Author of 'Reality Check'

Fiction

Audio Fiction

Short stories for your MP3 player or iPod:


Flash Fiction

“Mind Out of Time”

When he arrived in his new body, the first thing Garth Entrekin noticed was how sweet the air tasted. It was a startling change from the stale, semi-toxic atmosphere of New Kansas. He jumped off the bed, causing the light from the window to stab him in the eyes. When was the last time he had seen a morning so bright? Never. A chirping noise tickled his ears, something he had only ever heard on old movies. He walked over to the window and looked out upon an ordinary suburban street. Knowing only a dull grey world punctured with neon, he stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed like he was gazing through the gates of heaven.

The sound of running water somewhere behind him broke his reverie; the voice of a woman humming drifted in from behind a closed door.

He glanced at the bed, noting that there were two pillows side by side, both of them crushed in the centre. On the dresser he found a photograph: a man with a beautiful woman and teenage daughter. The trio were smiling, arm in arm, enjoying a summer’s day at the beach. So this is my family, he reflected. And then: I’ve never seen a beach.

Examining his face in a mirror, he marvelled at how much like himself he looked. There were subtle differences, of course. A mole where there shouldn’t be one; the absence of a small scar on his chin; ears that weren’t quite familiar; teeth that didn’t clench in exactly the same manner as his original set. But he would get used to all the subtle changes in time.

*

“I don’t care whose body I end up in,” he had told the doctor in that dingy side-street laboratory back in New Kansas.

“The system requires a ninety-nine percent facial match. You’ll have to wait.”

The computer had access to every identity recorded since the dawn of DNA record-keeping. With billions of profiles available, chances were that a match would turn up for any customer with enough credits.

“Can’t you skip this part?”

“I’m a doctor, not a hacker.”

Entrekin smiled. “So it’s not your invention, eh? What did you do – steal it from some top secret Government research lab?”

The computer beeped, signalling the finish of its task.

“You have more than one choice,” the doctor said. “Would you -”

“Pick one,” Entrekin replied.

The doctor made no remark about the man’s impatience, knowing only too well the type of clientele his unique business attracted: men on the run. “Very well. Put this on.”

Entrekin pulled the heavy apparatus over his head.

“Your target’s name is Paul Quinn, citizen of Akron, Ohio. You will take over his life in 2015, the point when his age equals yours. He works as a -”

“Get on with it, Doc. I’ll figure it all out when I get there.”

“As you wish.” The doctor reached for the controls.

“Just one question. What happens to this Paul Quinn when he arrives here in my body?”

“Well, after being sedated and dumped on the street, he will inherit your life … and whatever consequences that life holds.” The doctor smirked.

“Let’s say he manages to avoid the cops. Let’s say he finds out what’s been done to him and decides he wants to get his old life back?”

“The swap cannot be reversed with the same two minds.”

“Has it been tried?”

“Numerous times.”

“And what happens?”

“A brief episode of insanity followed by death.”

“That’s convenient.”

“I thought you might feel that way.”

*

The woman emerged naked from the en suite bathroom, displaying a lack of inhibition typical of any spouse with her husband. Entrekin watched, entranced, as she walked over to the chest of drawers.

He could hardly restrain himself from rushing over there and having his way with her. But he was experiencing a sense of disconnection from his life that made him cautious. The fun would come later when he had learned who he was supposed to be and what the pitfalls of twenty-first century life were. Then he would have his fill of Mrs. Quinn. She would likely find his technique a little more unconventional than her husband’s, but she would get used to it. He would insist. And when she was subjugated, he would begin grooming the girl. This life held a lot of promise.

“You’d better get dressed,” the woman said, “or you’ll be late for work.”

“I don’t feel so good,” he replied. “Think I’ll take the day off.” And find out what the hell it is I do.

“I told you, you shouldn’t have eaten that pizza. Oh! Don’t forget. Your brother’s coming round for dinner tonight. I hope you’re feeling better by then.”

“I’ll be fine.”

*

A few minutes after Garth Entrekin kissed his lovely wife and even lovelier daughter goodbye on the doorstep, the bell rang.

When he opened the door, his jaw dropped.

“Do you know who I am?” the visitor asked.

“Y-Y-You’re … This is impossible.”

