Friday, October 26, 2012


This week's Friday Flash Fiction is powered by The Storymatic. The prompt was the write a story in which the character is a "practical joker" and a "person with a devastating secret" and the plot elements "enormous stuffed animal" and "birthday".

Word Count: 596


“This is Detective Pembrook. Today is the 23rd of March, 2013.  The suspect has waived his right to an attorney. All right, we’re recording. Please state your name.”

“Christopher Allen Newell.”

“Now, Chris, you understand where you are?”

“I’m in a police station.”

“You understand what this is?”

“You’re going to ask me questions about the bear.”

“That’s right. Do you need a cup of coffee or anything?”

“Water. Or… do you have, like, a non-cola soda?”

“Sprite okay?”


“Okay, Chris. Tell me about the bear.”

“He was looking at me funny.”

“When was this?”

“Last night, around 3 am. I was sleeping in the back room, or I was trying to—“

“Why were you in the back room, Chris?”

“Mr. Huddlestein lets me sleep there sometimes, when I don’t think my dad will let me back in the house.”

“Who is Mr. Huddlestein?”

“He’s the manager at the Party Center.”

“He’s your boss, is that right?”

“Yeah. He’s nice.”

“So you were trying to sleep in the storeroom, and you said the bear looked funny?”

“No, he was looking at me funny. Like he knew a joke on me.”

“What did the bear look like?”

“He was tall. And purple.”

“So this was a five foot tall plush bear, right?”


“Were all the bears looking at you funny?”

“No, just him. The others weren’t looking at me.”

“Do you know anything else about him?”

“He was going to a birthday party.”

“All of those bears were going to birthday parties, isn’t that right?”

“I don’t know, could be.”

“That’s what Mr. Huddlestein said.”

“Well, then it’s right.”

“Here’s your soda, Chris. Where was he in the room? Was he on a shelf? Or was he on the floor?”

“I don’t remember.”


“I don’t remember.”

“It’s important.”

“I know, but I just can’t. All I remember was the look. It made me hate him.”

“What did you do to the bear?”

“I put something in him.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What did you put in the bear?”

“I don’t remember.”

“We found chemicals in your room at your Dad’s house. Do you like to play with chemicals?”


“What do you do with them?”

“I try to make things.”

“What kind of things, Chris?”

“Like, jokes. Like, things that when you open them, they go POP!”

“Like a bomb?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Did you ever make a bomb?”

“Maybe. I don’t remember.”

“Chris, it’s important that you try.”

“I know.”

“Did you put a bomb inside the bear?”

“I don’t remember.”

“I think you’re lying to me, Chris.”

“I don’t—“

“I think you made a little bomb and put it in that bear.”


“Chris, that Birthday Bear is one of hundreds that got shipped out this morning. It could be next door, it could be halfway across the country. Anything you remember is going to help us. We don’t even know what we’re looking for.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Stop saying that. You do remember.”


“Some kid is going to get a Birthday Bear and then what? Is it a bomb? Is it poison? Tell me.”

“I… I don’t—“

“Stop lying to me.”

“I’m not… I don’t remember.”

“You don’t want anyone to die, do you?”


“You’re just playing jokes, is that it?”


“And you mixed up some chemicals and put them in the bear.”


“Chris, don’t lie to me. You have to tell me what you did.”

“But… it’s a secret.”

“You can tell me.”

“Okay. Just… turn off the tape recorder.”



Edited by Carolyn Abram

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Suspension-Of-Disbelief Scale

I recently saw and loved Argo, the new Ben Affleck movie based on the true story about how Americans were smuggled out of Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis. It's a good movie, although it plays fast and loose with the facts. I find myself not minding so much. Even though the third act was extremely last-minute-dramatic, I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to buy that some of it was probably true. There are quite a few movies that I can't do this for, movies that sin less with the facts but rub me the wrong way, for whatever reason. So here's an overview from greatest to least offense.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - The recent film adaptation is so realistic that it almost feels heavy-handed about it. It's aggressively drab and un-glamorous, and it never attempts to lead the viewer by the hand. Result: confused viewers. Bonus realism: some of the things that author John Le Carre made up for the book were later adopted by British Intelligence.

Lord of the Rings - It's amazing that a fantasy world can be so completely realized on film. Especially a world in which wizards are prone to spouting exposition, and giant winged monsters can fall to their deaths.

