.
“Hey! Wake up! Hey! Are you okay?” A voice calls distantly and crescendos until it is right next to him. Vern’s eyes snap open.
“Hey! You took quite a spill,” the voice calms as he awakens.
“Wha-What happened?” he asks, disoriented.
“Well, I was turning off the lawn mower, when I heard this huge crash! A terrible, screeching noise ensued as your car was dragged along by the waste transporter. I ran up to hit the emergency off-button. And now, we are here. How are you feeling?” the voice is concerned, human with a slight lilt, Vern notes. Not a robot, not a medic.
“I feel like I got hit by a waste transporter,” he jokes, as he takes inventory of his body. Head: a little shaken up, but okay. Chest: bruised by the seat harness, but okay. Arms: one might be broken, can hardly move and is swollen. Legs, LEGS? “I can’t feel my legs!”
“Okay, just hold on. I’ve already called the medics to make sure they got your car’s life alert. Everything will be okay,” the voice calm and determined. “By the way, the name’s Opal, she-her.”
“Vern, he-him. Nice to meet you.” His eyes focus in the bright light and finally see her face. Her features are striking to him. It’s been awhile since he’s seen an unmodified human.
Her smile beams at him. “You have – er – had a pretty old car. What do you do for a livin’, Vern?”
“I –,” a moment of dread dawns on him.
“Did I say something wrong?” Opal asks with concern.
“No,” he starts. “You see, I’m a curator at the Museum of Numismatics. I was on my way with an artifact for our new exhibit on American money. The exhibit opens tomorrow, and I need to get it there today for inspection and set-up.”
Her face lights up, “A museum! Is it new?”
With that question he is crestfallen, “No, actually, we just don’t compare to the Museum of Natural History.”
“Oh,” her tone drops, and smile fades.
“What do you do for a living, Opal?” he chimes in, trying to see her smile again.
“I work in advertising,” she muses.
“Advertising?” he looks in confusion, “but typically advertisers are all decked out in the latest gadgets and trends in modification.”
At this, she laughs, it’s an authentic laugh. “I specialize in old-school advertising, physical forms: posters, magazines, the like. I find that it gathers more attention in this digital age.”
He looks at her in wonder. “That’s exactly how I feel about the old physical forms of currency. This day-and-age it’s all digital too, intangible.”
“Can I see this artifact you are bringing to the museum?” she asks with enthusiasm.
“Sure, it’s the least I can do for your company. Hopefully, it is okay. It’s in the backseat.”
She finds the door smashed shut. The windows are shattered, so she carefully reaches in for the only item in the backseat. Vern watches as the symbol on the bag catches her eye. “What’s this?”
He laughs, until it hurts. “It’s a joke I have with Januve, the assistant curator. It’s called a dollar sign. Having one on the outside of the bag was used to portray bags of money in media.”.
Amused, she looks into the bag, carefully examining its contents. An idea strikes him. “Can I ask you for a favor?”
“Sure!” she says turning towards him, interested. Just then, sirens are heard down the street as the medics begin to arrive.
“Can I trust you to take the bag of money to the museum for me? Ask for Januve. He will know what to do with it.” The sirens grow closer, nearly there.
“Of course, Vern,” she smiles. The medics screech to a stop as they pour out of the transporter. Some grab tools to remove the car, as others grab a stretcher. One robotically approaches.
As Vern looks up at her one last time, he smiles, “Thank you, Opal.”
After a speedy recovery, Vern has come back to the museum just in time for the opening of the new exhibit. It’s times like this that he appreciates the advance in medical technology.
Vern takes one last look around the exhibit. He glances over at Januve and gives him a thumbs up. A cacophony of voices roar into the museum as the doors open. Vern is taken aback by how many people are pouring in. He’s not sure there has ever been this many in the museum at the same time. He watches in awe as Januve charms the guests with his modern personality.
Suddenly antsy, Vern walks over to the American currency artifact. His head fills with thoughts about the other day, and about Opal. Then, as if it were an instinct, he looks up just in time to see her coming through the door. Their eyes meet, her smile beams.