Too Hot To Handle (Weekly Writing Challenge)

The Weekly Writing Challenge wanted us to keep it real. Sur-real. Challenge accepted. Surreal I can do.

“Trust your heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backward.” -E. E. Cummings

**********

“See where that tractor is pulling off? Follow him down that road.”

“Good grief, Nathan. You really do live out here.”

“Well now you can see why I didn’t want to take the bus. Thanks for carpooling.”

“Hey man, if you’re setting all this up, least I can do is give you a ride.” Grant found his gaze slide back to his rearview mirror once more. He knew that there was a certain patch near the back of his head that liked to stand up and wave to the crowd. The more Grant tried to push it down and make it obey the pattern of the other hairs, the more likely it was to come back for a command performance. For the moment, the patch seemed to be keeping a low profile.

Grant’s had been a long one and he wasn’t done yet. First off there had been the staff meeting to discuss how they might achieve greater success and team cohesiveness in the workplace. Grant did not think that being a call-center rep really needed any cohesiveness or even a dab of Elmer’s Glue. However, he had been strongly encouraged to attend. If the first three memos stating the “voluntary” nature of the meeting had not motivated Grant, the personal invites by all four of his supervisors had done the trick. Especially when his immediate boss had asked, with eyebrow raised and a dangerous tone, “We’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Freedom to attend had no felt so menacing.

Afterwards, he had worked his eight hour shift. And the customers had been an extra kind of crazy that day. Grant could not believe, in this day and age, that he still had to convince a woman that her CD-drive was not a cup-holder, and that is why it had snapped off when she had put her latte in and the drink had spilled all over her computer and keyboard.

Who even has CD-drives anymore? Grant shook his head at the memory. A Blu-ray-drive works for everyone, but c’mon, at least get a DVD-drive. Yikes. I wonder if she has all her photos saved on floppy disc. Grant knew that on his last day he would probably talk each customer through “accidentally” reformatting their hard drives.

Grant looked out the window at the pastures that lined the road and shook his head. Cows. When was the last time I saw cows? And they’re everywhere. The only thing that had made his day, and this surprisingly long commute, worthwhile was the promise of a date. Nathan had assured him this gal would show him a hot time.

“Sizzling, man. Sunga knows things you wouldn’t believe. You’ll love her.” Since Grant’s dating life was in the midst of quite the cold spell, he agreed. What did he have to lose?

“Hey, Nathan”, Grant said as he drove by a fertilizer dealer. “Why didn’t you introduce me to Sunga before?”

“Oh, well I thought you were dating Annette”, Nathan replied. Nathan was leaning as far back as the car seat would go. Staring at the car ceiling, Grant couldn’t help but envy his coworker. He always seemed a little calmer with customers than Grant. Nathan had the answers and Grant hadn’t even figured out the questions. Grant had a lovely wife and two kids. He owned a house. Even with the salt and pepper hair that dotted his temples, he still acted young. At six foot nothing and broad shouldered, Nathan was always “that guy”. He was the guy who would crush all comers at recycling can basketball. He was the employee that actually offered useful insights in meetings. The man had his act together and it gave him a confidence that both annoyed and amazed Grant.

“Annette? Who’s Annette?” Grant tried to crane his neck backwards, but he couldn’t get a good view. He would have to hope that his nostril hairs were trim and decent. Grant wasn’t unattractive, but he was no Nathan. Grant was two inches shorter and twenty pounds heavier. His blonde hair was thicker and fuller than Grant’s brunette tresses, but that only left more ways for it to flop around and generally act unkempt. Thanks to long years of programming and sitting in front of a computer, Grant’s wrists and knuckles were wrecked. Almost every gesture or move that his hands made was accompanied by the sound of joints popping and cracking. Grant had parts of his life together, but there was certainly some assembly left.

“You know, Annette. Accounts receivable? Really nerdy?” Nathan started tapping out a rhythm on his jeans as his hands slid and slapped on his jeans.

“That Annette?” The one with the chart detailing all the Star Trek boats on her wall?”

“Ships, Grant. They’re called ships.”

Nathan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Isn’t she the one that taped big blue construction paper to her office tardisdoor until the higher-ups made her take it down?”

“Yep”, Nathan said with a smile. “The woman wanted to live in a Tardis and The Man shot her down. It was a problem even a sonic screwdriver couldn’t fix.”

Grant shook his head. “Why would you think I was dating her? I barely talk to her.”

“Well, you always open the door for her. And I see you in her office quite a bit.”

“That’s because she’s always carrying too many papers and can’t reach the door. C’mon, I’m not that big of a jerk.”

“Uh huh. And the office visits?” Nathan smiled in his own sly way as he pressed.

“Dude, her account got hacked because she opened that e-mail a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to get her computer up and running again so we won’t lose any billing information.”

“Wait”, Nathan said as he sat the car seat upright. She opened the ‘FREE RABITZ’ e-mail? The one with like, four attachments on it?”

“Yep, she was the one.”

“Dear word”, Nathan said as he went back to tapping his beat. “I really thought she was smarter than that.”

