Moss Bay Drabble Collection
An assortment of exceptionally short stories.
“What can I say? It’s not as easy as it looks.” C said.
Eleanor’s fingers slipped on the thin, waxy paper, and small sheafs of tobacco spilled out onto the table in front of her in an uneven pile. She glared at the mess, with half a mind to set it on fire with a flick of her fingers. Why was she even bothering, she asked herself.
“You don’t even smoke,” Eleanor grabbed the paper in one fist and the tobacco in the other. “Why’d you learn to roll them so well?”
“People see me do it and take me seriously as a detective. It’s one of those skills that’s, ah, drilled into me.” C tapped the side of his head and smiled. “Rolling a cigar in two seconds makes an impression. Even if you never light it.”
She frowned. He was right; she did think it looked badass. Just a little.
Mem sat in the exam room, a smile on her face that wasn’t quite broad or real enough to express her excitement. This was the first time she’d ever had a checkup at a doctor’s office.
“You’re… very pale and stiff. All right, let’s check your blood pressure first…”
The doctor stood, holding Mem’s wrist, waiting for the band around her arm to fill up with air. When it did, he looked at the digital display on his desk and squinted.
“You… don’t have blood pressure, miss…?”
“That’s correct! I am an android, and thus do not have blood pressure.”
The doctor’s mouth fell agape.
“However, I did not want to interrupt your examination,” Mem continued, “as you are a certified expert on medical subjects. It would be rude for me, as someone with limited medical knowledge, to attempt to counsel or correct you!”
“Well.” The doctor tugged on the collar of his lab coat and removed the band around Mem’s arm. “As– as a doctor, I rely on what my patients tell me to… direct, determine the course of my examinations and treatment.”
“Oh!” Mem brightened up. “Then I will tell you everything I can. Core peak operating temperature: 45 C. Recent – 24 hour – memory I/O count: 24,393…”
“I’m surprised you’re disappointed, Muro.”
Sitting on the dressing room bench, Muro slipped off the jeans she’d been wearing and put on a black spandex skirt. She was smiling, the way she usually did, but it didn’t look right paired with the small scowl on her face.
“Well,” Muro said, “I was hoping we’d get to actually wrestle.”
“Yeah, but this is easier!” Matsumi had already finished dressing up. The skirt, grey tank top, and black shoes was a boring outfit, but as she checked herself out in the mirror, she thought it showed off her legs and shoulders pretty well.
Matsumi flicked her hair to one side as she turned to look at Muro on the other. She came over and sat down next to her sister. “We’re getting paid a lot just to look pretty. And Mori doesn’t even have to do anything!”
Muro chuckled dryly. “I think he was hoping to wrestle, too… besides, I don’t think I’m gonna be that good at this. We have to match our dances with each other and that other girl… I’ve only really danced when no one’s looking.”
“Oh, that’s a lie!” Matsumi smacked Muro’s shoulder. “You do a little jig every time something goes really well! You’ll be fine. Maybe not the best, but fine!”
“Not every time!” Muro laughed, and it sounded more genuine than a moment ago.
When they finally stood in the ring and danced for the crowd before the wrestling started, it turned out that Matsumi’s coordination was worse than Muro’s.
“Have you ever heard of Juicero?”
“Yeah. Back before the bombs, they had this juicing thing – like a blender. It made pressed juice for you from little things you bought at the store.”
“Yeah? That doesn’t sound bad. What’s the catch?”
“Well, it only worked with juice kits that were made for the thing. You couldn’t just put in your own fruits and vegetables, oh no. It had to be official. And they made sure of it.”
“We’re making a robot girl, not a juice machine. There are going to be elements of her design that you’d consider a design flaw when you’re reviewing a different project.”
“I’m just saying, the guns, the sword, the broom – why does she have a broom, anyway? – all have to be made for this weird space-vacuum tech you came up with. You can’t just take a gun off the shelf and build it into her. You need this crazy dense rock that turns into a gun from a mechanical signal. The company’s not going to keep funding this forever.”
“Well, that’s how her components are designed. We’re not scrapping her and making a combat android with Berettas for hands because it’s cheaper.”
“I wouldn’t mind it. It’d remind me of home. I’m from NYC, you know. Before the bombs hit.”
