Free Fiction! “Settling In” (1127 words)

This isn’t actually the story I planned to post today. That story, after some revising, ended up too long to be flash fiction. I wrote this story from scratch, tonight, just for you. I hope you like it, and as always, thank you for reading.


Time slips past a house in different ways, different when a house is a home than when it lays empty in the middle of an overgrown lot. A home can expect to pass its days one after another in a peaceful kind of slumber. The old yellow house out on Country Road No. 2 hasn’t slept well in a long, long… longer than it could remember. It shifts uncomfortably when rain falls in huge, heavy drops, or when frost chases across its windows, barely held in by rotting frames. Its pipes moan when the ground freezes hard. Small animals scurry through its walls, build nests in forgotten piles of unclaimed mail. The house hasn’t gotten used to these sounds yet.

When the afternoons are warm and a slight breeze blows across its faded shutters, it might remember better days. Mr. Malone coming to watch the house being built, wearing dark slacks and a pressed white shirt under his army jacket. Mr. Malone planting rose bushes under the kitchen window. Pouring drinks in the living room for his friends, other men in pressed shirts and slacks, or barbecuing in the backyard. Soft music from the old record player, drifting out through open windows into the night.

Now the house is both thinner and heavier, its joints too dry to fight against the downward pull of gravity. It tries to sleep to pass the time but every noise startles it awake.

One day, Mr. Malone was taken away, and he never came back. The house had hoped his ghost would walk through what remains of his home, a flicker of old moments like the curling photographs in the hallway, though it doesn’t know where the thought came from. It isn’t a comfort.

The newspapers keep coming, though. Some times it’s a child riding a bicycle, with a sack slung across their chest, who throws without looking and only by accident manages to hit the front porch. Other times, it’s a team in a pickup truck, with one person sitting in the bed, tossing out newspapers with bored precision, while another drives. They might not be the same child or the same truck, not after all this time, but none of them come up to the house so it isn’t sure.

It takes time and repetition for a house to learn about its people, after all.

The house is falling apart. The ghost of Mr. Malone is just a memory, the house’s memory. Snapshots of different moments in time, that’s all. The house doesn’t have a person anymore. It doesn’t even have a ghost to haunt it.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to go, the house begins to think. Let gravity pull down its rafters. The porch swing already lost one of the hooks that kept it suspended. It scraped against the porch floor when the wind was up. Time and the elements should finish the job. Let the heat strip the rest of the yellow paint from its siding, the house thought. Let the steel rust and the wood turn to dust and just settle into the earth, at first a mound of debris but over time, a place for creeping vines and crawling things to roost.

Maybe then, the house could rest.

One afternoon, a young man wanders into the yard. Hello? he calls out. Anybody home? He doesn’t have a newspaper in his hand.

The house’s screen door slaps softly against its wooden frame. The latch fell out a few winters before, and the hinges are rusted.

All right then, the man says, his voice softer now, warmer. I didn’t really expect anyone to be here but I don’t want to startle you if you are. My dad lives next door, you might have seen him? We’re neighbors.

The house couldn’t remember what neighbors were, or if neighbors were a thing a house should have.

Well, I haven’t been around in a while, the man was saying aloud and he walked slowly around the front of the empty house, peering at it from different angles. I’ve been stuck at home for months. Honestly I’ve started talking to myself and I should probably stop but who knows, because there’s no one listening to this anyway.

The young man comes back the next day. At first, he clears the newspaper from the porch, raking it into plastic bags before carting it away. A fire hazard, he says out loud. Sorry, he says also. I don’t even know who I’m talking to. My dad lives next door, you know? I can’t have you catching fire with him so close. The man laughs at himself for talking to the house.

The house creaks a little, quietly.

The man clears the plants growing around the house, talking all the while. These roses can still come back, he says at least once. They just need a little care. And another time – I should oil the hinges on this screen door, since I’m here.

It’s too bad you aren’t lived in, he says later. To be lived in is to be loved, right?

In the middle of the night, when the bats flutter overhead, the house starts awake. Then it remembers there is such a thing as neighbors, not here at home but somewhere close, and it settles down again. Just… waiting.

The man comes back the next day, and fixes the porch swing. He starts to collect the more recent newspapers – which still come, but instead of thudding against the house’s walls, they land softly on the driveway a few steps from the garage door. The man piles them in a plastic crate near the front door.

The young man brings a cup of coffee over, early one morning, in time to catch the paper as it’s headed toward a rose bush. He sits on the porch swing, gently balances his cup on one knee while he pulls the elastic band from the paper, and flips it open. Then he takes a sip of coffee, leans back on the swing, and looks out over the yard.

I put in an offer yesterday, he says. I want to be near my dad, in case anything happens. And I want to fix you up, get you back to the house you used to be. So, I guess I’m saying I want to be here for you, too. If you’ll have me.

The sun is warm against the house’s walls. The porch swing squeaks a little as it moves under the man’s weight, a familiar sound. The young man drinks his coffee in silence, and the house can’t remember if this is happening for the first time, or the hundredth. It doesn’t matter. By the time the house figures it out, it’s already fast asleep.


