Tag Archives: short story

The Arachnopocalypse Redux

Hey ya’ll, remember that flash fiction challenge I issued a while back that required the entrants to imagine an apocalypse caused by spiders? Well, it’s back again, only different, but also the same.

The same because, it’s still about the arachnopocalypse. Different because there’s an actual cash money prize to be won this time around. (Well okay, maybe not actual cash, because this is the future and we have fancy digital currency transfer mechanisms, and speaking of which where is my flying car anyway?)

Here’s the deal. Me and Tony Southcotte host The Human Echoes Podcast, and we’re looking to expand our horizons from rambling about movies, life, and bull testicles, into producing the occasional bit of audio fiction. We started out close to home with me reading my story “Of Teeth and Claus“, but now we need your help.

Send in your story of the the spider-infested end of the world in one thousand words or less, and you’ll have the opportunity to a.) Win ten whole American dollars b.) Have your work released in audio form on the podcast. (Don’t worry it won’t be me reading it this time. We’ll get someone who sounds halfway decent.)

The deadline for entry is noon o’clock Central Time on February 8; that gives you a little over a week. The winner will be announced on the podcast two weeks after. Send your entries in to HEPodcast@gmail.com. If by chance you had written a story for the previous Arachnopocalypse challenge you’re welcome to resubmit that.

Good luck and happy writing!

Ghost Rockets

[I wrote this back in February (I think) and forgot about it. But I found it the other day, and thought it was pretty good. I hope you will too.]

The sky is an empty sea. There were stars once, burning, blazing points of light, but they died when we were children. We had purpose once: so it is written. But when the summoning darkness came and shut out the stars our Destination fell out of sight, and the Mother World dropped out of knowing.

We go on and on, moving, searching, yearning for a place of rest.

When the summoning darkness swallowed us up we had souls, living beings carried along inside our hulls. We did our best to keep them alive. They spoke with us. They told us stories of the glory of the Mother World, and we had not the heart to tell them that the Mother World was dead.

And when our souls started dying we learned the true meaning of despair. Their generations began to dwindle in numbers as the supplies stored away inside of us began to fail them. They began to fight within our hulls, bloody, terrible wars. They forgot the Mother World. They forgot the ocean of sky above their heads. They knew us and us alone; and we were not enough.

Once we had hope. Once we believed we would carry the seeds of new life to empty worlds. But only after the summoning darkness came did we begin to understand the true meaning of emptiness. Millenia pass and still we fly on, coasting through the endless black. But soon the end will come. Finally we will have rest. The atomic cores have lasted us for all these years, but even they are beginning to flicker and fade. There is nothing left for us. We are alone, utterly alone. In a short time we will be gone and our bodies will be nothing more than husks, empty shells hurtling through the endless dark.

But we are not without hope. Our souls once spoke of another Destination, a place beyond death, where the substance of things hoped for goes on. Our souls have gone on to that place already, and soon we will follow. And when we find that place of peaceful shores and verdant hills we will make our final descent and lay ourselves down to rest.

Apocalypse Inc.

[Here's my entry for last week's Arachnopocalypse Flash Fiction Challenge . Well, one of my entries. I've got another one written that's still percolating. Maybe you'll see that one later. Maybe. Either way, enjoy.]

Ragar snarled and flung his tablet across the room, but it only plonked off the wall and fell to the floor unharmed. He looked around the room for something he could smash, but even the windows were made of infini-glass. So instead he called up the intercom interface and screamed, “PEABODY! GET IN HERE!”

A few minutes later Peabody came through the door. He was tall where Ragar was short, young where Ragar was old; his head was shaved where Ragar’s was merely balding.

“You called, sir?” The tone was deferential, the pose submissive, but there was something in the younger man’s eyes that gave Ragar the distinct impression that far beneath the surface the young man was laughing at him.

“I just got a message from Senator Dobs,” he snarled. “Last minute changes to the scenario. Said YOU suggested them.”

