Flashathon Hour 4 Prompt: From James Morrow

How’s everyone holding up?  Right about now I’m sure the reality of the situation is sinking in.  We’ve got 3 hours behind us, we’ve still got 9 ahead.  But instead on focusing on that, let’s focus on fractions.  That means we’re 1/4 of the way through.  In sixty short minutes we’ll be 1/3 of the way.

This hour is inspired by James Morrow, who really went above and beyond providing so many fantastic prompts that I refuse to choose just one of them.  In fact, he gave me five, so I’ll throw them all out and let people pick.

  1. The first time he died, Edward Truffington vowed that he would arrange things differently next time.
  2. Have I entered upon this experiment out of curiosity, or am I in thrall to some malign force for which natural philosophy does not yet have a name?
  3. Not long after I’d learned to cope with my doppelgänger, I was given to understand that my doppelgänger had a doppelgänger.
  4. It was a snarky and do-re-mi night.
  5. Midway through his seminal investigation of pea-plant genetics, Gregor Mendel found a triffid growing in his monastery garden, whereupon his work went in a new direction.

So you’ve got your choices.  Not sure if that makes things lower or higher pressure, but there we go.  Have at it!  Also, because he provided so many prompts, I’m going to spontaneously invent the James Morrow Rule!  If, during the rest of the day, you just can’t get a story going for the prompt that hour, come back here and take another one of James Morrow’s prompts and run with it instead.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James MorrowJames Morrow has been writing fiction ever since, as a seven-year-old living in the Philadelphia suburbs, he dictated “The Story of the Dog Family” to his mother, who dutifully typed it up and bound the pages with yarn. Morrow’s passion for storytelling continued into adulthood, enabling him to win the World Fantasy Award (twice), the Nebula Award (twice), the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the Prix Utopia, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. So far the author’s best known effort is the postmodern historical epic The Last Witchfinder, praised by Janet Maslin of the New York Times for fusing “storytelling, showmanship and provocative book-club bait … into one inventive feat.” He followed it with a thematic sequel, The Philosopher’s Apprentice, which NPR called “an ingenious riff on Frankenstein.” Morrow’s most recent book is a novella, Shambling Towards Hiroshima, set in 1945 and dramatizing the U.S. Navy’s attempts to leverage a Japanese surrender via a biological weapon that strangely anticipates Godzilla.


  1. avatar

    #1 by Day Al-Mohamed on October 22, 2011 - 3:11 pm

    I dare someone to do all 5 in the hour!!!!

    • avatar

      #2 by Dana Gunn on October 22, 2011 - 3:54 pm

      You can’t dare someone to do something like that without willing to do it yourself! ;)

    • avatar

      #3 by Day Al-Mohamed on October 23, 2011 - 6:03 pm

      Yeah, but I’m a big ole wimp. :)

  2. avatar

    #4 by Jennifer Brinn on October 22, 2011 - 3:21 pm

    Hrm….almost too many good ideas to pick from! I started with one, didn’t like the way it was going, so I switched. Still not a usable story exactly, but it was a generator of a bunch of ideas to use later. All of the reasons why a doppelganger of a doppelganger would exist.

    I do want to really figure out something for #4. Just because.

  3. avatar

    #5 by DLThurston on October 22, 2011 - 3:22 pm

    The first time he died, Edward Truffington vowed that he would arrange things differently next time.

    The second time he died, he was certain he saw the patterns, knew what he was doing wrong.
    The third time he died was rather more of a surprise. The fourth and fifth times he would swear he saw coming. The sixth time he died he stopped to consider it all. The seventh time he went rushing back, which is why the eighth time came so quickly.

    Deaths nine through twenty-seven became a blur. After so many times it all just started feeling like the same. Each time he’d try something just a little different, but each time the end was the same. Death. At least death twenty-eight, at the paws of a rampaging lion in a nondescript suburb of Ohio, proved slightly interesting.

    He was on auto pilot from that point through at least death fifty-two. He’d started over so many times now, even if he pushed for different routes, there was always that same first ten or twelve years that were becoming a horrible drag. Same parents. Same schools. Same tests. Knowing all the answers didn’t help him, because they weren’t the right questions.

    Tests never were the right questions. He’d learned that about twenty deaths earlier, when he tried a go as a teacher, tried to ask the right questions, and ended up at the wrong end of a homicidally dissatisfied PTA.

    He couldn’t tell if he was doing something right or wrong. Between deaths seventy-five (beheaded by a guillotine after inventing time travel) and seventy-six (an unexpected case of SIDS) he realized that no one else around him was having the same problem. They lived. They died. And they bloody well stayed dead. He asked them in the lives leading up to death seventy-seven (shark attack) and seventy-eight (old age, always boring) just how people managed to stay dead. But, since none of them were dead, they didn’t know.

    Again, he realized. All these people were being taught the correct answers to the wrong questions.

    Deaths seventy-eight through ninety-four were all suicides. Different methods, different ideas, all intended to finally put an end to the torment. All futile. Eventually even ending things himself was no longer satisfying.

    He entered a funk. He wasn’t sure how long it lasted, he didn’t bother to keep count. Around what must have been death five thousand three hundred forty-nine, or what at least felt like it, he came to a realization. This was a gift. It needed to be used to help people.

    Except, they would all end up dying anyway. And then he’d die. And he’d come back, and they’d need help again. Things were clearly moving from bad to worse.

    So for a few dozen trips he sought to do everything. See the world. Move beyond the world. He invented such things, cobbled together based on lifetimes spent researching, perfecting formulas, maybe there was something out there, something in the cold blackness that would explain why him. Why he was the one that had to keep going back, doing it over.

    These deaths, at least, were spectacular. Feeling the vacuum. Smelling Jupiter. Tasting a star. Then he discovered it. His out. The end to this cycle.

    It was there all along, beckoning him from the heart of the solar system. He worked harder each time through, pushing towards that one goal, that ultimate point. A black hole. Fall into it, and time dilates, expands to fill all of eternity. He wouldn’t have to keep dying if he never died.
    At last after what he thought was roughly death ten thousand, he reached the core. He pushed his ship forward and the gravitational suck took over. The world outside his window dilated and time ground to a halt.

    And in that moment.

    In that single moment that stretched for all eternity.

    In that last moment that Edward Truffington would know.

    For the man who knew every death imaginable.

    Edward Truffington discovered there was, indeed, a fate worse than death.

    Eternity welcomed him, trapped him, and held him there. For once in his existences he finally prayed for death, and knew it would not come.

  4. avatar

    #6 by N.R. Brown on October 22, 2011 - 3:52 pm

    Started a story about a fire in a sing-along theater…:)
    350 words (and 3 restarts later).

  5. avatar

    #7 by Day Al-Mohamed on October 22, 2011 - 3:56 pm

    Story removed per author’s request.

  6. avatar

    #8 by Dana Gunn on October 22, 2011 - 3:53 pm

    Story removed per author’s request.

    • avatar

      #9 by Dana Gunn on October 22, 2011 - 3:59 pm

      wow, first time I’ve ever done something like this – and I never realized I could churn out something like 640 words in just under an hour. just wow. thanks DL for setting this up.

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