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June 17, 2013
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            A string of bells jingled obnoxiously against glass as Hugh entered the Jukebox Café. The first thing he noticed was the pepless fan rotating just enough to move hot air and the smell of grease from one side of the restaurant to the other. No one came for the food, or at least that’s what he assumed upon sight of the sticky red tablecloths and French fries that speckled the checkered floor. That and the fact that he was the only soul in sight.

            He walked up to the bar and squinted at a sign asking customers to “Please seat yourself or ring for service.” What kind of café required its customers to ring a bell for service? Not sure if there was an employee in the place, he rang it despite the sheen applied by dirty hands, and the shrill sound barely cut through an old tune produced by the jukebox in the corner.

            Almost a full minute later, a young woman appeared from the back, wiping her hands on her waitress’s apron. She smiled and said, “Can I get you a menu?”

            “No, thanks. I’m looking for the proprietor of this establishment.”

            “That would be me.”

            He looked her up and down, noticing every detail from her worn-out clothes and dirty blonde hair to her beach of freckles and the lime green polish chipping from her nails. Certain his face betrayed his skepticism, he asked, “How long have you owned the place?”

            “Well, it kind of fell into my hands about a year ago. Why do you need to know?” She frowned, quite positive his cheap excuse for a suit jacket and ten dollar sunglass didn’t belong in her café and certainly had no right to question her.

            He paused a moment, then grunted. “Right. I always forget.” He fished around in his pocket and produced a wallet, flipped it open, and held it out for her. “Hugh Cartwright, Fault Line Management.”

            Without batting an eyelash, she inspected the card carefully. “I wouldn’t have accused you of being a management man.”

            “I’ll count that as a compliment.”

            “Don’t.”

            Not knowing exactly how to continue, Hugh returned his identification to his pocket while considering his words. “Do you get much business?” he asked obviously after a moment of awkward silence filled by a sad song from the jukebox.

            “It’s a madhouse most days; you just came at a bad time."

            She said it totally deadpan, and he had to hesitate, not sure whether to acknowledge the statement as sarcasm. So he moved on to the real business of his visit. “Management has reported numerous fault line disturbances at this location. I assume you can collaborate that.”

            “Disturbances?” She blinked at him. “Hardly.”

            “Something’s going on, hence my visit.” He waited for what he assumed would be her inevitable explanation, which never came. “Since you’re making me ask, here it is: This is an official investigation, and I need to know what at this location is causing the disturbances.”

            “Well,” she said plainly, “why don’t you do a little actual investigation and find out for yourself? Or aren’t you management types paid to do anything more than talk?”

            “Ah, so there is something to find.” He seemed satisfied with himself for getting that insinuation out of her, and she frowned.

            “Either there is or there isn’t. I’m simply saying it’s your job to find out, not mine.”

            “Fair enough.” He pushed up his sunglasses and stepped away from the counter. “It’s not like I expect cooperation from you keepers.” Reaching into his pocket, he produced a translucent, bean-sized device and adjusted it into his ear. Then he stood perfectly still and listened—listened to the beat of the fan, to the throbbing of traffic outside, to the sizzle of the fryer in the kitchen, and then to the strum of guitar chords artificially vibrating from the jukebox.

            That was it, the jukebox. He walked over, around a few tables, and leaned in to notice every detail. He determined every color of its psychedelic arches and every condiment-tipped smudge, but most importantly he noticed the minute fracture in the tile at the machine’s base.

            He smiled to himself and knelt down, slowly tracing his fingers along the line. “It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a sound disturbance,” he said mostly to himself. “In a fault this small, it’s one of the few things that can worm its way through. But it obviously does.”

            “Obviously? Really? A crack in the floor of a dump like this?” She’d walked up behind him and crossed her arms. “That’s quite a stretch.”

            Hugh turned and finally removed his sunglass. “I’ve been in management a lot longer than a year. I know obvious when I see it.” He paused for a second. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

            “I didn’t give it.”

            “And now I’m asking.” At her look of defiance, he added, “Officially.”

            “Annie.”

            “Annie ... ?”

            “Just Annie.”

            “Okay, Just Annie, tell me about this jukebox.”

            She shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. It’s been here since I acquired the place, playing music, you know, like jukeboxes are known to do.”

            “And you’ve been its keeper.”

