Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

Leaden Skies

  

War came. Not as you would expect, on a fiery red horse, but from the Earth beneath us. War grew in the hollows we dug, and festered in the absences we left, waiting for release.

The media showed us pundits yowling about resource consumption — it wasn’t a question of “whether”, but “when”—, and no one could agree on what to do. They pointed at the weather preservers and sipped precious water from blank studio mugs. They waved at distant biospheres and greedily slopped down expensive off-world greens when the cameras looked away.  

But they didn’t talk about the mines.
It seemed like such a small thing then, when it started. Mines would close, dry as a bone, and new ones never opened. The jobless became the homeless, and, in time, the lifeless. A drain on government funding, some argued. Others were too busy dying in the streets to disagree. Favored sons and daughters rode the issue to office, where they lied about the silver.

Too soon they were raiding our hope chests — silver tableware, flatware, tea sets, jewelry, keepsakes, all gone to feed our collective need. It only delayed the inevitable, though. It wasn’t enough to keep catalytic converters in production, or water purifiers in working order.

That’s when we truly became cannibals. Not for flesh, but for resources. Anything and everything that could be scrapped to keep something else running was cannibalized to sate society, and whispers of war became national anthems when they decided someone else had more.

We gather at the county seat to hear the latest propaganda broadcasts on a radio cobbled together from leftovers and remnants; a Frankenstein’s monster of innovation. They speak equally of the bounty of our neighbors’ hoard, and the happiness of those who join the Reclamation to see it brought home.

Happiness.  

The happiness of the walking dead.  

Those proud few who join, never to see home again.

They say “such is the nature of war” from the comfort and security of their palatial bunkers. The rest of us mourn as we farm resources from fields of old technology, and sleep above-ground in fragile houses made of wood and ash.

When the bombs come, we will be the first to go. Then our Mary Shelley radios and Farnsworthian golems will sing to no one of the machinations of our leaders, or the bounty of our neighbors. They will stare at the leaden sky with reclaimed features fixed in place by warped fittings and ancient purpose.

And we will be gone, as if by design.

My great-grandmother thought we would kill the Earth with deforestation and global warming. In the end, though, it was never the planet we were killing; it was ourselves. The planet will limp along in our wake with more than enough microbial resources to start something new, but we will be forever gone.

I say none of this to my daughter as I tuck her into bed, though. For her, tomorrow is not set in stone.

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The Teapot

The kids didn’t come ’round anymore. No one really came ’round anymore.

The teapot looked out from the china cabinet at an empty dining room, the table and chairs long since covered in sheets to protect against the dust. Wan, yellow light occasionally spilled from between the drapes hung across the windows to the back porch. It remembered warm summer days and tea with the children, their laughter echoing through its steaming interior, dampened only slightly by the tea cozy She would wrap around it. Those were the happy days.

All too soon it seemed its adventures beyond the china cupboard became rare and infrequent, only seeing the occasional tea cup when the nurses served Her in the cool shadows of the bedroom. Eventually, even the nurses stopped bringing it out, even to keep it free of dust and ready for Her need.

The lights went out, and the furniture was shrouded. The nurses left, and the house become still.

Then the lights came back, but She was not with them. People, people it had never seen milled about the house, touching chairs, moving paintings, and rummaging through drawers. The teapot was taken from the cupboard and turned every which-way. So many hands, so many faces.

Finally, a warm pair of hands, hands it knew had touched a life-time, held it close. These hands felt right. They weren’t Her hands, but they were like Her hands.

She spoke to a man and gave him something. The teapot wore newspaper as it had worn the cozy She had knit for it before. Nestled in its newspaper bed, it dreamed. It dreamed of new children, new laughter to hold in its belly on summer afternoons. It dreamed of new teas, teas it had never before brewed. It dreamed of a new kitchen and a new Her to whom it could belong and serve faithfully.

It dreamed. And when it woke, it was upon a new shelf, with new cups and chinaware. Light poured in through open windows with sheer, airy curtains spread wide to welcome it in. It woke to the feeling of home, and a new sense of purpose.

She looked at it, and it looked at Her, and She smiled.

It was home.

—–

[AUTHOR’S NOTE]

Came across a Tweet from TheWritePractice.com — I guess it’s a month old, but I only noticed that after writing my story.  The concept is still solid and fun, so I decided to go ahead and post it, since they’re the ones who Tweeted the page again.  Anyway, it was a fifteen minute challenge to write a story from the perspective of an inanimate object.  As soon as I thought “teapot watching life from a kitchen” I had the story.

I wrote it and edited it in the fifteen minute allotted time, and once my alarm went off I made no additional changes, so this is the result of the warm-up as is.  I hope you enjoyed it.

