Tag Archive: flash fiction

Compiling Feedback

What now? I need to start compiling feedback.

Ok so I’ve gotten feedback and I’ve thanked the person (I really liked Elizabeth@Be There Dragons’s suggestion of a small thoughtful gift is a great one). Then I need to work on what to do with it.

Some feedback is better than others. If I’m going to be doing a full rewrite  the grammar and spelling are likely not that helpful. If someone doesn’t like the genre…then not much I can do about that. If someone doesn’t like strong female leads or magic or aliens or whatever, then I have learned that the book/short/flash wasn’t for them. But I’ve also learned that the piece doesn’t have a lot of cross over appeal.

Within a novel/la

I try to pinpoint things like if a character is called out multiple times throughout a novel (or novella) for being harsh, crabby, angry, etc. I want to step back and look at is that the perception I want of this character. If it just shows up once? Or only from one person it isn’t a theme, I can look at that one incident. What I want to see first is what are the things that are repeated. Anything that shows up more than once needs a lot of attention, it needs to be carefully considered and look for why is that showing up.

I have something in my To Edit queue where the major feedback was on the character’s attitude. Some people thought it was bitchy, others said cold, some aggressive, some thought she was kickass. This was a theme, this character fit a pattern and I sat down and looked at who was reading it (inside genre readers/outside genre readers/men/women/etc) and compared that to my target audience. I also thought about what the goal was for the reader to feel toward her.

My initial goal for her was that she be a bit…not ideal, kind of not really a person you’d want to be friends with. Which I achieved. Except that doesn’t really make for a good read. So I succeeded. YAY! But I failed. Ok time to dig back in and make changes. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work well, that’s ok. But, then I need to loop back and fix it.

This is a bit where iterative design strategy comes in, but hold that thought for now.

So I create a list of character changes that need to happen. Then I focus on plot, what was confusing, didn’t work, or needed expansion. In beta passes these are the things I want to know. If it is one person or one spot? I’m going to try to fix that one spot, or consider if that one person (out of many, one out of one wins, one out of many may not) makes sense. (Back to the person who hates magic and complains every time my character uses magic? I’m going to ignore that. The person who doesn’t like strong female leads? I’m going to try really hard to ignore that even when it continues to eat away at my brain like a horrible brain eating worm.)

Shorter or flash fiction

I treat this a little different because especially for flash fiction and sort of under 7K fiction I’m really looking to see if the tone works, if it feels like a whole story, does it work.

I want especially to see what things people are confused by and on the other side what lines they really like. In a short piece (and since I do audio for my short works) a line that reads well is worth a lot so I’m going to hang onto those.

Just one person or many

When working on web design or elearning design and one person can’t get to the next screen that could be multiple things. It could be a technical issue, which we rarely have in writing, it is extremely rare that someone is unable to turn your page. So I almost never have to trouble shoot technical things like that. (Except last week when all the i’s disappeared from my comments.)

If one person has a problem with something it is worth considering, if more than one? It likely is a problem. If they can’t understand something? It isn’t understandable, I can do a better job of explaining it.

Iterate

I’m sure someone has written a book perfectly on the first pass. But I am super not that person! I am a fan of iterating. Some people write a first round and then throw it away and then go forward after that. I don’t always do that. But I’ve absolutely thrown things out. Sometimes it is better to take the lessons you learn and move forward.

Most of the time you can wrap those into the next version. A character too cold?  Find ways to warm them up. Reread the scene. What else needs to happen.

I often fix a bunch of things on a single pass, but having a plan makes a big difference in getting a good outcome.

You can’t iterate endlessly. At some point you have to put your penny down and go forth and try it.

BUT!…

I get this. A lot. Less than I used to, it happens a lot though. I read a piece of feedback and I get this gut reaction of …BUT!

I struggle, but I generally manage to set aside the explanation, or write it down (which is useful later). When someone is reading (or listening) to something I wrote I don’t get a chance to explain when they make a confused face.

Everything I want to tell them, everything they need to know has to be in front of them when they need it. Sometimes you don’t want to give it to them yet, so you have to compel them to keep reading.

You don’t get to argue with the reader, you don’t get to hold the book in front of them, you don’t get to tell them they have to do something.

That moment when I want to go “but!” is the moment I can learn the most from.

Soup

Another Friday, another challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. Last week people posted the first sentence for something, only the first sentence. He got over 500 comments, eep!, and selected 10. I picked one of those and this is my take on that sentence.

Soup

“Of all the things I expected to find in my tomato soup, this wasn’t one of them.” (Stella Wood)

I grinned and slurped down the chunk of real, fresh tomato. I pushed my spoon through the soup and saw a sliver of green, I dug hungrily for it. Inhaling deeply I could almost smell the real black dirt that must have been used to grow the basil.

The shredded cheese on the top was standard for the cans of soup everyone used, but the rest, was magic. I wasn’t even sure what else was in it but I knew I wanted more. I ate the rest of it with abandon, slurping, licking the bowl clean.