Standing on the doorstep was a furious Garth Entrekin. Or was it Paul Quinn? The question was answered when the visitor produced a gun from his pocket and ordered him, “Inside.”

Entrekin walked back into the living room.

“You’ve put me through a lot,” Quinn said. “First, I thought I was having a nightmare, running down streets, being chased by cops, cars flying all round me – actually flying, can you believe that? Well, of course you can.”

“How did you get back here?”

“A lot of running; a lot of hiding. Then I figured out whose body I was in. Wasn’t hard. Your face was all over the news. Wanted on multiple rape and murder charges. So I assumed your identity, played it careful, and eventually traced your steps to a transaction you made with a black market business using cutting-edge technology: mind swapping. It took me two years to raise enough money to make the swap.”

Two years! And to think that Entrekin had barely been in Quinn’s body long enough to catch his breath. Such were the ramifications of time travel.

“I was told the swap couldn’t be reversed,” Entrekin said. “What they didn’t tell me was that they could send someone’s actual body back in time. It’s supposed to be a physical impossibility.”

“They didn’t lie to you. This isn’t your body I’m wearing, Entrekin.”

“What?”

“It’s my brother Roger’s.”

You have more than one choice. The doctor’s words echoed in Entrekin’s mind. Of course: identical twins.

“Smart. To bring yourself back here, you shot your brother into the future.”

Quinn nodded.

“And now you’ve stranded him there forever in the body of a wanted man. Think you’re some kind of hero? You’re no different than me.”

“I’m nothing like you, Entrekin. I’ve left my brother a set of instructions – very specific instructions.”

Before Entrekin had time to contemplate what Quinn’s words meant, his consciousness took flight, torn from his flesh like a bullet from the barrel of a gun.

*

Entrekin awoke in a dark alleyway, lying on his back with the taste of foul air in his lungs and the glow of neon in his eyes.

A voice nearby said, “There he is. On your feet, Entrekin.”

Entrekin got up, surrounded by four uniformed officers. One of them cuffed his hands behind his back.

“How’d you find me? Somebody tip you off?”

“You have the right to remain silent …”

Entrekin smiled. Was his name Roger Quinn, by any chance?

*

Roger Quinn found himself on the floor of his brother Paul’s living room. He sat up and looked around, scarcely able to believe where he was. “I’m back! I’m really back!”

Paul helped him to his feet.

“That was one hell of a trip,” Roger said.

“Trust me, you had the easier ride.”

“Well, I’m glad it’s over.”

“There’s just one problem.”

“Oh?”

“We’re in the wrong bodies.”

Roger looked at his face in the mirror and shrugged. “I can live with it.”

Paul held out his hand, palm up.

“What?” Roger asked.

“You’re wearing my wedding ring.”

Roger slipped the ring off and looked carefully at himself in the mirror. No two human beings were ever completely the same, not even identical twins. “They’re gonna know.”

“Uh-huh.”

“This could be a problem.”

“Brother, you ain’t kidding.”

The End

11 Responses

  1. David McK

    Darryl, this is a great story. I have one query though. The minds could only be swapped when there was a ninety-nine percent match, which includes an age match. Your main character then spends years figuring out how to get home and manages to [SPOILER DELETED]. According to the logic of the machine this could not have happened because the ages would no longer have matched. I am sure you could get out of this glitch easily by mentioning that they arrive within a three year age span.

    Nevertheless, I thought the idea for this was just brilliant.

    David.

    December 5, 2007 at 11:21 am

  2. Glad you enjoyed the story, David. When I mentioned “years,” I was thinking of around two or three, conscious of the very point you make. But ambiguity is not always good, and you were probably right to draw attention to this. I’ve modified the story accordingly. Thanks.

    December 5, 2007 at 12:26 pm

  3. I am not a fan of any kind of writing that’s not realistic; but then I’m not a fan of opera either but I know those people can sing and I see you can write. The story was enjoyable from the first excellent sentence to the twist ending.

    One thing: you could probably cut out twenty words. That doesn’t seem like much but believe me it would make a difference; and like in football which is a game of inches the game of flash fiction is a game of sylables.

    Good work my friend. Keep on keeping on.