The Island - Fun (if stolen) sci-fi flick that handles pretty well, right up until the point where clones learn Latin from their DNA. They hand-wave around it, but it's a major plot detail that doesn't quite scan.

Pi - I used to hate this movie, and yet everyone assumed I should love it because I'm was a math major. The problem is, this isn't a movie about math, it's about mysticism. My opinion has softened over the years, but some of the math assumptions--namely, that you can perfectly model complex systems using patterns (as opposed to regression)--still grate a little.

Transformers - Of all the ridiculous things in this movie, what bothers me the most is that the NSA has buildings with glass walls and is staffed with foreign nationals. Or anything John Turturro's character does. Or the way hacking is portrayed (is it ever portrayed well?). Actually, very little about this movie is believable except the giant robots that turn into cars and wreck cities. But since they got most of the screen time, I give it a pass.

Jurassic Park - Mixed bag here. Some of it is an artifact of its age--we now know that dinosaurs were feathered, and we didn't know that in 1993. Of course, we now also know that DNA has too short a half-life to be preserved for tens of millions of years. But dammit, even in 1993 we knew that velociraptors were only two feet tall.

Tomorrow Never Dies - Leaving aside the regular James Bond camp, the stealth boat is a pretty big problem for me. "Stealth materials" are plastic, boats don't have to evade radar, they have to evade sonar. On top of which, submarines already do that and do it better.

Braveheart - This was one of my favorite movies until I learned about how horribly wrong it gets the details of Wallace's life. There's the purely aesthetic--wearing blue woad, kilts worn centuries before they were adopted, changing Marion's name to Murron. Then there's the perplexing--re-writing all the battles to take place in open fields (Sterling was a bridge, Wallace did not invent chiltirons, and Bannockburn was a swamp). Then there's the downright insulting. Wallace could not have cuckolded Prince John, since he died six years before John was married. Add to all of that the homophobia and anti-Anglicism, and it's a very difficult movie for me to watch anymore. But the worst part is the opening line of the film, which chides people for questioning how accurate it is.

Roger & Me - The only thing worse than Braveheart's opening line is a documentary that completely ignores the facts. You could probably substitute in any of Michael Moore's "documentaries", but Roger & Me strikes me as worse than the rest because the climax of the film--Moore being cut off at a stockholder meeting--was a total fabrication.

Friday, October 19, 2012

FFF: Sorry About Ricky

This week's Friday Flash Fiction is powered by The Storymatic. The prompt was the write a story in which the character is a "slacker" and a "person who needs to remove of a tattoo right away" and the plot elements "confession" and "What was that sound?".

Sorry About Ricky
Word Count: 599

Gerry opened his eyes, and immediately regretted it. His brain was on fire from all the alcohol he’d consumed the night before. And the pills. And the smoking. And the bong.

It had been an interesting night.

Wincing at the light streaming through the window, Gerry forced his eyes to stay open so he could take inventory. Empty pizza boxes. Beer cans. Roaches everywhere—both kinds. He coughed and raised a hand to his head. That’s when he noticed the searing pain in his shoulder. He angled his head for a better look and found a layer of plastic-wrap around his upper arm.

There was blood behind it.

“Fuck,” said Gerry, pulling himself to his feet. He stumbled towards the bathroom. “Some party last night,” he called out to his roommate, Ricky.

There was an audible groan from Ricky’s room.

“I said that was some—you know what, forget it.” Gerry looked at himself in the mirror. He had the makings of a nasty black eye. Must’ve hit my head on the table, he thought. Then he saw his knuckles. They were bloody and tender.

He tried to remember what had happened the night before. Had he been in a fight? There were glimpses, but they faded as quickly as he could recall them. He opened the medicine cabinet and grabbed their bottle of Vicodin. It was empty.

“Shit, man,” he said. That bottle had been full at the start of the party. That seemed like a waste—especially since he hadn’t managed to get laid at all. Not that he could remember, anyway. He found a bottle of Tylenol and popped a small handful.

There was a loud noise from Ricky’s room, like a chair falling over. What the hell was that? thought Gerry. Did Ricky have somebody in there? Maybe he’d gotten lucky last night. They’d both had their eye on this girl named Trixie—he could remember that much. But he couldn’t remember her leaving.