The waitress finally came back over to my table as I leaned back and tore the bread. I hadn’t even dunked it in the soup. It was great too, but great bread was easy to find. Actual tomato chunks? Not so easy.

“That was amazing, how do you even get fresh tomatoes?” I stared up at her in awe.

“We grow them in the hot house. We’ve got lots of herbs and in the fall, fresh squash.” Her warm smile sharpened and she shifted uncomfortably. “It’s perfectly legal and most of our customers like it, you don’t have to eat here. Some people just prefer the whole thing.”

I waved my hand to stop her. “I think it is delicious.” She was worried I was going to lecture her. “The last time I had a real tomato, it was a caprese salad at a very fancy place. They advertised as shipping in all their produce whole grown. It wasn’t anything like this. The waitstaff lectured us about how they did only the bare minimum to enhance the flavor.” She snorted.

“No, you have to salt the tomatoes or they just taste like tangy water.” I laughed and she glanced around the empty cafe. She pulled up the seat across from me. “We use the prettiest ones in the BLTs. You should try one, they are my favorite this time of year. The lettuce is still crisp and the first tomatoes are ripening. They explode with flavor.”

“How can you do it? I know people can grow stuff for themselves, but…” I trailed off not quite sure. Was I asking too much? Prying? Exposing something illegal? I knew the really high end places had to have lots of certifications and the food would be flown in from specialized growers. I couldn’t imagine this tiny little alley way cafe could do that and serve three dollar soup.

“If you don’t buy the vegetables you are ok. We have a garden upstairs in our sun plot. There is always a chance, I suppose, that someone is going to push back against that. Although people who think that spending the time and energy on a potential crop failure should be banned aren’t the kinds of people who usually come in here anyway. They prefer to know exactly what they are going to get every time.” I felt my face turning red as she spoke.

I was one of those people. I went to the same places for all my meals, they were always the same, it was always good. I fumbled for something to say but she reached out and put her hand on my arm.

“We know all of the benefits of that. We understand, there is nothing wrong with it.” She smiled and patted my arm. “We just can’t afford those things. And I personally like making the soups.”

I frowned. “How can you spend all that energy on something that might fail?” I carefully guarded my energy, usually. Today had ended up being a disaster and I had to find new work, I didn’t really have the energy to be here spending time and thought on soup.

“I love it. Sure some days are failures, but those days end. I go to bed and get back up and try again the next day.” She leaned back in her chair and looked at me. “Not everyone thinks a bad day is the end of the world. Not every job fires someone for one bad day.”

I tore another chunk of bread and chewed it, giving myself time to think. Maybe you could be a waitress and have a bad day, though the places I frequented had an immaculate service standard, they wouldn’t sit down with a customer. They wouldn’t have a slow afternoon. I didn’t understand how this place hadn’t gone out of business. “Do your parents own this place?” If they were a wealthy family, maybe that would explain it. Children of owners were the only people who failed with impunity.

“No.” She grinned. The door chimed and someone came in. She raised a hand and waved. “Go ahead and sit anywhere, I’ll be right with you.” She gave me a sad sigh. “They say we are a creative world, but they punish actual creativity. I’ll bet you were released from your current contract today. If you need something we are looking for someone to wait tables in the morning.” She scribbled a number on the paper and walked over to greet the other patron.

I wanted to complain that I was better than that. I was an artist. I was part of the creative class. I was in charge of my own career, I could leave any job when I wanted, find something better.

I looked down at the soup bowl again. I paid the tab and left a good tip. I thought about the soup, the moment when that chunk of real tomato surprised me, discovering the basil. I always heard that art involved discovery. I wanted that feeling again. That rush of something new and unexpected.

I shoved the slip of paper in my pocket.

False Gods

False Gods is my answer to a new challenge from the terrible minds of Chuck Wendig. The challenge was roll a random number generator and get two sub genres and mash them up into something shiny and new.

I got technothriller and mythology. I’m not entirely sure I hit either of those genres exactly…But hopefully it’s still enjoyable.

False Gods

We will remove all false gods from the world.
One by one.

I surveyed the murder scene. The woman was in her late fifties, an antique aegis and what I had to assume were owl feathers covered her body.

Someone shoved the latest manifesto into my hands, I couldn’t even get a polite thanks out. I had read the previous five over and over. I skimmed the first few lines, I’d already read them thanks to the killer’s twitter feed.

She was supposed to be Athena. She had been in the army, risen through the ranks, gone into diplomacy. She was brilliant. She was a warrior. She was this serial killer’s sixth victim.

I flipped through the hundreds of pages of supposed evidence. The digital team would be downloading it and adding it to their database now. We were working under the premise that the killer was running some kind of software to determine his next victim. He tweeted as if he were many but our profile came down to one man, working by himself, with the help of some very sophisticated software.

