Friday, August 31, 2012

FFF: The Source

Every Friday Kurt posts a new bit of flash fiction. Today's story...

The Source
Word Count: 600


Sanford emerged from the stairwell into the dim parking garage. He could just make out a man across the way, standing in an empty handicapped space. He was smoking on a cigarette and wearing a trench coat. That must be my contact.

“You’re Logan,” said Sanford, approaching. “This is a non-smoking facility.”

“I am,” said the man in the trench coat. “And this is a parking garage.”

“The rich don’t like their cars to smell like smoke,” said Sanford. “You’ve certainly gone out of your way to try and look inconspicuous.”

Logan looked down at his clothes. He chucked his cigarette onto the ground and stamped it out. “Make your jokes now. Soon enough, I’ll be the one laughing.”

“Why don’t you tell me what you think you know?” said Sanford.

“Where do I start?” asked Logan. “The shell company in Belize? The bank accounts in the Caymans?”

“There’s only one account in the Caymans. The other is in Malta. You do realize that none of this is illegal?”

“Of course it isn’t,” said Logan. “You’re far too clever for that.”

The two men stared at each other for a while.

“So?” asked Sanford. “You’re the one who arranged this meeting. What did you want?”

“Just to let you know that I’m onto you.”

“Onto me?” asked Sanford. “Whatever about? My business is aboveboard.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard. I’ve got a source.”

“A source?” asked Sanford. “Is it a good one?”

“My lips are sealed.”

“I see,” said Sanford. “Hard for me to make much of your source then. Or of your presence here. You haven’t actually threatened me with anything yet.”

“Oh, that’s coming,” said Logan.

“Well, if we could hurry it along, I have a dinner engagement—“

“Project Reichenbach,” said Logan smugly.

Sanford started at the name. It was a small motion, but Logan noticed.

“So,” said Logan. “I think you might want to keep this out of the papers.”

“Ah,” said Sanford. “Extortion. I should have guessed.”

“Call it what you like,” said Logan.

“I call it a waste of time. Reichenbach is old news. That was in Sandra Meyerson’s portfolio, if I recall. I can’t imagine she would have talked to you. Someone under her. Someone disgruntled who would have left when that project was still active. That would have been about three months ago?”

Logan blanched.

“If my memory serves,” said Sanford, “then your source is an accountant with a serious cocaine habit that needs servicing. No wonder he went sniveling to you.”

Logan said nothing, but fumbled for another cigarette.

“Funny thing about cocaine habits,” said Sanford, “is that they make whistleblowers very easy to discredit. Perhaps you should remind your source of that. And this is still a non-smoking facility.”

Logan froze and shoved his pack of cigarettes back into his jacket pocket. “I guess we’re done here.”

“It would seem,” said Sanford.

Logan slunk away quietly. Sanford waited a few minutes and then headed to his car. He pulled out a disposable cell phone and dialed.

“Yeah, boss?”

“I just took a meeting. That accountant Sandra was screwing has been in contact with a reporter named Logan.”

“Logan Miller. I know him. He’s an idiot.”

“He knew about Reichenbach,” said Sanford.

“Reichenbach’s old news.”

“I’m aware,” said Sanford. “It’s still a bit troubling.”

“You want me to take care of him, boss?”

Sanford pondered. He hated unnecessary bloodshed. “Yes,” he said at last.

“Not a problem.”

“You’ll be discreet, of course,” said Sanford.

“You know me, boss.”

“No, I don’t,” said Sanford. “Never heard of you in my life.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram

Friday, August 24, 2012

FFF: ...And The Next Day We Move


It's Friday, so it's time for another episode of Friday Flash Fiction. This week...

...And The Next Day We Move
Word Count: 593


It’s 11:46 pm, and I’ve stayed up entirely too late. You know how it goes, you’re checking your email, reading the RSS feed for I Can Has Cheezeburger. Next thing you know, it’s almost tomorrow. It’s amazing how an evening can just evaporate before your eyes, you know?

