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Flash Fantastic!

No. 21July 2005

By Barry Baldwin

The departmental Christmas party is late starting. Someone has forgotten the liquor permit. One sip of alcohol without its papery presence is a major turpitude. But it's here at last, taped up alongside a faded timetable; the licensed hilarity can begin.

"Well, we did a great job on the decorations," one associate professor says.

"Didn't we just?" replies the secretary who, her appeal for help unheeded, has had to do them by herself, as usual, on top of e-mailing the head's seasonal greetings, after hours and not one cent in overtime. This associate would be bottom of her typing priorities next term, were he still to be around.

A newly-appointed instructor has been agonizing for weeks over a Christmas present. For the head, not her. If he buys one, will it look like sucking-up? But what if he doesn't, and everyone else does? He's tried asking in a roundabout way, but they are no better at answering subtle questions than he is posing them. Maybe a joke present would be the best compromise, something to demonstrate thought without ulterior motive.

Right now, the head is putting on his party hat, made from a torn-up academic offprint. He does this every year. Always the same offprint. He's published nothing else in living memory. "All this administration," he pleads.

He thrusts a styrofoam cup of punch at the nearest graduate student. "Well, Merry Christmas," as though reading from a teleprompter, "Have a good one."

She is the only Jewish attendee. Her name is Hagith Levant, evidently not a good enough clue for gentile scholars. Those faculty members who notice the faux pas† snigger cautiously, wanting to register their sympathy and contempt without making it obvious which sentiment is for whom. There's nothing to stop her from dreaming up a sexual harassment charge, or him from assigning an eight a.m. class in the winter term. The other graduate students look uneasily at each other: are they seeing themselves as they will be in ten years time?

Hagith Levant, an atheist except when she goes home, stages a walk-out. She was leaving soon, in any case, for a more private engagement. Memory of this episode will make a useful marker when needed: a late essay, for example, or evading a second section of freshman composition.

The instructor sidles out a few moments later. More sniggering, less concealed, from those who notice: what chance does he think he's got?

Two full professors clothe their decades-long feud in a diaphanous dress of duologue: "You going to the MLA this year?"

"That slave auction? No way. They wanted me to do a panel, of course, but I told them where to stick it. Why, are you?"

"I'm giving a paper, if that's your question."

"Maybe I will come after all. Just for the buzz of being there and not going to hear you."

The secretary judges this a good moment to promote the nondescript sandwiches, sawdust shortbreads, and a Christmas cake topped with plaster robins which she does not warn people to avoid. Who knows? In her previous post, the head had not realised the artificiality of festive robins; it had required a hyper-Heimlich man0euvre to dislodge the powdery beak.

Worrying over the possible Hagith Levant repercussions, the head recalls the time she sat on the department's photo-copying machine and xeroxed herself. Political correctness hanging over them like stale gunsmoke, no one ventures beyond "Well, that could have been interesting..."

It wasn't. Hagith Levant was "really into Absurdism," hadn't even taken off her coat.

At 4.55 on the nail, the secretary plays one of her aces, hoping to make everyone feel a louse by handing out carefully wrapped presents, knowing she'll get nothing from them. But her ace is trumped, there's no time for even a mouse-squeak of guilt, thanks to the head who removes his hat, consults his watch yet again, and as though closing a seminar announces "Well, that's it for another year. Better get going before our vehicles freeze up. You know the administration switiches the power off at five, and it must be twenty below out there."

"Oughtn't we to clean up this mess first?" some fool asks.

"No, the secretary can do that."

After they'd gone, she leaves alone, humming a snatch of "Eleanor Rigby". Her shopping-bag clinks with the left-over bottles she has appropriated. Blame could always be diverted to the Korean cleaners, one of whom will soon be puzzled by his discovery in a lecture room of a pair of panties. Even if his English were better, their HL monogram would mean nothing to him. He slips them in his pocket to take home as a present for his wife, an act that will cause him some trouble when the police find them in the course of their investigation of their owner's disappearance.

The instructor will also be under suspicion, but nothing will be found against him. In any case, the police will soon have their hands full with the deaths of everyone else at the Christmas party, thanks to what had been mixed in with the refreshments. They would very much like to talk to the secretary,but no dice. She is tucked away somewhere in South America with Hagith Levant, whose treatment at the party and enforced Yuletide congress with the instructor had finally convinced her that men, especially academic ones, were not for her.

Hardly was everyone in the ground before the temporary secretary was faced with the fax machine spitting out multi-paged applications for the vacancies that thanks to the next round of budget cuts will not be filled. She can be re-shuffled into the Computer Sciences' growing steno-pool; his fixed-term position means curtains for the instructor who after two years of expensive job-hunting will choose to join his former colleagues, wherever they are.

