Monday, August 01, 2011

Short Story - Frye Forgets

Thought I'd do something different today. I have a bunch of really short stories I've played with through the years, as a way to get my writing self jogged back into a project. Sometimes I just need to play with different characters or a genre I'm not comfortable with, to get the brain working again. Sometimes an idea pops into my head that's not novel length-worthy, but it won't leave me alone. I'm not a natural short story writer, far from it. The genre is one of the toughest around. Every word has to count tenfold.

 This is one of those stories. Just remember, it's copyrighted 2011.  Tracy

                                                                           Frye  Forgets

Frye locked the car door and leaning his head against the blast of icy wind, scrunching his eyes shut.  He couldn’t stand to look at the Ford, much less drive it, but it was all he had, and he had to get to work.  With no public transportation to the lab, he was stuck.  Jamming the key in his jacket pocket, he hoisted his briefcase chest high, using it to protect his midsection from the battering of the storm.  No precipitation, not yet.  Just enough wind to bowl over trailers and scoop the roofs off Walmarts. A high, sustained, deadly wind that shut down schools and businesses all over town.  Even with the weather, he preferred going to work.  Staying in his apartment alone wasn’t an option.
Waving to the guard who recognized him, Frye hurried to the elevators.  He never shared small talk with anyone in the building.  He was there to work, and work he must - keep his brain busy deciphering the code of the universe and time.  If he let his mind take its own course, he remembered every detail of that day so clearly he ended up in the men’s room, vomiting anything in his stomach.
“Dr. Carson, you’re here!”  The lab assistant who was assigned last night’s duty rubbed his eyes like a two year old, his smile just as innocent and happy.  Frye’s heart stuttered. 
“No traffic, that’s for sure.”  Don’t think about children, he warned himself.   His lab coat from the back of his chair was already across his shoulders as Bailey shifted last night’s data from the computer under his nose. 

“I was just about to call you.  See this?”  Bailey pointed to a line of dark squiggles.  “Found it about two minutes ago when I was doing another review.”  He thrust the papers into Frye’s hands.
Frye remained standing, the reams of computer paper clutched close to his face.  “Are you sure this wasn’t a printer malfunction?” His eyes shone.
Bailey shook his head. “Flip back to page forty-one.  Exactly an hour earlier.  And on every page on the hour, just like clockwork.”  His eyes danced and he could hardly keep his hands still. 
Frye’s utter stillness nonplussed him. “Aren’t you excited?  I mean, this is what we’ve been looking for, right?  The cosmic burp?”
“Or the cosmic fart.  It could be nothing.” Frye glanced at the phone on his desk.   Where is the rest of the staff?  He should call everyone and let them know what Bailey had found.  Deep inside the research lab, the wind outside was forgotten.  “Let’s go through the video tapes.”
He should wait for Herb Mason, his boss.  Herb would provide the backup he’d need when presenting the data for verification.  Bailey was just a kid, his degree too lowly to count. 
“Set tape one up already.  Figured you’d want to see it.”  Bailey grinned.  “We got it this time, Dr. Carson.  They can’t say we didn’t!”
“They’ll say we’re a bunch of crackpots if we aren’t dead on.”  Trying to squelch Bailey’s excitement was like kicking kittens.  Didn’t help him one bit, made him angrier at himself.  Did he dare hope?  Was this the day he’d be able to make it right?

The video showed the complete utter blackness of the room.  A short burst of light, and the apple on the floor was illuminated as it must have been in the garden when Eve’s eyes first lit on it.  Red and luscious.  The darkness swallowed the fruit almost instantly.  Again, the procedure repeated.  Apple. Black.  Red.  Dark.  The pulse of light throbbed faster and faster.
Bailey and Frye both rubbed their eyes.  No one could watch the entire shift, that was why they’d arranged for video monitors.
“Here, here’s when it hit the first time!”   Bailey slowed down the replay.
This time the burst of light showed nothing on the floor, nothing at all.  The apple was gone.  With shaking fingers, Frye hit fast forward on the machine, and watched the counter until just before the end of one hour.  Light struck the apple like a shot through space and time onto the floor.
Bailey cheered, hooting like a kid with a new toy. “See that, doc, see it?  We did it, I mean, you did it!”  He pumped Frye’s hand up and down.
“We’ll see. It could have been a malfunction in the tape.”
“What about the sensor?  It confirmed the disappearance.”  Bailey stabbed a finger at the video control.  “See that?  It happened again. Look, Dr. Carson.  Take a look, for heaven’s sake!”
Eyes shut, Frye refused to acknowledge what Bailey was telling him.  If he did, he would have the chance he’d been praying he’d have for the past five years.    His wife hadn’t said any of those words, she’d just walked out the door of their house and never come back.
He’d said them, and worse.  Murderer.  That’s what he really was.
“Call the team.”  Now was the time to test the project with a live subject.   A rat first, then a monkey.  His scientific mind raced down the list of possible test subjects.  Bailey was on the phone, breaking the news in an excited, little boy voice that almost squealed excitement.

