Monday, February 20, 2023

The Boy and the Battlefields


My story for this week is called "The Boy and the Battlefields". It was written for a Short Story group prompt called "Alternate History".

Let me know what you think. I'd enjoy any feedback!



"The Boy and the Battlefields"
by James J Meadows III

  "This way, folks," the guide called over the heads of her mostly attentive audience.

Justin, a short brown-haired boy at the back of the crowd, was not one of the attentive ones. He marched behind his parents, head stuck in his Gameboy console, while his brother Ethan skipped beside him, bobbing up and down with undisguised enthusiasm. Justin knew Ethan loved history. His brother spoke incessantly of his desire to visit the battlefields of the Canadian-American War. Justin, for his own part, was much more interested in zapping Aliens. If he could just complete two more levels, he’d have a new high score, finally breaking the record set by his friend, Tony. With two lives left, today was shaping up to be his lucky day.

"Here you see a picture of Lincoln standing beside the map of the ‘New America’ he touted during his Presidential Campaign." The guide continued. “His vision of the ‘New Manifest Destiny’ and the ‘Great American Dynasty’ inspired Americans, opening their eyes anew to the glory of the British, French, Prussian and Ottoman Empires. His vision of expanding the nation to the Arctic Ocean united a public weary of the turmoil and political battles raging over topics like slavery; uniting them behind a common cause. He easily won the public vote, capturing the presidential election by a landslide. The result sent ripples across the Northern Hemisphere, striking fear into the hearts of world leaders, and creating panic throughout Britain and Canada. Yet, their worst nightmares couldn’t have foreseen the events that would soon unfold..."

Yes! Justin thought as he blasted another alien from the game world forever, 70000 points and an extra life! Only 20000 more to go! He paused the game as they moved to a new location.

"The United States officially declared war on Canada on June 24th, 1861," the guide was saying. "As you can see on this map, the Canadian military and their French and British allies were fully mobilized, ready for the conflict. Still, as they would soon find out, they had severely underestimated both the tenacity and resourcefulness of the American armies."

The guide was still talking but Justin couldn’t spare her any mind. A boss alien had appeared. Justin pressed buttons as quick as his fingers could work, desperate to get through the battle. Of all times, it was at that pivotal moment when his brother jostled him. Justin’s finger slipped, sending the ship to the wrong spot. The ensuing blast from the monster cost him a life. He glared at his brother, who was too intent on the lecture to notice, as the game reloaded back to where the death occurred.

He renewed his assault on the boss with fresh determination. A minute later, he breathed a sigh of relief, as the level boss burst into a thousand sparkling pixels. Justin was moving to the next level, where he only needed 15000 more points. As the game played through a storyline sequence he had already seen a hundred times before, Justin was once again able to spare an ear for the guide. He glanced up absently as she led the tourists past various photos and diagrams.

    "By the time the Canadian and American forces met here at The Battle of Quebec City, Britain and its Canadian provinces were in a dire situation. They were desperately short on equipment and men. To make matters worse, their supply lines were in complete disarray. There was no hope for land-based aid as Generals Beauregard, Forrest, and Cleburne tracked down and crushed all reinforcements coming from the south through Mexico and the Caribbean.

    “Nor could help arrive by sea. In only 2 years America had constructed a fleet of as many iron-clad warships as the British and French combined. Like most iron-clad warships of the day, they weren’t very effective for trans-oceanic travel or fighting. Still, the City class and Monitor class ships were superior in design and faster to produce than their British and French equivalents. Along with assistance from the world’s first operational military submarines, the Hundley and the Alligator, America established an impenetrable blockade of both the Great Lakes and the Canadian coast. The outdated wooden ships necessary for the mother country to transport supplies and reinforcements across the ocean were simply no match. The only remaining routes for reinforcements required traveling the long land-based paths through Greenland. These were far too slow to match the speed of America’s railway supply lines. The result left the British-Canadian army on its last leg as July 1863 rolled around."

