Earlier this week I embarked on Fiction Can Be Fun’s writing prompt challenge. Here’s the story inspired by this image. Check the comments on the prompt post for more stories!
Aunty Ida’s Twist of F.A.T.E.
“It’s just that I try and I try and I can’t seem to make anything come out right,” she said, her broad, round face earnest.
“I see,” said Aunty Ida, clipboard in hand. “Nothing at all?”
“No, nothing,” she said.
“So everything goes awry?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, completely. And now I feel like I’m fated—”
“No such thing as fate,’ said Ida. “You need to get that idea out of your head. Some things are meant to be and others are not, but no such thing as fate.”
Perla squinted at her. “Huh?” she said.
“Fate isn’t a thing. The future isn’t set. Except for what is.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow, because it sounds like you’re saying the same thing in different words.”
“It’s a common problem,” said the strawberry-blonde in the corner, her arms crossed, her head even with the mid-wall wainscoting. “A very common problem.”
“Now now, Dot, don’t get snarky,” said Ida. She returned her attention to Perla. “Isn’t it clear? Might be easier if I show you. Look,” Ida said, disappearing into the cabinet under the long stainless steel bench, one of many in what looked like a lab from a movie. A horror movie, Perla thought. One of those really creepy ones.
Ida re-emerged with a long copper cylinder that morphed from convex to concave, from open at one end to open on the other as she shifted it in air. “This is a Mondretti Cylinder.”
“OK.” Perla wished she’d never picked up the flyer at the farmers market, printed on paper with a border of luridly-colored, overly plump flowers. And yet she couldn’t help herself.
“Problems Sloved with SCIENCE!,” it read.
Contact Aunty Ida”
“Problems sloved,” should have been the clue, but then again she did have problems. Many, many problems.
“This cylinder is essential for F.A.T.E.” Ida nodded enthusiastically her own words, the escaped wisps from her bun agreeing.
“You said, three seconds ago, fate didn’t exist,” said Perla, bending for her purse and finding she couldn’t reach it without toppling the stool. She braced herself to dismount. “So I think I’m going to get going—”
“Not fate, F.A.T.E.”
“Not hearing a difference,” she said. She glanced at Dot, still leaning into the corner. “Do you hear a difference?”
“If you value Mark’s pot roast with all of the trimmings, and I mean all of the trimmings, Dot, you will not answer that question.”
“How many trimmings?” Dot swallowed, her arm barrier loosening.
“All of them. And I suspect he could be persuaded to make a crème brulee for dessert.”
Dot squinted at Ida, her head tilted right. “You don’t like crème brulee.”
Ida’s eyebrow shot up, went down, and went up again. “But you do.”
“Sorry, Perla,” Dot said, raising her hands in surrender, “I’m out.”
“Like you’re leaving?” she said, blood draining from her face.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t leave you alone with Ida.”
“Probably a wise choice,” said Ida. “Anywho, on to the treatment.”
“I haven’t agreed to any treatment.” Perla finally managed to wiggle her way off the stool, and she stood firmly on the squeaky lab floor.
“You will,” said Ida. “Back to it. F.A.T.E.”
“But you said fate didn’t exist.”
“Not that one. This one.” Ida waved her hand over the middle lab bench and a black oozy substance followed her movements, ebbing and flowing, cresting and receding. With a buzz and hum, a hulking machine shuddered across the lab, a row of round orange-yellow lights flickering on in the green metal housing.
“And you’re sure about the pot roast?” said Dot as Ida grabbed the cylinder and headed for the machine, which moved on from the hum to an asthmatic wheeze.
“Completely.” Ida flicked a column of dull steel switches, and a large round screen, bright green concentric circle over dull green concentric circle, threw a green cast on the floor.
“Sorry,” said Dot to Perla, her small nose wrinkling in regret.
“You’d sell me out for a pot roast?”
“You should stay for dinner.”
“She may not be here,” said Ida.