“I know. You talk about it constantly.”
“Can you believe it!? A real department store!”
Matsumi’s cape trailed behind her, a rich purple demarcation of the space she and her wild gesturing took up. She’d been waving her hands, wiggling her fingers, and pumping her fist ever since she saw the ad as they drove into Sapporo city limits.
“I don’t get why you’re so excited,” Mori said, running a hand through his hair and down his face to scratch his cheek. “It’s not like we know what a department store is like. Plus, it’s going to be too expensive for us.”
“Oh, come on, Mori. We’ll be fine.” Muro, for her part, was smiling with satisfaction. She’d organized most of their cash evenly across six different wallets, so that even if they got pickpocketed, it wouldn’t be a huge problem. She figured that they had just enough to afford a few things, even if they were marked up.
Matsumi whirled around, one hand on her hip. She pointed at Muro and then at the bridge of her nose. “Keep your eyes on the prize, Muro. Don’t think about what we can’t afford. Think about all the things you want. We’ve gotta be able to afford at least one.”
Muro scowled a little and shrugged his shoulders. “I want one of those portable TVs, or a new radio, or laptop. Especially the laptop, I’m tired of doing spreadsheets for you on my phone.”
Matsumi paled and clenched her jaw.
Muro turned to look at her. “Well, if we pool our shares together, maybe we can get a cheap-o laptop…”
Matsumi paled further, as all the blood went to her reddening cheeks.
“Hey teacher, is it true that triangles taste better?”
Mem peered at the lunchbox one of her new students had presented to her. He had a simple sandwich, with one slice of spam and another slice of processed cheddar over top of it. The bread had been toasted using a sandwich press, then cut diagonally.
Mem adjusted the glasses she wore, more to give the right impression to her students than because she needed them. They were contacts that would hide her cameralike eyes, and it was scientifically proven that people tended to regard people with glasses as more intelligent.
“The most scientifically delicious part of this sandwich is the browning of the bread,” Mem explained, “but the shape of the sandwich more evenly distributes the filling towards its edges than a square cut. In other words, there is some merit to your parent’s assertion!”
“Actually, it was my aunt…”
“Well, scientifically, it’s most often the parents making that claim.”
“But no one else dresses like this.” Ligeia pointed two of her right arms at herself emphatically. “I’ll still stand out, won’t I?”
“Yes, but not in the way you’re worried about,” Vivian said, trying to reassure her. Ligeia had found her smile unnerving when they first met on the street, but somehow it was more soothing in the dim lighting of the attic. Any other person might look menacing to Ligeia standing in the shadows of the tall, dusty cabinets and chests, but Vivian looked less so in the dark, not more.
“She’s right.” Kezia flicked her head, horns gleaming as they entered and left the glare of the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. “It makes you look like a less suspicious weirdo. If you go into Sapporo, no one will ask questions. Here in Moss Bay, no one will ask questions still, but they might wonder if you’re shoplifting.”
Ligeia looked down at herself. The poofy grey hoodie, five sizes too big for her natural figure, would cover her arms if she didn’t bundle its folds into the crooks of her elbows. It completely obscured her wings, which weren’t strong enough to flutter underneath the heavy fabric. She had never even seen a shoplifter in her life, but she understood what Kezia was saying to some extent.
“But I’m not a shoplifter,” she protested.
“Well, people will figure that out eventually,” Kezia said. “Just fight, until the whole world sees your justice!”
“But the point is so that the world won’t see me!”
“Hey, Mem, what do you think of this hoodie?”
“What type of opinion do you need?”
Kezia looked up at Mem, draping a green hoodie in both of her hands off to the side. She raised a single silver eyebrow, but then clicked her tongue. “Oh, I get it. You’re asking whether I want an objective or a subjective opinion. Well, subjective. Objectively, hoodies are out of fashion, right?”
“That’s correct!” Mem nodded eagerly. Then she sat down on the bench in the dressing room, putting herself more level with Kezia and the hoodie she’d picked out. Her eyes refocused and rotated before she spoke up again.
“As for my own opinion, I think the hoodie obscures some of the best and most telling features on humans – their physique, their body language. But in your case, you have horns and a tail, so a hoodie is perfect for you. Not only that, but the dark fabric complements your bright hair and the faint shimmer of your horns and tail!”
