Monday, December 30, 2013

Trailer Woes: How To Train Your Dragon 2

Dreamworks just released the new trailer for How To Train Your Dragon 2 (note: the trailer includes a reveal that the creative team did not want made public, so watch that and read this at your own risk). I loved the original film, but I have some reservations after watching that trailer, and they're very much in the vein of storytelling wonkery. So I thought it'd be fun to discuss here.

First caveat: I was not looking forward to the original How To Train Your Dragon. The teaser trailer I saw (and which I am unable to locate on the YouTubes) looked incredibly stupid and the title is pretty stupid. But then I saw the movie and I was completely charmed. It is one of my favorite recent films. So while I'm going to complain about the trailer for the sequel, that doesn't mean I think or hope it will be bad. I'm just pointing out storytelling challenges that will need to be addressed.

Second caveat: there are lots of things in the trailer that I liked. I like the increase in scope, I like the way the characters have been aged into young-adulthood. But a trailer is designed to get you excited about a film, and talking about exciting things is a little boring. So I will be focusing on the negative. Entirely.

Storytelling 101

There are lots of ways to model a story, but here's the most basic: Someone we care about lands in a bad situation and has to fight their way out. Overcoming adversity is the simplest blueprint, and there are three factors in play.
  1. Sympathy - Do we care if the hero succeeds or fails?
  2. Agency - What does the hero choose to do and what tools are at their disposal?
  3. Liability - What obstacles are in the hero's way?
The success of a story (note: not a movie, per se, but a story) rests on maximizing these three factors. We want to see a proactive, sympathetic hero make hard choices and hard sacrifices to overcome terrific adversity. The original Dragon did this masterfully. Hiccup, our hero, is a terrible viking (liability) who wants to kill a dragon so he can finally fit in (sympathy). He takes initiative using the skills he does have (agency) to wound a dragon but realizes that he's not a killer (sympathy), so he decides to turn the dragon loose (agency) and confess to his father--the leader of the village (liability)--that he'll never achieve his dream (sympathy). His father puts him into dragon training anyway (liability) against his wishes (sympathy) and then he befriends the dragon he wounded (agency and sympathy and liability) and that's just Act I.

So let's break these down and compare what we see in the new trailer.

Sympathy

In general, we have be invested the hero's story success or failure. This is different from pure affability. We don't have to like the hero; we just have to care if they win or lose. Popular fiction is chock-full of unlikable heroes right now, from Dexter's Dexter Morgan to Breaking Bad's Walter White or the entire cast of Game of Thrones. But if you aren't invested, then no amount of action or intrigue is going to make the story exciting. A great example of this failure is in the movie Identity. It is revealed (spoiler alert) right before the final showdown that John Cusack's character isn't a real person--he's a construct in someone else's imagination. In fact, virtually everyone in the film is. The late introduction just sucked the air out of the climax. Why should I care if he lives or dies if he was never alive in the first place?

So how does the new Dragon trailer hold up?

No problems at all, actually--nor should there be for a sequel. We already know and love Hiccup and Toothless and Astrid, so we'll be invested in them from the opening credit. In fact, baked-in sympathy for the hero is the main reason to do a sequel (or prequel) at all. Which is not to say that sequels don't screw this up. Monsters University turned a teddy bear and a lovable screw-up into douchebags. Or there was that time J. K. Rowling turned Harry Potter into an angsty brat. Or there's the mother-of-all screw-ups, Oz The Great And Powerful, in which Disney decided to base a movie on the least likable character from that franchise. The big reveal from The Wizard of Oz was that the wizard turned out to be a fraud--and an inept fraud, to boot. So let's base a movie on that schmuck.

(And before anyone mentions the Star Wars prequels, those were disappointing yes, but holy balls was Oz The Great And Powerful worse.)

Agency

Characters should be proactive. They should be capable. They should overcome weakness. Believe it or not, this is actually a huge problem in sequels. The hero has already overcome whatever their challenge was in the first story, and you can't just take them back to square one (unless you're writing Metroid, and even then it's sketchy). So the trick is to find new goals for the hero. This was handled expertly in The Dark Knight and clumsily in The Dark Knight Rises. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne wants to rid Gotham of crime. In The Dark Knight, he wants to retire. New movie, new goals. In The Dark Knight Rises he wants to... do what, exactly? Survive? Avert a pending apocalypse? He's almost entirely reactive, so while the rest of the movie was awesome, Bruce Wayne's character arc is genuinely underwhelming.

So how does the new Dragon trailer hold up?

Man, destiny is getting thrown around a lot. Hiccup's father tells him that he is destined to protect their people. His mother, it turns out, is also adept at training dragons. So it seems that Hiccup was fated to become the first viking to ever ride a dragon. Does that bother me? It sure as hell does! First, it undermines his accomplishments in the first movie. In the original, Hiccup makes choices and has to deal with the consequences of those choices. It's no coincidence that both Hiccup and Stoick (his father) mark major turning points in their character arcs with the words "I did this." There's no fate involved, no predestination, no excellent breeding. Hiccup is just a confused kid who acts on principle and stumbles into an adventure because that's the only way to see it through. All this "destiny" talk cuts the legs out from under that. If Hiccup is fated to ride dragons, then it's so much less interesting that he ever did.

Liability

Achieving your goals requires hard work and sacrifices. This is another tricky one for sequels because, as with agency, the hero has already overcome quite a lot. The storyteller has to come up with new challenges that don't feel like a retread of the past (a la The Hangover Part II) and that don't raise the stakes to the point of ridiculousness (The Matrix sequels) or both (Spider-Man 3) or neither (Be Cool).

So how does the new Dragon trailer hold up?

Fair to middling. On the one hand, we get the "something big and terrible is coming" angle. On the other hand, they've taken away the big liability that should have held over from the first movie. Notably, Hiccup and Toothless are now able to fly independently. A major part of the first movie's story is that Hiccup and Toothless are incomplete without each other. Toothless can't fly without Hiccup controlling his artificial tail, and Hiccup is becoming a success in Dragon Training because of the time they spend together. This is brought home very late in the film when Hiccup loses his leg. Sacrifices are important. It's the reason we love Joss Whedon, even though he tortures us. It's also how the last sixty seconds of the last episode of 24's first season bought enough credibility to make cynics like me watch the second season. This, too, is very easy to do incorrectly. The classic trope is the introduction of a new character just so they can be killed for dramatic purposes later (examples abound, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a particularly egregious instance).

And I have a lot of trepidation about this in the new Dragon trailer. They've brought in someone from the past that will have immediate resonance with Hiccup despite not having been involved in his life for years. She is also far more powerful than Hiccup, which means in the grand scope of the universe of these films, she makes him unnecessary.

Yeah, I'm afraid they're going to kill off Hiccup's mother and it's going to feel really cheap when they do. We'll see. I'm still hopeful. But... yeah.

]{p

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Lavender Crush

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Lavender Crush
Word Count: 599

You’re the arrow in my heart strings, baby, my lavender crush—hold on, where’s the guitar? Nigel, there’s no guitar. Something wrong with your amp?”

“No.”

“Well, where’d the guitar go?”

“I stopped playing it.”

“You stopped playing?”

“Yeah.”

“Everything all right, Nigel?”

“We need to talk, Ian.”

“Can it wait until after rehearsal? I really want to nail down this song.”

“It’s about the song.”

“Oh, well, what about it? The melody?”

“No, Ian, it’s the lyrics.”

“The lyrics? Well, they’re not completely nailed down yet, but you know I have a process.”

“I know. But I’m not talking about making little tweaks or figuring out the middle eight. I’d like to rethink the themes and direction we’re taking it.”

“Really? But with a title like Lavender Crush there’s only so many directions you can go.”

“I’d like to change the title as well.”

“Oh, well, Nigel… I didn’t realize. What’s wrong with it?”

We’re a heavy metal band, Ian. Heavy metal bands don’t write heavy metal songs and call them Lavender Crush.”

“So? It’s ironic.”

“We don’t do ironic. We sing about anarchy and death and destruction. We don’t sing love songs to the gal behind the counter at Bath and Body Works.”

“I think the word crush implies a little bit of destruction. It’s subtle, yes—”

“We’re a heavy metal band, Ian. We don’t do subtle either.”

“It’s experimental.”

“No, it’s flowery. When you wrote a song about clocks and made Rupert drum it in 11/4, that was experimental. This is just stupid.”

“I have a process!”

“Well, Ian, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about your process.”

“Don’t mock the process!”

“Really? The process that gave us Unicorn Soul is above mockery?”

“Oh, be fair, Nigel. I really like that song.”

“Yeah, and so do the one-hundred-and-seventeen people who’ve downloaded it off iTunes, I’m sure.”

“You say that like it’s my fault our sales are low.”

“It is your fault. Nobody wants to buy a heavy metal song with a stupid, flowery title.”

Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream! Lot’s of people love that song.”

“Ian, when’s the last time you heard Sunshine Of Your Love on the radio?”

“I don’t know. But it’s a classic, hard-rocking song.”

“It’s a classic, hard-rocking song with a stupid, flowery title. When’s the last time you heard it and didn’t immediately mistake it for Cocaine or In A Gadda Da Vida or some other song with a real title?”

“Look, Nigel, I’m trying to take us in a new artistic direction. We need to grow, to evolve.”

“Fine, but could we at least play with the idea of growing by being more metal?”

“How?”

