Ultra-short story

Reggae Rope Monster: A True (?) Story

I had an urgent noontime appointment to keep and only just enough time to get there from work without any delays when I noticed the car ahead of me, a red hatchback. The hatch stood wide open, revealing a bewildering jumble of items crammed into the back of the vehicle. All that restrained the mess was a length of yellow nylon rope tied so slack that its middle waved as much as its loose ends did. That is so useless, I thought.

The upper end bounced and bobbed, an untidy clump of rope-ends like dreadlocks around the heavy knot that anchored them. Longer ends, maybe three or four of them, danced around the middle, flying upward with every bump in the road. Their undulations looked so free, so carefree, that I felt mesmerized.

One piece of the jumble slid toward the open hatch. I stepped on the clutch, ready to slow down and avoid the debris, but it never came. I accelerated with caution, thinking the object was just delayed in falling, but when I got nearer, I could see that everything was in place as it had been. Peculiar, I thought.

The traffic signal ahead turned red. We slowed to a halt in tandem, the hatchback and I. The dancing nylon rope sank into fitful rest, but an occasional ripple ran through it when the wind gusted. I rolled down my window to catch some of the chilly autumn breeze. From the red hatchback ahead of me, I heard strains of reggae tossed here and there by the wind.

Then the traffic signal turned green. The hatchback rolled forward, dislodging two or three objects from the jumble. This time, I was near enough to see the waving rope-ends gently tap each item back into place, always maintaining the buoyant reggae rhythm. One rope end waved at me.

The driver behind me honked irritably at me, and I remembered to drive through the intersection. My appointment took me to the next right turn, which I almost missed because my attention still clung to the strange dancing rope creature that guarded the open hatchback. I have almost no recollection of the meeting I attended that day, but every time I hear a strain of reggae or see a red hatchback on the street, I remember that curious creature, the Reggae Rope Monster.

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Writing Challenge, Week 8

This week’s experiment in flash fiction was brought to you by PSYCHOLOGY! Everybody’s got it (according to Miss Adelaide).

**

The Personified Subconscious Department

By H. M. Snow

The lights dimmed to practically nothing. At the same time, a giant screen lit with footage of a small apartment bedroom.

“That did it.” Twenty-four grasped the tiny hands clinging around her forehead.

Nine came out of the shadows to help free Twenty-four from the clinging infant. “Strange,” said Nine. “A baby, turning up in one of Herself’s childhood dreams.” He gave a vigorous tug. “You can let go now, Three, you know.”

“It isn’t that simple.” The infant was midway through a transformation from human to a sort of plumber’s putty with a humanoid shape. “This one’s a real strangler. Give my fingers a pry, would you?”

With their combined efforts, they managed to separate Twenty-four and Three so that Three’s transformation could continue to completion. Twenty-four rubbed her forehead. She too was fading back from human to humanoid putty. “How are things going, Two?”

“The Haste is going well. No time for a proper shower, of course, but what can you expect? Herself has to be at work in ten minutes.” Two, as efficient as ever, had nearly completed her transformation, leaving only traces of Herself’s sister still visible in Two’s features. A buzzer sounded at Two’s elbow. She pressed the button. “P.S. Department, Two speaking.” After a few seconds, she pursed her gray lips. “I said P as in Papa, not B as in Bravo, and you know it. You aren’t funny, you know. Now what is it?” She listened again. “That can’t be helped. It’s the Haste. Accidents happen. Just cope with it and stop complaining.” She pressed the button to cut off the conversation. “Sophomoric humerus and his prank calls. I sometimes wish we could cut the nerves to that one and be done with him.”

Other numbers were busily tidying away the props into cabinets around the edge of the room. Nine stood quietly thoughtful in the midst of all the tidying.

“What’s on your mind, Nine?” Twenty-four patted her comrade on the shoulder with some care, avoiding the spiky skeletal underpinnings that stretched Nine’s putty-gray skin. “You’re thinking a lot after this one.”

Nine smiled distantly. “Lucky number Twenty-four,” he remarked. “And when I say ‘lucky,’ you know I simply mean the number that Herself finds most appealing.”

“Naturally.”

“You get to be Herself’s dream self more than any of us. Can you think why a baby might appear in a common childhood dream? The other details were accurate—the wallpaper,” Nine pointed to the pattern fading on the walls. “Exactly the same. The dressers, same.” He stopped one of his fellow numbers in the process of pushing an eight-drawer dresser with tarnished knobs toward one of the storage cabinets. He slid open the top drawer. “Finding her sister’s clothes in her dresser should have produced enough agitation to wake her up for the Haste. It’s a classic ‘threat of appearing in public naked’ dream, with sibling issue overtones.”

Twenty-four nodded. “And?”

“And,” stressed Nine, “what’s a baby doing here? Herself is more or less indifferent to babies. I don’t understand.”

