Writing is a skill. It can be learned and lost. So, in order not to lose it, I have been engaging in some light-hearted flash fiction creation over at one of my favourite storytelling laboratories, The Tale Foundry. Making stuff up has never been this fun before, I can assure you. When you engage with the writing group for fan fiction, you are assured of being creatively challenged and having fellow writers critique your work. Over on the Discord channel, you can always ask for advice or for someone to give your work a read-through – though it pays to be tenacious at times -, and over on Twitch a few of the randomly chosen stories from the Writing Group get read and critiqued in a live stream. If any of that sounds like it might tickle your story-telling fancy, then head on over to the Tale Foundry!
Without much further ado, I have eight small stories (at a maximum of 350 words each) to impart to you. I will include the prompt that inspired them and the title I gave to each piece. Starting with…
It’s the little things (prompt)
God Is in the Details (title)
It spun before Him, listless and torrid, as He mused. He liked to do a good job of it. This time, He wanted to do something special.
The Sun at His back cleared its throat with a gout of plasma that scintillated across the scattered, revolving planets. It was used to waiting, but this was getting ridiculous.
A few million years had already passed by and He was quite enjoying watching the lava dry.
“Maybe… Hmm, water. I haven’t tried out water yet.”
“What am I, a blur?” carped Sol.
“Shh, little giant, I’m trying to think here,” He murmured, a sound that set the stars to twinkling.
Suddenly, the thoughts poured in from the ether: He scooped out troughs and trenches, threw up cliffs, and knolls, and tors. A rain of asteroids struck the planet at His whistle and then He wriggled in the crust to dig out spurts of water. Kneading shale and coaxing limestone, He sent torrents of silt streaming across the virgin soil.
Once the coasts were abraded and islands sloped sloppily into the water, He set a spark to roaming in the muddy depths. At first, nothing much happened, but in the blink of a divine eye, the sky took on a shade of beryl as viridian hues crashed over the drab landscape and lungs filled with oxygen.
“Ugh! What’s all that then, and all of it skittering and crawling around in that soup?” Sol gagged.
“Now that”, He smiled beneficently, “that’s the stuff. Now I can really get down to brass tacks,” and His smile lit up the universe.
The warm pleasure of sunshine
All Hail the King
It was an airy hole. Drafts found their way through every crevice and nestled in the corners, but not before drawing icy fingers over my starved flesh. They had given me a ragged piece of yellow silk, a mocking jest.
They had put a crown of daisies on my head as well. After two days without food I devoured it. I wish I had done so sooner, before it had withered. I wish I hadn’t trampled it in anger that first day. I wish I hadn’t peed on the floor before that. I wish…
A king deserves better, for mine is the body politic! Mine is the spirit anointed by God to steer this realm. As the body politic suffers, so too does the land and its people. Maybe that was why no one had yet shown up with sustenance, my mind rambled on as the body natural wasted away.
It amazed me I had any strength remaining for thought, when all I could focus on were two strips of light. They moved up high across the wall, left to right, each day, a poem of sunbeams on pockmarked plaster. It was the promise of strawberries, of tea on the southern terrace, and of swift judgments in sweltering robes of state.
I lay crouched, eyes drinking in the lambent light at zenith, when a murmur tugged at the frayed edges of my insensibility. Boots. Boots with iron spurs, crashing down on stone. Nearing. Keys, jangling as a lock howled. Time was a funny thing. The guards rushed in at the speed of light crawling across the plaster, dragging me out, manhandling my person. I was a feather, borne on the Zephyr of political outrage.
Sunlight limned the outer gate, and tears were in my eyes. It was thrown wide, and the light cloaked my parched flesh, haloeing muscle and memory alike. And when my eyes adjusted, through a veil of tears, I saw the gibbet and the jeering crowd, but the joy of sunlight was inside of me now and I laughed and laughed and laughed…
Hold my bear
Mommy Needs It More
Mommy and daddy are yelling again, she thought, and hugged her teddy to her chest. Mr. Frosty had a black, shiny nose, white-streaked paws and frost-tipped ears. At times like these, Alina felt like Mr. Frosty was all she had. Everything, everyone else might leave her, but not Mr. Frosty.
“… and I have to do everything around here! You’re never home–”
“… spending all my money!”
“Our money, you jackass! Or do you think food just magically–”
“No, I’m pretty sure you just dig it up out of a trashcan for-“
“Fuck you! Do you think I wanted to be a stay-at-home-?”
“What! What would you have done? Made a career as a-”
The sound of glass shattering, tinkling, bouncing. “One of these days, I’m not gonna miss!”
“One of these days, I won’t… I won’t be here for you to throw things at!” The front door slammed shut. The car’s engine revved angrily and gravel clattered against the garage door.
The shouting had stopped. Another door banged to, and Alina clutched Mr. Frosty fervently. Distantly, she heard the muffled sounds of someone crying. She got up, opened the bedroom dresser she had hidden in, and went into the hallway. The worn wall-to-wall carpet felt ticklish underfoot and she played her usual game, skipping over the rips in the carpet. Mr. Frosty’s head lolled in time with her jumps, a vacant grin swaying to and fro.