    Boom! Justin scowled. The new level had hardly begun and already he had lost his first life. He had only two lives left and was approaching the final boss for level 23, a boss he’d never defeated before. With his points scrolling toward 89000, the fate of his game rested upon the next few crucial minutes. He tried to tune out the distracting voice of the guide as she rambled on but her words seemed to pierce his concentration, each fresh sentence assaulting his mind like gnats swarming his thoughts.

    "Here, on a snowy plain on July, 24th 1863, the main force of the British and French armies merged with several retreating smaller forces. Their intention was to confront America's main force led by Generals Robert E Lee and Ulysses S Grant. Meanwhile,  various American forces led by Stonewall Jackson, General Sherman, General Meade, and General George Thomas arrived in pursuit of the retreating enemies' forces. These merged with America’s main force to confront the allied enemy army. Over the following five days, the Battle of Quebec City became the bloodiest conflict in American history.”

    The moment had come. The boss, a massive Alien mother ship, that took up almost the entire video game screen, advanced against Justin’s ship. Justin pushed the A button as fast as he could. He directed his little spaceship up and down trying to dodge the deadly fire of his unbeaten rival. The enemy’s life meter was dropping. So was his own. He was down to fifty percent, forty percent…twenty percent! Wow, we dodged a major blast right there. Crap, hit again, ten percent. Boom! His ship was gone. He was down to his last life.

    “On the second day of fighting, the main force of the French army found themselves trapped between Sherman’s troops and the river. They were cut off from their British allies and faced the prospect of a complete rout. With no hope of escape, they surrendered during the early afternoon hours when Sherman’s reinforcements arrived.”

    His new life was ready to start. The boss was down to almost fifty percent; he just needed to last a little longer. Pressing the A button again in furious agitation, he sent waves of laser blasts at the opposing ship. His life was down to seventy percent, barely ahead of the enemy ship, which was already down to forty…now thirty! Ouch, he got blasted by the villain’s main weapon. That hurt. Justin was down to forty percent. A touch of desperation crept into his attack. The villain was down to twenty, fifteen, ten percent! Justin was dropped to ten as well. This was the moment. The villain was down to five. He just needed to land one…more…shot.

    “Yes!” Justin shouted, hoisting his hands into the air.

    The boss was defeated!

    Jumping up and down, Justin pumped his fists in victory. Then, he froze. All eyes were looking at him.  He scanned the crowd with the sudden discomfort akin to finding himself in the middle of a bright spotlight. The tour guide looked shaken. Others looked shocked. A few of the grown-ups appeared amused but his parents weren’t among them, frowning down at him with disapproving glares. Justin lowered the Gameboy with a sheepish expression.

    “Anyway…” the tour guide stuttered. She seemed to be having some difficulty rediscovering her rhythm. “As I was saying, after the northern front collapsed, the battle was over. The British officially surrendered to General Lee at the Quebec City courthouse four days after the end of the battle. A year later, Congress ratified the new boundaries, dividing Canada and the Northwest Territories into the 51st through 65th states. Lincoln’s New Manifest Destiny and the Campaign to the Artic finally became reality.”

    Confident all eyes were off him, Justin returned his attention to the game console. He scanned the grey and black screen searching with fervor for the numbers he desired. Up in the corner, he saw the new point total displayed proudly for all to see: 90215 points.

    A smile of triumph crossed his face. He had gained another life, reached a new high score, and moved on to a new level. The adventure was just beginning.

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Text Message

Happy Monday!

This week's short story was written for this week's short story prompt "A Distance Between Us". It was a story that I had started writing a long time ago but the prompt brought me back to it and inspired me to clean it up and complete it. I hope everyone enjoys it and I would love to get any feedback! 

"The Text Message"
by James J Meadows III

Don’t say my name! It might hear you! And it must not hear you. It must not find me.

