Color: Fiction for Microcosms

From her usual spot between the front seats, the little girl gazed at the passing landscape, absently drawing shapes in the craggy skin on Father’s neck. On either side of the road the broken bones of civilization lay in colorless mounds. She often wondered why the colors left, why the piles weren’t bright like Lego bricks. Perhaps because she was thinking this, her heart thrilled at the orange fur sticking up from the drift.

“Stop!” she screeched. Her father slammed on the RV”s breaks and shot the girl into the huge front window. The purslane Mother had been cutting for dinner flew like confetti.

“What the hell!” Father gripped the steering wheel. The girl pointed to the almost invisible orange slash. He squinted, his brow furrowed. She could tell he was about to lose his temper, so she darted down the steps and out the hole that had once been a door on their RV, when their RV had been a vacation vehicle and not their home, when homes still stood.

The girl ran to the drift and extracted the treasure, shaking the radioactive dust from its fur the same way women once shook out clean clothes, back when people bothered cleaning clothes, back…

The cat’s matted coat hung off its bones like bolts of loose fabric.  She put her grimy nose next to its pink one, and whispered, “Wake up.”

The cat’s eyes remained little tipped dashes.

“Wake up I said!” the commanding tone was clearly an emulation of her father’s. She gave a hearty, bone-rattling, flesh-tenderizing shake. Nothing.

Cradling the cat in her arms, she took slow, shuffling steps, the kind that don’t want to, not toward Mother and Father and the RV, but to the front door, to all was left of the cat’s home. She knocked.

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Zeroflash Fiction: Chernobyl Romantics

On this journey to publishing my novel I often take little tangents, usually in the form of writing competitions. I love the immediacy of the feedback and the stretching prompts. Zeroflash’s August competition garnered me an honorable mention from the talented Jan Kaneen. I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to have a writer whose work I admire, admire my work! The writing journey is often riddled with insecure moments, lonely moments; the whole thing is mostly me feeling misunderstood and reaching out, like a kid holding a scribbled drawing and asking Do you like it? But as the journey goes on, I don’t hold up my drawings anymore, though some days I long to– especially on days when I’m feeling Genesis 1:31  …and God saw all that He made and behold, it was very good. I know my insatiable need for affirmation is a beast that must be tamed. But can never be tamed. Robert Frost taught me: Success doesn’t tame it, not all the praise in the the world will tame an artist.

My writing style often provokes this response: I don’t get it. Four words I dread to hear, but need to hear. Am thankful to hear. But these four I love much better: to-die-for language, with specific examples. So I’m savoring this moment of hearing four different words.

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. – Stephen King

I went shamelessly for the gross out. Read it and see if you agree.

Chernobyl Romantics

Fedir and Art were sorely unprepared for chemistry– all the excuse they needed for a day trip to the exclusion zone. Their options were “F” in chemistry vs. possible radiation poisoning. One promised a thrill.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Fedir said, “How else do all those animals live there?”

The abandoned amusement park surpassed their imaginings: especially the bumper cars frozen in skewed arrangements, caught in verdant webs of nature’s somnolent devour. Hostile shrubs punched through pane-less windows, and towering above it all– the Ferris wheel, monument to stilled life in Pripyat. Art pulled out his copy of Roadside Picnic and read: “Intelligence is the ability… to perform pointless or unnatural acts– ”

From the tangled growth a sound: leaves being crushed. Art’s smile died on his face.

“Quick!” Fedir dived into the nearest Ferris wheel car. Art followed. Probably just moose, but it could be police. A guttural growl, more leaves stomped, the brisk snap of tree limbs. Some enormity was less than twenty feet away and advancing.

“Moose?” whispered Art. He swiveled and peaked over. A serrated tongue flashed, cracked whip-like, and the top of Art’s head disappeared. Cleanly. Bone sliced like melon rind. The piece of Art that held his eyes was tossed mercifully away. Fedir heard it strike the metal supports then come to rest on the asphalt. He sank lower into the footwell and noted with macabre interest, Art’s hands still gripped the rail though he’d slumped.

Fedir remained frozen while the cloying copper smell of Art bloomed, lingered, and long since evaporated. In a cathedral silence. One with the steel cage, the grooves in the footwell painfully embossed Fedir’s skin. Art’s bowels released. Fedir wept silently.

