Earlier this evening, I wrote a silly short story for a friend (we’ll call him Buzz Killington) in a group chat. He was having some issues with his roommate (Buzz named him Captain Liar) paying the cable bill and his service had been interrupted. He was asking for advice, and the following exchange occurred between Buzz and another friend (we’ll call this friend Banner Bryce):
Buzz Killington: According to Captain Liar he called them just now and paid the bill with a card. That is promising, if it wasn’t for his super hero name….
Banner Bryce: “Services still aren’t working. Let me call and see if payment posted”
Buzz Killington: Now Banner said what he said in quotations, so I’m not sure if he said that or if he was implying that if Captain Liar was a good man or even human in general he would have said that in response to me telling him I’ve still got my dashes.
That’s been edited slightly to reflect name changes and to remove unrelated text. Buzz not knowing what Banner was trying to say inspired me to construct an elaborate explanation of it. Why? Why not? Its been a while since I wrote creatively and this seemed like a fun little exercise. Without further ado, I present to you my first piece of original short fiction in almost 20 years…
4 Dashes – A Springtime Story
It was a hot late spring day and Phteven was steamed. It wasn’t just this unseasonably warm heat that got his blood boiling though — oh no! It was also the fact that his rapacious roommate had once again forgotten to pay the cable bill. Likely he’d spent the money on cheap women and even cheaper booze, as was his way. Phteven tried not to get mad, as he’d always lived by a well intentioned, but ultimately misguided code to not beat the asses of those who deserved it.
Phteven had already talked to his roommate about paying that bill and the roommate swore up and down that he had just paid it with his credit card. Phteven was skeptical, as was right and just when it comes to claims made by his possibly mentally handicapped roommate. His skepticism was also justified because despite the claimed payment, he was still confronted with a lack of TV service as indicated by the dreaded 4 dashes displayed on his cable box, which somehow managed to be cheaper than both the women and booze favored by his ill-mannered roommate.
What to do? He’d already vented to his friends in the chat while asking about how his cable company’s non-payment process worked. They’d given him the information requested, although at least one of them wondered how it could be that Phteven didn’t know, given they’d both worked there at the same time. New knowledge or forgotten, the problem remained.
The 4 dashes.
They stared at him. Mocked him. They laughed at his roommate’s claimed payment.
Phteven was starting to get nervous. “What should I do,” he asked himself. He gazed across his room at the cable box, thinking wistfully of all the DVRed shows he could be watching right now. Looking out the window and seeing the beach that lay just a few blocks down in his mind’s eye, he thought, “Services still aren’t working. Let me call and see if payment posted.”
For a moment, Phteven had a sense of cognitive dissonance. He usually thought in complete sentences, following all the rules of grammar, but for a moment there he constructed that thought with the bare minimum required to be understood, leaving out prepositions, articles, and all his Grammar Good Guys, as he liked to call them. It was almost as if… as if it were someone else’s voice speaking in his mind…
But no, that couldn’t be! That sort of thing is relegated to the world of the comic books he enjoyed. Just then he noticed that the cable box was no longer displaying the 4 dashes! The time was now emblazoned upon it, for all the world to see! The oddly phrased thought forgotten, Phteven reached for the remote control and turned on the TV, bathing himself in the LCD glow of one of his favorite pastimes.
Who’d have thought his recklessly irresponsible roommate would have come through? An argument could be made that he should have paid the bill on time, but at least he didn’t have to cajole him into paying it over the course of several weeks like he had to do last time!
Even that thought fell away however, as Phteven made a selection from his DVR and hit play. He slipped into the fantasy world of his TV show and let himself be immersed. There was no unseasonable heat, no unruly roommate, no unexplainable thoughts… just pure, televised bliss. Phteven smiled and settled in to watch, unaware of the brush he had with the lurking horror creeping just beyond the veil of reality…