Short Story: Jinki the Tinker

Jinki Shizzlecrunk pulled a lever on the side of her tent. The lever connected to a string, which was pulled tight. The other end of the string was connected to the foot of a rooster who let out a squawk and ran.

Some might say the rooster ran like a chicken with its head cut off. But in fact chickens with their head off run like a rooster attached to an automagical-folding-tent. They run in big circles wildly trying to get away. But their brains are too small, or in some cases too unattached, to realize they aren’t getting anywhere.

Gears and cogs spun. A loud whirring and cranking sound came from the contraption which further scared the rooster who ran even harder. The tent collapsed. Articulated metal arms accordioned in, neatly collapsing the tent into a compact form.

With the tent now folded, Jinki threw the rooster into a cage. The cage, tent, and belongings were all piled onto, into, and in some cases hung from a cleverly designed backpack. All told, the backpack was at least twice the height of the young gnome, and much too heavy for her to move unaided. It wouldn’t have been a problem for a human, but gnomes came in at around half the height of an adult human. Jinki had solved that problem with a series of metal bars, pulleys, and rope which served to reduce the effort required to lift the load but left her looking like some sort of medieval cyborg.

The road to the next village was long and dangerous, but it wasn’t even sunrise yet so she figured she could make the journey in one day as long as she didn’t run into trouble. Jinki didn’t normally have any problems with bandits. Her pack might have been filled to the brim, but there was little any thief would want.

To be fair, this wasn’t why they didn’t bother her. It had more to do with the ridiculous contraption she was wearing and the universal spirit of my-god-surely-its-going-to-collapse-and-crush-her-any-minute that every onlooker had. She was protected from bandits by the spectacle. In fact, sometimes the bandits themselves protected her from wild predators just so the show wouldn’t be ruined.

The pack clanked and jingled on Jinki’s back like someone trying to close an overstuffed junk drawer. But it wasn’t junk, at least not to Jinki Shizzlecrunk. It was the stuff dreams were made of. The bag was overstuffed with gears, pulleys, rods, and all manner of gizmos. Trash to most humans. But one man’s trash was another gnome’s autonomous-hole-digger or automatic-dog-crusher.

That last one had been a horrible accident, but it turned out the device worked on melons pretty well. Although come to think of it, there didn’t seem to be a good reason to crush melons. Now, dropping them off a building, that was tried and true scientific method there. Need to make sure gravity is still working properly? Melon dropping gets you there every time. And if you should happen to need a crushed melon at the same time? Well, that was killing two birds with one melon.

That gave Jinki an idea for a melon cannon, but she mentally filed it for later. She didn’t have any melons on hand. While she could probably make a reasonable wireframe facsimile, it wouldn’t break properly when it hit the target, and how was she supposed to find the most efficient melon crushing method if she didn’t use an actual melon?

It was possible, she supposed, that she was getting off track slightly. Keep it together Shizzlecrunk. No one needs a melon crusher. Now a melon baller, now that was something everyone would surely want.

“Get out of the way!”

Jinki whirled around and spotted a horse-drawn carriage fast approaching. She attempted to step backward, but the contraption holding up her pack wasn’t designed for reverse movement. The hinge on the leg was designed to only move one way as part of the pack-stabilization-thingamajig.

Shizzlecrunk fell to the ground with a loud clatter.

Onlookers hidden in the bushes groaned or silently cheered as the pack managed to not crush her to death. Jinki climbed to her feet slowly. A couple of gold coins exchanged hands as a series of wagers played out.

The carriage continued without slowing down, In fact, it might even have sped up.

“Well, if their wheel breaks, they better not come begging me for help.”

“Hello!” a voice shouted from a distance away into the trees.

“Yes!?” Jinki shouted a reply. “Come on out if you’re planning on robbing me!”

“Help! Please! I’m not sure how much longer I can hang on!”

Shizzlecrunk forced her way through the underbrush and ran into the woods towards the voice. It was a sort of run anyway, the pack didn’t allow much speed. She climbed over roots and gullies as best she could, her pack bouncing up and down as she went.

She almost ran off the side of a cliff.

“I’m down here!” cried the voice.

