Author’s note: This is my flash fiction for January’s entry of the 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge. Each month of 2020, on the first Monday, I’ll draw cards to determine the genre, setting, an an object that has to appear in the short story. Participants will have until the following Monday to link their stories to the blog post I put out each month. Then I’ll do a follow-up post and share the stories that have come in (before the deadline). It’s only for fun and non-competitive.
January’s draw results: Science Fiction, in a castle, with a coffee or tea press. Here’s my entry: Pressing On
Buert held up the Galactic Positioning System (GPS) device in his scaly seaweed-green hand. He retracted a claw and touched the screen to initiate Ground View. A holographic animated image appeared of a white stone castle with flowering vines cascading down the main tower. Lush flora also bordered the crystal waters of the moat. Strong iron gates lifted to reveal a sturdy oak drawbridge to welcome visitors.
He made a face.
The actual location seemed a tad different, the most obvious issue being the hulking, battered ruins that didn’t resemble anything close to regal living. Sprawling dried stems clung to the charcoaled stones like creepy skeletal remains, on the now half-a-tower. The gates had probably fainted; their rusted selves lay melodramatically to each side of the gaping entrance. And four rotted boards provided a path over the algae-encrusted channel that ran the perimeter of the place.
Rall scratched their head with a fuchsia shoulder tentacle.
“Huh. Not really as advertised.”
Buert gnashed his teeth.
“And what’s that smell?” added Rall.
“The stench of disappointment.”
Another tentacle stroked their friend’s arm. “Aw, come on. I had no idea the intel was a few hundred years out of date. Listen, instead of experimenting on the locals, what if we have a camping adventure?”
“No. We need denizen to bring back for the probing.”
Rall sighed. “Yeah, but…honestly, don’t you get a little tired of the probing? I mean, all we ever do is probe, probe, probe. Can’t we get some time off for good behaviour?”
“It’s our job to collect specimens. That’s what we do. We collect, then probe.”
“I know, but let’s take the night off.”
Buert’s eyebrows furrowed.
“One night, Buert. No one will know. We can say the nav system went awry or that the asteroid traffic was terrible.”
Rall’s eyes perked.
“Okay,” Buert relented. “But in the morning, we collect specimens for the—”
“Probing,” they said together.
“Fine,” said Buert. “Let’s stay the night.”
“I hate this flechhing thing!”
“No, seriously, Buert—”
“I don’t think that’s how it works.”
The contraption flew against the wall of the dank room, then bounced back, rolling on the floor until it stopped by Rall’s flipper. They picked it up.
“Huh, strong. Glass didn’t even break.”
A smattering of brown-black seeds had lain on the narrow counter they’d set up when they arrived. Previous explorers of the castle had left few supplies: a zippered blanket, a garment with the word “meh” that allowed for only two arms—Buert wore it now. He didn’t understand the word but thought the fabric comfy—and a cylindrical appliance. Buert had consumed one of the seeds and thought it rather tasty. When Rall had sniffed the appliance and removed the metallic plunger, they guessed it was to crush the seeds for consumption as a beverage.
“That does it!!!” After Beurt’s fifth attempt at compressing the seeds with the plunger, they were barely smooshed. Frustrated beyond measure, he emptied the contents of the appliance, grabbed his scanning device, and pounded the seeds into a new dimension.
“I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!”
In no time, they turned into a dark crystal-like powder. Buert smirked. That showed them who was boss.
Rall sparkled. (Their skin had a high glitter content and often sparkled when they were excited.) “Hey, wait a second!” A mid-section tentacle lifted the plunger from the appliance, then Rall swept the seed-powder into the cylinder.
“What on Sol-III are you doing?” asked Buert.
“I think I understand how this works. Now, let’s add some liquid!”
Buert frowned and peered around their mouldy stone hideout. Nothing. “Oh! I just remembered I saw a tub that collects rainwater, outside the narrow passage.”
“Excellent! Let’s try it!”
Mustering up as much enthusiasm as he could, for Rall’s sake, Buert dashed there and back. Because he hadn’t taken anything with him to collect the liquid, he’d hauled the entire barrel upstairs.
Rall blinked. “Well, okay then!” They brought the appliance over with the ground seeds, projected a suction-cup-like protrusion from their tentacle, and scooped out the water.
“So, now what?”
“Watch!” Once Rall added the water, they re-inserted the metallic plunger and slowly pressed down inside the glass cylinder.
“Ooo!” cried Beurt. ” That surprisingly looks appetizing! I’ll get some rationing cups.”
Satisfied with this great achievement, Rall poured a sample for each of them, and without a word, they each clinked cups and took a sip.
(Their synchronized spitting had been rather remarkable.)
“This is the most disgusting beverage I’ve ever consumed in my life!” said Buert.
Rall stared at their cup. “You know what?”
“Anyone responsible for such a recipe really does deserve to get probed.”
With unspeakably unfortunate timing, a human squatter returned to the castle. He entered the makeshift quarters but remained frozen in place after witnessing a couple of aliens having some sort of coffee break using his French press.
Rall and Beurt turned around.
The squatter immediately found his voice and screamed at the top of his lungs. Rall plugged their earholes. Beurt merely scowled.
“I forgot how loud this kind are,” Beurt said.
“WHAT?” shouted Rall.
“Same thing, every time. Shrieking like the Sirens of Wezzel.”
The human’s terrified wails continued. It kind of felt like the walls were shaking.
“Oh, shut up!” cried Buert.
Buert yanked the tentacles out of Rall’s earholes.
The walls did indeed start to quake. So did the ceiling. A massive piece of it broke off, along with some loose stones, falling right on top of the human.
Rall and Buert stared at the specimen in silence.
“Huh,” said Rall. “They’re really no good to us squashed like that.”
“True,” said Buert.
Another long pause.
“Hey, I know!” said Rall, glittering.
“How about we grind the seeds again and add hot water instead?”
Buert scratched his chin.
“You know, that just might work.”
Pressing On © 2020 Cait Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Cait Gordon. (Mock book cover image provided by Pexels.com)
(Writing acknowledgement goes to my mom, Irene Kinney, for suggesting smashing the coffee beans.)
Cait Gordon is a disability advocate and the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When she’s not writing, Cait’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology in an attempt to take over the world. Narf.