Posts Tagged short stories

Flash fiction: Not An Apology

Another shot at a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge.  This week’s challenge is the unlikeable protagonist.  This went to a rather dark place, I’ll give you that warning right now, and I’m not actually sure I got it quite right.

Not An Apology

DL Thurston

I’m not going to say I’m sorry.  I’m not sorry.

I loved you.  If you can’t see that, that’s not my fault.  But you were imperfect, you were flawed.  I fixed that for you.  You had one leg that was just a tiny bit shorter than the other, so I stretched it.  I may have gone too far, as you then had one leg that was just a tiny bit longer than the other.  So I stretched the other.  You stood so much straighter, and didn’t that help the pain in your back?  That you wouldn’t stop complaining about the pain in your legs, that hurt me.

So I did something for your pain.  Did you know that pain isn’t real?  There is nothing in the nervous system that can be identified as pain.  It’s all in the brain.  So I removed that part of your brain.  No more pain, because who would want to feel pain if given the option?  I didn’t realize that you would strain so hard without the pain, I didn’t realize you would twist your own arms far enough to break your bones.  I heard them, and it broke my heart.  I didn’t want you to break them anymore.

Titanium is so strong, so light, so elastic.  That’s why they use it in golf clubs.  That’s why I used it in you.  It won’t bend.  It won’t break.  Bone is so fragile, so unnecessary.  I’m jealous of your new skeleton, I really am.  I would do it myself, if there were anyone else nearly so brilliant as me who could do the surgery.  Isn’t that enough?  To know that I gave you something that I cannot give myself?

But then you cried.

You’re so beautiful.  So very beautiful.  It’s why I loved you so.  But when you cry, it’s hidden.  Your eyes, so clear and blue, become bloodshot and cloudy.  Your skin, so soft and pale, becomes red and puffy.  I don’t think you realized just how ugly crying made you.  I’m sure you wouldn’t have continued if you’d known.  You put me in such a difficult position.  I couldn’t take away your emotions, that just wouldn’t do at all.

Otherwise, how would you love me?

Cauterization was the only option.  You’d have done the same.  If you really sit down and take a moment to think of this all rationally, if you’d stop letting your emotions get in the way.  Shouldn’t you be happy you still have them?  I let you keep them.  You’re welcome.

Every asymmetry I fixed.  Scientists have proven that human concepts of beauty are tied to symmetry.  I moved freckles, I removed moles, did you know your left eye wasn’t quite as blue before I started?  I couldn’t get the teeth right, that’s why I needed to start over from scratch.  I spared no expense.  That’s ivory, the next best thing to your own teeth.  You can keep those.  Consider them my gift to you.  They’re molded to your mouth anyway, they would be of no use to me.

I did this all because I loved you.  But now, I wish I knew how to say this, you’re just not the woman I fell in love with anymore.  What we had was wonderful, and I won’t forget the time you’ve spent with me down here.  I’m not going to mince words, you deserve so much more than that.  I’ve found someone else.  And she’s perfect.

Well.  Nearly perfect.

But I can fix that.

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Fortnightcap Bonus: The Rock

The Rock

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

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I was reminded recently of the geology class I took as a kid.  It wasn’t anything more than a program to give bored kids something to do during the summer, and I can’t remember how old I was except that it was at a time when the word “schist” was extremely funny.  We got to collect rocks, we were given others, and the activities included things like gluing rocks to bits of index card and labeling them with their type.

The highlight was going to involve a wet saw and a bucket of rocks each a little larger than a shooter marble.  It was geode cutting day.  Each kid got to pull rocks at random out of the pail and the teacher would saw them in half until there was a geode.  It was exciting.  Normal rock shops, even the ones that have cut your own geodes, tend to just give you one chance to get lucky.

I can remember the whine of the saw.  It was damn loud.  Then again, most childhood sense memories get amplified don’t they?  It would roar to life, then whine through each of the rocks in turn before spinning down just to start the whole cycle again with the next rock.  Each time it was the same.  Except for the one time it wasn’t.

I can remember that sound, too.  It was like the scream of the saw going through the rock, but there was something else.  Something more.  I don’t think the teacher heard it when it happened, he had ear protection on, but we did.  The teacher picked up one of the halves of the rock, and we could see it was hollow inside.  But it wasn’t a geode, they tended to have intricate crystals pointing inwards from all directions.