Anyway, I drag myself upstairs and change into pajamas and slide into bed next to my snoring wife. Trouble is, I can’t sleep. Almost midnight and I’m exhausted, but I just can’t shut my brain off. So I decide to read a few chapters in my book.

I reach over, pull the switch on the lamp—yes, we have a lamp with a pull chain, and yes, it’s older than either me or my wife. Anyway, I’m pulling the chain to turn the light on, but I’m kind of a klutz, so I catch the bedside table with my wrist and knock my book off.

Well, shit.

I look over the edge of the bed, but I can’t see where the book has gone. It must have slid underneath. Great. I throw off the covers, careful not to accidentally toss them onto my wife’s head. I put my feet on the floor and the first thing I notice is that the cobwebs are just awful. I guess I’ll be dusting over the weekend.

I feel around for the book, but I can’t seem to find it. And the cobwebs are creeping me out. And it was a library book, too. I can’t wait to return that. The librarian will see it all covered in cobwebs and I can just picture her little nose raised in disgust while she judges me for not having a clean enough under-the-bed.

Anyway, I get down on my hands and knees and that’s when I see the spider.

So, the thing about spiders is that they’re not supposed to be three feet across. But this one… this one sure as hell is. And I don’t mean three feet across if it spread out its legs, I mean three feet across if it’s just standing casually. Nestled in among all the cobwebs, it’s just sitting there. For some reason it hasn’t noticed me yet.

My eyes adjust to the lack of light under the bed, but the damned thing is not getting any smaller. Then I realize what has its attention. It’s eating my book. It’s eating my book. It’s ripping it up into little pieces and eating it. With its mouth.

At this point, my jaw is trembling. I make a noise, kind of like a guttural squeak, if that makes sense. The spider turns, its eight massive eyes now looking in my general direction. It returns its attention to the book.

I guess the library won’t be getting this one back.

I stand up, as cautiously as possible, and crawl back into bed. I look over at my wife. She’d want me to wake her up, so she could run away in terror. But she’s sleeping so peacefully. Maybe if we just hold out until morning, it will go away on its own. If it’s still there in the morning we can toss it a Funk & Wagnalls or something.

“Hon, is that you?” It’s my wife.

“Just coming to bed,” I say. “Go back to sleep.”

And she does. But I still can’t sleep—not now. So I lie awake. And I listen to her gentle, contented snores. And I try not to pay attention to the muffled sound of paper being ripped into tiny pieces.

Edited by Carolyn Abram

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Akin Conundrum: Why Do Christians Believe Weird Things?

Over the weekend, acting Representative and Senatorial hopeful Todd Akin swallowed his own foot and may have crapped out a victory for his opponent Claire McCaskill. Check out his remarks in the video below.


The key line from this is "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." This was in the context of a discussion on abortion, and he's basically saying that when a woman is raped, she almost certainly won't get pregnant.

The world heard this, shouted "What the fuck?", and proceeded to hammer him on Twitter and Facebook. Romney's distancing himself and Akin started walking his statement back within a few hours. Nate Silver is predicting that this one gaffe could cost Akin the race. How did this happen?

It's a perplexing bit of rhetoric. First there's the hideous choice of words--legitimate rape. As opposed to what, exactly? But there was also a sort of measured earnestness. Notice how he couches his words: "From what I understand from doctors". He's trying to legitimize his statement with an appeal to an outside authority. He also plays the victim just a little when starts his statement: "People always try to make it as one of those thing..." He's deflecting, not baiting.

This isn't like Rush Limbaugh telling bald-face lies about the new Batman movieAkin actually believes this, and he assumes that it's a totally normal thing for a reasonable person to believe. How does this happen to an otherwise intelligent person? Obviously it's tied to his religious views, so let's broaden the question. There are some Christians who believe in some mind-bafflingly crazy shit. Why?

