Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Day One

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week, it's getting apocalyptic...

Day One
Word Count: 600

By noon it’s apparent that no help is coming, so I decide to head home, despite the cold. I raid the kiosk for food, eat what I can, stuff more into my coat pockets. No one tries to stop me. I find my car in the lot and grab the tire iron off the jack. It’s only about six inches long, but it’s heavy and sharp at one end. I can use it for protection. I leave my gym bag and computer in the car and head for the highway.

Twenty-three miles doesn’t seem like much of a commute when you have a working car. I do some math in my head. At two or three miles an hour, I should be home by late evening. The temperature will have dropped by then, but I should be able to make it. Better than hanging around the office.

In twenty minutes I’m shivering. It’s going to be a long walk. There are others ahead of me and behind me, but we keep our distance from each other.

After a few hours I arrive at the bridge, where a group of thugs with guns have set up what they call a “toll booth”. They take my wallet, my tire iron, and all the food I have stashed. I don’t even fight back. I guess that makes me a coward. While they’re searching me, another man arrives, and he is not a coward. He is beaten, then thrown into the water.

At least they let me keep my coat.

I walk on, appalled at how little time it has taken society to break down. I wonder what the bomb had been aimed at, to leave the suburbs untouched by anything but the EMP wave. I hear gunfire in the distance. I shiver.

I sing to myself to keep my teeth from chattering too much. I see a gas station that has been looted and torched. I walk over and warm myself, but I don’t stay long.

Night falls, along with the temperature. I’m shivering more violently, but I have to get home to my family. It occurs to me that I might not make it. I might die on the first day of whatever this new era is, just trying to get home because I’d accepted a job with a twenty-three mile commute and always assumed that there’d be electricity, civilization, etc.

It occurs to me that, even if I do get home, we’ll probably all die soon anyway. We only have enough food for a few days, and I can’t imagine that the grocery stores will have much left. We don’t even own a gun.

I have to laugh.

Hours. Shivering. Hunger. I warm myself by another structure fire, then keep on moving.

I do finally make it home. Jenny is fine. Matt and Braden are fine. We’re all fine.

It’s nearly midnight. I know this because the clock in the living room runs off of a pendulum. It’s not super reliable, but we keep winding it because it’s quaint, just like the fireplace. Quaint things that will keep us alive for a few more days, until spring arrives, or help.

We’ll board up the doors and windows tomorrow. We’ll forage for food tomorrow. We’ll worry about how long the wood-pile will last—and whether to burn books or furniture first—tomorrow. Tonight we put a mattress in the living room and sleep by the fire. Matt thinks it’s an adventure. Braden can’t understand why we can’t watch a movie.

Frankly, none of us can.

I have to laugh.

Edited by Carolyn "A Lug Wrench Looks Nothing Like What I Expected" Abram.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Everything You Know Is A Lie

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

Everything You Know Is A Lie
Word Count: 600

Look, you’re seeing this the wrong way. It’s not that I was lying to you before (although I was), it’s that I’m choosing to be honest with you now. I lie to everyone, but not you. Not anymore. You’re a really nice guy and I like you a lot, and yes it’s only been three dates, but I think we’ve got potential and I really do hope your mother will like me.

Please don’t go.

Look, when you think about it, everything you ever thought you knew was a lie. Napoleon wasn’t short. Sugar doesn’t make kids hyperactive. Fortune cookies aren’t Chinese. “Irregardless”—which you say all the time—isn’t even a real word. That’s crazy, right? This isn’t helping.

Okay, I remember from your personal ad that you wanted just a normal girl who is honest. I suppose I violated that a bit, but women wear make-up, don’t they? That’s a form of dishonesty. You wouldn’t want me to not wear make-up, would you? Look, I would have told you eventually, and I realize this is a bit of a shock, but if you hadn’t been so aggressive—not that I’m blaming you, I like aggressive…

Please don’t go.

Did you know that crime rates aren’t actually affected by full moons? That’s a lie. Did you know that? Did you know that Albert Einstein never failed math. That’s a lie. Ostriches don’t really hide their heads in the sand. Rabbits don’t eat carrots. These are all lies. Have they cheapened your life or your existence? No! Are you going to throw away whole relationships because of them? Of course not! Are you going to take back every apple you left for your history teacher because she told you that Christopher Columbus proved the world was round—because that’s a lie! And don’t even get me started on Paul Revere!

Look, we’ve all seen The Crying Game. It could have been that, right?

Please don’t go.

Yes, you’re hurt, but I think you’re overreacting. How do you think I feel? How do you think bees feel, constantly being told that it’s impossible for them to fly? How do you think bats feel, being called blind? How do you think goldfish feel, being told that can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds? But this is a society of double-standards, where people are quick to believe anything that makes them feel better about themselves.

People actually believe that dogs are color-blind, because that makes them feel better. They actually believe that Romans invented rooms where they make themselves throw up. They actually believe that sharks don’t get cancer. They believe that ducks make a sound that doesn’t echo. People believe that! That’s crazy, right? And you believed something about me that made both of us feel better. That’s not a crime, is it?

Please don’t go.

Okay, I lied. You caught me. This is embarrassing and I’m sorry. But look, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a few of your own casual dishonesties. I know your watch isn’t a real Rolex, for example. I’m not looking for my shoes and being all angry about it. Oh, you didn’t know it wasn’t a real Rolex? Well, it’s not. But that’s okay! I’ve got a fake Gucci handbag. It’s fine. Nobody cares! Be mad at the guy who sold it to you.

This isn’t helping, is it.