– Adalind Monroe

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Such Sweet Sorrow

She hated her handwriting. The letters collided with one another in an awkward script that was neither cursive nor print, but she supposed it would have to do; the words had needed to be written. Her chest ached a little as she read them over, again and again. The realization they spelled out was one she’d left buried beneath so many years and too much distance, but it burned now with a decade’s stored energy of denial, and filled her with an ineffable longing that welcomed detached numbness’ slow tide.

Each word was chosen with care, written as though she spoke to him, but intended for herself. He would never read it, of course – no one would. She could claim she wanted to avoid disrupting his life with unpleasant memories or complicated emotions, but the truth was she feared what he would say in the astronomically unlikely event of his response; even no response was better than knowing he felt the same. At least in ignorance she could hide in the warm glow of what was without any distress over what still could be.

The box was prepared, simple, but durable, with a sturdy clasp at the front just big enough for an equally sturdy lock. She couldn’t bring herself to burn the words she’d taken such pains to find, but there were no other eyes qualified to read them, so the only logical conclusion she could reach was to lock them away and bury their prison. It wasn’t so different from what she’d done with the emotions before they brought the words, but now the words were out and it was no longer in her own heart they’d be trapped. That was enough, that was all she needed to carry on. It had to be.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly with the gravity of her secret. As soon as it was locked away, she could allow herself to forget, and by forgetting perhaps even heal. For the last time, she read the inelegant script of her own hand, and poured her aching heart into each word.

“I don’t know why, but I thought of you. And I don’t know what difference it would have made at the time to have understood my own feelings when we were still oceans apart . . . but it’s clear today that what I felt was love.

“You disappeared, and that was fair given I did the same, and I still don’t know if it was something I said, or something you decided on your own, but if there ever comes a day in some distant future where you look back and smile and wonder where I’ve gone, you know where to find me. My door is always open.

“I could spend the rest of my life waiting for you, but that wouldn’t be fair to anyone. So, instead I wish you well. I wish you happiness and love, and the greatest possible future life has to offer. I wish you laughter and smiles and the fulfillment of all your heart’s desires. I’ll look back on our time with a smile and not regret what never was or never will be.

“I know now it was love, but I suppose all things have their end.”

Signed with a quote and nothing more, addressed to no one with no date, the anonymous confession was delicately folded and placed inside the simple, but durable, box, through which sturdy clasp was latched an equally sturdy lock, all of which was gently nestled in the moist earth of a hole freshly dug. She knew the tree beneath which her words would always sleep, and offered it her thanks for the silent watch it would keep as the knot around her heart finally loosed its grip.

As each shovelful of dark soil fell upon the growing mound of her last regret, the missive’s final words echoed through her mind, an unfinished mantra and invitation to a future that would never be.

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,

That I shall bid you good night . . . .

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The Escape [Pt 1]

A commotion outside intruded upon the fragile order Madame Tirenn forced upon her young wards.  Several stories below, in the barren courtyard between the orphanage and the old money lender’s, came shouting and the clash of sword upon cobblestone.  For a moment Madame Tirenn attempted to keep the children in their seats, but as the sound of battle grew more heated, her own curiosity conquered her protestations, and she joined the children at the window.

Anafyn’s heart leaped.  Not an eye in the room could tear itself away from the action; all backs were to her.  She could not have asked for a better chance than this.  Thanking the gods, as breathless in mind as she felt in body, she backed away from the long row of windows captivating her peers and inched toward the door.  If the gods were truly on her side, then this room would not be the only one distracted by the clamor in the courtyard and she could make good on the escape she had planned a million times and more.  That none of her meticulous plots had involved what sounded like it must be the heart of war itself only told her she needed to be more inventive.

The room gasped and cried out in shock collectively as a shaft of ice pierced the long arm of the money lender’s L-shaped accommodations directly across the way.  Fyn lifted a brow in surprise, turned on her heel, and bolted down the corridor. A child fleeing danger should be no surprise, right?  A lone child in an orphanage having the presence of mind to run away from danger should be able to get away, shouldn’t she?

Though panic gripped her heart, it lent urgency to her flight and forced her onward and onward, faster and faster, as fast as her well-toned legs could carry her.  She had prepared for this day, training in the courtyard and anywhere else she could without being questioned for unusual exuberance, readying herself for the day when she could finally free herself from the constant fear of being “adopted” out to “nice” men who, by all rights, should have been married, but weren’t.  The whispers about what these men wanted with girls her age were enough feed a lifetime of nightmares, but she wasn’t content to hope for the best and wait for her time to come; she was a girl of action.  Speedy action.  Wheeling through the deserted halls of Gao’aine Priory action.

