The trickster travels with the fisherman. It’s about ignoring responsibility. The genre/topic: dystopia. Word count: 3000@SciFiBotPrompt
Haven’t had much to offer lately, thus the stagnant website. But I made a deal with Twitter buddy@bryanna_gary to post twice a week, so I grabbed a prompt from the wonderful @SciFiBotPrompt and got to work. I didn’t meet the word count, but at least I met my deadline! Enjoy!
“When was the last time you saw a fish?”
Jacob looks up from his phone and eyes the man across the aisle. The bus jumps as it crashes over a deep pothole in the crumbling highway. “I had fish last week,” Jacob says. He holds a fishing rod in his right hand, its handle resting in a crater in the rubber flooring, the rod part curving up and over his right shoulder. A crumpled backpack rests on the floor between his legs, its straps snaking under the seat.
The man leans forward, rests his elbows on his knees, and eases his smiling face into the aisle between them. “Yeah, but, like . . . a real fish. You know, swimming. In water?” The sleeves of his tattered tweed sport coat wrinkle around his elbows. He reaches up to scratch a spot of flaky skin under the band of his black beanie. His eyes are red and crusted with yellow-gray mucus.
Jacob frowns. He looks up at the grubby roof and shuffles his feet. The lugged soles of his boots chatter over what’s left of the ridges in the aisle. “Um. I think I was a kid. At an aquarium?” He lowers his gaze and meets the stranger’s eyes. “What’s it to you?”
The man nods at the fishing rod cradled in Jacob’s right hand. “That. Haven’t seen one in ages. Started thinking about the last time I saw a real fish. Think it was in a pet store.” The man grins, revealing a row of yellowed teeth. One incisor is cracked, thin black lines branching down from the gum line.
The bus clatters over another pothole, jostling both men in their seats. Jacob peers past the stranger and through the window behind him. Stands of scraggly yellow grass streak by, their blades blurring against the orange sky. The blackened, skeletal remains of a burned-up strip mall crouches in the distance.
“So . . .” the stranger pauses to lick his lips, “you going fishing?” Another yellow-toothed smile.
Jacob takes a breath and shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Yeah, probably,” he replies. He pockets his phone and reaches down to grasp the handle on the backpack between his feet.
The stranger glances at the pack, then settles back into his seat. “Wow, must be nice,” he says. “I’m Mort,” he says. He holds up his hand in a greeting. The creases in his palm are black with dirt. “Nice to meet you.”
Jacob nods in response. “Jake,” he says.
“Where you headed, Jake? I didn’t think there was any clean water nearby.” Mort motions at the passing scenery.
“Alaska,” Jacob replies.
“Whoo, the promised land! Quite a trip, Jake.” Mort breathes out and raises his eyebrows, smashing them into the band of this beanie. “You must be pretty special to have those kind of travel plans.”
“IsoNet,” Jake replies. He twists the backpack’s handle, his knuckles flashing white.
Mort seems even more surprised. “Wow, the big social media site, huh? Heard things got pretty dicey over there. You know anything about that?”
Jacob shakes his head and shifts in his seat again.
“Didn’t they burn the office down? The protestors?” Mort crosses his arms across his chest.
The protestors smashed into the lobby, rode the elevator up to the 5th floor, and poured gasoline on everything in the middle of the night. Jacob was at home, but he got the emergency instant message on his phone.
“Wasn’t my office,” Jacob says. He looks past Mort at the dried-up scenery beyond.
“Ah,” says Mort. “That’s good.” He uncrosses his arms and leans forward into the aisle again. “I used to work at MINCHIP, you know.”
“MINCHIP?” Jacob unconsciously reaches for the MINCHIP phone in his pocket. “Really? In sales or?”
“Ha!” Mort barks. Several passengers look up from their phones to see what’s going on. “I wish,” he says. “I worked in the cafeteria.”
“Oh.” Jacob’s cheeks redden.
“So what’s with the fishing pole, Jake?” Mort reaches out to touch the pole, but jerks his hand back before his fingers reach it. “Sorry, I still forget about the whole plague thing.”
The pole belonged to Jacob’s grandfather. There were pictures of the old man at some crystal-clear lake, his thick finger hooked into the mouth of a huge silvery fish. It dangled lifelessly in his grasp, sunlight glinting off its scales. The old man was a great storyteller and told Jake all about his epic battles with various underwater monsters. The fish fought hard, but grandpa was always triumphant. “One day I’ll take you out to the lake, Jake,” he used to say. It never happened.
“It was my grandfather’s,” Jacob says. He doesn’t know why he’s answering this strange man’s questions. “Hasn’t been used in years. I . . . I don’t really know how to fish, not yet.”
“Good luck with that. Hope there’s still fish up in Alaska,” Mort says.
“Me too.” Jacob releases his grip on the backpack and relaxes into his seat. “So . . . MINCHIP?” He feels himself opening up a bit, trusting this “Mort” a bit more.
Mort picks at his teeth, sucks whatever he dislodged into his mouth and swallows. “Yep. Food service. Cook. Served a lot of you guys before the plague. Then . . . well, you know.” Mort gestures to his dirty clothes, then the scenery streaking by outside the window.
“I’m not one of the guys anymore. I left IsoNet.” Jacob’s gaze falls on the worn-out aisle between them.
“Like, for good?”
“For good. I really wanted to leave after the data leak, but I wanted the money. The fire sort of, I donno, set me free.” Jacob looks back up at Mort, looks directly into the man’s bloodshot eyes. They shine, despite the irritation and crystalized mucus
“Must be nice,” Mort says for the second time. He picks his teeth, runs his tongue across them. “So you like fire, Jake?” The light in Mort’s eyes shifts into the infrared, throwing pure heat into the space between them.
Jacob feels the anger and rage in his guts—icy cold and acidic at the same time. He doesn’t know how to answer.
“Sure you do. Set you free, didn’t it?” Mort reaches into the pocket of his blazer and pulls out a dented Zippo lighter, like a movie cliche. He strikes it, lets it burn for a second, then snaps the lighter shut and stuffs it back into his pocket. He chuckles and the heat fades from his eyes. “Lighten up, Jake . . . And maybe say thank you.”
The bus’ robotic voice breaks the tension. “Next stop, Cascade Station.”
“This is me,” Mort says. He eases up off the seat, swaying a bit as the bus rounds a corner. “Have a good one, Jake.” He takes a few uneasy steps toward the doors, his hand on the grubby railing.
Jacob’s nose stings as Mort gets closer. It hasn’t worked quite right since he got sick last spring, but the smell is strong enough to register anyway: Gasoline.
Mort smiles, his cracked tooth flashing in the sharp blue glow of the overhead LEDs. “Hope you catch something,” he says. The bust trundles to a stop, the doors hiss open, and mort staggers out into the smokey air.
Jacob’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out to see a notification from his coworker, sent through an encrypted client: [it was you? you’re all over the news IsoNet is after you where are you]
The bus chimes. “Next stop, Portland airport.”
Jacob turns off his phone and sets it down on the seat next to him. He stands up and throws the backpack’s strap over one shoulder. The bus stops and the doors hiss open. He grabs the fishing rod and steps down onto the ashy pavement.