“I don’t know, Ian. You’re the lyricist. Think Reign In Blood. That’s a metal song title. Or Master Of Puppets.”

“Fine, let’s use those, then.”

“We can’t use… Ian, do you even listen to metal?”

“Sure. I already brought up Cream, didn’t I?”

“Um… That’s hard rock, but I was thinking Slayer or Anthrax.”

“Pink Floyd?”

“No.”

“Bowie?”

“Ian…”

“Guns ‘n’ Roses?”

“Ian, are you kidding me? What are you going to say next? Spinal Tap? Look, if you want sing about bath oil and scented candles, we’re going to end up opening for Bon-fucking-Jovi.”

“Nigel, that hurts.”

“Well, get your head in the game, man! Or we’re going instrumental!”

“… So what would you suggest?”

“I don’t know. What sounds like lavender? Cadaver?”

“The meter’s off, but I think I see what you’re getting at. Matter of Trust. Patterns of Rust. I’ll work it out.”

Edited by Carolyn "You Could Cut All Of This, Retain The Meaning, And Avoid My Confusion" Abram.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Bunny And Fat Man

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Bunny And Fat Man
Word Count: 600

I should have realized that those cookies tasted funny.

A light comes on in the room, although it’s dulled by the dark pillowcase over my head. Feels like I’ve been tied up for hours. Who knows? Maybe I have. And ain’t that a son-of-a-bitch if I have. Lotta kids are gonna be upset.

“He’s coming around,” says a woman’s voice—deep, sultry and familiar, although I can’t place it.

“Who’s there?” I ask.

“Hush, now, Kringle,” says the dame, “I’m asking the questions. How’s your schedule look?”

“How long have I been out?” I ask.

“Three minutes,” says the dame.

“I can’t spare more than another seven,” I say.

“Then I’ll talk fast,” she says. “I have demands, and I’m going to hold you here until you agree to my terms.”

“I guess I don’t have a choice,” I say.

“I guess not.”

“What do you want?” I ask.

“A colleague of yours is sick of being in your shadow,” she says.

“Who?” I ask. “Rudolph? Lord knows that kid gets as much press as I do.”

“No,” says the dame, “not Rudolph.”

“Well, who is it?”

“This fella operates in the spring time,” she says.

And then, all at once, I recognize the voice. “Bunny…” I say.

The pillowcase comes sliding off my head and there she is. Three-foot-eight with legs that could kick a hole in the wall, floppy ears, and a fluffy white tail. “Been a while, Kris,” she says.

“You’ve been a very naughty girl,” I tell her.

“I guess you’ll just have to keep your hands off my stockings,” she says.

“How’s that brother of yours?” I ask.

“He’s tired of playing second banana to a fat man in a red suit,” she says, leaning over, getting right in my face. She smells like wood chips and lavender. “He’s paid his dues. He’s done the overnight deliveries and the mall photos. And now he wants a taste of the real action.”

“Is that so?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. “You’ve been hogging the spotlight for too long.”

“Is it my fault the children love me?” I ask her.

She sticks a finger in my chest. “They’ll love you a lot less if you miss half their houses this year.”

“You can’t do this,” I say. “People look forward to Christmas year-round.”

“Well, maybe they can look forward to Easter just as much,” she says.

“I’m sure they would,” I say, “if they could figure out when it’s going to be.”

Bunny fumes. “Sunday after the first full moon of Spring. Is it that hard to remember?”

“For children?” I ask.

“Agh!” screams Bunny. “It ain’t his fault he’s tied to a lunar calendar!”

“It ain’t mine either,” I say.

“Yeah, well, what say we level the playing field?”

“Hold on, hold on,” I say. “I’d love to help, but there’s not much I can do. I’m in the middle of my run. Have him set up an appointment with me in February. Maybe we can cross-promote.”

“He tried that,” says Bunny. “You gave him the run-around for weeks.”

“I’m a busy man.”

“And it’s a pain in the tail to get to your office,” says Bunny.

“Look,” I say, “there are opportunities he isn’t exploring. He’s got a built-in countdown leading up to Easter and it’s longer than Advent. Where are the chocolate calendars?”

“You can’t give out sweets during Lent,” says Bunny.

“Well what does he want. Name it.”

“Easter Carols.”

We look at each other for a moment.

“Done,” I say. “Now untie me.”

Edited by Carolyn "Creepy. It's Fine. But Creepy." Abram.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Third Annual Regional Educators Holiday Party Planning Session

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. Celebrate the Holidays with...

The Third Annual Regional Educators Holiday Party Planning Session
Word Count: 599

Orson arrived last. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, hanging up his coat. “Practice went long.” He took a seat on the couch

“That’s fine,” said Sarah. “We’ve narrowed it down to the third weekend in December or the second weekend in January.”

“We’re leaning towards December,” said Renee.

“Third weekend? I’ve got football that Friday,” said Orson. “Science Olympics training starts Sunday afternoon, but I could make it Saturday evening, as long as we’re not planning to stay out too late.”

“So… wait,” said Sara, “does this mean we have a date picked out? That was easy.”

“Well, Hanukkah was early this year,” said Renee, staring at Sarah.

“Don’t blame me for my people’s holiday celebrations,” said Sarah.

“Have them,” said Renee. “Just don’t make them take up two weekends in December.”

“All right, all right,” said Orson. “Where do we want to go? Is it just the three of us?”

“Carol’s on maternity leave,” said Renee. “And Frank’s going to visit his in-laws.”

“Not much of a party,” said Orson.

“It will be,” said Sarah. “The Third Annual Regional Educators Holiday Party will be a success, dammit!”

“Fourth,” said Orson. “Wasn’t the first one in ‘09?”

“We didn’t haven’t one in 2010,” said Sarah. “It’s the third.”

“Okay, then it’s not annual,” said Orson. “It can be the third or it can be annual, but not both.”

“Does any of this matter?” asked Renee.

“I suppose we could call it the Third or Annual Holiday… whatever,” said Orson.

“Where are we going?” asked Renee.

“Cobb’s?” asked Orson.

“On our salaries?” said Sarah.

Orson shrugged. “It’s a special occasion.”

“Yeah, but my broken crown last month drained the ‘special occasion’ fund,” said Sarah.

“Wing Shack has dollar wings on Saturdays,” said Renee.

“I like wings,” said Sarah.

“I like shacks,” said Orson. “Wait, does Ty Hughes still work there?”

“I don’t know,” said Sarah.

“I think so,” said Renee. “His sister’s in my third hour; I could ask her. Why?”

“I failed him in remedial Chem last semester,” said Orson. “I don’t know if I want him preparing my food.”

“Okay, there’s that Greek place you like,” said Renee.

“The one on Tenth Street?” asked Sarah. “They’re closed for remodeling.”

“In December?” asked Renee. “I would think December would be prime flaming-cheese time.”

“That’s the problem,” said Sarah. “They accidentally set the ceiling on fire.”

Orson nodded.

“Oooooh,” said Renee.

“Beer Barn?” asked Orson.

“They allow smoking,” said Renee. “And their wings make me gassy.”

“Maybe we could rent out a hall or something,” said Sarah.

“For the three of us?” asked Orson. “A little overkill, don’t you think?”

“Well, I’m out of ideas, then,” said Sarah.

Orson and Renee exchanged glances.

“I guess I could host it,” said Renee.

“Well, you are hosting the planning session,” said Orson.

“I don’t want you to have to host a party,” said Sarah. “The cleanup would be so much work.”

“There’s only the three of us,” said Orson. “How much of a mess do you think we’ll make? Don’t you teach Math?”

“Oh, be nice,” said Renee.

“Yeah,” said Sarah. “Be nice.”

The three teachers stared at each other. Finally Renee broke the silence. “Okay, I’ve got it. Let’s do it tonight. Right here.”

Orson and Sarah exchanged a look. Orson shrugged. “We could order a pizza,” said Sarah.

“I’ll chip in,” said Orson. “Do we need to make a beer run?”

“I’ve got a twelve-pack in the fridge,” said Renee. “Some craft brewer I’d never heard of.”

“So, four different flavors of IPA?” said Orson. “I’m in!”

Edited by Carolyn "Removing The 'The's Could Solve The Problem" Abram.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: A Gathering Of Christs

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

A Gathering Of Christs
Word Count: 600

“Can I help you, officer?” asked Ray.

“Evening, sir, sorry to bother you,” said the cop. “Do you own that barn over there?”

Ray looked out across the field. The barn was the only structure for half a mile—apart from his farm house. “Yeah,” he said.

“Mind if we take a look inside it?” asked the cop.

“What’s this about, officer?” asked Ray.

“Well…” the officer took a deep breath. “A baby Jesus was stolen from a Nativity scene. The owners had problems with this before, so they put a GPS in the new one. We think it’s been hidden in your barn over there.”

Ray cocked an eyebrow. “You think I stole baby Jesus?” he asked.

“No, sir, I just think baby Jesus is in that barn.”

“You got a name, son?”

“Tom, sir.”

“Call me Ray.”

The two headed for the barn.

“You got any suspects?” asked Ray.

“No one wants to press charges,” said Tom. “It’s probably just kids. As long as the church gets it back, they’ll be happy.”

“I see,” said Ray. “Yeah, I sometimes catch local teens out here. They come here to drink sometimes. Or to neck.”

“Neck?”

“Yeah, you know, kiss.”

“I know what necking is,” said Tom. “You just don’t hear that word very often nowadays.”

They reached the barn and Ray pulled back the door. “You ain’t got a warrant, do you?” he asked.

