Flash Fiction – Between the Cages

More short fiction this week, yay!

This piece is inspired by two posts from One Minute Writer: Dragons & Unicorns and Attack. I read both ideas on the same day – “What if there were dragons and unicorns wandering about?” and “Have you ever been attacked by an animal?” That crazy analysis and synthesis process that authors know too well happened and out came this piece:

Between the Cages

Sarah quickly hid the object in her hands, wiping away tears self-consciously as Brian approached. He smiled as warmly as he could manage, shaking slightly with anxiety.

“I brought you a little something.” He held his cupped hands before her. “Careful not to breathe on it.”

She turned up a skeptical eyebrow. Curiosity won her over, though, and she held out her hands. He moved to place the contents of his hands into hers, but switched tactics as her bare wrists poked through her light sweater. He carefully opened his hands, revealing the delicate thread within. He wrapped it around her left wrist, deftly tying it with a confident knot.

“I can’t take this! It’s … you’re giving me …”

“Unicorn hair,” Brian nodded, “You didn’t get to see her, so I thought I’d give you this.”

“Oh Brian I can’t – you’ll never get another. I couldn’t …”

“Hey, now, let’s not get all emotional,” Brian said, redness burning through his acne-spotted face, “It’s a trade. I want you to get me something from the other cage.”

“From the dragon?”

“Oh, it’ll be a cinch. He sheds his scales all the time – I just want one of those.”

Brian nodded up at a TV screen mounted on the wall above the large waiting room. Public service ads were running on loop, endlessly reminding patrons of the rules for visiting the cages at either exit. 

A grainy CCTV recording showed the dragon’s pen, littered with discarded scales the size of hubcaps. A lanky teen crept into view, carefully picking up one of the scales, and then turning to run away. Flame scorched across the pen as a football-sized fireball slammed into the poor boy’s back. He screamed, dropping to the ground and writhing. A large lizard darted across the screen, and the scene cut to black just as the thing clamped down on the teen’s head with its toothy mouth. Large text dominated the blackness – THE DRAGON KNOWS. DON’T TEMPT FATE.

“He’d smell my purity and have me faster than I could blink. But you’re not … well, you know.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” Sarah rolled her eyes.

A gaggle of frat boys then strode through the thick curtain covering the exit to the dragon pen. The tallest and bulkiest guy was instantly recognizable – Simon, the star quarterback.

“Let’s see your scales, folks!” He proclaimed loudly. Various people sitting on the soft benches or admiring the colourful portraits of previous dragon and unicorn occupants of the zoo turned to glare at him.

The jocks proudly held up hard, dark green scales of various sizes – incontrovertible evidence that they had achieved that coveted naked contact for which every young man quested.

“Hey, I wonder who had to settle for the unicorn?” He made a show of looking around the room, shading his eyes in a pantomime of searching about. The students waiting among other park patrons laughed uncomfortablely. Sarah shifted, but before she could move away, Simon found her with a beaming glare.

“Well I know you didn’t.” He winked lecherously, getting a smattering of ooohhhs from his group.

“Yeah, it was a great time,” Sarah said, “All two minutes of it.”

Brian joined the light laughter at the quip, catching himself only after Simon turned on him.

“I bet the unicorn just loved you, Brian,” he said mockingly, “Hoping she’ll help you see the dragon?”

Brian’s face reddened as he stammered. He felt the weight of glares from all corners of the room.

“What are you talking about?” Sarah asked loudly. Brian felt a thick weight pressed into his palm as she secretly passed him the thing still hidden in her hand. “Why don’t you show them, Brian?”

Brian ran his thumb over the object’s smooth surface and rough round edge, quickly realizing what it was. Slowly, with an improvised flourish, he produced the small scale for all to see.

When?” Simon asked in mock astonishment, “Who with? Sarah?”

“Maybe,” Sarah said with a small smile. She then held up the wrist with the unicorn hair, drawing wide-eyed stares from any close enough to see it. “Or maybe I fixed him up with someone. We’ll never tell.”

Playing off her casualness, Brian mimed a zipper across his sealed lips.

“He … he actually …” Simon stammered, his face an even deeper red than Brian’s had been.