Shizzlecrunk looked down the face of the rocky edifice. There, hanging from a root, was an elderly human. The weight of her pack almost pulled Jinki over the edge. She teetered for a moment but managed to regain her balance. She thought she heard the faint clinking of coins exchanging hands in the bushes, but there was no time to give it much thought.

Jinki stepped back and hit the quick release which allowed her to step out of the cobbled together mechanical bracings and set the pack on the ground. She flattened herself on the ground and reached out her hand, but it was clear that even if the man let go with one hand and stretched, he still wouldn’t be able to reach.

“Just great,” he said. “A gnome. Couldn’t have been a human or even an elf? They’re pretty tall.”

“Sorry,” Jinki said. “I can leave if you want?”

“No, no. I love gnomes. One of my best friends is a gnome. Do you have a rope or something?” he asked.

“Would you be able to pull yourself up? I’m just a gnome after all,” she said with a hint of disdain in her voice.

The old man nodded his bald head at his spindly arms, “No, I don’t think so. The only reason I haven’t fallen is my arthritis won’t let my fingers let go. These old arms ain’t what they used to be.”

Jinki started rifling through the contents of her bag. “No worries. I’ll get you up here in a jiffy. We’ll just have to use science.”

Jinki grabbed a rope. Then a couple of pulleys. She started pulling springs, valves, and cogs out and assembling them. The rooster crowed She had a plan for something that was definitely going to work. It would just take a bit to work out the kinks.

The sun rose over the forest. The rooster began to crow to let the world know that morning had arrived, but the sound turned into one of fear as Jinki eyed the cage and approached with the rope. Roosters don’t have very large brains, but this one had been used as the engine for enough devices to know that it wasn’t going to like this.

The sun was setting in the distance. It was really quite beautiful, but there was no time to appreciate that, After a few false starts, a couple of prototypes, and a complete redesign the machine was finally assembled.

“There we go! Now we’ll get you up here no problem,” Jinki said.

She smacked the side of her latest contraption, the automatic-rope-puller-upper. She flipped a lever. The rooster squawked and ran. Rope started spooling out of the machine and dropping down the cliff face. “Now just grab a hold and it’ll pull you right up.”

There was no sound from the man.

Jinki looked over the side of the cliff and didn’t see him anywhere. Oh-

No, she did see him. He was at the bottom of the cliff.

This wasn’t the first time Jinki had been slow with device construction, but it was the first time she’d been responsible for someone’s death. Next time she would have to build faster. Perhaps a device that could be assembled that would aid in the quicker prototyping? Or possibly increase build speed itself? With the correct application of forces, one could construct mechanical arms and fingers that could move faster than living ones.

Or maybe she shouldn’t have built the scale replica beforehand. Next time she could settle for all the sketches. And if a replica was needed, maybe it didn’t have to be built to such exacting detail.

Jinki spent a few hours building a device that would disassemble the automatic-rope-puller-upper and was proud of how few prototypes she ended up making.

It was terrible that the old man died. But the good news was, at least the machine worked.

As the gnome wandered into the woods and back to the path, two men crawled out of the bushes. They walked to the edge of the cliff and peered down at the body down below.

The first man said, “Well, I guess you win the bet.” He handed the second man a couple of gold coins.

The second man took the coins and secreted them away, “My back is killing me. I can’t believe we had to sit in these bushes all day. Still, it was worth it. Sometimes robbing people gets a little tiresome, you know. Always have to run away, nobody trusts you. It’s tiresome. Sorry again about…” He vaguely gestured at his urine soaked trousers.

“Don’t worry about it. A bet’s a bet. Can you believe that guy thought we were going to pay his family if he fell to his death?”

“I know we’re thieves, but maybe we should pay them. We told the man we would do something, we should do it. I have my honor, you know. Even if I don’t have my dignity.” He gestured again at his damp pants.

“Wait, what?”

“No, I’ve been thinking about it all day. We have to do it. If we show up with the coins and his corpse, they’ll never think we’re thieves. Then we can rob them in the night, we won’t have to run, and they’ll still make us breakfast in the morning.”

Short Story: The Garage

There are times when no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to do anything right. For Miranda, those times came often. It was always something. She tried, oh how she tried to do right, but it never failed. She would always do something stupid and her husband, Bruce, would get mad.

