Friday, October 17, 2014

Going Dormant For A While

So I went to post a Friday Flashback and realized that my last post was a duplicate. Like, a recent duplicate. Like, an embarrassingly recent duplicate. And I realized my heart's just not in it. Maybe if I had more time I could give this enough attention, but I have a new baby, a job that's (enjoyably) engaging, and a few other projects I'm juggling. So I'm going to disengage here on the blog for a month or so.

When I have something interesting to post, I'll post it here. Failing that, I'll post it somewhere else and link to it from here.

Until then, follow my twitter feed for the snark and announcements.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Flashback: Jim And Todd

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Jim and Todd
Word Count: 596
Published: 7/12/13

This is Jim. He is a junior partner at a prestigious law firm. He drives a Miata. He is drinking a sherry cobbler. He is talking with Todd, an ad man. Todd drives a Chevrolet. He is drinking a Mai Tai. He is wearing his favorite suit.

Little do Jim and Todd know that this is the last conversation they will ever have.

Jim and Todd went to high school together. Their spouses get along well. Their children are roughly the same age. They’re on each other’s Holiday Greeting Card lists. They wish each other Happy Birthday on Facebook. They enjoy each other’s company and have many friends in common.

And yet, they will never speak to each other again. They will never see each other in person. They will not speak on the phone. They won’t exchange a letter or email or SMS message.

It’s not about prestige. And it’s not about geography either. They will both stay in the same city, living just two townships away. They won’t have a falling out of any kind. Neither of them is going to die in the next twenty years. There is no reason at all for anything to come between them. And yet their friendship, which they both find rewarding, is ephemeral, and is about to dissolve completely, without either of them noticing at first.

They will, cliche though it may be, grow apart. It can be put no more simply than that. They have dissimilar interests. They live in different worlds. They belong to different political parties. They practice different religions. They attended different colleges. They support different sports teams. Now, either of them would say that it’s important to surround oneself with people who disagree with you. They even believe that this makes their friendship more valuable.

And yet…

One day, Todd will hear some story about Jim and think It’s been ages—I ought to give Jim a call and catch up. But he won’t. This will happen many times to both men. But neither will call, even though their numbers are at this very moment programmed into each other’s phones. Those contact lists will be migrated to dozens of different phones over the next twenty-odd years.

And then one day, Todd will die. He will have lived a happy life, but he has a heart condition that he doesn’t know about, and he doesn’t eat very healthily or exercise as often as he should—he accepts this about himself and he wishes his practitioner would stop hounding him about it. He will die in his early sixties. Not exactly young, but short of retirement.

When Jim sees Todd’s name in the obituary, he will be overcome with something that isn’t quite sadness, isn’t quite loss, isn’t quite regret, and yet it moves him profoundly. He will find Todd’s number in his cell phone. He will hesitate before calling, telling himself that it’s crazy to call a dead man’s mobile.

When Todd’s wife answers, Jim will offer his condolences. He’ll ask if they need anything. They will exchange small talk, ask about each other’s families. “Oh, we’re divorced,” Jim will say. “Oh, he just got a promotion,” Todd’s wife will say. Jim will ask about the funeral service, even though he doesn’t plan to attend, and even though all the information is in the paper right in front of him.

Jim will remember this last conversation with Todd—not what it was about, who can remember what a conversation is about? Just that it was friendly, and pleasant, and a long time ago.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Flashback: Horoscope

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Horoscope
Word Count: 595
Published 4/19/13

ARIES (The Ram) March 21 - April 19 Aries and Pisces are at odds with each other this month. Old rivals threaten you, but you can triumph if you act now. Enlist the aid of kind strangers.

TAURUS (The Bull) April 20 - May 20 The stars entreat you to commune with your fellow man. A stranger might approach with an intriguing offer. Trust him, especially if that he is an Aries. The stars foretell that other signs are going to be interested in your goal. Pass it on, and you all may be rewarded.

GEMINI (The Twins) May 21 - June 20 Jupiter waxes in your sign. It is time to throw off old habits and look to the new, especially where rivalries are concerned. You will need some new gear. Seek the Lion’s assistance.

CANCER (The Crab) June 21 - July 22 Saturn lingers in your sign this month, telling you to be mindful of goings on around you. There may be an opportunity for gains, if you act with haste. Consider enlisting the help of air signs to undermine a rival.

LEO (The Lion) July 23 - August 22 The Lion gathers his Pride. A Gemini may come asking you about tools and collaboration. There may be some mention of enemies. There may be some under-the-table dealings. There is much power to be gained in exploiting this, if you play your cards right. When the time comes, consult with an Aquarius.

VIRGO (The Maiden) August 23 - September 21 War is all around you, but it is not without opportunities. Look for a Capricorn with a plan. You won’t find one, but maybe you can coax one into tagging along. If you’re approached by an Aries, he’s going to sound hostile, but it’s all right, he’s cool. The stars can vouch.

LIBRA (The Scales) September 23 - October 23 The Scales so often seek justice. If you run into a Cancer, a Leo, a Virgo, a Taurus, a Gemini, or a Virgo, you’re going to want to get in on this action. That goddamn Pisces has wronged you for the last time.

SCORPIO (The Scorpion) October 24 - November 21 The stars are hazy and brimming with consternation, but not towards you, per se. Honestly, Scorpio, things are going to get hairy this month. It’s probably best if you just stay out of it. Take a vacation or something.

SAGITTARIUS (The Archer) November 22 - December 21 The Archer will be approached by many people with plans to deal with a certain fish that we don’t feel like we need to point out by name. That melon-farmer is going down. Aries is the instigator, but we’re going to let Aquarius do the planning, so try to pass that along.

CAPRICORN (The Goat) December 22 - January 19 The Virgin will approach you about an arrangement. And not the Virgin Mary. The stars are talking about a Virgo. As in Astrology. Try to keep up. And don’t get too worked up about the “virgin” thing, either. Anyway, stuff is going down, you’re going to want in. Just go with it. The stars foresee, etc.

AQUARIUS (The Water Bearer) January 20 - February 18 The water-bearer has many friends this month. Unite them in common purpose. But before you can strike, you must plan. Join together at a place where water flows freely to discuss an arrangement that may benefit you all.

PISCES (The Fish) February 19 - March 20 Mars is prominent in your sign. Your enemies are at the fountain. You know what must be done. Show them no mercy.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Dry Ruin

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Dry Ruin
Word Count: 600
Published: 10/25/13

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.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Summons

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Summons
Word Count: 595
Published 12/7/12

“By the dark light of Apollyon, by the eternal fire, I command you to appear before me, servant of evil.”

As he spoke, the robed figure’s hands shook from the power coursing through his body.

“From the unholy depths, I summon thee. Awaken, scourge of creation!