Overhearing from nearby, Three asked, “Must we understand?”

The bustle of numbers tidying came to a sharp halt. A few of them shushed Three. But Twenty-four only said, “It pays to listen to Nine. He’s the one with the skeletal structure, after all. The number Nine isn’t bestowed at random. You know how Herself feels about ‘Nine’—almost like she feels about ‘Twenty-four.’”

“Only completely different,” Three added.

Twenty-four smiled. “We’ll just take the baby under consideration. It might be something emerging, you know, with age. Herself is getting to that point in life.”

This caused a murmuring among the other numbers. It was Nine, however, who said, “It doesn’t seem like Herself at all. Even at her age. That’s why I said it doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t,” admitted Twenty-four. “But we’ll take it under consideration. That’s our job, after all.”

Two called out, “The Haste is at departure stage. Haven’t you got the props tidied away yet? It’s nearly time to process the work experience again, and you know what an ordeal that is.”

“That’s an ‘All hands on deck’ if ever I heard one,” quipped Twenty-four. “Let’s go, everybody. Work stress waits for no number.”

**

Bonus: More of Miss Adelaide’s Psychology, courtesy of YouTube:

“Slowly I Turned”: Scars of a Clown

I wake up in the morning at five. Lights on, sweats on—time for morning exercise. I beat the air with my fists as if it were my enemy, all to prepare myself for the real fight ahead of me. Punch, punch, block, dodge, kick, ha! Thank goodness that’s over. Now I can shower and put on my loose-fitting work clothes, except for socks. I always forget the socks until it’s time to put on my shoes. I never pay much attention to my hair, because I always wear a hat. Who cares what’s underneath a hat, anyway?

 

Eat breakfast next, so I don’t have to worry about ruining my makeup or having to scrub red lip-prints off my milk glass. Feed the body with Cheerios, fruit, and instant breakfast. Feed the soul, too—and wouldn’t you know it, today I open the page to read, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.* Fitting, that quote. I make note of it just before I rinse my dishes and leave them in the sink to wash after work.

 

Now it’s time for makeup. Time is running short; I haven’t packed my lunch yet. I paint my face with a somewhat hurried, careless hand guided by habit. But I don’t forget to overdraw my lips. That’s important, they always say. Deep red, as if I have just come from feeding on fresh prey. That’s a disturbing thought. Why red? It looks so aggressive. But it’s traditional, so there’s no use pondering it when I still have a lunch to pack and three minutes to be out the door.

 

Socks… I told you I always forget. Now I can pull on my large floppy shoes. On with the slightly oversized jacket with the swallow tail that flutters behind my knees when I walk. The choice of hats always causes me a little trouble, but I have just thirty seconds left. The bowler with the large plastic flower will have to do for today. I grab an extra bottle of seltzer water, just in case. Ten seconds: just enough time to lock my front door, waddle down the steps, and climb into my tiny car. The shoes always slow me up.

 

Who am I? I’m a clown. Why am I a clown? I’ll tell you: because the world around me is full of grumbling ingratitude, for one thing, and people don’t take care of one another as they ought. I have gazed across the surrounding landscape and seen it littered with the abandoned, the depressed, the burdened, and the abused. I can’t fix these things on a large enough scale to change the world at large. I don’t have the money, and there isn’t enough time in the day. But one thing I decided that I could do: wield joy that the world cannot overcome, so that perhaps I can shine light into a world that might otherwise sink into darkness.

 

Okay, the bit about the greasepaint, seltzer water, and floppy shoes was just a gag. On the outside, I’m extremely ordinary. But on the inside, I shall be a fool for God, if that’s what it takes to carry the fight to the darkness. When Paul said, For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh,** he wasn’t kidding. The Pentagon will never attempt this.

 

It’s anything but easy, fighting a battle like this. In my workplace, I find that the culture of complaining has an undertow so strong that, if it catches you, it’s almost sure to suck you under, never to be seen again in this life. Oftentimes my attempts to brighten people’s day are met with brick-wall resistance. Strange as it sounds, some people like being miserable. I suppose it’s easier than fighting the pull, especially when you have no real foundation in joy. At other times, I’m met with outright hostility and suspicion, as if my humor is meant as criticism in disguise. Honestly, when I want to criticize you, you’ll know it.

 

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing any good. Sometimes the undertow gets me, and I need to pull back and regroup. However, the occasional smiles I get from some of the people around me are sufficient to tell me that my ongoing struggle is not in vain. I draw my strength from a source that cannot be exhausted, no matter how exhausted I may feel. So stitch up my wounds, give me a couple of aspirin, and let me take a quick nap before I head back out to the battlefield. Oh, and freshen my custard pie. The whipped cream has lost its peaks.

 

Always remember: most clowns are more afraid of you than you are of them.

 

 

*1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV

**2 Corinthians 10:3-4 ESV