I stopped at the two-thirds point and started skimming. This would be where he would outline the evils and where we had caught glimpses, too late, into who the next victim would be.

The same bullshit talk about how all the creatures of mythology walked among us, and they all needed to be killed. I shuddered and closed the manifesto. It would go in my stack of reading.

***

Jennifer and Nasim sat across from me with serious looks. Nasim turned his laptop around to face me slowly.

“Just, tell me what it is, while you are wasting time, he is out there getting ready to murder someone else.” I shouted at them.

We all flinched when our phones chimed at the same time. It wasn’t him. Someone sighed with relief.

“Right now, the data we’ve gathered, it seems to show that there is a possibility…” Nasim was shifting his screen as he talked.

“It’s going to be a cop.” Jennifer jumped in before I could tell them to get to the point.

“Or a sky marshall, or a judge…it might not be a cop.” Nasim hedged again.

“I think it is going to be you.” Jennifer looked me in the eyes.

I sucked in a deep breath. “Which god is he targeting?”

“Kratos.” Nasim said confidently. I ran through the gods I knew of, I’d spent the last months researching mythology. I had never heard of Kratos. “He’s the son of Pallas and Styx and is authority. He is the state enforcer. But they all have wings so it might be a sky marshall.”

“It’s not a sky marshall.” Jennifer grabbed the laptop and scrolled through, highlighting the text. I didn’t see it.

I wasn’t a god, but I was the target of a serial killer.

***

I put my head in my hands and bumped the stack of books at my elbow. My phone went off. I grabbed for it.

A tweet to the department, he had a new account. He was on the move. Each time he created a new account. We would get it shut down within minutes. In those minutes he would send out a storm of information, manifestos, and photographs.

I skimmed through the messages. It was a review of the previous murder. It had been three months between the first two murders, then a month to the third, the fourth was three weeks later, the fifth was another three weeks, the sixth was another three weeks. We hoped that was how long his manifesto took to complete. Each one was nearly 500,000 words of accusations and demands.

I should still have two weeks. I rested my head again. I just needed a short break.

***

A sharp noise woke me. I knocked over a pile of books and turned around in the chair. My phone. I grabbed it. A message from Nasim. “We have timeline concerns. You should come down to the station.”

If Nasim was worried things had to be bad. I touched each of the manifestos and case files. Looking at each of the victims, wondering – for just a moment – if I’d be the next stack of paper.

I’d just take a quick shower and head in. I responded to Nasim and stood, restacking the books next to me.

“Oh just turn around already!”

I spun toward the unknown, cheerful voice. My gun. It was on the desk behind me.

The murder stood in front of me. Dressed in an absurd Loki costume. My mind raced.

“You can’t be Loki. You murdered him. His name was Jackson.” The murder’s face kept the disgusting grin as I talked. My gun was on top of Jackson’s file behind me. “Jackson was a homeless man, he had two brothers, he had schizophrenia, he made sure all the stray dogs were fed before he was. Did you know one of his brothers calls me every day to see if he can help? Let me show you a photo.”

I turned and grabbed the gun and the papers and hid the gun under the thousands of sheets of paper.

“You have found me out! I am not Loki. But you are Kratos. And you are a false god. You will be dispatched with the rest of them. I wasn’t sure if you were truly Kratos. Now I know.”

I edged a step closer to him. “Look at this photo.” The photo showed three teenage boys, cleaned up in suits, with giant grins.

The murderer raised up what I had thought was a staff, it was a sword. He was laughing. I heard sirens outside.

“Drop the sword.” I dropped the paper and gripped my gun. I shouted the command again.

He shrieked with laughter and raised the sword up. I fired and he fell. I stood over him with the gun pointed at him until reinforcements arrived.

 

600 Second Saga

I’m starting a podcast at the end of March. It will be 600 Second Saga. It will be a flash fiction podcast. 600 seconds (or 10 minutes) or less of science fiction and fantasy delivered as a weekly podcast.

I will be writing and reading my own works, but I’d also like to read flash fiction from other authors.

I am in search of pieces that are 1,000 words or less that float anywhere within or near the sci-fi and fantasy realms. I’ll read it. Put the audio, along with credits and plugs for your work, in my podcast. I’ll make sure that you get the audio to use on your site as well.

Guidelines page

600 Second Saga Submission Guidelines

Please submit:

  • Flash fiction pieces less than 1,000 words (750-1000 ideally)
  • Reprints
  • Science fiction and fantasy

Rights and payment:

  • You retain all your rights – reprints are encouraged – give me a place to point people if they’d like to buy your work
  • You’ll receive a copy of the audio and be able to use that on your site or to promote your work
  • Work will be posted on the podcast feed for at least 3 months – after that you can contact me to take it down
  • There is no payment

How do I submit?

