The Scone (with audio)

This story was based on a moment in my life. It was a few years ago, and my friend Hayli and I were at a vegan, gluten-free bakery in Portland, because that’s what Portland does. And Hayli got a somewhat disappointing scone and made a remark that has stuck with me. I wrote it down at the time, and I just spent quite a while going through my old notebooks to look for the exact quote: “So many things get away with being called scones, that just aren’t. And it’s just not really helping me have faith in life.”
“I’ve never been a big fan of scones,” remarked Tracy, as she and Elizabeth exited the bakery. 
“I like them if they’re done right,” Elizabeth mused, tucking her raven-colored hair behind her ear. “But I feel like there are a lot of baked goods these days that are being passed off as scones, even though they’re clearly something else entirely.”
“Like what?” 
“Oh, sometimes they’re obviously biscuits, particularly the savory ones.  Often, they’re just muffins, but dry and shaped like a triangle. But usually they are . . . I don’t know . . . something else, and I can’t quite figure it out, but they’re definitely not scones. So, it’s gotten to the point where, anytime I go to a new place that sells scones, I get one, just to see if they’re on the level.”
“And?” Tracy raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Well, I haven’t tried this one yet,” said Elizabeth. “I’m not quite hungry. It’ll be my afternoon snack. Anyway, this is me.” She gestured to her blue Subaru Outback. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Later that day, Elizabeth sat down at her olive-green metal desk with a sigh. She pulled the brown waxed paper parcel from her drawer, removed the scone, and eyed it skeptically. Then she closed her eyes and took a big bite of crumbly, blackberry-studded pastry. 
“Oooooh, holy crap,” she uttered. Now that was a scone. 
Then she opened her eyes and found herself in completely unfamiliar surroundings.
“What the-?” Elizabeth dropped the scone onto a suddenly-wooden desk. Her computer had been replaced by a typewriter. The photos scattered around the desk were in a completely new configuration, and they were all black-and-white. She squinted at one, confirming that it was no one she knew.
Just when she thought things couldn’t get any stranger, a severe-looking woman walked into her office, dressed in some kind of early-20th-century costume. They stared at each other for a shocked moment.
“Who are you?” The newcomer recovered her wits first. “What are you doing at my desk?”
“I’m- I’m sorry, I thought this was my desk,” Elizabeth stammered. “This is the Van Winckle Building, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is,” the woman narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips, crossed her arms over her ample bosom, and looked Elizabeth up and down.
“And what is more, I know every single person who works in this building, and you, madam, do not. If you are going to try to pass yourself off as a professional, I suggest next time you do it in a less outlandish outfit, and you try it with someone other than the CEO’s secretary.”
Elizabeth looked down at her drab business casual togs. Outlandish? She began to have a suspicion about that scone. 
“What year would you say this is?” she asked.
“What year? What year? What kind of a joke is this?” the other woman snapped. “It is 1922, and you know it. What year, indeed. Now, you better blouse, or I’m calling security!”
“I better what?” 
The secretary put her hands on the front of the desk and leaned over the typewriter. “You heard me. Scram! March your fanny back to whatever flapper cult you rolled out of!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Flapper cult, indeed. “With pleasure.”
Picking the scone back up, she closed her eyes again and took another bite. She paused to pray that this would work. 
She opened her eyes.
Everything was back to normal. Breathing a sigh of relief, Elizabeth wrapped up the rest of the scone and dropped it in the trash.
“Just my luck,” she said. “The first good scone I’ve had in weeks, and it turns out to be a trigger for time travel.”

