Inktober 2019 – Coat

Liz tapped Jason on the shoulder, then pointed. “I’ll bet you never thought you’d actually see that in real life.”

Jason barked laughter and stumbled back against the popcorn machine. Holding a hand over his mouth, he reeled back to Liz’s side. The object of their mirth was standing awkwardly in front of one of the automated ticket kiosks.

“Holy crap,” Jason said, getting his breath back. “No, I really thought a couple of kids wearing dad’s coat was a cartoons-only thing.”

“I almost want to let them through,” Liz said. “They’re doing really good.”

The apparition finished getting a ticket. It backed from the kiosk, turned slowly in place with the sort of exaggerated care no man doing the maneuver would apply unless drunk, then began an approach to the checkpoint that separated the snack foyer from the theatre entrances.

“Be kind to them,” Jason said as Liz headed for her post. She only glanced sideways at the trundling figure, not wanting to stare. In the comics, there were always three kids in the coat, but this affair was not much taller than she was. Two kids, then, and so obviously not one person. The hand holding the ticket had vanished as the end of the coat-sleeve dropped far past it. The shoulders were too narrow. The chest and back were… just wrong, the sort of thing that would have made Liz queasy if she hadn’t realized what she was looking at.

She was, though, honestly impressed. The long coat was, on the current occupants, about ankle length, and yet apart from the short, mincing strides there was no sense of that the fabric was a tripping hazard. The kid on the bottom had to be strong, too, because there was no wobbling from the burden of carrying his partner in the act. Or her partner, Liz thought. Could be either.

There was also no heavy breathing to be heard as they finished their approach. The ticket-concealing sleeve came up, shaking a little to free the gloved hand within. The broad-brimmed hat, pulled so low that Liz could only see a walrus moustache and smooth pink chin, bobbed with a nod of greeting. Liz took the ticket.

One adult admission for screen Eight. The Bludgeoners. If it had been the frat-boy comedy in screen Five, Liz would have let them through, but something that even the kind critics were calling “a repulsive gore-fest, appealing only to fans of practical effects of the most disgusting sort” wasn’t something she was going to wave kids into.

“You’re over eighteen?” she said, looking them right in the hat brim.

The brim bobbed again.

“I’m going to have to see your ID, sir.”

There was a moment of silence. Liz looked behind her current customers, saw a family that had already reached Jason, who was pumping yellow onto popcorn, and sighed. She couldn’t play with them much longer.

“I… not English do.” Liz wanted to applaud. The upper kid wasn’t trying to lower his register, but had chosen to be raspy. They had made such a good effort; if only they had chosen the film more wisely.

“Sorry, kids. The game’s over.” Liz reached for the hat. The hand which had offered the ticket tried to intercept hers, but became entangled with the outsized sleeve. She pulled the hat away, ending the imperfect illusion.

It was not two of them, and it was not kids. There were lots of them, little dark shapes that poured out of the coat, leaving it to wither to the floor. They swarmed for the exit, each moving too fast to give the witnesses an impression of anything more than far too many legs. Over the screams of Liz, Jason and every member of the family at the popcorn counter came the sound of hard little bodies ticking against the glass doors until they had heaped up enough to reach the handle, draw it open just a crack, and pour out into the night.

“Inktober 2019 – Coat” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Dark

I had only gone into the kitchen for two minutes, to get us both something to drink. Milk for him, orange juice for me. He was watching one of the age-appropriate shows which my wife and I could just tolerate, all earnest dialogue and songs with scansion that set adult teeth on edge. When I came back, the TV was making its noise into an empty room.

I did not panic, because there was nothing to panic about. He did not wander out the front door. That would be worth panicking about, because when my wife had left after supper, stepping out into the blowing ugliness of a January night, I had stood at the door and felt the cold lashing through my socks and through my shirt. But I had also thrown the deadbolt as I watched her walking to her car. Our son was a precocious two-year-old, but he had neither the reach nor the hand strength to undo the lock.

I checked anyway, after setting down our drinks. Part of not panicking is being methodical. It was still firmly closed, the deadbolt as it should be.

I did not worry about him pitching down the basement stairs, because I had been in front of them while getting the drinks. This limited his options to the bedrooms at the back of the house, and the bathroom.

He was not in the bathroom, I could tell at a glance as I passed along the hall. It was brilliantly lit, because I left the light on in the evening, and with the shower curtain pulled back there was nowhere to hide. I felt a small tremor which I would not let develop into panic, because the two bedrooms, his and ours, were open but unlit. He couldn’t really reach light switches, either.

