Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Flash Fiction: Whither the Garbage Cans?

Though as you know I usually get my flash fiction prompts from Chuck Wendig, I didn't care for this week's challenge. So instead I got my story starter  from Jemima Pett, who sent me the opening line (I changed it a little). Just a hair under 1000 words, and maybe just a hint of ribaldry at the end.

Garbage Cans

I knew we were in trouble when the garbage cans started moving about on their own.  It just turned out that it wasn’t exactly the trouble I thought we were in. I mean, I spotted them first, and made the usual resolve. You know, to swear off the moonshine, give up the mason jar, and dry out.

The first thing wrong with that reaction was that I don’t drink.

The second thing was that I wasn’t the only one who saw them. Oh, lots of people had noticed that their trashcans weren’t in the same place in the morning as they’d been the night before. There were lots of reasons for that. “It’s raccoons. Those things will do anything for a meal.” “Teenagers. They’re playing pranks again.” “Minor earthquakes are vibrating them so that they move about.”

Then there were the whacko reasons: “There are magical fields in this neighborhood.” “It’s the aliens again. I told you they’d be back.” “Poltergeists.” “Isn’t this on old Indian burial ground? Bet their spirits are angry.”

But when I saw the cans moving—actually saw them in motion—I had to discard the most reasonable theories. There were no raccoons or teenagers around. The USGS confirmed that there had been no earthquakes, however tiny and localized. That left me with the more unreasonable explanations.

Magic? I didn’t believe in magic. Every single supposedly magical happening ever turned to be caused by natural phenomena. Or illusion. Usually illusion, with a good dose of fakery.

Those garbage cans were no illusion. They stunk too much for that.

Ghosts and poltergeists were likewise out. No way to prove them, and no good grounds for believing they existed. That was when I took the step that led to all the trouble.

Well, that’s what they said. If I’d left well enough alone, there wouldn’t have been trouble. I’m not sure I believe that. Like I said, I knew that we were in trouble when I saw the cans moving, even before I started thinking through the possibilities. The one explanation I kept hearing, and that kept coming back to me, was the aliens.

But why, by all the green cheese on the moon, would aliens want to mess with our garbage cans?

You know how your Mom used to tell you that some questions just shouldn’t be asked? She was talking about how bologna was made or what makes members of the opposite sex tick, but she might as well have been talking about the motives of aliens visiting Earth.  Not only do you not want to know, but it’s not safe to know. Everyone would have been better off if I’d just let it go. But I couldn’t.

I set up cameras, the sort biologists use to take photos of wild animals at night in the wild. And I got my photos. Even that wouldn’t have caused much trouble if I’d not published them. But really—what would you have done? I’d been unemployed for a while, so the cash was awfully handy. I sold the pictures to a certain unnamed news agency. That started the panic, though I was too absorbed in the aliens to notice.

I spent the next few weeks watching the aliens, and gave up looking for work. I set up a video feed, and stared in fascination as the—forgive the cliché, but they were—little green men shifted garbage cans around like pawns in some kind of chess game. Though they might have been dance partners. I couldn’t tell for sure.

That was why I went outside: to ask. I knew better. Like I said at the start, I knew it was trouble from the start. But by this time I had visions of being the person who made first contact with people from space, and I couldn’t give that up.

I'm not an idiot, so I didn’t just go charging out there and hold up my hand and say “Take me to your leader.” I recorded every sound they made. Then I invited my friend Anita to join me. She’s unemployed too, and she’s a linguist, so I figured she’d have time and interest. I swore her to secrecy before I showed her the videos, and we spent another week working on their language.

Maybe we should have spent longer. I thought we really had it, at least enough to make a greeting. After all, it was what they said every time they met in their garbage-can dance.

We flipped a coin to see who would go out and talk to them, and who would stay in and monitor it all on the cameras. I won. Or maybe, as it turned out, I lost. Either way, I was the one who headed out the door with my phrase book.

I don’t suppose I could have changed things by having better linguistic skills, but the row that started when I spoke to them was something else. I was lucky to escape with my life, which I did by climbing up the downspout.

And when it was all over, and trash was scattered up and down the streets, the aliens took me away anyway, luring me down from my perch with—well, never mind that. They took me with them when they Earth, and left the garbage cans to get on with the take-over. They’ve been teaching me their language, starting with the instruction not to use their greeting in polite company. I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with beings who like to reproduce with inanimate objects. Which is what they were doing, except…If Anita and I had waited another week, we would have seen the sudden proliferation of small garbage cans. Then we might have acted differently. Though we could have done worse. Those little garbage cans are cute. Cuter than an awful lot of humans, and they don’t really smell any worse. Anyway, it’s their world now.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015


  1. I love it! All I'd hoped for and more. Funny the way these lines spring out of nowhere.

  2. How bizarre! Mating with trashcans is funny, but I bet there's a market for little trash cans.

    1. :D
      No doubt. On garbage day around here, it looks like they've been breeding. Everyone has one for trash and one for recycling, and some put out one for yard waste, too (not everyone, because most people around here pay someone to come maintain their 20x20' "lawns").


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