            She rolled her eyes. “You can see how well I take care of it, so yeah, let’s go with ‘keeper.’” She added air quotes for sarcastic emphasis.

            “You have quite the well rehearsed defense.”

            “And you have no proof.” She narrowed her eyes at his smile. “What?”

            “You did it again, implied that there’s proof to be found.”

            “You have your work cut out for you if you want to transform that fancy to truth.”

            “That’s why you’re going to help me.”

            She uncrossed her arms and placed them on her hips. “What exactly about our discourse thus far has led you to that conclusion?”

            “Only that I’m sure a year’s been long enough for you to have seen first hand how dangerous fault disturbances can be. Management sent me to negate those dangers, no matter how slim you may perceive them to be.”

            “Yeah, I understand that disturbances are dangerous, but there’s no disturbance here. It’s a perfectly functioning fault.”

            Something in her voice hinted otherwise, and he studied her closely. “Perfectly functioning?” Her expression faltered, and he didn’t need to say more. He simply waited.

            “Well, certainly nothing that qualifies as a disturbance, but things have happened. Nothing dangerous, just ... out of the ordinary. This fault line is unique, it’s evolving.”

            “Nothing evolves when it comes to fault lines.” He sighed and took a seat at the nearest table, gesturing for her to join him. Locking eyes with her, he explained, “They only devolve and mutate over time into something unstable at best and death traps at worst.” He tried to conceal the pain in his voice, but he doubted with much success.

            “You lost someone to a fault, didn’t you?” She spoke softly for the first time, which transformed her youthful defiance into innocent concern.

            Hugh swallowed and cleared his throat, then said, “My wife and daughter.”

            An awkward silence; it endured pitifully.

            Finally, he composed himself. “That’s why I’m here. I don’t want anyone else to lose the people they love like I did. You understand why this is important?”

            “Yes.” She examined his expression but could find no sight into his soul. “I assure you, nothing like that could happen here.”

            “Why not?”

            “Come see for yourself.” She moved back to the jukebox and held out a hand. “Give me a dime.” He produced one from his pocket and dropped it onto her palm, and she flicked it into the machine with skilled ease. “Now pick a song.”

            He read a few of the album titles and shook his head. “Power by Kansas? I’ve never heard of any of these.”

            “Is that the music’s fault or yours?”

            “Fine.” He read through the songs and said, “How about ‘Taking In the View?’”

            “Great. This song will give you the answer to your question.”

            “I didn’t ask a question.”

            “But you still want to know the answer.”

            Hugh’s eyebrows furrowed in perplexity. He’d never met quite such a riddlesome keeper before, but there was something about her that intrigued him, so he decided to stop questioning everything and let her show him whatever she intended.

            “Are you ready?” she asked. He nodded, and she pressed in the buttons P7. The record dropped into place and began to play the song’s eerie cords. “Close your eyes and just listen,” she said. “Feel the heartbeat of it.”

            Hugh wanted to shut his eyes and join her in tranquil stillness, but he couldn’t remove himself from the transformation happening around him. The lights flickered in tune to the rhythm of music, and then all the material furnishings joined the dance around enchanted lyrics.


            The world began to change

            The children moved and they had children

            It was all arranged, you couldn't live there anymore

 

            All you had was that old place

            In the middle of the path of progress

            So they took the space and put the ceiling on the floor

 

            In one of the rooms all the walls were blue

            It was hidden so well that no one knew

            Just the place for taking in the view 


            Blackness struck like the beat of a wing and then vanished into a hazy afternoon. The music continued, but now dull and tinny, barely escaping the jukebox speakers.

            Annie opened her eyes nodded to the now bustling café. “Welcome to my other palace.”

            A quick glance around revealed the same café but even more worn out, though this time the florescent light gleamed from a polished floor and clean tablecloths. The same fan swung overhead, but it seemed to have a little more pep. The real difference was the people. The place now brimmed with laughing children who gorged themselves on fries while spilling ketchup and smiling parents who tried their best to clean small faces.

            Hugh stepped forward into the place, amazed. “This is—”

            “Annie!” A stout young man sporting an apron and buzz cut emerged from the swinging doors of the kitchen and interrupted him. “About time you got back. Table twelve is ready to order.”

            “Thanks, Chuck. I’m on it.”

            Chuck nodded and disappeared within the depths of the kitchen.