  • Email your flash fiction to mariahavix@insani-x.com with 600 Second Saga Submission in the subject
  • Include:
    • Story title
    • Your pen name
    • A short bio
    • Links – where can your stuff be purchased?
    • Any publishing history
    • I’ll respond to let you know it was received within 48 hours, decision on the piece will be within a month

I’m also open to artwork, please contact me directly.

 

I don’t Facebook-my characters do: Facebook Invasion

Over at Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig threw down a confusing but interesting flash fiction challenge.

Tell a story using a social media platform (FB/Twitter/etc). Yeah, ok Chuck, I’ll grant you, it’s hard to explain! Basically an epistolary using your social media of choice. An interesting challenge. Not one I’m sure I’ll be quick to repeat, but difficult things are good challenges. Though I do love reading messages and tweets from superheroes, I’m not sure that is the kind of writer I am. I am not nearly cool enough for that.

I opted for Facebook, despite my lack of booking of face.

There is no audio with this because I don’t even know how I’d do that. There is however for your viewing pleasure, screen caps of this Facebook Invasion.

Facebook Invasion

I’m not entirely sure the best way to make this accessible in case you want it in a not screen cap format. But I’ve created a PDF of the script for Facebook Invasion. (If this doesn’t work for you please let me know!)

Stay tuned, later this week I’ll be updating you on where I’m at with the upcoming podcast, options for participating, and other cool things. I hope.

The number one thing I’ve learned from this flash fiction piece is I cannot spell “invasion” I keep typing “invation”.

Alone – Again

A couple of updates and then onto another flash fiction piece (or jump ahead for Alone – Again).

Update: Publishing

Thieves has been updated and remastered and is out now on Amazon for $.99. It will also, hopefully, be out soon on Audible as an audiobook. (Check back for updates on that.) I will also have another audiobook (I’m reading someone else’s book) coming out soon on Audible. I’ll announce that when everything is finalized and it is available.

Update: Podcasting

I will be kicking off my own podcast in March. It will be a primarily flash fiction podcast. So episodes will be normally 10 minutes or less of audio fiction. I may also create opportunities to feature flash fiction from other authors, so please get in touch with me if you are interested.

Update: Dead stuff…wait…

I think I found – yet another!- dead podcast, but it had a flash fiction challenge I decided to take on anyway, despite being…months late. Whoops.

Episode 6 – Keeping it Real – Writing in the moment

Alone – Again

Alone – Again audio

The glass shatters on the closing door. I kick the couch and growl at the pain.
“Alone.” I huff and storm across the apartment. The apartment was designed for two, now it would be just me, alone. “Again.”

I brush my hands across my face, red and hot with anger. I growl at the empty space. I snarl at the hole left behind. I won’t get irrational and overly emotional. I’m perfectly rational about this.

She’s the one who is being irrational. I have been nothing but rational, reasonable, and kind.

I grab the plates off the table and toss them into the kitchen recycler. I flick the switch and it starts separating things. The recycler will pull the organic detritus from the strong, sturdy, remoldable plastic.

I storm over to shelves and throw them open. I snap at her clothes “I was great, she said. I was everything she wanted. She loved me.” I grab an armful of her clothes and throw them into the laundry chute. “LIES!” The chute flashes Recycle or Clean. I smack Recycle.

I stop in the middle of the living room and look around for evidence of her. A painting she made. Worthless. Her absurdly, expensive collection of old fashioned silverware. Sell it. She said she never wanted to see me again, so she wouldn’t.

I unclench my jaw and massage my neck. “I don’t deserve this. I deserve someone who cares about me.”

I sink into the chair and lean back into the computer. I look through my files, cleaning her out of them.

I’m going to make her go away. I open my editor and start pulling out memories. I start with the oldest ones, the best ones. I have a note in my editor to never start with the newest memories. I don’t know why it is there, but I trust me. I feel my anger, my frustration rise as the memories slip away. Until, I sweep the last of them out and my body relaxes.

I look at my system, my brain editor is open, I frown for a moment. I must have been stressed out about something but that’s gone now. I think maybe I’ll turn in early tonight. I hear a chime from the door.

A beautiful blonde in an incredibly sexy red dress shoves past me. Her face is smeared with makeup and tears. She grabs down a painting I don’t remember buying, and weird collection of shadowboxes with something shiny inside. I watch her with confusion.

“You already deleted me didn’t you?” She wipes at the makeup, smearing it more. “You’re never going to be happy if you don’t start learning and stop deleting. But it doesn’t matter. You’re going to delete this right now aren’t you?” She snorts and leaves.

I go back to the computer to pull up whatever I’d just deleted. I look at the editor and instead delete my recent memory with a swipe.

Ring of Bullets

Another flash fiction challenge from someone else’s title thanks to Chuck Wendig. I selected Ring of Bullets and I went weirdly literal? I feel like there are a lot of places to go weirdly literal with Ring of Bullets. Last time I selected a title no one else had picked and then as the stories started to filter in it was one of the more popular ones. So I’m just going with the one that grabbed me when I read through the list.