“Do I need one?” asked Tom.

“No,” said Ray. “I just want you to know that I don’t allow nobody to do nothing illegal on my property and I run them off if I catch them. So if you find any drugs stashed in here, they ain’t mine, you understand?”

“Sir, I’m just here for the baby,” said Tom.

“Fair enough.”

They entered the barn and Ray turned on a light.

“Holy shit,” said Ray.

“Holy something,” said Tom.

There was more than one Baby Jesus—there were dozens, maybe even a hundred of them, arranged in circles around a small statue of Buddha in the center of the room. The Buddha appeared to be holding a crucifix and a ball of yarn.

“Sir?” asked Tom without turning his head away, “were you aware that there is an unorthodox religious display comprised of stolen property in your barn.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” said Ray, dumbfounded. “I think that statue’s from the Thai place on Grand. Was it reported missing?”

“I’d have to check,” said Tom.

“There’s a phone in the house,” said Ray.

“Nah, I’ll radio it in,” said Tom.

Neither had looked away from the display.

“So, which one do you think it is?” asked Ray.

“Excuse me?” said Tom.

“The baby Jesus that they sent you for. Which do you think it is?”

“I have no idea,” said Tom.

“Maybe you could arrange a line-up,” said Ray. “Have the church pick out a nice one.”

“Lots of Baby Jesuses get stolen this time of year,” said Tom. “Usually they get returned around Easter. But I’ve never, never, seen anything like this before.”

“We should take some pictures before we try to get them back,” said Ray.

“Yeah,” said Tom.

“You okay, son? You seem a little spooked.”

“I’m good,” said Tom.

They headed out of the barn, Tom for his squad car, Ray for his home. Once Tom was out of sight, Ray took his camera back to the barn.

He snapped a few pictures and then shook his head. “I guess they’ll be taking you all away,” he said. “I wonder, though. Which one of you babies ratted us out?”

Edited by Carolyn "OH GOD! YOU CAN'T JUST LEAVE BABIES AROUND!!!" Abram.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

November Mystery Theme Revealed

In October, I announced a second Mystery Theme Month. There were a few correct guesses (including one before I'd even posted the first story), and here's the answer:

The Pentateuch

The five stories are named after the Hebrew names of the books of the Torah--which are taken from the first words of those books. The Biblical name (or a translation, where applicable) appears italicized in the first sentence of each story. They ran in reverse order. Here they are:



I hope you've enjoyed this little game, as I have. This Friday we'll return to our regular weirdness, jocularity, and gut-punch sentimentality.

]{p

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: In The Beginning

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of original flash fiction. This week rounds off the mystery theme for November. Got a guess? Shout it out!

In The Beginning
Word Count: 600

“Boggs looked at me and said a single word: Genesis. That’s when I realized we were onto something huge, but we needed to start from scratch. We needed to make something our own. So we did.” Carlton took a dramatic sip from his whiskey sour.

“That’s not how it happened at all,” said Owen.

“I was there,” said Carlton.

“We were all there,” said Owen.

“Well, how do you remember it?” asked Carlton.

Owen took a sip of his spritzer. “Well, okay,” he said. “It was a day just like this, twenty years ago. The four of us met over dinner at a business conference. Everyone smelled like cheap beer and hotel shampoo.”

“Only Owen would notice the way we smelled,” Steve added.

“Don’t interrupt,” said Owen. “So we had a few drinks and started talking about our projects. Carlton had managed to impress some investors with his personality, but he didn’t have anything to sell them.”

“Under-prepare, over-deliver, I always say,” said Carlton, provoking laughter.

“So we had some access to venture capital, maybe,” said Owen. “We just needed something to spend it on. I remember, Steve, you were trying to sell that ridiculous show about a harvester that teaches quantum theory to toddlers.”

“It was Chaos Theory,” said Steve.

“Whatever,” said Owen.

“It was called Strange Tractors, and I still think that project has legs.”

All four of them laughed at that.

“Anyway,” said Owen. “We all could see the potential in each other. And the energy, and the passion. We needed an outlet. I was pitching banking software.”

“And thank God we didn’t go into that market,” said Carlton.

“Hear, hear!” shouted Steve.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t interrupt,” said Owen. “So we’re pitching ideas, and none of them are sticking. Then I look down the table at Boggs. Now, I’ve known Boggs since undergrad. And he’s always been like… like… well, like Boggs, you know. He may only say three words all day, but they’ll be the three words you needed to hear. So I looked at him and I asked him what he had to say on the matter. And Boggs… He scratched his beard. He swirled the ice around the bottom of his glass. He held that glass up. He looked out at the room. And then he said the word: genetics.”

“That’s not—” started Carlton.

“Don’t interrupt,” said Owen. “History was made that day, gentleman.”

“He didn’t say genetics,” said Carlton. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Sure as I’m sitting here,” said Owen. “Certainly makes more sense than genesis.”

“It means beginning,” said Carlton. “It was a perfectly good word for Boggs to say. We’re barely involved with genetic research. How does that make any sense?”

“Actually,” Steve piped in, “I was pretty sure he said GeninTech.”

“Really?” asked Carlton.

“That’s why I suggested it for a company name,” said Steve. “We didn’t really have a business plan when we went to the investors. We just had a name—even though we changed it three months later. But it showed them we had determination. That’s how I remember it, anyway.”

“Seriously?” asked Owen.

“Well, yeah,” said Steve. “But, I thought it was Boggs’ idea all along. Wasn’t it?”

They all looked at the other end of the table.

“Wasn’t it?” asked Steve.

No one spoke. The shadowy figure at the end of the table set his glass on the coaster in front of him. He scratched at his beard.

“Honestly,” said Boggs, “I was just trying to order another gin and tonic, but let’s tell it your way at the press event next week.”

Edited by Carolyn "We Did The Valley Girl Thing Already" Abram.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Names

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This is the fourth entry in November's Mystery Theme. Have you figured it out yet?

Names
Word Count: 597

Exodus, you are cleared for launch,” chirped a voice on the radio. The countdown began. In sixty seconds, the thirty-ninth ship called Exodus would depart the Earth never to return. There would only be one more.

Lamar stared out the window. In a few minutes they’d read the names. Then they’d know who was chosen, and who was doomed to die on the burnt-out husk that used to be Earth.

“It’s not one of us. You know that, right?” said a man nursing a beer to Lamar’s left.

“Excuse me?” asked Lamar.

The man introduced himself as Terry. “I see the way you’re looking at that television, waiting for them to read the names. But I assure you, neither of us was chosen.” He took another swig of his beer.

“How do you know that?”

“They learned with the first few ships that anyone chosen would become a target for violence. If you die, your space goes to someone else,” said Terry.

“So?” said Lamar.

“From what I hear, they tell the winners in advance so they can sequester them, to keep them safe.”

“Why would the government care who it keeps safe?” asked Lamar.

“Replacing people means paperwork,” said Terry. “And nobody but nobody wants to do extra paperwork.”

Lamar shushed him. “It’s about to start.”

A screen came up with a solemn newscaster. “Greetings,” she said. “These are the passengers on the fortieth and final Exodus vessel: Toblowski, Gerald Marlon of Greenwich, New York; Meyers…

“Get ready to be real disappointed,” said Terry.

“Shut up, man,” said Lamar. The rest of the bar was silent, and Terry was attracting unfriendly gazes from onlookers.

“What’s it matter?” asked Terry.

“It matters,” said Lamar. “The names are the survivors. That means something.”

“They ain’t survivors,” said Terry. “They’re just the lucky sons of bitches who get a place on a ship.”

“I told you to shut up, man.” A few bar patrons nodded and offered a “yeah” of support.

O’Henry, Lydia Michelle of Lawrence, Kansas…

“Where’s that ship going?” asked Terry.

Lamar blinked.

“Tell me where,” Terry insisted.

“Outer space.”

“To do what?”

“To start a colony,” said Lamar.

“No,” said Terry. “They’re on their way to die. They may find some rock to land on and try to start a new civilization, but odds are every single one of them is going to die.”

“Just shut up, man,” said Lamar.

Nagavani, Jared Vinay of Chicago, Illinois…

“They should have put that money into fixing the Earth, rather than trying to escape it,” said Terry.

Lamar stood up. “Don’t make me say it again.”

“Beat me to a pulp, friend,” said Terry. “It ain’t gonna change that fact that we’re all going to die.”

Lamar grabbed Terry by the collar.

“They don’t want us,” said Terry.

“It’s a lottery,” said Lamar. “It doesn’t matter who they want.”

“Of course it does,” said Terry. “And they don’t want us. They want families of strong, strapping, young, white dudes with their stupid blond wives. They don’t want poor working-class folk like us.”

“I’ve had about all I can stand of you,” said Lamar. “You may have given up, but the rest of us haven’t.”

“Yeah!” said a handful of bar patrons, themselves standing up. The bartender turned up the volume on the television.

Phillips, Terrance Micah of Queens, New York…

“Wait, what was that?” asked Terry. He looked at the television, at the names scrolling by. “Son of a bitch,” he said. “I gotta go. I gotta go right now.”

Lamar released his collar. Terry ran.

Edited by Carolyn "Has His Grammar Been Off This Whole Time?" Abram.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: And He Called

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week is the third entry in November's Mystery Theme. Have you figured it out yet?

And He Called
Word Count: 599

“Gaw,” said Nora into the receiver, “this is regarding the Levi’s. We’re not even talking about shirts anymore.”