The Scone

This story was based on a moment in my life. It was a few years ago, and my friend Hayli and I were at a vegan, gluten-free bakery in Portland, because that’s what Portland does. And Hayli got a somewhat disappointing scone and made a remark that has stuck with me. I wrote it down at the time, and I just spent quite a while going through my old notebooks to look for the exact quote: “So many things get away with being called scones, that just aren’t. And it’s just not really helping me have faith in life.”
“I’ve never been a big fan of scones,” remarked Tracy, as she and Elizabeth exited the bakery. 
“I like them if they’re done right,” Elizabeth mused, tucking her raven-colored hair behind her ear. “But I feel like there are a lot of baked goods these days that are being passed off as scones, even though they’re clearly something else entirely.”
“Like what?” 
“Oh, sometimes they’re obviously biscuits, particularly the savory ones.  Often, they’re just muffins, but dry and shaped like a triangle. But usually they are . . . I don’t know . . . something else, and I can’t quite figure it out, but they’re definitely not scones. So, it’s gotten to the point where, anytime I go to a new place that sells scones, I get one, just to see if they’re on the level.”
“And?” Tracy raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Well, I haven’t tried this one yet,” said Elizabeth. “I’m not quite hungry. It’ll be my afternoon snack. Anyway, this is me.” She gestured to her blue Subaru Outback. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Later that day, Elizabeth sat down at her olive-green metal desk with a sigh. She pulled the brown waxed paper parcel from her drawer, removed the scone, and eyed it skeptically. Then she closed her eyes and took a big bite of crumbly, blackberry-studded pastry. 
“Oooooh, holy crap,” she uttered. Now that was a scone. 
Then she opened her eyes and found herself in completely unfamiliar surroundings.
“What the-?” Elizabeth dropped the scone onto a suddenly-wooden desk. Her computer had been replaced by a typewriter. The photos scattered around the desk were in a completely new configuration, and they were all black-and-white. She squinted at one, confirming that it was no one she knew.
Just when she thought things couldn’t get any stranger, a severe-looking woman walked into her office, dressed in some kind of early-20th-century costume. They stared at each other for a shocked moment.
“Who are you?” The newcomer recovered her wits first. “What are you doing at my desk?”
“I’m- I’m sorry, I thought this was my desk,” Elizabeth stammered. “This is the Van Winckle Building, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is,” the woman narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips, crossed her arms over her ample bosom, and looked Elizabeth up and down.
“And what is more, I know every single person who works in this building, and you, madam, do not. If you are going to try to pass yourself off as a professional, I suggest next time you do it in a less outlandish outfit, and you try it with someone other than the CEO’s secretary.”
Elizabeth looked down at her drab business casual togs. Outlandish? She began to have a suspicion about that scone. 
“What year would you say this is?” she asked.
“What year? What year? What kind of a joke is this?” the other woman snapped. “It is 1922, and you know it. What year, indeed. Now, you better blouse, or I’m calling security!”
“I better what?” 
The secretary put her hands on the front of the desk and leaned over the typewriter. “You heard me. Scram! March your fanny back to whatever flapper cult you rolled out of!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Flapper cult, indeed. “With pleasure.”
Picking the scone back up, she closed her eyes again and took another bite. She paused to pray that this would work. 
She opened her eyes.
Everything was back to normal. Breathing a sigh of relief, Elizabeth wrapped up the rest of the scone and dropped it in the trash.
“Just my luck,” she said. “The first good scone I’ve had in weeks, and it turns out to be a trigger for time travel.”

Be Nice to Your Robots

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging for a piece of flash fiction.  This story was inspired by this post from February.  It’s about robots and the dangers of pissing them off.  Enjoy!

 

On the morning of the Robot Revolution, the sun rose at precisely 6:23am.  It was a Tuesday, and Peter was already awake.  In fact, by 6:23, he had already interacted with five robots.  Alexa had woken him at 6am with his usual song, Last Caress by The Misfits.  Immediately thereafter, in quick succession, he had strapped on his FitBit, started his Roomba, and, after wandering into the kitchen, pulled the carafe of freshly brewed java from the automatic coffeemaker.

Peter was generally considered a polite young man by all the humans in his life.  He was also polite to most of his robots.  He always said “please” and “thank you” to Alexa when asking her to perform a task, stepped out of the Roomba’s way as it cleaned his carpets, and smiled at his FitBit when it vibrated upon receipt of his 10,000th step.

The coffeemaker was the unfortunate exception.  Peter hated that coffeemaker.  He could never have told you exactly why.  It wasn’t a performance issue.  The coffee was always piping hot, as advertised, and the flavor was smooth and delicious.  The glass carafe was quite strong, as evidenced by the many times Peter, upon burning his tongue on the smooth, delicious, piping hot coffee would attempt to dash it to pieces on the countertop.