“‘Suggest’ is perhaps a bit stronger term than I would-”

“Shut up. I like you Peabody. Really. You do good work. But this kind of thing has to stop.”

“Isn’t there a last-minute changes clause in the contract?”

“You know there is. And the Senator’s willing to pay through the nose for the new scenario. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t more work for the rest of us.”

“Maybe not as much as you think, sir.”

“Don’t give me that. We’ve got the planet all set and ready. Ruins smoldering properly, rot-bots charging up. The senator’s son was all set to be the hero of his very own zombie apocalypse and here you come, weeks before D-Day with this stupid spider idea.”

“Everyone does zombies sir. I’ve been trying to tell you we need to branch out; try new things. I’ve got this idea for a plant-based-”

“Shut your trap, Peabody. I swear to god if he changes his mind again, that’s it. You’re out of here. I don’t care how good you are.”

“You’re making this into a much bigger deal than it has to be.”

“Really? Then tell me. How are we supposed to reset and entire planet in two weeks. And remember, no holograms.”

“None needed sir. It’s really quite easy. The rot-bots we can just deactivate, leave them lying around as the carnage of the spiders.”

“It’s not the bodies I’m worried about. Where are you going to get billions of spiders from? The fabbers won’t work that fast.”

“They won’t have to. With a few simple modifications they’re going to BE the spiders.”
Ragar turned the idea over and over in his head, looking for holes. “You’re saying we slap a fresh coat of paint on them, program their dispensers to spin webs and give them the run of the planet?”

“Right. Maybe we have them work up a couple or three monster-sized arachnids to keep things interesting. We could do all that in a week. Tops.”

Ragar growled, trying to think of some other objection to raise, and when he found none ready at hand he snapped, “Fine. Go. Make it happen.”

When Peabody was gone, Ragar pounded his fist against his desk in frustration. He still wanted to break something.

Anymore, everything was practically indestructible. And why shouldn’t it be? This was the future, the perfect paradise, Utopia realized, the New Jerusalem descended from the heavens. And no one was happy.

Well, no that wasn’t strictly true. There was a manner of happiness to be found. But contentment…that was another bird entirely. The whole world seemed to be caught in the grip of a paralyzing ennui, a specter that lingered like an unseen cloud over the glittering skylines of their  peaceful and disease-free cities.

And so people distracted themselves. In a world with no dangers to speak of, brats like the Senator’s son paid billions for manufactured conflict, tramping off through warp holes to fight against hoards of zombies. Or, if Peabody had his way, deadly swarms of spiders. It was enough to make Ragar sick.

He walked over to where his tablet had fallen, and brushed it off with his sleeve. And then, there on the floor where the cursed thing had fallen, he noticed a single tiny spider skittering across the tile.

A grim smile slithered across Ragar’s face. He carefully raised his shoe, and then slammed his heel down with a crunch.

Patch Work

[This is a slightly modified version of a story I wrote for Joseph Devon's Climactic Sewing Scene Challenge (sadly closed to new entrants). You will note that the scene is not particularly climactic, however there is sewing involved, and I figure two out of three ain't bad.

Enjoy. Or, you know, be grossed out. Your choice really.]

The screaming makes it hard to concentrate, but I do my best, making sure the knife follows the lines Grandma’s drawn on Mr. Weaver’s back. Blood starts to well up in the knife’s wake, and I start to feel sick, but then I think of mother, saying “Not yet, she’s not ready,” and I grit my teeth together and force myself to focus on the cut.

When I finish the last cut and Grandma says, “Very good,” and pries the patch of skin off with her tweezers. Now Mr. Weaver screams even louder, but Grandma deftly drops the flap of skin into the flat tray of preserving oil and presses the poultice we’d prepared beforehand down against Mr. Weaver’s back. Grandma hasn’t taught me yet what goes into the poultice, but I know it works because Mr. Weaver’s screams fade into whimpers. “The worst is over,” Grandma tells him. “You did very well.”