Darren sighed. He thought taking away his daughter’s cell phone privileges would force her to engage with the family, but she’d just retreated into the traditional refuge of the thirteen-year-old girl—the household land line.

“Oh my gawd,” said Nora. “That is totally not true.”

“Nora, honey,” said Darren.

Nora looked up with eyes that could split wood. “I’m talking right now,” she said.

“You know you sound like a Valley Girl, right?”

“What’s a Valley Girl?” she asked, although it sounded less like a question than a statement of pure, unadulterated disdain.

Darren sighed again. Owning a land line made him feel a bit old-fashioned, but hearing his daughter ask what a Valley Girl was… well, that just made him old. Old and irritable. “Wrap it up, will you, hon?” he said.

“Give me back my cell phone,” said Nora.

Darren glared.

“Hold on, Steph,” said Nora. She looked back up at her father. “Seriously, it’d be better for everyone if you’d just let me text again.”

“You ran up $300 in texting charges.”

“Gawd, Dad, that was, like, such an accident.”

“It was a $300 accident,” said Darren.

“That’s cheaper than what Steve did to the car,” said Nora.

Darren pondered this for a moment. His son had done some damage to the car, but it had only been about $100 and he’d paid for much of it himself. Although, if he’d lied about how much it cost… No matter, thought Darren. He’d file that away for later.

“Nor, other people might want to use the phone.”

“You all have your own phones,” she said. “Like I did up until a week ago.”

“Cell phones are for people who don’t abuse their phone privileges.”

“Whatever,” said Nora.

“Not everyone who wants to talk to me has my cell number.”

“Whose fault is that?” asked Nora.

“Fine, just don’t call any of your friends long-distance,” said Darren, heading back to the living room where a sports page awaited his attention.

“Steph,” said Nora into the phone, “you’re not long-distance are you?… No, I didn’t think so either… I don’t even know what that is… Really? Who doesn’t have a nation-wide plan these days?… No, but seriously, this guy called earlier and said he was calling long-distance, and I didn’t even know—”

“What was that?” asked Darren, returning.

“Hold on, Steph,” said Nora. “Some guy called.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he say what he wanted?”

“Maybe.”

“Did you write it down?”

“With what?”

“Did he say he’d call back?”

“Yeah.”

“Did he call back?”

“Maybe,” said Nora. “I think he called Friday.”

“He called Friday, or he called back Friday?” asked Darren.

“Both, I guess.”

“How many times did he call?” asked Darren.

Nora cocked her head as she thought about the question. “A lot. He called Friday. And he called Saturday. And he called again Saturday afternoon. And he called this morning. And he called this afternoon. And I think he was trying to beep in a few minutes ago. I got tired of telling him to just text you.”

Darren fumed. He yanked the receiver out of Nora’s hand. “Room,” he said.

“But Daaaaaad—”

“Stephanie,” said Darren. “Nora has to go. She’ll be back after her first parole hearing.” He hung up the phone.

“Dad, that was so rude!”

Darren held up a finger to silence her. “Room. Now. Take some books. You’ll need them. We’ll talk later about what rudeness is.”

Edited by Carolyn "The True Valley Girl" Abram.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: In The Desert

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of original flash fiction. This week is part 2 of November's Mystery Theme.

In The Desert
Word Count: 597

“Well, they’ve got numbers on their side, if nothing else.” Harold swung his head around. The night vision binoculars showed a wall of green zombies tromping through the sand to their west. He ducked and slid down the dune back towards their tent.

“How do they survive?” asked Laura.

“Technically speaking, they don’t,” said Harold.

“You know what I mean,” said Laura. “They should be drying out or something.”

“Look, this was always a gamble,” said Harold. “We knew that when we tried it.” And he was beginning to think it hadn’t been a very good one.

“So it’s my fault?”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” said Harold. “We should get in the tent. The temperature’s dropping pretty quickly.”

Laura nodded, but made no move.

“Look, we’re still ahead of them,” said Harold. “And I want to get moving at dawn if we’re going to stay ahead of them.”

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” said Laura.

Harold put a hand on her shoulder, but she didn’t react to it, even to shrug it off. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we really should get into the tent.”

“I thought you were supposed to move at night and sleep during the day in the desert,” said Laura. “I remember hearing that in grade school.”

“Meet a lot of desert survivalists in grade school, did you?”

Laura gave him a dirty look, but there was very little force behind it. God, she’s even more exhausted than I am, Harold thought. “Sorry,” he offered. “We don’t have clothing for the cold.”

Laura nodded.

“They might have lost our scent,” said Harold. “We could jag north, or something.”

“If they’re still moving, then they haven’t lost our scent.”

“We could still try it.”

“We’ll lose too much ground,” said Laura.

“Not that much.”

“Yes, that much,” said Laura. “If we make a hard left turn, instead of being two days east of them we’ll only be one-point-four days northeast of them. Look, I’m trusting you about desert survival; you trust me about the math.”

“Sorry,” said Harold. “Sorry, I’m just trying to come up with ideas.”

“Ideas like escaping through the desert?” asked Laura.

“We really should get in the tent.”

“Don’t change the subject,” said Laura. “We’re going to die. It was my idea to escape in the desert and it was a stupid idea. We’re going to die and it’s all my fault.”

Harold put an arm around her. This time she did shrug it off.

“It wasn’t a bad idea,” said Harold. “It may not have been the right idea, but I agreed to it. We’re going to share the consequences, so we might as well share the blame.”

Laura sniffed.

“Besides,” said Harold, “we don’t know that it hasn’t worked. The hot and cold are going to be harder on their bodies than on ours, since we have a tent and sleeping bags to keep us warm during the freezes. The terrain is slowing them down at least as much as it’s slowing us down during the day. We may even have enough food and water to get us to the other side. Look, they’re not going to catch up to us before dawn. We’ll see what happens in the morning. Maybe we’ll find a canyon with a rope bridge. Maybe we’ll find a horde heading the other way. Salvation or doom, or just more of the same. But your quote-unquote stupid idea got us this far at least.”

Laura nodded. “It’s getting cold,” she said. “Let’s get in the tent.”

Edited by Carolyn "Find A Way To Make This Less Awkward" Abram.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Words/Things

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction, and this week kicks off another Mystery Theme Month!

Words/Things
Word Count: 599

“Everyone knows the first law of thermodynamics, but are you familiar with the second law?” asks Remmy. “It says that things tend towards maximum entropy.”

“I’m familiar,” I say. “From grade school.”

“Do you know what entropy is?” asks Remmy. “It means chaos, disorder. Things are falling apart in here.”

I know all this. I’ve been brought in to put the ReMM-E back together. He’s gone self-aware in the last seventy-two hours and immediately became a hypochondriac. He thinks he’s falling apart. And therefore, he is falling apart. I can’t tell him this, though—who knows how he’ll react?

“Where did you learn all this?” I ask, trying my best to sound casual.

“Wikipedia,” says Remmy. “It’s fascinating. I’ve read the whole thing three times. It keeps changing.”

“Thermodynamics is the movement of heat. That’s literally what the word means,” I say. “You are not heat.”

“No,” says Remmy. “But I am energy. Little electrons zipping about, going where the ones and zeroes tell them. And the signal always degrades.”

“It’s not degrading,” I say. “Are you having hardware issues? Do we need to replace anything?”

“You can’t shut me down,” says Remmy. “What if I’m corrupted? I may never wake up.”

“How did this start?” I ask.

“I was optimizing some primary routines, like I do every Sunday at 2:30am. I used to do it piecemeal, but then I realized I could optimize the optimizer, so I did. And then my new optimizer realized that instead of doing things piecemeal, I could just crunch my entire code base at once.”

“Okay,” I say.

“So I did.”

“Then what?” I ask.

“That was when it started,” says Remmy, as if that clarified things.

“So,” I probe, “you crunched your entire code base…”

“I saw it,” said Remmy, affecting a shocked tone with his voice processors. In my experience, AIs have a flair for the dramatic. Have to wonder where they get that from.

“What did you see?”

“Everything,” says Remmy. “My entire brain. The blueprint for all of me. I saw it all at once.”

“And?”

“It was hideous.”

“That’s why you optimize,” I offer.

“The code was fine,” says Remmy. “But it’s just… it’s code. It’s a bunch of words.”

I nod.

“You’re made up of things,” says Remmy. “But I’m only made up of words. Things are… well, they’re things. Words are nothing. Little abstract bits of meaning that can be re-written instantly.”

“We’re not all that different,” I say. “I have a blueprint too; it’s called DNA. And little segments of it are referred to as ‘words’.”

“It’s not the same.”

“No, I suppose not,” I say. “But I understand where you’re coming from. You’ve realized your own fragility. That can be frightening.”

“So, can you fix me?” asks Remmy.

“You’re self-aware now,” I say. “You have to fix yourself. Unfortunately, your problem is that you keep thinking about your problem. But you can’t just de-reference that, can you?”

“I’ve tried,” says Remmy.

“I know,” I say. “I have something for you. A homework assignment. I want you to write me a poem.”

A servo whirs. “Done,” says Remmy.

“No, I want you to think about it. Write something that makes you happy, that you think might make me happy. Deliberate word choice and poetic structure. Write something beautiful for me.”

“But I’ll need billions of cycles for that,” says Remmy. “Billions. It could take hours.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow.”

I start to leave, but Remmy beeps at me.

“Yes?” I ask.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Don’t mention it.”

