Today, March 21st, we celebrate the publication of Kaleidoscope, a short story collection by Fictional Cafe’s former Fiction Writer in Residence, and published by our own imprint!
As the French author Marcel Proust once remarked, the mind evokes endlessly changing thought patterns, much like a kaleidoscope. And so reading Derrick R. Lafayette’s Kaleidoscope: Dark Tales, an extraordinary collection of five short stories and a novella, is like seeing the world anew through bits of colored glass.
What if . . . In this weird Wild West story an old gunfighter, accompanied by a Billy-the-Kid wannabe, arrives in a town to claim a straightforward bounty. But due to mistaken identity, they run afoul of a supernatural occurrence.
What if . . . A loner, held captive for months in a mud castle, escapes but feels certain he is still doomed. Walking a deserted highway to Elysian he meets Kali, the most perfect being, as well as assorted man-eating monsters as he slowly descends into madness.
What if . . . Two Abbott-and-Costello-like scientists, marooned on a nuclear bomb-blasted planet, try to re-engineer soldier-cyborgs. Convinced they’re living in the best of all possible worlds, they struggle to survive as the enemy armies swarm around them.
The excerpt which follows is from Lafayette’s highly original novella, “Heather, Ludwig and Nathaniel,” revealing the day-by-day life of a middle-class Black mother, father, and teenaged son. Each reveals their innermost thoughts and experiences, unaware that COVID-19 will strike its first deadly blow within a week. You can also read some of his short stories elsewhere on FC.
The day had come. Saturday, by midnight, I would make my move. Stealthily, I studied every motion, sound, and mood within the house. My backpack was full of clothes, two pairs of shoes, and a modest amount of underwear. Laundry didn’t play much of a part in my plan.
By early afternoon, I had put phase one in place. The alibi. I would be at Ace’s house till Monday. Since we attended the same school, his mother would drop both of us off. Ample time to travel, destination Rivertown. It was the most perfect mixture of rural and safe I could think of. Depending on my luck, I might even skip through a few states.
I spun around in my Workinglab Beta 5000 a few times. I tried to play a video game but my mind was preoccupied. I had missed messages from Angel on my screen. There was only one person I needed to communicate with. I dialed his number slowly.
“Yoo, you still coming over? I got Mountain Dew, pizza, and even a ten-year-old joint from my older cousin. Only half-smoked,” Ace said jovially.
“The day has come, my friend. Have you forgotten?”
“Oh my god. Are you really doing this?” Ace asked incredulously. “Your parents are going to strangle you when you come back. I mean, if you come back. If I was a betting man, which I am, I’d say sex trafficking. You’re going to end up in a basement in Mexico. Ludwig: the young and gorgeous power bottom.”
“You watch too much news. But look, everything is in place. It’s only an experiment. If things go south, I’ll simply return, accept my punishment, and have ‘the talk.’”
“You’re a complicated fellow, Ludwig. If I were you, I would just walk up to my parents and say, ‘Hey, I feel like blah blah blah. Because when I was six, blah blah.’”
“You don’t understand my parents,” I said. “Talking isn’t really our thing. We speak with action only. I’ve seen my parents have a non-conversation over a big issue for fucking three weeks. I spent all those dinners listening to my fork hit my plate.” I cleared my throat. “This will show them I’m serious. That I’m rebelling.”
“Getting on the server later?” Ace asked.
“Were you listening at all?”
“Yea, yea, forks and shit. So you’re at my house for three days?”
“Right,” I said, “and I know our moms won’t talk to confirm. Ever since that weird conversation last Christmas.”
“My mom thinks your mom hit on her.” Ace laughed.
“Ironically, my mom said the same about yours. Which is perfect. They’ll never want to speak to or see each other again. So, we good?”
“You’re going to leave without streaming today?” he said sadly.
“I’m only going to be gone for a few days. It will be my first story. The time I ran away from home—”
“And got kidnapped by Kangaroo Joe. He was so well endowed,” Ace cut me off.
“All right, I’m hanging up. I trust you, Ace. Don’t fuck it up.”
“Fuck you. Anyway, watch out for the Wuhan virus. My parents can’t even go back to the office next week. They keep teasing me about school being closed.”
“Eh, the flu is the flu. Like swine flu, Legionnaire, it’s fine.” I paused, swallowed my spit. “Godspeed, old bean.”
“May the pedophile be with you, old chum.”
I hung up the phone and unfolded my large map of train routes. I had drawn arrows and lines to secure the fastest way to arrive. The J line at 8:00 p.m., transfer at Barrington Square, hop on the Transit line till the last stop. Then two buses and more subways. I should arrive by early morning and let the quest find me.
Two hours left before departure. I leaned into my computer, opened Notepad, and began writing a letter to my parents:
Dear egg and sperm donor, it is with a regretful heart that I say my life feels dull and safe. I want what you had. I crave excitement. Being smart has only brought more emptiness.
After deleting the draft, I opened Angel’s missed message: Hi.
That’s all it said, with three blue heart emojis. My hand twitched a little. I wrote a reply: Next time you see me, I’ll be cooler. I deleted that draft also, removed “Find my iPhone” from my phone. Then I prepared myself for life without the internet, knowing that it could lead to me being caught.
In the center of my gray, shaggy carpet I sat and crossed my legs. Aside from the hum of my water-cooled motherboard I closed my eyes, basked in the somewhat silence, and entered my perfect state. During the mindfulness meditation I ruminated over my entire life up to this point of no return. All memory is relatively false, but I recalled as many details as possible. Twenty minutes later, I opened my eyes, my vision cleared, and I ventured downstairs to fool my parents by purposely exhibiting my everyday habits.
Derrick R. Lafayette has written four novels and over a dozen short stories, published in print and online. He was The Fictional Café’s 2021-2022 Writer-in-Residence. When he’s not working as an IT engineer or studying chess gambits on the astral plane, he’s reading or writing profusely.
This is his first, but not his last, book for Fictional Café Press. Kaleidoscope is available in both Kindle and print from Amazon.