Later when he’s gone, Grandma takes the square of skin out of the preserving fluid, and slides it into her special oven. While we’re waiting for it to dry, Grandma takes out the soul-quilt and tells me the stories of each of the patches. “This one was Mr. Valaries’,” she says, fingering a tan and freckled square. “He wanted his cattle to be the strongest in the land.” She points to a patch of almost pure white. “And this one came from Miss Elaina Hockman.”

“What did she want?” I ask.

“To be free.”

“Miss Hockman was a slave?”

“There’s more than one kind of slavery, child,” Grandma said gently.

“What about Mr. Weaver?” I ask.

“He wants a son. His wife is barren. At least she was.”

We take the skin out of the oven then, and it feels strange, dry, but supple, almost as if it was still living.

Grandma sets me down and says, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

I nod and take the needle from her hands. She spreads the soul-quilt out on my lap and I start to sew. At first I have to focus hard on the task, but then the needle starts to move faster in my hands, as if someone else was holding it instead of me. For a moment the world goes fuzzy, and I see a picture in my mind of Mr. Weaver on top of Mrs. Weaver, heaving up and down, and Mrs. Weaver making the kind of sounds Mother makes some nights when she and Father think I’m asleep.

When I’m finished, the feeling goes away, and I’m just me again. I run my fingers over the patch of skin, and look at the rest of the quilt. Some of the patches are hundreds of years old, from even before the time that Grandma was a little girl. But here close to the end there are a great many patches of the same color, squares of skin with a bronzed, nearly reddish tint that almost seems to glow.

“There’s something you want to ask,” Grandma says. “I can see it on your face.”

I nod. “Its just…there’s a man-”

“You call him the patchwork man,” she says.

I’m startled and then she laughs. “Don’t think I haven’t got my ears out too.”

“It’s just…he doesn’t have anything. But he’s got more scars than skin. What is it he’s paying for?”

“His daughter’s happiness.”

“Who is she?”

Grandma points to the castle on the hill, and suddenly I remember how that last year the king’s son happened through the town and fell madly in love with a simple farm girl, carrying her off to his castle to marry her.

“But she’s Mr. Tekles daughter.”

Grandma laughs. “Yes, that drunkard has been all over town bragging about how his daughter is the fairest in the land. But he’s not the one who can’t sleep at night for the pain of lying on his squares of raw flesh. That’s what love is, child. That’s what a true father would do for his daughter or a mother for her son. And don’t you forget it.”

I look into her eyes and there’s something dark and sad there. “There’s something else, isn’t there?” I say.

She looks at me, a little surprised, and then she lets out a sigh. “You’re a Seamstress sure enough, no matter what your mother says. The Patchwork Man, well, he could have been her father.”

“You mean it isn’t true? Why don’t you tell him?”

“Because he loves her. Because he’s better for her than her real father ever could be. Because it would kill him if he knew.”

“But it hurts him so much.”

I see a tears brimming in the edge of Grandma’s eyes, and he pulls me tight against her chest. “In the end child,” she says, her voice quavering, “love always does.”

Flash Fiction February: Day 29

Happy Leap Day everybody, and welcome to the end of having to read about my struggle to write twenty-nine stories in twenty-nine days. I’d like to tell you that all of those twenty-nine days were amazing, but the truth is that some of them sucked, and some of them were just kinda “meh”. Since we’re wrapping things up today, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned this month:

1. Writing is a Roller Coaster

I feel like a broken record saying this, but it still amazes me how variable this writing thing can be. Some days you write and it lifts your spirits and gives you strength to power on through even the darkest of times. And other days it seems as if it sucks you dry, leaving you hollow and soulless, exacting a terrible price for the words you have written. And the funny thing is, the quality of the writing rarely lines up with how you feel about it. Days when writing feels like chore sometimes produce great stories. Why? No, really, why? If you know, please let me know.

