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       Red Herring, p.1

           Damon L. Wakes
 
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Red Herring
Red Herring

  By Damon L. Wakes

  Copyright 2013 Damon L. Wakes

  https://damonwakes.wordpress.com

  Cover Image by Jayne Shives: https://bean-stock.deviantart.com/art/Fishie-3-80281971

  Cover design by JD McDonnell: https://www.jdmcdonnell.com

  Also in the Flash Fiction Month Series:

  OCR is Not the Only Font

  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 that unicorn you met once. Print one off and post it to Cthulu. Print six, staple them to a log and push it out to sea. 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: Do Your Thing

  2: Whisper Down the Lane

  3: Two Pardner System

  4: (TM)

  5: The Invocation

  6: Come With Me if You Want to Live

  7: Bring Your Own Blood

  8: Tales of the Unexpected

  9: The Revolution Kids

  10: The Race Card

  11: It’s a Wonderful Spoof

  12: Loose Canon

  13: The Marvellous Misadventures of Diabolical Doctor Baby

  14: Heads or Tails

  15: The Naming Day

  16: The Ritual

  17: A Story about a Story that is Not This Story

  18: Quench your Thirst with Quaff!

  19: The Room on the Bottom Floor

  20: One Thousand Threads

  21: Custard

  22: Where Did All the Genies Go?

  23: The Second City

  24: Episode III: Roommate of the Sith

  25: Red Herring

  26: Her Sunken Dream

  27: The Return

  28: The Kingdom of the Wolf

  29: The Pen Laughs at Structure

  30: Aerosol

  31: Musical Isotopes

  Statistical Analysis

  The End

  Connect with Damon L. Wakes

  Introduction

  “Oh no.”

  “What? What is it? Did the narrative causality matrix rupture again?”

  “No, it’s not that.”

  “Then what is it? How did we get here? WHY CAN I ONLY PHRASE THINGS AS QUESTIONS?”

  “We appear to have been dragged out of our canonical literary universe and into the front matter of the book that contains it.”

  “But why?”

  “I can only assume that we’re expected to provide new readers with some context for the following thirty-one stories. Since last year’s anthology, OCR is Not the Only Font, already included a straightforward explanation of the basics—that the stories were all written as part of Flash Fiction Month, a month-long event in which participants write one 55-1,000 word story every single day—it seems likely that we’re supposed to provide that same information in some novel and amusing way, so as not to bore those who already know all about it.”

  “Seems kind of lazy, doesn’t it?”

  “Yes, and not terribly effective. I mean, it’s hardly the kind of thing that’ll come up in casual conversation. We’re hardly just going to blurt out that some days of the event challenged participants to write stories meeting various criteria, and that details of those challenges are included here in this book. Also, that some of those challenges were indeed “nasty-ass challenges,” demanding stories written to particularly strict criteria, and that those are marked with an asterisk.”

  “Oh, like that David Bowie one?”

  “Yeah, like that.”

  “And this whole thing is the reason everything I say comes out as a question?”

  “To be honest, I reckon that’s just a cheap gag. Also, the more questions you ask, the more likely it is that one of them will prompt me to provide the reader with further information about this book.”

  “Like the fact that it includes a statistical analysis of this year’s stories compared with last year’s?”

  “Precisely. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that your inexplicable need to ask me things is really just a pathetic excuse for me to shoehorn basic information into this gratuitously unconventional introduction. Information such as the existence of said statistical analysis, which can be found by following THIS HYPERLINK.”

  “Can you believe this guy actually put together graphs for this stuff?”

  “Haha, yeah. What a tool.”

  “Do you think we’re done here?”

  “Probably. I think I’ve crammed in all the information that was supposed to be here. Seems we’re just doing wrap-up banter at this point.”

  “So can we go home now?”

  “Let’s. Alright, folks; we’ll meet you again in story twenty-nine, right near the end of the book.”

  “Kind of makes us an odd choice of characters to do the introduction, don’t you think?”

  “Yeah. Probably best just not to draw attention to it.”

  BLIP!

  1

  Do Your Thing

  Challenge #1: Write a story that opens in media res. Also, in the rest of the piece, tell the reader what happened at the start.

  “Quickly!” Sidric Lightfoot made a dash for the entrance of the treasure chamber. “This way!”

  “It’s no good,” cried Argola Quicksnatch. “Already the sounds of the Lich-King’s ghouls reach my elven ears. They are loudest from that direction. We must run this way, instead!”

  “No!” Khagg the Plunderer barred her way with one vast arm. “From that passage, I detect the stench of a Caversberg tunnel troll! All orcs are taught to recognise it from childhood, so dangerous are these beasts. But I spy a third way. Through this narrow crevice we must go!”

  “No.” Kibbert ‘Many Pockets’ Lockbane shook his head. “My dwarvish eyes see what yours cannot. That crevice is crawling with undead pygmy slaughterbaboons. But I know another way we can escape. You see that ornamental pool? It is fed by a small stream—part of the Caversberg river system, I am sure. I could lead us through those caves, and as you know the Lich-King’s minions can cross no running water.”