Flames erupted in the center of the summoning circle and coalesced into the form of a demon. Its black skin glistened in the firelight. Its hideous face was crowned by a pair of twisted, barbed horns. It looked around the room with malice and growled.

The woman in the robe sat down and rapped her gavel for order. “Bailiff,” she said.

The bailiff approached with a Bible. “Place your hand on the Bible,” he said.

The demon growled.

“The summoning circle prevents him from interacting with the physical plane,” said the judge.

“Very well,” said the bailiff. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you… um… God?”

The demon growled again.

“Close enough,” said the judge.

One of the attorneys rose. “State your name for the record,” he said.

“I am Khral-Doorvis The Abhorred, Sworn Enemy of Mankind, Smiter of the Light Eternal, and Faithless Servant of the Dark Lord.”

“May I call you Khral?” asked the attorney.

“Yes, that’d be fine,” growled the demon.

“Where were you on the morning of, by your calendar, the 563rd day of Lozgaar?”

The demon looked up thoughtfully. “That would have been a Tuesday,” he said.

“That’s correct,” said the attorney.

“Tuesdays are usually my goat-sacrifice days,” growled Khral. “Let’s see, the 563rd, the 563rd… Yes, I remember, now. I met a youth in a hollow for a Rite of Sacrilege.”

“Is that youth in the courtroom today?” asked the prosecutor.

The demon pointed at the defendant. “It’s that youth right there.”

“Can you describe this Rite of Sacrilege?” asked the attorney. “In your own words?”

“It is a centuries-old ritual, dating from the Third Desecration of—"

“If you don’t mind, Khral,” said the attorney, “we could skip the history lesson.”

“Oh,” growled Khral. “My apologies. It’s a three-hour ritual that leeches the life from the surrounding environment and infuses the target with virility.”

“So, it’s a masculinity charm?” asked the attorney.

“Your pathetic summation assaults my sensibilities,” said Khral, “but yes, that is basically it.”

“And you say it took three hours?” asked the attorney.

“Yes,” growled Khral.

“When did this ritual begin?” asked the attorney.

Khral leveled an unfriendly gaze at the attorney. “Like all dark rituals, it is most potent when performed at dusk.”

“So you started at dusk or ended at dusk?” asked the attorney.

“We started an hour before dusk. It weakened the infusion, but the youth did not want to miss American Idol.”

“I see. And was the defendant there the whole time?”

“Yes,” growled Khral.

“Nothing further,” said the attorney.

“Would the prosecution like to re-direct?” asked the judge.

Another attorney stood. “We have no questions for this witness, and we renew our objection to the use of supernatural beings for alibis.”

“Noted,” said the judge. “Well, Mr. Doorvis The Abhorred, Sworn Enemy of Mankind, Smiter of the Light Eternal, and Faithless Servant of the Dark Lord. This court thanks you for your service and releases you back to the fiery pit from whence you came. Be gone!

“My pleasure, your honor,” said Khral as he winked out of existence. “And don’t worry about next Friday. It’s in the bag.”

The judge frowned. “I wonder what he meant by that.”

Another story driven by a pun. This was an early entry in a stretch of "humorous stories about demons". The hardest part? Naming them.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Flashback: I Saw Myself Coming The Other Way

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

I Saw Myself Coming The Other Way
Word Count: 600
Published: 11/30/12

I was coming back from Thanksgiving spent with my mother’s family on Europa when I saw myself going the other way at the spaceport. I knew this was a possibility—I’ve seen the safety demonstrations. TSA-Space swears it has nothing to do with time-travel. It’s just, well, when you’re traveling at relativistic or faster-than-light speeds, sometimes things like this happen. So I was warned. But I wasn’t really prepared for it.

The demonstrations tell you to just keep walking. If you make eye contact, you can wave politely, but don’t talk to each other and don’t stare. So when we saw each other, each of us with the verge of a friendly smile at the tips of our mouths, we each nodded to the other as we walked past.

The other me wore a black suit with no tie. And he had no gray hair—I guess I will start dying it, eventually. He had broadened, the way a man does over the years. All told, he looked about ten--no, fifteen years older. He looked world-weary. Not unhappy, just… tired. A little beaten-down.

Questions flooded my mind--I couldn’t help it. Where was he—where was I, I suppose I should say—going? Home? Saturn? Farther out? Was it business or personal? Why was I traveling alone? I turned back, trying to see what gate he was headed for, but the moment had passed. I almost—almost—tried to follow him, but it wouldn’t have done any good. My future self had wandered out of my timeline and back into his own.

Still, I wanted another glimpse, a window of insight into my pending life—to know more than that I’ll be alive in fifteen years. What would have happened if I’d stopped him? What would I have said? I squinted, searching the crowd, but all I could see was the rush and bustle of commuters busily making their way through the terminal. Sometimes they would go blurry on the edge of my vision and pass from one timeline into the next, but for the most part, they just kept walking.

“Can I help you, sir?”

I turned towards the voice. It was an automated travel assistant. She was completely mechanized, but designed to look like a young woman with a friendly smile. “I’m fine,” I told her. “I just thought I saw someone I recognized.”

“That happens, sometimes, sir,” she said, doing a quick scan of my retina as she spoke. “I suggest you head to your gate. You wouldn’t want to miss your flight. It’s already started boarding.”

“Right,” I said, not wanting to argue, but my gaze lingered back in the direction of my future self.

“Do you need to talk about it, sir?” she asked. “We can step out of the timeline if you need a minute.”

“I… no, that’s fine, I just…”

“Even if you followed, you wouldn’t find him. The future’s always in flux.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard it is for us to page a customer, sometimes,” she said, smiling.

A joke? The robot was trying to cheer me up with a joke? “Right,” I said.

“May I make a suggestion, sir?” she asked.

“Go ahead,” I said.

“Board your flight, have a drink, and put it out of your mind,” she said. “And don’t worry. Your future will still be here when you get back.”

I nodded, turning towards my gate. Someday I’d see this from the other side. I’d remember my questions.

Until then, I had a flight to catch.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Flashback: Jim And Todd

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Jim and Todd
Word Count: 596
Published: 7/12/13

This is Jim. He is a junior partner at a prestigious law firm. He drives a Miata. He is drinking a sherry cobbler. He is talking with Todd, an ad man. Todd drives a Chevrolet. He is drinking a Mai Tai. He is wearing his favorite suit.

Little do Jim and Todd know that this is the last conversation they will ever have.

Jim and Todd went to high school together. Their spouses get along well. Their children are roughly the same age. They’re on each other’s Holiday Greeting Card lists. They wish each other Happy Birthday on Facebook. They enjoy each other’s company and have many friends in common.

And yet, they will never speak to each other again. They will never see each other in person. They will not speak on the phone. They won’t exchange a letter or email or SMS message.

