I published this short-short story in Planet Magazine in 2000. I’m re-publishing it for the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge, Wendig have mercy on my ramshackle soul. As I read this old piece, I recall that shortly after I abandoned writing. I didn’t fear being untalented. In actuallity, few published writers of note were born with this innate to work random bits of language into an adventure, a love story, an extra-solar epic or supernatural gore-fest. They just made it happen in spite of it.
I knew that at the time I didn’t have the nerve. I was encouraging to get published in a noted Sci-fi website, but I knew following up would be much harder. Then next stories didn’t come so easy as if i was tying my shoes with chopstiks. I laid my pen down and put aside the childish idea that I would make a living making stuff up.
Nearly five years later, I still didn’t have the nerve, but realized it would have to be built from the ground up. It’s still growing ,and feel it growing under my skin, bits of story and drama channeling at light speed. I’ve gotten this far. Can’t stop now.
“Hellooo Ms. Anderson-Lee”
Doug Douglas screamed at his kids to get out of the doorway. He carefully wedged a new 27” TV through the narrow doorway. He looked for a place to set it down on the worn beige carpeted floor toys scattered about. A video game was sprawled across the bare floor, game cassettes strewn about. The controller wires snagged Doug’s feet as the lumbered across the living room. He set it down with cautious ease on the sofa. Within twenty minutes he pulled the tv out of the box, removed the Styrofoam braces, then put the new tv where the old, busted set used to be. He impressed himself as he matched the male and female cable cords to right slots and had the cable box, the VCR and the video game patched in like a telephone worker figures out the vermicelli of wires in junction box.
He cracked a beer, sat on his lazy boy, and studied the newfangled remote control. It had more buttons than a 747 cockpit. Fucksakes, he said, you need an engineering degree just to watch Monday Football. How do you turn this goddam thing on. Different shapes confused him, arrows, triangles, ovoids, letters denoting functions he never would use. He contemplated returning the damn thing.
Seventy Years before Doug was born, Fargo T. Farnsworth, the raconteur inventor and boy-genius, demonstrated his new invention, the cathode ray television, to a wealthy cadre of Connecticut venture capitalists. “Imagine”
He said, gesturing the inactive gray bulb, no bigger than a headlight. “Million upon millions of people experiencing as single moment together, all transfixed by the same imago, all one nation. Lets see Wilson and his League whip this.
“Sounds to me,” said one the investors, dipping his stovepipe hat to him,” like the framework that will make laudanum look like camoline tea. I think this is good idea, but not for this time, especially with a world to rebuild”
Fargo flipped an array of toggle switches and the bulb came alive. The image was mottled as reflection in a gray pond, then they sharpened, and the figure of a beautiful girl appeared. She began to sing. The stovepipes leaned in around the tube, transfixed by the darkly sensuous beauty of the woman. Fargo stood aside, smile beaming. He had set up the demonstration before the Stovepipes arrived, the girl was in a studio next door. The field of stipipes bayed words like remarkable, ingenious, I could touch her. They turned to Ferris,
“This could make us millions, nay, billions” he postulated.
“Im still enmarveld with radio, this…is indescribable”
“Come with me to the studio, and I’ll show how the pictures get there to here. “ He said, “as well as the lovely nightingale.” They all exited too the studio, leaving the lab empty except for the TV.
Moments later, a middle aged, salt and pepper bearded man entered the studio. He looked cautiously around, have in marvel that he was actually here, but also bottling a rage spurred fifty years after Doug Douglas fumbled with the remote control. His name was Dr. Hughes Farnsworth, a given name since he was not a blood relative of Fargo. The “Doctor” title was ornamental, since the last literature class concluded ten years ago, in his own time. Dr. Hughes approached the TV, seeing the stovepipes vying to kiss the hand of the nightingale and gazing into the opalesque eye of the camera. Inside him, he wanted to take a bat to the infernal machine that had enslave generations to the spectacles its cursed screen, that had put him in the street. But that was not his plan. He too saw the Berlin Wall come down, the Second Moon Mission, the horror of the Oklahoma bombing. He knew these images instructed many about events around the world, made them tactile. But in the same frame, It dulled the intelligence of many, reducing their fickle attentions to mere blips, disconnected them from their local culture, from each other. So he thought. He was obsolete. This was his Oklahoma bombing.
In his satchel he took out a blueprint then compared it to the vacuum tube menagerie of the TV. He found what we call the channel changer, the device which made it possible for moderns to switch channel. A device which made device controllable for the populous. “It is a fantastic machine designed for the dullard.” He found it, removed it and put it in his pocket. He glanced a minute at the stovepipes scrabbling across the screen. It really was a wonder, in this time.
His mission was accomplished, his one way trip through time complete. He wished he could send a letter of apology to Dr. Bhopa for time-jacking his prototype. But it was necessary. His next order of business was to carefully gut the machine of its circuits, then burn them and the capsule beyond recognition. Anyone who found the charred heaps would think it was another failed, queer looking automobile. He was a scion of this time now, he would die years later in a Nashville soup kitchen of tuberculosis, a disease his future tense immune system couldn’t fight. They buried him a paupers mass grave, but he died satisfied that he had save culture.
Its Doug Douglas’s time now.
He brings in the Tv, puts in on the console where the older set stood. He unpackages the control, which looks like something between a scientific calculator and a telemetry panel for finding satellites. But since classes in geometry, astronomy, and calc was compulsory for finding the eight channels of the machine, he didn’t feel embarrassed he was only a pipe fitter with only a first year understanding of engineering.
“Ok, let’s fire this thing up. The cosine of the telemetry of the satellite squared by the root. Put in Maxwells equation, say a little prayer and….Hellooo Ms. Anderson-Hawking.”