  But “Wait!” shouted Sidric as they neared the pool’s edge. “Those are no ordinary fish lurking in the water: those are leather-nosed gravesharks! We’d all be eaten alive before we could get halfway across.”

  A chilling laugh—literally chilling—filled the chamber. The whole party turned to find the Lich-King himself standing behind them. Behind the Lich-King stood his retinue of ghouls. Behind the ghouls stood the Caversberg tunnel troll, staring dumbly over the crowd, while the slaughterbaboons hunched down in front, greedily eyeing the adventurers. There was an uncomfortable silence, broken only by the sound of a lone graveshark jumping in the pool.

  “Any last words?” A curl of smoke unfurled from the Lich-King’s unholy mouth.

  “Actually...” Sidric Lightfoot stepped forward, only the slightest tremor in his voice. “I’d like to introduce my friend, Horatio Hexwright: Hero of Angath’s Fjord, Saviour of Barrowmede, Wielder of the Wand of Shalmanar.” He beckoned the wizard forward. “Horatio, do your thing.”

  ***

  “Right.” Kibbert turned to Sidric as they reached their usual booth in the tavern. “I think this round’s on you.”

  “I think the next several rounds are on you,” added Argola. Khagg the Plunderer grunted in assent.

  “Whaaat?” Sidric looked stung. “Come on. We got out of there alright!”

  “Like taking coin from a halfling, you
said!” Khagg slammed a massive hand against the table, causing the room to go quiet for a moment. “Well, halflings don’t normally have armies of undead pygmy slaughterbaboons, do they?”

  Sidric shrugged. “You have to weigh the risks against what you stand to gain! You seemed pretty keen on the idea when I told you how much the Lich-King’s sceptre would go for.”

  “Yes,” said Argola. “You were very clear about that. What you neglected to mention was quite how much of that money would go to paying off your gambling debts.”

  “Though how anyone can lose that much at noughts and crosses, I’ll never know.” Kibbert glared.

  “Hey. We all got an equal share of what was left.”

  “Yeah?” Khagg stood. “Well you’d better use yours to get us some drinks!”

  Sidric pushed the coins around in his palm. “I think it’ll have to be halfs, I’m afraid.” He walked over to the bar and, after a brief argument with the barkeep, came back again. “And someone else is going to have to chip in.”

  Kibbert sighed and went back with him. An awkward silence hung over the table for a minute as they paid for the drinks.

  It was Khagg who broke it. “You have to admit, though, how we got out of there was pretty impressive.”

  “Yes,” agreed Argola, looking to the wizard sitting quietly in the corner. “Though when Sidric asked you to ‘do your thing,’ I think he meant magic. Not naked breakdancing.”

  “Hey!” Horatio Hexwright shrugged. “It worked, didn’t it?”

  2

  Whisper Down the Lane

  Sarah.

  Since Joe quit, we need someone to deal with the budget spreadsheets. An actual accountant would be great. Can you get the HR people on it?

  By the way, saw that video with the dog and the exercise ball. ROFL!

  ***

  Dave,

  We need a new accountant for the R&D budget. Anyone will do, as long as they know how to use Excel. I tried putting this straight through to Human Resources, but they wanted to get it in writing from a manager.

  Thanks,

  Sarah Porter.

  ***

  The Research and Development Department must requisition a new Accountant to leverage Excel Spreadsheet Software for the Quarterly Budget. Must be a Team Player who is able to Prioritise effectively. Please leverage all available Channels to source a broad Spectrum of Candidates.

  Regards,

  David Smith, M.B.A.

  ***

  John,

  The Research and Development Department needs a new accountant. Here are the key responsibilities of the role:

  • Recording funding and expenditure in spreadsheet form, and ensuring the accuracy of company financial data.

  • Maintaining openness to new tasks and projects, and engaging proactively with demand for ongoing accounting services.

  • To apply a good working understanding of Research and Development processes, practices and policies and the underlying systems.

  • To advise beneficiaries and stakeholders on appropriate methods of cost minimization and resource management.

  The candidate must:

  • Possess a BA in Accounting and Finance and 3-5 years relevant work experience in a consumer-focused work environment.

  • Have the capacity to speak to individuals and explain processes clearly and concisely.

  • Be a proactive team player who is also able to work independently and prioritise tasks.

  • Operate processes and procedures within relevant policies, escalating issues that cannot be resolved within standard daily operations.

  • Maintain receptiveness to new ideas and approaches.

  • Maintain flexibility to work occasional overtime, esp. weekends.

  Write up the application form and upload the job description to careerjobsnow.com ASAP. I want this done by Friday.

  ***

  David Smith,

  Please find attached the provisional application form and careerjobsnow description for the Research and Development Accountant position. As you were the manager who notified us of the opening, please feel free to read through and make any changes you deem necessary.

  Yours respectfully,

  John Carr.