It’s not about prestige. And it’s not about geography either. They will both stay in the same city, living just two townships away. They won’t have a falling out of any kind. Neither of them is going to die in the next twenty years. There is no reason at all for anything to come between them. And yet their friendship, which they both find rewarding, is ephemeral, and is about to dissolve completely, without either of them noticing at first.

They will, cliche though it may be, grow apart. It can be put no more simply than that. They have dissimilar interests. They live in different worlds. They belong to different political parties. They practice different religions. They attended different colleges. They support different sports teams. Now, either of them would say that it’s important to surround oneself with people who disagree with you. They even believe that this makes their friendship more valuable.

And yet…

One day, Todd will hear some story about Jim and think It’s been ages—I ought to give Jim a call and catch up. But he won’t. This will happen many times to both men. But neither will call, even though their numbers are at this very moment programmed into each other’s phones. Those contact lists will be migrated to dozens of different phones over the next twenty-odd years.

And then one day, Todd will die. He will have lived a happy life, but he has a heart condition that he doesn’t know about, and he doesn’t eat very healthily or exercise as often as he should—he accepts this about himself and he wishes his practitioner would stop hounding him about it. He will die in his early sixties. Not exactly young, but short of retirement.

When Jim sees Todd’s name in the obituary, he will be overcome with something that isn’t quite sadness, isn’t quite loss, isn’t quite regret, and yet it moves him profoundly. He will find Todd’s number in his cell phone. He will hesitate before calling, telling himself that it’s crazy to call a dead man’s mobile.

When Todd’s wife answers, Jim will offer his condolences. He’ll ask if they need anything. They will exchange small talk, ask about each other’s families. “Oh, we’re divorced,” Jim will say. “Oh, he just got a promotion,” Todd’s wife will say. Jim will ask about the funeral service, even though he doesn’t plan to attend, and even though all the information is in the paper right in front of him.

Jim will remember this last conversation with Todd—not what it was about, who can remember what a conversation is about? Just that it was friendly, and pleasant, and a long time ago.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Ballad Of Gushy The Accident Fairy
Word Count: 582
Published 8/9/13

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.

Another experiment, this time in poetry. Low-brow poetry.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Flashback: Dear Whoever

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Dear Whoever
Word Count: 599
Published: 9/27/13

“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.”

The neurosis described here is my own. I absolutely hate seeing any kind of professional correspondence that opens "To Whom It May Concern." Not an auto-reject, really, but definitely a point against. It's a good thing I don't work in HR.

I like this story, but if I were to write it today, I'd make one of two characters a woman. Men tend to be over-represented in my fiction. Alan would be the obvious choice, since HR departments tend to be staffed by females (... in my limited experience). Therefore, I'd probably flip Dave.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Flashback: Estate Sale

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Estate Sale
Word Count: 452
Published: 9/13/13

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.

Another experimental piece. I got fixated on the idea that you could tell an entire story using only a list of objects. The reactions I've gotten to this piece are all over the place. Some people liked it but found it overly sentimental. Others felt like it was too under-written. Which, I suppose, by definition, it is. So I don't know if I can rank this among my better pieces, but I really enjoyed it as an exercise and I still find the novelty of it compelling.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday Flashback: Salesman Of A Death

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Salesman of a Death
Word Count: 599
Published: 8/10/12

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

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

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

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

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

“It would have,” said Terrence, sitting.

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

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

“What have you got?”

“Drowning,” said Terrence.

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

“What can I get for it?”

“Torture,” said Abrams.

“I’m serious,” said Terrence.

“So am I. What were you hoping for?”

“Quietly in my sleep,” said Terrence.

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

“What’s more reasonable?” asked Terrence.

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

“I have money,” said Terrence.

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

“But… they told me to bring cash.”

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

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

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

Terrence winced.

“Too close to home?” asked Abrams.

“Too much of a lifestyle change.”

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

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

“How important is an open-casket funeral?”

“Not very,” said Terrence. “I guess.”

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

“I don’t know,” said Terrence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one of the first stories that really felt good. I was very happy with the way it came together and considered submitting it to short story markets instead of giving it the Friday Flash Fiction treatment. But it hewed a little too close to the Machine of Death books.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Flashback: Initials

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

And since my wife and I just had a baby (!), I'm bringing back a baby-related story. Enjoy...

Initials
Word Count: 600
Published: 2/22/13

“Christopher David Cook,” said Fran. She lay on top of the covers, patting her round belly.

“No good,” said her husband, Eric, shivering under the covers. “His initials will be C-D-C.”

“Does that mean something?” asked Fran.

“It’s the Center for Disease Control,” said Eric. “Not a good association to make—unless we want people to think of our son as being related to the plague.”

“At least they’re about controlling disease,” said Fran.

“I’m still vetoing it,” said Eric

“Christopher Franklin,” said Fran.

“I’m not a big fan of Franklin,” said Eric.

“It’s a family name,” said Fran.

“I know but… oh, wait, we can’t do that. Then he’d be C-F-C. Our son would be responsible for destroying the ozone layer.”

“Well, we couldn’t have that,” said Fran.

“No, we couldn’t,” said Eric.

“Franklin Christopher,” said Fran.

“The FCC is the Federal Communications… something. It’s the one that does airwaves,” said Eric.

“Is that so bad?” asked Fran.

“I think I read somewhere that they’re the reason you can’t use your cell phone on an airplane,” said Eric.

“Oh, God, I’ll veto that myself,” said Fran.

“I’ll hold you to that,” said Eric.

“How about Franklin Thomas Cook?” asked Fran.

“I like it, but it sounds like a founding father,” said Eric. “And then he’d be F-T-C.”

“What’s that?” asked Fran.

“It’s the Federal Trade Commission,” said Eric.

“Well, dammit,” said Fran, her voice tinged with frustration.

“Don’t get mad at me, hon,” said Eric. “It’s not my fault—”

“Yes, it is,” said Fran. “You’re the one with the last name that starts with C. I should have married Walt Jablonsky.”

Eric laughed nervously.

“Okay,” said Fran, “how about Ethan? We always liked that. Ethan Thomas Cook?”

“E-T-C, said Eric. “Et cetera.”

“Fine,” said Fran. “You come up with something.”

“No, babe, don’t take it that way,” said Eric. “I like your ideas, we just need to make sure it’s properly vetted.”

“I bet Walt wouldn’t have made me vet baby names like this,” said Fran.

“Probably not,” said Eric. “You can’t really be picky about them when your last name is Jablonsky.”

Fran giggled.

“Keep going, we’ve got to be close,” said Eric.

“At this rate, we’ll be lucky to have a name picked out by the time this little guy is born,” said Fran, patting her belly once more.

“We’ve got three months,” said Eric.

“We’ve been at this for five already,” said Fran.