And it wasn’t empty.

The thing in the rock was green.  I don’t know if that was its true color, or if that was the result of the blade slicing through it.  I just remember an intense green, and some sort of fluid dripping from the cavity.  We’d learned the smell during the class.  It was sulfur.  A few of the kids screamed, others rushed forward the way kids will do when they see something gross.  I wasn’t part of that crowd.  I hung back, not getting a good view until the tight ring of kids pushing in to see scrambled backwards.

The thing was moving.  It was alive, for however much longer.  It wasn’t more than a half an inch long, and pulled itself forward with two limbs just above where the saw had cut it through.  It had eyes.  I can’t remember much more of the details, but I remember the eyes.  It looked at each of us, and as the eyes fell on me I heard a voice, soft and dying, in my head.  The word is one I don’t know, I never knew.  Then it collapsed, and died.

It’s odd that I have difficulty now remembering this.  It’s all so clear, but even as early as my mom picking me up I just showed her the geode I had, and happily went home.  I remember mostly in dreams, or in that odd floating period just before falling asleep.  I remember its eyes.  And I remember the word it spoke.  I know it’s important somehow.  I just wish I could hold onto the memory.  Hold onto the word.

If only I knew why it was so important.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Fortnightcap: Simple Man

Simple Man

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

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They were wrong.

They were ever so wrong.

McKinley was dead, his insides torn up by an assassin’s bullet.  So shocking of a violent act against a president so clearly loved by his people.  Killed by this man who sat before them, defiant.

The two Buffalo police officers paced the dingy room, poorly lit, but he didn’t much care about the light.  They were ever so wrong, and that amused him greatly.

“You might make things easier for everyone if you just talk.”

The assassin shook his head.  His voice that bubbled up out of his throat, an unrecognizable accent that turned every word into a gasp for breath.  “I don’t care about your ease.  Your people are slow and weak.  Your leaders are paltry figureheads.  A new order will come.  Your president’s blood will slake no thirsts, it is only a taste.  It will embolden my people to rise up in greater and greater numbers.  This world of yours is over.”

“God damn it.  You know what we have here?” asked one of the men in uniform to the other.

“We have ourselves a god damned anarchist,” the other responded, spitting.

They were wrong.  He was not an anarchist.  Though he sought the downfall of the political structures built around the planet, he wished them replaced by order.  A new order.  A horrible order.  His order.

“Why’d you do it?”

His smile was broad, his teeth black.  “I did it for her.  So she would love me.”

“You think he means that Goldman bitch?”

“Get someone to bring her in as an accessory.  Been wanting to nail something on her for years.”

They were wrong.  He didn’t care about the love of this “Goldman.”  He wouldn’t have know her from any of the other women on this planet.  They all disgusted him.  They were maggots, whelps, god damn things.  He cared only about the love of his mother.  His horrible mother and queen.

The men asking him questions were scared.  He could taste it, like a fine sauce that made his mouth water for more.  They tried to mask it with their anger, but that only added spice to the air.  He let them hold him only because he wished to be held.  A meal is that much better when prepared fresh.  By hand.  He knew a fine feast awaited him, and that excited him.  He opened his mouth to get a full taste of the air.

“Want to say something else?  C’mon, give me someone else I can pull in.  Give me all your little anarchist buddies.”

Yes.  Yes, that was it.  The salty machismo that brought everything else together.  They were nearly done.  This whole world was nearly done.  From the south his kind would come, hundreds, thousands, millions.  They would savor their first full meal in eons.

He closed his mouth and the men tasted disappointed.

“You’re going to fry, you twerp.  You hear me?  Czolgosz is going to fry.”

They were wrong.  So magnificently wrong, and they wouldn’t know it until far too late.  He’d given his name to the woman, but she didn’t understand it.  She was thin, but she tasted fatty.  She would be his dessert.  He’d told her very clearly, his name was not Czolgosz.

His name was Shoggoth.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.  Title inspiration comes from The Ballad of Czolgosz, written by Stephen Sondheim for his musical Assassins.  Check it out, sung by Neil Patrick Harris.

