Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: purple haze

Prompt: use a song title from this short list of commonly misheard lyrics as the title and inspiration of the story.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a mondagreen expert, having inadvertently invented a few too many of them myself, so this week's Flash Fiction Friday prompt really spoke to me. Jimi Hendrix' Purple Haze was my immediate choice from the offered list, the only choice, really, as Benny and the Jets is my least favourite Elton John song, and I flat-out refuse to use a Nickelback, Good Charlotte or Fall Out Boy song. I do have my reputation to consider, after all.

Fortunately Purple Haze offers a lot of creative potential. Next time I will leave myself more than an hour to complete the task, though.

~~ * ~~ * ~~
Purple Haze

"Hey." I touched his forearm, giving it a little shake, and asked again. "Where did you go anyway?"

The first time I had asked him, at the dinner table over mom's welcome home roast chicken, he had brushed off the question with an easy laugh, a light punch on my arm, and a request for another slice of mom's world famous rhubarb pie.

But now, after the table had been cleared and we had been excused from dish duty, I had him to myself. As we strolled down the gravel lane toward the silo, grasshoppers leaping into the ditch banks at our approach, the sun beginning its slow descent over the wheat field, I tried again. "Scott, where did you go?"

I was referring primarily to his unexplained absence, the manoeuvers for which he had volunteered that were supposed to last the weekend, but which had inexplicably stretched into two weeks. But I was also trying to figure out where my brother had retreated to inside his own head.

I peered into his face and saw only a blank canvass of skin and flesh and bone stretched over a cavernous void. Scott's eyes fixed unblinkingly on the horizon, a million mile gaze, registering nothing at all. It was the same blank stare that I had seen him slip into a few times at the dinner table, a trance from which he would visibly shake himself when the conversation was aimed at him.

I tapped his arm again and at long last, he blinked a long slow stretch of his eyelids, and gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. He turned to look at me, a wide easy grin spreading slowly over his face. "You know I can't tell you anything, Brenda." He winked at me, and raised his index finger to his lips. "Classified information. If I told you I would have to kill you."

"Don't patronize me, Scott." My curiosity and concern were giving way to anger. "And don't bullshit me, either. I've been hearing rumours about the stuff that's been going on at the military hospital. Are you involved with that? Have you been letting them test chemical weapons on you or something?"

Even I couldn't believe I had voiced that last question. It had been a secret fear that had been niggling at me, but the very idea was so preposterous that I would never entertain it as a legitimate possibility. My big brother may have joined the god damn army but he would never be so stupid as to let them mess with his body like that.

Scott slowed his long stride to a near shuffle. "They weren't weapons," he whispered, "yeah they probably were originally supposed to be, but ... they were kinda the opposite of weapons, to tell you the truth." He stopped and turned to face me. "Where did I go, you wanted to know? I'm not really sure, kiddo, but I think it might have been heaven."

I was too dumbfounded by this statement to do anything but stare, slack-jawed, at my brother. The level-headed boy who had taught me to fight, to shoot a rifle, to drive the old station wagon, the voice of reason who always had my back, was now earnestly spouting some mystical claptrap at me. "What are you talking about?" I hissed.

"I dunno, Brenda," he sighed, "I really don't. I can't explain it, but when they gave me that stuff, I went somewhere. It may have looked like I was just sitting in a room at the barracks for two weeks, like they tell me is what happened, but I wasn't."

He pointed at the deepening purple of the horizon, to where the rim of the sun had dropped below the ripening heads of wheat. "I know what it's like on the sun." His voice shook a little. "I've seen the hydrogen flares and I've been pulled into the magnetic fields. I've ridden the solar winds to the Orion Arm. I've been doused with the interplanetary dust of the astroid belt and I've swum in the galactic tides. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live. To tell you the truth..." He returned my perplexed look with a steady unshakable gaze. "I didn't want to come back."

"Apparently I was one of the last soldiers to volunteer for this mission, they're terminating the operation. They were starting to clear out the lab as I was being discharged." He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small folded envelope. "Come here," he urged. As I reached his side, he carefully opened the envelope to reveal a single tiny square of purple paper. "Here," he held it out to me, "I brought you home a souvenir."