In her dreams, it took an eternity to reach the Priory’s entrance where her new life waited to be claimed, and for some reason reality had decided to play by the rules of her dream lands.  What she knew had to only be two minutes stretched out before her with a timelessness that spoke of eternities unrealized, which gasped and gaped at her heels.  She whimpered at the thought, tears springing to her eyes as she finally lay eyes upon her prize.  If she could just reach the doors, she could be free!

Spurred on with the desperate hope that no obstacle now defeat her, she pushed herself into a savage sprint down the Priory’s longest hall.

The doors exploded before her without resistance when she crashed through them at full force, but as the blinding light of day robbed her of sight, something else robbed her of momentum.  She should have flown down the Priory steps and into the street.  Instead, she collided with something solid enough to knock the air from her lungs.  Before tear-slicked eyes could blink themselves right, she felt two strong arms wrap themselves around her, and before her feet left the ground, she found the breath to give voice to the scream of the damned.

[To be continued . . . ]

—–

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Welcome back!  The best motivation to get me writing again was hating that the last thing I put up was fanfic.  No matter how well received, that’s not what I want to be known for.  I want to be known for the above (but only if you like it).  Well, okay, even if you don’t, because at least then if you don’t like it you really don’t like what I love to write, and that’s valid.

Someday I may edit this further, but I doubt it.  Enjoy it for what it is, and welcome back to Flash Fiction Friday and my new layout!  I even have pages up there to such things as my short stories and where you can download them, and a compilation of all the Flash Fiction I have and will post on the blog for easy access.  And rules!  For Flash Fiction submission so I don’t have to keep adding it down here!  (In case you’re wondering: E-mail me your stories if you have them at CaffeinatedInspiration [at] gmail [dot] com, subject FLASH FICTION <Story Title>.  1000 words or less.  Go check the specs and get back to me.)

Also, in the mean time, I published my second short story, The Last Tower.  You might like it.  You know, if you’re a fan of the human condition and have any kind of soul.  It’s a short glimpse of the end of the world.  You know, the kind of thing everyone can connect with on every level.  Trust me, this is bedtime story material.  I would know, I dreamed it.

Speaking of dreaming, I need a nap before I head out to piano and the best Not-My-Birthday dinner ever with a woman who will absolutely end my life if I fall asleep before or during then, but after now.  (It’s her violence that keeps our love fresh and exciting.  You should try it.)

So, I hope you enjoyed the flash, and I hope you hate me for ending it on a cliffhanger.  I really, passionately hope you want to strangle me to within an inch of my life, and only that far because actually killing me would mean you never find out what happens next.  But I want you to hold on to that anger and let it simmer.  That’s it.  Stew in it and tell me all the horrible things you would do if I didn’t hold the conclusion in my wicked little brain.  That’s what the comment box is for, so have at it!  I’ll sleep easy knowing you’re out there, waiting for me.  Gosh I love you guys.

G’night everybody!

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Consequences

Whose child was this anyway?  She had been given nothing but sass and disrespect from the girl from the moment they met.  Unprovoked harassment from the snot-nosed little brat greeted any and all who entered the child’s radius, and she had reached the breaking point.  After losing Vorstag to what she could only call pretentiousness and jealousy, and learning the truth about Farkas and the Companions’ inner Circle, she had taken all she

Please shut up.

could possibly take.

“I’ll fight anyone,” she heard the child say.  “I don’t care if they are my elders!”

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

With a cry of pain and surprise, the child reeled away from her fist.  She knew it was wrong, but it was so very satisfying to give the girl a mighty wallop.  The vendors in the market square gasped and called or help as the sobbing child fled in terror.  Within seconds she was surrounded by city guards and disenfranchised soldiers looking for any excuse to fight and win the Jarl’s favor.  There would be no call for surrender this time, only blood.

In a flash she was armed, the air singing like a malachite bell as her elven axe-blade sailed through; one soldier of fortune off to Sovngarde.

Lydia, loyal housecarl and dearest friend, jumped into the fray without hesitation and drew several guards away from her.  Together they would go down in a blaze of infamy and disgrace with the name of the last Dragonborn staining the proud history of Whiterun and Skyrim forever; a fittingly ignoble way to die.

Two guards fell by her blade, their blood mixing with the first drops of rain falling from a bleak and hopeless sky.  But, quick as she was, strong as she was, alive as she was, she was not without injury.  Though Lydia was holding up far better than she, there was no way they could reach the city gates alive.  Spinning on the spot, she found a guard at her back and struck out.  She didn’t see the fourth approach, or feel the blade slip through a gap beneath her cuirass, but knew her luck had run out when her body crumpled to the ground in a useless heap.

The last thing she saw as the world began to fade, was Lydia valiantly and vainly fending off yet more city guardsmen as they swarmed the market square.

Goodbye, my friend . . . .

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.

“Did you hear me?”  The child’s voice was grating, but a smile began to spread across her lips as the knot in her belly slowly unwound itself from the stone of anger that had been growing.  Without another word, she turned away from the little snipe and looked to Lydia.

