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.


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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