Friday, 15 July 2011

Italian Apocalypse - #FridayFlash Fiction for Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig announced a prize for his latest flash fiction — an Uncharted Apocalypse.  I'd love to win a copy of his book, 250 Things You Should Know About Writing — everyone likes to win.  ( I couldn't find the link, Chuck.)  But that is not why I participate in his Flash Fiction Challenges — to win.  It's the exercise in writing a story with a thousand word limit.  This time it seemed like a chapter,  it felt good to edit repeated words, and give tension.  I don't know how to classify this — a metaphor of a memoir.  What is that?  See translation for foreign words

Italian Apocalypse
By Angie Brooksby Arcangioli
999 words
The courthouse courtyard of Florence on July 13, 2011

Italy is a complicated place.  Mountains of bureaucracy sprout from nothing like giant beanstalks.  These mountains grow higher and higher when one starts to scale them.
I decided to sell my garage.  A buyer appeared and agreed on the price but only after harassing me endlessly over petty things.  I was forced to tell him to go to hell, it was a guttural explication.  He became my sheep, I his shepherd. We wandered blindly uphill. 
He presented me a paper to sign that was too officious so I balked, he stopped, we stared.  He called his notary, the race of Italian demi-gods who sit a step below the politicians in a sumptuous garden hidden somewhere on the mountain’s top.  They say it is filled with bimbos. 
The notary gave us grappa to calm our nerves and warm our hearts when an icy wind blew between us.  A sum was exchanged, a paper signed.  We climbed a hill but the mountain that sprouted underfoot took us by surprise.  We should have expected it. I was sceptical to begin with, and now completely lost at on the mountain. 
The determined sheep nudged gently for fear that the wolf in me might return.  I built it a shelter where it could wait the flash storm, typical of mountains and commenced the ascent.  I hacked through a forest of paper forms and swam across murky ponds.
Hundreds of crucified babbled about long lines and contracts and closed offices. When I passed under their crosses, they pushed their paperwork on my shoulders insisting I carry it higher.  A man flogged Jesus in front of a group that sang, “We will remember you.”  Then they turned downhill because he died, the flogger followed him and they sang, “You will be a saint.”
Don Quixote hobbled by when I stopped to remove a woman from a cross, she could not work because there are no day-cares in Italy. No one cared about her doctorate at Cambridge.  She thanked me, then followed the steps of the man from la Manche.
 Leaving the nailed complainers, who discussed hypothetical outcomes, I climbed to a hesitant camp built by an engineer and a technician. They conversed about the mountain.  Sunlight drenched us, relief filled my soul when the summit winked — the men had evoked it.   But their fire dwindled, they had to leave, go higher.  I should wait, they would call for me.  Then they said, “You can not sell the garage.”
A cloud blew in from nowhere, surrounding us like milk.  The two men abandoned me and took their tents.  It was cold.  I wired the notary and the sheep, “the sale is off.” 
The sale was suspended but I did not know why nor when I would know more.   The sheep brayed through a megaphone.  When he materialized, he saw my bewilderment, and offered spirits.  He nudged me. I left again to climb.
I found them in the cloud in a place made of documents and charts.  The engineer measured things and dictated to a gum-chewing secretary who filled out forms and answered angry calls from owners like myself.  The technician stoked a fire.  Pieces of blackened documents alighted on the freezing mountain eddies, carrying words, half phrases — out of sight.  I read one just before the gluttonous fog swallowed us again.
Io sotto scritta, Cretina come sono, nata a New York, residente a parigi, con la presente vi communico…” *  But that is me burning — I thought.  My life was whisking away above the clouds before I could finish this one last thing.  I knew the climax was near.
The secretary answered the telephone, “Pronto?”  Pause. “No one knew.  You are not alone.  There are fourteen building infractions.  We are preparing our case, the documents are ready,” she said while feeding a shredder piles of yellowed papers.
“Can I use the toilet?”  I asked. 
She handed me a spiral bound photocopy of building codes and pointed.
“What’s this for?”  I asked.
“To wipe your ass, honey.”
 When I relieved my needs, someone handed me coffee then the notary called, my garage was safe.  There would only be a 5000 Euro fine because the door was problematic. 
“But I didn’t put the door on!”  I yelled to nobody.
“Door on, dooron on on,” the mountain echoed.
The cloud dissipated.
“Stop yelling, you’ll wake her up.”  She yelled.
“You’re yelling, not me.”
            “What?”  She screamed above the boom, not looking at me.
“The printer’s freaking out, again.”  The technician was furious.
“Don’t worry, Honey, tomorrow is Ferragosto.”  
Everyone relaxed. 
I looked at my watch, it was August 14th.  Tomorrow the entire country stops, the courts go on vacation for six weeks, closed. No issue.  The cities are empty, only thieves stay in town to drill through security door locks.
“Can someone help me, I have to sell my garage?”
No one answered. It was already vacation.  The mere notion of it had sent the makeshift office into tilt. Only the coffee machine worked, pumping out Nespresso’s like bullets.
“Have a coffee,” offered the engineer.
I took it, slugged it and said,  “I have to run, the summit is closing.”
He laughed.
I ran, stumbling on the rocks beyond the timberline.
Higher, I went.  Higher and higher, the vortex of steam crossing from the other valley caressed the apex.  Crows guffawed.
I was there.  I was there, I am here.  I had reached the apex, my garage could be sold.  The sheep had to know.  I dialled his number.
The rumble sounded, the mountain coughed.  It spat blood. Hot, boiling, steaming,  molten rock.
“It’s going.”  The chorus sounded, politicians and notaries and bimbos ran left and right.
A dusty discharge of documents filled the air.  Fire, lava, ash exploded from underfoot, a laughing man among it.  He held the keys to my garage, he said he’d never leave.  He had the right, I could not sell because he squat.

Io sotto scritta, Cretina come sono, nata a New York, residente a parigi, con la presente vi communico…
I hereby undersign, cretin that I am, born in NY, resident of Paris, with the present document intend to...


  1. Interesting idea. Definitely metaphorical. I like that you have compared something that usually FEELS like an apocalypse to something like one. Neat idea.

  2. If it isn't an apocolypse, it could really use one. Brought back memories of insane bureaucrats I have known.
    A terrific ode to paperwork!

  3. Thanks Lindsay, thanks Louise.

  4. Dante Alighieri, John Milton, Kafka and Walt Kelly (the creator of the comic strip Pogo and the man who said: We have seen the enemy and he is us)are toasting you right now, Angie. Devine (maybe not so divine)Comedy complete with all the levels of Mr.K's bureaucratic hell thrown in for good measure with a bunch of brilliant, Bottecelli images as a bonus. Cool. Thanks AJ

  5. Hehe, I have heard people rave at Italian bureaucracy, but never experienced it myself.

    We either feel like the world's ending, or wish it would end, when faced with the paperwork monster, so this is a very refreshing take on the whole 'end of the world' thing. These little things we think are IT - what if they really were?

    Good fun.

  6. AJ, those are some heavies, I don't know Pogo. Will check it out. When I was writing it I thought, Oh no, this is too much like the inferno. Thanks for the visit.

    Epicurean The paperwork monster - good name. I thought that I should have called it paper volcano. thanks too for the visit.

  7. I like the voice. You've captured apocalyptic bureaucracy well.

  8. Thanks Robyn, it's and encouraging comment, on 'the voice'