Flash fiction: It whirred and beeped and buzzed

Author’s note: In preparation for NaNoWriMo 2009, someone put up daily prompts on one of the forums. I did them in the spirit of warm-ups, but some of them turned into stories. Here is one such.

Prompt: It whirred and beeped and buzzed in the most unsettling way.

The Mind Reading Machine. Yeah right.  Hardwood cabinet, red and green lights, dials that made me think it was stuffed with vacuum tubes inside like a prehistoric radio.  “Tells your inner secrets,” said the huckster, hitting the power switch.  His hair was swept back from his face in golden waves, as if it were being blown back by an unusually artful tempest, and some invisible lacquer held it in place so that he looked like a becalmed hood ornament.

The Machine hummed, and the red and green lights flashed on.  It whirred and beeped and buzzed in the most unsettling way.  It was darned heavy, too, because I could hear the table squeaking under it as it finished what the huckster insisted on calling the warm-up sequence.  Without permission, his fingers closed on my wrist and he placed my hand on the plate between the two rows of lights.

The red and green flickered, then settled: four red lights on, six green.

He turned to me and said, “You’re skeptical. You’re thinking that this can’t possibly be as advertised.”

I thought, “And you are a fool if you think I don’t know how you figured that out.”  Because my face is a mirror of my thoughts; my mother had told me that ever since I was five, and warned me that I ought to work a little harder at concealing it–maybe apprentice with a professional poker player, she suggested, as I got older.

I said, “You missed something.”

He said, “It’s not me, it’s the machine.”

I made sure to project this time, so that my rejoinder would be heard through the entire hall.  “Well, then the machine missed something, if you like.  I’m also thinking that you’re the biggest scam artist I’ve met this month, and not particularly good at it.”  I paused, and added, “And that hair has got to go.”

With that I reclaimed my hand, turned away, and walked down the steps into the audience.

(Process information: 10/29/2009, 3:01 PM to 3:08 PM, 330 words, 7 minutes)

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