A flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig, 1000 words based on an image.
I went with the one Chuck provided–
My usual mediocrity….
Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
OBERON IS HERE
Finally, fighting the traffic was just too much. I gave up— there was no chance of getting home today. I pulled off into the driveway of a little honky-town bar and restaurant, just shy of the I-20/S-208 interchange. I could see the cars on the interstate were at a complete stand-still. I just didn’t have enough energy left to brave it.
The signboard outside the bar read “OBERON IS HERE” in big, black letters. I mean, state the obvious.
I went in. The air conditioning inside gave me a pleasant shiver. Driving two hundred miles in the Texas heat will take it out of you, even if your AC was working, which mine wasn’t.
The bar portion of the place was quiet, empty, dark. The TV behind the bar was showing the same talking heads who had dominated the air waves for the last week; mercifully, the sound was muted. The only other person in the bar was the bartender. He leaned on the polished counter; when I stepped up, I saw he was working a newspaper cross-word puzzle.
“I hate those puzzles,” I said, planting myself on a stool.
The barkeep looked up. Older, heavy, with eyes that had seen more than his fair share of trouble– but he smiled. “Keeps my mind off things,” he said. “Especially since it takes me a while to finish one.” He put down his pencil. “What’s your pleasure?”
“Not a problem.”
He pulled a bottle out of the ice, plopped it on the counter, uncapped it for me. I took a sip. The beer was as good, or better, than the cool air of the bar.
“I’m surprised you’re not hip-deep in customers,” I said.
The barkeep shook his head. “Nobody wants to give up their place in the lemming parade. Not that they’re going much of anywhere.”
I snorted. “I wonder where they think they’re going. It’s not like running away is really a solution.”
The barkeep eyed me curiously. “You’re not a lemming, then?”
“Nope– trying to get back to Dallas from a job in San Angelo. Problem is, seems like every major road is jammed with people going the other direction, on both sides. I get around one flood and I hit another.”
The barkeeper nodded. “Yeah, the government panicked, and passed it on to everyone else. Glad I don’t have to go more than a quarter-mile to get home.” He picked the newspaper and the pencil, put them away. “What’s your business?”
“IT networking,” I said, taking a sip. “I was finishing up installing a system for a little mom-and-pop in San Angelo when this whole thing started.”
“Really.” The barkeep pursed his lips. “Maybe you can explain something, then.” He jerked a thumb at the silenced TV. At the moment a really attractive blond newsreader was talking to a scientist from MIT, wearing an expression that told me she was trying to look serious while not understanding a word the scientist was saying. “All of these assholes, they just confuse me. How come they didn’t see this coming?”
“Well, that’s the confusing part,” I said. “They should have seen this coming, years ago. Instead, it just…appears. There’s nothing in science that should allow that to happen.”
“And is that why they can’t say for sure what’s going to happen?” the barkeep asked.
“Mostly,” I said. “I mean, they’ve only had a few days of information to work on. Makes all the mathematics kind of speculative.”
“I guess so.” The barkeeper glanced back up at the TV, thoughtful. “Makes you wonder if it’s intentional.”
“It does,” I said. I took a big hit off the bottle. “Problem is, we may never know. Even if we make it through.”
“I guess not.” The barkeep reached up, turned off the TV. “You trying to get home to family?”
“I’ve got a dog,” I said, smiling. “All the family I have at the moment.”
“Ah. Well, maybe you’re lucky– I got two grand-kids. Worse comes to worse, it’ll be hard, but at least we’ll be together.”
“True enough.” I finished the beer. “How much?”
“Forget it,” the barkeeper said. “Considering everything….”
“No, I should pay for it,” I said. “If we do make it through, the mathematics indicates you’ll still have to pay rent on this place.”
The barkeeper laughed. “Fair enough. Make it a dollar fifty– a discount for your future business.”
“All right.” I fished out two bucks, he gave me back two quarters. I slid off the stool. “Is there a place around here I can park and camp for the night?” I asked. “I’m going to call it quits for the day, see if it’s better tomorrow.”
“Leave her right where she is,” the barkeeper said. “Nobody will bother you. Besides, I’ve got your license plate number.”
I grinned. “Thank you. Pleasure meeting you.”
“Likewise.” He stuck his hand out, and we shook.
I stepped back out into the parking lot. The traffic was still at a dead stop. Yeah, my back seat would be about as good as it would get tonight.
I looked up. Still three million miles away, and the planet covered half the sky. Green, yellow and orange cloud bands striped its atmosphere. Storms circulated here, there, and yonder in those clouds. Quite a sight.
Oberon. King of the Fairies. Capricious, powerful, vengeful. “Well, maybe it fits,” I murmured.