Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

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.

Flash Fiction February: Day 22

The rains have passed and the sun is out. All the doors of the house are open, and the breeze is perfect.

Which, if it wasn’t true, is a pretty good metaphor for how Flash Fiction February has been going this last week. Things have just been…clicking. Finally I’m feeling like I’m getting something good here.

I think it started when I switched to writing with pencil and paper instead of typing on the computer. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the medium of composition has some invisible effect on the outcome. Then again, maybe that’s just the Romantic in me getting all mystical about stuff.

Whatever the cause, things are looking good. I’ve had that feeling like the form of the stories is bubbling up from somewhere inside. There are verses in the bible that refer to the seat of the emotions being in the stomach, the phrase “our bowels did yearn” used to describe that deep aching longing feeling that you get when you’re about to see someone you’ve desperately missed. That’s what this feels like. It’s not writing from the heart, but writing from the gut.

And if one or several of the pieces I’ve written on these last few days have not turned out to be actual stories, then that’s okay. There are no judges, no rules, not even an audience to please. Just me and my notebook, and a hand that really starting to cramp up because I can’t remember the last time I wrote down more than a few words on paper.

Actually, that’s not true, I can. It was the Krampus story. And I felt the same way about that one as I do about these: they may not be right for everyone, but they’re surely right for me.

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: 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!

Flash Fiction February FAQ

1. So what’s this all about then, eh?

Exactly what is says on the tin. February is coming up and I’ve thought for a while it would be interesting to write a new flash fiction story every day for an entire month. But then I figured, why should I have all the fun? (Well, besides the obvious fact that I’m completely awesome I mean.) So I’m inviting you along for the ride.

2. Okay, but what exactly is flash fiction?

Flash fiction is a form of short story with the specific limitation that the story must be told in less than one thousand words.

3. Sounds like fun! So what are the rules?

Well, rules sounds a bit harsh. Lets call them guidelines. The general idea is that you write one story for every day of the month.

You don’t have to write a story on every day of the month. You can skip a day and write two stories the next day. You can hammer out twenty-nine stories in a row on one glorious unhampered day of writing if that’s your style.

4. What happens if I fail?

Nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. I mean it’s possible you won’t be able to live with yourself as a human being, forever haunted by the knowledge you couldn’t do it, and that with your dying breath you will be filled with one singular burning regret: that you didn’t finish Flash Fiction February. But probably…nothing.

This is about challenging yourself. If you fail the challenge you have only yourself to answer to.

5. Why February?

Because I’m fundamentally lazy and February has fewer days than the rest of the months in the year.

6. Come on, admit it, you’re just into the alliteration aren’t you?

Okay fine, you caught me. But can you blame me? Does Flash Fiction October really have the same ring to it? No. No it does not.

7. Is there a minimum story length?

Nope. If you want to tell a story in a hundred words or in three sentences or by painting pictograms of your own design that is totally okay. I reiterate, this is a personal challenge. No prizes for completion, no penalties for failure. You set your own standards. No one is going to hunt you down and scream at you for doing it wrong. Probably.

8. What do I do with my stories when I’ve written them?

Again, this is all up to you. If you want you can post them to your blog as you write you can do that. Or you can them or keep them all to yourself. Personally I plan to post maybe one per week (assuming I have at least one per week that’s any good), because much more than that would overload my blog feed and I don’t want to turn away readers. But that’s just me.

9. This sounds like fun! How can I help?

By spreading the joy. If you blog, a short post explaining the concept of Flash Fiction February would spread the word far beyond the limited reach I can achieve as a single voice. Also, if you post updates on your progress or want to talk about the project on twitter use the #flashfictionfebruary hashtag.

Beyond that, just have fun: expand your horizons, fiddle with genre, push the limits of fiction without fear. Because if it doesn’t work out today, you can start all over again tommorow.

Good luck. And happy writing.

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!

The Eye

David raised the eye to his nose and breathed in the scent of pine. There was something intoxicating in that scent, something wonderful, much like the times in his youth when he would open his mother’s Earl Grey teabags just to breathe in their aroma.

The scrap of wood felt good in his hand, the smooth edges where his knife had run seemed…right somehow. It hadn’t taken great imagination to see the eye. It was there in the scrap of wood that had broken off one of the brittle wooden pallets he had been pulling across the back lot of the hardware story earlier that day. The flimsy pallets were always cracking, shedding endless scraps of worthless wood. But this one…this one had seemed to call to him somehow.

On his lunch break he sat on the loading dock, his baloney sandwich forgotten in his locker as he carved at the eye, carefully shaving away layers of wood with his pocket knife.

He had never carved anything before in his life. But this felt important, good somehow. What was that thing the scupltor had said? To carve an elephant, start with a rock and take away everything that is not an elephant. He liked that idea, the idea that the elephant was inside the rock before the carving ever started, that it was only the sculptor’s job to reveal the thing that was already there. That was how he felt now. Like the eye was already there and all he had to do was to set it free.