I could, and I threw the one in his room as I stuck my head in. I had glanced into our room, saw the foot of the bed looming in the back-scatter from the bathroom and nothing else, but now that the light in his room revealed he was not there, I turned. The tremor was becoming insistent, to the point that I missed the switch in my own room.

It was unnecessary. With his room lit up, right across the hall, the dimness of the adults’ bedroom was somewhat relieved. Now that I was in it, I could make out the bed, the book-shelves to either side of it, and the smiling face of my son. He stood on my side of the bed, as far from the door as possible, grinning.

“Hey, Sam,” I said, the depressurization of relief sweeping away that tremor which had not quite been panic.

“Hi, Daddy.” As he spoke, I realized he was not looking at me, but at the closet door next to me. He was a smiley kid, a charmer commented on constantly by strangers, and he was at it now, looking as happy as clam as he stood in the darkness of the bedroom. I turned my head to look at the closet. The door was open all the way, its usual state. Beside it, I could see some indistinct items of clothing, my wife’s or mine, poking out, but not really into the closet.

“What’cha doin’?” I asked. He kept looking at the closet for a few seconds, then began giggling. Then, with the sort of lack of warning we had come to expect from him, he ran, still laughing in his delightful liquid way. He ran to the end of the bed, past the closet, past me, and into the living room.

I stayed where I was, wishing my heart wasn’t feeling so tight. I kept my eye on the closet as I reached, with deliberate care, for the light switch.

All was as it ought to be. The lad had slightly disarrayed the bed clothes in his passage, the closet was its usual jumble, and there was less order in the books on my side of the bed than on my wife’s. Perfectly normal. I went back to the living room myself.

I forgot to turn off the light. My wife commented on it when she got home.

That was six years ago now. I only remember it occasionally, as now, when I wake up in the small hours of a winter night, and the lights of the city bounce from snow-fat clouds to provide just enough light to let me see the familiar terrain of the room.

But only dimly. Six years, and I’ve yet to understand what was so funny.

“Inktober 2019 – Dark” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Tasty

Essex Shipping News, 7 August 1893:

Lost in high seas: “Demeter” Russian flag sloop, last sailed from Varna, Bulgaria. Was observed by HMS “Trent” to be running without lights, rigging in poor order; gave no response to signals. “Demeter” broached to when cross-sea developed as “Trent” moved to offer assistance. Sank quickly, no sign of survivors. No debris of any consequence.

“I had a dream, Doctor.” The patient looks at me through the bars, the mild expression I had been used to returned, after days of rage. “It upset me greatly.”

I asked him to elaborate.

“I dreamed that I was servant to a great man,” he told me. “Not a good one, oh, no. But a powerful member of nobility. He promised to reward me, if I served him faithfully.”

I suggested to him that this did not seem upsetting. He tutted at me, in an interesting inversion of our relationship, then explained.

“Oh, Doctor, the services he required, and the awful inducements! I could not name them to you, for fear that you would think me irredeemable.” At this point, he looked about his cell, apparently quite sensible of the meaning of his surrounding. “A patient may hope to be cured one day, I should think.”

Knowing this ‘dream’ of his to be the recent period of mania, I asked him if he knew what brought on the state. He shrugged.

“I sleep, as all men must. Are not all men susceptible to dreams as they sleep?”

I then asked how the dream came to end.

“Oh, it was quite terrible, Doctor. The Master sat in a sumptuous bed, explaining his…” The patient gave a furtive glance around the cell, as if not certain we were alone. “His designs. His desires for my service.” He looked straight at me, then asked with great earnestness, “Your fiancée is quite well, I hope?”

I was somewhat taken aback. I do not discuss my personal life with the patients, of course, but he must have learned of my engagement from one of the attendants. I merely nodded as a response.

“I am so glad.” He nodded, apparently very relieved, then returned to his previous thought. “While the Master spoke, there was a sudden roar outside, and then he was tumbled from the bed, as if his apartments had been upended.” He smiled, and I could not decide if it was a quite wholesome expression. “I thought I saw a fish fly through the room, even as darkness filled it. The Master was silenced, and I awoke.”

I congratulated him on escaping from the unpleasant ‘dream’ but I was not entirely satisfied. I asked him about the request he had made the day previous, and he looked very blankly at me.