“Your smile concerns me,” Lydia said, shifting uncomfortably.

She continued to smile her disconcertingly pleasant smile, and headed back home for a nice hot meal and sleep in a real bed.  Perhaps she would next imagine Vorstag’s face before being eaten by a dragon.  Yes, Vorstag eaten by a dragon, now that would bring true bliss.

——–

AUTHOR THINGS:

Another Skyrim short!  Hurrah!

Mumble mumble something about Flash Fiction Friday.  Let me know if you have a short you’d like to see featured on Friday and we’ll work something out maybe.  It’ll be great!

I am so darn sleephungry right now, it’s not even cool.  I’m going to drink some coffee and sleep for fifteen minutes and trick my body into welcoming awakeness and then do more writerly things, probably.  Also food.  If the ol’ brain kicks in, that is.  And eating.

If you haven’t taken the time to download and love “Don’t Let Her In“, then no worries!  It’s still FREE!  Go get you some, girl!

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Is It “Inspired by” or “Fan Fiction of”?

Photo by Mattox

The pen is only mightier than the sword if the sword is made out of papier-mâché.

It’s no secret I play Skyrim now.  Since buying the game it’s been a regular part of my life,

to the point that some of my dreams have been very Skyrimmy, both in terms of content and perspective.  As I addressed in my post about Skyrim’s surprisingly complex politics, I am THAT gamer.  I’m the gamer who reads all the in-game books and weighs the options carefully before ever choosing a side.  I’m the gamer that initially turned down a quest because it required my character to beat up someone she had just helped, and that made me feel bad.  I’m the gamer who stopped hunting because the sounds of elk dying made me sad.  So it should come as no surprise that I would also be the gamer who spontaneously writes flash fiction based on the imagined reactions of her characters to everything that happens.

Currently I have five official Skyrim shorts, and one short I can say was inspired by it, but this separation between being “inspired by” and “fan fiction of” got me thinking:  What really defines the difference between the two?

Before the emergence of Fifty Shades of Grey, I noticed less scrutiny given to where a writer would pull their inspiration as long as enough details were changed that it could be called an independent story.  Since it could be said that Fifty Shades follows this model, though, I’ve noticed an upswing in readiness to dismiss something as being “fan fiction” based on the source of inspiration, rather than the content or purpose of the prose.

I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I’d never felt compelled to write fan fiction, that my worlds and characters were all my own, so when I took an event in Skyrim and twiddled it around to fit Eleasia, there was a part of me that shuffled around in shame.  In the back of my mind was this tiny voice that said “Fifty Shades of Grey, dude,” (my inner voice is a surfer) and despite telling it to gtfo and shoot the curl, I couldn’t entirely shake it.  If I said nothing, no one would know and my story would stand on its own merit, but if I said “This was inspired by Skyrim,” I worried that it would suddenly be perceived as little better than fan fiction, and when I can’t bring myself to like fan fiction in general, it’s not something I would ever want associated with my serious work.

It wasn’t until I sheepishly, and self-deprecatingly said I had “Fifty Shaded” something from Skyrim, and then proceeded to defend the prose, that I really saw the biggest differences between the two.

To start, the most obvious indicators of fan fiction would be the use of canonical settings (Hogwarts, Middle-Earth, Tamriel, Terre D’Ange, the Death Star, the USS Enterprise, etc.)  Within these settings are often canonical characters, but they may not be the focus, as often the use of fan fiction is to allow the writer to feel like they’re a part of their favorite settings, so they create an OC (original character), and this is your basic Mary Sue.  The writer, and by extension the reader, can step into the character-vessel and ride them around the  narrative, which is usually something that comes off as being self serving and lacks dimension and depth in order to feed something in the fan.

But what if you change the names of the characters and locations, add in some original characters, and come up with your own plot for them to follow?  What might prevent it from stepping fully outside the stigma of fan fiction?  My answer would be the writer’s intent.  If a writer changes these elements but continues to write as if the characters are the same as they were in the original source, it’s still just fan fiction in the end.  It’s still an outlet for the writer to pretend they’re having adventures with their favorite characters, which is often (though not exclusively) the drive behind writing them in the first place.  It’s the literary equivalent of watching a Steven Segal movie:  No matter what his character’s name is or what the plot tries to tell you, he’s still just Steven Segal punching stuntmen in the face.

How can you determine how much of your inspiration is inspiration?  Well, what have you been inspired to write?  Can it be boiled down to a theme?  If it’s a scene, what could you say is the simplest motivation behind it?  If you can say “It deals with the struggles of overcoming emotional apathy and learning how to share inter-personal bonds,” or “It addresses the complications that can accompany mental illness” then okay, you’ve got valid inspiration.  If your answer sounds more like “I didn’t like that Legolas never had a girlfriend,” or “Harry Potter, but with schizophrenia” then you’re still trapped by the shadow of fan fic.  And really terrible fan fic, at that.