Just a few more strokes with the knife and it would be finished. Just a few more cuts and-

The alarm on his phone brayed warning him it was time to go back to work. He mashed the button absently and went on carving. Just a few more minutes, that’s all he needed. They wouldn’t miss him for just a few more minutes. Because it was almost there, almost perfect.

The knot in the middle of the piece of wood seem to really be looking at him now, and he could almost…almost imagine that it could really see him.

He became dimly aware of a voice shouting at him, telling him to get up and get back to work, but the voice didn’t matter, because this was his true work. And when he felt a rough hand on his shoulder he turned quickly and lashed out with the knife, and the man fell, his neck gaping open like a second mouth.

David went on carving. He barely noticed the spreading pool of blood as it spread over toward where he sat. He was close. So close.

The scent of pine was stronger now, filling his head with strange ideas. He felt almost as if he were floating as if his soul had become disconnected from his body. This was reality. This was power. Everything he had experienced up until now was just a shadow of a dream. With the eye he began to see truly. And when it was finished…

Then there was shouting, someone else had discovered the body. They screamed at him in horror and rage, but they did not understand. They could not see. The body was nothing. He had set the soul free. It was beautiful and wonderful and right.

He worked faster now, his fingers moving as if by their own agency, and all around him the men stared, none of them brave enough to come closer. They were calling, calling for help, for police, but it did not matter because he was very nearly finished. He felt something well up inside of him then, and with the scent of pine in his nose he felt his body shudder and his eyes filled up with tears, not of sorrow, but of joy, joy at the realization that this was thing he had always been meant to do, all of his life leading up to this single perfect moment.

And as the first of those tears fell into the wooden eye he realized what he must do. The carving was almost complete, yes, but until now he had not understood the true nature of the carving. It was not the wood alone that must change. For the carving to be complete he must change as well. So he lifted the knife to his face and led it slide in ever so gently into the socket of his eye. The world bucked with the agony of pain, but some part of him was past caring now, and he dug at the eye with the knife until with a tearing, rending “pop”, it came free. He was dimly aware of the sound of screaming, and some of the screams were his, but it didn’t matter now because he was almost done. He tossed the bloody, pulpy, ragged eye off of the loading dock and took the wooden eye, the true eye and jammed it into his gaping eye socket. And with that a smile broke out across his face.

The carving was finished.

And for the first time in his life he could truly see.

Rondo Alla Turca

Once upon a time, a songbird winging its way though the Wood of the World chanced to light in the branches of an ancient old oak. There it sang a lilting ditty, and said to the oak as was the custom of the birds, “I thank you for the comfort of your branches.”
“I thank you for the song,” replied the oak, “Though I have heard it often, it is still as beautiful than ever. Do you know it’s story?”
“I fear I must confess I did not even know there was a story for that song.”
“Every song has a story,” said the tree. “Though almost all of them are sad.”
“Even for the happy songs?” asked the songbird.
Especially for the happy songs,” said the tree.
“Tell me the story,” said the bird.
And so the ancient oak began. “Once at the center of this very wood there grew a great tree. It grew from the seed of a dream taller and taller until it’s boughs reached up to embrace the heavens. Rivers sprang up from the tangle of its roots, and in the shadow of its leaves all other trees stood as saplings. All the birds of the heavens rested in its bows, and the sound of their singing was the sweetest thing the wood had ever known. For a long time the tree stood. And the longer it stood, the more it believed it would stand forever. But such is not the way of life.
One day men came into the wood with axes. The tree laughed in scorn at the men and their axes for its trunk was hard as iron, but the will of the woodsmen was harder still. For the space of a full year they chopped and sawed and hacked at the base of the tree until at last, creaking, cracking, crashing, it fell. The tree was so tall it took fully seven days to fall to the earth, and in that time the birds that nested in its branches broke into song one last time.
When the woodsmen heard the song their hearts of stone melted at its melody.
They lured the birds into cages of gold and made them sing the song over and over. And while they stripped the once-mighty tree of its branches the song grew and multiplied.
The birds went on singing the song until its sound spread to every tree in the wood. But you birds are a forgetful lot, and soon the memory of the tree faded away from all but the oldest of us trees.”
“Thank you for the story,” said the bird. “I’m sure I shall tell it to everyone I meet.”
To this the tree said nothing, and so, after a while, the little bird flew on.
But the birds of the world are a forgetful lot, and soon the story of the tree had vanished from the little bird’s head entirely.
But the song went on forever.

[The preceding story was written as a response to Chuck Wendig’s Song Shuffle Stories Flash Fiction Challenge. The connection between the song and story might not be immediately apparent to those of you not intimately familiar with music history in particular and world history in general, however let me assure you there is a connection. Also, yes, Rondo Alla Turca was the first song to come up on my shuffle; I’m one of those people. (Though in my defense it was the Uli Jon Roth cover, which you can listen to here if you’re interested.)