“A kitten? Oh, no. Oh, no.” He shuddered, without any appearance of putting on. “You are mistaking me for one of the other patients, Dr. Seward, my salvation depends upon it. I am a humble man, and I keep to my humble appetites.”

At this, he wet the end of his finger, dabbed up several ants from the line which runs perpetually from his window to the little pile of bait he restores out of his daily meals, then licked them up with every evidence of enjoyment. He dabbed up a few more, and extended the finger to me so I could see the creatures wriggling there. “Are you sure I cannot tempt you, Doctor? They’re ever so nutritious!”

What am I to make of my own hesitation before declining his offer?

“Inktober 2019 – Tasty” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Dizzy

People pay to get this sensation. The fairground rides are mostly designed to give it to you. And here I am, getting it for free as part of the job.

There are limits, of course. Run the Tilt-A-Whirl too fast, leave the Zipper going too long, and all the kids would be begging for it to stop between spewing corn dogs. I’m sort of at that point, myself.

I could stop. I am an adult, I have it in my hands, almost literally, to get off the ride whenever I want. It’s my choice.

But I’m going to stay with it a little longer, not because this is fun, but because I’m not exactly sure what’s under me. They always say look before you leap, and the world outside is whirling around too fast to get a good look at.

I’d prefer to correct the spin instead of yanking on the ejector handle, leaving twenty tons of fighter jet to settle into the roof of a school.

“Inktober 2019 – Dizzy” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ancient

McAllister hated to run. She didn’t like it in in the moderate warmth of spring in Wisconsin. She found it morally objectionable in the crushing heat of the dig site, yards above sea level, in the perpetual summer of equatorial Africa. And yet, when Babatunde had described what he and the other grad students had found, running had seemed to be the appropriate response. She still didn’t like it, and liked it less with every step.

Babatunde, younger and at least theoretically used to the heat, although he had claimed the years in Wisconsin had taken his childhood callus off, rejoined the circle around the dig before she was half-way across. When she saw the collective body language of the dig team, she began to forget the heat.

Each previous discovery of some interesting artifact had made a similar cluster, as those facing the tedium of freeing yet another potsherd from nearly indistinguishable dirt sought a moment of novelty. But in all those cases, the formation was tighter, the urge to gawp surging like a tide against the generally informal training of archaeologists to watch where they were stepping. This group was wider, the ones at the front trying to shrink away, the ones at the back keeping them there as shields.

The faces, too, were arresting. Not the usual wonder of fresh discovery, or at least not that alone. If she didn’t know the context and was shown only the faces, McAllister would have called it religious awe, of the sort brimstone preachers wanted to induce.

Babatunde tapped shoulders, but didn’t try to lead McAllister through the hole in the formation. He let her pass, pointing to the low point they had made in a midden which had stopped stinking about the time people figured out how to make bronze.

It looked like just about anything else they’d found, its colour informed by the soil removed from around it, its shape wrenched askew by the pressure of increasing depth of burial and the effect of time. A box, was her first thought, and that was unusual enough. The people they were uncovering were big on baskets and bowls, but hadn’t appeared to be aware of joinery until now.

There was something familiar about that box, though, and McAllister carefully squatted to get a closer look. As she did, she noticed that the box appeared to have a little rack attached at one end, holding a jumble small rectangular items. She struggled to keep assumptions at bay when a small back-of-head voice suggested dice, but the things were familiar.

Familiar in a context she had almost forgotten, and when it came to her, she stumbled back, heedless of where her feet were going, until the other diggers were supporting her.

Archaeology was detective work, at its base. The lives of long-gone people were imperfectly revealed by the things and the bodies they left behind, and the situation in which those things were left. McAllister barely registered her own face adopting the same stunned amazement as the rest of her dig team as she tried to imagine how they might, using the principle of her discipline, explain the beige thing that lay before her.

McAllister began to weep, hardly noticing, in the face of what finding an Apple II under a layer of eight thousand year old cooking waste would mean for her discipline.

“Inktober 2019 – Ancient” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ghost

There was a line of six photographs laid out on the table. Each one showed the front of Oliver’s house, dimly lit by a post-sunset sky and streetlight on the far side of a tree. The position of the camera was the same in all, as was the colour of the sky, suggesting without need to refer to the timestamps in the lower right corners of each that each was taken in quick succession.

