Prompt: Target Word Count: 550, Uniform, Bartender, Middle Aged, Extremely Short, Blotchy Skin, Brown Eyes, Shaved Head, Brutally Honest, Average Build, Narcolepsy
A slow, depressing knock sounded on Gino’s basement door, rousing an irritated sigh from his gut. “Cogs,” he muttered with a shake of his bald head. “Password!”
“Grease the cogs,” a meek voice answered.
“Alright, alright,” Gino grumbled as the rusty, swollen hinges of the door scraped open. “What’ll it be tonight, Harlan?”
“Couch brew again, I’m afraid.”
“Come on in and have a sink,” Gino instructed the sorry-looking man. Gino was known as the best bartending therapist in all of Ellison’s Quarter. His couch was so worn by the Quarter’s dejected cogs that one could only sink into it at this point. “I’ve just brewed a fresh bit of it, so give me a minute.”
Harlan trudged over to the depressed couch, noting as he dropped into it how it mirrored his own state.
“It’s a lost cause, Gino,” Harlan admitted. “I’m too far gone this time to come out ahead.”
“Well, of course you are, you sorry cog!” Gino never pulled his punches, but it didn’t stop the cogs from coming again and again for his therapeutic booze. “Why would you want a cranked-out doll anyway?” The “doll” Gino referred to was the light to Harlan’s pathetic candle, the girl he could never hope to win with his downgraded looks.
“She- she’s-” his tongue clumsily tripped over his thoughts. “She’s perfect!” He finally exclaimed.
“And that’s the rub!” Gino bellowed. “Do you realize how much better off you’d be if you followed my example?!” Noting Harlan’s disgusted expression from across the room, Gino continued, “Come on man! Just grab a couple of paper bags! One for you and one for her! It’s that simple!” Flecks of sour saliva sprayed out in a laugh from the barkeep.
“Gino, how much longer can you keep going like this?” Harlan asked.
“Hey, the last thing they did to me was give me alopecia. I mean, is that the best they can do?”
“One man’s downgrade is another’s upgrade, I suppose.” Harlan mumbled.
“Darn straight! Saving me a killing on complaints of hair in the brew!”
“Seriously though, Gino, one of these days it’ll be your eyes, then your ears, your tongue. You need to start conforming! You aren’t too far gone to upgrade back to… something normal.”
“There’s not a snowball’s chance that I’ll ever fall into their uniformity! I don’t care what they-” Gino’s brief rant was ironically punctuated by him collapsing in a heap of sleep.
“Hey, Gino!” Harlan slapped his friend’s blotchy cheek. “Wake up, man!”
“Cog’s piss!” Gino cursed as he came to.
“Gino, I think you’re the only one that’s ever been saddled with a narcolepsy downgrade.”
“At least they cut down my height a few feet before they laid that one on me,” Gino joked, “less distance to fall!” He often excused his short stature on previous downgrades, claiming to have once been over 6 feet tall. At barely 4 feet, it was questionable where he truly started out at in life. It was rare that nonconformists got the same downgrade that many times. Then again, if Gino had broken enough rules and rebelled strongly enough, they might have made an extreme cut.
“Now, let’s get back to your obsession over this cog doll of yours,” Gino redirected the conversation.
To be continued…
Tonight’s flash fiction prompt is from a prompt generator my husband and I have been working on. Stay tuned for more updates on our generator!
On a side note, this story has a hint of influence from Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” a sci-fi short story that has stuck with me through the years.