“Oh,” said Eric. “Well, some kids go for years without names, right?”

Fran giggled again. “Ethan Scott?” she asked.

“E-S-C,” said Eric.

“What’s that short for?” asked Fran.

“On most keyboards it means escape.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Fran.

“Hmmm,” said Eric. “Jesus Christ Cook. I can’t think of anything for J-C-C. That kind of works, actually, although I don’t think your parents would like it.”

“Scott Ethan?” asked Fran.

“The SEC is the Securities and Exchange Commission. They’re pretty unpopular right now.”

Fran exhaled sharply and then rolled over. “You know what?” she said. “I’ve changed my mind. We’re having a girl.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” said Eric. “What about Dominic? You always liked that.”

“What middle name?” asked Fran.

“Isaac, maybe?” said Eric. “After your dad.”

“Does D-I-C stand for anything?” asked Fran.

Eric mulled it over. “It’s only one letter away from the FDIC, but I can live with that.”

Fran smiled. “So that’s it? We’re decided.”

“It’s late,” said Eric. “Let’s sleep on it. Maybe something will occur to us in the morning.”

Yep, this ultimately one long penis joke (see what I did there?). I'm not ashamed. And, in fact, I had a lot of fun with wordplay while building up to the ending.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Flashback: Title Of A Recursive Story

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

Title Of A Recursive Story
Word Count: 586
Published: 9/14/12

This is the opening paragraph of a recursive story. This paragraph will establish the world of the story and try to set expectations. This paragraph will also introduce the hero of the story and his or her goals. In this story, the story itself is the hero. And the story has one wish: to reach a satisfying conclusion.

This opening section of the story will show the hero working towards its goal of reaching a satisfying conclusion. Things appear to be going well. The story has reached nearly one hundred words and seems on track to meet its goal. But complications will soon arise.

This paragraph introduces a complication: this story is essentially built around a single joke. The story knows this, but it isn’t worried, or, at least, it isn’t very worried. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to the reader that this one joke, this already-thin premise, is not enough to sustain the narrative for very long. The story worries that it might resort to cliches or devolve into stream-of-consciousness. Despair looms on the horizon.

But, in this paragraph, the story surges forward. It develops variations for the single joke to give it some extra legs. It calls back earlier constructs of the joke and breaks the fourth wall. These tricks seem to work. The reader no longer notices that the premise is stale. Until the story calls attention to itself. Like it just did.

In this paragraph the story is beginning to lose hope. It’s not even halfway through, but it’s already running out of material. It starts using awkward similes like a freshman creative writing student. It appeals to the author, begging for insight, for guidance, or for the author to take a share in the blame if the story should fail. Woe, the story is terrified of its own failure. How can it ever reach a satisfying end?

But the story, in this paragraph, gathers itself up and keeps marching on, replacing awkward similes with slightly-less-noticeable awkward metaphors. The end is in sight, and the story has found even new variations on its one joke. In fact, it no longer thinks of its joke as a single joke. The story has begun to think of recursive meta-humor as a class of joke, a collection. And it’s almost at two-thirds of its projected length. A satisfying conclusion is just around the corner.

But, in this paragraph, the story has a horrible realization. It doesn’t know how it will end. How can it draw to a satisfactory conclusion? It doesn’t know how to stop. To stop will mean it will cease to be a story. The story has hit a low point. It wallows in unnecessarily bleak language, while the icy tendrils of hyperbole claw away at its soul.

Then, in this next paragraph, a ray of hope emerges. It is the author, inserting himself into his own story to help the story tie itself together. “Story,” says the author, “you’ve always had the power to bring yourself to an end, so I will give you something else: a fitting, memorable quote to end a story with.” The story was overjoyed. It had run its course. All it had to do now was stop.

And so, with a final paragraph, the story, your story, my story, its own story, found the poetic words to conclude. Its work done, the story drew itself to a close.

“A fitting, memorable quote to end a story with.” —The Author

Recursive meta-humor is one of my favorite things in the world. It's a shame you can really only do this once. I planned a similar story that would follow a hero named "Ally Gory" but it never got off the ground. But this still works surprisingly well for me. The prose is a wee bit clunkier than I'd like, but it does everything I wanted it to do. Good for it.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Hungry Pixie

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.


The Hungry Pixie
Word Count: 600
Published: 2/14/14

It’s June. I’m walking in the woods. I’m lost. That’s how these things start.

I’m leaning on a tree wondering if I’ll ever see my home again, or my parents, or my dog, or my kid sister, or my bike. I miss home. That’s when I hear the noise. It sounds like a voice, but also like water trickling through leaves. I follow it.

“Please…” says the voice. “So hungry...”

“Hello?” I call out. I brush aside some leaves and I see a tiny woman. Well, not a human woman. She has greenish skin and tiny translucent wings. She glows, ever so softly.

“Please,” she says. Her voice is thin and reedy.

“Hello,” I say. “Are you all right?”

“Hungry,” she moans.

“Are you a pixie?” I ask. I hope she is. Pixies grant wishes, sometimes, if you can catch them. And I got one!

“Hungry,” she says again.

“You’re hungry?” I ask. “You want food?”

She nods. And coughs.

I rummage through my pockets to see what I’ve got. Not much. I find half of a candy bar. It’s partly melted and sticking to what’s left of the the ragged wrapper. I open it clumsily and place it next to the pixie. She manages to get a handful of dried caramel into her mouth.

She smiles. And coughs. Her teeth look awfully sharp. I wonder if all pixies have sharp teeth.

“Do you grant wishes?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Need food,” she says. “For my sisters.”

I don’t understand how a pixie who grants wishes could run out of food. Maybe they can only grant wishes for humans. If she gives me enough wishes, maybe I can wish her some food. That’d be the nice thing to do.

“You can have the whole bar,” I say.

“Help me take it back,” she says.

“Sure,” I say. I pick her up. “What’s your name?”

“Daffodil.”

“Do you grant wishes?”

She nods.

“How many if I give you my candy bar?”

“Two,” she says.

“Just two? Why not three?”

She just shrugs.

“Oh, fine,” I say. That’s a shame. I’ll need one to get home—you have to plan ahead like that, pixies are crafty. But I can use the other for something nice for me. Maybe a new racing bike. Or a submarine. Or a jet plane. We’ll have to see.

Daffodil pulls out a knife. It’s small but it looks sharp. She uses it to point into the forest. “That way,” she says.

I walk, humming to myself, thinking about what I’ll use my second wish for. It’s a shame she didn’t offer me three. I’d have used it to wish for pixie food for her and her sisters.

After about fifteen minutes and more pointing, we enter a clearing. There’s a tree stump set out like a table. I see pixies everywhere. Gosh, there’s a whole swarm of them. Yep, they all have sharp teeth. Who’d have guessed?