Gerry returned his attention to the plastic-wrap on his arm, which he began to slowly unravel. It was sticky and brown with blood. He moistened a washcloth and began gently dabbing off the blood. There were a few open wounds in there, so it took some time.

More noise from Ricky’s room, and another muffled groan.

The shoulder was cleaning up nicely, but the cuts in his shoulder were stained black, almost as if he’d given himself a homemade tattoo…

Gerry’s stomach turned a somersault at the thought. Could he remember getting a tattoo last night? Ignoring the pain, he began to scrub away at his shoulder more aggressively. There was a pattern to the cuts. Letters.



The last block of five letters was the tenderest, but Gerry gritted his teeth and kept scrubbing.


And that was the entire message. Sorry about Ricky.

A memory flashed in Gerry’s brain. They had fought—and it had been over Trixie. They had traded a few punches. But why had he carved a lament into his own skin?

God, but it stung. How was it that he’d run out of Vicodin on the same night that he’d—

Oh God, thought Gerry. He bolted to Ricky’s room. Oh please no, oh please no, oh please no

Gerry kicked in the door to Ricky’s room and saw his roommate convulsing on the ground in a pool of his own vomit. Next to him lay an empty beer can. A peace-offering that Gerry had, in an intoxicated rage, laced with ground up Vicodin.

He’d just now gotten around to drinking it.

Edited by Carolyn Abram

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Wisconsin Life Flash Fiction Contest Winner

I have to tip my hat to my wife Abby for finding it: a flash fiction ghost story contest judged by none other than epic fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss. They wanted stories of 600 words or less (which is in my wheelhouse), and so I submitted a story, half expecting to end up recycling it into my Friday Flash Fiction project after it got rejected.

Somewhat unexpectedly, it didn't get rejected. Out of 650 entrants, mine was one of nine winners.

The prize: my story will be produced and aired on Wisconsin Public Radio. Mine will play on October 17th at 6:35 am and 8:35 am (listen to the live stream here). Afterwards, the audio will be available on this page (along with the text of runners-up).

Exciting stuff.


Friday, October 12, 2012

FFF: Dragon Steaks

This week's Friday Flash Fiction is powered by The Storymatic. The prompt was the write a story in which the character is an "employee in a fastfood restaurant" and a "person of a different size than most people" and the plot elements "wedding" and "first night alone".

Dragon Steaks
Word Count: 599

Hollis the Half-Ogre had to crouch while inside the cart because of his tremendous size. He didn’t normally venture inside the cart, but his boss Fackelstrand was ill and there was no way they could pass up the opportunity to serve Dragon Steaks to the outdoor attendants at the Prince’s wedding celebration. So Hollis, the butcher, was forced to interact with customers.

It was not an ideal situation, as far as either of them was concerned. But Fackelstrand had given Hollis three rules: First, all meat costs a crown per quarter-weight. Second, no free samples, ever. Third, if a customer gave Hollis trouble, he should put on his smock and step out of the cart so they can see that he’s only the butcher, not a salesman. They’d be more understanding after that.

Hollis carved a slab of rib meat off the dragon carcass beside him and put it on the scale. “Three… crowns,” he said.

The young man buying the meat placed a few gold coins on the counter. Hollis counted all three of them. Slowly. Then he added them to the pile of gold coins under the dragon meat. He didn’t worry about thieves. One of the nice things about dragon meat was that even a dead dragon cast magical protections over the pile of gold it sat on.

Hollis took the slab off the scale and put it on a wooden block where it began to sizzle. That was another nice thing about dragon meat—it was self-cooking. He handed the wooden block to the young man and grinned toothily.

“Thank you,” said the young man.

“Have… day,” said Hollis. He was pretty sure he’d forgotten a word or two in that greeting, but the patron had smiled back.

“Excuse me!” said the next person in line. “Excuse me, I am Sir Roderick of Thistleborn and I demand to speak to the proprietor!” The customer was a well-dressed human with a fine silk shirt and a neatly trimmed beard. Noble, probably.

“Problem… sir?” asked Hollis.

“I ordered a dozen steaks and was dismayed to find them all well-done,” said Sir Roderick. “I never eat burnt meat: it’s not civilized. I eat medium rare or I do without.”

“It’s… dragon,” said Hollis. “All… well-done.”