As a former Evangelical, I can offer a little insight.

First off, it helps if you're familiar with the research wing of Evangelical Christianity. Never heard of it? That's because it doesn't exist. Instead, you find Apologetics. In principle, apologetics is the practice of fitting evidence to the biblical narrative. It sounds scientific--it's not, it's basically the exact opposite of the scientific method. In reality, apologists cherry-pick data, use out-of-date data, or just plain make up data to construct a worldview that dovetails nicely with their Christian beliefs. Much of this is innocuous. Whether you believe that the flood story happened has very few real-world applications. But some data are inescapable and difficult to reconcile and this leads to some very creative leaps of intuition.

The most popular example is the widespread notion that homosexuality is a choice. Start with a base set of beliefs: homosexuality is a sin, humans were designed to be heterosexual, salvation is available to all people, a saved person must make the decision to sin no longer, God won't test you more than you are able to bear. Add a bit of confounding data: homosexuals exist. Make the intuitive leap: people who are homosexual clearly chose to partake of that deviant lifestyle.

People do this sort of thing everyday. But with most people, if your core beliefs don't match up with new data, it's time to re-evaluate your worldview. You also want to check your work: did the conclusion you arrived at make sense? The above example flows logically, unless you take two minutes to actually talk to some gay people and discover that they didn't choose anything. But to an Evangelical, the core beliefs are immutable. They cannot be compromised. So when they don't match up with some new data, it's time to re-evaluate the data, and if their conclusion disagrees with other data, then it's time to start taking a serious look at conspiracy theories. When extreme viewpoints are on the line, people will come up with bizarre explanations. The infamous Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (whom I will not dignify with a link) said that he suspected every single person who died on 9/11 was "a fag or dyke or a fag-enabler." In more extreme cases--and yes, there are more extreme cases--you get things like Holocaust denial.

So how did this happen in Akin's case? Base set of values: abortion is absolutely wrong. Confounding data: rape victims should not be burdened with the constant reminder of the way they were violated. Intuitive leap... Most people here would say "adoption", but someone did some homework and came up with a more creative answer--that the stress of the rape prevents the pregnancy from happening. I don't believe that Akin actually consulted any physicians about this. He almost surely heard it from the pulpet or from a friend who heard it from a friend who read it on a website. But still, it's an appealing answer--elegant, in a way.

It just happens to have no bearing on reality.

And that's why I find Akin's comments so damnably infuriating. He's an educated man, and yet he is committed to a completely ass-backwards frame of reasoning. He has gone through his entire life starting with the conclusion and then moulding the evidence to support it. That is the most solid definition of "living a lie" I can think of. And he's a Congressman.

Thank god for elections. You see, when confronted with ignorance like this, if it's legitimate ignorance, the body politic has ways of shutting that whole thing down.

]{p

Friday, August 17, 2012

FFF: Nest Raider


Every Friday Kurt is posting a new bit of original Flash Fiction. This week...

Nest Raider
Word Count: 598


“Skies are clear,” said Davis’s voice in the headset.

Fletcher climbed up from his perch on the fire escape and hoisted himself onto the building’s roof. He rolled into a crouch and looked around for sentinels. The beasties always left a few behind to guard the eggs.

He saw them at the far end. There were three of them, leathery wings folded around their sleek purple bodies. They were alert, but looking for threats from above and hadn’t noticed him yet. Fletcher switched on his rifle’s laser and pointed the small beam of light at the creatures, shining it on a monstrous talon.

“Three bogies,” he whispered into his headset. “Painted.”

“I see them,” said Davis. “Deploying nerve agent.” In the distance, Fletcher could hear a tiny foomp. After about fifteen seconds, a canister landed among the creatures. A cloud of smoke burst from it, and almost immediately the three creatures had fallen over and begun to twitch violently.

“Bogies are down,” said Fletcher.