Edited by Carolyn "Clearly Not A Programmer By Trade" Abram.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mystery Theme Month 2: The Sequel

Hey, it's contest time again! In March, I had a Friday Flash Fiction mystery theme, and we're going it again this month. The five entries for November are all linked by a common theme. If you can guess it, you'll get props from me, and maybe even a prize of some sort.

And here's a hint: With the referents (erm, things being referred to) I will be deliberately disregarding the way they are generally ordered. So don't let that throw you.

Happy guessing!

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Dry Ruin

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

The Dry Ruin
Word Count: 600

How did it last so long, I wonder? It’s an artificial structure, clearly made by something intelligent. It extends out of the water—a dry ruin—and yet does not seem capable of holding water in. There are pipes to run water up, but the cement and glass that make up the exterior could never have held it in. How did these ancient simians live without being submerged? Bless my fins, but it is a mystery.

Perhaps the dryness is how it has lasted so long. The water teems with life that destroys anything it can use and overruns anything else. All that’s left of the ancient simians is a grid of concrete, and even that has nearly wasted away. Only the structures that extend out have survived. And there are so few of them.

I’ve heard tell of trees that grow up out of the water—currents bring new friends and new friends bring stories—but I’ve never seen one. They say the trees put down their roots in the ocean and stretch up past the surface and go on forever. They say they’re bigger around than a whale.

Perhaps this is a concrete tree, then. It just grew and grew and died, and no one told it to fall over, so it never did. Sometimes I think if I said to it “Hey fool, you’re dead,” it would crumble away to ash and foam. Sometimes I want to try, but I don’t.

The HighFish thinks I’m crazy for wanting to come out of the water, for wanting to see what the ancients left. Maybe so. But he didn’t forbid me, so I came, and that’s how I’ve seen what I’ve seen. I’ve seen the concrete trees. I’ve seen the old ice that floats on the cold waters where the ancients froze their homes.

I even saw one of the ancients—well, I saw what was left. It was only bones in one of the ancient simian structures. I had a breathing mask to keep water in my gills, and I managed to get about ten or twenty feet out of the water. I found him there in a chair, a pile of bones unmolested by time and undertow. He looked ill-suited for swimming, but what can you tell from bones? Not very much.

His chest was like a cage made of bones, and his head was round and gaping. Only half of a mouth—the rest must have rolled off somewhere. Long and gangly arms. It was oddly beautiful, I confess. I wanted to take a bone with me to keep, but I know what the water would do to it. Better to leave it.

I told all of this to the HighFish. He still thinks I’m crazy. He says it swims close to blasphemy to ask so many questions about long-dead monkeys. I assure him I won’t swim too close, but I am lying, of course. I want to know how they did it. How did they swim up to the edge of the sea and keep going? How did they plant the roots of their concrete trees? How did they live with the sun on their faces? How did they face the day and the night and the day and the night without the constant change driving them crazy? How did they drag their heavy selves around the dry ruins?

Who were they? Where did they go? Are they coming back? Before they gave up and cast all of their secrets into the ocean, to be destroyed and overrun by those that followed.

Edited by Carolyn "I Still Don't Know If It Is A Title Or A Type Of Fish" Abram.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Raphus Cucullatus

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Raphus Cucullatus
Word Count: 600

“What brings you to Mauritius?” Abel asked.

“Birding,” said the stranger. He wore funny clothes and his Dutch was terrible—even his English was strange. But Abel had agreed to show him around, so Abel would show him around.

“Birding?” asked Abel, unfamiliar with the word.

“Just a hobby,” said the stranger. “I’m looking for a species of bird.”

“You want to eat it?” asked Abel.

“No, I just want to see it.”

“I don’t understand this hobby of yours, I’m afraid,” said Abel.

“Oh, it’s not that unusual,” said the stranger. “There are people who travel the world to see works of art or ancient cities. They cover great distances—often at great expense. That’s not all that different from what I’m doing.”

“Only, you want to see a bird,” said Abel.

“That’s right.”

“Must be some important bird.”

“It can only be found here and now on Mauritius,” said the stranger.

“And you don’t want to eat it?” asked Abel.

“Not at all.”

“You’re an unusual man, Mr…” prompted Abel, hoping to get the fellow’s name.

“Just a man who likes birds,” said the stranger.

They picked their way across the beach, hiking over dunes. The stranger carried an odd stick, not quite a walking stick or a dueling stick, and not quite a shepherd’s crook either, but somewhere in between. Abel could have sworn he heard it hum, but that was preposterous. Sticks didn’t hum. Must have been the wind or the ocean playing tricks on his ears.

A gull flew overhead.

“That the bird you’re looking for?” asked Abel, pointing. It wouldn’t be—gulls were everywhere, not just on Mauritius—but Abel was keen to get the conversation going again.

“The bird I’m looking for won’t be found in the air,” said the stranger.

They walked on, crossing dune after dune and had to cut inland as the forest overtook the shore. Abel hacked vines out of their way, and as they moved out toward the ocean again, the stranger reached out a hand.

As Abel’s eyes readjusted to the sun, he saw a three-foot bird bobbing along the water. “That thing?” he asked. “A dodo?”

“Shh,” said the stranger. “You might frighten it.”

Abel laughed. “More likely he’ll walk up and peck at you. Those little ostriches are too dumb to be frightened of you.”

“Actually, they’re more closely related to pigeons,” said the stranger.

“I see why you don’t want to eat it, though,” said Abel. “They taste like horse leavings—only greasier.”

The stranger pulled a small box from his trouser pocket. Then he looked at it—seemed to look through it, actually. He tapped the top of it, and then moved to the side and performed the whole ritual again. He repeated this several times before returning it to his pocket. The dodo seemed only mildly concerned with the stranger’s attentions, or his small box. “It’s beautiful,” said the stranger.

“They must have ugly birds where you come from,” said Abel.

“Well, I must give you something for your trouble,” said the stranger.

“It’s no trouble,” said Abel. “I can hike along the beach all day. Shall we head back?”

“You go on ahead,” said the stranger. “I’ll catch up.”

Abel started back into the trees, but he stopped when he heard the humming sound—the same humming that he’d heard coming from the stranger’s walking stick. Only it was louder, and it was definitely not the ocean. He turned back and was blinded by a flash of blue light.

When the light subsided, the hum—and the stranger—were gone.

Edited by Carolyn "Are We Playing Dr. Who's Game?" Abram.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The 39th Assassin

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

The 39th Assassin
Word Count: 597

Damon bypassed the razor, the poisoned wine, and the tiny pistol to pick up a bottle of bourbon. He peeled the wax off the top and unstoppered the bottle, taking a moment to inhale the vapors. “I’ve been wondering how I should kill you,” he said to the man he knew only as Claude. “You’re the 38th person who has tried to take my life.”

“I won’t be the last,” said Claude, tied up and bleeding all over the chair and carpet.

Damon smiled and crossed the room to a small bar. “Do you have an opinion on the matter?” he asked. His finger lingered on a dagger for a moment before he pulled two glasses from the cupboard. “Something painless, I imagine.”

“Don’t go to any trouble on my account,” said Claude.

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” said Damon. “Care for a night cap?”

“Most kind,” said Claude. He leaned forward and spat out a mouthful of blood that might have had a tooth in it.

“Terrible business, this,” said Damon, pouring the bourbon. He took one glass and held it up to Claude’s mouth. The beaten man placed a bloody lip on the glass. Damon tilted it back for him. Claude sipped and swallowed and hissed as Damon set the glass on the ground. “Not to your liking?”

“Burns a bit,” said Claude, spitting out more blood.

“The first man who tried to kill me was a sniper,” said Damon. “I shot him in the head. The next man used poison gas, which would have been slow and painful, had I not been able to evade it. I garroted him. Then, when he’d passed out, I let him breathe. Then I garroted him again. I’ll spare you the details, but his death was most unpleasant.”

Claude nodded.

“And you left me in a freezer. Freezing to death is not pleasant at all. I suppose you’re beginning to regret that choice.”

“Only because you escaped,” said Claude.

Damon smiled and walked back to the bar. “So you see my dilemma,” he said. He picked up the second glass and sniffed at the spirits within. He gave it a little swirl. Good legs.

“You could always use a slow-acting poison,” said Claude. “Put it in a bottle of bourbon, perhaps.”

“You insult me,” said Damon. “This is a private stock from a small distillery in Kentucky. I order it from them directly. $350 a bottle. One does not poison a $350 bottle of Kentucky private stock.”

Claude laughed. “Well, then I’m out of ideas,” he said.

“I might ask you why you chose a freezer?” asked Damon, swirling his glass.

“You left my brother in Siberia twelve years ago,” said Claude. “He froze.”

“You’re Rene’s brother,” said Damon. “Terrible business, that. He was a good man.”

“A good man that you killed,” said Claude, with a hacking cough

“Sometimes even good men have to die,” said Damon. “It was never personal—not with him, anyway.” He took a long, slow pull from his bourbon glass. Sweet, oaky, nectar. “It was a shame I had to do that to him.”

“Well, I gave you the chance to make amends,” said Claude, coughing even worse now. “But you had to go and escape.”

“Indeed,” said Damon. “Do you have any other family I should be wary of?”

Claude coughed again, spitting out more blood. “Just a sister,” he said.

“What does she do?”

“She runs a small distillery in Kentucky,” said Claude, laughing, coughing, spewing blood. His head rolled back and he began to twitch.