            Hugh turned back to Annie. “Who was that?”

            “My boss. I hired him shortly after acquiring the place.”

            “You hired your own boss?" He raised an eyebrow, then lowered it again. "Never mind, I don’t want to know.”

            “What do you want to know, exactly?” A glare began to take shape on her face. “Does this place look like an unstable death trap to you?”

            “Well, no, not at first—”

            “I didn’t think so. I brought you here so you could see for yourself that there’s nothing disturbed about it, so why don’t you hurry up and do your investigating so I can get on with my business. As you can see, it’s booming, and I have tables to wait.”

            “Whoa, okay.” He held up his hands on reflex. “I’ll get started. Please bring me a glass of water.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “I always start by drinking the water.”

            She narrowed her eyes, then sighed, not in defeat but in resignation. “I’ll be right back.”

            Hugh walked over to the bar and took a seat on one of the faded red stools while he waited. He listened to the chatter and paid attention to the rhyme and pitch of it, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The string of bells rang as the door opened, and two new patrons entered the café. A mother guided her middle school aged daughter to a booth, and they began to chat softly to each other. They looked so much alike, both with thickly curled black hair, tan skin that glowed even in the worst of lights, and inquisitive dark eyes.

            Hugh leaned forward, not sure he could believe what he saw. Was it even possible?

            “Here you go.” Annie set a glass of water on the counter with unnecessary force, startling him from his thoughts. But he didn’t say anything and didn’t look away from the booth. “What is it?”

            “That’s impossible,” he said.

            “What?” She followed his line of sight. “Sophia and Marie? They’re regulars.”

            He abruptly turned to her, imploring her with intense eyes. “You know them?”

            “I just said they’re regulars. Why? Do you know them?”

            “They’re my family ... but they can’t be here. There were erased from time itself.”

            “Unless you’re wrong.”

            He watched his wife wink a secret message to his daughter, and Marie laughed the laugh of a hundred bubbles bursting all at once. “I want to be wrong,” he whispered.

            “This place is a haven,” she said simply, and he believed her.

Can you feel it?

This may become a series of short stories. Or it may not.

While "Taking In the View" by Kansas may not have directly inspired this story, it's one of the most inspiring and magical songs I've ever heard. Check it out: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q63yP9…

Please note: I am NOT looking for critique or constructive criticism on this piece. I'm only interested in your response to it as a complete story. You're welcome to share your thoughts and opinions (and typos!), of course, but it's finished and I'm not looking to alter or "improve" it any further. Thanks. :aww:
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Daily Deviation

Given 2013-06-24
Jukebox Cafe by ~illuminara is a magical short story about a mysterious cafe. ( Featured by Nichrysalis )
:iconasjjohnson:
AsjJohnson Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
It feels like there's a lot of backstory with this. It's kind of like dreams I have, where the world is different than our own, but the characters know about their world and everything's perfectly normal for them. Seems that these faults erase people? hm, perhaps a fault is a rip in space-time? And it kind of seems like this cafe is where they go. I wonder about that girl's boss. At first I thought maybe they had moved into the past or future, and with him being her boss, I thought it could be the future. But by the end it seemed more like just another reality. Which still doesn't explain how he became her boss. How does the bell work? Can she hear it somehow, and use a certain song on the jukebox to get there? Oh, there's also the keeper term. It kind of has a feeling of these quake-causing things having protectors or carekeepers. If the other faults are dangerous, then I wonder why they have keepers, why they would be their keepers. Hmm... can the patrons of the cafe go to the other world as well? If so, why hasn't his family returned to him? Do they even remember him? Hmm... what if the other faults are like that, where people fall through the cracks but end up somewhere better, and this is just the first one he'd been shown? In the home reality, they would look dangerous, but for the people actually using them, they're kind'a nice.
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:iconxxthe-whispererxx:
xXThe-WhispererXx Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Beautiful
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:iconilluminara:
illuminara Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013   Writer
:aww: Thank you!
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:icongryphyn-bloodheart:
Gryphyn-Bloodheart Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2013  Professional Writer
Overall, it's a cute story, I think the "fault line management" system is interesting and would like to know more about it. But that's always the thing with sci-fi shorts -- if you really want to expand on your world and its rules, it's hard to keep it a short story :p

There's a "through" that should be "throat", a "head" that should be "heard", a "bought" that should be "brought", "... even in the worst of lights" might be better as "worst lighting"... There are some places where the wording just sounds a little off, feels like it just needs a good read-through. I think it would be a good idea to read the piece aloud to yourself and make some minor revisions, just nitpick it to death. For instance: "...revealed the same café but even more worn out, though this time the florescent light gleamed from a polished floor and clean tablecloths." This description doesn't make me feel like the place is more "worn out." It's also worth mentioning, check every word ending in -ly and make sure it's the best thing to put there.