She had done something stupid.

She hadn’t paid attention in a while, and her van was way past due for an oil change. Bruce was going to be so angry. Miranda didn’t want him to be angry.

When he had come home he had mentioned he was out getting serviced. A moment later, Miranda had remembered her van. But he was on the phone. She didn’t want to eavesdrop, but if she didn’t talk to him as soon as he was off again, she might forget about the van. She knew there would be hell to pay if she interrupted. There was always hell to pay.

She knew she was doing wrong, but sometimes you had to do wrong to do right.

“Yeah the ball and chain tried to give me some shit about being out late,” Bruce said. Miranda wrinkled her face in anger at his words, but she didn’t dare say anything.

Bruce paused for a moment and said, “I told her truth, I was out getting a lube job. It takes time to do it right, ya know. I went to that place over on Elm Street. Yeah, the one with the red doors.”

Bruce spoke again, “Shit man, it costs more but it’s worth it. Very thorough.”

He went silent as the person on the other end spoke. Then Bruce said, “If your wife wants to go, sure man. My wife doesn’t really do that kind of stuff. She’s worthless.”

Miranda felt a pain in her stomach at his words, but she knew he was right.

She felt guilty. She did make him take care of too much. But not anymore, she was a grown woman. She could do it herself. She wouldn’t even mention it to him, no sense getting him worked up.

Miranda hadn’t realized it was going to be a private residence, but it was the only building on Elm with red doors. There was a two-car garage though, so that was probably where the guy did the work.

Miranda almost turned around, but no. She was going to be brave. She was going to be a better wife. She wasn’t going to make Bruce angry anymore.

She pulled into the driveway.

No one greeted her, so she walked to the front entry and rang the bell.

A beautiful woman opened the door. She was only wearing a pair of shorts and a tank top, but Miranda was stunned by her radiance.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked.

“Uh. I dunno,” Miranda asked in a confused voice. “Maybe. I think I might be in the wrong place.”

The woman smiled, “Don’t worry, I think you’re in the right place.”

“My husband was here yesterday, and he recommended it.”

“Bruce? He gave me the impression that I would never meet you.”

“Well, he couldn’t stop talking about what a good job you did. And then he was complaining about how he always had to take care of things for me.”

The woman smiled again. Miranda couldn’t help but be distracted by her mouth. The woman said, “And so you decided that you’d let me take care of things instead?”

“I mean… if you can? I don’t know how busy you are or whatever.”

“Oh no, I don’t have any appointments today. I don’t get many women in here normally. I’m Ashley by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Miranda.”

Miranda did find it strange that a woman did oil changes, but she wasn’t going to say anything. In fact, she thought it was awesome. She figured Ashley’s looks were the real reason Bruce came here, but that was fine. He deserved to look at this goddess instead of her frumpy self.

Ashley looked Miranda over and said, “Why don’t you come on in. It’s hot out today and you’re standing there in long sleeves.”

A flash of fear crossed Miranda’s face for a moment, “Oh, I just get cold is all.”

“Nonsense, you’re sweating. Come in.”

Miranda looked at the house around her and nodded approvingly. “I love your house. It’s so much nicer than ours.”

“Oh, really? I would have thought with the Mercedez…?”

“Bruce always says money is too tight to fix up the place.”

“Really? You know my services aren’t cheap. Hmmm…well I tell you what…” Ashley looked Miranda over, “…why don’t I just waive the fee today?”

“What? No! At least let me pay for any oil you use.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I buy it in bulk so it’s really just pennies. Plus I think we’ll both have a lot of fun together today.”

“You find it fun?” Miranda didn’t see how changing oil could be fun.

“Not always. But it can be with the right person.”

“I always just thought it was a lot of work. Oil gets all over the place. You have to climb underneath and probably end up hurting your back. I don’t know. That’s what Bruce says anyway, that’s why he never wants to do it himself.”

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry. Some men really don’t know what they’re doing. And trust me, Bruce is an idiot when it comes to this stuff.”

Miranda didn’t really know what to say to that, so she went with, “So…do you have somewhere I can sit while you take care of things?”