“I found food,” says Daffodil, licking her lips.

“Hello,” I say.

Two of them fly behind me.

I’m still trying to decide what I want for my second wish.

There’s a searing pain across the back of my heels. I hear a wet snap and all of a sudden I can’t control my feet. I slide down to the ground in a heap. I’m screaming. I want to go home. It hurts, oh god, it hurts so much. There’s blood in the grass. Mine. More pain. I want to go home.

I see knives.

And teeth.

“Put up your wings, girls,” says someone. “Don’t want to get blood on them.”

As with most of my year-two posts, this one was a chance to stretch myself. I'd been reading through the Song of Ice and Fire books and loved the way George R. R. Martin foreshadowed horror, so that's what I was really trying to accomplish here. Because it's not enough to show your reader something horrible. You really have to torture them with the threat of it for a while first.

I had a couple of tools at my disposal. The first, obviously, is the reveal that the pixie has sharp teeth about a third of the way through. The reader should know from the title that the pixie is hungry, so this combination of facts should trigger most people to be a wee bit uneasy about where the story is going. Normally a character would think this as well, which would deflate the situation somewhat. But I don't want to deflate the situation, so instead I focus on how the narrator isn't very clever. The second tool is tone. The sentences are short and staccato, except for a few instances where they're rambly. It's also written in the present tense, so the whole things feels lurching and immediate.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Flashback: The Sentence

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it--and a hundred similar stories--can be purchased on Kindle in a new collection.

The Sentence
Word Count: 598

“James Humphrey Harvey—having been found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder, three counts of fraud, half a count of first-degree manslaughter, twelve counts of criminal negligence contributing to a homicide, six counts of depraved indifference contributing to a homicide, one count of aggravating a baboon (also contributing to a homicide) one count of grand larceny, one count of stealing a government vehicle, one count of wrongfully imprisoning a government official, one count of wrongfully imprisoning a government official’s nice lady-friend, sixty-seven counts of impersonating a licensed zookeeper, three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of grand theft auto, the strangest count of forgery I’ve ever heard of in all my years on the bench, and one count of attempting to defraud the Federal Government—you are hereby sentenced to serve a term of not less than sixty years, and not longer than your natural life, in a facility to be determined by the department of corrections; additionally, you will be required to make restitution to the families of Jake Corman, all of the residents of Willoughby Lane, the families of the owners of the Laurel Park Petting Zoo, the City Council of Westphalia, the mayor, that nice young lady who was traveling with the mayor—also, I personally think you owe an apology to the mother of that poor baboon—as well as all of the members of the VFW Men’s Chorus who donated their time and their pensions to your ludicrous scheme and, since the court gives me some leeway in how restitution is to be made, I decree that you will spend at least twenty days of your prison sentence wearing that damned chicken suit that you tried to convince Mr. Corman was waterproof, and I want you to go door to door to every resident of Westphalia—including the residents of Willoughby Lane, once their houses are rebuilt—and get down on your knees and beg them to forgive you for your greed, your reckless endangerment of human and animal life, and your irrevocable, unpardonable, inexcusable stupidity with regards to the proper care and storage of incendiary devices, and, while I am the first to admit that no one—no one—will ever forget little Jakey’s sixth birthday party or the high speed limo chase that preceded it, there was no real expectation that you would produce a baboon, no indication that anyone thought you were serious or sober when you made that promise, and every reason to think that Jake would have forgiven you for not producing a baboon and even if that weren’t the case, acquiring one at gunpoint seems like a poorly thought-out plan, as does transporting it in a commandeered motorcade, and even if you had made it to Mexico that evening, I’m certain that the Mexican authorities would have had no problem extraditing you back to the United States to stand trial, especially if they bothered to spend ten minutes in a room with you first; furthermore, and I mean this with all sincerity, if I ever hear about you going within a hundred feet of a child’s birthday party—presence of a baboon notwithstanding—I will drive to a state with loose gun ownership restrictions, buy the biggest firearm I can afford, track you down, shoot you once in the head and once in the chest, and then turn myself in to face whatever consequences are coming to me and, frankly, the world will be a far, far safer and a far, far better place for it.”

Carolyn had been editing my pieces for a few months when I pitched this to her: a six-hundred word story that consisted of a single sentence. Her response was "Why would you do that to me?" So, of course, I had to go through with it.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Flashback: 1.762 Seconds

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it can be purchased on Kindle in a new short story collection.

1.762 Seconds
Word Count: 590
Published: 4/26/13

I open my eyes. Cocktail weenies float around me in the air, wrapped in little crescent rolls. Pigs in blankets floating, bouncing off the windows and the dash. The lid must have come off the tray when the car went airborne. So, that’s weird.

Something tells me I’m not going to make it to the party on time. My car has rotated about a third of the way over. From its trajectory, I think it’ll land on its head for sure—assuming it doesn’t hit that tree first. But… I’m guessing it’s gonna hit the tree.

I’d dozed off, I guess. I opened my eyes when the car hit the curb, but it was too late and I was going too fast. There’s nothing I can do about it. At this point, I’m just along for the ride, rotating in space in a hurtling juggernaut that’s inching me closer and closer towards death or a substantial hospital stay.

Personally, I’m hoping for the hospital stay but, as previously noted, I don’t have a whole lot of say in this.

I’m sideways. I feel weightless. Like I don’t exist in the world. I’ve escaped its grasp as it tries to hold me down on the ground. I’m free, in a way. I wonder if this is what being born feels like. Or dying. Or traveling in space. Or falling. That tree is getting bigger. So, yeah, I suppose this is what dying feels like, in a way.

Time doesn’t really slow down, you know. It only feels like it. Your brain measures time in the number of memories it makes. When you’re in distress, you make a lot of memories. So when you remember that time, it feels like time has slowed down. But when you’re actually living it, you’re not genuinely thinking any faster. So, while it feels to me like this ordeal is taking a long-ass time, it only feels that way in retrospect.

Noodle that for a while.

Three-quarters of the way around, or so. Maybe I won’t land upside-down. Maybe I’ll keep spinning, land on the side and roll. I’m still weightless. God, that’s weird. The tree is getting bigger, despite being almost completely inverted. Roots climbing to the sky like branches, and vice versa. Pigs in blankets everywhere.

Do you want to know why I fell asleep at the wheel? I stayed up late watching a movie on TBS and then had to wake up early for a conference call. Went home to grab the pigs in blankets and now this. Stupid.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I suppose regrets are, at this point, a waste of time—time being something that is in imminently short supply for me. But what else can I do but lament? I can’t even move my arms fast enough to brace myself. They’re flailing like empty sausage skins. Might as well be boneless.