Most writers, I think, are not in danger of crossing into making lazy variations on established works, but that doesn’t stop some of us from wondering or worrying that a source here and there might have too much influence.  As long as you can identify the underlying theme and use it to tell your story, you shouldn’t be in any danger of letting the source of your inspiration become the only thing people see.

If you want to know what Skyrim inspiration looks like, go back and read The Retriever’s Body from Friday.  For contrast, here’s some unapologetic Skyrim fan fic.  You’ll love both.

—–

Ultimatum

She agreed to meet Farkas at Dustman’s Cairn, but whens she turned to inform Vorstag of their change of plans, he had vanished.  She searched the city, such as she could, until continued searching would mean delaying her meeting with the Companion.  Concerned, disheartened, and a little apprehensive, she left Whiterun.

With Artax saddled and ready, she headed down the main road to the West, thoughts of Vorstag lingering in her mind.  It was therefor, with no small amount of irritation, she instantly identified the lazy gait of the mercenary as he sauntered through the spreading evening gloom.

That idiot!  She thought venomously, spurring Artax to intercept him.  She dismounted to the jingling chorus of her elven armor, an acerbic quip at the ready as she confronted him about leaving so abruptly.

“I’d happily fight at your side,” he said, his pace hardly slowing, “but it looks like you’ve already got a companion.  Get rid of him, and I’ll gladly rejoin you.”  He turned from her and continued down the road, she knew, toward Markarth; his home.  Not once did he look back.  Not once did his step falter.

She was stunned.  Her heart raced, and it ached.  Her mind swirled in silent chaos as she watched the light of his torch bob into the distance until it disappeared around a bend, and once again all was night.

An ultimatum.  The thought echoed through her mind again and again.  An ultimatum.  How dare he issue an ultimatum!  He had no right!  He —A dull throbbing in her chest emphasized the hollowness growing inside her.  The thick steel walls she had felt so easily melting away while sharing his company began to rebuild themselves around her heart.  As she stared into the night, her jaw slowly set and her resolve da

rkened.

And so, let him leave.  The arrogant beast can go back to his inn and live out his days as the unscrupulous sell-sword he was when I found him!

I don’t need him.

The thought was a hiss that burned her, cauterizing the ragged, bleeding edges of her trust.

She didn’t need him.  She would never need him.
—–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind is an international literary sensation who believes men over 6’4″ are actually just midgets in a man suit, no matter how convincing their totally sweet spin kicks are.

For more of her completely non-derivative writing, check out “Don’t Let Her In“, the weird fiction tale about a quiet hamlet in Eastern Europe consumed by an ancient evil.  “Pitch-perfect with elegant language and ‘missing pieces’ that drew me in and kept me thinking about it afterwards.” – John Fiore.

—–

He had dreamed over and over again of rushing toward some great precipice, over which he knew he must fall, but every time he approached the edge he was sent back to find it again. He wondered if that’s what the others had dreamed when they Faded, only nothing had stopped them from falling.”  –  The Last Tower, available on Smashwords in September!

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The Retriever’s Body

Full Moon by Otávio Brito

“With a grim nod, he took the lead, carefully negotiating the rocky, mountainous terrain with the skill of a man who had moved more than a few bodies before that night.”

The assassin lay dead at her feet.  She had chosen the main roads specifically to avoid Ilhavin’s Retrievers, but they grew more bold with his deepening desperation.  If she hadn’t been desperate herself, she never would have set out at night in the first place.  She nudged the body with the toe of her boot, noting the complex Anovan leatherwork decorating what was otherwise simple attire, and frowned; he was expanding into the Eastern kingdoms.

Layen a’Ciah siawyn ne’kaieth tha li a’Rhune liatha,” she murmured, making the sign of the gods before kissing the thumb she had tucked into a loose fist.

“Why would you bless one of his agents,” Temur asked, settling his weight on one hip to the creaking accompaniment of his armor.  Temur refused to use Ilhavin’s name, out of spite he said, but she suspected it was superstitious fear that saying it would attract the powerful Bright Lord’s attention.

“Every soul deserves Ciah’s blessing in Rhune’s embrace,” she said, bending to rummage through the Retriever’s hidden pockets.  “However misguided we may think they are,” she continued to Temur’s disapproving grunt, “every soul deserves a blessing.”

She found the note she knew the Retriever would carry, and tucked it into a similar pocket hidden in her own vest, but made a show of confiscating the man’s coin purse and small valuables.  She could feel Temur’s eyes at her back, the mercenary’s gaze appraising.  Given his lack of comment, she figured she had guessed correctly; always search the body for more coin.  If she hadn’t, he would have, and the last thing she needed was a man like Temur having too much information.