With the eyes of his group on him, Simon quickly shook his head. Ever the showman, he snapped out of his embarrassment, leading a comical slow clap among those watching.

“Come on then, let’s go find some other unicorn-lovers,” Simon announced to his group. Laughing away the awkwardness of the previous moment, they followed him out of the center exit into the main plaza of the zoo.

“Why him?” Brian asked when they were alone and free from the eyes of the surrounding patrons.

“Ha!” Sarah snorted, “I’ve asked myself enough times. When I saw the unicorn, there were too many others in her cage – we each got a quick pet before the keeper forced us out. Simon promised to give me his unicorn hair, one night after he’d won a game and I had too much beer in me.”

“And he never paid up,” Brian concluded with a nod.

“When you just … gave me yours … I couldn’t believe it.”

Brian simply shrugged. “Couldn’t stand to see a good-looking girl cry.”

Sarah’s smile stretched wide. “You’re not trying to … you know.”

Brian shook his head. “I might like to see the unicorn a few more times.”

She reached over, clasping the hand that still held the green scale. “I might just wait.”

 

Reflections on Busy Life and Excuses

Wow, it’s been over a week since I posted. Funny how things like this blog start with phrases like “No excuses” and grim determination. Yeah, last weekend was a busy one, with trips to take and family to care for. Final exams approach for my students, and I’ve been out to meetings and parties for American Thanksgiving. Lots of good excuses, huh?

Life will always be like that. I have to understand that – everyone has to. I won’t really be much less busy “later” than I am right now. Even if I am, sleep is something I have to be prepared to give up if my writing is to go anywhere.

Discipline is the drive to keep working, keep writing or whatever it is you like to do, no matter how messed up and busy life has become. Writing should be as much a part of life as driving to work, spending time with family, and exercising. It has to fit in with everything else – it can’t be something that immediately gets pushed to the side.

This is a huge problem for me – I still think of writing as something I can only do when “everything else is finished”. What I have to realize is that “everything else” will never ever be finished. One task done leads to another task that has to follow.

Readers, I’d like to know – how do you keep going with your side projects or hobbies that you hope to cultivate into greater works?

Flashy Fiction Prompt for November 19 – Here Comes the Sun

I’ve been checking out the Flashy Fiction blog for a while now, and one of their prompts struck a chord with me yesterday.

The post Here Comes the Sun asks readers to post about commuting on a sunny morning. Inspiration hit me, and I ended up with 800+ words about driving on 2 different mornings, with a 3rd one entering the narrative at the very end. It’s just slice-of-life, really, and an experiment in jumping between different threads in a story.

Here’s what I came up with:

Monday

I clench my eyes shut, trading the glare for an angry green blotch on my retina. My eyes slowly open, focus returns. Green LCD proclaims 7:15 from the dashboard. So much for getting out before 7.

Tuesday

The light flicks off with the slam of the door. My teeth chatter as the engine fires into life. A small smile finds me as a ray pokes through the grey horizon ahead. I check the clock. 6:40. I ought to get a good parking space today.

Monday

A convoy of cement mixers and dump trucks crawls ahead of me. The turn signal clicks away as my eyes scan the left lane and the unbroken stream of cars in the mirror. I drum my fingers on the wheel, curse under my breath, turn up the radio. Something heavy and fast drives through the speakers, electric guitar blaring. Good music for racing. Too bad I’m moving slower than I jog.

Tuesday

I’m singing with the raucous chorus of metal blaring through my speakers. I even have the singer’s slight southern twang as I mimic his rough voice. I veer to the right just as the tunnel opens, avoiding the truck crawling in the left of the darkness. I quickly pass through the dark, and sunlight greets the corner of my eye. I take the downward twist of the off ramp, speedometer hovering just upward of the recommended limit. I grin stupidly at the tug of centripetal force. Or is it centrifugal? Damn science classes. I let out an audible giggle as the car rights itself. Only a couple of blocks now. I smile into the sun’s light, absentmindedly pulling down the blind above my forehead.