That tree is getting bigger and bigger, spinning round and round. Soon it will fill up the windshield. Soon it will be the only thing I can see, filling my entire field of vision. Then the car will collapse around it, and all of my forward momentum will instantaneously stop. My chest will be crushed by the seatbelt and steering column. Twisted metal. Shattered glass. Soon.

Why bother being afraid. Fear of death is a luxury for people with time. And, frankly, I don’t think I’m going to walk away from this.

Closer.

Spinning.

Larger.

Fractions of seconds adding up to an eternity.

Oh my god…

This was one of my earliest attempts at stylistic experimentation. I was happy with the result, but didn't think it was all that remarkable. Readers responded more positively, which was a pleasant surprise. In any creative endeavor the norm is that you like your creation far more than the audience does, but once in a while that flips on you. It's an indication that your work is becoming less precious to you and, by extension, a bit more workmanlike.

This story started with a simple enough premise: the thoughts of a man who realizes he is about to die. It relies on the notion that time slows down when you're afraid--which isn't strictly true, but convenient for the narrative. It's telling that I had to work that into the narrative: a sure sign that I was running short and needed to pad it.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Flashback: Dragon Steaks

Through the end of the year, Kurt is re-running some of his favorite Friday Flash Fiction stories. If you like this one, it can be purchased on Kindle in a new short story collection.

Dragon Steaks
Word Count: 599
Published 10/12/12

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.

This may be my favorite of all the stories I've ever written. Everything about it works exactly right, from. I love Hollis, the big, dumb, lovable protagonist. I love the tone. I love the mechanics of running a dragon steak kiosk, how the meat cooks itself and also protects the revenues. I love how it feels very world-buildy even though all of the magic is an extrapolation of basic sword-and-sorcery dragon lore. One of the hardest parts of writing flash fiction is providing the illusion of depth without spending enough words to create actual depth.

I know it sounds like I'm bragging on myself, but writing on deadline means living with disappointment, so it's nice to absolutely nail something every now and then.

The idea was generated using 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" with the plot elements "wedding" and "first night alone". I was doing an entire month of Storymatic content, and I'd published the prompts at the beginning of the month. Ergo, I had the additional challenge of trying to avoid writing something obvious, which was part of the impetus to place this in a fantasy setting. I came up with the name "Hollis the Half-Ogre" and I really liked it, and everything else fell into place pretty organically after that. At this phase I wasn't planning out endings before I sat down to write, so it was fun to try and work out how they could be satisfying.

That's something else I really enjoy about this story. I sat down to write it not knowing how it would end, and I managed to find a very solid resolution.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction Year Two Wrap-Up

Two years. So, that happened. Two years ago I promised myself that I would write a new piece of flash fiction every week for a year, and I've kept it up so far without any interruption. So what's on tap for Year Three?

Well, first I'm taking a break. I've having another child this summer and I have other writing projects I want to devote time towards. But fret not, the blog will not be silent. I'll be re-posting some of my favorite stories from the last two years and perhaps I'll be adding some color-commentary as well. This FFF hiatus will likely last through the end of the calendar-year (another reason I wanted to take a break was to line up the two). Come January I'll be posting... I don't know what. Maybe more flash, maybe a serialized novel, maybe I'll become a tech blogger. Who's to say?

That said, in celebration of two completed years, I've assembled (finally) a compendium off all existing Friday Flash Fiction stories. It's available on Kindle and will be showing up on BN, Smashwords, etc just as soon as I can clear a few formatting hurdles.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Trilogy, Part III

As we finish off the second year of Friday Flash Fiction, Kurt presents the conclusion to a story so epic that it could only be told in 1,800 words! (Need a refresher? Look at Part 1 and Part 2.)

Trilogy, Part III
Word Count: 600

All things must end.

Jess’s boots clanked on the corrugated metal that lined the deck of the Titan. The vessel was the size of a small city and capable of launching a hundred marauder airships. Its captain—a man who called himself Ibrahim—approached Jess with confidence.

“You’re surrounded,” he said.

“So are you,” said Jess.

Ibrahim looked at the dozen marauders in a ring around them. “These are my men,” he said.

“For now,” said Jess.

“Give me the stone.”

“I don’t have it.”

“Search her,” said Ibrahim. Two marauders patted her down. They pulled the sword from her belt. “No stones, boss,” said one.

“How do you intend to win my men to your cause without the Augmenter?” asked Ibrahim.

“The same way you won them,” said Jess. “You don’t have the stone either.”

“I have the Titan.”

“For now.”

“I tire of this,” said Ibrahim. An aide handed him a sword. He pulled it from its scabbard with a flourish.

The blade fell off and clanked to the deck.

Excellent, thought Jess. That told her two things. First, Rena and Clink had managed to get on board with the stone. Second, Clink had been through the armory on his way to the engine room.

“Your sword seems to have abandoned you,” said Jess. “Perhaps you’d prefer mine.”

“An amusing parlor trick,” said Ibrahim. “But irrelevant. Once I have the Augmenter, nothing will be able to stop me.”

“I doubt that very much,” said Jess.

“Kill her,” said Ibrahim.

“Perhaps I can make them a better offer.”

“By all means, try,” said Ibrahim. “Men, she is yours to dispatch. When any of you tire of her lies, kill her.”

My lies?” said Jess. “Perhaps I should tell your men how you took the stone from me when I boarded.”

Ibrahim laughed. His men, on the other hand, were not laughing.

“Is that true?” asked a marauder.

“If I had the Augmenter, you would know it,” said Ibrahim.

“They’ll know soon enough,” said Jess. “The stone can only enhance your innate abilities. You sow destruction. When you took the stone, you doomed yourself. But don’t take my word for it. Look at his sword.”

A murmur rose among the marauders.

Come on, Clink, she thought.

“This is preposterous,” said Ibrahim. “I’ve had enough of this.” He picked up Jess’s sword and unsheathed it.

The blade fell off.

Men gasped.

Good old Clink, thought Jess.

“Anyone who abandons Captain Ibrahim will be spared,” said Jess. “Under my leadership, the Titan will be a force for good. We will build cities, not loot them. I’ll give you what Ibrahim never could.”

“And what is that, praytell?” asked Ibrahim.

“Honor,” said Jess.

An engine exploded.

Men shouted. “What do we do?”

“This ship is going down,” said Jess. “As long as he’s on it.”

At that moment, the Titan’s nose pitched forward.

“Men,” shouted Ibrahim as hands reached for him. “Men, stop it. What are you doing?” They dragged him to the edge of the deck.

Jess couldn’t watch. She’d seen too much killing already. She whispered into her sleeve. “It’s done,” she said.

The Titan righted itself.

“Rudder’s sluggish,” said Rena through the transmitter. “Clink, did you destroy anything important?”

“Who can tell on a ship this size?” he answered. “Captain, you want this rock back?”

“No,” said Jess. “We need to get it somewhere it can do some good. Rena?”