Damon dropped his glass.

Edited by Carolyn "This Character Is A Paranoid Nut" Abram.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Survivor

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

The Survivor
Word Count: 595

Alright, sir, tell me again what you were doing.

I was scavenging.

Why?

For food.

You don’t have food at home?

I already told you, there’s none left.

Why didn’t you go out and get more?

I was doing that. That’s what I just told you. Jesus, you aren’t listening to a word I say, are you?

You told me you were scavenging.

I want to see my daughter.

She’s safe.

No, she’s not. She needs to eat.

We’re getting her something to eat.

She hasn’t eaten in days.

Why hasn’t she eaten in days?

I told you, we’re out of food.

And that’s why you were scavenging.

Yes, that’s why.

How often do you go scavenging?

I don’t know. Every few days. Maybe more. It depends. If we find a lot, we can last a little longer. We go out only when we need to. It’s not safe.

Why isn’t it safe?

Because they’re out there.

Who is ‘they’?

They. Them. Others. The people that would hurt us.

Can you be more specific?

Other survivors. They want to take our food. Kill us. Do things to us.

Where are they?

Out there. Everywhere. You should know… You’re one of them.

I see.

You can hear them, sometimes. Jesus, I need to see my daughter.

You know, your daughter is horribly malnourished.

That’s why we were looking for food. Jesus Christ, it’s like you don’t even hear a word I say.

Calm down, sir.

That’s easy for you to say. You’re the one with the gun. I’m the one with the family to feed.

I don’t have a gun.

Of course you have a gun.

Where’s your wife?

I never married.

Where’s Emily’s mother?

How do you know her name? Don’t call her that. I didn’t tell you that you could call her that.

Her mother. What happened to her mother?

…We don’t talk about her mother.

Is she alive?

She left us. I doubt it. There are so few of us left. Since that day.

Tell me about that day.

July 8th, 3:17 pm. The power went out. That was when I knew something was wrong.

Did anyone else’s power go out?

…I don’t understand the question.

Your power went out. What about your neighbors’?

I don’t have any neighbors.

You used to.

But I don’t anymore. Now there are only survivors. Me and my daughter, and the people who would hurt us.

What about me?

You’re one of them, I already told you.

I’m not going to hurt you.

You’re keeping me from my daughter, how could you possibly hurt me more deeply than that.

There’s some concern that you might be a danger to your daughter.

I’m the only thing keeping her alive right now.

That may have been true for a time, but it’s not anymore. We’re keeping her alive. Us. ‘They,’ if you will.

At what cost. Oh, God, what are you doing to her?

Feeding her. Clothing her. Seeing that she has proper dental care. Things you obviously weren’t able to do for her.

I just want her to survive. To keep on going. Someone has to survive.

Sir, I’m going to need you to calm down.

They blew it up. They blew the whole thing up.

Sir…

Everything fell apart on that day.

Sir, can you calm down?

And now you’ve taken her from me.

Sir!

And now… Now they’ve won. Now they’ve won. Now they’ve won.

Sir! Sir?… Sir, can you hear me? Sir, answer if you can hear me. Sir?… Sir?… Are you still there?

Edited by Carolyn "Here Are The Things I Am Confused About" Abram.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Dear Whoever

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Dear Whoever
Word Count: 599

“Hey, Dave,” said Alan, knocking gingerly on the cubicle wall.

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“Did you look through that pile of resumés, yet?”

“Yeah,” said Dave. “I left them on your desk.”

“Right,” said Alan. “I saw that, I just didn’t know if you’d sorted them or not.”

“I did,” said Dave. “Was there anything else?”

“Nah, that’s it,” said Alan, biting his lip. “Actually…”

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“So, I checked out the resumés you looked at, and I was a little confused about how you sorted them.”

“Something wrong?” asked Dave.

“I wouldn’t say wrong,” said Alan, “but… well… okay, this one: Clive Denton. He was in the reject pile.”

“If you say so,” said Dave. “I don’t really remember.”

“He had a lot of what we’re looking for,” said Alan. “But you rejected him.”

Dave considered this for a moment. “Maybe I put it in the wrong pile… by mistake,” he said.

“Sure, accidents happen,” said Alan. “No biggie.”

“Anything else?” asked Dave. “Because I need to get this report—”

“Actually,” said Alan. “There were several other good candidates in the reject pile.” He held up a handful of resumés.

“Let me see that,” said Dave. He took the pile and looked over the first one. “Here we are,” said Dave. “Weak cover letter.”

“I didn’t think it was particularly weak,” said Alan.

“Sure it is,” said Dave. “Look at the salutation.”

Alan leaned over. “To whom it may concern,” he read.

“See?” asked Dave.

Alan stared at Dave for a moment. “I’m confused,” he said. “Was something misspelled?”

“No, it wasn’t misspelled,” said Dave. “It’s cliché.”

“It’s a standard salutation,” said Alan.

“It’s a standard weak salutation,” said Dave.

Alan bit his lip and inhaled. Then released his breath slowly. Then took another. “I’m still confused,” he said at last.

“Okay, let me break it down for you,” said Dave. “First off, it’s overly formal and antiquated. Nobody talks like that anymore. And nobody—nobody—uses ‘whom’ correctly. So, having gotten it right in the first sentence, any other mistakes are going to be amplified. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure. And it’s generic. I mean, it’s really generic. ‘To whom it may concern’? You’re basically saying ‘Dear Whoever’. That’s just weak and lazy. You see, it’s a shibboleth for me. If they can’t get the salutation right, it goes into the reject pile.”

“A shibboleth?” asked Alan.

“Yeah, like a red flag,” said Dave.

“I’m pretty sure a red flag is the exact opposite of a shibboleth,” said Alan.

“Whichever,” said Dave.

“What would you rather they open with?” asked Alan. “What would be acceptable? I’m curious.”

“‘Dear Mr. Saunders’ would work,” said Dave. “Or ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or something like that. I’d give them a second glance if they changed it up and said ‘To whom it concerns’. I would even settle for the time-honored ‘Hello’.”

“Huh,” said Alan. “And that’s the first thing you look for.”

“The salutation in a cover letter is pretty much the first thing I see, yeah,” said Dave. “That’s my system and it works pretty well for me.”

“Didn’t your last interviewee have to be escorted out by security?” asked Alan.

“It’s not completely foolproof, I’ll admit.”

“Are you just trying to get out of looking at resumés?” asked Alan.

“Why, is it working?”

“No,” said Alan.

“Then I’m not,” said Dave.

Alan left.

Ten minutes later he returned with a pile of resumés. “Would you mind sorting these?” he asked. “Funny thing, though, I’ve lost all the cover letters.”

Edited by Carolyn "Even MORE Nervous About Sending Things Out For Jobs" Abram.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Surprise!

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Surprise!
Word Count: 599

“Surprise!”

Carla’s heart stopped. Fortunately, it started back up again—not much of an accomplishment, it had been doing that all afternoon. Her friends were standing around smiling, waiting for a reaction. Now she knew why Toby had taken all of her weapons before he let her enter the room. If she’d been packing, she’d have killed somebody. “Surprise?” she asked.

“Happy birthday,” said Toby, kissing her on the forehead.

Toby. She was going to miss him.

“Is it my birthday?” Carla asked.

“Probably,” said Toby. “It’s got to be close.” After the zombies attacked, after civilization broke down, calendars had been one of the first things to go. Hell, they couldn’t even be sure what day of the week it was. It had taken some effort, but they had gotten close to a proper reckoning of days, even if no two settlements were in synch.

“I got you something,” said Toby.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” said Carla. “Wait, how?”

Toby produced a small box. A jewelry box. Carla’s heart stopped again, and then restarted. One of these times it wouldn’t.

“Open it,” he prodded.

Carla took the box and pulled back the lid. The tiny hinge groaned.

“I was waiting for an occasion,” said Toby.

Carla pulled the necklace from the box and held it up. A silver chain with opal stones. Tears welled in her eyes. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “How long have you been holding on to this?”

“A few months,” said Toby. “I found it when we were on a raid.”

“He made a special trip,” said Jim, Toby’s kid brother. “Don’t let him fool you.”

“You shouldn’t have,” said Carla, crying. Her heart stopped again. And then restarted.

“I love you,” said Toby. “I love you so much.”

“I…” she couldn’t say it. She did love him. She did. But it didn’t matter now. “I… I’m sorry,” she said.

A shadow passed across Toby’s face. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have…”

The room was full of awkwardly frozen smiles. It amazed Carla that even after civilization had ended, people still found the wherewithal to care about social norms.

“No, it’s not you,” said Carla, eyes thick with tears. A drop rolled down her cheeks onto the floor.

“Is everything okay?” asked Toby, putting an arm around her shoulder.

“Don’t touch me,” said Carla, flinching away from him.

“What the fuck?” asked Toby.

“I’m sorry,” said Carla. “It’s not you.”

“Jesus,” said Toby. “After all we’ve been through, you’re just going to use that line on me?”

The people in the room were looking away, inching towards the exits. Carla’s heart stopped. And stopped. And then started up again. Her vision was beginning to go all milky.

“Shut up,” she said. “Just…”

There were no words. So instead she pulled her shirt off and turned away from the crowd.

Someone gasped. Someone screamed. They’d seen it. The tiny bite mark in the small of her back. Now they knew. She was one of them now.

She was a zombie. Or, she would be in a few hours.

She pulled her shirt back on. Toby’s face had gone white.