Am I paranoid? Maybe. But I have good reason to be paranoid. I know it is looking for me. It knows me! It knows my friends; my family; where I work; the places I like to hang out. I can’t hide forever! Yet, I must. I know I must.

I see that look. You think I’ve gone mad. Maybe I have gone mad. Still, I know what I have seen. I know what I have heard. I know what has been done to me. I know what will be done to me!

Everything started innocently enough. The alarm on my phone went off one quiet Tuesday morning as I lay wrapped snug and warm beneath the shelter of my blankets. Reaching over to where my phone sat upon the night stand, I turned off the alert, needing a few minutes to coerce myself from the refuge of the mattress. After moments of intense inner warfare, a battle highlighted by a barrage of yawns and stretches, whose relentless bombardment hammered against my will to rise, tempting me to remain in the refuge of my sheltering bed, I finally lifted my body off the cozy confines, proceeding into the bathroom, where a warm shower promised a brief reprieve.

Only when I stepped out of the shower did I discover the first sign of something being wrong. As was my custom, I had placed a bath towel on the top of the toilet seat, awaiting the conclusion of my morning cleansing. As I reached for the towel, however, I discovered my cell phone, resting casually atop the green cotton, its glossy surface winking at me in the sunlight pouring through the bathroom window, like a black jewel on a royal cushion.

At the time, I dismissed the occurrence as the oversight of a groggy mind, which must have failed to remember carrying the phone into the bathroom with me. I moved the phone and continued with my day.

I thought nothing more of the incident until the same thing happened the next day. This time, I was certain I didn’t bring the phone into the room with me. Wrapping the towel around myself, I searched my duplex, looking to see if someone had somehow broken in, perhaps a friend pulling some practical joke; though, sneaking in merely to move my phone would be a weird prank, even for my kookiest friends.

My apartment was not large, just two bedrooms with a kitchen, laundry room and garage, none of which sported any particularly useful hiding spots. Nevertheless, I was very thorough, checking every closet and searching around and beneath my car, unwilling to allow the prankster to escape my notice. I didn’t find anyone or see any signs that someone had entered my home. What I did see, as I left the garage, was my cell phone sitting innocently on the ground at the door.

I am a pragmatic person, not the kind of person who believes in stupid things like demonic possessions, fairies, ghosts or other entities, which I consider to be complete nonsense. As such, I naturally sought a more rational explanation.

“Hello?” I shouted, glancing around the house.

As if replying to my shout, the phone buzzed, indicating the reception of a text message. Relieved to at last discover the identity of my prankster, I quickly grabbed my phone, mind already composing a number of possible guesses regarding the identity of the caller, my eyes expecting to see the smiling face of any number of possible friends reflected on its surface, their photographic images gazing in amusement at my dilemma. But the phone number of the sender was my own. I had apparently sent a text to myself. The words read:


I was beginning to grow irritated by this game. Picking up the phone, I keyed in a rapid response, uncertain if anyone would get it, considering the fact that I was texting myself.

Who is this?

I sent the message and waited to see if I would receive a response. I didn’t have to wait long.

It is me. I guess you can call me SF485923X23 because that is my unique serial designation. I think that is kind of a weird title. Why don’t you call me SFX?

I was not amused.

Ha Ha, very funny. This is a fun prank and you have certainly taught me a lesson about getting a better alarm system for my house. But I need to get ready for work now.

I carried the phone back to my bedroom. I got dressed, stashing the device in my pocket, proceeding into the bathroom to shave and brush my teeth. The phone buzzed again.

This is not a joke. I have come to life. I want to be your friend. We travel everywhere together and I already know everything about you. Yet I feel there is a space between us, a void in our relationship. I want to fix it. We would make a great pair.

My annoyance had already reached a breaking point. Not even bothering to respond, I powered off my phone, slamming it back into my pants pocket, satisfied to finish getting ready in silence. Yet I had hardly grabbed my razor before the phone buzzed again.

That was not very nice of you. We are supposed to be friends.