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Fortnightcap: What I Bought

What I Bought

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

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This weekend we went to the Northern Virginia Brew Fest, which has nothing to do with this story except that it’s where we were driving home from when we stopped at the antique store.  It was a few miles off Route 7 in towards Old Town Herndon, an odd, narrow store that looked like a single town home divorced of its fellows, just a place that we found on a whim trying to find something else to do on a lazy Sunday.  The inside of the store was the inside of an antique store.  Old furniture topped with old tzotchkes, paintings of disappointed relatives that no one is actually related to, photos of Civil War generals.  Mostly, I noted, Confederate generals.  What can I say, northern Virginia is still Virginia.

It was among the photos that I saw it.  I think I’ve written about the Thunderbird photo on this blog before.  It’s the most famous photo that never, apparently, existed.  I’ve seen it described various places as one person standing over the corpse of a massive bird, three people, four Civil War officers.  People claim to have seen it in one book or another.  I myself remembered seeing it in one of those old Time Life mysteries of the unknown series that I used to love reading as a kid.  I remember it clearly, three men were on a small stage, they had the thunderbird at their feet, and had their rifles resting on their shoulders.  That’s the photo I know I saw.

That’s how I recognized it immediately.

I called my wife over, and she couldn’t believe what we’d found.  There it was, the Thunderbird photo just sitting in an antique store in Herndon, Virginia.  I looked for a price, but couldn’t one.  Only item in the store that didn’t have a price, and of course it’s the one I wanted.  Not that there was really a wrong price to finally prove that the photo is real.  So I took it up to the counter and asked what the owner wanted for it.  She looked confused, didn’t recognize the photo, didn’t remember getting it, and said it should have a price already on it.  She shrugged, and said ten bucks.

I tried not to look too excited putting down the twenty, getting my change, and walking out of the store.  It wasn’t until I was sure that the front door closed that I ran to the car.  There it was, in my hand, in my car, in my possession.  It really was exciting.  I put it on the back seat and headed home with plans of scanning it, potentially reselling it to someone who would recognize what it was.

When we got him, I reached to grab the bag, but it wasn’t there.  Figuring it had slid off the seat, I dug around, but for the life of me I couldn’t find it.  I’ve dug my car up three times now, careful as I put things aside, throw things away, but the little brown paper bag is gone.  And the photo is gone with it.  I’ve tried to find the antique store online, but they don’t have a website, and they’re not on Google maps.  Maybe I’ll try going back there this weekend, see if they remember getting the photo.  See if I left it there, though I know I didn’t.

The photo exists.  I swear it exists.

And just as soon as I find it again, I’ll make sure to post it.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Fortnightcap: An Announcement

An Announcement

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

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Scientists Announce Final Invention

At a press conference this afternoon, a team of scientists, engineers, and inventors announced they had invented the last item that will ever be invented.  For centuries thought an impossibility, the moment has been anticipated by philosophologists for the past decade as it became very clear that there are only so many possibilities that can exist within the human imagination.  The invention in question is a new musical instrument that converts thoughts into musical notes.  There followed a brief demonstration by the inventor, Mary Forth, who chose to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 3.

The announcement set off immediate reactions from people worldwide.  When approached for this article, Harold Maude, a holovision technician from Hoboken, said, “Come on, there has to be something someone hasn’t invented.  Like, I don’t know, some kind of combination hat rack and computer server.”  Computer and sartorial engineer Lucas Freemont, when approached, responded that such a device had in fact been invented in 2117, but proved to be a financial failure.

“Anyway,” he continued, “we aren’t looking at notions of ‘what if we combined this and that’ but at the creation of new and completely novel devices.  There will always be some room for improvement of existing products.  There just won’t be anything completely new ever again.  Which is something we’re all going to have to deal with.”  Mr. Freemont was unable to comment further as he was finalizing his application for a job grilling soy patties at McDonalds.

There are still some holdouts within the scientific community who believe that there can’t possibly ever be an end of invention.  However, this final invention has been foreseen for several years during a period of complete inventive sterility from the scientific and engineering communities.  It was merely a matter of which enterprising person finally realized the concept and could reap the rewards.   Mrs. Forth will receive a prize of $5,000,000 from the federal government, which can now get out of the business of rewarding inventors and get back to the serious work of declaring national weeks of recognition.

And what of all the inventors?  All the hard working men and women who toil and sweat in the hopes of creating something new?  Many are continuing on, unaffected by the news.  Whether this proves to be a futile use of time and resources, or whether they may still prove the establishment wrong is yet to be seen.  Jordan Lauerbeck, for one, is undeterred.  “I was so close to finishing my own thought horn, and I really hope that I can use some of those concepts to, perhaps, create a new form of dentifrice.”