Yes, I lied to you. But you can understand why, right? It’s a hairpiece. I’m a woman who has to wear a hairpiece. Big deal! Please don’t go.

Edited by Carolyn "Myth Busted!" Abram.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: The Hungry Pixie

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

The Hungry Pixie
Word Count: 600

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.”

Edited by Carolyn "Everything Is Sickening Now" Abram.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Pigeons In The Park

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

Pigeons In The Park
Word Count: 599

Two pigeons were perched on a low-hanging bough overlooking the park when Edmund left his townhouse. Locking the door behind him, he looked up at the birds and doffed his hat. “Good morning, my little friends,” he said cheerily.

“Morning, Edmund,” said one of the pigeons. “How’s the missus?”

Edmund didn’t respond. He just whistled and headed down the walk towards the market.

“Now how do you like that?” asked Roddy, the pigeon who had just spoken. “Rude, rude, rude. Every day I ask him something pleasant and he never responds.”

“I don’t think he can hear you, mate,” said Flynn, the other.

“Well, of course he can hear me,” said Roddy. “If I sing something cutesy, he’s happy to whistle along.”

“Okay, he can hear you. Maybe he just doesn’t understand you,” Flynn offered.

“Why?” asked Roddy. “There something wrong with my voice? Are you having any trouble understanding me?”

“Well, no—”

“That’s what I thought,” said Roddy. “He treats me like a ruddy minstrel, he does. I swear, when the birds rise up in revolt, I’m going to peck out his eyeballs! Vivent les oiseaux!

“He seems nice enough to me,” said Flynn. “Most people don’t give us the time of day.”

“I’m fine with that,” said Roddy. “I’d rather be ignored than talked down to.”

“Who said he was talking down to you?” asked Flynn.

Us,” said Roddy. “He was talking down to us.”

“I still thought he was nice,” said Flynn.

“Dapper little twit with his tweed suit and his stupid grin. Who does he think he is?”

“He’s just going to the market,” said Flynn.

“And what’s he going to buy there?” asked Roddy. “Some nice chicken, maybe?”

“Oh, don’t be crass, Rod.”

“It’s true. I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him come back with a sandwich full of chicken—”

“How’d you know?” asked Flynn.

“How’d I know what?”

“How did you know it was chicken?”

“I suppose it would have been better if it was turkey?” asked Roddy incredulously.

“Maybe it was ham,” said Flynn.

“It weren’t ham!”

“How do you know?”

“Are you accusing me of not being able to tell ham from chicken?” asked Roddy.

“I’m just saying let’s give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Flynn. “He seems like a nice enough guy.”

“And nice guys don’t eat chicken,” said Roddy.

“Oh, come off it,” said Flynn. “They’re barely birds anyway.”

“You birdist bastard,” said Roddy.

“What?” asked Flynn. “They can’t even fly.”

Roddy was speechless.

“Look,” said Flynn, “they’re the ones growing them big chests and laying all those tasty eggs. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them.”

“Don’t blame the victim,” said Roddy.

“I’m not blaming the victim,” said Flynn.

“Yes, you are, and I won’t put up with that. That’s birdism.”

“Look, if he were eating pigeon I’d be as angry as you,” said Flynn.

“Well, that’s definitely birdism,” said Roddy. “I swear, when we rise up in revolt—”

“Like that’s ever going to happen,” said Flynn.

“It will. I’ve seen it once, in a movie,” said Roddy. “I forget the title…”

“Look, all I’m saying is that you’re getting all bent out of shape over one guy who says hello but doesn’t respond when we say hello back. You jump to the conclusion that he’s talking down to us and want to peck out his eyeballs. I’m just saying, maybe you’re overreacting.”

Roddy sighed. “Maybe,” he said. “Look, I gotta pick up Mable. You coming to the meeting on Thursday?”

“I’ll be there,” said Flynn. “Vivent les oiseax!

Vivent les oiseaux!” said Roddy.

Edited by Carolyn "Is This Not 'Branch' To Sound More Fancy?" Abram.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

On Learning French

So I've decided to learn French. I've always thought it would be impossible for me, but when I heard about the Duolingo app, I decided to give it a try. (Yes, self-improvement is great, but if you want me to do something like read books or lose weight or exercise regularly, I need a free app for my phone that I can use to post achievements on Facebook.)

A few observations:


  • I'm not exaggerating when I say I thought it would be impossible. It's a very counter-intuitive language for an English speakers. That is, that vowels are all wrong. That is, English shifted vowels four hundred years ago, and French didn't. Take something like le vin ("the wine") which is pronounced "LOO VOHN" (more or less), for reasons that defy me utterly.
  • On the other hand, the vocabulary is pretty easy. About a fourth of English is inherited directly from French, so there's a ton of overlap. Elephant is éléphant, dress is robe. A lot of things are close in ways that make sense.
  • Vowels are important. So are articles. Since closing consonants are frequently dropped, sometimes the only way to identify a plural is to pay attention to the vowels on the article. As in the above example with the wine, the plural would be les vins, which has two S's, neither of which are pronounced. But les is pronounced "LAY" (more or less) instead of "LOO", so there you have it.
  • Related, French has extra articles du and des which basically mean "some" but they aren't optional.
  • I love the zen-ness of French pleasantries. "I'm fine" is ça va, literally "it goes".
  • Holy crap, diacritical marks. Holy crap. Seriously, guys.
  • Thank heavens I took Spanish, so I'm already familiar with some of the peculiarities of romance languages: gender, formal/familiar you, placing adjectives after the noun they modify.
  • I now know how to call my son "little monkey" in three languages, and they're all different. Petit singe in French, Monito in Spanish... I forget the English.