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       OCR is Not the Only Font, p.1

           Damon L. Wakes
 
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OCR is Not the Only Font
OCR is Not the Only Font

  By Damon L. Wakes

  Copyright 2012 Damon L. Wakes

  https://damonwakes.wordpress.com/

  Cover image by Vera Kratochvil: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=8790&picture=orange&large=1

  Also in the Flash Fiction Month Series:

  Red Herring

  Bionic Punchline

  Osiris Likes This

  Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. Email a copy to your grandmother. Print one off and post it to your estranged identical twin. Print fifty and build a little house for your cat. This book is yours to share and enjoy however you want: just don’t sell it or try to pass it off as your own. Thank you for your support.

  Contents

  Introduction

  1: Beauty and the Brick

  2: Golem

  3: Payload

  4: OCR is Not the Only Font

  5: The Root of All Evil

  6: The Card

  7: Isle of Dust

  8: When Hell Freezes Over

  9: Ouija

  10: My Big Fat Greek Weekend

  11: The Vampire

  12: Double-Blind

  13: The Captive Crown

  14: Sports Day

  15: Clockwork and Cats

  16: World of the Wars

  17: The Three Doors

  18: Falling into the Cockpit

  19: One-Winged Angel

  20: The Fantabulous Clown Machine of London Superior

  21: The Peasants are Revolting

  22: Product Placement

  23: Rhubarb

  24: The Sign

  25: 2012: A Space Oddity

  26: Mere Technicalities

  27: The Barrow Rider

  28: The Werewolf of Bedburg

  29: A Twenty Year Decade

  30: A Rose by Any Other Name

  31: Overwrite 369

  The Section with Graphs and Stuff

  The End

  Connect with Damon L. Wakes

  Introduction

  Where to begin? The obvious answer, “at the beginning,” would suggest July 1st, 2012: the first day of Flash Fiction Month. Heard of it? Until the 27th of June, I hadn’t either.

  Flash Fiction Month is a little bit like National Novel Writing Month. But while the aim of NaNoWriMo is to produce a novel in a month, Flash Fiction Month demands the completion of thirty-one separate stories: one each and every day. It’s like NaNoWriMo’s little brother. More accurately, it’s like NaNoWriMo’s pet. It’s like NaNoWriMo got a bunny, then thought it looked lonely and got it a friend. Now NaNoWriMo kind of regrets having to look after thirty-one bunnies. The bunnies have to be fed and exercised every day. They have to be cleaned and given fresh water, and they have to be entertained. Each one of the thirty-one bunnies demands a story, but NaNoWriMo is too busy being a month to do this so it outsources the job to writers on the internet. Sometimes the bunnies demand a very specific story involving word limits, enormous Japanese robots or the subversion of certain literary tropes. The bunnies demand that each story be between fifty-five and one thousand words in length, so that they fit neatly inside their little bunny brains. These are some very demanding bunnies.

  I forget where this analogy is going. Flash Fiction Month is not made of bunnies. Neither is it related to NaNoWriMo. It is a month-long event held in July that asks participants to write one piece of flash fiction every day, requiring a surprising level of willpower. On top of this, the organisers set regular challenges for those who wish to attempt them. Despite really only having participated on a whim, I found this to be an extremely rewarding event. If you would like to read more about my experience with Flash Fiction Month, check out The Section with Graphs and Stuff. Otherwise, turn the page for a story about a vampire.

  1

  Beauty and the Brick

  Challenge #1: Write a story that incorporates elements from urban fantasy and comedy.

  Once upon a time, a charming young woman was walking through the city park at night. It was a big park, very dark, and she was exactly the sort of person who invariably meets a vampire in this sort of story. All of a sudden and totally unexpectedly, a vampire jumped out from some trees.

  “Bleargh!” said the vampire (in a vampire accent). “I am a vampire! I want to suck your blood!”

  She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, and secretly hoped that something would put a convenient end to the conversation so it wouldn’t become awkward.

  Conveniently, at that moment, a vampire hunter jumped out from some other trees and drove a stake through the heart of the vampire. “Fear not, fair maiden!” he shouted. “For I am a vampire hunter, sworn to put an end to the undead menace once and for all!”

  “I can see that,” she said. “It says so on your T shirt.”

  “Ah, yes!” He beamed. “I forgot I was wearing that today. Say, I don’t suppose you’ve seen any other vampires around…”

  But at that moment, someone else sprang from a third lot of trees and ran him through with a cutlass. It was quite messy, and the charming young woman was surprised to see such a display of totally unnecessary violence. Her face must have shown it, because the newcomer apologised.

  “I’m sorry you had to see that. I’m a vampire hunter hunter,” he explained. “That is to say, I hunt vampire hunters. I don’t like vampires any more than the next living person, but I don’t think it’s right to slaughter them just because they’re unholy abominations of evil. It’s a shame I couldn’t get here in time to save this…”

  He couldn’t finish, however, because just then yet another person appeared from yet another bunch of trees and exploded him with magic.

