24 October 2008

an open letter to jra

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your kind words regarding 512 Words or Fewer.

With regards to your admonition, I pledge that I will do my best to not suck, and to achieve my stated goal of posting one story per week. If, at any point, I fail to maintain this standard, please feel free to remark upon whatever you may perceive to be my shortcomings as a writer and/or heterosexual male.

And if you think you can write better flash fiction yourself, well, bring it, punk.




Inspired by Spam

Yeah, I guess I'm going to get a few comments on this one.

I started writing "October Surprise" back in July for a Weird Tales writing contest. I didn't finish it in time to enter the contest--couldn't come up with a satisfactory ending. Only later did I remember Raymond Chandler's advice: When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.

The spam subject line which inspired the story was "McCain says he is a young man trapped in old body." I swear that I was not influenced at all by this Onion article.

I admit the body-switch plot device is a bit of a cliché, but it was fun to imagine how each candidate might react to such a predicament. Not that I know anything about either man. I mean, I shook both their hands when they visited Google last year, but I'm not a touch telepath or anything. I'm a writer. I tell lies to strangers for money. And the pay's not great, so I might as well use my imagination and enjoy the first part.


Audio: "October Surprise"

Music: "too quiet (instr.)" by oldDog from ccMixter, licensed under Creative Commons.

My friend Raj, who is currently taking voice acting classes, had some good feedback for me on this so-called podcast. It's been five years since my own training, and I've forgotten a lot. Feel free to point and laugh. I don't have a director or engineer to do that during the recording process.

I pretty much set myself up to fail with the character voices here. I mean, it's hard enough doing non-caricatured impressions of McCain and Obama, but then I have to go and specify that they each speak in their own cadences, but with the other guy's voice. Thanks a lot, self. Maybe next week's story will feature, I don't know, aliens that speak with two mouths at once. Then again, that might be too repetitive, since this week's story is also about politicians. ZING!


"October Surprise"

By Curtis C. Chen

Barack watched himself in the mirror as he picked up the phone. It was strange to see that other face staring back at him. It was unnerving to see the unfamiliar body doing what he did.

He dialed his own cell phone number, the one that only his wife knew. It connected after the second ring. He heard the soft hissing of a hotel room air conditioner in the background.

"This is John McCain," Barack said.

Another noise on the other end of the line--a sigh of relief? "This is Barack Obama." It was bizarre, hearing his own voice but not his own speech--the rhythms, the pronounciations, all wrong.

"Thank you for serving," Barack said. It was the first thing he had thought upon waking, when he realized what the pain in his arms was. "I had no idea."

The man on the phone made a dismissive noise. "That was a long time ago."

"So," Barack said, "I'm guessing it wasn't your people who did this."

"No," said John. "If we had, we would have switched you with someone else."

"Unless something went wrong."

"I don't like conspiracy theories," John said. "Can we start by figuring out what we're going to do right now? Today?"

"David has my--your schedule," said Barack.

"I know. You're giving a speech. That isn't going to fly."

He was right. They each had their own way of addressing an audience. "Just follow the teleprompter. Tell them you didn't sleep well. They'll think it's fatigue."

"You trust me not to sabotage you?"

"I think this is what's commonly known as a Mexican standoff."

"Okay," said John, "I'll do the best I can, but if this thing lasts more than a day..."

"What if it lasts forever?" asked Barack. He found it strange that the sudden thought didn't frighten him.

John exhaled. It was a heavy, tired sound. "I sure hope it doesn't. I hope this is just some higher power making us walk a mile in the other man's shoes."

"Or maybe it's like the parable about the two men and the camel race."

"Don't think I know that one."

"A race in which the slower camel wins, but each man has to ride the other man's camel?"

A pause. "Are you calling me a camel jockey, sir?"

Barack found himself smiling, then laughing out loud at the face in the mirror. The whole situation was ridiculous. On the phone, he could hear his own voice laughing, too.

He heard a cracking sound behind him. He turned in time to see the hotel room door shatter inward, broken by a steel battering ram. Four men rushed in. Not Secret Service. They were dressed in black fatigues, wearing gloves and balaclavas.

The man in front raised a pistol and pointed it at Barack's--John's--face.

"What was that noise?" asked John.

"The punchline," Barack said.

He dropped the phone and raised his arms as high as he could. They really weren't that uncomfortable, once you got used to them.