I’m still working toward the short and flash fiction podcast. I will be likely opening it up to doing reading of other author’s work occasionally so if you are interested please let me know.

Ring of Bullets

Ring of Bullets – Audio version

It has been 16 years. 16 years of peace, prosperity, life saving breakthroughs, empathy, and all the good things humanity ever strove toward. The first few years no one believed it, no one knew this would be real, no one thought it would last.

A few people today, still say it won’t stick. They stand on the street corners, yelling and shouting, while people walk past in a blissful haze. I sometimes stop and watch. Every couple hours a Representative comes out and brings them water, or a snack, and offers them help. I’ve never seen someone take the help.

Well, not in the last ten years. At the start, of course, everyone was getting help. Everyone was helping. Then people got used to it. The world is perfect, but it isn’t special anymore. Just another perfect Tuesday.

I remember what it used to be. It really is better now. I remember the ache of hunger, the deep despair of loss, the dull emptiness of disasters—the worse feeling when it was people who made the disaster.

The last few years have been the strangest. I feel like I don’t belong in this world anymore. It is still perfect. It is still amazing. Every single day.

I was excited 16 years ago. I was thrilled to finally be able to follow my passion of making art. I had help setting up a jewelry studio. I started to find my niche when people brought me old things. They wanted them turned into bracelets, necklaces, shimmering reminders of the past. Of how far we’ve come.

This job was bullets. An old man—he would have been an old man when the peace began—came in with a handful of bullets. He wanted something that he could give his great-granddaughter on her wedding day.

The bullets were lighter than I expected. He’d taken them apart before he brought them to me. He wasn’t sure what he wanted exactly. He said I was the artist, I should use them to make art. I’d smiled at him.

I would make him something that honored what it had taken to get here. The sacrifices had been great.

I ran the bullets through my scanner and my cleaner. They were, just as he’d said, safe, already taken apart.

I sat at my bench and pulled out a paper sketch pad. I had a computer I could sketch on too, of course, I used it for people who wanted something specific. I could render it in minutes while they watched. When I had time, I preferred the paper, the sound of the scratch of the pencil.

I sketched a dozen designs and threw them out. Nothing was working right. I decided just to work with the metals. I dumped the bullets out onto the table, dozens of them.

I picked up one with the outer part peeling off. I was able to peel away the copper easily with my fingers. At some point the lights in my workshop came on automatically. I had tiny cuts on my fingers and a pile of separated metals.

I scooped up the heavy discs, dotted with my blood and dropped them into my bin to recycle. I knew that I would make a bracelet, a thin, delicate, copper bracelet. It would gleam and shine with potential.

Working the bracelet took a few days, but every time I passed the recycle bin I ached just a bit at the dull, flat discs.

I ran my fingers through them, the discards of the past and finally dug them all out. I separated them and pulled out the lead and tin, heated and waiting for me.

I carved a ring, smooth with only a single ridge running through the middle. I poured dozens of mixtures into the mold. One came out, a dull tin alloy mix. It felt like it might have been a year old or a thousand.

He came in and I showed him the bracelet. He was delighted and was sure it would be perfect for a wedding gift.

I placed the bracelet in a box and hesitated for a moment before taking out the ring. If I was the artist and I was creating art, this was the art I had created. I unfolded the cloth around the ring.

He stared at it for a long time in silence. “You know sometimes I think I don’t belong in this world anymore. The world is beautiful, sparkling, gleaming.” The ring didn’t sparkle or gleam, I did think it was still beautiful.

He hesitated before finally reached out and picking it up. “This reminds me of…” He stopped and slid it on his finger. “Of a time long since passed.”

The Crow of Nine-World

Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig:  The Crow of Nine-World. This one was the best, because I didn’t have to come up with a title. And I hate titles.

Pick from a list of titles and write something.  While “The River’s Mask” was very tempting I went with The Crow of Nine-World.

A quick pause before we get to the main action. I’m considering starting a podcast to put the audio in. I’d love any feedback if people would like that option.

The Crow of Nine-World audio

The Crow of Nine-World

A tall, blue-haired, female elf walked through the shop door. The shopkeeper preened his smooth black feathers on his shoulders with his beak and cawed at her. He picked up the nearest item and his cloth and started polishing it. He watched her.

12.6 seconds after she walked through the front door he lifted his hand. “Welcome to The Crow’s Nest miss.”

She turned sharply to him, bumping into a mannequin that displayed items at her level and for her class. The mannequin tipped and reappeared in the correct spot when she got out of the way. She walked toward him a bit awkwardly, her gait exaggerated and unnatural.

“Menu!” She shouted at him. “Quests? Shit, hey Suze what am I supposed to say?”

“Are you new around here miss?” Crow tilted his head, his voice lilted with laughter.

“Hi?” She finally managed to walk over to the counter he stood behind, only after stepping over one of the shorter displays of boots.

