Flash Friday: Encyclopedia Antlantica

For fun and practice, several of us in my writing group have decided to write flash fiction every Friday–one-thousand words or less, incorporating a prompt. Sometimes, if I like how they turn out, I might share them here. This week, we used a random prompt generator that gave us three words: madness, underwater, and salesman. I’m really happy with this one. And so I present to you:

image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/ used under creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Encyclopedia Atlantica

by Megan Paasch

As soon as the bubbles clear, I sense trouble. I don’t know what it is that’s tipped me off. There’s just this sense that something isn’t right. My knuckles whiten against the console as I watch the waterline slowly work its way down the windshield of my sub.

[Windshield: An archaic holdover of the Pre-Aquatic Era when glass was required on vehicles to keep a form of air-flow called “wind” off the driver’s face. They were often equipped with “windshield wipers”—long rubberized bars that would move back and forth to clear rain (water that falls from the sky) from the glass, thus increasing visibility.]

My ears pop as the air seal reengages and the pressure normalizes.

“Hello?” I try through the comm. There’s a click and some static. “Hello?” I try again.

Finally, a tinny response: “State your purpose.”

My stomach drops. That’s never a good sign. But not completely unusual. Many of these places in the Deep Trench are more on the suspicious side than up in the Shallows. And still—something is off. What is it?

“I’m here as a representative of Encyclopedia Atlantica. You might find me in your logs from, uh . . .” I take a quick glance at my own log. “About a year ago. Last March.”

“We aren’t interested.”

“You—what all of you?” There must be at least ten thousand people living in this town. I think back. Yes, at least that many. Sure, it’s not nearly as large as, say, New Brooklyn, but there have to be some residents in need of the most recent edition of Encyclopedia Atlantica.

[Brooklyn: A section, referred to as a borough, of the Pre-Aquatic city of New York, known for its tall, rectangular buildings dubbed “sky-scrapers.” It was still inhabited as late as the early Semi-Aquatic until it was finally decimated by one of the massive tsunamis the period was known for, thus ushering in the Modern Aquatic Age.]

The knot in my gut is telling me to just take their word for it. Just leave. Move on to the next town. But I’m already short on my quota due to the Oceanic Encyclopedic Co. edging in on my territory. And according to my log, I managed to sell fifty encyclopedia sets here last year. Again, not nearly as many as I might sell in, say, Mariana City, but I’ll take anything I can get right now. Even, a little voice in the back of my head asks me, if it means risking your inventory? Or your freedom? Or . . . Even the whispering in my head doesn’t want to go that far.

“It’s for-kthkzkthz-own protection,” the voice over the comm states. It buzzes in my eardrums like tiny scratches. I instinctively put my fingers to my ears, and when I pull them away, the bits of wax are red, bloody. I grimace at them, then reach across the seat for a tissue to wipe them clean.

“Is everything all right in there? Maybe I can offer some assistance.” I squint, bracing myself for another painfully scratchy answer over the comm.

But there’s no response. Just static. Though I might have caught the word “scan” in there.

Go. I tell myself. Just leave. I can make up the deficit elsewhere. It’s obvious now what’s happening here. The delayed, roundabout responses. Answers that aren’t answers. No one wants to talk about it. That’s how it was back at—which town was that?

That’s the problem with life as a traveling salesman. You hit so many towns, you start to lose track. I pinch the bridge of my nose and squeeze my eyes shut. That itching between my ears returns, deep between my ears. My head buzzes, buzzes, then stops. I take a breath. I wipe the trickle of moisture from below my right ear, then rub the sticky red on the tissue.

Fine.

“All right. Preparing for re-submersion.” I hope the comm works well enough to send my message through.

“Terribly sorry. We can’t let you-kthz-out there.”

And there it is. There’s my proof. The Madness has them. And if I can’t get them to let me go, the Madness will soon have me too.

[The Madness: Begins with paranoia, then quickly progresses to auditory hallucinations and confusion, rage, and hemorrhaging. Believed highly contagious, this rapidly progressing illness has been known to decimate entire communities, causing massive quarantines, affecting communication, trade, and political stability. There is still no known cause, though some theories suggest it may not be caused by a virus after all, but mass exposure to an as-yet-to-be-identified mold or bacteria.]

“So you won’t let me into your town, but you also won’t let me go.” I’m stalling. Suddenly all of my convincing salesman tactics have left me. Probably because of the buzzing in my head. So much buzzing.

“What if . . .” I stumble out of my chair, clutching my ear with one hand while fumbling with the latch to the truck’s storage bay with the other. “What if I leave you with—with uh—a lifetime supply of these, wonderful. . . .”

The buzzing goddamnit. You know what? They probably don’t have the madness after all. This is all some kind of con to get me to hand over all of my supply. With the Madness panic screwing with the economy, some towns have turned to piracy.

I get the door open and wade through the flooded cargo hold. I still need to get that leak fixed.

“Sir-kthzkthzz-main calm. We must follow proto-kthzkthz-already hit hard. We’re sending some-kthz-escort you to quarantine.”

Oh no. Oh no no no. They’re not holding me when I have encyclopedias to sell. The box’s flap tears in my grip, soggy, speckled black with mold from the damp. I pull out the thickest book and hold it up, ready to swing. Knock ’em out, grab their badges, use them to open the bay doors. I’ve got this. I’ve done this before.

They’re coming.

