Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The Magic Machine

   Eugene was an inventor. He built machines that would come to his aid in the most unlikely of events. He feared being rendered so mind-numbingly bored by life that he wouldn't be able to move. He built a machine that would detect his immobility and would start playing music to revive his mind. One evening he fell asleep in front of the fire after a few glasses of whiskey, and the machine played the music. When he woke he was convinced it was 1983 and that he'd recently won an award for building a machine that automatically performed magic tricks. Magicians didn't like it because it put them out of a job. The machine was much more cost-effective than the magicians. Eugene got a lecturing job in a university because of the award.
   He moved to the city to take up his post. This was the first time in his life he'd lived in a city. He was amazed at the number of newspapers he could buy. He counted thirty-seven of them at one news stand. They all promised amazing revelations inside. One of the newspapers was published by a group of former magicians. It contained slanderous articles about Eugene, but no one was interested in these. This paper also contained reports about magicians who could do tricks that the machine was incapable of. One magician had started doing tricks with words. He could make the word 'and' come out of his ear.
   There was a practical element to the course Eugene was teaching. His students were required to build automated poker players. Grades would be awarded according to how these machines performed in a poker tournament at the end of the second semester.
   The machines that caught fire in the first round earned an F for their creators. One machine took over half an hour just to pick up its cards. But it didn't catch fire so it got a D. The five machines who made it to the final would all get an A, but only the winner would get an A+.
   After an hour, two machines were left in the game. One of them was dealt three aces, and it bet all of its remaining chips. But it lost because the other machine had four kings. As the creator of the winning machine was taking the applause of her classmates, a small metal panel on the machine fell open and hundreds of cards fell out. Its creator said she had no idea her creation was cheating. Eugene didn't believe her. He would have given her the A+ anyway, but her opponent's machine took a dim view of the way it had been defeated. A door opened on the front of this machine. A pipe emerged, and flames emerged from the pipe.
   The machine that had cheated was left blackened but unbowed. Wheels emerged from underneath it and a chainsaw emerged from the top. As it charged towards its opponent, people fled from the building. All of the machines stayed behind, and most of them participated in the fight.
   Millions of pounds worth of damage was done to the university buildings. There were holes in walls, and rooms were gutted by fires. Only the walls remained of the building where the poker tournament took place. Despite a spirited defence of his actions in a lengthy court battle, Eugene was held responsible for the destruction. The press turned on him, especially the paper owned by the magicians. The poker players were a very powerful lobby group, and they feared being made redundant if poker-playing machines were manufactured. Through one of their newspapers they convinced the public that only the criminally insane would conceive of such a machine.
   Eugene became a social outcast and he suffered financial ruin. He started drinking heavily. He lived in squalid conditions in a house that had been abandoned by everyone and everything apart from the rats.

   These were the memories on his mind when the music woke him up. He sat on his couch and he tried to figure out where the memories came from. They seemed too vivid to be a dream. In 1982 he had drawn up plans for a machine that did magic tricks, but he abandoned it when he started working on a machine that threw potatoes at other potatoes. He wondered if the memory was a glimpse into an alternate reality, one in which he decided to build the machine that performed magic tricks rather than the potato-throwing machine.
   There was also the possibility that the memories were real, and that the potato-throwing machine and everything that followed was all just a dream. He looked around the room. There was an empty whiskey bottle on the ground, but there were no obvious signs of squalor. He went out into the hall, and on the wall he found evidence that proved he wasn't a penniless drunk. He saw a framed photo of a dinner-dance at a golf club in 1997. He was shaking hands with the club's president after he had donated a machine that kept stray dogs off the golf course. So he never invented the magic machine that brought about his ruin. He couldn't help feeling disappointed.

The Tree and the Horse
Henry Seaward-Shannon
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises




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very slight stories

They Met a Bear
  They stopped in a small seaside town and they went for a walk. They met a bear.
  This is one version of the story. In another version, they met a sailor, and in this one they ended up being held at gunpoint on a speedboat and becoming unwilling participants in a diamond robbery while disguised as a cow, and sharing in the proceeds of that crime.
  So when they tell the story they just say, "We met a bear. He waved at us."

The Story of the Fortune Teller and the Alarm Clock
  A fortune teller threw an alarm clock at me. This story is deliberately lacking in details to mock the predictions of the fortune teller. Although she was right when she said she'd throw an alarm clock at me.

  One. Two. Three, the study. Four, a candle stick. Five. Six...
  Seven is missing, presumed dead. One has taken up the case, and two is helping him in his investigations. They both suspect six. Seven was last seen next to six in the garden.
  But seven isn't really dead. He's consumed half a bottle of whiskey and he's currently in the orchard, talking to a rabbit. "One of us is as boring as a gate post," he says, "and it's not..." He stops to count on his fingers. "No, actually it is me."
  Eight nine ten.

Debbie and his dog
  Debbie was sick of people mistaking her for a man.
  "Is your dog my parole officer?"
  She was sick of people asking her that too.

Very Slight Stories: like short stories, only shorter

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