  ***

  Please evidence your aptitude to proactively leverage company financial data in a consumer-focused environment for the benefit of beneficiaries within standard daily operations, escalating resource management tasks not within the administration boundaries of your ongoing accounting paradigm.

  You stare at that passage for a few minutes, sitting quietly as you are hit by the first stage of job application frustration: denial. These words have to mean something. Nobody is this stupid. The job ad said something about spreadsheets. There’s a “financial” in here, and you think some kind of budget was mentioned five or six pages ago. You spend a few more minutes Googling the company’s name, trying to work out what they do, before skipping on to the next section of the application form.

  With reference to previous stakeholder interaction in a corporate environment, furnish expenditure-related activities, activities requiring initiative and judgement guidance within and beyond non-routine work situations. Good communication skills essential.

  With the second section of the form comes the second stage of frustration: anger. Quietly seething, you skip ahead yet again.

  Insofar as productivity-oriented standards of...

  You move on to the third stage of frustration: balling up all your socks, and throwing away any that have holes in. Somehow this takes you three days.

  Insofar as productivity-oriented standards of I.T proficiency administrate antidisestablishmentarian work streams and professional services, evidence the post holder’s proactive partnership working and interpersonal skills, with particular focus on proactivity and directed leveregement in a product requisition S4 hypersphere. Possession of a Boat Operator’s Licence Card is desirable but not essential.

  After briefly returning to the first section of the form, you give up in favour of progressing through the fourth stage of application frustration: depression. You eat everything in the fridge. Even the little pot of baking soda. Five romcoms later, you come back to your job application.

  With regard to your proactive approach to work routines, leverage previous employment history to display post holder commitment to your adaptability in working with different teams/individuals...

  “Screw it,” you think. If all those infinite monkeys can write Shakespeare, you can cobble together something for this. You have reached the final stage of frustration: acceptance. Going back to the first section of the form, you type in your response:

  “I am a proactive team player with a great deal of experience leveraging financial data in a consumer-focused environment...”

  3

  Two Pardner System

  Challenge #2: Write a western! It must include the old cliche “head them off at the pass” (or a very similar phrase).

  “Howdy!” L’il Red extended a hand. “Welcome to Tombwood!”

  “Ah—hello!” The Wolf smiled. He certainly had very big teeth. “Nice place, this.”

  “Yes.” L’il Red found she had already run out of things to say. “Were you looking for anything in particular?”

  “Well,” he said. “I was looking to move in here. I suppose in a little place like this I should speak to the mayor first.”

  “That’s my grandmother. I’m afraid she just left town today, and she won’t be back for a couple of months. If you turn around now, you might be able to head her off at the pass.”

  “Oh, no. I believe I encountered her on the road some time ago. Just as I was settling down to luncheon. My, that’s quite inconvenient.”

  “It’s alright Mister,” said Red. “She left me in charge.”

  “You? You’re just a little girl!”

  “I’ve managed on my own before!”

  “No no no.” The Wolf began to pace. “This just won’t
do. It’s undemocratic!” He stopped. “There must be...an election!”

  Red snorted. “Ain’t nobody but Grandma runs for mayor.”

  “Then perhaps I should try.” The Wolf fanned himself with his hat. “And if nobody else is running, I suppose I win by default!”

  Something about the Wolf’s manner struck a nerve with L’il Red. “Now hold on a minute. I don’t think it’s right for this place to be run by an out-of-towner. I’ll be running too!”

  “Wonderful.” The Wolf didn’t seem pleased, somehow. “But if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go and huff, and puff, and make some very appealing campaign promises! Good day, little girl!” And so he trotted off to speak to all the townspeople, pausing only to stare wistfully over the fence at Bo Peep’s sheep.

  “He’s simply charming!” drawled Sleeping Beauty, dozily.

  “Yes,” agreed Rumplestiltskein. “He is a snappy dresser.”

  “And so very intelligent!” An Ugly Sister put in. “Did you know: if you only eat half a cake, it’s half the calories! You can eat twice as much!”

  “Hmph!” grunted one of the Three Blind Mice. “I heard him say to Puss in Boots that he wants to take the bells off all the cats.” And he stormed quietly out the door of the saloon.

  Red didn’t see the Wolf again until the next day. “Hello, Wolf,” she said.

  “Ah, hello!” The Wolf was looking plumper than before.

  “Didja sort out that thing with the mice?”

  “Oh, yes, of course. The mice are gone now.”

  “What?”

  “I suggested that they should start training guide dogs. Well, they jumped at the idea. But Tombwood’s quite remote. I think they’ll be conducting their business from a more...central location.” He patted his belly.

  The Three Billy Goats disappeared later that day—to sell troll-proof barbwire way out West.

  The day after that, the Wolf rode around atop a stagecoach. “Big ears: to hear your concerns! Big eyes: to see opportunity! Big teeth: to eat y...I mean, fight injustice!” He was looking distinctly fat now, and—after a late-night discussion in the Wolf’s office—the Three Little Pigs had also left to pursue some new enterprise.

 
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