“This is the point I am trying to make. And I can’t imagine Annette and I being happy with a gaggle of bunnies pit-pattering around our place.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll like Sunga. She’s amazing, fascinating, and exotic. Oh, and they’re a colony. Also known as a nest, or my personal favorite, a warren.”

“What?”

“Turn left up here. A ‘gaggle’ of rabbits? They’re called a warren.”

“How do you know this stuff?” Grant flipped his turn signal and headed down the dirt road.

“I read. My wife tells me things. The usual. We’re the house at the very end of the block. Watch out for the tar pits over there.”

Grant and Nathan were flung forward as the car jolted to a stop.

“Grant! What the… why’d you slam on the brakes.”

“Tar pits?!?”Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

“Oh, that’s right; you haven’t been to my place. Sorry. Yeah, we’ve lost a few tires to the tar pits. A few cars and bikes too. But hey, we never have to shovel the drive.” Nathan smiled, the terrain being quirky and amusing to him.

“Tar pits. Explain.” As if to emphasize his point, Grant put the emergency brake on.

Nathan sighed and turned to the driver. “Okay, here’s the thing. We’re right above this weird geothermal zone. That’s why there are tar pits on the way. And, I might as well tell you this now, the floor of my house is made of lava.”

“I’m starting to think you belong with Annette.”

“No, you’ll see”, Nathan said with a chuckle. “That’s the only reason we were able to afford this place. I admit, it took some getting used to. Right away, we knew we’d never be able to have pets. I mean, c’mon; one misstep and those furry little suckers would get all their fur singed in the lava. That’s just cruel; we couldn’t do that to a cat. And the fumes have this effect on birds. I guess it’s like canaries in the coal mines? I don’t know, but those things pass out and don’t snap out of it. But the four of us are happy by ourselves.”

“Wait, you’re not kidding. Your floor is made of lava?”

“I know, I know”, Nathan said as he waved off the shock with a gesture of his hand. “It all sounds so insane. But dude, think about the benefits. I don’t have a heating bill. Zilch. And since it is always warm, we can keep the windows propped open. That takes care of most of the fumes. You know I’m a strong believer that kids are pampered. A toxic fume here or there will build character.”

“Hey, book guy”, Grant said as he smacked Nathan on the back of the head. “What part of ‘toxic’ is not sinking in?”

“Oh, it’s fine. Just in the ‘caution’ range, not quite in the ‘hazard area’. We got it checked.”

“Well if you’re propping windows open all over the house, how do you keep burglars out?”

“Why is that always the first question people ask?” Nathan sighed. “I’ve talked about this with Alyssa time and again. People don’t want to know how the geothermal conditions powers our electronics. They don’t want to see the cool glass studio we have out in the garage where she sculpts her art. Nope, they want to know how we keep out robbers and thieves.”

“And?”

Nathan shook his head ever so slightly. “Think about it, Grant. You’re sneaking into the house. It’s late. Sure the floor looks funny, but people pick weird carpets. So you lift one leg in through the window. The smell starts to make your nose twitch, but you continue. All is quiet. Other than the glow coming from the floor, it’s nice and dark. You swing your legs in, stand on the floor, and Wammo! All of a sudden your shoes start melting. You try to make it out in time, but then it goes after your socks, makes quick work of them, and it starts to get to your feet. You’re outta there like a shot and you aren’t coming back. I’m just glad the judge found in favor of us. For guys that make their living operating outside the law, thieves can be awfully litigious. Did you know that?”

“No”, Grant said as he tried to reclaim his bearings. “Apparently I’m learning a lot today.”

“It’s good for you.”

“Wait, how do you keep from burning? Your books, your couches, do you just float around on this constant bed of coals and magma?”

“Lava, technically.”

“What?”

“Lava is above ground, magma is underground. At least, that’s the short answer.”

“Nathan, you’re killing me here.”

“I know, but what a way to go!” Nathan had spread his arms wide but soon realized his friend didn’t share his enthusiasm. “Okay, look. The short answer is we use lots of Nomex and iridium. Lava has a pretty set temperature in our place. So we reinforce all our walls and the ground around the house with iridium and we’re happy campers. The constant flow of lava and the geothermal energy powers the array of fans we have all over; you’ll see.”

“If you’ve got it all figured out, then why is there a lake of lava in your living room!” Grant could hear his voice crack, but did not care.

“You know, that’s a question Sunga still hasn’t answered to our satisfaction. We kinda just let it go.”

“Hold on”, Grant said as he turned off the car. “What does Sunga have to do with this? What is she, some sort of Volcanologist?”

“Hmm? Oh, no she’s our neighbor.”

Grant felt a sense of dread take over. “Your neighbor who lives… where?”

“Underground”, Nathan said calmly, but with a faint trace of hesitation.untitled

“Underground. Of course, because she’s what, Lava Lass?”

“Actually, she refers to herself as a Keeper of the Crust.”

“So she’s a custodian of lava?”

“Well, I’m not sure her underlings would call her that but—.”

“Underlings? She’s, their queen?”

“No”, Nathan said with some irritation. “I told you, Keeper of the Crust. C’mon, Grant, catch up. Yeah, she’s royalty, but she’s above all that.”