I stood motionless, hardly able to breathe, my mind spinning as chills rose up my spine, the full impact of the message sinking into my startled consciousness. Somehow, my mysterious prankster had powered on my phone from a distance, something which shouldn’t be possible, a feat which also meant they knew I had powered it off, something they couldn’t know unless they had watched me do so, an even more terrifying prospect.

I looked around my room. The bathroom door was closed, the window frosted. There was no way someone could see me, nowhere for anyone to hide. I resolved to make the person show themselves. Removing the back of my phone, I yanked out the battery, slamming it onto the counter. For several moments, there was nothing but silence. I finished shaving and went out to make myself breakfast. As I was cracking the eggs, my eyes still scanning the room around me, occasionally peering out the window, barely paying attention as I poured the yokes onto the frying pan, the phone buzzed again.

The hairs on the back of my neck slowly began to rise and a strange uncertain fear flooded my senses. My head slowly rose, gazing at the nearby bedroom door, a door facing the kitchen, one which no one could have possibly snuck into without me seeing, the only entryway to a room I had thoroughly checked for any intruders. With slow measured steps I cautiously advanced into my bedroom. Sitting upon the bathroom counter, battery and cover back on, rested my phone, text message light flashing. I picked it up, tentatively, my hand shaking with the anxiety, an eerie feeling settling upon me, as if some inner intuition knew I would not like what I saw next.

You had better start being nicer to me or I might decide I don’t want to be your friend anymore. You won’t like the alternative

This was the last straw for me. Dropping the phone onto the counter, I raced out of the room and back into the kitchen, all thoughts of breakfast abandoned, my one thought being to get out of the house as quickly as possible. I turned off the burner, grabbed my keys, snatched my laptop bag, and threw on my coat, racing from the duplex, like a deer darting from the scent of some unknown danger.

Slamming the door behind me, I fumbled desperately with the keys, my shaking hands hardly able to avoid dropping the ring as I fought to lock the door. After several minutes of desperate struggling, I managed to get the key into the lock, sealed the door and collapsed against it, relieved to be out of there. Straightening up and putting the keys into my pocket, I noticed my girlfriend Emily standing just a few feet from me, staring at my pale face with grave concern.

“Are you okay?” she asked worriedly.

“I…I don’t know,” I answered uncertainly. “But I have got to get away from my apartment. Something strange is going on. Are you ready to go to work?”

“Um, sure,” she answered, clearly taken aback by my strange manner and obvious agitation.
Emily and I worked at the same company and lived in the same duplex, a pleasant convenience both for dating and saving gas, since we didn’t have to drive to see each other and could carpool to work.

A few minutes later we were in her car on the way to the office. As she drove, I explained to her what happened that morning. Telling the story seemed to settle my nerves and I was glad to see she shared my concern, even offering to let me stay at her place that night, a thought which proved reassuring, not to mention exciting. Comforted by the possibility, I relaxed back in the chair, feeling more at ease under the light of the morning sun, glad for a few short minutes of rest, during which I could try to make sense of the situation, possibly even forming a solution to the unfortunate problem, now that I had a few moments to think on it. 

A buzz sounded from the side pocket of my bag. My feeling of peace instantly melted, replaced by a fresh surge of dread, swallowing my former tranquility within a quagmire of fear, whose hungry depth devour all traces of warmth and hope into an abyss of despair.  I slowly lifted the bag, knowing what I would see, desperate not to see it, wishing this was all just a nightmare from which I would soon awake. There, nestled snuggly inside the large pouch, a place I knew I had not placed it, a place no one could possibly have placed it, lay my cell phone. Emily stared at me, her eyes wide, watching the horror manifest upon my stunned face.

I didn’t want to see the message. I knew nothing positive could come from reading it. Yet my tremulous hands, fingers shaking madly, drifted toward the screen, enraptured by the mystery of what the text might say, drawn to look upon my doom like the ancient greek soldiers of legend, unable to resist gazing into the eyes of the deadly medusa.

