This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “The Deck.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook at Amazon and Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
“The Deck” was first published at Windhover, May 2003. And yes, I did write this after getting a parking ticket while I was attending classes, thanks for asking!
Jerry Lassiter had circled the top fifteen floors of the Deck twice in his new Ford Slipstream SL without finding a single space to park. He glanced at the holo-clock floating in the right-hand corner of his spectacles. 7:54 a.m. He had six minutes to find a place to leave his ultracompact car and get to the tubes so they could whisk him through the nineteen blocks to his job at Accounttaxtech. He wasn’t going to make it.
An ancient Ford Escort LX, probably a ‘92 or ‘93 model, took up one five-foot-by-six-foot space and half of another, jutting out into the narrow driving lane. The car had four doors, for crying out loud. Jerry considered doing a little bump and go on the space-eating automobile, but then he remembered Strickland. He kept driving.
At 8:01, sixty seconds late and counting, Jerry began making up excuses for his manager at A-tech. He flipped through the possibilities in his head: a stray child had run in front of his wheels, his ultracompact had lost its charge, his mother had had some sort of medical emergency back home. Frazier would glare at him, then make some slashing marks on that silver touchboard he carried with him everywhere.
A white one-door Chevy Champion CT cut in front of him from a side passage and popped into an empty space Jerry hadn’t seen until that moment. He hit the brakes to avoid rear-ending it, filling the air with the screech of rubber on concrete followed by the popping sound of the preemptive airbag from above his head.
“Damn spacebiter,” Jerry whispered as he stuffed the quickly-deflating airbag back above his head. He drove on, hands clenched to the wheel, wishing he had a light-weapons permit.
At 8:10, still cruising the Deck, contemplating unemployment and starvation, Jerry cut through the cavernous main parking section of the ground floor and drove down a smooth, brightly-lit incline. He was in the reserved section, where luxurious twelve-by-twelve spaces were saved for the wealthiest of commuters. Ever since the ban on telecommuting back in 2020, when MicrosoftTime bought out all the communications companies and President Wheaton shut everyone down, real commuting had made a nightmare resurgence. On Jerry’s first day of work last week, Frazier had made sure to inform Jerry of his exclusive, expensive spot near the tubes.
Cruising slowly past three-hundred-thousand-dollar driving machines, Jerry hit the brakes when he found, at last, an empty space. A rectangle of black concrete never looked more inviting. He could park here for just a bit, he figured, then come back on his first break to move his ultra up to the regular section.
“Three strikes and you’re out,” he whispered. Jerry had never received a parking ticket in his two months in the consolidated city of Raleigh-Durham, but that didn’t stop his hands from shaking as he pulled his coat and handheld from under his seat. He jogged toward the glowing neon entrance to the tubes, his small body bent over slightly as if waiting for the heavy hand of authority to fall, at any moment, onto his shoulder.
* * * * *
At 8:35 a.m., the nerves in his tongue deadened by his second injection of antidepressants, antioxidants, and antibarbituates, Officer Nathaniel Ardamis Strickland began his second shift of enforcing the Old Raleigh Downtown Parking Deck. He’d just spent an hour and a half at the Capitol Building on Wilmington Street, tabulating his previous shift’s tickets, checking out his ammunition, accounting for any third strikes, and getting his injections. Since it was a double shift, he was allowed an extra 100 ccs of his choice. Feeling slightly fatigued, he enhanced his dosage with his own specially-designed stim cocktail. He had a reputation to uphold.
Strickland started his rounds on the top level of the Deck, thudding his thick right hand absently on his holster. He stood six eight and weighed in at two eighty, all muscle and sinew thanks to a strict diet of outlawed red meat along with a steady flow of cutting-edge pharmaceuticals from the Research Triangle Park in the heart of Raleigh-Durham. After only thirty paces and twenty cars, he stopped at a lime-green ultracompact with an expired registration holo above the windshield. His lips twitching, he punched in the license number on his handheld. The illegal parker, Bonnie McNamara, had one other ticket on her record. The twitching in his lips became a smile. Strickland pulled a seven-inch, laser-sharpened knife from inside his boot and pressed the blade into the thin rubber tire behind Bonnie’s driver side door. Air hissed out like a man kicked in the stomach. While he punctured the other three tires, his handheld computer printed out a red and white ticket. His tongue was still numb.
Sliding the knife back into his boot, Strickland lodged the violation under a wiper blade with a suddenly shaky hand, snapping the flimsy blade like a twig. The stims were inconsistent sometimes, and his arms now felt leaden and full of pins and needles. Officer Strickland continued his rounds, stepping quickly in dull black boots that made no sound on the concrete rows of the Deck.
* * * * *