“Be that as it may,” said Roderick, “I spent nearly fifty crowns and what I received was not to my satisfaction. I demand a refund.”

“No… freebies,” said Hollis, remembering the second rule.

“Don’t make me get the Prince involved, ogre,” said Sir Roderick through gritted teeth.

Hollis hung his head. What a predicament. Then he thought of the third rule Fackelstrand had given him. “Moment… sir,” he said. He squeezed out of the cart and dragged his gear out after him. He pulled on the thick leather smock, streaked with crusty dragon blood. He donned the metal helm and drew the face-guard down. Lastly, he took up the enchanted sword that he used to carve up steaks—dragon meat was murder on conventional weapons.

He stretched his aching back, drawing himself up to his full height to looked down at Sir Roderick. Surely the noble would recognize him as a butcher now. “Still… problem?” he asked, his words resonating through the face-guard.

Sir Roderick blanched. A dark spot formed in his fine trousers, and spread down one leg. “No,” he said. “No problem at all. Forget I brought it up.”

Fackelstrand was right. Sir Roderick was nicer.

Nice. That was the word he’d forgotten. “Have… nice… day,” said Hollis as the nobleman scampered away.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

FFF: Nebula Run

This week's Friday Flash Fiction is powered by The Storymatic. The prompt for this story was to have a character who was an "eavesdropper" and a "person who takes shortcuts" and the plot should involve "road is closed" and "bad directions".

Nebula Run
Word Count: 590

Rapid syllables of Karshaqi rattled in Wendell’s earpiece. It was a dialect he wasn’t completely familiar with, but he could pick out enough words to get the gist. It was a good thing too, because the translation computer was struggling with it. Wendell looked at the pad of paper in his hands. 


He checked the clock on the NavDeck. 0700 was about three and a half hours away. He slowly backed his ScoutRunner away from the Cruiser that he’d been ghosting and drifted deeper into the nebula. At this low speed, the particulate matter wouldn’t damage his ship.

A tiny blinking light flashed on the NavDeck: SOFTWARE UPDATES AVAILABLE. He hit the snooze button on the alert and continued drifting. His ship was tiny, barely enough room for him, his food, his notepads, and his scant reserve of fuel.

Once he was out of sight of the Karshaqi Cruiser, he punched in his destination coordinates. He needed to get back to the HomeShip to warn them as quickly as possible. Maximum velocity was determined by fuel consumption, which was determined by the number of vectors he’d have to use. The regular route was to go around the nebula, which would take him three hours just to get in radio range. That would leave the HomeShip with barely any time to prepare for an attack. They’d have visual on the Karshaqi fleet by then.

There was an alternative: he could go through the nebula. He’d have to go slower because of the particulate matter—and he’d have to map out a route that stuck to the least dense clouds--but it could also shave an hour or two off of his time, if he could find the right path. That would give the HomeShip enough time to bounce their superlight drive and get the hell out of there.

Wendell called up his Nebular Map and spent a few minutes plotting.

“There,” he said. It was a circuitous path, which would cut down his max speed considerably, but it would save him about forty-five minutes. It would have to do. He punched the coordinates and engaged the autopilot on the NavDeck.

The ScoutRunner sped off into the cloud of gas and dust.

SOFTWARE UPDATES AVAILABLE, the light flashed again.

“Not now,” he said, hitting snooze. He flew in silence for nearly two hours.

“APPROACHING TRANSMISSION RANGE,” sang the computer alert.

“Right,” said Wendell, fiddling with dials, going over his message in his head.

“PROXIMITY WARNING,” said the computer.



Ahead of him, Wendell could see a wall of dust blocking his path. It wasn’t supposed to be there. His breath caught in his throat. The dust was surely thick enough to breach the hull at his current velocity. He checked his fuel. He could slow down to a stop, but that was about it. He’d still be outside transmission range, and he’d be dead in the water.


Wendell double-clicked the notification and looked at the list of updates that had downloaded. There, line 71, was the culprit: Nebular Map. His map was out of date. And that meant he was going to die.
There was only one option, really. He pressed his notepad to the glass, fired up the transmitter, and punched the accelerator, speeding towards the cloud. Maybe enough of the ship would survive to keep transmitting. Maybe they’d see his notepad.

Whether he lived or died, the mission was a success if, and only if, the message got through.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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