Flash Fiction: The Human Keeper

Hey everybody, so it’s time for another flash fiction!  I again smacked right into the word limit on Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge, but had a great time.  The original challenge post is here, and I’ve copied the relevant bits below for your convenience:

On a bit of a random kick, so let’s go with that, again.

This time, I give you eight random words:

Saw

Milkshake

Bath

Flowerpot

Wheelchair

Bully

Zoo

Heretic

And you must choose four of these and incorporate them into a piece of flash fiction no more than 1000 words long, posted at your blog or online space by Friday, June 8th, at noon.

I ended up choosing “milkshake,” “zoo,” “heretic,” and “bath.”  Not in that order.  Anyway, without futher ado, here is “The Human Keeper” (below the jump).  I hope you enjoy!

Ben’s ass itched.  He kept telling them that he didn’t like the dry grass, and begging for clothing.  Not that it mattered.  They just left him bare-ass in the middle of a savannah, nice as you please.

“Heretics don’t get clothing” he said to himself in a sing-song voice, rolling his eyes as he stood up and walked over to a slightly-more-comfortable log and sat down.  The plains around him seemed endless, dotted only by the occasional tree, rock, or spiky black camera tower.  Totally normal.

“Are you bitching again?” a voice said from behind him.  A dark-skinned woman sat down next to him.  She was a bit plump, and her hair fell just past her shoulders.  She looked up at him with bright eyes from underneath shaggy bangs.

“Why shouldn’t I complain?  This environment sucks!” Ben kicked at the dirt with a bare foot, kicking up dust and stubbing his toe hard on a rock.  Profanities ensued.

“Yeah, about that.  It’s about to get worse.”

Ben rolled his eyes.  “What NOW?  Do they want us to breed again?  I keep telling them you’re not my type.”

“And I keep telling them I had my tubes tied before all this happened.  But no, it’s not that.”

“What is it, then?”

“They’re shutting us down.  We’re to report for, uh, they called it ‘decommissioning’ but I think you know what they really mean.”

Ben felt a cold chill spread through his stomach.  “What did we do wrong?”

The woman, her name was Gillian, shrugged.  “Don’t know.  I mean, we haven’t earned out special treat milkshake in a while, but they haven’t been punishing us either.  Just sort of leaving us alone.”

“Those bugs have to have a reason.  They have a reason for EVERYTHING.  Even if it makes no sense.”

“Go the heretics speech again?”

“I just want some pants.  I don’t understand why it’s such a problem for them.”

“They said they wanted to observe us in our natural environment.  You know that as well as I.  That’s why we don’t get a bath or anything.  Just us, nature, and creepy cameras.”  Gillian shook her head and sighed.  “Anyway, we should probably go ask them.  To clarify.”

Ben huffed.  “Yeah, if we’re going to die, might as well know why.”

The two got up and walked together, Ben stomping along the ground and swearing every time a stalk of grass looked at him funny.  Gillian was an oasis of calm, walking through the tall grass with smooth motions.

The booth appeared on the horizon after a few minutes.  It read “Visitor Information” in crudely painted letters.  Their keeper sat behind the counter, fanning its bulging, multifaceted eyes with a hand-fan.  A straw hat sat perched at the top of a sprig of antennae that sprang from a head that looked like a giant ant’s, except for the proboscis hanging between the pinchers.

It leaned forward on four long, thin arms as they approached.  “What can this fine establishment do for you today, friends?”

“You mean zoo, you damn bug,” Ben said in a huff.

“Someone’s not getting their milkshake this week!”  The keeper’s mandibles chattered in what the humans assumed was a laugh.

Gillian walked up and leaned on the counter, assets swinging in the breeze.  “Ignore him, please.  We were wondering if we could find out why we’re being decommissioned?”

An extension of the proboscis this time.  “Ooh, I think you should figure that one out on their own.”

“Could you tell me if I’m getting warm or cold?”

“I love your primitive games!  Sure, maybe then you’ll be able to figure it out.” It adjusted its hat so it was at a jaunty angle.  “Give it your best shot!”

Gillian gave been a shushing signal as he started to speak.  He glowered off and went to go piss on the corner of the hut.

“We did something wrong.”

“Cold.”

“Um, we failed a test?”

“Warmer.”

She glanced around the barren savannah.  “Failure to breed?”

“Colder.”

“Failure to perform?”

“Very warm.”

Thoughts tumbled through her mind at a pace that would give Ben a headache.  “It has to do with the cameras?”

“Very warm indeed!  Good job, primitive heretic!  You are almost there!”

“Oh, hell, are we not entertaining you da—wonderful keepers?”

“You win the prize!”  The creature reached behind itself and came back with a tall cup full of thick liquid.  “Here’s a milkshake for doing such a good job!”

Gillian sighed as she took it and pulled down a long sip.  “Is that really it?  We weren’t entertaining enough?”

The insect took off its hat and held it between segmented arms, tiny pincers opening and closing on the pale straw.  “Well, that and we had to make cuts somewhere.  You didn’t make it.”

Gillian stirred the ice cream around.  She tried to ignore Ben swearing up a storm behind the hut.  “Why not?”

Mandibles clattered.  “You understand that the budget was very tight this year, otherwise you might have made it.  But we only saved your species because we thought you might be an amusement.  Like you treated dolphins toward the end there.  Mistake, by the way.”

“Why?”

“Heretic, you wouldn’t understand.  But between the budget cuts and the fact that you simply aren’t smart enough to entertain us for any amount of time, you had to go.”

“So that’s it, then.”

“That’s it.”

Gillian finished the milkshake and handed it back.  The alien made it disappear behind the counter.  She looked down at her hands.  “But we’re the last humans left.”

“And I will be very sad to see you go.  Now, you’ve had enough non-native interaction for today.  Off you go.”

She started to walk away, Ben on her heels.  But she paused, and turned back.  “How long do we have?”

The keeper paused.  “A little while, yet.”

“Will you miss us?”

“Unknown!  I won’t know until you die.”

“Oh.”

“Goodbye!”

She choked back a sob.  “Goodbye.”

Please leave your thoughts in the comments!  Hope it was at least a bit as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. 🙂

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