SHORT FICTION By Brian Polk

“Deep Space Cartel” by Nico Salazar aka Future Fantasy Delight
SHORT FICTION
By Brian Polk
Art by Future Fantasy Delight
Published Issue 085, January 2021
Workout Apps Are A Lot Of Work

“How long did you have the app?” I asked him. Pete had told me about this workout app that he downloaded, but then I kind of zoned out and missed some of the specifics. I tend to do that when other people are talking and there’s any kind of distraction in my immediate vicinity. For example, instead of listening to his story, I was looking at my shoes and making a mental note to get some new laces. The ones I had were starting to wear out, and it was only a matter of time before they broke. 

“I told you,” Pete said. “It’s the 7-minute workout app and I had it for a couple of days.”

He sounded a bit defensive and I knew I probably shouldn’t have asked any more questions about it. Then again, we had been friends for the better part of two decades and asking too many questions about sensitive subjects is one of the fun things to do in long-term friendships. 

“So how many workouts did you do?” I asked. 

“One.”

“One?” I asked. “Did you finish it?”

He sighed. “I made it for one minute of one workout and then I deleted the app with prejudice.”

I laughed. 

“To be fair, I did feel a moment of triumph when I first downloaded the app,” he explained. “I really felt like I was on the right path for a minute there.”

“But then the reality of actually having to do the workout set in,” I said. “That’s the part that’s tricky.”

He agreed and then mused on how fast the personal triumph of putting an app on your phone can become a personal failure. 

I agreed with him and said, “It’s almost as though the act of buying things doesn’t solve your problems.”

“Yeah,” he said as he thought about it for a few moments. “I wonder if anyone has ever figured that out.”

A Day To Relax

For the most part, I am really bad at relaxing — especially because in our modern society, relaxing really just involves staring at my phone. Or reading a few chapters in a book and then staring at my phone. Or trying to take a nap, failing, and then staring at my phone. Or getting an email that my ebook from the library is ready, downloading it so I have something to listen to while I clean a house that badly needed to be cleaned for at least a week, and then listening to my phone as I scrub toilets and not relax. Either way, I spend a lot of free time failing to take it easy. 

Sometimes I will allot an entire afternoon to doing nothing but relaxing. I will get a book and read for about an hour. Then I’ll get antsy and walk around the house. Then I will sit on the couch for 10 minutes and subsequently get sick of staring at the walls. At that point I will lace up my shoes and get the hell out there. Sitting around and doing nothing makes me incredibly anxious. 

The other day I went running as a way to ease the boredom after trying to relax and subsequently giving up. Since I wanted to take in the atmosphere, I left my earbuds at home and just thought about life. I still had my phone in my pocket so I could keep track of my steps. As much as I hate being addicted to my pocket screen, I still want to see how many steps I take in a day so I can compare myself to others. So when a coworker or something says, “I take 10,000 steps a day.” I can say, “I average like 17,000 because I’m a big deal like that.”

Anyway, once I came to a logical stopping point, I looked down at my phone to see how many steps I could lord over people in the future. That’s when I saw a text from a friend that I hadn’t seen in awhile. It said, “Hey, broke up with April last week. Need to do something. You wanna hang?” I thought about it, then texted him back, “Maybe tomorrow.” I didn’t really feel like hanging out. It was my day to relax after all. 

Time And Optimism Are Inextricably Linked, At Least For Me

“You know what’s weird?” I asked my partner Zoe while we drove down to Colorado Springs to see what happens down there. 

“Yes, I do know what’s weird,” she replied.

“Oh,” I said. 

And with that, 15 minutes passed by without either of us saying anything. That’s what happens when you’re in a romantic relationship with the same person for over a decade. You go for long periods of time without a word to each other like it’s a normal thing. Because at that point, it is a normal thing. 

“Can I tell you what I think is weird?” I asked again after that long bout of normal silence. 

“Mmm,” she said as though she was mulling it over. “No.”

This time five minutes went by.