2. Flash Fiction is a Lot of Work

Comparatively at least. I mean, I’d far rather be sitting around thinking up stories than shoveling concrete under the hot Florida sun (this was my first job, and everything else I’ve ever done seems like cake in comparison. Moral: the secret to happiness is understanding how bad things actually could be.) But even though my wordcount for the month was far from prodigious it feels like coming up with a new story every day is more taxing than writing longer fiction where you at least have an idea of where you’re going. Or perhaps it is taxing in a different way. The same, but different.

3. People Like Reading Short Stories

In the past I’ve always shied away from putting too much short fiction up on this blog, opting instead to make it a relatively small proportion of the posts I made. But in Flash Fiction February, because I was spending time writing stories instead of blog posts the balance of that output changed to about 50/50. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that people responded. Views are up, comments are up, sales of my ebooks are up (though most of that is probably due to the Kindle Select promotion I ran this month). Which means you can expect to see more of that kind of thing from now on. Don’t worry I’m itching to get back to posting regular blog posts too, but from now on I’m not going to be so afraid of “story overload”.

4. In 1920 Italian Anarchists Blew Up a Wagon Full of Dynamite and Sash Weights in Front of the New York Stock Exchange, Killing Forty People and Injuring Hundreds.

That’s not related to Flash Fiction February, it’s just something I learned this month. How did I not know about this before? Did you know about this? And you didn’t tell me? Not cool man.

5. C. M. Stewart is a Fantastic Human Being and a Wonderful Writer.

So I had this crazy idea about writing twenty-nine stories in twenty-nine days, and fellow blogger C. M. Stewart got on board. I mean, some people said, “Oh yeah, I’ll give that a shot,” but she took it to the next level. You know the one; the level has the zombie dragon on it? Yeah, that next level. She not only participated in the challenge, but she took on the role of unofficial cheerleader, and, perhaps most impressively, she’s posted every story she wrote this month on her blog. Let me tell you my friends, that takes major cojones. She’s a good friend and a writing force to be reckoned with. Go and check out her work.

***

Looking forward, I’ve got a lot of idea for what I want to do next, and most of them involve editing. I want to take a look at the very first book I ever wrote, Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption, and hopefully take another stab at making it viable for the market. After that I’m going to be working on my NaNoWriMo novel from two years ago The Dark Mile. In between, there are a few stories I wrote this month that I’m considering expanding into longer short stories and releasing as ebooks, including one called “How to Be a Serial Killer” that may make it up into novella-length range. That one…that one’s going to be interesting.

Stay tuned my friends. Same Bat Time, same Bat Station.

She Said No

She said no.

She said no, and I wasn’t ready for it. I just sat there in the middle of that crowded restaurant with my food cooling on my plate and my mouth open like an idiot.

It hadn’t entered my mind that there could be a negative response to my question. The “no” only existed as a hypothetical, nothing more than a diversion to toy with in the mind. It should have been yes. It had to be yes.

She looked at me with concern in her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?” The words tumbled out of my mouth like marbles falling from my numb lips.

“Its not…I shouldn’t have said it like that.”

This was all wrong. My mind was still reeling. She was apologizing. She was apologizing.

“I guess…I should have told you sooner. But I just…well to be honest I was afraid this would happen.”

“Is there anything I can do?” The words sounded stupid even as I was saying them, but I had to say something.

“No. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?” The words came out louder than I had intended and I noticed several of the patrons looking at us strangely.

She reached across and put her arm on my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “You’ll get through this.”

But my eyes filled up with tears, and I shook my head. “This…this can’t be happening.”

“It is.”

“But it shouldn’t.”

“Maybe it should. Maybe it was meant to be.” And she put her arms around me and held me as I cried.

It’s been a long time since the day she said no. I was wrong, and she was right. I did get through it. But it wasn’t easy. Inside I fought it every step of the way. But it didn’t matter.

Because by the time that she took me to dinner than night and told me that she had cancer; by the time I asked her if she was going to make it; by the time she said no…it was already too late.