I would like a little more information in the story about what these fault lines entail, how secret they are or are not in this world. I like that we find out a lot of this through dialogue, and it isn't directly told to us, and maybe you can have more of that, have them discuss the dangers or lack thereof of these fault lines in the context of the world around them. "Remember that one that was all over the news in december..." "but the next day there was one that did such-and-such..." but there are other subtle ways of revealing more information, like perhaps Hugh feels really anxious every time he does one of these investigations because maybe he was there when he lost his family and saw it happen, perhaps certain things feel familiar about this cafe, or you describe something in the cafe a certain way that implies something entirely different without saying it directly. (Example: "An awkward silence; it endured pitifully." perhaps might be better describing a sight or sound or sensation within the setting that we focus on uncomfortably as the time passes.) The moment when it's revealed that Hugh lost his family to a fault line feels a little cliche, I feel like it'd be better if she didn't know or if this fact was revealed more subtly. Or, at least, when it is revealed, engage the reader in it a little deeper by revealing details about how this happened.

At the very end, there needs to be a lot more emotional intensity. This is the climax, and it falls a bit flat. You need to make your reader feel whatever Hugh is feeling. I should know what it would feel like to be in his body at that moment. I like that there's a bit of a noir feel throughout the piece, and I'd like to really feel the contrast more between that and this haven.

Hope this doesn't feel like too much critical feedback. It's a story with a lot of potential, I just see a lot of places where it can be cleaned up, and I hope you plan to come back and revise it at some point. :)


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:iconilluminara:
illuminara Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2013   Writer
Thanks for pointing out all the typos! It’s impossible for me to find them myself. :P

I appreciate your attempt to help my syntax, but I’ve read through this many, many times, and it’s almost exactly how I want it. I want it to feel a little … different. That’s just how it should be in my mind. Every adjective and adverb is entirely intentional, I assure you. ;)

Yeah, that would be cool, but I don’t really know anything more about the fault lines at this point. :XD: I may work more on figuring it out at some point, but I have other writing projects that take priority right now. But no, Hugh isn’t an anxious kind of guy, which should be fairly obvious … "An awkward silence; it endured pitifully,” is a retake on a line from Gatsby, and I’m sure no one other than me gets, but I like it anyhow.

OK, so the goal of every story is to have an arc, a path of change, if you will. In order for Annie to crack and start cooperating with Hugh, he has to tell her something personal that will resonate with her. Hence the revelation about his family. But men don’t do details (especially if those details are tied to something emotional), so that simple revelation is all he’s gonna say.

There needs to be more emotional intensity? What if I don’t want there to be more emotional intensity? What if the only emotional pull I’m going for is that one little spark of change I reveal in the very last line when Huge decides he wants to be wrong about everything he believes? Maybe the point isn’t to show readers exactly how Hugh is feeling. Maybe the point is to let them guess. I firmly believe that, in this case, less is more.

And no, I do not plan to “clean up” or revise this story in any significant way. I feel it does indeed live up to its potential because it came out exactly how I intended it to feel.

Sorry, I’m not trying to bash your suggestions. I’m just pointing out that I did everything I did with this story for a reason. It’s typically a good idea to assume that’s the case when critiquing, especially if you are a complete internet stranger. ;)

Anyhow, I definitely appreciate your time and feedback! Trust me, I don’t mind getting critical feedback at all. It’s great to get different points of view on my work; however, I want to point out that it’s often unwise to spread your opinion all over a piece without knowing the author’s intent. If you do, please expect them to defend their piece and not take any of your suggestions. Critical feedback is a two-way street that hopefully opens up a helpful dialogue for both parties. =D
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:icongryphyn-bloodheart:
Gryphyn-Bloodheart Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2013  Professional Writer
No, it's alright. Take it as you will. Just wanted to share some of my impressions, and just hope at least some of them were helpful in some way. :)
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