Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Bait and Prey

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

Bait and Prey
Word Count: 596

Any asshole with three hundred dollars can have someone killed, but it will be done without panache, without poetry. But if you want to send a message, if you want to make a statement, that’s when you bring in someone like me.

I’m an assassin. The target is an assassin. You might think I’d have an aversion to killing another assassin because of some professional courtesy or something, but you’d be wrong. I just follow the money. We all do.

I take up my position on a rooftop. I assemble my rifle. I look down the scope and identify my target. I lay down for maximum stability. The target is in the cross hairs. I wait for the clean shot.

The target is in the middle of a crowd. He has three bodyguards. In a moment, he’s going to receive a phone call. Then a bullet is going to split his forehead and he is going to drop like a sack of wet cement while two hundred bystanders look on in horror. That’s a message. That’s a statement.

I pull a drop phone out of my pocket and call the number. The target reaches into his own pocket and answers. He’s a hundred yards away, but we’re going to have a little conversation, because that’s what the man who hired me wanted. That’s a statement.

“Hello?” he says.

“Now you know what it’s like to be hunted,” I say. It’s a prepared line. A little cheesy, I know.

The target is not panicking. Good for him. He begins to look around for me. It takes him all of five seconds. “That’s a good roof to set up on. It’s not the one I would have chosen.”

“Which would you have chosen?” I ask.

“Something less vulnerable,” he says. “The difference between bait and prey is very subtle.”

I smile.

“I don’t suppose you would be willing to negotiate.” The target is staring right at me as he speaks. I do not let this unnerve me. “I could make it worth your while.”

“That wouldn’t be very professional,” I say. “Would you have ever entertained a counter-offer?”

“It would depend on who I was working for,” says the target.

“I don’t discriminate,” I say.

“You should,” says the target. “I don’t suppose I could tempt you to grant me some sort of professional courtesy.”

“You’re joking.”

“Call me old-fashioned,” says the target. “It would seem that this is goodbye, then.”

“It is,” I say.

I feel the first shot before I hear it. My knee explodes. It’s a good thing I’m already laying down.

Someone is screaming. Me, possibly.

“Hello? Hello?”

I look at the phone where I’ve dropped it. The man on the phone is trying to get my attention.

“Hello?”

I punch the button for speaker. “Hello,” I croak.

“Oh, there you are,” he says. “I wanted to offer you some advice, on the chance that you survive and wish to continue in this line of work.”

I don’t say anything.

“But then, I guess I’ve already told you. First, make sure your position isn’t vulnerable. Next, pay attention to whom you’re working for. This is good advice, don’t you think?”

I don’t say anything.

“Tongue-tied? That’s understandable.”

I grunt an agreement. I glance down at my leg. The kneecap is shattered, and there’s a lot of blood.

“And finally, and this is perhaps the most important,” he says. “Always remember: It’s a subtle difference between bait and prey.”

I watch him drop his phone into a trash can and walk away.

Edited by Carolyn "My Brain Is Trying To See It And Failing" Abram.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

On Resolutions

Well, it's January. Resolution time. Time to evaluate, pledge, etc in attempts to better ourselves. I have mixed emotions on the institute of the New Year's Resolution. Here's why:

The ones I accomplished don't matter. Most of my resolutions were to clear out backlogs of things that I'd saved and meant to get back to: old tweets or articles in my feed reader. I got these cleared out, and they immediately filled back up again. Not really once-a-year tasks, it seems.

The ones I didn't accomplish were still really helpful. I also meant to clear out my backlog of unlistened-to-podcasts. I didn't succeed. But I came so near success as makes no matter. I dropped the list from 600+ down to 70. Much more manageable. I also wanted to get every song on my computer listened to. Didn't finish, didn't really come close to finishing, but made a lot of progress.

My major accomplishments for the year weren't New Year's Resolutions. I sold my first short story this year. I finished a year of Friday Flash Fiction. I lost fifty pounds. None of these were New Year's Resolutions--they were just things I did. This is important, particularly in the case of weight-loss. No amount of resolving would make me do it; I know this because I've been trying for years. What happened is that a friend recommended an app that would help me track and budget my daily calorie intake. This, it turned out, was all I needed. I lost a fifth of my body weight in about four months. I lost two pants sized and a shirt size, and in doing so I managed to get my blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides all into a healthy range.

