24 April 2009

"Customer Surface"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Next in line!"

Scott stepped up and fumbled with his plastic bag. The woman behind the counter watched as he extricated the box and his receipt. Her name tag said "Mildred."

"Reason for return?" Mildred asked.

"Actually, I'd just like to exchange it," Scott said.

"What's wrong with it?"

"It's a time-blade."

Mildred turned to look at him. "Excuse me?"

"It must have been packaged wrong," Scott said. "Or just bad quality control. Anyhow, I'd like to exchange it."

"We don't carry time-blades," Mildred said.

"I know," Scott said, wondering why he felt like he had to apologise. "That's why it's a mistake. I just need a regular ritual knife. Something low-energy."

Mildred picked up the box. "This package has been opened."

"Yes," Scott said. "That's how I found out it was a time-blade instead of an athame."

"I'll need to check the lot numbers," Mildred said, and opened the box.

Scott folded his arms and tapped one foot, hoping he looked impatient instead of nervous. Mildred pulled out the knife and turned it over.

"Sir," she said, "this blade has been inscribed."

Scott leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. "Yes, I realised it was a time-blade when the raven-claw tip in my engraving pen turned to dust halfway through the inscription. You should be glad I'm not suing your store for selling faulty merchandise."

Mildred said, "I'm sorry, sir, we cannot accept damaged, altered, or hexed merchandise for return or exchange. It's store policy."

"Well, I want to talk to your supervisor," Scott said.

Without taking her eyes off him, Mildred extended one arm and tugged on a rope which hung from the ceiling. Somewhere above them, a bell gonged.

The air behind Mildred shimmered, and a stocky man materialised. His name tag read "Barry."

"What's going on?" Barry said.

Mildred said, "This gentleman wants to exchange some merchandise." She held up the knife.

Barry squinted at it. "Is that an inscription?"

"Yes," Mildred said, and repeated Scott's story. She got all the details right.

When she finished, Barry looked at Scott and said, "Sorry, sir, but like she said, it's company policy. Nothing I can do."

Scott nodded. "Then I want to speak to your supervisor."

"I'm the store manager," Barry said. "You'd have to write to Corporate."

"Fine. Give me the address," Scott said.

Mildred stepped out of the way while Barry used her terminal and scribbled the information on a notepad. He tore off the parchment and handed it to Scott.

"Thank you," Scott said, his hands shaking as he gathered up everything he had placed on the counter. He turned and walked away quickly.

Five minutes later, Scott parked his car at the kebab joint down the street and walked in. He found the booth where Dana was still nursing her giant soft drink and slid the sheet of parchment across the table.

Dana pulled a scroll from her handbag and laid it flat on the table next to the parchment.

"Perfect match," she said, smiling.


Audio: "Customer Surface"

Why, yes, I did watch a lot of Monty Python's Flying Circus when I was in high school. What of it? (Also Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served, and whatever other Britcoms the local PBS station was broadcasting late at night.)

Ironically, I was never really into Doctor Who, and still am not. I tried out Torchwood for a while, but it was just too silly.

Instead, I say, give me Life On Mars and Spaced and The IT Crowd and A Bit of Fry & Laurie. Now that's comedy.

Music: Guitar and Keyboard stems from "Ikea" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


It's Harry Potter Meets Veronica Mars!

No, not really.

But this--and by "this" I mean today's story, "Customer Surface"--is what happens when you run a Hogwarts Game one year and later watch most of Veronica Mars in less than three months. Random stuff gets wedged in your subconscious, like spinach between your teeth, and the only way to get it out is by... flossing? writing? Sorry, I don't know where that analogy was going.

Anyway. By the time you read this, I'll have only six days left to complete my 100-page Script Frenzy screenplay. You can follow the previous link to see my current progress, and if I'm still behind on page count, please feel free to taunt me via blog comment or email. And don't let anybody tell you three pages a day is easy. They are lying liars who lie.


19 April 2009

512 By Mail

If you're reading 512 Words or Fewer via RSS feed, you've probably noticed that I recently switched to syndicating short (truncated) versions of each post. This is because there's a 500-item/512KB restriction on the size of the XML file for the feed, and I want to preserve as many audio posts as possible for new subscribers to the podcast.

To balance this slight inconvenience, I've also set up not one, but two ways for you to get 512 Words or Fewer by email!
  • Look for the 512 By Mail box in the sidebar to the right.
  • Choose your delivery option (Full or Digest).
  • Enter your email address in the appropriate box.
  • Hit the corresponding Sub button.
Follow the instructions to verify your email address, et voilà! You'll get new stories delivered to your inbox every Friday.

What's the Diff?

Full Sub (via Google Groups) will send you the complete text of every post as an individual email. So, on a typical Friday, you'll get three separate messages from 512. For example:

Digest Sub (via FeedBurner) will excerpt all the posts from a single day and send you just one message every Friday, as shown:

Because I'm releasing all 512 content under Creative Commons, you should always feel free to forward these emails to your friends. Sharing is good!

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