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The Perils of Multitasking

Posted on August 12, 2010 at 5:56 PM

Smoke billowed from the vent eaves—wavy, boneless, grey arms, reaching for the sky and signaling for help.  Discombobulated by the sight, Harry eased his car into the driveway, anyway.  In a matter of seconds flames burst through the roof and a section of lumber, shingles and insulation plunged into the living room.  The fire inhaled and then roared back out.  Tiny bits of his house, charred red and still hot, pelted down and rolled off the hood of his sedan.  He looked up at the house only one more time before putting the vehicle in reverse.   

 

“Wow,” his five-year-old son said from the back seat.  Little Ralph strained against his safety harness to get a better view of the spectacle. 

 

Slowly and carefully, Harry parked the car in an empty slot across the street.  As he unbuckled his son from the toddler seat and heaved the boy into his arms, he couldn’t help but look at the fire eating—gobbling up—his humble, two-bedroom home and all that he possessed in this world.  Flames licked at the shingles on the edges of the roof, now, curling down, as if the yellow beast was intent on reaching for the last bits of its meal. 

 

He flipped his cell phone open and dialed 911.  “Excuse me, but I have a fire at myhouse.  That’s 184 Sycamore Drive.” A moment passed.  “Yes,” he said, “I do believe that there is someone in the house.”

 

At that precise moment, his wife burst through the front door.  Tiny nubs of hair still clung to her scalp, and remnants of cloth were netted to her body in a bizarre checker-board fashion.  She yelped like an injured and inconsolable puppy and collapsed three feet from the blacken door.  Little Ralph whimpered.  His tiny hands clutched at his father’s neck.  Harry swapped the cell phone to his other ear.

 

“I’m sorry,” he told the operator.  “I have to go now.  You’d better send a fire truck and an ambulance too.”

 

Harry looked up and down the street, partly to see if anyone would come running to his aid and partly to see if any traffic was approaching.  The road remained empty, free of concerned neighbors or flashing red emergency lights.  He rushed across the pavement, as Little Ralph bounce like a bobble in his arms. Harry didn’t want to put the boy down. His son was such a curious fellow; he might try to investigate the fire or rush to his mother’s side or look for the family dog—if the idea popped into his head—or do some other unimaginable thing.

 

Harry lifted his wife’s arm and drug her another twenty feet into the front yard, but he could still feel the heat coming from the house.  The skin around her wrist slipped under his fingers and fresh welts of blood oozed out like a dozen hot rills of sticky red ink.  To him, it seemed the blood was much thicker than it should be. 

 

Rover, their pet dachshund, skidded around the edge of the building and came to a halt on top of Harry’s foot.  The dog—singed but still very much alive—promptly peed on his shoe.  Harry scooted the dog away, shifted the boy to a new position and bent over his wife’s body.  Her chest heaved up and down.

 

“Dear,” he said, whispering into her ear.  She blinked at him with eyes that had no lashes.  “Were you trying to multitask, again?”

 

She drew a long ragged breath, and he thought he heard her say, “Cooking and watching TV.”

 

“You know that’s illegal,” he said and tsked-tsked.  As soon as the words were out, he immediately regretted them.  His last words to her should not be a reprimand; he should say something comforting, but he couldn’t.  What would he say?  Everything will be all right, Dear.  Obviously, nothing would ever be all right again.

 

A breath, fouled with smoke and the strange scent of rusty penny, escaped her lips.  She shuttered violently and drew long breaths that were spaced too far apart, as if her soul wrestled with its crispy exterior, and then she melted, limp and lifeless, onto his freshly mowed grass. 

 

“You see, son,” he said. “This is what happens when you get in a hurry.  This is why we are not supposed to multitask.  The government banned multitasking, way backin 2-oh-8-oh.  The Brainy-People decided that the general population was no longer smart enough to multitask.”

 

“But why did Mommy break the law?” Ralph asked, whimpering on his father’s shoulder.

 

“Mommy was a nervous person,” Harry said, trying to explain the unexplainable to a five-year-old and reflecting on the unpleasant sense of tension that had always surrounded Gloria. “She had a big ego.  She always thought that she was smart enough to do two things at one time.  But her I.Q was only 68, just two points above mine.” 

 

“I’ll miss her,” Ralph said. “Won’t you, Daddy?”  His son’s round, blue eyes floated in two half moons of tears. 

 

“Don’t’ start crying now, son.  If you cry, I’ll cry too.  And we really should walk safely back to the car, first.  Okay?  We mustn’t multitask; we mustn’t be like Mommy.  We might get run over on the road; we might even get run over by the fire truck that we called to save us.  That wouldn’t be nice, would it?”  He gave the boy a very stern look.

 

Ralph snorkeled and nodded. “No, Daddy.”