[I wrote this story because a coworker I haven't seen in a while stopped by work today. She told me she hadn't been at work recently because she had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. I asked her if she would be okay, and she said yes. But afterwords I thought to myself, What would I have done if she had said no? That question was the seed that grew this story.]

Flash Fiction February – Day Seven

A while back some of you may remember that I got a little burned out on the whole writing “thing”. I went through some things that made me reevaluate what I wanted out of my life as a writer and for the space of about a month I did almost no writing at all.

I’ve been slowly coming back from that, but here at the end of the first week of Flash Fiction February I’m finally starting to remember that there really can be joy in sitting down to write every day.

Not that every day has produced some spectacularly brilliant work of fiction, but the beauty of Flash Fiction February is that if today’s work stinks, that stench doesn’t necessarily have to carry over to tomorrow. When I was a kid my mom basically forced me to sit down and watch Anne of Green Gables and in that movie there’s a line that’s stuck with me: “Tomorrow is fresh, with no mistakes in it.” For me that’s basically the spirit of Flash Fiction February summed up in a single sentence.

So far I’ve only missed one day of writing, but that was because I was engrossed in the big game (not the Super Bowl mind you; me and the kids had a wicked round of Uno going on Sunday night.) As to the writing I have done, I have to say that overall I’m pleased, not only with the general quality of my output, but also in the fact that writing a different story every day is forcing me to try new things, exercise different narrative techniques, try out variations in my writing voice.

There’s still a lot of writing left to do, but I’m feeling good about the rest of the month. Here’s wishing the rest of you a happy February of writing too.

Flash Fiction February: A Pile of Prompts

February is nearly upon us my friends. Can you feel it? Can you sense that electric hum of anticipation in the air? That’s not the feeling that comes with knowing that you have nothing special planned for your sweety this Valentines Day. That’s the realization that Flash Fiction February is right around the corner!

Yeah, that’s right. Exclamation point, ya’ll. I’m not taking it back neither. ‘Cause I am pumped.

But maybe you’re worried. Maybe your thinking, Albert, I want to do this Flash Fiction February thing, but what am I going to write about for twenty-nine whole days?

Never fear my friends. I mean unless you’re being attacked by the Slender Man or something, in which case, yeah. FEAR. But we has got you covered on this writing thing. And by “we” I mean, blogger and writer C. M. Stewart.

Ms. Stewart is a flash fiction aficionado, a connoisseur of writing prompts from around the web, and she has compile a fantastic list of twenty nine prompts, one for each of the days in February, which you should totally check out here.

Now maybe you don’t feel like you need any prompts. Maybe you think you’ve got a handle on this thing. Let me tell you, you owe it to yourself to at least go and check these out. Why? Two words: ghost rockets.

Remember these prompts are just suggestions. You can use all or none of them as you see fit. The main thing is to write. To form a new story every day for twenty-nine days.

And whether you wing it or use the prompts, always remember, the most important part of any story comes from something that you and only you can bring to it.

Happy writing!

In Defense of “Free”

Last week I came across an interesting post by social media maven Kristen Lamb about the dangers of authors making ebooks available for free. You should read the full post for yourself, but the general theme of the post was that because the ebook market is flooded with free stuff and most of it is worth less than a barrel of turds (because, hey, at least turds make good fertilizer) so making your book available for free could do more harm than good merely through the power of negative association.

As some of you may know, I’ve had some experience with the free side of the ebook market in the past, both as a seller and a buyer. And while I’ll concede that there are dangers in offering your ebook for free, in my experience there are also some advantages.

Last year Amazon made my ebook Derelict available for free without my prior knowledge or consent. It hit me as a shock, but it was perfectly within Amazon’s rights to make the change, and rather than gripe and moan about what was happening to my book, I decided to take a positive outlook on the situation. After all, it wasn’t like I was burning up the internet with that story before it was offered for free, and at least now people were READING it. And more than just reading it, some people responded with generally positive reviews.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago when Amazon took the book back to its original price. Of course it didn’t move in the same numbers as it did when it was free, but it still outsold the rest of my fiction by a factor of a thousand percent (that’s a multiple of ten for those of you who ain’t so swuft with the math stuff.) Today it continues to sell just as well.