So am I going to make resolutions this year? Yes and no. I don't have any official New Year's Resolutions, but I did make an impulsive decision to read a book a day for the month of January. I will probably do something else recklessly impulsive later in the year. And I've got a healthy backlog in my Netflix queue. So we'll see what happens.

Happy New Year,
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Soul Survivor

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

Soul Survivor
Word Count: 599

“Hello,” said the older student, “my name is Benoit. Thank you for helping us with this experiment.” His accent was Belgian, his face scruffy.

Roddy shook his hand. “Anything for class credit,” he said, only half-joking.

“Won’t you have a seat?” asked Benoit.

Roddy sat down at the table, which was empty except for two shoe boxes.

“Thank you, also, for signing the waiver,” said Benoit. “This experiment isn’t strictly ethical.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” he said warily. He hadn’t really read it. But what was the worst that could happen, really?

“Now, let me tell you about this experiment,” began Benoit. “Certain tribal folk once believed that cameras captured a part of your soul on the image. We’re working with that hypothesis.”

“Trying to prove it wrong?” asked Roddy, eyebrow raised. This sounded iffy, but college student’s psychology experiments frequently were on the odd side. What does this have to do with psychology anyway?

“Not exactly,” said Benoit. “You see, I believe that the soul is, in fact, captured, but that the pull of the body is so strong that it draws the soul back before it can be transferred completely. So our goal is to take a photo, and then remove that variable.”

Something twinged in Roddy’s stomach. “Which variable?” he asked.

“The previous vessel for the soul. The one that draws it back in,” said Benoit.

“You mean… the body?”

“Precisely! We take the picture, destroy the originating body, and see if the soul remains in the photograph.”

“That’s… Wait, what are you doing?” asked Roddy. He had begun trembling.

Benoit opened a shoe box and retrieved a large hypodermic needle filled with blue liquid. He pulled a handgun out of the second. “The camera’s in the ceiling, so we’re ready to go as soon as you’ve decided which, ahem, shot you prefer.”

“Jesus,” breathed Roddy, backing away from the table. He fumbled with the doorknob, but it was locked.

“The gunshot would be quicker and, strictly speaking, better for the experiment,” said Benoit. “But it’s messy, and some people have an aversion to that.”

“Let me out of here!” yelled Roddy.

“The syringe is cleaner, and it’s probably painless, but it takes a few minutes to take full effect, and we don’t really know what you still feel after you stop twitching.”

“I didn’t sign up for this,” yelled Roddy, panicking.

“Well, you did sign the waiver. So make your choice.”

“I’m not choosing!”

“I’ll choose for you, and if you don’t hold still, I’m going to choose the gun.”

“I don’t want to die!” Roddy was cowering in the corner, tears streaming down his face.

“Oh, don’t worry,”—Benoit consulted his clipboard—“Roderick. Your soul will live on in the photograph, if my hypothesis is correct. Your body is going to die anyway; it’s just a matter of time.”

Roddy was curled up in the corner, rocking back and forth. “Why didn’t I read the waiver?” he asked between sobs. “Why didn’t I read the waiver?”

“If you’re so attached to living, you probably should have,” said Benoit.

“Oh God, oh God,” said Roddy.

“If we let you go, would you be more diligent about signing things you haven’t read?” asked Benoit.

“Every time,” said Roddy.

“Good enough?” asked Benoit.

“We’re good,” said a voice through an intercom in the ceiling. “Send him to the counselor.”

“What?” asked Roddy.

“You’re in no danger,” said Benoit. “These are props. This is a study in fear. You’re free to go.”

“What!?” Roddy repeated.

“Not really ethical, I know,” said Benoit. “But, you did sign the waiver…”

Edited by Carolyn "I Can't Guarantee I'll Start Reading Waivers" Abram.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Short-Timers

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

Short-Timers
Word Count: 600

It was a crappy restaurant, but they weren’t allowed in the nicer ones. Nicer ones were for long-timers.

Greg smiled. The food was okay. Nancy seemed nice, but Greg was too nervous to actually carry on a conversation. Another first date down the tubes.

Nancy was pretty, and pleasant, and interesting, but she seemed on edge. Maybe it was her condition, whatever that was. They weren’t really supposed to talk about it, but most couples eventually did.

Nancy smiled back. She did have a lovely smile. But she was distracted—maybe it was him.

