The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. In the past, I would choose a piece at random, but this time I just picked one that appealed to me. Exciting, no?
This piece is entitled “Quotas,” inspired by a painting by Bobby Chiu and Chris Sanders. I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should either Bobby Chiu or Chris Sanders stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out Bobby’s work at http://www.imaginismstudios.com/ourArt.php and Chris’s work at http://alohalilo.deviantart.com/.
Anyway, let’s begin!
“William. William, we need to discuss your performance this quarter.”
It was a lady’s voice, but not like any lady Billy knew. Not like his teacher, Ms. Valentine, or the principal or anybody. Definitely not like the girls. There was something familiar about it, like he’d heard it once a long time ago, but he didn’t know where. He wasn’t even sure that he wasn’t just making that up.
Actually, it kind of sounded like Mommy did when she’d had a few glasses of wine and she was telling Daddy it was bedtime, but Billy didn’t really want to think about it.
“William, I know you’re not asleep. Open your eyes and look at me.”
Billy responded to the order by doing the only thing that made any sense. He mumbled and pulled his blanket tight over his head.
The voice sighed, like Mrs. Valentine did when she realized that he’d been drawing in his notebook instead of paying attention to the lesson. “Grell, if you would?”
The world lit up like he’d slept too long and Daddy had thrown open the curtains in his bedroom. His blanket disappeared, pulled away with a theatrical flourish. Billy gave in and looked up, up into the eyes of a slavering monster whose pupils shined like flashlights. The thing looked back down at him, its face a mask of dark teeth and dark fur and horns protruding at unnatural angles from its skin.
It smiled, its throat and what Billy could only think of as its cheeks moving in time to its own excited breathing. Spittle dribbled from the corners of its mouth, landed on his bed, and sizzled away into nothingness.
“BILLY!” it shouted, its voice rumbling like rocks rushing down a hillside. Its grin grew a little wider.
“Quiet, Grell. You’ll wake his parents.”
Grell frowned. His ears drooped, and the lights that blazed forth from his eyes dimmed. Without that light blinding him, Billy could see the lady on his back. He’d seen her before years ago. He remembered the way she’d told him about all the monsters in his house. He remembered her horns and her tail and her long dark hair that seemed to move like it was alive and her clothes like she was going to the beach. That was silly, though. Who’d go to the beach in the middle of the night?
Lily smiled, the sharp black of her lips standing out against grey skin and lips that were almost as white and as sharp as Grell’s. She leaned down, resting an elbow on Grell’s head and mashing the loose skin of his forehead down over his eyes, her hand delicately cupping her chin and her cheek. Her other arm dangled lazily at her side, like she didn’t have a care in the world.
Billy’s eyes darted around uncertainly. It scared him to look at Grell’s mushed up face. It made him uncomfortable to look at Lily’s pretty but unnatural features. So finally he let his eyes focus on the clipboard Lily was holding in one hand. “Hello, William.” The smile disappeared from her face, but her eyes weren’t angry. Yet. “You’ve been missing your quotas.”
Lily nodded. “Bubbles tells me that you’re not afraid of him anymore.”
“The monster clown that lives under your bed? He whispers in your ear while you dream and leaves balloon animals at the foot of your bed that disappear with the first light of day.”
Billy shook his head. “Daddy and I checked under the bed. He showed me that there are no monsters under there.”
“Well, not anymore! We had to relocate the poor thing once you stopped responding to his efforts. He’s been around since the ’70s, you know. He’s been worried about being replaced ever since Quarters made his debut in the ’90s.” Lily shook her head. “Whispers and balloon animals just aren’t as flashy as sharp teeth and blood red eyes and pulling yourself out of the sewers, you know?” Lily’s eyes narrowed to slits, and she regarded him the way Billy imagined he looked when he was trying to solve a hard math problem. “Now, what are we going to do with you?If you’re not afraid of monsters anymore, what notes can we hit to really maximize your fear production?
Billy stared up at Lily blankly. He had no idea what she was talking about, and he wanted so badly for her and Grell to just go away.
Grell sniffed the air. He ran a forked tongue over his chapped, fish-like lips. “MISTRESS LILITH,” he rumbled.
“Grell, don’t–” Lily stopped mid-sentence, raised her delicate nose to the air, and sniffed once. “Ooh, what is that?” She sniffed again. “Discomfort and uncertainty with a hint of… lust?” Lily chuckled quietly, but then went silent. She brought the clipboard up before her face and tapped a single finger against her pursed lips. “William, it says here that you’re ten years old. Is that correct?”
“Hm. A bit immature for ten. And your family is reasonably wealthy and well-adjusted, so we can’t realistically expect for you to fear the economy or social dysfunction at this age. But the lust and the uncertainty… I think I can work with that. Investing in the future, as it were. It says here you don’t play any sports or instruments now, so as long as you don’t start…” Lily looked up from her clipboard and smiled at Billy, her face all sharp teeth and dark eyes and soft, smooth skin. “Puberty should be very interesting for you. I’ll consult with my supervisors, but let’s call this a plan. Have a good night, William!”
She scratched Grell behind one of his horns, and the beast enthusiastically picked up the blankets he’d torn off of Billy earlier. He laid them out over Billy, tucked them in around his wide-eyed form, and grinned. “BYE, BILLY,” he rumbled happily, and with that the two monsters disappeared in a puff of smoke.