  “Hello,” he said, sheepishly. “Bear with me, because this gets kind of complicated, but I’m a vampire hunter hunter hunter. I hunt those who hunt vampire hunters, and…” at that moment, he spotted the corpse of the man who had staked the vampire. “Oh, hey!” he exclaimed. “Maybe I should get that on a shirt. It would make things easier to explain.”

  “Not wishing to question your career choice,” said the woman, “but why did you become a vampire hunter, hunter…” she began to lose count.

  “Vampire hunter hunter hunter,” he reminded her. “Well, you see. I’m not actually interested in vampires at all. My intention is to protect the endangered micro-pixies found only in this particular park. Their invisible villages are magically protected from being trampled once or twice, but when three people—for example: a vampire, a vampire hunter and a vampire hunter hunter—cross the same patch of ground one after another, it’s simply too much for their small magic to bear. Actually, I’ve got some leaflets on the subject…”

  He rummaged in his coat pocket, but never managed to get a leaflet out because one more man appeared from one more stand of trees and inflicted upon him a lethal papercut.

  “Salutations. I’m a vampire hunter hunter hunter hunter. I overheard something about micro-pixies: that’ll save some time. You see, I hunt vampire hunter hunter hunters in order to protect the far more endangered micro-micro-pixies, which are resistant to trampling by up to four sets of feet. I also have leaflets…oh. But this one’s a bit stained. Hang on.”

  He reached into his satchel, but never managed to retrieve a leaflet because someone else appeared from some other trees and knocked him out with a brick.

  “Let me guess,” said the charming young woman. “You’re a vampire hunter hunter hunter hunter hunter?”

  “What?” said the newcomer. “No. My name’s Stan. I make bricks for a living, b
ut when I saw what was going on I knew I had to help you.”

  “Actually,” she said, “except for the vampire I’m not sure I was ever really in any danger.”

  “Oh,” said Stan, “you probably weren’t, but there are like sixty more of those guys in this park. If you had to listen to all of them, you’d be here for hours.”

  “I like you,” she said. “You’re the least crazy person I’ve met all day. Let’s get married and live happily ever after so as to provide this story with the obligatory fairytale ending.”

  And so they got married and lived happily ever after.

  The end.

  2

  Golem

  We remember when you dug us from the riverbank, but we forgive you. The water was cold and the people had need of us.

  We remember when you divided and shaped us, but we forgive you. We were without form and the people had need of us.

  We remember when you put us in flames, but we forgive you. We were soft and the people had need of us.

  We recall the day when you sent us against swords. This we forgive. The people had need of us: we would not desert them when foes were near.

  We remember when you broke us with hammers. Even this we forgive. The battle was won, and the people had no more need of us.

  But though shattered, we remained on the hillside, for no people came to sweep the shards away. This too we forgive, for our eyes remained littering the ground and it allowed us to see.

  We saw you crowned and we rejoiced though our own heads were shattered. We saw rings on your fingers and we applauded though our own hands were lost. We saw robes on your shoulders and we were glad, though our own backs were broken. We saw your image raised in the square and we were happy, for though we were given no such thanks, yours was sculpted from clay and in that we saw our likeness. These things we saw and these things pleased us, scattered though we were.

  But fired eyes do not close if they are not swept away, and we saw too things which did not please us. We saw that crown shine upon your brow while the faces of the people became lined with care. We saw the fat bulge beneath those rings while the fingers of the people became calloused and bony. We saw the splendour of that robe grow while the clothes of the people wore to threads. We saw your image in the square and knew that the tyrant had claimed the city, though the bones of him and all his men rested amongst us on the hillside. These things we saw and these things we do not forgive.

  We know that a foe is near and so, though shattered, we stand. We are cold once more, but the people need us. We are without form once more, but the people need us. We are broken now, but the people need us. Claymind and kilnheart, we stand once more, marching on the city we would protect.

  We will dig you from your palace.

  We will divide you from your wealth.

  We will bring the flames of the people’s anger.

  We will send you to the swords of the river’s flow.

  We will break you to pieces.

  And the people will not know to thank us, for we will sweep away the shards.

  3

  Payload

  Hertz Starmangler wrestled his nukebike into eighth gear, studded tyres gouging trenches in the waste. Squeezing the throttle as far as it would go, he felt the bulktanium mega-alloy buckle beneath his grip. The tortured engine coughed a searing haze of irradiated gas that streamed out behind the bike, but the screamers were undeterred. Hordes of them scuttled or slithered behind, clutching at the bike’s tattered scraps of camouflage netting, the tow-hooks on the back, anything that trailed within their grasp. Hertz had been crazy, they said, to cut through the Slaughterzone, and perhaps they were right: but he had a job to do. He glanced down at the steel case taped to the bike frame, its glowing display staring back at him. Four minutes. No time for caution.