 

Author's Note:  http://www.cmmarcum.wordpress.com


Categories: Short Story, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, C.M. Marcum

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12 Comments

Reply jipper
3:18 PM on August 13, 2010 
I can play three songs at once on the banjo. At least that's what my wife says it sounds like.

Nice write.
Some people shouldn't try to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Reply Phil Neale
6:08 PM on August 13, 2010 
This was cool on Editred, and I enjoyed the bland, matter-of-factness again.

Good writing.
Reply C.M. Marcum
8:30 PM on August 13, 2010 
Thanks jip and Phil. Changed it a little bit of ER. I never get finished spanking my stories. One big difference from ER. It was for Friends only on ER, here I made it public.
Reply David He
9:34 PM on August 14, 2010 
I like the writing too. Well written. Best wishes.
Reply Jake Cesarone
2:32 AM on August 15, 2010 
Sad and funny at the same time. Nicely done.
Reply C.M. Marcum
8:38 AM on August 15, 2010 
David He says...
I like the writing too. Well written. Best wishes.

Glad you made it into the light, David.
Reply C.M. Marcum
8:44 AM on August 15, 2010 
Jake Cesarone says...
Sad and funny at the same time. Nicely done.

Yeah, it's hard trying to write like my IQ is only 66. Duh-hur-hur. This was one where I didn't know if other folks would 'get it.' with the MC's simple, but flat response.
Reply Christopher Law
3:38 PM on August 16, 2010 
Gets my vote too. I like that you've not tried to add to many details to this particular dystopian story, it's all explained quite nicely with the one piece of legislation you mention. Which also lets us decide how nasty the overall world is ourselves.

A good read, and I have to ask if this is just a brief idea or part of a bigger plan? A lot of my shorts are written as a way to work out things in longer pieces.
Reply C.M. Marcum
5:43 PM on August 16, 2010 
Thanks Chris. Well, since you asked: I do have a post-apo story in the works called 'Slave Bay,' but this is not part of it. I wrote this piece after watching the movie "Idiocracy" Don't know how I can watch a comedy and turn it into a tragedy or vise versa. I do like to go into the extreme case scenario. Unfortunately, most editors are not so visionary. Know what I mean?
Reply Christopher Law
4:49 PM on August 20, 2010 
I was so tempted to ask if you'd seen that film! It's not the most amazingly funny film ever, but it made me chuckle for ninety minutes and get nostalgic for the days when Beavis and Butthead were funny.

For me the best comedy always has a bit of tragedy to it, just a couple of changes in emphasis to turn the hysterical into the heartbreaking.

But people keep telling me I'm warped and editors never seem to be looking for what I have on offer.

Slave Bay sounds intriguing, if you ever post any of it give me a poke if I don't notice.
Reply C.M. Marcum
9:26 AM on August 21, 2010 
Christopher Law says...
I was so tempted to ask if you'd seen that film! It's not the most amazingly funny film ever, but it made me chuckle for ninety minutes and get nostalgic for the days when Beavis and Butthead were funny.

For me the best comedy always has a bit of tragedy to it, just a couple of changes in emphasis to turn the hysterical into the heartbreaking.

But people keep telling me I'm warped and editors never seem to be looking for what I have on offer.

Slave Bay sounds intriguing, if you ever post any of it give me a poke if I don't notice.


Are you warped; I'm warped, too. If there's anything I can't stand its soap-opera and the mundane. I'm not happy unless my story pops a few brain cells. Actually, I had a lot more to say about your story My Familiar, but I'm always biting my tongue. Never know how another writer is going to take your suggestions.
Reply Christopher Law
1:30 PM on August 24, 2010 
As a rule I only ever get upset if people are rude - I've far more ideas that are rubbish than are good and I happily admit I've got a lot to learn about how to construct a narrative and use words to get my ideas across in the best way possible. The stories I'm more sensitive about I tend to keep to myself until I'm sure they work - which is why the only non-supernatural/OTT violence story I've written is still under wraps and waiting for another rewrite, fourteen years after the first draft.

Criticism always makes me feel horrible for an hour or two but I'm blessed with an ego big enough to eventually take it on board and make sure I don't make the same mistake again. Or try to at least - there are a few things I do that I know are counted as mistakes but I like them and have daydreams about when I'm recognised as a ground-breaking new talent.

It'll happen one day, when I'm senile and the world is what my mind makes of it.

I spent the best part of a decade putting most of my creative efforts into running a weekly RPG game (yes, I am a truly hopless geek) so I'm used to people turning round and telling me my brilliant idea is actually a bit naff - anything else you have to say about 'My Familiar And I', or anything else, is more than welcome.

At the end of the day I want to get my epics out there and the critics aren't going to give a jot about my feelings and, just for myself, if something I've written is awful I want to know just as much as I do if it's good. Obviously the latter is the preffered option and I'll always stick up for the ideas I love but no one gets it right all the time.