For Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week, I wrote a little short story. There is a lot of swearing. Enjoy!
“There’s nothing better than an ice-cold Brü on a hot day.”
“Damn it! What the hell are you doing, you lousy piece of shit?”
“It’s not working! The lines are all wrong. His goddamn face looks like a calcified elephant shit. I don’t even like Brü! You can finish this cocksucking piece of shit ad on your own.”
Chaos ensues. The actor, who is a tall man and who holds a green bottle, watches the director who just unfavorably described his face throw down his notes and stride off the set.
“It’s okay,” he says, safe in the knowledge that no one is listening, “I can handle this on my own.” And he slips off the stage, grabbing two six-packs from the catering table as he goes.
The actor’s name is Peter Chadwell, and by the time the director has been calmed and led back to set, the papers re-organized, and the writers called in for a last-minute script edit, Peter is thoroughly, unmistakably, and exquisitely drunk.
The director repeats his performance. Peter is left grinning vaguely amidst a flurry of assistants and flying paper. It is only a short time until the assistants are gone and it is just him and the papers and an empty set.
“You leaving, bud?” says someone from the doorway, hand on the light switch. It’s a bearded man in a flannel shirt; he looks kindly on Peter and the drunk man’s face scrunches up like he might start crying.
“I luuuuuurve you,” says Peter.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. Look, make sure you switch the lights off before you go, ok? And not to ruin your buzz but I don’t think Olsen is going to bring you back to finish the spot.” The bearded man closes the door gently, and now Peter is left alone.
The set is a large room in the corner of the production company’s building, not often used anymore for its lack of up-to-date equipment. Instead, it gets used as a closet for old props. Peter wanders over to a suit of armor and pokes at it.
“I was gonna be, gonna be like fucking Brad Pitt or whatever,” says Peter with drunken gravity. “Not fucking him. I was gonna be as famoush as him.” He starts to disassemble the armor, which has a pleasing weight and heft in his unsteady hands, and puts it on piece by piece. It takes long enough for him to drink two more beers – they’ve left the catering table, more fool them – and then he’s draped in uneven pieces of metal that more or less resemble armor.
As he leans down to pick up the last greave, something on the floor catches his eye. He fumbles for it, drops the greave, picks it up, then picks up the object. It’s a small bag filled with powder, and Peter gets excited because this is definitely cocaine, there is no way that this is not cocaine.
It isn’t cocaine. When he opens the pouch he’s disappointed to discover an orangeish-brown powder that smells spicy and sweet and a little musty, like old books and trees. It’s a beguiling scent, unlike anything Peter has smelled before. He brings the bag closer to his face, but forgets about the greave, and when it starts to slip he flails and somehow the entire bag flies through the air and hits him squarely in the face. Powder explodes everywhere in a brown cloud. It stings his eyes and nose and goes into his lungs.
When Peter recovers enough to look around again, tears streaming, it strikes him that the studio looks very different than it had just a few moments ago.
The beer haze is not too thick for him to realize that he is standing, not in an empty studio in LA, but in a sun-drenched forest. He can hear birds singing and the rustle of leaves is an oceanic murmur.
There is a piece of paper at his feet, held down with a crystal paperweight. Peter wishes there was some beer as well, because he is going to start feeling hungover soon and if he could drink more beer he could stave off the inevitable.
But there is no more beer, so he picks up the paper instead and reads slowly:
If you want to go home
First you must learn
Why you are here.
The other side of the paper is a memo to Olsen, the director of the ill-fated ad.
Peter shrugs because he may as well go along with this, whatever this is. And the forest is an infinitely better place for an afternoon nap than an abandoned studio. And even better, he has – at least temporarily – escaped his numerous problems.
He chooses a direction at random and begins to walk, a little unsteadily and slow in his cumbersome armor, but making progress. The sun, pleasantly warm at first, is quickly becoming unbearably hot under the metal sweat trickles down his back and legs. He should take the armor off but something is telling him to keep it.
And then there is an odd noise. It sounds like a tiny explosion, or a thunderous squeak. In the helmet, sound is distorted and Peter can’t discern what he’s listening to, even as the noise gets louder. And then there’s a voice, directly behind him. The voice is saying, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Excuuuushe me,” says Peter politely, “I am walking.” He turns to locate the speaker and comes face-to-face with a big man, red in the face, wearing a fragrant assortment of rags and filthy animal skins. There is a sword dangling from his belt.