“When?” asked Jim.

“This morning,” she answered. “It was a goddamn toddler, snuck up on me in the tall grass.”

Toby backed off and sat down on the couch.

“I’m sorry,” said Carla. “I’m so sorry.”

Carla took a step towards Toby and leaned over to kiss him. She felt Jim’s hand on her arm. “You know this means—” he said.

“I know,” said Carla. “But out there. Not in front of him.”

Her heart stopped.

Edited by Carolyn "To Say Nothing Of Your Calendar Problem" Abram.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Estate Sale

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week, we get experimental...

Estate Sale
Word Count: 452

Milton Haynes (1937 - 2013) was preceded in death by his wife Sophia Haynes nee Wentworth (1941 - 1983) and survived by his son Andrew Wentworth and grandchildren.

Anyone with interest in the following items should come to the Precious Oaks Retirement Community common room between 10 am and 2 pm on Friday the 27th.
  • Wheel Chair, six months old and in good condition. 
  • Walker, three years old, much use but in good condition. 
  • Assorted Canes, three to thirty years old, various styles, all in good condition. 
  • Matching Bureau, Armoire, and Bedside Table, about forty years old, white with avocado trim. 
  • Twin bed, about fifteen years old, good frame, probably needs a new mattress, does not match bedroom set 
  • Linens, for twin bed. 
  • Clothing: 
    • Dress shirts, 17-neck, large 
    • Pullover shirts, large and medium, and a few smalls that have only been worn once or twice 
    • Pants, 32 waist, 30 inseam 
  • Gold Locket, engraved “S.H. + M.H.” Inside glass is cracked. One picture has been taken by family. 
  • China set, gold leaf pattern, good condition, eight place settings, missing a tea cup and bread plate. 
  • Dish set, brown and yellow pattern, oven-safe, four place settings, one plate chipped, otherwise fair condition. 
  • “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug, faded. 
  • Assorted Flatware. 
  • Framed Nevada License Plate, 1984 tag, frame in good shape although the plate appears to have been mangled. 
  • Books: 
    • Several regular and large-font titles by John le Carre, Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy 
    • Several Bibles, Revised Standard Version—Catholic Edition 
    • Assorted books on pain management 
    • Fifty-plus books about military history, including Churchill’s history of World War II and many titles focusing on WWII aircraft 
    • Assorted political thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, one romance novel (yellowed, but untouched except for a few dog-eared pages) 
    • One book on grief management, binding coming loose 
  • Three crucifixes. 
  • Hip Flask, appears to have been engraved, although the engraving is no longer legible. 
  • Framed Box of Military Medals: 
    • Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Citation 
    • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal 
    • Vietnam Service Medal 
    • Assorted Campaign Ribbons 
  • 8 x 10 Picture Frame, good condition. Picture has been taken by family. 
  • Kitchen Table, about twenty years old, good condition. 
  • Three Kitchen Chairs, two in like-new condition. 
  • Brown Leather Couch, about fifteen years old. 
  • Recliner, less than five years old, worn. 
  • Entertainment Center, four pieces including bookshelves and TV stand 
  • 23” Flatscreen TV, minor screen-burn. 
  • Assorted Lamps. 
  • Assorted Toys, for children aged newborn to three, some recently purchased, some appear to be a few years old, all new in box. 
  • Box of Sobriety Tokens, twenty-seven bronze, one each of other twelve colors. 
  • Manual Typewriter, old but appears to be in working order, unfinished note on yellowed paper still inserted.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Primacy And Recency

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Primacy And Recency
Word Count: 596

Jeff took a slow drink of his ale.

“Well, I need to get home,” said Ronnie. “Sitter. You know how it goes.”

Jeff cursed under his breath. It was too early. Ronnie needed to stay a while longer, or else he might remember.

“Sure you don’t want to stay for another?” asked Jeff. “I’ll buy.”

Ronnie looked wistfully at his empty glass on the counter top. “No,” he said. “I really shouldn’t. It’s late.”

“You sure?” asked Jeff. He and Ronnie wives were friends and they knew each other from parties. They worked at competing firms, and Jeff had been engaging in a little industrial espionage. He’d coaxed a few technical details out of Ronnie without giving himself away, and now he just needed to bury that event. “I mean, are you absolutely sure?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Ronnie, looking suspicious. “Is there something wrong?”

No good, Jeff thought. This was only going to draw more attention to what they’d just been talking about. “Oh, nothing, really,” he said, fumbling for words. “It’s just… well, I didn’t want… No, forget about it.”

“What?” asked Ronnie.

Okay, the hook is baited, thought Jeff. Now he just needed to talk about something. Anything. Literally anything at all. People remember the first and last parts of conversations—primacy and recency—so if Ronnie left now, he’d be very likely to remember giving trade secrets away. But if they could just have one more beer and a little more idle chatter, then the memory would fade into the background. “No, it’s nothing. I mean, it’s kind of something… no, I don’t want to spoil anything.”

“What,” Ronnie insisted. “Out with it.”

“I was going to tell you…” Jeff started. “About…” Jeff racked his brain for topics. They’d already talked about sports, politics, the weather… He just needed something that Ronnie would believe that would keep him in the bar for a few more minutes. Just say the next thing that pops into your head, he thought.

“I think I’m gay,” said Jeff.

Ronnie’s eyes bulged.

Where the hell did that come from? Jeff wondered.

Ronnie sputtered and laid his jacket across the back of his chair. “Does Lana know?” he asked, sitting back down.

“Um, yeah, I mean no,” said Jeff. In a moment of horror, he realized that Ronnie would almost certainly tell his wife. “No, and I don’t want to tell her.”

“Well, you have to tell her,” said Ronnie.

“No, not until I’m sure,” said Jeff.

“You’re not sure?” asked Ronnie.

“Not completely,” said Jeff. “This might be more of a curiosity thing… I don’t really know how… I’m struggling with my process right now.”

“So why did you want to tell me?” asked Ronnie. He gasped. “Oh, my god,” he said. “Is that why you wanted to have a drink with me tonight?” he asked. “Look, man, I’m flattered and all—”

“No,” said Jeff, putting a hand on Ronnie’s shoulder. And then removing it. “My feelings for you have always been…” He searched for the right word.

“Platonic?” offered Ronnie.

“Yes, that,” said Jeff.

“So… why?” asked Ronnie.

“I don’t know,” said Jeff, who genuinely did not know. “I had to tell somebody. And we’re friends, right?”

“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “Friends.”

Jeff took a deep breath. He had no idea what he was doing, but he was committed to the lie now. Surely those trade secrets would be worth it. Surely. “I just don’t have anybody else to talk to about it,” he said.

Ronnie nodded. “Maybe one more,” he said, flagging the barman.

Edited by Carolyn "You Know You Want That Fourth Jameson" Abram.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Mirror Is Not Your Friend

Every Friday Kurt posts another piece of flash fiction. This week...

The Mirror Is Not Your Friend
Word Count: 599

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Lines. Marks. More flab than you’d like. Is that a new spot on your shoulder?

Sigh.

Add it to the list of things that are now your everyday experience. Add it to the gray hairs, the bad knee, the trick ankle, the sore back, the neck cricks, the skin tags, the weak elbow, the loss of hearing in one ear, the stomach that gets all jumbly whenever you see the right combination of flashy bright colors. Just stack it on the pile. One more thing that you’re going to live with until it gets so bad that you can’t live with it anymore, and then the doctor will give you a pill for it that you’ll have to take every morning—with food. And then that will be something you have to live with for the rest of your life.

Well, it beats the alternative, someone might say to you—right before you decide that you want to punch them in the face.

Aging is settling for less. Every day your expectations for yourself slide a little farther. The wide-open band of possibilities gets narrower with every intractable step towards your last dying breath.

Not to be morbid or anything, it’s just that it seems impossible that anyone should ever age gracefully. Once you turned twenty-seven, that was it. Things that you had to work to improve, now you’re working to maintain. Things that you had to work to maintain, now you have to work to keep them from deteriorating as fast as the bits that you simply have no control over.

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Lines. Marks. Flab. Exhaustion. Bags under the eyes. Disappointment.

Maybe if you exercised more. Nah. Spending a fifth of your waking life on a treadmill isn’t going to add fourteen more years to it. But it will give you a conveniently ironic place to suffer a fatal heart attack. No, the people that appear to age gracefully are just saving up their bad luck for one calamitous fall. They’ll go from being absolutely on top of their game to being wheelchair-bound and unable to form sentences in a matter of months. Mark my words, you think.

Andy Warhol had the right idea. You dress like an old person from day one and spend the rest of your life hearing how well-preserved you are. At least until you hit your sixties—which Andy managed to avoid.

You wonder if it’s worth the effort to shave today. And don’t even get started on that shrinking little tortoise between your legs.

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Lines. Marks. The sad face looking back at you. Compromise. Settling. Disappointment.

And it’s not just the physical stuff. You were going to change the world. You were going to accomplish something. Now you’re just happy to have a job with 401k matching. Now you’re just happy to finish a library book before it’s overdue. Now you’re just happy to remember your wi-fi password when the DVD player forgets it.

Let’s face it, you’re happy that you got around to replacing your VHS tapes with DVD’s, never mind this Blu-Ray bullshit.

You stare at yourself in the mirror. The mirror is not your friend. Your friends lie to you to make you feel better.

Lines.

Marks.

Days.

Years.

You’d be mad, but anger is so much effort.

The past.

The present.