“How’s the chicken?” asked Greg, trying to make small talk.

“Hm?” asked Nancy. “Oh, it’s fine, I suppose. Yours?”

“A little dry,” said Greg, “but it seems like every restaurant overcooks their chicken, so I guess I really can’t complain.”

Nancy smiled, and then went back to be being distracted.

Greg sighed. Yep, another first date down the tubes.

Nancy sat up straight. She seemed suddenly resolute. “So,” she said, “what’s your prognosis?”

Greg nearly choked, but saved himself. That would have made the date even shorter.

“I… you know, we aren’t supposed—”

“I know,” said Nancy. “But you know what? I say fuck protocol. It’s bad enough that they’ve made us all into second-class citizens and told us that we can’t have babies. I’m not going to keep my prognosis a secret like it’s something to be ashamed of.”

Greg jawed at the air.

Nancy leaned forward. “Listen, you seem like a nice fellow,” she said. “You’re a bit nervous, which is adorable, but I’ve been on twelve first dates this month and I’m bored of people who are condemned to die and afraid of it. I’m tired of these singles nights where depressives resign themselves to pair off for another one-nighter because they think they only have six months to live. I’m tired of it. And I’m going to stand up and walk right out of this restaurant if you’re not with me on this. So?”

Greg wasn’t sure what was going on, but whatever it was, it was interesting. “So… what was the question?”

“Are you with me?” asked Nancy.

“Okay,” said Greg.

“So you’re not afraid of whatever it is that’s going to kill you?”

“Not really,” said Greg. “But it’s not the kind of thing you can really be afraid of.”

Nancy leaned in and whispered. “So what is it?”

“Are you sure that’s something you want to talk about on a first date?” Greg whispered back.

“I’ll leave if you don’t tell me right this—”

“Congenital heart failure,” said Greg.

Nancy sat back. “One minute you’re alive, then—boom—dead before you hit the ground.”

Greg shrugged. “Could be today, could be when I’m eighty.”

Nancy nodded. “Which is pretty much the exact opposite of mine.”

Greg looked around warily. “Which is?”

“You sure you want to know?” asked Nancy.

“Well,” said Greg, “I told you mine.”

“Huntingtons,” said Nancy.

Greg nodded. “Drawn out,” he said. “That would terrify me.”

“Well, it’s better than the uncertainty of knowing you could go at any minute,” said Nancy. “How does that not keep you awake at night?”

Greg shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I just go on like I’ve always done, assuming I’ll always be here. Assuming that I’ll be the one in a thousand that defies the prognosis and lives a long and happy life.”

“Doing what?” asked Nancy.

“Well, I’d always figured I’d find someone who would need taking care of.”

Nancy bit her lip and raised an eyebrow.

“You wanna get out of here?”

Edited by Carolyn "Ultimatums? On A First Date?" Abram.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: The Perfect Card

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

The Perfect Card
Word Count: 597

Is there anything in the world that’s quite as bad as mediocre poetry?

That’s what I’m wondering as I flip through the birthday cards at the local drugstore. Insipid poems. Paragraphs of mush. Pictures of men in Speedos. This is ridiculous; none of these will work.

Now, I’m not looking for the perfect card. I’m looking for a good enough card. But apparently my standards are entirely too high. See, I’m looking for a card that says “Happy Birthday, Mom” without being too irreverent, which rules out the funny cards—and therefore about two-thirds of all of the birthday cards—and what’s left over is sappy, sentimental twaddle.

I look at another. Dear Mom, you made me all that I am today, and without the blessing of your love… Seriously, I need a shot of insulin after reading that.

And if they’re not sentimental, then they have way too many words inside. Look at this one! Victor Hugo wrote the inside, I swear. I don’t want my mother to look at a card, glance at the paragraph(s) of text inside and waste time wondering if it’s worth the effort. I don’t want to have to smile while she skims. Where are the Hemingway cards?

Oh, how I hate this, and I go through it every year—twice, if we’re counting Mother’s Day. And, in fact, Mother’s Day may be worse. But at least with Mother’s Day you don’t have a lot of variety. Mom’s going to get a saccharine, mushy, glittery card, or she’s going to get nothing. You know this. She knows this. You make up for it with a fruit basket. Everyone’s happy.