    December 5, 2007 at 9:38 pm

  4. Lee

    Great story up until the twists and turns, for me you could have left it around the time we find out what a sleaze the guy was. Would have been a nice short tale about a time-travelling consciousness theif and paedo. A nice twist on FREEJACK (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104299/)

    The twists and pay off seemed a bit Scooby Doo and the dialogue too expositional for me, but then again I am a cynical sod.

    December 6, 2007 at 9:54 am

  5. Guy: Thanks for the compliments. Hope you’ll stick around for more flash fiction in the future.

    Lee: Oh, well, you can’t please everyone. :-) The basic idea of swapping with your near-identical double occurred to me a long time ago, but I never wrote it because I always felt the story needed something a little more. When the twist in the tail finally occured to me, I thought, That’s it! So it’s here to stay, I’m afraid. Ooh-be-doo-be-dooooooo! :-P

    December 6, 2007 at 10:40 am

  6. Lee

    No worries Darryl, I’m probably in the minority with those views anyway. But yes Flash fiction is a fun genre to try.

    December 7, 2007 at 1:23 pm

  7. Mike

    An excellent story Darryl, I guessed that the man would return to seek out his revenge, but the twist with the twin really paid off. Gave me memories of Trancers.

    December 8, 2007 at 8:27 pm

  8. Chris

    I have to say, I’m not sure what to make of “flash fiction”. Judging by your ‘Mind Out of Time’ piece, I think it’s a great way to quickly get an idea down on paper, see how it looks, play around with it, use it as a starting point for something more involved. As such, there’s a lot of value in these pieces as a medium for the quick recording/exchange of ideas, with the end being a desire for a longer work.

    As an end in itself, I’m unsure. I have trouble seeing “flash fiction” as something more than simply a rough sketch for a longer story. After reading “Mind out of Time”, the novelty of the story’s idea wore off quickly, and I was left wanting more, and feeling like I had just consumed nutrition-lacking junk food. That’s not to say I think the story is crap, but that the format struck me as too bite-sized, like a commercial, or perhaps something more like a little two minute clip the Sci-Fi channel would show just to fill the gap between full-length shows. Apart from the basic idea, there’s really not much else to the “story”, nothing to come back to, nothing to relish in or get lost in, no journey of the imagination. Great for reading during a trip to the bathroom, but that’s about it. Am I making any sense?

    Still, “Mind Out of Time” is an interesting concept. I like how “New Kansas” is described as having a “stale, semi-toxic atmosphere” – was the old Kansas really that awful of an experience, Darryl? :)

    December 11, 2007 at 7:46 pm

  9. Mike: Trancers! Coincidentally, I rented this about a month ago, recalling it from childhood. Seemed like a poor man’s Blade Runner, although interestingly it features what might be the first ever use of “bullet time.”

    Chris: I agree with pretty much everything you say, except that I think there is a place for such bite-sized fiction – online. A hook to persuade the casual web surfer to hang around long enough to sample my work, something that’s both short and complete.

    One thing that stands out for me is this: When I post something creative online, whether it’s a movie or whatever, it usually generates hardly any comments. That hasn’t been true this time.

    December 12, 2007 at 11:06 am

  10. Chris

    That’s actually an interesting use for “flash fiction”, using it as a hook, an advertising gimmick. I even think it actually stands a good chance of working, given the very short attention span of the average web surfer.

    I guess I was somewhat concerned that you were planning on making “flash fiction” your main style, which, I think, would be a tragic mistake! “Chion” was definitely an excellent read, and I’d be sorely disappointed if you expended your energies on lots of small, disconnected pieces of writing.

    December 12, 2007 at 2:29 pm

  11. I would love to begin writing another novel at the moment, but I just don’t feel inspired about any of the ideas I have. One of the reasons why I constructed “Mind Out of Time” as a flash fiction piece, as opposed to a short story, is because I’m not even inspired enough to invest the time it takes to write a short story based on something that’s merely quirky.

    Chion was pretty special to me, because it had a subtext: the question of what makes life meaningful in the face of death. This might come off sounding pretentious, but after writing it, I can’t stop thinking about the altruism of the protagonist and how little of it I possess.

    Bottom line is, I just can’t jump from writing about that stuff to writing a novel about zombies or something. I need to find the next Chion. But until I do, I’m willing to at least keep the writing gears greased with some flash pieces.

    December 12, 2007 at 3:46 pm

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