Author’s note: This is my flash fiction for April’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, and 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.
April’s draw results: (Genre) steampunk, (setting) an apothecary, and (object) a spider. I might have mashed-up genres here because I’ve so little experience with steampunk. Here’s my entry: You Feeling Lucky, ’Punk?
Just about 410 kilometers from Hertia, the most heavily populated planet of the Horatio system, floated the Witherbee Apothecary. Why its owners hadn’t established a chain on the planet itself had been a bit of a mystery, but travellers enjoyed the eccentric establishment and interacting with the proprietors. It was also a convenient place to stock up on medicines if one had forgotten something essential after leaving one’s planet.
The base station of the apothecary itself was a sight to behold. It boggled the mind that it functioned at all as a spacecraft, what with resembling a bronze antique made up of gears, cogs, and almost offensively large bolts, but it functioned well enough these past 10 years, just as it was.
To dock at the station felt the real treat, especially for the children who’d cry, “Let’s do it again!” enough times to make their parents wish they’d used a prophylactic during those fateful nights of passion. However, for the young and young-of-heart, there was something amusing about the protruding metallic arms, hands, and fingers that whirred and turned as they grabbed onto the hull and carried a craft to the dock, ever so gently placing it and anchoring it there as individuals or families alighted their transports.
Entering the front door often confused first-timers, who had been used to doors just whooshing open the moment a sensor detected them. A bronze wheel had to be rotated three times in order to turn the massive gears on the front door, which also triggered the latches within, and let out a little ping! when the mechanical choreography proved successful. Once slightly ajar, the door invited customers to push it the rest of the way so they might go inside.
On one such occasion, Jonathan Sniffles was desperately seeking sinus medication, along with a multi-purpose, extra-strength antihistamine. He chronically suffered from airborne allergies and resented his surname immensely, but having little imagination, he could not think of a replacement for it.
After ducking his head as a tiny metallic trapeze artist flew over it, tossing a pill bottle to another coppery trapeze artist while the first one landed safely in a rope net that sucked her into a tube, Jonathan marched over to the Drop-off section of the obnoxiously wide bronze counter.
Nobody stood at post. Jonathan spotted the gunmetal-grey bell in the shape of a spider, and hit its torso with not a little pique.
A cacophony of sound nearly made him faint. It was anyone’s guess what that spider had been attached to, but the result felt like every known chime in the galaxy rang out in unison.
Appearing with utmost serenity into view, as if the store was silent as a tomb, was Velma Witherbee. Her long black skirt dusted the floor as she walked, her waist was cinched and bosom propped up by the brown leather corset she wore. Bare shoulders proudly boasted from her frilly white blouse, and her kind face was adorned with thin round spectacles. A small black hat decorated with an assortment of tiny gears and a hint of lace rested jauntily on her chestnut brown updo.
“May I help you?” she asked in a sweet voice.
“Does he? Well, we have many remedies for that, my friend. Where is Jonathan, so I might inquire further of his symptoms?”
“No, I’m Jonathan, Jonathan Sniffles.”
“Ah, I see. You like to refer to yourself in the third person.”
“Sniffles is my family name.”
“Oh, so you don’t have the sniffles, then.”
“Well, yes, I do, but that’s beside the point!”
“Is it? Then what is the purpose of your visit?”
Jonathan cover his eyes with his hand and gritted his teeth. “Right. Let’s begin again. My name is Jonathan Sniffles, not through any fault of my own, and yes, I do have the sniffles.”
“Good! Now we’re getting somewhere!” said Velma.
“I’m flying to the moon of Daz, and I require something to help me with my allergy-based sinusitis.”
“You mean allergic rhinitis,” said the apothecary of the apothecary. “That I can help with, but first…”
Velma pushed a button and another mechanical flying trapeze artist just narrowly missed decapitating poor Jonathan. However, the artist landed gracefully, carrying a small vial in his arms.
“Do you think maybe you could have, I don’t know, a slide-based system, or a robotic arm to just hand you the products, instead of these potentially lethal dolls soaring all around the place?”
Velma paused. “What a curious notion. No, indeed. This system works far better.”
“They almost knocked my block off, twice! Haven’t there been any injuries?”
“Why, no. In fact, you’re the first one to have complained to date.”
He had no response to that.
“Anyroad, I suggest you drink this right away,” said Velma, handing him the tincture.
Jonathan swirled the vial in his large hand. “What is this?”
“Something to give you immediate relief.”
He raised his eyebrows, but took a swig. Then he coughed. “This is rum!”
“Indeed. I felt you needed a tonic to soothe your nerves. You seem rather uptight to me.”
The expression in his eyes was of undiluted incredulity.
“Now then,” continued Velma, “Do you have a prescription I might fill?”
Jonathan licked his lips. “You know, that stuff wasn’t bad. May I have some more?”
“I can only distribute it in small doses. So, about your prescription—”
“I didn’t realize I needed one. I thought perhaps—”
Velma lifted her hand. “Not to worry, my good man. My brother is a physician, and he shall diagnose you! Bertie!!! You have a patient!”
“Coming!” cried a voice from above.
Jonathan looked up. Flying overhead in a glider attached to yet another pulley system was a man with goggles, a soft tanned leather helmet and white scarf, creamy-beige trousers, tall boots, and a brown trench coat.
“Yeah, okay, I think I’ll just sneeze,” said Jonathan, bolting for the front door.
You feeling lucky, ’Punk? © 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.
Cait Gordon is a disability advocate who wants everyone to pummel that curve!
She’s also the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When Cait’s not writing, she’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.