Note: I decided to post a new story on June 20th before I realized that it would be Father’s Day here in the US. This story isn’t a Father’s Day story, not intentionally, but if you need a soft and comforting tale to end your day – especially one that hints at nice things about family and friendship, since not all Father’s Days and not all fathers are good for everyone – I hope reading this helped you.

Want more? You can read the rest of my free fiction here. Plus: A frequently-updated list of my professionally published work is collected on this page. Many of those stories are online too, and are often free to read at the publisher’s site.

Writer Wednesday: C.L. Clark

This week C.L. Clark (Cherae) was kind enough to stop by for a quick chat about her debut novel, The Unbroken. Cherae graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, PodCastle, Uncanny and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Now she’s one of the co-editors at PodCastle, and the SFWA Blog editor.

C.L. Clark, photo courtesy of the author.

First, the blurb…

Every Empire Demands Revoultion. Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought. Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne. Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

And this cover! I adore it.

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

“If you thought I’d be useful, I’d be free by now.”

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Writer Wednesday: Marie Vibbert

Writer Wednesday is back! Today we’re chatting with Marie Vibbert about her new novel, Galactic Hellcats

Marie Vibbert. Photo courtesy of the author.

Marie Vibbert has sold over 60 short stories to markets such as Analog, Amazing Stories, and F&SF. The Oxford Culture review called her work, “Everything science fiction should be.” Her stories have been translated by magazines in Vietnam and China! By day she is a computer programmer in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been a medieval reenactor and a professional football player. 

Vibbert’s novel is out now from Vernacular Books! What is Galactic Hellcats? The quick but enticing explanation is it’s a novel about a female biker gang in outer space rescuing a gay prince, and forming a family together. Yeah, you want to know more…

Cover art by I.L. Vinokur; Elf Elm Publishing did the design and layout. 

Where do you see yourself in this story? Or more accurately, where would your readers see you, between the lines?

I was a bit of a klepto as a kid. Growing up poor, all the things I wanted were on the other side of safety glass or security tie-downs. I’d go days without eating down the street from a store full of candy. Is it any wonder then, that all my heroes were cat thieves? I thrilled over Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” and thought Cat Woman should’ve beaten Batman every time. I got mad when the characters in my stories didn’t get to keep their treasures, which sure happened a lot.  

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Writer Wednesday: Isabel Yap

Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, London, and Boston. She holds a BS in Marketing from Santa Clara University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop, and since 2016 has served as Secretary for the Clarion Foundation. Her work has appeared in venues including Tor.com, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction. Her debut short story collection, Never Have I Ever, is out 2/23/2021 from Small Beer Press. She is @visyap on Twitter and her website is https://isabelyap.com.

Isabel Yap. Photo courtesy of the author.

Today we’re chatting with Yap about her forthcoming collection, writing while Filipino, and believing in yourself (or getting out of your own way) …

Cover for Never Have I Ever. Art by Alexa Sharpe.

Spells and stories, urban legends and immigrant tales: the magic in Isabel Yap’s debut collection jumps right off the page, from the joy in her new story, “A Spell for Foolish Hearts” to the terrifying tension of the urban legend “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez.”

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

Humans make up wonderfully intricate rituals, pretend to have such control—but they easily devolve into animal longing, just heartbeats flaring in their cage of skin and bones.

What will readers learn about you as a person from reading your debut collection?

Well, this is a terrifying question! And the kind of thing that I’d love to turn back on the reader, as in: well, what do you think you know about me? Generally, I was trained to critique stories in terms of formalism: the author is dead. I believe authors should be taken at their word, and I’d like people to read these stories not really thinking about me at all. But one thing that did come to mind, looking at this question, is: I hope a lonely reader will feel a kindred spirit. A deeply felt, persistent loneliness is something I live with, even if I have the best family and friends anyone could really ask for. The struggle with that, and the different resolutions I see regarding it, are threaded all through the veins of this book.

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Writer Wednesday: Karen Osborne

Karen Osborne. Photo courtesy of the author.

Karen Osborne is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. She is the author of Architects of Memory and Engines of Oblivion from Tor Books. Her short fiction appears in UncannyFireside, Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. You can find her on Twitter at @karenthology and on the web at www.karenosborne.com.

Cover art for Engines of Oblivion, by artist Mike Heath.

The Memory War is author Karen Osborne’s lightning-fast science fiction action and adventure tale of a civilization devastated by first contact. In a corporate future where citizenship is a debt paid before it’s earned, terminally-ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson, sardonic ordnance engineer Natalie Chan and practical captain Kate Keller fight to build a future for themselves amid the wreckage of a catastrophic war against the alien Vai. When their crew discovers a genocidal secret on a ravaged colony planet, Ash and Natalie are drawn into a conspiracy that threatens to turn Ash into a living weapon—endangering Kate’s life, Natalie’s humanity, and the existence of memory itself.

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

“War is science.”

If your book includes a real place on Earth, how does your version of it differ from reality?

The main character of Engines of Oblivion, the ordnance engineer Natalie Chan, grew up in Albany, New York—specifically, in and around the Empire State Plaza, which is this amazing brutalist masterpiece built on the bones of a murdered neighborhood, all white marble and tall skyscrapers surrounded by crumbling churches and rowhouses.

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