  Suddenly, there was a scraping of claws on the bike’s armour plating. Hertz had slackened his grip on the throttle for only an instant, but the freaks had made use of it. In the time it took him to glance behind, one of them lurched its way up and over the engine shielding. Screeching, it drew back its arm for a lethal blow. With his left hand, Hertz gave a brief tug on the handlebar: at this speed, even this slight wobble was sufficient to throw the creature from its perch and it toppled down beneath the wheels. With his right, he retrieved his neutron blaster from its holster. A second screamer was clambering its way along the side of the vehicle. He held the trigger down for just a second, giving the weapon a chance to prime. By the time he leant out, lining up the shot, the end of the wide barrel was beginning to melt. The muzzle flash left its mark on the nukebike’s shielding, the bleached patch bright against the wasteland grime that coated the rest of the vehicle. The screamer that had perched there a moment ago was vaporised immediately, and even those that had been caught out beyond the weapon’s lethal range hung back a bit, hissing. Dumb and mindless though they were, force was a language that they understood.

  The steel fortress was just visible on the horizon, an invincible pin in a map of destruction. Hertz knew that behind him the screamers would be gaining ground. He could not give them that chance. With some difficulty, he flipped the plastic cover up against the oncoming wind. Then, he pressed the button. Heat prickled across his back as engine activity surged, leaving the screamers dawdling in its exhaust’s deadly haze. They were out of the running: the race was now between himself and the engine. The engine, and the numbers on the case. Fifty seconds.

  A hundred metres from the fortress, the heat became unbearable, but Hertz kept riding. At forty, however, the back tyre turned molten. The concrete shielding cracked, scattering chunks violently out from the back of the bike. Ripping the steel case from its frame—the duct tape already half melted—he ran towards the gate, boots heavy in the dust. The numbers read twenty-six seconds. Behind him, the screamers were gaining again. Though most had slowed when they reached the bike, drawn to the hot scent of flesh, one of them was almost upon him. He turned, neutron blaster charging even before it was out of the holster, but he did not fire. As he span, he caught sight of the bike, its engine a boiling furnace. The screamer leapt, but he fell, pressing his face into the dirt. As he did so, the bike exploded, the engine obliterating anything in its line of sight. Smouldering chunks of screamer peppered the ground around him.

  Hertz was stunned, but only for a moment. The sight of the numbers on the case brought him to his senses.

  Nine seconds.

  Eight.

  Seven.

  He was on his feet and sprinting, covering the last few metres to the door.

  Six.

  He slammed his fist against the scorched button on the wall. The door opened.

  “Hello Mrs. Spleenkill,” he said, cheerily. “Here’s your pie: delivered in thirty minutes or it’s free.”

  He tapped a finger on the display.

  Two.

  One.

  “Oh, lovely!” the old lady smiled. “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea? The man on the radio said there would be a lot of space mutants today.”

  “Yes,” said Hertz. “It’s a bit nasty out, but I’m afraid I can’t stop. I’ve got Mr. Scumknuckle’s antiques magazine still to deliver, you see.” He looked over at the smouldering crater outside. “And I’ll have to do this one on foot.”

  4

  OCR is Not the Only Font

  Challenge #2: Write a story that incorporates elements from science fiction and romance.

  “I love you,” said the android, clasping her hand from across the table. “I love you and that’s that.”

  Anna sighed. She had already tried to explain so many times. “I’m sorry,” she said. “There’s just no way.”

  “But it’s true! I know they say machines can’t love, but maybe…” musclefilespleading.facemap took a second to load. “…maybe there’s just never been a love like ours.”

  “I think you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself. Maybe…”

  “Please,” he said, “just give m
e a chance. You mean everything to me.” He tried to squeeze out a tear, but realised he had forgotten to refill the cartridge. He knew he shouldn’t have milked it that time he stubbed his toe.

  “Look,” she said. “I’m as open minded as the next person, but…”

  “Just forget about our differences for a moment.” He didn’t really have anything to follow that up with. What did humans find romantic? The café had wi-fi. He could Google it! Then again, there were some things even robots didn’t want to look at. Best just wing it. “I love you,” he said, “and in the face of that, it matters nothing to me that you’re human and I’m not. I love you more than the smell of antifreeze on a cold winter’s morning. When I’m with you, I feel safer than when Microsoft finally releases a patch to fix a backdoor that’s been worrying everybody for ages.” He was surprised how easily the words came. How quickly his normally emotionless silicon brain could piece together a metaphor. But then, this was love, and that was why he had to convince her. “You are the only one,” he said, “who stops me feeling like a zero.” That was it, he was sure. If that heartfelt speech couldn’t break the shackles of society, nothing could. Each clock cycle an eternity, the android awaited her reply.

  “I’m a lesbian.”

  “Oh.” musclefilesWTF.facemap. “That’s kind of weird.”

  5

  The Root of All Evil

  People always talked about killing Hitler. “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?” The answer, resoundingly, was “Hellz yeah.” Until now, however, the question had been entirely hypothetical. Fredersen was the first person with the opportunity to actually do it, but Fredersen had bigger plans. He also had no intention of setting foot in that machine himself. He had once sent half an avocado twenty minutes into the future just to test it. He didn’t know why it had re-emerged as a plasticine walrus, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to stick his head in to find out.

  “Robot!” He clapped his hands to summon the device. It was a cheap one. He had little money, and if this worked he would have less still. None, in fact: nobody would. It would be worth it, though.

  The robot wheeled towards him. “Please enter command.” Its voice synthesiser was truly terrible: like nails on a blackboard, if the blackboard had laryngitis and was trying to sing Carmen.

 
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