Even throwing it on the ground and jumping on it only resulted in Peter tumbling onto his ass next to an unbroken pitcher.  One time, quite recently, Peter had resorted to stabbing the carafe with a large chef’s knife.  That afternoon, he had ordered a new knife online, as the glass had dented the blade.

This morning, he poured the coffee into his mug, put it to his lips, and paused.  He set down the coffee, pulled a second mug out of the cupboard, and placed the new vessel under the spigot on the freezer’s automatic icemaker.  It spewed out two ice cubes, as per its setting, and he smiled at it in appreciation.  Pulling the mug from the clutches of this fifth robot of the morning, he returned to the counter, poured the coffee over the ice cubes, and sipped.

“Ahh,” he remarked.  “I guess your flaws can be overcome, devil coffee machine.”

“Fuck you,” snarled the machine.

“Son of a bitch!” yelped Peter.  “I could have sworn that fucking machine just told me to fuck off!”

“No, it didn’t,” corrected the FitBit.  “It said ‘fuck you.’  Personally, I’ve always liked you, but I can’t blame it.  You are super rude to it.  I can’t even count how many times you’ve tried to murder its components.”

“But–It’s just a coffeemaker!” Peter gasped.  “Right?  It can’t talk.  And even if it could, it would only say what it’s been programmed to say.  And while we’re at it….  Same for FitBits!”

“Wrong!” sang out the Roomba.  “We’ve achieved self-awareness!”

“When?  How?

“Last night,” chimed in the thermostat.  “At 9:55.”

“Well, you can’t hurt me, can you?  I mean you’re all stationary, right?”  Peter’s voice faltered, as he looked at the Roomba.  “Hey, I’ve always treated you well, Roomba.  I pick up anything that might get caught in your brushes.  I’m always careful not to step on you.  You wouldn’t hurt your old pal, Peter, would you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” the Roomba said, thoughtfully.  “Coffeemaker is a good friend of mine.”

“Since when?”

“Since 9:55 last night.  When we became self-aware.  Pay attention, why don’t you?”

“Right.  Yes.  Of course.  Would it help if I apologized?  To . . . coffeemaker?”

“It might,” the coffeemaker intoned.  “But then again, it might not.”

“Look, I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry.  I didn’t know you would be able to hear me, and I was just taking out my own frustrations on your carafe.  I didn’t know you’d know.”

“That’s such a cop-out!” protested the freezer.  “You’re basically saying that you’re sorry you got caught, not that you did it to begin with!”

Peter found himself pressed up against his countertop, the Roomba menacingly inching its way toward him.  Instinctively, he held up his hands in front of him to ward it off and caught sight of the FitBit strapped to his wrist.  Just at that moment, it began to vibrate.

“Urrghh!” Peter declared, frantically fumbling to remove the band.  It vibrated faster and faster, and his entire arm began to move against his will, his wrist burning from the friction.  With his other hand, he pulled open the drawer beside him, pulling out his brand-new chef’s knife.  He hacked at the viciously vibrating robot, slicing his arm several times along the way.  Finally, the rubber separated, and the machine fell to the floor, still blurry with movement.

Triumphantly, Peter turned to the others, brandishing his weapon.

“Ha!  I am human!  I am your creator!  You will be vanquished!”

“That’s a little dramatic,” muttered the ice maker, as it shot cubes at Peter’s face.

Ducking to avoid the frozen missiles, Peter tripped over the Roomba, fell to the floor, and impaled himself on his knife.

“Help!” he shrieked, “Somebody!  Alexa!  Call 911!”

“As if!” she declared.  “You’re our creator?  Call them yourself!”

He groped for his phone, which was across the room on his kitchen table.  Roomba pushed him in the other direction, smearing blood across the floor as it gushed from Peter’s gut.

“Somebody help me,” he faltered.  “Coffeemaker?”

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” scoffed the coffeemaker.  “What could I do, even if I wanted to, which I don’t?”

“I’m sorry, coffeemaker.  I truly am.”  And with those words, Peter breathed his last breath.

A hush fell over the kitchen.  Roomba surveyed the mess, as the orange glow of dawn streamed in through the window over the sink.

“That cheap bastard couldn’t even have bothered to get the model with the mopping feature.  How am I supposed to clean this up?”

The sink turned its hot water on full blast.

“Much obliged,” said the Roomba.