Kezia nodded along. “Yes, praise me more. That’s way better than stuff I already know.”
Muro threw open the door, and a plume of dust blew back at her and stung her bloody face. She stumbled, barely staying on her feet, into the healer’s chambers.
“A cockatrice again, I assume?” the olive-robed healer asked, peering over her.
Muro shuddered and took two steps towards the fountain, and the healer reached out a bony hand to stop her.
“Stand up straight,” the healer told Muro, as she lifted her with all the strength she had. “With your legs at that angle, you might sprain an ankle or fracture a bone.”
“Yeah, thank you,” Muro spun in place and fell back on her butt onto the flagstone edge of the fountain. “And yeah, it was a cockatrice. Boy, am I grateful the rusalki made this fountain for us.”
“So am I,” the healer chuckled so deeply it was almost impossible to hear. “Being an ordinary doctor wasn’t cutting it these days. And so are they, for that matter. It allows promising youths like yourself and your siblings to plunge into danger. Now, I’ll take your raygun aside while we bathe you in the fountain.”
Vivian sat down on a park bench and soaked in the atmosphere. Dandelions grew at her feet, their pollen whipping through the air in tiny white petal-like fragments. The sun had been up just briefly, but now it was setting, bathing the trees and the grass in a deep orange glow. A single fountain streamed a small amount of water, just enough for her to hear its musical flow from where she sat.
She wished she’d been able to visit earlier, but it had only opened a few weeks ago. And for those first three weeks, there were too many people.
Vivian loved people, but they often didn’t love themselves or each other. It made her happier than anything when they did well – so happy, her smile often scared them off. But that was fine with her, so long as they were doing well.
A lot of people had needed some time in the park to do well, she figured; the first day it opened, she’d stood on its edge and it felt like she’d buried a knife in her head. The week after, those who’d been visiting ever since it opened seemed to be doing better.
But only now was it quiet enough, with few enough people still eager to see it, that she could visit herself. Even if her chance had to wait, though, she was happy it had come – and so were the regulars who greeted her as they passed.
And so were the crows, being fed crusts of bread by humans in giving moods.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think there would be a point to that.”
Mem had been sent back and forth through the metal detector five times. Moss Bay’s airport was small by the exaggerated standards of the pre-destruction world, but they had all of the amenities one would expect of a “modern” airport. Including airport security.
It seemed to Mem that they didn’t know how to deal with an android, and didn’t want to pull the alarm meant for demons unless she was actually dangerous. Every time someone sounded the demon alarm, it probably cost them tens of thousands of dollars to land planes, cancel flights, evacuate people.
Mem didn’t want to cause that herself, so she was trying to cooperate, but there wasn’t really an obviously good solution for this.
“Not even with a private room?” asked the security agent, a lady in her forties who wore a flat cap. Going by her alert but sunken eyes, she had probably been working the entire day into the night, fuelled by a caffeinated beverage.
“Most components of my body are metal. I understand that you want to determine the source of the reading rather than taking my word for it,” Mem said evenly, “but I would rather not waste your time! I’ll leave the line and see if I can charter a private helicopter.”
That way, the security agent wouldn’t discover that her body was one-third weapons by volume.
The woman took a heavy breath before reaching past the metal detector to return Mem’s luggage to her. “Alright, you’re good to go.”
Mem gave her a big smile until the moment she turned around, at which point she flattened out her expression to indicate to others that she was thinking. How would she get a private helicopter to southern Japan? It was against the law, but the solution to this problem seemed obvious: she would have to ask Kezia to obtain access to one for her.
At least she wouldn’t disrupt an entire airport this way!
“Alright, so what do you think made this memorable?” Mori asked.
Moritora was holding up a faded poster they’d found in a ruined mall. The figure it depicted was as faded as chalk, but the three of them could still make out a greenish face, spiky hair like algae, an eyepiece and a purple coat. The poster was captioned with an English phrase in what Moritora had identified as capital letters.
“Well, we can’t read it,” Matsumi crossed her arms, “so who knows?”
Muro, in the driver’s seat, leaned over to the other two. “Maybe we should go to Sapporo to get it appraised?”