“Roger that,” said Davis. “I’m on my way. Extraction in three minutes. Good hunting.”

“Three minutes, check,” said Fletcher, running along the target area. The smoke had already cleared enough that it wouldn’t hurt him, but he planned on avoiding that section of the roof, regardless. Those monsters could cut a human in half without trying. Even incapacitated, they made him nervous. He unfolded a sack from his backpack, large enough to carry four or five people. He went to the nearest clutch of eggs and began stuffing them into it. When that clutch was empty, he went to the next. Each egg was about the size and shape of a basketball, but they were as heavy as a pitcher of water and stank to high Heaven.

“They just took down the last decoy,” said Davis through the headset. “Bogies incoming.”

“That was quick,” said Fletcher. “Are we going to make it?”

“It’ll be tight,” said Davis, “but we should be okay. Just don’t waste any time when I arrive.”

“ETA?”

“Sixty seconds,” said Davis.

Fletcher looked west and could barely make out a Chinook gliding over the dead city. He finished loading up the clutch at his feet and started binding the sack of eggs. It was important that no smell escape, or else the beasts would be able to track the helicopter.

Davis’ Chinook approached, two lines dangling from underneath it. Once the lines were within reach, Fletcher hooked one into the sack of eggs and the second to himself. Fletcher checked the skies. No sign of the creatures. They were in the clear.

“Attached,” said Fletcher. “Let’s get out of here.” The helicopter rose gently. Fletcher’s line tightened, pulling him towards the body of the craft. He took off his outer layer of clothing—which had soaked up a great deal of the eggs’ scent—and tossed it down to the roof below.

Within a minute he was in the Chinook and they were out of the city.

“Welcome aboard,” said Davis. “Thirty-six minutes to the target.”

“Which is it this time?”

Davis paused. “Denver,” he said at last. They would fly over the heart of that city and drop the eggs. The eggs would break. And then the creatures would come, and that city would die.

Fletcher nodded, his eyes empty.

“You got people there?” asked Davis.

“No,” said Fletcher. “I just hate losing another city to those things.”

“Me too,” said Davis. “But don’t worry. This war will be over soon. After we finish killing each other, maybe then we can figure out how to kill the monsters.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram

Friday, August 10, 2012

FFF: Salesman of a Death


It's Flash Fiction Friday! This week...

Salesman of a Death
Word Count: 599

“Influenza! We’ve got influenza here!” cried a hawker. The man across from him tried to drown him out with shouts of “gunshot wounds” and “major automobile accidents.” Terrence passed them both and made his way warily to the back of the alley, ignoring the offers of accidental hangings and broken necks as he passed.

Wedged in a corner at the far end of the row was a booth—a table, really—and the man with the hood. Supposedly he was the only trader worth talking to. Terrence absently fingered the crinkled Fate Chart in his pocket, a list of major events in his future given in no particular order. Children. Divorces. Downsizing. And, of course, his death.

“Mr. Johnson,” said the man with the hood.

“Um, my name’s Whitaker,” said Terrence.

The man with the hood shrugged. “Would have been creepy as hell if your name was Johnson, though, right? Have a seat.”

“It would have,” said Terrence, sitting.

“I’m Mr. Abrams,” said the man with the hood. “There’s a lot of them out there—Johnsons, I mean. It’s startlingly effective. What can I help you with?”

“Me?” asked Terrence. “Yes, of course. I, uh… I wanted to see about trading up.”

“What have you got?”

“Drowning,” said Terrence.

Abrams snorted. “Not worth very much, I’m afraid. It’s a very unpleasant way to go, and the market’s a bit flooded, so to speak. Probably a big disaster coming in the next few years.”

“What can I get for it?”

“Torture,” said Abrams.

“I’m serious,” said Terrence.

“So am I. What were you hoping for?”

“Quietly in my sleep,” said Terrence.