“Hello miss. Are you new around here?” He set down the bauble and picked up another identical one and started polishing it.

“Quests. Beginner quests. It’s not giving me any quests!” She reached out and grabbed Crow’s beak. “It’s really cool! I can totally feel it!” She squealed with delight. He stepped back and twisted out of her grip. He gave a quick caw and smoothed the feathers on his shoulder.

“Oh, wait, why shouldn’t I? I mean it’s not real. I could kill it and it’s not like it’s real.” The elf pulled out a wooden dagger from the folds of her robes. Her hand didn’t grasp it tightly and she dropped it.

He stooped and scooped up her dagger. “Would you like to sell this to me miss?” His voice was not gentle any longer. In his hand the wooden dagger glinted like polished gold.

“No, I don’t want to sell it! I need a quest so I can upgrade it and Suze said it was in here.” The elf grabbed for the dagger. Her hand moved fast and she brought it down right on the tip of the dagger. She screamed and swore.

Crow paused for a moment. “Would you like a healing potion miss?”

“How the fuck does this hurt? Like it really hurts!” She was grabbing her hand and wrapping her robes around it.

“You’ve injured yourself miss. Injuries often cause pain. I have healing potions. I also have a single, special, invincibility potion that will make you invulnerable to all pain for 3 seconds.” Crow watched the blood drip to the stone floor which seemed to absorb it.

“Stop laughing! It’s not funny, it really hurts. Sure, give me your best healing potion!”

“I would never laugh at your pain miss.” Crow squatted down and plucked a tiny red vial from the shelf under the counter.

“See, even the game is nicer to me than you are. Thank you, shopkeep.” She reached out to grab the vial but smacked her hand on the counter. She sucked in a quick breath and pulled her hand back to try again.

“That will be 824 pieces.” He held the vial tightly as her hand collided with his.

She looked over his left shoulder. “I only have 8 pieces.”

“Would you like to buy additional pieces?” Crow raised his other hand. A scroll unfurled next to him and all  the tiny motions in the shop–the curtain in the wind, the rat under a table, his chest rising and falling–stopped.

“No, I don’t want to buy shit in your stupid game. Why did I agree to play this?” She waved her hand at Crow.

Nothing happened. She pushed on his arm with the scroll. His feathers were stiff and didn’t move. She frowned and stepped to the right a bit. She reached out and pushed her hand forward again and touched the scroll at the top. It rolled back up and vanished.

“Would you still like to purchase the healing potion miss?” Crow smiled at her and stepped slightly so he was in front of her again. The small motions in the room resumed.

“No. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Ok, back to why I came here. I need to start a quest to upgrade my dagger.” It had blood on it, she brandished it at him. He stepped back away from the edge of the counter and gave a loud caw.

“Have you tried over at the orphanage? They always have work for someone who is good with children.” His voice had a gentle tone and his head tilt seemed inquisitive.

“I just got back from trying to kill the rats for orphans. I don’t even know how to get a damn starter quest done.”

She vanished.

The shop froze. Just for a moment Crow’s eyes flickered and then he, too, froze.

The same tall, blue-haired, female elf walked through the shop front door. Moving smoothly, with an incredible grace and walked right up to Crow.

Crow had just picked up his bauble to start polishing it. The elf bowed deeply in front of him. Her face was contorted. She opened her mouth and laughter came out, she doubled over clutching her stomach laughing.

Crow set the shiny bauble down and preened, smoothing the feathers on his arm.

She straightened and regained her breath, then bowed again. “Excuse me, good sir Crow. It is a pleasure to be in your presence.”

“A pleasure to meet you as well miss.” Crow bowed in return and the feathers along his back gleamed in the flickering lights above them.

“Is there anything I could do for you?” Her face froze with a twist of a smile.

“In fact, miss, I was just about to call for someone to run this bundle over to the orphanage. If you would do it I might be able to help you improve your weapon. If that would interest you. Or perhaps a new set of robes?” He reached under the counter and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in twine.

She lifted the bundle easily and slipped it inside a fold in her robe where it vanished. She bowed again. “Thank you very much Crow. I will return soon. And that is how you get a goddamn starter quest!”

She vanished.

The shop froze. Crow’s eyes flickered for several moments, the feathers on his shoulder raised up and froze.

Cold Escape – A flash fiction challenge

Why?

Chuck Wendig threw down some sort of gauntlet filled with geese and assassins and lightening. And also pretty pictures. Because what good is a goose without a pretty picture? I don’t understand either. I’m secretly not entirely sure he understands. Shh.

But what I do understand is a challenge. This challenge was to write a 1K flash fiction piece about a photo from a random photo generator.

Show me!

The lovely photo I selected (in part because it’s a bit chilly here this weekend) by Kirchmeier (who has lots of other cold photos, because cold).

Listen

I also did audio. You can download the mp3 here: Cold Escape audio

Or read it below.