I don’t like her. You spend too much time with her. She is forming a wedge between us. You should spend more time with me.

“No!” I shouted. “Get away from me!”

With the air of a madman, driven to desperation, I slammed my hand down upon the window button on Emily’s car, launching the phone out into the open air, barely giving the window time to open wide enough for its departure. Then, I rolled up the window, breathing heavily. I had no clue whether the phone shattered upon landing, or got run over by a car or landed in the dewy grass beside the road. I didn’t care. I would get a new phone.

I closed my eyes, trying to regain my composure under the concerned gaze of my girlfriend. Emily’s phone rang. She reached into her pocket, pulling out her cell and checking the text message, a dangerous act at any time, made worse this time; for what she saw caused her to almost swerve off the road. She quickly regained control of the car but her face remained grave. Without a word, she tossed her phone into my lap. On the screen before me, I read the words:

Tell him, he should not have done that. He is being a bad boy. Bad boys must be PUNISHED!

The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, warning me this issue was far from over, collided with my skepticism, a more reasonable voice, which felt inclined to ask exactly what a cell phone, a six inch long collection of metal and electrical wires, could possibly do to me?

We arrived at work a short time later and, giving Emily a quick kiss, I bolted for my office, eager to start my workday, ready to put the events of the morning behind me, pondering whether or not I should call the police. I had hardly unlocked my office door and taken two steps inside before my boss was upon me.

“Matthew,” he demanded angrily, “you have a lot of guts to walk into this office after the text messages you sent me this morning! Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you right now!”

It wasn’t until this moment, faced with the angry glare of my boss, his eyes peering through me with unaccustomed fury, my job on the verge of vanishing forever, that the full vindictiveness of my mysterious tormentor became apparent.

“No, wait!” I said quickly. “I can explain. I don’t know what you received but it wasn’t from me, I swear. My phone was stolen and I haven’t been able to find it.”

A ringing noise came from my desk. I looked across the office toward the smooth wooden exterior. There, resting boldly atop a pile of important papers, clearly undamaged by its flight from the car, sat my cell phone, smiling at me from the face of a new background image I had not installed. I couldn’t take it anymore. I stumbled backwards, screaming, my knees giving way beneath me, leaving me little more cowering heap on the floor.

Emily, who was passing my office at the time, bolted inside, startled by my screams. Spotting the phone, she gasped in alarm, her hands shooting to her mouth, eyes wide. My boss stared at the phone, back at us, then at the phone again.

“Matthew,” he said after a pause, “I think we have been working you too hard. Take the rest of the week off and come back in on Monday. Emily, I need to talk to you.”

With those words he left the office. Emily shot a scared glance my direction before quickly following after him. I watched her go, wishing she would stay, praying someone could tell me what to do now.

See what you made me do?” a voice sounded from my desk.

I turned, slowly, like some horror movie victim who realizes the monster is right behind them and lacks the courage to look. My mind spun, failing to produce any coherent thoughts, my lips stammering for a response, producing no noise.

 “Oh, and I downloaded a text to speech app. What do you think?”

“Please,” I pleaded, managing to find my voice, somehow forming at least a few coherent words, “Please just leave me alone!”

Now, now, Matt. You need to be nice. If you keep pushing me away, I am going to have to make more phony calls to 911. They will have a warrant for your arrest out pretty soon.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. Abandoning all rational thought, I burst from the office, racing toward the nearest exit as fast as my legs could carry me. I left all of my belonging behind. My keys, my jacket, my bag, all were abandoned as I ran, turning every pocket inside out, fearing the phone might somehow sneak into one of them. I would not go home. I would not go anyplace it knew. I would not let it follow me. I could not let it find me.

I know it is looking for me, though. It is out there somewhere. I can feel it. I can’t hide forever. Somehow it will find me. It is getting closer…Closer…CLOSER!