This is for a Flash Fiction challenge via Terrible Minds. From the site:
I’m going to give you ten random items.
You must pick four and incorporate all four into a single piece of flash fiction (~1000 words).
Those items are:
- An unopened envelope.
- A dead man’s guitar.
- A rocking chair.
- A chess piece.
- A road sign.
- A child’s toy.
- A leather mask.
- An animal skull.
- An iron horseshoe.
- A police officer’s badge.
I picked the following: an unopened envelope, a rocking chair, a child’s toy, and a police officer’s badge. I decided also to try to do this as another part of a story I started a while ago, about a woman trapped in a computer. This was just over 1000, at 1071 words.
A Mind of Her Own
"Dad, I'm home." His daughter stared at him, then sighed. "Oh dad, stuck inside again? You need to try to get out."
He smiled faintly at her. "Maybe tomorrow, Tammy. " He kept on rocking, back and forth, staring at the phone in his hand. He just didn't have the energy for anything any more.
"You're not still upset over me giving mom's phone away, are you?"
"It's OK, " he said. Tammy hadn't realized the importance of the phone to him. Pedro and his wife had bought their phones as a pair, top of the line, complete with implanted microphones and earpieces, and had eagerly programmed in all their likes and dislikes, helping the systems learn their individual quirks and preferences. These next generation systems could anticipate your desires, even making calls for you, properly phrased for the situation and recipient. They seemed to have a life of their own - especially when Maria's phone started contacting him, several months after she had died. Somehow a part of her continued to live on in her phone, a big enough part that he found himself able to chat daily with her. Nobody else could hear her, but that didn't matter - her presence, or the presence of whatever was in the phone, had brought him back from the brink of suicide and gave him a new life.
Until a few weeks ago when Tammy - trying to help him move on - had given Maria's phone away to a local community centre.
Tammy picked up an envelope from the table. "This had been here for days - aren't you going to open it? I think it's from the police."
He shook his head. "Just a summary of my conditional release." He'd panicked at losing his only contact with his wife, but when he tried to get the phone back, he discovered that the community centre had already given it away to a women's shelter. When they refused to tell him where the shelter was, he'd gone back with a fake police officer's badge to try to intimidate them. That had not gone well. He’d not been charged, but he was forbidden to visit the community centre again, or get involved with any shelters, and had to sign up for some bereavement classes. So far he'd not told them about the voice in the phone.
Tammy had just gone back out when his phone rang. "Unknown caller," read the display.
"Hello?" he said. He was expecting a telemarketer.
"Hello, is this - is this Pedro?" It was a woman's voice, quiet, hesitant. "You don't know me, and I probably shouldn't even be calling you, but I think I have your former wife's phone."
"Oh that's great," he said. "where can I meet you and get it back?"
There was a pause. "That's not why I called," she said. "I'm in a shelter now, hiding out from my ex, and definitely am not leaving to meet up with some strange guy. And I need this phone. to talk with my sister, to find a new job. Plus it intrigues me. There's something strange about it."
He figured he might as well listen - maybe he could still persuade her to give up the phone for sentimental reasons.
"These phones are supposed to be wiped when we get them," she said, "but once we charged this one back up yesterday we discovered that it wasn't. Contacts, calendar, who the owner was - your ex. And no-one here can figure out how to clear the phone anyway - it's newer than any they've seen. And all these extra features and games - it's like a big computer mashed up with a kid's toy. My son loves it. But - as I said - it's been doing some peculiar things." She explained how she'd had a weak moment and tried to phone her ex to apologize, but couldn't get the call to go through. Other calls went okay, just not to him. Finally it played back a recording of her 911 call about him, from the last time he'd beat her. The night she finally left. She had no idea how that recording got into the phone, as she'd made the call from a pay phone. There'd been other things too. It now contained new contacts for support groups, appointments for job fairs -things she was sure she had not added in.
"I'll replace it," he said. "I'll buy a new one for you. I'll buy one for every woman in the shelter - just get me that phone. My wife died just a few months ago, and it's something for me to remember her by. I have to have it."
"Well, I have to have it too," said Shelley. "I'm getting to like it - I'm getting used to it's quirks. You'll have to find another one."
"Excuse me," said a voice. "It's Maria - I'm right here guys. Don't I have any choice in the matter?"
"Hey - get off the line," said Shelley.
"Sorry, but I'm in the line," said Maria. She managed to calm Shelley down enough to let her explain that she'd somehow become a part of the Artificial Intelligence in the phone, and had managed to stay alive even when the battery had died and it had been reset. "So all those little quirks - they are me. I've been trying to help you. Dave - her ex is a real piece of work. I won't get into details, but we need to get her disconnected from him - permanently."
"That's up the the police," he said. "Can't she just get some kind of paper telling him to stay away?"
"Ha - like that would stop the jerk," said Shelly. "Frank would just beat me up, then wave the paper in the cop's face. He doesn't care."
"At any rate, I can't get involved," said Pedro. "I've got my own little piece of paper from the police, banning me from any contact with local shelters or their clients. I may have gone a little overboard trying to make the centre tell me where my phone was."
"My phone," said Shelley.
"My phone," said Maria. "Look, Pedro, you haven't lost me, I'm not going anywhere. But, for now I'm going to help Shelley get rid of that ex. We're going to help her. Not sure how, but we're in this together."