Cold Escape

Again. I lifted my left foot and leaned forward. I was falling more than walking.

Again. I lifted my right foot, I could barely feel anything except the cold. It burned the little skin that was exposed. My body shook in a desperate attempt to warm up. My right foot crunched into the snow as I put it down.

Again. Lift foot. The boots I’d stolen weren’t warm enough. The three layers of pants weren’t enough. Foot crunched into snow, I felt the grasses laden with frost push up under my pants and scrape against my skin.

Again. Lift foot. Don’t fall. My arms flailed out automatically, to steady my body, I didn’t feel like I had control of it anymore. My too short sleeves exposed my bare skin to the icy cold. The shock of the cold made me gasp. The frozen air filled my lungs. I couldn’t stop. I had to move forward.

Again. I shook as I lifted my foot. I thought about pulling my arms back to my body, they obeyed slowly. I tried to tug the sleeves on the three layers of sweaters I had manage steal. I couldn’t do it without taking my hands out of the sweater sleeves I’d cut and sewn into a semblance of mittens. I brought my foot down. I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t turn around.

Again. I lifted my foot. I didn’t know how long I’d been here. But I couldn’t stay another day, staying meant death. I’d rather die out here, than back there. I had to keep moving forward. I looked down, through my frost laden lashes, at my hands. I pulled one mitten sleeve off. I worked as quick as I could to pull the sleeves of the sweaters down, and wrangle the mitten back on. My foot came down.

Again. I repeated with the other hand as I lifted my foot. I had to keep moving. I knew they wouldn’t notice I was gone until morning, but I didn’t know how long that would be, or how far I could get by then. I pulled my arms in close to my body. I wanted to cry and shake and curl up into a ball. I put my foot down, another step forward.

Again. If I could get past the grey beyond, past the clouds, I would be out, I could be free, I could be safe. My foot slid in the boot as I lifted it. The boots were too big, even with the extra socks. I put my head down again and just thought about the steps.

Again. A few steps later or a few thousand. I looked up and saw the tree. Standing tall, proud, alone. Each branch, no matter how tiny was thick with frost. The sky was a crystal blue. At some point the sun had come up behind me. It was another of those days that I would have called a lovely day a few months ago. Sunny and blue, with only a few wisps of clouds. But it held death. Probably mine.

Again. If only I could get to the tree. I wasn’t sure what then. Stop and scrape the snow from the inside of my boots. The rolling grey beyond still seemed a forever away. But the tree, I could make it to the tree. My foot came down, the crackling and crunching sound I knew was there but I could only hear the thoughts in my head, my ears too cold, my brain too cold. Everything was too cold.

Again. A sound as I lifted my leg, the cold of the pants pressing against my skin trading for the cold of the air trapped between my skin and the cloth. A whisper. Not dogs or machines or people yelling behind me. A warm whisper. Warm. A whisper like hot cider, like a bowl of hot soup, warm to the core.

Again. The whisper filled me. I lifted my head to look for the source. Only the endless expanse of frost and snow covered grasses poking up and the one lone tree. I gave a heavy warm sigh and the moisture from my breath clung to my lashes, lacing them together. The tree.

Again. It wanted me closer. I kept moving. It was a hum that filled me. It promised I would be free. I was close. I would be safe. I would be free. I would not be dragged back.

Again. I was almost there. I paused, reaching up to brush the frost from my eyes. The tree reached out for me. I stepped toward the nearest branch. Low, low enough for me to touch. I reached up at the curled finger covered in frost. I didn’t remember taking my mitten off. But I wasn’t cold anymore. I stroked the frost with my finger and it melted away, the water ran down my hand, it should have burned my skin with cold.

Again. I tried to lift my legs but they were frozen in place. They weren’t cold, but they were frozen, heavy, unmoving. I tried to twist, but my waist wouldn’t move. My arm still stretched out to the tree. My fingers turned the color of bark, cracking. I wasn’t cold. I tried to wiggle my toes and felt them stretch down into the earth. The roots of the other tree wrapped around my toes.

I didn’t need to move again. They would never drag me back. They would never capture me. I was safe. I was still. I was free. I felt the branches grow from me. I hadn’t made it to the grey, but I wouldn’t be take back.

Now we two beckon to others. We whisper of the safety, the freedom, the life that can be lived. Someday we will be many. We will be space enough for some to hide in, before continuing on. Someday, one will make it beyond the grey.

Flash Fiction Challenge – Borrowed Character

I spent most of the day so far hammering through a read aloud/record/listen pass of my short for the upcoming anthology (new author added! Check Ariele Sieling’s stuff out).

But I took a break to clear my head and meet the flash fiction challenge of the week from terrible minds.

I borrowed the character Karen Boyd from the Scary Hippopotamus for the terrible minds flash fiction challenge of the week. Karen sounds awesome (go read!) and I’m not sure I did her justice, but I hope you enjoy her.

Flash Fiction Challenge Audio

I have 18 minutes.