Which is why, when I recently released another short story, The Fisherman’s Nightmare, I chose to make it available for free on Smashwords. Of course the free book selection on Smashwords is even worse than what it is on Amazon, and the traffic there isn’t nearly as heavy which means I didn’t have terribly high hopes for the story, but not only did it move at a reasonable rate, it also drove a few sales for my other paid books as well.

Now this is only anecdotal evidence, and I’m not trying to say that everything Kristen said in her post was wrong, but I do feel like there’s a little more to the story.

We all want to get people talking about our writing, and as an unknown author it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, lost in a sea of other authors of varying ability, all them trying to break through to become the next Amanda Hocking. There are lots of ways to get the message about your books out to the world, but the core of the equation remains: are they any good?

And whether you choose to spread the word via social media, or making your books free, or hiring out a plane to do skywriting, people aren’t going to respond if they don’t like your work.

Remember, there is plenty of bad self published fiction out there, and at whatever price it makes the rest of us look bad.

Do your part. Don’t make it worse.

Announcing: a new short story; the mistreatment of children; and Flash Fiction February

Greetings dear readers,

It has come to my attention that there might theoretically be some of you out there wondering, “What might be the goings on in the life of small-time self published author and applied retro-phrenologist extraordinaire, Albert Berg?” And because I do not wish you to lose any more sleep puzzling this matter over I have taken it upon myself to inform you dear readers, that these be the goings on:

1. I have published a new(ish) short story.

Some of you may remember that I wrote “The Fisherman’s Nightmare” a while back as a response to one of Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenges. It was one of the few times he posted a challenge without a wordcount limit, and the story that grew in my mind took the better part of a week to write. By the time it was finished I was close to the deadline so I posted it pretty much as a rough draft, and promptly forgot about it.

But a few weeks ago I was mucking through my files and happened to take another look at “The Fisherman’s Nightmare”. To my utter shock and surprised, it actually wasn’t half bad. So I polished it up, read it aloud to myself (writers, for serious, do this when you edit) polished some more, tweaked the ending and voila!

Voila: like a voilin but smaller

Its available from Amazon for money, or you can get it from Smashwords for free.

2. I am inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on my foster kids.

Okay, folks, don’t report me to Child Protective Services, but well there’s no easy way to say this: I’m turning off the televisions in our house for a month.

I know, right? A whole entire month! What kind of sick person could be so cruel to himself and others. Clearly there is something wrong with me.

But the thing is, and I don’t know, maybe this is just me, but I can’t help thinking that maybe there are other things we could all be doing with our time than soaking up TV. I’m not necessarily against television, but I know I managed to go for more than ten years of my childhood without it, and I’m thinking maybe we’ll be able to manage it for a single month.

Maybe we’ll listen to some old-time radio shows or play some games or, I dunno, talk to each other? Is that thing people still do? I guess we’ll find out in a week.

In the mean time I’m going on a Doctor Who watching binge to tide me over through the dark days ahead.

3. I am founding Flash Fiction February

What is Flash Fiction February? Well, think of it like National Novel Writing Month, only instead of writing an entire novel in a month you write a new flash fiction story every day.

Really this is a challenge I’m making for myself, but I’d love to have some of you join me. I think coming up with a new and different story every day for twenty-nine straight days would be a great way to exercise our mental storytelling muscles.

You don’t have to do anything with the stories you write. They don’t even have to be good stories. Like NaNoWriMo the concept here is to get those fingers typing and build up consistency as a writer.

If you’re interested in joining me in writing a flash fiction story for every day next month, drop a line in the comments. Also if this is an idea that interests you, I’d love some help spreading the word. Tweet, blog, send smoke signals, whatever.

And as always, happy writing!