“Okay, you’re setting me up with royalty. Great. How am I not going to die when I set foot insider your house!?!”

“We have iridium shoes for you, duh.”

“Where are you getting all these materials?”

“Well, Sunga helped us out. She really made the home more livable. She likes us, and wants us to stay, so she really goes out of our way to make our lives easier. She’s introduced us to lots of folks in the meteorite community. That’s how we can afford all that iridium. I’m telling you man, she’s great. Smart, wise, funny. You’ll love her. Just, y’know, keep your car keys and wallet in your pocket at all times. Five seconds after you drop anything and it’s not coming back. Alyssa loves not having to vacuum, though.”

“So when you said Sunga was hot…”

“Oh, she is”, Nathan said excitedly. “You’ll love her, I know it. She’s smart, inventive, and hilarious. Nobody works harder to take care of others than she does. She’s like Mother Teresa of the underworld. Hmm. Bad choice of words. Of the netherworld? Shoot, what did she call her realm? I’ll have to ask. It’s a much better title. Ugh, Alyssa always has to remind me.”

“But Sunga, she’s not like a Tolkein dwarf or anything? No Quasimodo hump on her back?”

“No no, she looks stunning. Think a gal from a tropic with a few differences”, Nathan said waving his hand once more.

“So, the tan to beat all others?”

“Well yeah”, Nathan admitted. “I’m not going to lie to you; all those decades around magma have made her skin a bit leathery. But man, she’s got a soft spirit. Don’t you worry.”

The car was quiet. Nathan looked to Grant, opened his mouth, and then changed his mind.

If there was one thing Grant had learned from years of fielding phone calls, it was how to read silence. He looked at Nathan. Nathan wouldn’t meet his eyes. Grant cleared his throat loudly. Nathan turned to look. Grant tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. Nathan smiled.

“What?”

“What?” Nathan adopted a look of innocence.

“Don’t give me, ‘What’”, Grant replied. “I know this feeling. Any quieter and I’m going to start seeing tumbleweeds roll across our path.” Of course here, the tumbleweeds would catch on fire and keep on rolling until it was ash. “What aren’t you saying? Does she have an extra hand? No teeth?”

“I told you, she’s gorgeous.”

“Except…?”

“Well, her eyes are all black.”

“Uh huh”, Grant said as he tapped the steering wheel. “Do tell.”

“C’mon man, she lives underground most days! She has to be able to look straight at magma, lava, and navigate dark caverns. Of course her eyes are going to be a bit different. So she has black oil swishing around in her ocular cavities, so what?”

“That…”, Grant caught himself. He was intrigued.   “That actually sounds awesome.”

“I know, right!”   Nathan leaned towards Grant as he spoke excitedly. “Alyssa doesn’t get it. She’s learned to not see it but it freaked her out at first. The kids think it’s amazing. You know, like one of those lava lamps—“

“Because you’re so lacking in lava.”

“Yeah, yeah. But between you and me? It’s incredible. Like a hula-dancer who sways hula_dancerwith her eyes. Frickin’ enchanting. Don’t tell Alyssa, though. I mean, she’s probably guessed, knowing her. But still.”

“Sunga’s fun too?”

“Oh, man, are you kidding?” Nathan slapped Grant heartily on the back. “She’s the best. A little forceful for my tastes. You know, since she’s used to commanding and ordering people around all day. For you, though? I think it’ll be great.”

“Nobody’s going to toss me into a lake of burning tar?”

“Hey, if my kids can get through their toddler years in one piece, you’ll be fine. Watch your step is all.”

“Literally and figuratively.”

“Yeah, I mean it is your first date with Sunga. Don’t say anything stupid.”

“Like, ‘Is it hot in here or—‘.”

“Exactly like that. Don’t do that.”

“Got it.”

Grant sat in his car and mulled over his situation. He had already driven all this way. He really was intrigued. The house and its strange habitat sounded interesting. More so, he was curious about Sunga. If she was half as great as Nathan said she was, it would be much more fun than another night of Celebrity Jeopardy. What did he have to lose? If nothing else, he was quite sure the evening would be memorable.”

“All right”, Grant said as he turned the car back on and removed the emergency brake. “Guide me through these hazards and pitfalls.”

“Okay”, Nathan said as he pointed up the drive. “See where the smoke is coming up from that black pool there? Drive around it, not through it.”

“Understood”, Grant said as he pressed onward. “What next?”

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

6 Responses to Too Hot To Handle (Weekly Writing Challenge)

  1. Liked this. This *is* sort of keeping it real. Liked the revelations through the dialogue.

  2. “What next” indeed! I actually know a guy who will date anything in a skirt. I can see him also mulling over the pros and cons of this date and saying, “yeah, why not?” too!
    I did like this story very much…and the Doctor Who reference (2 thumbs up!)

    • The book I’m reading now has nothing -but- those guys as characters. Not sure how long I’ll last…

      And yeah, you caught me. While not a Whovian, I can fake a nod here or there. 😉

  3. Pingback: how to make theatre absurd | litadoolan

  4. litadoolan says:

    I like the emotions shared by the characters, the story felt real.

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