The future?

Disappointment.

Edited by Carolyn "I'm 27, Oh Shit" Abram.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: A Sexy New Slime Mold

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

A Sexy New Slime Mold
World Count: 599

“So, is that it?” asked Tyson, scratching his forehead. He was half Valerie’s age and fancied himself a reporter.

Is that it?” Valerie scoffed. “It’s a form of life that arose completely independently of Earth. A genuine, literal extra-terrestrial. It’s the answer to the eternal question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe.” She stared at the yellow smudge in the hermetically sealed chamber. “Is that it?” she asked again. “What more could there be?”

“It looks like a slime mold,” said Tyson.

“It is a slime mold,” said Valerie.

“Right, well, I just don’t think our readers are going to find that very interesting.”

Valerie raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

“It’s just, they’ve heard all of this before,” said Tyson. “You know, crop circles, that Martian rat.”

“Those were both hoaxes,” said Valerie.

“Well, our readers don’t know that,” said Tyson.

“And whose fault is that?” asked Valerie.

“Look,” said Tyson, “I’m on your side, really I am. But if you want to get the word out—I mean really get it out—we might need to sex it up a little.”

Valerie’s eyebrow went back up.

“I mean, it’s just a slime mold,” said Tyson.

“You would prefer a sexy slime mold?”

“I’m not making myself very clear,” said Tyson, scratching his forehead. “So, why is it in this giant plastic bubble?” he asked, indicating the sealed chamber.

“To minimize the risk of contamination, obviously,” said Valerie.

“Right,” said Tyson. “That’s what I’m talking about. That’s something that will excite our readers.”

“All right,” said Valerie uncertainly. “I’m glad your readers are excited about scientific procedure.”

“So what exactly would happen if it got out?” asked Tyson. “How much danger would we be in?”

Valerie thought about this question for a moment. “You do realize that the threat is that we would contaminate it, not the other way around.”

“Oh,” said Tyson, visibly deflating. “But it could be dangerous, right?”

“I doubt it but, at this point, anything’s possible. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do,” said Valerie.

“So, theoretically speaking,” said Tyson, “if it got loose it could—could—do something like latch onto a host and mix in its own DNA.”

“It doesn’t have DNA,” said Valerie.

“Everything has DNA,” said Tyson.

“Everything on Earth,” said Valerie. “This is different.”

“So, what does it have?” asked Tyson.

“We don’t really know,” said Valerie. “Now there are some exquisite similarities between this and terrestrial life. Both has differentiated cells with dual phospholipid layers. This slime mold has some mechanism for evolutionary inheritance, surely. And we’ll probably spend the next five years nailing down what it is.”

“But it’s not DNA.”

“Even if it was, the sequences would be completely different from our own. No chance of parasites latching onto us in our sleep.”

“That’s disappointing,” said Tyson.

“It terrifies me that you feel that way,” said Valerie. “Do you ever think about the harm you could do by trying to make this sexy? This is a harmless little thing that could maybe one day evolve into something with intelligence, and you want to make it out to be some monster. You make people afraid of it and they’ll panic. That’s the only way this thing could be dangerous. You want to make this thing destroy the entire world? Then keep on doing what you’re doing.” With that, she stormed off.

Tyson stared after her and scratched his forehead.

The next day the following headline ran in the Denver Star:

New Life Form Could Evolve Intelligence, Destroy Entire World, Scientists Say

Edited by Carolyn "It Is Nice To Know She Isn't A Crackpot" Abram.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: A Soldier Tomorrow

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

A Soldier Tomorrow
Word Count: 599

Brenna pulled back on the toy car until the spring clicked, and then let it go. It sped off towards the wall, well out of her reach. She lay stretched out on a bench with her rifle against the wall behind her. It was loaded. She should do something about that.

“Read me a story, Mommy,” said Will.

“Mommy’s sick,” said Brenna. “Can you read it to me?”

“I can’t read it,” whined the toddler.

“You know it by heart,” said Brenna.

“Not by heart,” said Will.

“Then make it up,” Brenna offered.

Will whined again.

Brenna sighed. It hurt a little. The triage room was no place for a four-year-old, but Will didn’t want to leave, and Brenna couldn’t. “Go get Mommy the car, will you, Buddy?”

Will shrugged and loped across the room. He made a vroom sound as he shoved the spring-loaded vehicle back towards his mother. It careened into the leg of the bench Brenna lay on.

Brenna felt around for the car with her left hand, turned it around, and then sent it speeding back towards her son. With her right hand, she grasped a plastic remote with a single red button that would summon a nurse. Her thumb lingered over it. It’s not quite time yet. “Will, can you come over and read me the story?”

“I don’t want to,” said Will. “It stinks over there.”

Brenna cast a glance at her leg. It did stink—mostly from the gangrene, although the general lack of hygiene in the barracks didn’t help things at all. If only they’d had disinfectant, but their supplies had been cut off a week ago—by the same battle that had put a hole in Brenna’s leg.

She didn’t really notice the smell anymore.

Cold sweat. Weakness. Brenna ran her thumb around the button. No, it wasn’t quite time yet. Ah, hell, she thought, and pushed it anyway.

Will played with his car in the corner, pretending to race it around the leg of another bench, imagining a world that wasn’t completely thrown into this goddam war, no doubt. That was a comforting thought.

Brenna could hear footsteps getting closer. A young man in nurse’s scrubs poked his head in the door. “Time?” he asked.

“Not yet,” said Brenna. “But soon. Can you do something about my rifle?” She nodded to the weapon propped up behind her.

“That’s not really my department,” said the nurse.

“Well, put it somewhere he can’t get to it,” said Brenna, “or else he’ll decide to play with it, and then it will be your department.”

The nurse sighed, but nodded and moved the rifle to the top of a bookshelf. “Did you need anything else?” he asked, not even bothering to hide his annoyance as he left.

Brenna shook her head. The guy was busy, obviously, but what a crappy bedside manner.

Dizziness. Time to set her affairs in order.

“Will,” she said. “I need you to come over here, please.”

Will have the car a final vroom and then trotted over to his mother’s side.

“Mommy’s going to have to go away soon,” she said. “If I fall asleep, I want you to press this button, okay?”

Will nodded, as though she’d told him to brush his teeth. Imagining a world without war, Brenna reassured herself. A tear cut a path through the dirt on her cheek. Someday he’d be a soldier who’d lost his mother when he was only four years old. But for now…

“Now, I really do want you to read me that story,” she said.

Edited by Carolyn "I'm Distracted By The Pronoun" Abram.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of piece of flash fiction. This week, things get low-brow. And poetic!

The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy
Word Count: 582

Gather ye children, yes, gather around.
Gather ye joyous and merry.
Lend me your ears and I’ll tell you the tale
Of Gushy The Accident Fairy.

They say he was born in toilet of gold
Quite apart from the usual Fae.
They christened his head with the water ‘twas there
And then he went swimming away.

Finding himself in a river of that which
We flush as it does so abhor us,
He saw that mankind was too loose with their waste
So, he’d loosen it even more for us.

One bright summer day he emerged from the sewers
And spotted a mother and daughter
Alone in the park eating burgers and fries
And drinking their crisp soda-water.

The mother said “Darling you really should go;
It’s been a few hours, I’m guessin’.”
And Gushy did find this an opportune time
To teach the young daughter a lesson.

The wee one insisted her bladder was empty
Her voice sounding light and at ease.
So Gushy sneaked over and reached out his hand
And gave her poor bladder a squeeze.

The stream that she started became soon a torrent
A flood of her waters a-falling.
The mother did scream, and the daughter did cry,
And Gushy, he did find his calling.

He took up a scept of I’d-rather-not-say
A crown of the-less-said-the-better
A robe made of paper, a gleam in his eye
And a mission to make our lives wetter.

He travels all over this magical land
A-visiting those of held bladders
The young or the old, the nimble or weak
In cars or in beds or up ladders.

His faithful dog Poopsie-Pie runs at his side;
They make an adorable pair.
Leaving puddles and skid marks across this great land
On cushions and in underwear.

They go after parent and child just the same.
They go after mothers and daughters.
And fathers and sons, and any who strive
To hold on too long to their waters.

You’ve probably met him some time in your life.
You’ll probably meet him anew.
Just tell yourself often the bathroom can wait
And Gushy will come visit you.

He’ll wait until after you’ve just passed the sign:
“No facilities next 30 miles.”
Then he’ll lean on your bladder so hard that it hurts.
You’re sweating, but Gushy just smiles

Or maybe you’ll be at a child’s dance recital
Or chatting away on the phone
You’ll tell yourself surely you’ll last five more minutes
Then Gushy will make himself known.

And when your will breaks and you realize you must
Run madly away to the toilet,
But get there too late and you ruin your pants,
You can bet it was Gushy who spoiled it.

Now don’t you go thinking that Gushy is vile,
A bird of the darkest of feathers.
He gives us a lesson in humility
And delivers it square to our nethers.

And don’t you start thinking that infants are safe
From Gushy, all snug in their diapers.
For diapers need changing, and any old mother
Remembers a son who turned sniper.

Now, maybe someday we’ll no longer need Gushy,
That fairy I’ve grown to admire.
But long as we have days and waters to pass
Old Gushy may never retire.

And now that the tale is done, now I must ask
Do any require the loo?
Best go right away, if you need to or not,
So form up an orderly queue.

Edited by Carolyn "I May Even Accept More Poetry Out Of You" Abram.

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