I’m Writing This With Pokémon in the Background

Writing while the kids are out of school for the summer is haaaaaard. Especially for someone like me, who needs near silence in order to focus on anything, and even then, it’s difficult. And yet, for some reason, I forget this every June. Well . . . to be fair, I don’t completely forget. This June, I very deliberately made the goal to “just work on an outline” over the summer because, for some reason, I thought that would require less concentration than drafting. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.) But with a constant background of TV shows and video games and play-wresting and Lego bin rummaging and and and . . . I haven’t even bothered trying.

And I am perfectly okay with that.

I’ll admit, it usually takes me until about halfway through the summer to come to this level of acceptance. But I’m there now. And here’s the funny part: now that I’m not actively trying to push through the frustration to write, I’m writing. Not an outline, but things like, oh, this blog post. And a synopsis that I’d been beating my head on the keyboard over for literally months. I have an ever lengthening list of agents that I’ve been wanting to query, but haven’t yet, because they want a synopsis with their query letter and for some reason I just could. not. get. it. written. And then suddenly, this week, boom, it’s done. Yay. Now I can get back to querying.

Also, a few of us in my writing group have decided we’re going to start writing and sharing flash fiction with each other every Friday. Flash Friday, we’re calling it. (Original, I know. I came up with it, I think, or we all did, I don’t know. Aren’t I [or we?] creative? Ahem.) We’re taking turns coming up with each prompt, and then we have a week to write one-thousand words or less incorporating that prompt. This Friday will be our first. I . . . haven’t started mine yet, but that’s because I was finishing up my synopsis. I have an idea in my head though, and I’ll probably get started on it today. It doesn’t have to be perfect–that’s the point. We’re just doing this for practice and exercising our creative muscles. No critique, no judgment, just “look, I wrote this! Look! You wrote something too! Yay! We wrote stuff!”

So why this sudden change? I don’t know. Mercury came out of retrograde? Haha. (But maybe?) More likely, it’s because I stopped fighting distraction and leaned into it. Brain doesn’t want to write today? Ok, let’s do something else to engage it. Let’s bake cookies. Or read a book. Or listen to an intriguing podcast. Or crochet a tiny Yoda.

Meta Yodaness is meta.

And by leaning into these distractions and doing other things sans guilt, my frustration has disappeared, and I’ve been able to do writing related things again with the understanding that it’s no big deal if it takes me three times as long to do them, or if I just . . . don’t do them at all. There will be plenty of time to buckle down once school starts again and I get long blocks of quiet time to focus. In September, I’ll be able to reestablish my routine, and the writing magic will return.

So that’s that. Now: I have a flash fiction to write about an underwater salesman. Because I want to. Not because I have to.

Welcome To My Brain

Hi, hello, welcome!

Bonjour, even!

I am rebooting my blog, and this is my first post.

I should probably start by telling you a little bit about who I am, if you don’t already know, but I’m too impatient for that. In all honesty, I’ve been delaying writing the first post of this new incarnation of my blog because I don’t want to write an introduction post. Does anyone ever actually read introduction posts? (Don’t answer that.) If you do want to know who I am though, I have provided a handy-dandy link over on the left, which is aptly titled “Who is Megan.” If you click on it, it will lead you to a selfie and a book-flap length blurb that will list some words describing “me,” but to be honest, this entire paragraph probably tells you more about me than that blurb ever will.

Another reason I’ve been delaying writing this first post is that I can’t decide on a focus for this blog. Everyone says you need to have a focus for your blog and you should stick to it. I’m sorry, but that’s just too much commitment. I have a lot of interests and a lot of things to say on a wide range of topics, and my main areas of interest change depending on what kind of mood I’m in, so no. (This probably also tells you a lot about me.) But just so you can get some kind of idea as to what you may expect to find when you visit this blog, here’s a list of things I think about a lot and will, in all likelihood, write about at some point in the future:

  • The Ways in Which I Am Attempting to Put Words on the Page
  • The Ways in Which I Am Avoiding Putting Words on the Page
  • My Children’s Plots to Destroy My Sanity, But Also How Cute They Are
  • My Cats’ Plots to Destroy My Sanity, But Also How Cute They Are
  • Are My Kids and Cats Working Together, or Do They Have Separate Agendas That Just Happen to Intersect?
  • Things I Love
  • Things That Drive Me Nuts
  • Ways in Which I Am Currently Trying To Better Myself That You Might Want to Try Too (Or Not. That’s Your Business, Not Mine. I Don’t Judge.)
  • History Stuff Because I Have a History Degree and Am Not Using It, So Here, Learn Some Historical Things. You’re Welcome.
  • How Horribly Disorganized I Am. I’ll Bet You Can Relate. Let’s Commiserate.
  • That Last Topic Rhymed
  • Doctor Who
  • More Doctor Who
  • My-Oh-My, Thor and Captain America Are Really Quite Buff, Aren’t They?
  • This List Has Devolved
  • I Should Stop Listing Things Now

So. There you have it. Those are some of the things you can probably expect me to write about here in a horribly infrequent manner that I will feel guilty about, causing me to start off each post with sentences like “sorry I haven’t posted in a while” and “oops, I haven’t posted in six months, haha, my bad.” …Judging from past blogging attempts, anyway.

Oh! And I suppose I should explain the name of this blog. I have a secret, you see. I’m always angry. Wait . . . wait, that’s not it. Hold on. *thinks* Ohhhh right. I named it Rhymes with Smash, not because I am the Hulk, but because my name is Megan Paasch, and Paasch rhymes with the word “smash.” You would think it rhymes with “smosh,” but it does not. It rhymes with “smash.”

Welcome to Rhymes With Smash!