A Day Late and a World Short #3

#2: Skip Mobley & Inn Hiller

What does Skip Mobley do while he waits for the train? He wanders, he paces, he reads the ads, he wonders who the hell they’re supposed to inspire. He foots the stubbly yellow bumps that tell people they’re about to walk onto the tracks. He wonders who the hell they’re supposed to warn, since he’s never seen anybody jump. Never even seen anybody stumble. Do people even still do that? Seems like the cops here are more lethal than the trains.

He reads the train schedule, slides his finger along the dirty plastic until he reaches the 12:00 – 13:00 column for SUNDAY, and wouldn’t you know it, the train’s three minutes late already. If you were trying to jump in front of the damn train, you’d end up late for your own suicide.

Late for your own suicide. That’s a good one. Skip pulls a small notebook out of his pocket and scribbles it down, just below “Sociopaths Do It Intentionally.”

Seventy-eight seconds later, when the train finally comes, nobody jumps, of course; and then the doors open, some people leave, some people enter, and Skip manages to find a chair.

His knees, naked through the holes in his jeans, rub against the rough fabric of the seat in front of him. Really rather unsanitary—these fabric seats from the 70’s are supposed to be just riddled with staph—but, c’mon, it’s his knees. Nobody ever got knee staph.

Inn Hiller is soldering something while smoking a cigarette, which is really just a terrible idea for any number of reasons, but it does produce the interesting visual effect of two kinds of smoke with different densities intermingling, like vines growing on the naked air. So there’s that, at least.

He’s seated on an area of his porch that he’s built a retractable room around in case he ever needed an extra room on the porch. It’s delightful to sleep in during the rainy season. Rain can be soothing like that. Unless it gets windy and the walls start to flap. There’s a reason this part of the porch is an extra room.

Right now, he’s got three walls of the room down to afford him modest protection from the environment while he works on his project. Which, in this case, is a small circuit inside an Altoids tin that can turn off televisions from fifteen feet away, for when you find yourself in the sort of situation where you want to turn off a television for which you do not, for whatever reason, possess the remote.

Inn’s phone, sitting on the table nearby, chirps. “Doorbell!” it reads. Skip must be here. Inn cleans up the fragile parts and unplugs the hot parts and heads out of the extra room, onto the porch, through the studio, down the stairs, through the garden, and to the front gate, passing any number of housemates and cats along the way and saying hi when appropriate. Sure, he could have just buzzed Skip in, but that wouldn’t be very polite, now, would it?

He opens the various gates and lets Skip in. They say “Hey!” to each other in an exaggerated manner and hug. Inn inquires as to Skip’s general state of being, and Skip answers and reciprocates, and the small talk continues until they reach the studio.

The studio is a sprawling expanse of mismatched chairs, tables, and discarded industrial wire spools turned on their sides. Surfaces are variously scattered with oscilloscopes, circuitry, computers, film, and the like. In the corner sits a room with a door and a window. Its interior walls are completely covered in brass sheeting, the window a repurposed microwave door.

Inn leads Skip to an area that is mostly concerned with editing analog video footage. “I’ve got everything ready for editing,” he says. “I already took out all of the useless footage. It’s in the box—” he tilts his head towards a large filing cabinet—“if you decide you want hours of unchanging dark rooms or something. Anyway, here.” He hands Skip a thumb drive. “Shall we watch?”

Skip tosses the thumb drive in his hand a few times. Hard to believe that video storage was so light these days. Then again, the actual film this was developed from would have weighed several pounds, especially if you included the junk from the box. “Yeah, let’s go,” he says. They head into the room with the brass sheeting.

The shelves inside the room are stacked with storage devices, a number of laptops and CB radios, speakers and iPods and batteries, really everything a geek might need after the apocalypse happens. This is because the room is a faraday cage—a room that can neither accept nor emit electromagnetic radiation. Inn built it so that he would have a room where he could work with potentially dangerous data, in the event that somebody might be watching. A paranoid thought, yes, but it was a good precaution in case he ever got involved in something that you’d need a room like that for. Plus, it was a fun thing to build.