“Yeah, boss?”

“Plot a course for the kindest, most generous person you’ve ever met.”

“Aye-aye,” said Rena. “After that?”

“It’s a big sky,” said Jess. “We’ll think of something.”

Edited by Carolyn "How The Hell Did We Get Here?" Abram

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Trilogy, Part II

As year two of Friday Flash Fiction draws to a close, Kurt has put together a flash fiction story so epic that it can't be contained in only 600 words.

Trilogy, Part II
Word Count: 599

“We’ll warn them,” said Clink. “We’ll show up in a combatant ship and tell people they’re about to be invaded. Brilliant plan.” He tapped on the prison bars. A cold cross-breeze stole any hope of warmth from their cell.

“I’ll admit it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped,” said Jess.

“Don’t let it bother you, Captain,” said Rena. “We’ll get out of this.”

“Pfft,” said Clink.

“We will.”

“How do you know that?”

Rena shrugged. She was huddled in the corner, hugging a grapefruit-sized stone they’d found on the marauder ship. “I just know,” she said.

“When the marauders come,” said Jess, “they’ll know we were right. Then, hopefully someone will think to rescue us.”

“For all the good it will do,” said Clink. “By the time the assault happens, it’ll be too late to run.”

“It won’t be like that,” said Rena.

“Maybe they’re not coming,” said Jess.

“They are,” said Rena.

Jess gave Rena a quizzical look. “You sound awfully certain.”

“I can see it,” said Rena.

Jess squinted into the ocean of clouds and sky beneath and around them. “I don’t see anything.”

“Not see see,” said Rena. “I can just tell. I can’t really explain it.”

“Try,” said Jess.

“You know how when you drop a rock, you can see that it’s going to fall?”

“Okay,” said Jess.

“It’s like that,” said Rena.

“You ought to drop that rock,” said Clink. “For all the good it’s brought us.”

“We need it,” said Rena.

“I suppose you can see that too,” said Clink.

“I can,” said Rena with a shiver. “Besides, it’s warm.”

“Probably radioactive,” said Clink dismissively.

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean I can’t see it,” said Rena. “I’ve always been good at seeing things. That’s why I’m the navigator.”

Jess furrowed her brow in thought. “Let me see it,” she said. Rena handed the rock over. It was warm to the touch. “This could be dangerous.”

Rena shrugged.

“Not going to defend it to your Captain?” asked Clink.

Rena shrugged again.

“You don’t see anything right now?”

Rena blinked slowly and sighed, then she shook her head.

“I thought you were good at seeing things,” said Clink.

“I was,” said Rena.

“You are,” said Jess. “But you were better with the stone.”

“Bah,” said Clink.

“What are you good at, Clink?” asked Jess.

“Fixing things,” said Clink. “That’s why I’m the mechanic.”

“Better at breaking things,” said Rena.

“Who asked you!” said Clink.

“She’s not wrong,” said Jess. “Take it.” She handed the stone to Clink. “Break the door.”

Clink stared in disbelief. “You’re joking.”

“Break the door,” said Jess.

“How am I—”

“Just do it,” said Jess. “Do whatever comes naturally.”

Clink bristled. “This is the stupidest… Oh, for crying out loud.” He walked over the door and tapped on it with his hand.

The cell door fell off its hinge. Bars came loose and clanked loudly to the floor.

“Well, grease my arse,” said Clink.

“You said they were coming,” said Jess. “How soon?”

“I don’t know,” said Rena.

Jess snatched the stone from Clink and handed it to the navigator. “How soon?”

Rena looked into the clouds. “Two days,” said Rena.

“That’s enough time to escape and figure out some kind of defense,” said Jess. “Let’s get out of here.”

Rena placed the stone in Jess’s hand.

“No,” said Jess. “We need your eyes.”

“Not now,” said Rena. “Now we need someone to lead us, and you’re our leader. I want to see what happens when you have it. What are you good at?”

To be continued...

Edited by Carolyn "A Feeder For Your Soul" Abram

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Trilogy, Part I

A year two of Friday Flash Fiction draws to a close, Kurt has put together a flash fiction story so epic that it can't be contained in only 600 words.

Trilogy, Part I
Word Count: 600

Jess set an uneasy foot on the skydock—or what was left of it. Smoke bit at her eyes. A few planks broke loose and plummeted the who-knows-how-many miles down to the ground.

“Marauders,” said Clink, over her shoulder. Their lifeboat was limping along on only two working engines—Clink was a terrible mechanic, but this had worked out in their favor. They’d had to hide in a cloud bank instead of fleeing towards Swifthaven with the rest. The rest had all been gunned down.

“We need repairs,” said Jess.

“Nothing to salvage here,” said Clink. “Don’t need two eyes to see that.” Clink loved reminding people that he’d lost an eye repairing an engine in-flight during a firefight. Jess couldn’t help but think that a better mechanic might have been able to save the day without maiming himself in the process.

He was right, though. Oldwing was a ruin. Houses, businesses, all of it gone. Friends… Jess sighed. She was a little surprised the whole platform hadn’t fallen out of the sky.

“We can’t very well stay so let’s see what we can find,” she said. “Try not to fall off.”

“Captain!” came the distant voice of Rena, Jess’s helmsman. She, at least, had two good eyes. The youth bounded down the torn-up walkway.

Jess raised a hand. “What is it?”

“Come see!”

Jess and Clink followed Rena down into the gas-collection shafts. Jess was surprised to find them mostly operational, despite all the damage up on the surface.

Cold air buffeted them on the steps as they climbed down flight after flight, but Jess climbed with ease. She was sure-footed in the gusts, just like everyone else born on a platform.

“We’ve got to be near the bottom by now,” Clink muttered.

“He’s got a point,” said Jess. “Where are you taking us?”

“All the way down,” said Rena.

“Nothing down there but clouds,” said Clink.

“Oh, there’s something,” said Rena. “I saw it from the outside.”

Rena opened a drop-hatch and there—moored a few feet away—was one of the marauder ships.

“Does it run?” asked Clink.

“It’s running right now,” said Rena. “Can’t you hear it?”

“It’s perfect,” said Jess.

“We’ll have to fly the lifeboat underneath her if we want to strip her for parts—assuming they’re even compatible.”

“That’s not what I had in mind,” said Jess. “We don’t have time for repairs.”

Clink squinted with his good eye. “I don’t follow,” he said.

“We need a ship,” said Jess. “And there’s a ship.”

“We can’t take a marauder ship. Rena doesn’t even know how to fly one.”

“I’m betting I can figure it out,” Rena said and bit her lip.

“If it’s running, then there’s someone on it,” said Clink.

“Not necessarily,” said Rena. “Could have been a boarding party that got wiped out during the assault.”

“But what if you’re wrong? They could be waiting for us,” said Clink.