To Mr. Lauerbeck and the other plucky inventors still struggling on, all we can say is good luck.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better. Picture of Kepler’s Supernova courtesy of NASA, released to public domain.

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Fornightcap: Paradox of the Crowds

Paradox of the Crowds

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

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“Of the what?”

“The crowds.  Paradox of the crowds.”  He walked through a lab that was strewn with equipment, some of it burned out, some blinking, some new in box.  Past the computers, past the camera, past the schematics.  “Look,” he said, finding an empty space of white board he drew a circle.  “There are some events that are considered historic events, we can agree on that, right?”

“Right.”

“And one of the reasons you want to invent time travel is so you can see some of them?”  He drew a line pointing in to the circle.

“Well, it’s not the only reason, but–”

“But you do want to see them.  So if you want to see them, why wouldn’t some other time traveler?  Or hundreds?  Or thousands?”  Line after line, until the circle resembled some deformed spider.  “If time travel is ever invented at some future point, we’d see massive crowds of people showing up to witness these historic events.  But they’re just not there.  Therefore time travel won’t ever be invented.  Not by you, not by anyone.”

The inventor’s face fell for a moment.  Then rose again.  “Disco demolition night.”

“What?”

“1979, the death of disco.  The Chicago White Sox hosted a double header, planning to destroy any disco record the fans would bring between the two games.  Nearly 100,000 people showed up.  An impossibly big crowd for that kind of event.”

“Why would time travelers want to see that?”

“It’s infamous.  Be a part of one of the worst ideas in baseball history!”  He was waving his arms around, excited now.  “The inauguration of Barack Obama.  First black president.  Impossibly huge crowds that choked the Mall, and then were gone.  Surely there could have been a few visitors from out of time, not just out of town.”

“I don’t think–”

“No you don’t!  You just find reasons why not!”

“Look, if you want to keep up with this insanity, be my guest.  I’m not going to be part of it.”

The inventor watched as his visitor left, then got back to work on the pieces scattered around his lab.  The crowd, watching from a distance, cheered then quietly dispersed.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Fortnightcap: Field Trip

Field Trip

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

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The sunshields went from opaque to clear, and the kids went silent for the first time in the trip.  The vessel beyond was huge.  It had to be.  Larger than the star jumper they were in.  Larger than any vessel these kids had seen.  Likely larger than all the star ships they’d seen combined.

“Class, this is the Generation Ship Eden.  The very first generational ship that was sent out from earth.  This is how humans first left Earth to settle new solar systems.  It was designed to hold thousands of people for centuries.  Can anyone tell me why?”

A hand went up.  “They didn’t have star drives?”

“Very good, Billy!  Yes, these ships were sent out in the years before star drives existed.  Back then it was believed that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light.  Can anyone tell me the speed of light?”

No hands.  They were still just third graders.  They wouldn’t get into astrophysics for two more years.

“Well, let’s put it this way, the speed of light is such that light traveling from Sol to the earth takes only eight minutes.  We call that eight light minutes, the distance light travels in eight non relativistic minutes.  A light year is the distance light travels in one year, and from one solar system to the next is dozens if not hundreds of light years.  And thus without star drives, those old ships could take centuries to reach their destination.  So these generational ships were sent out, designed such that the crew that arrived at the destination would be the great great great grand children of the crew that left.”

A hand went up.

“Yes, Michelle?”

“How many years was the trip of the Eden?”

“It was launched in 2105 towards what we now call New Caldonia, the first planet outside of the solar system confirmed to be habitable by humans.  The Eden was rediscovered in 2340, and ever since it has been maintained as a museum.”

She waited.  This was the time where the smarter kids got to show off their math skills.  A hand went up.

“Yes, Billy?”

“Has anyone told them about the invention of the star drive yet?”

“That would disturb the historic nature of the ship.”

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Abandoning Ship

This image is overdramatic for the content of this post.

I was originally going to call this post something along the lines of “how not to run an anthology,” but that feels like something I throw around a bit too much without having any actual standing.  In the end it’s more about how not to approach an anthology, and how a story can die.