The sun set behind a barb wire copse. Shadows advanced, followed by smothering dark. Fedir heard stirrings from the wood.

 

Patreonizing: Flash Fiction, Metafiction

[Patreon is a membership platform that enables artists to live off their craft. Or maybe it’s a Go-Fund-Me for creatives. Anyone who lives with an artist understands the financial black hole spawned by art. Or, to put it plain: How is a small pepperoni pizza like a full-time writer? Neither can feed a family of four. Below is my flash fiction about a struggling writer.]

Patreonizing

I was too jaded to believe. Strangers Friends Followers pay me to read my short stories? My own mother wouldn’t read my stories, for free.

I had one foot in the world composed of atoms and one foot in the world I composed. Transitions most abused me. Once I became devoted to a story, I needed to be hauled out with a whale hook by things like a notice of electricity shut off or the reek of my parakeet having died.

My first assignment was from an anonymous Patreon who wanted a short story in which the following three elements appeared: 1. A male writer protagonist, 2. Who cheats on his girlfriend, and 3. And is gruesomely murdered. Then eaten.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I cheated on my girlfriend.

You’re wrong. I broke up with Cheryl several hours before my first date with Nina. And my Patreon couldn’t be Cheryl because Cheryl spent all her time on Facebook, where she promptly assassinated my character in pithy sayings on pastel backgrounds

For a thousand bucks I’d write Cheryl nice and give her a sex scene to shame Solomon. The joke would be on her when she had to fork over the cash.

I started writing. Almost instantly there was a knock at the door. I ignored it. Some writers had a muse. I had an anti-muse who connived to throw a cat into my zone. The cat would dig his tines into my thighs, the phone would vibrate, the eggs would boil over, the doorbell ring. In fact, the door had begun to pound, or a pounding had begun upon the door. Each strike rattled the hinges and birthed dust plumes that danced and died around the frame with each now-thunderous knock.

I would not be interrupted.

 

The Shot: Fiction for Microcosms

Like all the outliers I’ve covered, this planet was named for some dead Earthian. Back then you could have a star named after yourself for less than the cost of a decent dinner. This man had a hundred stars named after him.

Trump XV looked no different than all the others. When the infrastructure goes, it’s all dust and rubble, looters and legionnaires. The wise stay underground in shelters.

I came upon a fluffy white Havanese. The little guy reclined on his owner’s grimed and tattered form, nuzzling her neck.

A flimsy leaf-like hand made feeble efforts to brush away the wee beast. She shook her head from side to side. Her iron-rich neck and shoulder muscle was, in fact, the dog’s meal.

I took the shot.

Took it from several angles. All the while she moaned and uttered the same word over and over. I didn’t speak Svoodian, but I could guess what the word was.

“Just a minute,” I told her as I stepped over her splayed legs to get a better angle. I crouched down for the close-up. The dog wasn’t budging. From its tiny mouth came a wet sound like child-hands in mud.

Probably the woman didn’t understand me, either, so I held up one finger.

I sent the shot to my editor with this caption: Dogs wearing collars become dinner or diners, depending on who kills who first.

At first I wrinkled my nose at the given prompt: foreign correspondent/battlefield/memoir. Nothing came. I spun their spinner over and over and… nothing. Then I thought of the book of Job (as I happened to be reading it). The phrase “and I alone have escaped to tell you…” leapt out at me as a possible opening for a foreign correspondent, and of course my correspondent had to be on another planet. Originally that phrase from Job was to begin my entry, but as I began the journey into this story, the original phrase lost its place. As so often happens in writing. So the prompt DID spawn something fun after all. My lesson: keep at it. Usually something comes.

Be a Flasher

Not that kind of flasher, naughty bird. A flash fiction writer.

Why should I be a flash fiction writer? You ask. I’m glad you did. Flash fiction forces several wondrous talents upon you:

  1. Economy of language.
  2. Full-bodied plot in a tiny, weeny package.
  3. A stretch into new genres, styles, content.*
  4. Opportunity for you to turn away from a grueling, lonely novel-nobody-sees and hit publish.
  5. The thrill of weekly or monthly contests, like zeroflash, cracked flash fiction, and microcosms.
  6. Receive needful pets from fellow writers and learn to give same. Be in community.