By Gerald So

Officer Rick Kahana, in full patrol uniform, fell in line at the bank.† On his lunch break, Kahana held a leather briefcase for his withdrawal. † † †

He was eying brochures when the call came in.† His cell phone was on vibrate.† No one looked over as he checked its display. † † †

SKY, N. † † †

She wasn't supposed to call.† She wasn't supposed to be late, either.† He pressed SEND. † † †

"Hey, babe.† I thought we agreed--" † † †

"I told you I was getting a tattoo.† Job took longer than I thought." † † †

She had told him; he thought she was kidding.† Nina had lightning bolts on her triceps, a drop of blood below her navel, a dragon across her shoulder blades . . .† What now? † † †

"Did you get the spot we wanted?" Rick asked. † † †

"Yeah, no problem." † † †

That was all he needed to know.† Nina could've ended the call, but instead she asked, "What about you? Are you ready?" † † †

"Always." † † †

"You wish." † † †

Jabs like that had Rick wondering if she slept around.† He kept the frustration from his voice.† "I should be through in about ten minutes.† How 'bout we go for fish tacos?" † † †

"Mmm.† Fish tacos.† You sure know how to treat a girl." † † †

Why the hell was she still talking? As a joke, he said, "Want me to leave the phone on so you can listen?" † † †

"I dare you." † † †

"You're on." † † †

He clipped the phone to his belt. † † †

Rick and Nina met two years earlier, when he pulled her over for speeding.† She was a six-foot-three stunt driver, he a six-four ex-jock.† They pushed each other's buttons from day one.† Their sex could light a city, but they weren't too compatible in practical matters. † † †

Like being on time, Rick thought, and saving wireless minutes. He only let her within spitting distance of the bank because she threw a fit the night before. † † †

"Next at Window Two?" a female teller said. † † †

Rick stepped up and passed her the note.† She read it and looked at him, blinking at his uniform. † † †

He smiled.† *Everything's under control.*† He brought up the briefcase and released the snaps. † † †

The teller keyed open her register and began passing banded bills--one stack at a time--through the window slot.† Rick arranged the stacks end-to-end, tallying them in his head. † † †

The case about half full, Rick saw the teller pale.† She mouthed the words, "It's empty." † † †

Rick smiled again.† He closed the case, slid it off the counter, and walked out. † † †

Once outside, he felt the urge to run but resisted.† Nina's Charger was right where he planned, engine idling.† He climbed in and dumped the briefcase in back. † † †

A minute later, moving smoothly on the highway, Nina asked, "How much?" † † †

"Nine-and-a-half grand." † † †

Nina nodded, satisfied. † † †

Out Rick's window, the Pacific was a blue blur.† Looking back from the ocean, Rick eyed the speedometer. † † †

"Ease off," he said.† "We don't want to get a ticket." † † †

Nina laughed. † † †

"I'm serious." † † †

"You're the boss." † † †

When Nina hit the brakes, the Charger went into a spin.† The passenger door flew open.† By the time Rick remembered his seatbelt, he was out of† the car, over the cliff, falling toward endless blue.

By Mike Driver

The smart money was on the cockroaches. †

Theory was you could burn them, blast them, freeze them and bury them and still theyíd come back for more. They were the ultimate survivors, the guaranteed winners of a nuclear conflagration. But you know what. Theyíre all gone. Dead. Want to know why? Iíll tell you, because theyíre dumb insects! †

It's laughable really, on the one hand you have a species whose key skill is to look ugly and live in garbage and on the other you have a species that builds great cities, founds communities, organises itself into societies, creates structures and hierarchies, follows leaders, co-operates, organizes labor and plans means of production. Come on, whereís your money going to be. †

'Course it was tough at first. Donít get me wrong--with little or no warning most of those top-side didnít make it underground in time. But we had shelters, which we sealed, we had food, for a couple of months and for some of us our faith kept us going. I donít want to get religious or anything, but if youíre designed in the image of your Creator then youíre not going to disappear in a flash. That just wonít happen. †

So little by little we made it. Soon we were sending out small foraging parties,†you know, for food, not that there was much to be found and anything else we could use in the shelter. I tell you I was pretty nervous the first time out but you get used to it. I think you can get used to anything and you know thereís a cruel beauty you can admire in a nuclear winter. The way the sky looks sometimes, all bruised and purple, it's pretty awesome. †

I sometimes wonder if there are others, groups like us, I mean. I suppose there must be. Thereís no means of making contact so what can you do. Iíve never seen anything to suggest that anything else survived. There isnít a single blade of grass remaining and every living thing and I mean every living thing went the same way as the cockroaches. Itís just devastation out there. Whole place has been levelled to not much more than an anthill. Thatís where Iím going now. Need to get back. The entrances are sealed around this time and I wouldnít want to get stuck outside, that would be dumb and my momma didnít raise no quarter of a million dummies.

THIS ISSUE OF FLASH FANTASTIC -- "Party Poopers" is ©2005 by Barry Baldwin.  "Stunts" is ©2005 by Gerald So.  "Survivor" is ©2005 by Mike Driver.  All contents of Flash Fantastic 2005 are edited by Art Brown. Please send all submissions to FF editor, Art Brown.  Final formatting and additional graphics by Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Crazed Fanboy dotcom and Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.

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