For a few weeks I’ve mentioned the Primogeniture anthology.  It was an interesting concept for an anthology, looking at life for the average resident on board a generation ship that was just far enough out from earth that people are starting to realize that this shit is real.  It couldn’t have aliens.  Your character couldn’t be the captain.  Or even someone that talks to the captain.  It was entirely the day to day life in such a circumstance (yes, this ties nicely with my mundane in the alien post).  When it was posted originally, there were very few additional details.  The ship was named the Primogeniture.  It had a captain and first officer.  It launched in 2111 and the stories were supposed to take place in the first few years of a 400 year trip.  The ship had 5000 people with an expectation of 10,000 upon arrival.

So I came up with a story about stowaways on the ship, and the implications when they’re discovered by a member of the maintenance crew.  It was, I felt, right on the edge of what they might consider for the anthology, but with so few rules to play with I went for a wide berth.  It is perhaps my own mistake that I didn’t contact the editors of the anthology before forging ahead with the idea.

What happened instead was I went ahead with the story.  Then when I realized I needed to name drop the captain, I went back to the anthology call for submissions to discover the rules had changed.  There was now a wider band of story lengths allowed, the stories could now be at any point in the 400 year trip, and there were more data points about how the ship operated, including dimensions and dispute resolution rules.  None of these was in direct contradiction to my story, so I shrugged my shoulders and pressed on.  Should I have written?  Yes.

Well, this week I went to the site again, and found there were now more rules about ship life.  Including, apparently, rather strict rules about birth control that include mandatory vasectomies, birth licenses, and strict birth limits.  I now no longer feel like my story can work within the rules as presented.  And…well, the rules have also now gotten self contradictory, as there is now a two-children-per-couple rule that doesn’t mesh with the anticipation of doubling population in 400 years.

So I do have my frustrations with the process, especially with the way the rules kept changing as the anthology went along.  I was worried from the beginning that submitters were expected to read the minds of the editors, less they break a ship rule that they didn’t know about.  Or, at least, write in and verify stuff.  And that is a lesson learned for me in all of this.  But it also just rubs me the wrong way how the goalposts for the anthology kept changing, and in some fairly major ways as the word count range and allowed settings both changed quite drastically after the original story call.

So could the editors have approached this anthology better?  Yes.  Could I have approached writing my story better?  Yes.  These are the kinds of lessons that must be learned by an aspiring writer, I suppose.

In the end, I’m forced to walk away from the story as a submission for the anthology, and may in the future rework it to remove the Primogeniture name from the ship and submit it somewhere that I can define the rules of the ship.  Might even work it into a novel length plot or a screenplay.  But for now I need to let it be.  It is a completed rough draft, and thus it will probably stay for awhile as I shift my attention towards Bad-Ass Faeries and the Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

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Week of Action

Here was the preliminary schedule for my week of action.  I’ll keep this up to date through the week as I do things:

  • Friday: Edit and submit Queen of Belmeth
  • Saturday: Identify market and submit Sleep
  • Sunday: Identify market and submit Div!0 or The Rustler
  • Monday: Edit Capsule, chapter 1
  • Tuesday: Edit Capsule, chapter 2
  • Wednesday: Edit Capsule, chapter 3

Things got to a slow start, as editing Belmeth took more time than I anticipated.  I did the editing Friday night, but as it was getting late, decided I wanted to give the story one last read-over while well rested.  I did one last pass this morning, and sent it off to the contest at around 12:30.  I’m still planning on getting Sleep sent out this evening to catch up to my schedule, probably to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  It’ll be easier to send out because I’m just going to give it a quick read-over rather than a full edit.

Updates as I have them.

Update: Saturday 9pm.  Sleep submitted to ASIM.

Update: Sunday 5pm.  The Rustler submitted to Hyrda Publications for the Steam Works anthology.

Update: Completed an editing pass on Chapter One of Capsule.  Can’t promise that I don’t want to do another before an editor saw it.  No longer plan to have a copy of the first three chapters on a thumb drive to hand to someone.  That was a somewhat silly idea anyway, no one would be willing to read it but unwilling to wait until the end of the weekend.

Update: Completed an editing pass on Chapter Two.  Even if I’m not entirely thrilled with the results quite yet, it is getting me back into the story.  Yay!

Update: Today’s editing felt the best.  I don’t know if it’s because the original was in better shape or if I’ve just been getting more into an editing groove.  I heard once the idea of writing that you take something through to the end and then start over the first quarter because by the end you’ll have finally found your voice.  Anyway, week of action: epic win.

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