The items that stock the shelves, though, were placed there in a fit of rather intense paranoia by some of the other residents. These residents would be people who adhere to the theory that somebody, somewhere is planning to attack Silicon Valley with a massive electromagnetic pulse, which would effectively destroy around 50% of the American tech sector and kind of ruin things for a lot of people. So when they heard that Inn was building a large, electromagnetic pulse-proof room, they decided to fill it with computers, broadcasting radios, and party supplies.

It takes all kinds.

Seated inside the faraday cage, Skip watches Inn unroll a screen from a hook fastened to the ceiling, walk to the other end of the room, push some buttons and play with some cords attached to an LCD projector, smack the LCD projector, curse in several languages (French, English, Japanese, and at least two others that Skip can’t place), adjust the cords again, unplug everything and then plug it in again, and before he knows it, there’s a movie ready to be watched on the screen. Inn pushes a button somewhere that apparently means ‘play,’ and then he sits down, and now they’re both watching a rough cut of Skip’s footage.

A room with cluttered shelves lining the walls. A small table in the middle. Sometimes three chairs, sometimes four. Lights on. Lights off. Etc. People in janitors’ uniforms requiring things from the shelves. Suddenly, a meeting. Two bulky men in suits enter and stare at things, then sit down. A small woman enters. The door closes, the door opens. A man enters. He looks around the room, catches the eyes of the men in suits, and they all nod. He looks at the camera. His eyes are of two different colors.

He sits down across from the small woman and produces a laptop. It is black, with strange white markings. He opens it and pays attention to its screen for a moment; then he speaks.

The conversation…

“Where’s the audio?” Skip asks.

“There wasn’t any.”

“I’m quite certain there was. There should have been, at any rate.”

Inn looks around warily and bolts from the room. A few minutes later, he returns, a sheepish look on his face.

“Yeah yeah, I know how this goes. You say ‘Are you high?!’ and I do my best impression of the Duke, and you say ‘What do I even pay you for?’ and I say ‘You don’t pay me!’ and we have a good laugh. Come back tomorrow, OK?”

After a second, he says slyly, “While we’re here, wanna watch something else?”

“This didn’t work the last three times and it’s not going to work this time. We are not watching The Room.”

A Day Late and a World Short #2


what everybody was up to last week

#1: Utah Houston

The first thing Utah Houston notices, as he tries to stand nonchalantly in the elevator, is that his pants are a little tight. True, he hasn’t worn this suit in ages, but that is unlikely to be the cause of his current discomfort, as Utah Houston represents the pinnacle of human fitness.

No, it’s most likely the result of the handgun he has tucked in at the small of his back. It hides conveniently under his beige suit coat, ready to be used at a moment’s notice, though hopefully he won’t have to, because sometimes when you get into a firefight wearing a light suit you end up staining the damn thing. He ordinarily would have worn the black suit for a job like this, but wearing a black suit in Las Vegas in September makes one stick out a bit too much.

Fortunately for Utah Houston, he is on retainer, and there is more than enough in the account to cover any dry cleaning expenses he might incur.

And so he stands in the elevator, wondering about the cost of a mid-range suit these days what with the price of wool being what it is, and tries to act casual. It seems to be working, as the smartly-dressed and extremely tall woman in front of him has barely even noticed his existence, save for a curt nod when she entered. The more normal-sized man standing next to her is also barely being acknowledged, and appears to be wilting a bit from the heat, probably due largely to his wool suit. He must not be used to the desert. At any rate, nobody is paying attention to anybody.

The elevator speakers play what seems to be a smooth jazz version of a Norwegian dirge-metal song. This has been one of Utah Houston’s stranger trips to Vegas.

The glass elevator glides effortlessly up the side of the Heppinn Resort & Casino.

Utah Houston exits the elevator on the 63rd floor, seven floors above where the wilted man exited, and one floor below what the tall woman selected, which is also the top floor accessible by this particular elevator. He exits casually, with a forward flip of the wrist on the hand he is using to hold his briefcase. This is a universally recognized symbol of nonchalance, approximately two steps below casual whistling and nowhere near as suspicious.

The hallway that he enters into is sparse and well-lit with doors on either side approximately every fifteen feet. They are numbered like street addresses, with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other. Utah recalls his instructions and heads down towards room number forty-three. When he arrives, he presses against the wall and breathes deeply. He can hear the sounds of a meeting taking place. He does not recognize the language.