“I thought you said you were being serious,” said Abrams. “The people who die like that aren’t the kind of people who barter Fates.”

“What’s more reasonable?” asked Terrence.

“I’m sorry, but drowning just isn’t worth anything. You’ll have to throw in something extra.”

“I have money,” said Terrence.

Abrams clicked his tongue. “I trade fates, not quantifiables.”

“But… they told me to bring cash.”

“The cash is for me,” said Abrams. “But I’m just the matchmaker.

Terrence pulled out his Fate Chart and started skimming. What would he be willing to live without? 
“How about a promotion?” he asked.

“Interesting,” he Abrams, rubbing his chin. “Quality of life for quality of death. I could get you a nice heroin overdose for that.”

Terrence winced.

“Too close to home?” asked Abrams.

“Too much of a lifestyle change.”

“Gotcha,” said Abrams. “Do you have any preferences?”

“I don’t know,” said Terrence. “Something quick.”

“How important is an open-casket funeral?”

“Not very,” said Terrence. “I guess.”

“Tell you what,” said Abrams. “I know a frequent flyer who’s slated for a plane crash. It’s making his working life hell.”

“I don’t know,” said Terrence.

“Listen, there aren’t a lot of options for you. A plane crash is a good death. The last minute or so is terrifying, but it’s not painful. The actual death is very quick. They might even put your name on a memorial.”

Terrence pondered. “Okay,” he said at last.

“Excellent. It’ll be two hundred down, the rest on completion of the transfer. How’s Saturday?”

Terrence counted bills out of his wallet. “I have plans in the evening—“

“Fine,” said Abrams, holding out a card. “Meet me at this address at two o’clock.”

Terrence handed over the money. “I’ll be there. Oh, I heard something about Ironic Death Insurance?”

“Waste of money, if you ask me,” said Abrams. “Last thing—and this is important—until Saturday, try to avoid large bodies of water. You know, just in case.”

Edited by Carolyn Abram

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Rejections

I'm always grateful for the outpouring of support I get whenever I tweet/post about rejection letters. It's very sweet. In fact, it's a little too sweet. I start to wonder if I'm coming off as a little dour.

I realize that I bring up my failures a lot. If you look at my projects page, you'll see that I refer to projects as "actively seeking rejections". In the same vein, I recently added a "Rejection Counter" to the layout of the blog. But if I seem to be self-pitying, I don't mean to. This is a good-natured ribbing. This is supposed to be encouraging for myself. I post it, because if I can talk about it, that means I'm taking it in stride, because I've got a lot of failing left to do.

See, at a certain level getting published is a numbers game. A company that puts out fifty books a year will get tens of thousands of manuscripts in that time period. A lot of that will be crap, but a lot will also be good stuff that just gets passed on. Lots of published authors talk about getting dozens if not hundreds of No's before they get their first Yes. So I look at my Rejection Counter and I see that I've been rejected eight times, that tells me that I've only given people ten or eleven chances to say "yes", and that's not nearly enough if I'm being serious.

So yeah, I'm shooting to get that number up into the double or triple digits before I get seriously discouraged.

But still, I like the outpouring of support, so by all means keep that coming too.

]{p

Monday, August 6, 2012

Critter Misfire

I'm a member of Critters, an online writing-group of sorts wherein you critique other people's work and get your own critiqued in return. Whenever one of your stories turns up in the queue (which takes about 4-6 weeks, in my experience), you can expect around twenty critiques, most of which are quite useful.

There are exceptions, however.

A surreal moment happened earlier this week when I got a critique of a sci-fi short story I'm working on. This story is essentially about a woman who wakes up in a Matrix-y kind of puzzle platform adventure. She's being guided around by the disembodied voice of an unseen technical administrator. I think it's a pretty nice blend of high-concept science fiction and low-brow humor, but this person who critiqued me thought I had attempted to write a thriller and missed the target entirely.