“Help me move him,” she said, shifting to take up the dead man’s feet.

Wordlessly, Temur complied, his unspoken question hovering between them in the gloom.

“To the river.”

With a grim nod, he took the lead, carefully negotiating the rocky, mountainous terrain with the skill of a man who had moved more than a few bodies before that night.

Silence stretched as they made their way to the violent current of the Nimareth river, its black water churning white against hidden boulders and jagged rocks too stubborn to be worn smooth by the river’s eternal passage; by the time the Retriever’s body was found it would be unrecognizable — that is if the body was ever found.  They gave the body a great heave at the precipitous ledge several spans above the river.  She watched it disappear with a distant splash.

“I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure it out,” Temur said at great length.  “Who would send a sneaksword like that after a woman like you?”

“Politics,” she said, her gaze still locked on the dark, rushing river below.  “It’s just politics.  He wasn’t the first sneaksword to find me, and he won’t be the last.”

—–

AUTHOR’S SAY STUFF SECTION:

Flash Fiction Friday!  Hurrah!

If YOU have a flash fiction story you’d like to share with the untamed wilds of the internets, then send us a message at FlashFictionFriday.ci(at)gmail.com (the “[dot]ci” is very important, so don’t overlook it).  Submissions should be 500 words or less, but we’re willing to accept up to 1000.  Please make subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”. All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces. Please include word count in the body of your e-mail, preferably right after the title. Stories must be received by Wednesday to be considered for Friday inclusion. Please include any links to previous works, official pages, personal blogs, biographical material, or pictures of bunnies you may want linked or included at the end of your story to direct traffic back your way, or to make Adalind smile extra hard.

Please feel free to click your way to happiness by following the blog, the Twitter, and/or the Facebook, and DEFINITELY check out “Don’t Let Her In”, still free for your Kindle, iPad, Nook, and e-reader devices of choice exclusively through Smashwords.com.

Keep an eye out for “The Last Tower”, a surreal post-apocalyptic look at the last stronghold of humanity as it faces sun-scorched oblivion, due on Smashwords in September!

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Flash Fiction: The Novel

French in action? Or another lie. (Spoiler: It’s another lie.)

La petite nouvelle the French call it. Actually, they don’t. They don’t call it that at all, I just lied to you because it sounded nice. They really call it micronouvelle, and it is what most of us know as flash fiction.

But what IS flash fiction, you ask? That’s a tricky question to answer with any specificity. There are those who would say that flash fiction is any story told in no more than seventy-five words, and some might call them Nazis for it (Me, specifically. I would.), but most can generally agree that limits ranging from five hundred to one thousand words are at least popular enough to sound like the new standard. Personally, I stick to a limit of five hundred words, because I feel that extending it to a thousand may as well open the door to a full-on short story, and nobody asked for that, so keep it in your . . . brain. Guy.

As this is my blog and we’re asking me what I think on the matter, I’m going to tell you my reason for this opinion briefly. Most of it comes down to the belief that in a piece of flash you are looking at one moment in time, and not the history behind it or the consequences that follow. You, as the author, may have ideas about how events transpired, what brought the characters to where they are, and where they might go when the moment ends, but that’s not for the words written to tell.

“If my ideas don’t fit in five hundred words, though, why should I bother with flash?”

I hear you, dude speaking out of turn, and I have an answer conveniently prepared ahead of time for this very occasion. The answer is, in my opinion, because it’s easy to meander around a novel-length story until you find what you need. It’s easy to embellish a scene with more ambiance and dialogue, and to pad out the length with exposition, but this can lead to that dreaded of all quagmires; the Infodump. When you’re required to think in the briefest of terms, to convey thoughts, emotions, and/or actions in the space it usually takes your character, the professor, to give his class (and the reader) the introduction to a primer on the history of the world, you force yourself to figure out the most conservative way to keep the reader informed without losing the story for it.

“Yeah, but I still don’t–”

Don’t be obtuse, and please raise your hand. The reason it’s important to learn how to do this in flash fiction, and short stories in general, is because it has immediate benefits to your writing in other mediums. When you train yourself to pack a sentence full of information without making it the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, you spend less time digressing from the plot and action and more time keeping your reader on the edge of their seat.

To put it in edible terms, a flash piece is a lean slab of beef with all the fat trimmed off, and then more beef trimmed off so you can eat it in one bite. Which, come to think of it, would be a really bad theme for a restaurant, especially if it meant they offered you the flash fiction version of a steak dinner. But, it works really well in trying to decide what you keep in your micronouvelle.

Yes, you there. I see you raising your hand, and that’s great. Go on then, what is it?

“How do I decide what to keep? Or, for that matter, what to write?”