Anonymous said...

Does Nickelback really exist as a band or are they actors?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Good question, Mr Anchovy. Perhaps Nickelback is just one giant sadistic psychological experiment.

Anonymous said...

can i read this before Friday

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Gawd no, Kelly! You'll unravel the fabric of the universe.

Anonymous said...

phew, glad I didn't read it yet....1 more hour to go

Glen said...

"I've ridden the solar winds" No - you wouldn't want to come back from that. Great stuff.

Beach Bum said...

If what I read is true this story is a lot closer to the truth than most would believe, but that all ended in the 1970's, or so we are told. Great work!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You now have the all-clear, Kelly. Go nuts.

Thanks, Glen. I wish I had given myself more time to flesh out the story a little more fully, but I am pretty happy with the concept.

So we are told, Beach Bum! Perhaps I should have saved this story for next week's conspiracy prompt?

Anonymous said...


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Pssst, Kelly, it's LSD. But don't tell anyone.

Anonymous said...


I'm sure most others got that. Shows how innocent I am that I never even clued into that.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw said...

Very well done, Barbara! You had me hooked from the first sentence.

Smashing read! I think I say that about a lot of your stories... its true though... your stories are very well-crafted... I'm always a little sad at the end, knowing that I have to wait a whole week for another story.

Oh... so that's what the square of paper was! I'm glad I read the comments... I had wondered.

Thank you for sharing, Barbara

Allison said...

I'm with Kelly - I have to wait to read these posts until Friday. ;)Another job well done Barb, I love your voice.

And I LOVE this idea and will have to give it a go (I know I keep saying that, but this time I mean it).

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm not sure, Kelly, I think perhaps I should have been more clear on that. Because I knew I was talking about the military drug experiments, I sort of forgot that other people didn't realise that. Thanks for pointing that out.

You are so sweet, Veronica Marie! I actually felt like I rushed this one through a little bit, that reworking the latter half would have made it ring a little more true, but I am very happy you enjoyed it regardless.
And back atcha, I am always in awe of your stories. And nobody writes the erotic bits as capably as you do!

It's only sensible to read FFF on Fridays, Al. I'm still unclear why they are due on Thursdays at 4:30 EST.
You really should join though, you are a fantastic writer and this exercise really makes one stretch one's writing muscles.

Joyce said...

How incredible this was. What was he really given? He didn't want to come back. What if he hadn't been able to? What a frightening scenario. One hears about experiments like that. Were they real? Who can say. Then, he brings back a sample? And what was he planning to do with it? Take it himself? Share it? Wow. Grand use of the perfect song.

Joyce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joyce said...

Removed the second one since it posted a duplicate of my first.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh my goodness, Joyce, so many questions! On the one hand, I am chuffed that my story sparked your interest, on the other, I wonder if I should have made things a little clearer.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw said...

What a wonderful compliment, Barbara... I am touched, truly. That really makes my day!

It's a fine line, writing the erotic "bits"... keeping in mind that while this is a fiction forum, it is not specifically geared to erotic fiction... a very light hand is required, so as to not offend anyone.

I am currently working on a "femme fatales" lesbian anthology submission where erotica is a key element, so I have more freedom, knowing that my audience expects erotica.

I love what you said to Al about "stretching your writing muscles"... this is the perfect forum for that. Mine have been getting quite a workout!

Joyce said...

No, no. The story was perfect just the way it was. The many mysteries you left about it are what makes it so enticing. I love to read a story and then walk around wondering. You shouldn't change a word!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Yes, I can certainly see that a light hand is required for writing erotica for this particular forum, Veronica. And yet you pull it off so very capably. And tastefully. NOT a skill that most of us have.
But even without delving into erotic fiction, my writing muscles have also been getting quite a workout with FFF. We are getting so buff!

You are too kind, Joyce! I am humbled.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw said...

Thank you again, Barbara... I have to remember one word... "feather"... :)

I agree completely with Joyce... don't change a word... the story is incredible... it's the little mysteries in it that make it such a compelling tale. I love a story that leaves me with questions.

Okay... back to "buffing up" on this next week's prompt... conspiracy theories... :)