Noting the emergency exit a short way down the hall, he kneels down and rapidly retrieves two cylindrical objects from the briefcase, closing it almost as soon as it is opened. He runs his fingers along their perforated surfaces and tests their weight. He nods as though he has made a difficult decision and places one of them in his front-right pocket. After carefully ensuring the hallway is empty, he opens the briefcase and positions it to the right of the door. He jiggles the doorknob very lightly. It is unlocked.

After taking another deep breath with his eyes closed, Utah Houston pulls the pin from the stun grenade, counts to two, and opens the door. He quickly identifies the large conference table and lobs the grenade onto it, and then retreats to the hallway, pulls the door shut, and covers his ears. A blinding white light seeps through the crack below the door, accompanied by the sound of an explosion that would be deafening to somebody who had not wisely positioned themselves outside of the room and covered their ears. And then he throws open the door.

Utah Houston scans the room, searching through the haze of fluttering papers and disoriented humans, and finds his goal. He dashes in, springs off the shoulder of a large man who appears to be recovering rather faster than normal, and moves to the end of the table. He kneels over the laptop he has been tasked to retrieve—some black metal job with strange white markings—and has just closed it when somebody grabs his ankle and gives it a sharp tug, making him crash down to the tabletop on his chest.

He rolls over and looks up to see a man flashing his teeth in an expression bordering on amusement. His eyes are two different colors. Utah kicks this man in the face. Once freed from his grip, he grabs the laptop, checks that the exit is clear, activates and drops the second grenade, bolts out of the room, and closes the door. Once again he covers his ears and waits for the bang, then he quickly puts the laptop in the waiting briefcase and runs down the hallway to the emergency exit.

Upon his opening the door, an alarm sounds.

Utah exits the Heppinn in the standard manner, by hurrying down the stairs until he ends up in a stream of evacuees, and then ducking out before the security response can really get started. He greets the afternoon sun with apprehension—they really do keep those casinos dark, don’t they? He reaches into his inner jacket pocket only to find the shattered remains of a pair of aviators. One more item for the expense report.

A Day Late and a World Short #1

I thiiiink this one is gonna be long. Here’s part 1, feedback encouraged. (Parts will be shortish and episodic–I have about 10,000 words written but it’s pretty scattershot.)


Back cover blurb

San Francisco’s not normally the sort of place you’d look to for the start of the apocalypse. But that’s exactly where it happens when Skip Mobley, purveyor of hot and cold beverages and amateur filmmaker, falls in with the wrong crowd of Norwegian gangsters, veterinarians, bartenders, and Norse deities. In a frantic journey spanning the globe from Colorado to Keflavík, Skip & co. fight against the clock to prevent, well, the end of the world.


The screen flickers between different kinds of static and eventually it finds a test pattern.  5 bip, 4 bip, 3 bip, bip, black.  The scene that follows is filmed in a concrete room with shelves of supplies, canned food, ammunition, it’s obviously some sort of shelter, and there’s a chair.  The camera shakes and a man with singed black hair and torn clothes sits on the chair, leans in, and adjusts something behind the lens.

He clears his throat.  “Hi,” he says.  The voice comes out hoarse and he coughs.  “Um, first off, if there are any film buffs watching, I’d like to apologize for the quality of most of the footage.  I shot it mostly with cameras between iPhone video and VHS quality… not my preferred tools, of course.  There’s a good Hemingway quote about, um–“

A voice yells from across the room, weary yet thunderous.  “We don’t have time for this.”

“Right,” Skip says.  “Sorry.  So anyway, if you’d like to see some of my other films, well, if you manage to find a copy of Sir Why Are You Leaving or Sometimes Not Rarely in what’s left of the Cal Berkeley library–“

“Get to the point, Skip, we’re running out of time.”

Skip coughs a few times and looks to his right.  “OK, OK, relax.”  He looks back at the camera.  “Anyway, sorry for the quality of the footage, I did what I could.”  He leans forward into the camera, a new urgency playing on his face.  “My name is Skip Mobley, and what you’re watching is a documentary film, my last one and as I have said by no means my masterpiece.  It’s about, um, the end of the world. Here we go.”