“Is that shafe?” asks Peter.
“I daresay not. What are you? A commoner?” The word slips out with disdain and loathing clinging to every syllable.
“No! Imma…Imma actor.” He has a small conversation in his head, and continues out loud, “it’s not my fault my wife left me. Imma good actor. I just don’ get jobs, you know?”
“You’re a drunk,” says the stranger matter-of-factly, and then he sneezes. It is ferocious, and now Peter recognizes the sound. “Look, as long as you’re not a commoner you can travel with me until you sober up. This forest is no place for a drunk alone.”
“Armor is safe,” says Peter.
“Indeed. Right, come along. I’m looking for a new place to found my village, somewhere away from these disgusting plants. Give me allergies.”
“Who are you? You know Olsen? You wanna tell him I’m the best…actor,” responds Peter.
“I don’t know your Olsen person, but you need to be quiet. I’m getting annoyed by this prattle.”
“I’m Peter,” says Peter. “Whass your name?”
“I’m Orkan. Orkan of Thriff.”
The name rings a bell, a very faint bell, somewhere in the back of Peter’s head, but he ignores it. It would come to him later.
And indeed a lot of things do come to him later. Around sunset, as Orkan chooses a campsite and collects kindling for a fire, Peter is finding himself in control of his senses but with a horrific hangover.
“You should always sleep through your hangovers,” says Peter a little ruefully, crouching by the fire. “I should know, I’ve had a lot of them.”
Orkan gnaws on a rabbit leg. “The drink is good,” he replies, “although it can be too good. It can make you forget your problems, but it also makes them multiply.”
“Don’t go all Yoda on me,” snaps Peter. “I did not ask for that. Also, where on earth did you get that rabbit leg?”
“It was in my bag. What? You want some?”
“Absolutely not,” says Peter firmly. “Look, what’s going on here?”
“I do not know what you’re talking about,” replies Orkan.
“You’re trying to be the wise man of the forest and teach me life lessons so I can overcome my tribulations and become a better person by the end of the story,” snaps Peter, “and as soon as I learn valuable facts about myself, I’ll probably get magically transported back to the studio. Won’t I?”
“Ehm…” says Orkan.
“And I know your name now,” continues Peter, doggedly pursuing his point. “I used to play this game when I was a kid, called Zork. And you were one of the characters. You’re not even real! None of this is real.”
“Your hangover is real,” points out Orkan reasonably.
“Besides the point. Look, I want to go back now. I’m quite happy being a drunk and it’s not your right to take that away from me, you hear?”
“Have it your way, then.” Orkan shrugs. “But before you go, I want you to have something. He reaches into his clothing and pulls out a shining gold circle, beaten thin. He reaches over with hands the size of small pizzas and hands it to Peter. “It’s a torc – a necklace. Don’t lose it. If you get in trouble again – it might be able to help you.”
As Peter’s hands close around the metal, the world disappears.
Peter is lying face-down in a puddle of something that is cold, sticky, and smells exactly like vomit, because it is vomit. It is pitch-black. His hangover feels like someone has dropped a million marbles on him in one go, leaving his limbs bruised and tender and his head rattling full of noise. He groans.
A sliver of light appears, which quickly expands until it becomes a rectangle, within which two silhouettes move. It’s a doorway. Of course it’s a doorway. He’s back in the studio. Peter can hear the two people at the door speaking to each other:
“Left him here hours ago, I think he’s still here. He’ll probably be shit drunk by now.”
“Goddammit. Right. This happens more than you might think.” This voice older, more authoritative; the silhouette puts its hand on its hip, touching a nightstick or maybe a gun. “I’ll get him out. Can you turn on the lights, please?”
The lights click on. The police officer is standing over him. From his viewpoint on the floor, Peter can see a pair of polished leather shoes and crisp cuffs.
“Come on son, let’s go,” says the police officer, taking him by the arm and hauling him up. She is shockingly strong. Peter allows himself to be dragged.
“Goddammit, you vomited, you little drunk asshole,” she says. “Hey, has anyone ever told you that your face looks like an elephant shit?”
“Dammit,” Peter whispers, “why didn’t I stay with Orkan?” Under his clothes, he feels the weight of the torc around his neck. Maybe some things could be both true and not true.
“You’ll have enough time to think in the drunk tank tonight,” snaps the officer. “Come on. Time for you to get out of here.”
“There’s nothing better than…” slurs Peter, “an ice-cold Brü in the forest.”