I had this thought as I sat down today with my novel-in-progress: flash fiction should/could be part of Stephen King’s famed tool box for writers. Use it if it suits you. At first I couldn’t imagine liking anything less than a full-length novel, but the more I read and write flash, the more I appreciate its form. It’s like poetry and fiction made love and bam! Flash fiction.

*One such stretching happened to me just this month. The prompt for July’s Zeroflash is to write a metafiction piece. Metafiction? What on earth is that? The latin prefix meta means beyond, which I think of as above and beyond. Still, above and beyond fiction? I had to look it up. Luckily some of the examples were books I’d already read, so I understood that metafiction called attention to itself as a form or structure. Call me thick, it didn’t get much easier once I knew what the stuff was. But chew on a thing long enough and eventually it assimilates into you. Check out my metafiction flash piece here.

The Gift: Fiction for Microcosms

Cal feared the new garbage truck: its dinosaur bellow of steel on steel as the automated arm plucked the blue plastic containers like weeds, flipped them upside down, and dumped the contents with an explosive crash. The engineering marvel rescued lower backs and killed jobs, but Cal wouldn’t know anything about that, being seven.

All he knew was the men were gone.

Until the horrid business was done, Cal stayed inside. No amount of cajoling would get him out on garbage day. One day the truck never came. Lucky it was summer.

Cal’s dad decided this couldn’t go on.

On top of the can was a gorgeously wrapped box tied with a purple bow. If Cal didn’t take it, the garbage truck would.

“What is it?”

“Go find out.” Dad winked.

Cal feared. Feared and coveted and the warring emotions dueled inside his young mind for preeminence. Desire began to get the upper hand; it moved slowly down his skin like a finger hesitant on a trigger. Cal placed his hands around the doorknob.

“Better go, Son. I hear the truck.”

The sound of squeaking breaks in the distance. The sound of dinosaur arms.

“They wouldn’t throw it away?”

“They would.”

The dinosaur was on his street. Cal could see its scalpel blade slide through the loops of a can. Still fear rooted him.

At the neighbor’s.

Something in him broke. He gripped the doorknob fiercely. Then realized: the bolt. Frantic, he jammed his fingers in his haste to undo it. The monster was right in front of his house now, about to take his present. The bolt slid free. Cal threw open the door and sprinted like a jack rabbit.

The blade came screeching out. It grabbed. Cal grabbed.

Just in time.

“Hey kid, watch it,” said the driver.

Flash Fiction: The Writing on the Wall

Shem’s last straw as maintenance man was the locker room.

“Not touching that.”

“Shem, you don’t get to choose what you clean around here. Either get going on that or… get going.” His boss thumbed toward the exit sign.

Shem got. No way was he going to scrub a floor-to-ceiling mural of excrement.

A cashier position offered flexible hours and no toilet scrubbing. The downside: people. But rules were rules. Low profile jobs sucked the same on any planet. This was his talion for scoring low on his entrance test: intergalactic signal duty.

Cosmic messages showed up as planetary ringworm when passed through the magnetic core– “random” cloud shapes or “haphazardly” downed trees from twisters or earthquakes. Even schools of fish swam in the shape of the message. Thing was, the message only lasted one hour. Signal duty meant sleeplessness and monotony.

As he worked the register, Shem intermittently cast his invisible third eye into orbit to scan the cloud cover. He gave a curt smile to the white-haired grandma purchasing deodorant foot powder,

“For my husband,” she apologized.

These people often apologized for purchases, especially men buying tampons. Shem offered her a half-laugh. Encouraging grandmas could get him sentenced to a twenty-minute soliloquy.

He slid the powder across the laser reader and fumbled it, spilling a white design over the glass. A somehow familiar design. Where had he seen it before?

Last time it was brown on white tile.

Vomit surged against Shem’s throat as the realization bloomed: this was a return signal, an intergalactic copy that. He missed the message. No one ever missed the message. The penalty for missing the message was–

Grandma reached to pet his cheek and he let her. Paralyzed.

“Son, it’s just foot powder.”

This was an entry for Zeroflash. Each month they hold a contest around a given theme or genre. This month it’s board games… sounds challenging!

P.S. The inspiration for the excrement-lined shower comes from Gabe, who swims at the YMCA. After swimming, he and his friends shower off in the boys’ locker room. Lately to the dismay of Gabe and his fellow swimmers, the shower has become the canvas of a disturbed young miscreant. 

The definition for talion can be found here, but it basically means that the punishment fits the crime.