25 September 2009

"Wake-Up Call"

By Curtis C. Chen

It was early, and still dark on the fourth floor of the Townsend Insurance Group offices. The overhead lights flickered to life as Garrity Fort passed the motion sensors. He walked into the kitchen, started a pot of coffee, and went to his office.

Garrity sat down, wiggled the computer mouse, typed in his password, and double-clicked the e-mail icon. He got an error message. He tried to open a web page. Another error.

"Happy Monday," Garrity said.

He picked up his desk phone and dialed tech support. As expected, he got the recorded greeting and then elevator music. He put the call on speakerphone and tried opening his calendar. Nothing.

The phone crackled. A male voice said, "Garrity! Are you there?"

Garrity frowned and picked up the handset. "Hello?"

"What are you doing?" the man said. "Coffee's ready!"

"Coffee?" Garrity repeated, confused.

"In the kitchen!" said the man. "The hot coffee?"

"Is this the help desk?"

"Jesus, not this again," the man said. "Bellerophon, Amontillado, Vertanen!"

Garrity felt dizzy. "I don't know what that means."

"Go get the coffee! Now!"

"Who are you?"

"Bellerophon! Amontillado! Vertanen!" the man said.

Something flashed behind Garrity's eyes, and he went blind for a moment.

"Are you still there?" the man said.

"I'm here," Garrity croaked. His mouth tasted like smoke and dirt.

"This is going to be an expensive call," the man muttered. "Look down at your desk."

Garrity watched as his desk changed color, shimmering from dark mahogany to pale birch. Its size and shape remained the same, and it felt solid when he rapped his knuckles against it.

"That's impossible," Garrity said.

"You've got thirty seconds," the man on the phone said.

"Who are you?"

"Twenty-eight!" the man shouted. "Bellerophon—"

Garrity hung up. He glanced at his desk again, then ran out of his office and down the hall to the kitchen.

The red light on the coffee maker was dark. The clear glass container was still dry. Inside it was a handgun, black and menacing.

Garrity tapped the grip of the handgun with one finger. It wasn't hot at all. He lifted the gun out of the coffee pot. As soon as he closed his fingers around the grip, his hands began acting of their own volition—ejecting the clip, checking the ammunition, loading the weapon, chambering a round. Quick, efficient, involuntary.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" Garrity said.

Something growled behind him. Garrity turned around and saw, filling the kitchen doorway, a mass of hair and teeth that could generously be called a creature. The thing opened something that could have been a mouth and made another noise, halfway between a keen and a screech.

Garrity's arms moved themselves, aiming the handgun at the creature. His left hand wrapped around his right hand, and his right index finger pulled the trigger three times. The creature fell forward. Garrity's aim followed it down, and he fired once more into the back of what might have been its head. It stopped moving.

His cell phone rang.


Audio: "Wake-Up Call"

Why, yes, Grand Theft Auto fans, that "hot coffee" reference is a little inside joke just for you. Even if it does mean something slightly different in this context.

Music: 'Bass,' 'Guitar 1,' and 'Drums' stems from "I Feel Fantastic" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


Third Person Shooter

Oh, like you've never written any Matrix fan fiction. Glass houses, my friend. Glass houses.

In related news, DeeAnn and I have been having a lot of fun playing Left 4 Dead online with our friends Chris and Karl. We're definitely looking forward to the sequel.

And, yes, this is the end of Year One of 512 Words or Fewer. Some changes are coming. More about that on Monday.