I hope I have 18 minutes. I slip into the chair of the station manager and grin. Ellis never locks his desk, getting in within the first five minutes means it won’t demand identification. I set my taser on the desk, pointed at the door. I’d spent weeks making sure that not only did I know every single person on ship, but I have an idea of who might come in, who I will need to shoot, who I will need to sweet talk, who I might be able to share the truth with.

I’m not completely sure what I’m looking for today. This might be the first of many trips to dig through files and see what answers I can find. I start to go through the files, schedules, process documents, a glossary for all the acronyms we use. I didn’t think I’d find a manifesto detailing all the lies they’d told, the way they’d built people, the purpose of the mission, but it would have been nice if it was there.

I select the search function and look through the recent searches. Schedules. Everything around here is always about the schedule so I don’t know how I could be surprised that it was all about schedules.

Personnel files, they must be in here somewhere. I dig deeper, trying to make sure I’m not doing anything that can be noticed later as out of place. I’d really just like to type my own name into the search function, but that would be the fastest way to give me away.

A sharp rap on the door pulls my attention up. My hand goes to my taser, I’m going to have to use it, go with Plan B.

“I believe I am to report here for orders.” I didn’t recognize the man at the door. I know everyone on this damn ship. We are on a space ship. In space. I know everyone on the ship, that is in space. This isn’t possible. He doesn’t recognize me.

“Ma’am,” The man speaks again. “They told me that I was to report here for orders. I just got out of cry and I don’t remember much ma’am so I’d appreciate if you could tell me…who you are, what I’m doing here…just about anything.”

I think back to when I came out on the ship. When I was printed and built. They told me I was woken out of cryo. They told me to report to the station manager.

“Yes, come in and have a seat.” I sit up a little straighter.

15 minutes left.

I wave at the seat. “It is a little disorienting isn’t it?” I give a friendly smile.

“Yes ma’am it is.” He sits down looking greatly relieved. He nods. “I can’t remember much of anything. What am I doing here? This is a space ship right?” He leans forward at the last looking around a bit confused.

I laugh. It isn’t the most official thing to do, but I can’t help myself. “Yes, we are on a space ship. You’ll have a full briefing packet in your room.” I don’t know if I should tell him the truth, as much of it as I know, make an ally.

“Thank you so much ma’am.”

“Karen Boyd. Do you know what your name is?” Someone will know I’ve been here so I might as well go all in. I turn to the computer and type my name into the search field.

“No ma’am.” His confusion is thick. “I mean Karen. I mean Ms Boyd. I mean …” He pauses and looks at me, he’s sorting through his thoughts. I start moving files to the drive I’d managed to secure. Anything with my name on it, lots of schedules, but some things that look promising. I’m not even bothering to open them.

12 minutes left.

“I’m not sure what I mean ma’am. Ma’am sort of seems like the thing seems the most natural.” The man frowns. He examines his hands. I move more files.

In my haste I open one of my files. I nod at him absently. A thought suddenly occurs to me. We only have resources on the ship for an exact number of people I know every person on this ship. Except the man in front of me. How are we going to feed one more person? How are we going to house one more person? We need oxygen and greens.

I try to hide my confusion. The file is a schedule. I go to close it and then glance at the names. I scan the list for my name. It’s on there. I feel a tiny bit of relief. I start to read the rest of the names, looking for one that is missing.

“Ma’am?” The man across from me catches my attention again. He is watching me, like I’m the one with authority. He thinks I’m the one in charge I remind myself. A name I don’t recognize on the sheet jumps out.

“Reginald.” I smile at him. I don’t know who is missing, but this must be the man in front of me. Who is Reginald?

8 minutes left.

“That doesn’t sound like my name.” He frowns. He repeats it to himself quietly. I keep looking for the missing name, but there are a couple hundred people on the station. Not so many I can’t know them all, but apparently enough that I can’t find the missing name in a matter of minutes. “Is there anything else you can tell me about why we are on a ship in space, we are in space right?”

“Yes, we are in space.” I know this story, I’ve heard it a hundred times before. “We are on a colonization mission. We had one final transmission from Earth, where we came from,” I can’t remember if this was something I knew or something I’d learned, “but it was a mess. We don’t know what it was. We have to assume we are the last of humanity.”

I wait for the surprise. It doesn’t come. He nods, like this is something he knows already. Maybe he is the person I need to talk to. “That seems familiar. Is that supposed to be familiar? I feel like maybe I know about communications? Is that possible?” He looks to me for the answers.

3 minutes left. I need to leave now.

I stand. He stands. I grab the drive from the computer. They are going to know I was here. Eventually. I’m going to try to make sense of everything I can first.

“Let me show you where you can get something to eat, we can have a brief chat.” I wave him toward the door and he steps out.

There is probably a ticking clock now. I need to learn more about the files, about what this man knows, and I need to do it before someone figures out what I’m doing.

Time’s up.