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Flash Fiction: Standards

At 9:14 AM, the late train arrives.

Amidst a crowd of late will-be riders is me. Not that I’m a late will-be rider. In fact, I am a perfectly on time will-be rider. All the time. Always have been. My watch ticks on the perfect second, right in time with each chug, chug, chug of the late train as it sets off stuffed with the lates. And me.

The city whips by in a blur of smog and smoke and plain old flames and sparks. Industry is everywhere. And it’s never late. In fact, it’s usually early. A bit too early, by my standards. In my mind, the world should always be on time. The lates should get their acts together and get on their on-time train—that being the early train that becomes late as it chugs, chugs, chugs along, and thus, becomes the on-time train to the on-time rider. And well, I suppose it also becomes the late train to the lates that were previously on-time.

But the lates wouldn’t be lates if the lates had standards, so I figure they kinda deserve it.

The late train lets off a little bit later—now it’s the even-later train, I guess—at the next station. A crowd of even-laters gets off, rushing up the steps of the station and out the door. I check my watch. Still the perfectly on time rider. Now the perfectly on time walker. I stop briefly at the station doors.

It’s raining.

The unprepared even-laters hold their fancy leather briefcases over their heads, trying in vain to ward off the hair-ruining rain. Oh, the pain. The pain, I say! The horror of having a bad hair day!

I unzip my backpack and reach under the bulky can, pulling out my red umbrella. I like red. Not too black. Not too white. And most certainly not blue. The now even-laters wear a lot of blue, and they have no standards, so blue is a certified standard-less color. No, red is most certainly the way to go for someone who has standards.

The rain pummels my red umbrella as I walk—perfectly on time—down the half-and-half flooded street. Half with rain. Have with lates. A woman-late busily blabs into a getting-wet mobile phone—about the rain and getting wet of all things. A cab zooms by and splashes a male-late, who lets out a string of swears, eyes his blue suit—now dark blue—with disdain, and trudges across the street to his reflective gray building. It’s really gray today thanks to the sky.

Tsk. If it is possible for the standard-less to possess some kind of negative standard—the anti-standard—then it is most certainly the lates and their grays and their blues that, on occasion like the gray day that is today, qualify for such a label.
The lates finally clear out to their respective gray reflective buildings and leave me mostly undisturbed, red umbrella bouncing along with the rain, to keep my current pace toward my current destination.

A thought occurs.

The rain.

If it continues to rain at such a pace—a much faster pace than my perfectly on time self walks—then I may possibly be made late (a late, God forbid). I can’t have that.

I have standards, after all.

But the rain and I come to an agreement as I cross the street, round the corner, and walk the last five blocks, arriving perfectly on time at my destination. The moment I stop walking, it dissipates into a fine mist. Then it’s gone.
Then there’s just me and the not-reflective red building. The umbrella is shoved back under the can. If only the building had the same standards as the umbrella. But it doesn’t. Inside is a very standard-less thing indeed. All the wonderful standards such a red building could have are completely wasted on that thing.

Pity.

But not that much pity.

I ring myself into the building. The thing lets me in. He really has no standards at all. Even worse than an even-later. Letting strangers right into his home!

Granted, being so adept with my own standards, I have become quite convincing in many respects (housekeeper apparently being one of them).

The thing lets me into his third-floor apartment a few moments later. It’s blue. The walls are blue. The walls of an apartment in a red building are blue. Oh, he’s the anti-Christ of standards, this thing.

He greets me—middle-aged, pudgy, and wearing blue—and starts ordering me around. Patience may be a virtue, but no one ever said it had to be a standard too.

I whip out the can—the red, red can—and bash him right on the forehead. He goes down like a sack of bricks—oh, excuse me, cinderblocks (bricks are red). Then I get to work. Work is something I’m quite good at. Not the late kind of work or the blue kind of work or the gray kind of work.

As expected, I’m a master of the red kind of work.

And red it will be.

I empty out the can—Oh look, rain! My favorite kind! The kind I always have an agreement with. I set the now empty can on the thing’s coffee table, giving the thing himself one last glance. Still out cold.

Now that’s a pity. He’ll never see the red. Never know what he’s missing. That’s the problem with the standard-less. They’re far too often accompanied by blindness.

I dig the matches out of my bag. I used to use lighters, but I don’t feel they’re quite up to my standards. Too much flash and flare and not enough practicality. Plus, matches have red tips. And they burn all the way—all the way red.

“Goodbye!” I say to the thing on the couch, giving him a wave for good measure. I take exactly one step out the door and do an about face, striking the match against the pack as I whirl around. I stop. Dead center. Facing the anti-Christ of all standard-less things.

And then I toss the match in.

The rain goes up in red.

A wave of heat washes over me, and I crack a smile. Standards should always evoke warmth, I say. I slam the thing’s door shut and take my sweet time down the steps. The fire alarm goes off when I’m two flights down. I pause briefly. The fire alarm has lights. The lights are red.

I like fire alarms. The perfect compliment to a fire itself. All fires should have alarms to accompany them! Now that’s a standard.

Someone bumps into me. A renter. A gray renter. A lot of gray renters. They all come stampeding down the steps in a wash of gray. Pale gray skin. Washed-out gray eyes. Drab gray clothes. It’s a standard-less convention. I quicken my pace with a well-placed eye roll and emerge onto the sidewalk in the middle of the throng.

A mesmerized crowd watches as flames consume the top level of the red building. People are attracted to standards. Most of them just don’t realize it.

I do another about face and stroll off down the street the way I came, taking a quick glance at my watch. Still perfectly on time. At this pace, I’ll hit the early train that will be become my on-time train. But, like usual, I’ll be surrounded by the lates. Can’t win ‘em all, unfortunately. Not even when you have standards.

I block the next part out. Too repetitive. Too annoying. Too anti-standard.

And then I’m home, away from the lates and the things and the gray tenants. The red-painted walls greet me warmly, and I hop onto the nicely worn—but not too worn—couch, simultaneously flicking on my equally not-too-worn television.

I’m on the news!

Well, my work is on the news. But I’m my work and my work is me, and I’m the headline story of the night!

“A fire broke out today in the home of Allan Morrison, CEO and founder of Cryo Tech. Though the authorities have yet to confirm it, Morrison’s neighbors did not see him leave his home today, and he is believed to have perished in the fire.”

The thing’s picture pops up on the screen. I frown. Dead and gone but still haunting the world with his dreadful blue. But the woman on the screen—thankfully dressed in green, a neutral—keeps talking, and her next words make me feel that pride I always feel after a good day’s hard work.

“Just three weeks ago, Morrison was accused of raping and murdering a fifteen-year-old girl. However, the case never made it to court. Many speculated that Morrison actually bribed city officials into dismissing the accusations against him. The public outcry was enormous, and the family of the murdered teen is currently suing the city, as well as Allan Morrison himself. Which leaves the haunting question. Was this revenge?”

Revenge is a nasty word. I prefer the term just desserts.

I do have standards, after all.

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