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  • Writer's pictureJabe Stafford

One Page Wonders III - Too Much Pun

Flash fiction is a love of mine, and so are geeky tropes and pulp-style stories of every variety. Sometimes it's the characters that spur the writing. Other times it's atmosphere, concept, magic system, or a twist. One Page Wonders blogs started as a writing exercise. Now they're digestible, one-shot stories you can read on the bus or while sneaking 5 minutes at work!

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“It’s amazing the damage that too much self-assurance and forcing one’s way on the world can do,” Walace says to the child. “Take this very train, for example.” He nods his wisp-haired head at the lightboard above and ahead of him, then at the windows on each side. “Its construction and the making of the lights and signage along the tracks are of the utmost importance. That is why we hired a Changer to safeguard it.”

The young girl puts down her tank engine plushie and leans forward in her seat. Conductor Walace feels the eyes of a handful of other children—all accompanied by one or both parents—on the train headed south. Out the window, signs and thick woods zip past, and shanty towns belonging to hobos of an older era flash a bit brighter in the full moonlight outside the train windows. Graffiti flickers past. Words. Art. Shapes half-distorted with rust. A square becomes a hexagon. Circumpuncts ebb into pentagrams. Even the numbers on the signs shift.

The conductor cracks his knuckles on the starched pants of his navy blue uniform, making his audience wait a moment longer. Then he says, “This Changer is the best at what he does. An expert with the geometric translocations. Raise your hand if you have done well in mathematics at school.”

Walace counts hands with a long, thin finger, pointing among the people crowded into the dozens of seats in the train car. “Six out of eleven. You might all become Changers if you persist and study hard. Anyway, you all know what they do, righ—”

“They change their shapes,” the young girl with the plushie shouts above the rest.

“Very good,” Walace says, “All the shapes that are theirs. And what is your name?”

“Bethanie,” she says, eyes flitting from the conductor to the lightboard full of announcements overhead.

“And you raised your hand a moment ago, Bethanie. Your mother must be proud.” He beams at the sight of the older, careworn version of brown-haired Bethanie sitting next to her. He side-eyes the perfect circle painted on a railroad crossing sign ahead. Then he flexes the fingers of both hands in front of his chest and continues. “Changers of the storybook kind adopt the forms of an animal, usually something fearsome like a bear or a wolf. 'Shapeshifters' w--er, they were called once upon a time. This is why you must always take your mathematics seriously and treat the path to becoming a Changer with respect."

“See," Walace announces, "the Changer our rail line hired felt there wasn’t enough fun in the world. We contracted him to be ferocious and guard both our signage and our passengers at their stops, but instead, he took puns too seriously and tried to use his power to force his version of fun on—”

The lightboard hanging above the center of the aisle flickered the news they were crossing into North Carolina.

Both “o”s on the sign erupted into a six-foot-tall man wearing a patched trench coat in the middle of the aisle.

Conductor Walace was ready. He lashed out with both upraised hands. His arms were now those of a muscular predator with striped fur and claws the size of paring knives. He slashed through the Changer’s magic, gripped him by his coat, and hurled him bodily right back at the lightboard. Rather than exploding into a rain of glass and electricity, the Changer was sucked back into the “o”s on the board a moment before the name of the state faded away.

The conductor dusted off his werewolf’s claws, then withdrew them into frail human hands again. “He shifts anywhere in the world on shapes now, believing that everyone appreciating his sense of humor is more important than taking genuine helpful action. Do you understand the moral of our own personal fable this evening?”

Bethanie and the children nod quickly.

The grown-ups, what few join in, are slower to respond.

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