Retroactively Doesn’t Count

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 18

Challenge #8:  Write a story set during or in the wake of a disaster, featuring an anachronism.

There was a blinding flash of light, and a deafening bang.

“Well,” said Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus, squinting out over the burning ruins of Rome, “there goes the distillery.”

Emperor Nero didn’t say anything. He just kept singing. Badly.

There was another blinding flash of light, and another deafening bang, this time right beside the two betogaed figures on the palace roof.

“Ahh!” yelled Tigellinus. “By Pluto’s purple pectorals, what was that?”

“Hic!” said Nero. “Hic! Hic! Hic! Hic!”

Tigellinus wasn’t sure if he had developed a case of the hiccups or was just stuttering in Latin.

“I bring tidings from the future!” announced the mysterious figure who had just appeared. “And I also killed Hitler on the way back here, so…you know. You’re welcome.”

“Who the hec is Hitler?” demanded Tigellinus, somewhat put-out by the fact that not only was the capital of the greatest empire in the world currently on fire, but that this was not even the most inconvenient thing happening today.

“Oh,” said the newcomer. “Right. Never mind. I’m super short on time right now, so I really just want to give you this.” He presented some manner of string instrument to Emperor Nero. “I know it’s a complete anachronism, but the whole scenario is just too poetic not to have happened.”

“Hic?” hiccuped Nero, accepting the bewildering gift.

“Excellent!” The newcomer beamed. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I really should get going before—”

Entirely unexpectedly, he exploded.

“Ahhhhhh!” yelled Tigellinus, again, as he was showered with gunk. “Ptttht! Ptttht! Ptttht! By Hades’ hairy hamstrings, some of that got in my mouth!”

Nero said nothing, though he had in fact got the worst of the splatter. He was entirely focused on the mysterious object in his hands.

“I’m no sibyl,” said Tigellinus, “but that has got to be some kind of bad omen.”

“No…” said Nero, recovering the power of speech at last. “No, this item no doubt has some grand significance, or else it would not have been bestowed upon so grand a person. Perhaps this visitor from future lands knows of my musical prowess. Perhaps I am supposed to play it?”

“Do you know how to play whatever that is?”

“No,” said Nero, thoughtfully. Then, after a pause: “There must be more to it than that. Yes, far more. Tigellinus, fetch my tools! I shall dismantle this arcane device and learn of its mysteries.”

“Sir, the capital of your empire is on fire, and—not to put too fine a point on it, but—your people don’t exactly like you as it is. Perhaps you should actually do something about…”

“Fetch my tools,” repeated Nero, his tone making it clear that he was not to be questioned. “Oh, and cancel my 3pm orgy, would you?”

And so it came to pass that Nero did technically fiddle as Rome burned: even if it wasn’t quite as poetic as expected.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

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