Monday

Morning sun bathes asphalt at the end of the tunnel ahead. My knuckles whiten around the steering wheel. I just had to get into the left lane, didn’t I? The brightness grows, resolving the greys and blacks of the cars consuming the right lane. I emerge into light, slowing even as the freight truck behind me eats the inches between us. No space opens in the tight crawl to my right. A klaxon cuts across the morning as the truck brakes, a hairsbreadth short of plowing into my car. More angry horns blare as I stifle the morning’s flow. I glare over at the right lane exit. If I leapt from the car, I could cross that space in a few strides, run cackling with the sun at my back, and reach the office in a few short minutes.

Tuesday

The end spot, the closest to the door, is open before me. My car glides in, halting at last with a ratcheting of the handbrake. I’m still singing softly as I pull the keys out, grab my bag, and close the door.

In the wide, empty foyer, the elevator opens quickly. My reflection greets me in the mirror on its back wall, and I sing under my breath as I’m whisked upward.

Monday

I drag my car down into the depths. Passing by cars packed into tiny spaces, I come at last to two consecutive empty spaces. I back in sharply, the car shaking as the rear wheel hits the parking block.

I tear my keys from the ignition and snap up my bag. The slam of the door rebounds from concrete walls. I storm through the cold, sunless confines of the basement. I jab at the button next to the bare metal doors of the elevator. When it finally opens, I stand with the mirror to my back, glancing away from the miserable face I see there.

The office bustles. Blinds are drawn, allowing busy workers to clearly see everything on their monitors without competition from the sun. I nod in polite return to any who bother to greet me. I find my desk, and sit at last. I drag the laptop out, opening it. I turn a wistful glance to the light poking around the screen in front of the large window.

Tuesday

Sun pours in through the large window of the shared office. I bask in its warmth as my laptop faithfully wakes from its slumber. I sigh as the sound of the elevator door opens, signaling the impending end of this moment of serenity. A small group of co-workers filters in through the door, and I turn my relaxed smile in greeting.

Wednesday

I adjust the mirror, removing the glare of the sun behind my car. The clock reads 6:55. Good enough. Should be some spaces left above ground. I start the engine, and click on the radio. Here Comes the Sun. Thanks for that one, Mr. Harrison. A turn brings the sun’s light to the corner of my eye. Calm seeps through me as I softly sing along.

The PEST Method – reblogged from Alex Shvartman’s Speculative Fiction

As I work fervently on more short works to send to publishers, it becomes more important for me to know where to send them.

There are many, many options available on the internet, especially for Science Fiction and Fantasy. How is an author to choose?

The PEST Method is all about making that choice. Prestige, Exposure, Speed, and Terms – How well known is the venue? How many people read it? How quickly do they give you some kind of answer? What do they want to do with your story, and how long will they keep the rights to do that?

Alan Shvartsman goes over how he selects venues for his own work. It’s easy to understand and nicely written, so I recommend going over it.

I think I’ll take his advice and try my luck with speculative work with Science Fiction & Fantasy or the other Big Ones. I like that he recommended Every Day Fiction – that boosts my confidence in the piece of mine that’s sitting in slush there.

Today’s Author – Write Now Prompt for November 12

Today’s Author, todaysauthor.wordpress.com, has been featured on “Freshly Pressed”, and I really like the layout. They have a pretty big team of writiers, and they’ve gathered quite a following. Along with prompts, they’ve been giving out a lot of useful information, especially now, during NaNoWriMo season. I certainly be reading up on that, as I will indeed attempt NaNoWriMo a 3rd time (probably next year). Since I’m choosing to focus on flash & short fiction this year, it’s their prompts that I’m most interested in.

Here’s their prompt for November 12. I played loose with it, and this came out:

Joe, being who and what he is, sipped at ice cold milk while I heated up my heart with sweet caffeine.

“Storm’s a coming.” It wasn’t any question, but Joe nodded anyways.

“Should start Monday, right before dawn.”

“Won’t be all bad as the ice of ’97 or the snap in ’05, will it?”

He sighed. Edna popped over, topped up my cuppa, and I tossled her sweet grey curls, in that way only I can get away with.

“It’ll be a big one. I’ll need your help spreading the word.”

“I can get out all the old generators too, make sure all the big houses got one.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah. We’ll have to make sure Ol’ Saint Mary’s has at least three working. Going to need lots of beds too.”