To be fair, that’s two questions.  I was kind of expecting only one, but I can answer both of them together, so you didn’t throw me off too much.

Deciding what you keep depends entirely on what you choose to write. If, for instance, your story is about an apple being eaten, you wouldn’t spend your precious words telling us how it came to be in a position to be eaten. Alternately, if your story is about a man’s quest for food, you might not focus on the actual eating of the apple. When I sit down to write a shorter piece, I usually focus on what I think of as “crystallizing an atmosphere”. This is to say that I decide what I want the reader to feel, and then I craft a story to capture that feeling, emotion, or mood, and anything that doesn’t contribute to that end has no place.

Now, I’ve been chided before for expressing the opinion “if it doesn’t do X, it has no business existing”, but where X could be foreshadowing or establishing patterns of behavior/objects that will later be of relevance, to me it also means anything communicating something meaningful to the reader that relates to the content of the narrative. This could be as simple as a man eating a crayon, provided (and here’s where the kicker lies:) illustrating it benefits the narrative. In the context of short stories and flash fiction, though, this is all the more inflexible as you don’t have the space-luxury (on the page, not in outer– you know what I mean) to paint a picture in both broad strokes and fine detail. You pick one, and stick with it.

There you are again with the hand.

“How do YOU write flash pieces?”

Oh! How sweet of you to ask! I shall tell you in list form.

    1. Pick an Atmosphere

It’s hard to know what kinds of words I’m going to need, or what I’m going to find most inspiring if I don’t have a mood in mind. A single prompt can become any number of stories when envisioned through different emotional filters, so I find picking that mood first makes it easier to jump into the actual writing when it comes time for it.

    1. Pick a Prompt

For me it can be all too easy to fall prey to fancy when you have no true aim at the start of your flash fiction exercise. Your brain wanders, your eyes wander, your pen wobbles and taps against the page, and you’re not really sure what you want to write, so you bounce around ideas, and in the process might come up with something with more possibility than the restrictions of flash would allow. Because of this, I like finding a definitive seed around which the story can grow, like a pearl, because normal seeds are the things that grow, and that’s not what I said the story seed does, so more like a pearl than a plant.

I like to ask someone to provide a word or phrase, and whatever is offered is what I write. I don’t ask for a selection, or rifle through dictionaries until something jumps out at me. The very first thing I get is what I make work. If you don’t have a friend you trust to give you words you’ll want to work with, try opening the dictionary to a random page, or even an online dictionary or equivalent, and use the very first word or entry your mind registers. Personally, I prefer grabbing people off the street and demanding a word or phrase not related to my releasing them.

Whatever your means, don’t balk at whatever word you end up with; consider it a challenge to write outside of your comfort zone, and a chance for literary growth.

    1. Know Your Ending

You may have your starting sentence in mind already, but before you get too enthusiastic about plunging in, figure out your ending. Not knowing the end is a perfectly viable format for writing many things, but this is definitely what leads to more plot bunnies than quick resolutions. For this reason, I always decide what my ending will be before I ever type a word. Because I can check my word count as I go, I use this to keep track of how many words I have left to reach that end, and can give enough context before the conclusion to make sure it doesn’t feel like a slap-dash afterthought, because I ran out of space. This also makes the edit process easier when you run over your limit.

    1. Trim Down to Your Limit

You don’t have to get it all right the second you start typing. As writers we’re going to edit everything, and a flash piece should not be the exception. Use the language you feel is appropriate, get to your goal in as conservative a manner as possible, but don’t curtail your creativity to the limitations of the medium. Go ahead and exceed a little bit, because the act of editing out the excess is an important part of training yourself to edit bigger pieces. You learn to recognize the descriptions that may be nice, but aren’t necessary for the scene. You may find yourself cutting single words, or re-finessing a sentence to say essentially the same thing in less space, and, hopefully, more effectively. This is probably the most helpful aspect of all the tricks used for writing and self-editing, regardless of the genre or medium.

A flash piece is like any other story, and should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, even if the story you’re telling is as short and simple as “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn” [Hemingway]. If you make sure your story contains just these three things (beginning, middle and end, not unworn baby shoes for sale) you’re well on your way to writing good flash fiction. You may find that only one or two of these steps work for you, or maybe none at all, and that’s fine. Just remember that not all methods are universally applicable, and that this is what I find works for me. If I didn’t feel they worked well, I’d print this post, crumple it up, burn it and scatter the ashes in shame for even thinking to write them out in the first place. Mostly, though, you should really give writing flash fiction a try, especially if you’re struggling in other projects.

*****

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adalind Monroe is a talented young upstart from the West, who enjoys stories that incorporate apples, baby shoes, and bunnies, but not at the same time. She doesn’t always drive, but when she does, it’s in a Chevy named Keith. Keith is a girl.