Oliver gave them a cursory glance, then looked across the table at the young couple who had brought them. If not for the current circumstance, he thought he would think well of them, because they seemed pleasant enough.  They were polite, well-spoken, and their visible tattoos were interesting rather than shocking. The letter they had left in his mailbox was, some modern failures of punctuation aside, entirely unthreatening. He realized only now it had been a mistake to even respond to it.

“It appears that this investigation of yours is already underway,” he said, with a coolness that seemed to strike home. Both his visitors blushed, and he almost forgave them.

“We thought…” said Will, the taller of the two, before having to clear his throat. He was all in black, from hair to shoes, and Oliver marked him as a goth, although either non-confrontational or under-committed. “We thought, since we were dropping off the letter, we’d…”

“Take advantage of being here.” Oliver said the first two words with careful emphasis, drawing another blush. “I’m sorry, but I really do think you’re wasting your time here.”

“Mr. Whitlaw, please.” Aurora was much less thematic. Oliver couldn’t decide if she was affecting professional dress or if she had simply come directly from some kind of higher-end retail job. “We just want to look into the stories about your house.”

“Those stories are outdated,” he said. “I have lived here almost thirty years, and never run into anything upsetting.”

“But…” Will pointed to the odd-one-out of the six shots, fourth in the series. In one of the dark upstairs windows, there was a slim pale figure, face as white as the torso. The head had no features but for a pair of great dark eyes, which seemed to be melting down toward the neck. “That’s definitely something.”

“A reflection from something on the other side of the street, maybe?” Oliver shrugged.

“But then why is it only in that one shot,” Aurora asked. “Look at the timestamps– there’s only a tenth of a second between the shots.”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged again. “Perhaps it’s something in your camera, rather than my house.”

That made them look at each other. Before either had a chance to get their feet back under them, he pressed on. “Look, you said in your letter you wanted to do an interview. Let’s go through your questions, and I’m sure you’ll be satisfied that your time will be better spent looking for hauntings in a livelier place.”

An hour later, Aurora and Will were stepping through the front door, thanking Oliver for his time. He bid them a polite good evening, while inwardly shouting and don’t come back! When they were off the porch, he turned out the light in the foyer, then stood and watched them, concealed by the sheer across the little window in the door and the glare of the porch light. They crossed to a small car, and drove away moments after climbing in. No more pictures taken.

Oliver went upstairs, shaking his head. He had heard the stories about the house from the neighbours when he and Ellen had moved in. Those stories had become cross-fence jokes during barbecue season, and had dropped entirely after the car accident. Perhaps, with the intrepid Aurora and Will seen off, their questions about cold spots and unexpected noises all answered in the negative, he would hear no more about those long-ago spectral tales.

He paused at the front bedroom, the one he and Ellen had always called the spare. He took a deep breath, partially because he was getting old and stairs were not getting easier, and partially because he hadn’t remembered to sigh with relief when his visitors drove off. He tapped at the door, then opened it just a crack.

“They’re gone,” he said. “I won’t be having them back.”

From somewhere in the darkness of the spare room, an echo of his sigh drifted.

“Inktober 2019 – Ghost” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Treasure

The author wishes apologize for this in advance. The idea would not step aside for a better one, and time was pressing.

“They’ve twigged to us, Captain! Milling around like an anthill!”

The shout came down from the maintop, where young John had been sent with the best glass on the ship. Simmonds sighed. The wind had failed in the night, not a flat calm, but such a mere breath that he had debated sending the boats out to tow, in hopes of presenting the village with a sudden apparition of the sloop Bounty’s Darling slipping into their little harbour before dawn.

But if the rumours about the hoard of old Inca gold were right, he didn’t want the men doubly tired, not only sleepless with anticipation while their watch was below but also destroyed from pulling on an oar, with a fight likely at the end of it. He could not imagine the villagers not putting up a fight to keep a vast chest of treasure. Better to have them fresh, he had decided. They could still over-awe the landsmen with the sloop’s guns, a dozen long six-pounders and an eighteen-pound carronade up on the quarterdeck.

But now, as the sloop’s approach brought the village over the horizon, Simmonds began to wonder if he had erred. Looking through his own glass, the activity John had described was certainly underway, but it seemed that the rag-tag militia he’d expected to meet the landing was going to be nothing but old men. A couple of dozen were doddering around on the shore, at the obvious landing spot, carrying scythes and pitchforks. Such a handful would melt like a sandcastle, even if he didn’t fire the guns on them first.