“Sounds like ’97 all over again. Well, thanks to your warning, I reckon we got outta that a lot better than most.”

“Wish I could stop it. It’s all part of Mother’s cycle, you know that Miles?”

“You are what you are. I’ve known ya long enough to see that.”

“A very Old Man,” he said, getting up from his empty glass. Edna came over, and Joe put a fair wad of bills in her wrinkly old hand.

“Oh, Joe Snow!” She smiled, bless her heart, but she couldn’t hide the shiver that came with touching Joe. Joe looked at her sheepishly.

“It’s enough for all you’ll need to get through. Least I can do.”

Joe and I left Edna’s little place in town square behind, walking out in the middle of the street. This time of day, in our little old town, there ain’t no one who’s going to run you over or even complain.

We stood in the street, our grey hairs blowing about in the breeze building up. We looked out toward the low sun, away from the wind.

“I’d offer you a place to stay for the storm, but I reckon you don’t need it.”

“My home’s coming here. You’d best get to yours, Miles, and give your wonderful Delilah a good kiss. There’s time yet afterwards to get ready.”

“You do your best to tone down the winter, Old Man. Give my regards to your Mother – hell, give Her all of our regards.”

“I’ll shorten it, soften it as much as She’ll let me. Least I can do.”

More One-Minute Writing, and a Friday Flash Fiction contest entry

Over at One-Minute Writer, a Friday Flash Fiction Contest came up, along with prompts for Saturday and Sunday.

I e-mailed in my entry for the Contest – I won’t share that just yet. I liked the prompt, “Conversation Piece”, and I think I got a nice 800(ish) word piece out of it. With a bit of polishing, I think I could get it published on one of my other favorite Flash Fiction sites if it doesn’t win this contest.

Saturday’s prompt was simply “I don’t know” – and since I tackled it just after waking up, you get this response:

Where do dreams come from? Those ephemeral visions that play out through my mind in the hours of subconsciousness. Often pieces of stories jumbled into nonsense, but sometimes with narrative strands complete with climaxes and resolutions.

If I can remember long enough, I can understand what waking events led to some elements. Most parts are a complete mystery, pieced together by some deeply hidden facet of my sleeping mind.

Alas, as the dreams fade with the creeping in of sunlight, “I don’t know” is all that remains.

Sunday’s prompt was “Book”, and challenged the writer to describe a favorite childhood book. I wrote:

A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me. What a great name for a book, and what wonderful flights of nonsense it bore for my childhood. I read that book far more than any other, almost from the moment I could read. I can still remember two bits from it.

The title poem, about some poor bloke minding his own business and poof, he’s a post for some brute’s horse. The other was a bit about the Slithergadee, a sea monster terrorizing a beach full of cartoon animals. One confident rabbit says, “No you won’t catch me, old Slithergadee. You may catch all the others but you wo-” Great way to end a poem for kids!

Shortly after writing this, I discovered that the above poem was from none other than Shel Silverstein! The book A Great Big Ugly Man … is no longer in print, sadly. Old copies of it circulate, and they are not cheap – especially not if I order from here in Korea. Still, I may break down and splurge on it for my kids. It is a really funny and memorable book!

A short reflection on writing and this blog

Just came out of a bad weekend – it’s just no fun with everyone sick. Our colds, and the chilly weather, kept us all inside. I think we all came down with cabin fever, and we definitely need to get out once we recover.

But hey, one of my tags at this here blog says “No Excuses”. It’s important to write every day – even if it is just for a few minutes. Once I realized that I really, deeply wanted to be a writer, it became all the more important to keep writing, no matter what.

One really great side-effect of constant writing for me was improved communication with my wife and my co-workers. Writing things out seems to defragment my mind and make it easier to speak my thoughts. I share some of that writing on this blog, even writing that I’ll readily admit isn’t that good, with the hope that readers will eventually see improvement in my skills, and realize that they can similarly improve theirs.

To any reading this – keep writing. Keep sharing. You’ll have a lot of writing that isn’t very good, sure, but you’ll occasionally hit on something brilliant. And yes, oh yes, it is definitely worth all those hours just to get a few precious gems.