The critiquer... critic? ...critter? The gal who critiqued me took about the first 1000 words worth of narrative, re-wrote it from the ground up as an action-thriller, and in doing so, she stripped out all of the humor and character development. It was pretty jarring and I would have dismissed it as an outlier, except that it was the very first critique I received. So I had to wonder if she didn't maybe have a point.

Anyway, I'm sure her heart was in the right place, I just don't think she understood what I was trying to do. Thankfully, I've gotten some other critiques back, so I know that at least somebody understands.

]{p

Friday, August 3, 2012

FFF: A Cry From The Hunted


Every Friday Kurt is posting a new work of flash fiction. Starting this week, my friend Carolyn is editing these for me, so look for fewer typos, less overall ambiguity, and more commas. This week's story...

A Cry From The Hunted
Word Count: 599

The apartment door gave way with a tremendous crack under the force of Tye’s boot. He readied his shotgun and swept left. Gordon followed, sweeping the opposite direction.

“Clear,” Tye whispered. He and Gordon moved down the hallway, checking rooms as they passed, until they ended up in the bedroom at the far end. The room was empty. The apartment was empty. The building, most likely, was empty. The neighborhood… well, there was always someone out there, wasn’t there?

“Clear,” said Tye, not bothering to conceal his voice anymore.

“Dammit,” said Gordon, lowering his weapon. “I thought for sure it was this one.”

“You’re hearing things, man,” said Tye.

“I’m not.”

“Then how come I can’t hear it crying?” asked Tye.

“Because you blew your hearing with that ridiculous shotgun of yours,” said Gordon. “We’ll check the next one.”

“Leave it, man,” said Tye.

“We’ll check the next one,” Gordon repeated.

“Can we at least take a breather?”

Gordon looked around the room and then took a careful peek out the window. Then he nodded and headed to the kitchen to raid the cupboard. Tye sighed and took a knee. One more apartment, he told himself. Just one. Gordon had sworn he could hear a baby crying, and Tye had been willing to humor him for a while. But how many empty apartments would it take to convince Gordon that the sound was only in his head?

In a way, Tye was relieved that they kept coming up empty. How would the two of them take care of a baby in a world that had gone so to shit so thoroughly? It was a miracle that the two of them had stayed alive as long as they had.

“Break’s over,” said Gordon, walking into the bedroom with a slightly heavier backpack. “Let’s find her.”

“Oh, it’s a her now, is it?”

“You got a problem?” asked Gordon, his hand tightening around his grip.

“We can’t keep doing this,” said Tye.

“We’re not abandoning her,” said Gordon.

“Look, man. I don’t know what you’ve lost, and I ain’t judging you, but there’s no goddamn baby.”

“What if you’re wrong?”

“If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong,” said Tye. “It dies, or it becomes one of them. Either is better than the kind of childhood it would have with us. But if we keep this up, somebody’s going to hear us. We don’t have enough ammo to hold off a mob.”

“Then leave,” said Gordon, shrugging.

Tye started. “You wouldn’t last a day without me,” he said.

“I’m checking the next apartment,” said Gordon, heading for the door.

“Fuck!” said Tye, after a pause. “Why is this so important, man?”

“Because it is,” said Gordon, turning sharply, his gun dangerously close to being pointed at Tye.

“Because that’s what separates us from them.”

“The smart play is to leave it.”

“The human thing is to help who we can, to try and carve some kind of future out of all this. If you can’t understand that, then you and I are not fighting on the same side.”

For a moment they stared at each other.

“One more room,” said Tye. “Then I’m out of here. This is getting too dangerous.”

The two of them walked into the hallway and faced the entrance to the next apartment.

“Your turn,” Tye whispered.

Gordon raised his leg and thrust it into the door. The thin wood snapped out of the frame like cardboard. The survivors ducked into the room and swept for scavengers.

“Clear.”

Then Tye heard it. A muffled cry from the back bedroom.

Edited by Carolyn Abram