The youngsters of the village were just still visible, through gaps in the trees, dashing inland, men and women both. It made a sort of sense, Simmonds knew, given the hunger of the sugar plantations for labour. Would they flee like that, though, that if the rumours had substance? Simmonds felt his avaricious heart sinking.

“Sir!” John’s voice, floating down from the masthead once more. “Look by the church!”

Simmonds scanned the collection of buildings. The church was not much larger than any of the other hovels, only a little broader, and made taller by a slanting belfry. Before it, four muscular youths struggled with a small litter, two long bars supporting a box no more than two feet on a side.

Only two things were so heavy for that size, Simmonds knew, and no one would make a fuss about lead at a time like this.

“They’re bringing our treasure out to us, lads,” Simmonds called, and his three-score rascals raised a cheer, some of the sharper-eyed ones able to point at the box-carriers even at this distance.

As they stood in for shore, it became clear that the box was not coming to the strand. The elderly coast guard was still there and had pulled some of the fishing boats around to give themselves paltry cover. The burly quartet was hustling, as well as they could manage, along a little path that ran along the foot of a jutting headland, a lance of rock that formed part of that small harbour’s protection.

“God above,” Simmonds said, realization taking his breath. “They mean to dump it into the ocean.” He cleared his throat, and said in the usual seagoing roar, “Master gunner, will grape fetch those men on the headland?”

Old reliable Martinez, standing by the aft-most long six, squinted over the water. “By the time we’s drawn number one and reloaded it, it should make the range.”

“Hop to it, then.  Sharpshooters aloft! We need to stop that box!”

Musket balls were striking flakes of rock near the feet of the four carriers by the time Martinez had the gun laid. The sloop had to yaw, to lose some way, to bring it to bear, and after the shot the smoke hung between gun and target for long seconds. When it dispersed, it was clear the aim had been off. One of the carriers was rushing to rejoin the other three as they struggled to support their burden, bloody from a dozen gouges left by rock splinters, but inconvenienced rather than disabled.

Before the gun was reloaded, the box was at the end of the headland. The porters seemed unnaturally protected from the furious musket fire, fully a dozen men in both tops now blazing away but not one hitting the mark. They pulled the bars free of the box, which was now close enough to see in the glass as a basket of iron straps around gleaming gold.

It would, Simmonds thought as they rolled it off the end of the rock, be the least buoyant thing in the world.

Their work done, the four men threw themselves into the water on the far side of the little headland, one pausing long enough despite the musketry to wave a rude gesture toward Bounty’s DarlingThe next rise of the ship showed a glimpse of the last one paddling industriously to safety around the edge of the headland.

There was no noise on the sloop but the sound of wind in the rigging. Simmonds felt all eyes upon him. He looked at the weather-signs in the sky. If they kept standing in, they might find the freshening wind pressing them onto the shore for days, in a village which promised no useful diversions for the crew.

“We’ll send a salute into those codgers on the shore, and then work back out to sea.” He stood at the railing, remembering how a small error not much more vexing than this had cost Captain Dunbar his spot. Pirate crews could be horribly democratic, and the vote was always for change.

A week later, when the people of the village had all filtered back, and the lookout on the heights had reported no sign of ships, the four men who had carried the box returned to the little spit. They took up the bars they had dropped there a week ago, then carefully slid off the rock and into the ocean. In short order they would have the box back ashore, and they laughed at the pirates who, like others before them, had been fooled by their simple ruse.

Had Simmonds but troubled to look, he would have found that the booty was only shin-deep.

“Inktober 2019 – Treasure” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Tread

There are few things as upsetting as the sound of a footstep in a house you know to be empty.

Standing here in the attic, searching through boxes by the light of a single bare bulb, it’s all too easy to let imagination get out of hand. I can not have heard the sound of a foot lowered carefully to the old boards of the floor below. Before I came up here, I made sure that the doors were locked, front and back. I looked in every room.

But I also know what I heard. There was no mistaking it. A foot on bare wood. The only bare wood floor is in the hall beneath me. The bedrooms all have carpet. The bathroom is closed. So the sound could only have come from the hall.

Directly under me.

So now, I stand here, trying to decide which is the better idea: go down and look, or wait here for someone to come up the ladder.

Either way, I don’t know what to do if there is someone there. Because I know the house is all locked up tight, and I know that the old couple who own the place are completely, utterly dead, lying side by side on their gore-soaked bed.