When she got to her mother and father’s bedroom – a place she had been told she could not go; a place she knew intimately – she knocked shyly. The crying skipped a beat, and then continued softly. Alina reached up for the doorknob, extending a slim wrist, only barely grabbing hold. The door creaked open, the pale yellow light from the hall lamp slicing into the bedroom’s murk. Alina walked over to her mother who was sitting slumped on the edge of the bed.
“Here, mommy,” she lisped, “you can hold Mr. Frosty.”
Describe the colour purple
A Summer’s Breeze
A frosty nip shook the trees and rattled the fruit-laden branches together.
“Excuse you!” said Peach, blushing with indignation.
“What?” huffed Plum.
“I happen to bruise easily, you know. No need to get rough.”
“Rough? That was the wind, you windbag. And I can imagine that you would bruise easily with skin like that, all fuzzy and pale, all sunset and no sun, all lustre and no muster.”
“You… you…” spluttered Peach. “You should talk! You’re nought but a bruise, the sight of a late night in the rough part of town, a stain on your own honour! I won’t be impeached by a lout like you!”
“Bah, you’re full of guff. All that spit and venom, feeling better’n the likes of me.” Plum pulled in its gut. “I’ve got some complexion, at least: I’ve got a full head of steam in me, I’m night and day, I’m king and pauper. I taste like sin on Saturday nights and cranberries in the morning. I’m not some fusty old mealworm like you!”
“Well, I never!” Peach was trembling on his stem, stumped into stillness. “All that gaudy peacock strutting will do you no good, you plump rascal. We’ll see who gets bitten first.”
As Plum and Peach harangued each other the wind picked up. It was an unseasonal nor’wester and it plucked Plum plumb from his perch.
“Hah!” Peach yelled after him, “serves you right, you overripe troglodyte!”
In among the verdant grass and sage-green moss, Plum leaked out to the delight of passing ants.
“Oooh, Gus, look’it!”
“Wha’?” said the pheromone scent marker of the second ant with a whiff of mycelia and wood-rot.
“Nah, Gus, iz crestfallen termites-attacking-th’anthill.”
Things were looking bleak for Plum. In his final moments, he remembered the softening of flesh, the scarlet overtaking the chartreuse, the sappy loneliness and the longing to dance free on the breeze as sunbeams brought out the dignity in him. It all leaked out onto the chestnut soil, and a chitinous army swarmed his body redolent with pithy notes.
Conquered by Nature
The Queen of Heaven
Inanna decided to take a break from the city. It was just as well; the markets and avenues sweltered with busy bodies. Instead, she wandered off from the sparkling brick walls, glazed in turqoise, ochre and ferric red.
First she walked by the riverside, only to be met by horseflies, fowl and musthy buffaloes. She swatted them all away and left the sun’s glimmer on the watercourse behind.
Then she strolled by the fields with their carefully kept drills and canals, the one oozing with algae and spawn and the other crisscrossed by an early rising of jade green shoots. Crickets, voles and cats scurried and furorred about in that undergrowth. She quieted them with a look, but thought better of it as she moved towards the edge of the forest. Let beasts be beasts, she sighed.
Tamarisk and juniper trees played in the perfumes wafting from the date orchards. At a wellspring she seated herself on a stone. She breathed in the paean of chirrups, gurgling water and whistling leaves that shimmered in the golden sunlight, and she breathed out her cares.
A gazelle stepped into a ray of light that clave the canopy. Its ears flicked while its black tail trembled, held erect. Then, hoof by hoof, the sleek brown thing approached Inanna and laid its head on her lap. Enthroned on her stone, she had a firmer grasp on the fawn than ever she had had on her congregation. Solitary bees buzzed, nuzzling wildflowers.
As she mused on her worries, a low growl set the fawn’s tail a-quiver again. She stilled it and gave her beneficent smile to the lion that stalked into her bower. He was an old male with a frayed mane and a scar-riddled snout. At her beckon, it sat by her side and started licking its chops. There she drowsed, cool water lapping at her sandaled feet. None would ever think to find her there, far away from her usual trappings. Not even Dumuzi. It amused her, and she let the rhythm of the savage outdoors take her out of her own mind.
A strange illness
We Never Get Sick (excerpt from “Back from the Dead”)
“Oh, is that your…” she stumbled on her words, “your partner?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“You look so happy together. Is he off on a journey or…?” Ayesha left the question hanging in dead air when she noticed his face settle into a dimmed smile. She averted her gaze and focused instead on the sloping, coffered ceiling with its cornice-work of tree roots and blooming vines.
“He passed away, it must be almost four years by now? It’s so hard wanting to forget the pain and then realizing you’ve forgotten something else instead.” Padraíg’s eyes got a faraway look and they glistened in the slanted sunlight coming in through one of the coffers.
“How did he…?”
“Die?” A rueful but well-meaning smile, aimed at her reticence. She nodded. “Nobody knows, really. One day he was helping to dig up the potatoes, and the next I find myself wrapped around a cold body in the morning.”
“I thought you never got ill anymore? Or was that another J&J lie?”