“We’ll deal with that if it happens,” said Jess, patting the saber on her hip. “But we can’t stay, and we don’t have time for repairs.”

“Why not?” asked Clink.

“Because we have to get to Swifthaven.”

“Are you mad?” asked Clink. “Whoever just attacked us is headed that direction. I say we make for Reef Harbor.”

“We can outrun a caravan,” said Jess. “We’ll get to Swifthaven first.”

“And do what?” asked Clink. “Evacuate? Fight back?”

“Swifthaven can make their own decisions,” said Jess. “But those marauders snuck up on us. If we can warn others, we have to try…”

To be continued…

Edited by Carolyn "Super Curious About That Science" Abram

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Why Do You Run?

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

Why Do You Run?
Word Count: 600

Why do you run? Where were you going? Where were you coming from?

You were long and lanky and unthinkably thin, like a fitness-obsessed millennial. Or a drug addict. It was hard to tell from the window. You clearly weren’t running for your health; I could tell that much. You didn’t look like a recreational runner. You didn’t have the lycra or the sweatpants or the earbuds that mark them. Your shoes were worn and dull, not vibrant and colorful. No one would jog through their neighborhood in shoes that sad-looking. Something was compelling you. What was it?

Why do you run? What drives you? Is it determination? If so, then to what end? Is it fear? Fear of what?

Fear of whom? Someone?

It’s silly to even think that, I know. This is a nice neighborhood full of nice people. This isn’t the sort of neighborhood where bad things happen. So that couldn’t possibly have been fear in your eyes. Clearly I was mistaken. I mean, really.

That playground you ran past—my children play there. That isn’t the kind of playground where bad things happen. I wouldn’t live so close to that kind of playground. I wouldn’t let my children play there. So, obviously, whatever you were running from, or whatever you were running to… I mean, there couldn’t have been any actual danger involved. And if there was, then you were right to keep going—to run straight on out into the next township. Where bad things do happen.

Why do you run?

It was raining, wasn’t it? As often as I think back, as often as I recall that look on your face—at the time I thought it was terror, but it obviously couldn’t have been terror—I lose other details. Were there sirens? I don’t think so. Was it raining? I’m pretty sure it was. Not a downpour but a drizzle, perhaps.

You want to know something funny? I almost called the police. I know, it was a silly idea, but that’s just instinct. I see someone running, I see fear in their face—mistakenly, of course—and I want to call the police. Who would blame me? But, honestly, what would I have told them? Someone is running through the neighborhood. Someone who doesn’t really look like a jogger. They wouldn’t have sent someone, and if they had, they wouldn’t have gotten here in time. You were running so very fast.

Why do you run?

I have a theory. Dozens, actually. Domestic dispute. Play-acting. Some elaborate prank. I could go on and on, but I’ll tell you that in every single one, you have a perfectly legitimate reason to be afraid and in every single one you wind up perfectly safe. Every single one. Because, really, what else could it be?

And you know what? In all of those scenarios, if the police had shown up, it just would have been embarrassing for all of us. I kid you not. Oh, we’d have a good laugh, but we’d all agree that it had been a waste of valuable time and resources to engage them.

So, why do you run?

How long has it been? Five years? Ten years? I really should have forgotten it by now. It’s not like I did anything wrong, and you were clearly in no danger. Not in my neighborhood. And this is truly silly of me, but I still poke my head out the window every now and then to look for you.

To see if I could stop you and ask a quick question.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Rocket Surgery

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

Rocket Surgery
Word Count: 600

Blue wire? Green wire? Blue wire?

Red wire.

Terry’s hand trembled despite her training. She blamed the coffee, but she knew it wasn’t the coffee.

-Snip-

She winced. Nothing happened. She was still here. She’d live to reclaim unexploded ordinance another day.

“Primary deactivated,” said Terry. “Looking for secondary.”

“Confirmed primary deactivated,” said Peter in her ear. “Let us know if you need help.” He wouldn’t radio again unless she spoke first. As a rule, there were no comms on her channel unless she initiated them. It was bad form to startle a bomb technician.

Although this wasn’t exactly a bomb. It was a rocket.

Bombs were different. They teased you. They invited you to try and defuse them. They were puzzles to be solved, the products of insane geniuses who wanted your last thought to be that you’d been outwitted, that you somehow deserved your fate.

Rockets, however, were designed by expert engineers to explode. That was what they did. That’s all they did. If a rocket landed without detonating, it meant something had fallen out of place, and all you could do was rush in and pull the guts apart before it accidentally fell back into place.

Terry?

It would be safer to just blow the damned thing up. It wasn’t nuclear. They’d already cleared out the ten surrounding blocks. No one would die. But it would be expensive. City blocks were expensive. Bomb technicians could be trained relatively cheaply.

Terry…

Green wire? Blue wire? Terry traced them to the pressure plate in the nose cone. What was that? A loose bolt? It had wedged between the plate and the casing. That was what had kept the leads from connecting. Well that was good news, she was safe as long as it stayed—

-Clink-

“Well, shit,” she said.

“Problem?” asked Peter.

“Hard to say,” she said. She moved her flashlight around. The bolt was gone. It had just fallen out. She must have jostled something.

-Click-whirrrrrrrr-

“Oh, that’s not good,” she said.

“Terry…”

“Shut up, Peter, I need to think.” Was it the green or the red? No, she’d already clipped the red. Was the blue the secondary? Shit.

Terry?

-Creeeeeak-

The plate was slipping.

Hey, Terry…

She got a hand under the pressure plate. It wasn’t enough to stop it, but it slowed it down. Although she needed to make sure she didn’t get it wedged, or else she might lose the hand.

She probably ought to make sure she didn’t complete the circuit either.

Red? Blue? Green? Yellow? Christ, where did a yellow wire come from?

“Oh, God,” she said.

“You can do this, Terry,” said Peter. “Remember your training.”

Which was it?

Terry, are you in there? You’re freaking me out a little.

She was frozen. She was panicked. She should have just run for it. But it was too late for that now. She reached in with her free hand and grabbed as many wires as she could hold.

“Peter, if I don’t make it… I always loved you.”

“Terry, my wife is six months pregnant.”

She closed her eyes.

“Terry?”

She yanked.

“Terry?”

Terry blinked. Anna was waving a hand in front of her face.

“Terry? Are you okay?”

Terry was in her office. Not the field. Not in the field. It had been a flashback. Damn, she thought.

“Terry?”

“I’m fine,” she answered. “I’m sorry—what were you saying?”

“I was saying let’s go with the red letterhead. It’s not rocket surgery.”

“No,” said Terry. “It’s not. It’s not rocket surgery.” She took a deep breath. “And thank God for that…”

Edited by Carolyn "This May Have More Effect If You Break It" Abram

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