“Inktober 2019 – Tread” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Sling

The weight of the work-day had hardly begun to lift when Brett walked into his house. He thought he heard Samantha calling a greeting to him, but it was hard to tell over the furious stampede. All three kids thundered down the stairs, eyes sparkling with glee. They were all shouting something as they clustered around him, hugging his legs and tugging at him. He finally made out Rochelle, the oldest of the three, chanting “Come and see what we made!” over and over, and then realized that’s was all were saying, at different pitches and speeds.

“OK,” he said, loud enough to make himself heard. “Just let me get my shoes off.”

“No, Daddy!” Vanessa, the middle child, still pulling at him. “It’s outside! In the back yard!”

The four of them passed through the house. Brett waved at Samantha as they passed, but he was not allowed to stop, Rochelle and Vanessa each tugging at a hand, little Kayla dragging at a trouser pocket. As they passed, Brett looked a question at his wife, who shrugged. “A surprise for Daddy,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to look.”

After a moment of near-disaster going down the stairs at the back of the kitchen, the formation passed out on the back deck. The kids let go of Brett, and with the same choral unity as before shouted “Ta-daaa!”

Brett stood, letting his admiration show on his face. Some kids would waste a day off school, just staring at a tablet, but not his girls. They definitely had drive.

“We made you a hammock, Daddy,” said Rochelle, giving Vanessa a little shove which failed to stifle a fit of giggles. “Try it!”

Brett shook his head, smiling. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Come on, Daddy,” Kayla piped. “It’s real comforbul!”

Brett looked at his shoes, but the smile remained. He hated to do anything to curb the kids’ enthusiasm, but there were limits he wouldn’t pass. “No, kids, I’m sorry.”

“Aw, come on.” Vanessa took hold of her hand again. She was still having trouble stifling giggles. “It’s a hammock. Sit in it.”

Brett lifted his hand until it slipped out of her grip. He had let them shove him through the house, but he was still a full grown man and able to resist three little girls. “No, it’s not a hammock.”

“It is a hammock,” Rochelle said, with the emphasis of a child’s transparent duplicity.

“No, sweetie. That’s a trebuchet. It’s really impressive, but I’m not going to sit in that. It’s dangerous, and after supper we’re going to have to take it down.”

Brett turned for the door, anticipating the delayed post-work beer, steeling himself against the disappointed groans. He stopped and turned to look at the huge machine again when Rochelle said, almost sullen and without a trace of deceit, “Mr. Gzowski from next door thought it was fun.”

“Inktober 2019 – Sling” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Misfit

There was a long silence, followed by a voice which sounded almost as exasperated as Marcus felt. “Did you try rotating it? It really should fit.”

“I’ve tried it from every sensible angle. I can turn it over, but since we both agree that the red studs have to go into the holes at the bottom of the socket, I don’t really see how that’s going to help.”

Another long pause. “I know we’ve checked already, but that part number is A-174-V-5?”

“B as in Bravo, Five?”

Marcus closed his eyes, awaiting the response. It was as exultant as he’d expected. “V as in Victor!”

“Right. That’s what I’m looking at, etched right onto the side of it. Alpha 174 Victor 5.” He looked at the part. It looked like it should fit. It slipped nicely into the socket he had taken the seemingly identical but burnt-out component from, but it wouldn’t seat. He pushed it in again, for the fifth time, and for the fifth time, it stopped, as if touching something spongy in the socket, stiff several millimetres proud of the casing it should lie flush with.

He held it beside its dead twin. The red was scorched from the studs on the bottom of the dead one, but there was no telling them apart otherwise. He replaced the dead one. It slid in with a satisfying click he could feel through his glove, and when he removed it, it resisted, just a little, just enough to inform the fingers that it had belonged right where it was.

“Look,” Marcus said, putting both parts, each useless as it currently was back in his bag, “I’m going back inside to try to figure this out. If you come up with anything, I hope you’ll be able to let me know.”

He paused at the airlock door, looking back toward the tiny spark of the Sun. Earth, from this distance, would be within his field of vision, although there was no telling it from countless other dots of brightness.

He realized that as he had paused, the communication delay had passed. The ship was not only racing out of the system, it was rotating ever so gently. The antenna could no longed see home, and so he could no longer talk to the customer support line. Whatever was wrong with spare part A-174-V-5, he would have to figure out on his own.

As the airlock pressurized, Marcus laughed. It suddenly occurred to him that he had the rest of his life to figure it out, but possibly only one chance to get it right.

“Inktober 2019 – Misfit” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.