Frye’s hands shook.  When the team assembled, they’d begin testing the possibilities with endless patience, scientific precision.   He’d never get another chance to see if he could change the past.  He kept his face averted as Bailey waved the phone at him, trying to get his attention.
“Dr. Carson, Dr. Witmeyer wants to talk to you.”
“Tell him I’ll call him back in a few minutes.  Got to check something first.”  Frye pressed his palm to the security lock.  The door hissed open.  Cold air, colder than that around Frye’s heart, drove into his exposed skin.  Punching the release combination, Frye waited impatiently for the key pad to rise from its protected vault.  Thinking of his wife’s face when he’d told her what he’d done, he programmed the sequence just as he had last night before he left the lab.  He locked the door behind him as he stepped into the empty room.  Took a step towards the center.  Pivoted, turned back, jammed his pen into the lock to ruin it.  No one would open that door for hours.
This time he sat in the middle of the dark room, his arms wrapped around his legs, his head on his knees, eyes shut.  The light began to play over him in short, brilliant flashes.  Protecting his eyes from its intensity was futile.  Accepting the pain, he thought of that day when he’d destroyed everything he held most dear.  Annie had been in such a hurry that morning, hopping around on one high heel while she zipped her skirt and hunted for her briefcase.
“Now don’t forget, you’re picking Brad up as well as taking him.  The day care closes at six, so don’t work late no matter how important it seems.  Do you hear me?”  Tucking a piece of hair behind her ear, she’d bounced up to peck him on the cheek.  “I’ll call you when the banquet’s over after the conference, let you know I’m on my way home.  Dinner for you and Brad’s in the fridge.”
“Have fun,” Frye chirped as he kissed the air where she’d been a second before. “We guys’ll have a hot time tonight.  Expecting the Dallas cheerleaders over for drinks later.”
Laughter followed her out the door.  Brad gurgled happily when Frye strapped his car seat in the Ford.  His blond hair stood in spikes, making him look like a two year old punk rocker.  Frye smiled at his son, locked the back door to keep him safely in the car, and pulled out of his driveway.
He’d been working hard on a new project.  Thinking about the next step in procedures, he drove by rote to the lab.  Switching off the engine, he listened to it tick as it cooled off.  The day was already getting to be a scorcher, so he cracked his window a hair.  He was forgetting something, but it’d come to him as soon as he got into the office. 
 Hours later when ambulance lights and police sirens filled the parking lot, he’d glanced out the window and wondered what was up.  When Witmeyer ran into his office, his face paler than usual, his eyes wide with horror, he still didn’t have a clue.
Annie with her hollow eyes and tear-rough cheeks watched the body of their son lowered into the ground in his little white casket.  Wearing the black dress she’d donned for the funeral, she’d stared at him without seeing the man she’d married.  Frye knew she saw only a monster who would forget a baby in a car seat and let him die in the oven of the Ford.  Whatever she thought of him, he thought worse.
The shards of light pierced through him like lion’s claws.  Losing consciousness, he didn’t mind the pain so much as the fear that he wouldn’t make it back to the right time, the right place.

Annie’s face peered at him from the second floor balcony.  “Where’re your car keys?  It’ll be easier to park the Ford downtown than the van.”   She wasn’t angry.  Or sad.  She seemed . . . normal.  It was as if she still loved him.

Frye fumbled in his pocket and remembered the keys were in his jacket at work.
          “I lost them,” he lied.  “You’ll have to take Brad to daycare.  I’ll get a ride to work with one of the guys.”
        “Okay,” Annie groaned. “But from now on, I’m pinning them to your jockeys.  How many sets of keys have you lost this month?”
         “I have no idea,” he answered with heartfelt honesty.  “Let me get Brad into the car seat for you.”
            His son beamed up at him as he lifted him from his high chair, Cheerios stuck to his chin.  Nestling the baby head under his chin, Frye breathed in the sweet scent of soap and innocence.  Oh yes, thank you, thank you, he thought as Brad reached up and tugged at Frye’s pocket, trying to steal a pen.  “Dada go now,” Brad ordered.
          “You’re going with mom, pal,” Frye sang. “Your mom would never forget you.”

The high winds knocked out the power station.  Electric lines snapped and hissed when they lit into the ground.  Backups failed.  Frye’s world blasted into flying cracks of black and white as the experiment exploded behind the jammed lock of the lab.

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