Clouds bully the sun trying to rise over her head. Growling thunder leans heavy on the trees across the street. She walks to her car, ruminating on her mistakes until she doesn’t find her keys. Did she leave them in the car—on her desk? Did Jerry—take them? She’ll lose her job, if she loses her keys.
Like a black eye, the sun pierces through ugly clouds as she wilts.
“Dear Jesus—when does it end—what if I—help me. Help me.”
The keys lie in the grass behind her. She grabs them and stumbles to her car.
He pitches another rock over the barley stalks.
“Is my work not vital? Of course. That’s not what he rejects. I am. What more could he…? Does he need blood?”
His brother calls from the hilltop. Cain lifts his face to him. “Blood I can get,” he mutters.
“Are you still angry?” Abel asks. “If you do well, he will accept you.”
“I know you’re right, he replies. And favored. Cain feigns confession and waits for his brother to turn his back. The stone shatters against Abel’s skull. Cain strikes him again as thunder rolls above—what have you done?
The bells do not toll but clatterknell from the nightstand, clanging into the dusk’s waning light with the chirigrate of hammering steel. His veined eyes, sunk deeply in his ashen face, crack open. Another graveyard shift ahead, settling dozens of overdue accounts—kill that racket!
He drops his feet to the floor. What if he doesn’t go in tonight? He could take vacation. Who would care? Would the world stop spinning?
The dog whimpers at the door.
No. Duty summons.
Death, the Grim Usher, stumbles out of bed, hoping the coffee maker isn’t burned out again, Cerberus licking his heels.
Six hamburgers, fries and cokes—Doug toddles to his car, fast food bags stuffed between his arms. Setting a drink tray on top of his minivan, he catches a beggar’s empty stare across the parking lot. He fumbles for his keys. The beggar shudders to his feet. Finally inside, Doug locks the doors, drops the keys, and starts the minivan.
“Stay calm,” he mutters. “Don’t know why he’s waving. Can’t see him.”
He drives away, watching the sad beggar in the side mirror. The red light comes up quick, and with his jerky stop, coke sloshes his windshield from above.
(100 Word Short Short or Flash Fiction)
Wayne’s car died downtown while a frizzy-headed kid watched. Three sickly children stopped playing under a large electric snowflake when he walked by, and a pale, stained baby, rolling on the sidewalk, began wailing. Now he runs past the shuttered tourist-shop windows, seeing shadows in doorways, twisted faces in car windows, and figures from the corners of his eyes. The rumor can’t be true–that children, murdered by Herod, haunt the streets tonight seeking abusers. Broken sidewalk catches his foot and cracks his knee like a walnut.
Then they come.
Pallid boys emerge from the cracks: grabbing, pulling, twisting, choking.
(Thanks for Loren Eaton for organizing this shared storytelling event. See his post for a list of other stories.)
Mary Beth hopped through the door spritely, like she’d always done, alighting on a chair. Her dark curls bounced as she glanced around, but he sat gaping. It had been three years since the funeral.
“Why don’t you throw out that sorry wreath I made? Christmas is about hope, grace, life–” She stopped herself with giggles.
His heart skittered. “But, honey, you–ain’t you dead?”
Her impish smile grew. “Darlin’, Death’s been beat.” She reached and lifted him like a newborn. He gasped, then laughed as dawn crashed in with trumpets, announcing a triumphant king’s return.
(Thanks for Loren Eaton for organizing this shared storytelling event. Here is his index post with links to other stories, and I have one more story to share a little later this morning. Merry Christmas.)
Loren Eaton’s Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2010 is coming up Friday. I have a couple short-short stories (only 100 words) to post, which I plan to do early and mid-morning. Loren will have links to everyone’s stories, and I’ll link to his index post once it’s up.
Here’s a bit of creative writing fun we can have for the last half of October, the approach to Halloween. Look at this photo from Carlos Miguez Macho of someone walking in the street. (I don’t believe I would be permitted to display the image here.) Then write a few sentences, a momentary scene based on the photo.
I suppose I should start, but look at the photo before reading the submissions. Continue reading Windy Street Halloween Writing Prompt
This is story is part of Loren and B.’s Shared Storytelling: Six Birds.
Stokes awoke that morning, which meant he was alive—as far as he could tell. He still suspected the Cubans at Poco Burrito of being a front for Castro’s international revolutionary army, but now he knew they didn’t poison his bean dip last night. Perhaps they don’t suspect him, or perhaps they made a mistake and poisoned someone else. He could check the files for everyone he photographed using the micro-cameras in his ear studs.
“But there are bigger fish to batter,” he muttered.
“Water. Hot,” he said as he stepped into the shower. No water came until he turned the knobs by hand. One day, he thought, the bathroom will be fully automated.