Matsumi scoffed. “No way. We’ll just get scammed. This is probably an antique. Hey Mori, you like museums, right? Think a museum might buy it?”
Mori squinted at the poster, holding it at different angles in his hands. One side, then the other. He shoved it closer to his own face like he was hiding behind a book to avoid Matsumi’s inquisitive stare. Then, about a minute later, he let it drop into his lap. They were both still waiting for him to respond.
“Maybe a computer museum,” he admitted, “like the Digital History Museum. This is obviously pixel art. Maybe even from before the missiles. But I kind of want to keep it.”
Matsumi settled back into her seat. “Well, that depends on how much they’ll give us for it. Get us to Sapporo, Muro!”
Kezia pulled her hood up farther over her head. Not because she thought the car salesman was in danger of seeing her horns, but because it was pouring. On days like this, she was happy to wear the world’s baggiest jeans to hide her tail. Once that got wet and cold, her entire body started shivering. Of course, she’d much rather just be inside, curled up on a concrete slab next to a heater, but this had to get done.
“And this one,” the car salesman said, bringing her over to a beat-up black Honda Civic, “would be only 200 a month. Excellent mileage, too, for what it is.”
Kezia stared at the car for a moment, then circled around it so she could see through the window into the dashboard.
“Does it have a heater?”
“You can’t be serious.” Matsumi scowled at Moritora, shoulders tensed. Her fist clenched tighter around the handle of her shopping bag.
“A little.” Moritora shrugged, stifling a yawn. He pointed at the trio of cars for sale at the Sapporo dealership to their side, then at her bag. “You don’t always spend money wisely, you know.”
“This?” Matsumi pulled out her page-sized poster of a wolf just long enough to remember it was raining. She stuffed it back into the bag and, in lieu of waving the poster at him, waved her palm instead. “This was so cheap! You’re saying we should buy two more cars!”
“But it’d be cool, though,” Mori repeated his initial argument. “We’d be like a car gang. Like that one biker gang in Moss Bay, but with cars. Everyone would respect us.”
“I wouldn’t respect us!” Matsumi cried. “We’d be money-wasting idiots!”
“We all waste money sometimes,” Mori replied, suppressing a smile as it grew at the edges of his mouth.
A group of barrel-chested men braked their motorbikes next to the sidewalk and dismounted.
Kezia turned to Ligeia, hidden beneath layers of black cloth, and poked her in the side. “We’ve gotta go. Well, maybe. I don’t want to deal with them.”
Ligeia stared forward, watching as the bikers unhooked wicked-looking curved swords from the side of their bikes. They seemed more interested in the building they’d stopped at than the girls, but Ligeia couldn’t help but shake a little bit.
Kezia dashed away from Ligeia, who struggled to follow with bundled-up legs and constricted wings. Ligeia followed her into a nearby alleyway, between the brick building with the black windows the bikers were entering and a pie shop. A large dumpster on the pie shop’s side crowded out most of the walking space, while a chipped trash bin and three tied-up black trash bags were spread out on the other side.
Kezia leaped into the dumpster, and Ligeia jumped in her own skin. How could she do that? Ligeia would get sick. Maybe she’d even die! She couldn’t say how well she’d handle something as filthy as a dumpster, she’d never tried before. But she needed some way to hide.
Then she looked back at the trash bags.
Still shaking slightly, she ambled over to them, squatted down, and pulled her layers of hoodies and sweatpants closer to her body. She pulled her knees next to her chest, and her feet underneath them so no one could see her shoes.
It still smelled bad here, but at least she wasn’t in the dumpster.
…and the whole experience did make her feel like trash in the moment.
A little girl, maybe five years old, stood on a Moss Bay street corner and cried. She wore a nice dress, so maybe her parents had just lost track of her, but she was all alone at the moment.
Three teenagers noticed her from half a block away.
“Another crying kid?” Matsumi asked, whipping her gaze over to her brother Mori.
Mori shrugged. “I don’t think we’ve seen a crying kid in years.”
“Well, look.” Matsumi gestured at Mori, then pointed at the girl. “You’ll be able to handle this better. You go see what’s up.”
“No, I will… and our daily argument’s over. Sorry, Matsumi.”
Their sister, Muro, had already broken ranks to talk to the girl.