“No, it’s true. Yet, after he died, some people reached out to me, informed me that there were other cases out there. Autopsy revealed that the medbots in their system had gone haywire. They attacked the amygdala and the central nervous system, shutting down all organ functions. Some malfunction of the autopilot during REM sleep.”
A slight panic crept into Ayesha and buried under her skin. She feared she would never go to sleep again. “How many cases?”
“Just a thou’ or so? I don’t dwell on it. It was a fluke, one that Harald was unlucky enough to experience. I’ve talked to the people over at NANO, and they assure me it is being looked into. The lady I talked to was very nice, and she knew her coding. I don’t think even Harald could have kept up with what she was saying, though she did dumb it down for me. Guess we’re still susceptible to disease. We thought our medbots would be the ones doing the dying for us. Guess we never figured they’d get sick or mad too.”
The end of the hallway
The Last Holiday
Suitcases rattled across the moving walkway. A tiny woman was stuck in the Tannoy, more than likely screaming to get out. It was all so much garbled nonsense hovering over the hubbub of passengers dining on appetized cardboard, rattling their plastic cutlery and shuffling unbalanced chairs. Mom and Dad kept getting farther ahead; I feared they might leave me behind.
Asinine billboards flashed by: for watches meant to be stolen in a blink; for travel insurance, surely a bit late now; for the kind of perfume that would have your co-passengers scratching your eyes out; and the obligatory taste-traps.
Of course it had to be the farthest gate, 484, at the end of the terminal. Well, for Mom and me it would be; Dad’s was at 473. He had time; we were late.
“Come on, Stephanie,” Mom said. Carped, even. It wasn’t my fault!
“I’m coming,” I panted. I kept bumping into the trolley. It was made for torture, not transport, laden as it was with the carry-on: a pink Power Rangers bag, Mom’s Gucci tote and my backpack, black and polka-dotted with stickers.
“We’re going to miss it,” she hissed, and threw a dirty look at Dad. It wasn’t his fault either…
At last we were at the gate. The paper-wrangling ensued; the desk clerk kept checking her phone — I’m sorry you had to do your job, lady! And then, that was it.
“Hug?” he asked, that bear of a man.
“I want to go with you.” I was tearing up. I didn’t care. Let her see. He squeezed me into his heart and up against the khaki bandolier that dug into my bra.
“Steph, come,” she called me to heel.
It wasn’t fair! So what that Dad had fucked around? I knew for a fact that Mom had too. And now we were going to Gran’s? A business trip, she had sneered at him. Ugh. So eye-rollingly obvious, Mom!
“It’ll be fine,” he lied. More tears welled up to ruin my mascara.
The last thing I saw was his forlorn waving as we vanished into the umbilical.
The leaves tell a story
Teachings (excerpt from “Back from the Dead”)
“Can you try again, Ayesha?” Federica asked.
She nodded. Ayesha kept her hand open, palms up, and concentrated on forming a small disc. Nothing fancy, just smooth stone all the way through.
“Remember. Feel for the nanites first. Then tell them you need to make something.” Federica sat on the other side of the table, her willowy form leaning over with silent encouragement, dappled with the swaying shade of the courtyard’s single persimmon tree. “You’re so close!”
Ayesha grunted, the tip of her tongue peeking out from between her lips, nearly biting it off from the strain. She tried to think of her own body, all of her limbs, one by one, and then imagined one outside of it. She saw it as an octopus with an infinite number of tentacles. Some were writhing about, or waving lazily and she could brush past them and make them heave one way or the other, while others were rigid and no amount of concentration could move them a micrometer.
She focused on the wavy ones, drawing them in towards her, forming the image of a single, simple lattice of graphite spreading out uniformly in a hexagonal pattern. She daren’t open her eyes to see what was happening. Appreciative murmurs from Federica filtered into her consciousness, but she paid her little heed.
Until it was done. And her palm was weighed down by a small, shiny leaden puck.
“See! I knew you could do it!” Federica gushed, and Ayesha felt absurdly proud, until her intellect intervened. A child would have done better without even blinking. How long had she sat there? A few minutes?
“Now,” Federica’s tone was flat again, teacher mode, “disassemble it and reassemble it from the same parts.”
“What?! But that’s impossible!”
“Is it?” At a gesture, the persimmon tree started to melt away amid a shimmer of light and, a few meters away, a sprout pushed up out of the soil. Roots that had lain thick and gnarled in one place disappeared to reappear whole in another. The trunk lengthened and widened, its hazel brown darkening. The bark became more ligneous and rough. Branches reached up to the sky and as one unfurled a blanket of leaves. One fell off in the whirl and tumbled to the table.
“The nanites remember their previous configurations, up to a point,” she picked up the leaf, “and they tell their story to those who learn to listen.”
That was it! Short and sweet. For those of you who are still reading, you will have noticed that the sixth and eight stories mention that they are excerpts. The title is a placeholder for the moment, as are many of the details. Suffice to say, I took on another project while still working on old ones. A nasty habit! But you cannot put the genie back into the bottle, so expect a larger excerpt here some time in the future!