Adalind now hosts her own Flash Fiction Friday here on C.I., so if you found yourself inspired to try the methods above, or you already have some micronouvelles under your belt and wouldn’t mind seeing them shared with the internets at large, send your stories to FlashFictionFriday dot ci at gmail dot com, subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”. [OFFICIAL WORDS] All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces. Strict limit of five hundred (500) words. Please include word count in the body of your e-mail, preferably right after the title. Stories must be received by Wednesday to be considered for Friday inclusion. Please include any links to previous works, official pages, personal blogs, biographical material, or pictures of bunnies you may want linked or included at the end of your story to direct traffic back your way, or to make Adalind smile extra hard.

To read more by Adalind, you can subscribe to this’a here bloggery, follow her on Facebook, or check out her stories at Smashwords.com.

Need a prompt?  Try:  Chronicle

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Vellum

Old Book

“The unutterable name of which was synonymous with the dead . . . “

Glass shattered against the cavern wall, enhancing dull stone with a dark shine. The thick fluid made sluggish progress down the unhewn angles, which jutted and thrust themselves into the cavern with perverted geometry, and lured the eye to plumb unwholesome cracks and crevices for knowledge which man should not own, as shadows danced in lurid relief where thrown by the hissing flames arrayed around the arcane lab.

Vyssith!” The haggard sorcerer’s embittered face contorted in a mask of disgust as epithets flew from his lips in the black language of the Forgotten. “Ek reth e’l vrei k’th ctholin vagh!” The hearth flames behind him howled beyond the confines of their stony prison, black and malevolent with the echoes of his fury.

All around lay scattered the evidence of his labors, the hand-scrawled essays and meandering notes, whose logic vacillated somewhere between cosmic insight and furious incoherence, piled each upon another with the haphazard organization of a mind that sees only order within chaos. They crawled over tables and benches, congregated in alcoves, and shuffled incessantly around the glowing beakers, tubes, and alchemical objet d’arcanum that occupied the sorcerer’s cramped work space.

Hand-crafted vellum whispered beneath the wizened hand groping so unceremoniously through their number for a sheet he knew must be among them.

Theassyf kek vrei ath!”

Hidden beneath the dark leather of a blasphemous tome, the unutterable name of which was synonymous with the dead, peeked the note which he so desperately sought. Watery, bloodshot eyes perused the indecipherable scratches and bizarrely elegant swirls before finding what he needed. In a manic haze, he drifted to the table which served as his desk, and removed the antiquated quill pen from its inkwell, habit alone driving his hand to tap the tip against the well’s stained rim.

The quill’s nib scraped against the pale vellum as he scribbled in the weird language of his masters. Straightening from the desk, he listened as unheard voices slithered through his thoughts, licking at what remained of his soul with a wanton hunger. Nodding to their unspoken commands, he bent to the table, and, wetting the quill, added to the note in his own tongue.

“The formula is incomplete. Without the essence intact, the skin cannot be used to bind the Word. I must attempt again when the village is quiet and has had time to forget its loss. It will not be quality enough for The Book, but the vellum from his hide will be exceedingly fine; I will harvest it for myself.”

Setting aside the quill, the old man took up the crescent-shaped lunarium and began to sharpen it against a smooth strip of stained leather. As he approached the child’s body, stretched tight across a frame not unlike the herses used by other membrane makers, but which was larger and more sturdy than its counterparts, he began to hum an odd lullaby he remembered was sung to him when he had been about the same age.

*****

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

(Read when the mood suits.  Humor exists below.)

—–

Arbitrary decision – You occasionally get flash fiction instead of bloggery.  But that’s cool, right?  Right?  You should probably let me know.  For reals, or I’ll keep doing it and have no idea that you hate me for it, which is sad for everyone involved.  Especially the bunnies.  Think of the bunnies?

Do you have a Flash Fiction piece you’d like to see shared with the internet folks at large?  Send me your stories for Flash Fiction Friday and one (or more, if the story is UNGODLY short) lucky writer(s) will see their story featured here.

[OFFICIAL STUFF:  Please include any links to previous works, official pages, personal blogs, biographical material, or pictures of bunnies you may want linked at the end of your story to direct traffic back your way, or to make me smile extra hard.  E-mail all submissions to flashfictionfriday dot ci at gmail dot com, subject line “FLASH FICTION: <Story Title>”.  All submissions must be written as flash, and may not be snipped from larger pieces.  Strict limit of five hundred (500) words.  Please include word count in the body of your e-mail, preferably right after the title.  Stories must be received by Wednesday to be considered for Friday inclusion.]

For more weird tales and chilling prose, check me out on Smashwords.  Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook!  I promise it’s all kinds of fun.  Pretty much every kind of fun.  I mean, pretty much.

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