It's a very short flash piece that I wrote for a contest (I didn't win) which is a little embarrassing for me to say, because it might be terrible. But I think I actually like it, quite a bit, so maybe I'll stop trying to convince you not to read it. Anyway, here goes, it's titled: Tally.
One-hundred and three. It's the number of minutes his concentration has been broken by the unceasing clatter. He doesn't write the number down, that would involve too much scratching out (he is partial to pens), and a greater paper investment than he is willing to entertain.
One-hundred and four. Plus one to the tally he's keeping on his right hand. He's using a dot and line system to avoid a larger-than-necessary skin investment.
Not recording... that would be out of the question.
One-hundred and five.
And he believes it appears less mad than his hand covered with the tick marks of a more easily-recognizable regional tally system. He is wrong, but he hasn't considered that. This is a first, for him.
One-hundred and six. He's wondering if he should switch to counting hours after tally eighty-three. Tally eighty-three because he didn't start his count until minute thirty-seven. He's wondering if he should just add the first thirty-six. It would throw off the pattern, the uniformity of the system.
One-hundred and seven.
“What do you suppose that sound is?” he swivels and talks to her back. They do not speak: he stutters. What has gotten in to him?
She doesn't swivel, she barely arches her neck to give him a half-faced sneer, highlit by the phosphorescence of her terminal.
A glance at his hand, and she turns up her nose. “Sound?”
One-hundred and eight. He cannot bear to have her look at him, but somehow, from beneath the burden of the cosmos, one scrawny arm points upwards from his wilting body. His eyebrows raise expectantly, hopefully, just before he turns to stone.
One-hundred and nine. Her sigh has the force to disintegrate him. Luckily, she releases it mid exaggerated eye-roll, so it dissipates harmlessly in the atmosphere above her. She turns, and, free from her half-gaze, his body returns to flesh.
One-hundred and ten. 'What … is … that … sound?' He Googles. He means, 'What is the source?' After one-hundred and ten minutes, he has a nuanced understanding of the sound itself: a barely-perceived grinding of dull metal on metal, not unlike the failed shifting of a manual transmission, but lower. Lower, and constant.
One-hundred and eleven. He is reminded of the dentist. He imagines the hooks raking across his teeth; the detachment of the Slavic woman who runs a miniaturized sander across his gums. He alone chooses “I'm Feeling Lucky” when assailed by such sensations.
One-hundred and twelve. It's louder here. The black stretches behind him for miles, and above: the turning gears. Ahead is a man, a door at his left. Harsh light creeps in at the edges; a coolness at odds with the swelter of the dark.
“Ah, one of our workers! You heard the sound, will you open the door?”
“I... I...” he deflates.
On letterhead; the paper investment of this tally isn't so great. He's gray. He taps out the letters, forms the question, and ponders his luck.
And there you have it. As always please let me know what you think, keep an eye out, and keep reading!