Ashley grinned, “Eager to get started? Well, some people like the living room or even the kitchen. A few prefer the library, but most-”

“Wait, you have a library?” Miranda interrupted excitedly. “Can I see?”

“Big reader?” Ashley asked.

“Not as much as I would like. Not much time with work and all the chores and cooking. Bruce is always yelling for me to do something. He says reading is a waste of time.”

“Bruce is a waste of time.”

Ashley took Miranda’s hand and led her through the house into a room filled to the brim with books. The shelves were overflowing. Books were lined up in front of each other, stacked on top of shelves, and jammed anywhere there was space.

“Oh wow, this is amazing. I would literally kill to have a room like this.” Miranda noticed that Ashley was still holding her hand, but it didn’t bother her. In fact, she kind of liked it.

Ashley said, “Feel free to look at the books. You can even read something while I’m working if you want.”

Miranda’s face lit up, “You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, I wouldn’t mind. Today is for you. Can I be honest though?”

“Of course.”

“I feel like you and I could become close. Do you feel that way too?”

“I do honestly,” Miranda blushed a little. “I don’t know what it is, but I definitely do.”

“Good. So how about this…today we just talk and take our time with everything. You can always come back.”

Miranda agreed, “Okay. So should we go to the garage or something?”

“If that’s what you want. I just want you to feel good about everything.” Ashley looked at where their hands were still connected, “Oh, Miranda! Did Bruce do this?”

Miranda didn’t have to look at the bruise on her arm to know what Ashley was referring to. She gave a brief, embarrassed nod and asked, “Can we just go to the garage?”

“Okay,” Ashley smiled. “Nobody ever goes in there.”

“Really? Seems like people would be in there all the time.” Miranda said with a quizzical look on her face.

Ashley froze, “Miranda. What is it you think I do here?”

—-

The officer stood under the overhang facing a sobbing Miranda.

“I’m sorry ma’am but dental records confirm the body is your husbands. We think he might have been drinking and drove off the road. He probably died on impact, he wouldn’t have been in pain very long. I’m truly sorry for your loss.”

The officer walked back to his car with his head bowed and threw it in reverse.

As he drove away, Miranda stopped crying and said, “Actually officer, he was in pain for quite a while. But don’t worry my new girlfriend helped me clean up.”

“In my line of work you get used to dealing with messes,” Ashley said.

Miranda didn’t feel guilty. She had always felt guilty before. But Ashley made her see that the only person doing wrong in her relationship was Bruce. And maybe what they had done to him was wrong, but sometimes you had to do wrong to do right. At least Bruce wouldn’t be getting angry ever again.

Miranda looked Ashley in the eyes and said, “Lucky thing you had all those handcuffs, gags, and rubber sheets. I’m just sorry we still got so much blood in your garage.”

“First of all, it’s our garage now. But don’t worry, nobody ever goes in there.”

Short Story: A Day on the River

It was early morning on the Oconee River, the type of day that was perfect for fishing. A man and a woman sat in a canoe. They were holding fishing rods, but both were too distracted by all the alligators to make use of them.

“I’m not sure about this river anymore. It’s getting scary,” Missy said.

“I know. But don’t worry, they’re more scared of us than we are of them,” Jack said eyeing the long body drifting past. A bit of algae was growing on its side, and there were a couple of sticks hanging off, but it didn’t seem to care.

They waited until it was gone before speaking again.

“But they scare all the fish away. Or eat them,” Missy said.

“Nonsense, we still catch plenty,” Jack said. He sat still for a moment, “In fact, I’ve got a bite right now.”

A flurry of movement later and the fish was out of the water.

Missy was too distracted to care. She gasped and nodded her head, “There’s another one. And it’s got a baby with it!”

“Don’t get too close, they’re protective of their young.”

“You ever eaten any?” Missy asked.

“It tastes like chicken,” Jack half-joked. “But seriously, we don’t need to mess with them. They’re dangerous.”

“I’d climb a tree if they were after me.”

“Actually, it’s a little-known fact, but they can climb trees.”

Missy eyed the creatures warily, “Really?”

“Yeah. They don’t do it often, and it’s mostly the younger ones, but they can climb. Trees, fences, whatever.”

“Holy shit.”

“Holy shit is right. If any more kayakers come all us gators are gonna have to move.”