But with a birthday, you have a much larger base selection—and you have all year to find the right card. Therefore, my inability to find a good one simply means that I didn’t put forth enough effort. It is evidence of my failure as a child, which is in turn evidence of her failure as a parent.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Guess what I got you! Disappointment. Same as last year, I know.

Now, I realize that I’m being a little too hard on myself. I know that whatever I get her, she’ll love. But you know what? That actually makes it kind of worse. I don’t want to think that my mother would be the sort of person who is willing to settle for a crappy, gushy birthday card with glitter and too many words inside.

I look at another. Okay, this one has potential. Nope, it plays music. Holy cow, that was loud. Now people are staring at me. It’s like Candid Camera or something. This card was sitting here, waiting for some unsuspecting stranger to open it so it could shriek out, inviting the other patrons to look at the damned fool with a singing birthday card in his hand. Why would you do that to another human being? Who wants to open a perfectly nice birthday card only to get shouted at and/or sung to? Who genuinely wants to experience four seconds of repeated noise blasted through a microscopic speaker that’s so tinny it sounds like it’s been run through the dishwasher?

Someone does, obviously, or else they’d have gotten rid of them years ago. But still…

I’m about ready to declare defeat when I find the cards that are blank inside. And here’s one with kids dressed up as grown-ups. That’s kind of cute without being overbearing. I guess.

I mean, it’s not terrible.

I guess I’ll get her a fruit basket, too.

Edited by Carolyn "This Math Is Strange And Terrible" Abram.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: The Daughters Of Mother Ana

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week, a silly little poem to start the new year...

The Daughters Of Mother Ana
Word Count: 556

Mother Ana had twelve daughters, each a lovely maid,
With each born in a separate month and so she had them named:
Jan and Phoebe, Marge and April, Mae and June and Julie
Agnes, Stephie and Octavia, Nev and little Desi.

Jan, the oldest and by far the coldest to be sure,
Would be the first to say a new beginning is in store.
Her snow-white hair is long and flowing as a winter’s day
Yet those who offer her embrace are swiftly turned away.

Meanwhile Phoebe’s heart is filled with love above all else.
She dotes upon her suitors and her family (and herself).
The wee-est of her sisters, her affections have no rival.
But you’d be sore mistaken to dismiss her as a trifle.

Margery is fair of face and even-keeled to boot.
She fosters lofty dreams and finds good soil to give them root.
And, like her sister Jan, she often thinks of things to come,
A good friend and companion when there’s hard work to be done.

April is the cruelest child, a sad and vengeful thing,
Deprived of sunlight, dourly puts off the joys of spring.
She casts a wary, baleful eye on any who might greet her.
A body would be well to treat her gently, should they meet her.

Her younger sister Mae, although, is blossoming with vim.
And beautiful to look upon without, as well within.
Her clothes are bright and colorful, her hair a fiery red.
You’d fall in love if you could only catch her, so it’s said.

June and Julie are quite close and oft confused for twins.
They play each other’s silly games (it matters not who wins).
And though they’re often careless, they are not without some charm
Flitting off together hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm.

Agnes has a temper that could drive a soul to drink.
To end up on her bad side? Well, I shudder just to think.
And yet there is a kindness there, if you see past her quibbling.
(Although she’s quite exhausted by her next two older siblings.)

Stephanie is crisp and cool and gentle as the sun.
Her auburn hair, her golden eyes—she’s quite a splendid one.
How studious and colorful and welcoming she is.
A shame, amongst her sisters, she can be easy to miss.

Octavia, Octavia, a dark and brooding pearl.
Almost a little frightening is Ana’s tenth-born girl.
She dresses up and plays at chattering with ghosts and ogres.
And let’s admit it, recently her costumes have grown vulgar.

Neve is known foremost and first to be thankful bumpkin
And second for her food, and spicing everything with pumpkins
Cousins travel far to see her, oh they love her madly.
Though too much time with family depresses her quite badly.

Finally comes Desi, such a festive little tyke.
All adorned in evergreen—her dress and boots alike.
Her laugh is full of wonder and her smile is bright and wild.
And yet she’s so reflective—odd for such a little child.

Mother Ana gathers them and pats them on their heads.
The day is done, it’s time for them to scamper to their beds.
And though they’d rather stay awake, their time is at an end.
Another day will dawn and we shall see them all again.

Best Wishes For 2014,
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