“Okay, I’m going to tell you what I think is weird,” I said, this time anticipating her response so she couldn’t tell me to shut up without actually telling me to shut up. She seemed to be listening. “Okay, so when I was younger I used to be really optimistic. I used to think the future had nothing but good things in store for me.”

“That’s incredibly naive,” she said. 

“I know,” I agreed. “But I also used to have a terrible sense of time. When someone would ask about my estimated time of arrival …”

“ETA,” she blurted, because she’s seven years younger than me and that’s how these youngsters communicate. 

“Okay, my ETA,” I continued. “When they asked about my ETA, I would be overly optimistic about the time I would get there. I would say 15 minutes when it would be more like 30. And I would do that to everyone. But then as I got older, my sense of time more accurately matched reality, as did my expectations of what life had to offer a person like me. So now when someone asks about my ETA, I am generally right on the mark. And I am also no longer naive.” I took my eyes off the wheel long enough to look at Zoe. She didn’t respond, so I continued. “I guess my point is, the unexpected benefit of being brutally beaten down by the realities of life, and giving up on your dreams and accepting the unavoidable pain of existence, is that you get better at telling time.”

She looks at me as though I just admitted to kicking puppies for laughs. “That’s it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I thought that was a pretty cool epiphany.”

She sighed as she shook her head. “Could we turn up the stereo or something?”

Not So Attracted To Roadsides

(By S.R. Barraclough)

You know how sometimes you date someone who really affects you? They have a perspective that seeps into your consciousness, and before you know it, you’ve changed your own outlook on the world. I dated this guy Hal, who was incredibly outgoing. He liked to camp, run, and spend a lot of his time outdoors — activities that, hither to then, I found incredibly time-wasting. But the way he saw life as a grand journey full of fun and excitement really inspired everyone around him.

This one time he convinced me to go on a roadtrip to Big Sur, where we would camp for a week. Ordinarily, I would have scoffed at both driving for such a long time and spending an entire week outside. But with him at the helm, I knew it would at least be interesting. Even if I didn’t have fun, at least it would give me something to write about later. 

It took an extra five hours to get to Big Sur because he insisted on stopping at tourist traps and roadside attractions like the La Brea Tar Pits and “Bubblegum Alley” — the latter, a place where people stuck wads of chewed up bubblegum on the walls of an alley (and that was all there was to it). When we got to the campsite, we did a lot of hiking and cooking without any running water. We stared at the ocean and at the stars. And it really gave me an appreciation of the outdoors for the first time in my adult life. Even on our trip back, we left a day early so we could, in his words, “See more of America.” Of course, this just meant stopping at other kitschy places like the “Landlocked Lighthouse” in Cedar City, Utah instead of driving straight through. 

In the two-and-a-half years that we dated, my sense of wonder grew exponentially. I learned to enjoy sleeping under the stars and going on ten mile hikes. I even began to appreciate the journey, rather than shortening the travel time as much as possible. 

It’s a funny thing, adopting certain personality traits of a person you’re dating. And it’s even funnier when you drop that shit as soon as you break up with them. I haven’t been to a tourist trap, roadside attraction, or campsite since we broke up. Now I’m dating a bona fide city man who likes KMFDM and drinking on the porch as much as I do. And as long as we stay together, I’ll probably never go fucking camping again.


Brian Polk is a Denver-based writer, publisher of The Yellow Rake, and drummer for Joy Subtraction and Simulators. He’s the author of Placement of Character and Turning Failure into Ideology. He likes writing, muck raking, yellow journalism, zines not blogs, cheap booze and punk rock.


Nico Salazar, aka Future Fantasy Delight, is an illustrator, muralist, and designer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been drawing since he was a small child and grew up between Santa Fe, California, and Hawaii due to his father’s service in the U.S. Navy.  These three locations heavily shaped Nico’s style showcasing a unique synergy of cute & dangerous imagery that blends influences of manga, street culture, comic books, graffiti art, and 90s nostalgia.

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