“Excuse me?” Perla slung her purse over her shoulder and the strap rebounded, sliding down her arm. “Not be here?”
Ida spun to look at her. “In a good way,” she said unconvincingly. Twisting off a black cap with curved indentations all around, she slowly, with both hands, guided the cylinder into the green metal machine. “F.A.T.E.,” she said, “is powering up.”
“This doesn’t make sense to me. Nothing you’re saying makes sense to me. Picking up that dumb flyer at the farmers market and calling the number doesn’t make sense to me.” Though she wanted her feet to walk toward the door, Perla couldn’t tear her eyes from the rainbow of light radiating from the top of machine, reflecting on the tiled ceiling.
“That one’s really on you,” said Dot.
“It’s true, Dot has you there.” Ida shrugged. “I told Amelia to proofread it first, blame her.”
“You still distributed them.” Dot wandered closer to the machine.
“I didn’t want to waste the paper. It was fancy. Let’s move on. Your F.AT.E. awaits, Perla.”
“But you said—”
“Oh my, haven’t I told you? It’s an acronym. No wonder you’re so confused.” Ida threw her head back with an echoey honking laugh, and paused to wipe away a tear. “Factual Alternative Temporal Enactor. That’s what this is. It’s powered by that Mondretti Cylinder.”
“But what does it do?”
“Fixes your mistakes. All of them. Any of them. Why rely on destiny when you can have F.A.T.E?” Ida paused a second. “That’s definitely going on a poster. Don’t you think it should be a poster, Dot?”
“Maybe,” she said. “You’re sure about the pot roast?”
“You can page Janine if you don’t believe me.”
“You people are really oddly obsessed with food,” said Perla. “You seriously think this thing can solve my problems?” The F.A.T.E. had stopped wheezing, instead now giving a sputtering cough, two chugs and a whine. Sputtering cough, two chugs and a whine.
“Probably,” said Ida. “Or it could irrevocably damage everything you’ve ever tried to build in your life. What do you have to lose?”
“Everything?” She flung her hands. “Apparently?”
“Eh.” Ida’s left shoulder rose. “Doesn’t sound like much to lose.”
“Ida, that’s not very nice,” said Dot.
“But true,” she said, her sharp eyes on Perla’s round face. “Clearly true. So are you ready? You only have to put your hand there—” she pointed to a roughly hand-shaped glass opening in the metal casing, “and focus on a regret, and off we go.”
“I don’t know,” said Perla. “What do you think?” she asked Dot.
Dot shifted her head to one side then the other, considering. She ended with a shrug. “There’s always pot roast,” she said. “And the possibility of crème brulee.”
“I don’t think so.” Perla pulled the strap of her purse onto her shoulder again and crossed the lab to the door. “This was clearly a mistake.” She grabbed the door handle.
“You said everything turns out wrong, Perla.” Ida’s joviality had melted and her face went still. “How do you know leaving now isn’t another faulty decision in a long string of them?
Perla froze. She didn’t know. She didn’t know at all.
Not giving herself even an extra second to think about it, she thumped across the room and before she could stop herself, she dropped her hand resolutely into the hand outline.
The F.A.T.E. rumbled and shook, and the rainbows shooting from the top bent until Perla herself was nothing more than a rainbow swirl.
And then she was gone.
“Huh,” said Ida. “Wasn’t quite what I expected.” She stared at the air where Perla had been and then turned to Dot. “Dinner?”
The sellers packed up the produce they couldn’t offload cheap, dismantling their tents and tables while negotiating their final deals of the day. Perla’s bag heavy with beets and tomatoes and frilly kale, she made sure she hadn’t missed anything good. Heading toward the market exit and back to the street, a stack of flyers with lurid, overly-plump flowers caught her eye.
She picked one up.
“Problems sloved with SCIENCE!” said the flyer. Spotting the typo, Perla laughed to herself. “Nope,” she said, returning the flyer to its stack, “I don’t think so.”
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Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)
Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended)
Her Cousin Much Removed
The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.
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