Over his coffee and freezer waffles, the news feeds screamed of possible threats and leads. Spring break threatened by vigilante wildlife in Bull Moose, Maine. Japanese crime boss eludes Iraqi police by wearing a burka. Apple’s new iPork could inspire a wave of high tech breakfast food designed to spy on us.
Sigh. Continue reading Eagle Eye Pigeon: Secret Agent
Clock face is blinking. All is not calm, despite acceptable profits, contract bonuses—some unavoidable layoffs. Year end in the black as starless night, silent night, without bells or winds. On Christmas Eve, only sleepless, blinking red numbers.
But who’s on the lawn below? Hollow-eyed, ashen children are kicking cans, and are they singing? I throw up the sash. “Born to raise the sons of earth . . .” they rattle.
I start to yell, but a rag-wrapped child grabs my hand. “I would have been seven this Christmas.”
I jerk back, and they’re gone, leaving my hand chilled.
— — —
I wrote this in response to Loren Eaton’s group solicitation for 100-word advent ghost stories. Read more such stories by way of his blog, I Saw Lightning Fall.
I’ve made a careful survey, and I think I can say authoritatively that I’m now the only blogger in the world who’s never mentioned Susan Boyle.
Oops. Scratch that.
Over at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, there’s this amusing article about the (vain and counterproductive) lengths some writers go to, to get a magazine editor’s attention. It’s a fun read, and there’s much wisdom there. (Tip: Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall.)
I enjoyed reading this article in particular because there are a number of quotes there from George Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer, who used to be my agents. Before they were my agents, they were my editors at Amazing Stories, which gives me a rare opportunity to feel smug, since I managed to please these discerning connoisseurs of slush, once upon a time.
I’ll tell you how I made my first sale to them, too, at no extra charge. Continue reading Up from slush
OK. Last night I pretended to know something about movies, and talked about the kind of subtle acting you used to see in good films—particularly the kind of acting that’s done with the eyes. The thing about eye acting (if I can call it that) is that it’s a sort of visual subtext. It’s not like in a script, where the directions say, “Rufus goes to the window and looks out.” The eye acting is something the actor himself adds, and it probably hasn’t been explicitly written out in the script.
So how can I claim that there’s an equivalent in fiction writing? If you can’t write it in a script, you can’t write it in a story either, right?
Well, not exactly. Continue reading When words are eyes, Part 2
I watched Once Upon a Time in the West on DVD again yesterday. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m kind of in awe of that film.
I have two options when I watch a film on DVD. I can play it on my computer monitor, which has higher resolution, but the speakers aren’t so great. Or I can watch it on my regular TV, where I run the sound through my stereo. (I haven’t sprung for HDTV yet.) This gives me the choice of good visuals or good sound, but not both at once.
This time I watched it on the computer, paying attention to the shapes and colors and people. And I noticed something I thought I could cobble into a couple posts. Tonight I’ll talk about movies and acting, and tomorrow I’ll stretch the point, in the manner of the Inquisition and the rack, and try to apply the principle to storytelling. Continue reading When words are eyes: Part 1
Andrew Klavan has a short story on his blog, which can be obtained in print by ordering from the Mysterious Bookshop in New York. It begins:
A certain portion of my misspent youth was misspent in the profession of journalism. I’m not proud of it, but a man has to make a living and there it is. And, in fact, I learned a great many things working as a reporter. Most importantly, I learned how to be painstakingly honest and lie at the same time. That’s how the news business works. It’s not that anyone goes around making up facts or anything – not on a regular basis anyway. No, most of the time, newspeople simply learn how to pick and choose which facts to tell, which will heighten your sense that their gormless opinions are reality or at least delay your discovery that everything they believe is provably false. If ever you see a man put his fingers in his ears and whistle Dixie to keep from hearing the truth, you may assume he’s a fool, but if he puts his fingers in your ears and starts whistling, then you know you are dealing with a journalist.
I’m going to stay away from the blog for the next several days, so be sure to tell all your online friends it will be safe to read Brandywine Books for a while. Start up a campaign, if you like. Send out the emails, saying, “Phil’s gone now, so go read his blog.” Of course, you can always say people should read Lars’ great blog, but now you have another reason to promote it.
Before I go, let me leave you with a snippet of fiction I wrote. I want to call it short short story, but it’s so brief it may not qualify even for that. Perhaps it’s a blog short. Anyway, have fun while I’m gone.
The Reason I Came
When they invited him to make himself at home, were they planning to treat him like the furniture? He wandered through rooms, receiving muttered acknowledgements from his hosts, who were busy paying bills, cleaning counters, and talking on phones. Maybe welcome was not their native tongue.
He found his nephew’s door ajar, inside the boy just waking up. He closed the door behind him and crossed the room to pick up a familiar book.
“Shall we read more about Robin Hood and his men?” he asked.
“Yeah,” the boy yawned, “I was just thinking about them.”
“That must be the reason I came,” he replied.